24 July 2017

Baby it's cold outside, but our house is toasty warm

And so it should be, it is winter after all. But this last week has been really, really cold. Mornings have been frosty, the wind has howled and rain has fallen (for which I am very grateful, we need the rain).
So far this winter we haven't used the ducted gas heating once. Wayne hasn't even lit the pilot light, so we can't just run and turn it on.

The fire hasn't gone out, and the whole house is warm and toasty. Even on those frosty mornings the house has been warm, something we don't get when we use the ducted heating.

To help the house stay warm there are some simple things we've done:

*Close off the door to the bathroom. It doesn’t need to be heated during the day.

*Making sure the draft stoppers are against all three exterior doors.

*Keeping the kitchen, bedroom, laundry and bathroom windows opened just a crack, enough to let in
fresh air, but not enough to cause a breeze and chill the house.

*Baking! It's amazing how just cooking a couple of cakes or slices, or a roast dinner, can warm a room.
*Using the ceiling fans, in reverse, on low, to force hot air down and cool air up.

*Drying the washing on the clotheshorse next to the fire is helping to add humidity to the air, making it feel warmer. And it is saving on electricity - the dryer was put out on hard rubbish because it hasn't been used at all.

*Eating winter foods. Soups, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes, roast veggies, fruit cobblers and sponges, bread'n'butter puddings, custards all help to keep us warm.

*Hot chocolate is a standard warm up drink.
*Dressing for the weather, in layers, instead of dressing for fashion (although the two are not necessarily opposites). It may not be glamorous, but wearing leggings under jeans or trousers, and a singlet or spencer under your blouse and jumper will really help to keep you warm. Add some nice thick socks (I buy mine from Kmart, 3 pairs for $5 - they're great, with padded soles) and no one will ever know you're dressed for warmth. I wear leggings rather than tights because they don't stick to trouser legs like tights do, making them much more comfortable. And now you all know what a daggy dresser I am, but at least I'm warm :)

*Making sure we always have socks and slippers on our feet (the old adage "keep your feet warm and your head cool" to be comfortable is true).

*Using knee rugs and blankets of an evening to keep warm.

*Wheat bags to warm up beds, cold feet and hands and to snuggle with when it is really cold.

Anyone can do all or some of these things to help keep warm this winter.


23 July 2017

The Week that Was 23rd July 2017

This has been a very busy week. For the first time in months I've felt well enough to do more than just the basics, so I took advantage. I'm exhausted again, but it's a nice exhaustion, knowing our freezer is stocked, the pantry is looking good and our home is getting back to normal.

This week I was able to buy diced tomatoes, chick peas, lentils and kidney beans for 69c a can at Woolworths.

Used a Flybuys offer to buy a lamb roast for half price.

Bought 10kg potatoes from Farmer Joe's in Boronia for $1.98/5kg bag. They are now in the hessian sacks at the back of the kitchen pantry.

Did lots of baking: sultana cake, date loaf, cupcakes, lemon syrup cake, brownies, sausage rolls, quadruple batch of spaghetti sauce, bread, meat pies and fruit pies.

Collected the shower warm-up water and added it to the washing machine.

Kept the fire going to keep the house warm, it has been very cold here.

Dried the washing on clotheshorses next to the fire.

Used a Flybuys offer to get 10c/litre off petrol - filled up the Patrol, ready for our next trip.

Sold some cards to a friend.

Cleaned the oven using bicarb soda and vinegar. Soaked the racks in the laundry sink with dishwasher powder - they came up like new.

What did you do to save money, time and energy this week?

21 July 2017

Cath's Meal Plan 23rd -29th July 2017

Chicken Alfredo - one of Hannah's favourite meals means a night off cooking for me, she does it all
This week we will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Chicken

Monday: Crumbed sausages, veggies

Tuesday: Chicken Alfredo

Wednesday: Shredded beef & gravy pan fried sandwiches

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Stir-fry

Saturday: Tomato Vegetable Soup, toasted crumpets

20 July 2017

Ten and a bit Years

Wow! I've been blogging for over 10 years!

I was sitting this morning doing officework, not my favourite thing to do, but essential in the grand scheme of my life. And it occurred to me that I've been writing this blog for a long time. Problem was I just couldn't remember how long, so back I went to my notes, and then to the posts archive on this blog and all of a sudden my very ordinary, rainy, cold, wintery Thursday morning turned into something special.

The first post on this blog, Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing went live on 4th January 2007 - that's over 10 years ago!

I have no idea how I could've missed such a milestone, but I did.

In that time I've published 2,638 blog posts.

The most popular blog post of all time is Miracle Spray, with 44,889 views.

The most visited page is MOO Cheapskates Washing Powder with 25,129 views.

Top 10 countries readers come from are:
Australia (whew! I'd hate Australia to not be at the top ;) )
United States
New Zealand
United Kingdom
Germany
Canada
France
India
Brazil
Ukraine

I'm surprised by the stats. I'm stunned that my blog has lasted this long. Even I'll admit that blogging regularly, keeping you all up to date with the goings on in the Armstrong household, isn't my strong point. I'm a bit of a closed book, really I am, so sharing the nitty gritty of our lifestyle doesn't come easy to me.

So thank you.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you for commenting.

Thank you for taking the time to come back, time and time again.

Thank you for sharing with me.

Thank you for supporting my wacky ideas, even if they don't seem to make sense to you.

And thank you for making blogging just a little bit easier and a little bit fun for me.

Now I'm off to make a cake so we can celebrate tonight after our pizzas.



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17 July 2017

More on Making Meals Cheaper - the Sunday Roast



The price of meat has been going up, and up, and up, and up and up. Actually let me clarify: the cost of what was once cheaper cuts of meat has been going up. The more expensive cuts have increased slightly, but not nearly as much as plain old mince or sausages or gravy beef.

And the increasing price of meat has had an impact on my grocery budget. I still do a big meat shop once a quarter, but I find myself looking every week for really good specials on mince, chicken fillets, whole chickens, legs of lamb and roasting beef.

With those prices in mind, here's how we can afford to have a roast dinner every Sunday (without fail, my family almost cry if there's no roast for some reason).

If you follow my meal plan, you'll see that I I alternate between chicken/beef/chicken/lamb/chicken/beef/chicken/lamb and repeat.

When we have roast lamb or beef I make sure I cut the meat so that we get at least two dinners from the one roast. I serve one for dinner that night and put the extra meat into a Tupperware container, cover it with gravy and freeze. It is then ready for the next time that particular roast is on the menu.

This saves money and makes roast lamb or beef affordable. It keeps the electricity bill or gas for the barbecue bill down as the meal just has to be thawed and then warmed in the microwave, again making the meal cheaper. And if there are bones then those bones are used to make stock for soup or gravy, or to cook rice or pasta - making the meal cheaper still.

Here are some of the ways I get more meals from one roast:

*Cut the slices thinly - this is easier if you let the roast sit for about 10 minutes before carving.
*Make sure all the meat is off the bone, even the tiniest shreds.
*Portion control - the boys get three slices of lamb or beef, Hannah and I have two. I do spread them around the plate so they can be seen. It isn't mean folks, it's commonsense - we don't need kilos of meat with every meal. 180g per person is the recommended, that's what I aim for.
*Cook the meat in an oven bag. This helps with shrinking, keeps the meat moist and contains the juices that I use to make gravy

Meat is expensive. I aim to keep it at $5 per meal, even with the rising cost of meat. To do this I need to have cheaper cuts and stretch them, add some meatless meals into our meal plan and keep an eye out for the cheapest possible prices - then go crazy and fill the freezers.

Just recently chicken fillets were very, very cheap - just $3.69/kg. You can be sure I stocked up! Over the course of three weeks I bought 40 kilos (enough for at least 80 meals), brought them home, skinned them, pulled the tenderloins off and vacuum sealed them.

At that price ($3.69/kg) the cost per meal for chicken is just $1.85! Or if you prefer, just 31 cents per serve! That means I could afford to pay a little more per meal for the steak I bought on special at the same time.

Swings and roundabouts; as long as my average cost for the meat component of each meal is between $4 - $6 (rising prices are affecting my budget) I am happy, we eat well and most importantly my family is happy.    

14 July 2017

Cath's Meal Plan 16th - 22nd July 2017

Debbie's Pumpkin Soup
This week we will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Lamb

Monday: Peanut Rissoles, veggies

Tuesday: Spaghetti & meatballs

Wednesday: Butter chicken, steamed rice, pappadums

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Haystacks

Saturday: Pumpkin soup

07 July 2017

Cath's Meal Plan 9th - 15th July 2017

Fishcakes coated in MOO Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs with lemon wedges
This week we will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Chicken

Monday: Fishcakes, gems, coleslaw

Tuesday: Vegetable Pasta Bake

Wednesday: Spanish rice, salad

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Hamburgers

Saturday: Pepper steak sandwiches

04 July 2017

Always Ready Muffins

I LOVE this muffin recipe, because like it's name, it is always ready!

Make up a double batch and keep it in the fridge for up to four weeks (I can guarantee it won't last that long). It makes oven fresh, warm muffins so easy you can surprise the family with an extra special breakfast in the same time you can set the table, get out the bowls, cereal and milk and sit down.

If you don't have raw sugar, white sugar is fine, or half white, half brown works too. I've even substituted honey for the molasses when I've been out (you can get molasses in the health food aisle of the supermarket and use it to MOO brown sugar as well, it won't go to waste).

Use vegetable oil if you don't have coconut oil (olive oil makes moist muffins, but can leave a heavy taste so half olive oil, half vegetable oil is good).

MOO buttermilk is easy, and cheaper than buying it unless you already have it on your shopping list. Simply take two cups of milk, less two teaspoons. Stir in two teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar, let it sit for five minutes and you have your MOOed version of buttermilk.

Always Ready Muffins

Ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats (not Quick Oats)
1 cup hot water
3/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup coconut oil
2-1/2 cups wholemeal flour (or gluten free flour blend with xanthan gum)
2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup dried fruit

Method:
Mix oats and hot water. Let stand 5 minutes to soften oats. In a separate bowl, cream butter, sugar, eggs and molasses. Add oat mixture, bicarb soda, salt and flour alternating with milk.  Store, covered, in the fridge up to 4 weeks.

To cook: Fill greased muffin tins or cupcake liners 2/3 full (I use an ice ream scoop.) Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Makes about 3 dozen.

The beauty of this recipe is that you cook as many as you need and chill remaining batter for next time.

This recipe has been shared with The Cheapskates Club


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02 July 2017

The Week that Was 2nd July 2017

I spent yesterday in bed with a shocking head cold. Lots of hot drinks (lemon juice and honey mostly), nothing to eat (felt too blah to be bothered), toasty warm feet (I brought out my thermal hiking socks) and my Kindle and was happy in my misery.

Yesterday morning was the coldest we've had this year. The back yard was gorgeous, covered in a very heavy frost, with the sun shining brightly. Thankfully the house was warm, Wayne does an amazing job of keeping the firewood cut and the fire stoked so we can all be warm and comfortable.

I must've been starting my cold earlier in the week because I was tempted on Wednesday and Thursday nights to just ask one of the kids to go and get take away. I didn't really care what take away, I just knew I didn't want to be in the kitchen, let alone cooking.

And that's where my overflowing freezers, fridge and pantry are saving us money. It was a simple thing to let everyone choose a freezer meal on Wednesday, nuke it and get their own dinner.

Hannah made a huge quiche on Tuesday, using up lots of little amounts of veggies in the fridge. It took a long time to cook through, but it was delicious, fed us for tea, then we put five pieces in the freezer for lunches or another dinner later. We didn't have enough cream so she added two extra eggs and a little more milk  and it was delicious, light and fluffy custard and we saved a trip to the shop.

My brother helped Wayne and the boys deliver some furniture from Mum's. What was originally my great, great-grandmother's dresser, that was Mum's dressing table, is now in our dining room. I've put my good dishes in the top drawers and the bottom drawer holds my tablecloths, runners, doyleys, serviettes and placemats. Every time I look up from the loungeroom I smile. It was a little sad to bring it home, but I'm so glad I have something that Mum loved and that has been handed down for well over a 150 years. I can tell you with confidence that furniture is not as well made in 2017!

Bringing in the dresser meant that the wall unit that was there had to be moved - and it was, straight to Vinnies. I'm trying very hard to stick to the 1 in, 1 out rule for July (at least,  hopefully for the rest of the year) to try and get some semblance of order back into our home.

While we were doing a Vinnies run we dropped off a box of magazines, jars and kitchen tools we no longer need or want.

The bottom drawer in the kitchen is still empty and hopefully it will stay that way.

Downloaded some free ebooks for my Kindle.
All the washing was either dried on the clothesline or on the clotheshorses this week.

I picked oranges and mandarins from the fruit trees.

All our meals were cooked at home.

Made three loaves of English muffin bread. This bread makes great toast and goes really well with soup, perfect for winter.
English Muffin Bread
Made a batch of MOO yoghurt.

I didn't get petrol; I did shift the petrol money to our holiday account, boosting it $80.

The kids saved their shower warm-up water and emptied it into the washing machine for me.

I saved the kitchen warm-up water in a bowl and used it for washing fruit and vegetables, then I tipped it over the planters at the front door.

Fed the worms with veggie peelings.

Made two more gifts for Christmas, wrapped and labelled them and put them in the Christmas gift box.

Scrumptious Savoury Scones


These scones are good for morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea. They fill hungry tummies and cost hardly anything to make.

Scrumptious Savoury Scones

Ingredients:
3 cups SR flour
600ml thickened cream
1 cup grated cheese
1 tsp finely chopped chives

Method:
Mix flour, grated cheese and chopped chives together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, pour in the cream and mix to a soft dough. Use your hands if necessary. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured cutting board and gently press out until about 2cm thick. Using a glass or scone cutter dipped in flour cut scones. Place on a greased baking sheet with the scones just touching. Bake in a 200 degree Celsius oven for 15 - 20 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.

The scones will rise higher and bake better if they are just touching each other on the baking tray. You can easily pull them apart once they are cooled.




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This post has been shared at The Cheapskates Club

01 July 2017

After School Treats That Won't Break the Budget (or ruin dinner)

It's school holiday time again, and I can guarantee there are hoards of hungry kids out there, peering into pantries and staring into fridges, looking for something to eat.

You can buy snacks from the supermarket, when they are on sale - half price is the most you should pay, ever, or from grocery clearance stores like NQR here in Melbourne, but you are paying for a lot of nothing: packaging, artificial colours, artificial flavours, salt, sugar, fat - all things we don't need or really want to be paying for.

Or you can be a very clever Cheapskate and whip up some great snack treats that cost a fraction of the price and rest easy knowing you're being kind to your budget and your kids.

Over the next few days I'll post a few different snack foods, all favourites of ours. You can be sure my kids gave them a good taste test when they were younger, and you can be sure that we still enjoy them.

Some of them are so simple the kids will be able to make them - a double win for you. They'll be doing the (not so) hard work instead of you and they'll be entertained for a while too!

Today's snack idea is one of my absolute favourites - caramel corn (you'll need to to at least supervise this recipe, it does require a little cooking).

Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:
20 cups pop corn
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup condensed milk
1 tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:
Spread the popcorn in a thin layer in shallow, greased baking pans.  Preheat oven to 120 degrees Celsius.  Combine the brown sugar, condensed milk and butter in a medium saucepan.  Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over a medium heat. Boil for five minutes, stirring continuously.  Remove from the heat and stir in the bicarb soda and vanilla essence, beating well. The mixture should be light and foamy.  Immediately pour over the popcorn. Stir with a fork to mix. Don't worry too much if not the popcorn isn't completely covered with the caramel.  Place into preheated oven and bake for one hour, stirring completely  every fifteen minutes.  Remove from oven and empty onto sheets of baking paper. Break the caramel corn into bite size pieces. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Variation:  Bliss Bombs - add 2 cups unsalted peanuts to the popcorn before covering with the caramel mixture.