Sunday, 31 July 2011

Day 29: Expensive, but Fabulous


Well, I always knew this would be the big one.  So I am not going to go on and on either trying to justify the expense, or wringing my hands about it.  It cost what it cost.  We saved what we could.  And it has been a great day.  :-)

9.30am: Tube Day Ticket = £6.60.  There is no avoiding this one.

Palace of Westminter from the London Eye
10.30am.  The London Eye!  This big wheel cost £18.60 each, though if you are more organised than we were, you can book online in advance and save 10%.  Then again, if you are feeling flush you can pay another £10 for a 'fast track' ticket that lets you jump the queues.  This is a piece of nonsense.  We were there early enough so that the queues weren't unreasonable, and as I have said before, the Frugalist must expect a little less convenience.  The views were fabulous.  I bought a fridge magnet - my one souvenir! - for £3.

12 noon:  we took a boat trip down the Thames to Greenwich!  This cost us £13 for a return, and lasted for an hour long both ways.  Compared to the £25 it would have cost us each for a historic bus tour, this seemed like good value, and was so lovely and relaxing after spending all yesterday on our feet.  The 'unofficial' commentary  from the operators was good value for money as well.

1pm: arrived in Greenwich.  A great choice of a destination. We landed at the stunningly beautiful University of Greenwich, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and now a World Heritage Site.  It surely has the best location of any university in the country.  It also allows plenty of free peeks inside.  What's more, Greenwich village is charming, with lots of cheap food available (we went to Marks and Spencers, where lunch cost me £2.80); there is a huge parkland which one can wander to one's heart's content; there is the Queen's House and the National Maritime Museum, both free entry; and there is the Royal Observatory on the top of the hill, with its free Astronomy Centre, which would keep older children entertained for a while.  We didn't see half of it, and it kept us going for 3 hours.  Fabulous

5pm: arrived back at Westminster Pier.  Wandered a little outside the Houses of Parliament, ate dinner (£5.80).

7.30pm: even more fabulousness.  Friend Claire and I cheered and sang along to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert £33 each.  Home afterwards, still singing a little.

And so to bed.  Goodnight, all.  I hope you agree it was a day well spent.

Total Expenditure: £82.80

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Day 28: Accommodation in London

Beit Hall, Imperial College
I am going to rhapsodise a little about our accommodation, because I think we have found one of the best deals in London.  That is not to say that it is cheap as such, but relatively speaking, it is very cheap indeed for central London and the height of the tourist season.

We are staying at Imperial College in South Kensington, which lets out its student rooms for short stays from July to September.  We have been given a perfectly adequate ensuite twin room, are entitled to a HUGE breakfast every morning, and because we booked online, we even have free access to the college swimming pool, sauna, and gymn.  All for £48.50 per night.  (I admit it: it hurts a bit.  But was all paid for while I was still earning.)

Another big advantage is the area.  South Kensington is not only elegant and lovely, but it has three great and free museums: the Victoria and Albert, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum.  Today we visited the Natural History Museum, whose interest for me was more in the architecture than in the exhibits.  I was charmed by the stone monkeys climbing the interior arches, and the pterodactyl grotesques peering down at the queuing crowds outside.  I was also delighted to purchase an elephant painting-by-numbers in the gift shop for only £4: a substantial-looking present for my 8 year old nephew come Christmas.  You gotta buy these things when you see 'em.

The old turbine hall at
the Tate Modern
We also took a Tube into town this morning, and had a wander round the Tate Modern: another free attraction.  (Unfortunately, their cafe is horribly expensive.)   I rather loved it, though I have no pretensions to artistry.  They also seemed to be very geared up to children, with plenty of activities for them to do.  We spent over two hours there, and left without seeing everything, as we were becoming very leg-weary indeed.   I also loved the Millennium Bridge, a footbridge which stretches between the Tate Modern and St Paul's, making it easy to wander from one to the other, and allowing for some stunning views of the Thames.  In fact, one of the main pleasures of London on a good day is simply walking around.

We did try to go into St Paul's Cathedral, but the entrance price for adults is now £14.50 each!  I know these places have massive overheads, and don't really blame them, but it does seem a shame that a church should be so closed off to poorer people.  Though again, I am not personally claiming to be poor: after all, we have allocated some money for a show tomorrow night, which will cost considerably more!  (Which shows where my rather shabby priorities lie.)  Actually, we could have come back to the Cathedral at a later time, and attended  a church service for free - perhaps the Choral Evensong which they hold at 5pm every weekday.  That way we would not only have seen the cathedral in all its glory, but also would have experienced it in the way it was meant to be experienced, with some sublime music to boot.  But Friend Claire wasn't too fussed, I have visited before, and the timing just didn't fit.
Friend Claire and I: Reflection Inception

So now I am back in my comfortable room, and blogging away quite happily, having purchased 3 days worth of internet access for only £5.  Add up all the spending, and it is rather nasty.  But still, it was a 'cheap' day considering what we could have spent, and so I am relatively content.  Tomorrow will be the biggie. 

Day Ticket for Tube: £6.60
Lunch: £4.10
Snack: £2.40
Dinner: £10 (splashed out a bit in a restaurant)
Gift for nephew: £4
Internet Access: £5

Total Expenditure = £32.10

Day 27: Off on Holiday

St Paul's Cathedral
It may seem that I have already had a holiday this month.  But that, I remind you, was work.  This is the real deal.  This is it for the year.

I am writing this from London.  It is years since I was in London.  A former job used to take me here quite often, but the last time was about 12 years ago.  So it is great to be back.  We are here for 4 nights, and then spending another 3 nights in Oxford before returning home.

The true frugalist would have avoided a holiday altogether, of course, even one of just a week in length.  I confess that I have cheated a little on this one, as the majority of it was paid for before the Year began.  Nevertheless, things have been done on a budget, and I am determined to stick to one.  It helps that Friend Claire, with whom I am holidaying, has a mortgage to pay off, and so has similar aspirations to frugality.

Accordingly, we have laid down one Frugal Holiday Principal, from which we are determined not to deviate: No Frittering.   We want to enjoy our holiday.  It would be a waste of money not to enjoy it.  So while we shall mostly content outselves with free museums and art galleries, etc. (of which there are plenty in London), we are happy to spend money if there is something we really want to do.  In particular, Friend Claire wants to go on the London Eye, and we both want to see a show. 

But what we shall avoid are the countless little careless expenses which add up and up.  No lattes while out and about.  No expensive cafe lunches.  No paying extra to be "fast tracked" on the London Eye.  The Special Exhibitions in the galleries and museums are not necessary, when there is so much else to see anyway.  No ice creams.  No postcards home, no souvenirs, no fripperies.  We shall take care of these pennies, and spend the pounds on the stuff that really matters.

We got off to a good start by sensible advance planning for the train journey.  We purchased the return ticket from Edinburgh to London back in June, and it cost us only £56 each.  (Buses take a whole day - we only have a week, and had to leave Edinburgh after 2pm, so this was not really an option.)  We also ate a hearty lunch before travelling, and took along for the journey a 49p packet of oreos, and some strawberries that had been in Friend Claire's fridge.  We remembered the bottles of water.  And when we got here at 8pm, we went foraging for food and found a fast food shop and dined remarkably well for £6.50. 

So this will not be a cheap week in the usual round of things.  But it will, hopefully, be a cheap holiday.  At any rater, as holidays in London go.

Total Expenditure: £12.59 (includes Tube ticket)

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Day 26: Electrical Troubles

That scream you heard echoing across the void last night?  It was I.

Two days ago, when microwaving my jam sponge pudding, I was in the hallway when I heard a funny noise.  It was a kind of subdued bang, like something had fallen over in a cupboard. I went through to the kitchen to find the pudding cooked and ready to eat, and that was that.

Then yesterday afternoon, I turned on the cooker to heat some milk.  Nothing.  The cooker was clearly dead.  But I was not daunted.  I turned to the microwave.  Again, nothing.  Turns out the bang I heard must have been the microwave gently exploding, and in doing so, it has shorted the cooker socket as well. 

Did you know that you can cook pasta in a slow cooker?  Well, you can.  When cooked, you can even mix it with bolognaise sauce, sprinkle some cheese on top, and sort of 'bake' it (although the cheese doesn't go nice and brown).  The landlord should get round to sorting the them soon, but it goes to show that the temporary loss of cooker and microwave could even prove quite useful in making me more imaginative in my use of the slow cooker.  Encouraged by the pasta success, I looked up a cookbook, and even found a recipe for chocolate peanut sponge pudding, which sounds fab and would use up the peanut butter the Americans bequeathed me.

So on reflection, this is not the disaster it seemed at first to be.  After all, the oven is one of the biggest users of electricity in the house, and I should ration my use of it more carefully.  For one thing, I need to find a way of adding an extra shelf, so that I can cook more than one item at a time.  And at the very least, I will save a couple of days of electricity useage.

I started this whole blog, as my tagline says, in an attempt to "make a virtue out of a necessity".  I am quite surprised by how phlegmatic I am being about the temporary loss of cooker and microwave.  It may be that my tagline philosophy is rubbing off on me even more that I expected.  Inconvenience?  You betcha.  Let's see what lessons I can learn from it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Day 25: Sponging

Well, it was only to the cinema with my mother.  But we have seen every single Harry Potter film together since they began ten years ago, and there was no way we were going to miss the last one.  It is part of my on-going attempts to keep her abreast of popular culture.

But what? you say.  Can this be?  Can there be space in a frugal lifestyle for trips to the cinema?

The short answer is yes, if one's mother is paying.  She forked out the £7.20 I needed so that she might have the pleasure of my company.  Which has sent me on something of a guilt trip, because one of the regrettable side effects of the whole frugality drive is that I have become a sponge.

I don't mean to be.  I am determined to pay my way, or at least to barter my services.  But people are nice, see, and they don't like to see me do without.  And so they buy me stuff.  I'll treat you to a coffee.  But I'm buying the pizza anyway.  This round's on me. 

I think it was Wittgenstein who said that there is no such thing as a free gift.  He argued that all gifts are part of a complicated human interaction of value and barter and exchange.  If I give a gift to you, I expect a gift of approximately the same value back.  Even if I think I don't think this, I soon know that I do when you present me with a fridge magnet in exchange for my chocolates and roses.  So even though my friends and family are being so very kind, nevertheless I am finding it impossible in myself to escape the rules of gift-giving.  For I am now in that terrible place - I am beholden to them.

Wittgenstinnian Angst

I am really struggling how to solve this one.  Maybe I need to insist more on the frugal options - no, I can't come to the cinema - but that means that they lose out too.  The Rowntrees foundation was right.  You need money not just for the basics, but to participate in society.  Society doesn't like you if your don't participate.

But I did repay my mother's generosity by buying her a cappuccino.  She loves cappuccinos.  Cleverly, I sent her to grab a table while I ordered it at the bar.  It was clever, because at the same time, I ordered a glass of tap water for myself.  The barmaid did not see my mother, so she thought both drinks were for me!  She even put ice and lemon and a straw in my water, so that when I carried it to the table, it looked to all the drinkers round about like a long G&T.  If my mother thought about it at all, she also probably thought that it was a G&T.  All potential social embarrassment thus averted!

Perhaps I just need to relax and let them enjoy being bountiful.  Buy them the occasional cappuccino.  Bake them a lot of cakes.

Total Expenditure: £1.90

Monday, 25 July 2011

Simple Guacamole

I have no doubt that there is a 'proper' guacamole recipe out there.  Most of the official ones seem to contain chillis and be quite complicated and spicy affairs.  However, I am quite fond of a simpler garlicky-lemony flavour, and don't tend to add too much heat to mine. 

Avocados can be expensive, but they aren't too bad at the moment.  I found a large one in Lidl for about 80p.  Lidl is also currently selling 4 unwaxed lemons for about the same price, though you could use bottled lemon juice if that is cheaper and more available.

serves 4 as an accompaniment

1 large ripe avocado, or two small
juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
pinch of salt and pepper
dash tabasco sauce (optional)
1 large tomato, chopped (optional, but nice, and makes the guacamole go further)

Cut avocado in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl.  Immediately mash with the lemon juice to stop discolouration.  Mix in garlic and seasoning, and then stir in the tomato.  

Serve in a sandwich, or as a dip.  (I ate mine with my falafels - fusion food!)

Ideally this should be served immediately, but I covered mine tightly with clingfilm, and it kept quite happily in the fridge for two days

Jam Sponge Pudding

The end result should look something like this!
Traditional pudding recipes ask you to cover and steam a pudding for about 1-2 hours.  Unless you have an Aga or something that is on anyway, this takes a great deal of fuel.  I suppose it could be done in a modern steamer - it might be worth a go.  However, I discovered some time ago that your basic "steamed pudding" also cooks beautifully in the microwave in only 3 minutes. 

This recipe is adapted from one of my most useful baking books: The Anniversary Cook-Book (sic) of the Dumfriesshire Federation SWRI.  That's the Scottish Women's Rural Institute to you and me, or simply, "The Rural".  The cookbook was a long-ago gift from an aunt, and what The Rural doesn't know about baking isn't worth knowing.

This recipe is easily halved.

serves 4-6

2 eggs, and their weight in margarine and sugar
5 oz self-raising flour
3 tbsp raspberry jam

Cream (beat together) the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.  
Add the beaten egg and the flour alternately to the creamed mixture.
Cut 1 tbsp of jam through the cake mixture, but not really mixing.  (you can omit this, and save a spoonful of jam)
Put the other 2 tbsp jam in the bottom of a greased pudding bowl.  Spoon the cake mixture on top.

To Steam: cover with greaseproof paper (make a fold in it to allow for expansion, and secure with string or an elastic band).  Steam for one hour.

To Microwave: cover with clingfilm or simply a plate, and microwave for 3 minutes only.

To serve, loosen the edges with a knife, then turn out onto a plate so that the jam drips down the side.  To achieve the heights of true comfort food, serve with custard!

Frugal Bolognaise

Serves 6-8

1lb (500g) minced beef
50g bacon bits (optional)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 medium courgette (zucchini), grated
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
salt and freshly ground pepper

Quick Prepare Method
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Combine all the raw ingredients in a large bowl.  Get your hand in there and squeeze them all together!
Place in a casserole dish, cover, and put in the oven.  Cook at 180C for half an hour, then turn down to 140C and cook slowly for another couple of hours.  
Remove and serve on rice or pasta.
Alternatively, use the slow cooker and cook on Low for about 4 hours.

Quick Cook Method
1) Using a large frying pan or ovenproof pot, fry off the bacon (if using), the onion, and the courgette until soft.  Use a little oil or bacon fat (the bacon bits might provide enough).  This will take around 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, and fry for another 2 minutes.  Remove from pan.
2) In the same pan, fry the minced beef until browned.
3) Return vegetables to the pan and stir in the tomatoes, the puree, the herbs, and the seasoning.  Simmer for around 20 minutes to reduce and thicken the tomato liquid.  Serve over pasta or rice.

Frugal Notes
The first rule of frugality is track down some cheapish minced beef.  It doesn't have to be top quality Steak Mince.  But at the same time, you don't want to go too cheap. (I have dark memories of the bag of frozen mince I bought once as a young student.  You had to pick the wee tubes out of it.)  But even so, minced beef is one of the cheaper meat options, if you compare it to a pork chop or a chicken breast.  What's more, you can bulk it out to make it go a whole lot further.  Lidl does a good quality Scottish Beef Mince, and other supermarkets and butchers may have their own decent offers. 

The other thing to look out for is some cheap cans of tomatoes.  Supermarket own brands are usually very cheap, if you aren't too fussed about the organic thing.  (I have seen them as low as 9p, though they all seem to be 33p now.)  Oddly enough, the chopped tomatoes are often more expensive.  As a young student, I learned to buy a can of Whole Plum Tomatoes, open it, and then swirl a knife around the can to produce the desired chopped effect!  However, in this case, I didn't use a can, because I had three over-ripe large tomatoes to use up.  I just chopped them roughly and put them all in, skin and seeds too.

A courgette (zucchini) is a marvellous thing for bulking out minced beef, as well as adding nutrition.  It grates easily by hand.  I am not fond of big chunks of courgette, but I can eat this recipe absolutely fine.  I have also served this to courgette-hating children, and they didn't even know they were eating it.  And of course, you can add all sorts of other vegetables.  Red peppers and mushrooms work particularly well.

Another way of making the meat go even further would be to prepare some dried kidney beans (follow the packet instructions precisely, or these can be poisonous), and turn the whole into a chilli with the addition of some dried chilli flakes or tabasco sauce.  This can be done on the second day of serving to ring the changes.

Lastly, a bolognaise can be made to go very far indeed, depending on how you use it.  Serve it like the Italians do: not piled up on top of your spaghetti, but stirred through.  Alternatively, stir some bolognaise sauce through some cooked penne pasta, place in a casserole dish, and top with a little grated cheese and some dried mixed herbs.  This can then be grilled for 3-5 minutes, or put in the oven for about 20 minutes.  This can be done with only a couple of tablespoons of the sauce, so that it goes absolutely miles.  It also freezes well.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Day 24: The Tyranny of the Use-By Date

My weeks are falling into a pattern.  I seem to be doing my main shopping on a Monday or Tuesday.  Therefore, at the beginning of the week, my fridge is delightfully full, and I have a free range as to what I cook and bake.

But then, by the following Sunday, things have become a little more constrained.  For the food which was purchased last week is now a week older, and so the imperative begins: the Food Which Must Be Eaten - now.

I read a magazine article once in which the writer bemoaned this tyranny.  Why must it be eaten? he asked.  Why must I obey my food?  Of all the things which demand our loyalty in this world, do we really have to do what our refrigerator tells us?

The short answer is Yes.  The Frugalist has no option.  The greatest sin of all is Waste.  And that is why the end of my weeks are taking on a regular pattern.  Sundays, I cook!

Accordingly, above this post, I am posting a number of recipes.  In particular, I had a pound of minced beef (bought for £1.50 in Lidl) sitting precisely on its Use-By date.  Of course, the great thing about cooking is that you thereby extend the expiry date by another three or four days, not to mention the freezing possibilities.  I also had some tomatoes going a little mushy, and a courgette going a little soft at one end.  Guess what I made!

The Return of the Cabbage
But I also have a confession.  Remember the savoy cabbage I bought in the first week?  Um ... well ... the thing is ... it is still there.  Or rather, one small wedge is still there.  And small though that wedge is, it packs a great deal of flavour, and it is a flavour that I do not particularly like.  I have been using it - honest!  But I just can't seem to get through it all.  And now it has gone limp, and is fit only for soup.  And I really don't want to eat it any more. 

I tell you, the cabbage is my nemesis.

Day 23: Television Substitutes

What to do when you have a cute little unconnected television complete with DVD player?  Why, watch DVDs, of course.  I have a collection of precisely 47, neatly categorised into Action/Thrillers, Quirky Comedies, Intelligent Dramas, Children's (sub-catgegory: Animation), and Far-Too-Violent-And-Nasty-But-Purchased-For-An-Academic-Paper-I-Had-To-Write.  (These last I watched out of the corner of my eye with the screams turned down and the subtitles on.)

I admit that compared to some collections, it is not extensive.  However, I pride myself on the quality of each and every entrant.  With the exception of the final category, they are a delight to watch over and over.  But my problem with films is that they are a delight to watch over only in the company of some other person.  For films are meant to be sociable experiences.  You are meant to be able to pause, go get some more nachos, have a toilet break, laugh at your companion when you catch them dashing away a tear, or, as in the legendary 1998 viewing of Elizabeth, spend half the film hiding in the kitchen and asking, "Can I come out yet?" 

In  short, films are no good for those lonesome evenings when one is all on one's ownio.  For that, one needs the iPlayer.

I freely admit that the iPlayer is not quite the same as having the whole range of cable TV at the press of a button.  But it is not a bad substitute.  The Frugalist knows she has to compromise on quality and convenience, which is what we pay our money for.  The journey will take longer by bus.  The cheaper shampoo will not be as luxurious as the more expensive one.  It's how it goes, and one is rewarded instead by the warm glow of virtue.

Some people mistakenly believe that you need a TV licence to watch BBC iPlayer, but this only applies if you want to watch the programme as it is airing.  If you try to do that, a warning box comes up and asks if you have a licence.  But if there is no warning box, then go ahead and watch it: you are not going to be caught out accidentally, and you are entitled to watch it absolutely free.  See here for confirmation.  And there are no such issues at all with the other channels.

This won't help people outside the UK (at least, I don't think it will - I'm guessing other countries will have their own versions).  But for those within, the links you need are:
Channel 4
Channel 5

Now excuse me while I catch up with The Killing.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Day 22: Fran's Happy Dance

Yes indeed.  Today I actually achieved one of these changes of mindset I have been talking about.   You know: the one where I am faced with a couple of choices, one of which is more attractive, but the other more frugal.  And I chose the more frugal one!!

*Fran does a metaphorical cartwheel, a literal one not happening any time soon.*

The scenario is simple.  A quick facebook conversation with Friend Rich, and we agree to catch up over coffee.  He knows about the frugality drive, and so his precise words were: "We can either go budget and meet in the (work) kitchen, or head to a cafe."

Well, a cafe sounded very nice.  So I began typing, and this is what I wrote: "Let's do the cafe thing.  I can stretch to a cup of coffee :)"  My finger hovered over "Enter".  And then I paused.  I remembered the bus/train incident, and the Abomination of Desolation that hitches its ride to the Chariot of Failure.  And I deleted what I had written and replied instead, "Kitchen it is, then.  I'll bring milk!"

Which is why I am now feeling very pleased with myself.  Friend Rich and I had a good and sociable chat, enjoyed some excellent coffee thanks to his cafetiere, and I also supplied some Oreos that were on special offer in the newsagent's.  (Ideally, I would have baked something, but I just didn't have time.)  The whole cost less than a half of the usual coffee price, and I have a goodly part of a pint of milk in my fridge to boot.  What is more, for the rest of the day, I have been basking in the summery warmth of smug self-satisfaction.

The Oreos, however, have been consumed in their entirety.

Total Expenditure: 89p

Friday, 22 July 2011

Day 21: Fun with Falafel!

The Falafel worked!  Yes it did!  It worked, and was delicious, and very very cheap!  I also have about 3 meals' supply left over.

So basking in my triumph, I am going to do nothing else today but post my recipe.  It is an adaptation of one that you can find here: Falafel Recipe - which is far more authentic, of course.  But mine suited me, and was also much lower in fat.

So here you are:

Falafel     (serves 4-6)

1 cup dried chickpeas
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp cumin
2 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
olive oil (preferably in a spray bottle)

1)  Soak chickpeas overnight in plenty of water.  Drain, add fresh water, and bring to the boil for about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat, and simmer for at least one hour.  (I used my slow cooker.)  Drain, and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. (3 days in my case!)

2) Roughly chop the onion and garlic, and add to the food processor with the chickpeas, cumin, flour, and and seasoning.  Whizz until the mixture forms a rough dry paste, and can be shaped with the hands.  (I had to do this in a couple of batches.)

3) Turn on the oven and preheat to 200 degrees celcius.  Spray the oil on a large baking tray.

4) With your hands, shape the mixture into balls around an inch in diameter, and space evenly on the baking tray.  The mixture makes about 24 balls. Or make them into burger shapes to use as vegeburgers.  Spray all the falafel balls with oil, and bake for half an hour until crisp on the outside and lightly browned.

Serve in pitta breads with lettuce, tomato, baba ghanoush, hummus, and/or thick natural yoghurt.  (Add some chopped mint leaves to the yoghurt, if desired.)  You could also shred some savoy cabbage instead of the lettuce!

Today's Expenditure: 70p

Day 20: A Birthday and a Great Day Out

Home on the Farm
Home to Mum!

I am very very lucky, because whenever I need out of the big city, my mother lives only an hour and a half away.  What's more, she still lives on the family farm, way out in the beautiful countryside of southern Scotland.  I had to go there late yesterday night after handing in the keys, because apart from anything else, I had to return to her sheds the garden tools that I don't need this year in the flat. Having a parent with a farm is a great advantage in the storage department!  It is also a great place for a relaxing break, which will be very valuable this year.

But the main reason for coming home is that my nephews and nieces are all there this week.  And today is the oldest's birthday!  So what can you buy a 15 year old boy for £5?

To be frank, he is at the age where he would prefer just the money.  He is into sports and computer games, and that is about it.  But I dislike giving cash or tokens.  With careful shopping, one can make a £5 gift seem like a £10 one.  But there is no disguising a mere £5 note.

Amazon to the rescue!   I managed to track down a wallet for his darts for £5.76, which is a slight overspend, but not too bad.  Add a 50p card from Tesco's, and the total comes to £6.26.

Today I also joined in with his birthday treat, which was a day out with all six children to Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire.  This is a rather gorgeous privately-owned stately home, which I have been coming to all my life.  It is not a cheap option - entry into the grounds alone cost me £5 - but once there, you can spend the entire day walking or cycling the grounds, wandering around the gardens, or playing in the huge and wonderful adventure playground, which doesn't seem to have any age restrictions!  We took a packed lunch with us, and so no cost to me in the food department.  So all in all, though the day cost my mother (as doting grandmother) a great deal, it cost me my £5 entry fee and nothing more.  But it has been a lovely day, and I don't regret that £5 one bit!

So I am home again, among my boxes and crates of books, and have just cleared my bed so that I can actually sleep.  Good night xx

Total Expenditure: £12.56 (gift + card + entrance fee + one bus fare)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Day 19: Moving Day

With apologies for the delay in posting.

Yes indeed - Moving Day has at least been and gone.  I am writing this, not in my new flat, but in the old house, which I have been hoovering and cleaning before handing in my keys for the last time.  It is now 9pm.

The day started at 7am, when after only about 2 hours sleep, I got up, showered, and then dismantled my bed.  Friend Nik had also stayed over, so we sorted out the last of the packing, and took a few items to the town dump.

The removal men arrived about 11am.  I used these guys:
They are the same people that I have used four times now, and they are very good value for money.  I don't have enough stuff to justify a full professional house-removal van, so these guys with their wee truck were ideal.  The first time I needed some men and a van, I went through Yellow Pages and phoned around, and theirs was the best quote.  They are still as cheerful and as reasonably-priced as ever. 

By 4.30pm, all the stuff was in the flat.  It is going to take an age to sort everything out, but that is a task for another day.  This day I had to get straight back in the car and go back to the house for some final cleaning.  This has now been achieved, and it is time to head for my mother's house for the night.

As you would expect, this has not been a cheap day.  I had some money set aside for the move, so it is not as painful as it looks, although I still list the cost here.  But I also had to fill up the car with some petrol, and buy in a ready-meal for my dinner in an empty house.  Hopefully this will be the end of such irregular days, and I can now settle into a routine in which frugality is more achievable. 

That's all for now, because I am very very tired.  Goodbye, little house - you have been a happy home. 

Petrol = £15.03
Food, etc = £3.19
Removal Van = £420.00
Council Parking Charge for Van = £40.00
Car Parking = £3.50
Total Expenditure = £481.72

Day 18: The Kindness of Friends

With apologies for the delay.  I have been moving house ...

The time has come at last for me to move out of last year's house and into this year's flat.  The removal men are coming tomorrow, which means that this evening has seen the last of the packing.  With the kind help of Friend Claire, I have already done a fair bit: my collection of books are safely stashed in 19 different boxes, and I had wrapped all my ornaments and other bits and pieces.  So I had assumed that all I had to do was fling my clothes and stuff into some black bin liners.  Ladies and Gentlemen - I Was Wrong.

There was tonnes still to do.  Where did all the stuff come from?  I remember when everything I owned fitted into the back of my Volkswagen Polo.  Heck, I remember when it fitted into one suitcase.  I don't see myself as an obsessive accumulator of stuff, but a few little nick-nacks bought here and there have mounted up so that they now fill a whole large van.  Granted, I still own less than most people my age, mainly because I have mostly lived in rented furnished accommodation, and so haven't accumulated any white goods or sofas.  But when I think back to my carefree youth, I am a little horrified by how much I seem to have bought into the capitalist dream.  I think this Year of Living Frugally will be a very good exercise in minimal spending, to see if I can't break myself out of the buying habit.

All this is why I have been very grateful this evening for the presence of Friend Nik, who predicted better than I that this would be a big job.  She has come down with me to last year's house and has been wrapping crockery in newspaper for the entire evening, while I have darted from room to room packing away office equipment and coathangers.  She has also kindly provided much food, although we have also been eating the contents of the freezer.  Most particularly, she has provided chocolate.  This is probably why I now have indigestion, but having been chocolate-free for three weeks now, this has been much appreciated. 

Yes indeed.  The kindness of Friends Nik and Claire is already making this year a whole lot nicer.  And cheaper.  And best of all, it is something I can return.  Along with some home-made cake.  I think it is the least that the two of them deserve.

Total Expenditure: £2.50

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Day 17: Flavours from the Near East

A couple of months ago now, I spent a working week in and round about Jerusalem.  It was an amazing week, an amazing city, and amazing land.  But I am not here to rhapsodise about that, although I certainly could.  I am here to rhapsodise about its food.

Everywhere we went, we ate pretty much the same thing: hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush, pitta breads, and all sorts of little dishes of this and that.  I lived on this stuff for a week,  and I never once got sick of it.  Even more importantly for present purposes, it was most wonderfully cheap. 

So what to do upon my return but try to recreate some of these dishes?  Hummus, for example.  It is ruinously expensive in the supermarkets - at least £1 for one little tub.  There has to be a cheaper way.

Now, I have actually made hummus before.  It was for a church social to which I had to bring along a savoury dish designed to feed four.  I followed a Jamie Oliver recipe that time, loading the required amount of dried chickpeas into my slow cooker and soaking them over night.

Disaster!  There must have been something wrong with the quantities listed, because the chickpeas swelled and overflowed (overflew??) my little slow cooker.  Twice.  The mass of them just kept swelling and growing and oozing across the kitchen counter like a monster from a 1950s horror movie.  I did finally succeed in cooking the chickpeas in a very large pot, after which I whizzed them (in about 10 batches) in the food processor, and then added the tahini, lemon juice, and garlic.  The result was unutterably bland.  At this point I knew for sure that the quantites were all messed up, and emptied an entire bottle of lemon juice into the mixture along with a full bulb of crushed garlic.  This resulted in a dish that was faintly flavoursome.  But it had to do.  Off to the church social I went with a portion that would have fed 12 hearty eaters, leaving at least the same proportion behind in my fridge.  It took me a fortnight to work my way through it.

This time I am hoping for a more limited success, but tahini is proving difficult to find, and so the hummus is on hold until I track some down.  However, I did turn an aubergine into baba ghanoush this evening.  Ideally it should contain tahini too, but the BBC recipe didn't list it.  It should have.  The end result was passable, but nothing like the wonderful delicacy I ate in Jerusalem - so I think I will have to keep experimenting there.  Once I perfect the recipe, I will post it.  I am also soaking a small quantity of chickpeas, with the aim of trying my hand tomorrow at falafel.

In terms of cost, I spent a half hour in Tesco's recently, darting excitedly around their World Foods aisle.  For this is what I discovered:

That there are in this world people like me who dabble in a little Indian or Middle Eastern cooking here and there.  They can pick up a Tesco's own 500g bag of dried chick peas for 78p.  But if you actually are Indian or Middle Eastern, then chances are that a wee 500g bag of chick peas isn't going to take you very far.  So Tesco has introduced in its World Foods aisle a whopping great 2kg bag of chickpeas for only £2.39.  That is a saving of 73p!  Granted, it will probably keep me in falafels for an entire year, but that's okay.  What's more, the World Food aisle also has massive bags of spices, such as a 400g bag of paprika for only £1.69.  You would have to buy 8 jars of Tescos own paprika to equal that, at a total cost of £5.52.  I am not sure that I would ever use such a quantity of paprika, but it might be worth sharing out among friends, for example.  Because I resent these wee jars! 

So anyway, there's my frugal tip for the day: check out Tesco's World Food aisle.  And maybe other World Food aisles in other supermarkets.  While chickpeas take over my kitchen.

Total Expenditure: £12.21 (on enough food to last me for a fortnight or, in the case of the chickpeas, for a year.)

Day 16: The Gain, and then Loss, of a Television

At exactly midnight last night, my television switched itself off.

Now, this television is not mine.  It comes with the accommodation, and is a very nice little flatscreen television indeed.  I have been thoroughly enjoying it for the last few days.  It is a lovely thing to come home from work, make oneself a cabbage-themed supper, put up one's feet and watch an episode of CSI. (The first and original, of course, and not one of the appalling offshoots.)

However, until I moved into this flat, I have lived without a television for four years.  This is a statement which often brings an incredulous response - What?? - as if I have somehow put myself beyond the pale of civilised society.  But while I was doing my doctorate, I truly didn't have the time to watch it.  Besides, what with iPlayer these days, I can usually catch up with anything I am desperate to see, albeit a day or so late.

But even just for a couple of weeks, it has been nice to have one.  It would be nice to keep one.  It would be very nice indeed.  But television has to be the luxury of luxuries, the entertainment equivalent of empty calories: I don't need it, and therefore can't afford it.  Besides, a TV licence is now £145.50 a year, and there is no way I can justify that sort of money. 

The licence for the flat is paid up until 7th August, and I was bracing myself for the big switch-off on that date.  But now the television has switched itself off.  I suspect that my predecessors had cancelled their cable when they left, and it has now come into effect.  Of course, there must be some way I can access the normal channels, but I am dashed if I can work it out. 

So the end has come sooner than expected.  I am trying not to be sorry.  I am formulating a plan to check out the local library for DVDs, and to rediscover the joys (so lost during a PhD) of reading for pleasure.  But I shall miss CSI.  And The Killing.  And Have I got News for You.  And QI.  And Help, My House is Falling Down.  And The Dog Whisperer.  And Judge Judy.  And Bargain Hunt.


Saturday, 16 July 2011

Day 15: Trains

I didn't manage to post yesterday, as I was too tired and ever so slightly depressed.  For I have to report a frugality fail. A fail which was entirely my own fault.

For reasons connected with work, I had to take a day trip to Newcastle.  Now, Edinburgh to Newcastle is a very easy journey.  It is a mere matter of hopping on a train, and the whole journey takes only an hour and a half.  So I went straight to, which is the best place I have found for buying cheap tickets.  Had I been more than a day in advance, they would no doubt have been cheaper, but as it was, I managed to get a return for a painful but not unreasonable £39 - even saving about £6 in the process.

No sooner had I hit "Confirm" than something else hit me.  Not literally, of course: that would probably have been fatal.  For the thing that hit me was a bus. 

A bus!  So conditioned am I by my pre-frugality days that I had gone straight for the train option, and had never even considered a bus.  With an air of futility, I turned to and searched for bus tickets for the same journey.  And sure enough, they would have come in at £21.  Almost half the price.  Certainly, the journey would have taken an hour longer, but that would have been okay.  And so I had a comfortable and speedy journey there and back again, but have wasted £18.  £18 would have fed me for over a week.

More and more I am realising that frugal living is as much about mindset as anything.  In the first place, I have to get into the habit of asking, Do I really need this?  And if the answer is yes, then my second question and natural follow-up has to be, What is the full range of my options?  Until I retrain my brain to remember that I truly cannot spare this money, I will continue to throw away pounds on the more luxury option.  The old saying may be correct, Look after the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.  But what is the point of looking after the pennies and living on the same savoy cabbage for two whole weeks, if I don't first and foremost look after the pounds?

So I have fallen.  Nothing to do now but get back on the frugality bicycle and pedal for all I am worth.

Total Expenditure: £40.95

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Day 14: Things that have worked!

Yes, it is report-back time.  I have previously detailed in these pages a couple of little experiments I have been conducting, and enough time has now elapsed that I can report on their results.

First of all, the Smelly Shoes Experiment.  If you recall Day 10, I dusted these with Bicarbonate of Soda, and then froze them.  Result = Success!  When they came out of the freezer, they were practically odour-free.  Having worn them since (without stockings), they have regained a certain fragrance, but nothing like before.  I am therefore predicting that this is a process I will need to repeat at intervals.  But at least it works.

However, there is one downside.  When one puts one's bare feet into bicarb-dusted shoes, and then one's feet proceed to sweat as usual, the result is that the sweat mixes with the bicarb residue to form something of a paste.  This paste then dries to one's feet, so that upon extracting them from the shoes, they are encrusted with an unpleasant-looking white substance.  What is more, this white substance renders the soles of one's feet really rather slippery when stepping into the shower. 

But what ho!  A minor problem afflicting the first day of wear only. 

Secondly, the Soup Pot Experiment.  Back on Day 5, I described how my book of rationing recipes contained a recipe for a kind of continuous stock pot, consisting of various root vegetables and bacon rind.  The idea was to bring it to the boil every day and take out whatever stock you needed.  It looked like it was meant to last several days, if not actually be continuously replenished.

Result= Success.  At least, if one defines success as no onset of what we shall euphemistically call "tummy troubles".  (Which seems like a pretty sound definition of 'success' to me.)  After chopping and freezing all the bacon bits, I stuck the quite copious amounts of rind  in a pot with a bit of onion, and boiled it up.  I did this for the next four days: boiling it briefly and then letting it cool.  I didn't even refrigerate it in between, but just left it sitting on the cooker.  Then yesterday I used it.  First, I skimmed off what little fat there was: it is now in the fridge and will be used later for frying or pastry.  (I understand this fat pretty much lasts indefinitely.)  And then I strained it and used the entire stock to make lentil soup.  It needed a fair amount of extra salt, and I probably should have added some bacon bit to the soup as a whole, but basically, it worked.  The soup was healthy, and so am I.

Success indeed. :D

My next experiment is to see if I can't make my own washing powder, which means tracking down some rather strange ingredients according to a recipe I have found online.  It will also be telling if the end result is cheaper or not than a decent brand-name powder.  Has anyone else out there ever done this?

Today's Expenditure: £0.00

Day 13: Chocolate Cravings, and the Lack Thereof

Almost two weeks in, and I am quite astonished by the actual lack of chocolate cravings.  Considering that I used to get through at least a couple of bars a day, I was expecting withdrawal symptoms along the same lines as the cola ones.  But so far, nothing. 

Maybe it is because of all the wholesome food I am eating.  I really haven't been as hungry as usual.  But I admit it - the lack of desire for Dairy Milk may also have been helped by copious helpings of chocolate pudding.

Yes indeed.  Last Saturday, while using up the eggs, I made a chocolate pudding.  I actually doubled the quantities, because the original only used one egg, and I needed to get through more.  And it turned out huge!  It would have fed 12.  I have had to freeze some of it.

It strikes me that keeping a small supply of pudding is a very sensible move.  This recipe may be quite high in sugar and fat, but a portion genuinely fills one up, and so it is not 'empty calories' in quite the same way as a bar of chocolate.  It is also entirely natural and wholesome.  Pudding is also true comfort food, unlike these fluffy little desserts that never satisfy.  And the whole frugal project will be that much more bearable with a few treats along the way.

Recipe posted below!

Today's Expenditure (bus fares and one bread roll) : £3.41

Chocolate Sauce Pudding

This pudding starts with the sauce on the top, which in the course of baking sinks to the bottom.  Very nice with cream or ice cream.

This is the original recipe, but I cut the sugar by a third, and it still worked fine.  I also used drinking chocolate for the topping, and omitted the sugar here.

If using a food processor, cream the margarine, sugar, and egg all together.

serves 4-6 hearty portions

2 oz margarine
1 egg
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar
1.5 cups hot water
1.5 tbsp cocoa powder

Cream margarine and sugar.  Add egg and beat well.  Fold in flour and cocoa alternately with milk.
Place mixture in a greased ovenproof dish.  Mix together sugar and cocoa and sprinkle over mixture.  Carefully pour hot water onto the mixture, over the back of a spoon.
Bake in a moderate oven (c.180 degrees) for 35-40 minutes.

For Butterscotch Pudding, omit the cocoa from the cake mix.  Gently boil together 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1.5 cups water, and 2oz butter for 5 minutes.  Pour over mixture and bake as above.

For Blackberry Pudding, omit cocoa from cake mixture.  Open a small tin of blackberries and pour entire contents, including juice, over the cake mixture.  The berries sink through the mixture as it bakes, and the juice forms a sauce at the bottom.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Day 12: A Summer of Birthdays

I am the proud aunt of six nieces and nephews.  They range in age from seven to fourteen.  But very soon indeed, they will range in age from eight to fifteen.

This is because my sisters managed to time things so that five out of the six have their birthdays all within a couple of months.  When one niece turns eleven tomorrow, that is the start of a summer of birthdays.  A challenge for any frugalist.

Grown-ups, you see, understand things.  They understand that I am strapped for cash, and are generally content with a thoughtful 'wee minding', as my Gran used to say.  And even if they are slightly huffed, at least I won't eternally damage their self-esteem.

Children, however, measure your love by your present.  My presents over the years have been a visible, tangible sign of my adoration.  Not that they have ever been particularly expensive or large, but I have tried to target them appropriately.  I have not always succeeded.  Well do I remember forking out more than the norm one Christmas on a Barbie Duvet Cover, only to have my then 6 year old niece sidle up to me and whisper hopefully, "Auntie Frannie, have you bought me just one present?"

So what shall the Frugal Aunt do?  How shall she remain both Frugal and Favourite?

Careful shopping is required.  I have set a budget of £5 per child, not including the card.  And here is what I have found so far.

You can easily spend over £2.50 on a card.  Avoid the big card stores and the classy crafty ones.  Marks and Spencer sell lovely big cards for £1.  Barnardos - and possibly other charity shops as well - sell nice cards for about 75p.  Even cheaper, check out your local bargain book store, where I got two very pretty ones for £1.  Best of all, Tescos is currently selling cheerful cards for 25p, perfectly suitable for children.

Presents for an 11 Year Old Girl
If yours is the kind of niece that loves pink sparkly stuff, then your task is easy.  Just go into any Claire's Accessories shop, and buy anything.  However, my niece, an unusual child, isn't too fussed about pink sparkly stuff, but does love sudoku and craft work.  The bargain book store came up trumps, with a neat little £2.99 box of sudoku puzzles, which had originally retailed at £6.99.  In fact, such shops are very good shopping locations generally, with plenty of colourful picture books for younger children, and other nice gifts such as glossy gardening or cook books.

Meanwhile, Hobbycraft is selling small craft projects that are great for slipping in with a card.  For example, this pom-pom chicken family costs only £1.49, or for the same price you could buy a small scraper foil kit.  There is also a option of cute little pom-pom kitten or dog keyrings, for £1.99. My niece is more than capable of making these herself, and would spend a happy couple of hours putting them together.  A small but thoughtful present.

So all told, in my case, my niece's birthday has cost me £5.48. 
Add that to the bus fare for today, and some food shopping, and today's expenditure is £14.36

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Day 11: Shampoo and Capers

When I moved in last week, my new flat had an air of the Marie-Celeste to it.  Jars of half-eaten mayonnaise; wilting house plants demanding immediate attention from a less-than-competent nurse; and a DVD still in the DVD player, which had me briefly worried, emblazoned as it was with a large red heart and displaying no title.  It turned out to be Love Actually, which shows that I was right to be worried.

The whole effect is as if my predecessors have just popped out for a morning paper, rather than moving back to America after two years.  Naturally, they did not want to take anything with them beyond a couple of suitcases, so they just packed their bags and left, kindly bequeathing to me the entire contents of their larder, bathroom shelves, and medicine cabinet.

This is why I have been frantically baking to use up the eggs they left behind.  But beyond perishables, they have also left lots of flour and baking goods, a goodly supply of tea, various oils and condiments, and a few oddities such as an easy pannacotta mix and more fish sauce than I can use in a year of Thai cooking.  There is even a freezer drawer full of frozen vegetables.  Frugality Win!

However, the downside of all this bounty is that I have had to hunt rather stickily through the lot and throw out anything too badly out-of-date, or simply dodgy-looking.  Also, I will never ever eat a jar of capers, not even if all other foodstuffs were wiped out in a nuclear holocaust.  In such an event, they and the cockroaches are welcome to one another.  But at the end of this clearout, I have been left with a good stock of food basics, and I am heartily grateful for such American generosity.  Although they could have cleaned the flat a little more.

However, inheriting the life-style of strangers in this fashion has left me a little puzzled by their habits, even if the mystery DVD was in the event entirely innocuous.  For example: ranged on the bathroom shelf at the foot of the bath are - get this! - nine different bottles of shampoo.  Each one of them is a different brand or scent, and two are accompanied by a conditioner.  And what's more, these are no remnants: each bottle is about half full.  This is wonderful for me, and puts off the cheap shampoo search until at least Christmas.  
But nine??  What was going on there?  There were only two of them living in the flat.  Did they have a different shampoo for each day of the week, and with a couple on the side for when they felt like ringing the changes?  And on a related matter, who in their right mind would pair a minty Alberto Balsam Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo with an Alberto Balsam Sunkissed Raspberry Herbal Conditioner?  I tried it, and my hair smelled like an antiseptic pavlova.

I realise as I write this, that by my own account, even trying the combination makes me not quite in my right mind.

Ah well.  Who can penetrate the mysteries of the human heart?  Or even of the human DVD collection?

Monday, 11 July 2011

Day 10: Smelly Shoes

Just a quick post today.  On an unpleasant topic.

My shoes stink.

It's my own fault. They were a cheap pair, obviously very synthetic.  But they are neat and professional-looking, and have been very comfortable.  And that is a rare thing for me, because I have appallingly awkward feet: a seriously high instep combined with what my mother calls 'hammer toes', and an extra-wide fitting.  (I also have double-jointed big toes, but that's another story.)  Long ago I resigned myself to spending over-the-odds on shoes, because the alternative is such a false economy.  But this pair was an exception to the rule.

So I have been wearing them fairly constantly over the last couple of months.  With nylon stockings.  Now the smell has got to the point that when I take them off, it fills the room.

The Heroic and Humble Bicarb
Now, buying a new pair is not an option.  Even a pair of insoles costs money - though it may yet come to that.  So I have been seeking solutions.  My first attempt has been bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).  I use this already to keep the fridge smell-free, and it seems to work.  (Just sit an open tub in a corner of the fridge.)  So yesterday I sprinkled a teaspoon in each shoe and swished it around.

And d'y'know, it seems to be working.  At least, it is working a little bit.  The smell no longer fills the surrounding airspace.  But close up (i.e., nose in shoe), and it is still pretty rank.

Something more drastic was clearly needed.  So I did some googling, and was gratified to see that my first instinct of Bicarbonate of Soda was a good one.  The other suggestion I found was to freeze the shoes for a few days in order to kill the bacteria that make the smell.  It sounds sensible - a few days in a freezer would kill me as well. Therefore, my shoes are currently in a plastic carrier bag and lurking in the bottom drawer, the frozen bacon bits having first been transferred.  I can hang around in my sandals for a few days, this being summer and all.

The ideal result will be entirely smell-free.  But I will settle for mildly musty.  And if anyone has any other suggestions, please let me know.

Total Daily Spend = £0.00

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Cabbage and Pasta Bake

Serves 2-3


150g pasta (spaghetti is cheapest; macaroni or penne work best)
1/4 small savoy cabbage
1/2 leek
50g bacon
splash vegetable oil
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional, but they add a nice heat)
50g cheese
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs


Boil the pasta.  Meanwhile, shred the cabbage and chop the leek.  Dice the bacon and throw into the frying pan with a little extra vegetable oil, a few grinds of pepper, and the chilli flakes, if using.  Stir fry for about 4-5 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour into the frying pan, and stir to coat the contents.  Then add the milk and the drained pasta, and stir all together.  The flour and milk will make a light sauce which coats the pasta.

Turn into a casserole dish.  Grate the cheese and sprinkle on top.  Sprinkle the dried herbs lightly over the cheese. Bake at around 180 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Day 9: No Waste!

Remember the cabbage from last week?  Well, I open the fridge this morning, and there, seven days after I bought it, it is frowning at me in judgement.  What's more, it had company up there on its moral high ground: the remains of the  leek, now slightly dried round the edges, and also 5 eggs left to me by my predecessors in the flat, and the 1lb of bacon that I bought last Saturday. 

One of the principles of the frugal kitchen simply has to be No Waste.  I was seriously distressed yesterday to find on my return that the remnant of milk in the fridge was halfway to being cheese.  Had it just been a day or so over date, I could have used it in a scone or a soda bread.  But the thing must have been on its Use-By date even on the day I brought it.  Note to self: check these things when you buy them at the local cornershop.

But now I had cabbage, leek, eggs, and bacon either to use or to store.  I invented a pasta bake for the first two (recipe listed separatedly), then spent half the evening dicing the bacon.  Rather than freeze it all in a clump, I spread the dice out on a couple of baking trays and froze them for about an hour before putting the dice into freezer bags.  There is nothing like bacon for adding flavour, and so I now have a ready supply for the next month or so.  Seriously, I am so impressed by this Lidl bacon bargain. All this flavour for only £1.50!

What's more, the rind is even now boiling in some water on the cooker, so that the whole flat smells of bacon!  My hope is that, as Marguerite Patton's Soup Pot suggests, I can use the water as a stock.  It would work well with lentil soup, I should think.  If I am lucky, fat will also form on the top,which I can skim off and use as dripping for making pastry or frying.  

As for the eggs, they were a day out of date.  So I used my mum's old trick of putting them in a bowl of water.  If they lie flat at the bottom of the bowl, they are fresh.  If they float completely, they are rotten.  But if - like these - they half-float, but with one end still touching the base of the bowl, they are still okay to use.  So I made a chocolate pudding!

So, extremely well fed, but with a kitchen like a bomb has hit it, I am sitting with my feet up and watching the last of my television before the licence runs out next month.  I'll worry about the dishes tomorrow.

Total Daily Expenditure: £1.30  (milk and 2 x bread rolls)

Day 8: Tipping and Other Lost Monies

As I feared, there is no internet access at this conference centre.
The following pages were written daily, however, and uploaded all at once

I fear that I am failing the frugality test. Okay, so over the last five days, I have spend precisely 5.50 euros and £2 of my own money. Which isn't too bad, all things considered. But here's the thing – I should have spent nothing. In other words, I have spent just over £6 that I did not have to spend. I made 8 portions of soup for a quarter of that!

But I was thirsty one evening, and instead of asking for tap water at the little bar at the conference centre, I found myself ordering a Holunder Bionade (a fizzy cranberry juice, to you and me). And then last night, I not only bought myself another Bionade, but found myself saying, “Would you like something to drink?” to a colleague. I actually also said it to a third person, as was only polite, but luckily he declined. Nevertheless, that was 3 euros more. And the rest of the money went on tips – tips! - to two taxi drivers.

The trouble is, to do this properly, I am going to have to become downright mean. No more rounds in the bar. No more tips to taxi drivers or waitresses or hairdressers, even if someone else is paying for the rest. Luckily, in the UK, you don't have to tip. It is not required, and not necessarily even expected. But it is a nice and a polite thing to do if the service has been good, and I have been brought up to be nice and polite. I see that I am going to have to cultivate a certain hardness of heart.

But perhaps there is hope for me. I am writing this in the airport at D├╝sseldorf (no drinking fountains here - Amsterdam wins!), and they have a book shop with a nice big section of English crime novels. I had a good browse to pass some time, and saw quite a few that I want to read. Crime novels, you should know, are my trash of choice. But I want you to know and admire this, for this is a true and faithful account:
D├╝sseldorf Airport



Thank you.

Total: £5 

Day 7: Free Stuff

As I feared, there is no internet access at this conference centre.
The following pages were written daily, however, and uploaded all at once.

Today at the conference we made candles :/ (Yes, it is that kind of conference!) To be more precise, we didn't actually make the candle as such: rather, we were each given a white candle and some sheets of coloured wax and told to decorate the candle with something meaningful and our birth date. (Darn it - now you all know.)

So here is a picture of my candle. I did it rather hurriedly, and didn't take the time to trace shapes or cut out neatly like others did - but even so, I am quite proud of the end result. 

And the best part is, not only do we get to keep our candle, but we get to keep the coloured wax sheets too! Which means I now have a stock of free coloured wax. Add that to some cheap candles from Ikea, and with a little care, I can make some personalised gifts. And who doesn't like personalised gifts? They say 'care', they say 'time', they say 'love'.

They say 'cheapskate'.
Home tomorrow, arriving late.

Yours creatively,
Fran xx