Sunday, October 30, 2011

More Vegan Waffling - Sticking to it


Our waffle maker had made its last wholewheat vegan waffle, but I got lucky with Freecycle with another waffle maker in great condition.  Guess who was pleased with herself?


But then I tried to use it.  This waffle maker was a different shape and a smaller area, so I set the timer a bit shorter.  

Not short enough.

Have you ever cleaned a waffle iron with burned on batter on both sides?  Ugh.

Twenty or so minutes later, I set the waffle iron outside to dry properly.  I have a sneaking (and mostly illogical) fear I might have shorted out our other waffle maker by trying to clean it, and I didn't want any water at all in the electrical areas for the next try.

Our vegetarian au pair, Filip, was keen to do the next waffle.  He made lots of waffles back in Germany, and I hoped he could work some magic.

Sadly, he also faced a long cleanup job.  But he reported crucial data - the waffle was already getting too brown on the outside while still drippy in the middle.

Did I get just what I paid for?  Was this a defective waffle maker?  Maybe it could only cook non-vegan waffles?

We'd both had enough experimenting for one day, and the (again painstakingly clean) waffle maker went to hide in the cupboard.  I was tempted to give up and buy a new waffle maker that understood me.


Before giving up, I did some research, starting from the brand on this sturdy old waffle maker - Ralta.  From there, I learned a lot about waffles. Waffle_Maker Scandinavian.jpg 
Our other waffle maker was Scandinavian style (heart-shaped with diamond spacers).  

Our new one is Belgian style (square with squares). (pic) 


You can also have American waffles (circle with squares).


Belgian waffles need a doughier batter with extra rising ingredients, not the drippy one I used before to cover and fill the large heart-shaped area of the Scandinavian style.  There's no time for that water to cook out.

The Belgian recipes looked more involved and I feared I might be choosing between no waffles or complicated nonvegan waffles.  But I found my dream recipe for 100% Wholewheat Vegan Belgian Waffles.  Instead of yeast and eggs, I can use baking powder and vinegar to make the waffle rise in the 3-4 minute cooking time the Belgian waffle needs.

For true Belgian waffles, you can't cheat like this because it changes the taste, but luckily I don't care.  I just want vegan waffles from my free waffle maker!

Then, and only then, Try Again

waffles Belgian mine.jpg 
Just like magic, in about 3 minutes the thick batter slid gently off the waffle maker onto the serving plate as golden brown waffles.

My next challenge is to learn to make perfect pancakes on my cast-iron skillet so I don't need a waffle iron.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Free eco-friendly planter - from the trash!

My winter parsley and kale are rapidly going to seed as the sunshine hits the garden.  I cleared the kale and made a whole crock pot of soup. 

If I want juicy tomatoes, tender squash, lettuces, a cucumber or two - then there's no time to waste.  I need to get the summer seedlings going. (Luckily, the strawberries are doing what strawberries do all by themselves.)

I could always use small plastic pots, but the kids and I really enjoyed the clever Peat Pellet (used at a Small Poppies session) for planting.

It was fun to watch it grow with added water, and satisfying to plant the healthy seedling straight into the garden with no root disturbance and no plastic container.

I don't need to check the price to know they're not frugal enough for me.  What to do?

It's easy.

Make your own free biodegradable seed planter  

  • Take one empty toilet paper tube.
  • From one end, fold the circular edge down (4 folds) to roughly close off the hole.
Planters_Start.jpg   Planters_Finished.jpg       

  • Press the folded end as flat as possible, using your fingers both inside and outside of the tube.
  • Fill with moist soil.
  • Repeat with as many tubes as you have.  If you run out, another one will be ready soon.
  • Plant and enjoy!


  • Use promptly after making.
  • Use a containing box (the planters may not stand up well on their own).
  • Before planting, open the bottom end of the tube and wet the whole tube thoroughly so the roots can get out to the soil.
Planters_Lineup.jpgHere's a lineup of my hopeful planted seeds along with a couple of baby lemon trees (I really want a lemon tree) and beans...

Good luck to us all!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Top Clutter - Paper Rules

As promised, the first in the Top Clutter series:  Paper Rules!

Now that the filing cabinet is in its proper home, DH and I teamed up to declutter more stacks of old paper.  The target?  DH's filing system ever since we moved to this house - one poor filing basket.

Easily 90% of the stack was clutter.  Bank statements, insurance information, and papers that were never important.  What a warm feeling, especially because I burned it all in the fireplace.  (Spring is not here every day yet.)

Broken from years of overloading

We can't yet live without it, so we need to learn to live with it.

Here is your new attitude:
  1. Keep Nothing
  2. File any exceptions
  3. Review exceptions often
Keep Nothing

You don't want to keep any pieces of paper.  Each piece you keep is a layer in a looming stack next month that will waste lots of time to sort or lots of space to ignore.

File any exceptions

Will I get in trouble?

A tiny minority of papers are so important to your government that they must be exceptions.  Birth certificates, passports, tax documents - these need to be kept in their original form.  If you don't have them, there is a chance you could end up in serious trouble.

A note reminding you what to pack for your child's school trip is not most valuable in its original form.  Stay out of minor trouble by putting the information you need into whatever daily reminder system you have - then get rid of the note (because there will be another note tomorrow and they will gang up on you). 

The more complex your financial situation, the more gray areas there will seem to be.  Again, ask yourself, "Will I get in trouble if I do not have this record?"  If you have the only copy and don't know how to get the information again, it might be an exception.

Will I lose money?

If the paper represents enough money to be important to you, it might be an exception. Receipts may be crucial when something goes wrong.

Some papers (like passports) can be replaced but only for a fee or with a waste of time.  This is another reason to make an exception.

Will I be unhappy?

Some papers mean something to you - they are sentimental.  This is a good thing - as long as you have the space and energy to store these mementos. 

As you look through mementos, most of them may give you a little buzz.  Ask instead whether you would be unhappy if you never saw it again?  Would you notice and miss it?  Could you keep just one of a group of mementos?
These rules may sound tough, but even using them strictly, you will still have more paper than you really want to handle.

If you don't have a system, you won't find what you kept when you need it.  You may need a plastic stack tray, an accordion file, or a 3 drawer filing cabinet.  We have a 2 drawer filing cabinet and I'm not sure we need that.  It might be that we need it but need to use it better.  Work always in progress.

In any case, design your storage for your papers, not somebody else's guess at what you need.  You may have totally different categories now and 5 years from now.  Be flexible.

Review exceptions often

Within 2 years, most important papers aren't. 
Tax documents are supposed to be kept at least 7 years and I would be wary of tossing them even then.  They could get you out of trouble years from now that you didn't even know could happen.  You can research IRD (or IRS) horror stories at your leisure online.
But as the years pass, some papers like receipts will no longer be needed.

Papers with a short shelf life need to be filed front and centre.  Book yourself an appointment at least once a year to sort and toss.

Stop your paper

Your job is much easier if you can stop paper arriving in the first place.

Online bills and statements

Electronic communication has partly replaced paper.  We are able to choose to read and pay lots of bills online.  Ironically, having switched power suppliers to EnergyOnline, we now receive paper statements again.  I just emailed them about this, and the great news is that we can get online statements.

But National Bank claim that because our bank account has an overdraft, our "statement cannot be suppressed".  I've requested and am still awaiting a logical explananation.

Someone is regularly ignoring my "NO ADS" message on our box - perhaps because it is in nail polish but probably because they can't read.  I probably need to get another official badge instead.

In our neck of the woods they are even sneakier.  I enjoy our free local paper - but of course it isn't free.  It comes with ads inside it - printed inside and bundled inside.

If you haven't stopped the ads arriving, you can certainly reduce their impact.  Plan not to let them land anywhere but the recycling place.  If your recycling place is not convenient enough, make it so. I used to let the kids play with ads and their pretty coloured pictures, but they know about buying now.
How do you handle your paper?  Are you happy with your system?
Next in the Top Clutter series:  Toys!  (kids and grownups )

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Us vs Them - Sports and the 99%

New Zealand is on the brink of a climax that has been building for months - playing as the favourite in the final of the Rugby World Cup 2011.

We haven't won since the first Rugby World Cup more than 20 years ago - and fans have experienced all the almosts and the disappointments along the way - so this match is a highly emotional one.

What we tell our children
  • Be a good sport
  • Be a good winner
  • Be a good loser
  • It doesn't matter whether you win or lose as long as you play your best.
Have we been modelling this?  Or are we being more basic?

Good sports

Cheering for our side is only right.  But are we actually prepared to be good winners... or even losers?

Generally we haven't done badly.  And it seems the All Blacks don't get as much into the strategic cheating as most other teams I've watched them play.

But our game could use some real improvement.

When the All Blacks won against Australia in the semifinal, we went from a moan "Aussie has the better team" to a taunt "The airport's that way!"  

There are anti-French articles including every possible variation of "France didn't deserve to win."
Whatever that means. 
Probably that we don't like the French much so we wish Wales won.  Also since France has knocked the All Blacks out of the World Cup twice, we really don't want a rematch under so much pressure.  But it's easier to pretend that there are some extra set of rugby union rules that means France should have just lost instead. 

We have an ex-coach blaming the referees from the backseat.  Can unpopular sports decisions be criticised out of existence?  Isn't that all part of the grand spectacle of sports...that must be handled gracefully  if you're to play?

Us vs Them

This transformation of real people into objectified enemy symbols is a bit scary.

We can see it it acted out in real life with the clashes during the 99% occupations, including our own local one in Auckland.

First, the obvious 99% vs 1%, referring to extreme wealth inequality.

Lines are also drawn between the police and protestors to a frightening extent. The respected writer Naomi Wolf was arrested simply for asking the police to justify their actions.

And some people who consider themselves normal hardworking people separate themselves from the 99% protestors and their stance.

"The All Blacks are going to win!"

My 6 year old son has been so pumped up by his school and other promotions that he will need therapy if we do lose.  In the excitement of the match, he sees no reason not to wish all sorts of harm on anyone in the way of our promised victory.

He is lucky enough to have a strong team to support.  And if we lose?  Should the less rugby-mad suffer through a country's wailing and mourning?  Remember the children, and try to set a good example...


I hope the All Blacks win.

Remember that we are all "us", and you will win too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Secondhand smarts - picture perfect!

I have a few historical Secondhand Smarts stories waiting, but this one is just so cool!  

Our waffle maker has made its last wholewheat vegan waffle, and the kids always love me more when I make waffles.  So I entered full secondhand shopping mode.

I checked on TradeMe and down at (you guessed it) my favourite charity shop. I did not find a waffle iron.  Nor did I find an exercise bike, which I've been prescribed as physiotherapy.  But I did find....

I have wanted one of these for years, but even a small one is so expensive I hadn't bought one.  Now I have a big one - and that's no Photoshop fake, it was only $20!

(The backroom guy literally just put it on display as I walked by and I didn't let it gather any dust.)

Oh, and I got a small pedal exerciser from TradeMe and a good old-fashioned waffle maker free from Freecycle.

Pardon the expression, but retail and weep!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Welcome Summer! Easy frugal fatfree vegan banana ice cream

Already down a kg by now...

I couldn't resist the bargain - $3 for 8kgs of overripe bananas!  A sign as clear as a robin that warm weather is here in New Zealand.

Time to make some freezer space for banana ice cream makings.  Whoops, no more room.  Better take some of the frozen ones out and make a treat for the whole family.


  • Peel 4 ripe bananas and chop into roughly 2cm chunks
  • Contain and freeze until firm (I use plastic produce bags)
Ice Cream!
I hear a juicer works really well to do this.  I use a food processor (processor blade, not slicer).
  1. If frozen solid, leave bananas to sit for a few minutes
  2. Separate frozen pieces and put in processor
  3. Add liquid: 1/2 cup water, vegan milk, and/or another (unfrozen) ripe banana
  4. Add extras: vanilla, molasses, cocoa, chocolate chips, coconut ....?
  5. Process.  This is noisy!

  • You may need to stop the processor and stir unmixed banana lumps in.
  • You may need to add some more liquid (if you have no creamy bananas at the bottom).
Your patience will be rewarded with a smooth creamy cold treat that you'll wish you'd discovered sooner.  Surprisingly it doesn't taste much of banana - my mother is not a banana fan and still loves this.  And so does everyone else!
The banana boys

Saturday, October 15, 2011

15 Years Vegan - Food++

Going vegan means avoiding animal foods and other animal products.  But it doesn't stop there.  This change changes you.

I went on a vegan diet for my health (translated: "to lose weight") - these days that's called a plant-based diet.  It worked a treat and I'm featured as one of Dr McDougall's early Stars.  I've kept most of the weight off, even after two kids, which is great for me.

And while I was learning how to eat only plants, the best information around was from vegans.  

Vegans talk about food

One huge myth about vegans is that they're not that into food (so that's why they don't care about giving up animal foods).  BIG lie.  Pop into a vegan potluck someday to learn the truth.  Don't forget your plate.

But vegans don't just talk about food.  Food is just the most obvious marker of a society doomed by its dependence on killing animals for food and other body products.

Vegans examine basic assumptions I grew up with and expose the propaganda.

Vegans talk about health

Eating animals is bad for human health - everybody's. I learned to look beyond the personal concern for my own body and imagine my country as healthy instead of in a health crisis caused by rich animal foods and rich processed foods.

Vegans talk about hunger

Most of the food livestock eats could have been fed to a starving person.
Most of the land growing food for livestock used to feed people (if it wasn't simply being the earth's lungs).

Vegans talk about happiness

I did not go vegan for the animals.  But now that I have shared the vegan perspective, I cannot go back.  I won't return to the dissonance of pretending that a package of sliced flesh on a supermarket shelf is just another product. 

As if I could choose flesh or a can of beans, and it makes no difference. 

I can't pretend that a slice of cow or sheep is dinner when a slice of cat or dog is horrifying.  I may not be able to help all the cows in all the fields I see, but I am happier knowing they are not there because of me.

Vegans talk about hurting

It might just be possible to eat an animal without hurting her much.  But most animal producers don't bother because they want to make more money. 

Animals get hurt - in horrifying ways and numbers - in their lifetime role as your food.  Vegans and other animal rights activists risk their own safety to show it to you.

When you ignore suffering, your personality changes.  When you eat animals, you ignore suffering.

Vegans talk about the world

The world is overpopulated - with livestock.  Not people.  End of story.

Without livestock overpopulation, we could

  • feed all our people, and more
  • solve much of our pollution
  • save the world (maybe)
I haven't lost animal foods, I've gained awareness. Talk about a win-win.

Professional sports are rigged

The "accidental" tackle? Photograph: Ross Land/AP
In case anyone was confused or upset about last night's Rugby World Cup semifinal between Wales and France, relax.

Professional sports cannot exist without funding, and a consistent source of funding is impossible without controllable results.
  • Advertisers must be able to count on viewers (advertising works wonders, but people must watch)
  • In sports gambling, the house must be able to win
If you think that's not enough motivation, perhaps you're not aware of the amount of money involved in those two areas.  With all the focus on the economic benefit to New Zealand of hosting the RWC, there been little press about the benefit to our sports gambling company, the TAB.
The biggest gambling losers are those who really can't afford it, but we encourage it anyway.
Rest assured that it's economically irresponsible to allow a professional sports match to just happen - too much is at stake.

The most recent example - Wales vs France (15/10/11)

This is hardly the first match I've watched that's awkwardly supported this economic truth, but it's a great example.  Sports-wise, this game made no sense.

It was only a guess for us viewers who might win - Wales were perhaps favoured.  But Wales' captain made a textbook dangerous spear tackle near the beginning of the game.  In itself, this is almost inexplicable - a player experienced enough to be the captain making such a high and spectacular spear tackle accidentally.  This is obviously debatable - make your own decision.  
The IRB has also said that in rugby union a spear tackle should be a straight red card. 
But this was just the start.

A team without a captain

Now Wales had one less player than France, for the rest of the game.  My DH immediately said "That's it.  Wales has lost."  That's the only logical conclusion (and was, in fact, true).  With competent and similarly skilled teams, the loss of one player, especially the captain, must disadvantage one team so much that the other team can use their otherwise similar skills to win.

But DH's logical conclusion would have led many viewers to stop watching this economically vital semifinal.  Some will watch anything looking like rugby, even commercials and endlessly repeated highlights.  But most only want to watch something exciting, and a foregone conclusion for teams you don't otherwise care about is not exciting.

It was a late game, and many viewers would have found something obviously better to do - in bed, with a book, doing the dishes...

How to save the money (I mean match)?

Immediately two (otherwise inexplicable) things happened:

1.  "Wales is going to win"

One commentator said this almost immediately.  He continued to repeat this absurdity until the late stages of the match.  He even said, "Would it be unprofessional of me to..." and broke into some silly pro-Wales chanting.  Yes, normally, that would be not only embarrassing but unprofessional. But he did his job - he kept some viewers glued to their screen, hoping for a sports miracle.

2.  France didn't try

Anyone who knows enough about rugby to argue with this knows it's true.  Wales was down one man and France kicked for the corner again and again instead of trying to take advantage of their numbers to score tries.

Even the commentators mentioned this difference between the playing of the two teams - make your own decision on how unlikely this behaviour is in a professional team in a semifinal.  Instead of being fired up by their obvious advantage, France relaxed.  Apparently they were exhausted by the experience of having only 15 men against 14 men.

That transformed what should have been an ever widening (and viewer discouraging) scoreline to a nail-biting finish.

The last mystery

Wales was twice in position in the end game to kick a drop goal and pull ahead.  They did not need a try to pull ahead, they only needed a drop goal.  They declined both scoring chances, instead continuing to batter the defensive line fruitlessly.

The last chance was in the final minutes of the match and was so obvious it was comical. Wales passed the ball to each other and attacked more than 20 times with no real hope of getting a try.  The clock ticked down to the end and they still did not take their only real chance at scoring and very real chance of winning instead of losing. 

In sports terms, this was insane.  The commentators said, "The question will always be asked, should the ball have been passed to (the kicker)...?"

Only if Wales was supposed to win.  From the result, I'd guess that the brief was for Wales to lose by a small margin.  Possibly the early spear tackle was part of that strategy.  I assume that this is a better result for the TAB.

Couldn't there be another explanation?

In that game, in isolation?  Possibly.  Feel free to entertain me further with one.

Given the money involved? I use Occam's razor, and I say no.

So why watch professional sports?

It's sociable, and it's often fun.

But like the opera, remember that when the plot doesn't seem to make sense, that's because it's just supposed to happen that way.

Relax and enjoy the show!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Our little secret - to Rena

Danielle Eubank

It's a day and it's a drain
And all the streets are all the same
In every city of every name
The planet over

It's the way a drop of rain
Seeking leaf and root in vain
Must wash away a city's shame
And hide it in a river

It's a farm who lays a claim
Nature's veins as sewer mains
Running off away from blame
To find an ocean

To the beach the people came
Can we save, can we explain
What swims beneath that oil stain
Our little secret

(c) Jess Parsons 2011

Rena oil spill

Go Vegan in one day...using everyday household items


Think "I could never go vegan"? This is for you.

I promise, there are no weird foods in this vegan day.


Choose from two satisfying hot breakfasts:

Toast and Jam

Have as much as you like - most supermarket breads are vegan.


Add brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, raisins, bananas, cinnamon, and/or vanilla

I eat oatmeal every day.  I may not be able to wait until breakfast.
You might think porridge needs milk. Did you know that oats are so creamy that you can buy oat milk?
No time to make porridge?  No problem!  Pour boiling water over oats in a bowl or pot at night.  They'll be cooked by morning and only need a quick reheat.

Water, juice, tea

Need a morning snack?
You might not, after that great breakfast.  But if you do...
  • Apple, Banana, or any other favourite fruit... 
  • Cashews, peanuts, pistachios...

Decisions, decisions:
  • Peanut butter and jam (or banana)? 
  • Lettuce, tomato, avocado with BBQ sauce, ketchup and mustard? 
  • Marmite and refried beans?
If you've never met Marmite, you'll probably think it's a weird food.  But millions of kids love it, and you know how picky they are.  It only took me 24 years to like it.
Want something hot? Baked beans or creamed corn...on toast.

Afternoon snack

  • Salted Popcorn
  • Pretzels and Mexican bean dip
Maybe you're feeling junk food deprived with all this great eating.  Don't despair, vegan junk food is here. 

  • Oreos are vegan! 
  • Plain salted potato chips and corn chips are vegan! 
  • Ritz crackers are vegan! 
  • Krispy Kreme Fruit Pies are vegan! 
  • Little Debbie Cake Donuts are vegan!
  • Even cute little Sweet Tarts are - you guessed it - vegan. 
Here's a whole list for you to drool over. 

Of course I don't recommend any of these foods, and I don't recommend being a junk food vegan.  But it's not all lentils and lettuce in here.


Easy Asian Rice
  • Rice: white or brown or both.
  • Veggies you like:  maybe broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, peas, corn...
  • Soy sauce
  1. Steam the rice and the veggies
  2. Add soy sauce
  3. Serve and enjoy!
This might seem to be an overly simple meal - but when it was just DH and me both working fulltime, rice, peas, and corn with soy sauce was an easy enjoyable regular for us. No wonder I love that man.
That's it.  Vegan day complete without any weird foods (except the Oreos).  That didn't hurt much, did it?  The great thing is that it didn't hurt anybody else, either.

What next?

If you think vegan food could be more exciting than this starter menu, you're right.  Vegan food, just like other food, is just as exciting as you want to make it.  Check out:
for more inspiration than you could use in a lifetime. 
A long healthy one.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What I learned by growing my own

In a previous episode I showed off my winter window tomato garden.
The small tomatoes have continued to ripen and deliver a sweet treat every once in a while. Like this morning!

The larger ones have sadly not advanced from their pale orange stage despite my efforts to help ripen them - probably due to insufficient light or light hours. 

Larger tomatoes would need more sun to heat up their volume, I suppose, and the experts indeed confirm that smaller tomatoes ripen faster.

That's a learning experience in itself.  I read that "staying power is all you need", but their skins started looking tough so I finally gave up on ripening them and cut one open.  (I planned to add them to my vegetable soup.)

Look closely...


Those are sprouts...inside the tomato!

OK, so I found that there's nothing new on the internet and many people have already discovered that tomato seeds will sprout inside a tomato.  It is safe to eat them, even though they looked a bit dry and too gunky inside even to add to my vegie soup.

But it was quite frankly exciting to do it myself.  And the green ones did fine in the soup.  Yum!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Top Clutter - the Series

I'm proud of my many decluttering successes and the new look of our home. 

So how do I protect that success?  New clutter is always arriving to fill up empty corners.

There are some very simple and effective methods to recognise and prevent new clutter.  Attitude is key.

Know your enemy

Ours are:
  1. Papers
  2. Toys
  3. Projects
Each of these include Grownup and Kid versions and deserve their own post.  Stay tuned to hear all about Paper!

In the meantime...

Be aware - beware!  When you take something in your hand, make sure you know where it will land.