Friday 28 February 2014

Frugal Friday...

So, that's it - this is the very last day of Frugal February, and hasn't it just flown by? I know it's a shorter month than some, but still, it really does seem to have gone almost without me noticing it.

So - how did things work out? Well, the second freezer is now turned off - admittedly there's not much space in the first one, but everything did fit - just - and the second one is now defrosted and wiped out ready to switch on when we next need it. So that's one saving being made  - the electricity which was running it! Another saving has been made by not buying odds and ends on impulse - yes in some cases it's meant going without things, or making do with what we have, but as most of the going without has been those little treaty things that you suddenly find you're eating more of than you probably should (crisps, anyone?) that's probably not such a bad thing...

The meal-plan this week took a bit of a battering again. It was partly poor planning - I took my eye off the ball over the weekend (and we were out all day on Sunday in the end, not getting back until nearly 7pm, so not much time there for any cooking) and partly lack of organisation and enthusiasm, but all wasn't lost as we still ate from what we had, and nothing went to waste - things just got eaten in a slightly different order to that planned, and some sausages snuck (sneaked? snook?)  in there in place of the lasagne which really needed making several days ahead to give those dried sheets time to soften. (And also really needed the leftover meat from a roast dinner which we didn't cook due to choosing to go out instead!). I got my act together on Tuesday making the pork, onion & tomato stew ready for the following night - this is a simple dish but one that definitely tastes better for a bit of time for the flavours to develop. It's a great way of making a small amount of pork shoulder (cheap cut) stretch a long way, and the acidity in the tomato helps to break down any possible toughness in the pork.  I start by slicing an onion - medium thickness as you want them to retain their shape. Cook gently in a slug of oil until they've gone translucent and have just started to pick up some colour, then add the diced pork and cook until that's beginning to brown. You can also add any other veg you fancy at this stage - it works well with sliced peppers, in particular. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, and a tin of beans of your choice (or you could use a couple of handfuls of dried ones, soaked and cooked) plus a teaspoon of smoked paprika if you have it, and half a teaspoon of sugar. (I always add a tiny bit of sugar to tinned tomatoes for sauces as they can be ever so slightly bitter - this cancels that out and lets the flavour come through). Salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of tabasco if you want to spice things up a bit, and just let the whole lot simmer for an hour or so, or you could give it a longer cooking time in the slow cooker. We had ours with rice as we have LOTS of rice thanks to an Approved Food order but it would work with almost any starchy carb I should think. No pictures as there wasn't enough light - sorry!

Shopping went nicely to plan again - £5 of nectar points got spent in Sainsbugs and I bought both a big pack of smoked mackerel and a pack of their smoked salmon trimmings as part of that spend - both went to making pate for lunches.  I did the balance in ThaT supermarkeT spending the rest of the luncheon vouchers and my free cheese voucher - and arrived at the deli counter JUST in time for the "ham ends" to be being put out - brilliant! 300g of those cost me £1.50 and gave us enough ham for a shared omlette, 2 "tartiflette jackets" (Sunday nights thrown together dinner when we got home) and 4 days lunches for the two of us. I spent 41p cash over the nectar points in Sainsbugs, and 38p cash in Tesco, making the final state of play like this:

Current state of play for the month:
Total spend on groceries: £49.70
Of which cash: £12.76

So under £50 for a month of groceries for two people, of which under £13 was actually spent in cash. Due to the nature of the way we shopped across the Farm Shop, Morrisons, Sainsbugs and Tesco this month the £150 monthly deposit into our Clubcard Plus account has been almost untouched, meaning that our holiday spending money fund has had a nice little boost. Add to that the freezer use being halved, and the items used from the storecupboard, larder, fridge etc and we're really pleased with the way things have gone.  My intention now is to try to carry on on a slightly more relaxed scale for the next month - aiming to get yet more of the freezer goods used, and more of a dent made in the storecupboard too. Part used jars from the fridge are a real target for me now too. 

From the vouchers we started with, we still have the following:
£5 Morrisons voucher
£10 M&S voucher - which will probably get used on one of their "Meal for 2 for £10" deals as a treat

£2.50 in spendable Nectar points

I'll definitely try the occasional month through the year where I try to keep spends down to rock bottom I think, as much as anything in order to really focus on the things that need using, and making the most of what we have rather than the temptation to let the less interesting or easy to use stuff sit neglected. Oh, and those dried lasagne sheets (best before 2010, if I remember rightly) - they will definitely get used next week - I promise! 

Thanks to those who've joined in whether publicly via their blogs, or privately, and I hope you found it a fun and useful exercise too. We'll enjoy spending our savings while we're on holiday, on meals out, beer in the pub, and tea & cake!


Wednesday 26 February 2014

So many plans, so little time...

I've been time-juggling again. 2014 looks to be panning out into a year of extreme awesomeness (technical term) which is absolutely lovely, but does mean that there seems to be a rather a lot of fine balancing of things I really "want" to do over other things that I really "want" to do but are happening at the same time. I did suggest earlier on that the obviously solution for this would be for someone to invent a giant photocopier for weekends, but nobody has, yet. Well, unless you know differently? No, thought not.

We've got a massive number of lovely cheery and exciting adventures already lined up. A return to Orkney (travelling up via the Sleeper again) and a few days with my lovely pal up there. If the weather could possibly play nicely and be as good as last year we'd be grateful...

I'm planning some more visits to Lincolnshire including hopefully one coming up quite soon to watch these chaps practising...

The Hebrides again of course - we're on target with our savings for this and I'll be starting my usual "Hebrides Countdown" posts in a few weeks. This year has the added excitement of new accommodation (on the gorgeous west side of North Uist, with views over to the sea, we hope) and hopefully a signal via my broadband dongle to make blogging less of a precarious perched-on-a-rock-at-the-top-of-a-hill experience!

There will be various camping weekends again - we're already talking about Kent again for one or another Bank Holiday weekend and might well try to renew our National Trust Membership again before then. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Dover and the North Foreland lighthouse last year and fancy finding more places to see down there.

The National Trust membership will also cover us for visiting the Farne Islands again - something we're hoping to do for the third time during 2014. Ideally we'll get over there slightly earlier than last time and see more evidence of the puffins - they're such funny looking little chaps...

...and I now know just how good my new lens is going to be for wildlife stuff!

On the subject of all things airborne a bit of excitement was announced on the Aviation front this week with the RAF Battle Of Britain memorial Flight announcing that the only other airworthy Lancaster Bomber is the world - based over in Canada - will be travelling to the UK for a visit during August. Tremendously exciting for those of us who are interested in such things and very likely to be a once in a lifetime chance to see the two old girls flying together. Let's face it, the BBMF puts on a pretty special display anyway...

Of course for all those things that are being planned, often another has to be scrapped. I won't be visiting Cardiff for the speedway Grand Prix again this year - they changed the dates last year and we missed it as we were on holiday and, do you know what, we didn;t miss it as much as we thought. This year the date is back in July again, but it clashes with the Royal International Air Tattoo in Gloucestershire, which will include a special event to honour the Red Arrows 50th Display season, and I'm going there instead. There is unlikely to be any visits to Duxford either, as we're away for one of their big shows and the other clashes with our annual trip to Ludlow for the Food Festival. other things can hopefully be worked out so that several things can be fitted into a weekend - for example travelling from Dartmouth on the Saturday of Regatta to Bournemouth airshow - one I've always wanted to visit.

There are also plans for meals out with friends, the speedway season is creeping up on us, at least one gig booked (Manic Street Preachers), Food festivals, Beer festivals (well of course!) and lots of airshows - the only problem might be keeping track of everything (and paying for it all!). That's not such a bad problem to have though when it means such a great fun-filled year ahead - so nice to have things to look forward to with enthusiasm during the cold, damp winter months!


Monday 24 February 2014

Five favourites...

OK, after the action of last week, I couldn't resist doing this here we go with five favourite Aviation pics...

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Wings and Wheels, Dunsfold - 2013. I have history with these guys - firstly pretty much every time I see them anywhere one or other of the planes gets broken shortly beforehand, so actually seeing the Lancaster AND a Spitfire AND a Hurricane together is a bit of a rarity. Then to add to that it's damned difficult to get all three planes nicely spaced in a shot, with decent lighting and exposure. And that is precisely why this shot makes me smile!

Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team the Red Arrows - Dartmouth Regatta 2009. A completely unique display viewpoint up on Jawbones Hill overlooking the river valley and looking down on parts of the display. The more usual backdrop for air display photos is without question sky, but here you can get trees, fields, and even, as in this shot....houses, cars and people. Fab! 2014? Yes, I'll be climbing the hill again!

Ahh....Duxford 2013 - or "The Red Arrows Display that really shouldn't have happened" - just 10 minutes before the scheduled start time we were sheltering in the car from a torrential downpour. The majority of people left from where we were standing as it seemed certain that they were going to turn back to Scampton. In fact they delayed their departure slightly, and by the time they appeared only slightly later than planned the rain had stopped, the blue skies reappeared, and the conditions were just perfect for a really special display.

Harrier - Southend 2006
I won't get on to the ridiculousness of the government's decision to scrap these incredible planes - aside from to say it's a travesty. I will say that I saw this display many times at airshows, and I never failed to see it bring a smile to the face of all those who witnessed it's "bow" before departing at the end, and never failed to see at least one small child scream and cover their ears as it came down low at crowd centre in an awesome (and very noisy!) hover. For that memory alone, Harrier, I thank you...

This is The Blades. We saw their first ever public display in 2006, have seen them numerous times since, and they're still super-impressive now. I like this photo on a lot of levels - once again it shows the advantage of the fantastic viewpoint at Dartmouth, it also shows the brilliant paint-scheme on the team's Extra 300 planes. Possibly the only aerobatic team I've seen that can display after the Red Arrows and still look good - but then as they're all ex RAFAT pilots maybe that's not so surprising?


Saturday 22 February 2014

Beware - low flying aircraft...

Phew - what a week! As I think I mentioned (once or twice!) I had a couple of days away up in Lincolnshire booked at the suggestion of a very lovely and talented photographer friend, photographing RAF Fast Jets at RAF Coningsby. My original plan had been to visit RAF Scampton also, to see the Red Arrows practising, but they ended up with a "no-fly" week thanks to having the jets grounded to have the rather stunning new tailfin design applied. (Google it if you've not seen it - it looks brilliant!)

Anyway, I left home on Tuesday morning, car well loaded with camera gear, stepladder (for seeing over fences), flask, and overnight bag, and headed north - M11, A1, A15, A17 and then onto the little lanes. I was armed with a print of the unofficial "viewing guide" from the internet which I'd been frantically studying in conjunction with Viv's directions as to where was best to head for , but I was getting progressively more alarmed at the complete absence of ANYTHING vaguely jet-like as I got closer and closer.....then suddenly, just as I was approaching Coningsby village itself.....ROOOOOOAAAARRRRR......a Typhoon passed straight overhead. Oddly enough it made me jump - even though I'd been looking out for them! I decided to drive right round the perimeter of the base first off so I could familiarise myself with the layout - the viewing here is pretty good, but for the best of it you do need to know what you're looking for.

I arrived just as the lunchtime lull set in, there were quite a few people about at the area where I'd arranged to meet Viv - a mix of photographers, those who were definitely "spotters" armed with notebooks and radios, and others who were just there to watch what was going in and out. The first thing that struck me was how friendly people were - within minutes I'd struck up conversation with a couple of chaps including one dedicated regular who lives within spitting distance of the base and clearly knows precisely what's going on at any given time! Viv turned up a while later and I was introduced to the rest of the gang and not long after that the distinctive sound of jets firing up was heard. We were standing right next to the main taxiway for that side of the station, and I can confirm that jets taxiing straight past you is pretty damned noisy! The pilots are clearly well used to seeing the crowd of people there as nearly all of them and their backseaters gave enthusiastic waves which were cheerfully returned!

The afternoon passed in much the same vein - planes taking off, others landing. Great excitement when four came in together as a "4-Ship" formation too - very impressive they looked as they came straight towards us before peeling off one at a time to break into the circuit prior to landing. Lots of "touch & go's" - just touching down on the runway then applying power and lifting off again which made for good photo ops and by the end of the day my new memory card had a couple of hundred shots on it.

The following day dawned bright and dearly - in fact I was already on the road heading back to Coningsby from my overnight stop by the time it DID dawn! We'd agreed to meet back at the base in time to see the Typhoon Display pilot to do a practise display at 8am - and I have to say it was WELL worth the early start. It was the first time either Viv or I had seen the new display and we were both immediately impressed - it's going to be amazing to see it when he gets it down to display height. (He's currently at 1500ft - it will be down to 500ft by the time the display season starts) Once he'd done I headed to the other side of the base to an area popular with photographers for it's elevated view over the runway. So popular is it in fact that I immediately met a chap I "know" from Twitter! Always nice to put a face to a name!

After lunch - another change of location, and just in time for Typhoon Display to do a second practise display - taking us by surprise rather as he'd previously said he was definitely just doing the one. By this time the sky had cleared a lot and the sun was beaming down, making for some decent shots in spite of how high he was...

A short walk around to the side of the fence once he'd finished gave us incredible views across the end of the runway. Viv had kindly loaned me her spare camera - as it's the model I'm hoping to upgrade to, and combined with my new lens - well WOW is all I can say - I now have a new savings target! *grin* I didn't want to give it back, that's for sure!

All in all, just an incredible couple of days - I'm still grinning now when I think of it. At one stage we were stood almost directly under the approach line as a Typhoon approached, and standing just a few 100 metres from the end of the runway as a pair of Typhoons took off together, away from me is an experience I'll not forget in a hurry. For a few seconds there was just noise, the strong smell of aviation fuel, and a faint vibration through the ground...then as the jets lifted off ahead of us and it went quiet, the unmistakable sound of a Skylark resolutely singing it's heart out, determined not to allow the small matter of RAF jets to affect it's little corner of Lincolnshire!


Friday 21 February 2014

Frugal Friday...

We've passed the halfway point! The using up of things is still going well - MrEH finally got around to stashing this year's marmalade away in the storecupboard at the weekend, and to his astonishment there was actually still some space left by the time it was all in there, and freezer 2 is edging tantalisingly close to being empty enough to turn off.

As planned I shopped in Morrisons last week - I was sad to see that it looked like they are having some financial issues at the moment as for my money they are by far the best of the big supermarkets - if we had one in the town I'd happily swap the majority of my shopping to them. I bought the items on my list, switching crumpets for muffins as those were better value (2 packs for £1 means we have one in the freezer for another week) and also bought a big tub of plain yogurt - a multi-purpose wonder this being good for eating as pudding with some fruit puree or jam added, using as the base for a dip, or dolloping onto curries and similar. A 1kg "bucket" was £1.35 so a bit of a bargain, too. The total bill came to £10.11p of which £10 was paid in vouchers - so another 11p to the cash shopping tally. We did have to pop to ThaT SupermarkeT the next day and get a pack of butter - M's cheapest offering for British was £1.49 and I can get it elsewhere for 98p. Vouchers came into play again though - remember that 62p Price Promise one from week 1? Yes, you've guessed it - butter for 36p!

Current state of play for the month:
Total spend on groceries: £33.41
Of which cash: £11.97

"Earnings" for this week - free cheese! (Via a product trial for a supermarket - and have also been accepted onto another trial but the voucher for the product on that one hasn't come through yet)

The meal plan needed a bit of a re-think as my plans changed meaning I was away from home on Tuesday and Wednesday. I was able to take some food with me for breakfasts, and Tuesday's lunch, and my trusty flask went along as ever, but did have to buy dinner on Tuesday and lunch on wednesday. Those were paid from personal spending money though, so don't form part of the challenge. The pork, tomato and onion stew which was intended for Tuesday's dinner is back on the meal plan for next week,  and more "using up" is also in evidence with the appearance of the dried lasagne sheets  which have been in the larder since shortly after I discovered that in order for them to cook through they really need pre-soaking. Having used the cannelloni successfully though, I've twigged that making the dish a day or two ahead, and then cooking it from cold is the answer here.

Sat: Lunch: I’ll eat something that needs using up Tea: H M Pizza
Sun: Roast lamb, roast tatties, etc. Tea: Cheese & Crackers (freeze LO lamb in slices)
Mon: Lasagne of some description - use dried lasagne sheets
Tue: Pork, Onion & tomato stew & rice
Wed: Salmon & Veg, boiled potatoes
Thur: Omlette or soup.
Fri:   Home made fishcakes.

Shopping for this week might be a bit scattered. I'm heading to Sainsbugs - I can go there while waiting for MrEH after work tonight and spend those £7.50 of nectar points. Careful shopping required to make sure I only buy things there that are better value that The oTher one can offer. For anything else that's needed it'll be The oTher one (using luncheon vouchers) tomorrow. This is where sites like MySupermarket come in handy - as they allow instant comparisons to see whether the item I'm looking at adding to the list is better bought at one place or the other. Whatever else I buy, I'll be grabbing a pack of Sainsbugs basics smoked mackerel - a wonderful bargain this, and along with a tub of value soft cheese you might remember from last year it can be turned into the most amazing pate. As lunches are one of the things that have now hit critical level, that'll come in useful!

How did your week three pan out?


Tuesday 18 February 2014

New Toy!

After several years of saving, I have finally bought my much hankered-after canon 100-400mm lens. The thinking behind this was that I spend a fair amount of the summer lugging two cameras and two lenses to airshows, and a fair amount of the winter lugging two cameras and two lenses to rugby matches, and this beast should mean that I can just take 1 camera and one lens to all those places! (That's the theory - in practise of course I will almost certainly still take "backup kit" as well!) After a lot of pricechecking, weighing up options and debating (Mint condition second hand, or brand new, being the main question) I finally found it for a superb price from Onestop Digital, and ordered from them. I'd not ordered photographic equipment from Hong Kong before, but knew that OneStop were well thought of, and their price was more than £200 cheaper than the best price from a UK supplier. I was also able to add a three year international warranty for a further £15 - meaning that should In encounter any problems with the lens during that time it can be repaired in the UK rather than having to go back to HK. The biggest positive about buying it this way was that it meant I could buy the lens brand new - indeed the saving from buying second hand would have been so small that the loss of warranty just would not have made it worthwhile.

I placed the order on the Thursday lunchtime, sent the bank transfer for payment that evening, and got an acknowledgement first thing the next day. With the weekend in the way I was expecting a bit of a delay, but in fact the "dispatched" email was waiting for me when I logged into my email on the Monday morning - pretty impressive! I was given a direct link to the tracking on the courier's site, and the only small delay from there was when the parcel was held due to a small import charge being required to be paid - once that was done everything starting moving again and I had the lens in my hands 48 hours after its despatch from the supplier. The refund on the import duty (OneStop offer a vat-free guarantee) was just as speedy in its arrival, and all in all I have to say I would have no hesitation in using them again for camera gear, or indeed in recommending them to others.

So - the lens....what do I think? First reaction was frustration - thanks to the time of the year and working all 5 days last week, it was Saturday before I had a chance to actually give it a try, and Sunday before the light was good enough to give it a PROPER try!  In spite of poor light on saturday though the local RSPB reserve provided some subjects...

These Mallards proving that it can handle colour well - that was with the lens at it's full 400mm range, and that's about a 50% crop too. A decent start.

Tufted Ducks can be tricky things - it's not their fault you understand, but as everyone who's ever shot a wedding knows, there are few things in photography that cause more of a headache than a white dress next to a dark suit, and this is a bird who's outfit of choice is a nightmare for exposure. No problems for the lens here either though. So far, so good!

Sunday was just gorgeous - bright, sunny, blue skies. A day like that deserves a walk, so off we went to Amwell wildlife Trust reserve. I knew this would give me some good options for close up bird shots - there is an area of woodland where they keep feeders well stocked, and this gives ample opportunity for watching  small birds very close in.

I think this female Reed Bunting has aspirations to be a model - she was quite happy posing for me!

Dunnocks are shy little birds - and this one was no exception, constantly darting about and rushing for cover at even the slightest hint of movement. The Image stabiliser in the lens meant that even at 1/100th of a second I was able to handhold and still get a sharp shot - this was at ISO 800 too - approaching the ideal limit for the 40D.

One thing which has stood out for me is the great smooth quality of the "Bokeh" - or out of focus background in these shots. This is truly where you get what you pay for - cheap lenses often give a rather distracting background, but this just calmly gets on with the job of blending everything gently together and letting the subject stand out.

Finally one of possibly my favourites of the "Garden birds" - the adorable Long Tailed Tit doing its finest "Tweetie pie" impression.

The lens is getting another try-out this week - more airborne subjects but of a rather larger - and noisier - type, as I've headed up to RAF Coningsby for a couple of days. From the first impressions over the weekend I'm thoroughly looking forward to having two days handling the "Beast" (as it's already been nicknamed!) and really getting to put it through its paces.


(OneStop Digital have no knowledge of me making this post and I have been offered no incentive to do so - it's simply in the spirit of praising good service, and sharing a positive experience with others.)

Sunday 16 February 2014

For Today...

Joining in again with the Simple Woman's Daybook - I like this, it makes me think, and consider the small stuff. Sometimes we should all try to do that perhaps.

Outside my window...It's Wet, Wet WET! No, not that pop band from the 1980's - but the result of the endless soggy, miserable rainy weather that has been afflicting the UK since before Christmas.

I am thinking...about a planned a couple of days away, photographing RAF jet aircraft with my exciting new Camera lens!

I am thankful...that our home is on high enough ground that we're not affected by the flooding, and that friends and family are in a similar position, thank goodness.

In the kitchen... We've been baking! Flapjacks & muffins get made regularly for weekday breakfasts, and the bread machine has been whirring away making dough for a loaf to eat with soup for an easy tea tomorrow night.

I am gorgeous cosy new teal-coloured fleece top. It's gently fitted so as not to give that "square" appearance that you sometimes get with those, and I just fell in love with the colour!

I am photo albums, mostly! I need to get the last set of Thames path walk photos up - I'm viewing that as a photographic, as well as a walking, project.

I am Lincolnshire for two days, as mentioned above - well, weather permitting, anyway! Two days at RAF bases photographing (hopefully) Typhoons.

I am wondering...What the cause of the extreme weather REALLY is - there are people blaming "Climate Change" and others "Global Warming" but actually, I'm wondering whether in fact it's as simple as something called "Nature". The UK always has gone through changes in its climate - long before we started pumping all manner of chemicals into the air, or burning fossil fuels to the state of their near-extinction, just you ask the dinosaurs, so maybe in fact this is all a little less self-inflicted than we're being made to think?

I am reading...this... Wonky Horizons Blog and similar info on night photography...

I am hoping...that reading that (above) will mean some decent pics...!

I am looking forward to...Meeting a Twitter friend on Tuesday. She's another Aviation Photography fanatic - we seem to have masses in common so it will be lovely to actually come face to face at last!

I am to use my whizzy new 100-400mm lens. It is the very first "pro standard" lens I have ever bought brand new for myself and I'm extremely pleased with it already - it will simplify life this summer for aviation photography, saving me carrying 2 lenses and camera bodies to airshows.

Around the house...MrEH is engrossed in his Newspaper. There is music on, rather than the TV, as we're both doing other things. There is a pile of paperwork awaiting our attention but we're both studiously pretending that's not there.

I am pondering...what on EARTH one is meant to write here.

A favorite quote for today...I'll give you a song lyric, instead -
"Why is this world so full of hate
People dying everywhere
And we destroy what we create
People fighting for their human rights
 But we just go on saying ce'est la vie"
(There must be more to life than this - Freddie Mercury)

One of my favorite things...Currently it's the lens. You'd already guessed that, huh?! 

A few plans for the rest of the week: Work and photography, mainly! 

A peek into my day...

Long Tailed Tit at Amwell, Herts. 


You can find all the other Simple Woman's Daybook entires over at - why not join in and give us a peek into your day, too?

Friday 14 February 2014

Frugal Friday...

Last week was our "Supermarket free" week for this month, and I elected to shop at the Farm Shop, which meant my spend was entirely in cash. When I shop there I tend to go without anything more than the most basic of lists, and see what looks good, what is in season, fresh and cheap. It does sometimes mean modifying the meal plan but this week that wasn't really an issue as everything fitted in quite nicely! MrEH saved us some money too by never actually bothering to overcome his dilemma regarding his milk - he went without! My bottle lasted right through the week too I'm pleased to say - the very last of it went in my first thing cup of tea this morning!

I spent a total of £11.26 but came away with lots for my money as always - a couple of kilos of potatoes (including some large enough to be used for jackets - hurrah!) a savoy cabbage, kale, leeks, apples, citrus fruit and a pack of the on-site butchers dry cured bacon offcuts.  I also bought some frozen spinach - a bit of a gamble as I had the 12 mile drive home to face but it arrived back at EH Towers still perfectly frozen and is now nestled in the freezer awaiting use. The apples, citrus, cabbage and kale have all been eaten already, and I may turn some of the leeks and potatoes into soup - or possibly into pasty filings with the bacon and some more of the cheese mountain, I haven't decided yet! 

I used a wet friday afternoon last week to do some baking - chocolate & caramel muffins using the last of a jar of salted caramel sauce (lovely, thick, gloopy stuff it was!) that we bought reduced and using a voucher in the co-op before Christmas (cost to us 22p - who could have resisted such a bargain?) several were eaten over the weekend but the remainder have gone into the freezer for treats. Also a tray of flapjacky things for breakfasts. I wasn't the only one baking those this week either as Debbie tried them out for the first time and pronounced them a success! The muffins were made using the method for "Jam Doughnut muffins" where you half fill the cases with batter, spoon in a dollop of the jam (or in this case, caramel) then top up with batter, and they worked brilliantly! I also used up the last of a container of cocoa when making them too. Also in the spirit of "using things up" the last of a pack of paella rice got thrown into a risotto, and the final box of Spelt with red pepper and chilli from a long ago AF order also got eaten! 

"Earnings" this week are £3 in luncheon vouchers for doing a survey. As things stand we now have:
£15 Morrisons vouchers
£10 M&S voucher - I don't think this will be used during the challenge
£7.50 Luncheon Vouchers
£7.50 in spendable Nectar points (I assume this is points from British Gas which has increased this)

I intend to shop in Morrisons this week - as I'm working today I'll go after work, while waiting to collect MrEH from the station. I'll top up his car with fuel while I'm there too which will save us needing to make a special trip for another fortnight. When we can combine trips like this, we do - quite apart from anything else it's excellent training for future hoped-for Island living! MrEH and I both need milk this week, we'll probably buy that from Tesco as it's worth making a one off trip there if the saving is significant. 

The meal plan for this week looks like this:

Sat:    Lunch: I’ll eat something that needs using up. Tea: Crumpets & cheese 
Sun:  something portable if we're walking – couscous salad?  Tea: Cheese & crackers
Mon: Soup & Bread
Tue: Pork, tomato & onion stew
Wed:  Chicken & Mushroom Canelloni in tomato sauce
Thur:  Pasta with mushrooms and feta
Fri:   chickpea curry

(In case you were wondering, the chickpea curry is still on there as a Summit meeting earlier in the week ruled that tonight was going to be our monthly treat takeaway night - and no, that will NOT be coming under the heading of "groceries!") There may be a degree of re-jigging required there yet - we'll see.

Current state of play for the month:
Total spend on groceries: £22.32
Of which cash: £11.50

That was my week was yours?


Thursday 13 February 2014

UK Floods 2014.

This is not a full post as such, but it's only right to say a quick word about the floods that are currently impacting so much of the UK, I think. Areas of the West Country have been over a foot deep in water for around 8 weeks now. The main railway line to the South West - a line I have posted about several times on this blog and that I and many others absolutely delight in travelling on - has fallen into the sea at Dawlish.  Just this week the Thames Valley has - unsurprisingly perhaps given its name, and the current state of rivers everywhere, also become seriously affected. The biggest surprise to me is that in fact areas of London across to the West were also flooded several weeks ago - we saw as much when we walked the first stretch of the Thames path - yet those residents of Twickenham and the areas around it seemed to have slipped through the net of media coverage altogether. Perhaps they chose that, bearing in mind the chaos that seems to be being added to in some places by news crews, VIP visits, and those who actually, just want to go and gawk with a sort of ghoulish glee that it's not them affected. If you can help - offer something concrete in the way of support or assistance, then by all means go, do your thing, but if not, I simply don't get the whole ethos of "just going to see". (I expect they are the people who slow down to 20mph past the scene of accidents, too!). This also, by the way, applies to politicians in my opinion. If you have any actual power to do anything to help the situation, by all means visit - otherwise for goodness sake content yourself with BBC News. (And never fear lovely reader, that is as close as I'm going to come to Political comment on this blog or indeed any other social media platform!)

We can only hope that the next wave of "weather" which seems destined to hit our islands is the last of it for the time being, and the people affected can begin to rebuild their lives and their homes.

The Stunning coast-hugging Great Western Line.

Minor flooding affecting the Thames path - the homes on the far side had already flooded.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Thames Path - Section 2

Last Sunday dawned gloriously sunny so we set off to walk the next section of the London Thames Path. You might remember that our first days walking a few weeks ago took us from Hampton Court (the start of the London Section) through to Richmond Bridge, so naturally enough it was to Richmond Bridge that we headed to start this section! It's a far easier journey than Hampton Court as the whole trip can be done using the London underground, mind you, the District Line all the way down there still takes an age! We arrived at Richmond at just before midday though, giving us plenty of time for the stretch we wanted to walk.

The first thing that struck us about Richmond was how old fashioned it felt - with lots of old fashioned proper boathouses still working on "real" wooden boats (and submarines, apparently!). The second thing that struck us was that the path along the first stretch was clearly where the trendies go on a Sunday - it was full of yummy mummies and designer babies! After a short while though they mostly thinned out and the walking got easier as we weren't constantly dodging joggers and being ambushed by cyclists. (By the way, Cyclists - you know that funny shiny thing on your handlebars? it's a BELL - feckin' well ring it!)

For the first couple of miles of this section we were walking past first Richmond park, then the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It was lovely seeing all the gorgeous green spaces, and also things like the meridian obelisks - placed there to allow for the setting up of instruments from the Kew Observatory. Just near to Twickenham Bridge MrEH spotted this odd little building...

...we've been entirely unable to find out anything about it, and there was nothing nearby to shed any light.

One notable thing about this section was the fact that we were right under the Heathrow main approach, and right through the day we had planes coming directly overhead, dropping their landing gear just as they passed us... one point we finally thought we'd passed the flight path, then clearly conditions changed as everything started heading across in front of us again!

We were soon right into the heart of Boat Race country, and the number of crews out training on the river was quite surprising - I had no idea it was such a popular hobby! we were also passing underneath more and more bridges - 7 in total on this section I think, although more if you include where there are adjacent railway and road bridges. The most impressive of the bunch is probably Hammersmith bridge... it is looking majestic in the late afternoon sunshine. Here you see the problem with me choosing my 50mm lens to document this walk with - it proved impossible to get a decent picture of the whole bridge! I had to settle for some nice textural detail instead...

We'd originally thought that we might only get as far as Hammersmith, depending how long this first 6 and a half miles had taken us, and how the daylight was looking. As you can see though we'd made good time and there was still bright sunshine, so we made the decision to continue to Putney. It was at about that stage that I noticed that the sole was starting to peel away from my right walking boot...not ideal this, particularly considering they were under a year old! (Subsequently to this I contacted the excellent Customer Service team at Mountain Warehouse and they told me to return the boots for a replacement or refund, the store I returned to also confirmed to me that they had not seen this problem on these boots before). Full credit to the boots for tenacity though - not only did the sole hang on until we'd finished walking, it stayed put right the way home, too! Good thing too as there was still more to see. This amazing building... posh flats, and the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust's London Wetlands Centre, which we realised we were passing when we saw these chaps on the fence...

On the other side of the river meanwhile, as we stopped for the final cuppa from the flask, was Fulham FC's football ground "Craven Cottage". This used to be shortened to simply "The Cottage" but in the light of the "alternative" current use for that term the supporters now tend to prefer to use the name in full, as I understand it. ;-) (Supporters are still apparently known as "The Cottagers" however - although whether more by opposing fans than themselves, I have no idea!)

From there there was just another mile or so up to Putney, where we wasted no time in finding a pub (The Bricklayers Arms, as it happens, one of our favourites) for our traditional well-deserved beer, before heading home. Eventual walk length from bridge to bridge was 8.5 miles, and my pedometer recorded over 27,000 steps in the day! the next stretch will be walked at some stage in March.


Friday 7 February 2014

Frugal Friday...

Well, week 1 of the food challenge went quite well, I think. I did remember on the way to the shop, that we needed baking fat, and that wasn't on the list, and as I use half "Stork" and half butter in our Breakfast flapjacky things, that's a bit of an essential, so I added that on "on the hoof" as it were. It's one of the few branded items I buy, largely because it's usually the cheapest option on the shelf if you buy the large (1kg) pack, as I do. Other than that we resisted all temptations, however. Once I'd accounted for vouchers - a "Price Promise" one for 32p, and some of the luncheon vouchers, there was just 24p left to pay in actual money. That wasn't quite the end of it though as, about to leave the checkout, I was handed a further "Price Promise" voucher - this time for 62p off next shop!

In spite of LOTS of temptations in the market at Leeds I resisted spending on meat, fish or game, and instead just bought some bready-bits ("Oven cakes", fruited teacakes and the best Eccles cake I've had in a long while) but they were treats from my spending money so aren't counting as groceries. I did come back with a serious case of market envy though - especially over the Butchers shops...

"Butchers Row" - Leeds Kirkgate market
A couple of changes had to be made to the meal plan - MrEH's rugby match got cancelled on Saturday, meaning that the half-carton of soup which was just intended to feed me had to feed two of us instead. I "stretched" it using some finely sliced and sauteed onions, and a carton of chopped tomato, and it was delicious! I also decided that the sauce for the sausage pasta which we were due to eat on Wednesday night would benefit from sitting overnight to allow the flavours to develop. As neither of us fancied regular omlettes on wednesday instead, I made a variation on a "Buddha Bowl" (with thanks to an online chum for inspiration here) with bulgar wheat, lentils, mixed veg and a single-egg thin omlette on the top. I added a piece of lightly cooked salmon to each as an entirely veggie dish of that type might be stretching MrEH's tolerances a little too far - as it was his response was his usual "it was a bit heavy on the lentils!" but then he thinks any lentils at all are too many! The sauce for this was made from smoked rapeseed oil, crushed garlic, honey, balsamic vinegar and a splash of mirin, and I sprinkled toasted sesame seeds over the top. There was even enough left over of the bulgar & veggies to make my lunch today. This online "sharing of ideas" and the seeking of inspiration is one of the absolute best things about the internet age, I think.

When MrEH's car was fuelled up in the middle of the week, as expected that took us over the threshold for another Morrisons £5 voucher so we have £15 in those now. Current thinking is that I will use those in week 3 - we may well  need bread flour by then, too.

This week I intend to do my shopping at the Farm Shop - this will mean we achieve our "Supermarket free" week for this month, but of course it also means that everything I spend will be in cold hard cash. This means paring the list down to exactly what we need, and buying as seasonally as possible too - a bit of a challenge at this time of year! The meal plan for next week may well be subject to change depending on what I buy - it's currently looking like this:

Sat:  OUT Tea: OUT
Sun: Lunch: Roast Lamb with Moroccan couscous & HFW's Merguez chickpeas Tea: Crumpets & cheese

Mon:  Eggs on toast 
Tue:    Stew of some description. Using some of Sundays lamb? 
Wed:  Salmon, potato scones, veg.
Thur:   Chicken Risotto *use up last of the peas*
Fri:     Remaining chickpea curry from last week

As you can see we're still looking to "use things up!"  I am slightly concerned that all those chick peas might have an "adverse effect" though! The Merguez chickpeas have been doing in varying different forms by Mr F W in several of his books - the recipe can be found here if you fancy trying it. They're wonderful either as part of a tapas type meal, or just as a side-dish along with something else.

MrEH is currently facing a moral dilemma. He resents having to buy *anything* that "should" traditionally be sold in pints, in litres. Milk is where this causes the biggest problem, and especially on weeks I use the farm shop, not the supermarket, as they only sell 1l or 2l bottles! I'm happy to buy him a 2l bottle - at £1.49 this is substantially more expensive that our regular supermarket 4-pinters, but that's as maybe. So - I have told him that his maximum budget for the milk he wants for the week is £1.49, and he is now tasked with finding his milk himself, within that price, and without using a supermarket! *grin* - it will be interesting to see if he succeeds!

Current state of play for the month:
Total spend on groceries: £11.06
Of which cash: £0.24

If you're joining in Frugal February this year, how did your first week go?


Thursday 6 February 2014


Last month we headed back to Manchester - yes it's been a whole year since our last trip there when we went up for the National Winter Ales Festival. That has now relocated, and this year's festival was simply called the "Manchester Beer festival". Once again we went to our favourite rather fabby cafe for breakfast...

..and this time we got stripey mugs! As last year we had a bit of spare time before we needed to head off to the festival, so we had a bit of a wander around drinking in some of the wonderful architecture. Down a side street, the old Fish Market...

Just the facade now - with newer buildings built in the space behind - but how wonderful that it's been preserved! The gates and the panels above are particularly stunning - look -

A bit further on and another imposing old building, although this one still appears to be in use by its original incumbents... one of the modern day arms of the Co-operative Society seem to be making good use of this and any number of other buildings immediately nearby too. Saving the best for last from the morning though - we found it - Manchester Victoria Station. (Manchester, your penchant for "borrowing" station names from London has been noted) What an absolute gem - and so pleasing to see that it's current refurbishment appears to be making most of the existing early Victorian splendour. The ticket office alone is worth seeing...

There would be an extra little thrill to buying a ticket from there surely, although I'd feel as though I needed to ask for a standard class ticket for my Lady's Maid, also...!  The War Memorial is also rather special, sitting below the tiled route map showing where services would once have left Victoria to travel to.

I'm gaining a new interest in War memorials of late thanks to a rather lovely friend of mine who is involved in researching the Memorials in her area, and i always try to seek out station ones as they're often rather wonderful.

Reluctantly we peeled ourselves away from the station to head to the Beer festival - as the weather was fine we decided to save the Tram fare and walk there along the Ashton Canal - we were glad we did too, what a lovely walk!

Locks galore (including one of the deepest that I have ever seen), old factory buildings, and as we got close to the Festival venue a rather good view of a large Football stadium, although I confess I had to ask which club it was home to...! The festival venue itself was seriously impressive...

...yep, that's the National Cycling Centre, and when we first arrived there were indeed cyclists whizzing around it! Full credit to the organisers for this festival - they were far, far busier than expected during their first few days open, so they dropped admission prices for Saturday due to depleted beer supplies. This meant that as CAMRA members we got in free, and for a dark beer fan like me there was still an excellent range to choose from. Throw in lots of good pals and some cheerful chat and all in all we had a brilliant day!


Tuesday 4 February 2014

More London Walking...

Having an afternoon to spare in London, I decided to tackle a section of the Jubilee Walkway - this is a series of "walks within a walk" - 5 circular individual ambles around Central London - in fact, the Walk London website describes it as "Essential London".

I decided to walk section 4 this time- so far as I could see there was no benefit to doing them in order, and this one was absolutely in the right area for where I needed to be later. The walk starts right in the heart of "Legal London" - chancery Lane. The first stretch is lined with Barristers chambers and law firms, all within spitting distance of the Royal Courts of Justice.

In theory this is a waymarked walk - with the route indicated by these inset plates in the pavement, you might have seen them when you've been walking around London...

...I say "in theory" because I didn't find these to be tremendously reliable. I'd taken the precaution of downloading both map and directions onto my iPhone - in spite of assuming I'd not need them - and was glad I had. At about 50% of the junctions the plates were missing altogether and in other spots the overlapping nature of the various sections of the walk caused confusion. Thanks to the directions though finding the right route was easy enough - although that may in part have also been due to having a pretty good working knowledge of London!

I realised as I walked that I was going to be revisiting a lot of familiar spots - Thanet Street, where MrEH's Best Man Nick lived when I first knew him, and the Lamb pub at Lambs Conduit street, where Nick & his now wife had their engagement party. Bidborough street - home of the London Drinker Beer Festival, and numerous places when I did site visits in my old job. Blue plaques were plentiful too, Sir John Barbirolli, Mary Shelley, but probably best of all, this one...

If I had to come up with one word to summarise this walk it would be "Contrast" - startling to go from immaculate and opulent looking legal practises to streets full of pretty little Pied A Terres, via scruffy backstreet Bed & Breakfasts of the sort usually filled with only those desperate enough to have nowhere else to go, and run down council estates...every now and then though I came face to face with something like this...

...a real attempt to brighten up the environment going on in that little section of street.

Fabulous architecture is another feature of this area - from the stunning St Pancras Station...

...very possible the most impressive building in London in my view, to this entirely unexpected little building not far from Kings Cross...

Then on past Euston Station (no impressive architecture there!)  where we would be returning later that night to catch a train to Manchester - more about that trip in another post - pasing by the two small buildings which used to flank the spectacular Doric Arch which marked the entrance to the station. These now house pubs, the Euston tap (a craft beer fans mecca) to the left, and opposite, the Cider Tap.  Next came some of London's smartest squares - Gordon Square, Russell Square, Bloomsbury Square - surprising areas of green-ness in this very built-up area.

Next, a first for me, my first ever foray inside the British Museum! If I had a pound for every time I've been told that I "really ought to go" then saving for retirement would not be an issue! The problem is, the more I'm told I "ought" to do a thing, the less inclined I am to actually want to do it! Anyway, it is a fantastic building, no question, and yes I did have a little look around as I wandered through it. I might even go back for a proper look one day!

From the Museum you emerge into the heart of Bloomsbury before returning via High Holborn, Kingsway and Lincolns Inn Fields to the starting point. This walk would make a fantastic pub crawl - I passed lots of decent pubs, and there's any number more just a stones throw away from the walk route. Of the Jubilee Walkway routes this was one of the longer ones at just about 4 miles, and being all on pavements means it's quite unforgiving walking. With plenty to look at and investigate though it feels easy enough, and there are certainly enough places to stop along the way!