...seen through a slightly smudged, secondhand pair of rose-tinted glasses

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Tales of the unexpected

It’s been quite a journey, writing a craft book - a hilly, exhilerating, exhausting hike of a journey. With a scatter of rocky patches. 

The last couple of weeks have been full on: weighty time pressure - the book’s released in August, but I hadn’t fully appreciated that it actually goes to print months before. Like now.  

So, lots of early mornings and late nights. Lots of deep breathing. Everything else pushed to the sidelines - I’ve still had to do all the stuff in the sidelines, I just haven’t done it particularly well. 
You know when you’re driving, and you get to where you’re going and can’t really remember how you got there? I’ve had quite a few school runs like that. Head lost in a cloud of cardboard cut-outs. But I’m out the other side now; nothing more to do apart from trust and pray everything’s okay. I’ve been willing this time to come, and now it’s here I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

Working flat out has had its advantages though - it’s stopped me thinking about the other major bit of news - that my husband is going off on tour again. And there was me, thinking the last one was the last one. Should have known better. Army life never pans out the way you think. 
So, now my priorities have to change. I’ve got to find ways to simplify things; take some of the pressure off - stay sane basically. 
They’re good kids, our three, but I haven’t found that older means easier. Certainly not when you’re on your own. Yes, they’re more independent and able to do things for themselves, (if they can be bothered), but they can also be argumentative, grumpy, lazy and difficult. Challenging in a word. And challenging is hard when you’re tired and there’s no one to share with. We’re all used to him being away during the week, but weekends are a bit of a game-changer. 

Anyway, not the best time ever to start a new kids craft blog. Not just because of impending changes at home, but also because I don’t want to go near another egg box for a while... I’ve got a few things made already, but I’m half-minded to put them on here; to reorganise this blog and stick to what I know. Doesn’t feel like the right moment to start something new.
Keep things simple. Make space. Deep breaths.

Friday, 13 March 2015

A frugal feast

I keep peering hopefully in the fridge, which is a bit mad.
Last day of the Challenge though, and even with an empty, echoey fridge, no one's gone hungry.
I thought I'd quickly whisk through how we've managed to stretch out our £15 supplies this week.

One of the first things I made was a tomato sauce, using the tinned toms, onion, sugar and a squeeze of ketchup (plus the end of a carton of passata). Very handy for pizzas and pasta, and I'm hanging on to what's left for the grand finale pizzas tonight.

Bread. Such a joy. We wouldn't have got through the week without homemade bread. I mixed the plain cheaper flour I bought with half a bag of strong white and some wholewheat flour from the cupboard. Worked a treat I've got to say. One kilo for each batch - enough for two decent sized, (flattish-looking) loaves. I did all the kneading before school pick up, and by the time we got home they'd risen, and were ready for the oven. Warm bread with a (rationed) slither of butter. So good.

The oat cookies kept the kids happy on the way home from school. We all decided they were better than my usual ones; probably because the porridge oats from Lidl are a bit finer than the oats I normally use. 39p a bag too - definitely be buying those again.

AND the 30p a bar dark chocolate. Of course no one noticed a change in the brownies; they disappeared just as quickly. No cries of, 'Mummy, I simply can't eat brownies with such a low cocoa content!'
Can you imagine.

A few spoonfuls of mango chutney livened up the mild chicken curry, so that's worth doing again too. We could have managed without splashing out 40p on rice - we didn't use much and I had a little left in the cupboard. The 40p could have gone towards getting some more milk…. I had to buy extra after the 10 year old (the only milk drinker) knocked the bottle over at breakfast. I hate cleaning milk off the floor, especially at 6.30 in the morning.

Making pancakes is another thing I don't really want to be doing at 6.30 in the morning - but the kids loved them, and for about 10 minutes I was the best mum ever.

The gnocchi was a revelation. I've never made it before - there only appears to be 3 basic ingredients (potato, flour, egg), but, frustratingly, ever recipe I found was different. So, I just mashed some spud, added an egg and mixed in flour until it looked sort of like dough. It was messy- even messier than my bread making, which is saying something, but everybody liked it. Even the fussy one.

I suppose I've missed fruit and a bit of green - our meals have been a rather samey yellowy orange colour… you've probably noticed. But we've all had plenty to eat; it's just meant more planning and more making for me. I've liked being one step ahead - though, as I've learnt from previous years, not quite enough to change my bumbling-along ways!

Still, I've picked up a few useful ideas and we've raised money for Comic Relief, so that's all good.

Fish and chips tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

New blog up and running…

…sort of…

Can't tell a lie, I've found setting up Jumble Tree really frustrating. Just don't seem to be able to remember how to do it! Or add the bits I want… I badly need to spend a few hours with a kind, patient blogger - who can also put me straight on things like Google+ and Twitter (and all the others). Still gripped by fear anytime a message pops up asking if I want to link in my email contacts. Please no! I'm not even sure who's on my email contacts list, but I do know quite a few of them aren't going to want to hear about the latest thing I've made out of an egg box.

So, Jumble Tree is a work in progress! Fairly basic at the moment, but hopefully the content is there - and if you are keen on crafts for kids, I'll be posting regularly - and making some sneak preview projects from my first book, which is due out in August.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Let them eat bread….Day 3

One of the things I said after the last Challenge was I'd try to make bread a least once a week; but as time trundled on, that good intention slipped away to join all the others... So I felt a bit rusty when I made the first batch on Friday - though got stuck right into the dough pummelling… hadn't been the best week ever.

Of course as soon as I took the bread out of the oven and that tempting fresh-baked smell wafted around the kitchen, I had a groundhog 'been here before' moment: Why don't I do this more often? The kids love it - in fact it's how we get through the Challenge week, because my fussy, FUSSY eater would happily munch bread until it comes out of his ears, which is pretty much what I'm letting him do right now. He won't eat spuds, and can be tricky about pasta and rice, and vegetable have to be heavily disguised. So, bread often saves the day. It's not ideal, I know, but I've spent too many years stressing about it. Now I just go with the flow and try to get a bit of goodness into him. Thankfully he seems to like carrots...

The first few days have gone pretty well I think, but I've lulled everyone into a false sense of security by giving them plenty to eat - cheese and ham pizza, garlic pizza, soup, bread, pasta, a roast dinner, more bread - even stodge pudding!

A few extras I swiped: finished off a bag of peas, the end of a tin of golden syrup and some flat cider I've been holding onto for ages. I'll use up the split lentils left in the cupboard too. No point buying another bag.

Just have to keep things ticking along through the week now. A lot more making and baking for me...

Breakfast   homemade bread/coco pops/porridge
Lunch         penne arrabiata/baked potato and cheese
Dinner        cheese and ham pizza, garlic pizza/chocolate mousse

Breakfast   homemade bread/coco pops/boiled egg
lunch          carrot, lentil and cumin soup with cider bread/ peach muffins
Dinner        roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, peas and gravy/stodge pudding

Breakfast    peachy porridge/coco pops/homemade bread
Dinner         pesto pasta with grated carrot and cheese/peach muffins

Breakfast     boiled egg and soldiers/coco pops/porridge
Dinner          mild chicken curry with rice/ oat cookies

Breakfast     pancakes
Dinner          homemade gnocchi with pesto and grated cheese/carrot muffins

Breakfast     peachy porridge/ bread/coco pops
Dinner          cheese frittata with spicy(ish) potato wedges/chocolate brownies

Breakfast     possibly pancakes…or bread/porridge/coco pops
Dinner          margarita pizza, garlic bread pizza/baked potato/chocolate

The kids have school dinners and are under strict instructions to fill their boots. The first year we did the Challenge I had to make them packed lunches as well - not sure how I managed that on twelve quid. Though to be fair, they didn't eat quite as much as they do now.

I'll be having a lot of soup.

Friday, 6 March 2015

£15 Charity Challenge - The List

Yep, I never learn… Not a great deal of interest in basically starving your family for a week. Funny enough. It's a hard sell! Though I have managed to persuade a great friend here to keep me company. So, no longer a team of one

I've been better organised this year and had a bit more time to shop around, which helped squeeze every penny out of the £15 grocery budget (not losing sleep over the extra 10p...)

I park the car in the Marks and Spencer's car park at the bottom of town every morning and walk the kids to school (to avoid the horrendous traffic and stay sane) - so, I often wander through the shop to get back to the car…which isn't the most sensible thing to do when you're hungry. Or when you're not, to be honest. I'm pretty good though, considering - and because I'm there just about every day I've picked up some great bargains. Always scanning for yellow labels. My best find this week was a 300g block of Ayrshire cheese reduced to a pound. Looks interesting, and it's going to come in handy over the next 7 days…

So, apart from finishing off a few stray tomatoes, half a cucumber, 2 slices of ham, a little butter and some soft looking apples left in the fridge, this is what we'll be eating.

Doesn't look like much, does it…
The only thing missing from the photo are the chocolate mousse/mousses?  Mousses sounds wrong somehow - anyway, 18p for four - not bad.

Chicken                           £3.04
Flour 3kg                         £0.90
15 eggs                             £1.19
sugar                                £0.49
tinned tomatoesx2            £0.62
porridge oats                    £0.39
rice                                   £0.40
pasta 500gx2                    £0.58
milk 4pts                           £0.89
butter                                £0.86
potatoes  2.5kg                 £1.00 (half price offer)
choco pops cereal             £0.83
3xonions                           £0.22
carrots 1kg                        £0.53
tinned peaches                  £0.50
4xchoc mousse                 £0.18
pesto                                 £0.88
chocolate 100g x2            £0.60
Marks and Spencers
Ayrshire cheese                £1.00

Total                                £15.10

I'll post our meal plan at the weekend.

Off to make some bread!

Monday, 2 March 2015

St David's Day cosy

This is Gwen - she likes Tom Jones, hill walking and brandy alexanders.

I raced to get her finished yesterday for St David's Day, but didn't quite manage.
Gwen has a slightly lopsided grin and extremely large hands, but apart from that she turned out pretty much the way I hoped.
She's joined the small, merry band of Saints' Day egg cosies that live on our mantelpiece.

I've thought about making more to sell at Fairs, but they take ages, and I'm not sure there's much of a market for novelty egg cosies??

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Would you?….The Charity Challenge returns

It's almost that time again, when the kids make a fair bit of fuss… yep, it's the good old £12 Charity Challenge! When I slash the weekly shop to just a few pounds a day for 7 days. Not just for the hell of it, but for charity. The rest of the money usually spent on groceries will be going to Comic Relief.

Now, last year, it all went quiet when I asked if anyone fancied joining me…Very quiet. And because I never learn, I thought I'd try again - but give a bit more notice this time (the Challenge week starts on 7th March and ends on the 13th, Red Nose Day), AND increase the amount from £12 to £15, to see if that might encourage a few takers?


Ah, go on…

Can I just say though, if you don't fancy the £15 bit, then please, don't be put off - any cutback in the shop that week and a small donation, would be fantastic. At the end of the day it's all for a great cause.

And if you do fancy the Challenge bit, don't feel you have to jump in at the deep end. Why not look at it as a perfect week to use up food that's been lurking in the dark recesses of your kitchen cupboard, or an opportunity to make a bit of space in the freezer?

But I'm a right old stickler for my made up, totally self imposed, slightly bonkers rules. So, no freezer/cupboard dipping here, and only a few cupboard basics allowed, if I have them - otherwise the 4 of us (5 at weekends) really do live on the £15 shop for that week. And as weird as this might possibly sound, I do almost enjoy it. It appeals to my frugal side: the side that likes making do, using up leftovers and inventing meals from not very much. Some of my meal inventions haven't been great mind you, but when they work, well that's a good feeling.

Remember though, NO ONE'S LOOKING. So, if you're interested in the Challenge, do what suits you. It's primarily about raising money for charity, not raising stress levels!

This is our 4th year, so if you'd like to have a look at some of our past shopping lists or menus, there's some herehere and here. Last time we went veggie for the week too, which was totally fine for me, but not that brilliant for the kids. Fussy little blighters. Anyway, back to making a few meals from a roast chicken, which is always a good one, but I'm also going to try to vary our menu a bit more this time. The challenge for me isn't just to survive the week, but to feed us well too.

And that's another of the things I like about this Challenge: it slaps me around the face and makes me think. About how easy it is to take food for granted.

It makes me think on a micro level, because the key to cracking the Challenge is planning: planning what to buy right down to the last penny. I'd like to tell you I'm now a zealous meal planner, but that would be a lie, because I'm not.  For the rest of the year I slip back into a rather slap-dash approach to meal planning; I'm also a total sucker for offers, and rarely stick to my list. If I make a list at all. Having said that I'm not an extravagant shopper, just a disorganised one.

But as well as being a sort of trolley detox, it makes me think on a wider level too: what would it be like if it wasn't a challenge, but a necessity? And if it wasn't just for 7 days but for good. Most of us never, ever have to go hungry. The Challenge makes me think about people who do.

So, the long and short of it is, I've been an optimistic fool and set up a Red Nose Day team page - yes a team page…which is, at the moment, a team of one.


I'm fully aware it'll probably stay that way. But if you thought you might fancy it at all….in any shape or form...?