Thursday, 16 October 2014

Eating all the things

It's about half way through our month of eating all the things.  It's been going pretty well; I've shopped but only for fresh fruit, vegetables and milk so I've already saved lots of grocery money.  (Ok, apart from some ice cream and poppadums...)  The freezer has been bountiful, with several forgotten cuts of meat emerging as well as other tasty odds and sods.  We've got to the point where we've run out of some bits like seasonings we usually cook with but have decided to try not to restock until November.

The money saving's been good but what's been better is realising how much food we buy because it's cheap but which we then don't use because we forget about it.  I think one reason for this is that when times have been hard I've squirrelled food away to see us through; do that for a few years and you've got a well ingrained habit there.  I don't need to do that any more and that's a big adjustment to make, because being well stocked up has been a comfort and a safety net.  I don't want to do without food stores completely though because it can really be a money saver.  The difference is I need to have a stock of things we actually will use so we can make less supermarket trips and impulse buys, rather that stocking up on whatever's cheap out of fear of running out.  It's funny how the 'thin' times affect you, even when they've passed.  Actions that served you well at the time can become a coping mechanism long afterwards.

I'm looking forward to making a fresh start in November with more room, more meal ideas (thank you necessity and ingenuity), less waste...and a defrosted freezer.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday Soup: Parsnip and Leek

 Sundays are often soup days in the Crafty Blueberry household as I like to prepare for the work week ahead as much as possible, and a batch of soup gives me enough to have a couple fresh and some in the freezer so I can alternate between soup and leftovers.

Today's soup is parsnip and leek as that's what's on offer in Aldi at the moment.  It smells earthy, sweet and oniony and is a hearty soup indeed.

To make 6 large portions of soup you will need:

3 parsnips, chopped
3 leeks, chopped
Vegetable tock cubes - I ended up using 3 as I like the strong flavour but you could less
2 litres of boiling water
Mixed herbs
Black pepper
Olive oil

Heat the oil and gently fry the black pepper and herbs for half a minute then add the leeks, cover and sweat for 5 minutes.  Add the parsnips and stock dissolved in the water.  Simmer for 20 minutes then blend it all up in a blender. 

I hope you're enjoying the Autumn as much as I am.  I do dread Winter but I try to make as much of the cooling weather as possible, with crisp walks, hearty food and blankets on the sofa.  And soup of course!

Autumn pretending to be Summer at Rodley Nature Reserve

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Gluten free and dairy free fruit cake

Inspired by Frugalwoods among others me and Mr CB are having an 'Eat ALL The Things' month.  Throughout October we'll be eating our way through our cupboards and freezer to use up all those things that get pushed to the back of the cupboard, saving food waste and money at the same time.

It's been going well so far; I've come up with some meals which are new to us and we've been eating well and using up lots of forgotten food.  This morning I went through my baking cupboard and pulled out half packets of this and that and decided to use them up in a fruit cake.  It had to be gluten free as Mr CB is is a coelic so I found an easy recipe from Frugal Queen (here) and adjusted it using advice I found here.  I havn't converted 'normal' cake recipes before but the trick seems to be to add more moisture, an extra egg and just the right ratio of xanthan gum.  The result is a moist, sweet, easy to make cake that's gluten and dairy free.  I even managed to use up a small jar of mincemeat from last Christmas.  I made a note of the changes I made so here's the recipe.

300g Doves Farm gluten free self raising flour
300g sugar (I used light brown sugar to use up the leftovers of a bag)
1 tsp mixed cake spice
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
500g dried fruit (I mixed my jar of mincemeat with a handful of leftover dates and half a bag of sultanas to make it up to roughly 500g.
1/2 cup orange juice (or cold tea if you prefer)
2 eggs

Mix the dried fruit (and mincemeat if using) with the orange juice and microwave for 2 mins.  

Mix the dry ingredients so that they're well combined (important!) then add the fruit (complete with any orange juice that hasn't been soaked up) and eggs and mix the whole lot together well.  

Pour into a lined 7 inch cake time and let it sit for 10 mins; this allows the xanthan gum to get to work.

Bake at 180 C for about an hour.  When you insert a skewer into the middle and it comes out clean the cake's done.

Well writing out the recipe's given me a hankering for a mid afternoon slice so I'm off to go nom nom nom.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The slow cooker does it again

We've had a slow cooker in the Crafty Blueberry household for several years and have made good use of it, but it was so big that it had to live in the cellar as it wouldn't fit in the kitchen, and was really too large for making meals for two.  A couple of weeks ago we bought this small, basic slow cooker from Wilkinsons for £8 and it's just right for making meals for one or two people.  It's also small enough to fit in our tiny kitchen, and because it's out on the worktop all the time we use it more.

The latest slow cooker concoction was pigs cheeks braised in cider, which I made by tweaking this recipe.

It turned out a little too sweet because of the apples and the caramalised onions, s when I make it again I'll use a cooking apple as it will be a bit more tart, and dryer cider.  The pig cheeks were AMAZING and so cheap.  Rich, full of flavour and incredibly tender. My only concern is that trendy chefs will hijack them ,then the prices will bump up; go try them while they're cheap!

We're going on a self-catering holiday in Wales soon and will actually be bringing our little slow cooker away with us.  I don't make a habit of travelling with my household appliances but I reckon it will be lovely to come home after a day out knowing that all we have to do in terms of meal preparation is open a bottle of wine...that's frugal cooking at it's best.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Why I left...and why I'm back

There's a whole load of articles on the internet saying why, if you take a break from blogging, you shouldn't come back with a post drawing attention to it.  Well sod the internet; I want to write about it because it's part of my journey, which is what blogging's all about.

I last blogged here in April before shifting my whole blog to a new one (Destination Nutshell).  I blogged there for a couple of months but havn't done anything there since June.  I've always enjoyed blogging, albeit sporadically at times, but I felt a strong need for change.  Part of this was due to being able to craft a lot less than I used to because of hand pains; when your blog's mainly about making stuff this puts a spanner in the works!  This had an unexpected benefit though; when I wasn't able to distract myself with crafty stuff any more I started working on things that I'd been putting off.  Number one is career change, and since early Summer I've been working through a 'Free Range Human' course by Marianne Cantwell.  It's transformed how I think about making a living, and if it hadn't been for parking my interest in all things Crafty Blueberry I would have been too absorbed to even go looking for anything like it in the first place.  I won't go into detail here as it's a big subject for another time, but if you're the kind of person who wants to get out of your boring job and do what makes you come alive, get over to that website right now.

That's why I went away from my blog:  What brought me back here today?  Well mainly it was because I missed having somewhere to record all the little things that make me happy, like a pile of colourful granny squares, a batch of home brew bubbling away or an unexpected gorgeous view on the walk to work.  It occurred to me that more than anything else this blog has been for me; there are many posts here that will never be read by anyone else, but I love having a record of all the things that have made me happy, especially when times have been at their hardest.

Another factor was that I've started a new blog over on Wordpress called Mind Body Network as part of a project I've started during my Free Range Human course.  I've built up a Twitter account for it, set the blog up and started posting...but something's been missing.  I woke up this morning and it hit me like a big ball of obviousness:  Mind Body Network is what I need for writing about Reiki, nutrition, coaching and all the other things I hope to build into my career.  I need Crafty Blueberry for all the other stuff that makes me me but that I don't necessarily want to link in to how I make a living.  

Both blogs are important to me and of course there's no hard line between them;  the point of the career I'm working on building is to blur the line between work and play, not score it in deeper!  But when I look at my priorities I realise that it's very important for me to keep on loving the small things and recording the small but precious experiences that make life living.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Gym 'n' Spam

Here are some new things I've been doing/have tried this week.  It's been a week that got off to wobbly start (it's called 'Monday morning') but I'm proud to say that I roped it back in and made it a good one.  Onto the new things:

New Thing 1) I've started learning website design at  Out of the blue I decided this would be interesting to learn and potentially useful.  I couldn't figure out where to start as a book didn't seem to be the answer - no opportunity for hands on learning.  So I Googled 'how to learn web design' and ended up at Codecademy.  It's free and it takes you through coding step by step with the opportunity to try out each bit as you go.  I'm in the very first lessons but I'm glad I got on and made a start.  I'm a complete novice by the way, so if I can follow it it must be good.

New Thing 2) My first full week at the gym:  Actually momentous for me as I have always loathed getting fit but I'm sticking to it, working hard, huffing, puffing and enjoying it.  I'm particularly enjoying the flexibility of building my own workout.  At the moment this is stretching-cardio-resistance-cardio-resistance-yoga.  I come out feeling all mmmmm.

New Thing 3) Finding  This site is amazing.  It's all about becoming self-employed but in a different way that suits you specifically and builds around the life you want to live.  There's too much to explain here so please go have a look.  I'm working through the four week course (charged for but worth every penny) and it's really having an impact on how I think.

New Thing 4) Spam fritter:  Does a new thing have to be big to be amazing?  No, not if it's a Spam fritter!  I've always thought they sound like deep-fried horror but tried it and, my word, it is crispy, juicy deep fried wonder meat.  Happy days.

What new things have you been getting excited about?  If nothing then what new thing will you do this week to get you feeling lively?

P.S. - If in doubt start with a Spam fritter.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Getting started again

I've just realised something about a story I've been writing that has totally taken me by surprise.  I havn't added to it for a couple of weeks as I got stuck on it at an early point, where the story had gone a bit lame before it had really got going and I felt bored by the storyline; not a good sign of a gripping read, right?  I've written writing prompt snippets every few days since then before coming back to it tonight and it jumped out at me:  my main character, a supernatural spirit/woman, who I thought I'd find interesting is actually shockingly dull and two dimensional.  I just can't get a handle on her, there's nothing there, she's made of fluff and air.  On the other hand I find myself thinking and wondering about the other primary character, a fairly intelligent but otherwise average,  withdrawn, middle-aged man with a washed up career.

I went back into my story tonight planning on adding bits here and there to what I already had in order to flesh it out.  Now I understand that it's all the wrong way around.  I'm going to pull out all the bits about the man and see where he goes without the other character.  Will she come into it at all?  Will it be the same story from a different point of view?  I don't know.  Maybe I'll end up abandoning it altogether.  Initially I was appalled by the prospect - oh, my efforts! - but I'm excited again now.  Here's a chance to get my story back on track/write a new one and grow.  Funny, but it seems so obvious now.  I guess sometimes you have to get some distance from something then take it by surprise so you can see what's really going on, because I really was blind to it before.