The landmark birthday gift

September 16, 2011 - Leave a Response

A friend had her 30th birthday yesterday. She didn’t want things as presents which I can understand given her life situation. I didn’t want to just hand her over a £20 note; that seems cold to me. I compromised.

The first present was a £20 note. I hit it inside a Russian doll. Five Russian dolls actually. The dolls were 50p from the car boot sale. That’s cheaper than a card. There was a moment of “What’s this?” and “Why would you give me this?” as my friend unwrapped them .Chortle!

The second present was even cooler. There a lots of “the year you were born” gifts out there. You can get a newspaper from the year of your birth. I got my friend a 1982 Mates annual. If you aren’t au fait with the concept of the annual, it’s a book published for the end of the year and branded with a publication title. I have a collection of Mandy annuals, each with lots of comics strips featuring my favourite character. The year on the front is the year following the year of publication. I had forgotten this when I was browsing: I picked up the annual and thought “This was perfect if it was a year older.” Then the ice started to fall off a long-distant memory and I recalled how each Christmas you would get the annual marked for the coming year. The Mates annual was perfect! It had all the features you would expect to find in a magazine from 1981. My friend loved it, and her friends thought it was very cool.


The myth of tealights

August 2, 2011 - One Response

Once upon a time I went to Ikea and bought a giant bag of tealights for a ridiculously small amount of money. Tea lights are great, tea lights are fashionable, tea lights can be used to give atmosphere to a dinner party, tea lights come with pretty holders that you covet.

I never used the bloody tea lights. They were annoying in several ways but the most irritating thing about the standard tea light is that it lasts for only four hours, and the cheap ones burn for even less time. Lighting the candles at 7pm means that you have to break the atmosphere by replacing candles at 10.30pm, just when everyone is loosening up.

The elegant hostess is probably not using tea lights and favours dinner candles. For the rest of us I recommend using Price’s nightlights.

Price's nightlightsThese nightlights are £2.75 for six on the Price’s website. The beauty of them is they last for eight hours. If your dinner guests haven’t gone home by three in the morning then whether your candles are alight or not is going to be the least of your problems!

I recommend these Price’s candles because they are unscented. I detest having dinner with a scented candle wafting unnatural smells at me. It interferes with the food and drink.

It must be noted that these candles are taller than the cheap tealights, so they may rise above your cheap tealight holder. But then so should you really!

You can’t make a cupcake without breaking an egg

July 23, 2011 - Leave a Response

I’m sure the title of this post isn’t strictly true, but for my sponge cupcakes it applies. I use 4 large eggs to every 225g of flour/sugar/butter. This makes 18 cupcakes.

I started shopping around for cheaper eggs. All large eggs are expensive. Only the medium eggs come in the “value” ranges.

My solution: I weighed large eggs after cracking to find they are usually 60g without the shell. This means I can crack five very cheap eggs into a basin, beat them together and the extract the extra 20g or so. With 10 medium eggs for 90p in Tescos right now and large eggs at £1.60 for 6 this is a massive saving.  45p instead of £1.07.

Time to see the counsellor

July 21, 2011 - Leave a Response

My love affair with Asda has hit a rocky patch. It’s all over some Yorkshire ham. It was just so damn salty! 2% salt in total. That’s twice as salty as the Yorkshire ham in sale in Tescos.


My indecent liaison with Aldi continues. I dropped in today and was tempted by a Chelsea bun with cream cheese frosting. The frosting was good but the bun was dry – so I ate the frosting and left the bun. I found some brilliant New York deli rolls and had one (filled with the salty Asda ham) for lunch. I miss the nutritional information though. I don’t know how to measure how full I should seem against what I’m actually feeling if I don’t know the calorie content and the fibre content.

It Asda be…

July 18, 2011 - Leave a Response

Today I did a small weekly shop at Asda. Not knowing instinctively where my favourite products were was immensely frustrating. All the little cues I rely on were gone. I had to look at and evaluate everything.
At the checkout I asked if there was a rewards scheme for Asda. There isn’t only, the price promise. The Asda price promise is that if your shopping is not 10% cheaper than a comparable shop at another supermarket they will refund you the difference. Of course what is “comparable” depends on their interpretation of it. I’m finding that you get lower quality in some Asda products. Sometimes I don’t want to compromise especially on meat. My basket of six butter packs was rejected because it needs eight different items to qualify. Then of course there are all the products with “no equivalent” at another supermarket.

We’ll have to see how this shop works out tomorrow. So far the Asda website claims I’m saving £2 a shop on average. That’s fine but my Tesco clubcard points give me £13-£15 a quarter. These can be worth two or three times their face value.

Cast your sugar

July 16, 2011 - Leave a Response

I have many sorts of sugar in my larder. Dark brown, light brown, demerera, muscovado, golden castor, icing, castor and granulated plus of course both brown and white sugar lumps. I like using the right ingredient for each task.

I’ve been making a lot of cakes recently. Cakes call for caster sugar. Caster sugar is fine grounds of standard beet sugar. It’s £1.14 for a kilo in Tesco. Granulated is the same thing but can be as low as 61p per kilo. It’s the same thing but with larger grains. If you put granulated sugar in the spice mill you get a fine grain which is perfect castor sugar.

Gold! Always believe in your soul

July 15, 2011 - Leave a Response

Today I remembered something: I am a Gold member of the Federation of Small Businesses. This means I get lots of discounts at partners.

The one discount we could have really used in the past 12 months? 10% off at Best Western hotels. Gah! I’m so stoopid.

I did spot that I also get a discount on Theatre Tokens. That’s the mother-in-law’s birthday present sorted, whoo-hoo!

I want to shop like common people

July 14, 2011 - Leave a Response


Yes, today I did something which is a fashion follow-on from the practice of a night out at the dogs or the bingo hall. I went to Aldi. Dum! Dum! DUUUUUUM!

Back in reality it’s not really that dramatic. I’ve been to Aldi before, several times. I started going in December last year when a friend I was driving wanted to drop in. My only real information had come from articles such as this one. I had heard people tell me how great it was, but as these were usually people who liked their fillet steak well done I discounted their opinion.

Bargain shopper and foodie that I am (bargoodie!) I wandered up and down the aisle uttering little delighted trills at Mozart chocolates, stollen and those little German iced biscuits that aren’t Lebkuchen but are similar. My husband was lodging with my father during the week over the winter and they would split a bottle of beer every evening (by “beer” I mean “real ale”). I had shopped Waitrose, Morrisons, Tesco, Majestic Wine and Aldi and Aldi had a very good price on bottles of ale without any “offer”. I also had fun with the “bargain bins” in the middle of the shop. These are piled high with random things. I bought a collapsible sieve for my in-laws. They said it was their favourite gift.I have only been in a Lidl once but it was a posh version of Aldi. I bought fancy things at good prices such as stuffed olives, and jars of cherries to make ice-cream with.

This time was different. Inspired by Superscrimpers I was shopping for groceries. Proper groceries we are going to eat. this was lucky because they were a bit short of luxury foods this week. There was an interesting USA section, but Poundland has one of those right now. The only thing catching my eye was the “pancake syrup”. I checked the label and yes, it was flavoured corn syrup. I can do without it!  I bought more beer. I bought two jars of pitted olives, one green and one black for 33p each. I bought three peppers for £1.19 (Tesco is currently 65p a pepper and £1.27 for three). I bought Greek salad cheese for 80p. And I bought some Viennese biscuits. These are my husband’s compulsion.

I made my first comparison with the Viennese biscuits. We had just one left from the packet of Fox’s Viennese biscuits. I don’t know how my husband missed it. The Aldi brand are 80 calories each, the Fox’s biscuit are 79 calories each. The Fox’s have 29% milk chocolate, the Aldi’s have 28% milk chocolate. Another win for Fox’s, but it’s not really a huge difference so far. Here are the ingredients of both brands. I’ve laid them this  way to make comparison easier.

Fox’s Viennese Fingers


  1. Wheatflour
  2. Milk Chocolate (29%)
  3. Sugar
  4. Butter (13%)
  5. Vegetable oil
  6. Partually Inverted Refiners Syrup
  7. Free Range Egg
  8. Natural Flavouring
  9. Salt
  10. Raising Agents: Disodium Diphosphtae, Sodium Bicarbonate, Ammonium Bicarbonate
  11. Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin.

Belmont Viennese Fingers


  1. Wheat Flour
  2. Milk Chocolate (28%)
  3. Vegetable Oil
  4. Sugar
  5. Butter (7%)
  6. Free range egg
  7. Partially inverted refiners syrup
  8. Flavouring
  9. Salt
  10. Raising Agents: Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Ammonium Carbonates.
  11. Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin.

Milk chocolate contains:

  1. Sugar
  2. Butteroil
  3. Cocoa Butter
  4. Dried Skimmed Milk
  5. Cocoa Mass
  6. Dried Whey
  7. Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin.

Milk chocolate contains:

  1. Sugar
  2. Cocoa Butter
  3. Whole milk Powder
  4. Cocoa Mass
  5. Whey Powder
  6. Skimmed Milk Powder
  7. Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin)

I’m not seeing much difference to complain about. The Fox’s biscuits use butteroil, but that’s allowed. Butteroil is simply milk fat. The cheaper brand uses more vegetable, which probably made it just that little bit less melting in the mouth. Honestly though, I couldn’t tell the difference. I feel slightly ill now, but that’s probably just because I’ve had three Viennese biscuits!  At less than half the price I think the taste difference is sufferable.

I bought some other things at Aldi. My gladioli were £1.60 a bunch instead of £3 at Tesco, but there are only five small stems instead of seven large stems. The balsamic vinegar might be good on pasta. The parsley in a pot was 66p. At Tescos that will get you parsley without the pot. A pot will cost you £1.49.  After all, how different can parsley be?

Parsley the lion. Now available at Aldi.

Super Superscrimpers!

July 14, 2011 - Leave a Response

I’ve been watching Superscrimpers on Channel 4 via the website. I love this show! I am now healthily paranoid about shutting off electrical appliances and very encouraged about my economy measures that I use.

The  feeling of smugness the show gives me when it shows a tip I already know is what keeps me watching. On the update they posted this:

Ieuan saves on tea bags, water and electricity by boiling exactly enough water to fill a 1 litre flask and using only one teabag – the result? Three cups of tea for the price and effort of one!

Er, isn’t that what we used to call “a teapot”? If you want it warm for later you use a “tea cosy”. Or maybe Ieuan is being clever because a flask will presumably not need the teabag in so the tea won’t get stewed.

Even more fun is the excitement generated by a new tip. The man who showed us how to save paint by draining it through an old stocking springs to mind. It skims out all the hard skin and lumps. Mind you, my stockings generally get holes in the foot so they wouldn’t be much use. Perhaps he used tights? That’s why I wear stockings. If one foot goes then you simply match the stocking with another of the same colour. The same chap also showed how you can wet strips of newspapers and apply them to glass instead of using masking tape.

The most fun I have watching Superscrimpers however is yelling “false economy!” at the screen. One dear old lady showed how you could de-scale your kettle with the juice of a lemon. “Lemons cost 35p each!” I yelled. “Bottle lemon juice is more economical. Vinegar and bicarb is even cheaper! ” When they suggested using cola instead of loo cleaner my response was: “And just how much does your loo cleaner cost per application anyway?”  The under-the-rim part of the loo is also important you know.

New cupcake making toys

July 13, 2011 - Leave a Response

Today I took delivery of my new fondant embossing mats from the Blue Door Bakery. Instead of £16 I was quoted for the expensive silicone mats they were just £2 each. At just 10cm x 10cm they are perfect for adding to my ever-growing cupboard of toys. In fact, the prices were so reasonable I ordered three sorts of cupcake cases and some disposable icing bags as well.

My Aunt is 70 next month and has asked for cupcakes for her birthday cake. I haven’t quite decided what to do but I want it to look like those cakes cost at least £4 each. Everyone will be impressed not only by the cakes but because my Aunt is so obviously a person whom is valued enough by her family to be provide with such a high-quality birthday celebration. My only trouble is getting the wow! factor in. I’m hoping to make edible diamonds, but I confess my first two attempts were failures.