Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No cost gifts from the heart 4....

My daughter and I made these cards yesterday.
Our materials were:
2 sheets of white project cardboard at just $1 each
1 glossy Country Living magazine from the thrift store -50c
1 sheet of scrapbooking diamante` dots $1.50
A tub of glue (already had it)
Pastel artists chalk (completely optional...used them cause we had them)
Fixative spray (only for using with pastel chalks..already had it)
Glitter spray (completely optional..already had it)
Scrap lace, wool, kitchen string (already had them)
Standard sized postal envelopes (already had them)
So you see by our list, we used what we had on hand, and only spent $4 all up.
Here's how to make them:
1. Measure envelopes and decide size of cards. They need to be a little smaller than the envelope for a smooth fit.
2. Take the time to use a ruler and pencil to mark out the lines to cut on the cardboard. We decided on long cards to fit our envelopes, so measured out the lengths, and not quite double the width of the envelope to decided the size of the card when open. We'd be folding it in half to close the card and fit it into the envelope. So ours were marked out in squares of 21cm x 21cm, which folds down to a card 21 cms long and 10.5cms wide when folded.
3. Use sharp scissors or a paper cutting guillotine to cut the cardboard to size. Fold each card. We ended up with 6 full sized cards, 3 small cards and 6 gift tags from each sheet of cardboard. Nothing was wasted.
4. Cut images from magazines. Now of course the result hinges on the type of images you clip. Our magazine had lots of French inspired decorating ideas, and meshed nicely with the scrap lace and glitter we already had. So it was a good combo. Landscapes, animals, flowers, children, scrapbooking examples, and holiday destinations are all good candidates as well. Travel brochures could be a good no cost sourse of great shots to use. Trim to size of card, allowing some space for lace trim or other embellishments.
5. Be creative and group or overlap pictures, make a collage of themed pictures using a common element or colour (in our case, black or pink or floral or French). Glue into place.
6. Add lace. We then coloured over the lace in artists chalks to tone with the photos. This gives a very pretty effect, but needs to be sprayed with the Fixative spray or it will just come off every time you touch it. This has to be done when the lace is dry too, so either before you glue it or after the glue had dried.
7. Tie string, yarn, or craft ribbon around the spine and trim to make it look tidy.
8. Spray with glitter spray or glitter hairspray.
9. Embellish with other items as desired. Can I suggest some restraint? The best cards we did are the ones embellished with lace OR crystal dots OR glitter spray. Not all three. But ultimately, they're your cards so go with what grabs your imagination.
10. Google some inspirational quotes to hand write inside them. I found some lovely ones, chosen to suit the images on the cards, here.

11. Finally, when the glue is really dry, weight your cards down with some heavy books, platters, trays or anything else heavy you have on hand, and let them sit overnight. This makes them sit nice and flat and gives a better finished product.

Now, I know these are not for the experienced card maker amongst you. I know you can do far cleverer things.

These instructions are for those who are on a stingingly limited budget for whatever reason, and for the less experienced crafter.

As you can see, the results are still very pretty.

I hope I am helping you to see that Christmas truly can be about using what you have to inspire heartfelt gifts. Six of these cards, tied with lace, ribbon or string and presented in a box, hand stitched pouch or simply with a tag attached, could be a meaningful gift for anyone you love.

If you don't have money, you can use your time to create something beautiful. Don't rush, think of yourself as an artist, and really think about the images and the inspirational quotes and tailor them to the recipient.

Wishing you a Frugal Festive Season...

...until next time..

Mama Guardian


Thursday, December 6, 2012

No cost gifts from the heart 3....

Dig up all of those photos you couldn't frame or use for scrapbooking because they're out of focus or not centred or someone looks a bit goofy. I've used this one where my daughter, who was about 18 months old at the time, was trying to put on my sunglasses.

I'd just been taking photos of the gorgeous gardens where we'd been picnicing, and hadn't thought to manually focus on her before taking the shot. So although the garden bed in the background is crisp and clear, the otherwise cute photo has languished in my collection ever since.

I've now resurrected it, and will frame it side by side in a frame, with a little story about how the photo came about. There are other photos from the same day, framed in our hallway, so it will also be a way to tell her how those came to be.

Just a moment in time, but at 12, a precious reminder of how little she once was.

You could even simply enfold this in a handwritten letter and it would still be treasured.

...Mama Guardian...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

No cost gifts from the heart 2...

Always appropriate...

Find a version of this inspiring verse that suits your paper and recipient. Print, frame in an inexpensive dollar store frame, give with pride.

A friend gave me the Desiderata verse when I was just 20 years old. I have returned to it time and time again over the years when I sought peace in my heart.

Help someone else find that peace.

Until next time...Mama Guardian x

Monday, December 3, 2012

No cost gifts from the heart...

"One day, I'll give you the moon in a jar.
The sky on a platter.
And the ocean in a pool of glassy blue.
Until then, know that I love you."
Print the picture out, paste onto some cardstock, hand write the verse inside.
No cost, hug inspiring gift.
...Mama Guardian...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Being Broke at Christmas....

Mother's Day Comments Pictures
More Images @

Some roses for you, because if you're here, maybe you need a smile. Christmas is tough if you're broke.
No, hang on, it's tough all the time if you're broke, but particularly so, at Christmas.
Everyone else is kicking up their heels and all you can do is worry about how to pay the rent or put food on the table.
First of all, take the pressure off yourself. Have you made arrangements with anyone you owe money to?
Have you had an honest conversation with your family about what you can and can't afford? Kids, parents, siblings, partners, can all be counted upon to be more sympathetic, if they know what's really going on. This is NOT the time to put your head in the sand and your credit card and credit rating on the line.
The older I get, the more I believe that the things that matter are people, not things. Make people your priority this Christmas, not shopping, or food, or glittering decorations. Gosh, I shop all the time on-line and never actually buy anything. Indulge in a bit of window shopping on-line this year. Print out pictures of all the things you'd buy your loved ones if money was no object.
And then, do this.
Sit down, pen in hand and paper on the desk or table and write them a letter. And I do mean HAND write. It'll mean more to them.
When was the last time you wrote a heartfelt letter to those that are important to you, telling them how much they mean in your life? Sharing a memory of a particularly happy moment, or a time when they made you so proud you could almost burst?
When was the last time you spent an hour with one of your kids or your Mum or Dad, or brother or sister or your partner, just them and you, listening to them, taking an interest in their world without thinking about what you're going to say when they stop talking or drifting off and thinking about what you have to do next. Long time, huh?
Make this the year of telling those you love, how much you love them. And to hell with shopping. You won't regret it, I promise.
And if you still want to do the whole shebang, challenge yourself to do it for as little expense as possible. More on that in my post here.

...until next time...
...Mama Guardian...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

So you're broke and it's Christmas...what now?

Take a moment.

I'm listing some practical ideas at the end of this post.

But first...
Focus on what's really important.
It's not expensive gifts.
It's not a table groaning with $500 worth of food, $250 of which will be thrown away at the end of the day.
It's having our loved one close. Appreciating the true meaning of Christmas.
Peace and Goodwill to all Men.
Believe that you have a Guardian Angel, as well as a Guardian Mama, watching over you.
From this, you are meant to learn.
From this, you will gain a new appreciation of what you can do when faced with a crisis.
From this, your family can grow and learn that dealing with adversity is a necessary human skill.
Exchange letters, hand decorated with magazine clippings. Write your family history. Spend Christmas day doing nice things for each other...a foot massage, a shoulder rub, brushing each others hair.
Give of yourselves, not of the supermarket and shopping mall.

You reap what you sow.

 Don't sow anger and unfulfilled need. Sow a peaceful and glad heart that you and your loved ones can gather together in a safe place and go on.
It may well be the best Christmas you've ever had.

Here is my cheap, cheap, cheap, impressive Christmas lunch.

Here are my no cost Christmas Ideas Number 1, number 2, number 3, number 4. and more to come. Stay tumed.

 ...until next time...
Mama Guardian

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cheap, cheap, cheap Christmas Lunch!

Why do we get all hysterical about Christmas Lunch?

I can turn out an impressive lunch any ol' day, and it doesn't have me hot and bothered for weeks or days in advance. Nor does it mean the kind of assault on my bank account that means no more bling for me for six months!

We've all gotta just calm the farm (as my twelve year old says) on this Christmas lunch thing.

A crisp white or patterned sheet on the table, a simple centrepiece, polished cutlery and glasses and a tasty meal with our family and friends close, and we're fine and dandy here thanks!

Here's my all time favourite for a posh but penny pinching impressive lunch. Good enough for guests, frugal enough for my peace of mind, and just as pretty as a picture!

Mama Guardians's Famous Festive Chicken Roll
Serve hot or cold

One will serve 4-8 people, depending on the size of the serves and how thick or thin you cut the roll. It also slices more readily into thinner slices, once chilled. You can double or triple the ingredients but I recommend making multiple rolls or miniature ones (adjusting the cooking time accordingly) over making one gigantic one. It won't present as prettily and will be too dry on the outside and not cooked through. This is also fabuloso, cooked in Texas muffin pans with the filling in the middle, or in smaller ones as a cocktail bite.

500gms minced meat ... turkey, chicken, pork, veal and beef are all good
2 eggs
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (plus 1 cup extra)
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp chopped dried fruit and/or nuts
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley, thyme)
Baking paper

Mix the mince, 1 egg, the milk, 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, and the fresh herbs.

Take a sheet of baking paper and spread the mixture over the paper in a large rectangle about 20cm x 30cm.

Mix the other cup of breadcrumbs, the dried fruit and/or nuts, and the second egg. Spread this down the long side of the mince rectangle, closest to you.

Using the baking paper to start the roll, enclose the stuffing and then roll into a long sausage shape, finishing with the 'seam' underneath (it's a bit like rolling sushi or a swiss roll sponge). Press the ends together.

Place, seam down on a baking sheet, and bake covered for 45 minutes, then remove cover and bake for a further 10 minutes.

Serve sliced with relish or sweet chilli sauce, salad and crunchy bread.

I love Christmas. I don't love what it does to people's anxiety levels. I think this recipe helps reduce some of that anxiety. For under $30, I can feed 30-40 people by making six of these. I vary the fillings so that when they're cut, they look prettily jewelled. Add another $20 for seasonal fruit and salad leaves, and we're well fed with a memorable meal. $10 more and I can have make 2 of my Mums Pumpkin Fruit cakes for dessert, and we're as happy as Larry.

Here's the recipe in a few sentences, the way they used to be passed from family to family, hand to hand. Always a winner.

Save 1 cup mashed pumpkin from dinner for this cake. Cream 1 cup brown sugar and 125gms unsalted butter. Add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the mashed pumpkin and 2 tablespoons Treacle. Add a cup and a half of mixed dried fruit. Stir well and add 2 cups Self Raising flour. Pour into a lined cake tin and bake at 175C for an hour and a half.
Have a calm Christmas....

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cook Seasonal and save!

Check these out...lush eh?
These are my strawberry iced tea Gluten Free Muffins.
So easy, just use my Basic Muffin Recipe, add those strawberries that have gone smooshy in the fridge, ice with icing sugar mixed with some Berry flavoured iced tea, and squiggle with some strawberry topping decanted into a squeezee bottle.
Too easy!
We waste very little here.
Smooshy fruit is always baked into muffins or slices. In fact I look for smooshy fruit at the greengrocer for that reason. Seasonal smooshy fruit can be got for mere pennies and also means you can eliminate or reduce the amount of sugar, butter and oils in your baked goods. Just replace some or all of the sugar and butter for a great guilt free baked treat.
Some of the best muffins and teabreads I've made have been laced with mashed up fruit, that many I know would have tossed in the bin. Now, don't be silly about it, rotten is rotten. But if it's just a bit soft and past it's best, then go for it.
In season here at the moment, remembering it's Spring in Australia, are berries of all kinds, guava, coconut, pineapple, mango, mangosteen, apples, mandarins and much more. If you can't find somewhere to squeeze some of that lot into your diet, then there's something wrong!
Look for your seasonal fruit guides on your local statutory body's website...everyone has one.
It's a great way to save big dollars on your food bill!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Simple Salad No. 1....

I regularly buy tinned beans.

I'm always lured by their vaguely retro labels and keen pricing. I mean anything that you can get half prepared, healthy, and versatile for 3 for $1 has to be a good thing, right?

The Husband regularly asks for Bean Salad, and this can really mean anything at all according to what I have on hand.

The basic idea is one tin of any sort of beans, rinsed until it stops frothing, one tin of something else such as corn kernels, baby potatoes, or baby carrots, diced, some protein such as poached chicken breast, tinned tuna slices, or diced bacon or ham or chorizo, and some dressing. You can add cubes of cheese or sliced Bocconcini and some halved Cherry Tomatoes if you want, but it's not necessary.

This can be a meal in itself, especially with the protein component mixed through. It's also fabulously portable and transports well in all manner of containers, arriving at the other end without being diminished to a dogs breakfast kinda look.

I vary the dressing according to how I feel on the day, but maple syrup and balsamic vinegar is a fave, as is the remnant of any bottled pickle and dregs of marinade mixed together.

Stay tuned for more Simple Salads!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

But what do I do with....preserves and pickles???

I adore making my own pickles, relishes, confit, jams and preserves.

This is a relatively new passion for me, as I was always of the opinion that making those things was for Nannas. Well I guess I am a Nanna now, so maybe that's okay ;0)

The thing about making your own stuff, is that you are then compelled to find new and inventive ways of using it up. No point in having umpteen jars of Tomato Relish or Onion Confit, if it just sits there gathering dust and/or mould. One of the suggested uses of relish is not usually 'manufacture your own penicillin'.

As I've gone along making these things and using them, I've realised that chutneys, relishes, and pickles are the most wonderful form of DIY pre-packaged flavour bombs.

A couple of tablespoons of my Onion Confit in a casserole, and no other thinking is required. Lets see...the onions are there, as is the peppercorns, and other delectable earthy spices..why would I need anything but that and some H2O for a casserole to-die-for.

Similarly, my Tomato Relish is a brilliant addition to curries of the old fashioned kind that our Mums and Grans used to make before the appearance of Curry mixes and pastes on the supermarket shelves. The ones where a few generous spoonsful of relish and a teaspoon of curry powder gave the required exotic-ness to the dish. You may scoff, but those meals remain a staple in many households, and are much loved around here as a budget performer that satisfies the fussiest palate!

Note...Vintage style recipe in two sentences, as written by my Mum, coming up....

To whatever meat is inexpensive on the bone at the time, add a cup of  relish, a couple of tablespoonsful of onion confit, and a half a cup of water, then cook in the slow cooker till tender and thicken the juices with 3 dessertspoons cornflour mixed with a bit more water. Add a generous teaspoon of Indian curry powder, and serve with rice.

 I'm betting right here and now, that my Mums curry will become a family favourite for you too. Sort of sweetish, spicy, earthy and comforting all at once.

Being a Gluten Free household also means we view Corn Tortillas and Taco shells as a vessel for many things other than the obvious Mexican selections. We've used the aforementioned curry as a filling for warmed taco shells on many occasions. Topped with more Tomato Relish, some spiced yoghurt, and a bit more Onion Confit, and I defy you not to be groaning with culinary delight from go to whoa.

Here's my own recipe for Spiced Yoghurt. It's a grand accompaniement to curries, roasts, salads, and any manner of dishes, including a Hangover Breakfast...just ask my sons!

Spiced Yoghurt

1 cup natural yoghurt
1 small onion, peeled and diced finely or grated
1 small green chilli, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 small tomato, finely diced
Pinch salt
Leaves according to cuisine eg. curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves, coriander

Whip the yoghurt with electric beaters until smooth and thick. Add the other ingredients, first heating the mustard seeds in a small pan over a high heat. They will pop and become aromatic. Mix well and allow to sit to maximise flavours. Overnight is best.

Serve with anything you fancy. Careful...highly addictive!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Dream Home...

My dream home has cosy corners with soft squishy chairs and crocheted rugs over the arms for snuggling, and books, lots of books...real ones.

My dream home glows with the warmth of worn wood, utensils, china and glassware glinting from open cabinets.

My dream home has photos in frames displayed everywhere, reminding us of fun times, cherished memories and loved ones who have left us because their time here in this life was at an end.

My dream home does not adhere to a colour scheme or a style. It is just a collection of things I love in all the colours of the rainbow.

My dream home has furniture that has seen better days, because the 'better days' are the history of our family.

My dream home does not seek to impress those we don't know, but to embrace those we love.

Shabby, never. Well loved, always.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Playing nice in the big world...

Today I'd like to have a word about playing nice.

Playing nice is something that seems largely forgotten in the big wide world of instant gratification and the 'me' culture.

Things like loyalty seem to only extend as far as buying the same branded handbag, jeans or sunglasses year after year. Or getting a free latte` when you've bought nine.

Not too many people understand the concept of loyalty, unless it comes with instant gratification, be it admiration from their friends or a smiley stamp on their loyalty card.

Making the most of your hard earned cash requires a range of strategies from budgeting to saving for your retirement. But I'd like to add that fostering long term relationships with those with whom you conduct business is an undervalued approach.

Loyalty, paying on time or early, and referring friends to businesses that have performed work to a high standard for us, has gained us many benefits.

We've had free loads of firewood, free deliveries when we've all been too sick to leave the house to grocery shop, discounted travel, entertainment at little or no cost, flowers for the house and plants for the garden for nix and reduced rates on all manner of things from handyman tasks to major electrical work. All because we were good customers who referred friends without the expectation, implied or otherwise, that we would receive something in return.

 Loyalty has also saved me from a great deal of embarrassment when I once filled my car with fuel, only to discover I did not have my wallet with me. This was a genuine oversight. However, had I not been a loyal customer at that service station, I may have struggled to convince the manager that I did, indeed, just live up the hill and would return promptly with my wallet, to pay for the transaction.

When I was a child, there was a Mum and Dad style shop on every corner. All of them would run a 'tick', where regular loyal customers could 'run up' a bill. You'd go there, buy what you needed, and then be trusted to pay later, whether that was tomorrow or a month from now. This was pre-credit card days of course, and mostly pre-supermarket chain. This system largely functioned well, and helped many families through a tight financial spot. Alas, these are long gone. But loyalty and honesty and integrity were key ingredients in that happy relationship. Sadly, a few folk whose honesty and integrity were lacking, have spoiled that old fashioned custom for the most part. It didn't seem to occur to them that if they didn't pay their account at the end of the month, then the Mums and Dads who owned the corner store, may eventually not be in a position to pay their own accounts!

As much as the household budget is of crucial importance to me, sometimes it's not worth saving a few cents or a couple of bucks by doing the run around, even when things are tight. Loyalty gains me far more in the long term.

Play nice. Be polite to tradespeople, checkout assistants, the postman, the delivery van driver, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Pay them all promptly and with a smile. The checkout assistant of today, is the entrepreneur with the thing you want, tomorrow. If someone does a good job for you, tell your friends, and make sure you use them next time that service is required. That might be in a few days or in several years. But I guarantee that returning customers to our business are always given the royal treatment.

Loyalty, manners, financial integrity.

These too, are important qualities and valuable tools for Guardians of the Budget.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Planning a to, when to, whether to....

My approach to menu planning has changed considerably in the last several years.

I never used to menu plan at all. I'd just randomly buy stuff and then find it limp and sad or iced over in the fridge or freezer several weeks later. I'd bin it, and start over.

Then I started making a list of meals from the fancy schmancy cookbooks I had, listing all the ingredients I already had (few) and the ones I needed (many) and patted myself on the back for being so organised.

Then I joined Simple Savings and realised I'd had it wrong the whole time. You menu plan on what you've already got, only purchasing extras for the gaps in your menu. about major life epiphany. I've never looked back!

These days there are only three of us and the dog at home, AND we're gluten free, so the menu has changed considerably, compared to when DS21 was still at home and eating us into a second mortgage. Quite often I find I only need to spend a minimal amount on the fresh fruit and veg and dairy items, with everything else well planned and catered for. Meat makes a twice or thrice weekly appearance on the menu, as does chicken and/or fish, with GF pasta and veg making up the balance of the weekly meals, including breakfast and lunch.

We've learned to not let our gluten sensitivity get in the way of a good hearty meal too. Pasta, bread and baking used to be our comfort food, and still is to a small extent. More often those items have been replaced by vegetable bakes, fresh fruit, baked whole pears or apples, some home made gnocchi and lots of lots of salad.

We eat salad all year round and there are few vegetables we don't eat...except for artichokes...what the heck does one do with those anyway. Sorry..don't answer that. I sort of know. But they hold no appeal for these happy campers!

The other thing is, I now sort of menu plan in reverse. I have a few standard go-to meals that make a regular appearance, but mostly I strive to have the bare 'bones' of many of our faves, in the fridge prepped and ready to go so that we can change our minds on a whim without it impacting on our budget.

So steamed baby potatoes can be eaten as is, turned into potato salad, hash browns, rosti, gnocchi, pan fried, tossed with flavoured butter and herbs, turned into a gratin, a frittata, a slice with marscapone and thyme and bacon, patatas bravas, and so on.

In fact, if there wasn't much else but baby potatoes and the contents of my pantry, I reckon we could eat well for the whole week!

That said, most of those recipes could be adapted for pumpkin as well. You've just got to think outside the square.

Our menu is also influenced by what seasonal bargains might be available. A whole pumpkin for $3 or a huge cabbage for $2 can change our whole eating plan for the week. I can use the pumpkin as a substitute in any of those potato dishes, and cabbage leaves make a great replacement for pasta sheets in lasagna, or for tortillas or burritos in mexican meals. You can shred it for salad, stir fry it, turn it into a warm coleslaw by tossing it in a hot pan with pine nuts for a few minutes or roll it around mince and slow cook it.

Get the idea?

I'll be writing more on this as we go along but for now, challenge yourself to think outside the square when you shop this week. I bet you can surprise yourself.

~Mama Guardian~

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Time Plan Guide is now complete...

Thankyou to those who have contacted me to remind me to insert the links in my 'creating a time plan' post.

You will now find all recipes will link to the other appropriate posts here on the blog, and you'll have all the information you need to be a SuperMum.

Ok...maybe not.

But you'll certainly be organised beyond measure...I promise!

Enjoy creating your own time plan, and please let me know how you go!

Love...Mama Guardian ;0)

The Week Long Salad....

This is such as easy thing to do you'll wonder why you haven't always done it.

No more limp slimy lettuce in the crisper and mealtimes made simple. Save time, save money, tasty meals...what's not to like?

Week long Salad No. 1

Half to one red cabbage, shredded (the mandolin slicer is brilliant for this)
1 capsicum, finely diced
3 peeled and grated carrots

Store in an airtight container. Remove enough each night for that meal only, and add additional ingredients. DO NOT add the extra ingredients to the salad base itself in the storage container.

Day 1: Add halved cherry tomatoes and dress with balsamic vinegar.

Day 2: Add one tin rinsed beans such as cannellini or four bean mix. Fry 2 rashers of diced bacon, and chop some herbs. Toss well with a dressing of one third each balsamic, olive oil and wholegrain mustard.

Day 4: Add grated cheese and finely sliced shallots. No dressing.

Day 5: Add zest and flesh of two oranges. No dressing.

Day 6: Add 1 cup cooked macaroni, italian herbs and italian dressing.

Day 7: Toss with cooked 2 minute noodles and dress with sesame oil and Sushi vinegar.

Week Long Salad no. 2...

Purchase 2 different 'trendy' which I mean not iceberg. So Romaine, Butter, Frilled and so on.
This is mainly because of all of them, the Iceberg lettuce, having the most water content, deteriorates the quickest.

Cut off the bottoms to separate the leaves. Wash them well.

Stack the leaves on top of one another and slice into smaller bits. You can also just tear them with your hands, and sometimes this is preferable as metal can taint the lettuce leaves, making them brown along the cut section.

This is need a salad spinner to spin the leaves bone dry. Your salad leaves will revert to limp and slimy if there is any moisture left on them.

Put leaves into the salad spinner and spin thoroughly. You'll be amazed at how much moisture is collected and it's moisture that makes the lettuce yucky after a couple of days.

Tip into a large salad bowl.

Put a clean paper towel over the lettuce and cover with cling wrap.

Change the paper towel every couple of days to keep it dry.

Voila...perfect salad greens for the whole week....add ingredients as listed above or add your own variations!

No more dead salads in your crisper!

Egg Spread from a Five Star Hotel...shhhhh...

This is scrumptious on bagels, toast, or crackers. My Mums secret recipe nicked from a five star hotel where she worked in the 70's. Shhhh...
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons softened butter
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • ½ tsp your favourite sauce Tomato, Worcestshire, Barbecue are all good
  • 90g softened cream cheese
  • Seasoning to taste
Cook the eggs at a rapid boil for eight minutes.

Remove from the heat, drain and run the eggs under cold water for a minute to prevent them discolouring.

Allow the eggs to sit in cold water for five minutes, then peel, and quarter.

In a food processor bowl or blender, combine the eggs with the other ingredients.

You can also just mash this together, but you won't get the same creamy consistency.

Taste and season if necessary.

Nannas Real Beef Spread....

This scrumptious stuff is somewhere between a braised steak and onion dish, a pate`, and a spread. Really tasty, and I had it on home made grainy bread this morning, while DD has taken it for lunch in sushi.

Very versatile and would be great served on baked potatoes, english muffins, turkish bread, in burritos with refried beans, on bread rolls, in wraps, and as a filling for baked tomatoes or capsicums. I reckon I'll also try using it as a filling for home made ravioli or as a crepe filling.

Nanna's Beef Spread

500gms gravy beef, ox cheek, ox tail or any other inexpensive cut
2 onions chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 beef stock cube
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon sherry (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove all fat and sinew from meat and dice. Put into a medium saucepan and add all other ingredients.

Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours until the meat is extremely tender. Add a little more water over that time if necessary, but no more than 1/8th of a cup at a time. You don't want it swimming in liquid.

Allow to cool.

Pour into the bowl of a food processor and puree`. Leave some large chunks flaked with a fork, if you prefer more texture.

Place in a covered container, and refrigerate.

Use within 7 days.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A passion for curd...a very special treat in under five minutes...

You may have gathered that food is important to me.

Every milestone in our lives entails the consumption of food of some sort.

For me, it's not just the nutritional value that's important, but also the memory that many foods carry with them.

Passionfruit curd is something my Mum used to make. Back in the day when every home had a backyard passionfruit vine, often groaning with glossy orbs that the crows would peck, it was criminal not to find a use for them. Of course we would eat them au naturel, slurping the flesh straight from the cup of the fruit, but eating Mums Passionfruit Curd was a special sort of treat.

The creamy butteriness of curd belies it's simple ingredients. For a large family, scones or tarts filled with Passionfruit Curd was an inexpensive treat that tasted strangely extravagant.

These days, I enjoy my Passionfruit Curd on gluten free toast in the morning served on a Limoges saucer gifted to me with a teacup for a recent significant birthday.

A super luxurious start to my day for mere cents.

Here's how you make it:

Makes about 750gms or three small jars worth

Into a large microwave safe jug, place the following ingredients...

Pulp of 10-15 passionfruit
125gms caster sugar
125gms unsalted butter

In a separate jug....

Beat 4 large eggs until well combined

Then just...

Microwave the pulp mixture on HIGH for about 3 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, just until the butter melts and is incorporated.

Remove from the microwave and whisk the egg in, drizzling it into the passionfruit mixture in a steady, fine stream.

Microwave on HIGH for two 30 second blasts, whisking well between each.

Finally, microwave on HIGH for one minute, and whisk well until thick and smooth.

Pour in to clean sterilised jars and refrigerate.


This keeps well, refrigerated for at least six months.

Use the curd to fill tarts, meringues, pavlova, Swiss Rolls, or just enjoy as I do on your morning toast.

You'll feel very swish!

Also a fab addition to your foodie gift hampers.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Don't overdo it...more meals from nothing...

Why do we sometimes make more work for ourselves than is necessary?

Take the humble pumpkin for example.

They're usually inexpensive for the volume of food they can create, but avoided as too difficult to prepare. All that tough skin to remove, all that cutting up...sigh...

And then turning 'into' pumpkin soup or pumpkin scones or mash or's just too much work....nah...really?

All I do with my pumpkin is attack it with a sharp knife and roast the darned thing. I don't even peel it. The skin is luscious roasted and adds fibre and nutrition. Why waste a good veg on blinkin' scones or cake or muffins or pasta recipes.

Okay, going gluten free has some bearing on this. DD12 was diagnosed Coeliac a while back, and DH and I have gone gluten free in sympathy. So frankly, in the early stages, we just eliminated cakes and scones and pasta from our diet until I got the hang of the whole baking gluten free thing. Thankfully I've got a handle on it now and merrily bake with all kinds of alternative flours, but we learned an important lesson in the process.

Sometimes food, close to it's natural state is just as pleasurable as the most complex goodies.

This wedge of roasted pumpkin with my batch of Onion Confit I cooked up yesterday in my Slow Cooker is my lunch today...a pleasure I am anticipating with relish...sorry...bad pun!

My pumpkin cost me a princely $3, so my wedge is valued at about 15c, and the Onion Confit no more than one or two cents surely.

Talk about meals for under a dollar!

I guess for the family, you might add some bread, or polenta squares or curled crisp bacon or even..if you must...some meat or chicken.

But for me, as a guilt free, frugal and super delish lunch, this'll do just fine.

Go on...take the easy way won't regret it :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lunch from nothing.....

Broccoli is so inexpensive here at the moment and aside from using the florets to steam as a vege, adding it to stir frys, and roasts, I've also been grating the stalks to add to salads. I noted that Broccoli stalks are one of the main seasonal ingredients in the very trendy 'rainbow salad' on offer at the major supermarkets. So, good enough for them, good enough for me!

So I've come home from work this morning and within 15 minutes there's a knock at the door. It's a good friend stopping in to say a quick hi before she continues her drive up the Coast. She's been here visiting her Grandchildren.

I offer her lunch (quickly wracking my brain to see what I can come up with on short notice) and upon opening the fridge, lay eyes on this grated broccoli in a little cube shaped container. I quickly add two tablespoons of potato flour, 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, an egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and some seasoning to this and shake it all up in the container. There's probably about two tablespoons at the most of the broccoli and just enough with the other ingredients for two fair sized crepes.

I've had a big batch of Onion Confit in the slow cooker to give to MIL for Mothers Day when I see her tonight, and I've already put it in jars, so all that's left is the dregs of juice and a couple of stray strands of onion, but that'll do to drizzle over the crepes.

The crisper yields one last stalk of coriander with a couple of yellowing leaves on that I peel off, and there's some cheese, already grated in another container in the fridge.

On goes the frypan and the grill which I'll use in a tic, a spray of oil on the pan, and in goes half the broccoli mixture. It makes a large broccoli crepe, which I sprinkle with cheese, slide onto a serving plate and pop under the grill just while the second crepe cooks.

While the second crepe is under the grill with the cheese melting, I quickly make up two tall glasses of Iced Tea using my own Iced Tea Concentrate. I garnish the tea with some Mint leaves.
I flip the crepes in half with the cheese in the middle, drizzle with the onion confit juices, and garnish with a stalk of coriander.

Within 7 minutes, I have a lunch for two, equal to anything at our local cafes, and basically conjured up from nothing.

Being the Guardian of the Home and Budget saves the day (and $30 on lunch) again!

I wouldn't have dreamed of doing this not so long ago.

When have you made a meal from nothing?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Super Lush Onion Confit (also known as Onion Jam)...

Here's my Onion Confit recipe.

This is a much loved family favourite and we adore it on baguette with soft cheese, with meats and roasts of all kinds, on a Ploughmans platter, with crackers on a cheese board, or with oven roasted salmon. Cooking it is a special guilty pleasure as it scents the house with the most amazing earthy aromas.

Buy up onions of any kind when they're cheap and do big batches of this to keep on hand.

You need 4 decent sized (about 250gm) washed and sterilized jars for this amount.

Note: you can also prepare this in the slow cooker, by adding 125gms of butter to encourage caramelising, but it does render a slightly softer and not quite as aromatic, result. Given the choice I'd do it on the stovetop. In my older slow cooker, six hours on high and six on low was about right.

1 kg onions (different onions give a different result. Try red, eschallots, pickling onions or brown ones)
2 tablespoons oil
250 gms sugar
300 mls vinegar (different vinegars will also give a slightly different result in colour and flavour, so try balsamic, white, apple cider, sherry or even red or white wine or sparkling wine)
3 tablespoons honey or golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Peel and slice the onions thinly. A mandolin slicer will make very quick work of this step.

Heat a large frypan over a medium heat and slow cook the onion until it's limp, about 5 minutes.

Add the other ingredients and mix well.

Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, stirring regulary to prevent sticking for one hour.

Cover the pan and continue to cook over a very low heat for a minimum of 45 minutes but up to several hours depending upon the depth of flavour and the consistency you're after, stirring regularly. I have simmered mine virtually all day on a very very low heat, and after 10-12 hours, they are divine.

The confit is ready when there is not liquid and the onion has been reduced to a chunky paste.

Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate.

Keeps for up to six months.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gifts from your kitchen...

I am a big fan of home made foodie gifts.

A stylishly packaged hamper of goodies from your kitchen is always welcome, and if done thoughtfully, armed with information on the recipients personal likes and dislikes, will be eagerly anticipated by everyone.

My hampers are legendary in my family. But it took me a while to get the concept right. There is no point in giving everyone home made Limoncello or Tomato Relish if they don't consume it.

So each year, around about now, I send out a selection list to my friends and family. The list includes things like the aforementioned Limoncello and Tomato Relish, plus a range of other things like:

Pineapple, Fennel and Chilli Pickle
Onion Confit
Pancake Mix and honeycomb butter
Brandy Pate`
Chocolate Syrup
Vanilla Syrup
Ginger Cordial
Lemon Cordial
Worcestershire Sauce
Prunes in Port
Raw Chocolate Truffles
Peanut brittle
Chocolate gingers
Aussie Rocky Road
Seasonal Jam
Mint Jelly

I'll be posting recipes for these over the next little while so stay tuned!

I also tend to go overboard with the packaging. I use wide double satin ribbon in soft gelati colours, and christmas baubles in similar hues to dress up the basket. I've found lengths of tulle to be the most beautiful and practical way to wrap the baskets and haunt the remnants basket at my local haberdashery to stock up on those inexpensively. But frankly tulle, when you look at the width is  more cost effective than gift wrap or cellophane anyway and it's reuseable!

Homemade gift hampers decrease the cost of gift giving significantly, and still allows you to give a lush looking gift to those you love.

Go on, start now, and you'll be all stocked up for Christmas!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A difference of opinion and disappointment in the wings..

I have a gorgeous group of girlfriends. We've shared stuff. Wins and Losses, ups and downs, crazy times and calmer ones.

Funnily as we've grown older, I've found that rather than growing together as you might expect from those with whom you've forged long term relationships based upon mutual interests, we've sort of grown in different directions on a range of issues.

The pursuit of Eternal Youth is one area on which we are diametrically opposed.

I was surprised, nay shocked, to hear one friend say recently that she would be happy to not live much past 60, as she couldn't possibly handle the decline in her looks. I was aghast. For me, at 52, I'd like to think I have a few more than 8 short years up my sleeve, irrespective of how I 'look'. She is still in her 30s and has young teenaged children. I wonder how they'd feel if they heard that little gem?

Another friend who I'd always considered a sensible earthy type, having shared crafting sessions and political debate with her on many an occasion, confided that she was thinking of getting Botox...just a bit (she said), on her frown line between her brows. She's a stunning woman, with a happy marriage and two gorgeous kids and a drop dead handsome husband. Why?

I have lost a Mother when she was only 60, and that event continues to impact upon me 10 years later. I can't imagine anyone wishing that upon their children. And as for Botox...well I'm scared of needles.

I don't begrudge them their opinions, nor a bit of cosmetic surgery if it makes them happy. But again, it begs the question 'what defines you?'. For both of my friends, clearly looking their best is important.

I like to look my best too, but won't be having any Botox or wishing myself into an early grave in pursuit of that desire.

It made me wonder then, what the two of them make of me. I've gained a few kgs with menopause, let my hair go grey, then dyed it black in my own moment of vanity (so I'm not perfect either!), do the majority of my clothes shopping in thrift shops and recycled designer boutiques, topping up with a few accessories, and refuse to use shopping as a way to amuse myself. Their conversations are, by contrast, peppered with anecdotes on their latest purchases and how they have to hide them from their husbands. Oh, the stress!

I love my friends...but they do take me by surprise often these days. I found myself disappointed after those two conversations, as if my friends had changed in some way I didn't understand. They may very well say the same about me.

The funny thing is, I could do what they're doing. I can afford to have Botox, shop every day, get my nails done and dress my children in designer clothes. But I choose not to. I don't understand it.

I have a new grandchild. I have a loving husband, I have a beautiful daughter and three sons who I cherish and adore. For me that's enough.

Maybe I'm the dumbo. Maybe I'm missing out.

But I don't think so.

I hope my friends find the peace and fulfilment they desire...botox and death wishes aside.

I'm the Guardian of my Budget and a Home based warrior. That works for me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Todays Hint...

Try to contain todays tasks in 'today'.

Procrastination is the scourge of the organised.

Write a list, tackle each task with energy, move onto the next. If that's too hard, then, as my Mum used to say 'just do one thing...then do one more...'.

If you've done your laundry, make sure it's folded and put away.

If you've started a scrapbooking page, then finish it.

If you have an unpleasant task to perform, get on with it. Get it over with and then you never have to look at it again. It doesn't matter whether that's making a difficult phone call, having a tough discussion, or driving to the other side of town to make good on a promise. As Nike say "Just Do It".

If you start decluttering a wardrobe or a room, don't get sidetracked until you're done.

If you're having a prep session, do not stop for coffee, the phone or the television.

You won't believe what a difference this makes.

You'll go to bed feeling a sense of accomplishment, and open your eyes in the morning wanting to start another day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What defines you?

Who am I?

Do you ever ask yourself this question?

Those of us who have chosen to be Guardians of the Home and Budget and Home Based Warriors, sometimes feel we've surrendered ourselves in the process. In this day and age, there is little respect for the contribution we make to our home, our family and the community. It seems that in giving up a 'career', so long fought for by our Mothers and Grandmothers, that we're letting the side down. There is no inherent financial value attached to what we do.

How often are you asked 'so, what do you do?' and when that doesn't elicit the desired response (doctor, lawyer, banker, teacher), the next question is 'what does your husband do', as if that's going to make all the difference in the world. Quickly following on, particularly in the cut and thrust at the schoolyard gate at pick up time, is 'where do you live', whilst they eye off your car, your clothing, your hairstyle, your jewellery and nails. If you think I'm joking, ask a Mum in your neighbourhood.

We Guardians, have to have a sense of self. A quiet confidence that what we do is best for our own family. It may not suit everyone, but we can still perform a valuable service in raising children who do not treat shopping as a form of entertainment, who understand that good food does not come out of a packet or from a takeaway outlet, and that personal value does not stem from belongings, but from your actions and beliefs.

Money does not = happiness. How many times have you heard that? Money can buy peace of mind, without a doubt. Knowing that you have enough funds to cover your living expenses is true contentment.

The trouble is, that these days, our expenses often outstrip our income. This is made 'ok' by the use of ready credit. If you don't have the cash, there's always the credit card or 36 months interest free terms. No, no, no...don't do it. This may allow you to have the 'thing' immediately, but has completely stolen any sense of achievement in saving for that 'thing', which then requires finding another 'thing' to make us feel good.

Don't worry, I've been there and I totally get it. The pressure to be like everyone else, to fit in, to be better and Keep up with the Jones's is enormous and you'd be a strong soul to resist it. Just know that in surrendering, you're only gaining possessions of which you will eventually tire, and the approval of people who possible aren't worthy of your valuable time. If you don't believe me, write down who you're trying to impress/keep up with (you're the only one that's going to see it), and put that aside somewhere safe for five years. In five years, get that list out, and see how many of those people are still in your social circle. Are they the ones that were there for you in a crisis? Are they 'tried and true' friends? My guess is no.

Your career does not define you. Your house or the suburb in which you live does not define you. Nor does the place you purchase your clothing, the badge on your car, the label on your jeans, the carat of your diamond, or the television shows you watch.

More recently, being on a reality TV show does not define you either. Just ask any of the 'winners' of any one of the dozens of competitive reality shows on in the last five years. Most of them have returned home, continuing to live in obscurity as they did previously, and for some their life is forever damaged by the Realtiy TV experience. These poor souls are all told 'you're going to be a star'...and they're just not. Not here in Australia anyway..our population is too small to sustain that many 'stars'.

What defines you and the things for which you will be remembered in life,  are how you treat people, what you teach your children, what you do to help those less fortunate than yourself, and your contribution to your community. Those are the things that make a difference not just to your own family, but to those around you.

Find your true worth within.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cooking cookies...

I used to have this somewhat mad idea that do ahead cookie dough was some special type of dough.

I've long since discovered that you can do-ahead ANY sort of cookie dough and choose to either roll into little logs and slice the rounds, roll into balls, freeze on parchment (baking paper), then tip into freezer bags to transfer to trays for baking, or just keep a lump of dough in the fridge to carve bits off and bake as the mood takes you.

Of course going Gluten Free put paid to any cookie eating in this household for a while, because I became secondarily convinced that gluten free baking was mysterious as well. All that talk of Xanthum gum and Gluten subsitute just made me nervous.

Once again, common sense prevailed. Flour is basically flour, no matter the origin. Some may lend a different flavour to your baking, but they're all good. The exception to my baking rule is of course things like bread and sponge cakes, which I refuse to even put to the test, but that day will come.

I've since made these little cookies with rice flour, cornflour, sorghum flour, teff flour, tapioca flour (arrowroot) and found that they all work well. A combination of at least two different flours and the inclusion of either almond flour (almond meal) or dessicated coconut, adds a bit of crunch and texture. I understand that elevation above sea level can make a difference to the success of some Gluten Free baked goodies so do a bit of a Google search if you're in doubt. Here in the 'burbs in Sunny Queensland, it doesn't seem to matter.

I first made these cookies upon seeing the Lemon Olive Oil cookies in the book, Gluten Free Girl. I liked her recipe, but found it a bit pedantic on the use of the specified flours, sour cream (I note she has changed this on her blog to yoghurt which is what I used anyway) and lemon infused olive oil, which here in Australia costs a blinkin' fortune...sorry Shauna!

So as is my way...never could leave a good thing alone...I fiddled with it and came up with a pretty good version...nay, an excellent version, flavoursome, less expensive to create, and bursting with little nuances unique to a good cookie. Clearly you can make these with normal flour too.

Here it is...

Orange and Craisin Cookies with Gluten Free variation

I recommend starting these cookies the day before you want to bake them. The dough improves with resting. Also I had to triple Shaunas recommended cooking time to 25-30 minutes. Must be my Aussie oven :-P

2 cups plain flour or for GF 1 cup rice flour and 1 cup any other GF flour such as Tapioca (labelled Arrowroot here in Australia), sorghum, teff or cornflour
½ cup almond meal or coconut
1/4 cup craisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup oil
½ cup sugar
1 egg
½ cup yoghurt
2 tablespoons orange juice
Zest of one orange if you have it..ok to leave it out
1 cup sugar for rolling cookies prior to baking

Mix the flour/s, almond meal or coconut and baking powder together.

In a medium to large bowl, mix the sugar (keep the extra sugar aside in a sealed container for later when you want to roll and bake your cookies) olive oil, egg, yoghurt and orange juice. Combine until it's nice and smooth.

Mentally divide your dry ingredients into four equal parts, and add the dry to your wet ingredients one quarter at a time. Add the orange zest and craisins last.

Plop the dough onto a big piece of cling wrap, form into a ball, and wrap firmly. Refrigerate overnight. The texture of the finished cookies will improve with resting the dough.

When you're ready to bake, get out your ball of dough and your sealed container (I use a smallish lunchbox with a lid) with the sugar in it. Caster sugar is best but it doesn't matter too much.

Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 180C fan forced.

Use a teaspoon to 'cut' even sized knobs of dough from the larger piece and roll into small balls. Place in the sugar, and as the lunch box fills, top with the lid and gently roll and shake around to coat them in sugar. Place on trays. These don't spread too much so you can sit them quite closely together.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until just turning golden brown.

These are somewhere between a crisp biscuit and a cake, so the texture is a little different, but definitely more-ish.

They are also lovely with lemon juice and zest and dates, lime juice and zest and currants and any other combination of citrus zest and dried fruit.

Last weekend, I made some with lime zest, dried crystallised ginger chopped tiny and a grating of pepper. Yes pepper. My husband went wild for them. Just goes to show, never be afraid to experiment! I'm always highly amused when friends go looking for a 'certain' cookie choc chip and raisin..well, gee if you have a recipe you like, just change the flavours and add-ins...nothing scary will happen and the cooking world will not tilt on it's axis.

Yummy :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Slow cooked Mexican Refried Beans...dinner for a dollar!

This is wish! I have the hair happening, but the rest is a looooong way off...

Seriously, I just wanted you to get a feel for todays own Refried Beans.

I first made these four years ago, after scouring lots of recipes and combining about 3 to get it the way we like it.

This makes heaps...enough for 4 meals of Nachos for 4 people...
and costs about $2-$3 for the lot! That's under a dollar per dinner for four...great value!

2 cups dried red kidney beans
1 cup red lentils
3/4 cup olive oil
6 cups water
1 onion diced
6 cloves of garlic, sprinkled with a touch of oil and roasted for 15 minutes in a moderate oven (more or less according to your love of garlic!)
1 tin peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (this makes it quite spicy, but palatable for younger children. Adjust for preference)
1 Bay Leaf

Squeeze the roasted garlic out of it's papery shell. Chop the peeled tomatoes.

Combine everything in the crock pot/slow cooker, and cook on high for 9 hours (if an old one like mine) or probably on low if yours is a newer model. You can also simmer this on the stove top for 2-3 hours.

Remove the Bay Leaf.

Empty into a food processor and blend until smooth, or mash well with a potato masher.

Taste and adjust for flavour.

TA-Da....better than the bought ones (well, we think so..)...Mexican Refried Beans.

Serve as a dip layered with guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, and salsa, or over nachos, with rice, or as a filling for enchiladas, crepes, or vegetarian pies.