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.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Day 112: And the heating goes on

There is snow on the mountains not so very far north of here.  I can't see it, but I can feel it.  The weather has taken on a distinct chill, and it has made its way inside.

Last night it was just too miserable sitting in my cold living room.  It was not too bad while I was moving around, but there comes a time when one likes to lounge on the sofa and watch a DVD.  My fleecy blanket helped a little, but not enough.  So I gave in, and wandered through to the kitchen, and flicked the switch to the little radiator symbol.

Even so, I am not succumbing fully yet.  I wandered through the flat turning off all the radiators except for the living room.  And although I have the heating on again tonight, I am switching it on and off manually, so it only goes on when I really feel the need.  The bedroom is still fine when I am under the duvet, especially with my hot water bottle.  And mornings are still okay, though stripping off for the shower is getting more and more unpleasant.  I may soon have to put the bathroom radiator on a timer.

I am also remembering keep-warm advice often dished out to the elderly.  One of them is, in the winter, to pretty much live in and heat one room.  If it comes to it, I have my little fold-out bed in the cupboard, which will do the job nicely. I shall try to adopt a positive attitude to this, and convince myself that it is like a fun camping trip.  Oh well.

But before such desperate measures, I should first do everything else I can.  I have a kind of day off tomorrow, so time to trundle down to Lakeland and purchase some good quality clingfilm to cover these windows.  While I am there, I will take the Marks and Spencer vouchers I've got saved from my birthday and invest in a couple of thermal vests.  Friends, I am grimly determined.  The cold will not beat me.


I said that if it worked, I would give it a massive plug.  So here it is.  Wizz Oxi Ultra Plus Fabric Stain Remover is a miracle product! 

Remember the teatowel?  Just to remind you, this is what it looked like:

And now it looks like this:

Now, I have no idea how safe or chemically nasty this stuff is.  But Friend Claire the Chemist didn't seem too alarmed (though she works on a daily basis with hydrochloric acid, so perhaps she is immune to chemical alarm).  And I can witness that even while it was doing its work on the bramble juice stain, it was giving off no visible or olfactory fumes.  But then, it does have a big cross on the back of the tub with the word HARMFUL in caps underneath.  I guess it is to be treated with the same respect as bleach.

Whatever.  It worked!  And a quick google tells me it can be picked up in Poundland for - wait for it - £1.  Cheaper than a new teatowel.  :)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Day 109: And We Have Jam!

Apple and Bramble Jam *ting*
Six jars, to be precise.  Six jars of beautifully clear and, I suspect, somewhat over-solidified Apple and Bramble Jelly.  Well, technically, I only have three jars, because the other three belong to Friend Claire.  But there they are, ranged on my kitchen work surface, making gentle little popping sounds as they cool and their seals tighten.

This has been a happy experience.  A new skill has been learned, if not exactly mastered.  (I think they may be very over-solidified.)  The frothy skimmings been consumed on some freshly-made soda scones, and I can confirm the general deliciousness of the final product. I don't think the jam is gift-able, which is a shame - one jar could have made a nice little Christmas present for someone.  But for a first attempt, I think this can be declared a qualified success.

The only casualty has been my tea towel.  It is currently soaking in some stain-removing product called Wizz Oxi Ultra Plus, which my predecessors left behind.  Friend Claire the Chemist watched with scientific interest as the tea towel turned from purple to black to brown to a kind of dirty beige, poking it occasionally with a plastic whisk selected for its non-reactive properties.  If this stuff works, I will give it a massive plug on this blog, because it will truly be a miracle product.  This despite the rather alarming instructions NOT to put the damp scoop back in the tub, lest it produce some kind of oxygen explosion under the sink. 

The sugar cost £1. 
That is six jars of jam for £1. 
Definite Frugal Win. :)

Day 108: The Jam Begins

Woohoo!  Friend Claire came round tonight, and we have embarked on the Bramble and Apple Jelly!  The first part of the process is complete, and we are feeling highly pleased with ourselves.

The great thing is that, apart from the sugar, this foodstuff is entirely free.  The brambles which have been lurking in my freezer for a month were combined with an equal quantity of apples, some donated by a neighbour of Friend Claire, and some very kindly supplied by Friend Julie from the vast quantities her Victorian garden has been producing this harvest.  As Friend Claire and I observed, while stirring our pot of rich, deeply-purple, aromatic fruit, there is a peculiar delight involved where the food is not only free, but moreover, has been harvested by our own fair hands.  My highly rationalist scientist friend was even heard to mutter slightly sheepishly, that without getting too New Age-y about it, the whole process did somehow put us more in touch with our food.

We have been following this recipe which we found online.  The quantities listed here handily matched almost exactly the amount of brambles we had - it turns out that we had managed to pick just over 2lb on our foraging trip.  The link also contains some very useful advice for sterilising jars, cloths, etc, so we have been following it pretty closely.

Improvisation rocks!
On a practical level, we have managed so far without specialist equipment.  Not having a jam pan, my large heavy-bottomed stock pot is doing the job fine.  We also have not been able to borrow a jelly bag, so we have improvised with a large linen tea towel.  Learning from my rosehip syrup success, we placed the tea towel in a metal sieve over a baking bowl.  We ladled the bramble mixture carefully into the teatowel, and then tied the opposite corners of the tea towel firmly together.  We then removed the sieve and suspended the tea towel from an old mop handle which we have laid across the backs of two chairs, with the baking bowl on the floor to catch the liquid. It will stay there overnight.  So far it seems to be working well, though I suspect the tea towel will never recover.  I also have little hope of the decarnadination of the wooden spoon.

Friend Claire is coming round tomorrow in the early evening so that we can complete the process.  We could perhaps have done the whole thing in one night had we been prepared to squeeze the juice through the bag - but according to Mother, that is the surest route to (horrors!) a cloudy jelly.  Therefore we are giving it the time it needs.  We think we have enough jars - a mottly collection of there ever was one - but I need to buy in some sugar and some of these little wax disks.  I remember helping Mother with this stage often enough, so hopefully all the necessary techniques will come flooding back from the deep recesses of my memory. 

What I am currently loving about this frugality project is that I am truly learning new skills - or relearning old ones.  I have watched jam-making often enough, and been involved in the various stages, but I have never seen the whole process through myself.  And to make the project even more enjoyable, it has meant some days-out-with-a-difference with Friend Claire in particular.  Where last year we would have been eating out or sitting in the cinema, this time we are doing things.  And this is a good thing.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Day 107: A Stitch in Time

Is there any implement more useful to the frugalist than a needle and thread? 

This week it is buttons.  Upon digging out my winter coat, I remembered belatedly that a button had fallen off last February.  Although I did not have the foresight to do the actual stitch in time, I did at least have the foresight to store said button in the coat pocket.  Then my light raincoat decided to shed a button today as well, so I clearly need to set aside half an hour for a couple of repairs.

I was brought up by a mother who is highly skilled in all areas of needlework.  Having very little money back when we were children, she used to sew and knit all our school uniforms and a goodly proportion of our clothes as well.  There is a highly embarrassing photo of me and my sisters, all in identical green nylon trousers and hand-knitted green tank tops (sweater vests).  But hey - it was the 70s - I think we can cut my mother a bit of slack.  And they were very well made trousers and tank tops!

Despite producing two daughters whose abilities tend more towards the cerebral than the practical (the third daughter, my younger sister, combines the two superbly), Mother has at least succeeded in passing on some basic skills to her offspring.  But despite her best efforts, my ability does not extend far beyond the button-sewing-on level. 

So while it is a shame that I cannot save money by making my own clothes (!!), I can at least look after the ones I've got.  I can sew on a button, repair small rips in seams, and have even been known to darn a woollen glove.  Mother also darns the toes of her nylon stockings and tights, which extends their lives quite considerably.  As I have said before, I think my toes wreck the knee-highs too much even to attempt to mend them - but I confess that is often because I have not done a more immediate repair. 

I am therefore resolving, even as I write this, to be more truly my mother's daughter this week.  I shall lay out all my winter wardrobe and make sure it is mended and fit to wear.  If I am super organised, I may even be able to do the same for the summer wardrobe before packing it away for the next few months.  But that, I suspect, is very wishful thinking indeed.  I am constantly oppressed by my good intentions.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Day 105: Winter is i-cummin in

I am mightily impressed that is is mid October and I still have not turned on the central heating.  Nor have I been shivering miserably in a cold dank flat.  Outside there has been a distinct autumnal nip to the air, but inside I have been, if not exactly snug as a bug, at least comfortably free of shivers.

I put it down to this being a tenement flat, with neighbours below, above, and to either side.  Very kindly, what they spend on heating also helps to keep me warm.  Moreover, the flat is kind of long and thin, with windows front and back, so there is very little actual outside wall.  For an old flat without double glazing and with plenty of gaps between the floorboards, it is also surprisingly draft free.  I guess these Victorians knew what they were doing when they built this place.

But winter is indeed i-cummin in, and if it is anything like the last two up here, I am going to have to look at some heat-saving ventures.  Given that it is a rented flat and I will not be forking out on insulation any time soon, I need to do what I can with what I have.  I can close the thick curtains in the living room, but the bedroom curtains are pretty thin, and there are only flimsy blinds in the kitchen and bathroom.  I also read a tip about pinning a clear shower curtain over the window as a kind of secondary double glazing.  It doesn't sound very attractive, but it might be worth a go if I can find such a thing cheaply enough. 

And the other easy tip is draft excluders at the bottom of doors.  I seem to have a surplus of towels, so maybe I could roll some up and tie them in place.  I could even have a go at covering them.  I have a strange zebra-striped blanket thing with sleeves that is falling apart, which might do the trick.  Time to dig out the needle and thread, I think.

I did find this web page which has some very useful tips about staying warm in general.  Some are bleedingly obvious, but others are more original.  I especially liked tip number 16!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Day 103: The Hair! The Hair!

Very straight and very thick ...
It is now nearly 5 months since it was cut.

Have a look back at my graduation photo on Day 1.  The hair there is almost shoulder length.  Then mentally add about 3 inches to that.  Three untrimmed and shapeless inches.

The cheapest I can get a haircut at an Edinburgh salon is £35.  When my hair is bobbed, this should really be once every two months.  Gents seem to get away with a £10 short-back-and-sides at the barbers, or better still, they simply run the clippers over their head.  But I am clinging desperately to what little femininity I possess, and am not ready to go close cropped just yet.   So for the moment, long hair seems like the most frugal option.

The problem is, I have difficult hair.  I like it very much, and am inordinately proud of the total absence of grey given my increasingly advanced age.  But it is straight.  Very straight and thick.  Straight and very thick.  I cannot emphasise this enough.  It does not like to bend.  It will not submit gracefully to comb or clip.  Any stray hairs do not fluff softly around my face, but stick out at defiant angles.  This means that if my hair is to be styled even in the most simple of ways - say, a ponytail - then it has to be really very long indeed.  That stage being still some weeks away, it is currently an increasingly shaggy mess. And besides, even long hair needs to be trimmed at the ends now and then to keep everything neat and professional looking.  Hairdressers charge £35 for that too, regardless.

I have discovered, however, that our local hairdressing college likes to experiment on willing members of the public.  I am resolved to give them a ring shortly and see if they fancy getting their hands on a classic bob.  With instructors standing by, it seems safer than the Gumtree option, where I could currently get myself a "Proffesional" haircut.

Rosehip Syrup

Adapted from Marguerite Patten's Feeding the Nation.

Makes 2 cups rosehip syrup - enough for 2 people for 6-8 months, if taken as a few drops daily.

1lb rosehips, ripe and red
9oz sugar

1) Wash hips and 'top and tail' (remove stalks and greenery).  Put in a heavy stainless steel pan.  Cover well with water and bring to the boil.  Simmer until tender - about 10 minutes.

2) Mash hips well with a wooden spoon so that they are all broken open.  Put into a jelly bag (see Notes) over a bowl, and squeeze out as much juice as possible.

3) Return the pulp to the saucepan and add the same amount of water again.  Bring to the boil and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Pour back into teatowel and squeeze again into the bowl, adding to the juice from the first round.

4) Bin the pulp, and wash out the teatowel very thoroughly.  (I put mine through the washing machine.)  Pour the juice once again into the teatowel.  Do not squeeze this time, but allow to drip through into a clean bowl overnight, without stirring or pressing.  This should ensure that the liquid is hair-free!

5) Boil the juice down until it measures about 2 cups (16 fl. oz.)  Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Boil for 5 minutes.

6) Either:
(a) Bottle the syrup in small jars.  The jars must be perfectly clean and hot - put them through the dishwasher and use immediately, or sterilise with boiling water and keep warm in the oven until ready for use.  Seal the jars at once, using rubber washers to ensure a perfect seal.  The syrup should be stored in a dark cupboard.
(b) Do what I did and freeze the syrup in ice cube trays, so that a very little can be defrosted at a time.  I think this works, but don't guarantee it yet!  I'll update this recipe as I find out.

I didn't have a heavy stainless steel pan, and an ordinary cheap one worked fine!  Just watch a little more closely in case the bottom burns.

I also didn't have a proper jelly bag, and was wary of using a borrowed one in case the little rosehip hairs got stuck in it and spoiled it.  You can improvise a jelly bag with layers of muslin, but I found a simple linen tea towel worked very well, and moreover, was tough enough to endure squeezing.  The red stain washed out fine, at least when I washed it straight away.  Just put a metal sieve over a large baking bowl, and put the tea towel in the sieve to hold everything in place; then pour into the sieve.

Serve as a Vitamin C supplement, taking about 1/4 tsp a day.  Alternatively, pour some over icecream, or use to flavour home made icecream or desserts.

Day 102: Rosehips - The Final Chapter

Well, it has worked!  At least, I have produced a reddish liquid which tastes quite nice, and is suitably syrupy.  I am really rather proud of myself.  What better frugal achievement than a Hedgerow Harvest transformed into a useful foodstuff and medicine?

Good old Marguerite Patten.  Her wartime recipe was just the thing.  She informs me that "This syrup is suitable for infants, very palatable, and so rich in Vitamin C that 1oz is sufficient for 1 month."   The half pound of rosehips I had picked has made 1 cup (8 fl.oz) of syrup, so that means that I am sorted for 8 months, I presume.  That will tide me over even a Scottish winter. :D

Of course, there are still a couple of things that could go wrong.  I think I got all the little hairs, but who knows?  Only time and potentially painful experiment will tell.  And rather than bottling the syrup, I am making use of some technology they didn't have in wartime Britain, and freezing it.  I read somewhere that if you do bottle it, you should use tiny bottles, as it goes off rapidly after opening - about one week.  So I am hoping that freezing offers a good alternative and doesn't destroy the syrup or its nutritional value.  I froze it in a couple of icecube trays, for easy extraction and defrosting.

Anyway, the recipe is posted above.  I am told it can also be used as a flavouring for desserts, or poured over ice cream, which sounds like an extraordinarily pleasant way of taking one's medicine.

So come and get me, Winter Germs!  I am ready for you!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Day 101: More on Rosehips

I mentioned yesterday how, while foraging, I added some rosehips to the haul.  I did this without much idea what I would do with these, apart from a vague notion that there exists such a thing as rosehip syrup.  So now I have half a pound in the freezer, and have been researching how to proceed.

Did you know that rosehips contain 20 times as much Vitamin C as an orange?  The problem with my source for this factoid is that it doesn't say exactly how it calculates this - pound for pound, or what?  Be that as it may be, they were majorly useful during World War II, where a few drops of the syrup was given to infants on a daily basis.  It therefore occurs to me that if I can make this stuff, it could be the first line of defence against the common cold this winter.  Got to be cheaper than echinacea tablets.

The problem with rosehips (and it is a major one!) is that inside, the little seeds are covered with little hairs.  These hairs are immensely irritating and can, I am told, cause nasty tummy upsets.  And if they get through the tummy without problem, then they REALLY get you on the way out.  I do not speak from experience here, but I am told that the word, 'itchy', does not begin to cover it. 

So when making the syrup, one has to be very careful that none of these little hairs get into the final product.  Hence straining and straining and straining.

Well, I'm off to give it a try.  I'll let you know how it goes, and if it works, I'll post the recipe.  After all, my "Food for Free" foraging book says there are hips still in the hedgerows until November.

Day What Must It Be?

This is me, crawling back.  I am very very sorry.  Work suddenly exploded with busy-ness, and I was so tired at the end of the day that blogging just felt like more work.  Then, once things calmed down, I was embarrassed by the gap.  But I think I just have to leap back in, and hope for forgiveness.  As a peace offering, I have posted below a very wonderful recipe for Lemon Drizzle Cake.  :)

What to report in the meantime?  I shall gloss over some of the Downs, and concentrate instead on the major Up that was a very successful foraging expedition.  I put out a little call on facebook for anyone who knew of a bramble patch near to Edinburgh, and Friend Sharon from East Lothian replied that there were a whole lot down her way.  So one sunny Saturday afternoon in September, Friend Claire and I got the First Bus out to the highways and byways around Haddington.  Sure enough, the hedgerows were laden.

We spent a very happy couple of hours filling our tubs with brambles, and with some rosehips as well.  These are all currently in my freezer. Scottish brambles are not the lovely big juicy blackberries of the south of England, and the harvest is a little gritty and prickly, which makes them difficult to sort out and use fresh.  Rather, our intention is to make bramble jelly.  Friend Claire is sourcing some free apples from a neighbour's tree, and we plan having a jam-making day sometime soon.  We also need to track down a jelly bag, ideally, though some muslin could also do the job.  I have been on the phone to Mother, and she will keep us right.

It wasn't exactly a frugal day - the bus alone cost over £6 each - but in terms of getting out of the city to some glorious countryside, and time spent with a good friend, it beat a trip to the cinema.  The hedgerow harvest was almost a bonus, and the severely scratched hands but a badge of our righteousness.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Makes c.10 slices

4 oz soft margarine
6oz caster sugar
2 large eggs
6 oz self-raising flour
4 tbsp milk
rind and juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp icing sugar

1) Grease and line the bottom of a 2lb loaf tin.  Preheat the oven to 180C.
2) Cream together the margarine and sugar.  Beat the eggs, add to the mixture, and beat well together.
3) Add the sifted flour, the lemon rind, and the milk.  Mix well.  
4) Put mixture in tin, and smooth top.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until firm and lightly browned.  
5) While the cake is baking, put the lemon juice and icing sugar in a pan, and heat gently until the icing sugar is dissolved.  
6) As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, use a skewer to make several deep holes in the top.  Immediately pour the lemon-sugar mix over the cake.  Leave the cake in the tin until completely cool before removing.

This makes a gorgeous sticky cake.  It counts as economical, given that a slice of lemon drizzle cake costs about £2 in any cafe.  I am not sure what the whole cake costs to bake, but it is a whole lot less than £20!  I had a vegetable bake on the bottom shelf of the oven while this was cooking on the top.  Half of the final loaf has gone in the freezer.

Caster sugar costs more than granulated.  Friend Claire recently suggested buying granulated sugar and whizzing it in the food processor to make caster sugar.  I gave it a try and am not altogether convinced it made much difference - but maybe your food processor is more efficient than mine.  I have never had a problem working with granulated sugar anyway, unless it is meringues. 

If making the cake in a food processor, then add the sugar, margarine, and eggs all at once, and cream together before adding the other ingredients.  This is how I did it, and it worked well.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Day 59: Sunday Afternoon

What makes a perfect Sunday afternoon?  Answer: a proper Sunday lunch with a good friend, then lounging by the fire with a cowboy film on the telly, and copious cups of coffee.  Pretty darn good, huh?

The lunch was chicken pie followed by plum crumble and custard; the friend was Friend Nik; the fire was not a real fire, but several candles burning in the fireplace; and the film was Tombstone.  Oh, and the coffee was accompanied by homemade gingerbread. 

I think I may be recreating my farmhouse childhood here.

It is nice that this new flat of mine is beginning to feel like home - just in time for autumn.  For the days are already taking on a distinctly chilly feel here in Edinburgh.  Friend Nik says that it is a lot warmer in my flat compared to hers down by the seashore, which I attribute to the presence of other flats above, below, and on both sides.  And then, the cooker added a nice warmth to the kitchen, while the candles in the fireplace threw out a surprising heat. Very soon, though, it is going to be woolly jumpers and socks and blankets on the sofa, as I avoid putting on the heating as long as possible.

I think this might have to form a pattern for future Sunday afternoons.  We all need a day off, and I have 49 films to work through - a year's supply!  Guests welcome. :)


makes c.24 slices (3lb gingerbread)

8oz margarine
8oz soft brown sugar
8oz treacle
8oz plain flour
4oz self-raising flour
4 tsps ground ginger
2tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 pink milk
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1) Grease and line a 2lb plus a 1lb loaf tin (or alternatively, an 8"x12" square tin).  Preheat oven to 150C.
2) Heat margarine, sugar, and treacle in a saucepan until melted.
3) Sift flour, ginger, and cinnamon together into a bowl.  Stir in the treacle mixture and the beaten egg.
4) Warm milk to lukewarm, stir in bicarbonate of soda, and add to flour mixture. (This will make the mixture very liquid.  Do not panic!)
5) Beat well and pour into tins.  
6) Bake for 1.5 to 2 hours.

This is not a cheap recipe.   In particular, it uses a lot of sugar and margarine.  Nevertheless, it makes a large quantity of a dense, rich cake, which freezes well.  What's more, it can be baked for about the same time and temperature as a casserole, making full use of the oven.  And it is delicious!

Chicken and Mushroom Pie

serves 4-5

2 chicken breasts
1/2 a medium onion
250g mushrooms
1/2 cup sweetcorn 
1tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp plain flour
1/2 cup milk
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the shortcrust pastry:
1 cup plain flour
3 oz margarine
pinch salt
cold water

1) First make the pastry.  Mix the flour and the margarine into 'breadcrumbs' and add the salt.  (It is easiest to do this in a food processer.)  Add enough cold water to bind into a ball of dough.  Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour, or make in advance and keep for up to 3 days.
2)  Chop the mushrooms and onions and fry in  the vegetable oil until cooked and lightly browned.  Add the sweetcorn and fry briefly.  Remove to a plate.
3) Fry the chicken chunks until lightly browned on all sides, but not cooked all the way through.  Add more oil if needed.
4) Sprinkle the flour into the pan with the chicken, add the seasoning, and fry briefly.
5) Put chicken and vegetables into a shallow oven-proof dish, and pour over the milk.
6) Now roll out the pastry to the size and shape of the oven-proof dish.  Place over the top of the chicken mixture and press round the edges to seal.  Cut three slashes in the middle of the pie to allow steam to escape.
7) Bake in a 160C oven for around half an hour, or until pastry is lightly browned.  Serve immediately.

Day 58: Minimising Meat

In the past two months, and with the exception of the bacon bits (still on the same packet), I have cooked meat precisely three times.  The first was the bolognaise sauce I made from a pound of minced beef, a couple of portions of which are still in the freezer.  The second was the sausages I cooked for Friend Claire last week.  The third was a chicken pie cooked this evening.  Going past Lidl on the bus two days ago, I spotted that they had a special offer on chicken this weekend: two chopped chicken breasts for £1.49.  Turned into a pie with a load of mushrooms and some sweetcorn, and I've made 5 portions out of it.

As a young student I shared all my cooking with Friend Kim, who was a committed vegetarian.  Mostly we just ate the same thing, and the same thing was mostly the same thing: spaghetti with tomato sauce.  At least 3 times a week.  Sometimes I would ring the changes by adding a small tin of tuna.  Then, about twice a term, I would get cravings, usually for white fish or for bacon, and would cook up my own little feast.  I suspect that there was not quite enough iron or protein or something in my diet.  But despite such lapses, there is no doubt that living vegetarian saved me a tonne of money back then.

Being a farmer's daughter, I have never been tempted to go all the way down the vegetarian route.  Contemplating the conversation was just too painful: Sorry, Dad, but I reject your entire life's work as morally unsustainable.  Besides, while I respect those who make that decision, I don't think vegetarianism actually works logically: if I were convinced by the moral arguments, I would have to go entirely vegan.  My compromise has always been to try to by from local (i.e, Scottish)  producers, where the animal has at least had a good and fairly free-range life.  With beef, pork, and lamb, this isn't too difficult - I know firsthand how these are farmed in this country, and cows, pigs, and sheep all have a pretty nice life.  I also know that the regulations governing their treatment are very stringent.  Chicken is trickier though, I admit it, and the real free-range organic ones are horribly expensive, which puts them out of my reach no matter how much more ethical they are and how much nicer they taste.

Anyhow, necessity requires that whatever meat I buy will be in very small quantities, and will be made to go a long way.  The chicken pie whose recipe I have posted is one example of this.  But the truth is, it will be mainly vegetables for me.  Not so much for ethical reasons, but for sheer practicality.

Small savoy cabbages were on sale for 37p.  I bought one.

Total Expenditure: £12.15

Monday, 29 August 2011

Day 57: Nature's Bounty

My quick jaunt to the countryside has reminded me that it is approaching harvest time.  I was especially reminded of this by the 9 tractors slowing the traffic to a crawl for the last five miles of the journey.

Despite the increasingly colder days - this is Scotland! - I am looking forward to autumn and harvest from one point of view.  Everyone knows that it is cheapest to buy seasonally.  (I have discovered this handy calendar which lets you know what is in season when.  Guess what: savoy cabbage is really in right now!)  So far, vegetables have been no problem.  But the trouble is that summer fruit - strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc, - is expensive per se.  A punnet of rasps may indeed be half their winter price, but they are still beyond my reach.  Meanwhile, the cheaper fruit - especially apples and plums - has been both expensive and unappetising, because they are out of season.  The result is that I have eaten hardly any fruit this summer at all.

Despite living in the middle of a city, but I have plans to do some foraging.  Scotland's cold and wet climate does not lend itself to a bountiful hedgerow harvest, but it does have a few things to offer.  In particular, very soon it will be bramble season in Scotland.  These are not the plump and sweet blackberries that I have picked in Devon, for example, but they can jazz up some stewed fruit nevertheless.  So I sent out a facebook message asking where I might find some within easy reach of a bus route.  I now have three locations and an offer of a cup of tea!  They are not ripe yet, so my informants tell me, but in another week or so they should be ready for picking. 

I also need to check with my mother.  We have a damson tree in the farmhouse garden, which produces fruit every other year.  Damsons are extraordinarily strong and sour - Mother tried to feed us both a damson crumble once, which made our eyes cross - but when mixed in with some apple they make a nice change.  Let's hope this is a damson year.

I am not sure what else is around that I could forage.  I don't feel confident enough to identify mushrooms.  I don't know of any edible nuts which grow up in this cold part of the country.  I do know where I can find some wee blaeberries (bilberries), but I would need a car to get there, and it would involve a day of hill climbing.  It seems to be a bit out of season for nettles or dandelion leaves, though these might be a good option come spring.  I could beg my sister to let me harvest the rosehips from her hedge (though I can't do this until after the first frost), but even if I could work out how to prepare these, for the life of me I can't think how I would actually eat them.  Maybe I am just making excuses - I don't know.  If there are other possibilities out there for this time of year, I would love to hear them.

Still, damsons and brambles are a good start.  And within a month or so, apple season ought to have begun proper.  Huzzah, for my fruit deficiency is about to be rectified.

Total Expenditure: £9.15 (mostly on bus fares)

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Day 56: The Benefits of Being Without Car

This evening, I have a very special event to attend.  A friend is being ordained to a country church south of Edinburgh, and I very much want to be there.  This, however, is where my carless status is going to bite.

Yes, there are buses to this small town, and direct ones at that.  So I can get there fine as long as I allow a good hour and a half for the journey.  The problem is getting home again.  The last bus from this town to Edinburgh leaves at 18.05 hours.  The ordination service begins at 19.00 hours.

Fortunately, I have a day off tomorrow.  Even more fortunately, Friend Julie lives nearby, and will also be attending the service.  Most fortunately of all, Friend Julie is the hospitable sort, and so my tentative request for a bed for the night has been met with a hearty welcome.

This being-without-car is going to be quite a problem at times, I can see.  In  particular, I have a big family event to attend in about three weeks time, on a Sunday afternoon.  I have as yet no idea how I am going to get there, and less idea how I am to get back.  Though there might be some mileage in a car rental, or a city car scheme.  I shall have to investigate this possibility.

But while it is a great restriction on my movements, I can see that being-without-car is going to have the benefit of forcing me to be more sociable.  Up till now I have tended towards the fiercely independent, and I probably wouldn't have asked if I were able to leap in the car at the end and drive off.  But now I am really looking forward to catching up with Friend Julie.  What is so great about independence anyway?  A little bit of dependency upon others could turn out to be rather more fun.

So no more flying visits from me - when I come to see someone, I stay!  Friends have been warned.

Day 55: Grow Your Own

A typical Edinburgh tenement
Whenever I read articles about frugal living or perhaps organic food, they usually echo the same dictum.  The best way to eat frugally/organically, is to grow your own.  Even if you live in a third floor flat, you can grow all sorts of herbs and lettuces and tomatoes in a window box.

To which I reply - Rubbish!  The writers of said articles clearly live on a lovely country smallholding with room for half a dozen hens, a llama, and their own cider press.  Myself in my third floor flat?  It is impossible.

I did briefly have dreams of growing my own rocket (the lettuce, not the flying thingy).  Indeed, there were actually window boxes when I arrived here.  The previous owners had planted them up with some scrubby lavendar and a nondescript little bush or two.  They had also established a window box inside the bathroom, and had some pansies growing above the sink in the kitchen.  The pansies scattered soil and plant debris all over the drying dishes.  In the bathroom, whenever one opened the window, the wind blew soil all over the toilet and bath.  Upon investigation, this window box was found to be nailed on to the woodwork.  It took my aunt and a claw hammer to remove it.

The window boxes outside worried me most.  The window ledges are deep, true, but they slope a little, so the boxes were already perched at an angle.  Then these were found not to be nailed on at all, so that there was nothing securing them to the window ledge but their own weight.  I had visions of opening the window and sending them hurtling to the pavement below.  Then there was the possibilility - nay, certainty - of Scottish winter gales, which will howl around my high corner like the legions of hell.  My dreams of rocket were speedily eclipsed by nightmares of being charged with culpable homicide.

So I have binned the window boxes (even bringing them inside was a precarious venture!) and given up on growing my own.  Fortunately, I have kind friends who do live on lovely country smallholdings, albeit sans llama.  One of these friends has been exceptionally kind this week.  Courtesy of Yvette, Florence, Gertie, and Mimi - the "Hayloft Hens" - I have been gifted with four fresh and free range eggs.  These were accompanied by a supply of plums, which I shall stew and either freeze or turn into a crumble.  This is exceptional generosity, and I record my thanks here to Friend Sharon. 

People are lovely.  Basically.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Day 54: More about the Car

I can't thank everyone enough for all the suggestions re. the car.  The consensus seemed to be to sell it, which was very sensible, and I looked seriously at some of the auction places in Edinburgh.  However, the car is 11 years old, and the various auction websites advised that because of its age, there would be no reserve price.  So I might have got a decent price, but equally, I might have ended up with only a couple of hundred.  And even if I got a decent price, short of an unlikely bidding war for an 11-year-old Renault, its trade-in value would still be greater.

So I spoke to the garage man at home, and have decided simply to take the car off road for a year.  I am lucky, because this is easily done on the farm - I have spoken to Mother, and she is quite happy for me to tuck it away in an empty shed.  The garage man says he will come down to the farm and disconnect the battery, which means that I can declare it off-road, so I don't have to tax it, and nor do I have to insure it except perhaps for theft and fire. These are pretty substantial savings, and so I am content with that.  I just wish I had thought of it before getting it MOT-ed.

So the little car is going to be mothballed until such times as I need her again.  Then it will just be a matter of a few phonecalls, and I can be driving her within a week.  And meanwhile, if I desperately need a car to go somewhere off the beaten track, then Mother has offered to lend me hers.

So thank you again for your support and ideas.  They helped galvanise me out of depression and into action, and I am happy with the decision I have made.

Total Expenditure: £2.80

Day 53: Budgeting the Blues

This has been a tough week.  Work pressure is huge at the moment, and I've also been feeling a little bit lonesome in my new flat.  When I get the blues like this, I generally have two main responses.  One is to 'shut down' - like a hibernating animal, I crawl into a corner and sleep. Note to self: this is not an effective coping strategy.  The other response is to eat.  I am a classic comfort eater.  Unfortunately, comfort eating also means comfort spending.  So I confess it: today I went to Tesco's and bought myself (a) a sandwich meal deal; (b) a large bar of chocolate; (c) some cola and lemonade; and (d), the emptiest calories of all, gummies.  :(

Happily, I had a visitor this evening: Friend Claire popping in after work for blether and food.  I invested in some nice Tesco sausages, and we had the classic sausage, beans, and chips - with home made beans and chips, of course.  She brought a couple of cupcakes, and we dined magnificantly.  Her general energy was just the tonic I needed, and I am crawling out the other side of the blue tunnel.  We have also made plans for the beginning of October for a day course on Japanese Cookery!  It costs a little, it is true, but I will learn some new skills, and have some fun while I'm at it.  (And besides, I am still owed a birthday present from Mother ... this could be ideal!)  One thing this week is showing me is that I need much more of a social life than I am currently getting.

The other happy side effect of Friend Claire's visit is that I actually got the flat tidied.  It was descending into a bit of chaos, but while I am not tidy, I am proud, and the surest way to get me to clear up is to come visit.  This means that I can now sit down and sort out a few of the finances this week, and just generally get on top of everything again.  I am discovering that there is nothing more inimical to frugality than disorganisation, so I really have to keep on top of that this year.

So all in all, I think I will have to chalk this one up to experience.  I spent too much on rubbish food, but it was a one-off, and I don't intend adding guilt to the general stress.  Given that this is the first real slip in almost two months, I just have to get back on to the frugality wagon and keep plodding on.

Today's Expenditure: £11.80

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Day 52: Indigestion

As promised!

I am one of these people who is rather prone to acid indigestion.  I have been for years: I have checked it out with the doctor, and it is just a reflux thing.  I should say at this point that these things should always be checked with a doctor, and that the 'remedies' below are just coping strategies that have helped me, none of which will cure a chronic problem, and none of which are a substitute for medical treatment.  The same goes for any other suggestions made in the comments.

Clearly, the best cure is prevention, and one very good side-effect of this healthier diet has been a lot less acid swilling about my stomach.  I know that if I work my way through a steak-pie-and-chips, I will pay for it.  Apart from heavy greasy food, chocolate and fizzy drinks are two of the worst culprits, but happily, both of these have been all but eliminated from my diet..  But the problem is still there, even with healthy eating, so it helps to have a few more direct remedies to hand.

Up till now, I have contented myself with always having a copious supply of antacid tablets to hand.  We are very lucky in the UK that these can simply be picked up at the supermarket: when I lived for a few months in Germany, I had to buy them over-the-counter in the Pharmacy, where they cost nearly 6 euros a time.  (Asking for them the first time was quite a test of my limited German, and was accompanied by some expressive mime.)  But you know, even back in Blighty, these little sweeties can be very expensive.  A packet of 24 Rennies, for example, usually costs over £2, and if the bout of indigestion is bad, I can get through that in less than two days. That means I could easily chew my way through about £6 a week.  Not an option for the Frugalist.

Nevertheless, the little sweeties are useful to carry about in a bag or pocket, and so it is worth knowing that the cheapest I have found is Asda's own brand.  Here you can get 4 handy tubes of 20 each for only £2.  By comparison, Tesco charges £2 for a packet of 48, and Boots currently charges £1.62 for 48 of their own brand.  Quite a difference.  But if you know of any cheaper ones, please do let me know.

When at home, however, I have been resorting to the disgusting but effective old remedy of mixing a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda with a glass of water, and downing it.  Effectively this is like drinking salt, and if you make it too strong, you will be sick.  However, even a couple of mouthfuls react with the acid in the stomach to neutralise it.  The side effect is the production of gas, which will result in a loud and satisfying burp!  Which is why this is a home remedy only!

Ah, inner harmony ...
The other one that I know some people swear by, but has never really worked for me, is peppermint tea.  I remember my sister downing it by the gallon when she was pregnant.  It is certainly a lot more pleasant than bicarb of soda, so perhaps I should return to it and try it again, especially for breakfast.  I am told that chewing mint leaves can have a similar effect, and it is
definitely less anti-social than the burpy soda.

Maybe some of you have your own favourite remedies.  I would be interested to hear if so. 

Today's Expenditure: £0.00  (I like these days)

Day 51: Making Good Use of the Oven

This has been a day of triumphant cooking!

Recipes are posted below and above, all very suitably frugal.  But the important thing about this evening's cookery is that I managed to plan things so as to make very good use of the oven. 

The menu was intended to be as follows:
Boston Baked Beans
Oven Chips (fries)
Ginger biscuits
Roasted tomatoes

slightly blurred Boston Baked Beans
with foccacia and a sprinkling
of grated cheese.
The Baked Beans were made in the slow cooker, having been soaked all night and cooked for 8 hours on Low from morning through to evening.  This in itself is a massive oven saving: just imagine running the thing for the same length of time!  Oh, and they were amazingly delicious, btw - though with that much bacon, one could hardly go wrong.

The Oven Chips saga began two days ago.  Rather than boiling just enough potatoes for one serving, I stuck five large ones in the pan (unpeeled), and cooked the lot.  One I ate that night, but the other four I stored in the fridge.  So tonight I cut one into wedges, put them on an oiled baking tray, sprayed them with vegetable oil and a dash of Cajun seasoning, and baked for about 20 minutes until they were crisp and brown and lovely.  

The oven chips cooked on a baking tray alongside the falafel, which had been made a couple of days before from the same batch of chickpeas which made the hummus.  These too had been frozen for a few days till I was ready to use them.

The remaining three potatoes I also cut into wedges, spread them out on a baking tray, and froze them for half an hour until solid.  Then I removed them from the tray and put them in a plastic bag, and now I have frozen oven chips in my freezer, all ready to go.

Remember the left-over pastry from the large quiche?  I had lined three ramekins with it, and frozen them.  Now I mixed up two eggs and some milk, popped a piece of frozen cooked broccoli and some feta cheese in each one, poured over the egg mixture, and baked in the bottom of the oven.  Thus was the oven full of chips, falafel, and the little quiches, all of which took about 20-25 minutes to bake at 200C.  (Admittedly, the chips were a bit overdone!)  One of the quiches has gone into the fridge for tomorrow's lunch; the other two are back in the freezer.

Previously in the afternoon, I made the foccacia dough and left it to rise.  I am a bit nervous of making yeast bread, usually preferring to stick to soda bread, but my little sister makes an amazing foccacia, so I thought it was worth a go.  The result is pretty good for a first attempt, although a little harder than I would have liked it.  It was intended to bake this along with a batch of ginger biscuits, 25 in total - but my sister phoned, and they never got made.  So half the oven was, alas, unused.

Then finally, I followed the suggestion of Friend Sharon on Day 41, where she says this:
If you have some supermarket basic tomatoes and want to make them into something gorgeous - cut them in half, place in an oven tray cut side up, sprinkle with salt, a touch of sugar and some dried (or fresh) thyme. A little drizzle of olive oil helps things along. Preheat the oven as hot as it will go...if being really frugal make these after something where you've had the oven on anyway...then put them in and turn off the oven. Leave for about 8 hours or overnight. (This is taken from Nigella's Express book...called moonblush tomatoes...but she uses expensive vine toms to start with). Great in salads, on toast, baked potatoes, chopped and through pasta...just sooooo nice.
So as you can see, all this was something of a complex operation, easily upset by an unplanned (though very pleasant) phonecall.  But in the event, it all worked out well, even if I was a bit hot and tired afterwards.  The oven is a terrible user of fuel, so I have come to a resolution that I will never just use it for one thing.  That meant a little forward planning, but despite appearances, I didn't actually run it like a military operation: I just cooked a bit extra wherever I could and froze it; then on the day looked to see what I had.  So I am all stocked up on main meals the next few days.  Maybe weeks!

Tomorrow, I will be blogging about indigestion.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Boston Baked Beans

serves 4 as a main meal

8oz (250g) dried white haricot beans
1 pint (500mls) water
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bayleaf
1 tsp English mustard
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
3 tbsp tomato puree
6oz (175g) bacon bits
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Soak the haricot beans in water for 8 hours or overnight.  Drain.
2) Put the beans in the slow cooker and mix in the chopped onion and the bacon bits.  
3) Blend the mustard with a little of the water, followed by the black treacle, sugar, tomato puree, and chopped garlic.  Mix with the rest of the water, and pour over the bean mixture.  Season, and add the bayleaf.
4) Cook on low for around 8 hours.  For the last hour, remove the lid and thicken the sauce by allowing some of the liquid to evaporate.  If the mixture is too dry, add some more water.
5) Remove the bayleaf and serve hot, with crusty bread and a sprinkle of grated cheese, if desired.

This produces beans in quite a watery sauce - it is not thick like a tin of baked beans.  You might therefore want to serve the beans in a bowl.  To accompany it, I used home-made focaccia; or girdle (soda) scones would also work well.

Haricot beans used to be the most commonly available, if my wartime rationing book is anything to go by.  I actually had great difficulty finding them - the supermarkets didn't seem to stock them - but eventually tracked them down to an ethnic food store.  They were quite a bit cheaper than any of the others on sale, at only 78p for 500g.  

I haven't tried this, but it occurs to me that you could make this more of a main meal by omitting the bacon pieces, and instead burying a whole bacon joint in among the beans.  Then remove the joint at the end, carve it, and serve all together with a baked potato or oven chips.


serves 4-6

1 cup cooked chickpeas (about 1/2 cup dried, or 1 x 400g tin)
juice of 1 large lemon
4 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
salt and pepper

1) Using a food processor, puree the cooked chickpeas with the lemon juice.  For a smoother hummus, press the chickpeas through a fine sieve.
2) Add the tahini paste, the olive oil, the garlic and seasoning.  Blend until smooth.  Taste, and add more lemon juice if desired.
3) Put in a serving dish and pour on a little more olive oil.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley if desired, and serve as a dip for raw vegetables, or with pitta bread.

Day 50: The Television Licence

Today's saving: £145.50!  Frugal Win!!

Well sort of.  From one point of view anyway.

Yes - today has seen the long-awaited conversation with the television licence people re. the complicated situation of having a television, but not watching it. I expected a sucking-in of breath and a sharp lecture along the lines of, If you have a television, then you must ...  But manners at the licencing authority seem to have improved since the olden days.  The lady at the other end of the conversation (which was 'being recorded for training purposes' - yeah, right!) even apologised for sounding suspicious when she read me my righ ... ahem, explained the law to me.   Quite a contrast to the bombardment of letters I got in my early working days, with threats of fines, court, and home raids: letters which did not even list as an option the possibility that one could conceivably live without the darned thing.

Friend Nik, who is in the same situation, recounts a conversation she had with a nice boy at the other end of the line.  She explained the non-existence of the television, which he accepted without demure.  But then curiosity got the better of him.  "I understand that you don't have a television, he said.  "But can I just ask ...
   what do your chairs face?"      

Instead of television, and especially before the days of the internet, I made do with books.  I kept a record of all I read in my first year of working life, when I lived all alone in a strange city.  My first degree was in English Literature, but it had assumed that modern literature ended in 1945.  So I deliberately set out this year to catch up on the modern literary novel.  I read over 80.  I have never quite equalled that total since, mainly because I did actually develop a social life.  But still, it stands as an ideal.

So come, Mr Television Licence Man, and inspect my flat. I don't have to let you in, but if I don't, the letters start again.  Come, and see that the television receives no signal, that it is not connected to any satelite or cable, that it is not tuned in to any television stations at all.  Come, and see that the flat is full of books.

The weird thing is, although the television is almost permanently blank, my chairs still face it.  :-)

Today's Expenditure = £6.50  (I was disorganised, headed out early, and did not make a packed lunch.  This was breakfast and lunch.  What a waste.)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Day 49: Losing Weight, Yes I Am

Oh, it is nothing major.  Only that the clothes are just a smidgen looser, and the belt has had to be tightened one notch.  It may be the slowest weight loss since records began, but at least the cycle of weight gain and loss is trundling is very gently downhill.

I have tried the Weightwatchers thing before, with some limited but alas, temporary success.  I am a classic comfort-eater, and when I am down or stressed or just lacking in energy, I will wolf down a packet of chocolatge digestives without pausing to calculate the points value.

But do you know how much a small packet of chocolate digestives costs in my local corner shop?  £1.59!!  I may not care enough to count the calories, but I sure as hell care enough to count the pennies.  Therefore, there are simply no biscuits in the house.  Apart from a couple of packets of Oreos when they were on special offer at 49p, I have scarcely eaten a biscuit since the Year began.  If I want a biscuit badly enough, I have to bake some - and somehow, the effort of doing so seems to negate the attractions of eating them all in one go.  As my mother used to snap at us when we devoured the contents of her cake tin, There is no point baking for you all - you just eat it!

The other factor in this has been portion control.  We are just too used in the affluent west to massive plates of food.  A whole pizza?  In terms of calorie content, all we really need is a slice.  Likewise, I am all too fond of just piling the pasta into the pot, measuring 'by eye', and adding a little extra for good luck.  That usually works out at between 75g and 100g dry, which is a hearty plateful for a short lady.  But really, a portion of pasta need be no more than 50g, especially if it is being mixed in with a rich sauce.  So I have dug out the kitchen scales, and have been trying to stick to that.  A standard 500g bag of pasta ought therefore to make 10 meals, which if you go for the cheapest spaghetti works out at about 4p per portion.

I do still have some way to go.  Last night I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so that when I got home, the restraints were off, and I rustled up a huge bowl of pasta.  But I did stir in only half the bolognaise sauce instead of the whole tub, which I would definitely have done previously.  And no pudding. 

Nearly 50 days.  Let's see if by Day 100, the belt can be tightened another notch.

Total Expenditure: £13.51  (I had to buy a book from Amazon for my work - sadly, it wasn't available in any library here.)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Day 48: Lady Bountiful's Legacy

Without actually meaning to collect them as such, I have a fair number of delightful old books around the topic of cooking and/or housekeeping.  Some I have picked up in secondhand shops over the years, but quite a few of them were rescued from my grandmother's house when she moved in with my mother.  This includes the very wonderful 1001 Pudding Recipes from 1913, which I maintain would be better titled, 1001 Things to Do with an Apple

These books have taken on a new interest in my attempt to live without some of the more expensive modern commodities.  So much so, that I intend to profile some of them over the coming months, beginning with the grandmother of them all: Lady Bountiful's Legacy.

It sounds like a taudry novelette.  But, as it turns out, Lady Bountiful is the pseudonym of some busybody from the reign of Queen Anne, who was resurrected by an equally busy Victorian body as a vehicle for their musings on home economy.  This book was an ill-conceived 1881 Arithmetic Prize, "open to all the school" but clearly destined for some favourite girl, which was in the event won by my unfortunate great-grandfather.  According to its own subtitle, it is A Book of Practical Instructions & Duties, Counsels & Experiences, Anecdotes, Hints, & Recipes, in Housekeeping & Domestic Management.  Not unlike this Blog, in fact.

Anyhow, Lady Bountiful is a thoroughly annoying character and, I suspect, a man.  Nothing else could account for that peculiar mixture of utter confidence and total ignorance when it comes to housekeeping.  She knows nothing about everything, but spouts it anyway: Thirst, to prevent: In hot weather, eat plenty of fresh butter at breakfast.  Avoid drinking water as you would poison.  Alongside her antipathy to water, she has a worrying love of actual poisons: Chloride of lime has been found to be most effectual to rid a house of rats, mice, flies, wasps, and other similar annoyances. (She warns the housewife not to place this substance on her dresser, or the fumes will cause her china to lose its pattern!!)  Although entirely without medical training, she cites some thoroughly alarming remedies with the confidence of Dr Kildare: Creosote is said to be a remedy for sea-sickness.  (Note: DO NOT try this at home.)  Moreover, she gives credence to her madness by her own idiosyncratic interpretation of history, the recitation of increasingly gruesome anecdotes, and by peppering the narrative with the names of Famous Doctors whom we are obviously Supposed to Know.

That said, there may nevertheless be some useful things therein, and I intend gving it a more thorough read.  But for now I turn to the chapter Cookery for the Poor.  Be warned, that her recipes are vague to the point of being nonsensical, and much creativity may be needed to interpret them.  Nevertheless, having leafed past the recipes for  Sheep's Head Broth, and the disgusting-sounding Onion Porridge, I leave you with the slightly more palatable Rice Stew:

A red herring, or four ounces of lean bacon, cut in pieces; three onions; a few peppercorns, thyme, and parsley; boiled in three pints of water three quarters of an hour, with one pound of clean-picked whole rice.*  When it boils, set the pot by the side of the fire: the rice will swell, take up all the water, and become quite soft.  If properly done, it will weigh nearly five pounds, and will dine five men, as it frequently did in the year of scarcity, 1800.  If the rice is not sufficiently soft, add a little more water as it stands by the fire.

* yes, you are right, this makes no sense: do you boil the rice for three quarters of an hour, or just bring it to the boil and then let it sit?  I suggest frying off the fish or bacon, the onions, and the spices, then adding the water, rice, and thyme, and cooking until the water is absorbed.  Then stir in the parsley, and serve. 

Oh, and you might want to adjust quantities!

Today's Expenditure: 30p