It does not surprise anyone when I tell them that most of my salary each month is spent on food. Others save up to buy a handbag or a pair of expensive heels, but I, I splurge on meals that excite, fascinate and please me. Whether is it dessert at my favourite patisserie, or pizza at my favourite pizzeria, when it comes to food, it isn't hard to convince me to part with my money for a gastronomic experience. This has been the case since I earned that spending power when I left school and started working.
You'd think that it's a brilliant arrangement. And I do agree, readily. But right now, I think I have to set my priorites straight, and watch how I spend my money, especially if I am to aim for bigger things like travel. You see, I have been wanting to travel far and wide. I want to go places that I have only seen in photos and heard about from friends. There are experiences which I am dying to dive into. The desire stems from travel deprivation. My family have never travelled far. My parents have only been to Malaysia. They have never sat on a plane. As a kid, the only places I went to were across the causeway - Malacca, KL, Genting, Penang. After every long holiday in June and December, I will return to school and classmates will recount their distant travels to cool places like Disneyland in America or Japan, or Europe. I lapped these descriptions up with such eagerness, making mental notes of the places that I will go to when I am all grown up and have the means to.
Today, I am all grown up and I have been blessed to have first sat on a plane when I was 14. My school had organised an educational History trip to Bangkok and I jumped at the chance. The second time I saw the insides of a Boeing was in 2001 when my dearest aunt allowed me to join her on her trip to Brighton and London. That experience changed me, in so many ways. I remember telling her how unreal this was - that fact that I was in such a beautiful place away from home. You know the cliched phrase? How the grass is always greener on the other side? Damn, that's true. I got to see Shakespeare's house, I witnessed a celebration for the Queen Mother's birthday outside Buckingham Palace. I managed to snap a shot of her in a carriage as it went past me. I watched Cats at Westend. There were many castles and towers that I fawned over. Blooming gardens that made me gasp out loud in simple amazment. London, was simply spectacular. I did not feel any gloom (I thought the weather was fine actually :)
Recently, I went to Bali for a dear friend's wedding. As mentioned, she has since moved to New York. That obviously warrants me to pick New York as my next destination, naturally. She's been asking when will I visit. I had wanted to go next year but I don't think I can wait. Sometimes, when creating goals, you need to fix the target and do whatever it takes to reach it. New York is worthy enough of such persistance. I am planning to finally pursue one of my travel dreams - to spend Christmas in New York. It will not be cheap. I know that. But I'm ready to do whatever it takes.
I am willing to spend less on food.
That might sound like a total abomination I know. But hey, one has to do whatever one has to do to get to their dreams and goals, no? If life has taught me something, it is this. Time waits for no one. So you ask what am I going to do? Starve? Nah, I'm too greedy to do that. I'm going to be smart about it. The answer's very simple, really.
Packed lunches. That's going to be my saving grace. Don't worry, I will not deprive myself of that fantastic meal once in a while. It's just that lunch is my perfect opportunity. That's how I am going to cut costs.
As expected, I have been looking up on tasty options for my packed lunches. So these days, I usually pack whatever leftovers there were the night before (quite a regular thing because Dad always cooks so much!) or I cook before-hand.
I have since found several ways to satiate my appetite in a way that doesn't depress me. You will not find me sad eating my packed lunch. I do find it fun actually. It is also much healthier. Especially when you have full control over what seasoning and ingredients you will be using.
Recently, I came across a brown rice recipe that I thought was dead simple and tastes great. It's a nutty brown rice recipe. Yes, there's lots of nuts in it. Nuts are good and I happen to like nuts so I found it pretty amazing. They are one of the best plant sources of protein. Aren't nuts fatty, you ask. Yes they are high in fat, but mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Those are good fats - omega 3, known to lower LDL cholestrol. Bottomline: it's good for you, as long as you don't overdose. Not only do they contain Vitamin E and selenium, but also phytonutrients and antioxidants. Plus, they are high in fibre.
Are you sold yet? I hope so, because here's the recipe below. I hope you will try it and believe me. Make sure you are not allergic to nuts though. I find that the rice is tasty enough to have on its own but please feel free to throw in random tasty bits like ham (I did that before and liked the result).
Who says packed lunches are boring, eh? Stay tuned for more recipes for packed lunches as I try my darnest to save up for New York. Cheer me on why don't you! :)
Nutty Brown Rice
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups short-grain brown rice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups mixed nuts, chopped
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Bring water to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Add rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until rice is tender, about 40 minutes. Drain in a sieve.
Heat butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until foam subsides. Add nuts and cook, stirring, until butter and nuts are golden brown, about 4 minutes.
Add rice and nutmeg to skillet and toss to coat.
by Andrea Albin