Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Toad in the Hole

This is a family favourite in our house.  It's a frugal favourite also :) You just have to remember to chill the batter for at least half an hour first, I sometimes forget to do this, it still works but the texture and taste isn't quite as good. The sausages are the toad, the batter is the hole :)

Toad in the Hole

Sausages - any plain ones will work and I only use 3 or 4 for the size I make, costing me about $3.50NZ for the meat.

For the batter-
1 cup Flour
1/2 teaspoon of Salt
2 Eggs - lightly beaten ( I have been known to make this with one egg and it works just as well)
1/2 cup plus 2 extra tablespoons of Milk


If not using baking paper to line your pan/tin (I just use a slice tin) you want a good knob of butter that you melt in your pan and spread around to prevent sticking. The butter method gives a nice crust to the underneath, however depending on what pan I use I sometime use baking paper to stop it sticking.

Sift flour and salt into a bowl.  Make a well and pour in the eggs and milk and whisk it well.  Add more milk if needed to make a smooth batter (similar to pancake batter).  Cover and chill in the fridge for half an hour or more. If using a bigger pan/tin, double the mix.

When the batter has chilled precook the sausages, I pierce mine and pop them into the microwave for 2 mins, turn them over and give them another 2 mins.
Cut the sausages up into chunks, line the tin or melt the butter in the tin and pour the batter in (if the batter has thickened up to much while chilling whisk in a little more milk).  Pop the sausages into the batter and bake at around 190degC until the batter has cooked, risen and is golden.  Don't be alarmed when it cools once it's out of the oven it will sink back down.  I serve this with steamed veges on the side, but up to you :) Lashings of Tomato Sauce make this taste even better according to our boys. This is enough to feed us for one meal and lunch day for DH.








Italian Sausage and Bean Casserole

I'm sharing a few of my recipes today that I put into my somewhat frugal basket (given that we've been a few days out from shopping we've been making do with what veges and other ingredients we have left).  They are simple and only require small amounts of meat and generally whatever leftover veges you have can be used up, with an addition of a can of beans/lentils you have a nourishing meal that doesn't cost the earth to prepare.  This recipe I have adapted slightly, it's from our Simple Mediterranean cookbook that my DH has had for some years. It's easy, yummy and filling :)

For this recipe I use a mini bratwurst sausage for the flavour it gives. The recipe calls for an Italian sausage to be used, so anything with a little flavour will work. I have in the past used a tomato and basil gluten free sausage (they were on special) that worked just as well.  This time I had 5 thin sausages for this recipe which cost $4 for the packet so it's a cheaper meat meal. It will feed us for dinner and a good amount leftover for lunch the next day for DH to take for work

Italian Sausage and Bean Casserole
Italian Sausages (up to 6 sausages but just use what you have, I normally use 4 or 5)
Olive Oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic 
1 green pepper/capsicum (I use whatever I have on hand, peppers are expensive out of season so sometimes I only use 1/4 of a pepper to make it stretch further, if they are in season I would use a whole one)
1 400gm can of Chopped Tomatoes or 4 large fresh tomatoes chopped well
2 tbsp of Tomato Paste
400gm can of Cannellini Beans


Precook your sausages, either in the microwave, under the grill or on bake in the oven.  Don't forget to pierce them first so they don't explode.
Add a good slosh of Olive Oil to a large pan, and gently fry off the onion, garlic and green pepper.  Cook for around 5 mins stirring every now and then until they have softened but not browned.
Add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer for 5mins or so stirring a few times.
Stir through the tomato paste, the cannellinni beans and the sausages (which need to be sliced up into pieces)
and simmer for another 5mins or so.  If you need more moisture add a little water with a touch more tomato paste mixed in.  Season to taste with pepper and salt. 
I generally serve this with mashed spuds or a garlic and butter couscous, with steamed veges on the side


Cook's Note :) : If I don't have any green pepper I don't stress about it, and I'll just make it without it.  Or I'll use a red or yellow pepper, whatever I have on hand. Sometimes I'll add a courgette with the onions, or some silver beet towards the end.  






 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Easy White Bread

The night before last, I went to bed knowing we had no bread left - uh oh! I am proud to say though, that it has been 7 weeks since I last bought a loaf of bread from the supermarket, I've made all our bread by hand since then.  Yay :). So yesterday morning I woke knowing I had to whip out a loaf quickly, so I turned to my (what I term) easy White Bread loaf.  Last night whilst making dinner I made another one so that we wouldn't run out this morning. This is a Sophie Gray recipe that I have played around with and adapted,  and  is actually meant to be a flatbread with toppings but works just as well made into a plain loaf.  I'll do a post at some stage about the fabulous flat bread I make :)

Easy White Bread

2 cups of Highgrade Flour
1 cup of Gluten Flour
1 teaspoon of Table Salt
1/2 teaspoon of White Sugar
1 sachet of Instant Yeast
1 Tablespoon of Oil
1 1/4 cups of Hot Water (Not to hot nor to cold)

NOTE: If you have no Gluten Flour it's fine just to use 3 cups of White Flour. You could also try mixing it up with some Wholemeal Flour.

In a bowl Mix together the Flour/s, Salt, Sugar and Yeast.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the Oil and Hot Water.  Give it a mix around till combined and turn the dough out onto a floured bench.  Knead for around 5 mins until it springs back when you dent it with a finger.  Rise.  You can rise as normal or use the quick microwave method. For this you grease the bowl and the dough and cover with clingfilm. Microwave on low for 1minute, then rest in the microwave for 10minutes and repeat this cycle two or three times until the dough has doubled (or risen to nearly doubled, sometimes I'm impatient and I don't let it rise until it's completely doubled and it still bakes as well).  Once it's risen, shape and pop into a greased loaf tin and bake for around 25 minutes at 190degC or until your loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.  

This is super yummy fresh out of the oven with homemade marmalade and a hot coffee!




MMMM delish!


Sunday, 28 August 2011

Crazy Ideas

I don't know about you but I have these (crazy ideas) all the time! My latest crazy idea is, in an endeavour to a) save the environment and b) save the petrol bill, I will dust off my very dusty bike which I haven't ridden in about 7years. The goal I have in mind is to be able to get a child seat for the back of my bike, and since I have to take Master 4 into town to kindy three times a week (which equate to 6 trips into town and back for drop off and pick up)  I want to be able to bike in and back for the drop off trip.  
Now this is a big ask, even for me! I grew up on my bike and rode my bike everywhere as a kid.  But into adult hood this has been left behind, I mean who looks good all sweaty with a helmet sandwiched onto their heads? And don't even get me started on the helmet hair!! 

But that is all behind me now, and I can see the positives radiating from my bike that has been yearning to be dusted off and taken for a blat.  You see about 8 years or so ago my DH and I went out and bought our two bikes.  Right in the height of our consumerism days, we walked into the bike shop on a whim, and filled in some forms, got the big finance approved tick and walked back out with two new mountain bikes.  They weren't the top of the line but they were pretty good. They cost about $600NZ each, so that is quite a bit for a bike, especially back then and for, let's face it, two city slickers with something to prove.  We took our newly and not paid for yet, bikes out to Woodhill forest to a mountain biking track.  It was so much fun! The last time I had been mountain biking was on a Year 10 camp in Taupo, navigating pretty steep terrain, and the terrain won the fight.  I ended up in several ground on collisions, and some very bruised ribs.  So imagine my surprise when after an awesome time fancying ourselves as Mountain Bikers out in the forest, that it is not me but DH in the emergency room at the doctors surgery with a broken elbow! I'm pretty sure the bikes only came out once after then and have been hanging in our various garages gathering dust since then.  Until now that is! (Well DH has yet to get his down, but I know him and it won't take long for him to follow suit...will it dear :))

Our littlest boy is unwell today so while he went to have a nap, I managed to convince DH to help me square my bike back up into a useable condition, then Master 5 and I headed off for our first bike ride together around the school and local neighbourhood.  What fun! I taught him how to be safe out biking and off we took, for an hour or so.  I then dropped him back home and furthered my crazy state of mind by attempting to go for a ride on the open road to see how far I could get before I suffered heart failure, a car took me out, the bike fell apart or my legs fell off.  I managed 5.8km! I'm very proud! It only took 25mins round trip and I didn't suffer heart failure, just an extreme case of pink cheeks, the cars seemed to pass by me ok and at the recommended distance, although still incredibly fast as noone seemed to slow down to go past a lone and struggling biker, my chain came off once but I managed to get it back on ok and my legs are still in tact - albeit they were very unresponsive and in a jelly like state for a while afterward.  I feel an enormous sense of achievement with myself.  Now I just face quite a few more rides going a little bit further each time, working out how to conquer all the gears on my bike and actually managing to not get off and push at any point. I just may be ready then to find a second hand child seat for the back and cycle the 17.4km round trip to kindy and home again.  Wish me luck!

Master 5 and I in all our safety gear, ready to go on a bike ride

The bike...may we clock up many km's together!

The Vege Patch

Well yesterday was a big day in the vege garden.  We woke to a morning of beautiful spring weather, just perfect for my plans to tear apart the vege patch.  When we moved in here in Feb this year, we had all sorts of plans for the garden, and in particular creating a vege growing area.  Around mid March the first of the vege areas came to life lovingly made by my DH, and in late March I had this planted with the first seedlings.  This is our first vege garden, although we both grew up with the gardens our parents tended, it's our first time.  We're complete novices, but like all willing apprentices we like to learn on the job!  We've managed to produce some results for this winter which was just so exciting. But as the winter has drawn on and my dislike for cold wet weather has endured the last few months, the dear vege garden has been a bit neglected - although we still managed to have the Cauliflowers produce beautiful snowy white goodness recently.  
Yesterday was the day to be seized and we got to work.  We are extending the area down the fence line as you will see in the photos to the first pohutakawa bush, so that we can grow plenty of yummy veges and berries over the summer.  We've given this area a good clean up. Our friends are getting some soil and compost in for their gardens in a few weeks and they have kindly offered for us to go in with them.  So very soon, we'll have some soil and DH will find some planks and extend the raised sides.  We have some trellis in the garage and need to get some more to go along the fence line.  This will tidy it up and also allow us to grow some tomato plants in pots along the trellis line.  Also our neighbour gave me a whole lot of strawberries that she had taken out from her garden so I had them to plant as well.  I cleaned up the existing bed, seperated out the leeks and spring onions, laid down some more egg shells, fertilised with some yummy fish fertiliser and generally tidied it up and gave it some much needed love :)  
DH did a fantastic job today as he did most of the big clearing away of the plants that were growing in the way, he is a good HeMan when I need him to be. Of course we also had our little helpers pitching in as well.  Lovely to be out in the sunshine and fresh air with the whole family working together. I know that the work and time that all four of us give to the garden is going to help contribute to providing nourishing, healthy and yummy food in just a few short months. All it takes is a bit of care and love :)

Before

After

Hmm before

Now that's looking better :)

The plants need to come out to make some room for the spuds

All Cleared Up

Little Helper Master 5

This trailer load holds what we've have pulled out of the garden since March, there is a lot of it! We are very lucky our friends have been able to leave a trailer for us to load it onto and tomorrow its been taken to their parents farm to be disposed of, thanks C!

Friday, 26 August 2011

A Proud Day

This is my post for today as part of the Friday Feature that Rhonda at Down to Earth holds. I had planned my post to be on my latest sewing project but I have shared such a wonderful afternoon with my son that I thought I would share this instead.

So today on my mind is how proud I am of my wee 5 year old boy.  I am immensely proud of him.

Today was his primary school cross country.  For those that aren't familiar this, it's an event where all the children in the school participate in a running competition.  It normally involves quite a run over farms and across country land. Or in urban areas around local parks or their school fields.
The juniors of the school today got to do a run around the two fields at school which is still quite a distance for little legs.
Last night my boy had woken up with a major temperature and this morning he didn't sound the flashest at all.  I tried my hardest to convince him to stay at home today, but he was absolutely determined that he was going to go to school because he wanted to run his cross country race.  Off he went to school and I half expected to have to go pick him up, but he stuck it out.
After lunch his little brother and I headed to school and we watched him line up and do his run.  A friend had seen him this morning and said he didn't look so flash, but there he was lining up smiling and being his normal monkey self.  


They set off on the race and boy did he run his little heart out! He looked pooped but he got to the end and in a good time as well.  My heart swelled with pride.  I was so glad I was able to watch our little guy complete his run and accomplish his goal he'd set for himself. To reward his efforts we hung around and had a nice play on the playground.


 Later on I was giving him a cuddle and I told him I was very proud that even though he didn't feel so well he stuck with it and ran anyway.  He very matter of factly told me "I wasn't feeling so good in the middle of my run, but I told myself I could do it, so I just kept running until I got to the end".  Could my heart swell with pride any further?  
It was nice to hear him say that, a reassurance what we try to teach them as they grow does have an effect. A sign that mine and DH's persistence with the hard times, supporting them and believing in them when they have struggled with something has paid off.  So many times they have gotten besides themselves thinking they can't do something, and in the background we are there, telling them they can, that we believe in them and that they can do it.  That lesson obviously paid off for Master 5 today.

I stood back after talking to him and had a moment to myself.  I reflected on how extremely lucky I was to have been able to share this event with my son.  I am grateful that because of the decisions we have made to make changes to our lifestyle, to slow down and cut back and for me to be at home with our boys, I am able to be there and support my children in the things that are very important to them.  I hope that when he is older Master 5 will remember back to Mum and his little brother cheering him on during his first Cross Country and the many more that are to come.

Today is a perfect example of the positive side effects of us choosing to actively slow life down, taking the time with the small things in life.  We may not be money rich without a second income, and this can make life challenging, but by choosing to work in our home instead, I am time rich, and it really shows me that for our children that is the most important.  I love taking time for the small things, for sharing special times in my childrens lives and taking the time to just be with them. 

We take time to smell the roses together.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Waxing - Bees Wax Style

I have been experimenting :) After hours of trawling through the internet looking at alternative ways of doing things i.e. frugal and green friendly ways I have come up with a whole stack of things to try.  I know some will work and some won't.  

The other night though I set to work on this little gem.  I can honestly say now that Beeswax works brilliantly as a hot wax treatment for hair removal.  So instead of heading down to the local beauty therapist for a wax, get yourself some beeswax and do it yourself.  A bikini wax here costs around $30-$50 and there is no way I am out to pay that at the moment.  A while back I bought a large block of beeswax from a local honey shop for $5 which I use in making my homemade lipbalms amongst other goodies, and I have seen it at the markets and online for really cheap also.

All I did was slice off a little part of the block, I would say all up I used about 2 teaspoons.  Put this in a double boiler or in a bowl sitting over a pot of boiling water and melt.  Now this is obviously HOT! so careful hands are needed.  Through a bit of painful trial and error I can tell you, do not put the wax on your skin when it is still a liquid!  You want to let it start to solidify but not go solid.  I used one of the kids art iceblock sticks which you can pick up at a $2 shop to apply it.  
Powder the area to be waxed with either baby powder or like me you can use Cornflour - it works just as well :)
Using the stick  I scooped out the solidified but still soft wax onto the stick and then applied it in quite a good layer over the hair to be removed.  Just to warn you this will still be a bit hot, but I managed to get through it and I hate pain so it should be fine, to be honest it was just the same as a beauty therapist doing it.  Pat it a few times, let it cool and then pick a little corner and pull it off. If you can get the whole strip off in one go then do this, otherwise just pick and roll the little bits until they come off, this will still take the hair with it.  It works a treat! Just tweeze any that don't come away, or you can use a little bit of the wax and just try dabbing it over the hairs, some do come away like this.  It takes a little practice to get the hang of it.
Afterwards just like any wax it'll be a sensitive area so avoid creams etc, although you can use some Aloe Vera on it or I opened a capsule of Vit E and smeared this over it.  By morning it was all settled.  Remember to watch the direction that you are pulling it off, you want to go in the opposite direction to the hair growth.  If your wax goes solid before you are finished just pop it back on the heat to re-soften it.




Pastry and Pie Goodness

MMMM so along with pizza another favourite in our house is a good Pie :) yes I know it's not the healthiest of options but we all have our weaknesses! I grew up with my Mum ans Dad making pies and I have followed suit particularly since I married a man who will down a good pie in seconds.  I have always just used bought pastry and made the filling, but a few pie making sessions ago I tried to make my own pastry.  I have always thought it was a hard process and put learning how to do it on the backburner.  Until the other night that is.  We all had a craving for a pie so I set about finding a recipe for the pastry.  I found this gorgeous one in a Sophie Gray book of mine and it is just the yummiest, lightest pastry - far superior to any supermarket one I've tried.  So we can have our Pie and eat it to :)  You can use this pastry for any pies, and I will be trying it soon with homemade sausage rolls. It's the perfect pastry base for any savoury recipe.  The pies that I make will last us two nights worth of dinners so they are a good low cost meal for the four of us.

Family Tradition from my family - Pea, Pie and Pud :)
Pastry:
2 1/4 cups Plain Flour
170gms Butter
Pinch of Salt
1/2 cup of Cold Water
Egg Wash or Milk for glazing

*If using a food processor, Put the flour and salt into the bowl with the chopping/knife blade, chop up your cold butter into little pieces and add this.  Whizz it around until its all mixed in.  Slowly add your water bringing the mix together into a ball.
*If doing by hand, Put flour and salt into a bowl, grate the cold butter into the flour and mix in with your fingertips.  Add the water slowly to bring the mix together.

Take the pastry ball and wrap it up in cling film or baking paper and pop it into the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.    

Once you've prepared your filling or half an hour has passed, take the pastry from the fridge and divide it into two portions, one for the lid and one for the base.  Or divide it as you need to.  Roll it out to required thickness and size, a tiny sprinkle of flour can help stop it sticking.  Fill the pie and seal the lid onto the top.  Do this by  pressing  the edge gently with a fork or use a brush of milk to seal.  Poke a few holes in the top to prevent explosion, if you want brush either a little beaten egg or just straight milk over the top for a nice finish and then bake at around 190degC until its all golden and looking cooked.  I think mine took about 25mins. For my bacon and egg pie where the filling wasn't cooked I left it in a bit longer but kept an eye on the pie crust.

Notes:  Rememeber to grease the dish it is going into to prevent it sticking.  Always use cold water and cold butter, pastry works better the colder it is.


Filling Ideas:

A classic filling idea in our house is Steak, Mushroom, Cheese and Pepper sauce.  To make this cube up some stewing steak (about 300-400gms).  Coat the meat in flour and using a little olive oil brown off in a hot pan.  Set aside.  Gently fry and caramilise some finely chopped onions, add the meat back to the pan.  Slice a good handful or two of mushrooms and add these.  Add some beef stock to the pan - try 1 cup first and then add enough to just cover the pie mix at the most 2 cups should be enough.  Bring this up to a gentle simmer, add a little salt and grind in enough pepper to make it peppery or to suit your taste.  You can always leave the pepper out if you don't like it.  Simmer this slowly for around half an hour or until the meat is cooked.  Or alternatively if you are preparing the filling way ahead of time, it's really nice to pop a lid on it and put it into the oven for 1 1/2 hours at 160degC to gently slow cook the meat.  Always an opportunist to get veges into the family, I add some sliced silverbeet from the garden as its just about cooked, but this is up to you.  When the meat is looking done and you have your pastry rolled and ready in the dish, pour the filling in.  Top with a generous grating off cheese and seal the lid on as the pastry recipe states.  The filling is cooked so it only needs to be in the oven long enough to cook the pastry.

Simple Savoury Mince Filling
Finely chop an onion and soften in a pan with a little olive oil. When its soft and starting to brown add a good sprinkling of paprika.  Add your mince, I used 350gms.  If you only have a small amount of mince you can always bulk it up near the end with a can of lentils, they disappear into the mix and you can't taste them, or you can add some kidney beans which is what I had on hand when I made this.  Brown the mince off, sprinkle over about a tablespoon of soya sauce, and some salt and pepper.  Add 1 chopped carrot and some sliced mushrooms and any other veges you have (capsicums or courgettes would go well, and you only need a small amount).  Mix these through, stir in about 2 good tablespoons of flour to help thicken the sauce (or you can thicken at the end using cornflour and water if you prefer) and then slowly add 1 cup of beef stock stirring constantly.  If using stock powder make this up with 1 cup of water and 2 tsp of beef stock to pump the flavour up a little. Add 2 tablespoons of Tomato Paste and stir it all in.  Simmer for around 20 mins with the lid on until the mince is cooked.  In the last 10mins of cooking I added a can of drained and rinsed Kidney Beans, and I would have added some sliced silverbeet if I'd had some ready in the garden.  Taste along the way and add extra seasoning if required.  Once its done, as above put it into your pastry, seal the lid on and bake until the pastry is cooked.







Bacon and Egg Pie
I only made my first bacon and egg pie the other night.  I don't eat many eggs myself although DH loves them.  I made this filling up as I went along but it tasted yummy, I just felt there wasn't enough moisture so next time I will add an extra egg or two.
First I gently cooked in a little olive oil, a finely diced onion and 3 cloves of garlic.  To this I added a teaspoon of paprika, a dash of sweet chilli sauce and some salt and pepper. I put this into the pastry and then to the pan with a little more oil I cooked some mushrooms, making sure I stirred in any of the remaining onions and flavours left in the pan to flavour the mushroom.  I put these on top of the onions, then added some sliced salami (I didn't have any bacon so substituted this for salami).  Then I sprinkled over some chopped silverbeet.  I cracked over 7 eggs (mine are only small ones and probably could have done with another one), broke the yokes with a fork and then gave a grind of salt and pepper.  Popped the lid on and baked for 1/2 an hour.






Pie's are really quite easy to make.  They are a bit labour intensive however that first melt in your mouth bite is worth all the work :) Have fun coming up with your own flavour combinations and let me know how you get on :) I would love to try a chicken, mushroom, sweetcorn and white wine sauce at some stage.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Homemade Pizza

Tonight DH was away for the night coming in late from a trip down the country for work.  So it was a simple dinner night for the boys and I :) I asked the boys what they wanted - Pizza got the vote! We are all pizza fans in our house so I thought I would share my yummy pizza recipe with you.  I have made a few different bases over the years but this is by far the best I have come across.  It tastes yummy, it's quite simple and quick and it does not have to be expensive to make, you can just scratch together whatever you have on hand for toppings if needs be. 

For the Base:
2 heaped cups of Plain Flour
1 teaspoon of Sugar
1/2 teaspoon of Salt
1 sachet of Instant Yeast
1 tablespoon Oil
1/3 cup of Milk (Milk powder milk is fine)
2/3 cup of Hot Water

In a bowl mix together all the dry ingredients including the yeast. In another smaller bowl mix together the cold milk, hot water and the oil.  Check the temperature to make sure it is warm. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the liquid. Mix to form a dough and then knead on a floured bench until it becomes a smooth springy ball - about 5 mins of kneading. Put it into a greased bowl and you need to cover this with cling film. Don't forget to grease the top of the dough or the cling film so it doesn't stick.


Next you need to rise the dough, the quickest way is in the microwave.  To do this buzz in the microwave for 1min on LOW, then leave in the microwave standing for 10mins, buzz again for 1min on LOW then stand for 10mins.  Check to see if its risen.  I normally complete 3 of these cycles and it's ready.  Otherwise if you have the time just rise as normal in a warm place.  When risen, roll out as required. I divide the dough into two as it stretches quite far and it is enough for my two pizza tins.  Otherwise you could roll it out and free bake it as either one large pizza, two smaller pizzas, or make a handful of  mini pizzas.

Meanwhile while the dough is rising make the pizza toppings.  I make my own tomato base up using a good 2 tablespoons of Tomato Relish, 3 good tablespoons of Tomato Paste, 2-3 cloves of finely chopped Garlic, a good pinch of basil and oregano, a dash of raw sugar and a grind of salt and pepper. Mix it all together and then its ready to spread over the pizza base.  


 Then sprinkle whatever topping ingredients on, plenty of cheese and bake in the oven at 190degC for roughly 17mins.  Making 2 pizzas in my oven I put them in for 10mins then swap them around from bottom to top and cook for another 7mins or until golden brown. Tonight I used one onion very finely chopped, in the freezer I had some shaved ham which I defrosted and drained the water from, and in the fridge I found 3 pieces of salami, some mushrooms, and 1/4 of a capsicum.  I wanted some more colour so I used a small courgette and diced it up and gently browned it in a little oil with a good sprinkle of pepper and a little salt.



I make a supreme type topping as above with whatever I have on hand, or sometimes if I have enough movement in the meat budget I will get a small smoked chicken breast and some brie.  I use Cranberry Jelly as the base topping, then pieces of Smoked Chicken and Brie. Delish!
I also like making Ham, Cheese and Pineapple but DH isn't a huge fan of Pineapple so it's only every so often I have it in the cupboard to use.  The important point to remember - even if you only have a small amount of ingredients to use, chop it up finely so it goes a long way, so you can sprinkle it sparingly and it will still taste good, tonight I only used 3 pieces of salami but managed to get a good cover on both pizzas by chopping it into little pieces :)

The dough recipe is from Enjoy, a Destitute Gourmet book by Sophie Gray.  The tomato base recipe for the topping is my own creation.

Determination Kicking In

So we are on a tight budget now, we have cut right back, I have the groceries on a tight line and there isn't much room left in the budget since we are doing our hardest to clear our debt.  But then the dreaded phone call came tonight from the landlord informing us of a rent increase.  We've only just been here 6months, we thought we were safe for a while longer but obviously not. So we have to find a way to extract an extra $40 a fortnight from the budget to accommodate the $20 a week increase. The money is there its just disheartening that we have to pull it away from our extra payments we are putting towards the debt.  To some it may not seem like much, but to us its huge.
Determination has to kick in, I love this house, but I am over renting now.  It's been 10years and it's either houses going up for sale, landlords wanting properties for their relatives, or astronomical rent increases.  So I have reached my point of enough for me.  It will still be some time until we can even hope to gather a deposit together for a house but the belts will be tightened further, the frugal living will become even more frugal and we will work as hard as we can to pay the remaining debt and save for our own place.  It's going to be a long journey but we are determined to get through this soon.  Life isn't easy we're all aware of that but sometimes it would be nice to cruise an even playing field for a while.

Finding the end of the Tunnel - with the Housework

This is a post I have been contemplating even before I started my blog.  It's something that has been prevalent in my life since my husband and I started living together.  I've spent various times over the years feeling like all I am doing is chasing my tail with the housework, which just became a lot harder when the boys arrived.  I struggled quite a bit with having two babies 13months apart and trying to keep the cogs turning and the washing pile down - it was hard work.  But I am someone that REALLY cannot function with a messy house for to long.  My DH will vouch for my mad cleaning sprees that I go on when I get fed up!  I want to set a good example to our boys, in the hope that some of it will rub off on them over the years and they will keep their own homes clean and tidy.  I also dislike having friends pop in for a visit when the house is a trash heap. I like our home to be warm, comfortable and welcoming to anyone who walks through our front door.

I have friends that express these same frustrations.  In the last year I have worked quite a bit with two external jobs, raising the boys and I really felt like I was loosing a grip on 'keeping house'.  During these times I tried various ways to conquer this but it is only recently that I feel like I have found a solution to my dilemma.  

I thought I would share this on my blog as it has really helped me and I'm hoping that it may help a few of you.
The solution for me after years of trying to come up with a plan, was to make a plan.  Not hard right?  Gosh I wish I had done this earlier.
I was standing there one day at my kitchen bench, the dishes were a mess and I had just finished kneading out some bread and there were toys and clothes littered everywhere, I also couldn't remember the last time I had given the house a sweep and vacuum.   So I took the bull by the horns!

First of all I got my trusty pad and paper and I drafted out a list of ALL my housework chores that need to be done to keep the house clean, tidy and functioning.  It went something like this:

Sweeping, Dishes, Cleaning table tops, Washing, Ironing, Vacumming, Mop the  floors, Bathroom/Toilet, Fish Tank, Dusting, Cobweb eradication, Changing sheets, Washing and Airing Duvets, Turning Mattresses, Mowing Lawns, Cleaning windows inside and out, Wiping down kitchen benches and cupboards, Cleaning Fridge/Freezer, Laundry Room, Sweeping Deck, Skirting boards, high use walls and light switches cleaned

Now looking at this I thought my goodness no wonder my tail is being chased.  Housework is a funny thing, it never goes away!  So I then preceded to break them down into just when they actually needed doing:
DAILY - Sweeping wooden floors, Dishing, Washing, Wiping Tables, I also need to bake bread or things for the tin
WEEKLY - Vacuuming and Moping Floors, Sweeping the Deck, Ironing, Changing Sheets, Cleaning Bathroom and Toilet, Dusting and tidying away mess on surfaces (like stray toys and papers)
FORTNIGHTLY - Cleaning Fish Tank, Mowing Lawns, and I also do my big grocery shop once a fortnight
MONTHLY - Windows inside and out, Wiping down the kitchen and fridge/freezer, Clean the Laundry room and washing machine, Flip and air Mattresses and wash/air the Duvets, Wipe the skirting boards and walls.

Now the list looked a little more manageable so I broke it down into when I wanted to do these tasks during the week, to give myself some kind of aim/goal. I have my daily chores but then I give myself only one bigger chore to do so I'm not spending my whole day at it. I can get the housework done in an hour or so now and have the rest of my day to do as I see fit.  My housework is now ordered like this

Everyday I sweep the wooden floors (kitchen, bathroom, dining room), I do the dishes and wipe the tables as needed, I also bake the bread or make cakes/biscuits etc for the tin if I need to, I put a load or two of washing on and I try as hard as I can to fold the loads as they dry (washing can be my worst enemy)
MONDAY - Vacuum the carpets thoroughly (if I need too I will vacuum them at other times ;) ), Mop and sweep the deck
TUESDAY - Shopping day once a fortnight, this normally takes a good portion of the day. On my non-shopping Tuesday I clean the fishtank and get milk and veges
WEDNESDAY - Bathroom and Toilet 
THURSDAY - Dusting and Tidying away bits and pieces - I grab any cobwebs while I'm at the dusting 
FRIDAY - Is my day to do a monthly job, I rotate these so each week I tick a monthly job off the list and just keep cycling them through.
SATURDAY - Change the sheets on all the beds
SUNDAY - Day of Rest, but I normally do Ironing as it doesn't take long and I find it relaxing while the kids burrow down to watch a movie.

When I showed DH my plan he was great and took on his responsibilities - so Every Tuesday he puts the rubbish out.  He also alternates each weekend with Mowing the Lawns or Washing the Cars.  He goes out to work and my work is our home, the gardens and the day to day things with the boys, so I don't feel like he needs to be doing anymore than this. He cooks on the weekends though as he loves to do this :)

This seems to be working well.  My plan is stuck on the fridge for easy reference and as a reminder.  I now just potter my way through the housework with not to much stress and I know if I follow the list it will all get done and I can then stay on top of it.  I think the worse thing is letting something go and then its a mission to get it straightened back up again.  
I HATE sticking to a strict plan, but I've made an allowance for this one :) I know that if I'm slack on a day, decide to do something else or if I'm not feeling the best that my chores will be dutifully waiting and still be there the next day. When I get a burst of energy I do a couple of jobs at once, as long as I get to the end of the week and can tick all my jobs off I'm happy. 

If you find yourself lost in the world of the housework then I hope you may like to try this suggestion and see if it could be what helps you get back on track.  I wish I had done this when I was working, I would have just picked one job a day to do quickly at nighttime or at least know what I needed to achieve on my time off, so I wasn't always feeling like I was drowning with it all.

Lastly I wanted to share this with you - I have worked hard to change my mindset over this, I used to see doing all my chores as a drag and generally I avoided them like the plague and just did as I needed to, to get by.  Normally I would take up one day and get lots of things done and that was it - I also experienced days of guilt for not doing much on the housework front, or for DH coming home to a messy house after working hard all day, I was never lazy but I just chose to do other things like gardening or taking the boys somewhere.   
I now see keeping our home clean and tidy as a pleasure to do.  It is after all my work. I don't go out to work as we have chosen for me to be at home with the boys, so my work is now making sure everything that needs to be done at home gets done. My job as I see it is to keep the house comfortable, clean and inviting. To cook and bake nourishing, yummy foods and to make sure we all have clean, tidy clothes to wear.  DH does his part in our lives by working extremely hard and earning our money, I work just as hard by keeping the house and the affairs down here in order, and I of course look after the boys and meet their needs everyday.  We've created a balance between what we both do and I take pride in completing my job to the best that I can.  I LOVE MY JOB :)

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Cash and Envelope System

In our house to help control and keep track of our spending and in line with our budget we use a cash budget.  We have been using this system for a few years now and first came across the concept when I started reading Sophie Gray's recipe books.  It's really helped us keep our spending in line.  It's particularly good if you are a card swiper then get to the end of the week and find you don't really know what you spent where or how much you have left.  Or you find yourself short.  It also helps if you tend to pop back in and out of the supermarket several times in a week.

The bonus about using cash for us and I'm sure other people is that, it is a lot harder to spend the money you hold physically in your hand than it is to just swipe an eftpos or credit card. Many a time I've gotten to our last $20 in the groceries and picked a few things up, only to return them because I don't want to part with the precious last of our cash and they were impulse purchases.  If I'd had my card, I guarantee I would have purchased them - it's the 'I'll deal with it later' thought.

Basically all you need to do is go back to the 'old ways' so to speak and use cash again.  Set your budget up and nominate the amount for your food allowance, any personal allowances, your petrol and any regular expenses/bills that you don't pay online.  Then on pay day, or just before you do your shopping go to the cash machine and withdraw all the amounts in cash.  You then keep these at home in a safe place, in either envelopes, snaplock bags, containers or the like.  Set one up for each item you have cash for.  I currently have a bag for Groceries and the Boys Allowances.  I used to operate envelopes for Meat from the butcher, the Green Grocer for the veges/fruit and a Christmas and Birthday fund, but we've evolved with our systems for these now and no longer have these envelopes. I also used to have a petrol allowance bag, however for this now, I have to use my eftpos card as I now go to the Pak N Save pumps which only take a card.  But I have set this up so the only money left sitting in my account is the Petrol allowance and I can control it.  I also only fill up once a fortnight and if I haven't used it all, I either leave it in there until the following week just in case I want to take the kids to the beach or somewhere.  Mostly though if I have left over money in my account it gets transferred to the debt. DH and I both withdraw our personal pocket money in cash also, but this stays with us. Just adapt the system for your needs.

Any time you need to spend from one of your envelopes/bags, take out the cash you need and ONLY what you need then if you have change at the end of it pop it back in with the rest of the money.  DON'T SPEND it.  Unless of course you have a justified purchase that relates to that money, i.e. if you have some money left over (I call this surplus cash) from groceries and they have a good special deal on something you normally use, use your surplus cash for this, but only if you know you don't need the money later.

By operating a cash budget, you only spend what you have.  Don't take your cards with you.  When you walk through the doors at the supermarket know that what cash you hold is all you have, so you obviously can't spend anymore than that.  If you have worked your budget appropriately then you should have the correct amount to purchase your normal groceries.  There are several tricks to making sure you don't go over, which I will go over in detail in another post.  But just briefly make sure you make a list and stick to it.  This list should only be what you need, check your pantry and fridge before heading out.  Stick to your list, and don't deviate unless you know you are wanting to stock up on specials for your stockpile and you have the amount to spare in the budget/surplus.  Take a calculator - yes I know some people find this shameful, I did to start with.  Get over it! I had to swallow my pride and take one.  I used to feel like it was a show of poverty but now for me I view it as being proud of myself for watching what I am spending.  Put things back that aren't a necessity if you run over budget.  Many a time I've stood there, pulling a pile of unnecessary stuff out of my trolley and putting it back to get myself under budget, then I sit there and wonder why on earth I put them in the trolley in the first place.  Make up a price book and calculate your shop before you go so you know how much you are spending before you enter, and you then don't need to calculate as you go. But like I said more on this later.

Any surplus you have left in your envelopes at the end of the pay is up to you what you want to do with.  You can either leave it in there to build it up for any big shops you may want to do, or for stocking up on specials.  You may want to nominate any surplus as your treat money for takeaways from time to time.  Or you might want to transfer it to another envelope for building up some funds for birthdays and Christmas.  What we do ourselves is put it into our emergency fund.  This is our savings really as anything in our operating budget goes straight to paying off the debt.  So building an emergency fund is important for us. If something happens we have the cash to pay for it, such as the unexpected vet bill for the cat.  Or you might like to take your surplus cash and put it on your debt to make some extra payments that way. You'll be surprised at how these little amounts each week or however long build up for you. 

A bit of a Slower Day

Today I am making myself have a slower day.  This will be tricky as I tend to get an attack of the guilt's if I'm not achieving much during the day - but it is also a learning part in our quest for a simpler life. I have to work on being able to let myself have these slower days.
A few nights back Master 5, who nearly everyday sneaks into bed with us in the early morning, came in as usual but must have managed to wriggle himself into a position which  meant I fell off the pillow or was at a very odd angle.  Resulting in a sore neck/upperback.  I'm a terrible sleeper at the best of times and suffer from these from time to time, and normally if I just keep moving it slowly gets better, but this time its getting worse - particular if I sneeze or the likes - not fun!  
So today I'm just going to slow down and take it easier.  I'll probably write a few posts I've been meaning to get out, so if I do I apologise to my dedicated readers if its a bit of a bombardment :) You can always come back to read them :)  I have some organic coffee sacks from DH's work which I am going to practice my sewing skills on and get creative making some things out of them :) I also have my book that I'm devouring called Living the Good Life, which I might sit and read a bit later.
I've just looked out the window at a drizzling rain starting so it's the perfect day to take it slow.  Hope you all have a good day, be kind to yourselves, we all need to from time to time.

My latest craft project

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