Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Making changes...

It's to be hoped that by the time you read this, I will have no kitchen. Yes, I realise that sounds slightly odd, but finally, at LONG FECKING LAST, 13 years of planning to get our kitchen refurbed has become an actual event - so understandably we're quite excited! Rather as with the bathroom, we've decided not to take a "papering over the cracks" approach, but instead to literally rip it out and start again - so Dave-The-Builder is currently engaged in removing appliances, stripping out existing units, removing plumbing and stripping the walls and floor back to bare concrete.

                                    


This feels like a far bigger job than the bathroom did - we actually surprised ourselves with that, while there was unquestionably a lot of upheaval while it was done, the actual process of deciding what we wanted, and getting that "want" transferred across into a design and then reality was relatively straightforward - the kitchen feels as though it's been anything but, however. I think part of the issue around this is that with the bathroom, we knew from the start that the layout couldn't change - so our only real challenges were how to make that prescribed layout work for us better - so things like the recessed shelving in the wall behind the bath so that shampoo bottles and shower gel no longer had to sit out on the edge, finding a vanity unit that would fit in a very restricted space yet still give us the look and increased storage we wanted, and coming up with a solution to provide some heating in what had, until that point, always been an unpleasantly cold room in the winter months. Even now, very nearly a year on, I still walk into that room and say "oooh!" and we still joke about having someone else's bathroom - it's just gorgeous, and worth every penny of what it cost us.

                                    

We spent what felt like weeks with the kitchen tying ourselves in knots trying to work out how we could change the layout, how we could make it all fit better, and finally, at the point at which we were tearing our hair out, we realised - the layout we had already pretty much works for us - there are small things we'd change, but ultimately we like the cooker sitting in the middle of the run of worktop, we like being able to stand at the sink and look straight out of the window, and we like the fact that the fridge sits behind the main bit of worktop we use for preparation, so getting things from it is as simple as turning round and grabbing them. The main downside to the room has always been too little worktop space - and a great big wasted space across in front of the window and in the back corner of the unit next to the sink, so that was the stuff we wanted to target. Overall layout though? Yeah. mostly pretty much fine. One we realised this our focus turned to finding a way of fitting in a corner unit that would give us access to the wasted space, and working out how the brick wall in front of the window could be "thinned down" - increasing both worktop & cupboard space AND floor area - something which can make a real difference in a small kitchen. The only real layout change was to move the washing machine to the opposite end of the room - it will now sit next to the door which is actually more practical - and this change is what has enabled our rather snazzy new "vario pull out" corner unit to be practical.
                           

As with the bathroom, we've adopted an approach of finding best prices for things, and going with a budget option where it doesn't matter, but equally being happy to spend a bit more to get the finish we want, or to add little extras that will improve the way the room works for us and our own quality of life within it. The units are mid-range - but are also the nicest we saw, with a good quality finish. We could have spent more, but to be honest we didn't feel we'd gain from doing so. The floor tiles will be the same as the ones we used in the bathroom - and are coming in at under £100 for the whole floor. Similarly the wall tiles - we knew what we wanted, and when we found something that fitted the brief perfectly for 39p a tile, that was another decision made. We are using the tiles as a splashback including filling the space under the cooker-hood, which has saved us buying a separate expensive one - as our new cooker will have it's own glass lid over the hob which lifts to provide a splashback in any case, installing another one just felt like a waste to be honest. The interior of the larder is also being re-tiled - it's not on display and doesn't get seen by anyone other than us - so the most basic of square white glossy tiles will do the job perfectly. Total bill for all the tiles - wall, larder and floor? £188.00. Bargain. On the other hand we're spending a bit more on the cooker to get the one we want - although sticking within our restricted 550mm width, it gives more interior space on the oven than many of the 600mm wide options available. and also gives us two ovens as well as three different burner sizes on the hob. We could have got something that "would have done" for £100 less - but we use the cooker pretty much 7 days a week, so it's worth paying a bit more. Similarly we've gone with a "prestige brand" for our dishwasher. Electrical works will take up a good 5th of our budget - but at the same time they will also to an extent "future proof" us. Little extras like USB points in sockets, and a relocation  of the consumer unit add an amount to the cost but will also improve the look and ease of use of the place substantially. Lighting proved to be a real quandary until I asked a lovely friend for some input - he's a bit of  whizz with fitting kitchens having redone not only his own, but quite a lot of others, and he suggested using lighting above and below the units to give a gentle light throughout the whole room, and reducing the need for a top light - something which really appealed to us. We're also repeating the idea of using glass shelves with LED strips behind to project light into the room as this worked so well in the bathroom.

We're expecting a fair bit of chaos and disruption for the next few weeks, but we've planned easy to prepare meals for a few nights, and will probably take the approach of eating out or getting a takeaway on occasion when the mess all gets a bit much. We've factored in an increase in our food budget for the next few weeks as part of the cost anyway, as we always knew trying to prepare meals with the very restricted facilities we'll have was going to be a challenge, particularly as neither of us are a particular fan of processed ready meals. Anyway - watch this space - I promise to post an "after" for you as well - just try and stop me!

Robyn


Friday, 31 March 2017

Blue skies & Red Jets!

So FINALLY last Friday I got a day up at Scampton garnished with blue skies and sunshine. I'd been up a few times previously this winter hoping to photograph some flying, but on the first occasion the weather didn't clear for the whole day - we spent all day sitting in the photo section office drinking tea and gossiping. Second time round wasn't much better either - a single sortie got flown, but mostly up above the clouds. More tea, more gossiping.  The third attempt was a little better but still not those glorious blue skies that look so wonderful in pics. This trip was FAR better - the forecast had looked good all week, so it was just a case of crossing fingers that it didn't change - and for once the Met Office didn't let us down!

For a change the wind was in the right direction for the jets to be using the runway nearest to us - always nice to see them taxi out...



First up we had the Synchro pair practising their "Heart" - first time they'd done it this year, and I think you'll agree it's already looking good...

                    

Then "Enid" section took to the sky for some lovely looping passes and rolls - always nice to watch, and photograph!


For the third and subsequent slots we relocated to one of our favourite spots - lovely and quiet and peaceful, well until this happens...



We had the Heart overhead again - later with Synchro being joined by Red 8 who will be "spearing" the heart this year. Masses of close passes overhead - some of which were too close even for the short end of my 100-400mm lens. The best bit though? The slightly elevated position we had chosen giving us fabulous views of the jets running in over the Lincolnshire countryside...



Always a pleasure to watch! Work-ups are going well - in the course of the last few days the team have flown their first "9-Ship" practises of the year and it's all now starting to come together. A few more weeks of getting it all together here before they head to Greece for "Exercise Springhawk" which should hopefully culminate in them being awarded the coveted "PDA" - Public Display Authority which allows them to go from performing "practises" (as they currently are) to "Displays" in front of the public in the UK and elsewhere. They then return to the UK in time for their first public displays at Torbay Airshow down in Devon at the beginning of June. Can't wait!

Robyn

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Everyone Else is Taken...!

Fit in! Join in! Be like everyone else! (Or not...)

There's a huge amount of pressure to conform, to do what everyone else does, to be "normal". Most people probably don't even give any thought to "normal" - they just want to be considered it. We're not born wanting to be normal, wanting to emulate what others do in their lives - watch any group of small children playing together and yet, they'll copy, but they'll also be totally happy to say "Nah - that's not me!" if that then doesn't fit in well with what they want to do. Then we hit school, and good old peer pressure comes into play in earnest, and to be honest, it never really goes away.

Sometimes wanting to emulate others can be good - seeing a friend who's a fabulous cook, for example, and thinking "wow - I'd love to learn to cook like that!" has benefits to your everyday life. A friend who's fabulous at photography can make you push yourself to think a bit more about your own shots, and how you can improve them. Other times it can be less positive - we've all seen that person who is so anxious to please that they will mould themselves to whoever they're spending time with - not quite "Single White Female" standard, but equally creepy to watch, after a while. Suddenly they develop an interest in things that they'd previously never mentioned (but if challenged, will always manage to look astonished and claim that they'd "always" been interested in X, Y or Z!"), their tastes in music and TV change, and they will fervently agree with whatever their new role model says, regardless of their true views - determined to not risk upsetting this person who, mostly, will be a far stronger and more dominant character.  It can be a dangerously easy trap to fall into as well - at least to a degree - after all it's far easier to agree with someone than to present a contradictory view, isn't it, especially if you lack the confidence to deal with a scathing and dismissive reaction from the other person if you do suggest that you feel differently. We all like to appear agreeable after all. Ultimately though, seeing someone like that can also be quite painful to watch, not least as invariably after a time the dominant personality will nearly always get bored with their resident "yes man" and run for the hills. A true friend will like you for yourself, and will be interested in your views and opinions - they won't shout you down or ridicule you for daring to voice them.

I wrote my most recent Frugal Friday entry on the subject of choices - how we all make them, and how sometimes, people make assumptions about WHY we've made them. Either way though - we all have a right to freedom of choice in so far as it doesn't harm anyone else, and those choices should be respected by others regardless of whether we agree with them, or not. "I wouldn't have done it that way but if it suits you, then great!" is fine "Well that's just stupid, you should have done it this way..." less so. Mr EH and have chosen to live a life without debt - we're not comfortable with it, don't like feeling as though we owe anything to anyone, and when in the future we choose to take on a mortgage again, we'll deal with it in the same way we did the first one - by making sacrifices, and overpaying as much as we can until it's gone. I have chosen to take on a 0% Credit Card for my new camera and phone, bought last year - not because I hadn't saved the money for these - I had - but because that money serves me better sitting in an interest bearing savings account. I worked for it in the first place, now IT is working for ME (It's not working all that hard, granted, but it's the principle that counts, here!). The card was opened with a 22 month interest free period but will be gone long before that, and should the worst happen, they money is there to clear any outstanding balance immediately. For the past 9 years we've adopted a way of life which means that if the money is not in the bank for something we want, we simply have to wait for it until we've saved up - and that works well for us, we're happier for it by far. Sometimes our choices are to do without, do with less, or do with something different, down to cost, other times they are made for other reasons - the one thing above all that - halleluiah - our original financial choices meant, is that we are no longer ruled by cost in all things - we consider necessity, and quality of life first. I still feel that one of the most powerful things I learned in the early days of our voluntarily frugal journey was that we don't need "stuff" to make us happy - breaking the habit of buying on impulse has probably saved us as much as anything else we've done over the years.

As long as the things you're doing are safe & legal, and don't hurt others, don't let anyone judge you, or raise an eyebrow at you for doing them - if they suit you, and your way of living, then that's the key thing. If someone DOES try to make you feel as though you're strange for making the choices you have, then maybe it's time to bear in mind the old adage - "Them as matter, don't mind, and them as mind, don't matter". Old it may be but there's a lot of truth there. Be true to yourself first, and worry what others think after - or at least try to, that one is a learning curve for me as much as anyone. If someone chooses to judge you for making a choice about something, then that says more about them, than about you, and learning to be comfortable enough in your own skin to say "Each to their own, eh" and shrug off hurtful comments is a powerful thing. Be yourself - everyone else is taken!

Robyn

Friday, 24 March 2017

Frugal Friday...

Choices. We all have to make them, consciously or unconsciously. For us, living frugally was a choice - we discussed where we ideally wanted to be financially, and agreed that debt free - including mortgage, was the end goal. And from there we made choices that facilitated that. We chose to delay the work that ideally needed doing on the flat, for the first thing. Everything was "good enough" - we were without question able to live with it - but there is a lot that needs doing now that the mortgage is dealt with, and we're now making further choices about which way to tackle those.

Once the choice to alter the way we lived was made, that in turn lead to other choices. We chose to stick with fixed rate deals for our mortgage for example - we took the view that we could afford what we were paying, and it allowed us to make overpayments, and the security of knowing that wasn't going to change for a set period of time worked well. In hindsight, we would have been better to have changed provider and gone onto a SVR - the lowest our rate ever dropped in 13 years was 4.34% and our overpayments were limited by the fixed rate product - but there you go, hindsight, as they say, is a marvellous thing!  We chose that although yes, we wanted that mortgage gone, we weren't going to cut ourselves off from all that was fun in the interim - and that, for us, proved to be the correct choice. We budgeted for holidays, for some "fun" stuff - and that allowed the overpaying and the other frugal choices to be sustainable, we think. This is borne out by the significant number of folk (some of whom may be found on a frugal blog or two out there!) who chose the hardcore "cut everything" approach and have failed to meet their own targets as a result. In theory we could have been MF sooner than we were, but the experiences we would have missed in the meantime would have been a sacrifice too far.

One thing we've never sacrificed is our food choices though - I recently mentioned to a friend that we were having a variation on Jack Monroe's Carrot and Kidney bean burgers for our dinner that night - and the response was fired back "I don't care how cheap they are, I wouldn't make them - I want meat in my burgers!" - now the first level I found this interesting on was that the perception was that I must be making them because they were cheap. Well there's no getting away from it, they ARE cheap, I reckon even with the tweaks I've made to the recipe (parsnip instead of carrot due to MrEH's carrot-dodging tendancies, additional herbs and spices, that sort of thing) they still cost me no more than about 50p a batch to make. However, they also taste really nice - we simply wouldn't eat them if they didn't - for us, food and flavour go together without question. The second was the assertion that burgers had to have meat in them. Whilst we are about as far from vegetarians as you can imagine, another choice we made years ago - namely to only buy British, higher welfare standard meat, means that as a result we now eat less of it than we used to - our choice is higher quality, lower quantity, and that works well, we get a better tasting product when we do eat it, and as we've learned to pack the flavour into our meat-free meals by combining flavours and textures, using seasonal veg wherever possible, and acquiring a good collection of herbs and spices, those don't feel like a hardship for a moment. I love a nice meaty burger as much as the next person, but I'm also happy to consider alternatives, and discover tasty stuff by looking a bit further afield and stepping away from the accepted norm. Sometimes meat is almost used as a seasoning - a little finely chopped bacon in macaroni cheese for example, it's there, but it's no longer the entire point of the dish - again we get away with this because our bacon is higher welfare, dry cured and FULL of flavour - don't try this with the watery Danish stuff guys, you might as well save your money! One very well known frugal blogger told me some years ago in a public comment in her blog that I was wasting my money buying higher welfare British meat - she "couldn't afford" to do that - ironic as at the time her household had a significantly higher income than ours did, but no matter, my ethics won't let me "afford" to do otherwise. I'd certainly encourage anyone else to make the same choices we do on that front, for flavour and quality alone - but it IS a choice, and it may not be right or even possible for everyone.

Stunning colours in last weekend's "Winter Slaw"!

Another choice we made which has a bearing on the food thing now is for me to drop my working hours to part-time a few years ago. Working 4 days a week naturally brings in less money than a full 5 day week would - so the trade off for this was that I would use that extra time to drive down our household costs - and naturally this does include food shopping. I make the time to check online for the Super-6 deals from this supermarket, and the Pick of the Week offers from another, and often our meal plan is built around those. On the rare occasion I buy a specific item for a recipe - raw beetroot for the Winter Slaw I made last weekend, for example - I make sure the rest of it gets used up in another way so food waste is kept down. I rarely have time through the week to cook from recipes - envious though I am of those who do - so our weekday meals tend to be pretty quick to cook but still cooked from scratch. And yes - some of them will be meat free, through choice. This week for example - the "parsnip and kidney bean burgers" that sparked this post, served in Lebanese wraps with rocket and winter slaw; Bolognese, batch cooked at the weekend and simply reheated, served over pasta; a spicy king prawn salad (that used up the remainder of the Winter Slaw too); Liver and onions with mash & veg (SO wonderfully quick to cook, and so full of flavour!); A Thai inspired fish stew with rice; Sausages with a pile of assorted roasted veg (yes, that was where the rest of the beetroot went!); Pasta in a creamy cheese sauce with mushrooms and bacon. So roughly a pattern of meat one day, and veggie or fish the next.

It's definitely worth thinking about your choices in a bit more detail than you might otherwise - taking the time every now and again to re-evaluate, make sure that those choices are still right for you. Work out where taking a little more time might save you money that's better used elsewhere. Challenge the obvious. Ask yourself why you do things to a certain pattern, and whether there is a better way. I'd almost not thought of it before but writing this post has made me realise - making our money and our time work for us has really been key to what we've achieved so far, and as a result of that we've learned skills which we'll continue to use on in to the future.

Robyn

Monday, 20 March 2017

Words...

"It's only words"
"Words don't come easy"
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me"

Except of course we all know - or at least *should* know that last one isn't true don't we. Taught to children in a bid to show them that someone can't hurt you just by calling you names - and of course if we're referring to physical harm and damage, that may be true - but what about the effect of words on someone's mental health, self-esteem and confidence? And what effect does teaching that really have on a child - to some, does it give the impression that you can "say" what you like to someone, or about someone, as that's OK, it's just causing them physical harm that's wrong? Sometimes it certainly feels as though that's the case. You'd think by the time people progress into adulthood that they would have learned that words CAN hurt, at least, but increasingly that doesn't seem to be the case - and the internet certainly doesn't help with that - too many "keyboard warriors" who feel they can say whatever they like (Jack Monroe's recent court victory and the TwitterStorm that followed certainly proved this with a surprising number of people feeling that the result was wrong as "You can say what you like on the internet") and hang the consequences or the effects on others. And of course now if you dare to speak out, to say "No, this is wrong, that's treating someone badly, that's not nice" you get accused of being a "snowflake" - a lot of people confusing being nice, with being over-sensitive.

Sometimes though the right words can have a positive effect. In the midst of a rather "Meh" day on Saturday, two separate events reminded me of this. First a card from some lovely friends, thanking me for something. Just a tiny gesture, and absolutely "not required" but the message written inside was thoughtful, beautifully worded, and absolutely "right" in the circumstances. The second was a message via social media from someone I'd randomly met the day before, while photographing a helicopter flypast in London. We'd exchanged a few words whilst waiting - but were too far apart to actually talk properly, but once the aircraft had passed by I crossed back over the road to say hello and see how they'd got on (conditions were horrible!) - for various reasons this had made a very positive impact on the person, and they'd gone to the trouble the following day of doing some online research and had managed to find my Facebook page as a result. Another set of thoughtful and considered words, and in this case, quite brave, also, for various reasons. An average day utterly transformed by the actions of others.

"Farewell to the Lynx" - the last RN Lynx Helicopters over the Thames

The people involved in these two small kindnesses didn't need to go to the lengths they did at all - the first could have been a more simple basic "Thank you" - and in fact a thank you had already been said, so it could be argued that the card was unnecessary in any case. As it was, the beautifully crafted and considered message inside was a truly lovely gesture. In the second case, I was totally taken aback that someone would go to the time and effort involved in tracking me down in order to thank me for something which I could never have known would have had the impact on them it did. In both cases though I can only thank THEM - for taking the time, for thinking it was worth it, and for being genuinely nice. Not "Look at me, look how nice I am" gesture - more about the person making it than about the person it is made to - no shouting or showboating here, but a genuine kindness and a thoughtful use of words. There's a lot to be said for that.

Robyn

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Progress...

Remember those new years "Not Resolutions"? I thought it seemed like a good time to do a first progress update on them - I'm keen to try to do that a few times through the year - mainly to keep myself accountable more than anything else, but also to help with tracking my own progress. I'd be the first to admit that somewhere I tend to fall down on this sort of goal-setting is to fail to review things, and so lose focus - so one aim for this year is for that not to happen.

Personal:
- I will aim to reach a minimum of 5,000 steps per day. There will be days when for whatever reason I won't manage this, but the average across a week is the important thing. I'm right there on this. There have been a few days I've not reached the 5k level for various reasons, but the majority I've been well over it, and so far my average over a month is looking great! This one has been a real learning curve for me - sop many times in the past I've set "10k steps a day" goals forgetting that sometimes this simply doesn't work with my life. 
- I want to concentrate on eating well - with a focus on learning more about foodstuffs that will potentially assist with a health issue I'm trying to work to overcome. Yes - and I'm prepared to tentatively say that I'm starting to notice a positive difference. I've embarked on a "reduced sugar month" for February too - although I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, I was keen to identify the areas where I DO consume more refined sugar than is perhaps good for me, and so far this seems to be working.
- Continue with a general plan to Eat Less, Move More - again in a bid to assist with the health issue. Yes. They say a month is sufficient time to form a habit - the moving more part of this has now been over that time and it has started to feel as though it's become part of my regular life. I've now introduced the dietary stuff to that as well so I'll see how it goes. I don't do diets, I don't do scales, so my only measure for this will be how I feel generally.
- Continue using my Bullet-ish journal to help with planning and general organisation HOW did I not know about these earlier? Absoloutely genius idea - I can quite happily pick it up and add a few notes at lunchtime, and it's turned into my absolute "go to" for checking on dates, arrangements, and things that need doing. 
- Look into yoga classes locally or if there is anything good I can do online - again this is related to the health issue On the back burner for now - one thing at a time or things get overwhelming and that's counter-productive. 

Home:
We want to continue with the works on the flat, initially to make it a lovely place for us to live, but also to add value.
- New door and window to be fitted to the kitchen Done - and making SUCH a quality of life improvement already!
- New front door to be fitted Also done - and again the quality of life improvement is there already. It's a pleasure - if slightly odd - to come home to a door that looks so nice.  
- Complete kitchen redesign/refit. This will include some building works. The planning side is well underway - we have a plan and a drawing and are now at the stage of starting to think about the detail. Things are being noted as we think of them (for example MrEH's genius idea that the socket next to the microwave & kettle should have USB points included - thus instantly reducing the issues with not having enough space to plug everything in!)
- Hallway to be refloored/redecorated.
- Decluttering on a minor scale - focus on seeing items within the house that we don't use 1 cupboard saw a full bin bag full of old paperwork, and assorted oddments of computer paraphernalia that is so out of date it's no longer worth keeping, along with old appliance boxes and similar head to the rubbish, and a carrier bag full of oddments for the charity shop, too. That in turn has freed up more storage in that cupboard.
- Work consciously on using the things we have - whether that's foodstuffs, or useful items. The plan to eat from cupboards, larder, fridge and freezer ahead of the kitchen refit is going well - albeit my depleted cupboards are starting to make me a little nervous! 

Financial:
- Joint savings to continue as they are Ongoing
- I will keep a good eye on interest rates and make the most of any access we have to higher interest savings Again, ongoing - a new regular saver account was opened when the old one matured in January, and the money to pay for the works on the flat is coming from our lowest-interest savings accounts.
- I would like to have paid off at least £700 from the 0% card by the end of 2017. So far £105 of this has been paid off - my £700 target equated to £58 a month and I'm well up on that. 
- The paying down of the 0% card is to happen as much as possible without dipping into savings. Savings are untouched so far, and the money for the phone and the camera - the two items that were balance transferred to the 0% card - has been shifted into a separate savings account so I can keep track. 
- Aim to make £30 extra per month minimum via surveys, cashback etc to pay against the 0% card A little over £50 so far, with some more to pay out. 

Photography:
- Keep doing it! Very little so far this year - weather has rather stopped play. I do however have a possible opportunity to explore a new area of photography that I've not touched on before, which will be interesting if it comes off!
- Look to upgrade my long lens next winter
- Really work on concentrating and being present in my photography
- Stop. Think. Shoot.

General/Random:
- Continue to work on gaining confidence in friendships I won't be going into much detail here on this one - it's a more public space than I feel comfortable including too much on this very personal issue.
- "Let it go" and "This too shall pass" Mindfullness. 
- Stop and think before acting Again this is about being mindful. Reminding myself that sometimes it's better just to step back from things, than to react to them 
- Try not to feel hurt or upset when other people behave unpleasantly or unkindly - I can't control their behaviour, I can control my reaction to it. Yes - this one is all about reminding myself that when someone behaves this way it says more about them, than about me - but my reaction says more about me, than about them. Food for thought. 
- Be conscious and mindful. Think about the choices I have, and those I make 
- Tidy up both laptop and desktop in readiness for the new Airshow Season.
- Continue with volunteering stuff  Ongoing
- Have fun - make the most of situations that offer themselves to me, and be brave enough to take them up. well the photography thing I mentioned above may be the first of these for the year!
- Try to tick a couple more items off our big "We want to..." list. Planning a trip back to Cornwall in a few months.

Generally speaking at the moment, life is good. The one thing from above that has so far surprised me the most is the difference I'm feeling as a result of being mindful about refined sugar. I've identified habits that I didn't really know I had, but have also confirmed my suspicion that I'm really not someone who generally speaking eats a lot of sweet stuff. On that basis I don't feel that a "no sugar" target is particularly relevant to me - but I am actively researching what sugar is in the foods I choose, and cutting back where appropriate. Just in the 9 days I've been doing this, I feel like I have more energy - which is a surprise as if anything I'd assumed that the opposite would be the case, but this could be as a result of the healthier choices that are being made as a result of thinking about sugar?  I've established that I tend to have a habit of eating sweet stuff at weekends - a cake after tea on a Saturday for example, and that is something I can consciously seek to change. There are foods with added sugars that I won't be giving up any time soon - bread for example - and others that I've always been able to easily say no to in any case - chocolate. 

I may do a full blog post on my findings from the sugar experiment at some stage - watch this space! 

Robyn. 

Friday, 3 February 2017

Frugal Friday...

As we started to plan for getting the kitchen done, it suddenly occurred to us - we have an awful lot of stuff in that kitchen, and before too long, it's all going to have to be stored somewhere! Quite a scary thought, to be honest. But it didn't take too much time for us to realise that it was relatively easy to turn that into a mini frugal-food-challenge!

So, for the past couple of weeks I've been focusing the meal plan around using up contents of the cupboards, fridge and freezer. As and when it comes to time to start clearing the room we'll be switching on Freezer 2 and transferring the contents of freezer 1 over to there, but we will also need space in there to store "home made ready meals" that we can easily heat up in the microwave while we're without full cooking facilities. Things like Chilli and bolognese are going to feature I think, and we'll have the camping stove as well which will give us a single ring "hob".

For the moment though it's all about using what we have - so the first thing was to go through the cupboards so we knew what we DID actually have. Some things took us by surprise a little - the pack of sugar free jelly crystals that went out of date in (I think) 2008, for example. We can be quietly confident that there is nothing much natural in those, as they smelled, looked and tasted exactly as normal! 5 tins of red kidney beans also came as a little bit of a surprise, along with 8 cans of baked beans. Yes. 8. No I have no idea.  Other things less so - half a jar of smoked peanut butter which never quite hit the spot on toast. About half a pack of pudding rice - it takes an AWFUL long while to use up a bag of pudding rice you know! Quite a bit of dried fruit - that's a conscious choice to have though - I like to know if I want to make flapjacks or similar, I've got the ingredients to hand.

Sometimes "using things up" can lead you to discovering new ideas that for whatever reason you hadn't thought of before. A few rashers of bacon fried and stirred into baked beans for example enlivened a standard jacket potato up no end. It's not that it's anything new or revolutionary, just simply that I'd never thought of combining the things like that that. That peanut butter has been added to Thai style veggie curries  - also using up coconut milk - to turn them into a sort of satay flavour - really tasty! I've also tried one recipe that I've talked about for ages and never previously got around to trying - Clafoutis - essentially a batter pudding, traditionally with cherries in it. We had a lurking can of black cherries donated by a friend who bought them then remembered she doesn't like cherries! A resounding success - and rather than a batter, as such, the recipe I followed gives almost more of a set custard.


Rice pudding with dried cranberries added, finished off with flaked almonds on top to toast for the final 30 minutes of cooking was another success. Apologies for the shoddy photo. I was anxious to get on and eat it!

The reward for this effort is already starting to show, both in diminishing food cupboards, and in diminishing food bills too - so it's definitely working on all levels. I'll be carrying on for the foreseeable future as I work through things, it's requiring some thought when it comes to the shopping list as I have to remember to add those "storecupboard" ingredients that have already been used, but only in the quantity that they are required for the upcoming week's meal plan!

Robyn