The best course of action.

Important decisions are not easy to make. If something’s worth doing, it’s going to take both time and effort to complete it properly. The art of balancing is what I think University life is all about. It’s a complex period of negotiating your time between work, play, family and friends. The past two and a half years of my learning here at Winchester all culminate in a final assignment that is worth the biggest proportion of the final grade. The dreaded d-word: dissertation.

For my creative writing degree, this takes the form of the opening chapters of a novel, alongside an essay describing your own writing process. It matters, this piece of writing. It’s a daunting prospect to a novice writer like myself. 10,000 words seems impossible right now. So I’ve made the decision to focus entirely on my dissertation. I need to put in 100% effort if I want to achieve the grades I think I’m capable of.

I will be taking a blogging break commencing now. I shall hopefully return by mid-March, once the dissertation deadline has passed. I hope my kind followers will stick with me through this break. I’m not leaving my blog permanently, just for a short time to concentrate solely on my degree. I’m sure you understand.

Best wishes to you all.

Rebecca’s Recipes: Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry

It was mid-morning on Saturday. A late breakfast meant that lunch was some way off in the distance, but I still wanted to be in the kitchen. I planned to bake. But to start my kitchen adventure, I made a batch of one of my favourite meals. I make Sweet Potato Curry normally once a fortnight. Most of the time, I add red lentils, but I have been known to add a can of chickpeas instead. The wonderful thing about this dish is its available options. I always add an additional vegetable to the sweet potato base. Most of the time, it’s either carrot or parsnip. For this batch, I added finely sliced broccoli stalk. I aim for no food wastage in this house! Plus, I think the stalk has the strongest taste, in a good way. It takes a fair amount of cooking though, which is why I sliced it thinly.

This made three portions for my freezer drawer. I would imagine it would serve two for dinner.

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Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped

1 sweet potato, diced

1 broccoli stalk, finely sliced

2tsp curry paste (I use Patak’s Tikka Masala paste)

500ml vegetable stock

60g red split lentils

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1) Sweat the onion until it is soft.

2) Turn up the heat and add the other vegetables. Keep stirring on the high heat until the vegetables take on some colour.

3) Add the curry paste and stir through.

4) Add the stock and bring to the boil.

5) Add the red split lentil, turn heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.

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Whilst my curry was bubbling away nicely, I was browsing through a recipe book. My housemate entered the kitchen and asked if I was baking. I said I was thinking about making rock buns.

“Well, I’ve got some brown bananas upstairs if you can make use of them.”

Naturally, I nearly bit her hand off. The rock buns will have to wait for another day, because there is only one thing to make when your housemate hands you four, perfectly good, very ripe bananas – Happy Dance Muffins!

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It was pleasant to spend a couple of hours pottering around the kitchen. It was also good to see the culmination of my efforts. The freezer drawer is looking very healthy now I must say. The same can’t be said for the cake tin. The muffins seem to be disappearing rapidly, but the smile on my face isn’t going anywhere. Banana muffins make me too happy!

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Do let me know if you try out either recipe, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Frugal Fridays #18 – Online Grocery Shopping

I would deem my recent online shop with Asda to have been a success. I stayed within my budget, I selected a range of good value products and everything arrived without a hitch. After this experience, I would say that a large, online shop at the start of each month is beneficial to those of us living a thrifty lifestyle. I’ve compiled a post featuring my top five reasons for this. I do hope someone out there finds it useful.

Efficiency; You get what you need and only what you need. As long as you can resist clicking onto certain sections, the lure of temptation is far less. It’s a lot easier to ignore the siren song of unnecessary products when there are out of sight, compared to being blindingly apparent throughout conventional supermarkets.

Sticking to a budget; When I did my Asda shop, I was pleased to see a running total as I added each item into my electronic trolley. After I factored in the delivery cost, I had a clear view of my budget and how close I was to reaching it with each purchase. It was also easy to remove any items I no longer required, instead of walking across the store to return them.

Comparing items; I always want to get the best deals possible. By seeing the items on screen, I could judge which ones where the best value. I didn’t have to traipse up and down the aisles, squinting to see the £ per kg labels. For me, it also helps that I could see the ingredients list at a glance, rather than scouring the packet for the information I need.

Time-saving; All of the above points help to save time. Now, I’m normally willing to sacrifice a couple of hours to get a good job done. But by having access to all of the information, alongside a running total, my shop took less time than browsing a supermarket with a calculator in hand.

Also, it would have taken me two trips to my local supermarket to buy the same amount of groceries I did online. I don’t drive and I couldn’t physically carry £30 worth of produce. No time was spent travelling to and from the supermarket.

Variety; Like I mentioned, I don’t drive, so I’m somewhat limited to my choice of supermarkets. There is the big Sainsbury’s and . . . well, that’s it in practical walking distance. I could get a bus to get to Waitrose or Tesco, but by the time I’ve paid for a return bus fare, it’s more than the delivery cost from Asda.

By shopping online, I was able to get a variety of products. I’ve mostly relied on Sainsbury’s for the past two years, so it was pleasant to get some different items. I was delighted to see how reasonable Asda’s vast range of Free From products is. I’ve never had gluten-free cous cous before!

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There are, naturally, downsides to online shopping.

  • At Asda, you have to spend a minimum of £25 plus delivery, which is a considerable outlay.
  • You don’t get to browse reduced stock.
  • You don’t get to choose your own loose fruit or veg, so you are reliant on the integrity of the shopper.
  • Substitutions are offered in place of certain unavailable items. I was lucky this week, receiving 4 pints of milk instead of the 2 I ordered. But I have seen this go the other way.

Overall, I think a substantial top-up shop at the beginning of the month is a good idea. It gives you a chance to fill the cupboards with supplies you can fall back on towards the end of the month. Shopping online every week is out of my price range and my needs. I don’t get through £25 groceries every week. But I can see how this would be a valid option for families.

What do you think of online shopping? Yay, or nay?

Less is more

Blog reading is one of my favourite past times. It’s entertaining to be allowed an insight into previously unknown realms. I follow a variety of blogs, many of which are a fountain of knowledge on a broad range of subjects. I know my cookery skills have developed after picking up hints and tips from different sites. I’ve also been inspired to try new craft projects after seeing the results posted online. But I’ve not had my outlook on life altered by a blog before. It has been an enlightening experience.

I clicked through to Just a Little Less from another blog. A post on minimalist food first caught my attention. But after further delving into a back catalogue of posts, I begun to appreciate the message the writer conveys. I know that I have too much stuff. There are moments where I wish I could pack my essentials into a suitcase and everything surplus would just disappear. It’s not that simple, and living with less does require some effort. At least I could give it a go.

I started with my jewellery collection. Most of it was unworn or basically tat that I had accumulated. I spent about an hour or so sifting through the good, the bad and the ugly. I re-packed my chosen pieces into one, single jewellery box. It was incredible to see the amount of stuff I’d willingly separated myself from. Why had I been hanging on to it all?

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I decided to take a step up for my next de-cluttering endeavour and opened the door to my wardrobe. I don’t think I’m the worst for hoarding clothes, but I am aware I have too many. And yet I only regularly wear a handful of them. I emptied the wardrobe and laid the garments on my bed. I decided only 40 items would be returned to the closet. I will admit, I started with 33 in my mind, inspired by Project 333, but couldn’t quite stick to that. Still, after the clothing cull, I had filled up two generous carrier bags. They, alongside a bag of jewellery and a few other unwanted oddities, are ready for the charity shop.

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I have re-discovered forgotten treasures in my wardrobe. I now get to conjure up new outfit ideas to get the best from my 40 items. I would encourage this method to anyone trying to downsize their own wardrobe.

Thank you, Just a Little Less, for furthering my desire for a simple, minimalist lifestyle.

The art of eating

I’ve been really impressed with the latest series of Food and Drink. It’s the only cookery show extolling the virtues of budget cuisine. And they mean what they say. Not declaring a meal as purse-friendly, and then pulling out crabmeat or sirloin or the like. Too many TV chefs do this, in my opinion. But Food and Drink has been refreshingly different so far this series. For example, guest chef Tom Kerridge served a lamb dish that was accompanied by broccoli stalks. Frugal cookery at its finest.

Later on in Episode 2, Arabella Weir raised an interesting debate about poverty and healthy eating. She made some very matter-of-fact points that I personally agree with. On the other hand, Kerridge came across as out of touch. He said, regardless of budget, we all care about where our food comes from. I’m not making a personal comment when I say that this sounds like the chef has never felt true hunger. If you’re only having one meal of the day, I doubt you give two hoots about where in the world your supper came from. Naturally, we’d all like to make the right choices, but if it’s a decision between dinner on the table or not, there is ultimately one answer. As Arabella argued, what keeps you full for longest at the cheapest price? The sad truth is junk food. But education and knowledge is pivotal, and I think Food and Drink is doing a grand job at providing such information.

One of the best ways, I think, to eat well on a budget is to bulk buy. Thanks to my recent boost of funds, I have ventured down a new path. For the very first time, I’ve completed an online shop. And I must say, it was awfully exciting. ASDA provided some competitive prices where their gluten-free produce was concerned. It was also nice to get some variety after being mostly dependant on Sainsbury’s for these past three years. £30 worth of groceries will be whizzing its way to me on Monday. I shall inform you what I bought and my first experience of online shopping then. It will be wonderful to have the cupboards full once more.

Priorities

After my research last week led me to new realms, such as vegetarianism and veganism, my taste buds were altered. I was experiencing major fruit cravings. The odd apple every so often wasn’t enough to quench my appetite. I needed a serious fruit kick.

I took some of my precious allowance to the produce section of the supermarket and filled my basket. Over the past week, I’ve dramatically increased my fresh fruit intake and my body has responded wonderfully. I have more energy and more readiness to go outside to run. My skin doesn’t look as pale as it once did. And after a day where fruit featured heavily, I felt satiated. This was something I had previously been struggling with; never quite feeling full.

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I spent most of January surviving on whatever was cheap at the supermarket. I can see now that I wasn’t getting enough nutrients to remain healthy. I can’t go back to that, not after feeling such benefits. So, I’ve made a decision about increasing my budget. Dramatically. I have doubled my monthly budget to £200.

Of course, this will mean I won’t have a stash available to me after Uni. But, there will still be some left over. And I’ve realised that living now, and living healthily now, is a matter of high importance. My health should come before trying to save money. However, I’m not going to use my increased funds as an excuse to not be frugal. I’m still going to be hunting for bargains to the best of my ability. And this money is marked for fresh, healthy food. Not extras, like books and unnecessary clothes.

£50 a week is the sum I used to live on during first year. It feels apt that my finances have come full circle in this, my final semester at University. The relief I feel confirms to me that this is the right choice.