Tag Archives: Motivation

Plastic (is not so) Fantastic: A Shift in Thinking

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One of the ‘unsavoury’ results of spending a lot of time in the kitchen is the large consumption of plastic – plastic wrap for leftovers, plastic containers for transporting and storing food and so on. Add that to the plastic that comes as food packaging and you can end up with a lot of waste, which is both expensive for us to dispose of and pretty crappy for the environment.

The thing that I don’t like about plastic, or more so, the philosophy of plastic, is its disposability. It feels wrong every time I use plastic wrap, which is intended for single use. We recycle our plastic takeaway containers which store a surprising amount of food. I don’t feel like that’s enough though. I’ve been doing some hunting for plastic alternatives. I had two things in mind – true plastic alternatives, stuff made out of something more eco-friendly than plastic, and disposable alternatives, stuff designed for repetitive use.

Start at zero

I really want to buy all of the cute lunch bags and enviro-happy things. Dinosaur lunch box? Yes please. But first, start at zero. What can you re-use, recycle or simply not buy? Zip-lock bags are still plastic but more reusable than plastic wrap. I reuse the produce bags that you get at supermarkets: they’re good for transporting lunch. Bread bags are also useful. Keep any containers that you can and store them. Every 6 months have a rummage through and recycle anything that you never use. I’m sure you all know of the unlimited uses of an ice cream container. I recently started making my own mayonnaise which has a myriad of benefits to shop-bought but a primary benefit is that I don’t buy any plastic. My co-worker (and all round awesome lady) Katie has started buying fresh milk which comes from a vending machine at a local veg store (from a farm not far away) – you take your own bottle to fill. I love this kind of thinking most of all.

Cute lunch bag box options

If you work away from home, you need a lunch transporter. Here are some options that are slightly higher class than a bread bag. (Also, if you don’t make your own lunch most of the time, you should start with that!)

This leopard print insulated bag.
Cute animal lunch bags (for the child or the child in you).
This eco sandwich wrap.
This classy lunch bag.
This bento-style box.
This cute DIY.
This cute cotton lunch bag (US).
These cute sandwich pockets.
Steven’s range of Sistema containers.

Food wrapping options

This Orla Kiely cake tin set. (I think I could justify the price because I would get a LOT of use out of them).
These reusable food wraps. A true plastic wrap alternative.
Cute bowl covers (other good stuff on this website).
The onion pod. Seems gimmicky but I like the idea of a dedicated onion container. (There are also options for avocados, tomatoes, lemons and more)
This bamboo container set. Great price!
And cute Malamine bowls with lids.

I think that reducing plastic is about pinpointing the exact times that you fall into the plastic trap. For me, its mostly leftovers. We’re two people and I cook for a small army. We always have leftovers, which is great, but storing them is kind of a drag, especially at night when I just want to curl up in a ball with Pesto and sleep off dinner. Its very easy to reach for the plastic wrap because its there. Make it easy to do the right thing. My next investment will be some sort of bowls with lids. I’d like glass or the bamboo ones featured above. How easy is it to put a lid on something? I like that!

I saw one of the ‘better living’ ads the other day, featuring Glad products. Sure, zip zap and there’s your food covered up and away you go. But is that really better living? I’d love to live in a society where the norm was working away from using plastics. I’m no saint. Plastic lives in every room of my house, but every time I roll out the plastic wrap I almost cringe. There has to be a better way. A way that is no more difficult. A way that works for someone like me, who works all day, comes home to churn out a blog post and maybe some study and cooks dinner. Why is it so easy to buy plastic wrap and not so easy to shell out a bit of cash for some tasteful, long-term, friendly alternatives? I LOVE all of the above options I’ve listed and I swear that just one of them (or any others not listed) would be a great step in the right direction. Let’s make that step.

I don’t think its an all or nothing situation. I think you can have your plastic wrap and your Malamine bowls. In an ideal world we’d cook and eat less, produce little waste and not make so much crap out of plastic. But in this world that we actually live in, where non-plastic sandwich holders are handmade by someone who probably makes little money from that venture, the best thing we can do is change our way of thinking. Next time you reach for the plastic think about the time line of that product. My wage goes in an impossible number of directions but I plan on making one of those a pretty, feel-good, plastic alternative. I hope you’ll join me. Many hands make light work. Always.

Eat Your Freezer

DSC_0070About a week ago, when popping a bag of peas back in the freezer I stopped and stared at all of the stuff. What was in my freezer? I decided it was about time I found out. I don’t have a big freezer, just a fridge freezer combo. I also don’t actively stock my freezer (due to the size). I have fond memories of mums chest freezer. It was like a treasure chest. There was always one more container of frozen strawberries (from PYO in the summer) or other berries from their garden and it usually took a good five minutes of rummaging to find them, but they were there. It turns out my freezer is mostly full of pumpkin soup, which is slightly less exciting. Here’s what I found.

– My freezer is a pretty random concoction of stuff. Peas, spinach, buns and about five small containers of leftover soup. Also, some beef mince, pork mince and sausages (not surprising that they got relegated to the freezer because veg is just too good!).

– Before you put anything in the freezer write a date and description on the container. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘I won’t forget what that chunky yellow stuff is’.

– Also, before you put anything into the freezer, think about when you’re actually going to use it. I had great intentions for my soup, upon freezing, but then proceeded to forget about it. I think I’ll keep a list on the fridge door of frozen lunches ect.

– Freezer + fridge + pantry = dinner. I made some pretty flash burgers from my lurking beef mince. Conveniently I had a tin of pineapple in the cupboard and tomatoes and eggs in the fridge. Last night I was cooking for one and so I threw together some rice egg sausage veg scramble thing. Which was great! And reminded me that a lot of the time we have enough stuff to make a substantial meal from assorted pantry and fridgefreezer paraphernalia.

I’ll be checking my freezer more regularly for lurkers – one day I might find some strawberries!

As an aside, I’m not really a sausage eater but the ones I had in my freezer were from the Blackball Salami Company and I recommend them!

Meal Planning Part One: Menu Planner

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Hello! Today I’m posting the first in a series of three about meal planning. You can read about why I like meal planning here.

Make a cup of tea, this is a tad long!

So, what does meal planning mean anyway? It can mean different things to different people. To me, it means, in a nutshell, buying very specific things from the supermarket store to make specific meals.

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Stage One of Planning: Make a Menu Planner

You can probably cook 10 really good things without even thinking about it. Maybe more. You can probably cook 10 really good things with a recipe. Definitely more. But can you remember everything that you know how to cook? Probably not. I’m constantly surprised by how much worse my memory is than I think it is. The fact is though, you don’t have to remember everything. You can record it! And once you start recording you will be astonished by how much you can cook. I find the hardest part of meal planning is deciding what to make. I want meal planning to be easy so I got rid of all the icky decision making.

I created a GIANT chart thingy in Excel that is all very neatly categorised and colour coded. It has two primary functions. 1) a place to record all the new things I learn how to make and where I found the recipes. 2) a go-to list for choosing what we’ll cook each week. My man also uses it (sorry guys, you are useless at deciding what you want for dinner!!). I say, ‘pick two things, one from that category’ and he does. Its like magic. But to be honest, I find it super helpful too. Its always easier to focus on and choose something when its in front of you, not in your head. You can totally do this by hand too, in a notebook. If you prefer that.

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I have mine categorised by the ‘main’ ingredient. This is a bit inaccurate since we put very little meat in our meals, but I do think the meat that you use sets the tone for the meal. My categories are: vegetarian, chicken, beef, pork and fish. I’ve colour coded some of the squares – blue is for winter (hearty, warming soups, stews ect) and green is for summer (stuff you can only make in summer like salads, stuff with fresh tomatoes). An instant visual. Right now I totally ignore the blue squares when meal-choosing. I also have a little symbol to indicate whether a meal produces leftovers or not so I can quickly pick a meal for Sunday nights. I also have a section for fast meals (basically no cooking). I do Pilates twice a week in the evenings and on these nights I need fast dinners!

Basically, you can make this as simple or as technical as you like. You can do it by hand, or use a software program like Excel. You can get real fancy with your colour coding, or not bother. My only piece of advice is this:

If you like to cook or are learning to cook and that involves trying new recipes, have a place to record them. It helps with the learning process. It gives you something to fall back on when you run out of kitchen inspo. Its a reminder of how far you’ve come. It tells you a lot about your cooking style. You can share it with friends and family to inspire each other. And it gives you a jumping off point for a little meal planning each week. Some people find plans and routines tedious. I find them freeing. If I have a plan and I totally navigate away from it and try something else, that’s OK. Planning to cook well and try new things also makes me accountable. I know a lot of people that borrow recipes books, have a flick through and never make a thing. If you incorporate a new recipe into your plan, then its in the plan and your more likely to try it.

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Here is a bit more about why I meal plan, if you want to read on. (Or scroll to the end to see my menu planner in full). 

– You spend money more precisely. You don’t buy things that you think you need and don’t use. You buy all the things you need.

– You learn what meals complement each other. Not necessarily in a ‘taste’ way but by learning what meals are good for leftovers, what meals are good for guests, what meals are fast. You can plan ahead to get a balance of flavours and a variety of nutrients.

– You can take advantage of specials because you know what you use a lot of and what you use little of. This leads to having a brilliant stash of good things. Also, things like peanut butter and milo are great but expensive. I try to plan it so that we only buy these things on special.

– To be blunt, you buy less crap. When you have a plan and a list you don’t dilly dally. I rarely chuck ‘extras’ into the trolley.

– Meals flow. This week I want to make lemon and feta spaghetti. I know that one block of feta can accommodate two meals, so I’ll make something else with feta. Or buy avocados for a yum breakfast. This week I want to make curry. I know that goes two nights. I’ll make it on Sunday so that means I don’t have to cook after work on Monday. I want to cook with fresh corn and beans which are cheap and delicious at the moment so one night we’ll have tuna bake which requires a side. Last week we had BLATs – this means we have leftover bacon and buns – more BLATs this week! (A summer food only!)

– Some weeks you have to buy dreaded things like cheese or rubbish bags. Hello expensive! To counteract this I will aim to make more vegetarian, or more soup, or more simple meals that week.

– I’m going to use my mum as an example here (I love you mum!). My folks are super foodie people (no surprises there) and when I visit home I spend a good five minutes gazing longingly into their pantry. You can’t see the back of it. They cook a lot, so it makes sense to have a stocked pantry. But sometimes you get used to this stocked pantry and keep buying more stuff. The pantry items become like décor. Try to plan your meals or some of them using what you already have. This goes for your fridge and freezer too.

Phew! You made it to the end. Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. I’d love to hear how you plan your meals, if you do. Let me know!

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Meal Planning in Three Parts

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Hello! How is your week going? Mine has been busy and sunny. I’ve been busy planning three blog posts for you. They’re all about meal planning which is one of my favourite things!

I’ll be honest. I’m a total nerdette. I like making lists. Lots of lists. I like planning. I like calendars. I like organisation. Ironically, I’m not a very organised person. But moving on! I want to tell you a story.

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I used to work at a highly sus and very boring office job doing data entry and editing web content (sounds like my dream job right? – the web content bit – was a big joke on me!) annnyway. All I did all day at that job was daydream about how I really wanted to write my own, good, real, useful, legitimate stuff. So I quit. And I enrolled in a Diploma in Creative Writing. Which was great! But the downside was that we didn’t have much money. (We still don’t, apparently that’s what being a grown up is like. No one told me!)

When you don’t have much money, you quickly (or slowly) learn how to make it go a long way. For me, when it comes to food, a BIG part of this is in the planning. We only want what is necessary. We don’t want any waste. We want to get the most from our money. And so, now, by force of habit and because I kind of love it, I very strategically plan the vast majority of what we eat. Week in and week out. It sounds kind of boring ae? Well, it could be at first (if making lists isn’t your jam) but by the third week it becomes ‘regular’. And then you find out this great thing! A plan means – you know what you’re going to make (or what your options are) each night so you don’t have to decide when you’re hungry tired time short, you have what you need to make good food so that it is easy and enjoyable to eat well, you get to spend less time visiting supermarkets and you get better at cooking food that is good for your budget and for you.

You probably have your own methods for planning your meals. Maybe just the classic ‘shopping list on an old envelope’, maybe you’re like me and very methodical, maybe you don’t plan at all. Do what works for you, I say! But I thought I would share my (awesome) methods.

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I’m going to share how we plan our weekly menu, how we stick to this weekly menu and how we convert this into a shopping list. Make it easy! Make it accessible! Make it you!

This week I’ll be sharing my menu planner that I created and maintain in Excel. (It’s boyfriend friendly!)

Next week I’m going to share a DIY (hint: it involves chalkboard paint!) and just because I know how much you want to plan your meals just like me (no sarcasm, right?) I’m going to be sharing a free printable meal planner. Are you excited? I really am! Watch this space.

 

Be Productive Online!

DSC_0674 The internet! There is so much interenet. I love it. I spend LOTS of time on it. Which isn’t always a good thing. I spend lots of time writing this blog, reading blogs, finding inspiration, looking at recipes, reading my Twitter feed which leads to reading interesting blogs and looking at photos and Instagram! Sometimes the internet swallows you whole, spits you out all floppy and exhausted hours later. That’s not good! You need to be in charge. Don’t let the internet take control, because it quite happily will.

Lets think about what being productive online means. It should, above all else, be a positive experience. Not, a depressing, guilty or energy-zapping one. Reading the news, trawling through Facebook, looking at celebrity’s and so on can sometimes make you feel blah. Here’s the thing. The internet is full of awesome stuff and awesome people that make you feel inspired, creative and raring to go! Being productive online should mean that the internet is offering something to your real life. Finding a yum recipe to make tonight? Choice! Learning something fascinating about a cool place in the world? Choice! Chatting to your far, far way friend? Choice! Clicking through a hundred photos of someone drowning themselves in Passion Pop? Not so choice. Being productive online also means that, most of the time, you’re doing what you set out to do, not falling down the rabbit hole.

I’m not preaching here. I’ve gotten lost in the internet plenty of times. One of my goals this year is to spend less time on Facebook, because for the most part I find Facebook to be a bit of soul-sucker. Oddly, without thinking about it, I haven’t been spending much time on Facebook lately. Its good for the soul!

Here’s some things I find helpful to bypass the rabbit holes, tune out the internet garbage and actually use the internet to energise and improve your life.

– Make a plan! Plans are always good, right? So before you jump on the net think about these three things. How much time do you ACTUALLY have available to spend online? What’s the reason you’re going online? What sites should you not look at, or not look at for long? I have a bad habit of going online when I’m getting ready for work. Bad idea! Open your browser with the answer to those three questions in mind.

– Use the force! There is technology available to help you control your time. Set an alarm on your phone, use a kitchen timer or check out some of the great apps add-ons available that do the work for you. Leechblock for Firefox or StayFocused for Chrome.

– If your reason for going online is to catch up with some cool peeps, how bout you catch up with them the old fashioned way for a change? While email is speedy, snail mail still exists and its such a nice surprise to get snail mail. Check out some cute stationary here, here , here and here.

Read some cool stuff online, like my blog, ahem. Or these cool blogs. Elise, Meredith, Pip or Emily. (OK so these ladies are a bit girly and write about the stuff I love: food, home, crafts, style ect – I would be more than happy to read something different. Comment with your fave internet reads! Boys – I’m looking at you.)

Connect. Do you think Facebook when you hear social media? There’s more to social media than Facebook. I personally am a HUGE fan of Twitter. Its way cool. You can follow people that have similar interests and are opened up to a world of cool stuff. Twitter is a positive place because you only follow people that are interesting and positive. (You know that friend of your boyfriends sister who posts really wingey lengthy updates on Facebook? She’s probably not on Twitter.) I also recommend Goodreads if you like books and Letterboxd if you like films.

Have rules. Similar to making a plan, set some rules in place. I will not go on Facebook between 9 and 5. I will have breakfast before I check my email. I will not read the news on the weekend. I will make doctors appointment bake a cake go outside do half an hour on my assignment FIRST. Or whatever. Rules help control the fun (thank you Monica Geller)!

How do you control your online time and what GOOD THINGS do you read on the interwebs. Share in the comments!

Six Ways to Save in 2014

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Get yo’ apron on. This year, make it your mission to learn to make some of your favourite things to eat out, at home. I love nothing more than a good eggs benny. Really. Cook me some eggs. This year I want to learn how to make hollandaise, because hey, eating out is expensive (and while I LOVE eating out, its not something we do a lot because making really yum food at home is so much more satisfying and guilt-free). I also want to learn how to make an amazing, authentic(ish) curry. This week or next I’m going to make Jamie O’s Tikka Misala. I’m already drooling. What is a dish that you love? Pancakes? A good steak dinner? It is absolutely possible to learn how to make  these. It may take a few burnt pancakes but that is how you learn to cook. No truer statement has been said on this blog. The only way to learn to cook is by doing. Also, if you have a good recipe, it rarely fails. So, are you with me?

Grow some food at home. Do you have a lavish garden full of produce? Sprawling plants, shiny tomatoes, a bounty of crops? Yes. Good. You’re doing yourself a million favours (roughly). Having a garden takes time and lots of love (it really does) and some investment at the start, but it isn’t expensive to maintain and what you come away with massively out-ways the starting cost. You can contribute to your year round supply of food as well as basically living off your veg patch in the summer. I don’t have a lavish garden but I think gardening is like many things, you have to start small and work your way towards something really good. Along the way, you learn the tricks of the trade, time-savers, how not to kill things and what to do when you suddenly have about 200 ripe tomatoes.

If you don’t have a garden, or a big garden, that’s OK, What you can do is start. No matter what time of year it is, you can start. Start by making a plan, what resources do you have available? Do you have a garden plot, space to put one in, or space to set up a container garden? Here’s one instance when size doesn’t count. You can grow something in anything. My first garden was half a mussel float. Buckets work well. Whatever is available, use that. You can always expand later. Don’t aim to start with a lot of plants. They all need care and lots of water, the less you have the less work there is to do. I like to plant tomatoes (duh), herbs, lettuce, cabbages like pak choi, spinach, peas and beans. Even a small herb garden will add something to your pantry. You don’t need many tools, a hose makes life bearable, and a garden fork is needed if you have real dirt to work with. Figure out where you can set up a small garden, start putting a few dollars aside for some seeds seedlings (foolproof) and tools and aim to have a small, but rewarding garden next spring summer.

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Preserve food for the future. One great thing about having a garden is that you get a large output of produce. Tomatoes that you run out of ideas what to do with. This is when you go and find your classic Edmonds cookbook and choose your recipe to turn crops into culinary delights (if you don’t have one, make it your mission to get one. I doubt you will need another cookbook – hit up second-hand book shops, markets, Trade Me). My go-to is an everything relish (chutney) which is very simple to make and can be used in everything from muffins, to pasta, to BLT’s. Also, learn how to use your freezer. Think carefully about what leftovers you put in the fridge – are you going to eat them tomorrow or the day after. If not, freeze them. Date and label what ever you put in the freezer. Once every month or so go through your freezer and see what goodies you have.

Tomato Relish