Sunday, 22 November 2015

A Tale of 2 Puppies

Yesterday I went out intending to collect one little girl how come I'm sitting here watching 2 little boy puppies gnawing on their chews on the rug?

It's DH's fault. There was only one girl left from the litter and I was all set to take her home when DH about we have 2 so they keep each other company, like our 2 cats do? I didn't jump at the suggestion straight away, quickly mulling over the pros and cons (and dismissing all the cons, of course), especially double the purchase price and vets bills, and insurance. When I'd more or less decided 'yes', I had to choose between the 3 boys? And then I considered what having a girl and a boy would mean before they were old enough to be neutered and the faint possibility we wouldn't catch them soon enough and end up with an unwanted pregnancy. In the end we decided to play it safe and take the one tan-coloured boy which left me to decide between 2 black and white boys. Choosing between them was so hard but I really, really, really couldn't take all 3 boys so I let DH make the final decision.

And that's how we've ended up with Ollie (tan) and Charlie (black and white) who are 10 weeks old Shih Tzu cross Toy Poodles.

Helping Dad with The Hoovering

Our two cats have had their world turned upside down and have been making themselves scarce upstairs for most of the time. I'm feeling guilty about that as my Shadow was particuarly affectionate and is currently keeping his distance. I'm really hoping both he and Halo will soon accept the pups and get back to their usual selves. 
Apologies if the gaps between pictures aren't equal; they look okay when composing the post but are out in the preview.
Really, really cold here today. The first day this year I've needed hat, scarf and gloves when going out. I've just splashed out and bought a couple of cheap room heaters for the boys bedrooms so I don't have to have the central heating on too much. This is a cold house and despite plenty of insulation in the roof, the top bedrooms are particularly chilly. I don't like spending money on electricity and gas but we need to keep warm and extra layers of clothing aren't doing it completely right now. I hope you're all managing to keep warm.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

War on Waste and Cats and Boxes

Having watched my Tivo recording of Hugh's War on Waste last night I resolved this morning to use up some of the veg I have in the fridge and vegetable basket. And it's not only my fridge but also the freezer and cupboards that have all kinds of odds and ends lurking and forgotten. 

So this morning I have made curried parsnip and carrot soup, cheddar and wholegrain mustard bread, a vegetable curry and crumble-topped raspberry muffins. 

The carrots and parsnips for the soup were just starting to go wrinkly in the veg basket. The veg curry contains more of the carrots and parsnips, some celery and cherry tomatoes from the bottom of the fridge and a part-packet of curry spice mix that had been hiding at the back of my cupboard for ages. I also tossed in a tin of Pinto beans I'd had on the shelf for a couple of months.

The bread used wholemeal flour that had also been around for a while, white bread flour, wholegrain mustard from a huge tub I bought from Approved Foods ages ago, a sachet of dried yeast that was due to go out of date this month and half a pack of Aldi grated cheddar. 

The muffins used Lurpack butter I bought reduced in M & S of all places and had in the freezer for a few months, and frozen raspberries from FarmFoods that I'd also had for a while and forgotten about. They will be served with custard for dessert tonight and tomorrow. 

The soup and bread are for tonight's dinner, and the curry will be served tomorrow with long grain rice. Two day's worth of dinners and desserts made entirely from foods I already had in the house, some that other people might have thrown away for not looking nice or being out of date. 

I do love my kitchen gadgets though. The curry is currently being cooked in my slow cooker, the soup made in my new soupmaker and I used my breadmaker for the loaf but browned the cheesy top in the oven while the muffins were baking. I could have saved money on fuel by mixing and kneading the bread by hand and baking it in with the muffins but my wrists aren't as strong as they used to be... No, that's just an excuse, truthfully, I hate kneading dough and I'm lazy so I stuck it all my ancient breadmaker but the top wasn't brown enough so it went in the oven for that final browning. 

Here are the pics of my hard work -

 Before Browning

After Browning

And here's some pics of my cats Shadow (the grey) and Halo (the colourpoint) both wanting the same shoebox -

I think Halo won that time.
Despite the forecast it's dry here today so I'm just off into town for a coffee with DS1. Hope it's not too wet and wondy where you are. Love Helen x

Friday, 30 October 2015

That Damned Car!

We had a lovely couple  of days staying with DD2 in Gloucestershire. Their flat is in quite a posh area, lots of huge Georgian mansions around about that have been transformed into flats. It was all very clean and bright...both the flat and the area. Their new kitten is so sweet and tiny, and when we arrived home yesterday our 2 cats looked gigantic in comparison. 

DD's kitten, Pumpkin, helping with the laundry

My big boy, Shadow, helping find the car's paperwork

While we were away we managed to get DH a new pair of Doc Marten shoes for £72 (originally £90) in Cheltenham after being handed a 20% discount voucher outside the shop. As a pair lasts DH for at least 2 years and he finds them so comfortable we were both pleased with the purchase. I got a cordouroy pinafore dress for £29 (half price) from White Stuff, and a proper white and blue enamelled pie dish from a great cookware shop (I could have spent hours - and lots of money - in there) so we'll be having pie some day soon.

Neptune's Fountain in Cheltenham
DD and SIL treated us to a meal out on one night, and we bought take away the night before we came home. We also found a couple of lovely tea rooms and indulged in cake and coffee.

Our trip home was memorable to say the least. You've guessed, the car broke down again. It conked out on the dual carriageway just outside Bracknall. It could have been really dangerous but luckily for us one lane was cordoned off while the council did work on the central reservation and DH just managed to coast the car behind the cones so we were safe and out of the way of traffic. But, we had to wait over an hour and a half in the rain for a mechanic and once he'd pronounced it too dangerous to drive all the way back to Kent (another 100 miles) it was another hour until the recovery vehicle turned up. The recovery driver's shift was due to end so he had to take us back to the yard in Slough to change drivers (which was lucky for us as we were both dying to use the loo). It then took hours to get through London traffic before we were finally on the road home. We left DD's place around 9.30am and arrived home about 7.30pm...a ten hour journey that should only have taken about 4-5 hours. Everyone who helped was wonderful, including the council guys who kept checking up on us and left the cones there until we'd been picked up. The car is at the garage now and quite honestly we were tempted to scrap her as we've lost all confidence in her, but our mechanic says he'll see what he can do and if we still want rid then he'll help us find a buyer.

So, for now we're back to public transport and honestly wondering whether we really need a car since DH can now get to work on the bus for less than he'd pay out in petrol and, as I don't drive, the car sits outside for most of the week and only gets used occasionally at weekends and holidays. DH only passed his test 4 years ago and before that we'd managed quite well with 5 kids and no car. We're certainly not prepared to spend much more on repairs as our poor little car isn't worth much now.

Now we're safely home and have had a good night's sleep we can look back on yesterday as an adventure. After all, we got to ride home in the back of the recovery truck! Mind you, it was a bit of a boneshaker and I ached rather this morning. Also, standing around in the rain on the central reservation of the dual  carriageway for hours was unnerving to say the least...thank goodness for those traffic cones that made it safer for us.

Taking advantage of the fine weather here today, we've been for a nice long walk via Kearsney Abbey grounds, a reminder that Dover isn't all litter and dog poo strewn streets and boarded up shops. We do have some beautiful areas around here; it's such a pity the town centre lets the residents down so badly.

The grounds of Kearsney Abbey, River Village, Nr. Dover

I was right back into  my usual routine this morning, doing laundry etc. but dinner will be quick and easy oven-baked fish and chips with peas (mushy peas for me, frozen for the others).

DH doesn't go back to work until Tuesday and as the weather is supposed to be fairly fine for the next few days we're planning on buying a bus Explorer ticket tomorrow and heading off for the day...not sure where yet.

That's all for now folks. I hope the weather is keeping fine where you are.  

Love, Helen xx

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Clocks, ComiCon and Sunday Breakfast

Did you remember to put your clocks back last night? I think it's a stupid practice, and used to play havoc with the kids' sleep patterns when they were little, but hey ho, it's something unavoidable unless I want to be out of sync with the rest of the country. Actually, I feel out of sync with much of humankind anyway for most of the time, so I suppose it wouldn't make that much difference! LOL!

Thankfully we remembered the clocks as we had to be up early to drive DS1 to Canterbury for 8.30am to pick up his coach for a trip to a ComiCon in London with the Anime club he belongs to. In case you haven't heard of it, Anime is a form of Japanese animation. Some of the films/series/graphic novels are quite adult in nature so there are fans of all ages who dress up in costumes and get together from time to time with other comic book and animated media fans for conventions. 

After dropping him off at the university campus where the coach was picking up, we drove to the Toby Carvery at Westwood Cross near Margate and had their all-you-can-eat breakfast for £3.99, plus refillable hot drinks for £1.99. That's the second breakfast I've had there this week (the first with DD3 when we went for her MRI at Margate Hospital on Monday), but thankfully I've managed to be fairly restrained on both occasions, making healthier choices and not pigging out too much. 

We then drove back via Whitfield, parked up in the Tesco car park and spent an hour wandering around the village walking off some of the breakfast calories, swooning over some of the pretty houses and criticising the new builds on the outskirts of the village. Ugly or not, they're all well beyond our limited means, but we joked that we wouldn't say 'no' to any of them if offered one for free. When we'd filled up with petrol at the Tesco station we finally headed for home.

We were out for nearly 5 hours all told, so when we got in about 1.30pm I had to catch up a bit. I put a load of washing on, chopped up chicken breasts to cook in the slow cooker with a jar of chicken supreme sauce and some button mushrooms to serve with rice for dinner, and I also made some mini banana loaf cakes to take with us to Gloucestershire tomorrow. My SIL (son-in-law), loves banana bread and the bananas in my fruit bowl would be too squishy for my taste by the time we return at the end of the week. 

It's still not 100% certain we're going tomorrow. I'm feeling much better but DH has had a tickly throat and was a bit sniffy yesterday, but isn't too bad to day. As long as he's no worse tomorrow morning we'll leave about 9.30 hoping to arrive around 2-3pm depending on how many stops we make on the way, traffic and whether we get lost etc. Hopefully our new sat nav will help us find the way safely. Fingers crossed we'll get away, otherwise it will be more difficult to visit once DD2 starts her new job and both her and SIL are working full time.

Forgot to say that we have lovely weather here today, just right for walking.  Hope it's dry where you are and you've been having a lovely weekend.

Love and hugs, Helen xx

Friday, 23 October 2015

New Soup Maker

Here is my lovely new red and silver soup maker. 

The blender function on my beloved jug soup maker packed up last week. It still cooks but won't blend to make the smooth soup I prefer. I have tried transferring the cooked soup to my smoothie maker and it does blend it nicely, but it's messy and inconvenient, and harder to clean than a soup maker. I eat soup most days and make 2-3 lots a week so I've been on the look out for an affordable replacement. Full price they can be anything from £50 -£80 and DD2 bought me my original one for Mother's Day, a refurbished model from Ebay. I could have bought another refurb for about £40 on Ebay but I preferred to have a new one with a full guarentee. Fortunately for me, I popped into the Co-Op yesterday and they had a lovely red one for £39.99. It was the last red one on the shelf and next to it was the more common black one at £20 more expensive. I am extremely pleased with my brand new soup maker, the blender function works perfectly and I have already made a veg and lentil soup for today's lunch. In addition, by registering it on the Morphy Richards website the 1 year guarentee has been extended to 2 years. 

More good news. DD2 went for an interview at a hospital yesterday and has been given a job in the patient experience department. It's a similar post to the one she held at Canterbury hospital but is full time and on a higher pay scale. Not bad going since they've only been in the area for 2 weeks and this was her very first interview. DD3 also has a new job closer to home, saving her money on travel and away from the strained atmosphere at her previous post. Now if DS2 could just find work...He's been awarded his degree in Commercial Music but so far can't even find retail work. 

My cold is still making me feel grotty but I'm hoping it will have cleared up by Monday so we can go and visit DD2. I don't want to take my germs down to them when they're both new to their jobs.

Right, I'm off to sample some of that soup before taking it easy this afternoon catching up on recorded episodes of A Place  in the Sun and dreaming of warmer climates.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

First Cold of The Winter

Apologies, as always, for my absence. I know I'm an extremely bad blogger but, if anyone's still reading, here's a catch up on what's been happening in my neck of the woods.

DD2 and her new hubby moved across the country to Gloucestershire a couple of weeks ago. As she lived around the corner and was my regular coffee shop companion I am missing her tons, but probably saving money as we took it in turns to pay when we went out. Before she moved we celebrated her 30th birthday with a family meal at a country pub and then back here for cake.

Hopefully we'll be driving across to visit them next week as it's half term and DH has the whole week off. The trip is dependent on 2 things, one is me being free of the rotten cold I currently have, and the second is our little car actually making it there and back. The car was fine going from Dover to South Wales and back around this time last year when MIL was in hospital before she passed away, but it's been extremely temperamental lately and we've lost faith in its reliability somewhat.

But, in the hope that all goes smoothly, we have invested in a brand new sat nav which cost us virtually nothing as we had £40 in 'Love to Shop' vouchers left over from our abortive swap to Sky about 18 months ago, and DH had a £35 giftcard presented to him when he left his last school. I added £14.99 in cash and we got a half price Gamin sat nav from Argos at  the weekend.

In other news, DD3 has finally had a proper contrast MRI scan done on her hip and thigh. Previously her doctor had ignored the physio's recommendations and sent her for an ordinary MRI which showed no damage to the joint and, without the contrast of the injected dye, it didn't show any damage to the muscles which has been her issue all along. This mistake has cost 3 months of delays and pain for DD, and goodness knows how much wasted money for the NHS. The contrast MRI was on Monday and we are now waiting for the results with the hope that something is found that can be repaired. She's putting off planning for the wedding until she knows whether she will need an operation, when it will be done and how long the recovery period should be. She really doesn't want to be limping down the aisle relying on a crutch as she has to at the moment.

Talking of hips/thighs and limping...I have seen a local chiropractor a couple of times lately and her pulling and pushing and massaging has made a big difference to the pain in my hip. According to her, not only did I have that slight curvature of the spine diagnosed by my doctor, but my pelvis was all misaligned which was causing the muscles to compensate, which in turn was trapping the sciatic nerve, which is why the pain was in my thigh and hip when the damage was in my lower back. Of course, I have had to pay for this treatment when the doc only offered physio at some magical future date when things got too painful for me to cope with. But it has been well worth finding the money as I have very little pain now and can walk a lot more easily. I only have to see her about 3 more times and then leave it to determine if the results are permanent or will at least last for some time with maybe the occasional top up appointment.

DH had an interview yesterday for a permanent post at the school where he's been supply teaching for the past few weeks, and this afternoon he heard that he'd got the job. He'll still be employed as a supply teracher for a few more months until his contract with the agency expires but after than he'll become a permanent staff member which means he'll get paid during the holidays and for sick days, and will also pay into a pension fund again. It will be nice to have a guarenteed income again and not to have to worry whether he'll have work at the start of each term.

Dinner tonight was a lovely pasta dish cooked by DS2. Both the boys have started showing an interest in cooking lately and I am happy to encourage them. For dessert I made some lemon loaf cakes topped with a crunchy lemon syrup. Instead of making one large cake I baked the mix in a set of 4 small tins I bought for £2 in a charity shop.

Baking the mixture in smaller tins means they cooked faster saving on gas, and as I also baked a meat pie at the same time I made the most of having the oven on.

After running the freezer right down over the past month and a half I did a big stock up of frozen foods last week. I had a £12 off a £60 shop code for Tesco and £2.50 off £25 shop for Farm Foods. The freezer is now overflowing, and I've also started storing stuff for Christmas. I'm also well stocked up on cat litter, loo rolls, toothpaste and deodorant amongst other things so should only need to buy odd bits and pieces for the next couple of months. 

That's all I can think of for now and, as my head is pounding and my sore throat killing me, I'm off to bed for an early night in the hope I'll be feeling better in the morning.

Good night everyone and thanks for reading, love Helen xx

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Easy Slow Cooker Macaroni Cheese

This is another really easy recipe. I adapted it from an American 'crockpot' recipe and made it lower in fat. It doesn't look exactly like ordinary mac and cheese, and it isn't quite the same texture as one made with a traditional flour and fat cheese sauce, but it tastes delicious. 

This is the original recipe - 

Easy Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

This Easy Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese Recipe is actually SUPER easy like the picture says. It’s basically just dump everything in the crockpot and end up with oozy, cheesy goodness! I recommend stirring it a couple of times while cooking if possible (but not necessary) and start checking it every 15 minutes or so starting at the two hour mark so you can stop cooking when it is to the consistency that you like.

3 cups milk 12 oz can of evaporated milk
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz brick of cream cheese
16 oz box of elbow macaroni
Place all in crockpot and set heat to low. Cook for 2-3 hours or until noodles are soft and sauce is the consistency you like.

And this is how I adapted it - 

1.5  pints of semi-skimmed milk (30p, from a 4 pint bottle at 2 x 4 pints for £1.50 in FarmFoods)
300ml tub Reduced Fat Creme Fraiche (Aldi 59p)
200ml tub Lighter Soft Cheese (Aldi 49p)
250 g grated Mature Cheddar  (Aldi -250g ready grated cheese for £1.49, I use the full fat as I don't find the reduced fat melts properly)
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard (approx 5p)
Black pepper
500g pack macaroni (not sure of price as I bought mine ages ago from Approved Foods)

Instructions as per the original recipe, just dump everything in and set on low, except I kept back 50g of the cheddar to sprinkle on top. 

I found the pint and a half of milk had been absorbed after about an hour so I added extra milk every 15 minutes. Not sure exactly how much more milk as I just splashed some more in, but probably about another 1/2 to 3/4 pint.  It was done after 2 hours when the pasta was nice and soft and the milk mostly absorbed.

Once cooked I tipped the mac and cheese into a casserole dish, topped it with the remaining cheddar and browned it in my halogen oven, although it could be done in a regular oven or under the grill. 

As you can see I substituted creme fraiche for the evap milk and I also added some chopped cooked bacon and finely diced onion. 

It made a great big pot full and would easily serve 6 people. Four of us had it for dinner with spinach leaves, cucumber and cherry tomatoes and there's enough remaining for a couple of lunches tomorrow.