23 August 2020

Gathering Up the Fragments 23 August 2020

What fragments have I gathered this week?

I should have been keeping a running list!

This week I found some small bottles of body wash from gift packs. I tipped them into the big bottle in our shower. It took all day - I wanted to make sure every drip transferred.  Next day I swished the bottles with water, poured it onto the sponge and used it to clean the bathrooms. They smelled beautiful all day.

In the kitchen there were a couple of just spoonful's of things left. One was just a spoonful of burrito mix. I added a spoon of cooked rice, heated it up and it was lunch.

The boys emptied two boxes of cereal this week. I tipped the crumbs from both packets into the crumb jar (I save the cereal crumbs, cracker crumbs, toast crumbs etc. and use them to make Shake'n'Bake), then carefully opened the liners, washed them and put them to dry. When they were dry they were folded and put away to use instead of freezer film or tracing paper. It may only keep a few cents in my purse, but they add up over time and that money is much better in my purse than the supermarkets.

Not so much gathering the fragments, but I put the last batch of soap I made away. It's been sitting on the racks in the laundry to dry. Truthfully, it's been ready for a couple of weeks, but wasn't high on my radar. Once the soap is dry and cured, I put it in the linen cupboard on the shelves under the sheets, in my wardrobe on the shelves under the jumpers, in  desk drawers etc. I have sheets of scented paper (well they're old, so not so scented any more but they were once) on top of them so they don't mark the linen or clothes because my homemade soap is quite high in fats and over time they can stain fabric. They stay there until they get used. The longer they are on the shelf, the harder they get, and the harder they are the longer they last in the bathrooms or kitchen or laundry. Well that's the theory I learned from Mum. If all the linen and clothes shelves and drawers are full of soap I've been known to put them on the bookshelves behind the books. They keep the books from getting musty and keep moths and silverfish away too.

There were more oranges to pick. This time they were juiced, so the peels are soaking in a bucket of vinegar to make orange scented vinegar that I'll use for cleaning.

I made a triple recipe of Miracle Spray - love this stuff! I noticed on TV today that 9Honey was talking about it and giving the recipe. It wouldn't bother me so much except they don't give Joy the credit for the recipe and they give the wrong quantities of ingredients!

With our roast chicken tonight I used up the sad veggies - one sweet potato, a couple of about to get hairy carrots, an onion that looked a little soft, and some potatoes that had started to sprout. I par-boiled them, then tossed them in olive oil and crushed garlic and browned them in the electric frying pan. They were so good and now the sad veggies have been used.

During the week I swished a mayo jar with a little milk to get it all out, and then swished the Vegemite jar with a little warm water and added it to the gravy for the meat pie. I think it's really important to make sure bottles and jars are completely empty before we put them in the recycle bin. There is often enough left for another sandwich or to season another recipe. When we don't scrape or swish those containers we are putting money in the bin. It's not being mean or stingy, it's just making sure you use up every little bit of what you have.

I noticed after washing up tonight that my hand cream had stopped pumping. Time to cut the bottom off and scrape it out too. I buy it on half-price, but it's still around $8 a bottle, so I need to use it all up. There's usually enough for at least another two weeks clinging to the sides and bottom of the bottle, so it's worth the two minutes it takes to do this.

As I said, I should have kept a running list, I can't think of anything else. So much of gathering up the fragments is done on autopilot, I tend to not even realise I'm doing it.  I'll try to keep a list going this week.

What fragments did you gather up this week?

19 August 2020

Is There Going to be a Food Shortage?

Yes. There is. And that's not me being sensationalist, or trying to scare you. It is simply commonsense to realise that with all that has hit Australia this year alone, food supplies will be short.

We've had bush fires.
We've had floods.
We've had a pandemic that has closed our borders.
Then there is the ongoing drought.
Avian bird flu has reappeared.
We were in recession.
Then our Prime Minister announced it was a depression, not a recession.
Unemployment is soaring.
 
All these things affect our ability as a nation to feed ourselves.

While both state and federal governments are telling us not to worry, there will be plenty, I'll 'fess up and say I don't trust them. Of course they're going to say there is plenty to go around - for a government to say anything else would be irresponsible and cause major panic, and we've seen what panic buying causes without a threat of food shortages.

Then last week local and national ABC news started reporting on crops being ploughed back into the ground - not because the harvest is so great, but because there are no pickers.

Then the closure of the largest meat processing plant in Australia at Dinmore was announced, supposedly for two weeks, but reports are coming through that it may be permanent. 

JBS, the parent company of the Dinmore plant, also closed it's Brooklyn, Vic, plant at the same time for an indefinite time.

What happens if the largest meat processing plant in Australia closes? Meat could be in short supply until another plant picks up. How long will that take? Who knows.

Now the avian flu has caused the shutdown of a poultry farm near Geelong, and yet another near Bairnsdale

This is just a few of the things that affect our food supply.

And quite frankly, all these things could be happening all the time, not just in 2020.

So, while Australia ranks 12th in the world for food security, we as individuals, need to ensure our own personal food security.

And the time to start is now.

I don't know how much more I can stress just how important it is to be able to feed yourself and your family in a crisis. Trust me, I know what it is like to have nothing but Weetbix and milk to feed your children. And we only had milk because we had friends on a dairy who kept us in milk free. You don't ever want to be in that position, and I will never, ever be in that position again.

Having enough food to give you three healthy meals a day for a week, without having to shop, is a start. Last time we talked about this I suggested keeping enough to last one pay period without shopping.

Now, with Stage 4 restrictions here in Melbourne, lasting for at least six weeks, I'd say every home should be able to last six weeks without shopping. Yes, we can go shopping. And yes, there is always delivery.

But those things don't ensure that the food is available when you want it.

I listened, almost in disbelief, as Daniel Andrews, the current Premier of Victoria, asked people not to panic buy. He said there was plenty of food, no need to rush out and buy, buy, buy. You might see some shortages, and you might not be able to get what you need or what you want, but there will be something for you to buy. 

Huh?

If you can't get what you need or what you want - that's a shortage. Saying you'll be able to buy something won't fix the fact that you can't get what you need or want.

Start building your pantry now. Canned fruit and veg are shelf stable for years. Dehydrated fruit and veg are shelf stable for years. Adding a tin of veggies and a tin of fruit to the shopping each week won't break the budget, but they could keep you fed when there's nothing on the supermarket shelves.

A warning though: only buy what you eat. If you don't eat pears, don't buy tinned pears. Buy peaches or apples or plums or apricots instead.  Same for the veggies. If you don’t eat green beans, don’t buy them. If you don't bake, then 50kg of flour won't help you. Buy what you eat.

 I have been filling the gaps in the pantry over the last few months with tinned fruit, tinned veggies, some tinned soups (I only use tomato and cream of chicken as a rule) and tuna and salmon. I've been replacing the pasta and rice as it's used, and stocking up on a few instant noodle type packet meals. Not normally on my shopping list, but they are shelf stable and while not the healthiest if you eat them all the time, every now and then they work to stretch a meal.

Things like refried beans, black beans and coconut milk have also been replaced. I'm aiming to keep the pantry stable for now, instead of letting it run down like I normally do.

Since frozen veggies have been available again, I've been buying them and dehydrating them to make them shelf stable. Packets of peas/corn/carrots, green beans and corn kernels dehydrate and rehydrate very well, and we eat all these regularly.

Why am I focusing on dehydrating? It's easy to keep enough on the pantry shelf without taking up too much space, where packets of frozen veggies fill the freezer.

Another way we can guarantee our own food security is to grow it. Again, it's easy. Anyone can grow at least some of the food they eat, even if you live in an apartment in the city or a homestead in the desert. Honestly, when people tell me they can't grow anything I want to tell them they can't because they don't really want too.

This week on Landline it was reported that the price for fresh fruit and veg will rise by 60%. That's a huge increase folks. A sixty percent increase puts the cost of that $2/kg bunch of carrots at $3.20/kg.

Don't get me wrong, growing food is hard work. Farmers make a career out of it, so why anyone would think they don't need to put any effort into it astounds me.

You need to water, weed and fertilise. You need to keep an eye on the weather and watch the wind or hail or frost. You need to be able to keep pests at bay. You need to put some time and effort in to do these things, but if you do them regularly, then they only take a few minutes. In summer I spend around 15 minutes a day in the garden, in winter perhaps 15 minutes every second day. Its enough to keep the gardens producing and us fed.

 I try to grow from seed. And I try to get heirloom varieties of seed. Heirloom varieties mean I can save seed from some of each crop to replant, and the plants will grow. Personally I like Diggers Club, Eden Seeds and Garden Harvest for my seeds. Just saying.

Oh, and when it comes to growing your own food, grow what you eat. Anything else is a waste of seed, water, time, and growing space.

We are looking to expand our veggie gardens this spring and summer. The less we need to rely on supermarkets, the better off we are, so growing as much as we can just makes sense. It boosts our food security.

A big garden isn't a problem for us. What we don't eat, we preserve, and plant accordingly so nothing is wasted.  My message here is: don't overplant - again it's a waste of seed, water, garden space, money and time. Plant what you can eat and preserve. If you believe you'll be able to barter or trade, then plant a little more.

Money - that five letter word! I am not, and would not, ever suggest you race out and buy up everything you need for the next week/fortnight/month/year. For starters, that's bordering on panic buying and that's when you make mistakes. It would also do some severe damage to most budgets.

Build up slowly, one or two things at a time. Look for specials, especially half-price sales, on the things you use. Try adding just one or two extra items a shop to build the pantry. But do it. Don't think you have plenty of time - you don't.

The time to act to ensure your own food security is now!

I think the next few years are going to be challenging for Australians. That's me being diplomatic - I really believe they are going to be hard; harder than anything I've lived through in my lifetime.

We've been living the good life for so long, there are generations of Australians who really don't understand true hardship. Even the GFC in 2007 - 2008 wasn't a crisis for us - we sailed through it compared to the rest of the world.

But this? No, this is going to bring us to our knees. It will be years before our country resembles anything close to what it did in March this year.

I'm not trying to scare you. I am trying to warn you. I am trying to encourage you, and motivate you to take responsibility for your own food security. 

I'm sure you've all heard the joke about it not raining when Noah built the ark.

Right now, where you are, food may be plentiful. You may still have an income, so price increases, while they hurt, aren't crippling you like they are the tens of thousands who are out of work. It may even be affordable. 

But building your ark, in the form of a pantry, can't hurt.





17 August 2020

Filling the Pantry One Thing At A Time

For the last few weeks I've been working on filling the gaps in our pantry. Dehydrating carrots here. Making chocolate sauce another day. Picking parsley and garlic chives from the garden and drying them near the fire. Using the older onions to make caramelised onions another day. Limes from the fruit bowl and oranges off the tree for marmalade and lime butter. Turning powdered milk that needs using into condensed milk and caramel sauce for the pantry.

It sounds like a lot of work, and if you were to do it all at once it would be. But I spread it out. A little each day, and the gaps filled up quickly. 

A singe batch of marmalade  takes about an hour and half from start to finish - but most of that time is when it is cooking in the microwave. I'm not standing in the kitchen all that time.

Slicing a bunch of celery and getting it into the dehydrator only takes about 5 minutes, but it fills a gap in the pantry for very little effort.
Picking the parsley and chives and laying them on a cake rack on the top of the fire took just a few minutes and refilled the spice jars in the cupboard. 

Little by little,  just one or two things a day, will fill the pantry. You don't need to spend hours in the kitchen, working up a sweat and having a heap of washing up to do.

If there are things you can't make, adding one or two a week to your shopping list, or deliberately searching for them on half price, will fill the gaps quickly, with little effort and little, if any, affect to your grocery budget. 

Right now fill the gaps as you find them. Don't wait. Supermarket shelves are emptying. They may look full, but have a good look. Things are spread out. They are in different areas to fill the gaps (see, even supermarkets are trying to fill the gaps, although that's an attempt to pull the wool about shortages over our eyes). 

Keep a list of what you have and what you need to fill the gaps. Put it in your handbag or on your phone. Use it. 

Do this for all your pantries: food, laundry, bathroom, cleaning, garden, first aid, gifts. Look to see what you need. 

You may well be wondering why, when I'm a dedicated once-a-year shopper, that I'm filling the gaps now.

Well, just in case you missed it, we are smack bang in the middle of a pandemic. This pandemic has brought my city of Melbourne, Australia, to a halt. 

We are on what are called Stage 4 Lockdown. That means just one person per household can leave the house for food shopping for just one hour a day, and cannot go further than 5km from home. There are other restrictions too, but this is the one that I'd like to focus on.

One person per household per day for no more than one hour a day may sound reasonable. And to the average Melbournian, for food shopping it probably is. 

But folks, there are empty shelves. There is a shortage of meat and poultry and fish. Not everything I like to have is available, although our Premier has done his best to assure us that we won't go hungry.
Yes, our State Government warned us of the shortages (and this past week, our state and national news sources have been reporting on current and coming food shortages). 


Along with these shortages there is predicted to be a 60% increase in the cost of fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish. Can your grocery budget stand a 60% increase? I know mine can't. 

So I am filling the gaps, little by little, every day. 

This isn't panicking. This is being wise, a good steward, taking care of your family and your home so that you won't go without, and you won't need to pay the inflated prices just to survive. 

16 August 2020

Gathering Up The Fragments 16 August 2020

How many fragments were you able to gather this week?

When you stop and count them up, there are often more than you think.

This week soap "scraps" were gathered and grated and put into the washing powder tin. 

I used a little water to rinse a tomato sauce bottle into the pasta sauce. No one complained, it used up all the sauce and I think it made the pasta sauce a little richer for this week's lasagne. The bottle went into the dishwasher to be cleaned and used again for more sauce next summer. 

Another thing I do without even thinking about it is to save the tea bags to use as firelighters. In winter we use the fire non-stop, but of course sometimes in the mornings it needs a little help to get going again. Tea bag firelighters work like a charm and they're free. There is a jar next to the heater that I put the no-longer-fit-to-be-used cooking oil in, and when we've finished with a tea bag, it gets dropped into the jar. When we need a firelighter, an oil soaked tea bag works better than a Redheads firelighter, has cost us nothing and doesn't stink up the house while it's burning. 

We get no-longer-fit-to-be-used cooking oil because when I do use oil, after cooking, it is strained and the put into a jar that sits near the stove. If the oil has been used to fry eggs or vegetables, it gets reused. I don't reuse oil that's been used to cook fish, the flavour goes through the oil and we just don't like it. That oil goes straight to the fire lighter jar. Oil is expensive; re-using it makes sense. I buy 4 litres of EVOO a year and 4 litres of vegetable oil. It helps that we don't eat a lot of fried foods, but when we do, the oil is saved and re-used. And then saved and re-used. Keeping it clean is the secret - make sure you strain it to get every little crumb out before storing it. 

The last of the onions needed to be used up. Buying onions in 10 kilo bags is a great money saver, and grating and slicing some for the freezer is a huge time saver. I keep some out to use fresh, but occasionally they start to soften before they're used. This week I made caramalised onions, using up the last of the fresh onions and some MOO brown sugar and the last of the balsamic vinegar. 

There was a about a ladle of mashed potato left after Monday night's dinner. It became fish cakes for Hannah and I for lunch on Tuesday. I added a small tin of tuna (90c from Coles), a sprinkle of herbs, and the half diced onion from Sunday lunch. Nothing was wasted and they were really tasty and it made just enough for us to share with some lettuce on sandwiches.

On Monday I swapped the meal plan around again. I felt like chow mien for dinner, so went to the freezer to look for mince. I found a packet, then realised I needed mince later in the week. No problem. One cup of TVP was set to rehydrate while the meat browned with a couple of diced onions. Once it was nicely browned, I spooned half into a container to use later in the week. There wasn't really enough mince to do one meal, let alone two. By adding TVP and stretching what I had, two dinners are covered, and no waste. As it turned out, there was a single serve of chow mien left, and about 3/4 cup of mashed potato. 

I added a packet of 2 minute noodles to the chow mien and Hannah and I enjoyed it for lunch on Tuesday. 

On Thursday I added some onion flakes, parsley and a little grated cheese to the mash, beat in an egg, and made croquettes for our tea, Wayne and the boys had their MOO pizzas. They were delicious with some salad and nothing was wasted. 

What fragments were you able to gather up and use this week? How much money didn't go into the bin?

09 August 2020

Gathering Up the Fragments

I read this early this morning, gathering up the fragments, and it really made my heart sing.

That's what I do. It's how I care for my family and our home. It's how we live a rather luxurious lifestyle on a very modest income. It's how and why we live debt free, cashed up and laughing.

One of the things a frugal home does is use everything. Nothing goes to waste. Even the tiniest fragment of leftovers is used.

Sometimes we forget that little bits of anything can be used up. We look at that spoonful of potato, or strip of fabric or sliver of soap and think it has finished it's use, there's nothing more to be done with it, and so we throw it away.

When we do that we are putting our money in the bin. Now I don't know anyone who would voluntarily put a $1 or $5 or more in the bin. In fact just about everyone I know would go through that bin to find that $1 or $5, and definitely would if it were more. 

So we need to be aware of the value of what we throw away. Not just the dollar value, but the usefulness. 

This week I've dehydrated three bunches of celery. All the celery, except for the very last 2cm of each bunch. The stems were sliced and dried. I pulled the leaves off the skinny stems and they were dried. Then the skinny stems were sliced and dried too. I'm aware of the trend to try and regrow celery from the base, but honestly, celery takes far too long to grow and takes up a lot of garden space and needs lots of water, so growing celery for me, right now, isn't worth it. If celery ever becomes outrageously expensive or hard to get, then I will rethink. This week the bokashi bucket was fed three celery bases. 
This is what the leaves from two bunces of celery look like after they've been dehydrated.
Nothing from those bunches of celery was wasted. It was all used. The $5 those three bunches of celery cost will be realised in full. No money in the bin.

The peanut butter jar looked empty, and so Wayne put it aside to be scraped. That jar wasn't near empty, there was at least another two tablespoons of peanut butter stuck around the sides, on the bum on the bottom of the jar and under the rim. Out came my trusty silicone spatula and it was scraped clean, with the scrapings going into the new jar. Peanut butter isn't overly expensive, but it's not the cheapest of spreads either, so there's no way I'm going to be putting it in the bin. 

That's just two examples of gathering the fragments this week.

Another was when I repaired the blanket off our bed. This blanket is about 40 years old, but it is so warm and cosy, and we just love it. Unfortunately the satin blanket binding was frayed and torn, so I took it off, and accidentally tore the blanket. Yikes!

I don't keep satin blanket binding in m fabric stash, so I had to get creative. First I repaired the rip, by carefully overlapping the ends and then working a buttonhole stitch over it. 

Next I had to look for something to use as binding. In the linen cupboard I have a pile of pillowslips that don't match sheets anymore. A lightbulb went off - one pillowslip would be enough to make binding for the blanket. 

It only took a few minutes to unpick the seams and press the fabric flat. Then I cut it into strips, joined them and stitched them across the top of the blanket. Cost: absolutely nothing. No waste, the blanket is good for another 40 years (I hope!) and one pillowslip has been repurposed into something still useful. 

Another example of gathering the fragments is my card making. I use lots of cardstock and patterned papers, cutting shapes for the embellishments. But nothing goes to waste. If I cut into a sheet of card or piece of patterned paper, I use it all. Once the card is made, there is often enough left to make a matching bookmark and gift tag to go with it, or to be used separately. If there's anything left then out come the punches and I'll punch out flowers or leaves or hearts or stars or whatever to be used on other cards. All the fragments are gathered up and used. 

Yesterday was an extra special COVID-19 card day. We were supposed to be in Tasmania, with Carol, but because of the crisis and the extra restrictions for we Melbournians, we couldn't go. So we had our card day online. During the day I was able to make lots of cards, most of them using up scraps and leftovers.  These Christmas cards were made using up strips of card that were left from other projects. I love them, and nothing was wasted. None of my craft budget went into the bin.
Circles punched from scraps of cardstock
I found this gorgeous vintage Christmas paper in the scrap bag, but there were only 4 sheets - just enough for a mini junk journal
This was made from scraps of DSP in the scrap bag too - nothing goes to waste!
Some people see scraping the peanut butter jar or punching shapes from tiny bits of cardstock as being mean and scrooge-like.  They see repairing a 40-year-old blanket with a repurposed pillowslip as something shameful, that I'm to be pitied that I had to do that. Don't, I didn't have to, I could easily have gone online and spent $300 on a new blanket. But why would I when half an hour had our blanket we love as good as new?

I see it as not putting the money we work hard for into the bin. 

Everyday I gather the fragments and make sure everything is used up. How much does it save us? Honestly, to the exact dollar I don't know. But it does mean that we live a much better lifestyle on a very modest income because we gather the fragments and don't waste anything. 

07 August 2020

Living Off the Stockpile (Again)

Today starts another round of Stage Three lockdown restrictions for us. When I heard the news on Tuesday afternoon I was concerned for a few minutes. What did we need? Was there anything we were running out of? Had I filled all the gaps in our pantry?

Oh my goodness, it was an odd feeling. Odd because quite frankly, if you know me, you know we don't need anything, especially in the way of food or toiletries or cleaning supplies. Honestly, for those few minutes I think I was shocked, not that we were back in lockdown, that was a given to happen, but that it was for six weeks this time. Six weeks!

It did occur to me that I was being silly. I shop once a year, so why would this bother me? Why should it bother me? I'm not sure why I was bothered, other than after last time, and the enormous outpouring of anger that I was talking about pantries and preparedness and making scones when people couldn't get toilet paper, I was, and am, a little nervous. Honestly, it shouldn't bother me.

I've encouraged you all to build your pantry for years, long before there was a pandemic or even a hint of a pandemic. It's not something I just started. Panic buying and hoarding are not what I teach or encourage.

When I went to get some fresh veggies on Monday morning, the produce section was almost bare. No apples. No oranges. In fact the only fruits were strawberries and bananas - nothing else. Not even a kiwi or lemon.

No lettuce. No cucumbers. No loose onions, carrots or potatoes. No cauliflowers. No sweet potatoes. Tomatoes were $8.99/kg (ouch!).

The meat cabinets were still full, but each item was limited to two per shopper. And boy was it expensive, although I'm thinking the budget friendly cuts were probably sold out.

No fresh bread. Not sure why, perhaps I was too early.

Only small bottles of milk. I was able to buy two litres.

No toilet paper, again.

As I was doing my quick walk around, trying to avoid other shoppers who seemed to have forgotten about social distancing, I was thanking God for the urge to not keep a stocked pantry, but to restock it as we have used it this year.

The pantry has the flour, sugar, yeast, tinned tomatoes, tomato soup, baked beans, oats, pasta, dried and canned beans, rice, TVP, herbs and spices, dried fruits, jams, honey, peanut butter and oil we use all the time.

The freezer has the mince, whole chickens, chicken fillets, sausages, corned beef, frozen veggies and fruits, pastry and breads that we eat the most.

The fridge has the butter, eggs and fresh veggies we use every day.

They are ingredients.

When you have ingredients you have options.

If you have flour and yeast you can make bread. You can make pizza bases. You can make scrolls.

If you have pasta, tomato soup or tinned tomatoes, herbs and cheese you can make pasta bake.

If you have beans (dried or tinned), carrot, celery, onion and tinned tomatoes you can make bean and veggie soup. Add some macaroni for minestrone.

If you have tuna, rice, frozen peas, curry, flour, milk powder you can make a curried tuna mornay.

If you have rice, peanut butter, Vegemite, onion and a little oil you can make  Quick Rice Patties

Flour, milk, grated cheese, corn kernels, eggs and you can make Savoury Impossible Pie

Stewed fruit, oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and you can make a fruit crumble.

Flour, sugar, milk, eggs, butter, vanilla and you can make a plain cake. Add cocoa for chocolate cake or instant coffee for coffee cake.

Flour, cold tea, dried fruit and you can make Fruity Tea Cake 

I've listed more recipes in the Bare Bones Groceries ebook. They all use basic pantry ingredients, take only a few minutes to put together and are cheap.

I fill our pantry with ingredients so I can make what we need, when we need it. I don't cook or bake anything complicated or fancy. I use the tools I have to keep meal prep simple and easy. I use plain, old-fashioned recipes and adapt them to suit our tastes, our budget and the ingredients in our pantry.