Posts Tagged ‘housewife’

Mrs Beeton and the Art of Early Rising

June 4, 2010

Waking early has always given me an inexplicable sense of calm and order.

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Ever since I can remember, I’ve always awoken at the first glinting hint of dawn, if not before.  In the past, I generally stayed up until nearly midnight, quite happily surviving on 6 hours of sleep or a little less.  I can’t say I always fly out of bed trilling and tango-ing gleefully (especially in the shivery chills of winter), but it always feels somewhat, oddly right to arise while the world still slumbers.

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These days, I’m still an absurdly early riser (even when our three cats don’t mew wake me at 4.40am, like they did this morning, begging to be fed.  I was away on a solo cycling holiday for 4 days until yesterday, leaving my boyfriend in charge of their two ‘wet’ meals a day.  But, as he’s a guy who snores louder than an erupting volcano and can – indeed, has proven that he can, will and must – sleep through hailstorms, cat fights, being poked, jabbed and hollered at, as well as frenzied vacuuming, the poor little dears had to wait until at least 8am to be fed.  No doubt they’d have hot-lined the RSPCA if they could).

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4.40am, thankfully, is not the usual time I’m up.  My alarm is generally set for 5.45am (6.30am on Sundays), although I more often than not awaken a few minutes before the alarm pings me out of bed and causes my boyfriend to grunt and roll over in his sleep.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to, I don’t seem to last the distance in the evenings as long as I used to (I don’t think it has anything to do with age, I’m only 33!).  With a full-time ‘official’ job, and a full-time job at home (I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that cleaning, cooking, taking care of family / pets /household etc. is more than a full-time job, leaving precious little time for hobbies or other forms of relaxation.  And I don’t even have children yet!).

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I’ve also recently noticed that a glass or two of wine after dinner is enough to have me crawling desperately into bed, with barely enough time left to clean the kitchen, tidy up the living room, put away the cats’ bowls, fold the dry laundry, set up for the morning, pre-prepare the coffee maker, put out my clothes for the morning and other assorted pre-bed activities).

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And yet, I don’t think I really mind.  Too much. Who was it that said ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’?  Everything I do is my own, instinctive choice.  My boyfriend is usually stunned and peskily delighted (“Ha!  I actually got up before her!”) when I very, very infrequently stay in bed a bit longer.

Interestingly, here’s what Mrs Beeton had to say about early rising – especially for the ‘mistress’ (or hausfrau, homemaker, housekeeper, housewife, serving wench, domestic slave or whatever else we like or tend to call ourselves!)

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EARLY RISING IS ONE OF THE MOST ESSENTIAL QUALITIES which enter into good Household Management, as it is not only the parent of health, but of innumerable other advantages. Indeed, when a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed. On the contrary, if she remain in bed till a late hour, then the domestics, who, as we have before observed, invariably partake somewhat of their mistress’s character, will surely become sluggards. To self-indulgence all are more or less disposed, and it is not to be expected that servants are freer from this fault than the heads of houses.

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Aside from the comment about sluggardly domestics, her advice still rings true today.  At least, I feel it does for me.  There’s not enough time in the day for everything as it is.  Even in the 21st century, early rising seems – to me – essential for some sense of order in the household, no matter the size.  Not to my boyfriend, however, who is at this very moment snoring lightly, wrapped cosily in both his own blanket and mine, too.

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On balance I think, even if I had the choice to stay in bed later, I probably wouldn’t.  For, to quote Mrs Beeton (quoting ‘The great Lord Chatham’):  “I would have inscribed on the curtains of your bed, and the walls of your chamber, ‘If you do not rise early, you can make progress in nothing.’”

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Mrs Beeton’s Advice for the Mistress of the House: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/01-chapter1.html#3

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Day 31: The Battle of the Hausfraus

December 18, 2009

One of my colleagues told me today about a serious custom linked to this time of year.

Towards Christmas, housewives across Germany battle it out to produce the most applaudable Weihnachts Plätzchen (Christmas biscuits).  They each exchange biscuits with other women and compare their own to everyone else’s.  Reputations are rapidly destroyed or founded over the festive season.

As you can imagine, the competition is intense.  Rivalry is savage.  Reviews can be deadly.

Although I’m nowhere near as established here in Germany yet to even consider taking part in all of this, I thought I’d make my own small contribution by looking into what Mrs Beeton has to offer, biscuit-wise.

I initially thought of making mince pies (OK they’re not biscuits, but they sure are festive – and unknown here in Germany).  But when I saw the amount of prior preparation involved (…“press the whole {mincemeat}into a jar, carefully exclude the air, and the mincemeat will be ready for use in a fortnight”), I opted for something decidedly more convenient.

Lemon Biscuits

Seed Biscuits

Savoy Biscuits

(See recipe links below)

When I was younger, my mother used to subtly hint that I couldn’t bake biscuits to save my life (Mother: ”You can’t bake biscuits to save your life”).  Although I can cook pretty much anything else, successful biscuits in those days often eluded me.  I like to think that I’ve improved over the years, but sometimes it’s still a close call.

Lemon Biscuits: This was the quickest recipe of the 3.  25 minutes passed between getting the mixing bowl out of the drawer and putting the baked biscuits on the cooling rack.  Light, slightly crispy and tasty.

Seed Biscuits: This was also pretty fast.  They have a slighty savoury taste, with the taste of the caraway seeds coming almost as a surprise when you bite into them.  The dough was stiff enough to allow me to use some cutesy animal-shaped biscuit cutters.  If you can’t go a little crazy at Christmas, when can you?

Savoy Biscuits: Or, Savoy Disaster more like.  Before even starting on them, I knew the process wasn’t going to be so easy.  A lot of whisking is required – an automatic whisker would save a lot of trouble, but I decided to do it manually as I had quartered the quantities – not enough for a machine to do.  That was my second mistake (the first was attempting the recipe to begin with, given my track record).  Whisking the mix to a stiff, light froth is key – and I stunningly failed to do, as my arm got tired after 15 minutes of beating and I began to give up.  I then decided to cheat and put the mix (slop) into a small baking dish, as it was too runny to separate into individual biscuits.  I’ll cut it up later, I thought.  Only when it was in the oven did I realise my 3rd mistake – I hadn’t put the flour into the mix.  At that point I completely gave up and switched off the oven.

Sitting here now with some tea and biscuits, I have to say that I’m really quite happy with the first two recipes.  But as for the third – perhaps my mother was right.

Lemon Biscuit. Seed Biscuit and Savoy Biscuit Recipes: http://www.mrsbeeton.com/35-chapter35.html#1745 (Numbers 1743, 1749 and 1748 respectively)