Wow. Talk about taking a break. It’s been a long time – again. I’ve been waiting to be able to share the news that in the New Year we are having a baby! It felt very weird not mentioning this enormous, life changing, budget altering event and I just couldn’t write a post without spilling. Hence no posts. It has actually been a stressful time lately as we trotted off for the 12 week scan and then got a phone call a day later to say that we were high risk for Down Syndrome. I didn’t get particularly special results when I was pregnant with my daughter and knew I couldn’t manage another whole pregnancy waiting and not knowing. Hooray for savings is all I can say. We spent £400 on a Harmony blood test at the very wonderful Foetal Medicine Centre in London which is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. I hope that this test is eventually available on the NHS – at least for people like myself who have had a high risk result. Thank God we had an emergency fund as we also had a fantastic early anomaly scan while we were there and had to to pay for train tickets etc. Best money I have ever, ever spent. As you can probably gather we’ve had good results. In case you’re not in the know, the Harmony blood test looks the DNA of your baby which is travelling in your blood stream. It is extremely accurate, second only to a CVS or an amnio (which are diagnostic tests rather than screening).
Anyway. It’s all been about that for some time now. I’m trying to take in the good news and take a breath but just wanted to say hi and I’ll be back soon!
Apologies for the long absence. My head has been here, there and everywhere. Work has been busy, home has been busy. I’ve put a tonne of weight on. Horrifying how fast that happened. I’ve reverted back to Slimming World but it is coming off in a painfully slow fashion. Like a pound a week for a huge amount of effort. I’ve had to say ‘sod it’ to the food budget. Eating this way isn’t cheap but I’m not prepared to live in weight based misery. Life is too short. So I’m not feeling like I’m being particularly Shoestringish at the moment! I will be back though. Perhaps when I’ve got a bit more spring in my (slightly less burdened) step. I meant to make use of the fact that we now have a garden to grow our own. It hasn’t happened so far though I did buy my first trowel yesterday. I’ve only grown my own on quite possibly the smallest scale possible….
Happy Bank Holiday everyone!
One of my new years resolutions was to try out more recipes. I think I intended to try at least one new recipe a month. I haven’t exactly kept track but I know I’ve tried far more new things than that, just by experimenting a bit! I’ve been using up some things that have been knocking around for a while.
I’ve had these two cartons of passata forever – so long that they were approaching their expiry date. They seemed so handy but I’ve always preferred chopped, tinned tomatoes instead. I made a sauce by dicing the onions and frying in a smidge of oil. I chopped and deseeded the tomatoes (which I’d given up all hope of ever ripening), a squirt of the garlic puree, the two cartons of passata and a couple of handfuls of lentils. I then made up a jug of vegetable stock and kept adding some when it seemed like the sauce was getting too thick. The lentils still weren’t soft after I’d used up the first jug of stock so I made up another and added that all. I popped generous portions into 6 plastic bowls and put them in the freezer. Husband and I had a portion each with pasta for dinner tonight and were really impressed. I’ll be making this again!
Half a packet of risotto rice moved house with us and it had been with us for a very long time prior to that. I wasn’t sure if my daughter would like it and it seemed like a lot of effort to go to if she didn’t. Fortunately she did! I’m also not massively keen on booze in food (it is great in certain dishes but mostly I’m not keen) and I don’t like parmesan (smells exactly like Husband’s feet) – both of these seem to crop up in most risotto recipes I’ve seen. I cooked the risotto with a pre-cooked, diced sweet potato and some onion and mushrooms – no wine, no parmesan, just a bit of cheddar (see bowl in foreground of above photo). It was great. The other bowl in the picture has some tomato and cannellini bean soup which I also made a batch of, mainly to take to work for packed lunch. It’s my current favourite ‘thing’ (next to apple and custard danish pastries which I am doing my best to avoid).
I’m sure there are plenty of other things that I’ve had for far too long. I’ll be hunting through the cupboards again this week!
Another deeply domestic, local and low budget day here on Shoestring Alley. I wrapped my daughter up again, popped her in the pushchair and went for another walk. I used the map tools website again to plot the route in advance as I wanted to try to do another 3 miles. I decided to have a wander around a residential area that I’ve only ever driven through (I have lived in this town nearly 13 years!). I recognised a couple of houses that have been on the market in the last few years which would have been contenders had we been in the position to move. It made me really glad we ended up with the house we’ve got. The roads were eerily deserted and there was a really empty feeling to the place. I didn’t like it. Also I didn’t like how on top of each other the houses felt and the way that all of the houses and the roads looked the same. It would be really easy to get lost down there. I imagine that the estate (if that is what it is) all got built in one go and that’s why it all looks the same. I guess some people wouldn’t like to like on a main road like we do. I never used to like the road we live on. Actually being here is surprising though. All of the houses are set well back from the road and we barely ever hear a car. I’m looking out of the window as I type and there are zero cars. I like the fact that there are all kinds of houses on our road. Ours is a plain 1970s semi but within a few hundred yards are 1930s houses (where our friends live), a long rown of terraced cottages and a couple of houses so new that no-one has lived in them yet. I like the jumble! Anyway, leaving small town suburbia behind us, we powered down to the seafront again.
The beach huts have been put out in the last couple of weeks. My daughter fell in love with this one with the fish painted on the door…
On the way home I undid all of my good work and bought buns in the bakers. I am unable to resist the bakers on our way home. It is the old fashioned kind that sells iced finger buns and other such loveliness. Very naughty. The financial cost was only about £1. The cost to my waistline is another matter…
The rest of the day was spent on cleaning, tidying, sorting and then batch cooking a huge saucepan full of bolognese sauce. I made so much that I used some of it to make two lasagnes – one family size and two individual portions. There was enough sauce left for tonight’s dinner plus two family size portions to go in the freezer. I find it tricky to work out costs per portion because my two year old eats roughly half an adult portion of a main meal. Basically I made four ‘family’ (ie 2.5 portions) meals and two adult meals and the total cost was roughly £11. I’ve had a fairly successful slashing of the food spending but that deserves a post of its own. I’ve managed to switch a lot of things down to Tesco’s everyday value range and am generally rethinking how I shop. More on this another time! My favourite bits of the day were the breaks between cleaning and cooking where I got to read a few sneaky pages of my book and dance around with my girl. Hopefully tomorrow will hold more hanging out and less cleaning!
The hankering to have a bit of a walk outweighed the lurgie lethargy this morning. I got the pushchair out and we walked to our bi-monthly toddler group at the library and afterwards had our usual stop off at the coffee shop with our friends (I had enough stamps on my loyalty card for a free coffee today – result!). Afterwards we stopped at the shop to pick up grapes, milk and a few other bits and then we were off. I decided on a walk along the seafront and down to the look at the boats in the little harbour. It was just gorgeous out. Still freezing but sunny and lovely. It was nice to be out even though I was so bunged up I can’t breathe properly.
I usually feel a bit guilty if I don’t let my daughter out of her pushchair so she can get some exercise too (any one who has been for a walk with a toddler knows that you never manage to get a decent speed up for yourself!). However, I didn’t have to worry about that today as she was clearly tired after her group and playing with her friend. She’s still not very well and has definitely lost some weight over the last couple of weeks while she’s been ill. I’m trying to feed her up this week as much as possible though her appetite is still up and down. Anyway, for today at least she was quite happy tucked up in her blankets and eating her snacks as I pushed her along. Out of interest, I used the website http://www.freemaptools.com so work out how far we had walked this morning. In total it came to just under three miles which I was pleased with. I didn’t do it all in one go as there were several stops along the way. I’m going to get in the habit of checking out a few routes around town so I can try and get some more exercise and fresh air at the same time.
My fitness levels are worse than they have been in years. Walking is pretty much the only exercise I get (other than doing housework and running around after a toddler of course). The weather has been so wet and blah this winter I’ve ended up using the car far more than usual and we’ve been ill for the last few weeks while it has been freakishly cold and sunny. I’m hoping our health and the weather will improve over the next few weeks! Did I mention I fell over at work? Well I did. And no I’m not suing. But I did really hurt my foot and it is still not right. So that has also put me off walking. Until today I also forgot about the pain I’ve been getting in my hip when I walk more than a very short distance. What is that all about? I am 35 and falling to pieces. It really is time to look after myself a bit better I think!
I can’t remember if I’ve ever blogged about two of my very favourite pendants before…
I bought the one on the left from Etsy about 4 years ago. It wasn’t very expensive and neither was the postage considering that it came all the way from the US. It is a recycled games tile with a vintage stamp lacquered on to the front. I’ve seen similar things since (though not as pretty as mine) but when I bought it it was completely unlike anything ‘out there’. The other pendant is also from the US funnily enough. A very lovely American friend of mine bought it for me at a craft fair. It is made from a piece of broken china. I’ve worn both of these in the last week in a further effort to make good use of everything I have.
My favourite plate got broken at the weekend. I confess to being really quite gutted about it. I had hankered after it for a long time and eventually bought it. It was a ridiculous amount to spend on one plate (£14.95 from Emma Bridgewater) but – do you know – I enjoyed that plate every single time I used it. It is – was -part of my daughters home landscape – ‘Mummy’s chicken plate’. I’ve kept the pieces with a vague hope that I might be able to team it with some other broken ceramics and fashion one of those plant pots that you used to see all the time. I can’t let go!
Husband offered to buy me a new one (he was the one wot done it) but the design has been discontinued. The only place I could find one was ebay and that was £29.95. I’d never dare use a plate that cost £30! Boo. I really, really loved the pattern. Would a replacement be the same? Or should I/Husband splash out and get another ‘special’ plate in a totally different design? And why should I need a special flippin’ plate anyway? I;ve got perfectly good tea plates. Hmmm. I’ll let you know if I come to any conclusions!
Broken crockery aside, my daughter and I are still struck down with the lurgie. It’s been here for two weeks and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I would really like to be able to say the letter ‘m’ again. I miss it. I had to make arrangements over the phone at work today for things taking place in May. Except no-one knew what I was on about as even I could tell that ‘Id Bay, id BAY!!’ sounds very little like ‘In May’. Grrrr.
I’m trying to make a concerted effort to eat less meat. It’s expensive, most studies show that eating a lot isn’t particularly good for you and I’ve got issues with the whole industry. Around the time that I started this blog I started cooking for scratch much more than I did before and I also started batch cooking. The trouble is, most of my batch cook recipes are meat based and I have trouble thinking up vegetarian ‘batch-cook-and-freeze’ options. I made an ok vegetarian lasagne last month and some veggie pasta sauce but it wasn’t great. I’m not going vegetarian…I’d just like to be think up some more meat free meals without replying on pasta too much.
Recently I’ve been reading Ilona’s wonderful ‘Mean Queen’ blog and I’ve been impressed by her hearty sounding vegetable stews. I’ve been thinking of how I can tinker with this idea because I already eat a lot of vegetable soups and I don’t want it to be getting too ‘samey’ as I know I’ll get bored. I’ve also been thinking about how to get more (and cheaper) protein into my/our diets. So I’ve bought these:
The large bag of red split lentils was £1.99 (my second ever bag of these!) and the yellow split peas were 49p (my first ever bag!). I thought that a vegetable stew made with the peas and / or lentils would make quite a substantial, nutritious meal. I’m not sure what the other members of the household will make of it but even if just I like it I’ll consider it a ‘win’.
If anyone has any ideas for ways to use these (or other tasty meat free – preferably freezeable – recipes) please let me know!
Is the fairy cake the baking world’s equivalent of the red squirrel? Has it been driven into near extinction by the increasingly dominant cupcake? I love cupcakes and I have made them many times. I even have the special, deeper tins and the larger cupcake/muffin cases. I love making cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery recipe book (one of my all times favourites). And yet, the fairy cake wins my vote every time. They are smaller (thus better for waistline and teeth) and require less ingredients (thus better for the purse). And they are so dainty and traditional! All of the birthday parties of my childhood were not of the ‘book a hall or novelty act’ variety but the kind where there were sandwiches and fairy cakes laid out on the kitchen table and a party mix playing in the background where everyone would play musical statues and pass the parcel. They were brilliant and fairy cakes still epitomize that sense of fun for me.
We make a lot of fairy cakes in this house. A lot. Since we’ve moved we have people over all the time and I like there to be something nice to offer as a little something to go with tea and coffee. Plus they are so quick! Win, win, win. On Sunday we made these…
I topped these with naughty but very nice butter cream icing and some pretty, pearly sprinkles that were reduced. We were nearly out of sprinkles (one of my daughters favourite parts of the cake making process and therefore critical) and I spotted these Dr Oetker sprinkles reduced from £1.29 to 97p. Their sell by date isn’t until September so I’m sure they’ll all be used up well before then! I like to use this lovely Portmeirion plate for cakes – I love seeing the circle of green leaves peeking out around the edge. About 12 years ago a colleague and his wife were having a clear-out and gave Husband and I (who had just bought our flat and were young and broke) a massive stack of old crockery. In turn we’ve passed it on to friends just starting out but we’ve hung on to the three pieces of Portmeirion that we were given. My colleague, who was also a friend and something of a mentor, died nearly ten years ago. I think of him every time I use them.
Back to the fairy cakes. I think these are the perfect thing to make if you have a couple of people coming over or just if you are in the mood to bake. They require less than half the ingredients of a Victoria sponge (which – don’t get me wrong – I am also a big fan/frequent maker of) so are also a good option if you are short on supplies for whatever reason. Here’s the recipe I use (so often that I know it off by heart – it is very easy to remember):
100g butter / butter substitute
100g caster sugar
100g self raising flour
- Mix the butter and caster sugar until completely combined and nice and creamy
- Add the eggs one at a time and mix well
- Add the flour bit by bit and mix until combined with a consistent, smooth texture
The above takes me less than 5 minutes. I’m fussier/more likely to use the food processor when mixing more ingredients, as with a larger cake. However, for fairy cakes I like to use a bowl and a spoon as I find it easier and also because my daughter has fun mixing with a spoon (and licking it afterwards).
- Put 12 paper cases on your cake tray (preferably the kind with 12 ‘dips’) and spoon the mixture into the cases.
- Pop into a preheated oven for 15 minutes at Gas Mark 5.
Sometimes we eat them plain but we usually go for the icing/sprinkles option!
How about you – do you still rock the fairy cake or do you cupcake?
One of the things I was most excited about when we bought this house was the cupboard in the hall. The lady that lived here before had it set up as a kind of walk-in cleaning cupboard. There were a few shelves and some bags hanging on the wall full of carrier bags and odds and ends. As soon as I saw it I knew exactly how I’d use it if it were mine. When were in the process of buying we had the usual list of bits and bobs the vendor might like to sell for a bit extra. We hardly bought anything but we did buy the under-counter freezer that she had in the kitchen. It looks like new and we only paid £10 for it. Since I already have a fridge-freezer this has doubled my freezing space. The day we moved in one of the first things we did was to shuffle the freezer from the kitchen into the cupboard in the hall. It’s great to have an extra freezer in a place that is easy to access and out of the way all at the same time.
The freezer fits nicely under the three shelves which had been covered in the same minging wallpaper that we currently have in the spare room. Lovely isn’t it?
This weekend I ripped all of the wallpaper off and properly sorted the content of the shelves. Ta da!
As you can see, I’ve now got plenty of room to do a bit of bulk buying if I see a good offer on.
I caved in this morning and went to Tesco. I had been dithering about whether to go since I had a ‘£5 off a £40 shop’ voucher. We were desperately low on some of our staples (and completely out of cling film, clothes wash and that type of thing) but I also didn’t want to spend any more money until the end of the month when I would release our new food budget for April. In the end I decided that it would be better to take money out of the budget a bit early to make the most of the offer – it seemed daft to miss out on saving £5 just for the sake of buying them 6 days early. It also means that I don’t have to do a big shop during Easter Bank Holiday weekend just when the supermarkets will be heaving. Tesco had their 3 for £10 offer on meat so I bought £20 worth. I ought to be able to make that last the whole month. I need to do a bit of an inventory to see exactly what I’ve got and make sure I’m using everything up. I would have done it this afternoon but we had friends over for tea and cakes this afternoon which was much more fun! Must stop baking though. I’m expanding at an alarming rate :-/ .
I’ve got a seriously domestic weekend planned. The weather is still awful and it’s been an unusually long and tiring week. My daughter seems to be coming down with something and could probably do with a bit of quiet ‘home’ time. I know I could.
Yesterday afternoon I gave the bathroom a good scrub down and I also tidied, dusted and polished the two bedrooms. There is a third room upstairs which technically is a bedroom but in actuality is a junk room. I don’t know how I lived without one for so long. Don’t know what to do with it? Chuck it in the spare room! It currently houses a wardrobe, a folded up camp bed, a mattress for the camp bed, our old dining room table, the now redundant cot, about 50 books, every photo album we’ve ever owned, a child sized tent and who knows what else! One day I will sort this room out properly. But not until our bedroom has been decorated at least.
Anyway, junk room aside the whole of upstairs has been thoroughly cleaned, hoovered and aired. Today I have tackled downstairs. I’ve tidied and dusted the living/dining area, a wipe down and tidy up of the kitchen and a hoover. The hall also had to be tidied as I still haven’t worked out where to put coat hooks. I’ve also given the front porch a bit of a sort out and managed to wedge a small piece of furniture out there that was taking up space (and was inaccessible) in the hall. I’ve also sorted out the pantry which I’ve been meaning to do pretty much since we’ve moved in.
Depending on my frame of mind I either love or loathe housework. Since I’m in a domestic frame of mind at the moment I’ve quite enjoyed doing it – particularly as I got the most time consuming bits done yesterday. It feels good to have got so much done. My daughter and I made another batch of fruit scones (I doubt there will be any left by bed time but hey-ho) and we’re planning to make some bread rolls this afternoon. I have two packs of bread mix and they need using up! Particularly since we ate the last of the bread this morning.
Selected cheese is 3 for 2 in Tesco at the moment. Last week I bought the Value mozzarella as part of the offer. I was impressed that it’s usual price is only 44p. I’m going to make pizza for dinner with sweet potato ‘fries’. Nom. My big plans this evening involve a bowl of home popped popcorn (but only if I break my pact not to leave the house) and our Saturday occasional treat of a movie on iTunes (new releases are usually around £4). It couldn’t be better!