My last post here, a week ago now (sorry) started a few unexpected days at home, with enforced “rest” (i.e.: not running), but that doesn’t mean I was idle. I got a lot of knitting done! And a lot of listening to podcasts, and a lot of reading. I feel like I’m somewhat up to date with world events and current affairs again, now that I’ve had some days where I had time to take in some media on a consistent basis. I don’t know, yet, if being “up to date” …
I’ve been agonising about what to post next for you guys. I’m so busy all the time, and despite some work woes that are bringing me down something ferocious I still am the kind of person to bounce out of bed each day, enthusiastic and excited for nothing more or less than the everyday. I’m so grateful for the turnaround in my outlook from years ago when I was sunk in the pit of a decade-long, and very private (and lonely) battle with depression. These days, life is exciting for it’s own sake and I love that.
One of the things I love the most about life, and look forward to every single day, is food. It’s fundamental to me that food is a source of endless diversion, fascination and anticipation. Experimenting with food, playing with flavours and freeing myself from the kinds of things that make food preparation and eating a chore mean that it’s always an adventure.
One of the first things I learnt when I was transitioning to vegan was that the world is very suddenly a snack food desert. I thrive on snacks and quickly came around to the idea that I’d best be getting used to baking my own and prepping some interesting savouries or else things were gonna get dire.
Enter the superball. Some people call them truffles but I can’t get used to the idea of a truffle innocent of a chocolate coating, and since chocolate coating just isn’t going to happen in my kitchen, they became superballs. Sometimes, superbars. I’m going to share how I go about making them, but be warned! I’m not one for exactitude in the kitchen. This is not a recipe.
Start with some dried fruit. Doesn’t matter what, really. Use whatever floats your boat, whatever’s handy. I usually use goji berries and dates – dates because they’re cheap and a good source of concentrated sugars for when I’m running, and goji berries because I know they’re meant to be good for me but they taste so damn vile on their own that I need to hide them from myself.
I use about two handfuls of dates and half a handful of
devilberries I mean, goji berries. Toss them into a bowl, maybe even the bowl of your blender/food processor/magick-whizzerizer-thingy coz that’s where they’ll need to go next. Then pour over some fruit juice. Doesn’t matter what kind. Whatever floats your boat. Last night it was apple, cherry and grape because that’s all we had. I’d have used kombucha if the night wasn’t going to be so warm, but I didn’t want to come out to a whole new kombucha SCOBY frothing fiercely out of the Thermomix bowl so I’ll wait till the weather cools down before I try that.
Anyway. You want just enough to have most of the fruit touching liquid, but not so much that it’s fully submerged. If you want to use chia seeds in your superballs (and really, who doesn’t?) I’d recommend putting them in now and adding a little extra juice. Those babies absorb at least 3 times their own weight in water so you don’t want to go eating them without hydrating them first, as they can just slurp all the juices out of your abdominal cavity and make you real crook. Toss ’em in now. I also threw in a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds here because I’m coming around to this whole soaked nut/seed thing. Leave that whole mess to sit overnight.
(There’s no photo of this step because who wants to see wrinkled little brown and pinkish things and what looks like frog eggs floating in lurid-coloured liquid?)
In the morning, check to see that the mix hasn’t dried out. If it’s crusty, add a little more moisture, but it probably won’t be. As long as everything looks glossy, it’s fine. If it’s fine, whizzerize now. How fine you blend it is entirely up to you. Sometimes I want a nice smooth texture; other times I like the chunks that come with all the different bits I toss in here.
(There’s no photo of this step because it’s a suspiciously slimy pinkish-brown paste and who wants to see that?)
Now you’ve got your base, you can add the other bits you want here. Go crazy. Whatever nuts, seeds, nuggety goodness you want, toss it in. I used almond meal and puffed amaranth in these ones, to get the paste as thick as I could make it without breaking the TM, and then flavoured with carob, matcha and turmeric. All those things are super good for you, especially if you’re doing some kind of sport or heavy physical work. They’ve got lots of mineral goodness to keep your electrolytes balanced, and the matcha and turmeric, in particular, are great antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. But don’t stop there – coconut oil (I almost always use this but I had run out so today’s don’t have any), cocoa butter, sesame seeds, all manner of nuts, dried blueberries, cacao nibs, acai berries and maca powder would all be great here. Bee pollen, if that’s your game, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, puffed rice or barley or wheat…mix it up, bulk it out.
Shape your portions. Mostly I make balls, as pictured, but sometimes I like to press the whole ball of dough out between two sheets of baking paper and cut the slab into little bars. Either way, it’s not like it matters. Make them itty-bitty or bigger. I tend towards itty-bitty because I can always have more than one, but once you’ve carried these around for a while the sugars might ferment so I wouldn’t recommend “saving” half of one.
I’ve made this lots of times, and sometimes I’ll get to the dough stage and run out of time and just shove the whole bowl into the fridge (usually with the spatula sticking out because I’m all class) and that might sit there for a few days – even a week. They haven’t killed me yet.
If you try these, please let me know how you like them! Also what magick you put in them – I’m always up for trying new, funky ingredients. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Here at Chez Froghammer, we’re pretty darn focussed on living frugally. This is for a number of reasons – the top three are:
- Mortgage – ’nuff said, right? Perth’s a pretty expensive place to occupy a living space, so this takes up a fair bit of our finances.
- Holiday – we’re planning our second trip to Iceland in August and while we’re doing ok with the finances, the spending money side of things is pretty skint so we’re trying to make sure that’s a bit beefier by the time we head off.
- Income – with a full-time and a part-time wage coming in, we aren’t hurting. But we’re retail workers, meaning that we’re not highly paid. Little extras like tax returns and penalty rates are seriously important to us.
People at work often ask me about our eating habits and how we manage to keep our food budget to around $60 a week (that’s for both of us. Yes, really.) and lately more and more comments and casual conversations have made me think that we’re doing things pretty well around here. So I wanted to start sharing our strategies for frugal living here on the blog. Fridays are as good a time as any, right? Let’s kick it off!
Frugal Living – Strategy: Menu Planning
I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say that the single most effective thing we do to live economically here at Chez Froghammer is a Weekly Menu Plan. We usually do this on a Friday or Saturday night, writing down a list of meals (breakfast is usually not included), skimming our weeks’ work rosters and social calendars and the weather forecast and nutting out meals for six to seven days ahead.
Let’s break this down a bit. Why do we take those environmental factors into account?
This helps us to know not only which of us is in a better position to cook, but how likely it is that one or the other of us will feel like a full meal at a given mealtime. If Frog works a close at the store, finishing at 9pm, she usually doesn’t feel like eating when she gets home or might just nibble on some toast. That means that, instead of cooking a full meal, I might forage in the freezer for a wee treasure, or cook enough for only three portions instead of four.
Additionally, our rosters help us to know how many leftover meals we need to account for. We try to take our lunches to work as buying lunch at work is exorbitantly expensive and, in my case, usually not vegan. So we’ll usually cook at least three, sometimes more, night-time meals that will give us leftovers for the next day or days.
If one or both of us are going to be out for dinner, clearly that changes the plans. If one of us finishes work at 2pm but then has a doctor/physio/social appointment across town while the other finishes at 4pm, that changes who is better placed to cook.
Who wants to eat a casserole with dumplings when it’s 40C out there? Or a light salad in the middle of July? (Remember, this is the southern hemisphere!) It’s silly, too, to consider roasting a huge batch of vegetables when we’re trying to keep the house cool. If there’s a nice sunny day out there and one of us is home, why not cook something in the solar oven? What the weather is doing is crucial in making sure that the menu plan slots nicely into your lived experience, and doesn’t become a slave-taking framework you can’t get away from.
Other things that impact our menu decisions are seasonality of vegetables and what dry stores we have in plenty. Right now, we’ve got lots of sunflower seeds, chickpeas and polenta. We’ve also got three overripe bananas from last week because apparently grocers now think it’s clever to store bananas in the freezer. That’ll be the start of some baked goods for work – running keeps my baseline metabolism ticking over pretty fast so I can’t get by without sizeable snacks between meals, so baking plays a pretty important part in my menu planning. The sunflower seeds gave me an idea – there was a recipe in one of my favourite recipe books I was wanting to try, so I made Sunflower Mac n Cheeze. Tasty, cheap and healthy.
Next – what sad little morsels are moping at the bottom of the crisper, and how can I revive them? There were some carrots and celery, and radishes, and some mayonnaise I’d made for something last week but of course it’s mayonnaise so you’ve got to make a whole batch and so you end up with more than you need and oh! Look at that! Chickpeas plus carrots, celery and radish, plus mayo, makes chickpea salad! That’s Tuesday’s lunch! Hopefully you get the idea.
Once you’ve come up with your menu plan, you’ve got to shop for it, right? That’s going to be the subject of next Frugal Friday’s post. I hope you get something out of this post and come back next week for more!
In the meantime, what do you do to cut your spending in little, meaningful, mindful ways? I’d be really interested to hear, so drop me a comment!
I had a sudden realisation the other day that increasingly, Frog and I buy cookbooks that have had their roots in food blogs. Just before I went vegan, Frog bought the Smitten Kitchen cookbook – and I don’t think we’ve cooked from it because…vegan. Sorry about that, babe…
Frog’s most recent cookbook purchase was The Oh She Glows Cookbook, and it’s been an interesting addition to our cookbook shelf. It’s got lovely photography (ours, at least, is a soft-cover which is a bit of a downfall but, eh) and emphasises fresh, vibrant vegetables and using the natural flavours of those vegetables and fruits. I haven’t had much of a look at it so I can’t really say much more.
For my part, I’ve got three foodish blog-to-books of note – The Veganomicon and Isa Does It, co-authored and authored, respectively, by the indomitable Isa Chandra Moskovitz of the Post Punk Kitchen. What I love about these two books is that they meet two very different niches in one’s kitchen needs. The Veganomicon is the definitive vegan cookbook, and honestly you could have just this in your kitchen and it would be all you needed for the rest of your life. Well, nearly. The authors hadn’t heard of nutritional yeast when they wrote it, apparently. Never mind – we’ll forgive that. It cost me a whopping $38 or so for a huge (albeit mostly unillustrated) hardcover book sensibly divided into chapters that don’t tie you down to set meals – it has a mix and match chapter!
It’s intended to be a fairly comprehensive starter guide for newly-made vegans, and so begins with a long but entertaining section on the sorts of supplies a (vegan) kitchen needs. There’s a discussion on hardware – pots, pans, knives and the like – and a section on pantry staples – storing, buying and substituting. Other basics include how to most safely and effectively cook legumes, and how to make your own seitan (wheat meat). I remember being blown away. You mean, I didn’t have to go to a Chinese restaurant and play MSG-roulette just to get a taste of seitan? I CAN MAKE IT MYSELF?????
The generously detailed contents and meticulously organised index make navigating the book a frustration-free exercise, while the humour-infused writing style makes it accessible and undaunting. It’s a feat of superhuman planning, writing, testing and organising and you should get it, whether you’re vegan or not. The price tag is worth it for the chapter on cookies and (what Australians would call) biscuits alone.
Meanwhile, Isa Does It was written to target the mid-week meals that need to be high on the satisfaction level and low on the effort level. The mains have a strong focus on protein, which was my first observation upon leafing through the book. That aside, the recipes are workable, usually inexpensive, and mostly delicious. There’ve been a couple that were misses for me but I do suspect a difference in mid-West American palates and Australian ones as the main culprit there. I was convinced to get this book after Isa put a few of the recipes from it on her blog prior to the book’s release – Nirvana Enchilada Casserole and New England Glam Chowder being the two biggies. Both these recipes are incredible, make-again experiences and I had no hesitation in paying $45 for this beautiful, usable romp of a cookbook. Get it in ya.
The last blog-to-book we have so far on our shelves is my copy of The Green Kitchen, sprung from Green Kitchen Stories. The food photography here is simply breathtaking, and David and Luise’s life philosophy is one I really admire. They come across as deeply thoughtful, respectful people whose experience of food invests their whole outlook on life. Their flavour pairings intrigue me and they’re not afraid to mess with traditional prep and serving methods to make things easier, more accessible, or more portable. The recipe that grabbed me, standing in the Beaufort St bookshop and hemming and hawing about whether or not I should drop $50 on this lovely thing, was the Buckwheat and Ginger Porridge, complete with photo featuring cape gooseberries. It’s got something for every occasion, this book – feed-everyone feasts, picnic jewels, smoothies and cocktails, desserts, baked goods, breakfasts, staples like rye bread…plus, it just makes for a beautiful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
What are your favourite blog-to-book recipe offerings? Bonus points for vegan submissions!
The time has finally come. I’ve made a decision that’s been looming, threatening, browbeating and generally making me feel bad for years now.
I’ve decided to become vegan.
I’ve been vegetarian on and off for years – more than half my life, as it happens – and climbed back on the meat-free wagon at the start of 2013. My reasons have varied through those years, based largely on the inefficiency of meat production and the losses of energy in the process of converting plant-based food to meat-based food, and on the improved health I feel when not eating meat. I’ve known vegans for years, too; my best friend at the end of high school introduced me to the concept (and to tofu, thanks Amy) and I’ve had the utmost respect for the lifestyle since then.
I suppose it’s accurate to say that my move toward veganism started a long, long time ago, back when a friend and I took a road trip down south of Perth and spent a night on her friend’s family dairy farm. I was horror-struck by it. I recall, and will never forget, the smell that assailed me as she and I drove down the track toward the house and farm buildings complex, arising from a massive mound of brewery waste (scroll down), composting and steaming in the cold twilight, that was stored there to feed to the cattle. It stank. Everything within a half-kilometre radius stank of it. The bobby calves were streaked with flecks of it, and of their own and each others’ shit. Ignorant, I asked what the calves were hanging around the house for…and when the farmer told me they’d be gone in a few days (they were only a couple of days old when I saw them) I felt my stomach churn as a slow, creeping horror overcame me.
I suppressed that experience for a long time, but forgetting it was not going to happen. And in the second half of last year, I began to think more about it, and more about the prospect of “giving up” dairy and eggs, and other animal-derived food products. This was around the same time I began reading a lot more, and my reading choices coincidentally fed into this awakening I was feeling.
Then, about a month ago, I started reading Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Most of the shocking animal welfare facts in it, I knew or feared. But there were other things, too – the disgusting methods of processing chickens (disgusting merely because of their complete disregard for anything remotely approaching food hygiene), the precarious position in which our food supply chain has been placed by the use of intensive confinement methods of animal production, the sheer magnitude of waste (read: shit) output generated by confinement facilities…It was compelling.
I discussed it with Frog. I was, I remain, and I will always be so immensely grateful for her immediate and unconditional support for my choice, for her enthusiasm in joining me in finding alternatives and new ways of eating and drinking, and for willingly offering herself to the cause within the walls of our home. And so I have Gone Vegan.
Except, it’s not a matter of having Gone. And it’s not a matter of Going, which implies that age-old Australian tradition of “Gunna”. It’s a process, and one I don’t see ending any time soon. Instead of announcing to people that I’ve Gone Vegan, I think I like the term “transitioning to vegan”. I feel it allows me to be making mistakes, and making decisions, and making choices.
Going vegan (or transitioning to, shall we say) might appear on the surface just like the next level of vegetarian, but it isn’t. And that’s not something I appreciated until I was thrown into the middle of it. It’s only been a few days, but I’ve had to defend my decision to keep my cat (what – was I going to evict a middle-aged runt purebred entirely incapable of fending for herself??), I’ve had to accept that my veganism will be fatally flawed as long as I continue to identify as a fibre artist, and just today I had to consider the implications of aquaponics upon a vegan lifestyle.
It’s complicated. And so it is that I am not Going Vegan, with a bang, but transitioning to vegan, with many, many whimpers.