Thursday, March 31, 2011

Positive thinking

It appears I may need to start thinking positive or else crappy things may keep happening.  The latest is that this morning as I was getting ready to go to the doctor (am now off work until next Tuesday) and brushing my teeth, part of the crown I had fitted in December came off.  Fabulous.  I haven't even finished paying for the bloody thing yet.  Nor gotten the expected refund from the health insurance either. 

The worst part is that I phoned my new dentist and they have told me that if I want them to do it, I'll have to pay again.  Understandable enough I suppose.  To get it fixed (and really, I should from what I gather get an entirely new one) under guarantee, I will need to go back to my old dentist.  The nasty one who treated me quite badly and who I never wanted to see again.  I really don't want to go back to him but have no choice as I really can't afford to pay for a new crown elsewhere.  I'm going to have to see if I can find a friend to come with me - that's how little I want to go, I feel like on my own he will just be horrible again.  Obviously still being sick I also can't even go to the dentist at the moment - I have an appointment for next Wednesday at 10.45 (so assuming I am actually better enough to be in work on Tuesday, the second day back I'll also be out for at least an hour and a half - my boss is going to love that).

And then when I arrived home and tried to take the key out of the door it seemed to be a bit stuck.  Got it out and put it back into the inside of the door to lock it again and it was just twirling a bit and then again was hard to get out.  I seem to have managed to bend it slightly.  Just perfect.  At least that was an easy enough fix as I have two spare keys but for a minute there I had visions of being locked in my apartment.

I obviously need to start creating some positive energy around myself!

Monday, March 28, 2011


I have the flu.  Poor me.  My doctor is on holiday so I had to go down the road to a neighbouring doctor who was looking after his patients while he's away.  Unfortunately that meant a long waiting time to be fitted in among her existing appointments.  On the other hand, waiting over two hours was just too much for me and I fell asleep in the waiting room, which may have helped her realise that it might be more than just a cough.  Actually, I'm still inclined to think of it as just a cough but I looked up the code she wrote on my sick note and it's 'flu without specific confirmation of a virus from a lab'.  She gave me a sick note until, and including, Thursday, which surprised me at first (I thought I might just get today off) but when I looked it up and saw flu, it makes a bit more sense.

She has given me ibuprofen to try and reduce the swelling in my throat and some paracodin drops for the cough, and which will hopefully allow me to get a proper night's sleep tonight.  I have also self-prescribed ice-cream to soothe my throat a bit.  Just looked up what paracodin is because I wasn't sure if it's codeine or not and it seems to have a very interesting list of potential side-effects of the type that make some people use it recreationally.  I don't tend to be susceptible to that kind of thing but I have to admit the idea of the possibility is kind of amusing me at the moment.  Maybe the drugs are kicking in after all.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Shopping in surpermarkets.

Yesterday evening was film club, where I gather with a couple of friends to watch a DVD and afterwards we share a meal, talk about the film and whatever else takes our fancy.  It had been postponed from earlier in the month as everyone seems to have had a lot going on recently.

Dinner is a potluck affair, with whoever is hosting cooking a main course of some kind and everyone else bringing side dishes or dessert.  This month was going to be Indian and, of course, I forgot all about it until Friday evening.  I spent an hour or so on Friday evening trawling the internet for some ideas and found two recipes on one of my favourite websites, Smitten Kitchen, which I decided to give a try.  I developed quite a bad cough last week though and so I wanted to sleep late and take it easy yesterday, in an attempt to recuperate (I'm doing the same today but all day this time!).  So I decided that instead of rushing into town to pick up the ground cumin and garam masala I was missing, not to mention the amchoor I'd never heard of before from the spice shop , instead of heading to the market for potatoes and cauliflower, then to the greengrocer's if I didn't find them at the market, instead of hitting Jacques for a nice bottle of wine or one of the Indian shops to pick up some kind of raita, that I would just say to hell with it and do what thousands of other people do all the time and just get everything in the supermarket.

Now, in Germany, buying fruit and veg in the supermarket is not generally a good idea - quality tends to be not too great and the selection is limited.  But potatoes and cauliflower shouldn't be too hard I thought.  I could make my own version of raita if I could at least get some fresh mint and apart from a couple of onions I'd be all set.  And I know a huge range of spices isn't really something one should expect either (there are always a lot of mixes but the individual spices are more difficult to come by - as if we're all incapable of choosing our own mix) but I reckoned I'd at least get the cumin and could do without the rest.  But all in all, I was happy that I didn't really need that much so it shouldn't be too bad.

However, I have been firmly reminded of how limiting shopping in a supermarket can be and found myself far more stressed than I normally am after a Saturday's shop (normally I feel rushed and a bit hassled but this stress is a different animal altogether).  Now, this is not to say that I never go to the supermarket anymore.  I do, at least once a week, and buy milk, chocolate and crisps (I've been eating far too much rubbish the last few months) and occasionally something frozen, like fish fingers or perhaps a jar of olives.  But I do the bulk of my shopping elsewhere and when in the supermarket mostly walk past most of the stuff without even seeing it.

Buying the veg was only slightly worse than I had anticipated.  I was able to get one of the last three packets of organic onions (from Holland so relatively local) - four in a packet and I got the best of a bad lot but wouldn't have bothered if I hadn't known I'd be using three of them immediately.  I don't expect the fourth to last long either.  At first, I could only see one option for potatoes, non-organic French potatoes, very small ones in a plastic container and covered in more plastic, or larger ones loose and with paper bags available.  Luckily I then realised that around the corner there were bags of other potatoes as well so for a less extragavant price I had the choice of three different types of potato (waxy, floury, somewhat floury - the actual type could only be found in very small print) - but only in 2 kg bags.  I got a bag of those and finally headed for the cauliflower.  There were five left and I managed to get one that didn't have any brown bits on it.

I found some ground cumin after some searching but not, as expected, garam masala or amchoor.  Picked up some milk and a jar of joghurt.  Realised I should head back to see if there was any fresh mint but found only one very sad looking plant with practically no leaves that weren't already brown and dying.  So I picked up some cucumber quark, which would do for a dip if anyone wanted some.  And finally grabbed four bottles of beer, thinking that actually it's nicer to drink beer with Indian food than wine.

In general though I had a better look around than I normally do in the supermarket and found myself once again surprised at how limiting it seemed to have to buy everything there.  They always seem to be packed to the roof with options but when you look closer you realise that it's far more about bulk than about variety.  If you want something you might have a choice between two different brands or even three but mostly that seemed to be about it.  And mostly I found myself getting really annoyed about the amount of packaging.  So frustrating to see and so much of it totally unnecessary.  Add to that the crowds of people and it makes for a not particularly pleasurable experience.  On a more positive note, however, I was very grateful that not only did I already have much on hand that I needed, but also for the fantastic choice of nice places I have nearby to shop from and the fact that next week I will be doing so again.

In case anyone is interested, what I ended up making was some chana masala (using chickpeas out of the cupboard and tomatoes that I bottled last summer) and the Indian spiced cauliflower and potatoes at the end of that page.  I will be trying to incorporate more Indian cooking into my life I think.  I love the way that it feels like I am using far too many spices to every make anything taste nice and yet ending up with just a nice amount of flavour.  I think next month's food budget is definitely going to have to include an amount for a visit to the spice shop!

And just for those who like to always have photos to accompany blog posts.  Here's a few from my cooking attempts last week.

 Leftover bread and some from the freezer, which got chopped up to make croutons, like so;

The tart - wholewheat pastry from the freezer, a few bacon bits, some of my last jar of dried tomatoes, onions and chinese cabbage sauteed and mixed with some sour cream - I put the other half of the onions/cabbage mix in there after taking the photo:
And then had the 'bright' idea of throwing the last few pickled beans from a jar I made last summer and opened sometime in January I think in on top of that to use them up as they'd been sitting in the fridge since then.  Note to self: pickles in cooking are probably never going to be a good idea.  They completely overwhelmed everything else and made this promising tart into a just barely edible affair.
Looks ok but I really had to push myself to finish this tart - thankfully the taste seemed to fade off a bit so that by the third day after making it I was glad to see the end of it but still able to stomach it.

The blue dish has the croutons in it, to which I added a jar of my bottled tomatoes from last year, topped the whole lot with cheese and baked in the oven.  I should have heeded a comment I saw somewhere to not use too much juice as this ended up quite a soggy mess - I will try it again in the summer with fresh tomatoes and a far shorted cooking time I think.  Again, it was edible but not half as enjoyable as I thought it would be.  We live and learn.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Food Waste Friday - 25 March 2011

Will have to add a photo later.  I very nearly managed to have no waste this week but was disgusted yesterday evening to discover that the bread I bought at the weekend and which I was planning on using to make more delicious toast for my supper, was already mouldy.  We've obviously managed to reach temperatures that will make it necessary for me to keep bread in the fridge again if I want to keep it for more than a day.  Particularly annoying as I still had quite a lot left and was plannig on slicing the rest up to go into the freezer for making croutons with sometime.  Sigh.

Will have to wait until tomorrow to post the photo as I'm waiting for batteries to charge for the camera.

Food Waste Friday is hosted by The Frugal Girl

Edited to add photo:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How To Fold A T-Shirt In 2 Seconds - Explained (Folding)

I saw this on yahoo the other day and my curiosity got the better of me.

How To Fold A T-Shirt In 2 Seconds - Explained (Folding)

How To Fold A T-Shirt In 2 Seconds - Explained

Since I was did the ironing today (I am feeling very pleased with myself for doing some useful things with my day off, I have to say), I decided to give it a go. Even though I didn't have a flat surface the same size as a t-shirt, I tried it out just on my ironing board and had the bit I was 'pinching' flat on that. It only took me two attempts to get it and the first one didn't work mainly because I let it fall.

I am mightily impressed. I even took photos but just as I wanted to put them onto the computer, the batteries died so I'll have to add them later.

Here's a couple of photos of my first attempts at this.  The very first one fell apart completely and this is my second:

Didn't quite get the shake and fold bit right so a small amount of sleeve is still sticking out.  But the next one, a much bigger, baggier t-shirt (not sure if that had anything to do with it) was much better.
And here's the view from the back:

It also for some random reason occurred to me that this (once) black t-shirt is nearly 14 years old.  I think it's showing its age a bit but given how much I've worn it, it's not doing too badly.  It was part of a two-pack that I bought in C&A in Frankfurt (I have ten in my head as the price, which would have been 10DM at the time, so around 4 Irish pounds then or 5 euro) after my bags were stolen from the train I was on and I was left with just the clothes I was wearing and my handbag.  Sometimes it's those no time to think and choose purchases that end up being the best value for money. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Frozen strawberries

On a somewhat random note, does anyone have any good recipes for using up frozen, pureed strawberries?  I froze lots of these last summer to use in making smoothies over the winter.  And then my smoothie maker promptly died on me.  I want to start clearing out my freezer and am just having a complete block when it comes to ideas for what to do with these strawberries.


At least temporarily. I have today and tomorrow off work.  I know it's only a few weeks since I had ten days off but honestly, within a week of being back at work I knew I needed to get away from it again.  My boss has been particularly obnoxious, so much so that last week I actually even went to chat to one of the members of our Betriebsrat (workers' council - every company in Germany with more than 5 employees is supposed to have one).  I don't want to actually start any official proceedings against him with HR (yet) but wanted to at least have officially spoken to somebody about his bullying. 

At any rate, after being back for about a week I got a note in my door at home that the annual gas boiler maintenance would take place on 22 March.  Since that's a Tuesday and coming just after the weekend of my choir concert (which was yesterday, Bach meets Mozart, a Bach cantate followed by Mozart's Requiem - good concert although we alto were not very strong on two important entries, which we will undoubtedly hear about next time we see our conductor), I decided to try and just take the two days and make a long weekend of it.

I organised an appointment with my ear, nose and throat doctor as hay-fever symptoms seem to have kicked in a couple of weeks ago.  It's far to early for birch pollen (which is what I have a reaction to) but I had forgotten about cross-indications and apparently hazelnut is blooming now and that's probably what's making my eyes itch (am I the only perosn in the world that gets DRY itchy eyes with their hayfever rather than streaming tears, itchy eyes?).  That appointment was first thing this morning so for the first time in a couple of weeks I feel far more clear-headed and have a prescription for more nose-spray which will keep me going for a few months.  I also found out that that doctor is retiring at the end of the month.  Such a pity (well, for me anyway, he's very happy about it).  It's hard enough to find doctors with a nice manner who don't mess you around and for the most part I have so far been lucky in Germany so hopefully the guy who is taking over his practice will be okay too.

I also popped into the bank to move the last of the money from my savings account to my current account.  My refund from the health insurance hasn't come in yet and a direct debit is due to come out at the end of the week so although it leaves me with more or less no money at least I know that it's covered now.

So with my essential chores out of the way I now have the freedom to decide what to do for the rest of the day.  More chores (fairly essential ones but having ignored them for this long, another day won't make any difference) or just head outside into the fabulous blue skies and sunshine we have today.  Hmmm.  Tough decision.

I've just had some lovely toast for lunch and I have some mashed potatoes that are going to be made into potato cakes later on with some onion and the last of the bacon bits.  I've taken some chinese cabbage and some pastry out of the freezer and will get some eggs while I'm out to make a quiche later.  I also want to try out a side-dish mentioned in the comments of a food waste friday post on The Mrs' blog - using up older bread as croutons, mixing them with tinned tomatoes and baking with some grated cheese on top.  So I took some slices of bread out of the freezer and will be trying to cut them and the remains of the pumpkin bread I bought last week but didn't quite finish up to make croutons and maybe have that along with my potato cakes later.

I'm so enjoying my day off even though I haven't really done a lot yet.  It's one of those days which makes me feel like perhaps I'm not one of those people who is really designed to be at their best in paid employment.  Mind you, are any of us designed that way?

Edited to add: coincidentally I've just stumbled across an interview with Kenny Rogers where he said that one thing his mother told him was "Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life".  Wise words.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Food Waste Friday - 11 March 2011

Didn't do too badly this week.  I didn't end up cooking the red cabbage so that will be done next week - while the cabbage is still fine, I am throwing away a double portion of rice, which I cooked last Monday and deliberately made extra of so that I would have it for Wednesday to have with the cabbage.  But I worked late on Wednesday and when I got home just heated up some soup for dinner.  Apart from the rice, I'm glad I didn't end up cooking the cabbage as I had more than enough to get through as it was.

The only other thing I need to throw out this week is a very small amount of cream cheese, which I could have easily eaten last weekend but decided to save for an extra slice of bread later that day and just never went back to.

For my first week back into buying and cooking properly, I did alright, I think.  I finished all the bread and am having the last small bowl of leek and potato soup shortly followed by my main course of cornflakes.  Might quite a gourmet dinner but it'll let me use up all the milk.  I'm eating quite late but got gripped with online news coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan for almost two hours after getting home from work.  One thing to hear it has happened, it is quite another to watch the footage.  The pictures of the tsunami in particular seem so quiet and like a gentle flow of water until you see something like a car or house and realise the scale of the thing!  My heart goes out to everyone affected.

Food Waste Friday is hosted by The Frugal Girl

Monday, March 07, 2011

Need to make some financial decisions

My finances are troubling me a lot at the moment.  I have been less than disciplined with my money over the last couple of months but mostly I was stubborn about not wanting to finance the payments for my tooth implant and so spreading the payments out over only six months.  Longer than six months or starting payments more than one month after receiving the bill means paying interest.  Which has meant lots of payments coming together as bills overlapped over the last few months.

I also wonder if I am just being unreasonably stubborn in insisting that I pay off my credit card and overdraft as they are, rather than getting a loan, which would be at a lower rate of interest.  But I spent a few years caught in the trap of constantly consolidating and refinancing everything, which is why I ended up with such a massive loan five years ago and I don't really want to go down that road again.  So in a way, the higher interest is the punishment, so to speak, for having let so much build up on the credit card again, and the length of time it takes to pay it off is the reminder needed to not do it again.

So basically I am wondering if I should just go to the bank and see if I could organise a loan to cover everything and just take the pressure off a little bit (not to mention allowing the credit card to once more function as my security blanket, only to be used in case of emergencies but actually capable of being used in emergencies, which it isn't at the moment since it's nearly at the limit).

Here's what I am faced with paying at the moment:
  • Loan payment of 490 euro - last payment due at the end of June
  • Dentist bill of 60 euro - one more payment due at end of March
  • Dentist bill of 184 euro - three more payments due, last one at end of May
  • Credit card - 3,820 euro
  • Overdraft - 2,415 euro
So what I owe right now is around 8,800.  The thing that's getting me is that paying my loan and a bit of my credit card each month is more than enough and having the dental bills on top of that the last few months has really been pushing me to the edge (I've just made the last payment of the previous bill, which was 150 per month for six months - so for the last three months my loan and dental bill repayments have been nearly 900 per months, just too much to leave anything spare).  Now, I am expecting a refund of around 300 from the health insurance, which will help to pay two other bills that I've been putting off (actually, I haven't received one of them but if I wasn't worried about cash I would have phoned up by now to remind them to send it to me - the other one is due for payment next week so I'm hoping the refund comes in before then) and I also have the possibility of requesting some input (could probably get around 2,000 euro) from my company's financial aid scheme.  But I cannot apply for that until I have paid the dental bills in full, which means waiting another three months. On a side note, I finally added up all the bills for the tooth implant I got done last year and it comes to just over 2,800 euro.  I have now changed dentists to one who actually understands my financial situation properly and isn't going to try and persuade me to get the most expensive of anything done (he said any implant costing over 2,000 is really just kind of taking the mickey).

I think I have a severe case of debt fatigue or rather juggling debt fatigue.  Which is leading me to think that getting a variable rate loan might be a good idea.  If I took out a loan over 24 months I would have payments of around 450-500 per month.  But it would allow me to apply for that financial aid and whenever I received that I could put it towards the loan immediately and, for example, if I get a tax refund, that could go towards it immediately too.  So that I would still hope to pay it off in full before the end of the year but would give myself some breathing space for the next couple of months.  Or else I just need to suck it up and get through the next three months as best I can, hoping that nothing else happens that will require any kind of financial input.

In the greater scheme of things and compared to how long I have now been paying off debts, three months really isn't a long time.  Once I've made my final payment for the dental bills I could then apply for the financial aid and put that towards clearing my overdraft, which would leave just the credit card.  Just!  Ha!  But with no payments needing to go towards my loan anymore, I could divert that, plus the little bit I've been using to chip away at the credit card and overdraft as best I could all to the credit card and clear it within a few months, especially if I get a tax refund in the meantime as well.

Any constructive comments appreciated (but please, none about how stupid with money I've been and sometimes continue to be, I know all about that and am really not sure my self-confidence, lacking as it is, can take any more beating).  Am I just being tempted with the idea of a loan because of debt juggling fatigue or does it really seem to be a sensible option?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

24 hour panel people

David Walliams is currently attempting to spend 24 hours participating in various panel shows in order to raise money for Comic Relief.  It is being streamed live here: and I have slowly been getting more and more drawn into over the last few hours.  It's about nine or ten hours in now and is due to run until midday tomorrow (so 12 noon on Sunday 6 March UK time) so if you have a bit of time do take a look and if at all possible, perhaps you might consider donating to a charity, which I think has done some very good work over the years.  You don't have to be in the UK to donate, they take online donations from anywhere.

It is amusing watching these programs live as well as you also get do see some of the bits that are normally edited out (I assume they will broadcast the edited versions on telly sometime as well).  QI isn't on for another couple of hours so I probably won't make it until then but I'd really like to see it.  Oh to be still able to drink proper tea and keep myself awake!

Meal plan - 5 March 2011

I went to the market this morning for only the second time since christmas.  I mostly restrained myself but still managed to spend about twenty euro. 

This is what I bought:
  • 1 red cabbage
  • 4 leeks
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 pork fillets/steaks
  • 8 slices kasseler ham
  • 10 apples
  • 1 litre milk
  • 1 container of yoghurt
  • 1 full and 1 half butter (the half was for the folks at the biogarten)
  • 2 small wedges of cheese (they sell off the 'awkward' corners of cheeses for a bit less than the full price of buying a nice square bit)
  • Half a loaf of bread from the bakery
So I have a lot to choose from.  The pork was an impulse buy but everything else was what I intended to get.  I also called into the organic supermarket later on and bought some washing powder and stain remover - I usually use soap nuts but after years of no problems, the last few times that I have washed white clothes (I don't own many white clothes) I have started to have the same problem others have reported as well, i.e. faint but distinct orangey/brown stains.  Very bizarre that it only happens with white clothes and probably worth a bit more research on my part but in the meantime between getting application photos done and performing in a concert that also required white, I actually have a good load of whites and wanted to make sure none of it was ruined.

Back on topic, this is what I have/have the makings for this week:
  • 3 portions pumpkin and lentil soup
  • Fried potatoes (leftover potatoes from yesterday) with pork, onions and apples
  • Leek and potato soup
  • Ham and cheese pancakes
  • The other piece of pork
  • Red cabbage with onions, apples and lardons
  • Cheese and chutney with bread
Monday is a bank holiday here so I will easily be able to be at home to cook.

One portion pumpkin and lentil soup (very shortly)
Ham and cheese pancakes (after cleaning the floors, the bathroom and myself, this will be a lovely treat)

One portion pumpkin and lentil soup
Fried potatoes with pork, onions and apple

Leek and potato soup
Other piece of pork with rice

Going out for lunch
Pumpkin soup (last portion)

Leek and potato soup
Red cabbage dish (no choir rehearsal so will be home in the evening to cook)

Leek and potato soup
Red cabbage

Red cabbage
Something random for dinner

Friday, March 04, 2011

Food Waste Friday - 4 March 2011

It's been a while since I've done a Food Waste Friday post but a couple of months ago I reached a serious level of self-annoyance at still not getting back into the habit of cooking properly on a regular basis and, having gotten rid of a shocking amount of yoghurt and anything else lurking mouldily in the fridge, I gave it a good clean out and declared I wasn't buying anything else until I was sure I was going to be cooking it.

And so I have mostly been eating bread or toast with butter and jam or cereal when I have actually eaten at home.  And I think I'll continue to do the same for a while but slowly introducing the cooking again rather than trying to go at it full tilt when I just don't have the energy or mental capacity at the moment.

Having said all that, I did buy a pumpkin a couple of weeks ago, intending to make soup so that I would have lunches for the entire week.  It didn't happen and then I was away for a week but I am happy to report that I actually did take it out of the fridge (I wouldn't normally keep pumpkin in the fridge but because I was going away I figured there might as well be something in there) yesterday before going to work.  And a good thing to because I noticed that a tiny bit of mould was starting to develop on the bottom.  Luckily it hadn't even penetrated the skin but the thought of it was enough to make sure that even though I didn't really feel like it (again!), I did get into the kitchen yesterday and peeled and chopped it and threw it all into a pot which had a chopped up sauteed onion and some garlic, plenty of freshly ground pepper and water.  Left that to cook until tender and then gently mashed most of it, just very roughly leaving plenty of intact bits too.  I threw a few handfuls of lentils in next, let them cook and finally added the four mettwurst (sausages) that I had bought on my way home from work.  And this morning I got up early enough to heat up a portion for my widemouth flask and had it in work for lunch.  It was delicious.

This evening I boiled some potatoes and ate them along with the ball of mozzarella that was only a few days away from its best before date, the end of a jar of chutney and the last slice of ham.  Actually, I had put the potatoes on to boil because I couldn't remember what it was I was going to make instead and it was only when I saw the ham I remembered I've been having a longing for ham and cheese pancakes for weeks and that was why I had bought it.  Just as well I had already put the potatoes on since I don't have an egg in the house so making pancakes might have been challenging. 

So this week, I am very pleased that I have prevented lots of food waste happening next week.  And the only real waste I had was the small tupperware container full of popcorn that I had to throw out.  I made some the other night, only had olive oil on hand so just used that and tried to convince myself that was why it tasted a bit funny but I know it was just gone off.  I definitely brought that with me when I moved here (which makes it nearly three years old) and I actually think it may have experienced my previous house move as well (which would make it at least five years it had been in that tupperware).  For a really long time I didn't have a pot with a tight-fitting lid so I had gotten out of the habit of ever making popcorn.  Having had some in my brother's when I was there a couple of weeks ago, I may be hooked again so there will be a new packet of popcorn making its way into my cupboard soon, which I will be more conscientious about using, I promise!

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