Friends in frugal places

Posted January 11th, 2010 by Penny Wise

Phew, this No Screens Month lark is wearing us all out! Not that we're complaining, we've been having heaps of fun. The dogs are all undergoing a rigorous exercise programme, with twice-daily sessions from their masters. The evening board games are currently being replaced by trampoline contests. The boys have appointed me as their judge and I have to give them both marks out of 10 as they go through their various repertoires of forward flips, backwards flips and other contortions. The only real rule is that if either one of them lands on their bottom, then that round is void and they have to do it again. A simple rule but one which makes for much hilarity as the pair of them end up in all sorts of flamboyant poses in their desperate attempts NOT to land on their bum. Rather like Twister for trampolinists! Mind you, the boys are starting to get more competitive and are demanding more rules be instated as time goes on. Still, when I think of what we would normally be doing of an evening, watching our various screens, I'm more than happy to oblige.

Most afternoons are spent at the local pool, which is usually followed by a session at the school cricket nets, perfecting their batting and bowling skills. The cricket pitch at home still gets daily use but now the boys can bowl at around 110km an hour they need a bit more room! Ali is now a fully fledged zoo volunteer and spends every day he can up there, doing anything from raking leaves to chopping up food for the emus or making toys for the new elephant. All the visitors to the zoo chat to him and ask him questions about the various animals, which he loves. He also loves the unlimited ice blocks and chocolate bars he gets for doing a good job!

As for me, I've been overcome by an uncontrollable urge to cook – in particular I want to bake. Unfortunately it's not really the best time of year for spending hours inside a sweltering kitchen. The weather has been so hot – and we've all been so active – the only meals we feel like eating are barbecues and salads. The cosy, candlelit family dinners we enjoyed so much in winter have been replaced by the four of us sitting around the table in blazing sunshine, fanning ourselves with all the windows and doors open. Don't get me wrong, I love this glorious weather! It's just not ideally suited to dishing up sticky, steamed caramel pudding, heavy, calorie-laden lasagnes and all the other things I've been dreaming of making.

So I've been contenting myself with reading recipe books instead. I love cook books! Probably a little too much unfortunately but this is something I am determined to get under control this year. I have a tendency to be mesmerised by their tempting covers and will happily fork out half of the week's grocery bill in my rose tinted pursuit of being a domestic goddess. Sadly, nine times out of ten I get the aforementioned books home, only to find that our motley crew wouldn't touch most of the recipes with a barge pole and I end up selling them for a fraction of the price on Trade Me. Happy Hanna though I strive to be, I have lost count of how many times I did this in 2009!

You see, I have a confession to make. While I consider myself to be a naturally friendly person, I'm a real home body. I'm not one of life's 'ringer-uppers' or 'popper-inners'. It's nothing personal, it's just our family time is so rare and precious that we like to spend our spare time together, rather than visiting other people. So when it comes to 'should I buy this?' or 'is Nigella's latest any good?' I often don't have anybody to discuss it with or to say 'Nooooo!' Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly Penny No-Mates! It's just you can know an awful lot of people without having any actual bosom buddies. That's me, I guess. For a long time I've relied on my own judgement when it comes to what-to-buy-and-what-not-to-buy and unfortunately there are times it has let me down!

Just before Christmas however, I found a method which really worked. I went to see 'Julie and Julia' at the movies, and like everyone else in the theatre I came out drooling and dreaming of chocolate cream pie and Boeuf Bourguinonne. I NEEDED to buy a copy of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'! Well, I thought I needed it – I certainly wanted it! I wanted to cook just like Julia Child and Julie Powell. I went straight to the bookstore and there it was, all pristine white and inviting, with dainty little Fleur de Lys. I wanted it! The only thing which put me off was the price at $49.95. The Simple Saver in me told me to stop and think. I had just come out of the movie and was swept up in a whirl of French cuisine. Can you imagine how many books that movie has helped to sell? To people like me, who rush out of the cinema thinking 'I HAVE to know how to make butter sauce!'

This time however, I held my horses. Instead of buying it straight away, I went home and asked the Forum! Almost immediately they came up with a list of smarter alternatives, shared their own experiences of the book and made me realise that I didn't need it after all. It was great! It's not something I would normally have included anyone else in my decision about but I knew that the Forum would be able to give me an honest answer and it was even better than I had hoped. I rang the local library, who had just got a brand new copy in and excitedly went to pick it up. For one whole month that cookbook I had wanted so much sat on my bookshelf. I didn't make a single thing from it – not even the Boeuf Bourguinonne. Just goes to show how much I 'needed' that book. Thank you lovely Forum friends for saving me from yet another culinary book disaster. I have a feeling it won't be the last!

Fortunately I have a couple of new interesting cook books which will keep me going for a while yet. My mother-in-law gave me 'The Aunt Daisy Cookbook' for Christmas. Aunt Daisy was a beloved voice on NZ radio from the 1930's to her sad passing in the 1960's. 'Good morning everybody!' she would greet everyone each morning without fail, before launching into her daily session of recipes, hints and ideas. During her many years of broadcasting, Aunt Daisy gathered up thousands of recipes and published ten recipe books. While she passed away before I was even born, I imagine us Simple Savers would have still enjoyed listening to her show today! I was really chuffed to receive this collection of recipes from days gone by; then my mum was surprised to find an original copy of 'Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookery and House-Keeping Book', printed back in 1894! She didn't even realise she had it and unearthed it quite by chance during a decluttering session. We can only suppose it belonged to my great-grandmother but I was delighted when Mum gave it to me. Between Mrs Beeton and Aunt Daisy, I think I'm in for quite an education!

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