Tuesday, 31 December 2013

No Oven Required

Firstly a big HI to Karen who has been reading for a while and left me a lovely comment.

There are lots of posts on other blogs looking back over 2013 or forward to 2014. I've done my share of reflecting and here are my new year resolutions, such as they are:-

Make more of what I already have (money, food and belongings - as well as my food stockpile, I have piles of fabric, wool and card making goodies and I really don't need to buy any more).

Avoid spending at all costs unless absolutely unavoidable

Reuse and/or repair whatever I can

Seek out the ultimate bargain when I do have to replace something

Find alternative pastimes rather than going shopping (this will be a big change because I do love wandering around the shops even when I'm pretty skint).

Realise that spending on Ebay or in the charity shops is just as wasteful if its on something I don't really need

To actually stick to my weekly or monthly menu plans that I might have spent  hours compiling but usually get distracted into abandoning after a few days

To lose the last stone and get to my healthy goal weight having then lost over 5st in 2 years

Okay, that's quite a lot of good intentions and I'm sure I'll think of more and won't always abide by them, but listing them has helped clarify some of the things I can do to save money and not be so wasteful.

I have to admit to some charity shop shopping today, but that was a necessity and not for me. I dragged DH around all the shops in Dover town centre searching for work trousers for him. He doesn't have to wear a suit but when supply teaching in a school he has to dress rather smarter than his usual scruffy, much-worn cargo pants and t shirts. We nearly always buy his shirts from charity shops but trousers are more difficult with him being so short (5ft 4in). He needed another pair of smart trousers and today we were fortunate to find him a good pair that looked like new and were his size of 36in waist 29in leg for £5.50 in the British Heart Foundation shop. So, that was a necessary purchase at a bargain price (similar ones were £29.50 full price in M&S and still £20 in their sale). His jeans are also worn but I am going to mend those by taking off a pocket and patching the split in the backside. I've already put popper fastenings on his cargo pants with the broken zips and with a loose t shirt or long jumper over them no one knows the difference. Its a good job he's not at all fussy about his clothes.

My 'no oven' heading refers to tonight's dinner. Remember those leeks I got yellow stickered for 21p and that final chunk of gammon left from Xmas? Well tonight's dinner was leeks in cheese sauce served with baked potatoes and gammon. all cooked in my slow cookers. Cost for the meal was approx £2.50 for 3 people and there are potatoes left over for tomorrow's lunch.

I sliced and washed the leeks and put them in the slow cooker on high with just a little boiled water for 2 hours. Half and hour before dinner time I mixed 2 white sauce mixes (Appoved Foods 10 for £1) with a little cold water and a tablespoon of dried milk granules, and then mixed this into the hot leeks and liquid adding a little more boiling water to get the right consistency. I let this come back to bubbling for about 15 minutes them stirred in about 6 ounces of grated cheddar.

The baked spuds were done in my other slow cooker, and I just sliced the remaining gammon between the 3 of us. So...no oven required for the main course.

I also made a jam sponge pudding with custard for DH and DS1's dessert (I was very good and stuck to fruit and yogurt), and I did use an oven, but it was my microwave. Here's my recipe for Microwave Sponge Pudding (it will be in ounces because that's what I still use most of the time):-

2 oz soft margarine
2 oz caster sugar
3 oz Self Raising Flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 medium egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons jam or syrup

Literally bung all the ingredients (except the jam or syrup) into a mixing bowl, beat together for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Put the jam or syrup in the bottom of a pudding bowl (I don't even grease it as it seems to come out okay without) and spread the sponge mix on top. Wrap the bowl in pleated cling film (to allow room for it to rise), or like me you could put it into a large plastic food bag and fold the opening part beneath the bowl. Cook on high (my microwave is 800w) for 3 minutes. Remove the cling film/bag as soon as its done or it will get sucked down and compress the sponge. Take care not to scald yourself on the steam. Allow to stand for 1 minute before serving.

 This would probably serve 4 people but my piggy guys ate it between them.

I also make my custard in the microwave. I use 3/4 oz custard powder, 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tbsp dried milk  in a deep jug mixed with a little cold water to make a smooth paste. I then pour on boiling water, stirring all the time before nuking it in the micowave for 30 seconds, stir and then microwave again for 20 seconds.

Our New Years Eve will (hopefully) be quiet and peaceful. We'll likely stay up until midnight and watch the fireworks over the harbour from our bedroom window and listen to the horns of the boats as they bring the New Year in. We won't be drinking or partying but watching the top 5 Big Bang Theory episodes (as voted by viewers) until 10.30 and then a dvd or film on TV. We did contemplate stepping out for a drink or two this evening, but the weather is foul again with high winds and rain so we're happy to stay in the warm.

However you spend this evening I thank my readers and wish you all the very best for a happy 2014.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Aunt Polly's Pie, Yellow Stickers and Post Christmas Weigh-In

Anyone else still using up Christmas leftovers. Apart from a small chunk of gammon, I am now out of leftovers having just made Aunt Polly's Pie. Which isn't really a pie at all but more of a layered type of meatloaf.

I believe the recipe was originally in an old Farmhouse Kitchen cookbook but it's so easy and I use it every year so I no longer need to look up the instructions. Basically you need leftover turkey or chicken (you could probably use goose or duck or whatever else you had to for your Xmas lunch), leftover stuffing and either cooked gammon or thinly sliced raw bacon rashers. In a loaf tin (or other suitable baking tin or dish) you spread out a thin layer of the stuffing, top that with chunks of chicken and then lay sliced gammon (or bacon rashers) on top of that. You then build it up like this in layers - stuffing, chicken, gammon or bacon- until you end up finally with a top layer of stuffing. If using raw bacon rashers you could probably lay a couple on top of this stuffing layer. Next you pour over a few tablespoons of stock or gravy just enough to stop it all being too dry and then cover in foil. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake another 15 minutes. Cut into slices to serve.

We had it served with Aldi's potato wedges (79p for 750g) and Aldi baked beans (24p a tin). Yummy.

I know I said I was going to use up my stockpile but yesterday I got seduced by some yellow sticker products when I went into Asda to buy some bananas and yogurts. I got this lot as well, all for under £8.

The extra lean minced beef was originally £4 a pack or 2 for £7, reduced once to £2.72 a pack and then again to £1.71 which is what I paid. The turkey mince was £2.50 full price reduced to £1.67 and I paid £1.02.

The leeks were 75p down to 43p to 21p, the onions were £1 a pack down to 57p and I paid 27p, and 2 white loaves for toast originally 46p down to 23p and I paid 9p. See why I couldn't resist?

And finally, I am happy to say that despite eating more than enough over Christmas and getting through chocolate liquers, choc biscuits, choc log with cream etc. etc. I got right back to my Slimming World plan on Friday 27th. It was actually a relief to return to healthier eating after all that rich food. Thankfully I must have lost anything I did gain during my gluttony because, instead of having put on weight at my weigh-in this morning, I have actually lost another 1.5lb. I now have just 2lb to lose to get my 4st off award, and then I'll be 1 stone and 1.5 lbs away from my goal of 10st 6lb. I am 2st 2lb lighter than I was this time last year and hoping to achieve that goal by my birthday in June.

Our New Year is (hopefully) going to be a quiet one. Just us and the TV.  No visitors, no booze. I just hope our neighbours aren't too noisy as the year before last we had pounding music that made the house rock from 8pm until 8am. I know its New Year but that was a little ridiculous. How is everyone else planning on spending their New Year's Eve?

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day Baking (or Mission Fill the Freezer).

We had to go out and buy a new vacuum cleaner this morning. Our Frankenstein model finally gave up the ghost. It was made from the body and parts of two separate cleaners held together with parcel tape (the working motor section of one model that had broken tubes combined with the intact tubes of another one with a non-working motor). It had served us well for several months, delaying the need to purchase new, but we finally had to admit defeat when Frankie sputtered to a halt and wouldn't start again. Thank goodness we had enough money to go and buy another one without having to put it on credit. We managed to get a Hoover model suitable for pet hair (much needed with our two cats) at less than half price (normally £129.99 and we paid £59.99) from Argos. I generally buy electrical goods from there if I can as they have such a good returns policy. Thank goodness I can put the manual carpet sweeper away that we keep for emergencies; it doesn't do a very good job and is quite hard work to use.

We managed a walk along the seafront  in glorious sunshine after our spending spree. Although it was quite nippy, there was very little wind and the sea was calm after such horrible weather over the past few days. Then we went into Weatherspoons for a coffee. Their lovely filter coffees are just £1.15 for a large mug and until 2pm you can have as many refills as you like.

This afternoon was spent slaving over a hot stove. Though it wasn't so much slaving as there was no pressure and I thoroughly enjoyed doing some baking. You would think that after all the cooking I did yesterday and my plans for a simple meal of cold meats, chips and beans this evening, that I would want to avoid the kitchen as much as possible today. Not so. With the kids mostly ensconced in their bedrooms and no visitors until tea time I made a start on using up some of my stockpile to make meals for the freezer.

DH had requested an Apple and Blackberry Crumble Loaf Cake with custard for dessert tonight.

While I had the oven on for that I decided to use my last catering pack of pastry mix and some of my tins of stewed steak in gravy (both from Approved Foods) and make a couple of pies to freeze. 

I made up the whole bag of pastry mix, used some of it to make the pies and froze the remainder in 1.5lb lumps for another day. Each 8in round pie used 2 tins of stewed steak and will serve 4-6 depending on how many of my boys are eating. 

I also made 2 cakes so one of those will get frozen. The pies cooked faster than the cakes so once they were out of the oven I used the free shelves to part-cook the oven chips for dinner. I try and make the most of it whenever I have the oven on.

Now tonight’s dinner is over I’ll take stock and see just what leftovers I have. Tomorrow will almost certainly be ham and potato soup using some of the bacon joint we had for Xmas breakfast, some leftover raw potatoes because DH peeled too many for Xmas lunch, and I’ll probably throw in the remaining carrots and peas. The stock will be the jelly from cooking the bacon in the slow cooker and the juices from the chickens. I’ll probably make cheese scones from another AF mix to go with it. 

I’m thinking that the leftover chicken will get made into a curry, and the last bits will be combined with sausage meat stuffing to make another pie possibly for Saturday to serve with the remaining cooked veg. Any remaining scraps of bacon will get added to a macaroni cheese or I might make a quiche using up some of the AF soya cream I got at 4 cartons for £1.

I have some parsnips left and loads more potatoes from the sack we bought last week, and there’s also some of the chopped veg packs I got reduced a few weeks back in Morrison’s. There’ll be plenty to make a vegetable stew, and maybe a vegetable curry or chilli.

I really don't think it will be a problem to stretch the leftovers until New Year's Day. 

What plans do you have for using up your leftovers?

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Homemade Gifts and Food Glorious Food.

It's nearly 11pm and Christmas is just about over for another year. Despite all my advance preparation I still couldn't sleep last night for thinking about everything I still had to do. It was nearly 2 am before I finally dropped off. Consequently I overslept by half and hour so was late getting started on the breakfast preparations. Thankfully DD2 and her boyfriend were a bit late arriving so everything was ready when they got here.

Apart from me running around getting everything done, we had a good family chill-out day. Some of us didn't even get dressed until lunchtime. DD2 came round for breakfast in her onesie and DS2 borrowed his girlfriend's Tigger onesie.

Of course, despite me faffing about and worrying, all did go pretty much to plan. We had a lovely breakfast of ham, crusty rolls and pickles. We exchanged pressies with DD2 before she left to go to her boyfriend's family for lunch. Our lunch was at 2pm with a groaning table with far too much food. Pressies were exchanged afterwards and then we played Disney Trivial Pursuit. We had the desserts we couldn't manage at lunch for our tea and watched Doctor Who this evening. We spoke to DD2 in France and DH's mum who's in a nursing home in Bridgend, and exchanged texts with DD1 who's with her wife in Winchester.

DH and DS1 loved their variations of Doctor Who scarves hand-knitted my yours truly.

And DD2 loved the scarf I made her with the bobble wool I bought for £3.50 from the charity shop. She thought it was a shop bought one until I told her I'd made it.

I was lucky enough to get a couple of great books - Blitz Kids by Sean Longden and Jambusters by Julie Summers. Both will feed my addiction to all things WW2 Home front. I received a rose-scented bath set, a new nightshirt (much needed since I'm still wearing size 20-22 and I'm now a 12-14...at least I was before all the Xmas eating), slipper boots to keep my always-cold feet warm, and DD2 and boyfriend bought DH and I a 10in tablet between us...a great surprise. I might even try posting from it once I've worked out all the features.

All in all a very successful day. Tomorrow will be mostly quiet with DD2 and boyfriend round for dinner at about 6pm, but that will just be leftover meats served with chips and beans.

Once Boxing Day is over I'm looking forward to making what I can with any leftovers until the New Year, and getting back to healthier eating.

Hope everyone else had a great time. I'm now off to bed to catch up on some of the sleep I missed out on last night.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Easy Vegetarian Xmas Dinner - Stuffed Quorn Wellington

(picture courtesy of www.quorn.com)

I've probably left it a bit late to post my version of a vegetarian Christmas meal as you'll all have everything planned and bought and possibly already cooked. But here we go anway.

My DD2 decided to be a vege from age 8 and with a son who would only eat sausage, beans and chips for years Quorn products were a God-send when trying to feed my 5 children. I can't recall the first time I made Quorn Wellington (or Quorn Roast in Puff Pastry as we less-posh folks call it) but it's a firm favourite even with the non-veges alongside the regular Xmas meal. I'm making 2 this year even though DD2 won't be here for dinner on the day, although she and her boyfriend will be round for Boxing Day dinner.

I bought my quorn roasts for £2 each from Morrisons but they're usually around £3.50 - £4.

So this is how I prepare it. You can do it in stages, part cooking one day and finishing off the next.

I roast it from frozen for about 30 minutes according to the packet instructions then take it out of the oven and allow it to cool for long enough to handle and remove the wrapper paper (if you leave it too long to cool the wrapper sticks and is hard to get off).

I leave it until its very cool or completely cold before slicing in half lengthways. I then sandwich the 2 halves back together with vegetarian sausage stuffing made with any dried vege sausage mix ( I got mine for 4 packs for £1 from Approved Foods) combined with a sage and onion (or to your taste) stuffing mix (both made to packet directions before mixing together). You probably won't use all this stuffing and I bake the remainder seperately in a loaf tin.

The tricky bit is to then roll out puff pastry (bought or home made...I cheat and buy mine from Farm Foods at 79p or currently 3 packs for £2) large enough to enclose the roast, or buy a ready-rolled pastry sheet. You just wrap the roast up in the pastry making sure the edges and ends are sealed well and put back in the oven to cook for another 30 minutes so the pastry is baked, the roast finishes cooking and the stuffing is also done. Remove from oven, leave to rest for about 10 minutes, cut into slices and enjoy.

(picture courtesy of mumsnet)

If you google there are various versions of this idea on the net although I made this one up myself before I discovered others were making it too.

There are so many vegetarian products available now that weren't heard of 20 years ago when DD2 first went vege. To go with the roast or for her breakfast there are quorn bacon-style rashers and also Morrison's vege Glamorgan sausages and Quorn sausages. Another favourite meal with all the family is quorn chicken-style chunks cooked in a creamy mustard and white wine sauce; I'll post the recipe for that another time, but its super-simple.

I've had my bacon joints soaking all night, rinsed and added fresh water about an hour ago and now I'm off to put them in the slow cookers on low until this evening. I'm hoping they'll turn out as well as all the info on the net says they should.

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas Eve and hope all your preparations go according to plan. If I don't get on here again until after the big day I wish fun, love and laughter to you all.

Monday, 23 December 2013

It's a Wet and Windy One!

Sitting here tonight I'm listening to the wind gusting outside and wondering if I'll be able to sleep. I get very nervous when the weather is raging, wondering if I'll wake up to any damage...not that me staying awake would make any difference. A lot of the country has wet and windy weather and here on the south-east coast we're taking a right battering, only a couple of weeks after flooding from a very high tide. We're far enough away from the seafront to not suffer from the tides, but the River Dour runs only a couple of hundred yards away at the top of the street, and we have had to block up out front door in the past when there's been really torrential rain. The wind is supposed to get up to 75-80 mph gusts tonight, but to have calmed by the early hours. I'm just happy my DD3 and her boyfriend got a very early ferry to France on Friday morning managing to get away in the relative calm between one bad weather front and the next. Of course, we've heard from them a couple of times gloating about the lovely weather they're having down there in the Loire valley.

My Xmas preparations are under way. All shopping now done, and the smoked gammon joints defrosted ready to be soaked overnight. Tomorrow I'm going to cook them in my slow cookers. This is the first time I've ever cooked them in the slowcooker as I usually boil then in my pressure cooker, but I've looked online and you can just put them in on low and they cook in their own juices. I shall put them on about 8 in the morning and give the larger one 10-12 hours and the smaller 6-8 hrs.

I'll get the chickens out of the freezer tomorrow afternoon and everything else tomorrow night so I can prepare it early Xmas morning to be cooked for lunch at about 2pm.

That's the plan. Let's hope all goes smoothly.

Here's wishing everyone a good, peaceful night and waking up to a better, calmer day tomorrow.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Food Budget

Sorry for the lack of posts. With DH now off for the holidays and with all the Xmas prep I've been rather preoccupied. This will be quite short too. Just a round-up of how much my Christmas and Boxing Day food and Drink will have cost.

I'm serving 7 adults on Christmas morning, 6 with crusty rolls, boiled bacon and pickles, plus 1 vegetarian who will have vege sausages and quorn bacon-style rashers instead.

Xmas lunch is for 5 adults consisting of British chicken with sage and onion sausage stuffing, quorn roast with vege sausage stuffing wrapped in puff pastry, sausages wrapped in bacon, sprouts baked with chorizo, green beans, roast potatoes and parsnips, yorkshire puds and gravy.

Desserts are Vienetta (DH's favourite) or chocolate log served with cream or cornish icecream (or both)

Boxing Day lunch for 7 adults is leftover chicken, boiled bacon, quorn roast, stuffing etc with oven chips and baked beans.

Desserts on Boxing Day are Xmas day leftovers or apple and blackberry loaf cake and custard.

Drinks are J2O fruit drinks, Pepsi, Schloer or fruit squash. No alcohol bought by me but if people want it they can buy their own.

So for 3 meals for between 5-7 adults (19 servings altogether) including drinks and desserts, I have spent around £75. As there was a free range turkey in the butcher's shop window yesterday that cost over £90 I'm really pleased that I've managed all this for less than the cost of that one bird, especially as I've had to buy extras for the vegetarian.

In addition, I have also worked out menus until New Years Eve based on the premise that I will have some leftovers which I can stretch until they squeak (as the saying goes). If not, then I will cook from my store cupboard.

We will be well fed on foods we rarely have at any other time of the year and I haven't broken the bank buying them.

Now I just have to cook it all!


Friday, 13 December 2013

Knitted Phone Cosy

My mobile phone contract had expired and I was on a rolling month by month agreement. After 2 years the phone I had was looking the worse for wear so I decided it was time to look at a new contract including a more up to date phone.

As we have Virgin Media for our home phone, Cable TV and broadband internet I can also get good deals on their mobile phones. I've been with Virgin Mobile for about 5 years. Their coverage was quite poor at the start but has much improved and I very rarely have a problem now, although Canterbury can be a bit of a blackspot for reception but then it is for other networks as well.

Anyway, this is my usual long-winded way of saying that I have a new mobile phone. It's an all-singing all-dancing touch screen model and my new contract also gives me 500mb of internet which I didn't have before. I'm also getting an extra 100 phone minutes and unlimited texts to any network, free insurance for the life of the contract, plus my lovely new phone all for £13 a month. This is £4 more than my previous contract but with that one all I got was 100 minutes and 100 texts and no internet.

 My Lovely New Phone.

Besides I just saved us money on our Virgin Media bills. I'd received a letter saying their prices would rise by £5.75 a month from Feb 2014. As our current contract had also expired and again we were on a month by month one I phoned and threatend to go elsewhere if they didn't do something about it. The outcome was they gave me a 10% discount. This negates the planned rise in costs and in fact we'll be paying about £1 a month less than we are now, plus I'm getting a small refund on the remains of this month's bill as the discount comes into immediate effect.

Quite pleased with my negotiating skills.

As my new mobile contract is for 24 months I want to try and protect my phone during that time from the scratches etc. that the old one had, so I spent about an hour today while waiting in for a parcel to knit and decorate a phone cosy. It's based on this design http://bittersweetblog.com/2007/05/07/putting-the-art-back-in-pop-tarts/ but I added some shaped buttons I had from card making instead of the bugle beads. If you want to make one the equivalent needle size is UK size 9 and worsted weight yarn is double knit. It came out a little bit short so when I have time I'll make another but it will do for now.

 I'd like to have a go at a stitched one too so will be looking through my magazines for a suitable pattern when I have time.

I am also making another Doctor Who scarf. The term 'glutton for punishment' comes to mind as I was thoroughly sick of knitting the other one by the time I'd finished it. But, when I showed DH the finished one for DS1 he said he wanted one. Now, as we've set each other a £5 challenge for Xmas pressies to see how much we can buy each other for just a fiver, and as I have wool leftover from DS's scarf I thought I'd indulge him. I'm making it narrower and shorter as he's only 5ft 4 and I think he'd prefer a short one to just tuck inside his coat anyway...and I really don't think I want to knit another 15ft one. I've already spent my £5 on him (3p over but we're allowed 10% leeway) but this wool is technically free so I don't feel like I'm cheating for making use of it to add to his pressies.

Lastly, just a little promotion. I'll only do adverts for my own makes and for my DH so at the top, right hand side of the page is a link for BooBok Educational. This is a company my husband has recently set up with a friend; they produce online and cdrom educational materials. They have a cd out which contains a variety of fun childrens' activities such as stories, colouring pages to print off, puzzles etc. It's available on Ebay or by contacting me and would make a great stocking filler at a reasonable price. There, that's my sales pitch done.

Have a good evening everyone.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

How to Make 5 Meals from 1 Pack of Bacon

This is the pack of bacon.

It contains 500g (approx 1 lb) and cost 81p from Morrison's. It is bits already chopped,  not rashers.I rarely buy proper bacon rashers as they are too expensive to serve for a meal for up to 5 people. Instead I buy these packs and make them go a long way.

The first of the 5 meals was a sausage casserole. I used a pack of 12 Morrison's chipolatas reduced to 69p, 125 g of the bacon plus an onion and a jar or paprika sauce that I had in my stock from Approved Foods. This was served with rice (also AF)and fed 3 people.

Meal number 2 was leftover sausage casserole mixed with cooked pasta, topped with grated cheese and baked for 15 minutes in the oven.

Meal 3 was a cheese, onion and bacon flan.

I used a lump of pastry from the freezer that had been made from an AF catering pack. I lined a big long brownie tin with it and baked at gas 4 for 10 mins so it wouldn't be soggy when I put in the filling. I fried another 125g of the bacon and a small onion, sprinkled this over the partly cooked pastry case, sprinkled grated cheddar on top and then made a savoury egg custard with 4 free range eggs (Aldi - 95 p for 6) and a carton of soy cream (AF 4 for £1) plus a little milk. This was baked in the oven at the same time I baked DH's birthday cake on Monday. The flan was served yesterday with slow cooker baked potatoes and salad. There was enough left over for DD3 and her boyfriend to take some to work for their lunch and for DS1 to have for his dinner tonight while DH and I had meal number 4.

Meal 4 was liver and bacon.

The pig's liver was 450g for 59p (reduced in Asda), 2 small chopped onions, an oxo cube, a tbsp of tomato puree and 125g of the bacon all done on low in the slowcooker. Served with mashed potatoes, green beans and peas.

Meal 5 will be macaroni cheese with onion and bacon on Friday. I'll be using the last 125g of the bacon pack and a tub of Philadelphia soft cheese I was given mixed with grated cheddar.

So, that's how we enjoyed the flavour of bacon for 5 meals (6 if you count DD1's dinner tonight and DD3 and her boyfriend's lunches) without breaking the bank.

Other news is that while waiting in for a delivery this morning I wrapped all my Xmas pressies except the Doctor Who scarf that I just finished this evening (I'll post more pictures another time) and a book that I had to reorder as the original supplier didn't have enough stock. After a late start I'm so happy my preparations are well under way and I have very little left to buy and do. I'm hoping next year to be better prepared and make more homemade gifts well in advance (maybe even starting in January).

Tomorrow's my volunteering day and a visit with my advisor at the Job Centre.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Christmas Bought And Paid For.

I've finished...buying my Christmas presents that is.

I bought the final one this morning, vouchers from the tattooist round the corner for DD3's boyfriend. I ended up paying out more than intended because they only did them in £20 values, but I shall make this a dual pressie for Xmas and his birthday on 24th January.

I still have a few items that have been ordered but not arrived yet, so if they get here by next week I will have a grand card-writing and pressie-wrapping session. I've cheated and bought most of my cards this year, but only one packet at 99p as I had a pack I didn't use from last year. All my wrapping paper is from 2 years ago when a shop in town was selling rolls at 5 for £1 and I stocked up. As we now buy less pressies than we used to it's lasting a long time.

Monday is DH's birthday and his pressie has also been bought and wrapped; I just have to make him a card. He will have a special birthday dinner on the day with a cake and raspberry trifle (his favourite) and then next weekend we'll have a meal out before he goes off to Wales for a few days before Xmas to stay with his cousin and visit his mum who's in a nursing home in Bridgend. He's going by train as, being English Heritage members, we got an extra discount on an already discounted fare with a special code and so its only costing £45 return, which is less than it would cost from Dover to Bridgend return by car. He wouldn't want to drive there and back alone, anyway, and as he's only going for three nights I don't fancy going all that way with him.

MIL's 93rd birthday is on Xmas Eve so while he's down there DH will arrange for flowers to be delivered to her on the day. The daughter-in-law of another cousin owns a florists so he's hoping to buy her something special and maybe even get a small discount.

I have a very few food odds and ends still to buy; chipolatas, cream, fresh veg etc. But they won't cost much. I have put some items on the credit card because they were cheaper to purchase online, but I've already paid this month's balance in full (which I do every month) and the last things will be on next month's bill and that will also be paid in full.

Our car road tax is due at the end of December and our central heating boiler will have its annual service at the beginning of January, but I have money saved for both of those. So, even though this year has been tough, and because of circumstances I hadn't prepared as well as usual for Xmas, my general, everyday frugal habits means everything will be paid for and we will start the New Year without any debt except our mortgage (and next year we're hoping to overpay by loads more than this year), with our main savings account pretty much untouched, and with the £272 from our sealed pot savings available for us to have at least one outing or lunch treat a month throughout 2014.

I hope everyone else is getting there with their Christmas preparations and managing to avoid the temptation to overspend. In fact, I feel I started this year's preparations really late so I'm sure most of you are doing even better at this than I am. I'm hoping to improve next year and make more items well in advance. So, how's everyone else doing? Did you plan in advance and is all going well? Or is your Xmas this year as haphazard as mine?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A Can't Be Bothered Day.

Firstly, welcome to Trudie my new follower.

Well, I've had one of those 'can't be bothered' days. Can't be bothered to get out of bed...except I did. Can't be bothered to get off the sofa and go out...but I did. Can't be bothered to make dinner...but I did. Can't be bothered to vaccum or do the laundry...but I did. Can't be bothered to sew. Can't be bothered to knit.

Considering the mood I was in I did quite a lot of things I didn't feel like doing.  I stripped down the bed (once I'd crawled out of it) and washed the bedding and a few other bits and hung them up. I vaccumed throughout the downstairs. I made a lamb stew and left it cooking in the slow cooker while I then made a trip into town to get a few more Xmas presents. I did vegetate on the sofa this afternoon, wallowing in my fed up mood and eating far too much rubbish, and I didn't even do any knitting or sewing. I made dumplings this evening and cooked them on top of the stew in the slow cooker. I ate too much stew and now feel uncomfortably full. A bit of a mixed day but at least I didn't waste it completely by doing nothing at all.

I'm hoping for a better day tomorrow because so far I've felt fed up for most of this week. I enjoyed my Slimming club's Christmas lunch yesterday, but by the time I got home I'd spent enough time around people and was ready to hibernate again. It's a good job I have to go out sometimes because I'm sure I'd become a complete recluse otherwise.

Anyway, enough feeling sorry for myself; here's the info on the stew. The lamb was a pack of frozen chump chops from FarmFoods that I left out to defrost over night. They cost about £4 for 9 chops, I think. I cut all the fat off, deboned them and cut them into chunks. I didn't bother pre-frying before putting the chunks into the slow cooker. Most of the veg was 2 packs of diced swede and carrots bought reduced in Morrisons at 18p each. I added a large diced potato from my sack (10p), and a large onion (10p) plus a couple of stock cubes and some dried rosemary and thyme and black pepper (10p). The dumplings were made from a huge 3kg catering pack of suet mix I got ages ago from Approved Foods. I can't recall the exact price but it wasn't expensive. I used 12 oz of mix so about 25p. Total cost for approx 6 large servings was £4.91 or approx 82p per serving.

To cook the dumplings on top of the slow cooker you need to turn it to high about 30 minutes before putting them in so that the stew is bubbling, arrange them on top with a little room between them and get the lid back on as quickly as possible so you don't lose too much heat. They take about 30 minutes to cook and you can test whether they're done by sticking a skewer in and if it comes out clean with no sticky mixture on it they're done.

Just serve and enjoy.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Scarf for Who?

Yes, yes, I know that gramatically the title should read Whom instead of Who but the misspelling was intentional because this is what I'm knitting at the moment. 

No prizes for guessing what it is, or Who's scarf it's based on. It's going to be an extra pressie for DS2 who's a huge Doctor Who fan. I did a lot of online research to try and find an authentic pattern for Tom Baker's scarf and found several great sites including www.wittylittleknitter.com which is a hive of info on all things Doc Who scarf related. I'm basing mine on this pattern http://www.pinterest.com/pin/502784745870920052/

I used a size 6 needle instead of a 4 to get a tension I was happy with, and the colours aren't 100% accurate as I'm using a cheap acrylic yarn and including odds and ends I already have. The yellow is a bit bright, not mustard as in the pattern, but I couldn't get just the right shade in the same yarn so I've made do. 

In fact, the colours don't show too well at all in the pictures. The largest sections are a camel colour (a sort of pale brown/beige), the part that looks dark grey is actually a greenish brown, and the blues are actually purple. I'll have to take some more pics another time in daylight. I'm not sure I'll knit the whole length which is between 12-15 ft plus 6 inch tassels on each end adding an extra foot. DS isn't as tall as Tom Baker so I might adjust it to around 10ft instead so its actually wearable. The first stitch of each row is slipped which gives it a nice neat edge and should hopefully prevent it from stretching too much.

I remember having a long stripy 'Doctor Who' type scarf that my mum knitted for me when I was at Dover Girls' Grammar School in th late 60s/early 70s. I also recall getting told off for wearing it because it wasn't a uniform scarf. I guess I had a tiny rebellious streak in me back then because I carried on wearing it although I made sure to tuck it well into my school mack so it didn't draw attention. Not such a rebel after all.

Dinner tonight was that leftover chilli made into a pasta bake and served with salad leaves, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. I've found that serving salad with meals means I eat less of the main course but I still feel full up, so that's my latest plan for sticking to my diet. We'll see next Tuesday whether it has any effect on my weight loss.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Weight Lost, Money Earned

Much to my surprise I actually lost 1lb this week. I guess that the days I was 'good' must have outweighed the naughty days. I'm now only 3.5lbs off a 4st loss. I'm hoping to get there by Christmas if I can just eat healthily for the next 3-4 weeks. I won't beat myself up if I don't because we have a couple of meals out planned next month for DH's birthday, and I will get there in the New Year.

Tonight's dinner was leftover homemade chilli from the freezer served with rice. It was lovely and warming on a very cold day.  There was only 3 of us at dinner, so the chilli will do another meal tomorrow as part of a pasta bake. Including the original meal this chilli will have done 3 meals for between 3 and 5 people.

I made just over £30 on my bits of silver and gold I sent to Tesco Gold Exchange (they really were just broken bits and scraps) and another £20 from Music Magpie. Not a fortune but I'm pleased since it was just for odds and ends I had lying around, and it was much easier than listing everything on Ebay and having to send them off seperately. I'll either use the money to buy DH gifts for Xmas and his birthday or put it by so we can have a night out. We've actually agreed not to buy gifts for each other but to wait and have an outing or something in the New Year. I don't know if we'll both stick to it, usually one or both of us caves in when we decide not to exchange gifts.

This Sunday (Dec 1st) is the grand opening of the Sealed Pot. I only started mine around Easter time, and I just put in any £2, 50p and 20p coins I have left in my purse at the end of the day. I haven't kept a sum of what I've put in there so I'm really excited to find out how much it adds up to. Next year I'm going to have more than one on the go. At the moment I have several online savings accounts that I try and put money in each month, but its too easy to transfer between them all, pinching from one to boost another and vice versa. So I figure that as I've been so good not opening my sealed pot, if I have a couple of them that I put a regular amounts into each month for Xmas or a holiday I'm more likely not to touch it. That's the plan anyway.

Being the old grouch I am I can't wait for Xmas to be over so I can get back to my regular budgeting without having to work around my Xmas spending as well. Bah, humbug!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Slow Cooker Baked Potatoes Update

Just a quick post tonight and, as the title states, a litte update if you've been doing baked potatoes in your slow cooker. I did a batch tonight to serve with the leftover vege meatballs from yesterday. I did everything the same as previously, wrapping them in foil, slow cooking on high for around 4 hours, but they weren't all baked through. The smaller ones were done okay but the larger ones were firmer in the middle than I like and had to be finished off in the mircrowave in time for dinner. I wondered if it was because I'd used non-stick spray instead of oil on the skins but didn't see how that would make a difference as the oil is really just to stop them sticking to the foil. Finally, DD3's boyfriend suggested it might be the potatoes themselves. You know what, I think it was. The last sack we bought from the farm shop are a different strain of potato than the previous ones and I think they are probably more solid so require longer cooking. So, for anyone who's had trouble with their spuds not being baked through after 4 hours, maybe use smaller ones or give them an extra hour on high. I still love this method of baking spuds, I'll just make sure I cook this kind a bit longer in future.

The vege balls were just as yummy second time around, especially as I added a tin of chopped tomatos to the gravy and a few italian herbs to make a nice sauce, and served them with the baked spuds and some salad leaves.

I'm planning on us eating home made freezer meals this week, taking us up until the end of the month. I have a large chicken pie that will do 2 meals, some beef chilli, pea and ham soup and lentil soup. Five days worth of meals that will take us to the 30th November.

Tomorrow is weigh-in again, and I've been a bad girl this week eating cake and lots of bread, so a gain is probably on the cards. Today I've eaten healthily and with no birthdays or outings planned for the coming week I'm hoping to really stick to the plan and start losing again. It's time I stopped messing about taking off and regaining the same couple of lbs. I had hoped to get my 4st off my Xmas but don't think I'll do that now, but you never know.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cupcakes and a Cold.

Firstly a big ‘HELLO’ to simplesuffolksmallholder over at Frugal in Suffolk. It’s really encouraging that folks are enjoying my little blog enough to want to follow it. 

Sorry for not updating much this week but I’ve not been too well, although I’ve still been busy.

The picture above isn't me, of course, but sums up just what I've been like the past few days. After spending all last week feeling under the weather and as if I was about to go down with a cold, it finally struck this week. I was at my volunteer admin job on Thursday morning and started getting a bit sniffly, then I went on to my computing course in the afternoon and by the time I left there I was starting to sneeze and feel a bit bunged up.

I woke up Friday morning with aches and pains and a sore throat. Despite DH telling me to take it easy I ran around doing lots of little chores which I’m sure helped to keep me from wallowing and feeling sorry for myself. I did a couple of loads of laundry and hung them outside, and then I went shopping at Aldi to get more eggs and icing sugar for DD3’s birthday cakes. After that I nipped into town to W H Smith to exchange a book for DS1 for Xmas that I’d discovered his brother had also bought for him. Luckily they were really good and I simply exchanged it for another one on the 2 for £10 offer.

I also went to the post office to send my little pre-paid package of jewellery bits and bobs to Tesco Gold. Ilona at Life After Money inspired me to have a root around and I found lots of oddments like broken earrings and a couple of rings I never wear. They won’t be worth much but its better to get something for them than have them sitting at the back of a drawer. Earlier last week I’d also sent a few cds and dvds off to Music Magpie that will make me £20 if they all check out okay with the company. I’m hoping to fund DH’s birthday and Xmas pressies with the money.

As well as the running around all morning I made dinner of chicken thighs with a garlic and thyme coating, and home made savoury potato wedges. We had this with salad. The coating mix I used was a freebie sample I got through the post by clicking on a Facebook link.

Yesterday, I finally gave in to the cold and spent most of the day on the sofa reading and doing not very much (we had leftovers of the chicken and salad for dinner served with spicy basmati rice – also 4 sachets for £1 from AF). I thoroughly enjoyed all the Doctor Who 50th anniversary stuff last night. I was 6 when Doc Who started and can remember our family sitting round the TV and watching in black and white. DS1 is a Doc Who fan so it was great to share that with him.

Today I’m feeling a whole lot better, which is a good job because it’s DD3’s 23rd birthday and I’d promised to make her cupcakes with American vanilla frosting, and a coffee and walnut cake. So that’s what I’ve been doing all morning. I think my head was still full of cottonwool, though, when I started baking because the first cake was awful and I had to make another. Any ideas what I can do with two halves of an 8 inch coffee and walnut cake that didn’t rise properly with both layers thicker at one edge than the other. If it had risen better I would have covered up the imperfections with butter icing, but it is quite solid and heavy. Maybe we can have it warmed up with custard as a dessert.

As you can see, the second one came out beautifully so I don’t quite know what the issue was with the first one.

No, I did not eat all of the great chunk that's missing, that was courtesy of the rest of the family although I did have a small slice and it was lovely. 

The cupcakes came out fine too but I haven't eaten any of those. Just didn't fancy one after all those licks of the spoon while making the very sickly-sweet frosting.

No fancy decoration on any of them, just walnut halves and chocolate buttons on the coffee cake with a Happy Birthday and candle, and either white of milk choc buttons on the cupcakes. 

They do look lovely on the poppy cake stand DD2 bought for a birthday or Mothers’ Day (I have a dreadful memory, so not sure which). I also used some of the cupcake mix to make little frosted fairy cakes for the birthday girl to take in to work tomorrow. Did I say she’s a gym instructor and is super fit? She and her work mates still love their cakes.

Her main meal was vege sausage meatballs in a mushroom and onion gravy with spaghetti, which her dad always makes for her. 

I have packets and packets of vege sausage mix I got from Approved Foods a couple of months back at 4 for £1. I snapped it up at the time as I used to get Sosmix at a reduced price when DD2 worked in the wholefood shop in Canterbury, but since she left I’d been looking for another cheap source.

One of the things I did on Friday despite feeling ill was to make DD’s birthday card. 

She loves her make up so I thought this image from a Joanna Sheen cd rom was appropriate. Her pressies were just gift cards, which she’d requested. I got her one for Fenwicks department store in Canterbury and also a £10 Starbucks one as she loves going in for a coffee with friends.

I’m all baked out now, ready for my last coffee of the day and relaxing in front of the TV.  I hope the last of my cold will have gone by the morning because I have my computer course again and the last assessment before I start on the European Computing Driving Licence course proper. Can't wait to realy get stuck in to all the useful stuff.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Cold Weather and Good Food.

Why is it, when I could do with the occasional burst of heat, my hot flushes have pretty much dried up now the temperature’s plummeting?

I hate the cold. Hate, hate, hate it. I even felt the cold badly when I was nearly 4 stone heavier; so much for fat being insulating. I’d gladly hibernate throughout the winter months and never leave the house, although with our icy house and trying hard not to put the heating on for more than thirty minutes twice a day, it often feels warmer outside than in. 

Sad but true, my favourite time of day in the winter is getting into bed at night, wrapped up in a thick nightshirt worn over pyjama trousers - I tend to curl up in bed and a PJ jacket always parts company with the trousers and leaves me with a chilly back so I opt for a long nightshirt instead. I have 2 hot water bottles – one for my feet and one to hug. Yes, I do have a husband to cuddle but the problem is I sleep best lying on my right side, and he snores less lying on his left so we generally end up bum to bum. For me the heat from my hotty botties is pure bliss.

During the day I might also be found hugging a hot water bottle if I’m just sitting watching the goggle box or on my laptop. In addition, on my feet today I am wearing 2 pairs of normal socks plus a pair of fluffy bed socks and my slippers. And on the old bod I have a long-sleeved t-shirt, a long-sleeved brushed cotton dress over that, then a thin cardigan, and on top of all that a big thick cardi that's long enough to cover my bum and reach almost to my knees. This snazzy enemble has kept me just warm enough today, and so far I haven’t had the heating on at all.

Of course, another great warmer is a hot meal. Today’s dinner was a smoked sausage pasta bake. 

I used 500g of tri-colour pasta twists bought in a big 3kg bag from Approved Foods (approx 50p), a cheese and bacon sauce mix (4 for £1 AF – so 25p), 2 heaped Tbsps dried skimmed milk (approx 20p), 1/3 pkt each of frozen peas and sweetcorn (Aldi 89p per pkt – so approx 60p for the 2 portions), some dried onions (from a massive AF bag – approx 10p), and 1/2 a Mattesons low fat smoked sausage (on offer for £1 in Morrisons – so 50p). If my maths is right that’s a total of £2.15 and easily made 6 large portions at approx 35p per portion. We had it on its own as there was so much of it, but you could serve with salad or extra veg. 

 It was full of flavour and filling on a chilly night.

This last week has been quite expensive with having to buy the big bags of kitty litter (our cats prefer wood chip litter which is 2 x 30 litre bags for £16), put petrol in the car and buy another sack of potatoes at £7.80, plus we had a day out in Hythe and Folkestone on Saturday and had a lovely lunch in The Old Willow Restaurant in Hythe. DH deserved the treat as he’s been working so hard lately. I had liver, bacon, mash and veg and DH had the all day breakfast and we each had a pot of tea. All for £18 including a tip. The staff were lovely and accommodating especially since DH doesn’t like eggs so they swapped for extra sausage and he doesn’t have butter or marg on his toast. The food was presented nicely, like in a posh restaurant but there was plenty of it and it was yummy. Will definitely go there again.

We didn’t have dessert so later in the afternoon we went into McDonald’s and had one of their Mississippi Mud Pie McFlurries. Once again, yummy and only £1.29 each.

Walking back along the prom at Folkestone as it was getting dark we were treated to this spectacular sunset. Isn’t nature wonderful?


My youngest DS visited and stayed Saturday and Sunday nights. He’s been missing his mum’s cooking with living in student digs so yesterday I made a chicken pie, and also my version of bakewell tart; basically the left over pie pastry lining a brownie tin, spread with jam and then topped with almond flavoured sponge. Nothing fancy, just cheap strawberry jam (Aldi – 29p a jar) and Mary Berry’s traybake recipe for the sponge with a teaspoon of almond essence added. Custard was made to go with it for DH and we were all stuffed once the meal was over. So…if I’ve lost any weight this week it will be a miracle; I’m expecting another gain at my weigh in tomorrow. 

Heigh-ho, never mind. Next week probably won't be any better as Sunday 24th is DD3's 23rd birthday and she's requested vegetarian meatballs with spaghetti, a coffee and walnut cake and my American cupcakes with vanilla frosting. I wish I didn't enjoy eating my own baking quite so much!


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Yellow Sticker Haul

Thank you for the comments on my weight loss; being lighter has made such a difference to my movement, my poor knees are very grateful and I hardly get a twinge in either of them now.

Not much to report today as I wasn't well last night. I keep thinking I'm going down with a cold, or maybe fighting one off, and last night I was all shivery and headachy. I couldn't get warm (except for the occasional hot flush) and sat on the sofa cuddling a hot water bottle. I kept nodding off so went to bed after the Tudor Monastery Farm programme. I'd been looking forward to watching it but kept missing bits when I fell asleep so will have to catch it again on the I-player.

I was a bit better this morning, but still feeling a bit weak and watery so I skipped my volunteering and the computing course. I pottered about the house, did some washing and hung it out as it was mostly sunny and there was a good strong breeze, framed a picture DH's friend drew for us last Christmas (took me long enough to get around to it!), scrubbed potatoes to do jackets in the slowcooker to be served with cauliflower cheese (55p for 2 caulis reduced in Morrisons yesterday), sorted out masses of junk mail to put out for the recycling collection this afternoon. Just a lot of little bits and pieces that didn't take too much effort.

I did have to go to the Job Centre this afternoon, though. Fortunately it's only a 10 minute walk away. On the way home I nipped into Asda and was lucky that a staff member was just further reducing the already reduced items.

This is my haul.

 I picked up 750g minced pork for £2.32 reduced from £3.36 but originally £4.25.

4 x 500g packs of diced carrot, swede and leek for 18p each reduced from 30p but originally 50p, and some celery for 35p reduced from 61p and not sure of the full price.

I like to mix pork and beef mince when I make a meatloaf so I divided the pack into 2 freezer bags each weighing around 13 ounces. The mixed veg also went into the freezer for use in slowcooker stews, and when I put the celery in the crisper drawer of the fridge I realised I had 2 green peppers in there so now I need to use those up as well. I think I might do a bolognaise or vegetable chilli over the weekend.

I'll have to remember that Asda do a second price reduction around 2pm because generally I don't think they take much off their full prices, but these were real bargains.

I'm starting to feel a bit headachy again now so I'll call it a night and hopefully will be all better tomorrow.