The Big Budget Challenge – week I

With lots of fairly large expenses looming over the next 3 months, last Friday I decided to join ‘The Big Budget Challenge’ hosted by the lovely Laura @ Keeping Healthy Getting Stylish.  We set our own budgeting rules (mine are here) and, for the next 2 months, we’ll post a weekly progress update on how we’re doing on our budgeting adventure. 

It’s my first week into the challenge and I’ve been filled with enthusiasm about finding ways to cut our household food-related costs.  Here’s a summary of what I managed to achieve in the past week:

1. Avoid Waste.  I’m pleased to say that I’ve used up all fruits and veggies before they went brown, turned to liquid or grew fur. 😉  I also rummaged around in the kitchen cupboards and used up anything that was past its sell-by date, including 2 packs of ground almonds:

I was in foodie heaven when I saw these almonds on special offer. Please don't look at the BB date! They were fine, honest!

With these almonds, I made some vegan cocoa fudge (featured in yesterday’s post) and 4 fruit puddings made with home-grown apples, foraged blackberries, and an oaty-almond topping.  They were totally delish… although Lil’ L freaked at the purple coloured apple and said the dessert wasn’t attractive enough to eat! The cheek of it!

The idea was to freeze 3 puddings and eat 1 this week.  Instead, 1 found its way into the freezer, and 3 got eaten in less than a week!  Aren’t we a greedy bunch?

2. Shop around for the cheapest deals. I haven’t done an internet shop this week, so I’ll try for price comparisons next week.

3. Make use of home-grown foods. On Saturday, we picked apples off our cooking apple tree.  M and Lil’ L had loads of fun, with M balanced up the tree throwing apples down to Lil’ L.  The idea was to carefully catch them and place them in the box, so we can overwinter them.  Unfortunately, most got dropped, some bounced off his head, and the picked apples definitely got mixed in with the windfalls!  I’m not holding out much hope for the overwintering now. 🙁


We filled up 3 boxes and there’s still hundreds of apples up the tree.  If anyone that lives near me would like some apples, please give me a shout as we have way too many for a family of 3.

So far, I’ve made all the puddings mentioned above, plus lots of apple sauce, which I’ve been using to make apple cinnamon breakfast pancakes. 

I normally buy at least one bag of organic apples a week and a couple of jars of organic apple sauce per month, so this little harvest is going to save us a fair fortune!

4. Go Foraging! I couldn’t wait to go foraging, so straight after school last Friday, Lil’ L and I put on our wellies and went to see what we could find.  Just a short distance from our house, we found a small strip of land literally covered with cob nuts!  We gathered them up, brought them home and weighed them.  In total, we had 2 kilos’ worth of nuts!  In Waitrose, cob nuts are currently selling for £3.99 a kilo!


Fortunately, I know someone who absolutely loves cracking nuts. 😉

So far, I’ve used the nuts to make veggie burgers.  This weekend I’m going to try roasting them with a little sea salt.  Again, if anyone living near me would like some cob nuts please let me know as we have way too many.

Last weekend, we also combined a bike ride along the Bath-Bristol cycle route with a foraging trip to gather blackberries.  We managed to gather 3 containers’ worth.  Some went in the puddings, the rest I stewed.  I adore stewed blackberries and ate 2 bowlfuls today.  I should be zinging with nutrients now! 🙂

5. Make use of vouchers and deals.  This is where we made a huge saving.  In preparation for our Friday night out, I exchanged some Tesco vouchers for reward tokens and we went to Pizza Express.  We asked for the £10 for 2 course menu (in our local P.E. you don’t get this menu unless you ask for it!) and Lil’ L had the children’s menu.  For drinks we had tap water (P.E. must hate people like us 😉 ).  The bill came to £27, which was paid for in tokens… thus FREE!  Normally we spend £35-£40 on a night out, so a bargain all round!

Outside of my 5 rules, we also came up with another way to save significant amounts of money… by parking 10 mins out of the city centre and walking in.  This week, we’ve needed to go into the city twice by car (normally we cycle).  By parking a little out of the centre, we saved £10 in parking charges!  I also enjoyed walking through parts of Bath that I never normally visit.  I especially enjoyed stomping through the crunchy leaves. 🙂

It’s amazing how many ways you can save money with a little bit of thought.  I’m going to pop over to Laura’s now and see how everyone else is doing on The Big Budget Challenge.

What’s your favourite money-saving tip?  I’d love to hear it! 



We picked our last bounty of plums last week from our little plum tree.

We’ve been enjoying lots of delicious plum crumbles over the last month but, as the last batch were so ripe and weren’t going last more than a day or two, I decided to simply stew them.  I absolutely adore stewed plums!  I could easily eat them morning, noon and night… although that probably wouldn’t be a wise move. 😉  

To stew them, I simply cut them up (leaving the skins on), added them to a saucepan with a little water (about 1/4 cup) and let them gently simmer for 10 minutes.  After this time, I mixed in a little Sweet Freedom fruit sweetener.

As we had such a huge batch of stewed plums, I decided to freeze a few portions, and refrigerate the rest for desserts and smoothie juices.  We made this gorgeous fruit puree, by blending the stewed plums along with some stewed blackberries.  (We foraged the blackberries during a bike ride along the Bristol & Bath Railway Path).  I sieved the puree to remove the pips, then used the puree to make fruity desserts and smoothies.  

To make fruity yoghurt, I simply mixed some of the plum and blackberry puree into a bowl of natural soya yoghurt.  The first time he tried it, Lil’ L polished off the bowl and then exclaimed “this is plumdiddlyumptious!” 🙂  This week, he’s been taking little pots of the yoghurt in his lunchbox to school (great way to get some more fruit into him. 😉 )

To make the smoothie, I simply whizzed the plum & blackberry puree in a blender along with a handful of ice cubes.  It was absolutely delicious!  I felt like I was zinging with vitamins after downing a glass of this. 😉

Well, the plums are coming to an end… but the apple tree is laden with ripe fruit.  Time to get creative again!

I’d love to know what your favourite plum recipe has been this year.

Plums galore!

For the past 11 years, our little plum tree has given us nothing more than a handful of small, bitter plums… but all has changed this summer!  This year, the boughs are literally creaking and breaking under the weight of hundreds of gorgeous, big, juicy plums!  I don’t know why it’s decided that this is the year to provide for us (perhaps it enjoyed the hot, dry spell we had earlier in the year?) but whatever the reason, I’m extremely thankful and determined not to waste a single plum. 

I’ve eaten so many fresh plums and bowls of stewed plums this week that I’m going to start to look like one soon. 😉 

Lil’ L has never been a big fan of fruit but he was at least willing to try a slice of plum…  and he actually liked it!  To engage him more in the joys of plum eating, I decided to involve him in the baking of a plum crumble.  To make it exciting and memorable for him, for the first time ever I let him use a knife and gave him the job of cutting up 25 plums. ( I thought the handling of all those plums might help with his fruit issues. 😉 )  It seems to have done the trick as he was full of enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to try the crumble. 

We ate a large bowlful as soon as it came out of the oven and the verdict…. “mmmmmmm, delicious”.  Success!  Another fruit to add to his small, but growing list of ‘likes’. 🙂 

Our nutrition-packed, dairy-free crumble recipe can be found here.

Hard work (and play) in the orchard followed by scrambled tofu on toast

Last Friday, armed with a pair of hand shears and secateurs, Lil’ L and I started to clear a large area of brambles and nettles in the orchard that had actually grown taller than us!  By lunchtime, we were starving and so we decided to make one of our all-time favourite lunches… scrambled tofu on toast.  This lunch is quick to make, super tasty, healthy and very filling (so great after a big workout!)

As the weather was so nice, we sat outside for our lunch.  As you can see, Lil’ L was ravenous…

He’d finished his lunch before I even started mine!

Here’s the recipe for scrambled tofu on toast.

Lunch was followed by more hard toil in the orchard.  This carried on for the whole weekend, but we were really pleased with the results.  We’ve revealed a large area at the bottom of the orchard that we’ve never ventured into before because it was so overgrown.

This is the bottom left-hand area of the orchard that we cleared.

We’re now planning to plant bluebells and other woodland plants, and install a rope swing on the oak tree.

This is the bottom right-hand corner of the orchard that we cleared.

I’ve actually grown biceps this weekend with all the chopping I’ve been doing with blunt shears.  It was hard work, but loads of funs and very rewarding. 🙂

While we were chopping weeds, M was progressing with Plan B for the veggie patch.  Plan A failed miserably as the butternut squashes started to get munched as soon as we removed the cloches.  (Plan A involved placing coffee grounds and clippings of rosemary around the plants.  I’d read on the web that slugs and snails don’t like coffee or rosemary… but ours’ weren’t put off in the slightest and just slimed right over them 🙁  )  One night, in the pouring rain, I dug the squashes up, took them back up to the house, and planted them back in pots.  I don’t think they would have survived another night with the slugs!

Onto Plan B… this involved 1) tidying up the area around the veggie patch and removing stinging nettles, logs and anything else slugs and snails enjoy living in, 2) covering the area around the raised beds in shingle with brambles on top (to stop the cats pooing in it), 3) sticking copper tape along the top of the raised beds, and 4) placing stakes and wire with pieces of shiny metal tape around the entire veggie patch to deter cats and birds.

The first night, we left one tiny area of shingle without a bramble on it… and the cat pooed on it!!! Unbelievable!!!  The next day, step 4 (the wiring) was put in place and this seems to have deterred the cat.  At some point this week, I will try planting the squashes again and see what happens.

Meanwhile, the plum tree is doing extremely well.  In fact, it had far too many plums on it this year and a few boughs snapped. 🙁  The slugs are enjoying eating them though, so maybe the ‘plum fest’ will encourage them to forget about the veggie patch. 😉

We’ve also got hundreds of apples growing in the large apple tree.  They should be ripe in a few weeks and I can’t wait to start making apple crumbles, eve’s puddings, apple cake and apple pies.  Yum!

Lil’ L’s shot of the apple tree

The courgette (zucchini) plant is doing much better now… largely thanks to a resident ladybird, plus I’m bringing it into the back porch every night to stop it getting munched by woodlice.

In return for our tender loving care, the plant has rewarded us with some beautiful flowers…. and it looks like 2 baby courgettes have started to grow.  Yay!!  Let’s hope they manage to make it to full size.  That’ll be a first for us!

How’s everyone else getting on with their veggie growing?  Have you reaped any bounty yet?

Growing My Own Veggies

This year I am determined to grow some vegetables.  I’ve always loved the idea of having a lush vegetable patch… but I’m definitely less keen on the hard toil that goes into actually creating one.  If I could wave a magic wand and a fully-grown vegetable patch appeared, then that would be ideal 😉  However, instead, I have to tend with the billions of creatures that are intent on munching their way through my carefully planted seedlings or the cats that poo on my freshly weeded soil 🙁  I guess it’s all part of the experience.

So here we go again this year…

First off, the tomato plants that my mum bought me are doing amazingly well.  We’ve planted them in pots so that the slugs and snails can’t get to them and they’re placed up on the garden table at night, just to make sure.


I was so excited to find some tomatoes growing on the plants last week!  At the weekend, we bought some organic tomato feed so hopefully they’ll ripen up nicely 🙂

I’ve also grown some tomatoes from seed.  They’re much, much smaller than the plants from mum but we’re hoping for a growth spurt.  This weekend, we planted most of them in organic gro-bags and placed them on the raised deck, hopefully out of reach of the slimy ones.

The pot of flat-leaf parsley that I grew from seed is doing well.

The courgette (zucchini) isn’t doing so well. It’s absolutely covered in black fly.  One of the flowers actually dropped off today 🙁  If I can’t find a gentle way of encouraging them to leave, then I might just have to let them have it.

I grew this amazing trough of rocket and lettuce from seed… then it all bolted before we actually got round to eating it!  I’ve thrown it all in the composter and will start again.

We’ve found a novel use for Lil’ L’s sand pit… we’re growing spinach and purple kale.  It had just rained heavily before I took the picture, so the plants are looking a bit sorry for themselves.  I’m sure they’ll perk up.  I’m also planning to sow more seeds to fill in the gaps.

The raised beds have been the biggest challenge.  A couple of years ago we planted a whole range of plants which were subsequently eaten in one night by an army of huge slugs.  The only survivors were the sweetcorns.  This year, we’re on a mission to grow SOMETHING that won’t be eaten.  We’ve planted sweetcorns again (should be a safe bet), then the tiny butternut squash plants that I grew from seed have been covered with plastic cloches.  We’ll see what happens.  I did have the squash plants up on the balcony at the front of the house… but the slugs and snails still managed to find them!!!  3 plants were munched in one night!  The battle continues…

The brambles on the raised bed are to deter all the neighbourhood cats from using the bed as a litter tray.  It looks a mess but if it deters the cats, slugs, snails and anything else that wants to munch the veggies then I don’t care!

The little apple tree in the back garden is doing really well and has got lots of apples growing on it.  I’m not sure whether we’re meant to thin them out or not.  The branches are so heavily laden that M has had to use canes to prop them up!

One of the two gooseberry bushes we bought from Homebase didn’t last long… all the green shoots were eaten within a couple of days.  The slime trail led to the culprit… a huge garden snail.  The sorry-looking gooseberry plant is the twig in the pot to the left of Buddha.

My biggest success story, to date, has to be the basil that I grew from seed.  I absolutely love basil and use it a lot in our evening meals and salads.  I’m also hoping to make my own pesto.  At the moment, I’ve got about 6 pots growing on the window ledge in the kitchen.  When I took the photo below, I accidentally left the plants outside for the night.  In the morning, three big holes had been munched in the leaves.  These plants are definitely staying indoors from now on!

Finally, here’s a photo of my wonderful composter that M built for me from scraps of wood he found in the garage.  It seemed crazy paying the council to take away the green waste then drive miles and miles to buy it back as compost.  I’m looking forward to making my own, free organic compost.  It also feels good to know that our waste and scraps are appreciated by the score of bugs, beetles, worms and other critters that live in the composter.  It’s teeming with life!  (I won’t mention the rat 😉 )