#ThriftyThursday: Charity shop haul

I have a confession to make. I watch haul videos. And not ironically.

I know I shouldn’t. But there’s something about super rich, super peppy American teenagers unloading bags of clothes and make up that cost more than my monthly rent that I just can’t switch off from. It’s late night car crash web viewing.

I took myself out shopping this afternoon for a bit of a charity shop scour. Our town is blessed with plenty of charity shops – some good, some bad and a few seriously overpriced. You have to be willing to dig. And dismiss 95% of what you see. And avoid static build up so as not to set off a spark and send rack upon rack of polyester up in mothball scented flames.

But it is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two, and anything you buy is doing some good: money goes to charity, you keep something out of landfill and at worst, you decide you don’t want it and then give it back to be sold again.

So here comes today’s charity shop haul…

In a fair world, it’d be me rocking this coat. It’s so swishy. A genuine wool double breasted dress coat with an extra flouncy skirt and brass buttoned epaulettes on the shoulders. Originally from Next, and including a jazzy polka dot lining.

Sadly I no longer wear an age 11-12, so this is my daughter rocking it. A meagre £1.49.


Today she lucked out with the books too. She’s only become a vociferous reader in the past few months, so I’m trying to introduce her to as many new and wonderful kiddo books as possible. Ok, so the Choose Your Own Adventure is probably a bit grown up for a seven year old, but we can read it together and I still love them!

All of these were 20p each.


Ahhh, onto books for Mummy.

Traditional Farmhouse Fare is a collection of recipes from the readers of Farmer’s Weekly. Most recipes are submitted (in my imagination) by ruddy faced kindly West Country farmer’s wives with a brood of starving/strapping farm hands arriving at the Aga at tea time.

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Nothing slimming here folks. This is the food that’ll sustain me until Spring.

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In complete contrast, I was also introduced to the Candy Kittens. Apparently it’s a camp-as-Christmas sweetie emporium in the West End. Their goodies are stocked in Waitrose now too. This book is complete fluff – and includes a recipe for marshmallow fluff – but I can see kiddo and I making quite a few things from it on rainy afternoons.

On this charity shop haul, grown up books were 40p a pop.

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And finally… some tat. Monkey and bunny cable ties for 20p each to tidy up the chaos under my desk. Tiny kawaii gift boxes that are just big enough to fit about 3 sweets and have already been nicked (30p). And quirky reuseable shopping bags (again 20p each) that fit in the bottom of my handbag so that I might remember to take them out with me.

I just realised I haven’t photographed my best find – these Next jeans. BNWT. In my size. £4.

All in all, a very successful trip. Less than £10 spent, goodies galore, and a good deed done.

PLEASE comment if you’d like more charity shop haul posts like this… I’m never sure who is reading. Thanks!

Cooking with Kids: Unicorn Poop

If you weren’t seduced by the title, you will be by the list of ingredients for these delicious nuggets of sugary goodness.

IMG_0403On our last visit to the library, we were pleased to find out that my daughter’s copy of Hope and Greenwood’s Life is Sweet had finally come in. We’d been watching Sweets Made Simple on iPlayer and as soon as she got the book home she was determined to start churning out pounds of fudge and marshmallows and gummies. I don’t think even the most competent six year old should really be fooling around with sugar thermometers on her own… and on a Sunday morning, I’m not really in the mood either.

So we compromised and made Unicorn Mallow Pops. Except I had no popsicle sticks, so they became Unicorn Poop.

Kids love anything with sparkles and poop, right?

The gold lustre spray is available from Dr Oetker but in no way necessary. Although it can be very handy to have gold spray in the cupboard to make any food look like it was crafted by fairies.

Fairy green beans anyone?IMG_0408

Unicorn Poop

Serves: Well, as many as can clamour in the kitchen to scoff them. They don’t keep very well, so plan on eating them all immediately.


1 bag of microwave popcorn, sweet or salty (we prefer salty)
200g of marshmallows (any colour or shape, you’re melting them)
50g unsalted butter
Gold lustre spray, optional

1) Microwave the popcorn according to the instructions on the bag. You won’t need all of it, so eat a bit.IMG_0404

2) Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. Still on the heat and stirring occasionally, toss in the marshmallows until you have an unctuous sweet gooey mess that is all too tempting to stick your fingers in.IMG_04063) Turn off the heat and stir in the popcorn. Then leave the kitchen for 30 minutes to let it cool.IMG_04074) When the mix is cool enough to handle, form it into small balls. Or huge ones. Or whatever the wee ones fancy. Place on greaseproof paper to set. Spray them with gold spray until they resemble something that has fallen out of the bottom of a mythical creature.


Magical Midweek Mince: Kid Friendly Keema

By midweek, my cooking mojo has begun to drain. It seems a long way til Saturday when we do our weekly food shop and the contents of the fridge is far from exciting. BUT THERE SHALL BE MINCE.

Despite being one of my least favourite sources of protein, it has earned a permanent place in my fridge due to the fact that children rarely turn their nose up at it. This means that I am only ever half an hour away from a meal that won’t get fed to the dog, which suits me just fine.

Having exhausted the traditional stalwarts of bolognese, chilli con carne and cottage pie (which I despise, but more on that in a minute), this spicy kid-friendly keema has become a regular fixture in our house.

It works best with lamb mince, but I have subbed in beef, turkey or even pork without really changing the outcome. It borrows heavily from Nigella Lawson’s hangover cure in Feast but I felt it was ripe for a family-friendly makeover. Add a few more veggies, tone down the spice and add important tips to make this as quick and painless as possible.

* Chop nothing. Whiz it all in the food processor. Except the pepper, which needs to be a little chunkier really. In fact, you can bung in stray courgettes, carrots and other lingering fridge veg. Wilting some spinach in at the last minute works well.

* The freezer is your friend. I keep chillis and root ginger in the bottom drawer and use them straight from the freezer, extending their life to infinity.

* Buy those vacuum packed naan breads and keep them in the cupboard for dinner emergencies. And don’t bother turning on the grill to cook them, as they fit in the toaster for a reason.

* Lime juice in a bottle works fine here.


Kid Friendly Keema

(serves 4 ish)


600g lamb mince
A large onion
A thumb of root ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 bell pepper (you choose the colour), diced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
300g of frozen peas (about 2 mugs full)
2 generous tablespoons of balti paste
A splash of lime juice

Naan breads, to serve (see above)

1) Whiz up the onion, ginger and garlic in the food processor.
2) Pop the mixture in a large frying pan with a splash of oil and allow to cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3) Meanwhile, dice the pepper and add in. When everything begins to soften, add the mince.
4) After 5 minutes, everything should be beginning to smell yummy, so add the balti paste and tinned tomatoes. Allow to bubble along cheerfully for about 15 minutes, until everything is cooked through. Add in the peas, giving them 5 minutes to heat through.
5) Just before serving, stir in a splash of lime juice. You can add a verdent covering of fresh coriander if you like as well.
6) Taste. If it’s not punchy enough, add some chilli, or if you’ve overdone it with the balti paste, add a dollop of yogurt or even just milk.

Leftovers are delicious eaten straight from the fridge, but if you want to be extra fancy, double the recipe, top the second half with mashed sweet potato and crisp the top in the oven for possibly the finest cottage pie ever.

Justin’s Coffee and Walnut Cake


There is a reason this post has only one picture.

It’s because this is by far my favourite cake in the world. It’s the cake I make most often, the cake that is devoured most regularly by my friends and family and quite possibly one of the most important components of my last meal.

And before I could fire up my good camera and dig out a pretty cake plate, it was gone.

Behold, the coffee and walnut cake.

I have named this Justin’s Coffee and Walnut Cake as my dear friend Justin is the only person who loves this cake more than I do. An otherwise kind and gentle man, I could see him starting a fist fight for a minute sliver of this cake.

The recipe that follows is entirely my own, although I have never before written it out. I complete it on auto pilot so often that it never occurred to me how much of everything went into it.


One ingredient I must insist on is Camp Coffee. It’s a thick sludgy emulsion of coffee, sugar and chicory that your grandparents are likely to have kept in the cupboards as standard. As revolting as the description sounds, it’s absolutely delicious and makes the cake taste like the sweet aromatic tea time treats of yesteryear. I have tried numerous recipes that substitute cooled espresso, instant coffee powder, etc. but nothing compares.

You’ll find it in the supermarket at the very edge of the tea and coffee aisle, or occasionally tucked away with the home baking ingredients.

And secondly… always weigh your eggs.

It seems pointless, especially with the stringent sizing laws on eggs these days, but by weighing the eggs and adding equal quantities of self raising flour, butter and caster sugar, I’m yet to have a sponge cake fail on me. The amounts given below are typical for a four-egg sponge but adjust as necessary.

Finally… despite all my fancy kitchen equipment, I always make a sponge cake in the food processor. In this case, the icing too. I add an extra teaspoon of baking powder out of fear that there’s not enough air in there, but it’s probably me worrying too much about the possibility of missing out on perfect cake.

Justin’s Coffee and Walnut Cake

Serves: 10 (technically)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes


225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
Four large eggs
225g self raising flour
3 tablespoons Camp Coffee
1 teaspoon baking powder
A splash of milk (optional)

For the icing:

150g unsalted butter, softened
250g icing sugar (no need to sift if using the mighty food processor)
2 tablespoons Camp Coffee (or more, to taste)

75g walnuts, chopped, to decorate

1) Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celcius. Grease and flour two deep 9 or 10 inch sandwich tins.

2) In the food processor, or with a hand mixer, or even with a good arm and a wooden spoon, combine the butter and the caster sugar. Cream until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes in the food processor.

3) Add the eggs one at a time, making sure that each one is accompanied by a tablespoon of flour and thoroughly combined before the next one is added. Then dump in the rest of the flour and the baking powder, if using. The mixture should have a similar consistency to thick custard – if that’s not the case, loosen it with a little milk.

4) Finally, pour in the coffee. The cake mix should now be the colour of dulche leche… mmm…

5) Divide between your two prepared sandwich tins and place in the middle of your preheated oven. Allow to bake for 25-30 minutes, until slightly cracked on top and springing back when poked. If they appear to be browning too quickly, pop a little foil on top. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack, removing from their tins after five minutes. Allow to cool completely.

6) Use this time to get to work on your icing. Place the butter, icing sugar and coffee in the food processor and blitz til creamy. Scrape down the sides and repeat. It’s worth noting that this makes just enough icing to sandwich the cakes together and cover the top – I usually make a little more for eating straight off the spoon.

7) When the cakes are cool, sandwich them together with half of the icing, using the rest to cover the top. Add a scattering of chopped walnuts, put the kettle on and prepare to gorge.

Just don’t tell Justin. Unless you are willing to share.