Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Advent Calendar Box for Oxfam

I was recently contacted by ParcelHero and asked if I'd like to take part in their Advent Calendar Campaign for Christmas in collaboration with Oxfam. 

The idea was that I'd be sent
 a small blank wooden box to decorate and to put a small handmade gift inside.

In all 25 identical blank boxes were shipped to 25 bloggers from all over the world to be brought together and used to create an advent calendar which is being auctioned for charity with all proceeds going to Oxfam.

The brief was simple, to decorate the box inside and out in any way I chose and to include a small handcrafted gift in the box.

Initially my mind went blank when it came to decorating the box but I quickly decided that I wanted my gift to be inspired by my summer holiday to the Isles of Harris and Lewis. I had brought back some offcuts of Harris Tweed and knew I wanted to use some of these in the creation of my gift. I have also been experimenting lately with needle felting so I decided to use some Harris Tweed to create a little broach and to embellish it with needle felting and embroidery. For the actual design on the broach I was inspired by the colours of the Hebridean landscape.

Once the broach was completed I used a picture of  The Isle of Harris landscape to fasten it to.

Having made the gift to go in the box, my thoughts turned to the box itself. As this was to be part of an advent calendar I wanted it to look festive so decided to decoupage the box using some napkins from last year. They were festive colours of red and green with a touch of gold and what's more the design reminded me of a plaid tweed. I neatened the edges with red ribbon and a row of red sequins.

Turning to the inside of the box I painted the edges in a misty pale lilac colour then decorated the sides and the inside of the lid using overlapping patches of gauze in colours reminiscent of the frequently stormy skies on The Isle of Harris. The inside base was finished off with another piece of the same napkin used on the outside.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to this unique and inspired advent calendar and hope that it will raise lots of funds to help Oxfam in the war against poverty. 

You can find the E-bay auction here.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Once Upon a Basic Christmas...

A while between posts I know, but I'm out of excuses.  I'm feeling that life is too short to stress about the small stuff or to be honest about the any stuff! But I'll post as and when the mood takes me after all I'm not a career blogger - I blog for myself and if anyone is out there listening to my ramblings I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your virtual friendship because what I like about this here blogging lark is the support and kindness that comes from those who stumble upon my little space here and connect for a little while.

I've entitled this post "Once Upon a Basic Christmas" and feel it perhaps deserves a little explanation.When my dear children were young I was often strapped for cash, not just at Christmas, but of course those who struggle financially can find Christmas a rather large burden. You know though I like a challenge, in fact put me under pressure and I thrive - tell me I have all the time in the world and I'll take it - all of it! Tell me it needs to be done in the next 24 hours though and my little brain suddenly gets it's act together and I focus.

My previous marriage ended 5 weeks before Christmas when my then husband , who earned a reasonable wage, thought that it was acceptable to spend over 75% of his income down the pub - where incidentally he also spent every night and weekend afternoons! 

I walked out of the marital home with my children and a couple of bin bags of clothes ( I never looked back and have never regretted it for an instant) but faced with a rapidly looming Christmas holiday and 4 children  well, tell me about pressure! We initially moved back to my parent's home - they took me and my children in borrowing camp beds from friends and rearranging sleeping arrangements. We were lucky to manage to rent a furnished property quite quickly and moved into our own little refuge with 3 weeks to go to Christmas. 

Even if I do say so myself we did wonders on a literal shoestring! That and the subsequent financially strapped years taught me much about how to celebrate on a shoestring.

... motivation prevailing my next few posts will give some tips on how to not only survive but thrive a meltdown Christmas. (Also useful for a general thrifty Chrimbo too!) 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Hommity (ish!) Pies with a Wholemeal Olive Oil Pastry - Yum!!!


that must mean time for comfort food, and what is more comforting than a pie?

Mmmm, economical, delicious and healthy.

Okay, maybe healthy is debatable but I think my version of Hommity Pies is perhaps, a healthier pie than most. Having just the one crust, the base, it almost halves the amount of pastry in the first place, but then the pastry is made with wholemeal flour and olive oil. Yes I kid you not the fat used in this pastry is olive oil giving you a pastry where the fat content is a healthy monounsaturated oil as well as a pastry that is easy peasy to make too.

Made mainly from leftovers this frugal pie is warming wholesome and comforting - perfect autumn fare.

According to one t'interweb source Hommity Pies contain a filling of potatoes onion and leek, but I utilised leftover potatoes and vegetables from the previous evening's meal, so the vegetables in my pies included carrots and broccoli, hence my title Hommity-ish pies.

 Hommity - ish Pies

8oz (225g) wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
5 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp cold water

1 medium onion - chopped
1 garlic clove -  finely chopped
1 tsp olive oil
Leftover cold potatoes chopped into 1/2 inch cubes. 
Leftover cooked vegetables chopped into small pieces.
( If you don't have any suitable leftovers you can cook the potatoes and veg especially for the dish, just use up what you have!)
4oz (100g) grated cheese.
Splash of milk
Salt and pepper to taste.

To Make the Pastry

Mix the wholemeal flour, baking powder and salt together and then make a well in the centre.

Add the water and the oil then mix into the flour - I used  a fork for this and it worked well. When all the liquid is combined with the flour bring together the resulting dough with your hands. At this point you could roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut into 4" rounds, but I chose to divide the dough into 6 small balls and use my hands to flatten them into circles to fit my tin. Line your pie tins.

I rather liked the rustic look that this gave to my pie cases.


Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the chopped onions and garlic. Saute until soft but not coloured. Remove from the heat and in a bowl mix the onion and garlic with the potatoes and vegetables. Add half the cheese and a splash of milk and mix well to combine all the ingredients.Taste and add seasoning if necessary.  Fill the pastry cases and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake in the oven at 220C Gas mark 7 for 20 minutes until golden.

I prefer these pies warm rather than hot so I cool them on a rack for a little while before serving, they are however also delicious cold.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Proving that a self catering holiday can be relaxing for all!

We've been on holiday to The Isle of Lewis in The Outer Hebrides, and what a long journey home we had - setting off at 9a.m to arrive home at 10:50 pm!

Waiting for the ferry!

As usual we self catered and I had it planned like a military operation - lol!

It was my holiday too and the last thing I wanted was to feel I was stuck in the kitchen making endless meals. To prevent this I've found that a little forward planning can make a self catering holiday fun and relaxing for everyone including the usual chief cook and bottle washer.

First off I make a list of all the meals we'll need while we are away including breakfasts, packed lunches and evening meals. I always plan for one evening to be a take-away and another to be a treat meal out. 

Armed with my list of meals I then menu plan, keeping things simple. Now if you read this blog regularly you will know that my usual way of cooking is from scratch, but on holiday I make an exception. For example a curry planned for one evening, but using good quality jars of curry sauce where the only prep is slicing up and frying off some chicken breasts before adding the sauce and using those pre prepared packs of microwave rice and long life naan breads.  

I do this well ahead of time and then write a list of all the non perishables I will need. These are then bought over several weeks or even months and packed away ready to take with us. I take with me a separate list of perishables to buy in a single shop once I get to our holiday destination. 

This may seem like a lot of work but it is all done ahead of the holiday, I also do a bit at a time so it doesn't feel at all onerous, in fact, I really rather enjoy this pre planning stage. Once on holiday, apart from an initial quick shop, I don't need to worry or think about meals. The preparation for the meals is minimal never taking more than 15 easy minutes of my time.

Do you go self catering? If you do, how do you plan?

I've reproduced this year's lists below to give you some idea of how I plan.

Pre buy
Tea Bags
Tomato Ketchup
Butter (Stored in fridge till we go then in cool bag)
Spray Oil
LL Milk
Jam (Honey and marmalade!)
Packed Lunches
Canned Tuna
Canned Meats 
Part baked bread (LL Vac Packed)
Main Meals
Curry & Rice with Naan Breads
Jar Curry Sauce
Packet Rice
LL Naan Bread
Pesto Pasta with Chorizio
Jar Pesto
Wholewheat pasta
Tortillas and taco's
Tortilla kit (mix, wraps, salsa)
Packet Egg Fried Rice
Blue dragon sauce sachets
Pizza bases
Tomato pasta sauce for topping
Sunday Dinner
Processed peas

Buy When There
Additional Butter
Black Pudding
Square Sausage
Orange Juice
Packed Lunches
Main Meals
Bagged salad
Garlic bread
Mince (for tacos)
Chicken (for fajitas, curry & Chinese)
Sour cream
Grated cheddar
Grated Mozarella
Chinese stir fry veg
Prawn Crackers
Prepared potatoes for Sunday
Prepared Veg for Sunday
Cooked Chicken (Sunday Dinner and Packed Lunches)
Pre cooked Yorkshires

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Duet of Sausages

Now that I am working part time, frugality and thriftiness are a necessity, whilst embracing the need to be careful I don't necessarily like "cheap" especially when it comes to sausages. Do you remember that several years ago there was a huge furore over one of the big supermarkets selling value sausages at 16p for 8? Yes really 2p each! The downside was the actual meat content was only 34%. That is a sausage composed largely of rusk and water - not for me - sorry!

Both me and the hubby love a great British banger! 
At farmer's markets around the country artisan sausage makers ply their wares - delicious, juicy meaty bangers, just as they should be, but at a price!

Homemade sausages for breakfast!

I'm not entirely new to sausage making myself having bought a "Sausage King" sausage making kit way back in the early 1980's. The set consisted of a hand held sausage stuffer, some collagen skins, a couple of packets of flavouring mix and some rusk. Despite trying repeatedly to make passable sausages, I had limited success. The sausages were too dry (100% lean meat does not make a good sausage!) or  poorly flavoured and the collagen skins seemed tough - that is they did when they didn't burst leaving an unholy mess in the pan! Needless to say the sausage stuffer was relegated to the back of a box and largely forgotten.

Recently my thoughts have returned to sausage making - I'm older and (questionably) wiser, so I felt in the mood to resurrect the sausage stuffer and try again.  I  bought some natural hog sausage skins from good old EBay - not a large quantity, but enough for a few experiments.

I began with a google search for recipes - mainly to get an idea for proportions of ingredients. My first revelation was that water needed to be added to the sausage mix to keep it moist. I hadn't added water to any of my experiments in the 80's. I wanted to use ready minced meat, and knew though that it needed a proportion of fat, so I made sure that I didn't choose the extra lean stuff.

I had a pack of organic saddleback pork from a local farm supplier which weighed 435g so armed with a calculator I deemed that I needed 87g of some sort of filler, 7g of herbs, 4g pepper, 2g salt and 87ml water.

I decided to use homemade wholemeal bread as a filler and I have copious amounts of sage growing in pots so I popped the bread and the sage together in the food processor and whizzed them into sage flecked breadcrumbs. The recipes I had found on t'interweb tended to specify white pepper, but I only had black pepper so that is what I used. Everything was thoroughly mixed together just using my hands. A little bit of the mixture was then fried off and tasted to check for seasoning - I deemed it perfect. It was slightly spicy from the quantity of black pepper so I named this batch "Spicy Pork Sausages". The mixture was stuffed into the soaked hog casings and twisted into links.

Homemade Spicy Pork sausages.

Flushed with my apparent success and having quite a bit of hog casings left over I wanted to try more. Not having any more fresh minced meat in the house however I raced off to the local butcher. At this point I was thinking  - beef with Stilton and Moroccan lamb.

Unfortunately there was no lamb mince to be had so I satisfied myself with the purchase of 500g minced beef. Once back home I once again consulted the all wise google to see what the recommended proportion of Stilton cheese is in a sausage. The consensus seemed to be about 40g to 500g meat. Now my dear hubby loves Stilton sausages but his usual complaint is that there is insufficient Stilton in them. With this in mind I decided to up the quantity of Stilton to 60g. I also added a chopped onion fried sweated down in a little butter.

Once I'd fried a little taste I deemed there was still not enough Stilton so upped it by another 10g. After another taste, I upped it by 10g again so I used 80g of Stilton in total. 

Homemade Beef & Stilton sausages.

Were they both a success? You bet they were. We both had two of each flavour for tea served on a mound of colcannon (mashed potato and cabbage) with onion gravy. Hubby did ask however, that I include a little more Stilton next time!

What about the costs?

Spicy Pork Sausage
435g Organic Pork Mince  (£2.90)
87g Breadcrumbs  (10p)
7g Sage  (Homegrown so free)
5g Pepper & 2g Salt (Costed at 5p - though doubt it would be that much)
87ml Water
Hog casings (66p)
So £3.76, and the weight of the finished sausages was 600g so £6.26 per kg

Beef & Stilton Sausages
500g Beef  (£3.85)
100g breadcrumbs (10p)
7g Sage (free) 
1 Small Onion (10p)
5g Pepper & 1tsp Salt (5p)
80g Stilton (94p)
100ml water
Hog casings (66p) 
So £5.70, and the weight of the finished sausages was 800g so £7.12 per kg

Comparable sausages tend to be around about the £7.50 per kg mark - so whilst there is a saving in monetary terms it is not a massive saving. However, you do know exactly what has gone into the making of these sausages and that is as important to me as the price.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Home Made Stuffing

Sage and onion stuffing. So quintessentially British and generally loved by all...
...well not quite all, as personally I've never been a fan.

Now, I'm not sure what I disliked - the texture? The flavour?

I like onions and I like sage, but somehow sage and onion stuffing has never had an appeal...
till now!

What's changed?

Quite simply I had never made it from scratch before having always used the dried packet mix. Every time I've been offered it by anyone else too, it has been made from a packet. I think that because I rarely ate it myself it had never occurred to me to make it from scratch until that is, last Sunday.

Being only the two of us for Sunday dinner (and coming from the North East where a Sunday roast is seen as obligatory) I didn't feel the need to do a full roast chicken. Having some chicken thighs in the fridge I decided they would do fine as the "roast". Having decided on the thighs I chose to skin and bone them and wrap them in bacon for cooking.

Problem number one came when I went to get the bacon out of the fridge to wrap around the thighs. Uh oh!!! No real rashers left, just a few straggly end bits. So I thought - oh well, I'll pop a bit of stuffing in the centre - sage and onion for hubby and perhaps defrost a sausage from the freezer for myself?

Problem number two: No sage and onion stuffing mix and no sausages. (I've been a terrible housewife lately!).  

Then a light bulb moment - how hard can it be to make stuffing? A quick google gave the answer - not very. Once I had the basis of a recipe it also made me think that there was nothing in there not to like - I rather liked the sound of the home made stuff. I also had all the ingredients - a rather forlorn lone wholemeal pitta bread - to make into crumbs, onions, an egg, and plenty of sage in a pot outside.

I began by whizzing up the pitta bread and a dozen sage leaves in the food processor until I had herb flecked breadcrumbs.

.I chopped two small onions and allowed them to gently sweat in a teaspoon of butter for about 15 minutes.

Added the onions and egg to the breadcrumbs and sage.

Seasoned well with salt and pepper and gave it all a thorough mix.

Then stuffed chicken thighs and popped the scraggy bits of bacon on the top just to keep them moist.

I must say they were lovely and made a very frugal alternative to a roast chicken. I used five thighs and there was plenty left to use in sandwiches the next day.

And have I changed my mind about sage and onion stuffing - you bet I have!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

In my blogging absence, life itself has continued along it's merry way. Some ups, some downs and a little meandering along the way. Though by far the best thing that has happened is the birth of a second granddaughter!

Meet Catherine...

...born on 2nd June which was incidentally the day of my son's 40th birthday!
Flic is over the moon to finally be a BIG sister.


Whilst waiting for Catherine's arrival I did manage a few little makes for her including a patchwork blanket backed with fleece. I felt honoured when my daughter chose to take it into hospital with her as baby's first blanket. You can just see a little peek of it at the bottom of the top photograph.
I was so thrilled to see comments in my last post welcoming me back, it's been so long that I thought I'd be blogging to myself for a while. Thank you so much for remembering me. If I needed any encouragement to get back into blogging it is knowing that the blogging community is filled with such wonderful caring souls.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The number of times I've wanted to come back... wouldn't believe it!

There has never been:
  • The right time - (whatever or whenever that may be!)
  • Anything to say
  • Enough time - (though you'd think wouldn't you that if I had nothing to say I'd maybe have time to say it in, or conversely that if I had no time there's something going on that I could say!)
  • The energy!!! 
  • The confidence that what I have to say might in any way interest anyone.
And in that last sentence perhaps lies more than a grain of truth. 

Upon reflection however, I have on several occasions, perused my older blog postings and they have provided me with some lovely reminders of times that I might otherwise have forgotten. An online photo diary of the often trivial but nonetheless happy interludes in my life. Re-reading them made me smile and reminded me of happy times. Though sometimes posts were less positive and these reminders were sad, the supportive comments I received on these posts were uplifting. 

I think what I'm trying to say is that even if  no one else ever read my blog other than myself there would be an intrinsic value in it's continuation.
I think the time has come...
to resume at last!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...