Tuesday 28 February 2012

Giving Credit where it's due...

When eating out in the Hebrides - and partiuclarly North Uist -  is discussed, the place that most commonly comes us is Langass Lodge. Renowned, and rightly so, for the fabulous food that they serve, Langass is generally upheld as representation of all that is good about food in the Western Isles. Dig a little deeper though and there is a whole world of fantastic food out there on a far less purse-stretching budget too! The food above was our lunch last year on the final day of our holiday at the Claddach Kirkibost Centre's fabulous little cafe, one of our favourite spots to eat on the Island. Crispy jacket potato with smoked salmon, home made coleslaw, and the most divine salad - definitely a good meal! Whether you want a light lunch, something a little more substantial, tea & cake, or Sunday brunch, you'll find something to suit, and what's more you will be eating it with THE most fabulous view! The best way I can find to summarise just what makes the food here so special is the side salads - fabulously fresh & crisp, this is no limp lettuce added to the plate to fill a gap and probably pushed to one side and left - this is a real part of the meal and to be actively looked forward to.

We use self-catering accommodation, so inevitably tend to eat at "home" a fair amount in the evenings, and the western isles has plenty of opportunities for fantastic food to cook for yourself too, from cockles or mussels collected from one of the beaches, to the fantastic seafood available from places like Kallin Shellfish - we usually try to bring some of their scallops back home with us too! Best picnic lunch on a glorious white sandy beach? That will be Flaky Smoked Salmon from South Uist, with some crusty, freshly baked bread, or perhaps some Peat Smoked Salmon Pate from Hebridean Smokehouse with MacLeans bakery oatcakes.....

Food does play a big part in our holiday - and that's no surprise when the quality and range are just so good. "Taking a packed lunch" is no hardship when the food you've packed is a world away from a cheese sandwich, and even the  hotel bars offer local meat and locally caught fish on their menus - we're noticing a real increase in not only the amount of local produce on offer, but also the fact that is now made something of, seen as something to be proud of, and actively marketed. Brilliant! Long may it continue!


Friday 24 February 2012

Frugal Friday

Good evening! The little chap above was on the lookout for food earlier, and so was I this morning, albeit in a slightly different setting! I had to drop Ben off at the station this morning so as so far as possible I combine journeys to save diesel I decided to call in at the Supermarket for the weekly shop. I shop with a list - always. And I stick to that list - usually! I've realised before that being open minded towards genuine bargains is far more sensible than taking the hard-headed "If it's not on the list, it's not coming in" approach - this morning for example there was the cat food that HRH eats reduced in price (She eats it mixed in with another, cheaper food, which so far she doesn't appear to have noticed - nobody escapes the frugality in this house!) so I grabbed a bag of that, and also some of the fruit & nut bars that we take on holiday with us - also reduced.  Other than that the bulk of my shop was fresh fruit and veg - I buy as much fresh stuff from the "value" ranges as I possibly can - apples for example, the only difference is that the value ones tend to be smaller - other than that it's exactly the same fruit, and this week the value apples were the Russetts than Ben loves so he'll be happy!  It pays to look carefully though - I usually buy value citrus fruit, but this week there was a special offer meaning that the regular mandarins were actually cheaper - I wonder how many people will be fooled into buying the value ones at 30p more?!

 My shopping this week came to £24.50 - of which £6 was the cat food and fruit bars mentioned above. Of the remaining £18.50, just over £8 was in buying stuff to replace things from the storecupboard or larder - so tinned goods, porridge oats, dried fruit etc. The balance was all stuff that will be eaten this week, augmented by the freezers, fridge and storecupboard. I only visit the supermarket once a week too, so there will be no "popping in" midweek for a pint of milk and coming out having spent a tenner!

Of course, having got all the dull shopping out of the way this morning that left this afternoon free for a walk with the camera, and some watching of these little chaps! 


Thursday 23 February 2012

Has it sprung?!

From what I can gather most of the country seems to have had glorious weather today - certainly we have, bright sunshine and fabulous blue skies all day, I wouldn't wait to get out for a walk this afternoon! As luck would have it I had to go to the station to collect some train tickets so that meant I could take a stroll round the Town Park on the way back. Everywhere there were signs that spring was making its presence felt  - buds starting to break, crocuses out, and masses of birds all singing their heads off! It was even warm enough to go without my coat, and in fact I was quite hot as I headed towards home - not really what I expected from february - hopefully it will stay nice for a few days yet, it's so lovely to be able to throw the windows open, air the place, and get out there and enjoy the fresh air!


Sunday 19 February 2012

The best things in life...

...are free? Well that's a cliche, surely? Or is it....

It's hard to beat how alive you feel after a walk on a crisp, sunny, snowy morning. Every footstep crackling and crunching, your breath steaming, and everything around you looking bright, and sharp, and colourful agains the snow. when you're trying to keep your costs down, this sort of thing becomes a real part of your entertainment, but you know what, it's fun, too!

We always try to keep in mind that although we're trying to cut back, keep costs down, and be generally frugal, we're doing a lot of that through choice. We have enough to pay our mortgage, heat and light our house, and buy food, it is our choice to be paying off that mortgage sooner and that is why we're choosing to spend less in other areas. It's not all about paying down that biggest of all debts though (Yep, we DO still regard the mortgage as a debt - it's money we owe to someone else therefore we'd be kidding ourselves otherwise) - we fully intend to live our lives in the meantime as well - so if we want the occasional takeaway meal, or a day out to visit friends, or a fortnights holiday in the Hebrides once a year - we'll flipping well have them! Everything is budgeted for - so all those things CAN be done - of course we could put all that money into paying off the mortgage even earlier, but heck, we're already on target to get shot of it in 16 years rather than the 25 of the original term, nice as it would be to get it gone even sooner, we're not going to put our lives on hold to do it, and will still be having some fun along the way!

The challenge of keeping costs down has become almost a game, and is actually fun - we eat better now than we used to for example, as those takeaways are an occasional treat rather than a weekly habit. We waste almost nothing food-wise - I meal plan, and the plan varies around what we have to use up in the fridge. We search out bargains in charity shops and second hand stores, and re-cycle our unwanted goods to them as well. We play "Storage heater roulette" each night in the winter, and stray coins (and occasionally notes!) on the streets of London aren't safe from Ben's eagle eyes. I walk almost everywhere I can, and feel better for it, and really enjoy it - when I remember to pick up the camera and take with me, the blog benefits, too!

So there you go - it's not that we "Can't afford" this, or "Don't have the money" for that - it's that we have taken the decision to use our cash elsewhere. With the number of people in the world who genuinely are struggling to make ends meet, or pay off debts that are not their fault, it seems important to keep sight of that.


Saturday 18 February 2012

Frugal Friday

An ideal Friday night in most houses is a takeaway, maybe a bottle of wine or two, and perhaps a tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Yum! Lovely, but with about a £25 price tag attached, it has to take "special treat" status here....I figured that there was no reason to feel deprived though, so set to to come up with a frugal alternative!  Potatoes cut into chunky chip/wedge shapes and cooked "roast potato style" as per Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's suggestion in the River Cottage Veg book seemed a good start. I par-boiled the potatoes first and fluffed them up a bit in the pan before dropping into hot fat and shoving in the oven (heated to nuclear level, obviously). Those taken care of, I turned my attention to the fish. 

I had the end of a loaf that I had left out to stale - blitzed in
 the processor that made perfect breadcrumbs. The fish was the excellent and cheap Sainsburys "White fish fillets" - £2 a bag, and actually Pollack as it turns out. I used three pieces of fish between the two of us. The fish was dusted with flour, dunked in beaten egg and then coated in the crumbs which I patted down well all over it to help them stick. They were then fried off in a pan with just a little oil - no need to use much - they won't cook any differently, you'll just waste a lot of oil!

So there you go - home made fish & chips. While our local "chippy" probably doesn't have to worry about the competition quite yet, it made a really enjoyable meal with a dollop of tartare sauce from Lidl (49p a jar) and I reckon the cost was about  80p for the fish, and 20p on potatoes. Fish and chips for 50p each - can't be bad eh? We had ours with a couple of bottles of beer and followed it with Carte D'or ice cream bought for £1.44 a tub thanks to Sainsbury's selling at half price, and us having some vouchers. Bargain! Frugal friday indeed!


Tuesday 14 February 2012

Love is...

...not a card bought from the shopping centre, flowers grabbed at the stall at the station on the way home, or a box of supermarket chocolates.

It's spotting a book in the charity shop that I know he'll find fascinating, and buying it for him. It's the text message, late at night when one of us is away from home, saying "Goodnight - I love you". It's the shared memories, the "Do you remember when we...." conversations. It's him suggesting one of MY favourite songs, for the first dance at our wedding, and the words being absolutely perfect. It's the surprise simple bunch of my favourite yellow roses, to cheer me up when he knows I'm a bit down. It's the fact that, when he got a pay-rise, the first thing he said was that he wanted me to have a bit more personal money.  It's having a plate of one of his favourite meals ready after a cold night of rugby training...

It's letting the other person sleep in on a sunday when there is nothing else needing to be done. It's shared interests and hobbies, but also individual ones to keep some space. It's finding fun in just going for a walk when there is limited money to do anything else, and looking forward to a fortnights holiday as much for spending time with just each other, as for the location.  It's him demanding a list from me of things I might want for Christmas, or birthdays, and then him choosing and buying something totally different which I absolutely love.  It's the fact that he makes me laugh every single day, with a silly joke or observation. And makes me groan every time I cook the meal above, with his "I like your dumplings" line. It's him insisting on getting dressed in the bathroom if he has to leave for work particularly early, rather than waking me up by putting the light on in the bedroom. It's the cup of tea he makes me every weekday morning, even though I'm grumpy as anything when I first wake up, and most days I just squint at him, and mumble a bit....

You can keep your cards, chocolates, and overpriced bouquets. I'll keep all of the above.

Happy St. Valentines day.


Sunday 12 February 2012

Ooh! I know where that is!

That's the phrase our front room has been echoing to this evening, as the "Blighty" TV channel have been repeating the "Monty Halls Hebridean Escape" so we've re-watched the whole series today! Great fun place spotting - the pub appears, although sensibly Alastair & Elisabeth stayed well out of view! of course we've heard lots of stories about what he was like while he was there - the dog - Reuben - really *was* as daft as he appeared seemingly, not least as he had a complete inability to get to grips with the door in the pub, and spent a good deal of time on each visit with said door coming back to clobber him!

Anyhow, as a result I thought I'd take a look back at some of my Hebridean pics, and the first set I hit on were from the walk on Berneray, which was one of the walks he set up the way-marks for. In fact, notice in this first shot.....

See that right in the foreground? Yep - one of his way-markers. Actually, make that "the" way-marker, as pretty much ALL the others seemed to have vanished again! We did the walk just a matter of months after he'd been there, so clearly his sledgehammer required a little more oomph behind it!

Missing way-markers notwithstanding, it's a lovely walk - we generally do it every few years and always enjoy it - there's one decent hill which gives good views....

...there you can see a sheep standing sentinel, probably muttering under its breath about having to keep posing for visitors with cameras! From that hill you can watch the ferry coming across from Harris - and on a clear day you can see right across to Leverburgh itself.  From there we dropped back down until we ended up on the beach you see down below....

Birds galore, including these Oystercatchers! This was also the day we saw the White Tailed Eagle - which probably explains the reason why these other photos didn;t get processed through at the time - there were more interesting things on our minds when we got back! Oddly enough, the pics above were always intended to be put on here, so it's fitting that they have made it at last!


Friday 10 February 2012

For Today...

With thanks to http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com/

Outside my window... There is darkness, and snow...

 I am thinking...  About a good friend who has just texted me - hopefully her luck is about to change for the better

 I am thankful... To be indoors, and cosy and warm

In the kitchen... Nothing is cooking - for tonight we have a rare and treaty chinese takeaway!

 I am wearing... Pyjamas, and a warm fleece. It's warm in here, but not THAT warm!

 I am creating... An online album of the photos I took on my walk today.

 I am going... no further than the fridge, to get beer later, as befits a friday night in!

 I am wondering... Whether the snow will thaw overnight - it seems unlikely though...

 I am reading... Anita and Me, By Meera Syal

 I am hoping... for a positive outcome for my friend.

 I am looking forward to... a whole empty weekend stretching out in front of us

 I am learning...More on my project about poverty. It's a fascinating subject.

Around the house...just me, and a lightly snoozing cat

I am pondering...Whether in fact a child not having a birthday party, or a family going without a TV license, can really be considered an indicator of poverty?

A favorite quote for today... “ Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza. ” -Dave Barry

 One of my favorite things... The ability to not only get by, but be happy, on very little.

 A few plans for the rest of the week: Doing pretty much exactly what we feel like!

 A peek into my day...

Rye Meads RSPB Reserve looking fabulous in the snow, earlier today!


Sunday 5 February 2012

Trying too hard....and failing?

Yesterday afternoon, before we got blanketed in snow, I went for a walk to one of the our towns newer areas. Even though we're officially classified as a New Town, we have had continued expansion and the area I walked to yesterday is actually mid-construction at the moment. It's very "designed" with lots of concepts - and a great focus on eco-credentials and sustainability - the word "community" is used throughout the blurb about the place, but do you know, I think they've missed the mark. Sure, there are lots of houses that look very "different" - with bar-code styling and designed printed panels forming a porch for the front door, but underneath all that, these homes which are supposed to be so "different" are still exactly the same as the one next door...

The Ecological side too - I'm sure the houses are all triple insulated, solar paneled etc, but what good is that when, to go and buy a pint of milk, you have to get in your car? Throughout the hour or so I was wandering round, I saw just three people on foot - and one of those was simply standing outside his house waiting for his dog to do it's 'business' as it were.  This leads on nicely to the question of community. As we live in a flat here, we have 7 close neighbours. we know six of those households by name (the other have only moved in very recently) and consider three of them to be friends. This morning, four of us were out with snow shovels and ice scrapers clearing snow off roads, paths and cars. I suspect that this was not happening where I was yesterday! There was no feeling that any sort of community existed there at all...

Something we've been talking about recently in a group I'm part of is the question of whether you buy a home to live in, or whether there is always some form of investment there - whether, in fact, you should buy the home you know will make you money over the one which makes your heart lift. I feel, and always have, that first and foremost you have to be happy where you have chosen to live. A close family member of mine described once the sinking feeling of having bought a house for the wrong reasons - "I knew the day we moved in it was wrong" she told me "but by then it was already too late" She went on to live there for more than 20 years - it may have made them money, but she would have given that profit up in a heartbeat I suspect to have lived somewhere else for all that time. When we were looking to buy here we viewed two seemingly identical flats. The first we hated, this one we loved. The first was probably, on paper, the more sensible buy, but to have bought that, knowing that just two doors away someone else was living in "our" flat, would have been unthinkable. 

Sp - people who's homes I was walking past yesterday - you can keep your designer houses - mine might be a bit draughty, slightly damp, and expensive to heat, but at least I can walk 5 minutes along the road to buy a pint of milk!