cheap

Beneficial beans

Beans and pulses can be super cheap and a great way to increase fibre and protein in your diet. Due to the high protein content they are very filling, even for those members of the family who may baulk at the idea of a meat-free meal. They are also high in iron, although it is nonheme iron so it requires vitamin C to be absorbed properly. This is easy enough to do by including a fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C such as lemon or capscicum (bell peppers) in the dish. I’m currently anaemic due to my late stage of pregnancy and I’ve been increasing the amount of beans and pulses in our meals as there is only so much meat I can eat (and afford to eat!).

Soaked beans

I prefer to buy my beans dried. They are usually cheaper this way and it means I can store and prepare them the way I like. As I rarely drive they’re also easier to carry home- much lighter than a bunch of cans! If you are planning on using dried beans I cannot stress how important it is to soak them overnight! Soaking prevents that unpleasant gas and bloating effect that one can experience from eating beans (it’s one of the big reasons I like to prepare them myself as I find canned beans can produce discomfort). It also reduces the cooking time. If beans aren’t something you regularly include in your diet it’s also worth building up the amount you consume slowly, to allow your gut to adjust to the increase in fibre.

Bean packet

Rinsed beans

Beans in pressure cooker

I used to just prepare the amount of beans I needed for a recipe however I finally figured out it’s more effective to prepare a whole batch at once. I soak the whole packet over night, rinse the next morning, then pop in the pressure cooker with fresh water. It’s actually a very quick process. It only takes a minute to pour the dried beans into a bowl and cover with water before you go to bed, rinsing takes seconds, and the pressure cooker makes cooking super quick. Once they’re cooked I set aside the beans I need for my recipe that day, the rest I freeze in recipe sized portions (usually about a cup). This saves time and energy (gas used by the stove and electricity used by the freezer as a full freezer operates more efficiently) which equals dollars in my pocket!

I love having beans on hand in the freezer to toss into all sorts of meals to bulk things up. What’s your favourite meal using beans or pulses?

 

A lovely long weekend

For the Easter long weekend my little family and I decided to head up the Coast to stay at my childhood home. My parents had headed west to visit my Nan so it was just us hanging out at home with a change of scenery.

We started Good Friday by riding down to the Fish Markets bright and early to beat the hordes. The day was just beautiful and after we had snared our fish we treated ourselves to hot drinks and pastries on the waters edge.

Blackwattle Bay

Almond croissant

The drive in holiday traffic was horrendous so I shall gloss over that bit and focus on the lovely time at Mum and Dad’s. The evenings were crisp so we lit a fire every night (our first of the season) and it brought back so many memories seeing our daughter sitting in the front of the fire just like I used when I was a kid (though I didn’t have a sweet etch-a-sketch picked up at Vinnies for $3!). So much better than sitting in front of the telly!

fireside

There was lots of  exploring to do. We wandered around the garden collecting lemons and herbs, spotting this little skink hiding in the herb garden amongst the rosemary and pumpkins.

skink

One day we headed over to the back paddock in search of the chestnut tree (turns out it came down in a storm a few years ago so we picked macadamias instead) and visited the creek and billabong. Perfect exploring outfit, don’t you think?

exploring

creek

It was so nice to do nothing and just enjoy each others company in different surroundings. A change really is as good as a holiday, and lets face it, this is what we could afford. By the time we headed back to Sydney we were well rested, well fed, and determined to take more of these little breaks in the future. A long weekend is long enough to give you a real break but short enough to be affordable. How often do you get away from it all? Any tips for a break on a budget?

A Great Escape

It’s been a rough few weeks in the downtown downshift household. We all go through these periods when things get a little tough and it helps to have coping mechanisms. Our daughter was booked in for surgery with a lengthy recovery period to follow so I decided to be proactive and get myself on top of things beforehand.  I stocked the pantry and freezer, cleaned the house inside and out, then tackled my own physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion by running away to the Blue Mountains for 24 hours.

It was bliss. I got up early on Sunday morning (not hard when you have a baby) and jumped on an 8am train arriving in Katoomba at 10.20am. I had booked myself into the Carrington Hotel which is just a short walk from the station. I chose the Carrington because of its location and of course its wonderful history. Originally opened in 1882 this gorgeous old hotel was reopened in 1998 after an extensive restoration, a condition of which was the retention of one wing in original condition. This is where I stayed in a Traditional Room (the least expensive room on offer), complete with marble fireplace and ladies and gentlemen’s bathrooms at the end of the hall- that’s right, no ensuite! The bathrooms have the original deep claw foot baths and wonderful etched mirrors.

Baths

Mirror

I am a big fan of Agatha Christie novels and a traditional room allowed me to immerse myself in the environment I had read of so often in my favourite books. Speaking of books I spent a great deal of time reading, ensconced in this lovely armchair by the fire in the Lounge, flowing effortlessly from one chapter to the next, the only interruptions my trips to the excellent cocktail bar. First of all, however, I treated myself to a massage and facial package. An extremely rare treat that left me floating back down the stairs feeling as though I’d been put back together again, soul and all, ready to relax and enjoy myself.

Chair

Window

I devoured lunch at a café on the main street and spent much of the afternoon perusing the antique shops and vintage clothing emporiums. I didn’t buy a single thing but it was so nice to look at leisure without worrying about inconveniencing my other half. I picked up some crackers, taramasalata, cheese, strawberries, and chocolate at the local supermarket and ate a picnic supper on my bed whilst watching Midsomer Murders. I even treated myself to a cheap bottle of plonk. Divine.

Dining Room

The next morning I breakfasted in the Grand Dining Room (so beautiful, look at that ceiling!) before checking out and leaving my bag at reception. I jumped on a tourist bus to visit a few of the local attractions starting with the historic house and garden Everglades. I was the first visitor of the day and had the house and gardens to myself for an hour. I took full advantage, exploring and stopping wherever I liked to sketch and document with photographs. Then it was back on the bus and around to the Three Sisters and other scenic viewing spots.

Everglades

Flower

Three Sisters

I also popped over Scenic World and completed their 2.4km Scenic Walkway. Normally I wouldn’t pay to do a walk but one of my cousins was lost in the bush for three days after losing his way on an overgrown track in the Blue Mountains and I wasn’t about to put myself in a similar situation. Plus the elevated boardwalk meant I could wear my ballet flats rather than pack another pair of shoes.

Bush

I took the train home again in the afternoon, savouring the last of my uninterrupted reading time. By the time I walked in the front door I was realigned and ready to face the next few weeks head on. So far my daughter’s recovery has been less than perfect but I know we’re coping better than if I was an exhausted wreck. My little escape also reminded me how important it is to take care of myself. It was surprising how quickly I felt like myself again just having time-out. I need to make it more of a priority and now I know gardens and books are surefire ways to do so. How do you centre yourself in difficult times or just look after yourself on a day by day basis?

Simply stunning salad

Often the best meals are those that are quick and simple. Using seasonal ingredients keeps the cost down and ensure freshness and flavour. Growing your own is even better. Not everyone has the room for a full sized veggie garden, especially in the city, but everyone can grow something. I’m a member of the local community garden and I also grow herbs and small veggies on the verge outside our home (more on that another time).

This is quick weekday meal comprised of salad greens grown myself or purchased cheaply from Paddy’s Markets. A good handful of each herb really makes it vibrant. Sometimes I add a can of tuna if I feel the need for some protein or if my husband is extra hungry. The salad is prettied up by edible nasturtium flowers, remember we eat with our eyes!

Ingredients:
lettuce
kale
watercress
mint
parsley
coriander
cucumber
spring onions
nasturtium flowers
pepitas (toasted)
pine nuts (toasted)

Dressing:
olive oil
lemon juice
salt & pepper

Lettuce and kale from the community garden

Nasturtium flowers and watercress from the verge

 

Enjoy!