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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Eintopf

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.

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.

All the leaves are brown

All of a sudden, it seems to be, it has gone dark and cold and wet. I’ve braved the elements too many times this week that I dare not count. I don’t think I’ve been properly dry since last Monday. But the one good things that raises out of the foul weather is the accompanying food.

Salads and strawberries are all very well when the sun is shining. But there is something intrinsically more enjoyable about the warming dishes that come along with the cooler months. Take soup for example. So simple, so cheap, so delicious.

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The vegetables were chopped and boiled with the homemade stock I was saving. Then I added a little spice and seasoning, although, in honesty, it could have done with a bit more. Practice makes perfect and I will know for next time. The whole dish was blitzed and a silky, thick soup was created. It was filling and nutritious, what more could one ask for when the rain is pouring.

I have my eye on making a hearty beef stew next. But first, graduation.

Flat Number Five

Friends, I have made it to the other side. After a lengthy day of exertion, three of us managed to move my worldly possessions into a studio flat in Southampton. I cannot tell you how pleased I am with this outcome.

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Choosing to live on your own immediately after graduating is not a simple path. But it was always destined to be the right one for me. After other options were discussed, this was the direction that I was drawn to the most. I wanted to live by myself due to many contributing factors, but this choice is not without its sacrifices.

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Luckily, water and gas central heating are included in the monthly rent, but I still have a hefty council tax bill to deal with every month. There is no roommate in which to fall back on – it’s up to me. I have to pay a round pound coin to the little box under my kitchen counter in order to continue using the electricity. I cannot afford to own a television and personal broadband is a luxury beyond my means. So I will go without.

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But this is no true hardship. In a sense, it very much appeals to my thrifty nature. I’ve always enjoyed budgeting and such, it’s just now the stakes are higher. I like to see how much electricity I can use before adding another coin. I’m writing to you from the local library, who offers free use of their internet for up to two hours five days a week. I’m reading more and dancing to the radio every chance I get. Just because I don’t have a Sky box leaking money in the corner doesn’t mean I am in any way deprived.

The cooking is yet to begin in earnest, but I have batch cooked a Bolognese for hot meals this week. I’ve also saved some vegetable water with the intention of making soup on my next day off. I can see much of my free time being spent in the kitchen, it’s my favourite place to be. And besides, I have a freezer to fill!

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I’m off to battle the rain and continue with my chores. I hope you all have a wonderful start to the week.

22

I have been able to reconnect with my blog since returning from my vacation. Put simply, it all got a bit much. Posts were unachievable because I didn’t have an ounce of interesting material. For me, it was about getting through each day. A fair amount happened in my absence.

My 22nd birthday came and went in a flurry of good food, plenty of wine and a ridiculous amount of shopping.

I continued working at ALDI and enjoying my work there.

But most importantly of all, I found my dream flat. It’s heaven and I can’t wait to share pictures with you all. It’s exactly what I wanted; a humble studio flat in the heart of town. It’s not perfect, but it’s all mine and I am responsible for it. It’s daunting and thrilling in equal measure.

As such, I hope to return to the sanctuary of the blogging world with more frequent posts. The budget is not as tight as I once thought it would be, but I plan on living economically and sharing my journey in my very first home.

The tastiest, most incredible part of moving into my own place, even a studio flat, is the sheer joy of owning my own kitchen. It’s not a place ruled by my mother, who upheld her own order with an iron fist. It’s not a place scavenged by students, leaving only dirty plates behind. It’s not a place that has it’s own time frame and schedule for when one can cook dinner. It’s mine. I can cook and bake and spend as long as I want in it. I can leave things to marinate, to cool, to rest without fear of damage or theft. I can arrange the cupboards in a way of my choice. I will have more than one cupboard and a whole fridge and an entire oven just for my own personal use. My heart is singing.

I will be able to share many more recipes and meals once I’m in and settled. I collect the keys tomorrow morning. The adventure begins.

Urban foraging

“Bye for now,” said a housemate recently. “See you soon.” No one knew how soon that would be, but the next thing he said was music to my ears.

“Help yourself to any thing I’ve left.”

His generosity, and that of other housemates who are indifferent to meal planning, resulted in my practically free lunch yesterday. Potatoes, a sweet potato, carrots and mushrooms were combined with my items from my own stores (leftover broccoli, a small piece of onion, gravy powder and a little cooking fat) to make a hearty bowl of goodness. This meal can’t have cost me more than 50p.

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I can’t abide waste, and the vegetables would have been left to go mouldy if I hadn’t used them accordingly. Waste averted and a lovely meal enjoyed.

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Pay day graciously arrives tomorrow and I am completely looking forward to it. I spent my last few pennies on a reduced loaf of bread this morning, but there is still pleasure to be found without costing a coin. I went for a wander this morning to pick up a stack of books from the library, including more WW2 material. I got stuck into these accompanied by a free Waitrose coffee, courtesy of my loyalty card.

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Simple pleasures don’t cost the earth, but I will feel more at ease when my bank balance looks healthier. Roll on Thursday!