Saturday, 31 January 2009

Chickens on the run!

The chickens escaped from their run today as the door latch became unfastened and they made a break for freedom. They looked so lovely striding about in the grass together that I thought I would take some photos. This one shows the Silver Sussex cockerel with a couple of the hens.

This is them attacking the broad beans, which is the point at which we had to chase them back into their run!

The larger white bird in the middle of this is the turkey who is living happily amongst the hens.

Here is the cockerel again with more of the hens - 10 of them laid eggs today so I am very pleased with them! To the left of the cock is an Orpington hen and to the right, a Buff Sussex. The white ones are the Sasso breed that we originally bought for meat and then decided to keep a few (well, five!) of the hens for egg laying.

The quail haven't caught on to the egg laying idea yet, but I am living in hope. Snow is forecast here for tomorrow and Monday so it was great for the chickens to enjoy the sunshine whilst they could as I don't think that they will enjoy the snow as much!

End of month celebrations

Yes - we made it to the end of the month and stayed within our budget! It has proved to me that I can stay away from the shops and really stick to my aims when I get organised but it helps enormously that I have this blog and I know that people are reading it and I am trying to be accountable to you - and be honest!

I did spend a little money today but only £5.92 on an ox tongue and that was an accidental spend: my neighbour's father wanted an oxtail from the butcher who comes to the market in the nearby town but they don't carry them and he had to order one to collect this week. When M was telling me, I said I wondered whether they had tongues and she said she would find out for me - well, I was absolutely delighted when she actually brought me one home! Sliced tongue is horrendously expensive in the supermarket and I have stopped buying it, but home cooked and pressed tongue is delicious. It is a while since we have had one - a couple of years probably - but I am really looking forward to cooking this tomorrow afternoon and then pressing it overnight. The £5.92 is well within the £11 odd that I had left, so we have achieved our aim.

So what shall we do for February? More of the same, I think. I have restocked the cupboards, at a cost of about £92 from Asda, and so I am giving myself the same £100 again for the weekly shopping over the month. That will mean that we are spending no more than £200 for the month - about £50 a week, or £12.50 per week per person. This will need me to continue baking bread, using fruit and veg from the freezer - we have loads left - and keeping a sharp eye on snacking foods; Oh for the days when the children were preschoolers and had three meals, two snacks and a biscuit at bedtime - some days when we are in and out, we seem to be eating at some strange times of the day, and I am sure that people are eating the wrong kinds of things - snacks will have to be more basic because I am not going to start buying rubbish and crisps again: the month has proved that they can do without, and so they will. I am also not buying things like ice cream when the temperature is only 2 degrees outside - we are going to be eating more in tune with the seasons so we'll save the ice cream for summer!

My menu plan for the month ends tomorrow so I will plan the next two weeks' worth of meals tomorrow, based around the foods we have and the plans we have for the various days. I will share that with you soon. Tomorrow is also family weigh-day so we will see whether the FH and I have lost any weight.....

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Wednesday blues!

The YFG had a day at home yesterday with a cold; she could cope with the cold but the problem was the severe headache she was getting from her sinuses. A day of pampering was in order - some breakfast eaten on the sofa snuggled under a duvet, cuddling Mum! Then watching a favourite DVD for an hour or so, some lunch - macaroni cheese, her favourite - a neighbour dropped by for a recipe and a chat, and then she did some painting with the FH. Soon after that, the EFG was home from school and things soon dropped back into the normal after school and evening routine.

The hens laid seven eggs between them yesterday, although they have been less productive today! I have put a good layer of straw down for them in their runs, so this afternoon they were ecstatic, scratching and pecking away and really enjoying it! The weather is forecast to be dry but cold for three days, so I am hoping that the mud will dry out a little for them.

Thinking about the "reduce, re-use, recycle" mantra, I wanted to share my washing powder ideas. There are better ideas out there but this is what I am using at the moment. To start with, I use less that the recommended amount whenever I can; the manufacturers obviously have an interest in the consumer using more of their product, so I take their instructions with a pinch of salt. I used to use normal washing powder, usually a supermarket own-brand product. After some reading, I have now got a mixture going which is working very well - the clothes are clean and fresh so aim achieved! I mix together two bags (one kilogram each) of washing soda with a big box of Tesco Value biological washing powder (the last one cost £1.41 although it has probably gone up since then) and a big box of the own-brand powder. All this is mixed together in an old insulated cool box which my father threw out. I use this because it is big enough to hold all the powder and it has a tight fitting lid. One batch of this mixture lasts about six months, so it is quite a saving on my past usage of normal powder. I know that other people use vinegar for fabric softener, but I am using some watered down cheap stuff and will maybe try the vinegar when that runs out - or maybe just go without!

Using less than recommended is a valuable exercise - it can be applied to all sorts of items from washing powder as I said, to shampoo and toothpaste! Another similar challenge is to mark the date that a box or package of something is opened actually on the pack and then to work out how long that pack has lasted and try to make the next pack last longer. All these little ideas build up to a big sense of achievement if successful and having something to aim for makes all the difference sometimes when dealing with relatively mundane chores!

The FH and I had a good sort out of the freezers this afternoon. There are loads of bags of frozen apples, plums, green beans, tomatoes, some bags of peas, asparagus, broccoli, blackberries, homemade ratatouille and soup made from scratch and just frozen. There is some meat but less than usual. In the smaller freezer, I keep my homemade bread and baked goods, of which there are plenty so no baking needs to be done this week.

As to the eating from stored food challenge and only spending £100 for the month, I feel that I have achieved it. I have not spent anything on groceries since the last update earlier in the week, but I have done an online order from Asda to restock the cupboards. This will be delivered tomorrow, which is before the end of the month, but there were several really good offers which expire on the 31/1 so I couldn't wait until February as those would have been unavailable. I took my time and loaded the virtual trolleys in the Asda and Tesco websites with as near as possible the same items - it took me an hour last night as the Asda website was slow - but it was worth it as it was about £11 cheaper in Asda. This will be my first Asda delivery so I will see how it goes in terms of quality and service, but I am pleased with the prices.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Saving what? The YFG noticed on the back on my copy of The Tightwad Gazette that it had the headline "Save money! Save time! Save the environment!" and we had a little chat about all that. We don't completely agree with the sentiments of the author, though, as saving money and the environment sometimes do take up time, so we didn't completely understand the time savings idea.

It is very true, however, that saving money does contribute to helping the environment; many of the things we do to save money are contributing to us using less energy and leaving a smaller carbon footprint. In the long run, we should as a family consider whether spending money is a good idea when the only reason for spending it is that we have it available to spend! Double dutch? I hope not. What I am saying is that even when saving money is not the prime objective, we should still consider our priorities more carefully.

As to saving time, well, I don't know. Making bread as opposed to picking it up with the shopping doesn't save me time, but it saves me money and gives me the huge satisfaction of being able to feed my family wholesome food without additives, which is a priority. Stockpiling food does save me some time as it greatly reduces the amount of time I have to spend in the shops - walking around the supermarket and picking up four cans of tuna once a month is a lot less time consuming than travelling there every week and picking up one can each time with the shopping. By cutting back on the journeys we make, we do save some time - but this is only really valuable if we use the time saved to our benefit; using the time saved to knit/sew/make jam/do something with the children is beneficial - spending it sitting like a vegetable in front of the TV is not (and yes, that is me being judgemental - TV is one of the biggest time wasters out there!)

I don't think that anyone has ever claimed that saving money was an easy thing to do - it involves making different choices, and maybe learning new skills, adjusting to different ideals, and focusing on particular goals. The trouble is that people who are new to economising hope that there is somewhere a switch which can be flicked to put them in moneysaving mode, expert in all the tips and tricks, and money will instantly start building up in the bank. It doesn't work like that, and so it is the people who live like this in good times as well as bad who understand that the true benefits take longer to accrue. Skills need time to be perfected, knowledge has to be learned, and networks of suppliers have to be found for cheaper goods, gardens have to be dug and seeds sown - all this takes time and preparation before the benefits are seen. Sometimes it takes months. Knowing that the tough times can be outridden is a security that I wouldn't want to give up, and living from one payday to the next is a position I would hope never to have to find myself. We have lived as a family in this way for about 16 years, and remember seeing my mother and grandmother do all sorts of things that saved in the long term, from home baking and jam making to darning and making clothes at home.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Catching up!

I seem to be a day or two behind myself on here at the moment.

Some of the cinnamon buns made it to the freezer on Friday, although several got eaten! One bag was brought out and defrosted in the microwave this morning for a quick but substantial breakfast. We don't eat much cold cereal here - the EFG only seems to like an expensive, too sugary confection which I won't buy regularly, the YFG only eats dry cereal and then only picks at it, so all in all it is not a good choice for breakfast here. Toast is often the choice, mostly just with butter, but occasionally with a swipe of chocolate spread over it; the YFG prefers pancakes, and will occasionally ask for a "salad" which is what she calls a plate with a little heap of cubed cheese, maybe some ham, a cut-up apple, and perhaps a biscuit on the side. Cinnamon buns are a popular breakfast choice so it is great to have a stash in the freezer so that I can serve them when they are requested, or when I don't have time to offer pancakes. The EFG will sometimes choose scrambled eggs with some toast, which is never a problem as we have always got eggs. The FH likes porridge, but the girls hate it! Thinking outside the box is a way of saving money when the accepted norm of cold cereals for breakfast is not necessarily cheap, and quite often not a particularly healthy choice. Some of my offerings do have fat and sugar, but there are no E-numbers, additives and preservatives, and I know exactly what is in everything that I make, so I count that as a benefit. I also prefer that what they eat in the morning has a little protein in it, so that helps to keep them going till lunchtime - which is OK at 12 for the YFG but the EFG has to go through until 1.20 before she eats lunch.

After gymnastics yesterday, the YFG and I went to do the shopping. The groceries came to £28.74 for the week, bringing the total for the month so far to £88.58. Again, it was mostly fruit and vegetables: grapes for lunchboxes, apples, clementines, cabbage, broccoli, plums; some meat - ham, sausages and chicken thighs as the stocks of meat in the freezer are nearly exhausted; cheese; stuffing mix (the girls just discovered this and love it but I should really be making it from scratch so this is the last time I buy it!); and squash to drink. Broccoli is expensive compared to other green vegetables at £2.19/kg, but we eat a lot of it because it is a valuable member of the cruciferous veg family, famous for cancer-fighting qualities, and we all like it. Cabbage is our second-best alternative which we eat several times a week, but sprouts are not enjoyed by all the family although we have loads of them in the freezer. They get eaten by the EFG and FH. Cauliflowers are expensive and we don't really rate them particularly so we rarely buy them. We do grow other green veg in the summer, and love green beans, in season as well as from the freezer.

This month's challenge of living from the stores has been a good one - not quite over yet, but the finish line is now in sight. I have £11.42 in hand for the rest of the month - only 6 days, and I doubt that there is anything that we will need, although I will record any spending from that. The stores are doing OK although I will begin to make a list this week for re-stocking the shelves. It looks at first sight as if it is the tinned goods that have taken the hardest hit - the chopped tomatoes are all gone, there is no soup left, and the tinned fruit is reduced (but we still have peaches, pears and pineapple). However, we have our own tomatoes in the freezer that can be used in place of the tinned ones, and there is carrot and parsnip soup also in the freezer, as well as bags and bags of cooked apples!

We have not bought any books, shoes, clothing (apart from the tights for YFG and a school sweater for EFG), stationery, stamps, DVD/entertainment-type "stuff", magazines, toiletries, chocolate or crisps (much to YFG's disgust!). It has made me realise how easily money can be wasted on things which are really not necessary and could be cut out from the regular shopping and just allowed as very occasional treats.

I have today made some dough in the bread machine for rolls for tea - which are proving right now on the cooker top - it is still warm in the kitchen from the dinnertime cooking. Whilst the oven was on earlier for the chicken, the YFG and I made some cheese scones. These are excellent as she loves them and will happily eat them at breakfast time, split and warmed in the microwave and then spread with a tiny bit of butter, but she will also want to have them in her lunchbox, so they are versatile. We made about 20, so 10 went into a tin in the cupboard and the others went into the freezer in two packages. The only downside to them is that they used up half the cheese that I had bought for the week, so the usual cheese sandwiches in the lunchboxes may have to be varied this week when we have used it all up - and the FH is rather a cheese fiend! When the oven goes on to bake the rolls, I will also quickly make up a batch of muffins so that there are some for tea and some for the freezer to call upon later in the week.

We have eaten the last home-grown chicken from the freezer for lunch, so the FH has been eyeing up the next batch. They are getting to the right age for butchering now, but they are not really fat enough to be a decent meal yet. It is possible that they will take another few weeks before they are ready to eat, and we should probably start increasing their rations (not that they are not well-fed now already!).

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Baking day

Yesterday morning, I set the breadmachines going pretty early. The smaller machine was making an enriched dough, which I use to make cinnamon buns. Here is the dough when it has finished rising in the bread pan, and is ready to be turned out, kneaded again and shaped.

When the dough is nearly ready, I prepare the cinnamon sugar mixture, which is just a tablespoon on soft brown sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon, well mixed together.

The dough comes out and it is a fairly heavy, dry dough, so it is quite clean to work with and doesn't stick all over me or the worksurface. I knead it for a good few minutes.

After kneading, it is time to roll it out flat.

I brush it with a little water so that the sugar mixture sticks to the dough when I roll it out. The sugar is sprinkled over the dough and then the dough is rolled up from the longest side.

It ends up looking like this and it really doesn't matter that the ends are not even!

Now the roll has to be cut into slices, which are quite thin.

Once cut up, the slices are laid in an oiled baking pan, touching each other - squeeze them in!

I leave them to rise in the kitchen for as long as it takes - anything from half an hour to two hours depending on the warmth of the room. They look like these below when they are risen.

Then it is time to bake them. I put them into a 160C fan oven for about 15-20 minutes, until they are golden brown. Then I brush them over with a tiny bit of maple syrup to add some glaze and a little more sweetness. It certainly makes them look appealing!

The ingredients that I use are:
1lb strong bread flour, half a teaspoon salt, 4 tablespoons caster sugar, 4 tablespoons oil, 2 eggs beaten together with 6 fl. oz milk, and one sachet fast-action yeast. This is all put in to the breadmachine and put on the "Dough" setting.
Thanks for this recipe go to D&DD on the forums at who has a fantastic recipe for an Apple Braid, for which these ingredients form the basis. That recipe uses cooked apple, which doesn't go down well here, so I use the same basic idea to make the dough for the cinnamon buns - which go down extremely well.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Restful day

I am getting over my cold from which I was suffering last weekend, but I appreciated having quite a restful day today. Instead of rushing around, I pottered and purposely didn't make myself a list of things to do. Lists are brilliant but sometimes they nag at you, and I wasn't in the mood for nagging today! I watched some TV, loaded up the washing machine and hung up the laundry when it was done, prepared a lovely chicken casserole for the evening meal, and phoned my aunt for a chat. The dinner was eaten early tonight at about 5pm, and everyone has now had a bath and is getting ready for bed - the FH and girls are watching TV until about 9pm and then I think that we will all be off to bed! Hopefully my get-up-and-go will return tomorrow!

Today has also been a "No Spend Day", which is good; the hens have laid eggs again, and I have organised the sale of a dozen and a half to school staff which I will deliver in the morning. The treadmill has been in action - I have done 15 minutes at 3 mph, whereas the FH managed 2 minutes (compared to yesterday's one!) at 1.5 mph - he complains about his legs aching very quickly...

The wet and windy weather which was forecast has been and gone, and we are now in a window of drier weather until the next low pressure system moves in tomorrow and over the weekend. The greenhouse is OK so far, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. The poor chickens need some more straw in their yard, so I will have to get them some at the weekend, as they are getting rather muddy.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Wet and windy weather warning

Sorry that I haven't been here this week much.

Monday was supposed to have been "Blue Monday", the most depressing day of the year, according to the BBC Breakfast team. I can't say that I agreed - why should one day in the year be more depressing? Perhaps some people are experiencing angst over the post-Christmas credit card bill? January is not a bad month, although I hear some people moaning about it, but it is like all things, the more you moan about something, the worse it gets. Look forward to the spring, get the gardening books out and make plans for planting, find some leaner recipes to try after the rich food of Christmas and you won't have time to get depressed.

Just have to share a quote I saw somewhere yesterday, but unfortunately I can't remember the exact words, nor to whom it was attributed but it is too good not to share. The gist of it is that we in the developed world have nothing to complain about, because we have all won the lottery in life just by being born in a developed nation. That is so true, and I think I should remember to be grateful more often.

Big news - the hens laid 7 eggs between them yesterday so production is beginning to step up. Only three have appeared today, but I guess that they won't crank them out regularly just yet when they are only beginning to lay. It is exciting though! The other news is that the treadmill I ordered on New Year's Day has arrived. The box is large enough to launch as a small boat, and it weighed in at nearly 9 stone in the packaging, so it is a heavyweight and won't get moved around the house now that it is in position. We have set it up and all of us have had a quick go. The FH is going to have to build his stamina up over time as he was out of breath after only a minute at the slowest speed, whereas the YFG has been jogging!

Forecasters are warning of very heavy rain between now and the weekend coupled with gales, which may bring trouble! I hate rain as it makes the garden into mud, and the wind might damage my greenhouse so I am a little worried abut this forecast and hoping to get through to the weekend unscathed.

The budget is holding up nicely - we are at the 21st today so there are just 10 possible spending days left in the month, and we have spent just £59.84 on replacing groceries and buying fruit and vegetables. I have successfully not spent anything since doing the shopping on Saturday, and I am planning ahead for this Saturday so that I buy only what is needed and nothing more. The stocks in the freezer and pantry are steadily decreasing but there are no huge gaps appearing yet. The meat in the freezer is getting to the interesting stage - I can't do the meal plans without first checking what is actually out there whereas normally I would know that I could plan something from our regular repertoire of meals and be reasonably certain that the meat was available. Makes life more of a challenge! The menu for this week and next is in the previous post's photograph of the chalkboard. We are sticking to it, as it makes life so much easier to have it all planned out.

I have had two days of paperwork and planning, interspersed with bread making, gymnastics, helping with homework, ironing and laundry. The FH is making progress with the multifuel stove, and I will take a picture of that ASAP as it is beginning to look right. The external pipework for the metal chimney has been ordered today and should be here in two weeks' time as there is a backlog of orders at the suppliers due to increased demand. Obviously we are in tune with a lot of other people - that makes a change!!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Photocall day

This morning I enjoyed a lie-in whilst the FH took the girls to church, then whilst they were gone, I had a lovely bath, got some plums for my breakfast, and started on the chores - hanging washing was first on the list. The weather today has been dry and bright after a terribly squally night - a lot of wind and rain.

When the FH brought in the eggs this lunchtime, one of them was cracked. We have a theory that one of the hens is expelling the egg at high speed, and then it cracks when it hits the nest box - but perhaps she is just choosing the nest box with the thinnest layer of straw. Anyway, we are getting a cracked egg a few times a week, and that has to be removed from the shell and put in the fridge to be used as soon as we can. Usually, that means the next morning's breakfast. This egg is the freshest I've photographed as it was still warm from the nest box.

This is the meal plan for the next two weeks. We are continuing with our minimum spending on groceries, using up what we have in the pantry and freezer. This menu is a combination of what we have left that I can make without buying anything like meat or pasta, for example. Yesterday I bought broccoli, cabbage, apples, clementines, honey and instant mash. The instant mash is used for a kind of bread dough that keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days, so that you can just use a little at a time. I use it to make cinnamon buns, breadsticks, bread rolls, etc but I find it a bit heavy to make actual loaves of bread.

These two girls were just looking out when I passed by - in an earlier photocall last year, there were three white girls, but one of them died just before Christmas, and we don't know why. However, these two are looking fit and healthy and continue to put on weight.

And last, these are new pictures of the quail. The FH cleaned out the house this morning and gave them some more straw and they absolutely love it - they are making themselves deep nesting holes to rest in, and having a great time.
Quail are ground-living birds and love to get under things, so this straw is just the business for them - they dived right in and hid themselves away! We haven't had any eggs from them yet, but we are hoping that as the days are lengthening, the eggs will soon come!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Snuffling through the day...

When I woke up this morning, I felt awful - my throat felt like razorblades and I had a blocked nose and a headache! Not a recipe for success, I have to say. I struggled through, got the YFG up and we went to gymnastics. I did take my pot of honey and a bottle of lemon juice along so that when the other coaches had a cuppa, I could have honey and hot lemon as I am finding that it really takes the edge off the sore throat, and the steam helps the blocked nose too, so I can thoroughly recommend it as a home remedy. I had several cups through the morning to keep me going.

After gymnastics, we had a quick trip to Tesco for fruit, veg, cheese and ham, and another jar of honey! I am using a lot this week. I also had to buy a couple of pairs of tights for the YFG so that she can wear her skirt to school - she has been wearing trousers most days but would like to wear her skirts now and then. I promised to buy her tights as along as she commits to wearing them with the skirts at least a couple of times a week.

This afternoon has passed in a bit of a blur as I feel that I am half asleep - my head feels fuddled with the cold. I did some washing and hung it, had to nip round for a quick chat with a neighbour, cooked the pizza for tea, helped the YFG with her homework, and here I am now. I feel that I will be heading for bed pretty soon, in the hope that a good night's sleep will do wonders. My uncle is coming to lunch tomorrow, so I will send the FH to church with the girls so that I can have a little lie-in and then prepare the lunch. Hope you are all feeling better than this!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Sausage plait recipe

First today I am going to share a recipe for a sausage plait, which is very popular in this house. I can't eat it because of the pastry, but the FH and girls love it. I serve it with lots of gravy and some baked beans, and it is really filling. It is made from a pack of puff pastry, which I buy and then freeze until I need it. This pack had been in the freezer a while, but it was fine. It cost 99p although I think that the cost has gone up a little since then. It is rolled out and then marked into three columns very lightly with a knife. You can see that the two outer pieces are then cut into diagonal strips which end up doing the plaiting.
The sausage mixture is placed on to the central section. This mix is a combination of pork sausagemeat, a finely chopped onion and half a pack of dry sage and onion stuffing mixture, all well combined in a bowl. This costs about £1.60 all together.
And then, below, you can see that the side pieces are plaited across the pork mixture, to cover it.

Once the plaiting is finished, I brush it all over with a little milk and put it in the oven at 160C for about 35 minutes or until it is cooked.

And then it looks like this - gorgeous! This made three generous portions for tea tonight and there are another three smaller portions left over for tomorrow - and they won't be wasted! Apparently it tastes good cold with tomato ketchup on the side. All in all, that cost about £3 max, allowing for the pastry to have increased a little in price, and serves about 6 portions.

Apart from making the sausage plait and two loaves of bread today, I have been tied to the computer doing some research for work and it is not the most inspiring thing! My spirits have been cheered by being able to look out of the window and see the rabbits in their hutches, grooming themselves or each other, and watching the stray hens meandering around looking for worms and tidbits! And the cat caught a mouse.....

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Glorious sunshine today!

The sunshine is the highlight of my day today as I sit here at the window looking out at washing blowing on the line and hens pecking around in the garden! It is not even that cold any more although there was a frost this morning and some lovely ice patterns had to be cleared off the windscreen of the car before we went out at 9am.

Yesterday was another full day of housework and then gymnastics in the town. The FH had cooked a lovely meal for when we got home last night at 8.15pm - Tesco Value Fresh Salmon pieces - they are "Value" so they are odd sized bits, but they were very tasty as well as being a good price. He had also cooked potatoes, carrots, broccoli and green beans, so it was a hearty meal - but I was starving so I soon ate mine! The FGs indulged in lemon curd tarts for their pudding and then they were soon herded up the stairs to begin their preparations for bed, although that seemed to take for ever! There was a lot of "I must just do......." before bedtime was achieved last night.

No spending yesterday at all, and I was pleased with the leftover lunch that I made. We had had lamb shanks in the slow-cooker on Monday and there was a lot of the gravy left over, which had carrots, parsnips and onions in it, so I blitzed that all up yesterday with a stick blender and then boiled it for about 20 minutes and it made a really lovely broth type of soup for our lunch. Not a scrap of that meal was wasted and it made the cost of the two lamb shanks even better value for money. Comparing the amount of meat on the lamb shanks to that on a piece of "cheap" lamb shoulder, I always buy the lamb shanks now as there is a lot less fat and more usable meat. Plus the house smells gorgeous all day as they cook in the slow-cooker, so that is an added bonus. One of my neighbours has commented that my house always smells lovely, and welcoming as it often smells of homebaking or the tea cooking!

Good news - the YFG found the camera for me last night so I can get the battery charged up and then photographs can return to the blog - that will be good!

Monday, 12 January 2009

Rather a manic Monday!

I started the day with a list, so it was good preparation that has enabled me to get so much done today, but the flipside is that I had to have a quick doze on the sofa at 6.45pm for about 15 minutes.

I've done some boring paperwork stuff like filling in forms and placing orders for books this morning, and I got all my helpful machines on the go early - the dishwasher, the washing machine, and two breadmakers - one was doing French stick dough and the other did normal white sliced bread dough, but all the bread was actually baked in the oven. Lamb shanks, carrots, onion and parsnips were in the slow-cooker by 8am and were beautifully tender by the time we ate at 5pm. I used up the pastry I made last night, as well as the last half a jar of mincemeat, and made mince pies, coconut tarts, jam tarts and lemon curd ones too! I also made some chocolate brownies for the hairdressing friend, who was pleasantly surprised! The car got booked in for its MOT and all the ironing was put away.

The piano tuner has been this afternoon to tinker with the piano - he says that it is still in excellent condition, and he should know as he is the only person who has tuned it at various intervals over the past 32 years, and seen it through several house moves. Its most recent move was to us in December 07, but it is a lovely piano. My dad bought it second hand for £400 when I was just 4 years old. Now the EFG is having lessons at school and practising on it.

The FH and girls have been to town this evening, hence the early meal tonight. Band practice ran from 5.45 - 7 for all of them and then the EFG was asked to start working with the main band for an hour from 7-8, so they were later home than they used to be. I had a bit of relaxation time whilst they were out, including a long soak in the bath.

The weather has gone from freezing cold and dry to milder and wetter almost overnight! I think I preferred the cold to the mud which has taken over the back garden now. Tomorrow is forecast to be mild, windy and mostly dry, so I may take a chance and hang out some washing. We have an oil delivery scheduled as well, so we have to stay at home for that.

The installation of the stove in the lounge has also progressed today - the FH has laid the concrete slab on which it will stand but that involved bringing the wheelbarrow in through the front door and across the carpet so I had to put down mats to protect what I could. It was a bit of a messy job, but I am hoping to be able to clear up the room tomorrow when the concrete has dried. Unfortunately I have mislaid the camera so I can't take photos, and I am so cross with myself as I had it here yesterday and there were so many things that I wanted to take pictures of today. Hope I can find it soon.

The only spends of the day have been the subs for the band tonight, and a couple of packets of sweets that I bought this afternoon - not strictly necessary but with all my food restrictions, they help to tide me over sometimes. That amounts to £6.07 all together. I paid the piano tuner in cash but I am not including that in the challenge as it is not a discretionary item and it only happens once a year. This week is looking OK financially as we have plenty of food in the freezer, and in the cupboards; I will have to fill my car up with diesel sometime this week as it is getting low so that will either be tomorrow or Friday when we go into town to gymnastics.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Busy day but happy!

The YFG had a friend to stay the night last night, and little M's mother is a hairdresser by trade, so she kindly cut us girls' hair last night when she dropped her daughter off for the sleepover. None of us had anything major done, but it was good to get it all tidied up as we had overgrown fringes all round! She doesn't charge us, and she does a great job, so last time she did it, I gave her a box of chocolates, but I don't have any in the house this time and in the spirit of my "non-spending" month, I intend to bake her a cake tomorrow and give it to her when I meet her at school at 3pm.

I am so excited as this blog got a mention on Rhonda Jean's blog at as she has a fab idea of a "kitchen table" scheme. She will post about once a month on a particular topic and bloggers around the world will contribute what they know about the topic. Her first kitchen table post last Thursday was about keeping chickens, so I provided a link to an August 08 post about our history of chicken-keeping, and she has included it in her posting. I read her blog every day and I learn so much from her, although she is in Australia and her seasons are different from ours, as well as her climate so she grows bananas and pineapple in her garden - I wish we could do that!!

We have had an important service at church this morning - the annual Methodist Covenant Service in which we re-dedicate our lives to God in the publicity of the service, saying a special prayer, and holding Holy Communion as well. A lot of Methodists hold this service at this time of year as it marks a new beginning and a new start for the year ahead. The prayer is a solemn one, and it takes some thinking about.

Grandad and MB have also been here for lunch and tea today, and MB has patiently been playing board games with the girls and their little friend for a good chunk of the afternoon. Now we are back in to Sunday night mode, so the girls have sorted school bags out for the morning, I have started to get the packed lunches ready, and washed the girls' hair for them, and now they are watching some TV before bed, whilst I must get the uniforms ironed! We have had a lovely day, and hope that all our friends have had a blessed day as well.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

More income!

After the second load was emptied out of the washing machine this evening, two £1 coins were found in the bottom of the machine! No one could remember having any coins in their clothing, so the money was put into the purse for the grocery spending - another £2!! That totals £36 "found"!!

Financial progress

Despite the non-spending plan for the month, we do have a £100 or so allowance that we are giving ourselves for groceries, and of course, the animals need things too, so there will be a bit of spending there. I thought I would round things up for the end of the week and record how we are doing with it all.

No one is going hungry! That is the major thing, so we can have a tick in that box. I am eating plums from the freezer for my breakfast with honey, and the FH is also eating them on his cereal. We are lowering the freezer stocks of plums - and there are a LOT in there.

To date, I have spent £28.65 in the first 10 days of the month. We are a third of the way through and that is less than a third of the budget, so we are going well. Most of that has been on fresh fruit and vegetables - we get through a lot of clementines at this time of year, and I have had to spend £6 on a sack of potatoes, as well as £1 on a big bag of parsnips and carrots. I am going to make it through the week to Saturday before I plan to buy any more fresh fruit or vegetables - we have loads of frozen stuff if we run out of fresh, and we do have some tinned peaches and pineapple that the FGs could eat in their lunchboxes if I packed them in little eatertight (whoops - that meant to say "watertight"!!! - I don't think that eatertight would be a good plan!) plastic boxes and gave them a spoon.

We are eating good evening meals from the storecupboard - things like pasta dishes, chicken casseroles, corned beef hash, homemade pizza (tonight), roasted chicken (tomorrow), homemade meatballs in tomato sauce with spaghetti, for example. I will need to make more bread this week, and I may make French sticks or rolls as well as just bread for slicing. Variety helps.

I also sold half a dozen eggs yesterday for 70p so that is a little more to add to the "change" savings pot. And money coming in has been amazing. Just when I had £50 in my wallet last weekend that was left from Christmas time, and I said that I wanted that to last half the month at least, I found £24 in a little plastic money bag hidden deep in the depths of the rubbish in the bottom of my handbag (it was way down there!) and then just yesterday, I found an envelope that I had been given before Christmas, in another bag, and that had £10 in it! Doesn't God work in wonderful ways - I am sure that it is His way of saying, "You look after what you have got, and I will give you more," as I am always conscious that we should be good stewards of His blessings. Amen.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Building site!

That's what the lounge looked like this morning! The FH successfully got the stove yesterday afternoon, so he has started work on the preparations for installing it now. This involved removing the existing fireplace surround and plinth which was there with an electric fire. All that has been taken out, and the 4foot wide pice of plasterboard behind it all had to come down too. Unfortunately, that came down in pieces - and some of them were very small! There was dust everywhere, and it took some cleaning up.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Photos of larder areas

These are the photos with which I was going to illustrate yesterday's post, but Blogger was not happy with photos then, so here they are today:

This is a small shelved area in our utility room where I keep tinned goods like beans, fruit, fish, tomatoes, etc - and there is a stray pudding left from Christmas there too at the moment.

This is also in the utillity and is where I keep the flour that is in storage - it is cooler in the utillity room than in the main house, and so the flour keeps well there. You can see that I have stocked up and have about 5 bags of bread flour there in pink, as well as the usual plain and SR flours. I buy the "Value" range and have had no problems with the baking, so I don't see the need to pay so much more for premium brands.

These are the lower shelves of a tall pantry cupboard in the kitchen. The higher of the two shelves is where we are keeping the jar of rice as well as various cereals, oats and teabags. The lower shelf has vinegar, oils, more cereals, and tucked away at the back is my secret baking stash of things like chocolate chips that it suits me to have the kids think I have run out of occasionally as otherwise they would be making choc chip cakes and cookies daily!!

This is another section of the the same cupboard where we have the jars and bottles which are open and in use at the top, and the bottom is a storage shelf - there's all sorts in there - I have it all on an inventory so I know what is hiding in the back!

Trust Blogger! This photo at the bottom is actually the top two shelves of that cupboard - more stuff in storage - extras of jam, lemon curd, sauces, icing sugar, cornflour - it's all in there!

And there is more but Blogger seems to only let me do 5 photos per post, so that'll do for today. You can see from these pictures that we have Loads of food in the house, so perhaps you can understand the motivation now for the "use-it-up" idea.
I have no plans for spending any money on groceries or anything else today, but the exciting news is that the FH has gone off towards Swaffham in Norfolk to pick up the multifuel stove that we will be installing. The brand that we want are rare as hen's teeth just now and there is a 10 week wait if your agent has to put one on order for you - people are waking up to wood heat here now! Anyway, we found an agent who carries quite a lot of stock and has one there - so we checked the prices online and found that her price is the best around, so he has hot-footed it over there this afternoon to fetch it. The installation engineer has been here this morning and had a look, given us a price, and we have agreed to let him know when we have a stove for him to install - we didn't think that it would be so soon! We have loads of wood ready to get started, so we are very keen, especially in the cold weather that we are having, to get this up and running.
I couldn't go with him as I have to pick up the YFG from school at 3pm and she has a friend coming home to play and stay for tea too, so she will be happier tonight - she felt bored last night!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Well stocked cupboards - home shopping!

January is traditionally a time of year when people worry about paying their credit card bills from Christmas and having quite a financially hard time. We are not having those worries as we have been budgeting and keeping a good larder. We work differently from some people in that matter, as we do not shop week-to-week and menu plan before we shop. Shopping is a little more adventurous for us - I may put on the list that we need to buy "meat" if our stocks are running low in the freezer, but I will have a good look in the shops for good deals on meat and will buy whatever is the best value for money. When I mealplan, I base our menus around the food that we have in the house, or the freezer!

In the run up to Christmas, I was making sure that we had plenty of everything that we use regularly in the house - the basics like flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, oils and fats, tinned goods and staples like cereals and oats. We also have a lot of garden produce in our two freezers, as well as all the batch baking that I have been doing - there are ginger cakes, banana cakes, biscuits and muffins, as well as bread out there.

Because I want to sock some money away to save for the treadmill payment (£240) and we are saving to install a multifuel stove in the lounge, I decided that this month, we would only shop from our own resources - our larders and freezers - with only fresh fruit/veg and items that we have run out of being purchased. I have given myself a budget of £100 for the month, although I hope to spend less than that. I have averaged it to £25 a week. Since the beginning of the month to date I have spent £13.46 over the past 7 days. A lot of that has been on fruit and veg, with two loaves of bread, and some honey and sweet and sour sauce included as well.

I have also set a complete moratorium on spending for other reasons - so no magazines, books, clothes, shoes, toiletries, cleaning products, newspapers, gifts (no occasions this month anyway!), no stationery, no stamps. I am lucky in that in all those areas where the item is a necessity like shampoo, I already have stocks in the house - I also have stamps, cleaning products, and stationery in stock so I am sure that we can last the month. Anything that we "want" to purchase is being put on a list at the back of my spending diary. That has two items on it so far - I need some new wellies but not desperately, and I have noticed that we only have 3 eggcups so we could do with some more of those, but there is no rush.

We have some commitments that we would not wish to stop such as our weekly donations to the collection at church on Sunday, and the band subscriptions which are due each Monday when the
FH and girls go to the brass band lessons in the town. There are no fees for gymnastics as I coach on a volunteer basis and so get free sessions for the YFG.

I think that you could say that we are having a "use-it-up" kind of month - it feels good to be using what we have and being creative with our resources. We will have to continue to buy the odd thing, as mentioned before, and I will have to put fuel in the car as well, so we cannot stop all spending. And the hens are continuing to lay, so at least I don't need to buy eggs!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Christmas photos

A few photos from our Christmas. These first two are shots of the panoramic Christmas jigsaw puzzle that the FH was largely responsible for completing. He had occasional helpers, but he did a grand job! There were 1000 pieces, and it took from Boxing Day to New Year's Eve.

And these are the two Christmas cakes I made. This first one was for my uncle, and we kept the second. I was so good and made the actual cakes way back at the end of October, but then my good intentions went to pot and I only managed to get the marzipan on them on Christmas Eve and they were iced on Boxing Day in the morning. It was a good job that we were so full that we didn't want any for tea on the big day! Boxing Day was the ultimate deadline as we had guests to tea and I thought that my uncle would want to take his home with him - turns out he wasn't going home but staying with my sister and he came back to Sunday lunch and took it home that night.

We had never had candles on a Christmas cake before, but this set looked cute and we indulged and bought them. We felt the need to sing "Happy Birthday!" to Jesus, though, and to blow them out before it was cut. It was a joint effort and seemed to be the best thing to do, otherwise there seemed little point in lighting them!

Quite apart from Christmas, the hens have laid more eggs today, and the FGs are all ready for school in the morning - just have to get me prepared for the early starts and packing lunchboxes again!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Happy New Year - belatedly!

Yes, it's 2009 and I haven't been here since goodness knows when, so I had better have a quick run down of what we have been up to.

New Year's Eve was fun, as we had some friends round for the evening. I cooked a big leg of lamb, with all the veggies and then apple crumble or chocolate swamp pudding to follow. The whole meal was well appreciated, and the recipe for the swamp pudding had to be given to one visitor who is known to be a bit of a chocoholic! After the meal, we all 7 of us settled down to play one of the YFG's Christmas games - the Game of Life. There was much hilarity and rolling of eyes, and the game finished only moments before the bells heralded the New Year!

New Year's Day started with rather a long lie-in - and to be truthful there have been rather a lot of those this week.......but we had a lazy day and rested up. Saturday we had to get up early as we went to the cinema. Now that doesn't seem like a very moneysaving/thrifty thing to do, but hey! At the Cineworld cinema, they have Movies for Juniors, and all the tickets, adult or child, are just £1 each. So we took an extra child and it still cost me less than a £5. We do have to be there for a 10am showing, though, and to continue the moneysaving, we take our own popcorn and juice...So we went to see Wall-e which amazed me in a couple of ways. First that someone had had the vision to create that scenario where we have made so much rubbish that there isn't room for us on Earth anymore and we have to go and live in space. The second was that there was virtually no dialogue in the first half of the film, but it didn't seem to matter - it still worked. The EFG thought that she was going to cry, and it certainly made me think more about rubbish and recycling, and consumerism. Maybe I'll get back on that soapbox another day.

The extra child went home for lunch and the YFG went to her house in the afternoon so that they could do their homework together, but then they both came back and the child stayed for a sleepover - only leaving at 4.30pm this afternoon. They have spent the entire day making and playing in a den upstairs and have been no bother at all. It has been rather quiet! The rest of us have been doing bits and pieces - the FH has finally tackled the mountain of ironing and has been victorious!

Excellent news on the poultry front - two of the hens are laying eggs at last! One of the Barnvelders that hatched in the summer is laying one of the eggs and we have yet to work out who is responsible for the other but we are very excited and hope that the other 14 of them up there will soon start! We are over the shortest day, and Spring is around the corner, so we are optimistic (well, I suppose anyone who says Spring is around the corner at the beginning of January would have to be optimistic or mad!). I am also beginning to think more about the garden and what I am going to plant where - had thought of burning some calories today by doing some digging but the ground is frozen solid and I couldn't even get the fork into the ground.

The Christmas decorations are down and put away, the FGs are back to school on Tuesday and I have to make some decisions this week about the work that I am going to do this year - and which company I am going to work alongside.......decisions are not my strong point and I do prevaricate a lot before I do something - and I sometimes say that I will do something and then change my mind! Looking back at the plans I had for 2008, this blog is one of the more successful of them, but look how long I left it (August!!) before I actually started it - I am often more afraid of starting something than actually doing it! I have some ideas but this time I am waiting until I have some quiet time when the girls have gone back to school to actually think things through properly.

We have made one spontaneous decision this week and ordered a treadmill! The FH is not getting any lighter, and we could all do with the exercise, and having a treadmill inside the house will remove any and all excuses he has for not going for a walk. It is due to be delivered around the 13/14th of the month, so we should be seeing less of him by the end of the month! I have put a few pounds back on over Christmas so I am going to be working hard at losing those again before I head lower back down the scale.