New Years Resolutions: How to eat more vegies without wanting to die

I always make lots of New Years resolutions and always forget them really quickly. But my 2016 resolution to “eat more vegies” has actually stuck with me, and I must have mentioned it to a lot of people because I was at a kid’s birthday party the other day and one of the mums told me that she often thinks of me and how she should also eat more vegies. I’m parenting the parents of my daughter’s childcare friends!

This resolution came about because whenever you see a list of top tips for not getting cancer, they tend to be: don’t smoke (haven’t touched one since The Night of Three 21st Parties, September 2002); don’t drink (haha I have two small children, if you touch my wine I will kill you); eat less red meat (haven’t eaten red meat in 8 years –> winning at this one); and eat five servings of vegies a day.

FIVE SERVINGS? (What is a ‘serving’ anyway? We all know we eat way more than the recommended ‘serving size’ on the back of the Doritos or M&Ms packet. Is it the same with vegies, am I already eating way more than I realise? Um, no. Start here for some guidance.)

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I think I mentioned in my thoughtful critique on carrots that I find this ‘five servings a day’ a particularly difficult concept to get my head around, but this year I decided I had to get around it. Mum had just had a cancer scare, the idea of dying young and missing my kids grow up makes my blood run cold, and mostly I really want to keep drinking wine without feeling guilty.

So if you have made the same resolution this year, but now it’s mid February and you’ve just counted hot chips from the pub as tonight’s vegetable, here are my top tips for getting more vegies into your day, so you too can feel smug the next time you read an article on how to avoid cancer, while avoiding any suicidal thoughts that come about because life is too short for lettuce at every meal.  (Pictures inspired by/taken from this article which always makes me laugh.)

First, eat vegies for breakfast – I started off 2016 having smoothies. YES, I KNOW, I’m a walking cliche. But really if you want an easy way to get your greens in, this is it. My basic recipe is a banana, a handful of frozen spinach portions, about 1/3 cup of oats, about 1.5 cups of milk (usually rice), a tablespoon of nut butter or LSA mix, and a bit of cinnamon. Delish. But then winter hit and I didn’t really feel like cold smoothies, and also I didn’t want a sweet breakfast every day. So now my breakfast is almost always mushrooms on toast spread with avocado. With an egg if I’m extra hungry, with some extra vegies if I have them around especially zucchini, capsicum or cherry tomatoes. It’s super delish, and no it doesn’t feel like much extra effort now that I’m used to it (plus I don’t have to clean the blender –> winning).

Don’t throw out your leftovers – sure, two florets of broccoli left on the kids’ dinner plates don’t look very appetising, but tomorrow you can chop them up and fry them in some olive oil and garlic to have with your cheese toastie, and look you added half a serve of vegies. Whenever I cook sweet potato or pumpkin I also cook some extra without seasoning and that makes a great addition to a smoothie or salad the next day.

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Buy lots of vegies and fresh herbs, and learn how to store them – I used to do a meal plan for the week’s dinners and just buy what we needed, but that meant there was nothing left for lunches or snacks. So I’ve figured out how to buy enough vegies for the week, without meal planning in advance (so I can just buy what’s fresh and cheap), and without throwing out heaps of rotten food. And I buy two or three of my favourite fresh herbs, because they are what make vegies sing. (Yes, we are attempting to grow our own.) If you buy good quality stuff and store it properly (Google is your friend), it won’t go off and you’ll have lots of options right up until the end of the week.

Don’t think you have to eat things you don’t like – I don’t much care for salads. I mean the cold crunchy kind, based around lettuce and cucumber and that kind of thing. Blah. I love salads that fill you up, particularly if they are made wholly or partly of cooked vegies – full of roast vegies and feta, or soba noodles with julienned vegies and a spicy dressing, or anything in Hetty’s books. So that’s how I eat them, because that’s what I enjoy and what makes me happy. Another thing I love is pesto, so I like turning greens into pesto (like broccoli and spinach) and then a bowl of spaghetti and pesto suddenly feels so virtuous. I also like any combination of vegies that is partial to being grilled in olive oil. But if handfuls of rocket on every meal, or simple steamed three veg,  will make you happy, then go right ahead.

Make it easy on yourself – frozen vegies are great to keep in the freezer at home or work, toss them up with your protein of choice and boom, lunch is done. The tinned tomatoes in your pasta sauce count. Jarred antipasto vegies can go on sandwiches at the end of the week when all the fresh stuff is gone. You don’t have to suddenly be creating amazing complicated meals with 100 different ingredients.

Any other tricks you’ve found that I’ve missed? Do you find it easy to get five (or even three) a day? Do you agree the Brits are cheating by counting baked beans?

Happy new year everyone, and happy eating 🙂

 

 

WTF are you going to do with all those carrots?

I can’t be the only person who says, “Oh, carrots are on sale! A dollar for a kilo! What a bargain!” Then slices up three for dinner and leaves the other seven to rot in the bottom of the fridge.

So, here are some ideas on what to do with the other seven carrots that I’ve found that are delicious and will avoid food wastage. I may not go so far as dumpster diving but I really hate wasting food even if it’s only 70 cents worth of pretty ordinary carrots. The worst bit of cooking with carrots is always the grating, even with a food processor, because that involves cleaning. But once you’ve got a stash of grated or chopped carrot, there’s lots of options. (You can even grate/chop then leave it in the fridge for a day or two while you wait for inspiration to hit.)

Carrot cake. I make this in muffin form, using half the amount of honey, and no icing – this makes it what I consider an “everyday” treat as opposed to a special occasion cake. Something Emma and I can have in the afternoon while we watch Sesame Street after her nap. They are gluten free (which agrees with my tummy), refined sugar free (which agrees with my trying to not die of cancer) and dairy free (which agrees with the part of me that would be a vegan if only life was worth living without cheese). I also love that it uses loads of carrots. Some recipes for “carrot cake” only use a single carrot, which defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do here, which is use up all the carrots in the fridge.

Carrot porridge. I’ve said before I don’t understand how we’re supposed to eat five servings of vegetables a day, but here is one way to get an extra serving. I’ve only made it once this winter, but previous years I’ve made it every week. Since Toby’s not a porridge fan I make a batch on Sunday night, keep it in the fridge and it lasts most of the week. I just reheat and add a bit of milk.

Carrot and zucchini muffins. These do not meet any dietary requirements whatsoever, which means they are delicious. I also make them with just carrot, no zucchini.

Roasted carrot salad. Roasted carrots are not just for the Sunday roast where they naturally get forgotten next to the way-more-delicious potato; they also make a great salad base with a green, a grain and an oomphy dressing (and probably some feta too). This is one created by my very talented aunty Hetty, from her cookbook Community (which is awesome and can be found at your local indie bookshop AND Costco).

Carrot soup. Just the words “carrot soup” fill me with a slight dread – it just sounds so ordinary. But this is anything but ordinary. It was the roasted chick pea garnish that got me interested (LOVE those), but the whole things is one big bowl of deliciousness (even if you don’t bother with any of the garnishes).

You can add carrots to a fruit puree (with apple and/or pear, and some spices) for the baby, or to swirl through your own yoghurt or porridge or smoothie. You can grate it into a pasta sauce. Keep sticks in the fridge next to a pot of humus or salsa so they next time you’ve got the munchies they are so easy you just have to eat them instead of cheese. People who are into juicing would definitely put it in their juice. Okay, that’s all the ideas I have but now I really have no excuse to have rotting carrots in the fridge, and neither do you.

Trying to not die of cancer (or, a DIY muesli recipe)

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but we’ve abandoned the War on Drugs, admitted defeat. There’s a new war on. The War on Sugar. My dad was recently informed by a colleague that she and her husband had cut out all sugar. “It’s been a month now,” she said with all the solemnity of an AA meeting attendee. There are books and blogs and disciples aplenty. Some people take it to what I consider extremes, especially if they have no medical condition that is improved by cutting out sugar. No fruit?! But then, something kept niggling at me.

Since Emma was born, I am like most parents and terrified of something happening to her. The first night she slept through I woke up convinced she’d died in her sleep. I always check she’s breathing before I go to bed, and I like hearing her cough during the night because it lets me know she’s alive. I’m relaxed enough about activities that could result in a broken bone or tooth or scrapes and bruises but I’m not at all relaxed about potential head injuries. I’m paranoid about gastro and wipe down public high chairs with anti-bacterial wipes before I let her sit in them. I studied YouTube clips of baby CPR when we started solid food. After a while though, and one too many sad newspaper stories or Facebook posts, I developed a new fear.

Something happening to ME.

The world is full of heartbreaking stories of young mothers dying of breast cancer or ovarian cancer or brain tumours or random rare diseases not picked up in time because they were too busy being mums to go to the doctor. I am also nearly 100% convinced I’m going to die in a car accident, but that’s because so many other drivers seem intent on killing me. But mostly, one day it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I might not grow old and be able to watch Emma grow old at the same time.

This is TERRIFYING, obviously. I don’t want to end up a Facebook fundraiser or “super touching” YouTube clip. I don’t want Emma growing up without a mum. I don’t want Toby to have to find a new wife, as if he’d be able to find one as awesome and neurotic as me anyway.

I told my sensible, calm sister Jude of my morbid thoughts, assuming she’d tell me I was being ridiculous and was definitely going to live to be 100. But instead she told me she felt exactly the same way.

This did not help.

What did help was Jude’s sensible, calm suggestion that we can only do our best and cross our fingers. Disease might find us anyway, but so might a wayward car, a bolt of lightning or some dodgy seafood. I’m pretty sure that if I lived perfectly and got cancer anyway I’d feel completely ripped off, but at the same time if I don’t look after myself and get cancer or some other horrible thing, I’d always wonder if there was something I could have done to avoid it. So, I’m doing my best to avoid it.

I haven’t given up fruit. Or dairy. Or bread. I like to keep things achievable, and I know myself well enough by now to know what’s not going to work. I decided to focus on looking for sugar-free alternatives to some food, and getting more vegetables into my diet, and Emma’s for that matter. (Toby’s a grown man and can look after himself, obvs.)

Am I the only grown-up who can’t figure out how to get 5 serves of vegies into my day? Okay, I can figure it out, but I can’t figure out how to do it every day of the week. By Thursday the fresh vegies I bought on the weekend are either eaten, or not looking all that fresh anymore. I can’t put fresh spinach in a banana smoothie on Friday unless I do a second shopping trip during the week. Is that the answer? I don’t know, who has time for that? But I’m going to try a few things, like individual packets of frozen vegies for Emma (I know, I know, but sometimes it’s going to be the best I can do), making things like zucchini slice on weekends that I can freeze and use as snacks during the week, and maybe I will slip in a trip to the markets on a lunch break because I do like the markets and probably wouldn’t mind that as a lunch break on a work day.

On the sugar front, the main thing I’ve started doing is making our own muesli. I’ve attempted this in the past but it never lasted. Toby eats a LOT of muesli and it’s hard to keep up, plus with the amount he eats it is cheaper to buy it in bags from Coles than make it myself. But he was getting on the sugar-free bandwagon too and so I took it upon myself to start DIY-ing muesli. I started off using a Michelle Bridges recipe and have ended up with this:

900g rolled oats (seems like a random amount but that’s the size of the bag from Coles)

500g bran (specifically this one)

1.5 cups seeds (combination of pepitas and/or sunflower seeds)

1 cup slivered almonds

2 cups chopped dried fruit

Teaspoon of cinnamon (or a bit more, or none if you’re not a fan, or maybe other spices would be nice?)

This amount lasts over a week and sometimes nearly two, depending on how often I eat it.

It’s a total process of trial and error with getting the ingredients right. One week I did my shopping at Woolies and they didn’t sell a bran that I wanted so I replaced it with puffed rice (the “health food” kind, not the Rice Bubbles kind). BLAH. Another time I didn’t have almonds so I used walnuts. NO. One time I thought it would be an awesome idea to chop the dried fruit in the food processor but I got distracted and let it go so long it was a solid mass of Christmas cake flavoured stuff. On the other hand, last night I didn’t quite have enough rolled oats so I added a cup of shredded coconut which was a total winner. The dried fruit is also tricky – some of them have sugar added or other rubbish so you have to check labels if you’re being careful. They also come in weird textures that don’t necessarily work well – fresh dates tend to stick together and some of the really basic organic ones are really tough and dry. So yeah – trial and error, with even the errors being pretty edible and you only have to put up with it for a week or so until it’s time to make a new batch anyway.

Out of curiosity I googled Paleo muesli, interested to see what a grain free sugar free muesli looked like. I made this and it was divine. But it definitely wasn’t as healthy as my usual mix – how could it be when it’s got coconut oil and maple syrup in it? Therein lies some of the problem with a “sugar free” diet. It’s definitely a once or twice a week kind of muesli, or to be combined with plain rolled oats. But Toby’s not into those sorts of alterations to his breakfast routine (seriously we’ve been together 11 years and the only times I’ve seen him deviate from his usual breakfast is when we go out for breakfast, or he’s sick). So I’m back to a plain, unbaked, perfectly edible muesli and we’re starting off the day feeling oh so virtuous. One more small step towards not dying of cancer, with any luck.

Recent Loves

Toby once suggested I was too liberal with my use of the word love. I was 21 when we met and good at being 21, including by professing my undying love for everything and everyone. Avocado on toast? Love. Toby’s roommate, who I barely knew but was polite and laughed at my jokes? Love. Bodypump class? Love.

It’s 11 years later and I still love everything. I also have many favourites. Toby only benefits from this, being my most beloved and most favourite of all. I can’t imagine life without loving things, truly, madly and deeply. It must be very dull, to only ever like things. In any case, here are some recent things in my life that I love.

My rumble roller. I’ve already documented my deep affection for the foam roller, which continues to send me to a level of bliss I probably shouldn’t talk about on a public blog. But it wasn’t enough. Hauling a toddler around plus weights/yoga/pilates work means I end up with these knots in my shoulders and the only way to fix them is for Toby to hold his thumbs out like he’s giving me a thumbs up, and I grind my back into them until Toby begs me to stop because he is afraid of breaking something (either in my back or his hand, I’m not sure). This routine wasn’t sustainable. Enter the rumble roller, which my dear mother in law commented looked like a piece of medieval torture equipment. It’s seriously brutal and seriously good. (So brutal that I couldn’t find anywhere in Canberra that sold it. Canberra, land of the X-rated adult shop!) Forking out $100 seemed a bit steep when we already had a roller, but a massage costs about the same every time and this way I can give myself a massage several times a week. And yes, I still use the regular foam roller so yes, I do need two. (Purchased from here which I would highly recommend.)

True Detective. Toby fell asleep during the first episode, but I think this is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play a couple of cops investigating a serial killer. The show moves between their investigation (about 15 years ago) and the present day, when they are being interviewed separately during a new investigation. There’s only 3 episodes that have aired so far, and we’ve only watched 2, but I’m already looking forward to the next one. Definitely worth a watch.

Vanilla cupcakes. I made these for a friend’s birthday recently and thought they were some of the best cupcakes I’d ever eaten, let alone made. The method is unusual and a lot of bloggers who had shared the recipe were like, ‘There’s no creaming of the butter and sugar! This is amazing!’ As a descendant of Theresa McKinnon, I rarely cream the butter and sugar anyway, so this wasn’t such a big deal to me, but the method still seemed to end up making a unique and delicious cupcake. I’m not sure the frosting is as amazeballs as a lot of bloggers made it out to be. Sure it’s good – but it’s sugar and butter, so it’s going to be. Possibly this is because I didn’t have the right attachment on my mixer, I’m not sure. It’s very rich frosting so you need to make sure you get the ratio of frosting and cake right – the cake is (unusually?) the best bit, so you don’t want it to be lost under too much frosting. Anyway if you want something simple and yummy, this might be it. I think I might need to visit the Hummingbird Bakery next time I’m in London.

Recent food finds

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut food-wise, for someone who reads cooking blogs and owns many cookbooks I make a lot of the same things. A lot. I always appreciate it when people point me in the direction of new recipes or ideas, so here are some things I’ve found recently that other people might like too.

Coconut biscuits. You don’t have to make the jam for these (although it’s super easy) – I’ve used jarred jam and it’s fine. Also, you can make your own coconut butter by putting desiccated coconut in the food processor until it turns into a butter kind of consistency. It keeps in a container at room temperature for ages. The last time I made these I didn’t have enough coconut to make the butter so I used coconut oil. You couldn’t really tell the difference with the batter or the taste but they spread kind of weird in the oven, so I’d suggest using coconut butter (or regular I guess, not sure). Also, did you know you can make your own almond meal by just processing slivered almonds? I know, I felt dumb when I realised that too. Costco sells enormous bags of slivered almonds as well as coconut oil, by the way.

Chocolate chilli biscuits. These are DELICIOUS. People LOVE them. I’ve been making them a lot because I always have all the ingredients.

Kale and mushroom bowl. Don’t know what to do with all the kale and mushrooms in your vegie drawer? Never fear! I made this one night when Toby was out and it was very tasty. I’d recommend not adding quite as much soy sauce though – I found mine a bit too salty.

Jumbo stuffed shells. I honestly don’t know why these aren’t known in Australia. We’ve got canneloni and lasagne and everything else, why not jumbo shells? I’ve seen them at Costco and have also been able to buy them at delis that sell specialist pasta. They are yummy, and there are recipes all over the internet both vegan and not.

Wintery comfort food using cauliflower (WHY are they so big when you only ever need 1/4 of it??) – a creamy pasta sauce that needs a good handful of parmesan or nutritional yeast, or as a soup base with basil and gnocchi (I didn’t add any beans).

Poor Emma is still often given “something on toast” plus “some vegies” and “some fruit” for lunch and dinner, but I’m on a mission to try and improve this. I already owned a couple of baby and toddler cookbooks but didn’t find them that great – they tended to be half purees and then half main meals. I really wanted more finger food, things like vegie muffins or pikelets that I could make a batch of and feed to little miss. So I’ve just bought this and so far Emma has liked almost everything from it (except the potato frittata). Last night I made the pumpkin dahl for me and Toby, and saved some for Emma today, and she LOVED it. Who knew?

Happy eating.

Never buy ice cream again!

I’m going to have to rename this blog “stuffmysistertoldme.com” (seriously, don’t steal that) because so much of what I know and love comes from Jude, who somehow has a way of Discovering Things. You look at her and figure she must have her life pretty well sorted so you might as well steal her ideas and then maybe your life will be better sorted. Thanks to her I took up running, roasting vegetables on baking paper, freezing anything and everything, and read the book that changed my life. Jude shares her discoveries in the least pretentious way possible, unlike me who had to start a whole blog to share things. Jude (and her husband for that matter) is the kind of person who might casually mention she’s discovered a way to make ice cream at home, without an ice cream maker, and it’s no big deal really, but it’s a bit better than the stuff you get from a supermarket, and maybe she’ll bring some over for you to eat while you watch Pitch Perfect.

It is a big deal, and it’s much better than the stuff you get from Coles, and eating it while watching Pitch Perfect is the best way I can imagine spending Saturday night from here on.

It’s a Nigella recipe, but it’s not really a recipe, more a base and then you add your own deliciousness. It’s like having Goodberries or Cold Rock in your very own kitchen, without having to go to Gungahlin or Erindale and without the tweens and toddlers getting in the way.

This makes enough ice cream for four adults, or maybe five or six if you’re serving it with something else. But really, make more than you think you’ll need, because there’s always room for ice cream either in your tummy or the freezer.

Whip 300 ml of thickened cream with 175g condensed milk (this is half a tin – and yes you can freeze the rest if it doesn’t somehow magically end up in your gob) and 2 tablespoons of liqueur until peaks form. Also, the liqueur is what helps it stay soft in the freezer, so don’t go all alcohol-free on this one. The texture ends up more like gelato than ice cream (unless I get lazy and use the food processor, in which case it ends up like ice cream but still tastes good).

Then stir in some yummy stuff, and put it in the freezer for at least 6 hours. Yes, you will have to wait for this. Yes, it will be worth it. In the meantime, just lick the bowl.

Here are some ideas for the yummy stuff to stir in, some of which we’ve tried, others are on the list for the next Pitch Perfect viewing.

Butterscotch schnapps and…

  • ground ginger and crushed ginger nut biscuits
  • vanilla extract and crushed butter nut biscuits
  • honey, vanilla and walnuts
  • baked apple and dates
  • maple syrup and pecans
  • some kind of salted caramel business

Then there’s creme de cacao (or something like frangelico) and anything that goes with chocolate, like crushed Oreos, chopped up cookie dough (I made these cookies last week and used the leftover dough in ice cream – highly recommended), nuts, choc chips, berries. We discovered on the weekend you can add cocoa powder to up the chocolate hit and it works. I have also heard you can make your own coconut condensed milk so I have grand plans for that, including a Cherry Ripe flavour and some kind of rip on the yummy lime and coconut cakes with the oaty base you get at cafes these days. Also on the list is a Turkish delight using rose water and pistachios and creme de menthe plus chocolate in some form. We may need a trip to the gorgeous Wild Brumby distillery to stock up on flavoured schnapps? Also, should probably steal ideas from the fancy ice creams like the awesome ones from Maggie Beer.

This recipe was a gift from Nigella to Jude, from Jude to me, and now I’m giving it to the WORLD. You’re welcome.

How to impress your mother-in-law

Apart from giving birth to a perfect grandchild, that is. Make these!

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I like cooking and I like making nice meals for special occasions but I’m not much for entrees. I’m a cheese and crackers or chips and dip (depending on the formality level) kinda gal. I decided to switch it up for Di’s birthday dinner because she is an amazing cook for whom three courses is no big deal. She also does a load of free babysitting for us while I go to the gym and try to be a yummy mummy, so she deserved a decent feed.

I got the idea for these from the Vegie Food cookbook (one of those short fat cookbooks you can get for about $20 in Target) – which used onion jam but since I’m allergic to onions I mixed it up a bit. The book called them Italian Summer Tarts, which you may also do.

To make 4, you need 2 thawed sheets of puff pastry, 4 tablespoons of olive tapenade (make your own, or be lazy like me and a buy a half-decent one from the deli), 8 marinated artichoke hearts, half a punnet or so of cherry tomatoes, and a few sprigs of thyme.

Preheat the oven to 220 and stick a baking tray in to preheat at the same time. Use a small bowl (or big mug?) to cut the pastry into four rounds. You could also just use one sheet of pastry cut into quarters I guess, but if you’re being fancy why not go round.

Spread each bit of pastry with one tablespoon of tapenade. Then get your tomatoes into a (separate) baking dish and do what you like with them – I just sprayed with oil and added pepper, but you could do salt or Herbamere as well, some garlic, etc. You only need about 12 for these but if you have a whole punnet, roast the lot and use the extras for something else. There’s always time for more roasted tomatoes.

Put the pastry rounds on your preheated tray and stick them plus the tomatoes into the oven at the same time. If you leave them for about 15 minutes the pastry should be nice and puffy and the tomatoes should be perfect.

Once they’ve all cooled down a bit, arrange your tomatoes, artichokes and thyme on top of the pastry. Then eat it and tell yourself how easy and delicious that was, and how nice it is that you still have room for the next two courses. Di gave them a 10/10, which was the whole point.

The best thing about them is I made these at about 3pm and just left them at room temperature until we ate them around 7.30, which worked great. I’m a big fan of preparing in advance, especially foods that don’t need to be refrigerated.

Main course was a less impressive, un-veganised variation on this recipe, and we had sticky date cupcakes and fancy vanilla gelato for dessert. But really, next time you need to give someone you love a decent feed, start with these.