Friday, March 02, 2007

Reviewing the Situation

With one more week to go with this current Challenge, am just reminding old and new readers what this 'cost-cutting-site' is all about. Mainly food, because that is my 'field', but also how we live our lives each day. Cheesepare has asked a question about living on an OAP pension, so worth a re-mention about our finances as this helps to give you all an idea of where our money goes. Living on a state pension is about a tight as you can get.

In the Goode Household, we have only the basic state pension to live on, plus about 50p extra a week through earning money when I did several years of TV. That is the only time I earned enough to pay tax, as I was (common in those days) a stay-at-home mother and wife.
My husband, now retired, is able to get part-time work delivering flowers for a local florist. After tax, the money earned is purely for his personal expenses: paying for his sailing holidays, running his (very old) car, wine (he is a member of a wine club), gym and sailing club subscriptions. Admittedly luxuries, but he has to work to get them. He also pays for the daily newspapers, and the occasional bag of pears which he enjoys. Maybe some DIY stuff. He buys his shoes and socks and other clothes from discount stores. Leaving very little of his money left for anything else he desires.

The state pension is paid into a household account which deals with not only the running expenses of the house (paid either by monthly or quarterly DDs) but also needed for gifts (we have four children and between them they have nine offspring), house insurance, postage stamps, clothes (although I make do with things I have had for years - and here I have to admit that if I like a comfortable skirt, I have often bought three the same, so everyone thinks I have only one which I appear to wear most of the time).

I have two luxuries - one is going to the hairdressers, generally once a fortnight I get a small discount because I have been a customer for many, many years, also I let them have my up-to-date glossy mags (a sub. given by family as a Xmas pressie). My hair is the only thing about me that is worth looking at, so I feel duty bound to keep it going. Who knows who I might meet?
The second luxury is having this computer (now years old) which means paying for the Internet connection. But now I have begun this blogsite the Internet is the last thing I would want to give up.

Money is very tight, so we have to adapt our lives around what we can afford. Up to last September I played bridge regularly, have done for many, many years. But my regular partner moved away, transport later became a problem and so I had to give it up. At the same time, my regular weekly spot on local radio (again done for many years) was dropped (with not even a thank you) due to having a new producer, so I was left feeling empty and unloved and £10 a week short (my fee/expenses from the BBC - which just about paid for the running costs of my own car). So my car had to go - repairs being too costly (1t was 20 years old), and now -being virtually housebound - I decided to jot down my cost-cutting hints and tips and so I began this site, not at the time expecting so many to be interested. Many were, so thank you for that.

Back to the finances - still haven't mentioned food. This has to come out of what money is left. Sometimes there is very little left, and I refuse to get overdrawn, so this is when I have to rely on what I have in store and found often this has kept me going for six or more weeks, with the aid of milk and other foods the milkman can provide.
This brings me to the current Challenge where, because I can only be happy with a challenge to work through, I aimed to keep going for TEN weeks (longer than ever before) starting with one big supermarket shop and then occasionally buying, as needed, fresh produce from local stores. Anything used from my storecupboard, that had been bought previously, would be costed as part of the Challenge. A ceiling price was set of £120 worth of foods from the supermarket, £30 from the butcher, and £100 from the milkman - making a total of £250 to last out the ten weeks. Sounds a lot, but broken down it is only £25 a week, or (as there are two of us) £12.50 per person per week. Which is almost a pittance depending from where you stand.

This Challenge is proving many things (especially to me) - that, given a start with a full storecupboard, fridge and freezer, we can then keep going for far longer than we might expect. Also that home-cooked food is cheaper (and much, much better) than the manufactured. Anyone who has been trying this Challenge for themselves I hope will have been inspired to cook recipes they haven't tried before, and be pleasantly surprised how economical they can be. I learn something new each day, and I hope you all do too.

The finer details of this Challenge can be found by clicking Archives and going back to Nov.19th, then scrolling up to near Xmas (Dec archives) where the major supermarket shop is listed and costed. The Challenge proper began on January 1st and ever after (particularly each Sunday) the dishes made and eaten during the week, plus costings of recent purchases are given. When the final day arrives - a week on Sunday, hopefully by then I will have worked out (on paper) all the foods which have been used, what other fresh foods I have purchased from local shops, the savings made via the milkman, and how much more I have spent over and above the allotted amount. If at all.
There still seems to be a lot of food left (like nearly a whole jar of pickle, half a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, a lot of Marmite and Bovril, and plenty of meat) the cost of which can be deducted from any overspending. But we will have to wait to find out.

Recipes using polents. Myself, I have to say I found the basic recipe (simmer in water until very thick, pour onto a baking sheet, leave to cook then slice and fry) far too bland for me. I believe an Italian chef did say he always cooked it in stock, but then you need to be careful to reheat through thoroughly. Polenta is cornmeal (not cornFLOUR) so can be used as cornmeal when this is given as an ingredient Try these for size:

Herby Polenta with Eggs Florentine:
Into cooked polenta, beat in :
4 os freshly grated Parmesan cheese and
1 teacup fresh chopped parsley and oregano/marjoram
Spread this mixture onto a lined baking tray and leave to get cold, then cut into squares.
Fry these squares in a little oil until golden, then place in a deep dish, overlapping each square.
Either fry some fresh spinach in a little butter until wilted, or use frozen (thawed and drained) and mix the spinach with:
4 oz cream cheese
zest of 3 lemons
Saute 2 onions, finely sliced, then drain and add to the spinach mixture.
Take three hardboiled eggs, cut in half and lay on top of the polenta, top with the spinach mixture then coat with a cheese sauce. Sprinkle with more Parmesan and bake at 190C for 30 - 45 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Corn Fritters: makes 16
10 oz polenta
4 oz wholewheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
good pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 red pepper (finely chopped)
8 oz sweetcorn kernel, cooked (fresh, frozen or canned)
3 tblsp lemon juice
4 eggs, beaten
milk to mix
Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the pepper and sweetcorn. Mix in the lemon juice and eggs and then add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.
Heat a thick based frying pan for five minutes over a medium to high heat, then reduce heat slightly and add a little oil. When hot drop dessertspoons of the mixture into the pan. Cook for 2 -3 minutes then turn and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. If rising too much flatten slightly after turning.
Note: there has been a much simpler version of Corn Fritters given in an earlier posting. Just subtitute the polenta for the grain given.