31 August 2013

How I write my shopping list

Do you shop with a list? If you don't you should. Without a list you don't have a hope of sticking to your grocery budget and getting all the groceries you need at the same time. No matter how good your memory is you will forget to pick up something, forget your best price or be in the middle of baking or cooking and realise you don't have a vital ingredient because you didn't have a list!

I found many years ago that I tended to buy the same grocery items over and over, there was very little change in what I bought. It was a real eye-opener for me, and it was the beginning of my perpetual shopping lists and the beginning of real money savings.

It was then that I wrote my master shopping list and each month after shopping day I run off a copy and stick it to the pantry door. As things are used up they are circled on the list. When I'm getting ready for shopping day I take the list, do a quick stocktake and add anything else I need to buy.  It is a perpetual shopping list.
You may find that you buy different grocery items in summer to those you purchase in winter.  I just made two master lists – one for summer, another for winter. I do so I have a summer list and a winter list.  My summer list has things like beetroot, pineapple and coleslaw dressing down for every shop. On the winter list they are down for every second shop. The winter list has soup mix and kidney beans on every list. The soup mix is only on every fourth summer list as we don’t eat much soup in summer.

I love my perpetual shopping lists. Everything I regularly buy is already on the list – I just need to tick the things we need and away I go! No more spending time standing in the kitchen wondering if I’ve forgotten to put anything on the list. And no more getting home, only to realise that I forgot to buy half the things I need for dinner next week.

My shopping list isn't like anyone else's. These days it's a printed A4 sheet. It used to be a spiral bound notebook. I prefer the notebook but it's too hard to stick to the pantry door! 

There are groceries I buy weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly and yearly and the list is broken down into those categories. It sounds complicated but it's not - the sections are just listed in order down the page, with the groceries underneath.

Weekly: usually bought on a Thursday when I take Mum to do her shopping

Fortnightly: bought Monday morning straight after the school drop-off

Monthly: bought first Monday of the month, straight after school drop off

Quarterly: bought first Monday of the Month, straight after school drop off

Yearly: sometime in the week between Christmas and New Year when everyone is home to help - it's a big one!

Before each shopping day I check the list, do a very quick stocktake of the pantry, fridge and freezer to make sure nothing has been missed and off I head to Aldi and Coles (for the things Aldi doesn't stock) then to the greengrocer (if it's a fortnightly shop) and butcher (if it's time for a meat shop) and home.

A monthly shop takes about an hour and a half all up, depending on the queues. A quarterly shop takes about two hours all up. Once it's done and the groceries are put away, that's it. I don't go back to the supermarket or greengrocer or butcher until the next shopping day.

When I hit the supermarket, greengrocer or butcher I don't dawdle. I have my list and I get through it as quickly as I can. I'm in and I'm out. Shopping in sections like this saves me a lot of time, at least 3 hours a month. It doesn't take any longer to toss three or four of each item into the trolley than it does one. It does take about 5 minutes longer to get through the checkout. The biggest time saving is in the travelling and parking and checking out - it's done once a month and then that's it - no more supermarket for 4 weeks.

This is how I shop.

This is how I keep the grocery bill for my family of five to $80 a week, $345 a month or $4,160 a year.

It works for me. It may or may not work for you. Feel free to try it to see how it works. Be prepared though to have to make some radical changes to the way you do your grocery shopping. And be prepared for some fantastic savings off your grocery bill.

30 August 2013

Sundried Tomato Pesto

While I was defrosting and re-arranging the freezer yesterday I came across a jar of sundried tomatoes I had made last summer. Time to use them up and the best way I know is to make pesto with them.

I spread this pesto on grilled focaccia, bread rolls or English muffins and top it with capsicum, onion, eggplant and a little grated parmesan and bake it until the veggies are warm for yummy single serve pizzas.

It also goes great with pita chips or carrot sticks for dipping.

And if you toss it through hot pasta and shave some parmesan over it you have a tasty, simple and very quick dinner.

Sundried Tomato Pesto

125g sundried tomatoes
1 cup grated parmesan
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup pinenuts
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil

Drain the tomatoes, saving the oil. Pour enough boiling water over the tomatoes to cover them. Let them sit five minutes. Add the tomatoes, the reserved oil and the other ingredients to a food processor and process until it becomes a paste.

29 August 2013

A Quarterly Meat Shop

You asked for it! You want to know how I shop and how often and what I buy and the prices I pay so seeing as I've just done a quarterly meat shop I'll make that the starting point.

I married a "feed the man meat" man. He comes from farming background and if there's no meat on his plate it's not a meal. He's not fussed about the type of meat, but there must be meat. The boys have followed in their father's taste buds and love their meat too.  Hannah and I can take it or leave, which is a good thing for my grocery budget.

I'm not inclined to not buy meat just to save money. Wayne likes it and if I can get a decent cut at a decent price I am happy to buy, cook and serve it. By the same token I also very often prepare meatless meals to help keep the grocery bill down.

We have always had a freezer. Wayne's parents gave us one for a wedding present. When it died we bought a second hand (third or fourth probably) chest freezer for $50 and used it until it died three years ago. I spent a frantic week shopping around for prices and eventually we bought a brand new chest freezer for $300 (including delivery and taking away the old one).

For my family budget a freezer is essential because it's not only meat I buy in bulk, but that's for another post on groceries.

Time, money and convenience are the factors that keep me shopping for meat once every three months. I used to buy a side of beef, a whole lamb and 60kg of chicken once a year but when the prices of lamb and beef sky rocketed the saving disappeared and so did my once-a-year meat stock-up.

Two years ago I switched to buying once every 12 weeks and frankly I love it and unless beef and lamb drop drastically I'll be sticking with this plan.

My top price per kilo for meat is $8.99/kg.

Steak (rump, oyster blade, bbq, porterhouse, scotch fillet) - $8.99
Roast beef - $6.99
Corned beef - $5.99
Lamb (sides, leg of, chops) - $6.99
Mince - $3.99
Sausage mince - $2.00
Sausages - $.329
Chicken fillets (skin on) - $5.99
Chicken wings -$1.99
Chicken pieces - $2.99
Whole chicken - $3.99

My regular visit to the butcher was scheduled for next Monday (I go on the first Monday of the quarter) but as things have come up, I went today.

Today I bought:
4 x legs of lamb ($5.99/kg - 9.47kg)
6 x whole chickens (No. 18/$5.99 each - approx. 11kg)
3 x pieces of roasting beef ($7.99/kg - 5.32kg)
11kg beef mince ($3.79/kg)
3kg casserole beef ($14 - bulk buy special price)
12kg chicken fillets, skin on ($5.99/kg) 
2 lamb shanks ($5.99 - my splurge)

Grand total:  $270.00 or an average of $23 a week for meat for my family.

There wasn't any steak for under $9.99/kg so no steak this time. And the sausages were OK but we're not huge sausage fans, the trays were almost 3kg and I had some in the freezer so I passed on them. Chicken wings were too expensive, as were the chicken pieces. And corned beef was $6.99kg - it's cheaper at Coles this week at $5.99/kg so I passed on the silverside too.

Every three months I work on buying enough meat for 60 family meals (the others are soup/toasted sandwiches/eggs on toast etc.).

From today's shop, and with the few parcels left in the freezer, there are 65 parcels of meat, in family meal size portions, in the freezer.  I am two meals ahead (I've done the shopping 3 meals early if that makes sense).

You can eat meat, and good meat at that, without going broke. It takes a little planning and you need to be prepared to substitute when prices are high, but it is worth it.

For a family of five carnivores a meat bill of $23 a week is fine with me.

10 Basic Kitchen Utensils That Will Serve You Well

Whether you are looking to learn how to cook or taking up a new interest in baking, having the essential yet basic kitchen utensils at hand will serve you well.

Whatever the reason for your interest in stocking up your kitchen with handy kitchen gadgets, start slowly with the basics. You can always add to your repertoire of kitchen gadgets throughout the years as you go along.

What you will need to start:

A Good Set of Knives 

A good set of knives will serve you well from the outset. Not only will a good set of knives get the job done, they will also help you avoid unnecessary cuts. When you purchase a set of knives that is a little more expensive than your average set, in most cases you will be getting good quality. Here is one area that you do not want to skimp. Make sure that your blades are made of high carbon stainless steel. You will also want to make sure that a chef’s knife and serrated knife are included in your set. Even if you have to purchase these separately, they are worth their weight in gold.

Various Utensils

The more kitchen utensils you have, the better. There is never such a thing as too many utensils. You will most certainly need:
  • A slotted spoon which is excellent for allowing oils and fats behind when serving
  • A spaghetti fork is a great way to stir and serve spaghetti. When stirring with a spaghetti fork, spaghetti does not stick together. I use my spaghetti fork for stirring the spaghetti of course but it’s also great for separating rice and noodles and for serving pasta and potato salads.
  • A set of tongs is perfect for everything from light salads to serving chicken. We have long handled tongs for the barbecue and a couple of smaller sets for everyday use.
  • A handful of wooden spoons useful for everything from sauce to pie fillings
  • A large metal fork which is perfect for serving heavier foods
  • A wire whisk that is useful for everything from beating eggs to mixing all kinds of ingredients
  • Spatulas that are both metal and plastic or silicone. Metal spatulas are useful to remove heavier foods from their original pans or to flip a burger and plastic and silicone spatulas are great for baking needs.

Measuring Spoons and Cups 

Measuring spoons and cups are essential for a well-stocked kitchen, especially if you are just starting out. Back in the day, women mainly relied on a pinch of this and a pinch of that. However, today that seems to be a lost art. So, until you are comfortable cooking and baking by eye, these are essential:
  • Plastic measuring spoons
  • Metal measuring spoons
  • Plastic measuring cups
  • Glass measuring cup
I prefer the Tupperware measuring cups. They last forever, stack in the cupboard neatly and come in ¼, 1/3, ½, 2/3, ¾ and 1 cup measures. I’ve had my set for over 30 years and they are still as good as the day I bought them (they are a lovely apple green!).

For measuring spoons I use the Tupperware set, and again I’ve had it for over 30 years. I also have a set of the Symply Too Good measuring spoons and love them; they are especially handy for mixing spice mixes in bulk quantities.

These are just the basics of a well-stocked beginner’s kitchen. With time adding to your kitchen arsenal with more advanced tools will be as easy as pie.

28 August 2013


I'm in heaven, or at least heaven on earth, this morning.

I had a quick trip to the doctor and then the chemist with Mum yesterday and while we were waiting for the scripts she wanted to go into the Woolworths next door to get some bread. To kill time I was wandering around going slightly nuts over the price of the fruit and vegetables - and where they'd come from (nectarines $9.98/kg - straight from the USA!).

Anyway as I was browsing I found a tiny, tiny basket of chokos tucked in the corner of a top shelf of the chiller cabinet. $2.98/kg!

I love choko. I have tried and tried to get a choko vine to grow here in Melbourne without success and I must say I think this is my biggest gardening disappointment.

So, even though I hadn't planned to buy anything and choko certainly wasn't on my shopping list and the food miles are probably enormous, I bought two.

Tonight I am going to have steamed choko in curry sauce with my dinner and tomorrow night I'm going to have crumbed choko with dinner. The leftovers I will add to some cauliflower, make a cheese sauce and serve it with our roast on Sunday.

My mouth is watering at the thought.

I only wish I had enough to make pickle - choko pickle is the best!

And I think I'm going to try another choko vine - it can't hurt.

They are so easy to grow - just put one in a warm, dark cupboard and wait for it to sprout. When the shoots are about 10cm or so long, plant it in a warm, sunny spot, shoots up. It will grow like a weed as long as it gets plenty of sun and you keep the soil moist but not soggy, and cover it for frosts. Choko is frost sensitive, which could be why I've not had much luck with growing it. We don't get a lot of frosts so I tend to forget to put the frost cloth over the garden until after the event!

I've put one in the bottom of the pantry in the potato box. Here's hoping it shoots and grows :)

Tickled Organizing

A tickler is a file, often used by journalists, to remind them of and idea months down the track. I use a tickler for planning stories, articles and blog posts. You can use a tickler to remind you of upcoming concerts, sports events, school functions - anything you like really.

Calendars and organizers are great. Electronic organizers work well too for one person, but they don't work well for everyone in the family, nor do they hold clippings, permission slips, bills, invoices, receipts and anything else that accumulates in a busy household.

For a busy family, a planner that is accessible and easy to use is needed, and that's where the tickler comes into it's own.

Take an expanding file (minimum 16 pocket).

Label the first four pockets Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4.

Label the next twelve pockets January through to December.

To use your tickler place articles about upcoming events, school notices, concerts, holidays, sports schedules and so on in the appropriate month. At the start of a new month take the clippings from that month, sort them into weeks and drop them into their slots at the front of your tickler. At the end of each week, empty the pocket. Shred or recycle the rubbish and file anything that needs to be kept in your permanent file.

You won't miss an important event again.

27 August 2013

Overnight Ginger Beer

The days are getting longer and the weather is very slowly warming up. That means it's time to start a ginger beer plant and make ginger beer ready to enjoy, icy cold from the fridge. Sometimes though you don't have the time to start a plant and feed it, make the ginger beer and wait for it to be ready. That's when this quick recipe comes in handy. Make it tonight before you go to bed and it will be icy cold and ready to drink with dinner tomorrow night!

Overnight Ginger Beer

5 cups boiling water, cooled slightly
3/4 cup sugar
50ml fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp dried yeast
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, ginger and yeast in a large bowl. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave it overnight.

The next morning use a slotted spoon to skim off the scum that has risen to the surface of the yeast mixture. Use a funnel to pour the mixture into a 2 litre airtight plastic bottle (don't fill the bottle to the top). Tighten the lid. Place in the fridge to chill (the ginger beer must be kept well chilled).

26 August 2013

Starting Seeds Inside

Seeds are so much cheaper than seedlings. A packet of seeds will cost anywhere between $1 - $4, a punnet of seedlings costs $2.95+. You'll have a lot of seeds in a packet compared to an average of 8 seedlings in the punnet.

It simply makes frugal sense to buy packets of the seeds you want to grow and grow our food from scratch.  It makes even more frugal sense to learn how to save the seed from the plants you grow from seed and really have free food, but we'll talk about that in another post.

Most seeds need to be started in a mild, controlled climate and allowed to grow a little before being hardened off and then planted in the garden and starting them indoors gives a much better germination rate and grows stronger, healthier plants that will transplant easily.

About this time every year I go a little seed crazy and start:
  • Tomatoes 
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Mini cabbages
  • Mini cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Silverbeet
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkin
  • Watermelon
  • Rockmelon
Growing from seed takes time and requires dedication so choose vegetables, herbs and flowers you really love or you may just lose enthusiasm and then the whole project will be a waste of time and money. 

Remember that plants are not naturally indoor things, they don't especially like the light or the atmosphere so you need to cater to their particular whims.  To start your seeds inside you'll need a nice sunny window, a greenhouse (you can buy portable outdoor greenhouses for around $40 from hardware stores, nurseries or eBay), a cold frame (you can easily make one yourself) or a grow light (and you can make these yourself too).

I use a sunny window in the family room to start seeds. The pots are laid in litter trays ($2 each from The Reject Shop) that I sit in front of the window. The trays are half filled with wet sand which acts as wicking to water the seed pots from the bottom, a much gentler option that watering from the top.

Another thing I do, that's not strictly necessary, is make my own seed raising mix, a modified recipe based on Mel's Mix.   http://extra.cheapskates.com.au/pages/default.cfm?page_id=42818 I use 1 part compost, 1 part coarse sand, 1 part peat moss and 1 part worm castings. I use a sieve to sift it all so the end result is a nice, fine mixture. The compost and worm castings come from the backyard, the and I buy the sand and peat moss as I need it.

You can buy seed raising trays but they're plastic, tend to be flimsy and I find them fiddly. Instead I use egg cartons, egg shells (poke a hole in the bottom for drainage), toilet roll tubes or newspaper pots. These things are all free, but the biggest advantage for me is that they can be put straight into the garden, where they'll break down naturally. There's no need to disturb tiny root systems for planting, reducing the chance of transplant shock and the chance of spreading disease by re-using plastic pots and trays.

To plant your seeds water your seed raising mixture. I like it to be damp but not soggy. Then fill your seed pots to within 5mm of the top. Press the seed mix down, leaving a small indent in the centre. Drop in your seed. I am stingy with the seeds, I only ever put 1 to a pot. I think the norm is to put 2 or 3 seeds in and choose the strongest plant, discarding the others. To me that's a waste of a perfectly good plant, so one seed to one pot. Gently cover the seed with a little soil mixture, levelling it off with the top of the pot.  Label the pot with the date and the veggie so you know what it is and when it's time to transplant to the garden.

When all your pots are filled, sit them on the wet sand. Add a little more water, just until you see the water wicking out of the sand. The pots will absorb the water from the sand, watering the tiny seeds from the bottom up. They'll be able to absorb the moisture they need, reducing the need for you to watch them constantly.

Sit the trays in your sunny window and watch your food start to grow.

When your plants are ready for the garden (check the times on your seed packet, it varies from plant variety to variety) you can take your biodegradable pot and put it straight into your garden bed.

Splinter free garden tools

As we are moving into spring, gardens are calling. Weekends will be busy with householders working in gardens and yards to pretty them up for spring and summer. And they'll be bringing out their rakes and shovels and hoes. Chances are those garden tools have wooden handles that will have dried out over the winter, causing them to splinter.

You can easily repair a splintered handle by sanding out the splinter and then rubbing the handle with linseed oil to seal the wood. Do this at the beginning of every spring and the handles of your garden tools will stay in tip top condition and splinters will become a distant memory.

24 August 2013

Putting it all in order

I've been collecting things since I was a child. It started with a stamp album, some stamps and a few First Day Covers for my seventh birthday and it's grown from there.

When I was thirteen I was given an old tin  of embroidery cottons and some stamped linens to embroider. They had been my great-grandmothers and they were the start of my love of embroidery. That love led to me collecting patterns and designs and instructions, mostly from magazines and newspapers. I'd see a pattern I like and tear it out and stick it in a scrapbook.

When I was in my twenties I started collecting recipes. Same sources: magazines, newspapers, old recipe books, scribbled notes from my mother and her friends. And I'd stick them in a scrapbook.

I also started to collect hints and tips and ideas on homemaking. Ideas for ironing or flower arrangements or how to decorate a Christmas tree (and one day I'll follow those instructions and have a fairy tale tree). And I'd stick them in a scrapbook.

All this was well before the days of the Internet. The magazines were bought by my great-aunty Madge, given to my Aunty Hazel, who read them and passed them on to Mum. When Mum was finished with them I was allowed to rip them to shreds. Iconic Australian magazines: Women's Weekly (which was weekly back then), New Idea, Woman's Day and Family Circle. Family Circle was my favourite, it had the best recipes and crafts. New Idea came a close second.

These scrapbooks inspire me to make a home.

Why am I sharing this? Because my scrapbooks are falling apart. I need a new way to keep my clippings in order. I could scan them and store them on a portable hard drive (and I probably will) but that seems a little clinical and well, too modern for my taste. I could bookmark webpages I want to come back to, and there are sites like Pinterest for storing my favourite pages, but I still need to trawl through all the stuff I pin or bookmark to find what I want, and it is time consuming and frustrating.

The alternative is to put them into new scrapbooks, 2013 style scrapbooks. This appeals to me.  I like having a hard copy to read, to hold, to flick through for inspiration. I like the idea of having pages where I can write notes and new ideas or variations to recipes or patterns for the future. And I like that perhaps one day I'll be able to pass my scrapbooks on to Hannah, so that she can flick through them and be inspired to make a home.

The old style scrapbooks I used years ago aren't around anymore, and as I've found they don't last all that well, especially with constant flicking. And they're a little ugly truth be told. I like pretty things.

So over the next few weeks, or months, or even possibly years, I am going to make new scrapbooks for all the clippings I've used over the years that I've come to love and rely on. I think I'll use the same style of journal that I use for the garden. It's hard-cover, with lovely soft lined paper but rather dull. I can pretty them up with a gift wrap cover and some labels and they won't cost much - about $1.50 each.

There will be room for my notes of course. I can see at a glance that MOO buttermilk with vinegar is good for a quick mix, but to get good buttermilk a real buttermilk starter works best. And that using 2 tablespoons of ground ginger is just as good as freshly grated in the ginger syrup we love to add to soda water in summer. My notes also remind me that warming the vinegar for the shower cleaner helps it emulsify into the dishwashing detergent without creating a huge bottle of froth.  It's the notes that make these scrapbooks so very valuable.

But the very best thing about my scrapbooks is that I can see there are still hundreds of great ideas I've tried over the years that I can share with you. Ideas that will hopefully inspire you to make your own herbal shampoo or try a simple sunburn remedy.

And when you've tried them perhaps you'll be inspired to start your own journal of clippings and notes, either in pretty notebooks or in neatly organized files on your computer.  Clippings of hints and tips and recipes you've tried and loved that you want to keep to use now, and keep to pass on to future generations.

23 August 2013

One Day at a Time

I have a challenge for you. It's simple. It requires no special tools or materials. It's short - just one day.

Just for today you're not going to incur any new debt.

Just today, one day in the grand scheme of things. Today you are not going to put anything on credit or borrow any money (or anything else). You are going to live today without adding to or going into debt of any  kind.

Anyone can avoid debt for one day. You have a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on the table. You have everything you need for today.

So no excuses and no debt.

Start at the beginning: finding your ideal grocery budget

If you are reading this then you want to get your grocery spending down or at least under control. You want to know how to set a realistic grocery budget, one your family can enjoy without feeling deprived and missing out on things they like.

There is nothing better than knowing you control your spending and a working grocery budget gives you that control.

Food and groceries are the single part of your Spending Plan that you have complete and utter control over. You choose what you buy and how much you pay. You choose to either pay the advertised price or to look for a cheaper alternative. You decide how much you spend on groceries.

If you don’t have a grocery budget then you don't have a plan for your grocery money.

Before Disaster Struck I thought I had a grocery budget. I'd go to the bank each week (yes, I was a weekly shopper) and take out the $120 and go and spend it (it was 19 years ago!). I always spent all of it, there was never anything left and there were just two of us. I spent all of it because I thought that was my grocery budget and I had to spend it.

When Disaster Struck we were a family of four, soon to be five. My grocery money more than halved to just $200 a month. Yes, that's when I switched to once-a-month shopping. And that's when I learned to maximize the money I had to do twice, sometime three times, the work.

To really get your grocery budget under control you need to start at the beginning and work out exactly how much you have to spend on groceries each month or week or fortnight (or however you shop).

Go back to the beginning. Track your grocery spending. When you set up a Spending Plan I advised you to track your spending so you know where your money goes. For the next month track your grocery spending. Jot down the cost of trips to the supermarket, the bottles of milk and loaves of bread you pick up during the week, the beautiful fresh eggs and fruit you buy at the local farmer's market, the extra ingredients you buy because you're trying a new recipe and those little treats you buy on impulse (Tim Tams on sale anywhere this week?).

Once you have your spending you can go over it. Where did your money go? How much was spent on real food, necessary toiletries and cleaning items and how much was spent on impulse on things you didn't really need but put into the trolley anyway?

Why am I suggesting you track your spending (yet again)?  Because if you have no idea how much you spend you'll have no idea how much you are saving and you'll have no idea how much your grocery budget should be.

This figure will give you a fair idea of just how much of your hard earned goes to groceries each month.

When you have this amount, then you can start to create a working grocery budget. Actually you already have a grocery budget. If you've been spending that amount each month, you have a grocery budget by default. It may be higher than what you want, and you can work on that. But it's a starting point so write it down for the time being.

This week focus on how you can maximize the money you have to spend. This is one of the biggest challenges you will face as a Cheapskate: how to eat well, keep the family happy and enjoy the foods you love on a tight budget.

To find your optimal grocery budget use the amount you currently have (the figure you came up with from your tracking).

On your next shop, trim that amount by 10 per cent i.e. if your grocery budget is $200, take $180 and do your shopping for that amount.

If that works, then on your next shop trim another 10 per cent (take $18 off, spend $162).

Continue trimming your grocery budget by 10 per cent until you find it isn't working, you can't keep your family happy on that amount and unless you increase it there will be a revolt.

Up it by 10 per cent and that's your ideal grocery budget.

You can learn to do this too. When you've recovered from the shock of seeing just how much you are really spending on groceries each month, you can get to work, trimming that budget and saving money.

22 August 2013

Beryle's Hamburgers

This recipe is from the Tip Store and it's one I've made over and over and over since it was first submitted by Robyne. My family love it in all it's many forms: burgers, meatballs, meat loaf, sausage rolls, pasties - it is a very versatile recipe.

Beryle's Hamburgers

2-1/2kg mince meat
2 pkts of stuffing mix*
1 pkt sausage meat
2 tbsp tomato sauce
1 egg for binding
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp curry
1/4 cup dried onion flakes*
1/4 cup dried garlic flakes*

Mix all ingredients together. Make into either hamburgers, meatballs, sausage rolls, pasties or meatloaves (whichever you fancy). You can top meatloaves with sliced tomato and capsicum and grated cheese and breadcrumbs. Or for something really different half fill the tin with meat mixture, add 3 hard boiled eggs and fill in around and over with meat. Top with cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes in a 190 degree oven. Freeze in tin and then remove from tin, wrap in clingwrap and foil to store in freezer.  To serve, remove from freezer and defrost. Put back in tin (unwrapped) then bake a further 30 - 40 minutes when nearly defrosted. Makes about 3 meat loaves. Freeze hamburgers with freezer paper in between each meat.

  I make my own stuffing mix from fresh breadcrumbs and mixed herbs rather than buying packets. If you don't have dried onion flakes or garlic mince or finely chop 1 large onion and 3 -4 cloves of garlic.

21 August 2013

Sometimes I Just have so much to share

There are days I have so much I want to share with you I just don't know where to start or what order to put things in.  Some things deserve a post on their own, but how many posts can I subject you to each day?  Some things become stories and articles for the Journal, but even then I struggle to fit everything in. Some things become Tip of the Day posts and emails, and again I struggle to fit everything in.  I can share some things in the Members Forum, but again it is a struggle. I can add a little to each newsletter (it's one reason why I do a weekly newsletter and not a monthly one, there is just too much information to share - and if you haven't subscribed to my weekly newsletter, Bright ideas to save you money, you can do so here).  

This morning I woke up to an interview with Lloyd Nicol from Team UOW, talking about winning the Solar Decathlon held in China (Datong to be precise) with their design for a retro-fit of an existing house.  How cool is it that it is possible to completely retro fit your house to be energy efficient from the very frame up and out!  I really want to let you know about this project (if you don't already) because it is so exciting. You can read more about Team UOW, the project, their amazing house, the competition and their win here

And there's the bedroom makeover we did for Hannah's birthday. Her room is just gorgeous, and we did it all on a rather tight budget and still managed to buy beautiful bed linen, a new bed and mattress, a new dressing table, shelves, bedside table, lamp, curtains and wall art.  Her bedroom has gone from a rather boring beige and little girl décor to a beautiful, grown-up shabby chic for under $600!

On top of those two exciting happenings there are the usual day-to-day savings. I was rather excited this morning to hear labna being touted as a super food for women (on Today, Channel 9 this morning) and used as an ingredient in a beetroot salad. Labna is so easy to make and is very frugal and versatile, especially if you make your own yoghurt. That segment reminded me that perhaps it was time to remind you all not only how to make and use labna but how easy, convenient and economical it is to MOO yoghurt.

Thinking about making yoghurt reminded me that I haven't shared my new ginger beer recipe, or the instructions on how to make it. MOO ginger beer is so much better than bought (even better than Bundaberg) and of course it is a fraction of the price. I started the ginger beer plant on Sunday so we'll have some ready when the weather warms up.

That's just four things I want to share with you, and there are more.

While I was getting the meat out of the freezer for tonight's dinner, it reminded me that it had been a while since I defrosted the freezer or updated you with how the freezer organizing is going. And that reminded me of bulk meat buys, where to buy, the top prices I am prepared to pay, how to package and store that meat to get the very best from it.

Of course bulk buying made me think of the question from Christine, asking for a copy of my shopping list and by default that had me thinking about stockpiling and how I build my stockpile, what I stockpile, where I buy those items and the top prices I am prepared to pay.

Can you see my dilemma?  There are just six thoughts since 6am this morning. There will be more throughout the day.

I need your help. I have all this information and thousands of ideas and hints that really work, but I need to know what you want to know so I can share it with you.

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you want to know about. It might be cleaning. It might be how to tackle the laundry. You might want to know the vegetables you can grow that will have the biggest impact on your budget. You might want to know how to keep the cost of travel down. Perhaps you are interested in how we can be well dressed on $200 a year. It could be that you are craving a simpler, more self-sufficient life and want to know where to start.

I'm waiting, with bated breath and coffee in hand, to find out how I can best help you live life debt free, cashed up and laughing.

This Family Get-Together Could Save You $100+ per Year per Person!

Sometimes your family members need to get rid of items they don’t use anymore. Your kids probably have some decent clothes that no longer fit them. And you’d like to experiment with a new power tool from time to time. So why not hold an annual swap meet for your extended family members?

Here’s how you do it:

Invite your siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and their families for a  family swap meet once a year.

Hold the swap meet in your garage or backyard or the family room, if you prefer.

Send an email 2 months in advance to all who'll take part in the swap meet.

Set the ground rules as to types of items (clothing, small appliances, tools and toys, for example) people can bring to swap.

Stress that all items to be swapped must be clean and in the case of appliances and tools, working. Clothes should have no stains or tears and be in good condition.

Mention all items will be free for a 1-to-1 swap that both parties approve of.

All the kids will get in on the act and love the idea that they’re getting a new game or their cousin’s formal dress from last year.

If space is limited and the family large, feel free to limit the number of items each family can bring so everyone has some space to display their swaps.

Make it even more frugal and fun by asking each family to bring a dish to share to have an inexpensive, easy family dinner afterward.

By the time you swap for a couple of clothing items for yourself, a new tool or small appliance, plus the items your kids are pining for, you’ll have saved a nice bit of money and moved on some of your clutter.

For a family of four who gain just three or four items each, you’ll probably save at least $100 per person in your family by swapping items at your Family Swap Meet, rather than buying those items outright. Try it!

19 August 2013

The Noughts and Crosses Dishcloth

This is a lovely dishcloth to knit and to use. The in and out cable pattern looks complicated but it is very simple and a good project for a new knitter to learn how to make cables.

I used Bernat Handicrafter cotton to knit this one, on 4mm needles.

This design also makes a lovely face washer. To use them as face washers I like to use bamboo yarn, it is so very soft, and just beautiful to knit with.

Noughts and Crosses Dishcloth

You will need:
4mm knitting needles
1 cable needle
Cotton knitting yarn (example is Bernat Handicrafter cotton)

MB:  Begin and end each row of the pattern block with 4 knit stitches. This will give you a garter stitch border around the pattern.

C4B: Slip two stitches onto the cable needle and hold it at the back of your work. Knit two stitches, then knit the two stitches off the cable needle.

C4F: Slip two stitches onto the cable needle and hold it to the front of your work. Knit two stitches and then knit the two stitches off the cable needle.

Bernat Handicrafter cotton is available online (I buy mine from Yarn Over).

Spotlight and Lincraft both stock bamboo yarns, as do most independent wool stores, or it is available online.

Cast on 35 stitches.

Knit six rows.

Row 1.   MB, K11, P1, K3, P1, K11, MB
Row 2.   MB, P8, K1, P1 (K3, P1) x 2, K1, P8, MB
Row 3.   MB, C4B, C4F, (K3, P1) x 2, K3, C4B, C4F, MB
Row 4.   As row 2.
Row 5.   As row 3.
Row 6.   As row 2.
Row 7.   As row 3.
Row 8.   As row 2.
Row 9.   As row 1.
Row 10. As row 2.
Row 11.  MB, C4F, C4B, (K3, P1) x 2, K3, C4F, C4B, MB.
Row 12.  As row 2.
Row 13.  As row 1.
Row 14.  As row 2.
Row 15.  As row 11.
Row 16.  As row 2.

Repeat these 16 rows once.

Knit 6 rows.
Cast off.
Weave in ends.

16 August 2013

7 Simple Ways Everyone can Help Preserve the Earth

 One of the many stunningly beautiful, free campsites scattered throughout the Victorian High Country - everything we do in our day-to-day lives either threatens or protects the earth

You may think of helping preserve Mother Earth as a major undertaking. This is not the case. There are many ways to preserve the planet by doing little things on a daily basis. If everyone did just a little something, the planet would shape up in no time at all – leaving behind rays of sunshine and butterflies for the next generation.

Around the House

Ceiling Fans Did you know that by reversing the direction of your ceiling fans you could save energy on your home heat bills? Since heat rises to the top, switching the direction of your ceiling fans can circulate that warm air and keep your home warmer at the same time lower your temperature.

Technology If you can use your laptop instead of your computer, you will save energy; however, even better, if you can use your mobile phone to tap into the Internet, you will save energy, therefore conserving it for the planet.

Pulling the Plug to Save Energy  If you unplug certain appliances such as your microwave or toaster oven, you will save energy while you are at work. In addition, by purchasing a power strip and shutting off the power to the television and stereo system while you are away, you will also save energy.

The Food You Consume

By purchasing from local markets, you support your local environment and the earth as well. More often than not, you are bound to find organic produce grown without use of harmful pesticides to you, your family, or the environment.

When you are done with skins and rinds from fruits and vegetables, consider using them for compost. When you do this, you are giving back to the earth what she will give to you in return.

On the Road Again

When travelling at home or even travelling overseas, try to keep in mind the different ways you can preserve the earth. When you have the option, take a train or a bus. Whether you are travelling or going about your daily work routine, try to remember walking to local markets or stores, taking your bicycle to sight see and most especially carpooling. Carpooling saves the earth from the extra omissions that too many vehicles on the road can cause.

If staying in a hotel, you can also check to see if it is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) facility. A LEED facility will utilize the utmost in sustainability and energy efficiency to help preserve the planet.

Preserving the earth doesn’t entail a lot of time and effort. It just requires a little thoughtfulness and putting that thoughtfulness into practice.

15 August 2013

Lavender Linen Water

There is no reason ironing has to smell like hot fabric. This gorgeous scented ironing spray will not only make ironing easier but your laundry will smell beautiful too.  If you have lavender growing in your garden (and it's the scented variety) or roses then all you need is a few minutes and a little vodka (or witch hazel if you have it - either will work) to make your very own scented linen water.

You will need:
1 cup of lavender flowers (or unblemished rose petals for rose water)
large saucepan with a domed lid
3 cups of water (distilled if you have it)
Pyrex or other heatproof bowl
2 or 3 cups of ice cubes
3 tablespoons vodka
a spray bottle

Step 1. Put the bowl into the centre of the saucepan and sprinkle the flowers all around it.

Step 2. Put the pan lid on upside down and fill it with ice cubes. Bring the water to a simmer.

Step 3. Steam will condense on the cold underside of the lid before running down it and dripping into the bowl in the middle of the pan. Replace the ice as required, and collect the water from the bowl as you go. Do not let the pan boil dry.

Step 4. When most of the liquid in the base has evaporated, remove from the heat and leave to cool. The condensation will continue to drip into your bowl. Add the vodka to the bowl and stir. Pour into a clean spray bottle and use when ironing.

For delicate fabrics, patch-test a small area before spraying to make sure it doesn't mark. Store in a cool dark place for up to six weeks.

Cost: Approximately $1.70

14 August 2013

Independence Day

Hannah has pink, AJ has blue and Tom has green - they came from Officeworks and are under $6 each

Our gorgeous daughter Hannah has just celebrated her 18th birthday (and it was a lovely day, spent with her friends and family and a "cool" party, so I was told, to celebrate).

When each of our kids have turned 18 I've given them an extra present, just from me. I hand them an expanding file, in their favourite colour (blue for AJ, green for Tom, pink for Hannah) that holds all their important documentation. They are adults now, and they can look after their own paperwork (with a little help from Mum and Dad when necessary).

Today I handed Hannah her folder.

In her folder I put:
  •  Her blue book with all her vaccination records etc. in it
  •  School reports from Prep to Year 12
  •  Special awards, ribbons, certificates
  •  Her birth certificate
  •  Her current bank statement/s
  •  Her tax information
  •  The details for her mobile phone (handbook, receipt, warranty etc.)
  •  The details for her computer (receipt, warranty etc.)
This morning, we went to the bank and sorted her bank accounts (making sure she is sole signatory, getting savings and everyday transaction accounts up to date and so on).  She also applied for a Mastercard debit card so she can do her own online shopping and leave my card alone :)

Next we went to Medicare to get her off my Medicare card (I keep the kids on my card until they turn 18, they've all had their own card since they were 16) and made sure Medicare had banking details for her.

When we finished at Medicare we went to the Post Office and picked up an application form for a passport and started the application process.

Finally we came home and made an appointment with our family solicitor for her to make a will.

Turning 18 is a big deal, and the party is just a small part of it.

When I hand over their expanding files, each one of my kids has accepted it with excitement. It's a right of passage into adulthood. They understand that I'm letting them go, that they are now responsible for themselves. And they know that their Dad and I will always be here to offer advice and help if it's needed and wanted.

This morning I handed Hannah her file.

My baby is independent.

7 Things You Don't Need to Keep

If your home office is sinking under paper it's time for a purge. There are some things you need to keep, either for five or seven years or forever. And then there are the things you keep because it's just too difficult to sort through the paper piles and shred them.

Here are  things you don't need to keep:

1. Pay stubs. Keep your year-end pay stub to compare with your Group Certificate for tax purposes. Dump all the others after you've checked them for accuracy on pay day.

2. Old insurance policies. No need to keep them if they've expired.

3. Fuel receipts. Unless you claim exact expenses for running a car for tax purposes, you don't need to keep every single fuel receipt. If you do claim fuel as a business expense there are four different methods of claiming (check them here http://calculators.ato.gov.au/scripts/axos/help/car1.htm), your accountant or tax agent will be able to advise the best method for you. None of the methods require you to keep fuel receipts.

4. Quarterly investment statements. If you're a long-term investor you don't need to keep every statement. Keep the current one and shred it when the next one comes in, after you've checked the details carefully. Then keep the annual statements; they contain all the information you need.

5. Magazines and newspapers. Don't save the entire magazine for a single article you may need. Cheapskater Geoff clips the travel articles he wants to keep from his favourite mag, clips the pages together and stores then in an expanding file. They're easy for him to find when he wants to research a trip and they don't take up a lot of space. Platinum Cheapskater Heather scans her favourite recipes and craft patterns and stores them on a portable hard drive just for them. They both get to keep the articles they like without the clutter.

6. Photos. The best tip I've ever had when it comes to photos is to cull, cull, and then cull some more. These days with digital photos it is so easy to keep thousands on our computers, taking up space and cluttering up our hard drives. Each time you download your photos go through them and be ruthless. Delete the ones that are not up to scratch, are duplicates, out of focus, chopped off etc. Digital photos are fantastic, but they can create just as much clutter in our lives as old-fashioned printed photos.

7. Medical bills. Once you've paid the bill and received your refunds most healthy people don't need to keep every single medical receipt because they are unlikely to meet the threshold for medical expenses. If you do want to keep them, cull them at the end of each year.

13 August 2013

Maple Pecan Squares

These little squares are so delicious. Moist and full of flavour, they go very well with a cup of tea and are very more-ish.

2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Maple Butter Glaze
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line a 20cm x 32cm slice tine with baking paper so that the ends fall over the long sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl whisk together the melted butter, maple syrup, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix together until completely combined. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. It will be quite thick and sticky. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the centre is just barely cooked and set. The slice should be very soft.

While the slice is in the oven, make the glaze.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the maple syrup and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook at a full boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Drizzle the warm glaze over the slice.  Allow the slice to cool at least one hour. Use the baking paper to carefully lift the slice out of the pan. Cut into 5cm squares and drizzle with the leftover syrup to serve.

  I have used walnuts, macadamias (Wayne's father has a very productive tree) and almonds instead of pecans and the slice has been delicious. Pure maple syrup gives the better flavour and health benefits, avoid the imitation syrups if you can. Aldi sell pure maple syrup as does Costco (a much larger, 1 litre jug, good value if you use a lot of maple syrup). I also use wholemeal spelt flour instead of plain white - it makes the slice slightly denser but I like the nutritional value compared to plain white flour.

12 August 2013

No more hammered fingers

This simple tip doesn't save money, but it sure saves a lot of pain. When hammering a nail into a piece of wood or a picture hook into a wall, hold it in place with a comb. Just slip the nail between the teeth of the comb and hammer away. You will save your fingers and prevent bent or crooked nails.

Make Your Own Gorgeous Mouse Pad

We can't escape technology, especially our computers. But we don't have to live with ugly computer accessories. I spend a lot of time at my desk, working on my computer, and I want my working environment to be pretty.

A simple way to pretty up my desk (and it cost nothing - I used fabric leftover from other projects) was to make an attractive mouse pad.

You will need:
Fabric 1: 22cm x 22cm piece of fabric for the back
Fabric 2: 22cm x 15cm piece of fabric for the front
Fabric 3: 22cm x 9cm strip of contrasting fabric for the front strip
Heavy weight fusible interfacing: 2 pieces 22cm x 22cm

Step 1. Cut all fabrics to the measurements above. 

Step 2. Lay the two front fabric pieces (Fabric 2 and Fabric 3) right sides together, matching the 22cm edges. Stitch with a 6mm seam. Press the seam open.

Stitch the two front pieces together using a 6mm seam. I used a contrasting patterned fabric for the trim section
Step 3. Following the manufacturer's instructions, iron the interfacing  to the wrong side of the front piece you've just made. Then iron the second piece of interfacing to the wrong side of the back  fabric piece (Fabric 1).

Iron the interfacing to your fabric pieces as per the manufacturer's instructions then trim the edges.

Step 4. Take the two pieces of fabric and lay them wrong sides together. Square them up and pin the edges. Trim any excess. Using a tight zigzag stitch sew around all four sides, very close to the edge. Trim as needed, being very careful not to cut the stitching.

The finished mouse mat, zig zagged and trimmed, ready to use

This project is easy, a beginner sewer will be able to make a mouse pad without any trouble. They take about 20 minutes to put together from the cutting of the fabric to the final trimming. You'll spend more time cutting the fabric pieces to size than you will sewing, but the end result is worth it.

Cotton fabric is best, quilting cotton, calico, linen, even cotton upholstery fabric will work for this project. 

You can whip up a few mouse pads in different fabrics to suit your décor (or your mood!), and if you're doing the handmade Christmas challenge, they would make cute gifts too.

One Winter Sunday in the Veggie Garden

If there's one thing that Disaster taught me that I am especially grateful for, it's how to grow our own food.

Yesterday was a glorious winter day here. It started off a little overcast and dull but before too long the cloud cleared and the sun was shining in a clear blue sky. There was a rather brisk breeze and I couldn't have been happier.

A breeze meant the washing dried in no time and because last week was so mixed up and crazy busy I ended up doing five, yes five, loads of washing! I have never, ever done fivve loads of washing in one day before, I'm still gobmacked. The clothesline was full with shirts and trousers and sheets and towels all blowing in the breeze, and every single item was bone dry when it was taken off the line and folded into the washing basket.

The sunshine made my fingers itch to get into the garden too and although the yard was still far too soggy to mow the garden beds were beautifully soft for digging and turning over.

Wayne dug a barrowful of compost for me from last year's compost pile. It was rich and moist and full of big, fat worms and creamy white witchity grubs. I am always amazed at how we can put veggie peelings and fluff and paper and grass clippings and prunings, stuff most people throw into the rubbish bin,  into a pile, turn them over a few times and end up with this beautiful, moist, black soil for the garden.

I used it to top up the veggie boxes by digging them over then adding a layer of the compost and digging it in. I'll let them sit for a couple of weeks before I plant into them. By then the ground will be warm enough (in theory anyway) to start the seeds and the days should be sunnier.

A few months ago we had a new side fence put up and it's now a much more useful space. The old fence was covered by a rather pretty creeper with some flowering bushes of some kind along the bottom (no idea what they were, they were there when we moved in and I suspect they were actually what was holding the fence up - that reads back grammatically wrong doesn't it?). They all had to go when the new fence went up and I cheered! 

There is now a lovely six metre length of garden bed I can use to grow more food.  I put the trellis up this afternoon, ready to grow beans and snap peas up it. Then I added a layer of compost to the garden bed and dug it all in.  This side of the yard gets the sun almost all day, falling into shade from about 4pm, the beans and peas will do just fine.

While we were digging and weeding we talked about how the garden would work this year. Where the tomatoes will go, which box to put the lettuce, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, capsicums, silverbeet, zucchini, cucumbers, beetroot, onions, silverbeet, pumpkins and melons will go.  Whether we should move the strawberry patch. If we'll have enough bags for the potatoes (and no, I need to scrounge some more).

And we talked about the watering. Hand watering takes a long time, even if it is very relaxing. And it can waste a lot of water. Wayne thinks  he's come up with a plan for a drip system that will be much more water efficient, and because we'll put it on a timer I won't need to worry about watering when we go away.

He'll draw up an exact plan this week and work out what we'll need in the way of materials. Hopefully we can recycle some hose from the watering system we pulled down a couple of years ago, then next weekend, come rain, hail or shine (it is Melbourne after all) we'll get it installed.

While I'm waiting to get more bags, the seed potatoes are out for chitting. They should be ready to plant next weekend too, they've been out about 3 weeks and have some nice sized sprouts on them. I've doubled the number to plant this year in the hopes of harvesting enough potatoes to see us through about six months of next year.

That's the plan anyway, let's hope it's nature's plan too.

Have you started your spring and summer garden yet?

09 August 2013

5 Ways an Ice Cube Tray Can Save Your Grocery Budget

Every household has at least one lurking in the freezer to the back of a kitchen cupboard. It may come out in summer, but once the weather cools down it's forgotten again.

The humble ice cube tray can do so much more in the kitchen than make ice cubes.

Freezing your leftover food into cubes will save you a lot of money. Food cubes are all the rage at the moment (have you seen the frozen smoothie cubes and the frozen baby food cubes in the supermarket? Have you seen the price of them!) so save yourself time, and money and make your own with food you know you use.

Here are five ways you can use your ice cube tray that will help to keep your grocery budget on track and save you money, time, energy and waste.

Tomato Paste - Just about everyone knows this tip, but it's too good to not include. Recipes always seem to need just one or two tablespoons of tomato paste but those little tubs and jars hold so much more. You can put it in the fridge, but it does go mouldy very quickly. Spoon the leftover paste into your ice cube tray and freeze. One block is the equivalent of one tablespoon so next time you cook you can easily take one or two tomato paste cubes and add them to your recipe. And no more mouldy tomato paste.

- The standard for any roast, often there is a little gravy left in the bottom of the gravy boat. Don't throw it into the compost, freeze it in ice cub trays. You then have gravy you can quickly thaw and heat for sandwiches or potatoes or anything else that needs gravy. Use the gravy cubes as the sauce for pie fillings or add a little water or vegetable broth to thin it down and use it as stock.

Leftover coffee or tea
- If you have a little left in the coffee or tea pot freeze it. Those cubes will come in very handy in a few weeks when the weather warms up to make iced coffee or iced tea. Use them to flavour icings or to replace some of the liquid in muffins and cakes.

Herbs - Whether you grow your own or buy them, herbs don't keep well in the fridge. Chop them and then freeze them in water in ice cube trays ready to just add to your favourite recipe. Mint, chives, parsley and basil all freeze well in cubes, ready to add to soups and sauces. No more limp herbs and no more money in the bin.

Stock - When you make stock freeze some in cubes. You can then add one or two to rice or pasta or couscous to add a little flavour, or use it to flavour gravy and sauces. They are also handy when you have a recipe that needs just a little stock.

Some Ideas for Storing and Using Your Cubes

You need to be a little organized when you freeze food in cubes, or you'll just end up with a huge pile of UFOs (unidentified frozen objects) in your freezer, and that just defeats the purpose doesn't it?

After your cubes are frozen, pop them out of the trays and put them straight into ziplock bags or Tupperware or other freezer containers for long-term storage. This will keep like cubes with like and reduce the chances of freezer burn or stray cubes in the bottom of the freezer.

I'm a huge fan of the Sharpie and I suggest you use one to label your bags of cubes. Don't write directly onto a freezer container though, it won't come off. Stick some masking tape or a freezer label on the seal and one side and write on the label. I use two labels because if containers are stacked in the small fridge freezer compartment I can't easily see the lid, ditto if they are stacked in the chest freezer I can't easily see the side. Being able to see what's in the container means I don't have to do the freezer shuffle to find what I want.

Some measurements to make using your cubes easy:
  • 1 regular sized ice cube compartment holds 2 tablespoons of liquid.
  • 2 cubes is the equivalent of 1/4 cup of liquid
  • 4 cubes is the equivalent of 1/2 cup of liquid
  • 8 cubes is the equivalent of 1 cup of liquid
Knowing this makes it easy to pull out the right number of cubes for your recipe.

I'm sure you have other ways an ice cube tray can keep your grocery budget in check, share them below!

Question: Are Generics Hurting Australia's Economy?

Margaret wrote "Cath, I love your email every week but wonder if the buying of only generic brands is hurting Australia's economy.  I try and buy Australian products all the time even if it costs a little more.  I really like to see my money kept in my country."

Margaret raises a good point, although just because something is Australian made doesn't mean her money is kept here, and just because it's a generic product doesn't mean it isn't.

There are a lot of generic products made in Australia. And there are a lot more "Australian made" products that are made from imported materials or ingredients that we could well manufacture or produce here, or by foreign owned companies.

We all want a stronger economy and supporting our local businesses makes sense.

Sadly though a lot of what we have come to recognise as Australian isn't any more. Many of our favourite brands are owned by foreign owned companies. This means that at the very least the profits go - yep - overseas. They don't stay in Australia.

For us as consumers to support Australian industry we need to first buy from Australian owned companies, then look for products that are Australian made by Australian owned companies, then look for products from Australian owned companies, that are Australian made from Australian materials and ingredients.

That is not always easy. We live in a country of plenty, and compared to many countries excess, but there are many, many families and individuals in our country who simply don't enjoy a life of plenty, and excess exists only in their imaginations. They are on limited incomes and very tight budgets.

We can take the moral high ground and say that we will only buy 100% Australian products and be happy to pay a little bit more, but for many shoppers that high ground, no matter how desirable, simply isn't a realistic proposition.

Dick Smith Foods ran a campaign asking shoppers to pay just 30 cents more and choose Australian grown and processed beetroot. And 30 cents isn't a lot.

But when you multiply that 30 cents an item over the average grocery basket it adds up. And that's when buying Australian grown, manufactured, processed or owned becomes almost impossible for low and limited income Australians.

We should all, as citizens, aim to buy Australian first and it should always be our preference if circumstances allow.

But we also need to remember that unless we are walking in others' shoes, we have no understanding of their life challenges and reasons for shopping as they do.

Below is a copy of an article from the August 2011 Cheapskates Journal, where Lynne Wilkinson from Ausbuy talks about buying Australian owned and made on a tight budget.

How to Buy Australian and Feed the Family for Under $100 a Week

Platinum Cheapskater Janine Benson asked the question "How do we shop like a Cheapskater and still keep Aussies in a job? A lot of the generic brands are from imported products or made overseas! There are folk in regional Victoria that will be without jobs soon as Heinz are closing down and we have lost jobs in Cobden and Simpson with dairy companies closing."

It may seem like an impossible task, but it can be done. Remember back to when you were a new Cheapskate, how you thought you'd never be able to get the grocery bill down to $300 a week, or $200 a week and $100 a week was the impossible dream? And then you started to shop smarter, and your attitude changed. Before very long that grocery bill was coming down.

I know it can be done, but so you can be sure it is possible, I went straight to the expert, Lyn Wilkinson, CEO of AUSBUY.

" One hundred dollars a week for four people is just $14 a day" said Lyn. "When we change our buying behaviour, think more about what we eat and connect more with our food it can be done.  Big Macs might be appealing but do not give the nourishment that is required and while the cost of a Big Mac at $3.95 might appeal with the right planning you can feed a family of four on this amount. "

Lyn says the concept that Australian products are more expensive is a misnomer. AUSBUY has done shopping comparisons and found that Australian products are cheaper, better quality and better value for money than many foreign products.

In recent years there has been a big push by retailers to sell “private label” products at prices below the other market brands, but with price goes quality and products are sourced overseas which are often grown in conditions which are not allowed in Australia and hence do not offer the same nutritional value. Cheap does not equate to good value.

There are a few issues to consider when feeding a family and supporting Australian farmers, manufacturers and retailers.

1. The number of food programmes as entertainment on TV is amazing, and indicates that people are losing cooking skills and connection with growing food which is fundamental to life.
        a.  These programmes often show ways to turn basic food into imaginative meals.
        b.  In a family try to encourage the younger members to participate in the food preparation – peel, mash, set the table, butter the pan etc.
        c.  Make each meal an event where the family gathers and the TV is turned off.

2. The more food preparation people do at home the more value they add and can get better quality, healthier food.
        a. If it did not grow in the earth, walk or swim then avoid it as it was manufactured with laboratory skills.

3. Learn to read labels – just because a label says it is healthy is not necessarily true. Low fat means high sugar and vice versa.
        a.  Some processed foods are necessary in a diet – but be aware that some cereals use copious amounts of sugar while others use fruit to flavour the cereal.
        b.  Always check where the food comes from – if it is not labelled product of Australia or made from local ingredients or local and imported ingredients then you do not know where the food has come from or the where country of origin is.

4. Good planning and use of fresh food helps to spread a budget and to ensure long term health. 
        a.  Prepare meals in bulk so that meals are put into the freezer for a week or two.
        b.  This means there is more variety in the menu each week.

5. Better to buy fresh in season and make sure the fresh food is Product of Australia – it has not travelled far and supports our farmers.

6. Packaged goods are an expensive way to buy food, they offer convenience but are not the most economical or healthful way to shop.

7. Many AUSBUY members position their products at the quality end with focus on nutrients and locally sourced ingredients.
        a.  Some of the well known foreign brands often use imported ingredients instead of local ingredients and often have high sugar levels or preservatives etc.

8. Some simple meal ideas:
        a.  Foods which are in season are more plentiful and therefore cheaper.
        b.  It might take some effort, but a kilo or two of fresh apples and pears then cut up and cooked make a great breakfast or dessert and there is enough for a couple of weeks.
        c.  Meat can be a special treat, even cheaper cuts which are lean are full of flavour and can go further when lots of vegetables are added.  Slow cooking brings out the flavours.
        d.  Winter is a great time for hearty soups and vegetable soups using dried peas and chick peas to thicken it with home made bread or drop scones
        e.  Sunrice Australian grown rice, pumpkin and an orange are the basis for a pumpkin risotto, add fresh herbs and Pantalica parmesan.
        f.  Buy Australian dairy products when on sale – Bega cheese can last for weeks when the pack is open and can be grated on potatoes and milk to form a potato bake.
        g.  Set up a fresh herb garden – friends may offer cuttings – and use these to add flavour and decorate your meals – rosemary is easy to grow, marjoram, oregano and mint all last for several seasons.
        h.  Keep some basic foods in the pantry such as Buderim Ginger Lime and Ginger Marmalade – a teaspoonful adds flavour to meat and fish dishes when added to the pan or to vegetables in the wok.

08 August 2013

Cleaning Up a Spill is Easy with Salt

It happens to all of us. We put a casserole in the oven and before long it's bubbling away and overflowing, leaving a stinky, burning mess on the oven floor.

When this happens to you, get your salt pig and sprinkle the mess with salt, then just keep on cooking. The smoke and smell will disappear.

Let the oven cool down and simply scrape the mess off the oven floor with an egg lifter or spatula.

07 August 2013

Weird and Wonderful Places to Stash Your Cash

While I don't suggest that you keep all your money hidden in your house, occasionally circumstances may dictate that you have a sizeable sum of cash on hand for a short time. You probably don't have a home safe and running out to buy one isn't exactly frugal. So where do you stash it to keep it safe? 

Well firstly, remember the saying "don't put all your eggs in one basket"? It applies to keeping valuables in the house too. Don't keep all the cash in the one spot. If it's in the the one place and something happens, then it's all lost.

The toilet tank.
Um, no. While it may seem like a good place, wouldn't it be the very first place any burglar who's ever watched TV look?

The freezer.
Probably the second place that burglar would look. Unless you can completely hide it in a sealed package, there are better places to stash that cash.

Bury it.
Well it works. As long as you remember where in the yard you buried it. And it needs to be waterproof and pest proof.  A tip I read suggests using PVC pipe to hold the stash, with caps at either end finished off with plumbers tape. It needs to be buried deep to remain hidden. It sounds like a lot of work for a short-term hidey hole.

Tennis ball.

I like this idea. The tip suggests cutting  open a tennis ball, stashing your cash (or jewels or whatever) and then placing the ball between two others in the original tube. Just make sure you fill the tennis ball with wadding so it doesn't rattle if the tube is shaken. And put it somewhere where it won't get picked up and tossed into a sports bag!

Under the mattress.
No. Again, it's a classic hiding spot and one of the first places any thief will look.

This is a good one. No, you don’t use a live powerpoint. Create a small wall cubby and cover it with a powerpoint faceplate. You can buy a powerpoint at any hardware shop and it's a simple matter of a couple of screws to hold it in place over the cubby hole. Just be sure to put it where you'd expect to find a powerpoint so it doesn't stand out.

Tampon box.
This is the best short-term hidey hole for a cash stash yet! Just slip the cash down the side of the box, or underneath the product and put it back in the drawer or cupboard. Ladies will understand when I say no burglar would think to look there. They may tip the drawer out and look under the drawer liner, but open that box - not on their life!

These ideas work for cash for the short term - don't keep large amounts of cash in the house long term. It's not wise, and you could well have issues with your insurance if you do.  If you plan on keeping a large amount of cash in the house regularly have the value added to your insurance; most companies have specific rules about what can and cannot be covered by your home and/or contents policies.  Talk to them about how you can best minimize loss if you had to make a claim.

And lastly, leave a clue to where you keep your stash. If you should become ill, or die would your loved ones know where you keep your cash? Unless you want your valuables to be lost and of no use to anyone, let two or three trusted family or friends (or perhaps your solicitor) know your plans. And add a note with your will, explaining the what and where.

06 August 2013

Watermelon Rind Pie

Yes, you've read it right - watermelon rind pie!

I just couldn't wait until summer to share this new (to me anyway) recipe with you. I even splurged and bought 2 kilos of watermelon ($1/kg - ouch!) to try it and it is just delicious. Mind you winter watermelon is a little lacking in flavour - just letting you know.

This recipe caught my eye on the Mother Earth News Real Food blog because it fits perfectly in my no waste kitchen plan. We love watermelon and grow a few each summer to enjoy icy cold from the fridge or the esky when it's really, really hot. There is nothing nicer than a watermelon slushy for afternoon tea.

But that rind. I grew up being told to never eat the rind, to always leave a little layer of the pretty pink fruit or I'd end up with a terrible, horrible bellyache. And so I've never eaten the watermelon down to the rind, I've never until now even tried it.

No one told me I could make a pie from it, and love it, and not end up with a bellyache.

But I'll tell you. You can eat the watermelon rind, cooked in a pie. It's delicious. And frugal. And another great thing to not waste.

Watermelon Rind Pie

Shortcrust pastry - enough for a two crust pie (or two sheets ready-made shortcrust)
3 cups peeled and diced watermelon rind
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup sultanas
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
Granulated sugar

If you haven’t already, prepare the pastry and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.

Combine the watermelon rind and ¼ cup of the white sugar in a large saucepan. Add water just to cover. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and continue to boil until the rind is tender and translucent, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain well, then transfer the rind to a large bowl and cool.

Roll half the pastry into a thin 30cm circle. Line a 22cm pie dish with pastry to form a pie shell. Chill for 15 minutes. While the pastry is chilling, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Stir the remaining ½ cup granulated sugar into the cooled rind. Stir in the sultanas, nuts, vinegar and brown sugar, then stir in the flour, spices and salt.

Roll the other half of dough into a 25cm circle. Put the filling into the chilled pie shell, smoothing the top with a spoon. Lightly moisten the rim of the pie shell. Invert the top pastry over the filling, centre and peel off the paper. Press the top and bottom pastries together along the dampened edge. Trim the pastry with scissors or a paring knife, leaving an even 1cm overhang all around, then sculpt the overhang into an upstanding ridge. Poke several steam vents into the top of the pie with a fork or paring knife; put a couple of the vents near the edge of the crust so you can check the juices there. To glaze the pie, lightly brush the pastry with the beaten egg white and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.

Place the pie on the centre oven rack and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 160 degrees and rotate the pie 180 degrees, so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. Just in case, slide a large aluminum-foil lined baking sheet onto the rack below to catch any spills. Continue to bake until the top is dark golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. This is not a particularly juicy pie, so you may or may not see juices bubbling up through the steam vents.

Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

When you peel the rind, be sure to remove all of the outermost skin with a sharp peeler, since it’s the toughest part of the skin. Don’t undercook the rind, thinking that it will soften further as it bakes. Because of the vinegar in the filling, this isn’t likely to happen.

This pie has a fruit mince like texture to it, just right for serving during watermelon season (aren't we lucky watermelon season is also Christmas and holidays here in Australia?).

I can't wait until summer to make it again.

Blueberry Crumble Muffins

1-1/2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
3/4 cup raw sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup plain flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Line a 12 cup muffin tin with muffin papers.

Combine the spelt flour, raw sugar and baking powder. Whisk to combine. Pour the coconut oil into a measuring jug. Add the egg and enough milk to measure 1 cup. Beat slightly to break up the egg and pour into the flour mixture. Stir to just combine. Stir in the blueberries. Fill muffin cups to the top with the mixture. Sprinkle with crumble topping.

Crumble Topping:
Mix together flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon until it looks like breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the muffin mixture.

Bake for 20 - 22 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out with just a few crumbs sticking to it. These muffins are best if slightly underdone.

05 August 2013

Nappy Bucket Fresheners

These little discs work so well and are so simple you'll wonder why some genius hasn't decided to market them and charge a small fortune! Be glad you've found this post, you'll just love using them.

If you are using cloth nappies, just pop a couple in the bottom of the nappy bucket to keep the odour down, then tip the whole lot into the wash. Easy.

We are well past the nappy bucket stage in our house, but I still make up these little discs and slip them into the laundry hamper in the bathroom. I also put them into organza bags (from the $S Shop a while ago) and slip them into the boys' shoes and boots to help with the odour.

Nappy Bucket Fresheners

You will need:
2 cups bicarbonate soda
1 tsp peppermint oil
Cold water
Paper patty pans

Step 1. Stir the oil into the bicarb soda.

Step 2. Add just enough cold water to make a very thick paste.

Step 3. Press enough mixture into the bottom of each patty pan so it's about 2cm thick.

Step 4. Put them on a cake rack to dry and harden.

To use, just drop two or three into the bottom of your nappy bucket. When you're ready to soak the nappies tip the whole lot into the machine and soak and wash as usual.

If you are using disposable nappies, drop two into the bottom of your nappy bin and then when it's full dispose of as usual.
These make a cute and useful gift for new mothers. Make a batch and store them in a ziplock bag. To present them tie them up in a little organza bag and add to a hamper or gift.

04 August 2013

How to Have Your Roast and Gravy Too

Sunday night is roast night in our house. It alternates between chicken, lamb and beef, and the veggies vary depending on what's growing in the garden around lunchtime each Sunday. But one thing that never varies is the gravy. My family love gravy on their roast so I always make a big jug for them to just about drown their dinner in.

I've always made it from scratch, because that's the way Mum makes it, so I've never really given much thought to the fact that perhaps you've never made gravy from scratch. When the forum started buzzing about homemade gravy from scratch I realised it was time to share my secret to a great gravy (and just how easy it is to make)

Making gravy from scratch couldn't be any easier and it tastes so much better than from a mix, once you've mastered it you'll never resort to gravy powder again.

All you need are the pan juices, cold water, plain flour and some seasonings of your choice.

Traditionally gravy uses the pan juices from a roast, but it you fry steak or rissoles or sausages you can use the pan juices from them to make delicious gravy too.

MOO Homemade Gravy

Pan juices
1/2 cup plain flour
1 cup cold water (or stock)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Step one: Remove the roast from the baking dish or meat from the fry pan.

Step two: Put the baking dish or frying pan on top of the stove.

Step three: Mix  ½ cup of plain flour in 1 cup of cold water. I shake it in a Quick Shake to make sure there are no lumps. You can whisk it in a jug or a small bowl for the same lump-free result.

Step four: Turn on the heat under the baking dish (or fry pan). When the juices start to boil add the flour and water mixture, stirring constantly. Make sure you scrape all the brownings off the edges and bottom of the pan, these give the gravy a beautiful, rich flavour. Stir in a splash of Worcestershire sauce and stir until the mixture thickens. If it seems too thick you can always add more COLD water (hot water will cause it to lump and go gluggy), stirring all the time you're adding the water.

Step five: Add salt and pepper if needed, taste it first. Skim or pour off excess fat if you want to. Serve.

Good gravy cannot be beaten. It is the secret to finishing off a good meal. Leftover gravy can be used to thicken pie fillings, added to soups, stews and casseroles and even re-heated and poured over toasted muffins for a quick lunch or breakfast.