Friday 30 September 2011

Busy day...

...and a highly productive one, too. I have a list of jobs that needed doing at some stage between today, and Monday - a good many of them kitchen related, so decided to use today to get ahead with some of those.

We take lunches to work rather than having to buy expensive pre-made sandwiches, so are always looking for fillings for rolls which are not only tasty, but also economical. This definately ticks both boxes - it is a smoked mackeral pate.

A pack of T*sco value smoked mackeral fillets (£2.09), half a pack of the same brand soft cheese (40p a pack), a teaspoon or two of wholegrain mustard, a splash of milk, and some seasoning. Blended together until smooth-ish. You don't have to obliterate every last lump, but a mostly smooth pate is better. Delicious, and around 30p or less a serving.

Lidl have been selling Butternut Squash at 89p a kilo recently, so I've bought a couple of good-sized ones, and always had a pan of soup in mind for one of them. I have a recipe for butternut soup *somewhere* - my lovely Sister In Law made a delicious one when we visited them a while back, and I know the recipe was shared, but I couldn't find it, so this was a "wing it" job. Fry two onions - chopped, in a little butter (I used ghee as I have a tin of it in the fridge) until soft. Add stock - I used a block of frozen chicken stock that was in the freezer and a Knorr Stockpot "cube" - and the diced squash. Pour on just enough water to almost cover, some herbs, tarragon works well, and a couple of bay leaves, and seasoning, and leave to simmer. Once everything is soft blitz with a hand blender until smooth, then stir in a generous dollop or two of greek yogurt. This will do our lunch tomorrow, and possibly tea on Sunday, or one batch will get frozen.

It's been a fantastic day here - beautiful bright sunshine and so warm again! I spent a bit of time on the balcony generally tidying up, as it seemed a shame not to be out there appreciating it. I also spent some time out there reading - I'm re-reading this series again and it's completely unputtdownable. Again. *grin* If you've not read them, then do. If you have read them, read them again, but don't bother asking to borrow my copies, these are NOT for lending! In between times I mooched about and picked what will be pretty much the final tomatoes. There are a few still hanging there, but I will probably pick those whether still green or not, on Sunday.

Gorgeous, aren't they?!


Tuesday 27 September 2011


We are having an Indian Summer, apparently. This afternoon it was warm enough that I was outside wandering about in short sleeves, and feeling slightly too warm in fact. very odd for late September in the UK. Far more familiar to us was the sight that greeted me when I first peeked out through the curtains this morning:

FAR more autumnal, I think you'll agree? And being beautifully modelled by our lovely tree., which is just starting to turn to all shades of red, gold and russet. With that in mind, I set the slow cooker up overnight to batch cook a load of base-mix for Chilli - just finely chopped beef skirt, tinned tomatoes, two green and one red pepper, several onions, thyme and some smoked hot paprika. Topped up with some water and added a couple of beef stock "cubes" (not oxo, but the Knorr Stockpot reductions which I find excellent) and then left it bubbling away quietly to itself overnight. By this morning the meat was tender and the whole flat had a fantastic aroma travelling through it. I thickened it up with a little cornflour and a couple of handfuls of oatmeal and then portioned it out. It made 4 meals for two of us, and one single portion all of which went in the freezer, and another portion for the two of us tomorrow which is in the fridge. Just add red kidney beans, cook some rice, and that's a home cooked "ready meal" for those nights when, after a long day at work, you want something hearty and tasty and QUICK.

In the background you can see the jars containing last nights project - a chutney using some of the vast number of apples we've foraged, along with our home grown beetroot, some rather elderly swede from the fridge, and quite a lot of onion. Also in the background of the picture is the slow-cooker (fresh from it's excellent chilli-cooking adventures), and our fabulous wooden chopping block which lives out on the worktop and is constantly in use. Also half a jar of spiced pickling vinegar which has been in the back of the storecupboard waiting to be used for about the last year. It smelt just as good as we remembered, and was just what the chutney needed!


Sunday 25 September 2011


...Found on our Kale! They're only small, but have voracious appetites. Eviction has now taken place.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday 24 September 2011


...on Loch Bee, South Uist. This was the morning we drove down early for our trip across to Barra, there wasn't so much as a breath of wind - SO unusual for there although you do sometimes get those conditions very early in the morning, and so it was that day. By the time we reached Eriskay for the ferry there was a gentle breeze blowing and it stayed that way for the rest of the day.

Our plans for next year's trip are starting to fall into place. We're unable to stay at Tigh Alasdair as, with our visit being a month later than normal, the cost is simply too much for us. A shame because we do love it there, but we simply had to accept it. We knew the accommodation was going to be a little more than usual, but the estimated £300 increase for the later dates was simply not extra we could find. Reluctantly we started looking for alternatives, and to our surprise and pleasure we have found somewhere further along the Locheport road (about half a mile further towards the road end) which we looked at as we passed it last year but figured woukld be outside of our price-range. It seems it's not! We will only have water on one side of us - the cottage is close to the shore of Loch Euphort and we think also with a good view of where we saw otters last year. We should look firectly across the water at South & North Lee - so whilst it will be strange not seeing Eaval, we will still have our "barometer" for use when getting up in the morning! One thing we WON'T have is broadband, which is a shame, but I will try to make use of public connections to upload blog posts via the phone.


Friday 23 September 2011

On my mind...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog. preparing for winter.

The nights are drawing in, and there is a distinct nip in the air in the mornings and evenings. The light has got a slightly golden tinge to it, and there are the first signs of leaves dropping. Almost without realising it - our thoughts are turning to the onset of winter, and preparations for the colder weather. We aren't fortunate enough to have an open fire - there is a chimney but with three lots of neighbours above our heads having it swept ready to take a real fire would be prohibitively expensive, I suspect. We have storage heaters - which are voraciously electricity-hungry, and require you to have the weather prediction skills of Michael Fish....well, maybe NOT Michael Fish! As a result I tend to try to make sure that the cupboards are well stocked running into the winter, so that at least our food-spend can stay under control even if the heating one spirals out of it!

We've always run a "storecupboard" - in our old flat it was in the spare room - a tall, narrow cupboard into which all manner of "stuff" got put when we first moved in. Then, gradually, as our pitifully small kitchen made its limitations known, (this was the flat, bear in mind, where the fridge-freezer lived in the front room as there was no room for it in the kitchen!) things we'd bought in bulk, or jars of chutney etc that we had made, found their way into that cupboard. By the time we moved in here it was just a case of working out *which* cupboard we were going to use for the purpose - it was always a given that it would happen.

Snug in there, isn't it! Jars of jams, jellies, and chutneys. At the top are dried goods - pasta, pulses, rice, flour etc. Out of sight in this pic, at the bottom, oils, vinegar, and the all important tea-bags. We'll add to this yet ahead of the cold weather. We'll get more rice, more pasta. Another couple of jars of Coffee. Probably stock up on pulses etc to go into lovely winter stews. All good, healthy, filling food, which can be eaten simply or "tarted up" as our fancy and budget allows.

A well-stocked storecupboard not only gives you the flexibility to produce an interesting meal at short notice, it also means that when you hit that tight spot in the budget (January, anyone?) you are able to hunker down (apologies to Jane) and cope with it without resorting to mashed potato every night for a week.

What are you doing to prepare for the winter?


Thursday 22 September 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful...


...the macro lens was already on the camera when I wandered outside earlier on and spotted this little chap sitting on a leaf!


...there are still tomatoes to ripen on our accidental tomato plants. (Accidental because we didn't actually sow the seed for any of them....two came courtesy of our lovely upstairs neighbours, they have an allotment and had a glut of tomato plants, the remainder - quite a few! - must have seeded from the compost we assume).


...we have a sunflower! What's more, it's continuing the tradition of accidental planting as we don't know where this one came from either - it's under the bird feeders though so we assume that one of our lovely Blue Tits or Sparrows must have sown it for us as a thank you for feeding them! Either way it's such a lovely bright cheery thing!

Some more reasons for being cheerful today: The delicious hot buttered toasted fruit and nut bread I just had with a cup of tea, the fact that my tonsillitus (which was raging on Tuesday and looked very likely that it was going to require a trip to the Doctors to get rid) seems to be on the run, I have enough money in my purse for a trip to speedway this evening, and the invitation has arrived to a friends 50th birthday party which a) means seeing lots of other friends at the same time, b) means a trip to Edinburgh is on the cards, and c) is being held in a brewery! Hurrah! Do parties get any better than that?!


Wednesday 21 September 2011


Post (and indeed title!) inspired by the lovely Fay at The Wind & The Wellies - she posted about Wombling earlier today - a post which was itself inspired by Rhonda at Down To Earth - phew, what a lot of inspiration flowing around blog-land today!

Anyhow - their two posts got me thinking about recycling in general, and how we deal with it here specifically. Having spent time in the Hebrides I think we are probably more conscious of the need to reduce waste than many of our neighbours. A lot of the things that Fay mentions we already do - jars never get thrown away, and in fact we harvest them in from elsewhere too. Some we use ourselves, and others get passed to Mum-in-Law. Those plastic trays from mushrooms, soft fruit etc? Perfect seed trays. Newspapers are used to start fires when camping, (in designated spots, rather than just randomly in fields!) to line the cold-box, for wrapping things. Gift bags from presents get carefully folded flat and stored to the next occasion - it's a family joke that some of those making an appearance each christmas will have been around for years! We and the neighbours have a "book & DVD exchange" in our communal hallway, and items of furniture which are no longer required tend to find their way out there at first and often get rehomed - our electric fire was aquired in exactly that way, I re-use carrier bags for delivering Avon orders in, and Mum and I swap toiletries and makeup between us when one of us hasn't got on so well with something. We create very little food waste simply by shopping carefully and then ensuring that every scrap gets used for something. The large butternut squash I bought earlier in the week for example, has already had part of it used as a component in a potato and onion (and squash, obviously!) bake, and some more will get used in a curry on Friday. The balance might make soup for Saturday I think.

Wombling goes further than just Reducing, Re-using and Recycling, though, or at least it does for us. Those little chaps at the top of the post? Crab apples. 2kg of them are currently simmering away in our big stockpot in the kitchen and will be turned into jars of apple jelly which can either be used by us or given away. Last night's project was rosehip syrup (which is delicious!) and the weekend will see some form of chutney with the rest of the apples I think. I must consult the River Cottage Preserves book for inspiration. Still to make for christmas gifts will be Lime cordial, some picalli and maybe some form of jam. It's amazing how well home made goodies go down with friends and family! The apples which are cooking at the moment will produce about half a dozen jars of beautful pale pink jelly - total cost for all of them? A little under a bag of sugar (82p) plus a bit of gas. Oh, and some time and love, but we don't charge for that. Say around 15p a jar. Price in the supermarket? Around £2 a jar!

It's incredible just how much free food there is out there - especially at this time of year. Sloes, damsons, bullaces, apples, blackberries, haws, rosehips...we even found a mass of wild plums a few weeks ago - which are now stewed down and waiting in the freezer for a crumble, or perhaps a pie of some description. Start looking around you when you are out and about in your local area and see what you find. Richard Maybey's excellent book "Food for Free" is a help in identifying anything you're not certain of, and there is also a River Cottage Hedgerow handbook now, by the ever enthusiastic John Wright. Get out there and look, then come home, get cooking, and marvel at just what is available out there, under your nose, for FREE!


Tuesday 20 September 2011

Feels like...

...Autumn. There's a real nip in the air today, and it's gloomy enough this evening to need lights on in the car. It won't be long until there are leaves everywhere to be crunched through and fabulous shades of red, yellow and orange everywhere.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday 19 September 2011

Frugal dreams...

Over the last few years we've done a lot of planning for our future. I won't go into too much detail here, although some of you already know what those plans are, but suffice to say that in order to follow it through it requires us to be mortgage free - the sooner we can clear "The Debt" the sooner the rest of our lives can start. Did you notice the word "debt" creeping in there? It's the only one we have now, but make no mistake, it IS a debt, and thinking of it in those terms makes us all the more determined to attack it.

Over the past few years, to speed up the payments on the mortgage, we've made all sorts of economies - from reducing what power we use, to driving as economically as possible, to watching grocery spends like a hawk.

One thing we do so far as possible is cook extra to make multiple meals, and also make use of what is cheapest in the shops. For example, in Lidl today Butternut Squash was down to 89p a kilo, so I bought a good sized one. A chunk of it has already been used in a potato bake - combined with some of the potatoes we brought back from Norfolk at the weekend. (The campsite we use grows the Norfolk Pink potato, and sells 5kg bags of them for £2.95 - they are delicious!) thinly slice potato, onion and squash if using, and build up a layer at a time - potato, onion, squash then repeat, seasoning as you go, into a well buttered dish. Once the dish is full (finish with a layer of potato) pour over a mixture of cream & milk (using full-cream milk means you need less cream) with an egg beaten in if you like. Top with grated cheese and bake in the over at gas 4 - 5 for around an hour, or until it is cooked through. This will make an ideal side-dish with a yellow-stickered quiche I bought a few weeks ago and stuck in the freezer. As I was going to be using the over anyway, I also made a batch of rolls for our lunches (the breadmaker did the hard work on these while I was cooking some other bits), a "5 a day" frugal lasagne with masses of veggies and a little bit of chopped up bacon (this is a great dish as you can use up whatever you have to hand so far as vegetables go), two individual portions of cauliflower cheese (using up some broccoli and romanesco cauli which were approaching the end of their lives) and the delicious looking raspberry muffins pictured above.


Friday 2 September 2011

Simple Pleasures...

....there is another stunning sunset outside the window. There seems to have been a lot of these this year, and few better than the one pictured above, which was at Sheringham in North Norfolk a few weeks back when we were there for the beer festival. Once again this year we're making good use of the tent to enable cheap weekends away - we still have a few to come too before the weather gets a bit too chilly for even us hardened souls, and we pack the gear away for the winter months.

Another simple pleasure is playing around with photos through the various apps on my iPhone (the phone itself is a FAR from simple pleasure!) - this one was processed using Luminance, which I believe cost the grand total of 69p! It applies various filters and effects to your photos, as well as allowing you to tweak things like exposure, brightness and contrast and even white balance - features you only usually find in a RAW processor. Ironically enough this apparently won't cope with RAW files, not though that worries me as I have only been using it to give a little extra punch to shots taken with the iPhone's own camera, so far.

When you have little money to spend, life's simple pleasures become all the more valuable.