Thursday, 31 May 2012

Autumn in the Vegetable Garden

Despite the weather turning windy and cold there is still plenty happening in the vegetable garden. Although growth is slowing down, we are still getting sunny days and enough warmth during the middle of the day to keep things growing nicely.

The first vegetable garden still has shallots (green onions), purple basil, regular basil, the huge flat leaf parsley bush (at the front), fennel, chilies and tomatoes.

These are a type of egg tomato that are doing really well and it looks like I'm going to get that bumper crop I was hoping for.  I want to be able to preserve some of these and also make some semi-dried tomatoes.  If there are enough I will also make some spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce and freeze that for later use.  There are so many things to do with a large crop of tomatoes.

This is a different type of plant that sprung up from a random seed over by the outdoor barbeque area.  Someone must have dropped a piece of tomato from their salad and it has grown so I transplanted it into the veggie garden and it seems to be doing well.  It is not a very high bush but is robust with thick stems and a hearty looking fruit.  If it has nice flavour I will save some seed for planting next season.

The second garden bed has been stripped of the old cucumber vines at last, weeded and had the old mulch and some compost and fertilizer dug back in to enrich the soil.  I will be planting some new seedlings in this one next weekend.  I plan to grow Snow Peas along the back wire, bush beans and some beetroot in here.  I've decided to avoid drumhead cabbage and broccoli because the grubs usually always beat me to them and I don't want to use chemical sprays so I'll grow what the bugs don't want as much.

As you can see the Lemon Grass is growing like a weed.  How much lemon grass can one family eat?  Good thing it is an attractive bush and my mother tells me that the flower makes a lovely addition to dried arrangements.  This bush has just started to flower so when they open a little more I will pick some and hang them to dry.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Kitty Litter Alternative

Recently I have been looking at different types of kitty litters and wondering what all the fuss was about with clay litters.  This came about because I noticed that, while there were a number of brands on the supermarket shelf, they were nearly all the new crystal looking ones.  I think there were only two other options to purchase.

Inexpensive brand from discount store
The marketing on the packet of the crystal one told me it would last for 30 days and so skeptically I bought that at first.  It didn't clump and despite removing soiled litter the urine was impossible to remove and after about a week it was discoloured and a bit smelly.  I would not use it for much longer than that because of the bacteria build up, which make it an expensive option, so I needed a different approach.

Some research later I came across the argument about clumping clay litters being bad for cats or kittens because they could ingest them and then the clumping action would occur inside the cats stomach.  After further research I came across this article which I think dispels the myth about clumping cat litters and I have decided that I am happy using them for my cat.
Inexpensive brand from discount store
So that being decided I set out to find a cheaper alternative to buying my kitty litter from the supermarket. I had already decided that I did not have the time or the inclination to make my own from crumpled, dried paper mache made from bleached newspaper.

First I tried a Discount Store where I found it much less expensive than the regular supermarket and promptly bought a couple of 3kg bags.  These cost me $2.30 each.  So that is 76c per kilo.

However later I was at our local farmers supplies co-op and while they didn't carry kitty litter they said that Bentonite clay would most likely do the same thing and I could buy a 25kg bag of Organic Bentonite Clay for $5.70.  Just 22c per kilo.  That is nearly a 60% saving.  Now I realise that $2.30 per week is not a lot of money to spend but it is a saving and every little bit counts and also buying a 25kg bag would last me for months without having to buy more.
Covered kitty litter tray
Further research to ensure that this would not harm my cat revealed that most clumping kitty litters are made from Bentonite anyway and then some have silica or deodorants mixed in.  Upon inspection of both the Bentonite and the cheap litter from the discount store there is no visible difference.

Some people also seemed concerned that the dust from the kitty litter being sprayed around would make a mess but because I have a covered tray that did not concern me.  So Bentonite Clay it is.  I am happy it won't harm the cat as it is used in Koi fish ponds and is an organic natural product.


Monday, 28 May 2012

Meals under $10 - Easy Beef Stroganoff

Here is another easy and tasty meal to feed the family for under $10 although you need to shop carefully for the meat component of this dish to keep costs down.

Total Cost - $10 (depending on the price of your steak)

Beef Stroganoff is one of my go-to meals when I want something quick as it only takes about 20 minutes from start to table once you know the recipe.  I usually buy the stir fry steak strips from the supermarket or when I buy meat in bulk I pre-cut steak strips and freeze to eliminate the extra step in the cooking process.  Chicken or Turkey can be substituted and would reduce the cost of this dish.

Easy Beef Stroganoff  - Serves 4 adults (Approx $2.50 - $3.00 per serve)
500g Blade or Round steak cut into thin strips for a stir fry
1 onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups mushrooms sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp Paprika
2 tbsp tomato paste
Pasta of your choice, I use spirals or fettuccine
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente, or to your usual method.
While pasta is cooking, heat oil in pan and fry the steak until nearly cooked through, add onions and mushroom slices and fry for 2 minutes.  Mix the tomato paste, sour cream and paprika into the meat and vegetables and heat until mushrooms are cooked.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on a bed of warm pasta. Sprinkle with a dash of paprika or some chopped parsley to decorate if desired.


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Knitting and Newborn Photography Props

My daughter is a baby photographer and she specializes in newborn baby photography and does amazing things with props and some clever editing of the photographs.

She asked me to knit her some props and I thought I would show you them here today.

This one is called a 'baby nest' and it is from the pattern by Katherine Durham.  It was very easy to make and is knit on circular needles 'in the round'.

The gorgeous pink Hanging Cocoon Baby Stork Pouch is actually crocheted not knitted.  It is really quick to do as it is made in very thick yarn.  This is where the trickery of photography comes in because the baby is actually quite securely sitting on a table but appears to be hanging.  At all times the babies are very safe and not reliant on the strength of the yarn.  Thank goodness!

I love these two little hats with their long tails.  There is something so whimsical about them but I would never use them on a baby for normal wearing purposes because of the long cord and dangers of strangulation.  However as a baby photography prop they are just so cute.  This free pattern can be found here at Neanners Shop blog.

Another one of my favourites is this hammock in the photo below. I've knit a few of these now in varying colours and sizes.  This pattern is for sale on etsy at Newborn Photo Props and Knitting

The last one is a 'Baby Cocoon' and the pattern can be bought from the Ravelry site if you are a member there.

All of the baby models parents have signed a release that they are happy to have their photos used.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Free e-books

I use a Kindle e-reader and love it for the convenience of being able to access a book to read instantly and also for carrying a lot of reading material when traveling.  When we travelled around Europe I only had the Kindle in my luggage rather than carrying a whole series of books.

Healthy Children's Lunches (52 Brilliant Ideas) [Kindle Edition]

I have recently discovered that there are also a lot of useful books on sustainability, recipies, homemaking, gardening etc and I'd like to share the free ones that I've found with you.

If you don't have a Kindle e-reader you can still download these books to your iPad or computer for reading.  I love my iPad for PDF knitting patterns and magazines because of the big glossy photos and that way I'm also saving paper and printing ink.  The iPad sits on the lounge beside me and I knit from the pattern that way.  You would have to first create a free Amazon account and download a reading app to whichever device you would like to access your books on.  There are apps for smart-phones, computers and tablets.

Click on the book title below the photo to access the link for each book on the Amazon website.

A Simple Guide to Raising Chickens [Kindle Edition]

Backyard Chickens for Beginners: Getting the Best Chickens, Choosing Coops, Feeding and Care, and Beating City Chicken Laws (36-page Booklet) [Kindle Edition]

Weekend Homesteader: August [Kindle Edition]

How To Organize A Closet: Closet Organization Ideas and Closet Storage Solutions (Organization, Planning and Time Management) [Kindle Edition]

Growing Root Vegetables At Home: A guide on how to grow amazingly tasty potatoes, carrots, beetroots, parsnips, swedes and turnips [Kindle Edition]


Growing Herbs Indoors : Your Guide To Growing Herbs In Containers For A Vibrant Indoor Herb Garden [Kindle Edition]

Christmas Projects - 12 festive projects from 82 Modern Style Ideas [Kindle Edition]

Encyclopedia of Needlework [Kindle Edition]

Utilising free e-books is a great way to save money and is accessible to anyone with an internet connection and computer.  The book above 'Encyclopedia of Needlework' is worth $47 in hardcover form.

It is a good idea to keep an eye on the Amazon website for free books as they change frequently.  In the 2 days that I put this post together I had to delete three books that had been taken off the free list but others have most likely been added.  At the time of posting these books are free on Amazon but won't remain so forever.

Another website that has a number of free e-books of craft titles is 'Interweave Knits'.  This link will take you to a page where you can download 9 free e-books on Quilting, Knitting, Jewelry Making, Sewing, Spinning, Artist and Beading.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Being Prepared - Birthdays

As a full time worker outside of the home, a home maker, mother and wife, I have to fit a lot of things into my day. Being prepared is the only way I can accomplish all that I do.

One of the things I have to prepare ahead for is birthdays, anniversary's etc so I am always on the look out for items on sale that I can stash away for gifts.  I have a draw full of bits and pieces that I have collected and I also make cards ahead of time so I have one ready when it is needed.
Gift Drawer
Recently my daughter had a birthday and I have been putting together this recipe book of all our favourite family recipes.  She rings me regularly to ask how to 'make your lasange or Beef in Red Wine' so I thought it would be nice if she had a book of her own with them all in it.  They are tried and true family favourites so she knows they are nice to eat and can confidently serve them to her own family and friends.

I also like the fact that most of the recipes are in my handwriting and while I don't consider my script very nice it is mine and she will always have a record of it.

When my mother and Aunty were over on holidays last week I asked them to also include a couple of their favourite recipes in their own handwriting.  We are creating a sort of legacy to leave for the next generation and I know that my daughter will appreciate it.

I realised that I would love to have the same thing from my mum and grandmother and unfortunately I can't get handwritten recipes from my grandmother anymore but  I do have the 'Women's Weekly' recipe card box that mum collected years ago and she has added to it and written on some of the cards whether it tasted good or not so good, if the family liked it or if there were alterations to be made.  

As you can see it is a well loved and well used box of recipes.  Looking a bit tattered now but I would never throw it out.  One day I will pass this down onto one of my children too. One other book that I know my mother used to have but she has misplaced is her old version of the CWA Cookbook.  There was a new version released as well but the original was the one Mum had and used often.  For those readers overseas CWA is our Country Women's Association and they are well known for their good home-cooked foods and recipes.  I think there is a branch of the CWA in nearly every town in Australia no matter how small the population is.


Monday, 21 May 2012

Meals for under $10 - Fried Rice & Marinated Chicken Wings

Feeding 4 for under $10

I'm starting a new feature on how to feed your family inexpensively but still feed them well.  We all know that the economy is failing and everyone is having to tighten their belts to make ends meet.  I have found that when bills need to be paid it is often the grocery budget that any unexpected expenses are taken from and I have to feed the family with whatever is left.

This feature will showcase recipes that I have found to be inexpensive but still nutritious and tasty and will help to stretch the grocery budget even further.

I generally shop at Aldi who I find considerably cheaper for groceries than other stores, but some items I buy from either IGA or Woolworths if Aldi doesn't stock them.  The prices of items will fluctuate from season to season but for the purpose of costing these recipes I have used prices as they are currently when I shop for these recipes.  I also source some of the vegetables and herbs from my home garden but I will include the prices for these items as if they were store bought.

Fried Rice and Marinated Chicken Wings - Approximate total cost $8.50 to feed 4 - 5 adults.

Fried Rice  (approx $1.00 per serve)
6 cups cooked rice
1 onion finely diced
1clove garlic
1 carrot finely diced
1 egg
1 or 2 rashers of bacon, diced
1/2 cup peas
2 tbsp soy sauce (optional)
3 tbsp olive oil or preferred oil for frying

I find cooking the rice the day before and placing it in the fridge overnight helps to stop the fried rice from being gluggy.
Heat oil in large wok or pan and add onion, garlic and bacon.  Cook for 1 minute, add carrot and peas and cook for another minute.  Add rice and soy sauce and fry over high heat stirring constantly and scraping rice from bottom and sides of pan.  Beat egg with a 1 tbsp water.  Pour into  a flat bowl or container and microwave until cooked (or cook in wok before cooking fried rice).  Slice omelette into strips and carefully toss through the fried rice.

I can sometimes get a kilo of chicken wings for $2 on special and when I see them I usually buy a couple of kilos and freeze them.  Today they cost me $3.70 kg at Woolworths.

Marinated Chicken Wings (approx $1.10 per serve - serving size 4-6 pieces)
1kg chicken wings
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger or 1/4 tsp ground ginger powder (optional)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbls honey
1 tbsp tomato sauce (ketchup)

Cut chicken wings at the joints so you have 3 pieces in each.  Discard the tips.  I save them for soup stock or feed to pets raw, they are good for their teeth.

Mix together all ingredients except chicken wings.  Add Chicken, cover and marinate in fridge for an hour or two.
Spread into a greased baking dish and bake in a moderate oven for
15 - 20 minutes or until cooked through.

The marinated chicken can be prepared ahead of time and frozen.  Thaw and bake in oven when needed.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Catching Up

Today's post is a bit of a catch up of what I've been up to over the past few weeks while I have had visitors.
Mooloolaba Spit
There has not been much time for blogging so I apologise for the lack of posts but we have had a wonderful time playing tourists.  Exploring your local area is a great thing to do if you want a cheap holiday and because you are out of normal routine it feels like you are getting a break away but you still get to come home and sleep in your own bed.  The old saying 'A change is as good as a holiday' rings true.

Relaxing on Labour Day at Mooloolaba Spit

Maroochydore - Fisherman's Road Markets on a wet Saturday
While my Mum and Aunty have been here I have still had to work 4 days a week but on the weekends we have visited markets, craft shows, beaches, coffee shops, mountain villages, the recycle centre, shopping centres, restaurants, friends and family and the city.  We have also done our fair share of taste testing at the Yandina Ginger Factory, Macadamia Nut Factory, Maleny Cheese Factory and various food stalls at markets.

I must admit though, that I had my days free on the weekend because while my Mum and Aunty were here I didn't have to water the garden, do the washing or cook dinner because it was all done when I got home from work.

Mooloolaba - Tribute statue to Steve Irwin of Australia Zoo

Brisbane - Rainforest walk at Southbank Parklands
I have discovered a few places I had never known about before like a fabulous bookshop in Eumundi.  It has new books towards the front of the store and then it goes back and back from room to room full of second-hand books.  Placed around the shop are lounges and chairs so you can sit back and have a good browse.  I could have spent all day in there.

Montville - German Cuckoo Clock Shop
Daisy - Birthday present from my family
I also celebrated my 50th Birthday last week and was thoroughly spoilt by family, friends and work colleagues.  We have 'Birthday Buddies' at work and mine just happens to be our wonderful 'Hospitality Teacher' who made me a yummy 'Chocolate and Lavender' cake and gave me a big bunch of lilies.

The family sent me off to be pampered at the hairdresser and took me out to dinner to a lovely restaurant just down the road called 'Daisy's Place' which is in the most delightful tropical rainforest setting and the service and food are excellent.  I was shown a photo of the kitten above and told she would be arriving the next day and so she was promptly named 'Daisy' although her nickname is 'the terrorist' as she is prone to climbing up your legs and jumping out from hidden places when you least expect it.


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Brief Blogging Break

I'll be having a brief break from blogging this week while I spend some time with family as it is the last week before my Mum and Aunty go back home and because we live so far apart it will be quite awhile until I see either one of them again.

I have had a lovely weekend with my birthday yesterday and Mothers Day today and I'm feeling very spoilt and appreciated.  It has also been wonderful having Mum here for Mothers Day.

I hope all my readers who are mothers have had a lovely day too.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Brisbane and Southbank Parklands

Last week I took my Mum and Aunty to Brisbane and the Southbank Parklands that meander along the Brisbane River. 
We started with a coffee at a lovely cafe on the Kangaroo Point cliffs which gives this great view across the river to the city centre.

The Southbank Parklands are the heart of Brisbane.  It is a lovely relaxing place in the middle of the bustling city life and is cultural hub full of restaurants, art galleries, museums, nature walks and coffee shops.

There is also a large man-made beach and lots of kiddies pools with water spouts that go on and off randomly and you need to be on your guard as to where you walk if you don't want to get wet.

The rainforest walk has a lovely stone creek meandering through the lush vegetation and a beautiful rainforest canopy overhanging to give you a secluded feeling as you wander through it. You could be anywhere as you get lost in admiring the amazing tropical plants and watching lizards sunning themselves on rocks, but you certainly don't feel like you are in the city.

I remember many years ago when my kids were little we would take them into Southbank to swim in the man-made beach and they would get into these creeks and pile the stones up and make dams and pools to paddle in.  It was a wonderful world of exploration.

Southbank was the home of the 1988 World Expo and this unique carved building is the only remaining piece of that expo now.  It is a Nepalese Peace Pavillion, hand carved in Nepal and bought to Brisbane for the expo.  The Queensland Government bought it as a tribute to the very successful expo.

The day we visited was the celebration of Buddhas birthday.  There was this lovely display of flowers and giant golden Buddhas and people could buy flowers to make offerings if they wished.  They do a 'bathing the baby' ceremony where you can ladle water over the shoulder of a small Buddha statue.

There were also lots of Asian food stalls and displays of dancing, karate, lion dancers and other entertainments set up for the festival.

If you are ever in the Brisbane area, Southbank Parklands are a lovely spot to visit.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Touring Noosa

We continue our tour of the Sunshine Coast area with a trip to beautiful Noosa at the very top of the Sunshine Coast.

Noosa Beach and Boardwalk
We chose a very busy day to visit the Noosa area as there was a triathalon event on and so the traffic was quite bad but luck was on our side and we found a park for the car and happily strolled around exploring the shops and beaches.

Noosa Spit -  Inlet to the Noosa River
The tide was rushing out very fast because of the 'Super moon' due tonight and we could see a lot of sand bars in the mouth and inlet of the river which were probably made worse by the flooding a few months ago. They had sand dredges working away to clear some of it to allow free passage to all the fishing boats and other water craft that use the area.

Noosa River at Noosaville
The river was an unusually dirty colour because of all the rain we have had in the last week or two which has stirred up the mud from the mangroves combined with the silt washed down from the hinterland but it is still a beautiful peaceful place to rest up and watch the world go by.

I'm loving playing tourist guide to my Mum and Aunty.  I get to look at local and familiar places with fresh eyes and it makes me feel like I am on holidays too.


Friday, 4 May 2012

New Knitting for Grandbabies

The air has turned chilly here in the mornings and so lately my knitting has turned to warmer things.  A few little hats and socks for our grandson.

He is not happy to keep them on his head though so I think the next one will have to have ear flaps and a tie under his chin.

This little multi-coloured one was knit by his great nana who has come for a visit.

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