Red Alert

Warning! Warning! I’ve discovered a delicious new shop and oh me oh my, how my bank balance is going to suffer! I stepped into White Stuff for the first time last week, whilst on a shopping expedition with my sister. I was thoroughly enchanted by its clothing and decor, but most of all, by its homeware collection. I have a deep fondness and affection for owls, and they were numerous in White Stuff. I knew one of them would be coming home with me and it was agonising to choose just one – my Christmas wish list was extended by several feet, of course.

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It’s perfectly fitting after my last post about afternoon tea that I bought the one thing my tea tray was missing. A tea cosy!

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Isn’t it charming? I can’t wait to showcase it at my next tea party. Priced at £11.95, it was an affordable treat.

My other recent purchase was a treat as well. I went out with the intention of finding a pair of black, leather Chelsea boots. It was in the second shop I ventured into that I found them, last pair on the shelf, my size, it was destined to be. And being offered student discount was the cherry on the cake. These practical boots are much warmer than my trainers and more chic that wellingtons. They fit perfectly into my wardrobe.

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Both of these items have a place in my home and warm my heart considerably. Strictly speaking, neither was vastly necessary – I could’ve survived without them. But the joy they bring cannot be measured in cost, although the money to pay for such luxuries does have to come from somewhere.

I save where I can so I can reap rewards in the form of new shoes and owl-themed goodies. However, I need to sow before I can reap again. I do believe it’s high time for another challenge. Next week’s budget is £15 – that’s £1 a day for food, £2 for anything else and £6 for a takeaway pizza on Friday night with the chap. Again, not necessary, but heart-warming. I hope to manage daily posts, so I can write about any purchases and how I’m making the most of my store cupboard, which is currently stuffed with supplies. Wish me luck, and do let me know if you’re tightening your belt too this week. The C word is hovering on the tip of my tongue . . .

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Ready, steady, cook!

My work load has increased for this week, a fact that I am grateful for. More working hours means more money earned and that, my friends, can only be a good thing.

But I needed to be prepared for the chaotic nature of this week, so it was to the kitchen for most of the day yesterday. I needed to stock the goody tin and fill the freezer and spend some time preparing food. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels cooking is good for the soul. Let me share the things I made that are good for the stomach!

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Firstly, I had to decide what to do with all of the odds and ends I had left in the fridge; the last of a pack of chicken thighs, half a butternut squash and someone else’s mushrooms that needed eating up. Add an onion, an apple and a fair amount of seasoning, and I had this delicious concoction bubbling in the slow cooker.

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I can’t actually share if the recipe was successful or not, as I’m eating the first portion tonight with piles of mashed potato. It certainly smelt appetizing last night.

Onto the baking section of today’s programme. From recent reading and research into rationing, I discovered oatmeal wasn’t rationed and the prices were controlled to make it a readily available product. So I spent 95p on a bag and got baking. I used 100g of oatmeal to 150g of porridge oats to make this batch of honey flapjacks, and they were very successful. They seemed to hold together much better than my first attempt. A winning recipe.

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I also had my first attempt at Scotch Shortbread, an “economical” recipe from a Marguerite Pattern book. Success! My previous exploration into g-f shortbread had been a miserable affair, but this was a delight. It only made a small quantity, but there would be no harm in doubling up if the fats ration allowed.

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During my shopping expedition yesterday morning, I of course spent a long time in the greengrocers. My best buy was three aubergine for 50p, all because of a couple of bruised bits. I soon chopped those off and set to work on a curry.

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Veggie curry doesn’t really create images of 1940s Britain, but I still had curry paste leftover from pre-rations so I made a big batch yesterday. In the mix is aubergine, onion, tomatoes, red pepper and red lentils. Even thought the jar of paste is gone, I still have plenty of spices in stock, so there will certainly be more curries in my kitchen.

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For dinner, I had the final chicken thigh with roasted butternut squash and sweet potato. I have no picture to share, because after an afternoon surrounded by food, I was ravenous! 

 

 

Baking inspiration

I have been reading Sue’s new blog, 365 days – £365, with keen interest. The way she has used various ingredients to her advantage has been inspirational. This weekend, I was treating myself to a restful Sunday, after spending most of Saturday catching up with University-related stuff. I felt inclined to rifle through my cupboards and see what I could create. It started with an egg.

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A further rummage in the cupboards and in the fridge later, and I had just enough flour, milk, sugar and butter to create this tray of delights . . .

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As you can see, I couldn’t resist the role of quality control. I was quite proud of these cute little gluten-free cupcakes. They tasted great fresh from the oven, but they did get a little bit dry. More experimentation required!

I had a small amount of flour left, another 100g of butter and as much sugar as I needed. We keep a house store of sugar in our baking cupboard. Yes, we have a baking cupboard. Yes, we are a house of girly-girls.

But alas, no more eggs.

There was still a recipe to be had though. After a flick through my Marguerite Patten’s Wartime Cookery book, the recipe for Eggless Sponge was uncovered. I made a Syrup Sponge Pudding with the few handfuls of ingredients I had.

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Honestly, a bowlful of warm sponge, topped with some reduced custard that I’d bought the day before, was the best pudding I’ve had in a long time. It took a pinch of ingenuity to make, but my goodness, the results were more than satisfactory. For me, it just shows the joy that can be found in simple cooking with humble ingredients. Delicious!

It’s all in your head

I have to offer my most grateful thanks to those who have left comments recently. I can’t tell you how much you have boosted my spirits. It was nice to be reminded that I’m not a big failure after all.

I have many challenges in my life, both academic and personal. But I am starting to realise that I also have many tools to tackle these challenges and overcome them. The most powerful tool I have is my mind.

It’s easy to say “mind over matter”, but when the matter seems daunting, it can be hard to remember. However, a little self-belief can go an awful long way. As soon as I decided that I was perfectly capable of finishing my assignments, the words started to flow. I thought I was a writer and that’s what I became. I am inching ever closer to my word count. It’s easier to put pen to paper now that the mental blockade has vanished.

The same is true on the domestic front too. Instead of worrying about the cost of the next food shop, I took a step back to survey what I already had. I told myself I was perfectly capable of making do with what I’ve got. I’ve made a veggie curry today, and there are plenty of vegetables left over. So I’ll avoid the supermarket for now and save my coins for another day.

It feels good to be in charge and in control. By reassuring myself that I am perfectly capable, I seem to be getting more done. Try it, or let me know what works for you when you’re suffering with a cloudy mind.

Dear Mrs Last

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I finished reading the collection of your diary entries last night. When I finally closed the book, I had one of those pauses, where you lay silently and absorb everything you have just read. Mrs Last, I salute you.

I can admit now that at times, your constant fretting irritated me. But this is coming from a reader with no prior experience of war. Once your situation truly sunk in, two world wars within your lifetime, I could appreciate why you were always so anxious. Of course, I was also reading with the gift of hindsight. When you were writing to Mass Observation, you have no idea about the eventual outcome.

The pages of your book made me laugh and cry in equal measure. I was delighted with the cookery advice you share and the meals you made for your family. But most importantly, you made me think. Some of the social concepts you noted in your diary were yet to be named, but you were still fully aware of them. I cheered when you recognised when you finally acknowledge that you were not your husband’s slave! I think you would be an extremely engaging person to talk to and you have earned your seat at my fantasy dinner party, alongside Buddy Holly and Enid Blyton.

Thank you Mrs Last. Thank you for providing a human reaction to the era I have studied. You have helped me to understand the reasoning for attitudes at the time. You endured so much and I for one am glad to see your legacy in print.

Regards,

Rebecca

Rebecca’s Recipes: Mama’s Brownies

Recipes that have been passed down through the generations are often tried and tested favourites. My mother is very good at baking. Some might even call her a master of the art. Even when I threw down the gauntlet of being gluten-free, she performed majestically to create the best gluten-free Swiss roll I have ever tasted. That’s right, she made gluten-free cake batter ROLL. Cake-making alchemy at its finest.

I am a novice compared to my mother, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. I will admit to learning most of them from her though. I’m here to share a recipe that flew from her recipe book to mine, taking the gluten free route. Chocolate brownies. Just saying that prompts a goofy grin from almost everyone. I couldn’t wait to road test my new scales – which work like a dream by the way. Plus, I bought a block of dark chocolate for my sweetie ration just for such a baking occasion.

(Side note, I haven’t had any other sweeties outside of my ration so far this month. I think this is worth a mention, as sweets were always my downfall in previous rationing challenges. I have had crisps on occasions; does anyone know the rationing value of this snack? Thanks!)

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DSCN2276My baking uniform is not complete with my CK apron and obligatory fluffy slippers.

            I have been doing a serious amount of writing today to make up for yesterday’s awol behaviour. I took a baking break just after lunch. These are motivational brownies, trust me.

Gluten-free brownies

Ingredients:

110g butter

110g dark or plain chocolate

225g caster sugar

2 eggs

Splash of milk

110g GF plain flour (I use Doves Farm)

½ tsp GF baking powder (again, Doves Farm)

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a rectangular tin with baking parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together using the Bain Marie method (saucepan and hot water – you got it.)

Combine the sugar, flour and baking powder in a large bowl.

Whisk the eggs together with a fork and add the milk.

Add the eggs to the flour mix, then the melted chocolate. Stir to make your brownie batter.

Pour into the tin and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. I like my brownies on the gooey side (who doesn’t?) so I took mine out after 22mins.

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I do hope you enjoy the recipe. I shall put the link with the others on my “Rebecca’s Recipes” page. Please let me know if you try it out, I’d love to hear what you think.

A kitchen companion

As you may have seen in my edit on my last post, I had an unforeseen expense. My kitchen scales finally bit the dust. They could not be resuscitated with a fresh battery and have been buried in the bag that is destined for the big recycling depot in the sky. They had a good innings. They were a constant fixture of my mother’s kitchen long before they came to live in Winchester with me.

But alas, out with the old and in with the new! My Salter scales should be arriving within the next few days. In a small shared kitchen, there are not many pieces of equipment that I can have to hand. But I’m truly lost without my scales. Not only has all baking grinded to a halt, but I’m having to guess how much food validates a portion size. It’s not a concern with my weight that drives me to weigh my food, it is the custom of a frugal chef. I need to get x amounts of portions out of a bag of pasta and therefore I weigh out each portion accordingly. Obviously, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but I will be glad when the inconvenience is over.

One expense that was seen and possibly could have been avoided was the purchase of a new book. I have come across Nella Last’s War in several other books concerning World War Two and the home front. I found a used copy for £2.81 (including p&p) and couldn’t resist. On the flip side, I borrowed a new-to-me DVD from a friend today. So that’s frugal entertainment at no extra cost! The balancing act lives on.