Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Christmas 2014 blog post Anthology

Just in case I go missing again in the run up to Christmas and you're desperate for something seasonal to read on this blog, here is the annual, updated for 2014, Everyday Life on a Shoestring anthology of Christmas blog posts, past and present.

If you're looking for a recipe, a homemade gift idea, a good Christmas book to read, or a corny cracker joke, then you might find what you need here! I've added 'A Simple Christmas' button to the bar at the top of the blog's home page so that you can easily find that peppermint cream recipe at a later date...

Everyday Life on a Shoestring Christmas traditions, Christmassy photos...they're all here! Just click on the link to be taken to the relevant blog post.

Santa comes to Corsham, 2012!

And here Santa is in 2013!

How to make an advent Christmas crown

Vegetarian mincemeat recipe

Christmas Pudding recipe

Christmas Cake recipe

Millionaire's Shortbread recipe

Peppermint Creams

Chocolate, orange and almond torte

How to make bath bombs

How to recycle candles into new candles for great gifts!

Easy Peasy Icecream recipe

Christmas Jokes

Christmas Music

Christmas Poetry

Christmas Books

Operation Christmas Child - Shoeboxes

Travelling in the UK at Christmas? Links to travel news here

Monday, 15 December 2014

A Pause in Advent - Week 3

(Oops, as well as Pausing in Advent, there's been an unintentional pause in blogging for the last couple of weeks, ...did I mention this time of year can be hectic?)

Time for another Pause in Advent - that chance for a reflective pause amidst what, for many of us, is a busy time of year as we prepare to welcome the light (in whichever sense you celebrate that - religious or not).

One of my favourite parts of this time of year is the music. Granted, all the old favourites are being trotted out on the radio and in the shops, and I do tire of some of those. But each year there's a new surprise. Often it's been discovered at a school concert: a few years ago it was A Wriggly Nativity - one of the better off-the-peg nativity packages that some UK primary schools buy into these days. One year it was the secondary school choir performing a Tears For Fears number - not your usual Christmas fare but very moving.

This year is the first year where we have no primary school Christmas show to go to and neither child is performing in the Comp's Christmas concert, so we have had rely on the oldies for our Christmas musical thrills. Yesterday Grandad's Choral Society's performed Bach's Christmas Oratorio. In its own way, just as exciting as A Wriggly Nativity. Not least because a tier of Basses and Tenors were balanced precariously at the back of stage and there was a real possibility that someone might fall off the stage, Reception class style. Thankfully there were no accidents. Not many musical surprises either. Bach's very dependable.

No, this year's new discovery for me is 'People, Look East! (Carol of the Advent)'. The words were written by Eleanor Farjeon (who also wrote Morning has Broken) and set to an old French melody. I came across this carol at a concert where it was one of the 'all join in' carols for the audience, most of whom, like me, did not recognise it. I really like this Youtube version without the lyrics, so for this week's Pause in Advent I give you the tune and the words separately. If you're feeling very Christmassy you can karaoke along with the video...

People of the East, Carol of the Advent
People, look East, the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house as fair as you're able,
Trim the hearth, and set the table.
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch, when night is dim.
One more light the bowl shall brim.
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as the sun and moon together.
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the Star, is on the way.

Angels, announce, with shouts of mirth
Him Who brings new life to earth.
Set ev'ry peak and valley humming
With the word, "The Lord is coming!"
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Eleanor Farjeon

Angela at Tracing Rainbows is hosting PiA this year, and if you visit her blog you can find links to the other bloggers taking part and sharing their Pauses

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A Pause in Advent - Week 1

This year I'm joining in with some other bloggers for A Pause in Advent. 

It's a blogging tradition that goes back a few years - a chance for a reflective pause amidst what, for many of us, is a busy time of year as we prepare to welcome the light (in whichever sense you celebrate that - religious or not).

Angela at Tracing Rainbows is hosting PiA this year, and if you visit her blog you can find links to the other bloggers taking part and sharing their Pauses

I'm hosting the "Pause In Advent" here - continuing the tradition started by Floss

Perhaps you're thinking that finally this is the point where my writing becomes deep, meaningful and full of insight. Sorry! You'll have to visit some of the other Pausers for that.

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would write and I'm afraid the best I could come up with is a toilet. 

A toilet.

But not just any toilet - this toilet in Cambodia:

It's twinned with the toilets at the Friends' Meeting House in Redland, Bristol*, where I happened to be using the facilities on Saturday. Its photo hangs above the wash basins along with its longitude and latitude so that you can be locate it on Google Earth.

This gave me pause for thought, quite literally. I'd never come across toilet twinning before but what a fantastic idea. Simple but so thought provoking. I've already thought of a few toilets around here that could be twinned.

The scheme, organised by Cord and Tearfund, allows people or organisations to fund raise to twin an existing toilet or toilets in a home, organisation, village or town with a community in a developing country that does not have a toilet, so that they can build one. 

Shockingly only 1 in 3 people in the world has access to a toilet and many health and hygiene issues result from this lack. For me, this really puts the excesses of Christmas into perspective, especially in the light of all this new fangled (over here in the UK) Black Friday/Cyber Monday nonsense.

This season I'm going to pause gratefully and remember the riches I already possess, including clean water and my very own flush toilet, right here in my house.  Even if I only pause for a minute every time I go to the loo, over the next few weeks that'll add up to a substantial pause in Advent...

* Sorry I didn't think of taking a photo of the Meeting House toilets - it felt eccentric enough taking a photo of the photo of the Cambodian toilet...If you imagine a few clean toilets in cubicles with wash basins and squirty soap dispensers you've pretty much got the Bristol picture...

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Getting my own back on the self service check out...

Generally I avoid the self service check outs at our local supermarket. It never runs smoothly, for countless reasons: bar codes not being accepted on reduced items, the machine not liking library books already being in my own shopping bag, stuff being accidentally scanned twice, unexpected item in the bagging area...All of which then entails standing around waiting for an elusive shop assistant to come and bail me out.

Instead I prefer dealing with a human. (I am that annoying middle-aged lady in front of you in the queue who likes to chat to the shop assistant and pay with the exact money, spending hours ferreting around in the dark recesses of her purse for that final penny.)

Husband can't be doing with all that. He brings all his loose change home. Some of it goes in our Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal collection box and some of it gets dumped in a pot.

And every now and again, when I'm feeling stony broke and I've got just a few items to buy I empty the contents of the pot into a bag and take it to the supermarket and use it all in one go at the self service check out.

This was the highlight of my day today (I know, I know, I lead a very exciting life). A whole £5 of what feels like 'free' money!

It is not an activity to be done in a rush. I make sure I pick a quiet time in the store so I can savour feeding the money in a few coins at a time. It's like being at the penny arcades on a rainy day at the seaside, especially when the machine spits a few coins out.

Sometimes it all goes smoothly and my small act of defiance goes unnoticed. Other times the machine cottons on to what I'm doing and starts to get annoyed. It puts its cash gobbling conveyor belt into reverse and makes unpleasant mechanical noises because it knows I'm sticking it to The Man, to all those soulless automated procedures everywhere that put real people out of a job, and to all those Coinstar machines that change your coins into notes but take a fee for doing so. I won't be beaten. I always win this particular battle, however many shop assistants I have to enlist onto my side, and you know what? I'll be back with a bagful of coppers another time..

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Stir Up Sunday - Super Scrimpers style

Two years ago I blogged about Stir-up Sunday here. I'll quickly recap for those who have got better things to do than flit around blogs reading old blog posts. 

It's the last Sunday before Advent and the Collect for the day (the 25th Sunday after Trinity) gives Stir-up Sunday its name, serving as a reminder to church goers to get the pudding ready so it had time to mature before Christmas:

'Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,
the wills of thy faithful people, that they plenteously bringing forth
the fruit of good works,
may be of thee plenteously rewarded.'

Other Stir-up Sunday traditions are that the Christmas pudding should have thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and the twelve apostles, and that the mixture should be stirred in an east to westerly direction - that in which the wise men travelled.

This year I was not sure whether to bother with making a pudding. We're on a tighter budget than two years ago and if you're buying in the full list of pudding ingredients it does not come in cheap. Although I love all the rich, spicy, fruity Christmassy stuff, the rest of the family are not that bothered. I could go and buy a ready made pudding for a couple of quid and nobody would mind.

But you know what? Although there's plenty that I don't like about the typical 21st century Christmas one of my favourite parts is sharing the traditional celebratory foods with family and friends. And I enjoy preparing that food. Quality rather than quantity. I'd rather spend more on the ingredients for a good Christmas pudding and less on biscuits and chocolates.

So I set about looking for a budget Christmas pudding recipe. I didn't have to travel far. There's a whole thread devoted to the topic in a forum on Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert website. And Channel 4's Super Scrimpers has a Christmas pudding recipe. I ran with the latter as I already had most of the ingredients.

Here's Dev demonstrating the method:


50g breadcrumbs
50g plain flour
2 tsp mixed spice
150g sultanas
150g dried fruit
50g flaked almonds
2 grated apples
rind and juice of one lemon and one orange
100g butter
100g brown sugar
2 eggs
6 tbsp brandy
4 tbsp milk
2 tbsp treacle

Mix all the ingredients together well, and put into a greased pudding bowl. I made two small puddings.

Puddings waiting to be steamed.
As ever, I deviated from the specified ingredients; I purchased a bag of mixed fruit and used that rather than using half sultanas and half mixed fruit. 

I downgraded the alcohol content (if you don't have brandy or rum to hand, buying a bottle will bump up the cost of a Christmas pudding hugely) to the cheapest fortified wine I could find - a drink called Scots Mac , which is a blend of British wine and whiskey (it's only a fiver so don't get too excited about the whiskey content). The idea was to hide the bottle, once I'd extracted six tablespoonfuls for the pudding, until Christmas. However there's no point in doing this if it tastes foul, so we've had a couple of sherry glasses each - purely for scientific reasons, to see what it's like. (Very drinkable, it transpires). To cut costs further you could leave the alcohol out completely.

Dark brown sugar happened to be in the cupboard rather than soft brown, so I used that. Similarly I used golden syrup rather than buying a tin of treacle. 

Ooh and I didn't have an orange so I left that out...Actually this epitomises my entire approach to cooking - if it's not going to make too much difference to the end result, exclude ingredients or substitute with what I already have. It makes good sense if you're keen on reducing your food waste.

One reason for making your own Christmas pudding is that you get to enjoy the waft of Christmas spices while it steams for hours, so I ignored Dev's microwave instructions entirely (plus we don't have a microwave) and steamed my pudding in the slow cooker (medium heat for 7 hours).

Written down it all sounds like a real faff. What a lot of fuss just for a Christmas pudding. Actually it's really easy and one of those things where, anyway, it's the process rather than the product/journey rather than the destination.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Trying to recreate a little bit of Leicester in Wiltshire...

There are no Afghan restaurants around here, so my trip to such an eating establishment in Leicester last week was an experience I won't forget in a hurry. Aubergines (eggplants) were a key feature of the menu - when I found one lingering in the cupboard back at home, it seemed fitting to give it the middle eastern treatment.

I'd never made it before but have always loved the name: Baba Ganoush.

It's simple to make this yummy dip. Roast two medium aubergines (or one large one in my case).

(I realised afterwards that although slicing the aubergine seemed a good idea, it does leave some dry edges when it comes to the mashing part of Baba Ganoush.) The roasting takes about half to one hour in a hot oven.

Baba Ganoush sprinkled with paprika

Peel and scoop out the flesh. The instructions in the recipe I used advised letting the flesh drain, but this would would have resulted in barely any aubergine, so I ignored that part.

I went straight to blending it in the food processor with 2 tablespoonfuls of olive oil, 2 tablespoonfuls of tahini, a tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 garlic clove with some parsley and mint (I used dried but fresh would have been better). I've always liked tahini but it might not be everyone's idea of a store cupboard staple - I guess you could use a spoonful of natural yogurt instead or a handful of sesame seeds. 

Serve with some flat breads. I make these A LOT. Especially when we've run out of other bread. I discovered I've saved lots of flat bread photos in my blog photo folder over the months. It's about time one of them reached the light of day at last. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe works every time for me:

250g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
150ml warm water

Mix together and briefly knead. I can get 8 small flat breads out of this amount. Divide dough into 8 balls and roll thinly. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side. I use a griddle frying pan.

Everyone enjoyed the Baba Ganoush but we decided it's probably not an everyday recipe - it takes an awful lot of aubergine to make a small amount of dip...

Aubergine facts:

  • Low in saturated fats and cholesterol
  • High in fibre, potassium, vitamin B1 and vitamin B6
  • Rich in antioxidants

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bicycle, bicycle...

This weekend Husband cycled over to Bradford-on-Avon to watch the film Bicycle which is described on its website as a "humorous, lyrical and warm reflection on the bicycle and its place in cycling and its place in the British national psyche". 

Here's the trailer for the film:

The reviews I've heard are good - Husband says it's an upbeat and inspirational film depicting all aspects of cycling from Britain's Olympic successes to ordinary people using bikes as everyday transport, and Richard from our local community bike project rates it highly too - you can read his review here.

The film looks at the history of cycling in the UK and considers why the enthusiasm for cycling waned in the 60s and 70s when cars became more affordable, train services were axed by Dr Beeching, and the first motorways were being built.

Britain was not alone in facing such transport changes but did not foresee or forestall the possible impact in the way that other European countries did - Holland, for example, continued to invest in infrastructure for bikes. Even today in the UK, spending is weighted heavily towards car drivers - £70 per head is invested in roads and only £2 per head on cycling, as opposed to £20 per head on cycling in Holland and £30 per head in Denmark.

It definitely feels as if there is a sea change at the moment. Cycling is gaining in popularity; when Husband spent a few days in London cycling from Hanwell into the city every day earlier this year he was overawed by the number of commuting cyclists - in places they are so many that they control the road.

And yet, despite all the environmental, social and health benefits of cycling there is still much to be done to make cycling feel like a safe option for everyone in the UK. The film supports those such as Chris Boardman, who are lobbying the Government to raise spending on cycling to £10 per head.

If you'd like to watch the film, it's showing at a few selected UK venues before the end of the year. Or you can purchase the DVD (it would make a great Christmas prezzie for the cyclist in your life!). Check out the Bicycle film website for more details here. 

I couldn't think about the title of the film without humming the Queen song in my head, but I'm told that obviously the film is of such quality that it would never feature such a glaringly obvious link on its soundtrack.

I still can't help humming it though...