Friday, 27 March 2015

Happy as a Pig...

A friend asked me about my blog the other day, and I told him I had no heart for it at the moment. The problem is I have had a happy ending fail and I didn't know how to write about that... except maybe as a fairy story.

Once upon a time, there was a Pig Princess. DAMMIT I WILL BE A PRINCESS!

And the Princess Pig lived with her Prince in a house of straw.  But the Wolf of Worry kept blowing bits away and the house got smaller and smaller, no matter how hard the Princess kept waving her wand to try to fix it all. No, the wand is not a euphemism, and the wolf was not Taylor Lautner... he's a bit young anyway.

One day the house blew clean away. The Princess ran and ran and found herself a nice little house of bricks, where she would be safe from the Wolf of Worry living all by herself. But that made her sad, and so she was very happy when the handsome Sir Pigalot came along with a big grin on his face and a spring in his tail. And yes, he did have a sword, but it was a proper metal one for reenactments and not what you're thinking.

The Princess left her house of bricks to go and live in a charming house of sticks with the piggie knight. Other piggies went to live in the house of bricks and they paid the Princess in turnips. Yes, turnips. Just go with it.

Anyway, she was very happy (and she still is)... but occasionally the Wolf of Worry pops round and tries to wreck things. If only they were living in a house of bricks, like the one the Princess owns but no, they just have the tumbledown sticks, and they still need to be paid for too. They have enough turnips at the moment (and probably far, far too many judging by their fat little bellies) and in this regard they are so much luckier than a lot of other piggies out there. But at the moment, Sir Pigalot isn't going on many adventures - he's just had enough of fighting dragons and Wolves of Worry all the time. He's not the happy piggy he once was, and the Princess doesn't know what to do.

One day, he'll be a happy piggy again, but we need to find him something to do that doesn't involve fire-breathing dragons.

What adventures could we go on next?

With thanks and love to my dear OH who I showed the story to, and who said I could share it.

Hello new follower, Frugal in France. As you can see, it has been a bit echoey round here lately, but I will try to post more often.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Batten Down the Hatches!

The ball is rolling on the buyout, all financials are in place, and I am now fully committed to the programme of frugaldom-agogo.

This is hugely scary, and I feel tremendously wibbly, but I am trying to stay positive.

I am thankful for the  bounty of the universe, enabling me to cope. That includes a dull 20p I found in the car park this morning.

Thanks to a gift card from work, I have been able to secure some much-needed new bedding for nowt.

I had to buy some new socks - 2 for £1 at Poundland, which is great as some of mine were beyond a darn. And some I notice have not gone into a hole yet, but are like fine mesh around the heel. They seem to be pretty good at 50p a pair!

OH's watch which I got him for his 40th broke. Apparently, the guarantee was only for 12 months, so even though we managed to get it repaired under warranty the first time it broke, apparently it was going to cost this time. We sent it out for a quote at H. S**uels - £140!!! We only spent £80 in the first place!

What would you have done?

OH really wanted his watch, and had spied it was still on sale for £80 in the shop window, albeit with a different strap. Could they sell that to us and just swap the strap. Of course, they said, but my foot was tapping... had they been trying to fleece us? Now, they asked, would we like to pay extra for additional warranty, best value at 5 years. It's worth it, isn't it, OH asked, seeing as it already broke twice in 2 years?

I harrumphed, big time. "For a watch that has only been worn for best on a few occasions, I would expect it not to break at all during 5 years, let alone twice already. In fact, I would be tempted not to buy from this shop ever again!" OH did crestfallen face. "You'd have to make it worth it," I said to the assistant. "Especially seeing as we had to point out the watch to you. A discount?" Ten per cent? - Thank you very much - "Deal."

Plus, we just got £4 back from Quidco for the same sale. That's a saving of £52 on the original quote, plus an additional 5 year's guarantee. And OH has his watch!

It's not an actual saving, as we had to buy another flipping watch, but that's not staying positive...

Taking pleasure in the things that come for free...

  • TV - can't watch many things because I am so busy, and gutted to have missed out on Wolf Hall, but I have been enjoying Broadchurch, Catastrophe, and Uncle
  • Podcasts - The Infinite Monkey Cage is longer on Soundcloud than on R4 and is there for you to listen whenever. Answer Me This is also hugely entertaining.
  • Books - I'm now a bit of a Tom Pollock fan, really enjoying the Skyscraper Throne series. I have also started reading Wolves by Simon Ings and it is bleak, beautiful and dreamily sad. Thanks, the library!
  • Knitting - thanks to a generous gift of knitting paraphernalia from my MIL, I am making lovely things for the babies I know. I'm currently making an owl.
  • Online resources - I got an email this morning from someone who recommended - well worth looking at if you, your friends or family have any mental health issues.
Hello to new followers, Tracy, and  Jill on Bloglovin. I hope you enjoy my scary adventures.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Eat Well for Therapy?

It has been another busy week. I've been working hard. OH has been poorly, but getting better, fingers crossed.

I decided to have a glass of wine yesterday, and it may or not be related but I woke up at 4am feeling awful. This morning my eye-bags have bags and I have dandruff between my eyebrows, my skin is so dry. And I didn't really enjoy the wine. I left some in the glass.

Am I cured of booze? Should I just have had a cider?

With a busy weekend ahead, I'm not going to risk anything more daring than a rose lemonade.


A few of us have been commenting on the new BBC programme: Eat Well For Less

Aha. The sneaky question mark says it all.
This is a light infotainment programme in which two green grocers - one a famous eater of puddings, and another one -  plus a dietician help wayward families slash their grocery bills, primarily through the magic of brand-downsizing.

Actually, the programme isn't called Eat Well for Less, it's called Eat Well for Less? I think a lot of us failed to notice the punctuation there. It's a silent question mark - much like the one employed by Irish alternative metallers Therapy?

So far, I've seen one episode, where the Eat Well for Less? team helped a family of two Snorkas and their two little chipolatas who were spending £260 a week, mainly on sausages, which has annoyed a lot of people.  After making some brand substitutions for things they had tried and liked, but without giving them any further clues about available foodstuffs they could buy (salami, haggis, white pudding... vegetables), stock-taking, meal-planning, stock-rotation, stock photo man... etc etc, they were able to reduce their weekly bill by £70.

Well... good. But we frugalistas didn't think that went far enough. Those kids were lovely, but if they kept eating humongous quantities of sausages, things could only go from Brat to Wurst!

A number of blogs have re-named the programme Eat Slightly Cheaper But Just As Badly, thus making me wonder.... what would Therapy? have done?


Over to worrisome lyricist Andy Cairns to guide us through how to Eat Well for Therapy?

Meat Abstract - mince is fantastic. You can make lots of things and it goes a long way. Cottage pie. Shepherds pie. Rural worker of non-specific type pie...

Animal Bones - great for making stock or soup. Don't just put them in the bin after the roast is carved. You can pay top whack in some restaurants for marrow, you know.

Potato Junkie - they're not bad for you, you know, and they're full of Vitamin C and cheap. Don't worry about getting addicted, now! Use leftover spuds to make bubble and squeak, potato cakes or gnocchi, or of course some lovely Colcannon.

Neck Freak - I often see lamb necks going cheap in the YS selection at Waitrose. Freaky, but yummy.

Teethgrinder - there's no discernible difference between Ryvita and Supermarket own brand rye crackers. Don't be a brand snob.

Knives - you can have my life, but you can't hide the knives. However mine are rubbish. I've managed to stab my hand with a Kitchen Devil without even drawing blood, so they are probably safe with the subject of this song! I'm after some Japanese blades as soon as I can afford them - which will be in about ten years. It's about the only thing for the kitchen it's worth spending money on. And they will be hidden, blog-reading psychos.

Diane - learning how to make basic sauces can make a standard meat and veg meal into something rather special. I'm not sure the Diane of this song was a sauce, but I bet she was saucy, eh? Eh?

Jam Jar Jail - don't bother paying £2.99 on a fancy new Kilner. Re-use your old jam jars when making jam and decorate nicely. Then give to comedian Josh Widdecombe. He loves jam.

Stalk & Slash - don't throw away broccoli and cauliflower stalks - just get rid of the hard skin and they go lovely in soups.

Living in the Shadow of the Terrible Thing - I'm not wasting a load of eggs on making a souffle again. It's just a poncey Yorkshire pudding. Just make Yorkshire pudding with a lovely cheese sauce!

So, there, you go. Thanks, Andy Cairns!

Next week, Greg Wallace and Chris Bavin pollute their programme title with a load of green grocers' apostophe's.

Monday, 2 February 2015

If I Were Steve McQueen...

Hello to my new followers, Frugal Queen and Christine. Honoured to have you on board!

Apologies for taking so long to post a new blog. I am deep into a work project and it is a very anxious time for me as I want to do really well with it, hence I'm not around to blog very often.

Exciting times ahead. Now, if I were to tell you I'm just about to get into a big bucket of debt, you'd probably think, well, Frugal Wench - not doing too well at the old frugal thing, then, are you? But don't panic.

Don't Panic!

Thanks, Douglas Adams...

No, don't panic - it's all planned in, has been on the books for years and will stop the walls of my house falling off. And it will be my dodgy roof, as I will be part-owner!

Okay... I'll admit. I am a bit anxious. This a humongous thing I'm taking on, and it's oh-so-slightly eating into the big escape plan.

Steve McQueen: someone's nicked his bike.
No, the big escape plan.
It's a good plan, and I can see it clearly. Just like that pin on the floor, there.

Here is the plan:
  • Take on responsibility for the house I am living in. Fix the roof and windows. Put in a proper bathroom. If time and resources permit, build a TARDIS in the garden.
  • Work like a donkey. Live like a hermit - a hermit who has to get out there and network occasionally.
  • Pay back the banker a bit quicker than the 60 months on the schedule.
  • Get rid of that pesky mortgage.
  • Earn enough to live solely on my freelance and performance work - this is all weighted towards editorial work at present. Hard slog ahead.
It's a plan that has concertina-stretched from 5 years to 7, to 3, now back to 10. At times I despair a bit. My dreams have been vivid and frightening. I think the important thing though is to keep on pushing - yes, it's a bit of a never-ending endeavour, like Sisyphus, though as Camus said, "The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." Which is something about trying makes you happy.
We have a few social engagements and work travel, all booked and paid for last year, so we shan't be confined in our misery. However, a few additional need-to-spends have cropped up - my dad is getting married, for one!  So it's unlikely I'll be able to make a uni reunion abroad, and we will have to re-think our holiday plans, as Alsace turns out to be a bit too pricey to get to. After some discussion, we may just wait to see what turns up in the bargain last-minute breaks, but as we're not really too much into being herded into endless Hotel Miramars and Bellvueses and Bontinentals with their international luxury modern roomettes and their Watney's Red Barrel, we're not certain what we'll be able to get. Torr-e-mol-i-nos!
Isn't it weird, how you can sometimes get a beach holiday with all-inclusive chips and lager for cheaper than a 'self-catering' flat with a two-hob stove and dodgy lino somewhere cold near a museum?

Does travel broaden the mind, or merely increase the tan?

I think I need to stop thinking about holidays... wrong kind of escape.

It has been a good start to the year on the no-booze front. I decided to drink on one day, in solidarity with a friend who has been told she can no longer have any yeast-based foods, so it was a last hurrah to cider. But the next day I felt like someone had taken a pumice to my soul. I am not one to get hangovers, and not a frequent drinker either, but it has taken this break to show me how much booze affects me mentally as well as physically. I am quite sure I will continue to snaffle the occasional 'free wine' at a book launch, but I have absolutely no itch to start drinking again soon. Plus, I'm sure I have a few extra quid in my pocket as a result of this dry period.

Very happy to be the opposite of Nigel Farage too.

I'm also getting faster again. I did the a 5km run last week in 32.09, and this week at Parkrun achieved 31.39. My PB is 29.52 from 2013 - I will be back!

My attempts to do knitting in the round to make a baby dragon from the Ravelry website ended in a big fail, so I'm working on cute owls instead. Hope to finish by March. Let's Knit sent me access to a free magazine from May 2014 though, and there are loads of good patterns on there too!

Right, I'll try my best to post again soon. Take care everyone!

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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