Friday, 31 May 2013

Lunchbox #HoopsandCrosses

This is my entry for the Tots100 Lunchbox creations competition with hoops and crosses #HoopsandCrosses we had lots of fun creating it! Inspired by the hoops and crosses we went with chesse hoopla, skittles and off course naughts and crosses!

Lunchbox creations #HoopsandCrosses

Handmade Christmas - Is it frugal or madness?

This post is my entry for the competition over on Pinching-Pennies a great little blog all about saving money.

They got me thinking about what my biggest and expensive costs are throughout the year. You won't be surprised to hear that Christmas came out on top! It is the presents that really push me over the edge and I usually spread the cost out throughout the year by buying things as I see them (hopefully in the sale too) and not having the expense all in one go. But the expense is still there. This is when I had my latest brainwave why not have a go at a handmade christmas where all the presents are made by myself? It's May so I still have time on my side and I do love a project once my children are in bed.

I can make cards, thats no problem, but could I really make presents? So this is where I need your help and I would love some ideas. I don't want to be giving my relatives and friends things that look like the dog made it, but I would love ideas for things that look amazing but are easy to make and don't require me to spend a fortune in order to do it? So what do you make already? What on earth do I make for the men in my life - brother, husband, dad?

I have already started to come up with a few ideas of things;

1. Bath bombs - I have never made these, but they look pretty easy and the ingredients aren't very expensive, plus I could make really pretty boxes.

2. Jewellery items - I have loads of jewellery making stuff already and I am pretty good at necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I made all the jewellery that my bridesmaids wore when I got married. I would also love to have a go at rings.

3. I have quite a few leather offcut pieces so maybe brooches, belt buckles? I am open to suggestions?

4. Cakes, Marmalade, Jam, Chutney and other sweet treats.

So I am dying to know, what fantastic ideas do you have? Could I really make this work with beautiful handmade gifts? I hope so! Are you with me?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

My playdough is purple and I'm fine with that!

I made my son some playdough and I was surprised how easy it was to make at home. After carefully colouring it into red, yellow, blue and pink (as requested by my son) I was a little sad to see that after a few times playing with it, it has now become one big purple mass. A few years ago this would have driven me crazy that my carefully separated four colour's had become one, however I am ok with this! I  have come to realise that children have to learn and the purple is quite a cool colour too.

We also had great fun using the garlic presse to make hair, you really don't need any special tools to have fun with playdough when you have a fully resourced kitchen. So do you fancy having a go?

Playdough recipe:

2 cups of plain flour
1 cup salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups water
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
A few drops food colouring (be careful not to stain your fingers)

1. Bung it all in the pan together and mix with wooden spoon on low heat
2. Keep mixing until it no longer looks sticky and forms a ball
3. Knead until smooth (be careful it will be hot when you first turn it out)
4. Colour with food colouring whatever you like!
5. Enjoy and have lots of fun with it!

Thrifty Tips - A different way

This post is my entry for From Spending to Saving top thrifty tips competition.

I love being thrifty as it gives me such a buzz and a sense of achievement, I can't help but love a bargain (who doesn't). Savings are there all around us for the taking, and we have to be savvy enough to decipher when to take them. This post is about a different approach that I am taking to being thrifty. I am putting aside price matching online, planning meals in advance and up-cycling old furniture. Don't get me wrong I am not discounting them, as they are a great way to save. Instead I am thinking closer to home getting back to our community, our street and our neighbours. This seems like the perfect place to start.

When we moved into our house 18 months ago the front garden was an overgrown mess. After pruning and trimming back, removing all of the nettles and thistles we were left with a huge empty garden bed with one bush and little else. This is where my thrifty story begins, we had no money for a garden centre trip, nor would I have known what to buy anyway, but I also knew we could only leave the empty garden void for so long. This is when I had this thrifty epiphany, why not ask our neighbour's for help. They all had established gardens with flowers that suited our soil and environment, so I figured what have we got to lose asking them for a few cuttings? A few days later two of our neighbours had found us a selection of seedlings and cuttings for us to use. Wow! I was in shock, how nice of them to help us out! In return we offered them cuttings from our thriving rosemary bush perfect for roasting with potatoes! It saved us a huge amount of money that we didn't have.

The Rosemary bush! Pretty with its purple flowers.
So have you always dreamed of that perfect garden makeover? Ask away, borrow equipment, trade for seedlings and cuttings and reward physical help with goodies from your kitchen?!

It baffles me that I hadn't come up with this before it is so simple and easy, trade resources with neighbours, family and local community. The process has evolved into something quite naturally - no I don't have eggs or crops like years ago but I do have homemade marmalade, green tomato chutney (made with green tomatoes left over from our garden and windfallen apples from a friend's garden) and blackcurrant jam. I  have a happy little baking assistant who loves to make bread, cakes and cookies, and a garden full of herbs including a thriving rosemary bush. Why not pool resources sharing herbs for cooking that would cost you an arm and leg to buy fresh each time?

This year has been a trading year, marmalade for rosehip syrup, letting our friends dog out for some help lifting and moving. It seems small but each trade, help and conversation builds another stake in our community and street, the smaller things grow into bigger things and overtime I hope it will keep growing.

I think back to when I was a child and we would spend hours walking through country paths in search of elderflowers for my grandad to make wine with and blackberries to eat for our tea. I want my children to have as much fun learning about our natural resources as I did, and get back to this notion that thrifty isn't just about great savings online or buying the latest gadget at a really good price but it is also about using what you have.

If you don't know where to start why not use this easy recipe for a Hermann friendship cake, it comes from Germany and tastes really good. It is a sourdough so you feed it over 9 days milk, flour and sugar - and its a perfect recipe for little ones to help and take ownership of. Then on the final day you split it into four containers keeping one for yourself, which you then bake into a delicious cake. The other three you give to friends or neighbours with a copy of the recipe to do the same again. I love that this cake goes on and on, your one little cake reaches lots and lots of people. Use it as a gift or a trading resource, eat it, freeze it and save for a rainy day when you desperately need a sweet treat but don't have the money. It is the perfect conversation starter for getting thrifty with your neighbours, you might be surprised about what you have that they need and vice - versa!

Here is the recipe: Herman Friendship Cake

Start up: You only need this bit once
- Add 1/3 cup of warm water to a large plastic bowl
- Sprinkle 1 tbsp sugar over the water
- Sprinkle 2 tbsp of active dry yeast over
- Let it all stand in a warm place until it has doubled in size (approx 20 ish minutes)
Then add and mix:
- 2 cups of plain flour
- 2 cups of milk
- 2 cups of sugar

Cover Herman loosely with a tea towel (he needs to breathe) and leave on the side, tomorrow will be day 1 in the below instructions! Always stir with a wooden spoon, and never put him in the fridge!

This is the bit you have to remember to give away with Herman when you pass him on.

Day 1 - Stir well
Day 2 - Stir well
Day 3 - Stir well
Day 4 - Herman is hungry! Add 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of sugar and stir well
Day 5 - Stir well
Day 6 - Stir well
Day 7 - Stir well
Day 8 - Stir well
Day 9 - Herman is hungry! Add 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of sugar and stir well. Then divide into 4 equal portions. Keep 1 for yourself and give 3 away. Your friends start back at day 1 and you leave your for one final night before:

Day 10 - Herman is very hungry. Stir well and add
1 cup of sugar,
1/2 tsp salt,
2 cups of plain flour,
2/3 cup cooking oil,
2 eggs,
2 tsp vanilla essence,
2 heaped tsp of baking powder,
2 heaped tsp of cinnamon,
2 cooking apples
1 cup of raisins.
(Feel free to omit the cinnamon if you don't like it, and we substituted the raisins for chocolate chips the recipe is flexible enough that you can be creative! In fact thats the beauty of it you can use whatever you have around)

Place in a large greased baking tin sprinkled with 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of melted butter and bake for 45 minutes at 180c

Herman cake with chocolate chips - this was my very first attempt!
If you can't eat it all at once you can freeze it and I suggest you cut it up into squares and do either give some away or freeze it because it makes a lot!  This recipe really inspired me to pass on cake and be thrifty, and I am sure there are other things that we could pool and share with our neighbours too. Kids clothes, toys, bulk buying food? Some food for thought!

As part of my competition entry I also have to give one reason why an offshore pension with Whichoffshore is a good idea so here it is. We lived in Texas for 3 years as expats and knowing about Whichoffshore would have made managing our finances much less of a headache, because you can have an account that uses multiple currencies. Plus you never know when your situation is going to chance so having these already set up makes life easier for you.

So be inspired, be thrifty, and think closer to home!