Friday, 29 June 2012

Homemade Cough Lozenges

It's Winter in the southern hemisphere and everyone seems to be sniffling and coughing.  Cold and flu season is definitely upon us and our family has had it's fair share despite swallowing large amounts of vitamin C and natural therapies which usually work, but not this time it seems.

I'm a firm believer that if you take 'Ease-a-cold' or other natural therapies that include, Vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea or similar, it will either prevent the cold from forming or at the very least shorten the duration.  This is because these ingredients boost your immune system so that your body can fight the virus. The catch is you must start taking them at the first sign of a cold, so at the stage where you think your throat is feeling a little scratchy or you are suddenly sneezing. Just ask my kids and they will tell you that I am onto them if they dare sneeze or cough anywhere near me, but they are now convinced that it works because they have experienced it for themselves.

Usually if others in the house have a cold I will start to take them to prevent getting one and over the past 10 years I have probably only been sick 2 or 3 times.  This time being one of them but even so I was feeling okay to be back at work after only one day off but the cough lingered on.

Once I had run out of my regular 'Butter Menthol' cough lozenges it suddenly hit me that many years ago Mum and I used to make our own.  I went though my recipe cards and racked my memory until I found what I was looking for.  Here is our recipe for home made lozenges.

Honey & Eucalyptus Cough Drops
1/2 cup sugar (I use 1/4c sugar and 1/4c Xylitol see here for more info)
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp eucalyptus oil (optional)
1/2 tbs butter
1 tbs lemon juice or vinegar

Grease an oven tray and pop it into the freezer to cool.

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar (xylitol) has dissolved.
Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil uncovered until it turns golden brown (about 8 to 10 minutes)  It will burn quickly so watch it carefully.  Remove from heat while you test the mix. Drop a small amount into ice cold water and see how it hardens.  You want a nice firm toffee, not a thick runny one.
Bubbles at a rolling boil for 8 to 10 minutes
Once you are happy with the consistency of the cold test stir until the bubbles all subside and the mixture has turned thick enough to almost hold a shape. (I keep 1/2 tsp of eucalyptus oil out of the cooking process and add this at the cooling stage for a stronger taste.)

Spoon small amounts onto the greased tray allowing some room for spreading.  You need to work fairly quickly before the toffee hardens to much to allow you to manipulate it.
Checking the set in cold water
An alternative method is to pour the entire mixture onto the tray and when hard break into small pieces.  However these are not suitable for smaller children as the pieces can be very sharp.

Allow drops to cool on the tray and then remove carefully.  Dust with icing sugar or cornflour and store in an airtight container.

Note: These drops tend to stick together so the dusting of flour is essential.

Note:  This particular batch of my cough drops melted back together in the container after just a few days as I didn't let them cook quite long enough.  To avoid this make sure your toffee is very hard, not squishy when you test it in the cold water bath.  There is a fine line between soft toffee, crunchy toffee and burnt.


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Soap Making at Home

Soap making is one of those ancient traditions that used to be a chore for the women folk and now we call a hobby.  It is something that can be done just once or twice a year to produce enough soap for a family to use but because it is quite addictive you will want to make more and luckily it makes a wonderful gift.

I have been using this tried and true recipe for many years now and I don't think I have used store bought soap since about 2001, however I am dangerously close at the moment as I am on my second last cake of handmade soap and really needed to make some more as it takes a couple of weeks of curing before it is ready to use and that is what has bought on this flurry of soap making activity.
Homemade Lavender Soap Bars
I find my skin doesn't dry out in Winter or after flying as much using homemade soap as it is a true soap and not a detergent like many of the store bought ones.  You also know just what is in it and what you are putting on your skin.  Remember skin is our largest body organ and it likes to be fed.  It absorbs a percentage of whatever is applied to it.  Now I know the jury is still out on just how much and what sort of things are absorbed into the bloodstream but I would rather know what is in my soap regardless. I mean, medical patches are made specifically because they are absorbed through the skin, and if you rub the soles of your feet with raw garlic at night (good for colds), you will have garlic breath in the morning.  That for me is evidence enough that I need to be careful about what goes on my skin.

Soap making uses a dangerous chemical called Sodium Hydroxide (aka Caustic Soda, Lye) and you can read more about it here, but during soap making the process of adding the oil to the sodium Hydroxide causes a reaction called saponification which neutralizes the dangerous effects.

This soap recipe is one from a craft magazine and I can't even tell you which one as I only have the pages and not the whole magazine and there is nothing on the bottom of those pages.  It is a natural, 'vegetable oil only' soap so suitable if you are vegan also, and all ingredients can be bought from your local supermarket.

It is essential to have everything ready before you begin and please read right through to the end of the recipe including notes so you are aware of how the process will take place.
Some ideas for moulds, empty cardboard milk cartons, old margarine containers, latex cake moulds
Natural Vegetable Oil Soap

300ml Palm oil (Frymaster in the supermarket refrigerator section)
120ml Coconut Oil (Copha)
60ml Olive Oil
60gm Caustic Soda (Lye)
150ml Water
2 - 4 tsp Essential oils (optional) (see note below)
2 tsp coloured clay (optional)
All the oils for this recipe can be found in most supermarkets
Tools Needed
Measuring jug or container
Heat proof container to hold upto 6 cups of liquid (not aluminium)
Whisk or Electric stick blender
Empty jar
Wooden or plastic spoons or chopsticks
Cooking or candy thermometer (I use my vaccola one)
Moulds (see photo for useful items
Rubber gloves (Caustic soda is dangerous and will burn if spilt on skin)
Safety goggles
Sprinkled with dried thyme and purple basil for decoration on top of the soap
Spray your moulds with cooking spray or brush with a small amount of olive oil to help with the unmoulding process.
The caustic soda (lye) will heat the more it is stirred so go carefully
Measure water into the empty jar and then carefully add the caustic soda (Lye).  Stir until caustic soda has dissolved being careful not to breathe in the vapours. Place your thermometer into the mix and then set aside to cool to 42 -43C (110F).
Copha not quite melted with other oils.  Stir to combine without further heating
Carefully weigh all the oils into your heat proof container and microwave for a few minutes until they are all melted but not boiling.  Oil takes a long time to cool down and you don't want the Lye mixture getting cold while you are trying to get the oil temperature down.  You need both mixtures to be at 42 -43C (110F) before combining them.  The Copha takes the longest to melt but if the others are melted you can remove the container from the microwave and just stir until the copha has finished melting.

The soap mixture at 'trace'
Once both mixes have reached the same temperature (give or take a few degrees) you can pour the caustic soda mix into the oil and stir to combine.  Using an electric stick blender will make this process go quite quickly and I find that I only need to mix for about 2 to 3 minutes.  I add the colourant about halfway though this process and the essential oil right at the end.  If you put the essential oils in sooner the fragrance will be burnt off and your soap won't have the lovely smells you were looking for.

Once poured into the mould gently tap the mould on the bench a couple of times to remove air bubbles
You are looking for 'trace' which is identified by lifting the mixer or whisk and dragging it across the top of the soap mix (a pourable custard type mix is what it should look like), if you can see the line it is at 'trace' (see photo).  If you over mix it will go beyond pouring and will be difficult to get into the moulds. Pour soap into the moulds and then gently tap the moulds onto the benchtop to dissipate any bubbles.
Covered with greaseproof paper held with elastic band to keep soap from sticking to towels
Wrap your soap in some towels or blankets and 'put it to bed' for 24 hours to allow it to go through the saponification process.  (No peeking!) The next day turn your beautiful soap out onto a cutting surface and using a sharp knife carefully cut into bars.  Leave your soap somewhere to dry for 2 to 3 weeks before using as during this time it is hardening and also continues neutralizing to a harmless level.
Insulated with towels and a blanket ready to be 'put to bed' for 24 hours
You can make a flea wash soap for the dog by adding some tea tree or neem oil as your essential oils.  Add ground pumice stone or beach sand for a gardeners soap.
Eucalyptus oil is good at getting grease off hands and clothes for mechanics and handymen.

Note: To decorate the top of my soap I prepared the moulds first by sprinkling some dried thyme and opal basil (purple) into the bottom (top when turned out).

Some essential oils react differently and will cause the mixture to come to 'trace' immediately.  Two that I have found are rose oil an Mango fragranced oil.  You will need to add the oil right at the end and be ready to tip into moulds immediately.

There is some argument to be said for using Palm oil due to the environmental concerns and this can be replaced by animal fats or other oils.  Any oil can be used in soap making but different oils give different properties to the soap.  There is a lye calculator here that is a handy reference if you are going to be mixing different oils. I would suggest getting familiar with this recipe first before trying your hand at other oils.

Have fun and enjoy your soap making.  It's not as hard as it sounds.


Monday, 25 June 2012

Meals Under $10 - Spanish Omelette

Today's meal to feed a family of four for under $10 is a Spanish Omelette.  I make this in a large frying pan and once cooked divide into quarters and serve with a green side salad.  It is very versatile and you can use a variety of vegetables so it's a good meal to make just before grocery shopping day to use up the left overs.

Spanish Omelette (approx cost $7 - $8)
6 eggs
1 chorizo sausage sliced thinly or diced Bacon (or both)
1 onion, finely diced
1 cove crushed garlic
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp paprika
salt, pepper
olive oil

In this omelette I used the following vegetables
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
chopped parsley

In a large frying pan heat the oil and add the sliced chorizo and bacon and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove from the pan and add the garlic and onion.  Cook until transparent and then add the other vegetables.  Cook for another 3 or 4 minutes then stir the chorizo and bacon back into the vegetables and turn the heat off while you prepare the egg filling.  Turn on the grill to heat for later.

In a bowl whisk together the eggs with about 3 tbsp water, the paprika, salt & pepper to taste.  Pour this mix over the vegetables and chorizo in the pan and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Cook over a very low heat to set for 8 to 10 minutes checking the bottom doesn't burn.  Place under the preheated grill for 1 or 2 minutes or until the top has browned nicely.  Cool slightly and serve which a green salad.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Avocado Coconut and Pistachio Ice Cream

Avocados are creamy and delicious.  I use them in salads, spread on toast and blended for dips, but my first experience of ever drinking one came a little over a year ago in Qatar at 'Al Mandarine'.  I couldn't imagine what avocado juice tasted like and so I just had to order it off the menu and let me tell you it is absolutely delicious.  Admittedly they added heaps of sugar but the beauty of trying these things at home is that you get to control the quantities of what goes in.

Today I tried making Avocado Ice Cream and thought I would use coconut milk as that seemed like a good thing to do and it would make a Paleo version of ice cream.  I Googled the recipe and imagine my surprise when I found that it wasn't so unusual at all and that people have been making Avocado Ice Cream all along.

Of course, as usual, I have changed the recipes that I found to suit me and here is my version below.  It is a Paleo friendly version and also not too bad for diabetics. My son is a type 1 diabetic so I often use alternative ingredients.

Avocado, Coconut & Pistachio Ice Cream

2 ripe avocados
1 400gm tin coconut cream
1 400gm tin coconut milk
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp xylitol (natural sweetener - read below for more info)
1/4 cup roasted pistachio pieces

Cut the avocados in half, remove the seed and scoop the flesh out.  Place avocado, coconut cream, milk, honey and xylitol in a blender and process until smooth.
Place the mixture in the freezer until it is really cold and then pour the mix and add the pistachios to your ice cream maker.

If you don't have an ice cream maker you can pour the mixture into a shallow tray and freeze until soft, fluff up with a fork or quickly re-blend then re-freeze.  Do this a couple of times until you get a nice texture.

Of course if you don't have xylitol you can use sugar in it's place or just use extra honey to taste.  Remember that once frozen it won't taste as sweet as it does now so you should go slightly sweeter than you think you need.

This is a strange flavour, not because of the avodado though but I just can't put my finger on what the flavour is that seems strange.  Maybe it's the lemon.  When the first spoonful goes into your mouth it is unusual but then you keep eating it, because it is nice.  The jury is still out in our family as to whether I will make it again or not.

A note about Xylitol-
It is a natural sweetener with a low GI of about 7.  Xylitol is a non fermentable sugar alcohol naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables like, mushrooms, corn and berries.  It is considered a safe sweetener for diabetics as the body does not need to use insulin to metabolize it.  It's being used more and more in lollies or candies (often gum and mints) as it doesn't cause cavities and is even thought to prevent cavities, so is also good for those with a sweet tooth. Next time you buy a packet of gum, check the sweetener maybe your favourite brand is using xylitol.
Shop around when buying Xylitol though as it can be very expensive.  I've seen it ranging from $15 - $30 per kilo.  It is sweeter than sugar though so you don't need to use as much.

Enjoy your ice cream


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Killing Weeds in Garden Paths Naturally

There are quite a few ways of killing off weeds in garden paths, patios and driveways without using harmful chemicals.

I personally like the boiling water method.  Just put the kettle on and when it boils pour the water out over the weeds and within a few days they will have died and shriveled just as if you had used a poison.
After killing off the weeds it is a good idea to make the environment as hostile as possible for germination so they don't grow back as quickly and to do this you can either use salt or bicarb soda.  

Caution is needed though as these ingredients will also make germination of any other seeds difficult so they should only be used in areas where you don't want to grow anything.  (It is interesting to note however, that a small amount of bicarb sprinkled around tomatoes can reduce the acidity in them and make them taste sweeter.) 

The photo below was taken 4 days after the boiling water had been administered.

Another good natural weed killer is white vinegar sprayed or poured directly onto the weeds but again be careful of any overspray onto plants that you don't want to kill off.


Monday, 18 June 2012

Meals Under $10 - Hi Ti Min

It's Monday so I am continuing with a regular feature of feeding our families for under $10 with good home cooked meals.

This week's meal is Hi Ti Min - Approximate cost $8.80

Hi Ti Min is a dish my mother fed us frequently when I was growing up.  It is inexpensive and packed with flavour.  I have also heard another friend call it 'University (or College) Food' because it is a cheap meal to feed struggling students and best of all it is packed with veggies which means it is good for you too.

Hi Ti Min - Serves 4 adults (Approx cost per serve $2.20)

500g ground beef
1 onion, diced
1/4 cup uncooked rice
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 tsp curry powder
2 cups chicken stock (or 2 chicken stock cubes & 2 cups water)
1/4 head of a cabbage, shredded thinly
1 cup frozen or fresh sliced green beans
salt, pepper to season

Heat oil in pan and gently fry onion until transparent.  Add mince and cook until well browned.
Add all other ingredients except for the cabbage and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add shredded cabbage and cook a further 10 to 15 minutes until cabbage is soft but not soggy.

Serve in individual bowls with some lovely crusty bread to mop up any extra juices.

To reduce the cost of this meal even further use stock cubes and hot water in place of the ready stock.  I also buy my minced beef when it is reduced or on special because I try to buy good quality mince with little fat which is more expensive.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Making Time to Relax

Knitting is seen as something 'only old people do' or possibly a pastime for people who have nothing better to do.

I heard a comment by a radio announcer recently to the effect of 'whose got time to knit?'  I think it would be better to ask "Who makes time to knit" or you could read 'relax' in place of knit there.

We are living in a fast paced world which requires us to move, think and act quickly, to react rather than respond, and while I have no issue with moving forward or living full lives, we all need to take the time to slow down, time to stop and smell the roses.

Maybe for you it is not knitting but reading, sleeping, painting, gardening or some other hobby that relaxes you, helps you to slow down and re-centre yourself.  Whatever it is it should be regarded as an important part of your life, because without these things in our lives our health, work and relationships would all suffer.
A Sweater my mother-in-law knitted for my husband many many years ago that he still has today

"Knitting is the new yoga" - a favourite saying of mine lately and to those who participate in this hobby I'm sure you will agree that knitting is a relaxing way of unwinding from the stresses in life.  There is something very soothing about taking two sticks and some string and creating something beautiful and useful from these raw materials.

Spinners will tell you the same thing.  Spinning has a mystical quality about it that lures a savaged soul into a place of peace and tranquility.  It is almost hypnotic in its simplicity.

Take some time out to do something you love this weekend, something that will give you a few moments of relaxation and bringing you back to yourself.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Glass Garden Ornaments

Lately there has been a craze on the internet about making your own glass garden ornaments from things found around your home, from op shops, at recycle centres and garage sales.  I have often admired the creativity of others and decided to have a go myself.

Getting into an op shop and looking at all the glass bits and pieces I just couldn't decide on how to put one together and it took quite awhile to pick the items I needed.  Then off to the hardware shop to find a glue that would glue glass together quickly, be clear drying and water proof as this was after all going to end up in the garden rainy days and all.

Here is my masterpiece although now looking back at the creations of others I can see I have a long way to go.  It is a very simple one but it was a satisfying exercise and I have a lovely new 'flower' in my otherwise rather dull garden corner.

It was quick and easy to do and I'll definitely be keeping my eyes pealed for special pieces when I'm around the recycle centre and garage sales from now on.  I also think the white stake that it is supported on takes away from the ornament and will be keeping an eye out for metal ones in the future.

Photo Source
I particularly like these gorgeous little blue and white china ones gathered together in a lovely cluster hidden amongst the hydrangeas.

Photo Source
Coloured glass looks great too as you can see by this photo below.  The captions in the photos link directly to the original source to either buy the art as in the amber and blue one below on etsy, or to the person who originally made the artwork.
Photo Source

Monday, 11 June 2012

Meals Under $10 - Chilli Con Carne

Chilli Con Carne, now known as just 'Chili' around our home, is a rich flavoursome and nourishing meal.  I have tweaked the recipe from the Australian Women's Weekly recipe cards plus some additions from the 'Best Ever Chili Recipes' I've found over the years to one that we all love and we have it about once a month.  It is a great Paleo meal on it's own or served with salad.

Chili  (Approximate cost $9)
500gm minced beef (I have also substituted turkey mince)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 clove garlic
1 red capsicum (bell pepper), diced finely
1 bayleaf
2 tspn cumin powder
250g tomatoes,chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 cups water (leave out water if using liquid beef stock)
2 beef stock cubes (or 2 cups beef stock)
1 tspn chili powder or fresh chilies finely chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1 can red kidney beans
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in pan and add minced beef, fry until brown.  Add onions & garlic and tomato paste and cook for 2 mins.  Add tomatoes, stock cubes, wine, bayleaf, capsicum, water, chili powder, salt & pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about an hour or until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.  Add the undrained kidney beans and continue cooking until the sauce thickens.

I serve chili in a bowl with crusty bread, or on a bed of rice, or ladled over a whole baked potato in the jacket with a side salad and a dollop of sour cream, or our favourite is on a bed of corn chips with a dollop of sour cream.

You could also double or triple the recipe and freeze portions to stockpile for those nights when you just don't want to cook.

On a side note:
There are getting to be a surprising number of readers on this blog of late and if you are one who enjoys reading along and regularly returns to see what's happening at Monarch Place please consider subscribing so your interest registers down the right- hand side of 'Followers'.  I'd sure appreciate it.  Thanks

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Hearts & Bows Baby Hat

I wrote this little knitted hat pattern when my grandson was due to be born and thought I would share it here with you today.

It has been on Ravelry for just under a year now and has been downloaded nearly 1500 times, but if you are not a member of that site you wouldn't be able to access it so I would thought it would be good to put it here on my blog.

Size: Newborn (circumference 36cm  - 14in)

Yarn: Approx 70m (76yds), 4ply (fingering weight) of your choice
Knitting Gauge: 7 sts x 9 rows stockinette stitch = 1 inch

On 3.25mm dpn needle, or size needed to get gauge, cast on 72 stitches
Divide evenly between 3 dpn’s (24sts on each)

Ribbed Brim
Join in the round being careful not to twist the stitches.
Round 1 – 8: k2, p2 rib

Change to 3.75mm dpn’s, or size needed to get gauge.

Heart border = 15 rows
Round 9 – 10: purl
Round 11: p6, k1, p11, k1, p5
Round 12 & 13: p5, k3, p9, k3, p4
Round 14: p4, k5, p7, k5, p3 
Round 15: p3, k7, p5,  k7, p2
Round 16 - 18: p2, k9, p3, k9, p1
Round 19: p1, k4, p3, k4, p1, k4 p3, k4
Round 20: p3, k2, p3, k2, p5, k2, p3, k2, p2
Round 21 – 23 purl

Round 24: knit
Round 25: *yo, k2tog * rpt to end

Continue knitting every round until hat measures approx 12cms (4 ½ inches) from cast on edge.
Begin decreases: (Repeat across all needles for each round.)
Round 1: k6, k2tog
Round 2,4,6,8,10,12,14: knit
Round 3: k5, k2tog;
Round 5: k4, k2tog;
Round 7: k3, k2tog;
Round 9: k2, k2tog;
Round 11: k1, k2tog
Round 13: k2tog (9 sts left)

Cut the yarn leaving enough to thread a tapestry needle and thread through all stitches, pulling gently to close the gap. 
Weave in ends.
Wash hat according to yarn specifications and lay flat to block.

The Hearts border pattern is from ‘Knit Edgings & Trims’ by Kate Haxell.  This little hat looks great on baby boys or add a cute ribbon bow for a more girly embellishment.
Happy knitting.

Some knitters have commented that the hearts are not as pronounced on their work as they appear in my photo.  The yarn I used, Rowan 4ply soft, is one that shows detail very well (I call it an unforgiving yarn if you make a mistake).  It is a discontinued line now but I would suggest using a yarn that is quite smooth to get good results. A cotton or bamboo would work well.

Another alternative is to reverse the chart above so that the hearts are purled and the band is knit.

I hope you enjoy the pattern.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

How Do You Like Your Oats?

Nice warm, creamy rolled oats, or porridge, is one of my favourite breakfasts in winter.  They taste good, warm you from the inside out and are good for you too, especially for lowering cholesterol levels.

I used to buy the pre-packaged, quick cook, flavoured ones under the assumption that they were quicker and easier to make but really how long do oats take to cook?  I mean real steel cut organic oats?  The time I save from using the quick cook packs to making my own is only a few minutes and surely I can spare that to ensure that I know exactly what I'm getting in my breakfast.

I love experimenting with different flavours and adding all sorts of nourishing goodies to the mix so here are a few I love.

Firstly the basic cooking instructions for a nice pot of oats for 1 person, because my kids read my blog and this info will come in handy for them.

Basic Oats - Porridge
1/4 cup rolled oats
small pinch salt (optional)
3/4 cup water, or milk

Place in a saucepan, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Gourmet Oats - Porridge
Apple & Cinnamon
Make as for Basic Oats above but add-
1-2 tbsp Muesli (for crunch)
1/4 apple, peeled and cut into small cubes
1/4 tspn ground cinnamon
honey for drizzling to sweeten

Add all ingredients apart from the honey and cook as above. Spoon into a serving bowl and add a drizzle of honey and a little milk to serve.

Wholegrain & Apricot
As Basic Oats above plus -
1-2 tbsp Muesli
1 tbsp LSA mix (Linseed, Soy & Almond) available from supermarkets and health food stores
1 dried apricot, diced finely
Sprinkle of dark brown sugar

Add all ingredients except for the brown sugar and cook as above.  Spoon into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the brown sugar to taste and a little milk to serve.

Cranberry and Macadamia
As Basic Oats above plus-
1-2 tbsp Muesli
1 tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp chopped macadamias
sugar or honey to sweeten if liked

Add all ingredients and cook as above.  Spoon into a serving bowl and add sweetener and milk to serve.

The only limit to the oat flavours you can create is your imagination.  I like to add Muesli to my oats as it adds a nice crunchy texture that I like.  Try creating others flavours like Vanilla and Honey, add different types of dried fruit and nuts.  Sweeten with Agave or Maple Syrup.  I usually just have a bit of a peek in the pantry and see what I can find that might work together.

Organic oats are more expensive than the regular supermarket brand but are still so much more economical than buying the sugar laden novelty cereals and even the healthy start cereals.  A serving of plain organic oats for one person would cost less than 20 cents.  Adding some interesting flavours and you still have a good for you, great tasting, filling breakfast for less than 50 cents.  You can't beat that.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Grumpy Bums

It's knitting season, cool evenings and lots of rain!  I saw this gorgeous pattern for infant longies and just had to make them for my grandson.  Luckily his parents thought they were cute too as there is not much point putting the time and effort into knitting something that the recipient isn't going to wear.

The pattern can be found at I particularly like this pattern because it is knit in DK weight (8ply) yarn and therefore is quite quick to make.

My gorgeous grandson is modeling his new pants for the purpose of blog photos and as you can see they are long enough for him at the moment but there is plenty of sideways stretch to this pattern so once winter is over this year I will unpick the cast off on the cuffs and knit a few more stripes to lengthen them so they will also fit him next winter and he should get at least 2 years wear from them that way.

There is another free pattern that is very similar that can be found here on Ravelry if you are a member of that site.  This pattern is knit in fingering weight (4ply) yarn and so would take quite a bit longer to knit but other than that there seems few differences.

I love knitting baby wear, it is so quick and is instant gratification in a craft where items can take a long time between cast on and wearing.

Are you knitting at the moment?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Meals Under $10 - Chicken & Corn Soup and Apple Pie with Cream

Three course dinners just don't happen as an everyday occurrence in our house and even two courses are fairly rare unless it is an easy dessert like a fresh fruit platter, fresh fruit juices or ice-cream.

However for an inexpensive meal sometimes you can go straight from starters to dessert and completely skip the main course.

I have often served up a hearty soup with crusty bread and then finished the meal with a home cooked dessert.  The two courses are filling enough that no-one ever leaves the table hungry.  There is usually enough for seconds of the soup if they are starving.

This weekend has been cold and windy so we are having Chicken and Corn Soup followed by Apple Pie and Cream.  Good home-made comfort food.

This country style soup is quick and easy to make if you already have some stock made and frozen or have a store bought one in the pantry.

Chicken and Corn Soup (Cost Approx $5 - $6)

1 onion, finely diced
1 cup sweet corn kernels
2 potatoes, diced into 1 cm cubes
1 or 2 rashers bacon
1 cup shredded chicken (I pull the meat of the bones from a chicken roast)
4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups milk or 1/4 cup cream

Heat oil in a pan and add onion and bacon.  Gently fry for a few minutes until soft.  Add corn, potato, chicken stock and shredded chicken. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down and simmer until the potato is cooked and falling apart.  The potato helps to thicken the soup.

Place half the soup in a blender or food processor and puree with the milk until smooth or if using cream just puree the soup and stir through the cream at the end.  Add this mix back into the soup and stir until well combined.

Serve with crusty bread. ($1 on 'end of day' special at supermarket)

Apple Pie (Cost Approx $2.50)

Filling Ingredients
6 Granny Smith Apples
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Pastry Ingredients (Basic Shortcrust Pastry)
1 1/2 cups plain or all purpose flour
125gms butter
1-2 tsp iced water
1/4 cup sugar

Add all flour & butter to food processor and pulse until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.  Add the water and process until the mix just comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.  This gives the pastry time to relax.  Peel, core and thinly slice apples. Simmer the apple slices together with the sugar, cinnamon and a small amount of water until apples are just tender.  Leave to drain while you finish the pastry base.

Take the dough from the fridge and  cut in half. Place on a lightly floured surface and roll out to fit the base of your pie dish. Line the dish then repeat with the other half of the dough to make the top of the pie crust.  Hint: Roll dough between two sheets of greaseproof baking paper so it is easier to handle.

Spoon apples into the pastry base then carefully place the other rolled out dough on the top.  Press the edges together decoratively and cut some small air holes into the top crust.  Brush the pie top with milk and sprinkle lightly with some extra sugar.

Serve warm or cold with cream, ice-cream or custard.

My pastry was slightly tough because I over processed it in the food processor when the blade became lodged and I was trying to free it.  The pastry should only be processed until it just comes together to avoid this.


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Sampler Applique Quilt

Finally it is finished!  This poor old quilt has been a UFO (unfinished object) for quite a number of years now and thanks to my Aunty and Mum who were here on holidays recently, it is now finished.

I can't remember when I originally started making this but it must have been about 4 or 5 years ago and the majority of it was done in that first year but then it was put aside to wait for the backing fabric and wadding to be bought, shoved aside when it was too hot to quilt in Summer, and then finally I lost the fabric I bought for the binding.  When we moved to live overseas it was packed away with my other craft things and just recently has seen the light of day again.

My Aunt and Mum are avid quilters and we spent many hours in quilt shops while they were here so I have had plenty of opportunities to buy more fabric to replace that elusive binding that was lost.  My Aunt did the cutting and machine sewing of the binding and then my Mum finished the hand sewing to secure the binding over the edges.

I am so glad it is finished and I really love it.

If you are a quilter the obvious mistakes will jump right out at you but in my defense it was one of the first quilts I ever made and my first freeform machine quilting, and being more of an embroider than a quilter I am very proud of it.

Soon it will be on display hanging on the craft room wall.


Friday, 1 June 2012

Slow Living Month 5

Time for the monthly audit of how things have been tracking along at Monarch Place.  I must say I'm not too confident this month as there has been a brief blogging break while I holiday'd with my Mum and Aunty but here goes....

My 50th Birthday Cake made by a work Colleague
This month I started a new feature on the blog about reducing the cost of feeding our families.  Every Monday I am going to list a recipe that will cost approximately $10 to feed four adults.  Obviously the price will vary according to where you live but overall they will be inexpensive meals that are easy to prepare at home.

The lovely cake in the photo above was made for my birthday by a work colleague who is also a chef.  It is a beautiful Chocolate and Lavender cake.

I find that as a full time worker outside of the home, I can cope with what needs to be done inside the home and garden by keeping things in a routine.  However unexpected things that pop up are what can unhinge me, things that are not routine.  Being as prepared as possible for birthdays, weddings, babies and the like helps and so I have them written on the calendar, cards pre-made and a selection of gifts and wrapping paper on hand.

I am reducing the paper wastage around the house.  I try to buy things that have less packaging, take my own bags when shop, read books on an e-reader and don't print my knitting patterns out but read them on an iPad.  Paper, cardboard and other packaging that can be recycled is always put into the recycling bin for collection by the council.

I'm not sure whether the post on a Kitty Litter alternative really fits under this heading but I would like to discuss it a little more here.  I am now using Bentonite Clay bought from my local farm produce store.  There is some discussion about strip mining to produce this clay which is concerning but when weighing the options I have to wonder what effect the silicone one that has become so popular is having on the environment.  Ultimately recycling newspapers by making a paper mache, drying it and crumbling it to a consistency for kitty litter would be a far greener option but being time poor I can't see me taking up that option, at least for the time being.
Some of the boys from the Wototo Children Choir - orphaned African children making a difference
I didn't post about the Wototo Children's Choir on the blog but this month our church hosted this wonderful choir as they do every year.  Again they put on an amazing show and I donated money to this worthy cause and also supported them by purchasing some of their African made jewelry which I then promptly gifted to my daughters much to their delight.

The veggie garden was still producing copious amounts of cucumbers.  I gave up on trying to use them all and eventually pulled the withering vines out.  While my mum and aunty were here we ate as much as possible from the garden.  Lettuce, cucumbers, parsley, basil, shallots, tat soy and wombok were all eaten freshly picked.  There is something very satisfying about growing your own food.  Now I have tomatoes growing beautifully and I'm looking forward to picking and bottling some of those soon.  I have also prepared the second garden bed in readiness for the next crops.

I can't take credit for 2 of the creative posts in this months line up.  My daughter created a delightful piece of artwork for her baby's nursery walls.  It looks impressive, is bright and eye-catching and best of all she made it herself and she is also the photographer that did the lovely photo shoots for newborn babies.  My creativity this month has been limited to knitting but with the weather cooling off quickly I can't think of anything else I would rather be doing at the moment.

While I was playing tourist with my visitors we discovered a number of new places as well as enjoyed a lot of old favourites.  My mum is a regular visitor here each year so she has been to most attractions around the Sunshine Coast but this was the first time in Queensland for my aunty.  One of the sad things we discovered was that a lot of the smaller craft stores have closed down.  I guess this is in part due to the failing economy but I also think that small local businesses cannot compete with the large franchises.  I try to support small local business as much as possible, I hope you do too.
Ettamogah Pub, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
This one is easy.  I enjoyed having my mum and aunty here and spending lovely weekends with them exploring our local area, discussing family history, crafting together (well mostly watching them craft), having coffee's and lunches out at little hideaway places and generally just catching up.  One of the things I really enjoyed though was coming home from work to a lovely home cooked meal that I didn't have to cook myself.  It is so nice to be taken care of rather than be the carer sometimes.....Sigh.
The photo above is the Ettamogah Pub about a 10 minute drive from where I live.  It was a regular feature in the comic strips in the 'Post' magazine and the walls inside this working bar are lined with the old comics.

Well that wasn't so hard to do after all.  It's amazing how just living your life and trying to live simpler everyday can just creep up on you and before you know it you are doing just what you hoped. Of course there is always room for improvement but I'm just taking it one step at a time.
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