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.