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April 2023
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Is this domestic bliss? Or how to survive cooking the Christmas Dinner for 3 generations

I’m not a “natural cook”, food to me was for many years a means to an end, a way of ensuring my insulin was covered and I kept reasonably healthy.

A working person, there were “emergency meals” kept in the fridge for during the week when either of us were too knackered to cook. After being caught in traffic or tied up on an interesting snag at work.

I’d met people who were brilliant home cooks, mixing that seemingly effortless ease and tasty food. I had a few pieces but they seemed pale by comparison.

What does that mean?

Well, I had my stilton and celery soup from the cook book I’d spent a Saturday in Bath looking for – actually, it wasn’t the book I was looking for as I was looking for how to cook scrambled eggs, it was the book lying next to it. I had my version of spaghetti bolognese (who doesn’t) and a recipe my mum took off a packet of Sainsbury’s risotto rice to cook chicken and mushroom risotto. (Great emergency meal, very little washing up).

Some things I did not cook at home, but lockdown has changed that and up to a point, so did a gym injury last year when everyone had to pitch in. This year, we had an extra change in that my mum bought a turkey from her local butcher and stayed with us a few days. So how do you make a tasty meal in full few of the whole family and get to enjoy the fun and games for Christmas. Well first things first:

Don’t panic

as it says on the front of the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. You’ve got this.

First, we’ve followed the recipes and made the breadcrumb and herb bags and marked them up for each of the stufffings. Make the stuffings, stuff the bird, and get it in the oven early. The bird is cooked alone – kept in foil, it will keep for up to an hour outside of the oven “to rest”. So everything else is then easily done later after the bird comes out.

Two important things I learnt this year:

  1. Don’t forget the pigs in blankets – they do need to be cooked with the roast potatoes!
  2. Do not use anything above 4 on the induction hob when cooking the powdered gravy, doh!

Otherwise, things went swimmingly. Too much food was eaten by all, too much wine was drunk. Christmas Dinner is best eaten in two sittings – one with the turkey, the second, mid-afternoon with the pudding. Nothing which wasn’t related was consumed that day. I was perfectly calm but my men folk kept telling me to sit and do nothing and “relax”. I bought way too many Brussel Sprouts.

My mum has headed back to hers and we’re not eating much today. But this is a letter to myself for next year.

From an ecological point of view, Christmas is terrible. We spent twice as much energy yesterday cooking the turkey and lighting than we do for a normal day in December when we’re lighting the lights. That’s £15 at today’s rates. True, it wasnt’ very sunny but still… We didn’t bin anything, left overs for the next few days at least.

The fridge will gradually get back to normal in terms of energy use too, as it is unpacked.

Sam, in 2023, you’ve got this. 🙂

All the prep is done, just waiting for the off!

I love the decorations and the meal. Having the family round, all now sadly adults, being together focused on a single goal, is amazing. It’s us and my mum this year, my closest relatives. Of course, nerves can take over but just now, I’m tired out of my little mind. The tree is decorated, the house is looking OK, but having had my flu innoculation this morning, I am a tired bunny…

The shopping for the feast is done and I do use that word. We’re all foodies and it’s a joint effort on the day but I do make some things a little easier on us all.

My top cheats for Christmas Day

  1. Buy pre-pealed chestnuts. If not, use the microwave – cheaper and quicker to get the job done.
  2. Weigh out the herbs and breadcrumbs for the stuffings and bread sauces and pop them in individual bags in the freeze – marked with what they are. This is a boon on the day.
  3. Make the chesnut puree for the stuffing the night before. Stow in an air tight container in the fridge.
  4. Work out the timings the night before. Stuffings take 45 minutes to cook and put in the bird. You need breakfast before hand, so you need to be out of bed at least an hour before you need to put the turkey in 😉
  5. Keep it simple. This is not the time to experiment. If you have vegetarians come round, check they are happy it goes in the oven with the bird and do everything together. Get help – if you are cooking for more than two, everyone needs to pitch in.

This is a celebration, remember to have fun and that means sharing the prep. Merry Christmas x

Hark winter

Today is officially the start of winter as in the northern hemisphere, it is the solstice – the shortest day of the year. Of course, in the southern hemisphere, it is the longest day. All thanks to the earth being on the list, by about 23 to the sun.

It’s one of the reasons so many festivals happen around world and I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at our yearly energy use amidst the “cost of living crisis”. Partly because I’ve been examining this throughout the past few years but up to the point, I’ve felt until this year, many saw this as a quaint idiom, one of “Sam’s things” but nothing to do with me/us…

But you’re hardly one of the crowd, surely that makes this academic and a waste of my time?

To the first part, true, we did do this early. We’re one of 11% of houses in the UK with a EPC Grade B house and that’s largely thanks to the insulation installed while the previous owners built the house and the under floor heating downstairs.

We paired that with time thermostatic values for our rooms gives us comfort but cheaper heating. Remote lights and controlled power for power consumers (like the computers and TVs), and the solar cells and V2G, and you can see why we’re only 2 points off a EPC Grade A.

But what does that mean in usage on the ground? Show me the money!

Oh, alright then. Coarse as this may be, let’s talk money.

We are 10 days off the turn of the year, so I’m going to extrapolate the figures for December, I am also going to discuss the £400 from the government, coming off a fixed rate deal on a floating one, and the income from the FIT for the solar and the export rate for the power donated to the grid for the V2G and the solar. This is going to take some time, so please make yourself comfortable.

Our usage in kWh

Jan-22 663.652779.48
Feb-22 561.20 2043.67
Mar-22 601 1784.04
Apr-22 546.40 1384.51
May-22 548.55 653.22
Jun-22 433.4 404.63
Jul-22 622.4 170.74
Aug-22 690.55 0
Sep-22 583.4 608.01
Oct-22 634.05 829.75
Nov-22 666.7 1700.74
Dec-22 794.75 2748.96

December was guessed on last year’s figures but is now the actual data! There are a couple of things to note. Firstly, we generated over 3.8MWh of electrictiy with our solar array – our best year ever. It’s why we turned the boiler off completely in August and we probably should have done that in June and July too – we used solar electricity or V2G to heat our water.

In total we used 7.346MWh of electricity, and 14.88MWh of gas. That’s similar amounts of electricity to last year, but the gas is 25% less, partly because we stopped using gas to heat our water over the summer.

On top of that, we’re running the car and denoting energy from the car. So while the electricity cost £1,965.35, we got £1,561.31 from our donated energy (solar and V2G) meaning our electricity for the house and powering the car was £404.04. Please consider that our electric vehicle has been used for the daily commute (for me 14 miles, and for my son, 32 miles, a day). This has meant our V2G money is a lot less and with my husband working full time from home, he’s running a computer system full time with older, less efficient monitors.

Month _V2G and solar earnings
Jan-22 £80.03
Feb-22 £83.17
Mar-22 £101.60
Apr-22 £165.93
May-22 £163.92
Jun-22 £151.95
Jul-22 £155.49
Aug-22 £160.55
Sep-22 £157.25
Oct-22 £135.66
Nov-22 £145.01
Dec-22 £60.75

Meanwhile, let’s look at the gas. So our gas no costs 3 times as much as it did in January 2022 as we came off a fixed rate deal… Despite that, our gas cost us £942.42, given the government helping out with £400, that’s only £542.42.

So our energy bill for the year was £(404.04+542.42) or $946.46. Ignoring our positive balance with the energy company, so our monthly costs would be £79 a month for the energy – of course there’s a standing charge too, so that makes the total nearer £120. That’s for a house three times as big as the average one in the UK with someone who works full time in the house, so we can’t have the whole heating off during the winter…

Now, I haven’t counted our FIT payments – we were lucky enough to get the solar cells installed while this was still available. We received £758.09 for generating electricity paid quarterly. Meaning, we paid £188.37 for our energy in 2022. Along with the rise in energy prices, our V2G and solar export rate is now running as 11p above the rate we pay for electricity to make it worthwhile for people doing this to donate what they generate.

So, does it pay to have solar cells, an electric car, and a well insulated house? Yes, yes it does.

I updated this on the 1st January to cater for all the figures for 2022.


I am sitting in the warm, drinking a cup of tea enjoying the beauty that is winter sun being harvested by the solar panels dreaming of skiing.

Not eco-friendly at all

I do two terrible things when it comes to the environment: I ski and I have baths. How are these terrible? Well, even if you drive, I live at sea level pretty much and mountains to do alpine skiing are anything but at sea level so energy is needed to transport me and what-ever I am taking to ski, up said mountains.

I never set out to ski. I watched Ski Sunday on the BBC with my folks and thought these intripid people were slightly mad. It looks fun but it’s cold, it’s a hard landing if you get it wrong, and growing up in East Anglia, a mad world away from my day to day.

Then I met my husband, who was a good skier. He learnt as an adult, it was easy once you learnt, he promised me, learning is the difficult bit.

So, I learnt. In East Anglia, I learnt to snow plough (also called wedge skiing) and basic parallel techniques. I have to say, it’s everything I love in a pasttime: it is completely absorbing and you get to travel fast. The clothing does a lot to make harsh conditions tolerable while expending energy. The people doing it are friendly and chatty. The views are incrediable.

There is just one thing I don’t like.

The whole being high up thing. I am someone who does not gamble about on the top of a mountain and think yipee, isn’t this great. It frightens me. I would never dream of climbing up a mountain in the warm and dry. Yet, with a pair of planks on my feet, I willingly do this. I get winched up on a drag lift (does what it says on the tin), or carried serenely up a cabin lift and have that moment.

Or that moment may hit me half way down.

Which wouldn’t be so bad, but I freeze.

Now, I can ski, you’d think that would give me a great deal of confidence, maybe even, a little elan. No, when the fear grips, I turn rigid. Medusa is hitting me from thousands of years ago.

So why do it? Well, I do like everything else about it. I do like visiting places I’ve never been before, I do like being in the mountains. It is an amazing feeling being on top of the visible world. Some trips I don’t get the fear, and it’s just fun. Who knows how long I will be able to do that, from a climate, health, and age point of view?

Carpe diem, follow those piste markers.

It’s been an interesting week

I’ve had a Tandem T-slim pump since January and not had a great deal of success running the “closed loop” (there are so many wrong things about that statement, that yes, I have put it in quotes, more about that later).

Coming up to my 45th diaversary, I am kinda familiar with what I need to do to ensure that part of my endocrine is doing what’s needed to keep me alive today and in the future without too much bother.

Anyway, my son believes this is “my worst pump ever” and being 22, he is quite aware of this. I got my first pump just before he was 1.

Back to the reason for this post…

There is a reason?

Yes! I have tried with letting the pump make adjustments but it’s not been very successful. I have key parts of my day (the daily commute for instance) where my blood glucose goal is a little higher than normal – 5.5 compared to 4.7mmol/l. I am sure there are some type 1 diabetics out there going “that’s low” but actually, it gives me a little wiggle room, a chance to play with a short term temporary basal rate or just have a cup of coffee to raise my levels a little if I need to. The beauty of a pump is it should allow that and, to be honest with you, that’s what I was hoping for from the Tandem Control-IQ software.

Unlike some systems, it is a self-contained unit and has some “learning capability” so it should learn what works. Unfortunately, when it came, my carefully set parameters were ignored when it was running the show – it wanted me at 6.5mmol/l. Which means I cannot sleep very easily because that is not where I feel safe. (Again, there may be type 1 diabetics out there gasping in shock, but after 21 years on the pump, I feel really quite high (hyperglycemic not, you know, tripping) if I run a that level.

Plus, it isn’t what non-diabetics do. They run much, much lower, which again was a shock when I bought a sensor for my husband to wear for 14 days.

Anyway, back to the piece. Running at 6.5mmol/l does have it’s advantages at times – the daily commute, running about at work, etc. Only to achieve that, the Tandem is very keen to stop my basal rate completely… Making me high and swinging much more than I had with my old pump: “worst pump ever” isn’t a terribly inappropriate way of looking at it.

Then there was the learning – out of the blue, it gave me 6 units of insulin as a “correction dose” which would have been a good move the day before but as my period had just started, caused an unexpected and fast on-coming hypo (glycemia). That wasn’t a fun day at all.

So, I turned off the loop for the majority of the time but especially during the night. I was tired (literally) of waking up with a blood sugar of 9mmol/l at 2am because the pump had turned off my insulin just when I needed it.

Six weeks ago, an update for the pump’s software came along and I have been re-experimenting (well, what would you call it?) with the pump.

And it seems to be working. This is the 5 day I’ve been running the loop (over night as well) and it seems to be doing a much better job. Over course, one thing I did make an effort on was getting my basals perfect, but it seems to be doing reasonable things much more consistently. It’s not perfect: there are odd occassions where I’m still calling it “Stoopid” but these are much rarer.

It actually feels like it’s workable. Of course, it cannot tell when to change my basal rates, but if the basals are good, it seems less keen on shutting down my insulin indefinitely.

What is it “closed loop”?

Pancreatic transplants are very tricky to get to last more than 5 years, so one of the ways being investigated for long term treatment is hybrid loop insulin pumps – the Tandem T-Slim is one such offering.

One of my big complaints about these and the way they are used, is they want users to ditch their hard won basals and start from scratch. As a type 1 diabetic, I think that’s naive and missing the point – I know far more about what’s going on that something looking at just my basal rate, last active boluses, and my blood glucose reading which is how all these pumps work.

I know, for example, that on a Sunday I don’t bother bolusing for breakfast if it’s my turn to cook Sunday lunch – I am running around the kitchen so much that doing my normal bolus will make me hypo about 45 minutes after I take the extra insulin to cover my yoghurt. I know if the temperature is 16° instead of 20° I am likely to need less insulin. I do this by switching basal rates not putting in temporary basal after temporary basal.

Until these pumps take our knowledge and needs into consideration, they are unlikely to be as good as their users for anything but shutting off much needed insulin. Maybe the new software for the T-Slim has finally figured that out.

Saturday morning left to my own devices

It’s easy to say that Saturday is our going and and getting things done day but today, I am doing something a little different.

Having recharged my batteries last night and looking out at a beautiful, and sunny, Saturday morning, my stomach is begining to wake up and ask: what’s going on?

I made pasta on my day off last week, so instead, I’m looking at some experimenting – although based on learnings from the internet.

Microwaving sausages for lunch is my quest.  Instead of heating up the oven, grill or frying pan, I am considering using the microwave.  Now, I haven’t eaten a microwave sausage since my dad did them back in the early 1980s, but of course things have come a long way since then.  So, I am very tempted.  The Americans seem to be the ground breakers here though many of their recipes specify 800W as a high setting and my zapper is a 1000W on high and 600W on medium.  A bit of a risk then…

I had to seek out advice from the internet as my microwave’s cooking tables say to grill or grill and microwave (sometimes called turbo grill).  Both of these would take 10-12 minutes and use a lot of power as a result, about 320Wh or 0.32 unit.

Purely microwaving should take about 2 minutes and use less than 33Wh of power, or 0.033 unit.  If we’re using 32p per unit, that’s a cost of 1p.

So why isn’t the microwave book pushing microwave sausages on us?  Well, our tastes say we like sausages dark brown in colour and that doesn’t really happen in the microwave.  It will be cooked, but a little different.

For you, I am willing to try.  My dish will be onion gravy, microwaved frozen veg, microwaved baked potato, and two microwaved sausages.  A feast.

Now, the microwave isn’t that easy to do many foods at the same time, so I’m cooking the potato, then doing the other two things in the microwave.  The gravy will be done on an induction hob: and I’ve got a smart meter to measure what I’m using – although the reason this is published today is because I can’t really see that information until afterwards…

You’ve kept me waiting a day, how was it?

I’ve got to say, it was a little bit nerve wracking working it out on the fly, but as you can see, raw cold or frozen food went in, a tasty and quick meal came out.  The potato was 190g and took 7 minutes 20 seconds, the veg took 1 minute, the sausages 2 minutes 10 seconds.  I did them all on high, so that’s about 0.175 units of electricity, so guessing about 5p – according to the smart meter readings, running the hob for the gravy, lighting to cook and eat, extractor van, and microwave cost 16p or there abouts.

Raw sausages

Raw sausages


Cooked sausages

Cooked sausages 2minutes 20 seconds later!


Completely cooked meal

A completely cooked meal on a warm plate

The texture was fine, I think compared to what I was expecting, the sauages where more appealing than I was expecting, but maybe I had very low expectations. The taste was great. If I had my time over, I wouldn’t have started the onion gravy before the baked potato which would have made it a little easier.

A quick and easy meal for one. All the cooking utensiles go in the dishwasher apart from the pan for the gravy. I even had a hot plate to eat off as I popped that into the microwave with the veggies.

Here is the evidence of a nearly finished but enjoyed meal:

Enjoyed dinner
An enjoyed dinner

I would love to hear about your experiences.

Sitting here listening to interesting experiences

It’s Friday and as you can see from Tuesday’s post, I have worked a short week. So, why am I feeling so weary?  I’m not sleepy, I am exhausted.  My head injury from 5 years ago is painfully aching.

Lightweight, huh? Since I can remember, the end of the working day, exaggerated to the extreme for the end of the week, I just die.

My insulin requirements drop dramatically: between 4 and 6 I am on a tiny amount of insulin and doing anything but sitting or lying down results in a hypo.

Which is a shame – as a teenager and twenty-something, Friday is the night you go out.  I love Saturday but Friday, I just want to sleep.

Working is difficult, so I use this time to either have interesting conversations (which always perks me up) or to train.  Listening to is brilliant.

I know when people look at me, they do not see a type 1 diabetic who isn’t thriving but like anyone with type 1, it’s hard work.  A full time job and then I do a brilliant and interesting technical role for my day job and a volunteer role looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Equity not equality.  We’re not all equal, different things are needed by different things to enable that individual to thrive.

No wonder you’re exhausted!

Like many disabled people, I have had times in my life where I couldn’t do anything.  I do like to be busy.

Friday afternoon, that means I do nothing critical, nothing more than letting my mind unwind and expand.

A waste of a day?

In an effort to get through my annual leave allowence, I booked today as leave last Friday with the aim of having a very lazy day.

Of course, that supposed that I’d manage to do all my chores last week and the two people I lived with hadn’t both had yesterday off as a sick day due to an awful cold.

I woke up this morning with a bad head cold. Lazy day it was to be then.

Only, having a bath helped drain much of the mucus. So, putting my new found energy to good use I used some old eggs in the fridge along with some salmon that had to be eaten and cooked my favourite salmon kedgeree. Mmm. We energised me even more.

I cleaned up the mess cooking always seems to cause and thought about the evening meal. Did a load of washing and the resulting ironing and set the microwave off on its cleaning programme (only four weeks to Christmas, getting these jobs out of the way now helps) and made use of the little bit of solar we we’re producing.

Emptied the recycling bin indoors to notice just how many leaves had come down since anyone had swept them up. Did that for 45 minutes.

Now I’m just writing this, reading my book (30% done today), and waiting to start making fettucine for a bolognese tonight and who knows what over the next couple of weeks.

Looking forward to a relaxing day in the office tomorrow…

A recession type of mind

I’m trying to avoid the news at the moment. Not because of an osterich type of mind, hide your head and nothing bad is happening – “ta deda tee dah” – but more because I don’t want to make things worse.

What do I mean? Well, at the moment, I am pretty lucky. Everyone in the household is earning and we are all salaried above minimum wage. We have a small amount of debt in the house (a mortgage), which we fixed at 1.22% until next year. We have some savings so if one of us loses our job, we don’t even need to sacrifice our standard of living. The energy rises have not really hurt us.

The trouble is, I have the same feeling of dread at the moment as I would if things were very different. I have been in the position where my rent has suddenly sky-rocketed, bills hurt and heavily dependent on the next pay check.

My mum is having a big clear out and it’s all I can do not to say don’t get rid of that mum, I’ll have it. I quite literally don’t need anything. I’m even fixing up old appliances rather than buy new ones and I have a lovely car – maintaining that is so much cheaper than buying even a second hand one.

In the back of my mind is my dad’s old adage about not having investments while you have debt. Settle the debt then play – if you invest the money for the mortgage and the investment goes sour, you can well find yourself homeless. Pay the debt first.

So, that’s what I’m doing. Our interest rate is low, so I am putting spare money there. It’s great on many levels as it means we’re saving interest on that big debt and we therefore save tax. When we come off the fixed rate, we should (fingers crossed) only have 2 or 3 years of debt left, even if the interest rates go above 15%.

Hopefully, they won’t. But I do remember seeing mortgages advertised for 19% as an apprentice in 1993!

But things don’t actually look at all that bad?

If I’m feeling this way and not being frivolous, who else is? What is the impact of that?

Inflation is not actually a bad thing per se, it depends on the causes. The items that are costing significantly more aren’t things that take up much of my take home paycheck. I had reduced my energy usage over the past 10 years, so we’re cushioned from that. I don’t drive far with the cars, so that’s not a huge cost. Because of lockdown, we are out of the habit of going out – we have a nice house, so it is far from a necessity.

Due to the hot summer, some foods are scarce and/or expensive, but again, not a huge impact for us.

We’ve got all the essential work done on the house and the vehicles. We have a deal not to waste money on gifts on the upcoming season, though Christmas dinner is a bit of a splurge, all round. If it’s a sunny day, well…

It’s tempting to hide away and not spend until it’s all got better. Of course, if everyone does that, we have no growth. Retail and manufacturing all suffer, leading to job losses.

Let’s look at our household budget again… And avoid the news…

Last one done and a little home repair

We’re doing a little renovation (replacing the stair and landing carpet) and remodelling (moving my husband’s office upstairs) which has allowed me access to that room’s thermostat.

The self-builders we bought from put underfloor heating downstairs with individual room thermostats – really old, mechanical, set the temperature but no other functionality, type room thermostats and I have discussed swapping most of them out with first Heatmiser wifi programmable ones and those with Tado wired thermostats.

My husband’s office was the last hold-out. He’d opted for a programmable Heatmiser one, though not wifi programmable as “keeping the room cool is the biggest issue”!

Recovering some photos of doing the previous swaps meant that the job was completed in fairly short order. Pairing the room highlighted the fact we now have 13 of these devices or smart radiator valves in situ in the house. Lucky for us…

Which led to a conversation with my mum. She is currently living off-grid using an oil fired boiler for her central heating. I was going through the humidity sensor and the proximity features of the Tado system but found one of the radiators had detected an open window, so had shut the heating off in that room temporarily until the window was closed.

“How does it know that?” she asked. No idea, but it’s pretty reliable at getting it right and I love the feature. I think she may be considering the upgrade in her place.

Many words for little action

Cheeky, it’s only Saturday.

The last bit of DIY today, apart from this blog, was replacing a 30-year-old cable on my food processor. I was a little nervous about doing this but the internet really is a wonderful thing.

I find videos hard to follow, way too noisy. Thankfully, some-one had written down the steps: locating the right cable from our local electrical store (a simple 2 core 5 amp or “lamp” cable), I removed the old cable and put in a fresh new one. A 20 minute job and my mixer is back in reliable working order.

Time to make some tasty dishes with it 🙂

Bon appetit.