Monday, 21 December 2009

Food glorious food

I got into the habit of stockpiling for winter in the early years of married life, we lived in Sheffield, England and the first few winters the snow was over 12 inches deep (30cms), which is a lot for England. This habit meant that there was always enough flour, milk powder, tins of food etc in the house and there were a few winters when it was a good job I had a stockpile. When we moved to a small village in Derbyshire we only had one car and Ian needed it for work in the winter, so if I didn't get the shopping done at the weekend, it didn't get done and snow occasionally stopped me getting out and about on a shopping day. Although we now live in a village here in Latvia there are two small supermarkets and so shopping shouldn't be too much of a problem, but if the weather was to get really bad or a there was a flu epidemic that could mean shortages and that would make things difficult. So as we had already had an early snowfall this winter, I began to stock up, but found I had another problem I hadn't thought about. The crisis has hit Latvia hard this year and now it is beginning to show in the shops, the occasional empty shelf, the regulars that we usually get not in stock, they even ran out of orange juice for two weeks - they had other juices and orange nektars but not orange juice, there was even one day when there was hardly any bread on the shelves. This has meant that some of the items that we had stockpiled are now running low, we are now down to one bag of raisins, which is a pain as we throw a handful of raisins on our breakfast every morning. We shall have to do what we try and avoid doing and that is to do a big shop in a big supermarket in one of the bigger towns.

Since we are on the topic of food, I will mention a classic cook book I came across while looking for my next load of books for my studies, it is a free e-book or you can buy the real book if you feel it will be of use.   It was written by the head chef to Queen Victoria, for the working classes to help them to improve their nutrition, it has such helpful hints like "buy a stove", now isn't that a good idea, would never have thought of that. To make your own bread you need a tub or trough to take a bushel or two of flour apparently; now a bushel is 8 gallons which is about a bucket and a half of flour - rather a lot of flour don't you think but I guess they did have large families in those days. I thought it was hilarious how beef was considered a common source of meat but an old chicken was a rarity, shows how things have changed.

Must also mention that I love the French's way of tackling obesity and that is to teach people how to cook properly, such a classically French approach and perhaps they are right. Apparently the five a day isn't working and sitting down to eat a proper meal may just cut the weight problem and stop people reaching for the fast food- pity it's not working for me though, I make just about everything from scratch and fishfingers and beans are about as processed as you get in our house. Hopefully though now my studying is finished for a month I can get out and about more.

As I said there was one day the bread shelves were virtually empty and since Ian lives off the stuff we thought it would be a good idea to get a new breadmaker for Christmas, funny thing is my American neighbour also went out and got one on exactly the same day, must be great minds think alike. Anyway Ian is a little worried about ours though as it is has the words "Hell" "Mittel" and "Dunkel" written on it he thinks it might be demonic, and it has a symbol on it that looks like fire. I did try to reassure him that it really meant light, medium and dark in German and this was perfectly normal on a breadmaker, and the fire symbol was really just an ear of corn, not sure he is convinced though but I don't think it will stop him enjoying the bread made in it.

Last week was rather chiily as it got down below -20C and at that temperature cars won't start (our car was fine but others had problems), chainsaws start freezing and did you know that the inside of double glazing freezes? Just some of the random facts I have found from experience. People from the UK often cannot understand how it can be quite bearable below freezing but the reason is because the air is a lot drier when it is persistently below 0C, when it hovers around freezing it is damp and miserable. If the wind is blowing it is not so nice and you can feel your cheeks begin to freeze but when it is still, then just making sure your wrapped up correctly is all that is necessary. The only real problem when it gets to 20C is that nose hairs freeze, if anyone knows what to do about the tickly feeling in your nose as they freeze when you breathe in then please do let me know. We did have a bit of a panic the other days though as our electric went out, my first thought was not to get some candles lit but what about the heat. We are still waiting for the plinth for our fire to be finished so we haven't got any independent heat yet and so it was a little worrying but fortunately the problem was only temporary and the lights came back on; apparently the whole house was taking too much electric and a fuse blew. There is only 35A for the whole 18 apartments, it is common for a UK house to have about 80A, so you can imagine the problem, especially when certain individuals go buying things like breadmakers!!!!

It was my name day on Tuesday so I was informed! Latvians like to celebrate, you can tell this because they don't only have a birthday they also have a name day too. If you click on the link you can see a list of all the names celebrated in the month of December or Decembris in Latvian (other helpful words to know are Svetdiena = Sunday, Pirmdiena = Monday, Otrdiena = Tuesday, Tresdiena = Wednesday, Ceturtdiena = Thursday, Piektdiena = Friday and Sestdiena = Saturday). While on the subject of celebrations we have two events planned for Christmas day itself, the first will be at the hotel as there is a concert and the other is a party for those who have been involved in the local orphanage in someway, which starts at 9pm. Seems so strange to have events actually on Christmas day itself as that is the last day I would expect anything but obviously not the case here.

One thing that has been resonating with me whilst studying is the idea of traineeships for farmers, where a trainee is shared between three or four farmers so they get plenty of practice and the farmers get extra help but not committed to one trainee each which can be a drain on finances for the farmers. It was interesting therefore to read on one blog of the importance of apprenticeships and learning from parents and relatives skills for life, skills that are important to pass onto the next generation. We live in an instant generation and passing on lifes skills is not considered of such high importance, plus kids have other distractions that means they don't want to hang around dad or mum or anyone older than them so they can learn. We are all missing out on so much more than say learning to cook or farm or mend, we are missing out the opportunity to pass on wisdom learnt over years of life.

Well the debt collectors are at the gate and they want more - not content with expecting the Latvian Government to cut 500m LVLs (£629m or $1012m) they now want 700m or 800m LVLs of cuts which amounts to around 347 LVLs per man, woman and child or put another way 42 days of working for a teacher.  If the IMF continue to expect the cuts to be made that they are asking then there will be nothing left in Latvia, nothing left for recovery. The Swedish owned banks are taking properties under their control and hanging onto them for five years or so and then hoping to sell at a profit because to sell now will not do them any good, apparently they learnt their lesson from a previous problem with the Swedish banking system. Really!!!! I am not sure they learnt anything from the Swedish crisis of the early 90s, otherwise they wouldn't be in the mess they are in now. Around 5 or 6 years ago many Latvians didn't even have a mortgage and now many of them are deep in debt, now that suggests aggressive selling techniques to me. I also find it incredible that Abu Dhabi can give Dubai their reckless brother state enough money to get them through but the 'prudent' EU states will not help just 2.3 million people - that is the sum total of the Latvian population, now how much would it take to at least make sure the poorest are cared for?

I am proud though to have joined a nation that can stare into the face of a crisis and say that some things are more important than having money. Some Latvians are reacting in a very positive way to the crisis now that they are getting over the shock of the collapse and this BBC podcast was very uplifting to listen to.

1 Sunrise around 8:30am on a bitterly cold day -20C
2 & 3 The forest that Ian has cleared out
4 One of the springs now nearly frozen over
5. The water must have been oozing out of the bank and freezing as it travelled down to the now frozen stream

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