Sales, offers and reductions

Buskers in central Cambridge
Deals of the day - and up to January!
Sales have started! Check out the links on the right side of this blog and click the links on this post if you like what you see...

Debenhams is offering up to 70% off on thousands of lines, online and in the store at the Grafton Centre. Sale ends on 5th January 2011.
Up to half price furniture - plus take an extra 10% off

BHS' sale is on but it's offering 20% off all wedding lines when you spend £150 by using the code BHSBRIDE. Offer ends 5 January and is not valid on clearance items.

John Lewis's clearance Includes up to 50% for fashion items, plus up to 70% in store on selected lines.

Sainsbury's sale highlights (click Sainsbury's if links below don't work, many products half price on the website!)
Sony Blu Ray

Sony Blu Ray Player, now £99.99

Navman UK SatNav
    Navman UK SatNav, now £69.99

Tresemme Ceramic

Tresemme Ceramic Styler, now £30


Christmas greetings and snow ice cream

How to make snow ice cream

Snow ice cream: I posted this on my other blog, but my followers here might want to give it a go as it's inexpensive. I got the recipe off the internet and modified the ingredients to make a small amount. For more recipes and even videos of how to make it, click here. This recipe will make four generous cups of ice cream. 

  • 125ml of milk
  • 60g of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon flavouring (the recipe said vanilla but you can add mint or any other essence)
  • three cups of snow (better fluffy but you can make it with more compact snow).
To make the snow ice cream, mix milk, flavouring and sugar in a bowl or jug, then slowly spoon in the snow, mixing carefully. The photo shows a slushy mixture as my snow was a bit compact but it was still tasty. In Italy we have a simpler version of snow ice cream, just get the snow in a cup with a metal spoon, add lemon juice and sprinkle with sugar. It's just like a fluffy, lovely granita....


Creative recycling

Wall hanging made with fabric swatches
Revamping a dull, old jumper with a few sequins

Ecothrifter has joined the army of bloggers sending pledges to the bag lady. My three-year old daughter Michela and I are pledging to reuse and make do as much as we can. Recycling can be fun, we've even found an artistic use for junk mail (colourful pictures are cut and used for collages, circulars are used on the white side as drawing paper)... And you can make animal masks with cereal boxes!

Happy recycling everybody!


Best buys and worst buys of the year!

Best baby and child buy: sippy cup, four for £1 from Poundland, microwave safe too! Great cups for babies and clumsy toddlers

Best cheap and cheerful buy: Rudolph dressing up top, modelled by Michela's penguin, £2.50 from EACH charity shop (brand new item from Wilkinson)

Technically bought in 2008 but revealed itself to be the worst buy ever as it failed on me yesterday, in the same way my partner's identifical phone did, dodgy charger! We paid nearly 50 pounds each and they are rubbish. I went back to Nokia, which served me well previously. Down with Sony Ericcson w200i phones!

And the worst ever buy of the year (if not my entire life) was described in my other blog. Click here to read a tale of dodgy internet commerce.


B&Q Christmas competition

DIY chain B&Q has two amazing competitions for its customers in the run-up to Christmas! Click the links below to enter!

Write about your Favourite Christmas memories or recipes (Closing date for entries is midnight on the 6th January 2011). Submit your stories by clicking here.

First prize is a £500 B&Q gift card.
First Runner-up prize is a £250 B&Q gift card
Entrants must be 13 years old or over and must reside in the UK. Entrants below the age of 18 must have parental consent. The winner will be the best Christmas story or recipe as decided by a panel of judges representing B&Q.

Write to us what you think is UK’s Best & Worst Christmas lighting decorations (Closing date for entries is midnight on the 6th January 2011). Submit your stories by clicking here

First prize is a £500 B&Q gift card.
First Runner-up prize is a £250 B&Q gift card

Entrants must be 13 years old or over and must reside in the UK. Entrants below the age of 18 must have parental consent.The winner(s) will be the best/worst photo(s) of Christmas decorations as decided by a panel of judges representing B&Q.

Overal T&Cs
The winner will be contacted by email – please ensure the email address you have registered with us is up-to-date. If the prize is not claimed within 14 days of the email being sent, another winner will be selected. No purchase necessary. The prize cannot be taken in conjunction with any other offer.
Competition and prize draws are open to all UK residents, excluding employees of B&Q plc, their families, agents or anyone else connected with the competition. All entries become the property of B&Q plc. B&Q plc reserves the right to withdraw the offer, terminate the promotion or declare void any entry in the event of actual fraud in its sole opinion. Prizes are not transferable and no cash alternatives will be offered. No responsibility is accepted for entries that may be lost or delayed in transmission, mutilated or damaged. The judge’s decision on all matters relating to the competition and prize draws is final and binding. No correspondence can be entered into. Entry implies acceptance of rules. The Promoter is B&Q plc, Portswood House, 1 Hampshire Corporate Park, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh SO53 3YX. B&Q plc, the Promoter, will only use the data for the purposes of the competition. The winner’s details will be available from the promoter by sending a stamped address envelope marked “B&Q Best Christmas Lighting Decoration, Multi Channel”. By submitting your data and email address in connection with your story, you agree that B&Q and its third party service providers may use your email address to contact you about your story. By entering this competition, you also agree that your story/photo(s) may be used for future promotional purposes including online, literature and press activity.

Cheap and cheerful Santa letters

Give me presents or Santa gets it
The internet is buzzing with various Santa letters you can buy and other Santa services that are guaranteed to delight your children. Old and trusty Royal Mail can do this at the minimal cost of a stamp (second or first class, the choice is yours). All you have to do is help your child with their letter to Santa (include your address), stick a stamp on the envelope and send it to:

Santa/Father Christmas,
Santa’s Grotto,

Merry Xmas!


Leftover stew recipe for all seasons

The beef stew before I switched on the slow cooker. The beef chunks
 have been braised. The inspiration comes from Italian and Irish beef stews.

For this recipe, I'm using a slow cooker instead of an oven - perfect if you haven't got time to cook and want a lovely, filling meal at the end of the day. I work from home and I’m sometimes challenged to stop working in time to produce a good meal. I made this stew out of what I had in the fridge and cupboard – it turned out to be a tasty leftover recipe that my family enjoyed over several meals. A more sophisticated version with further ingredients was served at a dinner party.

452g stewing beef steak
2 onions sliced in rings
7 small potatoes with skin on, sliced
5-6 sundried tomatoes (or use fresh tomatoes sliced or even canned tomatoes, drained)
4-6 tablespoons of golden syrup in maple flavour diluted in 500ml of hot water (if you want a classy version, use pure Canadian maple syrup)
1 stock cube mushroom and 1 stock cube garlic & parsley, crumbled (replace with 2 stock cubes of your choice)
A glug of Amaretto di Saronno (or other booze you have)
A few pinches of dry mixed herbs (great cupboard staple, goes on everything, sold already mixed by most supermarkets)
Swedes and potato mash (this was leftover from previous meal and served on the side of stew, you can replace with two handfuls of sliced carrots and other stewing veg in the stewing pot. Italians use chopped celery too)

My beef stewing steak braising on a
 special non-stick pan, no oil required

Slice potatoes and onions (in rings)

Braise your beef steak. Meanwhile, slice potatoes thinly and onions in rings. Place them in the slow cooker’s bowl. Place all your vegetables in, if you are using mash you will add it to the end to warm up.

Chop the braised steak and place in the slow cooker’s bowl. If you prefer you can chop it before it cooks. Pour some water in the frying pan to collect the juices. Pour it in the bowl. Add the sundried tomatoes, the diluted syrup, the crumbled stock cubes, the Amaretto and the herbs. Give it a good stir, place the lid on and switch on the slow cooker.

I plugged mine in at 12pm and my dinner was ready at 9pm. You can taste and stir while it cooks, if you are not sure when ready. I set my slow cooker on auto and then on low setting for the last two hours. Refer to your slow cooker’s manual for timings as models vary.


 PS. I posted this link on a Cambridge forum and got this comment in my inbox with tips from Chrissie:
"It looks wonderful. Another tip I find helpful: I always re-heat my slow-cooker pot with boiled water for a few minutes before loading the food in.  It speeds up the cooking process, and helps prevent anything you might have seared etc from cooling down. The slow-cooker pot was already clean,  of course, so the  hot water can be recycled as soaking water for laundry or whatever.
Another tip for hungry families: you can really speed up the process of preparing dried barley, etc by cooking them in some good stock in the microwave. Bones can be boiled very rapidly for stock in this way, too. Just  break the bones up, add some water/stock, and cover the bowl with clingfilm. Cook for half an hour, top up the bowl with boiling water from the kettle. The bones will be ready to strain in an hour. Please let it cool before you strain it. I usually add the dried soup mix to the new stock straight away and bung it back in the microwave.  Mealwhile, the veg has been chopped and cooked really fast in a pressure cooker. Add the stock/soup/mix/veg together and it's done! You can pulverise it all in a liquidiser when it's cool. I add a little browning, and it makes wonderful soup for kids that don't want to eat veg. Especially with sausages braised in it, and served with mash.  Yummy. Using this method we can create really good, old fashioned food in less that three hours. Smashing.  And no e-numbers.


Technorati, here I come again!



Cambridge colleges are free to visit

I have mentioned before that Cambridge Colleges are free to visit when open (Cambridge residents don't pay entrance fees at those colleges that charge, such as King's, St John's, etc).

The easiest way is to apply for King's residents card (visit the shop on King's Parade for an application form), which is accepted at other colleges.

My partner and I took our little girl on a walking tour of the colleges and here are a few photos of their beautiful courtyards and gardens.


Cambridgeshire secrets - nearly free outings for children

I'm becoming quite a fan of Cambridge Past, Present and Future as they manage some beautiful natural spaces that are open to everybody and cost next to nothing to visit. Take Wandlebury Country Park - click the name for more info - which is not far from Cambridge and can be reached by car, bike or bus. It used to be a stately home and the grounds are breathtakingly beautiful. This photo was taken by the pond, which is full of fish, frogs, shimmering dragon flies... You can get a map with trails for 50p and if you arrive by car you pay £2 for the parking (come by bus or by bike and you just pay for the map). Be sure to pack a picnic as we didn't find any food outlet there. This is such a small outlay for the opportunity to spend a wonderful day outdoors. If you feel really adventurous, the longest trail meets the Roman Road, so if you have a map of that you can walk on for miles... A new cycle track is opening that allows you to cycle from Cambridge.

Cambridge Past, Present and Future also manages other great attractions, I recommend the Coton Countryside Reserve, which is totally free (including parking).

Another great, nearly free attraction is Milton Country Park - click name for more info - which offers lovely walks, a play ground for all ages and a cafe. If you come by car you pay £2 for all day parking, if you come by bike or by bus it's free. The area is not as big as Wandlebury but if you have a small baby you might like having more facilities at hand in a more compact space.

Do pay a visit to these wonderful places and let me know how you liked them...


Are bought houseplants a rip off?

For years I have been buying lovely houseplants from markets and florists, which as soon as I take home look peaky and eventually die on me. The puzzling thing is that I haven't got black thumbs and nearly everything I have grown from cuttings and seeds is doing so well. I have a lemon plant I have grown from a pip taken from a supermarket lemon well over 10 years ago. It even survived a winter outside, although it didn't look that good the following spring so I have kept it indoors this year.
So it was exciting for me to see that my azaleas (bought by my mother in law) are doing so well and are covered in blooms. As I had one and it died quite quickly, I'm really excited to have an azalea that is several months old.
Of course I know that commercial plants are often sterile and are forced in greenhouses so as soon as you transfer them to a room with less light and central heating, they do less well. Some plants don't even tolerate tap, you have to use rainwater. 
Apparently azaleas like rainwater too, but mine has done well with tap water. The key to success with my azaleas was to monitor the compost and keep it moist. Also the three plants that were in the original pot grew so quickly there was little compost left and as soon as I divided them and put them in new, spacious pot full of moist compost, they thrived. One plant went back to my mother in law and the other two are in this pot, but will soon need repotting. The pot is positioned on a windowsill above a radiator. Provided I keep the compost moist, it is flowering well and putting on new leaves.

The plants at the bottom of this post are aloe veras. These two are mother and baby. The mother was previously a baby that has grown to generate another baby plant. I had aloe veras before but perhaps shop bought ones don't make babies. This one was bought at a charity sale and makes a baby every year. They are now sharing a pot with devil's ivy and a speckled succulent plant. Click here to find out the benefits of aloe vera, which is used in medicines and beauty products.

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Happy New Year!

We spent the holidays in Cambridge as I had some work to do. My partner's parents came down for Christmas and Boxing Day and we had the planned Italian Xmas meal on the 26th. This year I sent a lot of ecards and reserved homemade cards for loved ones who didn't have access to the internet. Last year I made lots of them and I still had plenty of leftovers. In fact there are still some left for next year.

My mother in law brought a very festive homemade Christmas cake, complete with snowman, which was quite suitable since it had snowed more than usual during December.

The Italian meal went well, here is a picture of the festive table with the cooked meat, courtesy of Aldi. The menu was slightly different from my previous post.
We still had salmon and sliced cooked meats for starters, then fresh pasta with ragu sauce, roast beef with fried carrot sticks and tiramisu for dessert. We were too full to eat the cheeses and there was no room for panettone either.

I haven't made any New Year's resolutions but I'm hoping we can find a house and stop renting!
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