Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Use it up!

A few weeks ago I dug into the pantry looking for some vanilla paste and somewhere in the middle of pulling everything out onto the countertop, I realised I had a problem. There was a LOT of stuff in that pantry – and there were also multiple copies of some items hiding away behind each other.

A quick inventory told me that – among other things – I had six cartons of chicken stock, four packets of red curry mix, three packets of flour (two plain, one self-raising), four cans of coconut milk, three tins of tomato (I don’t eat tomato) and a range of odds and ends that I’ve bought to use in preparation for a dish long eaten and forgotten.
Pantry items
No grocery items were wasted in the taking of this photo.

Now none of the items were past their use by date. I’m pretty good about doing a quick check of expiry dates. But honestly, why should that be necessary? And who needs six cartons of chicken stock in their lives? The shops are open every day till late. There are several places within walking or short driving distance. It’s not like there is going to be a national shortage of the stuff any time soon. So why was I stocking up like there was a forthcoming zombie apocalypse?

A review of my shopping behaviour made me realise how often I go out without a real plan about what I need. Wandering the aisles aimlessly and wondering what I’m going to cook for dinner only leads to poor decision making and purchasing things I don’t need. And those, “two-for-one-special-price” deals are obviously something I’m susceptible to. If I see a special offer on something I know that I use often, I get it – but how much of a surplus of something do you need just because it was a tiny bit cheaper?

So took action. Enter ‘Operation Use it Up’.

Cooking decisions have been based around items I already have on hand. One of the cartons of chicken stock became cauliflower and potato soup. Another made a delicious bacon and mushroom risotto that fed me for several days. I made a cake with plain flour and added some raising agent and then I whipped up cheese and corn fritters with some pre-bought cans of creamed corn.

I found websites that made recipe suggestions based on ingredients I already had and got a bit inventive in swapping out ingredients I had on hand for other items I didn’t.

I’ve also made some much-needed changes to my shopping behaviour. A brightly coloured notebook now lives on the kitchen benchtop and I make a list before I leave the house of exactly what I need. If something is on a two-for-one special, I only buy if there are no stocks left at home. Unless it’s Lindt chocolate because, well, Lindt.

Aside from the most obvious benefit of saving money, I’m feeling much more comfortable about the benefits of my little campaign. Each empty space in my pantry is a sign that I’ve been more conscious of my own actions. I’m planning more and wasting less and feeling much more mindful about my choices. It’s quite empowering.

Now I’m taking my campaign onto other things. I’ve gone through the bathroom and lined up all the shower gels and other items I’ve found for use and no more will be bought until they are all gone. I’m also going through my kindle and finding books I haven’t read and trying to get through those before I buy any more – although that might take me a few years!

Have you ever had a similar realisation? And how do you manage the balance between keeping a reasonable stock of pantry items and not overbuying?

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Toowoomba is bloomin’ beautiful

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers
It's springtime in Queensland and after a wetter than normal winter, everything is green and blooming. Last week I took a drive up to Toowoomba to check out the city's gardens ahead of the launch of their annual Carnival of Flowers festival.

The festival began in 1949 and has been an iconic event in the city’s calendar for 67 years. My grandmother lived in Toowoomba for a time, and as a child I remember visiting her during spring and going to Queens Park to look at the perfect lines of tulips and gaily coloured beds of pansies.

These days I love to take my camera along for the journey and I've spent many happy hours crawling around the flower beds with my macro lens, capturing vibrant snapdragons and perfect poppies. I’m always trying to capture the moment that a fat bumble bee will perch on a bloom to scoop some pollen onto the panniers on their legs.  

Some years it’s been rainy and other it’s been freezing cold. There was even one memorable year where the city was thrashed by gale force winds which buffeted all the flowers flat and made it impossible to photograph anything. But on this day, the gardens were at their brilliant best and everything was in bloom and ready to be enjoyed.

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers
The sky was soft blue and the temperature was a perfect 24 degrees (Celsius – that would be 75.2 Fahrenheit). The winds were gentle and mild and it was easy to time my photos between the puffs of breeze which made the flowers dance gently before they stilled to pose beautifully for me again.

The gardeners’ plant pretty much the same kind of flowers each time, but they vary their arrangements each year, mixing up colour and style to create different effects. Every time I visit I find a different thing to photograph.

 After we’d enjoyed the scenery in Queens Park, we drove around the centre of town and picked up some sushi to take with us to the Ju Raku En Japanese garden which sits on the northern side of the University of Southern Queensland campus. We strolled around the lake, accompanied by some hopeful geese and a bush turkey or two and admired the blooming cherry blossoms and soaked up the sunshine. 
Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers

We ended the day with a stop at Picnic Point to admire the view down the range before reluctantly heading back to Brisbane. 

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers 2016 will be hosting events right up till 25 September, so there’s still time to plan a visit. Check out their events calendar here. And if you’d like to know more about the ever growing city of Toowoomba, visit the Toowoomba Living website to find out about the art, food, entertainment and culture of this vibrant city. I’ll certainly be back.

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers

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