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.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

How do you solve a problem like Yoko?!

Firstly, thank you SO much to everyone who was kind enough to leave such detailed cat care comments on Daughter's blog post at the weekend about our frugal kitten preparations. We read all of the comments thoroughly, found them really useful and are already putting some of your tips into practice!

Cute kittens are all very well (and there will be more of them) but I did promise news of our lonely chicken. I'm hoping that maybe the chicken owners out there will have as much advice up their sleeves as the cat owners.

Ginger and Yoko pictured with Son's Lego Minifigure Chicken!

For a long time we kept four happy and well-loved chickens on our allotment; the delightful Clara Cluck, Ginger, Chandi and Yoko. They pecked and scratched contentedly in their coop, making efficient use of our food waste, and that of our neighbours, and they more than paid their way by making use of a shady part of our allotment that has never been very fruitful and by laying lots of eggs. 

Clara Cluck was the first to shuffle off this mortal coil. After a deceptive recovery from being egg bound (painful!), she made her way to the great chicken coop in the sky. Chandi the black chicken was the next to join her following an eye problem that wouldn't resolve.

Ginger and Yoko (pictured above) eased into a comfortable co-existence for a year and a half, keeping us in precisely enough eggs for all our culinary needs (and obliging when Son wanted to do a photoshoot with them and his Lego minifigure chicken).

This summer poor Ginger, who had been taking things slowly for a week or so but appeared well, stepped out of the hen house and keeled over one morning, right in front of Husband's very eyes.

That leaves the lonely white-feathered Yoko. Dear old Yoko. Now she lives by herself in a coop and abode of very generous proportions for a single chicken, looking hopefully to the jackdaws for friendship (they pop in to the coop to steal the occasional crust of bread) and greeting us warmly when we visit her.

How do you solve a problem like Yoko? Chickens are not solitary creatures. They thrive in a flock but we don't want to replenish our flock until we have refurbished the coop and the henhouse, and given the land a rest. Besides there can be issues with introducing new chickens to an old bird like Yoko.

We've thought about giving her away, but a nearly four year old, non-laying chicken is not an attractive prospect to other chicken owners, and it would probably not be fair on her to try and introduce her into an established flock.

So experienced chicken owners, what should we do?