Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Good News, Decluttering and Chocolate Cake

Today has been a really positive day. We had a scheduled visit from a lovely lady, an information officer (IO) from the Autistic Spectrum Conditions Team. 

We've been floundering since DS1's diagnosis, not quite sure who to turn to for help, but she lived up to her job title and then some. Not only did she tell us where we should go for help but she will also attend meetings and assessments etc. with DS1, make appointments for him and ferry him about. He may be entitled to a disabled persons' bus pass and rail card, PIP (Personal Independence Payment) or other benefits to help top up his salary from his part time job, and she's putting him in touch with a local social group especially for autistic adults.She will apply for him to have a full needs assessment but has suggested he makes an application now to go on the local housing register so that they are already aware of his need for appropriate independent accommodation when the assessment recommendations are complete. 

We phoned up the Government department to ask for the forms to apply for PIP and just that was stressful, they asked so many questions...and that was just so DS can be sent the forms to fill in. No wonder so many people don't bother applying for these benefits, those who are most likely to need them would find it hard to get through even this introductory process. DS is generally quite good at giving appropriate info but it was all rattled through so quickly that I had to talk for him part of the time, and even I had difficulty keeping up and taking in everything the operator said. Thank goodness our new IO is making an appointment with a service that will assist him in filling out the forms.

DS1 really liked our visitor and we both felt cheered that finally, after nearly 2 years since we first requested a diagnosis, some progress is being made in helping him live a more fulfilling life and to get help in making life less stressful for him.

Our other news is that we definitely have a buyer for our house. We've accepted an offer from someone who wants to do it up to rent out. He has his finance in place and there's no chain as he doesn't need to sell a property. We did have to take less than the asking price, but it's actually the price we thought it was worth so we're quite happy. We thought the estate agents' valuation was too high anyway considering the amount of work that needs doing to it. 

Now, if only the owners of the house we would like to purchase would just give the estate agent an answer to the offer we made on Saturday...

We offered a bit less than the asking price but are prepared to increase it, but so far they haven't given their agent a response to the offer. There's no chain at that end either so it would be perfect and the sale could hopefully go through within a couple of months so that we could move in the new year.

In the meantime I'm gradually decluttering in preparation for the move. I'm sorting through all my crafting magazines and putting a few at a time on the stall in the Co Op to raise money for a local girl who has a rare cancer and needs to go to the States for treatment. 

DS2 and I are proposing to sort out the cupboard under the stairs tomorrow so I'm sure I'll have more bags of stuff for the charity shops and the dump soon too. I know the Xmas tree is under there, and lots and lots of empty boxes we've hung on to from household items we've bought over the years just in case we needed to return any of them, but I'm pretty sure most of them are for things we don't even have any more or that are well past their guarantee date. Of course, some of them will be perfect for packing, otherwise it's recycling week this week so they can go in the paper and card box. 

There's also some old paint under there and as DS2 is tarting up the small bedroom for one of our American visitors at Xmas I'm hoping some of it might still be usable so I don't have to pay out for new paint.

I also found time to do laundry and make a chocolate cake today. It's a new recipe for me using Veg oil instead of butter/marg and it's super easy. Of course it's a good old Mary Berry one. I made a buttercream filling instead of the ganache in the original recipe.

The picture is what is left after 4 gannets (me, DH and 2 adult sons) dug into it.

Mary Berry Chocolate Cake 

2 x 8 inch cake tins (greased and base-lined)
Gas Mark 4 for 35 - 40 minutes

Cake Ingredients

275g Plain Flour
3 tablespoons Cocoa 
1.5 teaspoons bicarb of soda
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
215g Caster Sugar
3 Tablespoons Golden Syrup
3 Medium Eggs
225ml Vegetable or Sunflower Oil
225ml Milk

Filling Ingredients

85g Softened Butter
175g Icing Sugar plus 2 Tablespoons Cocoa (sifted together)
Approx 2-3 Tablespoons Milk

Measure all the dry cake ingredients into a bowl, sifting the flour and cocoa. Measure and mix the eggs, milk, syrup and veg oil together in a jug. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and give them a good mix with a wooden spoon or whisk. Divide between the greased and lined cake tins and bake in the middle of the oven until firm and springy to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tins for 10 minutes then turn out onto wire cooling racks. Leave to cool completely before filling with buttercream.


Beat butter until soft and creamy, beat in the sieved sugar and cocoa adding milk a little at a time until the mixture is a spreadable consistency. It wants to be easily spreadable in the cake but not too soft that it won't hold together.

Fill cake with the buttercream and enjoy.

I also made another Mary Berry cake last week, a Lemon Victoria Sponge filled with lemon curd. 

It's an ordinary all-in-one Victoria Sponge but with the grated rind of 2 small or 1 large lemon(s) added to the mix and filled with lemon curd. It was delicious with custard. 

Mary's recipes are almost foolproof and our fave Birthday Cake is her Vanilla and Choc Traybake. I've lost count of the number of times I've made it over the years.Mary Berry rules as far as I'm concerned and I'm looking forward to her new programme on BBC now that Bake Off has gone over to Channel 4.

Right, that's all for now. It's nearly midnight and time I was in bed. Sleep well everyone.

Love, Helen xx

Friday, 18 November 2016

Looking Hopeful

More house stuff, I'm afraid. 

But exciting for us because...

...we might have a buyer. 

After a week of having people traipsing through the house, we've actually had 3 offers. All are below the asking price but then with the amount of work that needs doing we were expecting that. One offer we've already turned down as it was £25,000 under, but the other 2 we are considering. One in particular is extremely promising, a buy-to-let investor who will be a cash buyer. The other has made exactly the same offer but needs to be approved for finance. At the moment we've asked the estate agent to sound them out to see whether they'd be prepared to go a bit higher, but if not we'll probably accept the cash offer. 

Tomorrow DH and I are going to Deal for a second viewing on a house I saw on Tuesday with DS1. It has 3 decent-sized bedrooms, a decent lounge, large modern kitchen/diner, utility room, downstairs cloakroom, and an okay bathroom. There's a small neat front garden and a small back garden with an outbuilding and a shed. It's all been well maintained and the garden is lovely. The only down side is it's on a busier road than we would have liked, but still quieter than where we are now, and the area used to be a bit rough but seems to have improved in the 20 years since we last lived in Deal. That's the opposite of the area we live in now which used to be really nice but with lots of properties now being multiple occupancy it's has gone down hill over the past few years. Since we can't afford to buy in the really nice areas of Deal we'll have to settle for second best, but still preferable to our current location. 

If DH likes it too then it would be perfect as there's no onward chain. With a cash buyer for our place and no waiting in a chain for the occupant of the other house to move then things could go forward quite quickly and we could be relocated early next year. 

If we don't go for that then there's a lovely new build we saw that we could afford with shared equity if we were approved. It's gorgeous but has only 2 bedrooms and at the moment we still have our 2 boys living with us, although at least one of them is likely to move out within the next year. 

With all this going on and trying to keep the house looking as presentable as possible for our 'visitors' (plus walking 8 miles around Deal for hours on Tuesday) I'm cream-crackered tonight. And, of course, our beloved neighbours have decided to play their music loud enough for us to share. Bless them...grrrrr! I know we can't guarantee we won't have neighbour issues wherever we move but I can't wait to get away from this lot.

So, that's my news. And my little moan for the night. Sleep well everybody.

Love Helen xx

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Making Do

I've paid an extra chunk off the mortgage this month, trying to pay it down so we owe as little as possible once the house is sold. This means we'll have most of the sale price to invest in our new property and will need to borrow only a small extra amount to fund it. We have a really low interest rate at the moment that tracks at only 0.79% above the bank of England base rate. It was negotiated some time ago for a fee of £100 which has been well worth the money in saved interest payments over the years. Any borrowing on a new mortgage is bound to be at a higher rate (we've been quoted at around 2.5% fixed for 5 years) so it makes sense to pay more off at our current lower rate so we won't need to borrow so much at the higher rate. 

In light of the extra payment I'm trying to spend as little as possible on food (especially main meals) over the next 2 weeks (until DH's next pay day). In my freezer I have the following -

2 x 500g beef mince
1 x 500g  pork mince
1 tray of 6 Brains faggots
1 x 500g pork sausagemeat
2 x 300g packs and 1 x 500g pack of Quorn chicken-style pieces
1 x 300g Quorn mince
1 x 250g tub chicken livers

I also have frozen veg, fruit, bread etc.plus puff and shortcrust pastry

In the fridge I have cheddar, smoked pork sausage, 100g bacon rashers and eggs, and in the cupboards I have such things as tinned beans (baked, blackeye, kidney), tuna, tomatoes, sauce sachets and jars, pasta, rice and couscous etc. etc.

So, lots of stuff to get creative with. I know I'll need to stock up next month but if I can stretch this out for the next 2 weeks - or longer - then I can hopefully pay another chunk off the mortgage next month too, despite it being Xmas.

I will make probably a large pie with the sausagemeat, maybe even stretch it to 2 pies or a pie and some pasties or sausage rolls. 

The pork mince combined with one pack of the minced beef will make a meatloaf and some meatballs to have in a pasta sauce. 

The other beef mince combined with a tin of kidney beans and a jar of sauce from AF will make a chilli  to serve over nachos with salad veg. 

One pack of Quorn pieces will mix with a condensed mushroom soup, onion, garlic, wholegrain mustard and white wine to be served over rice or couscous.

The Quorn mince will mix with baked beans, onion, garlic and herbs to make Slimming World beany mince served with baked or mashed potatoes.

The cheese, eggs and bacon can make a quiche using a carton of UHT cream from AF, served with chips or salad.

The smoked sausage will be put in a macaroni cheese.

Today I've made a sweet and sour stir fry with 1/2 of a second pack of pork mince, veg from the freezer and fridge, Aldi ready to wok noodles and a sachet of sauce from AF. The other half of the pack will be combined with a tin of mixed beans and some dried chilli mix to make a 'white' chilli for tomorrow. 

That leaves 2 more packs of Quorn pieces, the chicken livers and the faggots. Not to mention the tuna. 

There's certainly enough there for 2 weeks plus there are other vegetarian meals I can make including a lovely vegan curry recipe, a savoury crumble, cowboy beans, Hoppin' John...

...maybe I can stretch it to 3 weeks at least. 

I will obviously need to buy fresh salad veg, maybe potatoes for baking (I use Aldi frozen mash instead of fresh...it's only 59p a pack) and there'll be stuff like cereal, fruit, bread etc for breakfasts and lunches but I have quite a lot of that too. My biggest issue is DS2 who has a bottomless stomach and will raid my stocks to make his lunches. I often go to make a meal and find all my chips or pasta have gone. I've asked him to let me know when he uses something up...but...

Anyway, none of the above meals are set in stone or in any particular order except tomorrow's pork chilli. It depends on what we fancy, or how busy I am, but I'm really hoping not to have to buy any extra meat or vegetarian options.

if you have any other suggestions for my ingredients please let me know.

Hope you've all had a good weekend. Love, Helen xx

Saturday, 12 November 2016

So Much For That

For whatever reason (and it could have been the horrible wet weather), of the 4 viewings we had booked today only 2 showed up. I suppose 50% isn't bad, but I had hoped for better. I'm just hoping the 2 booked for Wednesday aren't no-shows. I'm impatient, I know it, but when I get an idea in my head I want to act on it right away...and I so want to move now we've made that decision. How have I never learned patience in my nearly 60 years on this Earth? 

I now have 2 houses to see in Deal on Tuesday, one is a new build and the other only a couple of years old. One we could just afford with a small top-up mortgage, the other would need to be financed under a shared equity scheme although we'd have a substantial deposit to put down. Both would depend on us getting a reasonable price for this place. Dammit, I wish I could think of something other than houses at the moment; it's driving me mad going over and over the different possibilities and I must be driving everyone else (including you good folks) insane talking about it all the time. I still think I might be slightly bi-polar, I get so manic over things. 

Once the last of our 2 'visitors' had left DH and I ventured into town. It stayed dry for the 15 minutes it took us to walk there but by the time we'd left the library it was peeing down again so it was quick march to get back home. At least I got out of the house, I've spent 2 days inside this week when it rained non-stop from dawn til dusk. 

Dinner tonight is Iceland's cod in breadcrumbs, oven chips and peas (mushy peas for me). Last night it was Brains' faggots, mash and peas. Not very original, or healthy, but I was going for easy to prepare with everything else going on. 

The cod was 6 pieces for £3, so 50p per portion, the chips 95p for 1kg from Aldi and the peas are Tesco's value, approx 50 pence worth used. This makes each serving (for 4 of us) around 85-90p (including half a tin of mushies for me).

A 6-pack of faggots in gravy was on offer in Iceland for 89p, and we had 2 trays between 4 of us served with one and a half packs of Aldi frozen mash (59p a bag) and another half bag of Tesco peas, making each meal approx 80p. It proves that with careful shopping it's possible to make 'ready-meal' type food affordable for those days you don't have the time (or inclination) to make anything more time-consuming. Tomorrow I'm hoping to cook something a little more 'homemade' with the minced pork I got yellow-stickered from M & S. it's worth checking them out sometimes; I've managed to get some lovely reduced price meat on several occasions.

I think that's about it for now and I have to go check our fish and chips dinner in the oven.

Have a good Saturday evening. Love, Helen xx

Friday, 11 November 2016

Open House

Tomorrow we have an open house viewing day and I've spent this week trying to maximise the feeling of space (our main selling point) by sorting through the piles of stuff cluttering up the place. I have over a dozen black sacks of rubbish that DD3 and BF are going to collect early in the morning to take to the tip, and I've sent about the same number of bags of saleable items off to the local hospice charity shop. My airing cupboard is now clean and tidy with room to house all the cleaning things and spare loo rolls etc that were previously stored on the floor of the bathroom or in bags on the landing. And our bedroom is virtually unrecognisable with my 3 dusty old collector's dolls' houses donated to the Emmaus charity shop. I haven't done anything to them for years and they were acting as clothes hangers for my dresses and smock tops draped all over them. All the clothing I've kept is now tucked neatly away in drawers.

To make room for the dresses and tops in the drawers I've finally bitten the bullet and given away all my big clothes. I've hung on to them because I've lost weight and then regained it several times in the past but this time, after more than 2 years at my target, I'm hoping I'll manage to keep the weight off permanently. I've held on to one pair of size 14 jeans...just in case. But all the 16s, 18s, 20s and, yes, the 22s have gone. If I ever gain the weight back then I deserve to have to pay out for new clothes. Mind you, with the stress of a probable move already getting to me, I've been eating for England this week. 

The first signs are hopeful as we have 3 people booked for the 11-12 am viewing slot, and another person coming about 1.15pm. There's also 2 people who couldn't make tomorrow and are booked to come on Wednesday. So, let's cross fingers and everything else we can that we'll soon have an offer...preferably from a cash buyer from London looking to invest in rental property. We can but hope. As we're considering new build homes, and DS1 and I are going to view some in Deal on Tuesday afternoon, it would make for a much easier transaction with no chain at either end.

With all this going on I still haven't given much thought to Christmas. Not a single pressie bought yet. It's going to be gift vouchers and boxes of chocs this year, I think, I simply have too much else to think about with the house sale and DS1's social services assessment on 22nd Nov. There's also 2 birthdays before the holiday period too. One of them is DH's and luckily he's quite happy to just go out to the vintage tea room in Deal and have a cream tea, which is what we did for my birthday this year.

Although we're going to DD3's for Xmas day I've managed to get roped into doing a full roast dinner for 10 of us on the previous Sunday (18th) when DD2 and SIL (son-in-law) will be down our way, DD3 and BF will be over and DS2's American girlfriend and her best friend will be here.  I managed to pick up a couple of large fresh British roast-in-the-bag chickens yellow-stickered in Asda so they've gone in the freezer, and I already have a Quorn roast and some Quorn gammon-style rashers in there for DS2 who's been vegetarian since she was 8. I'll probably buy a pork roast too, and do all the trimmings. Good job I have a big cooker with 2 full sized oven and 8 gas burners. I think I might need most of them.

That's about it for tonight. I'll be having an early night and trying to shut my brain down enough to get some sleep before tomorrow. I do hate my overactive brain; it goes through all the possible outcomes over and over and over again, usually in the early hours of the morning. So, here's to a good night's rest.

Sleep well everybody. Love, Helen xx

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

For Sale!

The 'For Sale' sign went up this morning and we also received the property description for our approval. It's been described as in need of refurbishment, and as an ideal property to do up to rent out. Too true! At least that way viewers will know what to expect.The photographer came round this afternoon; he'll return next week to take additional photos of the back yard when it's cleared out as at the moment it's stuffed full of old mattresses and a bedstead that the council will come and collect this Thursday. Tomorrow morning the energy survey is being done. I just have to return our signed declaration that the details are correct and then we'll go live by the end of the week. Open house viewing on Saturday 12th Nov. Fingers crossed for an early sale.

I went with DS1 to his assessment for CBT yesterday; just for moral support, he saw the therapist by himself. He's been put on the waiting list. The therapist apologised that it might be a long wait, 4-8 weeks. That seems quick to us after the 15 month wait for his initial autism assessment, plus an extra 4 months for his second assessment and receipt of the actual diagnosis and report. Some of the other recommendations in his report will come under the remit of other services, hopefully that will be sorted when he's assessed by the social services at the end of the month. Slowly but surely we're moving forward.

Having been so busy today (slimming club this morning before the photographer this afternoon) I made a quick dinner tonight thanks to my slow cookers. In one I tossed a bag of frozen Quorn mince (Aldi £1.49), half a bag of value frozen mixed veg (approx 50p), some frozen sliced leeks (25p) and a sachet of sausage casserole mix (25p - 4 for £1 from Approved Foods); in the other I cooked 4 baking potatoes I got yellow-stickered from Asda for 39p. Left to bubble away for 4 hours on high it was cheap and delicious. Served 4 at approx 75p a portion.

And finally, here's my knitted patchwork blanket on the sofa; Shadow thinks it's very comfortable.

Have a good evening everyone. Love, Helen xx