Archives for posts with tag: scotland

My latest financial splurge has probably been the most sensible expense I’ve ever had. Night school.

At the end of September I embarked on (part time) student life, spending Tuesday and Wednesday evening in Illustration class & Figure Drawing class (after parting with £420 of tuition fees and £80 for art supplies- ouch!).

However, I truly believe that this is the best £500 I ever spent. The courses are 11 weeks long and cost £200 and £220 respectively. Each class is 2 and a half hours long so I really feel I’m getting my moneys worth

I have had something really fun to focus on, and have generated lots of work for my portfolio (more on than another time!).

I’m fortunate that my employers encourage learning and offer subsidies to those who wish to study, even if it’s not directly related to work, so I can claim 50% back on completion of the course (to the value of £250 per year).

Another great discovery for me was the ILA (Individual Learning Account), available to low earners residing in Scotland (terms are at http://www.ilascotland.org.uk/What+is+ILA+Scotland/Eligibility.htm ).

The purpose of an ILA is to provide up to £200 per year for a variety of courses, or £500 for a course towards a higher education or professional qualification. ILAs are available for people with an income of £22,000 a year or less, or those who are receiving benefits. Sadly it is no longer available to those living in other areas of the UK – sorry guys!

Fortunately or unfortunately, my annual pay falls into this lower category (hence, the need to budget) so it looks like I qualify for this kind of grant, which is fantastic news as I am already planning to book the next term!

Is there something you’ve been thinking of studying? Whether you fancy brushing up on your IT skills, or maybe baking cakes is more your bag, it might be worth looking into what funding opportunities are available to you. Maybe your employer would help fund a course? Particularly if it is beneficial to the company you work for.

Learning can really lift your spirits, and in these time of recession, I think we could all do with a little pick me up! For me, these courses fit into my grand plan, and sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money, right?

Rainbow over the old town

Nearly sunset, though the rain

The Balmoral Hotel as evening falls

Views like this are priceless. I was lucky enough to snap these pictures of beautiful Edinburgh on my way home from work. I really do love this city!

… 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…