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.


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.

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.

What I’m up to…

Well, I’m not doing the Independence Days Challenge this year. Work has already gotten crazy, and I’m trying to really take care of myself, so it’s first things first!

My personal priorities right now are:

Home & relationships I have a lot of travel this year, and 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. I like Gala Darling’s take on keeping thing’s fresh.

Work This year I want to thrive, not just survive! This means planning ahead to manage my projects well, and making sure I delegate when I can. I currently have 4 staff, 2 who are pretty autonomous, another 2 who really only work on my projects… So I have to stay in a good place to supervise them properly and delegate (not dump) tasks appropriately. Plus I need to be in a good place to encourage and mentor them, so they can develop according to their own interests. That means preventing overwhelm by staying positive & forward looking, and focusing on eating well, and getting enough sleep & exercise.

Exercise I do 30 mins of walking most days, taking the dog for a stroll. I’ve added 3 x 20-40 minutes swimming or gym cardio per week, plus an additional 1-2 hours a week of yoga and pilates (using Gaim DVDs) , and at least a 1/2 an hour of dancing. I’ll be going to a day club to dance this afternoon. When I do it at home, I tend to do Gabrielle Roth’s Wave DVDs. I have her 3 DVD set – the Power Wave is my favourite. I’ve also started doing some arm work with light hand weights. I’m starting with 1.5 kilos, as my upper body strength is pretty ordinary.

Food I used the myfitnesspal app to keep a food & exercise diary for 6 weeks. I’ve stopped now, as I think I’ve learned appropriate portion sizes pretty well now… I’ll start again if I feel like I’m backsliding. I’m generally eating vegan with attention to getting some protein in all meals; minimising my intake of oil & processed foods (but getting plenty of plant fats in whole nuts & seeds); minimising flour products; and avoiding anything with added sugars, and limiting fruit to the equivalent of two small pieces a day.

According to the scales I didn’t lose kilos in the first 6 weeks, but my body has changed shape dramatically, and I’m fitting pants I haven’t worn for a while, so things are definately happening. I feel a lot stronger, and it’s much easier to climb stairs & hills.

Having said I’m not doing Independence Days, the truth is, we are still gardening, harvesting, cooking at home and buying in bulk. This week I did a big stockup on organic, fair trade coffee, bulk rice (from Honest to Goodness), and tinned tomatoes & beans (from Aldi).

Revisiting the FatFree Vegan blog
February 5, 2012, 6:03 am
Filed under: food, vegan eating | Tags: ,

It’s been a while since I visited Susan Voisin’s blog, but I’ve been browsing it a lot lately, as I’m trying to lose a couple of kilos. I’ve been tracking my food & exercise using the myfitnesspal app for about 3 weeks, and while I haven’t actually weighed myself yet, I am feeling stronger & a bit leaner, and I’ve lost a couple of centimetres from my hips & waist. Last week, though, there were a few days where I really over-snacked, and I’d like to cut back on that.

I discovered a couple of good tips on Susan’s blog; including her recommendation to make up a huge pot of veggie soup for snacking. I love soup, and we’re having a mild, wet summer, so there are lots of days where a cup of soup makes a good alternative to veggie sticks.

The other new feature on the site (which has probably been there a while, but is new to me), is the ‘Recipe Box’ function, where I can favourite the recipes I like while I’m browsing. So far the chickpea crackers and low fat version of Annie’s Goddess Dressing (a delicious, but very rich dressing, not actually sold here in Australia) are my faves.