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DIY Cookie Cutter

Just a really quick post today, I am running around like a blue arsed fly getting things ready for the Oxford Street Fairtrade Christmas market on Saturday – woooo!

I needed a cool bird (it HAD to be a bird) cookie cutter to make a Christmas decoration with, and our collection is limited to one lonely, lowly gingerbread man shape. We make gingerbread men biscuits all the time (I say we, but Tim is really the baker), they are Ramona’s faves- she calls them “The Boys”, which makes for quite cute exclamations like “YUMMMMY! ME LIKE BOYS!”

I had a rummage in our Throw-Everything-In cupboard and came up trumps with a ream of sturdy metal. Anything would have done – a strip of copper, or the bottom of one of those aluminum take away trays cut into a strip would be ideal (especially as you wouldn’t have any questions abut toxicity.)

I sketched the shape I wanted, and with a pair of pliers bent it into a bird.

I am SO excited by this new prospect of being able to twist metal into a myriad of shapes – it will be nice to have quirky biscuits, but also I am thinking about being able to cut shapes out of air-drying clay. Wheeeee!

*Forgets the Christmas Fayre and spends day with a pair of pliers*

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A posh ceremony and bargain glamour

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It is not every night you tuck a loofah under your hair and get on the bus to a posh awards ceremony, eating dry Wheetos out of your handbag in case the three course dinner takes a while to arrive. I was excited and nervous in even measure- like the equilibrium people have when they carry a bag of supermarket shopping in each hand, and you ask if they need help. “Noooo! It’s fine-  I’m all balanced out.”

I was heading to the MAD blog awards ceremony. I was SO looking forward to meeting the tens of other bloggers I interact with almost daily on Twitter, but there was a tiny bit of anxiety about not knowing anyone in real life, and a big bit about whether I would be the kind of person they think I am! Such a strange thing.

Turns out, every single person I met there was in fact EASILY equal to their Internet presence. Lovely, funny, intelligent. The Real Life to Internet and back again vortex doesn’t really distort people very much at all.

I met a whole load of bloggers and Tweeters from scratch too- my whole table was full of people I’d never come across before and I can not tell you what fun we had. I genuinely laughed until I had tears streaming down my face and had to rest my forehead on the table.

I am afraid to tell you that I didn’t bring back any gongs in the two categories I was in, but rest assured they went to absolute GIANTS in those areas – Red Ted Art for Craft and Queen Frugal for Thrift. And getting to meet my rival crafty and thrifty nominees was just a total, magical joy.

I keep thinking about the chats I had with all the different souls dotted about the room and smiling.

I am going on a bit, I know. Sorry. It is just, people are great, aren’t they?  I’d link to them all but I am too lazy. (Obviously, not that great. HA TOTALLY JUST KIDDING.)

As if I am some kind of fashion blogger…  I feel you all were so diligent in your advice on what I should wear I need to update you on all that:

Despite pretty much every single one of you reckoning on The LoveBoat, I chose Princess Royal. (What, think this is some kind of democratic utopia?) I was fully prepared to do it, in order to make you all proud, and then I woke up with the MOTHER of shoulder pimples, putting that strapless number right out of the picture.

Also, I love fashion, I do; colours, fabrics, patterns, new clothes. But when I leave the house I want to also leave my thoughts about my outfit there too. I spend a bit of time getting my gear on, but then it is on and I am done with it. No tugging, tucking, straightening, smoothing, standing up tall, holding tummies in, for me. That it why I will never be a true fashionista.

Every single thing I own is second hand, and it fills me with total glee to surprise people with that. If they like my on-trend coloured trousers, and I can say they were £5 from the Hospice shop, that pretty much makes my day.

I wanted to hit the glamour stakes on Friday in order to be a walking advocate of  the pre-loved life and the Oxfam Fashion Team with their seriously chic Boutique in Notting Hill massively helped me do that. I couldn’t normally give two hoots about designers but wearing something that is ordinarily well dear did make me feel The Business  (I guess that is how the whole brand thing works, eh?)

Just so you lot wouldn’t think I was a total wuss for ditching the saucy frock I went BIG TIME on the locks. This, a huge amount of liquid eyeliner (Okay, actually I am too cheapskate for that, I just put a paintbrush in my mascara) and gluing glitter on my shoes added the razzmatazz the dress needed.

 

Is that bargain glamour and the BIGGEST BEEHIVE IN THE WORLD OR WHAT!!!

I started work on it at 3pm, thinking it would take several goes and hours to do, but I was so happy with it after 15 minutes – and some help from a loofah and a pair of tights- that I left it. Which meant I spent the afternoon peering down at Ramona from my lofty space instead of getting in the den with her, lest she touch it. It wasn’t the “Seen and not heard” philosophy that made parents of the Sixties so aloof with their kids- they just didn’t want them bashing in their boufs.

I can totally understand.

I needn’t have worried- Even even the wind turbine of the Northern Line didn’t make a single dent and it arrived in tact and the bits and pieces didn’t fall out once. HOORAY!

Linking up with all those other marv second hand lovers over at Lizzie’s place. 

Thrifty foraging: fruit leathers

You know I love to save a penny (an actual genuine coin not avoiding going for a wee, yeah?) and will often go to great lengths to do so. In extreme cases I have rummaged through bins at the market and come away with a harvest festival style haul, and I make a lot of Stuff in an attempt to not buy Things. This is the Way of Paying the Mortgage and Also Spending Your Saved Pennies on Old Bits and Bobs At Car Boot Fairs.

I have dappled in foraging for food before. Whenever we pass a blackberry bush all plans are on hold while we stuff our faces, turning up at destination with purple mouths and fingers. And I will often get nettles from the local park to bung in our soups, but I’m not going to lie, whilst they ARE packed with iron, it IS primarily for the irrepressible joy of answering our guest’s question of “Yummmy, what IS this?” with “NETTLES!!! HARRHARRHAAAHA” *witchy laugh*

However, today it has been ALL GO on the foraging front. I was given “The Thrifty Forager” by Alys Fowler for my birthday last week and I spend every spare minute reading it. Honestly, that Alys is tighter than ME. She will spend the afternoon digging around for roots of things, spend an hour cleaning it and then a night infusing it and then a day making chutney out of it, with cardamom, all to save about 70p.

What an inspiration.

It was chucking it down today, but I had made up my mind to get out there and so stubbornly I went.

I was planning to get some mulberries but on my way to the mulberry tree saw a huge windfall of fruit beneath the cherry tree. We have loads of urban cherries round here, they were planted yonks ago as a budget and pollution hardy bit of foliage. I popped over the fence and only had to endure one shout of “Lost something, love?” (not said with much love) and a handful of suspicious glares.

It was a good job I got so lucky with the cherries as the mulberry tree was a she-devil. There were only about 3 ripe berries on it and every time I reached for one my hair (er, bee’s nest) got tangled in a wizened branch and I had to spend several minutes unknotting myself.

With a fairly plump bag  I scurried round the corner to another park where I had spied some crab-apples earlier. Obviously crab apples are totally rank but Alys assures me they cook up good and are a potent source of pectin- perfect for jams. Again the wind had well hooked me up as I was able to scoop handfuls of clean, freshly blown off apples into my getting- heavier bag. (You said blown off… hehehe.)

I then spent about a million years, with a lot of elbow grease, making a tiny amount of fruit leathers. They are those chewy fruity rolls, quite popular at the moment with the little ones. Ours were delicious, basically free and despite the hard labour, made me feel BRILLIANT. There is something about putting in a bit of effort in order to get a cool live-off-the-land-y result that makes it totally worthwhile.

Of course, I jest about all the work. Foraging like this is an activity in itself, a way of connecting with nature in an extremely urban setting, and a chance to spot the wild beauty amongst the housing estates and fried chicken shops. It is also an opportunity, just for an afternoon, to step out of a global food system which is pretty wrought. Where there are equal numbers of obese and malnourished people, where supermarkets throw out their waste and pour bleach on so no one can salvage it and where staple crops in poor countries are being turned into fuel for rich ones. GAH.

As I untangled my accidental dreadlocks from the vengeful mulberry tree I was able to reflect on all this. And as my fruity leathers got stuck in my cavities I pledged to GET RIGHT ON BOARD WITH THIS FORAGING MALARKEY!

FRUIT LEATHERS

  • Some foraged fruit
  • Sugar/ honey/ lemon/ spices
  • 1 cup of water to every 4 cups of fruit

Cut off the bad bits of fruit and then chuck in the pan with the water. Add any spices you like- I chose a teaspoon of cinnamon. Cook slowly until the fruit softens. Mash it all up. Have a little taste. Mine was made with unripe mulberries, sour cherries and rank crab apples so needed a fair bit of sugar to help it along. If you have found succulent pears, sweet blackberries and juicy plums you might not even need a single grain.

Push it all through the siv. (This was the bit that made my muscles groan but I didn’t want to waste a speck)

Smear it on to baking paper as thin as possible, mine was about 0.3 cm.

Put it in your dehydrater, airing cupboard or oven on loooow heat for between 4-8 hours. I got bored at 3 so ours is less leathery and more gummy-chewy. The drying process preserves it completely so it will last forevs in your fridge but ours will be gone by tomorrow lunchtime so Da Nada.

Have you tried a bit of foraging? Made anything ace?

I am linking up with a Green Blogger Meet and greet hosted here, weeee!

And also the October Festival of Food.
Please take a moment to visit the blogs of our other Festival of Food participants. The links in this list will be live by the end of the day, as participants are all in different time zones.

Stay connected! Be sure to “Like” the 
Festival of Food Carnival Facebook page.


Festival of Food Carnival

Our recycled kitchen – a makeover from new to old

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Around this time last year I posted that my dearly beloved had ripped out the kitchen due to us finding a retro cooker that we wanted to install. It just felt rude to bung such a nice nostalgic beast in our existing Nineties kitchen so we decided to let our love of all things old reign supreme.

Another year later and it is about time I did the final update, our makeover from new to old.

The before pictures aren’t terribly good. They never are, eh?  I think this is because there is often nowt to shine, but also because of some deep reluctance to spend too much time peering at it all. Let’s just say there was ALOT of pine cladding.

Left hand side BEFORE

A low hanging ceiling with weird fake beams. Laminate flooring covering up stunning Victorian boards.

A huge pantry – it was an original, ancient cooling sytem but it just took up so much space. A boring tin sink with an ill fitting cabinet.

It was all so very dark and dreary.

*extreme makeover  voice* It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears but here is our new bright and cheery family kitchen….

We ripped out the cupboards. We were lucky to find some exactly matching vintage tiles in the basement of a derelict house round the corner, we popped those up to cover the spaces we’d exposed.

Tim runs a youth club in the place I used to go to Seacadets as a kid- they were chucking out the old benches so we made shelves out of them. The very benches I would have been resting my sorry, freckly young ten year old self.

The enamel tins are our new pantry- we found them in France when we drove 12 hours to a car boot.

And we pulled the excellent bench tops out of someone’s skip (with permission, of course!)

These are old lights from a butchers- we found them on Ebay, £17 for the pair. To find them we didn’t type “vintage” or even “traditional” but “trditional.” Is it terribly wrong to benefit from other people’s mistakes?

Tim found this whole sink for £25 on Gumtree, and got to grips with plumbing to install it. Using some old table tops and doors from an old cabinet he carpentered a unit for it. (Cor, Kiwis are bloody ace. Do marry one, if you can.) The tiles, we  swapped with a local cafe, in exchange for building them some veg beds.

The retro blind is really a sneaky table cloth, and some of our Midwinter crockery sits upon a shelf we found in a bin and painted blue, and you can also spy the hooks I made from vintage spoons.

And here is the star of the show, our beguiling old oven. He was casted off, into the streets, along with these cupboards either side. A good clean, and a lick of paint on the cupboard doors, and they add a cheer from yesteryear to our kitchen.

When our fridge broke we took the opportunity to get one that fitted in with our theme. We had to hire a van to bring it home from the furtherest corner of Essex but we are so glad we did. It isn’t that old so is still efficient (although its huuummmm would tell you otherwise) but hails from the States which is why it looks so different. It has an ice maker much to my husband’s utter joy.

And this little corner adds a little pop of colour – we found it in someone’s garden and snazzied it up with some paint.

We had help with plastering the ceiling, and Tim picked up enough to some other walls, but other places we just exposed the brick. I love the texture of all the rubbly walls, recycled wood and shiny, colourful kitchen paraphernalia.


We spend such a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking, drinking coffee and eating so we are pleased we did this, despite saying we initially wouldn’t bother. I know it isn’t your usual makeover, and loads of you are possibly looking at the BEFORE pictures thinking it looks miles better HAARHA. But we love it’s quirky little self, it gets my heart all a flutter.

What do you reckon on this cornicopia of found objects?

PS The small and superior photos were taken by Jenny Harding during the Pretty Nostalgic shoot. She does a lot of gorgeous vintage style shoots.

PPS I’d love you to enter my giveaway – retro and Cath Kidston fabric, a 1982 Twinkle, a Midwinter tea cup and a glue gun! (An obvious mix!) Come over and say hi!

Dominoes Fridge Magnets – the quickest, most fun craft ever

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Van Morrison sings a song, Domino, that is BURSTING with memories for me. It is the opening track of “His band and the Street Choir” and was played on almost every family gadabout in my childhood, all of us bundled up in our VW camper, rumbling along from South London to Eastern Europe.

It has been soaring through my mind for the last week- since scoring two sets of Dominoes from that epic car boot fair. One for 10p and one for 50p. I thought one of the sets would be ideal for crafting so got to thinking what they might be good for. I had a few ideas, but settled on some nice traditional Fridge Magnets.

I have sheets of magnets I bought online for £2.50 a sheet. They aren’t the strongest BUT they are so slimline and it is fab to be able to cut them perfectly to shape. I use about 1/4 of the sheet so 50p plus the 10p for the dominoes brings this revitalised game up to a grand 60p expenditure.

I did it primarily for the asthetics and was pretty happy with the result, but not completely over the moon or anything. Then our 5 year old nephew came over that day and played over ten joyous games  of Dominoes with Tim. He had never played before but he just loved the simplicity of it, and there is something cool about playing a game with on a fridge. And now I am sold on the idea and think a fridge basically looks bereft without a whole set of Dominoes on it.

Like VHS’s and Barbies, Dominoes is one of those things that are part of the furniture of charity shops and car boots, so don’t pass them by another time. What a thrifty fun gift this would make, eh?

What d’ya reckon? Have you crafted anything with Dominoes? Want to get a song stuck in your head that respectfully honours this sunny summer we are experiencing? Here is Van with Domino live, with all the glories of the Seventies right there…

Food, inglorious food – Live Below the Line Week’s Menu

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No wonder they call it the Live Below the Line Bleeding Challenge – this is SO TOUGH!!!!!

We have been hugely reliant on the rotten fruit and veg I scavenged, I simply don’t know how we would have managed without it.   As Fiona said in her awesome comment on my Vlog post (have a look- such a good wee story)  – it is just about survival!

The harvest festival haul from bins at Walworth Road

It is true but it did make me laugh as it reminded me of a story from when Tim and his brothers and pa went camping in the wilds and things got a little hairy and someone (remaining anonymous) burst out with “IT’S ABOUT BLOODY SURVIVAL!” and now it has kind of become a bit of a catchphrase. Whenever anything ever so slightly weird/random/desperate/non-desperate happens we put on a very stern voice and shout “IT’S ABOUT BLOODY SURVIVAL!” It is normally in an Australian accent too, although no Australians were involved in the making of the catchphrase.

So, with no further nonsense ado, here is what we have been eating:

Monday

Tea

Espresso

Fried egg on toast with butter (home made bread)

Yeah, we totally peak by 9:30am, it’s all downhill from here!

Brocoli (whole stalk) and  Onion Soup – boiled then zhugged/whizzed with the zhuzzer/whizzer thing and a slice of toast. Lots of salt needed in this!

Value pasta twirls with fried aubergines/tomatoes/grated carrots/ a spoonful of vegemite for taste

This was all delish but just not nearly enough!

Tuesday

Tea

Espresso

Pancakes with one-egg batter and a squeeze of lemon (we got three crispy ones each. If they were done too thick they turned to glue in mouth and were totally RANK)

Tomato on toast (my favourite lunch ever, ever, ever)

Value rice and curry made with onion, brocoli, tomatoes, carrots and spoon of onion powder and garlic thrown in last minute

Equally delish but we normally would have thrown in lots of extra biscuits, tea, cereal and toast! = hungry.

Alresco Rice and Veg

Wednesday

Tea

Espresso

Toast with half banana mashed (YUM!)

Rice cake fritters made with the rice from the other night, a spoonful of the curry mixture,  left over pancake patter and extra flour, and another spoon of curry powder and lots of salt. These were mindblowingly good! Frying in butter was the ticket!

Chow Mein for tea- value spaghetti with fried veg. Splash of soy sauce and minced garlic right at the end, half teaspoon of Chanese Fhaaaave Spaiiice (Chinese 5 spice said in the Michael Macintyre way! *chuckles to oneself remembering it*)

This was a GOOD DAY!!! Felt pretty normal, only a little bit hungry. Those fritters were the BOMBDIGGIDY.

Thursday (here are the plans)

Tea

Espresso

Banana on Toast

Plain spaghetti with butter and salt

Rice and beans with can tomoto, few veg and curry powder

Friday

Tea

Espresso

Egg on Toast

Nettle soup with toast

Value Pasta with veg and garlic and butter

VOILA.

Thrifty Food Lessons

In terms of thrifty eating, the bulb of garlic for 26p was the best thing we bought. Rather than cooking it through I am chucking in one little segment, finely crushed, right at the end of the cooking, just enough to spread the goodness/ take the zap out of it. This means we get full garlic flavour but with only a tiny amount of garlic.

Also, frying the spices in butter means we can use a very small amount, and using the odd half spoon of vegemite (pennies) instead of stock has added lots of flavour. A splash of soy sauce, instead of cooking with half a bottle like I usually do it, for the chow mein was a winner.

I am in two minds about the butter. It has added a tastiness to everything that has been wonderful. But there have been the odd hungry pang moments where I desperately wished we had spent that £1.50 on something bulky.

Well over half way. Lots and lots of enlightening moments and reflective moments onhunger, food, injustice, poverty. I need some space to sort my thoughts out and will post once it is all over I think.

Thanks ever so much for your incredible support. If you haven’t sponsored and would like to, you can do that here.

The Politics of Thrift

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Sometimes after being stuck in a jumper that smells of jumble all day because the initial wash failed to plumb the depths of the ancient fibres I like to climb up onto my moral mountain and let my mind rest upon the bigger picture of thrift.

Of course, I am addicted to charity shopping and car boot sales, I find huuuuuge joy in discovering unsung teacups going for a song and finding tossed out fabrics fit for a king. I take pleasure in finding a new purpose for my odd ends, or sewing a bit to a bob to meet a need.  It isn’t a chore, I don’t do it for The World or to fit in our budget.

But there is more going on, an activist undercurrent to all these thrifty antics.

Thrifting flips new The Bird.
I used to live in Oxford Circus in a big old house with a bunch of people, it was fun, I loved it. But when I moved to Camberwell, just a few miles south, we felt a huge relief from aggressive advertising campaigns. Everywhere you turn up in central London there is a monster poster revealing the latest new thing we require. Shiny things to boost our low self esteem, to show our individuality, to highlight our status (just the men)/beauty (the ladies, of course), because we deserve it.

When we get thrifty we reject the myth that NEW makes us. We hold on to our innate precious sense of identity, remain confident in choices, revel in relationship and community, understand that we exist to love and be loved, not to consume. (Or it is at least an attempt to hold on/ remain/revel/understand.)

People not corporations
Thrift places power into the hands of the homemaker, the discoverer, the determined. Thrifters make decisions that follow their gut or needs, not to benefit the profit margins of manipulative corporations. The pennies we have dished out for our magical junk will go in to pockets of enterprising parents at the car boot, or excellent charities (even better.) We are consciously stepping out of the consumption rat race, throwing a gloriously rusty spanner in the works- jarring the demand for unethically made goods and the tyrants that build empires from them.

Thrifty gets you crafting and there is power in making
In my stubbornness not to buy new things I do end up with some bizarre  mashups – slippers out of armpits, a book for a shelf. Thriftiness fuels creativity, it lends itself to making. I have written about the power of making before. I am certain that making puts you in touch with your soul, it is like scratching an itch, or filling a hole. When we Make do and Mend we feel like a million bucks, able to take on those big bad corporations, to survive and thrive without their help, thanks very much.

                                         ***************

Have you seen the Story of Stuff? No???? Oh. My. Days. It is completely brilliant, you will not even notice 20 minutes of your life have just whizzed by. It pulls together all the strands of, like, stuff and things.

 

 

PS- I think there are other nuances that I haven’t gone into – like thriftiness and class, or how being thrifty can almost be a luxury as it kind of requires you to be time rich? These are maybe to explore another day…

PPS- As ever, would love to know your thoughts. Do you see your thrifty self as an Op Shop activist? Would you like to be thriftier?