Posts Tagged ‘Frugal’

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Tried & Tested: Spice Cubes

January 16, 2012

We are big fans of having a freezer full of building blocks ready for use. Sliced and frozen lemons, berries for morning smoothies, herbs which have been washed and frozen and are ready to drop straight into a dish.  These are all things that save us time, and often money.

A while ago we realised that whilst we often cook with garlic or ginger or chillis there are times when we buy them and don’t get around to using them  as we intended and therefore things sometimes go to waste.  We solved the problem with the garlic: instead of buying a head of garlic and using it a clove at a time we took to buying three or four heads at once and processing them all at once then freezing them.

It doesn’t take much longer to prepare a dozen cloves than it does one or two but there is no extra cleaning up and no more garlicy-scented hands. Whole cloves of garlic freeze fantastically and defrost in less time than it takes to chop an onion while ginger, if it is peeled and cut into single meal chunks, can be ready in a few minutes.

Having got into a routine of buying garlic and ginger every month or so and preparing them for the freezer it occurred to us that quite often we use both together and about half the time if we are cooking with garlic and ginger we use copious amounts of chillis too.  And so the idea of the freezer spice cubes was born: instead of preparing garlic ready to be used and preparing ginger to be used straight from the freezer could we go one step further?

The answer is yes:

  • Take one head of garlic, peel the cloves and toss them into a food processor
  • Take a piece of fresh ginger of a comparable size, peel, roughly chop and toss into the food processor
  • Add fresh or dried chillis to suit your taste buds
  • Blitz in the food processor until they’re the right size for your cooking needs
  • Spoon into an ice-cube tray, drizzle a little oil over the top and freeze
  • Once frozen pop the cubes from the tray and transfer to a suitable container
  • Keep in the most accessible part of the freezer so they are close to hand when you want to cook

When we make these we’ve found that one cube is about the equivalent of one clove of garlic and a corresponding amount of ginger. If you use dried chillis (buy them in bulk when you come to Cyprus as they are absurdly cheap here) then you can make the cubes as spicy as you want.

These are best made in an ice-cube tray that isn’t destined to be used for making real ice-cubes, unless you don’t mind ginger tasting gin and tonics after dinner.

New freezers always seem to come with a spare tray so we keep one specifically for the purpose.  You can reduce the chance of the tray becoming tainted with the spice flavours if you wipe it out with a little light cooking oil before you start.

Since we started doing this we have massively increased the amount of garlic and ginger we use, and with hardly any wastage.

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Travel flash sales

June 13, 2011

One of the advantages of living here and no longer working is that we are free to travel as and when we wish.  One of the disadvantages of our life here is that our travel budget is nowhere as large as it used to be.  When we switched from that high-stress corporate lifestyle to a laid-back and mellower existence here in Cyprus we also gave up about 90% of our income.

That said we do get away from time to time and have had some fantastic trips in the last few years including three transatlantic crossing on our old friend, Windstar’s Wind Surf.

Instead of deciding what we would like to do or see and where we might go we keep our eyes peeled for offers and opportunities that might suit.  Being able to travel at little notice or off-season or via an indirect route means that we may be able to take advantages of offers that others may not.

As part of that we are signed up to receive emails from many of the major airlines as well as a number of travel companies.  Including in that list of companies are a growing number of Flash Sale or Invitation Only travel groups. These have been growing in number and popularity in recent years and suit our circumstances well.  The advantage is a well-priced deal, below list price; the disadvantage is that the sales aren’t open for long, typically seven days or less.

For those who are able and willing to keep an eye open for deals, and decide and book quickly, there are bargains to be had.  Later this year we have a few days planned in Athens; last year we spent a week cruising out of Venice and along the Dalmation coast.  In both cases the final prices we paid were significantly below list or brochure price.  It’s worth noting that in the cruise industry virtually no one pays brochure price, in almost all cases they are  considered to be nothing more than a starting point for discounts.  In the case of our trip last year that discount ended up being about 75%, not a figure to be sneezed at.

So what’s in it for the travel providers?  One of Voyage Prive’s Marketing people answered that question recently saying:

Hotels come to private sales sites like Voyage Prive for the following reasons: 
(a) To sell distressed inventory – when occupancy rates are low, limited time sales on those sites will provide them with incremental revenue.
(b) To access a premium base of customers – private sales sites tend to claim a high-end, quality member base.
(c) For marketing purposes – in the case of higher-end properties, private sales sites are a powerful marketing tool and a suitable sales platform: with customized and classy hotel presentations, expert presentations and insights, their focus is more on quality than quantity (vs Expedia, for example)
Hope that helps ;)

When we first started AradippouTales we detailed some of our road-trip as we drove from our home in London down to Venice then on to Athens and finally to Cyprus.  Our last weekend in England was spent in a lovely hotel called Nutfield Priory and we blogged about it in one of our very early entries here.  The reference to Brad Pitt was serious; on a previous visit to the hotel we bumped into him while he was in staying at the hotel and, accidentally, fell into conversation with him in the hotel library.  He was polite and charming and perfectly happy to chat for a while.

The hotel is part of the Hand Picked hotel group and offers for other hotels in the group appear on SecretEscapes, a UK flash sale site, from time to time.  Whilst browsing through their current and upcoming offers we couldn’t help but notice that there’s a sale starting for Nutfield Priory later this week.  Until the sale is live there’s no way of knowing how good the offer might be but at present there’s a deal running for Norton House, a sister hotel based up in Edinburgh.  A quick comparison of the rates available on the flash sale versus the hotel’s own website suggest that there are discounts of between 20% – 30% to be had.  It’s reasonable to assume that the sale for Nutfield Priory will be comparable.   Anyone wanting to take a peek at the deal, or sign up for future offers at SecretEscapes, can do so here.

Now, back to trying to convince Ian that a couple of days at Evanson Ma’In Hot Springs in Jordan is a good idea right now.  Jetsetter have a great deal on; what do you think my chances are?

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Tried & Tested: Frozen Lemons

July 1, 2010

Having two mature lemon trees means that we have masses of fresh lemons for much of the year.  However, even when our lemons were sourced from UK supermarkets we went out of our way to get every last bit of use from them.

To make sure that they were ready to hand whenever needed, and had no chance of going off, we do the following:

  • Slice, overlap on a freezer-proof tray and freeze.  The slices behave best if they aren’t flat on the tray so use the ends to provide a support at one end of the run of slices
  • Once fully frozen separate the slices, bag and keep on hand until the next time a gin and tonic, vodka and tonic or glass of coke is poured
  • Because the lemon is frozen it’s possible to dispense with, or at least reduce the amount of, any ice needed

Frozen lemon slices

To squeeze the very last use out of the lemons:

  • Retain the end slices
  • Once frozen bag up separately to the slices and keep until kitchen-cleaning day
  • Boil the kettle, put two or three frozen lemon ends into a microwave-proof dish and add cold water
  • Make a cup of coffee
  • Place the lemon bowl in the microwave for two or three minutes on hot, go away and drink the coffee
  • Once it’s drunk return the kitchen, remove the bowl from the microwave and wipe down all the inside walls and surfaces with a cloth.  The lemon-scented steam generated by the bowl of water will have loosened any baked-on food, the lemon oil and juice will have fragranced and disinfected the microwave

Feel cheerful at the lack of effort involved in cleaning the microwave and the economy of using nothing but lemon ends which would have been discarded otherwise.

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Tried & Tested: Citrus Body Scrub

April 1, 2010

Sometimes for a little effort, and perhaps some mess, it is possible to make a product that is superior, cheaper, bespoke and more natural than similar items in the shops.  Citrus body scrub is a fantastic example.

If you know people who don’t follow this blog (Really, you do?  How is this possible?!) then you may even be able to take said item, pop it in a pretty jar, wrap some ribbon around it and gift it as a Christmas present or similar.

Think of the eco-kudos.

No darling, it’s just a little organic/natural/customised thing I made for you myself!

If truth be told this Tried & Tested came about from a glut of useless oranges.  To backtrack … when we first looked at the house MadAlex declared that the oranges on the tree in the garden were the best he’d ever tasted.  “They are fantastic, dahhhhhling!”  He was as designer with a fairly relaxed grasp on reality.  Perhaps you may have gathered that from previous posts?  Anyway, he picked two oranges from the tree and presented them to us.  As we drove home the car was filled with the most fantastic citrus smell.  With great anticipation we tried the oranges.

Imagine, a house with a whole tree of the very best oranges in our garden; we’d have to buy the house!  Suffice to say the oranges were absolutely rubbish.  They look great, they smell wonderful … they taste of water.  We tried palming them off on folks but got nowhere.

There’s an outside chance that the lack of taste is due to lack  of watering on MadAlex’s part, only time will tell.  Until then we needed a use for a tree’s worth of un-orangelike oranges and so the citrus body scrub was born.

So;

  • Take a pile of oranges, or lemons/limes/grapefruit or any other citrus fruit you have handy
  • Into a large bowl add about a kilo of salt.  Cheap and cheerful is fine; regular sea salt is perfect
  • Using a medium kitchen grater remove as much of the zest of your fruit as possible.  Do this directly over the bowl so that you don’t loose any zest or oil
  • Once you’ve zested the first fruit use a spoon to work the zest through the salt.
  • The amount of zest you’ve been able to remove and how much oil is in that zest will depend entirely on your fruit.  With our oranges fresh from the tree three or four of them will colour, frangrance and oil a kilo or so of salt.  Shop-bought fruit will yield less but once you’ve removed the zest the fruit can be used for juicing or eating
  • Work the zest through the salt until it’s even distributed.  Feel the salt between your fingers to see if you can feel any oiliness.  If not zest another orange or two or, for a heavier scrub, add a spoonful or two of almond oil or similar
  • When the consistency seems right, decant into jars

Such promise from just oranges and salt

Lashings of zest

Distributing the zest

Finished orange salt scrub

Ready for the shower

To use;

  • Apply to damp skin and work in a circular motion.
  • Rinse to remove the salt but do not then use shower gel or body wash on the skin.  If you do you’ll lose both the benefit of the fragrance of the citrus oil and its moisturising properties
  • This is best used in the shower but it will leave residual oil so the shower tray needs to be washed out with some detergent (diluted shower gel is fine) so it isn’t slippery
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Cyprus Cost of Living #2

March 26, 2010

We were due in town for an appointment this morning; an early appointment.

Despite many years as corporate wage slaves we have adapted, far too easily, to a gentler life here so early starts hit hard.  Apologies to those readers who have morning commutes.  We’re out of practice, ok?

We were in town before 8am, having left home not much after 7am, only to discover that the plans of the guy we were meeting had changed.  Could we re-schedule for 11am and he’d try to see us then?  Hmmm no choice on our part really, it was a “take it or leave it” sort of offer.  So, we headed off to run some errands and tried again at 11am.  “Sorry, something else has come up.  Try 1pm.”  In the end we got 10 minutes with him a little after 1 o’clock.  Had we known that’d happen the day would have been very different, but no matter.

Meanwhile having been in the centre of town in time for the first, delayed, appointment we had time to kill.  But we also had a list of errands that could be done should such a thing happen.  When the meeting was shifted back to 1pm we dug deeper into the list and knocked off a whole host of other small jobs.

We go into the weekend with a fridge full of fruit and veg, an empty postbox, a tour of famous local church under our belts, a first catch-up with a friend post-surgery, our once-a-year long and lazy Starbucks coffee fix satiated and a clean car.

We also took the chance to drop into a sportswear store in town and do the annual stocking up on trainers – runners or sneakers to our North American readers.

Long experience has shown that, for both of us, Reebok are the best choice.  The fit is good for us both and there are enough styles to be able to find sturdy enough soles to cope with the off-track walking that we do regularly.  The rough ground and vegetation that we typically walk over and through, known colloquially as bondu, can be fierce on both clothing and footwear.  Having a good thick running or walking shoe goes some way to offsetting that.

But buying running shoes?  Well, that’s somewhere near the bottom 10% of enjoyable jobs during the year.  It’s a necessary, and usually, expensive evil.  Who’d do that by choice?

But today we were round the corner from one of the more useful stores and we had time to kill and, frankly, the job was so overdue that existing trainers were starting to look rather tired.  So, we headed inside and started searching.

45 minutes later we walked out with two brand new pairs of Reeboks each.  Total cost?  125€ ($165, £110) at current exchange rates.  In the UK we’d expect to spend really quite a bit more than than; perhaps two or three pairs of trainers for that price.  To get four pairs seemed a bargain.

Once more, some things are much more expensive than the UK.  With some careful shopping some things are not, and perhaps not always the expected things.

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Frugal fire tools

January 21, 2010

During the evening the fire sometimes needs a little bit of help.  Independently, and unbeknownst to the other, we both did some research on blow pokers as a possible solution.

Blow’n’poke, a UK retailer specialising in blow pokers describe the item as follows:

The BLOW POKER is a very simple and useful cross between an ordinary poker and a bellows. It is a brass tube about 3 feet long and one inch in diameter. One end has a mouthpiece like a trumpet’s through which you blow. The air comes out of the other end which is put near the fire and gets it to burn up – similar to a bellows but using your own puff. The ‘fire’ end also has a solid point, so it can be used just as well instead of a poker.

They looked just what we needed but £45 seemed a little steep, and that was before adding on the cost of postage to  Cyprus.  We have found, through hard experience, that shipping things here can be horribly expensive.  Last year it made more sense to buy an item online from a retailer in New Zealand than from one in Europe because of the shipping costs.  How can that make sense?  How can it be cheaper, or sensible, to send something 10,000 miles rather than 500?

Anyway, back to the tale at hand.  We looked, we liked, but we decided it was too great an expense so we shelved the plan.

A couple of days later we were doing some work in the so-called garage.   Once we’d finished the things we’d intended to do we had a little tidy up and identified two or three things that needed to be disposed of and were too big for the regular rubbish collection.  Included in that group were a pair of collapsible outdoor chairs, the type that can be folded up and thrown in the back of the car for use wherever.  We tend to buy a pair a cheap pair each year and accept that they won’t last longer than that.  Last year’s were the princely sum of 10€ each and had served us well all through the spring, summer and autumn only to start to disintegrate at the end of the year.

Just as we were about to consign the chairs to the discard pile a thought occurred. The supporting diagonal of the chair was hollow, approximately the same length as a blow poker and open at both ends.  Surely it couldn’t be that simple?

Well, it turns out it is.  Five minutes work with a screwdriver and bingo!  One piece of the chair is now acting as a very efficient blow poker for the fire.  £45 plus shipping saved … and we have three spares if needed.

Sometimes the gods of frugality are watching and smiling ;-)

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Tried & Tested: Freezer Herbs

November 19, 2009

Freezer Herbs

Fresh herbs are a bit of a rarity here.  In due course we’re hoping to have a small herb garden up and running but clearly that’s a mid to long term solution.  In the meantime we have to make do with what’s available in the fruitaria, the fruit and vegetable shop.

Unlike in the UK supermarkets simply don’t stock many herbs regularly.  Corriander is widely available, and is absurdly cheap, but it is considered more a salad leaf than a herb.  Basil grows very well and is often cultivated in huge pots in restaurants to deter flies.  There’s a place in Larnaka that has an avenue of basil trees five feet tall for that very reason.

Those apart both of our regular fruitarias tend to have a single box of cut bunches of herbs.  Sometimes there’s a bunch of chives, occasionally some mint, and from time to time rosemary and thyme may make a rare appearance.  So, when we find something we tend to buy it and then try and figure out how we can make it last.

With that in mind, some of the lightly woody herbs not only freeze well but do so in such a way to reduce the necessary prep work.  How can this not be a good thing?!

So …

  • Wash the herbs, discarding any stalks that are damaged or tired
  • Line up the stalks as much as possible and place them in a sturdy freezer bag
  • Place the bag in the freezer, flat on the freezer plate if possible
  • Periodically (and ideally when the freezer is open for something else) rub the stalks, through the sealed bag, between your hands
  • Smile as you realise that all of the work of stripping the leaves is being done for you by the freezer
  • When the stalks are pretty bare snip a corner off the bag and decant the leaves into small container(s)

The total work is probably less than 10 minutes.  In return for that you get a handy stash of fresh herbs with no wastage.  The herbs can be used straight from frozen, just as you would fresh.

Freshly washed thyme

Bagged and ready for the freezer

Part-way through the freezing process

Part-way through the freezing process. Leaves at the bottom, stalks near the top

Snip the corner from the bag, decant. No mess, no waste and very little work

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Tried & Tested: Dried Tomatoes

October 8, 2009

One of our hopes in quitting work and moving here was that we would be able to live a simpler life. In financial terms we certainly needed to live more frugally, but we also wanted to shift down a gear or ten and live a quieter life.  Not so much “The Good Life” but with a healthy nod towards the mindful philosophy of the “Slow Food” movement.

With that in mind one of the things that we have enjoyed since we arrived is having the time to research and investigate and experiment some of the things that previously we could only say “Oh, that’s a great idea. I wonder if it actually works?”

Three years in we’ve been able to do some of that so we thought we’d share some of the things that have worked well. Some are money saving tips, some are time saving, some are using resources differently, some crafty, and so on.

To kick off, a foodie Tried & Tested.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

From time to time (ok, a couple of times a month) we end up with a small bowl of sad and tired tomatoes languishing in the cupboard. Grocery shopping is approaching, it’d be a shame to waste the tomatoes but they’re, well, a little past their best.

And yet, it’s possible to not just refresh them but make them into something that can be used in any of half a dozen dishes. Their flavour concentrates, their texture changes entirely.  When Ian sees these being prepared he smiles. A suspicious soul would suggest that he over-buys tomatoes to make sure this happens regularly :-)

So;

  • Cut the tomatoes in half, or quarters if they are absolutely huge
  • Place them cut-side up in an oven proof dish (in this case, the lid of a pyrex dish bought for Mands by her grandmother as a housewarming present many year ago. Pyrex goes on forever!)
  • Drizzle over a little olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Add some herbs if there are any hanging about … in this case some thyme straight from the freezer
  • Put the dish in the oven on a very low heat for an hour, or two or even three, and allow the tomatoes to dry out
  • Once they are cooked put them in a tupperware, cover them completely with oil and pop them in the fridge, or even the freezer. They’ll keep happily in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though they tend not to last that long in this house.

Slightly tired tomatoes, pre-cooking

Slightly tired tomatoes, pre-cooking

To use them;

  • Toss them through pasta or add them to an existing pasta sauce
  • Add them to salads, using some of the oil to make the salad dressing
  • Stand at the fridge door and eat them direct from the tupperware, remembering to mop up the telltale oil dribbles before anyone notices
  • Drain them and pile them, with some parmesan or olives or herbs, onto lightly toasted bread to make bruschetta
  • Add them to homemade pizzas, or to shop-bought to make them a little more interesting

Things worth noting;

  • When the tomatoes are all gone the oil is great for adding a tomatoey flavour to other dishes
  • If the oven temperature is low enough they can be cooking along with something else. If the oven is on but the temperature is a little high they’ll probably be ok but do keep a close eye on them
  • They can be made in huge batches which is useful when the summer tomato glut comes
  • They cook really well in a halogen oven, particularly if there are round containers to hand
  • They are fairly robust in terms of the flavours they’ll accept. Thyme, oregano, garlic, chilli, balsamic vinegar (but skip the drizzle of oil) all work well
  • They are a great fridge standy-by for when folks drop by unexpectedly … a little like biscotti
Post-cooking

Post-cooking

Bruschetta with oven-dried tomatoes, smoked turkey & parmesan

Bruschetta with oven-dried tomatoes, smoked turkey & parmesan

Happy cooking!