Friday 22 February 2013

Frugal February...week 4

Another good week has been had here - no unplanned joint spends to declare, and just £1 spent from my personal budget - on a cup of tea at rugby on Saturday. My usual £10 has gone aside for clarinet lessons, and as a result I still have £11 in my purse from last week's money. I've not taken any money at all from the bank for personal spending this week so I'm £30 up before I even start. I went for a free walk last friday afternoon - at the local RSPB Reserve which is free admission and parking for members, and on Sunday we did some odd jobs at home and didn't go anywhere to be tempted to spend any cash! We also gained £5 diesel money as a result of giving one of MrEH's team mates a lift from the match on saturday. MrEH's car required diesel again and £57 was spent there.

Our credit card bill for the second half of January and first half of February landed on the doormat on Saturday - and pleasingly quick reading it made! There were the ferries for the holiday on there, and the flights back from our upcoming Orkney trip - both those being booked in January of course. Other than that - the usual travel expenses - diesel & MrEH's train ticket, that £48 for the car tyre, and one or two odds and ends that we spent in January, and nothing else! The freezers and storecupboard are also starting to empty out a little - I've started to get together a shopping list of things we will need to stock up on in March - and we are generally starting to really feel the difference thanks to our frugal month. We've discussed the possibility of carrying on for another month with trying to eat as much as possible from the freezers, and I think we're both in favour of trying to maintain the momentum of not frittering oddments of money "just because". I've already started trying to get together a meal plan for the first couple of weeks of March, with that in mind.

Last weeks shopping...

...Slightly "off list" in that there's no milk, and no bread flour. MrEH still has plenty of milk, and whereas I would usually buy it from habit, I haven't this time, and Lidl was closed (refurbishment, apparently!) and as yet I've not been anywhere else for the flour. "Lunches" have been covered by means of a pack of salami (an occasional treat) and the component parts for some more pate...Sainsburys Basics fish products are excellent, we've bought them before, and this time it was a pack of their Smoked Salmon trimmings (98p) and a pack of Smoked Mackerel (£1.57) along with a pack of soft cheese...which along with a generous splash of single cream, became delicious pate for a total of 7 days lunches for the two of us, plus one additional day for one of us too. I ended the shopping trip with just loose change from that original £10 note, and having spent £12.50 worth of nectar points...

Total spend was £13.89 - £1.39 of which was actual cash.

Making pate is easy - here's how I did the mackerel one...

Two good things to looks for when buying fish...
Strip the mackerel off its skin and break it into rough pieces into the food processor bowl.

Add in about half the quantity of soft cheese to that of mackerel, in this case there was 200g of fish, along with a heaped teaspooon of hot grated horseradish (we use one made by Vinney through choice, although if that's not available the English Provender Company one is very nearly as good) a grind of black pepper and a generous splash of single cream...

...then whizz it all together until it's just about smooth but still with a little texture left. Check and taste for seasoning (I added a pinch of salt) and whizz again briefly, and voila - Pate...

It's delicious too - the salmon one was done in the same way, but I added a little grated lemon zest to that too and a good amount of ground black pepper. We reckon each days lunch fillings for the two of us will cost under 50p which is exceptional value for something this nice.  Finally on the groceries front I spent 76p in Morrisons on Monday (taken from the incoming £5 of diesel money I mentioned earlier) - I arrived there to fill the car up with fuel at exactly the time they usually do their final reductions, so popped in to see what was on offer. There wasn't that much of interest to me, but I did grab 2 packets of ham and two tubs of soup - so that will be 20 lunchtime roll fillings and 2 dinners - working out at just over 3p a serving!

 This week is going to be slightly less frugal than the others I suspect, as we're going to be making a trip down to Devon. Not entirely unexpected, but equally not anything we had any control of the dates for, and inevitably it does push costs up. It'll take a good proportion of a tank full of diesel for a start, and then there is likely to be a trip to the pub somewhere along the line, and some food to be bought too for the journey back if nothing else...we'll see.


Monday 18 February 2013

Of potterings and overdue projects...

Another fairly quiet weekend. A walk on Friday, at the local RSPB reserve. I'll post on that in its own right shortly but it was nice to get back there - it'd been a few months and I used to go regularly.  A long-distance-ish trip to a rugby match with MrEH on Saturday. You don't mind the drive so much when what is at the other end is an enjoyable match against a nice group of lads, some cheery friends to chat with, and a victory for our team! It was an important match too, being against our closest competition for the top-of-the-table spot so the victory was all the sweeter for that!

Sunday was a day of "getting things done" - some cooking (breakfast muffins and flapjacks, lunch pates and rolls) and then some pottering out in our pocket-hankerchief sized bit of garden. Our rather lovely clematis has started to get some green signs of life on it we noticed, and this lead to a question of how we were going to support it this year, as our previous support of lashed together canes was looking a bit the worse for wear, not really being intended for a long-term installation! Then I remembered the piece of trellis that we found abandoned some time ago.

It was brought home because we had the idea of being able to climb *something* up it, but had never made it round to the right side of the building even, never mind being put anywhere that anything could make use of it! MrEH went and grabbed it and we put it in place - a perfect fit! Now you might remember from This Post that we have a bit of a penchant for painting gardeny things green...and as the trellis was a rather unattractive red-ish colour in some places, and bare and rather grotty looking wood in others, we decided that it too should get the "green treatment" so we dragged it out again and set to with the paintbrush...a couple of coats later it was looking substantially better!

While I was doing the painting, MrEH turned his attention to another long neglected project - our second freezer lives in the gap between out two front doors, a space which also houses the coffee machine & grinder, things like thermos flasks, and all our baking sheets and roasting tins. For the last two years we've been talking about fitting a couple more shelves in there just to make life easier - the first of which would create more space by sitting just above the top of the freezer itself, and also reduce the risk of losing things down the back of it. The timber was all ready - a piece of wooden batten we bought when putting the first shelf in there not long after we moved in, and some old shelves which our predecessors left behind (but which, quite frankly, were beyond hideous, so lasted about 30 seconds after we got in through the front door on moving day!) and just needed cutting to size and fixing in place. No pictures of this process I'm afraid - the light wasn't really good enough by that stage, and anyway I was outside sorting that trellis out, remember? The trellis which was now dry enough to move, and be wedged in place and have little bits of clematis trailed through it, to be exact...

...looks good, doesn't it!  By the time I got back indoors the shelf was done, and we were able to put all our odds and ends back on it - looking far nicer than before! One day when we had no other plans got rid of two annoying little projects that had been being put off for ages, at absolutely NO cost to ourselves as we had all the required bits and pieces for them already. All good!


Friday 15 February 2013

Frugal February....week 3

Firstly I'll say how lovely it's been over the past week to get all the extra visitors popping by from Rhonda's Blog Down To Earth - hopefully a few of you will decide to pull up a chair and stay!

This week's been quite interesting, not least beginning to really learn the value of quiet times in our own home, and how just small job like tidying a shelf that has been annoying us can make our enjoyment of that home all the greater. We had some more snow at the weekend, and also a meeting one evening with a group of neighbours who we intend to form a group with to fight against something occurring locally to us - I may well write more on that in the future but not quite yet. In several cases these were people who we live really close to and yet we've never had a conversation with before. It's nice to build some more local links.

Our Grocery shopping this week has cost me the cash total of £3.87 thanks to that £5 Morrisons voucher. I did change plans slightly - the milk was bought from Tesco as they are cheaper for the 4pt bottle I wanted. Mushrooms likewise came from Tesco - I needed them for cooking on Sunday and didn't shop until Monday - their Value ones are currently British so I was happy to buy them. I dropped the bread flour from the list as it's currently more expensive than I am willing to pay in Morrisons - I'll get it at Lidl (Thanks Scarlet for the suggestion) or failing that, Sainsburys. I added eggs to my list of purchases as they were on special offer and I will need them next week in any case, also a large pack of cream crackers - we're trying Morrisons own brand for a change - and a pack of dried stew & soup mix - the type that can just be thrown by the handful into dishes that are being slow-cooked. I also had a little nose around the various basic-brand items that Morrisons do with a view to buying those in the future. I already know that their "Savers" toasting teacakes are some of the nicest we've tried as I got a load yellow stickered the other week so we'll be buying those again - happy to pay the full price of 50p a pack, but if we can get them at 9p again then so much the better!

Personal spending is still low - Since the challenge has begun from the £60 I have withdrawn from the bank I have put aside £20 for Clarinet lessons, and just £8.55 has been spent elsewhere.  I currently have £22 in my purse - the other loose change has gone into savings as usual. We had a night in the pub with a pal on Friday - I bought a round of drinks but as we were all drinking beer it's far more pocket-friendly than wine, or spirits, and we elected to walk home rather than getting the bus. It was a fine dry night, if cold, and we felt that the walk would do us good. The just under four miles took us a little under an hour. In with the change I have received when I have spent I've been given 4 x £2 coins which have gone into my "Don't Know What For" Savings pot. A group of good friends and I have all elected to save our £2 coins through the year to see how many we end up with - after a shaky start when the country's entire supply of the wretched things seemed to be hiding out in Sheffield, they must have escaped and be making their way south again now I think! It'll be interesting to see how many we each end up with, although as someone who doesn't spend actual "cash" very much (a lot of our spending is done either via the Clubcard Plus, or on the Cashback card) I'm certainly not going to be counting out a fortune in December!

We've started to think along the lines of perhaps utilising the grocery money we are saving this month, and the freezer space we're gaining, by purchasing a whole lamb again. You might remember we did that once before, I blogged about it then. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, from stripping every scrap of meat that we could, from the bones, to choosing which bits to mince and which to dice, and then working out what recipes would best suit each cut...we kept a note of each meal we got from it, and astonished ourselves at the end how cheap the "per meal" price ended up. So far, after two weekly shops, we have spent just £17 of our £150 per month Clubcard Plus money, so it may well be that we decide to dedicate some of the savings to some Devon-reared happy meat freezer filling goodness!

Total spends to date are all on the "Simplify It 2013" page, and I am pleased to say I can declare a run of 5 consecutive "No Spend Days" from Sunday to yesterday, inclusive! Impressive, eh?! Shopping this week is Sainsburys, and I aim to get the best value I can possibly squeeze out of those £12.50 worth of Nectar points! And here's the shopping list...


Thursday 14 February 2013

Love is for life, not just for Valentines....

13 years ago this year MrEH and I got married. It was a sunny day. It was also alternately a rainy, hail-y, windy and thundery day...I seem to recall the forecast was "changeable" although we mostly avoided getting wet. Apparently it was also cold....I've been told this by a number of people since - mostly they've continued by saying "Not though you two would have noticed...!"

We met at a beer festival - I was working on the admin team, and MrEH was with the chaps looking after the beer. I don't remember him terribly well from that first year to be honest - I know we met as I have photos proving it, but it can't have been love at first sight. It wasn't love at second sight either - although I do have a clear recollection of not only meeting him, but having a fairly long conversation that time. Third time we met properly was back at the original Beer Festival - fast forward a couple of years and I was Deputy Organiser and he was back looking after the beer. On occasions this took him to the lofty heights of the top of the scaffold "stillage" that the beer sits on, and from there he honed his awesome chat-up methods - namely of throwing tiny bits of wood more commonly used for sealing up beer casks at me. (How old was he at the time? Well, you do realise that "boy years" are a bit like "Dog years", don't you? So mentally, about 7, probably!) Amazingly enough though this method worked, and by the end of the week he'd decided he quite liked me, and I'd decided he'd do...for the time being...

13 years on, and there will be no cards bought today, no huge bunches of flowers, or big boxes of chocolates. We don't "do" Valentines day. We tell one another "I love you" regularly, we don't need big commercial entities telling us that we "should" do so on one particular day of the year. We are each the person who the other most likes to spend time with. We never run out of things to talk about, but, conversely, are comfortable to sit in silence. I tease him for his obsession with news and current affairs, but as a result probably keep up to date with such things more than I would otherwise. He takes the mickey out of my clarinet calling it a "Spit Trumpet" but never complains when I practise - sometimes the same phrase of music over and over and over...he gets up ahead of me every weekday morning and brings me a cup of tea. I gently mock his rugby training nights, telling him to enjoy "playing with his little friends" and he ribs me endlessly for my habit of jumping about when I get excited about something. He infuriates me with his habit of leaving dirty clothes piled in a heap for days and then dumping them all at once in the laundry basket, and my habit of leaving dirty pots and pans in water in the sink maddens him

We've discovered the Hebrides together Island by Island, the original decision to go was almost spooky in the way we both mentioned it at the same time, while watching the Ferry unload at Uig one evening on our first visit to the Isle of Skye. We both enjoy the experience of travelling to somewhere as much as arriving there - particularly if trains are involved, and will cheerfully take any excuse to jump on board one. When we were talking about ideas for our honeymoon once the idea of a round Britain trip using Rail Rover tickets had surfaced, there were never any other thoughts! He suggested one of my favourite songs for the first dance at our wedding, and a whole group of my friends shrieked in delight when they heard what it was (Roger Taylor - "Tonight", in case you were wondering) which may not be the usual response to a first dance song, but made us laugh a lot!

As much now as the day we got married, he's my very best friend, and I simply can't imagine life without him. I don't need an overpriced card and a bunch of imported flowers to know that he feels the same way about me, too.


Sunday 10 February 2013

Ferry Good!

Although we're being Frugal through February and spending no money unless we have to, one of our final spends for January was to get the ferries booked ready for our Hebrides trip later in the year. We're doing things slightly differently this year, and this means that for the first time in a good few years we're making use of one of Calmac's "Hopscotch" tickets. These are designed to allow people who want to tour from Island to Island to do it with a slight saving over the cost of the individual tickets. We used to use one when we spent a week on Lewis as well as a week on North Uist - the ticket gave us the Uig > Lochmaddy crossing, the Sound of Harris crossing, and finally the trip back across from Stornoway to Ullapool. The past few years though we've used a straight return ticket from Uig > Lochmaddy and back again, and paid separately for our crossing from Mallaig to Skye...

M.V. Coruisk arriving at Mallaig from Armadale, Skye
 The downside of crossing back from Lochmaddy to Uig at the end of the holiday has always been the timing. The ferry goes at 7.30am, meaning that you have to be at the terminal at 6.45am latest. This in turn means being ready to leave the cottage at just before 6.30, and being up around an hour ahead of that. Not an ideal ending to a holiday, to be quite honest. Friends of ours refer to this crossing as the "Crack of Death" ferry - and have been saying to us for years they don't know how we do it, so far as we're concerned we wonder WHY we do it!

M.V. Hebrides arriving in Uig.
 As we drove back last year we were discussing the other possibilities for getting back across. The later crossing from Lochmaddy means not getting back to Uig until well after 5pm - far too late to make it down as far as we want to on the first day of our return journey. That leaves the option of driving all the way down to South Uist and crossing from Lochboisdale to Oban instead. The ferry (hopefully M.V.Hebrides sister-ship Clansman) from there departs at a far more civilised 2.05pm, meaning we'll need to be there for just after 1pm. The crossing is far longer at just over 5 hours, and MrEH is slightly concerned about that, but I'm thoroughly looking forward to it - I love ferries! Time for a nice bit of lunch, a sit up on the deck weather permitting, maybe a snooze.....

Eilean Donan Castle
 We'll arrive at Oban at just after 7pm, and hopefully it will take about 2½ hours to get to our overnight stop at Stirling. Although this will be a bit further north, and a bit later than we usually stop, we're working on the basis that we'll feel so much better for the leisurely trip back it'll be worth the slightly longer drive on the Sunday!  As a result of the change of route, for the first time since we started driving up we won't see "Eileen's Donut" (above) at all this year - copyright on that nickname belongs to the lovely Alastair by the way - instead we will be seeing this view....

...for the first time in about 7 years, we think. In fact, the last time we got a ferry in or out of Oban I didn't even have a digital SLR camera - hence the slightly dodgy scanned shot above!


Friday 8 February 2013

Frugal February...week 2

Week one started well - I have a small notebook which I'm using to keep track of things and it hasn't seen much activity yet!  Grocery shopping was quick and easy - the Farm shop spend came to £5.52, the £4 change from the £10 cash has gone into a small bag in my purse so I remember that it's grocery money - the odd small change went into our change pot, of course. The Tesco shop was £8.52 which was paid on our Clubcard Plus. There was an additional spend of £6.22 in Tesco yesterday - more sugar for marmalade making, a bag of yellow-stickered cooking apples and a piece of yellow-stickered cheese. Of the £20.26 we spent on groceries this week £7.45 was spent on marmalade making items - the Oranges and the sugar. The marmalade not only sees us through the year, but also gets bartered with Mum-in-Law in return for jams and other preserves, as well as some being given away as presents. Here's the shopping I got on Friday anyway...

...Looks like quite a lot for just over £14, doesn't it?!

And this is what my shopping list for this week looks like:

Nice and short, that! I'm cross about the bread flour - although we did stock up as much as we could when Tesco had their 3 for 2 offer on before Christmas, I remembered the other day we were limited on how much white bread flour we could buy as the shelf kept being empty whenever I went in. We do have good supplies of the seeded flour we use to mix in with it though.  My plan for this week is to leave the "weekly shop" until Monday, and do it in Morrisons, using that £5 voucher I have, and the remaining cash. I might slip into either Lidl or Tesco to get milk though as Morrisons is quite a bit more expensive. The meal plan is all written up as well and will include curry, fishcakes, mince & potato pie, and pasta at various times through the week.

We did have one unplanned spend - I noticed when I returned from the shopping on Friday that MrEH's car had picked up a screw in the front tyre. Annoyingly it was right on the outer edge, too, so couldn't be repaired, and we had to get a new tyre fitted on Saturday morning, costing £48. This spend has been put on our cashback Credit card - as usual - and will come up on the statement which will be payable at the end of the month. Thankfully we budget for eventualities like this - by paying a fixed sum monthly into our "car costs" account we assume that as well as the predictable costs of things like road tax, insurance and servicing, there will be unexpected bits and bobs like this, too, so the money is there and waiting for it.

My personal spending hasn't proved to be any sort of challenge yet. Friday was spent doing general sorting-out bits around the house, and on Saturday MrEH was playing rugby so I went and watched them - all looking very smart in their new kit! I spent £1.40 while I was out, on two cups of tea - it was so cold on the touchline I was very glad I had, too! Sunday we spent mostly indoors and quite a lot of it cooking, so nothing tempting there, either! I have found myself thinking occasionally "I must just pop into XXXX and look for XXXX" - this is sometimes my downfall with frittering oddments of money I think - just popping into the charity shop for a browse can easily lead to temptation striking - a nice scarf, an interesting book...likewise a quick call into 99p Stores or or bargain-haven B&M. My hope for this month is that it will knock me out of the habit of calling into these places "just because". we did wander into two of our favourite charity shops on Saturday while we were waiting for the car to be done, but I didn't spend anything. I *did* see an item I liked, but I didn't buy it - partly as I couldn't think of anywhere it would fit. I have thought that one through and now have an idea of how I'd use it, so *might* pop in today to see if it's still there. If it is, expect to see it as a "Scrapbag Saturday" post tomorrow.

Those shorts won't be white for long...!
Both cars have now been "fed" with diesel - mine got the promised £50 worth on Monday, and MrEH's got a full tank on Tuesday. This was mostly done using cashback earned on MrEH's credit card, and the money which we would have spent on it normally will be transferred out to the holiday savings account. MrEH's monthly railcard expired over the weekend too so he renewed that on Monday morning.

So far then:
Groceries: £20.26 (£5.52 of this was from the saved £10 note so £14.74 actual cost to us)
Personal Spending: £30 withdrawn - £1.40 spent, £10 set aside for clarinet lesson
Travel:  £106 Diesel, £85.30 Railcard
Unplanned: £48.00 Car Tyre

One of our lovely old local churches...
I've touched above on the holiday savings account. Like the car account, this gets "fed" with an agreed amount monthly as a regular transfer, and then we rely on oddments to make up the remainder of the cost of the holiday. By cutting back on the shopping over a period of time, a balance builds up in our (interest-paying) ClubCard Plus account, which can be withdrawn from cashpoints, then there is MrEH's "Roadkill" - money found just lying on the ground while out and about - I describe this as his because he's far better at spotting it than I am! Last year that amounted to over £65! Then there is cashback from the credit card (boosted this year by the introductory offer we used on a new card), and from TopCashBack, change saved from our personal spending money, and odds and ends from elsewhere. It all helps, and means that we know there is a "cushion" formed in the holiday account which then finances things like our planned trip to Orkney in the Spring.


Also joining in with Frugal Friday today is Jenni at A Cheerful Living Adventure

Thursday 7 February 2013


No photo today, just a little link for you to a fab item in Countryfile Magazine about food in the Hebrides...including mentions of some of our favourite spots!

I've added some more links to Countryfile articles to the "Information" section on here too, if you want a browse...


Tuesday 5 February 2013

For Today...

Joining in with the Simple Womans Daybook for february...

Outside my's dark, and the wind is gusting around the building, splattering raindrops against the window.

I am thinking...about our meal plan for the next few weeks - with my "Frugal February" plan being well underway, I'm trying to make the best use of the contents of freezers, larder and cupboards. So far though the results are looking like being very tasty!

I am thankful...for the resources I have to keep warm, and dry, and fed, and clothed, and entertained.

In the kitchen...Jars of marmalade are lined up, glowing gently while they wait to be stashed away in our storecupboard for future use.

I am wearing...Pyjama bottoms, a cosy fleece, and snuggly slipperboots. Not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, but lovely and warm.

I am creating...a simplified life for myself in the course of this year. Planning to streamline, to declutter and to introduce various small changes which will improve my own life and that of our household.

I am several Islands this year. Orkney in a couple of months, the Hebrides in late spring, and hopefully another trip to the Farne islands in the Summer, too!

I am the hell we are going to get all the marmalade into the cupboard....

I am reading...unashamed Chick-Lit - Penny Vincenzi's The Decision. Half way through, and it's not a life-changer, but a good read nonetheless!

I am hoping...for a good nights sleep.

I am looking forward to...several planned weekends with cheery friends. A simple meeting in a pub this weekend, a group weekend out and about in London at the beginning of next month with some fab girls, and a close friend staying for a few days the following week.

I am learning...Schumann, Gluck, and Purcell...

Around the house...the dehumidifier is whirring away behind me. As essential part of life here in the winter, it helps keep the damp at bay!

I am pondering...the fact that Karma is a wonderful thing, everything does indeed come to she who waits, and without a shadow of a doubt, what goes around, comes around. Or, to paraphrase - if you treat people like crap on the way up, they will undoubtedly be laughing as you pass on the way back down again!

A favorite quote for today...not a quote at all - a piece of music for you instead. This is one of the pieces I'm learning to play on the clarinet currently

One of my favorite things...My camera - since it's repair by those clever chaps at the Canon service Centre it has been such a joy to use. Sometimes you don't realise that something isn't behaving itself entirely as it should be, until such time as the problems are fixed!

A few plans for the rest of the week: Today is the last day of my working week, so a walk, some decluttering, some beer, and some rugby will be the order of the day over the next few days!

A peek into my day...Not today, but last Saturday, and the rugby lads looking very smart in their new kit...

Harlow RUFC "Saints"


A Weekend in Manchester...Part 2

Well, naturally enough after spending the full day at the beer festival on Saturday, a slightly slow start to the day occurred on Sunday. We were ready to check out of the Travelodge at about 10am - and were surprised to be greeted by no fewer than THREE members of staff behind the reception desk. The reason became apparent when we were asked to "Grade our experience at their hotel" please....I'm afraid we gave them a grudging 3! Clearly after the problems with the electrics the previous morning they wanted to pre-empt any complaint that they felt might have been forthcoming from us. After a nice chat with a chap who we presume to be a manager, he offered a compensatory e-voucher by way of apology, which we accepted. All in all they dealt with the situation very well and we were quick to praise the staff who handled the situation on the saturday very well indeed.

After a bit of wandering around feeling slightly delicate, eventually we felt in the mood for breakfast so it was back to Saturday morning's "find" - the Koffee Pot - for a repeat of yesterday's "Flinglish" as a good friend calls it. No photos today - we were too busy eating the evidence! Far more able to cope with life after that, and still having a while before our train left, we headed off for a bit more exploring.

One of the things I noticed about Manchester was that the architecture reminded me a lot of Glasgow. In part I think it's the sheer mix of different styles, and the grand-ness of many of them. There are a lot of very warm colours used too - sandy stone and pale red brick.

And lots of interesting details on the buildings, too...

A large chunk of the city was destroyed, of course, in the 1996 IRA bombing - the damage this caused meant that many buildings either had to be rebuilt or given a complete facelift. As with any regeneration of this type this seems to create huge divides between those who love it and those who feel the exact opposite, and certainly there are some real contrasts in Manchester between the old and the new.

MrEH spotted this unusual building, and we went for a closer look....

 ...and then, down a side-street, this unusual pub sign...

 ...although it would usually have been tempting, we were still all "beered out" from the day before so we didn't go in. I wonder if these little chaps, spotted on the outside lurking behind a hanging basket ...

...were anything like the usual clientele?!

A sudden downpour sent us looking for cover - we popped into a handy Aldi store to grab a couple of 29p bottles of water, and when we came out the sun was shining again. The contrast of the still overcast-from-the-rain slight darkness and the bright sunshine caught my eye as we passed this fountain...

Another building here with eye-catching architecture and unusual colours of brick/stone being used...

...then it was time to head for Piccadilly Station to get our train home. Just one final building grabbed my attention not far from the station...

This was apparently the warehouse of the company named on the front - who were mill-owner and cotton weavers. It just goes to show what a huge industry weaving was, that they could afford quite such an impressive building as a warehouse!

All in all we liked Manchester, and will look forward to returning at some stage. The Beer festival was excellent too - a great range of beers, a nice atmosphere, well run and reasonably priced. A return trip next year might definitely be going into the diary!


Sunday 3 February 2013

Absolutely Loaded....Mash!

In the spirit of getting ready for Frugal February I decided a few days ago to try out a variation of this dish, which I saw on This Website, some time ago. It's basically mashed potato, tarted up with whatever you have to hand, to turn it from an accompaniment into a bit more of a main dish.

I started off by thinly slicing onions and setting them to fry gently in a mix of butter and oil...the idea is that they caramelise gently, rather than catching and burning, but I never quite seem to have the knack, so more often than not some bit are more "caramelised" than others. While that was happening I cut up the potatoes and popped them into a pan to boil. I can't be bothered to peel mine, but of course you get a much neater result if you do...

...the original recipe suggests using bacon, but I didn't have any of that spare, if I had I would have chopped it up and added it to the pan with the nearly-cooked onions. Mmmmm...bacon. (I now want to make this dish ALL OVER AGAIN, but with BACON!) Anyway, where was I...ah yes, with the onions well on their way I grated up a good sized lump of mature cheddar. This was a bargain-priced Yellow Stickered piece from my Morrisons haul a few weeks back, making the whole thing even MORE frugal.

In the absence of bacon (mmmmm....bacon!) I decided to add a bit more substance to the meal by turning an egg and a can of sweetcorn into fritters. Easy this - make a batter (how thick? well, thick "enough" of course! Honestly, I have NO idea - about the thickness of unbeaten double cream maybe?) - there are all sorts of recipes out there for batter - I use my Nan's, which isn't a recipe at all in the traditional sense - beat an egg, add enough flour that it reaches the point that you can barely stir it around any more, and then milk or milk/water mixed to let it down so it's the right consistency. See above for information on what is the "right" consistency. Beat to remove any lumps, then set aside. Drain a can of sweetcorn (I use Value branded stuff) thoroughly and add to the batter. Immediately before you cook the fritters add some salt & pepper. Fry them in a little oil, keep an eye on them as they burn quite easily and you want them to cook slowly enough that the middles cook through too.

Once the potatoes were cooked through I drained them off and then mashed them lightly, not worrying too much about any lumps but adding a nice chunk of butter and a splash of milk. I threw in two-thirds of the grated cheese and all the onions, and combined that lot lightly together, with an added  pinch of THIS and then heaped on the plates to serve, topped with the remaining cheese. You can pop the potato under the grill until the cheese is melted and bubbling, if you like, but frankly the whole thing was smelling tasty enough by this stage that I just wanted to get on with it.

This made SUCH a filling meal, and cheap? I should say so! I definitely want to try this again - and soon - with the bacon, and finished off under the grill. I also fancy trying it by making a recess in the top and cracking an egg in before adding the "top dressing" of cheese and grilling - I reckon that will be a sort of potato-ey version of Jayne's Savory Baked Eggs


Friday 1 February 2013

Frugal February...Week 1.

It feels very appropriate to be posting the first "proper" Frugal Feb post on the first day of the month. Sticking to the theme of posting Frugal stuff on a Friday also of course means that my summarising post at the end of the month will fall on 1st March of course, immediately after finishing the challenge. My purse has been emptied - completely - and I'll get getting a lump of my spending money out of the bank tomorrow...and attempting NOT to spend it!
I'll be heading off to the shops shortly, with my minimal budget in hand. We do have a few secret weapons lined up to help keep the shopping costs to an absolute low:-
- £10 given to MrEH as Diesel Money for an away trip with some rugby team-mates
- £5 Morrisons voucher gained via puchasing fuel for the cars and using their "miles" card
- £12.50 of Nectar Points which will get spent in Sainsburys.
My intention is that this week I will shop at Tesco, and visit the Farm Shop, using the Clubcard Plus in T's, and the £10 cash at the Farm Shop. Then next week I'll visit Morrisons (using the voucher and any change I have from the cash), then comes to the turn of Sainsburys to see what we can get for those Nectar Points. Finally, for week 4, it will be back to Tesco again. Although we have the Clubcard Plus I like to shop about a bit - keeps them on their toes that way and they send me better vouchers! at the end I'll post a "total" spend figure, and a "hard cash" figure, too.
My shopping lists will be kept mostly to basics, fruit, veg, milk, and I'll stick to the lists (says she optimistically) although I will be keeping my eyes out for yellow-stickered bargains. This week I'll be buying....

The Seville Oranges MAY necessitate buying some more sugar, and the seasonal veg is question-marked because it depends what the farm shop has.

...and our meals for the next week will look something like this:

Breakfasts: Toast or cereal or Home Made (HM) fruit flapjacks or muffins
Lunches: Sat - Soup & HM Bread, Sun - Slow cooked lamb Tagine, weekdays - Filled roll & Fruit
Evening Meals: Cauliflower & pasta cheese with bacon (x 2 days), Fry-up, Pasta with bacon & white wine sauce (bought yellow-stickered for 9p!), Cheese & crackers, Soup & HM Bread, Toasted Crumpets & cheese. the first four of those meals are designed to fit together to get the best value from a packet of bacon. Puddings are usually a yogurt, fruit, or something home-baked. We're neither of us really snackers, but if anything extra is needed there is always fresh or dried fruit.
Breakfast can easily be quite a high-spend meal for a lot of folk who have to leave home earlier than they really want to eat. A posh coffee & a muffin in a London coffee shop, for example, will leave you with little change from £5, and even assuming that the spend is only half that, that's still well over £500 per year! We have our first drink of the day at home before leaving, and then home made breakfasts. The muffins I've posted about before I think. The flapjacks have evolved as a less fiddly way of using the same ingredients as the fruit slices I've made in the past, and they are made like this:
Put 3 oz butter and the same of baking marg to melt over a low heat with 1tbsp Golden Syrup or honey
In a large bowl mix 6oz each of plain flour and porridge oats, 3oz light brown or demerara sugar and a few good handfuls of whatever dried fruit you have in.
You can add chopped nuts if you have them, or seeds, sunflower are particularly good.
Add wet ingredients to dry and mix thoroughly
Tip the lot into a lined tin - I use a square one about 7" in diameter - and press down really well with the back of a spoon. The mix needs to be compacted really well with no gaps
Bake at approx gas 6 (do your own conversions!) until golden brown, turning the tin through 90 degrees every 15 minutes
Remove from the oven, mark into squares and leave to cool in the tin before turning out
These last a good fortnight in an airtight box, and a batch can be knocked up easily and cheaply from the storecupboard. You will get 9 generous or 16 slightly smaller flapjacks from one batch of mix.

As for the rest of the meals - weekday lunches are MrEH's department, while dinners are mine - so I'll be prepping cauli/pasta cheese in advance over the weekend, leaving it just needing topping with grated cheese and breadcrumbs (salvaged from "end of the loaf" and frozen) before heating through, and the soup, and sauce, will just need taking out of the freezer. Everything else can be made quickly and easily from scratch.
All in all, we're looking positive for week one, so I'm off to stick to my shopping list!