The Mastercheap Raw experiment has begun! I've spent my $25 and it's time to start actually cooking and eating. How much advance preparation am I going to need, and how will I cope with going to a fully-catered event on the very first day?
Breakfast: 1/3 cup of quick oats, cooked with 1/2 cup milk and served with 2 spoonfuls stewed apple
Lunch: One serve steamed mixed vegetables with margarine, 2 boiled eggs
Dinner: One serve home-made pasta, tomato and onion sauce
Snacks: 3 pieces shortbread, 1 carrot chopped into sticks
Hot drinks: 6 cups black tea
Preparing the night before
My Mastercheap diet began on Saturday, but I had to do a stack of preparation the night before. When you're working with limited resources, advance planning is essential, and two of the foodstuffs I'll get ready on the first day will have to last throughout the week.
In an ideal world, I'd do all this on the Saturday morning (for most people, weekends present the best combination of free time and energy for advance cooking). However, after I'd set the dates for when Mastercheap was happening, I became aware of WordCamp Sydney, and decided that I definitely needed to attend the first day. Accounting for that meant ensuring I scheduled a portable, no-cooking-required lunch for Saturday and also required me to do most of the prep work the night before.
Actually, the first stage happened straight after I'd shopped. Frozen vegetables are a nuisance when you need individual serves; as soon as the bag is open, the remaining veg tends to freeze into a solid block. So I divide my bag of mixed veg and of beans into five serves each, which will save me hassle later on.
Then on Friday night, I had to perform the following tasks:
- Chopping up and stewing my two apples, to make a topping for my daily breakfast. (I'll talk more about my breakfast strategy in tomorrow's post).
- Boiling two eggs for lunch on Saturday.
- Chopping up my two onions and my chilli and frying them. This will be used as a flavouring base in several dishes throughout the week, starting with my Saturday pasta sauce.
- Baking a tray of shortbread. Shortbread is one of my baking staples, and it works well for Mastercheap because it requires just three ingredients: shortening, sugar and flour. Ideally, it would be butter rather than table spread and caster sugar rather than raw sugar, but the budget doesn't stretch that far. Once cooked, I cut it into 21 pieces, which gives me three a day to use as either snacks or desserts. (I'll share the full recipe I used later in the week).
All told, that took close on 90 minutes at a fairly leisurely pace. It's a relatively big investment of time (especially as I don't get to eat any of it straight away), but it will pay off on workdays, I imagine.
A day on the road
So Saturday morning arrives. I make myself a big pot of tea and enjoy my oats and fruit. I'm gorging on the tea because I don't think there'll be any way of getting boiling water at the conference. There's a coffee cart at WordCamp — indeed it's a fancy one from YQme, operating via a WordPress site and letting people order coffees in advance via their phones. The hot drinks are free, but I suspect (correctly) there'll be a long queue at every break. So I'm going to have to get through the day only drinking water.
I steam my vegetables, stir in a little table spread, then pack it to eat cold later in the day. I've also got the two boiled eggs, a piece of shortbread for a morning snack, and a carrot chopped up for an afternoon snack. It's been a long time since my lunch was in so many separate containers. The vegetables turn out much better than I expected. Normally I'd eat steamed vegetables hot, but the cold option is perfectly appetising, and I enjoy the eggs as well.
The day is busy and involving, and I can't say I'm ever conscious of being either hungry or deprived. That said, I don't deliberately punish myself. WordCamp includes a full lunch, but I'm not going to sit in a room and watch other people chowing down on food I can't have. So I sit on a quiet bench away from the main crowd. It's not great for socialising, but there will be occasions later in the week where I really am forced to watch other people eat. I don't have to start now.
Making the pasta
The feature element of my dinner plans is home-made pasta. I became a convert to this after seeing Jamie Oliver do it on stage years ago. It's great fun to do and feeding the dough through the machine is therapeutic, but it takes a lot of time compared to dried pasta (though the actual cooking is much quicker). For starters, you need to chill the dough (wrapped in cling film) for an hour after making it and before processing it, and I've found that trying to make the dough too far in advance dries it out. So that's an hour after I get home when I can't even begin working on dinner beyond making the dough.
I've been practising and experimenting with quantities in the run-up to Mastercheap. I like pasta (it was a major element in the original Mastercheap experiment back in 2010), and I can't afford to mess it up during this week. I've concluded that I can make myself a generous dinner serving of pasta — enough for two bowls, in fact — from 180 grams of flour and a single egg. Depending on the texture of the egg, I may also need to add a tablespoon or so of water. That proves to be the case tonight.
So you mix the flour, egg (and water if necessary) together, form it into a dough, and chill it. After an hour, you flatten it out, and then feed it repeatedly through the machine, gradually lowering the thickness until you have a long, single sheet. Then you cut it up using the cutter attachment. In theory, you can do it without a machine simply by using a rolling pin, but the machine makes it much easier.
The sauce is easy: I just heat the tin of tomatoes and add some of my onion/chilli mixture. The pasta takes just a couple of minutes in boiling water, and I'm done. Delicious, if I do say so myself.
Day one is done and dusted: so far, so good. Tomorrow I don't have to go out, but I also have to face a day largely dominated by vegetables and without the familiar comfort of pasta. Comments and suggestions, as always, are welcome.
Lifehacker’s Mastercheap Raw experiment sees editor Angus Kidman living for a week with a food budget of just $25 and only basic ingredients.