31 July 2012

Sensational, Simple Homemade Pasta Sauce

Make real, old fashioned pasta sauce the easy way - in your slow cooker!

Pasta sauce is one of those things that most people automatically buy. I'm sure they have images of having to stand over the stove, stirring a big pot of sauce for hours and hours, much the way they do it in the old movies.

Not so in the 21st century! Making a good, slow cooked pasta sauce has never been easier if you have a slow cooker.  Slow cooking is the secret to a lovely, rich, thick sauce so what better appliance to use than your slow cooker. Get it out, get some tomatoes and make your own delicious, healthy, preservative and additive free sauce for around half the price of a jar!

Sensational, Simple Homemade Pasta Sauce

800g tin diced tomatoes (or whole tomatoes you have sliced through with a knife)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp crushed basil
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt

Heat the oil in the bottom of the crock pot and saute the garlic until it is golden.  Add the tomatoes, basil and oregano and stir. Put the lid on and cook on HIGH for 4 hours. Stir. If the sauce is thick and rich, it is done. If not cook for another 30 minutes and stir again.  Let the sauce cool and then portion it into saved jars, freezer containers or zip lock bags and freeze.

This makes the equivalent of 1 jar of commercial pasta sauce. If your slow cooker is large enough, you can triple or quadruple the recipe, extending the cooking time by up to two hours. The cooking time will depend solely on your slow cooker. Newer slow cookers are actually very fast compared to the original models, so watch your sauce and when it reaches the consistency you like it's ready.

I use this sauce as the base for other pasta sauces, adding additional seasonings depending on the recipe. It also makes a lovely pizza sauce and is delicious with just a sprinkling of mozzarella and parmesan.

30 July 2012

Peppermint Fresh Foaming Hand Soap

Liquid soap in a pump pack is very convenient, I have one on the kitchen sink, another in the laundry and one in each of the bathrooms. Liquid hand soap is also rather expensive, even if you dilute it down as I do.  It's also not all the user friendly - read the list of ingredients if you don't believe me.

This soap makes a lovely present, and is very inexpensive to make. Put it in a pretty dispenser, wrap it in cellophane and tie it with string or raffia, then attach a peppermint scented gift card and it's sure to be well received.

The good thing is it is really easy to make, and takes just 3 or 4 ingredients that you most likely already have in your home, or can easily get from the supermarket or chemist.

I've called it foaming hand soap, and it foams up beautifully if you put it in a foaming soap dispenser (you'll find them in $2 shops, discount department stores, craft shops etc). Or you can leave it as a liquid hand soap and store it in a pump dispenser.

Either way it's delightfully fresh and easy to make and use.

You will need:

1/4 cup pure soap, finely grated (Castille if you can get it, try a health food shop)
3/4 cup water (leave it out overnight for the chlorine to dissipate)
4 drops peppermint essential oil (pure oils, this is going onto your skin)
1 tbsp glycerine (in the health food section of the supermarket or from your family chemist)

To make the soap:
Place the grated soap and water in a small saucepan and gently stir over the lowest heat until the soap has dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the glycerine and peppermint oil and stir.
Pour into your soap dispenser and there you have it - Peppermint Fresh Foaming Hand Soap.

The glycerine will stop the soap from coagulating and turning to a thick, almost impossible to pump, glug.

If you find the mixture does settle, just give it a good shake every now and then.

27 July 2012

Family Fun Doesn't Have to be Expensive

Spending time together as a family is important, especially as your children get older. As they grow-up family time gets harder to find (and often afford), but it also becomes even more important.

A fun way to spend time together, without spending a fortune is to celebrate a holiday even if it’s not a holiday.  Check the calendar and online and you'll find so many unusual holidays on which to peg your celebration.  For instance, there’s a National Watermelon Day.  Celebrate by gathering the family in the backyard or a park and eating watermelon (OK, you may need to wait until January or February for this one). But it's still July, so why not celebrate Christmas in July this weekend and turn your Sunday roast into Christmas Dinner?  Or how about Wattle Day or Women's History Day or Mother's Day in September and Father's Day in October?

It doesn't really matter what you're celebrating, as long as you are celebrating together. Make up a celebration just for your family and keep it as an annual family celebration, and build a tradition that will stretch into the future.

26 July 2012

Keeping It Clean

Creative play with paints, textas, glue, glitter and playdough is good for children. It keeps them amused for hours while it encourages them to use their imaginations and develop their creativity.  Unfortunately creative play is also messy play, especially  this time of year when creative play is indoor play.

To make clean-up easy, and to protect your furniture and floors, use plastic tablecloths as drop sheets.  Put one on the floor, under the work surface. Spread the other one over the work surface. The kids can play and splash water or paint or glue and you won't be worrying about the mess. When they have finished you can either lift them and put them straight into the washing machine or hang them on the clothesline and hose them off. Let them dry, fold them up and they are ready for next time.

I bought my plastic tablecloths from the Reject Shop for $3 each and they have been fantastic. When my nieces and nephew come to stay out they come and we all have fun.

25 July 2012


What is UWMD?

It's simple, and I am sure you already know, it's not a new concept by any means:
  • Use it up
  • Wear it out
  • Make do
  • or do Without
We all like our things to be new and shiny, and that's what we expect. There is an expectation that everything we have, get or buy should be brand spanking new, from a flashy department store. And we don't care if the packaging is better than the item - that's all a part of the expectation.

Having nice, shiny, new things isn't bad. I like new things too. But if you want to save money, time and energy and live without debt, all the while being environmentally conscious and doing your part to save the planet, then you need to at least sometimes UWMD.

24 July 2012

Irish Stew

Continuing our Real Food Challenge, this stew is just delicious, but it's even better the next day on toast.

1.25kg lamb chops, fat trimmed
1/2 cup plain flour
3 brown onions, chopped
1kg potatoes, peeled, thickly sliced
2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp cold water
3 cups beef stock, boiling
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 130 degrees Celsius.  Cut chops in half. Place flour in a plastic bag and season with salt and pepper. Place chops in bag and shake well to coat. Transfer chops to a plate. Reserve flour. Place onions, potatoes and carrots in an ovenproof dish.  Top with half the chops. Repeat layers with remaining onions, potatoes, carrots and chops. Whisk reserved flour, tomato paste and 2 tablespoons cold water in a large jug until well combined.  Slowly add boiling stock, whisking constantly.  Add parsley.  Pour flour mixture over chops. Cover and cook for 4 hours or until meat is tender and gravy has thickened.

23 July 2012

Onion Cough and Cold Remedy

The dreaded coughs of winter, which I thought we had managed to avoid this year, struck our home last week. We all came down with a very annoying cough, combined with some sinus congestion. Not enough to make us really ill, just enough to slow us all down and generally be annoying. 

Of course the worst thing is the lack of sleep. Like most things, coughs and congestion seem worst in the dead of night, when all you want to do is sleep.

When I was a child my mother would make a cough syrup and give to us and it really worked.  My brother would get bronchitis at first sign of a cool day and Mum always had a bottle of this cough syrup in the fridge, ready to ease his hacking cough.

It's easy to make, takes about 20 minutes or so and will cost you under $1.

1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp grated ginger
3/4 cup honey (raw honey if you have it)

Place the onion, ginger and honey in a stainless steel saucepan (not aluminium, it pits).  Turn the stove to the lowest heat possible and cook the mixture, with the lid on,  until it starts to simmer. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick. Strain the syrup and let it cool. Bottle it in a sterile bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid.

Children under 10: 1 teaspoon when needed
Children over 10 and Adults: 1 tablespoon when needed

The honey will soothe the throat, taking away any tickles that cause coughing, the onion will ease any congestion and the ginger will add warmth to aid healing.

If you find you still have that stuffy, congested feeling at bedtime, slice an onion and sit it on a saucer next to your bed. Yes, you will be able to smell the onion, but you'll get a good nights sleep because it will clear the congestion.  This is good for children who have stuffy noses, and much safer than having a vapouriser on in a bedroom.

Of course use your common sense. If the symptoms aren't relieved within 24 hours for an adult, or 12 hours for a child, or they get significantly worse in that time, get medical advice immediately.  While a winter cough or cold is usually just that, it can often disguise a more serious illness.

20 July 2012

Guerrilla Shopping Part 6: Smart Shopping

We all want to get our money’s worth when we buy something, especially now. Supermarkets bombard us with advertising telling us they have the lowest prices, and then there are the bulk warehouses who tell us they have the lowest prices.

Who do you believe? Yourself!

When you are making up your shopping list check the prices against your price book and the store's online prices. Then, and only then, will you be able to determine just where the cheapest prices are.

For example Costco here in Melbourne sells bulk lots of toilet paper (it seems to be what they are famous for). It's Kleenex, 180 sheets on a roll and when I was there it was 50c a roll. Aldi sell the equivalent toilet paper, 260 sheets to a roll for just 33 cents. I know where my dollars are going.

Aldi has pure maple syrup at $6.99 for 250ml ($28.00 a litre). Costco sells pure maple syrup for just $14.99 a litre. Again, I know where my dollars will be going.

I realize that not everyone has access to Costco and Aldi. But most Australians have access to at least two supermarkets. Take five minutes, do your research, check your prices and buy where you get the most bang for your buck.

17 July 2012

Wind power

Wayne and I are planning for our retirement. 

It's still a long way off, but the kids are almost finished with their educations and we are looking to the next stages of our lives, and that includes retirement.

We have a retirement wish list, which includes moving. Once the kids are gone this house is just going to be too big for two old fogies like us, add the fact that we have very little yard and would prefer to be out of the city and we are searching for our dream retirement home.

There is a wish list of things we'd like to have: more land, an eco-friendly home (I'd love a straw bale house) and solar and wind power (we want to be off completely off the grid if possible). 

There's been a lot of talk about wind farms and the negative effects they are having on communities, and even some statements that they cost more to run than it does to produce power from coal. 

I came across this You Tube video this morning by Friends of the Earth. It's about six minutes long and well worth watching, if only because it explains some of the common myths about wind turbines and basically debunks them.

I am not a greenie by any means. In fact I loathe that term. I am however concerned about our environment and the impact humans are having on the natural world.

Finding environmentally friendly, cost effective sources of power such as wind and solar energies is a part of caring for our environment and reducing the impact we have on the earth.

Maple Mocha Cappuccino

Our real food diet includes real drinks. Cans and bottles are out, as are sachets of ready-to-mix coffee and other milk flavourings. And those wonderfully delicious offerings at my favourite coffee shop are gone too.

You all know I love my coffee, so I had to find a real food alternative to the one I enjoy with Mum on a Thursday. This is it. It is so good. And it is real - no artificial sweeteners or flavourings in this delightful beverage.

If you don't have an espresso machine, Robert Timms to a range of coffee bags that are very good (I use them when we go camping).  You could make a strong instant coffee but it's just not the same. Go for the espresso if you can.

Maple Mocha Cappuccino

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon 100% pure maple syrup
1 shot of espresso
¾ cup low fat milk

Heat the milk in the microwave for two minutes. If you have a milk frother use it to heat and froth the milk to make your cappuccino. Mix the espresso, cocoa and maple syrup together, stir until the cocoa has dissolved.  Pour into a mug. When the milk is ready pour into the coffee mixture and you have your maple mocha cappuccino.

If you like a frothy coffee, use low fat milk, it froths up much better than full cream. If you don't have maple syrup, try honey as the sweetener, it's just as delicious.

Aldi has their own maple syrup for an excellent price, Coles and Woolworths both stock a couple of different brands or you can by it in 1 litre bottles from Costco for under $15, the best price I've seen.

I use Hershey's cocoa, it is the best cocoa I've ever tasted, it actually smells and tastes like chocolate.

16 July 2012

Easy Wine Vinegar

Wine vinegar adds a wonderful flavour to salad dressings and casseroles and it is the easiest vinegar to make. To make a wine vinegar open a bottle of red (for red wine vinegar) or white (for white wine vinegar) wine. Cover the top of the bottle with cheesecloth and secure around the neck with a rubber band. Place the bottle in direct sunlight. In summer you'll have wine vinegar in approximately two weeks, at this time of year  it takes about one month to convert.  Taste after two weeks and if the vinegar is strong enough for your taste, strain and bottle it. The longer you leave it the stronger the taste will become.

13 July 2012

Simple Shopping Habits Save More Money

Like me Simone Petersen is a mother of three, and like me she has some simple shopping habits that save her money.

Simone writes "I'm a mother of three and money is tight. I save money on my weekly food bill by applying these things:

• always shop after a meal so you aren't tempted too buy treats;
• always go shopping at night just before closing time as you can save up to 50% on bakery items and some meat;
• never take kids shopping as you will buy things for them that you normally wouldn't buy;
• always set your self a limit; if your supermarket has huge savings on items you normally buy then stock up;
• buy in bulk e.g. meat at your local butcher is cheaper and fruit markets are cheaper than supermarkets. Price check - get to know your supermarket. Some supermarkets are more expensive than others. Normally if there are more than 3 supermarkets in your area then the prices are competitive;
• always shop on sale days;
• best time for shopping is after 9 at night;
• ask your self do you need this;
• when buying sale items ask your self would I buy this if it wasn't on sale;
• buy reusable plastic zip lock bags, they can be washed and reused;
• when cooking make more so it can be frozen for another day saving time;
• only serve what you can eat on your plate;
• use rice and potatoes in your meals as it makes them go further."

12 July 2012

Turn off the Lights

Since the first of July we’ve heard nothing but “the cost of electricity is going up”. Well yes, we who pay the bills know that!  We can ask and beg and plead and even nag, and often have to all of them, to get family members to turn off the lights and still that bill just gets higher and higher.

Turn off the lights! How many times have you found yourself saying (or yelling) just that to your kids (or your husband)?  You're trying to save money, and the environment, but you often feel like you're in this all alone because everyone is forgetful. Except you!

While we are all probably already in the habit of turning everything off at the wall and keeping the thermostat low, the lights tend to be forgotten by everyone else.

So how can you get everyone to turn lights off? Try one or all of these ideas to get the other members of  your household into the habit of turning lights off and keep your lighting bill down.  

  • Set up a utility fee jar - Find an old large coffee jar and put a sign on it such as "Utility Fees". Explain to everyone in the house that any time you have to say "Turn off the lights!" to them, they will be required to put a designated amount of money in the jar.

  • Put lights on timers - If you can't get the above to work make rules about what times lights can be on and what time they should be off and put them on a timer to make it stick. Timers won't teach anyone the value of electricity though, but it will save aggravation and money.

  • Put up notices - Place notices with post it notes beside all lights that say “Please Turn Me Off” when leaving the room. The notes will be a reminder to do the action that you desire.

  • Make it a habit - Make it a rule that when leaving any room the light is switched off, even if you plan to go back in the room later. This creates a habit. Once a habit is created it's hard to break!

Whatever you can do to cut down on your carbon footprint is an important action. It doesn't matter if it's just a small amount. Each thing, when combined with the others, counts. Turning off the lights matters. Just like not using bottled water bottles matters. Even if other people don't see the importance of it, everything you do to live more naturally counts. Conserving energy is one of the most important lessons we can pass on to our children.

11 July 2012

Turn Cleaning the Pantry into a Game

Clean out the kitchen pantry but make it fun by putting together all those newly discovered foods hiding on the back shelves for unusual but delightful dishes.  Have a contest with each family member creating an original recipe.  The winner gets to prepare their recipe for the family to taste test.

Don't stop with the pantry. Continue the theme by cleaning out a wardrobe, garage or linen cupboard and designate items for a mid-winter garage sale.  Earmark the money earned for a family treat and you’ll get more cooperation.

10 July 2012

The ability to live a simple life

I've never thought of myself as a trend setter and indeed I don't think I've ever set any trends but it appears that within our particular environment I am. Or rather we are - Wayne and I are a partnership and our lifestyle is as much a result of that partnership as it is of my efforts.

Seventeen years ago - wow, it's that long - when disaster struck we stepped back and took a long, hard look at our lives, our lifestyle, our hopes, dreams and goals. It was a forced step back and a very forced look, but we did it.

What we realised was that a lot of what we did was based on what others around us were doing and our concept of what was expected and indeed acceptable amongst our peers.  It was like being hit with a brick to realise that for the most part we preferred being at home with our young family or spending time just together. We didn't have to be doing anything special or have organized "date nights" or even leave the house.

We weren't big on eating out or parties or long holidays (although I am partial to room service). We didn't want a bigger house (more work) or new cars.

Instead we wanted to be able to enjoy the things we had.

And so although we refer to that time as "WHEN DISASTER STRUCK" in hindsight it wasn't so disastrous.

We stepped back and made the decision to put our money, time and energy into the things that were important to US. If our family and friends didn't like it, that was OK. But we wanted a better life, not a busier life.

And we wanted it for our family.

So the decision was made. Things were tough but I would be a real stay-at-home mum. We would raise our children with our values to our standards. We would become the family we wanted to be.

In a nutshell we would ditch all the stuff we did and had that wasn't important to us and focus on the things that were.

We switched from avid 20th Century consumers to simple living. We made our tree change without realizing that was what we were doing.

In fact at the time my main focus was keeping a roof over our heads, food on the table and the new baby.  I didn't even notice that turning the sandpit into a veggie garden was making us self-sufficient. Or that cooking from scratch and learning to recycle were lessening our impact on the environment.

Those realizations came later, after we'd become comfortable with our lifestyle and decided that we were happy, happier in fact than we'd ever been before.  We were living better on less than half our previous income and it was easy.

It was so easy that we had friends and family members, even mere acquaintances, asking us how we did it. To the outside world our lifestyle hadn't changed all that much, but our circumstance certainly had and they knew it.

Fast forward all those years and we still live simple lives.  Not to be confused with poor lives, or miserable lives or hard lives. I am very fond of my creature comforts and while I would one day love to go off-grid, for the time being we are connected and make use of the electricity it supplies. I still go shopping and yes, I even buy new things, but not before I've tried to find whatever it is used or to recycle or remake something I already have into it.

There is a family joke that if ever anything happens and we have to choose what to take with us in a hurry I'll opt for the dishwasher and the vacuum. I probably would too!

Because we decided 17 years ago to focus on what's important to us and do away with all the things that weren't and that were actually making us unhappy, we became by default a part of the simple living movement.

Simple living or living the Cheapskates way, doesn't matter what you call it.

I'm just so grateful that disaster chose us to strike, because we've never looked back.

And we've never been happier.

PS - a quick update on our EWSM Real Food Challenge

It's easier than I thought it would be.  I am sure having a fully stocked pantry, with a good stockpile to fall back on helps. But those things help with any pantry challenge. I love that I am concentrating on our food, putting more thought into making our meals consist of real food.  Things like tomato soup ( Karina asked how to get around using canned tomato soup here, EWSM Real Food Challenge Days 3 - 6 ) haven't posed a problem.

Sticking to our meal plan - well sort of!  It's school and Uni holidays here so everyone is home. That means we are busy doing lots of out of routine things and some of our meals have been swapped around, but they've all been real food.  The meals we haven't eaten will slot into next month's meal plan easily enough.

This challenge does mean though that the veggies are being gobbled up faster, there are gaps showing in the garden. My Diggers catalogue arrived today and I spent a lovely half hour drooling over seeds, planning what to put in the gaps and what we'll be eating for the next few months.

One thing I have noticed on this challenge, and I absolutely love it, is that my shopping time has been cut even more. These days on my "short shops" I literally run in, pick up the milk, cheese and eggs and leave! Depending on the queue at the checkout I can be in and out of the supermarket in under 10 minutes!

Oh joy, oh bliss, oh more money in my purse :)

How are you handling the EWSM Real Food Challenge?

Spinach and Cheese Bread Pudding

Spinach is listed as one of the so called 'super foods' and it is very good for you, easy to grow and when it's prepared properly really tasty.  Spinach is very low in kilojoules (yay) and high in nutrients. It's been shown to aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration and cataracts and even some cancers so Popeye really was onto a good thing. 

Don’t get spinach confused with silverbeet, sometimes referred to as spinach in Australia, they are two different plants. This is what we know as English spinach. It is so easy to grow in the garden or pots straight from seed and it's one of those plants that keeps on giving. Pick a few leaves from each plant and they will keep on growing for you.

This pudding is a savoury version of bread and butter pudding and it goes very nicely with a big green salad for a great vegetarian meal.


6 large eggs
2 cups low-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
pinch ground nutmeg
300g spinach, wilted and squeezed dry
125g tasty cheese
8 slices wholegrain bread, cut into 2cm cubes

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease a lasagne dish with butter. In large bowl whisk, beat eggs, milk, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutmeg until blended. Gently stir in the spinach, cheese and bread cubes.  Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Bake the bread pudding until golden brown and puffed and a knife inserted in centre comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and it let stand 5 minutes before serving.

09 July 2012

What is a serve?

I rabbit on about portion control a lot.  It's a vital part of controlling the grocery bill.

It is very hard not to overeat when portions have become so  very large.  Coffee and cake is now the energy equivalent of a day's food intake. A slice of cake is almost big enough to feed a small nation!

Modern dinner plates don't help either, they are very big, about twice the size they were 30 years ago. That doesn't mean they were designed for us to fill them with more food, they were just designed to look different.  When a normal sized meal is served on them they look empty.

It's a trick of the eye, and of course we keep piling on the food until our eye tells us there is "enough" on the plate. Enough was probably quite a few kilojoules earlier.

And that's when we really need to remember portion control. It's easy to say, not so easy to actually put into practice.

The Australian Government has put together a chart at www.measureup.gov.au outlining portion sizes and it gives a very good general idea of just what a portion of most common foods is.

Here are some examples of one serve for various food groups (as listed on the Measure Up website):

Cereals, breads, rice, pasta, noodles
    • 2 slices of bread; 1 medium bread roll; 1 cup cooked rice, pasta, or noodles
    • 1 cup porridge, 1 cup breakfast cereal flakes, or ½ cup muesli

Vegetables and legumes (choose a variety)
    • Starchy vegetables: 1 medium potato/yam, ½ medium sweet potato, 1 medium parsnip
    • Dark green leafy vegetables: ½ cup cabbage, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts
    • Legumes and other vegetables: 1 cup lettuce or salad vegetables; ½ cup broad beans, lentils, peas, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, sweet corn, turnips, sprouts, celery, eggplant etc.

    • 1 piece medium sized fruit (e.g. apple, orange, mango, banana, pear, etc)
    • 2 pieces of smaller fruit e.g. apricots, kiwi, plum, figs, etc, about 8 strawberries, about 20 grapes or cherries, ½ cup (125ml) fruit juice (sugar free), ¼ medium melon (eg. rockmelon)
    • Dried fruit e.g. 4 dried apricots or 1½ tablespoon sultanas
    • 1 cup diced pieces/canned fruit

Milk, yoghurt, cheese & alternatives
    • 250 ml glass or one cup of milk (can be fresh, long life or reconstituted milk)
    • ½ cup evaporated milk, 40g (2 slices) cheese or 250ml (1 cup) of custard
    • 200g (1 small carton) of plain or fruit yoghurt
    • 1 cup of calcium-fortified soy milk, 1 cup almonds, ½ cup pink salmon with bones

Meat, fish, poultry & alternatives
    • 65-100gm cooked meat/chicken (e.g. ½ cup mince, 2 small chops, or 2 slices roast meat)
    • 80-120g cooked fish fillet,
    • 2 small eggs, ⅓ cup cooked dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas or canned beans, or 1/3 cup peanuts/almonds

Foods which we can occasionally include for variety. They are generally higher in fat and/or sugar, kilojoules, salt etc.
    • 1 medium slice of plain cake or 1 bun, 3-4 plain sweet biscuits, half a small chocolate bar, 60g jam, honey (1 tablespoon), 30g (1/2 a small packet) potato crisps, 1 slice pizza = 2 extras
    • 1 can soft drink or 2 glasses cordial, 2 scoops ice-cream, 1 meat pie or pasty = 3 extras
    • 2 standard glasses of alcohol (for adults only)
    • 1 tablespoon (20g) butter, margarine, oil

Take special note of the extras. That can of Coke you enjoyed at lunchtime is the equivalent of three serves!

When you are meal planning you are planning on the number of serves you need for your family. You do this so you know how much to buy and how much to prepare.

To keep your grocery bill really low you need to know exactly how much of each food you need for the week and the only accurate way to do this is to measure it.

Now that may seem a little OTT but it's the only way.  Right now you might think you need 1kg of peas every week but do you? Or do you just buy 1kg of peas every week?  With a serve of peas being half a cup, I need two and a half cups for every meal I plan to serve peas. That means from a 1kg packet of frozen peas I'll get approximately 3 meals (there are approximately 8 cups of peas in a kilo, and half a cup of frozen peas weighs 65g).

Knowing that I can accurately buy what I need.

Ah, I hear you say. But what about if you stockpile? I do. I don't buy frozen peas every week, or even every shop. That's OK. I still know that a portion is half a cup, and that I get 15 serves from a kilo, and we have peas 3 times a week, so when peas come on sale I know roughly how many packets I'll need to last until the next sale.

If you are not sure what half a cup of peas or 100g of meat looks like, measure or weigh it. Being accurate isn't something to be ashamed of and you are not being mean, it is an essential part of controlling your money and maintaining good health. Get out the measuring cups and the scales and use them when you dish up.

Fool your eye too. Place the food in the bowl of the plate, nicely arranged. Take it up to the inner edge of any rim, but don't go over it. You don't see Masterchef contestants filling the plate to the edge do you? Actually they don't even fill the bowl of the plate, and while I am not sure Masterchef meals are budget friendly or even healthy everyday food, the fact that portion control is practiced is one good thing to come from the show.

It really is easy.

But even if you don't want to go quite that far, remembering portion sizes and sticking to them will help you keep better control of your grocery bill.

And a side benefit will be your health. Not over-eating will help you control your weight, and controlling your weight will help with so many other potential health issues (and save you even more money).

A Simple Seed Starter

Save your cardboard egg cartons for starting seeds.  They are easy to plant and look after and when the seedling is ready to go into the garden you just break off the pod and plant it, no need to disturb the roots of the seedling.

Fill each pod in your egg carton with seed raising mix or a good potting mix or clean soil. Plant one seed per pod and gently water in. Keep your egg cartons somewhere warm and light, I have mine lined up in front of the big window in the kitchen (on a tray to catch the water). Make sure they stay moist and watch your seeds sprout.  Write the date you planted them on the lid so you know when they'll be ready to go outside.

Once the seedlings are large enough to go outside just break off each pod, dig a hole to the depth of the pod and plant it. Gently press the soil around the pod, water in and you're done.

The seedling will make the transition happily, without any trauma to it's delicate root system. The pod will break down quite quickly and you'll have happy and healthy plants.

Starting your seeds off like this makes it easy to plant in rotation. I like to start 4 cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli off every two weeks through the season so we have a constant supply of vegetables ready to eat straight from the garden.

I can put them all in one egg carton and just tear off the pods and plant in the right spot in the veggie beds.

My flowers all get started like this too. I love petunias and one egg carton of seedlings is enough for three hanging baskets or two large pots.

It makes planning and planting so easy I wish I'd started doing it 20 years ago.

07 July 2012

ABC Shop Eastland

Today has been an absolutely beautiful day, and I don't mean the weather (although the sun was out for the first time in almost two weeks).

I spent a delightful two hours at the ABC Shop at Eastland, a shopping centre in Ringwood, a suburb of Melbourne. Fiona, the store manager and her team did a wonderful job, the shop looked lovely with lots of posters and a big display of Eat Well, Save More books right in the middle of the doorway - you couldn't miss them :)

Thank you so much to every one who called in to say hello and to everyone who brought their books along to be signed. And thank you all so much for chatting with me, I had a ball.

Hannah took some photos for me and if I can figure out how to get them off the SD card I'll post them for you all to see just how lovely the store looked.

I hope you all enjoyed your tasty samples too. I had no idea Fiona would make the Three Ingredient Tea Cake (page 121) and I made a batch of Johnny Cakes (page 127) and they all went, not even crumbs left. There were a few husbands and partners who came back for seconds, so they must have been good.

It was lovely to catch up with Jenni, Colleen, Margaret, Louise, Amy, Debbie, another Debbie, Barbara, Catherine, Melanie, Paula, Andrew, Rob and Warren.

Rob came all the way from Nowra just to get his book signed. He's also visiting his son and daughter-in-law to make the trip worthwhile, or so he told me. Perhaps my shop visit just happened to coincide with his visit to Melbourne :)

Colleen commented on how nice it was to talk and share tips, something she hadn't done in quite a while. At one stage we had such a group gathered, all chatting and sharing tips and recipes and it was just lovely to see.

And the number of young men who stopped by, tried the tea cake or a Johnny Cake and asked what it was all about while they nibbled was inspiring. They all, every one of them, bought the book. I am so sorry, but I've forgotten your name but you'll know who you are, the young man who is sharing a house with two other fellows almost ran off with his book after excitedly telling me it was exactly what they needed because they were spending almost all their money just on food made my day. I only hope your housemates are as enthusiastic as you are!

Some of the books were bought as gifts for grown-up children leaving home for the first time, and I thought that was a nice "mother" type of gift. Something practical but given with lots of love, that will help their children build their own home and life on a solid foundation.

Before we knew it, it was 2 o'clock and past time to pack up, two hours had flown by.

Thank you again everyone for giving up your Saturday afternoon and stopping by to chat with me.

06 July 2012

EWSM Real Food Challenge Days 3 - 6

So far so good, although lunch today was a trial!  I had been out all morning and by 1.30 I was starving and just happened to be next to the food court of a local shopping centre. You'd think that would solve the problem but it just complicated matters.

It was easy to skip Hungry Jack's and KFC. It was harder to walk away from Healthy Habits. You'd think it would be easy to find real food at a vendor called Healthy Habits but it wasn't that easy. In the end it was a multigrain roll with salad (no cheese or mayo) from Subway. At least it was reasonably cheap and actually quite nice. Fresh salad is always refreshing but I was so hungry I think I'd have eaten it if had been made of plasticine.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we stuck to our meal plan and it was good.

Debbie emailed on Wednesday and asked if this challenge wouldn't mean hours in the kitchen. I am not spending any more time in the kitchen than I normally would.  I'm not baking or cooking more than usual.

What has changed is some of the ingredients, they've been swapped for real food.

For example dinner tonight was supposed to be fish'n'chips but as we are eating real food and I haven't been to the shops this week - no fish!  So instead it was Cheat's Burritos with MOO Taco Seasoning and homemade baked beans. They were so good the boys all came back looking for seconds, always a good sign :)

Instead of bought seasoning, I made up MOO Taco Seasoning. The aroma as you mix the spices together is amazing, and then when you add them to the hot pan - you have to smell it to believe it, so much more aromatic than the packets, even the branded packets, are.  And the flavours are much better too.

Tomorrow I'll be at the ABC Shop at Eastland Shopping Centre from noon to 1:30pm and I am really looking forward to it. Fiona, the shop manager is just lovely and has done a wonderful job of advertising the event. When I called in today to see if there was anything I needed to bring with me she had a gorgeous display right at the front of the store and really cute flyers up. I feel so privileged to have such a lovely person go to so much effort to promote my book.

If you have a few minutes to spare and are in the area, please stop by. I'd love to meet you and have a chat.

05 July 2012

Handling Toxic Household Waste

Many sustainable living practices are a matter of making new habits and making things convenient.  Every household will have some kind of toxic waste to deal with: leftover paints, oil and oil containers from the car, old batteries, blown compact fluorescent light bulbs etc. Dealing with hazardous materials can be easier if you have a system in place in your home for dealing with them.

For example, choose a safe place in your home where hazardous materials can be stored until you’re able to dispose of them.  Keep like items together.  For example, have a container for storing batteries, one for storing paints, etc.

Choose a regular time to take hazardous materials to the proper disposal center.  For example, you could take paints and batteries two or three times yearly. Check with your local council (in Victoria you'll find a list of council waste and recycling depots at Sustainability Victoria) for the appropriate place to take the waste, sometimes it is an area at the tip, sometimes it can be a totally separate depot just for dealing with toxic wastes.  For other toxic waste the Resourcesmart website has an ABC of Household Chemical Waste Disposal which lists the various agencies that handle the different types of waste in Victoria. Check with state government website for similar services in your locality.

You can also make sure to check your medicine cabinet twice yearly for excess and expired medications.

Part of keeping the planet healthy and keep your home healthy is minimizing the hazardous materials you use in the first place.  By making as many choices as you can of non-toxic materials, you can limit the number of hazardous materials of which you need to dispose.

04 July 2012

Put Away Something New and Introduce Something Old

These school holidays keep the kids entertained and eliminate cabin fever by going retro - let them play with the things from childhood past.  After all there is only so much time a young child can tolerate playing video games, especially in inclement winter weather and only so much time that we parents want them to play video games. Old standby favorites such as play dough, flubber and good old-fashioned coloring books will keep the children entertained for hours.


Mix two cups plain flour, one cup salt and two tablespoons of cream of tartar. Add two tablespoons oil, two cups water and a few drops of food colouring. Stir together then dump into a large fry pan and cook like scrambled eggs. Keep stirring until its no longer "wet". It only takes a few minutes.  When it looks like playdough, dump it onto the bench and knead for a few minutes. That's it!

I keep it in recycled takeaway food containers (the ones with the lids, like Chinese takeaway) plastic bags.


This is great fun to make and even more fun to play with. In a container, put some PVA glue and add a small amount of cold water. Mix it well to thin down the PVA. Add some food colouring. Now, carefully add boiling water, mixing well, a little at a time, until it is thick and resembles playdough. Turn it out and knead it well. Then go have some fun with your flubber!

And when they are tired of sitting still, an old-fashioned tent made out of blankets and chairs will delight them. Whip up some hot chocolate and a batch of caramel popcorn and put on a movie and peace will be yours.

03 July 2012

Sweet Potato Chocolate Cakes

Want to sneak some good food into your family's treats? These little cupcakes taste just like regular chocolate cakes, actually they don't. They taste better. And with the addition of sweet potato, walnuts and spelt flour they are a healthier treat too.

3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sweet potato, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups Spelt flour
3 tablespoons 100% pure cocoa
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Line a cup cake tray with patty pans.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, sweet potatoes, water, and vanilla. Mix well.

In another bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Add to the sweet potato mixture.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites and nuts into the batter.

Pour 1/4 of batter into paper patty pans.  Bake cakes for 12 - 15 minutes. Test after 12 minutes. Cakes are cooked when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Makes 24 cup cakes.

Ice with chocolate frosting if desired.

02 July 2012

EWSM Real Food Challenge Day 2

It is so cold here today it must be school holidays!  It has rained and rained and blown a gale, so we have all been huddled down in the house. I had to go to the Post Office this morning and boy was I glad to get home to our nice cosy house.

I didn't have breakfast before I went out so you can imagine how hungry I was when I walked in the door. And frozen through too. I could hardly wait for the porridge to cook.  I had honey on it this morning and it really was warming. By the time the bowl was empty even my feet had thawed out.

Lunch was easy, and real food too. Pumpkin soup (from the freezer) and hot toast from yesterday's bread. Delicious and just right for a blustery winter day.  It was cheap too, the soup was made with a pumpkin I bought for $1 at the local orchard a few weeks ago (it made 8 litres of soup).

My pumpkin soup is so easy it's ridiculous. And so cheap it's even almost free :)

1 pumpkin - around 2 - 2.5kg  ($1)
2 large onions, peeled and diced  (15c)
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced (25c)
Vegetable stock (from the freezer or use stock cubes and water) (free, made from peelings and wilted veggies).

Peel and seed the pumpkin and cut it into chunks. Add the pumpkin, potato and onion to a large stockpot. Cover with vegetable stock (mine holds 10 litres, I usually add around 6 litres stock). Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are very soft. Remove from the heat and mix until smooth.

You can do this:
  • With a stick blender
  • In batches in a food processor
  • Using a potato masher to mash the veggies then pushing through a sieve

The whole 8 litres cost $1.40 or just 4c per cup! And it's real food and healthy.

Now if you want to turn this into a superfood soup, use half pumpkin and half sweet potato. It will increase the price to around the $4.50 mark, but that's still just 14c a cup!  And it's super healthy with sweet potato and onion in it.

School holidays started here today so we were all home. And with everyone home the mid-afternoon munchies struck. The solution was a batch of caramel corn. Yum! And best of all it was made with real food!

It's simple really. Pop some popcorn and pour it into a large, heat proof bowl. Then take a small sauce pan and add:

3/4 cup raw sugar
90g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2tbsp honey 
2tbsp milk

Stir it altogether over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring it to the boil and let it cook for 1 minute. Keep stirring so it doesn't stick to the pot or burn. Take it off the heat and pour it straight over the popcorn. Stir it quickly to coat all the corn. Spread it on a baking paper lined oven tray to set - it takes about 10 minutes. Then put on a good movie, hot chocolate and share the caramel corn (if you can!).

Our dinner tonight was delicious (and real food). The kransky was just the right degree of spicy, the potato salad was delicious as always and the broccoli, peas and cauliflower all came straight from the veggie garden.

Day two of the EWSM Real Food Challenge survived with no complaints!

Working from the Inside Out

Knitters will understand this problem, and love this solution. When you start a new ball of wool stick a finger from each hand into the middle of the skein and roll it around a few times. Most of the time you'll easily catch the inside yarn end.  This tip comes from the Lion Brand website (a wonderful resource of patterns and ideas) http://www.lionbrand.com and it intrigued me so I just had to try it. It really works and I know I'll never struggle to find that inside end again.

01 July 2012

EWSM Real Food Challenge Day 1

Today is the day.

We started the EWSM Real Food Challenge with breakfast this morning and so far so good.  Mind you we've only had two meals (breakfast and lunch) but they both consisted of real food - not a commercially processed food in sight.

Breakfast was porridge. Good, old fashioned REAL porridge. Not a quick or instant oat in the pot, just a lot of deliciously nutty real rolled oats. Now rolled oats take a while to cook, unless you know the secret.

And the secret is simple: soak them!

Actually soaking grains is a good thing, it aids in digestion and the absorption of minerals. There are a number of differing views on just what you should soak in.  Some recommend a milk-based product such as buttermilk or yoghurt or kefir. Others suggest warm water.

I prefer the results from the warm water so that's what I use. Three quarters of a cup of oats to one and a half cups of warm water, soaked overnight. I add another cup of water before cooking.
To get delicious creamy oats, cook them slowly, over the lowest heat possible. Yes this takes a while, but the heat is so low I can be doing other things while they cook. Give them a gentle stir every now and then to create the "cream". Then, when they start to bubble, you stir, stir, stir until they are thick.

Or if you don’t think you'll have time to cook them in the morning use your slowcooker and they'll be ready for you as soon as you wake. Just remember they will need more water in the slowcooker. How much more and just how long they'll take to cook will depend on your slow cooker.  Experiment, but I'd start with a 2:1 ratio of water to oats and cook on low for 6 - 8 hours.

I had pure maple syrup (no white sugar allowed) on my oats this morning and they were delicious. The boys had honey and were happy too.

For lunch we had salad sandwiches on fresh wholegrain bread. Very delicious, no one even noticed there was no mayo. I only had a bottle of mayo and as it's out the sandwiches were mayo-less.  Actually they could have used a little mayo so I'll just have to make some tomorrow.

Dinner tonight will be real food too. Veggies fresh from the garden, and a nice golden roast chicken with homemade stuffing and homemade gravy.

Our first day of real food, if all goes according to plan, will be easy.

So how is your first day going?