Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Toys, games and fun...

...without spending a penny.

 You might remember some of these activities from your own childhood, I know I do.

Make musical instruments.
Take a shoe box, or any other reasonably sturdy cardboard box, cup a hole in the top if needs be, and wrap a few elastic bands around it to be the strings. A cardboard tube from some kitchen roll can be stuck on the end of the box to complete the guitar look.
Make a simple shaker out of an empty plastic bottle filled with pasta or rice.
Put together a drum kit from pots, pans and wooden spoons for drum sticks.
Fold a piece of paper over a comb.
Fill glasses with varying amounts of water, and 'play' them by running a damp finger around the edge of each glass.
Make a microphone out of a loo roll tube and some scrunched up paper.

Now the weather is beginning to warm up, playing with water is starting to look like fun again. Empty margarine tubs and yogurt pots, and a washing up bowl half filled with water can entertain small children for ages. These is no need to spend money on water pistols, save rinsed out plastic squeeze bottles instead. As well as squirting water at each other (which is always fun!), you could use chalks to sketch out a target range on an outside wall.

Make dolls out of old fashioned wooden pegs, or a wooden spoon. A few felt tips to draw on the face, and a few scraps of fabric, tissue paper, or even kitchen roll are all you really need.

Homemade jigsaw puzzles. If you have an old calendar, or a picture book that you are throwing out, you could cut out a picture, and cut it out into as many shapes as you think your child can manage. If you want it to last longer, then you could stick the picture down onto thin card (maybe from a cereal box) before you cut it up.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Free ways to have fun...

...with your family.

 First, step away from the TV! There are much more exciting things to do. Also, you won't have to watch adverts that make you want more and more STUFF.

 Do some colouring together. I don't know about you, but when I was a child I used to love colouring in pictures. You can print some lovely colouring pages from the Internet, from children's characters to beautiful, intricate designs. Sitting and colouring together can be a lovely time to have a chat, relax together and bond with your child.

 Build a fort/castle/den. Remember when you were a child how much fun it was to construct a hiding place out of furniture, blankets and boxes? Join in with your children and build one now! It can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Add a torch and a snack, and you have doubled the fun!

  Fly a kite. If you have one already, then use that. If not, google instructions and you will find lots of simple tutorials showing you how to make a simple kite out of stuff you probably already have around the house.

 Make some nature wall art. Go for a walk together and gather leaves, sticks, grasses...whatever catches your eye. Take them home and use them to put together some art. Perhaps you could make a decorative wreath, or a collage of some kind.

Monday, 11 March 2013

"There is no dignity...

...quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means."

Calvin Coolidge

What I will be eating this week...

This month I decided to split my £200 monthly grocery budget into four, and shop in different ways each week. I thought it would be fun (maybe I need to get out more!). So last week, I did all my shopping at the local shops within walking distance of my home. It was a huge success. I stayed within budget, and was able to buy a good variety of good quality, reasonably priced food.
 This weekend, though, I was insanely busy, and had to leave the shopping in the hands of my husband. He was a bit nervous about it, actually. He's a capable man, but just doesn't have any experience of shopping for a whole week, because that is usually my responsibility. I put the £50 into an envelop, and on it gave him a rough outline of the things we would need. He dropped me and our daughter at the train station at 6.30am, and went straight from there to the nearest 24hour supermarket. He did a great job, and only exceeded the budget by 12p. He bought a good deal more meat than I usually would, and a bit less fruit and veg, but there's enough for us to get by on.

So, this week, I am planning our meals around what he bought.

This evening my daughter and I will be having dinner with my mum. My husband won't be in until later, and can have pasta and pesto, with some nice olives and capers. I will have some ladies around for a bible study and prayer group, so if I have time I will whip up a few quick, simple muffins to serve as snacks.

I shall put a small chicken into the slow cooker before I leave for work, and I will serve this with new potatoes and vegetables.

The chicken will provide enough for two meals. I might chop up leftover chicken and vegetables and mix it with a white sauce. I can top this with sliced, leftover potatoes, and reheat it in the oven.

I won't be home from work until about 8-30pm, so I shall make use of the slow cooker again to provide a quick and easy meal for my husband and daughter. I will put a piece of gammon into the slow cooker in the morning before I leave for work, and it will be delicious by dinner time. That can be served with salad and crusty bread. The remaining ham can be used for sandwiches.

I haven't planned a particular meal. Friday is usually when we use up and odds and ends from the freezer, or have beans or egg on toast.

This plans means that the minced beef and the pack of stewing steak that my husband bought have not yet been used. They can used next week instead :-)

Friday, 8 March 2013

Multiplying a meal...

...to accommodate unexpected guests.

From time to time we have unexpected guests to join us for a meal. Perhaps friends or relatives drop in, or my husband quite often invites friends and colleagues over at short notice. I have found it really useful to develop a few 'tricks' for stretching a meal to feed an unexpected guest or two (or even more!).

I don't usually serve a starter, but this can help to stretch a meal. This might be as simple as cutting some carrot sticks, opening a packet of crisps or breadsticks, and mixing up a simple dip. Alternatively, I often have batches of homemade soup in the freezer, that can be defrosted quickly in the microwave. A cheap, simple vegetable soup can be made 'fancy' by topping with some grated cheese, or a big crouton made from a slice of French bread.

Providing extra side dishes can bulk out a meal simply and cheaply. I often stock up of vacuum packs of  part-baked loaves, and these are lovely to serve warm along side many main meals. Extra rice or pasta can easily stretch a meal like chilli or bolognese. Rice or pasta can also form the basis of a nice salad, and with the addition of just a few bits of finely chopped salad veg (eg cucumber, tomato, grated carrot, beetroot etc), mixed up with a bit of dressing will make a substantial, last minute side dish.

If I am serving something like a sausage casserole, I will cut the sausages up into smaller pieces. One sausage each would look pretty meal, but lots of smaller slices looks much more generous!

If I'm trying to stretch a roast dinner, I might not have any more meat to offer, but I can usually find more veg, like maybe a packet of frozen peas. If I need to serve lots of potatoes to bulk out the meal, I might try and serve them in two different ways, like mash and roast.

A substantial pudding can really help too. I don't often serve pudding, but I might do if I have guests. Pancakes are a really useful idea to have up your sleeve. I almost always have the basic ingredients to make pancakes, and I can usually find something to fill them with. Chocolate spread, golden syrup, lemons and sugar are all saples in my home, most of the time. Or I might slice up a couple of apples, fry the slices, and top them with some cinnamon and brown sugar. These make a lovely pancake filling, and just a couple of apples go a long way sliced up like this. The pancakes could be served with cream, or ice cream if you have it, or just a sprinkle of icing sugar to pretty it up.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

You can never...

...get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough for me.

Said C S Lewis, a man after my own heart.

Happy World Book Day! X

"Why do I read?...

I just can't help myself.

I read to learn and to grow, to laugh and to be motivated.

I read to understand things I've never been exposed to.

I read when I'm crabby, when I've just said monumentally dumb things to the people I love.

I read for strength to help me when I feel broken, discouraged, and afraid.

I read when I'm angry at the whole world.

I read when everything is going right.

I read to find hope.

I read because I'm made up not just of skin and bones, of sights, feelings, and a deep need for chocolate, but I'm also made up of words.

Words describe my thoughts and what's hidden in my heart.

Words are alive - when I've found a story that I love, I read it again and again, like playing a favourite song over and over.

Reading isn't passive - I enter the story with the characters, breathe their air, feel their frustrations, scream at them to stop when they're about to do something stupid, cry with them, laugh with them.

Reading for me, is spending time with a friend.

A book is a friend.

You can never have too many."

                             - Gary Paulsen, 'Shelf Life : Stories by the Book'

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

It's World Book Day today...

...what are you reading?

At work today I shall be spending an hour taking part in the Big Read. Yep, I get to read for an hour, and get paid for it. I always love my job, but today I REALLY love my job!

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Foodie frugality...

...tips for people who (like me) really love god food.

 1) Meat is not compulsory! I must say that I have never really been a massive meat eater. I'm not vegetarian by any means, but I find big slabs of meat pretty dull. If you are used to building your meals around large portions of meat, then reducing it might be a challenge. Eating meatless meals a few times a week is a huge money saver. Pizza, pasta and sauce, egg and chips, are all everyday, meatless meals. Lentils and beans are great alternatives to meat. When you do eat meat, use it as a seasoning rather than a main ingredient. For instance, a bit of bacon can go a long way to add flavour to a risotto. A little chorizo can pack a flavour punch in a pasta bake. A slice of ham can top a pizza. 

2) Indulge in simple treats. Just because you are eating frugally doesn't mean your diet needs to be bland and tasteless, just move away from the idea that treat foods have to be expensive. A bowl of English strawberries at the height of summer isn't going to cost much, but wow, what a flavour! Make meals special. A bowl of homemade soup can be served at a candlelit table and savoured every bit as much as a fresh lobster! Take care with the preparation and presentation of food, and make it feel special every day.

 3) Learn your craft. Cooking well isn't rocket science, but it does take a little practice. You can save a lot of money by learning how to cook well. By that, I don't mean that you have to have the skills of a professional chef, but make sure that you can make your favourite things.

 4) Don't you love it when a plan comes together? Cooking and eating well and frugally does take a bit of planning. Don't leave yourself in the position where you have no other option than a last minute dash for a ready meal or take away. I usually plan out my week at the weekend. I'm not keen on having strict meal plans, but I think about what sort of activities I have to fit in, and try and shop accordingly. So, for instance, if I know I'm going to be late in, then dashing straight out again for an evening meeting, then I'll make sure I have something really quick and easy like pasta and pesto. If we have the sort of night where we might all be needing to eat at different times, then I'll get a casserole into the slow cooker for that day, so we can help ourselves when we need to. I also check what I have in the kitchen before I shop, so I avoid food waste wherever possible. 5) Get ahead wherever you can. When you make a meal, makes two. Put one in the freezer, and you have an easy dinner for another night. Prep as much in advance as you an, when you have the time. Last night I peeled the potatoes and chopped the veg for tonight's dinner before I went to bed. 6) Bake. Cakes and treats, especially good quality ones made with 'real' ingredients, can be very pricey. Baking your own can save money, and really impress your friends and family. I have maybe five or six faithful recipes, that I can produce quickly and easily time and time again. These include a basic muffin recipe which can be flavoured any way I like, a lemon drizzle cake, a flapjack type bake, and a million variations on tiffin!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fishnet stockings, aramanth biscuits and abduction...

...or in other words, a trip to my local library. I love my library. It's not very big or fancy, but its friendly, and they make every effort to organise various community events like book clubs (for kids, teens and adults), knitting groups, IT support, family history research days, etc, etc. when I popped in last night there was someone from the council discussing some planning issues with an elderly couple. But I wasn't there for any special event, I was just taking advantage of one of their late nights to pop in and borrow some books. I hadn't been in for a few weeks, and it was one of those occasions when there were loads of books I fancied reading. So, I came home with... 3 cookbooks (one by Tom Parker Bowles, the Bake Off Showstopper book, and one about natural super foods) An autobiography called 'Abode of Love' about growing up in a religious cult Have A Little Faith, by Mitch Albom (I haven't read any of his non-fiction before, so I'm looking forward to this) Girl, Missing by Sophie Mckenzie (its a kids book, but I'm a teacher, so that's my excuse) A trilogy of memoirs by Margaret Walker. In the book shop, I probably wouldn't have bought any of these, but borrowing from the library means you can try things that you are unsure about. I've discovered lots of great authors in the library, and have gone on to purchase many of their books, but borrowing first helps avoid costly mistakes - and my budget doesn't have room for mistakes!

Fresh and Fruity...

...that's the name of my local green grocers, isn't it a great name? I like to buy my fruit and veg there for a number of reasons. First, I like to support local, independent business. My own little town has a number of empty shops that just never seem to be filled, and if I don't use the shops that are there, then I expect I will loose them too. Secondly, the fruit and veg there is always good quality. I might not be able to get all the exotic varieties that a supermarket can offer, but I know that there is a quick turnover of stock and that it is all fresh. Thirdly, I can save money shopping there. The prices of most things are at least comparable to ordinary supermarket prices, and I can buy exactly what I need, thus avoiding waste. Each day the staff at the shop pick out any items that are a bit bruised or ripe and need using quickly, and bag them up into mixed bags which they sell off very cheaply. These can be really good value.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Get ahead...

...when cooking from scratch.

 When you make up a batch of short crust pastry, make double or even treble the amount you need, and freeze the rest, ready for next time.

Grate a big block of cheese. Keep it in the fridge in a sealed bag ready to use, or freeze portions of it.

 When you make pizza dough, make double, and freeze for another time.

 Lots of meals start with fried onions. When you have a bit of time, chop up LOTS of onions, and cook them slooooowly in some oil, until they are rich and soft and flavoursome. These can be frozen in little bags, and will give a delicious flavour to many meals.

 Use the slow cooker to make up a big batch of tomato sauce. Use this one night to have with pasta, the next to top some fish fillets, and use up the last bit on your frozen pizza bases, with your frozen, ready grated cheese for a super quick meal.

 Cut chicken into strips, sprinkle with spices and seasoning, and freeze it in a bag along with sliced onions and peppers. Take a bag out before you leave for work, and you have chicken fajita fillings, ready to go, when you come home.

 Crumble topping (flour, butter and sugar, rubbed into crumbs) freezes brilliantly, and hardly needs any time to defrost, so you can make up a huge batch when you have some time to spare, and freeze it in bags. When you want to use it, you can take it more or less straight out, crumble it over fruit with your finger tips, and bake.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Exploring new...

...meal ideas.

I really need to go shopping soon. The cupboard, fridge and freezer are looking woefully empty. However, a combination of laziness and obstinacy makes me want to push on and make it for just one more day....and then maybe one more!

I've just prepared tomorrow evenings meal. Sweet potato bake. Basically, its just sweet potato, sliced and steamed, then piled into a baking dish and smothered in a cheesy, mustardy white sauce, and topped with bread crumbs. It looks very tasty. I will serve it with various bits and pieces from the freezer, including some vegetable samosas. It might not be something I would have put into a meal plan, but I think it will turn out to be a pretty decent meal.

Using up stale bread.

It's either feast or famine in my house, as far as bread is concerned. I am either dashing to the shops last thing at night to get bread for tomorrow's packed lunch, or I have a freezer full, and loaves sitting out going stale.

Here are a few ideas for using up stale bread;

Whiz it into crumbs in the processor, bag them up, and freeze them. They can be used for bulking out meatballs, topping a bake, baking a treacle tart, etc, etc.

Toast it. Slightly sale bread will toast well, and can also make lovely toasted sandwiches.

Bread and butter pudding. This is a really old fashioned, rib sticking pudding. Take a few slices of bread, and butter liberally. Cut, and arrange in a baking dish. Sprinkle with dried fruit ( or, alternatively, spread with jam, marmalade or chocolate spread and peanut butter). Mix an egg or two with half to one pint of milk (cream or evap would be god too), and pour over. Leave to soak for a bit, cover and bake for about thirty mins. Uncover to brown for a few mins at end, but don't let it burn.

Make a bread salad. Tear up bread into chunks, sprinkle quite generously with salad dressing, and leave to soak while you cho up tomatoes, cucumber and other assorted salad veg. Mix with the bread, and serve.

Tear into croutons, drizzle with oil and bake. Use these to top out or salad.

Make a summer fruit pudding. Use frozen berries if its not summer.

Make a war time bread pudding. Soak 10oz sale bread for ten mins in a little water, then squeeze out most of the moisture. Mix with 2oz butter, 2 oz dried fruit and 1 oz sugar, and a teaspoon or so of cinnamon. Mix in an egg, and enough milk to make it sticky. Spread out into a baking dish, and bake for about an hour. It's nice to sprinkle some sugar on top. You can serve this hot with custard, but its also nice to have a cold slice with a cuppa. You can use any dried fruit you like. It's also nice if you grate some apple, or pear, and mix that in. Since mincemeat left over from Christmas would be lovely too. You old use ginger insteadof cinnamon.

Monday, 18 February 2013

"The underground guide to living frugal"

...is available on Amazon for Kindle for FREE!

Its kind of a classic, and I don't know how long it will be available for free, so if you can, get it now.

Never say no...

...to a freebie.

 Went round to visit my mum after work this evening, and she had a few items that she wondered if I would like. First, a couple of men's rugby shirts. Mum is a huge rugby fan, and loves buying souvenir  shirts. However, she is my weightwatcher buddy, and many of them are now far too big. These two had been worn maybe twice at most, and if I hadn't taken them, they would have gone in the bin. They will probably fit my husband, but if not, I will ale them to the charity shop. She also offered me a shopping bag on wheels. I already have a shopping trolley (a fantastically retro orange creation, which I love), and I almost said no thanks. Then I remembered that my lodger, a primary school teacher, regularly lugs huge bags and boxes of planning and books to mark home with her, and I realised that the bag on wheels would be perfect for her.

I am always thrilled when people offer me their unwanted items, and I almost always say yes. If I cannot use them myself, then I pass them on to people who can. Many years ago, I worked at a night shelter for homeless people, and I've kept in touch with various organisations that work in that sector, so I can often pass on household items to someone who really needs them.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The bane of many lives...

...packed lunch!

Packing a lunch is, we all know, the frugal choice. Like many working mums, I am responsible for making packed lunches for myself and my family and if I am honest, it often feels like a ball and chain around my neck! However, I do like knowing that myself and my family have something tasty and reasonably healthy to eat each day, and there is no way I could budget for buying lunch out everyday.

I've been making packed lunches for myself, my husband and my daughter for many years, and I thought I would share some ideas that have worked for me.

1. Sandwiches...
The good old sarnie is the backbone of most packed lunches, isn't it? I usually make them the night before, so I steer clear of anything that will go soggy or smelly! I don't often put salad into the sandwiches, because I find it often makes them soggy. However, I quite often put some sliced cucumber and tomato into a little plastic tub and put them into my sandwich at lunch time. As far as fillings go, I tend to stick to the basics, like cheese and cooked meat. I find wraps and pitta breads very useful, because I can buy them well in advance, and they will keep for a long time in the cupboard or freezer.

2. Instead of a sandwich...
I sometimes give my daughter sausage rolls instead of a sandwich. I often have some in the freezer, and they come in handy on days when I have run out of bread or fillings, or just for a bit of variety.
My daughter rally enjoys a pasta salad instead of a sandwich sometimes. Just some cold pasta mixed up with mayonnaise, with some chopped up protein, like cheese, chicken or ham, and some vegetables like sweetcorn and cucumber. At home, she loves a big pile of salad leaves, with dressing and grated cheese, but she won't have that at school, because she worries about getting bits of green stuck in her braces!

3. A hot dinner...
Both my husband and myself have access to a microwave, which opens up a whole world of possibilities! I often make some veg soup at the weekend, using up odds and ends, and freeze a few portions in old margarine tubs. I'm happy to have that for lunch, but my husband is not a soup fan. I will quite often pack up leftovers from the previous nights meal for my husband. This works out pretty well most of the time, and he much prefers it to a sandwich.
Jacket potatoes make a nice lunch, with a bit of something to fill them, like a dollop of coleslaw. I usually cook them before hand, then just heat them up in the microwave at work. That way, I'm not tying up the micro for too long when other people might need it.
I do sometimes pick up a ready meal or two, especially if they are reduced. They are not a regular lunch, but are handy to keep in the freezer as a back up.

4. A savoury 'extra'...
I often pop a treat or two in our lunch. Sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury. I'm not adverse to a packet of crisps now and then. Not every week, because they have a lot of salt in them, but I might pick up a multipack if they are a good price. My daughter only really likes to take ready salted crisps to school, she is worried that other flavours might make her breath smell.
We all like olives, so a few in a little pot always go down well.
I have a couple of little tubs with a sealable pot in the centre, and I will sometimes fill it with a dip of some kind, surrounded by cucumber and carrot sticks.

5. A sweet 'extra'...
I like a yogurt, which is nice and simple. I look out for whatever is a good price. I'm quite happy to eat Smart Price /Value yogurts.
I bake quite often. Simple muffins, maybe with a chopped up Mars bar mixed in, or a lemon drizzle cake. I might freeze individual portions, and bring them out as I need them.
I look out for special offers on chocolate biscuits, like penguins or kit Kats.
We eat a lot of fruit, too. If I take an orange to work, I slice it up at home first.

6. Drinks...
Water. Plain and simple, in a reusable bottle. Very infrequently, I will give my daughter a small carton of fruit juice in addition to the water, but none of us are very keen on fizzy drinks, so they never feature in packed lunches.

Home and hungry...

...with nothing planned.

I usually try to plan ahead for Sunday lunch. We don't get in from church until about two most weeks, often with guests, and always starving. However, this week it is just me and hubby, as daughter is off on a mission trip with the Youth, and I hadn't planned a thing. So, I poked around in the fridge and came up with....

Onion, fried until golden in spray oil, wilted spinach, spritzed with lemon juice, and served topped with a great big dollop of hummus. Some carrot and cucumber sticks on the side, and a slice of seedy, whole meal bread cut into soldiers. Delicious, and I am stuffed :-)

I've said some stupid things...

...in my time,

But at least I'm not Terry Deary.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

And with the rest of the chick peas...

...I made falafel.

I had cooked up a bag full of dried chick peas to make the hummus. I bagged up enough for a future bowl of hummus, and popped that in the freezer. That left me with about two bigs mugs full of chick peas, and I decided to use them to make falafel. I've no idea if my recipe is authentic, but it is simple, frugal and tasty.

The chick peas went into the processor, along with a large onion that I had chopped and fried, a generous couple of spoons of cumin, about the same amount of dried coriander. If I had any fresh coriander or parsley, I would have put that in, but I didn't. A clove of garlic and a couple of eggs went in next, and then it was all whizzed up to combine.

I put the mixture in the fridge to firm up, then when it was ready I shaped it into little patties, and shallow fried them until golden. I left the falafel to cool, then bagged them up and froze them. They reheat really well in the oven, but I will probably use them for packed lunches next week. With a pitta bread, a bit of salad and maybe some hummus, they will be really nice. Actually, I love them served with a dollop of good old fashioned English chutney.

The finest hummus...

...in the world!

I'm making this right now, and my mouth is watering at the prospect. Vicious with garlic and lemon, this is my idea of food heaven.

In the food processor, whiz up 250g of cooked chickpeas, 2 tbspns of tahini, 3 garlic cloves, 125ml lemon juice, and a pinch of ground cumin. If its a bit thick, add a little dribble of cold water.

And that's it.

Simple, gorgeous loveliness :-)

Of course, like all recipes, you could mess about with this to your hearts content. Mix in some fried onions for the last 'whiz', or some roasted peppers, or some olives, or some chilli. Add the zest from your lemon. Mix in a dollop of yogurt, or soft cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, pine nuts, paprika...

Serve with warm pitta breads, or carrot sticks, or in a sandwich, or on a jacket potato, and enjoy.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Do not...

...educate your child on how to be rich,
Educate her on how to be happy.

So when she grows up,
She will know the value of things,
Not the price.

Author unknown.

Store cupboard hospitality...

...or, feeding guests when you can't be bothered to go to the shop.

 So, we got home late last night after our little trip to the Big Smoke, and I wasn't in any hurry to get up this morning. But I knew that we had friends coming round for lunch, so I assumed I would have to get myself out to the shops.

 Then, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I started to poke around the kitchen and decided that I could probably make do with what was already there. In the freezer was some rich, garlic-y tomato sauce that I had made from some over ripe, yellow sticker tomatoes, and some cheese. So, there was the basis for a simple but tasty pasta bake. I had loads of duck eggs from a trip to the garden centre last week, a bag of tiny new potatoes and a head of broccoli which both needed eating, so there was a frittata just asking to be made. I almost took a fruit pie out of the freezer, before my husband reminded me that our guests were bringing pudding. So, with the addition of numerous cups of tea, and glasses of Vimto, there was a rather nice little lunch for seven, without so much as stepping out of the door :-)

Noodles, sushi, pretty shoes...

...and men painted gold.

Last night we returned home from a couple of days in London, and we had a wonderful time.

We soaked up the atmosphere in Covent Garden, and even on a freezing cold Tuesday in February there were several street performers to entertain us.

I explored the Shoe Galleries in Selfridges. I do have a bit of a weakness for pretty shoes. Not that I would consider paying for a designer pair even if I could afford them, but I approached the experience as though I were just looking around an art gallery, and I thoroughly enjoyed looking without craving to own.  The shop assistant in Louboutin was lovely. When he approached to offer me help, I made it quite clear that I was only there to look and dream, but because there were no other customers he insisted on talking me through the range, just for fun. What a nice guy.

We ate out a lot, but we had budgeted for that, and for us that is a our favourite part of going on holiday. Living in a provincial, Northern city, our choice of eateries is quite limited, so we love to experience other cuisines whenever we can. Japanese food is a favourite, and we made the most of being able to get it in London!

We took the Emirates Airline cable car over the Thames (thanks for the tip!), and loved the view.

We spent some time in Greenwich, looking round the market, and the Naval Museum ( free entry!). I had the chance to try on replica armour, so of course made the most of that photo opportunity. Greenwich was a lovely breath of fresh air after the hustle and bustle of central London.

We even enjoyed zipping around on the underground. I imagine that if you lived in London, battling your way to and from work would soon become a chore, but as a tourist I just love the whole experience.

Best of all, my husband, my daughter and myself got the chance to spend two solid days in each others company. That doesn't happen too often, and it was great :-)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

London, baby!

Next week will be half term, and yesterday my husband announced that he was taking us on a trip to London!
We are travelling down on Tuesday, setting off very early in the morning, and arriving at lunch time. We are taking the Mega Bus, which is actually only a bus for part of the journey. You then get off the bus and get onto a train for the rest of the trip. It does take longer than just the train, but it costs considerably less. We are then spending Tuesday night at a hotel near the O2 arena, and travelling back home on Wednesday afternoon.

 Our budget is fairly tight. We really enjoy eating out, and don't want to skimp on that aspect of the trip. My husband will check on line for any special offers at restaurants we like, such as Yo Sushi, and a really good deal might influence our decisions on where to eat. We will also be taking plenty of pack up to eat on the journey down to London, and we will be taking full advantage of breakfast at the hotel!

 We can't afford to spend much on entrance fees to attractions, nor do I consider trailing around shops a good time. Personally, I could spend all day looking around the Natural History museum, but I've taken my daughter there so often I think she might rebel! We have never been to the Museum of London, and that looks like it might be worth seeing.

 If the weather was better, then we would take some skates and roll around Hyde Park, but I think that in February we shall need plenty of indoor activities!

 If anyone has any suggestions for activities that might be fun for me, my husband and my teenage daughter, then I would love to hear them!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Feel like doing something different....?

How about getting hold of a few sticks of chalk, and writing inspirational quotes on the pavement?

Or pack up your evening meal, and go and eat it in the park? I know it's cold outside, but as long as it isn't raining you can wrap up warm. If it is just too cold outside, then sit in the car and look out at a nice view.

Send a message in a bottle.

Write an inspirational message in a pretty card, and leave in under the windscreen wiper of a random car.

Put a romantic note in your husbands packed lunch.

Put a silly joke in your child's packed lunch.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Reusable toilet cloths...

...a step to far???

 I've seen a few stories on the Internet about people who have entirely eliminated disposable paper products from their lives, including toilet paper. Instead, they use 'family cloths', which they use then launder in the same way you might wash a babies nappies. Although I might admire their frugal and Eco credentials, I'm certain that this is not for me. The ewwww factor is just too high.

 However, I don't use very many paper products. When I was a child, all our old t-shirts, sheets and even pants, once they reached the end of their useful life,were cut up and used as cleaning rags. This is something I have started doing too. Without the pants, though! The rags can be used as dish cloths, floor cloths, for leaning the bathroom and for wiping up spills around the house. I used to spend money on disposable wipes for cleaning the kitchen, and on paper kitchen role, but now I use the rags instead.

 I don't use paper napkins, I have cloth ones instead (bought from a charity shop).

 I very rarely use paper plates, only when I host large numbers of guests, when I consider the cost of convenience a price I'm willing to pay.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

It still feels a bit like Christmas...

...at least, in my house it does.

 There is something about snow that always seems a bit Christmassy, I think, and in recent days I have found myself tempted to get the Elf DVD out. However, I've resisted. Instead, I've been using up some Christmas foods.

 On Christmas Day I sliced up the roast beef and froze it, thinking that it would make a nice easy meal one day. This morning before church I took it out to defrost, and prepared some veg to go with it. We don't usually have a roast dinner on. Sunday. My husband is a Pastor, so Sundays are most definitely not a day of rest, and there isn't usually time to cook a roast. I was glad that I had prepared a substantial meal, though, especially as my husband invited one of the interns from church home for lunch.

 So the sliced beef went into the oven, covered in gravy, to heat through, while the potatoes boiled for mash, the carrots and butternut squash roasted in the oven, and the cabbage cooked in the steamer. It took about forty minutes from walking though the door to sitting down to eat - not too bad, I thought.

I didn't really have a proper dessert to serve, but some chocolates and biscuits left over from Christmas  and enjoyed with coffee after the meal seemed to leave everyone happy enough.

 I was really pleased to be able to dish up a good meal quickly, easily and frugally, using leftovers and fresh veg, for both my family and an unexpected guest.

Friday, 18 January 2013


...by Walter de la Mare

No breath of wind,
No gleam of sun -
Still the white snow
Whirls softly down
Twig and bough
And blade and thorn
All in an icy
Quiet, forlorn.
Whispering, rustling,
Through the air
On sill and stone,
Roof - everywhere,
It heaps its powdery
Crystal flakes,
Of every tree
A mountain makes;
'Till pale and faint
At shut of day
Stoops from thevWest
One wint'ry ray,
And, feathered in fire
Where ghosts the moon,
A robin shrilly
His lonely tune.

I've just taken my dogs out for a walk in the snow, and it brought this poem to mind.

My other frugal friend...


My mum almost never eats pasta. It's strange to think that just one generation before me, pasta was pretty much unheard of. Spaghetti hoops on toast for a Sunday night tea was the closest I came to pasta as a child.

 But now, pasta is a staple food for me. Two, maybe three nights per week we eat pasta. It's quick, it's versatile, it's simple and its cheap.

 I usually buy those really big bags of pasta from Asda. Penne, usually, but I'm not too fussy. I also buy spaghetti, and lasagne sheets. I can't imagine not having a decent stock of pasta in my cupboard, because if I have that, then I can always make a meal.

Fresh pesto is delicious, but jars are pretty good too, and we will eat pasta and pesto two or three times a month.
I really enjoy tomato based sauces, but my husband doesn't, so I usually serve them on nights when he isn't home. It's easy to make up a tomato sauce with tinned tomatoes, onion and herbs. Garlic is great in there, so is basil, and all kinds of veg an go in there too. Sometimes I roast a load of veg with garlic, then whiz it all up with some tinned toms. This can be frozen in portions, then used as a sauce with pasta, or chicken, or on pizza.

Often my husband with fry up some onion in olive oil, add some bits of bacon, cooked pasta and a sprinkle of grated cheese to make a quick, tasty meal.

Pasta is frugal because it can turn a few bits and pieces into a filling, satisfying meal. It is quick to cook, so a meal is always on hand, thus avoiding trips to the take away!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

My frugal friend...


I used to really struggle with rice. No matter what I tried, I just couldn't cook it well. So, I used to buy frozen rice, or those little packets of microwave rice, which all cost a lot more than a bag of plain, simple rice.

Then, I read Nigella Lawson waxing lyrical about the virtues of an electric rice cooker. My birthday came along, and my mother in law was kind enough to buy one for me....and my life was transformed!

Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it really does make cooking rice simple and convenient, and I use rice a lot more often than I used to.

Rice is a really versatile food. Obviously, it accompanies curries and chillies well, but it can also be teamed up with any sort of casserole, especially when I can't be bothered to prepare potatoes. Quite often when I cook rice I will make more than I need, and use what's left as a base for a salad for lunch the next day, or to make a 'tuna and rice, cheesey-topped casserole'.

I also really enjoy risotto. A simple base of chopped onion and garlic, some rice and some stock can be a vehicle for using up all kinds of odds and ends, and turning them into a meal. I love the texture of proper risotto rice, but I'm happy to make do with ordinary long grain if that is what I have to hand.

I use rice to bulk out foods, too. Mixed into meatball, burger, or meatloaf mixture they stretch the meat further. I often add a and full of rice to a an of soup, or even to a pan of bolognese sauce.

And rice is a favourite with both my dogs. One has a rather delicate digestive system, and sometimes a little rice is all she can tolerate until she feels better :-(

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A truly frugal pastime...

...Reading, of course!

I love to read. I simply cannot imagine a life without books. To me, words can take you anywhere, make you feel anything. And happily, reading is the simplest, most frugal of pastimes. I don't need special equipment, I don't need to go to a special location, I don't need anyone else to join me, I can combine it with other tasks (having a bath, on the bus, waiting for an appointment).

I use my local library a lot. It's not a large library, but its very friendly. I often take out books that I wouldn't consider buying, books that I am not sure I will like, because it costs me nothing to try them, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. My library will order books free of charge, and I've never had any difficulty getting hold of something I want to read, even if I've had to wait a week or two.

I do like to buy books, too. I enjoy having a good old root around in charity shops, and most of the books I buy come from there. I keep an eye out for authors I like, and that my husband enjoys. In fact, I keep a little list in my purse of all the Iain Rankin novels he owns, so that if I see one I can quickly check if he already has it. I rarely pay more than a pound per book in a charity shop, often a lot less.

Even if I end up paying full price for a book, I consider it good value for money. For about the price of a cinema ticket I get several hours of entertainment, even if I only read it once (and I often re-read books that I have enjoyed).

Deliberately frugal...

...choosing to take pleasure in frugal activities.

There are all sorts of outdoor activities, like mountain biking, snow boarding, kayaking etc that sound like they might be a lot of fun, if you are into that sort of thing. The difficulty is, they are all pretty expensive. They require a lot of specialist equipment, and even just hiring it is costly. If I thought I would have the time, energy or enthusiasm to use it regularly, I might be tempted by a good bike, but I know that I wouldn't get my money's worth.

I do like to get outside when I can though, and I have a couple of dogs, so walking is a regular part of my life. And I have to say, you can't find a cheaper outdoor activity than walking! All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes, and unless you are intending to go on serious hikes, I'm not talking about any sort of specialist footwear, and you are set.

An important part of living a frugal life for me is intentionally choosing to enjoy simple, frugal pleasures, like walking. Taking the dogs out can seem like a bit of a chore, especially in the rain, but I make a conscious effort to make it a pleasure. I vary the routes that I take from my house, so that I am not always pounding the same streets. I might combine it with a little 'window shopping' along the Main Street. Yesterday evening snow had fallen quite quickly, and my daughter was keen to come with me when I walked the dogs, largely so that she could pelt me with snowballs, I suspect. It was a magical walk, with everything made beautiful by a covering of snow, and all the sounds so muffled that it felt as though we were alone in the world.

Sometimes I will put the dogs in the car and take them somewhere else for a walk, perhaps a park, or the beach, or the river bank. If I can persuade them to come along, my husband and daughter may join me. Sometimes we meet up with friends who join us on our walk. And the whole experience costs nothing more than a little petrol money.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Shopping monthly...

...to save time and money.

 In an ideal world, I would shop locally every day, and visit farmers markets and artisan bakery's and such like. However, I work full time and I have neither the time, money or energy to do all of those things all of the time. So I have found a way of shopping that works for me.

 At the start of the month, I visit the supermarket to do my Big Shop. This is when I stock up on a months worth of staples. Store cupboard basics like big bags of pasta and rice. Tinned tomatoes. Tea bags, sugar, flour, coffee, butter/margarine. I usually pick up a few jars of pesto to keep in the cupboards for a quick and easy meal. Long lasting fruit and veg like potatoes, onions, root vegetables, apples etc. I'll get enough fresh milk to last the week, and a carton or two of long life milk for emergencies (I don't like the taste in milk or on cereal, but its fine to use in cooking). I will often get some packets of upstart powder - my husband would eat cardboard if I covered it in custard. Dried fruit, cereal, porridge oats, digestive biscuits, cheap chocolate for cooking, eggs, and some packets of cheap instant mashed potato. Noodles. I might get some bread, if its reduced and I have room in the freezer. I often pick up pitta breads, as they don't take up much freezer space, and wraps are useful as they usually have a long date on them and won't take up much cupboard space. If they are on special offer, I will stock up on LOTS. Tinned tuna, tinned anchovies, baked beans and tinned sweetcorn are also staples, also stock cubes and sauces, like brown sauce and salad cream. Loo roll, sanitary products, toiletries, washing liquid etc. Dog food. Meat for the freezer.

 There are probably more things, but I can't think of them right now.

 And that is probably my only trip to the supermarket that month. I have enough basics to last me a month. In some cases, I might have more than a months worth, but that just means that I can build up a bit of a stockpile. I have four tubes of toothpaste in my bathroom cupboard right now, that might come in handy in a really tight month when I have to cut back the shopping budget!

 Each week, I will top up with what I need from local shops. I'm really fortunate, in that I work close to an Aldi, so can pop in on my way home to take advantage of their offers, particularly on fruit and veg. Also, the town were I live has some great local shops within walking distance, so on Saturday mornings I often take my 'granny trolley' and shop. I can also visit the local library - this weekend I borrowed two novels, two cook books, Greg Wallace's autobiography and a River Cottage DVD.

 My aim is to keep my shopping trips limited to just one per week. I haven't quite managed it, but I am getting better!

 I know that many people meal plan and shop accordingly. I tend not to do this. Instead, I prefer to know that I have plenty of staples at home in the cupboard and freezer, and then take advantage of any special offers I see. I'm a confident cook, and very happy to be creative in the kitchen, so for me this is as much a hobby as a chore. Before my daughter was born I worked in an emergency access night shelter for the homeless. We relied more or less entirely on donations from the public to produce breakfast, lunch and a simple supper for the service users, and sometimes the donations were pretty random! Making decent mels from what we had was actually my favourite part of the job, it was a bit like bing on Ready, Steady, Cook ;-)

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A moment of...


 When I woke up this morning, my first moments of consciousness involved ( as every morning ) me thinking to myself 'what day is it? Where do I have to be? How long do I have until I have to be there?
 Blissfully, wonderfully, the answer to those questions was : its the weekend, and I don't have to go rushing off to anywhere!

 I don't think you could overestimate the pleasure I took in that moment. The joy of being able to luxuriate in my nice, cosy bed, knowing that I didn't have to rush off anywhere.

 And do you know what? That moment of pure, unbeatable pleasure - it didn't cost a single penny :-)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

If I don't go into the shop...

...then I can't spend the money, right?

 I seem to have discovered a law of nature, something akin to the law of gravity. Ready? Here it is;

 It is actually impossible to go into a shop for milk, and to come out with ONLY milk.

 Maybe it's just me, but whenever I pop into a shop, usually on my way home from work, to get the one item we are running out of (usually milk, but sometimes bread, sometimes loo roll, and more often than you would think, nail polish remover - I have a teenage daughter, remember) I never, ever leave the store with less than a bag full of other stuff. It's almost always useful stuff, like reduced price fruit or veg, cheese on special offer, ice cream on sale, etc - but it's stuff that I DID NOT intend to buy!

So here is my solution to this money draining law of nature;

Don't go in the shop in the first place!

Not exactly rocket science, right? All I have to do is make sure that I plan ahead, and don't run out of things like milk every other day. Hmm. Simple... Isn't it??? I don't usually go in for making New Year resolutions, but that sounds like a good one.

I went to Asda yesterday to do my monthly big shop, and I really went all out to stock up. I thought through the next few days, checked my cupboards, fridge and freezer, and hopefully I have enough of all the staples to last a good long while. My aim is to make it through to the weekend without spending a penny. I'm just one day in, but so far so good!