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


My week below the line… September 28, 2012

Filed under: Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 8:24 am

A summary of my below the line experience. I’d love to hear from others who did the challenge – you can answer these questions on my blog, on my facebook page or on the Live Below the Line and VSA facebook pages (public).

Thing I missed most: coffee

Thing I thought I’d miss but didn’t: meat

Thing I’ll be eating again: my dal recipe, and the tomato-based “risotto”. Also I got in the habit of drinking lemon balm tea and I’ll keep drinking that.

Thing that I won’t be eating again: budget white rice. It’s so processed and bleached etc that when it is cooked, it looks like it is auditioning for a toilet cleaner commercial. I’m back to the nice basmati from the Indian shop or the organic rice thanks – despite being 5-6 times the price. Oh, and I’m glad to see the back of the budget instant coffee!

Hardest thing: the time taken to prepare food when I was really hungry. In one case, I had a few leftovers before heading out to a birthday party (not for me, a 5th birthday for a friend’s daughter). Then I was at the party not eating. Then I went home and cooked, which took nearly an hour. I had dinner after 9.

Best purchases: the budget white rice at $1.08 for a kilo. Ensured I would have sufficient calories and allowed me money for flavour in my diet. And the fresh ginger – 25 grams at $6 per kilo. It lasted the whole week and I used it every day to give flavour to my food.

Low point: a toss up between cooking for an hour and a half to make dinner when I was really hungry on day one, and eating cold rice for lunch on my birthday.

High point: no competition here – my birthday party. That was just fantastic.  High points of the high point included

  • nibbling on a plate of crackers and dip – it just felt so naughty and indulgent, even though there were only about 10 crackers between us
  • the taste of something sweet – with Mona’s semolina cake and the dates that Barbara had saved from her ration
  • the best cup of tea I’ve ever had. It was the cheapest brand, the teabag had made several cups and it had a few lumps of powdered milk in the bottom, and it was PERFECT!
  • and without doubt the best of all, the sense of community formed by the shared adversity of the challenge. This team had never met before last Sunday, and nobody in the group knew everyone. And yet by Thursday we were not just a team, we were friends.

Here’s me enjoying a cracker and dip, with a bench full of our shared ingredients.

Insights into poverty I hadn’t appreciated before: the preparation time made me think about the daily grind of survival for the extremely poor. Truly cheap food is not instant. But also admiration for the sense of community and entrepreneurship that you see in some poor communities, and for people who put in a hard day’s work on an extreme poverty diet.

Way I’ll celebrate the end of the challenge: with a trim flat white and zeppola (Italian potato doughnut) from the Hill St Farmer’s Market. Honestly, they are so good that even in a normal week, I fantasise about the zeppola in particularly boring meetings just to get me through the day.

Before I sign off from the challenge – I’d like to thank everyone who sponsored me. Mum, Dad, Paul, Diana, Kate, Margaret Ann, Jim, Heather, Kevin, Christine, Lincoln, Cath, Deb, Helen, Eugene, Kirsty, anonymous and of course Barbara, Kim and Mona! I’ve raised $652 so far (including some offline donations). I’ve well exceeded my target and I’m standing at 8 on the VSA leaderboard for donations (although with the offline donations I’m actually at 6). I really do appreciate your support. (Oh, sorry if I missed anyone, the list of sponsors keeps rotating and I can’t be sure I’ve got everyone.).

And if you haven’t made it to donate yet but still want to, it’s still open for donations for a while yet!




Day 5 below the line September 27, 2012

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 9:46 pm

Last day…

Breakfast: my 5th consecutive day of porridge and dates. And the last day of budget coffee. Yay!!!

Morning tea: only lemon balm tea. We ate all the crackers last night. The party was worth it, but it was a hard morning.

Lunch: tomato with rice again – only WARM! And half a leftover paratha.

Afternoon tea: half a paratha I saved from lunch.

Dinner: 2 leftover paratha and dal. It was quite liquid so I’ll call it a soup. It was the same as the one I cooked previously – fried onion, crushed coriander seed and the last of my curry leaves (in butter instead of oil since I had some left), added red lentils, water, the last of my ginger, salt and a tiny bit of chili.


Day 4 below the line

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 9:22 pm

So this was my birthday below the line. One of the more unusual birthdays I’ve ever had, although the trip in the Mauritian police helicopter in 2002 remains hard to top…

Breakfast: budget instant coffee and porridge with dates. You know, I actually like porridge with dates, even after 4 days. It really doesn’t need sugar.

Morning tea: same as the previous 2 days…only watching everyone else eat muffins and fruit.

Lunch: cold “risotto”. I had the same “rice with tomatoes” dish. But today of all days I was at a workshop. We ate at the hotel restaurant, which meant I was sitting at a table with everyone eating from the buffet, and I had my rice. Now for the rest of the week I have enjoyed the highly unrealistic luxury of heating my rice dishes in the office microwave. Since I wasn’t at the office, I didn’t have the microwave. I have to say that it tasted a lot better hot.

Afternoon tea: a few more crackers.

Dinner: this was my below the line birthday party. I pooled resources with 3 friends doing the challenge and we had a lovely meal.

Course 1: my homemade crackers and Barbara’s pea “guacamole”.

Course 2: a piece of Mona’s semolina cake. And a cup of tea with milk (powdered).

Course 3: Kim’s dal, Kim’s fried rice, Barbara’s “risotto-ish”.

Course 4: Mauritian greens, yams from my garden with ginger and a bit of honey from Mona’s budget and Mona’s paratha with my remaining flour.

Course 5: a date each and another cup of tea.

It wasn’t quite as excessive as it sounds. Each portion was rather small. We basically provided what we would have had for dinner. But it was really good and a lovely way to celebrate a birthday.


Day 3 below the line September 25, 2012

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 9:32 pm

Breakfast: same as the last 2 days.

Morning tea: ditto

Lunch: “risotto” from the previous night.

Afternoon tea: ditto

Dinner: the remains of monday’s dal and rice, plus jowar chapati.

The monotony is kicking in. But I’m actually getting used to the lemon balm tea now.

The jowar (Sorghum) chapati was an interesting experiment. Even in New Zealand this is the cheapest flour available. It’s the staple for millions across Africa and Asia. It was challenging to work with – it’s got no gluten so doesn’t bind together, and the dough was made with boiling water – which meant it was rather like handling a dough made from porridge.

Overall it was edible, but far from being as nice as a wheat chapati. It didn’t help that I misjudged the salt, but with a bit more sprinkled on them, they were fine.


Day 2 below the line September 24, 2012

Filed under: Cooking,Living below the line — belladonnabess @ 9:40 pm

Breakfast: same as yesterday – one cup budget instant coffee with milk (powdered skim milk), rolled oats with 2 chopped dates and milk. Also, I salt the rolled oats slightly – essential!

Morning tea: more “tea” from my wild lemon balm. I’m actually getting used to it and don’t mind it. Although coffee would be better. 5 crackers (based on a recipe I posted previously, but with 10 cents worth of sesame seeds on them for a bit of extra flavour).

Lunch: a reheated chapati from yesterday, dal and rice the same as yesterday.

Afternoon tea: more lemon balm tea and another 5 crackers.

Second afternoon tea: 2 more reheated chapati. This was essential, as I had a birthday party to attend. If I didn’t have food inside me before I went, I’d have passed out. Not to mention the temptation of having the food in front of me when I was hungry.

Dinner: rice cooked with onion, celery, carrot, herbs and tinned tomatoes. Kind of like a risotto (thanks for the idea Mona!). I put a bit of butter on it at the end. It wasn’t bad at all, and I didn’t get to eat until 9 at night which made it all the better when I finally ate.