Saturday, 31 January 2015

A new cupboard for free

Once the hall had been decorated, I noticed just how little I liked our old shoe cupboard. It had been a cheap ( and quite nasty) one from Argos I think, so it didn't have much going for it. However, we have so many shoes (I swear they multiple at night!) that a cupboard of some kind was needed in the hallway.

I'd already taken the door off when I remembered to take a 'before' photo! 

Then I had a thought! .....
I had come across a piece of decorative panelling in the shed that had been behind my tool cupboard for years. So long in fact, I can't actually remember why I had bought it in the first place! I also had plenty of primer and white satinwood paint leftover from the hallway. Also, I had kept the white porcelain door handles from our old kitchen. I could feel a project coming on and I LOVE a project!!

I took the door off and then prised it apart. Using the old bit of plastic as a template, I cut a panel from the decorative latticework and re built the door, gluing it correctly at the joints which it hadn't been before!

One coat of primer and a couple of coats of white satinwood and one new handle later..we have a totally new shoe cupboard to match our hallway at a cost of zero pence!! Hoorah for hoarding bits and pieces in my shed. My builder laughs at me, because I am always saying "Oh yes, I have something that will do for that in my shed!" I think he imagines a tardis at the end of the garden!

It even matches the radiator cover and the handles on the understairs cupboards were replaced with white porcelain handles too, so it all ties in.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

By the skin of my teeth!

I have just looked at my cash budget for the month.....I have exactly £3.91 to last me until February 1st!! Fortunately, I have been able to make meals out of what we have left and I think we'll manage it, but it's been a squeeze this month. I guess January is always such a long month.

Mind you I have had £35 supermarket vouchers delivered this week, so it's already looking up for next month. I will use some of that to ensure I am restocked in case we have another tight month!
There is money in the bank still although not much thanks to an unpleasant and unexpected bill from the tax man and the usual club fees for the children, car tax and car MOT, but I am adamant that we will eek the cash out until Sunday!!
The point is that without sticking rigidly to the cash budget for the month, it would have been so easy to spend money that we obviously don't need to spend. If we can manage (with a little belt tightening effort), then it proves that any other spending would be wants not needs. Having said that I am very cross with HMI, as that money was destined to bolster my savings!! Best laid plans eh?

Nasty tax man!

The hall will be finished today. It looks much smarter, but after two weeks of mess and disruption, I will be VERY pleased to have my house back to myself tomorrow. I will don my apron, put on some loud music and clean away to my hearts content! I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Carrot and pecan muffins

My GF vegan bake this week was Carrot and Pecan Muffins:

225g brown sugar (I used soft)
175ml rapeseed oil (I guess sunflower would do just as well)
225g GF self raising flour
1/2 tsp GF baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (if you were using non GF flour, you wouldn't need this)
1/2 tsp mixed spice
350g carrots, grated
200g pecan nuts, chopped (I didn't have enough so put half that amount in, which was absolutely fine)

85g pecan nuts chopped (again I only used 50g)
40g soft brown sugar
1/2tsp mixed spice

Preheat oven to 180c and line a muffin tray with 12 cases.
Mix topping together in a small bowl and leave to one side.
Beat the sugar and oil together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.
Add flour, baking powder and xanthan gum (if using!) and mixed spice and mix.
Add grated carrots and chopped pecans and  stir until well combined. (I found my mixture was a bit stuff so thinned it out with a little almond milk).
Spoon equally into the muffin cases and sprinkle over the topping.
Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 mins (mine needed the full half hour). Test with a skewer.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool, if you can wait that long!!

There are only 4 in the photo because I blinked and the other 8 had been devoured!! They are moist, subtly spiced and very, very moreish! They would probably make a very nice breakfast on the go. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Make do and mend

This is something I haven't always been very good at, I have to say. I would throw things away and buy new before trying repairs - partly from laziness, partly from lack of time, but also from a modern day malaise that encourages us into a throw-away culture.
When I started really looking in to living a simpler life, one of the key aspects was repairing and recycling or upcycling items we already owned. One of the first things I did was to dye a very sad looking dressing gown. I had bought it many years before as a white cotton robe, but over time, it was greying and sad looking. My first thought was to put it in the recycling and treat myself to a new one, but I realised that I would want to buy pretty much a carbon copy! So I bought a box of dye, added a ribbon detail (which I already had) and hey Presto! I had a refreshed robe that would no doubt last me another 5 years.

Unfortunately I didn't think to take a 'before' photo! 

Since that point, I have glued soles back on to three pairs of shoes, sewn up tears, taken up a new hem on a pair of frayed jeans, fixed small electrical items, upcycled chairs and generally thrown myself in to saving us money by fixing up the things we already own.

I have a set of fairy lights in my conservatory, but they were seriously faded and looking a bit tired, so I carefully eased off the wicker covers and sprayed them silver (I already had the can of spray paint left over from Christmas). Once they were reunited with the string of lights, I'm very pleased with the results!

You can see just how faded they were - once upon a time they were teal!

Halfway though the process of spraying!

The finished result back up.

Far from being tiresome and time consuming, there is real pleasure and pride to be had in making do and mending!

Monday, 26 January 2015

My most helpful cat!

The hall is still being decorated so I'm still not able to move around the house very easily and it doesn't seem much point cleaning too thoroughly yet, although most of the really dusty stuff is complete.
So I thought I'd write a list of all the things I want to get done around the house, rather like a 'Spring clean'. My thinking is that it will help me feel spring is just around the corner even if I know it's not because my birthday is the first day of spring so I know exactly when it is!! It will make me feel better though and of course the house will be spick and span, which I love, so win win!!

I carefully wrote out a list, room by room, in my trusty diary, stopping only to refill my cartridge pen! Just as I had finished, the cat decided that enough was enough and I was being a boring human......

He's always doing that:- my husband's report checking, children's revision notes, artwork, coursework ..... Any paperwork he can find, he will sit on!! It obviously wasn't much to his liking though as he's shuffled off now to find a warm bed to lie on instead. I'm really hoping neither of them (the cats I mean!) decide to wipe themselves along the gloss paint being done today....
I can see my list again now, so I might have to do at least one thing off there today, if only to have the pleasure of ticking something off!!  

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Clementine Curd

Following on from the success the other week with my first ever curd, I thought I'd try a clementine version this time. I always have sugar, butter and eggs in the house and I happened to have 5 slightly sad looking clementines left in the fruit bowl. In the past I have used them to make a gluten free clementine cake, but I fancied some more curd this time! In order to get 'juice', I treated them the same way I would have for the cake which is to simmer them in a large pan of water for about 45 mins. I then popped them in the liquidiser, skin and all. Once fully pulverised, I passed them through a sieve to extract a juicy pulp. This was then mixed in a large microwaveable bowl with 450g white sugar, 100g butter diced and 4 eggs, beaten. I cooked it for 2 minute intervals, stirring after each time until it became thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. It took me 10 minutes in total. It was then left to cool a little, then decanted into sterilised jars. As you can see it made three and a half. It's then refrigerated to set. I suspect, from the little taste test I did, it will be less sweet than the orange curd, but delicious nevertheless.

Last night's tea:- Vegetable Pad Thai from Waitrose's winter recipe magazine - really yummy!

Friday, 23 January 2015

A really easy home-made bread recipe

This is the recipe I turn to most often. It's loosely based on Paul Hollywood's bloomer recipe and seems to work every time. I will quote his ingredients, although I generally mix brown or whole meal flour in with the white and will often flavour my breads with dried herbs, especially rosemary. This makes a loaf that slices very well and is enough for six people with soup.

500g strong white flour
A large pinch of salt
7g packet fast action yeast
40ml olive oil (I guess you could used flavoured oil, or oil from sundries tomatoes)
320ml luke warm water

In a large mixing bowl, place the flour (as I said I generally use a mixture of brown and white about 50/50). On one side of the bowl add the salt and on the opposite place the yeast. Add the oil and 240ml of the water. Use a wooden spoon or your hand to draw the mixture together to incorporate all the flour. Then slowly add the rest of the water until you reach a soft, sticky dough. (Brown flour seems to need slightly more water.

Oil your work surface. Turn your dough out and kneed for 5 to 10 mins. This is my favourite bit and allows me to de stress. If your listening to music, about three songs can go whilst you kneed! When done, the dough will be really stretchy.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Place in a warmish place and allow to rise for at least 1hr, preferably longer. It should triple in size. Paul doesn't recommend putting it in a warm place to rise as a slow rise leads to a better flavour, but my house is so bloody cold that I'd be waiting a week, so I find a marginally warmer spot!

When tripled in size turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knock the dough back ie. pushing the air out of the dough with your fist/knuckles. Shape the dough into the classic bloomer shape, by firstly stretching it to a rough rectangle, folding the longer sides in under neath, tidying the ends underneath too and 'plump' the shape to form the bloomer by rolling it from side to side a little.

To prove the bread, place it in a lightly oiled backing sheet (I squirt it a couple of times with my olive oil spray). Cover loosely with the tea towel again and leave for about another 60 mins to double in size.

Here served with cabbage and bean soup for tea

Meanwhile heat your oven to 220c and put a roasting tin on the top shelf to heat up. Once the bread has risen, dust the top with a little flour, or I guess you could use poppy seeds or sesame seeds and cut 4 deep slashes diagonally across the top being careful not to squash the bread too much. Sprinkle the top if the bread with a little water and pour boiling water in the hot roasting tray in the oven. This will cause steam in the oven which will give you a lovely crust.

Place the loaf on the baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 200c and bake for a further 10/15 mins. The bottom sounds hollow when it's ready. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

I have had mixed success with bread in the past, but this one always seems to give a good loaf. It's long-winded of course, but worth it when you smell and taste your own freshly baked bread!! It makes good toast too the following day! I'll try a Gluten free version soon and let you know how it works.

Happy bread making! X

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Our meals in pictures

I know I often post the menu for the week, but I thought you might like to see some photos of our meals. I don't always photograph everything we eat, but here is a selection for those of you who might be interested. I'm always very happy to pass on recipes if you'd like them. I spend a lot of time trawling the internet for vegan or gluten free recipes I can adapt to suit our dietary requirements. Apologies for the standard of photography!

Stuffed red peppers, filled with a spicy pepper, chilli and rice stuffing, served with a big mixed green salad

Thai vegetable stir fry, served with rice

Sesame tofu with roasted root vegetables

Chai latte rice pudding with apricots and pistachios

Bean crumble with green salad

Roasted root vegetable salad with garlicky yoghurt dressing

Vegetable chilli with sadza (polenta). I served this with peanut butter cabbage (not photographed)

What I notice from this is just how much vegetable matter there is! I think we would certainly be hitting out 5 a day quota! Also, it's often red/brown/orange combination. I guess as we move into the warmer months, there will be a lot more green vegetables making an appearance! 

Over the next week, I have planned:-
  • One-pot Cajun rice and beans
  • Spiced lentil and coconut Dahl
  • Veggie burgers and chips
  • Root vegetable crumble and coleslaw
  • Vegetable pad thai
  • Spinach, chick pea and potato hotpot with garlicky greens
My vegan GF bake will be Carrot and Pecan Muffins.

This week's shop came to just over £69. Then for the last few days of the month I will try to make do with whatever we have in the cupboards and deepfreeze to keep within my budget! 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Spending less is the key to a simple life

When I first made the decision to leave work, my initial plan was to take approximately two to three months to 'recover', then look for another job because I believed that we needed all the money we could. With four children there are expenses - university, school visits, hobbies, allowances and so on. Because we didn't seem to have much spare money even when two wages were coming in, both my husband and I were doubtful that we could manage on one wage.
During September, I read everything I could find about leading a simpler life - blogs, books and magazine articles. Whilst they all had a slightly different take on it, all agreed that the first step to help simplify your life was to spend less and become debt free as soon as possible.
I started to think of ways forward. Of course the first step was to work out how much we were spending and on what, so I religiously tracked our expenditure for the whole month of October. Whilst I was already spending less because I wasn't at work, I was still shocked to see just how often we went to the shop for food items and how much money was 'frittered' on acquiring stuff. From this I concluded that for me NOT to have to work, we would need a fairly radical rethink. The next step was to pay off the mortgage. We had been overpaying every month for some time so had managed to reduce the lump sum quite considerably, but it would mean eating a large chunk of our savings. After some deliberations, we walked into the bank with a cheque for the redemption figure. Very exciting, but sadly no champagne or flowers from the bank to congratulate us on what was a HUGE achievement for us!
So, debt free, I now had to work out how we could save money and still rebuild our savings pot. Next step a budget. Now that I had a more detailed idea of what we needed to spend each month, I was able to set a cash budget for November. I had plastic zip wallets for food shopping and for sundries. My husband had a small cash allowance each week and used his card for petrol.
The aim was to save by spending less on food (having a mostly vegan diet certainly saves money as meat, fish and cheese are pricey), buy less wine, which also had health benefits, cut back on all unnecessary spending and basically be much more aware of what we were buying.
All of this has led to the possibility of me not having to go back to work unless I choose to, a luxury I am very grateful for. We are still able to save money at the end of every month, although the tax man (due to a mis calculation on his part) has sent us a nasty bill this month so we might not manage any savings in January.
Sorry this is a long post, just to stress the importance of spending less and paying off debts if you are aiming to lead a simpler life. If you are still working, you might be able to overpay on the mortgage every month. Even if it's only £50/£100 per month it makes a huge difference to the interest charged and can shorten the length of the mortgage. Once all debts are paid, then save, save, save!
Our next target is for Mr D to be able to reduce his hours with an aim to taking early retirement when possible - it's a very stressful job and the statistics for survival for men if they work through to retirement age is under 6 months!! Not a cheery thought. I'm trying to work out the minimum we need to live off to work out what our options are.
I'd love to hear any ideas and thoughts you have on this. What do you do to make your retirement more financially secure?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Vegan and Gluten Free date and coffee slice

This week's GF bake from my new book:

Coffee and date slice

200g finely chopped dates
2tbs brandy (optional)
70g Gluten free self-raising flour
2 tsp GF baking powder
70g ground almonds
2tbsp linseed meal ( I used flaxseed because I had it)
2 tbsp espresso powder
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp brown sugar ( I used soft brown, but I think Demerara would be nice too)

Line an 8 by 10 inch tin with baking parchment and turn the oven on to 180c.
Put the dates in a small pan with 75ml water and brandy if using. Cook on a low heat until all of the liquid is absorbed, then remove from heat.
Sift flour, baking powder, almonds, linseed and espresso into a large bowl.
Stir dates with maple syrup, coconut oil and mix into dry ingredients, stirring until well combined
Transfer to the prepared tin and smooth down. Sprinkle on the brown sugar.
Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 mins, then remove and mark out squares. Leave to cool in the tin, then re-cut along the lines, removing each slice individually.

Verdict? Soft and not overly sweet, good mix of coffee and burnt toffee taste from the dates. Would be lovely with a cuppa! 

Monday, 19 January 2015

52 projects update

Back in September, I set myself to writing a list of 52 projects I would like to achieve across the year. Many of them were creative, but some were catching up on jobs that had been needing to be done for some time. So far, I have completed 22 of those projects. Needless to say all of the 'chores' are still languishing undone on the list!! I will try not to allow myself to transfer them onto next years project list come next September! That would be plain lazy!!
Actually though, I was always a 'doer'. I couldn't rest until everything was tidied away and cleaned up. When I was a little girl I used to play a game that the Queen was coming to visit and I had to tidy my room extra well for her. My Dad used to then come round behind me later retrieving most of the items I had thrown away during my vigorous tidying! Thanks to him, my own children and future grandchildren (hopefully!) are still able to play with my toys from childhood! If it had been up to me they may have been lost forever!

My eldest playing with Britten's Farm and Garden at my parent's house. We still have all of this although one or two of the rabbits disappeared up the Hoover because they were so small!

I had never been a hoarder, preferring neat, uncluttered lines and empty surfaces to clean. My tastes have changed though over the years and whilst I would still not be classed as a hoarder, I do have more things around me and my eye now takes pleasure in the items that have fond memories attached to them. Is this an age thing perhaps?
I do like to have a good sort out though and I'm a stickler for like-with-like, so I can generally lay my hands on the necessary item fairly quickly. I have a shoe cleaning box, a battery tin, a craft basket, a small jar for elastic bans and another for paper clips etc etc...
Anyway, I digress - back to the list ...
Sorting the shed (a big, long overdue task) is still on the list of projects and will remain there until I have fixed the shed roof and it's warmer weather! The dresser doors shut, so I can't see that it needs a good sort at the moment, so that will stay on the list too.

So far, since September! I have:-
  1. Made my own yoghurt
  2. Baked my own bread
  3. Decorated my own photo frames
  4. Paid off the mortgage
  5. Made my own limoncello (and Arancello)
  6. Upcycler's chairs for my children's rooms
  7. Made orange marmalade (and jams, chutneys and curds)
  8. Taken a bag of items to the charity shop
  9. Introduced a GF baking day each week
  10. Tidied my sewing box
  11. Made a framed memory board
  12. Sorted out the shoe cupboard (how many shoes can one family need?!!)
  13. Sorted through and cleared my wardrobe
  14. Made my own candles
  15. Tracked my finances completely for one month
  16. Dyed my dressing gown
  17. Made decorative clothes hangers
  18. Decorated hand towels as gifts
  19. Decoupage a box
  20. Set up a blog
  21. Made my own soaps
  22. Made my own button decorations
I realise looking back at my original list that a number of the ideas are ongoing, such as achieving 100 no-spend days a year, reading 52 books (I'm on about 8 so far!) and saving at least £200 per month into a separate account. I'm not sure they sit well on a list of projects really, but I'll leave them there for the time being. 
It would be great to read other people's lists. I think if I had written this list a few years ago, it would have been one long list of jobs to do. I am by pleased with the fact that the vast majority of projects on this list are now fun things and new skills. So much more befitting for the 'new me'!

Saturday, 17 January 2015


I don't normally put things off. In fact I'm normally the impatient one, who wants to start tasks the minute the idea comes into my head! This month however, I seem to be lacking a bit of oomph and seem to be avoiding all the 'jobs'! I'm gathering a whole list of chores, cleaning, sorting, repairing etc and yet, I'm choosing to read, make plans for the garden, meet with a friend or go for a walk!
It's really not like me at all and it's an interesting change in approach. I'm quite sure the jobs won't go anywhere (let's face it, no one else is going to do them for me!) and the house is certainly clean enough, so perhaps I should just go with the flow for a while and see where it takes me. The new twist for me is that I'm not feeling guilty! My life has certainly taken a whole new turn since September and I'm enjoying the ride!
We are finally having the hall decorated next week anyway, so it would be a bit pointless for me to clean too much. I'm not looking forward to all the dust everywhere, but all the woodwork needs sanding down and repainting before the ceiling and walls can be done. It's a big job, but I'm imagining it will spur me on once it's completed and looking fresh and lovely.....AND, very unusually, I'm not doing it myself!

Mr D and I went for a wonderful 2 hour stroll in the sunshine this morning. We live in such a suburban area and yet, without even getting in the car, we had a really pleasant walk through fields and woodland. We just don our wellies and set off to explore our local area. It's been great discovering a whole network of footpaths within minutes of our door. We are also fortunate enough to have the Basingstoke canal and River Thames close by. I know I'd like a view, but this community has been great for the last 20 years!
I went to my first book club last night. One of the ladies is 95! She was a real inspiration and I had a great time. Next month's book is 'I know why the caged birds sing' by Maya Angelou. I'm already looking forward to starting doubt another reason to put off doing a job!!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Odds and sods

It's been a funny week really - quite unsettling! Mock week, so the middle two cherubs have been home more during the day supposedly revising, eldest had to go away for a couple of days, youngest was unwell early in the week and ongoing issues with my mother's health have taken up a huge amount of time and energy.
On reflection, these are some of the memories of my slightly disjointed week ......

Allowing myself almost a whole day to just read a book - brilliant. Must do it more often!

Quick bean and cabbage soup with home made bread

Making two loaves of bread - heavens it smells so good and the taste beats any shop bought! This morning I had freshly laid eggs on toasted bloomer left over from last nights tea.... Delicious!

Escapee chicken AGAIN! It always seems to be Rosemary at the back door when I look up from the washing up. I haven't actually seen her escape yet, so I'm not totally sure how she's doing it and it's not a huge issue really as there's nothing much growing in the garden at the moment and the garden is enclosed so she can't go any further. She seems to do it most when Marigold is in the coop laying. (You can probably just make out in the background that Marigold has come out of the coop and is wondering how the heck her sister got out again!) I absolutely love my chickens. They are such good fun and provide me with delicious eggs. What more could I ask for?

I ordered a sugar thermometer from Amazon. It arrived yesterday in the most ridiculously large box. I swear you could have fitted 150 thermometers in that one box!! Absolutely ridiculous! Still I now have my thermometer and so can indulge my craving for making fudge! I used to make it as a child and certainly didn't use a thermometer then, but I can use it for other things too, so it seemed a useful kitchen item to have. To combat the ridiculously wasteful packaging, I thought I'd show you that I use every last scrap of shampoo and conditioner from the pots by sawing them open with an old carving knife (I think it actually belonged to my grandmother). You can then reach the remnants which
wouldn't come out otherwise!

Despite the fairly dismal weather, I have noticed the setting sun pouring though my kitchen window. There was no real strength in it of course, but it was a very welcome moment and I took the time to stop what I was doing and appreciate it fully.
I also treated myself to using up the smoked salmon from the deepfreeze. I had some in scrambled eggs, some on toast with horseradish cream cheese and the last bits I made into a pâté - not all on the same day of course! A real treat I know, but it did need using up!

I don't seem to have achieved quite as much this week either, so consequently I'll have more to do next week. Let's hope I'm more motivated by having longer lists! Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Some days are harder than others!

I may have already mentioned how much I struggle with January and February. This year is no different. There are difficult times ahead in my family unit and they are just hotting up unfortunately, so it will be an interesting test of my newfound calm and positive mental attitude!
I know that most people see January as the start of a fresh year with lots of new adventures ahead and I am trying REALLY hard to come round to this way of thinking, but I have to be honest - it's an effort!
I guess having been involved in education all of my life, either in it as a student, working in it as a teacher, being married to a teacher or having children in school, the more natural start to my year is September. That's when I start my calendar (we have an academic calendar) copying in all the key events and birthdays and thinking about the year ahead. September is a lovely month - gentle, soft and warm; beautiful colours and the promise of wonderful foods such as squash, apples, pears and winter root veg. January and February however have little appeal - cold, grey, wet months to be got through before Spring arrives!

Still, I am trying very hard to stay positive. I found a lovely little mantra on the internet yesterday which I may print out and pop in a frame somewhere to help remind me!

A manifesto for a simple life

Eat less, move more
Buy less, make more
Stress less, laugh more
Feel blessed, love more
Find a quiet spot every day and ......

I'm not sure where it came from, but I really appreciated the simplicity of its message! I will continue to adhere to my new principles in the faith that March will soon be here bringing with it a more positive outlook. Do you have a time of year that you find more difficult than any other? Or indeed a favourite time of year? 

Another reason why I should be very happy indeed .......x 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Food shopping - a necessary evil!

I squeezed in a food shop this morning. I went early thinking it would be better, but the shelves weren't properly stocked so a) it took me longer because I had to keep asking for stuff from the stores and b) they didn't have everything I needed! Very frustrating, especially as I try to go shopping as rarely as possible - I dislike shopping and if I'm not in the shops, I can't be spending money!!
Still £88 later and enough food for another 7 days of meals for six people. I have also restocked the larder with sugars and flours.

Next weeks menu:

  • Tomato risotto
  • Quick bean and cabbage soup
  • Sesame-roasted tofu and root veg bake
  • Squash and coconut curry
  • Warm winter salad with home made onion bread, followed by  chai latte rice pudding
  • Bengali butternut squash
  • Toad-in-the-hole (youngest daughter's birthday meal request)

My gluten free, vegan bake this week is Coffee and Date slices.

The lady in the till did remark on the fact that I was buying 4 butternut squash!! I had to give her a full run down on all the ways we eat them!

Last weekend I made a large bloomer to go with the soup on Saturday and flavoured it with rosemary. Not gluten free I'm afraid - I had become VERY cross the night before trying to make GF flatbreads. The GF flour just doesn't behave like normal flour!! I gave myself a break and used normal bread flour for my loaf so I knew that my efforts would be successful!
Having said that the GF baking is going well so far. Here is this week's offering - Chocolate and macadamia brownies. Lovely warmed with soy vanilla yoghurt!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A decadent day

It's often the small things that bring you the most joy. I glimpsed the first camellia this week. It's always such a relief to see the garden start coming to life again. Mr D and I did some work in the garden this weekend, helped by our intrepid feathered friends scratching around in the fallen leaves searching for bugs and worms! There's a lot more needs to be done in the garden, but there's no hurry. For now, I will content myself with the odd hour or two spent outside and many hours spent curled up inside planning what and where to grow next year!

Today, I feel as if I have had a decadent day. Having completed my normal morning tasks of sweeping, a little tidying and sorting and a load of washing (The home made laundry liquid is doing well so far by the way!), I decided to allow myself the unadulterated pleasure of curling up on the settee with a rug over me and reading. I love reading, but don't often allow myself the time unless I am on holiday. What a treat then to spend hour upon hour cosy and warm with a good book! I have been invited to join a book club, but the next meeting is on today, so instead of having a month to read the book, I went to the library on Monday and read it today - 'The Shell Seekers' by Rosamunde Pilcher. I have read it before many years ago, but hadn't remembered much. I had thought the plot might come back to me, but unfortunately it didn't. I enjoyed it though and found it an interesting reflection on being a woman and moreover a mother. I'm glad I read it again and now I can really look forward to Friday evening, having something to add.

I'm now going to make up for being an 'absent mother' by baking some chocolate and macadamia brownies! 

Monday, 12 January 2015

52 ways to save a pound

My mum always used to say " Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves". She was always very canny with small amounts of money, but extremely generous with the larger amounts! I know it's an old phrase, but it makes perfect sense really.

To that end then I thought I'd think of a list of ways to save a pound. Put all these pounds saved in a sealed pot and by the end of the year, there would be a healthy treat!
  1. Always shop with a list and stick to it!
  2. Plan your meals for the week ahead.
  3. Check you cupboards before going out to shop so you don't end up buying doubles
  4. Never shop hungry
  5. Use up any leftover vegetables in a soup at the end of the week to make an extra meal
  6. Use leftovers from the night before as lunches the following day
  7. Overripe bananas can be frozen to make smoothies or banana cake
  8. If you're going to the cinema, buy your treats at poundland beforehand rather than at the cinema
  9. If you're going out for the day, take bottles of water (refilled from the tap) and snacks with you
  10. Use a cash only budget
  11. Only buy petrol at the petrol station - no twix and mocha (you know who you are!)
  12. If you're going on a long car journey, leave early in the morning to avoid heavy traffic and hold ups. It's painful to get up, but so much better for travelling, you get to see sunrise and you arrive at your destination with a whole day ahead of you
  13. Cut the tops off shampoo and conditioner bottles to make sure you get every last bit out
  14. Use a large container of bath bubbles to refill your shower gel - it's the same stuff! 
  15. Make your own cleaning products 
  16. Make your own laundry products
  17. Use dried pulses rather than tinned - buy them in bulk
  18. Use frozen vegetables and berries - they are often fresher and cheaper and don't go off
  19. Turn off your appliances at the wall when not in use
  20. Turn off lights when you leave the room
  21. Walk rather than taking the car for shorter journeys
  22. Cut up old Christmas cards to be used as tags the following year. Keep ribbon and bows to re use too
  23. Eat less meat. Beans and pulses are an excellent low fat source of protein and MUCH cheaper
  24. Use shredded paper for animal bedding
  25. Use a little less of everything each time - less shampoo, shower gel, washing up liquid etc. over time this will save you money.
  26. Don't buy books - use your local library instead.
  27. Make your own packed lunches rather than buying lunch out
  28. Make coffee in a flask to take to work with you in the morning
  29. Set up a network of clothes swapping particularly for children's clothes. We are still using clothes passed on from friends many years ago
  30. Share DVDs between friends and family
  31. Set up a babysitting club between friends with younger children
  32. Buy items you need from charity shops. I am a total convert to this! 
  33. Don't take money with you when you go for a walk
  34. Swap seeds and plants with other gardeners
  35. Shop around online for the cheapest insurance deals - it's a pain, but can save hundreds
  36. As a contract for  Virgin/Sky comes to an end, ring them to cancel - they will often offer you a much better deal
  37. Keep your appliances clean and descaled - they work more efficiently
  38. Only use the washing machine/dishwasher when full
  39. Try to line dry your clothes as much as possible - not always easy in this country I know! 
  40. Make as many of your own gifts as possible - this saved me hundreds this Christmas and was great fun
  41. Don't buy any new clothes for six months or a year - you probably don't need them anyway! I'm now on my fifth month of not buying and it's been liberating
  42. Avoid fat laden takeaways and cook your own - much tastier anyway! 
  43. Make your own bread. It's a long process, but the results are additive free and the smell of freshly baked bread is fabulous!
  44. Make you own yoghurt
  45. Make your own jams, marmalade, curds and chutneys - they make excellent gifts too
  46. Try to grow your own. Even if you only manage herbs, salad leaves and perhaps a chilli plant on the window ledge, it will save you money and taste so much nicer
  47. Do as many DIY jobs yourself as possible. These days, you can find instructions for pretty much anything on the internet. I'd draw the line at electrics though! When my dishwasher stopped working, I 'googled' it, followed the advice (tip it from side to side twice) and it fixed the problem and is still working absolutely perfectly. Probably saved me £40 call out charge and feeling utterly foolish! 
  48. Use a bulldog clip to hold scrap paper together as a makeshift notepad for shopping lists, notes etc.
  49. Reuse and repair wherever possible. Shoes can be resoled easily, dye can revitalise clothes, towels and bedding and small repairs to clothes can easily be carried out with a bit of patience and practice. 
  50. If you have the oven on, try to cook multiple things at once and then freeze them. Bulk cook casseroles, divide into portions and freeze. 
  51. Gather up crusts and freeze them in a old bread bag. Once you have enough, whiz them in a blender (from frozen) to make bread crumbs and pop them back in the deepfreeze
  52. Rather than turning up the heating if you're a bit chilly, put on an extra jumper or snuggle up with a hot water bottle. My kids hate this and the two eldest often complain of being cold, but they just need to add more layers! 
I'm not saying I manage these every time, but I am certainly trying! If you were thorough, I reckon this could potentially save you hundreds of pounds across the year, although it's would be difficult to calculate it exactly.
What suggestions do you have? 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

I am blessed

I'm sitting here at my kitchen table with a cup of tea. The house is quiet - two children have already been taken to work and the other two are sleeping peacefully. Mr D is snoozing too after a long week. I am moved to remember just how blessed I am. I have a warm and comfortable home - nothing fancy, but enough to protect and nurture my family in. I have a loving husband who makes me laugh even though he tells the worst jokes you have ever heard! I have four beautiful children - they most likely won't be living under my roof for that much longer, but I feel confident that we have raised decent human beings who will be an asset to the world. I have friends and family who love me and want to help me and be helped by me.
We are not rich by any means, but comfortably off and able to feed and cloth ourselves well. We can afford what we need and some of what we want.
I have experienced loss and there are difficult times ahead with some members of my family, but I know that I will have the strength to deal with whatever comes my way because of the wonderful people I have around me.
I am reminded this quiet morning, to be grateful for my life and everyone in it. X

Friday, 9 January 2015

Zero food waste

This journey of mine is taking it's own path. It started out as a voyage of self discovery and self healing, but now that is well underway, my motives have altered slightly. I now find myself being grateful for my surroundings and wanting to minimise my negative impact on my little world. I'm never going to refuse to fly I'm afraid and I will always want internet access and machines to help me with my daily tasks, but if I can just do a little bit here and there, surely that's better than doing nothing at all?
Since November, I have only used cloth bags or bags for life, thereby reducing the amount of plastic bags. When I buy fruit and veg, I try not to use extra packaging, although it's not easy in the supermarkets! (Watch a youtube clip of Rhod Gilbert ranting about trying to buy one baked potato - hysterical!). I did see a pattern on Rhonda's blog - Down to Earth (8 Jan 2009 post) - for net veg bags which you could take with you. If I ever get my sewing machine up and going, I might try that.
I am being more thorough about recycling all packaging too.
I've also tried to walk more instead of taking the car everywhere or at least group my errands to save mileage. I've been turning off lights and devices wherever I can, but frankly it's a battle with five other people in the house who don't seem to share my fanaticism!
Making my own cleaning products will cut down on packaging and the quantity of nasty chemicals I expose us to.
We are building up excellent compost with the huge quantity of fruit and veg we eat in this house all going to be mixed in with the chicken poop and hay. This will all be dug back into the garden when it's rotted down to black, crumbly compost.

The garden last year - pre arrival of the chickens

I have started to plan for the fruit and veg I want to try and grow in the garden too. I'll have to squeeze them in in pots and amongst the flower beds, but I've had some success with that before, so I will try again.

I have had some success with chillies and romano peppers grown in the conservatory if you can keep the white fly at bay!

Perhaps the biggest difference though is the reduction in our food waste. Now that we have changed our diet so significantly, I have separated the compostable food 'waste' (I don't consider it waste though as it's going to be composted) from any general food waste. Every week, the only thing I put out in our little food bin is citrus peelings. If anyone can thing of a better way of dealing with these, please let me know! I had wondered about drying them as pot pourri....?

I know they're all little steps and there is no doubt a lot more I could be doing, but you have to start somewhere! Maybe, you have some ideas I could adopt?

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Spiced apple and apricot loaf

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was going to introduce a vegan, gluten free baking day once a week, using the fantastic recipe book my sister bought me for Christmas. This week I tried the spiced loaf with apricots and dried apple. Very easy to make and, if I say so myself, very nice indeed! The cinnamon and mixed spice give it a lovely subtly seasonal taste. It suggested spreading it with a little vegan spread ( or butter if you're not vegan of course!)

I'm already looking forward to next week's chocolate and macadamia brownies!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Yummy food on a budget

 I bought myself a yoghurt maker back in the summer. It was on sale for half price so I didn't feel too guilty for buying another 'gadget'. Essentially it's just a flask, but it works really well without any faff. It came with a couple of yoghurt mixes, which I used and they were delicious. I have since made up my own mixes with natural live yoghurt and milk ( I froze the live yoghurt in ice cube trays as you only need a bit each time). This has worked well but doesn't make as creamy a yoghurt. The other day I saw some packet mixes at half price, so I bought two for £1.50. They each make 1 litre of delicious thick yoghut. I'm eating some now as a little treat! The same quantity of equivalent yoghurt would cost you at least £3 per litre - it makes it even tastier!!
I had made dark chocolate coated candied orange peel as a treat over Christmas, taken from a recipe from 'Gardenmama' blog. They were nice - not too sweet, but sugary enough to feel special.

I had two oranges left which I wasn't quite sure what to do with, so I decided to try orange curd. It's basically orange juice (strained 125ml), some grated orange peel, 3 eggs, 125g sugar and 125g butter. Melt it all together until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and then decant into sterilised jars. It will keep in the fridge for a week or two. I made it on the hob first but it didn't set, so I heated it in the microwave for 1 minute intervals, stirring in between, until it thickened. I have to say it is the nicest curd I have ever tasted! I will have to try some different flavours later in the year.

I've just come back from doing the week's grocery shop. It only cost me £55 for six days and six people. The menu next week is:-
  • Cauliflower pakoras with peperonata, red onion chutney and raita
  • Aromatic black-eye bean curry with home made GF flatbreads
  • Spicy Mexican bean soup and bread
  • Sweet potato and chick pea curry
  • Vegetable chilli with peanut butter cabbage and sadza

For my gluten free, vegan bake this week, I'm going to try chocolate and macadamia brownies
It's such a good feeling when the house is full of yummy, healthy food even if it's still in its component parts at the moment!!

Home made laundry liquid

Over the course of reading blogs from like-minded souls looking to lead a simpler, more frugal life, I have come across many recipes for home-made laundry powders and liquid. Initially, I wasn't sure, partly because I was so used to buying products advertised as having stain removal/freshening 'expertise'. I had even always bought branded products over own brand, believing them to be better.
However, all the reviews I have read about the effectiveness of these home made products has persuaded me to give it a go. I have based this on the recipes from 'Down to Earth' and 'Frugal in Norfolk'.

I ordered the supplies from Amazon. I bought borax substitute, washing soda, soap, white vinegar, essential oils (tea tree and mandarin) and bicarbonate of soda. With this combination of ingredients, I can make laundry liquid, natural spray cleaners, hand wash, cream cleaner, window cleaner, drain unblocker and laundry powder, so I'm all set up for quite some time! The total cost, including delivery? £25.
To make my Laundry liquid, I grated half a bar of soap and melted it with 1 litre of cold water in a large pan over a gentle heat. Once the soap was completely dissolved, I took it off the heat and whisked in 1/2 cup of washing soda crystals until totally dissolved. I then slowly added another 3 litres of cold water, whisking all the time. Once cold, I decanted my Laundry liquid with the help of a funnel into two 4 pint milk cartons (well rinsed out of course!!). Before decanting, I had added about 15/20 drops of the mandarin essential oil into the empty milk carton. I have left a decent gap at the top to allow for shaking, as apparently the contents will often separate.

I have done some basic calculations and each wash will cost me just over 1p if I use about half a cup of liquid per wash. This compares to 20p per wash for an own brand washing powder and 35p for a branded product per wash. If this laundry liquid works it could save me approximately £141 per year, based on an average of 8 washes per week. I think that's worth about 15 minutes of preparation time every now and again.
I'll let you know if it stands up to the test over a period of time.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

All back to normal

Phew! As much as I love the festive season, it does seem to go on a bit in our house! But now I can get back to my normal rhythm - everyone is back at work/school so the house is peaceful. Yesterday, I cleaned the house thoroughly, caught up with some washing and errands and completed a pile of clothes repairs.
Mr D had his birthday yesterday so a bit more wrapping and another set of cards to put up, but I now have a break for a couple of weeks before the next one!
Today I plan on finishing off the washing, changing the final bed ( a never ending round with five beds to change!), getting the ironing up-to-date, making some yoghurt and having a go at making my own laundry liquid.
I feel the need to get all the outstanding jobs done before I can start on this year's crafting projects. I'm chomping at the bit really, but I know I'll focus better if my surroundings are calm. One of my lovely friends bought me a crotchet kit for Christmas. I've made a start, but I still have a long way to go teaching myself the correct method. I'm finding it hard to keep the stitches even sized.......I obviously need to practise some more.
I'm also loving getting back to our recently adopted diet. It helps me to feel 'lighter' and I don't feel the need to snack either. On this week's menu:-

  • Butternut and chick pea curry
  • Bean burgers and home made oven chips
  • Chunky butternut mulligatawny, followed by oaty apple crumble
  • Roasted root vegetable salad
  • Butternut and lentil kedgeree
  • Mushroom and lentil tagine

I'm also going to start making a recipe each week from a fantastically apt Christmas gift from my sister.....

This week's offering - apricot and apple spiced loaf. I'll let you know....

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Christmas Gifts for my children

We had decided to cut down this Christmas on the quantity of presents we bought for our children. I have to be honest, I'm not sure we were that successful. Next year perhaps!
What I did manage, however, is to make one hand crafted gift for each of my beautiful children.
For my eldest daughter, I made a little sewing box. Since coming back home after finishing her degree, Briony has joined me in some crafting, teaching herself cross stitch and embroidery. She has already created some gorgeous pieces. She would like to learn to knit and crotchet next, so we will make a right pair sitting on the settee together click-clacking away! I thought it was time therefore that she had her own basic sewing kit.

My next eldest daughter, Alana, has a vintage style bedroom, so I have made her some fabric covered door knobs for her wardrobe in a floral fabric to match her room. Once covered, they are sprayed with shellac to protect them.

I found it slightly more difficult to think of something to make for my son, except for his very own stash of chocolate truffles!! I chose instead to enhance an old photo frame from the loft with tiny rolls of magazine paper (Briony's old 'Glamour' subscription to be precise). This is such a simple craft idea - time consuming, but extremely thrifty, environmentally friendly, easy and very effective. The photo inside is of William and his lovely girlfriend.

My youngest daughter had a room makeover in the summer in preparation for her starting at secondary school. She had requested a set of frames for her wall, so I gathered some unused ones from our loft, glued them together in a multi-frame shape, adorned with flowers and lace and then painted them a Matt white to bring it all together. 

And finally .... A handmade gift for me from my eldest daughter! 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

January targets

As you know, I like to have lists and targets, so I have thought up some things to aim for in January. They mostly centre around learning new skills which I feel is considerably more positive than the normal NewYear's resolutions, which mostly seem to focus on things I won't/shouldn't do! I'm never very successful at keeping to those anyway!

So this January, I am going to :

  • Continue sticking to my budget and writing my small daily 'To Do' lists
  • Keep going for walks and meditating
  • Continue crafting
  • Bring my grandmother's sewing machine up to the house and set it up ready to use (it's been languishing in the shed so I'm a little anxious as to whether it will work at all!)
  • Start patchwork - I may start with a cushion cover ..... 
  • Learn to crotchet
  • Learn some embroidery stitches - I have a desire to embroider my own hankies
  • Knit something - I don't know what yet, but I need to have a proper knitting project to inspire me.
  • Make my own washing powder and cleaning products

Traditionally I find the months of January and Febuary difficult psychologically and emotionally, so I'm hoping that by channelling my energies into creativity, I can avoid slipping into my annual doldrums! For once, I am excited about the next few months and I look forward to sharing my new discoveries with you.
Happy 2015 everyone!