Monday, 30 June 2008

Monday's Menus and other Mayhem

We have thus far survived our first day of holidays...thanks to the Dentist. We've been using the school dental service for a number of years now and when we had to return for follow up work today was the best pick. We've had three hours there....two fissure seals, one repair job, one filling...and will need to return for another set of fissure seals. Oh yes, we just looooove the dentist. Actually, it's the boredom we don't love. The two sets of dental students we've seen these past two visits have both been lovely and done their job well. I have dim sims steaming as a special treat to reward my children for their good behaviour.

So what are we eating this week?

Monday: Roast lamb & vegies
Tuesday: Lamb & Veg Soup, homemade dinner rolls
Wednesday: Ricotta Gnocchi with tomato pest sauce
Thursday: Ratatoullie & cheesy polenta
Friday: Chicken Curry, carrots, broccoli, brown rice
Saturday: Homemade Pizza
Sunday: Roast Chicken vegies

None of our regularly scheduled meals happened yesterday. Thanks to me we were locked out of our house for the afternoon, having left the house keys in a bag that I returned to Rel at church. They happily went on their way to an inner city suburb for the arvo. We inflicted ourselves on some good friends who are quite relaxed about spontaneous happenings. We had a lovely time together and I am very grateful for their hospitality!

Sunday, 29 June 2008


I have this sneaking suspicion that there will be some significant retraining happening beyond my picket fence, for the next three weeks.

You see, my children are extroverts. Heaven forbid that we should be content to be with ourselves and enjoy our own company without any help from other people! I threatened them yesterday with the notion that perhaps we should go nowhere and do nothing so that they learn to entertain themselves and enjoy the slower pace that holidays provide us with!

Poor Mr Busy seems to be the only one who may be happy to just play with his sisters. When he begged Miss Mischief to come and play 'offices' with him she said "No! I'm tired of playing boy things" (ok, that's news to me. I thought that was a generic kids game!) he said "OK, let's play a girls game", to which she responded in exasperation "What would YOU know about girl games, you're a BOY". Poor little man! He tried so hard to be accommodating.

Oh to have children that revel in being at home!

Friday, 27 June 2008

More from Mr Busy

I've got the "blah's". You come home and you've got any number of things you could do, but you can't be bothered doing any of them? Like, if someone phoned and said "come and do xyz with me" you'd jump at the chance? Yeah...that's where I'm at!

So, rather than bore anyone with details, I thought I'd post another little conversation with my entertaining son. This is what goes through the mind of an 8yo boy before he's even had a moment to engage his brain when his Mum wakes him up:

Me: Come on mate, time to wake up.
Mr Busy: Mum, my eyes have run away.
Me: Really? Where have they gone?
Mr Busy: I don't know, but I can't go to school without them.
Me: Yeah, you're gonna have a tough day if you can't see where you're running.
Mr Busy: I'll have to stay home.
Me: I think not. You'll have to use a white cane that the blind people use.
Mr Busy: humph

This boy just never ceases to amaze me. I mean really, who else would come up with such an elaborate tale within 3 seconds of being woken up from a dead sleep????? As it happened, he went off to school very happily and had a wonderful day!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Apricot Chicken

My children aren't fond of Apricot Chicken. It hasn't featured on a menu plan of mine for quite some time. However, every now and then you just have to try again! My Mum's recipe calls for a tin of apricot nectar and a packet of dried french onion soup mix. I decided to try something else last week and it worked the point that the two kids who were home to eat it, actually admitted that it was pretty good!'s a recipe for Apricot Chicken that is recommended by kids!

Apricot Chicken

Chicken Pieces ~ enough for your family
1 tin (400g) apricot nectar
1 onion, diced finely
2 teaspoons chicken stock powder (or 2 cubes)

  1. Place the chicken pieces in a casserole dish.
  2. Saute the onions in a little olive oil until transparent and tender.
  3. Add the apricot nectar and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the chicken stock powder.
  4. Pour the nectar mixture over the chicken pieces.
  5. Place a lid on the casserole dish and bake for about an hour at 160C/350F.
There you have it. An easy peasy meal that tastes really scrummy and without all the nasty additives or too-strong flavours from that packet of dried soup!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Little Blessings

You know, I could write a great lengthy post about parental responsibility and how that relates to education. Goodness knows many bloggers have very strong opinions on the subject. I'm no different. My opinions just don't match up completely with many others LOL.

Rather than do that, I want to list all the blessings I receive by being hands-on at school, in my kids classrooms:

* I get to know my children's friends.
* We have an intimate understanding of where my kids are at, without needing reports or interviews.
* I have developed friendships with each staff member I have worked with, outside of being in their classroom. I have continued to help them out beyond having my kids in their classes on different occasions.
* My children know I'm serious about their education.
* We're able to deal with any issue (social and educational) as it arises, because we know about it early.
* We work together with our teachers to deal with difficult issues, rather than working separately. Our kids have received a well-rounded and supportive approach that has helped them immensely.
* Our teachers know that they are supported by us because of our actions, not just our words.
* Often, our teachers are able to focus on the task of teaching more fully, because I have been able to take on some admin type tasks for them.

My last blessing to mention is one that happened today! Miss Sunshine's teacher and her class had made a card for me, and gave me a little packet of dark chocolate ( favourite) to say thank you for the time I spent this term, with them. I will cherish that card long after the chocolate is gone! They are all so very special and I am indeed the one who has gained so very much. It is a true privilege to be made to feel that I am part of the class!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Monday's Menu


This week brings with it the end of our Term 2. I think we're all ready for it: kids, parents and teachers. My menu reflects that desire for the end....I was after quick, simple, easy and light. I'm saving my more time consuming preparation recipes for next month when we get the first three weeks off.

Monday: Vegetable Lasagna (didn't do it last week!)
Tuesday: Roast chicken, vegies
Wednesday: Moussaka, steamed vegies
Thursday: Pasta with creamy bacon & mushroom sauce
Friday: Lionshead Meatballs, stir fried vegies, brown rice
Saturday: Out for dinner
Sunday: Chicken Noodle Soup

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Wild Experience or Quiet Whisper?

Picture from

"The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord for the Lord is about to pass by.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the care. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"."
1 Kings 19:11-14

I came upon this passage in my daily devotions a few weeks back. It spoke deeply to my heart. Perhaps because I'm a 'gentle whisper' kind of person. When I seek God, that's what I yearn to hear. His gentle whisper brushing over my soul, surrounding me completely and speaking to my innermost being.

It concerns me when people are more interested in the 'signs and wonders' of faith, and appear to seek them, over seeking the 'gentle whisper'. That gentle whisper has far more depth than some people seem to imagine.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


Yesterday I completed my first parenting course, as facilitator. Oh there is something very satisfying about getting through sick sick Mum. We all stayed healthy and I didn't have to deal with that little curve ball. Dh has been a little unwell...but he can care for himself!

It went the way I envisioned each week. The ladies who participated were fantastic and the feedback I've heard over the month has been very positive, in terms of the way they are applying things they're learning. I felt very encouraged by the feedback on the facilitator evaluation forms. Interestingly their only 'improvement' was to say they wanted Dad's to be involved in it. Interesting because it was these same women who said they didn't want to come out at night and a day time thing would've been better. Hmmmmmm.

I went straight from that to an excursion with Mr Busy's class (because us Mum's are crazy and we just aren't busy enough already!). I was telling our Prep teacher about it and she was very interested, given that it aims at families with 0-4yo's, and she bares the brunt of less-than-wonderful parenting! In fact she has considered going in and spending some time with the mum's who are involved in our 3-5yo program and so was very excited to learn that there is a parenting course for parents of littlies! I've given her some information to look through over the weekend, and she has encouraged me to approach the Principal with the proposal of offering it to families with young children in our community. The ethos of our school lends itself really well to doing these things. So we'll see where it goes.

For right now, I'm just glad to go back to a dull-roar in life, rather than being flat out! And I'm looking forward to the end of Term 2. Three weeks holiday stretch before us after next week and I can't wait!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Rubish Free Lunch Day

This week our school has participated in a Rubbish Free Lunch Day. I have yet to hear the results of it. However, it was a worthwhile exercise I think.

The kids had to collect all their lunch rubbish that was not recyclable in a bag to be weighed by the Year 5/6's. The next the next day they had to bring their lunch to school in reusable or recyclable containers and weight what rubbish there was again. I hope there will be something in the newsletter today about it to see how well we all did with it!

In our house, we dug out the Tupperware boxes and used those. They were such a hit that the kids have all agreed that we should continue to put our sandwiches in these containers. They opted for cling wrap for their recess snack ~ the containers I had were too hard for little fingers to open. So I will have to look at containers with more pliable seals I think. That was their only reason, and for the sake of their teachers, I think it only fair to ensure that they can open the containers themselves!

Our family is going green!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Kitchen is the Heart of the Home

So it seems, anyway. If you spend as much time as I do in there, it is certainly where 'everything' seems to happen! In the past month we've had two different girls from school come and sleep over. One remarked "You do a lot of cooking!", to which I replied "My family do a lot of eating!".

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm also a real sticky beak and I loooovvvveeee getting a little glimpse of what other people's homes look like. While I am very reluctant to share photos of my family or much of our home, for security reasons, I think kitchens are very similar the world over. They have ovens, stoves, many have microwaves, a fridge, a sink etc. So I'm taking a step out of my 'norm' and share a photo of my kitchen.

I wanted to say 'Welcome' to all you 'new' ladies who have commented in the last couple of days. I get a lot of joy from just knowing you're there and I appreciate your comments.

Kamailesfood ~ I didn't take your comment yesterday as rude, at all. I was thinking to myself "oh I feel your pain!". I don't enjoy summer heat. And trying to cook in it...well, that is my little version of a nightmare! You're so right ~ I wouldn't attempt soup in the heat of summer either!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008


I feel like I'm all hither and thither at the moment...and this poor blog, and therefore all of you who read it, are getting less than I what I think I could be doing. I seem to be spending more time running in and out than normal. I've already spent some extra time at school this week and have an ongoing editing project that is ready for me to do some more work on, so I may spend some more time there tomorrow...perhaps from lunch time ~ I need some time at home in the productive hours of my day!

In any case....all that to say, my cop out post for today is to honour my promise to post the recipe for Moussaka.


2 large eggplants, sliced thinly
1 large brown onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1kg lamb mince
400g can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
White Sauce
80g butter
1/3 cup plain flour
2 cups milk

  1. Place eggplant on a baking tray lined with baking paper and spray with olive oil. Place in a preheated hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until eggplant is tender and has started to colour. Remove from oven and turn the temperature down to 180C/350F.
  2. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan; cook onion and garlic, until onion has softened, stirring frequently. Add mince; cook, stirring, until mince changes colour. Stir in undrained tomatoes, wine and cinnamon; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes or until liquid has evaporated.
  3. Make white sauce: Melt butter, add flour; cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Gradually add milk; stir until mixture boils and thickens.
  4. Place a third of the eggplant, overlapping slices slightly, in dish; spread half of the meat sauce over eggplant. Repeat layering with another third of the eggplant, remaining meat sauce and remaining eggplant. Spread white sauce over the top layer, then sprinkle with cheese.
  5. Cook, uncovered, in oven for about 40 minutes or until top browns lightly.
  6. Remove from oven and stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, 16 June 2008

M - Day: Menus on Monday


My word, what a day! As I ran out the door this morning I thought to grab a light lunch. Just as well I did. MrBusy's teacher asked me 2 weeks ago to bring in my sewing machine because she wanted to have the kids having a little go. She brought hers in it was set to be a busy day. I remembered that the Prep-2's have PE together and the 1/2's have art through the middle of the day. I'm glad I had my lunch. I did stay all day and I was busy for all of it! Had I thought about it earlier in my day before leaving for school I would've popped on here and posted my menu. Ah can't have it all, all at the same time, can you?!

This week Beyond My Picket Fence, we will be having:

Monday: Spinach & Feta Pie, vegies
Tuesday: CP Apricot Chicken, scallop potatoes, carrots, beans
Wednesday: Pork & Apple Meatloaf, vegies
Thursday: Wraps ~ chicken, tomato, lettuce, cheese, sour cream
Friday: Lamb & Veg Soup (CP)
Saturday: Vegetable Lasagna
Sunday: Wonton Soup

Heather, I will post a recipe for Moussaka this week sometime. It really is very simple and after watching 'The Cook and The Chef' on ABC1 a few weeks back I learned a trick to make it a little quicker too.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Perfection or Good Enough?

I have had two little conversations this week with full time working Mum's. One was online, one was this morning on the phone. Both of these women have circumstances this week that have had them wishing they were able to be right where her mother-heart would have her be. My heart just ached for both of these ladies.

Whilst I don't know the online lady too well, the IRL friend has had a rather large impact in our family. She taught Miss Mischief in Year 3 and Year 4 ~ two straight years. This fellow Mum has journeyed with us in shaping Miss Mischief and one day, when Miss Mischief is all grown up, this friend will have the right to say "I helped do that".

However, these conversations have been on my mind and have had me pondering the perfect family myth. I mentioned that I'm facilitating a parenting course, targeted at families with 0-4yo's. One of the things we looked at was what our idea of the perfect family is, and then we talked about being 'good enough'. Being a 'good enough' Mum (and Dad!) means that we're providing a close and caring relationship with our kids. We recognise and respond to their needs. We protect our kids by setting limits and ensuring they are safe. We provide them opportunities to learn and develop and we help them learn to resolve conflict and to cooperate with others.

You know what I think? I think that God places men AND women to be in all kinds of places. He calls some of us to be SAHM's...but He calls others to workplaces that impact on the people around them in positive ways. To all you who are working Mum's and face this dilemma of priorities and all of us who feel like we're not doing a very good job as a Mum....I would say we are. Being Good Enough is indeed good enough!

Now you'll have to excuse me while I go and have myself a little cry for all the precious women who need to know they're doing a great job.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

This is the conversation Mr Busy and I had after we'd dropped the girls off at Girls Brigade.

Mr Busy: Mum, do you have to marry someone you know?
Me: Well, it's a bit hard to marry someone you don't know!
Mr Busy: Oh (very thoughtfully)
Me: Why, is there someone you think you want to marry?
Mr Busy: Don't worry!!!!!!
Me: No, I'm not...but is there someone you've been thinking you want to marry?
Mr Busy: No....I'm still thinking about it. I suppose I should wait until after I learn to drive first.
Me: Yeah, I suppose you should wait til you're all grown up. It's not urgent!

He's so very very cute!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Hectic Days and Pre-Schoolers

Do you ever have days, or indeed weeks, where you feel like no matter how fast you run, you just can't keep up? I thought having a public holiday on Monday would set the week up and things would be easier to move through. I couldn't have been more wrong, and yet, the hectic pace has been filled with many blessings!

On Tuesday while I was waiting to see the dentist my SIL phoned me. Her church was having a women's evening that night and she wanted to invite me along. Oh. My. Goodness. It was beautiful and uplifting. The room was filled with tables covered in white cloths, with a square platter in the centre of each, and scattered with rose petals and a single fat candle. The lighting was gentle. They had tea & coffee with biscuits (cookies) when we arrived and then they brought out some hot savouries as well. The walls were decorated with simple draped fabrics that were all colour coordinated, and fairy lights about the place. A couple of ladies performed to music, showing us a picture of how God pursues us, how we run away and the transformation that happens when we surrender.

Two ladies spoke. They were not professional speakers....but they were genuine and honest. They shared a little of their journey and a little about Esther in the Bible. I came away from that evening feeling blessed and refilled. The caper that went on to get my children and their dinner to my SIL's so that my BIL could have the kids for the evening was more than worth it, and I'm glad I said yes!!!

The last two days have begun VCE exams at school. One of my good friends is the chief supervisor at our school, and so I have been catapulted back into the life of a pre-school routine. I have picked her son up and brought him home to my place where he has enjoyed watching ABC Kids and having tickle fights. My dh has popped in for lunch both days and so dh has taught young Master C to growl his best growl! I had quite forgotten what it is like to have young children at home through the day, but he is such a beautiful little boy and we've enjoyed our time together. He got into my car yesterday with quite a plan of exactly what he wanted to do when he arrived....have a drink, eat his lunch....and watch ABC Kids!!!!! Now that, I can handle!

In amongst all this I have also been preparing for this week's session of the parenting course I'm facilitating. I have yet to prepare a couple of activities, but will do that this evening. I can do what I need to while watching TV, so it won't be a problem. I just hate that I've left it to the last minute. Unfortunately there was no way around it. I didn't want to be having the laminator going with Master C here. He was so enthralled with the pasta machine that I decided it would be best to leave the hot tasks to some other time!

I have also managed to finish my book for Book Club tomorrow night. I didn't think I'd make it but I have done so with plenty of time to spare. I had prayed that God would help me get through everything this week, and He has superseded my request by a long sight! The book was absolutely fabulous. But then Rel's taste is always impeccable, so I never imagine that I won't enjoy the designated book. I've not been disappointed yet....I have been stretch here and there, but that's always a good thing! I will post a review after I've been to chat about it.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

"All the Tea in China" by Jane Orcutt

What is it about?
Isabella Goodrich is the orphaned niece of an Oxford Dean. She is well-bred, well educated and independent. Phineas Snowe is a missionary in China...or so he says. Isabella feels convinced, by a string of occurrences that she should follow Mr Snowe to China to help in his mission work there. She stows away on the East India Company ship that Mr Snowe is traveling on and discovers not only the truth about the mysterious Phineas Snowe, but much about herself also.

What I thought:
I loved this book for many reasons! Firstly the language captured me. Bordering between Jane Austen and modern day 'proper' English, I pleasured in a novel that was not sloppy in its grammar. It was not difficult at all to imagine the English accent that the characters would have had. The character of Isabella was beautifully depicted. She is a plucky, determined spirit and this fuels her faith-driven goals. I found it easy to identify with her on many levels. Jane was able to morph Phineas Snowe from an unattractive, argumentative man on first impression, into a compassionate and dedicated person who loves deeply and fully.

'All the Tea in China' is a beautiful story that reminded me that first impressions are not all they are cracked up to be, and that compassion for others should compel us into action for their benefit.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Apple Slice

This recipe has been handed down from my Mum and is a firm family favourite. She thrilled my children recently, by making this for dessert....because my children are easily thrilled, simply by the fact that there is dessert! For me, I was taken for a trip down memory lane! You can serve this for a special afternoon tea, or for dessert, served with whipped cream.

Apple Slice

185g butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 tin (400g) pie apple, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar, extra

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease and line a slice tin with baking paper (7x11 inches).
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in sifted flour and spices.
  4. Spread half the mixture into prepared pan. Spread the apple over the base and spread with the remainder of the cake mixture (you will need a dinner knife, dipped in hot water to spread the cake mixture as it is quite a stiff dough). Sprinkle the stop with extra sugar, if desired.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes.

Menu Planning Monday


"What's for dinner Muuuummmm?" No one's asked yet, but I promise it will come! We have a public holiday today to celebrate the Queen's Birthday. Say what you will about the monarchy vs being a republic...I'm enjoying the opportunity to have a day off in the middle of a very long school term. There will be lots of relaxing and baking happening beyond my picket fence today!

When my kids do ask what's for dinner they will be VERY excited! They love today's meal.

Monday: Tuna & Rice Casserole
Tuesday: Honey mustard chicken pieces, brown rice, steamed vegies
Wednesday: Vegie Rolls, potato wedges, vegetables au gratin
Thursday: Creamy mushroom & bacon pasta
Friday: Crumbed lamb chops with cranberry sauce
Saturday: Singapore Noodles
Sunday: Chinese corn soup...perhaps with wontons or prawn crackers...something!

For those who requested, the Dutch Apple Cake recipe is posted after this post. I will post the Apple Slice recipe later on today.

Dutch Apple Cake

I really do wish I was better at taking photos of the recipes I post. It's a blogging failure that I hope I will be able to improve on at some point very soon!!!!

This recipe came to me via a good friend, who served these for afternoon tea one day when we were over there. I just had to take the recipe with me.

Dutch Apple Cake

3 apples
125g butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sultanas
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Peel & chop apples into sultana-sized pieces. melt butter and beat with eggs. Sprinkle sugar and butter mixture over apples. Add sultanas.
  2. Combine dry ingredients; add apple mixture and mix well.
  3. Spread into a greased ring tin (20cm)
  4. Bake at 180C/350F for 45-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean when tested.
To make into muffins, grease a 12 muffin tray (or use paper patty pans), and place equal quantities of mixture into each one. Bake for about 20 minutes.

* You can used tinned pie apples, chopped up rather than raw apples.
* You can omit the sultanas if you don't have them or no one likes them.
* I used some 'pumpkin pie spice' that someone sent me a few years back because I had no cinnamon. The ingredients on that pumpkin pie spice had the right things, plus ginger. I figured it would be fine.
* I forgot the baking soda. Oops, oh well...I couldn't tell!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Sewing Catch Up

There has been a fair amount of needlework going on amongst the flurry of activity and the hectic pace of the last couple of weeks. Given all that has been accomplished, I thought it time to post some of the resulting works.

This is the next in a line of small stitcheries that I have been working on. You'll probably have to click on the picture to enlarge it enough to see the detail. I love the little scarecrow in the middle of the garden!

Wednesday was my second Block of the Month class. This month my group did the churn dash block. There was far less piecing to happen compared to last month so I was able to complete two blocks in the two hours. I need to do the other two this week and return the 1/4 inch foot to the quilt shop.
And finally....really, finally! These are the two give aways for Kate and Tina. It took me a week to acquire the bits & pieces I needed to do the framing. I'm pleased with the result and I hope they will be a blessing to you both. They will go in the mail on Tuesday.

An Update From Yesterday:

Dinner went beautifully. The visiting kids loved the gnocchi and the adults felt spoiled by homemade pasta. Our friend decided that a pasta machine would be a wonderful birthday gift for herself this year. I suspect they will be enjoying fettuccine and spaghetti from their own kitchen in the near future!

When we popped in to Safeway for salad ingredients, I was able to pick up 4 avocados for $1.50. Normally they are more than that each so we had TWO in the salad. We all felt spoiled by that little treat!

For dessert...the apple 'thing'. I decided to make a Dutch Apple Cake. Dh had bought 2.5kg tins of pie from from SPC when he was in Shepparton not long ago. The tins were $3 each. A bargain by any standard. He had used about 1/3 of the apple tin and frozen the rest. I defrosted it and used some in the cake. I'll use the rest for more cake, or my Mum's apple slice. Actually, I could do both...and the family will be thrilled.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Menu Stretching for Guests

I was thinking as I got up this morning I hadn't posted any recipes this week. I will fix that today, and combine two thoughts at the same time.

I got home yesterday after a full day out, with friends for an after school play. We had popcorn for the kids and cheese & crackers for the grown ups ~ special cheese we'd had left from the other night. All of these things I already had and everyone was quite satisfied. Whew, no trips to Safeway!

Dh also informed me that he'd invited some friends over for dinner on Saturday (today!) because he knew I wouldn't mind LOL. Well, I don't mind, but as always my head goes into a spin that looks like this "I don't have any extra meat for another family. I didn't plan on visitors, what will I feed them?!". I'm learning to take a breath and just say OK, until I've finished that head spin. It doesn't come out very well if I panic aloud! I took a look a my menu plan, which said gnocchi for tonight. Hmmmm....yes, that's filling and it can stretch. I also just bought 5kg of potatoes on my way back from Lilydale the other day, because they sell spuds cheaper than Safeway. One thing I have learned is that whatever we are having is usually quite suitable for drop in guests. There is always some meal on my plan that will stretch out without too much effort. Sometimes I have to swap a day or two around, and it's worth the time with friends to do it.

So what's my plan now?

Gnocchi with roasted tomato sauce (that goes in the oven)
Homemade pasta with bolognaise sauce (I can make the sauce ahead)
Tossed Salad
And for dessert....hmmmmm.....something with apple.

Gnocchi with Roasted Tomato Sauce

500g potatoes
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 chicken stock cube (or 1 teaspoon stock powder)
150ml evaporated milk
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 tablespoon of the evaporated milk

  1. Peel, cube and boil the potatoes until tender; drain.
  2. Mash potatoes finely and add the flour, egg and salt; mix well.
  3. Turn mixture out on to a lightly floured bench and knead for a couple of minutes.
  4. Take a quarter of the mixture at a time. Roll into a sausage shape until about 2.5cm/1in in diameter. Cut roll into 2.5cm lengths.
  5. Shape each piece into your desired gnocchi shape.
  6. Working in batches, cook the gnocchi in a pot of water at a rolling boil. Put the gnocchi in, and when they rise to the top, remove them with a slotted spoon, placing them in a greased casserole dish.
  7. Add the sauce & tomatoes, mixing gently, but thoroughly. Sprinkle with cheese, either tasty or parmesan and place in the oven for 20-30 minutes.
The Sauce
  1. Place the tomato halves on a baking tray, lined with baking paper and spray with olive oil. Place in a preheated oven (180C/350F) and bake for about 1/2 hour.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat a little olive oil, add the onion and cooked until soft. Stir in the stock cube and cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Combine the cornflour with a little of the evaporated milk. Add them together and pour into the pan. Stir constantly until sauce thickens.
It may look time consuming but the result is worth it. Get your kids to help you shape the gnocchi. My kids all sit on the other side of the bench and work at it together. We get it done in a snap.

Plain Pasta

2 cups plain flour
3 eggs

  1. Sift flour into a bowl and add eggs into a well in the centre. Mix flour into eggs gradually.
  2. Press mixture into a ball and knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Cover dough and stand for 20 minutes.
  3. Roll dough into desired thickness and cut into desired shape.
You can do this in the food processor, but I tend not do. I also have a pasta machine, thanks to my dh, so I am able to roll it through that and then cut into either spaghetti or fettuccine. I have made lasagna using this recipe, and then made the leftover dough into spaghetti and dried it on a cleaned clothes horse that has thick rails on it.

Once you've made your own pasta you will come back to it regularly. Not on the nights you need a quick meal perhaps, but you will be completely spoiled. It is soooooo luxurious!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Mists of Winter

I took some photos yesterday morning. The fog seems to really roll in around 7.30am where I am. It amused me that the news had been warning motorists to turn on their lights and adjust their speed according to visibility. Yet where I am, we regularly have heavy fog. Often if it's bright sunshine at home, it will still be deep fog at school, which is at the bottom of a big hill. At the top of the hill, when you look out towards the Warburton Ranges, you see the hilltops sitting above the sea of wispy fog below. It's quite a stunning view!

This is outside my front door. See, you always wondered what my picket fence looked like didn't you?! Well there it is ~ the inside of it anyway.

This view is out my back door. Thanks to the flash you can see the fog too clearly LOL. Normally out the back you would see the valley and another hill rising up behind it. Here is a perfect picture of the real view.

Winter has been here officially for five days now and we are yet to hit the coldest months. However, when I am shopping tonight I will be investigating a pair of boots with a low heel to wear with skirts. My feet were frozen solid whilst helping with PE at school on Monday!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Stretching the Grocery Budget

I didn't really set out to post a series on living frugally, however a conversation I had last night with a friend made me think I should post about how I stretch out our grocery budget. In Australia, for a family of five, spending $130 or less each week is considered impossible or miraculous. We do that every week. Occasionally I need to spend $140. But not often, if I can help it!

One of the ways I stretch out my grocery budget is to use mince. Not just beef mince. All kinds of different meats! Did you know that lamb & pork mince are cheaper than beef mince? And did you know that all are cheaper than chops or steaks of their kind? I bought lamb mince the other night to make my lamb rissoles at only $8.?? per kilo. The chops & spare ribs were more like $15/kg. Of course this was in my local Safeway, and if you live in the suburbs you'll be able to get better prices than I can. The point here is that mince was up to half the price of pieces of meat. Unfortunately the same doesn't hold true with chicken. Chicken legs or wings are almost always the cheapest way to buy it.

Another thing that I changed 5 years ago is to stop buying lunch box fillers. We don't buy any 'snackety packety' things anymore. I used to buy the generic brand of LeSnack's, cheese sticks, muesli bars and whatever else took our fancy. You know, just by avoiding those things I saved about $30 a week! Now I buy a box of salada crackers and two packets of rice crackers. The rice crackers last about 3 lunch box snacks and the salads last quite a few more. I pad those things out with home baked biscuits (cookies) and muffins. At home, we often have popcorn after school. It's only $1 for a packet of popping can make that go a long way! I pop it the old fashion way on the stove top and add a little bit of butter at the end. According one of Miss Sunshine's friends, I make the BEST popcorn. I dunno, it's just ordinary to us LOL.

When my Dh first left his lovely well-paying job to be self employed, I had to be very creative about our food budget. I mentioned yesterday about vegetarian meals. At that time I was alternating meat with vegetarian meals, so that over a two week period, we ate exactly half and half. I have to say, that was not the best thing for my health, as my iron levels dropped. However, I think if we had added the 'evil wretched beanies' to our diet (that would be legumes in Mr Busy speak) things may have been better for me. We are more comfortable with about 2-3 meals that are vegetarian in a week. This month I have decided that Sunday night will be soup night. You can get away with less meat in soups, or none at all.

I hear many many women saying their husbands just will not accept an evening meal without meat. You know, my husband wasn't thrilled. Let's face it, neither was I. However, it was necessary at the time and to some degree it still is. If you don't make a big deal about it being vegetarian, you may be surprised to find that it really isn't that big of a deal to anyone else, despite the attitude that is verbalised. A hearty soup, or a pasta meal, like gnocchi or lasagna are quite satisfying. If you get brave, try making your own pasta. My husband so enjoys homemade pasta that he doesn't even stop to think whether there is meat with it or not!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Living Well on Less

This picture from seemed to suit my thoughts regarding money, at the moment...flying out the window! Is that you how feel too? Like your money seems to take flight and disappear before you realised you even had it to begin with?

I know that's how it feels around here quite regularly! When I start feeling like that I take a very short walk back in my memory and remind myself how we survived when dh wasn't earning anything, in the first couple of years that he owned his own business. My those years were difficult. There were other factors about our lives that caused a great deal of stress and, for me, depression. But not earning an income beyond toilet paper and laundry detergent made life that much more difficult to endure.

We are very fortunate in Australia, that our federal government has a very generous social security system. Without that things would've been impossible. That being said, we still had to survive on not very much, and I find myself again thinking that if things continue to go the way they are, our wages again will look like they are not enough! So what is a 'professional Mum' to do? Given that my career choice is being a SAHM, getting a job isn't really on my radar. I tackle our financial management on many fronts. Since I manage our family's finances I find I am able to do many things that enable us to continue with me caring for things at home. Following are things that we do regularly to help us manage a tight budget.
  1. I make a spending play each month, taking into account regular things that need to be paid each month, along with bills that come in less often, but still regularly.
  2. About once every few weeks I put all our expenditure into an excel spreadsheet so that I can see how much we're spending and what we spend it on. It helps when you need to plan ahead for big bill months and when you need to fill out school fee-relief forms.
  3. We only use cash. I pay bills using online facilities, but if I'm handing money over for something in person I make sure I have the cash. I withdraw what I need either fortnightly or monthly, depending on the timing of bills, from doing step #1.
  4. We are careful with our power consumption. We rarely use the dryer, choosing instead to put clothes horses over ducted heating vents, which are on regularly now anyway. In warmer weather I hang washing on the clothesline outside. We only have one light switch (with two low-voltage down lights on it) on in the evening. The heater is never set over 21C. We turn it off altogether overnight. The coldest the house has ever been in the morning is 9C. An extra blanket sees us through cold nights like that.
  5. The biggest way I see that I can save money is with our grocery budget. So I plan my menu carefully so as to alternate different meats with vegetarian meals. By doing this I can ensure an overall balanced diet using cheaper cuts of meat. Vegetarian meals also reduce your grocery costs. We genuinely enjoy the vegetarian meals I make. We all enjoy our meat, but I have discovered many tasty, satisfying vegie meals along the way too.
  6. Once the menu plan is completed, I prepare a shopping list according to what I need for those meals and what I need to replenish. When shopping, if you set yourself a rule that you only buy what is on your list you will be amazed how much money you save!
  7. Shop carefully. If you go past a Safeway, a Coles and an Aldi regularly then get to know which have the best prices and be prepared to shop in a few different places. If you have to travel to get to a cheaper shop then you should calculate how much you save and compare it to the cost of the petrol to get there. You may find you're spending more in petrol than you save, in which case, you should just shop locally.
  8. Cook from scratch as much as you can. It's cheaper AND healthier. You'll save money on doctors bills!
  9. We grow our own vegies in summer ~ tomatoes, zucchinis, green beans, herbs. I hope to expand our repertoire this coming year. But anything at all that you can grow, even in a pot, will help your budget. Homegrown vegies taste better too!
  10. Finally, make use of second hand clothing shops to buy your family's clothing. I would estimate that 90% of the children's wardrobes, 50% of mine and about 10% of dh's clothing are bought at Op Shops. We have usually been able to get what we've needed. Certainly, start there and then move on to retail stores if you can't get what you need. I am currently wearing a fantastic denim skirt that I picked up from Savers in Dandenong a couple of months ago ~ it is my absolute favourite skirt for every day wear that I have right now. It cost me $7 rather than up to $50+!
When you need to employ guerrilla frugality measures, the only thing we really added was saying NO. Our children still do not attend out of school sporting activities or music lessons. We just don't have the funds to sustain an extra $250/month for the three of them to do something like that. You know what? They're are turning out to be well adjusted, normal children. They also enjoy special things with great appreciation because they have not grown up with an attitude of entitlement.

Monday, 2 June 2008

It's Monday ... you know what that means!


Yes, it's Monday, again! I'm feeling very slow today, having not yet recovered from Saturday night's frivolity. I managed to make it through the morning with Mr Busy's class. I was kept busy helping the kids with spelling words whilst his teacher finished up some one on one testing with a couple of kids. That queue never seemed to get shorter LOL.

Anyway, in the midst of having people around all weekend and being out and about this morning I have managed to put together a menu plan for this week. Amazing!

Monday: Baked Herb Ricotta, potato wedges, steamed vegies
Tuesday: Lamb rissoles (rosemary & garlic), vegies
Wednesday: Lamb Roast, roasted & steamed vegies
Thursday: Honey Soy Chicken, brown rice, stir fried vegies
Friday: Frozen fish, wedges
Saturday: Gnocchi with a tomato sauce
Sunday: Tomato & Red Capsicum Soup

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Very Trivial

Last night our school had a Trivia Night, to raise money. I'd never been to one before, although we've had many opportunities between having children in Preschools and three different primary schools!

Do you know how much I don't know? HEAPS! I know I don't keep much useless information in my head....I don't have room for it. The important stuff falls out, let alone the unimportant!

Fortunately I'm not the only one. Trouble is, all the others with the same problem were on our table too LOL. Yep, you guessed it.....our table lost. Oh well, someone has to come last don't they.

The moral of the story is this: if you go to a Trivia Night at a school, make sure you get on a table with at least 2-3 other teachers and a couple of tradies. You may have some hope of getting somewhere that way.