30 December 2013

Make a Memory Quilt

Instead of purchasing fabric to make a quilt, why not use your old clothing? My grandmother made me a quilt for my 21st birthday that was created using left over fabric and out grown clothes. My mother's wedding dress, scraps from the bridesmaids, my christening dress, the first dress I wore home from hospital, my old school uniforms, band tee shirts, the seat covers from my first car, my high school formal dress: literally every square tells a story that means more to me than any colour coordinated fashion quilt ever could do- and every piece of it was free. 
Contributed by Sandi, Brisbane

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27 December 2013

What's in the Fridge?

I was reading a book a few weeks ago, and part of the story was how the husband decided to clean out the fridge whilst his wife was ill. At the back of the fridge he found a container of something. Taking it to his wife, he asked what it was, and how long it had been there. She had no idea, and didn't really care. I'll never forget his comment "But Joyce, you know it takes 28 days for food to go mouldy in Tupperware!"

Now, I don't know whether or not it takes 28 days for food to go off in Tupperware, but I do know that lurking at the back of just about every fridge is some kind of life-form. This had me thinking about food storage, and how we organise our refrigerators.

I decided to ask a few food storage experts (my mother, a good friend with four children, a neighbour who does a lot of exotic cooking) to see how they organise their fridges. We all seem to basically store food in the same way. Milk, soft drink and other everyday items on the top shelf, dairy and deli items on the middle shelf, meat on the bottom and fruit and vegies in the bins. Eggs went into the egg compartment. Tall bottles in the door.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep frequently used items within reach 
  • Keep items that need cooler temperatures near the bottom 
  • Keep your refrigerator temperature between 35 and 40 degrees F 
  • Door, Shelf, or Bin? Drawers near the top of the refrigerator are specially designed to be colder, to keep meats fresher. If your drawer has a lever for varying the temperature, set it at coldest for meats, and less cold for vegetables or cheeses. 

Bins at the bottom of the refrigerator are designed for fruits and vegetables. If they have adjustable humidity controls, set it higher for vegetables, and lower for fruits. If you don't have humidity controls, leave the drawer slightly open to allow air to flow in and prevent moisture build up - this is important for moisture-laden foods like lettuce and celery.

If your refrigerator can hold large bottles of milk in the door that's a good place to keep them, along with dairy items and condiments.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • The more people in your home, the more the refrigerator will be opened, allowing cool air to escape and costing more to run. Have an insulated drink bottle on the bench or sink for cold water or cordial. This stops the family opening the fridge door constantly for drinks. 
  • Incorrectly setting the temperature controls can cause frozen fruits and vegetables which can be costly.
  • Excess moisture in the vegetable bins will cause produce to spoil more quickly if you find condensation, wipe them dry. Line the bottom with a face washer, or paper towel if you re feeling extravagant. 

Refrigerator Freezer vs. Chest Freezer

One of the best wedding presents we received fourteen years ago was our freezer. It has saved us money, time and energy every day. Now, not everyone has the luxury of owning a separate freezer. If you are limited to the freezer attached to your refrigerator, set up a system that will allow you to know what is on each shelf: meats/poultry, dairy/breads, vegetables, etc. This system also works for separate freezers.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Always remove store wrapping and wrap items in freezer-weight foil or paper or Tupperware type freezer containers. These are designed especially for the freezer, are clear and have an airtight seal.
  • The day before adding a large quantity of food, turn the freezer to its coldest setting .
  • Mark a "use by" date on freezer packaging, and be sure to rotate items to avoid spoilage. 

What to Put Things In

Clear containers, wraps and bags are ideal - you'll know exactly what's inside with just a glance. Sauces and other casserole-type leftovers are best placed in plastic containers, while dry items, like chicken breasts, pork chops and hamburgers can be placed into plastic bags. Permanent markers can be used for writing on plastic bags, and ballpoint pen on Avery labels works well for marking freezer containers.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Always remove as much air as possible when preparing items for freezing to prevent freezer burn. A great tip: use a drinking straw to suck the air out of the bag before sealing tightly. 
  • Raw or cooked meat can be successfully frozen only once - never refreeze thawed meats.
  • Keep freezers 75% full to run efficiently - use milk bottles of water to take up space if needed - and you'll always have cooler blocks ready for your picnics.

With a little planning, your refrigerator and freezer can be an efficient storage area that will save you money, time and energy.

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26 December 2013

My Boxing Day

When the kids ask me what I'd like for my birthday or Mother's Day or Christmas I always tell them what I'd really like is a day off. No cooking. No cleaning. No washing. No taxiing. No shopping. No household chores at all.

This year for Christmas, among other things, they gave me a day off.

It was pure bliss.

After the hustle and bustle of yesterday today was a day to slow down, sit back and relax.  And that's exactly what I did, courtesy of my Christmas present from the kids.

I had some DVDs to watch and a new book to read. Wayne had a new toy to play with and install in the car. AJ and Tom had things to do and Hannah was busy building a pin hole camera and listening to a new CD.

I did all of this amongst the paper and cardboard remnants of Christmas day, while nibbling on cold chicken and dips and pita chips and downing big glasses of icy cold ginger beer.

Today I didn't prepare a meal. I didn't wipe down a bench. I didn't wash a dish. I didn't tidy the lounge room. I didn't do any washing. I didn't even make our bed.

I was left alone to watch the DVDs I've been dying to watch for a month and read the book I've been wanting to read for ages. I pottered in the garden for as long as I wanted, without interruption. I had the whole day to do just what I wanted and climbed into bed tonight happy, contented and worn out from doing nothing.

So thank you my wonderful children. You knew I really needed a day off and you gave it to me, with a whole lot of love.

And it was beautiful.

I hope your Boxing Day was beautiful too.

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24 December 2013

Leftovers Don't Have to be Leftovers*-

This time of year leftovers are almost a certainty in most households. In true Cheapskates style using them to create new and delicious meals not only saves you money, but stops waste.

But what to do with the leftover baked vegetables? Or the half bowl of coleslaw in the fridge? How can you turn a little leftover chicken or turkey into something new?

Leftover baked vegetables and chicken or turkey can be diced and combined with 1 cup of cooked peas and 2 hardboiled eggs to make a chicken and potato salad. Use a whole egg mayonnaise to bind it all together (or your favourite mayo).

Turn leftover coleslaw into a side dish for the Boxing Day barbecue. Rinse the dressing from the coleslaw and drain it well, until it's almost dry (I put it in the salad spinner). Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy based fry pan and sauté one diced onion and 125g diced bacon until crisp. Add the coleslaw and toss through. Cook for about 10 minutes until the cabbage has softened and the liquid has evaporated. Season well with salt and pepper.

Leftover seafood becomes a beautiful seafood mornay with a little creativity. Melt some butter (about 90g) in a saucepan and stir in 4 tablespoons of plain flour. Cook for one minute (this takes away the "floury" taste). Using a whisk gradually stir in 3 cups of milk. Whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened. Stir in 1 cup grated cheese. Add your diced seafood (about 500g is a good amount) and some frozen peas and corn kernels. You can serve it as is over steamed rice or pour it into a casserole dish, sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs or crushed Weetbix, dot with butter and bake for 20 minutes in a moderate oven.

Leftovers don't have to be leftovers.

23 December 2013

Royal Puddings

These little biscuits are a Christmas tradition in our house.  I only make them in December so we never get sick of them and because they are so quick and easy they are great to keep in the fridge to wow unexpected (or even expected) visitors when you serve them.

1 pkt Chocolate Royals (biscuits)
1 200g block white chocolate
1 pkt Jaffas
1 pkt Spearmint leaves

Step 1.  Melt white chocolate over hot water.

Step 2.  Dip half of the top of each biscuit in the melted chocolate, letting it run down the sides to represent custard.

Step 3.  Place a Jaffa in the centre top of each biscuit.

Step 4.  Cut a spearmint leaf in half and position under the Jaffa to represent holly leaves.

Step 5.  Place completed Royal Puddings in an airtight container in the fridge to set the chocolate.

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20 December 2013

The National Container Deposit Scheme

This was going to be Wednesday's post, but life (and mushrooms) intervened and it was pushed onto the back burner. But I think it's too important a topic to forget about, so instead of a shopping inspired post today, let's talk finances and recycling and sustainability and being kinder to our world, all while living the Cheapskates way.

Way back in the olden days, when I was a little girl, I made my pocket money by collecting soft drink bottles and taking them to the milk bar at the top of the hill to collect the deposit.

Some weeks I'd have a lot of bottles and be really rich. Those were the weeks we had 20c bags of lollies. Other weeks I might only have one or two bottles so I tested the patience of the kind man in the milk bar and deliberated over which 2 for a cent lollies I'd have. The green glass Coke bottles were prized, they had a bigger deposit on them and so to find one or more really gave my pocket money a boost.

And then for some reason, a bright spark somewhere decided that once soft drinks moved to plastic bottles there was no need for the deposit refund scheme anymore and stopped it.

In 1977 South Australia brought it back. Since then plastic bottles have dropped off the Top 5 Most Common Types of Rubbish collected on Clean Up Australia Day in South Aus. South Australians are beating the national average for recycling bottles by around 74%! South Australians are the best recyclers overall, with an 83% recycling rate, twice the national average! Way to go Crow-eaters!

Territorians are to be congratulated too. In the year or so since they've had a CDS (container deposit scheme) they have trebled recycling rates up to 67%!

So why isn't this scheme national? Why aren't we all paying a refundable deposit and then getting it back (or letting the kids collect the bottles for pocket money) to lift recycling rates and clean up our landfill, waterways and country?

Well it seems that even though this scheme has community support and government support, Coca Cola and Schweppes don't want it. These companies don't want to be responsible for cleaning up, or at least helping to clean up, the mess they are partly responsible for creating.

So much so that they even took the Northern Territory to court to have their deposit scheme banned.

This bemuses me. I just recently watched a documentary about how Coca Cola in the Middle East collects and recycles it's bottles and lids in what is supposed to be an environmentally bottling plant (and I am sorry, but I can't remember the name of the doco or find it, but I'll keep on searching and update when I find it).

Coca Cola Amatil doesn't want a CD, national or otherwise (I believe because it will affect their profits, albeit in a very small way).

Too bad I say. I don't drink the stuff, can't stand it, and we rarely have it or other bought soft drink in the house.

Anything that encourages recycling, cleans up landfill (and this scheme would stop around 740,000 tonnes of empty plastic bottles going to landfill each year), cleans up litter (it's predicted to bring about around a 15% drop in litter) and raise government revenue (to the tune of around $90 million - not to be sneezed at especially in light of our current deficit) can only be a good thing.

Coca Cola, Schweppes, Lion and any other manufacturer who doesn't want this scheme can suck it up. They are as much a part of the problem as their customers; they too have a responsibility to be a part of the solution.

If you'd like to read more about this scheme try these links:

What is a Container Deposit Scheme?

Container deposit scheme back on full-bottle track

National container deposit scheme crushed by Australian Senate

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Everyone's heard of recycling, and I'm sure everyone is avidly doing their very best to recycle as much as they humanly can. But have you ever thought of precycling?

Precycling is what you do before you recycle. For example when you are shopping, take a good look at the packaging on the item you want. Is there a lot of package for a little item? If so is there a similar item with less packaging? Less packaging means less rubbish, less energy and resources have been used to make it and less energy and resources will be needed to recycle it into something else.

And the easiest, simplest and best form of precycling? Remembering to always take your own reusable shopping bags with you. Ditch the veggie bags for  your own reusable veggie bags.  Ditch the plastic grocery bags for calico, cotton, canvas bags or cane baskets.

Make sure you think about recycling before you buy, precycle, and take your recycling habits to the next level.

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19 December 2013

Get the Most out of Candles

1. Put candles in fridge for 24 hours before first use. This hardens the wax and therefore makes the candle burn slower.

2. Ensure candles are on a flat surface.

3. Trim the wick and burn for two hours on the first burn - you may need to tip out excess wax. The reason you do this is so a well is created in the middle of the candle. That ensures it will burn evenly and therefore will last longer.

4. Save the excess wax as you can buy wicks from craft shops and you can then make another candle out of the excess wax.
Contributed by Kym

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17 December 2013

Drying Mushrooms

Last Sunday I called in at our local fruit and veg market towards closing time (always the best time to go for bargain basement prices) and bought 3kg of mushrooms for just $4!

Oh joy! Oh bliss! We all love mushrooms; on toast, in soups, in quiche, in salads and on pizza so there was no way I was going to not buy those mushies. But even we can't get through three kilos of mushrooms before they start to get a little dried and wrinkly.

Which reminded me of a really simple way to preserve them: drying.

Using two bowls, I peeled and sliced them and spread them in the trays of the dehydrator and set it to 60 degrees and let those mushrooms dry right out. The peelings and the stems went straight into a ziplock bag then into the freezer to be used in stock later on - no waste from these mushrooms.

The dehydrator was set up outside, on the back verandah, because well frankly the aroma of mushrooms can be a little overpowering, especially when it hangs around for 12 hours.

When they were thoroughly dry and crisp I tipped them into a colander to cool before putting them into an air tight jar in the pantry.

We have lots of lovely mushrooms to use in cream of mushroom soup or a stroganoff or even on our pizzas on Thursday nights. Soaked in boiling water for a few minutes they will be delicious on pizza and it only takes a few minutes to reconstitute them.

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16 December 2013

Mango Jam

I was give two mangoes this week, as a treat. The thing is I can't stand the smell of fresh mango, and no one else eats them. I only had two so not enough to make mango chutney (which I do like), not enough to drag out the dehydrator to make mango leather, but I really didn't want them to go to waste.

So jam it was. And it is delicious! Really delicious. And so simple. I just converted my regular jam recipe to use mangoes instead of berries and added a little extra lemon juice. I am so glad I did - as soon as mangoes drop in price after Christmas I think I'll head to the market for a tray, just to make jam.

Mango Jam

500g mangoes, peeled and stoned
500g sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

Step 1. Gently warm the sugar in the microwave or over a bowl of boiling water for 1 minute. Warmed sugar dissolves faster and there is less chance of it crystallizing.

Step 2. Dice the mango and add it to a large pot with the sugar and lemon juice. Slowly stir it over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Step 3. Turn the heat up and bring the jam to a rolling boil, stirring constantly (you don't want it to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn). Once the mixture starts to boil turn the heat down to just maintain the boil. Let the jam cook until it reaches setting point - about 15 - 20 minutes.

To test for setting point put a saucer or small plate in the freezer to chill.  When you are ready to test for set point,  remove the jam from the heat to avoid overcooking it and place a teaspoon of the jam on the chilled plate. Put the plate back into the freezer for a minute. Remove the plate and give the jam a gentle push with your finger. If the surface of the jam wrinkles up, it is ready. If it doesn't return the pot to the heat and continue boiling for another five minutes, then test again.

Step 4. Ladle into sterilised jars and seal.

Note: This is a small batch because I only had the two mangoes. You can quite easily double the quantities to make a decent sized batch if you have more fruit and a big enough microwave safe bowl.

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14 December 2013

Making Mozarella

Tom and I made mozzarella on Wednesday afternoon.  He's been asking me to make it for a week, but I didn't have the milk. I finally gave in and went and bought 2 litres of our favourite whole milk on Sunday.

We've been using a lot of mozzarella since MOO Pizza Night has become a regular Thursday night feature and fresh mozzarella can't be beaten. Don't think for one minute that it is cheaper to make your own mozzarella, but it doesn't cost any more than buying it either. But when you MOO mozarella you choose the quality of the milk you use, you know exactly what goes into that cheese and you have truly fresh mozzarella to enjoy - and you can't get really fresh mozarella from a supermarket.

It only takes a couple of hours to do a batch, and some of that time is resting time. That's when we clean up and get the iced water ready and heat the water for stretching. Because mozzarella is stretched, and then stretched again and stretched some more before it's ready to shape into those traditional balls.

That's Tom's job. He is the wearer of the gloves, dipping his cheese and hands in the very hot water and then stretching and shaping and stretching and shaping until the balls are shiny and smooth. Then he drops them into the salted iced water to chill and ten minutes later he's munching on them.

I love making soft cheeses, you don't need any special equipment, except perhaps a good thermometer if you don't have one and a cheesecloth. It's one of those skills that most homemakers would have had at least a basic knowledge of before we were brainwashed into thinking that anything handmade or homemade was inferior and convinced that buying massed produce was the absolute best we could do.

We regularly make labna (yoghurt cheese), mozzarella, ricotta (makes a wonderful white sauce for lasagne), feta (very nice in a green salad or on a cheese plate), mascarpone (goes very well with dried fruit), Neufchatel (I use it in place of Philadelphia cream cheese) and cottage cheese (which is particularly nice with a little finely chopped mint and honey as a dip for fruit) and occasionally I'll venture to the hard cheeses but as I don't yet have a cheese press that's a rare treat.

Like making washing powder or baking bread or knitting dishcloths or growing tomatoes and the myriad of other household tasks I undertake, making cheese improves the quality of my family's life without causing us any extra expense or stress or debt.

It simplifies our lives. Yes, it takes effort on my part (and Tom's) but it still simplifies. I'm not worrying about getting to the shops, standing in queues, using petrol, driving in circles to find parking, adding packaging to landfill. We just take a few fresh ingredients and make cheese, in our own time, at our own pace.

13 December 2013

Cube It

A few weeks ago the $300 a Month Food Challenge topic was cubes. Frozen cubes of juice, pasta sauce, leftover vegetables, gravy, passionfruit, tomato paste and the list went on and on.

You all know my fondness for good coffee. I love it. It is my indulgence. I enjoy one mug of great coffee every morning and I really do enjoy it. But it costs a lot of money and I don't like to throw out the coffee that's not used.  True to my Cheapskates lifestyle I freeze it in ice cube trays, and then dump the frozen coffee cubes into a Tupperware container to store in the freezer.

Those cubes get used for iced coffee (see the recipe below, it's divine), they get added to icings or cake batters for flavouring, occasionally one even gets added to gravy to give it a bit of zing (try it, it's surprisingly delicious) and they get used when I'm making barbecue sauce or marinades.

There are so many uses for just a little coffee, so don't waste it, cube it and use it.

This iced coffee is amazing. It is one of my favourite drinks on a hot day. It tastes a lot like the iced mocha you buy at cafes, for around $5.40 (large), but it costs you around 50 cents to make at home.

Use whatever your sweetener of choice is. The recipe says honey and it's good with honey, I often use maple syrup (pure please, not imitation) and it's even better. If I'm watching sugar then I use agave syrup and it's still good. Of course if you prefer sugar, go right ahead, you'll still enjoy your blended mocha.

Iced Blended Mocha

1 cup of frozen coffee cubes
1 cup of cold low fat milk
2 tsp honey (or maple syrup or sugar or agave syrup)
2-1/2 tbsp chocolate syrup (MOO or bought)

Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth and enjoy!

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12 December 2013

The Best Ever Way to Boil Eggs!

This tip came to me via Mother Earth News and I really wish it had landed in my inbox on Sunday when I was almost climbing the walls trying to peel fresh eggs.

Since then I've tried it and it works - even on the freshest of eggs! Just steam instead of boil and they'll peel so quickly and easily you'll want to steam more just to peel them! Really, it's that good a tip.

Here's the tip:

"Instead of putting farm-fresh eggs directly into water to make hard-boiled eggs, try steaming them for 30 minutes. After steaming, chill the eggs in ice water for a few minutes before peeling. The shells will fall right off!" Mother Earth News

I boil steam a dozen eggs at a time so to do this effectively I use my electric steamer. It's a set and forget 'til it buzzes set-up, which means I can get on with other things. But you could also use your stovetop steamer, just remember to check the water level in the pot so it doesn't boil dry - 30 minutes of steaming is quite a long time on the stove.

And once you've steamed your boiled eggs you'll never, ever struggle with boiling water, cracked eggs and sticky shells again.

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11 December 2013

The Best Ever Christmas Dinner on a Budget

The concept of frugal Christmas dinner may sound like an oxymoron, but it really isn't as impossible as it may seem.

Even though holiday meals express the great value of abundance, you can still avoid stretching your finances beyond their capabilities.

How Can It Be Done?

There's nothing stopping you from serving up a delicious Christmas dinner without destroying your budget in the process. The key to saving money on this special meal is planning and forethought.  When you put time and effort into planning your holiday meals, the results are nearly always positive. And remember, it's just one meal on one day of the year.

As you plan your Christmas meal, consider your portions. Consider your guest list to ensure that your portions match how many people will be eating. Don't plan adult portions for children - that just wastes money, time, energy and food. Instead limit waste by only buying and cooking what your guests will actually eat. If you want to have generous leftovers for Boxing Day, simply figure them into the math as well.

When it comes to leftovers, and really, no matter how carefully you plan there will be something left over, plan how you are going to use them so nothing goes to waste.
Package your leftovers in portions sized for meals and store them based on when you plan to serve them. Meat and many side dishes can be frozen, so consider how you will use your leftovers to promote frugality and prevent waste.

Know when to shop. Between now and Christmas Eve there will be sales on Turkeys, hams, chocolates and lollies, drinks and seafood. Keep an eye on the supermarket sale brochures so you can pick up a bargain.  If you're brave enough, and have a good back-up plan in place, leaving the shopping for the turkey, chicken or ham until Christmas Eve can see you pick up a bargain or two. But you always run the risk of missing out altogether, that's when you'll need your back-up plan.

Cooking Christmas dinner can be stressful so make use of as many conveniences as you can. Some conveniences are worthwhile and will save you money while others won't. Pre-baked rolls will save you time and can be bought ahead and frozen.  Buying custard will relieve stress if you're not a confident custard cook.  Frozen peas and beans are just as nutritious as fresh and just need to be heated and served.  Plan ahead to learn which convenience items will help you save money in the long run.

Tempting those convenience is, don't forget that cooking from scratch isn't hard when you have a plan and it will save you a lot of money. So, when it's possible to do so, cook from scratch. Stuffing and gravy are two staples that you can create at home more cheaply than you can buy them. Frozen baked potatoes aren’t too expensive, but the real thing costs even less and tends to store well.

Your guests will appreciate your from-scratch cooking.

Special meals such as Christmas dinner are meant to be enjoyable. You and your guests will enjoy the meal all the more when you're not stressed out over the cost. Plan ahead, cut costs where you can, and have a wonderful meal that fits within your budget.

10 December 2013

Parmesan Crisps

These are the perfect little biscuit at this time of year. Good with dip or a cheese plate, delicious enough to eat on their own. And easy to make!

100g butter
100g plain flour
pinch salt
pinch cayenne
1 tsp mustard powder
50g grated fresh Parmesan cheese
50g grated mature cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
50g extra grated Parmesan

Put all ingredients into a food processor and process. The mixture will start to resemble crumbs and look quite dry, don't worry, keep processing until it comes together in a ball. Turn out onto a piece of clingwrap. Gently shape into a ball, wrap in the clingwrap and rest 30 minutes in the fridge.

When the dough is rested remove it from the fridge and flatten into a disc about the size of a saucer. Slice the dough in half through the centre, like you would cut a cake.

Take one half and roll out to a square about 6mm thick. Trim the edges.  Brush the cheese pastry with the beaten egg. Sprinkle generously with the extra Parmesan. Cut into small rectangles. Place on a baking paper lined biscuit tray. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Bake in a moderate oven 10 minutes, checking after 8 to make sure the cheese topping isn't burning. Remove from the oven and cool on cake racks.

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Fresh Milk v Powdered Milk

I wrote a few weeks ago that I prefer to use fresh milk for drinking, coffee and on our cereals, rather than powdered, although I use powdered milk for baking and UHT when we go camping. And what a can of worms that opened!

It seems the fresh v powdered milk debate is a very emotional one, I had no idea! There are the die-hard fresh milk drinkers who won't even consider powdered milk. Then there are the confirmed powdered milk drinkers who believe they are real Cheapskates because generally powdered milk is cheaper than fresh and then the fanatical powdered milk drinkers who like saving money and believe they are doing the green thing and being kind to the environment.

Here's my take on the topic.

I buy 9 litres of fresh milk each week. Where I buy it from depends on where I take Mum shopping - when she shops on a Thursday I do our fresh food top up. Sometimes it's Aldi, other times it's Coles or Woolworths and depending on her mood and what's on her list it could be the local IGA or Foodworks. When it comes to fresh milk I'm not brand or store loyal. The cost is between $8.64 and $12 a week. That cost is built into our food budget (although I much prefer the weeks it's $8.64).

In an ideal world we'd have a house cow and I could have all the truly fresh, raw milk I want and not have to buy it from a supermarket. Enough for milk, pure, thick cream, rich butter and even cheeses. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

We don't live in an ideal world (and our council has strict rules about keeping livestock on a suburban block - go figure!) so I have to buy our fresh milk from the supermarket. And when it comes to powdered milk I usually buy it from Aldi when I do my six monthly shop. Aldi powdered milk is the cheapest I've found locally. And it tastes OK if you have to use it in coffee or on cereal.

I use powdered milk in all baking. I use powdered milk to make custards and sauces. I use powdered milk to make MOO evaporated and condensed milk (and save a fortune too!). I use powdered milk to make up cake mixes, scone mixes, damper mixes and pancake mixes to save time in the kitchen and to take camping with us. I use powdered milk to make up Hot Chocolate Drink Mix. Powdered milk certainly has a place in my kitchen.

Which had me thinking about just how green powdered milk really is (and OK, some of your comments put a bug in my ear too).  I've been looking and searching and I haven't really come across anything that will say definitely one way or the other whether using powdered milk is environmentally friendly.

Personally I think powdered milk has to be a greener option than fresh milk even though it takes a considerable amount of energy to make it, especially if that energy comes from a renewable resource such as wind or solar power (and I've not been able to find that information either).

For a start there's far less packaging. My nine litres a week comes in three plastic bottles with plastic lids and a plastic label. Sometimes I can repurpose them for other uses but more often than not they are rinsed over the pot plants (the dregs of milk are a great fertiliser for your pot plants), squashed and put into the recycle bin. My one kilo packet of powdered milk comes in a foil packet, that can be folded flat and put into the bin or it can be cut into ribbons and used to make bows for presents or to tie plants in the garden before finally going in the bin.

Then there is the transport problem. Powdered milk is compact - you can get a lot more packets of powdered milk on a truck than you can fresh milk in bottles. One packet of powdered milk is the equivalent of between 7 and 10 litres of fresh milk (depending on the brand and the strength you make it up), a huge difference in transport costs and fuel for fresh milk.

Which reminds me of another point: powdered milk has a long shelf life, it doesn't require refrigeration until it is made up into a liquid. It can be stored in a warehouse rather than a giant fridge and put on a regular semi-trailer instead of a refrigerated van. More energy savings to be had there.

And finally, a one kilo packet of powdered milk from Aldi currently costs $5.99 and officially makes up seven litres - that's 85 cents a litre, not a huge saving on the fresh milk at 96 cents a litre but over a year it adds up to $51.48, almost a week's grocery money.

You can save more by stretching it. I don't make it up to full strength, getting 10 litres from a one kilo packet and bringing the price down to 60 cents a litre or a saving over the year of $168.48.

If you've given up using powdered milk to replace fresh milk but would like to try again to save a little money try these tips:

1. Find a glass bottle to store it in.

2. Use cold water to make it up and whisk it rather than stir so there are absolutely no lumps.

3. Let it chill for 24 hours before drinking it, adding it to cereal or putting it in your tea or coffee. When it has time to thoroughly chill and settle it tastes almost the same (I just can't say it's the same) as fresh milk.

I'll continue to buy fresh milk (and raw milk when I can get it). We like it and it is covered by our food budget. I'll also continue to use powdered milk for baking and cooking, for the convenience and the saving.

If you're not sure - try powdered milk for a couple of weeks and see what you think. As with all things when living the Cheapskates way, if you don't like it you can always go back to fresh milk. And if you do like it you can count your savings.

09 December 2013

Get Your Heart Attack in a Box Delivered Right to Your Door

I am not a fan of fast food. I am not a fan of takeaway, the local food court offerings or even home delivery. And I am not a fan of McDonalds.

Don’t get me wrong, I've eaten at McD's, my kids endured enjoyed the odd birthday party in the "dedicated party room" over the years, complete with Happy Meal and chemical laden birthday cake.

But I am not a fan. It's not on our regular meal rotation, never has been and never will be.

So to find out that the normally publicity hungry corporation has been quietly trialing a home delivery service (for a fee of course - $4.95 plus a minimum order of $25) in Parramatta, the gateway to Sydney's western suburbs has me wondering why no fan fare?

They've never been backwards at patting themselves on the corporate back before. So why is Mickey Ds trying to keep this new venture quiet?

Is it the fact that it's chosen area to trial this "service" (for want of a better word) is the second most obese area in Sydney? That it is a lower socioeconomic area where $29.95 for one meal could well break a family's budget? That pushing their imitation food on vulnerable people could be considered unethical, if not criminal?

Is it that the bright sparks in charge really know they are doing something morally corrupt? Is it that they secretly ashamed at preying on the vulnerable in our society for profit?

I am not impressed. The minimum $29.95 that has to be spent will give you cold burgers, cold, soggy, over salted fries, sugar laden soft drinks and chicken (?) nuggets - a meal guaranteed to promote good health - not!

Seriously, for $30 you can easily make four real hamburgers, complete with full salad and yes, even a special sauce (if you ask, I'll share my special burger sauce recipe with you), delicious, crispy fries and an icy cold homemade lemonade or gingerbeer or rapsberry cordial.

Actually for $30 you'd be able to feed at least 15 people, and probably faster than getting it delivered, and that's with having to buy all the ingredients for the burgers, fries and drinks. Grow your own grub and you could feed another 5 mouths.

Every day I hear from families who are struggling to put food on the table, pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads.

I think this latest move by this multi-national bully is a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned. I don't need it, I won't encourage it and I won't support it.

So what do you think? Is getting your McDonalds fix delivered to your door a good thing? Or would you rather keep your $30 and eat real hamburgers and chicken nuggets you MOO?

Gardener's Soap

Do you love gardening (or know someone who does)?  Do you have a lot of coffee grounds to compost each week (or know someone who does)? Then take those used coffee grounds into an amazing gift for yourself (or the other gardeners in your life) and turn them into Gardener's Soap.

This soap uses recycled coffee grounds as the "scrubber" element, leaving dirty hands, elbows and knees (yes, I am a very messy gardener) clean and soft.

You will need:
500g block of clear melt-n-pour soap base
3 - 4 used and dried coffee pods
A little isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle
Soap mould (I used an old block cake tin lined with clingwrap)
A 2 litre Pyrex (or other microwave safe) bowl

Step 1.  Prepare your soap mould. I used and old block cake tin that was lined with clingfilm. You could use silicone cake or cup cake moulds, they won't need lining.

Step 2.  Cut the block of soap base into 1cm cubes. Drop them into a Pyrex bowl.

Step 3. Microwave on Medium-High for 2 minutes. Stir. Microwave another 1 minute and remove from the microwave. Stir continuously until all the soap base has melted. I suggest taking the soap base out of the microwave before it has all melted so the temperature doesn't go above 50 degrees Celsius (if it goes over 50 degrees the soap can become cloudy).

Step 4. Drop the coffee grounds into the bowl and mix. Be sure to stir everything in thoroughly, so the grounds are evenly distributed throughout the mix.

Step 5. Pour into the prepared soap mould/s. Use a spatula to scrape every last drop of soap out of the Pyrex dish.

Step 6. Spritz the top of the soap with the rubbing alcohol. This removes the little bubbles that are on the surface and leaves the top of the soap with a nice sheen.

Step 7. Let the soap set overnight. The next day turn it out onto a chopping board, remove the clingwrap and cut into blocks.

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08 December 2013

Economy Gastronomy

A couple of weeks ago I found, quite by accident, an English TV show called Economy Gastronomy and I'm hooked (it screens on Sunday afternoons on 7two here in Melbourne so I set the black box to record it for viewing when I have time). I can't not watch it - it's like a train wreck happening in slow motion before my very eyes.

Last week the family of 7 (Mum, Dad and 5 kids) were spending £408 (around $733AUD - a weeks wage) on food. To make matters worse they had a garbage disposal in the kitchen and used it - tossing £7,000 (or $12,578.95AUD) down it every year!

I'm gobsmacked! We don't even spend that much a year on food, let alone waste it! It makes my $4,160 a year grocery budget look really poor, and yet we eat well, never go hungry, enjoy good quality fresh food (including organic fruit and veg, dairy, meat and poultry when possible) and still have plenty to share with visitors.

So what were the money wasters that stood out?

1.  No meal plan.

We all know that's a big mistake. Without even a simple meal plan it's just too easy to decide cooking is hard and order take-away or resort to convenience meals. Writing up a basic meal plan won't take more than 5 minutes. Just choose seven dinners and jot them down. Breakfasts and lunches are usually the same thing in most households - cereal and toast for breakfast, sandwiches or rolls for lunches.

2.  No shopping list - the mother thought she was buying bargains, but most of it was junk food.

Again, we all know this is a food budget disaster just waiting to happen. Without a list you just won't know what to buy so you can stick to your meal plan. It takes just a few minutes to jot down what food to buy, and how much of it. And it saves you a fortune. When you have a list you can get in, buy what you need and get out. No tempting wandering up and down the aisles trying to remember what you need. And if it's not on the list - don't buy it.

3.  No pantry/fridge/freezer inventory done before going shopping - there were 7 jars of English mustard in the fridge, all opened and part-used.

What a waste, of food and of money. Always, always, always have a quick look at what food you have on hand and think about how it can be used in your meal plan. You'll avoid waste, save money and not end up with seven jars of English mustard in the fridge.

To speed up your inventory try to keep your pantry and fridge tidy. That just means always putting things back where they came from and re-stocking in the same place. When the pantry is tidy you can see at a glance that you have three tins of tomatoes but only one of chickpeas. It's a simple thing but it saves you a lot of time.

4.  No meal portions - food was just served up, and the children scraped most of it into the garbage disposal (it wasn't even composted or fed to the dog).

When a recipe states "serves 6" then make it serve six. And when you are feeding young children remember their appetites and capacity for eating are much, much smaller than an adults and dish up accordingly.

I'm not saying don't let them eat the same meals you do - just give them appropriate sized portions.

5.  Everyone ate at different times.

This would send me nuts. Two lots of cooking, two lots of cleaning up. And no family time. Eating is a communal activity. Turn off the television. Set the table. Sit down and take half an hour to eat together. Discuss the meal. Talk about the day. Slow down and enjoy what you are eating and who you are eating with.

6.  Three different meals were cooked every night (one daughter is vegetarian, children ate "child friendly" food  and Mum and Dad ate something different again).

Picky eaters are made, not born. You're not running a restaurant, so don't take orders. Unless there is a real health reason not to, even very young children can eat what you eat. From the day they went on to solids our kids all ate exactly what we did. When our kids were younger "I don't like it" didn't work until they had tried it. The rule was one spoonful. They had to try it and eat the spoonful, and then if they really didn't like it I left it off their plate or changed the way it was served. For example Tom hates mashed potato, he just loathes the texture, so I just take his potato out of the pot before I mash the rest. Easy. Hannah doesn't like red meat so she gets a small portion and extra vegetables. AJ doesn't like fresh tomato, so I leave it off his plate and add a little extra of another vegetable. Wayne eats anything :)

The family was challenged to eat for a week on a budget of £260 and I think they managed it - It was interesting to see them shop, cook and eat together for the first time.

Would you believe I missed the end of the show, the recording stopped about 10 minutes early. But there are lessons to be learned from this show.

1.Shop with a list and if it's not on the list don't buy it.
2.Cook from scratch.
3.Cook once.
4.Eat the meal that has been prepared together, as a family - if this means Mum and Dad have to eat early so the kids can get to bed at a decent time then so be it. Family comes first and must stick together and the best way to ingrain this is around the dinner table.
5.Leftovers aren't scraps - they are the ingredients for tomorrow's dinner.

It's almost time for this week's show - I'm off out into the garden, it's much too nice a day to be watching TV, but I have set it to record so I can watch it later. Like I said, it's hard not to watch, I can only hope the lessons learned stick with them!

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