Thursday, 25 May 2017

Food costs

Time for a quick review of our food costs.  Bloggers have raised concerns lately.

We keep our accounts package up to date and use the title "groceries" to cover all food and household/cleaning products and toiletries for a household of two retirees and visitors. We grow a lot of our own fruit and veg, cook from scratch and don't have processed foods. My main shop is done on t'internet and delivered for £1. We use local butchers and fish market (but not exclusively as both involve a drive of 10 miles so it is just when passing on other business we stock up).
Firstly, I looked at the long term spending and found the average over 3 years is £58 per week

Had a look at last 12 months and it averages £52 per week, which was probably due to the good harvests of last summer.

The last 3 months have been more expensive - costs rising to £57 pw.   Why?  Lack of our own potatoes and we have had to buy in our supplies since Christmas Plus, we have been treating ourselves twice a week to locally baked fresh loaves. A mistake. The price has crept up to £1.90 a loaf.  Just those things have cost £7 a week. I am sure we could reign back on the bread and crops are coming on!

I could save more by going into town and shopping around  but I am not willing to waste a day a week. Besides growing your own means you need to be around and working at it every day.

How is your budget going?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Fruit growing

After all the upsetting news this week it has been a wonderful escape to spend long hours in the garden. I abandoned the veg plot as it is more or less up together
and went to do some work with the fruit.
First task was to renew some of the trees guards on the fruit trees and some of the "woodland" (natural British ones) in our embryo copse at te end of the field.
These curly plastic things are a pain to squeeze on between the supporting stakes and removing the grease bands was  sticky job too.  I don't think we are going to get much tree fruit this year as the blossom came when it was cold and windy but we continue to care and nurture the trees.

Luckily the Tay berry is doing well on its own.  It is the most prickly thing ever and it was too hot to put on protective clothing.

Will be netting these later as you have to leave the fruit to the last moment on to ripen fully.  Last year the blackbirds took the lot as they ripened.

The thornless blackberry is doing really well.Strong lateral growth and lots of fruiting spurs.
I spent about an hour netting the blueberries using light wood and bamboo to make a frame able to stand up in our windy plot.   I tie the net on to the frame with string and firmly catch the bottom with metal hoops. Not a great deal of fruit on these but what there is does need protection. 

The strawberries in this bed are a bit behind. The bed was so overgrown with couch grass and dandelions in March we dug them all up, cleaned the ground and replanted them.  The long dry spell held them back but that is good because just look at the bed in the poly tunnel where they have been watered and cossetted!

Not everything is going well.  There has been a big drop off of gooseberries. This is quite usual but there does seem to be a lot.  I am not sure if I should not blame this young pheasant that has been hanging about the last few weeks - It scratches big holes and pecks at everything.
It does not always run away when you shout or clap, it hunkers down for a bit then gets up and  runs in circles for a bit before making off to the quieter gardens next door.

The blackcurrants have lots of fruit but terrible aphids. There are lots of ladybirds about so we will let the fruit ripen and then prune and spray later.

The blackberry and raspberry canes are full of flowers and bees. We recently noticed the bird box in the front garden where it is  sheltered is not inhabited by Blue or Great Tits but by bees!
Luckily it is well out of the way and will not be a nuisance until later in the summer when the hedge will need a trim.
Well, it was nice break playing with the fruit but we are installing another raised bed in the flower  garden near the house and that means at least wheel barrows  of top soil to be moved.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Cabbage in curry sauce

Yes, really - this is a very tasty way to have cabbage!  I found it in an 1980s Readers Digest coffee table book called Farmhouse Cooking. The recipe starts with cooking 1 to 2 lbs of cabbage which is far too much for us so I have adapted it a bit.

Slice up cabbage leaves and simmer to tender with half an onion with a couple of cloves pushed in and a small  bay leaf and a garlic clove. Add a stock cube. Drain (remove onion etc) and put the liquid aside.
I know, it sounds weird - but keep going!
I usually have quite a bit of liquid left - I keep it for other dishes.

Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter, a dessertspoon of plain flour (or cornflour), a good teaspoon of curry powder (I have Madras and used that). Add the liquid to make a stiff sauce. Put the cabbage in the sauce and let it infuse gently. Add a little paprika to taste, if wanted (does taste good without).

The curry sauce is a bit like you get in chip shop sauce, I think? 

The cabbage tastes lovely and is tender and juicy.  It goes really well with any dry or bland meat or plain meat.  I have made it twice now and I think we ate more cabbage than we would have done just plainly boiled!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Moral dilemma

So I am on that local bus again; grateful for the regular service from town to our village. BUT I am a trained workplace assessor and spent 10 plus years watching people working to an efficient(or not) standard.  So this is what I observed over 20 minute journey:
1. A colleague of the bus driver is on board and has chatted with him all the time he is taking fares etc. Stands next to the driver and chats when we set off. In front of that line and the notice that says "do not speak to driver or distract them".  Ok, I have often seen bus staff do this. Common practice but not best practice.
2. Driver takes 3 sharp bends and one right turn junction with one hand clearly on his bus cab support and only one hand on the wheel. OK,  Don't fuss.  No husband often does one handed thing when driving.  I am a nervous 10 to 3 wheel clutcher.
3, We enter the fast straight stretch between villages, and he speeds, up a lot. Colleague receives a text message on her smart phone. She holds it in front of the driver for him to read and share. They laugh and exchange comments.

I got off a few minutes later with a sense of relief.

When I went indoors to find my husband having coffee and watching programme about bad driving on the A1 which, after my morning, did not look that bad but the emphasis was on the dramatic consequences. When it had finished, we discussed my observations and agreed 3 was probably illegal (Reading a text while driving? or, is it receiving and accepting and reading a text?).

So I confess. I emailed my comments to the bus company. I am feeling very guilty - was it bad enough to endanger their jobs?  Or am I Mrs Fussy who has spent too long "judging" people at work?  (I did end up changing careers to get away from that role as judge! )  But then if something had happened unexpectedly at just the wrong moment would the driver be able to react? Was I really a dissatisfied customer - my journey was free, quick, and I was not harmed?

I used my husband's email as my operating system is the same as the NHS one that got hacked so I did not want to turn my PC on.  His reaction was "Thanks, now I will be the one to get the hate mail".  I pointed out if he had driven me to town I would not have been on the bus in the first place!


Joined the rest of the gardening population at the window admiring the rain!

Thursday, 11 May 2017


Within 36 hours - frost that blackened the tops of the potatoe rows to 20C and in T Shirts! Think I may even be a bit sun burnt.

Still no rain.  Veg bed is dust for the first 4 inches - some fields sown this spring around us are bare soil the crops are not making any progress.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Cabbages and quilts

We paid £1.49 for ten cabbage plants about 6 weeks ago and have them in the poly-tunnel. Just as well as it has been so cold they would not have grown so well outside.
Not much heart, but will treat as a spring green and make a start on the row. Otherwise we will be over run with greens by the end of May.

I have just finished a narrow quilt to go on the Z-bed/put you up.  I used a metre of fabric that was on sale at £3 p.metre and brought some cotton wadding.  I liked the design as it was easy to quilt into squares. I found some old faux- velvet in dark blue to make a backing and some spare green for the edges.  We have some spare single sheets and a blanket - so next time the extra single bed is needed for an adult or older grandchild I will not have to ask them to bring their own bedding.  I was embarrassed to ask them last time - the family always seem to have so much stuff to bring each time they visit.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Junk art

Been experimenting with bits and pieces this week to try my hand at some new materials.
Some pebbles from the beach (collected with grand daughters) form the flower, leaves cut from old drinks cans, bits of string off from the "just in case" box, wood panel and additional square offcuts from husbands workshop floor. The nails were an idea we saw at a craft outlet recently - they are extracted from old pallets and we usually gather them up and put in metal bin at the recycling centre. But now we have seen old nails used as a foreground "foil" in craft pictures we may keep them! The panel and bits of wood at the bottom were plywood painted with ordinary emulsion which seems to cover quite well and is no bother to rinse the brushes.

My next project with the scraps of plywood is to make a "threading" game for the smaller grandchildren who may come here in the summer holiday. In the just in case box is a nice long strong shoelace (just the one - no idea why its not a pair). I will paint the caterpillar with acrylics and then varnish to seal the surface and avoid any splinters.

Its been 10C here all day, with a nasty cold wind, so hiding in my log cabin has been an enjoyable way to spend the day. I did do some spring cleaning first; so I don't feel too guilty.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Moulton Windmill and reclamation yards

We went inland for our day-out this week and had a look at some of the fenland just inside Lincolnshire. We had a look at the windmill in Moulton which is in the centre of the attractive Georgian village. Nice flower show in the church too.

The sun was out and the rape fields are very bright. Not a drop of rain fell from the large clouds!
We wandered on, strangely every road we took for "bendy" - usually its dead flat and straight! - and we ended up at a reclamation yard we had been told about. We went for a look around.
There were probably hundreds of up cycling projects in here but it was so muddled and confusing at first; it was definitely a case of  not seeing the wood for the trees. My husband was hoping for some seasoned wood for furniture making but nothing you could actually reach and see clearly appealed.

Stained glass window panels
Old bikes
Log burners and fire surrounds?

The yard was on the site of an old railway station and we did admire the signal box and signals!

Think that Mini behind the signals is definately past reclaiming!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Some small projects around the place

We don't have any major projects in mind this year as we are hoping to spend more time out and about but I have set myself some small "Tidying" projects which need no or little money and not a lot of time. First |I have promised to empty, clean and sort all the sheds at least once over this summer. Its amazing how easily it gets muddled and you put something down in a hurry and thin shimmy round it for months. We have one of those two door brick sheds, this being a 1930s Council house build, and we have never really cleaned it out properly or painted it etc. One third is the outside loo and we have not used it as a loo for nearly two years. So it is use it or loo-se it time! I removed the anchor (??) and some wooden battens stored it there and relocated the 3 (yes, 3) weed-killer knapsack sprays and swept. I was so tempted to so the much less grotty end first but was brave and went for the worst first.

The lavender over growing the entrance gives a nice fragrance as you go by, and do you like the lilac colour? It was meant for a bedroom ages ago but we hated it. Still it will look clean and fresh in here when the dull dirty pink is covered up.  If no one uses this outside facility, this summer I shall advocate another plan - rip the whole lot out, plumbing and all and make it into a store once and for all.  Some people say a third loo/outside loo is an asset but I grew up with scary Granny's outside toilets and I am not sure after 60 years I have quite gotten over it!!

Other projects are just odds and ends I've done over the last few weeks - but frustratingly I can only get half the job done!
There was a pile of pallets between the log store and the compost bin. Not really in the way but it meant my husband has to strim round it instead of just a few feet more of mowing. So I picked them up, dusted them off and moved them to lean against a fence behind the workshop ready to make something or use as firewood. I have dug it over and raked it and when it rains the area can be seeded and patched in with some sieved soil.

Similarly there were some old posts laying on the grass against this fence in a bit of a dip and again it had to be strimmed instead of mowed. We re-cut a flower bed in the front garden over Easter, removing some turf so I brought it round and I patched in the whole and put some sieved soil on top to even it out. When it rains the grass should grow through.

Couple of other areas to sort which should make maintenance less of a stress all round. And there is always another shed to sort out.

Meanwhile, some sewing supplies have been delivered so I am off back to my sewing log cabin with my latest project!

Slow spring cleaning

As Spring seems slow to get going due to lack of rain (its so dry, not even the weeds are growing) I have some time to spare.  I have started some spring cleaning tasks - just giving myself half an hour a day to tackle some of those corners.

Previous house owners installed a lot of these crome light bars - kitchen, dinning room, bedrooms, bathrooms and they attract dust and cobwebs.

 The one in the kitchen was particularly sticky. I have toted a chair and rags round the house and given them all a good clean and polish. I don't like them particularly but I would not go to the expense of having them changed.

Our neighbour gave me free reign to harvest his forced rhubarb clump so I have put 5 portions in the freezer for later use.  Absolutely nothing left in there from last year's harvest now and only one jar of jam to finish.

Hope you are all well.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Election surprise

Are you still following all the election guff? My interest waxes and wanes with each day - some days my husband tries to avoid it all so he does not have to put up with me shouting at the TV during news  programmes as some stupid story line is gone over and over by pundits.

Having said that I came across a news story on line that Jack Munroe the food/frugal blogger is going to stand as an MP.  Good on her, at least she will have some idea what real hardship/poverty means in our current society.  I hope people in Southend give her some support.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

First new potatoes

I wish I could say these were planned but one potato plant  popped up from some left in the poly tunnel by accident. Now that the new crops are making progress the potato plant was in the way and we dug it up. Luckily there was a nice crop!
They were delicious and at least I did not have to go to the shops for another two days. As food bills are creeping up in costs,  I am trying to make use of every scrap of food before shopping again.  We have a new rule here - if we don't have some particular food item, we use an alternative that we do have, before rushing to top up the shopping!