Keeping pace

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!

Categories: Domesticity, Frugal food | 2 Comments

All hail the fairy cake

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

2 eggs

That’s it!

  • 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?

Categories: Domesticity, Frugal food, Recipes | Leave a comment

My pantry

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 :-/ .

Categories: Domesticity, Frugal food, home improvements | 4 Comments

My perfect Saturday plans

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!

Categories: Domesticity | 2 Comments

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