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. :)

Gingerbread

makes c.24 slices (3lb gingerbread)

Ingredients
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

Method
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.


Notes
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

Ingredients
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

Method
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)
Falafel
Quiche
Focaccia 
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

Ingredients
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

Method
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.


Notes
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.

Hummus

serves 4-6

Ingredients
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

Method
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

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Day 47: Car Woes

What to do with the car?

Here's the thing.  The car has been essential for work for the past few years.  There is every chance that it will be essential again.  But this year, it is not essential.  In fact, living where I do right in the centre of town, it is downright inessential, and would not be particularly safe if parked here.  Instead, it has been lodging at Friend Nik's house just outside town, from where it is pressed into occasional service.

However, even cars which are doing very little still cost a lot of money.  Especially, in my case, at the end of August.  First its MOT.  Then a full service.  Then AA membership.  Then Insurance.  Then Road Tax.  There is no way of saving on any of this, and the total is going to be something approaching £800.  I got rid of my last car at the 12 year stage, when it started costing more in repairs than a monthly repayment plan on a newer model, and I am afraid that this car may have reached the same stage.

I am not extravagent when it comes to cars.  I have only ever owned two in my life, both of which were 4 years old when I bought them.  My current one is now 11 years old, and on the whole still runs well.  But there is no doubt that it is showing its age, and has sadly failed its MOT until the garage can sort out a list of fairly minor problems, but which taken together mount up considerably. 

Yeah, right.
I have considered getting rid of the car altogether.  There is no doubt the money would be useful.  But looking ahead a little, without one to trade in, the purchase of the next one will be that much more painful.  And if I was going to sell it, I should have done so before now.  Now that it is (of necessity) being serviced, taxed, and MOT'd, I may as well keep the thing for another year. 

So for now the garage has it, and I had to take the bus back from the farm to the town.  It was a later bus than I meant to take, because the online timetable was wrong, and I got soaked waiting half an hour for one which had left 10 minutes before I arrived.  One of only four buses a day, mark you.

Am depressed now. 


Total Expenditure: £9.15

Day 46: Cleaning Windows

If you knew my mother, it would come as no surprise that her best frugality tips are all to do with cleaning.  I have been picking her brains this past day or so, and the first tip that came to her mind was to do with the cleaning of windows.

Mother is a fanatical cleaner of windows.  Well, she is a fanatical cleaner all round, but the thing about windows is that they often get overlooked even when the rest of the house is sparkling.  I remember when I lived in a lovely little cottage in the south-west of Scotland.  Knowing that my parents were visiting the next day, I cleaned for all I was worth.  The house was sparkling.  The garden was neat and weed-free.  Even the edges of the lawn were trimmed.  Then, when my mother arrived, she fell into a kind of despondency, for there was nothing for her to do.  Fortunately for her sense of usefulness, she eventually established that I had not washed the windows, and proceeded to do so, and so the proper mother-daughter hierarchy was restored.  I learned from that occasion always to leave one task undone when she was visiting - usually the edges of the lawn!

In my previous house (not the quaint little cottage, but a modern bungalow with huge picture-windows), the window cleaner turned up monthly and charge £8 a time.  It occurs to me therefore, that cleaning the windows oneself would be a good saving.  They don't actually need done monthly in my opinion - the window cleaner was milking it a bit there - but maybe they should be tackled about once every three months. Forget fancy window-cleaning solutions: there is nothing wrong with a sponge, hot water, and good old-fashioned washing up liquid for the initial wipe over, especially for the outside.  If the windows are large, there is probably no alternative to investing in proper window-cleaning sponges- and wipers-on-a-pole, but these have to be cheaper than £8 a month.

Alternatively, I have heard it suggested that you can use windscreen wash as is usually designed for cars.  Seemingly, it is pretty much the same stuff as the kind you buy in spray bottles for glass and mirrors, but much much cheaper.  Dilute according to instructions, and apply as you would soap and water (but maybe wear rubber gloves for this).  I have never actually tried this on windows, but from what it does on cars, I imagine it should dry fairly streak-free, and you may not need to do much more by way of polishing.

However, if you stick to the cheaper water-and-soap method, you will definitely need to do some polishing. For this, my mother swears by a new discovery: the E-cloth, which I can confirm really does work.  But if the budget doesn't quite stretch to this, then there is a yet cheaper solution.  Dilute about 1 part distilled white vinegar in 6-8 parts water (this site has some useful instructions).  Spritz it on the glass with a spray bottle, or just wipe it over with a separate cloth.  Then grab a handful of crumpled newspaper, and dry the window with it.  This was an old trick from my waitressing days that we used to use on the glass doors in the restaurant, and it results it a lovely shiny finish. I was told then that the cleaning effect is due to the ink in the newspaper reacting with the vinegar in some way: I suspect this is nonsense, but it works anyway.  Although be warned: your windows will indeed be lovely and clean, but your hands will be filthy with ink.

Be not like this!
I watched the film, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, and gleaned from that that Vermeer's sepia-toned interiors were owing to his unwashed windows.  That was wonderful for Vermeer, and for art in general, but these must must have been seriously filthy windows to get that effect.  As for me, although I never really notice when the windows are a bit grimy, oh my goodness how I notice the difference when they are clean, and the rooms are filled with light.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Day 45: Cleaning the Bath

I have a weird clutch of days off this week, so just a day after coming back to Ireland, I get to have a couple of nights at home on the farm.  That means a number of wonderful things: mother's home baking; mother's home cooking; a real coal fire; television; and a BATH.  The bath is a necessity, not a luxury, because there is no shower at the farm - a combination of low water pressure and low bathroom ceilings meant that it was never possible to install one.  So instead, as a teenager, I developed a routine of getting up at 6am and having the first bath of the day, before anyone else wanted one.  As it was also essential to wash my rather lank hair every day (and still is), this worked very well.

Although I do have a bath in the flat, I have only used it once so far, as I can't justify the expense.  Here, however - and very happily - I have no choice!  So what better opportunity to chat about the tough task that is cleaning the bath?

My rule for many years has been to ban harsh chemicals from the house, with the exception of some bleach for the loo.  In particular, I hate chemical cleaners for the bath, as my skin always seems to detect a trace, no matter how well I rinse, and itching is the result.  I therefore have developed a few safe and frugal cleaning strategies.

Firstly, I like to use a non-stick scouring sponge of the kind you can get in a pack of ten to wash the dishes.  (Disclaimer: this works on my bath.  If yours is particularly prone to scratches, be careful.)  With a bit of elbow grease, this gets the scum off better than anything.

The second, wonderfully frugal tip, is to use up all these cheap bottles of bubble bath that arrive over Christmas.  I would never bathe in them - the sensitive skin would protest mightily.  But harsh on the skin though they may be, they are a lot less harsh than cleaning chemicals, so that any traces left after rinsing have never been enough to cause irritation.  Even if you aren't given any, a 1 litre bottle of Tesco's Basics Bubble Bath costs 40p, and will last for an age. 

Lastly, if some extra scouring is needed, good old bicarbonate of soda in combination with the non-stick sponge works wonders.  This will also clean stainless steel sinks better than bleach, removing these tea stains around the plug hole and leaving the whole thing sparkling.

Total Daily Expenditure: £20.19 (for petrol) + £8.70 = £28.89

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Day 44: The Incalculable Value of Friends

det norske flagget
I am writing this on the ferry home where there is free internet access.  This is A Bargain, and is passing the time nicely and productively.  The only downside is that all the tabs are now, somewhat inexplicably, in Norwegian.  I know it is Norwegian, because I cut and pasted Rediger innlegg into Google Translate, and that is what it detected.  Rediger innlegg is Norwegian for Edit Post.  Don't ever say that you don't learn things here.

That aside, I am happy to report that this little jaunt to Ireland has been well worth it.  I have managed the whole thing for just over £100, which is not too much all things considered, and is nothing compared to the value of this particular friendship.  More practically, Friend Jared is almost as strapped for cash as I, so while we did dine out (there is not much by way of cooking facilites in a Northern Irish B&B), we happily made do with a cheap (but extraordinarily good) Chinese meal, with tap water to drink. 

After my misanthropic rant yesterday, it is good to be reminded how important other people are.  (I say this even as I am being squashed into a corner by a chap who has decided to lie out on the banquette with his head practically in my lap.)  I am content not to buy stuff this year.  But I am also content to buy time with people who are important.  That is not money wasted: it is money invested, because without good friendships neither poverty or riches are endurable.

So no tips today - just a little moralising!  I see Ailsa Craig out of the window, which means that Scotland is close, and I shall soon have to pack up and make the return coach journey.  Pray for sober travelling companions; for sleeping children; for the low hum of quiet conversation; and for strong-willed smokers.

  
Total Expenditure: £4.45 

Day 43: The Horrors of Cut-Price Travel

I HATE coach travel. 

There - I've said it.  I dutifully went for the frugal option for my Ireland trip, and I suffered for it.  There is a reason why those who have money choose the plane or the train.  Because you have to spend just a little less time mingling with the obnoxious and the drunken.  How can you be drunk at 6.15am?  A couple of my fellow passengers managed it.

First of all, the coach ticket stated that I should be at the bus station an hour early.  Why on earth?  It is not as if there was anything resembling security screening.  It is a bus, for Pete's sake!  And an hour early when your bus leaves at 5.15am is very early indeed.  But, fearful of being somehow barred from the journey, I decided to aim for 45 minutes early instead.  I dutifully trundled my suitcase through the streets of Edinburgh (still busy with late night revellers), and arrived at the bus station to find that it didn't even bloody open until 4.45am.  That's right.  It doesn't open until half an hour after you are instructed to arrive.

The bus arrived.  I got on the bus.  There were only four of us, and for the first hour of the journey, things were peaceful.  Then - and I am sorry to stereotype - we arrived in Glasgow.  About 20 people got on.  Some were still recovering from the night before.  One was particularly foul-mouthed.  And all were noisy.  Very noisy.  Then there was a particularly pleasant moment, when someone lit up, and the driver stopped the coach on the hard shoulder and threatened to throw whoever it was off the bus.  And then, after Ayr, two 10 year old boys sat behind me, and decided that it would be highly amusing to crawl under the seats and appear at my feet, so that had I been wearing a skirt, they would have been in a perfect position to look up it.  I resisted the temptation to stamp on the young face at my feet, and instead summoned from the depths of my dark soul my best teacherly tone and tore a strip off them.  They didn't do it again.

After this almost unendurable journey, we finally arrived at the ferry terminal.  Only to find that because the boat had broken down, the 9am sailing had been cancelled, and we would all have to take the noon service instead.  Given that I only had 24 hours in Ireland, this was a huge chunk out of my time.  In a tone tired but mild (in a strained kind of way), I requested a complaints form from the girl at the desk.  I was met with a blank look.  Obviously, we are not supposed to complain, but just let them shoo us into the over-crowded waiting room without anything like an offer of a cup of tea.  All credit to Citylink/National Express, though, because they quickly arranged to transfer us to the Cairnryan-Larne service, run by another ferry company, sailing at 10.30am.  In the event, we arrived in Belfast only half an hour late, and I was impressed by that.  But what a horrid horrid journey.

This is the first time that I have hated having less money.  I don't mind the longer travelling time.  I don't mind the extra planning and preparation.  I don't particularly like, but can cope with, the limits on my social life.  But I do mind the obnoxious behaviour by other people in an environment from which there is no escape.  And now I really really resent my self-imposed poverty, and want to have enough money to travel everywhere first class from now on.  Because more than anything, what money buys you is space, seclusion, privacy, and good old-fashioned peace and quiet.  That is true luxury.

Forgive my misanthropy.  I am sure I will soon regain my general air of vague benignity towards my fellow human beings.  I've just had a little too much of them today.

Total Expenditure: £7.30

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Day 42: Weekend Plans


All of a sudden, I am off to Ireland tomorrow.  Just like that!  One of my best and dearest friends is over from the States, and it would be madness not to go and see him while he is so near.  Frugality be damned!  Friends matter more.  And while a two-day trip to Ireland is costly, it is a lot less costly than a flight to the US.

I can move fast when I have to!  A quick exchange of emails established that tomorrow and Saturday suited us both best.  Within 20 minutes of getting his message, I had travel and accommodation booked, and I am all set to depart at a horrifyingly early hour tomorrow morning.

For travel, there were four options.  I have flown with Flybe from Edinburgh to Belfast City before, and it is quite reasonable, but at this late date there was nothing under £100 return.  (EasyJet flies to Belfast International, but it is MILES out of town.)  Meanwhile, the trains are messed up at the moment with flooding - the Train Line tells me there are none at all, though who knows if that is true.

The most obvious option therefore seemed to be to pick up the car from its temporary home at a friend's and drive from Edinburgh to Stranraer.  That journey takes three and a half hours, whereupon I would leave the car in Stranraer, take the ferry as a foot passenger, and then a train or bus at the other end.

However, I was determined not to repeat the Great Newcastle Train Fail.  I did some googling, and established that a National Express bus ticket to Belfast, including the ferry, costs less than a foot passenger ferry ticket alone.  That's even before you factor in petrol costs (about £40-£50 worth, I reckon).  The full return bus ticket including ferry costs £52; a return foot passenger ticket for the ferry alone is £56.  It would actually be cheaper to fly than to drive.  It is madness, but there it is.

So I will be taking with me a bottle of water and grabbing a couple of slices of the quiche out of the freezer for my breakfast and lunch combined.  I really do need to invest in a thermos flask, as coffee would have been nice at such an early hour.  But apart from that, I am all ready to go.

Signing out now to get what little sleep I can.  I'll see you in Ireland tomorrow.  Good night xx

Total Daily Expenditure: £89  (includes one night's B&B accommodation)

Day 41: The Art of the Simple Sandwich

There is a legend in our family concerning my now brother-in-law, when he was but new on the scene.  Staying at the farm, he and my sister were getting under our mother's feet, and were booted out of the house to go for a walk.  A long walk.  Preferably lasting an entire day.  Mother kindly provided them with a packed lunch in which she had included "cheese and tomato rolls", and off they went.

An enjoyable morning's hike, and it was time for lunch.  Brother-in-Law unpacked the filled rolls, and took a bite.  Then, puzzled, he opened the roll and inspected its contents.  "But where," he asked in confusion, "is the cheese?"

As my sister patiently explained - to her beloved's increasing incredulity - when Mother had said, "cheese and tomato rolls", she had not meant, "cheese-and-tomato rolls", but "cheese rolls" and "tomato rolls".  Experienced frugalist that Mother is, she does not waste sandwich fillings by over-complicating the sandwich.  Besides, most especially when one is hiking, a simple cheese roll is the best food possible (I speak from happy experience here).  The only other ingredient needed is a thin spread of butter or marg.  And as for the plain tomato roll: there is no better food this side of paradise.

If you don't believe me, just try it.  Purchase for yourself a white morning roll, preferably of the Scottish variety ('safties', as they are also called up here).  Split it, and spread both halves thinly with butter or margarine.  (Americans would use mayonnaise: this is an Abomination.)  Slice a tomato and arrange the slices in a thick layer on the bottom half.  Crucially, you then need to sprinkle on some freshly ground black pepper and a very small pinch of salt.  Add the top half, and there you have it - the perfect and thoroughly frugal tomato roll!

I am not dignifying this suggestion with a recipe page of its own. It is merely a plea for simpler sandwiches all round.  If the flavour of the filling is good in itself, then it should be enjoyed in itself.   Mother, of course, was right.  :)

Total Daily Expendure: £0.55

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Day 40: The Least Sexy Item of Clothing Ever

... but the most practical.  Yes, it's the popsock!  (This one may be for the ladies.)

If we were to rank items of nylon hosiery in order of attractiveness, then clearly the stocking would come out at the top by a very very long margin.  The other two main possibilities are huddled pretty closely together at the bottom.  But as even a prison has its hierarchy, so too can we say with confidence that the order goes thusly: firstly tights/pantyhose, and then finally, occupying the position usually held by the thug who beat up his own granny, the knee high popsock.

This Is Not Real Life, Chaps
There was indeed a time in my youth when I wore stockings.  But, sorry as I am to destroy a myriad of fantasies, the suspender belt (garter belt) you need for most stockings is not the attractive item it purports to be.  You know these lingerie models?  They have only just put the thing on!  Wear it to actually walk anywhere, and as the stockings slip down, the darned belt gets pulled down below your tummy.  This is particularly unattractive if you have anything other than washboard abs, for even a little tummy poking out over the top of a suspender belt is Not a Good Look. The  'hold-up' kind of stocking is no solution, but is even worse.  They either fail to work completely, often at a very inconvenient moment, or they grip your leg so tightly as to cut off the circulation and introduce a livid red indentation to your upper thigh.  And then the bulge above the hold-up makes for particularly nasty chaffing. 

Hence the general preference for tights/pantyhose.  Much more practical and comfortable, but - and this is crucial - particularly useless under trousers.  The trousers pull them down, and they are far too hot.  All of which leaves the popsock.  A horrid garment on its own, but practical and comfortable under trousers, and in that context indistinguishable from the other two options. Only close inspection of the kind that most people do not get to make, would reveal it for what it is.  Ladies in relationships just have to manage this as best they can.

A creditable attempt by M&S
here to make them look sexy

In my work, I have to maintain a professional appearance, so it is usually the popsock-and-trousers combo for me.  (Never, never, never wear popsocks with a skirt, even a long one!)  This can work out surprisingly expensive, as my big toes have a habit of poking through.  If laddering does occur, then it is well to keep a bottle of clear nail varnish to hand.  Also, my mother is happy to darn the toes of her tights, and the Frugalist ought to do so too.  But sometimes the damage even after just one wearing is too great for salvage.

Obviously, keeping the toenails trimmed is one important frugality procedure.  The other is simply to locate the cheapest kneehighs available.  So far, the best deal I have found on the high street is in Marks and Spencer, where you can get a packet of 5 for £2.50.  This is a lot of money for what is essentially a disposable item, but considering that you can easily spend £4 on a pack of three, this isn't bad going.  But if anyone has spotted any cheaper ones, then do let me know.

Here endeth the hosiery lesson.  I hope it has not been too traumatic.  ;)

Total Daily Expenditure: £6.10

Monday, 8 August 2011

Day 39: The Shower

Maybe it is because I have yet to receive my first electricity bill, that I haven't given much attention so far to saving on power.  And of course, it is summer: I have no need of heating yet, though this being Scotland, it won't be long before that becomes a fairly major issue.  As it happens, this flat has no gas supply, which is a shame, because it is usually cheaper for heating.  But at least it will be easier to keep track of the whole.  And after my epic two-year battle with the gas suppliers in a previous Edinburgh flat, which ended in an explosion of rage down the phone quite unlike anything I have ever produced before or since, I am quite glad to avoid the hassle this time.

So with the heating turned off, the main power guzzler apart from the cooker is the hot water.  Handily, it is supplied by a combination heater - it warms the water as you use it, rather than having to heat up a whole tank every time.  Even so, I have turned it far down, and only really use it for washing dishes and filling the bathroom sink.  And so far, in 39 days, I have had only one hot bath!  The shower, however, is on a separate system, one which also heats the water as it emerges.  It too is currently set at luke-warm.

I confess it: I absolutely love a boiling hot shower in the morning!  But weirdly, not in the evening.  In the same way, I can wallow for hours in a hot bath in the morning.  I can even sleep.  But in the evening, even in a bath filled with lovely lavendar-scented bubbles, I can never lounge for more than a few minutes.  And that anomaly got me to thinking ... 

For why is it that the hot shower is so desirable in the morning?  Simples: because when we wake up, we are cold.  We have not eaten since the previous evening, and our body is making no heat of its own.  That's why we need duvets, after all.  The hot shower makes up for that cold, warming the blood at the start of the day, and taking away the shivers.


Actually coffee here :-)
So the solution I have discovered is truly simple: eat breakfast first.  Fill up at the very least with a slice of toast, or best of all, with a helping of porridge.  Then your body can get burning calories right away, and you warm up from the inside.  After that, a shower can be taken lukewarm, with no shivers.  True story! 

Besides, it is so much easier to get out of bed knowing that your first act is going to be drinking a nice cup of tea. 

Total Daily Expenditure: £8.11 
(weekly food shop)



Rice Pudding

serves 6

Ingredients
4oz (100g) pudding rice
2oz (50g) sugar
2 pints (1 litre) milk
pinch salt
1 oz (30g) butter (optional)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
2oz (50g) sultanas or raisins (optional)

Method
Place the rice, sugar, milk, and salt in the slow cooker.  Cook on Low for around 3 hours, or until the pudding is thick and creamy.  (If there seems to be too much milk, cook uncovered for a while.  But beware: it thickens up considerably as it cools.)

If baking this in the oven, grease a casserole dish, and bake the mixture at 160C (140C fan oven) for 2-3 hours, until the skin is golden and the pudding creamy.


Notes
I love this pud - it is the best comfort food around, and I have been known to dine exclusively on this.  But if serving it as a dessert, it will make 6 hearty helpings quite comfortably.  For my own consumption, I like it very thick and not too sweet, and will often reduce the sugar here. 

You can make it simple, or jazz up the recipe with any or all of the optional ingredients.  Obviously, it is tastiest made with whole milk, but the starch in the rice makes even skimmed milk creamy.  It is lovely served hot with a dollop of jam on top.

The advantage of making it in the slow cooker is that it does not burn or form a skin.  If you let what remains cool, you can stir in some creme fraiche or natural yogurt and serve cold in a glass with some fruit coulis or even chocolate sauce.  This makes a surprisingly posh dessert! 

Cheese Pudding

This is really a kind of cheesy-bready souffle.  It is a good way of using up slightly stale bread or tired cheese.
The recipe is adapted from Marguerite Patton's wartime one.  I found this very greasy, however, and also thought that it could use more bread than stated.  So here it is, slightly tweaked, with less margarine and more bread.

serves 2-4

Ingredients
1/2 pint (300ml) milk
1 generous teaspoon butter or margarine
3 oz (75g) breadcrumbs 
1 egg
3oz (75g) cheese, grated
salt and pepper

Method
1) Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the butter or margarine.  Heat until the butter melts.  Remove from the heat, stir in the breadcrumbs, and allow to stand for 15 minutes.
2) Preheat the oven to 190C (170C for a fan oven).
3) Whisk the egg with a fork, and add to the breadcrumb mixture with the cheese and seasoning.  Mix well.
4) Pour the cheese mixture into a 1 pint casserole dish.  Bake for 30 minutes or until well-risen and golden.
Serve hot, with a green salad.


Notes
When this emerges from the oven, it will be the temperature and consistency of molten lava.  I let mine cool a little!
Although the final quantity looks small, it is surprisingly filling.  Marguerite's has less bread than mine, and yet she suggests that it feed 3-4.  Maybe with a large salad, it would!

Broccoli and Feta Quiche

serves 6
The pastry base, uncooked

For the Pastry
2 cups plain flour
4 oz margarine
2 tsp dried mixed herbs (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup milk

1) Add the flour, the margarine, the herbs, and the salt to the food processor and whizz to make 'breadcrumbs'.
2) Gradually pour in the milk, whizzing all the time, until a ball of dough forms in the food processor.  This should not be too sticky: if it is, add some more flour.
3) Remove from the food processor, knead very briefly, then place in a plastic bag or wrap tightly in clingfilm.  Place in the fridge and allow to 'rest' for about half an hour.
4) Remove from fridge, and roll out thinly (about 3 mm).  Line an 8 inch quiche dish, and trim the edges.  (There is no need to prick the base.)

Preheat the oven to 220C (200C for fan oven).


The Final Result!
For the Filling
7 medium eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp finely ground white pepper
1 small head of broccoli, cooked
100g feta cheese

1) Beat the eggs with a fork.  Add the milk, salt, and pepper, and beat well.
2) Break the broccoli into small florets, and arrange on the pastry.  Pour over the egg mixture.
3) Cut the feta cheese into 1cm cubes, and sprinkle over the quiche.
 4) Place in oven, and cook at 220C (200C) for 10 minutes.  Then turn down the oven to 180C (160C), and cook for a further 25 minutes until browned.  Remove and serve immediately, or allow to cool.


Notes
Shortcrust pastry is really easy to make, especially if you use a food processor, which is the method described here.  Alternatively, do it by hand.  The pastry can be made well in advance, and rested in the fridge for anything from half an hour to a couple of days.  (Resting stops the pastry shrinking away from the sides of the dish, and makes it easier to handle.)  Or it can even be rolled out, used to line the quiche dish, and then covered and frozen until you are ready to use it: just add the egg mixture and cook straight from frozen.

There will always be pastry trimmings left over - I used these to line some ramekin dishes, which I have frozen as they are, uncooked.  Then, when I am next using the oven, I can add another beaten egg, etc, to each one and cook straight from frozen. 

The first secret of this quiche is to add more milk than seems intuitive.  This makes more of a soft custard, which sets very flat instead of puffing up.  (And is also more economical, making the eggs go further.)  

The second secret is in the baking.  The first 10 minute blast at 220C cooks the pastry base so that it doesn't go soggy.  This means you don't have to bake blind the pastry, which can be a complicated business.  Then the lower temperature of 180C gently sets the egg.

The filling here is a lovely one - baking makes the feta cheese go all soft and creamy, without actually melting.  I have also gone fancier with this in the past, spreading tomato puree on the base of the pastry and then adding a layer of cooked spinach before pouring on the egg.  But of course, all sorts of other fillings can be used.  The bacon bits, if you fry them first, will make for a classic Quiche Lorraine.  Or fry an onion, add grated cheddar cheese, and then sprinkle some dried mixed herbs on the top.  Voila!  Cheese and Onion Quiche.

This freezes really well, and makes for a good packed lunch.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Day 38: The Return of the Cooker, and the Use Thereof

It is back!  Turns out it was indeed just a fuse, so I can cook again, although the microwave is altogether dead.  Meanwhile, I have discovered that it is more than possible - despite reports to the contrary - to cook pasta in a slow cooker, at least on the High setting.

x 2
The combination of being away for a week, and the lack of a cooker when I returned, means that I have the old left-overs problem with a vengeance.  So tonight I had to do some serious cooking.  Stuff to use up, see - specifically, 8 eggs.  I could bake like crazy, but your average cake or pudding only uses one or two eggs, meaning I would be up all night.  Alternatively,
the best and quickest way I know to use 8 eggs is quiche.

 The Good Quiche is something of a feminine rite of passage in my family.  Quite separately, while using and developing entirely different recipes, my mother, my sisters, and I have all evolved superb quiches.  Mine has in the past fed six hearty farmers in from the hay-making, and done so relatively cheaply too.  What's more, it can be eaten hot, warm, or cold (so it didn't matter when those farmers decided to turn up), and it it freezes really well.  If you let it cool, it can be sliced into 6-8 slices, which can then be frozen, and taken out as needed for a packed lunch change from sandwiches.

x 6            

I mostly make my quiche by instinct these days.  But this time I have dutifully measured everything, entirely for your benefit. Recipe posted above, along with another recipe for Cheese Pudding, which I made so as to make full use of the oven.  I am eating this slightly greasy mixture as I type!

Today's Expenditure: £7.95
(I got caught in a 'let's lunch' situation  at work, and had to buy food in a cafe.  Darn it.)