Monday 23 October 2017

Monday Catch Up and Menus

What a whirlwind of a week, with late nights a plenty and long days to boot.  Our School's parent association met on Thursday night for dinner and our half-yearly meeting.  The next night my book club met.  This is a six-weekly event for me, and one that I cherish so deeply.  After most of the other ladies have left for the evening, the final four that are left are women whom I have known for over two decades.  These are the women who have known me through thick and thin.  We only get to see each other at book club now, for the most part, so our catching up is a high priority for all of us.  Then, on Saturday, I did a Bread Basics workshop with a local artisan baker.  I discovered that bread baking is both simpler and more complex than I ever thought it could be!  It is highly scientific and mathematical, and yet the process is really more about the resting than the kneading.  At the end of it all I came home with a hand-mixed loaf, baguettes, ciabattas and focaccia.  My freezer is full!

A slow cooker update:  My experiments were worthwhile.  I finally caved in and bought a timer switch and this was the pivotal thing.  Cooking meat for only the time specified and not cooking it all day long is life-changing.  You can't cook much at all for 11 or more hours!  But 6-8 is not uncommon.  So, I need to get digging and find all those recipes that looked good, but I never tried.  Incidentally, the chicken enchilada recipe I posted about last week was a huge hit.  It was declared the best enchiladas ever made in this house.  The booklet gave a recipe for homemade cream of chicken soup, which I tweaked to make with fresh milk instead of powdered.  Oh my goodness - it was perfect.  Not the scary stuff that comes in a can.  So that will go on our menu plan again in the not too distant future.

This week however, this is our plan:
Monday:  Jacket potatoes with leftover Texas Pulled Pork, from Saturday
Tuesday:  I'm home alone...maybe baked salmon with green beans & tomatoes, a la Jamie Oliver
Wednesday: Veggie Plate
Thursday:  Pasta with veggie sauce
Friday:  Fend for Yourself
Weekend:  I'm going to go slow cooker hunting and see what I can come up with here.  Or it might be homemade pizza, using fresh pizza bases from Aldi - they are delicious.

Monday 16 October 2017

Monday and Menu planning

I didn't know this was a thing, until YouTube told me...October is "Crocktober"  A month where the challenge is to use your slow cooker for all your weekday dinners.  In my head I love this idea.  How amazing to come home to dinner having been cooked!  Indeed, in my house the expectation of dinner being cooked, and that expectation being dashed by the younger generation in the house, has led to tears on my part.  So I love the idea.

My problem is, I don't love my slow cooker.  I rarely end up with a meal that is cooked perfectly and tastes exactly how I expected.  I've had way overcooked meat, I've had one where the meat was tough little rocks and some of the veggies were cooked, others not enough.  So we've yet to win on anything other than a vegetable soup.  I'm not yet willing to concede defeat though, and to that end I have a plan:

  1. Buy a timer switch thingy so my slow cooker will turn on at the right time.  This means the food is in that pot for the required "6-8 hours" instead of however long I'm not home (which on a normal day is 10-11 hours).
  2. Use tried and true recipes, like from the Passionate Penny Pincher, who I think started the whole Crocktober idea. 
  3. If all else fails, replace my "vintage" slow cooker for a more modern one, so the recipes match the new and improved timings.
Something else I discovered this week: some newer slow cookers offer a "saute" function, so you can brown your meat in the pot, rather than having to do that in a separate pan.  Winner, in my opinion!  They also have a "keep warm" function, so that's helpful for days when dinner is done but your people are in and out all over the place at weird evening hours.

OK, plan in place, here's our menu for the week:

Monday:  Slow cooker chicken enchiladas (Miss Sunshine will be so excited; she loves Mexican)
Tuesday:  Crustless Quiche & veggies (Miss Sunshine to cook, as I'm out)
Wednesday:  Veggie Plate
Thursday:  The kids will have leftovers, while hubby and I are at our school associations EGM, for dinner
Friday:  Fend for yourself Friday
Saturday:  Slow Cooker Texas Pulled Pork, coleslaw
Sunday:  Zucchini soup and bread rolls

The link to the Passionate Penny Pincher will enable you to receive the free PDF version of the Crocktober cookbook, with 20 recipes + some fancy extras, like a recipe for taco seasoning mix (I already have one I use instead of a packet), and ranch dressing mix...something I've been wishing for.  After you receive this year's and last year's Crocktober PDF recipe book you'll probably want to unsubscribe, because other you'll get daily emails with great penny pinching ideas, that are only useful if you live in the US.  Totally unhelpful for this Aussie gal.  But the book looks really worth that little hurdle.

If I get myself into gear, the other recipe I'd like to try out is Pumpkin Bars, which I saw being made by Jennifer at Glitter and Jams, on YouTube.  We, of course, don't get our mashed pumpkin from a can because Aussie's are apparently not quite as pumpkin obsessed as our US friends, but that recipe looked awesome!  I think this recipe looks pretty much like the one Jennifer made.

What are you eating for dinner this week?  And how do you go with your slow cooker?

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Donating Goods Made Easy

I don't know about anyone else, but it seems like the hardest part of decluttering your stuff is getting it out of your house!  Over the last two school holidays (which are 3 months apart!) I have decluttered my clothes and my shoes, so I had two boxes of stuff I needed to donate, but it just feels hard to get the stuff into my car and then find a donation bin to put them in.  It's not hard.  The donation bin is in the Woolworths car park, just 800m up the road.  But my boxes won't fit in the hole they need to go in.  Also, you can see there are three boxes in that photo.  One box has been getting in the way for six months.  Guys, this is so silly.  It's not that hard, surely!

Well...I discovered the easiest, simplest way to get that stuff out of the house and donated, with no more effort than putting it outside the front door by 7am.  Really!

When I lived down in the suburbs the Diabetes Foundation used to phone me (actually, it was before the internet was terribly useful, or many people even had it at home) and ask if I had anything for them to pick up.  I would always say yes, and then make sure I made time to declutter and clear out those areas of the house that needed it.  You know, kids clothes, toys, shoes, kitchen stuff, books...whatever.  So they would come right to my house and pick up whatever I left outside.  Yay.

Now that the internet is useful and everyone has it these days (nearly, I know, not everyone has it, even in Australia), I went googling to see how I could still get the Diabetes Foundation to pick up from my house, and would they even come to Our Town.  I mean, we're not just around the corner in an easy-to-get-to suburb anymore.  As it turns out, if you live in Victoria, you can book a pick up online.  Yes, right from wherever you have your device without even having to phone anyone!  Because, who has time to get to a phone?  Well, maybe a ton of you do, but once school is back I sure don't.

All you do to get someone to pick up your still-useful-junk is go to their website, fill in the online form, select a date and voila!  When I get home tonight that stuff on my front porch will be gone and my junk problem solved!  Of course, you can phone, if you prefer that option - there is a phone number on the "book a collection" part of their website.

What's your favourite, most efficient way, of getting stuff out of your house and donated to someone who can make use of it?

Thursday 5 October 2017

Slow Cooker Sadness - Desperately Need Help!

The slow cooker in the picture above is the one we were given as a wedding gift.  It's nearly 27 years old, but it's not been used that much.  As you can see, I make chicken stock in it.  And I recently succeeded with a vegetable minestrone.  But that is the extent of my slow cooker successes.

I really want to love my slow cooker.  I want to sing its praises and be totally in love with its ability to calmly cook my dinner.  But I don't.  Any time I cook meat in this thing it comes out dry, compared to cooking the same thing in the oven.  The meat has not ever come out tender and juicy.  Tender yes, juicy no.  The last casserole I did left me with some carrots that were cooked perfectly, and others that were still crunchy, and that thing had been going for 8-9 hours.

My Mum tells me not to get rid of it, because she thinks the old slow cookers do a better job.  Their low setting cooks at a lower heat than the new ones.  She has a new one and she misses her old one, but she was unable to replace the lid when that broke, so she was between a rock and hard place.

The other problem I have is that most recipes have a 6-8 cooking time, and I'm out of the house for about 11 hours, so that is just never going to work.  I know, I know, I could get a timer thingy like what you use to turn lamps on, but with all the other issues I have going on, it just doesn't seem worth it.

So, what am I doing wrong?  I want this thing to be my best friend, and at the moment it mocks me from the bottom cupboard.  Surely I'm not the only one who is yet to fall in love with this busy-mum's-best-kitchen-friend device?

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Fresh and Bright When I'm Not Feeling It

I wasn't going to post today.  Over these holidays I've been curled in on myself, a bit like a millipede when they feel uncertain or under threat.  I have been still and quiet and reluctant to push myself out. It would be counterproductive to say more than that, I think.

My breakfast, this week, is the very antithesis of what I've been feeling.  Colourful, fresh, bright, enthusiastic, if food could be considered such.  I'm normally a toast girl.  I love toast.  It is my very favourite thing.  A piece of toast with raspberry jam and I'm good.  But I don't think my mind and the rest of my body quite agree.  If all I ate was good sourdough bread my mind would be so happy.  And my body would be very ... difficult.  Therefore, I have been trying to find a good alternative to toast that I'm happy to eat day in day out.  Because breakfast is the only meal I'm inclined to be staunchly dedicated to one thing.  Every other meal needs to be the height of variety.  Interesting, different, tasty.

On the bottom I have plain coconut yoghurt.  I was introduced to this at a food exhibition hubby and I flew to Sydney for (and that is a whole story in itself!!).  We tasted the CoYo brand, and it is amazing.  Their guava and plum yoghurt?  Oh. My. Goodness!  Delicious!  Their ice cream?  I could dive right in, and I don't adore ice cream.  Well of course, I can't get that brand in my little excuse for a Woolworths store, so I've had to experiment with what they have on the shelf here.  I tried the Nudie brand, and I wasn't thrilled.  It feel smooth-but-gritty (don't ask me how that's even possible), and the flavour was kind of watered down.  Then I tried Nakula.  It is pretty close to the CoYo, so I haven't gone any further.  And it's cheaper than the others, so that's a bonus.

Over the yoghurt is some organic berry cluster granola from Aldi, and then fresh strawberries on top of that.  I'm not a cereal lover, but I like it with the yoghurt and fruit as a crunchy texture in something otherwise smooth.  Also, I just felt like I needed to chew something, and yoghurt doesn't do that for you.

An interesting observation with the coconut yoghurt:  I prefer it to regular yoghurt.  If you're someone interested in plant-based food or you're intolerant to dairy, this is a magnificent alternative.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

The Fifty Bookish Questions Book Tag

One of my favourite things to do is read.  My favourite holidays are the ones where all I do is read.  My record on this front:  21 books in 3 weeks.  And yes, the kids did get fed.  At the time I was reading to review for my dear friend Rel, over a Relz Reviewz.  When I began my degree I had to give that away, and a teaching career seems to be at odds with the time required for reading and reviewing as well.  I've certainly slowed down my reading pace.  Except during holidays where I am away from my computer and the internet.  So, here's a tag about all things bookish...50 questions, here we go:

1.  What was the last book you read?
"Enemies Among Us" by Bob Hamer

2.  Was it a good one?

3.  What made it good?
I enjoy books that are about law enforcement, and this book is all about that.

4. Would you recommend it to other people?
If someone enjoyed books with a law enforcement theme, then yes.

5.  How often do you read?
Every single day, usually right as I hop into bed.  As I mentioned, on school holidays and weekends, any time of the day is a good time.

6.  Do you like to read?
Yes, it's like air to me.  I have to read to stay sane.

7.  What as the last bad book you read?
Hmmmm, a think a few years ago I was handed a book to review that was a US political setting, which usually I love, because "The West Wing" is one of my favourite TV series.  I can't remember the title, and wouldn't name it if I could.  That wouldn't be fair to the author, and the readers who did enjoy it.

8.  What made you dislike it?
It just didn't grab me, and the writing wasn't brilliant.

9.  Do you wish to be a writer?
Nup.  Never even dreamt that it would be a good idea.

10.  Has any book ever influenced you greatly?
Absolutely!  Every book I read has some part of it that I keep with me.  Some significant books include Mary DeMuth's Defiance Texas trilogy, Charles Martin's When Crickets Cry and the O'Malley series, by Dee Henderson are all standouts.  But there are so many more.

11.  Do you read fan fiction?
No.  There aren't enough minutes in my day.  I didn't even know what it was until just recently.

12.  Do you write fan fiction?
Obviously not, LOL.

13.  What's your favourite book?
I really actually can't answer that.  My book shelves are brimming with excellent books that I have adored.  Anything by Charles Martin is a treat.  Also, as a debut author Dorothy Adamek writes absolutely exquisitely.  I don't tend to pursue historical romances (although I always end up enjoying them), but I have been known to pester Dotti to finish the next book in her trilogy.

14.  What's your least favourite book?
Anything non-fiction or study-related.  A sure cure to my insomnia!

15.  Do you prefer physical books or reading on a device?
Physical books, all the way.

16.  When did you learn to read?
I remember choosing readers when I was in Prep and Year 1, so I guess when I started school.    I began devouring books when I was 8yo.

17.  What is your favourite book you had to read in school?
The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

18.  What is your favourite book series?
The O'Malley series, by Dee Henderson

19  What is your favourite author?
Charles Martin, Dorothy Adamek, Lisa Samson, Chris Fabry, Terri Blackstock, Robert Lipurlo, James Rubart, Tosca Lee....oh let's face it, I could name all the authors of the books I possess!

20.  What is your favourite genre?
I'm partial to speculative fiction (The 13th Tribe is my favourite in that genre), I love good fantasy, and then anything you put in my hands will be happily accepted.

21.  Who is your favourite character in a book series?
Marcus O'Malley....swoon

22.  Has a book ever transported you somewhere else?
Every time I open one I go wherever my characters are.

23.  Which book do you wish had a sequel?
Any book that has an ending that leaves you wondering.

24.  Which book do you wish DIDN'T have a sequel?
I don't know...I haven't come across that problem!

25.  How long does it take you to read a book?
A standard 300-ish page novel takes about 6 hours

26.  Do you like when books become movies?
Yes...if it's done well.

27.  Which book was ruined by its movie adaptation?
I don't know whether ruined is a good description, but lots of times the movie is quite different from the book and I have to remind myself the movie is good, in and of itself.  If I'd never read the book I would enjoy the movie.

28.  Which movie has done a book justice?
The Help

29.  Do you read newspapers?

30.  Do you read magazines?
Even more rarely.

31.  Do you prefer newspapers or magazines?
Magazines.  I only read papers more often because of proximity.  They're on the staffroom table.

32.  Do you read while in bed?
Every single day.

33.  Do you read while on the toilet?
No...that is not a comfortable place to read.  That is also not the point of being on the toilet....

34.  Do you read while in the car?
Only on really long trips, and only for a short time.

35.  Do you read while in the bath?
No.  I don't take baths.  The last time I had a bath I was in labour with my nearly-20 year old!

36.  Are you a fast reader?
I think so.  I guess it depends on who you're comparing to.

37.  Are you a slow reader?
I don't think so ... see above.

38.  Where is your favourite place to read?
In bed.

39.  Is it hard for you to concentrate when you read?
No, not usually.

40.  Do you need a room to be silent while you read?
Yeah, pretty quiet.  When I get into bed I always shut the door so I can't hear the TV, because that is distracting.

41.  Who gave you your love for reading?
My Dad was my Sunday school teacher when I was in Grade 3, and he gave me Elizabeth Gail and the Mystery at Johnson Farm by Hilda Stahl as my end of year prize/gift.  I wasn't thrilled with the idea of a book until we moved to PNG 3 months later.  We had no TV, so I gave reading a go.  I've never looked back.

42.  What is the next book on your list to read?
Where the River Ends by Charles Martin.  I cannot even wait!  My current book needs to get finished up!!!  And since we're on the topic of Charles Martin being next up, I am also impatiently cooling my heels for the 12th of October, when The Mountain Between Us comes out in cinemas here in Australia.  The book was magnificent so I know I'm going to love the movie.  Even if it doesn't follow the book as closely as I always want them to.  I mean really, an evening with anything from the hand of Charles is well worth the time!

43.  When did you start to read chapter books?
See Question 41 - about 8yo.

44.  Who is your favourite children's book author?
Enid Blyton

45.  Which author would you most want to interview?
My book club got to interview Charles Martin about 10 or so years ago.  He is the most lovely southern gentleman.  He was just delightful, and we asked him all kinds of questions, which he answered thoroughly and graciously.

46.  Which author do you think you'd be friends with?
Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist (the two exceptions to my non-fiction avoidance)

47.  What book have you reread the most?
I don't really have time to reread...too many books not enough time.

48.  Which books do you consider 'classics'?
I don't really think of books as "classics".  The ones people consider as classics are often ones I don't tend to enjoy.

49.  Which books do you think should be taught in every school?
Since I read almost exclusively in the Christian market, I'm probably not a very good person to ask.

50.  Which books should be banned from all schools?
I like my books clean, and I'm inclined towards that standard for my students as well.  There are plenty of excellent books without them needed to be filled with potty language and adult content.  Those points can be made without taking the reader right down into the gutter.  A skilled author can tell their story and not fill the reader's mind with trash.

Monday 25 September 2017

What's for dinner, Mum? Menu Plans for the School Holidays

In my head I think school holidays is for cooking slow food.  You know, a slow roasted lamb shoulder, homemade pasta, lasagna.  All the things that take time, that I don't have through the school term.  The reality is never anywhere close to what it is in my head.  In reality, I may have the time, but I am so whacked and the thought of cooking just further tires me out, even though I haven't necessarily done anything.  One example of this happened on Saturday.  Hubby and I went out for breakfast and did one other errand.  I came home and slept for three hours.  I literally crawled to the end of the term with my eyes hanging out of my head!  So my menu plans look more like school-term plans, but the kids will be happy because apparently when Mum is home, Mum cooks. πŸ™„

Monday:  Potato & leek soup, bread rolls
Tuesday:  Meatloaf, veggies (I use 1/2 kg mince & add a grated carrot to this meatloaf recipe - the best!)
Wednesday:  Jacket potatoes with coleslaw
Thursday:  Risotto
Friday:  Mediterranean vegetables (this is a tray of things like, potato cubes, zucchini, mushrooms, green beans and red capsicum cut into large cubes and baked in lemon juice, olive oil and Italian herbs)
Saturday & Sunday:  We have a couple of events so we'll be hither and yon.

For the record, I am a very lazy risotto maker and all the Italians of the entire world be horrified.  When I have followed all the "correct" steps, my rice never feels cooked, but still a bit hard.  I don't like it like that.  So I follow the steps up until you're adding stock a little at a time.  When that starts happening, I dump in all the stock and put the lid on.  I stir every now and then and 10 minutes or so later the rice is usually cooked perfectly.  Then I finish off with butter and parmesan.  I usually cook the other ingredients separately and add them at the end too.

There you have it.  A school term recovery menu.  What does your family like to eat during school holidays?