Monday, 22 September 2014

Saving megabucks with Megabus

(Please note this is NOT a sponsored post - we are just pleased with our recent Megabus experiences!)

We're recent converts to Megabus.

I was vaguely aware of their existence and tantalising promises of travel for £1 but thought they operated between big cities only and were not for the likes of us country bumpkins. Even when a friend mentioned that her recently graduated son was catching the Megabus from Corsham to London for a job interview, I thought it was maybe just for youngsters. After all, I've hung around frugal blogs for long enough now, and I've never heard anyone mention catching a Megabus anywhere. (I'm sure someone probably has - please do link to your Megabus blog post in the comments if you have!). Perhaps it's such a frugal no-brainer that it doesn't need mentioning. I'll mention it anyway.

Husband has been needing to get to London every week for some training, and really, the easiest and cheapest way is to catch the Megabus. It's not just for youngsters, and it definitely does not stop in cities only (although admittedly we are on a fairly direct route along the A4 to London. It's not £1, it's a whopping £4.50 per journey for Husband. Still a bargain. That's almost cheaper than getting the bus to Bath, which is all of 10 miles down the road, (as opposed to London which is nearer 100 miles away). And if Husband was driving to the nearest train station, it would cost him more than £4.50 in parking.

What's the catch? Once you've got over the fact that they do not operate through all towns and cities in the UK there are not many catches. 

You have to book online - you can't just turn up at the bus stop. But you don't even have to print out a ticket - having the reservation number will get you on the bus. 

In Husband's experience the Megabuses are on time, they're comfortable and there are several services a day from here to London. From Corsham they wiggle around Chippenham and Swindon, but after that it's a straight run to Victoria Coach Station. And from there, Europe is your oyster with Megabuses to various destinations in Europe. In fact, the only catch is that each week we worry that perhaps Husband won't get the coach home after his two days' training but will decide to go to Barcelona instead...

Anyone else love Megabus?

Friday, 19 September 2014

Knitting my own yogurt - at last

Earlier on in the life of this blog, I felt that to be a half decent frugality/simple living blogger, I really ought to be making my own yogurt. After a few failed attempts (you can have a laugh at previous attempts by clicking here), including a disastrous slow cooker yogurt recipe, I realised that there are no oughts in the frugality world. Everyone has their different strengths and carves out their own path, and mine didn't seem to involve home-made dairy products

Previous curdled yogurt making attempt...

This year the price of yogurt has gone up considerably (or if you're Yeo Valley, the prices have stayed the same but the pots have got much smaller) and the Co-op withdrew our staple, its own brand Simply Value natural yogurt, from the local store. 

Time to think about knitting our own yogurt again. I'm all for a growth mindset. Try, try and try again. Just as I was pondering yogurt making, I chanced upon a Low Cost Living book in a charity shop, which has a yogurt recipe in it. The first rule of low cost living is that you mustn't buy too many how to live for less books in charity shops*, but there's no harm in browsing through them for new ideas or yogurt-making tips.

And after years of research and failures, home-made yogurt is finally a go go here! (Yogogo, for short I suppose).

My new, all improved method is based on the Low Cost Living recipe and Angela from Tracing Rainbows' suggestion (which she posted on my original yogurt-making blog post). If I can do it, anyone can!

It goes like this:

Use UHT milk so that you don't have to worry too much about heating it to a high temperature and cooling it down to kill off unwanted bacteria, like some of the other recipes I've read suggest. This is cheaper too. Heat the UHT milk to luke warm/body temperature, ascertained by dipping your finger in a few times.

Dig Great Granny's thermos flask out from the back of the cupboard. (Husband noticed that it leaks so is probably not airtight, which may account for some of my other failed yogurt-making attempts. In the absence of any other large thermos flasks however, I have been persisting with GG's old flask.) Warm it by filling with boiling water at the same time as faffing around with the milk.

When the flask and the milk are the right temperature, pour the milk into the flask, with a couple of spoonfuls of live yogurt. For extra special leaky flask insulation, wrap in Son's ski jacket. (We've never actually been ski-ing so the jacket's pleased to come into its own). Then leave the yogurty bacteria, lactobacillus acidophilusto do its multiplying.

After 8 hours my leaky flask produces a fairly thin yogurt. No recipe I've ever read suggests leaving yogurt to brew for 16 hours, but once when my morning ran out of time for processing overnight yogurt I left it in the flask for another 8 hours until I got home from work and we had our best, thickest yogurt yet. The addition of milk powder might also help produce a thicker yogurt so I'm going to try that some time.

A litre of UHT fills my large leaky flask and a small non-leaky wide-necked flask. The non-leaky flask makes thicker yogurt, proving that a bad yogurt maker can blame her thermos flask after all. Although I love my heirloom 1970s thermos, a new, large flask is definitely on my wish list.

* After two successful yogurt-making attempts I felt a skinflint for pilfering the recipe without buying the book so I went back to buy it, in gratitude for my new found skill, however it had gone! Win:win - I don't feel guilty any more and somebody else gets to try out yogurt making and thrifty living!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Zero Waste is not just for Zero Waste week, and Angry Squirrels.

Zero Waste Week 2014 is over, and we discovered that, although we didn't succeed in our 'NO snacky food packaging at all' pledge, we reduced it, and it's really not that difficult. Lunch boxes and in-between meal times shouldn't be all about over-packaged goodies. And too much sweet stuff is not a good thing anyway, either. All in all, the kick up the backside delivered by Zero Waste Week was very welcome.

So the attempts at zero waste continue. At the moment we have simply the very best zero waste snack dropping out of the sky onto our front drive. And dropping onto the road. And our car. And the alley next door to our house. And just about everywhere. The hazel trees in our hedge have produced an abundant crop this year. We've been enjoying them and other small hazelnut lovers (that is, lovers of small hazelnuts) have been enjoying them too. A neighbour has collected some especially to go in her Christmas pudding, and Daughter's friend, who calls for her every morning, arrived yesterday brandishing nutcrackers so she could enjoy a handful on the way to school. 

The smallest small hazelnut lover is a poor squirrel, however, who arrives annually to collect some of nature's bounty. He or she has been most frustrated to find that two cats have come to live here since last year, and spent a couple of days making angry squirrel noises at them from the top of the hedge in an unsuccessful attempt to shoo them away, before leaving in disgust.

As well as eating them neat, (the hazelnuts, not the squirrels) we have so, so many that we have been wondering what else we can do with them.

Son was immediately on the case, researching his favourite option. So much for less sugary snacks...

We have learnt that cracking enough hazelnuts to make 250g of shelled hazelnuts takes a very long time. Although we have a lot of hazelnuts in their shells, once they're cracked maybe we won't have quite so many. The nutella mixing was almost too much for our poor wand blender stick thingy which was making sounds worthy of the dentist's surgery. We used much less sugar (as a gesture towards our new healthy snack regime) and had to forego the vanilla extract because we didn't have any, but a rather delicious, rich, Ferrero Rocher, dark chocolate truffly type concoction emerged after all the hours of effort.

It's like a golden nectar that shouldn't be guzzled all at once, so we carefully froze a couple of small bowlfuls as well as leaving one out for consumption. (I have no idea if you can freeze freshly made nutella but we shall find out). The unfrozen bowl is supposed to be eaten within three weeks but I don't think there's much chance of it hanging around that long.

Ooh, and we also learnt that when you're cracking hazelnuts the shells get everywhere. I even found some in my bed (which is nowhere near the kitchen) this morning.

All ideas for things to do with an abundance of hazelnuts gratefully received!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Zero Waste Week

It's Zero Waste Week 2014, and many businesses and bloggers are on board with the 'one more thing' theme. What one more thing could you do to cut your landfill waste?

It's the food packaging that gets us every single time, so that's our pledge. To keep it simple we're focusing on snacky food waste packaging this week...crisps, biscuits...stuff that comes in that crinkly plastic packaging that is so hard to recycle.

How's it going so far? I'm not going to lie - it's certainly not easy. In a week full of change for us all in one way or another, my plans for concocting lovely zero waste, home-baked alternatives to snacky things have come to naught so far and there have been transgressions. 

I arrived home from work on Monday to find an empty packet of chocolate fingers lazing on the sofa...

And Husband snuck past me yesterday with a cup of tea and a penguin biscuit pre-empting any of my zero waste outcries by claiming that he was going to upcycle the biscuit packet into a piece of jewellery...

On the positive side, the reusable Onya produce bags have carried home lots of vegetables and fruit from the market for healthy zero packaging snacking. Out with the crisps and in with the greengages.

Stay tuned to see how we do during the rest of the week, and visit the Zero Waste Week website for tips and hints. There are plenty of links to other Zero Waste blog ambassadors, so you can see if they are faring any better than we are.