Money is a funny old thing.

20 years ago, a friend said to me “I don’t know how you guys survive on what you make, that wouldn’t even cover our grocery bill”. I laughed then, and I still look back on it now with wry humour, because I’m happily retired at 55, while my friend is still working long, hard hours.

You see, I figured out years ago that living on less is much, much easier than trying to make more.

And I have an acute understanding of how the maths works. If I mend this tea towel for the fourth time; if I teach my eyes to celebrate the repairs rather than see them as a mark of impoverishment – then my $2 tea towel will last for years, and I won’t need to earn $3 to replace it.

Multiply that by the 20 tea towels I have in the drawer, and that’s $60 I don’t have to earn. Or $240, if like some people I know, I’d replaced all my tea towels as soon as they developed holes.  Multiply that, in turn, by every facet of our lives, and you can see why the mindset is worth cultivating.

Please let me know if you’re interested in reading more posts about frugal living. I’ve written a lot about it in the past, but it seems like a good time to revisit and reassess our approach.

A box of rescued broder cotton from The Sewing Basket. The perfect thread for darning tea towels!

A wise man once said “ to be rich is to have money, to be wealthy is to have time”. And I am so enjoying having time. ♥

You might recall that a few years ago, we started baking crumb cakes. If not, the recipe is here, and it’s a winner.

Since that time, we’ve always kept a plain cake base in the fridge, cut into quarters, specifically to use for crumb topping. We’re not a fan of traditional oat and nut mixes, so the cake is our go-to for any desserts that call for a crumble topping. Let me cut and paste the original recipe for you – it comes together in minutes in the food processor:

Basic Vanilla Tea Cake Batter

  • 250g unsalted butter, soft but not melted
  • 200g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 150g almond meal

Note: this recipe can also be made in a stand mixer, instructions are here.

1. In the large bowl of the food processor, blitz together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and pulse until combined, adding in a spoonful of the flour if required to stop the batter from splitting (but don’t worry too much if it does). Scrape down the sides as needed. Add the vanilla and pulse again.

2. Stir or sift the flour and almond meal together, then add to the food processor and pulse until just combined.

3. Scrape the batter into a baking pan lined with parchment paper (I used a rectangular 30cm x 23cm /12″x9″ pan enamel baking pan) and bake in a preheated 175C (or 160C with fan) oven for 35-40 minutes until a fine skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. This recipe makes enough to top four crumb cakes.

4. Allow the cake to cool, then cut it into quarters. Store well wrapped in the freezer until needed.

Making the crumb topping:

In a medium bowl, crumble defrosted cake (or leftover cake) into small pieces (not too fine), then stir in dark brown sugar and melted butter. Allow 50g each of sugar and butter to 250g cake. Mix well to combine.

I took this piece out of the freezer to make these muffins!

. . . . .

We use this for crumb cakes and also for Small Man’s berry crumble, but today I found it also works well on blueberry muffins. I only needed 125g vanilla tea cake, and 25g each of butter and brown sugar for this batch…

Blueberry Muffins with Cake Crumb Topping

  • 410g plain (AP) flour
  • 165g white sugar
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • 185g unsalted butter, melted
  • 185g buttermilk
  • 3 tsps vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 125g fresh blueberries
  • 125g vanilla tea cake, defrosted if frozen (or other leftover plain cake)
  • 25g unsalted butter, melted, for topping
  • 25g brown sugar, for topping

Step 1: Preheat oven to 170C with fan. Line one or two 12-hole muffin pans with paper liners. Depending on the size of your pans, you’ll get between 12 and 18 muffins.

Step 2: whisk together the flour, white and brown sugars, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Step 3: in a large pyrex jug (or another bowl), whisk together the buttermilk, extract and eggs. Pour this, along with the melted butter, into the dry ingredients and fold in gently until just combined. I think you’re meant to use a butter knife, but I use a silicone spatula. Once the dry ingredients are just incorporated, carefully fold in the blueberries.

Step 4: divide the batter between the lined muffin cups, filling each one about ¾ full.

Step 5: make the topping: crumble the cake into a bowl, then stir in the extra butter and brown sugar. Spoon a heaped teaspoon of the crumble mix onto the top of each muffin, pressing in gently with your fingers…

Step 6: bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating halfway through if using more than one tray. Allow the finished muffins to rest in the pan for ten minutes, before removing and cooling on a wire rack…

These were a huge hit with Pete and Small Man, and even though I’m not a huge muffin fan, I enjoyed them too. I think the crumble topping makes the difference! ♥

I’ve been reading a lot about food waste recently.

It’s one of the biggest environmental threats facing our planet at the moment, with overflowing landfills releasing tonnes of methane as perfectly good edibles are discarded and left to decompose. Ronni Kahn is the founder of OzHarvest, and her recently released autobiography is both a wonderful read and an eye-opener. Did you know that the average Australian household throws away $3,800 of groceries per year (one in every five bags)? Almost half the fruit and veg produced are wasted, yet one in nine people, nearly 800 million of them, don’t have enough to eat…

As a family, we’re trying to do our little bit. We’ve been making a concerted effort to finish our leftovers, and all our leavings and other food waste is, as much as possible, fed to our backyard menagerie of chickens, worms and soldier fly larvae. I’ll try to write a separate post on what we’ve found works and doesn’t work, but until our council is able to offer us food waste collection, we’ll continue to process as much of it as we can here to keep it out of landfill.

These soldier fly larvae are an integral part of our backyard food recycling system!

After watching David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet, both Pete and Small Man declared that we needed to eat less animal products (not easy for a house of meat lovers, but we’re determined to try). Last week, instead of our usual chicken curry, we made this vegan version instead and it was delicious…

In keeping with our goal of reducing food waste, we picked up some of the vegetables for the curry from the AddiRoad Food Pantry. You might recall that I’ve written about them before, and that we recently made and donated over 150 masks to them…

Now, I’ve always been hesitant to shop there, believing that if I could afford to pay retail prices, then I shouldn’t compete with those that couldn’t. But when we dropped off our last batch of masks, Food Pantry Manager Damien encouraged us to do so. He explained that their main goal was preventing food waste, and also that when customers paid the asking place, it put them in a better position to give food vouchers to those in need.

The shop is set up on a points system, with each point charged at 50c. All items have a number written on them indicating how many points they’re worth. If you spend $5, you also get a free loaf of day old bread, one or two frozen dinners, and a bag of rescued fruit and veg which might otherwise have gone to landfill. Everything will be past its best before date, but still perfectly fine to eat, and by purchasing from them, you’ll be supporting their ongoing efforts to fight food waste.

Here are some photos I took of the shop…

And here’s what we picked up on our first visit…

If you still have qualms about taking food away from those who might need it more, then try my approach.

I go to the pantry just before it closes, so as to not compete with anyone who needs access to the service more than I do. Then I add $10 to my purchase price as a donation. It’s a win all around: I pay less, I help fight food waste, I don’t take away from anyone else, and I’ve donated enough to provide a box of food to a family in need.

Of course, if you’re not in the area and can’t shop there in person, you can still support AddiRoad by donating directly through their website. The organisation’s hashtag is #WeAreStrongerTogether, and I really do think that says it all! ♥

Friends, if you haven’t already watched this, please, please make a point of doing so.

It’s available on Netflix but is also screening at some cinemas. It’s Sir David’s witness statement about the changes he’s seen during the course of his lifetime. When he was a young boy in 1937, the human population of the world was just 2.3 billion; today it stands at 7.8 billion.

Today, we and the animals we raise to feed us account by weight for a truly staggering 96% of all the mammals in the world. That means everything else, from blue whales to mice (as Sir David puts it) accounts for just 4%. Domestic birds make up 70% of the total birds in the world, and most of those are chickens raised for meat and eggs. 50% of the fertile land on the planet is farmland. We have truly and completely overrun the planet and we risk self-extermination within a century if nothing is done about it.

It is a show which will terrify you, make you cry, and give you hope. Please, please watch it. ♥

It always makes me smile when we visit our friends. Most of them have large, expensive pieces of art on their walls, sparsely hung to suit their stylish interiors.

We, on the other hand, have a mad clutter of bits and pieces hotch-potched onto every available wall. Sure, we have a few larger pieces, like this limited edition John Olsen lithograph that I picked up from Reverse Garbage for $2…

But mostly our walls are packed with family photos, framed postcards by artists we admire, and homemade projects. Every piece has a story and every piece is treasured. And here’s what I’ve come to realise over the years – art doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to bring you happiness! Sitting on a wall and seen daily, it can not only lift the spirits, but also serve as a gentle connection to the people who created it.

Pete’s beloved cousin Sarah passed away in 2011. Twenty years ago, she and I traded a stack of homemade blankets for two animation cells from her short film Small Treasures, which hang in our hallway to this day. They make me smile whenever I stop to look at them…

. . . . .

Here’s a simple craft project to add more art to your life…collect all the dodgy advertising magnets that end up in your letterbox…

Stick them onto the back of postcards or photos with double-sided tape. I used magnetic sheets that I found from Reverse Garbage for mine, but I’ve used fridge magnets in the past and they work just as well…

Voila! Instant fridge art! These gorgeous postcards from my friend Han Cao cost just US$4 each, but they bring me cheer every time I open the fridge…

Of course, there’s always room on the fridge for Grayson Perry…

I took this photo of Chuck Close’s self-portrait when we visited San Francisco MOMA in 2016. It’s been on the fridge ever since, a happy reminder of a wonderful day…

Also, don’t pay a fortune for new frames! We’ve discovered that our local Salvation Army stores sells used ones for very little – these two cost us just $5 each. It was the work of minutes to display a few more of Han’s postcards in a stylish and very sustainable way…

Finally, my favourite work of hers (at the moment) is Sisters, perfectly showcased in this $1 rescued frame that I picked up. It’s hanging by the door to our living room, and always invites conversation…

. . . . .

If you’d like to read more about framing postcards, have a look at the Charley Harper post I wrote a few years ago. Wishing you all a fun and creative day!


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