Monday, 31 December 2012

Manigong Bagong Taon!

With the approach of New Year's Eve, I've topped up the fruit bowl today.

It's a Philippine tradition introduced to us by my Sister-in-Law. We've witnessed her and my brother putting it into practice for several years now, and this year we thought we'd join in ourselves. On New Year's Eve a basket of 12 fruit is put out; round fruit (or as near round as possible) like coins (for prosperity). One for each month of the New Year. Naturally the fruit represent health and all things fresh, too. 

We're not spending New Year's Eve with family this year, so it was good to think of Brother and his family as we decided what fruit to put out (can you guess what we chose?!*), and wondered which fruit they have in their fruit bowl.  

Even if you're not superstitious, having a delicious bowl of fruit to tuck into in the New Year is a welcome sight after all the Christmas goodies.

There are some other Philippine New Year's Eve traditions you might like; leave some money around tables and surfaces in your home, and make sure your wallet is full, to attract prosperity. Open the doors and windows wide to let in good luck.

And lastly, whatever you do, don't go spending money tomorrow! Being frugal on the first day of the year will encourage sensible spending habits for the rest of the year! 

Have you got any interesting New Year's Eve traditions?

Wishing you all much health and happiness for 2013!

 Manigong Bagong Taon!

(Lemon, orange, apple, grapefruit, grape, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, apricot, pineapple, kiwi, dried fig (Food miles I hear you say? Well, it's only once a year...) )

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Nice weather for ducks

I'm sure we're not the only family in the UK to have a new Christmas tradition; watching the weather forecasts keenly to see if extreme conditions will scupper plans for meeting up.

In previous years we've cancelled and delayed get-togethers due to snow. This year, the UK is experiencing heavy rain and floods that are likely to result in 2012 being one of the wettest years on record. 

On Christmas day we enjoyed the simple pleasure of splashing and wading through puddles and watching an impromptu synchronised swimming display from the ducks. But we also thought of all those who have been evacuated from their homes due to flooding, or who weren't able to travel to be with loved ones. That's no fun at all.

Now you see us...
Now you don't!

If you're traveling in the UK this week, check the weather forecast before you leave home. Here are some useful links:

Environment Agency
AA Travel News
BBC Weather

Stay safe.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Keeping Christmas

Keeping Christmas

How will you your Christmas keep?
Feasting, fasting or asleep?
Will you laugh or will you pray,
Or will you forget the day?

Be it kept with joy or pray'r,
Keep of either some to spare;
Whatsoever brings the day,
Do not keep but give away.

Eleanor Farjeon

However you are keeping Christmas, I wish you well.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmassy things #6 - Christmas Playlist

It's a busy time for amateur musicians; from the end of November, all of us have been performing here, there and everywhere. 

We've sung and strummed and plucked and hummed, at venues from Bristol to Bradford-on-Avon, from friends' living rooms to a large auditorium.

The repertoire, whether from the 17th or the 21st century, has been eclectic, and has included everything from the massed West and North Wiltshire junior orchestras and choirs playing a Grease medley and Walking in the Air and a select group of local string and flute players performing Charpentier's Noel pour les Instruments, to a solo Son playing the Beatles' Can't Buy Me Love, and all of us have performed Christmas classics such as Do they know it's Christmas? and The Twelve Days of Christmas in various concerts.  

I can't choose a favourite, so here are three that we have enjoyed (although played and sung rather more professionally than the versions we have been involved this Christmas season!) The first two were sung by school choirs; whether you're a Gary Barlow fan or a Tears for Fears fan, or not, there's something very moving about young voices singing these songs (albeit not your traditional Christmas fare) with heart and soul.

What's on your Christmas playlist this year?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmassy Food Waste (Friday) - Fudging it!

Food Waste Friday got swallowed up in Christmas preparations and parties this weekend. 

Fudginess aside there wasn't much food waste though, so it's forgivable. A teeny amount of left over sausage casserole that was too teeny to be of any use to even the least hungry chicken or human, got chucked out, and that was about it.

Runny fudge steadfastly refusing to set.

Apart from the fudge...

The archetypal handmade Christmas seems to involve fudge, so I thought I'd give it a go, what with our successful peppermint creams earlier this year. Not much to go wrong surely? Especially as I chose a simple vanilla fudge recipe because I'm well aware that things like fudge-making don't always go smoothly here.

It seems that maybe I'm not cut out for things involving food thermometers. I'm good at runny jam, runny yogurt, runny chutney and now I've added runny fudge to my runny repertoire. 

The good news is that it made really yummy caramel for millionaires' shortbread, three boxes of which have already left the house as gifts for neighbours and friends. Ironically once the runny fudge was spread (or rather, splatted unglamorously) onto warm shortbread, it set rather nicely. Don't ask me why.

No pictures of the shortbread unfortunately as it always seems to be too dark for photos at the moment, but here's one of last week's 4.30pm winter Wiltshire sunsets instead, viewed from our landing window. Two of the boxes of chocolaty fudgy shortbread headed off to homes that lie in the direction of that sunset, so there is a tenuous link.

And here's the recipe for:

Unrunny chocolate caramel or millionaires' shortbread (from How to feed your whole family a healthy, balanced diet (!) with very little money, by Gill Holcombe)

175g butter
100g sugar
300g plain flour

2 x 450g tins of condensed milk
100g butter
4 tbsp golden syrup

300g plain chocolate (I used Dr Oetker plain chocolate cake covering).

To make the shortbread, cream the butter and sugar, and add the flour. Press into the greased oven tray and bake at Gas Mark 4, 180 deg C for approx 15 mins, until golden.

To make the caramel, melt the butter and add the condensed milk and syrup. Turn up the heat and boil for 5 - 10 mins until you have a light brown caramel.

Let it cool slightly, then pour and spread over the shortbread. Leave to cool completely for half an hour.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Stir in the cream (if using), and spred over the caramel and shortbread. When the chocolate is starting to set, mark into squares, and when cool, cut completely.

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmassy things - #5

I'm running out of jokes. Christmas jokes.

My kids have an Advent calendar each, given to them years ago by a Great Aunt. They are the felt kind, with pockets.

And every morning, in their calendar, they find a Christmas joke (and occasionally a chocolate coin or something very small and Christmassy).

Last year, I found some printable jokes, like the one in the photo. Which is great, except that on December 15th I will have used them all up!

Do you have a favourite Christmas joke that could go in the calendar?

Some of our favourites so far:

What did one snowman say to the other snowman? Can you smell carrot!

What do you sing at a snowman's birthday party? Freeze a jolly good fellow!

What's a parent's favourite carol? Silent night

What goes, "Oh, 0h, 0h!"? Santa walking backwards!

What does December have that no other month has? The letter D!

Thanks, in anticipation of some good laughs!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Christmassy things #4

On Sunday we lit the second candle of our Advent crown, which we finally had time to put together over the weekend.

For a long time a friend up the road had some kind neighbours who had lived in Germany for many years. Every December they had an afternoon party to celebrate the lighting of the first candle of their Advent crown; a substantial wooden work of art. This became a most enjoyable Christmas tradition, with good company, my favourite German Christmas sweetmeats and warm, spicy gluhwein. Whilst the adults became warmer and woozier, the children would put together a German gingerbread house. But then these lovely people inconsiderately retired to France, and der Adventskranz and die Adventsfeier went with them.

I couldn't replicate their Advent crown, but I knew I wanted to continue the tradition somehow.

Wreath-making had also been on my Christmas to-do-one-day list, but our uPVC front door with its expanse of shiny glass doesn't lend itself to having wreaths attached to it.

Researching Advent crowns on the internet led me, naturally, to a Youtube video of a German society in Washington making Advent wreaths. That ticked both boxes, an Advent crown that is a wreath that sits rather than hangs, and that looked quite easy.

How to make a wreath/crown/table decoration/call-it-what-you-will for very little money

  • Get hold of a ring/base. The Germans in Washington use straw wreaths but our local florist sold me a metal one for £1 which seemed to do the trick.

  • Cut some evergreen foliage such as pine/fir/holly/ivy.
  • Gather your other decorations. We dried some orange slices (and would have used lemon too, if we'd had some) on the top of the woodburner for a couple of days. You can also dry them out in the oven on a very low heat. I bought a couple of cinnamon sticks from the health food shop, and picked some rose hips from the garden. I kept it simple and stopped there but you could also use pine cones, ribbon, Christmas decorations etc.
  • For an Advent crown, you will need four candles (we found ours at two for £1 in Poundland).
  • Then it's really easy. Wire your greenery to the ring with gardening wire. You can weave it in and out of the metal ring. My new friends in Washington then stuck on their decorations with a hot glue gun, at which point I sighed enviously, as I don't have one of those. But the good thing about a crown which sits on the table rather than hangs on the door, is that the bits and bobs don't really need to be stuck firmly. I just rested them in place.
  • I then sat the whole thing on a cake board, and positioned the candles. (We're easily amused so at this point a lot of Two Ronnies' style fork handles/four candles jokes were flying across the dining room). One modification that will be made for the third Sunday of Advent will be to sit the candles on moss for aesthetics and anti-wobbliness.
And there you have it! An easy peasy wreath. Now I just need to find some friends to join me on Sunday for a glass of gluhwein by the light of three Advent candles.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Food Waste Friday - Christmassy things #3

This week I'm blaming my lack of height for all food waste issues.

I'm 5'2", and our fridge is at least a foot taller than me.

When I gaze into the fridge, it's no wonder that bowls like the one on the right, get overlooked. They're practically out of reach. A bowl of leftover salad and a bowl of leftover tuna pasta both hid on the top shelf. I've said it before, but still forget sometimes: transparent containers for leftovers are the best idea. It's much harder to forget about them that way. And to that I am adding my own proviso (if you're taller than me, you may not need this clause!): keep leftovers that need eating up quickly at eye level where they won't be out of sight, out of mind.

The good news is that the yogurt in the photo is nearly all used up, so no need for baking chocolate yogurt cake this week.

And whilst not all my Christmas plans may be coming together as quickly as I'd like them to, some mincemeat has been made (that's the big jar next to the yogurt.)

Usually, in true Everyday Life On A Shoestring style, I make the mincemeat recipe up as I go along, with stewed apple as a base, and a combination of dried fruit, and seasonal spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves or mixed spice, depending on what's in the cupboard at the time.

This year I decided to follow a recipe in case I wanted to share it on the blog. Rose Elliot is one of my favourite vegetarian cooks, and I always refer to her Vegetarian Christmas book at some point over the festive season. My copy is a no-nonsense, battered old paper back with a few colour photos in the centre pages. So I looked to Rose for a trusty mincemeat recipe. 

The verdict from the cook's point of view is that her recipe is very easy to make; it pretty much makes itself once you've thrown the ingredients together. But my taste testers report that although the fruit is succulent, and the flavour delicious, it lacks the gooey mush that they like around the fruit (despite the 450g of pears in the recipe). I reckon I will still add some stewed apple when it comes to making mince pies, which, from a frugal point of view, will have the advantage of stretching the more expensive ingredients further.

Rose Elliot's vegetarian mincemeat

450g ripe pears, peeled and chopped
grated rind of 1 lemon
grated rind of 1 orange
450g mixed dried fruit
100g mixed peel
100g glace cherries, halved
100g chopped dates
50g flaked almonds
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
4 tbls whisky

(I replaced the mixed peel and cherries with raisins and cranberries, which I had left over from the Christmas pudding making, and substituted brandy for the whisky).

Mix all the ingredients except the whisky together in a large bowl, and set to one side for 12 hours.

Cook the mincemeat in a covered bowl in a cool oven (120 degrees C, Gas Mark 1/4) for 3 hours. Cool and stir from time to time, then add the whisky. Store in an airtight jar until ready to use.

The recipe says it makes 1kg, enough to make 25 pies - I made 1 large jar and 2 normal sized jars; the smaller jars are in the freezer, as I may not use it all before Christmas.

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Christmassy things #2

Santa has arrived in Wiltshire! It may only be the 4th of December, but for us, one of the first signs that Christmas is on its way is his annual appearance, trundling in style slowly down our street, on a float pulled by the most enormous tractor (who needs a sleigh or reindeer).

Our favourite Santa - 2012

Without fail, he has appeared in early December every year that we've lived here. The faint sound of Christmas carols is heard above the onions sizzling for supper, and there is a rush to find all the spare change in the house, for this Santa is the very best kind of Santa. Instead of distributing presents, he lights up the dark December evenings in North Wiltshire, collects money for local good causes, and enables the Lions club to provide Christmas dinners for people living alone.

In our ten visits from the tractor-pulled Santa, my kids have grown from babies, to small children demanding to know if he is the 'real' Santa. Now they are big children; believers in Santa no more, and unpeturbed by the fact that on their way back from the library yesterday, they saw the sprightly, clean-shaven Santa pulling up in his car at the top of the road ready to don his outfit and hop onto the float. Non-believers they may be, but having overtaken Santa down the street, the two of them couldn't wait to stand outside our house with the babies from over the road, who have taken their place as the youngest residents.

I suspect that even when they are surly teenagers, the arrival of Santa will still bring a smile to their faces, and that in years to come, it won't be the gifts of Lego sets, Playmobil or dolls' pushchairs that they remember, but the joy of Santa's early arrival.

Is there something that always heralds the start of the Christmas season for you?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Christmassy things #1

This was supposed to be the blog post where I showed you our frugal Advent crown made from natural materials, lovely red Poundland bargain candles, fragrant cinnamon sticks and homemade dried orange slices.

But this is a blog about everyday life, after all, and things don't always go according to plan. Our Advent crown (which is essentially a wreath that sits on the table with four candles, to be lit on the four Sundays of Advent) is still a collection of separate components, and most crucially, the coniferous greenery which will make its base is still growing somewhere in Wiltshire.

So my first Christmas top tip is that if you are planning to make an Advent crown then maybe it's best to start it before the 2nd of December, and if you go out to collect some natural materials to make your crown or your wreath, then remember your secateurs.

Just look at all that green stuff on the other side of the canal!

Even if we hadn't forgotten the clippers, our bike ride along the Kennet and Avon canal proves the old adage that the Advent crown greenery is always greener on the other side of the canal, and we might well still have come away empty handed.

Green pine needly stuff or no green pine needly stuff, it was still an enjoyable cycle ride, and there's nothing quite like a bracing outdoor picnic in December. My other Christmas top tip for today? All the materials we associate with this season: pine trees, ivy, holly and mistletoe can be enjoyed just as much in their natural habitat too. There's nothing like reconnecting with nature to put things in perspective. 

And as for our Advent crown, fortunately there are 22 more days of Advent. Watch this space!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Food Waste Friday - More cake...

Every week since starting this blog, I have joined in with the Frugal Girl's Food Waste Friday, and I look back over the week's food waste in our home. The aim is to cut down on food that is thrown away, which benefits both the planet and my purse. 

Fortunately there is not much food waste to report this week.

One mouldy cherry tomato had to be composted. Some mashed potato hid itself at the back of the fridge for too long, and ended up being eaten by our chickens.

Half a pot of yogurt nearly headed their way too.  Last week I reported that yogurt-making had ground to a halt. Well, yogurt-eating has also completely ground to a halt. The weather has been wet and cold recently and now it's extremely cold and frosty. It appears that there is no call for yogurt when the temperature is hitting zero.

However, as you know, there is always call for cake in this house, especially when it's below freezing!

Chocolate and yogurt cake it was, to use up the yogurt that nobody is eating.

You might have the impression from this blog that we only eat cake, but we do eat a lot of other healthy stuff too. Honest.

Our excuse this week, apart from preventing food waste, is that Daughter deserved a chocolate cake reward for taking her Grade 2 cello exam, and the rest of us deserved a reward for having had to listen to intensive scales practice for the last three weeks.

And half of the chocolate cake is destined for a Bath and District Tibet Support Group charity event.

So our cake consumption is not as enormous as it looks.

Yogurt Chocolate Cake, from BBC Good Food:

125g butter or marg

125ml sunflower oil
250ml water
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
300g flour - self raising or plain flour with 3 spoonfuls of baking powder
400g Sugar
pinch of salt
2 eggs
150ml natural or plain yogurt

For the Icing:
75g Butter - softened
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 cups of icing sugar

  1. In a saucepan, melt together butter, oil, water and cocoa powder.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Now pour over the wet mixture, and stir well.
  3. Add eggs and yogurt, and stir well again.
  4. Pour mixture into a greased 12x8" baking tin or glass pyrex dish. This is a single layer cake, but you could use two 8" cake tins.
  5. Bake at 180 deg C/Gas mark 4 for 30 minutes.
  6. Icing: Mix all ingredients together with a small amount of milk. Spread over cake.

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Of mice and beds

Under the bed?

Delia suggests storing the Christmas pudding there, if it's a cool bedroom. Coolness certainly  isn't a problem here. After our brush with expensive energy bills earlier in the year, we've only had the heating on for a couple of hours this Autumn, just to check it still works. But previously it has been known for there to be both mice and dust under the bed, so I'll stick with the kitchen cupboard for my pudding.

From the frugal point of view, I was pleased to hear that beds are the in thing. For once I can consider myself 'on trend' because I'm extremely fond of mine. Especially at the moment, when it feels as if the sensible thing to do would be to hibernate. According to discussion on BBC Radio 4, many people who work from home are actually working from bed, because energy bills are rising, and bed is the warmest place to be. Consequently there's a high demand for ipad bedstands and things to lean on and rest gadgets on (go and check Amazon if you don't believe me). And the 'onesie' (which is probably as close to wearing a bed as you can get) is reputed to be top of everyone's Christmas list (but definitely not mine). 

One Direction in their onesies.

Although I don't work from home, so am not to be found reclining under the duvet during the day, I've always liked Billy Connolly's advice in his Desiderata at the end of his autobiography*: "Let your bed become to you what the Pole Star was to sailors of old… look forward to it."

Charity shop bedding as featured on a recycling
blogpost on the blog earlier in the year

And whilst I appreciate my 'rescue' mattress and my charity shop duvet cover, a blog post on the Tiny Buddha blog this week, got me thinking about gratitude for my bed from a whole new angle...the people who mined the ore, logged the trees for the slats, designed the frame, drove it to the shop, made the pillows, sewed the sheets...the list is endless.

Lastly, and still on the subject of beds, the Doctors on Goodnight Britain, BBC 1's show about problem sleepers, agree with Everyday Life On A Shoestring; screen time and use of electronic gadgets before bedtime can interfere with sleep. (All those homeworkers on laptops in bed, take note!)

Night! Night!

Do you love your bed? Do you work in bed? Or store your Christmas pudding under the bed?!

* Other stuff I like from Billy's Desiderata (without the sweary bits)

Have lots of long lie-ins.
Wear sturdy socks
Never eat food that comes in a bucket.
If you don’t know how to meditate at least try to spend some time every day just sitting.
Play the banjo.
Eat plenty of liquorice allsorts.
Marry somebody you like.
Avoid bigots of all descriptions.
Clean your teeth and keep the company of people who will tell you when there’s spinach on them.

Avoid people who know the answer.
Keep the company of people who are trying to understand the question.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Stirred, not Shaken

Stir-up Sunday, the last before Advent, and we're all stirred up.

This year it's Delia's Christmas pudding recipe. Traditionally there are supposed to be thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and the twelve Apostles, but Delia's recipe comes in at nineteen, and by the time we'd missed out a couple of ingredients and used mixed fruit instead of some of the separate dried fruits, we counted sixteen in ours.

We all had a stir and a wish. There was some geographical debate - you're supposed to stir East to West (the direction in which the Wise Men travelled). Is North where the top of the bowl is, or should the bowl be orientated so that it's pointing North? And when you're standing in our kitchen where is North anyway?

And I found it necessary to keep topping up my glass of Guinness (a vital Christmas pudding ingredient), through the pudding making process, purely in the interests of preventing food waste you understand...

The Collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, gives Stir-up Sunday its name and served 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.'

Delia's Traditional Christmas Pudding

40z/110g shredded suet
2 oz/50g self-raising flour
4 oz/110g white bread crumbs
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cinnamon
8oz/225g dark brown sugar
4 oz/110g sultanas
4 oz/110g raisins
10oz/275g currants
1 oz mixed candied peel
1 oz/ 25g almonds, skinned and chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
grated zest 1/2 orange
grated zest 1/2 lemon
2 eggs
2 1/2 fluid oz/75 ml barley wine
2 1/2 fluid oz/ 75 ml stout
2 tablespoons rum

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the rum, wine, stout and beaten eggs. Leave overnight. Pack in a pudding basin and wrap with two layers greaseproof paper and a layer of foil. Steam for 8 hours. Re-wrap with fresh paper and foil. On Christmas day, steam the pudding again for a couple of hours.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Food Waste Friday - Odds and Sods

A few things escaped my notice this week. Having somehow accrued a mountain of carrots, I was intent on making sure they didn't end up appearing on the blog dressed in mould. I froze some, with half an eye on the Christmas dinner, and made a Crecy Plate Pie from the Cranks recipe book.

A combination of dingy evening light and the speed with which a family of four can polish off a pie, mean that there are no pie photographs, so I'm going to save the recipe and a homage to Cranks, for another time.

The pie filling is virtually all carrot, so there should have been no reason for any ensuing mouldiness, but there's always one that slips through the net. Though I have a strong constitution where mouldy carrots are concerned, even I couldn't bring myself to do anything with this one, barely even recognisable as a carrot:

There was more food waste:

A ready meal salvaged from Mother-in-Law but then forgotten about, half a little pot of yogurt awaiting the next yogurt-making experiment (I've just about given up for the moment, especially as the weather is hardly conducive to eating bowlfuls of cold yogurt), and one piece of chicken adobo from last week. Odds and sods. 

Often I find it easy to build an entire meal around a small amount of leftovers, but not in the case of this lot. Roll on a new week!

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

How to make a 'good enough' Roman day outfit (on a shoestring of course)!

Life imitating art? Or the law of karma? The day after writing the blog post about the Bayeux Tapestry homework project, where I may have given the impression that the making of themed costumes is not one of my favourite tasks, Son brought home a letter.

It said something along the lines of: 

"Year 5 will be having a super fun Roman day on the x November. 
So that you have oodles of time to prepare your child's brilliantly fantastic costume 
and because we know that you will want to spend all of half term sorting it out, 
we are giving you plenty of notice.

Fast forward to the night before x November. No Roman costume. Son and I have been locked in a stalemate for two weeks. 

Son: Roman Gladiator! 
Me: No, toga made from an old sheet!
Son: Roman Gladiator!
Me: No, toga made from an old sheet!
Repeat ad infinitum.

The advantage of this approach is that when you're down to the wire, creativity sometimes triumphs, using what you've got.

Within an hour and a half of frenzied activity, the Roman Gladiator outfit had taken shape.

A helmet had been fashioned out of an old piece of cardboard, and covered with silver foil. We found some feathers left from one of the infamous Easter bonnet projects and made a plume.

An old grey pyjama top and the rest of the Christmas scarf (that had already been massacred for Harold's chainmail in the Bayeux Tapestry project) did the job as armour.

My best red Christmas napkins were sewn onto the bottom of the armour for the 'skirt'!

Son painted up a shield on more old cardboard and Husband helped him attach it to an old toy wooden shield.

In all honesty it was not the same as the version we could have bought for £15. There were better costumes walking into school on x November. But I'd be surprised if any of them had involved four people working to get the darn thing made in time.

Childs Roman Gladiator Costume
£15 costume from the Online Joke Shop

And I'm sure no Roman mother worth her salt, would have been using a hairdryer to get the PVA glue on her son's helmet to dry (I know, I know, it doesn't work) on the morning of the day she sent him in to battle. Or ironing his red skirt, whilst he was wearing it, begging her to be careful where she put the iron.

But it was good enough. And sometimes good enough is fine. I'm going to remember that this Christmas.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Calling Mrs Armstrong...

There were two winners in the recent Chocolate giveaway. I'm hoping Sue at the Quince Tree has eaten all of her Fry's Chocolate Creams by now, and I'm also hoping Mrs Armstrong is still reading the blog, because she was a winner too, and I'd love for her to claim her prize.

The fact that she may have missed the blog post announcing her success, has provided the opportunity for a really tough experiment in self-discipline amongst all family members here.

Her chocolate bars have been sitting in the cupboard for nearly a month now, and I've lost count of the times I've heard any of the following:

"Have you written on your blog to Mrs Armstrong yet?"

"Do you think Mrs Armstrong still wants the chocolate?"

"Is it OK if I open this?"

and Husband likes to see my response when he rustles any packet in the vicinity of the chocolate bars..."Noooooo!"

I have to confess that I may, just may, have delayed this blog post, in order to test them all a teeny bit more!

I've nearly caved in and tucked into the choccy bars myself, but one of the stories I remember from my childhood, possibly from Listen With Mother, is the story of the chocolate kittens. 

The details have become blurred over the passage of time, but it involved a little girl who bought a box of chocolate kittens for a present for someone, and ended up eating them herself. First she had one, then just one more, and finally she decided she might as well eat the whole box. I recall that she felt a little poorly, knew she had done wrong, and there was trouble the next day! I know that Mrs Armstrong's Fry's Chocolate Creams could easily go that way, so I'm not going to risk the guilt, the tummy ache, or if I did need to buy a replacement, the chance that the special 4 pack offer has ended!

Interesting as it would be to see just how long we could hold out, and who would be the first person in the family to crack, I think this chocolate deserves its rightful home.

Mrs Armstrong, if you're reading, pop me an email with your address, and your treats will be on their way!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Food Waste Friday - Runny stuff, runny stuff, everywhere.

Honesty is the best policy, right?

Well, you know last week's porridge cake? It became chicken food in the end. To see it leaving the house was a weight (quite literally) off my mind. That was until I pulled out one of the freezer drawers and remembered I'd frozen a quarter of it...What a nice Christmas treat that will be for some poor unsuspecting guests.

There is other food waste this week, but it's accounted for.

Yet more runny yogurt!

More runny yogurt. I still haven't cracked yogurt making yet, despite buying a food thermometer. But at least the latest batch is not curdled and lumpy.

Lovely Grey Day wrote a great blog post about using up sour milk in scones, which provided just the inspiration needed for using up some of the failed yogurt. It went into a big scone round, which vanished so quickly that there wasn't time for a photo. 

Chutney run-off.

The unexpected byproduct of chutney making was also a jar of runny stuff. Three lovely jars of chutney and one jar of chutney liquid. Just right for putting into a Chicken Adobo. 

Chicken Adobo, chutney included!

This is one of our favourite chicken dishes that we have adopted from my Philippine sister-in-law. You could also do a vegetarian version with tofu, although we have never tried this. It is easy peasy and very delicious and Katy at the Non Consumer Advocate agrees, as she did a post about it in 2011. I thought Sister-in-Law might shudder at the idea of adding runny chutney, but when I re-read a Chicken Adobo advisory email from my brother in which he mentions his 'secret ingredient' (brown sugar), chutney in Chicken Adobo is not such a bad idea after all! The recipe is below, with additional notes from Brother!

Unripe mangoes.

Finally, for the last two weeks we have had two very hard mangoes sitting around, which are unlikely to ripen. I don't want them to be food waste, so I'm hoping Sister-in-Law will have some ideas for a food save, although I suspect unripe mangoes may be a rare occurrence in the Philippines. If any of you have any ideas please share!

Chicken Adobo Recipe

4 - 5 lbs chicken thighs or drumsticks (I never use that much)

1/2 cup white vinegar (my Brother insists it must be palm vinegar; that's hard to come by in Wiltshire - rice vinegar is more readily available)
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 tsp black pepper
3 bay leaves

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cover and marinate the chicken for 1-3 hours. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer until sauce is reduced and thickened, and chicken is tender, about 20 more minutes. Serve with steamed rice.

Notes from Brother: " Our secret ingredient is a teaspoon or two of unrefined brown sugar. And my method now, after years of fine tuning, is a bit different. When I'm ready to cook I take the chicken out of the marinade and brown it off first in a bit of oil. (You could fry onions at this stage too). Seems to make it less likely to have any pinky bits of chicken next to the bone. Then pour over the marinade and bring to the boil and simmer etc. We probably use more vinegar and soy sauce than your recipe and add water too as we like it really liquidy.

Vegetables are not really authentic but some people put in potatoes and M also likes to add a few hard boiled eggs when serving.  I think it's fair to say that although it's the national dish of the Philippines everyone there cooks it in their own way, some regions even have coconut milk and chillis. So, hey, you've got to find your own way guys. 
M is a big fan of the 'market manila' blog and here's his recipe for pork adobo ... but maybe 3 hours on a wood fire is asking a bit much for a busy mum! "

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it.