Sunday, 31 October 2010


I just, finally earned a £5/$8 voucher for buying petrol at Morrison ‘s supermarket.  It has taken a year to earn enough points.  I don’t often shop at Morrison’s, except for petrol (gas if you are American) but every so often they have a good value bargain, like the 5p\8c sausages I got late one night…

I decided to spend the voucher immediately and to get some things we would use anyway such as eggs and bananas, which are much the same price in all of our local supermarkets.  I also decided, in true frugal tradition that I would get a small treat with part of the voucher.  It is always a good idea to treat yourself when you earn something extra, as it makes it seem worthwhile.

It being Halloween in a few days’ time, there were lots of pumpkins.  Now in my childhood here in Scotland you hollowed out a large turnip or swede, not a pumpkin to make a Halloween lantern.  We were tough it those days no doubt, but I have to say that hollowing out a pumpkin does not result in a bent spoon and stigmata on the palms of the hands in quite the same way that hollowing out a turnip does.   

My vote therefore goes to the pumpkin every time though I am sure it has more air miles here in Scotland.  We can grow them, it is just that there are not many commercial pumpkin growers here…

The advantage of it being Halloween was that the pumpkins were being sold at £2/$3.00 per pumpkin rather than by weight, so a small one was just as expensive as a large one.  I therefore netted a large mis-shapen one for my £2, and got a great deal of pumpkin for my trouble. 
This is a great indulgence, as not having children in the house, I usually buy pumpkin on the 1st or 2nd of November when it can be had very cheap indeed or even picked up in the street a little charred but otherwise none the worse for wear - and I do hate waste as you have probably gathered. 
We celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 15th of February for the same reason – Last yearI got an enormous bunch of red roses for 50p/80c on the 15th of February in Tesco and was only sorry I didn’t need 50 bunches and a load of pot plants because they were all there for the taking.  Oysters are also worth looking out for on the 15th of Feb.

Anyway, on the way home from the pumpkin trip I just happened to call in at a local shop.  
 I netted 2 cartons of Convent Garden fresh pumpkin and bean soup for 25p/40c each, reduced from £2.25/$3.50 each.  It was to be used that day, so I brought it home and boiled it up vigorously before putting it in the fridge.  We ate it for our dinner last night with a bit of chicken chopped up in it.  The total cost of the dinner was about 40p/60c each and very tasty it was too. 
The chicken had been a bargain earlier in the week.  It had so far done 3 meals and we still had some left.  
(See below!)
Meanwhile, back to the pumpkin.  It is a variety called Crown Prince and a beautiful grey-blue colour, rather like a duck egg. 
I have a great pumpkin recipe, the original version of which comes from the ‘Boxing Clever Cook Book’ by Jacqui Jones and Joan Wilmot.   
They are involved in a CSA scheme, or Community Supported Agriculture.  CSA involves a group of people who pay a ‘share’ to a grower in advance and are promised a share of the produce when it is ready.  People usually help out at the farm or nursery for a day or so, making it a social thing too.  
 The book is about how to use all the vegetables that CSA members get, especially when there is a glut of something (usually cabbage no doubt).  It is therefore a great book for vegetable gardeners, those of us who bulk buys when things are cheap, or for anyone who has too much cabbage.  

I took the parsnips out of the recipe because they are not popular with our kids and added a few other things, including gravy, so here is my version of it.
Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds.  Prick the skin in several places, sprinkle it with salt and olive oil and put some garlic inside it. 
Put the pumpkin and the lid in a baking dish and bake until just tender but still holding its shape.  Or prick it all over, put it on a plate and microwave on medium for as long as it takes.  
(NB if you are going to chop up a  pumpkin for a different recipe, microwave it for a bit first and it will be much easier.)

Meanwhile, cook some potatoes, carrots and swede – or whatever other root vegetabes you have and mash them up with some olive oil and chopped chives.  Cook a handful of brown rice separately and mix it into the mash if desired. Mix in other left overs as you desire eg baked beans, peas, chopped meat or cheese.
Stuff the pumpkin with this mixture and bake until it is hot and tender.  

Mix some gravy by your usual method, or dissolve some miso, Marmite, Bovril or a stock cube in a mug of hot water, with some chopped parsley and chives in it if you have some.  Pour this over the potato mixture in the pumpkin before serving.  Serve with grated cheese on top or with a side serving of home-made tomato sauce. 
For a Halloween dinner it can be brought to the table with a candle stuck in the top of it, and you can hollow out a face before stuffing the pumpkin.
 The recipe can be used with any squash, pumpkin, courgette or marrow and the ingredients adapted to suit what you have in the fridge.

This pumpkin was destined to become other things though, because a whole stuffed pumpkin is a lot for the two of us. 
So half of it became pumpkin, pak choi and left over chicken curry and  pumkin soup.

The other half was cubed and frozen. NB you can freeze most vegetables for a month or so without having to blanche them, (ie scald in hot water for 2-3 minutes to destroy the enzymes).  for longer storage you will need to.  You can easily tell if frozen vegetables have started to deteriorate as they go tough and lose their structure.

Another option for home freezing is to cheat and part-cook the pumpkin (or other vegetables) in the microwave in a covered dish with a little water until hot.  Or just cook it and freeze ready to use.

High acid things like apples and rhubarb can be stored without blanching anyway and will keep for a long time. 
Having cooked the pumpkin then, the seeds were saved.  I looked in my gardening catalogue and seeds for this particular pumkin were £2.76 for ten.  I had about a hundred.  So I saved 20 or so for myself and a friend to plant next year, by rinsing them and putting them on paper towel to dry for 2-3 weeks.

I rinsed the rest and then baked them in the oven to eat.   Don't try this at home I have just had to change this entry - I think being able to bake and eat the pumpkin seeds is a bit like the poodle in the microwave adult fairy story, or the recipe for meadowsweet wine. (The Poodle didn't happen, the meadowsweet wine doesn't work).  I have cookery books that tell you the pumpkin seeds work - and for that matter that the meadowsweet wine does.  My pumpkin seeds stayed firmly stuck to the husk, half on each side when I split them open and were just not worth the bother.

So here is the story about the wine, just to make up for it.  I used to be a keen home wine maker and made many kinds of wine.  it was popular in the 1990's and seems to be making something of a comeback. 
I have just sold my wine making equipment on Cheapcycle (a free site to sell things) and could have sold it 6 times over.  I tried a couple of years ago and no one wanted it.

In the times when I was a keen winemaker,( I may blog about this soon so keep watching) a friend who was equally keen (if not more so) and myself experimented with many different kinds.  Several books had a recipe for wine made from a hedgerow flower called meadowsweet.
It smells divine when you first make the wine, which is a lovely golden shade.  Then it goes dark brown and tastes vile.  We covered it in paper and used dark demi johns and it made no difference.  I thought it was me and my friend thought it was her until we compared notes and found we had both tried everything!  Sometimes one could even suspect that people put recipes in books or, er on blogs without trying them out properly...

PS If you want the Poodle story I'm sure someone will tell you, or try the Internet, but then you probably know it anyway, I think everyone does!
PPS here's a link to the article I just did for Permaculture Magazine about growing winter veg. Pick those pumpkins though, they're not frost proof! 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The true cost of decorating.

While we were away on holiday a month or so ago, I watched a 'house makeover' programme on TV.

I was intrigued to hear the makever guru describe how the new dining room table and chairs she was advising people to purchase was an 'investment piece'.  it cost £2,000/$3,000 and was white.  The chairs were covered in white leather, which, we were assured, would wipe clean.
Now this house belonged to a young couple with small children, and their kitchen was too small for a table, so presumably their kids will be eating at the white dining room table and the parents will now be getting tense about them dropping food on the new and expensive dining room carpet.

I remember how my kids used to sit at the table and play.  They used felt tip pens, paints, water and so on and it was great for them to be able to do that without worrying about our table, which was permanently covered in a heavy pvc coated table cloth.  So with a cloth on top of it, an expensive table would have looked just the same as a cheap one, and we bought a second hand good solid Ercol dining room table set for £35 from a local charity (thrift) shop.

In what sense, exactly is a dining room table an 'investment'?  An investment is something that increases the value of your money and can be sold (quickly and easily - ie when you need the money) for more than it cost.  A Chippendale  chair may be an investment, but not one you would make unless you already had money in easily-accessed tax free, safe savings.  But a white table will get stained.  And the chairs may be wipe clean but the leather will soon look used and the white will rub off in places.  The minute it leaves the shop the value becomes less than half of what you paid for it - and how on earth would you sell it anyway?  No investment this, then.

An investment has to be a realisable asset.  For most of us, even our house is not an investment.  
We need to live in it and cannot therefore easily sell it if we need some money, even if it has gone up in value.  It costs money for maintenance and to pay the mortgage, especially if we spend money on things that give no return like furniture, and is therefore actually a liability in financial terms.  It becomes an asset only if it can earn us money is some way. 
That could mean taking in a lodger so at least some of the costs are off-set.  It may mean using it to earn money such as by working from home as a child minder or moving your office to the house and therefore saving on rent for business premises if you are self-employed. It may even mean selling it, buying a cheaper one and investing the money.

We recently got a grant and interest free loan to install solar panels.  These give an electricity generating feed-in tariff in many European countries, so we get paid to generate electricity.  We used Renewable Resources and were very happy with them. give this blog a mention if you get in touch!
The panels should be paid for by this tariff in ten years (using calculations of the average amount we should expect to generate).  The tariff is guaranteed for 25 years and is index linked.  Those are the magic words.  Anything that is index linked keeps up with inflation of course and that is very important.  For us it means the tariff will go up every year when there is any inflation, which will quite possibly make the payback time shorter.

So how else can you make your house an asset?
By spending money in a way that helps it to earn its keep.  That doesn't usually mean an expensive kitchen, bathroom or conservatory which are depreciating and unrealisable assets.
It does mean doing the sums regarding any money you spend on it.  For example, if you add insulation or double glazing what is the pay back time? If the payback time is long, are there other benefits, such as wanting to go out less or just getting a lot of pleasure from it?

We recently installed a wood burning stove.  It cost us quite a lot of money but is worth every penny.  We are spending more time at home, and both ourselves and our friends enjoy spending time here more. 
We are enjoying getting our exercise collecting and chopping free wood.
We had had a stove at our last house so knew we would enjoy wood gathering, and I have always preferred to get exercise in ways that are useful.
Once we have done something that saves us money and adds to the quality of life at the same time, I love to find yet more ways that it can save us money.  So the wood stove has a kettle on it right now, boiling water for tea.  The kettle cost me 50p/80c at a car boot sale.  It also has a saucepan on it cooking potatoes for tomorrow's dinner.  We have managed so far to resist spending money on trailers, wood sheds, chain saws and other things that tempt new wood stove owners!

So I am sitting here toasting nicely whilst not spending a penny keeping warm and cooking a meal at no extra cost.  In other words, our money is earning its keep.
Our stove cost about the same as the white dining table and chairs in that make over programme by the way.