Archives for category: budget, budgeting, sustainability, environment,

I’m back! I’ve been off on annual leave from work for my 29th birthday, and despite my intentions to increase the frequency of my posts, this is actually my first post in over 10 days! Poor show, I apologise.

I had a great week off including a wee night out on the town with friends. I managed to blag my way into a club for free, just because it was my birthday (hey, it’s worth asking!), and also managed to charm my lovely husband into picking me up (taxi fare would be around £40, kerrching!).

I was pleased to see a bit of sunshine on my actual birthday (Monday), which I enjoyed on the beach at Burntisland, Fife.

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Mid week I headed south with one of my sisters and her 3-year-old daughter for a camping trip. We had a great couple of days visiting Alnwick Castle & Gardens and Lindisfarne. Entry to the castle & gardens was the greatest extravagance at £22 per adult (eek!) but only a penny for kids under 5 (phew!). Visiting Alnwick is really best done on a nice day as the gardens are a great attraction and the castle is just as amazing outside (if not more so), than inside.

The castle is the setting for some of the scenes of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. As an avid Harry Potter fan, this was the most exciting part of the trip for me. I spent the most part of the visit buzzing around searching for parts of the castle that resembled scenes from the film.

Older kids can take part in Harry Potter inspired ‘flying lessons’, which seemed to involve racing brooms hobby-horse style. Then there’s Knights Quest, where children can dress up as knights and maidens and make magic wands, coats of arms and clay tiles. These activities are included in the admission price for the castle, so they’re worth doing to get the most out of your money.

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We ventured into Alnwick town in search of somewhere to eat (ideally fish & chips!). We stumbled upon a little Italian called Caffe Tirreno. It was reassuringly busy and looked child friendly, and the prices on the menu in the window were very appealing. Two 11″ pizzas, two soft drinks and a slice of chocolate fudge cake (happy birthday to me!), all for just just £20.50. Bargain! On the way back we did pass Carlo’s Fish & Chips, which also looked very inviting.

The following day we drove over Lindisfarne Causeway to Holy Island. The island itself is very picturesque with an interesting history too. Unfortunately, my 3-year-old niece wasn’t interested in history so we took a stroll around the village, along to the grounds of the castle, where she enjoyed rolling down hills, and to the coast, where we searched for crabs in rock pools.

We camped at the Barn at Beal, which is also a cafe and visitors centre. They have a small area for tents near the entrance. It was great value at only £9 per night for all three of us. The only down side was that there was only one male and one female shower which each had a toilet in the cubicle. This meant that if someone was using the shower, then the toilet was not accessible for anyone else to use. That aside, it was great value for money, and I would probably stay there again, rather than paying the £20+ that some other campsites in the area were charging. Also on site is a birds of prey centre. We didn’t have time to go, but other kids on the campsite seemed to have enjoyed it.

I’ve also been enjoying the Edinburgh Festival this week, but I’ll have to leave that for my next post.

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… make chocolate & lime cupcakes. I made these chocolaty delights yesterday after finding the recipe on the BBC Good Food website. The recipe is for ‘easy chocolate cupcakes’, I added the lime twist based on the old-fashioned sweets Chocolate Limes. This recipe is extremely easy to follow, but I felt it was just a little too chocolaty for me so made a few adjustments. If you love bitter chocolate then go for the higher measurements on the cocoa and plain chocolate, if you like your chocolate sweet, then use the lower measurements or switch to milk chocolate instead of plain. My adaptation is as follows:

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Preheat to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. This mix makes approx 10 muffins or 24 cupcakes.

For the cakes:

  • 100g plain chocolate , blitzed into small chunks in a food processor (don’t use one with a high cocoa content)
  • 200g self-raising flour (a little extra may be required)
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 2-4 tbsp cocoa to taste (I used 4 tbsp of Green & Black’s cocoa and it was VERY chocolaty!)
  • 150 ml sunflower oil , plus a little extra for greasing
  • 100 ml soured cream
  • 2 eggs (keep ’em free-range folks!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1-2 limes
  • juice of 1 lime
For the chocolate topping:
  • 60-100g plain chocolate , blitzed into small chunks in a food processor (don’t use one with a high cocoa content, adjust to taste)
  • 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp sour cream
To finish:
Sieve the flour and cocoa and add the sugar. Beat the eggs and add the other wet ingredients (sunflower oil, vanilla extract, lime juice & zest and sour cream) then gradually fold into the dry ingredients. Add the blitzed chocolate chunks and mix well. At this stage I found the mixture a little bit too runny so I added about 4-5 tbsp self raising flour. The consistency should be sticky rather than runny; it should spoon into the cupcake cases rather than pour. Pop on the oven for about 20 minutes. The cakes are done when you can insert a cocktail stick into them and it comes out (just about) clean. Leave them to cool on a wire rack.
Gently heat all of the ingredients for the chocolate topping in a small saucepan until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Pour a teaspoon of the topping onto the cupcake and sprinkle the crushed chocolate limes on top. Unfortunately I couldn’t seem to find chocolate limes in the shops, so I used lime zest to decorate instead. There are a number of online retailers that sell chocolate limes, including chocolatebuttons.co.uk.
I have made a stash of these for a birthday party this weekend, which brings me to my little money saver this evening. My good friend Janine is celebrating her 30th birthday on Friday, and rather than having an expensive bash, she’s invited a few of her nearest and dearest to her favourite spot in Scotland, a little village called Findhorn, on the north east coast for a beach party and camping. Okay, maybe it isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but camping out makes weekend trips so much more affordable and flexible. My husband and I are heading up for one night, whilst others are there for a long weekend.
Luckily I love camping, and might just borrow this idea for my own birthday celebrations. And when life hands you lemons…