I am currently the butt of a facebook joke (of my own creation really) about the choice of where I do my grocery shopping.

A few months back I decided to introduce more regular meal planning and a consequently a more regular grocery shop in order to save money. After first getting married, Geoff and I lived in a little town house (still one of our favourites) that was just behind a main street and within walking distance of an interesting IGA Supermarket. We also had no pantry. It was great – lots of disposable income back then, but it taught us some bad habits. Because really, the more often you visit the supermarket, the more you tend to buy. What’s another $5 on this and that? It adds up fast. I also have more recently been looking at how to buy fruit and veges in ways that aren’t buying them from the big chain supermarkets. I love the practicality of the big chain. No seriously – it makes it easy but it’s not always that nice or that cheap. A few facebook competitions later of winning free fruit and veg from my local shop inspired me. I now try to do a shop at a fruit and veg place and I go there first. If you are eating reasonably healthy meals (meat and veg) then you can do almost ALL your shop at a decent place like that.

What I do.

Sunday nights I meal plan. Sometimes it’s vague, sometimes it means we eat less variety especially because I build in a few meals that can be made in double and frozen. This is wildly convenient because I am a lazy cook and adding extra ingredients to a meal is much easier than cooking another meal. I only meal plan four nights, because realistically our Fridays through Sundays are all over the place. We go out to friends/have people round etc. There are always things in the freezer if desperate or good old b’rinner… takeaway. I try to make meals that overlap somewhat in ingredients (eg. herbs… who ever uses and entire bunch in one dish?) or that will use up things I have in the fridge.

On Mondays I shop. I go to a fruit/veg and then a supermarket and sometimes a butcher (if there happens to be one nearby) – I still haven’t really worked out buying stuff from a butcher -don’t pay enough attention to meat prices and I try not to let meat make it into every meal anyway – too expensive and so not necessary.

I don’t love grocery shopping, but it’s better now. I shop with a list and rarely deviate. I shop on a regular day. My mother thinks I’m mad, but hey she’s not especially grand at organisation. And I try not to go other times during the week.

The change in cooking habits and shopping has helped me save money. How do I know this? Well, I used to spend closer to $150-$200 a week on the ‘big shop’ and now I can do in a well planned ‘cheap week’ for $70-80.

I still buy chocolate and things I shouldn’t have. I still often opt for the nice yoghurt (at least then it gets eaten) and the nicer bread. But hey you do have to start somewhere and know your limits.

As for the butt of the joke. After our move I have been looking for somewhere that is a) not too far from a decent fruit/veg place (if you can get 85% of your stuff there you save A LOT) b) is easy to get in and out of. I have a two year old who doesn’t like riding in trolleys and I don’t want to stuff around with crappy car-parking or walking too far because quite frankly I don’t love groceries and I have better things to do with my time. The better organised and bigger the shop is (in terms of chain supermarkets) the easier it is, the quicker it is. The more likely I am to cook to freeze because I have more time at home. I appreciate well organised things and dingy supermarkets don’t do it for me.

And that friends is why I am still in reconnaissance mode.

This has also been a slow but achievable part of aligning life with being a bit more sensible with where our money goes - there is still a long way to go.

Experiments House Life Money

It has been an absolutely wonderful thing experiencing Claire’s first year – and seeing how much she has come into her own. She knows her mind and has a wickedly cheeky streak but she is affectionate and curious and smart. I love her so.

We had a truly lovely day on her actual birthday. Presents in the morning, with a new table and chairs to sit at and fun things to explore. Geoff was at work – but last day of school for the term, so he even finished early. Claire and I went out for lunch in the sunshine and I ordered her smashed avocado on toast. So weird ordering for a someone who is inevitably not going to eat it or will throw half of it on the floor – but you only turn one once. She LOVED it (being an avocado fiend helps). Tancks Corner is so nice. If you are in Melbourne’s outer north, it’s well worth a trip to Yarrambat, but you definitely should book.

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

Her party was planned for the day after her actual birthday. Which was a bit foolish in hindsight – we should have rolled with a Sunday afternoon instead of the Saturday – but hey, you live and learn. She also decided not to sleep before hand – that was fun. And we hosted at our house which was FAR too small for 40 guests. 2.30pm-5pm.

As I am an utter and complete Pinterest addict. I figured Claire’s first birthday was the prime opportunity to get my hands dirty and actually try a few things. I ran around in circles looking at themes and initially didn’t want to do a woodland theme as it felt overdone but came across other problems with my other ideas – a strawberry party in the middle of winter just doesn’t work and a few of the other options were a bit limiting. All the things I really wanted to have a crack at led back to and fit nicely with woodland. So woodland it was. This was my inspiration board for the party.

I spent a few hours here and there in the months leading up to it so I didn’t have to do it all last minute. This allowed me to try a few things I would not of had time to do otherwise. However the day before I did decide to give a chalkboard design a crack. I’d seen a few online and love a bit of good typography, it was also a chance to incorporate some of the cute little woodland animals/motifs I used on her invitations and stickers into some of the decorations. And I’m SO glad I did. It was quite stressful and I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but it looked amazing – beyond what I expected. It was a super cute way to photograph her to mark the occasion, especially as I still haven’t gotten around to doing a cake smash… hmm that’s right, I was going to do one of those.

I made the pin she is wearing. I was inspired a bit by the pins shown at the top of Ivey Handcrafted (sorry not sure of the actual post they are on). But I used a combination of felt and a fat quarter and the ribbon which was actually bought for our wedding – 5 years ago. The number was also done in felt and stitched on. I had to improvise with a pin and used an alligator clip.

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

Chalkboard Design

Designed first in InDesign on the computer. The fox and plant were vectors I had purchased as part of a set that I used to make her invitations – no sense reinventing the wheel. I printed the design out big. Rubbed A LOT of chalk on the back of the design and stuck it down with duct tape onto the chalkboard. Trace with a pen (coloured so you can see it) you have to press REALLY hard. This gives you a faint outline. Then I used a chalkboard pen (bought from Smiggle of all places). Liquid chalk is permanent, so there is no room for mistakes. I then filled in the areas and cleaned it up. The chalkboard I made years ago from an old frame (opshop) painted with chalkboard paint… which you can also make using fine tile grout mixed with any kind of water based paint.

I used this tutorial from Indie Craft Parade for the transfer – but used liquid chalk to get the cleaner lines and I didn’t care about permanency.

The Woodland Party

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

Bits and pieces and decorations

The little mushrooms – these were made from champagne corks (I bought a bag off ebay of about 40 of them). They were several coats of paint. Inspired by Heather Ross.

The decorative paper fans at the back were from a vintage book pages. Three pages accordion folded and taped together – blu-tacked to the wall.

The photo garland (there was more of this around the house) – were printed at Big W (of all places), they print square with a border. 5×5 in (I would’ve preferred smaller) and hung on jute twine with tiny pegs (eBay… but you can get them at $2 shops as I discovered later). I have thousands of photos of Claire. I printed 50 odd black and whites from various ages and they were hung in roughly chronological order. Inspired vaguely by this and a few other pins.

The little bottles – yes they are done lots, but they are cute. I am a tight arse so I bought Santa Vittoria fruit nectar bottles from Maxi Foods (amazing supermarket!) and drank/froze the nectar (I was going to drink it all before the day but you can only take so much liquid sugar, even if it is delicious), they turned out to be just over a $1 a bottle. I have kept them for future parties. They are almost double this to buy ‘party ones’ or about the same to hire. Why not own them. Stripey straws from eBay. Dotty straws from $2 shop. The drink canister was borrowed from Nicole (her wedding was beautiful – check out the gorgeous photos while you’re at it) but next time we might buy one as they aren’t very expensive.

The logs. I really wanted a log or two – especially to put the cake on but it didn’t happen. The morning of the party I went under out house to check the old woodpile and low and behold one chunky block. Not suitable for the cake but nice for getting some height.

The cake stand/pie stand are all ones I had or ones I borrowed from my mum. They all come from op-shops, along with various vases and jars.

The lolly jars are from a $2 shop, left over from other parties I have hosted. The stickers I designed (if you can call it that) with some more of the vectors and printed them at MOO. These are the same stickers as on the lolly bags. Squirrel sugar cookies (cutters from Ikea) and some strawberry and raspberry lollies.

The lolly bags came from DAISO (everything is $2.80) but it’s unlikely they will appear again as their stock is always changing, I just struck it lucky. I also had donated (from my sister) nice stripey green bags which were meant to get filled with popcorn but it never happened in the chaos of hosting.

The ONE was a Pinterest experiment based on this tutorial from Urbanic Paper. Cardboard letters (mini) from Masters. I cut/ripped the fronts off them – so much easier than I thought they’d be. Stuffed them with florist foam and my sister Hannah filled them with foliage. She also did all the flowers. Check out Featherwood Flowers.

I made a banner from hessian and glitter letters too that hung out the front of the house (no photo!) based on this. But square and with uppercase letters. We had a few red and green balloons out the front too.

I also had a few other little things like some Schleich woodland animals. Chalkboard labels on the jars are from Officeworks – Martha Stewart brand. Pinecones from mum’s stash.

The Food

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

The cake was made my my very talented sister Emily. Chocolate and delicious. Covered in cream-cheese icing and coconut. The green moss stuff was left over from the cupcake topping I had made (I seriously made way too much) the little animals were pinched from mum’s shadow boxes, they are ceramic. The candle I bought a pack off eBay – spots and stripes.

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

I made these mini carrot cakes based on my sister’s spectacular recipe. Super easy. Made three days prior. They keep amazingly, although at this small they did dry out a little more than a normal size cupcake would – which tend to just get better a few days on. Iced the morning of, with cream cheese icing. The green ‘moss’ was made from biscuit crumbs and green food dye the idea from here but as cinnamon biscuits sadly don’t seem to exist in Australia I just used good old Arrowroot. Strawberry cupcake holders from Spotlight.

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

My sister in law Anita made the strawberry macarons, they were apparently delicious – I sadly managed to get one onto my plate but left it to go and do something and it went rogue. Inspired by Little Big Company.

The mini pumpkin pies were made by yours truly. I have a minor pumpkin pie obsession and had these in my head to make before I even started planning. I did look at a few tips from Little Bit Funky. But wound up using my usual pumpkin pie recipe and store bought pastry. Made in mini muffin pans. The pastry was cut out with a scalloped edge cutter (from DAISO again). They froze spectacularly! There was enough to make a small pie too.

Tomato tartlets from Martha Stewart. So easy. Probably better hot but still super tasty.

I also had some store bought mini pecan pies, almond eggs, chocolate logs, chocolate ladybugs, pretzels (twiggyish) and other twig-like breadstick things. My other sister bought a fancy cheese platter – which oddly all the small children devoured before the adults to could get to it… and the adults all went for the Honey Joys (recipe on the side of your Cornflakes packet).

Mum made some birds nests. Like these ones. My mother in law also made some savory sweet potato bites.

The drink canister was just lemonade with frozen raspberries and mint. There was beer and cider and homemade mulled wine by Geoff.

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

Bec Matheson Photography | www.becmatheson.com

So there you go. A woodland party. I didn’t have to spend an outrageous amount of money, just be a little creative and put in a bit of effort. I would have loved to have more time to photograph a few more details but as it happens, people start to arrive and it’s all go, go, go. Give me a party to theme rather than host any day! Happy to answer any questions or share recipes.

Thank you very much to all who helped us celebrate this rather auspicious milestone. Claire genuinely enjoyed her party after most of the guests finally left, such are the whims of a one year old!

Baby Cooking Create Experiments Life Op Shop

In order to return to my normal weight… today both Geoff and I started the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. Its not too different to our usual fare except for one MAJOR thing: carbs. We eat a lot of pasta. It’s so damn easy, it’s so tasty. This is a higher protein, low carb diet. We aren’t specifically doing the exercise thing (yet) one thing at a time. It also limits snacking and soft-drink/juices.

Naturally I am hungry for snacks I don’t usually eat.

I currently weigh (approx, due to the fluxuating nature of your weight when breastfeeding) around 68kg. I would like by mid year to have lost 10kg, this is lower than my pre-pregnancy weight but I could’ve afforded to lose a few back then.

Tonight’s dinner smell delicious. Roast Lemon Thyme Chicken with red onion and pumpkin and steamed greens. Salad Rolls for lunch and Museli for Breakfast with a few bits of fruit for snacking on.

The other benefit of this small experiment is that we will cook a greater variety of food. I am a tad overwhelmed by the basics in some sense but practically it should be quite easy to follow. I need to sit down and sort a few things out so our grocery bill wont be astronomical – because theoretically that should improve too.

Day 1. 68kg. Muesli, Salad Roll, Fruit, Chicken.

Bookclub tonight. Oh dear, I do hope my pastry chef sister doesn’t bring something too good to pass up or there goes one of my 2 indulgences for the week.

Coffee and tea are allowed. This is rather important, I would probably not be trying this otherwise.

Cooking Experiments Life

I read 25 books in 2012. I made my goal. Just.

I was going to step out every single one of them but I think perhaps a few key mentions.

Some of the best of a medium book year.

Bringing up Bebe – Pamela Druckerman
I had a baby this year. That’s big. This book is authentic. Interesting and needless to say, relevant. Except that I am not in France. I wish I was in France.

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
Not what I expected. Hard work. Somewhat haunting. I feel like I didn’t know enough of the history to do it justice.

Le Grand Meaulnes – Alain Fournier
Immensely satisfying and devastating. A bookclub read. The whole thing dripped of unfairness and lost childhood.

The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley
The pawn in a lovers game. This was brilliant. A rich read. Another bookclub selection.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
I really didn’t think much of the first half at all, much to the disgust of Catherine… however there was something about this book. Poignant like the Little Prince. Perhaps it was trying a little hard but it plucked at insights with deft fingers and caught you up before you realised it.

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Definitely the most fun read of the year. Loved it! Best page tuner since Harry Potter. A genre right up my alley and surprisingly well crafted despite it’s popularity.

So there you have it the overview overlap: baby, hard work, satisfying, rich, poignant, fun.

My year.

And for 2013?

Books: I hope to read at least 30 and delve into some which I have had the intention of reading for quite some time, beginning with Great Expectations (with a little Terry Pratchett on the side to keep things amusing) and to return to some theological/poetic reads to keep the mind and heart turning, beginning with Simple Spirituality (which I have already started) and a little Le’Engle on the side.

Life: To be more present. To be more creative and intentional in how I spend my time.

Follow what I’m reading on Goodreads (PS. this site ticks lots of my boxes: books, stats, lists, categorisation. Love it.)

…oh yeah, I totally stole this post idea from Christop

Books Experiments Life

“Simplicity in its essence demands neither a vow of poverty nor a life of rural homesteading. As an ethic of self-conscious material moderation, it can be practiced in cities and suburbs, townhouses and condominiums. It requires neither a log cabin nor a hairshirt but a deliberate ordering of priorities so as to distinguish between the necessary and superfluous, useful and wasteful, beautiful and vulgar.” – David Shi

Christianity Experiments Life