Friday, 28 December 2012

Back in the saddle....

...return to frugality.

 By many people's standards, my Christmas is pretty frugal, but I feel that I feast and celebrate and enjoy myself thoroughly. I am still eating my way through treats and gifts (Christmas cake is a viable breakfast option in December, right?), but eventually they will run out and it will be back to the frugal life for me.

 I have a goal in mind. My daughters bedroom DESPERATELY needs replastering. This isn't cheap, and is way beyond my skills. I have given myself three months to save up enough to pay for it. Now, bearing in mind I often end the month with nothing left to spare, this is a pretty humongous challenge. But, I have to do, and necessity can be a pretty good motivator.

 I've been searching the Internet today, for both ideas and inspiration. I need to psych myself up for the next three months, give myself a mental shake and focus on what needs to be done. One of my favourite frugal websites is Whenever the frugal road seems hard and grim, a glance at this site cheers me up no end. Yes, it offers great advice. Yes, it has some tasty and reliable recipes. Yes, it has encouraging articles to read. But none of those things are why I like it so much. You see, it is just BEAUTIFUL to look at. The photography is gorgeous. The simplest, cheapest of meals are served on pretty plates, garnished with a sprig of herbs. Each glass of water is made beautiful with a petal, or a slice of lemon. The whole site is a delight to look at and a powerful, visual reminder that frugal doesn't have to be ugly, or grey or depressing. It makes me realise that it doesn't cost a fortune to make life pretty, and suddenly the frugal life doesn't seem so hard.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


 One of the nicest things about the Christmas feast is the promise of leftovers still to come! I try not to cook too many veg, as I know that these can end up being wasted, but I make an exception for roast potatoes. My daughter loves them, and for breakfast every Boxing Day she tucks into a plateful of roasties, and some warmed up gravy. Not everyone's idea of a perfect breakfast, but she loves it!

 We had three meats for lunch - a turkey breast, a joint of beef and a ginger glazed ham. Again, I don't buy huge quantities, but I do have plenty of leftovers. First, all three are sliced up, cold, as part of an assortment of nibbles for tea. The ham will all go, it is just delicious! The turkey will be used up in turkey and stuffing sandwiches over the next couple of days, but the beef was unlikely to be used up any time soon so I sliced it, wrapped it in tin foil and froze it. It will make a nice, easy meal one evening heated up in some gravy.

 We served quite a number of desserts today. The trifle and the tiramisu will be eaten over the next couple of days, but I have plans for the Christmas pud. I shall have a go at making Nigella's Christmas puddini truffles to take with me to a friends house on the 27th.

 Tomorrow we will spend the afternoon at my mums house, where she will no doubt lay on a buffet. Then, we are off to a friends house to enjoy their Boxing Day bubble and squeak. On the 27th, we will be going into town to spent a bit of Christmas money in the sales, then off to another friends house. On the 28th, it is my oldest friends birthday, and we are invited to her house for dinner, so I don't expect to be cooking another proper meal until the 30th! A real bonus after all the effort that went into preparing Christmas dinner.

Merry Christmas!

 So, that's it...all over for another year ;-)

 With only eight around the table for lunch this was a quiet Christmas here, but a happy one. Gifts were exchanged - lovely, thoughtful gifts that were really appreciated. Feasting took place, and was enjoyed by all. Candles were burned, lights twinkled and Christmas music was played. Best of all, family and friends gathered to share, to talk and to laugh.

 However you kept your Christmas, I hope that you enjoyed it xxx

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas doesn't come from a store...

...maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more...
                            Dr. Seuss, 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.'

By author unknown...

Jingle tills, jingle tills
Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to spend
Our hard earned Christmas pay!

Dashing through the stores
Sweating all the way
Oh what fun it is to spend
Our hard earned Christmas pay!

Deck the halls...

...with sparkle, glitter and homemade crackers.

I've never been keen on having a 'theme' for Christmas decorations. A tree decorated with a single colour just leaves me cold, I'm afraid. I really enjoy the ritual of taking the decorations down from the loft and sorting through them. It's like welcoming distant family and friends back around the Christmas dining table - so many memories come flooding back! I've saved a few of the decorations that my daughter made when she was small - a loo roll cracker, a glittery heart, an angel with a distinctly crooked halo! I've got some baubles that say 'baby's first Christmas', and a few that we bought as souvenirs on a family holiday to Disneyland, Paris. Over the years, I've picked up some bargains in the January sales, like a lovely set of three wise men. Some of the baubles date back to my childhood! Quite a lot of my Christmas decorations came from my mum, who loves a 'theme' and updates her decorations regularly!

My Christmas tree was the biggest expense. It isn't particularly large, it's artificial and has lights built into it. It is a nice tree, and has lasted a long time. It still looks good, so I imagine we will get many more years use out of it. The lights on one of the branches have stopped working, but we just keep that part turned to the back, and no one can tell!

I don't really need any more decorations, in fact I haven't managed to put them all out this year. However, I do like to make some, just for fun. I sometimes bake biscuits to hand from the tree. This year I'm making some salt dough decorations with my lunch time craft club at school. It's really easy to do.

You take half a cup of salt, and mix it with a whole cup of flour. Gradually stir in half a cup of water, and knead for ten minutes. A splash of oil improves the texture a bit, but isn't essential. You make your decorations, then it needs to dry. It will air dry, but to speed things up you can microwave it for two or three minutes, or put it in a low oven for a while. Once dry, you can paint or varnish them, but last year I made some little stars and left them plain, and was quite happy with the effect.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ready for Christmas?

So, once again Christmas is rushing up to meet us. Is it just me, or even though we know its coming, do we always feel just a little bit caught out by it? Three more days at school for me (kids think that they are the only ones counting down to the holidays - what do they know!). I've wrapped all the presents that I've bought so far. Still got a couple to buy, but that's because I haven't a clue what to get. Hope inspiration strikes soon!

The crowd that normally descends on my house for Christmas Day is going to be much smaller than usual, due to a serious ongoing illness in the family. I must say, my own interest in the excesses of the season has been diminished this year, but I still believe that celebrating is important. The birth of Christ is, for me, an event worth rejoicing over, and I also know that during times of difficulty the drawing together of family is more important than ever.

For me, feasting is an important component in the Christmas celebration. Not greed, you understand, but enjoying seasonal foods that evoke memories and emotions. I have a good deal of the food for Christmas already stashed away. I've never made a Christmas pudding and I probably never will, but I bought one quite a few weeks ago, and that is waiting in my cupboard. In the freezer, a vanilla flavoured cheesecake awaits. My mum will be bringing along a trifle. A fruit cake sits in the cupboard next to te pudding. In the fridge, there are a number of tubs of long life cream. I don't think I'll bother with brandy sauce this year. I have ordered my meat from my local butcher. A turkey crown, a ham, some pork and some sausage meat. I could probably have found some cheaper meat, although my butcher is competitively priced. However, I like knowing that I'm supporting a much valued local business, and I was able to order and pay in full for my meat at the start of the month. I have a bottle of ginger beer and a jar of ginger preserve, ready to make my signature ginger ham (based on a Nigella recipe, I cook it every Christmas and it never fails). A while ago I bought some ridiculously cheap organic red cabbage from Asda at the end of the day. I cooked this and froze it, so that s ready to add a burst of seasonal colour to the table. I've got some cheap packets of stuffing mix, which I shall tart up with the aid of the sausage meat, and herbs from my cupboard, not to mention eggs to bind and enrich. I have a packet of vacuum packed chestnuts in the cupboard. Not sure what to do with these yet. Maybe they could go into some chocolate brownies? Or maybe into the stuffing? I have sausages and bacon in the freezer, ready to make the essential pigs in blankets.

All in all, I am feeling well prepared for Christmas. Only some last minutes bits to get nearer the big day, and then I can enjoy!  

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Homemade Christmas fudge...

...with no faffing about with thermometers!

450g icing sugar
100g white marshmallows
2tbspn milk
100g butter
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

This is a really simple recipe. Making some treats is a nice part of preparing for Christmas, especially when they are as tasty as these.

Grease and line a shallow square cake tin, approx 7inch.
Sift the sugar into a large mixing bowl, making a hollow in the middle with the back of a spoon.
Cut the marshmallows in half. Snipping them with kitchen scissors is the easiest way.
Put them in a small an, along with the milk, butter and vanilla.
Heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all melted and mixed together.
Pour the mixture into the hollow in the icing sugar, and beat it thoroughly with the wooden spoon.
When it is all combined, with no lumps, then pour it into the tin. Push it into the corners and smooth it out as well as you can.
Stick it in the fridge until it is set. This will take about three hours, but it might be more convenient to leave it overnight.
When set, turn it out on to a chopping board, peel off the lining paper, and chop into bitesize squares.

This fudge will keep nicely for about a week in an airtight container, so would make a nice little gift.

Frugal fast food...

...and comforting, too.

Here's a really, really easy recipe. It's frugal, tasty, flexible, and can have dinner on the table in under fifteen minutes.

Easy Macaroni Cheese. Serves 4.

Boil some pasta. Macaroni wold, of course, be authentic, but I most often use other shapes, because that's what I have in my cupboard. 250g will be about right, if you want to measure it.

While the pasta is cooking, grate 200g of cheese, whatever sort you like.

Drain the pasta, then stir in half a pot of creme fraiche. I use reduced fat, most of the time. Add the cheese, and let it melt and go nice and gooey.

And that's it - super easy!

Of course, you can add all sorts of things to this, to add interest, flavour, texture and vitamins. Veg could easily be cooked with the pasta, such as some frozen peas, sweetcorn or some frozen mixed veg. Left over cooked veg can be added with the creme fraiche, and warmed through. Some chopped up ham, or cooked bacon, would turn this into a quick carbonara. Some spinach could be wilted into the sauce at the end, it would only take a moment or two.

A recipe like this is really useful, as it makes a meal from just a few simple ingredients, and can help you resist the temptation of the takeaway!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Entertaining children...

...without a Playstaion, Wii, or an X-box.

My own daughter is too old now to have many toys around the house. Her interests mainly revolve around fashion, make up and YouTube. However, many of our friends have young children, and I try to keep a few ideas up my sleeve for how to entertain them when they visit. I have neither the space, nor the budget, to keep toys on hand - so I need to get creative.

Junk modelling is always a hugely popular activity. Boys always seem to construct robots, while girls tend to make houses. I make no judgement, I just mention my observations! I am a bit lazy when it comes to taking out the cardboard packaging to the recycling bin, but this pays off sometimes as I often have a sack of 'junk' on hand to build with. The only extra required is a roll of tape.

My button box is a source of entertainment for many young children (as long as they are past the 'shove everything in their mouth' stage). Counting, sorting, shape building etc all go down well, as well as just the sheer pleasure of flinging them around!

Food comes in handy as a source of entertainment in many forms. A sheet of card, some glue, and a few small bowls of rice, pasta and lentils are all that's required for an impromptue collage creation. For really young children, a layer of flour on the tray of their high chair gives them something to draw in, using their finger. This can be a bit messy, but I don't worry too much about that, and anyway lour can be brushed, wiped or vacuumed away pretty easily.

Children love to 'help' in the kitchen, and I make full use of this as a way to entertain them. A bit of water in a washing up bowl, some dirty dishes to wash (maybe plastic, depending on the age of the child), and you have a happy, busy, little guest. Okay, they might splash about a bit, but it's only water, it doesn't matter!

Paper dolls seem to go down well. Do you remember making rows of dolls, joined together at the hands when you were a child? I often cut a row of people shapes, or snowman shapes, for my young guests, and give them a few pens or crayons to give each figure a different outfit. At this time of year, cutting out snowflakes is a popular activity. It doesn't require anything more complicated than a few sheets of paper and a pair of scissors.

Random frugalities...

1. Use your local library
2. Always eat breakfast before you leave home
3. Take a packed lunch
4. Never leave home without a bottle of water
5. Stay away from the shops
6. When you have to shop, take a list
7. Put a jumper on
8. Use a hot water bottle
9. Cook your own food
10. Pay with real, live, old fashioned cash

Monday, 10 December 2012

Celebrating Christmas...

...the frugal way.

Last year some of my friends hosted an open house. They entertained a LOT of people, and it was a really lovely, relaxed time. They achieved this on a very tight budget, and here is how;

1-  They chose the timing of the event carefully. 2.30 until 5pm. This avoided meal times, so there was no expectation of a large meal being served. It meant that people could come and go as they pleased between those times, without feeling awkward.

2- They served a limited range of drinks. Tea, coffee, and lemonade. A large pan of home made mulled wine, simmering gently on the hob. It made the house smell amazing.

3- They served a limited range of refreshments. There were lots of home made mince pies, baked and frozen long before the festive madness began, warmed through and sprinkled with icing sugar. The only other option was lovely big, warm cookies, baked from dough that had been made in advance.

A good time was had by all!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Why did the mushroom get invited to all the parties?

Because he's a fungi!

 This evening my mum and I took a trip to Asda. In the fruit and veg aisle, a member of staff was busy marking down products. Many crates of mushrooms were there, all being marked down to 10p per pack! So I bought six. I also bought six packs of lovely, juicey peaches, at 10p per punnet, and two punnets of raspberries, for 20p each.

So, no prizes for what I shall be eating tomorrow!

One of the punnets of raspberries has already been eaten, with yogurt, for supper. For breakfast I shall have a couple of wraps, filled with dry fried mushrooms, and maybe a little grated cheese. For lunch, I've chopped up three plums, and topped them with the rest of the raspberries. I'll take some yogurt to have with this, and probably put a banana and an apple in my bag, too. For dinner, the pasta bake that I had planned shall now contain mushrooms instead of sweetcorn. Then, I will have to think about what to do with the rest of the mushrooms! I might use them in a lasagne to have on Wednesday evening. Hopefully, there will be enough left for another couple of breakfasts.

As we walked around the shop, we came across another member of staff marking down cream cakes. We almost succumbed, but then remembered that we are weight watchers, and resisted!