Friday, 30 September 2011

Down Shep!

Sorry, I've been channelling John Noakes ever since I read somewhere recently about Blue Peter becoming 'cool' as it's too old fashioned for today's 'yoof, innit'.  (Don't you just hate it when old people try to get 'down with the kids'?!).

Anyhoo, apparently, they're getting rid of the pets (not in a sinister way, I should add - some are being retired while others are sent off to new homes) while the programme itself follows others in the BBC stable and relocates to Manchester. 

It won't be the same - but then again, of course, kids aren't the same, are they?  I think back to me as a kid and think how unsophisticated I would be compared to kids today - although, of course, I fitted right in at the time (the time being the '70's/early '80's!!)  Somehow, I can't see my little angels being thrilled with  Blue Peter's efforts to produce the Advent Crown at Christmas time. 

And who can forget the Advent Crown?  The grandly titled home-made Christmas project that was essentially, two coat hangers linked together, covered in non-flammable tinsel before being adorned with four candles - one at each corner - that the presenters lit at the end of each week in December.  Ah, the Advent Crown/Mobile/Fire Hazard.  Fond memories.

And it just won't be Blue Peter without the animals - who can forget Shep, Petra and Goldie?  Petra even got her own bust in the Blue Peter garden!  And the Blue Peter garden - or perhaps it was some other location? - was also home to the time capsule.  Now, of course, buried so long ago that they've probably already unearthed it to show today's kids what their weird, wonderful and very out of touch contemporaries were up to in the late seventies.

The new look Blue Peter will feature less fluffy animals and more digital technologies.  What?!  Although the fact that doesn't really appeal to me all that much no doubt means that it'll be bang on the money in terms of attracting a younger audience.  I know things have to move with the times and nothing last forever and all that - but it does make me feel dreadfully old to think that Blue Peter is considered old fashioned and unappealing to the younger generation (particularly as I passed a certain birthday milestone this year).

One thing that hasn't changed about Blue Peter is their encouragement to get their viewers to think of others and they're launching the new series with a fundraising baking challenge for kids.  So, if you're looking for a way to get your kids interested in baking and to encourage their community-spirited side check out the Blue Peter Bake a Difference for Children in Need campaign.  With a Bake a Difference cook book, How to Run a Bakesale guidelines and posters (for your bake sale obviously) all free to print off. 

It's the October half term holidays here in a few short weeks so I'm intending to get organised myself and at least print off the cook book to encourage my kid's to get creative (messy in other words) in the kitchen!

Blue Peter presenter, Barney Harwood, launches the Bake a Difference Appeal

So, do you think the new Blue Peter format is a travesty or do you recognise, like me, that times they are a-changing and these things are all really just a way to point out to us that we've become old and untrendy just like we thought our parents were?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Free Family Fun Day!

I am all about thriftiness so what better than a free day out with the kids

If you live in or near Edinburgh, the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho - which both my husband and son absolutely love - is having a free family fun day this Sunday, 2nd October 10am - 4pm. 

There sounds like there will be lots to do for big and little kids with face painting, soft play, abseiling and climbing sessions.  So if you fancy scaling the heights - or even just a leisurely ceramics session and a coffee, why not head along there for lots of free activities for the kids - with the added attraction that they'll burn off some energy in the process and you might get a quiet evening.

Runner Bean-tastic!

As the photo in my last blog post hopefully illustrated, I got rather a lot of runner beans off my plants this year.  The vast majority were picked and eaten in the summer but I still ended up with lots and lots last weekend of the, frankly, much tougher variety!  Far too tough to eat!  So, after scouring cookbooks, the internet - and my cupboards - I made some relish.  I have no idea how good it is as you're supposed to leave it for a month before tasting but here goes...

Spiced Pickled Runner Beans- makes around 6 half litre jars

900g runner beans, trimmed and sliced
700g onions, chopped
40g cornflour
850ml malt vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon of mustard powder (English)
1 rounded tablespoon of turmeric
225g soft brown sugar
450g demerara sugar

1. Put chopped onions into a large saucepan with 275ml of the vinegar.  Bring to a simmer and then continue to simmer gently for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the sliced runner beans for 5 minutes in boiling salted water, strain, then add to onions.

2. In a small bowl, mix cornflour, mustard and turmeric with a little of the remaining vinegar - enough to make a smooth paste - then add the mixture to the onions and runner beans.  Pour in the rest of the vinegar and simmer the whole lot for 10 minutes.

3. Then, stir in the sugars until they're dissolved and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes.  Pot into warm, sterilised jars (I sterilised mine in the dishwasher but you can sterilise by washing in warm soapy water and then drying out in a low/medium over for 5 minutes).  Seal and label when cold and keep for at least 1 month before serving.

As I said, I've no idea what this will taste like but it did smell a little like picallili while I was making it so I'm hopeful (as I'm quite partial to a spot of picallili).

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Get Picking!

Well, it's that time of year when I need to start to harvest the remainder of my summer veg so I spent the weekend picking runner beans (tonnes of them!); broad beans (only a few rogue ones that I'd missed were left) and courgettes (still have a few left on the plants.  And I pulled up my lettuce which had bolted.  I was rather impressed with my harvest - although it's a bit on the green side. 

I've made runner bean relish (recipe to follow) and am about to make a summer veg soup from the rest - will keep you posted.

So, for the first time ever (drum roll) I'm attempting to grow veg over the winter.  Having never done this before - and not really being entirely sure what will grow - I'm cautiously optimistic.  Optimistic because I've had huge amounts of success with my raised beds, cautious because I don't really know what I'm doing!

Anyway, I planted out some leeks and a few (well, 3) brussel sprout plants all of which were generously donated by my Mum from her garden.  I did have 6 sprouts but 3 of them died and I actually have loads and loads of leeks left over but nowhere to put them.  They (the leeks) were remarkably easy to plant.  You just make a biggish hole for them (about the size of a tent pole - which is what I used! - and deep enough to fit all the roots into and then leave them.  Don't pack the earth around them like you'd normally do, just plonk them in the hole!  I was a bit concerned that the wind around here (we're on the top of a hill) would blow them away but, after I'd watered them in they seemed fairly well anchored and still look like they might stay.  I also gave them a wee haircut - apparently, you're supposed to take about 3cms off the top after they're planted.  So I did.

They do look a wee bit like blades of grass, as you can see, but I'm trying to be hopeful (the rogue plant in the middle is one of my sprouts - I'm not really planting aesthetically, I know!!)Suspect I may have left them a bit late in the season but here's hoping.  After all, it's Scotland and they're leeks and, given that my home town has a leek named after it, I'm guessing that it's good leek growing conditions around here.  Time will tell.

So, next weekend, I suspect it will be the turn of the beetroot to come up as it's starting to get a bit cold and I don't think you can over winter them.  I love beetroot but if anyone has any really good beetroot recipes, let me know.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Thrifty Ways to Get Your Groove Back!

Since having kids - as I'm sure many will agree - resulted in life becoming one long roller coaster where my needs pretty much come last in the house - even behind the cats! 

So, after a lifetime spent on the couch (well, not quite but I've never been accused of being a gym bunny, that's for sure) I took up running a couple of years ago.  2nd April 2009 to be precise.

I've always said running wasn't for me, I don't have the build, I'm too busty, I'm more of a dancer blah, blah, blah.  However, when a good friend's mum - who used to smoke a few a day, was still partial to a wee whisky and, more importantly than either of those facts, was 65 at the time - decided she was running the Edinburgh Marathon in 2009, I realised that my excuses for not getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other were paper thin. 

So, I originally took up running - run a minute, walk a minute, repeat for 3 minutes, then 5 etc. - as a bit of a challenge to myself and to prove that I could actually run for a bus (after years of knowing quite the reverse was true!).  Even though I'm not a fan of the gym, I do walk everywhere and always have done and I wasn't particularly overweight - so I was completely shocked at a) how hard I found it to run for a minute and b) how much pain I was in the next day after a paltry 10 minute session. 

However, even though it was awful and I felt sure that I probably couldn't run as I'd always suspected, after only 1 week of frankly pathetic efforts, I signed up for the Cancer Research UK's Race for Life 5K around Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh (i.e. up a bloody great hill!) and emailed all my friends to ask them to sponsor me.  Talk about no way out!

The first 4 weeks of training were fairly awful.  I was still counting my running in minutes rather than miles and, as the date for the 5K drew nearer, I began to panic that I wouldn't make it past the 'running for 10 minutes without stopping' stage.  However, by week 6 I'd turned a corner and was happily putting on my running gear 3 or 4 times a week.  So, I was delighted to finish the Race for Life in a quite reasonable (although not anything to write home about) 34 minutes. 

Panicked that I would suddenly develop lazy-itis, I immediately signed up for the 10K Race for Life, trained for it and completed it in just over an hour (1 hour 6 minutes).  Again, I don't think Paula Radcliffe needs to be losing any sleep but given that it hadn't been that long since I'd struggled to run a minute, walk a minute, I was chuffed.

(That's me 2nd from the left coming over the finish line - phew!)

Although there have been the odd glitches here and there and weeks that have gone by without me so much as looking at a running shoe, I've always got myself back into my 'groove' and have more or less steadily kept running since April 2009.  There have been days when 2 miles seemed like 20 and days when I've done 6 miles feeling no pain at all.  I've even managed to run a half marathon (which admittedly was an accident because I got lost!) but that's not the point.  I ran, 13.5 miles.  Me.

Nothing quite beats lacing up my running shoes, plugging in my iPod and setting out around the beautiful countryside where we live.  And the added bonus - apart from feeling better than I've ever felt and having more energy to keep up with the kids - is that somehow, without reducing my food intake (or wine) at all, I've lost 10lbs!

Oh, and apart from investing in good running shoes, I don't have to pay a penny so it's a pretty thrifty way to get fit, enjoy the scenery and do something that's just about me.  Despite all my misgivings running definitely helped me get my groove back.  Big time.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Technorati - Verifictation


Not the most exciting post, I'll warrant you.  Normal service will be resumed (promise!)

Friday, 23 September 2011


Was going to entitle this post, Fed Up Friday but thought that was way too gloomy for my final post before the weekend.  But the truth of the matter is that I'm well and truly fed up!

After a fab day out with the kids and some friends last Saturday, I lost my engagement ring.  It was cold, the ring is a little on the large side and it just slipped off while I was gesticulating to explain the wonders of Paris (which is where the friend I was talking to is going for her 40th and ironically - oh, the irony - where my now husband got down on one knee and proposed).  Said ring, flew off my hand and landed in the footwell of her car under the passenger front seat.  We both laughed and got down on our knees to get it out from under the chair.  But it wasn't there!  We hunted the entire car, made sure her dog hadn't eaten it (she hadn't) and even moved the car forward to check the ground around the car.  Convinced at the time that it would show up, I wasn't too bothered at that point.  After all, it was under the front seat of her car, wasn't it?

Her husband kindly cleared the entire car out that night and checked everywhere - no ring.  He even took it into the garage where they checked behind various panels - still no ring!  It is one of lifes mysteries indeed.  The conclusion of both car owner and mechanic is that it fell into the vent - which I don't think the mechanic could get into - and has probably been expelled by the car by now.  A fact which may explain the strange disappearing ring phenomenon but doesn't really solve the problem of me having lost my engagement ring.

As the week has gone on I've become increasingly (and quite irrationally) grumpy about it.  After all, it's just a ring, right?  Phone calls to the police and checking the streets around where I lost it have proved fruitless and, sadly, I think a phone to the insurance company is the next action point on my list.  Although part of me thinks 'what's the point?'  All they'll do (assuming they pay up) is give me the money for another ring.  But my engagement ring was made for me.  We chose it together after my husband's whirlwind proposal (we'd been together 5 months).  He didn't spend three month's salary on it as friend's of mine did - or even one month.  But it did cost quite a bit for us at the time.  The point is though, to me, it was priceless.  Everyone thought the stone was an emerald (which used to make me laugh - an emerald that size would have been about 4 months salary at least!).  It was a green garnet.  Unusual in an engagement ring but my favourite colour and my birthstone all wrapped in one.  The point is, it meant something to us.  And I've gone and lost it!

I keep trying to tell myself that it's just a ring, it might show up, there are far worse things that could happen (of course there are!) but it doesn't get away from the fact that I'm still really sad and completely fed up that, after all these years of wearing it and NEVER taking it off, it's gone forever.

Anyway, enough of my harping on.  I promise to return next week fully refreshed and restored and less grumpy (and even if I'm not I'll pretend to be on here!).  A friend suggested that if/when the insurance company pay up that I shouldn't get a replica (the jeweller who made it seems to have gone out of business anyway) but I should finally get that eternity ring that never materialised on our 10th wedding anniversary (although much promised).  Hmmm, there's a thought.  Maybe every cloud...  Nah, it's not working yet (but there's hope!)

(This is completely unrelated but, as it's Cupcake Week - thanks to for reminding us of that - I thought I'd post a photo of my 40th birthday cupcakes that my friend made in an effort to cheer me up.  She's also a GP so clever and a fantastic chef - some people just have all the talents, don't they?!)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Summer Harvest

We've not really had all that much of a summer in terms of good weather but, surprisingly, we have had a good harvest in the veggie garden.  Peas-a-plenty; lots of carrots and beetroot; tonnes of courgettes; and more runner beans that you could shake a stick at!  And I managed to keep the kids occupied on many afternoons with a spot of pea shelling...

I have to admit that I grew the runner beans purely because I like the red flowers but, now that I have a glut of them, I'm going to be making some bean chutney - recipe to follow - as well as anything and everything you could possibly make from a courgette.   

Anyway, I wanted to share my summer harvest pics with you as I was delighted that we managed to grow such a fantastic amount in Scotland; in a rubbish summer and in a tiny garden.  This year I grew:
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries (a few - more of that later)
  • Peas
  • Runner Beans
  • Broad Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Courgettes
  • Potatoes - 1st Early (Charlottes)

And we still have potatoes (late King Edwards); Conference pears and lots more courgettes to harvest - as well as the parsnips which will be overwintered (which basically means my intention is to use some of them for Christmas dinner and the rest for roast Sunday lunches after that).  It just goes to show that you don't need much space to grow a lot. 

Now, the essence of my blog is all about saving money and, while I'm not going to pretend for a minute that I have grown enough - or even have enough space - to feed a family of four all year round, I did manage the following achievements:

  1. I didn't buy peas for the whole of June and July
  2. I still haven't had to buy any beetroot
  3. We had strawberries for the whole of June from the garden
  4. I haven't had to buy broad beans, runner beans or courgettes at all (although some of that may be due to the fact that my kids will only eat them in very small amounts.
  5. We've had salad leaves from the garden from June until they went to flower (bolted) this week.
  6. I have 2 rows of parsnips and 2 grow bags full of potatoes that I'm hoping will feed us at Christmas time!

And all of this from 3 raised beds, 4 potato grow bags and 4 custom-made (by Mr Thrifty) narrow beds that go around the fence - for the beans and peas.  I also grow pear trees and rhubarb in the borders  - and they're about to be joined by the blueberry bush which produced a rather pathetic 6 blueberries this year in it's little pot.  So I think it needs space to flourish.  And my garden is only 13m by 9m with a little bit down the side return - anything is possible.

So, watch this space for my bean chutney and courgette recipes - and please feel free to suggest a few too.  The more the merrier!  But in the meantime, please give it up for my wonderful Summer Harvest!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Listography - 5 Games I Used to Play

Encouraged to get writing again - I've been a bit quiet for a while - I was inspired to link to Kate Take 5's Listography of games I used to play - mainly as a challenge to see whether or not I could actually remember the rules of any of them!  And of course, also because they illustrate the main aim of this blog - thriftiness!  (It being the '70's and early '80's when I was growing up and the chances of parents splashing out on expensive toys were extremely low).

1. What's the Time Mr Wolf?
One person turned their back on all the other kids while they tried to sneak up on the person who was 'it' and get to them quietly without them noticing.  'It' would turn around at various points during the sneaking to catch someone moving and you all had to freeze.  If caught moving, you were sent back to the beginning.  (Sounds completely rubbish now when writing it down but it was great fun!)

2. British Bulldog
This sounds like a version of Kate's Red Rover and was so rough it was actually banned at my primary school!  Anyway, one person was 'it' and the entire class had to charge from one end of the playground to the other without being caught by him/her.  If caught, you then joined forces to help 'it' catch other members of the class until they were all caught.  (It was banned at school because vast numbers of little ones were knocked over like bowling pins in the ensuing charge!)

3. Kiss, Cuddle & Torture
I think everyone knows how to play this game.  You run away from the boys (or girls depending on your gender) and if caught can go for the option of kiss, cuddle or torture.  Torture was usually either a Chinese burn (ouch) or being tickled until you screamed.  Most of us opted for a cuddle (unless particularly cute boy was on the other end - then we were all terribly forward!!)

4. Kerbie
Game played with football/basketball where two opponents stand on opposite pavements and throw the ball to try to hit the kerb.  If you catch the kerb at the right angle, the ball will bounce straight back to you and you get 10 points.  If it hits half heartedly, it'll only come part way towards you and you get 5 points and stand in the middle of the road(!) to try to hit kerb again.  And of course, if you're rubbish, your opponent gets it and it's their turn.

5. Chinese Ropes
I have no idea what was Chinese about these ropes.  Basically someone (never usually me) had loads of elastic bands that had been tied together into a huge loop.  Two (girls usually) would stand - as if at opposite ends of a skipping rope - with the bands wrapped around their ankles and another girl would jump around in the middle trying not to get caught up in the ropes.  From memory, it was a kind of glorified skipping with a bit of hopscotch thrown in.

Having written down all of these it's made me realise why we were bored by week 2 of the school holidays!  And in the end, I think we just played endless games of hide and seek - the old ones are the best ones after all.