Sunday, 27 January 2013

Look What's Happened to My Greenhouse!

Wel I've been enjoying every body's snow pictures,  but the weather has proved disastrous for me.  3 joints have snapped on my greenhouse. Hopefully I can source some replacements.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Feeling Crafty

I've had a busy old night, writing and editing. We took a break to watch the fabulous Utopia on channel 4, during which I got on with my tea cosy...

This came in a free kit from Clipper tea, along with packs of English Breakfast and Earl Grey teabags. Looking good so far, but I need to get it finished as I have a couple of gift knitting projects that I'd like to start and finish before the end of February.

A short while ago, OH came to join me in our little office to design some photo gifts on his laptop.

Yes, spot the homemade wine... unfortunately, I don't believe it's any good, so we'll have to have another go. OH makes a particularly good dry cider - just from basic juice and champagne yeast! We got the basic recipe from Downsizer.

We've had a really good week of budgeting and planning for the wedding. We decided the shopping budget was a little tight for us, but I'm going to handle the budget as it is for all groceries, toiletries, cleaning stuff and cat food, and  OH is in charge of stockpiling bargain meat for the freezer. In fact, he went shopping today. He did quite well, within budget and stuck to multipack deals and stickered bargains, but I meanly gave him a very middly 6/10 for his efforts, because I'm a stickler about what I consider to be a bargain. For example, 2 quail for £3.45 - yes, cheaper than normal, but you could probably get better value from something else. That said, I haven't tried quail before, so I'm looking forward to that meal.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Horses for Courses: Cooking from Scratch is Best

Hope you're enjoying the snow - I had a nightmare getting back from work, but it does look pretty, and I'm snug and warm in my many layers and cosy, furry Christmas slippers.

First, a story inspired by the news this week:

I was on holiday in Brittany as teenager, and as the only French-speaker, responsible for ordering the meat at the supermarket deli counter for my family (a feat for any teen veggie - oh the angst!). One day we bumped into another British family, the dad pointing enthusiastically at the mince.

"You have to try this," he said. "It's really good stuff. We've been eating it all week!"

"What," I said, "the horse meat?"

He looked puzzled. "Horse? It's not is it?"

"Do you mean the meat marked 'cheval', which means horse, with a cartoon picture of a horse pointing enthusiastically at its own flesh stuck in it?"

There was a moment of quiet as the penny dropped.

"You did say it was really nice though."

The man's little daughter started to cry. We thought we'd best go back to the meat counter a bit later. For fun, I picked up a carton of Poulain chocolate powder.

What has tickled me the most about this week's Tesco burger furore is that what horrifies people the most is not that:

 a) There has been a breach of trading standards in supplying products labelled 100% beef that have turned out not to be.


b) That people have been been placing trust in 'shop-bought' standards, relying on companies to care about what's in their food rather than worrying about that themselves (someone once told me very openly that she won't eat food that looks 'homemade' at buffets because "you never know what other people's kitchens are like". Ah, the irony...).

It's that they might have eaten something French.

Sorry, I'm being facetious! I'm a recently converted vegetarian, still slightly horrified at myself for tucking heartily into veal wellington at Christmas, but frankly a lot less squeamish than other people who've been eating meat for years. Even I think eating horse is a showjumping leap too far for me at the moment, but I've spent a lot of time in France and do admire their 'mange tout' and unwasteful approach to food.

Mind, there have been plenty of jokes knocking about. I've got some burgers in the fridge - and they're off!

It makes me laugh more though how politicians are now starting to talk about introducing more stringent and regular DNA testing in our food-producing factories. Have we really come so far now that we must sequence a pie? Oh Crick and Watson, look what pioneering endeavours your work has led to!

However, the politicians are justified in their rage, because as big companies try to sell convenience to consumers and maximise profits, it's in their interest to make ready-made foods as cheaply as possible. A circle of dependance has been created, whereby generations are growing up without confidence in their cooking skills, or knowledge of even where to start. It's a wake-up call for those who think only the poor are affected by poor food, too, as the basic, standard and higher quality types of burger were all affected by the inclusion of this meat.

In our house, we try not to use too many processed foods, but we are learning cooks ourselves, and though our confidence is growing as we try new things, I've been guilty of buying those spongy 'chicken' grills and over-processed pizzas just to do something quickly. And then of course there's fast food... but to be honest ever since we skipped some discarded burger buns from outside a well-known chain to make into sandwiches, we've been put off. Not because skipping is dirty - it's not. But the buns never went off. Honestly, we had them ages, too.

But last night's dinner wasn't from the bin, you'll be glad to hear. What do you do when all your meat is still frozen in the freezer, and you have a surprise visitor, who has twisted your OH's arm not terribly much into playing snooker? Let them get tempted by cheesy chips on the way home again? No - I just took stock of what was in the cupboards and fridge and thought I'd try something completely new.

I made my very first quiche!

How to make: Put on your woolly hat to work in the cold kitchen. Look at a Good Housekeeping recipe book for basic shortcrust pastry, realise you don't have enough white flower. Ad lib with some stoneground wholemeal flour. I put a small bowlful in a big bowl, and then added cubed butter, bit by bit, rubbing it all in until I'd put in enough for it to look like breadcrumbs, added a splash of cold water and mixed to form a ball of dough. The I rolled it out and put into a lightly buttered quiche dish. With ceramic beads in the bottom, I baked it in an oven at 200C. Then I removed the beads, then I pricked the base, and put it back in the oven for a few minutes while I prepared the filling.

Is that what you do? I don't know, I guessed.

The filling: some chopped-up leek sweated in a drop of water in a non-stick pan (there's enough butter in this thing already), stir into 4 beaten eggs and add seasoning and a splash of skimmed milk. Pour into base. Arrange asparagus tips in a circle and grate over a bit of cheese. Bake in the oven for another 25 minutes.

Result - hey it worked! OH and his bro enthused over it, amazed I'd made it myself and I was pretty chuffed because I'd managed to achieve NO SOGGY BOTTOM!! (Observe the amateurism of the untrimmed pastry!) Served with potatoes, mayo and green beans, there was enough left over for our lunches today with a bit of salad.

Well, if the OH had remembered to take his with him... he had a chicken meal instead.

I had to roll my eyes at him - bought lunches are one of the fripperies now. It would be easy to spend a fiver on lunch every day and throw hundreds of pounds down the drain for the sake of convenience.

So salad and quiche it was for tea then.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Joys of Thrifting and Gifting

As we save up for our big day, I am determined to make sure that we make our celebration as unique to ourselves as possible, while trying out new things.

My other half was very impressed by the card I made my nephew for his birthday (his birthday is today, but it was his party at the weekend). Ash liked it more when I pointed out that Eeyore was Winnie the Pooh's best friend.If I'd tried to make one of Winnie, I'd have had to use yellow-green instead of yellow foam. It would be as though Winnie had eaten too much honey made by the bees around that French M&Ms factory.

He also seemed to like the 'hitting sticks' we got him - a set of children's golf clubs. He is set to be a very sporty little boy indeed! Or a violent one...

The clubs were originally a present for me... dare I say I'm very short, but not that short.

I wore my latest craft project to the children's party - a thrifted jumper, bought back in November, that I jazzed up with an applique tartan stag's head on Friday. Bang on trend for £2.99! Unfortunately it got 'nephewed' before I had chance to take a picture as my 8-year old nephew, my little Genius, deceived me with a hug before using my clothes as handy chocolate-removing napkin.

I do believe this year my OH and I are going to be revisiting crafts with a vengeance. He has borrowed a pattern to make dashing waistcoats for his outfit, and if I have time I may be making dresses myself. I'm also going to be attending a chocolate-making workshop next month, run by my sister-in-law, an extremely talented cook and food-writer. She makes gorgeous chocolates, and if I can aim to reach her standards, I'll be making the favours for the wedding.

Don't these Baileys truffles look yummy?
 Plus, they will make marvellous Valentine's Day gifts.

Other good things this week - I got a new personal best time at Park Run: 5km in 30 minutes 53 - go me!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Just a quick update today as I have been busy.
Wedding work has begun in earnest, with documents requested. Just got to hunt the passports now. Lists are being drawn up for the sit down meal (standing up to eat not recommended). Setbacks have been panicked and stressed over and I have an intense pain in my left shoulder from not shrugging properly. I'm shrugging now though. Que sera sera...

I am happy to report one success, as today is my 'official' weigh-in, one week after New Year's Day. I have lost 5lbs!

I think that's the most I've ever lost in one week... because, yes, I've been down this road before. Haven't we all? And I've still enjoyed chocolate, cake and ice cream left over from Christmas, and a couple of glasses of wine. But apart from those naughties, I've stuck to the Filling and Healthy list, climbed the stairs instead of taking the lift and tried to fit in the recommended 75 minutes of vigorous exercise and toning sessions as per the NHS website.

Just got to stick to it now.

Monday, 7 January 2013

My First Handmade Thing of the Year (not the ransom note)

It's gone ten already, N is still scrabbling in the loft and I am looking round my office with a sinking feeling. We need to make an appointment with the registrar and our documents have gone walkabout. It's most definitely time to sort out the potential bookalanche in here.

So far, N has found a graphic calculator (with book), some coffee BBE September 2008 (which he says he'll drink now), a CD of Fugazi by Marillion, a Sony Walkman, and by the sounds of it, a wooden recorder.

Also a bizarre ransom note...

I know where the last smerfs are. Put £5 million in Boobys bank or I'll send you all of their heads. Nice.

We keep scribbling over our wedding budget. It goes down when we get a great idea, it goes up again when we realise we can't do what we thought we could.

But we are committed, and it means saving money wherever possible.

Hence this evening, I made a birthday card for my nephew who is having a party on Saturday. It's made of blue card and various bits of craft foam left over from an old project.

 I would have done Winnie, but I've used up all my yellow foam. I prefer Eeyore anyway, myself!

We are going to cheer ourselves up before bed with another grim episode of Boardwalk Empire, which N got for Christmas and which is fab.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Paradise Follows Purgatory (or is it the other way round?)

Right now it feels like utter luxury to be able to sit at my PC and update my blog. My Wi-Fi has been playing up for days - leading to a rash and panicky decision that I'm going to have to undo tomorrow morning. Being without internet access when the world is waiting on your word (I'm responsible updating a website very regularly with member nominations for a literary award) is very stressful.

Saturday I earned myself some smug points as I made it to Parkrun. I'm a big fan of this, and if you're looking to get fit, lose weight or just meet a load of enthusiastic (and sweaty) people, and save money, then forget joining an expensive gym. You can register at Parkrun for free and take part in regular 5km runs in many places round the UK - and in several other countries too.

Who takes part? Well, there are your elite runners and running club members who are going to run round in about 17 minutes, there are your pretty good runners who just take it easy and chat all the way round, there are the unfit and wheezy, there are the ones who think they can't but then find they can (me), there are mums and dads pushing buggies, people with dogs (at some runs, some don't allow dogs), there are primary school children (some of them surprisingly fast) and pensioners too - it's for everyone.

You get a time and statistics recorded which get texted to you later in the day. My best time is 31:29 - so far. This week I made it round in 32:30. I finished in 126th place and was the 44th lady out of a field of 157 parkrunners and  came 8th in my age category VW35-39.Yes, this is sort of towards the back of the pack, but the atmosphere is so encouraging that this is all fine for me. I like running with my friend Jen who can run around at the same sort of pace as me. When my brother goes, he can finish top ten, talented so and so, grrr!

As if my run wasn't tiring enough, I then had to carry poor Maddy cat to the vets as she has a sensitive skin condition. She doesn't get it flaring up very often, but she is prone so it's a potential cost I'm aware of for 'self-insurance'. If your cat has pre-existing conditions like mine has, it may not be value for money to shell out for monthly insurance, but it is still wise to 'self-insure'. Luckily, Maddy loves the vet and likes going there to sit on her pedestal (scales) and have a lovely fuss (receive an injection that she doesn't seem to notice going in).

I got home in time to make N a lovely butternut squash soup before a trip to town. He gets hungry and ratty in quick succession, which can be expensive if out and about. He still needed a supermarket snack when we'd finished, but at least we didn't have to buy a meal (next time, I'm also packing a sandwich). But we have now managed to book our honeymoon to Malta, pick up my  ring and pay the venue deposit. I'm afraid savings will only cover some of those, but we will work at clearing the finance as quickly as possible. That's the Purgatory bit. I'm very grateful to advice from Malta-loving friends without whom we may have booked a holiday on the wrong side of the island.

Saturday night was less positive as I struggled to work without Internet access, hence fired up by stress, I went to the library this morning to book a computer to go online only to be told it was a pound for every twenty minutes! I'm sorry, but it's cheaper to go to a hotel and book theirs. I was told you could get an hour's free access on Fridays. Well, whoop-de-doo, but I work in the week. I was also told it had always been something you needed to pay for. Er- no it hasn't. I had free access just this year! I know it was this year because I was working on my witch exhibition. Then I passed the bargain books sale table and was disheartened to see Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players on there. One of the country's most popular writers? And I took that book out just last month myself! It used to be that books went in the sale if they hadn't been taken out in a few months, but now it seems borrowing them won't save them. Ladies and gentlemen - if you hadn't noticed, our libraries are still very much in trouble.

So that is when I made a stressed call to my ISP and ended up ordering a router that is way too much for our wants and needs... and the WiFi came back on tonight after all. Must have been local network issues. I will have to cancel the order first thing. How annoying!

But I unwound a little by going for a swim. We take the nieces swimming once or twice a month. I have a leisure card which gets me discounted swims and we go on Sunday lunchtimes because the pool is less busy then and you don't get a maximum time allocated, so you can have a good long swim. And I can now think about the blue sea on the shores of Sliema, where I'll be going for my honeymoon in May.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Toasting the Bride and Groom to be... With What?

Hello and welcome to my first post in a new blog.

I’ll begin in the manner of Lovecraft/Poe by mentioning that I think I may be going mad and then promptly going into denial about it. You’re the mad one, not me.

I just happen to be getting married. Again.

But first, why the blog and why A Frugal Wench? Well, I did have another blog over on Live Journal for my outpourings, but Live Journal is currently working like an absolute dream – by which I mean an absolute dream like a successful Lib Dem election manifesto promise.

My blog covered a number of things that interested me: science fiction conventions, comedy, books, poetry, performing, my dad nearly dying in a flash flood but being more put out that his sandwiches had got wet…  loads of things. Lately though, I’d been erring towards topics of money-saving and frugaldom quite a bit. I just failed a ‘no supermarket shopping for a year’ challenge at the 9 month hurdle. So that’s why ‘frugal’.

‘Wench’ is a Middle English word for girl that is now used archaically by a lot of people in a slightly derogatory way. Wench is a word that has always made me bristle, but then I used to hear it quite a lot growing up because I’m from the Black Country where it is still in common parlance, especially among the working classes. As a teen, I may have used to tell my family to, ‘Shut up, that’s sexist’, but I think I may have actually meant that such dialectical speak might draw undue attention to our underprivileged origins. Although we’d be mostly sitting in a working men’s club listening to the Jive Bunny Remix, so I’m not sure changing our language would have altered perceptions much.

But now I live in Northampton where I have a smashing life and some purple-tinted specs to look back at the Black Country with. It’s not rosy, but hey, the place was not so bad really. They have a better bus service at least. That said, I love Northampton – it’s such a fascinating place to live, and there are so many creative, interesting and kind people around, inspired by its pretty buildings, its industrial heritage and the beautiful countryside surrounding.

I lived by myself in the Black Country for a while which is when I first got interested in downsizing and frugaldom. I loved my little house and managed my small salary well, managing to travel to France on holiday with my family, go to conventions all over the UK and fund my MA in English. But I fell in love and moved to Northampton 4 years ago and since then life has just got busier and busier. And when time goes out the window, so do all your good intentions.

Last year, my OH and I both realised our lives were racing away, we’d taken our eye off the boil and we had to take control. We’ve had some success: I managed to have enough put by to cope when the boiler broke, and N tackled his health and fitness and managed to lose 3 stone before Christmas (sexy!). But the wedding… oh…

We managed to book our ideal venue, but for 3 months earlier than we were expecting. We have eighteen weeks and 2 days to get everything done and paid for. We want this to be a celebration of us and don’t want to skimp, but fair to say money is a worry and it’s mainly worrying me. So, this will not be a £200 wedding like I read of on other people’s frugal wedding blogs, but that said I don’t want us to be shackled to wedding debt and miserable for years to come. Champagne wedding on a lemonade budget? Don’t make the mistake of thinking lemonade will do. Every time I mention something that even whiffs of lemons, the atmosphere turns very bitter indeed (by the way, just in case you hadn’t got it, the lemons are metaphorical. But not in a U2 –‘look we spent loads of money on a giant lemon to walk out on stage from’ way. Hopefully).

But anyway, I invite you to accompany me on this journey, share in my quest to save the pennies while still having fun and turning myself from a frumpy, dumpy Mrs Pepperpot to a stunning bride. Oh – and I have a sort of look I’m aiming for.

This is Romola Garai in Crimson Petal and the White. I think she’s great. We’re having a bit of a Victoriana/Steampunk theme for the wedding so yes, in case you didn’t know what the book and her character, Sugar, were about, the look I’m going for is ‘Victorian whore’. Of sorts…

And I’ll be looking for lots of tips and ideas, and maybe some help in creating some nice surprises for my husband to be.