Saturday, 30 March 2013

Fry-Up Treat For A Lazy Saturday (48p per person)

First of all I'd like to say thank you and welcome to all my new followers :) It's lovely to have you stop by.

What a glorious day today is! After so many days of cold and grey it is fabulous to see the sun. I know it's still cold outside, but I'm sitting here beside my window basking in the heat through the glass feeling like it really is spring after all, and that does my heart good.
We had a very lazy start to the morning; a phone call in the early hours from one of the offspring meant we were both still shattered. Fortunately, in the grand scheme of things, it had been nothing serious but when you are young these little knocks and bumps in life seem like the end of the world so some parental TLC and serious cheering up had been needed which meant sleep hadn't figured too highly in our night. Had it been as grey this morning as previous mornings I may have been tempted to just pull the duvet over my head and go back to sleep, but waking to find sun streaming through our windows seemed such a novelty it was a shame to waste it.
In truth I probably wasn't really tired enough to go back to sleep, tired enough to not want to get up, but more sleep would just have made me feel groggy for the rest of the day. As it was we threw open the curtains to let the sun in, made a mug of coffee and just snuggled in bed talking for an hour or two. About serious stuff, fun stuff, frivolous stuff, was a lovely way to pass the time once I'd managed to shake the feeling of guilt and laziness about still being in bed.
It took hubby to point out it was a BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND and we really had nothing we needed to be doing. That's the thing with not going out to work, after a while one day seems much like the next and things like weekends and holidays drift by unnoticed. Not that I paid much attention to weekends or bank holidays when I was working either, I worked in tourism so they were my busiest days. A bank holiday to me just meant extra work!
I'd almost forgotten about Easter completely until I nipped into Morrison's on Thursday. I'd done most of my weekly shop in Aldi the day before (spending a grand total of £11.26) but there were still one or two things I needed like bleach, cooking bacon and hubby's denture glue (I'm glad he doesn't read this, he won't thank me for mentioning that!) that I needed to get elsewhere. It was absolutely manic in there. I wondered for a moment what on earth was going on, people were spending like the shops were all going to close in an hour, never to re-open again! Then it dawned on me. I've never really understood the shopping frenzy that goes hand in hand with Christmas, but I understand it even less for Easter. I don't remember it ever being like that when I was a child.
I did worry for a brief moment, 'Oh, it's Easter weekend and we won't have anything special' and then I thought 'Don't be such a Muppet!' We'll still have some nice things, but they'll be things I can make with the basic ingredients we've got in and I know we won't feel deprived at all.
I certainly didn't feel deprived this morning. After our lazy lie in my husband said that it was a shame he couldn't have a fry up, cooked breakfasts and lazy lie ins go hand in hand after all ;)
Well, I couldn't let that go now could I? I had a quick think and I was sure I could put something together, it wouldn't quite be the 'full english' but it would still be good and after the stresses of the last few weeks maybe a 'blow out' would do us good.
What really amazed me was how little it cost to do.
75g Bacon, 1 sausage, 2 eggs, spoonful of tomatoes, 1 slice of fried bread for 48p and to be honest if I were to do it again, I'd cook less, it was a bit too much for me. Just taking one egg off would drop the cost to 39p, losing the sausage as well takes it down to 29p! Bargain!!!
So how did I do it?
*note. Portion prices have been rounded up or down to the nearest penny as appropriate for ease of calculation (my maths is atrocious).
To Serve 2
150g Cooking Bacon (Morrison's Savers 81p for 500g) 24p
2 Irish recipe sausages (Asda £2 for 20 - I actually think I paid less than that as they've been in the back of my freezer for ages, but this is the current price) 20p
4 eggs (Aldi £1.35 for 15) 36p
1/3 tin plum tomatoes (Aldi 31p) 10p
25 ml Cooking Oil (Poundland £1 for 750ml) 1p
2 slices bread (Aldi Everyday Essentials 22 slice loaf 50p) 4p
Tomato ketchup (Morrison's Savers 40p for 550g) 1p
That's a total cost of 96p for two delicious fried breakfasts.
As we sat down at our table with what looked like a slap up feast in front of us, it felt like the height of luxury. It didn't matter that the bacon wasn't in 'proper' rashers but instead in bits and chunks, it didn't matter that the eggs weren't organic, or the sausages from the local butcher, all that mattered was that as we shared that meal we felt like we were having a real, once in a blue moon, treat and it cost less than a pound for the two of us.
*Thinking about it, it cost fractionally less than I've said as hubby doesn't like fried egg whites so I separated his eggs before I cooked them. The egg whites will be making meringue nests for a special pudding tomorrow. Bonus :)

Friday, 22 March 2013

27p in My Purse

That's it folks, I'm literally down to pennies. There is the grand sum of 27p in my purse. I'm almost giddy with excitement, trying to decide what to spend it on!

I shouldn't complain (I shouldn't, but I'm going to so if you want to back away now quietly, I'll understand, just close the door behind you please, it gets cold in here otherwise). There is food in my kitchen cupboards, not a lot but there are things I can work with, there might be some strange meals and odd combinations but I'll keep us both fed until pension day. I have gas and electric on my meters, and neither of them are on 'emergency'....yet. I have paid this week's water instalment on time and although the car got us home on fumes last night, we had managed to put just enough diesel in to enable us to run our errands (unless I count the car being serviced today, I had to call and cancel that as we just couldn't get there).
We have managed, with the meagre funds we get, to pay everything that needs to be paid and buy some fairly basic food. We have done those things, without wasting money on fripperies, or eating out, or buying newspapers or magazines. We haven't had a drink, or bought new clothes, or gone to the cinema. We haven't put money on the phone, or posted birthday cards, or even posted my Mum's Mother's Day present which I bought in the January sales for £1.49 and now can't afford to send. We haven't done these things and yet I still only have 27p left in my purse.
We have done what we needed to do to survive, not to live, and yet somehow from April we have to find an extra £70 a month.
From where?
Suggestions on a postcard please.
We knew we were getting stung with the 'bedroom tax' and had pretty much resigned ourselves to a difficult few months at least. We did talk about moving to a smaller property but discounted the idea for several reasons. We do actually use the 'spare' room. If hubby gets his business off the ground like he hopes he's going to need that space as his office/craft area. We have good neighbours. We can't face moving again, and well, this is our home. Life has been pretty grotty for the last few years but we've done our best to make this place a comfy, cosy retreat for us where we feel safe. when we moved here we didn't expect to have to move again, ever. Not to mention the fact that there are no where near enough one bed properties available to accommodate all those who wish to downsize.
After giving it a lot of thought, and it really was a lot of thought, we decided to stay put and find the extra money somehow. If we cut back just a little bit on everything, we thought we could just about manage it. It would mean scrimping with the food shop and using the car less, using the phone only in emergencies (although that's pretty much what we do anyway). With the summer coming and less going on the gas and electric meters we thought we could do it, or buy ourselves a little time at least.
But then WHAM! Thudding through the letter box came a council tax bill.
Now, I knew the government were introducing changes which meant local councils would now be in charge of the way council benefit tax was administered....but, and here's the thing... I checked with them back in November and was told not to worry, it probably wouldn't affect us, and if it did they would let us know in ample time. So why was it that the first I knew about us no longer being entitled to full council tax benefit was when the bill dropped through the letter box a few days ago?
The combined effect of the 'bedroom tax' and council tax will be devastating. I don't see how we can do it. I've gone over and over the figures and I simply can't find an extra £70 a month no matter what I do. So with a very heavy heart I have registered us on the list to move. It could be months and months before something comes of that though.
And I'm job hunting again. Despite the fact that there are many days when hubby isn't well enough to be left alone. What other choice do we have?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A VERY Nasty Bug

I've been poorly, so very poorly, and although I'm up and about I'm still run down, tired, achy, queasy and generally bleuggghhh. Is that a word? Well it should be! Bleuggghhh is is just about right for how I feel.
I caught a bug, I don't know where, a nasty little vomiting bug that came on quite suddenly last Thursday. One minute I was feeling fine and enjoying the spring sunshine, the next I was yelling 'STOP THE CAR!' at my husband as I fought in vain with my breakfast. Sorry, was that a bit too much information? Thinking back I had been a bit cold and shivery the night before but that's not unusual in our flat so I didn't think too much about it, even though the heating was on and hubby wasn't cold. I woke feeling fine so the whole thing hit me like a bolt from the blue.
I spent three whole days in bed (I have NEVER done that in my life before). GP said there was nothing to do, just drink plenty of fluids....easier said than done! After about a day I was managing sips of water though so although it didn't feel like it I must have been improving. I managed to drag myself out of bed for a few hours on Sunday and I've got gradually better since but I still can't drink anything other than water without feeling queasy and most foods are more than I can face too. Fresh fruit is about the only thing I can eat that doesn't make me feel instantly ill, and even if I could afford a steady diet of fruit it's hardly going to build me up again is it?
I'm going to try a bowl of rice pudding later. My grandma always gave me that when I was poorly. It was her cure-all for everything, rice pudding and boiled lemonade! It's worth a try. Who am I to argue? Grandma knows best.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Soda Bread

I love Soda Bread. Those Irish certainly know a thing or two. It has to be the tastiest, easiest bread to make. Ever.

My Homemade Soda Bread
I'd never tried soda bread until I met my husband, in fact if I'm being totally honest I'm not sure I'd even heard of it! But he liked it so on one of my weekly jaunts to the supermarket, I bought some. It was OK I guess, but I couldn't really see what he was making such a fuss about. He did say shop bought wasn't quite the same as the real thing, but I didn't think much more about it. I enjoyed baking, but back then I was far too busy with work to do very much of it.

Fast forward a few years..................................

We had just relocated to Cornwall and had nothing. And when I say nothing, I really do mean virtually NOTHING. We had sold just about everything we owned to raise money and much of what we hadn't sold had not survived 'storage' with a family member (long story). We had a few bits of furniture (think bedside tables, drinks cabinet...nothing really useful) and a few personal items (clothes, photo's etc) and that was about it. There we were in a cold, damp, empty flat, starting again from scratch, from teaspoons up.
For those first few weeks I cooked on a two ring camping stove. We had no fridge, no freezer, which meant having to buy food in small quantities instead of in bigger, more economical amounts. It was expensive and severely limiting...not to mention the cost of replacing the silly little impractical gas canisters. It was the kind of stove meant for a weekend away, not long term use. In desperation we bought a second hand microwave from the Heart Foundation shop for £15. It wasn't ideal but better than nothing and we certainly got our money's worth...we got three years service out of my trusty, battered friend before it finally gave up the ghost.
I got books from the library on microwave cooking but for the most part I found them frustrating. So many of the recipes only used the microwave for part of the cooking; what kind of microwave cookbook requires you to also have a conventional oven? A pretty useless one in my opinion! It took quite a bit of digging to find recipes I could actually make use of...and one of them was for Soda Bread.
I have to say it was a rather pasty looking, and slightly soggy, Soda Bread, and would certainly have benefited from being browned off under the grill, but it tasted good and I'd made it from scratch, which after microwave meals, was a blessed relief.
It was another couple of months before I finally got an oven and I gratefully retired my microwave standbys in favour of some serious baking, but recently, as we tighten our belts ever further and cut the food shopping to almost impossible levels, I've had to again rethink the way I do things.
More and more I'm making my own bread, experimenting with different recipes and methods, but the one we keep coming back to, the quick fix, the saviour when I can't afford to keep the kitchen warm enough for an ordinary loaf to rise, is Soda Bread.
I've tried a few different recipes, looking expectantly for hubby's approval. Each, he said, was nice but not quite how he remembered from the time he spent in Ireland. In the end I took a bit from here, a bit from there, adapted to suit what I had in my cupboards, and came up with the recipe I use today which hubby insists is just 'perfect'.
6oz SR Flour
6oz Strong White Flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
184 ml (approx) buttermilk* (depending on the brand, the size of pot varies a little bit)
splash of milk
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Stir in buttermilk.
Add a splash of milk (if needed) until dough is of a soft, but not sticky, consistency.
Shape dough into a round and place on a floured baking tray.
Cut a deep 'cross' in the top of the dough.
Cook on gas mark 6 (ish- my oven is a bit temperamental) for about 20-25 mins until golden.
*Nowhere locally sells buttermilk and as it's almost a 20 mile round trip up to Morrison's I've had to find alternatives if I've run out. I add about a tablespoon of vinegar to about 200ml of milk then let it rest for about ten minutes and that usually does the trick. It doesn't tend to rise quite as well, making it a slightly denser loaf but it still tastes fine. I'm told you can do the same by adding lemon juice but I haven't tried that.
**Not for the squeamish. Adding vinegar to milk isn't pretty!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Better Late Than Never

I had the funniest conversation with my step daughter at the weekend. She had called me about something else but repeatedly kept telling me she was going into town later to buy vegetables. We talked about babies and holidays and dogs and kayaking but through it all those veggies kept rearing their heads to say hello. I was starting to wonder if it was some sort of code, was there someone else listening? Was there something she wanted to tell me but couldn't? Was she being held against her will by some crazed, long haired nutter? ....Oh wait, that's her husband. lol
Whatever it was I couldn't understand this sudden obsession with vegetables. She doesn't even like cooking, and will send her husband to the supermarket whenever she can get away with it. Shopping she excells at, but food shopping really isn't her thing!
In the end I just had to ask.
*Fanfare* Yes, lets have a fanfare here, it deserves it.
Thanks to the horsemeat scandal which made her rethink her habits, my step daughter has finally worked out that shopping at the local market is cheaper than Sainsburys.
I have never heard such excitement in her voice before. She joyously listed all the veg she'd bought the previous week and squeeled 'I saved £20!' followed quickly by 'and I bought meat too, loads of it, from the meat market, and it was so cheap'.
Yes dear, I know.
On a roll from her successes she even ventured into Poundland. (Believe me, if you knew my step daughter you'd know just how funny this is).
'I usually spend £100 a week in the supermarket' she said.
'By going to the market I only spent £50'
I hadn't the heart to tell her I don't usually spend that much in a month, I didn't want to burst her bubble. The girl has to start somewhere. lol
Of course she blew all her savings on new clothes, but hey, she's young and she works hard, I don't begrudge her that.