Ms Betterhome

Stocking the freezer
August 25, 2012, 3:12 am
Filed under: budgeting, Menu planning, vegan eating

I was lucky enough to get some ‘work from home’ days last week, and took advantage of the time saved by not commuting to get our freezer restocked with some of our staples. I had time to soak all my beans & legumes, so I made: a batch of slow cooker baked beans (with cannelini beans), a double batch of chickpea cutlets, and a huge batch of lentil walnut burgers.

I also made a batch of Terry Hope Romero’s red steamed seitan (from Viva Vegan), and used it in our fave Moosewood sweet potato roti, and some Millennium vegan paella. This week I stayed on a roll, and made a batch of slow-cooker spicy blackbeans for tacos.

Stocking the freezer up with all these goodies means we have the basics for a ‘fast food’ dinners on nights when we get home late from work. We ran out of our ‘processed’ alternative ingredient, Sanitarium veggie sausages, this week, and bought a couple of them at full price. Usually we stock up when they’re on sale, but we rarely go to Coles or Woolies anymore, and we keep missing the markdown. MrB remarked that they now cost $20 a kilo, so they’re not exactly a budget item (though we will still keep a pack or two on hand for times when we’re invited to friend’s BBQs).

The dried legumes I buy in bulk cost more like $3 a kilo, and I get at least 4 serves from 250 grams of dried beans. Even when we’re using tins, we get around 250 grams of drained cooked legumes for 89 cents, and we get 2 servings from that. I do like the odd bit of commercial fake meat or fake cheese, but I’m certainly very motivated to keep making my own. No mystery ingredients, no packaging to throw away, I know exactly how much fat and sugar I’ve added, and my fast food’s so much cheaper.


Spring gardening: it begins
August 24, 2012, 2:46 am
Filed under: budgeting, city life, gardening | Tags: , ,

We had a little frenzy on the weekend, getting the first seeds in for spring/summer.

MrB planted his clumping bamboo seeds (we want it to screen our bedroom window from the street), and I planted 2 kinds of lettuce (Freckles and regular cos), some spinach (for the shady beds), and a punnet each of Tiny Tim and Tommy Toe cherry tomatoes. With our last two overcast/wet Sydney summers, we’ve had trouble getting larger tomatoes to ripen, but we’ve had good luck with cherries, so we’ll go with them again.

We’ve had bad luck with pumpkins, too, but being optimists we’ve started two varieties of non-running pumpkins in pots. We have lots of bees, so their problem isn’t pollination… they just rot on the vine. Maybe our luck will change this year.

I bought new rocket seeds, and some golden purslane for salads; and we’ve just ordered a replacement Fuerte avocado tree. The Hass tree has done well in the ground, but the Fuerte was never happy here… and finally died.

Our other trees are going crazy after nearly two years in the ground. The poor things were hammered by windstorms not long before we moved out of Newtown, and were a bit neglected last summer while I was recovering from my surgery. We gave them a big weed and feed a couple of weeks ago, and have started regular applications of EcoOil to start knocking down the leaf miners on the citrus trees. The multi graft stone fruit tree is starting to set fruit (though it needs some maintenance), and we’ve set out the fruit fly trap.

The multi graft citrus gave us 3 beautiful tangelos over winter, and now one of the other grafts is in flower (limes, I think). And the orange graft that was (accidentally) clobbered by the dog is recovering! The whole tree is looking much, much happier.

We’re still getting HUGE harvests of snow peas, broccoli, herbs, chinese greens and chills, though the lettuces are succumbing to the combined force of slugs and high winds.

And we’ve started our DIY Xmas gifts of mini herb gardens (in sterilised recycled pots). We bought premium potting mix, but very cheap punnets of sage, coriander, parsley, thyme and basil. We’ve added a cutting of our rosemary to each pot, and they’re lined up in the sun. We sound get 5 impressive home-made presents for an outlay of about 35 dollars (it would have been cheaper to start from seed, but we weren’t that organised).



Quick garden update
August 15, 2012, 5:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

It’s late winter here in Sydney, but starting to feel like spring.

The multi-graft fruit-tree is already setting fruit, and the citrus trees are budding like crazy. We’re starting to plan some seedlings, and keeping a watchful eye on the asparagus beds.

The lettuces that have sustained us all winter are starting to succumb to slugs (and high winds), but the broccoli, snow peas and chills are going strong, and we are still harvesting tons of asian greens. It’s all good in the garden!

(Yes, it has been MANY moons since I last posted, but I’m planning to lift my game for spring. New growth all round.)

Travellers tips
June 30, 2012, 9:03 am
Filed under: budgeting, city life, vegan eating | Tags: ,

It’s a beautiful sunny day in Paris, and I am cooped up in my room waiting for British Airways to deliver my bag – I made the Heathrow-Charles Du Gaulle transfer, but my bag didn’t. I’m here for a week for work so I REALLY need my stuff – I’m desperately hoping it turns up in the next hour.

I did a bit of research online before I left, and found some good tips. I thought I’d share a few of mine in return.


As is pretty obvious from the food posts in my blog, I’m vegetarian, mostly at the vegan end of the spectrum (but not strictly). This can make travel tricky, so I was thrilled to find the Vegan Paris blog and ebook.

I sometimes find it hard to get enough protein while I’m travelling, & I can’t afford to be woolly-headed on work trips, so I packed individual Vega shakes & protein bars. I buy them online, and use them for early morning protein hits, and as backups in case of conference lunches composed of white flour and lettuce (alas, these are frequent). The shakes & bars have a ton of fibre, omega 3 & multivitamins included, too, so they’re good insurance against getting rundown/clogged up while travelling.

My final food tip is self-cater wherever possible. This trip I was fortunate to find a small studio for the same price as hotel room. It has a tiny kitchenette with a bar fridge, cooktop, kettle, microwave & very basic pans, plates, knives etc. I’m really happy to pay for delicious food & coffees, but I don’t like to have to go out for breakfast, and sometimes I’m too jet lagged to sit in a cafe after a big day of work or touristing. I buy ingredients from local grocery stores and markets…mainly nuts, fruit and salad basics, or soy milk/soy yogurt.

Even when I’m in a basic hotel room, I take my little lightweight  camping kit, so I can have in room breakfasts & snacks.

Clothes & toiletries

This is not my first ‘lost luggage’ experience. As a result I always pack my toothbrush, deodorant, basic makeup, moisturiser and a clean shirt & underwear in my carry-on. I am always desperate to scrub up & get changed after a long-haul flight, so I was super grateful I had packed my insurance supplies yesterday. I also carry saline nasal spray… fantastic for dealing with the dry air on a plane.

I change into knee-high travel socks as close as I can to boarding time, to prevent puffy feet and cankles. I’m not high risk for DVT, so don’t have a custom pair of compression socks, but I do try & stretch and wriggle my feet to keep my circulation moving.

Girl Stuff

Getting your period while travelling is not fun, but it happens, I always pack pantyliners in case of spotting, and when I know my period is due, I pack the wonderful diva cup, and a packet of flushable wipes for cleanups. I’m not generally a clean freak, but I always carry antibacterial wipes (and tissues) on the road, in case of hideous public toilet experiences.

Earplugs & noise-cancelling headphones

I have dodgy eustachian tubes, and have had painful take-offs and landings my whole life. A few years ago, I discovered that wearing regular foam earplugs helps stabilise the pressure in your ears, and yes, it most certainly does. Earplugs also mute the sound of one’s fellow passengers, which can be a blessing at times, (and are good for getting sleep in noisy hotels).

I have borrowed my mother’s noise-cancelling headphones on the last few trips (thanks Mum!), and they are fantastic – they filter out the rumble from the plane, and not only help me sleep, but allow me to turn the volume waaay down on the inflight movies. The only  drawback of my Mum’s set is the size… they are large, & pack into a solid case that takes up a lot of room in my carry-on bag. I think it’s time I lashed out & bought a folding pair with a smaller case.

Jet Lag

I’ve tried homeopathics and other supplements, and frankly have never found any especially useful. My general jet-lag prevention tips are similar to many travellers: Eat lightly in flight, go easy on the booze, try and get out and walk around (ideally in the sun) as much as you can on the first day to help your body adjust.

Sydney Costco adventure
June 16, 2012, 5:31 am
Filed under: budgeting, food | Tags: ,

After much planning and plotting, my friend Fluffy & I went shopping at Costco this morning. We split the cost of the membership, and considered the trip to be part shop, part adventure.

We weren’t convinced that a DINK & a single girl would find huge savings in the land of Big Family Bargains, but we were pleasantly surprised. We were both determined NOT to buy anything that we didn’t need, wasn’t cheaper than elsewhere, and/or wouldn’t store well over a period of months.

My good buys included

– a 3 pack of Rinse Aid for the price of 2;

– 300 gm packs of Australian goat cheese for the price I’d usually pay for 200gms. These were good til October, so I bought 4.

– a catering pack of baking paper;

– a 4 pack of Calvin Klein Boxer trunks (for Mr B) for the price I used to pay for 1 pair;

–  organic salsa and small tins of Ayam Malaysian satay & curry sauces ( a good quick dinner option);

– a bulk pack of freezer bags;

– a 1.7 litre bottle of Smirnoff vodka for just $10 more than the cheapest 750ml vodka I could find locally ( this is the base for next year’s batch of Christmas Pudding Vodka).

Fluffy’s big bargain included big boxes of clumping kitty litter $5 cheaper than she usually buys, a BIG block of haloumi, a big tub of yogurt and a big bag of muesli, and some lovely  new pillows. We split a big bag of walnuts between us ( I bought a big bag of pecans, too).

The verdict: we will definitely get our money back on the membership. We’ll go back, though probably not SOON. Mr B & I have discussed hosting his family Christmas this year. If we do, we’ll certainly head to Costco to stock up on party food.

Slow cooker seitan pot roast experiment
May 30, 2012, 1:20 am
Filed under: budgeting, food, learning, vegan eating | Tags: ,

I was thumbing through Robin Robertson’s Vegan on The Cheap, and her Seitan Pot Roast caught my eye. I’ve made seitan by the ‘boiling on the stove’ method before, and I found it a bit fussy. I have also made oven baked and steamed seitan sausages, but they have a very dense texture, and are less chewy than ‘classic’ seitan. The seeming ease of a slow cooker ‘roast’ intriqued me. However…

I am a fan of seitan, but the omnivorous MrB is more ambivalent. Still, we had all the ingredients, so I thought I’d give it a try (there’s a slightly less ‘on the cheap’ variation of the recipe here).

The dish only took 10 minutes to put together. I made a few substitutions – fresh thyme from our garden instead of dried, sweet potato rather than carrots, crushed fresh garlic instead of garlic powder,  flaked chillis instead of pepper, and a tablespoon of barbeque sauce instead of ketchup. I have a smaller slow cooker, so I used a quarter cup less vital wheat gluten flour than recommended, and fewer veggies than the large cooker version.

I also cooked it for the recommended 8 hours, but could have gotten away with 6 or 7, I think – my slow cooker is pretty warm, even on ‘low’.

The veggies were a bit mushy at the end, but I solved that by tipping them into a bowl and mashing them with a little soy milk instead of presenting them whole. I also tipped the cooking juices and beautifully soft and caramelised onion slices into a pan, added a little red wine, reduced them a touch, and served them as a gravy over the seitan slices. Even with the extra steps at the end (including throwing together a salad), the whole process was very easy, and it’s definitely a dish I’ll cook again.

MrB approved (though he will probably never request seitan, he is willing to eat this dish again), and even though we ate all the veggies, there was plenty of leftover seitan for my lunch the following day, and even more for the freezer.

The verdict – this was a tasty, simple, high protein ‘meat and potatoes vegan’ winter dinner with a short prep time.  Robertson estimates the ‘on the cheap’ version is about a dollar a serve, & I think our dinner would have come in under $2 (especially as I used our home grown herbs and lettuce). I declare the experiment a success, and I’ll certainly cook it again.

Birthday reflections

I’m celebrating with a work-at-home day (actually this is a very good celebration, and we will have veggie shepherd’s pie & bubbly later)

I thought I’d revisit the post on my priorities for the year, & see how things are tracking:

Home & relationships I said: I want to devote energy to MrB and our home & garden. That means having fun together, but also staying mindful of the household jobs that really niggle at him. The house is a bit dusty (and furry, thanks to our wonder pup), but in general, we’re on top of all the practicalities, and having a lovely time together. The various aspects of the sex/love constellation are all very sparkly, and I’m very happy (though not complacent, I hope).

Work I said: This year I want to thrive, not just survive!…That means preventing overwhelm by staying positive & forward looking, and focusing on eating well, and getting enough sleep & exercise. I wouldn’t say I’m overwhelmed – but I’m not super positive, either. My area is under-resourced, and I’m looking seriously into ways to make a lateral (or radical) move out of my current position. That said, I’m feeling strong, and well placed to move when I need to.

Exercise I’m still doing 30 mins of walking most days, taking the dog for a stroll, plus 3 x 20-40 minutes of yoga and pilates a week. I bought a couple of Exhale Core Fusion boxed sets, and have been loving their ‘Energy Flow’ DVD. My swimming dropped away in the wake of my last spate of work travel, I’ll get back into it next week. I also need to re-start my habit of getting up early to do 15-30 mins yoga or arm work in the mornings.

Food I’m still eating really well, but think I’ll do another 6 weeks of  myfitnesspal tracking from the 21st of May. My clothes are fitting well, and I’m feeling good, but I’d like to keep my good habits up.

Slow cooker blackbean chilli (vegan)
May 6, 2012, 11:36 pm
Filed under: food, vegan eating | Tags: ,

I have been making chilli with dried black beans ( aka black turtle beans) for a few years. The beans are not common in Sydney, so I used to buy 5 kilo bags from the Fiji Market in Newtown whenever I spotted them. Now we no longer live in Newtown, my spotting opportunities are limited, so I buy them online from Honest To Goodness ( again, in 5 kilo bags).

Black beans have a great, earthy flavour, and they’re quite high in protein ( around 14 grams per cup). I used to make the chilli in 3 stage process, that involved soaking overnight, precooking the beans, then cooking again with veggies & seasonings. However, this process was a bit fussy, and often led to slightly runny chilli, because the beans were so well hydrated when they went into the slowcookerfor the last time ( slow cookers trap condensation, so you often get extra liquid in the meal as a result).

Emboldened by an experiment with slow cooker baked beans that used pre-soaked but not pre cooked Cannellini beans, I decided to cut the precook stage from my chilli recipe. It was a great success, and the process will be simpler forever more.

My new recipe (based on the approximate amounts I use in my smaller slow cooker) is:

Pre soak about 2 cups of dried blackbeans overnight or longer

Add drained, soaked beans to the slow cooker with:

2 onions, 4 cloves of garlic and one chopped red chilli, sautéed in olive oil

One chopped red capsicum ( no need to pre cook)

One tin chopped tomatoes

Veggie stock to cover bean/veg mixture by about 2 cm

Seasonings to taste: I used a harrissa spice mix and about a teaspoonoff cumin seed. Sometimes I add smoked paprika and/or dried oregano

Optional: a 2-3 cm square of  kombu sea vegetable. This is an old macrobiotic trick for cooking beans. It adds minerals and flavour to the broth, and increases digestibility (ie reduces farting).

cook on low for at least 10 hours.

I freeze in 200 gram portions, and we get about 4-5 taco dinners for 2 out of this amount… It makes about 2 litres of chilli in my 3 litre slow cooker.

Mid Autumn update
May 6, 2012, 6:59 am
Filed under: gardening | Tags:

I’ve been traveling again for work, hence the lull in blogging. However, we have been working in the garden, and an update is long overdue.

Last month we finally bought two half wine barrels and a ute load of compost, and re-potted the dwarf macadamia and lemon myrtle. We also topped up the beds in thefront yard that had become very compacted, and planted lots of mixed greens, beetroot and lettuces.

Today we pulled out the tomatoes in the end front bed, topped it up with more compost, and planted 3 bulbs of Italian garlic. We also cut back theasparagus, and mulched it heavily. I’ll give it a good feed in late winter.

We also did a lot of pruning and feeding on all the backyard fruit trees last week, which Mr B followed up with an overly ( to me) enthusiastic prune of the passion fruit vine. We had lots of fruit, but very little ripened, due to the cool summer.

Long weekend domesticity
April 6, 2012, 11:11 pm
Filed under: gardening | Tags:

We had an incident with our seedlings a couple of weeks back – a huge gust of wind knocked the mini greenhouseobverse, and only a fewbabies were saved.

I planted them out last weekend, and will get one more beetroot and fennel seeds in this weekend, and do some general feeding and mulching.