Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Day 33: To Cook or Not to Cook

December 20, 2009

It’s now been a month since I started this Household Management challenge.

Looking back over the last 33 days, it’s already been an incredibly interesting journey.  I’ve tried quite a few things that I’d never have tried otherwise (Carrot Jam, Dampfnudeln).  Some things I won’t be trying again (Apple Soup, anyone?), but others will probably stick with me long after Mrs Beeton in 365 Days is over.  My household accounts are already in far better shape, for one.

But the thing is, when I first started this experiment I thought the focus would be much more ‘’householdy’’.  Instead, a lot of this challenge has so far revolved around the kitchen.  In a way, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management is really just a cookery book, with the kitchen as the star, the diva, the prima donna.  The chapters that provide advice to members of the household – the supporting cast, if you will – act as the backdrop against which the kitchen can properly function.

Part of the problem in applying Victorian advice to the 21st century, is that a lot of it just isn’t that relevant anymore.  At least, not in ordinary, non-toff households.  No one I know has a Butler, Footman, Housekeeper, Cook, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry Maid, Cook, etc. (sometimes I wish I did!).

My boyfriend and I hired a weekly cleaner several months ago, which was possibly the biggest thrill I’ve felt since discovering Bretzeln (freshly baked pretzels).   But I felt so awkward about having a stranger in the house, and not knowing the proper employer-cleaner etiquette, that we let her go within a couple of months.

The core of Household Management – the beautiful, bountiful recipe sections – remains absolutely relevant today.  Even if the world were to be taken over by robots and aliens tomorrow, cooking – and the kitchen – will always play a central role in daily life.  A world without it wouldn’t be a world worth living in.

In the meantime, as it’s still apple season here in Germany, I lugged home 4 kilos from the market yesterday.  I spent the entire day in the kitchen, with Household Management by my side.  Most of the day was spent making preserves, including Apple Sauce.  I also made another quantity of her delicious custard, which I liberally doused over some Apple Crumble for dessert this evening.

Perhaps I’m making too hasty a judgment about Household Management’s wider value outside the kitchen (after all, it’s fairly long and I have several hundred pages yet to get through).

332 more days will tell!

Apple Sauce: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html (Recipe 363)

Day 29: Head Fakery at the Dinner Table

December 16, 2009

Tonight is Vegetarian Night (sorry, ‘’Meat Reduced Night”).

Or, it was supposed to be.

With heavily-sighed reluctance, my boyfriend recently agreed to eat two meat-free meals per week,  so we can eat the same main dish together sometimes.  I use ‘’meat reduced’’ rather than ‘’vegetarian’’ as a bit of a head-fake term.  Not that it fools him much.

I had it all planned out – stuffed Butternut Squash, roast veg and a mushroom sauce on the side.  Usually, if he doesn’t get too involved in the preparation (cue locked kitchen door and refusal to answer any statement starting with ‘What is that…?’ or ‘’Are you going to do it like that?”), then he’ll give most things a try.

Then came the proverbial spanner.

“I’ll be home soon – I finished an hour early,’’ came his unexpected call.

Scheiße (shit).

I was pretty ravenous already and knew he would be too.  Unless I came up with something quickly, I could see myself being persuaded to order a pizza.

I lunged for Household Management and began panic-scanning the soup recipes.

Potato Soup (Version 1)

INGREDIENTS – 4 lbs. of mealy potatoes, boiled or steamed very dry, pepper and salt to taste, 2 quarts of stock (from recipe no. 105).


Luckily I’d sent him on a detour to the local building centre to buy a new kitchen tap and to check out some shelves, gaining me some valuable minutes to get the soup on and rescue  Meat Reduced Night.

Naturally, that ol’ spanner hadn’t yet finished clunking round the works.

B: “Just calling to check how much I should spend on the shelf.”

Me: (gasping slightly as I dashed about the kitchen) “Happy to leave that up to you,” (chopping frantically at the potatoes and shooing away our greedy black cat)

B: “€15 or €17…?” he pressed.

Me: “The cheaper the better.  Up to you.  See you soon!”

Hang up the phone.  Push cat off bench.  Attempt to fill saucepan with water.  Forget tap is broken.  Water sprays out, drenching my face and top.  Cue swearing.  Phone rings.

B: “Wasn’t there something else I was supposed to get?”

Me: “No no,” I trilled with false calm, “I think that’s everything.”

2 minutes later, I got him off the topics of shelf pros and cons and off the phone.

Hasten to finish soup and get the main course on.  Shove cat off bench again.  Open cupboard to get something.  Half the contents crash out.  Cue more swearing.  Forget tap is broken. Again. Water sprays out, drenching my face and top.  Again. Cue swearing.  Again.

Just as his keys were inserted into the key hole, the soup was miraculously done.

Taking inspiration from one of the soup variations listed under the first recipe, I tossed in a piece of wholegrain bread to bulk the soup up and give it a healthy boost.  I told him about it but didn’t give specifics. Another bit of head-fakery on my part, as my boyfriend despises non-white bread (‘’fruity bread’’).  Well, he never asked me what type of bread I put in…

We enjoyed the soup.  Simple and (barring distractions) super quick.  I added some oregano and a dash of cream to finish it off before serving.

As for my boyfriend’s reaction to the main dish, well, you probably don’t want to know.

Potato Soup Recipes: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/06-chapter6.html (Recipe 145 – 47)

Day 23: Tea-Cake Salvation

December 10, 2009

Somedays, I just don’t have the energy.

It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, I usually head to the kitchen to restore peace and calm to life.

For the times when you’re feeling tired, grumpy, overwhelmed, overloaded, fed-up / all of the above, when you’re overtaken by culinary laziness, but you still want a little comfort food, go for tea-cakes.

INGREDIENTS – 2 lbs. of flour, 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, 1/4 lb. of butter or lard, 1 egg, a piece of German yeast the size of a walnut, warm milk.

A bit of mixing, a bit of kneading, a bit of waiting, and before you know it, several golden mounds of mouth-watering joy are ready to be taken out of the oven for a little bit of culinary therapy.

When cool, slice, toast and slather with butter (if you can wait that long, that is).

All over, this takes about an hour – with only 5 minutes of this devoted to work.

A sweetly comforting salve for any of life’s trivial woes.

Tea-Cakes: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/35-chapter35.html (Recipe 1786)

Ingenuity and Ignorance

December 1, 2009

My ignorance, their ingenuity.

The Victorians, I mean.

Until I came across  the intriguing line “The freezing-pot is best made of pewter…’’ at the beginning of Isabella Beeton’s section for flavoured ices, I had no idea that such technology even existed back then.  Talk about being a child of the ‘consumer goods’ age!

Some further research into what a freezing-pot actually was reveals little readily-available information, aside from Isabella Beeton’s description.  I found one very informative website that gives a brief overview of the technology, as well as a number of mouth-watering reproductions of Georgian and Victorian ices.

http://www.historicfood.com/Georgian%20Ices.htm

The basic freezing-pot model consisted of a wooden bucket with a smaller pewter container (sabotiere- we always liked borrowing words from the French for fancy stuff) which was placed inside.  In between, a mix of ice (“mixed very carefully with either salt, nitre, or soda” advises Isabella) was added.

The most amazing-looking ices could then be made with this seemingly simple, yet brilliantly effective, device.

So it wasn’t as high-tech as the modern freezer, but it sure beats paying an electricity bill to keep the milk cool.

I was also surprised to learn about Victorian oven technology.  I knew that they had them, because I’d seen them before at various museums.  But I never envied the women who used to manage such comparatively clunky contraptions.

The typical oven would be heated by wood or coal.  Without switches or a temperature gauge, the user needed a great deal of experience (not to mention burnt fingers) to know when the oven was ready.  It took a lot longer than modern ovens to heat up, which meant that cooking and baking was not a speedy process.

The user could, with experience, assess the oven’s readiness by methods such as the arm test (holding an elbow in the oven and counting – e.g. if it got to a count of 10 before the user found it too hot, then it had reached a certain heat– again, this was discovered by experience and the individual oven’s capabilities).  Measuring heat by specific temperatures wasn’t an option, hence Isabella’s broader directions for recipes (e.g. ‘brisk oven’).

Although I’d rather eat a carriage wheel than give up modern technology, I have a new-found respect for the technology of Isabella Beeton’s era.

At some point, I’m going to try and get my hands on a freezing-pot (or if nothing else, a ice mould) and attempt to reproduce one of her recipes.

A Perfect Weekend Breakfast

November 29, 2009

With my mouth stuffed full of warm bread as I write, I think there can be few other pleasures on a rolling-into-winter Sunday morning than  your own fresh Dampfnudeln.

It was a bit touch-and-go at times, sometimes because a step was missing from the recipe and sometimes for other reasons (including a dinner out at the home of some friends when the dough was rising). But I made it in the end. I did one batch last night and another this morning. Mmmm. Unfortunately, it was too late by that time to post something last night.

Dampfnudeln, or German Puddings

INGREDIENTS: 1 lb. of flour, 1/4 lb. of butter, 5 eggs, 2 small tablespoons of yeast, 2 tablespoons of finely-pounded sugar {regular or icing sugar will do}, milk, a very little salt.

This essentially breaks down into 4 (simple) steps.  The timings given are mostly mine:

1. Let the flour, yeast and milk mix rise for 30 minutes

2. Combine above with the other ingredients and leave to rise in a warm place (I switched the oven on for a minute, let it warm slightly, then turned it off and popped the covered bowl in there) for 45 minutes

3. Roll into chubby 1-inch balls and place (not touching) in a thick-bottomed, butter-slathered dish (I used a glass casserole dish).  Sprinkle with milk, add more milk (see comments below for quantity) and sprinkle with sugar.  Rise 45 minutes

4. Bake in a ‘brisk oven’ (I interpreted this as 200 degrees C) for 25 minutes, or until liquid has just evaporated and the buns are brown.   Gobble down with jam, honey or butter (if you can wait that long)

In the abridged edition, Step 2 is missing from the ‘Time’ information (Isabella’s advice about how long everything should take).  The quantity of milk is also sketchy (1/4 pint is mentioned, and she later mentions ‘a little more warm milk’ (I found this to be up to 2 tablespoons) and later, ‘sufficient milk to cover them’ (see note below).

This may be an editing oversight, but I have a funny feeling that it was missing in the original.  But as long as the instructions are read carefully through first (which, I confess, my eager rush to be baking something means that I don’t do this as often as I ought), then most of this can be figured out.

We were out for several hours between Steps 2 – 3, but fortunately this didn’t affect the dough (in fact, it was enthusiastically marching over the edges and looking to paint the town – or oven – red by the time we got home).

I couldn’t help but edit one step.  Once rolled into balls and placed in the dish, she says to ‘pour over sufficient milk to cover them’ and leave to further rise before baking.  I couldn’t see how this would possibly allow them to brown and the liquid to evaporate in the given space of time, so I just sprinkled them with milk and added just a couple of centimeters to the dish.

It took 25 minutes (not 10 -15) for them to bake.  The outcome is, however, mightily delicious.  I was surprised that, upon further research, the recipe doesn’t significantly differ from the modern German formula.  So she didn’t simplify or modify it for the non-German Victorian housewife.

Its relative simplicity means that I’ll be making this quite often for future weekend breakfasts.

While we were at it, we also pulled out a chilled bottle of the ginger beer last night while the first batch of Dampfnudeln (is ‘Dampfnudeln’ singular and plural?) was in the oven.  I poured two glasses with more than a touch of the jitters (“This better not kill me,” my boyfriend supportively commented).

The lid flipped off with a lustily effervescent ”phwap”, to my delight and probably to that of a Peeping Tom neighbour across the way, who just happens to be out having a smoke on his balcony whenever I’m in the kitchen, with his eyes unblinkingly focused on our kitchen window.  Perhaps he’s a secret foodie.  We’re putting up curtains today.

The ginger beer wasn’t too bad.  (“It’s not too bad,” said my boyfriend).  I couldn’t taste much ginger, more the lemon.  Perhaps I’ll add more ginger next time.  It wasn’t overly exciting, but with a drop of flavoured syrup it really livens up.

Here’s a link I found to a typical (modern) Dampfnudeln recipe for comparison:

http://www.food-from-bavaria.de/en/reg_spez/einzelprodukt.php?an=186&display_lang=en (it varies very slightly from Isabella Beeton’s, so use whichever version you prefer)

I’m off to make another batch.  Mmmm.

The complete Dampfnudeln recipe by Isabella Beeton can be found at: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/27-chapter27.html

What Steamed Noodle?

November 26, 2009

If you don’t know much about Isabella Beeton, besides that she put together a rather weighty niche book, what image leaps to mind when you try to guess what she was like in real life?

a)  A bosomly matron

b) A sweet old dear

c) A bossy housewife who thought she knew it all

d) All of the above

As you probably guessed from the oh-so-cleverly leading examples, none of the above. 

Household Management flickered into volume-by-volume existence in 1861 – although Isabella wrote excerpts for the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine from 1857, when she was no more than 21.  Already by that point she was a wife, running a home and working as a journalist.  When I was 21, my time was invested in obsessing over some guy I was desperate to marry and squeeze 5 kids out of (What was his name again?).  I hadn’t much of a clue about budgeting or housework.  Certainly, anything beyond Vegetable Pasties and (frequently-burnt) biscuits would have had me reaching for a bottle of wine.

Yet by 25, Isabella’s book had been published (after a 4-year slog, amongst everything else the poor girl had on her plate) and she was well on her way to becoming – literally – a household name.

Despite her age, her life experiences seeped into her book in one way or another.  So, if I’m going to spend 365 days in her shoes, I figure I should have more than just a superficial knowledge of what made her tick.

One experience already connects us:  she finished her schooling in a historic town not so far from where I currently live – Heidelberg.

Isabella would probably be completely at home there, even today.  Heidelberg Castle remains mostly an enigmatic, majestic ruin.  A toppled gunpowdered tower here, brick-maker’s stamps  in the moat wall there, the bakeries, the main street, the vineyard-packed hills and market square all retain their familiarity and centrality to the town’s pulse.

It was probably here that she picked up her recipe for Dampfnudeln (a literal translation is ‘steamed noodles’, but in actual fact it’s a steamed bun with a crispy little bottom).

One of my colleagues, with glistening eyes and a dreamy smile transporting him back to his Oma’s kitchen as he spoke, told me that they’re not as easy to make as her recipe in theory implies.  His grandmother’s mouthwateringly enticing Dampfnudeln were produced in a special pan and required a certain knack to get them right.

On Saturday I plan to recreate Isabella’s recipe and compare it to the Dampfnudeln available in 21st century Germany.  She may have adulterated it for the middle-class Victorian kitchen.  Or perhaps she just decided to simply let them have it with the original.  I’ll soon find out.

The ginger beer should be ready by Saturday too.  When I checked on it yesterday, the yeast froth that she says to skim off wasn’t visible.  I’m slightly worried about how it will turn out.

However, I hope that my boyfriend will be the proverbial canary in the mine when the time comes to test them…

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

‘Tis the Season to be Eating Apples

November 22, 2009

When it comes to food, my boyfriend is not so easily pleased.  His palate tends towards schnitzel, fries, bowls of Frosties and pastries.  All liberally doused in either salt or sugar.  Left to his own devices, his 5-a-day would probably be happily met by a box of Froot Loops.

With me being a food lover (I’d sooner hit a food market than a shoe store any day), he’s been unavoidably encouraged to eat from a broader range of foods.  Occasionally, he’ll be really enthusiastic about something (‘’That was nice’’), but more often than not I get the stock response ‘’It was OK’’ (with the occasional rider ‘’Don’t make it again though’’).

I’m turning to Isabella Beeton for some inspiration.

To be acquainted with the periods when things are in season, is one of the most essential pieces of knowledge which enter into the ‘Art of Cookery’ ‘.

With this is mind, all my purchases at the Saturday market yesterday were both seasonal and local.  Living at the moment in temperate southern  Germany, I’m lucky to also call eastern France and northern Switzerland ‘local’ when it comes to produce.

I came away with a bulky bag of freshly-picked Jonagold apples.  With Isbella Beeton in hand and my boyfriend’s finicky palate in mind, I’ll now hit the kitchen and see what I can do with some of her 8 suggested apple recipes.

2.5 hours later:  As I didn’t want to spend my entire Sunday in the kitchen, I opted for 3 not-overly-complicated dishes – Flanc of Apples (‘Apples in a Raised Crust’), Apple Fritters and Apple Soup.

Apple Soup:  Very simple to make.  I wasn’t sure if apples in a soup was a very appealing option, but I figured I’d give it a go.  Maybe we’d surprise ourselves.  Our verdict:  I didn’t really like it.  Perhaps it was the stock mix I used.  My boyfriend didn’t like it either, although he gallantly finished his spoonful.

Apple Fritters:  Easy-peasy to make (they’re really just slices of apple fried in batter).  We both quite liked these.  Not too heavy and not overly fatty.

Flanc of Apples:  Our verdict – ‘’Very tasty.  Excellent,’’ said my boyfriend as he dove in for more.  This was our joint favourite.  The recipe calls for shortcrust pastry but, as she didn’t specify which of her pastry recipes was the one in question, I played it safe and used a Jamie Oliver pastry recipe (sorry Isabella.  Thanks Jamie).

Getting the very sweet sugar-lemon syrup to a thick-enough consistency and boiling whole (cored) apples without them falling apart wasn’t so easy (she gives no temperatures or timings per step – I guess instructions were different back then).  The lemon really gave the syrup a fantastic flavor.  Her tip about filling the shell with flour to pre-bake the crust (instead of beans / rice) was excellent.  The crust kept its shape without warping – and hopefully I can reuse the flour for something else.

Now the mess in the kitchen needs to be cleaned up.  Unlike Isabella Beeton, I’ll unfortunately have to do it without any help.

But the pleasure of trying these new dishes was certainly worth the mess.

PS I recently found the whole of Household Management online.  Here’s the link if anyone wants to check out the recipes and anything else she wrote about:  http://www.mrsbeeton.com/

Flanc of Apples and Apple Fritters: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/29-chapter29.html

Apple Soup:  http://www.mrsbeeton.com/06-chapter6.html

How Not to Go Insane Over Household Spending

November 20, 2009

I confess right up that I’m one of those people who usually worry over every penny being spent, and have serious debates with myself about whether something is absolutely necessary.  Blame it on some Scottish blood.  My problem is trying to keep on top of it in the long-term (monthly rather than daily).  Differentiating between ‘essential’ and ‘essential bargain that must be purchased before it goes back to regular price’ is another.

Isabella Beeton advises that “A housekeeping account-book should invariably be kept, and kept punctually and precisely.”  For the last ten years I’ve actually kept one, but just how punctually or precisely is another matter.  Especially since moving in with my financially-challenged boyfriend, I’ve collected receipts and kept a track of how far our monthly € 400 household budget goes.  (This excludes bills and rent of course).  The €400 covers groceries, home-made lunches for work, and cat food.  With two not-so-large incomes, we (I) figured €400 was a reasonable figure to aim for.  However, I more often than not have a minor heart attack when we tot up our monthly expenditure.

Part of the problem is finding enough time to keep the account-book up-to-date (thus being more aware of outgoings before hitting month-end).  Unfortunately, the receipts tend to build up as I tell myself “I’ll do them tonight’’ and then tonight turns into the next night and so on.

Isabella Beeton assigns this responsibility to the housekeeper, and suggests that evenings are the best time to do the accounts and prepare the shopping list.  At the end of the day when I’m totally knackered, it’s the last thing I want to do.  Here’s a snapshot of a typical day:

5.45am Wake up (cursing the alarm)

5.50am Feed 3 x cats.  Switch on the coffee maker so boyfriend doesn’t  resemble an ogre when he gets up. Unload dishwasher. Make toast, tea and cereal for me.  Eat said toast, tea and cereal.

6.05am Quickly tidy up overnight untidiness caused by feline antics. Get out meat to defrost for dinner.

6.15am Flick through a book or magazine, jot down ‘top up’ shopping list.

6.20am Shower, get dressed and ready for work.

6.50am Leave.  Get tram to work.

7.30am – 3.30pm/4pm Work (numerous scheduled / spontaneous meetings to support German colleagues with English tasks).

4pm – 5.30pm Tram into town. Buy ‘top up’ groceries, run errands, potter around.  Sometimes buy English magazines /books from bookstore or central station.  Tram home.

6pm Switch on heating.  Quickly tidy up daytime untidiness caused by feline antics.  Give cats attention and treats.

6.15pm Cook 2 x meals (same sides, but 1 main with meat and 1 without).  I love cooking, so this can be a passion-infused activity.  My boyfriend cooks too sometimes.

7.10pm Feed cats so they don’t bug us during dinner (or that’s the plan anyway)

7.15pm Eat.  We don’t have space for a dining table so we tend to eat round the coffee table or (I cringe to confess) at the PC (whilst watching frivolous but amusing clips on YouTube).

7.35pm Load up dishwasher and clean kitchen.  Set aside left-overs for next day’s lunch.

7.50pm Evening activities (usually a mix of reading, watching something on the internet, playing board games, etc.).  Clean (mid-week we vacuum and mop as well).

10pm – 11pm I tend to crash around now.  Quickly set up kitchen for the morning (prepare coffee filter, set out cat bowls and tinned food, get out cereal bowl, plate and spoon; fill kettle; pick out clothes if I remember).  Bed.  Boyfriend gleefully hits the PC games and stumbles into bed around 1am.

Weekends are more of the same (minus work of course).  Saturday is my busiest day (market in the morning to buy fruit, veg etc.; do the ‘big’ shop; laundry, vacuum and mop, etc). Sundays I tend to go crazy in the kitchen early in the morning (when my boyfriend is still snoring blissfully and I have ‘’me time’’) and make preserves, cakes, biscuits and whatever else takes my fancy.

So as it stands right now, all this leaves me with little time to do up the accounts as often as Mrs Beeton advises.  I eek at the thought of how I’ll fit it in with kids on the scene one day.

The plan for keeping household accounts, which we should recommend, would be to make an entry, that is, write down into a daily diary every amount paid on that particular day, be it ever so small; then, at the end of the month, let these various payments be ranged under their specific heads of Butcher, Baker, &c.; and thus will be seen the proportions paid to each tradesman, and any one month’s expenses may be contrasted with another.’’

You make it sound so easy, Isabella.

After hawing and humming for a while, I just sat down with the rather hefty pile of receipts that have built up over the last 2 weeks (since I last did the accounts) and tried to approach it with this advice in mind.  Trying to do this with one cat sucking away at an ankle-hem on my track pants (she has ‘’wool sucking syndrome’’ and the other attacking the receipts as I enter them, doesn’t exactly speed things up.

The account-book doesn’t allow for too much detail, so I restrict it to the headings ‘Shop’ and ‘Total’ (I tend to go to certain shops for certain types of grocery anyway). Once entered, I haven’t any clue as to what individual items I actually purchased, which can be a problem when I’m trying to figure out if I’m spending on unnecessary items (“Chocolate’s on special, I have to get some.  And look, that mince is half-price.  20c off cat food?  I’d better get a few extra tins while I’m here”.  Blame the Scottish blood for this too).  With such a tight budget to stick to, I need to find a solution that works.

In the spirit of Mrs Beeton, I’ll go out today and buy a proper accounts book that will let me list individual purchases (rather than just shop and total).  I’ll also try to update it on a daily basis.  I guess the first thing to do is re-think how I’m breaking down my day, so I’m not so tired at the end of it.

Any suggestions are very welcome.

Someone call me a carriage…

November 18, 2009

As Isabella Beeton so wisely put it, “As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so it is with the mistress of a house”.

I’ve had copies of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) over the years, as an off-shoot of my love of history and a lingering fascination with ‘’the way things were’’.

Then each copy just sits there waiting for an occasional flick-through, getting more action from the duster than from my fingers. Eventually I give it away, regret it, and buy a new copy with an enthusiastic ‘’This time, I’ll read her properly.’’ Ad finitum.

It’s hardly cool to admit it I know, but the idea of being a domestic goddess oddly appeals in a retro sort of way. I’d love to be one of those ‘has it all, does it all’ sort of women –family, home to run, job; whipping up sponge cakes and mending shirts while working full-time and finding time to do it all over a glass of wine. I almost have it all, but am I doing it all – and am I doing it effectively?

Hence the subtle attraction of Beeton’s self-help guide for the would-be-if-she-could hausfrau.

It’s not exactly come-hitheringly sized. It’s big. It’s not light. But it’s sitting there, and it’ll continue to sit there unless I follow through and actually ‘read her properly’. And do something with it.

Which leads me to this challenge.

Is it possible to try out all her advice? In the modern world, probably not (how many of us still have servants, rather than just feeling like one at times?). But I figure I can give most of it a go. A year is doable. My boyfriend says he’ll be supportive if I don’t expect him to whip up a syllabub and if I slip on a mini-apron occasionally.

Here’s how our modern household stands on Day 1:

Me: 32, ‘mostly’ vegetarian, love cooking and trying new things. I just bought a sewing machine but as the instructions are in technical German, I haven’t yet figured out how it’s supposed to work. I work full-time as a corporate English trainer.

Him: 38, ‘mostly’ carnivorous, lukewarm to cooking and trying new things, quite happy to spend the weekend surfing the net / killing zombies / insert any other PC-based activity here. Vegetables are a source of suspicion. Cleaning products are the enemy. Also a corporate English trainer.

Our home: 1-bedroom central apartment in the middle of a small cosmopolitan city in Germany. No kids yet. 3 cats. 1 man. Cleaning is necessary on a daily basis.

If her book is still on sale after nearly 150 years, and people still buy it, then is it really all that ‘outdated’?

I’ll soon find out. Hopefully while learning a lot (and having fun) along the way.

Here’s to the next 365 days!