Moving on from Becoming and 2015

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.

Sharing ongoing meal planning experiences

So the whole meal planning thing has taken root in our household, and this is something I’m glad about as I think it makes a bunch of things easier – especially given my particular role in our three person household is managing of food decisions and a large chunk of the cooking. I’ve been using a Pinterest board to track my cooking and recipes so that both the result and the recipe are in roughly the same location, so take a look there if you’re interested. Below is a few dot points on general things I’ve learned in this meal planning process, mostly particular to our own situation but maybe useful for readers too, and below that a bunch of recipes and my commentary about making them, or not, and what worked and didn’t.

  • You need to work out what you need out of your food – do you just need it to do dinner and not have leftovers cluttering up the fridge. or do you actually need leftovers for lunches and frozen meals for later?
  • The last point is a necessary thing to try and figure out about your needs because that influences how many recipes/meals you need and also what kind of things you might pick for the fortnight. Roughly I’ve worked out that including some leftovers for lunches/frozen meals (either or) we need 10-12 meals/recipes per fortnight.
  • This is dependent on the activities of the fortnight, if 2 of us are out every day at uni and need lunches, that’s a factor, but if one of us is home most of the time, different provisions are more useful.
  • It’s probably important to build in some flexibility – you can plot out a plan for what most nights are going to look like, but having gaps where you can either eat leftovers, or do something spontaneous can be useful (especially if you have back up super cheap/easy options on hand).
  • This is hard but worth it, but I really notice that having a well stocked pantry helps with variety and awesomeness of things I can make cheaply. The hard part of this is knowing what particular ingredients like vinegars, sauces, spices etc are useful for you and how you like to cook and eat. Then the next thing is to spread out across shopping trips buying and maintaining those things so that they’re generally on hand, but not an onerous expense.
  • I’m still noticing and marvelling at the difference it makes to have homemade frozen stock on hand, it saves a massive amount of time because they’ve already simmered for ages, plus the ingredients are super cheap and often can be done using up a bunch of kitchen scraps that would otherwise go to waste.
  • We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to divest from supermarket meat, mostly we were avoiding it anyway but convenience kept us hooked for a while. The straw was just the lack of quality and the limited range/flexibility. Also, it’s not really cheaper than the cost of meat at butchers I can find at markets near to me – this may differ for you. I’d love to do a free range meat delivery but I’m not that organised yet, plus it’s a bit more expensive than I can afford right now. Still, we’re enjoying the bounty of better quality meat, and I’ve had some great luck with specials on cuts of meat that I really love – like lamb racks/cutlets.

So some of the meal planning I have done in the recent months – note this is the plan and not it’s execution. These links are from mid July through until the end of August. There’s a bunch of stuff here and I initially tried to plot it out by meal plan sections but it’s been a bit too long for that to make sense. I’ll try and do it for the current fortnight’s plan in another post.

  • Salmon fillets with blender Bearnaise – this didn’t happen and the ‘recipe’ was mostly just to fuel an idea that would work better from us (I like some fish, but not salmon generally).
  • ‘No Time’ bread – currently my favourite go-to bread. I do it a long way because we don’t have a microwave, but the rising time is a fraction of what is needed otherwise. Also the texture is great and flavour really pleasing.
  • Asparagus with Sage Butter Pasta – this pre-dates my plan to try and focus on more seasonal fruit and veg, but wasn’t my favourite asparagus or buttered pasta recipe.Asparagus and Sage Butter Pasta
  • Pasta with Lemony Sauce – I haven’t yet made my own pasta for this, although the recipe suggests doing so (I think it will be awesome and plan to do so at some point). This is another simple sauce that does a lot with very little. Love this one.
  • Buttermilk and Oatmeal bread – I had buttermilk to use up and I was curious. Also, this is a period in which I was home a lot, so had time to bake. This was a great bread – a little sweet for my taste as an every day bread but it was *delicious*.
  • Butter Chicken – one recipe I found that looked like it was worth trying – and it definitely produced a good butter chicken-y type flavour, which was reminiscent of getting good Indian food, but not really there at all as far as the overall look and feel go. I now have two other recipes from friends who say they are awesome, so I’m keen to try those at some stage too.
  • Broccoli, Parmesan and Lemon Soup – had leftover broccoli and this was a spectacularly good use for it! Great soup, so much flavour and each element was apparent! Easy and delicious to make, will definitely become part of the winter soup staples.
  • Spiced Lamb Casserole with Thyme Dumplings – made this with kangaroo which worked really well, the dumplings were light and fluffy. I used quince jam I had in the fridge instead of quince paste which was great. This is a recipe that appealed to me as a stew but especially because it doesn’t rely on tomato for flavour (I was a bit over tomato dominated flavour things at this point).
  • Pork with Cider and Cream – this recipe was fantastic! So good, so tasty! Loved it from start to finish! We had the pork cheap from a previous market shop where pork was on sale, used frozen broad beans and easily justified a bottle of cider to try this out – so worth it. Highly recommended.
  • Made roast chicken – had originally intended to make Barbara Kafka’s Simplest Roast Chicken, but it was a night where I was with Fox in the kitchen and I just showed him how to make a roast chicken on the fly by feel – not intentionally, but getting him to touch the chicken took enough effort that I didn’t want to fuss with a recipe – I’d still like to try this one though.Fox's First Roast Chicken Dinner
  • Made pull-apart rolls in preparation for making these Panko crusted fish sticks with lime and tarragon aioli into fish burgers, but they were tiny – so we had sliders! They were so cute, but next time I’ll make bigger rolls (the recipe did indicate they were dinner rolls, I should have realised).
  • Red Currant and Rosemary Lamb Shanks – this was another recipe that I was drawn to because of the lack of tomato dominance. It was a bit of a hunt for the red currant sauce (which had been in the supermarket the week before!) but it all worked out. The sauce didn’t thicken as much as I’d have liked for this so I’ll tweak that to try and have that happen next time, but it was flavourful and I do want to make it again.
  • Ginger’s Lamb Vadouvan Chili – this recipe was on the list but didn’t get made, it’s still one I’d really like to make, but it might be getting a bit too warm in the year for it.
  • In this fortnight, I also made chicken stock, which turned out to be a particularly good batch.
  • More baking, I made Bette’s Best Sour Cream Cake – which lasted the entire week and was *delicious* It was moist and flavourful, plus was versatile. We had it with cream and cherries one night as dessert.Bette's Best Sour Cream Cake with cherries and cream
  • One of my partners from Perth was visiting, is vegetarian and wanted to learn to cook. So we spent a chunk of time on that for his benefit. One of the things we cooked was Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup, which even if you don’t like celery, is utterly gorgeous and well worth trying.
  • Another dish that I tried to teach my partner is Andrew Feinberg’s Roasted Broccoli Frittata which is absolutely one of my favourite recipe finds. This is gorgeous, glorious, utterly incredible. Do it as the recipe suggests, cutting corners means you miss out on the delicious custard-y texture which would be a shame indeed.
  • We were out with friends and there were burgers, so we needed to come home and make burgers. Ral made *amazing* homemade burgers, with Wonder Fries – and it was just so so so good. (Vegetarian partner was off exploring Melbourne this night).
  • Broccoli Pasta Bake – my own recipe, that I want to write up at some point because my cheese sauce rocked, and it’s gotten better and better each time I do it. When all else fails for inspiration, fresh broccoli and cauliflower (including the stems), cheese sauce and cheese with breadcrumbs on top.
  • Another easy pasta dish, Easiest Alfredo Sauce, aimed at teaching my visiting partner – but he was struggling with this idea of what cooking consistently meant so he begged off for this. We made this sauce for a fresh pasta we bought from the markets – goats cheese and truffle ravioli. We added the broccoli for freshness and it came together beautifully.
  • I had on my list of meal plans for quite a while to make this Traditional Beef Daube, it gave me the runaround with ingredients and being tired and not reading the preparation properly – I totally flaked on it. But, it was so worth it in the end, rich flavours that just made us all happy. Would definitely make this again.
  • More pasta – it’s a staple in our house and an easy way to get Fox to cook as it’s the kind of cooking he’s most comfortable with. So we made Donna Hay’s Pasta with Pumpkin and Sage Brown Butter. That and we had sage to use up. This pasta with sage was much better than the other one – I think I’ll use this brown butter technique with the asparagus recipe in order to bring out the best in it next time.
  • There was in August this magical day that heralded the warmer weather to come and it was all the excuse we needed! We barbecued a flat chicken a seasoning mix called ‘Duck Duck Goose’ that had fennel, juniper berries, cassia, star anise, Sichuan pepper, orange peel, cloves and marjoram. It went on the charcoal BBQ and was so delicious! For sides I made these Roasted Pomegranate Carrots, and Lemony Roasted Cauliflower with Oregano and Garlic – both of these were absolute winners as sides, I’ve made both again since.
  • I love that soup has become such an easy go-to recipe. This Speedy Tuscan White Bean Soup came together really well – despite the canned beans (which can sometimes have a weird flavour from being canned). We added bacon to the top of this and Ral fried slices of bread that were so thin they became these delicious crouton slices – it felt like a much fancier dinner than it actually was, which is always nice in a fortnight where the food budget is a bit gloomy.

Fortnight of meal planning #2

It’s fairly frequent at this point that we find ourselves with a very tight budget fortnight. However, the past 8 weeks or so have not been kind to my ability to meal plan as part of keeping costs down. We’ve managed, but it’s been a bit piecemeal overall. We’re in the middle of another fortnight where we’re trying to keep groceries to the cheaper side of things, and since exams are now done, I’ve made a meal plan. Details of the plan I’m working from are below.

General notes: 

  • Past!me has still got stock to draw from (but I think next fortnight I should make a point of doing a batch of beef and chicken stock).
  • Also I took advantage of cheap ethical meat on sale butcher I like at the markets recently for both chicken and pork options.
  • Still well stocked for spices, vinegars and a bunch of dry good things.
  • This meal plan I wanted to dig into my ‘untried’ recipes folder on Taste.com.au and try a bunch of things I’ve been meaning to for years.
  • I wanted to try and avoid too much repetition of standard familiar favourites, just as part of the challenge.

Meals: 

This time I did have a loose time frame, but it follows the same basic principles of evaluating having enough meals for the fortnight, including lunches and taking into account the potential for leftovers.  This particular fortnight, I was away in Ballarat for a couple of days (and a post from that experience is brewing too), so my partners had a couple of nights where dinner was up to them and not planned specifically. The dishes I proposed for this fortnight:

  • Beef Ramen – this was my own on-the-fly recipe and was for a dinner party night where timing needed to be flexible. I make a soup broth, make the noodles and slice up the meat and veggies thinly. I then use the very hot soup to cook the ingredients in the bowl upon serving. (Note: a tender, lean cut like eye fillet works best for this).
  • Japanese Vegetarian Hotpot – this turned out beautifully, and though I forgot to take a picture, it looked much like it did on the recipe page. I didn’t use the egg for this recipe and didn’t miss it, I did add some extra veggies and didn’t tinker with the soup base and it was delicious. Scope for tweaking, if I wanted to I’d make it spicier.
  • Tuscan Bean Soup with Bacon – I decided that on this occasion I wanted to add bacon to this recipe, I thought on it’s own it lacked a little something and I wasn’t interested in hunting down other recipes to compare and figure out what when I was pretty sure adding bacon would just bring the awesomeness to the table. It did. I slowcooked the leeks with the bacon and garlic for about 40 minutes, not letting them brown much at all. I didn’t mash the beans – it didn’t seem necessary. It turned out really delicious, hearty, comforting and filling.
  • Mapo Tofu – I don’t have a recipe for this yet, but I’m on the look out. If you have a favourite one, please let me know. Loosely, fermented black bean sauce, Szechuan peppercorns, tofu, pork mince all deliciously cooked together over rice and greens.
  • Butter Chicken – This recipe looks like it’s worth trying as a start to figure out what makes a good butter chicken recipe when you’re trying to build it from the beginning. We’ll see how it turns out!
  • Pork Chops with Red Onion and Pear Chutney – This was tonight’s dinner and really, I only used the recipe for the chutney. That said, it was inspiration and worked really well – the spicy red onion and pear chutney was fantastic! And it was quite quick to put together. I sold a sceptical Ral and Fox both on the awesomeness of pork chops, so a win from all angles I think.
  • Asparagus and Sage Butter Pasta  – I know asparagus is out of season so I may yet do the familiar pumpkin recipe that’s similar. However, asparagus is Fox’s favourite and he’s had a rough few weeks so it’d be something to spoil him with and the pricing atm isn’t horrible (it might actually be on special this week).
  • Chicken and Potato Provencale – I’ve made this before, but not for Ral and Fox, and it’s a good quick and light chicken dish that works all on its own without needing extra sides. I might even include the olives for the first time…
  • Pasta with Lemony Sauce – This recipe I have also done before, but not for my partners, and just for fun I’m thinking I might make the pasta myself for practice, as I’ve barely done it and always want to do more.

Pork chop with spicy red onion and pear chutneyPicture of tonight’s dinner, the pork chop with spicy red onion and pear chutney. Served with sweet potato mash and steamed green veggies.

The main grocery shop for all of these meals was about $140 ish – I’m really pleased with this as it pretty much means we only need to buy milk and a few extra veggies by the end of the fortnight (and the asparagus because it’s easy enough to buy that on the day I make the pasta). Things I already have in the freezer include the pork mince, the chicken thigh fillets, the chicken thigh cutlets, the pork chops.

 

Other meals I’d like to make soonish (ish): 

  • I want to recreate a dish I had in Ballarat with Skud just this week that was a pork sausage and kale polenta lasagne – so delicious and Tuscan peasant food style. It was fantastic. I was very inspired about food the whole time I was in Ballarat, this list really shows that.
  • Roast lamb with all the trimmings – I blame the very cold weather lately.
  • Black bean Mexican style soup – this is Skud’s recipe and I remember having it last year and meaning to make it once it got colder again, still plan to do this on a cold night and make it nice and spicy.
  • Curried cauliflower soup – again inspired by Skud, because homemade soup is the best way to be greeted out of the cold. Also, it was delicious and am certain, simple and cheap – attractive qualities!
  • Fish things because Fox would love more fish more regularly, and the challenge for me would be to find stuff I also think I’d enjoy eating (I like fish, but it was hard work to get to that point).

One income between three

So I live in a poly household in Melbourne, myself and my partners – who are the ‘on paper’ relationship. I’m the ‘single’ person who lives with them. And unsurprisingly Centrelink have been awful, one of my partners earns too much, so his partner can’t get the Austudy he’s entitled to. I can’t get Austudy because even though I haven’t claimed it before, the fact that I have an undergraduate already precludes me from support when I need it. Because I of course planned the massive career change and letting go of 10 years I spent pursuing another career all for nothing…

So we subsist on one income between the three of us, and it kind of works. It kind of works because one of our parents is in a position to help us with rent. It kind of works because we all genuinely work together and try hard to be good about money and all the messy emotions it brings up together. And we recognise that at this point in our lives and relationships, we’re intertwined financially.

We all contribute to the house, in various ways, and so we’re all entitled to the income. There’s not much to go around but it (mostly) pays the bills, the rent and groceries. I’m better than I ever have been about making groceries last, making food last and making it delicious and so we don’t often *feel* poor. Even though we rarely can have a night out, or dinner out, or go to the movies or any of those things we could  manage occasionally when we at least had some welfare support.

I’m writing about this because I am looking at the meal plan I made on the fly yesterday for the next two weeks to get us through a fortnight where anything we can avoid spending on food, can pay bills. We’re not late on anything, but we’re working hard to keep it that way. In any case, I thought I’d share what my meal plan was and how I decided on it for this particular fortnight. Namely, what stuff has past!me done that makes this next two weeks earlier. Let’s do that bit first:

Past!me has:

  • Made oodles of stock, so I have vegetable stock, beef stock, and chicken stock in my freezer. I also have plenty of frozen veggie scraps to make more (and we are running low on veggie stock).
  • Stocked up on some dry goods that are good for stretching things, accompanying things, part of the regular stuff we would use and works for a bunch of the ‘go-to’ meals we might make.
  • Looked at what is in the fridge and freezer that can be used for the fortnight easily: some beef mince, a lamb roast, 1/2 a cabbage, 4 small zucchinis (I still don’t have a plan for them yet).
  • I also have a well stocked pantry for spices, vinegars and other similar ingredients that you often need for various recipes and are good to have on hand to make awesome stuff from very little.
  • Made a beef and barley stew before the meal plan but that meant it was there and could be part of the planning process straight away! One meal and a fair few lunches down!

And now for the meal plan. I reasoned that counting leftovers and the need for lunches for me at home and Ral’s uni lunches for the next two weeks, we needed about 9-10 meals.

So this is what the meal plan looks like:

  • Tunisian Chicken (I had everything except the chicken and the coriander).
  • Marcella Hazan’s Smothered Cabbage Soup (I have everything for this).
  • Chana Masala (I needed the ginger and I bought some cheap dried chickpeas rather than use the canned ones I have).
  • Chicken Adobo (I needed the chicken and spring onions).
  • Alfredo Pasta (I do have some cream but it’s going on chocolate cake for birthday dinner tonight, so that remains the only thing I need).
  • Marcella Hazan’s Tomato, Onion and Butter pasta sauce (I have everything for this – we almost always do).
  • Macaroni Peas (I had just finished the last of the frozen peas and have bought some more).
  • Bukhara (This is where the lamb roast will go, and I had everything else except the ginger, which I bought for at least one other recipe).
  • Spaghetti Bolognaise (I have a great recipe for this and had the mince in the freezer. Plus, it makes a large pot. I had everything for it except red wine and we bought a cheap decent bottle).

So that’s 9 so far and I’ll see how far that gets us before I evaluate further. It’s a whole lot of guesstimation at the moment, so we’ll see how close or far off I am toward the end of things. (Maybe I’ll even remember to blog about it.) There are several options that are cheap that I can rope in at the last minute like Dal Makhani, or this gorgeous Broccoli Frittata which always impresses, or make a risotto or soup – those are always good go-to options.

So, there you have it, my angst, frustration and making the most of it in the form of meal planning. What makes things easier for this fortnight is, I’m home and I have very few commitments so I can do the cooking and make things work and spend extra time eking things out and adding to my stash of freezer meals without extra stress. The reason I’m trying to meal plan, spend as little as possible AND still maintain my freezer stash is because I’ll be away from home in June on prac, and it will make life a lot easier for Ral and Fox dinner wise if half of them are already made. It will also make it cheaper for them, which will be important because I anticipate needing more of our budget while I’m staying away from home and going to the hospital every day.

I have to say that my meal planning and frugal skills are both inspired by, and not nearly as well established or finely tuned as my best friend Sarah’s. She can do amazing things with meal planning and frugality. But all in all, I do well enough for what we need right now, and I pass it on to my partners. One  of whom is an exceptional cook, and also quite accomplished at making do, the other of whom is still learning the very basics of cooking. In my mind, this stuff is part of that basic learning.

Anway, have a picture of last night’s Tunisian Chicken dinner (not the prettiest plate unfortunately). Alas I forgot to take a picture of the cake! But I made this amazingly simple and delicious Chocolate Bundt Cake, which is not expensive to make and is one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I’ve ever made.

Not the prettiest plate, but Tunisian Chicken with couscous for dinner.