Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Perspective....


It was while I was searching for an image of a smiling, happy person in a wheelchair, that I stumbled across this one. I laughed. This picture represents the twin things that have ruled our lives for the past several years.

My son in his wheelchair, and my daughter with her dance aspirations. It's a photo I could have taken myself to depict 'my family'.

Interestingly the content of the blog from which I sourced the photo (linked above), had a very different story attached to it.

It was a story of a face-off between a lady in a wheelchair, and the choreographer of a ballet. It's a thought provoking recount of how one's own situation, dictates how we react to various scenarios.

Certainly I have been known to be hyper-sensitive to many disability related issues.

I recall getting in to a fiery debate regarding the use of disabled rest room facilities by a plethora of 'others' who are not 'disabled', but consider themselves so. They are not 'disabled' by nature of having young children in tow, or being in a hurry to 'go'. That is 'incovenienced', not 'disabled'. Or so I said at the time.

The debate did not go well, with me leaving the discussion fairly upset.

I couldn't make them see, and clearly they felt I was being unreasonable.

The sign on Rest Rooms and Parking Spaces clearly depicts a person in a wheelchair. It does not depict a mother with a shopping trolley or a pram, or someone whose left their run to the loo too late to want to wait in a queue. People in wheelchairs can not use other facilities. Mothers with prams, and people with bladder control issues, can. It's actually a simple courtesy.

I have a big van with a ramp and a government issued Disability Parking Permit, which clearly states 'to be used only when transporting the person listed hereon'. I would no more park in a disabled parking bay without my son on board, than fly to the moon. Yet I see others do it all the time. They take exception when I say something...and I always do.

Similarly, no matter how many children or babies I've had in tow (and I have four children), I have never ever used the Disabled toilet facilities. It's wrong. There are Parent and Baby Rest Rooms in most modern shopping centres these days. Why use the very few Disabled toilet facilities when the Disabled have nowhere else to go?

I accept that 'some' Disabled facilities are dually used by customers mobilising in wheelchairs and Parents with children where signed as such. But that is not in the majority.

I've had to haul up stakes half way through shopping and go home with Mr A in his younger days, because someone decided that their needs for 'convenience' were greater than his for 'necessity'.

Please, please, please remember that it's tough enough for people in wheelchairs and their families.

Don't make it tougher by parking in their parking bays and using their Rest Rooms.

Thankyou.

In praise of the humble Jojoba Bean...


I remember when the very first Jojoba plantation was established here in Queensland.

My partner at that time, was flogging off plots on this farm to unsuspecting investors. I'm not actually sure if anyone made any money out of it. The man and I parted company fairly swiftly.

The spiel then, as it is now, is that Jojoba oil mimics the oils secreted by our own skin, making it a perfect moisturiser and anti aging oil. It was also touted as a replacement for Sperm Whale oil in beauty products...a worthy claim indeed.

Of course these days, we have a plethora of weird and wonderful wrinkle treatments, so Jojoba oil has been relegated to the 'alternative' basket. A shame as it's a fantastic product, which I personally have rediscovered in recent times.

Following my success with making my own Goats Milk soap, and finding it an excellent anti-inflammatory cleanser for my sensitive skin, I decided to add the Jojoba Oil hiding in my vanity to my evening beauty regime. And I'm loving the results.

I'm simply massaging a small coin sized amount of the oil into my freshly-washed-with-Goats-Milk-soap skin, and I already see results. Calmer, fresher skin, and a good feeling inside through not using any yucky chemicals.

I guess the cooler weather here always has me scurrying for a more robust skin care routine, and the Goats Milk Soap and Jojoba Oil are doing the trick.

Why not try it...you might like it AND save yourself a heap of cash too.

Slow cooked Mexican Refried Beans...dinner for a dollar!



This is me....lol...I wish! I have the hair happening, but the rest is a looooong way off...

Seriously, I just wanted you to get a feel for todays recipe...my own Refried Beans.

I first made these four years ago, after scouring lots of recipes and combining about 3 to get it the way we like it.

This makes heaps...enough for 4 meals of Nachos for 4 people...
and costs about $2-$3 for the lot! That's under a dollar per dinner for four...great value!


2 cups dried red kidney beans
1 cup red lentils
3/4 cup olive oil
6 cups water
1 onion diced
6 cloves of garlic, sprinkled with a touch of oil and roasted for 15 minutes in a moderate oven (more or less according to your love of garlic!)
1 tin peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (this makes it quite spicy, but palatable for younger children. Adjust for preference)
1 Bay Leaf

Squeeze the roasted garlic out of it's papery shell. Chop the peeled tomatoes.

Combine everything in the crock pot/slow cooker, and cook on high for 9 hours (if an old one like mine) or probably on low if yours is a newer model. You can also simmer this on the stove top for 2-3 hours.

Remove the Bay Leaf.

Empty into a food processor and blend until smooth, or mash well with a potato masher.

Taste and adjust for flavour.

TA-Da....better than the bought ones (well, we think so..)...Mexican Refried Beans.

Serve as a dip layered with guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, and salsa, or over nachos, with rice, or as a filling for enchiladas, crepes, or vegetarian pies.

Poached Chicken Breasts...scrumptious and succulent!





This is a firm favourite for any time of year here. It yields a full flavoured, moist and succulent result, that you just don't get with baking or pan frying. Once you've tried chicken breast prepared this way, there's no turning back.

You need:

Approximately 1/2 skinless chicken breast per person.
NOTE: in the pre-prep process, I would poach 3-4 chicken breasts to last us the week
6 cups of stock or flavour infused water

Equipment:

One large saucepan or wok with a firm fitting lid
One large container with lid for storage

How to:

Bring your flavour infused water or stock to a slow boil. Ideas for flavours include commercial stock cubes, peppercorns and bay leaves, half commercial stock with half coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves and coriander (cilantro), white wine and vegetable stock.

Pop the skinless chicken breasts into the simmering stock and return to the boil. Put the lid on and switch OFF. Yes...off. This works best on an electric hotplate where the heat subsides slowly, but can still be achieved with gas by giving the water another heat blast after about ten minutes of resting. Rest the whole thing, lid on-no peeking, for about 25 minutes.

Check the chicken breasts by slicing one in half (you'll be slicing them for serving anyway). They should be moist and juicy and succulent. If they are still pinkish or raw in the thickest part, return to the stock and rest for a further 10 minutes, reheating the stock just a tad first. Dont' boil it or the chicken will become tough!

Store the breasts in the cooking liquid until ready to use. This keeps them juicy. These can be prepared up to 48 hours ahead of use.

To serve, carve across the breast diagonally into thick slices and arrange attractively on your serving platter.

I use these for shredded for sandwiches, wraps, burritos, in soup, in salads, in stir fry, tossed in potato flour or rice crumbs and flash fried in oil to replicate a sort of tempura chicken, in lunches and on brushcetta with home made salsa or pesto.

One breast fillet will usually feed three of us for a meal with other sides. If the chicken is the main part of the meal, then one half of a fillet will suffice, unless we're utterly starving.

So, a great economical dish.

Enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Creating a Time Plan....


Ha-ha-ha...so this is your new insanity too?

You should have seen the look on my husbands face the very first time he came home from work to find his normally quite sane wife, adorned with flour head to toe, and breadmaker, Easiyo, oven, slow cooker, sandwich press, kettle, microwave and hotplates all a-go-go. He just shook his head and said 'what on earth are you doing?'

He didn't get it. He didn't get it for a very long time. He used to say things like 'Why don't you just buy potato wedges/muffins/bread rolls/jam drops?'. It was probably after about 4 years, when he was forced to eat the store bought version of those things for a short time because The Diva's busy Dance Eisteddfod season forced it upon us, that the penny dropped. Our grocery bill tripled, The Diva had an upset tummy and so did he, and he missed his favourite home baked goodies.

Now, he just leaves me to it, knowing that it's better for our budget, our bank account and our health.

So how to enjoy your new found insanity?

A time plan is the answer. You don't want to just randomly go hell for leather, creating havoc in the kitchen, which you then have to clean up.

You need a well contructed to-do list, to make the best use of your time.

I constantly get comments suggesting that I must be 'on something' to achieve what I do in a Cooking Session...lol! But it's not that...it's just having a plan.

So let's say this is your list for your Cook-Up...

Make cookie dough
Bake muffins
Hard boil eggs for lunchboxes
Make Egg Spread
Make Beef Spread
Make meatloaf/rissole mixture
Butterfly and marinate chicken
Poach chicken breasts
Make slow cooker refried beans
Roast veges for lasagna
Make potato wedges
Make mashed potato
Make steamed rice
Make week long salad
Decant tinned goods into containers

This list will give you baked goods for lunch boxes and snacks including cookies to bake all week long so they're fresh, healthy spreads for sandwiches, dinner for the next seven days, salad and spuds or rice to serve all week long, and quick access to things like beetroot, tinned pineapple, tinned corn, and tinned fruit for instant serving.

It looks like a lot, doesn't it. I can already hear you saying, 'That's a days worth of work there!'. But I can achieve that in under 2 1/2 hours. Here are a few key points:

Do not attempt this if you are going to be interrupted. If you have small children, try and buddy up with someone else whose kidlets are little as well. That way you can take turns in cooking or looking after the kids and share the spoils. Maybe you have a grandparent or other doting relative who can come and keep the children occupied for a couple of hours, or maybe they already attend casual day care, so that would be a good time too. If your children are at school and you're a Home Based Warrior like me, then it's a no-brainer...you do this while they're at school. I have, when times are frantic, also risen at 5am to get my food prep done, knowing that my life will much easier for having done so. It's really up to you. But you need a block of at least 3 hours the first few times, and as you get quicker, that time will reduce to the 2 1/4 hours that it now takes me, no matter what I'm cooking.

The next thing you need to do, is to ensure you have all of the necessary equipment. Honestly, I don't have anything flash. But I do have what I need, and as you go along you'll be able to assess what works for you too. Things like simply wearing a comfy pair of shoes and an apron, and using a Mandolin slicer to make quick work of slicing salad items and vegetables, make the whole process a breeze.

It's overkill to mention this I guess, but you need all of your ingredients. Make sure you've purchased the extras you need, such as oil, spices, flours, and herbs. They don't need to be extravagant, and I can now even buy dried coriander leaves to use instead of fresh coriander, cutting my costs considerably.

Make sure that your pantry, refrigerator and freezer have space to store your prepped items.

Now, the next part is tricky the first few times you do it, but eventually it will become second nature.

You have to decide in what order you'll tackle your list to maximise your time. I usually prefer to tackle all of the quick things first, whilst also utilizing the hotplates while the oven preheats for baking.

So here we go:
Missing recipes will follow later today and throughout the week...stay tuned. These are marked with an asterisk.

Start off by decanting any of your tinned fruit or veg like corn, beetroot, fruit or chickpeas and four bean mix into transparent containers. Tupperware, IKEA and all chain stores and discount stores sell a version of these now for a small investment. I like to be able to see what's in mine, so I avoid the milky or coloured ones, and try to source transparent ones. Even recycled glass jars are good. I just prefer to not have to grapple with a tin and an opener when I'm in the middle of baking or serving.

Doing this first serves two purposes. You immediately see results and feel a sense of achievement, and that flows on to motivating you to tackle the rest of the list. And you now have easy access for anything you need to prep other items. Such as fruit for muffins, or veg for salads and meals.

1. Turn on oven to preheat for baking cookies and muffins.
2. Turn on three of your hotplates and put on eggs to boil, rice to steam, and chicken breasts to poach..
3. Peel your potatoes, and turning on your fourth hotplate, put them on to steam as well.
4. Your eggs should be ready now, so take them off, drain them and run cold water into the pot to cool them. Let them sit in the cool water for now.
5. Get the slow cooker going with your Refried Mexican Beans.
6. Now your rice and chicken breasts should be ready. So fluff the rice, and spread on a large platter to cool. Once cooled, refrigerate in a covered container or store in a ziplock bag, in the freezer, first flattening the rice out in the bag for quick defrosting. Store the chicken breasts in their cooking liquid, in another covered container in the refrigerator. Check your steamed potatoes. If they're cooked, turn the hotplate off and drain the potatoes. You'll come back to them to mash them shortly.
7. Cut up the veg for the roast veg lasagna. I don't even peel things for this. I just cut the ingredients (usually pumpkin, eggplant/aubergine, and zucchini) into large chunks, toss in oil and herbs and bung them in. I'll peel the pumpkin when it's cooked..much easier.
8. Mash the potato. I do this with an electric hand mixer. So quick and easy. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container.
9. Wash up pots used so far and dry them and put them away.
10. Now that you have pots and hotplates free, get your beef spread going.
11. Remove the eggs from the cool water and put smiley faces on the ones for lunchboxes and pop them in the fridge (this is simply to indicate that they are cooked), and peel the others, dropping them straight into your food processor for making the egg spread. Finish the Egg Spread which will take about one minute and decant into another covered container, and refrigerate.
12. Use an apple coring wheel (these are available at all kitchen shops, some supermarkets, and the best ones as pictured in the link, from IKEA for around $6AUD), to cut your potatoes into wedges. I got this idea from a friend who calls herself Mrs Bug, in a great money saving forum I participate in at Simple Savings. I can cut up a 5kg bag of washed potatoes in about 5 minutes this way. Pop the wedges into a big pot with water covering. Bring them to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes to blanch them so they don't go black. Then drain them and pat them dry on clean teatowels, before tossing them in oil and bagging into a large ziplock bag. I add Paprika at this stage as we love the flavour imparted to the wedges. You can use whatever spices you like, or leave spices out. It's up to you. Pop these into your freezer.
13. Check on your roasting veges, and remove them from the oven if done. Allow to cool, before storing in a covered container.
14. All that's left now is your baking, your Beef Spread, your Refried Beans, rissole mixture, marinated chicken, and week long salad. Believe it or not, this will take you less than one hour. The Beef Spread and Refried Beans are simmering away merrily, and the rest is easy-peasy.
15. Make up your Muffin batter and get your muffins in to the oven to bake. My most recent variation was dark choc chips, mashed banana, and frozen raspberries. They were the best yet!
16. Make up your cookie dough and refrigerate.
17. Using kitchen scissors, cut your whole chicken down the backbone, and flatten with your hands. Slide it into a large ziplock bag and add your preferred marinade. My marinade this week was just Sweet Chilli Sauce, coriander leaves and lime juice. 'Butterflying' the chicken this way, makes it easier to store in your freezer, and quicker to defrost and cook. The marinade also seems to penetrate the chicken better. You can then oven bake your chicken, or barbecue it on the day you want to eat it..yum!
18. Check on your muffins and remove from the oven to cool, if ready. Check on your Beef Spread. It will simmer for a while yet, so don't expect it to be ready, just give it a stir. Same with your Refried Beans.
19. Make up your mince mixture for rissoles, meatloaf or savoury mince.
20. Make your week long salad, and refrigerate, covered.

So, apart from storing your finished Beef Spread and Refried Beans which need to simmer for at least another hour, you're done. That will possibly take you a further ten minutes later on, when you'll decant the finished products into sealed containers and wash up your pot and slow cooker.

Wash up, tidy up, and pat yourself on the back. Job well done Guardians!

My intent with todays post, is not to tell you what to cook, but to show you how to multi-task. That is certainly part of the secret. This idea will not work, if you try to tackle each task in isolation, or in other words, do one thing, finish, do the next thing, finish and so on. So the idea is to get several things on the go, so that one or five things can be cooking while you prep another.

It'll be like having another pair of hands in the kitchen when you get it right...I promise!






Sunday, April 22, 2012

Live and let live...


I found this little banner when I was cruising around looking for something else this morning.

This is one of my life mantras, and the one that I have found most difficult to sustain at many times in my life.

The world is full of people, all choosing to live their life in their own way, space and time. It's hard to not make judgements sometimes, based upon my own beliefs and morals.

But at the end of the day, as a good friend reminded me recently, 'it'd be a dull world if we were all the same'.

So true.

Some more truths....

Ultimately, if a friend asks your advice, you may give it, but it is up to them to act upon it.

Ultimately, none of us have all of the answers to lifes' questions.

Ultimately, we all have our reasons for living the way we do, and should not judge one another based upon what we or our 'group' do.

Ultimately, each of us chooses and manages the consequences of those choices.

I used to spend a great deal of time trying to make other people live and behave and make choices based upon what I did. As I grew older, and one would hope, wiser, I saw that I was wrong in doing so. But perhaps I just craved finding people who WERE like me. I am, and have always been, a bit of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole type of person.

I was never 'in with the in crowd', and remain so. I never saw shopping as entertainment, or having a bigger and better house or job as a measure of who I am. I've never chosen a car or house based upon whether it would impress my friends. But I don't mind if others do. That is their choice and that's okay too. I don't understand it, but who says I have to?

The great thing about blogging, is that I find it connecting me to other like minded folk. You, as my reader or follower, allow me to express my opinions, chiming in with your own when you feel moved to do so.

I feel truly honoured when you comment, because for whatever reason, something I've said has struck a chord with you.

Thankyou.


Friday, April 20, 2012

The Importance of Routine....

 
 
Let's start at the very beginning. as Maria sings in The Sound of Music, because, as she goes on to tell us, it's a very good place to start.

We Home Managers, have to look after ourselves. We cannot devote our best selves to our plans for guarding the Home and Budget, if we feel like a train wreck. Feeling like a train wreck comes easily to Mums, Dads, significant others, and Home Managers, I reckon. We're on call 24/7, no-one gives us a day off, if we become ill, no-one soothes our fevered brow, we have to do it ourselves.

Now, I'm not talking weight loss here, although many of us (me included!) could probably lose a bit of padding. I'm just saying we should strive to be at our optimum levels of health, fitness and general wellbeing, because that, ultimately, will assist us in achieving all of our other goals.

What do you do for your health each day? Can I tell you what I do?

The 6am routine

I rise at 6am. It's a special time of the day. It means I often get to see the sun rise, and whilst it's not always over the ocean, as seen above, over the back porch can be just as lovely.

 I spend the first half hour setting out breakfast things (if I haven't already done so the night before), and unloading the diswasher. I put the clothes and linen on to wash. I get the coffee pot ready with two cups ready to go next to it. I prepare and pack my daughters lunch box. I make the bed and feed the dog, giving him some love and attention while I'm at it. I look at what we're having for dinner and get the slow cooker going or remove components from the freezer. By then my daughter is usually stirring and my husband has returned from his walk. My daughter makes her own bed as soon as she rises. We all fling ourselves in to showering, eating and talking about the day ahead, breakfast routine running like a well oiled machine. We're out the door between 7am for husband, and 8 for my daughter and me. The house is tidy, the washing is done and on the line, beds are made, dinner is planned.

What's this got to do with my health? Well, it minimises stress. I only have a tiny galley-style kitchen, and it's painful having more than two people in there at a time. We trip over each other in our haste to be out the door in time, and tempers become frazzled. Not a good way to start the day.

 Patting the dog, well, that's good for him and for me :).

The rest is all about 'Knowing what comes next'. 'Knowing what comes next' is important. It prevents leakage of money to takeaway outlets, it fosters confidence and peace within the family, and generates a positive energy in the household as everyone understands their part in the puzzle. If for some reason, any of us now get caught up unexpectedly, or some crisis arises, I know that the house is tidy, beds are made, dinner is planned, the dog is fed and has water, and the washing is done.

 Whatever else happens today, our arrival home will be like walking in to the sanctuary I want 'home' to be.

It's well documented now, that stress is a major contributor to many illnesses and health issues, and also affects the way we look, feel, and interact with our families and the rest of the world. The outside world is stressful enough. The least I can do is send my family out the door with the best possible outlook for the day ahead. Simple things like my 6am routine, achieve this.

Now, don't give me the roll of the eyes and the lecture about being nobodys' slave. If I have chosen to be the Home Manager in my family, the home-based warrior, then I must accept the responsibilities that come with that role. I believe that sending my family out in to their day with a happy disposition, knowing they are loved, is one of the most important things I can do. If they are calm, relaxed, and confident about what lays ahead at work or school, then that benefits not just our family, but the community at large. No road rage, no overdose of caffeine without a decent breakfast, no addled brain from sugar laden cereal.

As for the eating, well, we strive to eat healthy without going overboard. We eat gluten-free as my daughter is gluten intolerant, and find we ALL feel better for it. Gluten free baked goods are a regular on our menu, as I adore cooking them. But I temper this with alternating between something luxurious like Gluten Free Butter Shortbread, and something healthier like GF Apple and Cinnamon muffins with no added sugar. These are the treats that replace all other prepackaged foods, so we allow ourselves a few yummy morsels. Our meals consist of a regular dose of wild caught salmon and other seafood (which are not usually preprepared, but bought and eaten fresh) twice a week, three red meat meals and two vegetarian meals. We enjoy enormous amounts of salad and vegetables, and always have fruit available as a snack. My daughter and I particularly love melon and apples of any kind, whereas my husbnad like his bananas and grapes. So we're pretty easy to please, and those fruits, whilst they vary in price can usually be sourced year round. We try to eat seasonally though and if it means going without our favourite fruits at certain times of the year, then that's okay...there's plenty to choose from.

We all take a multivitamin daily, and two Garlic, C and Horseradish capsules from early Autumn (Fall) onwards. We haven't had a bad flu for years. We seem to get a touch of whatever is going around, but we recover quickly. I also take Vitamin E, Chlorophyll, Calcium and a Skin, Hair and Nails Tonic which I can honestly say makes a huge difference to the way I feel and look.

I'm not a health practitioner though, and we take these things in consultation with our GP and alternative health practitioner, so I suggest you do the same.

Exercise is a part of our routine as well. We don't go overboard, and we don't spend huge sums joining gyms or having a personal trainer. Whilst I love the 'idea' of personal trainers and gyms, there's a part of me that says 'but isn't that just another form of abdicating responsibility for my health to another person?'. What happens when you can no longer afford the time or money for those things? The best discipline comes from within.

We just walk. We walk regularly, without fail, come rain, hail or shine. Okay, maybe not in the 'hail'. But walking here in the rain early in the day or evening is a unique joy. I love strolling along, posh umbrella in hand, listening to the rain drip, dripping all around me. A walk in an early Queensland morning downpour is something I wouldn't miss. No-one else is around, and the drumming of the rain on my huge umbrella is almost hypnotic.

Time for me is important too. I have recently revisited crocheting, sewing, and embroidery. One of my older sons is disabled, and for many long years, my days just bled into one another with the responsibility of his care. He is totally physically dependent so his needs were numerous. I had neither the time nor the inclination for crochet, sewing, or embroidery. After much effort and lobbying of politicians, he now lives independently with a team of wonderful, hand picked personal assistants. To read more of that story see The Cerebral Palsy Grapevine. I now truly relish sitting down for an hour in the afternoon, having planned the evening meal earlier in the day, and knowing that my pre-prep sessions have left me with a well stocked refrigerator, freezer and pantry, just zoning out. The great thing is, that this also generates a pile of handmade goodies to give as gifts. Monogrammed pillowcases in neutral colours, cushions and drawer sachets filled with lavender and embroidered with a scattering of french knots, and rugs, blankets, berets, gloves and embellished face washers are all welcomed enthusiastically by recipients. You only have to hop on to Etsy or MadeIt to see the explosion in interest in handcrafted goods. I have recently started making my own Olive Oil and Goats Milk Soap, as well, thanks to Rhonda and Janines' wonderful instructions. I can't describe the pleasure in creating little creamy slabs, delicately scented, that lather dreamily and wash us literally from head to toe, with no horrible ingredients. Truly luxurious.

Initially, I had Rhonda Hetzel, and her Down to Earth book for making me feel 'ok' about this. Her philosophies greatly mirror my own, and reading her book made me feel a lot less guilty about doing what I do, and talking and blogging about it. I don't follow Rhondas blog religiously, but found her book a bit like a 'hug from Mum'. A great read, and a great ringing endorsement of a simpler life.

Some other friends and bloggers that have influenced me greatly include Annabel at The Bluebirds are Nesting, Patsy at A Working Pantry, Jes at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth and a few more that you can see on your left. I highly recommend following these ladies and their gorgeous blogs for further inspiration.

So there's my thoughts. Well, really only the tip of the iceberg, and there'll be more to come on this topic, but I've kept you long enough today.

Please look after YOU. If you were to fall ill or worse, who would guard your home and family in your absence? And really, would they do it anywhere near as well as you do?

How do you look after Number One?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Having less stuff...perfect rice, no rice cooker required!

It's often occurred to me that the trend for larger and larger houses with more rooms, enormous kitchens, and many bathrooms (but incidentally very little yard!), has evolved because of the amount of 'stuff' we now accumulate.

I reckon a lot of us wouldn't need a bigger house if we just decluttered more often. I've proven this myself time and time again.

Rice Cookers are a perfect case in point. Now I know some of you will say 'but I love my rice cooker and I can use it for other things!'. But if you have a stovetop and a saucepan, you simply do not need a rice cooker cluttering up your cupboard.

Here's my no-fail steamed rice recipe, which I learned at the elbow of a Chinese Chef when I was 11 years old and my Mum worked nights at the local Chinese Takeaway. The Chef used to let me sit in a corner, wrapping serviettes around plastic cutlery, and would occasionally let me come into the kitchen to watch her do preparation for that nights business.

All you need is:

A large saucepan or wok with a tight fitting lid

Rice

Water

Then you just:

Measure one and a half cups of water to each cup of rice, bring to the boil, stir to loosen any grains attached to the bottom of the pan, put the lid on firmly, and switch off. Yes OFF. Now the important part here is to not lift the lid for twenty minutes at least. No peeking, or it won't work. The rice is cooking on stored heat and if you lift the lid, the heat will escape and your rice won't cook. This works best on electric hotplates where the heat is retained for several minutes. If you have gas, it will still work, but I'd give it another blast of heat after about 10 minutes to bring it back up to the boil, before stirring again and replacing the lid. It'll still work just fine. After 20-30 minutes...TA-DA...perfect fluffy rice. Just fluff carefully with a fork, cool on a large platter so that the grains all cool and separate (or crumble them with clean hands once cold to separate), and store in a sealed container in the fridge or in a ziplock bag in the freezer.

This method is also very energy efficient, and can be used for many other dishes. I'll be sharing some of those over the coming weeks.

So...declutter by getting rid of the rice cooker (unless it has some enormous sentimental value!), cook with very little energy, produce perfect fluffy rice every single time.

I constantly have a batch of steamed rice in the fridge. I use it for quick lunches with a small tin of tuna and some rocket stirred through, for fried rice, for side dishes for Thai Red Curry and stir fries, and for rice salads. It's just so handy to have it there, ready to go, and I can't believe anyone would pay $3 for two incey-wincey half cups of cooked rice at the supermarket, when it's so easy to do at home. Granted, it's not a lot of money for the convenience, but comparatively speaking, for a $3 bag of rice and very little time, I'd be able to prepare around 30 half cups of cooked rice. So $3 for two serves of cooked rice, or $3 for 30 serves of cooked rice. Hmmm...15 times the number of serves? I know which one I'd pick!

To make your own Fried Rice:

You need:

2 cups cold precooked rice
1 chicken stock cube
1 cup inexpensive frozen mixed vegetables
1 dessertspoon soy sauce (I use GF Tamari)
1 dessertspoon Oyster sauce (be careful of seafood allergies!)
2 teaspoons Sesame oil
1/4 cup diced ham or bacon if you have it
One egg, beaten
A smidge of water (about 4 tablespoons in a glass ready to go)

Heat your wok till it's smoking and spray with Cooking Spray.

Pour the beaten egg in. It will cook quickly like a pancake. Once it's cooked through (you don't even need to flip it), remove and quickly slice into long shreds.

Spray the wok with more cooking spray and toss in your cold rice. Let it sizzle for about a minute to absorb those smoky flavours. While it's doing that, cook a cup of inexpensive frozen mixed veges on HIGH in the microwave for one minute to take the chill off them.

Toss the veges in along with the ham or bacon if you're using it. Keep tossing it around with a couple of spatulas to keep it moving and heating through.

Crumble the stock cube over the lot and add just a smidge of water to help it mix and dissolve.

Add your shredded egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, and oyster sauce. Toss well and serve immediately.

This batch of fried rice would cost you at least $8 from your local takeaway and feed your family once. Your home cooked batch costs about $2-$3 and will feed four of you once as a meal, or 6-8 as a side dish, with, if you're lucky, a bit left over for your own lunch the next day.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Super Easy Food Processor Tomato relish recipe with variations...

So waddya do with Relish?


1. Serve as a condiment with any sort of meat.

2. Add to sandwiches or wraps for instant flavour.

3. Stir through a tub of light sour cream or natural yoghurt for a super yum dip.

4. Use as a topper or dipping sauce for fritters, falafel, or meatballs.

5. Slash a camembert or brie cheese criss cross, place on a piece of foil, pour relish over, and bake for 20 minutes. Serve hot with bread, lavash or crackers.

6. Fill baked bread cases with scrambled egg and top with relish for a special brunch.

7. Mash with half an avocado and a squeeze of lime juice for a quick guacamole.

8. Mash equal parts potato and sweet potato, stir a couple of spoonsful of relish through, add an egg. Shape into patties, toss in breadcrumbs and shallow fry until golden.

9. Seal a fillet of fish or chicken in an alfoil parcel with a generous amount of relish on top. Bake until cooked through.

10. Serve on top of simple crackers and cheese.

11. Add to mince for an instant rissole, meatloaf or meatball taste sensation...no more chopping onions at the last minute!

And here's the relish recipe....

Spicy Tomato Relish..makes about 2-3 litres

1 kilo onions, peeled

2 kilos kg ripe tomatoes (tinned tomatoes of equivalent weight are fine too!)

150g sultanas

4 cloves garlic, crushed or 1/2 teaspoon dried garlic granules

1 teaspoon red chilli flakes

2 tablespoons grated ginger

3 teaspoons ground allspice

3 teaspoons Garam Masala

3 teaspoons salt

2 cups vinegar

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon cornflour

2 tablespoons vinegar (extra)

1. Place onions in a food processor and process until finely chopped; place in a large saucepan. Cut tomatoes into halves and process in batches until chopped, but not pureed (there should still be chunks of tomato visible). Add to onions, along with all other ingredients, except for cornflour and extra vinegar. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring occasionally, for 1- 1½ hours or until starting to thicken.

2. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until very thick. Stir often to stop mixture sticking to base of pan.

3. Combine cornflour with extra apple cider vinegar. Add to tomato mixture and simmer, stirring for 2 minutes .Turn off heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then spoon into clean warm jars and seal. Turn the jars upside down for 2 minutes, then invert and leave to cool. When you turn them right way up, the little vacuum button should automatically pop 'in' giving a vacuum seal.

Now I just have to find enough empty jars to make another batch!

Variations: Use any vegetable in place of the tomato. Try eggplant, zucchini, choko, or combination of vegetables such as broccoli florets and capsicum. Use any spice in place of the ones listed...don't be scared...it'll all taste good, I promise. Use different vinegars or wine to give a different flavour punch. Reduce the amount of sugar if you wish, but remember the sugar helps 'preserve' the relish, so no less than 1 1/2 cups please! Add any dried fruit in place of the sultanas, and of course, omit the chilli if you prefer.

Enjoy!

Mandolin Miracles...


This largely uninteresting, somewhat scary looking kitchen tool is a Mandolin.

Colloquially known in some circles by another versions' trademark name of V-Slicer, so named for the 'V' shape formed by it's blades, sold by infomercial for many long years.

This tool will elevate your food prep to new heights of speed and yield.

Here's the number of slices I get from one medium sized tomato...


...clever, huh?

And I did that in literally five seconds. Are you with me yet?

I didn't much listen when the guy on the infomercial said 'it dices, it slices, it turns one potato into a mountain of fries..', coz I was sitting there thinking 'who'd wanna do that...'. But that was in my good ole, bad ole days when I didn't understand what a difference prepping food at home could make to my overstretched budget.

This thing has turned me into a salad and sandwich, pickle and relish, food preparation machine. I can slice enough potatoes for an enormous potato bake in under two minutes. Do you know how exciting that is for my family??? Well, they don't get out much, it's true.

And it doesn't clutter up my bench.

Please follow safety directions though...these things are devilishly sharp and can be merciless to careless users.

I got mine for just $10 in Woolworths. That was three years ago and it's still going strong. It has two settings for slicing thick or thin, and two settings for chipping and dicing. More expensive ones do more, and may last longer, but $70 for one of those wasn't in my budget that week.

Get one. Honestly, if you're jumping on this food prep ahead bandwagon, it's an absolute must.

Basic muffin recipe with Gluten Free and Flavour Variations...


Here's my reliable muffin recipe that I use week in, week out, adding flavour or substituting ingredients according to what I have on hand.

I make my own yoghurt and use it in all of my cooking.

2 cups plain flour (for gluten free I use ½ cup Rice flour, ½ cup Tapioca flour  and 1 cup either Teff or Sorghum flour but any combination of GF flours is fine. I like Potato Flour as well. Beware of Coconut flour which absorbs lots of liquid. Use half as much coconut flour as any other.)
4 level teaspoons of baking powder
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs
1 cup yoghurt
½ - 1 cup any stewed fruit, berries or mashed banana

Sift your flour (s) with the baking powder into a large bowl.

Add sugar, eggs, oil, fruit and yoghurt. Stir gently until combined, without overmixing or your lovely muffins will be tough. Some threads of flour remaining in the mix is about right.

I use a small ice cream scoop to plop the batter into large (not Texas sized) muffin pans lined with large Muffin Papers.

Bake in a preheated 180C oven for 25-30 minutes or until they are firm to touch in the centre of the surface.

This makes about 18 large muffins.

Variations: use flavoured oil such as orange, avocado or macadamia instead of plain oil, use sour cream, whey, milk with a teaspoon of vinegar added, or buttermilk instead of yoghurt, add citrus zest and coconut or poppyseeds instead of stewed or mashed fruit, a tablespoon of cocoa and choc chips, a teaspoon of instant coffee and chopped walnuts or pecans, a tablespoon of honey, molasses or golden syrup and 1 heaped teaspoon of powdered ginger.

Soap making...success at last!


Here is my gorgeous looks-good-enough-to-eat home made Jasmine scented soap.

I tried soapmaking a couple of years ago but the family wouldn't use it and it was declared a waste of time.

It turns out I was just using the wrong combination of oils.

Armed with the recipe from Rhondas' Down to Earth Blog, I have achieved nirvana in soap making!

This soap is lightly scented with Jasmine oil and lathers into a creamy suds. It's gentle enough for my newborn grandaughter, and I am even washing my hair with it.

Best of all, The Musician Husband has finally declared his favourite Pears Soap 'old hat' compared to my new edition!

Find Rhondas recipe and instructions here:


And then if you want to get really clever, you can make the Goats Milk Soap from a friends blog...it's even more divine....


Here's the ones I made that I have now given away to family. I'll be setting up shop soon as now I can't keep up with requests for more!


Janine's instructions and photos make this otherwise daunting process an absolute breeze and I'm now addicted!

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Prep time...

This post can now be found here...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bathing Beauty...

Water costs.

Here in Australia, water has a financial cost. But of course there's an environmental cost too.

When I was a child in the 60s and 70s, my siblings and I shared the same bathwater. I'd go first, being the oldest and presumably not being grubby from playing outside, then my two sisters toe to toe at either end of the tub, followed by my three brothers closest in age all in together, and last, my Mum and 'the baby' as we called my youngest brother for years.

These days, most kids would just about gag at having to share bathwater. Why? Is someone elses dirt dirtier than yours? Especially within the confines of the family? Is dirty bathwater 'germy'? I think not. I was surprised to learn recently that many new homes do not even have a bath due to modern day water restrictions...hells bells! A good soak in a deep bath is one of the great pleasures of life! Not only that, but the bathwater would then be used to water Mums geraniums and tomatoes.

Whe I was growing up, we also had first a wringer washer, then a twin tub that you had to fill with the hose in order to use. Well, no-one would bother filling and emptying the machine more than once. So the whites would go in first, followed by the 'cleanish' coloureds, then the 'dirtier' coloureds, and finally sheets and towels. Frankly the washing came out just as clean with the continuing addition of a little extra suds in every second load, and we saved heaps on water useage AND soapowder.

What's gone wrong? Why are we cleaning ourselves into a frenzy? Why do we allow water from our four minute showers and thirty-five minute 'fast' washes, drain away where it serves no useful purpose.

Furthermore, since when was exposure to some forms of dirt and grime and germs, NOT a good thing? That is after all, how the human race came to form any sort of immunity to bugs and illnesses...through continued, measured exposure to the 'germs' with which we share our environment.

Four minute showers my foot...as Mum used to say. I can't wash my hair and pomade myself in four minutes worth of water. I'd rather share the bathwater with my daughter. She first, then me...or maybe hubby and me....nicer still!

It's time to look at the way we go about things and realise that bigger and/or automated is not necessarily better and four minute showers for a family of four or six is not the only solution to the issue of water conservation. That's 16-24 minutes of constant water useage, down the drain, literally. A similar amount of water, used to fill the bathtub, then recycled on to the garden, makes a lot more sense. We each fill a large watering can from the tub at the end of our bath, and either water the pot plants or use it to bath the dog when he needs it.

Let's get clever about the way we use our water and cleanse ourselves and our belongings.

Sharing and recycling bathwater makes sense. Really it does.


No Once a Month cookup for me!

This post can now be found here....
Thanks for looking!

Decal Decorating...


I love a pretty decal.

When I was a child, it was common practice to decorate the nursery furniture with decals like these...

...and in fact these two little darlings were on my very own half sized wardrobe for many years, until it was handed down to my younger siblings to make way for my very swish state of the art, teen style Laminex bedroom suite. No-one else I knew had a 'bedroom suite' so I thought I was the Bees Knees.

It was very similar to this one...






Handles with Starburst surrounds were a particular feature as were Mother of Pearl button handles, and silver toned laminex 'woodgrain'.

My thanks to this eBay listing, which was the only photo source I could find for this type of suite...


I hope he or she gets a sale! If I were 'local' I think I'd buy it just for the nostalgic value.

Anyway, I digress.

Decals...love them. I've recently rediscovered Decals. And I've had a slap dash time decorating stuff around my home with them. One single sheet of bluebird decals gave me endless pleasure in decorating glass jars in my pantry. I bought them here and they were around $10 for the sheet.


There are many other sellers, but this one is a particular favourite of mine.

So, here are my prettily decal-ed jars...



There's actually about a dozen of them, but unfortunately the ones holding peanuts and raw sugar don't photograph well.

Now I know that it may seem superfluous, to just add a pretty picture to the jars for the sake of it, but I say 'why not'. I would waste away if I didn't have beautiful things in my home to look at it, and as I spend so much time in the kitchen, why shouldn't I have beautiful things there as well.

I've gained so much pleasure from my Bluebird jars. $10 well spent.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?




Monday, April 16, 2012

Who's your role model?

 Look at this beautiful shot of two of the most stunning women in recent history. Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

These women were truly beautiful, elegant, with stellar careers and narry a scandal in sight. They each conducted their lives with grace and dignity, setting an example to women everywhere.

Compare them to the so called 'celebrities' of this day and age. Most famous for simply being famous and not for any outstanding achievement to society, history or even the Arts. No thanks.

Give me the Audreys and the Graces any old day.

I always wanted to look like Grace Kelly but alas genes defeated me. My daughter has a slim chance of looking like Audrey Hepburn, at least in physique and elegance of bearing, but she is a redhead and will outgrow Audrey by a good 20cms I reckon. But far better she emulates Audrey or Grace in looks and appearance, than Paris, Kim, or Khloe.

To that end, we are off vintage clothing shopping this weekend. Not a thrift shop this time but a real live vintage glamour gown emporium. We are taking a cousin, and a sister-in-law with us...equal vintage fashion lovers.

Hopefully there will be an Audrey-ish or Grace-ful gown or two for us there.

Stay tuned!

Preparing Meals Ahead...

This post can now be found at my original blog...

A Tray of Bliss...

...right here...

You are awesome...


Well, you are.

You're here. You're obviously concerned about managing your finances and the family budget, so let's get started.

I had an epiphany recently. I realised that, as has been the case since forever, stay-at-home-Mums are an undervalued resource. I decided to stop calling myself that and instead bestowed a new title upon my home based role...Guardian of the Home and Budget.

Now this also means, that I must take my role as seriously as any other job outside of the home. I rise in the morning, and behave as if I'm 'going to work'. I make the bed as soon as I rise, I get immediately into the shower after I've completed my 6am routine and dress for the day, according to what I'm doing. If it's housework and cleaning, then I dress in bike pants, shorts or jeans, a neat but comfortable polo shirt and sneakers. I avoid tracksuits like the plague, but if you've got the body of a size 8 gym junkie, then a track suit is fine. I completely get that they are comfortable, but they are neither flattering nor good for the soul. You wouldn't go to work in a track suit would you?

If I'm shopping for groceries, then I make a bit more of an effort as I refuse to leave the house 'looking like a housewife'. So it's dressy without being over-the-top, comfy but pretty shoes such as ballet flats or silver, or orange patent or pink paisley Birkenstock Gizeh sandals, blow dried or tied back with a headband, and light makeup. If I expect the rest of the world to take me seriously, then I have to take myself seriously.

I have breakfast with the family, clear the breakfast dishes, stack the dishwasher and put a load of washing on. In more recent times, I've reinstate the old fashioned dish drainer upon my kitchen bench, and prefer to wash the breakfast dishes by hand, then allow them to air dry. I then give them a light polish with a pure linen teatowel before putting them away neatly.

A word on teatowels: I have a 'thing' about teatowels. Nor for me the 6 for $10 cheapies. As with any other job, whenever possible, I stock the best possible equipment for the task. This includes teatowels. My teatowels have a jacquard printed logo, claiming them to be Glass Cloths. Whatever else they may be, they are silky and heavy to touch and a joy to use. Can it be a sensual experience to dry the dishes? Well yes it can if you treat yourself to some beautiful, durable linen teatowels. Really. These are oversized as well, allowing you to dry the largest of serving platters or pots, effortlessly. I sourced mine at 'Spotlight', a good haberdashery store here in Australia where they were 2 for $8, but my link will take you to Peters of Kensington where you can order them online for the same price plus a bit for postage. Honestly they are worth it. Even at around twice the price of the cheapies, they're certainly not a huge investment for the pleasure I gain from using them.

Having left the house in good order, I drop my daughter at school and continue immediately either to home for my days work, or to the grocery store to stock my kitchen. I do not stop for coffee, I do not get distracted. After all, if I was 'going to work', I'd got straight there and start working, wouldn't I.

Now I'm not going to bore you with my housework routine. Suffice to say, do what works for you. If you're a Flylady type, then go with it. If you start at one end of the house and work right through, that's fine. If you do one room a day from top to bottom, that's good too. But DO it. It's not good for your heart and soul or that of your family to live in untidy or dirty conditions.

I will say this. Open your windows, let the fresh air and light in, dry your sheets in the outdoors, weather and space permitting. In this day and age where air conditioning and clothes dryers are commonplace, we have forgotten the feeling and scent of freshly dried linen. We spray something labelled 'fresh linen' on our pillows, and buy and burn a candle to simulate that gorgeous outdoor smell. How silly...think about it for a second. You could just open the window and dry your clothing outdoors for free! Yes, it's a little more effort, but it costs nothing, and you'll adore shimmying in to sheets kissed by the fresh air and sunshine.

Cooking from scratch, thus avoiding mixes, takeaways and pre-prepared food, is the singular, most effective way to make a positive dent in the family spending. I know this, having been raised in a family of seven children, and spending a good portion of my younger parenting days as a single Mum.

So much of my advice to you in coming posts, will be centred around preparing your own ready-to-go freezer meals, healthy baked treats, and ways of avoiding spending up big on unhealthy food because it's 'easier'.

For now, practice getting ready for your day as if you were going to a 'real' job...I hate that term too, but you know what I mean. And remember, you have to do something at least 17 times for it to become a habit.

See you soon...

The importance of Family...


There was a time not so long ago, when parents surrendered their disabled children to 'the authorities' for care. A disabled child was considered a burden and 'normal' folk, not considered qualified to care for them.

This resulted in enormous grief for many parents, and a terrible situation for many of the children concerned. Abuse was rife, and neglect, commonplace.

Even now, there is a culture that suggests that it's best for the family to allow 'the experts' to manage the care of their disabled loved ones.

This is of course utter nonsense, but it's out there.

Who knows better what needs to be done for their child or adult dependent, than the very people who live closely with them and have their best interests at heart? The Experts or the Family?

We have battled this for our son's entire life. We have steadfastly ignored many Expert Opinions, always being guided by what we knew to be the best course of action for Mr A.

This has been considered brave by some and foolhardy by others, but had we not dug our heels in on many an occassion, Mr A would not be the person he now is living the life he now has.

If we'd followed Expert Advice, Mr A would be trussed up like a turkey with various orthotic appliances, living at home with us and his younger sister, accessing 'Day Respite'...another term that fills me with alarm on one hand and fury on the other.

Instead, he wears orthotics for short periods of time in the privacy of his own home (note I said 'his own home'), and attends sporting events, college, and outings at whim, and generally has the same choices for an independent life that you and I enjoy.

So, who's right?

I must say though, that this would not be possible without the help of our large and extended family and the help of Mr A's very dedicated Personal Assistants. He has a team of four PA's. Each of them chosen for their specific skills or ties to Mr A and their genuine interest in supporting him in living an Equal Life to that of his able bodied peers. To them we are truly grateful.

The sense of pride and achievment that Mr A feels in living independently is greatly enhanced by his ability, through the support of his team, to arrange and participate in family events, without us being directly involved. He hosted Fathers Day last year, with the help of his Managing Assistant who preprepared a sumptuous brunch for us. He is currently planning his own 21st birthday party with assistance from the same person. He attends family gatherings with their help with transport and their sensitive and seamless support. These things all make him feel truly adult and accomplished.

We of course, see the changes in him and his stature in the eyes of his older brothers, who see him now as the adult he is, and not the 'little' (and therefore helpless) brother.

Family truly does know best.