Not a bad year at Shoestring Cottage…

Fruit of the harvest

Fruit of the harvest

OK, so it’s not original, but I thought it would be interesting to look back over 2014 to see what we have achieved. This is where blogging is such a good hobby – I really enjoyed reviewing what is basically an on-line diary. We have had some trials and tribulations, but nothing that was insurmountable.

Redecoration, complete with new carpet!

Redecoration, complete with new carpet!

I started the year attempting to join in with the 52 projects challenge ( However, that was too ambitious. I simply don’t have time to do a project a week. Just getting the cleaning and shopping done at the end of a working week is challenging enough! In spite of that, we did manage to do a lot in the garden and decorate our awful shabby hallway. Mr Shoestring built a new shed from an old one we got from Freecycle and some scavenged wood, although he did have to buy the materials for the roof. We also had a very productive summer on the veggie patch and are still eating our preserved home grown food.

Shoestring harvest

Shoestring harvest

I started a new yoga class in January which is now going strong and we had several language students to help boost the household income.

Blue skies in Tenerife

Blue skies in Tenerife

We managed two holidays, which was amazing. A week in Tenerife (a first for me – accommodation courtesy of Mr S’s mum) and another in my cousin’s caravan in the Lake District. Completely different but both fantastic and rejuvenating. We also had a day at the Chelsea Flower Show for Mr S’s birthday – I loved that! We went as a family to see the commemorative poppies at the Tower of London and managed to do it before the crowds got too horrendous. It was an amazing spectacle and I am so glad we made the effort.

Poppies and people

Poppies and people

DD3 completed her GCSE’s and had her prom. She looked gorgeous – grown up and sophisticated.

Gorgeous prom girl

Gorgeous prom girl

I decided to give gluten free eating a go. I had spent a long time convincing myself that I didn’t need to, but feel so much better for it. I have had a few disappointing baking experiences though and the bread is horrible, but I can cope.

My new roofer

My new roofer

I spent several months fighting First Utility, who were trying to make me pay thousands of pounds that I didn’t owe them. Fortunately the Ombudsman got involved and decided in my favour. As a result I got a large pay out, which unfortunately was mostly spent on my car! If you look at the picture you will see the issue. We also had a leak into the roof which actually came through my bedroom ceiling. Fortunately Mr S managed to repair it without it costing thousands.

Crumbling car disaster

Crumbling car disaster


Sunflowers at Chelsea

How has your year been? I hope it was happy and healthy and that your finances didn’t buckle under the strain! We are celebrating the New Year with friends and an Indian takeaway tonight. I will be back with my resolutions! Happy New Year and all the best for 2015!

Still got leftovers? How about Turkey with pasta and blue cheese?

imageI thought we had used most of our Christmas leftovers, but then Mr S turned up with a great hunk of cooked turkey breast from his brother! Never one to waste such a gift I decided to adapt a recipe I have had for years and use it with the remaining Stilton and a bit of cream and wine to make a delicious pasta sauce. The original recipe uses fresh chicken breast, Gorgonzola and white wine but it worked just as well with the cooked meat, Stilton and a bit of rose wine that had been hanging around for too long in the fridge. If you are using raw meat, fry it in the oil with the garlic for a bit and then proceed as below.

4oz spinach, chopped (or frozen peas, or par cooked broccoli)
2tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
About 8oz cooked turkey or chicken
14oz dried pasta
4fl oz white wine
7 fl oz cream
4 oz blue cheese

Put your pasta on to boil as per instructions. Heat the oil and gently sweat the garlic then add the veg and fry for a few minutes before tipping on the meat. Warm through then add the cheese cut into cubes, the cream and the wine. Allow it all to bubble away until the cheese has melted and the meat is heated right through. Season to taste then stir into the cooked and drained pasta and serve.

We had ours with some salad that needed eating but it’s nice with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

I found a great little blog via Instagram yesterday which I will be passing into my daughter for inspiration. If you know a young person who needs a kick to start saving, send them to:


Out with the old! Decluttering for the New Year

I know that for many people the holidays are all about spending money in the sales but for us they also seem like the perfect time to have a clear out. Because we have two big sheds at the end of the garden they tend to get filled with a lot of clutter. They had got so bad you couldn’t get to anything. I don’t need clutter! I want my house to be scaled back and well organised.

imageToday was a lovely bright day; perfect for the job. We rolled up our sleeves and prepared to get covered in cobwebs. We had items in there we had forgotten about: an old TV cabinet, a double mattress, ancient portable TVs, various Freeview and DVD players that don’t work but were inexplicably kept just in case, a lawnmower purchased from eBay that never really did the job … You get the picture. Most of it the charity shops wouldn’t even want, so we filled up the car and had two trips to the tip. Luckily it wasn’t busy – sometimes cars are queuing out the door.

imageIt was hugely cathartic even if we were both filthy and starving at the end of it all!

A Girl Called Jack recipe book

Look what my daughter found for me in the charity shop for 99p:


Most of you will have come across Jack’s interesting and unique blog (if you haven’t then take a look:, with its mixture of politics, opinion and nutritious budget recipes. She has her detractors; the usual mix of malicious trolls and others who don’t like the fact that she is no longer a single mum struggling to feed her son on £10 a week, or maybe that she is a mouthy lesbian with the guts to tell the politicians how it is. Her intelligent, inspiring and, above all, honest blog has led to a book deal (she is on her second), an appearance in an advert for Sainsbury’s, a regular column in the Guardian and various interviews in the media.

As a fellow Essex girl, I wish Jack well. I think she is great and I hope she is allowed to continue to be successful without too much of a backlash.

Some of the recipes look pretty good too. I will definitely be trying her sausage and lentil one pot dinner, diet coke chicken, easy chicken satay and fishy cakes. I will report back!


Keep it simple and save your wallet

So, you have eaten the turkey and probably have mounds of leftovers. Hopefully, being frugal in your habits, you will be freezing them or creating new meals (turkey and veg soup anyone? Curry?) rather than consigning them to the bin. We didn’t have too many leftovers, apart from meat and salad, so that’s what we will be eating for the next few days. I don’t mind the same thing, but will vary it by chopping up the ham in a creamy sauce with pasta and salad, making a vegetable gratin and serving that with some of the 5 bird roast (which was delicious by the way with its cranberry glaze).

As I feared, the gluten free Christmas pudding was not a success. Fortunately I bought a mini one from the Coop’s Free From range and it was lovely with a Tesco gluten free mince pie.

Still, it was, as ever, an expensive time. The belt needs tightening, although I can barely fit it round my middle at the moment with all the food I have eaten! I will be buying only what we need and nothing more.

I want to simplify my life and buy as little as possible; to use up everything I have in the way of food, toiletries and cleaning products before I buy any more and then only buy what I need and will use.

imageOn this train of thought, I was having a chat with  my daughters about the products people buy that they don’t really need and were only invented in the last few years by marketing folk to make a quick buck. Our grannies managed perfectly well without most of them. A lot of them seem to have appeared in the last 20 years. This is what we came up with. If it was down to me I wouldn’t buy any of them, but my daughters have other ideas…

Beauty products:

Face wipes
Handwash (what’s wrong with a bar of soap?)
Shave cream/gel (see comment above)
Shower gel (ditto the handwash comment)
Face primer (what?)
Moisturiser containing real gold (uh?) or sold using dubious pseudo scientific claims
Cellulite creams/body firmers – for the seriously optimistic
Skin toner (a bit of water on a cloth does the trick)
Eye/neck cream (skin is skin, surely?)
Bubble bath
Baby wipes

Household products
Cleaning wipes
Fabric softener (a cup of white vinegar does the trick)
Ironing water
Air fresheners, especially the plug in variety (how do a load of chemicals bring you fresh air?)
Tumble dryer sheets
Washing machine/dishwasher cleaners (how dirty can they get? I just flush mine through on a hot wash with a couple of cups of white vinegar every now and again)
8 different cleaners for different rooms in the house. Surely a spray that cleans the bathroom sink could also clean the kitchen sink?)

So a resolution: to keep things simple and buy only what I need and will use. It’s early for New Year resolutions, but why wait until then? What are yours, and what are you doing with your Christmas leftovers?

Happy Christmas!

If you’re not ready now, you never will be. The presents are wrapped, the meat’s defrosting, a ham is boiling up in a bottle of cola (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) and we have settled into a relaxed heap surrounded by nuts, dates, chocolates and a little liquid something to make us all merry!

Have a great time all!


Ready to party?

It’s my last day at work today. I am girding my loins for a trip to the supermarket tomorrow to get my last minute veg and salads for Christmas. I am not looking forward to it! I did consider going tonight after work,  but I doubt I will be able to get in Aldi’s car park at 5.30. I could go later as they are open until 10, but I am worried they might have run out of things that I need.

I also have to make the chocolate brownies to take to my sister’s on Boxing Day. We are having a whole clan gathering – even my nephew is coming from Thailand – and there will be 19 of us. Fantastic! Total chaos!

I have news that I am getting a language student for a couple of weeks at the end of January which is unusual.  This should help me kick start my New Year financial resolutions so is good news. Let’s hope there will be lots more to follow!

How are your last minute christmas preparations coming along?

Everybody needs a Mr Shoestring!

King of the world!

King of the world!


Poor Mr S is in an exhausted heap on the sofa. I think the week up on the roof in the cold wind sorting out the leaks has taken its toll. It was in a pretty poor state. I guess the whole thing will need serious work at some point, but this repair should last a few years.

There were some serious holes. On one side all of the concrete seal where the roof meets the gully had perished and some of the tiles had slipped and were broken.

imageimageHe had to drive round Essex to source tiles to match, get the scaffold up, clean all the moss and broken concrete off, cut the tiles and fit them, then concrete them into place. Not to mention running up and down the ladder and having to conquer his fear that he might fall off or go through the roof! What a hero!

All sealed up and water tight

All sealed up and water tight

He had a good view of the garden while he was up there too.

It has rained a couple of times in the last few days and no leaks!!



Fabulous Easy Fruit Cake

Thanks for all the comments on gluten free baking yesterday. I have had much more success with my baking today!

Today I made my favourite easy fruit cake. I make it about once a month. As suggested by Kate in the comments yesterday, to make it gluten free I substituted the wheat flour for 75% Dove’s Farm self raising and 25% ground almonds. I also added 1 fl oz more milk as I have read that GF flour can take more liquid than the regular stuff. The recipe was given to me about 15 years ago, and I have it stuck to the front of one of my baking books. It was a huge success in its gluten free form – as you can see, several pieces had gone before I even got round to taking the photo!

easy fruit cakeHere is the recipe, in old money so apologies to those of you who are strictly metric:

8 oz self raising flour or 6 oz GF self raising with 2 oz ground almonds
1 tsp mixed spice
5 oz brown sugar
2 eggs
5 oz butter or margarine
12oz dried mixed fruit
4 fl oz milk, or 5 if using GF flour

Gas mark 2/150C for 1 1/4 hours (check after an hour as you don’t want to over cook it)

Grease and line an 8 inch round cake tin.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat well until mixed.
Place the mixture in the tin and smotth the top.
Cook until firm.

This easy fruit cake couldn’t be simpler and is fail safe as long as you don’t cook it too high.

Not a total disaster

I also discovered that yesterday’s cheese muffins weren’t quite the disaster I thought they were. When they were hot, the feta tasted awful – really overwhelming. This morning, tasting one cold, they were much nicer. The recipe suggested refreshing them in the microwave for 30 seconds before eating, so I tried that and my muffin was really quite good. Better for lunch with some soup or a salad than the dry GF rolls I have been buying in the supermarket. I have frozen them in batches of six to take to work and left some out to eat over the weekend.

Mr Shoestring and his brother spent much of the day on the roof finishing off. They have done a splendid job. The roof now appears to be completely water tight and cost about £200, rather than the £1500 we feared a roofer would charge us.

Greek Salad

We had the work Christmas buffet today. Everybody takes a contribution  and it is always a fantastic spread, with leftovers to last a few days as well. Money seems to be getting sucked continuously out of my purse at the moment with all the Christmas celebrations. I wanted to take something health and gluten free that wouldn’t break the bank.

There are always lots of carbohydrate at these events – sausage rolls, sandwiches, pork pies, crisps, etc – so I thought a Greek salad would be welcome. It was very easy to make last night and the ingredients weren’t expensive. I bought them from Sainsbury’s last night on the way home from work and the salad cost £3.50 not including the dressing.

greek saladI used:

1 med cos lettuce, £1
half a cucumber, cubed, 25p
Half a pack of cherry tomatoes (about 150g), halved, 50p
half a bunch of spring onions, chopped, 30p
1 pack of Sainsburys Basics feta cheese, cubed, 85p
A small jar of black olives, 60p

From the store cupboard for the vinaigrette I used 3 tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and salt and pepper.

Combine all of the salad ingredients. Mix the oil, vinegar and mustard together in a jug and add seasoning to taste. Pour over the salad just before serving and mix well.

It went down a treat! The feta – cheap because it is made with cow’s milk so isn’t the genuine stuff – is just as good as the real thing at about a third of the price.

I took mine in a lovely big ceramic bowl that I bought recently in my favourite charity shop for £1.50.