Leek and Potato Pie

photo 1So what to do for Saturday tea that is easy and filling? Searching in the freezer this morning, I found a pack of frozen short crust pastry that I must have bought for a specific purpose but didn’t use, so that was my starting point. I am trying to empty the freezer a bit for some Christmas meat that I plan to buy with my Sainsbury’s points, and also to make room for a new batch of pumpkin soup, so I will use up all the bits and pieces this week.

So, pastry. Lots of leeks in the garden. It had to be leek and potato pie!
I used up some bacon I had as well, but you could easily leave this out to make it vegetarian.
pie uncooked500g of shortcrust pastry
4 medium leeks, washed and chopped
Dessertspoon of butter
3 rashers of bacon
450g potatoes, peeled
Tsp of mixed herbs
130g cheddar, cubed

Preheat oven to 180C or equivalent. Cook the potatoes so that they are still slightly firm and chop into cubes. While they are cooking, melt the butter and add the leeks and chopped bacon, with the herbs. leek and potato pieCook gently for 15 minutes, or until the leeks are soft. Mix them with the potatoes and the cheese. Roll out the pastry and line the bottom of a medium pie dish. Add the filling, then add the pie top. Brush the pie with a little milk. Make a small hole in the middle, then bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
This served 4 of us with a pile of cabbage, peas and gravy.

Dark Days: Black Friday

What is wrong with the world when people queue from 5 am to get £80 off a TV, and are prepared to push old ladies over and wrestle strangers to get ‘a bargain’? Lots of us don’t have much money, but few of us would risk hurting other people in order to buy something we really don’t need at an even cheaper price than it was originally. I would rather buy a second-hand TV, or even not have a TV at all, than join the disgusting display of rampant consumerism and greed seen at some of the Asda stores today.

Did Asda really not know the likely outcome of their decision to bring a US style Black Friday event to the UK? Of course they did. Look at the publicity they got! It is all part of the buy buy buy for Christmas mentality being whipped up by big business, and the British Public are falling for it.

“If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.”
― Vicki Robin

We are told we need to buy the best of food and drink, have a whole new wardrobe, spend vast amounts of money on family, friends and even your child’s teacher – and don’t forget you need a new sofa and bed for Christmas as well – because it is the season to be jolly, and they want your lolly!

Come the New Year, when the tinsel has been put away, the tree is on the compost heap and a huge excess of food has been thrown in the bin because our appetites don’t increase that much just because it is Christmas, a lot of people will have a huge hangover in the form of a massive credit card debt that they may not have paid off by the next festive season. This time I am not going to be one of them! I  bought Christmas presents last month – I am not at the point where I refuse to join in, tempting though it is. However, I am spending what I can afford to spend and have still paid a chunk of my credit card. I will do the same this month. Next year I will be organised and thrifty enough to have built up a fund for christmas and won’t have to worry about it. This is my pledge to myself and this blog is helping to keep me determined so I can do it!

My favourite Cranks flapjack recipe

Cranks flapjack recipe

This is adapted from the recipe in my ancient copy of the The Cranks Recipe Book . It makes a lovely moist and crumbly flapjack that actually tastes better after a few days, so is good for making at the start of the week to use in lunchboxes. Saying that, I made this quantity on Sunday, and they have all gone already!

Cranks Flapjack Recipe

Ingredients

300g margarine or butter
150g brown sugar
6 dessertspoons golden syrup
450g oats

Method

Preheat oven to gas mark 5, 190C. Melt the margarine or butter, sugar and syrup on a very low heat, stirring frequently. Mix in the oats and stir thoroughly. Press down into a large-ish tin and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then cut into the size you like. Don’t leave it to cool completely though or it is really difficult to cut.

Have a nice slice with a hot cup of tea, and Bob’s your uncle 🙂

Pork and lentil casserole – a real winter warmer

pork and lentil casseroleI dug out a classic of the kitchen yesterday, the Goode Kitchen, by Shirley Goode. She was the original queen of the frugal kitchen and, even though this book is from the 1980s, a lot of her advice is still relevant now. If you can find yourself a secondhand copy I recommend it.

She talks about how to cost the food you prepare like a professional chef, so you can accurately work out how much individual meals cost to make. She suggests that when you buy ingredients you take the overall cost and divide it up. For example, if you take a bag of flour, divide the cost of it by the number of grams in the bag to work out how much, say 100g, costs. Then write this on the bag. You can do the same with a single egg, 100g of cheese, 100 ml of milk, etc. You can accurately calculate the cost of every recipe you make and see if you can make it any cheaper! I certainly intend to start doing this from now on.

There is a recipe in the book called lamb and lentil casserole, which is great for stretching a small amount of meat. I adapted this and used pork instead, as it is cheaper than lamb, and added a few leeks as I am growing them in the garden. I used a bit more liquid than in the original recipe because it seemed a bit dry, and more potatoes to make it more substantial. I think this would work well in the slow cooker so I will use that next time.cooked pork and lentils

600ml good beef stock
100g green lentils
1 small onion, chopped
2 small leeks, washed and sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 large potato per person, sliced
350g pork, cubed
Salt and pepper

Well, Mr Shoestring seemed to enjoy it!!

Well, Mr Shoestring seemed to enjoy it!!

Preheat oven to 180C. Bring the stock to the boil, put the lentils in a large casserole dish and pour the stock over. Brown the meat in a pan, then add the onions and leeks and soften. Place on top of the lentils with all the other veg. Season and stir, then cover and cook in the oven for about 1 hr 15. Check there is enough stock after 45 minutes and add more if necessary. Serve with a green vegetable.

Serves 4.

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Chilli Chicken: add a bit of spice to your life

view golfBit shattered today. I started my cleaning late as I had to take kitty to the vet for her second set of vaccinations first thing – she is a bit shaky, tired and sorry for herself now, as she was after the first lot.

Then I went to cover a yoga class at the local golf and country club as they were short of a teacher. I won’t say no to the extra money right now, no matter how busy I am. It was a beautiful morning and there was a lovely view across the golf course. The class members were very welcoming too, so it wasn’t exactly a chore.

Yesterday I told you about my new resolution to clean really thoroughly and more often rather than having a crazy rush round and a just about good enough clean on a Saturday. I started by cleaning about half of the windows – we have a huge problem with condensation in this house, so this involved cleaning a lot of black mould off the window frames first. What a difference sparkling shiny windows make to the look of a room! Mr Shoestring also attacked a bit of mould in my bedroom; it collects in the corner where the wall stands clear of the neighbours. I also cleared all the cobwebs from the downstairs rooms, polished, swept and mopped right through. I will do a bit more tomorrow and then through the week.

Tonight’s dinner had to be simple and warming. I defrosted some chicken over night, and decided to cook it in a chilli sauce. It was really good, if I say so myself, and easy-peasy.

chilli chickenAbout 4 portions of chicken (I used 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks) with skins removed
1 red pepper
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tins chopped tomatoes
4 oz mushrooms
1 tsp cumin
half tsp chilli flakes
1 heaped tsp mixed herbs
A good dash of Worcester sauce
Plenty of salt and pepper

Brown the chicken in a small amount of oil and set aside. In the same pan, add the chopped onions and garlic and fry for 5 minutes, then add the spices and stir in for a couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken, herbs and Worcester Sauce and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, add salt and pepper and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked right through, and serve with rice.

Save Money, Save the Planet

recycled plant potsHappily, lots of things that save you money are also good for the environment. Simply consuming less, wasting less, holding onto things for longer, repairing rather than replacing, buying second-hand, etc, will give you a greener lifestyle. Getting off the treadmill of working to buy stuff and then more stuff pays dividends to the state of your bank balance and the planet.

There is so much you can do to get a warm green glow…

Don’t waste food. Plan your week’s meals and then go shopping with a list. Stick to the list!!! Watch your portion sizes too. This will help your waistline as well, so double bubble.

If something stops working get out the manual to see if it is something simple. Look on the Internet to see if there are any suggestions. Get a quote for repair.

Likewise, repair your clothing and get your shoes mended rather than throwing them away.

If you need to replace an expensive item check Freecycle or Freegle first. Then the noticeboard at the local shop, Ebay, charity furniture shops, etc. If you really need to buy new, look at as many reviews as possible and buy energy saving devices – they are cheaper to run.

If you have a garden, make your own compost. Don’t throw peelings, apple cores, teabags, eggshells, etc in the bin. Mix them with your garden waste and compost them. Save as much as possible from going to landfill.

If you like crafts check out websites like pinterest. They have a whole section of ideas for recycling: https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=recycled. Check out the fabulous planters made from old tyres above, and also these brilliant Christmas tree decorations made from old lightbulbs.
recycled lightbulbs
Eat less meat – firstly it is expensive, and secondly, according to Donnachadh mcCarthy in ‘Saving the Planet without Costing the Earth’, one acre of land can produce 30,000lb of carrots but only 250lb of beef. Also 15% of methane, a gas that contributes to global warming, comes from farm animals.

Let your garden be a bit untidy – don’t waste money on chemicals, and create a wildlife friendly garden. Gardening costs very little, is good exercise and a great stress buster.

Grow some of your own food! I can’t afford to buy organic in the shops, but everything from the garden is chemical free. Packets of seeds cost just a few pounds and produce masses of delicious vegetables.

Use vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to clean your house. It is extremely cheap, plus do you really want your home to be full of chemicals?

Buy large containers of washing up and laundry liquid. This produces less plastic waste and usually works out cheaper.

When you need new items for your home, buy second-hand. Most of my furniture, curtains, bedding and rugs has come from the charity shop, Ebay and auctions. If you are a creative sort you can shabby chic a solid piece of furniture and make it a work of art.

Forget nasty chemical air ‘fresheners’ and plug ins. You are literally inhaling pollutants! If you want fresh air, open a window.

Insulate your house – check to see if you are eligible for any grants. Your energy supplier should have information on this, or try the Energy Saving Trust.

If you exercise, try to resist the urge to buy energy drinks and bottled water. Invest in a sports bottle and fill it from the tap.

Train your family to turn off lights, PCs, TVs and DVD players. Don’t leave items on standby.

Don’t buy clothes that need to be dry cleaned. This is expensive and the dry cleaning process uses toxic chemicals.

If you like to read, use the library or buy second-hand from the charity shop. You can also use GreenMetropolis.com, where you can buy or sell books and the site supports the Woodland Trust.

If you have a baby check out reusable nappies rather than disposables. This saves so much money!

This one will separate the greenies from the dark greenies! Consider using washable sanitary towels or perhaps a Mooncup instead of tampons.

Keep a scrap paper box. The back of junk mail letters and the envelopes they come in are good for list writing!

Re-use wrapping paper.

Save water – if you are on a water meter this makes financial as well as economic sense. Shower instead of bathing, but put the plug in and use the ‘grey’ water to water your plants in the garden.

If you buy fruit in the supermarket, save the plastic bags it comes in and reuse them as sandwich bags.

Keep your accelerator foot light and save petrol. Boy racers must all live at home with their parents – once they have to pay their own rent and bills they may slow down a bit…

These are just a few ideas. There are so many other things you can do once you start to think about it. I would love to hear your suggestions.

Frugal Inspiration!!!

booksAs penny pinchers, we all need a hefty dose of reality and a bit of inspiration from time to time to keep us on track. There’s plenty on-line – I regularly use the Money Saving Expert mantra, ‘Do I really want it? Do I really need it? Can I afford it?’. However, when I hear of other people’s amazing holiday plans and start to think, maybe I could afford just a week in Ibiza, or I covet a beautiful pair of leather boots at £120, I love to sit with an inspirational book and retrain my thoughts. I have a perfectly good pair of boots that cost me £3 at, of all things, a boot sale. A holiday would be fantastic, but so would paying off my credit card – if I want a holiday I will need to save for it, and we always have the tents and camping gear, and can head off the Rendlesham Forest for the weekend in the summer.

So where do I find my inspiration? I have several books that I come back to again and again. You might pick them up second-hand on Amazon or, if you are really lucky, GreenMetropolis.com. Failing that, most library services will let you order a book if you can’t find it on the shelf.

So, my favourites:

The Tightwad Gazette
Amy Dacyczyn
An absolute classic. Dacyczyn was the first frugal blogger (well, she would have been, but the Internet was in its infancy when she was writing). It started life as a newsletter, and finally became a book in the early 1990s. She had the dream of a large family and a rural New England farmhouse, but wanted to achieve this without having two incomes and having to put her children into daycare.  The newsletter became a two way communication, with her many readers writing in to give their feedback and their frugal ideas. Still absolutely relevant.

The Penny Pincher’s Book
John and Irma Mustoe

Another classic of moneysaving, this was originally published in the late 1980s. It is to the point and often witty – “Double saving: say no to children whining for sweets – save money on sweets and even more money on dentistry”.

The Money-Less Man: A year of Freeconomic Living
Mark Boyle

More recent, and not really geared up for family money-saving, this is nonetheless a really interesting read. Boyle decided to experiment for a year to see if he could live on no money. This involved living in a caravan off-grid, foraging and growing food, making toiletries and toothpaste from natural wild ingredients and more. He even scavenged food from bins – perfectly edible but thrown away by the supermarkets.
This is quite a political book. Boyle’s message is that we crave money at the expense of communities, relationships and the environment, and that we need to realise that we cannot consume all of the world’s resources in the pursuit of things.

How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day
Kath Kelly
This is a similar theme to Mark Boyle’s book, told in a really entertaining way with loads of ideas on how you can live on very little money if you really have to. Kelly wanted to save for her brother’s wedding, so resolved to live on much, much less than most of us can ever imagine doing. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and she is certainly creative in her approach. It even has a fairy tale happy ending. A nice read!

I would love to hear your recommendations for great and inspiring books. I have more on the bookshelf so part 2 might follow!

Oaty Apple Crumble

I finally used up the last of the windfall Bramley apples I was given yesterday. I made 3 pots of compote for darling daughter no 2 to take back to uni, and my favourite oaty crumble. I love crumble in any form, but it’s even nicer with half oats and half flour, or even all oats in the topping. Brown sugar is especially good in this I think, but you can use the white stuff if you prefer it.

Apples for the crumble2 lb (900g) cooking apples
3 dessertspoons water
1 oz 25g) brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
For the crumble:
4 oz (110g)flour
4 oz (110g) oats
4 oz brown sugar
3 oz (75g) soft butter or margarine

Peel and slice the apples and place in a pan with the water, sugar and all spice. cook gently until the apples are softened but still have a bit of crunch. Place in a pie dish or casserole. Whilst they cook, make the topping. It is so easy – just oaty crumbleput the oats, flour and sugar in a large bowl and add the butter or marg in small chunks. Rub it in with your fingertips until it becomes well mixed up and crumbly. Place it on top of the apple and press down gently. Bake in a preheated oven at about 180 degrees, gas mark 4, for 45 minutes until golden. Eat with a large dollop of custard or ice cream.

This makes quite a thick topping – you can reduce the quantities to 3 oz/3oz/3oz and 2oz if you prefer it a bit lighter.

I have seen apples on sale for very little outside a few neighbours’ houses, but at this time of year you might be lucky to find them for free. You can make this with eating apples, but reduce the sugar by half.

Yoga for Back Ache

Achy back? Read on!

Do you suffer from an achy back? So many people do, especially if they work at a desk job. Sitting down all day isn’t great for you and can lead to poor posture and stiff muscles. Yoga for back ache is tried and tested form of exercise.

When I am not working for the Council or being queen of frugality, I am a yoga teacher, and have been for the past 10 years. Forget the hype about yoga. It may be the choice of many a celebrity and you may think you have to bend yourself up like a pretzel to do it, but actually it is very simple. You can practice at home or in a class, alone or with friends, you can be old or young, male or female, able bodied or have a disability.  Please don’t think you need to be a gymnast either! You need a very small space to do it and a mat – that’s all.

Yoga has kept me sane over many years, through pregnancy, motherhood, divorce and through my financial worries. As I hit 50, I found that working at a desk all day and gardening at the weekends started to take its toll on my lower back. For the first time I started to experience the aches and pains that I thought were just for other people!

If anything starts to hurt now I reach for my mat. If I have no time to do anything else, but have an achy back, I do the following mini routine. Use your common sense if you try this. Take your time and, if you feel more than a mild discomfort, slow down. Breathe slowly. Stretch and enjoy it. Spot the kitten – she was waiting in vain for me to do Cat Pose…

Yoga for back ache: an easy sequence for all abilities

Standing forward stretch
Hold onto the back of a chair or window sill. Aim to get a nice flat back and open under your arms. Straighten your legs if you can. Hold for 5 or 6 breaths.yoga for back ache

Rag doll
Starting from standing, soften your knees, and gradually curl down into a very soft forward bend. Keep your knees bent though – we are stretching the back gently not the hamstrings yet. Hold for 5 or 6 breaths and come up really slowly.

 

Lying knee to forehead
yoga for back acheLie on the floor with your knees bent. On an out breath draw your right knee in towards you and, if it doesn’t hurt your neck, lift your head to look towards the knee. Hold for 10-15 seconds breathing normally, then release. Do the same with the left leg. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Hamstring stretch
yoga for back acheIf you get a lot of lower back pain you may have tight hamstrings. This is extremely beneficial for stretching them out. If you have a yoga or martial arts belt, great – if not, a dressing gown belt is perfect. Lie on the floor and place the belt under your right foot. Stretch the foot to the ceiling, keeping the ankle flexed (ie, don’t point your toes). Straighten your leg as much as possible. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Release and do the same on the left leg.

Lying twist
yoga for back acheIf you have severe back pain, pile up some cushions to support your knees when you do this. Lie on the mat and draw both knees in towards you. Tighten your tummy muscles and if necessary support the knees with your hand as you take them to the right. If your left shoulder lifts when you do this, you need to rest your knees on a couple of cushions. Move your head to the left if it doesn’t hurt your neck. Rest there for a minute or so, then support your knees back to the middle and change sides. Repeat twice on each side.

Bridge pose
yoga for back acheLie on the floor with your knees bent and your arms by your side. Your heels should be close enough in towards your bottom that you can almost touch them with your fingers. As you breathe out, press the small of your back into the floor. As you breathe in, release. Do these small pelvic movements a few times, then begin to lift your hips up off the floor, as far as is comfortable. Your toes should stay in contact with the floor and your feet should be parallel to each other. Hold for a few breaths then uncurl to the floor again. Imagine you could bring each vertebra to the floor before the next. Take a breath and repeat twice more.

Finally, draw your knees in towards your chest and take hold of them. Rock gently from one side to the other. Rest for a few minutes.

Find a teacher

If you practise this sequence regularly you will hopefully find that your back becomes more flexible and that your back pain is more manageable. Try yoga for your back ache. If you find it helps consider finding a class. I recommend finding a British Wheel of Yoga qualified teacher here.

Time for an Energy Saving Audit

lights outLike everyone else, I am slightly terrified that the energy companies keep putting up their prices.

Fortunately I took advice from MoneySavingExpert.com and managed to freeze mine for a couple of years some time ago. I try to do as much as possible to keep my bills low and use as little gas and electricity as I can, but I think it is time for an audit.

I have been exploring various websites for advice and come up with the following checklist:

1) Use energy saving bulbs (I am guessing we are all doing this, since it is difficult to buy the old kind now). Check
2) Try a cooler wash when doing the laundry –  30 degrees. I tend to use 40 degrees for everything, and a quick wash when most items aren’t too grubby. Will try a 30 degree wash from now.
3) Tumble dryers? Forget them! Use airers or hang outside on a sunny day. Check.
4) Don’t run the dishwasher unless it is full. I use mine loads. I am sure there is an argument that it uses less energy to wash dishes by hand, but ours never runs unless it is full up and saves me lots of time. I can’t afford to buy another one if this one breaks down, so at that point I will revert back to handwashing. Check.
5) Go round the house and turn off everything at the plug that is left on standby. Culprits in my house are the Wii, the TV (which has no off button – go figure!!) and the DVD player. This we need to work on.
6) When you use the kettle, only boil the water you need. I do this, but need to train the troops!
7) Buy energy saving appliances. This is tricky if you have to buy second-hand, but not impossible if you do some research in advance. The last appliance I purchased was a large fridge freezer which is triple A rated for energy efficiency. This is worthwhile as it is on all the time! Check
8) Check the Internet to see if you can find a better deal on your energy provider and if you can fix your tariff. I recommend starting at MoneySavingExpert.com, which will help you avoid the pitfalls. Check
9)Train your family to turn off lights, TVs, etc behind them! Check
10) Turn off laptops and PCs when they aren’t in use. Darling daughters, read and take note!
11) Have a shower rather than a bath – it will use a lot less hot water, which means you can adjust your timer and heat the boiler for less time. We are having more showers now, but I think I could heat the boiler for less time. I will adjust!
12) You could also consider turning down the water temperature by adjusting the thermostat on your boiler. I did this by 1 degree and nobody noticed the difference. Check.
13) Turn down your general thermostat to no more that 21 degrees. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that just one degree lower could save £65 a year. Mine is at 20 degrees.
14) If you are lucky enough to have a spare room, turn off the radiator when you have no guests and close the door. No unused rooms here
15) Insulate your loft and wall cavities. I had mine done for free with British Gas. Check with your energy supplier to see what they offer. If you are in receipt of certain benefits you may be entitled to insulation and a new boiler, even if you don’t own your property. MoneySavingExpert.com has very good information on this. Check
16) Use draught excluders at the bottom of your doors and fit extra linings to your curtains. I need a thick curtain at my front door.
17) Consider fitting reflective radiator foil behind your radiators. This costs £7 for a 500mm by 5 metre roll at B&Q. I need to do this!
18) If you have your oven on, can you cook something else at the same time? How about flapjacks for the lunchboxes whilst you are doing tonight’s stew? Check

Good sites to look at for advice on this:

Energysavingtrust.org.uk, moneysavingexpert.com, BritishGas.co.uk (and your energy provider’s website)