Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Five Tips for a Simple Thrift-mas

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How did the silly season arrive with such rapidity this year? Egads, I was in the CBD earlier this week, and ALREADY there were Christmas shoppers out there, running around like headless chooks! With that in mind, I thought I would try and do my bit for a simpler, greener, less stressful holiday season. In no particular order, here are five things that you can employ that will make your holidays more enjoyable, less stressful and easier on the pocketbook! (“Thrift-mas” – you’re welcome).

  1. Learn the Art of “No”.   You simply don’t have to do it all!  Yes, there will be invites to things – but think of the amount of times that you have said “Gosh, I’d really rather not go to XXXX (insert boring social event of your choice)”.   Well, don’t!   I know you can come up with a lot of excuses as to why you CAN’T say no…. but try and challenge yourself!   And by doing that, you can be honouring yourself.  Saying no can be done graciously.  Here are a few ways to say no politely:
    • Thanks so much for the invite!  Unfortunately I/we won’t be able to make it.  But have a drink for us!
    • I would really love to come to X, but I have already made plans for that morning / afternoon / evening (NB:  even if your plans mean curling up with a book and listening to music!)
    • I am feeling pretty overwhelmed at the moment with all the holiday planning, and I really need to take a step back from all these social engagements.  Have a great time and send me a photo!   (and thanks for thinking of me).
  2. Remember the motto “It is better to DO, than to HAVE”.   If you still have present obligations, remember that the gift of TIME is always an appreciated one!   You can prepare little “gift certificates” that provide your friends and family with quality time with you (big night in, complete with movie of choice and popcorn, anyone?), or assistance for people who may need it (“this voucher good for one hour gardening time”).   This can also be extended to providing gifts of experiences, rather than buying more “things”.   Examples are movie vouchers, dinner vouchers, or even sporting experiences that you can share together (trips to the local swimming pool, or an indoor skydive?).
  3. Wrap with the REUSE in mind.   I always save wrapping or tissue paper when I can.  If you ARE wrapping up a gift, try to use wrapping paper that has already had a good life.   So much waste is generated during the holiday period, it is good if we can minimise where we can.  And no-one is going to care if their gift is wrapped in paper that is on its second life.   Trust me.  And if YOU get given a gift that has beautiful wrapping paper surrounding it, keep it and reuse it yourself next time!  Ditto for the ribbons.
  4. Remember those less fortunate.  This is a tough time of year for a lot of people.  Instead of buying “things”, think about making a donation to a charity in a friend’s / family member’s name.   Or get the family involved in making a “reverse Advent calendar” (where you put a new item in every day up until Christmas, then gift that to a worthy charity.  One very worthy charity in Perth can be found here).
  5. Get all old school and give home made gifts.  Spending some time baking yummy treats and then packaging them up in festive (recycled) ways are always a hit.  Made with love, the old-fashioned home baked goodies are definitely appreciated.  This year I am doing gingerbread muffins, festive shortbread, and fruit drops.  (my first Xmas batch of protein rich bliss balls shown below are already out the door!)

Remember to take the time to relax during this festive period.  Happy holidays everyone!

Pictured: Home made bliss balls. Always a hit! Heck, they even kinda look like snowballs (and these are about as close to a snowball as we are going to get in Australia in the middle of summer!)

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Written by Mar(k)

December 5, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Plastic Free July – some trials during Week 1 (and a win!)

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We decided to sign up for Plastic Free July. We already “do” a lot of the things to minimise our waste, particularly plastic. But it is always good to have something like this to keep it at the forefront of your mind and raise your general level of consciousness about plastic waste.

Interestingly, we had already “failed”, only hours into our July! Saturday morning dawned, and we had only just the previous week signed up for an eight week subscription to have our newspapers delivered on the weekend. Bad choice! Might have saved some money, but every Saturday and Sunday, we get the delivery of our papers wrapped in plastic! eek! Wasn’t really part of the plan. A good learning though, so we certainly won’t be renewing this (temporary) subscription.

On on! Later in the day, as we headed off to get some groceries, it was a no-brainer to bring our grocery bags, which are always in the car, along with our onya fruit and veg mesh bags. Had to remember to pack along our “keep cups” though, so that we could have our takeaway coffee and stay within our “plastic free” July and away from the evil disposable coffee cups!

Another challenge met us the following day, however, as I started to think about packing for an upcoming trip. I tend to use my “daily disposable” contact lenses when I travel, but alas! It is throw away plastic. Argh. Not sure about this one. Haven’t yet decided if I am going to bring along my usual monthly disposables, or just live with the (guilt?) of daily disposables while I am away.  A bit of a summary on the good, the bad and the ugly on disposable contact lenses, versus glasses, etc…  can be found here.

Porridge sachets – a no no that we hadn’t considered!

The other challenge on the Sunday morning was for Mark, as he was fuelling up his body for the 100 km or so cycle ride he was about to embark on. He just popped a porridge sachet into a bowl (something warming on these cold winter mornings!) but alas! More throw away plastic. Damn!  (Update:  I went onto the site for our porridge sachets, and I see that although they sell plain old rolled oats in a cardboard box, none of their (yummy) instant porridge with various delicious add-ins are available in “bulk”.   Bummer!)

voila! ready to use. Will happily keep on with this idea after Plastic Free July is done.

HOWEVER!  Not all was lost this week.   I took advantage of our (plastic covered) weekend newspaper, and made a bunch of paper bin liners.   A bit of origami fun, and it will be an easy transition to keep doing this long after July.  Here is a bit of what it looked like for me:  (NB:  I have kept a plastic bag in the rubbish bin in case of wet spills, but I am not expecting any huge dramas!)

A bit of creative origami that even I could do!

Popped these newspaper liners in with a plastic bag in case of wet spills.

If nothing else, this month is certainly highlighting for us where we can improve. It is also highlighting that maybe we aren’t as good about being “plastic free” as thought!   On on to Week 2.

Prepackaged Japan

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Sometimes we buy our dinner meal at a supermarket, as a way of keeping costs down, getting fresh fruit and veg, and trying local foods. There are many pre-packaged meals that are ready to eat, healthy and delicious. However, enjoying these meals certainly comes at an environmental cost. The Japanese love their packaging.  
Everything is wrapped. Bento boxes, rice balls, salads. All in plastic. Soy sauce, wasabi? Available. In tiny little plastic sachets. Chopsticks? Yup. Wrapped (think also massive deforestation, as the takeaway business is big business here. Thats a lot of wooden chopsticks that get chopped down from trees). Plastic spoons and forks. Plastic wrapped in plastic.  

The Japanese also love their beautifully wrapped presents, often food stuff from specific regions, highlighting the specialty of the area. They make great looking gifts, but inside is _______ (insert whatever the food stuff is here), often again individually packaged. Think a dozen sakura (cherry blossom) shaped biscuits. All in a gift box, wrapped in plastic, then put in a plastic bag, and EACH INDIVIDUAL biscuit is also wrapped, once you get inside the box! It seems crazy to us.

Even when we go to checkout at the supermarket, and bring our little reusable shopping bag, it is often met with some disbelief. But hey. We are kind of getting used to that look. Because it is very similar to the look we get when we tell people here that we are vegetarian. On, on! 

Even the bananas are individually wrapped! WTF?!?

A note on Japanese Food Culture

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We are currently enjoying a month in Japan, taking in the amazing shrines, soaking in onsens, admiring Mount Fuji, and chasing the cherry blossoms. But one of the most enjoyable parts of our holiday in Japan has been enjoying the amazing diversity of food here. Virtually every region has its specialty, and we haven’t had a bad meal yet.

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Although we have had a few large meals (pictured), even here you can see that the individual portion sizes are quite modest. Each meal has a lovely blend of the various tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and that most ubiquitous of Japanese flavours: umami. Each small dish is savoured, and with the enjoyment of these diverse tastes, you don’t need a lot to fully appreciate the dishes themselves.

This strikes me to be in marked contrast to many Western cultures, (and I am thinking North America here in particular), where I am always horrified at the portion sizes. Its not rocket science to see the correlation between portion size and obesity. And I do wonder about the lack of varied tastes in so much Western cuisine (the major tastes leaping to mind are sugar, salt and fat).

Other things that perhaps contribute to the overall healthier diet in Japan include the following:

  • Soft drinks are not widely available. Vending machines are everywhere, but fizzy drinks do not feature largely. Common cold drinks are iced teas, most served without any sugar.
  • Meals are largely based around vegetables (again, refer to the picture). When animal protein is served, the focus is on fish and seafood, rather than meats. But even when meat is served, portions stay in control. Tofu and soy are widely consumed. Fermented products are commonly eaten. Breads and pasta are not widely consumed. Rice and noodles feature regularly.
  • Presentation of each dish is as important as the taste of the dish itself. Some of the dishes are truly like works of art. Balance, harmony and simplicity is demonstrated in both the tastes and the presentation of the meal.

It has been a joy thus far sampling the wide variety of foods and tastes in this most magnificent country. Highly recommended destination for the foodie.

Written by Mar(k)

April 23, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Post Veganary: Where to from here?

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On Sunday we will have (successfully!) concluded our month of Vegan living.  So where to from here?

Well, that is a bit of a tricky question. Are we “ready” to embrace veganism as our default diet at the moment? Probably not. However, our lacto-ovo vegetarian diet will probably be amended somewhat based on our experiences during Veganary.

People choose veganism (or vegetarianism) for a variety of reasons. For us, harm to animals is a key driver. Which is why this article was of particular interest to us. If you are also driven by animal harm (and how to reduce it), you can also read this more detailed (but not overly long) article here.   In reading this article, I realise that the life I have been living for the past 22 or so years (and for Mark, about the last 8 years), actually has a name!   Go figure.  Environmentarianism.   Who knew?

It has been great engaging online through the Veganuary website with others, and their journey during this past month.  For us, it hasn’t been hugely life altering.  But I have used this month to learn more about vegan substitutes (my vegan friends who enjoy coming over for meals will thank me!), and getting more knowledge on the environmental damage that animal husbandry causes.

Did we die from lack of cheese?  um…. no.   Did we think we would miss it more than we did?  Definitely.   Although Mark is probably going to be happy to get back in the (bicycle) saddle with his cappuccino apres bike ride, we aren’t going to be rushing out to gorge ourselves on a cheese omelette just yet!   However, we WILL be changing up some staple items in our pantry, such that our already vegetarian lifestyle is more vegan friendly at home.  We have an added incentive to shop at our local all-vegan shop, as we love to support local small businesses.   So that will probably keep us using things like bio-cheese and other staples.   And all the online research has turned up some fabulous recipes, which have been real winners!   Always good to add those into the arsenal of yummy eating options.

Finally, we don’t feel like we need to be evangelical about anything – vegan diets included.  We aren’t really turned on by fanatical preaching in any form – religious, vegan or otherwise.  We are also clear that our choices are exactly that – our choices.  We don’t need to make a big deal out of it – and we do listen with wry amusement when others feel they need to comment on our dietary choices.   What they say, says much more about them, than it does about us!   We will leave you with this lovely sign that really embraces what we try to practise on a daily basis.   Happy Veganary everyone!

 

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Written by Mar(k)

January 29, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Veganary Update: Week 3

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We are trucking along quite nicely. Interestingly, we don’t really feel “deprived” (like we thought we might, missing out on cheese, in particular!). Mark is probably still missing his cow’s milk in his coffees, though. But overall, we are doing well.

I was trying to think of what is “different” this month in our diet, and some observations I have noticed (coming from a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet), is this:

Mexican food – one of our staples during Veganary

  • we probably eat more Mexican themed meals – the refried beans are a great and easy source of protein, along with the avocado. We don’t miss the cheese addition much, because the Mexican flavours pack a punch
  • a bit more of a focus on snacking to include protein sources. So for me, that means having a handful of nuts every now and again. Mark is already pretty nuts about nuts, so probably no difference for him!
  • way more diligence about label reading at the grocery store. Some surprises in the ingredient lists on some staple items – like olive tapenade. Was hard to find one that didn’t have anchovies as an ingredient!
  • bought a chewable B12 supplement. Probably not a huge deal if we revert back to our vegetarian diet, but you can’t be too sure! A good (vegan) friend of ours has pernicious anaemia, and requires B12 injections, so we are aware of the necessity to have enough B12 in our diet.

Was pleasantly surprised to hear that other friends of ours are also having a go at Veganary. Word is clearly getting out! And much love to our dear militant vegan friends (who shall remain nameless), who have been delightfully supportive of our attempts. We love ya!

We watched the great documentary “Conspiracy” last night.  It has been on our “to watch” list for quite a while now, but we thought it a good idea to make sure we viewed it while we were actually vegans!   Both of us thought it would be quite brutal re: graphic shots on animal cruelty.   And although there were two moments when both of us closed our eyes, overall this documentary is great, and it ISN’T all about abattoir shots, caged hens, etc… it is all about the number one causes of climate change (spoiler alert:  it ISN’T what you might think).  Highly recommended.  Particularly if you call yourself an environmentalist!

Finally, I feel “lighter”.   And I know this probably won’t be a surprise to fellow vegans.  But I was a bit surprised at this change.   Have to assume it is associated with the lack of cheese in our diet (rather than the eggs).   A good friend has suggested that when we re-introduce cheese and eggs into our diet, we do it one at time, just to see what it is that causes the heavier feeling.   A good idea!   Will let you know how it goes.

Written by Mar(k)

January 22, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Veganary Week 2 – finding an all vegan shop

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Well, we have finished about half of our Veganary month. In my last post, I mentioned a real score, which was finding an ALL VEGAN store literally just up the road from where we live. We had actually known it was there for a few weeks, but hadn’t gotten around to dropping in to check it out. Mighty glad we have now, though!

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The shop is called La Vita Vegan Grocery, and you can check out their Facebook page here. Natalie (pictured in the shop), is the owner, and was super friendly, helpful and pretty much just amazing!

This small place ticks a lot of boxes for us, Vegan or not! Here are just a few:

  • It is small, local place to shop for groceries.   We already boycott Coles and Woolies, and enjoy getting most of our fruit and veg at the local farmer’s market.   Whatever we can’t find there, we buy at the independent grocery stores (IGA or Farmer Jack’s).   But this is also going to be a go-to place for us.   Small businesses only succeed when people vote with their pocketbooks.
  • It is wonderful to see a niche like veganism being filled!   Perth doesn’t have the “big city” options like our other big cities do, so we are always going to support ventures that open up Perth’s doors just a little bit wider to the wonderful world out there!
  • Go the girls!  Love to see young women succeed in their business ventures.  Natalie is ambitious, friendly and happy to share her experiences as a vegan with her customers.  I can see that she will be a success in this venture.

In other news with our Veganary journey this week, Mark is slowly expanding his world view of soy milk with coffee.   He has now tried (two successes, one failure) a soy long macchiato.   So options are opening up for the man.  Yay.   But we did have to turn down two beautiful looking bites of yumminess yesterday at a coffee shop who gives you little bites of delightfulness when you order your coffee.   Alas, no vegan options there.   On the plus side, it probably saved some calories.

Two weeks down, two weeks to go.

Written by Mar(k)

January 15, 2016 at 9:32 am