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.