Saturday, 31 December 2011

Taking advantage of the post-Christmas sales...

I love to shop in the sales at this time of year and I enjoy hunting out the best bargains!  My daughter needed new school shoes and I managed to get her a pair from the Clarks sale for just £12.  Her new coat was half price in the Next sale; for £15 she now has a lovely, warm, waterproof (and washable!) coat to see her through the remainder of the school year.  For myself I bought some maternity wear in the Next sale; at half price or less, I managed to get a selection of tops and tunics in modern maternity styles from £4-£8 each.  I needed a new handbag (I really did!  This was a need, not a want.. honest) and I had enough Debenhams vouchers to cover the £16 for the bag, which had a 20% discount in the sale.

My best bargain to date was most unexpected - I usually shop with a list and try not to deviate from it - but in this case I felt I could make an exception!  In Superdrug today I found a blue cross sale bin with all items in it costing just 10p.  I bought two bathroom cleaner sprays, two packs of bin liners, a pack of food bags, a pack of two toothbrushes and a bottle of disinfectant... all for the bargain price of 70p!

Have you managed to find any really good bargains on your travels?

Best Wishes
Frugal Wife

My Christmas cake finally finished... on Christmas Eve!

Each year I make my own Christmas cake - gluten-free, of course.  Despite feeling pretty ropey for most of November this year, I still managed to make my cake.  Sadly it wasn't fed as much brandy as I would normally have liked, and I didn't get round to icing it until Christmas Eve - but nonetheless it was a success and we have just over half left to keep us going for a while longer!

Did you have a go at making your own Christmas cake?

Best Wishes
Frugal Wife

Homemade gift hampers...

Pine cones that we collected, sprayed and glittered.
A while back I purchased a wicker basket for £1.50 from a charity shop with the intention of filling it with lovely things and creating a gift hamper for my Nana.  My daughter and I collected pine cones to help fill the basket; we sprayed them with gold paint and gold glitter and left them to dry.  Just before Christmas I assembled everything together.  Here's the final result!

The Baileys miniature was a free sample; the Vera Lynn CD was brand new and still sealed from a charity shop; the Thorntons truffles box was the "free" pack from a 3 for 2 offer; the cellophane was recycled from a gift I received earlier in the year; and the gift tag recycled from one of last year's Christmas cards.

Frugal, but impressive once assembled; my Nana loved the thought that had gone into it!

Did you have a go at any homemade gifts this year?

Best Wishes
Frugal Wife

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Making Christmas gift tags...

Old Christmas cards cut unto tag shapes

Matching ribbon added to the tags
Once Christmas is over, I cut up all my Christmas cards into tag shapes for the following year.  I collect little pieces of ribbon throughout the year, mostly by cutting off those little loops of ribbon that are sewn into clothing for hanging them up.  Then at Christmas time when I unpack the decorations, I match the ribbons up with the tags and there you have it - colourful, recycled, free gift tags! 
Homemade Christmas gift tags
I also do the same with birthday cards to make birthday gift tags.

Homemade birthday gift tags
Best Wishes
Frugal Wife

Friday, 9 December 2011

In the frugal kitchen this week... bacon, leek and lentil soup

Cook bacon bits and leeks together...

Add any other veg lurking in the fridge (and beef stock mixed by a lttle helper, if you have one)...
Add it all to one big pot alongside a generous handful or two of red lentils and some herbs and seasoning...
When cooked, I like my soup this consistency thanks to a potato masher...
Portioned up and ready for the freezer!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

My favourite Christmas treat... mince pies!

Homemade gluten-free mince pies with whipped cream - ahhh, heaven!
I absolutely love mince pies.  I cannot stress enough how much I love them; the smell that fills the kitchen as they're baking in the oven; the hot, spicy stickiness when biting into them; the dollop of whipped cream on the side.... ahhh.  Not great for the waistline, I know - but one a day over the festive period isn't too bad, is it?!

These beauties are gluten-free, but don't let that put you off - I've never had any complaints from my non-coeliac tasters!  I haven't noticed any mince pies in the Free From section of the supermarket - if they did do them though, they'd cost £2 or so for 4 mince pies... mine are far cheaper and I'm sure much more delicious!

My lovely daughter isn't keen on mince pies; however, she loves cutting out the shapes.  After all, it's just like playing with play-doh and I have an array of Christmassy cutters! 

These mince pies also freeze beautifully; though I rarely get them as far as the freezer.  A few days in a cake tin and they are usually demolished!

The recipe I use is a Glutafin recipe and I always have excellent results with this - gluten-free pastry isn't easy!

Best Wishes
Frugal Wife

Monday, 5 December 2011

A bun in the oven... and I don't mean baking!

We've been delighted to discover that we're expecting a new addition to our frugal family!  Yes, I am pregnant - 11 weeks!  So the last few weeks have been a bit of a blur as we've absorbed the news and I've been coping (just) with early pregnancy symptoms! 

So my thoughts and planning are turning to next year; acquiring what we need for the baby at as little cost as possible, along with budgeting for my maternity leave.  As I am the main wage earner, there will be a big impact to our household's finances if I choose to take extended maternity leave.  Ideally I'd like to do this; but in reality there's a whole lot of number-crunching required to see what's possible.  I'm lucky in that I receive a fairly generous maternity package from my employer, so I will receive full pay for almost 5 months - a lot more generous that some workplaces.  I then have the option to take additional leave at statutory maternity pay - however, this is only around £128 a week, and would only cover my mortgage payments.  So we need to work out what we can save, what we can cut back, what we can do without and how we can manage while I'm off. 

Fortunately we have a few months ahead of us to work out all these things! 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Planning for Christmas...

The expense of Christmas is pretty much in hand this year.  We've been saving Tesco Clubcard vouchers in anticipation of a "Clubcard Exchange" and sure enough, double-up of vouchers to spend on toys is included in the offer.  This will turn our £50 of Clubcard vouchers into £100 to spend on toys for the children; that will take care of a big chunk of what we're spending on our kids and our nephews.  Boots Advantage Card points will be used to buy gift sets for the Aunties.  Charity shop finds have been tucked away along with a couple of charity raffle wins earlier in the year.  Changing broadband provider a couple of months ago earned us a £60 Tesco voucher - this hasn't arrived yet, but I'm fairly sure we'll get this before Christmas to put towards the cost of festive tasty treats.  I won a £20 Toys R Us voucher in a competition which we'll spend on the children.  In addition, I've been putting away £25 a month through my employer's Christmas savings scheme; this £250 is returned to me in my next salary payment in November and should more than cover everything else.  I've got plenty of wrapping paper, gift bags and cards left over from previous years so no need to buy any of that. I'm working on a couple of handmade projects to give as gifts too.

This week I'm going to work out a budget and a list of what I need to make, buy and organise.  The countdown to the festive season has commenced and I'm determined to be on track and to have a great time without spending a lot of money at all!

Are you on track with your Christmas preparations?

Preparing Christmas dinner 2010

Monday, 7 November 2011

A hotel stay... for free!

A few months ago, Mr Frugal and I took advantage of a Groupon offer to spend an overnight stay in a Scottish castle hotel.  We'd really looked forward to it, and I'd gone to great lengths to ensure that the hotel could cater for my gluten-free dietary needs by liaising with them well in advance and in the run-up to our stay.

Well, we had a lovely time in the most beautiful surroundings - but the food, what a disappointment!  We had to wait for our lunch whilst the chef "went to the shops" to buy gluten-free bread; the "selection" of sandwiches featured just grated cheese; my "selection of cakes" was substituted with fruit salad.  At dinner, not a single thing on the dessert menu could be adapted to provide a gluten-free option; they didn't even have ice cream that was suitable!  What was I offered - you guessed it - fruit salad!  At breakfast the following morning, no gluten-free sausages or toast - mushrooms, scrambled egg and bacon for me!  Not the full Scottish breakfast I'd expected!

Of course all of these failings you'd expect if just turning up off the cuff for dinner in a restaurant.  However, I'd contacted the hotel on several occasions (including before I even bought the Groupon) and was assured that they prepared meals for coeliacs all the time and that accommodating my needs wouldn't be a problem at all.  I was disappointed - and hungry!

So, on our return home I wrote an email to the hotel manager expressing my dissatisfaction; I'd raised this with the head waiter at the time, and although he was apologetic he was unable to help.  The manager wrote back and apologised profusely for the service I'd received, offering me the opportunity to return the castle for a complimentary stay to experience what their service should be like.

We've had lots on in the last few months and as you can imagine, sorting out a night away and arranging work cover, babysitters and so on is like mission impossible!  This weekend however is our return visit and we're really looking forward to our free hotel stay!

(I'll be taking the toiletries home, of course...)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Meal planning for 10 days - with a £20 budget...

I've set myself the target of keeping the family going until payday using up everything in the freezer and spending no more than £20 at the supermarket.  Here's how I've worked things out:

Saturday 5th: Chilli and rice
Sunday 6th: Homemade pizza with chips
Monday 7th: Pasta with ham and mascarpone, with garlic bread
Tuesday 8th: Chicken tikka masala and rice
Wednesday 9th: Omelettes
Thursday 10th: Baked potatoes with beans
Friday 11th: Chilli and rice
Saturday 12th: No dinner required - away overnight
Sunday 13th: Homemade pizza and chips
Monday 14th: Lamb curry and rice
Tuesday 15th: PAY DAY!

For lunch, my daughter takes a tuna mayonnaise sandwich to school every day along with a yoghurt, packet of crisps and a mix-up for lunchtime.  My husband also takes a sandwich each day and his filling depends on whatever is on offer (for example last week he had corned beef because it was £1 a pack).  My gluten-free lunches consist of a selection from mini quiches, cup-a-soups, crackers with spreading cheese, yoghurts and apples.  At the weekend the children will have eggs/spaghetti/beans on toast for lunch, and we'll have homemade soup.  This weekend we consumed the last lot of potato and leek soup from the freezer - gasp!  I very rarely let the freezer run dry of portioned-up homemade soup.  So a batch is in order for next weekend!

Breakfast is cereal for my daughter and husband, and gluten-free toast for me.  Both we have enough of in stock to see us through until pay day.

So, the shopping list:

Curry sauce
Bacon pieces
Tinned tuna x 4
Fromage frais x 18
Milk x 2
Diluting juice
Bread x 2

Fairly sure I can get this well under the £20 threshold and to ensure I do, I'm sending Mr Frugal to the supermarket.  His shopping blinkers are more effective than mine (I'm a sucker for a bargain or yellow sticker!) - Mr Frugal doesn't deviate from the list under any circumstances!

Following this I'm going to need a "big shop" to get our stocks back up.  I'm concious that the weather might turn too, so I'll be batch cooking and re-stocking the freezer to see us through to Christmas time.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

In the frugal kitchen this week...

Individual lasagnes - prepared and ready to go in the freezer
Back to work and back to school means that convenience is central to my meal planning for during the week.  In preparation for our return, I bought a pack of individual foil dishes from Poundland and spent an afternoon batch cooking and preparing meals for the freezer.  This week's delights included lasagne and shepherd's pie - both went down a treat.

I pull our dish of choice out the freezer and leave in the fridge to defrost during the day.  A quick half hour in the oven and voila - a home-cooked meal in next to no time at all, with minimum effort.  I usually prepare the garlic bread and portion and freeze that too - easy to re-heat from frozen and bulks out meals.  It's rare we get the chance to eat as a family during the week, arriving home at different times - so it means I can have a home-cooked meal on the table for my husband getting home too, without cooking two separate dinners or leaving a plateful in the microwave for Mr Frugal to re-heat later.

It's not been all savoury - my daughter and I managed to squeeze some effort into making cupcakes and rocky road too.  Neither lasted long!

Gluten free cupcakes
Rocky road - made with Tesco Value milk chocolate
I now need to turn my thoughts to meal planning for the next 10 days until pay day - I'm hoping to stretch the contents of the freezer to last that long with a minimal budget for top-up shopping - no more than £20.

Edited to add:  The Rocky Road recipe is a Glutafin recipe; I used glace cherries in place of cranberries and milk chocolate in place of dark chocolate.  You could easily substitute the biscuits with any kind of digestives or rich tea biscuits if you don't need to follow a gluten-free diet!  Enjoy!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

My frugal (gluten-free) wedding cake...

I decided to make my own wedding cake for two reasons.  Firstly, wedding cakes are so expensive and I was confident I could save a fortune by making my own; secondly, I wanted to have a gluten-free wedding cake, so I could eat some myself!

I made the cakes using vanilla sponge in three tier sizes - 11", 9" and 6".  I baked these a couple of weeks before the wedding and stored these in the freezer.  I defrosted the sponges and iced these two days before the wedding, which gave the icing enough time to dry out but ensuring the sponges were still fresh.

Here's the finished article, which I must say I was rather proud of.  I'd never attempted a wedding cake before, and it was far from perfect - but I was really pleased with how it looked and the fact it appeared a bit "home-made" didn't bother me!  Plus, it went down a treat with the guests at our wedding.
The top tier - 6" vanilla sponge with jam and buttercream filling

Each tier was covered in marzipan

I nearly ran out of space when rolling out the icing!

Each tier iced with white fondant icing

The dowels and finishing touches added, ready for transportation to the venue!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Cakes from the archives...

The first "novelty" cake I ever made
I've always loved baking, since the very early days of making cakes with my mother - licking the spoons afterwards.  As an adult I mastered creating delicious, fluffy sponges and enjoyed teaching myself different decorating techniques. 

In 2009 I was diagnosed with coeliac disease and suddenly I needed to learn all about new baking techniques in order to work with flours made without gluten.  I was determined to overcome the issues that gluten-free baking can bring and since then I have only ever made cakes that I'm able to eat myself!

Here's a selection of some of my creations from over the last few years.

Football shirt cakes were really popular

Another football shirt cake

An Iggle Piggle cake for my daughter

Squidgy chocolate cake

Coffee cake with Minstrels

You can't beat fairy cakes!

My daughter loves pink icing

My husband's birthday cake - which I made him 2 weeks after we met!

My first Christmas cake - gluten-free too

My first Christmas cake

Sometimes I let the kids run riot with the decorating!

My daughter's 4th birthday cake

Christmas cake 2010

A vanilla sponge with buttercream filling - Christmas 2010

Vanilla sponge with raspberry jam and buttercream filling

Another vanilla sponge (well, it is my favourite!)

You guessed it - vanilla sponge!