March is MOO month. It's the time to take back control of your grocery spending and an opportunity to say good-bye to supermarket reliance.
For a the hefty price (not) of a couple of hours in the kitchen I won't be spending a lot of money at supermarkets this year.
When I first consciously decided to live the Cheapskates way (coming up for 17 years now) the first thing I did was look at what I bought that I could make myself to save some money.
I discovered that cooking from scratch does save money and that it doesn't take any longer to put a meal on the table if I prepare it myself compared to ordering home delivery, going out for takeaway or even heating a pre-prepared meal. I can get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes and save around $20 a meal. That's a considerable saving each year, over $6,000!
I also discovered that homemade not only tastes better and often keeps better but because I control what goes into it, it is better for us as I am able to limit the artificial colours and preservatives I feed my family. A direct result, apart from the dollar savings, is that we are healthier. Our health costs dropped dramatically, especially with the Allan and Hannah, their eczema improved almost overnight and the need for expensive creams, washes and even washing powder disappeared.
I started small, baking cakes and biscuits from scratch. As I became more confident I started to expand: bread, breadcrumbs, yoghurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese, pasta, condensed and evaporated milk, salad dressings, mayonnaise, jams, lemon butter, passionfruit butter, peanut butter, pickles, relishes, chutneys, pasta sauces, tomato sauce, bbq sauce, worcestershire sauce, cordials, ginger beer, lemonade, pizza, pizza sauce, shake'n'bake, and more. These days I buy very little packaged or processed foods and just about everything we eat is cooked from scratch. And believe me when I say I am not a fantastic cook!
It really is easy. Take this week for example. We have had an abundance of zucchini in the garden. We had them steamed, stuffed, baked, raw and grated in pasta sauce. I've added them to meatloaf and rissoles. The kids have been munching on them as is or eating zucchini straws with dip and still they kept growing.
Yesterday I made a batch of zucchini pickle. Nothing new in that, I make at least two batches each summer. It took less than an hour and there are now 12 jars of yummy pickle in the pantry, enough for sandwiches and rolls or to add to cottage cheese for dip until next summer. With what has already been made this summer I won't need to buy pickles for at least twelve months saving around $47 at the supermarket because I won't be buying pickles.
While I was in the kitchen anyway I thought I may as well cook up the tomatoes and capsicums and bottle some pasta sauce too. Again it is really easy - I simply put the ingredients into the crockpot and let it cook on low for 8 hours, until it was thick and aromatic. Prep time was around 20 minutes. When it was done I poured it into sterilised jars, and used the microwave method to seal it.
I'm not standing at the stove or the sink all the time. I can go away and do other things. Making pickles and pasta sauce doesn't take hours and hours of hard work but the benefits are huge. I didn't have to buy the zucchini, capsicums or tomatoes. Vinegar, sugar and spices aren't expensive ingredients. I did buy the onions in a 10kg bag from the orchard down the road for 30 cents a kilo a few weeks ago and used 1.5kg in the pasta sauce at a cost of 45 cents. Yesterday's effort produced 30 jars of pasta sauce. I won't be spending around $100 on pasta sauce at the supermarket this year.
I was talking to my sister-in-law early last year and what she said stunned me. She has never, ever roasted a chicken. Not once in all her married life (and that's a long, long time). When she's made a meal using a roast chicken, she's bought one from the supermarket.
Now it can't get any easier than roasting a chicken so why would you pay twice the price to buy one? Especially when it's been sitting for hours. Eww.
If you have never roasted a chicken, or would like to know how to roast the perfect chicken, here's the steps:
1.Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2.Make sure your chicken is completely thawed if it's been frozen.Wash inside and out thoroughly and dry.
3.Take 3 cloves garlic and a lemon and place them in the cavity.
4.Put the chicken into a roasting dish.
5.Pour over olive oil, rubbing it into the skin. Be generous, a little extra oil in the bottom of the dish is OK but you don't want your chicken swimming in it.
6.Sprinkle liberally with salt, rubbing it into the skin.
7.Put it in the oven and cook for 2 hours, or a little longer, depending on the size of the chicken. A No. 20 is done in this time. Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness or pierce the breast and if the juices are clear the chicken is done.
Don't be tempted to skimp on the salt. It not only adds flavour but makes the skin delightfully crisp and golden. There is no need to turn or baste the chicken. Just put it in the oven and let it cook.
Roast your own chickens and not spend around $7 each at the supermarket.
For a long time I've been saying that the supermarkets are not our friends. That's the fiction they like to present, and they do it well. They don't make our lives easier or save us money or time or energy.
Since the 1960s supermarkets have taken choices away from homemakers and destroyed basic homemaking skills, all under the guise of making the Australian homemaker's life easier. Phooey!
What they've done is made the population reliant on them as the main source of food, toiletries, and cleaning products and they are making an attempt to become a one-stop shop with the addition of clothes and homewares.
It is getting harder and harder to find basic ingredients in both Coles and Woolworths. There are plenty of mixes and packaged products, pre-prepared biscuits and cakes, even complete meals. But try to find something as basic as flour or sugar or yeast or gravy powder and you'll be looking, no searching, high and low to find them. You will find them, but a very small, limited range, hidden away from the mixes and packets.
You have three choices:
1.You can give in and live your life according to the supermarkets plan
2.You can ask, and ask, and keep on asking, supermarkets to stock the items you need.
3.You can shop elsewhere.
Number three is my first choice.
I want to be able to buy the raw ingredients I need to prepare the healthy, tasty and economical meals I want to serve my family.
What's your choice?
I've really noticed the end of summer this week. The days are getting shorter, or rather the sun is setting earlier and it is dark much later in the mornings. Before too long winter will be here and with it a whole lot of extra expenses: heating, warm clothing, more fuel for the car (less walking in winter weather) and more indoor pursuits which invariably seem to cost something.
I've also noticed it because I've spent the last two glorious days in the veggie garden planting our winter veggies. They should have been in a couple of weeks ago but time was away. It was a major garden renovation, so I had to wait until there was almost nothing left. We have moved four of our big veggie boxes so they are in line with the rest of the garden.
This came about because we need a new side fence (what a palaver and all over a fence). To get the new fence the old creepers had to come down (yay!). This freed up a whole lot of space - about 54 square feet - in the back garden. It also meant I could move the veggie boxes so they now get sun all day long, instead of just 7 hours.
Unfortunately to move the boxes we had to empty them. That meant digging out the soil, shifting the boxes into their new positions, replacing the soil and re-planting. The boxes were moved one at a time, as Wayne was on call and we never knew just when the phone would ring and he'd have to go to work. It was a huge job and took most of the day, but I can't stop grinning, everything looks so lovely and tidy now.
Mind you I'm paying for it today; my arms and shoulders are a little stiff and achy, obviously not used to all the pushing and lifting of the shovel.
Once the boxes were in place I was itching to get planting. The weatherman says that this is the last of the nice warm days for the year and that a very cold change is on its way for later in the week so I had to get moving. Wayne turned over the compost for me and we dug in lots and lots of lovely, crumbly compost and watered it down, ready for the seedlings. Then he started a new lot of compost with the lawn clippings and the contents of the bokashi bucket and some fern clippings he mulched up. He'll be able to add apple leaves soon; I noticed this morning they are starting to turn yellow on the tree.
I've planted mini cauliflowers and cabbages. I love these little vegetables, one is just the right size for a meal for my family so there is no waste and they don't get to go black in the fridge. I pick them as I want them so they are really fresh too.
I've also put in some more potatoes (Desiree this time) and re-planted the strawberries into a bigger bed for the winter. Hannah tells me that our homegrown, organic potatoes are the best tasting ever. That’s high praise from my girl who doesn’t really like spuds all that much.
I sowed another dozen beetroot too. Have you tried roasted beetroot? Beetroot is a summer salad staple for many Australians but it's even better as a winter veggie roasted in a drizzle of olive oil. Or in a soup or dip.
And of course I've sown some more lettuce and broccoli. We'll also enjoy Rainbow Silverbeet, garlic chives, peas, Chinese cabbage, turnips and parsnips (I love baked parsnip), celery and spring onions. I'm tempted to try a couple of tomato plants and keep them in the greenhouse but I fear Melbourne winters just don't get enough hot sun.
This afternoon I sowed more silverbeet, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and lettuce and celery seeds. By the time these are ready to go into the garden I should be picking their older mates. That's the plan anyway. Succession planting will ensure we have a steady supply of fresh veggies all winter, and save a small fortune too.
For root vegetables, such as beetroot and parsnip, I plant direct. You can buy seedlings of these veggies, but they really do better if they are sown direct and grown from seed. Try beetroot or radishes for salads, turnips and parsnips for soups and casseroles and carrots grown straight from seed and you'll be amazed at how much better they grow for you.
There is still one empty veggie bed. This is for onions. It will rest for the next three months, ready for planting in July. The onions did really well this year so I hope I can replicate the results. The soil has been turned over and had lots and lots of manure dug into it. My Grandfather grew the best onions ever, and he grew them in a mix of 3:1 manure to soil - not what the books suggest at all. His onions were always golden and big and very tasty. My plan is to give Grandad's method a try and hope I have his green thumb, at least when it comes to onions anyway.
When people ask me how I keep the food bill down the first thing I mention is the veggie garden. The few minutes it takes each day to water, pull the odd weed, re-sow seed and pick gorgeous fresh vegetables is fantastic value for effort. Our fruit and veg bill is so low, around $10 a fortnight, that I once had a journalist accuse me of not feeding my family properly. The look on her face when I invited her out the back to see our garden, and then the smile when she left with a big bag of fresh veggies was priceless.
And I think she understood - you don't need to rely on the supermarkets for your food - you can grow it yourself, in your own backyard, and tell the supermarket fruit and veg department goodbye.
From Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing