Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Reducing my carbon footprint and increasing my savings!

I really truly believe sometimes that the world has gone mad. Myself included. I can see it is madness and yet I am still sucked into it. We work long hours and put our children in childcare all day to buy things we don't need. We then work even harder to buy a bigger house to house the things we don't want or need. It is now clutter. We complain that our houses are too small when really we have too much 'stuff'. We complain that we don't have enough money for essentials, yet our idea of essential has MASSIVELY changed from that of our Grandmothers. There are millions of exceptions to this rule but generally we have lost the ability to fend for ourselves and have become reliant on the supermarket giants to feed us, sometimes clothe us and to provide the things we need for every occasion (Christmas decorations, school costumes for book day and plays and all the other things we could do alone). Things that before they started producing them we were happy making ourselves.

I often think it might be easier, mentally and financially to learn a few lessons from our Grandparents. I think if my Nan was giving me advice it would be along these lines:

  1. Eat less and don't treat every meal like a 'banquet'
  2. Eat locally produced, in season food- it's cheaper and tastes better
  3. Don't do a massive shop every week- buy only what you need
  4. Make more food from scratch- learn to cook
  5. Mend rather than throw broken items away
  6. If you cannot pay cash, do not have it- with the exception of a mortgage
  7. Have occasional treats and bring children up to understand treats are occasional
  8. Make the most of free resources, from foraging fruit and veg to using the library
  9. Save.
The older generation didn't seem to be on a never ending crusade for bigger houses, better cars, more disposable income and constant material trappings. Perhaps they were, perhaps we are just better at it? I don't know. I think the tide is beginning to turn, people are less able and less willing to play the spending game. 

I am fed up of spending more time away from my family to strive towards the things I do not need, which will fill my life with junk and give me more to stress me out. I refuse to keep feeding my money into the big giants. And so we as a family have made a pledge *drum roll please*
  • We are going to shop local. Not the local Supermarket (with the exception of the co-operative supermarket in our small town) but the local fruit shop, delicatessen, butchers and farm shop.
  • I am going to keep a chart on my kitchen wall of what fruits and vegetables are in season and plan meals around these ingredients. This chart is not conclusive but it is a good enough start for me: http://eatseasonably.co.uk/what-to-eat-now/calendar/
  • I am not going to over buy. When I do a 'big shop' I tend to buy everything  I need for every occasion sometimes. I am going to make a conscious effort to only buy what we need to buy, when we need to buy it.
  • I am going to take advantage of reduced foods, using them to freeze or batch cook and freeze etc depending what it is.
  • I will be taking advantage of offers in my local shops to stock up on goods we use regularly for example when they are on offer. 
There are a few reasons for this, supporting my local economy and buying local are important to me. I am conscious of the air miles food travel to reach our plates and I would like to minimize my part in that. This is the one change I am making for 10:10 (you can read all about this wonderful initiative here: http://www.1010global.org/uk) Also, although some produce is more expensive, for the most part I think the local fruit and veg shop and butchers are cheaper and better quality than my local supermarket. The biggest issue for me is my overspending in supermarkets as they tend to have everything under one roof I find my shopping bill often creeps up.

This is a fairly easy challenge for me as I live in a small Country Town that has all of these amenities within walking distance. We moved here about eight months ago from the South Wales Valleys that did not have the amenities I would have required to do this. In which case my challenge would have altered to only buying locally produced, seasonal fruit and veg.

I have enjoyed reading so many inspiring blogs filled with peoples personal challenges and missions. I am naturally very nosy and love to see how other people live! One of my very favourite the blog Make Do and Mend Year. Jen and her family have pledged to buy nothing new (except some strict exceptions) for a year. It was in fact this post: http://mymakedoandmendyear.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/1010/ that inspired me to put my vague idea of only shopping locally into practice. 

So, I am going to raise a glass (of locally produced Apple Juice at this time of year!) to shopping locally, reducing air miles and reducing the opportunity the big supermarket giants have to brain wash me.

I will let you know how I get on...

Monday, 7 October 2013

The 'Old School' way of checking if food is still fresh

A huge part of being frugal for us is aiming to reduce food waste wherever possible. This means developing a good understanding of how long food is edible for and how to tell if it has perished. For the most part I don't use the dates on the packs for this as I prefer a common sense approach.

Firstly, I always keep in mind the difference between:

Best Before (the product is safe to eat but its flavour or appearance may be past its best) 
Sell By/Display Until (this is just the date the shop needs to sell the product by and has no relevance for the customer- it will be accompanied by a Best Before or Use By usually) 
Use By (a product may be unsuitable for consumption after this date and it is recommended for food safety reasons that you do not eat it)

This helps me make educated choices about whether the food is safe to eat. Although, and I am not saying this is the right choice for everyone, I do not always adhere to the Use By date. I know, I am a rebel. I know, we may all get poisoned. But I am a great believer in common sense. It helped my Granny and her Granny before her and it will help me. The most reliable way to tell if your food is safe for consumption is to smell it. Most foods will smell 'funky' or different to their usual smell when they are 'on the turn'. To make this work I always smell my freshly prepared and cooled food before storage- therefore I know how a dish should smell. The second best way is having a good old look at it. There are often physical signs that food is past its best, whether it be developing a 'film', separating, growing mould etc. Again, common sense. And thirdly I have a probe in my kitchen (cost approx £5 on Amazon a few years ago) and I use this to ensure that any meat dishes or dishes I am unsure of are probed to reach 85 degrees within 15 seconds after they have been reheated. To my mind, storing and cooking food properly massively reduces any risk of poisoning far more than obsessing over Best Before dates.


Keep a box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb odours, remove the top layer occasionally.

Put leafy green salad and veg in plastic bags (they often come in these) as they provide enough moisture to keep them fresh and healthy longer

Mushrooms hate plastic! Always buy them in a paper bag if you can but remove all plastic packaging as soon as you can. Store them in an open (ideally cardboard) container in the crisper compartment.

Keep tomatoes in a cool to room temperature place but not in direct sunlight. They don't need to be in the fridge. Store them upside down.

Always wrap cut onions in cling film as they absorb odours and bacteria otherwise. On the other hand, half a cut onion (unwrapped) in the fridge is excellent to get rid of any fridge whiffs- just don't eat it afterwards!

Never store onions and potatoes together as they reduce each others shelf life. Both should be stored in a cool, dry place ideally.

Apples, bananas and tomatoes should be stored separately from other fruit and veggies as they produce a lot of ethylene which is harmless and odourless but will reduce lifespan of veg it is stored with.

You can store cheese in the freezer for approx six months. I find this handy at Christmas time when all the Christmas cheeses are reduced a few days later. I usually cut down into smaller portions of approx 28g as I find this is easier than trying to cut the cheese when frozen. I must admit I have only done this with cheddar and parmesan though and wouldn't think it would work for softer cheese.

Milk is fine frozen and I usually have a bottle in the freezer. I will sometimes freeze it near its 'Use By' date if I don't think we are going to use it.

It is perfectly possible to freeze meat. However I think 'freezer burn' tends to be a problem and the meat loses its colour and taste. If I am freezing leftovers from Sunday Dinner I always put them in a plastic tub, portioned into individuals, and pour gravy over to fill the tub. This means I can defrost the whole box and have real home made gravy and meat for mid week dinners. And, it doesn't taste like frozen meat! If I am short on home made gravy I will water it down slightly as I feel it always thickens on freezing anyways.

How I check my food for freshness:

Eggs: Drop the egg in a bowl of cool water. If it tilts or floats it is not safe to eat. If it sinks and stays still it is still fresh. Also, to check for freshness hold the egg to a strong light and look for an airbubble at the rounded end. The smaller the bubble the fresher the egg.
Store: A chef friend of mine recommends keeping your eggs in the fridge but removing half an hour before using. I personally store mine of the kitchen counter in all but the hottest weather. We use a lot of eggs so they don't stick around long usually.

Butter: The butter will smell rancid if it is. It will have a cheesy or fishy and downright unappealing smell to it. Also, the outer layer will turn a darker yellow. It is very easy to tell when butter has turned.
Store: I struggle with this one as I like the butter soft enough to spread so the fridge is out. Then if it is kept in the cupboard it becomes mushy very quickly. I still go with the cupboard as, again, we use a lot of butter but I know I shouldn't. That said, all of us eat it and none of us have ever been ill from it!

Lettuce: This will turn brown and take on a 'slushy' and slimy finish when it is past its best. To prevent this look for lettuce stalks that are white/light green with no signs of brown as these are fresher. Always cut the lettuce with a plastic knife as stainless steel causes the lettuce to turn brown.
Store: I always prepare (wash and thoroughly dry) the lettuce as soon as I buy it. Drying it thoroughly is crucial. I then wrap it in large white cotton tea towel, store in an old ice cream tub and keep in the salad crisper. This keeps it fresh for 5 days.

Do you have any tips you can add?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Quick pizza dough recipe- pizza ready in half an hour!

This is the quickest and easiest dough recipe ever. And, as an added bonus, it tastes damn good! You can have this pizza on the table, including making the dough in under half an hour. It is a simple and tasty crowd pleaser!


375g plain flour
1 heaped dessert spoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 7g sachet of fast action yeast
2 tablespoons oil of your choice
225ml warm water


  • Put the flour in a large bowl- as you can see I used cheap flour and it worked fine

  • Add all caster sugar and salt

  • Sprinkle in fast action yeast

  • Add oil and warm water and mix it all up with a large spoon

  • Until it starts to come together. Add more flour if too sloppy or more oil if the mixture won't come together

  • Then knead on a floured surface until the dough forms a neat ball

And that is it! It is now ready to use. If you have time you can pop it in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for an hour or two. Then when it has doubled 'knock it back' (which just means give it a quick knead) and you are set. But, I have done it both ways and even without the rising this dough tastes wonderful so please don't be afraid to use it straight away.

Topping the pizza

I use a combination of tomato puree and tomato ketchup usually. Although I have used BBQ sauce, passata with herbs and a garlic butter. The choice is yours!

I make this pizza on those occasions when I have a random few bits and bobs in the fridge to use up. 3 mushrooms, half an onion, a tin of tuna and one tomato won't make a meal but it will make a pizza! Use anything and everything you have. I recently experimented with sun dried tomato, spinach and cheese (as that's what I had left over) I added the tomato base and dolloped pesto on top before popping in the oven. 

Cook on GM 5/190 C for about 20-25 minutes depending on your oven and the toppings you choose.

This is the finished products from the above amount of dough. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A gorgeous sponge cake for any (and every) occasion

I will admit this cake is not frugal in the typical sense. It doesn't contain any leftover veg peelings that taste wonderful with a sprinkling of brown sugar or anything uber thrifty like that. However, it costs approx £5 (plus store cupboard ingredients) and makes a fab birthday/thank you/I Love You etc present. And really, where can you buy a beautiful present that is guaranteed to be appreciated for under a fiver? Exactly. Every time I have presented anyone with this cake it has been a success. It is rustically pretty to look at and the taste is, I kid you not, perfect.

Without further ado here is the recipe:

The sponge cake is a standard recipe, very easy and perfectly easy to cook. I used to be scared of the humble sponge in case it didn't rise but since using the food processor to make it I never have any problems!


225g/8oz butter or any spread suitable for baking
225g/8oz caster sugar
4 medium eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (optional)
225g/8oz self raising flour


1 standard pot of double cream
1 large bar of white chocolate
1 small punnet of blueberries
1 small punnet of raspberries


  1. Add sifted self raising flour, caster sugar, butter and vanilla essence (if using) to processor. 
  2. Add eggs and whizz until blended.
  3. Pre grease two equal size round cake tins and preheat oven to 180C/350F/GM4
  4. Split the mixture equally between the two tins and pop on a shelf two thirds of the way up the oven.
  5. Bake for 20-25 mins or until a wooden skewer in centre of cake comes out clean (crumbs are ok, a liquid consistency on the skewer is not)
  6. Pull the two cakes out of the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  7. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and leave to cool completely
For the filling:

  1. Whip the cream until stiff. This can sometimes take a while, it is a quicker process if the cream is as cold as possible so if needs be pop back in the fridge.
  2. Spread all cream on top of the first cake- don't worry about making it too neat!
  3. Add half of the blueberries and half of the raspberries evenly on top of the cake
  4. Melt the white chocolate.
  5. Stack the second sponge cake on top of the cream and fruit
  6. Pour the white chocolate over the top. Don't worry if it drips down the sides, in fact I ensure it does!
  7. Decorate the top with the remaining fruit. I stack them in the middle and then sprinkle a few around. You can do it this way or arrange more neatly. Anything goes!
I will make a promise on this one that you will receive soooo many compliments and 'Wow, you must be a great cook' comments. The sweetness of the white chocolate works so well with the berries and cream. It's not an overly sweet cake, it is an overly perfect cake.

And a preview of the finished product:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Foraging for free food!

This year we have decided that we would try foraging. This involves us picking whatever fruit, nut or edible delight that is in season at that time. I think the decision was largely due to our move to the countryside which just inspires you to get out and get down and dirty with nature. This is less about trying to eat for free, you never would to be honest, and more about fun filled (and free) family days out that bring us all a little closer to nature. OK, the 8am Sunday morning walk me and Miss Frugal took in late September to pick blackberries to go with our donated apples (from our neighbours tree) didn't end well. Neither did the crumble I made actually. Mr Frugal declared he only likes blackberries in squash as they taste different (they would as they are blackcurrants I suppose!) and Miss Frugal refused to even give it a try. So, not always successful.

The nut picking in early September was all set to be a success. We had a fun filled Saturday searching the forest for hazelnuts and came home with a huge carrier bag of them. Obviously we are aware that these nuts feed many of the forests animals so only took a couple from each tree rather than stripping it. I spread the nuts out on newspaper and put them in the cupboard under the stairs inside a large old drawer. Excellent, we are foraging baby! Except that when I checked them last week I could see most of the nuts had holes in them and there were some very large maggots in the bottom of the drawer. Eeeewww. Just eeewww. A quick debugging and google later and I found that if you pop the nuts in a bowl of lukewarm water the ones that sink are good and the ones that float are rotten/not edible. I am unsure what we are going to do with the 20 or so hazelnuts that we managed to save. I don't think the Christmas nut roast with hand picked hazelnuts is going to be quite as large (or indeed hand picked!) as planned. The photo below shows all that is left of our 'stash' 

So, I think we can safely say we have not got off to the most successful start! However, Autumn is upon us. This brings new goodies to forage- CHESTNUTS! And so last weekend we went in search of new loot. I had once again asked Google who reliably told me that if the spiky, green shell has fallen to the floor the chestnuts are ready to be picked. Not so it turns out. They were still very small and very white. Oh well, give it a few weeks and I am sure we will have some success!
If you would like to have a go at foraging chestnuts I found this page really helpful: http://www.self-sufficient.co.uk/Sweet-Chestnuts.htm
If you have any tips I would be more than grateful for them- please post below! 

This link takes you to a guide about about more unusual foods to forage: http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/food_and_drink/815671/top_10_foods_to_forage.html

And whilst this is a guide to foraging in September I think Nature will forgive us being out by a day or two. But if you want to make use of it you need to start soon! http://www.countryfile.com/countryside/top-10-foods-forage-september

Despite our lack of success this year it has been fun, it has been free and it has definitely been an education for all three of us. We have spent many free days out that have been enjoyed by all. It really does bring out the hunter-gatherer in you! Next year we will approach this with a little more organisation and common sense (we will also check we like the food we forage shall we Mr Frugal?) 

The surviving nuts: