Find out how I feed my family on a shoestring budget.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

No Knead

My Dad made this bread and it was yummy. He makes a loaf a day, but uses a 'no knead' recipe. Kneading bread puts me off a bit - I find it hard work, so this is a good answer. Sure the bread is slightly dense, but what a tonic compared to the steam inflated supermaket loaves. It makes great toast and smells good when it's cooking.

Here's a recipe from the New York times (seeing as I'm thinking too lazy to knead, then I'm too lazy to write the recipe out when someone else has done the work).

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Virtues of Vinegar

Oh, I’m a bad blogger. I’ve missed weeks and weeks, how does it happen? Oh well, here’s my latest offering. I’ve included my meals for the next week, but this blog post is going to focus on cleaning. Yes, that’s right cleaning. Our weekly shopping budget includes all our cleaning and toiletry products as well as our food. I’ll cover toiletries some other time, but this time I’m going to let you into how I manage to buy all our cleaning products (as well as our food) in our £35 a week budget.

First, this weeks meals:

Saturday – Spaghetti Sorentina
Sunday – Stew and dumplings
Monday – Cauliflower cheese, new potatoes and peas
Tuesday – Chips, nut cutlets and baked beans
Wednesday – Creamy mustard pasta
Thursday - Stroganoff
Friday – Pizza (this is just for S – N and I will be away at my Mum’s)

So back to cleaning. How do can we possibly clean effectively given the miniscule amount we spend on cleaning products? The simple answer is that we rely on some clever cloths and lots of vinegar. Yes, that’s right vinegar, one of the most versatile products in my cupboard. I use white distilled vinegar for a whole host

of cleaning jobs.

The first and most obvious use for vinegar is for cleaning windows and mirrors. I’ve tried other proprietary window cleaners and none are as good as vinegar. I use it diluted (approx 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water) for windows, just spray it on and buff it off with scrunched up newspaper but use it neat for mirrors (using the same method). Vinegar and newspaper are by far the best way to get a squeaky clean window, trust me.

Vinegar is also great for cleaning out your kettle. Just boil it up and then give it a good rinse and another couple of boils with plain water to remove scale. Much better than a chemical descaler. I also use to clean out my washing machine. I tip a bottle of white vinegar straight in the drum and put it on the hottest cycle. And while I’m on the subject of washing machines, here’s my best vinegar use – in the washing machine drawer during a wash instead of washing conditioner. No, really, try it. Don’t worry your clothes won’t smell of vinegar. You don’t need too much, probably the equivalent of two capfuls of washing conditioner will do the job. I know, it sounds crazy but I started using it when my daughter was born. Babies have very sensitive skin and I read that you shouldn’t use washing conditioner. When I was looking up on what I should use instead I saw vinegar was recommended – it’s kind to babies’ skin, keeps reusable nappies absorbent, helps keep the machine scale free and at around 58p per bottle is an absolute bargain.

Since having a baby our washing machine runs at least daily and given the cost of washing powder that can be expensive. I’m also a bit concerned about all the chemicals I’m pumping into the water supply – ok, so non-bio doesn’t contain enzymes, but even the eco stuff includes all sorts of strange ingredients I don’t really like the sound of. I did try some of those strange things that look like dog balls full of ceramic pellets. At about £15 for two they were an expensive experiment when I realised they have the stain removing potential of well, dog balls. However, I have found a BRILLIANT natural, sustainable alternative - soap nuts.

Last year I got a mama pack (like a bounty pack, but nicer and not a chemical filled marketing sham) and inside was a little soap nut trial pack. Soap nuts are actually little shells from a nut that comes from trees which grow in India and Nepal. They fall off the tree plentifully and are completely sustainable as a resource. The shells contain a naturally soapy agent and are great in the wash. You just need to chuck about 6-8 shells in (in a little muslin bag) and that’s it. You can reuse the shells for between 3 and 6 washes and so they cost around 3p a wash.

They won’t get rid of the very toughest stains and our white nappies sometimes look a wee bit yellowish (as they aren’t being washed with the bleaches in washing powder) but that’s soon resolved by hanging the nappies on the line to dry and bleach in the sun. I cannot speak highly enough about the virtues of soap nuts, but why not find out for yourself and bag yourself a free trial at

Also contained within my mama pack were some e-cloths. These are basically a microfibre cloth system. Now I can’t tell you exactly what the difference between these microfibre cloths and any others are, but they do seem to be more effective. Take a look at their website

I’ve got a couple of general purpose cloths (which I rotate) and a couple of the glass and polishing cloths. They do require you to use a bit of elbow grease for tougher marks, but they clean remarkably well and largely eliminate the need for chemical surface cleaners. So after the initial outlay for the cloths, they are a very cheap option. Also it means when N was first learning how to eat solids I could clean her highchair without leaving it covered in a layer of lemon scented chemicals which would have tainted her food.

I do use bleach down the loo, I have tried citric acid, but I have to say I do prefer bleach. We live in a hard water area and so lime scale is a problem for us. We used to use Harpic’s lime scale remover (which was a big chunk of a week’s budget), but actually a 28p bog standard (sorry no pun intended) bottle of bleach gives better results.

We also use regular washing up liquid too. The eco-stuff’s just not that good and the e-cloth sponge was not a success for us (hey maybe, I should soap nuts - now there’s an idea). I’ve used bicarb and a lot of elbow grease to clean the oven. Being veggies, our oven’s not too greasy, and I couldn’t use Mr Muscle when I was pregnant, but even so bicarb’s hardwork, so I do tend to use the scary-make-your eyes-water stuff now.

Oh and I nearly forgot, essential oils – well two in particular. I use tea tree oil in with the nappies and in the nappy bucket and lavender in the wash if I fancy a bit of a fragrance. And bicarb, another favourite of mine. I make it into a paste to clean the fridge. It gets rid of fridgey smells and is nicely abrasive. So really all I buy is washing up liquid, vinegar and bleach, all of which make a pretty limited dent in our weekly budget and keep our chemical footprint down.