Monday, May 28, 2012

Planning a menu...how to, when to, whether to....


My approach to menu planning has changed considerably in the last several years.

I never used to menu plan at all. I'd just randomly buy stuff and then find it limp and sad or iced over in the fridge or freezer several weeks later. I'd bin it, and start over.

Then I started making a list of meals from the fancy schmancy cookbooks I had, listing all the ingredients I already had (few) and the ones I needed (many) and patted myself on the back for being so organised.

Then I joined Simple Savings and realised I'd had it wrong the whole time. You menu plan on what you've already got, only purchasing extras for the gaps in your menu.

Wowser...talk about major life epiphany. I've never looked back!

These days there are only three of us and the dog at home, AND we're gluten free, so the menu has changed considerably, compared to when DS21 was still at home and eating us into a second mortgage. Quite often I find I only need to spend a minimal amount on the fresh fruit and veg and dairy items, with everything else well planned and catered for. Meat makes a twice or thrice weekly appearance on the menu, as does chicken and/or fish, with GF pasta and veg making up the balance of the weekly meals, including breakfast and lunch.

We've learned to not let our gluten sensitivity get in the way of a good hearty meal too. Pasta, bread and baking used to be our comfort food, and still is to a small extent. More often those items have been replaced by vegetable bakes, fresh fruit, baked whole pears or apples, some home made gnocchi and lots of lots of salad.

We eat salad all year round and there are few vegetables we don't eat...except for artichokes...what the heck does one do with those anyway. Sorry..don't answer that. I sort of know. But they hold no appeal for these happy campers!

The other thing is, I now sort of menu plan in reverse. I have a few standard go-to meals that make a regular appearance, but mostly I strive to have the bare 'bones' of many of our faves, in the fridge prepped and ready to go so that we can change our minds on a whim without it impacting on our budget.

So steamed baby potatoes can be eaten as is, turned into potato salad, hash browns, rosti, gnocchi, pan fried, tossed with flavoured butter and herbs, turned into a gratin, a frittata, a slice with marscapone and thyme and bacon, patatas bravas, and so on.

In fact, if there wasn't much else but baby potatoes and the contents of my pantry, I reckon we could eat well for the whole week!

That said, most of those recipes could be adapted for pumpkin as well. You've just got to think outside the square.

Our menu is also influenced by what seasonal bargains might be available. A whole pumpkin for $3 or a huge cabbage for $2 can change our whole eating plan for the week. I can use the pumpkin as a substitute in any of those potato dishes, and cabbage leaves make a great replacement for pasta sheets in lasagna, or for tortillas or burritos in mexican meals. You can shred it for salad, stir fry it, turn it into a warm coleslaw by tossing it in a hot pan with pine nuts for a few minutes or roll it around mince and slow cook it.

Get the idea?

I'll be writing more on this as we go along but for now, challenge yourself to think outside the square when you shop this week. I bet you can surprise yourself.

~Mama Guardian~

Friday, May 18, 2012

Utterly Divine Things....

I'll never own this...but gosh I want one.

Beautiful...

The Time Plan Guide is now complete...


Thankyou to those who have contacted me to remind me to insert the links in my 'creating a time plan' post.

You will now find all recipes will link to the other appropriate posts here on the blog, and you'll have all the information you need to be a SuperMum.

Ok...maybe not.

But you'll certainly be organised beyond measure...I promise!

Enjoy creating your own time plan, and please let me know how you go!

Love...Mama Guardian ;0)

The Week Long Salad....


This is such as easy thing to do you'll wonder why you haven't always done it.

No more limp slimy lettuce in the crisper and mealtimes made simple. Save time, save money, tasty meals...what's not to like?

Week long Salad No. 1

Half to one red cabbage, shredded (the mandolin slicer is brilliant for this)
1 capsicum, finely diced
3 peeled and grated carrots

Store in an airtight container. Remove enough each night for that meal only, and add additional ingredients. DO NOT add the extra ingredients to the salad base itself in the storage container.

Day 1: Add halved cherry tomatoes and dress with balsamic vinegar.

Day 2: Add one tin rinsed beans such as cannellini or four bean mix. Fry 2 rashers of diced bacon, and chop some herbs. Toss well with a dressing of one third each balsamic, olive oil and wholegrain mustard.

Day 4: Add grated cheese and finely sliced shallots. No dressing.

Day 5: Add zest and flesh of two oranges. No dressing.

Day 6: Add 1 cup cooked macaroni, italian herbs and italian dressing.

Day 7: Toss with cooked 2 minute noodles and dress with sesame oil and Sushi vinegar.

Week Long Salad no. 2...

Purchase 2 different 'trendy' lettuces...by which I mean not iceberg. So Romaine, Butter, Frilled and so on.
This is mainly because of all of them, the Iceberg lettuce, having the most water content, deteriorates the quickest.

Cut off the bottoms to separate the leaves. Wash them well.

Stack the leaves on top of one another and slice into smaller bits. You can also just tear them with your hands, and sometimes this is preferable as metal can taint the lettuce leaves, making them brown along the cut section.

This is important....you need a salad spinner to spin the leaves bone dry. Your salad leaves will revert to limp and slimy if there is any moisture left on them.

Put leaves into the salad spinner and spin thoroughly. You'll be amazed at how much moisture is collected and it's moisture that makes the lettuce yucky after a couple of days.

Tip into a large salad bowl.

Put a clean paper towel over the lettuce and cover with cling wrap.

Change the paper towel every couple of days to keep it dry.

Voila...perfect salad greens for the whole week....add ingredients as listed above or add your own variations!

No more dead salads in your crisper!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Egg Spread from a Five Star Hotel...shhhhh...


This is scrumptious on bagels, toast, or crackers. My Mums secret recipe nicked from a five star hotel where she worked in the 70's. Shhhh...
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons softened butter
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • ½ tsp your favourite sauce Tomato, Worcestshire, Barbecue are all good
  • 90g softened cream cheese
  • Seasoning to taste
Cook the eggs at a rapid boil for eight minutes.

Remove from the heat, drain and run the eggs under cold water for a minute to prevent them discolouring.

Allow the eggs to sit in cold water for five minutes, then peel, and quarter.

In a food processor bowl or blender, combine the eggs with the other ingredients.

You can also just mash this together, but you won't get the same creamy consistency.

Taste and season if necessary.

Nannas Real Beef Spread....




This scrumptious stuff is somewhere between a braised steak and onion dish, a pate`, and a spread. Really tasty, and I had it on home made grainy bread this morning, while DD has taken it for lunch in sushi.

Very versatile and would be great served on baked potatoes, english muffins, turkish bread, in burritos with refried beans, on bread rolls, in wraps, and as a filling for baked tomatoes or capsicums. I reckon I'll also try using it as a filling for home made ravioli or as a crepe filling.

Nanna's Beef Spread

500gms gravy beef, ox cheek, ox tail or any other inexpensive cut
2 onions chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 beef stock cube
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon sherry (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove all fat and sinew from meat and dice. Put into a medium saucepan and add all other ingredients.

Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours until the meat is extremely tender. Add a little more water over that time if necessary, but no more than 1/8th of a cup at a time. You don't want it swimming in liquid.

Allow to cool.

Pour into the bowl of a food processor and puree`. Leave some large chunks flaked with a fork, if you prefer more texture.

Place in a covered container, and refrigerate.

Use within 7 days.

A passion for curd...a very special treat in under five minutes...


You may have gathered that food is important to me.

Every milestone in our lives entails the consumption of food of some sort.

For me, it's not just the nutritional value that's important, but also the memory that many foods carry with them.

Passionfruit curd is something my Mum used to make. Back in the day when every home had a backyard passionfruit vine, often groaning with glossy orbs that the crows would peck, it was criminal not to find a use for them. Of course we would eat them au naturel, slurping the flesh straight from the cup of the fruit, but eating Mums Passionfruit Curd was a special sort of treat.

The creamy sweet and tangy butteriness of curd belies it's simple ingredients. For a large family, scones or tarts filled with Passionfruit Curd was an inexpensive treat that tasted lavish and extravagant.

These days, I enjoy my Passionfruit Curd on gluten free toast in the morning served on a Limoges saucer gifted to me with a teacup for a recent significant birthday.

A super luxurious start to my day for mere cents.

Here's how you make it:

Makes about 750gms (1 1/2lbs) or three small jars worth.

Into a large microwave safe jug, place the following ingredients...

Pulp of 10-15 passionfruit
125gms caster sugar
125gms unsalted butter

In a separate jug....

Beat 4 large eggs until well combined

Then just...

Microwave the pulp mixture on HIGH for about 3 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, just until the butter melts and is incorporated.

Remove from the microwave and whisk the egg in, drizzling it into the passionfruit mixture in a steady, fine stream.

Microwave on HIGH for two 30 second blasts, whisking well between each.

Finally, microwave on HIGH for one minute, and whisk well until thick and smooth.

Pour in to clean sterilised jars and refrigerate.

Done!

This keeps well, refrigerated for at least six months.

Use the curd to fill tarts, meringues, pavlova, Swiss Rolls, or just enjoy as I do on your morning toast.

You'll feel very swish!

Also a fab addition to your foodie gift hampers.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What makes a posh yet parsimonious life?


'French Flower Market -Poitou Charentes Region'


What makes me glow?
 
I ask myself this question all the time.

What makes me feel rich...and it's got nothing to do with money.

For me it's...

...spending time with my children and grandchildren...

...spending time with my brothers and sisters with whom I have a lifelong history, and I don't underestimate that...

....having a cup of tea with my husband at days end...

....having beautiful things around me, from paintings, to much loved prints and photos, to nostalgic heirlooms and pretty thrift shop finds...

...produce from my own garden...

.... being safe in my home, and making it our sanctuary and our cocoon from life...

....dreaming and planning our next overseas trip or holiday jaunt...

All of these things are free. Or almost free.

'Rich' has nothing to do with money and everything to do with fulfillment.

What makes you feel fulfilled?

How can you make your life more posh, yet parsimonious?

What makes you, you?

As I grow older I realise that I am more 'me' than I've ever been. I am proud of my quirks and differences. No longer do I suffer 'possession cringe' or 'house envy'. I have the home that I love, the family I nurtured, and the possessions that I consider important.

These days, my family know that to make my day, all I need is a new photo of them, a scented soap, an emailed link to a beautiful blog or something about France, my favourite place.

My needs are simple and the things that make me happy, small.

It's a good space to be in.

What's on your Tray of Bliss?



Don't overdo it...more meals from nothing...


Why do we sometimes make more work for ourselves than is necessary?

Take the humble pumpkin for example.

They're usually inexpensive for the volume of food they can create, but avoided as too difficult to prepare. All that tough skin to remove, all that cutting up...sigh...

And then turning 'into' something...like pumpkin soup or pumpkin scones or mash or whatever...it's just too much work....nah...really?

All I do with my pumpkin is attack it with a sharp knife and roast the darned thing. I don't even peel it. The skin is luscious roasted and adds fibre and nutrition. Why waste a good veg on blinkin' scones or cake or muffins or pasta recipes.

Okay, going gluten free has some bearing on this. DD12 was diagnosed Coeliac a while back, and DH and I have gone gluten free in sympathy. So frankly, in the early stages, we just eliminated cakes and scones and pasta from our diet until I got the hang of the whole baking gluten free thing. Thankfully I've got a handle on it now and merrily bake with all kinds of alternative flours, but we learned an important lesson in the process.

Sometimes food, close to it's natural state is just as pleasurable as the most complex goodies.

This wedge of roasted pumpkin with my batch of Onion Confit I cooked up yesterday in my Slow Cooker is my lunch today...a pleasure I am anticipating with relish...sorry...bad pun!

My pumpkin cost me a princely $3, so my wedge is valued at about 15c, and the Onion Confit no more than one or two cents surely.

Talk about meals for under a dollar!

I guess for the family, you might add some bread, or polenta squares or curled crisp bacon or even..if you must...some meat or chicken.

But for me, as a guilt free, frugal and super delish lunch, this'll do just fine.

Go on...take the easy way out...you won't regret it :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lunch from nothing.....


Broccoli is so inexpensive here at the moment and aside from using the florets to steam as a vege, adding it to stir frys, and roasts, I've also been grating the stalks to add to salads. I noted that Broccoli stalks are one of the main seasonal ingredients in the very trendy 'rainbow salad' on offer at the major supermarkets. So, good enough for them, good enough for me!

So I've come home from work this morning and within 15 minutes there's a knock at the door. It's a good friend stopping in to say a quick hi before she continues her drive up the Coast. She's been here visiting her Grandchildren.

I offer her lunch (quickly wracking my brain to see what I can come up with on short notice) and upon opening the fridge, lay eyes on this grated broccoli in a little cube shaped container. I quickly add two tablespoons of potato flour, 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, an egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and some seasoning to this and shake it all up in the container. There's probably about two tablespoons at the most of the broccoli and just enough with the other ingredients for two fair sized crepes.

I've had a big batch of Onion Confit in the slow cooker to give to MIL for Mothers Day when I see her tonight, and I've already put it in jars, so all that's left is the dregs of juice and a couple of stray strands of onion, but that'll do to drizzle over the crepes.

The crisper yields one last stalk of coriander with a couple of yellowing leaves on that I peel off, and there's some cheese, already grated in another container in the fridge.

On goes the frypan and the grill which I'll use in a tic, a spray of oil on the pan, and in goes half the broccoli mixture. It makes a large broccoli crepe, which I sprinkle with cheese, slide onto a serving plate and pop under the grill just while the second crepe cooks.

While the second crepe is under the grill with the cheese melting, I quickly make up two tall glasses of Iced Tea using my own Iced Tea Concentrate. I garnish the tea with some Mint leaves.
I flip the crepes in half with the cheese in the middle, drizzle with the onion confit juices, and garnish with a stalk of coriander.

Within 7 minutes, I have a lunch for two, equal to anything at our local cafes, and basically conjured up from nothing.

Being the Guardian of the Home and Budget saves the day (and $30 on lunch) again!

I wouldn't have dreamed of doing this not so long ago.

When have you made a meal from nothing?

Monday, May 14, 2012

More embroidered gifts...pretty pillowcase...


Here's the detail of a heart I embroidered on the opening edge of a pillowcase to give to my Mother-in-Law for Mothers Day.

As with my previous butterfly quilting square, I just drew this freehand, and finished with trailing stems of ivy along the entire edge. Some FlyLeaf stitched greenery finishes it off.

This little heart was stitched in stem stitch with three strands each pale mint green and pastel blue threaded together for a more substantial profile.

A cluster of baby pink French knots at the inner peak of the heart, was then surrounded by more French knots embroidered with two strands of baby pink and two strands of pastel blue threaded together. A few random mint French knots trail down from these prettily.

I'm attempting my first satin stitch monogramme for MIL as well. Satin stitch was never one of my strengths, but I'm hoping she'll appreciate my efforts nonetheless.

For the princely sum of about $11, I'll have given her a totally unique and beautiful Mothers Day present. I think she'll be pleased.

Photo will follow.

I'm loving the serenity in embroidering. It's such as escape from modern life.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

A different 'normal'....


Mr A is a great guy.

He considers himself so normal, it's ridiculous. Sometimes he's so convincing, I almost expect him to rise from his wheelchair, point at me and wink and go 'ahhh...gotcha'...before cracking up laughing. That would be  a 21 year old joke on me!
Remember that Mr A has Cerebral Palsy Spastic Quadriplegia, so that scenario is unlikely to say the very least.

He loves dining out and is a real 'foodie'. He can pick storebought lasagna from homemade with his eyes shut. He loves sport and is a walking...sorry...wheeling sports encyclopaedia. He likes doing what other guys his age like doing...perving at girls, talking about girls, tryng to come up with ways to meet/impress girls, and making plans...to meet girls. He wants to travel, have his own business, work on getting a 'six-pack' (abdo muscles)...to impress the girls, and take Japanese Language Lessons. In short, we try anything and everything we can, to make sure he has very normal life experiences, and has the conversational topics at his disposal that we all do.

When I recently raised the topic of Mr A starting up a business with my husband, his first reaction was 'but he's not going to make much money out of that'...to which I replied 'does it matter??'. The thing about having a business, is that it's a talking point...and equaliser. Now when someone says 'so what do you do Mr A?'...he doesn't have to say 'I'm on a Disability Support Payment'. He can say 'I have my own business'...and he's off. Talking being one of Mr A's strong points :P

This, I think, is one of the reasons he is living independently with such cracking success.

From a very early age, he saw his brothers, older by 10 and 11 years, study, move out of home and lead lives very separate from ours. So, for him, that was 'normal'. He then had an expectation that he would do the same.

Whilst this was a terrifying thought for me, particularly, we had to accept that for his long term future, this was the most sensible prospect. We had to face our own mortality within that picture, which is never easy, but for parents of a disabled child, this must be done. Our greatest fear is always 'what will happen to Mr A when we are gone?'. The best way to ensure that his life without us, remains as close as possible to the life we want for him and that he wants for himself, is to put that life in place while we are still around to guide the process.

Our path to helping Mr A live independently has been frustrating, exhausting, excruciatingly slow sometimes, eye-opening, time consuming, life altering, and ultimately, exhiliarating. We always knew we weren't just doing this for our guy, but for all the other young men and women out there like him, who also expected to live an equal life to their peers.

We have lobbyed politicians over many long years, bombarding them with mail, email, phone calls and threats with legal action, armed with the United Nations Covention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which you can read more fully here.

This was actually a very important tool for us, and I believe, entirely instrumental in our success. Certainly our Prime Minister and her underlings jumped when we waved it at them and threatened a Human Rights Action. Were we serious...you blinkin' betcha we were.

Fortunately it didn't come to that, and strangely we set some sort of record for the length of time Mr A spent on a Community Housing waiting list....a short and sweet six weeks!

In fact, in the end it all happened so quickly that we were largely unprepared and were caught out on many different levels.

But we knew it was an opportunity not to be reckoned with, so we went with the flow. We learned much and things haven't always gone smoothly, but here we are, two years later, with recurrent funding approved to support Mr A (again only won with a long hard and bitter battle) in his lifestyle, and the family managing his funding to make the best possible use of it.

If you'd told me three short years ago, that we'd be where we are now, I'd have laughed and called you a fool.

But it just goes to show that slow and steady wins the race.

As for Mr A, as he approaches his second anniversary in his own place, things couldn't look better. He has a wonderful team of Personal Assistants, three guys his own age and one more Maternal lady to keep things on an even keel, and everyone is dedicated to seeing things move forward in the most positive way.

Not enough is done to encourage young male workers in this field and I can only credit Mr A himself with attracting the right sort of people. The three guys we have are worth their weight in gold and I pinch myself every day that things have gone as well as they have. The manner in which two of the workers came to us can only be described as Serendipitous in nature, and to get the 'in' joke there, please visit Serendipity Cafe.

Brenton came to us by way of a 'blog' friendship I formed with his Mum...and who would have dreamed five years ago that THAT could happen!

The second young man came to us through Brenton, and is a nursing student...how much more perfect could it be?

Both guys are dedicated, enthusiastic, and more importantly, Mr A values them as friends.

And perhaps that is the most important of all.

Make plans, move forward, have an equal life mapped out for your loved ones. Don't let their disabilities restrain you or them in your thinking. Allow them to live the best possible life they can.

Dream big for your disabled children. If you don't, no-one else will.

Parents are the only ones who can enact change. Don't fear politicians. We know that they are just humans like we are. Lord knows some of them only barely fall into that category...lol! Lobby, argue, rant and rave, call current affairs programmes and newspapers to engage them in your story, write letters, send emails, and most importantly, have a PLAN. And work slowly and steadily towards it. Be informed, follow politics, both local and global, be informed, arm yourself with success stories like ours.

You can achieve the 'impossible'. We're living proof of that.


Embroidery gifts...


Here is a calico square I've embroidered for a quilt project a friend is organising.

I did this while watching a movie yesterday.

A simple design of some straight stitch flowers, a stem stitch outlined butterfly, and some french knots in different colours and it was done.

Embroidery is easy...really easy.

I literally drew the butterfly freehand and so too, the circles for the straight stitch flowers. I used an eraseable/washable dressmakers marker, and hand washed and pressed the finished square for presentation.
Hand embroidered projects are a very welcome gift...one only has to look at Etsy to see the explosion of hand embroidered giftlines to see that. And anyone can embroider. If you can thread a needle and follow instructions, you can too.

I have a great book, gifted to me by a work colleague a few years ago that makes most stitches easy to comprehend.

It's this one....


For the price of the book, some needles and a couple of skeins of embroidery floss, you too could be stitching pretty gifts for everyone.

Go...have a go. It's a beautiful pastime worth ressurecting.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Super Lush Onion Confit (also known as Onion Jam)...


Here's my Onion Confit recipe.

This is a much loved family favourite and we adore it on baguette with soft cheese, with meats and roasts of all kinds, on a Ploughmans platter, with crackers on a cheese board, or with oven roasted salmon. Cooking it is a special guilty pleasure as it scents the house with the most amazing earthy aromas.

Buy up onions of any kind when they're cheap and do big batches of this to keep on hand.

You need 4 decent sized (about 250gm) washed and sterilized jars for this amount.

Note: you can also prepare this in the slow cooker, by adding 125gms of butter to encourage caramelising, but it does render a slightly softer and not quite as aromatic, result. Given the choice I'd do it on the stovetop. In my older slow cooker, six hours on high and six on low was about right.

1 kg onions (different onions give a different result. Try red, eschallots, pickling onions or brown ones)
2 tablespoons oil
250 gms sugar
300 mls vinegar (different vinegars will also give a slightly different result in colour and flavour, so try balsamic, white, apple cider, sherry or even red or white wine or sparkling wine)
3 tablespoons honey or golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Peel and slice the onions thinly. A mandolin slicer will make very quick work of this step.

Heat a large frypan over a medium heat and slow cook the onion until it's limp, about 5 minutes.

Add the other ingredients and mix well.

Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, stirring regulary to prevent sticking for one hour.

Cover the pan and continue to cook over a very low heat for a minimum of 45 minutes but up to several hours depending upon the depth of flavour and the consistency you're after, stirring regularly. I have simmered mine virtually all day on a very very low heat, and after 10-12 hours, they are divine.

The confit is ready when there is not liquid and the onion has been reduced to a chunky paste.

Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate.

Keeps for up to six months.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Compliments...


When was the last time you paid someone a compliment?

A compliment makes you feel good, nay, great. A well timed and thoughtfully worded compliment leaves you feeling like you're walking on air.

That someone went out of their way to say 'gosh you look nice today' or 'great work on that presentation' or 'fab hair...who's your hairdresser', or 'an A on your science exam...gosh I'm so proud of you', means a lot.

I compliment my family every single day. I look for things on which to compliment them.

It's an no-cost, do-it-anywhere-anytime way of reminding them that I love them.

I try to make my compliments task specific. I don't believe in just telling my friends and family that they are 'awesome' or 'powerful' or suchlike things that have been encouraged in recent times. Frankly they're not...and nor can they 'be anything and do anything'. That's a falsehood that seems to have lead to an entire generation thinking they're entitled.

They are however, 'a dedicated Dad', 'a loyal and hardworking manager', 'a beautiful singer', 'a loyal friend', 'a great cook', 'a loving son', 'a brilliant husband', 'a caring brother or sister', and so on.

Compliments are the cream on the cupcake of life. You don't need them to survive but gee they're nice when you get them.

Compliment your family and friends today and see what happens. I bet it's returned to you tenfold.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gifts from your kitchen...

I am a big fan of home made foodie gifts.

A stylishly packaged hamper of goodies from your kitchen is always welcome, and if done thoughtfully, armed with information on the recipients personal likes and dislikes, will be eagerly anticipated by everyone.

My hampers are legendary in my family. But it took me a while to get the concept right. There is no point in giving everyone home made Limoncello or Tomato Relish if they don't consume it.

So each year, around about now, I send out a selection list to my friends and family. The list includes things like the aforementioned Limoncello and Tomato Relish, plus a range of other things like:

Pineapple, Fennel and Chilli Pickle
Onion Confit
Pancake Mix and honeycomb butter
Brandy Pate`
Chocolate Syrup
Vanilla Syrup
Ginger Cordial
Lemon Cordial
Worcestershire Sauce
Prunes in Port
Raw Chocolate Truffles
Peanut brittle
Marshmallows
Chocolate gingers
Aussie Rocky Road
Seasonal Jam
Mint Jelly

I'll be posting recipes for these over the next little while so stay tuned!

I also tend to go overboard with the packaging. I use wide double satin ribbon in soft gelati colours, and christmas baubles in similar hues to dress up the basket. I've found lengths of tulle to be the most beautiful and practical way to wrap the baskets and haunt the remnants basket at my local haberdashery to stock up on those inexpensively. But frankly tulle, when you look at the width is  more cost effective than gift wrap or cellophane anyway and it's reuseable!

Homemade gift hampers decrease the cost of gift giving significantly, and still allows you to give a lush looking gift to those you love.

Go on, start now, and you'll be all stocked up for Christmas!



Friday, May 4, 2012

Why do you make stuff?

So..it's a fair enough question.

This one most recently from my daughter who is 12 and very much into giving me the third degree on just about anything these days from politics to friendships to 'if there's a speed of light and speed of sound, what's the speed of dark and quiet?'...go on, answer that one. I said 'ask your Father'.

Anyway, she says to me 'why do you make stuff Mum? So-and-so's Mum thinks it's weird.' Well, does she now...says me...who told you that? Thinking to myself that so-and-so's Mum is a bit of a spendaholic actually so not feeling terribly surprised at this turn of events.

'Well, she did. She asked me if you were a teacher or something. She thought you must teach this stuff to people'. Hmmm.. goes I .. an avenue I hadn't considered. Maybe there's something in that.

I don't know, was actually my response.

Why do I make stuff?

It's not just about saving money any more although it once was. It's now something I do because I can. I have the time, the space, the knowledge and the desire. For me, it's why wouldn't I?

I love the challenge is one reason. Figuring out how to cheat the supermarket or the beauty parlour out of my hard earned cash instead of the other way around.

It's in my genes is another reason. Mum and Nanna made stuff. Ergo ipso facto whatever, so do I.

I like doing it is a third reason.

But most importantly, to have the knowledge and the freedom to sustain our lifestyle no matter our financial status.

I have had it 'good' and had it 'tough'. The two didn't vary that much for me except in cash flow. My life and it's little satisfactions bubbled along regardless and will continue to do so.

That's the way I like it.

What's on your Tray of Bliss today?


A difference of opinion and disappointment in the wings..

I have a gorgeous group of girlfriends. We've shared stuff. Wins and Losses, ups and downs, crazy times and calmer ones.

Funnily as we've grown older, I've found that rather than growing together as you might expect from those with whom you've forged long term relationships based upon mutual interests, we've sort of grown in different directions on a range of issues.

The pursuit of Eternal Youth is one area on which we are diametrically opposed.

I was surprised, nay shocked, to hear one friend say recently that she would be happy to not live much past 60, as she couldn't possibly handle the decline in her looks. I was aghast. For me, at 52, I'd like to think I have a few more than 8 short years up my sleeve, irrespective of how I 'look'. She is still in her 30s and has young teenaged children. I wonder how they'd feel if they heard that little gem?

Another friend who I'd always considered a sensible earthy type, having shared crafting sessions and political debate with her on many an occasion, confided that she was thinking of getting Botox...just a bit (she said), on her frown line between her brows. She's a stunning woman, with a happy marriage and two gorgeous kids and a drop dead handsome husband. Why?

I have lost a Mother when she was only 60, and that event continues to impact upon me 10 years later. I can't imagine anyone wishing that upon their children. And as for Botox...well I'm scared of needles.

I don't begrudge them their opinions, nor a bit of cosmetic surgery if it makes them happy. But again, it begs the question 'what defines you?'. For both of my friends, clearly looking their best is important.

I like to look my best too, but won't be having any Botox or wishing myself into an early grave in pursuit of that desire.

It made me wonder then, what the two of them make of me. I've gained a few kgs with menopause, let my hair go grey, then dyed it black in my own moment of vanity (so I'm not perfect either!), do the majority of my clothes shopping in thrift shops and recycled designer boutiques, topping up with a few accessories, and refuse to use shopping as a way to amuse myself. Their conversations are, by contrast, peppered with anecdotes on their latest purchases and how they have to hide them from their husbands. Oh, the stress!

I love my friends...but they do take me by surprise often these days. I found myself disappointed after those two conversations, as if my friends had changed in some way I didn't understand. They may very well say the same about me.

The funny thing is, I could do what they're doing. I can afford to have Botox, shop every day, get my nails done and dress my children in designer clothes. But I choose not to. I don't understand it.

I have a new grandchild. I have a loving husband, I have a beautiful daughter and three sons who I cherish and adore. For me that's enough.

Maybe I'm the dumbo. Maybe I'm missing out.

But I don't think so.

I hope my friends find the peace and fulfilment they desire...botox and death wishes aside.

I'm the Guardian of my Budget and a Home based warrior. That works for me.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Todays Hint...

Try to contain todays tasks in 'today'.

Procrastination is the scourge of the organised.

Write a list, tackle each task with energy, move onto the next. If that's too hard, then, as my Mum used to say 'just do one thing...then do one more...'.

If you've done your laundry, make sure it's folded and put away.

If you've started a scrapbooking page, then finish it.

If you have an unpleasant task to perform, get on with it. Get it over with and then you never have to look at it again. It doesn't matter whether that's making a difficult phone call, having a tough discussion, or driving to the other side of town to make good on a promise. As Nike say "Just Do It".

If you start decluttering a wardrobe or a room, don't get sidetracked until you're done.

If you're having a prep session, do not stop for coffee, the phone or the television.

You won't believe what a difference this makes.

You'll go to bed feeling a sense of accomplishment, and open your eyes in the morning wanting to start another day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What defines you?



Who am I?

Do you ever ask yourself this question?

Those of us who have chosen to be Guardians of the Home and Budget and Home Based Warriors, sometimes feel we've surrendered ourselves in the process. In this day and age, there is little respect for the contribution we make to our home, our family and the community. It seems that in giving up a 'career', so long fought for by our Mothers and Grandmothers, that we're letting the side down. There is no inherent financial value attached to what we do.

How often are you asked 'so, what do you do?' and when that doesn't elicit the desired response (doctor, lawyer, banker, teacher), the next question is 'what does your husband do', as if that's going to make all the difference in the world. Quickly following on, particularly in the cut and thrust at the schoolyard gate at pick up time, is 'where do you live', whilst they eye off your car, your clothing, your hairstyle, your jewellery and nails. If you think I'm joking, ask a Mum in your neighbourhood.

We Guardians, have to have a sense of self. A quiet confidence that what we do is best for our own family. It may not suit everyone, but we can still perform a valuable service in raising children who do not treat shopping as a form of entertainment, who understand that good food does not come out of a packet or from a takeaway outlet, and that personal value does not stem from belongings, but from your actions and beliefs.

Money does not = happiness. How many times have you heard that? Money can buy peace of mind, without a doubt. Knowing that you have enough funds to cover your living expenses is true contentment.

The trouble is, that these days, our expenses often outstrip our income. This is made 'ok' by the use of ready credit. If you don't have the cash, there's always the credit card or 36 months interest free terms. No, no, no...don't do it. This may allow you to have the 'thing' immediately, but has completely stolen any sense of achievement in saving for that 'thing', which then requires finding another 'thing' to make us feel good.

Don't worry, I've been there and I totally get it. The pressure to be like everyone else, to fit in, to be better and Keep up with the Jones's is enormous and you'd be a strong soul to resist it. Just know that in surrendering, you're only gaining possessions of which you will eventually tire, and the approval of people who possible aren't worthy of your valuable time. If you don't believe me, write down who you're trying to impress/keep up with (you're the only one that's going to see it), and put that aside somewhere safe for five years. In five years, get that list out, and see how many of those people are still in your social circle. Are they the ones that were there for you in a crisis? Are they 'tried and true' friends? My guess is no.

Your career does not define you. Your house or the suburb in which you live does not define you. Nor does the place you purchase your clothing, the badge on your car, the label on your jeans, the carat of your diamond, or the television shows you watch.

More recently, being on a reality TV show does not define you either. Just ask any of the 'winners' of any one of the dozens of competitive reality shows on in the last five years. Most of them have returned home, continuing to live in obscurity as they did previously, and for some their life is forever damaged by the Realtiy TV experience. These poor souls are all told 'you're going to be a star'...and they're just not. Not here in Australia anyway..our population is too small to sustain that many 'stars'.

What defines you and the things for which you will be remembered in life,  are how you treat people, what you teach your children, what you do to help those less fortunate than yourself, and your contribution to your community. Those are the things that make a difference not just to your own family, but to those around you.

Find your true worth within.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Challenge your beliefs...

Challenge what you believe about what people who are disabled can be, do and achieve.

Meet someone who has a disability. Engage them in conversation. Ask them intelligent questions...not just 'how's it going'.

Go on... do it.

You'll be surprised.

Wise Words...

Been laffin' all day....

I need a life...

Cooking cookies...


I used to have this somewhat mad idea that do ahead cookie dough was some special type of dough.

I've long since discovered that you can do-ahead ANY sort of cookie dough and choose to either roll into little logs and slice the rounds, roll into balls, freeze on parchment (baking paper), then tip into freezer bags to transfer to trays for baking, or just keep a lump of dough in the fridge to carve bits off and bake as the mood takes you.

Of course going Gluten Free put paid to any cookie eating in this household for a while, because I became secondarily convinced that gluten free baking was mysterious as well. All that talk of Xanthum gum and Gluten subsitute just made me nervous.

Once again, common sense prevailed. Flour is basically flour, no matter the origin. Some may lend a different flavour to your baking, but they're all good. The exception to my baking rule is of course things like bread and sponge cakes, which I refuse to even put to the test, but that day will come.

I've since made these little cookies with rice flour, cornflour, sorghum flour, teff flour, tapioca flour (arrowroot) and found that they all work well. A combination of at least two different flours and the inclusion of either almond flour (almond meal) or dessicated coconut, adds a bit of crunch and texture. I understand that elevation above sea level can make a difference to the success of some Gluten Free baked goodies so do a bit of a Google search if you're in doubt. Here in the 'burbs in Sunny Queensland, it doesn't seem to matter.

I first made these cookies upon seeing the Lemon Olive Oil cookies in the book, Gluten Free Girl. I liked her recipe, but found it a bit pedantic on the use of the specified flours, sour cream (I note she has changed this on her blog to yoghurt which is what I used anyway) and lemon infused olive oil, which here in Australia costs a blinkin' fortune...sorry Shauna!

So as is my way...never could leave a good thing alone...I fiddled with it and came up with a pretty good version...nay, an excellent version, flavoursome, less expensive to create, and bursting with little nuances unique to a good cookie. Clearly you can make these with normal flour too.

Here it is...

Orange and Craisin Cookies with Gluten Free variation

I recommend starting these cookies the day before you want to bake them. The dough improves with resting. Also I had to triple Shaunas recommended cooking time to 25-30 minutes. Must be my Aussie oven :-P

2 cups plain flour or for GF 1 cup rice flour and 1 cup any other GF flour such as Tapioca (labelled Arrowroot here in Australia), sorghum, teff or cornflour
½ cup almond meal or coconut
1/4 cup craisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup oil
½ cup sugar
1 egg
½ cup yoghurt
2 tablespoons orange juice
Zest of one orange if you have it..ok to leave it out
1 cup sugar for rolling cookies prior to baking

Mix the flour/s, almond meal or coconut and baking powder together.

In a medium to large bowl, mix the sugar (keep the extra sugar aside in a sealed container for later when you want to roll and bake your cookies) olive oil, egg, yoghurt and orange juice. Combine until it's nice and smooth.

Mentally divide your dry ingredients into four equal parts, and add the dry to your wet ingredients one quarter at a time. Add the orange zest and craisins last.

Plop the dough onto a big piece of cling wrap, form into a ball, and wrap firmly. Refrigerate overnight. The texture of the finished cookies will improve with resting the dough.

When you're ready to bake, get out your ball of dough and your sealed container (I use a smallish lunchbox with a lid) with the sugar in it. Caster sugar is best but it doesn't matter too much.

Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 180C fan forced.

Use a teaspoon to 'cut' even sized knobs of dough from the larger piece and roll into small balls. Place in the sugar, and as the lunch box fills, top with the lid and gently roll and shake around to coat them in sugar. Place on trays. These don't spread too much so you can sit them quite closely together.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until just turning golden brown.

These are somewhere between a crisp biscuit and a cake, so the texture is a little different, but definitely more-ish.

They are also lovely with lemon juice and zest and dates, lime juice and zest and currants and any other combination of citrus zest and dried fruit.

Last weekend, I made some with lime zest, dried crystallised ginger chopped tiny and a grating of pepper. Yes pepper. My husband went wild for them. Just goes to show, never be afraid to experiment! I'm always highly amused when friends go looking for a 'certain' cookie recipe...like choc chip and raisin..well, gee if you have a recipe you like, just change the flavours and add-ins...nothing scary will happen and the cooking world will not tilt on it's axis.

Yummy :)