The little birds...

If you watch little birds you will see they are busy and happy! Using whatever they can find they create the most gorgeous little nest.
I would be the little bird with some glittery thread in her nest!
We can be like this. Happily working away with the things that are available to us to create a beautiful and happy home.
All the while with a little song in our heart.

Banner by Free Pretty Things for You.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Pantries and Preparedness. Pantry gifts, information and update.

We are in July! So I have reached the half way point of my pantry and cellar challenge. We have come a long way! I have really stocked up our cellar with food, candles, torches, water and necessities. The pantry is much better stocked as well. We also added a spare full gas bottle to our existing one so we always have at least one full bottle so that without power we can still cook for weeks.

All my new (new free secondhand!) jars are now full on the lovely shelf Andy built and I sent photos to the lady who gave them to me. I have room for six more on my shelf (I have 14) so I am collecting!

I added labels that Chloe printed for me onto sticky paper. But you could use contact to stick them on too. This graphic is from The Graphics Fairy.

Yesterday I saw someone selling storage containers and I took a catalogue. To convert your pantry to these containers would have cost a few thousand dollars. I just want to show that you can have good air tight containers for free or really cheaply and spend your money on the food and goods you need instead. 

Since last week I have seen people in the car park of our supermarket with a trolley full of baby formula cans. As there is a four can limit I asked them how did they get so many? The lady had gone into Coles and bought the maximum number and the husband had gone to Woolworth's and bought the maximum number. Then they swapped and she went into Woolworth's and he went into Coles... and thus they had so many cans! And, yes, they were all going to China. There were a few cans left in Coles and hardly any in Woolworth's. I don't see this issue lessening anytime soon. If it got only slightly worse there would be empty shelves as some days there have been only two cans. Kaye told me she had seen a ONE can shelf. I am not being critical of these people. If I was in China I would be desperate to obtain safe baby formula for my baby.  That bit I understand. But I am here and I am keeping an eye on the supply for Harper and anyone here with a baby too.

Also I have tried to find out about prescription drugs and how long would they have them on the shelf in the chemist (pharmacy) in the event of a crisis. I found out our local Chemists place their orders manually which reduces the risk of empty shelves due to a computer glitch. And that locally we have warehouses/suppliers as well. But I do not know how long the supplies last. One Chemist said a week. But they seem vague at best so I am not really satisfied so far. We are trying to get ahead as much as we can and not wait until the last minute to fill scripts. They were however full of information about the on selling of formula and Swisse Vitamins. This chemists cousin, also a chemist, orders in a full pallet of baby formula once a week and never unpacks it... a man arrives with a van and takes the lot to send overseas. They were good on this subject which was interesting. So I found out things but not necessarily what I went in for!

The next pantry related thing to report is that Chloe printed and bound for me Patsy's E Book "Yes, you CAN have a well stocked Pantry" from A Working Pantry.  It looks so nice printed and this is going to be the basis of my gifts for the rest of the year including Christmas presents. I have decided to give pantry themed gifts with the idea of getting people started on their pantries or, for those who already have pantries, to add to them. I figure this is a gift that could potentially be a life changer and possibly make a big difference in someone's life.  You never know, a gift like this, if it got someone going with their pantry, it could affect generations. 

This is a ridiculously inexpensive way to get my gifts going as the E Book is $4 and then I have copied it multiple times and Chloe bound them. You can get this done at office shops, here for about $7 or buy a folder at a news agency. (I sought Patsy's permission about copying it this way).

To this I am adding Bay Leaves (dried from Mum's garden), tea towels (kitchen towels), labels like the ones on my jars and jam making labels etc., small items like Vanilla Essence, recipe cards and recipes, herbs and spices... anything that will build up a pantry and make it look nice as well!

So imagine what you might be able to do... add jars of homemade jam, relish, balsamic vinegar, dried herbs... all kinds of things we could produce from home. Don't underestimate what you might have around you that you can use. The other day in the supermarket I looked at Bay Leaves, wondering how much they actually cost to buy, since I never buy them and have giant bunches continually from Mum's tree. I nearly fell over... they were $3.20 per 2 g which was about 5 leaves! So the three huge bunches drying on my ladder must be worth over $200, at this rate. I never had any idea they were expensive.  Cellophane bags of a dozen Bay Leaves must be a worthwhile addition to pantry gifts. Keep your eyes out for herbs you can dry or give as fresh bunches... take a look at the prices of the bunches in the supermarket!  Also you might have a fruit tree or a neighbor or friend with one and whatever it is you have possibilities for you pantry gifts... Lemon Curd, jam, jelly, candied peel... so many possibilities! 

Our neighbors over the road are Greek and watching the news I think of how would it be to not be able to access any money or shop and not know the next time you might be able to. Of course Greece is not the first place this has happened, it's happened many times. A well stock pantry would be a life saver. And there are so many times that is the case. If you can possibly add to your pantry then do. It is better than money in the bank! It's something to do now not one day. Even a few dollars a week and some creativity will build up your pantry. A saving here or there can become something to add to your shelves and doubled if you choose a useful item on a great special. Doubling your money is also better than the bank!

The last two weeks we had a bonus Thursday post from Helen and these really added lovely thoughts to the week. Tomorrow we are having a bonus post from Teri, adding to this series. I am so looking forward to it as Teri's pantry is something I dream of!

We have sunshine and I am heading off to my Aunts who's garden is full of limes and oranges right now and she has told me she has saved me jars! I think I see a chance to add to my pantry! xxx

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Crock pot cooking. Pot roasts and cold meat.

It has been cold here and is dark well and truly by five thirty pm.  It is the weather for hot food!  This week I am covering pot roasts.  Now, this is also useful in summer as you can cook meat and use it as cold meat, warm chicken salad, platters and sandwiches etc. Here we do both. A roast is a hot comforting dinner. Then left overs re appear as other meals. Sometimes many other meals!

A roast usually contains some fat. So the first thing is to lift the meat up from the bottom of the crock pot so the fat will drain down and away. Why oh why crock pots don't come with such a thing I don't understand.  I use two metal trivets that fit just right. This comes from the traced template that I take with me to watch for things that will fit. These are perfect. They keep everything up a little bit and nothing falls through except fat. You could use anything that will fit and do the job, in an emergency scrunched up balls of al foil could work.

You can do any roast you can think of I think. This is my recent lamb roast. 

Think of the flavor combinations you like. With lamb I put in rosemary and I often cover the lamb with mint jelly and reserve some to serve with the meal. This is yum. Add in your vegies. Put on high and forget. About 8 hours ish... more or less is still fine. If it went on earlier I often will turn to low the last couple of hours. There is no water in the bottom, I thought I should mention this...

It is fall off the bone tender. 

Very comforting and warming for dinner! The next day the lamb became wraps for dinner in soft round wraps, spread with tatziki dip, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, onion and cheese. Then two of those became  work lunches. This was great and like a night off.  I warm the meat for dinner wraps but it can be cold. These are DELICIOUS and the kids can assemble them. 

On the weekend we had a chicken pot roast. With a chicken as the meat is delicate I place a square of baking paper just on the spot where the chicken sits on the racks. I put the chicken breast side down as you want the juices to run into the breast meat. 
In this case I cover the chicken with some cranberry sauce/jelly as we like that...

This had been cooking for a while when I remembered to take a picture!  It was just lovely and so tender...

Of course I had cold chicken for the next day. This time I am making Wendy's chicken flan (My Abundant Life.) but other times I would make wraps, warm chicken salad, cold meat and salad or work lunches. There are so many things you can do with left over chicken. 

Other pot roasts I love are pork with whole apples, turkey, cranberry and apple, beef or venison and winter vegies...
Any combinations that you love and lots of vegetables will make it go so much further plus be so good for you. As I am thinking of baby food these can be lifted out and mashed and voila you have instant baby meals!

These are the kind of meals you put on and forget. If you have been out when you walk in the house smells like Nana has been making you a meal. It is a huge help and relief. If you have a baby and dinner is a tiring time, it is all done. You just serve. If you are running children around to after school sports etc. dinner is cooking. You have left overs for other meals. Just so helpful. Let your crock pot help you out. The number of times my crock pot has saved us from having take away would be some ridiculous number! 

Any time I need to make lots of sandwiches or rolls I cook some meat this way and use it then instead of Deli meat. This is usually a fraction of the cost and healthier. If you see a roasting piece of meat take a look at that price and compare it to the same weight in the deli department or pre cut packs. It is a big difference! Plus it is going to be so tender and good!

I hope you have a great week! We are nearly into July! I have so many things I want to get done...
and I love to get going on a Monday and start the week off well. See you on Wednesday! xxx

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Feather your Nest Friday, 26 June, 2015.

It feels as though this week was only two days long! But it was really good and I loved it!
Writing down the things I achieved helps me just heaps. It is a chance to see how much we achieved.
This is measured according to the time of life you are in. Lucy is at home with Harper and not getting lots of sleep  with a new baby. But meals are on the table, washing is done, Harper is happy and gained weight. This to me is a big achievement! These are the most important things!

We might have cared for someone sick all week and got not a thing done otherwise. But that is still your achievement for the week and it is so important.

Last week for me was really good and I wished it didn't end but it just kept going as far as good things went. I was able to save in lots of little ways and get lots done.

Some of the ways I saved money were:

I made Harper a headband as a little present.

When I told her her fabulous accessory came in at under $1 she was totally amazed...

I bought a gorgeous chiffon summer dressing gown for $4. (op shop) It is soft blue and lilac florals like a Monet painting and just lovely. I also got some small baskets suitable for food gifts at Christmas for 50c each.

Using zucchini from a great special I made a large amount of soup (with stock I had in the freezer).

Mum sent me a bucket of Bay Leaf branches.

They are now hanging up to dry on my drying ladder. It made three huge bunches.

Mum also sent me three more of the big jars to match my set and 2 kilos of honey (about 4 and a half pounds). So useful and good for my pantry.

A friend sent me a basket of lemons.

I found a way to save so much money! Andy is on several prescription drugs. He was born with a heart defect and he has a stainless steel heart valve. So no matter what he does he needs to take blood thinners and it also involves antibiotics to do anything like go to the dentist...  Anyway it is a lot of prescription drugs. This is expensive. Usually I drop scripts in to the chemist before I shop for groceries and collect them as I leave as the chemist is right there next to the supermarket. I have tried a few chemists and the prices have been much the same. But about a week ago I read on The Cheapskate Club a tip. A member had written is saying she was saving hundreds by shopping at a chemist warehouse. That the difference wasn't tiny it was HUGE. Thanks Cath this one is because of you!

So on the weekend I got out all the tablets and wrote down their names and the prices we are paying from the boxes. Armed with this list, ,and the current scripts I needed to fill, I went into the nearest discount warehouse near us which is Chemist King. The Chemist was really helpful. He wrote on my list  their prices next to the prices we have been paying.
I could hardly believe it. An example was the first one we were paying $18.05 and his price was $8.50 for the exact same quantity of the exact same thing! LESS than half price! The whole list was the same, around half price. I couldn't believe it! It is not that far from our place either. So the change has been made. This is a saving of $600 to $700 a year! Yes, I got paid that much for about one hours trouble.
When I told Andy that evening he was amazed. That was the day I interviewed the supermarket manager and had all that information too. He was busy being amazed that night!

The next saving was a real treat. Chloe went to Priceline to buy something in skin care she gets. They were having a massive gift with purchase. Her skin care got her a bag of products that was massive...

As Chloe had spent more than the required amount she asked the girl if she could have two bags so she could give one to her Mother :) and despite that not being allowed the girl said ok!

So she arrived with this for me and it contained so many fantastic and lovely things! Then we had fun swapping as some things I would use and some things Chloe would use.

It was an absolutely amazing amount of great products!

I made a double size Golden Syrup Pudding. Being cold here this is so nice! Also it is one of the worlds easiest recipes. The recipe is here.  This recipe is a real husband pleaser type recipe. People think you are a fabulous cook and want to marry you, that's how good it is! But it is so easy.

It looks golden and good and when you cut into it it's gooey and delicious. It makes a cold rainy day worthwhile!

I am using up some craft supplies for Christmas present making as using what you have is a huge saving!

I built up my home by adding to my pantry and cellar, learning more about what I should store, adding to our emergency fund and creating extra food storage space. It is so nice to have this progress.

How was your week? I hope you had some good finds and savings and all is well in your home.
Today the sun is shining after some rain this week which is great for the garden. If I get things done I will go see Mum later in the afternoon with my crocheting!

Have a wonderful weekend! This is the last weekend of June so I am thinking a bit about being at the half way point in the year, what I've done this year so far and what I want to make sure I do with the rest of it.  I am going to review my progress with my pantry challenge too. Thanks to weekly reminders and lots of encouragement this is going really well! It is truly amazing how lots of little bits add up. We just have to keep at it! xxx

Monday, 22 June 2015

Pantries and Preparedness. I didn't know this...

Last week I covered some information about shortages that are currently on the cards here after my handy chance meeting with the Chinese man in our local grocery store! This brought to life a lot of facts I had discovered and it was really helpful! 
Since then each time I am in the supermarket I have asked various staff questions.  Even though it is a big place I am a regular there and I always talk to people so lots of them know me. (I am a chatter, who would believe that!?)

So last week, when tins of baby formula seemed to be in very low supply on the shelves, I still assumed what I always assume. That is that there are pallets and boxes out the back that just need to be unpacked so that the shelves are replenished. 
My whole life when there is something sold out on the shelf you ask someone if they have any more "out the back" that they could bring out?  In my mind I imagine a giant storage space filled with pallets of supplies waiting on coming into the store.... so that if something sells then they bring it in. Right?

It occurred to me to ask if the four tins of the baby formula in the brand that Lucy has bought (she has had one tin) were about to be added to from "out the back?" And ta da! I discovered no. There is NOT ONE out the back. There are no boxes or pallets of back up stock. None. The four tins were it. 
The other brands were in equally low supply.
mmm really? After the next four people what then?
The answer is that the computer will "know" to re order it.
"Out the back" is in fact a mythical place/concept that no longer even exists. And hasn't for a long time!

I have kept asking questions.
I also had this from Glenda who is in the US as she is aware of this being the case there...

"We’ve known for a long time that stores only stock the items that you see on the shelves and nothing in back or in a warehouse, as they used to do. My grandparents/parents owned a grocery store and we stocked extra food, so when an item got low on the shelves we could restock. Now days, they have an “as needed,” or “on demand” supply system. When the shelf has reached the “reorder level” then the item is ordered. Many stores here, since they are large chain stores, have no idea when their next supply truck will arrive."

and this...

"Conrad, the manager of Natural Grocers where we shop, said they were having so many supply issues they actually switched warehouses from where they order. We asked why the supply issues and he said some of it was drought, but the rest ‘who knows.’ ‘Who knows’ won't work in a shortage situation. People will clear shelves in a matter of hours and no truck will be coming in to replenish anything".

So this week I decided to use my built up friendly relations and ask to speak to Nigel the store stock and orders manager. And he was very helpful and didn't mind my plethora of questions. 
Firstly, in regard to the Baby Formula stocks he said it was a constant battle. He gets numerous phone calls per day from people wanting to buy bulk amounts. He said most are Asian and want to send them overseas. Many are from overseas and some are local. It takes up part of his day everyday. He seemed worn out just talking about it.

We stood in front of the baby section and I asked were there more "out the back" than the half dozen that were there? He confirmed no, there is not one, of any brand, out the back.
He explained as you go out the check out the computer counts the level of each item and the system re orders items. Then trucks turn up with deliveries which go straight to the shelves.
There are no reserves.

Thats all folks.

So... off the top of my head I said... ok, if there is a strike, a power failure, a trucking problem, a fuel shortage, a computer glitch, a computer hack... what would happen? And the answer is that stock would not turn up at all. This half dozen tins of formula would be it for our area aside of one much smaller supermarket near by. I also checked the chemist. They had ONE can. That is not much is it? We could travel further afield in search but everywhere is much the same so it would probably be joining in an army of others doing the exact same thing.

So we discussed other vitals. Like, if there was a power outage for a couple of days or longer... are the six torches, 12 packets of candles and nine packets of tea lights all they have? Yes. I asked Nigel how long did he think they would last on the shelves in a crisis before they ran out? He estimated about 5 minutes. So if you heard a power outage was going to be around for a while by the time you got in the car and made it to the supermarket all the candles etc would have sold out well before you even get there. You would literally need to be standing in the supermarket the moment you found out about a need like this to stand a chance of getting any supplies.

So think of all the things we think are well stocked, surely, and what would happen when there is a sudden extra demand? ie matches and candles in a massive blackout, powdered milk if the milk deliveries didn't arrive, bottled water if the local supply was contaminated... and so on. There is only supply for the first few customers and that is IT! 

Maybe I was really naive to not have realised this. "Out the back" seemed like a back up to me and apparently it is YEARS since things worked that way. 

A few of this or that is not reassuring!  Some things we can manage fine without. But baby formula is not one of them! You expect to go to the store and find more and not worry about it. Or candles or matches or milk or what ever it is you really count on. The things we MUST have varies family to family but most of us have things that are vital in some way.

The other day when working on this I drew a map of our biggest store. I know it isle by isle. Once you take out the plastics isle, the beauty, the cleaning, the pet food, the kitchenware, the soft drinks , the gardening, the Manchester, the stationary isles and the plastics and paper goods (ie paper napkins and so on) the actual food in a supermarket is not as much as you think! Oh, I forgot magazines! When you get down to necessities and emergency supplies there are surprisingly low numbers on the shelves. And that is IT.

It means we all need to know what we need to have spares of at home. Things we know we cannot afford to run out of we must have our own reserves. It means thinking ahead and also getting ahead. And deciding what is a wise and realistic amount of time to allow for? A week? A month? Three months? More? 
I have been working on this and thinking what items MUST we make sure we have in case the shelves are empty due to any kind of hold up?  It takes some thinking!

I told Mum this as she had seen the levels of formula on the shelves. Her response to my story was "WHAT? they have NONE out the back?!!" and I could see her leaping into action. And me too. Going from thinking I must keep an eye on that to I must do something. 

So there is a review here. I feel I must have believed in fairy tales and it was nice too! Quite reassuring. But just not true and the reality of such a vulnerable supply and situation really has rattled me.

This realization has changed my thoughts on my pantry and what I am preparing for. It has doubled my resolve that we need reserves of everything and to be prepared. The number of people caught short in the case of an interruption to fuel supplies or a strike or computer glitch (or whatever!) would be mind boggling. Everyone just assumes there are plenty of supplies, neatly stacked in pallets out the back. 

My first target, and our greatest vulnerability, is baby formula. Next is probably milk. So this is where I will start. 

Another for us is medication but this is another story and that one is still coming... 

Our pantries are so vital. More important than we ever realized. The needs of our family are protected by our preparedness. Over time we have covered a lot of good reasons to build up our pantries and I was convinced anyway. But now I've had a shake up!

What items are absolutely essential in your family, that you cannot afford to run out of? 

What things would just be really unpleasant to run out of?

How can we be ready in case there is a glitch in the system and things don't arrive for the week or are sold out or in shortage?

Every week we have worked on building up our pantries and encouraged each other, shared ideas, learned so many ways to add to our supplies. It has been wonderful! I am almost at the six month point of my challenge too! I have learned so much. And now I have more reasons than ever to do a good job of this!

I hope you are having a great week and your pantry is growing! xxx

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Crock Pot series. Casseroles, Pies and Curries.

My crock pot has been working hard and each week I think of ten more things I should be posting to do with slow cooking generally!  One of the best things in the world is when I forget I put the crock pot on early and come home. As you approach the door to open it you can smell something beautiful. Then the penny drops "Oh yes! I already put dinner on!" What a feeling of relief! That has happened to me many times. It's the best!

Today I will concentrate on casseroles and pies. These go together as I am saying please make good quantities when you make casseroles so that you have left overs! Well cooked down meat is tender and flavorsome and makes perfect pie fillings. This gives you at least another meal and one that is different and could be frozen.

If you have any casserole recipes you love making them in the slow cooker is just so easy. The only variation might be you will possibly need less liquid in your recipe. Alternatively do it as per usual and later if it is too much liquid toss in some baby potatoes, or some rice or something to soak up the juices. It is not a problem.

It is optional to brown meat before you put it in the crock pot. Many recipes say to. I NEVER do. The whole idea to me is easy, less dishes, less washing up... so I never do. And things are always rich in color and fine. But that is a choice.

I will give some of my total cheats recipes in case you need a starter. Or you could buy some of those packet mixes that you throw over your meat and add some vegies to. If this gets you going then go for it. Overall this is still healthier than getting takeaway any day! This is very easy cooking!

Some of my easiest combinations are:

Chicken... could be fillet, thigh, pieces... add lots of vegies thickly sliced... carrot, celery, onion, a drained tin or corn, beans or peas... anything you want. Throw over a can of cream of chicken soup. Cook all day. Stir a couple of times along the way. Is yum and a simple country chicken flavor. Serve on night one with mashed potato or over rice. The rest becomes chicken pies.

Beef... any... sliced or cubed. Onions, carrots, mushrooms, capsicum (optional). Sprinkle with a little soy sauce. Pour over a tin of tomato soup. Let cook all day. Serve with potatoes with sour cream. It is yummy. I used a lot of sliced mushrooms in this. And again the left overs make wonderful beef pies. Beef and Mushroom pies actually!

Lamb... shanks, chops, fillets... onions, any vegies including tiny potatoes or potatoes quartered... pour over a jar of tomato pasta sauce or a can of tomato soup or some other tomato mix. Add a few sun dried tomatoes if you have them.  This cooks down to a rich flavor and if it's shanks to the point where the lamb is falling off the bone. It is so good! The left overs still make pie, I just remove them bones and the filling is perfect. This is really good with mashed potato too as the sauce is very rich.

Apricot chicken. Chicken, dried apricots or a drained tin of apricots or both. A small tin apricot nectar. A packet of french onion soup mix. Carrots, anything else you want. Serve with rice. I do not make pies from apricot chicken. Andy likes this meal so I make it but it doesn't seem like pie filling to me!

These are simple and versatile. I tend to use lots of vegies. If I am planning potatoes ie to add sour cream and potatoes I just pop whole potatoes in and they will be cooked too.

They are all surprisingly good and will use up the vegies you have on hand. I tend to use way more vegetables than meat. As the flavors cook down everything tastes beautiful. These are all good hearty meals in cold weather.

Then to your left overs...

I keep puff pastry in the fridge always! With your left overs simply line a pie dish with pastry, add your filling and top with pastry. Or top with mashed potato and make a kind of shepherds pie. This is really good!

I freeze pies the right size for us or make individual portion sized pies. They look nice I think. For children or smaller pies a muffin tray becomes a pie maker. Just cut circles to fit and add tops! This gives you 12 individual pies that can be frozen or used for dinner another night. So handy! Pies are so portable, can be a whole meal, freeze perfectly and transform your casserole into something different! I always think pies are nice gifts.

If my pies are going into the freezer I lightly bake them and not over brown them. (So that when they are heated they don't end up dry or too dark).

With pies in the freezer you never need take away. You always have meals for when things go crazy and you are too busy. And people will rave over your famous pies. How do you get the filling so tender they ask?

I also always keep tomato relish and various sauces that are good with all of these. I think a relish is great with a pie.

Really, your own family favorite casserole recipes will work. Otherwise if you have certain ingredients to use up try googling for recipes. I like to use up what I have.

The other thing that is simply fantastic in the crock pot is a curry. Long slow cooking develops flavors and tenderizes meat. I am a terrible spicy cook. Terrible. So I am not even sharing a recipe here. If you have curries you like I say make them in the crock pot. But Andy likes a curry and so do the girls. Sooo I cheat. I add a flavor base and there are many to choose from that are brilliant. The first time I did these everyone was so impressed. I confessed I did nothing except toss it all in and pour over a packet of mixture. And no one cared they were too busy eating.
On the weekend I made a large amount of Butter Chicken this way. It was wonderful and made three meals, two for us and one for the new baby family!

Curries could also come under the stretch a meal classification as the extras that go with a curry mean a little bit goes such a long way. You can have your rice, naan bread, a little cooling salad (I just finely chop cucumbers and tomato) and a raita. Mum has mint in the garden. I pick a big bunch, wash it and get rid of thick stalks and any nasty bits and then blend that into a couple of cups of thick yoghurt. Add a dash of cumin. Blend until smooth. I like a really creamy yoghurt for this. It is so easy and lovely. (and makes it seem like I did more than just use a packet mix!)

All these bits and pieces mean your curry goes a long way and is delicious. I serve this as a serve yourself meal and it seems really nice but is so easy.

It is winter here and warming meals are just the thing. All the girls who are in summer, I hope this will be helpful later when things cool off!

For all of these ideas my general rule is to get them on by mid morning and let them go until dinner. I always use high setting. And I always have my crock pot at least half full. If you have a small amount I would cook on low. Overall I would rather cook on high and turn it down later than the other way around. Mix your ingredients so your liquid part is coating things. Stir a couple of times. If you are out stir before you leave and when you come back in the door.

Slow cooking is so good to bring out the flavor of things, tenderize the meat and bring a richness to your meal. Perfect for stews, curries and casseroles. So easy. And food like this improves over a day or two so making enough for two meals or your pies gives you at least one night off.

Getting dinner on in the morning and not having to cook in the evening can be a life saver.  This one thing has helped me so much in my life!

Have a wonderful week! It rained here last night so I am very pleased I did heaps of washing over the weekend and it is all dry. Now the rain looks like settling in.
I am off to the supermarket so that I can finish my post for Wednesday on Pantries and Preparedness. Talking to the supermarket staff about the baby formula etc I made another discovery. One that boggled my mind! And one that greatly affects what I think about storing some reserves. That is coming on Wednesday. I had better get busy! xxx

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Feather your Nest Friday, 19 June, 2015.

I feel kind of sorry the week is nearly over already! Mainly as I was getting lots done and time is going too quickly!

I saved money in lots of ways and it was a really good week!

Firstly, (and I get to really enjoy this one) I attempted to take some baby photos of Harper.  Well, that wasn't so easy. Baby photography is really hard! But I noticed, even at the hospital, it is the in thing to have professional baby photos. This didn't happen back when I had children as far as I know. But now it seems to be the thing. I don't know the cost but I would not think it would be cheap. And rightly so as it isn't easy when they are so small! I don't even own an actual camera lol but who lets minor details like that get in the way!?

So my photos are not professional but everyone seems to like them. Mum especially went crazy over them!

There are about a dozen that we all really like and show Harper as she is. Which changes daily as each day she smiles more so I will have to have another go sometime soon! And this just shows that these are opportunities as they grow so fast.

The photos also made a nice gift to Lucy, Mum and Chloe so far.

I sent a gift to my Dad. It was a basket with a pot of my self seeded parsley, some plum jam and some fig and almond jam from my summer jam making.

He loved it! It was essentially a gift for his pantry. He rang up most pleased. The cost of this whole gift was tiny. It was all just effort.

I made 5 liters of stock from a chicken carcass as we had a roast chicken one night. The next day I removed the left over meat for use in lunches then put on the crock pot full of vegies and the carcass. It turned out so well. Then next day I made another lot of pumpkin and sweet potato soup.

We all use heat packs like our life depends on them. I think my life might actually depend on mine. For migraines, aches and pains and for warming the bed, I love my heat pack so much. It also saves on medications, for me at least. Mum and the girls use theirs just as much. I like them better than a hot water bottle as they mold to the shape of you and around you. This gets the heat where you want it. So you can make them different shapes also... ie Lucy likes hers long and narrow and she wraps it around the back of her neck, where her headaches stem from.
All of ours were looking sad and worn out. Lucy took hers to hospital I noticed. So I made a batch of new ones.
In the chemist they are over $30 each and in hideous patterns and horrible fabric.  You want beautiful soft material that feels lovely against your skin. Velvet, very soft fleecy, very soft wool...
Jacqui had given me beautiful soft 100% pure wool blanketing. I added some embroidery as these were gifts but this is not necessary!
The same concept can be used to make little ones for hand warmers and in pockets. This is beautiful for someone who has to go out in cold early in the morning. Establishing safe heating times is the thing. To do this on something small heat in small increments until you know that 1 minute (or whatever) is the correct time. They should be really warm but not burning hot. Once warm they stay warm for ages.

Mum's is blue...

Chloe's is lilac and mine is pink.

Lucy's was pale blue velour and long and skinny as she likes it!
These are so cheap to make. Also if making them for a gift you can download instructions and safety information if you google for them. For a gift I would normally do that.
I fill them with pearl barley from the supermarket. I use about a kilo of barley. That is about 2 pounds.
These microwave for about 3 minutes. The first heating some moisture comes out, this is normal. After that I think if you use them daily they last a year or two.
You can use wheat or rice, although I have not tried rice. There is really nothing to them.  And everyone was so pleased to get a new one!

I finished my freezer challenge that I did with Wendy on Cheapskates Club. Now my freezer is almost empty, used up, cleaned out, re organized and unrecognizable! Over the weeks this challenge saved us money as we used things up and that money became a pantry fund. Thanks Wendy!

While I was on the last stage of cleaning the freezer I cleaned the fridge, took it apart and washed all the shelves and drawers etc and organized it. When the fridge is clean and organized nothing is "lost" or wasted as you can see everything.

I want to let you all know that Tania has a new blog. She has a tutorial on Homemade Pasties which would suit us all I think! Pasties are such a handy thing to make! It is here at  One Contented Homebody. Sometimes I cheat when making pasties. If the freezer section has good specials and on Aust. chopped vegies I will get some packets of those to go in my pasties. This means less chopping and I make a huge batch. Tania's tutorial makes it easy and they freeze really well. Also great for using up left over vegies. It's a lovely blog Tania and I love the name!

I hope you had a wonderful week. How did you save money and build up your nest?

One last photo. Not so professional looking but it just cracks me up... xxx

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Pearly Pig and other treasures from a Mother's Heart by Helen.

Dear Friends, Welcome once again to the lovely circle of dear ones that surrounds Annabel's Blog. I wanted to share with you a lesson gleaned years ago.
My darling Mum, always loved The People's Friend, a Scottish Journal that is published weekly.  It's motto was that it would never contain anything that you would be uncomfortable with a child reading in your home.

About fifteen years ago, it had a beautiful story that ran for about six weeks which was later published as a book.
It was called " The Pearly Pig".
It was the lovely story of a mother, who kept a beautiful china pig on the mantlepiece of her kitchen.  The story follows the course of her life and the growing of her children.  As needs would present themselves, she would reach up to the mantlepiece and pull down the pearly pig and empty out the coins to help with the need.
This was a home, rich in love, but poor in this world's goods.  This mother's thriftiness and wisdom was able to propel her children into being able to meet needs and goals.

As we drive along the highways here in Australia, some of you would have seen the sticker on the back of caravans, motorhomes and cars.  It goes something like this"  I'm spending my children's inheritance".
It's meant to be humorous and I understand that.  However, it's the opposite spirit that was evident in the mother of this household with the pearly pig.
If you are a mother...what are you doing to provide for your children?  Or if you have received a gift or a blessing from your parents or grandparents...what was it, and how did it change the course of your life?
The Bible tells us in that wonderful book of Proverbs ..."A good person lays up an inheritance for his children and his children's children"  13:22
I have been giving this some thought as we are parents of two wonderful sons.
House prices in Australia are very high.  It's a desire of their hearts to one day own their own home.

We started two years ago with our eldest son, to set aside $25 per week towards that goal.  With our youngest son, we started at the beginning of this year.  They also add to the amount, and every few months, send us a thank you letter and a copy of how their account is going.
To date...our eldest son has $4000 saved and our youngest has $1500.
I know that some of you reading this, are on slim budgets due to illness, job loss or other challenges.  What I wanted us all to think about was how can we invest in our children's lives?  For some of us, it will be cooking, or gardening, or child minding, or saving a little here and a little there.
But we will know....that when we see a need in our child's life, we have the means to step up and meet some of them.

We have only had full time employment in our home for the last six years.  Consequently we have lived on small budget for our family.
On Thursdays, I pay all the bills and do the banking.  This is a weekly habit in our lives, and I believe it's heavily contributed to us having savings.
We have no debts, so our bills are usually just one or two at a time, and I set them on the coffee table to be dealt with on Thursday morning.
This is my financial routine.
1. Look at all bank balances daily to check for discrepancies.
2. Pay current bills due on Thursdays.
3. Set aside savings
4. Live on what is left
5. Keep your spouse informed if you are married
6. Near the first of each month, we sit down together as a couple and look at our financial picture.

One tip that may help.. is that if you have an income of $500 per week, think and talk in terms of having $480.  That extra $20 is the start of your " Pearly Pig Project".

Please share what you are doing for your family to provide an inheritance for your children and children's children? I know that together we can come up with all sorts of wonderful tips and ideas.  Amongst us surely are some  stories of being blessed with words or deeds or finances from people that loved us.
Maybe some of you may want to start your own " Pearly Pig Project". What a thank you that would be to the author of the Pearly Pig!

Love Helen x

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Pantry and Preparedness. Protection against shortages.

A little while ago I wrote a post "What will be worth more than Gold?" which was about the fact that at certain times there are goods that are so sought after that they are worth a fortune! In these cases they can be worth a fortune to us or even used to trade or sell.

Another time I wrote "Be ever watchful" which was about keeping an eye on things so where possible we are prepared and not caught out, so that we see good opportunities and don't miss those either

These two posts combine in one today! Teri S suggested to me to post about shortages and what we can do.
Now we cannot always know something is coming but much of the time we can! Several weeks ago I was reading that in the US there was an outbreak of bird flu and that several million chickens and turkeys had been destroyed. Just then I thought that sounds like a lot, I wonder if that is enough to cause shortages? Since then the situation has developed and now 29 million birds are affected and they are talking high prices, serious shortages and maybe rationing! Now I am not in the US and this doesn't affect me directly but many of you are. It would look to be a fairly long term problem so even stocking up on eggs would only help a family for a couple of months at most. But a couple of months grace is still a good thing! And now egg replacements are flying off the shelves. If you sell egg replacement products this is your day in the sun!

I did look up ideas on egg substitutes. Now, I really think eggs are a fantastic source of nutrition and protein and nothing is like eggs. But when you have no eggs and you want to bake etc you need a substitute.

One is to use eggless recipes as there are many. In a Brownie mix 1/3 cup applesauce can be used instead of an egg. In cakes 1/3 cup buttermilk works pretty well as an egg substitute. In biscuits 1/4 vegetable oil will replace an egg. There are helpful charts on the internet to help you go on with cooking when you have no eggs.

These shortages could be seen coming which gave a bit of a warning. I don't think most peoples chooks in the backyard are affected so this would be a good time to have chooks!  Some of you can tell me about that and how it is right now.

Since I wrote the article about powdered milk and baby formula I have kept a close eye on both. Both have mostly been on the shelves. A few times powdered milk has disappeared again for a while then come back after a week or so. I have plenty in the cellar for if we need it. Lucy is feeding Harper herself but she could still need formula so I keep a close eye on that. This last week I have noticed the shelves are very low in stock with lots of gaps. I am keeping a very close watch.

Yesterday in Woolworth's there was a man taking photos of each kind of baby formula and the prices. He spent ages doing this and sending text messages. I was kind of observing. Then I decided this is an opportunity too good to be true so I approached him and said "excuse me, I hope you don't mind me asking but do you have a baby at home or are you looking to sell formula?" I thought he might be defensive or something but he couldn't have cared less. Right there in the baby food isle he gave me a complete lesson in why the Chinese don't want to buy their own milk products and why he comes in EVERYDAY to buy two cans of formula (as that is now the limit at this store because of this) and he takes them back to China. He says the Chinese do not want to buy it online (ie Ebay as people are selling it there too) as now their is a market in COUNTERFEIT baby formula. They want it from a friend or relative who is in Australia or NZ or travelling there. I said to him if I had family in China I would be doing the same thing. He was very nice and we had a great chat!

When I went to the check- out I asked the young girl what was the current limit of purchases on baby formula? She confirmed it was two cans in this store, which is down from 4 cans when I last asked. Interesting. I let her know that I thought the situation must have become more serious. She knew all about it! As per usual I chatted with her and she knew so much! It turned out her step Father is a pilot and he thought he would look into filling a suitcase with baby formula every time he flew into Asia. (I am thinking at this point how much is an international pilot paid?) Anyway, he had to abandon his enterprising idea as customs are onto it and countries are not letting you take baby formula out. ie going through Hong Kong they have a two can limit. Baby formula is like gold! Isn't that amazing?
So if you or someone in the family buys baby formula keep a close eye on supplies. A major shortage could very easily happen.
The man in the supermarket had gone on to tell me about the buying and selling of Swisse vitamins as well but that is another story!!!

It was kind of exciting to have a real life chance to do some research and be watchful!

Some shortages are not serious. We can do without that item and use something else. Other times we might save ourselves a fortune by being watchful and anticipating a coming shortage. And other times it might be more dire being an essential item to our family. We might avert real problems by seeing what is coming. There are a lot of reasons to be really watchful and to gather what we can at a good time. It is like the scripture about being wise and harvesting in summer and not sleeping through it.

Our pantries are our chance to stock up before a shortage causes a huge price rise or an item isn't available. If we are well stocked up we might not be affected at all.  In some cases things can be stored in several ways and this is really good giving alternatives.. ie milk can be kept fresh, frozen, long shelf life, tinned and canned. Long life cream can also be kept. Eggs can be fresh, frozen, powdered, or a substitute can be used. How lovely to have our supplies!

I have to tell you this about my Dad. He fancies himself as a bit of a cook. He even has his own shelves where he keeps his cooking supplies. The farm house is a big house with two kitchens so Mum and Dad essentially have their own kitchens. Often Chloe shops for Dad as he makes a list and wants this or that. Some items he wanted multiples and Chloe took a whole box from the supermarket shelf.  You know when it is like a half box that is like a tray that the product sits in? Well, he loved this. He kept the box and on the shelf his products sit in them in rows "just like in the supermarket".  This is how much he likes his own supplies. So he really has a pantry of his own even though it is just a wall of shelves.  When I give him a gift the best thing is items for his pantry. This time I sent him jars of plum jam, jars of fig and almond jam and a parsley plant. This was a big hit, he rang me up to tell me!

Next time I go to the farm I will take photos of both pantries. Being a long way from the shops they keep a lot of stuff plus massive freezers. If there was a shortage of anything it would take quite a while before they knew about it!

I have come to love seeing how people keep their pantries and how they fill them!

We take continuous supplies of the things we need for granted. When something basic like eggs or milk is threatened we need to think about ways around it. Be watchful! It could save you so much money and so much inconvenience.

Have you been affected by shortages? Can you see any on the horizon?  Do you have any good substitutes for eggs for those that need them?

I hope you are having a wonderful week! xxx

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Crock pot cooking. Baked Apples, stewed fruit, Corned Beef...

Thank you for all the comments and mail on this series! It looks like lots of you have your handmaidens  working hard to help you. Good! We need all the help we can get. If we have help we can do more and do better. And get some rest as well!

Last week I used the slow cooker to make baked apples. This is another one where there are several advantages. One is I can put it on and at dinner time, evening, I have way less to do. The other is slow cooking and fruit are a match made in heaven. Apples turn pink when cooked slowly for a longer time. When the girls were little pink apples were a favourite.
In the case of baked apples the humble apple becomes intensified, caramelised, delicious, making it a wintery thing and a hearty warming desert. Also apples are on special :)
This is all I did... place half a cup of water in the crock pot. Take the cores out of the apples and pack that space with sultanas, walnuts and brown sugar.
I did six. That meant one each for dinner. One each the next night. Warm baked apples for me for two breakfasts! (this was lovely).

Sit the apples in the crock pot and sprinkle over extra brown sugar. This is personal taste. I say add a little bit extra as your water is going to become caramel sauce.

I cooked on low about 4 hours. This you don't need to be too fussy about, more or less would have done.  At this point the sultanas have become plump and juicy and the nuts have become soft and chewy. They are delicious. You could use dates, raisins, cranberries or anything else you think.

When you serve scoop a spoonful of the sauce off the bottom of the crock pot and drizzle over the top. I served with cream. 

This was so good!

Now while I am talking about fruit in the crock pot think of stewing, poaching pears, adding dried fruit in with other fruits and cook until thick and rich. Cook up apples or pears or both and puree with a stick blender and you have baby food. Or apples for apple sauce. Add more water to the baked apples and do sago as well. The kids loved this, we called them little hailstones.

Dried fruits cooked up with fresh or tinned fruit will give a rich delicious hot desert which could be served topped with a crumble topping or cream, custard or ice cream. Kept in the fridge this becomes breakfast on it's own or with porridge or other cereals. Yum!

So many options!

Next I made Corned Beef.  Andy loves this. Traditionally it is served with mashed potato, vegies and a cheesy sauce.  It also gives you cold meat. I did the cold meat option as I don't love it, I think it's a man thing as Andy is mad over it and so is Dad.

You 3/4 fill the crock pot with water. Add a splash of vinegar, bay leaves and about a tablespoon of peppercorns.
Add your corned beef and then enough water to cover it just.

Let this go on high all day. Or overnight. I think 8 hours is good but more or less is ok.

It comes out pink and moist and once cold slices very nicely and you have a ton of cold meat for making up lunches or a cold platter. That is if you don't eat it as a hot meal!

This is much cheaper than buying sliced meat from the deli. Once you have this the other option is to roll it in thick cracked pepper. Once you have that crust on it you bake it for an hour on low. Then you have pastrami. Woolies pastrami is about $25 a kilo! I can do that for about $8.  This slices thinly and is fabulous as the flavor is strong and rich. Either are a big hit made up into rolls or eaten as they are around here. I made up a heap of rolls for a fishing trip with corned beef and mustard. This pretty much equals guaranteed popularity!

Perhaps the best combination is to have a hot dinner and have left over cold meats for the next day. It is just useful!

I wanted to do casseroles and pies this week as well but it will be too long. That is a huge subject! So that's coming up!

Let your handmaidens work hard. No slacking off in the kitchen lol. Put on that bread maker and made bread, pizza dough, scrolls etc. and make it work hard for you. A tray of sweet or savoury scrolls is so handy and so easy if you have dough already made up for you. Let your crock pot be quietly making soup or desert or your favourite curry or something for dinner while you are busy with other things. It just lightens your load so much.  Cook plenty. I didn't need 6 apples but I am not going to cook 2! It was lovely having two mornings with apples for breakfasts (I warmed them in the microwave) and the desert was so nice a second night was welcomed with nothing to do. I would never think of cooking every night. You don't ever need to if you have cooked extra and made a pie or cook something that becomes something else the next night. I will do a post just on that. A lot of people say they can't serve the same thing twice. You can alter things or freeze a portion and a month later it is dinner. Or cook something like I cook pot roast lamb and serve with vegetables and mint jelly. In the next day or two that left over lamb is served in wraps with Tatziki dip and salad. This is so nice and is so different from the first meal. Or a pot roast chicken and another night a chicken pizza or cold chicken and salad. One is cooking the other is assembling only. I love assembling only meals as that is really like a night off.

This week I will cook pears as they are on a big special at the moment. And stock and pumpkin soup as this seems to be my most popular soup. And a curry as the weather is pretty cold. Once night we will have it with rice. Another night it will re appear with naan bread a little salad and raita. It gives me two nights anyway and a little change and it seems different! The girls gave me beautiful indian serving bowls to serve things in. They make it look so nice!

Have a wonderful week! We have some rain which we need! 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Feather your Nest Friday, 12 June 2015.

We had a short week as Monday was a public holiday for the Queen's Birthday. I always run short of time and Friday comes around so fast! But still it was a good week and we used the long weekend well.

There are always plenty of things to do on weekends. Some rest and relaxation and some doing things like gardening and jobs around the place. On Monday Andy built me a shelf for all my new jars. They are so nice I had the idea that displaying them would be lovely. On the reverse side of the kitchen island there is a ledge but nothing underneath that space. This has now become a shelf for a row of big jars. It looks great and Andy used all wood that was left over from our kitchen counter tops. So now I have a really long shelf and eleven giant jars on it already. There is room for ten more. So I am officially saving these jars! It was Mum's friend who gave them to me. I am hoping she will keep saving them and I will get ten more over the next few months. Now to make nice labels for them...

So that was our first savings this week as neither the jars or the shelf cost a cent yet produced a great amount of storage space for dry goods such as beans, pasta, rice etc.

Other ways we saved money include:

I made a giant slab of Winter Sunshine Cake because oranges were on a big special. This is so lovely. I made a baby cake for Chloe and put a rose from the garden on top and sent it around to her. She loved it!

The recipe for this cake is here.

I made baked apples in the crock pot. They were so good, rich and delicious.

Also made two huge baking trays of lasagne. We ate some for dinner that night then I let it all go cold and the next day sliced it up. It slices up so easily and neatly when cold.

I cut it into good sized serving sizes, wrap each one and bag these up. They go into the freezer for emergency easy meals. Doing it this way I got 14 single serves all up. This freezes and re heats so well it's wonderful. In busy times or sickness I bless the days I do things like this.

Made two batches of soup.
Mended a tiny hole in Andy's good jumper.
Made all the work lunches, all dinners and fed others too.
Froze stock I had made for more soup.
Found some good fruit and vegetable specials.
Used my health insurance to get new glasses.
Used Medicare to have total check on my eyes. This is free annually which is a great thing.
Dried all the washing in the sun, including sheets today as rain is coming!

I built up our home by adding to my pantry supplies, filling my jars, the shelf Andy built, the smell of lots of cooking and warm meals on cold nights! My trip to the wholesalers helped me add to my dry goods supplies and for very little money. That was a really worthwhile and fun thing to do. Sometimes just finding a new place that will help us save money in the future is a big thing that helps us build up our home. It's like learning a new skill... the potential savings might be huge. There are always new ways of doing things that we can add or learn!

How did you save money and build up your home this week? It is amazing how many things we do over a week! Overall I think a lot of little savings add up more than a couple of big ones. All the little things we do amount to great efforts.

I hope you had a good week! We are almost mid year! Can you believe that?
On Monday I have lots to add to the crock pot series. The crock pot has been on almost every day! xxx