Friday, September 27, 2013

Living Below the Line - The Last Day

The last day of the Live Below the Line challenge is here and who knew it would go by so quickly. Yesterday, while travelling for work, went surprisingly without too much desire for unsolicited snacks despite sitting in an upmarket cafe while my work colleague ate a panini and passionfruit yo-yo across from me. I, in turn, had my dhal nacho mix and half bag of corn chips ready in tupperware, which I ate with excitement.

After almost having completed the challenge (I continue to eat lunch as I speak), it has made me realise that it is completely possible to eat well on a tight budget.  The key factors are obviously having access to a regular market, good bulk bin-style supermarkets (usually cheaper than buying pre-packaged) and probably a knack for cooking. Nutrition-wise, I think I've been doing reasonably well and quantities have been surprisingly more than decent (however, the very watered down pumpkin soup was the least palatable of my meals). Last night's dinner made so much food that I've got leftovers past the LBTL challenge and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish my lunch portion.

Day 5's dinner: Chickpea, pumpkin, spinach and potato 'salad'.  After soaking all of my dried chickpeas (246g, $0.74) overnight, boil for about 20-25 minutes in plenty of water until cooked.  Drain and reserve. Dice 1/2 onion ($0.10) and slice the white part of two green onions ($0.30), reserving green parts for later. Sauté in 1 tsp oil ($0.05) with 1 tsp each of cayenne pepper, oregano and cumin ($0.15) until soft.  Add roughly diced 1/2 potato ($0.08) and 1/5 peeled crown pumpkin ($0.40) with 1/2 c water to steam vegetables, covering with a lid, until tender.  Meanwhile, plunge spinach ($0.95) in water to remove all dirt and chop roughly. Add to pan and combine as spinach wilts.  Season with 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper ($0.03) and garnish with sliced green onions, reserved from earlier.  (Total = $2.80)  

Chickpea, spinach, pumpkin and potato salad - heaps of it

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day 3 and 4

"Variety's the spice of life." 
~ William Cowper (British poet, 1731-1800)

I have never had as much appreciation for this saying as I have this week.  Cooking for one is incredibly inefficient and the result, cooking with fresh ingredients and on a budget, often means a lot of the same thing.  For the last three days, I have been eating a lot of pumpkin.  

Thankfully, in various forms (soup, risotto and fritters) but tonight was a welcome change.  I can't help but feel a need to finish eating what I've cooked before I make something else (fresh is best) so I've been in the routine of eating last night's dinner for today's lunch.  If I had the willpower, it would be a great idea to have a little of a few different things instead of having a lot of one to create the sense of a meal, as is the principle of many Asian cultures.

This morning's breakfast, morning tea (2 pieces) and afternoon tea: flatbread as per the last couple of days ($0.185), however I kneaded thinly sliced green onion into the dough once it had already been formed and cooked as per normal.  I've decided I prefer this to having the fresh green onion on top.

Lunch: last night's pumpkin, carrot, potato and onion fritters.  Even better as leftovers at room temperature when you can taste each component more vividly, I feel.

Day 4’s dinner: Tomato and dhal nachoes! I love nachoes and love how healthy you can make them by loading in heaps of vegetables and using plain, unflavoured corn chips.  All of my dhal lentils (312g, $0.93) parboiled in 500ml water with 1/2 tsp salt ($0.01), stirring frequently until water is absorbed and lentils are al dente. 1/2 onion ($0.10) diced, 1 green onion ($0.15), white part sliced and green reserved, sautéed in 1 tsp oil ($0.05) with 1 tsp each of cayenne pepper, cumin and dried oregano ($0.15).  Add cooked lentils, 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes ($0.88) and 1/2 potato ($0.09) grated straight into the pan and combine, heating through for a further couple of minutes to allow the tomatoes to break down and potato to cook through.  Season with 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper ($0.03).

Tomato and dhal nachos

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day 2

I'm currently reading the book Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, which has been nothing short of a brilliant read.  However brilliant, it is often harrowing as Demick describes the realities of North Koreans in terms of their hunger and suffering.  Withholding food became a device for creating class barriers until the entire country was unable to produce hardly any food at all due to increasingly poor relations with their Communist counterparts in the 90's.

Reading about the lengths of which people went to feed themselves (including hunting frogs to extinction, eating ground corn husks, tree bark and prostitution in exchange for noodles) is eye-opening and probably a suitable accompaniment to doing the Live Below the Line challenge for a mere 5 days.  I can hardly complain about being hungry when there are people around the world who seriously struggle to live - not just eat - off $2.25 a day, or less.

I reminded myself of this as I felt hunger pangs all morning despite having had my flatbreads for breakfast and morning tea ($0.185).  Lunch, as per last night's dinner (pumpkin and spinach risotto), lasted for 3 hours as I continued to work eating only spoonfuls at a time. A little often definitely helps to keep hunger at bay and eating less for dinner (e.g. before going to sleep) helps to have a larger serve for lunch. Fair to say, there was heaps of it!

Desktop lunch - leftover pumpkin and spinach 'risotto'

Dinner tonight was pumpkin, carrot, potato and onion fritters.  This is a recipe inspired by my go-to zucchini fritters which utilises the water leeched out of the zucchini itself from salt being sprinkled through it. Here, my selection of vegetables are naturally much dryer (except the potato) so I added water to help bind the ingredients.

1/5 crown pumpkin ($0.40), peeled, 1 carrot ($0.12), also peeled, and 1 potato ($0.20), skin on, coarsely grated with 1/2 onion ($0.10) diced and 1 sliced green onion ($0.15) in a large mixing bowl. Combine with 1 tsp salt ($0.02), 1 tsp curry powder ($0.05), 1 tsp cumin ($0.05), 45g chickpea flour (1/2 cup, $0.15) and 1/2 c water.  Mix thoroughly, tossing all ingredients together ensuring there are no lumps of chickpea flour left behind.  Heating a large skillet or pan with 1 tsp oil ($0.05), cook spoonfuls of the mix until lightly golden on both sides.  Eat! (Total = $1.29)

Pumpkin, carrot, potato and onion fritters

These would be perfect served with a fresh herb yoghurt sauce or even just some sweet chilli; as a vege burger or by themselves with some salad.  The recipe made heaps (at least 25 at the size seen above, though I lost count as I just started eating them right out of the pan) and is something I'd definitely make again. I'd love to add some seeds and some crushed toasted coriander seeds as well as a small pinch of smoked paprika to give further depth to the flavour... but these did nicely for today.  And will do again for lunch on Day 3.

I'm very excited about tomorrow's dinner though... Dhal and tomato nachoes!

To support me (and Oxfam) on the Live Below the Line challenge, please donate by clicking here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day One and a half

It has begun. $11.25 to create all of my meals for the next 5 days (including today).

I spent most of the weekend food planning, writing everything down, evaluating the cost and quantity against a meal plan for the week.  I went to the market on Sunday and a few different shops throughout the week ensuring I could get the most bang from my buck and I think I have managed to allow myself a mid-week luxury.

Newtown market (photo taken a few months ago)
Moshims, 2-6 Wilson Street, Newtown - amazing for seasonings, spices, dhal, flours, rice, beans, etc, all sold by weight

My ingredients:
1 can of tomatoes ($0.88)
1 crown pumpkin ($2)
1 bunch of spinach ($1.25)
2 onions ($0.40)
2 carrots
2 potatoes ($0.65 for both)
1 bunch of green onions ($1)
1 sprig of rosemary (free, growing behind the local supermarket)
312g of Masoor dhal lentils ($0.93)
246g of chickpeas ($0.74)
350g of brown rice ($0.81)
500g flour ($0.65)
1 tsp yeast ($0.10)
45g chickpea flour ($0.15)
1 bag corn chips ($0.98) (the luxury - hurray for Pak n Save specials!)
Leaving $0.71 for oil and seasonings ($0.05 per 1 tsp oil, $0.01 per 1/2 tsp salt, $0.02 per 1/4 tsp pepper and for my herbs and spices I'm counting $0.05 per 1 tsp as I buy only at Indian/Asian shops where they sell by weight, as opposed to buying packets from the supermarket.)

The loot from the market
Supermarket goods

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Shared Lunch #4 for Oxfam

I've highlighted before the great global food gap that our world experiences across its many cultures, let alone in individual societies themselves.  In the same post, I committed myself to participating in the Live Below the Line challenge and, alas, next week I will finally be taking on the challenge.

To help fundraise and raise awareness, I dedicated all intake from Shared Lunch #4 to my chosen charity for the challenge: Oxfam.  I believe strongly in Oxfam and their approach to giving aid as they believe in empowerment and providing opportunities instead of short-term solutions alone - "helping people to help themselves".

Therefore, my Shared Lunch for charity seemed to me that it should be a simple meal with perhaps only the smallest flourish, and to cost less than $2.25 per head, despite being a slightly distorted parallel to the challenge itself (which is $2.25 for one day's worth of meals).  Nevertheless, I chose to make a soup with a couple of small extras.

Shared lunch #4: Roast pumpkin soup with herb oil and bread with Whitestone smoked butter.
I've been meaning to try Al Brown's new range of butter, in particularly the smoked flavour, and this meal presented the perfect opportunity to provide a sense of luxury to a simple dish.

Roast pumpkin soup with herb oil and bread with Whitestone smoked butter

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Shared Lunch #3

Continuing from my previous post...

Shared Lunch #3: Roast chicken sandwich with Christmas stuffing, coleslaw with toasted sesame seeds, gravy and crispy chicken skin in an Arobake baguette.  I'm sure I've mentioned this before but I love roast leftover sandwiches.  Even better when there is leftover gravy and stuffing to add to the memories of the dinner before, relived in a white bread sandwich (or roll) with a spread of butter and salad leaves when we're trying to pretend like it counters everything else.

Chicken (free-range, cornfed and organic)

Pre-heat oven to as high as possible.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels to allow undiluted absorption of crushed garlic, sea salt, plenty of black pepper and olive oil rubbed lovingly into all creases and folds to marinate for as long as possible. Because I have a cast-iron pan (which I highly recommend to anyone) I preheat this dry and high before adding the chicken to sear it off on both sides for a minute each (ending breast-side down), moving the bird in the pan periodically to prevent sticking. After this process I'm able to easily transfer the chicken straight into the oven, which has been preheated on high, lowering the heat to 170deg on transfer.  There's no proof that this helps to create a juicier roast chicken, but I like to think it does (as results confirm).  To aid in gravy production according to this recipe, I also add chopped potatoes, carrots and parsnip to sit underneath the chicken as it cooks.