Belladonna Bess

An edible garden in Wellington, NZ

Below the line birthday September 27, 2013

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 8:33 am

Breakfast: the same weird rice porridge mix I had yesterday, and of course budget instant coffee

Morning tea: stale chapati and budget instant coffee

Lunch: dal and rice

Afternoon tea: very stale chapati and budget instant coffee…

I know this is getting monotonous, I’ve keep typing in the same meals day after day. But that’s kind of the point. Life below the line is monotonous, and I’m not even scratching the surface of that here.

Dinner: I had planned to celebrate my birthday by not having any budget white rice with my dinner. But one of my friends dropped around and, looking at what I had left, I realised that I could feed two if I included the rice. And really, company is better for a birthday dinner anyway. So dinner was: leftover rice with tomato, the last of my dal, some silverbeet and kale from the garden served with tomato sauce saved from yesterday, and chapati. Unfortunately I was so hungry by the time it ws ready that I forgot to photograph it. However I did photograph my delicious semolina pudding.


I admit, it may not look like the best meal ever, but it was hot, filling, sweet and flavoured with dates, cardamom and coconut. I’ve been looking forward to it all week.

Living below the line this week has certainly enhanced my appreciation of small pleasures. I has also enhanced my appreciation of the abundance and variety of my everyday diet. And more than anything, it has made me miss the morning porridge I eat nearly every day. That’s a bit ironic really, as last year I actually managed to have porridge when I was below the line. This year I tried, but although the porridge was cheap enough, I couldn’t afford enough milk powder.

Still, it’s an interesting reminder that sometimes the cheap, simple, healthy foods are the best!


Day four below the line September 25, 2013

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 6:50 pm

Some interesting experiments today. I think I’m really starting to get the hang of this.

Breakfast: budget instant coffee and a rather odd sort of rice pudding made from cooked budget white rice, water, one date and very small amounts of sugar, milk, cardamom and semolina. It was a followup to yesterday’s experiment, but considerably tastier.

Morning tea: chapati and budget instant coffee

Lunch: dal and rice, lemon balm tea

Afternoon tea: chapati

Dinner: fried goodness with tomato sauce. I tried to make fritters, but with little flour and nothing like eggs to bind, it was quite a challenge. I ended up with a mix of cooked rice, finely chopped silverbeet, a couple of spoons of the dal I cooked yesterday, a bit of chili powder and a couple of spoons of semolina mixed with hot water. I then dropped spoonfuls onto a pan that had quite a bit of oil in it. They didn’t really stay together, but the mix browned up nicely and with a bit of salt it was lovely. The tomato sauce was made from the last of my tinned tomatoes and a few herbs from the garden.

I’m quite full now. There was probably quite a bit of fat in that dinner.

fried goodness

Now that I’m feeling full and slightly smug for being able to prepare meals below the line that I actually enjoy, it’s time to remember what $2.25 really signifies. It’s not the New Zealand dollar daily food budget of those living in extreme poverty. It’s the $NZ total daily budget of those living in extreme poverty. Food, cooking fuel, housing, clothing – and anything beyond that like education and medical care is probably unimaginable luxury. And it’s not the daily cash budget of those living in extreme poverty. It accounts for the cost of scavenged items like firewood, free food etc.

It’s a poverty that I know I can’t possibly comprehend. What has felt like hardship to me resembles in no way the hardship of those living in extreme poverty. All I can hope to do by living on $2.25 of food a day is remind myself and others that these people exist, and encourage you all to support the charities that are working to end extreme poverty. I’m not sure I’m doing the best job of that. I’m pretty sure the idea is to make people feel sorry enough for me to to donate money. And here I am rambling on about the random delicious meals I’ve managed to make. I’m not going to win any sympathy donations with today’s culinary delights.

But that all changes tomorrow. It’s my birthday, and I’m still below the line. So go on. Feel sorry for me, and help support the great work of Volunteer Services Abroad.




Day three below the line

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 6:53 am

Breakfast: chapati and budget instant coffee

Morning tea: another chapati and more instant coffee

Lunch: dal and rice. Went for a walk at lunchtime and managed to stop myself buying books about food. Just.

Afternoon tea: lemon balm “tea”, then late in the day, a small amount of rice cooked in tomato

Dinner: first I attended a birthday party, where one of the hosts had spent three days cooking in preparation. I sat in the corner drinking a glass of water and attempted not to notice the abundant food and wine loading up the table. When I left, I took a small bag with some of the baking that will keep until Saturday. Every time I open the fridge it is staring at me.

One of the children had brought a pair of comedy glasses, so I entertained myself (and them) by having my eyes popping out looking at the food.

goggle eyes

Later I went home and started cooking dal, rice and chapati. I had a hard time waiting for the food to be cooked. I had a small amount of leftover cooked rice, so I cooked it up with some water, a tiny bit of milk, a little sugar and some crushed cardamom seeds. It was a bit odd, but it was warm, sweet and contained calories. After that, I had a couple of the chapati I made, then I felt full. Of possibly just bloated from eating little other than white rice and flatbread.

rice pudding




Day two below the line September 24, 2013

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 7:01 am

A much more successful day.

Breakfast: budget instant coffee and chapati. I decided to take my time and left a bit later for work. This gave me time to drink the coffee rather than trying to gulp it down. Pleasure is relative.

Morning tea: another chapati, with a smear of dal to make it a bit more substantial. Plus another cup of the budget instant coffee. I couldn’t take my eyes off the tim-tams that were on the table all through my team meeting.

Lunch: dal and rice. The dal is more satisfying than the rice with tomato, so I decided to have that at lunchtime. Plus I’m really pleased with the dal. It’s made with yellow split peas and tinned tomatoes. I scored an 800g tin of tomatoes for 88 cents, so I have plenty of tomato this year. I have enough for another batch of dal tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to it. My boss tells me that I’m obsessed with food.

Afternoon tea: fire drill. Normally when there is a fire drill everyone goes to buy a coffee. I didn’t. Later I made a cup of herbal teal with lemon balm from my garden. Given that this grows like a weed (I have about eight plants when I originally planted one), I count that within my vegetable budget. Once again, pleasure is relative.

Dinner: fried rava upma and rice with tomatoes.  Yay for frying! Dinner is satisfying. I spend the evening thinking about making another batch of delicious dal on Wednesday night, and the semolina pudding I’m planning to cook on Friday night.

Dal recipe:
Fry crushed (but not ground) coriander seed and mustard seed in oil. When they start to sizzle, add half an onion, garlic flakes and grated fresh ginger. When the onion is soft, add 1/2 cup of tinned tomatoes (mostly juice) a teaspoon of ground coriander/cumin/ tumeric, salt and a pinch of chili powder. Cook about 5 minutes to make a spice paste. Add yellow split peas (about 3/4 cup I think) that have been soaked at least 8 hours and water. Simmer until the split peas are cooked. As it is cooking, add water as required and also check salt and add as needed.


Live below the line take two September 22, 2013

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 11:03 pm

After surviving the Live Below the Line challenge last year, for some reason it seemed like a good idea to do it again.

The problem is, the best bit of doing the challenge last year – being part of an awesome team – wasn’t going to happen this year. With my team unavailable, I’m doing the challenge solo. At least I had all my budget details from last year, so it wasn’t so hard to put together a budget and do the shopping. I had a few ideas on things I did or didn’t need from last year, so there are a few differences, but it is mainly the same.

Live below the line 2013

below the line pantry

The big difference is that I didn’t have anyone to split my oil and butter purchases with, so I ended up buying a whole bottle of oil. To save money and to try something different, I decided to do without porridge for breakfast this year. Instead, I decided to try some traditional Indian breakfasts. That made sense when I thought of the idea, since my strategy for surviving this challenge is to look beyond New Zealand, and copy what people eat in countries like India. Unfortunately, that didn’t work quite so well…

Breakfast: carrot rava upma, effectively a semolina porridge with grated carrot. While the flavour was good and I love semolina, somehow I couldn’t handle the combination. Nor could I quickly swallow a cup of budget instant coffee before leaving home at 6.40am. Not a great start.carrot rava upma edited

Morning tea: carrot rava upma and budget instant coffee. It tasted much better around 10am, when I was awake and hungry.

Lunch: rice cooked with onions and tomato. I ate this last year, and very tasty it was too.

Dinner: I had a brainwave about the breakfast I didn’t particularly like. I thickened it with flour and fried it in oil on the tava. Anything’s better fried! I also made chapati and a couple of paratha. I ate the paratha and have saved the chapati for breakfast and morning tea tomorrow. I also cooked some plain rice and what turned out to be a rather nice dal made with tinned tomatoes and yellow split peas.

fried rava upmadal and paratha