Thrifty, crafty, wordy, family life.

Waste Not Want Not: 24th July, 2013

The Plan: Beef chilli and fajita wraps

The Downfall: Err, where’s the beef? Well, it’s certainly not in our freezer – looks like we’ve eaten it without realising

The Perishables: A bowlful of tomatoes in varying sizes and states of freshness, a glug of natural yoghurt, some pitiful bottom of the fridge veggies that were going to be the basis for the chilli, a packet of fajita wraps.

What did we do with it? I decided to make soup, seeing as it’s the best way to get veggies into Little Boy and I had been thinking of making a batch to use for his lunches.


  • A generous glug of vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped small (about 1cm pieces)
  • 4 sticks of celery, chopped small
  • A generous teaspoon each of garam masala, cumin and cinammon
  • 4 medium potatoes, chopped small (about 2cm pieces)
  • 4 small courgettes, chopped small (about 1cm pieces) – this is the equivalent of about 1-2 shop bought courgettes
  • A cereal bowl full of tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 litre hot chicken stock
  • 200g yog
  • Black pepper


  • In a large pan heat the oil over a medium heat
  • Fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes
  • Add the carrot and celery and fry until the onion is nearly soft
  • Add the spices and fry until the aromas are released
  • Add the potatoes, courgettes and tomatoes and mix together
  • Add the chicken stock to cover
  • Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until the hard veg like potatoes and carrots are soft
  • Whizz with a stick blender
  • Stir in yoghurt and a very big helping of black pepper

The Verdict: Delicious. This recipe made 4 adult portions and 3 toddler portions.  We served it with a pack of naan breads we found in the freezer. It could definitely have stood up to a bit more spice, and if we’d had more yoghurt to go around we would have stirred it into individual portions to make it look pretty, rather than stirring it into the pot as a whole.

We are left with a big tub of soup which Little Boy and I will eat for lunches for a few days – I may even freeze one or two toddler sized portions for easy lunches in the future.  We are also left with a packet of fajita wraps which have gone into the freezer for another time.  We never did remember what happened to that beef.

How have you been using up your leftovers? What would you have done differently? Let me know with a comment.


Everyday Frugal: 19th – 21st July, 2013

Friday started off the weekend quite cheaply.  Little Boy and I had the last of our toddler groups for the summer, making up our £1 spend for the day.

Little Boy’s sunflower is growing – this is it on Friday morning, and it’s now about twice the size.

Free food again on Friday in the form of courgettes from our allotment and pak choi that an allotment neighbour gave us for letting their children loose on our raspberry bush – a very good swap for us!

We chopped the courgettes and pak choi, and changed our planned fish and couscous into a salmon and white fish stir fry with some noodles.  We chucked in some carrot and tomato that was languishing at the bottom of the fridge and flavoured it with some ginger from the freezer, a splash of lemon juice and soy sauce and some of our home made harissa paste.  We love making this lentil stew and harissa paste, but find that we always have way too much harissa to store in the fridge.  Frozen in ice cube trays, one cube is the perfect amount of chilli and garlic for starting off a stir fry.

Yesterday was slightly less low budget.  We called together an impromptu barbeque with some other local babies and parents and waddled off to the supermarket to spend £13 on supplies.  The free courgettes and raspberries we collected from the allotment went into a salad and an ice-cream dessert, and luckily we had a few leftovers for lunches.

Little Boy and Hubby tidied the garden ready for our barbeque.  Little Boy made soup in a big tub.

Hubby did some hedge-cutting.

Today was another spendy day with Hubby cycling down to Wilko’s for such glamorous items as an ironing board cover and toothbrushes, but apart from that we made our own fun.  Hubby found a piece of slate and a leftover shelf from last year’s kitchen refit.  He screwed them together to make Little Boy a garden chalk board.

Luckily, a slight dip in the weather today meant that we could eat a portion of our slow-cooker beef stew.  I did worry that we might have to put it all straight in the freezer without sampling it!

How did you spend your weekend?  Let me know by commenting below.

What Will I Do Without TV?

I don’t know how other UK toddlers are sleeping in this heat, but ever since the light evenings started Little Boy has been up and down like a yo-yo, and while he definitely can’t be blamed for that, it has sent me into a bit of a rut in the evenings.  My usual routine of late has been:

7pm – bedtime

8pm – Little Boy finally passes out

8.05pm – Kettle on, find the least boring thing on the iPlayer and watch it for an hour

9.05pm – Skim read rubbish on the net that I’ve already looked at 3 times before

10pm – Bed, feeling underwhelmed at what I’ve got done with my ‘free time’

So, I have made a resolution to cut the TV time, or at least not watch it every night.  Here’s what I plan to do with all that extra time.

  • Blog – I also contribute to a group blog called A Classroom Called Life
  • Knit – I have a jumper on the go for Little Boy and a gift on my needles for a friend’s baby – I’m also hoping to get a few jumpers done for Baby no 3 seeing as I’ve never had an autumn newborn before!
  • Bake bread

  • Bake other tasty things to keep our packed lunches cheap and varied
  • Write to friends
  • Write some fiction or poetry, maybe even enter some competitions for dosh
  • Paint my nails
  • Wear face packs
  • Have ridiculously long baths with my book
  • Trawl the Money Saving Expert Forums for frugal living tips
  • Start doing my pregnancy exercises
  • Listen to my pregnancy relaxation CDs
  • Make jam

  • Plan for Christmas
  • Plan play ideas
  • Learn something new
  • Earn vouchers on Valued Opinions
  • Listen to the radio
  • Listen to our CD collection
  • Read more

  • Enter some competitions
  • Send off for some freebies
  • Beat hubby at Trivial Pursuit on a regular basis
  • Eat elaborate suppers
  • Watch some TED talks
  • Make lots and lots of lists

Sounds fun!  I can’t wait to get stuck in.  Right – Little Boy has nodded off, time to get the custard creams out and get cracking on those knitting projects.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

What do you like to do in your free time? Do you limit screen time or make a conscious effort to pursue your hobbies? Let me know, and comment.

Waste Not Want Not: 14th July, 2013

The Plan: Roast chicken dinner

The Downfall: Our house is probably hot enough to roast the chicken sans oven

The Perishables: Tomato passata, yesterday’s egg fried rice and stir fry veggies, another portion of rice that Hubby accidentally cooked by being a bit vigorous with the rice packet last night

Remember that leftover rice can contain bacteria that makes it very dangerous if not stored properly, and this is NOT killed off by thorough reheating.  We cooled our rice and put it in the fridge overnight.  We also used and ate all our leftover rice within 24 hours, as recommended by the Food Standards Agency

What did we do with it? Hubby and I ate the stir fry for lunch, pinged in the microwave – nothing glamorous about that one I’m afraid.

Little Boy had pizza toast for lunch. Toast, a thin spread of passata, grated cheddar, dried oregano, a dot or two of Worcester sauce.

Then grilled for a minute or two till nice and melty.

With the second batch of rice I attempted to make omo tuo (Ghanaian rice balls) and cashew nut soup.  I made up a quick cashew nut soup (which is essentially onions, garlic, ginger, garam masala, ground up cashew nuts and veggie stock) and then put the rice back in a pan with a splash of boiling water to get it going again.

I heated the rice on the hob, stirring it and smooshing it to bring all the starch out in the hope that it would stick together in rice balls.  Unfortunately, this didn’t work – but it was still sticky, squidgy rice underneath a steamy, spicy soup, so it was sufficiently yummy and sufficiently different from yesterday’s dinner to be a hit.

For those of you who are curious, I usually make omo tuo by cooking rice from scratch with just enough water to cover the grains.  I let it cook so that all the water is absorbed, adding a splash of hot water if it has all evaporated before the grains are cooked.  Similarly to a risotto, I agitate the rice with a spoon throughout and keep it just moist enough to keep cooking until eventually the rice has cooked and is lovely and starchy.  I beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon to encourage it to stick together.  Lastly I wet a cereal bowl with cold water.  For each rice ball I put one generous serving spoon full of rice in the bowl, then shake the bowl so that the rice slips and slides around the bowl, taking on a rugby ball shape, then slide it into the soup bowl.  Rinse the bowl out again and start on your next rice ball.  Serve it with soup, and if you’re really clever, you can use the rice ball to eat the soup with your fingers.  Yum.

The verdict: All tasted nice, although the rice was disappointingly blobbish.  We are still left with some passata, which will live to see another day and with a bit of cashew nut soup that I will eat for my tea tomorrow night.  The chicken will be roasted, and we won’t wimp out next time.  We’ll eat it on Tuesday with some potato salad and some courgettes from the allotment.

Have you been getting creative with your leftovers? What would you have done with the ingredients to hand? Feel free to leave a comment.

Everyday Frugal: 13th July, 2013

Apparently it’s the hottest day of the year today, and I’m not arguing with that diagnosis.  Hubby was working at a free family fun day in our local area so we had a wander down.  It was really good and they have more going on all summer if you’re in the Oxford area.


The fun day itself was free (in fact, Hubby was working, so it was less than free!) but we weren’t going to blow the budget by buying food there.  I whipped up a packed lunch featuring yesterday’s currant muffins and some pieces from our megasalami.  The megasalami is a salami sausage that we get every so often from Lidl – Hubby usually wants ham in a few of his packed lunches for work, so once in a while I buy this for £3.99 from Lidl and it lasts us all nearly 3 weeks, so much longer than those timid little packs of cooked meats you can end up paying £2 each for.

There was loads going on for Little Boy to get stuck into, painting, reading in the library tent, splashing in the water, playing with small world figures and planting seeds in his own hand-finished plant pot.

I was happy too to come away with a free copy of Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay from the library stand.

I’ve wanted to read it ever since I heard Jackie Kay talking about it in a bookshop in London, and there it was for free!

We found somewhere shady to sit, and Little Boy made short work of yesterday’s muffins.

And once we were done Little Boy and I headed home where he had a snooze and I sat inside, hiding from the hottest day of the year.

Everyday Frugal: 12th July, 2013

It’s that exciting time of year where we’re starting to get free goodies to eat. We found these redcurrants, and although we didn’t want to take too many of them, we did get enough to make this redcurrant muffin recipe today.

Isn’t it funny how the helpers always materialise at ‘washing up’ time?

The muffins were lovely – we had them last year with crème fraiche and redcurrant sauce, but we didn’t have any today, so we used them as a pudding to supplement a fairly light tomato and basil pasta for tea and they will be in our packed lunches for the family fun day we are going to tomorrow.  It really is a lovely recipe – the tangy currants zing in the sweet muffins.

Work continues on a top secret knitting project for a family friend.

I will reveal all once it has been finished and gifted.

Our main source of free food is now the allotment. Hubby moved some strawberries earlier in the year, and the plants seem to be putting up a fight to survive.

And Little Boy Yooeel has been very diligent in his raspberry picking job.

The free fruit is a real bonus, especially because it’s so expensive in the shops.  Hopefully days like today will see us through the long, long months of cheap and cheerful cheap apples and bananas.

I’ll leave you with Little Boy Yooeel “on top of the woooorld”.

Have you grown or foraged any free food recently? Let me know what you’ve been baking, making or growing by leaving a comment.

Reasons to be cheerful: 15th – 21st April, 2013

1. Flowers from a friend.


2. Finishing The Beach by Alex Garland and The Book Thief by Markus Zusack.

I’ve had The Beach on my bookshelf for about 70 years now, so it was about time I got round to reading it.  I loved it.  The self-centred, unreliable narrator brought to mind some of my favourite Graham Greene characters and the last half of the book was a lovely, rankling, paranoia-fest.  I love books where the narrator slowly goes mad, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath being the all-time, too obvious to mention pinnacle of this.

I’ve read The Book Thief before, and was one of the ladies who recommended it to our book group.  I didn’t enjoy it as much the second time around, but I still cried like a fool.

3. Knitting a jumper for Little Boy Yooeel.  Yes, it’s a jumper.


4. Sunny days are here again.

5. Eating at Al-Andalus.  Garlic mushrooms a go-go!


Coping with a Housework Crisis, or How to Clean the House with No Sleep and No Time

I’ll make this brief, because as you can probably guess from my title, sleep has been a rare commodity in our house for the past few weeks.  OK, that’s glamming it up a little.  Sleep has been a rare commodity in our house for the past year.  But the last few weeks have been a doozy, with teething, throat infections (child-sized and adult), sleep regressions and “The Baby Yooeel Patented, Mesmerising, Jaw-Dropping, Logic-Defying 15-Minute Nap”.

I’m firmly in the school of thought that sees babies as unpredictable little things that can’t be programmed to fit in with the adult household, and occasionally need that extra bit of care and attention to see them through the rough spots.  I do still genuinely love snuggling Baby up on my lap twice a day and watching him fall effortlessly asleep, but it does tend to leave my kitchen looking like this:

And me feeling like my To-Do list is growing ever longer with the sole purpose of gaining sentient life and throttling me in my sleep.

To add to that is the fact that Baby still needs a lot of focus and attention when he’s awake too, and gets really pipped off if I have the audacity to load the washing machine on his time.  This means that although I usually have quite a smoothly organised cleaning schedule, that keeps us ticking over, roughly based on Household Management 101’s truly lifesaving tips, there are times like this when I have to resort to marshal law.

  1. Let it Go: I get really, really stressed out when I look at my to-do list and see that I haven’t cleaned my front door down since we moved in, but do you know what?  You really can’t tell.  There are some jobs that polish off a tidy, functioning house and make it something jaw-droppingly beautiful.  But on the No Sleep No Time routine, you ain’t gonna get anything jaw-droppingly beautiful.  Pare down your to-do list by chopping off anything that doesn’t make your life easier in the long run, that doesn’t drastically improve your kids’ environment, or that guests won’t notice when they come round for a cuppa.  When it comes down to it, we don’t iron, we don’t colour code our laundry loads and we definitely don’t dust the skirting boards.  You’ll have time for that when you get back on track with the sleep.
  2. Get Help: Every parent of newborns gets the sage advice to ask guests to do one job each.  Older babies and toddlers are just as much work, but in a different way.  Ok, don’t ask your book club members to wash your dirty dishes, but instead of panicking about what your Mum’s going to think when she walks in to see a pile of stinky nappies, why not wait till she arrives and ask her to play with the baby while you whip around for half an hour.  You can get so much more done in a short amount of baby-free time than you can in a whole day of half-heartedly trying to entertain littlies and clean at the same time.
  3. Use Your Weekends: Hubby is home with us all weekend, so we give all the surface areas (remember, no ironing) a good clean.  We get the hoovering done, the dishes out the way and the bathroom scrubbed.  That way on the weekdays, I’m starting from a fresh slate and I don’t have the same feeling of dread on Monday morning.
  4. What Can You Get Done With Baby? When I’m having to hold Baby for his naps I find it very easy to do absolutely nothing, and if you’re not getting sleep at night, there’s something to be said for resting.  But it can be really frustrating watching things pile up around you, and it can stop you resting anyway.  When it gets to the point that I can’t face another 2-hour Facebook session, I make sure to write a to-do list of things that can be done while stationary.  Internet shopping, menu-planning, banking and budgeting online can all be done over his shoulder.
  5. Decide on One or Two Essentials: Even when you’re run off your feet, try to set aside one or two moments in every day when you can get the essentials done.  This is stuff that if you left it for two days it would be too disgusting or unwieldy a job to manage.  For us, we need to get nappies, laundry and dishes done to even be able to function.  So I have to let Baby play on his mat for 5 while I put the nappies in to wash every day, and when hubby gets home I whip round and put clothes on airers or have a quick 10 minute surface tidy.  We’ve started a habit of getting together after Baby’s gone to sleep at 7pm to clear away at least some of the dishes, and it’s actually really nice to get time to ourselves to have a chat.

If you’re in a cleaning bind at the moment, like we are, the most important thing to remember is that it happens to everyone.  Literally everyone.  When your friend invites you round to her sparkling home for a coffee morning, you can guarantee she was fretting 20 minutes before you arrived because she’d run out of room in the cupboards for all the dirty socks.  Get things liveable, and try not to stress.  You can always release your inner domestic goddess next week.

What are your coping strategies for when housework goes down the drain? What are your ‘must-do’s ever day?

Things to Do with your Ten Month Old: Bouncy Balls

Let me start off by saying I’m no expert on babies.  In fact, I’ve only been a mum for 13 months so far.  So it probably comes as no surprise to find out that the first pearl from my font of wisdom is ‘play with a ball with your child’.

I spend a large portion of my time while Baby is ignoring me in favour of his favourite plastic eggcup, worrying that I’m not stimulating him enough, that he might be getting bored of our games, or that I should somehow improve his games on a weekly basis to play catch up with his mental development.  Of course, parents have been playing with their children long before the arrival of baby books and mum blogs, and doing just fine.  However, there is something to be said for using those resources, or even just swapping ideas with other parents, and getting fresh ideas to pad out that looong stretch between afternoon nap and bedtime.

So in that spirit of swapping ideas, non-expert mum to non-expert mum, I’ll be giving a regular insight into what Baby and I are doing in our playtimes and how this will hopefully, help him to learn and grow too.  Apologies if this first post is very simplistic, but this idea of introducing a ball to Baby was one of those ‘well, duh!’ suggestions that really made me wonder why I’d spent so long panicking about how to introduce my one year old to papier-mache and shadow puppets.

Before I start, let me also say that Baby was a little prem, so although he’s one, we’re still thinking around the ten-month-old stage, hence the title of this post.

  • Keep it simple: This is one of those ideas that doesn’t need the latest bells and whistles technology.  We got a cheap plastic bouncy ball from Wilkinsons.  We’re also on the lookout for a miniature rugby ball (at hubby’s insistence) and will be getting a spongy ball once Baby is less for biting and swallowing little parts.
  • Rolling back and fore: If your baby is sitting up, the easiest game would be rolling it between the two of you.  Baby really quickly got the idea that he could push it back towards us.  This worked on his hand-eye co-ordination, and tied in with his favourite trick at the moment, which is imitating our actions.
  • Kicking: If your baby can be held upright, or is standing on their own, teach them to kick the ball – how far can it go?
  • Textures, shapes and sizes: How does a tennis ball feel compared to a beach ball?  If your baby drops them from standing, what do they both do?
  • Exercise balls: Baby loves getting on top of a big, inflatable exercise ball, of the kind you may have left over from your pregnancy.  I hold him (very carefully!) on his belly, flat out on the ball, and he rolls from side to side and forward and back.  He gets a sense of movement, a different point of view, and it plays with his feelings of balance.

So there you have it – this is what we’ve been doing with balls this week.  But I’d love to hear your ideas – so what are your favourite games to play with your baby?  And what more difficult ball-games are your toddlers or older babies able to play?  

Leave me a comment and let me know.

Library Finds: 7th May 2012

Baby and I love going to the library once a week or so.  He’s only one, but we already make a big deal of sitting in front of the little bookcase and choosing three books to take home with us.  To be completely open about it, his choices often consist of ‘which is closest to me?’ and ‘which has the chewiest corners?’, so I do help him out with his selection every now and then.

This week we have:

1. Animals – Debbie Powell

This is a ‘shiny touch’ book, and quite frankly I can’t see the point of that premise.  It has little raised areas that Baby has absolutely no interest in touching, but then he’s never been as enamoured with touchy feely books as I thought he would be.  The illustrations and words in this are great though.  I love the bold images (I would be sorely tempted to hang the picture of a crocodile on my wall), and Baby loves the animal noises, which haven’t failed to raise a smile every time we’ve read it so far.  His favourites are the tee-heeing monkeys.

2. Poppy Cat Beep, Beep! – Lara Jones

We’ve not tried a Poppy Cat book yet, but this seems like a good introduction.  It has a beeping button, which is really, really addictive to press.  The best selling point of this book is the rhyme.  Some of the first books that caught Baby’s imagination were those with a strong rhythm, and this is a good one, with lots of bumpy, whizzy, whee-ing noises for mum or dad to add texture to the telling.

3. Jungle Street Hide-and-Seek – Diane and Christyan Fox

This book is about a little zebra called Barcode – is that satirical social commentary for toddlers?  Anyway, it doesn’t matter.  It’s a lift the flap book about different animals hiding in different places.  The images aren’t as strong as Powell’s, and the text isn’t as good as Jones’, but it’s a really fun book, with lots of scope for silly character voices and an ending that surprised and delighted me, even if Baby was too young to get it.

So to pick a favourite this week would be hard.  I’m sure on any other week, all three would have a chance at being the best of the bunch, but this week it’s definitely Animals. The pictures will entrance artsy mums, and toddlers will love your impressions of snoring pandas.

Have you been to your local library this week?  Are any of these books your bubba’s favourite?

Let me know by leaving a comment.

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