Tag Archives: food

Happy Birthday, Harry!

 

fake cupcakes

Harry is three today.  This is a picture of me putting icing and sprinkles on store-bought mini-muffins in an attempt to make them look like home-made cupcakes.  Then when we arrived at playgroup, I had Annie on my hip and Harry’s bag on my shoulder and I picked up the cupcake carrier sideways and all the fake cupcakes fell all over each other and all the icing came off.  Fail.

 

Frugal Fail.

Free Aldi flowers - still going after 2 weeks!

I’ve always wanted to be a queen of thrift.  Well, no.  That’s not exactly true.  I’m pretty sure at various points in my childhood I wanted to be a fashion designer, a movie star, a member of the A-Team and a boy, but since I’ve become a full-time mum, I’ve aspired to get really good at saving money.  I suppose I want to earn my keep.  I’d love to save so much money by making miracles out of rice and tuna that we would have EVEN MORE to spend than if I’d been working – that’s how clever I would be with the budget.  I pore over websites like Simple Savings and Cheapskates for tips on making a single income look sexy.  I see it as a kind of sport.  I have friends who are also trying to save money and I’ve noticed a subtle sense of competition making its way into our conversations.   It’s like the Frugalympics.

“I can make a million things with mince meat!”  I boast
“That’s nothing!  You should taste my spam-burgers!”,  says one friend
“You mean to say you guys can afford meat?”, the other friend exclaims in smug triumph.

Whenever I make an extravagant purchase like movie tickets, cappuccinos, décor magazines or disposable baby wipes, I try to keep a lid on it.  If news got out amongst the other frugalympians, I’d lose points for sure.

Having said all this, I’m not deluded enough to think I’m in any way poor.   I’m talking about first world problems here.  I won the birth lottery in a big way.  Australia has an extravagance of riches compared to the majority of the world’s population.  I wash my clothes and my dishes in fresh drinking water and, while I might agonise over which school to send my children, I never have to question whether they get an education.

I suppose part of this comes from a desire to resist a culture that has become rampantly consumerist.  I’m sick of getting told I need to put my marriage under pressure and outsource my mothering to an institution so that I can afford stuff I don’t need to impress people I don’t like.  I would much rather be frugal (and I appreciate that not everyone is in my position and I am attacking the pressures placed on working mothers, not working mothers themselves, please don’t write me angry letters, end disclaimer)

Grocery shopping has become a military operation.  I take stock of the freezer, pantry and fridge and try to incorporate it into my meal plan.  I write my meal plan, making allowances for any events or meals out planned for that week.  I look at the meal plan and any shopping list notes and make a master list.  On this master list, each corner of the page represents a corner of the shop.  I write the items according to their location in the supermarket (as Aldi really only has two major aisles, this is not quite as impressive as it sounds).  I pay close attention to the two “red zones” – the sweet biscuit and lolly section at the front of the first aisle and the meat section at the back of the second aisle, where everything is at toddler height.  I need to have a clear idea of what I need from these red zones and move through them at lighting speed as she who dawdles is lost (and buried under a pile of grocery suggestions from her helpful son).  Pay attention!  There can be no doubling back in this jungle.  But if you’re good you can get a vegemite scroll at the end.

Last week was a good shop.  Both Harry and Annie were enjoying their weekly ritual with cheerful enthusiasm.  Harry didn’t toss too many items into the trolley and Annie didn’t toss too many items out of it.  I stocked up on meat and even bought a whole chicken to roast (I’d read all about how you can make three meals out of one roast chicken and was longing to try it to boost my frugal credentials).  When I got to the end of the shop there were free fresh flowers on the packing bench (too old to sell, but still good).  I grabbed a bunch to brighten up the house and sailed home feeling unutterably smug.

I packed the groceries away, putting the bulk meat in the bottom drawer of the fridge to be divided into portions and frozen.  Then I got to work on the roast chicken.  I stuffed it with onion and half-eaten-apple, rubbed it with oil and salt and herbs and cooked it into a culinary masterpiece at only five dollars a kilo.  My smug levels rose ever higher.

After dinner I got to work stripping the chicken (for stirfry meat) and inspecting the carcass (for soup stock).  While there wasn’t nearly enough chicken left for another meal, I stuck it in the fridge for sandwiches and pulled out my phone to search for instructions on turning a roast chicken carcass into a delicious winter soup.  I was met with a bewildering variety of opinions on how to do it involving all manner of ingredients and equipment I didn’t have.  I drudged back into the kitchen only to find that Mr Knightley had tossed the carcass in the bin whilst cleaning the kitchen.  I hugged him in relief.

“What’s with all the meat in the fridge drawer?”, that worthy personage asked casually.

“I’m buying meat in bulk now.  It’s more economical, don’t you know” I gushed enthusiastically.

“You should probably put it in the freezer”, he said, filling the roasting pan with water.

I treated him to one of my best eye rolls.  “Of course I will!  I just have to separate it into portions first.  It’s all under control.”

Later that week, after I posted my Sticky Tape Pudding recipe, my levels of smugness had reached epic proportions.  Oh look at me – the mother who bakes with her children and makes it to the bottom of her laundry basket!  I’ve finally got the hang of this parenting malarkey!  Just call me Captain Awesome and be done with it!

And then it hit me all at once – the meat!

I scrabbled to the bottom of the fridge drawer. Surely it hadn’t been that long?  Surely it was still good?  I sought the fateful use-by date.  It was two days ago.  My bottom lip started to wobble violently.

meat fail

Mr Knightley walked into the room to find me wailing amidst mince meat and sausages.

“How can I manage a family of six,” I hiccupped, “if I can’t even manage basic foodstuffs?!”

I may have been just a little hormonal.  Mr Knightley knew it and wisely chose not to say “I told you so”, but instead steered me to the couch and allowed me to sob tempestuously whilst he cast furtive glances over my shoulder at a repeat episode of Futurama.

In the commercial break, Mr Knightley gave my shoulder a squeeze, “Some women”, he said, barely managing to suppress a twitch playing on the corner of his mouth, “blow the budget on shoes or cigarettes or designer clothes.  You’re the only one I know who splashes out on budget meats!”

At Mr Knightley’s suggestion, I tried to find a dog in the neighbourhood to benefit from this tragic situation, but it would seem every dog in the area is on a special sausage-free diet.  So it came to pass that the sausages and mince stare up at me reproachfully every time I open the outside bin (along with the chicken carcass).

But I’ll be fine, really.

I just need to work out a way to keep the IFC (International Frugalympics Committee) from inspecting my bins…

Half-Eaten-Apple Teacake

I’ve decided if I’m going to be a serious Mummy blogger, I’d better start posting some recipes.  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?  Here’s one of my favourites.  My great aunty used to bake apple teacake with me when I was small so it comes with warm and comforting memories.  I always wanted to be the sort of mum (does she even exist?) who has some sort of teacake ‘on hand’ when friends drop by.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  A girl can dream.

Hmm.  A girl can read a little too much Anne of Green Gables than is healthy for her too.

This particular recipe is gluten free.  Of course, you can use regular flour if you like, but I’m just saying it works really well as a gluten free cake – not all cakes do.

OK, enough waffling, on to the recipe!

half-eaten apples

My son is incapable of eating an entire apple.  Why finish this one when I can just trot off and start another?   It drives me to distraction.

There are lots of things you can do with these discarded apples, I suppose.  Some people stew them, some juice them, Mr Knightley cuts them up into coin shapes and rebrands them as “apple money” which the kids think is the best thing ever.

But when I was feeling a craving for apple tea cake, I realised all at once that I could make something wonderful from these little green cast-offs. So here we go.

I should probably point out here that these pictures were taken during my first attempt at the cake and I’ve learnt some extra things since then.  The most important point being that you really only need enough half-eaten apple to make up one full-sized one.  I have far too many in this picture!

bad bits cut off

So: chop off the bad bits (that big apple would have been enough…)

sliced apples

And slice them up.  Slice them as thin as you can – I’ve done it a bit too chunky in this picture.  Why include this picture if it shows far too many apples all sliced the wrong way?  Because I took it, by gum!  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to photograph what you’re doing whilst baking a cake with two little boy helpers?  No?  Well sit down and stop complaining!

Ahem!  Sorry, I got a little carried away there, dear reader.  No more berating, I promise.  Here’s our ingredients list:

65g butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free self-raising flour
1/3 cup milk
thinly sliced half-eaten apples – 1 apple’s worth

Cinnamon topping

10g butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons caster sugar

You will also need:

A mixing bowl
An electric mixer (handy, but not essential)
A wooden spoon
A 20cm round cake tin, lined with baking paper (the shallow sort you would use two of to make a sandwich cake)

The best thing about this recipe is that you can make it from things you already have in your cupboard.  I have no time for recipes with exotic ingredients!

Now, before you start, preheat the oven to 180 degrees (or 160 fan forced)  (that’s 350 / 320 Farenheit, for my American friends)

cake batter

So beat up the softened butter until it gets a little paler, then add the sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Mix with an electric mixer (or stir up heaps with a wooden spoon).

cake mix

Turn off the electric mixer and hand out the beaters to lick.  That should get you five minutes worth of peace.  Now stir in half the flour and half the milk, then the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk.  Make sure nobody dips their beater back in once they’ve licked it clean.

fake cake

Now pour the batter into the cake pan.  I forgot to take a picture of this stage, so I stole one from the Internet instead.  Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone.

Arrange the apple slices on the top and bake for 25-30 minutes.

bakedcake

Mary looking at cake

Mary looks impressed.

While it’s still warm, rub the 10g (a little knob) of butter onto the cake so it melts.  Or, if you’re like me and forget, melt it in the microwave and brush it on later.  Then sprinkle with the sugar mixed with cinnamon.

finished cake

This tastes best if it’s still warm, but still pretty good when it’s cooled.  I made this for my mummy friends on Friday and thus fulfilled one of my life’s ambitions as a stay-at-home mum.  Bliss.

The first time I made this, of course, I had far too much apple left over.

Anyone for apple money?

Vegetarian Fail.

It all came to a head on Friday at 4:15pm.  Annie was crying in the highchair, Christopher Robin and Harry were practising extreme wrestling on the trampoline (“I wasn’t biting him, Mummy, I was hugging him with my teeth!”), I was desperately trying to get dinner together and Matilda was looking grave and pensive.

“Mummy,” she announced solemnly, “I’ve decided I want to be a vegetarian.”

Now, I can’t pretend I didn’t see this coming.  Earlier in the week, a sign at the butcher’s advertising “wild rabbits” sent a tired and tearful Matilda into hysterics (“you mean people KILL cute little bunny rabbits and then they EAT them?  That is just so MEAN!”) and no talk of ‘introduced species’ or ‘feral pests’ or ‘circle of’ bloody ‘life’ would calm her down.  The night before saw Matilda wide awake well past her bed time, wracked with guilt after eating a plateful of roast lamb (It was moist and nice and not at all burnt like last time)

So I knew Matilda had been considering vegetarianism.  I had already laid down the law that she couldn’t only choose to be vegetarian for some meals just to get out of eating them (like beef stew, which she calls “beef spew”),  I just hadn’t anticipated her making this commitment the day before shopping day – an hour before dinnertime – while I was elbow-deep in meatloaf.

So I scratched my head and had a think.  I had half a tin of lentils.  Surely that had to count for something.  Vegetarians are always banging on about lentils.  And I had a muffin tin.  Maybe I could make a mini- lentil loaf?

As I mixed the lentils with all the stuff I usually put in the meatloaf and added plenty of egg to hold it all together, I was struck with a wonderful vision of myself.  I could get really good at this!  I could be That Amazing Mother who whips up delicious vegetarian meals effortlessly for her mature, sensitive and intelligent vegetarian daughter.  I saw myself floating through organic wholefood markets buying bulk packs of tofu whilst hippies and hipsters alike nodded their approval.  What if I’m actually a creative genius in the kitchen, creating small miracles out of chick peas and eggplant?  I imagined myself on the cover of a glossy recipe-and-anecdote book, wearing a mildly ironic 1950s-style apron and smiling benevolently at the camera.  Of all things, I think putting out a recipe-and-anecdote book is a true sign that you’ve made it as a domestic goddess.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the perfect muffin-shaped little lentil loaf after I took it out of the oven.  It was truly a thing of beauty.  Matilda exclaimed at how pretty it was and ate it wordlessly whilst I radiated smug all over the kitchen.

The next day, Matilda was making herself a ham roll with extra ham.  ”I’ve decided not be be a vegetarian,” she said, “that lentil loaf you made yesterday was pretty yuck”

Incidentally, I’d be happy to publish the recipe if anyone is looking to turn their child off vegetarianism.

Maybe I could make a book…

Roast Fail: The Sequel

An update:

The house still smells like roast beef

Harry did it again to the meatloaf tonight but I discovered it before things got too bad (still burnt, though).

While out with my Mum today, Christopher Robin commented that he and Harry had put a wash on, but hadn’t yet set it off and that he would remember to “press start” when we got back home.  It being 9:30 in the morning, I responded to this with “was that a dream you had, darling?”  Christopher Robin assured me that this was no dream, he and his brother had quietly achieved it whilst I was breastfeeding Annie that morning and that “Harry put too much powder in”.  I made a mental note to try to fix the situation when I got home, gently admonished Christopher Robin for putting a wash on without Mummy (“Harry started it.”) and got on with my day.

Later this afternoon, whilst preparing dinner (the ill-fated meatloaf) it struck me that I could hear the washing machine running.  True to his word, Christopher had turned on the washing machine.  Just as he said, Harry had indeed put too much powder in, on and around the machine – almost the entire box, scoop by wobbly scoop (it has always been their favourite part of the process).  There were a few items of clothing in there, too, but I think the powder proved to be more fun.

Just so you know yesterday wasn’t a one-off…

Roast Fail.

Once a fortnight, I’ve started this thing where we try to have a Sunday Roast.  Every time I open the freezer, I see the meat ready for roasting and I wink at it and whisper “soon!”.  Today was Roast Day.  I’ve been known in the past to let the day get away from me before getting the roast on and thus have a late dinner with psycho children too tired to eat, but not so today!  At 1:30pm I lovingly salted and oiled the meat, placed it on a bed of onions and surrounded it with garlic.  I chopped and parboiled the veggies and put them in the oven too.  I then turned the oven right down low, put on the exhaust fan and got the kids ready to go see my grandma. When we got home we would have roast!

On the way home from the hospital it was bitter cold and pouring down rain.  As we drove along with headlights on, we all shared one smug thought:  Roast.  Put children in warm pyjamas, fill their bellies with roast beef and they’ll be in bed asleep faster than you can say “Downton Abbey”!

As we pulled into the driveway, I said in my most important voice, “Mr Knightley, you unload the kids.  I must go in and check on The Roast!”

My first sign that something might have gone wrong was the smell of smoke.  It would seem the roast had ‘caught’.  Then I got to the kitchen.

My delightful two-year-old son, who loves to help Mummy in the kitchen, had turned the oven up to maximum before we left the house.  The kitchen was rather smoky (would have been much more so, had the fan not been on).  And the Roast was a blackened crisp.

Many things happened then:  I stormed about the house yelling to no one in particular about how hard my life is;  Matlida burst into very loud, impassioned sobs to which Mr Knightley and I (I’m very ashamed to say) growled in unison “Don’t YOU start!”;  Harry, confused as to why everyone seemed so cross at him, set to destroying the house with a kitchen whisk; Christopher Robin asked “what’s for dinner?” and Annie gurgled and kicked in amusement.

Mr Knightley, with an air of grim determination, retrieved the smoking, shrunken black mass from the oven and tried to carve it.  Beneath the thick black crust there was a little bit of good meat to pick at (Mr Knightley gave me the nicest piece).  It felt like Tiny Tim’s family from A Christmas Carol.

We had tinned soup and toasted muffins for dinner.

Afterwards, as we were cleaning up, Mr Knightley did a bit of wistful poking around the charred remains of what were once vegetables and presented me with a small morsel of onion.  “Taste this” he said in a kind voice “It’s perfectly caramelised”