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.