Sunday, 30 September 2012

Be Inspired, Be Patient, Be Rewarded.

Like most people I get sent a lot of information either by email or through the post, about new products on the market. From a lot of desperate sellers trying to shift their goods. 

Fair play to them. I mean if the well heeled weren't buying at the top, how would there be anything in the Chazza shops for the likes of you and me eh?

I really love the high end catalogues from Toast, Plumo and my favourite Anthropologie. I flick through them exclaiming, how much? they must be kidding! and who buys this stuff? 

But I must admit I normally do love the look of their products. I even succumbed once and paid £99.00 for a teal blue dress from Toast. But honestly, never again, the dress was ok, but the quality was pants. 

So now I let them inspire me. Then I go out on the hunt for something similar in the Chazza shops, or boot fairs or indeed Ebay. So much more satisfying then paying bundles for something mass produced, probably in China.

This from Plumo, 'soft and colourful throw woven from mohair and wool in a subtle checked pattern. Made by Irish weavers, 70% mohair/30%wool.' £115 each.

This from my local chazza shop, soft and colourful throw woven from mohair and wool in a subtle checked pattern. Made by Scottish weavers in their homes, 70% mohair/30% wool. £3.50.

With a little bit of time and effort I think you can find most things you want, at a good price without sacrificing quality or style. 

What have you found lately?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Shaving Money Off My Shopping Bill

Dearest reader my thoughts have latterly turned to economy. Probably not so much of a surprise given the amount we have recently spent on our house renovations.

It's true to say I am always mindful of cost, but only in relation to quality. I really do not want to seek out the cheapest of goods or food, rather the best value. 
I work hard for my money and spend it in a balanced way.

We eat very well and almost everything is prepared from scratch. 

We are meat eaters, but I'm very concerned about the welfare of animals, and will not buy 'suspect' or cheap meat or chicken.

My latest notion is to cook more vegetarian meals, which should not only be cheaper but more healthy. As long as they are not supplemented by huge amounts of cheese, (always a temptation).

This morning I had fresh soups on my shopping list. I do make them usually, in fact I made a very warming carrot and ginger one at the weekend, but I fancied something a bit more unusual.

I tootled along the aisle in my local supermarket but couldn't find any inspiration, then I saw a nice pot of Minestrone. Hang on I thought, I must have all those ingredients at home, I should really make it myself.

Within 30 minutes of getting home I had a huge pot of Minestrone bubbling away on the stove. I filled the big saucepan, thinking cook once eat at least 4 times, for both Mr.S&P and myself, (the pan holding 4 litres)

If I had bought the soup ready made it would cost (Asda price) £1.97 per 600 gr carton. I think the whole 4 litre pot probably cost less than £2.50. 

So a good start. 
I thought I would share my 'new' recipes as I cook them. You never know I might inspire you, I do hope so.

I didn't really measure out any ingredients, just gauged it by eye, so I hope that works for you too.

Take a big pot and pour in a glug of olive oil. Add carrots, celery and leaves if any, and onions all roughly chopped into bite size pieces.

Next  some chopped greens,( minus the bloomin caterpillars) and basil, ours were both grown from seed in our green house.

Stir all until wilted and coated with oil then add chopped garlic.

Heat through for a couple of minutes then add 2 x tinned tomatoes and a tin of beans. I bought these on special offer, but you could use any beans you want, obvs.

Lastly, top up the soup almost to the brim with stock, then add a small amount of dried Oregano and a couple of handfuls of dried pasta. 
This is a great recipe for using up the small amounts of dried pasta that get left in bags when they aren't quite enough for a main meal.

Scraps into the compost pot of course.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Family Affair

Ah me, all good things must come to an end. Such a shame. 

My eldest brother John and his wife Dottie left this morning after spending five nights and four days with us. It's been heavenly. 

They are going on to Spain then Las Vegas and finally Honolulu before returning to their home in Australia.

I have been very excited about their visit and thought hard about planning an itinerary that would give them the best of English experiences whilst they were here with us. 

I wanted all of our outings to be within close proximity of where we are based in Sussex.

When they arrived last Wednesday I made a melt in the mouth beef curry, and we had the inaugural lighting of our new wood burning stove. 
A cosy quiet evening of relaxation, as they had been travelling all over Britain to see friends and family.

Here are some of the highlights of their stay.

Thursday was the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, brisk walk along the front, scrummy fish and chips and a mooch amongst the antique shops in the old town. 
And to round the day off a ride on Britain's steepest funicular railway.

Friday was the big Family get together with much scoffing in evidence, heaps of nachos, lashings of cider with a pot of Chilli the size of the London Wheel made to Mr.S&P's secret recipe.

Saturday we had glorious sunshine as we chuffed our way through the countryside on the Bluebell Railway.

That's me on the left, John in the middle and our boy Jack on the right, who hadn't seen his Uncle John in over eleven years. Can you see the big smiles on our faces?

We had afternoon tea at home later on that day, but managed a very swift half gazing at the gorgeous view in the tremendous beer garden at The Griffin Inn, Fletching on the way home.

In the evening we took them to see The Sweeney at the Local Picture House, and introduced them to Mr. Winstone at his most charming.
And of course on our last day together we reminisced, and talked about family times and history. 

We dovetailed a visit to Charleston Farmhouse, 

with a  superb supper at The Ram Inn, Firle.

The only sadness and one regret of this whole wonderful family experience was the sudden death of my middle brother Jim who died on August 12th, just as John left Australia, on his way to us.

Here they are together, with Jim in our Mother's arms.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My Best Money Saving Tip

This is the last stitch of the scary sewing project, hand sewing the hems. The whole project has taken me about five days in all, and although the curtains are certainly not 'perfect' from a professional curtain making point of view, I'm very pleased with them. 

(Sighs of relief all round and a huge saving of £500 made).

The pencil pleat uniformity is a bit iffy and wouldn't stand up to scrutiny, but hey the ribbon is sooo pretty it kinda makes up for it. I was hoping the ribbon would lift the plain curtains from bog standard to bespoke, and I think it has.

I would say if you're thinking of giving this sort of thing a go, but like me have never done it before, give it a try. Look on the Internet for tutorials, ask friends for their tips, take your time and it will work :)

We have spent some money on this room, but we have stuck to a budget, and we now have a lovely room that we will use, instead of an ugly one that we didn't want to go in. 

Most of the larger items we have recently purchased, art deco cabinet, sofa and fire surround have all been found on ebay. The rug was Ardingly.

Pure wool. Only £50.00.

This 1930s fire surround was an unbelievable £4.99.

So now I'm going to let you know how we found such incredible bargains on ebay. Otherwise known as my best money saving tip.

By using The Money Saving Expert's local ebay deals mapper. 

This handy little gizmo can tell you all the items that are listed as 'collection only'. By entering your post code and the amount of miles you're willing to travel to collect, you will be able to scroll through a veritable cornucopia of delights, and grab some bargains.

You may even be lucky and find some sellers who are willing to deliver for a small fee.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Best Beef Curry Recipe.

Since purchasing my slow cooker (in the Co op sale natch), at the tail end of  last winter, I have slowly been tweaking and perfecting some recipes. 

Today oh lucky gourmets I thought I would share my recipe for beef curry. It's a fraction of the cost of buying a take away, very low in fat with no added nasties and although I say it myself twice as tasty.

The tenderness of the meat is due to the long slow cook, but it's the adding of a few fresh ingredients that really gives it it's depth of flavour. 

Obviously you might decide to give my recipe a bash just as it is, but don't be shy about adding some of your own little favourites as extras like maybe fresh ginger.

1 packet of lean stewing beef diced in chunky pieces, enough for two greedy people.

medium sliced onion

Peppers, any colour or size chopped into chunky pieces, 1 or 2 depending on how much you like them

Fresh chillies any kind, finely chopped, add quantity to taste. I normally add 4 but only put the seeds from 2 as this is where the heat is. Best wash your hands after this bit.

Garlic finely chopped, 1 or 2 cloves

Big bunch fresh coriander roughly chopped

Small amount of oil 1to 2 tbsp

Tin tomatoes

Curry powder blend, I use Morrisons hot curry powder and I add quite a bit, but add at least 2 tbsp

Whole coriander seeds about 1 dessert spoon

Whole cardamom pods, 4 to 6

Whole cumin seeds about 1 dessert spoon

These chillies and coriander leaves are some of our first bits of produce from our recently acquired greenhouse, and all the more delicious because of it. They can also be grown on a windowsill in a warm spot (hark at me, suddenly the expert).

The How To Bit

So set up your slow cooker, don't switch it on yet though. Pour some oil into a medium size pan, add your beef pieces and brown them all over. Use a slotted spoon and transfer to your slow cooker.

Next in the residue oil in the pan, fry off your onions, peppers and chillies until they soften. Add a little more oil if you need to. Whilst they are cooking crush your whole cumin, cardamom and coriander seeds together, add to veg once they have softened.

Next add your chopped fresh coriander leaves and garlic and stir through for a couple of minutes, don't have the heat too high or the garlic will burn.

Next add your curry powder, you may need to add a little more oil now as it is important that the spices cook through a little in the oil, again don't have the heat too high.

Then all you have to do is add your tomatoes, warm everything through and finally add to slow cooker, and stir it through your beef.

I cook mine for about 6 hours on high and it is perfect. I serve it with boiled rice, raita, lime pickle and a garnish of chopped coriander leaves.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Seasons Greetings

I know, I know we're not supposed to mention C*******s, but haven't you felt a distinct chill in the last few days? 
So much so that I have begun preparations for a big festive event at work.
And guess who's gonna be there?

Flying in from Lapland in November and bringing his wife and baby, I truly can't wait.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Scary Sewing Update.

I've had a sewing machine at my disposal as it were for 4 years. Yes four. Mr.S&P bought it for me at my request from Country Living magazine. Subscribers offer, so not to be missed.

Finally I'm making good use of it, and of course it has turned out to be an asset on the thrifty front, always a good thing, because I'm using it to make curtains for our revamped drawing room. SAVING MONEY :) And this is only it's first outing.

I did get a quote from a local curtain maker to make the curtains but it was going to be about £500.00. Ouch!

You will know I do always like to use local services when I can, (I really like the idea of keeping money circulating within my own community) and I'm sure she does an excellent job and of course she has to make a living for herself, but I can't bring myself to spend that amount on curtains. Even if I had it to spend, which I don't.

So I thought to myself if I can manage wallpapering I must be able to sew some curtains, right? How hard could it be? 

Well quite hard actually. I took the machine out of it's little nest, took one look at all the numbers, colour codes and dials and thought crikey this looks complicated. I read the instruction manual and had the same thought.
So what to do? Call a friend who sews and get her round to mine sharpish!

Within minutes the machine was 'loaded' and ready to fire.

But first we had to cut up the 24 metres of fabric into manageable lengths, said friend also brought round sharp scissors. Did I say she is a good friend?  Thankfully I have some floor space in my kitchen.

These are the two windows I need to cover.

And as you know dear reader my recently wallpapered 'feature' wall is rather flamboyant, so I opted for plain cream linen/cotton fabric, no pattern match, jolly good. 

But I wanted to make them look a bit more bespoke and not totally boring, so I've chosen some ribbons to run across the integral valance. Oh yes an integral valance.

Did I hear someone say "overly ambitious", moi?

I'll let you see for yourselves very soon.

If my curtain making optimism hasn't made you laugh enough already, or even if it has, pop over to this lovely blog.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Busiest of Times

You will have noticed dearest reader that my blog has been a bit light on the old amusing and informative posts recently. Please don't feel I'm losing interest in spreading goodness throughout the universe, and really it's not because I have nothing to impart, far from it. 

It is because I have been titivating my home in readiness for a much longed for visit from my eldest brother John, who normally is to be found on the other side of the world in Australia.

Let's decorate the drawing room and smarten up the garden says I to Mr.S&P in a rash moment a few months ago now, we've plenty of time before the relos arrive. Of course not really thinking about all the other stuff that takes up our time, you know earning money and all that ugly routine.

" A wood burning stove would be just dandy, we could get rid of that ugly red brick fire surround, some new wallpaper oh and some curtains".

Well stage one was selling our soul to the devil to raise the MASSIVE amount of money a stove costs (cashed in some premium bombs actually). Next was scouring the internet and calling every local stove dealer in Sussex to get the best deal, as is my want. 

These people came up trumps with a great price for my pewter coloured steel English manufactured stove, they also threw in a few freebies too, always nice :). 

I'm so excited it's not true. From this ..................

To this.............................

To this..............................

The wallpapering is my handiwork, I'm good at it but find it a leeetle stressful when I'm doing it, luckily Mr. S&P remains sanguine throughout.

And there's more to come, or should I say heaps to do, eeeek.

Yes the scary sewing project, more horrific than wallpapering. 
Have I made curtains before? No. 
Am I keeping it nice and simple then? No. 
Am I a little bit bonkers? Well as Churchill the dog would say "Oh yes".