Austerity Housekeeping eBook £2.99 on Amazon!

You can now download the eBook of this blog from Amazon for the austerity-friendly sum of £2.99. Read it using the Kindle app on PC, Kindle, iPhone, or iPad. Walk around the supermarket with our menus  shopping lists on your smartphone, have our holiday packing lists on your iPad, mug up on fashion and beauty tips while you are waiting for the kids. Everything you could possibly need to enjoy a fulfilling austerity lifestyle.


Home made ice cream from your freezer

ice creamHere’s a good way of avoiding children’s demands as the ice cream van comes around. You don’t need a fancy ice cream machine to make your own – the top of your fridge or your freezer can stand in while you create your own recipes and flavours. There are different categories you might try. The most common is what the Americans call ‘custard’, or what the Italians might call ‘gelati’, namely naming a kind of custard mix out of eggs, cream and milk and then freezing it. It’s also possible just to use double cream and fruit, or Greek yoghurt and fruit. Finally making your own sorbets is another option. Here are three recipes to try.

Raspberry frozen yoghurt

This is quite diabetic friendly. Take 1 pint of thick Greek yoghurt, and 8 oz of raspberries, and mix them together. Put in the freezer until it starts to set, and then take it out and stir it to break up the ice crystals a bit. Stir at two hourly intervals or so after that. After about 8 hours you will have the most delicious frozen yoghurt with no added sugar. By the way, any really ripe fruit will lend itself to this technique.

Home made ice cream

Beat 4 egg yolks in a pan until they are creamy, then beat in 2 tbsp of hot milk. Beat in a further 500ml of hot milk, beating the mixture constantly. Add 125g caster sugar, stir it in, and then transfer to a double boiler, or if you don’t have one, use a Pyrex dish nestled in the top of a pan of hot water (not too full otherwise the hot water will splash out). Cook over a gentle heat, and keep stirring it the whole time, until it easily coats the back of the spoon you are using. Whatever you do, don’t allow your mixture to boil, or you will end up with scrambled eggs! Be really, really patient and keep stirring all the time. Once it has thickened, remove from the heat, cool, and freeze according to the instructions for frozen yoghurt.

You can adapt the flavour by adding different things as you add the 500ml of hot milk. These include: vanilla essence, rum essence and raisins (for rum and raisin, unsurprisingly), crushed strawberries, raspberries or blackberries, a dash of any liquers you might have lying around, such as Baileys or Marsala, chocolate sauce, coffee (add a bit of hot water to instant coffee before adding it), or melted Mars bars. Just stir them in.

if you have made the vanilla version, and happen to have a little espresso maker (you can get aluminium stove top ones for as little as a tenner if you shop around), you can make a lovely dessert by putting a small scoop of the ice cream into a tea cup and then pouring a portion of the hot coffee over it. Best eaten straight away. The Italians call this ‘affogato’.

Lemon sorbet

Boil 125ml water with the zest of two lemons and 250g sugar. Boil the mixture, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Cool, chill, and then add 500ml lemon juice (you can use bottled, such as PLJ). Strain, and then freeze as in the above recipes. Soften in the fridge for a little while before serving.

This recipe also works well with oranges (perhaps use a little less sugar), limes, and even grapefruits, although you may need to adapt the recipe a little according to personal preferences. A dash of Cointreau in an orange sorbet, or white wine in a lemon one, makes it very grown up.

The Staycation

We know it’s a trend when every women’s magazine has an article on it. The current fashion in taking holidays is therefore the ‘staycation’. I am not entirely sure what this means, and whether there’s even a consensus, but reading between the lines, it seems as though it can be one of two things. Firstly, it can mean staying in the UK rather than travelling overseas, in order to avoid unnecessary expense or travel hassle, or similar. It is not always an economical option, despite what you might expect, as often it can be just as expensive for a family to stay in an undistinguished B and B in a remote part of Dorset as travelling to somewhere more exotic, particularly if you are clued up enough to swap homes with someone overseas.  The other meaning of the word is to stay at home and go on little trips, seeing and doing a lot of things that you might not have time to engage in normally. That is the approach this post is going to take. (After reading it, you might also want to look in the Polls category to vote on what your holiday plans might be this year. Look in the column on the right of the screen to find it).

Designing a successful staycation based at home probably takes as much work as planning and booking a foreign holiday, if not more. The key is to think constantly about what you can do that is actually different, in order to make it feel like a holiday, and offer some relaxation. Consider some of the following.

  • Actually swap bedrooms. The children can move around into each others’ rooms, or even share rooms a la sleepover for a change, with sleeping bags if necessary . If you are lucky enough to have extra space, parents can even sleep in their own guest room, which might even have been prepared specially for the occasion hotel-style. This might involve a bit of decorating or tidying up, fresh flowers, supplies of glossy magazines and upmarket beauty products in sample sized bottles, and a drinks/snacks tray. Failing the presence of a guest room, try upgrading your normal bedroom in the same way.
  • Change meal times and typical patterns, and consider having a late brunch every day, afternoon cream teas, and so on.
  • Fill the freezer with ice lollies, preferably home made.
  • Try themed meal nights chosen by family vote – Mexican, BBQ, Italian, etc. Or you could rent DVDs from your local library and have film nights with microwave popcorn, hot dogs, and that ideally rare but necessary treat, an occasional can of Coke.
  • Make maximum use of your nearest leisure centre or gym/hotel with swimming pool and day guest facilities. They often go very quiet in August and it might be possible to buy a three day or weekly pass relatively cheaply and go there on a daily basis.
  • Try a family treasure hunt with a pretty decent prize of some kind. Put clues all around the house and garden so that the children will have to make a bit of effort working out the answers.
  • Take the children on mystery tours of the local area, imagining what you might show a visitor from overseas if they materialised on your doorstep. Children are capable of great feats of sightseeing endurance if they get a couple of quid to spend in the gift shop at the end and a scone in the cafe, and even though there can be moaning at the time, it’s amazing how much they take in. However they are cunning and won’t let you know this until years later.
  • Consider travelling around all the relatives you like best on a kind of Grand Tour, to catch up and reinforce family ties. It doesn’t have to be Christmas to organise a get together.
  • Invite other people (or their children) to stay at yours, if you like being a host.

Image: Graham Maddrell /

Holiday poll 2014

Hiking with the family

For cheap or free outings during the summer, there’s nothing to beat hiking through the countryside with the kids. So what do you need to think about when planning a trip? Well, first of all you have to plan a route that would be worthy of Goldilocks – not too long, not too short, and with plenty to see and do on the way. Surprisingly, most children can manage an hour’s hiking from the age of about 3, which should involve about 2 miles if it is flat. If you train them up well, then they can easily manage half day hikes from about the age of 7 or 8, and full day hikes by secondary school age, hitting these targets even younger if you take them very regularly. For beginners, planning ambitious peak bagging excursions in the Lake District is probably not the best place to start, so you need to think of something a bit more modest. In such cases, riverside hikes can be particularly good, with birds and canal boats to look at, as can hikes around stately homes and reservoirs with tea and cakes afterwards in the cafe. Tuck away a carrier bag or two and towards the end of August, you can even collect some blackberries while you are out.

One of the secrets to success is making sure kids have the right gear on, especially if the ground is uneven or the weather changeable. Proper hiking boots and breathable, waterproof jackets bought second hand off Ebay are a great start, but it that’s too expensive, try making sure they have decent, well-fitting wellingtons with a supportive insole and couple of pairs of socks on, as well as lots of layers that can be stripped off or added to, depending on the weather. Also take a small first aid kit with blister plasters, insect cream, suncream and high energy Lucozade tablets (a great placebo), and pack a small picnic for en route. The ideal picnic includes lots of liquid, for example watered-down fruit juice, wholemeal bread sandwiches for slow energy release, fruit, muesli bars and biscuits. My grandfather used to tuck away a small toblerone for me to eat when we got to the top of a mountain, which was very motivating, and you might like to think about doing something like this as well. Finally, it can be good to give each child their own little backpack for special treasures – favourite fluffy toy, dolls, penknife, binoculars, torch, camera and so on.  Then onwards and maybe even upwards!

Image: Simon Howden /

Easy things to take to pot luck gatherings

So, you’ve been rushed off your feet with the kids and work and the house and so on, and you realise at the last minute you’ve promised to take something along to a pot luck supper or gathering. What to do, what to do? Here are some suggestions.

Watermelon cut into wedges – always popular.

Berry dessert – mix fresh or defrosted raspberries with a bit of sugar (vanilla sugar is best) and whipped cream and/or Greek natural yoghurt. Ricotta cheese is another good option. Serve with shortbread biscuits.

Kebabs – put cubes of halloumi cheese and cherry tomatoes onto bamboo skewers. These can be grilled as well, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil before sprinkling with freshly ground black pepper.

Nibbles – for a modern take on the 1970s, put gouda cheese and seedless black grapes onto cocktail sticks. Another quick and clever offering is to fry up some shelled mixed nuts in olive oil with chopped dried rosemary and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Even better if you can wrap them in foil and serve them warm.

Cocktail sausages – buy pre-cooked ones and serve with wholegrain mustard or salsa as a kind of dip.

Finally, if you really want to impress, and you know someone who is visiting Germany or Austria, get them to bring home  a packet of Dr Oetker Tarte au Chocolat or Tarte au Citron mix. Add four eggs and some softened butter and you have a magnificent cake that looks like you spent all afternoon in the kitchen.

Image: graur razvan ionut /

Jam, Jerusalem and school fetes

I spent a lot of time wondering over the years why schools ask parents to provide cakes and so on for fetes, considering that they often sell them for less than the cost of the ingredients.  My reasoning went like this. If the onus falls on women to bake things, even though many of them are in full time work, is it not more sensible just to ask for donations from busy people and cut out the extra workload? I then realised that an alternative model of accountancy was at work here, a kind of social accountancy rather than financial. By getting parents involved in making things and thinking about the school, and coming along to the fete to join in with the communal side of things, it builds a better sense of co-operation and community amongst the families and teachers involved. Here are some standard recipes and ideas for packaging so that you can join in as well.

Sponge cake

  • 8 oz butter or vegetable spread
  • 8 oz caster sugar
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 8 oz self-raising flour
  • 2 spoons jam (preferably home made)

Experienced sponge makers will realise this is twice the usual quantity of ingredients. This is because a lot of us find it hard to get sponger cakes to rise, and if you use double the quantity it gives the impression of success!  The technique goes like this. Line two 7” (18cm) non-stick sponge tins with baking parchments to give a perfect result.  (You can also use a deeper tin and cut the cake horizontally later on). Cream together the butter/spread and sugar, beating it with a wooden spoon until it is light and fluffy.  Now you need to be extremely patient for the next stage. Add the beaten egg little by little, mixing it in carefully between pourings, so the egg is incorporated into the mixture. If you rush this process, it will curdle, but do not fear, because adding a tablespoon full of flour will put that right. You will lose some of the lightness in the process though, which is the trade-off.  When you’ve managed to incorporate all the egg, fold in the flour very carefully using a metal spoon, until you’ve got a proper cake mixture. Now pour into your baking tin(s) and cook for  25-30 minutes at about 160C until the sponge is risen and golden brown. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR TO CHECK THEM HALF WAY THROUGH OR IT WILL SINK IN THE MIDDLE! When it’s ready, the top of the cake should spring back when you press it. (If it has risen up like the peak of the Matterhorn with a crack in it, your oven was too hot, by the way). It should also have shrunk away from the edges of the tin ever so slightly. Take it out and allow it to cool for a few minutes before turning it out on a baking rack. When it’s cool, you can do any of the following exciting things to it.

  • Sandwich the two halves together with some jam, preferably home made.
  • To make it even more indulgent, make buttercream icing from beating together equal parts of butter and caster sugar, and spread that in the middle as well to complement the jam. Or you could use whipped cream instead of buttercream.
  • Sprinkle with icing sugar. Do this through a paper doily for an artistic effect.
  • Tie a colourful ribbon around it.
  • You can turn it into a birthday cake by rolling out a slab of ready made white icing, cutting out a circle slightly smaller than the circumference of the top, securing it with jam, and writing on it with special writing icing tubes. You’ll need candles as well, of course.

This mix will also make a couple of dozen fairy cakes in paper cases. Vary the mixture by:

  • Replacing  1-2 oz of the flour with cocoa or a few spoons of melted chocolate for a chocolate sponge cake
  • Adding 4 oz glace cherries tossed in flour (so they don’t sink to the bottom) for a cherry cake
  • Adding 4 oz sultanas tossed in flour for a sultana cake
  • Pouring the sponge mixture over sliced apples for apple cake. You can also add some cinnamon to the mixture to complement the fruit.

Pack little cakes, biscuits and scones in clear cellophane bags with seasonal ribbon around the top for a good effect – red or tartan for Christmas, yellow for Easter and green or raffia for summer.  Children also like buying mixed bags of little fairy cakes, biscuits and sweets for 50p, as I found out recently at a cub scout fete.

Image: Keattikorn /

Austerity summer party menu

Further  to various requests, here are a couple of recipes for a summer party for 12-15 people. These dishes can be cooked the day before and reheated.

Chicken – 3 x 600g packets chicken drumsticks and thighs (£3 a pack in Tesco this week); 12 large shallots (peeled and chopped); 6 bay leaves; 3 packets smoked bacon lardons; 6 dessertspoonfuls wholegrain mustard; bunch of tarragon; bottle of cheap white wine. Pour some olive oil to line a roasting tin, brown the chicken drumsticks and thighs, and then scatter on the shallots and lardons and brown a little further. Meanwhile whisk together the wine and mustard and then pour it over the chicken, adding the chopped tarragon and scattering the bay leaves through the mix. You may need to divide the mixture between 2 or 3 roasting tins. Cook at about 150C for about an hour or so, until the chicken is really tender. Cover with foil if the chicken starts to get too brown during cooking. Serve with boiled baby new potatoes and a tomato salad.

Fish – 4 bags frozen Alaskan wild salmon; 1 whole celery (chopped); 4 shallots (peeled and chopped); bunch of flat leaf parsley (chopped); 2 lemons. Grease roasting tin with olive oil and then place salmon steaks in rows. Once again, you may have to divide the mixture between a couple of roasting tins. Sprinkle over all the other ingredients and cover tin with a double layer of tin foil. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, depending on thickness of salmon steaks.  Serve with boiled new potatoes and cucumber salad.




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