The Best Things in Life are Free…

J at WivenhoeIt was such a dreary day today – I was working, so I missed most of it anyway. It was dark when I left home this morning and dark again when I came out of the office!  I was looking at some photos from Sunday and it couldn’t have been more different here in Essex. An absolutely beautiful winter’s day with the most fabulous blue sky. I went for a walk with Mr Shoestring along Wivenhoe Quay. We bought some chips and tea, and sat on a bench watching the birds and the people on their walks whilst we ate them. It was a perfect afternoon and cost nothing – well, only the price of the tea and chips, and Mr Shoestring treated me to those!

wivenhoeI love to get out in the fresh air and just walk – I am stuck indoors enough. You can spend a lot of money going to expensive tourist attractions, or pay a fortune in a swanky restaurant, but there are some things that are very precious and cost nothing, and a great view in good company is a good example.

Tonight we won’t be making a fuss. The girls are all out socialising, so me and Mr S have a bottle of Prosecco chilling in the fridge and a large bag of Doritos, and we plan to cuddle up and watch some of the TV programmes we recorded over Christmas. I know that must sound incredibly boring to some people, but I have done enough New Year’s Eve partying in my time!

Whatever you are doing, have a great night, and may you have health and happiness in 2014!

Create a Present Box

If you are anything like me, and definitely if you have children, it is really worth having a present box – an assortment of small gifts for all of the parties they get invited to, something for relative’s birthdays throughout the year, and so on.

This is the perfect time to buy those gifts – there are so many in the sales. I popped into Asda yesterday and they had the following at half price:

gift box 1

I got 5 nice presents for £11, which I was happy with.  They will be good for darling daughter 3, who is 15, and will save me lots of money as she gets invited to loads of parties!

I know some very organised people buy all of their presents for the following Christmas in the sales. This wouldn’t work for me as I buy very little other than for my daughters, and I can’t second guess what their tastes will be by then! If you have lots to buy though, Boots is always really good – some of their gift sets go for around a third of the original price at this time of the year.

I obviously hit Asda at the right time and came out with 5 lots of yellow stickered meat products as well, so we are sorted for a fortnight or so!

Anyone else found any bargains?

Two recipes for Christmas leftovers

risotto 2I am still steadfastly working through my meal plan and using up all the leftovers from Christmas, as well as some of the bits and pieces I found at the back of the cupboard.  Yesterday we had a sophisticated yet delicious Turkey and Mushroom Risotto, which darling daughter 3 declared ‘banging’. I think that was a compliment 🙂 This came from the Daily Telegraph. I doubled up the quantities overall but only used 25g of porcini mushrooms and added 25g of fresh mushrooms, which worked really well. I also used paella rice instead of proper risotto rice as that was what I happened to have in the cupboard. I would make this again, even without the turkey.

Here is the recipe, plus some others that are quite interesting looking:

Tonight we have a Chestnut, Parsnip and Mushroom Roast, with roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts. I adapted it from Sarah Brown’s Layered Cashew and Mushroom Roast in her book Vegetarian Kitchen. It is an old book, but very much worth getting hold of if  you every come across a copy.

Chestnut, Parsnip and Mushroom Roast

This is a bit time consuming, but worth the effort. It made a very moist roast, so if you prefer it crunchier add another 50-100g of chestnuts.

nut roast 2

Tbsp oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
250g shelled chestnuts
110g breadcrumbs (whizz the ends of the bread up)
1 egg
3 medium parsnips, boiled and mashed
1 tsp fresh rosemary (or half tsp dried)
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped up
(you could just use a tsp of dried mixed herbs if you don’t have these)
1 tsp yeast extract, dissolved in 150ml hot water
For the mushroom filling:
225 g mushrooms, chopped and fried in a little butter

Fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes in the oil. Whizz up the breadcrumbs then the nuts in a food processor, and place in a large bowl. Add the egg, the mashed parsnips and the herbs, then the onion and yeast extract. Season to taste.

Grease a 2lb loaf tin and place half of the nut mixture into it, pressing down firmly, then add the mushrooms, drained so that you don’t make the mixture soggy. Add the rest of the nut mixture, press firmly again, then cover with foil.

Cook for one hour at 180 degrees, taking the foil off for the last 15 minutes to brown the top of your roast. Serve with gravy and vegetables. Yummy!

New Year’s Resolutions

I love the idea of New Year’s Resolutions: turning over a new leaf, wiping the slate clean, starting again with a new positive frame of mind. In order to stick to your resolutions you need a plan. You know what you want to achieve, but how are you going to achieve it? If you break it into bite-sized chunks and look at each one individually this can make it less intimidating and more achievable.

At the turn of the New Millennium my friend decided to give up smoking. He was seriously addicted. He had been smoking since he was 13, when he used to steal his parents’ fags. He had tried to give up before, many times, but never lasted more than a few weeks. Everybody in his family had smoked, but due to various illnesses they were all slowly giving up or trying to.

He didn’t make a big fuss about it this time. At the turn of midnight he chucked all his remaining tobacco in the bin, and resolved not to smoke for the whole of the next day. The day after that, he did the same. After a week, he continued, each morning telling himself ‘I won’t smoke just for today’. A year later, he could tell you exactly how many days he hadn’t smoked for, and was confident enough to call himself an ex-smoker.

I thought this was a great approach; breaking the goal down into achievable chunks to make it more manageable. Each day he didn’t smoke was an achievement in itself and a step towards his ultimate goal.

You could do this to achieve anything. Have an ultimate goal – to get your spending in check and pay off your debts, for example. Your mini goals towards this could be: I won’t buy anything today that isn’t necessary for my survival; I will get a better deal on my energy bills; I will set up a standing order to pay £xx off my credit card each month; I will set a weekly budget for food spending and stick to it; I will put away money for annual expenditure such as car tax, MOT costs, Christmas and birthdays – whatever works for you. As you achieve your goals  on a daily, weekly or monthly basis your resolve will grow stronger as you see your ultimate aim getting closer.

I broadly know my resolutions for 2014 – to be debt free and build up a cushion for a rainy day. To achieve this I will explore ways to earn more income – I already have a new yoga class starting in January to catch those who have resolved to get fitter, and have some other ideas developing too, including selling quite a lot on Ebay; I will save £180 a month towards my annual expenses; I will continue to plan each week’s meals and stick to my shopping budget but will make them as healthy as possible; I won’t buy anything that isn’t essential, and will make sure I get the best deal and have the money to pay for it before I do; I will pay off the small amount I still owe on my credit card.

After that, we shall see. I will continue to record my progress in this blog, so you can check I am doing the right thing and give me a kick if it looks as if I am faltering and have been on a spending spree somewhere!

Not Going to the Sales…

I am delighted to discover that I now have 50 followers 🙂 Welcome to Declutterbug for joining me on my ramblings!

Darling daughters no 2 and 3 braved the sales today in town and came back declaring them ‘pants’. I think things had been reduced so much before Christmas there weren’t too many more bargains to be had. I didn’t feel the need to go out to spend yet more money buying yet more stuff. The things I need require saving and a bit of graft – a new bit of guttering as we have had a small leak into the bedroom and a revamp of the electrics. This is a bigger job and requires funds that I currently don’t have, so will have to wait. In the meantime I can resist the lure of the shops very easily indeed.

The sales are good if you are buying something you really need at a greatly reduced price. I would love a comfy new sofa as ours is pretty awful now. In the past I would have given in to the lure of the buy now, pay in 6 months offer, or put it on the credit card and hoped to find enough money to pay it off. However, with my new determination to be frugal and have no debt, I will try to get one secondhand at some point this year, if I can save a couple of hundred pounds.

We are successfully working our way through the Christmas leftovers and had a lovely dinner tonight: 4 bird roast with sprouts and chestnuts, sausage meat stuffing, roast spuds and root veg, and delicious turkey gravy. All I had to do was plate it up and stick it in the microwave with a bit of extra mash to fill everybody up. I will try to force a bit of Christmas pudding or a mince pie on them all in a while!

I went to the gym this morning to counter some of the excess so I don’t feel guilty 🙂


Sausage, apple and herb stuffing, £2.20, and lots of Christmas Cheer!!

Finally, I have finished work and have had a lovely morning pottering around tidying up, wrapping a few last minute presents and planning tomorrow’s dinner. I have been through the Radio Times and there is some good TV on. I rarely sit around watching the box, but will make an exception over Christmas. I also have lots that I will record, including Gregory’s Girl – I love that film! I was going to buy it for me and DD3 to watch during our weekly film night but it was almost £20 on Amazon! Also I am a sucker for a good costume drama, so will be forcing the family to watch Downton Abbey on Christmas Day and definitely Death Comes to Pemberley on Boxing Day. I am a big Jane Austen fan, and adored the classic series of Pride and Prejudice with the delicious Colin Firth as Mr Darcy . Sorry, Mr Shoestring, but I might still have to chuck you if he ever appears out of our pond in his shirt :).

I have peeled the chestnuts, iced the cake and made the stuffing this morning. I could have the stuffing as a main course actually, it smells so good. Here is the recipe:

400g herby sausage meat (£2.10 from the local butcher)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped (about 10p)
1 apple, peeled and diced fairly small (free, another windfall)
About a dessertspoon of butter
75g breadcrumbs (made from the ends of the bread, so effectively free)
Handful of chopped herbs (I used parsley and rosemary as I have them in the garden, but sage would be nice too – free)

stuffingGently fry the onion in the butter for 4 or 5 minutes, then add the apple for 2 minutes. Add the sausage meat, breadcrumbs and herbs and mix well (it’s easiest with your hands). Make into balls and bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes, or use to stuff your bird.

I made 6 largish stuffing balls with half of this, and will use the other half in the neck of the turkey tomorrow.

Whatever you are doing today, I hope you are having a good day and have a brilliant Christmas. I might make it on here to blog tomorrow, but I might be too stuffed to move as far as the laptop! Actually I plan a late breakfast, everyone mucking in to get the dinner ready, eating it, then having a walk to work some of it off. Then back to clear up, have a Christmas tea of salad and cold cuts with some friends and an evening of games and TV. Complete bliss!

All mucking in

The house has been chaos over the past few days – all of the girls home and making a mess, Christmas presents and wrapping paper everywhere, mountains of laundry. Just the usual then!

I have worked 6 days in a row and haven’t had time for much cleaning. So this afternoon I went into sergeant major mode and got everyone cleaning a room each plus their bedrooms. Finally it is all coming together and, if not a sense of calm, I at least feel a bit organised.

Now I need to get my head round food for Christmas Day – what to do when – complete a bit of last minute wrapping, ice the cake, make a trifle. I am working tomorrow so will leave most of it for Christmas Eve, then get the troops working to help again.

So I need to make sure that everyone helps and does their bit so that I can relax and enjoy the festivities and not get stressed out. I will start with the washing up tonight – we have all just enjoyed a yellow stickered bit of roast pork with all the trimmings so I will get them all to help clear up!

Waste not Want Not

Yesterday we had a fabulous Christmas buffet at work. Everybody brought in a contribution, ranging from salads to sausage rolls, crisps to cakes, even some home made suchi but, more than anything else, piles and piles of mince pies. If you have trouble finding any in North Essex, it is probably our fault!!


We had an awful lot left over. The unopened and wrapped cakes and crisps and mincepies can be saved and munched on over the next few weeks so I put them all to one side. However, my manager’s comment that ‘we might as well throw the rest in the bin’ made me a) give him a stern lecture on wasting perfectly good food, and b) force my colleagues to take some bits home with them to share with their families.

As they were going out the door I was handing them ‘party bags’!  Today at work the few of us who were lucky enough to be working on a Saturday shared a few savoury bits that I had clingfilmed and put in the fridge overnight and had our own mini party. Each time I got up they flinched in case I came back and offered them a sausage roll or another dreaded mince pie 🙂

They may laugh at me but they know I am right. We waste vast amounts of food in this country, especially at Christmas when too much is purchased in the first place. I am stunned and amazed at people’s casual approach to this, when we are supposed to be suffering the effects of a recession and tightening our belts, and when there are so many people really struggling and using food banks to get by.

Most people who grew up in the forties and fifties have a different approach because they were still feeling the effects of food shortages and rationing for many years after WW2. I think perhaps the rest of us need to get some of that mentality back, and to realise that we are lucky to enough to have enough to eat and that food is precious, to use up leftovers, to turn that chicken carcass into stock, to save the ends of bread for breadcrumbs and puddings, and not to buy so much in the first place!!

I will be devising all kinds of recipes to make sure we use up or freeze all of our leftovers after Christmas. Mince pie risotto anyone?

Cheat’s Christmas Chocolate Cake

I have slaved over a hot cake tin over past Christmases and spent lots of time and money making fabulous Christmas cakes that nobody eats. My lot just aren’t that keen!

So this year I asked them what they wanted and they said a chocolate cake.

photo (5)I could make one from scratch, but since I am working all the way through to Christmas Eve, I don’t feel guilty about cheating, and have made a delicious frugal cake that I know they will really enjoy.

The secret? Betty Crocker’s chocolate cake mix! This costs £2.25 for each cake, £2.25 for one pot of chocolate fudge icing, which will be enough to fill and top two cakes, plus around £2 for some decorations (I had some in the cupboard already).

Sure I could make chocolate cakes myself more cheaply, but I am short of time as well as money, so I don’t think less than £9 for two special cakes is bad….