Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - the year that was over in the blink of an eye.

Yep, seriously. Where did this year go? It seems like yesterday it was the same time last year.  Due to the fact that 2014 is drawing to a close I think a yearly wrap-up is in order.

What was the best thing that happened to me this year? Making new friends and developing old friendships. I enjoyed having more people over to our house and we had the most amazing time preparing for and attending the 2014 International Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses here in Melbourne, as well as the 2 bus tours we were able to take along the Great Ocean Road and to the Otway Fly Treetop Walk.

What did I do this year that I'm really proud of? Spending much more time in my volunteer work than I ever have in any other year. Apart from hours spent in the ministry work, my husband and I spend hours and hours preparing for our bus tours and also preparing gifts for delegates, not to mention all the rehearsals and practice sessions for the Aussie choir and delegate evening. It was all so worth it.
Some of the delegates on our first bus tour.

Who did I help? I hope we helped the International visitors that came for the International Convention. Surely we were able to tell them something interesting about our Great Southern Land and fed/entertained them to an acceptable level.
Some of the delegates on our second bus tour.

Who do I need to thank and acknowledge for having been there for me? Of course my wonderful husband needs first mention; he is always my biggest supporter. Also my bestest girl pals - Skye, Melina, Vanessa, Bianca, Maryanne. I really could go on and on listing names of the fantastic people that continue to support me. I want to thank each and every one for the pat on the back, the encouraging words, bouncing ideas off of, putting up with me and being totally amazing.

What are the top three lessons I learned? Lessons? Just 3? Um... 1. When you think you still have heaps of time to do stuff before a deadline, the deadline always comes way faster than you think it would (i.e. International Convention). 2. Helping others really does make me feel truly happy (i.e. volunteering, bus tours, hosting delegates at our house, giving gifts, throwing parties, etc, etc). 3. When I plan and schedule, I can make it happen, but I am lost without some sort of diary to keep track of everything (i.e. auxillary pioneering, bus tour training, preparing delegate gifts, etc).

What increased my happiness and joy this year? Being content. Seriously, not trying to impress, just being myself, and being happy with what I have and not longing for stuff I don't really want, need, or can't afford. Realising we have it pretty good compared to others is also pretty humbling - who am I to think my life isn't good enough already? That, and the International Convention and all associated activities - we had a blast!

What's something I got through that was really tough? Our first bus tour. We had been preparing for months, expectations were high. Matt and I were both super excited to have the opportunity to be guides to our international visitors as well as super nervous of what could go wrong and what we had forgotten. Matt was recovering after a week of the flu, still not feeling 100% and I was starting to feel the dry scratchy throat and sinus pain... I didn't get much sleep the night before both with excitement and nerves, so armed with about 3hrs sleep and a dose of Sudafed, Panadol and throat spray (thanks to Hijiri), we set off at 6am - and had a FANTASTIC day! Everything went smoothly and we were so overwhelmed by expressions of gratitude for the job we did and awe of our great landscapes. We were utterly exhausted afterwards but we were on such a high.

What did I avoid that I must pay more attention to next year? My scrapbooking and crafting for my own enjoyment, just for fun. I miss Project Life (I didn't do a single page this year although I continued to take heaps and heaps and heaps of photos). Oh, and this blog.

Making glass tile fridge magnets
What character trait did I develop most this year? Determination. I accomplished more than I thought possible. I tried new things (like soap making, sewing, oh and being a bus tour guide), I didn't get overwhelmed - I may have had some sleep deprived nights and weeks where the housework suffered, but I prioritised and made sure what needed to be done got done.

Soaping and Sewing

What new people did I meet that are now in my life? Many, many friends that we met before, during or after the International Convention from America, Germany, Netherlands, Britain as well as many other countries that we have received emails from and/or sent emails to. In particular, the lovely family that spent 3 weeks with us locally from the Netherlands. A new friend in Melissa who moved into our congregation. Peter and Tracey who have a fabulous attitude, are true gems and have a fantastic rural estate we have been privileged to explore. I'm sure there are others I've forgotten too.

Manly Beach, Sydney
Sydney Harbour

 I'm very excited to see what 2015 will bring - BRING IT ON!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Apricot Jam

The apricot tree in our yard produced fruit for the first time this season.  I was so excited to finally get fruit.  I picked and weighed them to find out the total of the haul - 63 apricots (+12 that fell or were bird eaten) with a total weight of 4kgs.  After sorting the eating from the cooking (mostly just blemishes) , it was about half/half.  

My search began for jars to put the proposed jam into, and a recipe for awesome apricot jam.  I also needed to find out if I could seal the jars myself so that they would keep.  I found that the most recommended method is called a Boiling Water Bath, which does have fancy equipment you can buy but essentially you can do it with any pot that is taller than the jar you are wanting to use.  Likely you would have one in your cupboard.  Obviously the smaller the jars, the easier it will be to find a suitable pot.
I ended up buying Bormioli Rocco Quattro jars because they were the most readily available from a local store.  

I purchased 4 150ml jars @ $4ea and a Starter Set which had 4 250ml jars and 4 500ml jars for $30.  Not exactly cheap, but they are well made and lids are not that expensive to replace.  Let's hope they last many many years.  {I also now know why "homemade jams" are so expensive to buy - most of the cost would be in the jar itself.}

Searching for a recipe was the next step - there were not too many variations.  Most called for somewhere between equal quantities of fruit and sugar down to 3/4 sugar to 1 part fruit.  I didn't want a super sweet jam but I feared cutting too much sugar may mean it would not keep as well (especially once the jar was opened).  I decided on 1 part fruit to 4/5 sugar.  I especially liked that most recipes used lemon and didn't require pectin.  My main sources of recipe inspiration was {here}.
The second decision was whether to include vanilla.  Having not tasted it, I didn't know whether to risk 1kg of my precious fruit in case I didn't like it, but in the end I decided to use a little - the equivalent of one vanilla bean.  Afterall, I love vanilla so surely it couldn't be that bad. Here is the recipe I used:

Apricot and Vanilla Jam
{A.K.A Liquid Gold}
1kg Apricots
800g White Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Essence
1 tsp Vanilla Paste
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (approx 4tbsp)

Method:  Pit the apricots and trim any blemishes, then cut each half into 4 or 5 segments.  Place in a bowl (or saucepan, allowing for double the size) and add half the sugar (400g).

Stir occasionally for about 1hr until the sugar has dissolved into liquid.  Add the rest of the ingredients and place over medium heat. 

Place a small ceramic bowl in the freezer.  Stir occasionally and cook until it bubbles up and creates a foam.  Scoop off any foam (once you do this once it doesn't really make any more but it is just air bubbles that don't taste that great) and continue cooking about 20 mins or until the apricots are broken down and when you spoon a small amount onto the frozen bowl it gels into a jammy consistency within 30 seconds.

Taste it to check too - you may find you need more sugar.  If adding more sugar, you may need to cook a bit longer and may require a little more lemon juice to help it set.  This jam is seriously good!!!

I ended up with a little over 1L of jam, which I divided between the jars - I used the 4 small 150ml jars and a full 250ml jar, with the leftover jam in another 250ml jar which wasn't enough to seal up, so I just placed that jar into the fridge.  This jam should keep about a month in the fridge... I doubt it would be in there that long though.

Sterilizing: While the jam was cooking I used my biggest stockpot (5L) with a folded tea towel in the bottom, to sterilize my jars.  Place the jars on the tea towel (so it is not direct heat and to prevent breakage) and cover with water to about 5cm above the top of the rim of the jars.  Bring to a rolling boil and time for 10 minutes (This is the same method I used to sterilize baby bottles a few years ago).

Carefully remove the jars and drain on paper towel until required (I also dipped the lids into the boiling water for about 30 seconds - I was a bit afraid to leave them longer in case it wrecked the seal).  I found by the time the jars were done, my jam was done too. 

Sealing/Processing: The instructions for the jars tell you to fill them with cooled mixture and bring them up to a boil in the water, however since both the jars and the jam were hot I couldn't see any risk in adding the hot jam into the jars when it was done.  Fill the jars to the recommended level (normally leaving a small amount of space in the top) and tighten the lids how you would normally seal a jar - the recommendation is not to over-tighten.  Carefully place the jars back into the stockpot with the tea towel on the bottom, making sure all the jars are well covered with water.  Bring back to a rolling boil and time for 20 minutes (this was the recommendation for my jars although some recipes say to process for 10 minutes). 

Once the time is up, carefully remove them and let them rest (I placed them on a trivet to cool) and you will hear the lids 'ping' as they cool, indicating the vacuum seal is good (mine took anywhere from less than 2 minutes to about 15 minutes to 'ping').  Label the jars and enjoy later.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Summer Of Cooking

I have recently developed a love for reading cooking and homemade blogs.  Anything to do with making it yourself and I'm hooked.  I guess it's no surprise that I am a huge fan of Pinterest.

My goal this Summer is to try to make as much of my food as possible.  The aim is to eat fresher, eat healthier and as close to natural as possible.  Ok, I admit, I love desserts... but if we eat dessert I would rather know what I'm eating than opening a packet or box, the contents of which have probably been shipped from the other side of the world.  I would like to purchase produce in season, stick to a somewhat limited budget (I aim for <$120/week for our family of 4) and create some amazing foods that will hopefully become family favourites.  I might even throw in a few tried and true favourites that have been filed away.

The question that was asked at the dinner table tonight was "What is your favourite homemade meal?" (knowing the answer would likely be McDonalds without the 'homemade' tag).   The eldest decided that "dad's rice" was her favourite.  The youngest thought my lasagne was a winner.  Both hubby and I decided that we didn't have a 'favourite' - we both appreciate different meals for different reasons.

I look forward to spending more time blogging (instead of just reading them) and getting busy in the kitchen!

Monday, September 24, 2012

The SNAP Results

Running Food Tally:  Monday 17th to Sunday 23rd September 2012
Weetbix (14 bics)                                1 pk = 72 bics for approx. $4.00                     Cost $0.78
Rice Cakes (8)                                     1pk = 5 serves for approx. $1.50                    Cost $0.60
Tea Bags (12)                                      1pk = 250 bags for approx. $5.00                  Cost $0.24
Apple (4)                                               each apple approx. 200g @$3/kg                  Cost $2.40
Milk (7L)                                              $1 per litre                                                           Cost $7.00
Grain Waves chips                            one pack @ $2.50                                               Cost $2.50
Instant Coffee                                     200g=$13; 50g used                                           Cost $3.25
Strawbs (2 pt)                                      2 punnets @ $1.69 per punnet                         Cost $3.38
Cream (280ml)                                   600ml = $2.25 (round up to 300ml)               Cost $1.12
Crispbreads (9)                                   1 pk = 36 biscuits @ $1.80                                Cost $0.45
Milo                                                       1kg = $8; approx. 100g used                           Cost $0.80
Lettuce (1/2)                                        Lettuce head was purchased for $1               Cost $0.50
Butter (500g)                                       250g Butter = $1.50                                           Cost $3.00
Lindt Choc (140g)                              Purchased @ $1.80/100g                                 Cost $2.52
Mayonnaise                                         estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.20
Tomato (1)                                           purchased @ $8/kg; 150g                                                Cost $1.20
Ham (300g)                                          purchased @ $16/kg                                          Cost $4.80
Tortillas (12)                                       purchased @ $3 for 12 pk                                Cost $3.00           
White Sugar                                        estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.70
Avocado (1)                                         purchased @ $2                                                  Cost $2.00           
Cheese slices (11)                                purchased 12pk @ $0.99                                  Cost $0.99
Arborio Rice                                       1kg pk @ $4; 250g used                                    Cost $1.00                           
Vanilla essence                                   estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.50
Onion (4)                                              purchased @ $1/kg; 6 to a kg                          Cost $0.67
Cheese block(1kg)                              purchased @ $8/kg                                            Cost $8.00
Corn kernels                                       400g can cost $1                                                 Cost $1.00
Cordial                                                 estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.50
Carrot (4)                                             1kg @ $1; 8 to a kg                                            Cost $0.50
Ice cream (2L)                                    purchased @ $2.49/2L                                      Cost $2.49
Cannalini beans                                  400g can cost $1.45                                           Cost $1.45
Mineral Water                                    1.5L bottle @ $0.88                                           Cost $0.88
Zucchini (1)                                         3pk purchased @ $3                                          Cost $1.00
Yoghurt (500ml)                                 1kg yoghurt @ $4.50                                         Cost $2.25
Taco seasoning                                   30g spice mix @ $2                                            Cost $2.00           
Ginger powder                                    estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.20
Mushrooms (700g)                             purchased @ $8/kg                                            Cost $5.60
Mince beef (300g)                              purchased @ $4/kg                                            Cost $1.20
Tomato Passata                                  purchased @ $0.99/jar                                     Cost $0.99
Chilli powder                                      estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.20
Garlic (3 cloves)                                 bulb cost $0.80; 10 cloves/bulb                       Cost $0.24
Chicken (150g)                                    purchased @ $7/kg                                            Cost $1.05
Soy Sauce                                             estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.20
Chicken stock                                      125g @ $2.20; approx. 40g used                    Cost $0.70
Celery (1/4 bunch)                             half bunch purchased @ $1.40                       Cost $0.70
Rump Steak (200g)                            purchased @ $10/kg                                          Cost $2.00           
Rice vermicelli                                   pk = $1.20; ½ pk used                                        Cost $0.60
Nutella spread                                     estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.60
Pineapple (can)                                   400g @ $2                                                            Cost $2.00
Egg (4)                                                  dozen purchased @ $2.00                                Cost $0.67
Sliced bread                                         2 loaves @ $1/loaf                                             Cost $2.00
Cheese & Bacon Balls                       purchased @ $1/bag                                          Cost $1.00
Capsicum (1)                                       purchased @ $4/kg; approx. 300g                 Cost $1.20
Deli Turkey (100g)                            purchased @ $14/kg                                          Cost $1.40
Noodles (2 pkts)                                  10pks @ $5.00                                                     Cost $1.00
Raspberry Jam                                   estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.50
Olives (1/2 jar)                                    jar @ $3.50                                                          Cost $1.75
Mozzarella (600g)                             purchased @ $5.50                                            Cost $5.50
Mushroom soup                                  can purchased @ $2.00                                     Cost $2.00
Tomato Paste                                      jar purchased @ $1.20                                      Cost $1.20
Bananas (3)                                          retail price $2/kg; approx. 400g                    Cost $0.80
Shredded Ham (1kg)                         purchased @ $7/kg                                            Cost $7.00
Spiral pasta                                         1pk @ $1.50; ½ pk used                                    Cost $0.75
Paprika                                                 estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.10
Sopressa (150g)                                  purchased @ $17/kg                                          Cost $2.55
Cream Cheese(250g)                         purchased @ $2                                                  Cost $2.00
Flour (SR & Plain)                             estimated cost                                                      Cost $3.00
Italian Herbs                                       estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.40
Sunflower oil                                       estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.50
Maple syrup                                        estimated cost                                                      Cost $1.20           
Vegemite                                              estimated cost                                                      Cost $0.20
Dried Yeast                                          280g @ $4.50; approx. 30g used                    Cost $0.48
Icing Sugar                                          500g @ $1.90; approx. 200g used                  Cost $0.76
                                                                TOTAL COST FOR GROCERIES:              Cost $117.91

 Other: Lunch order for Emily - $4.30; Lunch order for Emily - $3.30;
        Takeaway fish and chips - $20; Takeaway Indian - $50
                                                                TOTAL COST FOR EXTRA ITEMS           Cost $77.60

                                                                TOTAL COST OF FOOD EXPENSES        Cost $195.51


My total grocery cost is not far off my target of $100, but the extras threw me right out to almost double my target.  Had we needed to, we could have made the $100 work.  In my calculations I included all food used, not what was purchased.  I think I ended up spending about $54 at the grocery stores during this week because I try to go to the shops as least as possible (thereby avoiding the impulse buys).  I estimate I will need to grocery shop by about Wednesday this week with a major shop, and I had bought most of my supplies the Wednesday before the challenge (spending about $130).
There were items in my total that were given to us (i.e. the bananas) or that I would not have bought if I were planning on a budgeting challenge (i.e. the avocado or the ice cream) but some items in these categories needed to be used, so it was better to eat and include the items than waste and exclude them for the sake of this challenge.  As a household we have very little food wastage (normally only if the leftovers get forgotten).
Also a lot of the items are part of a larger quantity - spices, flours, oil, spreads, etc so these do not get purchased regularly and the full expense of the item is very infrequent, so $3 here or $2 there is less noticeable - and most of these expenses were estimates based on the cost and how often I buy them.  For most spices the ones I have are up to 3 years old (and probably less pungent) so I would not normally factor the cost of these into a dish.
The 8 pizzas we made on Sunday night would normally feed the 4 of us for 4 meals, so if you count that instead of the takeaway Thursday and Saturday and still a leftover for Monday (which we have) the actual grocery cost could be accurate for us as a family.

I have learned a lot from this little experiment.  How about you?

Sunday SNAP Challenge

Breakfast consisted of toast with butter and vegemite spread.  The girls had a glass of milk each, Hubby had one, and I had two cups of instant coffee with milk and sugar. (Can you tell I'm not a morning person?)
Lunch - We made toasted sandwiches with ham, turkey and cheese. Hubby and I had another instant coffee with milk and sugar each.
Dinner was home made pizzas.  We used to buy the frozen pizza bases but they work out to about $1 each and taste like cardboard so about 2 years ago we tried making our own pizza dough and since then have not bought another frozen pizza base.  Our recipe is 2 tsp dried yeast, 1/2 tsp salt, 2+1/2 cups plain flour, 1 cup warm water, 1 tbsp oil (all in metric).  We have never had the bases turn out badly using this recipe.  Yes, it does take a lot of time (mix and knead, rest for 30 mins, knead and shape on trays, then top) but they taste great.  We used tomato paste (the rest of the jar from Friday's Strog.), dried Italian herbs, 600g mozzerella cheese, 1kg shredded ham, 150g sopressa, onion, olives, capsicum, mushrooms, pineapple and grated colby cheese for the top.  We doubled the dough mixture and made 8 pizzas in total.  We were catering for 5 adults, 3 kids, and ended up with 2 pizzas left over for lunch/dinner Monday.
Dessert was banana cake with cream cheese icing.  Hubby decided to use up the sad looking bananas on the bench that my mum had passed on to us earlier in the week.

Running Food Tally:  Monday 17th to Sunday 23rd September 2012
Weetbix (14 bics)
Rice Cakes (8)
Tea Bags (12)
Apple (4)
Milk (6.5L)
Grain Waves chips
Instant Coffee
Strawbs (2 pt)
Cream (280ml)
Crispbreads (9)
Lettuce (1/2)
Butter (500g)
Lindt Choc (140g)
Tomato (1)
Ham (300g)
Tortillas (12)
White Sugar
Avocado (1)
Cheese slices (11)
Arborio Rice
Vanilla essence
Onion (4)
Cheese block(1kg)
Corn kernels
Carrot (4)
Ice cream (2L)
Cannalini beans
Mineral Water
Zucchini (1)
Yoghurt (500ml)
Taco seasoning
Ginger powder
Mushrooms (700g)
Mince beef (300g)
Tomato Passata
Chilli powder
Garlic (3 cloves)
Chicken (150g)
Soy Sauce
Chicken stock
Celery (1/4 bunch)
Rump Steak (200g)
Rice vermicelli
Nutella spread
Pineapple (can)
Egg (4)
Sliced bread
C&B Balls
Capsicum (1)
Deli Turkey (100g)
Noodles (2 pkts)
Raspberry Jam
Olives (1/2 jar)
Mozzarella (600g)
Mushroom soup
Tomato Paste
Bananas (3)
Shredded Ham (1kg)
Spiral pasta

Sopressa (150g)
Cream Cheese(250g)
Flour (SR & Plain)
Italian Herbs
Sunflower oil
Maple syrup
Dried Yeast
Icing Sugar

 Other: Lunch order for Emily - $4.30; Lunch order for Emily - $3.30;
        Takeaway fish and chips - $20; Takeaway Indian - $50