Planning a trip to the city

I couldn’t believe it when the alarm went off this morning.  I felt sure I had literally just gone to sleep. I was totally confused! I get up at 6 most mornings as I give my daughter a lift to work and she starts early. If I don’t take her I only have an extra half an hour in bed but it makes a difference to my tiredness levels.

  I had a healthy breakfast of porridge with linseed, honey and blackcurrants to help me wake up.

It is cold today. The beautiful spring weather seems to have disappeared and Carol on the BBC tells me it will be freezing all week  and we could even get wintry showers. Typical English weather!

Mr S is still having a few issues with his back after suffering a prolapsed disc a few months ago. I have been trying to encourage him to do a little more exercise. Yesterday we had a yoga session. He can do general stretching but no strong forward bends and twists. He needs to get fit enough to get back to his aikido class – he is a black belt but hates sitting in the sidelines and wants to get back on the mat. 

My poor old mum has had an operation on her leg, which has unfortunately become infected. She and my dad were due to go to London to see the Carol King musical Beautiful tomorrow but neither of them feel up to it. They had even booked a hotel. So we are going in their places. I am sorry for my parents but they were more concerned the trip would be wasted than they were about  actually going. I have been online to get the cheapest possible rail tickets. I am looking forward to it – what a treat! I shall report back.

Stretching the chicken rations: warming smoky chicken with chickpeas

We had a lazy kind of day today. Up late, big breakfast, a drive for tea and cakes to my parents and then home for dinner. We watched The Durrells on TV as well – I love this and it has brought back happy memories of our holiday to Corfu last year. It is the most beautiful place and I would love to return. One day!
I had a couple of sad looking chicken breasts in the freezer. Not really enough for dinner, so I decided to stretch them with chick peas. I got a few ideas from the Internet, then cobbled this together. You could use ordinary paprika but I think the smoked variety added a lovely depth of flavour. I chucked in a bit of cooked spinach too as it needed using up but it isn’t essential.
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed, with a little salt
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1tsp cumin
1tsp smoked paprika
1tsp turmeric
400g can chick peas
400g can chopped tomatoes
Chicken stock cube
2tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil and sweat the onion and garlic for a few minutes, then add the chicken and spices and fry gently for about 10 minutes. Dissolve the chicken stock in a quarter of a pint of boiling water and add to the pan with the tomatoes. Add the lemon juice and bring to the boil, then tip the chick peas in and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook gently for another 10 minutes to make sure the chicken is cooked through. Serve with rice and bread. It
Serves 4.

Courgette and celery soup  – and beating the rag and bone man

 Last year’s courgette harvest is still feeding us. I am down to the last few bags in the freezer. I thought I would combine them with celery and it made a good combination. If you use frozen courgettes, like me, start with just a litre and a half of stock and add more if you need it. They are quite watery and can make your soup too thin. Here is the recipe I used today:

2 large onions, chopped
5 sticks of celery, sliced
6 tsp of vegetable bouillion power dissolved in 2 litres hot water
2lb courgettes, sliced
4 medium potatoes, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2tbsp oil

Hear the oil and sweat the onions, celery and potatoes for about 5 minutes. Add the courgettes and fry  for a couple minutes more. Pour on the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer with a lid on the pan for about half an hour. Add the soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste, then whizz in a blender.

This makes a large pan and you can put it into old margarine or ice cream containers and freeze for when you need it.

We had to take our student to meet her bus back to France this morning. She seemed to enjoy her week with us. On the way home we spotted a broken wooden garden bench and a heavy cast iron parasol outside our neighbour’s house. The bench seat was broken but the frame seemed sound so we asked if we could have them. They seemed delighted to be rid and they were close enough to Shoestring Cottage for us to walk them home. The bench is little project for Mr S but it won’t need much repair. With a lick of paint it will be perfect in the garden.

An hour or so later we heard the bell of the rag and bone men. We were lucky to have beaten them to it!

Saving pennies every day

I have started freezing my tights – as you do!! Freezing them overnight before you wear them is said to make them last longer. I really can’t say if it has worked yet. Mine tend to last quite a long time anyway as I try to be quite gentle with them and tend to wear the thick lycra kind (I stock up whenever I see a Primark as they are a good price in there – £3.90 for 3 pairs of 80 derniere). Now that the weather is getting better I have moved to thinner ones (5 pairs of ladder resist tights in Primark are even cheaper – only £3), so thought I would try the freezer trick. Nothing like a bit of lycra among the frozen peas to raise a few eyebrows 😀.

  My student is proving very easy to feed. This is good as I can’t stand fussy eaters! She even tried curry and rice last night. I wasn’t sure she would enjoy it as other French students we have had weren’t sure what curry was. I don’t think it is popular in France. She ate the lot with some poppadums but drew the line at the mango chutney. 

To my great relief she has found her way to school and back on the bus. She seems confident and independent for a 12 year old. I really don’t know how I would have coped with having to navigate the bus system in a strange town with very basic language at her age. I would have been quite terrified I am sure. I won’t have such a young student again though – it feels like much more of a responsibility than the older ones I am used to. Still, she is leaving on Saturday and is a nice kid.

I spent a lot more on food this week as the student was coming – more meat and treats like cakes and desserts. Not good for my diet and I have put on 2lb!! Never mind – I will go back to low calorie eating next week. The food I bought should last well into next week anyway so I will just do a small top up shop when I need to.

I am determined to save as much money as I can as I am saving for a new car (new to me anyway – it will of course be second-hand). Every bit of extra money I earn goes into the savings account. I may still have to borrow some but hopefully as little as possible.

I am growing lots of vegetables again this year and have loads of seedlings on the go. This saves me a lot of money in the summer, but it can be a lot of work growing, watering, picking and preserving. I usually feel there aren’t enough hours in the day anyway, but when everything is ready to pick it can feel a bit stressful. It is worth it though, eating some delicious home grown blackcurrants on my porridge or making courgette soup when all outside is barren and cold in the depths of winter. At the moment it is lovely to see the little plants making some progress. I need to start to pot some on at the weekend.

 How is your garden growing? And does anyone else freeze their tights?

Bootstrap cooking

I am trying to eek out this week’s groceries by being creative and using things up. It’s good to do this every now and then as it makes me look properly at what is in my freezer and cupboards and use ingredients that have been hanging about a bit. I am lucky that we still have broccoli, spinach and chard in the garden too so I haven’t had to buy much veg. I did pop out to get milk from the local Co-op yesterday though and picked up parsnips and peppers reduced to half price. I will make a spicy parsnip soup for lunch today.
I don’t have much meat though so we are eating more vegetarian dishes. The other night I made a stew out of pretty much everything we had in the fridge: celery, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, mushrooms, peas and garlic with a tin of tomatoes, brown lentils, dried herbs and some vegetable stock. It was lovely with brown rice and a bit of grated cheese. I do like easy, no fuss dinners when I have been at work all day.

Last night we had some chicken thighs from the freezer in chicken chasseur as I had red wine that was a bit old for drinking but fine for cooking. I always use the recipe from A Girl Called Jack: 100 delicious budget recipes (my affiliate link). This is one of my favourite cook books ever. I have the second one but it doesn’t appeal to me as much. I have also signed up for her third which was crowd funded through Kickstarter. I should receive a signed limited edition copy for my money next month some time. I know Jack has become a vegan on the last few months so it will be interesting to see how this affects the recipes on offer. It wasn’t billed as a vegan cookbook but I don’t mind as lots of meat makes cooking more expensive. It is called Cooking on a Bootstrap.

As with anything related to Jack Monroe there is an interesting story behind the use of crowd funding to get the book out. It will actually come out with a ‘proper’ publisher in 2017. You can read about the saga  at

Off to the garden now as I have more seeds to start for the garden. Happy Sunday!