Thursday, 31 January 2008

Income Supplement


I am not a greedy person to be chasing extra income so often but I do want to pay off our mortgage and so give us a bit of freedom and financial security.

I dont want to be working the hours that I do now in 10 years time. We dont really have any income except my salary at the moment because the old man started his own business and it takes some years before it can stand by itself.

We have decided that we need some additional income to help towards paying for finishing the family house in Crete and also make some lump some payment towards the mortgage.

When we decided to buy and renovate/build on to the house in Crete is was to be a family house & we didnt expect to share it with anyone. However we have had a lot of our friends ask if we will be renting the house out. Well we wont be advertising it or renting out as such but we have decided that if friends want to stay there and in exchange make a contribution to building costs then that is okay with us.

So now we have to think about getting some furniture into the house. I like second hand furniture myself but that isnt really an option in Crete. No-one buys second hand but also they are a fairly frugal people and not prone to change for the sake of it. This means that second hand goods just aren;t really available. So we have the choice of new & good quality, often imported from Italy but also China & Poland (I never knew that furniture came from Poland before.)The main problem, aside from cost, is that it tends to be a little more otstentatious than I would like.

Next choice is to bring a van or container form the UK with second hand furniture from here. Thisis quite expensive and it would have to be a good saving overall to make this viable. At the moment we are considering asking the builder to build in cupboards for us. Apparently this is a popular option. We then thought of buying hotel style pine bed. Quite cheap but how comfortable? Maybe the builder can also make beds.

My friend Sue, whose house is about 5km from our house in Crete, has some beautiful handcarved Cretan furniture. It is really is beautiful to look at but I dont think my deilate bottom half can handle it. I find the chairs and sofas so painful that sitting straight on a marble floor is preferable. Then ofcourse there are the traditional Cretan dining chairs with the rafia seats. SO beautiful to look at but like sitting on a cheese grater for me! If I opt for bauty will I ever be comfortable with it. Is it a silly idea to collect furniture here and then drive it all that way??

Oh dear, so much to decide. I dont think I will be getting contribution to building costs from friends any time soon unless they relish the idea of sleeping on an inflatable mattress.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Washing sort out evening

I have a new scheme with the clean washing in this house, to stop me from eternally sorting out and putting away washing.
I have 6 laundry basket/bag type things. Deeper than a basket and more bag shaped and with handles. I have labelled them with indelible ink one for each of us, plus one for household(towels,kitchen clothes etc) and for beloveds swimming gear (he spends a LOT of time in water).

The idea is that everyone bring their washing down to me on a Friday evening and over the weekend. Ideally this could be any day but I am not at home to keep an eye on the weather most days as work intervenes. I sort everything into colours, types etc and wash batches at a time. The later you bring it down over the weekend the more likely it is to be washed with something not so suitable but its better than waiting another week. As each item dries and is collected from the washing line or tumble dryer it is folded and placed into that persons baskets. Exceptions are shirts which are dried on hangers and left hung up near the basket for collection. I don't iron, at least not in the ordinary course of events. The clothes baskets are dished out to individuals when they have everything back dried and nicely folded. I don't think we look like we don't iron our clothes (others might disagree!.

The weekend passed in a bit of a rush last week and when I should of been sorting out washing I was in Accident & Emergency at the local hospital waiting to see if my baby had broken his arm. So tonight is washing putting away night. The children have to put there own clean clothes away, I put mine, the old mans and the household. The swimming stuff goes straight into his car boot for the coming week.

So far it seems more efficient than previous attempts but if the name baskets are not available when I have the first dry clothes then it is not so good. Now I just need to get the family trained.

Monday, 28 January 2008

New money savings ideas for us-continued


So after yesterdays thoughts on money saving we decided a few things. We wont buy food outside of the house. It was my idea but of course when i got to work today my friend asked me out to lunch. Only a cheapo at the local cafe but I did it - I said no. I had taken leftovers from yesterdays dinner with me for lunch so I didn't need to but all the same, it was tempting just for the social break from work. I wonder if they mind if i come along and don't eat or drink.

Second thing we are trying is a spending diary. I am using my new diary far more than i ever have before & I think it is a just getting into a habit of recording every detail. The good thing so far is that I don't like writing anything in and so I haven't bought anything wasteful so far. I spent £16 at the £1 shop on Sunday but it was for food products and I bought approx £35 of food for this money. I bought 2 of those Italian fluffy cakey bready things (cant remember the name!) to take to my friends house on a Friday. These are normally £5.99, so ten pounds saved just there.

What next, I wonder...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Some new money saving ideas for us


It being that time of the year when we tend to look at what we have done and what we will be doing the old man & I decided to take look at our finances. The Balance Sheet is looking pretty good (assets v liabilities) but some time the Profit and Loss Account looks a bit sick. Since we bought the family house in Crete we have a pretty big mortgage and at the moment only one income. Beloved has his own business but it is early days and we don't really make anything from it yet. I have had a good pay rise this year and wont be getting another one in the foreseeable future so the only option to improve things in the short term is extra work for beloved until his books fill up a bit and of course cutting down on expenditure.

We are pretty good with our money but somethings do make a bit of a dent in the cash flow. For us it is DIY products to complete the project we have at the house. We have doubled the size of the downstairs of the house & build a new workshop in the garden. The workshop still needs the exterior to be finished, to be fully insulated and to have a lock fixed. The building project for the house still has some electrics to complete, there is a bathroom to fit and the floor to lay. There is also the whole exterior to finish (lots!!). Finally we need to build a porch & laundry room. We have tried to re-use and recycle but something must be bought new and its pretty costly week on week.

Our second big expense is running he cars. Mine is little and old and doesn't use much fuel but occasionally goes wrong. I don't do too much mileage bu i have to travel to other locations for my work so its an essential. Beloveds car is converted to LPG, so cheaper on fuel than it would be otherwise but also prone to go wrong & really pricey to fix. A major expense coming up soon as we get new tires for it.

So we mainly have an opportunity to cut down on expense for the DIY, a bit of lateral thinking here and planning ahead with our needs to take advantage of prices when we find good deals. The bathrooms taps came from Lidl, for example, and all the porcelain from the bathroom was discounted in an end of season sale (really discounted - the toilet was £7!)

Our other main possible cut down is household expenses and entertainment. Not sure how much more the entertainment budget can take. We have already got rid of satellite TV & has only free view. We don't rent DVDs unless we have a voucher. We only go to the cinema maybe once per year and we try to take advantage of Orange Wednesday 2 for 1 deals. We only go out to dinner for birthdays and special occasions unless it is a mystery dining project and we can claim the cost of our meal back. Other than that we visit with friends and family and make our own entertainment. We like it this way because as well as saving money it makes us really appreciate the things that we do.

So, getting back to household expenses. I have this month changed energy supplier to earn £61 cash back from Quidco. My broadband is committed for the next two years, the phone calls are provided by the same supplier and are a bargain too. Water supplier cant be changed. The only option is to go on the meter and with two teenage boys at home that is not really an option just now. Insurance's are already as cheap as i am going to get them. Mortgage is fixed rate so already 3% lower than what is on offer at the moment. Mobile contracts cant be changed until next July but are also not really too high so that's okay.

I just need to ensure that we have a good selection of healthy, tasty and affordable meal to chose from in the house. Today I made a soup/curry which I called Kashmiri chicken soup. It is basically the meat from a couple of chicken thigh chopped up and browned in oil. Cook with some curry power or paste, a little extra cumin, salt and pepper, some Worcester sauce, Add chopped carrots, onions and celery (plenty), a bowl of lentils, previously soaked over night, a tin of tomatoes. It has make a vaste pan full and is really scrummy. I also made two large crumbles with frozen plums from my mums plum tree. The old man astonished me though by saying that he spent £8 on sandwiches a week ALL IN ONE DAY. I was gobsmacked! I have to say even he was a bit astonished when i pointed out that i can buy two chickens for that amount.So we agreed that i would make sandwich fillings to keep in the fridge,for filling rolls or baguettes each day. I cooked 6 free range eggs and made egg mayonnaise. I also grilled two packets of bacon. Surely enough to make lunches for the week? Apparently not as he has just home from work and eaten the lot! I have to say the bacon was pretty skinny and everyone seems to have pinched a bit as they passed bt all the same. Anyway I will have to think of another plan for lunches as I cant have my supplies nicked as soon as I have finished preparing them. I guess it is a compliment on my cooking at least.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Shirley Valentine

I had a phone call from a journalist that writes for a national newspaper. I am not being secretive about the name, just cant remember which one it was. She interviewed me about how I met my husband, 21 years ago, because she is writing a series of articles about romances that follow film scripts. She thinks our beginnings are like Shirley Valentine but they aren't really, once you get past the fact that we met in Greece. Anyway we have to pose in a classic Shirley Valentine post but before hand someone is coming to do hair and make up for me! I don't normally wear make up & my hair is also what you might call naturally styles so I am intrigued to see the difference. The make up artist is only coming a half an hour before the photographer so beloved is teasing me that half an hour is not long enough! Cheeky.

This is the photo that we have to mimic with our pose. I may post a copy of the photo that they take of us if its not too embarrassing.



Hopefully they will elave by mid morning tomorrow and then I have sometimes to sort out the wardrobes for both boys. They have a lot of old clothes which they have long outgrown and which need new homes. I am hoping that the eldest will also be recoverd from his tonsilitous enough to put up the skirting board in the conservatory so that we can get the desks and filing cabinet in place and take rest of my thngs from my old study, now oldest boys bedroom, to the new study/office in the extension. Its really nice finding all my old stuff, books & phots which I havn't seen for a while, just getting being given a load of new books!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

What do you eat in a week?

I came across this on the whilst browsing this evening. Fairly thought provoking. We spend about £50 per week to feed 4 adults, 2 cats and a bird ( I have say the bird doesn't actually eat much of this amount. I know £50 is around $100us and pretty similar $aus, but I am not sure of the actual buying power comparison. I have read this week that the $us and £ are about the same in buying power. Happy to receive a correction from anyone that knows of course. For a comparison a chicken,not especially large, would be about £3.5 here & a loaf of sliced wholemeal bread 99p.I don't buy 'value 'foods unless they are pretty good but on the other hand I don't buy convenience foods so that is a saving. Well I do buy some convenience foods like bread, as opposed to making it, tinned tomatoes for cooking and baked beans, but I don't normally buy actual pre-prepared meals.

The Egyptian picture looks the most appealing to me.

By the way Hot & SPicy cooking class scored another hit tonight. We had beef in oyster sauce (should of used best steak but I used stewing beef but marinaded it in white vinegar and soy sauce first and its now really tender.)and another hot chicken dish. There is plenty left for tomorrow so its not too expensive even though we cook two dishes each week. Kids are not intersted in take away any more! Yaay,success.




Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros ($260.11)



Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros ($500.07)



United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98



Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos ($189.09)



Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys ($151.27)



Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds ($68.53)



Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55



Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum ($5.03)



Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs ($1.23)

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Just chilling'

Its been a really, really busy time at work lately and today was no exception so to be honest we haven't been up to much at all this evening. I had some plans of sorting through Babies wardrobe but it never really got of the ground. We also planned to have leftovers for dinner but yesterdays curry and rice was so nice that we hardly had any leftovers, so we have had a mixture of those little scraps with extra noodles. We are now relaxing with an early night in bed and watching a old Lovejoy DVD. Does life get any better than this??

My oldest son is 18 today. We woke hm up this morning with Champagne, orange juice and croissants however his fist words were 'mum, can i have milky coffee and ibuprofen'. It was just like New Years Eve all over again. Another bout of tonsillitis. Poor babe. Tonight he has a few friends around but otherwise it seems surprisingly quiet. I imagine a full scale party might be on the horizon once he is feeling better.

Tomorrow is 'Hot & Spicy' night. We have lots of lovely recipes but these are two I have chosen for this week. I will let you know tomorrow how we get on.

THAI CHICKEN WITH CHILLI

INGREDIENTS

2 tbls oil
1 clove garlic chopped
1 tsp dried chilli fakes
300g/12 oz chicken breast finely sliced
1 tbl fish sauce
2 tbls roasted peanuts-OPTIONAL
200g/8 oz sugar snaps
3 tbls chicken stock
1 tbl light soy sauce
1 tbl dark soy sauce
Pinch of sugar
Freshly chopped coriander to garnish

METHOD

1.Heat the wok and add the oil when hot
2.Add the garlic for a few seconds then add the chilli flakes for a few more seconds
3.Add the chicken for 2 – 3 mins
4.Then add, fish sauce, peanuts if using, sugar snap, chicken stock, both soy sauces and sugar stir well
5.Bring to the boil then simmer for 3-4 mins or until cooked
6.Serve with the coriander


BEEF IN OYSTER SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

3 teas cornflour
1 1/2 tbls dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tbls rice wine
400g/1 lb steak cut into strips
2 tbls sesame oil
1 cm/1/2 inch Fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 Stalks celery, sliced
1 red pepper sliced
100g /4 oz mushrooms sliced
4 spring onions sliced
2 tbls oyster sauce
100 ml/4 fl oz chicken stock or water

METHOD
1.Combine 2 teas cornflour with the soy sauce and rice wine in a bowl
2.Add the beef and coat well allow to stand 20 mins if possible
3.Heat the wok until hot and add the oil
4.Add beef and fry for 2-3 mins
5.Remove to a plate
6.Add the ginger and garlic to wok and fry 1 min
7.Add the celery, red pepper, mushrooms and spring onion and fry for2-3 mins
8.Stir in oyster sauce
9.Combine the remaining spoon of cornflour to the stock or water then stir into wok
10.Bring to the boil and add the beef back to wok for 1-2 mins until sauce has thickened and beef is hot
11.Serve

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

New Years Resolution Review



Photo is of the old man, not very relevant for the topic but I thought it was a nice photo and in winter I need to be reminded that there is a summer and we will walk at the beach again. This is at Lulworth Cover in Dorset.

I don't actually 'do' New Years Resolutions as I don't like being told what to do even by me, but I do like to have a serious think about what I can do better, what I can stop doing and what news things I can try. Back in December, before I was poorly, I made a start on some ideas for 2008. I want o have a look back at them now and see if they still are what I need or if I need to re-visit my plan.



1)Try meal planning for a month and see if it suits us.I haven't actually tried long term meal planning but I have been made sure that I have bought all i need in a week for sensible healthy meals on most days, allowing a day of leftovers (some hope with teenage boys) and a day of snacky/on toast type dinner. Seems to be going pretty well but I may try some longer term meal planning as the year progresses. Having said that when vegetables start getting ready for harvest then dinner is decided by what is ready that way, so to some extent meal planning is done by the weather then rather than by us mear mortals.
2)Shop for groceries a little smarter, possibly using a price book. Started but still a work in progress.3
3)Find something to do with my hair! ( I mean a style rather than something I can make with the actual hair)- I have been moussing it to bring out the curl rathan than the dish scrubber look which I was favouring for a while there. Still haven't had it cut but I think it will have to happen.
4)Lose weight. Beloved has lost 8kg and looks much better with it (or rather without it)and seems to have More energy. Sensible eating, more exercise and a weekly weigh in with some friends are all underway.
5)Try making olive oil soap. Sues lovely olive oil seems to good to use for soap but maybe she has second pressing available. Having done this yet although I now have all the ingredients. Beloved brought back 3 large bars from visiting his sister at new year, having misunderstood my plans but its the thought that counts.
6)Try making butter. I have read about this on three sites this week. My only fear is that we will eat more butter. Tried this and it was successful in as much as it was butter but it was way too creamy and i felt sick after having my toast, however this may well be a good thing bearing in mind resolution no.4
7)Cook more interesting meals and generally spend more time in the kitchen. No so much a resolution as a wish. A lot of the kitchen equipment is still boxed up in the shed but once the building work is finished I want to take possession of my kitchen and put it back into use again. The kitchen is still boxed up but work is progressing outside and in ,depending on the weather, so I have some high hopes of success here. In the mean time meals are more interesting since the Hot & Spicy cookery course started. Also stew with dumplings has been requested this week.
8)Sort out the back garden. It was really lovely before the building work commenced but now it looks like a war zone. Again I can get to grips with it once the building stuff is gone. We have started to clear out the rubbish. The back fence blew down in the wind but beloved and my dad have a built a better one complete with gate to the back road with wood which used to be at the front of the before building started. They have also started cladding the shed so that it is warm enough to use all year round.
9)Getting the allotment producing to maximum efficiency. Hopefully there wont be a another year of blight causing us problems there. Nothing here yet as the ground is still so wet that the allotment looks like a muddy Venice.

I think I will stick with these but add a few others. We have got a little slack with spending lately. Last evening we went out for a mystery dining meal but ended up spending more than our allowance, so it cost us to go out. We are planning together how we will look after our income going forward. I will report back how this progresses.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Just a quick thought....

Tonight we went out for dinner. Not because we are celebrating our anniversary from yesterday but because we had a Mystery Dining event to take part in. We had Chinese food for three of us and although it was well presented and not unpleasant to eat, it was nothing like as tasty as the dishes we have been preparing at the Hot & Spciy lessons. I am really pleased about this because this is not the first time I have discovered that my home cooking is better than we can get from a restaurant. We will claim back over £50 for this evenings entertainment and an hour of report writing afterwards but I am not really sure it was worth it. We will keep doing ot for the meanwhile though as it stops me form wanting to eat out on other occasions.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

19 Years ago today.......

I was walking up the aisle or actually walking into the registrars office. I could tell you we had a big celebration today or my husband brought my flowers or even fruit. It wouldn't be true. It was a Sunday like most others. The old man was working this morning for about 4 hours and then had a couple more lessons this evening. I did buy him a nice steak for his lunch but I am still waiting for my reciprocal present (19 years of experience would seem to suggest that I can wait as long as I like but there wont be anything coming my way.) I took the opportunity of a quiet day at home though to get a bit more sorting out done around the place. I have advertised a few things on Freecycle and filled up another bag for the Sally Ann plus my recycling bin is full to capacity but the house looks better for it and within another few months i think we will be quite pleased with the place. It takes so long as I tend to re-arrange and even paint as I go. Emails from Freecycle have already started arriving!

I began developing a new habit today of which I am rather proud, and also rather ashamed not to have done before. I pre-treated some stains on my tops with stain treatment! Normally if I get stained clothing they get relegated to the work drawer (for wearing whilst decorating or gardening rather than for wearing to work). However I now realise that this stuff does actually work and I can get considerable more wear out of some of my clothes. My washing is looking a lot better generally;y actually since Rhonda on down to earth wrote a little article about washing a few weeks back. My whites might even be coming off the line white soon!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The best laid plans


I had plans for this weekend. Saturday for cleaning at the house and on Sunday to do the old mans tax return. Instead of which we were at the animal rescue to check out the new kids in town at 10.30am. Unfortunately the place doesn't actually open until 11.00am (it says 10am on the internet,honest)so not a romping success. Then I decided to pop into the farm where we buy the meat as its just around the corner from the rescue centre.We could go straight away and be back by 11. The old chap decided we would wait and of course by the time we had checked out the dogs, none of whom were happy with cats in the house, I had forgotten about the farm and I didn't remember until we were about 5 miles in the wrong direction. I can wait a bit longer rather than add 10 miles to today's journeys.So,to the gas station to put LPG in the car. LPG has gone up 3p per litre since we last filled up 10 days ago. We converted the car to LPG because its greener and cheaper and also because the engine is supposed to last longer. I hope this is true as the price of fuel isn't such a of a bargain at the moment. Then we came home and I cooked and cleaned the floor right through. I got some washing do and hen some dishes and by then the old man was back from work. After we had lunch I did some work on my laptop at the table whilst my husband beat the kids at backgammon, quite impressively.

So now it is Saturday night, the house isn't clean, I haven't finished the washing and the dishes aren't quite done yet (some pie dishes are soaking in the sink). It isn't even quiet as my eldest son is playing electric guitar downstairs. I haven't prepared anything to start on the tax return for tomorrow.

It wasn't the day I planned but it was quite enjoyable after all. Perhaps sticking to your plans whatever comes along isn't always the best thing. I think I will use my plans just as a guide.

A couple of good things though. Both boys asked if we can have the new Hot & Spicy recipes for dinner this coming week. The eldest requested Chicken with Basil and the youngest asked for Thai Curry. Also this evening my sister told me that they have garlic and onions for planting in the 99p shop, and packet of six vegetable seeds (packets of six packets not packets with six actual seeds)also for 99p. I will pop down there tomorrow as its always too busy to visit on a Saturday. Looks like my Sunday plans are coming a bit unravled again already. Oh,well, thats life!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Another Garlicky Day


Hopefully no-one has preserved any garlic in Olive Oil in the last 24 hours. Kethry has kindly written in to tell me about the possibility's of botulism in garlic preserved in olive oil. I have been reading up on it this afternoon. It seems as though the botulism is in the soil and isn't destroyed by anything you do to it. So if its in the soil from the beginning things go bad (real bad) and if it isn't then they don't. But as botulism isn't something to be messed with i am revising my options on preserving next years crop. I have read that pickling is good but my husband is not a great fan of vinegar, except on chips and then not too often. This year I will try peeling the cloves and then blitzing in the blender, still with other oil but then freezing in the ice cube tray. I would suggest that the ice cube trays wont be much good for anything else afterwards so i will only freeze up on tray at a time and then move the cubes to a bag in the freezer.

Here are the two garlic themed recipes which i cooked for my first 'Hot & Spicy' session. Yum, really yum and really easy too.

Chicken with chili and basil

Ingredients
200g / 8 oz chicken fillets – chopped into bite size pieces
1 – 2 red chili – de seeded and chopped
1 – 2 green chili- de seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic - chopped
1 tbl chopped coriander
2 tbls fish sauce
1 tbl oyster sauce
1 bunch fresh basil
A little oil

Method
1. Heat a little oil in a wok and when hot add the chicken stirring for 3 mins
2. Add the red and green chili, coriander and garlic and fry for a min
3. Add the fish and oyster sauce and gently heat for 5 mins
4. Tear the basil leaves and add just before serving


RED THAI CURRY


INGREDIENTS

200ml/8fl oz coconut cream
2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
2 tbls red Thai curry paste
2 tbls fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
250g/10 oz chicken breast finely chopped
450ml/3/4 pt chicken stock
2 kaffir or lime leaves finely shredded
1 chopped red chilli to garnish

METHOD

1. Pour the coconut cream into a saucepan and gently heat
2. Meanwhile heat a wok with 2 tbls oil, when this is hot add the garlic and cook for 10-20 seconds, then add the curry paste for a further few seconds.
3. Pour in the warmed coconut cream and cook for 5 mins until thickened
4. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar then add the chicken and cook for 5 mins.
5. Pour in the stock and simmer for a few mins until the chicken is cooked.
6. Stir in the lime leaves and place in serving dish garnish with the chilli

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Garlic


It was the second lesson of my Hot & Spicy cookery this evening. It was a roaring success and we are all full and content now. One of the things I notice is that almost every dish contains garlic. Here in the Northern Hemisphere garlic should have been planted by now. Plant on the longest day and harvest on the shortest day goes the old wives tale. We haven’t planted yet though as the ground is so wet I am expecting it to rot as soon as it is in the ground. We will eave it a couple more weeks and then it must go in or we miss our chance for this year.

Last year the garlic was one of our most successful crops. Whilst the blight killed everything from the potatoes family, including the expected massive crop of tomatoes, the peppers, aubergine and chillies, the garlic, and the red onions, went from strength to strength.

When we harvested in the summer we had sufficient to have fresh garlic for both of our families to last up until Christmas. We then went on the using the peeled garlic cloves which I had preserved in Olive Oil (from my friends farm in Crete – thank you Sue) and we are using that still. I just peeled the cloves and removed any bits which didn’t look 100% perfect. Packed them into glass jars which could be sealed. Topped them up with the organic extra virgin olive oil from Sue and they were ready. The pieces can now be crushed, or more like squashed, for use in stir frys, soups and stews.

A few things I have found odd when growing garlic. I don’t seem to be able to grow from the prior year crop. I have to buy seed garlic each year. Maybe they are bred to be produce infertile cloves from the first clove. The cloves were planted last year were all from the isle of Wight. This isn’t far from us and is quite famous for its garlic now. They have an annual festival with garlic fudge and garlic ice cream (just as bad as it sounds, in my opinion) as well as garlicky stir frys, sweet corn and various other street foods for sale. Worth a visit if you are can get there in August. Mungo Jerry & The Brotherhood of Man provided the entertainment last year!

On the health front Garlic is claimed to help prevent heart disease including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer.

In 2007 a BBC news story reported that Allium sativum may have beneficial properties, such as preventing and fighting the common cold. This assertion has the backing of long tradition. Traditional British herbalism used garlic for hoarseness and coughs.

In 1858, Louis Pasteur observed garlic's antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II.

The primary compound of interest from this reaction, allicin, is generally deactivated during cooking due to its instability, and may be more beneficial consumed raw. When crushed, Garlic yields allicin, a powerful antibiotic and anti-fungal compound .

I will publish some of the recipes which our teacher has given over the coming weeks. There are all simple,delicious and healthy. Hope you enjoy them.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Diary of a Monday part 2

Other things did happen today.

My car broke down before Christmas but where I was ill I didn't get it fixed. I was sick enough not to care. Last week a very nice man came out to fix a new part. He told me to leave the keys in the garden where he could find them and he would do the work and put an invoice through my door. I could then send him a cheque in the following week. I thought this was really nice. I had never met the man and he was happy to accept my cheque but also to accept me paying him when the mood took me, not up front before work was carried out. What a lovely old fashioned idea. Anyway today I posted the cheque to him. He charged me for parts and 1 hours labour including call out. Plus VAT of course. Very good service.

This evening we did one of our favourite economical entertainments! We went mystery dining. Its great fun. You get to help restaurants improve their product, you also get dinner out for nothing (except a written report and as I love giving my opinion to anyone, whether they want it or not, this is also good)and because you eat out on a regular basis you don't feel inclined to dine out when you are responsible for the bill! On top of that we get to sit and talk to each other for 1.5hours, which is miraculous in itself.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Organic v Junk Food


From 2008 but still very interesting.
I cant help feeling that both families spent a fortune of food anyway as my weekly shop comes to about £50 but I guess economy wasn't an issue.

More of us than ever are choosing organic foods. But while it might seem a healthier option, would you really notice a difference in wellbeing if you went totally organic?
We challenged a dyed-in-the-wool organic family to swap lifestyles for a week with a family who love ready-meals. The results make fascinating reading. MANDY FRANCIS reports.
William and Gaby Lana, both 38, are the owners of Greenfibres, an organic clothing company. They live in Totnes, Devon, with their children, Megan, 11, and Max, nine. Gaby says:
We started to eat organically about 15 years ago. Now, just about the only thing in our kitchen that isn't organic is a jar of Marmite - and that's only because we haven't found a satisfactory substitute - yet.
We choose to eat organic mainly for health reasons. We feel it's really important to eat food that is as close to its natural state as possible - freshly picked, in season and not sprayed with a cocktail of chemicals, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones or packed with artificial additives and preservatives.
We cook everything from scratch, so we know exactly what is in our meals. On an average day, breakfast is no-sugar, organic cereal with unhomogenised milk - milk that has not been processed to break up natural fat globules - as well as fruit and apple juice from local organic farms.
Lunch might be a wholemeal cheese sandwich (all the ingredients organic and made locally) with tomatoes from our organic garden. Supper might be organic pasta with a home-made sauce, salad from a friend's allotment and a glass of local organic wine - followed by ice cream or fruit for dessert.
We were nervous about the life swap - but determined to immerse ourselves in it nonetheless. On the first day, we took the children to a large, local supermarket just outside Totnes - a new experience for all of us.
It really did feel like walking into another world. We're used to small, friendly, local shops - so everything about the supermarket was different: from the controlled temperature and lighting to the weird, deodorised smell.
It's strange that you can't actually smell food in a supermarket - I guess because most of it is so tightly packaged. William makes a homemade pizza once a week, which we all love - so our first mission was to buy a ready-made version.
We were stunned by the choice. There was literally, a whole aisle of pizza! Thin crust, thick crust, stuffed crust - it was really hard to know what to choose, but we eventually settled for a Goodfellas pepperoni - averting our eyes from the scary food label with its salt and fat.
The children were allowed to pick whatever they liked and quickly scooped up packets of chocolate coated cereal, bags of crisps, a huge bottle of lemonade (they only drink fruit juice or water at home) and Cheese Strings - which they had seen on TV at a friends house (we don't own a TV).
Megan was seduced by an ice cream because it came with a free pink plastic spoon. That's the kind of marketing you never see on the kind of food we normally buy.
The display of fruit and vegetables looked lovely - so we took Pink Lady apples, bags of salad leaves and broccoli florets to go with the selection of ready meals that took our fancy.
We finished off with a couple of bottles of wine from California and South Africa. We normally only buy organic wine from Europe as we're conscious of air miles and resulting pollution.
That night we decided to try some ready-made chicken and herb crepes. The flabby specimens lying in the plastic tray looked nothing like the picture on the box - but we hoped they would improve with cooking.
William and I then spent about 15 minutes arguing about whether to put the plastic tray in the oven as it advised on the instructions.
You don't need a degree in chemistry to realise something from the plastic must leach into the food when you're heating the whole thing up to 180c for 30 minutes. Eventually, we gritted our teeth and got on with it.
The crepes didn't improve with cooking. The sauce was gloopy and stuck to our teeth - revolting. We left most of it and had a bowl of super-sweet cereal each instead. Breakfast next day was toast made with sliced white bread, ready-prepared pineapple and melon chunks, and orange juice.
The best way to describe the toast was 'bouncy' - it had an odd, bland, spongy texture - not at all like the local wholemeal, seeded, handmade stuff we normally buy.
The pineapple chunks were delicious, but the melon was fluffy and had no taste. The children loved the milk and orange juice because it was smooth and had no bits - the local unhomogenised milk we buy has lumps of cream in it and the apple juice is cloudy, but then neither has been processed goodness knows how many times.
For their school lunch, Megan and Max took bouncy white sandwiches filled with turkey breast, a pack of Cheese Strings, a bag of crisps and a very sweet non-organic cereal bar. They go to a progressive, alternative school that teaches environmental sciences and only serves organic food - so we had to get special permission to do so. I think their lunch was an object of curiosity all week!
When the children got in from school, they were much more hungry than they would normally have been. They had another Cheese String each, but were clamouring for a bowl of chocolate cereal 20 minutes later.
That night we peeled off three layers of packaging and put our pizza in the oven. It wasn't too bad, just a lot heavier and fattier than our homemade version. Max left some of his - which is really unusual.
By the second day, William complained of an upset stomach and constipation - and the children seemed more hyper and irritable than usual. But we continued with our new lifestyle, going for a second shop at a different superstore this time.
We came home with some tasty-sounding ready-meals, cheesecake and chocolate cake. But aside from an Indian meal and some sushi - both of which were delicious - everything else tasted rather similar.
I'm not sure what they put in the sauces, but it gives everything a weird, rather unpleasant texture. A lot of food was left on plates and had to be thrown out, which we felt guilty about. Unlike home-cooked food, it's not really safe to refrigerate and reheat ready-meal leftovers.
By the end of the week, the children - particularly Megan - seemed uncharacteristically aggressive and ill-tempered - which I'm sure was down to all the sugar and additives they had been consuming. Max had trouble getting to sleep at nights, too. William's stomach problems were worse. He felt gassy, bloated and irritable, probably because he had not been to the loo for three days.
I felt really bloated and lethargic. I also suffered a couple of crashing headaches during the week - which is unusual for me. We were all desperate to detox. The life swop was an interesting exercise - but only served to prove to us that the organic lifestyle is by far the healthier way to go.
We felt unwell, spent more money - £214 compared to our usual £120 and ended up with two enormous bin bags full of wasteful packaging. However we do plan to make a couple of changes as a result of the experience.
We will swop our unhomogenised milk for homogenised organic milk as the kids prefer it, and we'll buy their favourite non-organic chocolate cereal for sleepovers and birthdays - but otherwise, everyone prefers the sort of food we were eating before.
• For further information on Greenfibres, log on to www.greenfibres.com or call 01803 868 001 for a catalogue.
Jacqui Matthiole, 40, is married to Maurice, 52, a senior executive for an IT company. They live with their twin four-year-old daughters, Grace and Amelia, in Camberley, Surrey. Jacqui says:
I used to love cooking - but once I had the twins, I suddenly found I had very little time to shop and cook. I started to rely on ready-meals and convenience foods - and it's now become a habit that's hard to break.
While I try to make sure we get our five portions of fruit and veg a day, and avoid junk food, ready meals are pretty much all we eat.
I do most of my shopping at Marks & Spencer. I like the fact that I can buy everything from lasagne to shepherds pie and Sunday lunch oven-ready. With the exception of potatoes, I buy all our vegetables pre-washed and chopped, too.
I've always thought organic food was a rather expensive gimmick, so it never crossed my mind to try it.
Another reason I have been reluctant to try anything new is that the girls - in particular Amelia - are fussy eaters. For quite some time, I've bought them only what I know they'll eat: Cheerios for breakfast, chicken dippers, pizza, chips and spaghetti bolognese for tea.
They take a packed lunch to nursery, so that would usually contain something like Dairylea Dunkers or a white bread sandwich, a packet of crisps and fruit squash.
I was interested to see if the lifestyle swop would make a difference - although I was dreading all the food preparation and cooking from scratch.
Because we don't have a farmer's market or many local shops that specialise in organic food, I decided to rely on supermarket organic ranges and organic box schemes.
First stop was Waitrose - where I found it surprisingly easy to buy organic versions of almost everything, and I took organic chicken and vegetables home for our first supper. Funnily enough, I really enjoyed preparing our first organic meal - even though it took me half an hour longer than usual.
The girls wanted to help and it was lovely spending time in the kitchen together. I wondered how they'd take to 'real' roast chicken after being used to ready prepared roasts. But do you know what? They ate the lot - which is a first.
The chicken was delicious - much more succulent than non-organic, which really surprised me. The following day we had plain, organic Weetabix for breakfast with organic milk and organic toast - the latter was a bit heavy in texture and went off more quickly than out normal 'plastic' bread - but everyone tucked in without complaint.
I filled the girls' lunch bags with organic egg sandwiches, fruit juice and organic fruit - and again, surprisingly, they ate everything. With the bit between my teeth, I went online and ordered an organic meat box from Eversfield Manor Farm, and an organic fruit and veg box from Abel & Cole.
I loved their websites, because they explain where everything is sourced, what's in season and so on. It's more personal and inspiring than the supermarket. The meat box was amazing - even Maurice, who will eat absolutely anything, commented on how delicious the lamb chops were.
I'm not usually keen on steak but the ones we were sent were really, really tasty. I was less sure about the organic fruit and veg box at first. You only receive what's in season, so there seemed to be an awful lot of things in there I was sure we wouldn't eat. But yet again, the girls surprised me by trying kiwi fruit for the first time (and loving it), and chomping their way through the tiny, sweet tomatoes (they never eat salad normally).
By the middle of the week, I felt really energetic. The food we were eating was just so crisp, fresh and tasty - even the organic tea tasted better, cleaner than my usual brand. And I noticed that I didn't feel headachy the morning after organic wine.
By the end of the week, I was enjoying cooking again. I also realised the girls had been exceptionally well behaved - eating their meals without complaint and even going to bed when asked - there were none of the usual tantrums. They also asked for far fewer snacks between meals. Interestingly, Amelia suffers with eczema on her legs, and by the end of the week, even that was much better than it normally is, much less red and raw, and I like to think the change in diet helped.
After seven days I am converted. I have ordered a second meat box - and we will definitely be eating more organic food and cooking from scratch more regularly. I've become much more aware of issues such as pesticides and additives and I feel as though I'm now nurturing my family. I spent £115 during the week, including several very drinkable bottles of organic wine.
That's less than my normal weekly shop, which comes in at £140 without alcohol. So it's not true that organic has to mean expensive.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Cash Back Mobile Phone Offers


I have just remembered I forgot to write about my day in court.

About a year ago I contracted for two mobile phones for my sons, with Th Mobile Outlet (also called Dextra Solutions). They had a deal whereby you sign up with them for 12 months and as long as you send the statements that you receive from Vodaphone to them as per their instructions you get re-paid the amount of your line rental as cash back. They make their money by you overspending your free calls each month and also by you not fulfilling the instructions on how to claim the money back.

The instructions are written in print too small for me to see, even with my glasses, but I enlarged it on the copier and found that I should send the first four months statements to them with 21 days of the date of the fourth statement. Then again the next three within 21 days of the seventh statement. I have to say that I thought that the instructions had been compiled with confusion in mind. If at any point your breach the claim instructions you can no longer claim any cash back for the rest of the contract.

Anyway at the end of month 4 I received the last 4th statement for each phone, made a little package of them both including & SAE for return of the statements, which was offered, and sent them off. I heard nothing. After a month or so I phoned and was told that there was something on its way to me. Still nothing. I phoned again, and yet again, at monthly intervals. Finally in October I received a letter saying the statements got to the too late and so they would not pay. It went through my mind to just put this down to experience but I wasn't happy about it at all. I felt that they must think me really stupid to even try such a thing. I decided to do something I had never done before, take them to small claims court.

I filled in the details on the Money Claims Online website and paid my court fee. The defendant decided to fight the case and so it was transferred to the district court. On 28th of December I was due in the Southampton Combined Courts at 10.20am. Eek this was getting a bit out of hand.

I am pleased to say though that it was fine. The court room was a small office ( I wondered if it was chambers but it was labelled court room 7. The judge was pleasant and personable. He listed to my explanation, saw my paperwork and considered the reply from the defendant. After just about 10 minutes he decided that the contract was an unfair contract which basically set you up to fail by making it as difficult as possible to understand the rules and to stick to them. He ruled full payment of contract cost plus court costs to be paid to me by 14th January. Of course I don't know if I will actually get the money but I will certainly be returning to court if it isn't forthcoming.

I would suggest to anyone who has been taken for a ride financially to consider this process. It really isn't always the big boys that win, just because they understand the rules. I did too.

Autumn has arrived

I can tell as we have had rain pretty much non stop for so many days. And its getting colder. Part 1: So obviously thats a great time t...