A bit of this and that...with added frangipani.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Two Suns

The sun is starting to rise really early as we are approaching our summer. StarBoy got up at 6 a.m. this morning, and he usually doesn't rise until 7 or even 7:30 a.m. CheekyBoy, as you know, rises at 5:30 a.m. and doesn't know the meaning of the word "quiet".

Me: StarBoy has been getting up early lately. I think it is because of the sun.
Will: No. I think it is because of the other son.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mornings At Mine


As you might know from one of my first posts, mornings are my time. It is the quiet time I get to spend on the computer, not thinking about work, study or budgets. Well, lately I have overcome my insomnia, and have been rising at 5:30 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. This means that my three-year-old is also up, so there goes my wonderful hour or so of me time. I have been reading my blogs nonetheless, and my little one plays computer games on the other computer (only educational games, he hasn't discovered the mindless type yet). The older one sleeps a bit later, but when he gets up, the war is on as to who gets to be on the computer.

This is all par for the course, except for one thing: this time I have taken to enjoy a cuppa and a blog-reading session eats into getting-ready-for-school time. As the morning wears on and 8:30 a.m. rolls around all too quickly, my stress levels are rising and rising. A rule of motherhood is--I shall call it Mother's Law--the more you are in a rush, the more your children will slow down. By the time you are ushering them into the car five minutes past the time you were meant to be leaving the house, they are moving so slowly they are actually moving backwards. This is no joke.

This is the time when your little darling will decide that he wants to wear his running shoes instead of the easy-to-slip-on Crocs variety. This requires frantic search under beds, in the garage and in the toy box for the shoes that he kicked off out in the yard the night before. It involves finding matching socks from the pile of clean laundry on the couch, struggling to get them on his wriggling feet and tying shoelaces in double knots.

The older one will decide that he wants to pull out some box full of toys that comes in a gazillion pieces and dumps it on the living room floor--just as you are walking out the door.

I know that if I forgo the 'me' time and get on with getting ready for our day, that my stress levels would be lower, we would always be on time for school, and we would all be happier. But if I can't have this time to myself in the morning when I am most alert, when can I? I am too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything but climb into bed almost immediately after the kids hit the sack--I have to get up at 5:30 in the morning after all!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Budgets Make You Choosy

Since I have started my budget, I am being more choosy about where I drop my hard-earned, hard-saved cash. We worked so hard and have sacrificed so much to keep the money from flying out the door on wings of frivolity, that it has to be a pretty special occasion or venue for me to part with the dough. A problem is that since these sorts of expenses are now going out of my pocket instead of onto my credit card, I am much more aware of what I spend, and my standards for spending this money have become next to impossible to achieve.

If I am going to a restaurant, for instance, it has to be a place where the service is exceptional--the waiter has to offer to name his firstborn child after me--and the food must be able to be described as "food for the gods". The view must be breathtaking and it should offer a three-course set menu for the price of a cup of coffee. Not too much to ask is it?

When going out for drinks and nibblies, there had better be some headline entertainment to go with those nibblies and an opportunity to meet someone famous and delectable, like...uh-oh I can't think of anyone, how sad is that?

When on a day out, that day had better be packed with fun-filled adventure so much so that my face hurts from smiling and laughing.

See what I mean? With standards like these, how am I ever going to be happy again? Oh that's right, I am happiest when I do things with my family and friends that don't involve spending money, like having a barbecue on the beach or getting together with close friends to share a meal, a few drinks and play games.

What activities make you the happiest?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Impending Humiliation


It is the month of the pink ribbon, and in honour of this very important cause, I am going to be performing in front of an audience of over 500 people next Friday evening at a Girls' Night In Fundraiser. Anyone who knows me, knows this is not something that I am in the habit of doing. I am a chameleon not a peacock; although you wouldn't know it from looking at this photo.

Granted, it is only a lip-sync number and there will be seven other women on the stage with me, but for me--this is monumental!

When I first met William, he had to triple-dare me to get me to sing out loud. I wouldn't even sing the national anthem in front of just him. Now, you can't shut me up, BUT (and this is a big but) I WILL NOT sing in public. You won't find me up at the karaoke mic, belting out ballads from Bette Midler or leading a chorus of I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. I will be the one sitting at my table, quietly sipping my chardonnay and secretly snickering at those of you who do venture up there at the peril of your own dignity.

So, to get me up in front of an audience of this size to strut my stuff on a catwalk, is an amazing feat of persuasion from a very special person. To persuade me to do it twice is beyond comprehension.

You see, in May this year, I participated in the Relay for Life, which is a relay they hold every year to raise money for the Cancer Council of Queensland. Part of it was to enter your team in a lip-sync contest. We performed Sisters are Doin' It for Themselves by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. It was something I had to do. I had to put myself outside my comfort zone, and I am so glad I did it. I came close to passing out from the stage-fright, but when it was all over, the feeling was exhilarating! An added bonus is that we won third place.

However, when the opportunity came up to repeat the performance at the Girls Night In, my study and workload came first and I declined to participate. Also, I had been there, done that, and I didn't need to do it again.

On Wednesday, I received a call from a dear friend who is going through her own battle with this dreaded disease. She is too ill and would not be able to do the performance. She asked me to take her place. With my recent assignment for school done and dusted, and my project for work ticking along nicely, there was no excuse. I had to help out.

So I spent today getting up to speed on the new moves that have been added to our routine to accommodate the shape of the new stage, and I must say that my confidence is waning. Although I know all the basic moves, they have changed a few things and I only have six days to get it right, with no rehearsals scheduled until the day before the performance.

I predict quite a few imperfections in Friday's performance. Perhaps if I just smile and wiggle my bum, they won't notice that I just knocked my fellow sister head-first into the audience.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Feeding My Addiction

I am new to the blogosphere, and I never realised how addicting it could be. Everytime I go near the computer, my typing figures begin to twitch. I break into a cold sweat, and I have to resist the urge to log in to my blog to see if there are any new followers or comments. Half the numbers on my hit counter are from me just checking. When I am going through my day, I am thinking about what I can write on my blog. Things aren't getting done, and it is beginning to show.



The laundry is piling around me, my dust bunnies are multiplying as fast as, well er, rabbits. My children are starting to pop in the kitchen to make their own breakfast, lunch and dinner. My three-year-old drives his six-year-old brother to school, and my eyes are turning a slight square shape.

Now, to make things worse, or better, depending on who you are, Ms Bibi has awarded me with my very first blog award! I thank her from the bottom of my heart, but do my children thank her? Not so much. They want their mum back, and this award will only serve to feed her addiction. I wonder if there is a Bloggers Anonymous?



Anyway, as I am not following many blogs yet, and the ones I am following already have this award, I will have to put this little award on my side bar and wait a while longer before I can pass it on. I'll go searching now and see if I can find some more worthy recipients. Oh darn--another reason to spend time reading blogs!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One of my favourite things...


Every Thursday for the past three years, I have had the great privilege of being included in a special ritual. Every Thursday--without fail--rain or shine, a group of women meet at the local pool--and I mean WITHOUT FAIL. So far only surgery, being out of town, or having a baby (and you only get a week off for this) are good enough reasons to miss Thursday swimming.

When I first moved to Cairns and knew not a soul apart from my dear friend, she invited me--no, stated matter of factly--that I was coming to swimming to meet her friends. At first, I used to dread Thursday swimming (no offense girls, it wasn't the company), because it involved so much rigmarole. Bags had to be packed, lunches had to be made, and every five or six weeks, depending our numbers, it was my turn to provide lunch for the girls. I would think up excuses--such as, "It is bucketting down out there, is swimming cancelled?", and "I heard on the weather forecast that there is a cyclone coming--do you think we should give it a miss?" No reason bar the above was good enough to get out of it.


Each and every time--or at least on the days it was my turn to bring the food--I would arrive, late, and stressed out because only minutes before I had been crouching before the oven, watching and mentally urging my puff pastry to poof or the quiche to set, so that I could pack it up and be on my way to swimming. Then I would arrive in a fluster, slap on some sunscreen, hand my, then, clingy child off to one of the other mums and go do 20 laps.


In the time it took me to do my laps, I had opportunity to zone out, to think about anything I wanted without interruption--to do something that was purely for me. It was like magic! After my swim was over, I felt like a new person.


After everyone had a turn at swimming, hot drinks would be ordered, magazines, stories and gripes would be shared, and we would gobble down whatever goodies were brought that day. By the end of our time together, I would feel ready to continue my week with a bit more positive an outlook.


Three years on, not much has changed. There are different children than before, because the older children have started school and new babies have arrived. I still leave all my cooking to the last minute, my child is no longer clingy, but I still appreciate my zone-out time in the pool. The one thing that
has changed is my attitude towards Thursdays. Now I KNOW that no matter the effort that is required to prepare for Thursday swimming, it is well worth it, and I will feel better for it. I also know that I am very lucky to be included in this kind, patient, bossy (in a good way), and loyal group of women, and I am thankful for that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tastes of Home


Whenever I am home in Vancouver, Canada, I gain a heap of weight. This is for a good reason, because the minute I land on Canadian soil, if you searched my bags you would find, no flammable items or weapons, but something more deadly--deadly to my scale that is. It is my list, my list of all the things I am going to eat, eat, eat, whilst I am home. Here is my list from last time I went to Canada:
  1. Dill pickle flavoured potato chips: the Australians just don't appreciate the salty and sour flavour of the lovely dill pickle. They call them gherkins, and they take them OFF their burgers at McDonalds. I won't even DISCUSS what they DO put on their burgers, beet(root), pineapple and fried egg--pah!
  2. Spits (roasted and salted sunflower seeds in the shell): William calls this birdseed, but he has been known to nibble a few himself.
  3. Coffee Crisp Chocolate Bars (note the plural here, you can't just have one): This is coffee flavoured yummy stuff between layers of wafer and covered in chocolate.
  4. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups: little cups of peanut butter covered in chocolate.
  5. Escargots: I know I scoffed at the contents of an Aussie burger, but I just can't go past escargots, SMOTHERED in garlic butter--even better if there is melted cheese on top and french bread to go with.
  6. Screaming Hot Chicken Wings: You get these from Earls Restaurants and they are delicious and hot like their name! I have tried to duplicate this recipe, but have not been successful so far.
  7. Mushrooms Neptune: This is the recipe I told you about, the one with crab in it. These are melt in your mouth, little morsels of heaven! These you get at The Keg, but I have found a recipe here, and it is just as good.
  8. Butter Tarts: They don't make these on this side of the equator. I tried to make them myself and it just wasn't the same.
  9. Pumpkin Pie: All the pumpkin that gets eaten over here is savoury--no pumpkin pie or pumpkin cookies. I made it myself once and it was ok, but would be much better if I didn't have to work so hard for it. It is laborious when you have to do everything from scratch.
  10. Banana Cream Pie: With this being the tropical far north of Australia, you would think that Banana Cream Pie would be something that people have all the time, but no--that is a pleasure I can only indulge in on the continent of my birth.
Now this list is not in any particular order, because there is no way I could choose which ones I like best. It is a good thing I have already eaten my dinner, because with all this talk of yummy food, I think the fridge might be in grave danger of a midnight raid. Try that recipe for Mushrooms Neptune out. It is great for entertaining. Do you have a list of things that you love to eat when you are visiting your home town or country? Or things that you would really miss if you were to go away for a long time like I have?

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Bit of the Paradise Too - Update


Just a quick update on the outcome of the boys' little adventure on Friday evening. Their catch was so HUGE that we decided it just wasn't fair to have all that crab to ourselves, so we let the crabs go.

Luckily, in the process of catching this huge feast, the boys didn't end up a meal for some sneaky crocodile. If they don't go crabbing again in the near future, I won't be disappointed. I was all for having a little adventure in my last post, but then I found out the extent of their crocodile risk management was shining a torch (flashlight) on the water in search of the red reflection of a pair of beady crocodile eyes! This doesn't seem like a sound way to avoid getting eaten. I'll have my crab from a can or in a restaurant, thanks very much. (By the way, I have a great recipe for Mushrooms Neptune--just like The Keg's very own recipe. Lucky for me, it can be made with canned crab. I'll post that later in the week.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Bit of the Paradise Too Please...

Ok, so I have been yabbering on about budgets and recipes, but when will I get to the life in paradise bit? Well it depends--if you think that having your kids and hubby go off on a crabbing adventure at 7 p.m. on a balmy 28 degree evening, then right now!

I have spent the afternoon by the poolside at my friend's home, chatting with a small group of my favourite mums from StarBoy's school. We don't have a swimming pool at our home, so my kids enjoy ANY opportunity they get to have a dip. Living in Cairns means that a lot of kids are swimming at a really young age--it is just a way of life. The kids had a blast splashing in and out of the pool and were getting ready to go for another swim when I dragged them away. I knew their dad would soon be home and wondering where we were. Little did I know what their dad had planned for them, it was just as well I dragged them home when I did.

When we got home there was a message saying that Will was going to take them crabbing, and please have them and a bag ready to get when he returned. Then in a flurry of excitement, Will swoops in leaves me with a whopping great fish--a Trevally--and takes off with the boys to conduct 'men's business' down at some local fishing hole.

I am so grateful that my kids get to have experiences like these, because I think that nowadays a lot of the kids don't get to have really great adventures. We have to be so cautious and there are so many rules and regulations that they don't get to be as free as we were during my growing up years. I know it is all for good reasons to protect our children, but I think there has to be a bit of balance and letting them just be kids. Having said that, I am wondering about those pesky crocodiles and whether they are going to be safe wading in and out of the water. They are going with a friend of ours who does a lot of fishing and grew up here, so I am sure he knows the safe places to go--I hope!

So, here I am with a quiet house after a long and busy week, a huge fish that I have no idea what to do with, a glass of wine and my blog--who could ask for more paradise than that?

Oh, maybe a few ideas on what to do with this monster fish would be much appreciated!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Savings Tip #3 - Can I Take a Raincheck on That?

A conversation today made me realise that not everyone--especially here in Australia--realises the value or existence of rainchecks.

When a business advertises specials and they run out of stock, they often have a policy where they will honour the advertised price at a later time--when the sale item is in stock. This involves them writing out a slip of paper with the details of the sale item and the quantity you wish to purchase and then when they are stocking the item and you present the slip to the cashier, and they will give you the item at the sale price, even though the offer period has expired.


It is a great thing to remember that you don't always have to walk away empty-handed when you rush out to your local supermarket only to find out they have sold out of the item you were planning to buy. It is not a common practice here in Australia to ask for a raincheck, so don't be surprised to see a few blank looks from the customer service staff when you ask for one, but it is well worth asking. What's the worst that can happen? They say no?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Budget Recipe Find: Curried Sausages

Sausages are cheap, and I usually have some on hand in the freezer for those impromptu BBQs down at the beach. My husband and I love curries, but I often have to make something separate for the kids to eat, because the flavours are too strong for their sensitive palates. This recipe is budget AND family-friendly. I think the brown sugar in the recipe make the curry flavour milder.

I forgot to add the lemon juice, used plain flour instead of cornflour, vegetable stock instead of chicken stock powder, and I doubled the recipe. I am thinking about adding cut up apples to this the next time around.

Check out the recipe here: http://www.grouprecipes.com/93868/curried-sausages.html

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Savings Tip #2 - Take Advantage of Day-End Reductions


Not so long ago, I worked part-time in the evenings stocking shelves at my local supermarket. This is a tough job, and I take my hat off to all those who do it. It is back-breaking work and you walk around like a zombie for the whole next day, due to lack of sleep. Well, you do if you are like me and have a small child that refuses to sleep past 5:30 a.m.

The benefit of working in a supermarket at this time of day, is the gained knowledge that at 15 minutes before closing time, they mark down the BBQ chooks from a regular $10.49 to a measly $2!!
That is reduction of over 80% of the original price.

This week we picked up one for only a 50% reduction, because we made the mistake of buying on a night when there was late night shopping in the shopping centre. My theory is that there were plenty of shoppers around on this day, so they either a) sold most of their chickens already or b) thought that there were enough takers for the chickens at just half price. Next week, I will go down early in the week when there are less late night shoppers, and I will pick up three or four. I shouldn't complain though, because 50% reduction is nothing to sneeze at!

Anyway, what shall I do with all these chickens? Well, I plan to take all the meat off the bone and separate into portions that I can freeze for future meals such as pasta bake, risotto, soup, or stew. I will also freeze smaller portions of the breast meat so that I can whip them out when I am making lunches for the boys. I will take the bones and make some stock using this recipe here: http://www.newitalianrecipes.com/chicken-stock.html. I thought it would be a good way of using up any scraps of vegetables that I have.

I know that chicken stock cubes are not that expensive, and it would be a lot less hassle to simply use store-bought stock, but made correctly (see Tip#1 at the bottom of this post), I think this stock would taste a whole lot better, and I simply love the idea that the WHOLE chicken gets used up--not to mention the vegetable scraps that get used as well. The one thing that goes against frugality is spending hard-earned money on groceries and then 20% of it going to waste. I read that statistic somewhere, and I was aghast!

Tip #1: I made some of this stock yesterday, and one piece of advice I can give is to either leave out the celery or use it sparingly. My stock simply smells and tastes like celery soup, because there is too much celery in it. I will still use it, but will keep this in mind for next time.

Tip #2: These bargains can also be found on the day before any holiday where your supermarket closes for the holiday. My supermarket only closes about four times a year, but if you shop at 1/2 hour before closing on the day before the holiday, the shop will be manic, but Management will also be trying to get rid of everything off the deli, because they can't keep it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And Modest Too!

The other day, I was listening in on a conversation between StarBoy (6) and CheekyBoy (3). They were on the computer playing a game called Become A Human Body Explorer. They love this game because it teaches you all about how a human body works using fun games.

One of the games involves putting the organs all in their correct spots. CheekyBoy points to the screen and says, "There's the large intestine!" StarBoy says, "CheekyBoy, how did you KNOW that?" Well, I think I need to lay off the praise about how smart CheekyBoy is, because he is getting a big head. He responds to StarBoy quite simply, "Because I'm really smart." And modest too...

Lime Chicken with Mango Rice

Ok, so I was going to hold off on posting another recipe for a few days, but I could not resist. I made this one for dinner last night, and it is my current FAVOURITE recipe. I just love the way it mixes the saltiness of the soy sauce with the sweetness of the mango, the crunchiness of the walnuts and celery, the sour of the lime and the pepperiness of the coriander and the green onion. I got this one from my Cooking Light 123 Recipe Collection, again from Weight Watchers.

My kids ate it too, but they weren't keen on the white parts of the green onion, and my husband's only complaint is that I didn't make enough of it. This recipe says it is supposed to serve six, but they weren't trying to feed my family.

Ingredients:

  • 180g rice
  • 720g chicken breast fillet, sliced (I used only 500 grams)
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tsp grated lime rind
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • 1 tbs fresh coriander, chopped
  • 30g walnuts, chopped
  • ½ cup celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 small mango, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbs fresh coriander, chopped, extra
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Method:
  1. Add rice to a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 12 to 15 minutes.
  2. Heat a non-stick frypan coated with cooking spray and cook chicken until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
  3. Add soy sauce, lime rind, lime juice and coriander to the pan and bring to a simmer. Return chicken to the pan and simmer a further 5 minutes.
  4. When rice is cooked, drain and combine with walnuts, celery, shallots, mango and extra coriander. Season with salt and pepper and serve with Lime Chicken.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Potato, Spinach and Feta Frittata

I discovered this recipe when I lived in London back in early 1995. We had been travelling and eating/drinking our way through Asia through the late part of 1994. As a souvenir we managed to pack on a few extra kilos, so once we hit London, and I started working again, it was back on to Weight Watchers. I bought one cookbook: Weight Watchers Quick Family Meals by Jo Middleditch. I cooked most of our meals out of this cookbook, and we delivered leaflets door-to-door (Oh the distance we covered! We cursed the rich folk with their long driveways and only the one postbox at the top of the drive). William and I managed to lose a stone each before heading off to the Mediterranean to eat our way through Western Turkey.

This is one of my favourite recipes, because it is quick and easy, and I still prepare this frittata to share with my friends on our casual swimming day.


New Potato, Spinach and Feta Frittata

Serves 4


Ingredients:


4 teaspoons oil

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed (optional)

360g small new potatoes, cooked and quartered lengthways

120g frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed

A pinch of nutmeg

5 eggs beaten

120g feta, crumbled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion and garlic (if used), for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the cooked potatoes and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Then stir in the spinach and lower the heat.
  2. Add the seasoning and nutmeg to the eggs and pour them into the pan. Tilt the pan, allowing the egg to flow around the vegetables. Cook gently for about 5 minutes until all the egg is almost set. Remove the pan from the heat. Preheat the grill.
  3. Sprinkle over the feta and place the pan under the grill fro 2 minutes. Serve immediately, cut into wedges.

Cook’s note:

It is important that the spinach is thoroughly squeezed to extract all the excess moisture before using. I find that the easiest way to do this is to place it in a metal sieve and rub the spinach with a spoon.

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