Friday, 29 January 2016

My Baby Boy Graduates

It's been a busy week so far. 

DH was down in Wales for 2 days, Tuesday and Wednesday, for his aunt's funeral. He stayed at the Wetherspoons in Bridgend and, despite it being a sad occasion, he had a good time and enjoyed catching up with his cousins and having a night away in a lovely room with a king-sized bed. 

While he was away, DD3 and her fiance came to dinner on Tuesday evening. She's in so much pain with her leg at the moment that the date of her operation on 17th March can't come too soon. 

DS2 had an interview yesterday with William Hill the bookmakers, and is waiting for the decision. He also has another interview with English Heritage at Dover Castle next Tuesday. He did some volunteering with EH during the summer so hopefully that will count in his favour. 

And today was his graduation ceremony in Canterbury Catherdral.

We were out from 11.15 this morning until 6.15 this evening and had a lovely time. Everything was extremely well organised and, for our part, it all went like clockwork from DS collecting his robes and being photographed, through the ceremony in the amazing Cathedral building, to the drinks and nibbles reception at the end. Even the weather wasn't too bad, although there was a high, biting wind while we queued outside the cathedral for 15 minutes before the doors opened for admittance at 2.15. The ceremony started at 3.15 and finished at 4.30 and then we went to a reception where there was free wine or orange juice and canapes. DS stayed in Canterbury to attend a gig with his friends in the evening and we took the bus home. Even the buses were more or less on time. We couldn't have asked for a better day.

Photography wasn't allowed in the cathedral, and unfortunately there's a 4-6 week wait for the official photos, but here's some pics we took in the cathedral gardens and grounds. 

So proud of my baby boy, our youngest child, now a BA (Hons) in Commercial Music.

I'm off to bed now after a wonderful, tiring day. Sleep well everyone. Love, Helen xx

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Warming Winter Food

Not much to tell today. We managed quite a decent walk this morning while the sun was still out, via the railway station where we collected DH's ticket for Wales that I'd paid for online last night. But by the time we made it home a thick, wet mist had descended and it was feeling colder again. 

With the cold, damp weather I'm glad I have a warming pea and ham soup bubbling away in the slowcooker to be served with crusty bread for tonight's dinner. The soup was made with the last chunk from my £5 bacon joint. Last night I cut 4 thick slices from the joint and, although it was already cooked, for extra flavour I fried them without any added fat and served them with oven chips and baked beans. Including the sandwich meal we had on Thursday night, my £5 joint has done 3 lots of dinners for 4 people, 12 meals in all, and I have another joint just like it in the freezer.


The soup contains that chunk of bacon, diced, half a 500g pack of dried split green peas,  a large chopped onion, 500g diced carrots, a pork stock cube, a chicken stock cube and some black pepper. Total cost about £1.60 plus 50p for a Morrison's crusty cob loaf (75p each or 2 for £1), so about 52p a serving for 4 people.

That's it for today. Not very exciting, but a nice, slow, fairly relaxed day before the busy, busy starts next week. 

I hope you've all had a good Saturday. Love, Helen xx

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Last Of The Big Spenders

Thank you all for the lovely comments about my blanket. It was originally intended for a charity but I decided to keep it instead and donate money rather than spend so much on postage to send it off. I have nearly finished the knitted border...although there was nearly a murder done last night when DH spilled coffee into my knitting bag! Some splashed onto the border but fortunately only a small area was affected and a rinse under the tap stopped it from staining, so spousal murder was avoided. I had visions of having to wash the yards of border and have it hanging all over the place, or even worse having to unpick a stretch of it and reknit it. DH really was upset about it, so I did forgive him, especially as he'd made the coffee for me. Bless him (said through gritted teeth)!

Our sandwich dinner tonight was a 1.6kg smoked bacon joint I bought before Xmas in Morrisons for £5. Cooked for 45 minutes in my pressure cooker, left to get cold and then sliced and served with a 50p Morrison's cob loaf and pickles, it was delicious. We only used half the joint and the other half will be for tomorrow's dinner with chips and baked beans. Any scraps will go into a soup. 

DS2 made choc chip cookies using that other tin of condensed milk instead of eggs. Unfortunately, he didn't read the recipe properly and used the whole tin instead of 3/4 as per the instructions so the mixture was a bit too wet and they came out rather flat and spread out. They tasted delicious though. They weren't cheap, using a whole pound (2 x 250g packs) of butter, a tin of condensed milk, sugar, flour and 3 x 100g packs of choc chips. I calculated the total cost of ingredients at around £5. Mind you, the recipe did make about 48 cookies so not too expensive per cookie I suppose. 

I've just booked DH a room and train ticket to go to the funeral in Bridgend next week. A room at Wetherspoons was only £42.50, but the train was nearly £100. It's the 2 days lost wages that will really cost us dear, however. Never mind, that's what savings are for and there's no way he wouldn't attend after how good his cousins were when his mum was ill and passed away at the end of 2014.

And finally I splashed out a whole 50p on myself, buying this pot of miniature daffodils on offer in Morrisons. 

We don't have a garden, only a tiny narrow L-shaped back yard, so I do like to have a few flowers in the house occasionally. Big spender, that's me.

Enjoy your evening. Love, Helen xx

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Blanket Sneaky Peek and Ruth Mott's Cheese Pudding

I don't know if anyone else remembers the excellent Wartime Kitchen and Garden series that was broadcast in the early 1990s. I loved the series and I'm sorry it has never been released on dvd, although it can be watched on YouTube. I have the book of the series and there are several recipes in there. Whilst clearing out and reorganising my freezer a couple of weeks ago I came across lots of bread crusts so decided to make a version of Ruth's Cheese Pudding. I have made it in the past, but not for a long time. 

Here is the recipe from the book:-

I doubled the recipe but added a bit more cheese and substituted an extra medium egg for a little of the milk. 

This is my version:-

8 oz (225g) Fresh Breadcrumbs (approx 1/4 large loaf, Aldi - 49p, so about 12p)
Just under 1 pint/ 1/2 litre Milk (FarmFoods 2 litres/4 pints for 66p on their 3 for £2 offer, so 1 pint or 1/4 bottle for 16p)
3 Aldi medium Free Range Eggs (box of 6 for 79p, so 40p for 3)
3 oz (75g) Aldi Extra Mature Cheddar Cheese (£1.59 for 350g, so approx 34p for 75g)
2 oz (50g) Aldi Buttery Spread, melted, plus a little for greasing (89p for 250g tub, so approx 20p)
Salt, Pepper, dried or ready made Mustard to taste (approx 10p)

I used bread crusts made into crumbs in my food processor. 

I mixed the cheese, mustard, salt and pepper into the breadcrumbs, whisked the eggs, milk and melted butter together and then mixed the wet ingredients into the breadcrumbs and stirred well to combine. 

I well-greased a deep, round casserole dish, poured in the mixture and left it to stand for 30 minutes for the crumbs to soak up the milk and eggs. It was then baked just above the middle of the oven on Gas 5 for 45 minutes.

I was going to serve it with small boiled potatoes and veg but there was so much of it that I just served it with the veg.

Total cost for the pudding was £1.32 or 33p per serving for 4 large portions. I served it with approx 750g mixed peas, sweetcorn and green beans adding approx 75p or 19p a portion. Another frugal meal at approximately 52p a serving, and extremely yummy.

I'm feeling a bit better today, much more 'with it'. I'm still knitting away at the border for my blanket and laid it out on the table earlier to see how much more I had to do. The blanket is bigger than I remembered and I seem to have knitted miles of border, but I am nearly there. Approximately another yard of knitting and I can start stitching it on. Here's a sneeky peek at the blanket. 

In the spirit of frugality it is made from lots of odds and ends of yarn, some that I've had for years and years. The close up pic is of the final square I knitted using all the tiny lengths left over from the other squares. I think I might show it off by putting it over the back of the sofa for a while once it's done. It will brighten the room. I'll post more pics once the border is on it.

Although the temperature was supposed to be a couple of degrees higher today, to me it felt colder and there was still a lot of frost on the ground at 9.30 when I went along the road to Aldi. It is supposed to be warming up a bit over the next couple of days, but then rain is forecast for Friday.  Never satisfied, that's me.

Have a good evening everyone. Love, Helen xx

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Wartime Vegetable and Oatmeal Goulash

I meant to post this recipe last night but I think I'm fighting off the cold that DS2 has brought into the house and I was in bed really early. I've been headachy and sniffly for a couple of days and have felt quite dizzy at times, and then other times I've felt fine. Fingers crossed I don't get the full works; there's too much on next week for me to be ill, with DH going to Wales for the funeral and staying overnight on Tues/Weds, and DS2's graduation ceremony on Friday.

As I did a couple of more expensive meals last week I've decided to do some really frugal ones this week and was checking out Carolyn Ekins marvellous blog,

If you've never come across Carolyn before she is a real inspiration, having struggled with her weight for years, lost 100lb, regained chunks of it, trying again to lose, not giving up...sounds a lot like me except that I've never had quite that much to lose, but have lost nearly 70lbs. 

Carolyn has been featured in the papers because her weight loss involves eating a WW2 ration book diet, including puddings and cakes. Her site is a wealth of information about this fascinating period of history, something I've been interested in for a very long time. As a mother and homemaker I've always wondered how I would have coped with the food restrictions. Would my cooking and budgeting skills have managed to keep my family well-fed with limited supplies? There are over 140 recipes on Carolyn's site and having eaten a lot of meat last week I chose a vegetarian one using foods I had in the house. 

This is Carolyn's recipe for the Wartime Vegetable and Oatmeal Goulash as it appears on her site, and my changes are in the explanation at the end:-

Vegetable and Oatmeal Goulash

  • 1 lb of mixed root vegetables ( I used 1 large potato, 2 parsnips, 2 large carrots)
  • knob of dripping (I used a vegan shortening)
  • 2 oz of coarse oatmeal (porridge oats will do)
  • 1 tsp of meat extract (I used Marmite)
  • 1 pt of vegetable stock
  • mixed herbs, salt and pepper


  1. Prepare and dice the vegetables
  2. Fry in dripping until slightly cooked
  3. Add oatmeal and keep stirring until fat is absorbed
  4. Cover with vegetable stock until covered and simmer until vegetables are soft and mixture is real thick (about 45 mins)
  5. Mix in meat extract when cooking
  6. Mix in herbs, salt and pepper to taste when cooking
Serve with a nice big chunk of fresh bread. 

I made 1 1/2 times the recipe using a 500g pack of  diced carrots and swede I bought yellow-stickered for 29p, some diced parnips I had in the freezer from when they were on offer in Aldi before Xmas (about 25p), an onion (10p), a baking potato (4 for 50p in Asda so 13p), 3 oz of oatmeal (I had medium, not coarse, and I'm not sure of the price per packet, but about 15p for 3 oz), 2 tablespoons veg oil (approx 5p), some leftover gravy from the fridge (3p), 2 veg stock cubes (10p) herbs, pepper, salt (10p). 

I fried the veg in the oil for about 5 minutes, then added the oatmeal and fried another couple of minutes before adding everything else, heating through and transferring to my slow cooker to cook on low for about 4 hours. 

It made 5 large portions (4 dinners and one lunch) which I served with jacket spuds instead of bread. Total cost approx £1.20 or 24p per serving, plus a 13p jacket potato (Asda, 4 for 50p), so 37p per serving. Now that's what I call a frugal meal. 

It doesn't look all that appetising but was quite tasty, although as someone who loves spicy food I did find it a little bland. DH and my boys enjoyed it, but next time I will probably add some more herbs or a little paprika or something. I do realise that at the beginning of the war onions were in short supply, but I have that enormous sack of onions to use so that's what went in it.

I did make it to my slimming club this morning, just to get weighed as I didn't feel up to staying for an hour and a half, and I had lost 1/2 lb this week. I'm slowly getting back to my goal weight and I'm now only 1.5 lbs over it. I'm not too worried if I stick where I am, I just panic when a couple of lbs go on and I get too close to the top of my weight range so I would like to reduce by another 2-3 lbs. 

I've heard now that DD3's leg operation is due on 17th March unless there's a cancellation when it might be earlier. And DD2 has to have a week long heart monitor fitted on 6th Feb as a prelude to her possibly needing an op to close a hole in her heart. What with DH's auntie passing away, this year has certainly started with a bang. Let's hope when all these things are out of the way that things quieten down for a while, especially on the health front.  

Really cold here today, but bright and no snow. Tomorrow should be a little warmer (if 4 degrees can be called warmer) but Friday might be wet. 

Another frugal meal tomorrow. Hopefully I'll remember to take pics.

It's nearly 10.30pm so I'm going to take a couple of paracetamol and then get myself off to bed with my 2 hot water bottles. Sleep well, love Helen xx

Friday, 15 January 2016

R.I.P. Auntie Nell

We received a phone call around 9.30 last night from the husband of DH's cousin over in Wales. DH's auntie (his mum's younger sister) had passed away earlier that day following a series of heart attacks. 

In her early 90s, she'd been getting progressively worse with Alzheimers for the past few years and had also suffered with heart disease for a number of years. A couple of weeks ago her 2 daughters who lived close to her were considering a nursing home for her as the home care she was receiving was becoming inadequate as her condition worsened. The end was sudden but was probably better than her going progressively downhill. 

We've just heard the funeral will be on the 26th January and DH will travel down for it. He didn't see much of his aunt, but his cousins were amazingly helpful and supportive while his mum (who also lived in Wales) was ill and passed away at the end of 2014, so he wants to be there. 

Unfortunately, since he's not on a permanent contract at the school yet, he will have to take unpaid leave for a couple of days, and the lost wages plus train fares and hotel accomodation will probably set us back close to £500. In the same week (on the 29th) is DS2's graduation ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral which will mean another day off without pay. It's a good job I save money for emergencies.

On a happier note, it's been a lovely sunny day today. Still really cold with that biting wind, but I managed a bit of a walk and did close to 7000 steps. I haven't made it to 10,000 any day this week yet, but it should be dry over the weekend so I'm hoping DH and I can get out for at least one longer walk together. 

Dinner tonight was curry  -

1 jar Pataks Butter Chicken Sauce (75p from Approved Foods)
1 jar of Pataks Madras sauce (£1 from Asda)
2/3 pack Aldi everyday frozen chicken breasts (£3.33 for 1kg bag, so £2.22 for 2/3)
1/2 of a 750g pack of Aldi fresh stewing beef (£4.79 a pack, so £2.40 for half)
3 sachets of ready-cooked Pilau Rice (2 for £1 in Poundland, so £1.50 for 3 sachets)
1 pack of 2 garlic and coriander naan bread (Aldi 49p)
1 pack of 2 plain naan bread (Aldi 49p) 

I simmered the meat and chicken in the sauces in my 2 slow cookers on low for most of the day, and served with the heated up naan and rice. Just the thing for warming you up on a cold night in January.

The whole meal came to £8.85. That's £2.21 per serving for 4 portions, although there's also a little left over for someone's lunch tomorrow. Not the cheapest meal, but certainly a lot cheaper than a takeaway for 4 people. It would probably have been cheaper making my own sauces with curry spices, and making my own spicy rice, but this way was quick and easy and still didn't break the bank. It would also have been cheaper if I wasn't feeding 2 sons with bottomless stomachs! DH and I would have had just one kind of curry with one sachet of rice and I pack of naan. 

That's all for tonight. Have a good evening. Love, Helen xx

Thursday, 14 January 2016

No Bake Caramel Slices/Millionaire's Shortbread

I only managed just under 4000 steps today, walking straight into town to have coffee with DS1 and back again via the shops. It was cold, not freezing but much colder than it has been all winter, and there was a bitter wind. It's supposed to get colder still over the weekend. The first flake of snow and I'm hibernating...I'll wait out the rest of winter on the sofa, wrapped up in layers with a hot water bottle. Maybe you've already guessed that me and cold weather are not compatable. A ski holiday would be my idea of hell.

Thursdays are generally soup and sandwich night. We don't always have soup or sandwiches, but tend to go for 'junk' food and I sometimes bake or we have a naughty dessert. Tonight we're having fried eggs, fried potatoes and baked beans and dessert is Caramel Slices otherwise known as Millionaire's Shortbread. 

Whilst doing a stock take and sorting through the freezer and kitchen shelves earlier this week I came across 2 tins of condensed milk that had spots of rust on so I knew I would have to use them up soon. Caramel slices are a firm favourite that I haven't made in ages. 

To avoid turning on the oven I make this version with bought shortbread fingers.

Base Ingredients:

I x 210g pack of Aldi shortbread fingers (49p), crushed into crumbs
50g Aldi butter, melted (250g pack for 85p, so approx 17p)

Melt the butter (I zap it in the microwave), mix in the biscuit crumbs until well coated then press into a 7 in square or 8 inch round cake tin. Leave to cool in the fridge for approx 20 - 30 minutes.

Caramel Ingredients:

150g Aldi Soft brown Sugar (500g for approx 90p, I think, so around 30p)
150g Aldi Butter (approx 51p)
397g can of Condensed Milk (don't recall what I paid for mine but Carnations is £1.35 in Morrisons today)

Melt the butter and sugar together over a low heat, add the condensed milk, bring slowly to the boil stirring all the time. Lower heat and simmer, stirring constantly for 3-5 minutes until it darkens and thickens slightly. Do not let it stick to the bottom of the pan or you will have dark lumps in it. Pour caramel over the base and leave to cool and set slightly (it is supposed to stay softish but will firm up a bit). 


200g bar of Aldi Milk Chocolate (85p)

Break the chocolate bar into squares and then melt in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Pour the melted choc over the caramel and level out. Leave to cool and set for a while, then mark into slices before putting in the fridge to firm up.

I made mine in an 8 inch (20cm) round tin and divided it into 12 portions. I let it set a bit too much before cutting so the chocolate cracked more than it should.

Total cost (using Carnation condensed milk) approx £3.67 or 30p per slice (12 slices)

The recipe sounds like I'm advertising for Aldi. Not true but I do find them excellent for a lot of basic ingredients at very good prices. 

Sad news today that Alan Rickman has passed away. He was such a versatile actor and I've loved him since first seeing him years ago in a music video for the band Texas, and then, of course, playing the baddie, Hans Gruber, in the first Die Hard movie. He also made an amazing Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (far better looking than Kevin Cosner in my humble opinion), and he was hilariously funny in Dogma, and known to millions of children young and old as Snape in the Harry Potter films. Including David Bowie and Lemmy of Motorhead, that's 3 talented people recently lost to cancer at the young age of 69/70. Such a sad loss.

And on that melancholy note I'll say goodbye. I'm off to cheer myself up (and give myself tooth decay) with one of my caramel slices. 

Have a good evening, Love Helen xx