Saturday, November 12, 2022

Gluten-free plum and almond slice

Now that one of my family members is gluten-free, I'm finding myself experimenting with gluten-free cooking that our whole family will enjoy. I don't want to be making two different kinds of everything. Ain't nobody got time for that. 

Often gluten-free baking can taste dry and chalky, but the almond flour and plums in this recipe give it the perfect moist and dense texture. 

Everybody in my family loves it; I hope you will too. 


  • 125g butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3/4 cup plain gluten-free flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/3 cup chocolate drops
  • 2 red or purple-fleshed plums 


  1. Heat oven to 170 C fan bake, and line a pie dish with baking paper.
  2. Beat butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. 
  3. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. 
  4. Fold in flour, baking powder, baking soda and chocolate drops. 
  5. Spread mixture in prepared pie dish. 
  6. Slice plums into 6 wedges each and arrange these in a pleasing design over the mixture. 
  7. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the slice comes out clean. 
  8. Cool in the tin then remove to slice. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Delicious and Simple Crockpot Beef Curry Recipe

Today I'm going to share with you the best crockpot beef curry recipe I've ever come across. My friend, Anna, introduced it to me and I loved it so much, I've made it several times since. 

Every time I get to eat it, I sigh rapturously. 

The original recipe I've based it on is a stovetop recipe, but I like being able to prepare this in the morning and come back to a perfectly cooked dinner in the evening, so I've turned it into a sumptuous crockpot recipe. 

The recipe I'm sharing is the base recipe, but feel free to add in extra vegetables you may have on hand. In the photos below you will see I added a diced eggplant to the crockpot, to use it up. It absorbed the flavours of the curry wonderfully and was a great addition. Choko and zucchini can be used in a similar way. Anna often adds chickpeas to her curry, to help bulk it out if she's feeding a crowd. 


  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 500g stewing meat (eg. chuck steak or blade steak), diced into 1.5cm pieces. 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 400g tin diced tomatoes
  • 400ml tin coconut cream


  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat and cook the onion until soft. 
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli powder. Stir until heated.
  3. Increase the heat to high and add the diced beef. Cook, stirring until the meat is slightly browned and well coated in the spices. 
  4. Add the salt and diced tomatoes, and then stir, scraping the bottom of the pan so that the tomato juices deglaze it. 
  5. Transfer the contents of the pan to a crockpot set to low. 
  6. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, depending on the power of your particular crockpot. 
  7. Five minutes before serving, stir in the coconut cream. 
  8. Serve this beef curry on the rice of your choice. 

Serves 6 (and you're likely to have leftovers)

Monday, October 3, 2022

Frugal Dinner - Chicken Barley Soup

In August I posted a frugal Red Lentil Curry recipe for you and promised that I would post more frugal dinner recipes in the future. Well, for dinner tonight we are having Chicken Barley Soup, and I actually remembered to take photos of the process for you so I could post this excellent frugal dinner option. 

Sometimes cheaper dinner recipes are not so healthy, but this one is highly nourishing, flavourful and easy to make. It's also very adaptable to whatever vegetables you have in the house or garden. My whole family loves it. 

It doesn't actually contain any meat, but gets its chicken flavour from homemade chicken stock. You can, of course, add chicken meat if you want to, but that does increase the cost of this dinner, and I find the barley has such a pleasant chew to it that I don't miss the chicken at all. 

Just make sure to get your barley soaking early in the day, to give it time to swell up before you cook the soup.

I've included a cost breakdown at the bottom of this post, so scroll to the end if you're interested to find out exactly how frugal this dinner is.


  • 1/2 cup barley, soaked in three cups of water for several hours
  • 1Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cups chopped mixed vegetables, eg frozen mixed vegetables, or a mix of carrots, peas, beans, corn, celery, or zucchini (grated)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • A teaspoon of dried herbs of your choice, eg tarragon, oregano, sage, or coriander. (Fresh herbs are also great.)
  • 2 Litres chicken stock (see how I make chicken stock out of scraps here) (I make big pots of chicken stock and freeze it in ice cream containers to use for soup.)


  1. Sauté the diced onion in 1Tbsp cooking oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat until slightly softened. (Alternatively, you can scrape the chicken fat off the homemade chicken stock and use that instead of cooking oil for an even cheaper option.)
  2. Stir through the rest of the vegetables. 
  3.  Sprinkle over the salt, pepper and herbs of your choice. (I used several coriander stalks from my garden, dicing them up finely. I had already pulled the leaves off the coriander stalks for a salad.) 
  4. Cook the vegetables for a few minutes, stirring every now and then until coated in the herbs and slightly softened. 
  5. Pour over the chicken stock.
  6. Rinse the pre-soaked barley in a sieve under cold water and add it to the saucepan. Stir well to prevent the barley from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.
  7. Place the lid on the saucepan and bring the soup to a boil before stirring once more and turning down the heat to low. 
  8. Simmer the soup for at least an hour, or until all the barley has cooked through and softened to a chewable consistency. Stir the soup every 15 minutes or so while it's cooking, and add more chicken stock or water if necessary, as the liquid will reduce while the soup cooks. 
  9. Once the barley is cooked through, check the soup for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed.
  10. Serve with toast strips (toastie soldiers) spread with butter. Optional.
Serves 6 or more, and you're likely to have leftovers.

Cost breakdown
These are based on Countdown prices, as those are the same anywhere in New Zealand. You could definitely get cheaper prices by shopping at PAKnSAVE, a fruit & vegetable store or a vegetable co-op.
  • Rice bran oil: $2.30 for 400ml, so $0.10 for 1Tbsp. (Free if you scrape the fat off the chicken stock.)
  • Onion: $0.75 cents, if buying individually; cheaper if bought in an Odd Bunch bag)
  • Frozen mixed vegetables: $2.80 for a 1KG bag, so around $1.40 for two cups' worth
  • Celery: $4.99 for a whole celery, so roughly $1.50 for three stalks
  • Herbs: $2 for a 10g pack, so roughly $0.20 for 1 teaspoon
  • Salt & pepper: A few cents - so let's round up to $0.10
  • Chicken stock: Free! Make it out of chicken bones and vegetable scraps. (Otherwise $7 for 2 Litres.)
  • Barley: $2.20 for a 500g bag, so less than $0.50 for this soup
TOTAL: $4.55 if you use homemade chicken stock, which is $0.76 a serve (and those would be huge servings). Otherwise $11.55 if you use store-bought chicken stock, which equates to $1.93 a serve.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Budgeting update

Back in February of 2020, I shared with you that I had started working hard towards managing our budget. 

At the time, I was frustrated about running out of money before the end of each month and relying on our credit card to see us through. We always paid our credit card back with the next paycheck, but it still annoyed me that we were starting each month with less money than we would have if we hadn't gone into debt in the first place. 

Another thing that bothered me was that I didn't have a handle on where all our money was going. It just seemed to disappear. 

I also had all these big things I wanted to save for, like house renovations, but since we were always running out of money before the end of the month, there didn't seem to be much left to put into savings. 

I took all of these frustrations and turned them into the motivation I needed to learn how to handle our money better. Since then, I've been learning and refining how I budget, and things have definitely improved. 

Today I want to share with you how I budget and why it's working for me. 

The first thing I did when setting up my budget was talk to a lot of different people about how they manage their money. I talked to people on low incomes, inconsistent incomes and regular incomes to get an idea of budgeting methods that would work no matter our situation. I also watched YouTube videos about budgeting and followed several budgeting gurus online to pick up their tips and tricks. 

Putting it all together for me and my household, I figured out that having all of my budgeting data on a spreadsheet that automatically updates every month doesn't work for me. I need to be a lot more involved in the budgeting process than that. 

I need to be the one physically moving money about and keeping track of it on paper. 

Back in 2020, I copied a paycheck bill tracker template designed by The Budget Mom, to get me started with a pen and paper budgeting method. Since then, I've been refining the tracker every month to get it exactly how I want it. 

Each month I update the dates on the paycheck tracker and check whether it's going to be a four-week or a five-week grocery month, and then I fill in all the "BUDGET" columns with the information I have and make sure that our income is going to match our outgoings for the month. 

I print it out and fill in the "ACTUAL" columns as the month progresses, to keep track of how our budget is tracking in reality. 

Sometimes the water bill or the power bill might be a little higher than I had budgeted for, or unexpected expenses might crop up, so I've included a miscellaneous spending line to allow for any discrepancies like that. 

The other thing I did that has really helped us stick to our budget is set up online accounts for all of the different SAVINGS categories listed above. I already had a BIG BILLS account, which covered big annual spending like insurance premiums and car maintenance, but in the past couple of years I have also set up an EMERGENCY account, a HOMESCHOOL account, a BIRTHDAY/CHRISTMAS account, an APPLIANCES account, and so on. 

Steadily putting money into these accounts each month has helped me know how much I can spend on items like clothing without breaking the budget. If I buy clothes, I use the credit card to do it but make sure not to spend more than the amount of money sitting in our CLOTHING account. Then I simply transfer money out of the clothing account to pay off the credit card and we are still on budget. 

The EMERGENCY account is something I'm slowly adding to to give us a buffer for a time when our income might suddenly stop or an emergency might occur that we need to pay for. 

Recently I dipped into our emergency fund to cover a plumbing bill, when a pipe burst in our bathroom. It was so good having the money sitting there ready to pay the bill, as it didn't affect the rest of our budget at all. 

In the past, an emergency like that would have thrown out our whole month's budget. 

Even with all of this excellent budgeting happening, I realised we simply weren't earning enough to achieve some of my bigger goals, like renovating our kitchen. Because of that, I decided to get a part-time job and dedicate all of my earnings to our HOUSE RENOVATIONS fund. The job is only 12 hours a week and it's not particularly high paying, so progress is slowly, but any progress is better than the no progress we were making before. 

The good thing about the job is that it's in a school, so I get all the school holidays, which helps it fit around family life. It's also in the school that we want to send our kids to for high school, so that will help ease the transition from homeschooling to institutional schooling for them. 

Now, I couldn't write a post about budgeting without mentioning the current inflation that is causing the price of absolutely everything to rise. We've seen interest on our mortgage go up, rates increase, water charges increase, power charges increase, grocery prices go up, and petrol prices go up. Almost every expense line has increased significantly. 

Because of inflation, it has been increasingly difficult to make our outgoings match our income each month. 

Recently, I've had to reduce the amount of money we're putting into several of our savings accounts, and last month I changed cell phone providers to save half the cost on my monthly bill. Paul also canceled our Netflix subscription as it was a luxury we could no longer afford. 

Those changes have helped us a little bit in combating the price increases going on. 

The other thing I've been doing is working really hard to keep our grocery bill down, as that's the budget area that's easiest to blow out on. 

I've been shopping at Reduced to Clear and Why Knot to get discounted food items. I've also been shopping at Pak'N'Save once a month to get the good deals there, and then doing weekly online Countdown orders the rest of the month. I find it much easier to stick to my budget when I'm ordering online, even though the overall prices at Countdown are higher. 

Mainly, I'm just so glad that I started figuring out how to budget two years ago, before inflation was such a big problem. It has got us into a much better position financially as we head into these tougher economic times, which is helping us to get through them. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Snapshots of my almost-spring garden

Like many of you, I haven't spent much time in the garden over winter, because of the rain and general dreariness. 

However, the weather has actually been nice for the past couple of days, and that has motivated me to get back out there. 

Yesterday I picked up a few containers of mulch and spread them around in places that were getting bare. Today I mowed the lawns, weeded some gardens and spread compost from my big corner compost pile onto the two gardens that border my deck. The nice dark soil you see on the right of the photo above is homemade compost. I'm really pleased with how it turned out. 

Since I last shared a gardening post with you, there have been a few small changes around the place: 

A couple of months ago I decided to give away our chickens, Rosie Posie and Pearl. The main reason was because Pearl was very noisy in the morning, and I felt bad about how she must be waking up the neighbours. Our neighbours were too nice to complain about it, but I felt bad for them anyway. I gave the chickens to a lovely homeschool family we know, who have a large-enough property that Pearl won't disturb them or their neighbours. 

Apparently the chooks have settled in well to their new home. I'll need to figure out a new source of manure for the garden now. 

We also recently replaced a stretch of fence in our backyard, near the potager garden (which is in desperate need of new flowers to fill it out). 

Quite a few plants got trampled in the process of building the fence, and one of my dwarf nectarine trees was decapitated, but the new fence has given me an opportunity to grow passionfruit up it. The two passionfruit vines pictured above both self-seeded in one of my vegetable gardens, so today I moved them next to the new fence. 

I'll leave them both in until it's really obvious which one is doing better, and then I'll pull out the other one. I haven't had much success growing passionfruit on this property to date, but I haven't tried this spot before, so I'm hoping these two will take off. 

At the start of winter, I planted a rhubarb plant between one of my blueberry bushes and our house. I did have a rhubarb in this same spot in the past, but it died. I think it got too much sun and not enough water. Since then, we've installed a tap directly above the spot and the blueberry bushes have grown bigger, so I'm hoping this plant will make it. 

Only time will tell, as is often the way with gardening. 

In the garden pictured above, I'm attempting to grow Brussels sprouts for the first time. I don't actually like Brussels sprouts, but I hoped they would provide us with some cruciferous vegetables over winter. Alas, that did not happen. The coriander dotted around it is doing well, however. 

I did also get quite a few self-seeded broccoli over winter, which was a pleasant surprise. I left the broccoli plants in after harvesting the tops, so that I could keep picking the side shoots that sprouted. 

At the front of the Brussels sprouts/coriander garden, I'm growing two different varieties of lettuce, as well as spinach. The lettuce has been a good provider for us. Any time I want to make a salad, I just pick off a few leaves from each plant. Cos lettuce is my favourite to grow for this purpose. 

I've also planted calendula for the first time since we lived in Wellington. It's providing a bright spot of colour amongst all the green. If I get enough flowers, I'll collect them and attempt to make calendula balm. 

Last year I planted lots of tulips in the potager garden, as well as a few in the wooden container pictured above. So far, the tulips in the container are the only ones that have re-flowered. I wonder if the bulbs in the container got more chilled over winter, and so are doing better than the ones buried directly in the ground. I did pull some bulbs out of the potager garden with the intention of chilling them before replanting, but they've disappeared. I can't figure out what I did with them. 

And that is all my garden news. How is your garden doing? Has this nicer weather tempted you outside too?

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Frugal Dinner - Red Lentil Curry


Anyone who's been to the supermarket lately will surely have noticed that prices have gone up. I for one am struggling to stick to our grocery budget. In fact, I'm failing miserably. 

To try and help combat this, I thought I would test out some really frugal dinner recipes over the coming weeks. 

Tonight I made a red lentil curry, loosely based on Misha's recipe from Rainbow Plant Life. The good thing about the recipe I made is that, even though it's extremely frugal, it's also very nourishing, with the inclusion of my homemade chicken stock as well as extra vegetables from my fridge and freezer.  

Here's how I've been making chicken stock since 2010, using kitchen scraps that would otherwise get thrown out - chicken bones, carrot peels, celery leaves and onion ends.  

I've listed out the cost of each item used for this red lentil curry in the ingredients below, based on current Countdown prices. 


  • 2 Tbsp neutral cooking oil, like rice bran oil ($0.10)
  • 1 onion, finely diced ($0.60)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed (or 2 tsp from a jar) ($0.30)
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (or 2 tsp from a jar) ($0.30)
  • 2 tsp curry powder ($0.15)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric ($0.30)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin ($0.30)
  • 1 tsp garam masala ($0.30)
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander ($0.15)
  • Salt, to taste (5c)
  • Black pepper, to taste (5c)
  • 400g can crushed or diced tomatoes (free as I diced up tomatoes from my garden that I had frozen, but $0.90 from supermarket)
  • 1 grated zucchini, optional (free from my garden, but $4.50 from supermarket - okay I would not be buying zucchini in winter at that price!)
  • 2 cups grated pumpkin, optional ($0.50)
  • 1L chicken stock (free as I made my own out of scraps, but $3.50 from supermarket)
  • 1 cup split red lentils ($1.50)
  • 400ml can coconut cream ($1.40)
  • Juice of one lemon, optional (free from my garden, but $0.90 from supermarket)
MY TOTAL (using homemade chicken stock and homegrown garden produce): $6.00
SUPERMARKET TOTAL (if purchasing all ingredients): $15.80

  1. Heat a large frying pan or saucepan over a medium heat and add the cooking oil and diced onion.
  2.  Saute the onion until softened and golden.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently to prevent burning. 
  4.  Add the curry powder, turmeric, cumin, garam masala, coriander, salt and black pepper and cook for 45 seconds, tossing to prevent burning. 
  5. Add the grated zucchini and pumpkin and stir through to coat in the spices.
  6. Add the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, scraping up anything that has stuck to the bottom as this is where the flavour lies. 
  7. Pour in the chicken stock and stir it through. 
  8.  Rinse the red lentils in a sieve under running water until the water runs clear and then add them to the pan. 
  9. Simmer everything together for twenty minutes, stirring often.
  10. After twenty minutes, add one can of coconut cream and stir this through until it is fully incorporated.
  11. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon, if your using it. 
  12. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. 
  13. Serve on rice.
This recipe made so much lentil curry that Paul will be having leftovers for lunch tomorrow and I've also put enough in the freezer for another two dinners for our family of five. That puts this dinner at less than $2 per night, or less than $0.40 per head. Although I just realised that my total doesn't include the one cup of basmati rice I cooked to go with dinner, so I guess I should add something for that. 

Okay, a quick calculation puts the basmati rice at $0.80, bringing the total to $2.80 for dinner for our family of five, or $0.56 per head.

If I was making the curry using all supermarket ingredients instead of homemade/homegrown, the total at this time of year would be $15.80 for the curry + $.0.80 for the rice, which would still work out at roughly $6 a dinner for our family of five, or $1.20 per head. 

That's a frugal dinner no matter which way you cut it, although I was amazed at just how much I saved by utilising my garden produce and homemade chicken stock. 

If you have any super frugal dinner recipes you think I should try, please link them in the comments below. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

7-day Menu Plan (all meals!)

Hello my friends! It's the second week of the school holidays and my family is smack-bang in the middle of a Covid infection. No one is eating very much as we've all been feverish and lethargic, but I'm guessing that next week we will be hunnngry. 

I came down with Covid first and am starting to recover, so I'm wanting to get myself organised for next week with a Trim Healthy Mama meal plan that will nourish our recuperating bodies and help me trim away some of my holiday weight gain. (Last week we went on a wonderful holiday up in Northland, paid for by Paul's work, so there were lots of yummy meals out. These were very tasty, but not so great for my waistline.) 

I'm trying to stick to a strict grocery budget as I've got lots of savings goals for this year. However, we do have a freezer full of beef thanks to my sister's farm, so I've got lots of meat to work with. Also, my chickens are laying a few eggs and I've got tomatoes, chillies, kale, NZ spinach, basil, mandarins and feijoas coming out of the garden. Our neighbours gave us a bag of gold kiwifruit and my cousin and aunt gave me several chokos from their gardens, so I will try to incorporate all of that food into our plan.

Another factor I need to throw into the menu-planning mix is that Miss S is now wheat-free. Her orthodontist pointed out to us that she had silent reflux, which was causing one of her tonsils to become infected. Miss S spent a month dairy-free and that didn't clear up the infection, so then she spent a month wheat-free, and that did. 

In summary, my menu plan will need to factor in our grocery budget, Miss S's wheat-free needs as well as my THM needs and our family's recovery-from-Covid needs. Phew! 

Here's what I've come up with for next week's menu plan:


Breakfast: Scrambled eggs or scrambled egg whites with toast for the kids and fried tomatoes and choko strips for Emma.

Snacks: Trimtastic Mostess Cupcakes made with zucchini (Trim Healthy Table p. 395)

Lunch: Sandwiches

Dinner: Roast chicken, kumara, new potatoes, green beans and peas


Breakfast: Cookie Bowl Oatmeal (original Trim Healthy Mama book p. 232)

Snacks: Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies (original Trim Healthy Mama book p. 387); fruit

Lunch: Rice paper wraps filled with grated cabbage, grated carrot, cucumber, coriander and leftover roast chicken

Dinner: Red pesto chicken risotto (cauliflower version for me) using leftover roast chicken


Breakfast: Chocolate chia seed pudding for Emma; Chocolate Friskee made with okra for kids (Trim Healthy Table p. 472)

Snacks: Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies (original Trim Healthy Mama book p. 387); fruit

Lunch: Tuna & basil pesto cole slaw (S) for Emma; Pork dumplings for Miss L and Master J; Rice noodles for Miss S

Dinner: Beef nachos


Breakfast: Chocolate chia seed pudding (S) for Emma; Feijoa smoothies and cereal for kids

Snacks: Fruit

Lunch: Tuna & basil pesto cole slaw (S) for Emma; Oven fries, salami slices and vege platter for kids

Dinner: Beef stir-fry (on konjac or cauliflower rice for Emma)


Breakfast: Chocolate chia seed pudding (S) for Emma; Egg-in-a-hole for kids

Snacks: Fruit

Lunch: Tuna & basil pesto cole slaw (S) for Emma; Popcorn, salami & vege platter for kids

Dinner: Leftovers


Breakfast: Overnight Cinnamon Oats (E) for everyone

Snacks: Fruit

Lunch: Bust-a-Myth Banana Cake (Trim Healthy Cookbook p. 298) topped with Nutty Chocolate Spread; Kale chips

Dinner: Slow Cooker Beef Stew


Breakfast: Scottish Breakfast Pancakes - I'm going to try and make a wheat-free version for Miss S

Snacks: Bust-a-Myth Banana Cake (Trim Healthy Cookbook p. 298) topped with Nutty Chocolate Spread

Lunch: Salami and vege sandwiches

Dinner: Steak and Cheese Pie made with leftover beef stew (I've bought some gluten-free pastry for Miss S)