Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A week's worth of dinners - eating up our food stores


We tend to eat the same kinds of meals around here and rotate them a lot, so this is a fairly standard week for us. However, I have just done a kitchen stocktake and planned a month's worth of meals based on what we already have in the fridge, freezer, pantry and garden, which means things might get a little more adventurous over the coming month.

For today's post I tried to remember to photograph our dinner each night, but didn't quite catch them all so you'll just have to use your imagination on the un-photographed meals. Also, please excuse the low-light in the photos I did take. It's the middle of winter here so the days are short and it's dark by the time we eat our dinner.

Because I do our grocery shopping on a Wednesday, I tend to plan our menus from Wednesday to Tuesday, which is why this post is going out today and not at the end of the week.

Dinner one
Panfried gurnurd and potato chips with cucumber, carrot and apple slices. We often have fish on a Wednesday night, since it's fresh from the supermarket that day. Usually I'd make the potato chips myself from scratch, but I had a headache so took a nap to clear it up. By the time I'd got myself back up, it was too late to get chips cooking so Paul picked up a scoop from our local fish and chips store.

Dinner two
Asian mince on rice
Asian mince on rice. 
This is one of the most popular recipes on Craving Fresh, and with good reason. It's easy to make, very accommodating of whatever vegetables you have on hand, and tastes so good. I used plain Basmati rice that I cooked in homemade chicken stock for added nutritional value. The vegetables I grated into it this time were courgettes and carrots. I also threw in some fresh coriander and mint from the garden at the last minute.

Dinner three
Lasagne
I made several portions of this in small oven-safe glass containers that come with lids, so that anything we didn't eat for dinner could easily get stowed away in the fridge for leftovers. I also made extra lasagnes to freeze straight away for future meals. We got through one and a half of these containers for dinner (my kids don't eat much) and then I had the other half for lunch a few days later.

Dinner four
A shared meal at our church. I helped prepare a chicken curry for it with some other ladies from my Bible study group.

Dinner five
Roast chicken, roast potatoes, steamed brocolli, steamed cauliflower and gravy.
These free range size 16 chickens usually retail for around $15 at Pak 'N' Save,
so when I saw them marked down to $9.99 recently, I bought five of them. 
My partner-in-crime, Paul, cooked this roast chicken meal for us since I was laid low with another headache. (Two headaches in one week! Very unusual for me, but I have been sick with a cold so maybe that played into it.)

Dinner six
Nonya chicken and potato curry on rice cooked in chicken stock and served with a side of green beans and peas
This featured leftover chicken from the previous night's roast. For the Nonya flavour, I used an Asian Home Gourmet Nonya packet. My sister-in-law recently introduced me to this delicious curry, but my children find it too spicy if I use the whole spice packet, so this time I only used half the packet and they were good with that. I saved the other half to make Nonya again another night, which is a frugal win since it means I get two dinners out of the one packet. We spontaneously had friends over for dinner, and they shared this meal with us. So fun.

Dinner seven
Refried bean quesadillas and tacos

I haven't made this yet as it's what we'll be eating tonight, but I took a photo of some of the ingredients for you. The beans are pinto beans I bought dry in bulk, soaked and cooked up before freezing in small ziploc bags. They'll serve as the main source of protein for tonight's dinner, which is our only meatless meal this week. It's not an entirely vegetarian dinner, as I'll cook the beans in homemade chicken stock to refry them.

Since there are only six tortillas in the packet, I've also pulled out a mostly-used packet of taco shells to bulk the dinner out.

I'm planning to use half the jar of salsa for tonight's meal, and will freeze the other half for a future Mexican meal. That's because it's the only salsa I have in the pantry and I'm planning to eat through everything I have over the next month before I buy more dinner staples.

What have you been eating this week? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, June 26, 2017

First ever Frugal Fun!


When I first started this blog, I coined the term Frugal Culture because I wanted to be good with money and learn how to stretch ours further. Reading The Prudent Homemaker this weekend as I lay sick in bed, I realised I have a long, long way to go.

It's never too late to start being frugal though, so I've decided to add a new semi-regular feature to Craving Fresh called Frugal Fun! This is where I'll share all the things I did in the past week to be frugal, and where you can share in the comments below or on Craving Fresh's Facebook page all the frugal things you've done lately. If you want to post a frugal picture on Instagram, use the hashtag #frugalfun and I'll check it out.

Hurray! Let's get started.

1. I bought and attached a drawer handle for a free chest of drawers we picked up for James that was missing a handle. I couldn't find a handle to match the existing ones, so I chose one that matched the colour and style of the others (rather than replace them all). (I've previously replaced several broken drawer runners in the same chest of drawers, but all up I haven't spent more than $10 repairing it).
Free chest of drawers. 

2. I fixed one of S's drawers that was coming apart. I used PVA glue I already had and so far it's holding up.

3. I mended a skirt and a dress of S's that were both coming apart at the waistband.

4. I made garden fertiliser out of chicken bones and vege scraps leftover from making chicken stock. I'll definitely do this again, but I'll probably water it down quite a bit before applying it next time. 
Homemade chicken bone fertiliser. 

5. I did a kitchen stocktake and wrote a month-long dinner menu plan based on food we already have in the house. 
Kitchen stocktake and menu plan. 

6. I made peanut butter out of a bag of roasted peanuts I'd bought on special.
Homemade peanut butter. 
7. I finished and posted an assignment for the Certificate of Horticulture that I'm studying for free through the Open Polytechnic.
Free Certificate of Horticulture. 

8. I made extra lasagnes to freeze for future meals when I was making lasagne for dinner. Make once, eat many times is a good motto. It saves time and energy. 
Extra lasagnes for freezing. 
9. I read a book I'd reserved for free through the library. (Hunted by Meagan Spooner, if you're interested. It's a Beauty and the Beast retelling and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can read about other books I love at YA Book Adoration, a book review site I recently started.)  

10. I blanched a bunch of spinach from the garden and froze it in ice cube trays for future meals. 

11. To save petrol, I did my grocery shopping on the way back from J's swimming lesson, as the supermarket was on the route home. 

12. I accepted two free tickets to walk the Waterview Tunnel, and took my daughter, S, to walk it with me. 

13. I picked free persimmons and accepted free apples from J's Kindy, to help stretch our fruit until next grocery day.

14. I sanded and revarnished the top of our coffee table, which was all banged up from kids' crafting. I used an oil stain we already had on hand from when I made our dining table. 

Now I want to hear your Frugal Fun wins. And if you're looking for more frugal inspiration, check out these super inspiring blogs:

Friday, June 23, 2017

My laser eyes - how the surgery went down

These laser eyes see everything. Everything!

Hey friends!

I know lots of you have been wondering how my laser eye surgery went, so I'm here to tell you all the gory (not-really-that-gory-but-eye-surgery-is-squeamish-by-nature) details. You'll also get to see more selfies of me than you ever hoped or dreamed for. Ha.

If you follow me on instagram, you'll know my eyes have been a bit red and creepy-looking (according to my kids), but my vision is laser sharp. Hurrah! I had the surgery just over two weeks' ago and the whole procedure took less than ten minutes. I spent more time eating chocolates and using the fancy toilets at the Eye Institute than I did getting my eyes lasered. (Literal bowls of chocolates in every room. Heaven!)

As I mentioned in my last post about laser eye surgery, before I could be booked in for the procedure I had to get measured up by an Ophthalmologist to check whether my corneas were thick enough for the surgery. They were, which was most excellent news.

Then I had to go in for another meeting with the surgeon and honestly, I'm not sure what the point of that one was. Maybe just to give me a chance to meet him and talk over last-minute concerns, but Paul had to drive me and the whole family across town for that one at 7.30pm at night, which was a bit of a pain. The surgeon did advise me to put hot flannels on my eyes for a minute each night leading up to the surgery, to help get the oil glands working better, so maybe it was worth a trip across town after all.

Finally, the day of the surgery arrived. Paul and baby J went with me (and ate lots of chocolates while they waited). I spent quite a while waiting around before getting called into a prep room where a nurse talked me through the procedure again, gave me my after-care instructions and then applied multitudes of eyedrops to numb my eyes for the surgery.

She walked me into the operating room. It was my first time getting surgery and I felt very Grey's Anatomy when I saw all the nurses standing around in their scrubs. I was asked to lie down on a table and then my surgeon talked me through what he was going to do each step of the way. Here are those steps for you.

Step 1: Tape left eye shut.

Step 2: Put a suction ring on right eye to hold it wide open.

Step 3: Tell me to stare at the light and hold very still. Done. "What just happened?" I ask. "The laser cut a flap in your eye," my surgeon replies, before taping my right eye shut.

Step 4: Remove tape from left eye and apply a suction ring to hold it open. "Ah, I can feel that a lot more than I think I should be able to feel it," I say, nervously. "People often tell us that when it comes time to do the second eye," my surgeon reassures me. "No seriously, I can really feel that," I repeat.

Step 5: Remove suction ring from left eye. Apply more numbing eye drops. Reapply suction ring to left eye. "Does that feel any different?" my surgeons asks me. "No," I reply, embarrassedly, realising my eye had been numb all along, I could just feel the suction ring more for some reason.

Step 6: Tell me to stare at the light and hold very still again. Left eye flap done. Tape left eye shut.

Step 7: Remove tape from right eye. Wheel me to another laser machine.

Step 8: Tape right eyelids open and apply lots of fluids to that eye. Meanwhile, I'm staring into an overly bright light with my eye pinned open, panicking a little that I can't do anything to block the light. I feel a brushing motion over my eye and then everything goes blurry, as the flap in my eye is folded back, which sounds icky, but made it a lot easier to handle staring into a bright light.

Step 9: "Hold very still. Keep holding very still. Keep holding very still. Done." Right eye lasered.

Step 10: Surgeon brushes eye flap back into place and then tapes my right eye shut.

Step 11: Repeat steps 8 through 11 in left eye. Done. Both eyes lasered.

Step 12: The tape is removed from my right eye to allow me to see as I'm led through to a recovery room with a lazy boy and another bowl of chocolates. I'm instructed to sit and relax with my eyes closed until the surgeon comes to check on me. I'm also told not to be shy with the chocolates.

Step 13: Paul and baby J come in to see how I am and to sit with me while I recover. Baby J freaks out a bit when he sees the tape over my left eye, but soon gets over that and starts feeding me chocolates. He knows his mama.

Step 14: After some time - maybe an hour - I'm taken next door where an ophthalmologist applies more eye drops before my surgeon comes in to check on his handiwork. My surgeon brushes my eye flaps some more, to make sure they're lined up nicely on my eyes so they can seal back properly, and then he tapes plastic eye shields over my eyes and instructs me to wear them until the next morning, when I'm to take them off and begin my regime of antibiotic, steroid and lubricating eye drops. I'm not to rub my eyes, for any reason.
Paul can't take anything I say seriously, while I'm wearing these shields.

Step 15: Sent home with painkillers and sleeping tablets and instructed to sleep as much as possible until the next day, when I had a follow-up appointment.

I don't think the sleeping tablets worked that well for me, but luckily my mother-in-law was staying the night so she got the girls from school, helped take L to netball, cooked dinner and got all the kids settled for the night. She was also able to take the girls to school in the morning too, since Paul had to leave early for work. My left eye hurt a lot that first night. It might have got more damaged because the suction ring was applied twice. It was certainly a lot redder than my right eye. But the pain soon passed and within 24 hours I could barely notice it, other than a slight scratchiness.

My sister-in-law, Mandy, drove me to my follow-up appointment the next morning and looked after baby J while I got my eyes tested. My vision after less than 24 hours was two levels better than twenty/twenty vision and my surgeon was pleased with how my eyes were healing, although he did increase my steroid dosage to help combat the inflammation in my left eye.
Wide-eyed photo of my red eyes.
Since I wasn't allowed to wear make-up and I felt pretty ug with my creepy red eyes, I took myself off to get a haircut.
Eyes still a bit red, but at least my hair is fabulous.

A week later I went back for another follow up appointment with my original ophthalmologist. At that one I was able to read one of the letters on the line that's three better than twenty/twenty vision, which is the smallest line on the eye chart. I was thrilled with that, especially since the ophthalmologist told me my eyes will continue to clear up as they heal and settle.

All in all, I'm really pleased with how the surgery went and only wish I'd done it sooner. It still feels surreal that I don't need to take any contact lenses out at night to get ready for bed. I haven't noticed the absence of putting them in as much.

It's awesome being able to see all the time now. Really cool. I've even updated my driver's license to show I don't need a lens endorsement.

The zero waste advocate in me is happy my eyes won't be generating contact lens packets or solution bottles any more. I do need to figure out what to do with all my unused contact lenses and solution bottles, since I obviously don't need them any more. I'll probably just do a shout out on Facebook and see if any of my Auckland friends want them.

And that's the whole story. I've got one more check-up in a few weeks, and then my eyes are just my eyes and I won't have to think about them at all. They'll just be doing their job. Woohoo!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Zero waste chicken bones

I think going zero waste is a journey that's best celebrated in small steps. Whenever something can be eliminated from going to the land-fill, that's cause for celebration.

My sister-in-law, Mandy, is further along the journey than I am and a great source of encouragement for me. Recently, we were discussing what to do with our leftover chicken bones. We both already save them to make soup and stock, but the question we had was, what do we do with them after that?

Mandy wondered if they would be soft enough to blend up with all the leftover vege scraps, after simmering in the stockpot all day, so I vowed to give it a try the next time I made chicken stock. 

That day was yesterday.

I emptied out the bottom drawer of my freezer, which is where I store all my chicken bones and vegetable scraps (onion ends, celery leaves and ends, carrot peel and ends) until I'm ready to make stock. I threw it all into my big stockpot and covered it with water and a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, then I let it simmer all day. 

At about 4.30pm, I turned it off and let it cool down for an hour. 
Gorgeous life-giving chicken stock.

Then I fished out the bones and vegetable scraps and put them into my blender. Now, I have a very POWERFUL Thermomix (think: the power of a motorcycle in a blender), so I suspected it'd be strong enough, but I didn't want to wreck the blades, so I was still nervous. 

At first I only put in the thinner bones of the carcasses and wings, and left out the thicker leg bones, but the Thermomix whizzed them up easily enough with all the softer vegetables, and when I tested one of the leg bones by breaking it in half with my hands, it broke very easily. I suspect the long simmer and apple cider vinegar had softened it quite a lot. So I threw all the leg bones into the Thermomix too and whizzed them up. If you have a blender that's not quite so powerful as mine, you could try just whizzing the finer bones, and see whether that works for you. You could also add water to help lubricate things.
Chicken bones and vegetable scraps, already used to make chicken stock.

It worked. I was left with a thick green soup-like substance, which my cat was very interested in. 
Whizzed up softened chicken bones and vegetable scraps.

I took the mixture out to my citrus garden...
I love my garden.

...and spooned it out around my citrus trees, then mixed it with grass clippings to help deter pests. My lemon tree was looking a little yellow, so hopefully this lovely homemade fertiliser will help perk it up.  
Homemade bone compost around my lemon tree.

Voila, instant garden fertiliser. No waste! I didn't take a photo of it all covered up with the grass clippings, but it helped it look better. Less like someone has pooed on my garden, you'll be relieved to know. 

Zero-waste success! What do you do with your leftover bones?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Roast capsicum and feta tarts - a recipe


It's been a long time since I've posted a recipe on here. My food mojo has been more of a nojo lately. The kids can be so picky at mealtime that it takes the joy out of creating meals, and we've been falling back on our old favourites a little too much.

Luckily I had an excuse to cook for a few more people last weekend when we hosted S's birthday party at the zoo. S's godparents flew up from Wellington for it and her grandmother happened to be in Auckland so was able to come too.

I whipped up these roast capsicum and feta tarts the day before and then served them cold at our zoo picnic. The whole lot got devoured, so I figured the recipe was good enough to share on here.

Ingredients
  • 4 roasted red capsicums/bell peppers, deseeded
  • 1 x 200g pack of feta cheese, cubed
  • 1/2c roast cashews
  • 1/4c Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1T fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 packet of frozen puff pastry sheets
  • 1 egg

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 200°C or 400°F.
  2. Place the roast capsicums, feta cheese, roast cashews, Parmesan cheese, fresh rosemary, fresh oregano, and salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and pulse to a chunky puree. 
  3. Remove a sheet of puff pastry from the packet and place on a chopping board.
  4. Cut the sheet in half and place a dollop of roast capsicum mixture on one half of both strips of puff pastry.
  5. Fold the puff pastry over the roast capsicum mixture and pinch the two halves together all the way around to crimp the edges.  Move the two parcels to a baking tray. 
  6. Repeat with the rest of the puff pastry sheets and roast capsicum mixture.
  7. Crack egg into a small bowl and whisk, then use a basting brush to spread the egg wash over each pastry parcel. 
  8. Bake parcels in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Serve immediately. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Getting babies to sleep


I see lots of discussions on the interwebs about sleep-training babies and, like all things parenting, the discussions can get pretty heated. As the mother of three children, the youngest of whom is three, I have to say, the sleep thing is hard. Mainly because, if your kids aren't sleeping, you're not sleeping. And being sleep-deprived is a horrible form of torture.

I know, because I spent years in the sleep deprivation tank of parenthood, and I'm only now starting to feel like I'm getting me back.

But, one thing I've learned is that no kid or situation is the same. What will work like a charm for one parent and child, won't for another. For all sorts of reasons. So you shouldn't beat yourself up if someone gives you parenting gold - the sleep technique that got their baby sleeping through the night - and it just doesn't work for your baby.

Case in point - I have three children, and they all needed different things to get them to settle.

Baby one
The witching hour was a real thing for my eldest daughter, L. She'd nap fine all day and then, come 5pm, she'd start screaming and nothing we could do would get her to settle for her evening nap. I tried to feed her to sleep in my bed. No go. I hushed her and patted her and shushed her and rocked her and danced with her for hours at a time until she'd finally settle. It was stressful.

When she was about 7-weeks' old, we went on holiday with my sister-in-law and she suggested we just put L in her bed and let her cry it out. We did, and my sister-in-law sat with me and talked quietly in the room with me as we waited for L to cry herself to sleep. It took half an hour and from that point on, she was able to cry herself to sleep every evening, usually in just a few minutes, and then she'd sleep the whole night through. We've cracked it, we thought.

Baby two 
20 months later, our second daughter, S, was born and something was different. From the very first night in hospital, something was different. S cried and cried. After a feed, she couldn't get comfortable. She'd squirm in her bed, so we propped her mattress up on an angle and used rolled up towels to support her on her side. That was definitely better than leaving her to lie flat on her back, but the best thing for S was to be held upright. We cottoned onto the fact she had reflux pretty quickly. Leaving her to cry herself to sleep in her bed wasn't possible, because she was crying from pain, not tiredness.

I was part breast-feeding, part bottle-feeding S because I don't make enough breast milk on my own, but neither kind of milk seemed to be better for her reflux. She'd squirm just as much after a breast-feed as a bottle-feed.

We learned we had to hold her upright until her milk had digested far enough that it didn't hurt anymore, so she'd often fall asleep on one of our shoulders and then we'd gently transfer her to her bed. Paul and I became experts at bringing up wind, but it still didn't seem to help. We dosed her bottles with winding medicine, and it slightly helped. We fed her goat's milk formula instead of cow's milk formula and it was definitely better, but still not great.

I bought an Ergo and carried S around in it a lot, just to keep her upright. That whole first year with her was hard. Finally, around the age of one, her reflux started to come right. She was eating solids and I had started feeding her coconut oil and chicken stock to help with her digestion. Things came right and S finally started sleeping better. I could put her down and she would actually fall asleep.

Baby three 
When I found out I was pregnant with baby three, I cried. I didn't think I could go through it all over again. But J arrived and he was different again.

He liked being close to me, and I was desperately trying to keep my milk production going, despite the fact we were relying on donor milk to give him the bulk of his nourishment, so I started feeding him to sleep every nap and overnight. He slept next to me in my bed till he was about 10 months' old and I loved it. When he woke in the night, I fed him back to sleep without needing to get up. It was relaxing and snuggly and it kept my milk flowing far longer than it had with the girls. But I was able to do that because it worked for him. He didn't have reflux, he fed better off me when he was sleepy, my milk came out slowly enough that it was soothing rather than gushing, and J fell asleep better if I was lying next to him.

At about ten months, he started falling asleep without me needing to feed him to sleep, so I moved him into his own cot and he started sleeping in there more often than not, settling with a bottle instead of me. The transition was smooth and when he was one, we moved him into his own room. When he moved into his big-boy bed, we started reading to him in bed and he liked it if we stayed lying next to him until he fell asleep. So we did. It took about 15 to 30 minutes every night and honestly, it was the nicest parts of my day.

This year J has stopped wanting us to lie next to him as he falls asleep. We still read him his stories while he drinks his bottle. Then we talk about his day, say his night-time prayers and kiss him goodnight, but he falls asleep on his own.

Three kids, three completely different sleep-settling routines. But we figured it out by watching their cues and doing what worked for them. Just like parents have been doing for millennia. It's hard, and it's tiring, but it's necessary. No one has all the answers, because no one has all the kids. We get the kids we get, and we learn to read them. Or we (don't) fall asleep trying.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Laser eye surgery

Bundled up for a blurry-eyed walk - no contacts. 

Hey friends,

I'm booked in to get laser eye surgery in a couple of weeks and I'm super excited. (Also slightly nervous as eye things make me squeamish. But mostly pumped.)

Since I started wearing glasses/contacts 15 years ago, I've thought about laser eye surgery a lot. My sister had it done years ago and loves how free it's made her. Yet I never felt justified spending the dosh on it when there were houses to save for and kids' everything to pay for. Besides, my contacts worked fine during the day and being short-sighted meant I could still read in bed after I'd taken them out at night, so I was managing fine.

But then my contacts started irritating my eyes. I bought glasses as a back-up to give my eyes a rest, but the glasses made the world tilt at weird angles, which made me sea-sick, so I returned them and have been going blurry eyed a lot lately to try and give my eyes a break from the contacts.

I had a check up with my optometrist recently and she said I can't wear monthly contacts anymore. My eyes are rebelling. I need to change to dailies, which are thinner and softer. Also a heck of a lot more expensive. We tried some daily samples, and they didn't irritate my eyes - win! But the price was so much more than I'd been paying for monthlies that it suddenly made financial sense to get the laser eye surgery and be done with the whole thing once and for all.

I got all measured up this week and it seems I'm good to go. I'm so excited about the surgery that I'm nervous there's going to be some last minute hitch and I won't be able to get it done after all. But I'll keep you posted.

Have you or anyone you know had laser eye surgery? How did it go?