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How I’m surviving after 3 weeks of convenience foods…

There’s an interesting experiment happening at Vegie Smugglers HQ at the moment, as we enter week 3 of kitchen renovations, and I face the challenge of feeding the family whilst kitchenless. With some glee, I spent way-more-time-than-any-person-with-a-life-would in some of the supermarket aisles negotiating my way around the convenience products that stack the shelves.

I’ve got no ethical problem doing this you see, since healthy eating is not an extreme sport for me (hell, I still have a teaspoon of sugar in my tea). And I like to be a bit more of-the-people in my approach, so it seems totally fine to spend a few weeks sampling what is on offer in all those packets and tins that I never normally bother with. And let’s face it – the kids are excited. Mum’s constant healthy cooking is a pain in the arse and cramps their love-of-a-shiny-packet style.

WEEK 1

We started out ok. There was a bunch of freezer options that taste quite good. There’s cous cous and quinoa and vegies and I was pretty happy with it all, except of course for the cost. Like, MAN, it’s expensive to eat this way. I’ve whipped up a wee piccy to prove my point….

vegie-smugglers-vegetables-cut-up

I am a bit of a tightarse (I am trying to fund my reno), so eating this stuff definitely isn’t sustainable. Especially since the only benefit is saving about a minute of knife time. If you don’t have a good knife at your place YOU NEED TO BUY ONE. Judging by the money you save, you can pay off full set of Globals within a couple of months.

WEEK 2

The second week dawned and we stretched into some of the weirder convenience food territory. Strange packets where you add water and microwave for 15 minutes and return to find fried rice all ready for the eating. Some of these options are quite tasty and the kids in particular were wetting their pants over them.

Me, not so much since the flavour comes from weird sources, additives, sugar & salt. Oh my god, so much salt. I have spent the past week desperately thirsty and unable to quench it. I guess I’m supposed to have a Coke to reset my tastebuds.

And this is where I’m actually shocked that people can eat these regularly. My mouth is actually HURTING after a week of them. I understand in a busy household that it’s easy to slip into eating these foods (especially if you hate cooking), but they are bordering on dangerous when eaten regularly.

Consider the current guidelines that recommend daily maximum sodium intakes of:
1 to 3 years: 1,000mg
4 to 8 years: 1,400mg
9 to 13 years: 2,000mg
14 years and over: 2,300mg

To put that in perspective here’s some sodium content info for you….

1x420g Heinz salt reduced tin of baked beans = 1000mg
1x420g Heinz regular tomato baked beans = 1510mg
1x420g Heinz spaghetti = 1210mg
1x420g Heinz salt-reduced spaghetti = 740mg
1x535g Heinz chunky beef soup = 1720mg
1x70g Fantastic noodles pot = 1577mg

But it’s not ALL bad news, on those nights when you really can’t summons up the will to live the energy to cook, choose a no-added-salt baked beans tin with only 40mg per tin. You are of course, still dealing with additives and other nasties – but that’s a whole other post.

I guess the moral of the story is to take a bit of time to find the products that suit you and to rethink just how convenient these foods are in the long term.

For now, with another 3 weeks of renovations to go, I’m on the hunt for healthier quick options. I promise to report back with how I go.

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The starsign most likely to be a fussy eater is…

starsign-graph

Combining two of the internet’s favourite topics – food and astrology (sadly I couldn’t find a way to also include conspiracy theories) – I recently conducted entirely credible research (on Facebook of course) that drew staggering results as to the connection between sun signs and whether or not your child is likely to be a fussy eater.

Got a child born between August 23 and Sept 22? You have a VIRGO and according to me, they are statistically OFF THE CHART and by far the most picky eater in the zodiac. Of course, you could call my research entirely flawed since the question I asked was, “What sun sign is your fussiest little eater? Mine – VIRGO.” With the benefit of hindsight I realise that this was biased qualitative questioning. But hey, I went to art school and spent three years painting, not actually learning anything useful like how to prepare a credible survey.

But if you removed Virgo, there were still some pretty interesting results. Next fussiest was Leo (Jul 23 – Aug 22) which is a ‘fixed’ sign – known for a certain level of stubborness. Another fixed sign, Taurus, came in next. As you’d expect there was a mid-result clump that was separated by ‘statistically insignificant’ amounts, but the two easiest signs to feed were Capricorns and Librans.

Moving on to another internet darling – cacao nibs – and I’ve been doing a bit of experimenting. The first is a healthy-as-you-like option, a dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, processed-sugar-free, is-there-anything-left cookie that I enjoyed but only got 50/50 approval my my sample study of 6 children.

The second is a pretty regular cookie, with choc chips swapped out with cacao nibs. Between the two options there should be something for everyone.

Free from everything except flavour.

Free from everything except flavour.

The healthy cacao nib biscuits

This is based on a recipe from Joyous Health.

1/4 cup maple syrup 3 tbsp tahini
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup combined currants & cacao nibs

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Line a tray with baking paper.

Mix everything together and dollop the mixture on the tray. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool on the tray.

Makes 10.

Free from nothing.

Free from nothing.

Classic cookies (with cacao nibs)

125g butter, softened
1 cup raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup cacao nibs
1 cup sultanas

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line two trays with baking paper.

Use hand held beaters or an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together. Cream them well for several minutes until light and flufffy. Add the egg and beat in well. Also tip in the vanilla and salt.

Sift over the flour and fold it in (slow setting on the beaters will be fine). Then stir in the oats, nibs and sultanas. Dollop amounts onto your trays and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Makes 36ish.

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OMG, have I just become a paleo convert?

There is such a kerfuffle in food land this month, isn’t there! And on my Facebook page I’ve been receiving a bit of hate from both sides. Being moderate in my approach, I’m confusing people. So for the sake of transparency, I thought I’d be CLEAR on just what I think about the current Pete Evans/paleo ‘debate’.

I HATE that we are having a ‘debate’ at all, and that sides must be picked in a healthy food war. It’s silly and ridiculous that food has become so ‘either or’. Apparently if I am not eating paleo and drinking raw milk, I am sat on my fat bum eating as much processed food as possible, and washing it all down with Coke. The fervour of this debate exhausts me.

I LOVE that a person with such as large following as Pete Evans is inspiring people to lift their game, cook, eat fresh produce and rethink what goes in their mouths.

I HATE that he doesn’t share a bunch of recipes for free, online. They’re all in cookbooks, or in tv shows that he’s being paid to do. It makes me suspicious of the motives. Or just aware that he’s surrounded by very smart people. And hey, we’ve all got to make a dollar, and possibly I’m just jealous that he makes more out of a speaking engagement than I do all year.

I LOVE that he has such twinkly, lovely blue eyes. He’s quite handsome.

I HATE that certain foods are now ‘poison’. Even lovely foods straight out of the ground, like potatoes. Poor little potatoes.

I LOVE that he’s questioning the role big business plays in food production. Although there is a point where we DO have to feed everyone on this planet. Resources are strained, especially with all these healthy people living longer and needing to be fed for so many years.

I LOVE that the paleo/wholefoods movement is offering alternatives. I’ve read ‘Wheat Belly’ and have to agree that processed flour is overly prevalent and bad for us. There are other ingredients that we can use instead, although not in a sponge cake. Sad.

I HATE that food and fashion are so intertwined. Maybe I’m just jaded, but at 42 I’ve seen a bunch of fads come and go and I consider kale to be similarly aligned to shoulder pads in terms of taste and longevity.

I LOVE that Pete Evans is prepared to put himself on the line and be one extreme end of this debate. He’s shaking things up and I have a sneaking suspicion that the general consensus will end up resting somewhere in the middle between food evangelism and pragmatism.

I HATE that people are so uptight about food. It’s masking a bunch of problems. Heard of Orthorexia? It’s like a socially acceptable anorexia and it really concerns me. It comes complete with food group exclusion and obsession with what you’re putting in your mouth. I hate to see people being anxious rather than grateful over food.

I HATE that there’s no sense of humour around this topic. NONE. And this is possibly what I hate most, because while food definitely is thy medicine, so too is laughter.

So am I turning paleo? No. But there are some fantastic ideas in paleo in terms of ingredients and cooking methods that I’m happy to incorporate into my own long-term healthy approach to food and life.

So don’t hate on me if I decide to post a ‘paleo’ type recipe from time to time and don’t fret. Because next week it might be vegan, then sugar-laden, then vegetarian then raw. And that’s ok. I’m going to be the ultimate mum and not pick a side, but to urge you all to use your words, stop whining and play nice.

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Halloween pumpkin…. in a cake

It is the week where orange food rules. I don’t know about your place, but Halloween has seeped into our household over the last few years and I’m happy this year that it falls on a Friday night. It means that we can all potter off to a dress up party together for a bit of fun rather than trawling the streets looking for the rare orange balloon that signifies that the occupants won’t freak out if we knock.

In previous years my kids have been super keen for a bit of trick or treating… until we get to the strange driveway… then all gumption leaves them and they start crying, too afraid to approach the door. Of course then they pester and want me to do it for them, but being a mean mum, I merely point out that following this imported tradition is THEIR idea, and if they can’t knock on the door, they don’t deserve any treat.

Tough love, and delivered whilst wearing a witches hat. Cackle.

Inevitably our lolly haul is small and we end up home earlier than anticipated with the night being more fraught than fright.

So a batch of these waiting in the kitchen might come in handy…

The ghosts look desirous, don't you think?

The ghosts look desirous, don’t you think?

Halloween pumpkin cakes

Most kids I’ve tried these on have liked them – although a few were vehemently anti-sultana, which is why I’m suggesting a choc chip substitution. I’ve not tried it, but I reckon it would get them over the line with most junior food critics.

2 eggs
1/4 cup oil of your choice (I use grapeseed, but coconut, olive oil etc are all fine)
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (be generous)
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
2 cups grated pumpkin (if you hate grating, just blitz small pumpkin chunks in a mini-food processor)
1/2 cup sultanas (or choc chips)

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases.

Whisk the eggs well in a large bowl. Tip in the oil and yoghurt and whisk to combine before doing the same with the brown sugar.

Remove the whisk and sift over the flour and mixed spice. Use a metal spoon to fold through, then also combine in the pumpkin and sultanas.

Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin holes and bake for 22-25 minutes until golden and springy.

Makes 12.

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Win this amazing hamper!

Running an online business is a tricky thing – the effort required to start up and keep going is HUGE, so it’s an honour today to be able to feature a few fantastic women who like me, are tiny mumpreneur ventures doing amazing things. They’ve kindly sent me a bunch of products to pop into a giveaway hamper, so let’s check them out…. (BTW, I’m not being paid to run this post – I’m just happy to promote a few of my online mates)….

hamper-giveaway

Here’s what you win!

3-in-1 turning slicer courtesy of Jen at Barefoot Kitchens
Little Mashies reusable squeezie pouches.
Four reusable snack pockets from 4myearth
Additive free cake sprinkles, Zipzicle Ice pop bags and Jack N’ Jill natural toothpaste from Happy Tummies
Let’s party additive free by Melanie Avery
Raw food 4 kids by the Sarah Quinney
Three Safety Food Peelers
Four Cow Farm Baby kit of natural & organic baby oil, wash, lotion & cream from Nourishing Hub.
and my Kitchen Collection book

PLUS! My reader Katie has gifted a copy of the book her clever husband Giuseppe has illustrated!….

Aaaawwwww! So cute.

Aaaawwwww! So cute.

Since this hamper is focused on younger children, to enter all you have to do is share your favourite parenting tip in the comments below. It can be insanely practical, short or long – just one little nugget of wisdom when it comes to raising kids under three. To be eligible, you must be resident in Australia (so that I can ship everything to you).

Do yourselves a favour, take the time to visit and support all of these women on their facebook pages…. Barefoot Kitchens, Little Mashies, 4myearth, Happy Tummies, Let’s Party Additive Free, The Raw Food Mum, Safety Food Peelers, Nourishing Hub and Giuseppe Poli.

Entries close Sunday night, 6pm, AEDT.**** Thanks everyone and congratulations to our winner Narita!

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Do I love my thermomix now? An update 15 months later….

Someone just posted on my old post – Do I love my thermomix (you might be surprised), asking for an update on how I’ve settled in with my machine. I was fairly strident in my skepticism back then, so it seems only fair to fill you in on how I’ve gone, long term. It’s been 15 months now, so the novelty has worn off and I can assess its usefulness without my mind being swayed by the TM hype.

So here’s the truth…. I don’t use my thermomix very often. But when I DO use it, it’s fantastic. But I can get by without it for days on end.

My husband calls it the $2000 egg poacher, since I’ll go for a couple of weeks doing nought with it but bunging on a bit of breakfast. ‘But what a breakfast!’, I say. Perfectly soft-boiled eggs. Almost. Every. Time (colder water temps in winter meant I had to up the cooking time – learned that the hard way one morning, cracking open an almost raw egg).

Needless to say, husband raises an eyebrow and checks out the space on the wall where his $2000 television could have been proudly mounted. He’d probably have watched that for more than 5 minutes every week or so.

BUT. (And there’s always a but, isn’t there.) I LOVE TO COOK. So pots and pans are a bit joyful for me. Stirring sooths my soul. Chopping calms me down. Cooking is some strange therapy. I totally understand, though, that many people hate cooking and feel the nightly need for food production as a weight of concrete pulling them into the depths of mediocrity. And for those people, then the thermomix is a brilliant device. You need no kitchen flare to produce a good meal. Apparently the new model even tells you what to do next, so you need not even worry yourself with the tedium of recipe reading. GOLD.

And I’ll confess that mid-week, when all the shite is flying everywhere, the TM has saved my skin on many occasions. For me, this is where the machine shines and this is the theory behind the recipes that I chose to convert for my Thermomix ebook (check it out here). It’s perfect for those mid-week food production nights when you just want everyone to just shut up, eat and go to bed.

AND WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT OTHER WHIZZERY-BANGERY THAT IT DOES?
Yes, it does do it, and it does do it well. If you are dealing with food allergies and creating everything from scratch then I can see how much you would love your thermie. I have used it to mill sugar and I use it to mill brown rice into flour. And it’s absolutely-freaking-fantastic at all that. Yesterday, I used it to easily make a fantastic strawberry jam out of some soggy old cheap berries that were definitely no good for eating. GOLD.

But if you’re thinking about buying a thermie, I would keep in mind that rarely does a contraption truly change our behaviour. If you think that a TM will help you eat more vegies, you’re wrong. If you think a TM will allow you enough time to bake bread from scratch, you’re wrong. If you think a TM will save you money, you’re wrong.

If you’re making broader lifestyle changes, then a TM might assist you with those. Going gluten-free is a little easier. Cooking every night from scratch is a little easier. But a thermomix is a lot like a gym membership – forking out the money is NOT ENOUGH to motivate you to truly change your lifestyle if you’re only half-hearted.

If you want to make bread, a breadmaker is a wonderful thing. A $40 rice cooker is essential and does a wonderful job, as does a $40 mini-food processor. For less than $200 I can have all the kitchen help I need to make lasting changes in my lifestyle.

I’d recommend giving some of those gadgets a go before making the big thermomix commitment.

Oats, but not wheat. And quite yummy, too.

Oats, but not wheat. And quite yummy, too.



Wheat-free blueberry muffins

1 cup brown rice flour (brown rice, milled in the TM on 9 for 30 seconds)
1 cup oat bran
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
2 tsp chia seeds
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup fat (either oil of your choice or melted butter, cooled)
1 punnet blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180C – line 12 muffin holes with paper cases.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl or jug, whisk the egg, milk & fat together. Pour into the dry ingredients. Combine well then mix in the blueberries.

Use spoons to divide the mixture evenly between the muffin holes. Bake for 30-35 minutes until firm and golden.

Makes 12.

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The parenting space/time continuum (and egg foo yung)

Before you have kids, no one tells you that at some stage during those early, murky years of parenting, the switch will flip on your life. Careless days and endless possibilities morph into a sense that you’re running out of time. If you want to change careers, you better get the hell on with it (particularly if you need to study for a while). One day in the supermarket you’re going to switch straight from buying blemish face wash to some cream promising to erase lines and age spots. That you’re going to suddenly walk into a chain store and realise that you don’t any clue about how to wear the current fashion (and really, you maybe look a bit stupid in it, anyway). And then one day, you look over at your kids and rather than seeing them tipping cereal on the floor from their highchair, you realise that they’ve just gotten breakfast by themselves.

My brother had kids several years before me and I remember him saying, “it just goes by so fast.” Looking down at my baby and toddler I had the strong thought, “no, I think this sleepless, constantly sick, financially strapped, crying, difficult time is going to last forever.” But he was right. It does go by so fast.

Hug your kids today. Take a video of them just doing something simple so that you can remember this time. Be mindful at dinner. Listen to what they say. Cuddle them while they still want you to. Love them and be glad.

vegie smugglers egg foo yung

Egg foo yung.


Egg foo yung

Make the chicken mince up ahead and store it in the fridge, then make up an omelette for each family member as they make it home from their various mid-week commitments OR make them up completely, refrigerate them and just reheat in the pan when you’re hungry.

peanut oil
250g chicken mince
5 mushrooms, very finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
Big splash soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
Pepper
1½ cups chinese cabbage, finely shredded
¾ cup peas
8 eggs
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp shao hsing wine

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a medium sized frying pan over high heat. Carefully add in the chicken mince and stir it, breaking up lumps as you go.

Once the chicken is nearly all browned, add in the mushrooms and spring onions. Continue to stir everything. Splash over some soy, sprinkle the sugar and season with pepper. Leave it to cook away while you prepare the other ingredients. After 5 minutes or so, once the chicken is totally cooked, tip into a bowl and set aside.

I find it easiest to cook each omelette separately….

Break two eggs into a bowl. Whisk them along with the 1 tsp soy and 1 tsp rice wine. Scatter in ¼ the cabbage and peas. Add ¼ the cooked chicken mixture and combine it all well.

Pop a small frying pan over med/high heat, add 2 tsp oil and once hot, pour in the omelette mixture. After 4-5 minutes the omelette will be setting a little, turn over carefully and cook for another minute on the other side.

Repeat with the rest of the mixture to make 3 more omelettes.

Adults might like to serve this with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce and coriander.

Makes 4 omelettes

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Click here to visit the store and see all the Vegie Smugglers products.

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