...seen through a slightly smudged, secondhand pair of rose-tinted glasses

Friday, 13 March 2015

A frugal feast

I keep peering hopefully in the fridge, which is a bit mad.
Last day of the Challenge though, and even with an empty, echoey fridge, no one's gone hungry.
I thought I'd quickly whisk through how we've managed to stretch out our £15 supplies this week.

One of the first things I made was a tomato sauce, using the tinned toms, onion, sugar and a squeeze of ketchup (plus the end of a carton of passata). Very handy for pizzas and pasta, and I'm hanging on to what's left for the grand finale pizzas tonight.

Bread. Such a joy. We wouldn't have got through the week without homemade bread. I mixed the plain cheaper flour I bought with half a bag of strong white and some wholewheat flour from the cupboard. Worked a treat I've got to say. One kilo for each batch - enough for two decent sized, (flattish-looking) loaves. I did all the kneading before school pick up, and by the time we got home they'd risen, and were ready for the oven. Warm bread with a (rationed) slither of butter. So good.

The oat cookies kept the kids happy on the way home from school. We all decided they were better than my usual ones; probably because the porridge oats from Lidl are a bit finer than the oats I normally use. 39p a bag too - definitely be buying those again.

AND the 30p a bar dark chocolate. Of course no one noticed a change in the brownies; they disappeared just as quickly. No cries of, 'Mummy, I simply can't eat brownies with such a low cocoa content!'
Can you imagine.

A few spoonfuls of mango chutney livened up the mild chicken curry, so that's worth doing again too. We could have managed without splashing out 40p on rice - we didn't use much and I had a little left in the cupboard. The 40p could have gone towards getting some more milk…. I had to buy extra after the 10 year old (the only milk drinker) knocked the bottle over at breakfast. I hate cleaning milk off the floor, especially at 6.30 in the morning.

Making pancakes is another thing I don't really want to be doing at 6.30 in the morning - but the kids loved them, and for about 10 minutes I was the best mum ever.

The gnocchi was a revelation. I've never made it before - there only appears to be 3 basic ingredients (potato, flour, egg), but, frustratingly, ever recipe I found was different. So, I just mashed some spud, added an egg and mixed in flour until it looked sort of like dough. It was messy- even messier than my bread making, which is saying something, but everybody liked it. Even the fussy one.

I suppose I've missed fruit and a bit of green - our meals have been a rather samey yellowy orange colour… you've probably noticed. But we've all had plenty to eat; it's just meant more planning and more making for me. I've liked being one step ahead - though, as I've learnt from previous years, not quite enough to change my bumbling-along ways!

Still, I've picked up a few useful ideas and we've raised money for Comic Relief, so that's all good.

Fish and chips tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

New blog up and running…

…sort of…

Can't tell a lie, I've found setting up Jumble Tree really frustrating. Just don't seem to be able to remember how to do it! Or add the bits I want… I badly need to spend a few hours with a kind, patient blogger - who can also put me straight on things like Google+ and Twitter (and all the others). Still gripped by fear anytime a message pops up asking if I want to link in my email contacts. Please no! I'm not even sure who's on my email contacts list, but I do know quite a few of them aren't going to want to hear about the latest thing I've made out of an egg box.

So, Jumble Tree is a work in progress! Fairly basic at the moment, but hopefully the content is there - and if you are keen on crafts for kids, I'll be posting regularly - and making some sneak preview projects from my first book, which is due out in August.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Let them eat bread….Day 3

One of the things I said after the last Challenge was I'd try to make bread a least once a week; but as time trundled on, that good intention slipped away to join all the others... So I felt a bit rusty when I made the first batch on Friday - though got stuck right into the dough pummelling… hadn't been the best week ever.

Of course as soon as I took the bread out of the oven and that tempting fresh-baked smell wafted around the kitchen, I had a groundhog 'been here before' moment: Why don't I do this more often? The kids love it - in fact it's how we get through the Challenge week, because my fussy, FUSSY eater would happily munch bread until it comes out of his ears, which is pretty much what I'm letting him do right now. He won't eat spuds, and can be tricky about pasta and rice, and vegetable have to be heavily disguised. So, bread often saves the day. It's not ideal, I know, but I've spent too many years stressing about it. Now I just go with the flow and try to get a bit of goodness into him. Thankfully he seems to like carrots...

The first few days have gone pretty well I think, but I've lulled everyone into a false sense of security by giving them plenty to eat - cheese and ham pizza, garlic pizza, soup, bread, pasta, a roast dinner, more bread - even stodge pudding!

A few extras I swiped: finished off a bag of peas, the end of a tin of golden syrup and some flat cider I've been holding onto for ages. I'll use up the split lentils left in the cupboard too. No point buying another bag.

Just have to keep things ticking along through the week now. A lot more making and baking for me...

Breakfast   homemade bread/coco pops/porridge
Lunch         penne arrabiata/baked potato and cheese
Dinner        cheese and ham pizza, garlic pizza/chocolate mousse

Breakfast   homemade bread/coco pops/boiled egg
lunch          carrot, lentil and cumin soup with cider bread/ peach muffins
Dinner        roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, peas and gravy/stodge pudding

Breakfast    peachy porridge/coco pops/homemade bread
Dinner         pesto pasta with grated carrot and cheese/peach muffins

Breakfast     boiled egg and soldiers/coco pops/porridge
Dinner          mild chicken curry with rice/ oat cookies

Breakfast     pancakes
Dinner          homemade gnocchi with pesto and grated cheese/carrot muffins

Breakfast     peachy porridge/ bread/coco pops
Dinner          cheese frittata with spicy(ish) potato wedges/chocolate brownies

Breakfast     possibly pancakes…or bread/porridge/coco pops
Dinner          margarita pizza, garlic bread pizza/baked potato/chocolate

The kids have school dinners and are under strict instructions to fill their boots. The first year we did the Challenge I had to make them packed lunches as well - not sure how I managed that on twelve quid. Though to be fair, they didn't eat quite as much as they do now.

I'll be having a lot of soup.

Friday, 6 March 2015

£15 Charity Challenge - The List

Yep, I never learn… Not a great deal of interest in basically starving your family for a week. Funny enough. It's a hard sell! Though I have managed to persuade a great friend here to keep me company. So, no longer a team of one

I've been better organised this year and had a bit more time to shop around, which helped squeeze every penny out of the £15 grocery budget (not losing sleep over the extra 10p...)

I park the car in the Marks and Spencer's car park at the bottom of town every morning and walk the kids to school (to avoid the horrendous traffic and stay sane) - so, I often wander through the shop to get back to the car…which isn't the most sensible thing to do when you're hungry. Or when you're not, to be honest. I'm pretty good though, considering - and because I'm there just about every day I've picked up some great bargains. Always scanning for yellow labels. My best find this week was a 300g block of Ayrshire cheese reduced to a pound. Looks interesting, and it's going to come in handy over the next 7 days…

So, apart from finishing off a few stray tomatoes, half a cucumber, 2 slices of ham, a little butter and some soft looking apples left in the fridge, this is what we'll be eating.

Doesn't look like much, does it…
The only thing missing from the photo are the chocolate mousse/mousses?  Mousses sounds wrong somehow - anyway, 18p for four - not bad.

Chicken                           £3.04
Flour 3kg                         £0.90
15 eggs                             £1.19
sugar                                £0.49
tinned tomatoesx2            £0.62
porridge oats                    £0.39
rice                                   £0.40
pasta 500gx2                    £0.58
milk 4pts                           £0.89
butter                                £0.86
potatoes  2.5kg                 £1.00 (half price offer)
choco pops cereal             £0.83
3xonions                           £0.22
carrots 1kg                        £0.53
tinned peaches                  £0.50
4xchoc mousse                 £0.18
pesto                                 £0.88
chocolate 100g x2            £0.60
Marks and Spencers
Ayrshire cheese                £1.00

Total                                £15.10

I'll post our meal plan at the weekend.

Off to make some bread!

Monday, 2 March 2015

St David's Day cosy

This is Gwen - she likes Tom Jones, hill walking and brandy alexanders.

I raced to get her finished yesterday for St David's Day, but didn't quite manage.
Gwen has a slightly lopsided grin and extremely large hands, but apart from that she turned out pretty much the way I hoped.
She's joined the small, merry band of Saints' Day egg cosies that live on our mantelpiece.

I've thought about making more to sell at Fairs, but they take ages, and I'm not sure there's much of a market for novelty egg cosies??

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Would you?….The Charity Challenge returns

It's almost that time again, when the kids make a fair bit of fuss… yep, it's the good old £12 Charity Challenge! When I slash the weekly shop to just a few pounds a day for 7 days. Not just for the hell of it, but for charity. The rest of the money usually spent on groceries will be going to Comic Relief.

Now, last year, it all went quiet when I asked if anyone fancied joining me…Very quiet. And because I never learn, I thought I'd try again - but give a bit more notice this time (the Challenge week starts on 7th March and ends on the 13th, Red Nose Day), AND increase the amount from £12 to £15, to see if that might encourage a few takers?


Ah, go on…

Can I just say though, if you don't fancy the £15 bit, then please, don't be put off - any cutback in the shop that week and a small donation, would be fantastic. At the end of the day it's all for a great cause.

And if you do fancy the Challenge bit, don't feel you have to jump in at the deep end. Why not look at it as a perfect week to use up food that's been lurking in the dark recesses of your kitchen cupboard, or an opportunity to make a bit of space in the freezer?

But I'm a right old stickler for my made up, totally self imposed, slightly bonkers rules. So, no freezer/cupboard dipping here, and only a few cupboard basics allowed, if I have them - otherwise the 4 of us (5 at weekends) really do live on the £15 shop for that week. And as weird as this might possibly sound, I do almost enjoy it. It appeals to my frugal side: the side that likes making do, using up leftovers and inventing meals from not very much. Some of my meal inventions haven't been great mind you, but when they work, well that's a good feeling.

Remember though, NO ONE'S LOOKING. So, if you're interested in the Challenge, do what suits you. It's primarily about raising money for charity, not raising stress levels!

This is our 4th year, so if you'd like to have a look at some of our past shopping lists or menus, there's some herehere and here. Last time we went veggie for the week too, which was totally fine for me, but not that brilliant for the kids. Fussy little blighters. Anyway, back to making a few meals from a roast chicken, which is always a good one, but I'm also going to try to vary our menu a bit more this time. The challenge for me isn't just to survive the week, but to feed us well too.

And that's another of the things I like about this Challenge: it slaps me around the face and makes me think. About how easy it is to take food for granted.

It makes me think on a micro level, because the key to cracking the Challenge is planning: planning what to buy right down to the last penny. I'd like to tell you I'm now a zealous meal planner, but that would be a lie, because I'm not.  For the rest of the year I slip back into a rather slap-dash approach to meal planning; I'm also a total sucker for offers, and rarely stick to my list. If I make a list at all. Having said that I'm not an extravagant shopper, just a disorganised one.

But as well as being a sort of trolley detox, it makes me think on a wider level too: what would it be like if it wasn't a challenge, but a necessity? And if it wasn't just for 7 days but for good. Most of us never, ever have to go hungry. The Challenge makes me think about people who do.

So, the long and short of it is, I've been an optimistic fool and set up a Red Nose Day team page - yes a team page…which is, at the moment, a team of one.


I'm fully aware it'll probably stay that way. But if you thought you might fancy it at all….in any shape or form...?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Making my mind up

We're just home from a lovely few days in Cornwall.  A much needed blast of sea air and some February sunshine. We stayed on the Roseland Peninsula, which isn't a part of Cornwall I've visited before.

I spent a few summers during my student days, working at a hotel in North Cornwall - mainly doing breakfasts, because my silver service skills weren't the best….rarely let loose on evening diners. I remember there being a bit of a buzz about an up and coming chef over in Padstow - Rick Stein had just made his first TV appearance - yes, it really was that long ago! Happy memories though, and I can hardly believe our break last week was the first time I've been back since then.

We managed to pack a fair bit into our short stay. A day at the Eden Project got the thumbs up from everyone, though I whinged more than the kids in the steamy Rainforest dome. Blimey it was hot, but what was I expecting?? I was a right sweaty heap by the end, so here's the eldest instead, looking remarkably cool. Think it's the first picture I've taken of him that he actually likes.

Pretty clever putting an ice-cream stall next to the door.

Much happier in the Mediterranean biome, and the crispy squid I had at the restaurant there was seriously good. In fact everything looked good. Surprisingly good. I think I've come to expect food at major attractions like this to be tasteless and overpriced, so I always, always make sandwiches. But my eyes are bigger than my stomach, and like I say, it looked good!
Although it wasn't cheap, I reckon what we had was worth the money. Plus the sandwiches didn't go to waste.

Quite a few food highlights for me actually - a fabulous meal out -  sea bass in a creamy lemon and dill sauce; and the best fish and chips I've ever tasted from The Watch Out by the harbour front in St Mawes. They were crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside perfection. So good we went back twice!

Great boat trip too, from St Mawes to Falmouth - everyone got pink cheeks and wild hair sitting up on the top deck.

We were staying near The Hidden Hut, a top foodie spot I've read a bit about, right by Porthcurnick beach. I went to have a look one morning. It really is a hut; all closed up until April, but what a spot! Easy to imagine why it's so popular. Sitting there on one of the long benches, gazing out to sea, I got carried away with a bit of a romantic notion about running a place like this through the summer…..catch of the day, simple tasty dishes...just a fleeting romantic notion though, I'm not daft. My lovely Granny ran a cafe with a group of friends that was quite ground-breaking in its day. She was always making soup, or cakes or quiche. I know she had very happy memories of that time, but the cooking was relentless.

Away from the daydreaming, my plan was to use the time to come up with a good, catchy crafty name. Whether I like it or not I've got to get more organised about what I do online…which is basically blogging, because I don't do much else! So, now I'm lucky enough to be writing a kids craft book, I've got to up my game a bit. My blog has always been a mish-mash of things, which is a pretty accurate reflection of me, but anyone looking for a kids craft site is going to be mighty disappointed.

I'm going to start a new, purely craft blog, and have had a bit of a nightmare trying to work out what to call it. The problem is any name with 'craft' or 'art' appears to be taken. I liked Arty Pants or Arty Time - but quite obviously, so did a lot of other people.

I've started looking at more random names instead. The one that's top of the list at the moment is Jumble Tree. I'd love to know what you think? Jumble ties in with my Jumble Betty toys, and it also represents the recycling/make-do side of my craft stuff. The tree bit could be about growth and learning.
Banana Stew was another one, just because it was slightly bonkers.
It's been a lot harder than I imagined, for sure!