Monday, 29 November 2010

Creative Snow Day!

The view from the dining room window this morning.

Due to the weather today has been a work from home day!

Mortimer our big fluffy tom cat was very appreciative as this meant the fire was on and available to lounge in front of all day.
As you can see he made the most of the opportunity!

I have also gained over two hours travelling time, hurrah!!

Which has enabled me to prepare some chicken and vegetable pies from yesterday's leftovers.

Pie dishes filled with some of the leftover chicken and the leftover veg, moistened with the leftover gravy.

Topped with ready rolled all butter puff pastry and ready to be baked for this evening's meal.

I also had time to have a cooked breakfast and used up the leftover mash to make potato pancakes.

I had one of these with a couple of slices of organic streaky bacon (done till nice and crisp), an egg and a pot of ginger and lemon tea. I popped it all on a tray and ate it sitting by the fire while watching the snow continue to fall.

At the other end of the day my time saved gave me the opportunity to indulge in a little crafting. I turned this unused cushion cover...

...into a Christmas stocking for my eldest daughter.

I lined it with some purple cotton that I had in my stash and managed to utilise one of the beaded edges of the cushion cover as the top of the stocking so that it has purple beads dangling from the top. This will be just perfect for my dear darling goth!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Walk in the Snow

We have snow.

Lots of snow.

Come with me on a walk through my village, we'll go out by the back door, shall we?

You can just see my next door neighbour's donkey and horse by the far wall, hoping for an apple from the folk in the house beyond no doubt.

We'll walk down past the railway station... the bridge over the river...

...and look over to the left,

then over to the right ...

...before turning to retrace our steps.

We go past the field to our left...

...and past rose hips so red against the snow.

Past the Black Bull our local hostelry...

...sorry no time to stop and linger with real ale by their fire.

On up the hill to the path above the railway line,

and let's stop here a moment to look at the breathtaking view of the winter coated fells beyond.

At the end of the path we enter the churchyard ...

and in the soft silence we marvel at the holly with berries of such glowing red.

Then homeward we head to warm by the fire.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

New Clothes - Absolute Bargains!

It's been almost a week since my last post, but in my defense I have been busy finishing off my Secret Santa Swap makes. I'm finished them now so service can resume!

This week I have been buying lots of new clothes, some for myself and some for my daughters.

Don't get me wrong mind you I haven't come over all extravagant, everything I bought cost the huge amount of £2 per item!

Matalan's clearance stores currently have a huge sale of winter 2009 and summer 2010 stock items all costing £2 or less. It is only in their clearance stores, but I am lucky enough to have one just down the road from where I work in Gateshead and another in Sunderland where my mam lives.

Below are just some of the bargains that I bagged.
I don't really like this on the hanger, but I thought that for £2 it would "do" for work, however when I got it home and tried it on it looks great and I love it! Just goes to show how rubbish I am at choosing clothes for myself!

This is another one for me - a quirky shaped waistcoat type thingy! I love the way this hangs when it is on and  will probably wear this with one of my long black skirts.

Just a basic lace edged cami - I've been needing something like this for some time as I've got quite a few tops that just need a little something under them. (I won't be wearing it on it's own as I hate the tops of my arms.)

A pair of distressed Falmers jeans - I am at my most comfortable in jeans and have quite a few pairs, but at £2 a pair another couple won't come in wrong! (I bought two of these one size 14 and one size 16 as I fluctuate between the two sizes depending how "good" I've been. I also got two pairs in size 8 and gave one each to youngest and middle daughters)

A mini dress for my middle daughter - this is going away as a Christmas present. She will probably wear it over skinny jeans or leggings with either pumps or boots. (Ignore the peeling paint on the door!)

This little halter neck dress has a boned corset type bodice and is for my youngest daughter. She will be getting this straight away as I bought a similar dress for the middle daughter earlier in the week (Also in £2 sale) but gave it straight to her so I didn't get a photo. (Thought they might need them for pre Christmas nights out.)

Another pair of Falmers jeans - this time as a Christmas present for youngest daughter.

And finally a top also as a Christmas present for youngest daughter.

(Now just in case you're all thinking what about her poor eldest daughter? she is very very fussy about her clothes. She is a goth and will only wear black or purple and it would need to be a certain style - Matalan unfortunately doesn't cater for the type of clothes she goes for.)

The lady on the till at Matalan yesterday said they have loads more stock waiting to go out, so I might just have to go and have another look around!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Banoffee Curd

I was contacted by hopeeternal recently about a recipe that I posted on the moneysavingexpert forums way back in 2007. She had recently found the recipe, tried it and liked it. Having seen Banoffee curd on sale at a farmers market, I thought of trying to make some myself, yet despite umpteen searches on the net, I couldn't find a recipe. I decided to put my thinking cap on and try to adapt a lemon curd recipe. I substituted dark brown sugar for white, and bananas for lemon and gave it a go. In hopeeternal's words "it is a recipe worth sharing" and she has asked that I post it on my blog so that she can link to it so here it is:

(Thinking about it this would make an excellent Christmas gift.)

Banoffee Curd
10 oz Soft dark brown sugar
2 bananas
2oz butter
2 Free range eggs. beaten.

Mash the bananas with the sugar until a fairly smooth puree is formed. Do this in a heatproof bowl that can be placed over a pan of boiling water. Add the butter chopped into pieces. Place over a pan of simmering water and stir constantly until the butter and sugar are melted. Slowly add the beaten eggs stirring all the time. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Note this last step can take a while. Warm a clean jam jar and pour the thickened mixture into the jar. Leave to cool and set then seal. I suspect this will like other curds need to be kept in a fridge and used within one month.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

So how’s the menu plan going?

 Well, it is helping me to consider what we have in and reminding me to use up what I’ve already got before buying more.

Don't get me wrong, it’s not that I wasted food before, I hate wasting food, it’s just that the amount in store in the cupboards and freezer would steadily increase and I would still be thinking I needed to buy more.

This has improved so much, I now have space in the cupboards and the freezer is no longer over stuffed. I am using my stocks up and only purchasing things that I need. (Well and one or two whoopsied bargains to pop in the freezer!)

It’s not that I am inexperienced in frugal meal planning, when my daughters were young my circumstances were such that living frugally was an absolute necessity so much so that when I became a one parent family and had to temporarily live on benefits I felt positively rich and was able to save money. I think this is part of the problem, in that having to really live hand to mouth so to speak, I like the comfort of having food squirreled away.

You may remember that last week I started calling it my menu guide, rather than thinking of it as a rigid plan – well that seems to work best for me. I didn’t stick exactly to the guide, but I did stick to it loosely and did use up things that were already in stock rather than calling at the supermarket every day on my way home from work and buying something new for tea.

Anyhoo my guide for this week:
Monday Lunches – Just needed these for Dave and myself – Dave took beef and horseradish sarnies using up the beef left over from Sunday dinner and I took a portion of HM scotch broth from the freezer.
Evening meal - Used up some salmon burgers that were long time lurkers in the freezer and had Salmon burgers in buns with lettuce and seafood sauce, chips and peas.

Tuesday Lunches  - me & Ellie -  HM Roast Pumpkin, Garlic and Chilli Soup (recipe below). Dave – Bacon & Egg Sandwiches.
Evening meal – Just Dave and me tonight so decided to try the new Italian restaurant that has opened in the next village and is offering a Happy Hour special.

WednesdayLunch – Just Dave & me – Roast Vegetable Wraps.
Evening Meal - Braised Lamb Shanks (didn’t end up using these last week) with Mashed Potatoes ( Plain boiled for me because I think mash is the food of the devil!),  Steamed Cabbage and Carrots.

Thursday Lunch – Ellie & me – Lentil Dahl & a Chapati. Dave – Cheese and Onion Sandwiches.
Evening meal - Nachos Grande  - Tortilla corn Chips smothered in Chilli & Cheese served with HM Salsa, HM Guacamole and Sour Cream.

Friday –  Lunch – Just me and Ellie so planned leftover chilli etc from previous night. 
Evening meal - Rump Steak, Saute Potatoes, Garlic Mushrooms, Onion Rings & Coleslaw.

SaturdayLunch – Out
Evening Meal – Pasta Alamatricana, Grated Cheese & Garlic Bread.

Sunday - Brunch - Bacon, Sausage, Egg & Tomatoes with Toast.
Evening Meal - Roast Chicken, Mash, Roast Potatoes, Carrots, Cabbage, Broccoli, Yorkshire Puds, Gravy.

Roast Pumpkin, Garlic and Chilli Soup
1 Small Pumpkin
1 Medium Onion
3 Cloves of Garlic (unpeeled)
1 Fresh Chilli
Glug of Olive Oil
2 tsp Marigold Stock Powder

Cut the pumpkin into quarters, no need to peel.Peel and quarter the onion. Put them both into a roasting tin. Throw in the unpeeled cloves of garlic and use scissors to snip the chilli into bits over the top of the pumpkin. Drizzle it all with olive oil and roast till the pumpkin is tender. Allow to cool enough so that you can handle things comfortably then scoop the pumpkin flesh off the skin into a saucepan. Squeeze the garlic out of it's skin into the saucepan with the pumpkin and add the onions and any stray bits of chilli. Add the two teaspoons of stock powder and cover the whole lot with just boiled water. Use a stick blender to blitz, check that the soup is not too thick if it is add a little more water- and add any salt/pepper to taste.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Lest We Forget

Remembrance Sunday
For Remembrance week have been offering free access to WW1 Service Records.

I knew that my maternal grandmother's father had served in WW1 and had been told by my Nana that due to the effects of gas he had been invalided out of the army at the end of the war and had died shortly afterwards. So with great curiosity I searched for his military records. The records showed that he had indeed been invalided out of the Army in 1919 and awarded an Army pension as his ill health was attributable to the War. There was also a record of the widow's pension that was awarded to my great grandmother in 1920.
There was also a surprise however. 
We had always thought that my Nana was one of three children left fatherless on his death, but according to the records there were five children.

My Nana was the eldest child, she is pictured below aged about 3 years old.
Of course my curiosity was aroused and I felt the need to do a little more digging. My Nana died when I was in my early twenties, so I couldn't ask her, and when I asked my mum she said that she was totally unaware of the existence of any other children so this meant taking out a 14 day free trial on the site. This led to the discovery of not just two additional children a boy and a girl, but a third child a boy, who had died aged 1 year. I have been unable to find details of the deaths of the boy and girl who are mentioned in the military files, but we assume that they must have died quite young if my Nana never mentioned them to anyone.

This has really brought home to me just how lucky I am in my life today. It has also piqued my curiosity to find out more about my ancestors, a task I am finding very addictive!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

First Christmas Make of the Year

This year I want to make a lot of the christmas presents that I give away.
I am so pleased that I have finished the first one.

 A pair of pyjamas for my dear granddaughter.

They are made from a lovely cosy stretch fleece fabric which I bought from Boyes for only £2.99 per metre, and they only took 1 metre of fabric to make.

They're not perfect but I'm sure Flic won't notice the one or two deliberate mistakes!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Slight Reprieve & Menu Planning Week 2

I told you all last week that I had been served with my redundancy notice to take effect at the end of December. Well I have been given a slight reprieve as I have been offered a secondment into the Behaviour Support Service until March 2011. This gives me some breathing space and to be honest I am looking forward to getting back into some "hands on" teaching so to speak, even though teaching pupils with behaviour problems can be challenging. It's only a reprieve however so I still feel that I need to cut back in order to make sure that I can weather any future period of unemployment.

My good intentions of planning meals etc got a bit sidetracked at the start of this week. On our return from our weekend in Dunoon I felt too tired to bother with meal planning for the coming week. Yesterday afternoon I was on a training course and so didn’t finish till later than normal, I had also promised to stop in and see my granddaughter to give her a present I had brought back from Dunoon for her. So, what with one thing and another I had nothing planned for tea and succumbed to buying Chinese takeaway. Mind you my daughter and I did both take leftovers to work with us for lunch today, so it has done two meals.

Still today it’s back to a bit of planning. One of the comments last week when I posted my first menu plan was how the downside of menu planning can take the spontaneity out of mealtimes. I did agree with the comment that sometimes when faced with a menu plan you just don’t really fancy the meal that is planned for a given night. I try to make sure that any plan I make is flexible, so rather than slavishly sticking to “the plan” I will often swap meals around or at the last minute will substitute a different meal but utilising the same main ingredient, for example I might plan pasta Bolognese but decide we don’t want pasta so will make chilli instead. It uses the same main ingredients but is a totally different dish. I also just try to decide on the number of, say main meals that I need, and then write a list containing that number of meals but in a random order.

I regard “the plan” as a guide rather than something set in stone and find that by having a guide I am less likely to go blank when thinking what to do for our meals, the problem being that when I “go blank” I am more likely to just think let’s just go out for dinner or buy in a takeaway. I am also more likely to have in all the ingredients that I need to make a balanced tasty meal, whereas without the guide I am likely to have lots of random ingredients but nothing that really goes together well if that makes sense?

Sooo... to this weeks “guide”.

I need 6 main meals (Tues – Sun):

Fish Taco’s - Chunks of fish marinaded with chopped chilli and garlic then shallow fried, served with home made wraps, home made salsa and home made wedges.

Pork chops with roast potatoes & steamed veg.

Bolognese with wholemeal pasta, grated cheese and a salad with char grilled courgette and pepper .

Beef stroganoff with rice and wild rice.

Fish Platter - I have a cooked lobster in the freezer which needs to be used up along with half a bag of frozen prawns and half a bag of frozen scallops so will serve these with a salad, garlic butter and crusty bread.

Pot roast brisket of beef, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, steamed carrots, steamed cabbage, Yorkshire puddings, gravy. (This will definitely be for Sunday)

Other meals we will need:

Tomorrow – packed lunches x 3

Thursday – packed lunches x 2 (I am at a conference where lunch is provided)

Friday – 2 x packed lunches (Dave finishes early on Friday so doesn’t take lunch)

Saturday – cooked breakfast, but no lunch as we will be out.

Sunday – cooked brunch.

So – Packed lunches:

Cheese sandwiches

Sausage sandwiches

Vegetable soup (From Freezer)

Breakfast – Poached eggs on toast.

Brunch – Sausage, bacon, egg, mushrooms, tomato, toast.

Tonight I chose Bolognese with wholemeal pasta, grated cheese and a salad with char grilled courgette and pepper.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A weekend in Dunoon

This weekend we headed north to Dunoon to stay with friends. This was a much needed break for me and despite the fact that it rained almost all day on Saturday, we had a lovely time.

After getting home from work we got changed, picked up our luggage and drove north to get the ferrry from Gourock to Dunoon.

 A lovely meal and copious amounts of wine awaited us on arrival, followed by a good nights sleep.
Following a hearty cooked breakfast on Saturday, our friends took us on a beautiful scenic drive.

via Loch Striven.

A stop at the National Trust For Scotland Tighnabruaich viewpoint.

Then on to the pretty little village of Tighnabruaich where we drooled over some of the artworks, crafts and gifts in the Tignabruaich Gallery .

There was one particular painting that we both really liked by an artist called Heather Nevay, it was quite surreal and entitled "The boy who was afraid of the dark". Unfortunately though with a price tag of £4250, it was way out of our range.

We then went on to a lovely secluded pub, in a stunning location right on the shores of Loch Fyne, where we partook of a light lunch.

Then a leisurely drive back to Dunoon, through yet more stunning countryside.

We were then taken out for an evening meal at the Villagers Royal - a pub in Innellan just south of Dunoon. We were most impressed by the food which was really delicious. We rounded off the evening back at our friends flat with yet more wine!

Following another hearty breakfast this morning we returned home - Happy, relaxed and with renewed optimism.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Fading Flowers Bloom Again

I love getting flowers and was so lucky to get several lovely bunches of flowers for my birthday. Of course they are now past their best, but I can never bear to just throw away flowers without making sure that I get the most I can from them.


I sorted through the flowers and cut down the best of what was left to give me this sweet little jug of flowers , they will only last another day or two, but will continue to brighten up a corner.

 I also always salvage any unblemished petals or buds pop them in a shallow container and dry them on top of the boiler to make potpourri - the petals from the jug above will join these from the main bunch in due course.

Remember the anniversary flowers that I showed you the other week, well the leaves that were part of the bunch of flowers had dried off naturally so I popped them in a bowl for a lovely autumnal display.

Don’t they look lovely?

I love it that when I look at the large bowl of Potpourri that I have in the lounge, I can recapture the faded memories of the flowers my family have given me.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

This Week's Plan.

Well I’ve made a start!

I’ve had a look at what I’ve already got in the fridge, freezer and in store and have planned for the rest of this weeks meals.

We will need packed lunch for three for Wednesday, Thursday & Friday. (We all always take packed lunches so this is not something new.)

We will also need evening meals for Tonight, Wednesday and Thursday. Dave and I are going to visit friends for the weekend and will be setting off as soon as we get home. Our friends will have a meal ready for us but we are not likely to get there till about 10pm so we will need something to snack on when we pull into the motorway services. Ellie will be spending time at her boyfriends, so no need to worry about her.

So here’s the plan:
We've had:

Home Made Salmon and Leek Fishcakes
Home Made Red Cabbage Coleslaw

and Herby Potato & Carrot Wedges


Sausage and Egg Sandwiches. I had three lonely little sausages in the fridge, so I have cooked these and will chop them up, boil a couple of eggs and mash them, add the sausages and a dollop of mayonnaise. I already bake my own wholemeal bread, so this will provide the filling for two sandwiches each for the three of us.

Roast Vegetable Wraps. I have lots of courgettes and peppers that need using up as well as a couple of beetroot, so will chop them up along with an onion, drizzle with olive oil and roast. I will also make some homemade wraps and once they have cooled will spread them with some mayonnaise to which I will add 1tsp of  harrissa paste and then add the cooled veg.

Lentil and Roast Vegetable Curry – Dave doesn’t take lunch on a Friday as he finishes work earlier, so as Ellie and I have access to a microwave I will make a simple lentil Dahl for our lunch and add any leftover roast veg.

Recipe for Lentil Dahl
Red Lentils
1 Onion Sliced
1tbsp Oil
2 tsp Panch Phoran (An Indian mix of 5 seeds - if you can't buy it you can make your own here)
1 tsp salt

Cover the lentils with water and bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the lentils are soft and mushy.

Once the lentils are softened heat the oil in a frying pan and add the sliced onion, fry quickly till browned, then add the panch phoran and heat briefly, pour the onion mixture, including the oil into the lentils and stir through. Add salt to taste.

Evening Meals

Beef Chow Mien

Pasta Pork Enchiladas - this is a version of this recipe, but substituting pork for the chicken.

And for the journey

Tuna and Cheese Pasties.
A flask of coffee.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Onwards and Upwards

I'd like to thank you all for your kind and supportive comments following yesterday's post. It helps so much to know that here in blog land there are so many kind and helpful people.

I do keep trying to lead a simpler life but am not really very successful, however with the news of my impending redundancy I will need to take stock of things and will have no choice but to prioritise and tighten my belt. Perhaps this is really just the spur I need to make a simpler less wasteful lifestyle a reality - (see I knew I'd find a positive somewhere!!) Now,  though I do manage to stick to my ideals of cooking from scratch and eating as much organic produce as possible, this is at a financial cost. There is no denying that organic food is a lot more expensive, and though I like to think I cook economically using up every bit of the food that I buy, in reality I could certainly do better.
As an example of what I mean, I will often freeze leftovers intending to incorporate them into another meal, this makes me feel so virtuous that I then promptly forget about them. They are rarely labelled and rarely used. They just languish in the freezer till it gets very full of all these unidentifiable "bits" which then have to be thrown away as I don't know what they are and I need the space.

I also get an organic vegetable bag delivered each week, now when I first ordered this there were four adults in the household coming home for evening meals often with the girls dragging their boyfriends along too. Now there are often just two of us, but I still buy the same size bag and then feel guilty because I don't use everything before it goes off.

I know the answer - I need to:

** get organised **
** menu plan **
** make a shopping list **
** stick to it **
And it's not just food. I do source most of my clothes from either charity shops or in sales, but there is no organisation to what I buy, consequently I have a stack full of jeans, some that fit, some that don't and a pile of black t-shirts. I also have some very nice tops - but few that fit, along with a bunch of lovely skirts, but I struggle to find things to go with them. I think this is another area where it's time to stop wasting money and become more organised.


Now is the time to make this a reality and perhaps by posting my progress on my blog from time to time I will be motivated to move closer to the simpler less stressful life that I strive for.

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