Saturday, 5 November 2011

Day 133: Pub Quiz Night

We woz robbed!

Monday nights have taken on a new entertainment.  I have a large network of cousins here in the city, and I have recently joined another three on their regular pub quiz night.  It doesn't happen every week, but most Mondays you will find us huddled over our pints and debating in fierce whispers the meaning of anthropophagy.* 

All in all it makes for a cheap and fun night out in happily familiar company.  It costs £1 each to enter the quiz, and the rest is just our drinks.  £3.60 in total for me tonight, then, which could have been worse, but is a lot out of £12.80.

The thing is, had we won, I would have been £10 up!  And for the first time ever, we were soooo close.  We led all the way until it came to the last round, which was a Hallowe'en-themed music round.  Our combined lack of knowledge of camp 70s rock was our undoing.

So we lost.  By 1/2 point.  Instead of a much needed £10, I have come home with a bottle of Budweiser to add to the WKD Blue Vodka I won a couple of weeks back.  It is a good return on a £1 entry fee, but not for me, because I detest the stuff.   

Ah well.  Next week's bonus round is on Tutankhamun.  I have been revising all week, which is why I could even spell his name without looking it up.  That bonus prize money will be ours!!

Total Remaining Assets: £9.20 (gulp)

*(It's cannibalism, btw.  We got there by marrying my dissection of 'anthropology' to lab technician Cousin Nic's knowledge of white-cell-eating blood disorders.  Class!)

Day 132: Cheap Lunches

There is no such thing as a free lunch, they say.  But there is such a thing as a cheap lunch.  And of course, it involves making it yourself.

Armed with my £20, I headed off to Lidl this afternoon, and returned triumphantly with a packet of 6 morning rolls, a lump of Emmenthal cheese, a packet of salami, some cream cheese, and a packet of ham.  The total came to £4.70.  Oh, and I added in a very large pack of crisps and some fruit.  Add another £2.50.

And now I have in my freezer two Emmenthal-and-Salami rolls, two ham-and-cream cheese rolls, and another couple of variations using up half a tomato I had in the fridge.  Now, compare the average price of  78p to the minimum of £2.80 that a sandwich costs in my work cafeteria.  And in fact, given that I have more than half all the filling ingredients left over, the cost of each roll is close to 45p.  Can't be bad.

So lunch for the next week is going to cost about 80p each day.  And I have the ingredients of not a few pasta suppers to boot.  A good investment of (nearly half!) my £20.

Total Assets: £12.80

Day 131: The Crunch

Yes, it has come to it.  I am now within spitting distance of the situation called No Money At All.

It makes me repent of my previous blithe claims to having 'no money'.  For example, while it is true in principle, one does not have No Money in practice while one is still within one's overdraft limit.  For in practice, one can still go to the bank and withdraw £10 and buy oneself a sandwich. 

But now I am at the limits even of that.  That the situation is not my fault does not help.  Basically, money that I should have been paid has not yet been paid.  I am chasing it up, and there is no fear that it will not ultimately be paid, but the fact is, it should have been in my bank account by this weekend, and it is not.  And I was relying on it.

My entire worldly wealth is the £20 note in my purse.

So I shall be carefully husbanding the money this week.  I have to spend some to save some, but I have to budget for every penny.  If there is a bright side, it is that I shall definitely save money.  After all, one cannot spend what one does not have.

Assets: £20

Monday, 24 October 2011


This recipe has no quantities, because it is entirely dependent on how many apples you have.  But as a rough guide, 8 good-sized apples made two large jars of applesauce - see left!

There are also no ingredients, apart from apples!  Though some recipes do suggest adding cinnamon, or even some sugar if the apples are tart.

The Americans are far more used to canning applesauce than we Brits are, and so they have a whole lot of specialised equipment, such as jar grabbers, water bath pots (with built in rack for raising and lowering the jars, etc.  If you have such equipment, then I presume you know how to use it.  I would also advise investing in such equipment and following the instructions closely if you have a vast quantity of apples to process.  Nothing could be worse than all the jars spoiling for the want of precise attention.

However, if like me you only have a few apples to deal with and want to have a go, then this is my improvised version.  The final product looks good, and I am hoping the jars last okay.  I shall keep at least one jar until Christmas, and will report back if it has survived or not.  Caveat emptor!

Equipment you will need:
- approximately one large jar per 4 apples.  Kilner jars are best, though any with a tight-fitting lid should work.
- a deep and heavy-bottomed pot, such as a stock pot, with a well-fitting lid.
- something to improvise a rack at the bottom of the pot - I used an upturned plate, though be careful that it is one that can withstand a lot of heat (my Ikea one cracked!).  A metal grill of some kind would work better - anything to keep the jars from sitting on the base of the pot. 
- something to remove the jars safely from the boiling water.  Americans have special jar grabbers: I poured off some of the water, and then used a silicone oven glove.
- apple corer or sharp knife; wooden spoon; large serving spoon or ladle.


Please be carefull!  As with jam, you are dealing with very high temperatures, and the absence of specialised equipment increases the likelihood of spills and burns.

1) Before beginning, you need to sterilise your jars.  Put the jars on their sides on a rack in the oven. Turn the oven to 140C, and when it reaches this temperature, turn it off.  Leave the jars in the oven until ready to use.  For the lids, boil them for 5 minutes.  Or if you have a dishwasher, run jars and lids through a cycle.

2) Wash and core your apples, and remove any bruised or nibbled bits.  You can peel them if you want, but I didn't bother.  But do make sure all the nasty bits around the seeds are removed.  While you are doing this, you can place the cut apples in a large bowl of water to stop them discolouring too quickly.  You could add a touch of lemon juice to the water.

3) Fill the large pot with about an inch of water, and add the apples.  Put the lid on tightly.  Bring rapidly to the boil, and then reduce the heat.  Simmer for around 20 minutes, until the apples are disintegrated and fluffy.  

4) If you did not peel the apples, pick out the skins at this stage.  If there are any lumps left, mash them with a potato masher, or with a wooden spoon.  If the sauce seems too watery, you can boil some of the liquid off, stirring all the time and being careful that it does not stick to the bottom or burn.  Keep the applesauce hot.

5) Spoon the hot applesauce into the jars, wipe off any spills around the rim, and seal tightly with the lids.

6)  Wash your large and deep pot.  Place the rack in the bottom, and sit the sealed jars on the rack.  Cover the jars with hot water so that they are about an inch below the surface.  Bring to the boil, and boil the jars for 20-30 minutes.

7) Carefully remove the jars from the water, and allow to sit until cold.  You will know if they are properly sealed by pressing the top of the jar: if it doesn't 'pop' in and out, it is sealed.  If any are unsealed, simply put them in the fridge and use within a week.
If using kilner jars, you should loosen or remove the screw part of the lid, so that it doesn't rust.  The top will stay completely sealed.
Store the jars in a cool dark cupboard.

Day 115: Learning from Americans

Dear Americans,

You are lovely.  When I spent four months in New Jersey just a few years ago, you made me wonderfully welcome.  It is true that you have your quirks, the most bizarre being your love of that abomination, iced tea - closely followed by your inexplicable tolerance of terrible, terrible chocolate.  But no matter.  Because such oddities are well outweighed by a plethora of culinary delights.

I was in NJ in the Fall, and one day went on a trip to an apple orchard, where I filled a bag with many different varieties.  This was followed by a country fair, where apple cider was drunk in delectable combination with cinnamon donuts.  (For non-Americans, apple cider is a kind of thick and cloudy apple juice, not alcoholic at all.  I have never seen its like over here.)

Alas, such delights are not really available in Scotland.  Nevertheless, I have recreated an American classic here in my kitchen - Applesauce!  Specifically, canned applesauce, that can sit in my store cupboard for half the winter, if I have done it right.  Okay, so I only managed to produce two jars.  Which was lucky, because I only had two jars.  But it made excellent use of the rest of the apples kindly donated by Friend Julie's trees. 

I will post the recipe above.  And look forward to a winter of Apple Charlotte pudding - which recipe I will also post.  Free food rocks!

Day 114: The Unexpected Versatility of Clingfilm

Well, that is one lot of windows done.  The view from the living room window now has a strangely blurred appearance, but beyond that, it looks fairly respectable, and scarcely even noticeable from a distance.

I am grateful for advice from Jan back in Day 105.  She pointed out that the idea for windows is the same as for clothes: it is layers that count.  So although the clingfilm isn't very thick, it is still adding a layer for insulation. If anyone is thinking of following suit, Lakeland is currently selling 25 metres of their good quality stuff for £1.09, with money off any future purchase.  If you only have a few windows, and especially if they are small, then this could be a good buy.

I only have four windows in the flat, but they are huge - proper old tenement things.  It was slightly scary standing on the windowsill to reach the highest corners.  A stepladder would be much more sensible, of course, but unfortunately the flat does not have such a thing.  I think I was rather foolish - but hey, it is done now, and the other windows are nowhere near as worrying.  Moreover, while I was up there, I discovered that there was a massive draft coming from the join between the top and bottom panes.  What you can see on the photo is a rolled up towel now resting discreetly along the ledge.

I also tried to cover the bathroom window, but it is coated in some strange opaque frosting, and the clingfilm refused to cling.  That is the coldest room, too, but it does have a fairly grubby blind (which I cannot reach to take down and wash) so perhaps that will help a little.  I'll tackle the kitchen next.

But so far, some limited success.  The weather has warmed up a little anyway, but even so, I felt no need of the heating this evening.  The combination of dressing gown, thermal vest, and clingfilm is working so far.

Oh, and P.S. - I opened one of the jars of jam today - and it is perfect! 

Friday, 21 October 2011

Day 113: Retail Therapy

Even as I write, I am snuggled up in my new long-sleeved thermal top.  It is soft and cosy and gorgeous, and teamed with my equally new fluffy dressing gown, I am a whole lot happier about facing winter now.

But whence this sudden wealth?  I have been saving up a couple of Marks and Spencer vouchers that kind people gave me for my birthday back in July.  With winter in mind even then, I have been very carefully not spending them.  But today it was time!

It is four months since I have been shopping.  I don't mean trips to Lidl or occasional wanders into a charity shop.  I mean proper clothes shopping.  Even just strolling around Marks and Spencer's lingerie department was a real treat.  I miss clothes.  I miss shoes.  I was never particularly extravagant clothes-wise before this year, but I could at least indulge myself here and there.

So today I spent £40 worth of vouchers on two thermal vests and a dressing gown.  Good and happy purchases.  But I averted my eyes from the party clothes on my way out.