Time to lift our game!

Posted June 30th, 2010 by Penny Wise

Jun 30, 2010

Eek! Who are you and what have you done with Liam? Don't panic, he hasn't been kidnapped; he's simply morphed into a new teenage phase where his stomach has been replaced overnight by a bottomless pit. I know it's one of those things that mums of teenagers laugh and roll their eyes about as par for the course but honestly, I had no idea just how enormous his appetite would suddenly become. Ali has had the nickname 'Brad' for years (as in Brad 'Bottomless' Pitt) and should technically be the size of a house with the amount he eats but Liam for all his size has never been that way. Until now! It's nothing for him to come home from school these days and eat a bowl of porridge with a banana, followed by cheese on toast, two muesli bars and a bar of chocolate - and still ask 'when's dinner ready? I'm hungry!' Like most of his teenage behaviour so far, I find it really quite endearing. It's great to see him enjoying his food and I love cooking for him now it's even more appreciated. The only part which I'm not so excited about his the difference it's going to make to our food bill!

It's not the only bill I'm concerned about either. I almost fainted when I received the power bill for last month - $538! For one month?! In comparison this month's bill was more than $200 lower and April's had been only $139. With June being much wetter and colder than May, you would expect the power bill to be higher, not lower. So I rang the power company and they told me that May's billing of $538 was for an actual reading. 'Looking at your meters, however', the lady said on the phone, 'it looks as though one meter is much, much higher than the other two, which are quite reasonable. I would go out and check your meters, it looks to me as though your high bill could be due to a human error'. I sincerely hoped so! So I went out to the meter box, braved the rose bushes which stood guard over them and realised it would actually be quite easy to get an incorrect reading with those prickly monsters in the way! There was just one problem when I opened the meter - I didn't know what the heck I was looking for! So have put it on Noel's 'to do' list for when he gets home. Hopefully there has indeed been some kind of error and we will get a nice refund!

If not, we will definitely have to lift our game, which is going to be quite a challenge because I thought we were already pretty good in the power usage department. After weeks and weeks of freezing temperatures and unrelenting rain, admittedly I have had no choice but to use the tumble dryer more than usual, which costs just under a dollar per load. Not wishing to spend $30 a month drying my washing however, the lounge still resembles a Chinese laundry, with no less than three clothes horses loaded to the max and strategically placed around the fire. Whilst it may not look particularly attractive I don't mind too much as it drastically reduces the amount of ironing drying the clothes this way! The washing mountain never seems to diminish but I always wash in cold water and during off-peak times where possible. We use low wattage lamps in the evening rather than regular lights and always make sure the lights are off in rooms we're not using. Our log fire also has a wetback, which heats the water brilliantly so as a rule, we find our power bills are actually lower in winter than they are in summer! Because the heat rises in our two storey house, we are fortunate that we don't have to use heaters upstairs at night. We do however run dehumidifiers during the day time, which is essential in a house of our size during the colder months. According to the Consumer website these could be adding as much as $90 a month to our power bill - erk! Might need to come up with an alternative there! Just not sure what but I'm happy to find one if it means we get to save around $600 every winter!

As mentioned, I'm definitely embracing July's $50 Challenge, which officially starts tomorrow. Last week was our 16th wedding anniversary and Noel and I realised it had been a whole year since we last had an evening where it was just the two of us. The last time we went out as a couple was on the previous year's wedding anniversary! The main reason for this is that we just love being a family and having our kids around. It's not as though they're any trouble and they're just so much fun that we hate being without them! Still, every couple needs some quality time together. The original plan was to do what we did last year - spend the night at our favourite motel in Hamilton ($170), see a movie ($40 with popcorn and drinks), have dinner and drinkies at our favourite restaurant ($100) and enjoy a cooked breakfast at the motel the next morning ($30). Not to mention a further $48 on putting the dogs in boarding kennels for the night. Total cost - almost $400 for one night away! The budget and our SS logic just couldn't justify it. Fortunately I had just come across a hint I loved, called 'A happy life on a single wage' and this gave me a plan!

I asked Mum if she would have the boys for the night and while I was at it, asked her if she had any nice DVD's that we hadn't seen and could borrow! She was more than willing to help. Next I jumped on the Forum and asked for help planning a menu for a special dinner for the two of us! As hoped, the lovely members came up trumps and gave me both wonderful recipes and inspiration, thank you ladies! If you're ever stuck for ideas for something a bit special, I can highly recommend this wonderful thread for Best Cheat's Recipes but we warned, it will make your mouth water!

My mum happened to be going to the supermarket so I asked her to pick up a few ingredients which I didn't have. She did so and promptly lost the docket so said I could have them as an anniversary present as she didn't know how much I owed her! I dropped the boys off that evening, then got to work. Because we had both had a hectic day, I wanted to make something which was quick and easy, whilst still being something a bit different and special. I ended up making the following, which neither of us had had before and both loved:

Spinach Tortellini with Bacon, Mushrooms and Sweet Chilli

(from Jo Seagar's 'You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble, darling')

1 x 250g packet of fresh ricotta-stuffed spinach tortellini (we both love this but absolutely never buy it as Liam can't eat it so was a real treat!)

4 - 6 bacon rashers, crisply cooked and chopped up (being vegetarian I just pick out the bacon and give it to Noel!)

1 cup button mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup cream

2 tsp sweet chilli sauce

salt and pepper

2 tbsp chopped parsley

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and into the hot saucepan toss the chopped, cooked bacon, mushrooms, sweet chilli sauce and cream. Cook for two minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the pasta and add the parsley. Mix well and serve immediately.

This was so yum and more than enough for the two of us! We also shared a stick of garlic bread, another real treat with no Liam around! For dessert I made Tiramisu for the first time ever, with a little help from Gordon Ramsay, whose easy recipe Mum found online here (she even donated the brandy, bless her!) We enjoyed a lovely peaceful dinner with candles and music and a $6.99 bottle of Banrock Station bubbly and it was just as lovely and special as any restaurant we could have gone to. We sat and watch the DVD 'Evening', in the comfort of our own lounge, which while Noel had to confess it was essentially a 'chick flick' it was lovely just to have some time together and watch what WE wanted to for a change! All in all, we had a wonderful anniversary and all it cost was the wine, garlic bread and a bottle of cream!

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