27 October 2018

We're Doing OK, No Need to Panic

The nightly news preview flashed across the TV screen, and within minutes my inbox and Facebook had started to fill up with doom and gloom.

The Australian stock market had suffered the biggest losses in twelve months. Wall Street was going backwards faster than ever. Fortunes were being lost in the blink of an eye.

And I sat and watched and thought "we're doing OK, no need to panic".

I was grateful on Thursday afternoon that we are debt free. I was grateful that our savings are in Australian banks (not all in one bank, even I'm not that trusting!). I was grateful that the losses felt by stockmarkets around the world didn't have a direct, personal impact on our lifestyle.

I was grateful that we have a very comfortable roof over our heads.

I was grateful that we had food to eat for dinner.

I was grateful for a mother who kept a fully stocked pantry, and taught me to do the same, and to stockpile for times of trouble.

I was grateful for a backyard big enough to handle our veggie garden, and for the seeds and seedlings that will feed us through the summer.

I was grateful that we had learned long ago that there is no such thing as good debt, and that when you have debt, you own nothing; that we worked and scrimped and scraped and saved and went without luxuries (we never, ever went without necessities) to pay down our debt so we would own everything we have.

I was grateful that Wayne would come in from work, relaxed and happy; that we would be able to sleep that night, secure in the knowledge that those huge losses wouldn't hurt us.

But most of all I was grateful that, whatever the storm, we would face it together. And together we would come through it, we would be OK.

26 October 2018


It's Friday already. This week has flown by, and yet every morning when I've woken up, I've wished it was the weekend.

Not sleeping well really throws my energy levels out, and then I feel like I work all day and get nothing done, and that's disheartening.

So this morning, while I was drinking my coffee (yes, I've given in and am having one cup of coffee a day) I thought I'd make a list to see just what I've accomplished this week. Looking back, I'm stunned, because it sure doesn't feel like I've done all these things.

  • Daily routines have been completed every day.
  • All our meals have been cooked from scratch.
  • Made a triple batch of Miracle Spray (it's red again).
  • Refilled the vinegar decanter.
  • Topped up all the canisters in the pantry. While I was doing this, I emptied each shelf and wiped it over. I did this a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn't take long for it to get messy if I'm not vigilant in making sure everything is put back properly.
  • Took a bundle of text books to the op shop.
  • Knitted four dishcloths for the Crafy Mums Christmas Garage Sale.
  • Completed calendars for the Crafty Mums Christmas Garage Sale.
  • Made a batch of yoghurt.
  • Made a quadruple batch of MOO Condensed Milk and froze it, ready for Christmas baking.
  • Made a batch of fruit cup cakes.
  • Spent half a day with Wendy, packing pamper packs for the charity hampers and making cards.
  • Visited Mum twice.
  • Researched natural pain relief and made a tincture that will hopefully help with the pain in my feet, which in turn should help with my sleeping issues.
  • Watched Pine Gap on iview while I was knitting - much better than I thought it would be, it has held my interest this week.
  • Pottered around in the garden, picking strawberries and getting another two beds ready for planting.
  • Sprinkled herb seeds around the potted fruit trees. If they grow the plants will fill the gaps and make mowing easier. And I'll have sweet basil and dill to pick fresh from the garden.
  • Sowed more lettuce seeds and the first lot of radish seeds. I'm the only one who likes radishes, but I use them in coleslaw so I succession plant a row every couple of weeks.
  • Picked oranges for the fruit bowl.
  • And of course worked on the Cheapskates Club, especially the Own Your Christmas Challenge and the newsletters for the next few weeks.
I think where I went astray was in thinking I hadn't done anything major this week. I haven't, or at least not one big job.

Looking back, it was lots of little things that made up the week, so when I told Wayne I was just puddling around, I was. But I was puddling around getting things done!

Do you ever have days or weeks when you feel like you've accomplished nothing? Do you make a list of what you've done, just so you'll know?

24 October 2018

Stretching the Food You have 'til it Fits Your Budget

Last week I challenged Cheapskaters, in the weekly newsletter, to trim 10 per cent from their grocery budget.

This week's challenge is to trim another 10 per cent from your grocery budget, but you're probably thinking there's no way you can do that without causing a riot.

Well there is, and it's simple: stretch food the food you have; and I don't mean by pulling!

Think about the food you have on your shopping list, and the food you have on hand. Now think about how you can stretch those foods, and still eat well, and enough.

I always start wiht meat. Meat is the most expensive component of most meals, so to me it's the obvious place to start with the stretching.

Then think about vegetables and fruit. Do you use all the fruit and veg you have? Or do you find, come garbage day, that you're dumping fuzzy or slimy or stinky or hairy fruit and veg? Because if you're buying it, and then dumping it, you may as well just put the money straight into the bin!

 Some simple ways to stretch food to produce more serves are:

1. Add an equal quantity of TVP, rolled oats or cooked rice to mince when making rissoles and meatballs. You'll get double the quantity, giving you and extra meal for less than half the price.

2. Stretch mince based pasta sauces and taco fillings by whizzing a tin of baked beans per 500g mince in the food processor until the crumbs are the same size as the mince crumbs, and add to the dish. You're adding bulk, and fibre, and doubling the recipe for a fraction of the cost of the same quantity of mince . When the baked beans are whizzed, they can't be detected in the pasta sauce or taco filling. Mince is $7/kg (the cheapest around here right now), while baked beans are around $2/kg. The saving is obvious isn't it?

3. Add a tablespoon (or two) of milk to mayonnaise jars and bottles when they are getting low. Shake well to combine and no one will know the difference.

4. Add a little water or stock to pasta sauce jars, swish and pour into pasta sauces. You'll get every drop of sauce from the bottle and stretch it at the same time.

5. Use a silicone spatula to scrape out margarine containers, peanut butter, jam, honey, cream and Vegemite jars. You'll be shocked at just how much is left in the jar if you use just a knife to scrape it - easily two or three sandwiches worth, and that's money you'd be putting in the bin if you don't scrape. I bought a set of 3 silicone spatulas from Big W for uder $5 about 10 years ago and they're still going strong and have saved many times their cost.

6. Instead of serving whole chicken fillets, dice them into 2cm cubes. Two medium chicken breast fillets will then easily serve four (or five in our case!). The diced chicken can be used in casseroles, enchiladas, apricot chicken, sweet'n'sour etc. 

7. Don't pound meat to make it thin. Slice chicken fillets and steaks in half through the middle, creating two full fillets or steaks from each one. Cut larger steaks down so they're about the size of the palm of your hand - that's all that's required for a serve, anymore and you're just overeating and over-spending.

8. Always take the tenderloins off chicken breast fillets and use them for a separate meal. Save them in the freezer until you have enough to make crumbed chicken wraps or dice them use them in curries and stews.

9. When mashing potato use some of the water it was steamed or boiled in instead of milk. The potato will be lovely and fluffy, no added fat and no extra cost.

10. Always make stock from roast bones. Chicken carcasses and lamb bones make lovely stock which can then be used to make soup, gravies and risottos and cook rice or pasta.

These are just some ways I've managed to keep our food bill down over the years. It was a learniing curve, and  I'm still on it.  I'lm always looking for ways to trim the grocery budget, without compromising nutrition and taste.

If I can do it, you can too!

22 October 2018

We've Eaten Down the Freezer

And now it's time to restock, so this morning I hit Australian Butcher in Boronia and bought some meat.

I spent $110.65 and bought enough meat for 24 meals, bringing the meat per meal cost down to just  $4.61 or 92 cents per serve. That's below my limit of $5 per meal so I'm really happy, especially as there are three meals of steak in that cost.

 $110.65 for 24 meals!

I bought sausages, mince, chicken fillets, chicken breast schnitzels (they were marked down) and steak. Yes, real steak. Wayne and the boys will be thrilled. We rarely eat steak, simply because it's expensive and rarely on a good enough sale to fit within my $5 per meal average meat cost.

As soon as Tom carried it all in from the car, I portioned it out and packed and vacuum sealed it, then it was straight into the freezer.

All packed into meals, ready for the freezer

With the three roasts and two silversides that were left in the freezers, there is enough meat and chicken for around six weeks (we don't have meat every night).

And that will take me into December, and I'll be ready to do the final meat shop for the year.

15 October 2018

Fluffy Rice - Perfect for Frying

For plump, fluffy, clump-free  rice every time simply rinse the dry rice before cooking.  I worked with a lovely Chinese lady way before I was married (turned out her husband was one of my Year 12 teachers), and she used to give us single girls cooking lessons at lunchtime. This is how she taught me to prepare rice, and its never failed me. So thank you Mrs. Wong!

Rinsing takes the starch off the grains. Place the rice in a bowl of cool water and swirl around with a fork or your hand (make sure you wash first) until the starch makes the water cloudy. Drain and repeat until the water stays clear. Then cook as usual. The grains of rice will be perfectly fluffed and separate.  Excess cooked rice can be frozen for the future.

I cook rice in the microwave. It isn't any faster than on the stove, but it doesn't boil over and the pot is easy to clean. I simply measure one cup of rice to two cups of stock or water, add just a splash of oil and microwave on HIGH for 15 minutes.

The result is perfectly cooked rice. I fork it over as soon as it's cooked, and if it's to be used for fried rice it goes into the fridge overnight.


After the grocery shopping yesterday (fruit and veg from Pellegrino's) Hannah asked for fried rice for lunches. That's why I was cooking rice, and what prompted me to share the how to and my recipe, or at least how I make fried rice.

I start with diced onion, sliced spring onion and sliced celery and some frozen peas, carrots and corn. They are sauteed in a pan with a little hot vegetable oil, until clear. Put them aside and cook 2 or 3 beaten eggs. Either cut it into strips when done (if you're being fancy) or shred with a fork.  Add the veggies back to the pan, along with some diced, cooke chicken. Now I season. I add ginger and garlic to taste and stir through the veg. Stir the rice through in stagesd, just so it all combines neatly. Heat through, watching so the rice doesn't stick to the pan. Just before serving sprinkle with a little soy sauce and stir.

If we have mushrooms, I'll add them. We don't often have bean shoots, but when we do I add them with the veggies. Sometimes we don't have chicken, so it's a vegetarian fried rice.

It's flexible and everyone likes it. It makes great lunches. It goes well as a side to grilled meat or chicke. It goes with stir-fries.

It's not at all authentic, but I never meant it to be. This was a made-up on the go recipe I created when money was tight and ingredients were few and basic. It's stood the test of time, still one of my most made recipes.

10 October 2018

End of Year Spice Top-Up

With starting the Christmas baking, a trip to Hindustan Imports was on the to-do list for today. We were right out of glace cherries, slivered almonds, coconut and sweet basil. I also had vanilla beans and bay leaves on the shopping list.

The bay leaves and basil have been put away already!
The total came to $55.30 and I brought home:
2 vanilla beans ($2.90ea) $5.80
2 x 1kg shredded coconut $12.60
2 x 1kg glace cherries $24.00
100g sweet basil $2.20
500g slivered almonds $8.50
50g bay leaves $2.20

Well worth the 25 minute drive to keep almost $80 in my grocery budget!
If I'd bought them from the supermarket (I've just checked the price at colesonline.com.au) I'd have paid $133.78:
2 vanilla beans $8.00
2kg shredded coconut $30.24
2kg glace cherries $50.00
100g sweet basil $23.50
500g slivered almonds $17.39
50g bay leaves $4.65

For long term storage I keep the cherries, almonds and coconut in the freezer. It allows me to buy in bulk without worrying about losing quality while I use everything up. Mind you, most of the cherries and almonds will go in Christmas baking. We use a lot of coconut in baking and muesli so while 2 kilos sounds a lot, it won't last that long.

I've already put fresh bay leaves on the pantry shelves and in the flour canisters. Bay leaves help repel pantry moths, and therefore weevils and when I cleaned the pantry I composted the old bay leaves, so they needed to be replaced. I also have bouquet garni kits on the list for Christmas gifts and to go into the cooking hampers..

If you've ever wondered if it's worth either making the trip to Hindustan (if you're in Melbourne) or shopping online, it is. Shopping online is easy, and they do offer free delivery on Melbourne orders over $90.

If the thought of spending $90 on herbs and spices, flours, lentils and legumes is overwhelming, consider sharing an order with a friend or two to take advantage of the free delivery.

This will see us through to the end of the year, and I'll do a bulk shop as part of my once-a-year shopping in January to top up all the herbs and spices.