Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Puddings Pictures




We have worked out how to get the photos on the computer from the phone, so here are the puddings from earlier in the week. It sounds I am beginning to obsess about puddings a bit but honestly I am not. Although I do have plans to make a large rice pudding at the weekend. I make a boiled one, as opposed to a baked one. I like mine warm with nutmeg and dried fruit. Beloved likes cinnamon and cold rice. The boys both like it any which way.





I promise to cook more healthily for a while now. I have my eye on making a lovely Frittata that I have read about on the Cottage Smallholder. I hope to report back later in the week.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Puddings

Baby had to cook a famous chocolate recipe at school today. The last cookery practical of his GCSE. He choose Mississippi Mud Pie. I imagined it to be really sickly but actually it was lovely. This is the recipe that his teacher found for him.

Mississippi Mud Pie
4 oz crushed digestive biscuits
2 oz melted butter
1 oz demerara sugar

14 oz milk chocolate
8 oz butter
2 tbsp boiling water
10 fl oz single cream
12 oz dark muscovado sugar
6 eggs.

Biscuit crumb base to go on the base of an 8 in loose bottomed cake tin.
Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5
Make the filling by putting the butter, chocolate, coffee and water in a large pan and heated gently until the butter and chocolate have melted. Take off the heat, and add the cream, sugar and eggs. Pour onto the biscuit base.
Turn the oven down to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours until set. Cool before removing from tin.




I am not obsessed with puddings honestly. I don't cook then for months on end but somehow this is the third one this week. The others don't count as we took them out and shared them with friends!

We were also talking about old British Puddings. I remember Apple Snow but couldn't remember what it was. I have been given this recipe

6 large apples - peeled, cored and chopped
45 ml water
200 g white sugar
1 g ground cinnamon
0.5 g ground cloves
3 ml vanilla extract
1 egg white

In a large saucepan combine apples and water and cook, covered, over low heat, until frothy, 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. Let cool.
In a medium bowl, whip the egg white until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cooled apple mixture
I guess the raw egg makes this one a no no for some for some people but I think I might give it a go. Everyone always likes the bowl when I am making cakes anyway so that get so exposure to raw egg white.

I personally like Suet Puddings. We have about one year but they are lovely. I would only use vegetable suet because I have made a jam roly poly in the past with normal suet and it tasted distinctly meaty.

I think its time I started looking around for some low fat & low sugar puddings!

Monday, 28 April 2008

Computers, Broken Toes and Christmas Gifts


Just a quick post today as we have spent the evening in A&E. My eldest son has cutting some wood to make a desk for my other son (who was still at school) in the alcove in the kitchen. He has his computer in his room after complaining about being downstairs. After 3 months he has decided that he doesn't like it and wants to come back. We had the same thing entirely with the eldest one. He wanted his computer in his room & after 4 days then he wanted to come back downstairs again. My children are more sociable that they like to admit. The oldest one also has an old TV in his room which he wouldn't let me Freecycle. So far he has never turned it on. I know this is true as he hasn't yet asked why there is no picture! (there is no aerial in this area)
Both kids having computers does sound rather indulgent, I know, but whatever jobs they end up with they will need to be computer literate. Most of their homework is computer based & they always seem to be doing something interesting when I see them on their machines. The eldest also likes to build computer games. I always thinks that's odd as he never liked to play with them its true.
So getting back to the story. Eldest son cut wood to size but trimmed a little bit off in the sitting room. He brought in the vacuum cleaner to clean up the saw dust form the wood floor. As he was doing this he hit the light with the vacuum tube and broken it. As he rushed through the kitchen to get the dustpan and brush he kicked my sewing box with his bare foot (wasn't wearing his usual trainers as they were muddy from walking in the woods).The little toe went on a different side of the sewing basket leg to the other toes. When i saw him the little toe was at right angles to the rest! Eek! So, only a really quick post as I have spent too long out of my home tonight.
Lastly, I notice that www.play.com is having a £5 sale until 30th April. I think I might pop over to see if I can pick up an affordable Christmas presents for the younger generation.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Stockpiling

I try to buy things that I need when they are at their best price. I allow a little extra in my budget each week to make sure I can take advantage of any good deals which I spot. Today I made a visit to the 99p shop in town. I stocked up on toiletries and also bought a pack of 48 pencils and another of 25 pens (they disappear in my house, I am sure visitors must take them home with them). When I got home I started to unload into a metal contained which I keep in the bathroom. I just have too much stockpiled for the storage which I have.

However my stockpiling isn't the problem I think, the storage or shortage of it, is my problem. Our house is very small and this storage issue is a recurring problem for me. I have started to clear out everything that we really don’t want or need & I have definitely found an improvement. In fact so much has gone from the house that the lady at the Salvation Army HQ now knows me by sight. So what am I going to do about it?

The kitchen will shortly be refurbished. We are (of course) re-using & recycling wherever possible so the overall cost is not so high but it is a time consuming job. As we change around the downstairs of the house we will finally have a laundry area, small but also including space for some storage. I also end up with larder. We used to have a larder in a previous home but in this house it is just a few fitted cupboards. I am really looking forward to being able to store and organise my food supplies. I always have enough food in the house to last us for some several weeks, maybe months, but I really feel like I can be n control of the situation when I have my larder. There should be plenty of room in the larder for a big freezer and I also hope to keep another freezer in the shed. That means that my only storage problem is the toiletries situation in the bathroom. (and the linen cupboard actually but that is also bathroom related). We are building a second bathroom downstairs & I have designed a good sized cupboard into the specification. I just have to hope that beloved doesn’t make some change as he is building. That has been known to happen and I don’t really think he understands the importance of storage, and definitely not of stockpiling.



In the mean time I am searching out a large enamel box to fill with all my lovely bathroom goodies. This one must have a lid, unlike the current bucket type design, as otherwise everyone seems to want to start new toothpaste, shampoo etc before the old one is finished. I can’t wait to move it all down stairs out of their way - out of sight should hopefully be out of mind……….. & out of desire to open before necessary.

Saturday Night

Of course things didn't go according to plan but that is the fun of life. I slept in considerably longer than I intended because I woke up with (another) headache. Medication did nothing but the lovely cooling patches that my mum bought for me did the trick. By 11am my headache was starting to go.

I didn't get my fruit and vegetables as I wasn't yet feeling too well and couldn't face the carrying of them. I did get a hand mixer for my soap making. I now have everything I need and any reasons I give for not having made it from now on in are definitely excuses (fear!). I have been looking for a second hand food mixer for months for this project. However i finally but the bullet and bought one from Argos. To my astonishment it was actually cheaper that I expected to pay in a charity shop. The cheapest was £3.78 but was sold out so I got the sooper dooper upmarket model at £5.90. I am down to my last two bars of olive oil soap from my sister in law and my last two washing powder cubes for the clothes washing
After my outing to the shops I made two puddings to take on our visit tonight. I made a flan case with a fudge sauce filling top with little meringues and slivers of fudge. It was too too sickly, much worse than I imagined, but it was almost all eaten. The second pudding was a tower of profiteroles, glues together with caramel. They were excellent and disappeared in a trice. Much nicer than the chocolate version that you normally see. I saved a handful of profiterole for beloved to have tomorrow but he doesn't know it yet.

Tomorrow my plans revolve around the house, and if not raining, the garden. The garden got missed today because of the tenacious headache.

Hope you weekends are all going well. I took a phone photo of the puddings but I cant work out how to get it to the computer. Nighty night.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Weekend

Yay, weekend tomorrow. I love my weekends. At the moment i have a headache. It has been an awful week at work (awful as in nothing went right, not awful as in the building burnt down)but that was work and this is home so I can forget about it until 8am on Monday.

I will sleep in a little later in the morning, maybe 8 or 9am. We will have breakfast in bread (bowl of bran flakes and cup of coffee each). I have kept on top of most things this week because the lighter evenings give me more energy after work.

So my plans for a lovely Saturday include a walk to the street market after beloved has left for work in the morning. I aim to stock up on some fruit and vegetables.

Later a quick wash of the smooth floors and vacuum of the carpeted ones. Then into the garden for a few hours. There is plenty to keep me occupied as I reposses my garden after the building work is finished.

Later we have been invited to eat at a friends house. The meal is being cooked by friends from another area who are visiting. This visit will involve lots of talking as well as eating and last well into the evening.

My other excitement of the week was to buy a lemon squeezer. I have been searching for the ultimate lemon squeezer. I take ages to choose something when I plan to make a purchase. It used to drive my husband nuts but he has kind off got used to it now. My dad is worse, 4 years looking at cars before he bought one and then four years making sure it was a good buy. Then the same process again for the lawn mower. Definitely runs in the family! Anyway it needs to be hard wearing as i expect my equipment to last pretty much for ever. It needs to be a good price. It needs to be pretty easy to clean. I found a lovely one on eBay and it is no winging its way towards us.

How much more exciting does anyone need???

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Our simple life

Rhonda over at Down to Earth has asked all of her readers to comment on their own blogs about their version of living simply, so contrast and compare what we are all doing.

We live a simple life within the confines of still needing to earn enough to pay off the mortgage. We live in a small house, 100 years old, in a village near Winchester in England. We grow some fruit and vegetables in the garden. In previous years we have also kept an allotment. We also swap a lot of fruit vegetables around within the family & friends. My mum’s next door neighbour gives us cooking apples and tomatoes seedlings but will rarely take anything. Another friend lets me pick the grapes from their vines ( I used it a bit too well a couple of years back so they realised what they were missing, so I didn’t actually get so much fruit last harvest.) From the parents there will be runner beans, plums and blackberries. I will produce enough garlic and red onions to share. Usually a good crop of cucumber too. From the wild will come sloes, more blackberries, chestnuts and sometimes fish! I aspire to chickens on my little patch too.

My idea of shopping simply means that I buy only foods; meat, vegetables, flour, sugar, not ready made meals. I keep a good store of food and if we were snowed then we would still be fine for some weeks as long as we had water. We recently started making our own sausages. We don’t have our own livestock of course (garden is way too small) but we found the sausages, even using supermarket meat, were excellent. My husband is currently working on plans for a smoker so that we can try our bacon & maybe even smoked salmon. I also make jams and marmalades, wines and fruit liqueurs. I also like to preserve fruit and so far everything has been very popular with the family. I can’t claim to make my own olive oil (UK isn’t quite that warm yet) but it does come from the farm of a close friend. Sue ensures that I never have to buy good olive oil. I am planning to make some olive oil soap when my current supply (from my sister in law) runs out. Sues oil is much too good for this so I will be buying a cheaper product in. As a result of this my food bill comes in at around a third of that of some of my friends, despite the fact that I very often seem to have a house full of hungry teenagers. I hate waste (this is not often a problems when you have two teenaged boys oddly) and so we go through phases of having so many meal of leftovers that it seems to be more than we have actual meals. I have just started meal planning using a diary system so I am hoping for fewer ‘what shall we have tonight’ evenings. I am also part way through a price book & have been for about a half year. I think it might be time to finish it or abandon it!

I work in social housing & my husband is a swimming teacher who also does some voluntary work. I have worked since my boys were quite small because my husband was ill for several years. My husband and boys were a good team at home together and are still very close because of this. I didn’t get as much to be with them as I should have but we are still very close and they amuse and amaze meal each day still. I continue to work even though my husband is now fit and well because I feel I do an important job. I can sleep at night knowing that I have done something useful. I also continue to work because we want to pay off the mortgage early and retire to enjoy a good long time together.

We do have a television but we don’t watch it unless someone finds something good is to be screened and it’s certainly not a big part of our life. The only problem this brings is that we never know the answer to ‘soap opera’ questions if we take part in a quiz night. We discovered some years ago that if you ditch TV and shopping as a sport’ from your life then you have plenty of time for pretty much everything else that you want to do. Our eldest soon loves (is obsessed with) music and the house is filled with guitar music seemingly every hour of the day. You can’t have a moment without being serenaded, as he wants an opinion on the latest song he has written. The youngest son isn’t musical at all (but fortunately doesn’t think it is odd to have so much music in your life) but prefers sport and talking! Talking is his specialist subject He wants to be a lawyer when he grows up but I think he should be a TV presenter. I like to take a short course at the local evening school sometime to learn something new. I don’t have the patience for a long course but something which lasts just a few weeks is fine. This year was Thai Cookery, next time I am hoping to learn to decorate cakes, unless I think of anything I like better in between times. Who has time for TV when there are so many far more enjoyable things to be getting on with?

As I mentioned we don’t shop as a social activity. If we go to the shop (which is rare) it is because we need to get something. We very often buy form the internet because I don’t like to pay too much for things. We like to rummage through car boot sales and charity shops from time to time. Last Christmas we introduced a rule for Christmas presents. Made or created for less than £10 per person. We had great fun sticking within the budget and still getting something that each person would really enjoy. I suspect my mum may have cheated a little on my children. We are wondering if we can reduce the limit any further this year and still come up with good ideas.

I would have liked to add phots but I dont seem to be able to upload them at present.

Menu Plan



I have decided to plan from now until Christmas. I know it sounds odd but once i had started I didn't want the same meals too close together and I got into a routine. Beloved is not entirely aware of my master plan but I am breaking it too him gently. I am sure that it will seem like natural progression to him after he sees what shopping has arrived each week!

My meal plan is in columns because I find this is how I think. I can also choose periods of time rather than always looking at a Monday to Sunday chunk. The old style lanner went across the page for a week and then down and across again. Today I didn't have anything on the plan ( Haven't done Thursdays yet)which I thought gave us the opportunity for leftovers. Beloved had the last of the chicken stre and burghal. He would rather starve than eat food that has been cooked before it has been frozen & I kind of agree, except for leftovers! Baby has a Thai Noodle dish (successfully frozen in my new imitation klick and klick lunch boxes). Oldest son has (having not yet come home for dinner) Malaysian Chicken Curry and a jacket potato. I had cheese on toast with baked beans. We didn't eat all together at the table as Thursday is a funny evening for us, lots of comings and goings,so really it is a good evening for leftovers. I don't think the kids even realise it is leftovers night.

We are invited out to dinner on Saturday but I will be updated by sooper dooper calendar/meal planer so that I don't forget this and prepare food that we don't need.

We have a busy weekend ahead (again) with visitors that we don't often see. I am also hoping to spend some time on the garden and to find my bread machine. My sister has started using hers again because of the increase in bread prices. I will be using mine to make dough which I then shape and cook in the oven as we arent keen on the brick of bread that you get with the machine. We also want to use it for making pizza bases. Garlic and oregano pizza bases sound amazing to me.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

& so, the Allotment

We have had the allotment now for three years. My sister and I are the main gardeners but my parents also join in. Husbands and kids also join us from time to time.

The first year was excellent. I couldt use the garden at home because of the building work, so everything that we could grow we did. We had more tomatoes that we could imagine, chillies were amazing, runner beans by the bucket load. Everything just grew and grew and grew. Second year we started early with preparation. Really looked after the ground and everything started off well. We bought some fruit trees to provide us with eating apples, cooking apples and pears, we transferred the blackcurrants and gooseberries bushes form the garden. We gardened organically & everything tasted amazing.

The potatoes were the first things to fail. They died back really early and when we dug them up there was nothing there. Then the tomatoes started to look a bit grim at one end of the bed, within days the whole bed was turning black and the fruits rotting on the vine. The various fruits were inter planted and planted quite tightly, as is normal with organics. This made it really easy for the blight to run through the whole patch. The only things still standing after a couple of weeks were the fruit trees and some broccoli plants. Fortunately the garlic and onions were already out of the ground by then.

This winter was especially wet and we couldn't walk on the allotment. There is only about 8 inches of soil and then it is solid clay down as far as you care to dig. It isn't particularly easy ground to manage but it is that difficult really either, except for the endless dung weeds growing at a mile per minute.

Work commitments have meant that I am coming home at 6.30pm instead of 4.30pm. Until recently that meant it was dark before I got here. My sister runs a busy business from home and is often working at weekend to keeping invoicing etc up together. It was time for us to consider the future of allotment 43.

Last Saturday evening we discussed our plans. My dad told us to go up to the allotment before today and take a good look around, decide what we wanted to do. He was happy to work but didn't want to be wasting his time if we were moving on. By this evening neither of us had had time to visit so it became plain that we didn't have the time to work it properly. If it was established garden land which didn't need so much looking after and so much weed management then we would have continued. My sister has a nice little vegetable up at the house which doesn't have the clay problem or the weed problem and its easy to manage. I grow all sorts in out little garden but again I just don't have the problems here that we inherited at hte allotment. We have decided that we will clear our tools & move the fruit trees and bushes (again) and concentrate on our little gardens instead. One day when retirement is approaching, or if I have the opportunity to go part time at any point, then I will apply to go back onto the waiting list but for now I think the allotment isnt part of our life any more.

I will really miss the fun of working with my family. We really had some laughs as well as good vegetables.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Being organised is hard

I have just read a comment on Belinda Moores guest post over on Down to Earth. Being organised is hard but not being organised is far harder. We really aren't doing ourselves any favours when we go through life blissfully unaware of what is going on. We waste resources, food, money, cleaning consumables,time,by buying what we already have (and cant find)just because we not only don't know what we have but we also don't know what we need. This doesn't apply to all of us of course, some people have already sussed this, the rest of us would probably have a more relaxed life if we learned from them.

Tonight we had chicken soup with Bulgar wheat for dinner. It was a ton better than yesterday awful (expensive)takeaway and we cooked enough for tomorrow as well. The soup is really a stew of chicken thighs, tined tomatoes, potatoes and onions with some olive oil. We don't need much chicken to make it taste really excellent. We tried cooking the soup without any chicken but its not the same, so we have gone back to chicken chicken soup instead. The kids also like to eat the Bulgar wheat on its own as well so it will do for a couple of snacks or lunches too.

My orighinal mealplan is a matrix with days across the top and weeks down the side. I colour coded the dishes so that we didn't get 5 days of chicken in a row. The problem was it didn't suit us because I didn't take into account our lifestyle when I compiled it. I did do some thinking, hence the colour coded days,but it was destined to fail. I am using it as a basis for the new meal plan. It looks very meat heavy ( I had help from the kids - they are serious carnivores given the chance)so we will lighten it up a bit. My new planner has notes about when we were are eating together or apart (late working etc, when we are short of time (stir fry night), when we will be content with a toast snack. I also have a coloums for extras. If I am cooking something quite quick then I can use some of the spare time to make flapjacks etc. Also I note when I need to make tuna salad or egg mayoniase for lunches (to make sandwiches or pastas sauces).

I am getting there!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Further progress

So today is our first day when the meals have not been planned in our last little mini planning session. A great succest? No, not even a little one. Beloveds friend called him up to ask if he would like to go out with her for the day. He deserves a break for sure so ofcourse he went. Then came back mid afternoon and spent some time for the youngest boy. When I get home from work not only is there no food cooked (friend bought lunch out I suspect) but also nothing is defrosted to begin being a meal. So we had a takeaway, which was expensive and yuck and no-one enjoyed it.I think I may have prooved my point in an expensive and highly calorific fashion. Tomorrow night we will take 20 minutes to plan for the rest of the week (or maybe more once we get in the flow.)
Next on my list is to get back to my price book. Countrygirl has reminded me how much can be saved with this tool. I did quite a lot of work on it a few months back, which is probably all out of date now, so it should not be too bad to update.
Lastly we have decided that we may have to give up the allotment. We really dont have the time to take care of it properly. We are the first people to have an allotment on that particular peice of land, before us it was always a horses field. Because of this the weeds grow like nothing I have ever seen. YOu can clear a patch and after a few days you go back and find weeds already 60cm high! How can we compete. If we decide to give it up then I willhave to make some changes to our little garden to accomodate the fruit trees (they havn't been in the ground long-I can still move them) and also bushes of blackcurrent and raspberries. I will need to grow the chillis, tomoatoes, peppers and maybe aubergines and cucumbers in pots on the patio I cant sensibly accomodate the bean row, potatoes or broccoli and the other brassicas. There just isn't enough room. The good thing is that I will actually have some time in my own garden instead of disappearing to the allotment whenever the rain stops. (assuming it ever does actually stop)

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Response to rising food prices

Reading through my earlier post it all seemed a bit vague and theoretical. Now I am going to concentrate on my way of shopping and feeding the family.

Meal planning is the way ahead for me. I try and I fight it, beloved is dead against it because he thinks it will restrict our creativeness with meals, but it has to be the way forward because it all owes you to buy at the best prices and to minimise (wipe out?) waste. I do, but not very often, ending up chucking stuff out because it has gone off before we get to the cooking it stage. Beloved doesn't want to change anything about the way we currently shop and cook and so my changes are mild baby steps. We don't really waste food or money on food but we could do better.

Yesterday we made plans about what to have for the next few days. I am breaking him into it gently! He suggested chicken & potatoes with lemon and garlic, so I said that would be good and if you are buying potatoes then get enough for a corned beef hash. No, he doesn't like corned beef hash but his mum used to cook something with corned beef and eggs which is good. I agree, we will have that but how about some potatoes in it to make it go further. (aha, corned beef hash but with eggs, very sneaky!). Whilst you are at the shops look out for a couple of aubergine which we can stew with tomatoes later in the week and two tins of chickpeas to make some houmous (I don't like it much but my family eat kilos of it- must be in their genes.)So we managed to painlessly plan for about 4 days of meals. We therefore had all of the ingredients and nothing went to waste. Success. Next I aim for a week at a time, after that we can work on longer periods.

IN the meantime I am working on a planner. It is in Excel and has columns for lunch and breakfast but also a diary, so that we know who will want meals, who is eating t work etc. I pinched this idea from someone blog during the week but I cant remember who so if anyone has seen it elsewhere then please let me know and I will post a link. My aim to feed every one and feed them healthily and on a good budget, without waste. After we are in the flow of it we will work on methods of shopping (price books. shopping diaries, where to shop, taking advantage of offers, keeping a good store cupboard, own produce). The possibilities seem to be almost endless.

Rising Food Prices

The news channels report that food prices are increasing at a phenomenal rate across the globe. If you don't have a sensible approach to shopping, grocery and other, then now is the time to start planning a change, unless of course you have infinite resources or you want to go into debt with every day expenses.

Credit cards are useful for some things. They are fine for one off purchases when you can repay them properly. If you buy all of your months shopping on a credit card and then repay everything without incurring charges then this is reasonable too. However once you start putting day to day expenses on your card and then being able to repay everything monthly you are on a slippery slope. No-one wins then except the finance houses.

So, how can you cut down on spend?
Some things are tactical and other require a real change in attitude.
The tactical changes are the easiest to adopt but they don't get you as far as the attitude changes would.

1)Find the supplier than gives you the best produce for the least cost (taking into account any ethical issues you have of course)I can buy fruit and veg now in the Saturday market. I haven't previously done this as the only veg stall in our market was awful but now we have someone new and the prices are good and so are the veggies.
2)Buy food less far along the production chain. Buy pastry and chick & veg is cheaper than buying top of the range pies (I am not mentioning bottom of the range pies as they seem to have no contents anyway)but buying flour and fat and the constituent ingredients for chicken pies would be a further economy. They would also have a better taste unless you are an awful cook.
3)Look at the cheaper end of the range in products. I am talking stewing steak rather than braising steak here, not economy burgers & sausages.

However if you can change you attitude, even a bit at a time, then you move on to a life where you are in control.
1) Put an end to waste. Don't allow food to go off before it is even cooked, use up leftovers, don't eat things up when you aren't even hungry. My sisters family and my parents have both had bins delivered by the council for 'food waste'. Both families are using them for other things because, as my sister when they were issued, 'we don't have any waste, we eat ours.' Admittedly I cant find a use for chicken bones but can it ever be morally right to through away edible food in a world where someone is starving?
2)I deserve a treat! What % of you shopping basket is treats? Maybe none or maybe half? Perhaps you could find treats that don't require purchasing if you really feel you need a treat so often.
3)Do I really need to buy that? This is grocery shopping but often more so with other things. Can you fix what you have? Can you adapt something you already have? Will you get good use from this item? Stop and think about major purchases for some time and you might well find that the desire for a specific object just disappears.
4)What can I make myself? Obviously you can cook from scratch but maybe you can also sew, knit, crochet not sure that this is always cheaper than buying though sadly)mend existing clothes, grow vegetables and fruit, keep chickens, bees (sheep?)

Take the pleasure in your life from making do and for not spending that you once got from shopping and you are on to a winner.

Have to go now or there wont be any decent veg left on my favourite market stall!

I have just logged back in to amend this post. Since finishing writing I have been clicking aournd the web havinga read here and there and every blog I have come across is talking about saving money on food shopping. I am beggining to think there is a blogger group collective consciousness.

Tomorrow or maybe later today I will talk about making savings in a bit more detail.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

New 'favourite' blog

I have taken to reading a lovely blog called The Cottage Smallholder lately. Its really lovely (mostly, not sure about the guinea pig story!!) Fiona writes really well and it reads like an interesting letter from a friend. I used to just dip in from time to time but lately I have been catching up with the old posts as well. There are all sort of new things i would like to try inspired by The Cottage Smallholders friendly instructions. I can cook, quite well actually, but I have never made salami, didn't even realise bacteria would be required, never cured my own bacon, never even made my own raised pork pies. Well I will be trying pork pies before much longer and am also working on some of the other ideas. I have asked beloved to cobble together something which I can use for smoking meat (and salmon, wouldn't that be good) but he hasn't quite got it right in his head yet but I have faith that he will. Unfortunately I don't have a lovely open fire like Fiona's. I will be trying Fiona's Greek Yogurt recipe at the weekend, just to get me started. She got it from Bean Sprouts, another good blog and so we see something makes its way around the world (UK??) with the blogging community.

We are also planning to make Houmous soon. Years ago we always made our own as you could only buy it in strange smelling (and very far between) delis. We were successful for years but one day made it in too large a quantity and it went off before it cooled. So for a while we bought it from supermarkets. These days you can get it everywhere but when there was a product recall a few months back it disappeared from all the supermarkets, so I guess it is all made in one factory. There is a trend lately to flavour it with coriander, lemon juice, sun dried tomatoes and all sort, which doesn't suit my family at all, so finally we go back to the mincer! (

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Appreciating life

I am feeling very appreciative of life at the moment. We had a couple of very abnormal weeks with beloved in hospital (not seriously ill but obviously not so well)and with it being year end the work days were quite long and tiring, so for that time I did work, hospital, sleep etc day after day. So although beloved is still in some pain and rather restricted in what he could do, this week has been much nicer and made me appreciate our ordinary lives a little more.
Yesterday the kids had some friends around and we cooked for everyone on the barbecue outside. It was too cold really but it was quite enjoyable all the same. This evening we visited my sisters house with all the family for a drink and chat.
We are making plans to go to the allotment at the weekend and have a bit of a sort out.
Work is just as hard & long but seems to take up less of my life because my home life is balancing everything again.Which is exactly as it should be. Beloved will still be at home tomorrow and will cook something nice for out evening meal. I will come home from work and we will eat together, along with the boys, and then I will continue with my sorting out (all of the attic clutter is being rehoused bit by bit).

Just lovely!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Mobile Phone Money Saving


I have been considering the various options for keeping the whole family communicating with each other and the outside world.

Last year I contracted for mobile from Vodaphone for the children. It was very expensive (£35 per month each)but the deal was 100% cash back periodically, so whats to lose. Well the main thing to lose is £70 per month. The company, Dexia Systems trading as the Mobile Outlet, refused to pay because they said I had breached the contract. I hadn't and so took them to court. The wonderful District Judge Naylor found in my favour and ordered them to pay within 14 days. They decided to go bust instead. Apparently these firms has made their money in the past by customers not sticking to the overly complicated terms and conditions of the cash back offer & forgetting, or losing their right, to claim. Since consumers are getting all together more savvy these firms are going to the wall in droves. I wont be falling for a cash back deal again, or at least not that kind of cash back deal.

I have created a spreadsheet of various options which takes into account discounts, cash back from Quidco, cash back offers form the supplier etc and come up with 3 as our supplier of choice. Beloved and I have had Three phones for years because they are always pretty reasonably priced & we are happy with the coverage, although I have heard other complain about it. The phones even work n our house when no other network does.

So, before the end of April when the deal runs out, I will click though Quidco to the Three site and sign up for two phones & monthly deals from their clearance. This averages out to around £12 per month(and a free handset) for 18 months. There are sufficient calls within this deal that the house phone wont need to be used for mobile calls at all, especially as Three phones work in our house.

I have looked a Family Talk from Vodaphone and it is excellent but the actual contracts are a bit on the pricey side for me.

The handsets have potential for recycling through various charities and other organisations of course but we recycle them rather more directly. When beloved goes home to visit his family every year or two he takes all of the old phones with him for various nephews and nieces. We will run out of phones before he runs out of family so this isn't a problem.

Beloved phone and my own phone contracts will end during the summer. Three normally phone us up to tell us how special we are ( I know its sales pitch but I like to be told all the same)and offer us a good deal. At the moment we both 500 minutes and 200 texts (just in case beloved ever learns to text - don't worry the kids use it all up though) for £15 per month. Beloveds phone is paid through his business as it is entirely business calls, so another saving.

Since I got fitted up last year, and also Baby very often has gone over his limit this year and spent extra monthly, then I am hoping to save something like £70 per month with my new deal.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

They did!

Finally, after 14 days and just a few false starts, the gall bladder is out! Beloved is looking tired and somewhat sore but otherwise happy. Just a day and a half after the operation he is allowed home. We must attend the practice nurse this week for another MRSA test but everything is looking good. He can barely move but i think they want him safely out of there before he picks up something else. Also there were some consultants in there with new ideas about heart medicine and so we have had a change of medication for something new on the market.

So now home starts to be home again. My first bit of cooking was not a great success though. I chopped up the orange peel and set it to boil in sugar syrup....and then answered a call from the hospital and went to collect him, and now the orange peel is caramelised rather than crystallized.Not my best ever attempt. It is something like the crackling form roast pork but bitter orange flavour. Must try harder!

This afternoon we are sitting all together in the conservatory. Eldest son is playing guitar. Youngest son pops down to have an argument/noisy discussion with him from time to time. Beloved is lounging on a large sofa and I am cooking and sitting to chat, in turn. I have made a huge boiled rice pudding to prevent milk from going to waste. That will be nice for tea tomorrow and the boys also have it warm for breakfast. There is also a steamed treacle pudding for the kids for tea, served with custard. There is bread finishing in the oven and the house smells lovely. It is starting to be a home again.

Tommorrow back to money saving. The boys need new mobiles (the phones are fine but the contracts are running out) so I am searching around for a deal. It sounds indulgent that they need mobile phones from their mum but at 16 and 18 the world isnt a safe enough place anymore and I like to know that they can call or be called whenever they need. To confirm this the other day the eldest was walking from a party in a really nice area back to the main road to find their taxi and they were set up on by some older lads. The boys were fine apart from one who needed stitches in his forehead but it could have been much worse.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Will they or wont they

First thing this morning the doctor says MRSA result are positive again, they can't operate. We must have 5 more days of treatment and two more days for tests, then we try again. Deep gloom all day for beloved. Around 1pm he is settling down for lunch when the nurse takes it away from him. 'You cant eat' says she 'you are just about to go under a general anaesthetic'. Beloved phones me to say that they say he still has MRSA but they will operate anyway. Is this wise? It really doesn't sound it. I tell him he must speak to the doctor (or risk a visit from me in full flow.) to ensure the nurse has got it right. One hour later he calls back to say that they are still hoping to operate and the result are negative, his MRSA has been banished. The doctor looked at the wrong results. I mutter something about hoping that this is not the doctor that is operating (oh, the gall bladder, I thought the appendix had to come out) and fortunately it isn't. If it wasn't for the fact that he is feeling so ill from the anaesthetic and is wearing an oxygen mask then we would be celebrating.

So, in a day or two the home starts to return to normal. He is already teasing that he wont be able to sleep with my snoring as he is used to peace and quiet now but I don't care. If you want the war nth and comfyness of our bed then you can put up with the snoring.

Tomorrow to the market to stock up with fruit, a special request request for navel oranges and pomegranates. I also notice he is taking his health a lot more seriously now, so perhaps extra vegetables too and I can cut down his meat intake.

I finally found the material to start my stitchery project and I find I don't like it and its not a bit how I remembered it. Never mind, seems like I wont be having too many evenings with idle hands anyway, thank goodness.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Under the knife at last

I have a lovely picture to load but its on my phone and I need help from the kids to get it onto here. Beloved is balancing a tower of oranges on his bedside cupboard because he is so bored. I have a shot of his photographing his own orange tower!

Finally there is a possibility that they wil operate on a very grumpy beloved tomorrow afternoon. We havn't heard this officially and no-one has told him not to order breakfast but sister beleives he is booked for tomorrow pm. He was bored, tired, grumpy and in pain yesterday when i visited and today just the same. So now we need the operation to go ahead if its possible and then some days to recover and then...HOME.

I have to say the hospital is lovely and the staff are really nice. He has his own room (which I would love, just reading and sleeping but which he hates as he likes to chat to the other old chaps) because he is in isolation. Thank god for the NHS because 14 days in a private hospital would have bankrupted us I think. I finally decided to sign up for a private health package that is provided free at my work about a month back only to find that it was not a part of the new contract I signed up to before Christmas. Fifteen years I had the option for it but I didn't take it, now I finally decided that its a good idea and its no longer available! Grrr

So now we can plan to get a little more back to normal. I am plannig a trip to the market on Saturday because they have a fruit stall which sells the nicest fruit and is affordable. I have an order for navel oranges and pomegranates (looks like I am going to be okay for preserved orange peel and powdered pomegranate skin for some time).

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

More fruit peel

So after writing yesterdays post I decided to check up on pomegranate peel. Rather unbeleivably it is wonderful stuff. I am not sure if you can actually prepare it yourself (more research ahead) but you certianly can buy it from a pharmacy and it will make you live forever ( It didn;t actually say that but I thought it was implied).

I still havn't started the embroidery which I intended to take to the hospital wioth me because although I have plenty of time on my hands sitting around up there, I dont actually have very much back here at the house. My routine is work from 8am to around 5pm (I would normally work later but am sciving off early to the hospital). Up to the hospital until they close for visitors. Should be 8.30pm but last night I accidently stay until after 9pm and no-one noticed. Back home for some supper, usually a sandwich, and a bath, write my blog, check my home email and work email (aha, maybe no-one will notice that I skip off early if I answer my mail at night). The into my bed. Which is where I am now, so nighty night.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Want not...


Cathy has some ideas on what to do with banana skins! Composting sounded too easy so I am investigating the possibilities of feeding my rose bushes on them and found
Rose Bushes: Blend one skin (soft Part) with blender full of water and pour on base of Rose Bush. Promotes healthy roots and new growth.
I only have about 7 or 8 rose bushes so I had a look around the web as well for ideas and came up with the following:-

Warts: Those keen on natural alternatives swear that if you want to kill off a wart, take a piece of banana skin and place it on the wart, with the yellow side out. Carefully hold the skin in place with a plaster or surgical tape!
Mosquito bites: Before reaching for the insect bite cream, try rubbing the affected area with the inside of a banana skin. Many people find it amazingly successful at reducing swelling and irritation
.

I have to say that these both sound as though you need to eat a banana when required rather than keep a bunch of skins somewhere but all the same it is nice to know you can do something with them.

I also read up on banana beer as I thought it might use whole bananas but no such luck, only those ripe enough to be skinned can participate.

There is a slight flaw in my plans today. I went to the hospital equipped with a little bag to collect all the peeling and the only fruit he ate today was a pomegranate. The peel was all little bits as we the remaing inside once the little jewels of fruit had been eaten. I will investigate but I feel that the compost may well be the only answer for this little bundle.

On the subject of pomegranate a friend in Crete (hello Sue) sent me alittle silver one for Christmas. Apparently it is tp bring luck and long life at new year. Hopefully it will also help him back to health.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Waste not....


My husband is eating at least 3 oranges a day in hospital. He is very methodical in the peeling of them and I noticed yesterday (actually maybe Saturday)how neat the little pieces of peel looked. An hour or so later I was reading my favourite blog Down to Earth and Rhonda Jean was talking about decorating a cake with the last of some candied orange peel. Destiny! Tonight I have returned form the hospital with a little bag of peel. I have refrigerated it and will do the same each night this week. By Saturday I think I have enough to candy. I have researched a few recipes but this is one the once I have decided to follow. I also have some lemons which are hanging around longer than usual so on Saturday these will also get peeled and the juice frozen. The peel can then join its little orange mates in candy land. Beloved also eats a mango and a couple of apples or maybe a banana each day plus a small dish of pineapple. (I think he might be secretly a fruit bat.) Any idea to use up stones or peel from other fruits gratefully accepted!

RECIPE: HOMEMADE CANDIED ORANGE OR LEMON PEEL


Total Preparation Time: 2 Hours and 30 Minutes

Ingredients: 5 pounds of Oranges or Lemons, Water, Sugar

Score peel of fruit in sections 2 inches wide, cutting through peel but not through fruit. Using fingers, peel fruit, carefully running your thumb between the peel and fruit to separate. Pith will remain attached to peel. Reserve fruit for another use.

Put peel in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil, drain and rinse briefly under cold water. Blanch in same manner 2 more times. After third blanching, drain peels, rinse under cold water and, using thin sharp knife, remove as much pith as possible. You should be able to see some color through any remaining pith. Cut in shreds about 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide

While peels are being blanched, combine 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water in large saucepan. Bring to boil and stir to combine. Cook, without stirring, over medium heat until mixture makes thin syrup, about 1 hour. You will have about 4 cups syrup.

Cover triple-blanched peel with cold water and bring to simmer. Cook until peel begins to lose raw look, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and immediately, without rinsing peel, transfer to large mixing bowl. Cover with hot sugar syrup and set aside 1 hour to candy.

After fruit has candied, place about 1 cup sugar in bottom of another large mixing bowl. Add peel and toss to coat well. Shaking to remove excess sugar, transfer peel to cooling rack set over jellyroll pan to catch dripping sugar. Arrange in layer as thin as possible. Place rack and jellyroll pan in warm oven for 30 minutes to dry.

Remove from oven and leave at room temperature to finish drying. Peel will continue to become firmer and chewier over several days. When peel reaches desired texture, store in airtight container until ready to use.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

How can anyone afford junk food?

On my way home from the hospital this evening and acutely aware that I haven't been feeding anyone properly this week, as I rush about like a mad woman, I had a moment of actual madness. I stopped at the garage at the bottom of the hill and bought some kind of microwaveable burgers for the boys.

I know, can you believe I would do such a thing. Well they do love them having had them a mates houses but I don't buy them because I can't believe a burger in a bun can be kept n a plastic box in a fridge for so many days(months? years? and still be consider a source of nutrition. That's especially odd coming from me as I have a reputation for eating pretty much anything (not keen on lambs liver or black pudding but if you disguise it enough or tell me you made it especially for me then I will eat it)rather than let it go to waste.

So, in my basket I had four different 'burgers' so why not go the whole hog and have a (small)bar of white chocolate each as well. It couldn't actually get any worse for them nutritionally I assume. At least I stopped short of giving them fizzy drinks as well (hm, sugar to rot their teeth or aspartame to give them cancer, I just can't decide).

They were really pleased and I have to say that their food smelt surprisingly like real food once it was heated but guess how much this cost me. £9.60!!!!!
I can cook two main meals for the whole family for that & still have enough left for a bag of fruit.

Its a good job I love cooking as I am never going to be able to afford to keep them family on ready meals and junk. Don't worry - I wouldn't anyway - I like them too much (the kids not the food).

Saturday, 5 April 2008

When is a blog not a blog

When I first started to write this blog, just after last Christmas,it was very much a diary of change for me. I didn't really expect or even realise that others would read it or ever come across it. I added pictures because it pleased me and made it more interesting to look back on ( I would do it more if I could fix my camera!)This is why if you read the early blogs you see there is no background information given. I was writing a dairy and I didn't need to give myself background information.

About a month later I added a stat counter which told me how many readers had popped over here for a read. Wow, that was amazing, I thought it was all just for me and the cats until that point.

Later still came another little stat counter type thing which says where the last 10 readers came from. Amazing stuff. Now the readers are not just numbers and imaginary people but actual real people. I think I started to write differently too. Suddenly I was sharing not just noting. Very odd but a distinct change

Most recently came comments. Not always but sometimes a little 'hello, here I am with an opinion too'.This is my favourite bit so far. I love that we are reaching out across the wires,airways or whatever and part of a community.

My blog isn't my diary anymore, its my blog!

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Time to sit

Well with all my hospital visiting I have never done so much sitting around!
Whilst he is available (conscious) then I chat but I do get a fair bit of reading time when the doctors or nurses come around to do something or when he drives off into a morphine snooze.

Today I came across some really nice recipes which i would like to share. Recipes might actually be too strong a word but they are things to cook at the least.

Almond Brioche Toast
Lightly toast some slices of brioche. Sprinkle with grated marzipan on one side and toast (under a grill( until it starts to bubble lightly. Serve with Greek yogurt and a warm fruit jam.

Lemon Curd
4 unwaxed lemons, rind and juice
4 free range organic eggs
110g/4oz creamery butter
450g/1lb white granulated sugar

Method
1. Grate rind of lemons and squeeze out juice. Put sugar, rind and juice, butter and beaten eggs into a large basin on top of a pan of simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon until thick and curd coats the back of the spoon. Pour into warm sterile jars, cover, seal and label. Refrigerate.

Lemon curd is yummy on toast and on hot crumpets but also good to stuff profiteroles (instead of the cream or maybe mixed with it) and serves a nice lemony caramel instead of the chocolate sauce. Also good to dollop in butterfly cakes or add some zing to a trifle.

I am always afraid I will be stuck with too much lemon curd if I make it fresh but once you start realising you can do more with it than just 'on toast' then I don't think you will. I am definitely going to plant lemons at the Greek house.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

What makes home 'home'

I am focussing a lot on home this week because I am feeling 'home deprived'. I am at work (its year end -yuck) or at the hospital until almost bed time. Then I get home and its not home at all, its just my house. It doesnt have the right feel to it at all.

So why not? Well of course because 25% of the family isn't there but also becasue I am not speding enough time there to feel a part of it. When I have a moment I am running washing machine or stacking dishwashers, running around with the vacuum cleaner but not taking care of my home in the proper way. It probably doesnt look appreciably different but it doesnt feel right.

What makes you house into your home? I think this is the chance to say its all about me,me,me. The book on the shelf are our choice. The DVDs on the cupboard are what we would like to watch. The fridge food that we like to cook. The temperature of the house is as we like it. The washing is a smell which we like. The noise in the hosue is our noise. You rarely hear TV noise but you did get quite bit of music (eldest son appears to be surgeically attached to his guitar) and laughter. Our bed is the most confirtable anywhere,ever - I assume most people feel the same way about their bed. I have pretty much absolute contentment in my home on most occasions.

I cant make home feel right this week and I wont really be trying because we provide to appreciate that we are separated and things are not quite as they should be. In a week or so we can working on getting everything back to normal.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The plot thickens

This morning I had a call from the beloved to say that they have decided to operate & that I can ring in four hours to hear how it went. It should be plain sailing and he will be in for another week. One hour later another call (hmm, that's odd, thought he would be under the anaesthetic by now)to say that just as they were wheeling him out they discovered he has MRSA. They have to treat him for a week for this and then they test him again. If it is clear then they can operate but if not then another week of treatment. Apparently they can operate when you have it but its not a good idea as it get into wounds and causing major (really major) complications. The don't want to consider this unless unavoidable because of his heart condition.

So for a few weeks it seems we must adapt to a new life pattern. At the moment I leave work, home to change and collect whatever is required from the house and shop (fruit by the sackful!) and then off to the hospital. I leave the hospital at kicking out time and then some, about 9pm. Back home to tidy the kitchen, do some washing etc and then into bed and to sleep at 10pm. Unfortunately I can't sleep for more than an hour or so at a time because it is too quiet. My sister says I should burn a CD of beloved snoring but he doesn't really snore, just a gentle background sound, more like purring. I apparently don't like the silence that I always thought I craved.

Tomorrow I will look for some fabric & some silks in my cupboard and embark on a little needlework. I don;t often do this as life is usually quite full and hours spent in an armchair are not a part of it. However this week I sit beside a bed for 3 hours at a time every evening. Maybe I can get a few Christmas presents made ahead of time. I will be popping over to Down to Earth to use some of Rhonda's stitchery patterns. Hopefully the children will continue to manage with their own cooking (how much mess can a dish of pasta cause - plenty!) for a while and I will have a good cooking session at the weekend and stock the fridge up with nice dishes.

Good night all

Lets talk about something good!

I went to the other house and it was lovely! My dad came with us, with my youngest son, for the first 5 days.  Its his first time since ...