A New Direction – Frugal Eco Cooking Zero Waste Style

kitchen-pantry-wannabe

I’ve been a slacker for a while on this blog. I’ve still been cooking, but I’m trying to address a few issues on the homefront, most notably practising more zero waste and becoming financially independent. What I’ve discovered after much holiday reading of blogs like Mr Money Mustache, Early Retirement Extreme, Financial Samurai, The Escape Artist and the FrugalWoods is that becoming financially independent is rather easy (in many ways, not all) if you are waste aware.

Having spent the last few years half-hardheartedly practising zero waste and being anti-consumption, it all seems to fit together with the added bonus of money saved (like massive savings in the range of $1k per month!), more efficiency and again, less waste!

As we’re transitioning a bit now, I can share with you how I’m we’re working towards financial independence without feeling like we are sacrificing anything, and avoiding the family thinking I’m going to feed them rice and beans for the rest their lifetime. I don’t think I’m going to discuss full on financial independence like housing (which is still way to much for us) and I won’t bang on so much about the second elephant (car-use), but I sure can provide you with loads of information to reduce your third biggest expense, whilst still caring for the planet, producing less waste, eating whole foods and improving your health and waistline.

Changes we’ve made to eat frugally with less waste so far

I’m eating the same thing for breakfasts and lunches six days a week. You might find that boring, and sure it sounds like it is, but I work from a base and vary it a little each day. Then I can let my hair down on the other day or mid-week. I’ve also decided Mon-Thursday dinners will not be an elaborate affair of lobster, caviar and truffle, er, not that we ever eat that…but these four nights will be simple meals featuring chicken/salmon/eggs, vegetables/salad and potato/sweet potato/rice, so something along the lines of bashed bbq chicken breast, salad and roast sweet potato. Goodbye fancy cookbooks, hello seasonal ingredients.




How does this save money and reduce waste? Well, working from the staple of the same ingredients for breakfast and lunch allows me to buy them in bulk. Either at the store with my containers, or online (until Amazon has an Australian base for food the cheapest and best quality is so far found at Honest to Goodness) in 12.5 kg or even 25 kg bags. Both methods cut down on packaging, obviously using my containers eliminates all waste, but buying in 25 kg bags is often half the price. So you get to do double good deeds by using less packaging and saving yourself some money.

I’ve been working our way through the cupboard and using up the ingredients I know we don’t really need on a regular basis. I love the simplicity and minimalism of Bea’s (Zero Waste Home) pantry:

Zero Waste Pantry

Compared to my pantry which is more like this:

kitchen-pantry-wannabe

Okay, so clearly she has nicer containers than I do, but she also has less stuff, there is more at the top of mine and around to the side and my jumbo jars of rice, oats and lentils underneath. And I have an entire shelf dedicated to spices. Surely I don’t need them all???

So working my way through the cupboard is teaching me 1) Don’t buy shit you won’t eat all the time and 2) Stick to a list, oh and 3) Don’t let the husband or house-guests go grocery shopping.

And finally, I’ve been trying to do some eco cooking and energy watching. Yes, I’ve discovered where the electricity meter is on the side of our house, brushed away the cobwebs and I’ve just about managed to read it, however I forgot to write down the results before we had house-guests for three weeks, so I’ll need to start again, although now I have nothing to compare it too…but I’m thinking I can only get better at this so hope to see a reduction in electricity usage each month. In addition, I’ve started measuring everything. This principle applies to finances and food measurements. What gets measured gets managed as they say.

Read below for more details about each of these and a practical “how-to”…

Breakfast of champions

As it’s now bloody hot and summer in Oz, it isn’t porridge season. But oats are so versatile that they remain my breakfast staple. Instead I just remember to throw some in a jar every few days with some water and a few squirts of lemon juice. Instant bircher muesli…sort of

Bircher muesli can take on a lot of different forms. But it all starts the night before, with a jar and your oats. You must soak the oats. How you soak the oats is up to your mood. Examples:

Base

1/3 cup rolled oats per day (I usually make 3 days worth at a time, so 1 cup of oats)

Soak with either:

Fill up jar with water and a few squeezes of lemon juice

OR

Grated apple & water

OR

Plain Greek yogurt

OR

Grated apple & plain Greek yogurt

Usually the easiest method wins out for me, so it’s just oats with water and a bit of lemon juice. You need to add something acidic to break down the phytate acid – it will stop you from feeling bloated, mostly.

You can also throw some raw nuts in like almonds or cashews. If you don’t have a lemon handy you can add a few dashes (less than 1/2 tsp) of apple cider vinegar.

Now, from here it’s time to get crazy…With toppings. Oh life, what has become of you?

Toppings

I’ll usually drain the whole soggy oaty mixture, give it a rinse, then take out a third into my bowl, the rest goes back in the jar for the remaining days.

The current topping is a couple of tablespoons of Greek yogurt, a teaspoon of coconut flakes and whatever fruit is around (pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, banana usually).

Make an apple crumble with 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt, grated apple, 1/2 tsp honey.

Now after writing this, I am considering trying a Paleo form of eating which would kiss goodbye oats, legumes, quinoa and rice. I’ll keep you updated if I create a new staple. I don’t want to increase my meat intake, I’ve spent years cutting it down and it still feels over the top, however I am feeling bloated frequently and as I don’t eat bread or much pasta (apart from the monthly hand made cannelloni), I’m looking you oats and beans. Whilst both are soaked for long periods, maybe my body can’t handle two serves a day, six days a week.

Everyday lunch that isn’t a snooze-feast

Floating between black beans and chickpeas, but black beans win most of the time as I find their taste easily takes on the taste of whatever you dress them with. So I’ll soak black beans or chickpeas for 12-24 hours and enough to last for about 3 days, working on 1/4 cup per day. Then after their soaking period, drain and put in a pot covered with at least double the amount of water and place on the outdoor bbq side burner with the lid on. On the lowest gas setting they usually only need 30 mins or less if they have been soaking for at least 12 hours.

Let them cool and then add either cooked rice or quinoa (1/3 cup of each). Now I’ll usually dress this with lemon juice and whatever herb I have that looks edible and a dash of olive oil, maybe sea salt too. Parsley and coriander are great and I’m trying to grow both of these so I don’t need to buy them. The parsley is coming along nicely, the coriander looks ok for now, but it will only take one >35℃ day for it to bolt to seed…stupid plant!

Anyway, brown thumbs aside, the beans/quinoa gets served with a green salad on the side. I’ll make a dressing for the week (either olive oil & red wine vinegar at a 4:1 ratio), or something fancy like olive oil, honey & apple cider vinegar (same ratio as above 4:1:1). Sometimes adding mustard, sometimes adding miso, sometimes using lemon juice instead of vinegar, see endless possibilities for dressing. Likewise with the green salad, alternating between baby spinach leaves and a fancy mesclun mix or even a bog standard lettuce, I’ll then throw in whatever other vegetables need to be eaten. Last year it would have been avocado every day, but as I’m watching my purse strings, I just can’t justify spending more than $3.50 on one every day. I eat half, the hubby eats half and it increases the daily cost of my lunch by $1.75, when the whole thing only costs around $1! I have a plan though… I know there’s an avocado tree near the little princess’s kindy so next week – it’s off to forage we go.

And if you’ve ever seen my instagram feed, you’ll notice I have a slight obsession with The Boathouse Summer Salad, so often I’ll try to recreate this with quinoa, chopped kale, sometimes throwing in black beans or chickpeas, finely diced carrot and a fruit  – I know that sounds weird, but if you happen to have pomegranate around it works a treat, otherwise sultanas will work just as well with a spoon of thick greek yogurt on the side (but whatever you do, make sure you call it labne darling). Oh, don’t forget to dress with a simple olive oil and lemon juice dressing.

Changing my cooking style and going Eco

Drawing from Zero Waste principles and Early Retirement Extreme, I thought I could certainly reduce electricity waste, whilst also bringing me closer to food. That might sound a bit like having a magical unicorn, but using a ton of accessories to make food can also make it less personal and less authentic.

So, my blitzer thingy started to play up about a year ago and instead of replacing it, I’ve gone back to my pestle and mortar. So far the novelty hasn’t worn off. I’ve been getting rid of kitchen crap for about three years and could probably keep going for another three years. It’s not that I’ve got heaps, it’s just that when I get used to using less electronic whizzery it’s like looking at everything with new eyes. And it makes me wonder, do I really need that? How often do I use it? Like the tagine I just offloaded on ebay. Lovely wedding gift ten years ago, but I think in that time I’ve maybe used it once a year. And as I’m not a middle eastern specialist it turns out I really don’t need it. The matching oven proof clay pot with lid works exactly the same. It just isn’t as show-offy when I present it to my dinner guests.

And then there’s the whisker. I have a beautiful big balloon hand whisk. And I have a thin one that goes into another part of the blitzer thing (that isn’t broken). So I’ve started to use the hand whisk a lot more (I have a pet hate for the blitzer thing now it has let me down, so now all accessories are used grudgingly). I find it’s a work-out for these things we’ve got called arms. So you could pay to go to the gym and lift weights, or have ten minutes of intense pancake whisking every Sunday morning.

Look at your electrical devices in the kitchen and look at the hard-work tools you’ve got. Mix it up a bit using your arms, get back to feeling the food. Get your hands dirty. That’s one aspect of eco-cooking. Next is using the electricity itself.

A few weeks ago when it was 38℃, I took inspiration from Early Retirement Extreme and starting cooking on the bbq. Why have I not done this before? We have an electric hob in the kitchen so to boil quinoa or beans certainly adds more heat to the house. Our bbq is just outside the kitchen, runs on gas and has a side burner which ironically, I’ve never used. So now for lunch or even dinner, I’ve taken to cooking what I can outside. As well as keeping the heat down, it’s reducing our electricity usage, especially in the prime expensive time (2pm – 8pm). And the other night I was joined by a pair of nosy possums sniffing out what I was cooking, it was quite surreal.

And then there are a few simple changes you can make, like the longer you soak legumes like black beans and chickpeas, the less cooking they require. So if you pop them in water the night before, you’ll only need to cook them for less than 30 minutes, on the contrary if you haven’t soaked your black beans you’ll need to cook them for at least 2 hours.

And, not forgetting the obvious, if you are using the oven, put in everything you need at once. For example, if I’m cooking dinner for the kids in the oven, then I’ll throw in my whole sweet potato for roasting at the same time and leave it in there until it’s time for my dinner. It continues to cook even with the oven off, so when I want to eat it a few hours later it might only need a quick heat up or nothing at all. And speaking of the oven, you can usually get another 15 mins at least out of out at the same temperature after you have turned it off. This principle works for an electric hob as well. Often you’ll only need a bit of heat to get it going and then you’ll be able to keep it going with a lid on and the hob turned off. You can usually cut the time you need the electricity on in half just by keeping it on the spot with the lid on. And do I need to remind you – always cook with the lid on – saves time and energy resources.

I’m yet to try out a pressure cooker as I don’t have one, but if you’ve got one, why not try making more meals in? It will cut your cooking time and energy use in half. I’ve started looking at my slow cooker with more sceptical eyes now, after actually reading its wattage use. When I purchased it I read everywhere “Slow cookers use no more than one light bulb of energy”, but now after actually opening my eyes and pushing through all the marketing shit, I find my slow cooker to be using something of an gargantuan sized light bulb on electricity.

Finally, I’ve become slightly anal about measuring stuff in the kitchen. Actually started with one or two products a while ago as it seemed a maple syrup monster must have been creeping into our house at night and eating all the maple syrup at the rate we were going through it. So the kids got 1 tsp on their wettbix using the measuring spoon and low and behold the syrup didn’t run out as fast. I must have been very liberally giving them way too much. We use this method with tomato sauce as well (although they get a tablespoon now its sugar-free), but that is to stop them eating more sauce than actual food.

Now using the handy tsp and 1/2 tsp measure I have exactly the same amount of tea leaves in each cup, and look it’s lasting a lot longer. Green tea only needs 1/2 tsp, peppermint tea the same, English Breakfast needs 1 tsp unless I’m very sleepy and then it’s 1 1/2. I realise how anal it is. But I figure I’ve got to use a spoon anyway so why not measure? You can apply this to all of your food – use 1/3, 1/4, 1/2 and cups to measure quinoa, rice, beans, pasta – figure out how much you need and then stick to it. You’ll soon find your staples lasting longer, so don’t just stop with measuring your food, start measuring and tracking your expenses and soon you’ll see them drop. “Did I really just spend $29 for two coffees, a babycino and cake at The Boathouse?” might just be one of questions you’ll find yourself pondering…




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