Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year - Happy New Hat

I finished my hat and decided it needed a little embellishment so I made a flower and finished it off with a pearly button I got ages ago as part of a free gift from a magazine. I'm quite pleased with it as I adapted the hat from a pattern and made up the flower design myself. I'm happy to say it's very comfortable too since I'm not really a hat wearer. I'll try it out tomorrow as it's likely to be just as bitter cold here as it has been for the past few days. Here are a few pics including some of me modelling it...ignore the face and concentrate on the hat; it makes for a much better picture. 

And to put another dubious image into your head...the last picture was taken by DH while he was just in his underpants. He's currently scrubbing down the bathroom walls of all the black mould we're plagued with and he prefers to do that wearing as little as possible so as not to ruin his clothes. Thankfully we're not expecting visitors.

I have used my smoothie maker for the first time this morning and I love it. I used half a can of sliced peaches, a banana, one of the vanilla yogurts I bought yesterday, a little semi-skimmed milk and a couple of tablespoons of porridge oats. It was delicious and made a lovely breakfast.

The photo shows about half the quantity made as I nearly forgot to snap a pic until I'd already drunk some. I can't wait to try out more combinations, although this time of year isn't so good for buying cheap fruits. Never mind, I can make lots with canned and frozen fruits.

We wandered into town again this morning and went to the library where DH reads the nationals and I have a look at the local papers. It's really frustrating for me not being able to take longer walks, but at least I'm getting out every day. On the way home we nipped into Asda and they were just further reducing the yellow-stickered items. I bought this lot for just £2.41.

There's 2 packs of cocktail sausages that I'll use in casseroles for 51p each, 2 greek yogurts (for smoothies) for 16p each, 2 smoked bacon and cheese quiches for 36p each (for a quick dinner one night with chips and salad) and a pot of carammelised onion hummus for 35p for DH's lunch. Not a bad little haul. I also bought 4 packs of 6 Brains faggots in gravy for 87p a pack from Morrisons.

We're not sure whether we're going out tonight or not. Neither of us really fancy going out in the cold again, and we don't want to leave DS1 alone on New Year's eve and he can't come with us because it's by ticket only and we only have 2. I think we might stay in, eat pizza (that I bought in Aldi for 89p each reduced from £1) and play the Big Bang Theory Cluedo game DH received for Xmas...and I'll see the New Year in with that whisky and coke.

However you are spending tonight I hope you have a wonderful time and wake up tomorrow ready to face another frugal, crafty New Year. I wish you all a Happy, Hopeful, Healthy and Peaceful 2015.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

On My Needles Tonight...

Bright and cold here again today. It was really frosty and icy underfoot when I nipped up the road to the parcel office around 8 am to collect my smoothie maker that they tried to deliver while I was out yesterday.

An hour later I wrapped up warm and went into town to my Slimming World meeting to face the post-Christmas music. I was pleasantly surprised that my weight had stayed the same as last week. I did have a good Christmas day and I may have finished off a few biscuits over the weekend, but I stuck to my diet on the days up until Christmas and ate fairly healthily the rest of the time so it obviously paid off. I would like to lose a pound or two as I'm 2 lbs over my target weight although still within the 3lbs either way limit they put on gains/losses before I have to pay again for meetings. I'm pleased with myself, though. The last time I got my weight right down with Weight Watchers about 10 years ago Christmas was my downfall and I never managed to get back to my eating plan once the festive season was over. Of course the weight started to pile back on which is why I got up to 15 1/2 stone by the time I joined SW. I'm not sure how I'll do next week once DH is back at work; I'm always better when he's around to distract me from food.

I haven't really played with my smoothie maker yet. I took it out of the box, rinsed everything with warm soapy water and then part filled one of the containers with plain water and set it up to test that it worked okay. The motor is pretty powerful and the blade whizzed the water around into an impressive whirlpool so I'm expecting it will make short work of fruits and veggies. I got 2 packs of 4 Activia vanilla yogurts reduced to 56p a pack this morning in Asda and tomorrow I'll buy some bananas to make some yummy breakfast smoothies.

I realised I haven't blogged much about crafting lately. I am still doing bits and pieces...mainly knitting. I've been making a striped jumper for myself that is mostly done, just the neck shaping on the front and the sleeves to finish off. I've used the same pattern a couple of times before in different colourways but this time I'm making it as close to the original colours as possible using substitute acrylic yarn.  

It's a simple pattern to knit up and lovely and comfortable to wear. I wore the last one I made so often that it practically fell apart. Also yesterday when it was so cold I realised I had no idea where my woolly hat is from last year so I started making a new one and I'm just finsihing off the shaping of the crown. Since I didn't use it for making socks as pressies as intended, I'm using this sparkly yarn I got from Aldi, and may make a pair of gloves to match.

I was also lucky enough to sell one of my tote bags to a lady at the slimming club and, naughty girl that I am, I spent the money on craft magazines. I had a £5 off a £20 spend voucher for W H Smith and bought 2 knitting mags, 2 patchwork/quilting mags and a general craft mag. My intention is to make these the last magazines I buy for a good while until I've started making things from the massive piles I already own (except for the couple I have on subscription and then I won't renew the sub once it expires). I have 2 tall, slimline bookcases bulging with craft books and magazines. I do enjoy getting piles of them out from time to time and looking through them, but there's very little I've actually made from any of them. I think that might have to be another New Year resolution; take out a pile of mags and make something from each of them. I also have an unfinished hexie patchwork that I would like to complete sometime this coming year.

Last night I deviated from my meal plan and we simply had sliced gammon with jacket spuds and baked beans. I saved a couple of slices of gammon and tonight I made macaroni cheese with onion and bacon using up the remainder of the cheeses. I use half fat creme fraiche to make my mac and cheese and it was absolutely delicious.

Tomorrow night (is it really going to be New Year's Eve already?) we're off to a ceilidh at DH's church. Not quite sure how I'll like it as I don't dance (my leg is still painful anyway), there's going to be a magician there for the kids (and I don't care for magicians) and no alcohol. Seriously... I know it's a church gathering, but no alcohol on New Year's Eve? I might have to see the new year in early with a whisky and coke before we go out! Yes, I do sound humbuggy, and I'm sure it will be better than watching TV and listening to the neighbours whooping it up through the walls, but I'm not really one for celebrating the New Year. 

And on that grumpy old woman note, I'll stop my rambling and wish every one a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year in case I don't get to write again tomorrow.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Today's Bargain

The weather was a lot brighter today, still very cold and breezey but we had sunshine and that always makes me feel more positive.

Since I hurt my leg about a week ago (I think it's what they call shin splints and is usually caused by over-exercising, but in my case caused by a long, brisk walk in new boots) I'm having to take it easy and I can't walk as far as I'd like without being in discomfort. I'm champing at the bit for it to improve as I'm very much a strider not a saunterer when it comes to walking and it's driving me crazy having to walk so slowly. It has improved a little with me trying not to do too much, but I can't wait for things to be completely back to normal. 

So today's outing was another slow stroll into town and back (about a mile and a half round trip on flat ground). I'm glad we went though as a quick look through the sale racks in M&S produced a lovely pair of smart work trousers for DH for £12.50. My dearest one is only 5ft 4 with a 29in inside leg and a 36 in waist so it can be a bit of a problem sometimes getting trousers to fit him and usually impossible in the sales or charity shops. As you can imagine I was really pleased that we lucked out this time.

That's about it for today. I'm just off to cook that almost-roast I talked about yesterday.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Using up the Leftovers

Horrible wet, windy, freezing cold weather here today. We dodged showers after lunch to nip into town so we weren't cooped up in the house all day, but we got soaked on the way home. No real snow like some places, but a flurry of sleet in the rain this afternoon. Tomorrow is meant to be drier and brighter, though still cold. Unfortunately our old 3 storey house is so draughty, despite blocking up holes and gaps, that I've had the heating on for large chunks of the day. Thank goodness I froze my fuel costs until 2016, and since DD3 and BF moved out my general usage has reduced immensly and my direct debit has dropped by £40 a month.

As I didn't host Christmas dinner this year I don't have a lot of leftovers. However, I do have best part of a gammon bacon joint, about 8 sausages, 4 packs of 6 part-baked rolls and several pieces of cheese from a selection I bought for my sisters' visit last Saturday. I also have some celery that DS2 brought home after a Christmas dinner with his friends from the anime club, and various other veg that needs using up.

This is what I'm planning to do with it all -

Most of the gammon will be sliced and served with the rolls for lunches for DS1, DS2 and DH, but I will be also be using some for main meals.

Today's dinner was bacon and vegetable casserole done in the slow cooker using a quarter of the remaining gammon, one of the reduced price vegetable packs I bought yesterday, some of the celery and a green pepper that was going wrinkly. It was served with some of the rolls that I finished baking in the halogen.

Tomorrow will be a sort-of roast using the leftover sausages. I'll also cook roast potatoes and Aldi value yorkshire puddings from the freezer (bag of 15 for 49p) in the halogen, and serve with the cabbage I bought yesterday and sprouts from the freezer done in the microwave. I'll probably also make gravy using a couple of red onions from the bottom of my veg basket and gravy granules.

Monday will be macaroni cheese done in the halogen using a combination of the leftover cheeses, with a little bacon stirred in and served with peas and sweetcorn cooked in the microwave.

Tuesday will be Tuna Impossible Pie from Penny's Recipes site, served with peas and carrots from the freezer. That should use up the remaining cheese and some just-out-of-date eggs from the fridge (I will, of course, test they are okay before using them) and a couple of tins of tuna from Approved Foods.

And the remaining celery? Will make soup, possibly with bacon scraps if there are any left, cooked in the soup maker and served with home made soda bread done in the halogen or any remaining rolls. This will either be another dinner or maybe just a lunch meal.

I do realise there's a lot of bacon recipes, but each one is different and besides, we all love bacon so nobody will mind eating it several days in a row. By the way, I cooked my gammon joints in the slow cooker for the second year running. Lovely and moist and slices amazingly well.

I have ordered my smoothie maker. It's the same one DD1 has and that she made us smoothies with when we visited at the beginning of November. 

In the end I got it for £29.99 with free postage from Amazon. I couldn't use my Love to Shop vouchers online but it was £5 cheaper than from Argos or Tesco and came with extra containers so was much better value. I bought it with some money I made from the sale of one of my collectors' dolls on Ebay. I know I will use it a lot as we love smoothies but at present they are a faff to make using my processor, which never gets them smooth enough and is a bugger to clean, or in my soup maker that can also be used for smoothies but needs to be filled with a minimum of 1.3 litres of fruit and liquids and makes massive amounts. Since the one I've chosen will pulverise ice too I can use frozen fruits straight from the freezer (£1 a bag in Farm Foods or reduced price punnets I've bought and frozen myself)) and I can also make DH and the boys their fave milkshakes made with Nesquick and value ice cream. I also love adding oats and yogurt to my smoothies to make a complete breakfast, and I sometimes mix smoothies with sugar-free jelly to make a mousse-like dessert.

I'm slowly going kitchen gadget crazy what with the halogens, slow cookers, soup maker, smoothie maker, bread maker and microwave but I'm all for variety and making my life easier these days, especially as I eat different things now than I used to and hardly ever need to use the full sized cooker. I've even found space for my toys by covering up my gas rings with a spare length of worktop. I'm hoping that using the halogens etc instead of the full sized oven will eventually save me enough that they will have paid for themselves, and then I'll go on to make further savings on fuel costs in the future.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas 2014...and preparing for 2015

We had a wonderful Christmas day hosted at DD3 and BF's flat. Enough food to feed an army, a few glasses of wine, great pressies and, more importantly, all my lovely family around me. Here's a few piccies 

 The table all set for the Graham Clan 

My lovely family

New shirt and cardigan thanks to DD2 and DD3, and new gold earrings from DH

So, today we're starting to get back to normal and already thinking about a frugal 2015.  We went for a coffee with DS1 (Wetherspoons filter coffee £1.15 with as many refills as you like until 2pm). We popped in a couple of shops, specifically the Card Centre where I picked up 6 x 3 metre long rolls of Christmas wrapping paper for £1 the lot which will do fine for next Xmas. 

In Morrisons I bought 8 tubes of chocs for 48p each instead of 99p, with sell by dates into June 2015. They'll do for the kids and their partners at Easter. We don't really do Easter gifts now they're grown but I still generally give them a little chocolately something each.

Also in Morrisons I got 5 bags of fresh chopped mixed veg (carrots, swede, leeks) for 39p a bag. 3 were 600g bags, finely diced for my soup maker, and 2 were 400g chopped more chunkily for casseroles in my slow cooker. I also got a sweetheart cabbage reduced to 29p that will go with the toad-in-the-hole I'm making on Sunday using leftover sausages. In Asda I got a large tub of red pepper hummus for 56p that DH had with rice cakes for his lunch, and a pack of 4 Weightwatchers yogurts also for 56p.

And yes, I have had a yogurt and crispbreads today and we are already back to healthier eating (apart from DH attacking the biscuits).

After all, this is what I looked like in February 2012

(and I got even bigger before I did anything about it).

 And this is what I look like today.

I've had a magical Christmas and enjoyed all the food and drink for one day, but I want to continue enjoying my slimmer, healthier body for a long time to come and that means keeping my natural piggy tendencies in check...even over the festive season.

The one thing that I was hoping for that I didn't get for Xmas was a smoothie maker to aid my healthier regime, but I have some Love to Shop vouchers left over from our brief Sky membership so I'm on the look out for a really good deal, and I also have my eye on a smoothie book for £2.99 in The Works.

I think that's all I have for now. I do hope everyone had a lovely day with family and friends - or alone by choice - and you're all set for a fantastic frugal 2015. Hugs, Helen xx

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas All.

Just popping in to wish every one of you a lovely Christmas day tomorrow, however you choose to spend it, surrounded by family or, like Ilona, perfectly happy to be on her own in a peaceful cottage.

We're off to DD3 and BF's for our special meal. She's so excited to be hosting a family Xmas in their own place. Although I won't be hosting the meal I've still spent a large part of today cooking the vegetarian options as they only have a small oven. I've also done our gammon for Xmas breakfast in the slow cooker and sausages in the halogen oven. Crusty rolls will also be done in the halogen in the morning. We've always had cold gammon with crusty rolls and various pickles and chutneys since I was a child. Just one of those traditions carried on through the generations. I'm not sure who will turn up for breakfast but as usual there's enough to feed a small army! 

With everything now ready as far as possible, I'm going to relax this evening with a drink and a biscuit and hope all goes well for DD and BF tomorrow. I'm so looking forward to having the whole family together...the first time since June now that the 3 girls have moved out and DD1 lives in Basingstoke.

So, that's all for now folks. Have yourselves a Merry Little Christmas Day!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Pink Porridge, Green Soup, Lentil Bake and Roses

This is my pink-ish porridge that I had for breakfast. 

A sachet of golden syrup porridge bought ages ago from Approved Foods, a few yellow-stickered blueberries from Morrisons (100g packs for 19p, I bought 6, gave 3 to DD2 and froze the other 3), and half a tub of Shape blackberry yogurt (2 x 4 pack for £2 in Morrisons). No milk because I added the yogurt once the oats were cooked.

This is my very green soup. 

Yellow-stickered courgettes (25p for 3 large ones in Morrisons), a small onion from a 49p bag from Aldi, 50g frozen peas, a clove of garlic, dried chives and tarragon, salt and black pepper, and 2 potatoes sitting at the bottom of my veg basket. Boiled up in my soupmaker with a veg stock cube and some water and then blitzed until smooth. I'll stir in a couple of tablespoons of fat free fromage frais before reheating for my lunch.

This is the lentil bake made in my halogen oven. I made 2 so that I could freeze one.

I now have 2 of these ovens, the one from Aldi and one I bought on an excellent offer from Ideal World after watching their demontsrations. I loved my first one so much but wanted the rotiserrie function on this one. I haven't used my stove top or gas oven for weeks now, using a combination of the halogens, microwave, slow cooker and soup maker. I find the halogens are excellent for most things that need grilling or baking (although DH's birthday cake took a bit of juggling until it was cooked right through). My Aldi halogen makes excellent chips because it has a stirring paddle, but the Ideal World one seems to cook things like sausages and other meats better and it gets to a higher temperature.

I am a little disappointed that the coating in the Aldi one is already showing a few scratches. The Ideal World one seems to have a tougher coating. I have even made macaroni cheese from scratch in the halogen, putting the pasta in boiling water and cooking it uncovered for about 10 minutes and then stirring in half fat creme fraiche and the cheese and chopped chorizo, and topping it off with more cheese. The halogen does grill cheese amazingly well and so quickly compared to my regular grill. I quite often do cheese on toast in it.

Lastly, these are the roses I rescued from Morrisons. 

Not having a garden I often look at the flowers in the supermarkets and fancy treating myself to a bunch, but even £2 seems an unnecessary extravagance. These lovely roses were yellow-stickered at 29p yesterday, just stuck in a bin with very little water and looking extremely wilted and bedraggled. I took pity on them, brought them home, clipped the ends off and split the stalks, put the plant food that came with them in the water and voila, they soon started to perk up and look lovely this morning. I'm really pleased with my inexpensive treat.

Okay, now I'm off. It's only 10.30, I've been up since 7.30, done all that cooking and a load of laundry and now I'm about to hang a second load of laundry and then nip to Aldi for a few bits. This afternoon I'm out with DS2 for a couple of hours...and I still have my Xmas cards to write and post the few that can't be given by hand.

At least the weather's cleared up; it's cold but sunny here at the moment. Hope you all have a good day. Love, Helen xx

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Still here

Hi all, just popping in to say I'm still around, and thank you to essexgran for asking about me. 

MIL's funeral was really beautiful and all our kids made it down to Bridgend, but it's taken a while for us to get our brains back into normal life mode...and now it's nearly Christmas so I have to get my holiday-time head on.

Since the funeral stuff was over I've been trying to catch up on all the Christmas preparations I'd put on hold. Up until last weekend I hadn't bought a single pressie, but thanks to the internet and a couple of trips into town I've now got everything sorted. There are a couple of things that might not be delivered in time, but everybody has more than one pressie to come so at least each person will have something to unwrap on the day. I've even managed to wrap about half of them this afternoon using paper I bought cheaply in the sales after last Xmas. I do need a few more gift tags but I have a card making cd rom with tags to print out so I'll do that tomorrow and get a few more pressies out of the way.

As we're going to DD3's for our main Christmas meal I haven't had so much food to buy this year so my £50 in Morrisons' savings stamps has more or less covered that side of things. But,yes, with all this internet buying, my credit card statement is horrendous at the moment (I've been tracking all my purchases online) but my sealed savings tins contained £338 in various denominations of coins and I will make up the remaining couple of hundred £s from other savings so I will pay it off in full and I won't start the new year in debt. January 1st will herald a new start to my budgeting as I try to replace some of the savings that got spent on funeral costs and other expenses whilst we were in Wales.

I would have had enough saved specifically for Xmas but I have spent more than intended buying flowers to be delivered for all of DH's relatives who helped so much when MIL was in hospital and while DH couldn't get there to be with her, and also for the wonderful staff in the care home where she spent the last few years of her life. I bought them through Flying Flowers who I've used for years and have found to be reliable, but I did use a voucher code to get a 20% discount and also purchased via Quidco so I will also get cashback at some future date.

I've had a busy day today. Apart from the pressie wrapping and cooking dinner etc. we had a visit to Deal, a walk along the seafront there and a coffee and mince pie in St. George's church in the High Street where they were holding their annual Christmas open house. Boy did we need that hot drink; it was freezing along the prom. We didn't stay to watch the kids sing carols as we only had 2 hours free parking, but it was lovely to see the children all excited and the church all decorated up. We put a £5 donation in their collection box for good causes...well, it would have cost us at least that for a coffee and cake in one of the cafes.

Well, it's 11pm and I need my beauty sleep. How are your preparations going? Nearly finished...or starting to panic? I'm already making a new year's resolution to start crafting things for Xmas 2015 in January. I wonder how long that resolve will last! 

Good night everybody. Sleep tight!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Loving my Multi-Fryer

I cooked sausages and bacon in my multi-fryer last night and they came out great. I had a whole 600g pack of bacon (about 16 rashers) and 8 pork sausages. They took longer than expected but then I realised I should have had the heat a bit higher, plus I opened it every few minutes to turn the bacon, or to take out the cooked rashers and replace with raw ones. I did also try cooking fried onions in the base under the racks containing the meat, but with all the fat dripping down on them they only softened and didn't brown so I drained all the fat off them and finished them off in a frying pan. Because they were almost cooked already, they only took a couple of minutes extra on the hob to brown nicely.

Tonight I'm making macaroni cheese that will mostly be done by my usual method, but I'm going to try and brown the top of it in the fryer.

I have to say I'm pretty impressed with this machine and can see me using it for all sorts of things that I would normally do on my cooker top or in the oven. Of course, it won't cook everything and you can't cook things that require a lot of liquid, so I will still be making good use of my slow cooker and soup maker for soups and stews, and using the microwave for really fast cooking. I can see me using the multi-fryer in conjunction with these other methods, such as cooking baked potatoes in the microwave and then crisping them in the fryer and, like the macaroni cheese, finishing things off in the fryer instead of heating up the whole oven just to brown the top. It will be a bit of a learning curve getting used to timings and heat settings etc (especially as my main oven is gas, not electric) but so far I'm enjoying playing with my new toy.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

I have fallen

Confession time. I have blown that tight budget I was talking about a few days ago.  

With everything being so strange and out of sync with my normal routine with my MIL passing and all the funeral arrangements and trying to coordinate accomodation and travel arrangements etc. for my 5 grown kids and their partners from Dover and Basingstoke to Bridgend for the funeral next Wednesday, I've been rather out of sorts for the past couple of days and fell into the trap of feeling I needed a treat to perk me I succumbed and bought one of these.

It cost £69.99 from Aldi, half the usual price of similar ones by Tefal or Phillips (although Argos have a Tefal one for around £94 at the moment) and a more versatile machine, I think.  With only 4 of us to cook for now it's 1kg capacity is just the right size, although it can cook larger quantities using the wire racks and extension ring.

I have wanted something similar for a while so I can cook things like real chips and fried chicken but with virtually no fat. Usually we have oven chips but they really are not the same as fried ones, and with this machine I won't need to heat the whole oven just to cook a few chips and some chicken grills. In theory I can cook a whole roast chicken in it with the roast veggies underneath and I will be testing that at some later date. 

Last night I just tried chips. I made proper ones with real potatoes, soaked them and rinsed and dried them a few times, and added just 1 tablespoon of oil to the fryer. They took 10 minutes longer than the suggested time but then I had made them quite thick. They didn't go as golden as I expected but they were paler, more like chip shop chips and very tasty. They were certainly more like real chips than oven chips are, and only took about the same length of time to cook. I think I might buy frozen 'fry' chips next time and try those. With the high price of potatoes, buying frozen chips, already peeled and prepared for me, is possibly even more economical than using fresh spuds and certainly more time-saving.

Today I'm going to be trying bacon, sausages and fried onions in the machine. I'm hoping to put the bacon on the top wire rack, the sausages on the lower rack and the onions in the base with the stirring paddle to keep them moving. We'll see how that goes and I'll report back. If this is a success then I'll be able to make a whole host of meals using just this machine, my slowcooker, microwave and soup maker, without ever having to turn on my main oven. There are even recipes in the book to make cakes in this machine, and I might give it a try.

We'll be away most of next week, back down in Wales. The funeral is on Wednesday afternoon, but DH and I will travel down on Tuesday and will probably stay until the end of the week. He's been marvellous sorting everything out, feeling it was his responsibility as an only child to deal with all the arrangements, but I want to try and get him to relax over this weekend as he's been running around all over the place since Monday. He says everyone he's had to deal with has been amazingly helpful and understanding but its obviously been a stressful time and he needs a rest. He's taking all next week off work but might have to take it as unpaid leave...thank goodness for those rainy day savings so we can ride out a reduction in next month's salary.

I think that's all I have for now. I'll report back on the successes (and failures) with my new toy.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Quick Update

Just to let you good people know that my mother-in-law passed away peacefully in her sleep this morning. 

DH had driven down there yesterday so was able to be there with her at the end. I did feel a bit guilty for not being with him but said he was glad to have those last few hours alone with his mum even though she probably didn't know he was there. 

And today I was glad I stayed behind as, although my children are all adults, some were very upset to lose their nan and needed their mum. Apart from DD1 who is in Basingstoke, and who I've spoken to several times on the phone today,  they all came home early from work and we got together for a drink and lunch in Weatherspoons in Dover. It was a lovely family time despite the sad occasion. We exchanged reminiscences of their nanny and I am so proud of my lovely kids that they are all there to support each other when necessary. DH is getting the same support from his cousins in Wales who have taken him out for a meal, and because they have also known his mum since they were children he could share memories with them from a time before I came into his life. 

I'm not sure when the funeral will be but DH is hoping to get everything arranged over the next few days and then come home at the weekend and we will all go down again for the actual service. 

So, tonight I'm remembering a stubborn old lady who, despite suffering for years with angina, chest infections, uterine cancer in her seventies and various other health issues, refused to give in until this, her 94th year. If I drank gin (her favourite tipple) I'd raise a glass and say Cheers Vie, wherever you may be tonight!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Hi! I'm still here!

Hello, everyone, long time, no see.

Sorry for the prolonged break; I'm not abandoning this blog, there's just been a lot of family stuff going on lately, some good some bad. We've both been pretty stressed out plus DH had another bout of bronchitis and I'm recovering from yet another monster migraine. 

The main bad news is DH's mum is really not well again. She's back in hospital, this time with pneumonia, and it's not looking good. He spent nearly a whole week in Wales over half term spending the majority of his time at the care home with her, but had to come home eventually for work. He feels really guilty at the moment that he can't be down there with her, and that so much emphasis is on his cousin and her husband (who are being absolute angels) to visit her and take in anything she needs...and to keep him updated on her condition as the hospital isn't very forthcoming with information when he phones. 

Of course, if she takes a serious turn for the worse we'll be in the car and off down there in a shot, and he has warned the school where he works that that might be necessary. At nearly 94 she really hasn't had much quality of life the past few months; her mind is now going whereas up to a short while ago she was bright as a button, and she constantly has one infection (either chest or urinary tract) after another, plus she's now had 3 falls, including breaking her wrist. It's very hard on DH as he's an only child so has no one but his cousin to share the burden of worry and care with, and she and her husband are already looking after her mother who has Alzheimers. Given the fact that he's in a stressful job too, and has to travel 2 hours a day to and from his current school, I'm keeping an eye on him and hoping he doesn't have another breakdown like he did 4 years ago.

We've also had car trouble which hasn't helped with the stress. DH's school is difficult to get to on public transport so he relies on our old VW Polo to get him to and from. It did pass the MOT at the beginning of last month, but started playing up after that. We've now forked out for a full service and - touch wood - it seems to be running a lot more smoothly. 

Hopefully the car will play nice this weekend because we're off to Basingstoke to visit DD1. Her wife is with the army band and is currently in Germany so we're going to keep DD1 company for a couple of days, driving down early tomorrow morning and back late on Sunday. It will give us a chance to catch up with DD and to see their new house since they recently moved from army accomdation near Winchester. DH can keep in touch with whatever's happening with his mum and we're taking spare clothes in case we have to dash to Wales and stay for a while, and Basingstoke is closer to Bridgend anyway.

Having had so much to pay out for on the car, plus other unexpected expenses (including going to Basingstoke) this month I'm really belt-tightening. I did have money put by for the car but have had to dip into other savings and I want to replace them, not keep spending, so my budget for the next two weeks until DH gets paid again on the 25th (not including the cost of travelling to Basingstoke and one lunch out with DD1) is £50 a week housekeeping, £60 a week for DH's petrol for work, and £25 for his dental treatment. That's £245 plus I'll allow a £15 float for the 3 extra days over the 2 weeks. £115 housekeeping for 17 days isn't a lot for 4 people (3 of them men) plus 2 greedy cats, when I've already run down my freezer during October, but I've made a menu plan of sorts (which went to pot this week with me in bed for 2 days with a migraine) and it's definitely do-able, as long as we don't get any more nasty surprises! 

Good news on the money front, I've taken out a new deal with Scottish Power online until 2017 which freezes the price of my gas and electric. It means I pay a little more now per KWH or whatever they call it, but with prices continuing to rise I'm hoping to reap the benefits of freezing it later on. Plus, because we had built up a lot of credit by paying by direct debit, my monthly payments have been reduced by about £25. My water charges have also reduced by a few pounds since DD3 and BF moved out.

Sorry is this sounds all doom and gloom, not a lot ot shout about at the moment, but we are really looking forward to our mini break this weekend and hoping we get enough dry weather to take stroll by the Basingstoke canal.

You notice I haven't mentioned the dreaded 'C' word. I haven't even started on my Christmas prepartions beyond saving £50 in Morrisons stamps for food and my sealed savings tins which I'll open on 30th of this month. We're going to DD3 and BF's for Xmas dinner, anyway, and she's so excited to be hosting her first family Christmas. We're hoping everyone will manage to be there and we haven't all been together since June.

After taking time out to write this mammoth post I'd better get on and catch up with all the things I haven't done while I was ill. Sorry again for the doom and gloom and I hope all is more cheerful in your neck of the woods despite the weather.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Repost - Frugal Queen: How much should a family of five spend on food a week?

Please click on the link below for sound advice as always from Frugal Queen. 

I'm sure a lot of people would think some of the suggestions given are too extreme but if you really need to cut back on spending then you have to get organised and make some drastic changes and there's no use moaning about it. 

Let's face it, mostly we're extremely lucky in this country to have enough to eat and a safe place to live without all the extras we feel we deserve. There are millions worldwide who'd love to have the apparent luxury of even our most frugal lifestyles but for them no matter how hard they work they just about survive day to day and that coffee treat at Starbucks is definitely not on their list of things they can't do without. 

Sorry if that comes across as preachy. 

 Frugal Queen: How much should a family of five spend on food a week?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Weigh In, Fry Up and Rice Pudding

Well, I gained 1/2 lb this week, but that's okay since I was 1/2 under my target last week. It was the cake that did it. We were given 2 lots of cake last week and I'm afraid I over-indulged, plus I succuumbed to a couple of those cheese rolls I made and also the flapjack...and one of the Naan breads and...So, actually I was lucky to get away with just 1/2 lb.

Determined to be good and stick to my eating plan for most of this week, but still needing a tasty, filling treat, I've made some slow cooker rice pudding inspired by Frugal Queen. 

I used the quantities in FQ's recipe ( but used skimmed milk and substituted half the brown sugar with sweetner. As we like our rice pudding chilled rather than hot I decanted it into a bowl and then divided it into snack pots (those empty yogurt cartons I use for many of my desserts). It made 6 pots plus a small amount in another pot. I won't be adding apple sauce to it as I like mine plain and DH prefers jam on his.

Dinner tonight was a health-ish fry up. Grilled bacon (£2 for 600g from FarmFoods) and sausages (99p a pack of 8 from Aldi), eggs cooked in Frylight, baked beans (Aldi - 24p a can) and oven chips (Aldi - 89p for 1.5kg). DH and the boys will also have fried onions with theirs. Everything for dinner and for the rice pud came from my stores.

My dinner without fried onions 

DH's dinner with fried onions (he'd already tucked into it before I got a chance to take a picture).

Thank goodness the weather was better today, chilly and overcast but dry all day so I managed quite a nice walk into town to my SW meeting, and back again via the supermarkets where I succumbed to some more shopping, spending a total of £9.96 on this lot plus a few extras.

 Chorizo rings reduced from £2 to £1 (sell by date 22 Dec 2014)

Yogurts 2 packs for £2 in Morrisons

Cheese - 350g pack for £2 in Asda

500g for £1.62 in Morrisons

I also bought 2 packs of Savers baby wipes at 46p a pack from Morrisons (we use them in the loo...'nough said!), 5 pack of Gala apples for 84p from Asda, and 2 packs of aspirins at 29p a pack from Boots. In addition 60p in change was added to one of my sealed tins.

I was really pleased with the Extra Mature Cheddar; I always buy a nice strong cheese and use less of it but still get a lot of flavour. I'll make the granola go a long way, having a little with yogurt and fruit for breakfast or for desserts. And I was thrilled to find my favourite chorizo for 1/2 price with a long use by date. I add a small amount of chorizo to soups, stews, macaroni cheese, savoury rice and all sorts of things to give them that extra injection of flavour.

Has anyone else discovered a good deal today?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Quiet Day In

Not much to report today. I've had a day in, partly because the weather has been absolutely foul and partly because I have an upset stomach. At least staying in means I haven't spent anything, my second no spend day this month. It's a sad state of affairs, though, that my willpower is so bad I can only manage not to spend when I don't go out.

In my inifinite wisdom I decided to strip all the throws off the sofas and wash them along with the cushions covers. I've been meaning to wash them for a couple of weeks as they get coated in cat hairs, but every time I was going to do them it was either raining or I had other laundry that needed attention first. Despite today's awful weather I decided they'd waited long enough, so I currently have damp washing hanging over the bannisters and doors. I refuse to put the heating on to help dry them out over the radiators, which means it could be a day or two before they can be put back on the sofas. At least I've finally got them done.

Dinner tonight was once again made with what I had in stock. A root vegetable crumble using carrots, swedes and parnips I bought yellow-stickered a while ago and chopped up to go in the freezer, plus an onion and a sachet of pasta bake mix (from AF) that I adapted  to make a creamy sauce. The crumble topping was simply white and wholemeal flour combined, Willow buttery spread and some grated cheese.  It was served with peas and sweetcorn. I only had a tiny portion of the filling as my stomach is still griping.

Tomorrow is my Slimming World weigh in. Thank goodness we are forecast sunshine so I won't get soaked on the way there, although its going to be colder. 

That's all I have for today. Hopefully my wayward digestive system will have settled down by tomorrow.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Spend Some, Save Some and Slimming World Apple Dessert

I've spent some money today...shock, horror! I did a top up shop, mostly at Aldi but also a couple of bits from Asda and FarmFoods.

This is what I got from Aldi. 

It came to £6.22 and, along with celery, carrots and a cabbage already in my basket, it should provide all the veg I'll need for the remainder of the week. The onions were 59p, sweet potatoes 69p, pack of 4 baking potatoes 59p, 3 peppers for 89p. In addition there's a jar of sweetner for 59p and 4 Bramley cooking apples for 89p.

The hot chocs, tin of mandarins, and jelly weren't needs but wants. There are 8 sachets of hot choc in the box for 99p; one a day for DH's evening treat and just 41 calories. I prefer to have sachets of Maxwell House Cappuccino that I get from Poundland, 8 sachets for £1 and 56 calories. The sugar free jelly is 23p a sachet and will either make a low fat apple dessert using 2 of the cooking apples, fromage frais (Asda £1 for 500g) and Quark fat free soft cheese (Asda 87p for 250g), or I'll just use it with the mandarins (44p) to make a jelly and fruit dessert. I find if I have these low fat treats available throughout the day it helps me keep off higher calorie (more expensive) treats.The other 2 apples will be stewed with a few foraged blackberries from the freezer and sweetner. I'll have some for a dessert with yogurt, and make a small crumble for DH to have with custard.

In addition to the Aldi shop I bought a pack of 4 garlic bulbs for 59p from FarmFoods (it was 89p for 4 in Aldi, so as much as I love Aldi they aren't always the cheapest). I also bought a tub of quark (87p) and 2 x 4 packs of WeightWatchers yogurts (2 packs for £2) from Asda.

My total spend was £9.66, but I should only need to buy a couple of extra bits during the rest of the week. 

My other spending confession is the £2.30 for coffee in Weatherspoons. An indulgence, but the money came from last year's sealed tin. As we still have about £20 remaining we decided to use it to treat ourselves to a coffee every now and then. We both had the refillable filter coffees at £1.15 each. Being able to have as many refills as you like up until 2pm, we each had a second cup bringing the price per cup down to 58p.

And after all that spending, the savings. Instead of buying anything else for our lunch today, I had some leftover soup and I made DH hummus to have with rice cakes we already had in the cupboard. 

I used tinned chickpeas I got ages ago from Approved Foods, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil from my cupboard and the last clove of garlic in the basket before I bought more from FF. I added a little seasalt and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. He pronounced it yummy.

And tonight's dinner of chicken stir fry will again be made from my food stocks. I saved some chicken I had cooked for yesterday's curry (£1.33 for 1/3rd pack), I have a bag of frozen stir fry veg from FarmFoods (3 bags for £2 so 66p a bag), noodles from AF (3 packs for 99p so 33p for 1) and a sachet of stir fry sauce, also from AF for just 1p. Total cost = £2.33 for 4 servings (approx 58p each).

For dessert I'm making DH a trifle using a box of Birds' trifle mix I got from AF at 2 for £1 and I'm having a raspberry sugar free jelly with frozen cherries from Aldi (300g for £1.49). All this came from my stores and the little pots that the jellies are in originally held Mullerlight greek-style yogurts.

And this is a little look at some of my stockpile.

Catering sized Branston Pickle and tomato ketchup, used to refill empty jars and bottles
My pasta mountain
The cats won't go hungry
Toothpaste, shower gel and anti-perspirant - at least we won't smell
Alcohol wipes, washing gel, more cat food etc.
Tinned beans and tomato puree

This is just some of what I have stored in my bedroom. There's loads of dried skimmed milk powder in boxes under the bed, and dried vege sausage mix, onion bhaji mix, rice, cornmeal and flour in other plastic storage boxes. There's even more on shelves and in cupboards downstairs. Not to mention what's in the freezer. I can't see us starving any time soon, can you? I don't think even Stoptober will make much of a dent in this lot.

Lastly, for anyone on the Slimming World plan or who simply wants a tasty, low fat dessert here's the recipe devised by one of our members for the apple dessert that I make most weeks. For SW members this is just 2 syns (for the jelly) and 1 B choice (for the stewed apple) for the whole recipe so you could eat the whole thing if you like and it makes a lot.

Apple Dessert

2 Cooking Apples (peeled and diced)
2 tablespoons granulated sweetner
sachet of sugar free orange jelly crystals
250g tub of Quark fat free soft cheese
250g fat free Fromage Frais

Put the diced apple into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water and cook on full power in the microwave until its a smooth pulp. While still hot, stir in the jelly crystals and the sweetner. Mix well until all is dissolved, then using a whisk mix in the quark and fromage frais until all is well combined and smooth. Pour into a single serving dish or into individual pots and put to set in the fridge. Eat and enjoy.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Homemade Take Away

We never order take away food. Okay, I'll revise that...maybe 2 or 3 times a year we'll share a bag of chips on the way home from an evening out, and DS2 gets a free pizza now and then from the place where he used to have a part time job. Otherwise, no expensive take out foods for us. 

So what to do when I fancied a curry and trimmings for tonight's dinner but needed to stick to my 'Stoptober' resolution?  I shopped at home of course, looking in the cupboards and my recipe books to see what I could come up with.

Our menu selection ended being Chicken Tikka Masala, Sweet Potato and Spinach Curry, Onion Bhajis, Garlic and Coriander Naan Bread and plain boiled rice. I had everything I needed either in the cupboards or the freezer and even made my own naan for the first time instead of popping out to the shop for some.

The Chicken Tikka was made with FarmFoods frozen chicken breasts (3 x 1 kg bags for £10 at the time I bought them, so £3.33 a bag). I saved a couple of chicken breasts for a stir fry tomorrow so I'm counting it as two-thirds of a bag for the curry for £2.22. I added a couple of sliced onions (20p) and a jar of Tikka sauce from Approved Foods (2 for £1, so 50p) . Total = £2.92 for 4 servings

The Sweet Potato curry was from the freezer and was leftovers from a previous dinner so I'm counting that as free.

The onion Bhajis were made with a thinly sliced onion (10p) and a packet of Simon Rimmer Bhaji mix (Approved Foods - 5 packets for £1, so 20p for 1), plus a little oil for frying (approx 20p) = 50p for 9 small bhajis (approx 5p each)

The Naan bread was made from a WeightWatchers recipe book using plain flour (approx 10p), 1/2 teaspoon of bicarb of soda (2p), 2 teaspoons caster sugar (5p) a tablespoon of natural yogurt (2p), milk (10p) a free range egg from Aldi (15 for £2.25, so 15p each), garlic cloves (5p),some chopped fresh coriander that was wilted and needed using up (approx 25p) and some oil and butter for brushing (10p) = 84p for 6 medium sized naans or 14p each

The rice was also from Approved Foods and I can't recall exactly how much it cost so I'll allow 50p for that.

Total cost of the meal was approximately £4.74 or £1.18 each for 4 servings. A good deal cheaper than buying a take away for 4 of us. As there's a couple of naans, onion bhajis and a little curry leftover for someone's lunch tomorrow that brings down the cost per serving  even further. An added bonus is that, apart from the bhajis that were fried, it all contained less calories than a high fat take out.

I have also acquired another pair of jeans today and didn't spend a penny on them. DD2 had ordered them from the New Look website but they were a size too big for her. Instead of returning them she asked if I wanted them. I'm a size larger than her, they fit me very well and as I only have a couple of pairs of jeans I offered to pay her the £8 for them. Bless her, she said I could have them for all the cards and things I'd made for her lately. £8 would have been a bargain but a free unxepected gift was even better. I'm slowly replacing all my big clothes with better fitting ones, and the only item of clothing I could still really do with for the winter is a more sturdy pair of shoes, but I can manage without until I have next month's clothes allowance and even then I'll wait until I find a really good deal.

To finish with, in case anyone wants to make their own Naan bread, here's the Weight Watchers recipe I used.

Easy Naan (makes 6 at approx 215 calories per serving)

125ml (4 fl oz) semi skimmed milk
1 egg (beaten)
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon low fat plain yogurt
300g (10.5 ounces) Plain Flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1 teaspoon black onion seeds
2-3 garlic cloves (crushed)
12 g (1/2 ounce) finely chopped fresh coriander
1 tablespoon low fat margerine (melted for brushing)

Preheat the oven to Gas 7/220 C/fan oven 200. Spray a baking tray with low fat cooking spray or brush with a little oil and put in the oven to heat up. In a jug mix together the egg, milk, yogurt and sugar. Set aside. 

In a large bowl mix together the plain flour, salt, bicarb, onion seeds and garlic. Pour the milk mixture into the flour and stir quickly to combine the ingredients into a soft dough.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Press each piece of the dough into the chopped coriander and then roll out to approx 5mm (1/4 inch) thick. Remove the tray from the oven, transfer the dough to the tray, brush with the melted margerine and bake for 8-10 minutes until risen and golden. Serve warm.

I omitted the onion seeds because I didn't have any, and I incorporated the coriander directly into the dough. I also only put the greased tray into the oven a couple of minutes before baking instead of right at the beginning so that the oil wouldn't smoke or burn. They turned out really well, quite soft and not that different from shop bought.