Parent’s evening

Ah you’re home, perfect timing.  I’ve called the agency and the sitter should be here in soon.  Are you changing or are you staying as you are?

I do enjoy parent’s evening.  Firstly, we’re terribly lucky to have two academic children.  Both of them are eager to please their teachers and the fact that they are genuinely quite clever means that their teachers always love them and give them glowing reports; and honestly, what parent doesn’t love to hear their children praised.

The other reason I quite like parent’s evening is because the sitter will only sit if you book them for a minimum of four hours.  This means that we always turn parent’s evening into a rare date night.

Of course, I’m going to have to exempt this evening from my exercise.  I do feel a terrible fraud but with the sitter costing about £30, on top of the money we will spend whilst we’re out, there is just no way that I can keep this week’s budget within the £70 if I were to include it.  I do realize that if we were in the £70 position, one of us would need to stay at home and look after the children instead of getting a sitter.  We both enjoy meeting their teachers though and we both take an active interest in what they are learning, so for one of us to miss out would be a terrible shame.   By both of us understanding what is happening in our children’s school-life means that we are both properly able to help with homework and any playground crises as they arise.

It seems clear to me that a low income can affect much more than just the food one eats.

Darling, are you sure about that jumper?

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Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

There are so many ways you can make a chicken soup that I could probably write a book about just that one dish.

As I’m not feeling too special I’m going to make the simplest soup possible which turns out a little like a Chinese style soup and is quite light.

If you can find thin soup noodles I think they would go very well in this recipe; sadly I couldn’t find any in my local supermarket so I haven’t added them to the recipe.

The other thing that I meant to add, but forgot, was a bit of freshly grated ginger.  I think that just a little would give the soup an interesting heat but again, as I forgot to put it in my soup tonight, I haven’t added it to the recipe just in case it doesn’t work at all.

This serves 2 people.

Ingredients:

1 small handful of cooked chicken

2 big handfuls of frozen sweetcorn

1 medium carrot (peeled)

1/2 pint of strong homemade chicken stock

1/2 pint boiling water

3 spring onions

2oz butter

salt and pepper

2 – 3 heaped tsp cornflour (depending on how thick you would like your soup)

Method:

Finely slice the carrot and middle section of the spring onions and lightly fry in the butter in a medium sized pan.  (The middle section of a spring onion is the white just above the bulb and about 2 inches of the green)

Cube the chicken and add it to the saucepan and continue to fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the chicken stock and water and bring to the boil.

When the soup is boiling reduce the heat and add the sweetcorn.

Mix the cornflour with a little cold water then stir into the soup.  Keep stirring until the soup thickens.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve and enjoy!

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Chicken Stock

I’m sorry to say not really darling; I’ve still got it.  It’s moved onto my chest now which is always annoying.  And no, before you ask, it’s not bronchitis.  Honestly, you’re as bad as my Mother!  She always thinks a chesty cold will lead to bronchitis.  I can just hear her now, “well it could you know!  You don’t want to muck about with your lungs.”

To make myself feel a little brighter, I think I’m going to make a chicken soup today.  After yesterday’s roast chicken dinner, I stripped the carcass of all the meat and boiled it up in a large pan with some vegetables and made some really tasty chicken stock.  It takes hours but it is worth it.

For the stock:

Ingredient:

Cooked chicken carcass

1 onion

3 celery stalks

2 leeks

2 parsnips

2 carrots

3 bay leaves

salt and pepper.

Method:

Quarter the onion, leeks, carrots and parsnip.  You don’t need to peel the carrots or parsnips but although some people don’t, I do take the onion skin off.

Put everything in to a large pan and cover with water.

Bring to the boil then reduce heat as low as it will go and allow to simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally.  I usually leave it simmering for at least 4 hours.

Strain and discard the solids.

This made quite a strong chicken stock so when I come to use it, it will be diluted.

I’d love to stay and chat but until it’s time to make my soup, I think I’m going to head back to my sickbed.

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Cold

Thanks for the offer darling but I’m going to be a terrible bore and just get back.  I’ve had this cold coming for days and it’s finally coming out; I feel dreadful.

What I would really love to do is to spend the day wrapped in a blanket on the sofa watching daytime TV that doesn’t make me think too much.   The problem with doing that of course, is that generally even if the programmes themselves don’t make me think, the adverts sometimes get me very riled.

Daytime television at the moment has an abundance of adverts for loans at ridiculously high APR rates that, given the scheduling on daytime TV, are clearly aimed at the out of work.  The latest one has a woman who says “I didn’t think I could get a loan because I’m on benefits, but you still gave me one. Thanks!”

Well, no!  Don’t thank them.  If you’re finding it hard to manage on your income now then you’ll find it doubly hard once you have the repayments to make and the APR rate is well over 1,000%.  Pay day loan companies and those of that ilk, are, in my opinion, nothing more that legalised loan sharks and the government should do something about them to protect those that are vulnerable.

As I said yesterday, it would be incredibly easy to slide into serious debt if you’re on the breadline and to be preyed upon by these companies I just think is very wrong.  Obviously you can get into debt regardless of your income but surely there is a difference when the debt you’re getting into is for nothing more than the basic necessities.

Oh, I know darling, I told you I wasn’t feeling on top form.  I think I’m just going to home and have a lie down.

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Shopping List

Yesterday Donna commented that she would be interested to see my shopping list for the week to see how other people might fare buying the same things in different places.  So, here you go.

Shopping List

Porridge Oats (2kg)

3 Butter

4 slices Ham

Brie

Stilton

12 Eggs

Sugar

Golden Syrup

6 rashers Bacon

Sandwich bags

4 Leeks

Swede

4 Carrots

4 Parsnips

4 Onions

Celery

Button mushrooms

Closed cup mushrooms

Frozen Petite Pois

Frozen Sweetcorn

Frozen green beans

6 Apples

Diced beef (3 x 400g for £10)

Minced Lamb (2 x 400g)

1kg Penne pasta

4 tins Baked Beans

Nivea roll-on deodorant

3 Handwash

Total Cost : £68.41

Added to that we have the milk from the milkman (£9), a child’s birthday present and the food I’ve bought for the Harvest Festival Hamper at school.  (I didn’t add that as the amount I would have spent would have been very different if this really was my income but just because I’m doing this exercise, I don’t think that other people should lose out.)

So there you go.  As you can see I have failed to keep to my expenditure limit but some of the things bought will go over to next week so maybe it will even out over the month. Maybe?

It is a lot better than I was doing before I started this exercise, but if I didn’t actually have the money as I do, then I would be on a very slippery slope into a world of debt.  Going £20 over budget might not seem like very much but if it happened every week, over a year  it was equate to over £1,000.

I read in the news today that the government’s proposed Universal Credit could see families losing up to £28 a week.  If you have money £28 isn’t a lot.  I confess that I can blow £28 without even thinking about it just because I’m hanging around town for something to do.  But, as I said last week, if you have very little income, every penny counts and I can imagine that suddenly being £28 down would hit very hard indeed.

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Slightly Spicy Beef Stew

Slightly Spicy Beef Stew

This is a real winter warmer and, even though I say so myself, it really is rather scrummy. This is enough to serve about 6 people.

Ingredients:

400g cubed beef

olive oil

1 onion

1 red pepper

3 cloves of garlic

1” root ginger

2 large potatoes

2 large parsnips

2 large carrots

4 tbsp plain flour

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

3 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 beef stock cube

approximately 500 ml boiling water

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp tomato puree

4 dried bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Put the flour and all the spices into a sandwich bag and shake together.

Add the meat to the bag and shake to completely coat the meat in the spiced flour.

Make the beef stock by dissolving the stock cube in the water.

Chop the potatoes, parsnips and carrots into small cubes.

 **********

Chunkily cube the onion and red pepper and fry in a large saucepan.

Crush the garlic and finely grate the ginger root and add to the pan.

Add the meat to the pan and quickly brown for a couple minutes before adding the tin of chopped tomatoes and beef stock.

Add the root vegetables to the pan and stir to make sure that everything is well mixed.

Bring to the boil.

As soon as the stew starts to boil reduce the heat right down to a very low simmer and add the bay leaves.

Put a lid on at a jaunty angle leaving a space for the steam to escape.

Simmer for about an hour, stirring every 10 – 15 minutes or so to make sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Serve with either fresh bread, mashed potatoes or rice.

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Walking home

You’re right, it’s not nearly as cold as yesterday.  On days like this I actually enjoy walking the school run instead of popping up in the car.  I don’t know how much I’m saving on fuel costs but given the price of diesel at the moment I imagine it’s at least a few of pounds a day.

If I’m honest though, I’m not really doing quite as well as I should or could for that matter.  I have been somewhat scuppered by children’s birthday presents, there’s another party this weekend, but really, I think my main problem is that I’m possibly being slightly too stubborn about the food that I eat.

I know that I’m cutting costs all over the place, but I’m afraid that I just can’t compromise on the happiness of my meat.  So yes, I’m still buying happy organic chickens at three times the price of the sad chickens, but I would much rather eat less meat than support the possibly shoddy farm practices that can produce a chicken for £2.50.  Likewise, I know that I could save much more money if I would only buy non-organic milk, but there is evidence to suggest that organic milk contains far more nutrients and less saturated fats than the non-organic milk so for the sake of a few pounds I’m stubbornly sticking to the organic range.

I have stopped buying everything organic though.  There was a time when everything that was possible to be bought organic was, but I am much less of an organic zealot now.  Interestingly, once you leave the world of organic mania it’s really only a hop, skip and a jump to the basic range when talking about vegetables.

The basic range of vegetables claims that is the out-sized and ugly vegetables that aren’t pretty enough to be wrapped in the colourful packaging.  When I briefly grew my own vegetables, I don’t think any of them would have won a beauty pageant, but what does it matter when they are going to be peeled and chopped?  When I was young we had apple and pear trees in our garden and some of the sweetest tasting fruits were the ones that grew on the outer-most branches and had been exposed to the weather.  They didn’t always look the prettiest and their peels were sometimes pock-marked, but inside they were magic.  Personally I have nothing against an ugly fruit or vegetable so as far as I am concerned, if it’s not organic, it might as well be basic.

That rule doesn’t apply to tins to tomatoes though.  I have tried the very cheap tins of toms but they didn’t contain as many tomatoes and the juice was exceptionally thin so although I’ve come down from the organic range, I can’t go all the way down to basic as I think it’s a false economy.

I have also reduced the amount of fruit juice we buy and I’ve started to buy the supermarket own brand squash instead of the branded versions.  It’s true that you don’t get the same amount of nutritional value from squash as from juice, but I generally think we have our five a day covered so it’s probably fine.  Having said that though, once this bottle is finished, I’m going to have to return to my beloved Ribena as nobody else seems to be able to make a blackcurrant squash that can hold a candle to it.

So yes, I could do better but accepting the fact that to live as cheaply as possible means that I have to compromise on my ethics and fussy love of blackcurrant squash is proving to be a hard hurdle to cross.

 Oh, this is me.  No doubt see you in the playground later.
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