Monthly Archives: October 2014

When Spirits Roam…

imageI know it’s a lot of Pagan nonsense, but I do enjoy Halloween. My team at work always really go for it. This year we have had amazing decorations, we all dressed up and there were even Halloween cakes. image

Tonight I have a little pumpkin lantern ready to go outside and bought a couple of bags of sweets for the local kids. I know they will be round dressed as all manner of ghoulish creatures later. As long as I don’t get hoards of teens deciding to throw eggs about it will be ok.

imageThis weekend we will be eating pumpkin soup and pumpkin muffins, made from one of our home grown ones.

I know that some people get annoyed at the trick or treaters, but in my area they are usually quite small and accompanied by adults, and only knock where there is a imagepumpkin lantern.

Anyone else having a spooky Halloween?

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 🙂

Creepy Crawlies in the Garden

IMG_0892-0.JPGMr S found this interesting looking spider on his garden wall today. Investigations show that it is a very rare wasp spider, not exactly venomous but capable of biting hard enough to break your skin. Just in time for Halloween! I’m glad he didn’t find it at Shoestring Cottage. I can do spiders if they aren’t too huge. I had one run across my yoga mat in my class last week and I managed to get it into my lesson plan and out of the window without too much fuss. However, that was small and black – I would have thought twice before trying that with this one!

I have sent the photo to the Essex Wildlife Trust as they might be interested.

I have another yoga day tomorrow. I am sure it will be enjoyable but I must find time this weekend to finally make a batch of pumpkin soup and also banana bread as I have some brown ones that need using up in some way.

I will squeeze it all in somehow. Trying not to over do it at the moment as I
have felt so tired since I had the lurgy last week. I think I am still fighting it off. So the house might have to have a ‘lick and a promise’ rather than a proper clean. Needs must!

She Passed! Now the Fun Begins

Darling daughter no 1 finally passed her driving test last week after a couple of attempts. She was absolutely thrilled at the independence this will give her.

Tearing-up-L-platesShe already has her car. Her great aunt gave it to her before she went into a home. It is nothing special, but it is small, cheap to run and so far reliable. Her shock came with the cost of the insurance. She shopped around and got what appears to be a decent deal, but it cost £1500!! Such a lot to pay. I have told her she will also need to budget for petrol, car tax, the MOT and any unexpected repair costs. She has nodded in agreement throughout, but whether she will actually take my advice remains to be seen. Something will have to give to enable her to run her car, and it won’t be my housekeeping….

I remember passing my own test, a  million years ago. I ran round the house singing the Grandstand theme (you probably have to be a certain age to know that) and thought I was finally all grown up 🙂 However, I didn’t have to face the crippling costs that youngsters look at today – insurance and petrol were much cheaper and my lovely Dad sorted out my MOT.

She has barely been in the house since she passed, and even went and did the Aldi shop for me the other night as I wasn’t feeling great. So there will be benefits for me: my very own gofer and a bit of peace and quiet at home (until the novelty wears off anyway!).

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?

A River of Red in an Ocean of People!

imageI will just 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!

imageHaving 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.

imageWith 4 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, 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?

 

Wet Wet Wet

Who needs a car park when you can have a lake instead?

Who needs a car park when you can have a lake instead?

Yesterday was a ridiculously wet day here in Essex, with the usual flooded roads and traffic chaos. I had to practically swim through the car park to get into work. Not the best of starts!

As a consequence of all the rain, my laundry is drying all over the house. Fortunately, we invested in a dehumidifier last year and it is brilliant for drying clothes, as well as keeping on top of our condensation problem. This was a great investment at £150 and really doesn’t seem to cost that much to run.

Now that I have no student income meals need to be cheap! Tonight we had tuna pasta bake with salad; quick and cheap.  I just cook pasta and make a white sauce, then  mix it all together with a can of tuna and half a can of sweetcorn, smother it with cheddar and stick it under the grill for a bit.

At the moment I have a niggling cough and sore throat so I am trying to keep the germs at bay. So I am taking big doses of vitamin C, drinking lots of fluids and trying to get some decent sleep. I rarely succumb, but my office is a bit of a germ factory at the moment – everyone seems to be suffering! I will try to talk myself out of it…