Saturday, April 30, 2016

Menu plan - 28 April to 4 May 2016

Drying potato sticks to make fries.
Here's the menu plan I was going to share yesterday, before this post stole the limelight.

Now I realise it has been a long time since I shared a menu plan, especially considering I've got a whole page dedicated to the things, but I'm really not that organised.  Type B personality over here, people.

Here's the menu plan I've made for this week, which I can not guarantee we will stick to, apart from the two nights I've already cooked.

Also, I should point out that my menu plans run from Thursday to Wednesday, because I do my main grocery shopping on a Thursday (with a fruit and vegetable supplement from our farmers' market on a Saturday).

Dinner - Pan-fried gurnurd with homemade fries and raw vegetable crudites (carrot, celery and cucumber)
Bake - Banana chocolate chip muffins

Dinner - Thai cashew chicken on rice
Make - Chicken stock

Dinner - Chicken coriander soup with potato focaccia
Bake - Chocolate afghans (bake when oven hot from focaccia)

Dinner - Slow cooker beef bolar roast, roast kumara, potato and pumpkin, peas with mint sauce
Bake - Apple and cinnamon oat muffins (bake when oven hot from roast vegetables)

Dinner - Tortilla wraps filled with leftover beef bolar roast, cheese and salad

Dinner - Sausages (home-kill), mashed potatoes and broccoli/cauliflower
Bake - Chocolate chip cookies (bake when oven hot from sausages)

Dinner - Pasta and sauce

What's on your menu plan this week? Are you finding your tastes change as the temperature does?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Why we moved - the long story

Long-time readers of Craving Fresh will know that I didn't blog much last year. I didn't feel like I had anything worthwhile to share. Not just on the blog, but in all areas of my life.

Things started to turn around for me when I attended a Tree of Life course with a few friends from church. In the course, we drew a tree of our life - the roots (where we come from), the trunk (what strengths we have) the branches (our dreams for the future), the leaves (important people in our lives) and the fruit (the gifts we've been given).

After we had drawn our trees, we presented them to the group.

I went last.

While presenting my tree, I cried so hard I could barely talk at times. I felt like I was describing a dead tree. And then the day was over and because we had run overtime, I had to rush out the door to pick up my children from school/preschool/babysitter.

I had been run over by a bus, but there was no time to process it. Once the kids were there, I was back to Mummy-land, dealing with their needs, answering their questions. My own needs were once more pushed to the back-burner.

It nagged at me though. Knowing I felt dead inside, but was trying to live through it. I talked to one of my friends from the Tree of Life course about it, and she recommended I book in with her counsellor. Then she went one step further by offering to look after baby J so I could actually go and see her counsellor. It proved a life saving offer, and I am so grateful to her for it.

My first session with the counsellor was unreal. Here was a person totally interested in me, totally committed to hearing my story, and totally on my side. Other Mums will get this. No one ever listens to us with complete attention, mostly because there are always kids around demanding attention for themselves.

Through my counsellor's eyes, I started to see myself differently. I saw the scars I hold from my childhood, and realised those scars are not me. I heard the words a family member had used to describe me with new ears. That family member didn't see me. I didn't have to keep believing them.

I learned that it was OK to make decisions for myself, even though I'm 'just' a woman, 'just' a mother. My conservative upbringing had indoctrinated me with the idea that a woman's needs are second to a man's.

Even though it was really hard for me, I told Paul that I wanted a house of my own. I knew he didn't want to move and I felt (feel) terrible guilt for insisting that we move, but it was something I needed for myself. Somewhere in time I had lost my "Emma-ness", as my counsellor would say, and I knew I wasn't going to find it keeping house in a Mt Eden rental.

In our rental I felt constantly on edge, waiting for inspections and worrying about what marks the children were going to make on walls and carpets. We were living next to a neighbour who hated our children making noise and complained regularly to her friend (our property manager) about it. So I was wired tight with anxiety, wondering how much noise was too much, trying to shush the children or keep them inside watching TV. I lost the joy that I used to feel listening to my children play. After one nasty confrontation with the neighbour left me shaking for days, I talked to my counsellor and realised I didn't want to be there any more.

So I started house hunting.

It was somewhat disheartening because houses in Auckland are waaaaay overpriced, but I hoped we would find something that would suit us and just kept looking while we got our finances together.

Once Paul got a short reprieve from the intense busyness of his work, he looked at some houses with me. That's when we found this house. It's small, on a cross-lease and shares a wall with another house. But it has a pretty big section for a small house. And it's walking distance to a really great school. It's also in a part of Auckland that feels like me. More environmentally-conscious, less capitalistic. People are free to be themselves here, however messy or flawed. I don't feel like we have to pretend to have our crap together.

As you know, we won the auction.

Then Paul had horrible buyers' remorse and I felt SO guilty. I had forced his hand and he was miserable. He didn't want to swap his 10 minute walk to work for an hour commute, missing out on family time in the bargain. Seeing him upset made me sick. I barely ate for weeks because my stomach was constantly roiling.

Then I spoke to friends who told me buyers' remorse was completely normal and that Paul would cheer up when he saw that I was happy. So I let the happiness take me. This is what I wanted.

Our settlement period was short, just three weeks. Paul spent one of those weeks in San Francisco, so I packed up most of the house on my own. But I embraced it. Every nasty thing our property manager did made me look forward to moving all the more. Bad things became good things, because they were the impetus to get us out of our rental and into our own place.

And I needed my own place. I am Ma Ingalls from a Little House on the Prairie. Give me some land to grow vittles and a kitchen to cook them in and I am a happy woman.

This actually isn't what I was planning to blog about today. I was going to share my menu plan, of all things. But I was reading some posts on my friend Elizabeth's blog, and decided that every now and again it's worth getting real and sharing the messy parts of life because it might just be what somebody else needs to hear right now.

If that's you, I'm glad you're here today.

Emma xx

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Plans for my new garden

I am so happy. Deliriously happy, because all of this is mine and I get to plant things in it...
Our backyard won't look like this for long.
The deck will get framed by long wooden box gardens. 
Raised vege beds will go here, with apple and nashi trees espaliered behind. 

Passionfruit will grow up the trellis.
Feijoa trees will be planted along the fence in the bottom corner.
This will be planted with herbs for easy picking next to our backdoor. 
I'm removing the river stones from this garden so it can be planted with leafy greens. 

In the evenings I've been reading inspiring gardening books like Square Metre Gardening and Fruit Trees in Small Spaces, which have helped me plan out how to make the most of our yard. Baby J and I have been out there with our measuring tapes, measuring up the spaces so I know how much wood we will need to build our raised beds. My amazingly generous brother-in-law is donating the wood to us, which is a huge help.
The kids love having the trampoline next to the deck. 
Someone asked me the other day what style of garden I'm going for. "Edible," I told them. I want to grow as many fruits and vegetables as I can here. 

I guess I'm inspired by the beautiful gardens I saw in Italy, where lemon trees grew next to rosemary bushes and olive trees, edged by natural rocks. The fruit trees were the statement pieces. That's the picture I have in my mind when I think about this space. We will see how it turns out.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fresh reviews - Square Metre Gardening

I stumbled upon the fabulous book Square Metre Gardening last week at the library and have been devouring it in my spare time ever since.

Square Metre Gardening has got me excitedly designing my own new garden spaces in the blank slate that is my backyard.

What I love about this book is that it outlines the system of square metre gardening really clearly and provides excellent visuals to accompany all instructions.

In Square Metre Gardening, Mel Bartholomew explains:

  • why this system works better than traditional row gardening (more space efficient, time efficient and cost effective)
  • how you can set it up in your own space, whatever that might look like
  • what materials you will need to build your box (and how to build it)
  • what materials you will need to fill your box (and why)
  • how to compost so you can continue replenishing your box a little each planting without ever needing commercial fertilisers
  • how to grow all sorts of different plants well in this type of system
  • how to extend your growing season
  • how to involve children in square metre gardening

Example of a square metre garden from
If you love the idea of growing a few (or a lot) of vegetables at home, but don't know where to start, I highly recommend Square Metre Gardening. It explains everything you need to know and seems like a really great system for home gardeners.

I will be sure to share on Craving Fresh when I get my own square metre garden off the ground.

Have you tried square metre gardening? Let me know in the comments how it works for you.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Commonsense Organics - package-free bulk food options

Now that we are pretty well set up in our new place, I'm turning my mind back to thinking about zero waste living. I've set up a new page on Craving Fresh called Zero Waste, where you can find all my posts about the subject. I'll keep adding more as I write them.

Today I'm sharing with you the food options that are available to be purchased in bulk from Commonsense Organics in Mt Eden.

The bulk bins have brown paper bags available to fill your bulk food purchases. In my mind this is a fine option because the paper bags can then be reused for packing lunches, or they can be recycled or composted depending on what you want to do with them after you've brought your purchases home. They don't need to end up in landfill.

If you want to go hard-core zero waste, you could try bringing your own containers and getting the staff to weigh them and write the Tare on the container before you fill them, but this is a more fiddly and time consuming way to shop, so I've been sticking with the paper bag option.

One cool thing I've found at Commonsense Organics that I haven't seen anywhere else, is a refill-your-egg-carton station. You can take in your old egg cartons and fill them up, just make sure you cross out the barcode on your old boxes so they don't get scanned.

You can also purchase organic fruit and vegetables from Commonsense Organics, although some come pre-packaged in plastic.

Commonsense Organics bulk bin contents
Banana chips
Apricots, dried
Carob buttons
Crystalised ginger
Goji berries
Chia seeds
Walnuts in shell
Coconut sugar
Panela sugar
Chickpea flour
Almond flour
Coconut flour
Coconut chips
Shredded coconut
Desiccated coconut
Buckwheat flour
White rice flour
Brown rice flour
Tapioco starch
Buckwheat groats
Red quinoa
White quinoa
Walnut halves
Commonsense muesli
Whole wheat
Bulgur wheat
Whole wheat couscous
Bread flour
White flour
Wholemeal flour
White spelt flour
Wholemeal spelt flour
Oat bran
Oats rolled coarse
Oats rolled fine
Pearl barley
Soy beans
Mung beans
Adzuki beans
Puy lentils
Red split lentils
Red lentils
Brown/green lentils
Brown jasmine rice
White jasmine rice
Brown basmati
White basmati
Medium grain brown rice
Sunflower seeds
Golden linseed/flaxseed
Brown linseed/flaxseed
Brazil nuts
Cashews whole
Pumpkin seeds
Hulled sesame seeds
Unhulled sesame seeds

And the final great thing about shopping at Commonsense Organics is that all the stores have a little playpen full of books and toys for kids. Baby J loves playing in here, and often doesn't want to leave the store when I'm finished shopping because he wants to keep playing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Small home living - lounge and dining

Our new house is pretty small by today's standards. Just 104m2 all up, including the internal garage (which we have turned into Paul's office). I realise that is not as small as some houses out there, but it is the smallest we have ever lived in. Our Wellington home was 134m2, so quite a bit bigger.

The thing is, I'm glad our house is small. There are so many advantages to owning a small home. Shall I list a few?
  1. Cheaper - we were able to buy a house in this crazy inflated Auckland market by buying smaller. Now our mortgage payments are a lot less than we were paying in rent. 
  2. More land for gardens - the house footprint is small and made smaller by the fact it is two stories, so that gives us more land to plant fruit trees and build vegetable gardens. The knock-on effect is that we will become more self sufficient, and the food we grow will be fresher than what we can buy, won't have any packaging and won't take any petrol to get to us. 
  3. Rates, insurance and electricity bills are reduced - so we are saving even more money. 
  4. Intentional living - we can only keep things in the house that we really love and use, so we are not wasting our time buying, cleaning, sorting and organising stuff for no reason. And we save money again by not having to insure things we don't really need. 
  5. Living together as a family - the kids are in each others' space, so they play together. Or fight. Or whatever they need to do. There is still room to escape outdoors, or to Paul's office or the bedrooms if they need some alone time. This isn't tiny home living, just small.
  6. Quicker to clean - one of my readers reminded me of this one, and it's so true. We have less windows to wash, less benches to wipe, less floors to clean. I can vacuum the whole downstairs without switching power sockets. Same thing upstairs. This frees up my time for much more exciting experiences. 
So those are just a few reasons why I'm digging our new digs. Now I'll share some photos of our living and dining areas.
Living room and front door.
The house didn't have any window coverings when we purchased, so I had white, wooden venetian blinds installed on the window above the couch. I knew I didn't want curtains that would get caught behind the couch, and the blinds don't take up any wall space so they allowed us to install a shelf between the wall and the front door.
Front door. 
Paul installed the shelf next to the front door so we would have somewhere to keep hats, sunblock, hair things and keys. Again we were making use of vertical space, just like in our kitchen.  The basket on the floor houses a pair of shoes for everyone - the rest live upstairs.

Looking into living room from our deck. 

From left: entrance to kitchen, baby J, stairs to second story and door to Paul's office. 

From left: view of ranch slider leading to deck, TV and dining room.
Kids playing with play doh on the covered part of our deck. 
The deck really helps extend our living space. Its top section is covered, so I'm able to set the kids up out there with messy play, even in the rain. The bottom part of the deck is big enough that the kids can roller blade or scoot around. The deck has built-in seating all around, which is perfect since we don't own an outdoor dining set.

The uncovered section of deck, our yard and garden shed. 
If you haven't caught up with the rest of my new home posts, you can view the bedrooms here and the kitchen/laundry here.

I'll do a garden post at some point, when we figure out how to get into our garden shed and retrieve the garden tools that are trapped in there. (Long story.)

Paul's office probably deserves its own post, but I'll wait until we replace the garage door with a ranch slider (whenever that might be). The room is pretty dark at the moment, just the way Paul likes it. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Making the most of a small kitchen

I may have panicked a bit before we moved into our new house. I just didn't know how we were going to fit everything into the teensy kitchen; how it was going to work for an avid home cook like me.
View through the kitchen to the laundry and downstairs toilet. 
I spent a good couple of weeks Googling small kitchen tips and storage solutions. The best tips I found were to get rid of hardly-used items, and to make use of vertical space. I've been hanging hooks, shelves and magnetic knife blocks around the place to get things off the bench and onto the walls.

Magnetic knife block, hooks for large cutlery and shelf for kettle and compost.
The minimalist in me would prefer not to have knives and cutlery hanging off the walls, but there really isn't anywhere else to put them in this little kitchen. I regularly use the flat surface of the stove as extra bench space for prepping food, so it is handy to have my knives in easy reach.

Oven mitts hang from a hook on the inside of a cupboard door. 
This cupboard is right next to the oven, so I hung a hook inside the door for my oven mitts.

Aprons and a bag holder hang from hooks in the laundry. 
I put up hooks on the laundry wall for a hand towel and washing basket, and Paul installed the shelf so we would have somewhere easy to access hand soap and clothes washing liquid. The laundry sink doubles as a hand-washing space for the toilet next to the laundry, and I also use it as a second kitchen sink for rinsing large pots and dishes since the kitchen sink is so small. (And of course the washing machine empties into this sink too.)

Our dish rack gets constant use, since we don't have a dishwasher.
Cutlery drawer. 
I bought this cutlery divider without measuring my drawer first. When I got it back to the house I realised it was too small for the drawer. Then I figured that if I turned it side-ways and cut off the lip at each end, I could wedge it into the drawer and still have room behind for larger cutlery items. It may look like a hack job, but since there are only two drawers in the kitchen, I call that a win!

The other kitchen drawer. 
We had to buy a new fridge/freezer, as our old one was too wide for the space. I chose a half/half fridge/freezer because I freeze a lot of food. We also have a full standing freezer in our garage. I removed the pull-out vege drawer from the fridge, so I could fit my two large Tupperware Fridgemate containers in the space.
The pantry is a pretty decent size, and I love that it has real wooden shelves and doors.

Bottom of pantry. 
I'm using the bottom section of the pantry to store crockery, small appliances and a few food items like milk powder and cereal (which I'm still trying to find in bulk so I can buy them without the packaging).
This corner plate-stacker makes good use of a small space. 
Small appliances and cookbooks next to fridge.
My Thermomix always lives on this little bench, since I use it daily, but other appliances like my slow cooker come and go as I need them and live under the pantry the rest of the time. The open shelves above the little bench house our microwave, my favourite cookbooks and our cups and mugs.

View from outside: Washing line and backdoor leading into laundry/kitchen. 

Rotating compost bin lives just past the washing line. 

View from kitchen into dining room. 
So that's our little kitchen. I know it doesn't look like much, but I LOVE it. I am so happy to be in this space and able to call it my own. It feels like such a gift.

I keep thinking if I was living in a Little House on the Prairie, building my own house from scratch, it surely wouldn't have all the things my kitchen has. I wouldn't even know how to build a kitchen from scratch so we'd just be cooking off the floor.

I've been so happy pottering around in my kitchen, cooking meals and baking a'plenty. Every time I remember it's my own kitchen, I smile.