30 April 2020

Preparing for the Lean Times

Do you remember the story of Joseph, of coat of many colours fame? How he was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, worked his way up to be a ruler, directly under the pharaoh?

Do you remember the pharaoh's dreams of the fat cows and ears of corn and the skinny cows and ears of corn? Do you remember Joseph's interpretation of the dream and what he told Pharaoh to do?

The fat cows and corn represented seven good years, where crops would thrive and harvests plentiful. The skinny cows represented seven years of famine, where nothing would grow and the crops and harvest failed.

What do we learn from this dream? Well I've learned that when times are good we put aside to enable us to live when times are tough.

The last three months have been dreadful, for the whole world. A pandemic has caused unheard of suffering, the likes of which the modern world has never seen or experienced.

Right here in Australia, suddenly people were out of work; people who thought they had job security  found themselves lining up for hours outside Centrelink offices.

Supermarkets ran out of basics. All of a sudden toilet paper became almost as valuable as gold. There was no flour, or yeast. No rice. The cleaning aisle was almost empty. Freezers were empty - there wasn't  a bag of frozen vegetables or a packet of frozen chips to be had. Nappies and wipes were as hard to get as formula.

Then seeds and seedlings disappeared. Even online seed stores shut down because they'd run out of seeds.

And most people were scared. They were looking at what they had in their pantry, their "store", and found lots of holes that they couldn't fill

I looked at our pantry, and sat down and forgot about it. There were no holes. We had enough to keep us for a long time, well past the expected duration of this crisis.

I was able to be so relaxed because during the good times I had faithfully been building our pantry, to ensure that we would be OK during lean times.
If yours was one of the households running out of things during this crisis, you might like to  think about what you need to survive without shopping for a week, a fortnight, a month, three months, six months even a year.

Then look at your pantry. What do you have ? How long will it last you? Where are the holes? If the shops were to close overnight, what would you need?

Unless you are very wealthy and money really isn't an issue, building a pantry to last any length of time takes just that: time. And patience and planning, but we'll cover those over the next few posts. Right now you just need to get started.

Start now to fill the gaps. Perhaps aim for a month's worth of groceries and work towards getting your pantry built up.

Even now, in lockdown, with lots of blank spots still on supermarket shelves, you can build your pantry. There aren't many specials around at the moment, although there are still bargains to be had. When you head out to the supermarket or greengrocer or butcher make it worth the effort. Take your list. Know what you need and what you'd like to get. Don’t forget to social distancing rules and shop with a purpose: in, get the list done, get out. Don't hang around and browse.

If money is really tight, or the shelves are still bare, perhaps you can trade for some things. You won't know if you don't ask around. If you have seeds you may be able to swap them for a bag of flour or yeast or sugar to build your pantry. Or perhaps you have some jams made, that you can trade for shampoo or dried beans. Let friends, family, neighbours, the post office lady, the chemist - everyone you come in contact with- that you are prepared to trade and see what happens.

As you get the additions to your pantry, don't forget to cross them off your list.

You don't need to get everything at once. Little by little, item by item, you can build your pantry. Even having just one spare of whatever is open is a start that you can build on.

Because being prepared is wise. It does save you money. It does save you time. It does give you options when it comes to cooking and baking. And it means that in an emergency, whatever it may be, you don't need to worry about shopping.

29 April 2020

Happiness Homemade: A Winter Shopping List

In our house the cooler weather, especially in winter, brings about changes in how we eat.

Over the summer we had lots of salads and barbcues and thoroughly enjoyed them. Most of our meals were cooked outside, either on the barbecue or in the slow cooker on the verandah.
Now summer is over, and the weather is cooling, making more comfort style meals to warm us on cooler evenings more appetising.

I've already made three big pots of soup (lamb and vegetable, Grandma's Chicken Soup and pumpkin). We had curry on the menu a couple of weeks ago and I made some naan to go with it. The curry used up some of the leftover lamb from the Sunday roast and I put the rest into gravy and froze it for another roast dinner. The bones are in the freezer too, waiting to make another pot of soup.

Hannah made a huge dish of pasta bake and we portioned it out into dinners and a few lunches. We usually have pasta bake with green salad (whatever salad greens are in the fridge).
Years ago, the changes to sturdier meals and more cooking meant the monthly shopping list changed slightly.

With my once-a-year shopping, I plan for these change, so, come winter time, we can have more tuna surprise and tuna patties without affecting the budget. And I've never been happier to do the bulk of my shopping once a year than I am now!

We use less pineapple and beetroot, and more tuna and tomato soup in winter. We eat less salad veg (and I won't buy tomatoes in winter, they're out of season here and far too expensive, so we rely on what I can grow in our little greenhouse) and the boys seem to wolf down more rice and potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli (especially if I make a cheese sauce) and silverbeet.
What I'm really saying is because of the way I shop, and the stocked pantry, my weekly shopping list only has minor changes to adapt to the change in seasons and the way we eat.

I still buy milk and a couple of loaves of bread each week (although with the stay-at-home restricitions the bread maker is getting a workout).

Meat and chicken stay the same. We eat the same cuts, prepared in different ways of course, all year round, so I'm always on the lookout for chicken and mince on sale, for roasting beef and corned beef, legs of lamb and steak (as a special treat). I did a late quarterly meat shop a couple of weeks ago to top up the freezer. Mince and chicken are on sale again this week, so I've made up a list and one of the boys will go and collect it for me. Then the freezers will be full again.

But the fruit and veg I buy change. More citrus, because they're in season and cheap and our trees can't supply enough at the moment; lots of parsnip (I never seem to be able to grow enough), turnips, pumpkin and definitely more potatoes.

This week the shopping list looks like this:
2 x 3L milk
2 loaves bread
sweet potato (on sale for 69c/kg)
frozen veg - peas/corn/carrots (if I can get them - the supermarkets are still low on frozen veg)
cabbage (ours aren't ready yet)
bok choy
apples (our local orchard has beautiful apples 10kg/$6.99)

If potatoes are too expensive (my absolute top price is $1/kg, but I prefer to pay under 80c/kg) then we'll fill the gaps with pasta and rice.

The shopping list may change - it will depend very much on the fruit and veg prices when I get to the greengrocer (until the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted the kids are doing the shopping, after that I'll be back in charge).

But the changes are slight, and easily absorbed into our meal plan.

When Disaster Struck, I realised that most of us eat the same basic foods all the time. It's how they're used that makes the difference. Have a look in your pantry, then look at the meals you make. Chances are theere are no more than 25 - 30 different meals that all use the same ingredients in various combinations.

So when you ask to see my summer or winter shopping list, it looks pretty much the same all year round. Just a few adjustments to the basic ingredients, otherwise it's my stock once-a-year shopping list.

16 April 2020

Happiness Homemade: A Quarterly Meat Shop During a Coronavirus Crisis

Yesterday I did my quarterly meat shop.

It was a bit late. I was due to do it at the end of March, but due to the lockdown and the stay-at-home restrictions I chose to put it off.

The freezers were still quite full, so we weren't running out of food, but chicken and mince were getting low, and as they are staples in our home, it was time to tackle the butcher.

Wow! I was shocked at the prices. Meat has gone up on average for the cuts I buy, 50% in three months! Last time I bought mince it was $5.99/kg on special. Yesterday it was $9.99/kg on special. Sausages were $3.99/kg last time, yesterday they were $7.49/kg. I didn't even stop at the steak fridge - nudging $20/kg puts even the cheapest (yesterday) cuts out of my budget. And roast - nope, none in my trolley.

I spent $157 and here's what I picked up. You'll see lots were marked down already. I always look for the mark downs and buy them. Even if they're right on the best before date, I vacuum seal and freeze all our meat so it doesn't matter and saves a lot of money.
I was disappointed that there were no roasts in this shop, but they were so expensive. Even working my stretching to three meals tricks they were still way too expensive. We will still have roast dinners, with the chicken drumsticks and plenty of veggies, just no roast beef or my favourite roast lamb.

The mince will make pasta sauce, lasagne, rissoles, meat loaf, meat balls and tacos. All these will have added oats, rice, TVP or beans to stretch the mince.

The scraps from the stewing meat and chicken fillets will go into soup pots. Soup is great for stretching a little meat or chicken to feed a lot of people.

The one packet of stewing meat will make a casserole - maybe Aunty Mary's Beef Casserole - or a curry.

The chicken fillets will make schnitzels, curry, apricot chicken, chicken enchiladas, crumbed chicken etc.

Portion control will be vital to keep to budget. And stretching the mince will be important too. The pantry has plenty of rice, oats and TVP, and the fridge and freezer have plenty of veggies that will be used to bulk out the mince.

After all this was portioned and packaged it gave me enough for 36 dinners. The cost per dinner is $4.36, under my $5 per meal meat budget.  I'll aim to make at least six serves from each one, bringing the portion price down to 72 cents per portion.
Meat and chicken, portioned and vacuumed sealed ready for the freezer
This gives me six weeks of meals, having five with chicken or meat and two meatless meals a week.

So even with the huge price increases, the meat shop came in under budget. Not the cuts I usually buy, but enough for six weeks of meals, having five with chicken or meat and two meatless meals a week. Not enough for 3 months, but enough to fill the freezers and give me wriggle room to keep an eye on specials and top-up over the next few weeks if I can.

Where did I get this meat shop? Australian Butcher in Boronia.

15 March 2020

Happiness Homemade

We are living in a world gone crazy at the moment.

We are living with the threat of going into a 14 day quarantine in our own homes. Well folks, if I have to go into quarantine, I'm more than happy to do it in my own home.

I'll have my own bed.
My own kitchen with my favoruite tea and coffee.
I'll be able to potter in my own backyard.
I'll have Internet access so I can still stay in touch with family and friends.

What's not to like?

Anyway, here's a list I came up with of a few things you can do if you're on lockdown at home for 14 days. I'll add to it as I think of other things and if you have something to add, leave it in the comments and I'll make sure to include it.

1. Wash the windows
2. Clean the lightfittings
3. Scrub the showers
4. Spot clean the carpet
5. Tidy the linen cupboard
6. Tidy the cutlery drawer
7. Clean the oven
8. Weed the garden
9. Prune the trees
10. Feed the garden
11. Dig compost or fertiliser into garden beds
12. Start seeds for winter veggies
13. Read a book
14. Write a book!
15. Make popcorn
16. Find a favourite e-book and read it, then see if there is a movie of the book and watch it
17. Clean the car
18. Make this year's Christmas cards
19. Write this year's Christmas cards
20. Bake bread
21. Make yoghurt
22. Make mozzarella
23. Paint a picture
24. Build a Lego town
25. Make jam
26. Make scones
27. Use the jam and scones to have high tea
28. Knit a dishcloth
29. Crochet a doyley
30. Crochet a table runner
31. Recycle an old sheet into hankies
32. Plan a spring garden
33. Watch a YouTube video to learn how to cut hair
34. Make greeting cards
35. Wash everything in the china cabinet
36. Have a picnic indoors
37. Work on a school project
38. Write a letter
39. Play cards
40. Learn a new card game - check on You Tube for tutorials
41. Finish those craft UFOs hiding in the cupboard
42. Sort and label your DVDs
43. Sort and file the photos on your phone, then download to a USB and upload to the cloud for safekeeping
44. Scan all your important documents and save to the cloud
45. Clean out your purse
46. Clean out your handbag
47. Wash the summer bedding ready to store for winter
48. Get the winter bedding out and freshen it ready to go on the beds
49. Sort your wardrobe, put away the summer clothes and get the winter clothes ready to wear
50. Refine your spending plan
51. Work on your debt repayment plan
52. Go through your emails and unsubscribe from anything you don't open
53. Create chalk art on the path
54. Make a bird feeder and hang it in a tree
55. Make a cake
56. Go through the kitchen appliances and sell or donate the ones you don't use
57. Tidy the garden shed
58. Play boardgames
59. Have a Monopoly Marathon
60. Learn a language
61. Keep a journal
62. Learn a poem
63. Write a poem
64. Write a play based on your favourite story and have the family act it out

This is why I do what I do

13 March 2020

Back to Bsaics: The Great Nappy Crisis of 2020

Here in Melbourne, due to panic buying induced by COVID-19 hysteria, most supermarkets have been sold out of disposable nappies for days. I know Wendy has been looking for nappies for her two grandbabies. And Hannah was talking to a man at Bunnings who has 8 month old twins and they couldn't get nappies. Then we had Anne, a member with four babies in nappies, who was struggling to find them.

All I could come up with as a solution was cloth. And I don’t mean MCN or Modern Cloth Nappies. Those things are hideously expensive and not practical for this crisis.
I mean old-school, cloth nappies;  towelling or flannel squares .

And they are cheap - a dozen cost:
Big W $25, or just over $2 (and they're in stock and available online) or $20 at B
Baby Bunting $20
Target $22
Kmart $19 (check the quality of the towelling - thicker is better).

Two dozen is more than enough for one or two babies; the average baby goes through 6 - 8 nappies a day, so two dozen if you wash them every day should be plenty. 

Then you'll need nappy pins or elastics, pilchers of some kind (I liked Fluffies, not sure if they're still around), liners (not necessary but they save scrubbing stains), a tub of soaker (on half-price sale at Coles this week and a bucket with a lid.

The easiest fold is the triangle and if you've never used cloth nappies, I suggest you go for the easiest fold. Fold the square in half on the diagonal, and then in half again on the diagonal for small babies. Bigger bubs and toddlers just do the one fold.
Pop baby on the nappy, bring the point of the triangle up, wrap the ends around and pin in place. Now these cloth nappies aren't water- or wee-proof so that's where the pilchers come in. They're the waterproof pants that go on over the nappy.

With cloth nappies they'll need to be changed more often than in disposables.

Just put the dirty nappy in the bucket of soaker (flush any solids first). Do this with all the nappies during the day. Next morning dump them in the washing machine and run a rinse load. Peg them out on the line to dry.

I found it easier to fold them as they came off the line and stack them in the baby's room, ready to be used, than trying to fold the nappy while a wriggly bub was trying to escape.

I've been told they're a lot of work, but they're not really.

Fold them as you take them off the line.
Drop them in the bucket to soak when you change baby.
Rinse and dry every morning.

The thing that will be the most time consuming will be hanging them out and bringing them in, and honestly if it takes you more than 10 minutes to hang out 8 nappies, you're moving too slow!

Now you don't need to rush out and buy nappies. Get creative. Visit some op shops and buy up flannelette sheets. Cut them to size, hem and voila - flannel nappies.  Give them a wash in hot water, let them dry in the sun and they're ready to go.

When you can get a single bed flannelette sheet for $2 - $5 and it will make around 15 nappies, they're cheap. And pretty, well prettier than plain white. 
To make a couple dozen nappies will take about an hour.

And when the crisis is over, and stores are stocked again, you'll have some decent cleaning cloths that will last you years and years.

So if you're really stuck for nappies, and can't afford MCNs, go old school and when stocks are back to normal, you can go back to disposables. Or not - you may find you prefer good old cloth nappies.

12 March 2020

Be a Preparer, Not a Prepper: Veggie Wash

With all the hype about washing your hands, and using proper protocols for coughing and sneezing, I've been wondering about just how safe the fruit and veg we buy is.

It's been handled by goodness knows how many people. It's been breathed on. Possibly sneezed and or coughed on (I know - gross! but it's reality). 

And then we pick it up, bring it home, put it in the fridge and eventually eat it, sometimes cooked, sometimes raw. 

So I've been thinking about this, and about just how sanitary our fresh produce is, regardless of COVID-19 or flu or any other crisis,and shuddering. Trust me when I say my imagination has run riot.

Now it's time to get it back under control and think about this.

A few years ago it was recommended by the USA FDA that even fruit and vegetables that were peeled should be washed thoroughly under running water to get rid of the pesticides and bugs and germs lurking on them.Washing under running water is a waste of water and money. Instead this Veggie Spray will clean all your produce safely and cheaply, without wasting water.

Best of all you can make it yourself, whenever you need it, with ingredients you should already have in the pantry.

You will need:

1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp bicarbonate soda
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Step 1. Combine all ingredients in a tall jug or very deep bowl. The mixture will fizz and froth - remember mixing bicarb and vinegar to make volcanoes as a child?

Step 2. When the mixture has settled down, pour into a spray bottle. Shake well before each use.

To use: Spray fruit and veggies all over with spray. Let sit 2 minutes. Scrub skin with veggie a brush (this will kill any viruses). Rinse in clean water. It is important to let the solution sit on the produce so it has time to work, and it is just as important to rinse in clean water, drain and dry.

The lemon is acts as an antibacterial, the vinegar kills bacteria and helps to dissolve the wax and pesticide residues found on the skins of many fruits and vegetables.

I spray, wait, rinse in a sink of clean, cool water and then drain on a clean tea towel on the sink to dry. 

When whatever I've washed is dry, it gets packed into Fresh'n'Crisp bags and put into the fridge, ready to use. 

So while there is no direct link between fresh produce and coronavirus, it hasn't been ruled out and I'd rather be safe than sorry. 

And honestly, it doesn't hurt to wash fresh produce before eating regardless.

09 March 2020

Happiness Homemade - Welcome to MOO Month!

It's March, the month where Cheapskaters focus on MOOing as much as they can.  The challenge for the month is to MOO at least one thing a day - and it's much, much easier than you'd think.
MOOing is simply Making Our Own. Anything. It could be washing powder (easy with Cheapskates Washing Powder) or vanilla extract (so much easier than you'd ever imagine). Or it could be newspaper seed pots or PJs for the kids, new curtains - absolutely anything you can think of.
The goal of MOO month is to help you realise that you don't need to buy everything you need or want, most of those things you can make yourself, and in doing so save yourself money, time and energy, and show a kindness to our planet that modern living pushes aside.

And right now, it's more important than I can ever remember, to be able to be a little self-sufficient and a bit more prepared. I say be prepared, not scared, not panicked, because it's much easier to prepare for whatever lies ahead.
We have been brainwashed into believing that we can't make the things we need, that we must buy them because bought is so much better.

That is simply not true!

Yes, it's a great marketing ploy and it's worked really well - until now  (and OK, I'll admit that being able to buy toilet paper is better than not, but if you're prepared, you'll have MOO cloth wipes and a bucket handy in case you can't get it).

Now it's time to take control of your money, so that you decide what it gets spent on.
You don't need to be a great cook or an amazing dressmaker or have the greenest of thumbs to MOO. Anyone can, you just need to try.

Making peanut butter couldn't be easier. Ditto making vanilla extract. There is absolutely no excuse for not being able to make your own vanilla extract - all you do is drop some vanilla beans into a bottle of vodka and put the lid back on and that applies to most MOOing.

You can even MOO a waterless hand sanitiser that will kill bateria AND viruses - here's my easy recipe, so you don't need to stand in a queue to get it, or hunt all over town.

It is very easy to MOO, and if you have an aloe vera plant with cost around 40 cents to make approximately 275ml. Aloe Vera is a very easy plant to grow, it seems to almost thrive on neglect and is one that should be in every backyard so if you don't have one, get a cutting from a friend and grow your own, you won't regret it.

You will need:
1 cup aloe vera gel
1 tsp rubbing alcohol
2 tsp glycerin
8-10 drops tea tree essential oil* or lavender essential oil*

Simply blend all of the ingredients together and store.  To use put a blob about the size of a 10 cent coin in the palm of your hand and rub together. This sanitizer won't melt as the commercial products do, so don't be tempted to squirt a large amount into your hands, you'll be rubbing for hours!

You can use pump bottles or squirt bottles, small pots or even pretty glass jars to store your hand sanitizer as long as they have good lids.

*Please use pure essential oils. They are worth the expense and a little goes a very long way, they will last you a long, long time.

You'll be surprised at just what you can MOO, and at how much lighter and cheaper your grocery trolley will be when you MOO regularly.

Extra reading




03 March 2020

Back to Basics Make It: How to Make Jam

I was shocked a few years ago to learn that jam making was a Year 12 Home Economics subject, because it's considered too difficult for "children" to make.  Well it's not. Hannah has been making jam on her own since she was 9 or 10 years old, and before that she helped me.

Have you priced bought jam recently? I mean nice jam, not the cheap stuff (it's cheap for a reason and a really good reason to learn to make jam). It can be over $5 a 375g jar!

Jam making is easy. Truly! You don't need special equipment, or any special skills. It's not rocket science people, it's a simple cooking method that preserves fruit quickly, easily and cheaply for years. Yes, years! Jam, properly made and stored, lasts for years and years and years.
 I have two ways to make jam, and I choose the method depending on how busy I am and how much jam I am making.

The first method is the traditional, cook in a big pot on the stove method. I use this method when I am doing a double batch of jam. It needs constant attention and watching. But it's still simple and easy.

For this method take two kilos of fruit (berries, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines), stones removed if they have them (weigh the fruit after removing the stones/pits). Cut the fruit into chunks and put them into a stockpot or a very large saucepan. Using a stockpot saves worrying about boiling over; sometimes the hot jam will froth up when it's cooking and can easily boil over - trust me when I say you don't want to be cleaning up that mess!

Add the same weight in white sugar. So, if you have two kilos of fruit, use two kilos of sugar. You may see some recipes where the amount of sugar has been cut down; I don't recommend this. The sugar acts with the fruit juice and the pectin in the fruit to form the jelly part of jam that makes it set and it helps to preserve it. Not enough sugar and you will need to add a setting agent such as Jamsetta. I've never used Jamsetta or pectin and I've never had a failed batch of jam, but I ALWAYS use equal quantities of fruit and sugar.

I use regular white sugar. You can buy jam sugar, but seriously, it's an extra expense when regular white sugar does the same job.

Add the juice of one lemon.

Stir the sugar into the fruit. Put a saucer or bread and butter plate in the freezer (you'll use this for testing setting point soon).

Turn the stove on, medium heat, and stir the pot, scraping down the sides, until the mixture starts to bubble. By now the sugar should be dissolved and the fruit is starting to get soft. If the sugar isn't dissolved, keep stirring and scraping down the side of the pot until it is. A glass of cold water and a pastry brush is good for this, but your spoon will do.

Turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. A rolling boil is when you have lots of bubbles forming and bursting all over the surface of the jam. Stir the pot, making sure nothing is stuck to the bottom - you don't want it to burn. The jam may start to froth up - if this happens, give it a good, fast stir, and keep an eye on it. If it continues to happen, turn the heat down slightly.

Let it boil, stirring every couple of minutes to make sure it doesn't stick or burn, for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, take a teaspoon of jam and tip it onto the plate from the freezer. This is to test if the jam is at setting point*. If the jam is at setting point it will form a skin and not run if you tip the plate once it's cold (the frozen plate speeds up the cooling). If it isn't set, put the plate in the freezer,  keep the jam cooking and test again after 10 minutes. Continue until the jam sets on the frozen plate (don't forget to stir so it doesn't stick to the pot or burn.).

When the jam reaches setting point, turn it off. Give it stir, and mash the fruit or carefully use a stick blender to break down the fruit chunks. It will keep bubbling for a few minutes - this is normal. Let it sit about 5 minutes, then ladle it into HOT sterilised jars*. Put the lids on immediately and leave until cold. You should hear the lids popping as they seal.
The second method I use is the microwave method. It's no quicker, but I don't need to pay as close attention to it. This method is best for small batches, no more than 1 kilo of fruit to 1 kilo of sugar.

You'll need a very big, heatproof, microwave safe bowl. I use a 3.5 litre Pyrex bowl, it's the biggest I have.

Put the fruit, sugar and lemon juice into the bowl. Stir.

Cook on HIGH for 10 minutes.

Stir well.

Cook on HIGH for 10 minutes. Stir. Do the setting test. Sometimes the jam will be ready after 20 minutes cooking, so it pays to test. I

If it's not ready yet, cook on HIGH for another 10 minutes, keeping an eye on it. It's this stage where it's most likely to froth up and boil over. If you see it rising in the bowl, turn it off, stir and continue cooking. Test again - it should be ready by now, but if it's not, cook in five minute bursts.

Once the jam is cooked, mash the fruit or carefully use a stick blender to break down the fruit, then follow the instructions above to bottle it.

Some things to remember:

Jars: I re-use jam jars for jam. They come with a lid that will seal again, so you don't need to worry about cutting jam covers, finding rubber bands etc.  The trick is to just use jam jar lids for jam. Don't be tempted to use pasta sauce or pickle or whatever jars and lids. The jars will be fine, glass doesn't hold flavours or smells, but the rubber ring in the lid does. Play it safe and believe me when I say - pickle flavoured raspberry jam is awful (can you guess how I know?).

Setting point: how long it takes to reach setting point will vary from batch to batch, which is why I start testing after 20 minutes. Some fruit will be full of natural pectin and form jam quickly, some will take a bit longer. The size of the batch you are making will also affect the time it takes to reach setting point. I try to not make more than 2 kilos of fruit at a time; anymore and the chance of it sticking and burning increases and it the jam takes longer to cook.

Frothing is normal, it should form a frothy, bubbly top. Just stir it in. You can skim it off the top once the jam is cooked if you want to, I don't bother. Another trick is to stir 1 teaspoon butter into the jam; the froth will disappear.

Don't be afraid to stir and scrape down the sides of your pot or bowl.

Jam is VERY HOT. Keep kids and pets away, especially when you are bottling it, in case of accidents. If you do get a splash of hot jam on you, run the burn area under cold running water for at least 10 minutes. If blisters form, get medical advice.

01 March 2020

Happiness Homemade - Panic Buying v Stockpiling

My favourite investment is my grocery stockpile. I have a stockpile of groceries that we've been happily living off since January, and we'll continue to live off it for at least another nine months. Before that, we lived off our pantry for 12 months, and before that, another 12 months and so on.

I build our pantry with once-a-year shopping, and we live off it for a year.

Our pantry is worth twice what I paid for it and it's saving us money this year - a great return on investment, far better than anything the banks or stock exchange are offering at the moment.
 There have always been gloom and doomers predicting the end. Remember Y2K? Bird flu? Swine fly? Out of control meteors? Drought? Flood? Tsunamis? And now we have Covid-19 (Coronavirus).

And people are panicking. Going crazy clearing shelves of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, UHT milk, baby formula, nappies, pasta and oats. I'll fess up and say the oats made me smile. Don't get me wrong, I have oats in the pantry, and I use them. But I wondered just how many folk who were going crazy buying bulk oats know any way other than porridge to use them?

I've watched some of the TV shows about doomsday preppers, ordinary people stockpiling food, seeds, medicines and even ammunition so they'll be read for the end of the world or a future economic collapse or apocalypse. Some of them build underground bunkers and pack them full of water, canned and dehydrated food, medicines and enough ammunition to start a war.

So, do I line up with these extremists? Not at all. I find it entertaining but certainly not realistic or practical.

Our pantry stockpile is built to a plan. I know how much of each thing we need to meet our needs for the year. I keep an eye on prices to make sure I pay the lowest possible price. I keep best before and use by dates in mind and buy accordingly (not all the things I buy will be shelf stable for a year).  I make shopping lists, and inventories for storing what I buy.  And I only buy what we need and will be able to use within the 12 months until I do another yearly shop.
The other extreme is to not be prepared at all, however, which also is unacceptable. To me, building a reasonable stockpile of food, toiletries and cleaning supplies for my family is responsible. It’s insurance and for us this year it has paid off.

To me, food and household supplies in reasonable amounts are just as much insurance as our  Emergency Fund savings and the insurance policies that cover household disasters. These things give me peace of mind and assurance that I will be able to care for my family and our home no matter what life throws our way (we've faced long-term unemployment, chronic illness and now a pandemic).

My pantry stockpile may seem extreme; so what is a reasonable pantry stockpile?

Think about how you get paid. If you get paid weekly, plan to always have at least a week's supply of groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies, medicines on hand. If you get paid fortnightly, try to always be a fortnight ahead, ditto for monthly. This then gives you a little wiggle room if things go pear-shaped.

For example, you get sick and can't get to the shops for a week or two. Yes, you can always do an online shop, but it will cost you more. Or there's a hiccup with banking and your pay doesn't arrive in your bank account. What if you were to lose your job suddenly? Knowing you will at least be able to feed your family and keep them and your home clean for a while will take a load off stress away while you look for another job. Or perhaps you live somewhere that's flood prone, or gets hit by the occasional cyclone - again, knowing you don't need to panic when the warnings go out takes away stress and gives you breathing room to prepare other things.

Done reasonably, emergency preparedness in whatever form it takes - grocery stockpile, emergency fund in the bank, insurance policies - is not whacky.  The peace of mind that comes from knowing you are prepared really is priceless and it's something everyone can enjoy.

And, I intend to do everything in my power to encourage you to follow my lead.

Extra reading:






25 February 2020

Back to Basics Make It: How to Make Pancakes

There’s nothing quite like fluffy pancakes from scratch for brunch on a weekend morning or for an afternoon tea treat.  We even have them for lunch when there is no bread. Here’s a recipe to help you whip up some great comfort food for breakfast. These don’t include a lot of sugar because the addition of syrup as a topping adds plenty of sweetness.


2 cups SR flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 ¾ cups milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

This recipe makes approximately 14 pancakes.

Step 1: Preheat Pan or Griddle

Preheat your pan or griddle to medium high heat. If it is not non-stick, add a little butter to keep pancakes from sticking.

Step 2: Mix Dry Ingredients

Add the flour and sugar to a large bowl. Whisk until well combined and lumps are removed. 

Step 3: Mix Wet Ingredients

In a medium bowl, whisk the  eggs, milk and vegetable oil until fully combined.

Step 4: Combine Wet and Dry Ingredients

Add the wet ingredients to the dry.

Whisk until combined, but don’t worry about removing all the lumps as this will cause you to over mix the batter.

Step: 5 Time to Cook

Using a ladle, spoon about ¼ cup of batter per pancake on your pan or griddle.

Your pancakes are ready to flip when they become firm on top and lots of bubbles appear.

Once you’ve flipped your pancakes, they will only take a minute or two to be done. Make sure you don’t over brown them.

Serve the pancakes warm and top with MOO pancake syrup, butter, stewed fruit or whatever suits your fancy.

These pancakes freeze well and are a nice addition to lunchboxes. Butter them and spread with jam or lemon butter and sandwich two together, wrap in clingwrap and freeze. Then just pop one or two into lunchboxes, straight from the freezer. By lunchtime they will be thawed and just right for eating.

Back to Basics: Make It, Bake It, Grow It, Sew It

Welcome to the first in a series of back to basics posts I've called Make It, Bake It, Grow It, Sew It that I'm writing to help everyone get back to basics.

From my You Tube shows, and questions that come from Cheapskates newsletters, I've realised that there are a lot of folk who struggle with cooking, baking, meal planning, writing a shopping list, building a stockpile and preserving, not because they don't want to, but because they're uncertain of where to begin, and what steps they need to take to get started.

I was blessed with a mother and aunties who were amazing cooks, and who taught me how to cook, bake, preserve, and then clean up the mess; how to knit, crochet and sew; what to grow to keep us fed and how to grow those foods on a budget. Not everyone has been so blessed and so I'd like to share what I've learned over the years about using basics to create a happy, healthy home.

I think the best thing any young person can do, for themselves and their family, is learn to cook basic meals from scratch so they can ditch the expensive "convenience" style meals and ingredients. From those basic meals they can meal plan and write a shopping list of ingredients. Next step would be to take that list of basic ingredients and see how many different dishes they can make with them. If they can do that they'll never go hungry, won't get bored eating the same meals over and over and won't be spending a fortune at the supermarket.
Learning to grow at least some of the food you eat not only saves you money and time, but it gives you options. You're not limited to what's available in the shops. We are seeing more and more ordinary fruit and vegetables disappearing from supermarkets, only to be replaced with more expensive exotic produce, or not be replaced at all. Having just a few veggies and some fruit in our gardens or on our balconies means we can always have fresh produce for just a few cents a week.
When you know how to sew on a button or take up a hem, you can do most running repairs on your clothing. Take it a step further and you can make pot holders, tea towels, pillow slips, tablecloths, turn old towels into bath mats or cleaning mits. Then take it even further and you can make your children's clothes, and your clothes; you can alter clothes you have or find for a few cents to fit and look like a new garment.
So every Tuesday I'm going to post a Back to Basics post, with simple, step-by-step instructions on the basics. Yes, how to boil an egg or cook a roast chicken; how to make a fruit cake and bread; how to do a pantry inventory; how to meal plan; how to stock a pantry on a budget; how to write a shopping list; how to make a pot holder, take up a hem and sew on a button; how to start plants from seed, what to grow for a basic summer and winter garden, how to preserve excess produce  and more.
Because when you know the basics, it's easy. You can take what you have and make a meal; you know what to keep in the pantry so you can always eat; you can write a shopping list that will not only fill your pantry, but feed your family and stay withing your grocery budget.

You can turn an old sheet into curtains or tea towels or pillowslips or even a new dress. You can take a ball of wool and knit or crochet a blanket. A skein of cotton becomes a dishcloth or a pretty doyley for your home.

You can fill your garden with no or very low cost plants to feed your family and brighten your home.

And if you have any questions, let me know, or if there's anything in particular you'd like to know more about, let me know! Just put your question in the comments below so I can find it.

23 February 2020

Happiness Homemade 23rd February 2020

What made me happy last week:

Carol gave me a big box of Fowlers Vacola jars, rings, lids and clips. What a generous gift, and just in time for preserving season.

I picked the first of the red tomatoes from the garden. They are huge - one I weighed was 438 grams, another was 405grams and another was 277grams. They tasted so good. I kept them for our salads, and one was enough for the five of us to have tomato with our dinner.
I picked some capsicums and eggplant from the garden.
I picked basil, chopped it and froze it in ice cubes. There wasn't enough to dry.

Joy was able to get 10 kilos of brown onions for $3.99 so I've chopped, sliced and dried most of them.

She also picked up 15 kilos of potatoes for $3. Wow! That was enough for me to practice pressure canning potatoes. We use tinned potatoes when we go camping, so if I can can them when they're cheap, it will be a big saving for us.

In my downtime, some cards were made. Photos need to be taken, and then uploaded.

I've been down with a migraine since Monday. It is apparently caused by the infection I had a couple of weeks ago, I wish it would just go away! It has eased, although for four days I lived in darkness and tried really hard not to move my head. The cough is lingering, even with antibiotics and lots of Manuka honey, so talking is almost impossible (some may say that's a good thing). That meant no You Tube shows last week, it would've been a horrible experience all round between coughing, wheezing while trying to talk, taking gulps of water to ease the cough - so the shows were cancelled. Hopefully by Tuesday I should at least be able to have a short conversation.

All our meals have been made from scratch, using pantry, fridge and freezer ingredients.

I made a meat pie for our dinner, using the large Kmart pie maker. It was on clearance for $15, and can be used to make cakes and quiche too, so home it came. I wasn't sure - the logic was to try it and see how it went, if it was a dud then it was only $15 I was donating to the op shop.

Well it is amazing. So far we've made meat pies, quiche, and a delicious chocolate cake.
I kept reading online how small it was, and honestly to look at it you don't think it is a family sized pie, but it is. It fed the five of us, with a wedge leftover, and the serves were plenty big enough. Along with the individual pie maker, this may become a well used kitchen appliance.

Petrol is coming down - after jumping 50 cents a litre in one day, it will be nice to see it down again. I have a 4c off voucher, and another 10c off on my Flybuys, and then if I buy the milk instore I'll get another 4c off, bringing it to 18 cents a litre off.

A Card a Day - Day 40

9th February 2020

I loved making this baby card. It was very simple - a die cut, a strip of DSP and some bling. I used a Kaisercraft stamp for the sentiment and stamped pram on the inside of the card.

A Card A Day - Day 39

8th February 2020

A Card a Day - Day 37

6th February 2020