Monday, April 18, 2011

Project:// patio

When we built our house, the original plans included an outdoor room (a.k.a 'alfresco') where the slab and the roof line extended.  Due to the shape of our block, we couldn't build over the easement that runs along the rear boundary, so had to have the outdoor room removed.  We also changed the orientation of the sliding glass doors in the Dining room so instead of both sliding doors opening onto the same area (facing the rear fence where the outdoor room would have been), the Dining room doors now open towards the side, which is where the majority of our backyard space is.

Since we moved in we have designed what we wanted to do with the outdoor area but budget restrictions meant we couldn't actually do anything about it.  Our original plans were to build a deck to wrap around the house and join the areas out both doors.  After measuring the area we found that 31m2 of decking would be out of the question in terms of price (talking multiple thousand dollars) considering we would need joists, bearers and decking boards, and because the area isn't square there would be a lot of extra pieces needed for support.  Following the front deck experiment where we laid decking over the existing concrete slab, we decided if we were to deck out the back, concreting and decking would be a much cheaper option, because the concrete would form the foundation, and is a lot cheaper than the bearers and joists (and no permit is needed).  After debating about creating 2 separate spaces rather than the wrap-around single area we decided we would keep the original shape because it would be a more versatile area and solves the problem of what to put in the space between them.
I wasn't completely sold on the decking though, because I really like the look of sandstone pavers/tiles in a natural finish, and I think this option may work out cheaper and less maintenance than the decking.  Anyway, it was decided that we would put down the concrete slab and decide how to finish it later (if we ever get around to it).  With winter fast approaching we decided we would ideally like the concrete to go down ASAP so we reduce the amount of mud that comes into the house, and that the girls can go outside and play if the weather isn't too wet.  We've already been here for 2 winters with no ground cover out there so it's time to act.
This past weekend my dad and my better half dug out, put up the boxing and cut the steel ready for the concrete.  Here is hubby shifting some of the soil:

Granted there is a little bit of finishing required to some spots of the ground (take off some high points and fill in some low spots) but this is what the finished shape will look like.
Whole area:
Out the Dining room doors:
 Out the Family room doors:

Hopefully by the end of next week there will be crushed rock in the base and then a truck can come and deliver the glorious grey liquid.  I can't wait!!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cooking on a budget - Indian

I have been having a bit of a whinge lately to some of my friends about the cost of living and how much our weekly shopping bill keeps increasing, so after much talk I decided to search for some new recipes that are both easy and cheap.  Both myself and my hubby enjoy eating Indian food (he's more daring spice wise than me though) and while it may not seem like an expensive option for takeaway food (between $10-$14 per main), by the time you add the rice, the naan bread and times that by 2 (or more if the kids eat their usual of chicken tikka) you don't end up with much change out of $50.
In recent times I have been buying the Sharwoods pastes from the supermarket and using a lamb rump to make Rogan Josh, or chicken fillets for Tikka or Tandoori.  Yum.  Granted I don't expect the jar version to be on the same level as a freshly prepared curry paste, but in the scheme of things it's pretty close.  We eat a fair amount of chicken meals already, so we normally save the lamb for our Indian dish.
The crazy part it that our country was built on sheep farming (and largely still is along with cattle grazing), yet it has gotten to the point I have just about crossed lamb off our list.  It is so expensive - especially since most cuts include bones that you pay for in weight but can't exactly eat.  I used to be able to buy my lamb rump for $11 for almost a kilo, which I then diced into my RJ, but in the past month it has risen to $18.  No more Rogies as our once a week/fortnight.
Chicken breast is almost as bad - if not worse.  Unless you shop around and can get a special, the supermarkets are selling them for over $15 per kilo. Ridiculous.
During our conversation one of my friends said that they often have a meat-free night.  I don't think we had ever had a total meat-free night.  I would consider eggs to be non-meat, but even if I make something with eggs it usually also has bacon - which is meat.  So, of course I had to ask what she makes that is totally meat-free.  Curry.  Yep, no problems except one of the few things my darling other half won't eat is pumpkin or sweet potato - one of the usual main ingredients in a vegetarian curry.  I didn't give up though, so I searched for a curry that was potato based.  I came up with a recipe for Potato and Eggplant curry.  I don't think I have ever cooked with eggplant, but I decided to just work with what I had instead.

 Vegetarian Non-Creamy Korma

The ingredients included potato, carrot, zucchini and onion along with a tin of diced tomatoes... 1/3 cup red lentils + a cup of chicken stock (which I saw from another recipe and thought I'd add in too) and Sharwoods Korma paste.  I didn't have any coriander on hand so I just left that out.  The variety of potatoes I had/used were quite waxy which meant they needed extra cooking time, but curries always taste better the longer they cook.  I have to say, it probably doesn't win any points for being low-carb, but it was tasty and filling and I will be making it again.  I ended up getting 4 adult serves out of it and the total cost would have been no more than $6 including the steamed rice I cooked to go with it.  Not bad at less than $2 a serve.
Probably the only down side is you can't very successfully freeze potato, so I couldn't freeze leftovers for take-to-work lunches.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Interior experimentation

I have been thoroughly enjoying reading some interior design blogs recently.  I think if I were to change my profession I would like do study interior design and decorating.  All the colours, the styles, making everything work together - love it!
We have been in our house coming up 3 years now, and despite us choosing everything (from the floorplan to the wall colour) I still am not satisfied that it is done.  I think there is more for us to explore and experiment with in the way of finishes and furnishings.
Some of the items of furniture we own we bought when we moved into the house because there was a need (or a space to fill), others we have inherited along the way from our humble beginnings.  Take for example, our family room lounge suite.

Not exactly what I would describe as "modern", "streamlined" or even "nice", but it has served it's purpose by providing us a place to rest our behinds (all be it a little too low to the ground for some) and it has been in a total of 4 houses (3 of them ours, the other my parents') over a period of approx 20 years and sadly (or maybe not so sadly) I think it is time it retired from service.  It really is too large and overpowering for the size and shape of the room, the leather has given way in parts of the main couch seat revealing the stuffing, and truth be known I've never liked it (shh, don't tell my mother - she loved it, which would be a good reason why she bought it in the first place).  The 3 seater couch is as big as the 2 armchairs, and the room is thin enough as it is without making it feel even smaller by having a 3 seater couch span the width, which incidentally the back of the 3 seater is towards a double sliding door - not ideal in trying to get the whole inside-out/outside-in.  Currently the computer desk is living in the empty far corner next to the glass sliding doors, and the PS3 drumkit thing has found a home in the corner there too... both of which will have to find a new home soon.
The only problem with getting rid of furniture is the fact that unless you are downsizing your living space you need to replace it with something else. Sure, I could go out and pick a new lounge suite that would suit the space perfectly, but I wouldn't get change out of $2K and we just don't have that sort of money to spend.  Goodbye chocolate leather lounge with chaise.
I am willing to experiment though.  Who knows, I may end up with something better.  The experimentation part will mean I will have to suppress my inner snob.  Ok, let me explain.  I am not a snob - I promise, but I've never had any desire to shop at op-shops or flea markets, I've never picked up someone else's hard rubbish from the kerb, I've never visited an auction house - unless you count the Bargain Hunters TV show.  Don't get me wrong, it intrigues me, but from my limited exposure it seems like a whole lot of junk - 80s clothes and knickknack's that are cracked or discoloured.  Ok, so maybe a couple of visits to the local oppie aren't a true indication of all of them, but when I think of buying furniture, I think of going to the department store and picking the one you like.  Perhaps the thing that disturbs me most is who/what the piece has been used for and how clean it is.  Although, I think I have found the solution.  I have a vision of buying a new Ikea style 3 seater sofa in a neutral fabric (preferably with removable covers having 2 young children) but then pairing it with a couple of reclaimed armchairs.  Yes, second-hand, although reclaimed or up-cycled are much trendier buzz words.  And I'm prepared to do a bit of DIY to make the piece fit in our home.  My only requirement is that the back of the armchairs need to be nice, because they will be visible.
The look I'm after is kind of like this:

or this:

Or this:

I should probably add that this last image came from the website and is priced at a mere $18K for the sofa and 2 armchairs - yes, eighteen thousand.  I have no idea who could/would buy it but I love the look except I would prefer darker timber.

The Danish designers (or their knock off versions) are really attracting me at the moment.  I like their clean lines, their curves without overdoing it, and their sense of minimal.  Pretty much everything our current lounge is not.  Perhaps I should just say Scandinavian - after all, Ikea is Swedish, the next door neighbour of the Danish.
I've seen some really nice Danish style armchairs (wooden framed with a cushion back and seat) advertised on ebay that I reckon I could try to recover with new material (and new foam), which solves my problem of the who/what.  The only issue is getting the chair for a reasonable price (i.e. less than $50ea) and the cost to have them reupholstered (I have no idea what this would be), but I'm willing to experiment.  I could even attempt to sew some cushion covers in upholstery fabric, or try my hand at a staple gun.
Did I mention that I am hopeless at bargaining and haggling?  Ok, baby steps... first, to tell my husband what I have planned.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What was happening in the garden last week...

I have never been an avid gardener. It all began when I was a child.  My dad gave me a small plot to plant some things - little violets, some freesias and a cactus.  I soon lost interest in maintaining it so it became an overgrown space - mainly with the violets.  On the plus side is the fact that the cactus is still alive and well - but it's no secret that they thrive on neglect.

My new found interest started when we became home owners and we had a space that was ours (does anyone ever do more than the bare minimum to maintain a rental garden?).  Actually it was about a year after we moved in when we had all the fences put up and the garden beds edged.  I started doing a lot of research of low-maintenance and water-wise plants that would suit our locations.  I've always been a lover of nature though, so a native style garden appealed to me.  Considering we are on a compact block we can't exactly recreate a forest in the backyard, but we have selected plants that would be ok in our smallish space.  The main idea was that we have a "for looks" garden out from our sliding glass doors of the dining and family rooms, a screening garden down the side of the house to hide the fence, and an edible garden in between. 

Down the side of the house that faces east (and gets very little sunlight except midday) I planted some camellias and gardenias in the hope they would grow to make a screen of green to hide the fence.  I may have underestimated overestimated the growth time of camellias because a year on and they have only grown about 10cm from their tiny tubestock start.  Never mind, I'll focus on the positive that they are at least still alive.

The highlight was Thursday morning when I walked into the bathroom and noticed this beauty out the window.

Again, lets focus on the positive that it is a beautiful flower that is the first of the camellias to flower this year and it is right outside our bathroom window (rather than the fact that the camellias are all supposed to be pure white and all the others are white, making it the odd one out).

I have been totally blown away by our apricot tree.  We planted this back in November (spring) and it was half the height it currently is.  To be honest, I doubted that it would even grow where we live so it was a total shock when it started shooting new growth and it grew so much over summer that I tip pruned the taller branches on the weekend to try and maintain it's height to not much higher than the fence.  I wonder if we will get any fruit next season or if it is still too young?

Our veggie patch has had a slow start.  We planted our seeds for lettuce, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, pumpkin and corn.  All that remains is the corn.  The lettuce survived the longest (the seedlings got to about 5cm tall) but even that succumbed to whatever we have that mows then down overnight.  The corn currently looks like this:

I have scattered some slug/snail pellets in the hope that they may still be around and will pay the price for eating our vegetables before we did!  I will plant some more seed soon, but it is starting to cool down so it may be a bit slow in the veggie patch until spring returns.

We also have some interesting life appearing in our garden. We have left this guy alone in the hope he may eat all the little pesky bugs.  He is actually quite pretty.