Bank holidays always throw me, even in lockdown & the next challenge!

With Steven starting a new job this year, combined with lockdown, I don’t know what day of the week it is sometimes.  Every day is organised and planned but I still couldn’t tell you the date or the day without looking some weeks!  This Monday was a Bank Holiday and Steven would normally be at home, however the new job doesn’t work like that so he took the Friday off with me and then was at work Monday.  Needless to say, with me having time off and Ste not being here, I still didn’t know what day it was!  So when I started with a migraine on Monday which lasted all night through to Tuesday morning, it has taken me until today to come round and feel somewhat normal again.  I think today has been Wednesday, right?  We have other things going on with family and health which I won’t go in to here, so it’s already been a right old week.  
I did manage to go shopping Monday (maybe that’s why I got a migraine!) and got our first supermarket shop in 4 weeks, so that’s all put away and the menu plan for the week is finally done too.  Better late than never.  It’s all a bit backside first right now, I mean when isn’t it?  Mostly menu plans “should” be done by looking at what you have in and making meals from there.  Well we have started a different challenge which left me doing things in a round about way this time.
The challenge is not to go back to the supermarket for 6 weeks!  As you may know, we have a monthly grocery budget of £300.  This is regardless of whether it is a 4 or 5 week month.  An average of £75 a week.  Now for us, that’s actually way more than we should be spending right now.  Bearing in mind we grow a lot of our own things, so we should see this reduce over the next few months as the garden starts to pay for itself.  
We’ve also had another curve ball thrown in that we are taking a hit on our income as a result of the virus.  Presently this should be for 4 months, June 1st until the end of September, so it is massively important that we keep our outgoings down.
Having said that we do still have milk delivered and buy a top up veg box weekly.  We will continue to support these local businesses unless something drastically changes, or when we start growing everything we need.  We’re not there yet but are working on it.
So straight in to it.  Every week I am making bread, treats, soups, scones, pies and quiches/fritatas.  These are for lunches, main meals, snacks and the freezer.  9 times out of 10 the pies are using left overs as I don’t tend to make pie fillings specifically for pies for us (though I do sell some which I made specifically for customers), with the exception of corned beef and potato.  I also hardboil any eggs which are not sold or for incubating.  At the moment this is quail only as ALL of the hens eggs are selling, much to my disappointment 😉 sometimes I find a cracked one which I get to use!  The quiches and fritatas are using whatever we have in abundance such as the kale and asparagus.  Scones vary from week to week and bread is something we no longer consider a throw away item as we may have done in the past.  It’s amazing how making your own makes you value everything so much more.
I spent £147.62 on Monday and our next veg box is coming on Saturday which will be £11.  I’ll let you know once the milk man invoices us as we changed the order this week.
I planned on making bone broth/stock once every 6 weeks when I planned the challenge, however when I made some in my 6 litre slow cooker, it only yielded 2 litres.  Now I used 3 carcasses, so I am wondering if it’ll be quite concentrated and maybe I can eek 500ml out to 750 for example.  I can just season more if needed.
A few other points to note – I’ll be making ALL of our own bread products, we have NO pork left in the freezer and have made the decision to not buy any joints or chops, only sausages and bacon, until we have our own later this year or early next year.  We have joints of beef which we will dice and mince once we run out of those.  WE have also ran out of whole chickens.  Again, we will not be buying chicken, we will wait until our meat birds are ready in around 8 weeks or so!  We do however have the luxury of thigh/drumstick, carcass and wings of one bird a week.  As you will know if you read our blog, my parents buy an organic whole bird each week as it’s not much difference in cost for 2 breasts which is what they started to get (from the farm shop).  They take the breasts and give us the rest which they don’t like.  So the only chicken we will have during this challenge is that.
It’s really exciting, I think setting challenges keeps you focused and energised.  Well it does for us at least!  I did a bit of a YouTube video on it which would be great if you could watch and subscribe to.  Eventually we hope the channel will be enjoyed by many, you have to start somewhere right?
Stay safe everyone.

The Food Challenge

This title has come from a variety of recent ideas I’ve had!  I find that happens, a little ideas forms a bigger one which grows and adapts.  It started off as a freezer challenge eating what’s in the freezer as the freezer was fit to burst.  Given its bulging sides, apparently that will take months (which is a good thing, as that was and is the point of filling it!) and then it turned in to a pantry challenge of using up the tinned and dried goods that were bought and since sat there with just a partial amount used.  Finally it’s turned in to a use up the jars in the fridge challenge.  I think they are breeding in there!  There’s 2 shelves full of bits of mustard or pickle or cranberry sauce and other items I am not too sure as to what they even are!  So combined with my weight loss challenge I’ve set myself for this year, you can see the predicament that we have a bit of a mutation of challenges going on.

Essentially I find myself in a position where I want to step back and assess what we are trying to achieve before my head becomes too full and I give up on it all.  Do you ever get that feeling?  Sometimes it can manifest itself as feeling overwhelmed?  Life is so busy for us all and personally, I feel that without planning, things don’t always happen.

This whole Corona virus thing has got us all thinking too.  I don’t want to be in a position where we have eaten everything down to the bare minimum and end up self isolating for a period of time.  It seems there’s going to be a bit of scaremongering in the next few days, which naturally may result in people panic buying.  Given we are normally stocked up for 3 months plus with food etc, this is probably the worst time this could have happened.  We still have a good amount of food in though, so I am not worried, it’s just typical and shows it’s always good to be prepared, or have a plan A and B at least.  Anyway, I’m not spending time worrying about that until we know more.

Generally, even though we are working our way through what is in stock in the said areas, generally there’s left overs from those and I will reuse them in something else.  Eg if we roast a (raw) chicken for a Sunday lunch, I will reuse left overs in a pie and eat one for another meal, then freeze one, so the pie goes back in the freezer in a differed “state” (ie cooked chicken, not raw) to how it came out, which is fine.  

That takes me to the title of the post, The Food Challenge.  What are we trying to achieve? An organised, prepared, useable stock of short term and long term food items which are adaptable, healthy and budget friendly.  Easy right?  I will do a separate post on supermarkets and why I believe you should have a menu plan, shopping list and shop efficiently to help you lower your outgoings.  Given everything we have in stock, there’s absolutely no reason we should be maxing our grocery budget, or even coming close, for a month or two at least.  For the record, our budget it £300 a month, which is reduced from around £600 from when we first moved in 4 years ago. 

I didn’t choose my words without giving this a fair bit of thought.  

Organised:  this is a task that can be fairly quickly achieved and is tangible.  Physically organising the freezer, fridge and pantry which are they key elements in this challenge, is something I can be getting on with.  It doesn’t stop there though, once they are organised, how do they stay organised and how do we benefit from them being organised?  Keeping an inventory is key here.  That makes this task a little bit more time consuming and if you can get a helping hand to either write the list as you go through the items, or vice versa then that will save you a bit of time.  I’ll set myself aside some time to do this and report back.
Prepared:  this is a reference to a few different things.  I need to be prepared (and organised) with regards to menu planning, writing shopping lists, doing the weekly shop etc.  Also it means preparing ahead, getting up on a morning and taking tea out of the freezer, batch cooking, taking time to prepare meals ahead.
Useable stock:  what is the point of having a tub of quinoia, pearl barley, blue food colouring and eastern spices if I am never going to use them?  Over the years I have been pulled in to advertising, expensive recipes, following the ideal and impulse buying.  Not any more.  Everything we have in stock needs to be useable.  That may mean I have to be inventive with recipes, avoid others, think differently and so on.  That’s fine, bring it on.  I like the idea of having almost a capsule wardrobe pantry, does that make sense?
Short term and long term:  to me, there’s a obvious need to have fresh and non fresh items.  Dried, frozen, pickled, preserved, whatever it may be.  What is the ideal amount and what benefits can we get from both?  Time will tell.
Adaptable:  Something that will not work for us as a family is restrictions.  We eat at 6:30 on an evening, after we have done the jobs outside and caught up with each other.  Sometimes though, something happens, chickens escape, the wind has blown down a fence, the greenhouse takes longer to water and then everything gets shunted along time wise.  Tea needs to go from a 45 minute Aga time to 15 minutes.  Instead of making lasagne with the ragu, I’m going to heat the ragu and throw it on top of some quick cook spaghetti or penne with a garlic bread.  See what I mean?  I may have some dump bags (idea adapted per The Batch Lady slow cooker) that I can use as a stir fry, or to add to longer cook rice or short cook noodles.  So for my family, adaptability is key.  
Healthy:  I guess this speaks for itself.  One thing that was important to us when we moved here was moving to a more healthy lifestyle, food and drink included, where I cook as much as possible from scratch.  That doesn’t mean we won’t eat fatty food or drink red wine, far from it!  It about a balance and as long as the scales tip in favour of the healthy, I’m happy with that.
Budget friendly:  2020 is about minimising our outgoings and I can not see that ever changing.  Why would you want to spend more than you needed to?  For us, it’s to allow us to pay our mortgage off early, other people will have their reasons.  All to the same goal though. 

I told you I had given it some thought 😂.

So over the coming days and weeks I will add updates as to where I am in The Food Challenge journey.  I will share my inventories, subsequent menu plans and shopping lists, where I shop to get them and recipes for making the meals.  Please join us on this journey, we would love to hear how these things work for you guys and learn from how you do things too.  I’m planning on doing a YouTube video or two on this for anyone who is interested – I will let you know when it’s ready.

In the mean time, I’m off to start the inventory lists, which will inevitably result in a cleaning session too!  I’ll grab some pics of before and after.

Budgetting – groceries

As usual, at the beginning of each year I will reassess our budget to include changes.  For example, my daughter is going to senior school and we promised we’d get her a mobile phone for when she does.  She is the only one in her year who doesn’t have one and throughout this year has been very mature about that, not giving in to peer pressure.  So there’s an extra monthly expense.  Not much, but it all adds up.  The insurances need to be reassessed as I have an additional insurance to take out for Annie, so that needs to come from somewhere.  Also oil has gone up since 12 months ago and I think our budget still covers it, but I will check to be safe.

A big one that can easily spiral out of control is groceries as per my previous post.  Last year, on average I went over our (£250 a month) budget by £15 a month.  Some people spend that on coffee each week so it won’t seem a lot to them, but taking into consideration what we are trying to achieve (self sufficiency and 1 dependent wage only) then again it all adds up.  However I am really pleased that we got anywhere near the budget and that I think, is the home raised meat, fruit and veg earning its keep.  So if we do even more this year, we should be able to meet the new budget.

2018’s grocery cash budget is £2650 which works out at ~£220 a month.  However I expect to spend more in February-April before we reap rewards of this growing season and then at the end of the year as things tail off.  In the height of summer, I hope to have this down to a minimal amount.  Throughout January we are eating from the freezer for the teas, which I will need to top up with fresh veg etc but for the main expensive part (meat?) will be from the freezer.

The grocery budget also includes household items which I think I said – so shampoo, laundry liquid, bleach, toothpaste etc.

Vouchers and freebies will not come out of the budget – let’s call that luck.

Now remember, I have 2 young kids who have packed lunches every day and who I won’t see go short for things they like (they aren’t demanding, this is my decision).  So sometimes, there’s things on the list that are not necessities, but if they fancy having their friends round and eating junk a few times then that’s fine with me.  To be fair, they very rarely ask to do this, but I’m just making my point.  I also have a huge husband who eats almost as much as my horse!  Ste and I are taking lunches to work, usually soup, salad or left overs.

I am updating my standard shopping list for each week with items that go into the packed lunches including fruit, wrap/bread/croissant and filling, yoghurts, a treat, pepperoni or equivalent, a drink, cheese (if they feel like it).  This may be the actual item, or the ingredients to make them (like the bread and treat). 

Once January is through and we’ve made a dent in the freezer, I will then look at batch cooking again and doubling up on what I am cooking to make one for the freezer.

I plan on giving weekly updates with grocery/eating out spends.

As is customary on long text posts, here’s a cute photo 🙂

Onion racks & reduced grocery budget!

It’s a new pay month for us (July’s pay paying for August’s food etc).  I’ve reduced our grocery budget for the month to £250.  That covers the next 4.5 weeks.  I’ve done this as at the moment we’re getting as much food for free as we will this year, so I’m making sure I make the most of it.  Let’s see if I can make it work. 

Therefore in this week’s delivery I’ve ordered milk, cream and cheese, but no veg other than kohl rabi to try.  We’ve never had it nor cooked with it and it’s supposed to be easy to grow and something I can plant now.  That’s arriving Wednesday as usual so more to follow.
This weekend we had my parents over for a BBQ on Saturday afternoon.  It was lovely, the weather was just right for us all.  They helped with some jobs around the place before settling down to homecooked food.  We managed to get quite a lot of weeding done in the veg garden with them and I very much appreciate their help.  The menu I did was on this week’s menu plan and it went down really well.  Homemade coleslaw is amazing, I will never buy shop made again!!  Here’s a picture of the redcurrant and red onion relish I made.  First time making relish too and I’m mightily impressed with how easy it is.

Full of goodness and has a whopping great kick (which you can tone down next time!)

The kids were invited to the neighbours to play with their kids giving Steven and I some time to potter and do jobs.  We started with topping the field (taking the nettles and docks down) and to do this we used the unconventional method of the ride on lawnmower that is more suited to Wimbledon style lawns!  It rose to the occasion marvellously and we now have a topped field which is ready to tidy up and rest for a few weeks before the horses go back on it.  He was a brave man going through those nettles in shorts!

 

Jack is loving life!

A troublesome set of nettles
Took care of them!
As you can see, Jack had a lovely time just playing in the field and been had a go at driving the lawnmower (or tractor as he refers to it).  He took to it with surprising ease and no doubt will be doing it himself in years to come.

Onions ready for rain to wash them off before being stored indoors.
Steven also made some onion racks/holders for the ones he planted not long after we moved in.  These are outside to hang them on whilst they wash off and dry out for a day or two.  Then they will be transferred to the barn for plaiting and storage.  I’m really pleased with them, they’re actually huge but mild.


I also made some soup with tortellini and used up more broad beans and peas, this time including purple podded peas too.  Don’t they look so pretty?  They almost remind me of a caterpillar in their perfect pod.  I’ll be growing more of these in 2017.





Perfectly formed
Gorgeous colour


The puppies enjoying their breakfast together followed by a play on the lawn.  I call them puppies but they’re just turned 1 now so moving on rapidly!!  Rodney is the rougher haired and Buster the tan smooth hair.  Gorgeous boys.  

Buster (bottom) and Rodney (top)


Buster

We also discovered we have a grape vine.  How I didn’t know is beyond me.  I guess I don’t come to this end of the garden very often.  The grapes are miniscule so whether we’ll get a crop I don’t know, but something to look in to all the same.

Grape vine
I found a wild apple tree which looks as fit and healthy as they come, so I’ve added that to the list of items I plan to use up once they’re ready.  It’s right opposite a bramble (blackberry) bush, so it’s almost nature shouting at me to make bramble and apple pie!  An Autumnal joy.  I think that’s enough of my ramblings for today.  PS what happened to the beginning of the week?

Menu Plan 3

Seen as though I am listing out everything we’ve grown from scratch on tomorrow’s blog, today I thought I would post the menu plan for Wednesday to Tuesday.  It’s looking like this:

Wednesday – Spinach and feta stuffed chicken with jacket potato, broad bean mint and barley salad

Thursday – Chorizo & broad bean risotto as didn’t have last week

Friday – Hearty Pasta Soup with homemade crusty bread followed by broad bean and herb potato cakes with salad if any space left!

SaturdayLunch – Broad bean and pea soup.

Afternoon – BBQ @ ours for family.  Thoughts are:

Sausages with homemade redcurrant relish.

Marinated chicken pieces with homemade coleslaw.

Roasted pepper and chorizo orzo salad

New potatoes and sundried tomato salad.

Salad using radishes and tomatoes.

Homemade lemonade.

Homemade sun dried tomato bread.

Mam’s bringing the desert and the wine!

Sunday – Cauliflower soup with left overs from BBQ.

To do:  Make loaf of bread for Mon/Tues, make quiche/flapjacks/cake & soup.

Monday – Ham & Broad bean quiche with salad and new potatoes

Tuesday – Omelette or jacket potato (kids eat out on Tues)
Time to print this off and stick it on the fridge!

I do have the usual Friday delivery coming from Tesco as I had no milk with not having a veg box delivery so I needed that plus the other usual items including ingredients to make the above.  The Friday delivery is working out great.  The time is perfect (in between 4 and 5), so I’ve just got home, get the shopping away before I start thinking about any other jobs, then plenty of time to make tea and enjoy the evening.  This is the last delivery of the month as it is a new budget from Monday.