Sunday, 25 May 2014

Meal Planning 101

Ah, menu planning. My savior, my nemesis. Planning in advance what meals I am going to prepare for my family saves us a lot of  money, but it is not something I particularly enjoy doing. I know it works well for us so it has to be done. Yet every time a new month comes around, I am slightly filled with a sense of dread. Yes, that's right I said MONTHLY. I meal plan for a whole month of dinners, now that's hardcore.

Before you stop reading this post declaring that I am completely cray cray, just hear me out. The reason is this: I hate shopping. Any form of it, whether it be grocery or clothes, I avoid shopping like a plague. I would rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty kitchen implement than shop. I just don't like the busy crowds, screaming kids (sorry!) or bickering couples and having to deal with it, puts me in a foul mood. Why is it that everyone rushes around like it's a matter of life or death? I don't get it. Unfortunately for me, I can't always avoid shopping centers, as I am the mother of 2 teenagers who love to hang out at the local shops. On these occasions when I am forced to go, it doesn't end well, and is comparable to Lindsay Lohan in detox -trust me it's not pretty.

So here I am, a woman who tries to go shopping only once a month. It suits me, and I believe it saves me time. Besides, I'd prefer to spend any of my free time anywhere but a mall. I manage to buy most of my groceries all at once, except for fresh fruit and vegetables which I usually buy fortnightly. Over the years I have always written some form of a meal plan, however the system I use now is prepared and executed like a great military battle, with me as the ultimate victor.

I used to write my meal plans out on a piece of paper but being the cheapskate I am, now I now use this really cute, free printable I found here I then laminated it and use a wipe-off marker to change it each month. No more paper wastage!

The way I meal plan is reasonably simple, first I go through my pantry, freezer and fridge and list every item. This is time consuming, but gives me a clear idea of what I already have on hand. Did I really buy 5 packets of dehydrated shitake mushrooms? But seriously, quite often I will already have a few ingredients lying around to make up at least 1 meal, sometimes a I'll have a few. If I have say mince, pasta and a tin of tomatoes then Ill cross those items off my pantry lists and add "spaghetti bolognaise" to the meal plan. Or, if I have a sachet of curry mix then Ill add a curry dish to the meal plan. By knowing exactly what is in my pantry and what ingredients are needed for each meal, helps avoid any excessive spending.

Next, I work out what everyone wants to eat. My boys generally ask for Mexican meals like tacos, nachos or burritos while my daughter likes pasta. Hubby will eat pretty much anything. There are definite favorites which we eat every month, while other dinners are variable. I change up the meal plan depending on the weather and also because I only buy fruit and vegetables in season. I'm just not willing to pay $7 for a punnet of blueberries in May. Screw that! My kids will have to be content with eating apples and oranges for a few months. In Summer we eat more barbeques and salad, while in Winter we tend to eat soup, roasts and slow cooked meals. Ill also add in a few vegetarian meals as they are very economical.

I will add meals to the plan but as I do so, cross reference with my pantry/fridge/freezer lists to see if for that particular dinner, there are any items I already have. If not, I'll add the ingredients needed to my shopping list. Then I just keep writing meals on to the plan until the whole thing is full. I am a bit pedantic when it comes to this part and spend way to much time trying to balance the meals so we are not eating meat and 3 veg or rice dishes a few nights in a row, because I like to space them out. If I'm really stuck for ideas I might have a look in some cook books for a meal I may not have cooked in a while, or do an internet search for frugal recipe ideas.

I am a fan of buying in bulk and although it may cost more to outlay, it can save a lot of money in the long run. If an item you use regularly goes on sale, this is the time to stock up. Body care products and tinned food are ideal as they can be stored for a long time. I'm pleased to inform you if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I have enough toothpaste and body wash to keep my entire neighborhood clean.

A chest or deep freezer is a great investment and although it does cost extra electricity to run, Ive never noticed any real significant difference to my power bill. When you have a big freezer it's easy to stock up on milk, bread and meat when its on special or reduced. I recently scored some diced lamb as it was on sale for $6 a kilo. In my house, anything that is not mince, chicken or sausages is fancy, so we were all a tad excited.

Of course this way of meal planning can easily be adapted to shopping weekly or fortnightly as well. 

With the month coming to an end, and already I am preparing for next months meal plan. I know we have the glut of lamb, so that will be making a regular appearance, as will some tortilla wraps I bought on clearance.

Do you meal plan? If not, is it something you would consider doing?

Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberry And Cinnamon Sauce Recipe

It has been a lazy and relaxing weekend here, we all love nothing more than a good sleep in. There has been a lot of rainfall for Autumn and the weather has turned cool and crisp.

In my house, breakfast usually consists of cereal, toast or yoghurt. Yesterday morning, Mr 12 requested pancakes and who am I to refuse a hot breakfast to a growing preteen boy? Ive been meaning to attempt making buttermilk pancakes for a while and I remembered I had a carton of buttermilk in the freezer that I bought some time ago on clearance. Have I mentioned I love my deep freeze? I quite positive I have an unnatural affinity for that thing! Having a large freezer enables me to stock up groceries when they are heavily reduced or on clearance. It also allows me to cook in bulk, and freeze the leftovers for another meal. Doing this has really helped reduce our grocery bill.

Anyway, back to the pancake recipe! You will need:

600 ml of buttermilk
2 and a half cups of self raising flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of lemon zest (optional)

For the blueberry syrup:

Half a cup of water
600 grams of frozen blueberries
Half a cup of caster sugar or Stevia if you prefer
Pinch of cinnamon

This recipe does make a lot, so if  you are only cooking for a couple of people you may want to half the ingredients.

In a large bowl combine the buttermilk, eggs, butter and sugar and whisk well. Then add the lemon zest and flour. Mix it all together until it becomes a smooth batter.

I also made some blueberry syrup to pour over the pancakes. This is easy to make and will be quite happy simmering away on the stove while you cook the pancakes. Place the blueberries and water in a pot and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the berries cook down a bit, then add the sugar and cinnamon. Take it off the heat when it is done.

Heat up a frying pan (I use my electric one as I can cook more all at once) and grease with a small amount of butter or olive oil. Once the oil is hot, use a ladle to scoop out some of the batter and pour it into the pan. As I was feeding 5 of us, I prefer to use a tablespoon and make pikelets, but this is up to you. Wait until bubbles appear on the pancakes then flip them over. Complete this process until all of the batter is used. This took me about 45 minutes, by which time I was seriously concerned my children would turn to cannibalism as a means of sustenance. This is certainly not a recipe to try if you are in a hurry, but then again I did make heaps.

When the pancakes are cooked, serve them up with some of the blueberry syrup drizzled over the top. This was my first time making buttermilk pancakes, and I must say they were absolutely delicious. Fluffy and soft, they reminded me of the pancakes served at our favorite eatery. I will definitely make them again.

Any leftover blueberry syrup is delicious with Greek yoghurt, or added to a muffin or cake mix.

I hope you have had a wonderful and recharging weekend.

Friday, 23 May 2014

All You Need Is Less

When I embarked upon this frugal journey, it was out of necessity and desire. I wanted a more connected relationship with my husband and children, rather than hurried time when I got home from work. I wanted to appreciate and view money differently and I wanted us to have fun and value pleasure in the simple things. I can honestly say I have been blessed to have all these things happen and more. Money really does not buy happiness, it just makes it easier to pay the bills!

One of the first things I did was to sit down and write a budget. If you are not sure where to start, I wrote an article about it here: here Until that point I had been earning decent money by working outside the home and had been spending it pretty fast too. There were no savings in the bank for an emergency and this worried me. It was a hard thing to ultimately take control of my families finances and it seemed easier to live in the cycle of earning and spending. However, I knew with my decision to quit work and home school our income would drop significantly. The only way to get ahead would be to work out how much money would be coming in and to spend less and cut down any unessential expenses. Yes, however scary it seemed-a budget would be necessary.

Fast forward to the present day and the budget is still going strong. I also menu plan which by doing so, has cut our grocery bill right down. But that's a post for another time. Currently there are substantial savings in the bank. We are earning less but have more money than we have ever had before. How is that possible? The main thing that has changed is my mindset. I no longer go "window shopping" or spend money to relieve boredom. I only go shopping when it is absolutely necessary. I still make purchases but am now mindful of my spending. Stores are full of things you might want, but do not need. Companies know and thrive on this fact, that's how the rich get rich while the poor stay poor.

So let me just say this. You do not need to keep up with the Joneses, buying that knick knack will only clutter up your house. You are better than that, you deserve more from life and you can do it! Right now at this time, you have what you need, and that will always be enough.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Nappy Cake Tutorial

 I love receiving homemade gifts, and in turn also love to make them for friends. 

Over the weekend I went to a friend's baby shower. I am all about giving practical gifts, so wanted to get nappies, wipes, lotion- things that will be needed. There's no easy or pretty way to wrap these items up, so I decided to make a nappy cake.

I looked at a few images online and decided I prefer the look of a traditional rolled nappy cake. I couldn't find a website with clear instructions so I improvised and designed my own. My friend already had found out the sex of her baby so I used colour themed accessories to brighten up the cake.

The basis of the cake is nappies and baby wipes, then you can add whatever else you like. They beauty of this gift is you can make it 1 or 2 tiers, depending on your choice and budget. This cake was very much trial and error,  though I had a clear idea of how I wanted it to look. I purchased a blue teddy bear to go on top and structured my idea on that. In the end the cake looked small compared to the teddy so I added another row of nappies around each layer. If you want a small cake, I recommend buying a small toy for the top.

The baby products and outfits used in the cake can be varied
Here's what you will need:

Nappies  (Around 72 for a small cake, 97 for a large]
A packet of baby wipes
A teddy bear or toy (For the topper)
Baby wash
Baby shampoo
Nappy cream (Or any other baby products)
Muslin wrap
Baby hat
Small elastic bands, and 2 large
2 metres of thick ribbon
Cake board
Cardboard letters

Open the nappy packet and grab out a  nappy. With the front of the nappy facing up and the open part toward you, roll the nappy up tightly. Secure with an elastic band. Repeat this process for all of the remaining nappies.

Roll each nappy up tightly.

All ready to go!

Then place the packet of nappy wipes on it's side. This forms the core of the cake and gives it solidarity. Place a large elastic band around the packet. This is to hold the nappies in place around the outside.

Place a large elastic band around the packet first, then add the nappies around the outside.

Pull the large elastic band towards you and in the gap, slot the nappies around one by one. This will be the base. Add more nappies around the outside until you are happy with the size of the cake. I made the base 3 nappies wide.

Now for the second layer. Start the second layer as the first, by adding another large elastic band around the packet of wipes. Keep adding nappies around the outside until it is the size you want. I did this tier 1 nappy wide.

Second tier. 

Now you can start adding the baby products and accessories to go on your cake. Play around with it and see what you like the best. Add some ribbon and its good to go.

Here's how I finished it off: I took out a couple of nappies from the front and added the baby wash and powder. At this stage I thought the large teddy looked out of place on the top, so I decided to add another row of nappies to both the bottom and top layers. 

There are 97 nappies in this cake.

Because of the extra layers I added the cake no longer fit on a regular cake board. Luckily hubby had an old MDF tabletop in the garage and painted it white for me. I chose to put the baby powder, wash, hat and onesie around the bottom. I tucked these into the large elastic band first. Then I folded up the muslin wrap and used it around the top layer. The teddy was then place on top, with the baby cream secured with some masking tape. I wrapped ribbon around the outside of each layer to cover up the elastic and added some cardboard letters to the board.

Then the entire thing was wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon to hold it in place.  I forgot to take an earlier photo of it wrapped, so this was taken on my way to the party. 

This was a really fun and fairly easy to make project, plus it was made for a fraction of the cost of buying one.

Congratulations to the Mum-to-be!