Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yet more bread and lots of singing

Just a quick one so that I am keeping track of how I'm making the bread so I can figure out which combination works best for me.  The last one was pretty good but a little bit dry so I made today's a slighty damper/stickier dough.

This evening, after coming home from another all day rehearsal I was really hungry again.  Out came some olives from the fridge as soon as I got home in the hopes of staving off my hunger while I cooked something.  I had already decided to make pineapple rice as it will give me a couple of helpings that can be used as lunches this week and before I left this morning I had put the rice out on the counter along with a small tin of pineapple.  I did this on Friday as well when I left out a tin of tomatoes, some passata and a tin of tuna but got home so late from work that I ended up just cooking some pasta and having that with cheese.  But I made enough pasta to make the pasta bake even easier to put together yesterday.  Chopped up a courgette, some onions, garlic and sauteed them then added the tin of tomatoes, the passata and the tuna not to mention lots and lots of herbs and black pepper.  Cooked all of that then put it in an oven dish with the pasta, topped with the remaining breadcrumbs/grated cheese mix I had in the freezer and it all went in the oven for quarter of an hour or so.  The kind of busy way my life is going at the moment, if I hadn't already left the stuff out on the counter there's a good chance I would have felt very stressed about getting something cooked for dinner.

So today, once I got home, it was easy enough to put the rice on to cook, add the onions, stock cube and tumeric and then let that all cook while I washed my bowl from this morning, made the bread and washed the mixing bowl.  Then all I needed to do was throw in the currants and pineapple and wait for it to be all heated through before sitting down to eat just over half an hour after arriving home.  It's all very easy really and yet if I had had money in my purse I  know I would have stopped on the way home to get a pizza or eat out somewhere.

The bread today had just over half wholemeal (bio from rewe) flour, the rest mostly 1050 and made up to 450g with some 550.  I used the rest of the gut + gunstig buttermilk still left from during the week *about 200ml) and then about half a carton of tengelman starmarke buttermilk (which was on special offer at 27c).  Plus the usual heaped teaspoon of bicarb, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 of sugar. 

Rehearsals are going pretty well though, one more left before the final week and that's when it'll all change.  I'm singing in the Symphony of a Thousand and for the two weekend rehearsals we've done, it has just been what the call the 'lay' choirs.  Tomorrow those of us who registered as individual singers have been invited to rehearse with one of the professional choirs and then on Monday week we will have our first rehearsals all together.  Just over 1,100 singers and something like 300 or 400 in the orchestras.  It will be an experience!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Good things about today

  • I finally got the floors washed
  • I have new bedclothes on the bed
  • I've had a lovely shower and washed my hair (so will be doing those lovely clean bedclothes justice by not crawling into them full of the grime of the day)
  • I've put away the clean dishes (leaving stuff on the draining board is one of my worst habits)
  • I've made myself a cup of decaf tea and am going to sit and enjoy it with a few squares of chocolate before bed

Food Waste Friday 27 August 2010

Not too bad a week this week but a couple of silly mistakes led to some food waste. 

First, I cooked some chickpeas so that I could have chickpea salad for lunch a couple of days.  But I forgot I was only cooking half the amount I normally would and didn't check on them until I started to smell that something wasn't right.  I have nothing against eating some things that are a little bit burnt and they didn't look too bad but it turns out that burnt chickpeas really aren't all that edible.  First world problems I know but since I have the privilege of choice, out they went.

I also didn't finish my bread on time.  I thought it would have been still okay to at least toast but it was rock solid and nothing could be done. 

That was actually earlier in the week and then this morning, just when I thought I'd have nothing else to report for FWF this week, I picked up the last four small tomatoes I had to put them in my lunchbox and discovered two of them had started going bad on the bottom.  Aaaaghh, I hate it when that happens.  Looks perfect until you pick it up and turn it over.  So the tops (or bottoms, depending on what way you were looking at it) got chopped off and dumped.

Food Waste Friday is, as always, hosted by The Frugal Girl

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More brown bread

Have another loaf of bread in the oven.  This time: 250g wholemeal flower, 200g white 1050 flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 heaped teaspoon bicarb and a bit more than half a 500g carton of gut+gunstig cheapie buttermilk.

Am boiling potatoes for dinner to have with some sauteed courgette, onion and garlic with two small eggs scrambled into the mix for the last few minutes.  I worked late unexpectedly and am very hungry and really, really, really wanted to stop and get chips on the way home but didn't.  Came straight home, got the bread in the oven, did the washing up (helped myself to a few olives along the way to try and make my sugar/food-deprivation headache go away - it has worked more or less) and then scrubbed some of the cilena potatoes I brought home last time from the garden and put them on and chopped the courgette, onion and garlic and put them on too.  Five more minutes and I can eat.

It's only five more days to payday.  We officially get paid the last day of the month but the money is often in my account on the second-last day of the month already.  If the last day happens to be on a weekend or Monday, I'll have the money on Friday.  This month the last day is Tuesday so I'll probably have the money on Monday but there's a tiny chance I might get it by Friday or not.  That would be a relief but to be honest I hope I don't get it till Monday or Tuesday as my budget actually runs from Monday to Sunday and if I get paid on Friday I know I would end up spending some over the weekend.  And the budget is going to be tight enough for the next few months anyway as I need to finally get the tooth implant finished and the estimate from the dentist is for just over €1,200.  

I wanted to have the last of the last loaf of bread for breakfast this morning but it was rock solid - so hard I could put it in a sock and keep it for warding off intruders.  But I won't.  It's in a bag and I'll bring it to the park tomorrow and put it in the old bread bin for them to use to feed the ducks and swans.  Since I couldn't eat it, I bought a Käsebrötchen so that was an 80c spend today.  I went for lunch with the secretary crowd to the canteen as usual on a Wednesday but brought my pasta salad with me so didn't spend anything there either.

Should be doing a bit of cleaning and ironing and general housework now but I am tired, have waited too long to eat and haven't the energy.  I will have dinner, watch one episode of something online and then I am heading to bed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Made it

Total spend today = €10

Chose one of the meals from the menu which you can have as a starter or 'for a small hunger' - 3 Reibekuchen with stewed apple (5.90).  I drank one glass of apfelschorle (2.50).  Total 8.40 plus a decent tip rounding up to 10.  Very pleased with myself.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Learn to make cookies that taste better than barely edible.  That would be a good start anyway.

But seriously.  I thought it would be good to write down a few financial goals to the end of the year and see if that helps to keep me on track a bit. 
  1. Reduce cc debt to 3,500
  2. Reduce overdraft to 2,250
  3. Save 400 in annual expenses account
  4. Save 20 each month for my birthday present
  5. Have 40 no-spend days between 30 August and 5 December
By end of the year I mean by the beginning of December i.e. just after getting paid at the end of November which gives me four more months to do it.  These goals are achievable but only if I don't use either cc or overdraft so I will have to continue sticking to a strict budget, especially in September.  December is always a tricky month for me as my birthday is at the start of the month so it's easy to convince myself to relax and enjoy life a little bit.  Even though I can't afford it. 

So this year for December I want to try and keep focussed while acknowleding the fact that there is lots going on and allowing myself to relax a little bit.  I don't celebrate christmas but I will have lots of events and parties to go to and I normally try and send my sister and her kids in France some small things in a package (always difficult to find something for my bil but I have a box set of DVDs that I bought for his birthday this year, which didn't get delivered on time so I am ahead of the game on that one).  Since my younger sister is away as well I want to try and send her something.  Her birthday is in the first week of January so it's nice to send her something for that as well.  I need to focus on making presents this year, which I will start on the week following the big Mahler concert. 

I may also get a bonus at the end of November but if so I will allocate my normal salary first and then divide any extra I may get bewteen cc, overdraft and savings.  I know most people recommend paying off one debt at a time (whether it's the one with the highest interest rate or the one with the highest balance or the one with the lowest balance in order to motivate yourself by an early success or some variation on one of those options) but I've never liked the idea other than in theory.  And although it may be more sensible to put any spare cash towards paying debt I think I do need the boost of building an emergency fund as well.  At the moment I'm thinking something like a 50:35:15 split but I'm not going to think about it anymore since there's a good chance I won't get anything or only very little.  We were lucky to get something last year and it seems unlikely that this year's results will be good enough to allow much of a bonus.  So no point worrying about it until I know whether I will even get anything.

I brought the rest of the coins from my piggy bank to the bank today and lodged whatever the machine would take into my account.  That was 8.05 so together with the 2.41 that was still left in that account, I will be able to withdraw 10 euro from the machine tomorrow which means I can go to book club.  I've said I'll probably be late and probably won't eat but I'll wait and see how the day goes.  We're not going to the cheapest restaurant in town but it's not outrageously expensive either and there are a few things on the menu that don't cost much. 

After putting the money into the machine at the bank and topping it up from my purse so that it would be enough for me to withdraw a note (you do sometimes get five euro notes from the machines but ten is the minimum withdrawal amount) I have 4.62 left in my purse plus 1 x 3.07 lunch voucher.  Today was a no-spend day. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting my sugar fix without spending money

So when all the storecupboard chocolate is gone (not entirely true, I still have half a bar of zotter chocolate plus a few squares of dark chocolate in my desk in work) and one has to think twice and three times about spending any money, how does one go about making sure there is something to satisfy the sugar cravings, not to mention preventing the credit card being broken out just because the stress of not being able to have it is too much (this, sadly, is not as much of a joke as it sounds and I know the reasons behind it, which took a lot of therapy to get to and which I am not going to go into in detail here).

Where was I?  Ah, yes.  Well, what one does, is bake.  I took out my fabulous cookies book and decided to do gingerbread cookies and then also do the brownie/chocolate sponge type mix as well so that not only would I have something sweet, I'd have something chocolatey.  And then realised I didn't have enough butter to do both.  No problem, I'll make half the amount of the chocolatey thing.  And then realised I don't have any baking powder.  No problem, I have baking soda and the internet tells me that 1 teaspoon of baking soda plus 2 tbsps of yoghurt will replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder.  I know I've tried baking soda on its own as a substitute before and it didn't work out too well so it seems worth a try.

When dividing the ingredients for the chocolate in half I manage to do it the whole way along until the last two ingredients.  So I put in the full 25g of cocoa powder and have already added two of the three eggs before I realise.  But they're fairly small eggs so I reckon two will be fine since it would have been hard to put in one and a half anyway.  It looks more or less like it usually looks so into the oven it goes.  And comes out extremely black looking.  It's not burnt, it's just really, really dark.  I think my chocolate cravings won't need to much of this to satisfy them.

I try the same baking soda and yoghurt mixture for the gingerbread cookies and the only other alteration I make to the recipe is adding some ginger as well as some cinnamon to the mix.  How can they call them gingerbread cookies if they haven't put ginger in them?  It's a mystery.  The book tells me to use two baking sheets and leave space for them to rise.  I don't make cookies very often and it's probably four years or so since the last time I did.  I decided that one big baking sheet will be more than enough and that a centimetre or two is plenty of room.  So now I have one baking sheet of slightly overcooked cookies which have sort of melted into one another.  And I've learned another rule of cookie-making.  Even though it's fun to finally use a few of those different cutters I have, the cookies should be about the same size in order to bake together properly.  The little ones are definitely quite crispy but I love that mushroom shape. 

So that's sweet snacks sorted for the week I think.

Last week and a bit before payday

In my purse: 4.85 plus one lunch voucher worth 3.07

Today is being deemed a success.  I was very hungry coming home from choir rehearsal.  I had cereal for breakfast before leaving the house, some bread and cheese during both the breaks as well as some chocolate and waiting for the train I had a small apple.  But I left the house at quarter past seven and wasn't on the train home until after four so it was a long day.  I meant to bring something else for the journey home but ended up rushing out the door to make it to the train on time.  So by the time we were getting close to Dusseldorf at half-five I was really starting to feel the hunger.  I actually spent the last half-an-hour or so thinking about the kebab shop that would be only one minute walk from where I would be getting off the tram.  I even took out my purse to check how much money I had (a kebab costs 3 euro) and tried to convince myself that I could afford it.  But it's still just over a week till payday and I knew I should hang on to what I do have as long as I can.  And I managed to get off the train, on to the tram and then once I got off the tram just walk straight home.  I devoured the last of a jar of olives pretty quickly once I did get home (I hadn't even taken my bag off my back before I had taken them out of the fridge!) but that was more than enough to keep me going while I cooked a quick meal from the freezer (oven chips and fish fingers).  While that was cooking I prepared a small tomato salad and voila, by half-six I was eating dinner. 

Sometimes you need to not only take one day at a time, but one hour and one minute at a time as well.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

So what foolish things have landed me in this much debt?

On 28 Feburary I wrote this in a blog post:

Overdraft on 28 Feb 10: 2363
Credit card on 28 Feb 10: 1995,86

Today is 21 August 2010 and my current credit card balance is 3942.82.  Overdraft stands at 2477.39.

That's a difference on my credit card of 1946.96.  The just over 100 euro difference on my overdraft is mostly interest charges (charged quarterly and it was 70-something).

What I have used my credit card to purchase since the end of February:

476.87  car hire 
39.00  weight watchers (March was the last month before cancellation of subscription kicked in)
212.13  petrol/diesel for hired cars
74.73  amazon/abebooks/
470.00 cash withdrawals (at some stage I transferred 250 to my bank account to prevent my overdraft limit being exceeded, which would have caused big trouble - big official trouble I mean, not just the big trouble that being in debt is)
10.00  fees for cash withdrawals
115.85 jars/preserving supplies
19.99 megavideo
196.15  bus/train 
32.51 kaufhof (food)
15.90 DHL (finally sending my sister in NZ her christmas present)
21.22 dunnes (bought food and some supplies for my brother when home in March)
19.42 eurospar (bought some baking soda, sweets and crisps in Ireland to bring back here, judging by the amount I probably did the lotto as well)
42.17 boots (@Dublin Airport - bought sunscreen, dispirin, a hairbrush and sandwich/water)
49.99 clothes  (bought badly needed new trousers for work and a couple of t-shirts)
100.00 vodafone (deposit for my brother to get internet - I spoke to him yesterday and he should be able to send me some money this week at least)
157.09 interest charges (This includes a refund of 52.74 due to errors the cc company had made last year.  I am on a low interest rate.  I did ring last week to see if I could get a six-month interest free break but was flat out told no.  I was also told I could ring back the customer loyalty team (I rang outside the hours that team was working) and talk to them about lowering my interest rate further.  I haven't done that yet and am undecided that it would really be worth my while.)

So that all adds up to 2053.02 which explains why my credit card is 2k higher than it was at the end of February.

BUT I have made payments of 774.05 over the five months in question.  So where's that all gone.  I am confused and I think I need to go back and read about how credit cards work to figure it out.  I do check my statement every month against the receipts I have so I  know it's right every month but it is good to do an exercise like this to show just how ineffective credit cards are as a means of finance.  I made just over the minimum payment this month and last month made a payment of just enough to cover the minimum payment plus the interest but the other months I paid well above minimum. 

I should not have gone to my sister's in France in May regardless of how badly I thought I needed a holiday (this will apply for the ten days I spent at home in July as well although I did pay cash for just about all of that).  Just because I want/need to get away doesn't mean I can.

Taking cash out is a bad, bad, bad idea.  If I ever need to do it again (in a perfect world I won't but never say never - I doubt I'm going to stop messing up just because I'm admitting my folly publicly) I need to be realistic about how much cash I genuinely need for the rest of that month and take one amount out to at least save on the charges for doing so.  Or, I need to just use my card to pay for whatever absolutely necessary items I have to purchase and forget about having cash.  That is difficult to do in Germany though where the cash economy is still very much alive and well and credit cards are not taken in all that many shops.  That's a good thing overall though.

I need to continue to be brutally honest with my brother about my financial situation.

Loaning money to friends (or paying to help them move) just because I have access to some credit and they don't is a very, very bad idea.  I don't know that I would do it differently if I had to do it again though.  Like with my brother though I need to start being brutally honest with this friend about my financial situation.  I know if he is every in a position to pay me back he will but I also know that's not likely to happen for a long time if ever.  I need to at least ensure that he doesn't feel I am available for any further rescues.  To be honest I think I have already made that clear but it's important for me to remember it as well! 

But mostly I think this illustrates how easily credit card debt is built up.  Most of that actually occured in March, April and May so just three short months.  So when all those people tell you credit cards are a bad idea and if you must have one pay it off in full as soon as it falls due, do listen to them.  It's true.


Made more bread yesterday evening.  I realised that while I thought the one I made earlier in the week was half white and half wholemeal flour, it was actually half plain white and half strong white.  So yesterday I used proper wholemeal flour (I intended to mix with half white but the wholemeal I have is in smaller packets and it seemed handier at the time to just dump the whole packet in the bowl). 

500g wholemeal flour (the organic rewe supermarket brand) plus most of a 500g buttermilk (the cheapie 'ja' supermarket brand and I will never understand why yoghurt and buttermilk, although liquid, are sold by weight) and a very heaped teaspoon of bread soda, a not very heaped teaspoon of raw cane sugar and a teaspoon of unrefined salt.  All mixed together, kneaded very briefly into a round and baked for about 40 minutes (10 minutes at 210 and then turned it down to 190).  It seemed done, right down to the correct noise when knocking on the bottom but when I sliced it open the middle was still a teensy bit doughy.  However, this morning it actually seemed fine.   I wrapped it in a teatowel immediately after taking it out and I think it's own heat must have finished the little bit of cooking it needed.  It was very delicious and is very filling.  I definitely need more practice but it looks and tastes like the real thing at least.

I was up very early this morning (early for me that is, I left the house shortly after 7 a.m.) in order to get the train to Dortmund for the first of our rehearsals for the Mahler concert.  'Only' two hours, which became two and a half and with just a couple of minutes break, it was pretty intensive.  But good.  I have tried to practice at home a few times but I find that terribly uninspiring and it was good to sing in a group.  I was glad that I have sung this piece before though - I don't think I would have had the confidence to sign up otherwise.  Lots of people there have never sung it before but you wouldn't know it.  The group practising today was the volunteer group i.e. individual singers like me who just saw the concert details online and applied.  It was just the alt in my group this morning and tomorrow all the parts will be singing together for an all day rehearsal.  Then next weekend I'll be rehearsing with one of the professional choirs and orchestras which will be singing as well.  Lots of fun but hard work. 

Now I am home again and relaxing for a bit before heading out for a walk.  My friend who left Dusseldorf today was donating her knives and forks to me as well but she wanted to hang on to them until the last minute so she left them stashed in a plastic bag in one of the big plant pots in the front of her apartment building.  I need to go and pick them up before one of the German neighbours starts giving out!  It'll be nice to wander down to that part of town on a Saturday afternoon, something I wouldn't normally do.  I do need to hoover, wash the floors, put another wash on and clean the bathroom.  If I'm bored there's also plenty of ironing to do.  But I am purposefully deciding that this afternoon is mine to enjoy with a stroll through a not-very-well-known-to-me part of town instead of stressing about having so much to do that I sit here and do nothing.  Not quite a mental health day but a couple of mental health hours.  I should do it more often!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Debt, stupid, stupid me and debt

A friend emailed me the other day to see how things were.  This particular friend is one who also had issues with never quite keeping on budget and seeming to constantly be getting out loans to cover something or another and is one of those I have always been most open with about my own problems.  We have spent many hours going over various strategies and outlining in detail what we're doing, where we're going wrong, what new things we've tried etc., etc.  She finally cleared her debt (except for mortgage) last year and I was delighted to celebrate with her.  She mentioned that this month she has been making renewed efforts to make sure they stick to their budget and so they are doing so but have very little left spare.  Which led me to a rant about my own dire situation this month and she asked me what I had been spending money on to end up in this situation again.  And I really didn't know what to say because while there are one or two bigger expenses I can't think of what will account for the two thousand euro I have managed to build up on my credit card this year.  I had been planning on writing this post today anyway as I have been mulling my general situation over since talking with her and then, while checking my archives to see when I made the mincemeat for the post below, I noticed that at the end of February was the first time I actually wrote up the figures for what I owe on my credit card and overdraft.  I know how much it is now but would honestly have thought that it was much higher then already.  So I really have built up 2k of debt since February plus another nearly two hundred on my overdraft.  Which leads me to think that my idea of what to do this weekend will be a very good exercise.

It's funny.  I don't want to turn this into a personal finance blog but it is all part of my life (quite a big part of my life) so it all has to be in here really.  And while I don't want to necessarily publish much more personal information, I know that the blogs I most enjoy reading, especially when it comes to PF blogs are the ones which really go into the nitty gritty.  So in the hopes that nobody I know has actually ever found this blog, I'm going to post a bit more about my finances.

And where I am going to start is by dragging out my credit card statements since February to see exactly what I have spent this money on.  Here's what I think I will find:

  • Quite a few book purchases, most of which did not need to be made.  But when ordering whatever book we're reading in bookclub that month I have frequently fallen into the trap of just seeing what else is on offer as well.
  • Two large-ish amounts for car hire and petrol for the times when I helped my friend move (once from the north coast to my place and then a couple of weeks later from my place down to the Black Forest). I will probably get this money back some day but I knew it wouldn't happen in the short-term.
  • Train ticket to France in May
  • I think I took cash out once as well
  • Money for the deposit on my brother's internet access which he has not yet been able to pay me back.
That's all I can think of and in no way makes up two grand so it will be interesting to see where the other dribs and drabs purchases were made.  Much of it will be stress-related, comfort shopping I suspect.  Surprising as that's not really something I'm inclined to do very often.  Or maybe I just think I'm not inclined to do it very often which is part of the reason I'm in debt now!

I have been considering getting a second job just to be able to earn a bit extra in an attempt to get this debt down before I go crazy but I double-checked my contract yesterday and I am specifically excluded from taking on any additional work.  It's quite a strongly worded clause so for the moment I am forgetting that idea and I will see what else I can come up with instead. 

Food Waste Friday 20 August 2010

Having to throw so much out food last week coupled with being too broke to buy much new food means that I have a practically no waste week to report this week.

Exceptions (forgot to take photos, sorry) were earlier in the week when I realised that there was still a small amount of sour cream sitting in a tupperware container at the back of the fridge hiding behind the jam.  With so little in the fridge you'd think I wouldn't have miss the rest of this leftover from salsa night.

I also finally threw out the homemade mincemeat that I made at the start of the year.  After going to all the trouble of specially ordering suet from the farmer (it's hard to get your hands on it here) in order to try my hand at making old-fashioned mincemeat (the kind that actually has meat in it) I did get around to making it, put it into jars and then promptly got all caught up in the crappy situation that was having my alcoholic friend staying with me, dealing with that depressing episode which got worse after he left in March and which I have only started to come out of in the last month or two.  All of which is to say that I made mincemeat at the end of February and then didn't go near it again.  As I don't have a pressure canner I had planned to use it up within the four or six weeks it's supposed to be good for as is.  But you do need to leave it for a few days for the flavours to develop as well and it was one of those things that if you don't do it straightaway...  So I finally decided to get rid of the jars which have been standing there accusingly for the last six months or so.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the state of them.  I'm sure a hundred years ago they would have been considered fine for eating but I was just nervous enough of the meat not to want to risk it.  But it actually smelled pretty good.  Quite strongly of brandy but also of the spicy mix and definintely not like rotting meat.  But out it all went and it is a weight off my mind to be honest.

So not much current waste and long may it continue so (in addition to me continuing to improve on actually using up stuff I make and preserve!)

As always Food Waste Fridays are hosted by The Frugal Girl

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Plum vodka/gin

Fish in the Water asked about how to make plum vodka.  I don't actually make the vodka part from scratch, just the adding the flavour part so it's really not complicated.  This is where first took the instructions from as I happened to read it just after I had moved to Germany and found the local farmers market which had just started selling mountains of plums.  Since then I've read other bits and pieces on various blogs and websites and in a few different books which has led me to come with a rough idea of what to do without having to obsessively check the recipe every two minutes.  So here's how I do it:

1 kg plums (left whole but pricked with a fork or skewer to allow the juices to flow) = approx. 2lbs
500g (or a bit less) sugar = approx. 1lb
1 bottle of cheap vodka/gin or whatever your alcohol of choice is.  Apparently rum or brandy could work well too.  A bottle around here is usually around 700ml.

Prick the plums and put them into a jar (one giant one if you have it, I don't so usually end up using two x 1 litre jars) sprinkling a bit of sugar over each layer.  Why I bother to sprinkle the sugar over each layer I'm not really sure because once you've done that you fill the jar up with the gin/vodka and all the sugar ends up down the bottom anyway.  I reckon it allows be to more or less be even with my distribution of sugar between the jars so just go with it for now.  One day I'll either realise there's a good reason or stop doing it altogether.

Anyway, that's it.  Simple as anything.  Put the jars somewhere cool and dark and shake every few days.  After a few months all the sugar will be dissolved and you can decant the liquid into bottles.  I intend to try and find a good use for the fruit this year but mostly it just gets discarded, which seems a waste.  Or, you can do as I did the first year I made this and shake the jars every few days for the first week or so, realise your jars are overfull and not quite as watertight as you thought and at some stage have fermented up and over the side of the jars, leaving sticky rings on the cupboard shelf they're on, decide that that plus life is just all too overwhelming, close the cupboard door and not go back to it for six months or so.  At which stage you might decant the liquid into a nice bottle and then leave it sitting for another four months before a friend finally tries it and declares it to be the best thing ever.  It's quite a forgiving method of making something you see. 

The rumtopf is similar: 1 kg fruit to 500g sugar plus 1 litre of rum.  Although as the bottles come in 700ml, that's a bit awkward.  But with the rumtopf the idea is that you add a layer of different soft fruits as they come into season and so it is built up over the course of the whole summer and then left to rest for a few months and brought out to enjoy at christmas.  I wish I had a bigger container for mine as 2 kg of fruit plus 1 kg of sugar and 3 bottles of rum have nearly filled it so I'll have to wait patiently now for the first apples and pears to try and squeeze a couple of them in before putting it away to soak.  But it's fun to try these things.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The results

I had a quick google and it seems like adding any other veg, even onions to the tomatoes would mean that I should pressure can them.  Since I only have a water bath canner I kept it simple.  I skinned the tomatoes, quartered them and, together with the ones from the jar that didn't seal yesterday set them to cooking.  Cooked for about half-an-hour altogether.  I did add herbs though, from a few recipes I read, this should be okay.  Black pepper, a small amount of salt, oregano, thyme and basil (need to get more basil now since I accidentally upended the packet and ended up having to fish most of it back out again.  Boo.).

What was in the jar obviously also had some water and the lemon juice from yesterday so I weighed that first and it was 900g.  The other tomatoes, once skinned and cored were 1275g.  After cooking down a bit, I ended up with almost exactly 4 x 0.5 litre jars.  I so badly wanted to use up the last little bit but then my jars would have been too full and I know they wouldn't have sealed properly.  I had also added the juice of half a lemon to each jar.  It is 22.40 now and I've just heard the proper boiling starting so I will process them as required for 35 minutes.  So I should be in bed slightly earlier than yesterday at least.

Here is a photo of the tomatoes which I processed yesterday.
The jar at the back is the one that didn't seal - the lid is just resting upside down on top of it here.  Here are two more photos to illustrate how much fluid was lost during the processing.

Yesterday before processing:
The liquid goes up essentially to where you can see the orange rubber seal.  The lids then provide the required headspace.  Here's the jars today after processing and fully cooling down:
The one on the right is the most extreme example but it's a slightly different shape jar than the others (wider and shorter) so that might account for some of it.  And the jar on the left is the most extreme example of the liquid at the bottom, tomatoes on the top issue.  All in all I think I'm not such a big fan of the packing whole tomaotes raw into jars method.  I know the tomatoes weren't great either but there's such a difference between these jars and these ones from last year.  And interesting to note that it was almost exactly a year ago that I bottled my first tomaotes.  Now there's a coincidence.

Here's the bread:
Forgive the slight chopping off the top of the first photo but that one was still the best one I took.  One of these days I'll get a good camera and learn to take photos properly.  I'm not sure it really comes out in the second photo but the very middle was slightly denser than it should be but for my first attempt at soda bread in, I think, about three years, it's pretty damn good.  Slightly too crusty so if I had left it in for the few more minutes that would have sorted out the very middle, it would have been burnt and far too crispy on the outside.  I wrapped it in a teatowel as soon as it came out of the oven and am glad I did or it would have been even crispier.  As it is, this bread won't last long I think.  I had four slices of it for dinner.  Yum.

I also had one small slice of the quiche once that was cooked.  I chopped up five small, skinny leeks, one red onion, one yellow onion and a few cloves of garlic.  Rolled out the pastry and spread mustard on the bottom.  I have no Dusseldorf mustard at the moment so had bought another type in the supermarket and it is very sweet.  But that's Germans for you, not too fond of spicy food and even the mustard is often very sweet.  Spread the leek and onion mixture over the top of the mustard, added some feta cheese and then poured over the egg mixture.  Then I sliced two tomatoes and added them on top, trying to swirl the egg over them at least a little bit.  It didn't turn out too badly in the end and will be nice to have for lunch for the next couple of days.
And the best part of all is that I've done all the washing up.  Yay me!

Kitchen goings-on

I have soda bread in the oven (smells and looks absolutely fantastic even if I do say so myself) - it was a truly whack it all together job after reading a very un-soda bread soda bread recipe on Smitten Kitchen (more like a cakey scone thing that she did - and I learned that Americans put caraway seeds in soda bread.  Very odd.  Undoubtedly tasty but nonetheless odd) and then linking from there to a lovely article explaining the origin of soda bread with a very simple recipe.  As soda bread should always be and so I decided to give it a go.  I bought buttermilk yesterday as I had been thinking of doing this soon anyway.  Threw the flour, bicarb of soda, salt, sugar and buttermilk into a mixing bowl, mixed, kneaded for about ten seconds while adding more flour so it wasn't quite so liquid and that was it.  Rememberd to score it properly before going in the oven too.

While that went in I made some shortcrst pastry (100g butter, 100g plain flour, 100g wholemeal flour plus pinch of salt and cold water) which is now resting in the fridge and will be made into a quiche shortly.  Have chopped up leeks, onions and garlice to go into that.  From the feel of it, this pastry is going to be really good.  I love it when a throwing stuff together evening turns out really good food.

One jar of tomatoes from yesterday didn't seal.  Will add that to the rest of them this evening - going to cook a sauce out of them I think and then bottle that.

Must go and rescue the bread before it burns.  More later with photos.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Should have done those tomaotes yesterday but I was not feeling very well at all so although I did stir myself to do the washing up and clean the kitchen and go to my friend's house to pick up the curtains and picture she was giving me that was about as much as I was able for.  However I did put labels on everything else I have processed and not labelled for the last few weeks.  It was really needed before I completely lost track of what was what.

I also peeled and de-stoned the apricots and de-stoned enough plums to make up a kilo of fruit and added that to the rumtopf along with 500g sugar and another bottle of rum.  My rumtopf (the actual container) is nearly full now so I won't be able to get much more into it.  I think I'll wait and add one or two apples and pears when the new ones hit the stalls in a couple of weeks.  And I put another kilo or so of plums into jars with sugar and gin.

Before going to bed then I knew that I needed to leave things a bit prepared for canning tomatoes or else I wouldn't do it at all.  So I took the tomatoes out of the bag they were in and laid them out on the table.  I was very glad I had done that because there was one squished one at the bottom of the bag which had already started to go mouldy and it would have affected others by this evening.  I also took out some jars and put them in the water bath canner all ready to go as soon as I got home from work.  And put a few large bowls of water in the fridge so that I would have cold water to help with skinning the tomatoes as well.

Of course by the time I got home from work I was exhausted and as it was raining I hadn't walked home, which would normally wake me up a bit.  So the first thing I did was sit down for an hour, which quickly became an hour and a half.  So it was half-eight before I did get up to start after all.  Oh well.  I filled the canner and put it on to start boiling the water, gave the jars a good clean in hot soapy water, rinsed and put them into the canner.  I started a pot of water boiling and took some of the cold water out of the fridge.  And started blanching the tomatoes.  I skinned them and also cut out the core (I'm calling it hulling but I'm honestly not sure if you only call it hulling if you're talking about strawberries - must look that up), going in batches of four or five tomatoes at a time, the next lot going into the hot water while I was skinning, then into the cold water for a few seconds while I was adding the next ones to the hot water and so on.  I did 2 kilos and it seemed like I had so many tomatoes I would have to can four or five batches so I decided to fill some jars and see where I was getting to.  2 kilos filled two and a half 1 litre jars - I was squishing them down a good bit though.  I've read a lot of different blogs and websites where people have a variety of ways of canning tomatoes (to squish or try to keep whole, to skin or not, to cook first or not etc, etc, etc.) and I think I'll just have to try a few different ways myself before I decided which is the right one for me.  For this batch, they were skinned, cored, mostly left whole but then squished into the jars a bit.  I added the juice of a large lemon to each jar and topped up with boiling water.  In total I had 4.2 kilos filling up 5 x 1 litre jars.  Here's a not great photo of the jars waiting to go into the water bath:

To the left, by the way, you can see the edge of my rumtopf (green rim above creamy bit with red flower).  Will have to find somewhere to keep it until christmas now.

What I found about this method of packing the tomatoes is that the hole where I cut out the core made for a lot of air bubbles.  So I'm inclined to think that chopping them up a bit could be better.  But that's for the next batch I suppose.  Given that I need to process these for 45 minutes and it was already quarter past ten before I got them into the canner, I will leave the rest until tomorrow.  I have 2.9 kilos left although I may appropriate some of them for a quiche instead.  Just checked and the water isn't boiling yet (half an hour after the jars went in) - looks like my new cooker isn't the best for canning work either.  It could be that it seems to be taking a very long time because I'm getting tired and want to go to bed.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Piggybank raided

I prised open the piggybank full of coppers and had 11.15 - added the coins from a glass which has been serving as a piggy bank ever since I realised I lost the key to the actual piggy bank (the glass has been raided multiple times already) and ended up with 13.45.  Which greatly helps the budget this week (I had ten euro). 

I bought a kilo of plums from my usual stall and as we were chatting she ended up putting nearly two kilos in the bag.  She took some out again but still gave me nearly 1.5 kg for the price of 1 (which is 2.50), which was very nice of her.  I had just promised to bring her some plum vodka when it's ready - will have to make sure to follow through on that promise, that's for sure!

Down the other end of the market there is another stall selling apples and soft fruits - I went to them once when I first moved here but they were not terribly friendly or inclined to chat so I haven't gone back very often even when their prices are slightly lower than the others.  Today however I wanted to get some apricots for my rumtopf and they were the only ones who had them so I bought some apricots (which were 4/kg) and also some small plums.  Different variety than the ones I had already gotten and only 2/kg.

And since I raided the piggybank I went down to the greengrocer's on the corner and filled a big bag of their offer of the month tomatoes.  At this hour of the day, although they still looked like they had a lot left, I had to spend a few minutes picking out decent, non-bruised or otherwise damaged tomatoes.  I plan to can them tomorrow, already have lemons which need to be used up.  I bought just about 7kg (at 99c/kg) and was feeling bad about paying so much of that in small change but considering I used my own, heavier cloth bag and bought so much I was expecting at least for the amount to be rounded down and when it wasn't, I decided there was just no point in feeling bad about the small change. 

I also bought half a loaf of raisin bread in the bakery this morning, intending to bring it to the garden but I sneezed about 20 times in a row and don't feel great so whether it's allergies again or a cold starting I decided to give the garden a miss and instead ate the bread for a breakfast/mid-morning snack.  Yum.  That was 1.15.

So I have spent just short of 14 euro.  And I still have nearly ten euro of change left.  It's not much but it's just enough to stop me panicing because of not having any money.  Two weeks and a bit left till payday.  I can make it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Food Waste Friday 13 August 2010

A bad, bad week this week.  I've done far too much emotional eating and not enough clearing out the healthy stuff before it goes bad.  My food waste Friday has actually been running all week I think.

About 700g raspberries because I didn't get to process them on time (expensive mistake)

Also had to dump seven or eight plums over the course of the week as they seemed to be turning just a bit faster than I was eating them

I finally dumped the chard (sitting in the fridge waiting for me to do something with it for weeks now) and whitecurrants.

There are some strawberries in the fridge that are going to have to go as well - I bought them on Saturday, ate some on Sunday, had more in a smoothie on Tuesday but could taste that they were already starting to ferment and then before I had a chance to think about making another smoothie on Wednesday, my Amazing Bullet (I just did a quick google to see if I could find an image so you'd know what I was talking about and an entire blog devoted to it - I love the internet), where was I?  Ah yes, my amazing bullet died.  There are two blade attachments (which are also the lids for when using it), one died a year or so ago (the rubber seal came out and every once in a while I try to get it back in again but haven't succeeded yet) and the other bit the dust this week.  So now the strawberries are still just sitting in the fridge waiting for me to have the energy to throw them out.

Ditto for the leftover salad from my fajitas night - I was convinced I would eat this over the weekend but it's still there and at 10 days old, there's not much chance of me eating it now.

I will get rid of those things out of the fridge tomorrow morning - no point in doing it now and having them sit in the bin overnight - I have had enough of a fruitfly problem this week after not bringing the bin downstairs immediately after throwing a couple of plums out at the weekend.  So it'll wait until tomorrow and I'll bring it straight out.  Which reminds me that I have three glasses with vinegar and lots of dead fruitflys to get rid of as well.  Lovely.

Edited to add: 2.5 slices smoked turkey - this should have still been okay but smelled just dodgy enough that I didn't want to risk it.

Here's to a better week next week (as I have almost no money to spend this month and will be mostly living from the storecupboard, things should improve on the waste side).

Food Waste Friday is, as always, hosted by The Frugal Girl

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jam verdict

Ate a bit more of the small amount of jam in a glass yesterday and it's not that bad after all.  Still not as good as last year but better than the shop stuff I'd say.  And it has set really, really well.  So not a total failure then.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raspberry jam

After the success of last year's raspberry jam (runny but amazingly delicious) I was very excited to get a couple of batches made this year.  I missed getting enough raspberries a couple of weeks in a row at the market so last week I ordered two kilos in advance.  And the following day ended up with news that I was going to have a visitor the same weekend I was planning on jam-making.  But I thought this particular visitor would end up being the kind who would be okay with me doing something like that and just hanging around the house for a few hours.  Unforuntately it ended up being a very emotional few hours on Saturday afternoon that took me a while to get over and doing anything domestic shot right down to the bottom of my list of things to do.  I did chop up some strawberries and put some of them plus the blackberries I had also bought and some of the raspberries into my newly started Rumtopf.  And then realised that using up a kilo of fruit had been wrong because the bottle of rum I bought was 70ml and not 1 litre.  Which should have been obvious since most bottles of booze are around that but since I don't buy drink all that often, it passed me by.  Come to think of it I also managed to chop up the windfall apples I had brought home from the garden and make pectin stock so I suppose the evening wasn't a complete waste.

Things improved somewhat on Sunday but we were out and about the town and I wasn't home until lateish and was just too worn out to face into it.  I should have just put them straight into the fridge when I bought them but I sort of expected to be eating them any minute, it didn't feel all that hot and so I didn't until Sunday evening.  At which stage some of them had of course already started to mould.  I spent a while yesterday evening sorting out the still good ones and managed to get a kilo's worth.  So out of two kilos I used 1.3kg  - at 1.60 per punnet of 150g that's not the cheapest mistake I've made this year to say the least.  Feel so stupid but I think much of that is caught up in the situation that landed me there as well.

The jam is made at least and I got six 230ml jars out of it.  It seems to have set far better than last year's but it just doesn't have the same make you go weak at the knees effect at all.  I had a little bit left over that I just put in an glass in the fridge and I had some of it this morning.  I hadn't made a note last year of what sugar I used and this year used one-third unrefined raw cane sugar which was quite dark.  Perhaps that had an effect on it. I also thought at one stage it was starting to burn but it didn't - I had been re-reading the book I have which actually says not to stir once the jam reaching a rolling boil so I didn't at first but then got too nervous that it would burn.  Still on a learning curve and feel like it was one step forward last year and is two steps back this.  Have to just keep at it I suppose.

I am more spectacularly broke than normal and have essentially no more money to spend this month at this stage so preserving efforts will be more or less at a halt.  I do have a money box full of coppers which I didn't want to break (I stupidly left the key sellotaped to the inside of the kitchen cupboard in Ireland - I bet if I went back it would still be there but I've never managed to remember to do that while in Dublin as I'm not ever in that part of town) but needs must.  The fruit shop around the corner from me has a special offer of 99c per kilo of tomatoes this month and I might just buy some there.  They're not organic and not local (but are German) but sometimes principles have to give way to practicality.  Just buying tins of tomatoes would still be probably cheaper but I would like to do one or two batches anyway at least for the practice.  Otherwise I will be eating from the cupboard and freezer this month and trying to make my lunch vouchers stretch to cover small bits and pieces in between.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dinner party

I had some friends over for dinner yesterday evening.  They were originally supposed to come on Thursday and I had a rake of stuff planned to do on Wednesday evening to be well prepared for them but it got changed on Tuesday so I just went with the flow a bit.  Trying to make my own tortillas went out the window for a start.  I did get all my books back onto the newly moved bookshelves but I didn't have time to put up the curtain rails and hang the curtains which are planned to hang all the way across the back wall of the living room, partly to cover up all the mismatched furniture, partly to cover up whatever mess might happen on any of the shelves, partly to improve the feng shui and partly to give me another potential spot to hide the hoover and ironing board.  I also didn't get the ironing done so all of that just got dumped into my bedroom along with all of the jars that had been stacked in boxes and bags in the kitchen and the door closed.

I got up early yesterday, got the bathroom cleaned and made a quick visit to the market to buy fresh lettuce, tomatoes, a couple of peppers and strawberries and raspberries.  Stopped at the organic supermarket on the way home to get some sour cream and olives and headed for work only a little late.  As I hadn't gotten to wash the floors I wanted to leave work on-time so showing up quarter of an hour late wasn't the greatest start to the day.  In the end, due to one particular manager's downright annoyingness and incompetence (he's on holiday, sent something out with my initials on it while I was on holiday which needed to be updated urgently and he obviously never saved it on the network - so at ten to six I had to very quickly re-type a two-page memo.  Lovely) I didn't get out of work until ten past six.  Had to stop at two different supermarkets on the way home in an attempt to buy tortillas and also picked up a couple of avocados as it had occurred to me that if you're doing fajitas you really should have guacomole.

Got home at twenty to seven, rushed to get the floors done and finished just before the first person rang the bell just before seven.  She was coming earlier in order to start crushing ice as she had offered to make frozen margharitas.  So everything was all a bit hectic from then until about half-eight.  We worked away together for half-an-hour and then the others arrived so I ended up being a very bad hostess for 40 minutes or so, doing my best to get them all into the sitting room and out of the kitchen (which just isn't big enough for five people to be hanging around in if one of them needs to be actually preparing stuff).  Actually, I did join them for 10 minutes or so for a cocktail and they seemed happy enough anyway.  Once I had finished laying the table and setting everything out, I cooked the meat, sauteed the onions and peppers (I even got special thanks for doing peppers even though they all know I can't/won't eat them :-) ) and we were good to go.  Didn't bother making guacomole in the end and we just chopped up the avocados to have as they were.

It was great to just sit down and enjoy the meal after the rushing around and everyone seem to eat plenty (I bought 2 packets of 8 small tortillas and 1 packet of 4 large ones - there are 4 small ones left).  I know I had three small ones so that leaves the other four people eating lots I think.  They were all impressed with my homemade salsa as well and everyone took a small jar home with them.  We had strawberries and raspberries with some vanilla ice-cream for dessert, the wine and the conversation flowed and they stayed until midnight.  If no-one had had to work today it could have been a much later evening. 

I had to be up early this morning to go for a smear test before work and that was difficult.  All day I couldn't wait to finish work so that I could come home to bed and of course as these things happens by six I was on a roll and I ended up staying another hour and got loads done.  All the way home I told myself the dishes could sit there until tomorrow morning and that I was going to bed immediately but then when I got home (walked - that makes the difference) I decided to just wash the plates.  But when I'd finished them the water was still good for a few more things so I just did the frying pan and a serving bowl.  Then I put on some other leftovers to heat up and some pasta to go with them and since I had to wait for that to cook anyway I decided to do just a bit more.  Then I realised that since the table was clear I could put a teatowel on it, wash all the glasses and leave them there to dry so I did that.  And at that stage there was only one more basin-full of stuff to do so I just did it.  Yay me!  Feels very good to have done that, I've eaten a proper dinner and now I am off to bed.

Monday, August 02, 2010

In which Garden Pheenix discussed the Pill

This post is actually a response to this blog as I found myself going on and on and on and finally I exceeded the character quota for a comment (even after doing things like switching '&' for 'and' and all that.  As Pheenix as said it so nicely, I'm also going to shamelessly rob her disclaimer bit for the top of this post. :-)

Yes this is about the pill, hormones, periods, and possibly vaginas. Yes if you're a man you can run away and I won't be offended - but hey you might learn something too :c) If you're a woman, you can run away too. You've been warned.

I started taking the pill the first time when I was 20. Didn't have (or at least didn't notice) any particular problems but as you say, you're not really informed or looking out for them either. I had lots of issues with my family and in general anyway so I don't know if any of it was attributable to the pill. I just know I loved knowing exactly when I was getting my period and the fact that it didn't ever last longer than five days.

I moved to Germany the following year and got a different pill here which also seemed fine but when I went back to Ireland two years later I couldn't get that one there at all so was put on something else. I do remember at that stage starting to get the feeling that I was just being sold the most expensive one regardless of what my actual needs were. I never really seemed to get one I was happy with for the next year or so (often ended up bleeding in between periods for example) and eventually I just came off it entirely for a few years. But then I was in a position to be having sex again so I went back on it. Again with the feeling of simply being sold the most expensive one. Didn't do too well and eventually stopped taking it again. By now (late twenties) I was having horrible periods, very painful, dreadful moods and very heavy. I don't know how often doctors tested me and wanted to tell me I had PCOS but I just don't. I started taking it again as a way to deal with the painful heavy periods somewhat and was also taking very strong prescription painkillers including having some months so bad my GP would actually inject anit-inflammatories directly into my stomach (or thereabouts) but then started to get more and more interested in sustainability and all that. Which is when I first heard of the mooncup (which I have to admit I thought was a joke the first time someone sent me the link - and I'm a pretty down-to-earth kind of person most of the time) and the radical idea of using washable sanitary towels. So many women on that discussion reported having much lighter periods and less pain as well as feeling far more in touch with their bodies that I decided to try it out. Within a couple of months I had come off the pill (didn't need it for contraception anyway - boo, I hate being sinlge) and was having far lighter, less painful periods. Have the occasional heavy one now and sometimes painful but it's the pain I remember from when I was a teenager - I hadn't even realised the type of pain I was feeling was different. Hmmm, I think this blog post of yours is going to inpsire some of the longest comments ever.

The interesting thing the last time I came off the pill (bout 5 years ago) is that my GP asked me why and I told him about the mooncup, not using disposable sanitary towels etc. and all the anecdotal evidence that it can improve bad periods and he had NEVER heard of it. He actually went and looked it up on the internet while I was still in his office and I have always hoped that he might have looked into it a bit more and perhaps told other colleagues or patients too.

I remember reading reports about increased levels of female hormones in many boys which may be partially attributable to the increased levels of hormones getting into the water supply. You take the pill, it's in your body, you piss and some of that makes it's way into the water systems (sorry, have no sources to direct you to). So the whole thing came part of my attitude of really trying to think the things I do and have taken for granted for years through properly and all the way down to the last possible consequence.

Since I moved back to Germany I have had a few migraines (oh how I wish I didn't hate my job/have so much debt I can't quit my job!) with the added delight of visual auras so I think that excludes me from taking the pill anyway (plus I've very overweight still). But now I'm in the lovely position of perhaps, maybe, potentially being in the position of needing to have contraception again so I'm going to have a long chat with the doctor when I go in for my smear test later this week.

I saw a program on the telly once about the swingin' 60's in UK someone commented that actually, the wide availability of the pill didn't make women free, it just made them available. Always found that thought very interesting, it kind of resonated with me.

Plum vodka, salsa, pizza sauce, hmmm, I love August

Had a good day yesterday although if I am honest I didn't really feel the best still.  Today was the same.  If I had been at home I definitely would have been having a nap.  It also meant that my eating was all over the place yesterday.  I was invited to a friend's house for breakfast at 10 so when I got up at half-eight I just had a cup of tea.  Did a few bits and pieces and headed to E.'s house.  Had a lovely breakfast, bread rolls and cheese and tomatoes with fresh herbs.  Then we went off to have a look at some allotments just around the corner from her.  E. is a colleague from work who I have gotten friendly with over the last year - we don't often have anything to do with each other in terms of work but we go for lunch together every couple of weeks and get on really well.  We've had some great conversations and I loved it when she told me she thought I was a bit of a 'querdenker' just like her.  The correct translation of that is 'lateral thinker' but, as happens sometimes, when she said it I immediately translated the two parts of the word separately in my head and came up crooked or crossways thinker.  Which describes it nicely I think.

Anyway, she knew that I had been interested in getting an allotment when I moved here but then found it too expensive.  She's really interested in the idea as well and so when she spotted this allotment club hidden around the corner from her she went in to have a chat with someone she spotted working on their patch.  He suggested she come back on Sunday and chat to the head of the committee.  So she asked me if I would consider going halves on an allotment with her and we went along to see if we could at least get our names on the waiting list.  I had explained to her that it's expensive but I don't think she really believed me and I was interested to actually get in and look at something anyway.  As it turns out there are two available but it is just as expensive as I had been led to believe since getting here.  The annual costs are very manageable (approx 360 per year and between two of us that would be even better) but it's the initial costs that are high.  There is almost always a little house and that, along with whatever mature fruit trees etc might be on the plot already have to be bought from the previous owner.  One place we looked at was 6,000 and the other, which we just saw through the gate was 5,000.  On top of that, last year every allotment holder had to pay 2,500 to the town hall for improvements made to the underground canal and sewer system - it wasn't an option and anyone taking on a plot now is expected to pay that as well (as the years go by the amount people are expected to compensate their sellers buy will obviously diminish).  So we'd essentially be looking at four grand each and that's before even starting to think about buying compost or tools or seeds or plants or, or, or.  So we're shelving the idea for now but will possibly revisit it next year and see if we can save towards it.  She knows that I have debts to pay off and, with a daughter who is in her early twenties and still studying but not living at home, she doesn't have wads of money to throw around either.

But it was lovely to see a plot up close.  The one we saw hasn't been used since January so it wasn't in the best of shape.  But on the other hand it was mostly grass (allotments here are often just used as gardens although technically at least one-third is supposed to be planted up) - lots of work to make beds out of all that.  It was about 300 sqm with a 20sqm house (a room and a toilet).  But it had a hand-operated water pump (which would mean not having to use water from the tap, which has to be paid for) and some kind of fruit tree although there was no fruit to be seen on it and no-one seemed to know what it was.

The plot we saw just through the gate was fabulous.  Hidden away right at the back of the whole place it had, among other things, a huge apple tree groaning under the weight of apples and grapes! growing up a trellis.  But E. didn't like that one so much as since it was at the back and nice and quiet (good), it was also on the edge and on the other side of the fence there was a huge, not very attractive block of a factory or offices (not so good).  But I have to admit that I didn't even notice the building until she pointed it out.  How and ever, which plot was nicer is kind of a moot point for us at the moment but it would be lovely to be able to get one.  More reason to hunker down and get on with ridding myself of debt and saving more!

After that we went back to her house for another cup of tea and then her landlady and a friend arrived so it was more tea and chat on her balcony and then they went downstairs to the flat below her, which they were trying to clear out.  It's a terribly sad story.  I was bemoaning the lack of a gas connection in my kitchen a few months ago and she told me that her downstairs neighbour was dying of cancer and would be moving to a hospice soon and the flat would be available.  I can't afford to move but it was a nice thought.  A week later she told me the poor guy had died but seeing the reality of it yesterday was just heartbreaking.  He was only 46 (I had thought he was much older), received his diagnosis in the first week of May and died far more quickly than expected in the second week of June.  There are so many reminders in that place that someone lived there not long ago.  You would expect them to come walking in the door any minute to be honest.  A half-full packet of gummibears on the bedside locker beside the still switched on alarm clock.  A signet ring and watch kept in a shell on a dresser in the bathroom ready to be put on.  A coat hanging on the door handle waiting to be put away.  Empty crates of bottles waiting to be returned for the deposit.  Apparently this man did not have a lot of family but did have debts and so his next-of-kin decided to reject the inheritence.  So the landlady has to dispose of all his belongings.  It's one thing to have furniture to get rid of but it's all his clothes, knick-knacks and photos as well.  E. said that she hopes one of the family will at least ask to take a few personal momentos.  It was just terribly, terribly sad.

Having stayed longer than planned I was glad when another friend, C. txted me to ask if I would rather come to her house than her coming to mine.  I had offered to bake scones and have her over for tea.  But instead I bought some cake at a bakery that was still open and headed straight over to hers, where we sat on the balcony chatting, eating cake and drinking yet more tea for a good three hours.  Far longer than I planned to be there as well but it was really lovely and we had such a good chat.  She is coming to the end of her two-year stint in Germany in a few weeks and I'm really going to miss her.  But I think that is the life of the ex-pat.  Not all the other ex-pats are here permanently so you just have to get used to people coming into and out of your life sometimes.

So when I got back home, I quickly ate the chips I had picked up along the way and started to actually do something with my farmers market haul from the day before.  Used 2 kilos of tomatoes to make pizza sauce - got just about two litres worth, which is in the fridge at the moment but will be put into freezer bags and into the freezer shortly.  Also made two large jars of salsa, using lots of different coloured tomatoes and I don't even care what it tastes like, it looks lovely.  And used a half-kilo of plums to start making plum vodka.  The plum gin I did in 2008 went down very well so I decided to give this kind of thing another go.  Even if I don't like gin or vodka or pretty much any other spirits you might use to make fruity alcohol, it's a pretty cheap way to make something which you can then give to lots of people as very impressive presents.  I did forget about the two cobs of corn I had bought though so this morning before work I blanched them and sliced the corn off the cobs and put it into the freezer.  I've invited a few friends over for dinner later this week and after hitting a mental block on what to serve to a crowd which includes a vegetarian, a vegetarian just starting to eat meat again and at least one very committed carnivore while still taking into consideration that it's too hot to do a lot of actual cooking I decided on fajitas.  So I bought some turkey and beef at the market on Saturday which has been sliced into strips and put into the freezer.  Have made salsa (which hopefully will be as tasty as it is pretty) and have corn ready to just be heated up very quickly as well.  All I need now is to get some salad and sour cream.  Some guacamole if I can find some (or I could try making some but I may already have enough to do) and I'm going to get strawberries for dessert.  And I need to practice making tortillas.  But C. has already promised to bring tequila so maybe no-one will care what they're eating anyway!