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: