Friday, 2 January 2015

Happy No Beers!

 Hello and welcome to the future! I hope you're enjoying your hover-boards and self-tying trainer laces! Remember kids, hover-boards don't work over water.

A few people have asked me if I have any New Year's resolutions, and I realized that the thing about "resolutions" is that you can't say "resolutions" without sounding a bit sloshed.

Try it for yourself right now. Resolutions, resolutions, resolutions. See?

I really only have one goal that I'm not already working on, and that's to try to be healthy - properly. And so OH and I are going to have a go at sobriety. Pfft! As OH is also in training for his first half-ironman, I think we need to go a bit beyond January, but we're inspired by the likes of the Hairy Dieters and Tom Kerridge who've basically just cut out the booze and done a bit more moving to get amazing results:

Ah... so one picture is long and the other is short. I see...
We kicked off the New Year with an intrepid six-mile hike round the Northamptonshire countryside. A good way to break in OH's new walking shoes.

En route, we saw a woodpecker. Can you spot it in the trees?

Our walk took us through the boggy fields of the nature reserve, and around the picturesque village of Boughton. We saw a flock of partridge scatter as we passed. Our destination was the ruins of 12th century Boughton village's original St John the Baptist Church - the beautiful Gothic architecture is slowly being taken over by nature. Here, OH's attention is taken by the sudden hoot of an owl.
An unlikely member of The Cure, yesterday.
The church was in use until sometime towards the end of the 15th/early 16th century, and sketches drawn in the 1700s show the tower was still standing then, though the walls were down. There is a field nearby which was the old village green, where evidence of an abandoned medieval village has been found around it. Strangely, the churchyard itself is still in use as consecrated ground and there are recent graves dotted among the Victorian stones there. The green itself was where the annual fair was held until 1916 - the biggest in the country, locals claim. Wouldn't it be great if they held one for the 100 year anniversary?

We also spied one of the Boughton Hall follies - the famous obelisk, now surrounded by a housing estate. We didn't spy any of the famous black squirrels, though. Another time, maybe?

In more Christmas leftover news, I found something to do with leftover mincemeat and 3 dark brown bananas from the much-neglected fruit-bowl.
Mmm, I think Paul Hollywood would see through the icing sugar disguise!
Banana and Mincemeat Tea Bread
200g self-raising flour
1/4 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 level teaspoon salt
75g butter (unsalted)
100g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas, mashed
a handful of almond flakes (optional - or use any chopped nuts)
80g mincemeat (this was 1/4 jar that we had left)
25g sultanas (add a few more if you like)

This was a bit of guesswork, but I knew that you can adjust the sugar in a traditional tea bread by adding other sweet things. It happened to turn out pretty well like this.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius: It's a slow baker, so you will also need to protect the bread from over-browning by making sure the shelf level is appropriate before you start. I didn't and ended up swearing a lot, not realizing OH was on the phone to his mum.

In one bowl, sieve together the flour, salt and bicarb. In another cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then mix in the eggs, little by little. Add the mashed banana and mincemeat, mix well, then gradually stir in the dry ingredients and the extra sultanas and nuts.

Pour the mix into a greased, lined 1lb loaf tin. In hindsight I would add a paper cover to prevent over-browning from the very start as this will take 1 and a quarter/half hours to cook through (knife comes out clean).

Mind fingers and remove from the tin to allow to cool on a wire rack.

Make a brew!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Move Over Leftovers - Cant Knock the Gnocchi!

Christmas food... Will it never end!?

We still have some mincemeat and baddies to chomp through, but yesterday we tackled the leftover mash.  Shoved in a box with some cabbage and sprouts, bubble and squeak sprang to mind.

And then I thought, no! Away with your boring and predictable squeaky thing. These lovely spuds have been finished with truffle oil* - is that any way to treat them?

Peering in the fridge, I also saw we had leftover cream, a few almonds that had been mixed in with the sprouts, three lonely and forlorn-looking mushrooms and a butternut squash. I thought, put me on Ready Steady Cook right now, because I know what I'm going to do with these babies.

How do you make gnocchi? Well, they're so easy - I think these little potato dumplings are far easier to make than your normal egg pasta.

In a bowl, I had about 300g of mashed potato (by sight, this is a fairly hungry person's single portion of mash, or about 5 scoops) and mixed in one egg. Then I sieved in some plain flour, bit by bit, stirring with a wooden spoon until it started to clump in a dough-y way. You need to get your hands in to be sure you've put in the right amount of flour, but you should end up with something a bit squidgier than play-dough, not dry and crumbly, not stuck to your hands either, and it will be just less than double the size of the mash you started with.

If you think this is a bit slap dash, it is. If you want the posh way of making gnocchi with potato ricers, and paddles and faff, try the Guardian website. Honestly, cooking spuds specifically for gnocchi is a waste of time and energy; I think you get better results with cold leftover mash.

Once you have your dough, grab lumps and roll into sausages with your hands, then cut into lumps and roll with a fork to make little notches (very important for holding the sauce).

Her's my motley crew.

Look, I didn't say I was Gennaro Contaldo.
You want them to be the same size really, because that will affect the cooking. I am a maverick when it comes to the shaping and sizing of my gnocchi.

Put a pan of water to boil and add the Suzie Salt just as it's bubbling (salted water takes longer to boil and I am Richard Osman). put the gnocchi in - they will sink. They will take 4-5 minutes to cook. When they are ready they will come to the surface, but leave them a few seconds bobbing up and down before removing from the pan. Fry them if you want to. I didn't.

My gnocchi then, served in a sauce made by softening some onions and crushed garlic in pan with butter, adding chopped mushrooms and roasted butternut squash, white pepper, sage, nutmeg, a slosh of cream, and finishing with some grated cheddar. It's lumpy and pale orange, but lush.
Ah, I'm a maverick when it comes to presentation and artful photography too.

*Truffle oil was a freebie from someone who had been given it but didn't think they'd ever use it. I know!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

What a Knit-Wit!

It hasn't been all work, work, work over Chrimbo. Although I managed to miss most of the festive televisual fare (apart from Doctor Who, of course!), I finally took the time to put my feet up and catch up on some of the stuff we've been recording over the past few months.

And because my hands need something to do apart from reach for chocolate truffles and chilli nuts, I did a quick knit project.

Using half a ball of wool left over from one of my MIL's projects, I made myself a lovely free headband - start to finish just a couple of evenings' work.

Cute or what!

The pattern I used came from a book I got from the library: Queen of Crafts by Mollie Makes regular contributor Jazz Domino Holly. Don't want to give away her work but basically if you can do stocking stitch, you can do this. It's 3 pieces, all stocking stitch, all sewn together.

It's a great book for beginners, with lots of tips and a bit of youthful Jam and Shoreditch vibe.

Speaking of youth, there's a good reason I've cropped the pic the way I have.

Having sewn the headband up last night, I couldn't wait to wear it outside. Sitting there with it on in my onesie made me feel like Mrs Andy Capp. And my how cold and  frosty it was today! Rushing through the estate to the train station, the green fields leading down to the River Nene were rimed with frost, a stark contrast with the famous lift tower and train tracks beyond. A world in white.

What a good backdrop for a selfie of me in my headband, I thought, and proceeded to try to get a good shot. A woman in a house opposite was at her dining table eating her cereal and she looked distinctly worried. I'm only taking a selfie, get a grip, I thought. Then I realised it probably looked like I was trying to get a picture of her in her nightie and rollers.

Beep Beep! Some passing blokes in a white pick-up were astounded at the site of a woman looking at her phone. I may have looked a bit odd, but it's not unusual for round near me - the beeping that is. It's how they communicate when they want to say "Ug!* Woman!" Sometimes, passers by will try to say, "Hello" at me by reaching down the front of their loose jogging pants and having a good old rummage while staring at me intently. You know how they say most communication is non-verbal. Well round my way it's near 100%!

Anyway, I didn't want to hang about, so I took my photo and carried on. Only when I got to the train station was I able to look and see a lovely picture of me and my-


They're not normally so... erm... baggy. What's more they didn't seem to be anywhere near my eyes. They were more halfway down my cheeks! That's how I have managed to crop the photo to still contain a goodly amount of my under-eye area and completely miss them from the photo. I look like this:

I put it down to Christmas bloat, the cold and it being early morning, but I reckon a frugal use of used teabags will be in order tonight.

*By "Ug", I mean primitive speech-like noise, rather than ugly. That would be "Pug-Ug!"
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Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas Presents


Hope you had a proper Chrimbo, as Bo Selecta would have said.

Like many non-solo family units, the frugal message  is only as strong as the weakest and most excitable family member, so the old frugal wagon wheel fell off around mid-December, when OH wanted to go shopping for the stuff he wanted to make for dinner, and the stuff he wanted to drink with it. Oh and the budget we had set each other - which I blooming well stuck to, ahem!

As a consequence, I now have an unwanted and unplanned for imbalance in the old gift-exchange quota, which I have promised to make up for so long as OH himself 'makes good'. This involves a reverse-effort of sorts, as  have allowed him to research Freeview options for a near-future purchase in return for being absolutely and positively banned from shopping for the next 2 months. He mostly gets frugal-shopping, and is pretty good at YS-spotting, but his grasp of use-by dates and our ability to consume several jumbo pots of expired chilli houmous is a tad woeful.

We have enough bad, bad Chrimbo stuff left over, like chocolates and biscuits and cake, for it to be a while before he is flapping open cupboards looking for 'snacks' 20 minutes before dinner. So, I also have to be pretty good with planning those in, and making sure he gets plenty of iron in his diet as he needs this - if only to cope with me.

I have to say I am a lucky, lucky girl - and so spoiled. So I am not moaning. You think this is moaning? Oh, well, it isn't. We know each other so very well and we're a fab team. I've received gifts that will inspire me, make me happy, make me feel special, and which will encourage me to carry on, dream my dreams and build myself up. The biggest of the gifts is the one I get every day - that's his love, not what you were thinking. Anyway, I'm happy.

Monday, 15 December 2014

I Like Chrimbo and I Cannot Lie

Thank you very much Mark and Pru for commenting on the last blog. Yes it's lovely to be back, although I am predictably still too busy to be keeping up to date with things properly.

We've done  pretty well on paying off the Banker.
... not as well as we'd hoped, but we should be good to - gulp - take on the next scary phase.

Next year, we have to properly spank that banker!

Not a great start, as a generous present to us - a car - has actually meant we now have extra transport costs to consider. We've coped perfectly well without a car for the last three years. So, why do we now have one? Well, it was an offer we couldn't refuse.

 Not in a bad way, though... thank you in-laws! It does resolve a few travelling conundrums for next year, and we are determined only to use it for essential journeys. Not commuting, not shopping.

We are lucky chickens, really.

Just as well, as OH has busted his Chrimbo present budget for me. This cannot happen next year! It's proper wishlist abuse.

We finally got the tree up this weekend. I was almost tempted to suggest we put tinsel round the water-butt, as that's what we had stuck in the lounge. now, I like big butts and I cannot lie, so I will let you know I was very happy that the butt also got installed outside this weekend.

For Christmas jumper day, I wore my chazza-shop-bought jumper with tartan deer appliqué. Not really a Christmas jumper as such, but I made it myself and can wear it other times too.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Where Have I Been and Where's All My Stuff?

Hello everyone, I am back, but like Renee Zellweger I look a bit different.

Still very lovely, just not Bridget Jones anymore.
 But Renee at least still has a human face. I have had my head replaced by a carrot! I grew it myself. :-)

I decided to go through the process of nonnymizing my blog. Now, you probably know who I am anyway, and I don't mind about that. But I have a side to me that is not about knitting, yoghurt or even knitting yoghurt, and I would really like to do things with that that me going on about the price of fish may detract from. At the same time, I would also like to happily chirrup on  about things I've made from bits of tat, my love of homemade bread, the tea mountain that is my kitchen cupboard and my need to save lots and lots of money...

The two things go hand in hand as far as I'm concerned. I have a dream!

And that dream is going to make me all serious and business-like on my other site and I need a space both to kick back and to count my grubby pennies from the jar with my cold-numbed fingers in my fingerless gloves.

Serious, moi?

Afraid so, fellow bloggers and blog-readers...

This is the place where I will focus on building my dream. The next few years are going to need serious financial investment, as we repay our existing debts, do up the house, then try to secure the life we want. A lot of slog, a lot of creative thinking.

These are my goals for 2015 and beyond:

  • Build up my creative freelance work.
  • Try podcasting
  • Learn to sew!!!!
  • Run more
  • Afford a short break this year, as well as travel for work interests
  • Make loan/mortgage overpayments
  • Begin major house repairs
  • 5 years' time - be doing what really I want to do full time.

The two months I've had away from the blog have made me realise that it really was a useful tool for me. My old posts will re-appear gradually and new ones will arrive too. I hope to see you along on the journey!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Cost of Public Transport

James Cook of VoucherCloud has sent me another interesting infographic.

I do a lot of travel by train, especially for jobs 2 and 3, and though the figures below look like you can make amazing savings, I need more tricks than this because:

a) I may need to wait until payday to fund the trip.
b) Notice of when you need to travel is sometimes a luxury too.
c) I may not have the option to travel at the cheapest times of day (this is why I've never managed to use Megabus).
d) You may find super-off peak tickets are cheaper anyway!

Despite many restrictions to a recent journey to the West Mids, I managed to save money anyway by splitting my ticket and using the tram instead of the train for one leg of my journey.

Alternative to Northampton to Wolverhampton off-peak - £25.90
Northampton to Birmingham Stations off-peak - £18.30
Birmingham to Wolverhampton super off-peak £2.30
Wolverhampton to Birmingham plus bus £3.10
Total: £23.70

And if you wanted to go by train for that return from Wolverhampton, Virgin do a cheaper ticket for just £3.40. Painlessly saving £1.90 instead of £2.20 for a slightly longer journey. You need to weigh up the pros and cons.

So, before we get into the infographic, here are my tips on getting the most out of frequent non-commuter train travel.

1. Sure, check what the advance prices are. You have to stick to your travel times with those, though.
2. Check if National Express  can do the trip at a reasonable price, journey duration and travelling time.
3. Check Megabus, but don't expect much. I know a performer who always travels by Megabus to save money, but he's happy to wait four hours in a bus station after a gig and I'm not.
4. Check if Amazon Voucher deals have one of those amazing sales where you can spend £5 to get £10 off.
5. London Midland do Great Escapes every now and then. Can that help at all?
6. See if you can get it cheaper through Tickety Split.
7. Link your Nectar Card to as many sites as possible such as First Hull, East Midlands etc.
8. Use a cashback site to book through such as Quidco. You can't use separate voucher codes with that, but you can collect Nectar points.
9. Travelling off-peak in the South East. A Network Railcard gets you 1/3 off travel, and you can use that solo or with another traveller too.
10. Two Together can be used anywhere off-peak, advanced  and  anytime and also save 1/3. They also send you lots of deals. I've just got 4 months of Gourmet Society membership for £1 through them. Paid for itself more than once over on its first outing with me. Buy online though, it's cheaper.
11. Unless you have a voucher code, the Trainline can't save you any more money than anywhere else, and they charge a booking fee. No need!
12. Remember plus bus, save on taxis. Check Traveline to see what services you can get from a station on the way.

Oh and always take a drink with you!
(and nibbles :))

Train Fares - How Much Can we Save by Booking in Advance? - An infographic by the team at vouchercloud

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