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!