Friday, October 31, 2014

A Bit of Biscuit Baking

I love homemade biscuits, don't you? The smell of them baking in the oven, the look of them cooling on the cooling rack and then finally filling up those jars to the brim with homemade goodness. Well, that's exactly what I've been up to in my kitchen this week. I made two batches of biscuits. A batch of Custard Powder Short Bread Stars and a batch of Peanut Butter Biscuits - both favorites in my home.

Now as you can imagine, one portion of biscuit dough makes quite a few biscuits, about 50 at least. So having made two different types we have biscuits coming out of our ears. The freezer is a biscuit makers best friend in this case. I placed half of each batch of cooked biscuits into a plastic container, separating each layer with a sheet of grease-proof paper, and popped them into the freezer.

Once this batch is finished I can simply take out the frozen biscuits and allow to defrost at room temperature - I would definitely lay them out on a cooling rack to defrost to as to avoid sogginess! 

Today I want to share both of these lovely pantry-stockers with you. The Custard Powder Shortbread has the lightest of the textures and the Peanut Butter - well, they are just plain yummy!

Custard Powder Short Bread Stars

170 g Butter
60 g Icing Sugar
85 g Custard Powder
1 and quarter cups Flour
2 Level tsp Baking Powder
1 ml salt

Cream butter, add some icing sugar and beat until well mixed and soft. Sift in flour, custard powder, salt and baking powder. Mix all together well, Form small pieces of dough into small balls and flatten with fork - or as I did, gently roll out the dough to about 1 cm thickness and cut out star shapes using a cookie cutter. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 - 15 minutes at 180 deg. C. until lightly browned.

Peanut Butter Biscuits

1 and a half cups Flour
125 g margarine or butter
3 Tblsp Peanut Butter
1 cup sugar
half tsp Bicarb
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 beaten egg
dash of Vanilla Essence

Cream peanut butter, marge and sugar. Add beaten egg, stirring well. Add baking powder and bicarb dissolved in a little milk. Add flour and vanilla essence and knead mixture well. Roll into balls (walnut size). Place on greased baking sheet about 2 cm apart as they spread. Press biscuits with a lightly floured fork. Bake at 150 deg.C for 15-20 minutes. Will harden on cooling.

Blessings to you all today...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Let's Talk...

I cannot begin to tell you how it irks me that the farmers are having to eek out an existence due to the pressure put on them by the super-stores, and how we the consumer are faced with ever-rising food costs, with the only ones really benefiting being the super-stores.

The super-stores manipulate and play us (the consumer) like puppets. They put the highest profit products at eye-level, offer 'two-for-one' deals which aren't deals at all, and the one that gets me, the obscure pricing info which is supposed to make the price structuring clearer but ends up just muddying the waters a whole lot.

Up until the last month or so I have been one of the super-stores willing consumers. I was at least savvy enough to know that eye-level shelves hold more expensive products than those set out on the lower shelves, and that 'deals' are not necessarily deals at all, but on the the whole, due to convenience, I have happily gone along and filled my trolley and fallen victim to the many other marketing traps they have to offer. (think pushing Christmas waaaaay before Christmas actually arrives here)

I've been reading some fab blogs of woman who have said 'enough is enough' and taken back control of their budgets. Frugal Queen being one of the most inspirational ones. I guess what I have come to realize is that you can eat well on a rather strict budget.

So November is the launch of my new personal 'project'. I am going to try and get by on feeding my family of four on £100 per week. This cuts my grocery budget by £100 for this 4 week month. For months with 4.5 weeks I aim to do it on £80/week, hopefully by then I will have my budget-savvyness down pat.
 In order to make this work I am going to do the following:

* Buy all my cleaning and beauty products as discount stores such has Home Bargains, B&M, and Poundland (a suggestion from the Frugal Queen)

* Use our fantastic market to buy all my fruit and veg. It's way cheaper and I can get allot more for my money. This also means we will be eating food in season.

*Buy meat from the Butcher. This is one area I'm not compromising on. I believe in eating quality meat and our local butcher not only supplies that but he also sources his meat locally which mans a smaller carbon footprint. PLUS - when buying meat from the butcher they often show their appreciation by giving discounts for larger orders.

* Shop at a variety of different stores including Aldi, Lidl and Iceland. I'm not going to put all my eggs in one basket so to speak :) I've usually avoided these stores but you know what? They LISTEN to what people want and need and deliver without all the frills and trills.

So that's on the shopping side of things. On the cooking side of things which is inextricably linked, I've determined to:

*Put together a detailed meal plan. I have always meal planned but I can do much better

* Include more vegetarian meals thereby cutting down the meat bill.

* Use my Crock-pot a whole lot more! I'm finding baking recipes here too! Who knew! Also by using the Crock-pot instead of the oven I will be saving on the electric bill. According to Froogs over at The Frugal Queen in this post they are much more economical.

* Freezer Meals. I'm going to spend a couple of hours making some freezer meals. There are always times during a month when time gets away with you or you just are not up to cooking. Instead of hopping down to the nearest take-out, I want to have meals that I can whip out of the freezer and pop into the oven. Healthier and cheaper!

* More Baking. To help keep those sweet cravings in check by not popping out to the store for a choccy or the like, I am going to batch bake and keep us stocked up on treats made right in my dear little kitchen ;)

So that's what I've been putting together. I thought that for the month of November I would post here keeping a record on how each week pans out, any recipes that I've used that turned out to be a winner, and any other thoughts and discoveries about this new adventure :)

I am grateful that this is something that I choose to do and not have to do. For many there is no choice. But I firmly believe that just because we can do something it does not mean that we should. I would far rather be able to get to the end of the month and have saved money - not something we are achieving right now! I read on a blog somewhere that saving money does not come from 'one thing', but rather from changing lots of small things and being consistent about it. How true!

In our near future we are going to have to pay out for our Permanent Leave to Remain here in the UK - not a cheap process, so we need to be saving towards that. After that we are going to want to buy a house and then get rid of the mortgage asap. 

I'm excited! Excited for the challenge, excited about the learning process, excited about becoming wiser with our money and securing a brighter future for our family by getting a control over our  money and spending power.

Do you have any frugal tips that work for you that you would be willing to share? I would love to hear them so please do leave a comment with your tip or with the link to a blog that inspires you.

Blessings to you all...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lets Talk...

Well here we are, in the last week of October. I usually spend the last few days of the month preparing and planning for the new approaching month.

 For the month of October I approached the spending of my house-keeping budget a bit differently. My goal is to be wiser, more frugal and to make our house-keeping budget stretch a bit further. So I split my house-keeping money into envelopes. One per week. This is something I used to do way-back-when. My girls were still toddlers at the time and it worked really well. I'm not sure why I stopped doing it, more than likely a move was the cause of disruption to a well-organised plan!

For the month of October, not only did I draw all my house-keeping money out at the beginning of the month and split it up, but I did the same for the girls extra-curricular activities. I was particular about only spending what I had in my envelops and not using it for purposes other than what it is intended. The result? I managed to stay within my budget for the first time in ages! Whoohooo!!

Still, as the saying goes, 'Good better best, never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better best!'

So for the month of November I am determined to take 'good' and make it 'better'. Clearly the 'envelope' thing works for me. But being a girl who likes 'pretty' (on a budget of course) I have made fabric pouches for my weekly house-keeping money. This way I'm not stuck with tatty envelopes and I can simply pop them in my bag and I have a pretty purse containing all my notes and small change.

Using this easy-peasy tutorial for sewing fully lined zipper pouches, I whipped up 4, each with a contrasting lining. There's one for each week - the last one will hold the 5th part-week's money when necessary.

I also embroidered little labels for each weeks little pouch so no getting confused :)

Expanding on this idea - I'm thinking about making a Christmas Budget pouch for next year. The idea being that each month I pop in an amount to be decided. Then by the time that time comes when you have to start making purchases, the money is already there. I always intend on buying gifts throughout the year for the next Christmas, but it just does not work in my home. There's always something else that pops up and I tell myself that I have 'ages' until Christmas anyway.

Now the thoughts I have on the actual spending of the house-keeping budget is a whole post on it's own - one that I plan to share with you later on in the week. Again I am applying the 'good,better,best' philosophy. Yes I managed to keep it all on budget this month, but could I actually cut that home-keeping budget and still feed my family good, healthy and nutritious food? The evidence suggests that I can. But more on that later :)

Blessings to you all...

Monday, October 27, 2014

OHC: The Sumac Shrub

For 3 years now I have wondered and wondered what shrub this could be. I'm not great at identification and always doubt whether I have made a correct identification or not. Most of what the girls and I have learnt about nature is due to following Barb's challenges.

It's the rich, flaming autumn colours that caught my eye initially. To be honest I have not noticed it over the winter, spring and summer months although I will be sure to do so from now on :), But in autumn the Sumac stands out as a shining star amongst it's fellow shrubs and trees.

So it was with much delight that courtesy of Barb's Sumac Study I have been able to identify this pretty shrub.

They are all over our neighbourhood, mostly in gardens. I have not seen any growing out in the woodlands or countryside. We popped out to our nearest neighboring garden who's Sumac grew along their boundary - we really don't want to be found in someones  garden observing their plants - lol - we would be sure to be labelled as quite barmy and likely to get a flea in our ears :)

This particular Sumac had lost most of it's leaves, but others in the neighbourhood were still adorned in their glorious autumnal cloaks. We noticed the 'Stag-horn' effect of the branches, and loved the silhouette it created without it's leaves. It certainly makes quite a statement with and without it's autumnal splendour.

Our Sumac was loaded with the dried remains of it's summer flowers - no fruit for us to observe on our shrub. We were able to see the velvety branches and able to relate to both the 'Velvet Sumac' and the 'Stag-horn Sumac' names given in The Handbook of Nature Study.

We plucked a frond of leaves and a branch with flowers on it and headed home to make our journal entries.

Miss J-L's page
Miss V-L's page

Thanks to Barb and the Outdoor Hour Challenge for another wonderful Study and for shedding light on my mystery tree :)