Friday, July 31, 2009

frugal friday

Around about this time I'd quite like to fall over a wee bag of money of the footpath. I'm doing the whole frugal thing quite nicely, but, man, the bills! Since starting back at school our gal's come home with four different notes for incursions and excursions - all requiring cashola to be handed over. Which I do. Plus we got our first winter electricity bill, with me working at home every day {with air con on most days...} and the pool filter and in-floor cleaning thing happening. It was a bit of an ouchy bill... And let's not even talk about the testra bill that I've been dealing with for two months - and still hasn't been resolved. Anyone recommend another phone company? Anyone?

Next week I'm going on-line and hunting down the best option for my phone. I'm thinking about stripping back my plan to the most basic - what's the point in getting 50 free calls if I only make 40 calls per month? I need to do some serious comparisons and cut my costs way, way down. And then? Well, next stop is to find two new sources of income - you can't coast along when you're a freelancer - always pays to stay a step ahead!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

what we're eating this week

Meant to post this yesterday, but blogger wouldn't let me post! So here's our meals for the next week. I've got two new recipes - tonight's stir-fry and tomorrow night's slow-braised chicken dish. Tragically I do need a recipe for stir-fry as I'm just crap at the damned things - but I know they're {meant to be} simple and healthy. Let's hope this one's a success!

Thursday: beef, broccoli and almond stir-fry
Friday: slow-braised chicken in white wine
Saturday: parmesan crumbed pork cutlets with mashed pumpkin and steamed mix greens
Sunday: seven hour roast lamb with roasted veg
Monday: vegetarian frittata with salad
Tuesday: lamb chops with roasted potato chips, vichy carrots and mushy peas
Wednesday: beef casserole in the slow cooker

My gal and I have been watching Maeve O'Meara's {sp?} Food Safari every night on Lifestyle Food this week and it's utterly fascinating. We're learning so much about different cultures it's impressive. Now that my gal wants to be a chef {like most Aussie kids thanks to MasterChef} she's all culinarily-inspired. So we're going to seek out recipes from the cuisines we've followed {Sri Lankan, Brazillian and Hungarian so far} and try out new tastes and recipes. I'll also take her to the Asian food supermarket down in the west-end - that'll be an experience for her!

shoe boop be doo

Hello lover... Have you seen anything more delicious than the shade of grape in these patent pretties? Mr Louboutin did mighty fine with these wedges of wonder.

In my dreams I'm tripping around in them wearing my dove grey jersey wrap dress - but I'd love to sizzle by pairing them with a red pencil skirt. Le sigh...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

time-saving tuesday

Hey, I'm back-ish... Went to Sydney yesterday for a meeting, and managed to slip in a wee spot of shopping while I was there. Went to two op-shops and got myself some fabbo books - and a 1950s Vogue dress pattern that's just got to be the makings of a party frock for moi. However, all said shopping and meetings have left me with a wee sore head. Ouch. Went back to bed for an hour, until a knocking at the door disturbed me {not enough to get up to answer it, just enough to decide to get up...}

So, onto time-saving Tuesday. I'm a huge, huge, huge fan of to-do lists. I've got 'em all over the house and on my computer, however, I've learned the ultimate trick in getting your to-do list done. Only have three items {MAX} on your to-do list for the day. That's it - three - no more. I know, of course you've got heaps more things you should do - but just write down the things you MUST DO.

See, what you need is a couple of lists: daily, weekly, monthly and long-term. Work out what you need to do over the long-term and then order each item in terms of how life-savingly important it is. If you have 20 items on your to-do list you'll only get through a few and will then feel crap, before transporting them onto tomorrow's list of 20 things, that you won't get through...

So, do this. Write three achievable things on your list today, cross 'em off - and feel fan-fabu-tastic about it. You'll save time by not faffing about in a stress about all the things you've got to do, and shall feel calm, cool and in-control.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

that's entertainment

We had one of those lovely evenings last night. You know the one? You go along to a friend's house for a meal, the kids are playing, the adults are nibbling, sipping and chatting... The food's delish, abundant and exactly what you're in the mood for. The conversation veers from one fascinating topic to another. Champagne's always on the table... And you end the night in a taxi buzzing with joy.

That's what I call entertaining.

PS: how much do I want a blowsy floral wallpaper after using this pic? Heaps!

Friday, July 24, 2009

meaty goodness

My gal had a friend over for a sleepover tonight, so I set them to work making dinner to earn their keep. We had baked chicken meatballs with linguine and damn, they were good. Here's the recipe:

600g chicken mince
6 thin slices of prosciutto, chopped
4 french shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 slice of bread, grated
1 egg
1/2 tsp dried thyme
grated rind of 1/4 lemon
salt, pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and form into balls the size of ping pong balls. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 180 for around 20 minutes or until golden and firm, turning once during cooking.

Serve on linguine with a simple sauce made with passata, garlic, onion, pesto, red wine vinegar, white wine, salt and pepper.

If desired you could stir meatballs through the sauce and leave them to simmer for 10 minutes, but these were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and had such an array of flavours from the lemon and prosciutto I'd serve them on top of the sauce {and actually, I did - with just a grating of parmigano regiano over the top}.

The girls were chuffed with themselves and gobbled their whole plate up {asking for extra meatballs mind}, my husband thought they were divine, and I got yet another lemon fix for my tastebuds. Gotta be happy with that!

absolute essentials

Well, my gal's at the movies with two of her besties, I've sent off both pieces of work due for today, there's washing on the line and now I can choose one essential task to cross off the "should-do" list. I have my essentials {washing clothes and dishes, cooking, shopping} and anything else in the household arena comes after the essentials and my work is done. Sure, that means that I currently have dustbunnies the size of tumbleweeds rolling down my hall, but, really, it's not going to kill us. {well, maybe if we had serious allergies, which we don't...}

So now, my task of choice is to tidy up that which poses a health hazzard {magazines on the floor - husband, I'm looking at you!} and then vacuum. If I'm so inclined I might give the sink and toilet a quick spritz, and then a cup of tea, a spot of afternoon cooking shows, and then a wander to the butcher to pick up my special fresh chicken mince I ordered for tonight's meatballs.

My home's not spotless, but really, isn't life about priorities? Chatting with a friend this morning cemented this. When you've got a lot going on you can't possibly do everything, which can get you so down you end up doing nothing. So my motto is to choose something, do it well, and the rest? Shrug my shoulders and say "what the hell..."

frugal friday

Well, we managed to get through our holiday without spending up too hugely, and I must say that cooking dinner's at home was probably the key. Coming home I've also tried to base our meals around what we already had - only buying fresh meat and a few veg for our meals. Whenever I'm meal-planning for the week I like to check out what I already have in the pantry or fridge and go from there - with some basic staples you can create so much. I like to have the following on hand:
sweet potatoes
green veg
lemons or limes
tinned tomatoes
tomato paste
chicken and beef stock
arborio rice
fresh nuts: slivered almonds, pistachios, walnuts - all kept in the fridge for freshness
dried herbs
fresh thyme and rosemary
puff pastry

With these essentials you've got the base of almost any meal. I've also always got red wine, white wine, rosé, champagne and beer in the fridge to make any sauce special. If I find any of these items on special, I'll stock up, they don't sit in the pantry for long. This way I can always stretch a meal too - adding an extra side dish or a baguette if we have an unexpected guest or two for dinner.

Nibbles with drinks are also easy to whip up - a hot spicy nut mix is easy made by popping nuts on a baking tray, dotting with butter and brown sugar and a bit of cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Baked in a hot oven for 5 minutes, it's delish. Or I'll sauté up some slices of chorizo, deglazing the pan with a little red wine and pepper to pour over the top. A little more time and I'll caramelise some onions and thyme and make teeny puff pastry tarts.

A well-stocked pantry is a frugal-foodies best friend, as Liss from can attest with her latest challenge! What are your pantry staples?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

becoming besties with your butcher

As you know, I'm keen to support local businesses, which is why I'll walk down the street to my local butcher every couple of days to buy whatever I need for dinner. And, tell you what, if you ask politely, your butcher'll do almost anything you ask them {meat-wise that is}.

I went in yesterday to buy my chicken thighs for the pot pies {delish btw and a thousand times simpler than the Ina Garten recipe I'd used previously} and decided to buy the chuck steak for tonight's black ale and beef pie.

There was a new butcher there and I asked him if he'd mind slicing me up big chunks of steak - one inch thick - around a kilo of the stuff. Sure, no problem. So today, when I went to cook up the casserole, I simply sprinkled a few tablespoons of flour in the bag with the meat, added some dried mixed herbs, salt and pepper and mushed it all around. Then I diced up onion, garlic, carrots and celery and softened them in the pan for around 10 minutes in a good slug of oil. When soft, I simply threw in the beef and tossed it in the heat for a few minutes before pouring in my beer. After it stopped bubbling I topped it up with some beef stock, added a few wooden spoonfuls of tomato paste, a couple of bay leaves, a glug of worscester sauce and brought it to the boil.

Popping some baking paper over the top, I added a lid and flung it in a low oven {150 degrees} at 3.30pm and won't take it out till 6.30 when I serve it with colcannon mash and green beans.

my, my, my, my, MY

Oh Mr McQueen! Pour moi? You shouldn't have! Okay, divinity overload - how amazing are these heels? Sure, they cost as much as my first car {ah, the avocado green Datsun 120y - they don't make 'em like that anymore - thank goodness!} however, these shoes are prettiness personified with that pink sole and layers of ruffles. They'd really up the va-va-voom of any little black dress!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

naughty nigella

Well, I had my menu plan all set - until I sat down with a cup of tea to watch Nigella and promptly changed my mind. Now, because of Nigella, we're having Chicken Pot Pies for dinner rather than pork fillets.

Must say, pot pies are the perfect way to get a pastry fix, particularly when served in ramekins with only a circle of pastry on top.

Onions, garlic and pancetta are fried in oil till golden. Then toss chunks of 6 - 8 chopped chicken thighs in a ziplock bag with 2 1/2 tablespooons of flour and some dried thyme. Add this to the pan with a nob of butter, give it a stir till flour is cooked out then add around 375ml of chicken stock. Stir, then pour into ramekins and top with a round of puff pastry {with a few fork holes poked in the top} brush liberally with egg wash, sprinkle with salt flakes and bake at 200 degrees celcius till golden {20 mins-ish}.


what's cookin' wednesday

Now I'm back on track and ready to make a meal plan for the next week. It's a bit of a crazy week as I'm away on Sunday night and not back till late Monday, so hubby will be cooking for two of those days and we're off to a friend's for dinner on Saturday night where I'm just bringing a plate of nibbles. Here's what we're eating in between:

Wednesday, pork fillets wrapped in prosciutto and baked on a bed of rhubarb, served with broccolini and sweet potato chips {this is in a book I bought on hols - possible Jamie - found for half price in a wee shop in Gulgong - buy of the trip!}
Thursday: Beef stew, colcannon and green beans
Friday: Baked chicken meatballs with linguine
Saturday: dinner at our friends' - need to think of tasty nibbles to whip up
Sunday: I'm away, so no roast, steak and veg will make my hubby happy
Monday: Spaghetti bolognaise for when I schlep off the train, all tired and hungry
Tuesday: Chicken noodle soup {my gal's special request}

starry starry night

One of the coolest things about our four days in Mudgee was our Friday night trek out to the Observatory. Wowsers. Now, while it was a lot more rustic than I'd expected {we treked up a dark hill, behind a house and saw a tin shed an a couple of domes on the side of a hill - and climbed up and down ladders to get the view} but oh my, what a sky.

Far away from the city lights the sky was just bedazzled with stars - it was amazing and gob-smackingly gorgeous. And because the observatory was privately-owned, the owner was there happy to share his knowledge and love of the stars. Through telescopes I saw a jewelbox of constellations, incredible nebulas and a star in its death-throes {damned spectacular}.

The owner had a helper there with him and between them they had the coolest thing ever - a laser pointer with a 20km reach. That meant I could say, "Where's Scorpio?" and they'd point to it and draw around it - it was so clear and cool.

There was a little cloud which obscured Saturn for most of the time we were there. But we went into the shed and watched a 15 minute DVD on Saturn and when we came out it was peeking out to say hi. Because nothing was too much trouble, these blokes then moved the telescopes to focus on the planet and we saw it in all its glory. It was almost side-on, so the rings were merely lines dissecting the planet - but still, dead cool.

All this for $10 per adult and $5 for kids. Best money I've ever spent.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

time-saving tuesday

Even though I work from home, I still like to be a bit stepfordy around the home, so I'm always looking at ways to trim time from my tasks. And I thought I might start sharing the love. Sometimes the simplest things evade our notice. I know that I used to think that menu-planning was for weirdos with too much time on their hands and a lack of creativity. Now, I see it as quite possibly the best invention ever {yep, topping the wheel, fire, iMacs, television...}

So that's number one on my list: here's number two. I remember years ago going to a friend's house who had three kids under five and being amazed when I noticed her washing line. She had a fabulous old silver hills hoist and on three of the quarters were hung particular items of clothing - each child had a section completely dedicated them. I quickly wrote that off as far-too-much-trouble. However, lately, in an effort to stem my moving various piles of washing from one flat surface to another - but rarely the correct surface {which would be inside the proper drawer or on the correct hanger} I decided to take in the washing in a certain order: my gal's clothes, my clothes and hubby's clothes: and a certain manner according to drawer or wardrobe space {socks and underwear, tops, pants, etc}.

Now, this sounds insane, however, it means that because I fold when I take it off the line, I have to merely take the basket into my daughter's room and then our room, and remove the clothing straight into the correct spot. A little bit of time out in the sunshine of the backyard spent sorting, means less time putting away {my most-loathed of task}. And I reckon I'm getting a wee bit of incidental exercise with that moving around {however, if I had a lovely spinning Hills Hoist I'd just have to spin it - easy-peasy}.

So now, it's 4.43pm and all the clothes from our holiday are washed and packed away - not sitting in teetering piles all over the house. This takes me to a happy place!

simple tastes

After spending our long weekend away cooking the meals each night {as the weekend was my mother-in-law's birthday pressie I wanted her to totally relax} we got home last night, after six hours on the road, and I was after simplicity for our meal. So, I had a packet of spaghettini, some pesto-marinated-feta bought in Mudgee and some chorizo in the fridge {now it's a staple!}

I cooked up the spaghettini till just before al-dente, sauteed some slices of chorizo and then tossed the pasta with a spoonful of cooking water in the frypan with the crispy chorizo. I then broke up some of the feta, tossed it in with a little of the oil and pesto and shook the pan around to distribute it.

There: dinner's served.

On our weekend away I was thrilled to discover a big, fat, free-standing smeg oven in the kitchen, all shiny stainless-steel and cavernous space. So I knew I'd be cooking up in the oven on the first night. Off to the butcher and the grocer and I made a couple of shephard's pies with local lamb mince and topped with plenty of creamy mash. Served with some broccoli and sweet corn on the side. MMMmmmm.

Day two saw us head to the Farmer's Markets, in search of a fat pig - which we found in the local Ormiston Free Range pork. I bought a voluptuous shoulder and roasted it with plenty of root vegies that night, and sweet little bursts of peas. The pork was a lush, ruby red, with a rind that made the most crisp, sweet crackling. Oh my. Delish.

Sunday morning we had the eggs left by the owners of the cottage we rented, and, oh my. Blue and green perfect hen's eggs greeted me when I opened the carton - almost too pretty to crack. However, we'd also bought some pork chippolatas to have with scrambled eggs {and french sourdough toast - from a v popular stall at the markets...} so I cracked away. The richest, lushest yolks and whites greeted me - and made me yearn to make custard with such beauties. However, I do think the creamy scramble did them justice.

Sunday night was a lazy night in preparation for the MasterChef finale. I cheated and bought some King Island Gourmet Beef pies which I served with mash, gravy, peas, corn and broccoli. And, hello, for a cheating meal it was damned fine.

I reluctantly bade farewell to my mega smeg, and came home to my standard-size number. But, realistically, with a family of three it'd be tough to justify losing cupboard space for the extra oven-width. However, for a butler's sink I'd happily skim a few inches from a cupboard or two...


I reckon that the best thing about a holiday is coming home. Don't get me wrong, I looooooove the holiday aspect {and our four days in Mudgee were so relaxing and gorgeous} but driving back into my home-town I realise how much I love where I live. Walking up to my front gate I soak in my garden and home, and fall in love with it all over again. There's no place like home.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

frugal friday {well, nearly}

I can't skip frugal friday - and I'll be too busy to post in the morning. So here goes. This week was all about budgets. Going through, trimming, skimming, plotting and planning. We've got a date to pay off debt, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get there.

When we were at Uni I remember having only a few dollars till the next payday - and making do. We ate well, went out and saw bands, dressed okay {still in op-shop clothes mind - some things never change} and I think it's time to re-embrace that attitude.

We might be headed off for a four-day weekend, but I've packed plenty of stuff to take with us. There's snacks to eat on the way, bottles of water filled from our purifier, soup for lunch on arrival and we're even taking our coffee machine with us to save buying takeaway {yes, big benchtop coffee machine, five people, luggage for four days, Holden Astra...}

Making frugal fun!

country roads...

We're headed off for four days in the country bright and early in the morning. We'll be staying at Mudgee and this is one of the places I'm dead keen to visit - a cafe in an old butchery {I think I'll be coveting those tiled walls...}

My gal and I are also off to the Observatory tomorrow night - can't wait to see the skies without any city lights to dazzle.

There's a farmer's market to explore on the Saturday, plenty of vineyards, a number of gourmet fooderies... I reckon we'll have a damned fine time.

See you all next week!

the kids are aw-right

Saw it. Adored it. Can't wait for the final two films. Am desperate to re-read the whole series. Am utterly besotted with these three - love 'em all. Still have an evil crush on Snape {I know!}. Cried. Laughed. Gasped. Was amazed I didn't have nightmares about scary things in the water. Want to live in the Weasley's house. Think Helena Bonham-Carter was exquisite and wish my curls would behave in the same manner as Bellatrix's. Am reduced to short sentences with its magnificence. Go see.

shiny shiny bad times behind me

A dozen Tra La La Las would trip from my lips wearing these sparkly Miu Miu numbers. I know my friend M is dying a million deaths that they're not in her wardrobe - and me too - considering we're the same size {hey, it's my birthday in a few weeks - I'm a size 37 - thanks}