Kitchen savings.

No matter what part of the world we are living in, prices of everything are going up. From essentials to what we could classify as wants, many of us are looking for ways to reduce costs and adapt to the rising food prices.

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Here are a few ways we are trying to adapt to this, and still maintain healthy and tasty meals at home:-

  1. Reducing store bought snacks. Things such as popcorn are much cheaper and easier to make at home than buying store bought packs. Baked or air fried crisps using our traditional starchy vegetables such as arrowroot, green bananas (matooke), and sweet potato taste just as good.
  2. Making juice at home- you get to choose what you can put in it. No sweeteners, stabilisers, fake colours and preservatives that may not be that good for you.
  3. Reducing on deep fried foods. Cooking oil prices are absurd in Kenya and Uganda at the moment. So as much as I love my deep fried treats such as mandazi and chips (French fries), I am not making them as often as I did.
  4. Planning for shopping. Having a list is important and sticking to it will save coins. We prefer doing our shopping once a month for stuff such as dry provisions, toiletries and the like. Fruits and fresh vegetable runs can be done biweekly or weekly.
  5. Frequent grocery runs will have you spending more, so reduce on those by avoiding to go to the store often. Also remember to shop on a full stomach so you do not get tempted to load on junk food.
  6. On the same shopping note, planning meals and snacks around what is in season in terms of fruits and vegetables makes economical sense. Use what is available and more affordable than stretching your budget to accommodate what is pricier.
  7. Compare prices across stores when you can. If detergent is cheaper at a store that may be on a side of town I do not frequent, I can pick up some when I happen to be on that side of town.
  8. Where we live has an interesting dynamic, you had rather walk than drive to the grocery these sides. Also, buying at the green grocer who is a bit further off road and smaller is cheaper than the one who is at the forefront or right on the road side. Most markets are like that back home too so, always head a bit further in.
  9. Using a water purifier instead of water dispenser. Instead of buying drinking water weekly, or boiling water, having a purifier has saved us a heap this past two months. We use this brand that is easy to install, maintain and the water has such a fresh clean taste and cool too.
  10. Eating less meat. Yes I know it doesn’t seem like it makes a difference but it does. Contrary to what many believe, meatless meals can be tasty, colourful, filling and fun to have with your family. I have many meatless recipes up on the blog that are worth a try. From stews to curries to roasted vegetables, they are all delicious. No meat or eating less meat does not mean you stick to just beans, there are many lentils and types of cereals in the market that are not hard to make. Searching for recipes on the internet is so easy to learn how to make what you have never tried before. Experiment a bit more.
  11. Buffering meals with minced vegetables or lentils stretches the meal further and adds more nutrients, so it is a win for all. This works well for casseroles, soups and pies.
  12. “There is rice at home”. I think every African child knows what this statement means. Eat at home as much as you can, it is easier on the pocket.
  13. Are breakfast cereals a must in your house? Breakfast doesn’t necessarily mean loading your kids with sugar filled store bought cereals in the morning. You can discuss with the kids if old enough what options are available that they wouldn’t mind to have in the morning. I make millet or banana porridge sometimes, oatmeal, soup, cocoa or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner can be warmed up or revamped.
  14. If you can, make your own stocks, soups and even seasoning mixes. Once you clean your vegetables and chop, save the usable scrapings, such as the stalks and leftover bits and pieces in a ziplock and freeze. once they are a sizeable portion, make a tasty vegetable stock with them. Same applies for bones and chicken carcasses, instead of throwing out the wing tips and back bone, or fatty bits and bones of your beef, you you can use them to make your own chicken or beef stock. Leftover cooked meat can be reused in soups, salads, stir fries and sandwiches.
  15. By buying my spices whole, I get to grind and blend up my own seasoning as I please. Pilau masala, curry mixes and tea masalas all use ginger, cardamon, cinnamon and black pepper among others in varying quantities. Making my own also ensures their purity and potency. Some commercial brands have been known to add rice flour to boost volume which makes spices less potent. Check out my post here on my preferred spices. I will also do a post soon on how I make my various spice blends.
  16. Trying other less costly brands – this had not been easy for me as I am the type of girl marketers love. LOL. I am a sucker for ads and loyal to brands that have served me well over the years or have great ad jingles. Hahaha. I am however trying, key word trying, to use other brands that cost less than my favourite ones, and get the job done just as well, stuff such as bathroom and Toilet cleaner, glass/window cleaners, bleach etc. Also using vinegar and baking soda has helped in reducing use of commercial brands in our house. Distilled vinegar can be used to clean windows, and most surfaces (diluted please), freshen up laundry and many more uses. Baking soda for the oven, faucets and sinks etc.
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By no means should you compromise on quality and safety of what you use, whether to cook or clean, so adapt slowly and researching on substitutes that are friendly to both the family and the environment.

On the same saving note, it is important to teach our children to save and be more economical with what they have. Keep them informed on changes in economies in a way they can understand. For many of us money was a taboo topic while growing up and let us be honest, it has affected (mostly negatively), how we make our financial decisions as adults. Let us do better by our young ones.

There is of course that thin line between being wise / frugal and scarcity mentality. We need to be intentional that we do not cross that line when sharing how to be prudent about not only money but other material things too.

This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the things we are doing to try to maintain our household costs.

What are some of the ways you are coping with the rising food prices and cost of living in general?

Let us share and learn from each other.

Kids’ Lunchbox and Snack Ideas.

The kids have been home for the better part of this school year due to Covid protocols where we live. Hopefully, face to face classes will resume in January and I for one cannot wait.

It has been great having the kids learn from home, but it is not easy. From longer screen time, not being able to physically interact with their teachers and schoolmates, a larger school work load…online learning is taking a toll on everyone involved.

The kids have always carried snacks and lunch from home. This has worked well for us so far- in terms of cost, being able to know what they are consuming and it doesn’t take as much time as one might expect.

Planning ahead is the greatest tip I have for this. As a Mum, my prime concern is for them to have healthy and tasty food, but I also need to take into consideration what is easier for them to consume in school; what is not time or labour intensive for me, we and will go well with the main family meal plan.

When my eldest child started carrying food from home, I worried she might not like what I have packed, so I decided to include her in the planning process. This has been working well for us so far.

Here are some tips in no order of importance:-

  • Focus on healthy, colourful, tasty food, that is easy to pack and keep. We do many cold meals, though the kids can warm from school, but cold lunches are great in this Kampala weather, they are quick to eat and clean up. No soup spills and the like.
  • Have a variety of meal options. I usually have 10-15 main meal ideas the kids like and approve, so I plan their meal choices around those options.
  • Include the children in planning for their meals. What would they like to carry? You can make a plan with them (keeping in mind the main family meal plan), so you are sure of less food wastage, they will eat what they chose and like, and you have less labour in shopping and prepping.
  • Make what you can ahead, if you can peel and chop or boil earlier it becomes easier to assemble in the morning.
  • Involve the children in packing the snacks and lunches too. My kids have become so good at this, I am really proud of them. Since they know what is on their menu, it is easy for them to pack what they are carrying for the day. For example, Fridays is a day for fries and a kachumbari salad for lunch. The kids are quite firm on this, but flexible enough on me to make plantain, green banana or even sweet potato fries, instead of the normal Irish potato ones.
  • Partitioned lunch boxes are a great option. One is able to separate the fruits and veggies, or main meal and salad. And I am also able to portion according to how much I know each kid is able to eat.
Portioned lunch boxes make work easier.
These lunch bags that come as part of the school backpacks are handy.

In terms of cost and nutrition. Fruits are a necessary snack. For this, I always put what they like and a fruit that is in season at the moment. For example, there are plenty of mangoes available at the moment, so their price is lower than other fruits not easily available at the moment.

Uganda’s great weather ensures we have plenty of sweet fruits available year round, so homemade juices are a great option too with the passion fruits and oranges that are easily available.

Basics for me in their bags are a bottle of drinking water, a small bottle of juice or flavoured milk, fruits and a healthy meal and snack. For example, a snack box for break will include a small sweet banana, popcorn, a muffin and some nuts. Popcorn is easy to make from home and doesn’t take too much time. Lunch can be rice balls, a simple salad and the fruit option can be grapes (sliced vertically), pineapple slices, or apple slices with some peanut butter on them.

Do not forget to pack some serviettes (paper towels) and cutlery for them. IKEA and many supermarkets have hardy plastic or melamine ones so you can keep your silverware safe. LOL.

This is a basic setup for the kids. Lunch boxes are at the bottom, then snack boxes and extra fruits. A water bottle and juice bottle are a must for them too.

Family main meal leftovers are also great for their lunchboxes. Leftover pasta makes a great pasta salad with some added veggies, tuna and mayo or yoghurt dressing.

Leftover steamed rice is great for rice balls, or fried rice which can be had warm or cold. Having canned tuna, chickpeas, sweetcorn and quinoa in the pantry is great to add to salads and sandwiches.

Simple sample meal : rice balls and an avocado salad.

Pancakes can be spread with jam, Nutella or peanut butter to make them more interesting and sweeter for the kids. Leftover veggies are great for savoury muffins, sweetcorn, zucchini and cheese make great options for this.

Other food options we like are :-

  • Salads- potato salad, pasta or quinoa salads are great with added cold meats such as tuna or leftover chicken. Veggies to bulk them can include chickpeas, sweetcorn, carrots, cucumber, red cabbage, beetroot, or even roasted zucchini and eggplant.
  • Fries or potato wedges. These could be sweet potato fries, green banana cutlets, plantain or yam fries.
  • Beef kebabs with a yoghurt sauce.
  • Orzo pasta is a fave here and can be used to bulk up a lentil salad.
  • Amaranth cereal bars
  • Sausage rolls.
  • Pancakes both sweet and savoury. Sweet ones can be spread with their favourite spread and sweetened with fruit. Savoury crepes work well with a veggie and cheese filling.
  • Leftover pizza.
  • Leftover chapati can make wraps of quesadillas, even frittatas.
  • Rice can be a salad, or fried rice. the kids also love beetroot pilau and celery rice which they can warm at school if they want to.
  • Carrots, cucumbers, celery stalks are great as a side salad with a small yoghurt sauce.
  • Quickbreads and muffins; banana bread, chocolate muffins, cheese and herb rolls are great options too.

Using what you have on hand and that which is easily available makes your work so much easier as a Mom.

Other tips to help the school mornings and school runs easier are:-

  • Having a good sleep routine. It is important for both you and the children to have a good night’s rest. Especially the kids who are still growing and need to let their minds and bodies rest and replenish lost energy. Having set times for bed and waking up is great for this.
  • Be prepared. Be stocked up on essentials to make mornings move faster. If you have to stop at the store on your way to drop them, chances are your kids will be late for school.
  • Have a morning routine for the family. Not a strict military style one, but a basic one that you and your family members have discussed and agreed upon. Simple ones like making beds immediately they get up, breakfast then shower and brush their teeth, oil themselves and dressed up work. This is how we teach our children independence, decision making and basic life skills.
  • Pack ahead for co- curricular activities. Sports and swimming gear can be packed the night ahead. Imagine looking for a swimming costume in the morning when they need to be out the door? it leaves everyone frazzled and not a good way to start the day.
  • An evening routine is great too. Once they get home from school, what is the first thing they do? When I pick them I always ask them to check if they have all their stuff with them. Once home, it is shower, a bit of play and tea time, homework then they can play some more before dinner is ready. Do not let them get way with dumping their shoes and bags at the door. I am firm on this. As messes such as these will end up with someone tripping on them and getting hurt, and also not teaching them how to be responsible for their things.
  • Check their schoolwork and let them also pack the books and stationery supplies before they go to bed once they are done with their homework; less chance of forgetting their homework at home or diaries.
  • Always keep the kids involved. Listen to them, talk to them, discuss with them what is going on in their school life. It makes them feel heard and seen and improves their self esteem.

As a parent, I am the adult and should lead by example. The kids being late is not their fault, it is mine if I did not take the time to ensure they are well prepared for the day ahead.

Let me also add that there is no perfect parent. We are all trying to do the best we can.

I will not lie and say I have all this down pat. No! I am still learning and I do drop the ball from time to time. However I cannot emphasize enough how much being organised has saved me time, money, energy.

Sure it’s easy for me to say do this and you will all be a calm, happy family. But as any parent will tell you, there are no guarantees. We can make the effort nevertheless. Nobody likes yelling or being yelled at in the morning to “hurry up!” And being more organized will reduce those frazzled mornings, don’t you think?

What do you pack in your child’s lunchbox?

A Good House.

What makes a good house?

Would you prefer to build your own or buy a complete unit?

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There are many properties in Kenya for sale at the moment, and options to suit different clients. From luxury apartments to beachside villas, sprawling bungalows to basic housing; there is almost something for everyone.

However that does not mean it is a straightforward process. There are other factors to take into consideration. From the cost of the unit, financing options, proximity to social amenities, types of finishing, and many more.

There are a myriad of YouTube videos showing these properties and let me tell you guys, I am calling out lies on some of them.

First of all, the words “luxury” and “executive” are so overused folks, it’s appalling.

Basic amenities, such as a good parking spot, a paved driveway are the ones being touted as luxury. Nope, noppity nope. The lies have to stop.

A good property; a basic habitable unit, in my opinion should have some things done as a basic, not as an incentive. Is it too much to ask for non- skid flooring in wet areas such as the bathroom, laundry area and kitchen? Large windows to bring in natural lighting and great air flow. A garden with trees and some nice grass, a paved driveway? A covered parking area?

Recent housing developments do not value free unstructured spaces our children can play in, building on them instead. They have small gravelled areas with hard plastic slides and a couple of swings and call it the kids play area.

While I do understand that it is not possible for many to build their own homes, but when buying a property, let us be a bit more keen in how habitable it is. There are things that come up once you move in, but there are also a few things one should take note of when considering to buy a property. In addition to the due diligence on the legal paperwork, also check and ask around how the security is around that location.

There are many beautifully constructed housing developments popping up all over the place. That bungalow or villa you’re about to pay for, may not be as damp proof as they claim. Look at the corners, sniff the air in that house in all the rooms and cupboards.

Check for loose fittings and signs of mould inside and outside. Are the tiles, inside flooring or outside paving blocks warping or loose? Visit with a qualified person not connected to the project and let them give their opinion. We are paying too much money for real estate, it will not hurt to take your time checking them out thoroughly.

I saw a recent YouTube video of someone house hunting and there was one unit that had obvious water damage and no proper drainage in some areas, (can you imagine a flooded balcony?). When buying land or a house in certain areas, it is good to check out the geographical history of the place. If you can, visit during both the rainy and dry seasons to see the difference. Some properties being sold are located on dried up waterways. With recent climatic changes, flooding is on the increase worldwide; that river that dried up fifty years ago will find its way back and carry whatever is built in its path with it. Some unscrupulous people are filling up old stone quarries, and selling off the land as quick as they can. Due diligence is important and quite wide.

Beach or waterfront properties are beautiful with breathtaking views, and an amazing breeze.

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How well shielded is that property from strong gusts of wind, underground dampness and are there screen doors to avoid bugs? I remember reading of a certain luxury property in the region that was bought up fast but the owners are now in tears. The fitted appliances do not work, the smart home system is ever glitchy and to top it off, some of the houses have had their balconies develop cracks. Scary!

Not all developers are unscrupulous, but well done houses with good quality fixtures and thoughtful finishing are not that common. It has become a preferred option by some to buy off plan or semi finished units, instead of a complete house that one will spend a lot of money repairing and refurbishing to one’s personal taste.

Location is another headache. Imagine buying a lovely apartment with a winding balcony only for a taller, sprawling high-rise to come up right next door! You now have a view of stone walls and the natural lighting in your apartment is dimmed. Or you buy a stand alone house in a quiet neighbourhood only for a religious institution or school to come up next door. There are some developments that have rules guiding what and how one can construct in that locality, which is good in such instances.

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Getting a good property that one can enjoy is not impossible, but will require a lot of commitment and resources. Time, patience, finances and an eye to detail helps. And don’t forget your gut instinct too; How you feel about the place.

What is a good house to you?

Blackstrap Molasses.

Blackstrap Molasses is a viscous, thick, dark sticky liquid that is left after boiling sugarcane.

It is not sickly sweet, or too bitter, but has a deep flavour that may take some getting used to. It is nutrient rich; still having all the nutrients absorbed by the plant. Manganese, Iron, copper, magnesium, potassium are just some of the minerals it contains.

It is a must have in my kitchen. I get mine from Eastnat Foods.

They are having a sale at the moment on blackstrap molasses as well as their other products. Visit their site https://eastnatfoods.com to check what else is on offer. The store is located in Nairobi, and one can shop online from their website as well as inquire if they can deliver to your location.

I use blackstrap molasses for so many things:-

  • Marinade : For meats such as chicken and pork.
  • Sauce: To add to fried meats.
  • Hair mask: I use it as a pre poo treatment for my natural hair, with a bit of cocoa butter, or coconut oil. It reduces frizz, makes hair soft and easier to detangle.
  • Tonic; I like putting some into a glass of warm water and drink first thing in the morning a few times a week. Sometimes I add some apple cider vinegar or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • Smoothies. Just a little bit goes a long way, but it does add an interesting depth of flavour to naturally sweet smoothies.
  • Baking; Cookies and savoury dishes.

When using it, one has to be careful as the flavour is really strong for some, and a little goes a long way. It also doesn’t spoil fast, just store it in a cool, dry place, it will last ages.

I use it in making my Sweet and Sticky Wings, and my Pineapple, ginger and honey chicken recipes, which are already up here on the blog.

Sweet and sticky wings made with blackstrap molasses.

I also mix it with some ketchup, honey to make a kind of barbecue sauce that’s perfect for sautéed sausage.

As a tonic, I usually take a tbsp with same amount of Apple cider vinegar in a large glass of warm water first thing in the morning. It is an iron boosting tonic, and cleansing too, it will push all that stuck food in your gut out. (bye bye constipation).

As a face mask, I just use a bit when washing my face then cleanse with warm water. For hair, I mix it with some melted cocoa butter (which I also get from Eastnat limited). Apply on my hair for 15-20 minutes, then give it a good wash.

It makes my hair softer to manage, less frizz and less shedding.

How do you use your blackstrap molasses?

No Green Thumb here.

I come from a culture that prides itself in farming; no matter the scale. (Hello there, Andū a Nyūmba).

Such a disappointment given the amount of space I have here at the moment.

It wasn’t always like this though. Some years ago, I had a thriving kitchen garden back home. I grew my own spring onion, dhania, rosemary, mint, celery, beetroot, spinach, carrots, even strawberries, and they all thrived. I have no idea what happened when we got here.

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Growing up, we had a garden and livestock. We grew maize, potatoes, avocados, kale, spinach, amaranth, passion fruits, avocado, luquats, tree tomato, pumpkins, beans etc. My Dad who has a green thumb alright, had planted some beautiful flowers all around the house too. It was a pretty place. You would think I’d get some of that green pixie dust… Well, maybe I did, it just didn’t last long.

H and I lived in Naivasha for a while and we tried to garden, it was successful, except for the monkeys that would come and have a field day uprooting the carrots and messing up the maize. We did enjoy the onions and anything else the monkeys could not consume.

When we moved back to Nairobi, I did the kitchen garden thing again and it was pretty neat except for the strawberries that would go missing just before harvest. I did figure out who the culprit was but that is a story for another day. Anyway, somewhere along the line, I got too busy with work and neglected the small space, we ended up planting grass there. Funny enough though, the celery, beetroot and lemongrass keep popping up.

Fast forward to Kampala. We found a couple of banana trees, some lemongrass, struggling mint and chives in a small corner of the compound. Hurray! I thought, I can do this. So we had the small patch fenced off the rest of the garden because of the dogs, and got planting. Guys, nothing grew! Absolutely nothing! Even the existing chives and mint just decided to exit stage left. The bananas did grow without our help and we have enjoyed them twice but that is all. Even the maize I got to plant next to the bananas just decided to leave this world.

This is Uganda, fertile land and all with rain almost every month of the year. We watered, got manure, even dug everything up and tried again, we did all we could but nope, nothing happened.

I have given up on gardening. And I have no shame in admitting it. H and the kids haven’t though. My son has a bean plant he planted in class and it is thriving, so far so good. They also planted pumpkin and mint that is also coming on well. Even they pineapples they planted have taken root. I have decided to watch it all from a distance though, I do not want to jinx their plants, seeing as I now have a black thumb.

My Mum has been sending me pictures of their amazing organically grown vegetables. Courgettes almost as big as my arm, plump beans, large leafy greens, maize and peas and I have nothing to show for all my talk of having a big space for a wonderful kitchen garden. NOTHING.

As much as I have never been an ardent gardener, I still feel like I have failed bigly. What sort of Kikuyu woman is this who cannot even grow simple dhania guys? Dhania, the easiest thing to grow. I have failed my people. Do you know how lousy of a gardener I have become that I could not even sustain an existing rosemary bush people, Rosemary!

Black thumb it is for me.

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