Archive for the ‘cleaning’ Category

365 Days Draw to a Close…

December 1, 2010

Although it’s been a little while since I’ve posted (finishing up a job in Germany, moving to Canada, setting up a new business, etc. have kept me rather busy), Mrs Beeton and Household Management are very often in my mind.

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Over the last year, as I’ve tried a multitude of her wonderful (and not so wonderful) recipes and tips, I’ve drawn quite a few conclusions about Victorian England and the art of running a household in general.  Here are a just a few of them:

1. That English food is ‘rubbish’ or ‘sub-standard’ (as many people I’ve spoken to seem to unhesitatingly think, even if they’ve never tried it) is a fallacy.  English cooking often gets bad press, as far as its image goes.  But reputation in this case has very little to do with reality.  Perhaps there was a time when it wasn’t as inspirational or interesting as it could have been (I suspect the 1970s, but I could be wrong), but the lingering perception amongst the general public is really quite unfair when compared to reality.

2. That England has lousy cooks.  Again, I don’t know where this general idea comes from, and nor do people I’ve spoken to when pressed to back up their claim with an example.  If television is anything to go by (in the 21st century alone, think Rick Stein, Keith Floyd, Nigella Lawson, Anthony Worral-Thompson, Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre-White, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, Gary Rhodes, etc. etc. etc.), then the great English cook is alive and lustily kicking.

3. That running a household is something easy and effortless – ‘just a woman’s job’.  If my other half was fond of joking about this a year ago, he certainly isn’t now. What’s more, for those women and men who choose to make housekeeping / home-making a full-time job (and even for those who do it in addition to raising kids and working outside the home), I say ‘bravo’.

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As I finish my year of running my household with the reassuring guidance of Mrs Beeton, I feel I’ve come away from this adventure with a richer kitchen repertoire, a broader range of household tactics, and a whole lot more self-respect for my roles as Head of Finance, Head of Cooking, Head of Cleaning and Head of Procurement.

Thank you, Isabella Beeton.  It’s been an absolute pleasure.

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Day 35: Where’s my Feather Duster?

December 23, 2009

When you’re feeling rather low, or even a little blue –

Turn to Mrs Beeton (Page 4 42)

OK, so I made that line up yesterday rather than taking it from Mrs Beeton.

Sometimes when you’re not feeling as cheery as you’d like to, physical exercise is a fast-acting tonic.  But with snow and sleet, and the frozen ears and red nose that outdoor exercise entails at this time of year, I keenly sought an indoor remedy.

Our apartment is usually quite tidy (I’ve been compared to Monica Geller from Friends more than once).  Once or twice a week we vacuum and mop as well (with 3 cats, this is unavoidable).  But in the year that we’ve lived here, I can’t think of a time when it was more thoroughly spring-cleaned than that.

Household Management talks about seasonal cleaning (i.e.  every season) – but I can’t see myself being up for that (let alone convincing my boyfriend of the merits of helping out so often).  Flicking through a chapter for ‘Domestic Servants’ (how apt!), my eye skimmed down the page to ‘Periodical Cleanings’.  ”Ah,” I thought, ”something far more reasonable.”

Periodical Cleanings – Besides the daily routine which we have described, there are portions of every house which can only be thoroughly cleaned occasionally; at which time the whole house usually undergoes a more thorough cleaning than is permitted in the general way.

I decided to go through each room and give everything a good clean, dust and polish.  Beds, cupboards and the washing machine were pulled out and cleaned behind.  Mirrors were polished, keyboards were turned upside down and shaken clean, cat beds (minus cats) were beaten.  Even the dust cover thingy over the vent in the bathroom was given a swish with the cleaning rag.  When you think of it as a way to cheer yourself up rather than it all being an absolute chore, suddenly it becomes a whole lot easier to motivate yourself.

All the while, the cats were traipsing in and out onto the balcony (”What’s that white stuff out there?” they seemed to be thinking.  ”Snow!”  Then they realised – for the upteenth time – how cold it was and dashed back inside, leaving soggy wet paw tracks along the floor, carpets and my back.  Only to repeat the whole process 5 minutes later.

Within the 2-hour time limit I set for myself, I was really surprised by how much I got done when I put my mind to it.  Let’s face it, cleaning is not exactly a ‘fun’ activity.  But the sense of satisfaction when you look and see how much you’ve done (and how far away the next bout of ‘periodical cleaning’ will be)… well, there’s some measure of enjoyment in that.

Life’s little worries and cares are naturally forgotten when all you’re thinking, is “Geez, how did so much dust get behind these damn radiators?”  The one thing that motivated me more than anything was trying to beat the 2-hour time limit. I’m a competitive person.  Who better to compete with than yourself?

Perhaps doctors could prescribe ‘periodical cleaning’ rather than pills when patients need to cheer themselves up? The world might be a jollier – and cleaner – place because of it 🙂

For Isabella Beeton’s periodical and seasonal cleaning advice: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/41-chapter41.html (Section 2326)

Silver Cups and Ginger Beer

November 25, 2009

I left Dublin two years ago, where I lived for nearly 7 fabulous years.  I was only able to lug one suitcase with me to Ukraine (where I’d taken a company transfer), so most of my books and other possessions built up over the years were passed on to a local charity.

Four boxes of ‘I can’t possibly be parted from them’ books and miscellaneous items were left with a friend.  Now that I’m settled in Germany and don’t plan to go anywhere anytime soon, I arranged for their delivery to my doorstep today.

Amongst the half-forgotten items were two extremely dark objects – my silver(ish) Christening cups from 32 years earlier.  I was given them as a teenager and, with the typical teenager’s frothy disregard, the cups were tossed in a drawer and promptly forgotten until now.

As can be imagined, 32 years of neglect carries a toll.  With more nostalgia for the past than formerly, I turned to Mrs Beeton for some urgent advice about how to restore them to their former glory.

This is done by preparing clean soap-suds, using fine toilet-soap. Dip any article of gold, silver, gilt or precious stones into this lye, and dry them by brushing with a brush of soft badgers’ hair, or a fine sponge; afterwards with a piece of fine cloth, and, lastly, with a soft leather.’

With more than a little doubt about something so simple being even remotely effective, I went to work.

I used a mild natural soap from Lush.  Badgers’ hair brushes are sadly in short supply in our household, so a soft cotton cloth was called into duty instead.  Having no leather to hand except my boyfriend’s jacket, (‘’No, absolutely not, are you on crack or something?’’), a separate dry cloth took its place.

The result was unexpectedly good.  Considering the lifetime of neglect, both cups scrubbed up really well.  The filthy cloths testified to the effectiveness of the soap solution (plus a bit of elbow grease, which Mrs Beeton somehow forgot to mention).  For the first time, I can read the inscriptions and see the original colour.

A huge plus was also not having to use chemicals.  The final result isn’t perfect, but this is more down to my earlier disregard than Mrs Beeton’s recommended method of cleaning them.

While polishing away at the cups, the initial stage of Ginger Beer was quietly fermenting away in the kitchen.

Ginger Beer

Ingredients – 2 ½ lb of loaf sugar (I used raw sugar), 1 ½ oz. of bruised ginger (peel ginger and flatten slightly with a knife to release juices), 1 oz. of cream of tartar; the rind and juice of 2 lemons, 3 gallons (i.e. 13 litres) of boiling water, 2 large tablespoons of thick and fresh brewer’s yeast (I used instant yeast).

Cream of Tartar isn’t easily available in Germany, so I used a special baking powder (Weinstein Backpulver) and crossed my fingers instead.  Hopefully I end up with Ginger Beer, not Ginger Cake!

After mixing in the yeast, the mix should be left in front of the fire [radiator, out of reach of peskily curious cats] overnight.  It then has to ferment for 3 more days before being ready to drink.  Hopefully the outcome is as good as it sounds on paper – an update will follow soon.

Bottoms up!

Ginger Beer recipe: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/37-chapter37.html