Friday, 27 February 2015

Sticking together

First I was a carnivore, then I was a vegetarian and now I'm a vegetarian who eats meat. I know that a vegetarian, or even better, a vegan diet is better for the planet, from so many angles; all the land required for livestock farming, the water that gets used up, the pollution it causes and the deforestation. The Vegetarian Society reckons the average UK carnivore will eat 11,000 animals in a lifetime. That seems an awfully large amount of living creatures to me.

We all have our reasons for eating the way that we do, but you don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that a mainly plant-based diet makes good sense all round - planetary and monetary. 

For us, a diet without any meat doesn't seem to be an option right now. I started eating meat again after 15 years of vegetarianism because Daughter had been a very poorly, underweight baby who needed to put on weight. (I wrote something about her story here). Meat was part of the solution. Nowadays she's not poorly or underweight and some of us would be happy to live without meat again, completely. Except for Son. He eats constantly and is growing rapidly and seems to really crave meat occasionally. I'm sure we're not the only ones who don't buy much meat but who, when we do, try to make a more ethical purchase.

And when we don't buy meat, which is most of time, I try to cook veggie things that will appeal to the 11 year old carnivore, like veggie burgers that actually stick together rather than to the bottom of the frying pan. I speak as someone who has not had much success with them in the past.

I really like this recipe which I found somewhere out there on the internet. The trick seems to be to have a gloopy mixture into which you mix something more solid (in this case, rice). The recipe is for mushroom burgers but it's a forgiving recipe, and as long as you've got a mixture of gloopy and not so gloopy, I think you could swap ingredients around a bit to suit your own preferences.  The first time I made it I used less mushrooms. The second time I used chickpeas instead of haricot beans, and I forgot all about the dates. Both times it worked well.

Mushroom burgers

The gloopy part:
6 big mushrooms
1 tin haricot beans
4 dried dates
parlsley, thyme
2 cloves garlic
2 tbspn tahini
2 tbspn soy sauce

The not so gloopy part:
100g uncooked rice
50g breadcrumbs or oats
lemon zest 

  1. Boil the rice in double the amount of water to rice.
  2. Fry the mushrooms and thyme. Season according to taste.
  3. Blend the beans, dates, garlic, parsley, tahini, and soy sauce. Add the mushrooms.
  4. Once the rice is cooked mix everything together.
  5. Leave to cool in the fridge to firm up for 10 minutes.
  6. Make 8 patties. Lightly fry on each side or cook at Gas Mark 7 for 20 minutes.
  7. Serve with all your favourite burgery stuff.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Frugal culture vultures

No question, the journey to a simpler life involves appreciating what you've got. That includes home and all it holds - books to be read (!), the garden, the animals, time together as a family and with extended family, music, home cooking... If you factor in all the digital possibilities we have in our house, there's really no need to go out, ever.

But even wannabe simple livers like us enjoy a bit of culture gleaned from outside the home sometimes. We're blessed with world class buskers and street performers in nearby Bath and there's an arts centre on our doorstep with a varied programme including free stuff and events at reasonable prices. None of which we make as much use of as we could do.

Our latest cultural experience, however, comes courtesy of the Grandparents. They're tucked away in the heart of the West Country in rural Devon, a million miles from anything, cultural or otherwise. No buskers and no arts centre. Thanks to their local town hall though, they're the most cultured of us all. The town hall has been taken over in recent years by local volunteers who run it as a non-profit Community Interest Company and ensure it is used by the local community much more than in the past. That's really heartening in itself. As well as hiring out the facilities and hosting live events, there is a regular programme of 'live streaming'.

Image result for new york met opera live streaming

For some time now Granny and Grandad have been talking loftily about 'going to the New York Met' to see an opera, or enjoying the latest production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. They've even enjoyed art exhibitions from London. All at a fraction of the price that going to the real things would cost, and without the travel time and costs. I was still sceptical - very sweet for the oldies who don't get out much, I thought, but this 'live streaming' of big productions to their big screen (and many others too) can't really be much like the real thing.

Image result for live streaming national theatre

Then Daughter noticed that Billy Elliot was being shown there in October, and to humour everyone I went along too. It's strange - viewing a live theatre production on the big screen is definitely not like watching a film. Neither is it like being at the theatre, but in its own way it's just as gripping. The emotional scenes in Billy Elliot had me, the 'live streaming' cynic, blubbing like a baby.

Buoyed by this experience, when we went down to Devon for a few days at half term last week, we were first in the queue for the National Theatre's Treasure Island. They might have mucked around with the book's plot a little (most notably swapping Jim Hawkins and a few of the other characters for women to make it more evenly gender balanced) and it wasn't nearly so tear jerking, but still, an excellent production. The special effects and the music were not lost in translation. What's more you don't have to wait to be served at the bar during the interval and I know for a fact that the National Theatre doesn't have a friendly team of volunteers serving clotted cream scones for a pound each.

Treasure Island production image
A scene from Treasure Island
If you fancy a trip to the theatre and you don't want to pay West End prices, I'd definitely recommend giving 'live streaming' a go. If you can find some doting parents or grandparents to treat you, even better...

Friday, 20 February 2015

Is there such a thing as too many books?

When you've run out of shelf space and the books are starting to perilously overload existing shelves, or are forming mountains in your bedroom, you've got two choices. Do some book pruning or get some more book shelves. It has to be the former here - we've no room for extra book cases.

I've been chipping away at the books off and on for a while. The ups and downs of book de-cluttering have been mentioned here on the blog. More than once. Recently our books seem to have been multiplying again, so the chipping away's more on than off at the moment. That's a good thing because Daughter is still raising funds for her World Challenge trip in July. Every penny counts, even if it's only a few quid made by selling old books. 

Some time ago I tried selling a few online at Green Metropolis but with short-lived success - three sold in nine months was not a 'get rich quick' recipe. I'd forgotten that I still had some listed on their website until I received an email a couple of weeks ago to say that sadly, they can't compete with e-books, and are shutting up shop. 

Another online outlet is, recommended by Angela at Tracing Rainbows. They do what it says on the tin and Ang found that they made reasonable offers for her books. They didn't seem to like mine as much but Ziffit did. They liked some of our audio visual items too, and before Christmas a very quick and easy £30 came our way for about the same amount of books, CDs and DVDs.

If you just want to empty the house speedily then you can't beat taking a bag of books to the charity shop - fortunately there are more than enough books to go round in our house - I've done plenty of book donating as well as book selling; Oxfam seems to be the least picky about what they'll take. Even more fun was taking some books to the recent community Give and Take day - it's very satisfying to see someone going home with one of your old books tucked under their arm.

I love books and don't always find it easy to part with them. After several rounds of thinning out in recent years I think I'm getting better at letting go. Here are some questions I ask myself:
  • Would this book prefer to be in circulation and to have the chance of being read than to be sitting on my book shelf doing nothing?
  • Could I borrow this book from the library if I wanted to read it again?
  • Am I really going to re-read this book (especially if it's a novel) or refer to it ever again?
  • Have I looked at this book in the last 10 years? If I haven't the chances are that I won't look at it in the next 10 years...
  • Does this book relate to an interest that I still have? (For instance I enjoy listening to The Archers occasionally but do I really need an entire shelf of reference books about a fictional village? Or reference books written by fictional characters about fictional villages - wave goodbye to Linda Snell's Heritage of Ambridge!)
  • Could I find the information contained in this book more easily on the internet?
  • Is the information in this book up-to-date or has it been superceded by something more current?
  • Does this book belong to somebody else? (Then return it to them!)
I have a particularly hard time with books that were gifts but I think it's safe to assume that most book givers would not expect you to keep their books for eternity.

This half term the book mountains in my bedroom have been tamed. For now, I'm winning.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Stuff I never knew about cats...

It's been a while since the cats featured here. They don't really do much to contribute to the eco-friendly or frugal things I like to focus on here, but when it comes to simplicity they score highly. You can't ask for much more in life than having a purring cat sitting on your lap.

The cats arrived in October 2013, after a serious campaign by our kids for a proper pet, one that lived in the house (unlike the chickens) and that didn't need a cage (we've done hamsters). In a moment of weakness, when our attention had been focused elsewhere on some very poorly family members, we found that we'd somehow agreed to acquiring not only one, but two kittens. Two sisters that couldn't possibly be separated...

Having never owned a cat before it's all been a steep learning curve and I look in amazement at the new cat lover me and wonder what became of the old not-that-bothered-about-cats me.

Stuff cat lover me has learnt:

  • Although the advice is that cats are solitary creatures, our two co-exist happily. They mock fight sometimes but more often than not, they can be found hanging out together.
  • Cats particularly like unmade beds and rumpled clothing to sleep on. And they really do sleep anywhere.
  • There is an unspoken cat rule not to use the facilities that are provided. We supply bowls of fresh water - they hang around the bathroom waiting for someone to turn the tap on so they can have a drink, or even worse, slurp out of the loo. Gross. We supply a scratching post - they make it their policy to claw everything but. All the chairs with rush seating and that lovely rattan chest in my bedroom...
  • Cats are supposed to be aloof and un-doglike but ours always come to greet us at the garden gate when we return home, and one in particular is very affectionate. Maybe I'm biased but our cats are particularly lovable.
  • I know they can't help it, and in their defence our cats haven't brought me presents often, but I just don't like the catching small creatures thing. Especially birds. We've tried to deter it with jingly collars and by fattening up the sparrows so that they have lots of energy to fly away, but there were casualties amongst the babies last spring.
  • Cats get fleas. Even when you've been treating them from before they ever went outside. We've swapped from using Frontline to Advantage, which seems to work better (and is cheaper - yay!) Two of us humans also got bitten in the summer when it was high flea season. I'm sorry for Husband and Daughter but secretly so glad I'm one of the two that does not attract insects.
  • My strategy of changing cat foods often seems to have paid off and mine eat what's put in front of them. Currently on the menu? Aldi dried food and a small amount of Sainsbury's wet food.
  • However many times I go to the vet with the cats, I still laugh when they call out the name of the pet followed by the owner's surname..."Tigger Smith next please". I'm easily amused.

Cats sleep, anywhere,
Any table, any chair
Top of piano, window-ledge,
In the middle, on the edge,
Open drawer, empty shoe,
Anybody's lap will do,
Fitted in a cardboard box,
In the cupboard, with your frocks-
Anywhere! They don't care!
Cats sleep anywhere.

Eleanor Farjeon

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Five frugal things and a couple of frugal fails

The five frugal things blog post format is unashamedly stolen from the Non-Consumer Advocate.
  1. It's chilly here but we're keeping our use of the central heating to a minimum. I'm wrapping up warm with bargain thermal leggings (£3 from a 'big knickers'* market stall in Shrewsbury) under my £1 charity shop jeans, a pair of woolly socks that I got from November's community swap shop (or 'Give and Take' day as we call it), warm slippers (2013 Christmas prezzie - thanks Mum and Dad) and loads of layers on my top half, plus compulsory indoor woolly hat. The next Give and Take day is this Saturday (7 Feb, 11am - 1pm at the Corsham Community Campus, Beechfield Rd) and I'm amassing a pile of stuff to give and wondering what goodies will be there for the taking.
  2. I'm using up the vinegar left in a large gherkin jar and some chicken thighs by making Chicken Adobo. Authentic Chicken Adobo is made with palm vinegar but the gherkin vinegar should be a fair substitute. The recipe (which can be found by clicking here) also uses a large amount of soy sauce but that's no problem as I have still got a couple of bargain bottles left from an Approved Food order ages ago. With the Chicken Adobo we'll have some Aldi Everyday Essentials rice that cost something ridiculous like 40p a pack, and leeks from the allotment. All round frugal meal.
  3. Daughter has been off school poorly today, and she sent me in to town to buy the next book in a series she's reading by Louise Rennison. She'd spotted it in Oxfam. That's my girl. The book claims to be the "Fabulously Funny Bestseller 'Knocked out by my nunga-nungas'. You'll laugh your knickers off!" (Sorry, you don't normally get knickers mentioned twice in my blog posts.) Sometimes Daughter passes on books she's read to her grandparents to but in this instance my mind is boggling at the thought of them laughing their knickers off. I think we may keep the nunga-nungas to ourselves.
  4. After I'd accomplished my book buying mission, I furthered my escape from the house with a brisk walk. Free exercise in the winter sunshine. What's not to like?
  5. Thanks to the library's new early warning email system, I know that I must get some l library books back today to avoid fines. My track record is not good when it comes to library fines so I'm enjoying the feeling that I may get on top of things this year.

Frugal fails:

  1. Underestimating the postage on an eBay sale which leaves me out of pocket.
  2. I checked our energy usage whilst submitting an online meter reading. After a few months of paying £12 per month, I knew the bill would go up over the winter and sure enough the next direct debit is for £60. I was still surprised to see we have used 24% more than the same period last year. How did that happen?
How about you? Any frugal successes this week?

* I don't know if overseas readers will be familiar with the concept of a 'big knickers' market stall? It's a technical term invented by myself to denote a stall that sells lingerie that's big and comfy and not very fashionable.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Simple Living Challenge - Day 5

Day 5 of the Kindspring Simple Living Challenge was to 'do something you have been putting off'.

The difficult part of this challenge was that there were so many things to choose from. After weighing up all the options I walked past the fridge that needed cleaning, bookshelves waiting for a good old sort out, the unruly porch (that all winter has been busy accumulating items that don't belong in it), and various corners of the dormant garden that are crying out for a tidy up. 

Instead I got out my bicycle. 

A while ago I blogged about Corsham's community bike workshop, Spindles and Sprockets. They were about to lose their home in the old community centre. Unfortunately there has been no happy ending to their story. The community centre was demolished and the new community campus is open. The campus is a good resource, with its leisure centre, library, cafe, the local police officers in residence and meeting rooms for hire. Sadly there's no room there for Spindles with all its bikes, parts, equipment and oiliness. And it seems that for the moment, despite investigating every possible empty space in the vicinty, and liaising with local councillors, there's nowhere else to be found either. 

Whilst the group haven't got a space to work in, they have been keeping the flame alight over the winter by going for a weekly ride every Saturday morning.

I've been meaning to join them for ages, but have put it off forever, mostly because I'm not a fast cyclist and suspected I'd be well out of my league. Spindles by name and spindles by nature - there are some keen, lean, spindly, fast cyclists in the group. 

A wintry but sunny Saturday morning beckoned last weekend, however, and with Day 5's challenge in mind I got on my bike. We all enjoyed a 20 mile ride out to Holt for a coffee stop, and then home via Monkton Farleigh and Chapel Plaister. This route offers some spectacular views across Wiltshire. In some respects my worst fears were realised - I was waaay slower than the others - but I still enjoyed myself. Many thanks to my support crew (Husband and Son) for sticking with me until the end!

As with the previous Simple Living Challenges, this 'doing things you've been putting off' exercise is one to come back to again (and again and again), especially for a world class procrastinator, like me.