Monday, 26 November 2012

Silk purse out of a sow's ear and Christmas gifting.

Thank you to all those suggestions about rescuing my rather nasty homity pie. In the end, I scooped out the rather nasty potato mush gloop and mashed it with herbs and butter to make a surprisingly nice mash, shoved it back in the pie which was beginning to resemble Frankenstein's monster, put it in the oven with some chips, and had the whole thing with peas and loads of gravy. A bit of a carb fest, but you know what? It was actually quite nice. I am certainly happy to eat up the rest of the 1 and a half pies now (sigh).

I have been trying very hard to get all of my Christmas shopping sorted before the 1st December and I am thrilled to say that I am almost there. In fact I have got all of them sorted except for one. I even started wrapping some of them this weekend. The home made Christmas pudding vodka is nicely steeping and will be ready to bottle today, I have to stir it once a day and I couldn't resist a little taste when I did that today - it is absolutely gorgeous, so tasty and I am sure everyone who is getting a bottle is really going to enjoy it.

The only person I have not bought for yet is my mum and I am not sure what I will be getting her. Also there may be one or two people who get some Christmas gift extras from the kitchen, in the form of biscuits or cakes or chocolates and I will obviously not be making these until the week of Christmas. But besides that, I am saved from the high street through December and if I play my cards right, I can do one food shop when my friend comes to stay on the 17th (it is more bearable when it is with someone to share the Christmas supermarket horrors) and that will be me done with shops through December.

I know that I am going to feel unbearably smug now when I hear others moaning about having to go to the shops on Christmas eve :-)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

It turns out that Nigella has nothing to worry about.

I do enjoy my cooking and trying new things and then sharing the yummy results with you here on my blog, but don't let that make you think that things always run quite so smoothly in my kitchen! Sometimes I have disasters!!!!!!!

Yesterday I thought that I would make a homity pie for the first time, this is a very frugal dish with onions and potatoes and cheese and in principle should be delicious.


I really did a very poor job of it, even though I followed the recipe carefully. The pastry is not that nice (as you know, pastry is not my strong suit), the potatoes were overcooked which meant that they are more of a mush (that's mush, not mash, mash would be an improvement) and the whole thing has a rather bland flavour and unpleasant consistency.

And do you know what is the worst thing:

I made two of them!

I actually just want to throw them away, but that really goes against the grain. I have frozen the little one and half of the big one (it will lurk at the bottom of the freezer now in the hope that the pie fairy will go in there and transform it into something delicious) and I will eat the remaining unfrozen part this weekend. What a prospect. I'm thinking that maybe with some chips and SMOTHERED in gravy, it might improve slightly.

Anyone any other suggestions to make this unappetising feast better?

Friday, 23 November 2012

Home made Christmas present number 1

This rather unpromising brown, sludgy liquid is, believe it or not, going to become 2 Christmas presents. I am making Christmas pudding vodka which I will decant into two 350ml pretty bottles and tie up with ribbon for 2 of my friends.
Here is the recipe.

300g mixed dried fruit
75g sugar
2 cinammon sticks
6 cloves
a teaspoon of grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons of mixed ground spice
zest of a lemon
zest of an orange
1x 700ml bottle of cheap vodka.

Most of this stuff i had in the cupboard, but the total price comes in at about £11 if you use the cheapest vocka, not bad for two Christmas presents.

Simply put all the ingredients in a bowl together and cover it with clingfilm and put it in the fridge for 3 days, stirring every day. After this drain it through muslin or a coffee filter paper and bottle in 2x350 ml sterilised bottles, prettier the better. Decorate the bottles with some ribbon and a nice label.

The great bi-product of this present is that I will use all of the alcohol infused fruit after I have finished to make some nice mincemeat - so not only a good present, but a useful one for me too!

I'll let you know how i get on with it.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Laundry liquid - the results

Well to say that I am thrilled is an understatement  It is not every 39 year old man that get's excited that home made laundry liquid actually works, but this one really does! Makes me a bit odd but who cares.
So I have tried it with first rate results. It makes the clothes come out fresh and clean and I have even tried it on a cold wash with excellent results of fresh clean clothes, no residue.
I used about an American cup size of liquid for a wash, maybe I could use less, I will experiment  but so far so good. I also used a small amount of white vinegar with it in the fabric conditioner section.
No more shop bought washing powder/liquid for me, and I can't really say why it has taken me so long to discover this in the first place!

Saturday, 17 November 2012


Today has been a nice day for baking. The sun came out late morning and was flooding into the house which was a little treat.
I wanted to try making some soft bread rolls and as the oven would be on for this, thought I would make a cake too. I've been having a few too many cakes lately, if I am not careful my waist band will be getting even tighter.
I let the bread machine make the dough, it is a good setting that I don't use enough, but it does take a good 2 hours 20. I got out the dough and shaped it into 13 rolls (not sure how it ended up 13, it was supposed to be 12) and then left them in the sun with a damp tea-towel over them to rise some more.
After an hour or so they went into a hot oven for 15 minutes. Nothing like fresh home baked bread rolls.

Then I made a couple of lemon drizzle loaves. These are so delicious, made so mostly by the drizzle. I heat up the juice of 2 lemons with 4 tablespoons of sugar and dissolve and then pour it over the two finished cakes as soon as they come out of the oven. Makes the cake lovely and sticky.

These are two fairly small cakes, one will go in the freezer for another time. I have put 7 of the bread rolls in the freezer too.

I made a frugal lamb tagine too in the slow cooker (which probably, officially means that I can't really call it a tagine).
This was just 2 lamb steaks that I had bought for £2 with a yellow label some time ago and left in the freezer, cut into pieces with a  grated onion and red pepper, an array of good Moroccan spices, can of tomatoes, some stock and some raisins, all shoved in the slow cooker and left to cook all day. It was really good and there are a couple of portions left.

 It's very 'saucy' as there wasn't much lamb in it, but there were plenty enough chunks for me. I filled the couscous with some of the herbs I have growing. It was lovely.

A great day of cooking very frugally. I am rubbish at totting up the individual prices for things, but I do know that, firstly, I didn't go out and buy a single thing for anything that I cooked today, it was all from my store cupboard and secondly that the reduced lamb was by far the most expensive ingredient used today.

I checked on my laundry liquid this morning, it has gone lovely and gloopy, just like laundry liquid should be. I am actually looking forward to my next load of washing now to check it out!

A couple of people asked me for my home made shampoo recipe, I will do a post on it soon.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Frugal laundry care

Hi folks, I thought I would get back to basics with a few more frugal tips.
Today I made laundry liquid for the first time. I have been meaning to do this for ages, but it has taken me a while to locate the ingredients.
I basically used the recipe at Sarina's Allsorts and I trust her judgement implicitly, not least, because she works for a dry cleaners and knows her clean clothes!
There are just three ingredients:

A bar of castille soap
1/2 a cup of soda crystals
1/2 a cup of borax.

Now borax was rather difficult for me to get, for the simple reason, that it is not supposed to be on sale in this country. So I made do with Borax substitute, which is supposed to do exactly the same thing.

So here is the method.
Grate the soap into a pan and add a litre of water. Heat gently stirring while the soap is dissolved. When it is fully dissolved add half a cup of soda crystals and half a cup of borax or borax substitute and stir it all up until fully dissolved.

 Pour into a bucket and add 4 litres of water.

Whisk it up thoroughly together (or use a stick blender if you have one) and then decant into suitable containers. Leave a good bit of the space in the top of the containers so you can shake it up before use as it has a tendency to ‘settle’.

This whole process took me no time at all and made 5 litres of laundry liquid. It will last a very long time and has cost me so little money, probably about 60p. I have plenty left of all the ingredients to make more time and time again, so this is one of the most frugal recipes I have come across.

Sarina reckons to use about one American cup load in a full wash so I will experiment a bit with it over the next few washes and let you know how I get on.

As I say, I trust Sarina’s judgement on cleaning clothes and I know that it will be kinder to clothes, kinder to skin and kinder to the environment. Good stuff all around.

I already use white vinegar as a conditioner in the wash and may just add some drops of essential oil for a nice scent too.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Avoiding the hell of December on the high street.

I want all my Christmas shopping done by the 1st December if possible, not that I have a huge amount.
I can't bear the shops in December and I am determined to avoid them all together if possible (who am I kidding, I hate shopping 12 months of the year and generally would rather eat sawdust). The hardest people for me to get things for are the little people, my 5 nieces and nephews. Well I went with the option of books this year. They all seem to accept that they often get something slightly odd from their mad uncle Dan, so this year, I am trying to encourage the joy of reading. For me books are a huge part of my life, I always have a book on the go and it gives me the greatest pleasure. I can't possibly compete with people who buy the kids x-box games, nor would I want to, but I am more than happy to encourage a good reading habit.
I know a great website for very cut price children's books, and they often have whole sets of 5 or 6 books for under a tenner. Also, if you are signed up to them, they regularly have free postage events, so with a bit of patience I have all but one of the children sorted for very little money and with good books that I think they will enjoy.
Everyone else in my life is getting some sort of home made present from me this year, I need to sit down and make a plan of the food/drink/chutneys/jams that I wish to make. I don't believe in leaving myself broke at Christmas like so many people seem to and I am firm believer that a well thought out, well made present goes down very well, I always enjoy something like that if it is given to me.
Christmas is an odd time, after the initial thrill of being a child at Christmas wore off, I went through a stage where it just made me cross. Now I feel like I have found a way to enjoy it, switch my brain off when any of the Christmas adverts come on - especially the sofa adverts (what is it about needing a new sofa in time for Christmas?), keep the idea of a fun and frugal Christmas well in my head, and look forward to sharing nice home cooked food and home made drinks with good friends and family to celebrate this happy season.
My mum is a bit of a difficult one, because she deserves something really nice and I haven't decided what yet. It is also her birthday on New Years Eve and I am sure that she has suffered many times over the years with people forgetting it until the last possible moment and then rushing out to buy a bunch of flowers, although I have always tried to do something special, funds allowing.
I am looking forward to decorating my house for the festive season for the very first time. I have sourced a few holly bushes, although none with berries yet (I don't know if they come later in the season) and I am going to try and make a wreath for the door, something like the one in the picture above would be nice.
So, this weekend I am going to make a final definite list of what, if anything, I still need to get in order to prepare for the festive season and avoid the hellish madness that is the high street in December.
I hope all your plans are going well.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Doing well with my water works.

I am happy today. I got my water bill and it is a good one. 6 months of water has only cost me £94 so that would be £188 a year if I keep up in the same way.

I am on a water meter and am rather careful about my usage because I know people on meters whose water is twice or more this. I have a short shower every morning - 4 or 5 minutes, try to wash up only once a day, in the evening, use a glass of water when I brush my teeth, and attempt to only use the washing machine once or twice a week at most. Washing machines are the biggest users of water I reckon with any wash cycle using between 45 and 55 litres of water. I don't put a jumper or shirt in the wash if I have worn in once, I get as much use out of it as possible before it is washed and then just a bit more. I have no dripping taps in my house - apparently a dripping tap can waste as much as a litre of water an hour!

Water is a wonderful thing, it comes out of the tap, clean with no effort on my part, compared with people having to draw it from wells or pumping it in the past, so I don't mind paying for it, but I am not prepared to waste it. I still know people who leave taps running and waste huge amounts, or put the washing machine on every day for 4 items.

I haven't had to use much water in watering my garden this year thanks to the very rainy summer, but next year I will get a water butt or two so that this won't be a problem even if we have a dry summer.

Now of course I am challenging myself to use even less over the next 6 months. let's see how I do.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I look forward to......

Things are interesting around here, everything has altered within the cottage, spare room is sorted, garage is tidy and loft is a great storage area. Interestingly it changes the whole dynamic of the house - the house gets organised and I want all the other areas of my life organised now. I find it easy to get side-tracked with things like DIY and to stop concentrating on other important areas of life but now that that has all stopped, time to get serious.

When I moved in, I planted a rose up the front of the house. I did my research carefully and got the right rose for the location, a North facing wall. It has exceeded my expectations by firmly establishing itself, proving that a little research goes a very long way, as this tiny little plant, that has never felt the suns rays has flourished and given me that first rose growing up the cottage walls. I have marked my progress along side the progress of this rose and we have both achieved a lot this year!

This little rose (Zepherine Drouhin) has become:

this wonderful climber. No blooms on it right now, although there are still some buds on the top, but it has produced beautifully all year!

I originally started this blog as a diary of how I was changing my life from busy Londoner who was very unhappy with everything about life, to quiet country dweller with an eye for a bargain and a strong back to do any work myself. I think that I can well and truly say that I have achieved that original goal. This time last year I was just at that stressful part of the process where the purchase of this house was about to go through and I was having those niggling little doubts about whether or not I was doing the right thing, I think there is no question at all that I was! A lot has been achieved, sadly a lot of money has been spent, but fortunately, thanks to me doing much of the work myself, not nearly as much was spent as could have been in turning these bricks and morter into a safe, warm, happy place to live. Now that needs to come to an end. No more spending is the order of the day, certainly until I get my working life sorted out. Back to organised budgeting and ruthless organisation. Nothing much needs urgently doing in the house, the garden is put away until Spring, Christmas is pretty much sorted and I won't be spending much anyhow as I want a traditional Christmas on a shoestring, where friends and family are the most important aspects. I have learnt and inspired by many people on blogs to try my own Christmas cake, or to make presents, or Christmas cards etc.

I have learnt many many new skills this year and I want to learn more and more in the future. There is nothing like 'having a go' to make you learn something, even if you make a hash of it, but in the end, I didn't fall through the loft floor into the room below, my bed and my bench didn't fall apart when I sat on them, I didn't cut my fingers off when I used the circular saw (thank goodness) or electrocute myself putting up new light fittings and I didn't poison myself with any new recipes I tried. So that spurs me on and gives me confidence to maybe try some new skills next year.

If there is one disappointment, it is how badly my vegetables all did this year - I don't think that I am alone in this however, just not a great year for growing. I would like to do better next and take inspiration from lots of your blogs, especially green fingered Elaine, who I think is a marvel.

I look forward to what comes next and all it will bring, I look forward to simple pleasures, like seeing my virgin garden flourish, now that the plants will begin to start establishing themselves. I look forward to trying new recipes, sharing home cooked food with friends, I look forward to Christmas with  my very good friend and I look forward to sharing all of this with you all.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Do it yourself - save loads.

I've been at it again! Seem to be on some sort of DIY roll.

You may remember me contemplating how nice it would be to have some sort of bench to sit out on, during the few nice days of the year. I kept my eyes on freecycle but nothing much appeared and I did look at the ones to buy new, but they were either completely out of my price range, or cheaper but made of such crap quality that they would probably only last a season of bad weather.

So I decided to have a go at making something. I had some wood in the garage and it is wood left over from the decking, so would be perfect for something that needs to survive in all weathers. I had a fence post too, which would do good solid legs.

Oh such joy to be able to work in my clear, clean garage!

So first things first, circular saw out (never knew how useful this would be when I bought it over 10 years ago) and measurements made and I cut down all the wood to the sizes I thought would work.

As usual I was sort of making it up as I went along. I cut the fence post into four, 17 inch long pieces to  make the legs. Cut a thick decking plank in half to make the seat and another length for a cross piece to keep it solid.

Fixed together the 4 legs and then attached a piece to join them together, this just keeps the thing rigid and makes it so it won't collapse under me.

Attached the 2 pieces of decking upside down, because I wanted the smooth side rather than the ridged side, don't want lines along my bottom after sitting on there!
Since this photo was taken, I oiled it in decking oil to keep it a little waterproof and give it some more lasting qualities. Every time I oil the deck, I will oil the bench too.

I am pleased with it, it fits 2 people very comfortably. I will still keep my eyes open for benches on freecycle, because there is room for another on the deck and it would be nice to be able to fit 4 people on there, but for now, this will do me perfectly and cost me nothing. Don't know why I didn't think of it before!

Thank you to all yesterdays comments. Most people seem completely on my wave length!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

How I cook part 2 - Shopping and cooking.

So following on from yesterday when I showed you my full store cupboard today I move on to part 2.

I know that a lot of you frugal types swear by menu plans. I am fully behind this idea and know that it makes a lot of sense and makes sure you only ever buy what is needed for that week and nothing goes to waste.

Having said that I don't really do this myself.

First things first, I always write a shopping list. Firstly because I invariably forget what I need and also because it stops aimless browsing in the supermarket, which is when the danger of impulse buys takes over. Also it is a much quicker way of shopping and I like to get in and out in record time, life is too short to spend it in supermarkets.

I have a very bad memory for what is on my list, but a very good memory for what I have in the house, what I have in the freezer and fridge and I know the meals I like and what goes a long way. If it comes to stuff that actually has a sell by date that you need to adhere to, such as fish or chicken, then I will buy these things either knowing when I am going to cook it, or at least knowing that I am putting it in the freezer for a future date.

So the first thing that I do when going shopping is making a list. I start by putting all the things that are on my blackboard at the top and then I think about any specific occasions, ie, if I have a guest for dinner at any point or something like that, if so, what I am going to make.
Next I will think about the meals that I fancy that week and go through anything that I may not have in already. Hopefully I have most of the ingredients and only need a handful here and there. This way, I find that I can often get my weekly shop down to as little as £10 unless I happen to need a lot of things that I have run out of. Rarely will it go over £20 and often I find that I have managed to get two weeks worth of food because I had enough in the stock pile anyway. I am lucky in that I only have myself to feed, so I am flexible, this is one reason why a specific menu plan is not really necessary for me, I think when there is more than one person in the equation menu plans are really important.

I am also very very happy to eat the same thing more than one night running, even 3 nights running is fine by me. Well why not? If I like it enough to cook it, then I certainly like it enough to eat it more than one night on the trot. I don't always eat like a king, sometimes some cheese and biscuits or beans on toast will do me. It is never very difficult to throw some pasta and make a quick tomato sauce and this really does cost penny's.

The final thing to do when I shop is to make my way to the reduced section aisle. Here it is easy to be swayed by something you don't necessarily need and sometimes the savings are not that great, 30p off something that cost £2.50 is not a brilliant saving, £2 off is. It is easy to fall back into impulse buying in the reduced section, so important to keep your head on. On the other hand, if it is something like good reductions on meat, then I am happy to come completely off the shopping list and stock up the freezer for next month. Spending now can mean savings next month.

So this is my shopping routine. This way, shopping is quick, cheap and efficient.

When I cook, I don't really generally cook for one, I cook as though it is for many people and then portion it up. That way I have, in effect, created ready meals for myself. A pasta sauce will be divided into individual portions, one portion may go in the fridge for tomorrow, and the other portions in the freezer, labeled for another time. When I made a batch of shepherds pie the other day, I ate one portion, put two in the fridge which I had on the following two days, and put one in the freezer wrapped in foil and labeled. It is still there now, just like a ready meal. 30 minutes or so in the oven and it is ready to eat. Home made, good ingredients but no effort. My freezer has in it some bolognaise sauces, tomatoe sauces, home made pork burgers, ready to throw in a frying pan, fish portions, stews and a lasagne. Sometimes I will buy a whole cooked chicken and just strip all the meat off, put it in little bags of portions size and pull them out to add to a stirfry or something like that. I usually have spring onions in the fridge, so I will fry them up with some chicken and any veg I have lying around, make a quick sauce from peanut butter (value size) soy, honey, garlic and chilli and have it with noodles or rice. Really this sort of meal costs pence to put together and takes about 10 minutes to make.

I am also a make-do-and-cook sort of bloke, if I haven't got an ingredient that is either expensive, out-of-stock, or impractical, ie, hasn't got many future uses, then I will substitute. Herbs are a good example. I have growing rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley and mint, and will happily substitute one of these herbs for something that recipe asks for, no way am I buying a little pack of herbs that will soon go off for 90p when I have good herbs in the garden. If it is something that comes up again and again, then I will think about growing it instead.

I especially keep a strict eye on the items in my fridge. I can always tell you what is in there and about how many days it has left. I absolutely will not waste anything, I take it as a personal failure if something goes off. Celery was a good one for this. Often I would need some to make something, but only need 2 sticks or so. I would find that the rest of it would molder away and go nasty. Not any more. I decided that freezing it in portion sized bags was worth a try, and you know what? it works like a dream. I now have portions of celery in the freezer for making a stew or bolognaise, of something like that. Waste is not an option.

Well I hope that you enjoyed this little insight into how I live my culinary life. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy experimenting with flavours and learning what goes together. I eat very well but I really don't spend a fortune, far from it, on average about £40 to £60 a month, sometimes much much less and rarely much more. My stock pile of food has taken since last January to get to where it is now, just by buying extra tins of things here and there etc. I use value products for the most part, unless I think that they are seriously substandard, I bake my own bread for only a very small amount of money per loaf and I don't expect to eat masses of completely different, exciting meals every day. Simple is the key and being organised.

Today I did more DIY, I seem to be on a roll. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, 9 November 2012

How I cook, part 1 - Store cupboard (repost)

I can’t tell you how often I have heard someone say: ‘Oh I can’t be bothered cooking much when it is just for me’.
I have to tell you, if I couldn’t be bothered to cook when it was just for me, then I would either starve or live on ready meals because I eat by myself 80% of the time.

I thought I would do a series on how I cook on a day to day basis.  How I plan and organise.

How I stock my kitchen.

In a way, this is one of the most important bits. It is no good if every time you need to make a meal - whether it be a special one for friends, a family one, or one just for yourself – if you have to go out and buy all the ingredients. Sometimes you may have to add one or two things but often times a lot, if not all the ingredients should be in your store.

This is a quick tour of my stores:

These are my every day bottles. It may look like chaos, but it is organised chaos. Among other things, I have extra virgin olive oil for salads, sesame oil for stir fry, carotina oil for regular cooking and regular sunflower oil for when the occasion needs it. There is red and white wine vinegar and sometimes some balsamic or cider vinegar, depending on what I have in. today there is some pickling vinegar left over from the red cabbage I pickled the other day (future post). There is a half bottle of rum that I have had for about 6 years, which is currently feeding my Christmas cake once a week and a bottle of port and a bottle of vermouth. I use this in place of wine in recipes. I never drink wine, so I never have any in, but I do like cooking with it, but would never bother to buy a bottle just for that. I find that vermouth and port in place of white or red wine, are really useful, because they don't go off however long they have been open and a bottle of vermouth cost me about £4.50 last time I bought it.There are various other bottles all of which get used fairly regularly, but they rarely need replacing, because all are used in such small quantities.

I always have eggs in although they are a little depleted at the moment because of a lot of recent cake baking activity. They are so useful to have, as I can always make an omelette if I can't think of anything else, or egg sandwiches. Means I can always make cakes too.

More bottles, malt vinegar, lemon and lime juice, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, pastas, sugar (white and demarara).

One of my regular tins cupboard. I have jars of pesto in, always, tins of tuna, tins of tomatoes, coconut milk (in case I want to make a thai curry) and tins of sweetcorn (for whenever).

My main baking cupboard. Always have all flours - Strong white, strong wholemeal, corn, self raising, plain, plus all herb and spice jars. Yeast, syrup etc.

This is my overflow baking cupboard for sugars, beans,pulses and things like couscous. In the top right is my Christmas cake, yumm.

And last but by no means least is my storage cupboard out in the garage. I use this for extra tins of things like beans, tomatoes, tuna. Also spare pasta and UHT milk in case I run out of fresh. The jar of cooking sauce at the bottom was rescued from a friend because it is beyond it's use by date! My jars of red cabbage, pickled onions and cherry brandy are maturing nicely in here too.

So this is my stock of food. If I have meat in the freezer, vegetables in the fridge I can whip up anything at any time, without having to go to the shops. In fact, I could go a very long time without going to the shops anyway. My freezer is very well stocked, but I try to go through it so things don't lurk at the bottom for years (I am quite rubbish at this, but I do try).

The last thing to show you is my blackboard. As soon as I am running low on something I write on here and put the stuff on it at the top of my shopping list when I go to the shops. If it is something like tins of tomatoes, I will probably buy 4 or more. That was I never run out of anything in my store cupboard.

So that is how I run my kitchen! A well stocked cupboard means you are less likely to run out of food and turn to ready meals or take out.

Next time is all about how I shop. Hope you enjoyed the tour of my kitchen. X

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Autumn Clean.

My burst of sudden strength and energetic activity has come to a stop. I have done lots this last couple of week and I must say it has taken it's toll on my right arm, my wrist and forearm has been sore the last couple of days, probably from gripping hammers and drills and lifting heavy things up ladders into the loft. Still, my garage is looking lovely, I have sorted out the leaking washing machine (for some inexplicable reason the hose had perished and was pouring water out), sorted the spare room out, built a bed, floored the loft, wrapped up my plant pots for winter, tidied the garden, cleared the leaves and generally got the house looking clean and tidy throughout, what you may call a good Autumn clean. I think it is safe to say, I have done what needs to be done for now and can rest easy.

I now have the pleasure of browsing all the seed catalogues that have been delivered recently and can plan what I would like to grow next year, both veg and flowers. So many possibilities. I am a naturally organised soul and like to plan what I am going to sow and where I am going to sow it, but I like the result to look haphazard. I can't wait!

I am going to see someone today about possibly doing their garden on a potentially regular basis, I think this would be a nice little extra earner if it works and perhaps I can get more than one person and build up a day of it eventually. I would certainly enjoy it and it would be a nice second string as they say. We will see. I am not sure it is safe to only have one profession these days, unless it happens to be a very safe one. My own is not, so the more I can diversify the better.

If I sometimes feel melancholy, it is because I don't like to be unsettled and my life is a little unsettled at the moment, to say the least. BUT, at the same time, it is humming with possibilities and I hope to be on the brink of something new and interesting.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

My Embarrassing Secret

Hello everyone,
Well you have seen me slowly turn my rundown cottage into a real home, you have seen me paint and decorate, build beds, floor a loft, transform a garden and generally begin to enjoy my home here in the country.

But among all of these lovely things I had an embarrassing secret that I just was too ashamed to ever talk about.

 MY GARAGE!!!!!!

Here is why I was so ashamed of it:

It was a serious dumping ground of Crap with a capital C. It was virtually impossible to walk from end to end without risking life and limb on some strewn garden implement of death and absolutely impossible to find anything.

Opening the freezer always meant moving countless things and as for trying to find anything at the bottom of the freezer, well it was virtually impossible because there was nowhere to put anything that I got out. I had to move things before I could use the washing machine and generally I hated having to step foot in here.
The floor was littered with bits of wood shavings and dust from the various DIY jobs I did (don't even ask how I managed to work in there while sawing wood etc) and this would all get walked into the house, every time I went in, meaning I had to then vacuum the house.

My enormous collection of tools was all thrown in a heap and trying to find the right spanner for a job because a task of such magnitude that I often gave up.

My original idea of piling boxes on top of each other, a bit like shelves, clearly hadn't worked as they had all collapsed on top of each other, spewing out a multitude of contents everywhere!

Today, I decided was the day to solve my troubles and sort out all the crap.

Let's start by getting the plant pots sorted. One box of seed pots and trays, one of individual small pots and then the larger ones together in another. At least I can find what I need there now.

The tools was a job I nearly gave up on, it was so hideous to do. I can't say it is perfect, but at least I am in with a chance to find the right tool for the right job now, sort of.

Finally I can walk from one end to the other and, although it may not be perfect (my friend called it 'a man's garage, with everything shoved to the sides) at least I am no longer ashamed if someone sees it. Everything is together in sections, tools and plant pots on the right, garden tools, spare wood and lawn mower and strimmer on the left, with some ladders and buckets etc.

Wow, I can get to the washing machine and freezer without breaking a leg.

They're clean too.

I can't quite escape my obsession with keeping old bottles though! Well you never know when they may be useful? (lots of lovely, free Champagne up there for Christmas time).

Of course, every silver lining has a cloud. My loft now looks like this:

Monday, 5 November 2012

I've been a clever boy again!

More DIY ing today.

Now that I have cleared my spare room by getting a lot of the excess into the new loft space I wanted to get a spare bed for guests. Obviously I didn't really want to buy one! I had a matress that I had aquired for free, but it wasn't really nice to just have a matress on the floor in there.

I looked into bed bases but the cheapest one I found that would fit was £65 and said 'suitable for children or light adults', to me that says, will fall apart in 3 months.

I was a bit hampered by having too much in the room and was running on a very exact amount of room for the bed, one cm over here and there and it wouldn't have fitted.

So I did the best thing I could in the circumstances and made one myself.

It needed to fit in the corner by the wardrobe so I took very careful measurements and made a nice simple design that I thought I could follow myself and so took myself off to the shop to buy some wood. I had some in the garage so just needed a few extra bits.

Spent the first half of the afternoon cutting up the lengths of wood to the right size and beginning to assemble them in the way I thought would work.

It was a lovely sunny day, so I had the doors open and had breaks outside on the deck.

I had a nosy visitor mid-afternoon.

Made it in two halves so that it is easy to move about (unlike so many beds). Here it the first half with legs on.

In position. Perfect fit.

Second half made and a job well done. It is very very solid and will take more than a child or small adult.

Ready for visitors. It's very comfortable too.

All together it cost me £35 so as a single bed base, made to measure, not bad going at all and a lot less than buying one would have cost me.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Preparing for winter.

Thank you so much everyone for your lovely comments about the singing clip I posted on here on Saturday, very kind of you all and much appreciated.

Now back to reality.

You may remember in an old post that I was lucky enough to get a whole load of great plant pots for free on freecycle. I still think that this is one of the most fortunate things I have ever received for free and they have mostly been used for one plant or another over the course of the summer, saving me a ton. Now winter is coming and I want both the plants and the pots to survive any hard frosts. So with just a couple of pounds and an hours work I have winter proofed them all and, I think anyway, made them quite pretty at the same time.

The hessian sacking was £2 and underneath there is a layer of bubble wrap that cost me £1.90. Hopefully this will winter proof the pots and protect the roots.
I will put on a mulch over the next few days and maybe decorate with a few pine cones.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

For one night only....

Not really, but it was a good title.

I had a few requests yesterday started by lovely Ilona to show a video of me singing some opera. OK, so I am not naturally a show off (which is strange considering the job I am in), so I thought about this for a while and then in the end thought, what the hell, if people don't like it, too bad. I don't have a video that I am prepared to share, but I do have a soundtrack.
Normally I would make 1000 excuses as to why this or that top note wasn't quite right, or why I don't like this bit, or why my Italian sucked, but I will refrain on this occasion.
I will however apologise for the honky tonk, wild west quality of the piano, it was one of those concerts where we turned up and having been promised a decent piano, found that it was truly dreadful, nothing you can do.

Anyway, enough excuses, here it is.

This is me and Catriona Clark Soprano singing the very romantic duet from Pagliacci by Leoncavallo.  I've done this role twice, but this was just a concert performance a couple of years ago. Catriona has been my onstage wife in lots of productions of various operas and has become a very close friend, so it is nice to sing something so lovely with her.

The characters, Silvio and Nedda are very much in love and he is trying to persuade her to leave her husband and run away with him and she begs him not to tempt her. After an outburst of anger in which he accuses her of not really loving him, he sings a a quiet aria (about 3.45 minutes  into the clip) telling her how she has changed his life and awoken love in him. She relents and they sing of their love, planning to run away together later that night.

As is the way in opera of course, things don't run quite to plan and at the end the husband finds out and stabs them both to death in the last minute of the opera. Not exactly a barrel of laughs in the end.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Bulk cooking and a haircut.

Yesterday was cold and blustery and not much of a day for going out. However, I was beginning to resemble caveman and gave myself a scare when I looked in the mirror.

So I took myself off to the Barbers. Poor woman, there have been roadworks outside her shop for 3 months and she is hugely losing business, there is nowhere to park so she says she has lost lots of her pensioners and is now having to dip into her savings. It really isn't fair, particularly as when I left, the men were all either having a cuppa or picking their nose.

Anyway, one severe haircut later and I am back to my former beauty and feel ready to go out again:

Last night I had a bulk cooking session. I was inspired by Froogs in her post here, just how far she makes her minced beef stretch. I thought, if she can do it, so can I.

I had slightly more beef to play with as I had bought a 645gm pack while it was reduced in ASDA the other day. Can't remember what I paid but I think it was just over £2 I decided to use half to make a bolognaise and half to make a meat and potato pie.

Got them both started on the stove but then once the bolognaise was all browned and bubbling I transfered it to my slow cooker.

I got 6 good sized portions out of this, 5 of which are now in the freezer and one in the fridge to be eaten over the next few days. When my brother was over this weekend he had brought with him a bottle of red wine, so I used what was left in the sauce to make it rich, tastes good.

The second half was used to make a meat and potato pie, from my granny's old recipe, always a favourite with me.

I am seriously not the best pastry maker. This is not too bad for me, but my rolling out leaves a lot to be desired. The final result is that the pastry tore in the oven slightly and it looks a real sight. But who cares, it tasted very good and I am slowly improving at it.

I hadn't judged the pastry quantity very well and had some left over. Rolled it out to see how much and found it would fit this case:

So I decided on a quick quiche as the oven would be on for the pie anyway. Used lots of store cupboard bits and bobs, a tin of tuna and some olives, some cheese, 3 eggs and some milk (didn't have cream) and some onions which I cooked slowly until they were a caramel colour.

This will do a lunch or 3 (depending on my greed)

I love baking something off the cuff with some leftovers like this. I had no intention of making a quiche when I started cooking, but for very little money I have a few lunches sorted.

Bulk cooking is definitely the way to make things stretch. In the past I would probably have used all the mince for one thing and not stretched it out with veg and other things quite so much, but instead I have 9 meals out of one pack of mince and 3 meals out of some leftover pastry. I don't know the cost, because I am rubbish at adding up the cost of all the different bits and pieces, but as I didn't need to go out and buy one single thing for all of this, it was all storecupboard ingredients, I know it was a very cheap set of 12 meals.