Wednesday, February 12, 2014

grey days

The weather here is grey, wet and miserable, I'm a bit poorly and have had to miss my craft group and the only thing cheering me up is the good books I've read recently and knitting, which I always find comforting. So here I am, still in pyjamas and purple fluffy dressing gown, ensconced on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and my knitting. 

It's so cold today that I wish the hot water bottle cover was finished already. It's nearly done, just a couple of inches to knit, then the making up and buttons to sew on. I need three buttons and  I'd like red or white ones, which I don't think I have in the right size, though I will turn out the button tin and have a good look. If not then a trip to Hobbycraft will probably have to happen at the weekend, which is never a bad thing! I'm glad I decided to sew on the felt heart, I'm really pleased with it. I think I prefer it to the intarsia heart on the original pattern. 

I've just finished Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, a thriller that I really enjoyed.  I read it in one evening, staying up far too late into the night to finish it. I should stop doing that. They say you shouldn't read in bed, but I do so love to, it's where I do most of my reading. My next read is The Never List by Koethi Zan, I'm only a few pages in but liking it so far. 

Joining Ginny's Yarn Along and Frontier Dreams

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Robyn's Flapjacks

The Prof and the Young Philosopher both like cereal bars and I was buying at least a couple of boxes a week, when I saw Robyn's recipe for flapjacks and so I gave them a go. I had some baking paper lurking in the kitchen, from the last time I thought I might start baking and didn't, probably about five years ago, and had to purchase a tin to bake them in, as I have no baking equipment at all beyond a rolling pin and a bun tin (never used!). 

baking tin. Mine is 9 inches square, because that's what they had in Sainsbury's
Baking paper
mixing bowl

6oz flour
6oz porridge oats
6oz demerara sugar
6oz fat - half butter and half Stork
2 tablespoons honey
seeds, chopped nuts, sultanas - handful of each

Once I had greased and lined the tin I realised there were no oats in the cupboard, as the Prof had used the last to make a big batch of muesli the previous evening. I was a bit stuck for a moment, until I thought of just using the muesli instead of the oats. Our homemade muesli at the moment (it varies) contains oats, ground almonds, sunflower seeds, sultanas and chopped walnuts. I probably chucked in about 10 oz of this mixture, and then a bit extra of nuts and sultanas. 

I melted the butter, Stork and honey together on a low heat. When it was melted I poured it into the mixing bowl where the dried ingredients were and mixed it all together thoroughly. 

I dolloped the mixture into the tin and pressed it down evenly, then cooked it at 190 for about 45 minutes until it was nice and golden. Taking Robyn's advice, I cut it up into pieces whilst it was still warm, then left it to cool. It made 16 flapjacks and some crumbly pieces fell off the edges which the Prof had with milk on and said it was very nice like that too. 

I haven't priced this out, though I will at some point. I expect it's cheaper than buying the bars. Even if it isn't, my boys prefer the flapjacks, I know exactly what's in them and they are more filling. I don't like nuts, so I didn't have any myself. Next time I'm making something I can eat too!

Monday, February 10, 2014

good things

a weekend away just the two of us

the village of Southwell, especially the Minster. Brownie points for the staff there, too - when I emailed today to say we left the guide book we had bought, they answered within minutes to say they would forward it to us free of charge 

Ice Age caves for the Prof, an hour in the cafe with chocolate shortbread, coffee and a good book for me 

the good book: The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty

a beautiful rainbow arcing over the road ahead as we drove home

weekending with Amanda

Thursday, February 06, 2014

winter nights

the hot water bottle cover in progress, the Prof's new scarf and my gorgeous new knitting bag

On these chilly winter evenings I am often to be found snuggled under a favourite old blanket on the sofa, a hot water bottle tucked in with me, as I knit and watch something delightful on the television (current favourites are Call the Midwife, Mr Selfridge, and less cosy and old fashioned but equally fabulous, the Bridge).  It dawned on me recently that  wrapping the hot water bottle in a towel to avoid it burning me is not good enough when I can knit myself a lovely cover, and after all, didn't I make a lovely hot water bottle cover for my Mum for Christmas (not blogged as yet because I was keeping it a secret), so why not make one for myself? I'm knitting Jessie, minus the heart - I couldn't get the hang of the intarsia method for the heart pattern, so I'm making it plain. I think I might sew a felt heart on with blanket stitch in a contrasting colour. The yarn is Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, it's reasonably priced and quite soft and I recently used it to make the hot water bottle cover for my Mum and scarves for my Dad and the Prof.  I originally bought this yarn to make a surprise scarf for Christmas for the Prof. It's rather brighter than it looks in the photograph, more like kingfisher blue, which I think is lovely, but the very next day after I bought it he pointed out the 'horrible colour' of a neighbour's new car. You guessed it. So more yarn in a muted shade was purchased for the Prof's scarf, and I get to make myself something with the reject. 

Until I abandoned it this morning, I was reading Oh My Stars, by Lorna Landvik. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning, but as it's gone on I'm struggling to stay interested and I don't have much perseverance when it comes to not enjoying what I'm reading. I can always tell if a book's not really for me when it takes me weeks to read it. If I'm loving a book I'm through it in a day or two!  I've put Oh My Stars down  now in favour of This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman. I'm keeping a record of books I read this year (link at the top of the page), and haven't read much this year at all, so far, if you don't count blog reading and WI Life and Country Living magazines. I have four books to get through for book club so I'd better get a move on!

What are you knitting and reading? 

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along  

Monday, February 03, 2014

a little sunshine at last

The weather has been mostly grey, dismal and very wet here recently, and at the weekends a combination of weather and jobs to do has kept us at home. This weekend was a refreshing change. I've been -

Doing: grocery shopping, running errands, driving down to Leigh-on-Sea, visiting my parents for a cup of tea on the way home 

Eating: chocolate cake with orange icing, cucumber and salad cream sandwiches, houmous and pitta bread, the last of the Wensleydale cheese with cranberries leftover from Christmas

Drinking: full leaded coffee, lager, orange and lemon tea

Making: Finishing the vintage embroidered tablecloth I've been working on for a while, and trying to master intarsia on a hot water bottle cover 

Weekending with Amanda

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Frugal February

I've been keeping a spending diary since the beginning of the year and it's been really enlightening to see written down exactly where the money is going. One of our biggest expenditure areas is groceries, and I would really like to reduce what we spend in that area.  

During January we spent the following. 

On takeaways £76.77
The Prof at work, snacks/lunch/drinks £42.15
Me, weekdays, out and about, snack/lunch/drinks £16.30
Weekends, out and about £29.62
Grocery shopping £364.04

That makes a whopping total of £528.88! This total does include dog food, which is about £25 a month, and household cleaners etc though I buy very few of those. Even if I estimate £50 for dog food plus toiletries/household things, that means we have spent at least £478.28 in one month on food. 

At the same time as I'm spending a lot each week on food, I seem to have overflowing cupboards and freezer so I thought it would be fun to join in with Robyn over at Essex Hebridean for 'Frugal February'. I'll be trying to use up the stores we have already, and to buy only what we really need each week. I'll decide on a budget for the month based on last month and do my best to reduce it. The savings can go into our emergency fund, which I'm trying to build up, so that when there's an emergency I don't have to dip into money we've saved for holidays, bills, or Christmas, which is what usually happens, sending all my well laid plans into chaos. 

We have quite a lot of supplies at the moment. I know we've lots of tinned things as well as rice, pasta, couscous, noodles and the dreaded packet of quinoa that I bought about a year ago to try. It gazes at me reproachfully every time I open the cupboard so maybe this month I'll manage to make something with it. In the fridge I have lots of bottles and jars, and various other things, including a lot of cheese from Christmas. The freezer is overflowing too, some meat (for the Prof) veggie sausages, pies etc for me, and for some reason 3 huge bags of frozen spinach.The next step is to write down a list of meals using things up. I have never managed to menu plan properly, I just can't seem to decide in advance what I'm going to fancy next Tuesday, but I do usually have a rough idea of the meals coming up over the next week or so, just not exactly what we're going to eat each day. Maybe I'll have a go at sticking to a menu plan at some point in the month.

I quite enjoy cooking dinners, but I don't bake. Pastry remains a mystery to me and the last cake I made was for the Young Philosopher's 3rd birthday, a good few years ago as he is now 22!  I believe even that was from a mix I bought at the fancy cake shop where I hired the cake tins. I made it in the shape of an octopus though, so I do get creative points for that. I'd like to try making some snacks for lunchboxes for the Young Philosopher and the Prof. I have little of the relevant equipment to bake anything so may need to buy a couple of things, tins or baking paper or something (can you tell I don't know what I'm talking about?), so there's some extra expense there but will hopefully enable me to make more savings in the future. 

We should have more than enough tinned dog food (may have to get some dry dog food - she has that for breakfast), and toiletries. I have quite a stockpile of toothpaste, shampoo etc that I've bought on offer, and bubble bath/shower gel is always plentiful thanks to Christmas and birthdays. I made 10 litres of laundry liquid last week (at a saving of around £50 for about half an hour's work! Go me) so have plenty of that, too.

We are going away for a weekend later in the month. We're visiting Nottingham for a history lecture on the Friday evening and we decided to stay a couple of nights and make a weekend of it. Breakfasts are included in our hotel stay but we will be needing three lunches and two evening meals while we're away. I have money put by for this weekend so I'm not going to include it in my budget for the month for the purposes of this challenge. 

The YP got a juicer for Christmas and makes his own juices regularly, so this another expense. I don't mind, so long as all the fruit and veg I buy for this gets used, so I'll be keeping a very close eye on waste. 

At the weekends we often have lunch out, or at least a coffee somewhere while we're out and about. I don't necessarily intend to stop doing that, but I plan to have no takeaways at all during February, which should save quite a bit as we've been having one a week recently (blame my curry addiction).

Action plan:
Inventory food supplies
Write a list of meals
Find recipes to use up some random ingredients I have in stock (frozen spinach and quinoa, in particular!). I'd like to have a go at making Robyn's flapjack recipe for lunchboxes.

I'm not including the money we spent on takeaways last month, and making it a round £400 target for the month, not including the weekend away for which I've budgeted already. I think I have enough food in stock to save quite a bit of that £400. Frugal February, here I come!