Monday, 30 May 2016

Weekly Column: BBQ on a Budget

BBQ on a Budget

It is great to fire up the grill and celebrate the arrival of warmer weather with friends in the backyard. But how can one afford to host a big gathering without blowing the monthly food budget?

Shop Ahead
It can’t be overstated that being prepared and buying ahead saves you money. Learn the regular price/pound on meat so that you recognize a deal when you see one. If you see a great price on meat and have the freezer space, buy it even if you don’t have a BBQ planned at the moment. Buying meat for a large meal at the last minute can be pricey, so watch the flyers, catch the sales, and be choosey. Call your local butcher to inquire about BBQ packs that might be available.

Be Flexible and Do-It-Yourself
If grilled lobster is no longer in the budget, adjust your expectations and try something new. Select cheaper cuts of meat and marinade, skewer, debone or slow roast for tenderness. If you have the time, try making your own burgers or buns for a homemade experience. Have a look for the best deals as you shop and prepare your menu, and adjust your plan according to what is on sale. Sites such as Pinterest or allow you to search for recipes by ingredient, so try something new and save cash at the same time.

Save with Sides
Make the ordinary extraordinary by grilling corn on the cob or stir-frying veggies on the BBQ. A slow cooker of baked beans, either homemade or from the can, is filling and fibrous too. Making salads ahead saves you time and prebaking potatoes then reheating on the upper shelf of the BBQ can take the stress out of all that cooking. Sliced potatoes cooked in foil are easy and affordable, too.

Focus on the Fun
Gathering for a meal is a wonderful way to bring friends and family together and the cost should not deter you from having a good time. Borrow some outdoor games such as bocce ball or croquet and include the kids in an afternoon of friendly competition. If you have the room, a horse shoe pit or bunnock court is hours of entertainment. Something as simple as bubbles or a sprinkler for the kids will bring squeals of delight for a minimal cost.

Potluck and Bring-Your-Own
It is totally acceptable to be upfront and ask your guests to bring their own meat or alcohol to the BBQ. Offer to provide sausage or hotdogs and some salads and ask that they bring anything else they might wish to eat. Plan a frugal dessert such as a bucket of ice cream or water melon, or try something homemade. If you aren’t confident on the grill, designate a willing volunteer and make sure he or she is still part of the fun. When people ask what they should bring, be specific so that you end up with a good variety of food. Also, ask about any dietary restrictions and allergies when planning the menu. Making sure there is something that everyone can eat is considerate and ensures everyone will enjoy their meal.

Keep it Simple
If you are keen to stick to a budget, or are just environmentally conscious, don’t feel obligated to decorate for a backyard BBQ. If you wish to brighten your space, try a potted herb or plant that you can enjoy all summer. If you do decide on some decorations, take care of them so they can be reused. Single-use items are hard on the wallet and go straight to the landfill. This includes paper plates, napkins and cutlery. On the subject of waste, be attentive to your grill. Burn it only as long as is necessary to safely cook the food and clean the grate. Don’t waste fuel and you might get a few extra meals out of that propane tank. Likewise, pack up the leftovers quickly so they can be eaten the next day. If you won’t eat them, send them with someone who will. Don’t leave the food you worked hard to pay for and prepare sit out in the heat or bugs, even if you are busy enjoying a drink or conversation.

Many people won’t be travelling as much this summer but there is still much fun to be had. Adjust your expectations. Invest your time and energy in the friendships all around you. When you gather, focus on your company and resist the urge to “put on a show”. You do not need to outdo someone else’s yard, patio, menu or liquor cabinet. Chances are, no one is paying that much attention anyways. Possibly, they will be relieved to have a place where authentic, simple pleasures can be enjoyed without the pressure to spend more money. 

Time for an Update

It has been incredibly busy around here lately. I fear I'll never get caught up to the point that I can blog about all the goings-ons. Suffice it to say that there are many new sights and sounds (and smells!) happening in our little neck of the woods and we are settling in to a new normal.

We have had all our baby lambs and they are endlessly entertaining.

The pigs. They eat. They sleep. What can I say?

Chickens! They, too, eat and eat and eat :)

We have taken on the task of installing stone veneer on our house and deck supports. It's back breaking. Crouching under a deck to hold heavy stone and mortar in place is a job I won't soon volunteer to do again, but it is a job that allows us to have a style/look to our home that we could otherwise not afford. DIY is a great alternative to hiring professionals but I will be GLAD when this project is over.

I would like to show pictures! With the loss of the old phone I no longer understand how to load photographs onto the blog. With everything I've been doing it seems the least of my worries. To be honest, I've considered shutting down the blog lately and I'm not sure what I will do. Possibly going private is a better option. Meh. I won't do anything drastic but I'm thinking it over. I'm no longer comfortable expressing my thoughts here, yet I do feel like I have something to say and want to have a positive space to do so. I guess I'll keep you posted.

We are having some rain lately and it's brought about an explosion of growth. Much of my garden is up (except the part I didn't finish planting!) and the weeds...well, when it is dry enough to get near it I'll be busy catching up on the weeding. Everything is as it should be :) Hope all are well!

Friday, 6 May 2016

And Then My Phone Fell Into The Pool

There are many times that I look around myself in perplexity and ask "what do I want to teach my kids in this situation?". The past week has certainly been one of those times. It feels like the hits just keep on coming.

It all started with a sick ewe (we have four female sheep bred to lamb any day now). Unfortunately, she gave birth late in the night to two little ones that didn't make it. She seems to be recovering, and we are grateful for that. In the meantime I bought a bottle fed lamb to put on her, hoping that she would accept it as her own. That hasn't panned out and it seemed to have been affecting her recovery so I have changed plans and bottle feed little Minnie instead. The only thing more cute than a baby lamb is children feeding one a bottle :)

So far one other ewe has lambed unassisted and her little baby seems to be okay. I thought he was sucking on his own but he got somewhat weakened before I realized he wasn't finding the teet on his own. Such a learning curve. Although I have grown up around animals and listened to farmer talk all my life, doing is certainly different than planning and reading. There is no substitute for experience in most things, and in caring for animals in particular! He is getting the hang of things but I still go out several times a day to make sure he is getting his mama's milk.

Sadly, in amongst the bottle feeding we had a bunny rabbit up and die out of the blue. Such a tragedy for a child to lose his first pet. We have no idea what went wrong with Bingo, except that we put the two in their own separate side-by-side hutches and the little guy quit eating and died before we knew anything was amiss. Funeral arrangements are being made as we speak.

We have had unusual heat and wind. We had a few days in a row of 28C, which for May is unheard of. The spring wild fire season is getting more intense every year and the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has all but burned to the ground. Almost 90,000 people have been evacuated and most if not all have lost everything. It's difficult to comprehend. Although "Fort Mac" is not that close by distance, it is a community much like our own in the it is largely driven by the oil and gas industry. The people there had already faced challenges and it's hard to imagine the scale of their collective loss. In a devastating accident, a 15 year old girl and her cousin died in an accident while being evacuated. Unfathomable.

All in all, a week like this really put things into perspective. At the first sign of trouble with the sheep I began to question my ability to care for these animals and thought seriously about giving it all up. But some calls to the vet, help from a farmer brother and the ever-ready support of my mom and Husband have helped get us through a rough patch and much, much learning ensued. It's an analogy that can be applied to most any situation. When things look bleak, and they sometimes will, you have to search inside yourself for a reason to keep on. For me it is always, always to show my kids resolve and perseverance and steadfastness. I will not always be there to guide them but if I can I will leave them an attitude that will get them through hard and scary times. I was uncertain what to do so I called for help. In the future I will be better prepared because of this experience.

As we see communities and families reaching out to help each other in their hour of need there is a lesson in it for my kids and myself as well. Where there is darkness there is also light. Sometimes you just need to be the light yourself and share it with those around you.

PS there are no pictures with today's blog because in the heat of a windy day my lawn chair tipped over and spilled my cell phone into the kiddie pool out on the lawn. I must say, being unplugged from it has been refreshing and I only get another because it is more convenient to text with Husband when he is away. But the lack of distractions and yahoo-news-time-wasting has been sweet relief. I vow to leave the new one on a shelf except for designated times where I check for urgent messages. Life is so much better without being tied to a gadget.