Friday, 29 August 2014

Cupcakes Galore

I spent 3 hours in the kitchen this morning baking and icing 3 different types of cupcakes for a get together DD2 and her fiance are having tonight for his family. 

As I'm supposed to be making cupcakes for their wedding next May, I tried out a couple of new recipes as well as my usual tried and tested American recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting. 

I used recipes for chocolate cakes using cocoa, and strawberry milkshake cakes using Nesquick, from the Hummingbird Bakery book. I'm not very impressed with the results actually as they all sank slightly in the middle whereas my vanilla ones were fine. The book used a funny way of combining the ingredients which I didn't care for, but I followed the recipe for this first attempt. I'm sure they will all get eaten as her fiance has lots of young nieces and nephews, and I've kept a few back for DH and my boys and they will eat almost anything. I had enough tastings whilst doing the frosting and I pinched a couple of chocolate buttons from the pack too, so I don't feel the need to have a whole cupcake. 

I will give the recipes another go, but think next time I might mix them as I usually do the vanilla ones. Decorating the cakes for the actual wedding will be done by fiance's mother as I'm not much cop at that kind of thing. Cake decoration is her hobby, and she's excellent at it even though she's only been doing it for a few months since she retired.

I'm off to deliver the cakes in a moment and then have a relaxing afternoon. I'm all achy after standing in the kitchen for so long, so I think the syringe driver bags will have to wait another day or so to be finished off.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Giving Something Back

I'm still here folks. Hope you are all well. 

Sorry for my absence; I've just had such trouble getting motivated to do anything for the past couple of months so my poor blog has been sadly neglected. Even crafting has been too much trouble; I just couldn't force myself to get off the sofa. In fact, some days getting out of bed in the mornings didn't seem worthwhile either.

One bright point has been our anniversary trip to Scotland which was a truly special week. We absolutely loved Oban and the Islands and had pretty good weather all things considered. The hotel was the usual Shearings cheap and cheerful, but had wonderful views of the Isle of Mull and we had trips included to Mull and Iona, and also Loch Lomond and the Isle of Seil. I loved Seil and would happily live there. I have some gorgeous photos but won't bore you with dozens of holiday snaps...well, maybe just a few at a later date.

A particularly low point was the 8 hours we spent absolutely terrified when we thought our youngest son had gone missing and might even have been the person killed on the railway line near Ashford a couple fo weeks ago. Fortunately it was case of an uncharged mobile phone making it impossible to contact him, a disagreement with his girlfriend, and drowning his sorrows in the pub. Thank goodness for his amazing friends and for Facebook which his mates used to contact each other and put out an alert to track him down, which they did eventually. It was also amazing how his sisters and brother rallied around, and their being so upset shows that they really love their little brother. There were lots of tears all round, not least from DS2 when he realised how much worry he'd caused everyone. We were just thankful to have him home safe and well, but really feel for the relatives of anyone who genuinely goes missing. I never want to relive the terror again.

Other lows include DH having bronchitis, and his 93 year old mum having a fall and breaking her left wrist...and she's left handed.  Being sick, DH had to wait until the antibiotics kicked in and he was not only well enough to travel to Wales, but was also unlikely to give his germs to any of the residents of MIL's nursing home. He did eventually get to see her for a few days and she's now doing quite well, but is starting to really look quite frail.

So, things have been quite eventful, and also this week DH started his new job teaching Maths at a secondary school where he did supply teaching last year. It's quite a lot more money than at the college and he will get the full school holidays off which he didn't get there, but unfortunately it is an hour's drive each way so he's been pretty tired this week getting used to the travelling. I'll be keeping a close eye on him as there's no way I want him having another breakdown. I'd much rather we scrape by on a supply teaching salary than have him working himself to death for more money.

Although my low mood is still hanging around, I'm having a few more good days than bad lately and I have a new project that has lifted my spirits and given me a purpose to get off my backside and do some sewing.

This is a syringe driver.

And these are handmade syringe driver bags.

The above bags were made by other people but the one below was made by me this afternoon using the pattern and fabric kit sent to me by a wonderful lady called Julie who co-ordinates this site -

The bags are super easy to make. This was my first attempt and took under an hour to complete using the precut fabric from Julie. I have already got 4 more cut out from my own fabric stash and ready to finish off tomorrow. The bags I make will go to the Pilgrim's Hospice at Margate which is where my mum, Maureen Beniston, was cared for until her death in July 2005. Although I have donated money to the hospice in the past and also funded a brick in a path in their garden with mum's name engraved on it, I am absolutely thrilled that I have found a way of using my crafting to help them out and giving something back for the care they gave mum. 

I will also be making tote bags for patients' personal effects, and I have offered to make other things such as cards or knitted items for them to use or sell to raise funds. I am waiting to hear if they will take me up on that offer.

Apart from all that, I am still trying to be frugal but not always succeeding and I'm cooking for 4 again with DS2 back home and probably living with us for the rest of this academic year. I'm also still trying to lose the last few lbs to get to my target weight but have been taking off and putting back on the same 1/2 lb for the past 6 weeks. At least I'm maintaining and not gaining. I have now notched up a 4 1/2 stone loss with about 5lbs to go to target, and I was voted Woman of the Year at my slimming club...although the vote was only between 2 of us as you had to have lost over 4 stone to be eligible!

I think that's all for now. Now I'm feeling a bit better I will try and update more regularly, at least a couple of times a week, and I'll start reading other people's blogs and commenting again which I haven't done much of lately. 

Goodnight everyone.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Manky Carrot Pie and Yellow Stickers

This should have been posted  a couple of days ago but our internet has been extremely flaky over the weekend, cutting out for a few minutes here and there and for longer periods too.

I am definitely not happy with Sky broadband; we've had nothing but problems since we moved over to them about 2 months ago. The TV service is fine, although when the internet connection goes down we also can't access the 'on demand' service. Although Virgin's cable service was more expensive we rarely had problems with our internet connection and when there was an issue they'd sort it out quickly, but with Sky being satelite they like to blame atmospheric conditions etc. Also, because it shows at their end that our signal is fine they won't send anyone out to investigate why it keeps going down at our end. Whatever happened to the 'customer is always right'? Do they think DH and I get our kicks being on the phone for 40 minutes at a time while they go through the same old spiel time and time again? Is that why they won't take our word for it? And if the problems are due to weather conditions will we have internet at all during the winter? One thing's for sure, they will not be getting our business when this year's contract expires. We will probably go back to Virgin just for the internet and either get Freeview TV or do without TV completely and watch programmes through our laptops. If things get too bad during the winter we might even go to another company anyway and just have to continue paying Sky as well until the contract expires. This is a case of cheaper definitely not being better.

Anyway, following that rant here's the point of this post. 

Would you throw away this carrot? 

Many people would, but just look at it once it's been peeled? 

Not a mark on the inside of it. 

I had a few carrots like this that had gone a bit manky and just by chance I got an email from Penny's Recipes for Carrot and Onion Pie ( 

This is my version of this extremely frugal pie. Being lazy I couldn't be bothered grating the carrots and onions so I whizzed them up in my food processor and also mixed the pastry in it too.

I'm avoiding eating pastry so didn't try it but it was pronounced delicious by my 3 men and cost me virtually nothing to make.

As I'm striving hard to get the last few lbs off to reach my target weight I'm snacking on a lot of fruit at the moment so I'm always on the lookout for yellow stickers. Over the past week I've bought a lot of reduced price melon (including a huge chunk of watermelon for just 9p) and I got these in Asda a couple of days ago:-

The apricots weren't reduced but were only 67p on special offer, and I love the doughnut much easier to eat and a smaller stone than the regular kind. In the top picture there are also some Cornish crystal new potatoes reduced to 61p.
As DH has eaten out at a leaving do at college today and I generally stick to soup the day before my weigh-in, I'm doing the boys frozen faggots, chips and peas tonight for dinner. 

I'm trying to feed us from the freezer and cupboards again this week and spend as little as possible on extras. It shouldn't be hard as I have loads of stuff in. Today I've spent just over £1 and that was for paracetamol and micropore tape for the medicine cupboard.

Now, let's see if the internet will play ball and let me post this.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

I Can Crochet Update

I can definitely crochet. 

At least I can make granny squares, join them together with a crocheted seam, work a border around them and then neatly finish off the edge with double crochet. 

So here's the great unveiling of my very first completed crochet project.

I must admit to being quite pleased with the end result and it will go to my mother-in-law in the nursing home in Bridgend as a gift for her Christmas Eve birthday. I'm going to press it gently and then wrap it so its all ready for when I need to post it. One less thing to do later in the year.

I'm now looking forward to starting on another project since I've been concentrating on this one for a while. Or perhaps I could attempt to finish off my hexie quilt. Or should I start on something completely new? Or make more bags?  Decisions, decisions. I think a delve into my magazine stash for inspiration is the order of the day. Any excuse to spend a few hours looking at lovely crafty stuff.

In other news, on the strength of her performance as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, DD3 has been asked to perform in a play at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. She will play the possessed daughter of one of the characters in a production called Horror Box at the end of September. I'm not sure whether I shall go to see it as she says its really scary.  Despite my enjoying True Blood and Penny Dreadful and such like on TV, I'm not so sure I can stomach that kind of horror on stage, especially as it looks like the audience might be involved in the action. I'm sure her brothers and sisters will enjoy it though. She's also in the local dramatic society's pantomime of Snow White, although she doesn't know what role she'll have yet. Now that's far more my kind of thing these days. She's also been asked to sing again at the Town Hall later this year in another 'music from the musicals' event. She'll be singing 5 songs this time including a duet with her boyfriend and another with the guy who played Judas in JCS. As she also has a full time job she's going to be rather busy with work and rehearsals over the next few months.

Since today is Thursday, we had our regular sandwich dinner tonight. Sandwich Night originated a few months ago when it was only DS1 still living at home. He would go to his Anime club on a Thursday night so DH and I would just have sandwiches and sometimes soup or salad for dinner. Since DS2 moved back home and the Anime club is on a break over the summer, I now make a bit more of an effort for the 4 of us, but we still have something bread-related for Thursday dinner. For tonight I made cheese-topped finger rolls, grilled pork sausages and fried onions. 

The rolls were made with bread flour from Approved Foods and yeast from Aldi, and just a couple of ounces of extra strong cheddar on offer in Morrisons. The sausages were 99p for 8 from Aldi and these are our favourite ordinary pork sausages as they are nice and firm and don't shrink much. The onions were also from Aldi.

I also made a tray of brownies as a treat for dessert to serve with vanilla ice cream. 

My greedy lot wolfed everything down so quickly it was only at the last minute I manage to snap a few pictures.

As I'm trying hard to stick to my diet lately and stay off the bread and cake, I had Quorn sausages, eggs fried using Frylight spray and baked beans, and a yogurt for dessert (although a few brownie crumbs might have snuck into my mouth when I was cutting them into pieces). 

Talking of my weight...guess who got her 4 1/2 st award this week?  I've had a surge of determination during the past few weeks and have lost 5 lbs over a 3 week period despite having 2 birthdays to celebrate. I've also raised my target by a few pounds so I now only have 4 1/2 lbs to lose. I decided to settle for a slightly higher target weight and will try to stay a couple of pounds below it rather than aim for lower and have trouble maintaining, which is what has happened in the past.

Right, I think that's all I have for now. Hope the weather is better where you are than it is here in Dover. Whatever happened to our summer?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Break a leg!

Quick update before we go out the door to see DS2 play a gig in Deal...hopefully, unlike last time, this one will actually go ahead and he'll get paid for it.

Of course, the title could refer to wishing DS good luck for his gig, but actually it's me who has broken something; not a leg, but a toe. Look away now if you're squeamish or don't like anything to do with feet.

This is the selfie I took of my poor toe, almost black after the silly thing decided to move in the opposite direction to the others when I came downstairs this morning.

It must be broken with the way it's swollen, the colour it's gone and how painful it is, but there's no point going to minor injuries as they don't even x ray breaks to toes any more and would only strap it to the next one anyway, so I've taped it to its neighbour myself. Now I'm hobbling about and my plans for a nice long walk this weekend are on hold until further notice.

I still limped to the bus station this morning to catch my ride to Hythe for a bag making workshop. No way was a little thing like a broken toe going to stop me going, but it was painful and the walk probably didn't do the injury any good. 

Anyway, this is the bag I made:-

And this is Shadow claiming it as his own. 
He fell asleep in it for hours this afternoon and I had to wait for him to wake before I could take it back to actually use as a shopping bag.

Okay, that's all I've got for now. Hope everyone has a good evening

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Makeshift Garden-Less Gardening

Inspired by what I've seen on other blogs I thought I'd join the green-fingered brigade and write a gardening post.

As for the title...well, I don't actually have a garden, just a pitifully small L-shaped concreted back yard with enough room to string a few washing lines across it and very little else. Nevertheless, today I've been gardening.

In the past I've grown quite a few bits and pieces in pots but haven't been organised enough to plant anything for a couple of years. I hadn't intended growing anything this year either but a lovely generous lady at my slimming club asked a few weeks ago if anyone wanted some tomato plants. Free is my favourite price so I thought I'd take a couple and see how that went. I still had some pots and plastic planters and also 1/2 a bag of compost from previous attempts, so the plants went into a nice big terracota flower pot and they're doing quite well and have now sprouted some pretty yellow flowers. I'm hoping to add a homegrown tomato or two to my salads in the near future. 

I hadn't intended planting anything else this year, but an idea in this month's Craftseller magazine caught my eye and I thought I'd give it a go. The project was to make a hanging basket from a metal colander. I had just the thing languishing unused at the back of my cupboard; a cream and green enamelled colander. I decided to make a mini herb garden as I already had some packets of seeds, and all I paid out for extra was a pack of 2 hanging basket liners from Poundland. 

This is the result of my makeshift hanging basket herb garden. 

It's not as pretty as the one in the magazine that had proper chains to hang it with, but then that one was intended to be sold for profit. Mine is suspended by some old boot laces but it does what I want it to and I'm hoping the seeds (basil, marjoram, chives and parsley) will sprout as they are a couple of years past their sell-by date. I'll keep you updated if (when) I actually get plants growing in it.

While I was sorting through the seed packets I came across salad leaves and lettuce. Using the last of the compost, I sprinkled those in one of the plastic planters. I've previously had good results with baby salad leaves and would love to be able to pick my own instead  of buying packets of chopped leaves that go off in a couple of days. 

Since I was on a grow-your-own-without-a-garden roll I also made a cress tray from an old ice cream tub lined with dampened toilet tissues and placed it on the kitchen windowsill. Once again, the cress seeds are out of date so I'm not sure whether my efforts will be successful, but I hope so as I love egg and cress with low fat mayonnaise on a jacket potato.

It just goes to show that anyone can grow their own veg at very little cost. The seeds themselves are the most expensive item nowadays as compost can be bought cheaply at a supermarket, and containers can be improvised from almost anything. If I'd had to buy my seeds then Ebay is the place to look or the £1 shops in the Spring as this time of year most have very little choice of seeds left.

I'm open to any advice from seasoned gardeners out there. I also wonder whether anyone else remembers growing cress in this way at school or, as my kids did, on damp cottonwool stuffed into an eggshell with a face painted on it so that it looked hair.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Just Checking In...

Hi, everyone, just checking in to let you all know I'm still around.

Sorry for my absence these past couple of weeks. June is always a busy month for us with 4 birthdays (including mine on the 21st) and Father's Day, but this year it seems to have been particularly manic with something popping up every other day. In between all the madness I had a week of feeling extremely depressed and not being able to pick myself up. It meant I didn't have the energy or incentive to do much of wading through thick fog that clung to me and dragged me down. I'm still a bit bleugh on that front but better than I was. I actually made 2 birthday cards and a Doctor Who cushion cover for DD1's birthday last week; a great improvement on the previous week when I couldn't do much more than sit on the sofa with a bit of crocheting. 

Talking of crochet, I'm hoping to have the blanket I've been working on finished to show you all soon. I'm really pleased with it as my very first crochet project and it will be put by for my mother-in-law's Xmas eve birthday.

Anyway, the month ends on a very positive note with DS2 getting his results for his HND course. Out of 8 modules he gained 2 passes, 4 merits and 2 distinctions giving him an overall merit profile. He needed merits to progress to the third year to gain a degree qualification so he's done that with knobs on. Now he just has to decide whether to go to a different college to continue with a degree in musical performance or to stay at the same one and concentrate on the technical side eg. recording etc. He got a special 'well done' dinner tonight of shop bought burgers and chips followed by choc button ice cream cones...junk food, but he loved it.

I'm hoping for a less hectic July, but with a bag making workshop and DS2 playing a gig this Friday, dinner with my sisters later in the month, and our wedding anniversary and holiday on 26th that's already a portion of the calender filled. Really looking forward to that holiday, though; I need a change of scenery and DH needs a break from work.

Right, it's getting late and I'm exhausted because I've not been sleeping well (either the depression gives me insomnia or the insomnia causes the depression...vicious circle!).

Take care everyone and see you in July.

Love and hugs, Helen x