the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!


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Rub-a-dub-dub, ever feel like you are alone in your tub?

Candles seems a rather distant reminder of my possibly slightly more trendy (at the time) younger self. Or actually now I think of it, my little set were distinctly trying to be ‘un-trendy’ as far as popular culture of the 90’s went and were a little bit more into hippy-dippyness, but by rather sensible standards though of course. We didn’t get up to anything too far along on the Woodstock scale of things; we were in rural England after all.
Anyway, burning candles and joss sticks, and shopping trips to Natural Selection were all the rage, and if you didn’t own a pair of Dr Martins with coloured laces well then frankly, you might as well listen to Top of the Pops.

Digger as you know tends to be somewhat lacking in the romantic gestures- he’d rather change a punctured tyre for me, or unblock the drains, or ban me from using the superglue again, and assume that transmitted to me words of l’amour and le coeur). And so dusky candlelit dinners are not often on the cards, and that is even without taking into account the ‘Tiddler Effect’, a well-known to our household phenomenon where somebody-mentioning-no-names refuses to go to bed until past midnight on any given days that potential gourmet aphrodisiacs are found to be in the fridge.

In line with my general thriftyness, I don’t like to turn down anything that is offered for free, so I ended up last week with a free carrier bag of candle odds and ends. Lets specify that again, there were lots of ends of candles, and they were pretty much all odd-one-outs. Multicoloured, broken, a jumble of beeswax and paraffin, and completely stuck together in this heat, this was like Joseph’s technicolour dreamcoat in a bag.
Tiddler was put to task sorting them into colours, a task she will happily do for hours with any mixed up coloured items. Note to self though, don’t try it again with a bag of Jelly Beans which all got sorted into one category- Tiddler’s Tummy.
Then with no candlemaking equipment we had a shot. Not bad I feel for the frugal, make-do-and-mend side of things, but I’m also going to try and get Digger to have a conversation with me in the candlelight glow from these, even if it is only to see where to put the car-jack.

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The red ones

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The cauldron of blood

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recycled yogurt pots

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Recycled wicks

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Lollipops and blutack

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Tension on the wick, looking remarkable like the puppy’s tail

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Here’s a few I made earlier (a nod to Blue Peter)

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Waiting for it to cool

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The finished article in Digger’s handmade centrepiece candle holder (see he made that years ago for me, but we never use it!)

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They are not tiny candles, they are massive fir cones, brought all the way from the west coast of Italy in the back of Leo. 

And if this inspires you to look a little harder into the flame the next time you light a candle, these are two thoughts you might like to ponder on.

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Treasure in the garden

The new rental gaff has not much in the way of a garden, but it has a three tiered patio system with a few beds, and is a definite sun trap so I’m already thinking tomatoes. There is also a little bodged wooden conservatory that will be great to bring on anything, as it is ferociously hot at the moment (and no doubt ear piercingly cold in the winter).

Before we get started though we discover amid the dandelions and other weeds, a few surprises left by the last tenant.

Prodigious quantities of mint. With the hot June/July sun, and a determination to keep up our good water drinking habits we developed while travelling in the campervan, Digger and I have taken to putting a sprig of this in a jug of water and leaving it on the dining table at all times. Tiddler not so keen, but we are keeping very mintly hydrated as a result.

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The forgotten veg patch. Leeks going to seed, potatoes and gnarly carrots- all a bit left to their own devices but I used to make a stock and soups.

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More herbs- Rosemary and thyme, evoking our Greek travels. The mug, a gift for me on Tiddler’s birth from a sadly now passed friend, M, the jokey slogan on it exactly her take on things to a tee.

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Flowers in need of some TLC

 

The best surprises though came in terms of the wildlife. Tiddler of course was straight in there, picking up all the snails, and her new favourite thing, these little critters.

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The birds flit from side to side in the overgrown hedges, and after a few days of putting out seed we see them gaining more confidence with the feeder, and grateful for the water. Robins, blackbirds, pigeons, and sparrows so far, and more that I am yet to identify. Skitter skitter skitter go their feet on the conservatory roof.

But the best is yet to come, as Tiddler runs in shouting ”I’ve seen a snake!” We hotfoot it out there fearing adders, but spot this female slowworm instead, and as the days go by we spot her and her other half on a regular basis, particularly in the early mornings before the sun is up, sunbathing themselves by the snapdragons.

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Tiddler and her cousins run wild as various forms of make believe wildlife themselves.

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Given that I have missed a lot of the planting slots, I cheat and head to a local plant sale to pick up a few established seedlings to replace the vegetables I have dug up. Tomatoes, courgettes and french beans to start with, I’ll let you know how it all goes if my not-sure-if-they-actually-are green fingers can get busy in between the obligatory slowworm hunting and woodlice husbandry.

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Summer in a bottle

Relishing the reality that we are now in a house, with a garden, and all our things around us that were in storage for a year while we roadtripped it around southern Europe, it was about time I got back in tune with my thrifty and self sufficient principles.

Job number one:
Elderflower cordial.
Digger rings me on his lunch break. “I’m cutting a hedge around a house that backs onto a field. There are elderflowers. Do you want some?”
I dial up on google and see that a typical recipe requires 25 ‘umbrella heads’ of the tiny fruity smelling white flowers. I relay this to Digger.
Digger returns with a carrier bag squashed full of heads.’I got bored of counting but I figured it will just make it taste more intense. Let’s whack them all in.’
We don’t have any citric acid, so we steep the heads overnight in boiling water and dissolved sugar with double the quantity of  lemon juice and sliced rind to try and balance out the recipe without it.

Preparing the heads


Adding the lemony zing


Letting it stew


Straining it out


The finished article
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A little bit cloudy but looked fine when diluted with sparkling water for a little bit of summer bubbles. We also had a further four jam jars full which have gone into the freezer to be defrosted at a later date. Rumour has it in the fridge the cordial will last for up to five weeks, but it was finished off by a thirsty Digger and Tiddler far quicker than that. Delicious.

Any thoughts please on your elderflower recipes and experiments? I’m keen to try an make a sparkling elderflower champagne next year!