Ms Betterhome

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.

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.

Seedlings, and a timely taro tasting
March 19, 2012, 3:06 am
Filed under: food, gardening | Tags: ,

The weather has been delighful so far this Autumn… much better than our grey, miserable summer. We’ve still had a lot of rain, though, & the black taro is thriving in the back yard (though it doesn’t look quite as good as this stock pic yet!).

Having planted so much taro we thought we’d better try some, so we bought a tuber from the fruit and veg market. We roasted it in our usual pumpkin/potato/sweet potato combo, with olive oil, salt and pepper. It tasted good, & was super fluffy inside, but was very dry… the outside of the cubes toughened up while roasting, rather than crisping or caramelising like the other veggies. We speculate a sauce or gravy might be needed next time – though we’re still a long way off a harvest.

We also planted broccoli, collards, fennel, parsley, beetroot, coriander & leeks in seed trays; and more rocket, turnips & beetroot seed direct in the beds. So far the collards & broccoli are ramapging along, the rest is creeping along.

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.

Menu plans and progress
January 14, 2012, 2:58 am
Filed under: budgeting, food, Menu planning, vegan eating | Tags:

First week back at work was fine. We switched the actual dinners around a little, but it pretty much went as planned.

MrB and I have both installed an app called ‘Expenditure’ to help us with budget tracking. Rather than fiddling with receipts, we can put expenses in our phones, and export to a spreadsheet ( we can also email the tallies). This should give us an idea of how much we’re spending, and alert us to any potential slow leaks.

And to this week’s menu plan.
Sat: roast veg and lentil salad and fresh bread
Sun: roast veggie wraps with hummus & falafel
Mon: lentil burgers, potato salad & green salad
Tues: blackbean tacos
Wed: chickpea and pumpkin curry
Thur: rice paper wraps
Fri: mushroom & zucchini and walnut risotto.

Kale/tofu ‘frittata’, leftovers

Smoothies, toast and hummus, toast and peanut butter

Almonds, veggie sticks, homemade snack bars (from freezer)

Weekend Prep: Sat- bake bread, soak and cook chickpeas & lentils, make chutney, roast veggies.
Sun- make hummus & lentil burgers, make kale frittata, prep potato salad, put black beans in fridge to thaw.