Scouring the charity shops – sorry, ‘vintage’ shops :-)

I had a day off today to spend a bit of time with DD3 on her half term holiday. We met DD1 from work and all had lunch together – a rare treat.

Then we decided to do a tour of the charity shops. It made me laugh as a couple of them have become ‘vintage shops’. They sell the same old stuff but charge £15 for a dress instead of £4! Anything that looks vaguely 70s is even more expensive. Who buys this stuff? I suppose I can’t blame the charities for trying to maximise their profits, but it is a bit annoying for those of us looking for a bargain without a lot of cash to spare.

Charity shop bargains!

Charity shop bargains!

Fortunately, there are still plenty of the old fashioned variety. We started at the upmarket end of town and worked our way through. DD3 was looking for an outfit for Halloween. We have gone a bit American these days. No witches or ghosts for the teens now – she is going as a zombie version of Cher from a film called Clueless, so she wanted to find a checked skirt and some form of tank top to go over a long white shirt. We found a long checked skirt, and she has already cut a chunk off the bottom and hemmed it! Success!

The thing I like about charity shop shopping is that, even thought they are more expensive than they used to be, there is still the opportunity to find something I could never afford new, and today proved the point. I found a lovely lined skirt from Laura Ashley for a fiver, a 100% silk cardigan from East for £5.50 and a really nice crochet top for £6. More than I pay usually, and a lot more than boot sale prices, but they are all excellent quality so I am pretty happy with my bargains.

Back to work tomorrow after my lovely long weekend and no more spending for the rest of the month if I can avoid it!

Adapting recipes and using what you have

My daughter is at uni. She had a job to supplement her loan for the past year, but has found it too much so she has given it up and is attempting to survive in London on her loan. I hope she can do this, and that she has learned enough from her frugal mummy to do it. But in case she needs some tips, this post is for her :-).

The blacker the better!

The blacker the better!

I made a banana loaf this morning with some very black bananas that no one was going to eat. I used the Delia recipe as my starting point, but as I didn’t have any walnuts or oranges I substituted brazil nuts and dried cranberries. It was really delicious!

The frugal cook needs to be able to do this: either adapt recipes or make meals up to suit your ingredients. If you don’t have an expensive ingredient like sundried tomatoes try fresh or tinned with some tomato purée. If you don’t have shallots, use ordinary onions. If you don’t have dried porcini mushrooms, the usual fresh sort will work ok.

store cupboard 1Make sure you have plenty of store cupboard staples. Flour and baking powder, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, tinned or dried pulses, pasta, rice and noodles spring to mind. Casserole sauces bought cheaply from places like Approved Food and Home Bargains are good for days when you can’t be bothered or don’t have time to cook from scratch. Tinned and frozen veg is handy to have. Canned tuna or sardines can make a good quick meal.

Staples from Aldi

Staples from Aldi

Eggs and cheese are good to have in the fridge, and a pack of bacon can add flavour and interest to all manner of dinners.

What to do if you think there is no food in the house? Have a good look in the store cupboards ; I bet there is a ton of food in there. You may not be able to make a meat and two veg type of meal, but how about a lentil shepherds pie or veggie curry for a change? If you can make a tomato sauce from onions and tomatoes, you can build it into a veggie casserole with courgettes , carrots, lentils, etc and make some dumplings to go with it. Or use it to make a pasta sauce with garlic and peppers, or a bolognese with some mince meat. Add and taste as you go along. Mess about with curry powder, cumin and chilli to add a bit of spice to what you have. Eggs can make an omelette, a quiche, or you can crack them over your tomato and pepper sauce and bake them the oven. How about curried eggs? If you have flour you can make pastry. What do you have that will go in a pie?

If you have cheese, onions and potatoes you have a veggie classic: cheese and potato pie with no pastry needed. Mash the spuds and mix in sautéed onions , plenty of cheese and some seasoning. Yummy with baked beans !

Use up all the bits of veg in a stir fry with noodles or rice. Make all kinds of fillings for a jacket potato with whatever you can find.

Use recipes as inspiration and as a guide for quantities rather than feeling you need to slavishly follow them.

And if you really can’t be bothered to cook, there is nothing wrong with the odd ‘something on toast’.

Just try not to give in to too many wild nights at the uni bar with the Chinese takeaway or kebab on the way home 🙂

Quick and Dirty – dinners for the frugal woman in a hurry!

I have managed to stretch this week’s shopping to 11 days this week to make up for the expense of our day in London and lunch out.

Tonight I will do the smallest shop possible in my fave discount supermarket, Aldi, and stretch things even further. I managed to get into town on Saturday so I brought the fruit for the week and some broccoli for £4.50, so that helped.

I have some pork chops lurking in the freezer, so they will be dinner tonight, tomorrow will be veggie curry and rice, Thursday I have some taco shells to use up so will buy mince and make a chilli, Friday will be an easy end of the week tea of omelettes and chips as I have eggs. I am out all day on Saturday so will get chicken thighs and get the girls to make a casserole. I have lots of parsley sauce mixes from Approved Foods so on Sunday it will be fish, probably Aldi’s basa fillets. Monday has to be quick as I rush in then straight out to my yoga class, so we will have quiche and salad.

I am sure I would eat differently and even more cheaply if I had more time as I would do a lot more scratch cooking, but this being the real world I will cheat and use some convenience foods as and when I need to!

What are you eating this week?

Tower of London: A River of Red in an Ocean of People!

Tower of LondonWe had a trip at the weekend to the Tower of London. It was a great experience!

I will never ever be a person who enjoys city life. I don’t mind a visit to a beautiful and interesting city: Barcelona and Amsterdam are two of my favourite places. But generally, I don’t like the noise or the traffic, I don’t enjoy crowds, I am not a fan of the hustle and bustle and I can’t wait to get home. If I had to live or work in a large city I think I would struggle. I find Colchester stressful enough in the rush hour, and it’s hardly a metropolis!

Tower of LondonHaving said that, I did want to visit my daughter and see her new student house share in the East End, and I really wanted to see the poppies at the Tower of London.

LondonWith four of us going, driving was by far our cheapest option. The roads weren’t too clogged up being a Sunday, but it was busy enough. We managed to park near her house, had a very reasonable roast at the local Wetherspoons (£6.95 each including a drink), then set off on the underground to Tower Hill. It was packed! Every one had the same idea it seems. The poppies really are stunning; they are very beautiful and rather moving, so if you are able to get there before Armistice Day on 11th November, you really should.

imageI don’t know who had the idea to make a porcelain poppy for every man who fell in the First World War, and then plant them in a stunning display around the Tower of London, but it was a great one.

So I was glad to get home, but even happier to have been :-).

Hey Big Spender! Get a Life …

I watched a programme on TV last night called ‘ Hey Big Spenders -Shopaholics Exposed’. Though it made me rage I endured most of it. I know they find the craziest people for
these things to make them more interesting, but this also frequently means the people featured are the most irritating!

The winner of the ‘throw the remote at the TV’ award was definitely American princess Andrea. She had a series of sugar daddies who gave her their credit cards and the freedom to shop for lots of tight pink clothes for herself and her little fluffy dog. She once had to work as a TV extra for 14 hours ‘for barely anything’ and she didn’t intend to do it again. She lived for shopping. If she couldn’t do that she said she wouldn’t know what to do.

The cameras showed her on an average day: a 7 hour shopping spree where she spent 1100 dollars on what appeared to be just underwear and a couple of tops. Whatever gaping hole she hoped to fill in her life, it didn’t have the desired effect . Her initial pleasure gave way to disappointment as she realised how little the money had got her, or perhaps that what she had got wasn’t what she really needed in her life. With wobbling chin, she said the shops hadn’t had the right things in stock and she would have to go back another day.

Chloe-Jasmine may have been an actual shopaholic but as I spotted her on the X Factor as well the other night I think she is more a ‘please let me be famous, I really don’t care what for’ type of girl. Her best quote: ‘You can eat or you can look fabulous… It’s quite a hard decision to make’. No it’s not, Chloe-Jasmine! Only somebody who has never gone without a meal would say such a stupid and vacuous thing.

The only serious person on this programme was Helen, who became a shopaholic after she lost her job as a city trader. She said, ‘Buying things made me feel as if I was more worthy’. It gave her a temporary boost of self esteem which would inevitably evaporate when she got home and tried to justify her expensive and unnecessary purchases to her husband. Her addiction eventually cost her marriage which forced her to confront her sad reality and get help.

She discovered the hard way that you, ‘Don’t need stuff to fill
this massive void’. What you need is a sense of purpose, good relationships, some fun and enough money to get by. I would rather be a tightwad than a shopaholic!!

Big Spenders was on Channel 5 at 10pm, Thursday 16th October 2014.

Doing More with Less

Doing more with less; anyone who works for the public sector or even a struggling commercial company will probably hear this phrase often. We need to save money so will employ fewer people to do the same amount of work. To do this we will be super efficient and manage our resources better. Sometimes tough decisions will need to be made and we may not be able to offer all of the services that we used toimage.

I was thinking that I already apply some of this  philosophy to my own household. No , I’m not about to make any redundancies! However, we do need to do more with less.

Ways to do this might include:

Using one tea bag to make two mugs of tea
Driving more slowly to use less petrol
Keeping heating costs down by lowering the thermostat and wearing another layer
Drying the laundry on an airer instead of the tumble dryer
Reusing wrapping paper and envelopes
Washing and reusing tin foil
Cutting dishwasher tablets in half
Eating smaller portions (many of us eat too much!)
Not wasting food – use up your leftovers or freeze them for later
Opening a beer at home rather than going to the pub
Correctly measuring the laundry liquid/powder
Measuring rice and pasta portions so you don’t cook too much
Using up all the make up and toiletries you have already bought before buying more
Giving up shopping for fun
Cutting down on smoking or changing to roll ups
Eating less meat and more pulses
Taking showers instead of baths
Drink water instead of juice
Order books from the library or buy secondhand
Set a maximum budget for gifts
Reconsider the people you buy gifts for: do you need to buy something for all adults for Christmas and birthdays or could you focus just on children?
Growing your hair or having it cut by a junior
Buying used furniture and clothes
Packing your own lunch and flask for work or days out
Buying non perishables from Approved Food
Walking/cycling more and driving less
Shopping in Aldi/Lidl or making more use of basics ranges

There are so many ways to be more efficient and streamlined – these are things I already do off the top of my head but I am sure there are lots more. What are your top tips for doing more with less?


Glutney Chutney!

I found an interesting recipe to use up the summer glut on the Love Food Hate Waste website for Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall’s ‘glutney’ – chutney made with courgettes, tomatoes, onions and apples. So, perfect for me at the moment! I made six jars last night in between feeding everyone, sorting a load of laundry and having a bit of a tidy up.

imageIt is looking quite promising but will need to be left a few weeks to mature.

You can find the recipe here if you are interested:

A friend has just told me that a tablespoon of chutney is really nice added to stews or casseroles. I will try it! She also whizzes it up with cooked pulses to make a veggie dip, which sounds as if it might have potential.

Anyone else still preserving the summer glut?

Macaroni Cheese – doubt you need a recipe, but here is one anyway :-)

I have had a busy Saturday, as usual, shopping and cleaning and getting everything done today so that I can have a relaxing day tomorrow. I am going to meet my old college friends. It has been 25 years since I have seen most of them. I am totally excited!! One is coming from Colorado. All being well, there will be 10 of us – I can hardly wait 🙂

I will leave the girls in charge of the student at lunchtime,  but I will need to be back to give her dinner, as they will be going to see their Dad. I will prepare the vegetables in the morning and just throw a couple of chops under the grill to serve with them when I get home.

Tonight I wanted something easy for tea, and macaroni cheese was perfect. It is so simple yet cheap and delicious. This was yummy – total comfort food on a rainy Autumn day.

mac cheeseHere is the recipe I use, although I vary it by adding bacon, mushrooms, leeks, or sometimes all three:

To serve 4

250g macaroni
2 heaped dessertspoons marg or butter
2 heaped dessertspoons plain flour
500ml milk
half tsp mustard powder or made up mustard
150g cheddar, grated
Lots of ground pepper and salt to taste

Cook the macaroni in plenty of boiling salted water and whilst it is cooking, make the sauce. Melt the marg or butter then add the flour and mustard and cook gently for a minute or so. Whisk in the milk and and bring to the boil, stirring all the time so that it doesn’t catch. Lower the heat and stir until thickened. Add the grated cheese, then season with the salt and pepper to taste. Drain the macaroni and stir in most of the cheese, leaving some to sprinkle on the top. Pop under a preheated grill for 5 minutes until it turns golden and bubbly. Serve straight away with a green salad or some vegetables.

We had runner beans with this as we still have plenty coming through.

What’s for breakfast?

imageimageThey say that breakfast is the  most important meal of the day, and I certainly couldn’t survive until lunchtime without it. I would be grumpy, unable to concentrate and have a headache. DD1 leaves for work every day with just a cup of tea in her belly. I suspect she is on the chocolate by 10!

When we have students I always set the table out with cereals, bread and brioche rolls (from Aldi – all the students seem to love them), juice, jam and chocolate spread. Sometimes I add the fruit bowl or some melon wedges. Then whoever is passing can help themselves.

I don’t have time to fuss during the week and this works ok. I might offer some eggs and bacon on a sunday though, or some porridge.

Do you and yours eat breakfast? What is favourite in your house?