23 December 2019

My Take on Deconstructed Pavlova

Well we still don't have a working oven. We won't until towards the end of January, but that's OK, so far we're managing.

And I made Christmas cakes in October so we have our fruit cake to enjoy. Joy gifted us some melting moments and afghans (they were SO good), and the no bake slices have kept everyone's sweet tooth happy.

I made one pudding this year. Wayne and I are the only ones who eat it, so it will be enjoyed on Wednesday, then the rest will be frozen for through the year. It always feels a bit special to have Christmas pudding in the middle of winter, with lashings of custard and cream for a treat.

But the kids don't like Christmas pudding. They usually have the custard and ice-cream, and my aunty always makes the most magnificent pavlovas.

Exept this year. They're away with their kids (my cousins in Vancouver), so the pav falls to me. 'Cept we don't have a working oven.

And then I saw a post on FB about deconstructed pavs and thought "wow!, I can do that".

Aldi kindly supplied me two packets of mini pavlovas for the grand sum of $4.99 each. I'll whip the cream. Slice some strawberries. Drain some of the mixe berries in the freezer. Grate a Crunchie bar (they're on sale at Coles for $1 this week). Slice some kiwi fruit. Thaw some of the passionfruit in the freezer and dump it in a little dish.

And to present it all I'll use my white china, sectioned dish for the toppings, with the cream piled in the centre, everything else around, and put all those mini cheeseboards I scored last Boxing Day for 50c a set to use by putting a mini doyley in the centre and placing one of the mini pavs on it.

I've even cleaned Mum's silver cake forks to use.

Then they can all make their own pavs to their hearts' delight and Christmas Day dessert is done!

24 November 2019

Microwave Jam Making

We've been away for a week, and although we weren't due home until tomorrow, circumstances made it so we came home early.

Thank goodness! I am convinced it was my guardian angel that gently steered us home a couple of days early because there was an almost disaster waiting for me.

On Wednesday we had some electrical work done, and the electrician unplugged the big freezer, and then he obviously forgot to plug it in again. I'm grateful that the kids didn't need to go into it, it stayed closed until Saturday morning when Hannah opened it to get bread out for me.

And promptly yelled that the freezer wasn't working.

Those are words that strike fear into my heart.

Anyway, only the top two layers were partially thawed. That meant I spent time cooking up a storm and then packaging meals to freeze, but I'm not upset. Having ready-to-heat meals in the freezer is my idea of bliss, especially coming into the heat of summer.

But all my packages of berries had thawed - around 5 kilos of fruit.

So I put them in the fridge until this afternoon, when I spent a couple of hours making jam. Now there is strawberry jam and raspberry jam and blackberry jam, enough for the hampers and hopefully most of next year, done and cooling on the bench.

Jam making isn't hard, you just need to be careful because melted sugar burns!

My basic jam recipe is simple: equal quantities of fruit and sugar, and the juice of a lemon. Put it in a pot, bring it to a boil, stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let it boil (remember to stir it so it doesn't stick and burn) until it sets. This takes between 20 - 40 minutes, depending on how much fruit and sugar you are cooking and the fruit. I start testing for setting point at 20 minutes, then test every five minutes until some of the jam on a cold spoon forms a skin and doesn't run straight off the spoon. It will thicken and set as it cools.

I prefer to have it just a little runnier than overdone. If you do overcook it, don't worry. It will still taste good, just be a little more like a fruit paste than a jam. If the jam is a little runny when it cools you can recook it, or just use it as a sauce over pancakes or waffles or drizzled over a sponge cake or muffins. Or add it to milk to make ice blocks. It's still good.

Today though I was busy doing other things as well so I chose the microwave method of jam making.

Again, equal quantities of fruit and sugar and the juice of a lemon, into a big, microwave safe, bowl. I use a 3 litre Pyrex bowl. Cook on HIGH for 10 minutes. Stir. Cook on HIGH another 10 minutes. Stir and start your testing for setting point. Continue to cook on HIGH in 5 minute bursts, stirring and testing, until setting point is reached. You can pretty much eyeball it by looking at the bowl as it cooks. If the jam is frothing up and looks like it will overflow, it's probably ready.

To dissolve the froth on top of the jam you can either skim it off with a strainer, or add a teaspoon (no more) of butter and stir into it.

Now you've made your jam you'll need jars. You can reuse jam jars you have recycled, no need to buy new jars. Just make sure they are clean and the lids are intact and clean. Although, you don't really need a lid. Not so very long ago, jam was covered with clear covers, dampened and stretched over the top of the jar, then tied off with string or a rubber band. You can still get them at the supermarket - they're not expensive, Coles sell Folwers Vacola Kleerview Jam Covers for $1.60/pack 24 (7c each).  I do suggest that for jams, you use only lids that have originally come from jam jars. The rubber seal around the lids can hold the scent or flavour from what it covered, so if it was a pickle lid, you could end up with strawberry pickle flavoured jam!

While the jam is cooking I have the jars in the oven sterilising and keeping warm. Only every add hot jam to hot jars - hot jam in cold jars could cause a very nasty explosion. As soon as they are filled, I wipe around the rims with a wet cloth and put the lids on. Then let them cool. As they cool you will hear the lids seal - there is a very distinctive "pop" as the seal is formed. Let them cool completely then they are ready to store in the pantry.

I listen with bated breath for that "pop" and then grin when I hear it - that is a sound that really makes my heart happy!

29 July 2019

Happiness Homemade

Last weekend Australian Butcher Store had regular mince for $3.99/kg. Now this is the cheapest it has been for years, so of course I thought about it, checked the slush fund and the meat fund and toodled off armed with cooler bags, Hannah and Thomas (they do the heavy lifting for me ). Twenty minutes and $109 later we left with beef ribs, mince and chicken filets (they were down to $5.99/kg), enough meat to make 58 meals. That brings them down to well under my $5 per meal meat price, averaging just $1.87 per meal.

Now, before you cringe and think we're not eating enough meat, you need to know what meals I made with what I had, and understand how the meat component was stretched for each meal. Protein comes from the meat (obviously) but also from the ingredients used as "stretchers".

I made pasta sauce, taco sauce, hamburgers, porcupines and meatballs from the mince.

I made pie filling, enchilada filling, chicken schnitzels, apricot chicken, satay chicken and curried chicken.

Adding extra veggies, baked beans, black beans, oats, rice or TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein - from health food stores), depending on what I made, stretched the recipes, giving extra meals.

The ribs were given a dry rub and put into the fridge overnight, then on Monday morning they went into the slow cooker with barbecue sauce and cooked on low for nine hours (it was meant to be eight hours, but I was busy!). They went under the grill for a few minutes to caramelise the sauce, then into the fridge to cool. I packed and sealed them on Tuesday morning, before putting them into the freezer.

Annabel over at The Bluebirds are Nesting wrote earlier this year about using our "handmaidens" to their full potential. Well, on Sunday afternoon my handmaidens, or rather my pressure cooker, slow cooker, food processer, vacuum sealer and electric frying pan all had a good workout.

Everyone pitched in with peeling veggies, chopping chicken, making bags for the vacuum sealer and cleaning up, so all the cooking was done in just a couple of hours. Making use of the appliances in the kitchen, getting all these meals prepared was a breeze. Some of these appliances may not be used every week, but they are used regularly and turn big jobs into manageable tasks.

Cleaning up was a breeze; I make it a habit to clean as I go, so the sink is always full of hot soapy water for washing up, bread boards, knives and benches are cleaned between each step, rubbish is taken out as soon as the bin is full (rubbish to the bin, veggie peelings etc. to the compost). This means that as soon as the last bag goes into the freezer, the cooking session is over and I can relax, no messy kitchen to clean up.

Everything was portioned into meal sizes, including meals for just two and three for while we're away, and then neatly stacked in the freezers.

Bulk cooking is a fabulous way to fill the freezer with ready-made meals so you don't need to cook every night. You don’t need to have a marathon cooking session like I did on Sunday, simply double whatever you're cooking tonight and put half in the freezer for later. Do this every night this week and you have seven ready-to-eat dinners in the freezer. Do it for a month and you can skip a month of cooking!

All you need to prepare are the sides - veggies or salad, and these can be done while the meal is heating. Dinner can be done in under 30 minutes - who needs take-away when it's this easy to eat homemade?

25 July 2019

Be A Collector of Skills

"Be a collector of skills" was a phrase I read recently on a blog I follow (Frugal Measures) and it has stuck in my mind.

As a Cheapskate, my focus is often on saving money, and the many, many ways I can do that without compromising our lifestyle. After all, that's what started me on this journey: the need when disaster struck to stretch our dollars till they screeched so we could maintain our standard of living.

I had to learn to do so many things that were completely foreign to me. I had to develop hobbies I had into full-blown, usable, practical skills, then use those skills to feed us, clothe us, keep us dressed, give us presents and holidays and so much more.

Looking back, I became a collector of skills.

And I'm still collecting skills.

Some of the skills I've collected include:
Pattern making
How to sew on a button
How to take up hems
How to put in a zip
How to work buttonholes by hand
How to work buttonholes by machine
Using an overlocker
Making patterns from ready-made items
Paper making
Card making
Hair cutting
Seed Saving
Pruning fruit trees
Sharpening shears, knives and axes
Firewood collecting (yes, it's a skill - not all wood is good firewood!)
Jam making
Sauce making
Smoking meats
Bread making
Soup making
Making yoghurt
Vinegar making
Fruit growing
Car repairs
Tyre changing
Oil changing
Fuse changing
Soap making
Lotion making
Using essential oils and herbs to make medicines
Cooking over an open fire
Making washing powder
Making laundry soaker
Making window cleaner
Making all-purpose cleaner
Using a haybox cooker
Knowing how to use the chainsaw safely
Knowing how to winch safely
Knowing how to drive in low range in all types of country and weather

Some of the skills I'm working on include:
Making sourdough starter
Pressure canning
Making wicking beds for the garden
Knitting socks

Disaster struck, and at the time it was an absolute disaster.

Almost 25 years on, I can look back and see what a blessing it was (could've done without the "disaster" disguise), and how it has enabled me to care for my family and my home, and extended family, over the years on a sometimes almost miniscule budget, without compromising lifestyle.

The skills picked up over the years have saved us money, time and energy, and formed a collection I am proud to own.

15 July 2019

Make It Monday - Four Cards In 10 Minutes

Greeting cards - birthday, get well, sympathy, new baby, thank you and so on, are expensive.  Even from the $2 shops these days they are, well $2! It used to be you could get five cards for $2, then it was four for $2, then they were $1 each, and now you pay $2 for a very simple, very boring cheap card.

You don't need a lot of special equipment to make cards, and you don't need a lot of fancy papers and stickers and other embellishments.

And best of all, you don't need a lot of time.

In just ten minutes, you can make four beautiful cards, for less than the price of one from a $2 shop. Best of all you can make them to suit the recipient by personalising the greeting, the colour, the embellishment.

To make these four gorgeous cards in under 10 minutes you will need:

4 coloured card blanks
(4) 5-1/4" x 2-1/4"" black cardstock
(4) 5-1/4" x 2" white cardstock
3/4" Circle punch
Small hole punch
Sentiment stamp
Ink pad

Step 1. Take the black cardstock and using the 3/4" circle punch, punch out 7 circles, leaving a narrow border. Punch 5 small dots from the remaining black cardstock.

Step 2. Stick the white cardstock to the black cardstock, being sure to hide the holes.

Step 3. Stick the black and white cardstock to the card base, leaving a narrow border at the top and sides.

Step 4. Lay out the black dots. When you are happy with the pattern, stick them down using tape runner or liquid glue.

Step 5. Stamp your sentiment to the bottom left corner of the card.

Step 6. Stick the small dots to the bottom right of the sentiment.

Repeat for the remaining three cards.

15 January 2019

Knit a Quick and Pretty Basketweave Dishcloth

I have been knitting dish cloths to use as gifts and to include in the cleaning hampers and I used my usual diagonal pattern. I love this pattern because it's quick and easy to knit, and being basic garter stitch it has good scrubbing power without the scratchiness of a nylon scrubby.

But sometimes I get a little bored with the same old, same old. I know - who'd a thought I'd ever get bored! So occasionally I break with habit and try a new pattern. This week it was a simple basket weave and I have to say it looks very nice, especially in the blue and white variegated cotton I used. It will go beautifully with the kitchen chair covers.

It's really easy to knit, so easy even a beginner can do it, no special skill required (other than counting - you can count to five can't you?).

Basket Weave Dish Cloth

Cast on 50 stitches.

Knit 5 rows. This will form the lower border and start the side borders.

Row 1: Knit 5 *Knit 5, purl 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 2 Knit 5 *Purl 5, knit 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 3: As Row 1

Row 4: As Row 2

Row 5: As Row 1

Row 6: Knit 5, *Purl 5, knit 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 7: Knit 5, *Knit 5, purl 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 8: As Row 6

Row 9: As Row 7

Row 10: As Row 6

Repeat last 10 rows four more times, 50 rows in total.

Knit 5 rows. Cast off. Weave ends in.

At the moment I am using 10 ply cotton from Bendigo Woollen Mills and 4mm needles to knit my dishcloths. I buy it online, when the 200g balls are on sale and there is a free shipping offer. A ball makes 4 -5 dishcloths, bringing the price down to between $2 and $2.40.

This pattern knits in a garter stitch border around the dishcloth - it finishes it off nicely rather than just having the "weave" ends as the border.

02 January 2019

Just Do It!

A question that often pops into my inbox is how do I manage to get so much done.

It's no secret: I just do it.

I have a housekeeping schedule that everyone in the family now uses. When the kids were little I did the bulk of the work, but now they do it for me. Without fail, that schedule is followed week in, week out. It doesn't take long, about half an hour a day at the most, but it means that every room in our home is cleaned from top to bottom, including windows, every single week. I don't do spring cleaning - there's no need.

I also have a bill paying schedule that everyone now knows how to use. The kids have adapted it for their own financial responsibilities, and I know that if I'm not able to take care of the bills, then Wayne or one of the kids can do it for me. It takes less than 10 minutes a week. There is no excuse whatever for not staying on top of your bills. If you want to know my bill paying routine, let me know.

Something that helps with keeping on top of things is actually doing them.

Take emptying the dishwasher for instance. It's one of those jobs that seems to get put off until it's time to start loading it again. Seriously it takes less than two minutes for me to unload a FULL dishwasher and wipe over the seals, leaving it ready to re-load throughout the day. Two minutes! I know some folk who spend more time than that thinking about unloading the dishwasher or arguing with someone else to get them to do it. Just do it! Two minutes and it's done. That's a commercial break during your favourite reality TV program!

Another chore that is often put off is folding and putting away the laundry. Just do it! I fold as it comes off the line and I stack the clothes in people. Then I just deliver the stack to the relevant person and they put it away. It takes about 8 - 10 minutes to take the laundry off the line, fold it and deliver it. And then it's done! No more Mt. Fold Me in the family room. No more hunting through piles of crushed clothes for something to wear. Just do it. Ten minutes is less time than most people spend on Facebook of an evening!

Cleaning the kitchen is another job people put off. If you clean as you cook, then after dinner it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to get the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned and tidied again. There's nothing worse than getting up to a dirty kitchen that needs to be cleaned before you can start breakfast. Don't put it off, just do it.

Five years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic disease. Since then I've had other health issues, totally unrelated. It's meant that some days it takes all my energy to open my eyes, let alone climb out of bed and face the day.

It would be easy to ignore the things that need to be done, in the hope that I'd have the energy to do them later. But later, they'd be bigger chores and harder work, and I wouldn't be able to tackle them. Doing things as they need to be done, while they are small jobs that only take a few minutes means I get quite a lot done in a day, even with having to rest regularly and spending more time in bed than I ever thought I would.

Some of you work full time. Some of you study. Some work part-time. Some work at home. Some are retired. I know a few of you are also suffering from chronic illness. Some have babies. Some have small children or teenagers. Some live in cities. Some are country based. Some have big homes, small homes, new homes, old homes.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.

It's what we do with them, and how we use them that makes the difference.

Next time you see something that needs to be done, just do it.

And you'll find you get more done in a day than you realised too.