A Household Hint
I've been made unemployed again (my contract expired at the end of last month - if you're hiring admin staff in Western Australia and need someone three days a week, let me know!) so I'm spending a lot of time at home. This is (fortunately or unfortunately) currently coinciding with a bout of rather nasty pain from my right temporo-mandibular joint, which means I'm currently drinking one heck of a lot of tea in an effort to keep things from getting entirely too painful. Plus, of course, it is SPRING in Australia, and it's been about three years since the rear courtyard and steps of our place were sprayed with weed-killer. So in order to be dealing with the combined problems of a) boredom; b) too many weeds in the paving; and c) no money to spend on weed-killer, I've been using what I call "the poor person's glyphosate" on the weeds in the rear paving.
What is the poor person's glyphosate? Boiling water. To kill weeds in paving, pour boiling water over them until they start to either a) wilt; b) smell like cooking greenery; or c) both. If it's a really big, bushy weed, pour the water over the base of the plant - kill that and you'll get the rest of it, trust me.
This has several advantages over commercial weed-killers. Firstly, it's entirely non-toxic to the rest of the garden (and to the gardener, for that matter). The thing which is killing the weeds is the heat, not the chemicals - the water itself is entirely non-toxic to the garden when it cools down past boiling point. Secondly, it's not toxic to animal life (if you have pets or fish, you can use this particular weed-killer with no problems whatsoever - just keep them out of range for about five minutes while things cool down). Thirdly, it's also a nice, non-toxic way of dealing with the ants in the paving (pour boiling water down an anthill to give the ants the hint you're not interested in having them excavating Right There). Fourthly, it's cheap and easy. Or at least, it's certainly a lot cheaper and easier than buying commercial weed-killer and using that would be.
Essentially, what I've been doing is each time I boil up the kettle for a cup of tea, I've been taking the remaining hot water out the back door while the tea brews, and pouring it onto a clump of weeds. So far I've managed to clear the back steps, and I'm getting started on the paving nearest the door to the house. At this rate, I'll hopefully have everything cleared by about the end of the next week or so. Then I can get started on the front paving, and clear a bit of that.
 Long story short-ish: the temporo-mandibular joint is inflamed, which refers pain to the nerve on the right hand side of my jaw, which means if I'm not taking regular painkillers, I wind up with everything from my wisdom teeth to the front edge of my right incisors aching like blazes. Including the upper pre-molar which was removed a few years ago. It's a bit annoying, to put things mildly. (Actual joint pain: about a 2 - 3 out of 10. Once the teeth get involved: easily a 6 - 7 out of 10, if not higher). This only gets worse if my right ear or the right side of my jaw get cold. Hence hot liquids as a palliative measure.
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Re-use, Recycle, Reduce - A practical lesson
As my regular readers may well be aware, my partner and I are on a very low income. Which means I tend to be pinching pennies pretty hard these days. So one day, after realising that most of the fruit in the fruit bowl (apples and a few pears) was looking pretty much dead, I decided to make the best of things, and make up fruit crumble for dessert (dinner was "scrounge" - leftovers, foodsicles, or whatever the player fancies on toast). So I peeled, sliced and stewed up the apples and pears.
[Stewing mixture for core fruit - apples, pears etc:
Peel and slice fruit. Place in a small saucepan. Add 1 dessert-spoon white sugar, 1 clove, approx 1 dessert-spoon lemon juice, and just enough water to cover. Bring to boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain and remove clove if using immediately, otherwise store in fridge for up to a week.]
The stewed fruit went into a small casserole dish, and I made up some crumble topping. Unfortunately, my recipe for crumble topping is designed to serve about 8 people (rather than just the 2 of us), and it resulted in a lot of leftover crumble even after I'd generously topped the stewed fruit. Hmmm... what to do with it.
Well, the mixture was predominantly plain flour, brown sugar, coconut, rolled oats and butter rubbed in. Hmm... says I, that's a lot like the mixture for ANZAC biscuits. I could do something with that.
So the next day, I took the leftover crumble mix, added another helping of rolled oats, a couple of tablespoons of golden syrup, a couple of teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda, and a couple of tablespoons of boiling water; mixed everything together, and spooned it out in biscuit-sized chunks on a couple of baking trays. Cooked them for about 15 minutes at 175C or thereabouts (between 150 and 200 on the dial, anyway) and set them out to cool.
Turned out nice!
 A foodsicle is a frozen dinner. By extension from popsicle being frozen soft drink.
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Easy Fried Rice
The name is something of a misnomer, as fried rice is definitely easy in all its incarnations. This is the version I make when I have a bit of leftover rice as a result of overdoing the cooking in the week previous.
I tend to start with steamed rice, and if I have two takeaway food containers worth (or about four serves, in other words) then I have enough for frying up.
My usual ingredients for fried rice:
2 - 3 eggs, made up into a bit of an omelette (slice the omelette thinly once it's had a few minutes to cool - I'll generally make it first out of everything).
250g bacon rashers, rind removed and chopped up.
1 onion, diced finely
1 - 2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed or very finely chopped
1 tablespoon or so crushed ginger (as in, the stuff you get in a jar)
2 cups frozen peas, corn and carrot mix
approx 1/4 cup soy sauce
approx 4 cups chilled steamed rice
Optional extra ingredients:
* Tinned champignon mushrooms (either whole or sliced)
* Chopped cooked chicken, beef, lamb, pork etc
* 1 tablespoon or so crushed/chopped lemon grass (the stuff you get in a tube)
* 3 spring onions (green onions), sliced
* Chopped chives
* Chopped coriander (cilantro, for our American friends)
* 1 - 3 tablespoons lime juice
Start by making up your omelette - break the eggs into a bowl, mix them up together and add about 1 tablespoon or so of water per egg. Mix together a bit more, then pour into the bottom of a greased frypan or wok (I don't own a wok, so I use a frypan) over a low heat. Slosh the egg around so it covers as much of the surface as possible, then scrape the cooked bits into the middle until you run out of runny egg (tilt the frypan to ensure the runny stuff doesn't clump into the middle of the omelette). Let it sit until the top looks mostly solid, then flip and cook the other side. Don't worry if your omelette breaks up at this stage, because it's only going to get chopped up anyway. Flip all the bits over, cook for about 1 minute on the other side, or until you're pretty sure it's cooked through, then pull it out of the frypan and put it into a spare bowl to cool.
Now, put the chopped up bacon into the frypan, and cook over low heat until it's starting to render up its fat. This is a good way of using up cheap, fatty bacon, because the grease gets used to cook everything else, and the meat just melds into things nicely.
Next, add the onion. If you're doing this like me, and prepping things as you go, you'll be chopping the onion as the bacon is rendering, and lo and behold, just as you've got the first half of the onion chopped, the bacon will have yielded enough grease to ensure the onion doesn't stick to the pan! If you're prepping things first, cook the onion until it's starting to turn transparent before adding the next ingredient.
Next up is the celery. Again, if you're prepping as you go, the onion will be just starting to get transparent as you add it. You want this to cook until it's just starting to soften a bit, so about 3 minutes.
Next, add the garlic and the ginger together. If you're adding lemon grass and/or meat, now is the time to put them in as well. Stir well to make sure everything is blended together.
Next, stir in the frozen vegetables. If you're adding champignon mushrooms, make sure you quarter the whole ones, and throw the liquid in as well. This stage is going to take about 5 minutes, because you're wanting to make certain the vegetables are all cooked (as well as breaking up any frozen lumps of them that have slipped in).
While the veges are cooking, start looking at the rice. If, like me, you don't rinse your rice before cooking it by the absorption method, what you'll have is a bunch of solid lumps of starchy rice sitting in your containers. The easiest way to deal with this, and get the grains separated is to rinse the whole lot under HOT running water in a sieve, breaking up the lumps by hand if necessary (just squeeze gently under the water and they'll fall apart). Also, take a few seconds to slice your omelette (thought we'd forgotten that, hadn't you?) reasonably thinly. Basically, you're looking at bits of egg about the size of everything else.
Add the soy sauce to the frypan now, and stir well. Yes, it looks like a lot of soy sauce, but don't worry, the rice will soak it all up.
Speaking of which, now is the time to dump in the rice. If you want to be careful, add it in spoonful by spoonful. If you don't mind wiping down the stove later (who am I fooling? You'll be wiping down the stove even if you are careful), just dump it all in at once. Stir well to combine and heat through. You'll notice the rice goes a nice brown colour, which it's supposed to.
This is the point where you add the omelette (as well as the sliced green onions, the chives, the coriander and the lime juice if you're using those). Stir briefly to combine and heat everything through, then turn off the heat and serve. The recipe I've listed makes about four to six servings, and keeps well in the fridge overnight if you want some for lunch tomorrow. (I've no idea whether it lasts longer than that, because it usually doesn't in our household!).
The frypan you use for this recipe needs to be BIG, and even with a large frypan, you'll still probably wind up wiping rice off the stove and its surroundings - this is a recipe which gets everywhere. But it's fun to make, and it's a useful way of using up leftovers. (Incidentally, my other favourite for using up leftover rice is kedgeree, but it requires me to have some smoked cod on hand in the freezer, and also Steve doesn't particularly like it. Fried rice he likes).
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A Minor Accomplishment
I got around to clearing through the pile of discarded clothing which has been accumulating for the past six or so years today. Basically, it was a process of going through, and sorting into two possible piles. One was the "Salvos/Sammies" pile - the stuff which was basically in good nick, but had wound up on the discard pile because it either didn't fit, didn't suit, or wasn't quite 100%. For example, one shirt on there used to have a pattern of studs stuck onto the collar area, but most of them have come off in the wash. The garment is still structurally intact, and someone who's willing to replace the beading or whatever could probably salvage it and get a number of years of use out of it. I haven't the skills or the interest, so out it went.
The other pile was the stuff which I'd been reluctant to throw out because even though there were things like gaping holes in the front, the rest of the cloth was still sound, and I might be able to make something useful out of it. Problem is, my interest in crafting in the past few years has petered out to around zero (and it was never that high in the first place) so the likelihood of me actually doing so is minimal. I'm not going to be making a rag rug out of old pairs of jeans, so today I decided "stop kidding yourself" and chucked the whole damn lot of them into the bin. Two laundry-basket loads of stuff which should have been chucked out bit by bit years ago.
(For those who read the last entry, it's the "malign Buddha" pile of clothes I've just tackled. So that's that anxiety dealt with, anyway).
Also on the "chuck out" pile were two freebie backpacks which I'd used to bits (one lasted about a year before the bottom wore through; the second had the top rip off after about the first six to eight weeks).
Incidentally - I found a bag of clothes which must have moved over with us from Canbrrra, and hadn't been unpacked since. So that's been unpacked, and most of the contents are in the washbasket, waiting for next week's washing round. I gain two vests, a couple of nice shirts, and a couple of flannies I hadn't seen in years.
The stuff for the second-hand shops all fits into one green reusable shopping bag. The original pile of stuff occupied a sixty litre plastic box, and couple of piles in other locations as well. I'm sure there's a lesson in that, but I'm not interested in learning it right now.
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From the News
Urgent call to increase the dole
ACOSS is asking the government to increase the dole (unemployment benefit) by $50 a week and to index it to wages. As someone who's on the dole at present (along with her partner), I stand by this request 100%. Here's why:
My dole payment per fortnight: $498.
My partner's dole payment per fortnight: $493
Our rent per week: $340
Our food and groceries budget per week: $100
The amount of money left over each fortnight after we pay for rent and food: $111
Out of that $111, we have to pay the electricity bill, the gas bill, the water charges, put petrol in the car (one tank of fuel costs approximately $50), pay for public transport fares, cover the costs of our internet connection, pay for our mobile phones, buy any medication we need, cover the costs of job search, and pay for any other incidental expenses which crop up (clothing, shoes, replacing household goods, car registration, car maintenance etc). Needless to say we're not doing so well, and the accumulated costs of living are nibbling away at our scanty savings all the time. We're now in a situation where one big bill is capable of cleaning us out financially.
Neither of us smokes. Neither of us drinks on more than an occasional basis (say, 1 drink every 6 - 8 months). We don't have kids, we don't have pets. Our entire recreational output is based around the internet, and the existing games and DVDs we own, because we can't afford new ones. We can't afford to go out either, so we're pretty much housebound. We go out to do the grocery shopping - that's our big excursion every week.
We've been living like this since about mid-January, and we're looking forward to living like this for at least another 3 - 6 months, because neither of us is the "ideal" employee, and as such, it takes us time to find new work. Now, the treasurer is busy saying that the government's aim is to get people back into work. Well, that's great. It would be even better if there were employers willing to employ us.
In the meantime, an extra $100 a fortnight each would help immensely with our situation. It would reduce the stress, and the constant dread of finding that next bill in the mail.
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Musings of a Chronic Accumulator
I'm an accumulator. I accumulate things. Every so often, I go through the pile of things I've accumulated and clear out the excess. And every time I do this, I think "I should be more organised".
Today, as part of my standard thirty minutes of household chores, I cleared out the backlogged accumulation of glass jars in one of the kitchen cupboards. I pulled out about a half-dozen largeish glass jars with lids that I know I can find a use for, as well as all the small spice jars and the little dark glass ones that my medication used to come packaged in, and I put those into a plastic storage box. That about filled the box. Then I went through and started taking out all the other jars (and lids) and dropping them into our "items for the recycling" box. Once the "recycling" box was full, I emptied it into the recycling bin. I wound up making two trips to clear the backlog. Now, I have the storage box shoved into one corner of the shelf, and about a half-a-cupboard's worth of vacant space.
My next project is probably going to be the plastic stuff. Like everyone else who has any plastic storage stuff in their cupboards, my plastics store is a mess. So I'm going to have to do the standard sort through, find all the stuff, find all the matching lids, and figure out what I'm going to keep and what can be thrown out. I have a suspicion our recycling bin is going to be a tad on the over-full side next fortnight. My next project after that is likely to be the pantry.
Why am I doing this? Well, part of it is sheer irritation crystalised by the joys of having a rent inspection yesterday. Another part of it is realising that, to be honest, I can't find things in our kitchen. I know me. I know the way I work. If I can't find something when I want it, I get frustrated. If I'm frustrated, I get angry, and getting angry gets me depressed. So somewhere along the line, I have to take a step back and deal with the source of the frustration. At the moment, one of the sources of frustration is clutter.
I know why I have the clutter, too. I have the clutter because I'm coming out of a period of enforced poverty, where my instinctive reaction is to clutch onto everything that comes into the house with both hands, and attempt to save money wherever I can. I hoard things, and I'll buy up bulk and try to "save money" by attempting to reuse and recycle as much as possible. But the problem is, this hoarding is actually counter-intuitive, because I hoard so much stuff that I can't find anything. And if I can't find it, I can't use it. So how much money have I saved, really?
Something I need to keep in mind: if I keep something hanging around, but never use it, no matter what it is, it isn't cheap. It's expensive. It's taking up space, both physical and mental (the mental space is in the justification for why I'm keeping hold of it). If I buy food on special and wind up throwing it out because it passed its best-by date without being eaten, it was a waste of money. If I store something, and wind up buying three more of them because I can't find the original, again, it's a waste of money. Things are only economical if they're actually being used for a purpose. Otherwise, again, they're a waste of time, money, and brainspace.
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Random thoughts about buying online
I do a certain amount of online shopping, because it's convenient for me. As someone who's living in Western Australia, and who has previously spent some time living in the Eastern States, I know perfectly well there are whole heaps of things which never make it across the Nullarbor to the west side of the country. In addition, having worked retail, I know there's not really much scope for ordering things in - if I do this, I'm likely to have to pay extra for the inconvenience to the retailer.
So I buy things I can't find in the stores here online from places in NSW and Victoria, and get them mailed to me.
I do a certain amount of online shopping because it's more comfortable for me. I don't know whether anyone's been looking these days, but a lot of bricks-and-mortar stores appear to have embraced the notion that the more auditory and visual clutter they put in the way of people looking for product, the better. I find this overloads me and leaves me feeling exhausted - I'm more likely to shop in a store which doesn't have loads of banners, or doesn't store items on shelves apparently at random than I am to stop in at some of the "big box" retailers which do. I also don't appreciate mall shopping, for much the same reason. I prefer the comparative quiet of the local shopping centre to the noise of the nearest big mall.
So I buy things in online stores, because I can find what I'm looking for without being distracted and overloaded.
I do a certain amount of online shopping because there are some things which just aren't available from Australian retailers. I'm a fan of yaoi manga, and I've also shopped overseas looking for things like obscure British historical drama series which hadn't been broadcast on Australian TV (to my knowledge) and more obscure films from one of my favourite actors. If I literally can't find it here in Australia (because for one reason or another it doesn't get shipped here) I'll look around online and see what's available.
So I buy things online because that's the only place I can find some of them.
I do a certain amount of online shopping because it's where I can get decent value for my money. If I can get something for approximately half the price from the US than the equivalent item here in Australia, I'm going to buy it from the US. The proof of the difference in prices has been around on my major retail purchase (books) for most of my life. I have books dating back to the seventies where the UK price is 1 UK pound, while the Australian price is $2 - and the difference in prices has increased over the years, to the point where Aussies are sometimes paying more than twice the price of the original product. Why does a translation into English of Ouran High Host Club cost $12 here in Australia, but only $7 in the US? Can't be the distance, because the blasted thing is translated in Singapore. Maybe it's a relic of the old marketing arrangements, or maybe it's something else. Either way, it's annoying and frustrating for me as a consumer.
So I buy things online because sometimes it's cheaper, even factoring currency conversions and the fees for same charged by my bank.
I prefer to do a certain amount of online shopping overseas because I can find what I'm looking for, buy it cheaper, and also get it shipped to me sooner than the corresponding Australian mob can be bothered to manage. Oh, and the service is better - online retailers appear to actually want to keep their customers, which is a nice change from the majority of the big box retailers here, who have the attitude of "take it or leave it" when it comes to selling things.
We're a big country here - the Australian land mass is the size of the continental United States. We're also unevenly distributed across this landmass. But our retail giants seem to have decided that the One True Way of shopping is to go to bricks and mortar stores in mega malls, and purchase from these. If we can find what we're looking for. If we can afford it. If we can spare the time, the energy and the mental fortitude to do so. Online shopping is a godsend for people with energy-management issues (such as depressives like myself, whose get-up-and-go has already got up and left) or for people with mobility issues who may indeed have actual difficulties entering bricks-and-mortar store fronts. Online shopping is a help for people with social issues (for example agoraphobia, social phobia, shyness etc) because you don't have to face people in order to get your purchases done. Online shopping is a great help for folks who are living in rural or remote areas, because it means they don't have to travel hours or even days to reach the nearest supplier of whatever-it-is they're after.
Unfortunately, some of the big retailers here in Australia are currently complaining about the way that purchases online under $1000 aren't charged GST (our goods and services tax, currently set at 10% of the price of the goods). They're complaining it's eating into their margins, and taking jobs away from Australians. Which is interesting, since they're part of the reason why the Australian manufacturing sector collapsed in a heap (can't compete with the cheaper imports from South-East Asia) or relocated offshore. It's also interesting, because at present, online purchases under $1000 make up approximately 2% of the overall Australian retail spend. Further interest comes from the evidence of massive mark-ups which occur simply because a product is being purchased in Australia by an Australian - 100% isn't unusual, higher mark-ups have been mentioned as well.
For some reason, the average Australian online shopper appears to believe the big box retailers might just be having a bit of a lend of us, and trying to protect their oligopoly market.
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Christmas on a Shoestring
So, we're on the dole, paying about $300 a week (or $300 each per fortnight, out of about a $400 fortnightly payment) in rent, and trying to figure out how we're going to cover the cost of Christmas. Fortunately for me, I've been feeling full of energy since we moved into the new place (I think it's a combination of the other shoe finally dropping - we had to give up our old place after a couple of years of not knowing if or when that would happen - and the cheerful realisation that being woken up at oh-good-grief in the morning by the day breaking through the window seems to set up my biological clock for a good day) so I decided to give our immediate families (my parents and younger brother; Himself's parents) something home-made as a way of dealing with the whole "gifts" issue. So yesterday we did a big shop, and bought ingredients for about six different types of chocolate truffle (and I collected the extra bits needed for a seventh today) and I'm making them at approximately one recipe per day until Chrimble finally hits.
This involves a lot of melting of chocolate, and making small balls of various things, coating them in other things, and chilling them in the refrigerator until they're "done". So it's all heaps of fun right up to the point where I have to do the ball making, because despite having extremely poor peripheral circulation (to the point where my hands get cold walking through a supermarket freezer section in the height of an Aussie summer, and stay cold for a good hour or two afterwards) my hands don't get cold enough to roll balls of truffle mixture without getting extremely sticky. I also can't roll balls of choc-dipped truffle mixture between my palms without getting chocolate practically *everywhere*. Definitely something to get my younger niece involved with, I think - the messiness of it might appeal to her. On the positive side, I've just completed the second batch, which are chilling down in the fridge as I type this (all I have to do now is finish tidying up... ergh). Only another five to go. Then I get to make up the gift boxes I bought, find out whether we have any cards hidden somewhere near the surface, and do fancy tags for each one (it's amazing how useful my stationery craze can be at times - I have enough fancy-schmancy pens to sink a small aircraft carrier).
Oh, handy tip for those in the extreme southern metro region in Perth, WA (eg Kwinana/Rockingham/Mandurah) - The Spud Shed, on Kerosene Lane in Baldivis is a brilliant place to shop. They do fruit and veg, plus wholesale priced meat and fish, and a fairly good range of groceries too, and it's all at nice low prices. It's not absolutely brilliant quality - the fruit and veg is definitely the stuff Coles and Woolies reject (slight blemishes and marks on the fruit, veg is a bit smaller than average) but it's certainly edible, and for the price, it's well worth the trip.
Now, on to the dishes.
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