Saturday, 21 December 2013

#Christmas - miscellany

Every year we find that as soon as we start lighting the advent candle, time speeds up daily, maybe aided by the fact that the days are getting shorter here, literally. There's suddenly rather a lot to do in a short time, and whenever I think about trying to put together a coherent blog post, I can only find incoherence! So here are some random Christmas fragments from a fragmented Christmas mind.
  • Why is it so difficult to burn exactly a day's worth of the Advent candle at a time? We either get a few days behind or leave it alight too long...

  • I had been feeling a little frugal smugness that I purchased Christmas cards in the January sales, and managed not to lose them in the intervening months; but both children ploughed through my collection of half price but tasteful cards, writing them for all their classmates...Note to self: pursue same strategy of buying cards in January but buy a lorry load. 
  • Son has gone crazy for making little Christmas gift boxes out of old Christmas cards. We learnt to make these sweet no-glue boxes at a Christmas zero waste stall. They're really simple to make but Son can remember how to make them much better than I can! For a really good tutorial click here

  • This year we've been enjoying lots of traditional carols at the various Christmas concerts we've been to, but it's always refreshing to discover a carol that you haven't heard before.

  • We've found a solution to our Christmas dinner dilemma. Having rehomed four hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust, we were concerned about what we would put on our plates this Christmas. 

I was all for a vegetarian alternative, but this met with protestation from some family members. As a compromise we've found a small free range Turkey from Lidl that falls within our budget.

How's your Christmas coming along?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

#Christmas - the books

Another of our favourite seasonal traditions is retrieving the bag of Christmas books from the loft. They come down for a few weeks but go back up under the eaves with the Christmas decorations come twelfth night. Strictly speaking we are all too old for picture books now, but that doesn't stop us all, (45 year olds included), from enjoying the old favourites as much as the more grown up books that are starting to creep into our festive collection.

In no particular order here are our current top ten (if you are interested in getting hold of any of the books you can click on the title for a link to purchasing the book, cheaply where possible from Green Metropolis or eBay, or as a last resort, Amazon):

Father Christmas Raymond Briggs. Illustrations only, with a few speech bubbles, this book is takes the form of a comic strip. We love this grumpy Father Christmas! "Blooming Christmas here again!"

Product Details

The Jolly Christmas Postman Janet and Allan Ahlberg. The jolly postman visits various fairytale characters at Christmas delivering letters and goodies which are included in the book, so there are all sorts of puzzles and mini books and a beautiful unfolding peep-show, which makes this a truly interactive book. The text takes the form of rhyming verse. 

Christmas Farmyard Tales Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright. Not my favourite book but my kids have always loved lifting all the flaps and hunting for Ginger the kitten who hides on each page.

Lucy and Tom's Christmas Shirley Hughes. I'm a huge Shirley Hughes fan, and adore this book which allows us to accompany Lucy and Tom as they prepare for Christmas. I love the part at the end of Christmas day where Tom has got rather excited and cross and he and Grandpa go for a walk together "just the two of them", as the sun goes down, to calm down.

Barefoot Books come into their own where festivals from all cultures are concerned. The following three books are all published by Barefoot:

The Miracle of the First Poinsettia, A Mexican Christmas story by Joanne Oppenheim, is " a miracle story that reminds us of the true spirit of giving".

While the Bear Sleeps Caitlin Matthews. Winter Tales and Traditions. I have learnt much from this book which takes the reader around the world telling traditional stories and providing information about winter customs. Beautifully illustrated.

Babushka Sandra Ann Horn. A retelling of the traditional Babushka tale.

A Child's Christmas in Wales Dylan Thomas. "Dylan Thomas's magical account of his own childhood and a Christmas Day in a small Welsh town is vividly brought to life by Edward Ardizonne's wonderful illustrations". This is one book in our collection that I would like to upgrade one day to a larger hardback version, in order to enjoy the illustrations even more. As you'd imagine the writing and description of Christmas is poetic and evocative. Who can forget the section on Christmas day where, "The dog was sick. Aunt Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Aunt Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush."


The Dark is Rising Susan Cooper. Sue on the Quince Tree blog was listening to the audio book version of this last Christmas, so when I spotted the paperbook in a charity shop earlier this year I snapped it up. We are reading this Puffin classic aloud at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it (even though I for one, am not a great lover of the fantasy genre) - very wintry and an exciting story.

A Christmas Memory Truman Capote. Another blog recommendation from last year, although I can't remember where from. Short and sweet - a good read.

How about you? Any favourite Christmas reads?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

#Christmas - the cake!

Last year I made two Christmas puddings, one of which was consumed and after consultation the other was kept for this Christmas. The consultation wasn't very wide; it extended as far as asking one of my close colleagues whether she thought a homemade Christmas pudding could be saved for an entire year. Chance would have it that she was the very best person to have asked - it turned out that her mother deliberately used to make a Christmas pudding a whole year in advance of it being eaten because she believed figgy puds were all the better for a year's storage. That was good enough for me, so store away I did. Half way through the year I got cold feet about the whole year-long thing (who wants a Christmas ergot outbreak in their house after all, although it should be noted that there is no rye in Delia's Christmas pudding recipe - see here for my pudding blog post last year) and stuck it in the freezer for extra peace of mind.

So that's the Christmas pudding accounted for. With all the time saved by not having to make a Christmas pudding for this year I decided I could either make a Christmas pudding for next year or bake a Christmas cake instead. Until I'm convinced that the longlife Christmas pudding has been a success however, I'm reserving judgment, so plumped for the cake option instead.

Not everyone in the family appreciates rich fruity puddings and cakes, so I wanted a light option and also a recipe that wouldn't break the bank with a list of ingredients as long as your arm. I'm hoping that the recipe goes some way to fitting the bill. (It helps that we have hens to provide the eggs and I already had all the spices). This cake has the advantage of being gluten free so will be suitable for the Coeliac in our family.

It comes from Harry Eastwood's book Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache (which I still have on loan from the aforementioned colleague and love it so much I don't want to give it back!) It's actually Harry's Christmas cupcake recipe and the amount doesn't make for a very tall cake (ours must be about 6cm, which will be plenty for us). If you wanted a bigger cake you could double the ingredients.

The gluten free Christmas Cake

80g sultanas or raisins
120g candied peel (which nobody here likes so I used papaya and crystallised ginger instead. They don't like ginger either but I love it so I'm hoping they won't notice!)
60g glace cherries
60g chopped pecans
4 tbsp brandy (you could dispense with this ingredient; the cheapest brandy we've found round here is in Sainsbury's)
100g dark brown sugar
200g finely grated carrot (it MUST be finely grated for lightness)
zest of 2 lemons (I used one)
100g rice flour               ) You could substitute rice flour and almonds with plain flour if 
50g ground almonds     ) gluten is not an issue.
2tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger 
1 tsp mixed spice
15 scratches nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180 deg c, 350 deg f, gas mark 4.
Line an 8 inch cake tin with greaseprrof paper.

Soak the sultanas and peel (read papaya/ginger) in the brandy (if using - could replace with fruit juice if not).

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light coffee coloured and fluffy. Add the grated carrot and lemon zest and whisk until combined.

Fold in the flour, almonds, baking powder and spices along with the cherries and pecans, until they are all mixed. Finally, add the soaked sultanas and peel.

Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 - 40 minutes. It will be very runny when it goes into the oven and you might doubt that it will ever firm up, but it does.

The recipe was not designed as long lasting Christmas cake and as it has a high moisture content due to the carrots, like my Christmas pudding, I have erred on the side of caution and popped it in the freezer. I will ice it just before Christmas.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Santa comes to town!

Yesterday Santa arrived in our street. It's always an exciting moment and along with the start of advent, signals the beginning of the festive season for us. I blogged about it last year too, here! 

Santa float 2013!

Santa and his helpers park at the top of our road ready to start their evening's fundraising work (for the Lion's Club to pay for Christmas dinners for the people who will be dining alone this Christmas), and he hops aboard a brightly lit float pulled by a tractor, whilst his companions get ready to shake their buckets. 

We consider ourselves the lucky ones. Not only do we see Santa come down our street, but if we run down the alley by the side of our house we see him go along the neighbouring street too. If we're really alert, we see the float returning back up our street at full speed a couple of hours later - Santa probably slumped in his seat, carols no longer being broadcast, and everyone eager to get back to their cars with buckets hopefully full.

For extra seasonal cheer I've added 'A simple Christmas' button on the tool bar at the top of the blog. If you click on the button you should find links to all the blog posts I've ever written that could possibly be useful at this time of year! Lots of recipes, photos, and Everyday Life on a Shoestring traditions, and even some Christmas jokes.

Monday, 2 December 2013

#Christmas - the shoeboxes

One of my favourite parts of the build up to Christmas is preparing the shoeboxes.

For many years we've filled two shoeboxes each November for Operation Christmas Child - 'the world's largest children's Christmas project'. I'm sure many of you have done the same; you wrap a medium-sized shoebox and fill it with gifts for a child of a certain age (there are guidelines for suggested gifts, which include many practical items such as toothbrushes and soap as well as toys and clothes). The charity who run the project, Samaritan's Purse, then distribute the boxes around the world " children based on need, regardless of their background or religious beliefs. It's an unconditional gift of love."

Finished shoeboxes ready to go, one for a girl, one for a boy.

It's not only the children receiving the boxes that benefit; my own kids have gained so much from making the boxes. They put a lot of thought into selecting the gifts each year, and imagining the child who will open their box. It puts the consumer madness of a UK Christmas into perspective when you are enfolding a simple bar of soap into a soft flannel for an unknown child - an item that we would consider a basic of everyday life but that might be a real luxury for the recipient.

This year we were late in completing our boxes and missed the deadline for getting them to Son's school for collection. Luckily all was not lost and we were able to take our boxes to the depot in Melksham where they get sorted and set off on their journey. The volunteers kindly gave us a sneaky peak behind the scenes.

Boxes being sorted by a team of volunteers. Can you spot ours?
Shoeboxes about to be boxed and palleted.

An amazing 20,000 shoeboxes have set off from Melksham so far, which covers the SN, SP and BA postcodes, and most of them have gone to Bosnia. It's also good to see from the Samaritan's Purse website that boxes have regularly been distributed in the Philippines for many years and that the charity has been very actively involved in the aid effort there after Typhoon Haiyan, "Even though the situation in the Philippines may no longer be making the ‘news headlines’, Samaritan’s Purse is continuing its work to bring relief and provide aid to those in desperate need of water, food, hygiene and medical supplies."

Lastly, it may be too late to prepare a real shoebox for this year, but you can still pack a shoebox online! Click here.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Sunday river walk and the Amazon voucher winner!

Firstly many thanks to all of you who joined in the Amazon voucher giveaway. There were 30 commenters, and all eligible entries were allocated a number according to the order in which they commented. Number 15 was drawn, which we had allocated to Jibber Jabber. Congratulations! If you could drop me an email with your email address that would be great Jibber Jabber. I will forward you the voucher codes as soon as I have them from the Agency who are handling the deal.

Another winner in our house is always the river walk. We've been walking the same local walk each month and taking photos to record the changes that we see over the seasons. The walk is about 3-4 miles around a small part of the Bybrook Valley in north Wiltshire, between Ford and Castle Combe.

We had intended to get out in the October half term when we were expecting to see a more spectacular show of autumnal colour than we had seen on our September walk. However last weekend was the first chance we'd had to get out for a longer expedition for a while and we wondered if we would have missed the boat.

Fortunately not!

There were plenty of leaves to scrunch in beneath our feet and stunning hues of orange and yellow above us.

In fact the leaves and the colours were the most remarkable feature of this month's adventure. There was a definite sense of nature quietening down for the winter and fewer other spectacular sights and sounds.

Beech trees 24 November 2013

Beech trees not so long ago in September.

The Chinese Lanterns are still flowering. This time we thought we would give you a wider perspective. Their special spot lies nestled in a narrow bed between the wall and the fence. I wonder if there are any on the other side of the fence for the owner of the garden to enjoy? The postbox in the wall was providing a vibrant scarlet splash on this grey Sunday.

We found some evidence of storm damage from the big storms in October - this tree looked as if it had uprooted in the wind and with a hungry woodburner to feed at home we drooled over the size of those logs.

As for our favourite view looking up the Bybrook Valley? We just caught it before a full cycle of the year and the bleak midwinter returns.

Remember what it looked like earlier in the year...

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A £60 Amazon voucher giveaway...

As a blogger, I get offered the chance to collaborate with many different companies and websites. I usually decline as many of these do not fit in with my 'eco, frugal, simple' mantra. I'm joining in with this one however, because I know that £60 worth of Amazon vouchers could make a real difference to someone out there's Christmas.

A boy drumming with a crowd of children drumming behind him.
An activity funded by Sense,
the UK charity for deaf blind children and adults

As for my part of the deal (£60 of Amazon vouchers for me, too) I'm opting to donate them to Sense, a national UK charity that supports and campaigns for children and adults who are deaf blind. They offer specialist services, community resource centres, living options, one-to-one support, children's support, short breaks and fun groups as well as advice on issues relating to dual sensory impairment. My late Mother-in-law barely had two pennies to rub together for most of her life but still supported many charities including Sense, which was one of her favourites; it was an easy decision to allow them to benefit from a blog affiliation on my part.

What do you have to do to be in with a chance of winning the vouchers? You have to take a short shopping quiz - click here - (and it is really short - 60 seconds tops) to find out your personal shopping style. (You're all welcome to do the quiz but the giveaway itself is only open to UK readers). ">Barclaycard and Brunel University have collaborated to research the modern way in which we shop and how UK shoppers can now be defined into four new shopping tribes. The online quiz will identify whether you are a Bargain Hunter Gatherer, a Screen Saver, a Profit Prophet or a High Street Pounder!

The shopping quiz -
what kind of shopper are you!

I took the quiz and apparently I'm the latter - a High Street Pounder. That'll be because I answered that I do much of my shopping locally and am on first name terms with many of our local shopkeepers. Remember that our high street is not a big city high street full of big high street names. The kind of pounding the streets that I do is in and out of our local Co-op, a quick browse of the three local charity shops, and popping in for a chat with the owner of the local antique/bric-a-brac shop (as featured on Celebrity Antique Road Trip yesterday) or my friends in the book shop! 

My local high street in Corsham (image from MJ Church's website)

Once you have taken the quiz, please leave a comment on this blog post or on the blog's Facebook page and share your own shopping style. I will let the giveaway run until 7pm on Saturday 30 November when I will choose a winner at random. Please come back to find out if you have been lucky on Sunday. If you are the lucky winner, you will need to contact me by email so I can send you the voucher codes. To ensure that I can contact you it would help if you are a blog subscriber or follower.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A grateful Food Waste Friday

Unsurprisingly keeping on top of food waste has not been a big priority over the last few weeks. When you're grieving and organising a funeral, food and food waste are the last things you're bothered about. Thank heavens for beans on toast, pasta, Wetherspoon's pubs and their Monday main course deals, and good old fish and chips. 

And thank heavens for friends and family who have phoned, called round, sent cards, emails and text messages with just the right sentiment at just the right time. Who have loaned us a motley assortment of items including shoulders to cry on, homeopathic expertise, a carpet shampooer, an extra cat basket (in which to carry the rescue chickens home, of course) and a front drive for guests to park on. Who have sent beautiful flowers and left plants on the doorstep. 

And as for the food? We barely needed to lift a finger and a funeral feast fit for royalty appeared, as neighbours and friends bore plates and platters of savoury and sweet, family brought cake all the way from Devon, and even more cake appeared mysteriously on the doorstep. No food waste this week - we've lived almost entirely from leftover cake! 

And thank heavens for purring kitty cats who seem to know just when you could most do with a soft cat sitting on your lap (and who have knocked the sympathy cards off the dresser on a daily basis).

Thank you all, real people and real cats and all you blog people too, for all your support. We're truly grateful.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

A return to blogging...

I've had a prolonged absence from the blog. At half term my dear, dear Mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly. When you lose a loved one like that the world falls apart and the long lists of practicalities to be dealt with consume any remaining emotional energy. My joie de vivre and certainly my zest for writing and blogging disappeared. 

But amid the sadness and the tears and the readjustment and all the organising and sorting and endless paperwork we have shared some happy moments too.

Last weekend we were working through a mammoth pre-funeral to-do list. The get-together after the funeral was to be held at our home so you can imagine the kind of things on the list: 

hoover entire house
clean bathroom
bake cakes
go shopping

On our list there was also:

pick up chickens between 2.45pm and 3.30pm on Saturday

That didn't mean chickens for eating at the buffet. Oh no, that meant live chickens for restocking our flock. I'm overstating it slightly - our flock had dwindled this summer to a sole surviving chicken, Yoko. I wrote about our dilemma of what to do with a lonely, non-laying chicken here. The many thoughtful comments on that blog post helped us reach the decision to find her some friends quickly before she became too cold on her owny own in the hen house. 

Where better to find feathered friends for Yoko than to look to the British Hen Welfare Trust? They're a national charity who find homes for commercial laying hens destined for slaughter. The whole process couldn't have been easier. A quick phone call reserved us four chickens at the next collection day (which take place every 6-8 weeks I think) and it transpired that the nearest pick-up point was near Malmesbury, only about 8 miles from where we live.

When the time came, collecting four ex-caged hens felt absolutely the right pre-funeral thing to be doing. Nana had known all about the plans for the new chickens before she died, and as a great animal lover she would have hated the thought of our four reserved chickens left with no home to go to. And we'd have been letting poor Yoko down too.

We were prepared for the chickens to need some rehabilitation; we were warned that they wouldn't be accustomed to night and day, or walking on the earth, or weather conditions but although I'd seen pictures on other blogs and in the media, nothing can prepare you for seeing a run full of girls in this sorry state. The kids were shocked, "Their bellies look like the chicken you'd see in the fridge in a supermarket..." We were shocked. Battery farming may have ended in Britain but it's clear that intensive factory farming hasn't.

Peggy, one of our baldest chickens.

Happily, our new girls have settled in quickly. There was some initial bullying from Yoko which made us angry, "We got these hens to keep YOU company! Don't you think they've been through enough already without you picking on them!" we shouted at her, and she soon got the message. We put out several feeding stations, so Yoko didn't have to worry about them eating her food, and after one night of keeping them separate in the hen house, they came down to breakfast like old friends. Hopefully they'll feather up soon to withstand the predicted cold weather.

Much better than eating chicken at a funeral wake is talking about chickens and the superiority of free range eggs. The vicar may have been used to this topic of conversation and beat a hasty retreat after his sandwich and cake, but not all our visitors were so lucky in escaping a trip to the chicken coop. Nana often likened her youngest son (known as Husband here on the blog) to Tom in The Good Life. I think she would have approved.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Food Waste Friday - no use crying over spilt cereal...

This week I wasted a whole packet of cereal. A just-opened box of Daughter's favourite Co-op rice and wheat flakes with red fruits. I knocked it off the work surface and it landed next to the kitten feeding area. To salvage it would have risked contamination with Whiskas or Felix, so we passed up that option.

The kittens were very interested in the clean up operation but weren't tempted by dry cereal. They were probably wondering why anyone would want to eat something not dissimilar to their eco-friendly wood chip cat litter.

Husband gave the fridge a thorough clean out this week; forced into it by the fact that he was becoming scared to look too closely into my carefully saved little bowls of leftovers for fear of finding of something nasty. That meant said leftovers (a few slices of orange here, a fairy-sized portion of veggie chilli there) were composted or fed to the chicken. (Speaking of whom, I'm pleased to say that we've reserved some ex-caged hens through the Hen Welfare Trust who will arrive in mid-November to keep Yoko company and eat our food waste).

I'd been so busy making sure a monster sized courgette/marrow didn't go to waste that I'd overlooked all those small portions sliding past their best in the fridge.

Now that we've got a working oven again, naturally I've mostly been turning that marrow into cake (recipe below). After two attempts it's getting better each time. The recipe uses 400g of marrow, and there's still more to use up. That's one big marrow!

I'm pleased to report some small decluttering progress elsewhere in the house too...a few items to the Oxfam shop and 11 items on Ebay, half of which sold and the other half I've relisted. I'm guessing pre-Christmas is a good time to get the Ebay groove on.

I'm not selling the kittens on Ebay but there have been requests for more pictures so...

They've been honing their instinct for locating a shaft of Autumn sunlight, or the warmth of a just vacated seat. With huge gales forecast in the south of the UK this weekend this could well be an image of the calm before the storm.

Courgette cake
The recipe is gluten free and fat free (other than the oil from the ground almonds)

(from Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache: The ultimate feel-good book of natural cakes that taste naughty)

The cake
4 eggs
200g caster sugar
400g finely grated courgettes
220g rice flour
140g ground almonds
3 tsp baking powder
finely grated zest of 3 lemons (I didn't have any lemons so used the zest of one orange instead)

The icing
50g unsalted butter
2 tsp lemon (or orange) juice
200g icing sugar

(I halved this amount and it was plenty).

Lightly oil the base and sides of three 18cm diameter round cake tins. Line with greaseproof paper or parchment and lightly oil.

Whisk eggs and sugar until pale.

Add grated courgette and whisk. Add flour, almonds, baking powder and citrus zest.

Bake for 30 mins at Gas Mark 4/180 degrees c

Sandwich the layers of cake with jam.

Spread icing on the top. Decorate with hundreds and thousands etc if so desired.

Instead of three layers, I used this amount of mixture to make two layers and 12 fairy cakes.

I am reliably informed that you can replace the rice flour with ordinary flour and the cake still works well.

From experience I can say that coarsely grated courgettes don't work very well, nor does replacing the almonds with more flour (unless you particularly like a stodgy cake)!

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

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

We're cooking on gas...

Welcome to our new arrival. 

No, not more photos of the kittens. It's better than that, nearly.

A plain old gas cooker. She's been a long time coming - two months to be precise. Our old oven packed up just after I'd spent an August afternoon cleaning it. Doh!

In that ovenless two months , we've had lots of boring, middle-aged, sensible, grown-up discussions about cookers so it seems only fair to share the fruits of our extensive research. Prepare to be amazed by all the...

stuff we have learned about cookers!

  • Cooking on gas is cheaper. "If you use your cooker’s oven, grill and hob for about one hour and 20 minutes a day for a year, an electric cooker will cost about £53 to run. A gas cooker will only cost £16, giving you an annual saving of £37, or £222 over the lifetime of your cooker." Source:

  • Unless you're running your cooker on renewable electricity, gas is the low CO2 option. Source: 

  • Repairing a cooker is a good option, but with labour and parts the cost for fixing ours would have been £162, which, considering the oven was secondhand in the first place, was simply not worthwhile.

  • Having a cooker where the hob and the grill work, even if the oven doesn't is still something of a luxury. Every time I felt like grumbling I thought of this...

The risks from dying as a result of cooking on a solid fuel fire indoors are still high for many people across the world, so even with our broken oven, we are amongst the fortunate. Poor us that we couldn't bake potatoes, cook pizza or make cakes? I don't think so.

  • The oven is the expensive and most energy consuming part of a cooker, so now that we've got a working oven again, we'll continue with all the wily ways of avoiding using the oven that we've discovered over the last couple of months such as using the griddle pan instead of roasting, cooking things on the hob and then popping under the grill for a quick crisping (e.g. cauliflower cheese) rather than baking. We also tried using the bread maker for cake baking but this resulted in cakes with burnt edges. 

  • It's easy to dispose of an old cooker. We found a local waste clearance company who will come and pick up scrap metals for free. Although we could have taken it to a scrappie ourselves, this got it out of the way quickly.

  • Secondhand gas cookers are harder to find than electric ones. When we finally had some spare moments to devote to searching for a cooker, it took us a couple of weeks of rigorous scouring Gumtree and Ebay. Like buses, two finally came along at once, and we won our Ebay cooker from a house clearance place just round the corner, for the princely sum of £63. She's not fancy, just a real no-frills cooker, but we're no-frills people so that's fine. She grills, bakes and boils, and that's good enough for us.

How about you - gas or electric? Are you cutting down on your oven-use too these days?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Easy Peasy Blackberry Icecream

When I wrote my 30 frugal top tips a while back, one of the frugal things I mentioned that I'd never done but would like to try one day, was to make icecream.

I've made easy peasy banana icecream where you freeze chunks of banana and then blend them in the food processor and even though it's just banana, it tastes like a deluxe creamy dessert. But I've never made proper homemade icecream that requires either an icecream maker, which I don't possess, or oodles of messing around getting it out of the freezer every half hour to whisk it up. 

Last weekend we needed a treaty pudding for Daughter's birthday lunch that didn't involve an oven (mine's been out of order for a while) so I decided it was time to achieve one of my frugal ambitions and at long last to try out a friend's icecream recipe. She swears by it and promised me it only required one lot of whisking and no subsequent attention. Now that's my kind of lazy homemade icecream! 

We modified the original recipe slightly. Mostly because although I adore icecream I'm not actually a real lover of cream or milk. I could pretend the modification makes it a lot healthier but the fruit and yogurt probably don't offset the cream and condensed milk enough to make this an everyday pudding!

Easy Peasy Icecream - the original recipe

1 397g tin condensed milk
600ml double cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat ingredients until the mixture is thick and stiff, like pipeable whipped cream. Freeze for 6 - 8 hours.

Everyday Life on a Shoestring's Easy Peasy Blackberry Icecream

1 397g tin of condensed milk
250ml whipping cream
250ml 0% fat Greek Yogurt
several handfuls of blackberries stewed with a spoonful or two of sugar

Beat all the ingredients except for the blackberries, until thick and stiff. For extra frugality I insisted on using my hand whisk that you wind with a handle for the whisking part so it took three of us an awful lot of whisking and arm ache before it was the required consistency.

Then we swirled in the blackberries. You could puree them but my take on it is that there's an extra rustic charm to whole blackberries that have sunk to the bottom of the icecream!

This amount of icecream served with stewed apple fed 6 adults, 2 big children and 2 little children, several of whom had second helpings. There is plenty left in the freezer. I'm never very good at costing out recipes - what I can tell you is that the condensed milk had been in the cupboard for ages, the 500g tub of Greek yogurt was on offer at £1, and the blackberries were free, so the whole dish must have come in at under £5 which, for a large bowl of super duper icecream with no funny sounding ingredients, must be a good price.

The basic recipe comes with an alternative chocolate version (melt 200g chocolate and whisk with the rest of the ingredients. Add 100g chopped milk chocolate or maltesers). 

With a little imagination, you could make all sorts of other variations. What would be your favourite flavour?!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Food Waste Friday - Never work with children or animals...

This week it's the food waste that every parent knows well. What can I say? Why slice a pear in two and save half for later when you can nibble all around the edge and leave it unappetisingly in the kitchen for your mother to deal with. Grrrrrr! Other than that and half a squidgy banana that was too far gone to be transformed into anything, the human food waste situation was respectable.

However I'm not sure what the rules of Food Waste Friday are when it comes to pet food. It's food and we've wasted it so I'll declare it! (Spot the thinly veiled excuse to share kitten pics!) Since the kittens arrived nearly a fortnight ago, it's been a learning curve as far as estimating the volume of food consumed by two small felines goes. We seem to have got the wet food down to a fine art, but some of us are rather generous with the portions of dry food, and it's harder to keep track of how long that's been out and actually, I'm not really sure how long dry cat food can be left out, so to err on the side of the caution where the young tums are concerned, we've ended up throwing some away.

Can you spot the difference!

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

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Blackberries, as far as the eye could see!

Blackberries. In fact berries of every kind. That sums up the river walk for September! It was a really busy month but we squoze our precious walk in right at the very last moment.

We've managed to do this walk up the By Brook valley from Ford in North Wiltshire, every month this year apart from June when hay fever got the better of me and I fell out of love with long walks in the countryside. Why have we done it every month?

a) Because it really is a beautiful walk and we never fail to come back home feeling restored after it 

b) Because I like to get the kids out of the house, away from screens, breathing fresh air (and hopefully instilling in them a sense of wonder at the natural world)


c) Out of curiosity - I'm not an expert naturalist by any means but it's been fascinating to witness the changes in one valley as the year has turned. 

On top of all that I'm sure you don't need reminding that walking is such great exercise (but I'll remind you anyway!) and it doesn't cost a penny. 

We were on a purposeful morning walk this month, with a time limit, so we couldn't stop to pick any of these juicy blackberries but this has to be one of the best bramble patches in the whole of Wiltshire!  

And there were many, many sloes. I've never really seen the point of making gin, a perfectly acceptable drink in itself, taste like cough medicine, but there were rich pickings here for people who do like to add sloes to gin and who can maybe get their sloe gin to be more quaffable than mine ever has! 

The kids couldn't resist popping a sloe in their mouths to see whether they are still as bitter as they remember and still hold that unique property of dessicating the inside of your mouth almost instantaneously. I didn't take part in this experiment but am reliably informed that yes, they still do!

Still on the berry front, there were oodles of rosy haws. I found a recipe for Hawthorn jelly here . It doesn't involve wasting good gin, so I could be tempted to try this out.

There were plenty of other signs of Autumn. This is what Son's 'lying on the ground' style of photography looks like in September.

This is what the same style looked like back in April...

The Chinese Lanterns which were green in August, are now in their prime:

There's an orangey tinge to the trees, but still some way to go before a full show of autumn colours. I've never thought about it before but I suppose trees in a sheltered valley must hang on to their green leaves a little longer.

The beech trees maybe resisting autumn's pull but the teasels are looking good! I love them.

And finally our comparison shot of the view up the Bybrook Valley. Changing imperceptibly...

View up the Bybrook Valley, 28 September 2013

View up the Bybrook Valley, 11 August 2013.

This is what the Bybrook Valley
looked like for the first four months of the year.