Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Too Much Stuff

I haven't blogged for a while. We have been living, as the Chinese curse says "in interesting times" here at CarrotCruncher Towers.

I am hoping for some dull and boring times next year, with less fires, less floods, less people trying to get out of legally binding contracts & rip me off.

'Nuff said about all that, I think.

Soooo, STUFF.

From time to time, I get a bit overwhelmed by the shear amount of stuff in our home. And now is one of those time. Before we went abroad, I sold/ dumped/ donated/ freecycled what felt like an immense amount of stuff and actually got our loft to an almost empty space. And now we've been back a year and a bit and the house and loft feel very, very full again.

Part of this, in my humble opinion, is Mr CarrotCruncher. Now, the man isn't a hoarder, but I think that's probably his ambition. For example, I was wearing a jacket this morning I hadn't worn since last winter. I put my hands in my pocket and found an inch long piece of plastic tube. I had my hand (and the tube) over the rubbish bin when in he walks.

Like the idiot I am, I said "Do you know what this is?" He takes it from me, examines it and declares that no, he doesn't know what it is, but will hang on to it "just in case".


Obviously, all my stuff is treasured possessions, whereas his stuff is junk. Obviously.

I have therefore decided that 2015 (and this last bit of 2014) will be the Year of Using Stuff Up (he doesn't object to this) and Getting Rid of Stuff (I may have mumbled that bit so he didn't hear me). It's a snappy title, I'm sure you will agree.

Crafting stuff is featuring highly on this list of Stuff. I have a lot of wool. And material. And cotton. And lace making stuff. And felt. And buttons. And other stuff too. I do sell on  Etsy, which uses up a certain amount of wool but I cannot resist a "Mixed Lot of Wool, Must De-Stash" on ebay, so my spare bedroom/craft room looks like a wool shop.

And this is only part of my wool hoard. Quite a small part of it.
Yes, the box at the back is big. And full

And aren't all my threads lovely? Yes, they do go all the way to the back of the shelf

That said, it all gives me a great deal of pleasure, as I find crochet and crafting very stress-reducing. But I do have enough to keep me going for a very, very long time. Except for green wool. I have very little of that.

Food is also on the list. The stuff at the back of the cupboard which was bought with enthusiasm and now sits upon the Shelf of Doom. Yes, packet-of-tapioca, bought to make Bubble Tea (made once), I am looking at you and your friends.

Selected items from the Shelf of Doom - Wild Berry Coulis, Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup, Shrimp Paste, a miniature bottle of Icelandic spirit, packet of tapioca & a Christmas pudding that I think might have moved with us when we bought this house in 2006.
I don't want to waste the food on the Shelf of Doom, so will be googling for interesting recipes and will share the results.

Initial googling for "tapioca recipes" is not proving inspiring. However, Mini-CarrotCruncher is still at a very guilable age, so I might be able to feed it to her.

Anyone else get the feeling of "too much stuff"? Will I make any progress? Watch this space!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Stash-Busting Crochet Pattern

It's probably (hopefully) just this time of year, but there seems to be a slightly endless list of requests from Carrot-Girl's school for donations of food, donations of items for the Christmas Sale, for the Children in Need Sale, followed by a request to send in your child equipped with cash to buy items back from said sales. And then there are the quiz nights, the Pop-Up restaurants, the school photos and the Christmas Tree sales.

They are good causes and I don't mind helping out where I can, it's just starting to seem a bit relentless at the moment. She's only been there 6 weeks, and the above is just what has come off the top of my head.

Anyway, the current "please donate items" is for the Christmas sale, where the children then buy back items to give as presents, for 50p or £1.

I didn't really want to buy things to donate, given that I'm attempting to save as much as possible, so it seemed an ideal way to do a bit of stash-busting and make some quick items.

First things (and I forgot to take pictures of these) where little crochet flowers which I sew onto brooch pins. But, I got to thinking that since "Dad Presents" are often difficult, they were probably going to be short of this type of gift at the sale.

So, a bit of research on Ravelry later, I decided to go with iPhone covers. My pattern is inspired by one from Lottie's Creations which she published on Ravelry. I've altered it a bit, and am not very experienced at writing patterns down, but here goes!

It's written in UK crochet terms.

Firstly, any yarn will do. I have used DK cotton and some aran-ish wool-mix and both have been fine. I am particularly trying to stash-bust the aran-ish stuff, as it has a texture which reminds me of baler twine. No good for anything next to the skin, but for a phone case which will get bashed and bumped in you handbag, briefcase or pocket - perfect.

Leaving a good long tail (20cm), chain 26 (ish) and sl st to form a circle. Measure it around your phone, it should stretch to fit quite snuggly. I used a 4mm hook and 26 chains worked well. But you can increase or reduce to suit your yarn and tension, but it must be an even number of stitches

DC all the way around the circle (26 stitches). You are going to work in a continuous round, so no need to sl st to join.

Skip the first stitch, then DC & TC into the next. Repeat this (Sk, DC & TC) and your iPhone cover will soon grow. This combination of stitches and skips gives a really nice texture:

When it is the right length get ready to start your final row. Make sure your tail is at one side of the cover, when squashed flat and the stitch you are ready to work next is in the centre.

Then work a row of DC (26 stitches) to give a nice firm top edge.

Chain about 16-20 and sl st back onto the row of DC, so you have a loop. Fasten off.

Use the long tail to whip stitch firmly along the bottom and sew in the remaining tail

Sew on a button, so you can close the loop and TA-DAH! It's done!

A quick (about 2 hours) and easy stocking filler present which uses up your odds and ends of wool.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Despicable Me 2 - On the Cheap

Hello again, and thanks to everyone for their kind messages and tweets after the storm.

Our trees survived intact, thank goodness, as did everything else - we didn't even loose a fence panel.

By 9am the next morning the wind had dropped a lot and it was a beautiful sunny day, I got a load of washing out on the washing line, to make the most of the free-drying power of the wind, after all the rain we've had, and we set off for the cinema to see Despicable Me 2.

It was Carrot-Girl's first trip to the pictures and I'm not sure my explanation of what to expect was fully understood ("it's like watching the television on a very big screen, in the dark, with lots of other people. And you have to sit still").

The prices of cinema tickets is very high. For example, a regular ticket t in my local cinema it's £10.45 per ticket. And I wasn't going to pay that three times to then have Carrot-Girl freak out and decide she hates the cinema after 5 minutes.

So, after a bit of hunting the Odeon website, and found the Kid's Club section. It's a much better deal, the films aren't brand new (DM2 came out in the summer) but all tickets are £3.00!

Adding to the fun (in Carrot-Girl's opinion) was the fact we went there on the bus (she LOVES the bus) and that she got to eat popcorn.

The finances at Carrot-Towers don't stretch to cinema priced popcorn and drinks, so like the frugal-mum that I am, I went equipped with a drink and made my own popcorn - it's cheap, easy & very entertaining for children to hear it pop.

The bus was the cheap option too. I'm lucky that our nearest big town has a excellent Park & Ride bus service, as the car parks are extortionate (at least £1.50 per hour). Carrot-Girl and Carrot-Man both travel for free on the bus, so it was just £2.20 for me.

And the film? The film was fantastic! We laughed all the way through, loved the Minions, loved the new love-interest & loved Mr Ramsbottom. The only slight disappointment was the fact the Julie Andrews wasn't in this sequel, as she was hilarious in the original film.

If you aren't familiar with the Minions, enjoy this trailer of their very unique take on The Beach Boys classic, "Barbara Ann":

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Gathering Storm

I, like most of the population of southern England, am living in an area covered by the Amber Wind Warning, ready for the storm on Sunday/Monday.

Is it just me, or do the words "Amber" and "Wind" just bring to mind baked beans? It's probably just me, isn't it?

Anyway, enough with the childish fart-gags and on to business. Yes, we have an Amber Wind Warning and a Yellow Rain Warning here. I am hoping the Met Office is wrong for two reasons:
  1. I Don't want a tree through my roof on Sunday night
  2. I have just booked three tickets to see Despicable Me 2 (Carrot-Girl's first trip to the pictures!) on Monday morning - now if you are a fan of the Kermode & Mayo Film Review Show (and if you aren't, you should be) you'll now totally understand why I'm sniggering about fart jokes while I'm writing this, as their commentary about DM2 included an actually Minion's Fart Gun in the studio

But, this is meant to be a serious post! Enough with the Fart Gun!

Last time we had a major storm in the UK was 1987 and the thing that made it so devastating was the time of year it happened - mid-late October - because the trees were all still in leaf. And it's now late October and the trees are all still in leaf.
This is the view from the back windows of my house

And this is the view from the front:

Pretty tree infested. So I am taking some steps to get prepared and I thought it might help to share them. Please add your own in the comments box below.
  1. Charge your phones
  2. Have you got wireless landline phones? They won't work if the power goes off, so, if you have one, dig out your old plug-in phone from the loft/cupboard under the stairs and check it still works
  3. Check your torches and get spare batteries. Carrot-Man is a sucker for those Gazillion-Candle-Power-Mega-Torches, so his job today will be to find them and charge them
  4. Got a battery-powered radio? Dig it out, check it works and buy spare batteries. If the power goes off, there's no TV or plug-in radios
  5. Candles & matches
  6. Longlife milk
  7. Cadbury's Chocolate Fingers (or is that just me?)
  8. Blankets - two reasons: a) No power, no central heating b) no power, the freezer goes off, so you can wrap it in blankets to keep the cold in for longer & stop your food going off. Once the power is off, don't open the freezer door.
  9. Emergency numbers. The Red Cross has a great downloadable Home Emergency Contacts & References Sheet. I've just printed it off and will be filling it all in.
  10. The Red Cross also have a great section on How To Prepare of Emergencies. All excellent advice
  11. Follow your local police, the Met Office & local BBC on twitter for immediate updates (assuming you have power or charged up smartphone)
  12. Put away all your garden furniture and dismantle your garden trampoline and any other kids toys
That should get us started. In the meantime, I am hoping the wind blows hard-ish for the next 48 hours and blows a lot of the leaves off the trees before the storm arrives, as I really don't want to miss Despicable Me 2!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Fabulous Fish Pie

I've been a bad blogger this last week, life has got in the way - manic crocheting, birthday partying & busy at work too.

Anyway, back to blogging this week and I'm having a go at a completion, taking part in the #MarisPiperBritMums Challenge with www.lovepotatoes.co.uk.

Given that I am a Carb-o-Holic a recipe using potatoes is easy for me. I count crisps as one of my 5-a-Day and can't imagine a meal without carbs in some form or another (guilty secret - a chip butty, with proper chip shop chips, now that's heavenly).

But, this isn't a recipe for the perfect chip butty (although that blog post may come one day), but for Fabulous Fish Pie.

Most of the ingredients are interchangeable - it's a great way of clearing out the bottom of the fridge.

Here's the basic recipe:

450g maris piper potatoes
3 eggs
320g fish pieces
1 onion, chopped
100g mushrooms
1 courgette
A carrot or two
250g crème fraiche
1 tbsp. mustard (I like either Dijon or wholegrain, but any will do)
Olive oil

I buy "fish pie mix" in the supermarket - they're often in the 3 for £10 deals in Sainsbury's or Tesco and they freeze really well.

You can swap things in and out depending on what you've got - use spring onions instead of normal onions, add a handful of peas, some veg left over from a roast dinner, stuff in the bottom of the fridge that's only got a day or two left in it.

Here's what you do:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200c
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut to an even size. Boil for 10 minutes, then drain and leave to cool a bit
  3. Hard boil the eggs (10 minutes) then cool them in a bowl of cold water
  4. When you can handle them, grate them on the large-hole bit of your grater
  5. Grease your casserole/lasagna/whatever dish and put the fish in the bottom.
  6. Then add chopped onion, sliced eggs, sliced mushrooms, carrots, courgette & anything else you are using
  7. Mix the crème fraiche and the mustard together in a bowl, then spread over the pie contents
  8. Top with the grated potato, sprinkle (I was going to say "Drizzle" but that always sounds a bit poncey to me) a bit of olive oil over the top then grate some black pepper
  9. Bung in the oven for about 30 mins

And this is what you should end up with. The cooking time is a bit variable, as it depends on your dish. A deep casserole will take longer than a shallow lasagna dish. I poke it with a metal skewer after about 25 minutes, then about every 10-15 minutes after that. Touch the skewer to your lip and when you burn yourself, it's done.

A lovely one-pot meal, not too much washing up and it re-heats really well too (this recipe serves 4, so we often have it two nights running.

So, what do you reckon? A winning dish?

Friday, 11 October 2013


I love sausages, I really do <insert your own joke here>

I love them fried, grilled, hot, cold, in a sandwich (oh, yeah! On shop-bought sliced bread, with lots of butter), in a casserole or stolen off Carrot-Girl's plate, when she's not looking (you snooze, you loose when it comes to sausages).

I think it is genetic. Apparently as a child and teenager my Dad (that would make him Carrot-Dad, I guess) lived off sausages and his mum (Carrot-Nanny) was a soft touch and indulged him.

Then he met my Mum, got married and found she wasn't willing to cook sausages seven days a week, so learnt to eat other food (and I will tell you about her speciality - Crispy Lasagna - another time).

Anyway, I often make a sausage and onion casserole, but felt the need to stretch my sausage-based repertoire, so here is a wonderful new* recipe: Sausage, Apple & Cranberry Casserole.

* Well, I say new, it's adapted from one I found online. You might call that plagiarism, I call it "Paying Homage".

Here's what I used:

  • As many sausages as you need. I like three per person
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 apples, peeled and sliced - doesn't matter what sort, these are windfalls from a box outside a house I cycle past on the way to Carrot-Girl's school
  • 2 tbsp. cranberry sauce
  • 2 tbsp. mustard - I like wholegrain best for cooking, I love adding a bit of texture
  • About 150-200ml chicken stock (use 1 cube)

And here's what to do:
  1. Put the slow cooker on to warm up (or cook the casserole in the oven for 1-1.5 hours)
  2. Brown the sausages - no need to add oil
  3. Remove sausages (leave the fat) then soften the onion
  4. Make the stock with boiling water, then add the cranberry sauce and mustard. Give it a good stir
  5. Put half the onions in the slow cooker, then half the apples, then the sausages, then the rest of the onions, then the rest of the apple
  6. Pour over the stock mix
  7. Leave to cook for 4-6 hours

Serve with Delia-Mash, which I blogged about a week or so ago and a glass of red wine

It tastes really good. Half way through eating it, I texted my Dad "I have invested a new sausage dish!!!". I swear the phone was ringing within 10 seconds of me hitting "send". You see, he might eat normal, grown-up food now, but inside, his genes are saying "Feed me Sausages!!"

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Earning through Surveys

Let's be honest from the outset, you are never going to make your fortune this way, plus, it can be a bit tedious.

However, I think it's worthwhile if you've got a bit of patience and a bit of free time. And sometimes they send you free stuff to test too, which is much more fun.

I am with two survey companies, Ipsos Mori and One Poll.

Ipsos Mori do much longer surveys; they usually start at around 15 minutes and can be as long as 30 minutes, but are pretty well rewarded. You earn points for every survey you complete plus a smaller number of compensation-points for surveys you try and complete, but for which you don't meet the criteria.

For every 1,380 point you earn, you can claim an Amazon or John Lewis voucher worth £10.00 or you can choose to make a £10.00 donation to various charities.

The sort of things I have answered questions on recently include:
  • Going to the cinema
  • Condoms
  • Stain removal products
I always choose the Amazon voucher, then either treat myself or save them up and use them to buy presents.
With One Poll you earn cash, but it does take a long time to earn £40.00, which is their minimum payout. One the plus side, the surveys are very quick (usually less an a minute) but you probably only earn 10p-15p for each of them.
As examples, I have answered surveys with One Poll on the following topics recent:
  • Giving to charity
  • Preferred colour of credit cards (that was a weird one!)
  • Children's homework
They are so quick, they can be done whilst you are at work, on hold, waiting to be put through to someone you don't actually want to talk to.
Allegedly. Obviously, when I am at work my attention is 100% on the job <whistles to herself whilst looking a bit shifty>
And the free stuff? Well, that doesn't happen all the time, but once in a while you answer a survey and at the end, they ask if you'll test the stuff you've just answered the questions on. I always say yes, and at present am testing a big pot of Vanish Stain Remover, which is great, as I would probably have bought some, or an equivalent brand, anyway.
So how can you sign up to do this too? Most survey companies don't advertise for participants, they want existing member to refer people (and the referrers earn points for referring people too - Win-Win!).
If you've like to join Ipsos and/or One Poll (you can leave at any time and they don't send you spam) pop your name and email address in the "Contact Me" box on the top right of this page and I'll set up a referral for you. Don't worry, your name and email address won't appear on this blog anywhere, and I won't pass it on to anyone else.