Cheesy Mushroom Lentil Cottage Pie

On with the veggie fest! This cheesy mushroom lentil cottage pie is an old vegetarian favourite. Easy to make, healthy and tasty.

mushroom lentil cottage pieIngredients

Serves 4

1 tbsp veg oil and 1 heaped tsp butter
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
250g red lentils
250g mushrooms
2 tbsp tomato puree
1.5 pints of veg stock (I used 2 stock cubes)
1 sachet bouquet garni
1tbsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce

1 kg potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed with a little butter and milk
100g grated cheddar

mushroom lentil cottage pie


Heat the oil and butter together gently and cook the onion, celery, garlic and mushrooms until soft. Add the lentils, stock and tomato puree with the bouquet garni. Bring to the boil then simmer with the lid on for around 20 minutes, stirring every now and then. Keep an eye on this mixture and add a little more stock if necessary.

When the lentils are soft, remove the bouquet garni sachet and season with salt, pepper and the Worcestershire sauce to taste. Put in a suitable oven proof container and top with the mash, then the cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at gas mark 4, 180 degrees until browned on top.

We had this cheesy mushroom lentil cottage pie with some  frozen broccoli and gravy. It was delicious!

You can find more of my favourite frugal recipes here.


Ratatouille: quick and easy vegetarian

imageI don’t usually make ratatouille out of courgette season. In the summer I always have a glut so it regularly appears on my meal plans. However, they were very reasonably priced in Aldi and they also had some delicious looking red peppers. It had to be added to my meal plan! It is lovely served with rice or pasta and topped with grated cheddar. Healthy, yummy and still good value. I vary this and never use a recipe; however this is roughly what I include this time. Sometimes I chuck in an aubergine too.

Easy ratatouille


Serves 6-8

4 medium courgettes, sliced
2 onions, chopped (as I had red and white I used one of each)
3 fat cloves of garlic
2 chopped peppers – I used one green and one red
2 tbsp olive oil
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried basil
1 vegetable stock cube


Heat the oil and sweat the onions and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. Add the courgettes and peppers for a further five minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and add the crumbled stock cube. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes and serve.

I had this with spaghetti one night whilst Mr S had Bolognese. Then we had it again the following day with nut cutlets. Ratatouille is quick, cheap and easy.  It freezes pretty well too, if you do happen to have any leftovers.

For more frugal recipes see my page here.

Why you Should Make a Meal of Leftovers

LeftoversI was shattered when I got home from work yesterday, so I was happy to have a quick and easy dinner planned. Jacket potatoes with leftovers from the freezer; in this case some bolognese sauce and/or beef casserole. It may sound an odd combination but it was filling and tasty. A can of Smart Price sweetcorn ensured at least one of our five a day. With a little planning it is so easy to make a meal of leftovers.

How to make a meal of leftovers

I rarely throw food away. Even small amounts of mash or veg can be frozen to use to thicken soups and stews. Wrinkled apples make an excellent puree to mix with yogurt or serve with custard. Bread pudding is better made with stale bread (and I use the crusts). I also whizz up slightly stale bread into breadcrumbs and leave a bag in the freezer – you never know when you might need these. If yogurts are getting near their use by date I freeze them – when the kids were small I would put a lolly stick in the bottom of small fromage frais pots for a treat on a warm day. If I roast a chicken I usually deliberately get a larger one than I need and turn the excess into curry or make a creamy chicken pasta sauce. The carcass goes back into the freezer and when I have a couple I make stock.

Ignore best before dates

I ignore best before dates (and frequently buy from Approved Food, which sells food near or past its best before date at a hugely reduced price. In addition, I use my eyes and nose before chucking anything out that has a use by date. If you use my referral link I will earn a small commission.

I shop with a list and always have at least a week’s meal plans, so I don’t buy food that won’t be used. I do a regular stock take of my fridge, freezer and larder to see what needs using up, then plan meals around what is there. If I am working late, my plan will take that into account and I will either throw a meal together in the slow cooker or defrost something from the freezer. This way I am never tempted to get a take away when I get home late and tired. We will also eat something healthy.

I never guess how much rice or pasta to cook – I always measure 3 ounces of pasta and 2-3 ounces of rice, depending on how hungry we are. Sometimes I cook too much on purpose so that I can take some for lunch the following day.

Love Food Hate Waste

It is shocking what people throw away, not just because it is a waste of money, but because it seems immoral to be so cavalier about food when so many people in the world don’t have enough. There is lots of information, guidance on how to avoid wasting food and recipes at Love Food Hate Waste.

If you have stale bread to use up, here is my favourite bread pudding recipe, from my trusty and ancient Cranks Recipe Book. They don’t sell this fab book any more but Amazon has the one below, which according to the reviews has a fab selection of classics from the original (disclaimer – this is an affiliate link).

Spiced Bread Pudding (I always double up this quantity – it gets scoffed very quickly)

Stale bread, 8 oz (225g); half a pint of milk (284ml); mixed dried fruit 4 oz (100g); grated butter 2 oz (50g); brown sugar 4 oz (100g); mixed spice 1 tbsp (15ml); 1 egg; 4 tbsp milk (60ml); pinch of ground nutmeg

Break up the bread and place in a mixing bowl with the milk. Leave to soak. Add the dried fruit, butter, suga and mixed spice. Beat well. Whisk together the egg and milk and add to the bread mixture. Turn into a greased shallow ovenproof dish, level the surface and sprinkle with ground nutmeg. Bake at 180 C (350F/Gas mark 4) for about 45 minutes, until set (in my fan oven 35 minutes will do). Really delicious!!

There are more ideas for how you can make a meal of leftovers,  here, here and here.


Courgettes stuffed with feta: a new recipe for the glut

At this time of the year I am always on the look out for new recipes to try to use up the courgette glut. This recipe for courgettes stuffed with feta makes a change from ratatouille!

courgettes stuffed with fetaI found a recipe in an old student cookbook and I adapted it slightly. I really enjoyed it, but Mr S was looking for the meat! Next time I will add chopped bacon to stop him feeling deprived.

Courgettes Stuffed with Feta


4 medium courgettes
2 cloves garlic
1 red onion, chopped
8oz sweet corn
2 large eggs
2 tbsp milk
3oz feta cheese


Preheat the oven to 180 C. Halve the courgettes lengthways, carefully scoop out some of the insides to make room for the stuffing and arrange in a baking dish.

Put all the other ingredients apart from the feta into a food processor with some salt and pepper and whizz it, then crumble in half the cheese. Stuff the courgettes with the filling then crumble the rest of the feta on top. Bake for about 40 minutes.

I think this courgettes stuffed with feta recipe would be nice served with a tomato sauce or just as it is with salad and new potatoes. We had it with runner beans as that is the another glut ingredient from the garden!

If you have recipes for the courgette glut, please bring them on! You can find more of my favourite frugal recipes here.


Making your own Yogurt

Have you ever tried making your own yogurt? I popped into Sainsbury’s last night to buy a few bits that they don’t sell in Aldi. I was debating how many Lactofree yogurts I could afford (ie none really as I really need to stretch my budget!). They were £1.50 for four little pots; not extortionate but I could get six Sainsbury’s fruit yogurts for £1.

Mix up the ingredients...

Mix up the ingredients…

So, in the spirit of frugality, I decided it was high time I made my own again. It really takes just minutes in my Easiyo Yogurt Maker, so there is no excuse.

Pour boiling water into the yogurt maker...

Pour boiling water into the yogurt maker…

Making your own yogurt

I bought some Lactofree UHT milk, a small pot of live natural yogurt to use as my starter and some dried milk powder to make my yogurt thicker. Ok, this lot won’t be lactose free, but as I have a dairy intolerance rather than an allergy it doesn’t matter that much. However, if anyone can suggest a thickener other than milk powder I would be grateful – I like my yogurt thick!

Put the container of milk and away you go

Put the container of milk and away you go

This morning I mixed a tablespoon of milk powder with the same amount of starter, then whisked in the milk. I filled my yogurt maker up to the required level with boiling water, stood the pot in it and put the lid on. By the time I returned from work it was ready to be chilled.

I have some blackberries in the garden so I will make a purée to mix with the yogurt and take a small pot to work each day. I reckon it will make double the amount contained in the 4 little pots and cost me £1.35 for a litre of Lactofree UHT AND 50p for my starter pot plus about £1 for the milk powder. Next time I won’t have to buy the powder or starter so it will be £1.35 for at least 8 pots of yogurt.

If you don’t mind spending a little more and aren’t lactose intolerant, you can buy loads of delicious mixes to make various types and flavours.

Are you into making your own yogurt? Do you use a yogurt maker?

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

A week in the glorious Lake District

imageWe have just returned from a week’s holiday in the Lake District in Cumbria, possibly my favourite place in the world, and what a glorious week it was. It is a beautiful place anyway, but we were blessed with warm weather every day – the raincoats never came out of the bags, which was a first for me – I have been coming since I was 16 and expect to get rained on as part of the deal! The heavens did open on our last evening and it bucketed down all night and most of the way home, but we didn’t mind that.

We did some fabulous short walks. I would have happily dragged everybody a bit further, but I know there are limits when persuading teenagers up hills and across the fells. We walked around Rydal Water, popping in for tea at William Wordsworth’s house en route. imageWe visited the John Ruskin house overlooking Coniston Water and had our lunch in his gardens. We went up to the waterfalls along the edge of Ambleside to wear everyone out, then drove to Glenridding in Ullswater and snuck into the grounds of a hotel to get to the water’s edge and admire the fabulous views of the lake and mountains beyond. We ate delicious cakes at Chester’s Cafe at Skelwith Bridge, just behind the caravan park we stayed at, recommended by my Mum. It was certainly very busy and popular. imageWe also went to Wordsworth’s birthplace at Grasmere and saw the family graves in the local church. Grasmere is a pretty enough place, but these days really just a collection of gift shops.

We had a lovely short boat trip across Windermere to Wray Castle and then the visitor centre at Brockhole. However we made the mistake of paying to go into the castle. I am usually a fan of the National Trust but we were not impressed. It is in the process of being restored and is unfurnished. There is really nothing to see except a lot of rooms waiting to be refurbished and mostly covered in woodchip wallpaper. They had tried to make it more of a family attraction by filling the rooms with toys and dressing up outfits, but that wasn’t much good to us. I resented paying the entrance fee to be honest and felt we had been duped. I would say don’t bother unless you are NT members – just have a look round the outside for free.image

If you have a camper van or tourer caravan I can absolutely recommend the Skelwith Fold caravan park just outside Ambleside : lovely generous pitches in a beautiful setting and the park itself is spotlessly clean and tidy, with a good shop and helpful staff. I am very lucky to have my generous cousins who don’t mind letting the extended family stay in their static from time to time.

I brought the ingredients for many of our meals in advance from Aldi, and most of the time just had to buy meat or salad to go with the pasta, salad or rice we already had. We also bought fresh bread every day from the campsite shop and took a picnic and flask out with us. We had one big blow out, eating at Zeferelli’s restaurant in Ambleside. I had forgotten it was actually a vegetarian restaurant, and thought there might be a mass walk out when the family realised, but they stayed and we a had a most delicious meal (for example, I ate a wellington filled with nut roast and DD3 had a most creamy and delicious blue cheese lasagne).

My holiday fund is well and truly depleted and it is frugal all the way now. Fortunately I have a language student coming for three weeks from Sunday, so I need to prepare! Onwards and upwards! Are you going anywhere nice for your holidays, or planning a staycation?

Getting organised and decluttering

The key to a lot of people living in a small house is organisation. I have to stand a bit of mess as I live with a very untidy family, and I don’t want to get all anal about it. I have been to friends’ houses where I was terrified about leaving a cushion out of place or creasing a hand towel. I want everybody to be relaxed but at the same time I don’t want to be falling over unnecessary mess and clutter. Regular decluttering helps.

imageUsing baskets

Over the years I have found that baskets on shelves are a good cost effective means of containing and hiding any clutter. I am brutal about getting rid of things I no longer use and know I am unlikely to find a need for in the future. Mr Shoestring hates this as he is a bit of a hoarder. He gets nervous when I go into decluttering mode!

I have mentioned before that my second daughter is back for the summer after her first year at university and has arrived with lots of belongings from her digs. Those items she doesn’t need to access daily have been packed off to her dad’s as he has a spare room, but there are still a lot of things!

imageA bit of rationalisation

A crucial part of my plan to keep my finances on track is to have foreign students to stay. We have another one coming in two weeks and hopefully a long term one arriving in September. This means that sometimes darling daughters 2 and 3 have to share a bedroom! We need to get organised so that DD2 can slip seamlessly back and forth.

So I am badgering them both to rationalise their clothes and belongings with a good bit of  decluttering. We currently have about 8 binliners full of items we will sell at a boot sale later in the summer, but there will be more.

I spent yesterday evening sorting the room out and trying to use every available bit of space effectively, and it is coming together. We will get there!

Are you a hoarder or the house proud type? Or like me, somewhere in between?

Easy Banana Muffins

black bananasI love these! And I have some very over ripe bananas sitting looking at me accusingly. No one is going to eat them now, but they will eat banana muffins, so, a job for later. This makes a large batch so that you can freeze some for lunchboxes, etc. If you don’t want to do that, halve the ingredients.

500g self-raising flour
125g sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 medium bananas, mashed
240ml milk
160ml oil
2 eggs
Cake cases

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade (gas mark 4). Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Then start to slowly whisk in the milk, oil and egg until well combined. Finally, fold in the mashed banana and combine well. Spoon the mix into your cake cases and bake for around 15 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch.

These are lovely warm, but equally nice cold. However, you can reheat them for about 15 seconds in the microwave.

Brown Rice and Mediterranean Vegetables

Another chuck it together healthy tea. We had this brown rice and Mediterranean vegetables with baked chicken but it is a perfectly good veggie supper with grated cheese stirred in.

brown rice and Mediterranean vegetablesI am still using up the huge courgettes I got in Sainsbury’s! I like the flavour soy sauce adds to these.

Brown rice and Mediterranean vegetables

Serves 6

1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
I green pepper, chopped
1 large or 2 small courgette, diced
100g mushrooms, sliced
325g brown rice, cooked with a veg stock cube
600g (1.5 cans) chopped tomatoes
2tbsp chopped parsley (or 2tsp dried mixed herbs)
1 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated cheddar to top (optional)

Heat the oil and gently fry the onion and garlic until softened. Add the courgettes, mushrooms and pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes then add the parsley and soy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve your brown rice and Mediterranean vegetables with a good sprinkling of grated cheese.


We were out getting the best from our RHS membership today. Once it finally stopped raining the sun came out and it was boiling, so we took a drive to Hyde Hall Gardens in Runwell in Essex.

This is the fourth time we have been this year and it has been fantastic to see the garden changing and developing through the seasons. This is one of the four main RHS gardens and we are lucky to have it half an hour’s drive from home. It never fails to inspire!


Quick and easy pasta with bacon and vegetables

This quick and easy pasta with bacon and vegetables was tonight’s supper and was thrown together from what I could find in the kitchen. I am trying to keep the fat content of our food as low as possible so grilled the bacon and just added a small amount of grated cheddar.

pasta with bacon and vegetablesQuick and easy pasta with bacon and vegetables


Serves 6

500g pasta, cooked
250g bacon, grilled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large courgette, cut into cubes
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
100g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 tsp Marigold vegetable stock
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated cheese to top


Heat the oil and gently fry the onion and garlic for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the courgette and mushrooms and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir, then add the stock powder and dried herbs and mix together well. Finally, chop up the cooked bacon and add to the sauce. Season to taste. Cover
and simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the cooked pasta.

This pasta with bacon and vegetables is nice served with a little grated cheese, a green salad and some crusty bread.

For more frugal recipe ideas, see here.



I am admitting to a guilty secret. I am obsessed with chickens! It used to be the real thing when I had more time and didn’t have foxes living at the bottom of my garden. Now I no longer keep chickens, or rather I do – my house is full of them and I even have them in my office at work. However, none of them has a pulse.

I have a dresser full of them in the lounge, two chicken clocks, chicken garden ornaments, chicken mugs and biscuit tins, chicken plates…you get the idea. I don’t know what it is about them exactly. I think they connect with my idea of a more simple life – growing my own food with a few hens in the garden.

My work chickens. They have been kidnapped and held to ransom but made it back to me!

My work chickens. They have been kidnapped and held to ransom but made it back to me!

imageI will go back to keeping chickens, but in the meantime I will make do with my ornamental ones.

I have had a productive morning, cleaning and organising the house and sorting out some things for DD1 to sell at her boot sale tomorrow. Let’s hope the weather holds so that she gets lots of customers.

The garden is calling though. We were given lots of free wildflower seeds at the Chelsea Flower Show, so I want to clear the wild area – which is just a bit too wild – and make it into a large bed of fabulous wildflowers for the summer. I also have lots of veg to pot on and plant. Mr S keeps turning up with more plants that people have given him!

Not Enough Hours in the Day!

I thought I would attempt a blog post this morning whilst the rest of the house is still asleep. It is quite nice in a way being up early on a sunny Sunday morning. The birds are singing loudly and the cats are bouncing about but other than that the world is quiet and there is no traffic.

I have struggled to find a spare few minutes to blog. Work was full on during Friday, I came home to do a large pile of ironing and I spent yesterday back in the hall painting. As for housework, who has the time? I have been doing a bit here and there, but only the bare essentials – the laundry and sorting food.

imageToday the garden beckons. There are some plants in the greenhouse that really need to go in the ground now but before that I need to do some weeding to prepare some space. Some of my neighbours trees need a good hack back too or they will starve my side of light. There are lots of seedlings that need potting on too. At least I enjoy this, especially on a beautiful day .

Before that I will get up and clean the bathroom and downstairs loo and wash the kitchen floor. I can’t let standards slip too low!

Is it just me? Does anyone else struggle to fit it all in?


Sometimes you just need a break

We had intended to continue with the decorating yesterday but neither of us could face another day of it. The house was covered with dust and grime, there was laundry everywhere that I couldn’t get outside to dry because of the wet weather and the general cleaning hadn’t been done either. We decided to start afresh next weekend.

Instead I spent the morning giving the place a quick going over and organising myself for the coming week. I feel so much better when I am in control and on top of things!

We took a drive to Brightlingsea in the afternoon and had a walk. It was very windy and certainly blew the cobwebs and decorating dust away. Sometimes the simplest things can make a difference and we felt much better for some fresh air and a change of scenery.

I have bought very little of anything

Getting blown away in Brightlingsea!

Getting blown away in Brightlingsea!

this month, although I have spent quite a lot of money on paint! About £100 I reckon but that’s not much to spend to decorate a room. I am currently saving my pennies towards a carpet to complete the job.

If you have any advice on the best place to get a bargain throw it my way :-).

If I could loosen the purse strings …

loosen the purse strings

The dream….

I was wandering  idly around Blogland with a cup of tea yesterday morning, girding my loins for the next bout of DIY. I very much enjoy doing this when I get the time, particularly looking at those with a money saving or frugal slant. There are a couple of well known bloggers who have good incomes now. You might think they no longer need to live such a careful and frugal lifestyle and would loosen the purse strings. However, they continue to live frugally because they still have specific goals they want to achieve. I have a feeling they would still do it as a lifestyle choice, even when they have achieved their financial targets.

Living the frugal life

We live a frugal life because we have to. If we didn’t we wouldn’t make our mortgage payments each month and could easily rack up huge credit card debts. When it is all going well and we manage a bit of extra income, or don’t get a large unexpected bill because the car engine explodes or we need an emergency plumber, we quite enjoy the challenge. It feels like a pretty productive and useful hobby! However, I don’t enjoy sailing so close to the wind most of the time. I know it wouldn’t take much for me feel I am drowning rather than staying afloat.

It did make me consider what I would do if I got to the point where I had paid the mortgage, got a different job that paid lots more, came into some money…would I still be as frugal? Would I loosen the purse strings or shop in Aldi if I could suddenly afford Waitrose? If I could choose, would I still buy all my clothes at bootsales? Would I spend a week decorating my hallway or get the decorators in?

I think the answer is that we would do a bit of both. I am naturally frugal and I can’t bear waste of any kind, because that was the way I was raised. However, I would love more quality time with Mr Shoestring and my daughters, so if I could afford the decorators I would happily pay for their skills! We would have more holidays as we both love travelling, I would buy a camper van (which has been my dream forever) and have lots of trips around the UK and Europe. Boot sales would still be my thing, but I would buy some decent quality new clothes as and when I needed them. I would continue to do my food shop with a list and might just pop into Waitrose after I had been to Aldi :).

What about you? If the mortgage and debts were paid off and you had a decent amount coming in, what would you do?

The DIY continues

Just to prove I have managed to do something this week, even if we aren’t quite finished and will have to come back to it next week, here is how the hallway is currently looking.

loosen the purse strings


loosen the purse strings


loosen the purse strings


loosen the purse strings


Are we there yet?

Four days of decorating the hall and we are only about half way through! There is so much woodwork to repair, rub down, scrub and paint. Eight doors and doorframes, the bannisters, window sills and skirtings, plus walls to fill, wallpaper to hang walls and ceilings to emulsion. I am getting very tired but it is looking better already, so I know it will be worth it in the end.

imageI don’t need the gym anyway as I am sure I am burning lots of calories. The house is a complete tip, but it will have to remain so until we have finished and I can restore a bit of order.

imageTonight’s tea was a £1 Aldi pizza, jazzed up with some peppers, olives and cheese and served with a bag of salad leaves. I can’t be doing with cooking at the moment!

Back to it. I will post some pix if it ever gets finished. 🙂

Manual Labour

I had no time for a blog post yesterday – the decorating has started!!

I knew the hallway was going to be a pain to redecorate. What it really needs is replastering, not just sprucing up, but the budget won’t run to that. I spent a lot of the day repairing the walls – filling in holes and patching up the wallpaper. We daren’t strip the old stuff off as it may be all that is holding the plaster together in places….Mr S did a very impressive repair of the artex on the ceiling. I wish we could get rid of that as well but for now it will be painted so it will look fresh and clean.

The bannister was a bit of a job and took ages to rub down and wash, but at least I did manage to put a coat of quick dry gloss on and it looks so much better. White instead of aged yellow! The kitten likes to jump up and down on it and wind herself in and out, so I had to shut her away in the end.

Mr S is coming over to help again today. Because I know we will both be starving by tea time and won’t want to cook, I have made a slow cooker creation – Bacon, barley and leek stew. If it is a successful invention I will post the recipe.

barley bacon leek stewBack to it!

Pauper’s Paradise


Shoestring Cottage

Shoestring Cottage

We don’t live in a fancy house; we aren’t situated in a particularly sought after area. Shoestring Cottage is actually a 1940’s ex local authority semi in Essex. However, as was often the case at the time, the houses were built solidly on lovely big plots.  Ours is the corner plot and looks out over a green. We have the scout hut behind us and a row of pensioners’ bungalows to one side, so it is quiet and almost all of the neighbours are polite and friendly.

imageI love our house, but even more I love our garden. In the summer it is so much work and, after three years, we are only just getting it as we want it. We don’t have a lot of money to spend, but we do have lots of enthusiasm! We often don’t know the best thing to do, but take advice from family and friends and we are learning as we go along.

imageAs we have an extra long weekend for the May bank holiday, this gave us a chance to catch up on the gardening yesterday, and also meant we didn’t go out anywhere and spend any money. It was a gloriously dry and sunny day, absolutely perfect for being outdoors.

greenhouse1Mr S cut all the lawns and put the new greenhouse staging together that I bought on Saturday from Wilkinson’s. It was an absolute bargain at £5. I prepared the greenhouse and did some clearing and weeding of the veg beds, including digging up the last of the leeks. I got a few courgette plants in (mine are only just germinating but these were from a neighbour), some mint, celeriac and some everlasting spinach. I also sowed broccoli, carrots, various flowers and planted the tomato plants – again from Mr Shoestring’s lovely neighbour – into the greenhouse. I could list everything in the garden as individual projects for the sake of the 52 projects challenge, then I would have achieved all 52 by now! The garden is an on-going project!

I wanted it done as on Tuesday morning I start decorating the hall. Now that will be a project.

What is your piece of paradise? Do you love where you live?


Super Cheap Chick Pea Burgers

chick pea burgers

It being Sod’s Law and a Saturday, I did of course wake up at 5.30 am, so no lie in for me. The up side of being a naturally early riser is that I am quite productive in the mornings. The down side is that I will be fast asleep on Mr Shoestring’s shoulder by about 9 pm … I am nothing if not entertaining! But it did mean I got up and made these tasty little chick pea burgers for dinner.

I need to keep everything as cheap as possible this month as I have had a couple of unexpected bills. So I am planning to eat from the freezer and store cupboard as much as I can over the next few days. This means more veggie meals, which I love but everyone else will doubtless compain about. They will have to cope!

So, since we always have tinned chick peas in the cupboard, it made sense to make some chick pea burgers. They are cheap, healthy and quick (as well as being vegetarian, vegan and excellent if you are on a low GI diet).

Super cheap chick pea burgers

For 10-12 small burgers you will need:

2 cans chickpeas, drained
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
Large handful of fresh coriander if you have it – failing that parsley is good too
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper to taste

chick pea burgers


Put all of the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until mostly smooth, although a few lumps of chick pea is nice. Put a little flour on a chopping board and shape the mixture into about 12 little patties. Cover and place in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill. When you are ready to cook them, heat some oil in a frying pan and cook them for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden. They are nice with some chilli jam on the side.

Since I was having a clear out, I pulled two chicken carcasses out of the freezer and made them into stock with 3 celery sticks, a large carrot, an onion, 3 bayleaves and 6 peppercorns. This is currently simmering away and I will drain it and use it for soup for lunch. I have saved bits and pieces of leftover cooked veg in the freezer, so that is defrosting, and I will add some onion, celery, carrots, pearl barley and whatever else I can find to make a good veggie soup.

So super cheap chick pea burgers and home made soup makes a good start to my mega cheap week! For more frugal recipe ideas see here.

Loaves and Laundry

imageI really needed a dry sunny day today, as I had so much laundry! However it was drizzly all day so instead I used DD3’s room as the drying room – luckily she is at university again and I have no student at the moment. I hung it everywhere I could and stuck the dehumidifier on for a bit to help it along.

I managed most off the cleaning, made two delicious banana and walnut loaves, got my hair cut and rang to try to sort the mortgage, or try to anyway. It is a work in progress!

imageMr Shoestring even persuaded me out for an early evening cycle ride to finish me off.

The banana loaf recipe is a Delia one and brilliant with over ripe bananas. You can find it here:



How to save time

I rarely have enough time to do everything, so what can I do that I’m not doing already? I think I am good at managing my time, but am I? How to save time? I have been having a think and came up with the following list. Some of these things will involve an investment of my time to start with, but should save it in the end.

How to save time

1. Iron as few clothes as possible. I already do this – I shake out my laundry and hang it really straight, then fold it or hang it straight away. There are a few cotton items that crease quite a lot that I do iron, however.

2. Don’t spend too much time on the internet! It is very tempting, so I am trying to allow myself about an hour a day tops. Half an hour of that goes on my blog, which I usually do at work in my lunch break.

how to save time3. Plant up perennials in the garden, preferably those that spread a bit. This will cut down on time spent weeding! This is a work in progress as I can’t afford to spend lots of money on plants, and I am still learning what is good to plant and grow from seed cheaply.

Less laundry

4. Do less laundry. I used to throw everything in the wash at the end of the day, even if it wasn’t really dirty. Now I check, sniff and put it away if it can do another day. I need to make my daughters do the same as sometimes they seem to change every half an hour and stick their barely worn clothes straight in the wash bin!

5. Batch cook – make double the chilli or bolognese, casserole or pie and freeze half for another day. I definitely need to do this more as I don’t like ready meals.

6. If you are going out for an errand, think about what else you can do whilst you are out. This has the added bonus of saving on fuel and cutting down on  journeys. I need to work on being more organised for this one.

Cheating is OK

7. Cook from scratch if you can, but cheat whenever you need to!! I am thinking here of Knorr’s marvellous Flavour Pots, which very quickly make a nice meal out of meat and some veg, but also Aldi’s stir fry sachets, the odd bolognese sauce jar, Chicken Tonight casserole sauce, etc. I don’t use many convenience foods as they are expensive and full of rubbish, but there are some notable exceptions that are definitely worth a try.

8. Lower your standards! You don’t have to clean the skirting boards every week, for goodness sake. As long as everything is basically clean, that is good enough.

9. Tidy up as you go along. It is so much quicker to do a brief clean if you don’t have a load of clutter to clear up first.

10. Get the family to help you. A woman’s work never is done if she has to do it all herself. I am the worst for this – I get so fed up with having to nag the troops into action I figure it is easier to just do it myself. BIG MISTAKE.

11. Don’t waste time procrastinating. If it needs doing, just get it done. I have to give myself a good talking to on this one as procrastination is a particular skill of mine.

Plan meals

12. Plan all your meals and be ready with something suitable for those nights when you know you will have no time. Make a shopping list based on this plan, and buy everything you need in one trip a week to the supermarket.

13. Stick to your shopping list and don’t get waylaid by ‘bargains’. This saves you time AND money.

14. Research and grow plants that need little maintenance and watering.

Don’t waste time queuing

15. If you need to go to the supermarket or the shops at the weekend, go early, beat the crowds and save time waiting at the till or to get into or out of the car park.

16. Create a folder of healthy, quick and tasty dinner recipes. As Shirley Conran used to say, ‘Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’!

17. Have a routine. If you know what you are doing when, you don’t waste time trying to work out what you need to do next.

18. When you are watching TV, do something else as well. File your nails, pluck your eyebrows, mend an item of clothing, answer your emails, knit or crochet something.

That is all I have time for….I would really welcome your tips on how to save time!

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Chorizo

I am keeping the holiday feeling going tonight with this Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Chorizo – all ingredients from Aldi! The chorizo adds so much flavour, and is really delicious. It only cost £1.49 for 170g, and I will use the rest later in the week.

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Chorizo

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Chorizo


Serves 4-6

300g pasta bows
2 chicken breasts, sliced
Large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Large red pepper, chopped
1.5 cans chopped tomatoes or passata (600g)
1 heaped tsp mixed herbs
85g chopped chorizo
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the oil and fry the onions, garlic and chicken breasts until the chicken is more or less cooked on both sides. Add the pepper and cook for a few minutes or so then add the tomatoes, herbs and chorizo. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and mix with the sauce, and serve with some grated cheese and a nice green salad.

This Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Chorizo was easy to make, which I needed today as I was unpacking and catching up with laundry. It’s good to be back and I even got the sun today, so can’t complain. What are you cooking?

For more of my favourite frugal recipes, see here.

How to quit the rat race

imageWell I don’t have the answer yet…but, as ever, being on holiday raises certain questions. Mostly, how do I manage getting up at 6 every day, working full time, running a house, doing a second job teaching yoga and a third taking in students? When I get the opportunity to sit and refect on this I don’t know how I do it , but I do know that it all takes its toll and that being away I am already sleeping better and the (sorry if this is TMI) my IBS symptoms that were dreadful in the last few weeks have all but disappeared.

Almost everyone I know is on the same relentless hamster wheel of just running to keep up with themselves. I bet you are too!

I may not be able to go on holiday to recharge very often but I can find more ways to relax and take time out. That is my new resolve! Yoga on the beach is a good start.

Another project to tick off the list :-)

The weather has been so fab here in Essex. We managed another day sorting out the garden yesterday. My project was sorting out the flower beds in the front garden. They were so full of weeds! I filled up 4 compost bags full – our heap was choc-a-bloc, so I will donate them to the Council waste collection. Me weeding

One of the beds before weeding...

One of the beds before weeding…

The beds look a bit empty now there are no weeds, although I planted some summer bulbs and have some seeds on the go to fill them up.

pre weeding

Another disaster area…

Looking better!

Looking better!

Mr Shoestring had a productive day too. First he titivated the sheds – not sure if you can see from the pic but he added some fancy edging. He just needs to add a door to the new shed and it is complete. It is a work of art!

Fancy sheds and newly rotovated veggie patch

Fancy sheds and newly rotovated veggie patch

Then he tried out the rotovator that his neighbour donated.

Mr Rotovator!

Mr Rotovator!

So I reckon that’s another two projects done! 🙂

Woodbridge: A Message from the Suffolk Tourist Board

I am an Essex girl, but live very close to the Suffolk border and absolutely love to venture into some of the beautiful market towns: Woodbridge, Bury St Edmunds, Saxmundham, Lavenham, Clare, Long Melford – I could go on! They are all lovely interesting little towns and well worth a drive out if you aren’t too far away.

A trip to Woodbridge

Yesterday, we decided to take a trip to Woodbridge. What a beautiful place. It is sited on the River Deben, close the Anglo Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo. You can walk past all the little boats along the quay to see the tide mill, which is the last working tide mill in the UK. There are lots of nice shops and cafes, including some great (but pricey) charity shops. We went in them all!




WoodbridgeSt Mary’s church is worth walking to – it is a lovely building and there is often something going on inside it. The cottages that overlook it must have one of the best views in town. We had a peep in the estate agents window, but you don’t get much for your money if you want a character cottage in Woodbridge. That will have to wait for my lottery win I think.

Mr S was also rather impressed with Woodbridge town hall, which is a super old building in the centre of town. We took some good pics. Enjoy – and if you are ever in Suffolk, take a detour!

The Liebster Award

liebster-awardI am very excited that one of my fellow bloggers, the lovely Mona over at Small Things Good , has kindly nominated my blog for a Liebster Award.

Here is a bit of background to the award – basically it is aimed at promoting undiscovered bloggers like myself!

The word “Liebster” originates from the German word “liebste” which means “dearest”. The origin of this award is unknown, although several posts have suggested a German blog. The rules of this award have changed over the years although the underlying goal remains the same: to bring attention to blogs that have not been discovered yet. In 2010, the rule was to pick 3-5 blogs that have less than 3,000 readers but recently, you list 10 blogs with less than 200 subscribers. It is quite a dramatic difference, but for the better.

The Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
  2. Show off your award on your blog (in a post, widget, etc.).
  3. Answer 10 questions given to you by your nominee.
  4. Create 10 questions of your own.
  5. Nominate 5-10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.
  6. And of course, tell them about it and provide a link back to your website so that they can know more about the award!

Here are the questions I answered:

  1. What was the driving force that led you to start your blog? I was, and still am, struggling with money and realised that I felt so much better when I took control of my expenditure. Frugality became a hobby rather than just a necessity. The blog was partly to share my experiences of being a frugalista and partly to give myself encouragement and renewed determination to keep going!
  2. Chicken or Fish?  It has to be fish! I love it. However, day to day I eat more chicken because it is cheaper.
  3. If you could meet any famous person, recent or past, who would you want to meet? Gandhi, or failing that, Jason Isaacs 😉
  4. If you could know the exact moment you were going to die, would you want to? Why? Lord, no! It would make me anxious to be aware of my impending doom! Would anyone say yes?
  5. What is your favorite thing to blog about? Anything and everything, mostly with a frugal theme. But sometimes I am inspired by a particular event, so will blog about that.
  6. Sweet or savoury? Can’t I have both? I love chocolate! However, if I have to choose it would be savoury.
  7. If you had to choose one meal to eat, every day for the rest of your life, what would it be? Really good sausages with creamy mash, vegetables and gravy. I think if I chose something fussy I would get bored more quickly.
  8. Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate, preferably very dark with a touch of ginger.
  9. Tell me 5 random things about yourself. I spent 7 months on a kibbutz in Israel and had my 21st birthday there. I am a qualified yoga teacher.  I once nearly drowned doing white water rafting in New Zealand. My nickname is Chickenlady because I used to keep chickens and now have a collection of china, cloth and metal chickens. I dream of owning a VW camper van.
  10. Cake or Pie? Cake, obviously! I love baking too,

My 10 questions to the bloggers I give the Liebster Award to are:

Why did you start your blog?
What are your hobbies? 
Trip of a lifetime, where would you go?
Who would be your top 4 guests, dead or alive, at your dream dinner party?
Which do you prefer for an evening out – clubbing it or a meal in a restaurant?
Sweet or savoury?
What would your dream career be?
Who is your celebrity crush?
What is your favourite season and why?
What is your one all-time favorite food? 

It’s hard to know exactly how many followers some blogs have as they don’t always say! Anyway, I nominate:;;;

Please check out their blogs!

Entertainment: cheap or free stuff to do

Now that the weather is improving a little and my daffodils are coming out, I am feeling inspired to get out and about and come out of my winter hibernation. However, as usual, lack of funds mean I can’t just have big days out, go shopping, visit pubs and restaurants or go to the theatre. This has made me think about free stuff to do. There are many cheap or free forms of entertainment.

Cheap or free stuff to do

A trip to the cinema is a rare treat for me. I generally wait until the films I like are available on DVD, then rent them. However, Orange customers can get two for one with the famous Orange Wednesdays. I’m not an Orange customer, but DD1 is – I wonder if she fancies taking her old mum out?

Even cheaper: we enjoy a ‘cinema night’. Borrow a DVD from the library, watch a film you have recorded or make use of your Netflix subscription if you have it. Pop some corn or make some cheap snacks. Easy.

Pack up a picnic and head for the hills. If we have a day out anywhere, Mr Shoestring and I always take a flask and sandwiches – whatever the weather. It saves so much money and also means no queuing in crowded cafes for over-priced food of variable quality.

A trip to the country park

Check the country parks in your area. In Essex we are blessed with some great open spaces, great for a family walk (see here). It’s easy to find where yours are at your local Tourist Information Centre.

Alternatively, just go for a walk where you live. We tend to whizz by the streets in our local area in the car. You get a whole new viewpoint on foot.

Go for a cycle. Fresh air, exercise and entertainment in one!free stuff to do

Use the Tourist Centre to find out if there are any free museums or other attractions in your town. We have a free to enter toy museum and an old church converted to a natural history museum. They frequently host school holiday activities as well.

Pot luck supper

It is a real treat to dine out and if I had the money I would do it more. But it is expensive! I enjoy having friends and family over for food. A pot luck supper is best for penny pinchers. Everybody brings a dish and something to drink. In my experience you end up with fabulous food and relaxed company. No one has been slaving over a hot stove all day nor is anybody worrying about the bill.

There are hundreds of channels on satellite TV and most of us watch about 10 of them. Get a Freeview box instead.

I love musicals and stage shows and if money was no object I would regularly see a West End show. However, this is expensive! Instead, for an occasional treat, check out what’s on at your local theatre. At ours there is a local youth theatre group that puts on fantastic musicals once a year. We also have an arts centre based in an old church that seems to be the place for big names to try out their acts before they go on tour. Recent appearances included Phil Jupitus and Jo Brand for £15 a ticket.

Have a date night

Have ‘date nights’ with your partner rather than expensive restaurant visits. Make it special with candle light, and proper three course dinner, a bottle of wine and some soft music. If possible pack the kids off to a friend or relative so that you have quality time together without spending lots of money. We did this for Valentine’s but I plan to do this more often for no reason at all 🙂

Dig out your old board games and packs of cards, and play! It is good to go low tech and get away from electronic games once in a while.

Visit your relatives. Family are an under-rated form of entertainment.

Do some gardening! OK, for many this may feel more like work, but I love it so it is entertainment as well.

So, what do you do for fun that doesn’t cost the earth (clean suggestions only please!)? What are your recommendations for cheap or free stuff to do?


A project

Mr Shoestring found me a lovely little chair for the student/lodger room. I plan to rub it down, paint and distress it and then wax it. If it looks good at the end I will do the same to a big old pine chest of drawers that I have in there. It is a nice solid bit of furniture but it is a bit shabby, if I’m honest, and not shabby chic!

imageSo, two more projects for my 52 projects challenge. Life is so busy I will be happy if I manage 25 projects by the end of the year.

Worked flat out yesterday getting the student’s room ready and giving the house a thorough clean. By the end of that I was too shattered to blog!

I will do an update when I have painted my little chair.

In the meantime I am off to make a fruit cake and crumble to welcome our visitor. I do like to make sure they are well fed!

Apricot Fool – posh nosh

Apricot fool

I thought I would post my recipe for Boozy Apricot Fool, as it went down so well with everybody at the weekend. It’s not that cheap to make I suppose, and very calorific, but you have to push the boat out a bit when you are entertaining. You can substitute the wine for fruit juice if you prefer.

Serves 4

110g dried apricots
150ml white wine or fruit juice
About 3 tbsp lemon juice (I used half a lemon)
25g caster sugar
2 egg whites
150ml double cream, whipped until it forms soft peaks
Flaked almonds to decorate

apricot foolSoak your dried apricots overnight in the wine or juice, then simmer them gently in a covered pan for about 15-20 minutes (less time if they are pre-soaked). Let it cool, then zap to a puree in the blender. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then add the sugar and whisk a bit more.

Combine your ingredients, folding in the cream and lemon juice. Spoon the mixture into 4 nice glass dishes (mine are in 1970s freebies from the petrol station – if you are a certain age you will recognise them!). Sprinkle with flaked almonds and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

This delicious apricot fool is one of my favourite naughty puddings!

Shoestring Sausage and Vegetable Ragu

This sausage and vegetable ragu is one to satisfy the meat eaters in my family whilst being frugal and delicious. It is full of a rainbow of different coloured mediterranean vegetables, so is healthy as well. I used Aldi pork sausages, which are very cheap, but can be a bit fatty, so it is important to grill rather than fry them. It could easily be made with vegetarian sausages.

Shoestring Sausage and Vegetable Ragu


Serves 4-6

Sausage and Vegetable Ragu1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
Half an aubergine, diced
1 courgette, diced
Olive oil
6 pork sausages
500ml passata
Tbsp tomato purée
100 vegetable stock or water
Pinch of chilli flakes
450g pasta


First grill your sausages.  Whilst they are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan and add all the vegetables. Fry gently for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the passata, tomato purée, chilli flakes, stock and seasoning. Simmer gently and add the sausages, chopped into three or four pieces. Cook for 10 minutes. Cook the pasta in a large pan of water, drain and mix with the ragu. Serve straight away.

I am looking forward to grabbing a bowl of this sausage and vegetable ragu before I shoot off to yoga tonight. An easy supper!

For more of my favourite frugal recipes, see here.

Home made poultry stock: a great foundation

poultry stockI have mentioned in a previous post that I have a big bucket of leeks that I picked from the garden ready to be made into delicious leek and potato soup. In preparation for this I pulled a couple of poultry carcasses out of the freezer to make into poultry stock. One of them happened to be the Christmas turkey; it was high time I used this!

If you have never made stock before I urge you to try it. Why throw poultry carcasses in the bin when they are full of nutrients and flavour? Home made stock adds a certain something to soups and casseroles that the powdered stuff just doesn’t. You can make stock with any bones, or even just with vegetables. I happened to have a chicken and the turkey carcass in my freezer so I used those. You ideally need at least two carcasses to make a good poultry stock.


Put your poultry carcasses in a big pot with a couple of carrots, an onion chopped in half, three sticks of celery, 2 bay leaves and about 6 black peppercorns and added enough cold water to cover. Put on the pan lid and bring to the boil and simmer for around three hours. When I get home I will strain it and it will be ready for my soup making tomorrow. Easy!

If the turkey carcass had been smaller I would have chucked it all in the slow cooker to make this poultry stock but there was no way it was going to fit.

Super Sunday

imageIt is a beautiful day here in Essex. Amazing after the driving wind and rain of the last week or so. I even have two lots of washing on the line!

imageWhilst I was out there I dug up the rest of the leeks and found a few sad looking sprouts – the sprout tops looked more promising so we will eat those as cabbage. Leek and potato soup on the agenda I think!

We have also completed another two of our 52 projects. Resealing the bath and whitening the grout means the bathroom is done and another one I have been meaning to do for ages was to clean out the cupboards in there. They were full of out of date medication and sorry looking soggy old plasters. Now they are beautifully tidy 🙂

That makes 4 projects. As we started late we still have some catching up to do I think!

Spaghetti Cheese Casserole

Spaghetti Cheese Casserole

We had this Spaghetti Cheese Casserole yesterday – an old favourite adapted from Marguerite Patten’s Health Food Cookery. It’s my usual type of recipe – cheap, cheerful, and easy after a day at work. It’s an old recipe, so it is in ‘old money’. If you can find a copy of this book it is well worth having. It occasionally pops up for practically nothing on on Amazon.

Spaghetti cheese casserole


Serves 4

8 oz spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
2 sticks celery
2 cloves garlic
3 oz mushrooms
4 large tomatoes (I have made it with tinned in the past)
2 grated medium carrots
1/4 pint cider or white wine
1 tsp oregano
2 tbsp chopped parsley
6 oz grated cheddar


Heat the oil and cook the onion, celery, mushrooms and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes, carrots, herbs with the wine or cider and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti. Add this to the pan with the vegetables and grated cheese, and season to taste.

We had this spaghetti cheese casserole with a large green salad. It is supposed to serve 4 but 3 adults scoffed the lot! For more frugal recipe ideas, see here.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. Thanks!

What granny didn’t buy

imageOn Sunday when we visited Leigh on Sea we popped into the small museum in the old town. It was a fisherman’s cottage from the 1800s and was incredibly spartan. They lived a very hard life with minimal possessions – no mobile phones, PCs, TVs or tablets for them. I am not romanticising this life: I would hate to live such a harsh and basic existence and I like a few home comforts! But it made me think about the things we possess and what we actually need.

dresserWhat would my grandma not even have considered a possibility, let alone a necessity? Things that spring immediately to mind are:

Air fresheners
Kitchen roll
Mobile phones
Disposable nappies
Disposable dishcloths
Fabric softener
Baby wipes, face wipes, disinfectant wipes
Spray furniture polish
Different cleaning sprays for every job: bathroom, kitchen, windows, etc
Tumble driers
Ready meals
Takeout food in polystyrene boxes
Instant rice or noodles
Plastic carrier bags
Portable computer games
Liquid handwash
Satellite/cable tv
The Internet – yikes!
Fake tan
Fizzy drinks
Tablets (well, only the pharmaceutical kind)
Self serve checkouts
Social networking
Annual holidays
Cheap air travel

I could go on of course. I am no Luddite. There are many things in the list above I would hate to be without and make my life so much better. My dishwasher saves me so much time, the microwave is a boon to warm up leftovers and defrost soup from the freezer. As for the Internet and PCs – I think they are marvellous! However, none of them are essential – they are all luxuries. From the point of view of frugality it is useful to think about what I really could do without if necessary. Lots of the things on my list I already don’t buy – I will never give into botox, even if I win the lottery tomorrow!

So I will cut down and cut back when I need to, although I will still blog as I use my work laptop. Perks of the job 🙂

House swap: could you?

So, you would love a holiday but even a campsite seems too expensive? How about a house swap?

Camping is the cheapest holiday accommodation. But perhaps the great outdoors isn’t your thing and, if  you have to purchase the gear, it is only a cheap option if you plan to use it every year. Don’t get me wrong, I love camping and had some brilliant holidays in the UK and France when the kids were younger.  However, sometimes a few home comforts are nice!

house swap

A house swap is not so terrifying

The other thing I have done for a cheap holiday is house swap. I know it sounds terrifying and many people would be nervous about letting complete strangers take over their house for a fortnight, but in my experience it can work brilliantly.

We had two lovely holidays in Brittany and one in Normandy. Another in Segovia in Spain didn’t work so well but that was more the weather than the accommodation. Nice apartment but no air con and the hottest summer Europe had seen in years (2003). We couldn’t come home because of our house guests! Fortunately we were able to  visit friends in Barcelona who had a pool to cool things down. It was still hot but you could actually move during the day!

All those we did a house swap with were respectful of our home and left things clean and tidy, although one of the properties in Brittany was a bit on the grubby side when we arrived.

house swap

The upsides of house swapping

The accomodation is free.
It is a real home from home – better equipped than any holiday apartment would be.
You have someone looking after your home so that it isn’t left empty.
You can even exchange pets! Our cats were fed and we became foster carers to some chickens!
You can save on car hire and exchange cars too, although we never did this.
If you exchange with a family your kids get to play with all their kids’ toys (you need to put away anything precious).
Your hosts will usually leave you lots of local tourist and bus information
You can exchange in the UK or abroad

The downsides

It is a risk – although it is your interests and theirs that they look after your stuff you can’t guarantee that they won’t help themselves to your best silver.
They can pull out even if you have already booked your travel.
You need to give your house the biggest clean of its life so lots of work before you go.
Your house needs to be in good decorative order.

Use an agency

I would advise you to use an agency – there are lots on the internet. Be realistic about who you try to swap with; the proud owner of a villa with a pool in the South of France probably won’t want your three bed semi in Ordinaryville. Be honest about your property – you want your swappers to be truthful with you. Have a neighbour keep an eye and someone they can contact if there is an issue. We had problems with the plumbing at one place but our contact sorted it out.

When my house is in better shape I will definitely be doing a house swap again!

Being Frugal is Green!

I was about to throw away some laddered tights yesterday when I remembered reading that they are good to use as plant ties if you cut them up or to store your onion crop in. So I have kept them, just in case. It made me think about how being frugal is green! Buying less, consuming less, repairing, reusing things, buying second-hand: these things aren’t just good for your bank balance, they are good for the environment.

Being frugal is greenAll is green in the garden

Take the garden. I don’t like to use chemicals, although I did give in to some organic slug pellets last year when my cabbages were being shredded. Usually I set slug traps using Sainsbury’s cheapest lager (I wouldn’t drink it, but the slugs seem to like it) and crumble egg shells or sand around the plants the beasts enjoy the most. I compost all garden waste and food waste such us peelings, teabags, and I collect bags of free manure from a house nearby, which also goes onto the compost heap. I do have to buy potting compost sometimes, but not as much as in the past.

Cardboard egg boxes make great little pots for starting seeds, and larger yogurt or cream pots are good for potting them on. A litre of water with a couple of teaspoons of liquid castile soap  in a spray bottle is good for killing bugs, costs a lot less than the scary chemicals you can buy in the garden centre and is much less harmful to the environment.

Growing your own veg means you can have delicious, fresh and organic produce for a fraction of the cost you would spend in the shops. Buying local and in season is often cheaper. The environmental cost of transporting food thousands of miles is huge.

I love to buy plants but they are so expensive! It is easy to collect and store seeds and to take cuttings from other plants.

If you are on a water meter it makes sense to have as many water butts as you can fit in your garden. The local council quite often has links to companies doing deals on these. You can also re-use the ‘grey’ water from your bath or shower to water the garden.

Being frugal is green

Being frugal is green inside too

In the house, saving energy saves money and is green. Using a lid on your cooking pots makes them boil more quickly so you can turn the gas down. Insulating your house and fitting thick curtains means you can turn down the thermostat.

Driving carefully uses less petrol. Buying second-hand clothes and furniture means items are re-used and not thrown away. Hanging your clothes on the line or an airer saves energy and the cost of running a tumble dryer.

The motto is reduce, re-use and recycle. I try to do all of these things because they save money. Living a simpler life, having less ‘stuff’, consuming less, re-using more: it helps to keep the wolves at bay and gives you a nice warm deep green feeling.

Being frugal is green – you can save money and the planet too.

Monster Chocolate Birthday Cake

It’s darling daughter no 3’s 16th birthday today. How can I have 3 daughters over the age of 16? it is a cliché I know, but time goes so fast!

We had lunch with her grandparents yesterday to celebrate and today she is going to dinner and the cinema with her dad and my eldest daughter.

monster cakeWe will have lunch here together first though and a slice of the Hairy Bikers chocolate birthday cake I have made. It is an absolute monster cake! I think it will last quite a few days. It looks delicious and, apart from the cream, it was made completely from ingredients I had in the store cupboard. I doubled the ingredients below to make this size cake.

So, happy birthday to my lovely girl.  As the song goes, ‘She don’t know she’s beautiful!’ Well, she is! (Takes after her mother…)

The recipe is here is you fancy it:

For the cake

  • 250g/8½oz butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 400g/14oz caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 400g/14oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 85g/3oz cocoa powder
  • 220ml/8fl oz flat cola

For the topping

  • 150g/5oz strawberry jam
  • 150ml/5fl oz double cream, whipped
  • 100g/3½oz milk chocolate, broken into pieces
  • sweets to decorate – I used Minstrels


Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease/line a 25cm/10in cake tin. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is pale and light. In a separate bowl, stir the sunflower oil and vanilla extract into the beaten eggs. Gradually beat the egg mixture into the butter and sugar mixture until the mixture is well combined. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder and gradually fold in. Add the cola and stir. Pour into the tin and bake for 1hr 15 mins to 1hr 20 mins,  until the cake has risen and a skewer comes out clean. Remove the cake from the tin and cool on a rack. When cool, carefully cut in half to create two thin cakes. Spread over the jam, then the cream and sandwich the cakes together.

Next you need to melt your chocolate. I prefer to do this over a pan of simmering water, but you can do it in the microwave. Spread it over your cake, then decorate with the sweets.

I love the Hairy Bikers. Their recipes seem so reliable.

Pavlova Fruit Trifle

Necessity is the mother of invention

I thought I was being so organised this week. As I was going for dinner at a friend’s house last night and taking the pudding, I made the meringue for my pavlova on Wednesday. I did as Delia Smith told me and baked it in a low oven for an hour then left it to cool in the oven overnight. However, when I came to slide it off the greaseproof paper it fell to bits! I decided that even if I smothered it in cream and fruit it wouldn’t pass muster, so I had a little panic thinking what I could do instead.

imagePavlova fruit trifle

Being the frugal sort, I didn’t want to spend any more money, so before work – at 6.30am! – I was raking through the cupboards looking for the jelly and trifle sponges left over from Christmas. I threw these together with the fruit I had purchased for the pavlova, then rushed off to work leaving it to set in the fridge.

When I got home I whipped the cream and folded in some of the broken meringue pieces, then spread it over the jelly. So voila! Pavlova fruit trifle, a new Shoestring Cottage creation :-). It seemed to go down pretty well with my friends but they get less fussy after a few glasses of wine!

It may have been an accident, but I would make this again. It’s true what they say about necessity being the mother of invention. 🙂

Just checked my bank balance and it is still slightly hung over from Christmas, so even more extreme frugality coming up for the rest of the month…

Saving Money on Motoring

Five years ago, I purchased a five year old Zafira. This is a great car for a family – it is a 7 seater, but it is really easy to put the back seats down and have a big boot. This is great for transporting the family, and having a big boot space has been invaluable on many occasions. It has been brilliant for our many cheap camping holidays, as well as for collecting a freebie fridge and two bootloads of hardcore from fellow Freecyclers. However, when you are talking about saving money on motoring, is driving an old car the best course of action?

saving money on motoring

Driving our car into the ground

I have explored selling it and buying something else, but the fact is that I can only afford an old car. If I sell this one I will be lucky to make £400 on it. I know my old banger – it is useful and reliable and has so far cost very little to maintain. If I spend my £400 on someone else’s old banger I don’t really know what problems I will inherit. So I will hang on to the old girl for a bit longer, saving money on motoring costs. I plan to run her into the ground.

Minimising fuel consumption

What I try to do to mitigate some of the cost is watch my fuel consumption. The car has an on-board computer that tells me what my instant diesel consumption is. If I put my foot down hard the number of miles I get to the gallon plummets. If I am light on the accelerator I can see that I am getting more miles for my money. Simple really. I also try to change gear exactly when the car needs it rather than when the engine starts to complain. If I need to go out in the car I try to get all my errands done on the same trip.

But I think I could do more. According to the AA, you can save up to 10% on your fuel if you get your car serviced regularly to keep the engine running efficiently. I am sure this is right, but it actually costs quite a lot to get it serviced. This year there was a deal at the garage near to where I work. They do the MOT and a mini service for £75 so I went with that.

Check your tyre pressure

The AA also advises you check your car manual to make sure the tyres are at the correct pressure, as under inflated tyres use more fuel. I had two new tyres fitted recently so they were checked then, but I will make a note to do it again when I get some more diesel.

I have a friend who always keeps a barrel on the top of her landrover as it is handy storage. This is a no-no, according to the AA, as roof boxes and storage containers add wind resistance, therefore increasing fuel consumption. Ditto carrying heavy loads around in your boot. This is not a good place to store all your garden tools!

Other tips from the AA for saving money on motoring:

Cut down on the air-con as this increases fuel consumption. If it’s a hot day open the windows rather than turn on the air conditioning. Also turn off anything electrical in the car when you aren’t using it: heated windscreens, fans and headlights.

If you get stuck in a traffic jam and it looks as though it will be a while, turn off the engine. Stick to speed limits: the faster you go the more fuel you will use. You may also get a speeding ticket, which will cost you a fine and is likely to increase the cost of your insurance.

 ‘Driving at 70mph uses up to 9% more fuel than at 60mph and up to 15% more than at 50mph. Cruising at 80mph can use up to 25% more fuel than at 70mph.’ – The AA

These small things could add up to a big saving, particularly if you use your car a lot.

I always try to refuel at the supermarket as they are cheaper, in my experience. As I pass the Asda petrol station on my way to work so it makes sense.

Saving on the MOT

I found another good money saving motoring tip from a few years ago which I have used a couple of times. Most councils have their own MOT testing centres for council vehicles that are open to the public. They generally provide only the MOT test and do not carry out any remedial repairs. Therefore, they have no vested interest in diagnosing anything other than genuine faults.

My ex-husband got an ancient old banger through its MOT on three occasions when it would certainly have had the mechanics at any other garage sucking their teeth and rubbing their hands with glee at the faults they could find!

Saving money on motoring is just common sense really. What do you do to keep your motoring costs down?

Curried vegetable and chick pea stew

curried vegetable and chick pea stew

Tonight I asked daughter no 3, who is 15, to make dinner as she is still on school holidays. She made a really delicious curried vegetable and chick pea stew. She got a few ideas from the internet, then looked at what we had and threw this together.


Curried Vegetable and Chick Pea Stew


1 onion, chopped
1 small courgette, chopped
2 small carrots, sliced
chunky clove of garlic, minced
half a pint of stock
1 x 400g can of chickpeas
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
Half a teaspoon ground ginger
half a teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of tabasco to taste
Salt and pepper to season


Heat some oil in a large saucepan and soften the onion and garlic for a few minutes, then add all of the spices and stir for a minute or so. Add the courgette and carrot and fry for 5 minutes. Now add the chickpeas, stock and tomatoes and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for around 15 minutes. Serve with some cous cous or rice.

This curried vegetable and chick pea stew is super easy, healthy and cheap!

Teach your kids to cook

Cooking is a hugely useful life skill, especially if you are on a budget, health conscious, or adventurous in your eating habits…

I really can’t understand parents who cook themselves but don’t teach their children, or even worse, parents who don’t cook at all and live off ready meals. I know quite a few teens who are completely hopeless in the kitchen. One daughter went off to uni and was amazed to find one of the boys in her flat had filled the freezer with meals lovingly prepared by his Mum. Very nice of her, but wouldn’t it have been more useful to teach him a few basic culinary skills so that he could do it himself? Is she planning to bring him several months worth of meals at a time so that he never has to cook? I suspect so!!

My children were all up to chopping a few vegetables by the age of three, and we always baked cakes together. DD1 cooked her first full family roast dinner aged 10! They can all cook, and all understand what is healthy food and what is rubbish. I am not saying they don’t eat junk given half a chance, but generally their habits are pretty good.

We always fed them decent food and didn’t allow them to become fussy eaters. I think you lead by example. If you cook good food and eat lots of fruit and veg, then your children will do as you do.

Get your kids cooking as early as you can, and encourage them to try as many different foods as possible. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables yourself to show them how delicious they can be, and to encourage good habits from an early age. Then, when you need them to knock you up a speedy tea, they will be able to and you will reap the rewards!

For more of our favourite recipes, see here.

Chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast: Christmas leftovers

I am still steadfastly working through my meal plan and using up all the leftovers from Christmas, as well as some of the bits and pieces I found at the back of the cupboard.  With this in mind, tonight we have a chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast, with roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts.

I adapted it from Sarah Brown’s Layered Cashew and Mushroom Roast in her book Vegetarian Kitchen. It is an old book, but very much worth getting hold of if  you every come across a copy. You can often pick a copy up second hand on Amazon.

Chestnut, Parsnip and Mushroom Roast

This is a bit time consuming, but worth the effort. It made a very moist roast, so if you prefer it crunchier add another 50-100g of chestnuts.

chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast

Chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast


Tbsp oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
250g shelled chestnuts
110g breadcrumbs (whizz the ends of the bread up)
1 egg
3 medium parsnips, boiled and mashed
1 tsp fresh rosemary (or half tsp dried)
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped up
(you could just use a tsp of dried mixed herbs if you don’t have this)
1 tsp yeast extract, dissolved in 150ml hot water

For the mushroom filling:
225 g mushrooms, chopped and fried in a little butter


Fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes in the oil. Whizz up the breadcrumbs then the nuts in a food processor, and place in a large bowl. Add the egg, the mashed parsnips and the herbs, then the onion and yeast extract. Season to taste.

Grease a 2lb loaf tin and place half of the nut mixture into it, pressing down firmly, then add the mushrooms, drained so that you don’t make the mixture soggy. Add the rest of the nut mixture, press firmly again, then cover with foil.

Cook for one hour at 180 degrees, taking the foil off for the last 15 minutes to brown the top of your roast.

Serve this chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast with gravy and vegetables. Yummy! For more frugal recipe ideas, see here.

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