Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Eating well while spending less


A while ago I heard about a woman who gave herself a challenge once a month to use every last thing in her cupboards while allowing something like $25 for fresh ingredients. This week, partly out of a fear of shops at Christmas time and partly out of money saving necessity I've been trying not to buy food. I've actually found a lot of pleasure in stretching out the food we have. It feels clever and tricksy to make one packet of sausages last two meals. I enjoy the smug feeling I get from it.

I'm not sure the rest of the family enjoys it as much. Ah well. Since it's almost that time I've decided that having a regular food stretching week will be one of my resolutions for the coming year. I don't just want to eat cheaply though, I want to eat well. That will be the challenge.

Here are some of the things I've served up over the last 7 days, with varying success.

Eight Sausages into Two Meals



This is one of my favourite tricks. All my adult life I thought you had to use one packet of meat from the supermarket for a main meal. It wasn't until about two years ago that I learned how to stretch it out and halve my meat bill.

I bought 1 pack of 8 organic, free range sausages for $5.99. They were also skinless but you can remove the skins yourself.

Four of the de-skinned sausages went into a bowl with a chopped onion, grated carrot, chopped celery stick, 2 cloves of garlic, some herbs, 1 C of LSA mix (ground nuts and seeds) and a tablespoon of tomato paste.  I scrunched that up with my hands and then pressed it firmly into a small loaf tin. You can add an egg or some breadcrumbs if you can eat them. Over the top I spooned a mix of tomato paste, soy sauce, water, and brown sugar. It was cooked at 190 degrees with some foil over it for 30 minutes, and then for a further 30 minutes with the foil removed.

We had it with some rice and steamed vegetables. Not your most glam dinner but it was family friendly and cost around $4.50 for our family of four.

For the second dinner I mixed the rest of the sausage meat with some cooked, cooled, white rice, some tomato paste and seasonings. I formed them into "hedgehog" meatballs (named for the rice 'spikes' poking out of the meatball) and put them into a casserole dish. Over the top went a tin of crushed tomatoes, some more tomato paste, some brown sugar, salt, and herbs. I put the lid on and cooked for 45 mins at 180 degrees. We had these with some crispy roast potatoes and vegetables on the side.

You can follow this principle with minced meat really easily. If you add pureed tinned chickpeas (drained) to some meat it'll go much further in a shepherds pie. Add brown lentils to mince in a bolognaise and no-one will know. Mexican dishes that are heavy on the beans and light on the meat are really budget friendly and better for you.

Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Cake


Who doesn't love chocolate cake? My theory is that you should always have really yummy baking in the house when you're stretching your food. Plain meals are happier when you have a slice of cake to look forward to afterwards.



This cake is made with cheap ingredients and uses no butter, milk, or egg.

190g flour (plain or GF)
200g sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
20g cocoa powder

(mix together)

235 water
80ml oil
5ml white vinegar
(mix together)

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Cook in a 175 degree oven for 45 minutes.

It's moist and chocolatey and yummy.

Bread


So today we have finished the German rye bread that I made on Saturday and there's almost nothing for lunch. I could go out and buy stuff but I thought I'd bake some bread rolls and save the money.

Rolls ready to prove for the second time
This is Jamie Oliver's basic bread recipe which is available here: Mr Oliver's Bread Recipe. I halved the recipe.

A nice hot bread roll with butter and marmite doesn't feel frugal. It feels like luxury!

Yummo
Soup


I know.. soup is a bit blah. And not very summery. But then again, it's not that summery outside is it?
I bought a pumpkin this week for $2.38 and roasted it with some olive oil, ground nutmeg, and salt. Once it was nice and  gooey I took off the skins and put the flesh in a pot with some chicken stock that's I'd saved from a chicken casserole earlier in the week before blending it up with a stick blender. It was creamy and yum and perfect with some cheese toast on the side.

Of course it's Christmas and probably not the time to skimp on nice food. We have our huge grocery shop arriving on Thursday (thank you online shopping!) and there are lots of treats to be had in there. It's always worth knowing how to stretch your food and save some cash for when you need to (or want to).


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Marmalade for Cheats


I know a lot of people who are scared of making jam. When I started, I was a little afraid myself. Here's a fool proof recipe for making the best marmalade you'll ever eat and it's all done in the microwave! Fruit season is on its way so if you're a novice then this is the perfect recipe to get your confidence up before trying out other jams and chutneys.

Here's what you need:

2 oranges
1 grapefruit
1 1/2 C water
3 C sugar
2 jars


  • De seed your fruit and chop it up finely, including the peel. You can give it a quick chop in a food processor but don't chop it so much that it's pulpy. Put it in a microwave safe bowl.
  • Add the water 




  • Cook on high for 10 minutes or until the fruit is cooked. It's going in again so if there are some uncooked bits don't worry.
  • Add your sugar and stir until it's all dissolved. I'm always a bit alarmed at the amount of sugar in jam recipes but I figure that you only use a small amount, and at least this recipe is free from preservatives and colours unlike some store bought jams.
  • Cook again for 15 - 20 minutes or until setting point is reached.
  • ** If you don't own a microwave you can follow the same process using a pot.

A word about setting points. I think setting jam is probably the main reason people are unwilling to give jam making a go. If you have a thermometer you can use that - most recipes have a setting point temperature in them. My favourite method is to put a teaspoon of hot jam onto a cool plate and wait a minute before running my finger through it.



When it's ready the line will stay defined on the plate and the jam on either side won't bleed back together. Easy peasy! And if you get it wrong it's not a disaster. You can just spoon it back into a bowl and give it another few minutes in the microwave.

All that's left to do now is leave the mix to stand for 3 or 4 minutes and then spoon into hot glass jars. If I was keeping these for a few months I would use proper preserving jars and I'd sterilise them first by boiling them for 10 minutes or putting them in a 100 degree C oven for 10 minutes. I'm going to use these jars of marmalade now so I just washed up some jars that I had saved.


This recipe made 2 jars of marmalade. If you don't like the chunks in it you can strain it through some muslin or over a sieve first and you'll be left with a lovely marmalade jelly. 

Super quick and easy and great for a last minute present for someone special.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Red and White Christmas Part 1


I'll be the first to admit that I've struggled to get into the Christmas spirit this year. This will be our first year spending Christmas with just the four of us and I'm feeling the distance between our home in Australia and our families in New Zealand now more than ever.

I was emailing my sister about it and she fired back a list of things to do to get that Christmas feeling going. My sister is has an extraordinary talent for list making.

As I began to tick off some of the things on her list - sort out some food to donate to Christmas Hampers at the food bank, make a family Christmas video to share, find recipes for cookies - I started to feel a glimmer of excitement.

Despite it being a small affair, I'm determined to make the 25th a special day. As I look around our house I can see my lack of enthusiasm on the bare walls and windows. It's time to make some decorations and get this house looking festive.

In October I was at Ikea with my sister and I found some Xmas gift wrap that I really loved. I bought three rolls and I've wrapped everything in it so far. I love the classic, simple design and the contrast of the red and white. I've decided to base my decorations this year on the patterns and colours.

Here are some of our presents all wrapped up in this gorgeous paper:


Next step was to make some decorations with the kids. I decided to make some basic salt dough ornaments because they're cheap and fun to make.



The recipe is 2 C plain flour, 1 C salt, and 1 C of water. You make a dough and knead it as if you're making bread then roll it out on a floured surface until it's quite thin. Once you've cut out your shapes you'll need to press a hole through the tops of them for the ribbon. I used a chop stick. Then they go into the oven on a lined baking sheet at 100 - 120 degrees (centigrade) for 3 - 4 hours to harden.

We painted ours red and then decorated them with little felt reindeer and silver glitter glue.



Once the ornaments were ready I needed something to hang them on. Our Christmas tree is already bursting and I wanted these decorations to be something a bit different that I could use as a table centrepiece on Xmas Day. I found a branch outside and painted it white with some leftover house paint I had before securing it in floral foam inside a vase. I wrapped some red felt around the vase to hide the floral foam and popped some off white felt scraps inside.


I've been really inspired by images of Scandinavian Christmas decorating this year (too much Ikea perhaps?) and I'm hoping to come up with something clean and simple along those lines for our Christmas table this year.  Tomorrow the kids and I are making red and white fabric garlands using fabric scraps that we'll be recycling/upcycling into decorations.

So we're making a start on feeling festive. A bit late perhaps but better late than never!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Tree



When I was little getting the annual Christmas Tree was one of my favourite traditions of the year. I loved going out with mum and my sisters to find the perfect tree with a good shape and the right amount of bushiness. When we got home we’d all scramble around the backyard for rocks to hold it upright in the bucket and then it was time to decorate! I don’t remember mum buying many decorations over the years, but we always seemed to have a huge amount to go on the tree.  Baubles (eventually) dished out fairly amongst the three sisters, tinsel arranged, and it was time to turn on the lights. Satisfied with our work, we'd compliment each other on how pretty it looked before collapsing on the sofa for a well earned piece of Christmas cake.

I’m now in the position of making this happy little tradition a reality for my own two kids. And boy, do they love Christmas Trees.  Their enthusiasm for Christmas Trees borders on unhealthy. The funny thing is, when you’re the mum, rather than the kid, you start to see that getting a Christmas Tree can be a wee bit stressful.  With the perspective of a mother I’m starting to recall the other bits – the not so great parts that your brain conveniently forgets over time and replaces with The Cosby Show version of how it went down.

Like the fact that mum was always a bit strung out by the time it was the day to get The Tree.  Oh mum, I know the feeling.  My kids have been asking me about Christmas since September. When I simply could not hear ‘Mum, when can we get a Christmas Tree?’any longer I stupidly told Jemima we’d get one last Saturday. Rookie mistake.  Turns out it’s kind of hard to find a tree when it’s still NOVEMBER!

Then there’s erecting the tree. Last year, as I was skewered alive under a blanket of pine branches needles while holding the trunk (‘Left.... no right a bit... no left... yep, yep.. now forward. Not that forward!!’)  a familiar sensation washed over me. I remembered from my childhood the oddly shaped grey rocks that we jammed into the bucket to make our tree stand upright and when they didn’t work – the concrete bricks. The banged up fingers that happened in the process.  I remember everyone getting a bit exasperated with holding the tree in place.  They don’t call them needles for nothing.

Another thing you don’t realise as a kid – they cost money. Quite a lot of it as it turns out.

And then there’s the Real vs. Fake  debate. When I was a kid I swore I would never, ever, have a fake Christmas Tree. I thought they were the ugliest things I’d ever seen. They broke our tradition of finding the perfect one. And what about the smell?

I still like a real tree. But I’m also realistic. We have two people in our family with hay fever. And when it’s a contest between $60 and an hour trip vs. $25 and a quick drive to the shopping centre I’m afraid Kmart wins.

Jeremy was concerned that a fake tree wouldn’t be the same for the kids. Jemima didn’t mind what we bought. She just wanted something to hang tinsel on.  It could have been a broom for all she cared. She had it in her head that we were getting a tree, and she wasn’t going to let it go until something coated in plastic balls and sparkly fringing was standing in our living room. When we went out to look in some shops she was so obsessed with the idea of getting a tree that she suggested stopping a stranger in the street to ask them if they had any.

I thought we had it all sorted but then as we got in the car to buy our ‘plastic’ tree Ben started to get upset. Apparently he does care. He wanted a real tree. He said he would even have a small one if it meant it could be real. I should have known. You can be guaranteed that if one kid agrees on something, the other one wants the opposite. It’s kind of a parenting rule.

Ben was outvoted and this year it's fake tree for us.  It looks OK. It’s not as beautiful as a real one, and it doesn’t have the smell of course, but really, it’s so covered with sparkly stuff that you can’t see what’s underneath anyway.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Make, Bake, and Grow

Make

The kids did some painting today. Ben wanted to do a forest so we printed some animals onto fabric and glued them on after he'd finished the background.


Bake

I said a while ago that I hate baking, and I stand by that statement. Despite not liking it, baking is in my future for the next few years so my mission is to make it as easy as I possibly can.



Here's my recipe for a super healthy, super yummy, gluten free + vegan carrot cake.

Mix together:

1 C GF self raising flour
1/2 C brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
1 C LSA mix (ground almond, flaxseed, and sunflower seeds)
1 handful of currents

Then add:


1 large carrot (grated)
juice and zest of 1 orange
1/4 - 1/2 C soy milk - enough to make a thick batter

Bake in a small loaf tin at 180 degrees centigrade for 50 - 60 minutes.
I hope you give this one a try, it's really yum and doesn't use any eggs or butter so it's good on the pocket too.  You won't taste that it's GF or vegan and it's packed full of goodness with the carrot and LSA mix.

Grow

Today I rescued my seedlings from the green house and planted them out in the garden.  My peas and lettuce all drowned in the week of rain we've just had so I had to pull them all out. I'm hoping to have a catch up day out there soon!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adventures in Preserving

I was out at my local thrift shops yesterday looking for retro fabrics (and having no luck) when I stumbled across what appeared to be a gigantic stock pot.  It caught my eye because it had a $50 price tag on it and I've got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the ridiculous prices in some second hand stores. Take old sheets for example. I happen to need a lot of retro patterned sheets for a project I'm working on, and I can't tell you how many are sitting there for months with a $10 ticket on them. Seriously people, it's an old sheet. Some unknown person slept on it. And probably did other things on it too. Sometimes I hear the elderly volunteers out the back of the shop deciding what price to put on donations that come in, and there is absolutely no logic. It's worth whatever they say it's worth. I've even heard them getting quiet feisty when opinions differ on how valuable something is perceived to be.

Anyway, back to the big pot. As I got down to have a look at it, I saw a little label on the outside with the words 'Preserver' on it. Heart rate went up a notch. I peeled off a bit of the tape holding the big brown lid on, and saw - oh be still my beating heart - piles of old jars, lids, rings, and covers. This was not just any preserver, it was a Fowler's Vacola. Suddenly that $50 price tag was looking mighty good. I knew that these sets went for well over $150 on ebay and the jars alone are really rare and costly.




So I trotted out of the thift store - OK, actually I waddled out, because the Vacola was really heavy. When I got home and unpacked it all I realised there was a slight hiccup. No instruction manual. Never mind, google is my friend. I spent a happy few hours reading everything I could find on bottling, Fowler's, incorrect seals, and food safety guidelines.

The plan was that Jemima and I would go to Bilpin in the summer to buy some boxes of fruit to preserve. But then, patience has never been my strong point. I made a trip to the local markets today and spotted some cherries and nectarines for $3 a bucket, and this afternoon I got that Vacola cranking.


First we washed them and then we took out all of the stalks.  I asked Jemima to separate out any yucky ones but she was so ruthless that we hardly had any to bottle. I had to rescue some of the rejects when she wasn't looking. Maybe she has a future in quality control.


Once they were all done I put them in one of my nice old mixing bowls because well, you know.

Then they went into my sterilised jars and some hot sugar syrup was poured on top. This was the moment I realised I should have put on the tricky rubber rings before filling the jar with boiling hot liquid. Once on, I placed a glass lid on top, and got out the clips which are meant to hold the lid down. They were trickier than the rubber rings and I wasn't sure if the lid was still meant to wobble or not. Suddenly my Internet research wasn't so reassuring.

Onwards and upwards!

Into the enormous pot they went along with two jars of nectarines.  I should have had a thermometer but I don't.. so I guessed. I read somewhere that a rolling boil for 20 minutes should do the trick. So that's what I did.

One thing I do know is that you're meant to take the jars out of the hot water straight away after the time is up.  Actually doing it was near on impossible. We don't have any fancy tongs for jars and it was hot in there. I ended up scooping out the hot water with a jug before Jeremy carefully pulled them out for me.


So here they are post preserving pot in all their glory.  I have to wait for a 12 - 24 hours before I remove the clips and only then will I discover if my jars have sealed. If not, all is not lost. I'll just pop them in the fridge and  make them into puddings like this GF nectarine and cherry crumble that I made with the leftovers:


And it was good!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Make, Bake, and Grow

When the weather looks like this


the only reasonable thing to do is enjoy spending the whole day at home pottering about, making stuff, and eating.



I bought this doily from a market for $1.50 a while back and today I made this yellow cushion for our armchair. The yellow fabric was $2 a metre from a Spotlight sale.



Jeremy made a GF loaf of bread and a GF Banana bread, and I made some normal cheese scones.

I spent a couple of hours looking at craft on the Internet.

Ben made a "Car Parade" on the window sill:


and Jeremy played the guitar.


Sometimes a day inside is just about perfect.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Karma


When I was seven I burst out of the school gates one sunny afternoon to find a strange woman with tight red curls and big glasses beckoning to me. I glanced over my shoulder to see if she was looking at someone else but all of the other children were already moving towards their parents.  My older sister Claire came up along side me and gave my school bag a little shove with her elbow as she walked past.  I started to ask, "Claire.. who is...." but she had run ahead to talk to her friend Sasha, the girl who lived in the cool house by the beach with portholes in the walls.

The woman was still staring at me and I began to feel a little afraid. I was old enough to know that you didn't talk to strangers and you most definitely did not go home with someone you didn't know after school. I looked around for my mum and our beat up silver Nissan Sunny but I couldn't see either of them anywhere. The woman began to wave at me, and then she did something odd. She rolled her eyes.

As she walked closer I stopped with a start. This woman looked like my mum. She had the same big glasses and navy blue handbag. Hang on, she WAS my mum! But what on earth had happened to her hair?? Her lovely soft blond locks were coloured an angry red and her curls were as tight as a telephone cord. I felt tears sting my eyes and my bottom lip start to quiver. Someone had ruined my mother.

As it turns out, my poor old mum had been experimenting with a new look. With the perspective of being a mum in my 30s now myself I can imagine her being bored with her clothes and her hair and wanting to do something different. She had little money so she would have bought a cheap bottle of red hair dye and some curling tongs thinking she could perform a mini makeover in the bathroom, and all within school hours.

The seven year old me didn't appreciate any of that. I wanted my old mum back, and fast. Who was this woman with the hair the colour of tomato sauce? She was a version of my mother, but she was all wrong somehow and I desperately needed the familiar mum back again.

Mum didn't keep the red hair for long. I think even she realised that it wasn't her best look. Having three daughters gripe and criticise and complain probably didn't help either.

And so it was that karma came recently to my house to bite me on the behind. I'd been growing increasingly sick of my long dark hair and one day I decided to cut it short. I talked to the kids about it the night before and Jemima cried real tears. Please don't cut your hair mummy! People at school will think my mum is a boy! she said with all the logic of a seven year old. Ben shook his head sadly. I don't want you to cut your hair mum.

I cut it anyway while they were at school. It's my hair I thought, I'll do what I like with it. They'll soon get used to it the hairdresser said as she sawed through my ponytail.  I walked out of the salon feeling like I was a new version of myself. A better, more fashionable version. I got home and immediately posted some photos on Facebook to see what people thought. Reports were favourable. When my husband got home from work he approved.

So with quiet confidence I walked into school that afternoon with my new hair do.  Ben took one look at me and his face fell. Tears welled in his big chocolate eyes and he said, I want you to be normal.

Jemima did little better. She didn't spot me at first and when she did, she went bright red. I could tell she was trying hard to hide her emotions in front of her friends but she say Why did you do that? while giggling nervously and pointing at me.

Ben spent the whole drive home with his hat over his face. He refused to look at the strange woman in the front seat who sounded just like mum but who wasn't quite right.

Poor kid. I knew just how he felt.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Top Secret

I know things have been very quiet on the blog lately, but believe it or not I've been busier than ever! The problem is that I am in full Xmas present making mode at the moment, and since my family read this blog I haven't been able to post about anything I've been making.

I can't wait to show you all what I've been working on, but it will have to wait until after Christmas!

Becs.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Never Admit Defeat


Let me begin by saying that I’m not a coffee drinker. I prefer a cup of strong tea over coffee any day, but there are some mornings when nothing but coffee will do. The other morning was such a one.  I’d just endured three nights of little sleep thanks to the combined powers of Mr J snoring, Miss J coming into our room in the small hours announcing her inability to sleep, and Mr B wanting his nose blown at 4am.  I can cope with one bad night but two or three in a row turns me into a bleary eyed angry woman.

My children have wonderful imaginations and they’re very creative wee souls. One of their favourite games to play when they wake up in the morning involves Mr B’s toy dogs.  Miss J makes a high pitched whining sort of noise for one of the dog’s “voices” and even though we’ve told her that it sounds more like a tortured cat than a dog, she continues. It’s my least favourite noise in the entire universe. And believe me, with my kids I have a plethora of annoying noises to choose from. About a year ago, after one particularly intense dog-play session we banned “THAT NOISE” from the house. Like most of the things we attempt to ban in a sweep of parental power, it didn’t work.

That morning, after being up at 4 to blow Mr B’s nose because “it has a noise in it” I was treated to little voices just over an hour later. I opened one eye and saw that the first number on the clock was indeed a 5 and said a naughty word into my pillow. Just as I began to hope that they may have gone back to sleep, Miss J started up with the dog noise. Mr B accompanied it with “thunder” by drumming his feet on the wall. Miss J laughed, then shrieked, it got louder as I got more and more annoyed. Eventually I threw back the bed clothes with a huff and stormed in there to tell them to be quiet. I just made it back to bed before I heard the dog noise again.

6.45am and it was almost time to give up and get up when I heard Mr B saying that he needed to go to the toilet. I could hear him asking Miss J to open the door for him because the knob was too high for him to reach. I waited for the pad of her footsteps along the floor but it didn’t come. Instead I heard her laughing and saying “Ha ha ha! You’re weeeeeeeing on the carpet!” Mr B was also amused. I was not.

Yes, bleary eyed angry woman had arrived. I was on hands and knees scrubbing the carpet, whilst showering a 4 year old, scolding a 7 year old, and having a weepy conversation with my absent husband on the phone.

Half an hour later all was calm again. Children were dressed and fed, carpet was clean. I was still bleary eyed but a little less angry.

Which brings me back to the coffee. That morning, if I was going to survive at all, I needed coffee.

No problem –we had coffee in the cupboard and the plunger was on the bench top. Only as I reached for it, it slipped out of my hand and shattered all over the bench,sending tiny shards of glass all over my freshly washed dishes. Oh. Really? Really? I thought as I picked bits of glass from my dishes while shooing barefooted kids from the kitchen.

If there's one thing I hate, it’s defeat.  I grabbed my teapot which has a little mesh insert inside it. Ha! It looks just like the mesh in the plunger I thought to myself smugly. I made the coffee and all seemed to be going well until I poured it through the mesh into the mug and the grains came with it. By this point I was desperate and I was going to have a damn coffee.

I got a clean tea towel and shoved it into the mug then poured the coffee on top, grains and all. A minute later, I had something that looked like coffee in my mug, albeit a bit weak and murky.  And it did the trick. Well, sort of.

Do you ever have mornings that seem to be sent to test you? Not the figurative ‘you’, I mean YOU.  After my horrid morning the other day I was thinking about this very thing. I considered that perhaps mornings where it seems that the kids, and the alarm clock, and the cat, and the weather, are all tag teaming me were one of those little gems that come with motherhood.  You know, like the ‘playing with poos’ stage.  Or kids spitting out food into your hand.

But then I remembered a phone call from my beautiful, successful, very put together sister. My no-kids sister. She was bemoaning her awful start to the day. She had slept in, right through her alarm (I had to bite my tongue at the slept in part – ahem). Something had gone wrong in her office and she missed an important online meeting.  She had a sinus infection. Oh yes indeed, we all have crappy mornings - kids or no kids. Although I have to say, the no kids version doesn't typically involve cleaning up other people's body fluids but we'll let that one slide.

I am becoming quite the expert at bad mornings. I can spot one at a distance. Thankfully they don’t visit too frequently, but when they show up they sure make their presence felt.  My philosophy is that bad mornings are like The Week. They come, they go, you grit your teeth and get through.

And then there are those lovely mornings. Those mornings when the kids climb into my bed at a respectable hour for a cuddle. Mornings when I wake up by myself and have a few seconds to think about the day ahead. Mornings when I think it’s a school day then realise with a smile that it’s the weekend and there will be no school rush for me or anyone else. They far outnumber the awful ones.

And that, my friends, is what you need to remember when you find yourself half asleep picking through glass with hands smelling of urine while straining coffee through a tea towel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Giving Muffins the Finger


I hate baking. There. I said it. I hate baking.

Despite my loathing of cake mixes and biscuit dough, I love to cook. I read cookbooks for leisure. I shop for weird ingredients at ethnic food shops. I make a mean curry.  So WHY can't I bake?

Tomorrow is the school gala. And, well, I'm sure you know what comes next.

A couple of days ago one of the school mums cornered me and said "So, Rebecca, you'll make a cake for Saturday won't you." Not, "Won't you?" No. This wasn't a question to be answered. It was a matter of fact. I kind of admired her at the time for being so direct.

Yesterday I did the weekly shopping and I remembered the gala as I approached the baking aisle. We don't have any wheat flour or eggs because of allergies and intolerances so if I have to bake something, I need to buy a whole pile of ingredients. It rubs me the wrong way, because after I'm done buying everything they end up selling my sad looking slice at a serious loss. So this time, I thought I'd be smart. I bought a 0.67c packet of cake mix and planned to make some muffins with chocolate chips.

This morning as I woke up I remembered that the oven repair guy was coming today. Apparently. This is the third time I've waited at home for him to arrive. The first day was on my birthday. Hmmpf. They don't give you an arrival time either, you just wait all day for the call that's meant to come 30 minutes before he gets here. Apparently. If the oven guy was going to appear at any moment I just knew that he'd come as soon as I put the muffins in the oven.

I bounded out of bed, threw some cereal at the kids, and started making the muffin mix in my pyjamas. I thought if I could get them done early, then I wouldn't have to worry about the oven being hot when the repair guy arrived. I was making lunches, tidying the kitchen, making muffins for the bake sale, getting stuff out to make some bread. It was a school morning Martha Stewart style.

An hour later my muffins were cooling on the bench and I was out the door to do the school run and then some errands afterwards. When I arrived home I thought I'd arrange my beautifully risen golden little muffins on a tray ready for icing. The first extraction from the muffin tin didn't go well. Never mind, I'll eat that one, I told myself merrily as I went to get another one out of the pan. The second one was also stuck. I'd forgotten muffin papers and even though I'd greased the tin well, none of them would budge. And the chocolate chips? They'd all descended to the bottom of each muffin, gluing them down tight.

So. I hate baking. And you know what? Life is too short to be spending time doing something you really hate. There are plenty of other mothers out there who love doing it, and do it well. So I've decided that they can take care of the bake sales from now on. I'll sew you something, bake you some bread, pick up your kids, and make you a meal. But please, oh please, don't ask me to bake.

Muffins were yummy, despite the lack of chocolate chips and the fact that it looked like someone had been gnawing on the underside of all of them. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vintage Travel Party

What have I been up to? Well, since my own birthday party season is well and truly over for the year I've been helping a friend with a birthday party for her two kids - a brother and sister turning 6 and 4. It's sometimes difficult to do a combined party for young kids because the girls tend to want something very pink, and the boys... well, they don't. 

The party was held at a miniature railway so we decided to do a play on the train theme and do 'travel' with a vintage twist instead. Over the last month I've been busily making things out of old maps and collecting bits and pieces from op shops. This is what  I came up with.




For these Airmail style envelopes I used free downloadable fonts from Dafont.com like 'Dead Letter Office Seventeen' for the airmail stamp and 'stamPete' for the writing. The red and blue border was a free printable that's available here: airmail envelope. After printing them out onto white card on my home inkjet printer I glued an old stamp onto the top of each envelope.

Table set with vintage tablecloths from op shops. Pinwheels are made from maps. Books are memory books for each guest to write the birthday boy or girl a birthday wish.

Pinwheels with dowel from a hardware shop and maps from a map book
bought from an op shop for $3.

Memory Book bought from a craft shop and covered
in map paper.

Memory books - bought for $1.99 each and then decorated.

Main table. $3 sheet for a table cloth with a banner made from felt squares.
Picnic basket was filled with popcorn bags.

Picnic baskets are a great way to decorate a party table!

Paper plates which I decorated with a circle cut from a vintage travel book.


Decorations made from maps and split pins.

For the ladies - a picnic blanket with dress ups and a tea set.

Espresso cups make a cheap alternative to a kids tea set and there are
always loads of them at thrift stores. This set cost me $4.

Dress ups in a $4 picnic basket.

The kids had a fantastic time and the weather was gorgeous. This was a really fun theme to do, and could easily be adapted to a grown ups party or a wedding. If my budget was unlimited I would have liked to add some vintage world globes, binoculars, a compass or two, vintage suitcases, and some old aviator goggles. There is also lots of room to have fun with paper products such as passports and luggage tags.

In total I spent $56 on the styling including the invitations, decorations, the tablecloth, the dress ups, and the popcorn.

Now on to the next party....

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