Frugal Fridays #21

Out of all possible meal scenarios of one day (elevenses, brunch, supper and midnight snack included), afternoon tea is my favourite. Not only is it an opportunity for cake-based delights and gallons of tea, it’s a chance to use all the delicate and beautiful china I’ve been hoarding collecting. It’s actually quite a thrifty meal, especially if you adhere to the following tips.

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Make your own sandwiches with whatever is in the fridge. Shop-bought sandwiches are never up to scratch. Plus, it seems counter-productive to specifically buy ingredients when you already have a selection in the house. The magic comes with how you cut them. I did fingers of cheese and pickle, triangles of raspberry jam and trimmed my cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches with a cutter. The two different breads I used were bought from the reduced section, not that my guest needs to know that!

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Make your own biscuits. Yes, my home made gingerbread does look quite rustic, but I was complimented on the flavour. I know scones are more traditional, but you can knock up biscuits with minimal ingredients, thus decreasing the cost. I also quite like the different texture biscuits bring to the table.

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If you do buy your cakes, try to get ones on offer. I ran out of time to bake my own, and I’m not entirely confident with gluten-free cake anyway. Luckily, these finger cakes were two packs for £3. Standard cakes are much cheap, and once you add a little garnish (like my raspberries), who would know the difference?!

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Afternoon tea is an indulgence, gosh yes, and by no means a necessity. But it is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the company of a good friend.

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I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment, borrowed from the library, naturally. It’s called Consider the Fork, by food writer and historian Bee Wilson. I’m only a couple of chapters in but this history into the nature of the tools intrinsic to our kitchen habits is fascinating. So far, Wilson has discussed pots and knives, two vital components in the modern kitchen, not necessarily the case in years gone by.

She was discussing one pot cookery and those paragraphs certainly leapt out at me. Food in a pot, bubbling away and smelling delicious is primal. Nothing is better in this wet, wet, wet November we’re currently experiencing than a hearty one pot meal. The best of the bunch? Soup. Hands down. In Autumn and Winter, soup becomes one of my main food groups, which also includes wine and roasted parsnips. Not to mention being incredibly cheap to make. My latest batch of curried vegetable and lentil soup, as seen above, probably costs around 30p per portion. And that’s for a decent sized bowlful.  My latest batch of soup was a good one, but they all follow the same basic principle.

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1) Dice vegetables. Add to pot.

2) Add stock to pot.

3) Add spice, seasonings and flavouring to pot.

4) Bring pot to boil.

5) Simmer for a nice long time.

6) Blitz to a creamy loveliness.

This isn’t fancy soup with crème fraiche or chopped fresh herbs or pre-cooked veg sautéed in bacon fat. That would be a delight, sure, but this is more basic, more instinctive, simple and delicious. That’s my favourite kind of food.

My little den

It saddens me when I don’t have regular time to check in with the blogging world. I miss keeping up to date with postings from people I’ve followed for months. But then, when you only have a certain amount of time between sleeping and working, some things do tend to take priority, like seeing friends, doing laundry and cooking.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking lately, and writing about it too. My new venture into writing a student lifestyle book is coming along wonderfully. It’s a subject I’m truly passionate about and I think that’s coming across as I write.

I would like to be more consistent with my posting and my activity within the blogging community too. I’m going to carve out two mornings a week where I can dedicate an hour at the library solely to The Domestic Storyteller. That should give me a chance to not upload the latest instalment, but also read and learn from others’ posts too.

As much as I miss consistent access to the internet, there is one huge upside. I do get more done. Instead of scrolling through webpages before work, I read more and write more. Instead of spending hours catching up on television programmes on various services, I can improve my little flat. After making cushions, I was ready for another project.

The dark wood coffee table was unwanted by my parents, who kindly brought it with them on their last visit. It was accompanied by sand paper, a pot of paint and two paint brushes. Armed with instructions from my knowledgeable father, I set to work on transforming this piece. It was the only dark-wood item in the flat and I much prefer it when things match.

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IMG_0618 IMG_0620Whilst I had the sheet out and the paint brush wet, I thought I might as well cover up the faded wood of the stool too. It’s the perfect size for a bedside table for my chap to use.

Thanks to these cheap, personal touches, I really do feel like I’m home in my flat. It’s not much and it’s a bit shabby, but as a friend commented on seeing it for the first time; “You’ve done well here Rebecca.” I’m inclined to agree.

PS I’ve just updated my About page to put down in black and white my new intentions. I’d love to hear what you think! https://thedomesticstoryteller.wordpress.com/about/

Inspiration from unlikely sources

It sometimes saddens me that I don’t have the same allocation of time as I once did for blogging. I am woefully behind on reading all of my favourite blogs, it may be impossible to read everything ever typed. If I was perhaps more organised, I would arrange my posts at the start of the week, timing them to post every other day. But the thing is, that’s not what blogging is about for me. It reflects my life in a particular moment in time. Something may have caught my eye that I feel the need to express an opinion on. Or I’ve made something that I am keen to share. I am envious of organised bloggers who consistently write engaging posts. But alas, it’s not my way. Thank you all for sticking with me and sharing your thoughts and comments on my posts. I truly appreciate it.

My flat is pretty free from distraction. I have no internet, nor a television. The evening’s entertainment mostly consists of reading – I’m working my way through the stock at the library! For days when I’m not at work, I find it much easier to fall into my writing. I’m currently working on a teen fiction fantasy novel, which is still in the planning stages. But I have begun actual writing on another project, a non-fiction piece. And this is the book that prompted me to write it . . .

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My partner bought this with a voucher and was quite pleased with his purchase. Being an inquisitive cook, I decided to take a gander at it’s pages. I found it disappointing, but my boyfriend accused me of being unfair. For a beginner’s book, it does have basic recipes regarded most suitable for students; Bolognese, omelettes and so many versions of the same mayonnaise-laden pasta salad, I lost count. Sure, it’s fine. By solely using this book, it would nourish you better than takeaways.

But the book did serve a purpose. It prompted something in me that I felt the need to respond to. And so, I’m writing my own student advice book. It’s a recipe book, a funny book, an advice book and an all-encompassing document on student life and how to deal with it. I feel qualified to write such a piece after three years at University. I’m hoping it will evolve into something quite special.

The cupboard of dreams

Since moving into my own home and having increased access to more storage space, I have come to highly appreciate the usefulness of a well-equipped store cupboard. Very little actual money has been spent this week. Any new products I have acquired have been from various points and vouchers. The majority of my meals are being concocted from what I’ve already got.

For example, breakfasts have consisted of reduced GF bagels lurking in the freezer, or berry porridge made with milk bought on points.

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Lunches have been made up of the range of loaves and rolls I’ve frozen earlier in the month. Add a bit of cheese and salad, a piece of fruit and a lunchbox has been made. For my sister’s visit, I only had to purchase an aubergine and a courgette to make this delicious ratatouille dish for us to share. The addition of the GF cous cous was perfection.

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When the days before payday are creeping by, I’ve learnt it’s important to focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have. I have no more peppers in stock, or tins of kidney beans. But I’ve still managed to make a hearty chilli, using bargain mince from a recent shopping trip, no peppers but a fat onion and no kidney beans, but a couple of tablespoons of red lentils. Thanks to the slow cooker, this humble meal should taste exceptional by this evening.

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Necessity is the mother of invention. When my purse is fuller once more, I shall have to replenish my beloved store cupboard, so that next month, I’ll still be eating well right up to the end of the month.

Points and patchwork

Thank you all so much for your kind comments I received on my last post. They truly warmed my heart and feel proud of my achievements. I hope you don’t think of me as bold for saying so, but I am quite pleased with myself.

I have been employing my full arsenal of thrifty tactics this past week. Due to once-in-a-lifetime celebrations occurring this week, more money has been spent on extravagances than everyday items. I have no regrets. Sometime you must simply seize the moment and enjoy it for all its worth.

Nevertheless, I have been saving and making shortcuts where I can in order to save pennies. The main areas ripe for cutting back were (as always) my energy usage and my food bill. Luckily, I’ve not had to use much energy for cooking this week, as I was enjoying the leftovers from our Graduation banquet. I’ve made the most of every scrap of food, and had some truly delicious meals.

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I have also received post from Mr Sainsbury’s this week, gifting me with bonus points vouchers. I know Sue from Our New Life in the Country was recently discussing the highs and lows of using supermarket vouchers. For me, I was yet to do my weekly shop and as the vouchers were for store cupboard staples (i.e. not junk), I deemed them acceptable to use. Plus, I only collect points from Sainsbury’s, not a variety of stores. By collecting as many points as I can during the good times, I have a safety net for when actual money is sparse.

In other Nectar points news, my incentive from Expedia came through a couple of days ago. I entered my Nectar card number at the checkout when we booked our holiday for Lisbon, and I’ve received 2000 points, the equivalent of £10. This, combined with the points earned from vouchers, means I have £12.50 on my card. This will make a notable difference to my food shopping as I count down the days until pay day.

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I’ve been putting my make-do-and-mend spirit into action too this week, using some of my holiday time productively. I’ve made up three cosy cushions to brighten up my neglected sofa. The wicker creation came with the flat, but is dreadfully hard to sit on. The improvements I’ve made are certainly more to my taste. I had to pay £9.10 for the large cushions inserts, but the rest all came from my stash. My next project is to refurbish an old coffee table – for pennies of course. Good luck with all of your thrifty ventures this week.

Graduaines

The day is done and what a day it was. After three years of study and a summer of uncertainty, I finally graduated yesterday.

The chap and I arrived at the Guildhall in Winchester in good time to collect my rental gown. My parents arrived just before, having driven all the way from Glastonbury for the occasion. A flurry of forms and photographs ensued so that I could have the immortal picture of me and the scroll.

We swept along in procession to the Cathedral, a magnificent venue. As my friend sidestepped puddles and slippery paving stones, I secretly felt relieved at my choice of flat shows. Less glamour, more security, especially when I knew there would be steps to climb later. We took our seats; my parents and the chap had a splendid view of the proceedings, thanks to the chap venturing into a different seating area. They could have been stuck at the back, and as you can imagine in a cathedral, that would have been a very different experience.

The excitement and anticipation bubbled through me as my row of seats awaited our turn. It was nothing more than a couple of handshakes and a posh certificate. But no, it wasn’t just that really. It was the hours of effort poured into a single dream. It was a culmination of hard work during my school years that led me to attending University in the first place. It was recognition of every story I struggled over, every word I wrote. I took a deep breath before stepping on to the stage. As I left, I let out a sigh of satisfaction and pride.

We left via the main doors of the cathedral, a true honour. More photographs – every parent in the land was trying to capture the essence of the day. Soon it was time to hang up the infamous hat and return home. We dined on a feast of smoked salmon, carvery ham, steamed potatoes, salad, crudités, dips, hummus, savoury rice, coleslaw, crackers, cheese and Prosecco. The celebratory meal was paid for by my parents, who also gifted me with a delightful bunch of roses. It was my supper of choice, much more personal than a hurried meal in an overcrowded restaurant.

The day ran so smoothly, I couldn’t have wished for it to be any better. I’m pleased to close the chapter on full-time education now. Who knows if I will return to University in the future, but for now, I’m a graduate with big dreams and big ideas. Thank you Winchester, for lighting the fire.

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