Friday, 31 January 2014

Make Do And Mend And Tomato Ice Cubes.

One of the cats tipped my laundry basket over yesterday and it ended up with a jagged hole in the bottom. My immediate reaction - oh, hell, I'll have to get a new one. Then I came to my senses and in true wartime make do and mend spirit I went hunting for the parcel tape. Couldn't find it as DD and BF have pinched it to seal up their moving boxes. So, I raided the kitchen drawers and found some wide, plasticy electrical tape that was just the right colour. Can you see the mend? Well, yes, you can but its not a bad job is it? I patched it on both sides and it will certainly do for a while to stop the pegs falling through the bottom.

After my make do and mend repair I made some tomato ice cubes. Not that they'll actually be used as ice cubes, but I have some large tins of tomato puree courtesy of Approved Foods and this is my way of storing the contents once the tin has been opened. I freeze spoonfuls in ice cubes trays, then pop them out and store them in bags in the freezer.

Tonight was the moving out dinner for DD3 and BF. DH had made delicious vege sausage meatballs in a tomato and mushroom sauce with spaghetti.

I baked vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting, and chocolate-covered flapjacks.

That's the last of the catering sized bag of flapjack mix from AF. It was lovely but I'm glad its used up because it was far too tempting.

On the way to Aldi this morning I nipped into the Hospice Charity shop and ended up breaking my resolve to not buy more wool. They had a part-used ball of the bobble wool I used to make DD2's cowl/snood scarf this Christmas. It was £2 and when I weighed it there was 180g so about 3/4 of a ball that's about £6-7 full price. It's in pale greens, pinks, mauves, greys and creamy white. I'll knit another scarf and either give it as a gift or sell it.

I've also dug through my piles of wool and have started another pair of socks. I'm using the same 1x1 rib pattern using 2 shades of blue. I think I'll give them to DH for Valentine's. Maybe not the most romantic pressie but I'll tell him that every stitch was knitted with love. Ah, cute!

Tomorrow is the big moving day but they seem to have most things sorted so hopefully all will go smoothly. I hope the weather improves, its once again teaming down with rain and blowing a gale here. Hope the weather's better where you are.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

First Pair of Socks

Here they are, mistakes and all, finished, sewn up and modelled by yours truly.

I realised when I came to sew them up that I'd done the 3 needle cast off for the toes so it was on the outside instead of inside the sock. It still looks quite neat and as these ones were my first pair and will be for me to wear I couldn't be bothered unpicking and re-doing them. Next pair I won't make the same mistake.

Lazy dinner tonight, toasted sandwiches since there was only DH and I. Tomorrow night is moving out dinner for DD3 and BF. DD2 and her BF are also coming round. DH has already made the vege sausage meatballs and spicy tomato sauce and I'll be baking cupcakes. There was a hitch today with their plans as the firm handling the referencing hadn't done their job properly; they'd had DD's work reference for days but hadn't processed it and sent the report through to the letting agency. It looked as if the move would have to be delayed, especially as the woman at the letting agency who was drawing up the leasing agreement had gone off sick. Luckily, after a lot of toing and froing the references were faxed through and another employee from the letting agency contacted the landlord who's agreeable to them moving in and signing the agreement next week. It would have been difficult if they'd had to delay since they have bits of furniture and appliances etc. being delivered from lots of different locations and nowhere to store them if they'd hadn't had access to the flat. Sooooo...holding our breath, crossing our fingers and hoping all will go smoothly.

I'm also holding my breath for DD1 who has finally got an offer on her flat. She moved to Winchester earlier last year to be with her wife. They'd been living seperately for the 3 years since they married while she was with the police here in Kent and her wife was with the army in Hampshire. She tried a couple of times but couldn't get a transfer so in the end she had to quit being a Police Officer and now she's doing the same job as a Criminal Investigator but as a civilian. It was the only way she could get a move to Hampshire and finally be able to have a proper married life instead of having to travel back and forth between Dover and Winchester every time she got a couple of days off. Selling her flat here is the last link and will also save her hundreds of £s a month which they're hoping to use to buy their own place for when her wife leaves the army in about 4 years time. I really, really hope it all goes through for her.

At least the weather hasn't been too bad today and I got to my volunteering and back without getting wet. Well, I think that's all for tonight, I hope everything is stress free and the weather's dry where you are.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Almost Famous and Easy, Peasy Pork Casserole

Today, in the spirit of using up my stockpile, I shopped at home for our dinner. Pork Steaks and chopped mixed peppers from the freezer, tinned carrots and rice to serve with it from my under-the-bed stash, an onion from the kitchen basket and a sachet of casserole mix from another stash in the sideboard. I'll try and remember the prices as closely as I can.


Pork Casserole with Spiced Basmati Rice

1 kg pack frozen Pork Steaks (FarmFoods - 3 pks for £10 so £3.33 per pk)
1/3rd bag frozen chopped peppers (FarmFoods - 3 pks for £2 or 66p per pk or 22p per third of a pk)
Large Onion, chopped (from reduced pack of 4 for 27p so approx 7p)
1/4 catering-sized tin of carrots (Approved Foods - 99p per tin so 25p per 1/4)
Casserole Mix (AF - 4 for £1 so 25p per sachet)
3 x 150g packs of spiced Basmati Rice (AF - 5 for £1 so 60p for 3)
1 tbsp olive oil for browning the pork - 5p

Total Cost = £4.77
Per Serving (6 servings) = approx 80p 

I chopped the pork steaks into large chunks with kitchen scissors and browned them in the olive oil.

Then instead of baking in the oven as per the casserole instructions I simply mixed everything except the rice together in the slow cooker and cooked on high for 2 hours and on low for another 3 hours. 

So it didn't get wasted I also added in a little wine sauce that was leftover from DH's vege lasagne on Sunday.

The tinned carrots are quite horrible on their own and I would not serve them as a seperate vegetable but I've found their perfectly okay added to a well-flavoured casserole. I wouldn't buy them again but at 99p for a huge can (I bought 2 cans) they were worth a try and won't be wasted. 

Six servings does 5 of us for dinner plus a quick reheated lunch for DS1 the following day.

While I was rooting in the cupboard for the sauce mix I came across this 4 pack of dried Haricot beans. 

I know they must have come from Approved Foods, but goodness knows when I actually bought them. As you can see, the sell by date was April 2011. I recently used dried blackeye peas with a 2011 SBD and they were fine once cooked so these won't be going in the bin.

I'm feeling much better again today; I really don't know what the problem was Monday and Tuesday unless I overdid it with clearing out the kitchen on Sunday. I rarely suffer from full out migraines these days, but I still get headachy and feel a bit sick from time to time if I get stressed or do too much on too little sleep, and I haven't been sleeping too well again lately, probably worrying over DD3 and BF moving.

It doesn't help that DS1 came home from work to say his hours have been cut. He's only been working 20 hours spread over 5 days as it is and has to travel to Canterbury to work just 4 hours a day. He's also on different shifts every week that makes it impossible for him to find a second job as he never knows what hours he'll be working from one week to the next. Well, now they've cut everyone's hours to 16, just too many for him to sign on to claim benefits or to get help finding alternative work. Personally, I think the firm's done it because the minimum wage is due to rise again soon so they're cutting staff hours in preparation for having to pay more in wages. Just my opinion but it seems highly suspicious. He is going to look for a full time job, but the trouble is, with his mild learning difficulties and communication issues, it took him ages to find this job. Although he now has more experience and is a good, reliable worker he doesn't necessarily interview well, and may need a little extra time to learn the job, but when he does he'll be extremely loyal and hard working. He just needs someone to give him a chance. Of course, when this happens we'll probably help him out by taking a cut in his keep money (he only pays £100 a month as it is, but then he has another £80 a month fares to find). As we're losing DD3s and BF's money when they move out things will be even tighter for us. Never mind. I'll cope, I always do, and I'll only be catering for the 3 of us by then.

On a completely different topic, does anyone else watch Great British Railway Journeys presented by Michael Portillo on BBC2 at 6.30pm? We usually have it on just after finishing dinner as it follows Eggheads. This week he's travelling through Kent again and will be stopping off in Dover. I almost bumped into the man himself during the filming when I was taking a walk along the seafront last summer. Lost in thought, as I usually am, just in time I avoided colliding with a camera man. I won't be on screen I shouldn't think as I was behind the filming and quickly crossed the road to get out of the way. It will be interesting to see what they show on the programme, though. No doubt they'll present Dover in a good light, ignoring all the boarded up shops, litter and dog mess I see every time I go into town. Its such a shame the town is so dirty and run down because the surrounding area is wonderful with the castle, hills, white cliffs, harbour etc. We get thousands of cruise passengers arriving each year at the terminal but what must they think when they step off that ship and travel through such an ill-kept town. I think most must pass through and go for daytrips to Canterbury or even London which is only 80 miles away and just over an hour by train on the high speed link. 

Anyway, that's my long-winded offering for today. Hope I haven't bored anyone to death yet.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Revisiting Those Resolutions

I've not been too well again; had a horrible sick headache since yesterday afternoon so I was in bed by 8.30 last night and didn't get up until nearly 8 this morning. I did get to my slimming club and wished I hadn't bothered since I put 1 1/2 lb on (I didn't expect it to be that much even though I've not been that good this week). I didn't stop for the meeting, it was very busy and I couldn't stand the noise. I've done a few bits around the house - laundry, dinner in the slow cooker, vacuuming, cleaned the cooker top etc. - but I'm still feeling a bit yuk and the headache hasn't quite gone although it is better than it was. To tell the truth, I've not felt completely well ever since I had that sickness bug a couple of weeks ago.

Anyway, enough moaning. Firstly, there's a few folks I've noticed that are now following that I haven't welcomed, so hello to Sara @ A Frugal Wife, Flourgirl, and Lisamaywalters.

Since its getting close to the end of the month I thought I'd look back and see how I've been doing on those pesky resolutions. Well, I've not exactly stuck to them. Food wise I have used up quite a few bits from my stockpile, but I'm afraid I've been tempted by some offers and added to it as well. A £5 off on a £40 spend voucher for Aldi saw me stocking up again on loo paper, sausages, baked beans, coffee, frozen chips and the like. I've also succumbed to some yellow stickered goodies from time to could I bypass all those raspberries at 55p for a huge punnet?

We've had some unexpected expenditure, a new vacuum cleaner and, as the reset disc wouldn't work properly on my laptop, we'll need a new printer sometime soon. We also bought jeans and work trousers for DH and I needed jeans too since my continuing weight loss has left me with virtually no clothes that really fit. But...I have mostly kept to my resolve to only spend what was necessary and I've gotten some good deals and only shopped the charity shops for things we've needed. My jeans were £3.99 from the PDSA shop and DH's work trousers were £5.50 from the British Heart Foundation shop. 2 pairs of jeans for DH cost just £4 each in Store21's sale, and the vacuum cleaner was half price in the Argos sale. I've managed to avoid being seduced into ordering any more from Approved Foods until I've used up most of what I already have.

We have treated ourselves to the occasional coffee out, but Weatherspoons had a sale too and our usual refillable filter coffees were only 79p each for most of January. I've cancelled all my magazine subscriptions as I already have masses of mags that I've only glanced through. I haven't bought any fabric, wool or books all month and I'm using wool I've had for ages to make a pair of socks. I even bypassed some wool and fabric that I was tempted by in the AgeUK shop yesterday morning. I'm planning on having a blitz on my fabric stash too and making a load of bags, possibly to try and sell or as gifts. Oh, I tell a lie, I've just remembered I bought the pattern for the socks, but hopefully that will pay for itself by the time I've knitted a pair for everyone and used up my mountain of wool. I can see everyone getting a homemade bag filled with other homemade goodies this Xmas.

I've already made a start on preparations for Xmas 2014 buying reduced priced cards in the Barnados shop sale, and this year I've started collecting Morrisons savings stamps and hope to have enough saved up by the summer to pay for all the Christmas food. In past years I've put the money in a savings account but with interest rates so low and with the temptation to use it for other things the stamps seem just as good an option. Besides, Morrisons is the supermarket I tend to use most for my food shopping when I can't get something in Aldi.

Of course, we did have one piece of amazing luck with DH's tax refund that will mostly be used towards out 30th anniversary holiday, and if he remains at the college, either as a supply teacher or full time if he gets the job he applied for, then we can really get stuck into overpaying the mortgage and I can start saving again as I like to keep at least 1 (preferably 2) month's bill money put by to cover the holidays periods when he doesn't get paid, or in case he goes for a few weeks without a contract.

My other good intentions were to lose the last stone to get to my healthy weight and I'm still working on that; its a bit up and down but the general trend is downwards and I know I'll get there sometime this year. I was also going to try and stick to a menu plan and that's not worked too well as things keep popping up to throw me off track. But, as I said, I have been using up some of my stockpile and this week I'm hoping to do an inventory and work out a load of meals to make from what I have in. I may have to throw a few bits out since I have things like bread mixes dated from 2011. They may still be perfectly okay, but I think it might be time to get rid of anything more than 2 years out of date just to be on the safe side.

So, a bit mixed on the New Year's Resolutions front, but I've not done too badly. How about you? Almost one month in to 2014 how are you doing?

Tonight's dinner was Beany Mince a la Hairy Bikers' Mums' Know Best recipe book. Except I substituted quorn mince for the beef mince, doubled the quantities and did most of the cooking in my slow cooker. It was served with a potato hash made with leftover mash and veg from the fridge and a fried onion mixed in before being browned in a frying pan.

The Beany Mince contains:-

500g pack Quorn Mince (£1.49 on offer in Morrisons)
2 cans Aldi Baked Beans (24p each = 48p)
1 onion, chopped - (10p)
1/3 pack of Chantenay carrots, diced (49p for the pack in Aldi - so about 16p)
2 potatoes, diced (20p)
Dash soy sauce, dregs rinsed from bottle of tomato sauce, black pepper, tsp mixed herbs (approx 20p)
Squirts of frylight or tablespoon of oil (5p)

Total cost approx -  £2.68 
Per serving (easily serves 6) = 45p

Fry the veg and quorn mince for a few minutes, add the other ingredients and about 1/4 pint water. bring to the boil and either cook covered until the veg is tender or transfer to the slow cooker on low all day or high for about 4 hours.

Potato and veg hash


Leftover mashed potatoes (0p)
Leftover cooked mixed veg (0p)
1 onion, diced and fried until soft (10p)
Black Pepper, mixed herbs, flavourings to taste (10p)
Tbsp oil (5p)

Total = 25p
Per serving (6 servings) = 4p

Fry the onion until soft. Mash the onion, potato and veg together with whatever flavourings you prefer. Fry in hot oil either as one big hash or drop lumps into the pan. Turn over when bottom is browned. If making one big hash I use 2 frying pans and flip the hash from one to the other to turn it over.

Total for whole meal per serving (6 servings) = 49p

With DD3 and BF moving out of Saturday, after the weekend I will mostly only be catering for 3 of us, but will probably still cook for 6 and divide into 2 meals either freezing one or remaking it into something else for later the same week. I'm sure though that it will take a bit of getting used to cooking for less people when I've been used to feeding a crowd for the past 25-30 years. I'll view it as a new challenge and see how far I can make the food stretch.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Yucky Weather and Yummy Food

Horrible, horrible weather again today. Driving rain, high winds, so dark its almost like night. DH went off to church during a dry break but got soaked on the walk back home. While he was gone I spent the morning cleaning out a corner of the kitchen that was long overdue for a clear out. I also did some rearranging and now have a nice long stretch of work top so I'm not all crammed into a small corner when I'm baking or rolling out pastry.  It will look even better when we've painted the walls during the summer, at the moment there's a lot of flaking paint and plaster and black mould stains due to condensation problems that remain even after everything has been washed down.

The next house we have I'm going for as much kitchen cupboard space as possible so I can store all my gadgets away and not have them cluttering up my worktops.  It only took about 2 hours and I'd been putting it off for months. I got that lovely sense of achievement when it was all done.

DH cooked dinner, a huge vegetarian lasagne served with spicy potato wedges. He just fried up various vegetables cut into chunks, cooked them in a wine and herb sauce and then layered them alternately with sheets of dried lasagne and cheese sauce (made from sachets of white sauce mix) and topped with sliced tomato and grated cheddar. It was baked in the oven for about 45 minutes.

 Before cooking

 After cooking

 Ready for my tummy

To go with it I made an Apple and Blackberry Crumble using fruit from the freezer that we were either given or picked ourselves for free last summer.

 Apples and Blackberries and sugar  prepared in the microwave.

With crumble topping before baking

After baking

The crumble was simply 4oz plain white flour, 2 oz plain wholemeal flour, 4 oz butter, 2 oz caster sugar, 1 oz demerara sugar and 1 oz porridge oats. All blitzed together in my food processor, sprinkled over the fruit and baked in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. I baked it at the same time as the potato wedges and lasagne to save on gas.

Yummy, yummy in my tummy

I'm using DD moving out as an excuse to take my diet a little easy this week; its going to be stressful and I need the leeway to eat a bit more when I'm upset. Plus we're having a moving out dinner on Friday night and DH will make vege sausage meatballs and I'm baking my American cupcakes. I'm not planning on going crazy with food, but I'm not going to be watching everything that goes in my mouth either.

DD and BF have been buying bits and pieces for their new home and managed to get a vacuum cleaner from a boot fair this morning. The seller was asking £8 and didn't want to take it home so accepted £6. They've tried it out (actually vacuumed the living room carpet for me!) and its a bit noisy but picks up fine. They've also been given lots of stuff by friends and relatives. I have a spare set of crockery they can have, loads of mugs, towels that were my mum's and have been sitting in the airing cupboard since she died 8 years ago etc. They already had their own bed, BF's grandmother has given them 2 sofas as she was just about to buy new ones anyway, and they got a lovely table and chairs from GumTree for just over £100, and a washing machine for free from a friend who had originally wanted £50 for it, but gave it as a birthday pressie for BF. There's a built-in cooker and fridge/freezer in the flat already. Isn't is amazing how people rally round, and things just come together when something like this happens? Apart from the deposit, credit check costs and first month's rent in advance, they've had very little actual monetary outlay to furnish and stock the flat.

DS2 is playing another gig next weekend, but its in Broadstairs which is about a 40 minutes drive away, and its on the day DD and BF are moving out so I'm not sure if we'll make it or not. We'll have to see how worn out we are by the end of the day. Luckily he won't need us to drive him as his best friend lives in the Thanet area so he can go over by train and crash at his friend's flat for the night. It will be a shame if we have to miss him, but being realistic I think it might just be too much driving all that way when we've been driving back and forth between Dover and Folkestone all day helping with the move. He does have another gig coming up in Canterbury shortly, arranged by the college, so we'll get to see him play soon.

Apart from all that cleaning and cooking today I've finished off the first sock and have made a start on the second. Depending on how busy I am I'm hoping to get the pair finished by the end of the week if not sooner. I'm dying to make some more in different colours, trying out some of the other designs in the pattern.

That's it for now, time for vegging out on the sofa, stuffed full of lasagne and crumble, for the remainder of the night.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Fish Pie and Knitted Socks

Yesterday was DD3's boyfriend's birthday so he got his favourite dinner of Fish Pie and an iced cake.

I must say, although I cheated a bit with the pie and used sachets of white sauce (courtesy of Approved Foods) instead of using double cream as I have done in the past, it was the best fish pie I ever made.

Its not a cheap dish, using a whole pack of frozen white fish fillets and a whole pack of smoked haddock, both £2.95 in FarmFoods, a packet of frozen cooked prawns from Morrisons at £2.49, an onion, a few frozen peas, milk and the sauce mixes, plus mashed spuds and a sprinkle of cheese for topping, and frozen country veg mix to serve.

The total cost was probably around £12 for 5 big servings (would easily serve 6 normal portions), so not too outrageous at around £2 - 2.40 per meal. I wouldn't normally spend that much but this was for a special occasion.

I didn't get pictures of the cake, but it was simply a version of Mary Berry's vanilla traybake that I divided between two tins, sandwiched together with raspberry jam and topped with water icing and chocolate buttons and a candle.

By contrast I didn't really bother cooking at all today, we just had beans on toast and DS1 and I had a cheese omelette each with ours and DH had sliced haslet as he doesn't like eggs except when they're in a cake. I'm not cooking tomorrow either as DH is making a vegetarian lasagne.

It was a horrible damp day today, a wet mist hanging in the air and totally obscuring the castle and the surrounding hills. Nevertheless, DH and I took a walk into town, did some business at the bank for his mum who's in a nursing home in Wales, went into the library to read the local papers and then into Wetherspoons for a coffee. At least we got out of the house for a couple of hours; I hate being forced to stay in. We've actually had thunder, lightening and a hail storm earlier this evening. The lights flickered a couple of times so I dug out the candles just in case but fortunately the storm passed over although it's still wet and windy out.

This afternoon we watched the episode of An Island Parish that we missed last evening (oh, to live somewhere like Sark with no traffic to worry about) and then enjoyed a few episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey from our dvd collection while I sat and did some knitting. I've nearly finished my second two-needle sock, the first came out enormous, far too big for even my size 8 plates of meat, so on the advice of Bridget over at I'm having another go and making the next size down, which is the largest child's size. With the first one I had a problem working out turning the heel, but since I've done it once this second sock went without a hitch.  I've been wanting to knit socks for ages but have never been able to work in the round either on 4 needles or circular needles so I was over the moon to find this pattern for working on 2 straight needles and with double knit yarn. I'll post pictures when I've finished the pair. I can see everyone getting at least one pair of hand knitted socks each this Christmas.

Well, this time next week DD3 and boyfriend (BF) will have moved out. In one way I can't wait for it all to be over, and in another I'm a bit worried about how empty the place will seem without them. Mind you, I won't miss having to do 2 loads of laundry nearly every day of the week, or making meals for 5 and then them deciding at the last minute to eat out or get their own dinner, or picking up after them, or the noise or...well, there are quite a few pluses, but still, she's my little girl and I'll miss her, and the BF has become a part of the family in the 6 years he's lived with us. I'm sure it will seem strange for a while. Mind you DS2 will be home for the Easter holidays and will probably also be back throughout the summer break, and if his girlfriend comes to stay for any length of time we'll be back up to 5 again.

I think that's all for now, nothing very exciting, just plodding on as usual.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Moving On

Time for an update.

Firstly I did it. I got my 4st off award and, in fact, I lost 3lb this week (probably courtesy of that stomach bug) and I have now lost 4st 2lb in total. I have slightly less than 1st to go to achieve my target and I'm aiming to manage that by my birthday on 21st June.

Secondly, my baby girl and her boyfriend are moving out. They got the flat I went to see with them having been chosen from all the viewers by the landlord. I think that they are probably the perfect tenants, both in full time employment, no kids or pets, non smokers, no debt. They are moving next weekend (1st Feb). As much as there will be pluses to me for them moving, less noise and hassle, less laundry, lower bills etc. and although I knew they were seriously looking for somewhere and their leaving was only a matter of time, I still welled up and had a little cry when they told me. It's not fair, I already said goodbye to my little girl when she went off to university, she shouldn't get tears a second time. LOL!!!!! Joking aside, I will miss them both since her boyfriend has lived with us for 6 years since he was 18 and has become part of the family. It will seem strange with just me, DH and DS1 here (and the cats) in our 4 bedroomed house, at least until the Easter and summer breaks when DS2 will move back in for a few weeks. At least there won't be any problems with bedroom space.

Thirdly, DH has applied for his first full time job since his breakdown 3 years ago. It's at the college where he's been supply teaching for the past term and a half. He's done very well there, and the head of his department chased after him to remind him to apply because they don't want to lose him. We both have reservations about the pressure he'd be under, but it would be nice to have a regular income and not to worry whether he'll have work at the start of each new term, plus we wouldn't have to put money aside each month to cover the holiday periods as he'd get paid for holidays, and also for sick days and pay into a pension scheme. I'd just keep a close eye on him and make him take a day or two off if I thought he was getting ill again. He tends to be someone who takes all the responsibilties onto his own shoulders and he needs to learn to let others do their share of the work. So, fingers crossed for him.

I think that's all my news for now. No cooking or recipes as I've been using up leftovers. Last night was tuna fish cakes and DH will have the remaining couple tonight. I've already eaten tons today and I'm not really hungry so will probably just have a cup-a-soup and an apple tonight.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A True Professional

Unfortunately DS2s gig was cancelled by the promotor at the very last minute due to lack of publicity; he just hadn't gotten around to advertising it although the pub had paid him to. We didn't find out until DS turned up at the pub. In fact the staff didn't know until no one arrived to watch and they rang the guy to find out what was going on. The act that was supposed to be headlining, going on after DS, left in a fury, but DS was a true professional got out his guitar and perfomed a few songs for the 5-6 people who were there. They were very grateful and hopefully he will now stay in their minds and they will want him to perform there again. DS knows the promotor so instead of demanding payment (which, again, the other guy was going to do) he's going to ask to be put at the top of the list for future gigs, which will hopefully have better promotion.

He's taught himself to play guitar and has loved singing since he performed in musicals at school. He played the lead in 2 of those (Sweeny Todd and Jesus in Godspell) and got to travel to Siberia, Croatia, France, Belgium and the USA with the school who had links with schools in those countries. He even got to perform with the Red Army Band in Siberia. He's played in a couple of local rock bands and had a few gigs singing heavy metal but this was to be his first paying solo acoustic gig. He's currently studying for an HND in Music Performance and is hoping to do the top up year in September to make it into a full degree.

So, we did get to see him play a little and he was really good. We had a nice time revisiting a couple of our old drinking haunts from when we were younger and both lived in Deal, and reminisced about pubs we knew and loved that have now closed down. We rarely go to pubs now and when we do its generally a daytime visit to have coffee, but it made a nice change. I stuck to diet coke, you'll be pleased to hear, and DH didn't drink because he was driving, but it was a good evening despite DS's disappointment. In my opinion he took the disappointment really well.

Right, I've been promising to post the Hoppin John and Chilli Cheese Cornbread recipes. They are both really simple to put together. In fact the Hoppin John is basically just rice and beans that you can add extras to if you like. I generally do a vege version, but the typical American version has bacon or a ham hock added.

For Hoppin John you need black eye beans either dried or canned. I use dried, soak them overnight and cook them for 10 minutes in my pressure cooker the next morning, or you can soak them and cook them as part of the meal if you do it in the slowcooker (unlike red kidney beans they do not need to be boiled rapidly for 10 minutes to kill any toxins). I prefer to prepare them in advance and then the whole recipe only takes about 20 -30 minutes to cook in my huge deep-sided frying pan (you can do it in any pan that allows enough room for the rice to expand).

So, the ingredients are:-

1/2 lb dried or 1lb cooked or canned black eye beans (drained weight)
1 lb long grain rice
2 tins chopped tomatoes
Large onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, chopped finely or squished
2 tomato cans full of water (helps rinse the tomato juice out of the cans)
Salt, black pepper, a pinch of chilli flakes (to taste)

That's it. You can just bung everything in together and cook until all the water has been absorbed or you can fry the onion and garlic first in a little oil, then add the rice for a moment or two and toss all together, then the spices and seasoning and tomatoes, heat through and add the water.  If you heat everything first you can add boiling water to the rice mix, if not add cold water and bring to the boil.

I like to add the chilli flakes to give it a little kick but you could leave them out or add chopped fresh chilli or paprika instead. The beans give it this a lovely earthy flavour. As I said you can add extras to it, ham etc. if you like. 

This makes a big pan of Hoppin John so you could halve the quantities or freeze some for another day. Also the ratio of rice and beans can be altered with more beans to rice or vice versa. I actually added some leftover rice to mine as well as the original 1lb, so it's slightly rice heavy, but you really don't need to be too careful about the amounts. If it starts to get too dry before the rice is fully cooked just add a bit more water.

I generally serve it with Chilli Cheese Cornbread for a sort of American meal.

Chilli Cheese Cornbread

Gas 4 for 35-40 minutes. Greased 7inch square or equivalent capacity baking tin.

6 oz medium yellow cornmeal
4 oz plain flour (white or wholemeal)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 oz soft brown sugar
1 medium egg
1/2 pint milk
4 oz grated cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons oil or melted butter
small onion, finely diced or 1 oz dried onion
1/2 can sweetcorn, drained (I use a can of creamed corn; you could use frozen corn, no need to defrost)
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of chilli flakes (or to taste)

Measure all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well to combine. Measure all the wet ingredients in a jug and beat until well mixed. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients and add the sweetcorn and cheese. Blend together with a spoon or spatula until just mixed and no dry flour etc. is visible. Do not overmix. The mixture will look lumpy. Pour into the prepared tin and bake just above the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes until risen and the top is brown. Serve warm or cold cut into squares. Best eaten the day its made but can be refreshed by a short burst in the microwave.

I haven't priced any of this because I've had a lot of the ingredients for ages and can't honestly recall what I paid for them, but most were from Approved Foods.

Oh, and I have to make apologies about the Bacon Roly Poly pricing for anyone buying the Morrisons Savers bacon packs. I went in there today to buy yogurts and the bacon pack I bought a month ago for 89p has now gone up to £1.04. These packs used to contain full rashers too, but now they are just chopped up bits. It's still good value for 500g of bacon, but even so that's a 15p rise in a month!

I also made Almond, Coconut and Raspberry muffins using some of the yellow stickered raspberries I froze and sent DS back to his student digs with some for him and some for his flat mates since they always ask what I've been baking when he returns. As usual DH insists on custard with his.

Thankfully for my diet I still don't have much appetite so I didn't eat any of the above goodies. I'm mostly sticking to fruit, yogurt, soup and crispbreads. My dinner tonight was a tin of Scotch Broth followed by raspberries in sugar free jelly with an Aldi lemon greek-style yogurt poured over. The yogurts are 99p for a 4 pack and are absolutely lush. I'm really hoping for a good weight loss this week, and if so the stomach bug will almost have been worthwhile. I suppose every cloud has a silver lining as they say.

I am much better, though, and thank you once again to everyone who sent me get well wishes.