Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Best Freeby of the Month?

Got word on a sweet deal via Money Saving Expert from the Co-op. I downloaded an app and got this box of chocolates for nowt!

I annoyed a lot of people in the shop though because we couldn't get PayPoint to scan the bar code, so I tied up the staff's time for a while.  But the assistants were very kind and patient. Brilliant customer service!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Sweet Treat: Date and Hazelnut Cookies

First of all, apologies if you are trying to avoid sweet temptations in the run up to Christmas.  I made these lovelies to be a pick me up for OH who is going back to work today for the first time after his operation.

However,  rest assured that I am also trying to watch my intake,  trying to mostly "eat clean", and have worked out the damage on My Fitness Pal.

You will need;

75g butter
75g light brown sugar
75 dark brown sugar
175g self raising flour
1 egg, beaten
Pinch salt
50g chopped pitted dates
50g chopped hazelnuts
A few drops almond essence

First cream together the butter and sugars, then add the egg a little at a time. Add the essence.  Sift in the flour, salt and add chopped nuts and dates and fold in.
Spoon onto a greased baking tray.  This makes 20, so you'll either need 2 trays or do in 2 lots.
Bake at 180 degrees centigrade for 10-12 minutes.  Allow to cool on the tray for a minute before transferring to a wire rack.

OH managed to eat 2 from the rack when I wasn't looking.

The damage is 112 calories per cookie,  or 3 Weight Watchers Pro Points. Dates are currently 89p for a huge bag in Home Bargains,  making them less than half the price of the ones at our market.

Taking the photos was another challenge. However,  I did some research and worked out how I could improve my images. We have a dark house,  and taking photos at night on dark wooden surfaces makes things look old and dowdy.

I used a light background to help reflect more light.  Out of shot are a white cloth behind the chairs, 2 deflated silver party balloons and 2 bike lamps. Crucially,  I didn't use flash. Result: much better photos,  just using my phone!

Took a break last night to watch Masterchef.  Did you see it? The chefs were challenged to produce two fine courses from 'kitchen scraps' such as fish heads and skin,  blackened bananas,  overripe brie, beetroot tops, broccoli stalks and stale croissants. They looked a bit daunted, but it was the perfect business lesson for them,  I thought.  Was anyone else thinking, "Easy!"?

I love getting comments,  so please do say hello.

Christmas - the big haul

Just been chatting to a friend about how I am doing with preparing for Christmas.  Pretty good,  considering I have already blown the £51.29 I had saved towards shopping from Sealed Pot Sunday.  I have been accumulating gifts throughout the year,  taking advantage of deals, freebies,  voucher and discount store offers.  Also the chazza and second hand shops for one or two bits.  I will also be doing a bit of crafting.  Everyone is getting onion jam  - hope you like it!
Already have £1.16 in found money towards next year's SPS. Was 16p but I found a pound on the way to work this morning. Woo!
My latest sticker/ basics shopping haul at the weekend was also quite fruitful. Here's what I got from Sainsbury's.
Also a second haul fron Tesco.
All that for £22. Best of that is the turkey, bought for £4!
I had a nice 'free' dinner on Friday,  thanks to work. This was at Brasserie Blanc. Starter of mackerel terrine with horseradish cream (yum) , main of confit duck leg, cherry sauce,  rosti and beans (very nice) and dessert of Valhrona chocolate pudding with chocolate sorbet and crumb.  Not very nice, it was just melted ice cream with hard biscuit lumps floating in it. Ah well.  They did we considering the size of our party, though I did think our waiter was rude. Menu said coffee and mince pies to finish, and initially he refused to switch to tea for me. But the meal finished so late everyone left before after dessert.  There was just me and another girl who wanted tea too who stayed for a drink.  And no one got a mince pie!  Boo!
Still I was very happy to win a voucher to go back (and get another from a colleague! ). Christmas parties are never reflective of the standard of a venue. Still a lovely feed for no outlay.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

My Good Food Show Gluttony

I'm a very lucky girl.

Last weekend I got to go to one of my favourite annual events.

If you've never been to the Good Food Show, it's a smorgasbord of culinary delights. Food producers tempt you with delicious free samples. Kitchen appliance sellers rally the crowds like street performers. TV chefs entertain from the stage with cookery demos. It's a trade show, of course, so the primary purpose is to get you to part with your pounds (alliterative, me!). But if you're canny and plan for things you can pick up some bargains much cheaper than they are in the shops or online. Last year, we bought our pan set, and next year we will probably buy some decent knives. But this year, temptation was removed by not having a lot of spare cash at all. I say removed.... mostly  removed. I think one of us may have cracked and bought some beer and some potted game... (clue - not me!!). Ah, for Christmas, is it? Okay... I can forgive.

Most fantastic of all was that for us this brilliant event was absolutely free!

Our frugal highlight was watching some of the stage shows. We watched Tom Kerridge make salt cod scotch eggs on the Saturday Kitchen stage. We love Tom! After having seen him on Great British Menu a couple of years ago, I saved up to take OH to the Hand and Flowers for his 40th. A 2- Michelin star pub, if you will... unfortunately, not something I can see us being able to do again for a few years.

"You poured wine on a fish!"

Tom Kerridge and a woman with a strange neck-face.
 I bought a copy of Tom Kerridge's book and had it signed for OH for his Christmas present... he let me do the queuing and have my pic taken with Tom. What a lovely, cheerful fella he is! Tom, not OH... ;-P

I also watched cookery demos with James Morton, and Stacey Stewart, ace cake-baker with a beehive. I got to try some madeleines she had made and an absolutely gorgeous mincemeat and chocolate ganache pavlova. Here is a blurry pic of her with a Dalek cake stand.

I also bumped into Frances from this year's Great British Bake Off in the press room. She seems very nice.

The Good Food Show also hosts the Annual Cheese Awards. Just look at all that cheese, Grommit! Guess what happens after the competition... they throw it all away. What a waste - give it to me!

This had to be my favourite stand - Choco Passion. Couldn't afford any of these, but what works of art. And the smell of chocolate from the stand... mmmmm!

No free samples at this stand, but I happily chomped and glugged my way around the show. Favourite tipple I tried was the Kings' Ginger Gin. That was lush. Not so keen on fiery alcohol free beer we tried... Clonakilty black pudding, Snowdonia cheese company Red Devil cheese, these are a few of my favourite nibbles.

I didn't bring home as impressive a haul of freebies as last time: a shopping bag and bar  of Galaxy, some mango chutney, prunes, gravy, Belvita biscuits and sweeteners; also a few recipe books and loads of shopping vouchers. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Adventures in Time and Bacon

As I write I'm feeling a tad ropey - a bit of lurg has debilitated me. Nonetheless, I've not managed to finish this blog in a fortnight, so I'm taking the time to round this post off.

Being pretty short of spondoolicks, it was most opportune to be continuing MFJ's tiny budget shopping challenge. To stretch the money out a bit, this entailed eating a lot of bacon.
We all know Forrest Gump's simile about life was flawed. The chocolate names are all printed on the lid. So we do know what we're going to get.

Instead I propose we change it to "Life is like a pack of cooking bacon."

True, it's neither sweet, nor succinct. It doesn't have the same heartwarming, fuzzy quality. Well, the photo is fuzzy. And so might your arteries be  if you eat bacon too regularly. But you know what I mean.

You can see the bacon. You can squidge the packet about a bit. But you can't tell until you've opened it exactly what you've got. Do you have streaky, lean, back, smoky, pancetta - or a mix of the lot? Is it in familiar bacon-like thin slivers, or do you have bits with one thin end and one thick end? Or - as we once got - do you have two lovely, thick bacon slice-shaped gammon steaks?

So, what can you do with all those bits of pig?

Meal 1: Following on from discussions with Frugal Living UK I first went for a slightly skinny carbonara. To a Good Housekeeping recipe circa 1980, I removed mention of tomato (???), Parmesan (didn't have any) and cream, and added onion and skinny white sauce made of cornflour slaked in milk. I made the sauce around the fried bacon and onion, then added a mix of one egg and one egg yolk, cheese and parsley. End result was lush. We had an egg white left over though, so meal 2...

Meal 2: Breakfast sandwich. Basically weld bits of fried bacon and mushroom into sandwichable fillings using the egg white. Put in sandwich. Add brown sauce. Voila!

Meal 3: A bit similar to meal 1, but having run out of eggs added white sauce with mixed herbs to fried mushrooms and bacon, served with pasta, topped with cheese. Monica Galetti would have a special scowl reserved for my level of invention.

Meals 4, 5 and 6: Magic Bacon Soup in a Jar. A home-assembled foodie gift we got last Christmas was a jar with dried pasta, lentils, barley, stock and herbs, topped with dried peas. As per the instructions, the peas were soaked overnight, then boiled up with the rest of the contents of the jar, water and a tin of chopped tomatoes. The instructions suggested ground beef could be added to the soup. Instead we added bacon! the result was very tasty.

Cheap and nutritious, but we now need a bit of a break from bacon. Shame because I found this from the Co-Op's  Bake Your Cake and Eat it!, circa 1973.

Pensioners casserole. "A nourishing and helpful dish" Serves 2... for a bit. Then serves one. Twice.
You've got to love the 70s! All the recipes were submitted by a gazillion housewives and one man. Any hope of Delia Smith-type fame following publication is avoided by referring to all the contributors by their initials. Every other recipe contains bacon, which would make you think they're probably really nice... alas no.

There are all manner of horrible recipes in this book, from "Giblet Pie" to "Kipper Flan". The "Horseshoe Surprise" contains no actual horseshoes, which must be the surprise. And what do you think might be the principle ingredient of "Banana Doolittle"? That's right... chipolata sausages.

So it perhaps not surprising that to shift copies of this book, they needed endorsement from Gallifrey's finest. Well, he likes fish fingers and custard after all...
In his third regeneration, the Doctor found himself stuck in the UK in the 1970s and it clearly affected him as he shouted about food until he got given an enormous ham, a kugelhopf and a garibaldi biscuit. And what's going on with his eyes? But this isn't the real Doctor... oh no. This is just a drawing of Jon Pertwee. Hence the enormous kipper tie which is hardly in keeping with the Doctor's 'dandy' image. That's how you get round the image rights, is it, Co-Op? I see.

Fancy saving 2p off your next purchase of Scotchoc? How about off 15 and a half ounces of rice milk pudding? Well, all the coupons in this book are intact! Just pop in your TARDIS and use them before 30th June 1974.

Anyhoo.... Jon Pertwee isn't my Doctor. I have always loved the scary mad-eyed Tom Baker (oh what fun we had when he used to do BT's text-voice service. I sent OH a voice text by accident and he near peed himself when Tom Baker read out all the kisses as, "Ex, ex, ex, ex, ex..."). But I'm afraid there is a new Doctor in my heart... and so this Saturday on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I declared it (un)official David Tennant Day.

First, I went to see the encore of a live screening of Richard II. This had been recorded on November 13th at RSC in Stratford upon Avon. What an opportunity though to experience one of our best actors in my all-time favourite Shakespeare play. I love the character's vulnerability, and it's really tricky to get someone who can portray all that kingly entitlement at the beginning and his state at the end, do the whole "buckets in a well", er, well. He's also a wee bit dreamy...

David Tennant as Richard II. Oh yes.
And when I got to the theatre, the Doctor's enemies were lurking. I disabled the egg whisk on this one...
I really loved the play. Gregory Doran's production is superb, the setting both spare and rich. The whole cast do a great job. And the music is amazing too, the singers' voices absolutely gorgeous.

And then they advertised a live screening of Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston. Swoon!

After watching the play in the very comfy seats in the Errol Flynn theatre, we were kicking ourselves that the Day of the Doctor online booking had been so patchy, as we missed out on going to see the Doctor Who film there. Instead, we made our way over to Vue, where we joined a mainly teenaged audience, many of whom were resplendent in Tom Baker scarves, Matt Smith Fezzes and black marker pen tallies. They were all full of squee, as was I...
I want that one.
Yes, we could have seen it for free on the telly, but it was absolutely fantastic watching it at the cinema in the company of an appreciative crowd. I am used to watching Doctor Who at Eastercons with 500+ attendees who appreciate it a lot, and the atmosphere was almost the same, except that a lot of the jokes seemingly went a bit unnoticed by the majority. Okay, so they forgot that David Tennant's Doctor's sonic screwdriver had been fried and some of the jokes, though very funny, were a bit meta, I don't care. I really enjoyed it.

I also bumped into m'friend and fellow comedian Jon Williams  at the cinema, which was nice.

Make the most of your Doctor Who free and lovely things... I got a free audio book from a newspaper promotion on Saturday, and have watched many of the tributes available on Youtube, like How it Should Have Ended. This week on iPlayer, make sure you watch Peter Davison's brilliant The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. It's very funny. And if you haven't seen it yet, make sure you watch Mark Gatiss's Adventures in Time and Space, a sweet, heartbreaking story of how the show started.

And yes, I am skint now after making sure we could celebrate David Tennant Day properly... but it was well worth the bacon diet. And I still have jelly babies left over. Joy!

Monday, 11 November 2013

£7 Food Challenge Day 5 & 6: Mud, Jelly Babies and Zombies

Have I or have I not broken the bank in my £7 Food Challenge for the week?

OH did not know about this challenge. I did tell him I was trying to use stuff up from the freezer. I did not tell him there was an additional challenge behind this week's grocery budget other than we are brassic and need to get ourselves unbrassic.

We were meant to have our Saturday lunch at home, before heading out to get tape for my knee ahead of my run. Only, diversions via the post office meant he ended up in town ahead of me, battery on phone dying, asking me to meet him at the running shop and go to lunch from there. I protested lack of funds and said I wanted to eat at home... but after very quick discussion the compromise was he would buy me lunch at a greasy spoon (actually, a very nice and reasonably-priced local independent eatery).

I know, I know! Part of me is feeling like I failed, because I am a challenge-nerd like that, but I did say I was exempting OH, so by my own pre-established criteria I haven't. Let other people be perfect, anyway. This is our frugalism, which we're muddling through together with various rates of success and non-coincidental epiphanies.

The main thrust of this challenge was to save money on our weekly food spend. I think that's safely achieved. My Saturday food spend was a meager £1 on potatoes from the market, leaving 91p in the £7 kitty. Even with the lunch included, that would not be a patch on the usual weekly spend of £25 plus £10-£20 out and about. So, I've saved over £20, I reckon. Not bad going.

I'm probably setting myself up to fail again here, but Stacey at Mortgage Free Journey is continuing the challenge - this time at £14. As we have similar budgets, I may see how well I can follow suit (note, she has kids; I don't, but I have a husband who will be in post-op convalescence from tomorrow).

So, anyway, the rest of the weekend was dedicated to me actually getting on with some writing: a short story I hope to have finished in the next couple of days... although I was a bit distracted ahead of my first ever 10km run on Sunday. Saturday night, we fuelled up with chicken sweet and sour with coconut rice (the lumps of meat I found in the freezer turned out to be chicken and venison. I left the venison for another time, and pulled out something I have as yet failed to identify. Whatever it is will end up in some pasta).

So, Sunday morning, me and my friend Lisa went up to Delapre in the car to do the 10km Mud and Mayhem Challenge, and OH followed on his bike to take part in the duathlon. the events are organized by Go Beyond Ultra and raise funds for Teach Africa.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, though still pretty cold. We had the beautiful grounds of Delapre Abbey to run round, and our route would get us to go round the lake thrice, each lap 3.3km.

Beautiful blue skies around the start/finish line.

Initially Lisa and I panicked when we registered as it mentioned something about groups starting alphabetically, and we thought we would not be able to start together. However, there were fewer than 70 runners altogether, so there was no separation necessary.

First off to go though, was OH, who was doing a 3.5km run, then an 18km bike ride, and finishing with a 6.5km run. Unfortunately, he had to pull out halfway through the bike ride due to tech issues with the bike. Oh noes! He was gutted...

 I managed to keep up with Lisa for the whole of the first lap. My knee was taped up with pink kinesiology tape, and this protected it really well. It felt slightly stressed at one point in the first lap, but that went away.

As we ran, we took in the gorgeousness of the lake, watching the swans and big grey cygnets glide past, the sunlight shimmering off the water's surface, occasionally strobing through the leaf cover of the woods we ran through. I kept hearing exclamations of, "Ah, beautiful!" behind me... rapidly followed by "Ugh! Oh no, waaagh!" as someone encountered a particularly deep and squelchy bit of mud.

To begin with, I made quite dainty steps around the mud... then tried just running through... then when I almost lost my shoe, I started picking around it again.

As I went into the second lap, I was offered water and jelly babies at the feeding station. I grabbed a handful. Have you tried running and eating jelly babies at the same time? It's difficult, but let me tell you I gave it a jolly good go. What idiot turns down free jelly babies?

I lost Lisa at some point on the second lap when some excited spaniels, being taken for a walk round the lake, started leaping up at me, luckily on a dry bit near the boathouse, so I didn't slip over. As I finished the second lap, I heard, "Go on, Badger!" and there was OH cheering me on. I returned the sweet nothings by yelling back, "DNF! DNF!" - which stands for Did Not Finish. I know, cruel...  This is why he is better than me.

At this point I was convinced I was in last place, and shouted so over to OH... so, as I grabbed another jelly baby, he ran over and joined me for my last lap, encouraging me all the way round.

There was a woman running in my sights just ahead. OH was encouraging me to "Hunt her down!", poor lass. What a tease she was, though - she practically walked round all that last lap, just putting on a burst of speed every now and then. How frustrating! I said, "She's a freaking zombie! Look - she can walk faster than I can run!" (Sorry, lady.)

But finish, I did. And with a respectable time of one hour, sixteen minutes, 35 seconds. And not last either!

And this is what my shoes looked like at the end of the race:

However, I have discovered there is not enough Lush Wiccy Magic Muscles in the world to counteract the "slow zombie" effect of lots of lactic acid build up in the thighs. This is how I'm walking today:

But I also have a free Go Beyond Ultra T-shirt now... hooray - I did a thing I can wear a t-shirt of at Parkrun! Finally!

Friday, 8 November 2013

£7 Food Challenge Day 3: Curry to Combat Friday Night Bus-Fail

Hello Peeps. Bit of a fail on efforts to keep money in my purse as Stagecoach buses couldn't get me home. After waiting the best part of an hour in Milton Keynes for my bus, then the bus after that, I got a glimmer of hope when I saw the golden bus drive come the road - and skip the bus station. That meant it would be another half hour wait at least, and then a long journey home in what I knew would be heavy traffic. I finish work at 5 - I wouldn't have got home until 8. So £8.50 for a single ticket was flensed from me and dripped in sacrificial offering down the slots of the  London Midland trains ticket machines. That really hurt. At least the train was on time.

I read the free copy of Evening Standard on the way home. I promised I would scrape my brain later, but I've probably left it too late as I realised the film My Sister's Keeper is on now and I quite fancy watching it.

To cheer myself up though, I thought I'd pop into the museum on the way home to see the Private View of the Northampton Town and County Art Society 100th Annual Show. This is from the promotional leaflet.
There are some fantastic pieces on display - some for sale, others not. Pictures include portraits of Alan Moore and Jim Tom Say!

I really enjoyed the exhibition, but besides the lovely Haneke, there weren't too many people there I knew, and it really was busy, so I finished my wine (free wine, free wine) and left before the presentations.

The exhibition runs until 5th January 2014.

So home alone, I decided to give myself a Friday night treat - a most inauthentic chick pea curry with coconut rice.

It's a skinny curry, made without using oil. Sorry!

I dry-fried onion, garlic, ground coriander, ground cumin and garam masala - and some madras powder to cheat (about a tsp of each spice) - then added some grated carrot when the onions had softened, and when they had also softened, a lonely mushroom. To that, half a tin of chickpeas (okay, 2/3 - greedy) and half a tin of plum tomatoes, mashing while stirring. Boil, then simmer. Meanwhile, for the rice add a dessert spoon of coconut powder (brilliant stuff - bought a huge box for 35p in Home Bargains) to 55g rice, cover with cold salted water to about 2cm above the top, cover and bring to boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes or until the liquid has absorbed.

Sprinkle the finished thing with coriander leaf to look pretty. Shove in gob.

Right, let's kick back and watch this girly film then. And let’s have a proper hot chocolate  - with marshmallows!

Shopping - Today £0. Total so far: £5.09.