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Knitting and being inspired by other bloggers

It's heart warming to see knitters around the world clicking away on their projects and taking a photo  or two so we can enjoy their work from so far afield.  In the past week, I've enjoyed Alicia at Posie get Cosy who always produces such fine work, Annette at My Rose Valley with her beautiful, soft crochet and I love what Tonya at Plain and Joyful Living says about how we choose to spend whatever money we have. It's a diverse and interesting group we have online and I am very thankful that these women, and many others, choose to share their lives and their craft work with us. I'm motivated to pick up my needles when I see their work and I admire the steady stream of garments they produce. I'm working on my annual gifts list so I'm knitting too although soon I'll try my hand at crochet, again.  

Currently I'm working on a shell pink jacket for a new born, the daughter of my editor on Down to Earth and The Simple Home books. I'm using Blue Sky Organic Cotton Worsted in 10 ply that has been sent to me by one of my sponsors, Salahan at Ecoyarns. It's chunky yarn, very soft, lovely to handle, easy to knit and it comes in a range of beautiful colours.  In the photo above I've just finished the collar of this top down jacket and will, later today, transfer onto long circular needles.  When you check the knitting links above, have a look at Salahan's blog as well. She is a spectacular knitter, she's based much closed to home in Canberra, and she's extremely generous with her knowledge. If you're looking for good quality yarn or needles, check out the Ecoyarns catalogue too.

This is a 5 ply organic cotton which I'm using to make a very soft face cloth.

My other knitting project is a very fine face cloth for an old friend, made with Japanese organic cotton that I've had on hand for a while.  I'll be using the same cotton to crochet around the top of a lamp skirt I'll start making next week.  The lamp skirt is for an old lamp shade I have here, it's not a gift, but I'm pleased to have made a good start on my gift list.  How are you going with yours?

If you're not a year-round knitter, now with summer (or winter) slipping by quickly, it's a good time to plan future projects and start collecting your patterns, yarn and needles. If you've already decided what you'll knit or crochet, I'd love to know what you have planned.

Weekend reading

I took advantage of the Aldi special on cucumbers this week and bought 10 continental cucumbers for 79 cents each. It's good to stock up on bread and butter cucumbers when you can. They're one of the easiest pickles you can make.  All you need are the ingredients below, a few sterilised jars and lids and a bit of time.

I used a mandolin to cut the cucumbers and for this amount I placed them in two large bowls. Cover with salt and make sure most of the slices have some salt on them. It drains the juice from the cucumbers so it doesn't dilute the vinegar solution that will preserve them in the jars. Let them sit for about 4 hours, then wash the salt off under a tap and drain the cucumbers in a colander.  Pack the slices into your sterilised jars and cover with the following preserving liquid.

You'll have to judge how much of this you make according to how many jars you need to fill.  I used:
  • 3 ½ cups good quality white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds 
  • 1 tablespoon celery seeds
  • ½ tablespoon cracked pepper
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • dill and chilli pieces are optional but they add flavour to the mix
Place everything except the dill and chilli into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour the hot liquid into the jars, making sure you cover the slices completely.  If you're adding dill and chilli, add it while you're loading the jars. Put on the lids, wash the jar under the tap to remove any liquid, turn the jars upside down to sit on the lid for an hour or so then turn them back again and allow to sit on the kitchen bench overnight.  These will keep in the fridge for six months. You can start eating them the following day but the flavour gets better if they sit for a while.

It's been wonderful seeing the interest in The Simple Home series I started a couple of weeks ago. I love the sharing and encouragement that's happening in the comments. Don't forget to come back on Monday when we'll tackle customising your work spaces and looking after what you own.  

I hope you have a great weekend. Take advantage of any spare time you have to put your feet up and look after yourself.

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Food shopping, organising recipes and menu plans

January, week 2 in The Simple Home

This is another of those topics where there will be vast differences in the way all of us do things. I know people who shop everyday for their fresh food, I know others who, like Hanno and I, shop weekly and grow some of their food. I know quite a few people who grow most of what they eat and just buy beans, pulses, dried food and occasional fish or dairy. All of us are living simple, all of us organise our food in a different way.  I wonder what you do.

It's easy enough to wander down supermarket aisles and put products into a trolley. But to shop well and to get value for money, the food shopping we all do should be part of a plan that has been thought through. Hopefully, this week you'll be able to do that. Think about how you intend to shop, cook and store food. Our moderns times have given us a lot of choices. It's your job as a homekeeper to work out which choices work for you.

Most of our food conversations will take place in March.  This is to set us up with good habits and techniques until then, so it's mainly thinking about how we organise our food shopping, getting value for money, buying as much seasonal and local food as we can and involving children in the family food choices. Recipes and how to cook will come later.

One thing to note early here is that there is one thing that we should all be doing - involving the family in our food choices. It's the best opportunity you'll have to discuss budgets, food prices and nutrition with your children and a really good way to teach them about home-cooked food. Getting the family on board with the food choices will mean they'll be more likely to eat what's put on the table every day. And having your children grow up with a good idea of what food costs, where is comes from, how to store and cook it, will be a great help to them when they leave home and already have a good understanding of how to feed themselves and how much it costs.

When planning your food, think about:
  • Nutrition
  • Your recipes
  • Your budget
  • Where to shop - markets or supermarkets
  • How much time you have to cook
  • Supplimentary food from your back yard, freezer or bartering
This is lemon curd/lemon butter made with our backyard lemons and eggs. 
Home preserves - these save money because you buy the ingredients when fruit and vegetables are in season, at their peak and cheaper, and you get a much better product than the supermarket version.  For those of you near an Aldi, they have cucumbers for 79 cents each until tomorrow, Tuesday.  I'll be buying a dozen for bread and butter cucumbers, click here for my recipe.

In The Simple Home I suggest you write a set of summer menu plans/winter menu plans that you can use in these early months of the year. We will address this topic in greater depth again in March but we need to eat now, so let's get some plans happening. You can either do plans for eight weeks, or create a four/two week plan that you repeat. You may already have your menu plans up and running, or be one of the many people who do it a different way.  Menu planning can be done in a number of ways, here is a post I did on the subject.  If you're new to this, try it for a few weeks, modify the process to suit yourself and see how you go. Again, if you do have good ideas to share with us, go ahead and write it up in the comments so newcomers see that there are many ways to do this. Don't forget to plan for leftovers and easy days when you just re-heat something home cooked in the fridge or freezer.

Once you've got all that sorted out, the main part of this week will be about collecting and organising your recipes.  I have about 20 recipes that I cook over and over again, with occasional new recipes thrown in and a set of recipes for celebrations and baking. When I try a new dish, if we all like it, that stays in the month's rotation.

I have been using the app Paprika for a few years now. I have it on my computer and it is the best recipe organiser I've seen.  Version 3 has just been released and it sells for around AU $8. It organises your recipes, allows you to search the internet and save recipes, has a good set of timers, helps with menu planning and gives you printable shopping lists and a calendar with your monthly menus. You can sync it to your phone or ipad and it's available for Apple and Android. There are more details here.  If you need some help sorting thorough your recipes and having a place to store them, Paprika might be what you're looking for. I have no association with this company.

This is part of the meat section in my Paprika. I have version 2.

Creating a set of recipes that you're happy with is a great help in the kitchen. Try to include ideas that are thrifty, nutritious, easy to prepare and something you know the family will eat.  Remember to include work and school lunches and drinks because that will save a lot of money. Do you have good food containers that will keep lunches fresh and looking good until they're eaten?  That can mean the difference between food being eaten or not. Think about where you'll get your food from too.  Can you barter anything? Do you have a good local butcher, baker, green grocer, fish market or local farmers' market? This is the time to work out a strategy that will help you later in the year to provide the best value for money food you can.  I'm not saying to buy only cheap food, I'm emphasising value for money, local and in season. There's a big difference. Think now about how you can substitute other foods for meat and fish, which both cost a lot of money.  Find a few recipes for vegetarian meals, or meals that use less meat. Many of us eat too much meat and you can cut down on it without giving it up completely.  And regarding fish, we live in an area with a lot of fishing boats but the fish we bought for many years is now $50 a kilo and I'm not prepared to pay that much for it.  So we've cut out fresh local fish and I buy the occasional bag of Norwegian salmon and tinned red salmon from Aldi. I refuse fish from Thailand and most places in Asia. Yes, I know Norway and Alaska are a long way from here but we either eat that fish or none and I don't want to give up fish completely.

Sunday lunch - Aldi frozen salmon with homemade potato and garden salad. 

Take a bit of time and think carefully about how you shop. Can you make it easier, quicker or cheaper?  Set up some good habits now and improve on them them as you go on. If you can, it will make a big difference over the course of a year because food shopping is something you'll do forever.

Good luck with this. The work you do this week has the potential to make your job as a family food provider much easier during the year.  I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of good ideas here. Share how you organise yourself with the food you grow and buy and tell us if you have any little tricks that help you put great food on the table.  🍏🍎🍏

Weekend reading

I send warm wishes to my friends in California where deadly mudslides have cause such heartache.  Indeed, wherever you are in the world, if you're experiencing bad weather, I feel for you. Last week it was 47.6C in New South Wales, near where my sister lives. It hit the people living there badly but the wildlife suffered too with many bats dead and koalas needing help and water.  If you're living around the Penrith area, or any other place with hot weather last week, I hope you're okay and getting back to normal.  I fear we're only just seeing the first of what climate change will do.

Thanks to everyone who wrote about their own experiences with organising on Monday and Wednesday. It helps all of us when we share our own stories and know we're part of a community.  The second instalment of The Simple Home will be waiting for you on Monday. 

Thanks for your visits this week. Oh, and welcome to all the newbies who turned up to help us discover the ins and outs of organising our homes.  Have a good weekend.  💗

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Don't be the one who is still hoping to make changes next year

I've been very pleased to read how you're organising yourselves with the help of various calendars, reminders and organisational tools. It's difficult starting something like this if you've always been disorganised but using the technology you're familiar with, or by using wall planners, paper calendars, notebooks and lists you'll get a good start and hopefully gain some momentum.

I wish I could go around to all your homes and help you see the big picture. The truth is I know that some of you will make it and some won't - the thing that makes the difference is how determined you are to change your life. All I can tell you from here is that by starting to make sense of your home, and working to make it support the kind of family you have, will make a difference to how you live. But you have to work at it. If you sit around wanting change and hoping for your life to be different, absolutely nothing will happen if you don't get up and set your plan in motion. You have to do that, no one can do it for you.

If you've made no changes yet, I hope you get up right now and do something for yourself. Start planning your year and see how it feels. In my experience, everything I did early on in my change, gave me the incentive to make more changes.  I hope the same happens for you because these early adjustments can help you clarify your intention and put you in a position of confidence and self-determination. Don't be the one who is still hoping to make changes next year. Do it now with the rest of us. Good luck, my friends, I send you love and my best wishes for your success.

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