Monthly Archives: November 2014

It never rains but it pours

imageWe were slightly alarmed when we went to bed last night to discover the ceiling was looking a bit bowed and a small hole had appeared in the plaster. We had  a leak last winter in the same place so the ceilng is far from perfect, but now I think it may need to come down all together. First things first though: we needed to find out where the water actually coming from. We had a look and a couple of the roof joists were very wet, with one looking a bit rotten at the bottom.

No need to hang out the bunting!

No need to hang out the bunting!

When Mr S pulled back the fibre glass insulation we found the plasterboard underneath was soaked and could see through the little hole into the bedroom!

We share this bit of roof with our neighbour. It has leaked in the past at the part where the two roofs join. His is in quite poor condition, he has grass growing in his guttering and a huge hole in one of the soffits at the base of the tiles. We are pretty sure this is making a contribution to our issues but it’s hard to prove this at the moment as we can’t tell exactly where the water is coming in. It appears to be a gentle trickle over time – if it came in a big rush when it rained we would be able to just repair it.

He has now promised to get scaffolding up in the next few weeks and replace his soffits and guttering and whilst he is there check out the whole roof. He is a builder and a decent chap and neighbour so it will happen at some point, but we know from experience that he moves at his own pace!  Let’s hope we don’t have too much rain in the meantime and that it doesn’t cost much to fix!

When it is sorted we will have to budget to get the ceiling repaired or I can see it falling on us as we sleep.

Pesky bind weed!

Pesky bind weed!

I managed to spend a couple of hours in the garden digging over my sorely neglected flower beds. The flipping bind weed well and truly set in this summer and I didn’t find enough time to keep it at bay. I cleared a  small area and dug it over twice to remove as many roots as I could see. Evil stuff. I think I may have to resort to chemicals if I can’t get rid of it all. There is lots more to do. It was nice to get a bit of fresh air and sunshine anyway for a change.

Stir it up Saturday!

Ready to go

Ready to go

Today I have made my first ever Christmas pudding! I have never bothered before because I have either been given them or bought them very reasonably from Aldi.  However, this year, as I am now eating gluten free, I thought I would make my own. I have used the recipe from the Dove’s Farm website:

Stir it up!

Stir it up!

It is also dairy and egg free. It smells lovely, but I will have to wait until I eat it on the day to know whether it has been a success or not. I had to beg the pudding basin from Mr Shoestring’s mum first thing as I realised I didn’t possess one the right size. I didn’t want to buy one specially or that would start to make it a very expensive pudding, but I will keep an eye out for one when I peruse the charity shops and boot sales between now and next year.

Ready to be covered and steamed for 5 hours...

Ready to be covered and steamed for 5 hours…

I also made a massive pot of soup with some of the courgettes out of the freezer. Instead of adding potatoes I bulked it out with a packet of vegetable savoury rice I got a while back from Approved Foods.  It was just a chopped onion, 4 chopped celery sticks, a huge bag of courgettes (about 6 I would say), 3 pints of veggie stock, some left over mashed potato and seasoning, with a packet of vegetable savoury rice to thicken it. If I hadn’t used that I would have added 3 medium spuds. It was delicious and will be perfect for some of our lunches at work next week. I am struggling with gluten free bread so no longer take sandwiches to work. It is just not that nice!! Instead I have been taking soup or a salad with rice or oat cakes. This is quite satisfying, but it does mean I need to be organised in advance. Anyone else been cooking today?

veg soup with rice

Give it all you’ve got! An inspiring story

I absolutely loved the Paralympics during London 2012. Those athletes showed what can be achieved despite sometimes severe disabilities, and were fantastic examples of strength of mind and the ability of the human spirit to shine through in the face of adversity. We could all learn something from their determination not to let a disability be the end of their lives or to stop them achieving great things.

Steve BrownI was lucky enough to hear the captain of the British wheelchair rugby team, Steve Brown, speak at my daughter’s GCSE certificate presentation last night. Here was a man who had it all, a lovely girlfriend, good health and a fabulous career in the South of France, which ended in an instant when he fell from a balcony and broke his neck in 2005. The fall left him completely paralysed from his chest down and with only partial control of his arms and hands. He had always loved sport and it turned out to be his salvation when he was introduced to wheelchair rugby whilst still recuperating from his injuries in Stoke Mandeville hospital. He told us how he was afraid to even leave the hospital in his wheelchair when his family first suggested he go and watch it – he didn’t want people to see him and feel sorry for him. When he finally plucked up the courage he didn’t see people feeling sorry for themselves because of their disabilities; they weren’t beaten by their misfortune. Instead they were fast and furious, brave and determined. (If you have never seen a game, check it out on You Tube – it is absolutely terrifying!) He began to play and found he was rather good at it. He trained obsessively and worked his way into the GB team as captain, ready for London 2012. As well as playing wheelchair rugby he commentates for Sky Sports and is a motivational speaker.

Steve brown 2It was really inspiring to hear his story. I hope the pupils were inspired as well. Life doesn’t always work out the way we would like it to but we can all make the best of what we have, count our blessings and accept our misfortunes.
You can read more about Steve on his website:

It reminded me of the bit of paper I have blue tacked to my PC at work, and to look at it and reflect on it a bit more often:

3 choices

Beating the winter blues

Winter has well and truly set in here in Essex. The past two days have seen grey skies, fog and lots of rain. I have decided I have to take lots of small steps to stop the winter blues setting in.

Seeing some daylight is important. I work 5 days a week in an office with tinted glass. It is dark by the time I leave. So I make a point of walking for at least 15 minutes in my lunch break, as long as the weather isn’t too awful. It makes a big difference to my mental health.

The second must is a regular yoga practice, but really any exercise will do to get the endorphins pumping and to release some tension.

Finally keeping healthy by eating a good and nutritious diet is essential for me. Lots of fruit and veg and a decent breakfast each day. I like to have fruit and porridge as this is a cheap and healthy option that I can prepare very quickly in the microwave before I leave for work.

So far this approach seems to be keeping the winter blues at bay. Do you hate winter? What are your tips to get you through to spring?

Dreams of a camper van …

I very rarely go into town but yesterday I had to go and get my passport photos done.  I am hoping to go somewhere next year, no idea where yet and it will need to be cheap – maybe camping in France – but I don’t want a last minute scrabble to renew my passport.

imageI had a quick look around the shops and charity shops but didn’t find much. Then I went into New Look and found some short boots reduced from £35 to £17. I needed some new ones as my others, inherited from DD3, have developed a hole and are looking a bit the worse for wear. Bargain! I am very happy with them and they are pretty comfortable too.

I spent an hour yesterday looking through my pension paperwork. I have 4 different pots, all public sector pensions. We are thinking about releasing 25% when I am 55 to pay off the mortgage and buy a little camper van. This has been my dream for as long as I can remember. I will still have a decent pension pot but this will help us now. It’s only 3 years away!!

This will do ...

This will do …

I just want to travel; it’s what I enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to be abroad as there are lots of places in the uk we want to explore. So that’s the dream. Wouldn’t it be great to make it a reality!

Not a complete disaster!!

Yesterday I blogged about my attempt at making a gluten free chocolate cake. It all went a bit wonky as my oven shelf tipped as I put the cakes in and I didn’t notice. This meant they were fat one end and thin and biscuit like at the other end. Undeterred, I took them out of the tins and sandwiched them together with chocolate spread.

Not a beautiful cake, but an edible one....

Not a beautiful cake, but an edible one….

Well, this cake doesn’t look pretty, that’s for sure! It is rather crumbly at the edges and completely uneven. However, it does actually taste quite acceptable. Me and DD3 each had a piece. But cake should be scrumptious and delicious, not just acceptable. It has a nice light texture, but is missing something. I think I will attempt it again but this time, instead of adding cocoa powder, I will melt some actual chocolate and mix that in. Hopefully that will solve the crumbling issue and make it taste richer. If that works I might go the whole hog and whip up some cream to add to the filling. I think I need to experiment a lot more!

I used the Dove Farm flour that I bought in Sainsbury’s the other day. The recipe for the chocolate cake was on the packet. The only thing I added was some Xanthan gum, since I had it and it is supposed to make gluten free cakes lighter.

It is going to be trial and error but hopefully I can find some decent recipes for the basics over time.

I had to go to a meeting in Chelmsford today. I knew there would be biscuits which I wouldn’t be able to eat so I bought a gluten free seed bar on the way in. I thought it might be fit for the birds, but actually it was lovely as well as healthy. I will buy one again! If you see these and want a healthy treat, give one a try!

Sadly imperfect in every way!!

I wish I was one of those bloggers (or even one of those humans!) who showed fabulous pictures of all my wonderful creations every day….I had hoped to post a pic of a passable gluten free chocolate sponge today. However, for some reason my oven shelf was on the wonk and I didn’t notice, so the mixture all tipped to one end of the tins! This means it is a big fat cake at one end and a thin biscuit at the other. Oh well, hopefully by the time I have iced the thing it will taste nice. I will give you an update tomorrow (and possibly a recipe if it tastes good. Don’t hold  your breath; I am new to this gluten free baking lark!).

sweet potato pie 2We did have a nice dinner though. I am really enjoying sweet potatoes right now. They are very reasonable in Aldi and very good for you. Last night I made a big bolognese sauce for tea. I deliberately made too much and padded it out with vegetables and tomatoes so that I could use half of it for a cottage pie tonight. It was just beef mince cooked up with onions, garlic, celery, a green pepper, tinned tomatoes, herbs and some stock. Yesterday we ate it with gluten free pasta. Tonight I topped it with mashed sweet potatoes and a little grated cheese, baked in the oven for 25 minutes and served with sprouts and carrots. Quite a few of our 5 a day in that little lot.

sweet potato pie

As you know, I like my food straightforward, nutritious and quick to prepare after work. This kind of thing fits the bill perfectly. What are your quick and easy dinners?

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Well, me, obviously! I am not driven by money, but it would be so nice to have a bit more.

The BBC news the other morning was discussing the probability of winning the UK lottery and said we were more likely to be hit by an asteroid. I am sure the chances are minute. The only reason I play the lottery is because I belong to a syndicate at work. I couldn’t face them winning and skipping off to their yachts and leaving me behind!!

Back in the real world, because I know my chances of winning the lottery are so small I will keep focussing on my budget. I know what I want to achieve over and above ‘just getting by’. I need to get the new woodburner installed so that will be an expense and I am first saving for that. Then I will start saving to get the electrics done in the house – the lights and power sockets in some parts need a lot of work and I have had an estimate for £1200.

But I still want a holiday if possible. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I am more than happy to camp but Mr S is not keen. This is because the last time we did it, in Dorset, we came back to find our tent, pitched on a hill for a splendid sea view, was about to take off. A kind fellow camper was hanging on to it for us! Honestly, some folk are so easily discouraged! We will see 🙂 my lottery numbers might still come up…



The joys of being a weekend gardener, going gluten free, and a bit of charity shopping

Feeling quite tired today – I went to bed late and woke up early. It was foggy and cold first thing and has been wet all day. I have a lot to do in the garden, so was hoping for a nice sunny Autumnal day. As it was, I ended up digging over one of the vegetable plots in the rain! I want to do some work on the first part of my garden, which consists of flower beds and grass. The bed on the right hand side suffers from the many trees along the neighbour’s boundary. It still sees a lot of sun but plants often fail to thrive because the trees suck all of the moisture up. I have decided to make it a dry garden, so I need to move a lot of the plants over to the left hand bed. I can’t do that until I have expanded that bed though as there is no room!! It is hard to be a weekend gardener at the mercy of the British weather. I will get there though, a little at a time.

I have had an easy cooking day today as there were plenty of leftovers for our lunches and my dinner tonight (the girls have gone out) from my dinner party yesterday.

I have been eating gluten free for a week and I have to say I am feeling a whole lot better for it. I already have to avoid lactose (thank goodness for Lactofree products, which make this easy), but gluten is a whole new ball game. It seems most of the women in my family suffer from IBS and it seems mainly to be aggravated by various food intolerances. These are annoying when you are trying to get by on a budget. Lactofree milk is much dearer than Aldi’s own, and gluten free bread is extortionate. I don’t like it much, but the Sainsbury’s Free From rolls aren’t bad, so I have been having those with my lunch at work, or some GF crackers. When I have time I will experiment with making some bread, but for now I am sticking with baking cakes, as this is much more fun and seems rather easier. The pavlova I made for last night’s dinner was gluten free – an easy win – and I also baked some passable chocolate brownies.

I have been advised that Dove’s Farm is the best GF flour to use, so I will get some when I next pass the supermarket.



One of our dinners this week were these delicious field mushrooms (69p for three at Aldi at the moment) stuffed very simply with bacon and cheese. They were delicious and that was a very easy GF dinner. I must try to pop in there again this week for some more.

...magic mushrooms

…magic mushrooms

I picked up a GF baking book in the charity shop the other week. It seems rather complicated, with various flours being used. I will maybe keep things simple and try substituting the Dove’s Farm flour in the usual recipes I like.

I discovered that there is a very good charity shop down the road from me the other day. It is actually a collection centre for Barnardo’s, but has a small shop at the front, and it sells all the clothes for 99p! It is even open on a Sunday, so is perfect for me. A couple of weeks ago I bought 5 items and they were all in great condition and fitted well. Today I went back with my daughters  and found a nice black coat plus another top. The coat is obviously well used but it still has lots of wear, and is the kind of style I like. For 99p how could I not get it? The girls spent about a fiver each as well, not that they need any more clothes. Their wardrobes are heaving!

Low Cost Dinner Party

I see a group of girlfriends every few months – we go out for dinner or cook for each other. This time it is my turn to cook. They are a discerning bunch and always produce something delicious and, quite often, expensive. That wasn’t an option for me, so I have been mulling over what to cook that will impress without breaking the bank.

I decided on:
Tomato and basil soup (using a combination of the home grown tomatoes that I roasted and froze a few months ago, tinned tomatoes, and basil that I bought in a pot ages ago and repotted. It has been growing on the kitchen window sill ever since. I had all of the ingredients for this.

imageMaple roasted chicken with roast potatoes, mashed sweet potato and cabbage (recipe below).

Pavlova with whipped cream and fruit

I got the chicken recipe from an old Waitrose booklet. It is meant to be cooked in the slow cooker, but the bird I have bought is too big for mine, so I am going to slow roast it in the oven.

Serves 6
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C
1.8-2kg whole chicken
The finely grated zest and the juice of an orange (save the shells)
4 tbsp Maple syrup
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary (I have this in the garden)

I only had to buy the chicken and the orange as everything else was in the storecupboard.

Place the chicken on a baking tray and push the orange shells into the cavity of the chicken. Beat the syrup, mustard, orange zest and juice together and pour over the chicken. Make slits in the chicken and push the garlic into them, then tuck the rosemary in around the legs and wings. Cover with foil and cook on a very low oven for 4 hours, or until the juices run clear.

If you want to use your slow cooker, do exactly the same thing but cook on high for 6 hours.

I have also bought a bottle of Aldi Prosecco, which was on offer for £5.99 this morning, and I won a bottle of sweet dessert wine in the Children in Need raffle at work yesterday so I will serve that with the pavlova. The girls will all bring wine too, so let the party commence!

Have a good night, whatever you are doing.