Monday 30 May 2016

It worked!

Well, they were edible so that counts!  I did them for 8 hours in the dehydrator but they still weren't 'crisp.' However, they were slightly chewy and absolutely delicious.  Because they weren't fully dry they wouldn't store for long so I had to eat them! ;-) But as a first attempt I was really pleased.  Next time I'll cut them more on the diagonal (they look better and are bigger) and dry them for longer.  I'm going to try a fruit leather next with the remaining blackcurrants in the freezer.

Most things are growing successfully in the polytunnel but I've noticed some of my spinach and rocket leaves are are curling and withering.  Not sure why.

Something is eating a couple of my pumpkin leaves.  I'm pretty sure it's a leaf cutter but not sure how to get rid of it.

And my first tomato!!

The end of term is fast approaching.  I only have 4 weeks left until the summer holiday!  Hopefully by the end of this week I'll know if my contract is being changed to a permanent one and if I get to stay in this school.  Fingers crossed!

Saturday 28 May 2016

Going bananas

I had 6 ripe bananas languishing in the fruit bowl.  For some reason I've not felt like eating them this week.  Normally I'd pop them into the freezer to avoid wasting them (I use them for smoothies) but thought this would be a good chance to try out my dehydrator.  Thanks to Pinterest I found some specific instructions.

I sliced them then tossed them in a 1 part apple cider vinegar 4 parts water mixture (I didn't have any lemon juice) then arranged them in 3 of the layers.

I'm not sure yet how long they'll take as my instruction manual helpfully says 8 to 38 hours for banana slices!!!  Pinterest suggests less time than that.  Apparently I can't over dry them so fingers crossed.

The Teenager has just arrived home and declared the kitchen smells banana-y.  Yummmm!

Wednesday 25 May 2016

How much more??

I follow a few GF pages on Facebook and one of them this morning shared an article on the real cost of buying gluten free food.  I clicked on it and discovered it also had the cost of being dairy free.  I'm assuming they've just done direct comparisons like 500g penne pasta for 85p and GF penne pasta £2. Or 1litre of UHT milk for 90p and 1 litre of Alpro milk £1.60 (all Sainsbury's prices).

They've worked out that if you swap to gluten free alternatives it will cost you £370.76 a year more.  And if you go dairy free it will cost an extra £372.84.  So if like me you're gluten and dairy free it costs a whopping extra £743.60 a year.

Or does it?

The article had 4 top tips for those on a budget and I'm pleased to say I do all of them!

1. Hunt for deals
You know I do love my yellow stickers ;-)

2. Think outside the box
Yep, I stick to naturally gluten free food (except for GF pasta, it's the only thing I'm willing to pay the extra for) but in the early days I did try a lot of GF products.  I really wasn't impressed with the taste and felt they were not worth the money.

3. Cook from scratch
Oh yeah, always done that so no brainer there.

4. Freeze leftovers
I deliberately make enough for leftovers so I've always got an easy lunch to take to work.  And you know how full my freezers are with food!!

So really my annual food budget shouldn't be more than anyone else's.  It's something I'll be keeping a closer eye on in the future.

Monday 23 May 2016

Scottish growing season

My dehydrator arrived!  Sadly I've not had time to play with it yet.  We've got a hectic week at work with a council inspection and reports due in.  But next weekend I'm hoping to give it a try.

It's not an expensive one but it is digital. I'd read you get better results as you've got more control over the temp and time.  We'll see.

So I'd better get a move on with growing things to dehydrate!

I planted 2 types of potatoes in my potato sacks (or tattie bags as I call them!)  King Edward and Miro Sarpo, both from Thomson and Morgan.

I've transplanted my plants into more grow bags.  The Teenager helped me carry them from the garden centre to car to polytunnel without too much fuss.  These are Autumn Crown squash, a hybrid so can't save their seeds for next year.

Some courgettes (Midnight F1 hybrid) suitable for containers 

My strawberries have got flowers :-) No idea what variety as they came from my lovely mum's allotment years ago.  Every year we peg down the runners so we get more plants.

My Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkins, planted with a wee flowerpot to the side so the roots get watered and the plant doesn't rot (I read that tip somewhere)

The replacement tomatoes are thriving (phew!!) so hopefully I'll have tomatoes this year.  They're already flowering so it looks promising.

Salad crops L to R: Rocket, Green Oak lettuce (notice how the half with Concorde hasn't grown, not a single seed sprouted which makes me think it was dud/out of date seed), spinach and radishes.

The view from the door.  Right at the back are my peppers, cucumbers and an artichoke.  Everything I've planted from seed has grown :-) :-) I've only lost a couple of things.  Normally I start things off in seed trays inside them put them outside.  Then the Scottish weather kills half of them and sometimes the other half grows.

I'm already impressed with my polytunnel and I'm definitely going to put raised beds on either side with a wee walkway down the middle. I just need OH to figure out how to build it ;-)

This morning I planted onion sets, peas, beetroot, white turnips and rocket in my raised beds at the front.  I sowed more spinach in the polytunnel and planted extra peas (love fresh peas from pod!) The weather has warmed up, there shouldn't be any frost overnight now so I think I can say the Scottish growing season has begun here :-)

Saturday 14 May 2016

Preserving my winter vegetables

Today was sunny and bright but rather cold here.  However I spent it in the garden clearing out the raised beds at the front of the house. I picked all the remaining vegetables that survived the winter and prepared them for the freezer.

Two types of kale - Black Russian and Red.  Both varieties have done well here.  There was a lot more than that in the photo but I do love munching the stuff raw!!  It's now in the freezer ready to make smoothies.

The last of the leeks now chopped up and frozen.  Good for soups.  Like all good Scots I use the whole leek, not just the white bit.  Really annoys me that supermarkets cut off all the green bits.

I scored a wee ham joint on Thursday night, well within date.  I got 25 decent slices plus some trimmings. 2 slices were enough for a generous ham sandwich and I used 2 more in a stir fry for tea.

The rest is now being open frozen then I'll bag it up.

I picked up some cinnamon and raisin bagels for The Teenager. 4 for 10p!! I have to say they smelled delicious when I was slicing them.  They're also in the freezer.

I'm not having much luck running down my freezers so I can defrost them and clean them out.  I can't resist a good yellow sticker bargain and I have to preserve my harvest.

I've been looking on Pinterest for inspiration as freezing is my default method of preservation.  I don't think I'm in much danger of lengthy power cuts here in the city so it seems safe enough.  A few years ago when I was living in the middle of nowhere we had a power cut for 3 days and was snowed in. I lost a lot of food in my freezers then.

I'd like to try canning but I'm not sure about it yet.  That needs further investigation especially as there would be a financial outlay for all the bits.  I'd really love a dehydrator and have been eyeing them up on eBay.

Anyone got some preserving tips and hints? Or disaster stories?  All advice welcome.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Rainbow shed and a bit of purple

Today was my Wednesday off and what a scorcher of a day it was here!  I think Scotland is having it's summer now.  This is the third day in a row there's been sunshine.  Lovely!  So it was a shed painting day.  I'd run out of pink paint so started to use up the blue from my raised beds and green from the fence. Both purchased last summer.

There are 2 coats of paint on the outside and 1 on the inside.  That took me all day even with The Teenager doing one coat of the blue.  I'm now out of all 3 colours and need to buy some more.  But what colour?? ;-)

And just to get the general effect I placed the pink door in front.  I'm really pleased with it so far.  I've still got the insides of the sides to paint (IYSWIM) plus the floor and roof (although it will have felt on it) OH tells me painting it all before assembling it is a better option than building it first.  It feels like it's taking forever though as I need dry weather on non work days to paint and that's rare here!!

Next door's builders were up on the roof today.  If you look closely you can see one of them is wearing a purple hard hat, purple t-shirt, purple shorts and even purple socks.   He's a very dapper dresser with the thickest Fife accent I've ever heard!  And he swears like a trooper!!

And continuing the purple theme, this is my downstairs wetroom.  We just use the loo, not the shower.  Until Monday it was just a dumping ground for all my DIY stuff.  I cleared it out, scrubbed it and took a long hard look at it.  It's next on my list for a makeover as this where my visitors go to the loo.  It's very out dated and just rundown.  In an effort to 'improve' it for selling, the previous owners painted the grout between the tiles bright blue!! So as a temporary measure I've added a purple loo seat, purple soap dispenser and purple towel all from my trip to Wilko at the weekend.  Total cost £16.  Bargain!!

Sunday 8 May 2016


I really hit the yellow sticker jackpot last night!! I was hoping to pick up a few bargains but in total I spent just over £25 on:

2 packs vegetarian bubble n squeak sausages
400g turkey breast mince
2 x 500g packs beef mince
400g lean pork, diced
4 chicken breast fillets
4 slices haggis ;-)
6 Cumberland sausages
400g lean beef stir fry strips
chicken crown
3 rump steaks
4 GF wraps

But it's not all for me.  My No 1 son has health issues which means he cannot work and survives (I cannot call it living!) on benefits.  He recently had his DLA (Disabled Living Allowance) taken away after an assessment for the replacement benefit PIP (Personal Independence Payment) deemed him not disabled enough.  I could say so much on this subject but it would turn into a rant.  So long story short, he is £46 a week worse off.  He can almost cover his rent and electricity bill but that's all.  He doesn't have enough money for food or clothes or 'fun' so this is where he's lucky he has family to support him.  There are many who don't :-(

I spent last night and today turning the above into 'ready meals' for his freezer.

The chicken crown (marinaded in smoked salt, garlic and black pepper) was cooked and sliced into 4 generous meal portions.  If it was for me I'd have got at least 6 portions but he's a tall man!

I made a sausage casserole and cooled it overnight so I could skim off the fat before freezing. 2 healthy portions for him.

I made 2 portions of healthy sweet and sour pork and cooked the turkey breast mince in a little stock.  It can be the healthy base for a bolagnais or chilli.  They're already frozen.

I chopped up the chicken and tossed it in lemon juice before freezing.  I've got a plan for that ;-)

I marinaded the stirfry beef in lemon juice and fajita spice before freezing.  That'll feed me, OH and hungry Teenogre one night with wraps and salad fixings.

The beef mince I froze uncooked.  We've got guests coming for dinner in a few weeks so I'll be making a massive lasagne for 10 people.  I also just froze the rump steaks.  They'll be good for a BBQ in the coming months.

And the haggis slices were seperated and frozen individually.  They can be grilled/fried as part of a full Scottish breakfast or used to stuff a chicken breast at some point.

So, back to the plan.  I bought one of these wee slow cookers today for No 1 son.

It cost me just £10 in Wilko.  It holds 1.5 litres. I was visiting mum and dad today so popped in for a look as we don't have one here in Stirling.  It's just like the old Woolworth's :-) My plan is to make lots of these freezer to slow cooker bags so all he needs to do is defrost a bag and dump it in the slow cooker.  His M.E./C.F.S. prevents him from being able to stand and cook so this will cut down on his use of ready meals.  They're unhealthy AND expensive so hopefully mine will save him money and be better for him especially as I'm going pad them out with loads of veggies.  Shhh don't tell him! ;-)

I also got a load of these tubs and pour n store bags.  £1 for 6 tubs and 10 bags for £1.50

If he's careful he can save them and I'll re use them.  I might even fill them for him :-)

Saturday 7 May 2016

Veggie cottage pie

It was The Teenager's 18th birthday this week.  There's nothing like your baby becoming an adult to make you feel old!!  We had a fairly low key family meal out at Frankie and Benny's (they do a gluten free menu) and then cake back at home.  He's not into brands and labels and didn't really ask for anything in particular. His big present was a laptop suitable for uni.  He got a fair amount of money which he's going to save for uni.  Sensible boy!! :-)

A quick pop into Sainsbury's yesterday resulted in a few yellow stickered Linda McCartney things for him to try.  He enjoyed this Cottage Pie but wasn't too keen on the soya meatballs.

So today we tried to recreate it.  Success!! He loved it.  Green lentils, red lentils, frozen carrot/onion/celery mix, chopped tomatoes, veg stock, tomato ketchup and a splash of Worcester sauce. I think this big pan full cost around £1 in total!!  And from that I guess at least 3 generous meals.

I didn't have any potatoes to make the topping so went to Sainsbury's to get some.  It was around 5.30pm and was rather quiet.  Guess how many yellow stickered bargains I got???

Monday 2 May 2016

May bank holiday weekend

It's a very rare ocassion that I have my 3 boys together in the same room but we managed it this weekend :-) Middle son (with beard) got a selfie stick in a Secret Santa exchange and we had great fun playing with it.  This was the one sensible photo!!

The weather has been incredibly mixed with rain/hailstones/wind/sun all in the space of 10 minutes!  The girls don't seem to mind and love trashing free ranging in the top raised part of the garden.  See how they've managed to avoid eating the dandelions and go for the good stuff!

Stuff just keeps popping up in the polytunnel but I'm delighted my heirloom pumpkins have sprouted.  They're a French variety called Rouge vif d'Etampes.  I'm hoping they grow to full size and I can save seeds for next year too.  Finally my outside peas are starting to push up so looks like it might be warming up enough to start planting my raised beds at the front.

BUT my 6 tomato plants died :-(  They were Homebase ones and looked healthy enough but didn't have a huge rootball.  I planted them anyway but one by one they all died. So I took them back and got a refund! Dunno if I'll plant more yet.

We took a wee trip out in the campervan to Loch Katrine where you can sail on an old steamship (we didn't) walk or cycle round the loch and take in the scenery.  Sadly the weather was awful and we got soaked several times but well worth a visit.

As usual we went off the tourist trail and climbed up some of the hilly trails.  We had the dogs with us.  They're good at finding wee paths we can follow.  The hills were covered with heather and blaeberries I don't think I've seen such a large amount in one place! Every direction I turned there were thousands. Sadly not quite ready for picking yet but I'm hoping to persuade OH to go back in a few weeks ;-)

You can just make out the unripe red/pink berries in this pic

Back to work tomorrow and this is a 4 day week for me.  I'm not enjoying job sharing, for many reasons but only 8 weeks to go until the summer holidays.  Woohoo!!