Saturday, December 29, 2012

Trade Secrets

Day 5 of Shopping-Free Week (Day 10 if you don't count Christmas Eve dash to supermarket and deli for sour cream and smoked salmon):

We are out of eggs, milk, bread, fruit, flour and glace cherries. Crew threatening mutiny. Captain determined to go down with the ship...

Not true. No-one even noticed, though I couldn't have gone another hour without buying milk. Cuppa anyone? is a question that reverberates around the house about fifteen times a day. When we ran out of bread I made cheese and vegemite scrolls, always popular, and when visitors came I made shortbread (no eggs, lots of butter). I used up every vegie in the bottom of the fridge, including the beans I forgot to cook for Christmas dinner, and zucchini and spinach from the garden, in a stir fry, and nobly ploughed through all the left-over Christmas salads for lunch every day (well, not that noble, I love salad for lunch, especially if someone else has made it).

I did finally have to go to the shops today, not only for milk, but because on Monday eight house guests are arriving, and I need to do some cooking before then. With eggs, flour etc. I have learned some interesting things though. My family will happily eat all sorts of things, as long as it is served up in front of them, and they don't have to make any effort. Grapes in a bag are 'yucky' because there are several brown ones among them, and the child in question will have to sort the good from the bad. The same grapes that have been subject to quality control and are presented as part of a fruit platter are 'yummy'. Same goes for garden strawberries with cosmetic defects. This may be a character defect, but it is one I can exploit work with. Also, if I have a plan and can tell everyone what is for dinner, today, tomorrow and the next day, they accept it, but if I don't know, their minds immediately turn to junk food.

I discovered something else. It is possible to serve meals that everyone likes, even when there are no eggs in the house. Sometimes I panic when we run out of an ingredient, and run out to buy eggs....and yoghurt, and chocolate, and crackers, and whatever else is on sale near the checkout. But necessity really is the mother of invention. I could learn so much just by running out of things and having to cook something else, or use up leftovers, or garden gluts. I'm sure that's how most of the world's cuisines developed.

Speaking of which, this afternoon I roasted a chicken, with lots of veg. We ate a little chicken and most of the veg for dinner, and I shredded the rest for lunch on Monday, with our guests. Now I'm cooking up the carcass for soup stock for dinner tomorrow, and it smells divine. It occured to me that it takes a long time to learn how to whip up a roast dinner, to get all the elements well-cooked and ready at the same time. You either learn it by your mother's side, or by trial and error. In my case, the latter. My mother preferred knitting to cooking. And here is a recently learned trade secret that I have never found in a cook book. After much experiment, I have discovered that if you parboil the potatoes and carrots till almost soft, then toss them in oil, butter and spices on a baking tray with raw pumpkin, they will all cook perfectly at the same time in about half an hour at 200C. I always finish them off with a ten minute burst at about 210C-220C to crisp them at the end while the chicken is resting.


Does anyone have any favourite left over roast veg recipes? I put them in mini quiches in muffin trays. What do I do with left over chicken stuffing?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Post Christmas Economy

Well, Christmas was splendidly Christmassy, twinkly and happy, and miracle of miracles, didn't start till 7.15am. I think that is the longest Christmas sleep-in we have had for nineteen years. You can see the enormous number of parcels above, all wrapped in our reusable bags, some of which must be years old now. No, I didn't go mad in the Christmas season; well, no more than usual. The children love the excitement of lots of parcels under the tree (and so do I!), so as well as one special, indulgent present, I also save and wrap all the things I would buy for the children anyway at this time of year. Summer pyjamas, next year's school lunchboxes (a very big deal when you are 8 and 12), any summer clothes they need, and this year, replacements for the ragged beach towels they have all owned since they were toddlers. I have not yet been reduced to wrapping up the new year's school text books, but I did once pop toothbrushes into all the stockings!

So now it is the day after... and as the grocery budget has taken a beating recently, I have decided not to do the grocery shopping this week. I am not telling the family this, as they would panic, whine, and feel very deprived, but I'm counting on the fact that they won't actually notice that we are living out of the pantry and back of the fridge.

My first job was to reorganise the pantry, which had turned into the sort of place that your pantry turns into when your entire family uses it every day, and always put things back in the most convenient empty spot. I found all sorts of exotic ingredients that we can use up over the next few days, and also many pots of left overs in the fridge, some of which had sadly died of old age.

This year my New Year's resolutions will include a War on Waste. Living here at Chez Blueday will be like living with your Nan. During the War. On rationing. OK, there will be more butter. Lots more butter. But waste, on a societal level, but also here at home, makes me so angry. I think of all the work and resources and labour that goes into making the things we use and eat, and so much of it doesn't even get used for the purpose it is intended. So I will start here and now, and at least try not to throw out any more food...

I started this morning by stewing up some soft apples from the fridge with rhubarb from the garden, and we ate that for dessert tonight with whipped cream left over from yesterday's pavlova.

Then I rescued some potatoes that were trying to crawl out of the potato bin by themselves, and some lovely, nutty, sweet spinach from the garden, and a little feta, and made potato, spinach, feta triangles with puff pastry. Then grated up two of the first three zucchinis from my giant zucchini pot to make zucchini muffins. This used up the last three eggs and the last third of the last tomato that I found in a pot in the fridge (why would anyone put a third of a tomato in the fridge? Just eat it people). There was a moment of panic when I thought there was no cheese in the house, which would have broken my resolve. Can a family survive without cheese? But luckily, it was a false alarm. So that is dinner for today and tomorrow.

We are also nearly out of cereal, so The Girl made a batch of her irresistible muesli to pop in the oven after the dinner finished cooking.
This is seriously the best muesli in the world, and very easy to substitute ingredients for whatever you have on hand.
Yummy Breakfast Muesli
3 cups (300g) rolled oats
3/4 cup (75g) chopped nuts
1 cup (90g) assorted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia, poppy)
1/2 Tbspn cinnamon
2 Tbspns butter, melted
3Tbspns brown sugar
2Tbspns golden syrup
1Tbspn coconut oil
1/2 cup dried fruit
1/2 cup choc chips
Pre-heat oven to 165C
Mix dry ingredients in large bowl (except fruit and choc chips)
Melt butter, oil, sugar.
Pour onto dry ingredients and toss until well coated. Spread into high-sided, oiled tray and cook for 25 mins. Stir occasionally so it cooks evenly.
Stir again after it comes out of the oven, and after 5 minutes or so, add fruit and choc chips. We find you can cook dried apricots but not sultanas.
The origins of this recipe are lost in the mists of time, but The Girl has tweaked it so many times it is not the original recipe anyway...
This makes a large jar (love those Moccona coffee jars!), squashed down tight to fit it all in.
Very cheap and easy to make, but there would be about $20 worth of gourmet muesli in that jar, if we bought it from the local gourmet deli...



Monday, December 24, 2012

Escaping Christmas Mayhem

When Christmas preparations get a bit insane - the Bluedays go camping. Well, this actually made Christmas preparations more insane, but at least we got to sit by a river for a couple of days as a calming interlude.

Because it is hard to be stressed when walking under giant tree ferns...

or dabbling toes in a waterfall..
There was a platypus in the river, and wrens and robins and wallabies and possums, and toasted marshmallows around the campfire, and I think my back is permanently ricked to one side due to dodgy camping sleeping arrangements, so all par for the course, really, camping-wise.
Now we are back for the Night Before Christmas, preceded by the day before the Night Before Christmas, which includes a house full of camping gear, half wrapped presents and fights over the sticky tape, last minute dashes to the supermarket for forgotten ingredients, but also homegrown srawberries, and homegrown raspberries from friends for the traditional Christmas Day chocolate pavlova, The Boy playing his guitar, the girls doing cartwheels on the lawn, The Girl humming in the kitchen. The Man and I are truly blessed, slightly manic, but very thankful.
I would like to leave you, as a Christmas treat, the remarkable sight of Posy walking on water.
There, I knew you would love it.
Merry Christmas to all...



Thursday, December 20, 2012

More Frugal Christmas Cheer


I am thinking of renaming this blog 'Clever Things My Children Do So I Don't Have To'. I am really hoping they never leave home. This week it was Christmas cards from bits and pieces in the craft drawers, The Girl cutting and pasting using tiny cardboard scraps, and the little girls using up the button stash for bauble cards for their teachers.
Every year the girls make gingerbread houses, usually with friends, usually coating the entire kitchen in a layer of butter and icing sugar. Looking on the bright side, this ensures that the living area gets well mopped for Christmas..
This year I am trying to think of alternatives for those one-use Christmas items, and cake boards are one of those annoying things - you buy them, and they are ruined after one use, as the foil gets cut or ripped. I contemplated making my own wooden boards, and then I realised it would be so much simpler to use serving platters from the cupboard. One of those blinding revelations that's a no-brainer ... once you've thought it..
The Girl made stained glass windows by baking boiled sweets in the window spaces when she cooked the gingerbread. A tea light inside the house makes it very Christmassy indeed.
I am so glad my girls get so much pleasure out of making things, and know they can take raw ingredients and drawers full of recycled bits and bobs and make something useful and beautiful and delicious.
Me, I would rather play in the garden. Remember that pot I planted out in October? Actually, I don't think I had even got the seeds until about a week after that photo. Well now it houses two giant zucchini plants, and a cucumber and Tiny Tim tomato which are valiantly struggling against a sea of zucchini leaves.
Here they are, the poor poppets.
I think we will have our first zucchini for Christmas. You can imagine the excitement...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Craft for the Manifestly Incompetent

I really don't do craft. It is NOT MY THING. However, it is the thing of three girls I know, who are clever and artistic, so there are two sets of old card catalogue drawers in the dining room (I rescued them from The Man's workplace several years ago). They are choc-a-bloc with every conceivable bit and bob that might come in handy one day for creating marvellous things.

I rarely buy any craft supplies, except for glue sticks and sticky tape. Grandma sends parcels of collected ribbons, lace, stickers and shiny paper, and I save every piece of coloured paper, card and ribbon that comes into the house, and file them into the designated drawer. You might be imagining a lovely, organised Martha Stewart-style craft set up here. Well, don't. There are children involved. No matter how often I reorganise it (OK, not so often), it entropies back into a glorious tangle of craft supplies, and sometimes you can find what you were after, but mostly you use whatever is on top...

And this is the theme of Christmas craft this year. Using up what we have, and not buying new stuff until we have no old stuff anymore... So I am wrapping up Christmas parcels, reusing last year's Christmas bags and paper, of course, and I came to the last of the gift tags, and so spent a surprisingly relaxing half hour making more out of reclaimed card, and some stickers I found in the drawers.

And, just so you know there is more talent in the house than I display myself, here are past creations from the rest of the Blueday family.

The Girl, assorted embroidery thread from Grandma Hazel's stash on red felt.

Rosy, felt and dolly peg angel, with bead trimming and gold pipecleaner accessory. Also, in background, polystyrene ball bauble with glued-on fabric strips, a Posy school project (sadly I had to miss parent help that day...).

Posy, felt and beads again, with much patient assistance from a big sister.
And the last voluntary craft The Boy indulged in, this star he made at playgroup when he was two...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


A few weeks ago, when Hurricane Sandy swept through the US, I got to thinking about emergency preparedness. Now, I am normally not prepared for anything. I am the person with no umbrella/sunhat/food/drink bottles for my poor children when such items would be appropriate, and I like to think they are very tough and resourceful due to this character deficiency of mine. I also make sure I go places with people who are very organised.

Still, I thought it would be a pleasant way to spend half a day, checking that we were all kitted out for emergencies, and besides, then I wouldn't have time to clean the bathroom. So I put new batteries in all the torches in the house, and then realised that most emergencies (small ones, I mean, like inclement weather, not imminent death or destruction by cataclysmic natural causes) tend to happen when we are in the car.

So I changed the torch batteries in the car torches, and added an umbrella to each car, and a two litre bottle of water, and those microfibre towels I bought from a camping shop (The Girl needed one for a school camping trip, but they were three-for-one on sale. What could I do? See, this is how our houses fill up with consumer ordure). I added sunscreen and lip balm, and antibacterial handwash to each car, and discovered that one car had both pocket knives, and one car had two first aid kits, and The Boy's car none. I opened the first aid kits for the first time since we got them several years ago, and discovered that though they were packed full of gauze dressings and wrappings, there weren't any thick pressure bandages for snake bites, one of the most likely hazards facing picnicking Tasmanians. Upon reflection it seemed rather silly to have snake bite bandages in my suburban kitchen rather than in the cars, so out they went. Then I topped up the packs with bandaids and painkillers and we were good to go for every emergency, which meant of course we would never have any...

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon, and we are eating lunch and reading the paper, when I get a phone call from The Boy, who has been camping with friends (and you have to love this conversation. The Boy is one of the most laid back people I know):

Er, Mum, are you and Dad busy right now? Because I'm at the hospital, and I have a few stitches so I can't drive the car home...

Turns out he had tripped over while running, broken his fall on some glass, and had lacerations down the length of his inside arm, you know, where that GREAT BIG VEIN is, the one one that causes you to bleed out and die.. and apparently there was a LOT of blood, and they were over an hour away from a hospital, on dirt roads, and all they could find to stop the bleeding was a sanitary pad, and a flannelette shirt. Gotta love teenagers! Then they opened the glove box in The Boy's car, and there was a first aid kit, so they could wrap his arm up properly, which slowed the bleeding, and took him to the nearest hospital, sat with him while he got stitched up, bless their dear hearts, and then brought him home to our hospital, doing amazing tag team relays with the car, as The Boy was one of the only drivers, and then, once he was all fixed, taking gory photos of his grazes, bandages, and blood soaked clothes to send to his girlfriend, who is overseas, because teenagers are kind like that.

And while I thought that the whole exercise was a little bit of overkill at the time, I am so grateful that the one time in my life I was prepared before an emergency, was the time it mattered.