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

Embed Train Fares - How Much Can we Save by Booking in Advance? on Your Site: Copy and Paste the Code Below

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Post-Birthday Post

Hello readers. This is Frugalwench from the future.

I wouldn't bother going there, if I were you. It's horrible. It's a bit like Warhammer:

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war the mournful poking of belly flab. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter wondering why you ate all that, and the laughter of thirsting cider gods.

I've been really pleased with how we managed the grocery budget last month and coped with my birthday and a huge convention. But it seems the battlefield is strewn with regret as I am distinctly bigger than I was before all that. I used to be a be-plaited beardy Gotrex of a woman. Now I have a touch of Ork about me. Or Orc, as Tolkien would have spelled it. Except orcs/orks probably never felt a shimmer of horror as they waved coo-ey at Saruman and started the perpetual motion-effect of a pendulous bingo-wing.

Bludgeoning instruments down for a full house.
Sauron's eye... we don't speak about Sauron's eye.
All the ates. Me ate 'em.

The thing about Orcs is that they are always hungry, but generally they don't let it affect their figure. Mind, they probably get enough of a workout, what with all the stomping and marching about they do. And the sentient creatures they gobble, alive and wriggling, probably don't have all the trans-fats and nasties of, say, cake.

If I am to have a future that is less grim, I need to do something about it. Somewhere, deep within all this corruption, there is a beautiful elf. A very, very short one. I want to be that elf! At least because there aren't any issues regarding the spelling.

I'm not sure acquiring a pair of pointy ears will help...

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Birthday Post

Hello everyone, and happy birthday to me.

I've been having a lovely relaxed day, reading stories, eating cake... my new purple trews (Cancer Research, £4.25, Per Una!!) were lovely and comfy and now feel a wee bit snug. I've run out of cake now though. Oh, hang on... no I haven't. Huzzah!

I've had some really lovely presents. Most practical are the new purple DMs bought for me by OH. My old tartan ones are getting recycled into flowerpots.

It's not been a terribly frugal weekend. I know, I've let the sisterhood down! But I don't care.

I had a Taste card on trial, and that came in very useful. OH took me for a gorgeous meal at a hotel near us, and all the food was 50% off.

The weather is all crappy and rainy at the moment, but while the sun was shining, I went swimming, and I cycled all the way to Spratton. This was where the Women's Tour did their Queen of the Mountains stage on their second leg through Northamptonshire, so very much a challenge. I coped with the first big hill but not the second... I had to get off and push the last bit. But what a beautiful village to end up in! I took a breather at B23 cafe, which is part of the King's Head pub.

My annoying head music that I regale to anyone listening as I zoom past is "Let it Go" from Frozen. Hey, it helps me.

Other Chazza shop bargains I have grabbed this week - 10p each, Robert Rankin's The Sprouts of Wrath and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Classic!

Currently reading a library-sourced book, the most beautiful prose of fellow local author Judith Allnat: A Mile of River. It's a very crisp debut.

Some readers will have noticed there is a gap in time where a convention happened... I intend to write about that on my website very shortly. Yes, I also brought free books back from that one too...

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

My First Sky Ride

Move over Wiggo... I've joined Team Sky!

Actually I have merely joined a social cycling group, organised by Sky and British Cycling. Called SkyRide, it's a wonderful motivator. There are women-only rides called Breeze, or there are mixed group rides. There are rides suitable for all levels, from Steady to Challenging.

Actually, my Steady ride was a pretty challenging one. This is because:
  • I'm rubbish
  • I hate downhills
  • I don't like bleeding
  • I've got no sense of direction
  • I can't balance
  • What are gears?
  • I live a long way from places that cyclists normally drive to first.
But I was awesome, because I rode 7 miles to Pitsford Reservoir, did the 5-mile route, rode back, didn't fall off. AND THERE WAS THUNDER AND LIGHTNING! Also, I talked to men driving a steam train who pointed out that I was racing their train AND FLIPPING WELL BEATING IT!! (Yes, they were wearing those natty red neckerchiefs. Proper train drivers!)

I had a wobbly moment when I got cocky and tried to drink and ride at the same time. I nearly did a Froome and crash into someone - at a bus stop. But 19 miles isn't shabby at all.

Plus I found an almost whole loom band, got a free hi-vis jacket, and didn't die.

Awesome view

Not my puncture.
I flippin' well deserve this cake!!!!!!
If you like cycling, this is recommended. The people are nice, they showed me how to brake on gravel properly and fix my sticky cogs. Sky Ride is free, too.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Improv, Caterpillars and Frogspawn Jelly

My first attempts at trying to be Felicity Kendall have hit a wall of fail...

Felicity is disappointed with me.
I've been harvesting salad and strawberries from my garden, and gazing with admiration at the yellow blooms on my courgettes, the beanstalks slowly winding their way round the canes, and the leafy promise of my cabbages. Not hugely impressive, but it was a good start.

Then, woe is me - my rocket got a load of flea beetles. They're not even in my gardening books, what the flip do I do with them? To top that, my cabbages are more shrunken and lacy than Beyonce's latest skimpy stage outfit after some sneaky butterflies managed to get under my nets. And an unknown something has been nibbling at my mizuna. I think it was one of these...

Be More Rabbit.
Oh well... I think we can still get a stir fry out of the pre-nibbled cabbages - a small one. Just got to check extra-carefully for the sneaky green caterpillars - they're not as easy to spot as the stripy, spiky ones.

This week I've not done too much in the garden, besides flinging caterpillars to almost certain bird-related death beneath the sycamore tree. Instead, I had a rather cultural weekend. On Friday, I went to see "A Shoemaker Goes to War" at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. I learned that the famous Lord Kitchener poster was designed by a Northampton artist - Arthur Leete.

There was a rotating display of poetry by ordinary Tommies that reminded me somewhat of Baldrick's "The Guns of War." Those poor men, trying to find something to make them smile amidst the mud, lice and gore produced these personal writings full of silliness, licentiousness and humour, with bawdy, cheeky language and crude accompanying sketches.  It seems almost unfathomable that the First World War began a whole century ago. They may have been born Victorians, but they still did lad jokes.

It's a good display, so do go and see the exhibition. It's still our museum, even though they've lost their accreditation due to selling off the Egyptian statue - which you may have read about in the news. Some people think they will have made enough from that sale for the accreditation not to matter for the next few years, but that's not the case at all. Selling the statue was all in all, not a good idea, but it's not the fault of the staff there. The museum is still an asset, and the rest of the artifacts must be defended. The Save Our Sekhema Action Group inform us here of why this sets a dangerous precedent and why it's such a bad thing to have happened to the museum.

Also this weekend, I spoke to artist Noah Rose about his forthcoming project in Northampton, Changing Tracks. I am looking forward to learning more about this interesting pan-European public art installation as it develops!

I went to my friend Tom Young's improv night - The Same Faces at NN Cafe and they were just the ticket - extremely sharp and funny.

On Saturday I got to perform myself at the NN Festival, where I kicked off poetry hour along with fellow bards Ruth Harvey Gasson and Peter James Norman, and Bardic founder and stalwart, Justin Thyme. The chilled picnic vibe was occasionally threatened by rain and thunder, but that made for an intimate gig as a load of festival goers dragged bales of straw into the marquee to hear Justin and Peter. It was lovely, and all the acts seemed to go down well. I also  got to hear sets from Leila Jane (gorgeous voice) and the fabulous Retro Spankees.
Spanking good.

My picnic for the occasion was rather less successful... I made some lovely cheese, leek and cumin muffins and a pasta salad with some lemon and berry jellies for dessert. I got the idea from the Co-op magazine, which had the idea of presenting the jellies in pretty glass jars. Unfortunately, the lids seemed to loosen en route, and so I had a sports bag full of lemon jelly. We tried to eat it anyway, after I'd slopped it back into the jars. "Is that frogspawn?" asked a passerby.

Glorious muffins! Just look at the muffins... ignore the frogspawn.

We made a valiant effort, braving the barely set sweet as the only wasp in the field decided he'd like to hang round us. Stupid wasp... it was low sugar jelly.

Anyway, that was all free and lovely... couldn't make it back for day two as I had a lot of work on.

It's been a good week for vouchers, as I made the most of the ones for Morrisons last week, and a couple in the Metro for Subway, Gu and the magazines GQ and Glamour, which I got for £1 each. This was particularly good value as the magazines came with a free razor and moisturiser. Voucher-badgers, look out for the evil Murdoch rag again tomorrow, which apparently has the ones in for free fruit in again. And melons.

Currently babysitting... I've missed Bake-Off as we had to read Asterix and the Olympics. Bloomin' eck... that's more racist than I remembered! Skipped a bit there...

My brother said I could have a glass of fruity home brew cider as a treat. It's lush. Well done, Bro!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

A little Eeyore cloud has been following us donkeys Chez Wench around for a short while, so we are doing our best to count our blessings and do some cloudbusting - yeah, like Kate Bush.

One of the best weapons to deploy for this purpose is exercise. I have made an effort this week to do a bit of this, and do you know, it's working.

On Monday, I went for a 3km run and logged it on Strava. I decided to try a different park to the one I normally go running in, and it was fantastic: proper hills and undulating ground, a real challenge. Plus I discovered a little corner of the park led to the local nature reserve - how come I did not know this?

Also on Monday, my trial Taste card arrived (follow the link to get yours - 50% or 241 deals on restaurant meals). I started thinking about where I could use it, and we have booked a birthday meal at a lovely hotel in the countryside that we never knew existed before. How do we know it's lovely? Well, we decided to cycle there on Tuesday! Again, I logged the ride on Strava on the way there, so I know I cycled 13km that night. On the way there, we saw how the yellow broom contrasted beautifully with the purple thistle flowers at the side of the cycle path. On the way back, we came home via the N6 in the dark and it was pretty spooky - it's got massively overgrown since I walked down there last weekend. It was as if the broom, thistles and nettles were reaching out to grab me. Eek! Not so pretty now...

Last night, I suggested a lovely evening walk to OH and I showed him how I had found the entrance to the nature reserve so near to us. We walked through fields with hundreds of rabbits and took a circular route back through the village, admiring the pretty cottages and stopping off at the pocket garden of Kingsthorpe church, a wild, shadowy lovely place with tumbledown Victorian gravestones. OH showed me the Kings Well, a proper spring. The villagers have apparently long boasted that the spring water is purer than the stuff pumped up by the waterboard. There is a plaque telling us all this, which then advises the public not to actually drink it... well, guess who did anyway. A swift half at King William IV convinced us we  have found our new local. What a lovely evening!

Feeling pretty proud of OH who in a moment of true frugal insight decided not to buy cinema tickets to see Monty Python last weekend, saving us £37. He regretted it slightly as we watched the show live on TV and there were a lot of censored bits... but we have recorded the uncensored version shown on Tuesday. Some of the show reviews have been cruel and disparaging. Some people are idiots... As a teenager, I was perfectly happy to listen to the Monty Python album round my friend's house again and again and again, singing along to "Eric the Half a Bee." What did they expect the fellas to do? Of course it was a nostalgia trip, and I enjoyed it. And I've been walking home from the bus station singing "The Philosophers' Song" to myself all this week. And isn't Carol Cleveland just awesome!
It's been a bit of an arty week round work as there has been IF, MK Fringe and Festival of Nations going on in Milton Keynes.

Twice this week there have been some great and peculiar installations in front of the bus station.

And today the Festival of Nations was on. We missed quite a lot as the big stage and food stalls were all in Arts Central above the train station, but I did get to see a bit of Bollywood glamour with dances from the MK Hindu Association.

 And there was a lady giving away free bags of croissants. Bonus!

I've been making gooseberry jam all night, too (ah, it was a b*gger to set), so I've got something to go with them tomorrow. Sweet!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Allotmenting For Emos

It has been a long, hot, sticky, stormy week,  yet I am still wondering why it's so late already and why I haven't managed to do all the things I wanted to this weekend.

A lot of people are doing lists of positive stuff lately.  I am pretty positive most of the time, but for some reason that's been a challenge these past few weeks. Well, I do like a challenge.

Last Friday was my dad's birthday.  I clubbed together with my siblings to get him a pressie and we all headed over to the Black Country to spend time together. I made him a card featuring an embossed foil carp swimming through green fronds and proudly wrote Happy 70th on it. Only this seemed to amuse my dad, and he giggled about me having gone back in time.  I thought he was teasing me for being a science-fiction nerd, but apparently not.  Did I not remember the celebrations from last year?
 Erm, no... . What not the restaurant? No.  Not the massive cake? No… and I still can't.  Even if I'd got massively drunk, I should surely remember something!  But no... no recollection at all. Either my family is playing a massive joke on me or I have been making far too many series of Quantum Leap. Oh boy.

Positive thinking regarding the above: a missing memory surely leaves more space for creative thinking.  "What a great 70th birthday you had, Dad. I had no idea you  were an old friend of Paul McGann and Richard E Grant,  but it was so nice of them to turn up to your party and bring the finest wines available to humanity. And cake!"

Also last week, I went to my writers’ group where I had to stand in for OH who had submitted a story for feedback, but had been called to work so couldn’t go. The irony is, I haven't written anything myself besides this blog for weeks. A few jokes about shopping that I've got no idea what to do with. I suppose I've used my creative time to make cheese and yoghurt, but it's not the same...

Anyway, it was great seeing my writing group chums. There were a few people missing, and we got hounded out of the pub by Phil Collins. Not literally... they were just playing "Another Day in Paradise" at a level to make you wish you couldn't hear it even more than you already did. So we sat in the beer garden, enjoyed the sunshine, and discussed screaming homophones, as you do.

Positive thinking: okay, so I've been depressed and knackered and generally crap, but going to writing group at least gives me the push towards impetus that I need to get on with stuff. Almost there...

It's a fantastic group; we've had loads of individual successes and I really relish the support I get from my friends. Plus, for now at least, we get to meet in the beautiful Saxon village of Earls Barton, or as I like to think of it, the set of gentle Nick Frost comedy, Kinky Boots.


 Perhaps it's a metaphor, but gooseberry bushes have some blooming big thorns. I have been very lucky this week in that my bro invited me to his allotment to help diminish his enormous glut of gooseberries. Ably assisted by a five-year old, we tackled the bush with gusto and now I have about 5lbs of gooseberries and an awful lot of scratches down my arms. I think it's the sort of pain that booze might heal...

*searches for recipes for gooseberry wine*

Positive thinking: I have berries, and the suntan cancels out the emo arms.

Monday, 14 July 2014

I Bet I Have Walked Further Than Either of The Proclaimers

Dear reader, as I write I am at a very weird emotional and physical state somewhere between exhaustion, elation and a weird malaise. My legs feel all twitchy and brain feels all meh. Which is precisely the opposite of what exercise is supposed to do for you.

Thanks, exercise, but I'm sticking to chocolate from now on. Sugar rush, pancreatic crash and the brief, intense buzz of artificial happiness is where it's at. Only joking - this is a flapjack and snack-free zone.

The weekend started in a pretty intense way. Our tickets for Pearl Jam were booked yonks ago, and I budgeted a kingly sum to spend on the tangential fripperies that concerts somehow impel you to, like greasy tempura, and laaaaager. However, this sum got well and truly busted. Even Eddie Vedder remarked from the stage that signs saying "4 pints plus carrier -£20" should include an actual person to carry them to you in the crowd. Some grumblings occurred regarding 'rounds'. But on the plus plus plus side there was Eddie...

"It doesn't get Eddie Vedder than this," was my favourite T-shirt slogan. Although, my brain says it in the style of Greg Wallace.

Check shirts abounded in the crowd... perhaps people still had them from their old Millets and Army & Navy purchases twenty years ago. Quite fortuitous if they were also going to the Monty Python reunion - lumberjack costume, sorted!

We did find out that if we returned 10 cups, we could get £1 back. So, we collected 100 cups from the floor. It all went on beer. Huzzah!

Not so huzzah was getting horrendously lost. I am so crap with crowds!

On Saturday, OH was working in the morning, then recovering from his very late night before his triathlon on Sunday, so it was on my lonesome that I headed to the Films on the Waterfront Festival in Midsummer Meadow.  I was really looking forward to seeing the first film Frozen, which I hadn't seen before and had heard lots of good things about.

I had my ice cream, my fizzy pop, my new picnic blanket (a bargain at 49p from Marks and Spencers). What was I missing? Some sun screen... darn it. What else?
Oh yeah... I was the only one there without a child.

Then I spotted some friends and we all had a lovely time watching this film - all for free! Unfortunately I had errands to run so couldn't stick around for Despicable Me 2 or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Frozen is a great film; it's not all about squishy romance, in fact neatly subverting it. The princesses don't wear pink either. Recommended!

Yesterday, I went to watch my fella in his triathlon at Pitsford. Unfortunately, after deciding to walk there to carry picnic stuff and not break it, I arrived shortly after the event had finished.  Never mind, it was only 7 miles there.

The long and lonely N6 cycle path...

I didn't manage to walk 7 miles back though... we made it as far as a country pub where I had a £5 voucher and 5% off on further spending, so I bought him a well-deserved pint. His first Olympic Triathlon, managed in a neat 3 hours and 4 minutes. My hero!

"Where's me bike?"
Oh, yeah, he did it on his bike that he built himself too. Just had to leave it behind to have the gears looked at, but it did a stunning job.

And on the walk home, we saw these cuties. Awwww...

'Eep! 'Eeep!
with Mummy.
Anyway, that's why I am shattered. Mind, that hasn't stopped me making more yoghurt and bread tonight. Oh and I made some paneer the other day which has gone into some yummy saag paneer for lunchypops tomorrow.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Wench's Diets: This Week I Have Been Mostly Making - Yoghurt

...and I'm utterly converted!

I suspect I have turned a corner and am now unresignedly geeky. But heck, so's Amy Farrah Fowler, and that's pretty cool.

Secret yoghurt-eater. Rumbled...

Again, Huge Furry Wotsit is to thank for my basic recipe. I did exactly as he did and the result was a lovely, smooth, thick yoghurt that I ate for  lunch today with some honey and snaffled strawberries from a buffet we had today.

However, I only used approximately 1 tablespoon of yoghurt as a starter culture and it worked very well.

I think I was a tad impetuous with my purchase of dried milk powder. I bought Asda's 340g for £1.88, which has the benefit of added vitamins A & D, but only saves me about 10p on a bought tub. In future, I will go to Sainsbury's for their basic milk powder at £1.15 a pop, and 4pt Aldi whole milk at 95p a bottle. I am also going to scale down to 400ml milk to better fit my thermos and avoid wastage. This will mean I am making a big tub of yoghurt for about 20p.

That will give me something to 'raita' about, eh? Eh?

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Wench's Diets: This Week I Have Mostly Been Baking...

Custard Cookies.

Because both OH and I had promised to take food to work for different things, and because I didn't want to spend any extra money, we made these biscuits using stuff from the store cupboards. Original recipe here.  We swapped marg for butter, and sized up to make a few more.

icing sugar 100g
butter 200g
plain flour 165g
custard powder 70g

  • Cream icing sugar & butter
  • add flour & custard powder & mix to dough
  • Form into a sausage shape & chill in plastic bag/ cling film for 2 hours
  • remove from plastic and slice into 32 'rounds'
  • place on baking tray & bake for about 10 minutes at 180
Verdict: Yum! Very Vanilla.
 Bacon and Cheese Muffins

Made in anticipation of a picnic that never happened, these ended up being breakfast, snackage, then breakfast again. They are great hot, bit taste really nice cold. Adapted from a Huge Furry Wotsit recipe to suit my available ingredients.
Makes 12.

100g streaky bacon, cut into 1cm pieces
1 red onion, finely diced
75g wholemeal strong flour
175g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
80g Flora cooking liquid
200ml plain yoghurt
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
100g smoked cheddar, grated

Heat the oven to 200C and line a patty tin with 12 paper cases.
I fried the bacon in a non-stick pan to avoid using extra oil and drained the excess grease on kitchen paper. I cooked the onion in the same pan, again, no extra oil, then set aside to cool.
I mixed together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Separately, I whisked the eggs, cooking liquid (which I got free from the Good Food Show) and yoghurt, stirred them into the flour mixture, then folded in the bacon, onion, some chives from my garden, and most of the cheese. I didn't use as much cheese as Hugh, as I didn't have much left from the Good Food Show, and thought the bacon would carry most of the salty flavour anyway.

After putting mixture into the muffin tin, I realized there wasn't much cheese to sprinkle on top, like Hugh said, but I did so anyway, just a few strands each. The muffins were baked for 18 minutes. They are cooked when you insert a stick into the centre of a muffin and it comes out clean.

On Not Getting Trouted.

I came home on Thursday night after doing a particularly frugaltastic bit of shopping and I felt like this.

Weird, because I'd gone to Morrison's

However, after reviewing my post, seeing some bills that I forgotten all about and not budgeted for, I felt like this.

Yes, I'd put my bags down. They do mask a lot of problem areas.

One of my revenue streams has dried up, and now I have a few extra associated costs - just as we are approaching the most expensive month for us, August, which includes a lot of travel and hotels and temptation.


And July isn't a cheap month either.

Oh blimey!

So there's nothing for it, but to try our utmost to cut corners where we can. But there's a catch... we cannot cut corners as far as health is concerned, and our diet must be tip-top to enable me to shed a bit of excess pud, and OH to be event-ready. Him being an athlete and all that.

OH is the fella on the left. When he next sees a finish line, it will be after a much, much, longer race. Eek! Yep, they're holding hands. No, I don't know who the other fella is.
Did you see The World's Best Diet last week? What an eye-opener! As different as the world's healthiest diets were from each other, though, it seemed clear to me where each improved on the typical British diet, including mine. Apparently, the typical British diet consists of three principle ingredients: potatoes, flour and vegetable oil. The three principle ingredients of my diet are flapjacks, cider and any cake going. But that's not better just because flapjacks have super-healthy oats in them, boo.

Will this frugal-ish floozy be able to change her sweet, cheap ways?

Until yesterday, I'd managed to spend mere pennies and got a substantial amount of food in, thanks to some voucher-tastic shopping. As much as I hate the gutter press, as a past-recipient of mucky Murdoch money for my work in publishing, I can't be proud. So it was with just a few qualms that I bought a newspaper that informed me that Jade, 22, has mammary glands, bully for her. I hope they give her some comfort in her dotage, or at least a cranny for secluding her Murray mints. In the newspaper was a voucher for £5 fruit and veg which I happily trundled to Morrison's, along with a couple of other vouchers I wanted to use. I'd heard online about people buying up several copies, being made to leave the shop and come back rather than put through different baskets as different transactions... and it was the first time I'd heard the expression 'trout', a particularly derisive term applied to a checkout assistant - usually female - who hates money-off coupons and tries to find any way they can of not putting it through. Well, my vouchers got queried, but it was no 'trout', just a lovely, polite young girl who wasn't used to vouchers and had been through a bit of a baptism of fire learning the job on a big voucher day. But we were soon able to sort things out with her supervisor and with a spend of just £1.12, I got all this!
mushrooms; YS grapes; multi-grain bread mix; cola; cassava; apples, spuds; turmeric root; peppers; melon; lettuce
We managed to have access to a car yesterday to buy enough cat food and non-food shopping for July and beyond, also, we have in some treats from the Northampton Food Festival. We have spent just under a third of our July budget, so the challenge is on to keep spending as low as possible for the rest of the month.

So, not to dwell on the negatives, here's all the fun stuff I've done this week:

Dawn O'Porter can sod off learn a lot from Vintage Vixen.

Seriously... there is no need to spend so much money on your clothes, lady! Personally, I am always rocking the vintage with clothes that are chazza'd; schwinged or hand-me-upped. As yet another building collapsed last week on top of underpaid garment workers in Chenai, the benefits of buying vintage mean that you can go some way to avoid being complicit in exploitation and corporate manslaughter, as well as avoiding perfectly good clothes ending up in landfill. However, I think it's rather unfortunate that Dawn Porter's programme This Old Thing focuses so much on rich Londonistas who would rather pay £500 for a dress from the 80s than be thought of as cheap. That's not going to sway the opinion of someone who'd happily pay high street prices and buy often, rather than save up and invest in their going out-out outfit. Please can you think of us lesser mortals, Dawn?

Last week, I ended up buying a new outfit from the high street as I needed to avoid wearing black, red, or white for a wedding, I was not confident with what I could mix and match from my current wardrobe, and I'd wavered over some options available in the charity shops. In the end I found this dress in Dotty P, which was entirely made in the EU. Joy! Already in the sale, I haggled it down from £32 to £13 as it was missing the belt and had a small pull. Trying to think like Vix, I accessorised up with DM Dolly shoes in pink and white (£20 from the outlet stall years ago), a silver bolero (£3 in a New Look sale) and my hair slide and clutch from my own wedding. My brooch was made by Lauren of Skulls and Robots for my birthday. My hair started out Goldfrapp-crazy but had calmed down by this point - a mix of ragging on the bottom and pin-curling on top.

Eyes on the Prize

You know those little trader magazines that pop through the door - the ones you probably put straight in the recycling bin? Well, I scanned through the last one and spotted a competition to win 4 tickets to see Horrible Histories at the theatre. I didn't win... but I was next on the list when the winners couldn't take the prize. Yay! I offered the prize to my brother and has family but was able to take the 4th ticket. A great night out - and winning the prize saved us £64. It was an incredibly tight production for the tiny cast of 4, with a few props, and scenery all done as a computer-animated background, which is 3D for the second half. It was so well done, and really, really funny. Age-appropriate, of course. Here is Boudicca with the Romans, who 'beat up' her kids...

Boudicca was awesome - a great singing voice, very expressive and great comic timing

My nephew, who is 5, took off his 3D glasses as there were rather a lot of skulls and bats flying into his face, which he found a bit disconcerting. Great for kids who like spooky and gory. And for not-so-grown-up aunties.

Lovin' Northampton

Yesterday, we were spoilt for choice with good stuff in Northampton. First, OH and I went for a healthy march up to Delapre Abbey where we hoped to learn about the Battle of Northampton.

Medieval people. Sitting about. That's getting medieval on yo' ass!
We went round the exhibition, and an expert was due to lead a walk which we were interested in, but we realized we would miss the battle demo, so we gave it a miss. But with mot much else going on, we decided to head into town to go to the Northampton Food Festival instead in the beautiful Guildhall, totally free entry.

First, we went to a no-cooking cooking demo by Ondine Hartgroves, who despite the venue restrictions, was able to demonstrate how to make ceviche cod, and made us tortilla biscuits to eat that with, and seared beef salad wraps for which she made a gorgeous, fresh and fragrant salsa verde.

We sampled various lovely local ales and ciders.

And we met these lovely people from Beckworth Emporium, happily only  a cycle ride away from us, and an outlet for many local producers, as well as nursery, winter ice-rink, and theatrical venue. They are staging a production of Pride and Prejudice on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd August. Oh, Mr. Darcy!

I have also been doing some baking, which will feature in a follow-up post.