Spicy roasted tomato sauce – a great way to use the glut

Roasted and ready to be whizzed up - I could have eaten these as they were with some crusty bread

Roasted and ready to be whizzed up – I could have eaten these as they were with some crusty bread

I found this recipe on the internet but adapted it slightly. It is delicious and spicy, and because we have lots of lovely ripe tomatoes at the moment, it is also very, very cheap.

To serve 4-5

500g pasta
1kg tomatoes, halved
70 ml olive oil
Clove garlic, crushed
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
I medium chilli pepper, kept whole
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, gas mark 6. Place the oil, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir. Dip each tomato half into the oil mix and place face up onto an oven proof dish with the whole chilli. Sprinkle with a little sugar. Cook for one hour. Allow to cool, remove the chilli and cut out the seeds. If you don’t like your sauce too hot just put half of the chilli in with the tomatoes, but if you can take the heat put the whole thing in, and whizz up with a hand blender.

You can sieve the sauce if you want it really smooth, but I didn’t bother. Mix in with your cooked pasta and top with. Grated cheese.

Mmm, delish!

Supermarket sweep! (Well, sort of) plus the perils of ethical clothes buying

I had a meeting in Chelmsford today, and as work paid my train fares I thought I would take advantage of being there to do a quick sweep of Primark.

I generally buy most of my clothes secondhand, but DD3 was desperate for some new things for sixth form (they are a grammar and insist on smart casual) and my office clothes are looking generally a bit tatty. I only had 20 minutes, which did focus my attention somewhat, but I managed to whizz round and get her 3 tops, 2 skirts and 2 packs of tights, as well as some work clothes for myself – 2 tops, a skirt and a cardi, all for £70! Some people would spend that much on a single outfit.

I know there are some ethical issues with Primark, but to be honest in recent years these have also been raised with many much more expensive brands too. It is hard to know where it is safe to shop!!

I cannot afford to buy only items that are marked as fair trade and organic, and since I usually buy very little and when I do it is second hand, I have to just go with it sometimes.

Niggling worries about the ethical issues aside, I am pretty happy with my purchases. They will have to last a while as that is my clothing budget spent out!

Do you have qualms about buying from large chain stores, especially the budget ones? How do you get round these whilst being frugal?

Warning – a rant (and maybe you can help?)

Tonight I was driven to  rant on Facebook, Twitter and email about the generally appalling levels of customer service offered by large companies these days. From utility providers to retail outlets, I have rarely experienced anything good in recent years.

Regular readers will know that I have had ongoing issues with First Utility for months and months. They have overcharged me on my gas due to an incorrect reading in April 2013. This lead them to attempt to charge me £1500, which I disputed. I knew I hadn’t suddenly increased my energy usage by that much. Despite numerous phone calls and emails, I couldn’t get an explanation of why they thought I owed that much, or accurate readings on my on-line account to give me the chance to work it out for myself. They tried to insist that I increase my monthly gas and electricity bill from £115 per month to £435!! As if!! I lost some sleep over this, I can tell you, and finally contacted the Energy Ombudsman last May. They ruled in my favour, and told First Utility they had to provide me with accurate accounts, waiver all my gas bills for 6 months  and give me a small financial recompense for the stress and aggravation. That was at the end of June. They had 28 days to provide a resolution. To date, they have done nothing except at the beginning of August, after me chasing them and the Ombudsman again, send me a letter acknowledging that they were dealing with my complaint but saying that they had so many to deal with it might be a while! What a thing to casually admit to a customer!!

Ten days ago, my Talk Talk on demand TV service stopped working. I rang them, they rang me back on my mobile and we went through some tests. After half an hour the phone cut out. ‘That’s OK’, I thought. ‘They have my number, they will call me back so that we can continue’. They didn’t . I wasn’t about to call them and start the whole process again, so I wrote a stinking email. To their credit, they responded within a couple of days, decided an engineer was needed, but then said the earliest possible was 9th September!!

Then this evening, to cap it all, my daughter’s quite expensive new bed arrived from Argos. She was very excited, as hers broke and she has been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a month.  When we tried to assemble it, however, we discovered that half the fittings were missing. It was impossible to secure the two pieces together. She rang them and asked them to get the appropriate bits out asap, and they said they had no spares and wouldn’t be able to send any for three weeks, but we could buy them ourselves if we wanted!! Well, you can imagine our rage and indignation…. DD1 is a bit of a firecracker, and insisted on speaking to a manager. He said he could get the bits in a week, and would give us a £50 refund. She wasn’t really happy, so tweeted a complaint, and lo – their customer services department had messaged her within the hour asking her to send them her order number. So let’s hope we have a better outcome. Bits of her bed are currently clogging up the lounge and the hallway!

It made me think about the power of Twitter, anyway, and I have tweeted First Utility. this is where some of you might be able to help. If you do Twitter, maybe you can follow me (@shoestringjane) and retweet what I sent. I am hoping that, useless as they are, First Utility might also have a customer services section that watches Twitter and acts accordingly to avert bad publicity.

I also Googled to find out who the CEO of First Utility is and his email address. I have sent him a long email berating him for the way his company are treating me and I have copied my MP in.

I am fed up with these companies. They are too big and don’t want to spend enough money making sure they offer decent customer services. Once they get you in with the big offer, they don’t want to know.

How about you? Any customer service horror stories? Or do you have any examples of marvellously helpful service you have received to prove me wrong?


Kitchen gadgets I couldn’t live without

Chopped up the veg...

Chopped up the veg…


Made some chicken stock…


Topped it up with some of the giant catering pack of veg stock I got from Approved Foods…


Whiz zed it up with my trusty hand blender…


And poured it all into containers ready for the freezer!

I finally managed to make a mega batch of courgette soup this morning. Lots to keep our bellies full until the pumpkins are ready and the next soup making session begins. They are cooling in the kitchen in a load of recycled ice cream and yogurt containers. I need to organise the freezers to fit them all in. So, fave kitchen gadget number 1 is my hand blender!!

Chopping up the plums

Chopping up the plums

Out with the mixer...

Out with the mixer…

Mmm... Yummy plum cake

Mmm… Yummy plum cake

We found plums being given away for free when we were in Long Melford the other day, so today I froze some and used the remainder to make a delicious almond and plum cake, which we had for dessert tonight. So, fave gadget no 2 is my hand mixer.

I think these two items are essential for the frugal kitchen, and I couldn’t be without them. I do have a food processor, but I rarely use it as it is such a faff to get it out of the cupboard and find the bits I need then wash it all  and put it back.

Not a bad way to spend a rainy bank holiday Monday – a thrifty and productive day!

Which kitchen gadgets would you hate to live without?

Bounce-back-ability! Getting back up when you fall

imageI finally got round to sorting Mr S’s grapevine out yesterday. It hasn’t done anything for the past two years since he planted it but this year it has suddenly gone wild and had fallen off its supports. I picked it up and tied it to the trellis yesterday, and was staggered to find it full of grapes! I’m not sure how tasty they will be as they are tiny and barely ripening, but I am thinking maybe stuffed vine leaves…

I had a bit of a blow yesterday. My long term student, who had planned to come from Mexico to do her A levels at my daughter’s school, didn’t get her predicted grades by a fraction and the school won’t take her. She is understandably disappointed but so am I! Having her was part of my long term strategy for managing my finances. There may be a few other short term language students this year, but I really need regular extra income. As I say, a bit of a blow, but we will manage somehow – we always do.

imageThe first thing I will do is go through my finances with a fine toothed comb to see where I can save money. I had relaxed a bit with my spending in anticipation of the student income but now I need to draw back and live as simply and cheaply as I possibly can. I will also sign up with other agencies as some require host families for a term at a time and place them in January as well as September.

As the great Nelson Mandela once said, “The greatest glory of living lies not in never falling but in rising every time you fall.” He should know. Time to plan my bounce back!