Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Secret Garden

Or perhaps not quite so secret, considering how overlooked it is - and how happy I am to plaster pictures and details of it all over t'internet.  But hey, I have a plan - once we move.... Assuming we have a bit more garden than we have now - and frankly, it would be hard not to - but once again, I digress.

Anyway, I got asked in the comments for some more details about my garden, so of course I am happy to oblige :o)  As my OH said, it's not the size that matters, it's what you do with it.... Men, eh ?  They'll believe anything :oP

My back garden - traditionally the area where you'd grow your fruit and veg, assuming you grow any, and haven't gone big guns and got an allotment, is 8m x 5m  (26 x 16ft).  The growing area is far smaller than that, as you can see - there's grass, and paving, and sheds, and water butt, and all sorts taking up space.  When we moved in, it was all conifers and heathers - very low maintenance, very suitable for acid clay (which is what we have, funnily enough), very seventies.  And can you say booo-riiing ????

I started off by clearing the middle bit of the border down the bottom - this is now my strawberry patch, which is also home to a couple of tayberry plants and a grape vine - total tally from the latter, one tiny bunch of grapes that never ripened. Think that in my next garden I will need a) a different variety, and b) a better position for the grapes.  Dead useful if you like dolmade, though - plenty of leaves throughout the growing season, and you can lacto-ferment them to make them probiotic.

The strawberry patch measures 1.5 m x 1m (5ft x 3ft 4in)  To the right of it there is a cherry tree and some straggly gladioli - to the left, a robenia pseudoacacia, also known as "that tree I really like, but was ever so silly to ever think that our garden was big enough for it", as well as a couple of hardy fuchias.  The rest of the space just gets covered by whatever annual or biennial seeds I score for free - this year I had Sweet Williams growing there.

Now, if you look  to the left of the photos above and below, you will see - just past the waterbutt - some sweetcorn at different stages of growth -  the bed where I grew them this year used to be shrubs until last year, where our old cat spent most of her summers dozing away. I wanted that space, but did not have the heart to deprive her of her favourite spot.  Unfortunately, she passed away in March, so later on this spring the shrubs went up, some manure went down, and corn went in.  In betweebn the corn I planted yellow dwarf beans - both cropped prolifically, keeping us in sweetcorn and beans much of the late summer, and there is still a fair bit of corn on the cob in the freezer.  The length of the bed is 2m (6ft 6) and it's 1.2m (4ft) at its widest point.  

Here's a close-up of the bed - and you can just see the plum tree to the left, squashed in between the shed and the neighbour's fence.
This is what I'd consider my main growing area - the border down the right-hand side of the plot, 7m (23ft) long and 1m (3ft 4in) wide.  That little bit of fencing down the bottom of the picture ?  That's the edges of the asparagus bed (yield so far - none, should start cropping from next year, just in time for us to move, lol).  The long tall and straggly is chard gone to seed - I'd cut it back shortly afterwards, and it came back a couple of times already.  Runner beans in the foreground - I had a couple of bean tepees, 4 poles each.  The rest of the space has been used from various things from lettuce to peas throughout the season - as one crop finished, the other went in.  There was a small square of potatoes (I got about 5kg of spuds all told) and a couple of rows of radishes, but that was it for the root crops - they just don't do well in our soil. 
The rest of the back garden is a few decorative (ish) shrubs in front of the sheds, on the left; a few Echinacea plants, and herbs galore - if you can only grow one things, and have no space for more, and like to cook.... It's just got to be herbs.  I have a couple of bay shrubs to the either side of the rose arch
Oregano and chives at the edge of the main border, where it narrows then disappears:
 I have camomile wherever it chooses to self-seed (by far the easiest way to handle it, just let it grow where it wants)....
....and then I have a couple of 60cm x 60cm (2ft x2ft) little beds either side of the conservatory door, which grow just herbs.  Lavender and parsley to the left (I also had thyme in there but it froze to death last winter and I didn't get around to replacing it)  
Apple mint, spearmint and sage to the right.
For a few years, I tried valiantly to grow tomatoes in the back garden, until I finally twigged that, no matter where I stick them, they will just not get sufficient sunshine to ripen, ever, in the back garden.  So I pulled up the hedge shrubs down the side fence in the front and stuck tomatoes and marigolds (for pretties and to keep pests away) all down the side.  This side border is 7.5m long (24 and half ft) but only 30cm (1ft) wide.  And believe it or not, despite snapping away in the garden all day long throughout the summer (and much of the rest of the year), I have no decent picture of it.  This is the best I can do:
The tomatoes I grew there last couple of years were "Yellow Sunrise" and "Tigerella"  for no reason other than having bought the seeds in a sale - and wanting some of them to be yellow, because where I come from we call toms pomidori, after Italian pommodoro , which literally means "golden apple".  So really, they ought to be golden, don't you think ?
And that's pretty much it, apart from the bit  - 3m (9ft) long and 1m (3ft 4in) deep that I cleared (mostly) of heathers and stuff, and where I stuck my courgettes, cucumbers and squashes.
The rest of the front garden is shrubs and flowers and paving.  Oh, and a pumpkin, just the one each year ;o)

As for how much food I manage to grow.... I'm afraid that this year, in order to concentrate on growing it, I didn't keep any sort of tally, so the best I can offer is "quite a lot".  Nowhere near as much as someone with an allotment might, I'm sure, but I bought no salad stuff, no courgettes or beans or sweetcorn throughout the summer, and had plenty to spare for the neighbours, lots got frozen and even more chutnified and pickled.   Verdict ?  Well worth doing, even if you have not clue what you're really doing.
I still don't..... But I don't let that stop me :o)


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Weekend Snippets

We bought a pack of cooking bacon in Morrison's yesterday - reduced to 55p :o)  Today, this pack got quartered and three packs went into the freezer, for future bargainous meals in need of extra flavour.
Then the slow cooker came out - the weather getting increasingly stew and casserole friendly - and piles of veg went in.  Carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, the last of the runner beans, bacon....

.... and then a smidgeon of braising steak, a few spoonfuls of paprika, a splash or two of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of dried oregano, a handful of freshly plucked bay leaves, and enough hot water to cover it.

                                      Cooked all day on low, served with mashed potato. 

And in between showers, OH worked in the garden.  The last of the radishes came up (there were more than this, but I didn't get around to taking a photo)

And the laundry went out.  For a little while at least.

The rest of the day OH spent watching sport on the temporarily unscrambled premium channels (gotta love a bargain), and I watched Fortysomething. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

STOP-tober First Tally

....because much as I spend so much time and effort on simplifying things (with some considerable success, it must be said - even if I do say it myself - but then, who better to know ?), my wiring appears to be such that complexities arise wherever anything is left unchecked for more then, oh, about three seconds....

And that would be my way of saying that, instead of running a 25th-24th no spend budget (payday to payday's eve, that is), which is how I run all my budgets, and which would make sense - I chose instead to run a 1st - 31st no spend month, throwing it all into disarray.

Luckily, as the first results are in, it hardly matters, because I achieved my goal of refilling my £500 baby emergency fund (meaning that's a small fund for everyday emergencies, not a bank account for babies), and then some.  I'll wait for my pay to hit the bank account tomorrow before doing the transfer and confirming the final numbers, but it looks as though we will have over £500 unspent money at the end of this pay period, in addition to money coming in that was additional to our normal wages, and which has already been squirreled away in various savings accounts.

Compare this to the £4.34 we had left at the end of last month... And it suddenly becomes very clear that STOP-tober was very much worth doing, even if we didn't do all that well when it came to actually not spending any money at all, which was the idea.  Spending far less than usual though comes a very close second !

And the reduced food budget of £150 ?  Afraid I busted that one - came in at £153.35.   Compare it to the £227.24 for the previous month though (which actually lasted only three weeks as we were away for a week in September !) - once again, I could have done better, but I am happy enough with what I did do.

As for NOT-vember ?  I don't think so.... OH has already started buying Christmas presents, and all that worn out stuff ?  Some of it at least really needs to be replaced.  I will probably attempt a 7-day Fiscal Fast or two during the month though, but more on that later.  Plus October proper hasn't finished yet, which means that the necessary spending will have to wait a few more days, just because.

Speaking of things that need replacing, OH reckons that my freezer contents list needs to be re-done.  This is normally done every couple of months or so, as the printed text disappears, only to be replaced by crossings out and pencilled-in squiggles.  What do you reckon, is it time yet ?  I can read it alright.... ;o)

And for dinner tonight, saag aloo from the freezer.  DD looked at it and said " That looks like it's got lentils in !"   Well, duh.  It's frugal, it's a curry, it's a midweek dinner.  Of course  it's got lentils in ....


Saturday, 19 October 2013

Slow Saturday

OH asked why I wasn't taking photos of our meals any longer, and I had no good answer to give.  Unless you count CBA as a good answer, that is.  I guess I probably shouldn't.

Tonight we had mashed potatoes and meatballs for dinner.  Another pack of Lidl £1 mince came out of the freezer - mince on offer for £1 this weekend again, incidentally, but I can't get there this weekend, so just as well that there are 5 packs still in the freezer (OH and I doubled up last time, with 6 packs each) - an egg, some salt and pepper, a grated carrot and a couple of grated mini courgettes all went into the mix.  Then I grated some nutmeg into it as well, because I like grating nutmeg.

Placed on a bed of sliced onion, 20 minutes in the oven, then another 20 covered in gravy. 
Not the most photogenic of dinners, but certainly one of the most comforting ones.
And then there was cake.
I didn't make it, I bought it.  I could have, I should have made it - but sometimes I panic. What if I felt unwell ?  What if I ran out of time ?  What if, what if, what if ?
Well, I did feel unwell.  But there was still cake.  I won't do it again though, because that £58 grocery bill ?  This is how that happened.  A gateau, custard tarts, croissants, crumpets, sausage rolls, even bread.  OK buying one of the above, every so often, for convenience.  Buying them all in the same week, just because we are having visitors ?  The numbers speak for themselves.
In the meantime, the weather was doing strange things to the light.  Not that I am proficient enough a photographer to really capture it properly - I point and I shoot - but this does come quite close. 



Friday, 18 October 2013

Things Wear Out

Did I really think that I would be able to go through a month without actually spending any money ? 

Well, no, not really.  This is not how life works.  There is always something necessary to the smooth running of our daily lives that requires handing over sums of cash, or a piece of plastic (debit card or a credit card you pay in full each month, of course !).   Still, the amount of money we already managed to part with this week does leave me quite breathless.

Last week, for instance, the total spend was £47.50. That is the sort of amount I could live with in a no-spend month;  in fact, if I didn't get sucked into the Morrison's shopping deal, that would have been lower.

But hey, not that much lower - and it will all be worth it in the end, I promise.

But this week.... Well, this week just keeps on coming and sticking its grubby paws deep into our Scroogey pockets.  There was no spending on Monday, even though - or perhaps because - I was very poorly.  But then I lost the plot on Tuesday - total damage £19.26.  Wednesday made it look briefly like things were back on track, with the second (and thus far, final) no-spend day of the week.  Thursday OH had a dentist's appointment - which, admittedly, I did know was coming - but didn't expect the damage to be quite that high.  £53 and ouch.

Still, I suppose it's quite something to have a bloke of his vintage who can still boast all his own teeth.  I can't boast that, thinking about it - and I am 13 years younger.  I must get us an NHS dentist though, there's prudent and then there's just plain silly.

OH also kindly picked up a replacement light tube for under-the-cupboard lighting in the kitchen, as I can't get that locally.  I wouldn't have got it, not this month, if it was down to me.... But hey, it was a kind thing to do, and as such, I really do appreciate it, darling, okay ?  ;o)

That wasn't Thursday's spending over though.  Oh no, if something's worth doing, it's worth doing properly... Although I am really not sure that maxim quite applies in this case.  Either way, the books for DD's change of course have been ordered - cheapest second hand copies going, £10 survey Amazon voucher put towards the purchase, and still the damage was £26.88.  I am hoping to recoup that by selling on the books for the old course which she now no longer needs, so that  will work out okay, in the end. 

And then there was filling up the car with petrol, in preparation of going to collect his mum from London and bringing her to ours for the weekend - £35.09, to be repeated at least once in the course of the weekend.  And then we went shopping, and I threw caution to the wind, and paid for it - £58.40 and double ouch. 

And that's before the weekend's even started.

Still, my goal for this month was to save up enough to refill my emergency fund, and what with the money that's already there, and with what's left in the account, and with payday being only a week away..... I might just make it :o)  And even if I don't, there's the NOT-vember to consider for making up the shortfall. 

Could have been worse.  I could have gone clothes shopping instead of struggling to dry the laundry in the finally properly autumnal weather

I could have bought chestnut cupcakes and sweetcorn muffins (or the nearest approximation that Morrisons might stock) instead of pulling them out of the freezer

I could have bought numerous bargain-basement bulbs and winter bedding plants instead of deleting the emails unread

                                              I could have replaced  worn out teatowels


and bought some socks for myself to keep company to those I bought for DD on Tuesday

But I didn't.
I do wish things wouldn't wear out though.  I try and mend them for as long as they will hold (the teatowels  and the socks have been mended already - they are just wearing out around the mends now - and the slippers have been glued in a different spot), but sooner or later, they do have to be replaced.  Which is a shame. Sort of.
Other things though, seem to go on forever.  Held together with superglue and spit, admittedly.... But still holding on.  Like OH's watch.
Oh, another thing we didn't spend any money on - getting rid of an old bed base. Too decrepit to give away - too big to take to the dump in the car.  We took it out into the back garden instead and had a proper go at it until it became kindling.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Soft Bread Rolls

Yup, those photos have been taken over three years ago :o)  Yup, the rolls are still a favourite - and nope, I did not take any photos today, either.  Too busy trying to sort out a changeover of  course for DD - from English Language and Literature with Edexcel to English Language with AQA.  We like the latter a lot better.
Anyway, dinner rolls.
750g bread flour
2 tsp salt
25g butter
2tsp yeast
450 ml lukewarm milk
extra milk to glaze
seeds and/or sea salt flakes
Right. Yeast.  Two kinds of dry yeast - quick acting yeast, such as Doves - the stuff you just add to your dry ingredients and let it do its magic as you mix and knead - or stuff like Allinsons, which needs to be activated first.  If the latter is what you have, you will need to do that bit first - add it to your warm milk, and it will not hurt if at this point you add a tsp of sugar to it as well. Sugar feeds the yeast and makes it work better.  Now wait until it froths up.  All nice and frothy ?  Good. You may proceed.
If, however, using the quick-acting stuff - if all you have is sachets, that is quick-acting stuff too, so just use a fukk sachet, don't worry about measuring spoonfuls out - forget about the activating bit.
Just measure out your flour into a bowl, add salt, stir through, then rub in the butter.  Margarine will do in a pinch; as will oil.  For proper melt-in-the-mouth softness, you do need butter though - but it's your call.  Add your yeast, then add the milk and mix into a dough (or add your frothy yeasty milk, as appropriate).
Knead for 5 minutes or thereabouts, then pop back into your bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm, draught-free place. 
Once it's doubled up in size - this could be in about half an hour, if your kitchen is warm enough; this time of year it may well take a wee bit longer - knock it back, knead for a bit again, then grab a knife and cut it into 12 pieces.  Oh, and grease a couple of baking sheets while you're at it.
Right then.  Grab one of the pieces and roll it out into a ropey looking thing of reasonable length, as below:
Hold one end still, and wind the rest around it, until you end up with something similar to this:

Repeat three times. 
Next four pieces of dough - roll each into a ball, flatten slightly, slash the top with a knife.  Four left.
With these four, you are once again starting with a rope - but then each rope is cut twice, so you end up with three short ropelets.

Line 'em up, all nice and neat - or if you're me, the original Cack-Handed Queen, all wonky and uneven - don't worry about it too much, it'll all go down the gullet in the end after all -


- then press the ends together, like this:

And then braid to the best of your ability.  Betcha you can do it better than this ;o)

Once you reach the end, press those ends together - in fact, fold them under while you're at it - better safe than sorry.

Turn the oven on - 220 C, 200 fan - then, while the oven's warming up, glaze with cold milk and scatter over your sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, salt flakes.... Or just don't bother and stop at the glaze with milk bit. 

Bake for 12 minutes.

Take out, leave to cool.
Stuff face.
Best eaten the same day - if you are not planning to scoff the lot, open freeze as soon as cool, then bag up.  Defrost a few hours before planning on eating.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Slipped Up

It started yesterday morning, with waking up the second morning in a row feeling all chewed up and half-digested.  I did my exercises; the neck and shoulders sounded like they were full of grit that was lazily shifting from one chewed-up spot to another.  I took my painkillers; they took just enough of an edge off it for me to start believing that I'd be OK going to work.

This was a mistake.  Three hours of hard physical labour when you are not in possession of two fully functional arms and shoulders, no matter how careful you are trying to be.... Trust me, you will pay for it.

And I did.  By the time I made it home it was too late - the tension in the muscles had reached the point of no return and the Migraine Fairy was on her way. 

And, you know, I did ever so well.  I dragged myself up for long enough to make the evening's planned meal - sweetcorn risotto - and was even sufficiently compos mentis to deal with the fact that I had no cheese in apart from a few cubes of feta - tip: when suffering from dearth of cheese, chuck a little bit of coconut (creamed is best, but any will do) into your risotto instead - lovely creamy result; in fact, OH commented on its especial creaminess (I suppose I ought to check with him whether this was actually a compliment, but he is busy getting stressed about football at the moment).  And that was a risotto made with basmati rice, as that's all I had in.

Anyway, I digress.  Point is, today's post was going to be on the advantages of being prepared; how keeping a storecupboard, and planning your meals, will see you right even when you are barely keeping upright.  You might have impaired vision from a migraine aura, but as long as you've planned ahead - and can be flexible enough to swap to a simpler meal from your plan if necessary - there is no need to resort to an "emergency takeaway". Ever.  Which is handy when the funds will not stretch to it, but also good when all you are trying to do is divert the funds elsewhere.

So, there I was, in that slightly euphoric mood that follows a migraine attack (never quite sure whether the euphoria is an after effect of the migraine or of the painkillers), popping into Asda on my way back from work to pick up a punnet of grapes for DD....

.... and leaving Asda with a slightly bemused expression on my face and two bulging carrier bags of crap, having just handed over best part of £20.  £6 of that was socks.  Did we need socks ?  Well, yes, we did.  But did we need them right now ? Um, maybe not so much.

And cheese.  I bought lots of cheese, for some reason.  Probably because I was so clever the night before, making a risotto without any.  So I deserved a reward of cheese for that, right ?

No, whichever way you look at it, it just doesn't make any sense.  Lesson learnt:  next migraine attack, leave the purse at home the next day.  Can. Not. Be. Trusted. 

Oh, and I have no photos for you today, either.  Sorry.  I am making up for my manic indulgence by being strictly austere about such fripperies.  Either that, or I just CBA.

Normal service will resume tomorrow.....

.... or will it ? Mwahahahahahaha...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

No Spend Weekend - Day 2

Made it :)  Not going to be having one of those for a couple of weeks at least (Mother-in-Common-Law coming to visit next weekend), so pleased that we made it this week.  Mind you, the fact that it had been bucketing down for most of the day made staying indoors not so much a sacrifice as merely inevitable.

I woke up pretty stiff and achey, too, which usually does not bode well for any weekend plans, especially when they consist of trying to steam my way through a magahoosive facienda (that'd be a "to-do list" in Latin).  Still, despite feeling like something chewed me up overnight and spat me out this morning, I managed to cut OH's hair, start off a new batch of kefir and a fresh one of kombucha; I dealt with the tomatoes (roast with onions, then add basil and a pinch of sugar, whizz it up with a stick blender, box up, freeze). made OH's lunches for the week (chicken pasta salads) - my lunches, at least to start with, are leftovers from yesterday, DD's pasta, cheese and onion pasties or potato salad.

This is what the kitchen looked like mid-action:

And then I spent the afternoon re-doing DD's timetable, as we are changing the way we are approaching certain things.  That's just one of the many really good things about home education - flexibility.
And before you know it, it's time to start the dinner off.  I was hoping to pick up a roast of some sort when shopping on Saturday, but there wasn't anything that fitted the budget with any ease, so a couple of chicken breasts came out of the freezer instead - with all the trimmings, they are quite large enough to be shared out between the three of us.  I still fancied Yorkshire puddings though, so the chapatti flour came out (as it's the only flour I  have left).  Not my best - but perfectly adequate.
This reminds me - isn't it funny how our fears and prejudices about cooking are rooted in familiarity - I remember  making mayonnaise as a five year old, and it never ever split - I did not know that it could !  The first time someone told me of the possibility, though  - guess what happened the very next time I attempted to make it ?  Nowadays, though, I just use Elaine's ten second method - I dare anyone's negative thoughts to split that ! ;o) 
Anyway, Yorkshires were one of my fears - not having grown up with them, and never having seen anyone make them, opening a packet of Aunt Bessie's and heating them up in the oven was the most I dared do for years.  I mean, how on earth would I make them rise in that bowl-shaped form ? 
Turns out, they do it all by themselves.  All I have to do is put some fat into a muffin tin, get it really, really hot, and in the meantime, break an egg into a measuring cup, note the volume, then mix it up with an equal volume of flour (even if it is chapatti) and milk, a pinch of salt..... Get the tin out of the oven, pop a spoonful of batter into each muffin cup, then bake on 200C (fan oven) for 15-20 minutes.
Couldn't be any easier, now could it ?

I like roast dinners, but the bit I am less fond of is the amount of washing up they generate - and that's despite me clearing up as I go throughout.  

Give me a nice casserole or risotto to cook any day of the week..... One pot meals rock :o) 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

No Spend Weekend - Day 1

OK, so it might be tempting fate, declaring a no-spend weekend before Saturday is even properly out.... But I prefer to think of it simply as a statement of intent, no more and no less :o)

OH went out into the garden and filled the brown bin - tomatoes, courgettes, squashes, cucumbers and runner beans have all been harvested now and the plants pulled up.

The runner bean plants were hiding the longest runners of the season - Mr Big of the runner world came in at 14.5 inches - or 37 cm, if you are metric like yours truly.
The pumpkin is up now as well - not as big as the last year's, but I swear it's as heavy.  Either that, or I've grown more feeble since last year.  Look out for the pumpkin/soup puree making frenzy come Samhain !
For lunch we had a cous-cous and Quorn salad, using up the last of the cucumbers, and one of the heads of lettuce still growing outside.  I want those lettuces eaten up before the first frosts !

And I pulled up another radish and shared it out between the three of us ;o)

I made bread - chappati flour, sunflower and sesame seeds :


And used up another pack from  our stash of £1 Lidl mince:
Mince and dumplings for dinner - with me trying not to add to/replace the storecupboard esesntials during STOP-tober, I found myself in quite an unfamiliar position where I had no plain flour, and just a tiny bit of self-raising left; and no suet, which is my go-to fat for dumplings (and pastry). So, the flour got padded out with semolina, and from the darkest corner of the fridge emerged a small container of fat saved from the last time I baked sausages in the oven.  A bit of home-grown, home-dried oregano, a splash of water, and then there were dumplings.
And then the moment came when we had quite enough of this hard work lark, and it was time for a few moments of pure indulgence.  A pot of real coffee, and a pain au chocolate each (DD got hers in early, with a mug of fruit tea). 

                            And now we are tired, and ready to veg out in front of junk TV.