Could you survive on food bank rations?

I have organised a big collection of donations for the local food bank at work and, as usual, my colleagues have shown great generosity. I just hope that it helps some needy families out over the festive period. Being so poor you have to rely on this kind of charity to feed yourself and your family, especially when you live in a rich country like the UK, must be soul destroying. At Christmas, when there is so much waste and excess, it is too terrible to contemplate. I hope I never experience it first hand.

The food bank requested the following items:

Milk (UHT or powdered), sugar, fruit juice, soup, pasta sauce, sponge pudding, tomatoes, cereal, rice pudding, teabags, coffee, instant mash potatoes, rice, pasta, tinned meat/fish, tinned beg, tinned fruit, jam, biscuits and snack bars. 

This got me thinking. What would I make with these ingredients? I would really need some onions, garlic, stock cubes, cheddar cheese and  dried mixed herbs to make some tasty dinners. I would hope their would be some beans amongst the tinned veg for some good protein. 

Risotto would be a good choice with chopped onions, some canned veg such as sweet corn and tomatoes. If I had canned tuna or beans I would add some of those too. Tuna or vegetable pasta bake with the pasta sauce or tomatoes would be a good option too with a little grated cheese on top. I could make a hash with corned beef but I would need real potatoes rather than instant I think. The addition of some pulses with the veg and some stock could make a warming hearty soup. Spam or corned beef fritters anyone? I haven’t had those since school but they weren’t too bad! I might make a mix of beans and veg and top with some instant mash for a kind of veggie shepherds pie, or make veggie curry and rice if I had some curry powder. I love tinned fish! If I was lucky enough to have sardines or mackerel in my bag I would be tempted to eat this as a simple but nutritious meal on toast, or mixed with a few chilli flakes, tomatoes and garlic to make a kind of Mediterranean sardines with spaghetti. Mac cheese with the powdered milk would be nice too.

It is possible to make your food bank food taste ok I guess but you still wouldn’t have much of it. I am grateful I have enough this Christmas.

What would you cook from food bank rations? Have you ever had to?

Make do and mend: Love Christmas, Hate Waste


A Christmas wreath made from old magazines

I was exploring the Essex County Council website today and ended up on the Recycle for Essex site. Here you can find some excellent advice on reducing waste and lots of ideas on how to be creative with waste generally rather than dumping it. I love this make do and mend mentality.

Christmas crafts

There are some brilliant Christmas craft ideas. I like these gift bows made from old magazines.

You can also make gift bags from newspapers, a wreath from sweet wrappers or magazines, loads of decorations from CDs plus there are useful links to other wastes for more inspiration.


An old CD becomes Santa

There is a link to the Love a Food Hate Waste website too, which is a great site. There are lots of ideas for using up your Christmas leftovers, from Christmas pudding ice cream to Stilton, ham and Brussels sprout tart! I bet that is nicer than it sounds 😊.

You don’t need to live in Essex to find some inspiration for reducing your waste this Christmas. Check it out!

Make do and mend

I have been enjoying a blog called recently. Jen Gale has an interesting perspective on using less and wasting less which I agree with. She has had a lot of attention from the media of late too, with a piece in the dreaded Daily Mail about avoiding the rampant consumerism of Christmas and making it more simple. You can read it here. She and her family spent a whole year buying nothing. They went for a make do and mend approach, then carried on when the year was over. She is a very inspiring person with a refreshing view on life.

What are your tips for reducing, reusing and recycling this Christmas? Do you make do and mend? Are you trying to make it more simple and meaningful?

The week at Shoestring Cottage – catching up with myself

Well, the week has got away with me. I have no idea where it went, it was just one busy Christmas blur. And we still have almost two weeks to go!

I feel more on top of Christmas now. I have done most of my gift and food shopping, written my cards and started wrapping up the presents. I have begun having odd dreams  that suggest I still don’t quite believe I have control, however. Last night I dreamed I had somehow left the turkey out of the freezer and it was sitting in a bag under the tree, completely defrosted! We aren’t actually having turkey so I should feel reassured….

Christmas is here (and the cat doesn’t care)!

Putting up the tree

Yesterday we decided to risk putting the tree up. I didn’t think it would last two minutes with the kitten but, to my surprise, although she was fascinated, once it was up she appeared to lose interest. The two year old tortoiseshell, Lola, gave the bottom branches a chew then also decided there were better things to attack. I got up and went to check this morning and the tree has survived the night!

Our student goes back to Angola on Friday. It will be nice to have the house to ourselves again but I will most certainly miss the income. Belts will need severe tightening until I get another and there is nothing on the cards at the moment.

Thrift soup

In the spirit of frugality I already have some stock on and will make some more thrift soup later (if you are wondering what that is see here). I have given most of the last batch to Mr Shoestring’s mum as she has the flu and doesn’t feel like eating too much at the moment. I also have lots of bananas that appeared to go from green to overripe in a day. I think this happens when they are stored at too low a temperature. I am thinking of making some of Jack Monroe’s  Peanut butter and banana muffins as they look pretty wholesome and perhaps also some banana bread for the freezer.

Back problems

Speaking of Mr S, he has been struggling with severe back pain for a few months now and an MRI scan has revealed a ruptured disc and degenerative disc disease. We were both shocked by this. He is one of the fittest and most active people I know. So no lifting or strenuous activities for him at the moment.

The physio has given him some basic back bends to focus on to get the disc back in place. Forward bends and twisting movements are likely to push it further outwards where it hits the nerve and causes the pain. We will also be taking regular walks and when he is a bit better doing some gentle yoga and Pilates to strengthen his core. I had a good chat to the physio. As a yoga teacher I am interested by exercise as therapy and how the body works. I would love to have the money to train in this area.

Demi vegetarian

I found myself in complete agreement with Arnold Schwarzenegger this week – now, that’s a sentence I never thought I would type. He said that we should all eat less meat for the sake of the planet. He didn’t think many people would sign up to becoming vegetarian, but he did feel that they would support perhaps two meat free days a week.

This is a good approach for the money saver too as meat is expensive. I tend to take this approach as my family do not want to stop eating meat but aren’t averse to the occasional veggie dish and we eat a lot of ‘ just a little meat’ type recipes where the meat is  a minor ingredient and there to stop them feeling deprived and to add flavour – a bit of bacon in a pasta bake for example.

I hope you are in control of Christmas and not getting stressed. I am off to do my yoga practice now to keep the turkey nightmares at bay 🙂

Home made cosmetics from the larder

Can you use simple, home made cosmetics to save money? Or use items that you keep in the larder? A recent blog post about budget beauty led to a suggestion from Lizziedolittle that almond oil made a great cheap cleanser and moisturiser. On investigation it appears this is true. You can spend quite a bit on it if you buy almond oil packaged for this purpose, or you can get a small bottle for cooking much more cheaply and splash that on instead – it is just a couple of pounds in Sainsbury’s. If it’s good enough for eating then it’s good enough to use on your face, surely?

 home made cosmeticsPerusing the larder for home made cosmetics

It got me thinking about what other cosmetics you can make cheaply at home rather than splashing the cash in the shops and I have come up with the following. I haven’t tried them all, so it would be great to hear if you use any. I am thinking here about speed and simplicity.

It is possible to make all sorts of fabulous and luscious home made cosmetics such as bath bombs, soaps and body butters. I used to make beautiful soap before I started working full time, but I want to explore the quick and the cheap! Scouring the internet I found the following, some of which I have tried, some I use regularly and others are completely untested, by me anyway.

Instead of buying shoe deodoriser, sprinkle bicarbonate of soda in your footwear, leave overnight, then just tip out the excess before you wear them.

Dip your toothbrush into bicarbonate of soda and brush, or dissolve a teaspoon in a glass of water and use as a mouthwash. You can make proper toothpaste from bicarbonate of soda  too and there are lots of recipes out there.

The power of porridge

Oatmeal and water makes a quick hand scrub for when you have been gardening and it leaves your hands soft too.

Oatmeal also makes a nice face mask. Mix about quarter of a cup of instant oats with 2 teaspoons of runny honey. Leave 5-10 minutes then rinse.

Cold used teabags or cucumber slices really can reduce dark shadows under your eyes! Just leave on for 10 minutes whilst you relax then rinse and moisturise.

Lemon juice acts as a bleach. If you want a few lighter streaks in your hair try this on a sunny day. Mix a cup of lemon juice with quarter of a cup of water in an old spray bottle. Spritz you hair all over then sit in the sun for a couple of hours. Rinse off and repeat weekly. You will need to do it a few times before you notice the difference.

Hot oil treatment for dry hair: wash and towel dry your hair first. Warm some olive oil very gently in a pan. You want it warm, not hot! Rub it all over your hair from roots to ends then wrap in a warm towel. Leave for 15 minutes. Then wash your hair and dry normally. You can repeat this once a month. This would work well with almond oil too.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to home made cosmetics from the larder. Now I am wondering why I buy any commercial products when they are expensive and full of chemicals! What are your top tips for making natural beauty products?

If you can’t say something nice…

I have always felt it is energising and uplifting to be around positive people. If you are feeling low or uninspired seeing someone making the best of things, not allowing set backs to leave them defeated, and accepting situations they don’t like but can’t change rather than constantly complaining about them does inspire similar positivity in those around them. 

I try to be generally positive but sometimes it fails me and I find myself bitching and moaning about my situation, usually work connected. If it makes me feel better to do this that feeling doesn’t last, so I need to take some deep breaths, maybe have a walk and get myself into a more positive frame of mind. I think of myself as a cup-half-full person for sure, so I can usually snap out of it quite quickly. 

The other side of the coin is that sometimes work forces you into a situation where you have to spend a lot of time with very negative people. In your personal life you can choose to avoid the moaners and the pessimists. So, how to deal with a work arrangement where that isn’t possible? 

I work quite closely with someone who appears to find offence in almost anything anybody says that doesn’t entirely agree with her view of the world. She will tell a story and give it such a negative slant it is like a different version of everyone else’s reality, a parallel version of the universe in which everybody is out to make her life difficult. She has on numerous occasions accused a colleague or customer of saying or doing things that simply aren’t true. She isn’t lying exactly; it is as if she has twisted events in her mind to the point where she believes her version even when people around her are telling her otherwise. 

I have learned I can’t change her, so I avoid her as much as I can and try to avoid getting dragged into the pettiness. Nevertheless, it is wearing a bit thin!

I feel like turning into my mum and saying ‘if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all!’

How would you deal with someone like this? How do you shield yourself from life’s moaners and avoid turning into one yourself?