Friday, 26 February 2016


Just a quickie because I'm shattered and haven't even thought about dinner yet but.... drum roll... I have a job interview! Eeeeek! On Monday so it's pretty short notice but I'm really excited. It's my first interview in years so I'm being realistic but what's the worst that can happen? I get some practice at having interviews. Whatever the outcome this is really positive... now I just have to find something smart to wear.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

A Bit of Mid-Week Luxury

Isn't it great when you find something hidden away in the freezer that you've forgotten all about?
That's what happened to me today. Having ordered my supermarket on-line shop I decided to reorganize my freezer to make room for both the frozen goods I've ordered and the batch cooking I plan to do at the weekend. To my surprise and delight, lurking at the back of the middle shelf, behind a tub of homemade soup were two salmon steaks!

I remember buying them some time ago when they were on half price offer, and as they were all individually wrapped I threw away the large bag they were in when I was making room before Christmas. Without that big, unnecessary bag however, they went unnoticed. Until today.

I've cut a potato into wedges, wrapped one of the salmon steaks in foil and popped in the oven. I'll serve with peas, or maybe a bit of salad. And a glass of homemade wine; well why not? Every girl deserves a little luxury sometimes and it's even nicer when it's unexpected.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Surprise Spuds

Yesterday I made it out into the garden for the first time this year. It was a little grey and blustery but surprisingly warm so I thought I'd make the most of the lack of rain and make a start on my little patch of mud. It's a very small garden and a slightly odd shape, getting wider as it runs the width of the cottage. I have no back garden at all so any veg I grow is right out there for all to see.

I didn't have much luck with veg last year having started quite late in the season, and fighting a losing battle with slugs, but I did have a few tubs of salad stuff and planted runner beans and potatoes in between the flowers. I got a few meals out of it and there is nothing nicer than home grown, so all things considered I was happy.

Fast forward to yesterday and I decided to do a bit of weeding and digging. A mild, wet winter means weeds that would normally have died off have flourished and it was back breaking work. Finally I was ready to begin turning over the soggy soil in anticipation of a rich harvest this year and look what I found...

Several spuds I'd missed last year! 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Pitta Pizza

Quick, easy, very cheap and extremely tasty; I think I almost prefer these to proper pizzas!

Take one pitta bread (I used wholemeal), spread with tomato puree and top with whatever you fancy. I added a pinch of mixed herbs, a sprinkling of grated cheese, sliced onions, half a tomato and a few tiny bits of frozen mixed peppers.

I was hungry and in a rush so I forgot to weigh the cheese so couldn't work out exactly what it cost but I'm guessing around 30p altogether. The pitta bread cost just 8p but could be less if using a value range.

It was a surprisingly filling snack and certainly satisfied the 'junk' food craving I had, but served with salad would make a perfectly good meal and as long as you don't go overboard on the topping, pretty healthy too. I'll definitely be making these again.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Woeful Wednesday

Today I had to make my fortnightly visit to the job centre, not high on anyone's list of  'fun things to do', but Wednesdays are one of the days I can't get a bus directly from the village I live in making the already limited bus service even more inconvenient. It's about a mile and a half walk to the bus stop and that walk includes a rather large hill; throw in a cold wind and pouring rain and what is a pleasant stroll in summer months becomes a thoroughly unpleasant experience.

I ended up being out for hours, cold and wet from the outset, so I abandoned my plan to get off the bus early on the way home to pick up my prescription. By then I was chilled to the bone after spending hours in wet jeans and a 'waterproof' coat that can't cope with more than a shower or two. I know I'm going to regret it when I have to undertake the seven mile round trip to the doctors tomorrow but I just couldn't face walking any further than I absolutely had to today.

I have got my driving test booked for next month though... keep your fingers crossed for me and soon these soggy treks may be a thing of the past.

I've been home a few hours now and I still haven't really warmed up but I've swapped my coffee for hot chocolate and I'm snuggled up under a fleecy throw so I should defrost eventually. I just wish these awful old storage heaters worked better. they never really seem to do more than take the chill off. I think I'll find something quick and easy to do for dinner, I don't want to be standing in the kitchen for too long tonight. I think I still have a portion of hotpot in the freezer, maybe even a cottage pie. It's days like today I'm glad I always freeze any leftovers, it means I can enjoy a home cooked meal without any of the effort.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Chicken Stew 51p

A bit later than I planned after forgetting to switch on my slow cooker, I tucked into chicken stew yesterday. On a cold winters day there can be nothing better than stew.

I'd defrosted one large chicken breast and popped that in the slow cooker whole on top of the veg. Cooked slowly like that it's wonderfully tender and breaks apart easily when I stir the stew before serving.

Into the slow cooker went *
1 large chicken breast  56p (asda smart price £3.33 for 1kg)
3 medium carrots 17p (57p 1kg)
2 small parsnips   21p(74p 500g)
2 medium potatoes 12p (£1.50 2,5kg)
1 large red onion 10p (£1 1kg)
1 leek   26p ( £1 500g)
2 sticks celery  5p (49p)
2 stock cubes   6p (75p for 12)
1 mug of water
towards the end of cooking I added
frozen peas 20p (£1.30 1kg)
frozen peppers 30p (£1 500g)
cornflower for thickening**

There should easily be at least four hearty servings which means it works out at around 51p per portion. Not bad at all for a tasty dinner.

* All items bought from Asda. Although some things may be cheaper elsewhere I usually do one big supermarket shop every few weeks and have that delivered, saving me on bus fares and the sheer effort involved in dragging it all home on public transport.
** I haven't included seasoning and cornflower in the overall costings as these are minimal and down to personal preference anyway.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

What do you think?

I've been playing around with the look of my blog, what do you think? I'm still not sure it's what I'm after but it's definitely brighter and that's a start. It just looked so dismal and depressing before. Struggling to make ends meet can be depressing enough without looking at more grey, don't you think? It's time to lighten and brighten myself up and that means with my blog too.

I hope you like it, but all that veg has reminded me I haven't put the slow cooker on yet. Ooops. I better get that chicken stew started if I want to eat tonight.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

No Power, No Energy and a Reboot

I've become accustomed to the occasional power cut since I moved to my cottage, they usually last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or so. On Monday however, the power went out for over eleven hours. I wasn't alone of course, much of Cornwall was in a similar situation with thousands of homes without electricity thanks to storm Imogen. 

Luckily for me I wasn't cold. I have storage heaters, which I hate, but at least they had stored their heat during the previous night so despite having no power I wasn't shivering. I was hungry though, and desperate for a coffee. Unable to cook, or even boil a kettle, my options for food were rather limited and typically at the worst possible time I'd run out of bread so couldn't even have a sandwich. A tin of salmon, a bit of cheese and a jar of homemade pickles was pretty much all I could find in my cupboards that didn't need cooking. Meanwhile I had a fully stocked freezer that I couldn't touch and was getting increasingly concerned about the prospect of it all defrosting. I had awful visions of the power being out for days and losing everything. Thankfully that didn't happen. 

It's made me realise I need to rethink my 'zombie apocalypse' cupboard and add items that don't need to be cooked. Canned fish, corned beef, crackers, biscuits... that sort of thing. I should probably venture into the loft and dig out my old camping stove too and buy a new gas canister. I really wasn't prepared for a power cut of that length. 

I did have lots of candles though. I love my candles, they are something of an addiction, so even after dark I had plenty of light. There's so much we take for granted though isn't there? Light at the flick of a switch, instant heat and cooking facilities - not to mention phone and internet connection - all of which disappear the second the power goes out. 

Monday was a slow day, a day without intrusions from the outside world. It was actually quite relaxing in some respects. I spent most of the day reading or sewing, things I didn't need energy for and maybe that set the tone for the week because I've felt a distinct lack of energy ever since. I've struggled to get much done this week and my 'to do' list has got longer instead of shorter. I've been exhausted and listless and really feeling quite down so yesterday I hopped on a bus to the coast. I did it on a whim, and spent money I shouldn't have (bus fare and fish & chips for lunch) but it was just what I needed. 

I do things like that very rarely. I'm focused on spending money sensibly so bills and keeping the cupboards reasonably stocked always comes first but sometimes, just sometimes, we have to feed the soul. If I have learnt anything in the last year it is that looking after ourselves is important and that extends beyond getting enough sleep and eating well. I can't do things like take an impromptu trip to the beach every week, or even every month, but every now and again it is good to recharge the batteries. Yesterday I did that by catching a couple of buses to an almost deserted seaside town, indulging in a rare treat of fish and chips, and sitting above the wave and wind lashed beach to eat them. It might not be everyone's idea of a fun day out but it did me the world of good. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Cooking for One, Eating for Too Many

One of the things I've found hardest to get used to now I'm on my own is cooking for one. Even now, a year on, I still often find myself cooking way too much. This isn't a huge problem of course, leftovers always get used up and frequently I deliberately cook more than I need so I can freeze meals for those days when I really don't want to stand in a cold kitchen and chop veg, but I do wonder if I would still have gained weight if I'd mastered the delicate art of cooking for my lonesome.

No matter how small a dish or saucepan or tray I use it always seems to contain such a feeble amount when I measure out a single portion. If I'm hungry, especially, the temptation to tip out a few more chips, chop extra veg or throw in a extra handful of rice can be almost uncontrollable - what can I say? I have zero willpower.

It's often not until I'm dishing up onto a reasonable sized plate that I realise at best I have a man sized portion, at worst I've cooked for two, or four, or ten! My ex-husband ate big meals so I became accustomed to cooking quite large amounts even for just the two of us, and try as I might I just can't curb that trait.

I used to worry far more about my weight. My husband had a tendency to be brutally honest (excuse me for a moment as I laugh at the irony of that), and wouldn't hesitate to mention if he thought I was getting fat - for my 'own good' you understand - so I worked hard at keeping my waistline under control. I was often fighting a losing battle as I have an under-active thyroid, and am on medication for other conditions that can cause weight gain. Double whammy. Needless to say I was often miserable and fixated on the flab much more than I probably needed to. I can look back at photo's of that time and think wow I looked great, but the truth is I felt fat. To my mind at least, there was always a few more pounds to lose.

These days I'm much more comfortable in my skin. I don't fixate on the numbers on the scales and I know one man's idea of what was 'fat' is not necessarily someone else's. I've accepted that a combination of health issues means my weight can yo-yo, but as long as I feel good, as long as I'm as healthy as I can be, then that's fine. And I've learnt that looking good is more about attitude than dress size.

That said I was still more than a little gutted when last week I had to buy clothes in yet a bigger size!

Fortunately for me there are a few very good charity shops in Liskeard that, so far at least, haven't succumbed to the national trend of sky high prices. My favourite sells all its clothing at £2 an item, this means they have a good turnover of stock as things aren't hanging around for weeks on end as in many other charity shops, so there is always plenty of choice. I invested in a few versatile pieces that will work with the clothes I have that do still fit. £12 well spent for comfortable clothes and a boost of confidence, but I don't want to be wearing them for long. This extra weight I'm carrying is taking its toll on my back and hip and I'm increasingly out of breath so it has to go.

I can't do much about the health conditions that affect my weight, that's just something I have to work with/around, but I can make sure my diet is healthy and I can work on those portion sizes. I need to lose at least a stone (14lb) to get back to a weight that doesn't cause me pain so somehow I need to master this 'cooking for one' lark.

Any tips?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Wonky Veg and Waste

In the news today is this move by Asda to introduce 'wonky veg boxes' in 128 of its stores. I don't know about you but I couldn't care less what my veg looks like, taste and value for money are far more important to me. According to Asda buying a box of wonky veg is 30% cheaper than paying for prettier versions of the same items.

Of course its only saving you money if you are actually going to use the veg. The big drive behind these boxes is to cut down on waste but only a small proportion of the UK's food waste comes from supermarkets - most goes into our own bins at home, with salad vegetables being some of the most likely to end up being thrown away. It can only be good news that our supermarkets are addressing waste but we have to do our part too and use what we buy.

It's a great initiative but with only limited stores involved so far, and small numbers of boxes available in each store, is it enough? Will this help with your weekly shop? I'd struggle to bring a box like that back on the bus, even if a store near me stocked them. What are your views? I'd love to know.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Bits and Bobs of What I'm Up To.

Yesterday was exhausting. I'm coming to dread Wednesdays as that's the day I sign on. It's not that I mind visiting the job centre, the staff at the Liskeard branch are friendly and helpful, but although they do their best to fit my appointment around the limited bus service available to me I'm often out all day for the sake of a ten minute sign on. It's very frustrating. Yesterday my appointment time was after the last bus back so I had to catch a bus to a nearby village and walk the last 3 1/2 miles. I don't usually mind the walk but I'd got shopping to bring home, it was particularly cold and my hip has been causing me some pain for the last few days so the walk took much longer than usual. I was a bit fed up when I finally got in, a whole 7 hours after I'd left home.

So what does the future hold? Obviously I'm job hunting - which isn't easy when one lives in a tiny village with a pretty lousy bus service, but also talking with my employment adviser about other options. That's partly why I'm coming back to blogging.

Last week the job centre sent me on a course that, lets be honest here, I really didn't want to do. It seemed a bit of a waste of time to me, especially as the lack of buses meant they were paying for a taxi home for me each day. It was a bit disheartening to know JC+ were spending more on my travel than I actually get to live on for a week. To add insult to injury the course was to include subjects like 'managing your money' and 'cooking on a budget'. FFS! I can do that! But you know what? I loved it. Dammit!I wanted to be able to complain about the waste of resources and how my time would have been better spent actually looking for a job but, thanks to the fabulous guys at Active Plus who ran the course, I finished the week feeling more optimistic than I have in a long time.

We had advice from ECCABI (East Cornwall Citizens Advice Bureau Initiative) on budgeting and banking, which was far more interesting than I imagined, and spending a morning in the kitchen with Sanjay from the School of Cornish Sardines, even though gnocchi and smoked mackerel aren't entirely to my taste, was fun and got the creative juices flowing. It made me realise I actually miss writing my blog. It's great coming up with new recipes and stretching my budget yet still eating well, but if I keep that to myself it loses something. I was shocked at some of the figures ECCABI gave us, on the numbers of children living in poverty in Cornwall, of how many parents go hungry so their children can eat, and most disturbingly of all how many teachers report children fainting during the day from hunger!

It is possible to eat well on a small budget and if the things I write encourage even one person then I've achieved something. This is 2016, none of us should be going hungry.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

I'm Back!

It's been a while... a long, long while but I finally feel like it's time to get get back into blogging.

A lot has changed. My husband walked out, I've moved to a smaller place in a quieter location and after battling with health issues over the last year I'm now managing on my own. I've recently been switched from ESA to JSA, despite having a sick note that still covered me for another few months...but hey that non-medical decision maker obviously knows more than my doctor! That's OK though, ultimately I've never wanted to be stuck in the benefit system anyway and it's forced me to address some things. It piled on extra stress at a time I really didn't need it, but I'll make the best of it because y'know, that's what I do.

I might make a few changes to my blog, maybe change the layout and make it a bit brighter. Coming back to it after so long I thought how depressing it was to look at, very dark and dismal, which probably reflected my mood and outlook very well when I began but onward and upwards..

I've already been through and deleted many of the posts about my ex-husband. I haven't got rid of every reference to him because as much as we might like to sometimes, we can't sanitise our lives. However he was never entirely comfortable with me 'broadcasting our problems to the world', which was why I chose to write under a pseudonym, so to avoid any potential future problems I've just cut him out wherever it was reasonable to do so. I've given it some thought and I'll still use that pseudonym though. Not because I have anything to hide but because I like Hope and it does have a personal meaning to me. Some of you do know my 'real' name and that's fine. Who knows, maybe one day I'll get brave and even post pics of me. We'll see...