Guest blogger: Martine Svanevik

(In which I am excited to present my very first guest blogger, fellow writer and friend Martine, who writes about two of my favourite subjects.)

Martine Svanevik is a Norwegian ex-pat living in Montreal where she attempts to combine her job as Text Coordinator for Funcom Games Canada with revising her novel. She’ll get back to you on how that works out. Hook up with Martine on her blog: https://nascentnovelist.wordpress.com/ or on twitter: www.twitter.com/martinemonster.

Writing Snacks That Help You Focus

Having spent an extended period of time working from home, I’ve had the chance to try a fair bit of  writing food and I’m here to tell you: nutrition is important when you want to get that grey matter moving. See, I started out with Uncle Whisky and M&Ms, but after a while I just had to accept that they weren’t giving me with what I needed. Sure, there were the coolness points, but for sustenance, alcohol and chocolate were found lacking. So I looked elsewhere.

First, I turned to fast food. I consumed an embarrassing amount of portion-sized bags of salt and vinegar potato chips before realizing that they made me hunger for more. Instead of giving me focus, the delicious chips took it away by making me hunt through every cabinet, desperately digging for just one more bag. Those were dark days.

Next, I jumped on the health wagon and began making all my food from scratch. It was great. My energy increased, my skin regained its shine, and my cooking skills improved rapidly. There was only one problem: I spent so much time looking up and trying out recipes that the writing got lost in the middle of it.

I finally saw the light: I had to find some form of snack that gave me energy without making my body and mind crash, but it had to take less than five minutes to prepare. Sounds impossible? Not at all. Here’s my list of excellent snacks that keep you focused and clearheaded, without taking time away from what’s important: your writing.

My Rules of Thumb:

  1. You need protein, fat and carbs
  2. It has to be consumable without making your fingers greasy
  3. It has to take less than five minutes to prepare

There was some trial and error involved, especially once I got a job in an office and had to plan things beforehand, but I ended up with a few favourites. Let me know how they work out for you!

Martine’s Ultimate Writing Snacks:

  1. Carrots and almonds: cut the carrots (or better yet: by pre-washed baby carrots) and toss them in a bowl with some almonds.
  2. Sugar snaps and pistachios: put in bowl. Serve.
  3. Celery dipped in peanut butter: slather some almond butter on some celery sticks. Put them on a plate. Warning: these might lead to greasy fingers if you’re not careful.

Now, these are just snacks. For lunches and dinners you might have to put in a few more minutes. Not many, though. Barebones cooking is the way to go, at least when you know what’s important to you: getting those words out.

What are your favourite writing snacks? What gets you going when you feel like there’s no more energy left in you? Let me know how these snacks work for you!

An ode to vegetables

Welcome to the first new, shiny post of my combined writing/cooking blog! Strange combination? Perhaps. But they’re both things I love, and while it’s impossible to write something good without proper fuel, words are food for the soul. So you see how it all fits together.

This first post concerns food, but there will be writing/reading/publishing related ones later. I’ll try to tag everything so it can be sorted easily. Now, onto the subject o this first-ever post:

VEGETABLES!

Don’t you just LOVE vegetables? Crunchy, colourful, varied, good-for-you vegetables? Not to mention humourously shaped veg. (If you hate veg, you’re gonna have issues with this blog. I’m not likely to stop writing about them.)

 What’s the big deal?

  • Cheap! They are so much cheaper than meat. (At least if you’re the least bit health-conscious and try to avoid the worst processed cheap meat products.) Great news if you’re on a limited budget (maybe a student, or like me, a poor writer or other starving artist) but still try to be healthy.
  • Pretty! They add colour to your food. I don’t know about you, but I find a plate full of greens, reds and yellows more inviting than a plate of, well, just different shades of brown (meat, rice, fries, pasta…you know). 
  • Healthy! I actually notice a difference in my wellbeing when I’m eating lots of veg vs. eating little. I just feel better in general, better skin and hair, more energy, better digestion, etc.
  • Varied! There’s just so many different types of veg and sooo many ways to cook them. I’m 30 and still trying new vegetables (recently; plantains and okra. Success). If you’re not afraid to try something new, you’ll never suffer from culinary boredom.

Hate vegetables?

Like a lot of people, I grew up with a standard dinner of meat/fish, boiled potato and two boiled veg. There were a lot of vegetables I really loathed, but now I absolutely love most of them! How? I learned to think differently.

The solution is probably not to avoid vegetables altogether (I won’t go on about how good they are for you and all that, cause I’m sure you know).  Instead, view this as an opportunity to discover new flavours as you search for alternative ways of preparing veg. There are several ways to ‘trick’ yourself into eating more veg, or getting used to a vegetable you don’t like.

  • Pinpoint what it is you don’t like about a specific vegetable. Is it the texture? Maybe you’ve had it cooked wrong (soggy, overboiled carrots, anyone?). Try it cooked a different way – stir-fried, raw, mashed, roasted, grated in salads, etc.
  • Is taste the problem? Try adding flavours that mask or complement the vegetable. (To continue with the carrot theme; this carrot, chili and coriander soup might make you see carrots in a new light).
  • Which brings us to: soups. A blender and some cream can work wonders with a boiled vegetable. This works with a huge variety of vegetables: Boil veg, drain, add some stock and spices, whizz in blender, add a bit of cream and bring back to the boil. If you’re a fan of spicy food, you’re lucky to have an easy way to mask unwanted vegetable flavours, if not, adding more cream will soften the veg taste. This site is a soup goldmine (or gold pot, if you will).
  • When making stews and casseroles, substitute some of the meat for veg. About half the mince in spaghetti bolognese can successfully be swapped with -you guessed it – chopped carrots. (If you don’t like the texture, try grating it.) Onions, mushrooms, bell peppers/capsicums are also great in spag bol.
  •  Salads! It doesn’t have to mean limp salad leaves and soggy tomatoes. In fact, it doesn’t have to contain any leaves at all, just put in whatever you want. A friend of mine barely liked any veg, but learned to like them after having lots of salads with just about any vegetable on earth, topped with olives and feta. The key is variation; throw in enough different veg so that you have different textures and colours and it looks pretty and colourful.
  • Raw veg! It’s great. (I could have written ‘crudites’, but I’m not that fancy, really.) Try dipping sticks of carrot (I know, just shut up about the carrots already!), celery, bell peppers, swede, cucumber, zucchini or anything else you fancy, in dips like tzatziki, hummous, etc.
  • If anything else fails, grate some into stews and casseroles, and because it’s grated into tiny pieces, you’ll hardly know it’s there. You’re not learning to like them, which is a shame, but at least you’re getting some of the nutrients.

Other people have written about this before me, much better too. Here’s a few great tips.

Over at cheaphealthygood, there are loads of exciting dishes that uses vegetables in ways I never would have thought of myself. Plus, cheap! That’s a good bonus, right?

Of course, I deliberated for a long time what my first post of this exciting new blog would be, and I landed on this.  Purely because I had an extremely tasty dinner of cabbage and carrots, both of which I used to hate, and I wanted to share the love.

 Sautéed cabbage & carrots

A pile of unphotogenic goodness

(Really, how appetising can you make cabbage and carrots look? Just imagine what the smell of garlic and chili would look like and then pretend this is a picture of that.)

 I used:

About 1/6 of a whole cabbage

1/2 yellow onion

1 large carrot

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/3 of a fresh red chili (deseeded)

Pinch of pepper

Chop everything finely, cook in a bit of oil (and maybe some butter – I like to add some for flavour) over a medium high heat, in a wok or frying pan/skillet. (It’s also a good idea to add the garlic towards the end so it doesn’t burn.) Stop cooking when it’s glossy and slightly softened, but still has a bit of crunch left – taste as you go along to find your own perfect texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper (but really, with chili and garlic you don’t need a lot of salt – good news for your health).

I had this with two types of buttered roll. One was a sort of improvised wholemeal rye roll which turned out ok, but nothing out of the ordinary (the small one to the right in the photo). The other roll, I have to tell you, was THE BEST ROLL I’ve EVER had! Yes, so amazingly good that the caps are almost justified. Big balls of crunchy, fluffy, soft, golden, tasty goodness.

The recipe for these AMAZING cornmeal rolls are over at comfortablydomestic. I’ve only just discovered her blog, but she seems to be somewhat of a domestic goddess who has lots of lovely, comforting, ‘proper food’ recipes. American measurements and temperatures, and I don’t have a good metric one, unfortunately. To be honest, I’m so crap with numbers that I can’t be bothered with conversion tables or calculators – I simply try to get the measurements right in relation to each other (i.e. if a recipe calls for 2 cups of water and 1 cup of cornmeal, I make sure I use twice as much water as cornmeal). If the measurements are more complex, I just use some educated guesswork, and it usually turns out fine.

Now, off to bed, to read On the Way Home, a diary by Laura Ingalls Wilder. A fascinating look ‘behind the scenes’ of the world of the Little House books (and, coincidentally, it has a few interesting food mentions).  Any bedtime reading recommendations for me, people?

Good eating and reading, everyone!