Even You Can Cook This: Basil Spaghetti

So here’s the thing. My mother started teaching me how to cook when I was about ten years old. I could cook a roast chicken dinner from woah to go by the time I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I’m best at baking, but if you put a recipe in front of me I can make a pretty good go of it, all things considered.

Here’s the other thing. Cooking is a pain in the ass. I live in Australia, so in summer it is hot and the kitchen is the utter last place you feel like being. Even in winter….look, cooking is just a pain, alright? I have become the master of the salad wrap.

HOWEVER!

I also think that it is really important to be able to make a few more substantial meals, in minimal time, and preferably creating as few dishes as humanly possible while doing so. Nobody likes washing the dishes. Nobody. I don’t care what they say.

This series is to provide you with a few recipes that are easy to make, with few (and generally inexpensive) ingredients, using the smallest number of pots, pans and utensils possible. Because cooking is a pain, and nobody likes doing dishes. See above.

Basil spaghetti is one of my favourite “fast food” meals to make. It’s easy, it only takes a few minutes (as long as it takes to cook the pasta to your liking), and it tastes pretty bangin’, seriously. PLUS, it is really easy to jazz up, and I’ll let you know some options after the basic recipe, which is vegetarian as I don’t eat meat myself.

BASIL SGHETTI*

*I’ve called spaghetti “sghetti” since I was a kid. It’s been around for over twenty years, it’s not gonna go away now.

Essential Ingredients:
  • Thickened cream (I think they call it heavy cream in the States?)
  • Cheese, either grated or gratable. Parmesan would work well if you have it.
  • One jar of basil pesto, and for god’s sake make sure you get one without animal rennet! Check the label!
  • One packet fettuccine pasta (I prefer spinach fettuccine, but regular works just fine too
Optional ingredients:
  • Chicken bits, or bacon bits, whatever you prefer
  • Sliced and cooked carrots, for colour, flavour, and crunch if you like’em not-squishy like me

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to create basil sghetti deliciousness, do the following:
  1.  Put a pot of water on to boil. Make sure there is at LEAST a full teaspoon of salt in that water; it’ll taste better and help the pasta not to stick together so much.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta. Not the whole bag unless you’re cooking for multiple people! Just enough for however many you’re cooking for.
  3. Stir the past every once in a while; the more often you do this, the less the pasta will stick, but don’t slave over it either.
  4. Once the pasta is done to your liking, drain most of the water, leaving about a tablespoon worth in the pot with the pasta; the pasta will taste better and the sauce will stick, and it won’t be bone-dry when you eat it.
  5. Add the basil pesto until your pasta has a reasonable covering. I prefer my basil sghetti hella strong, so I use about half the jar per time I cook this! To taste 🙂
  6. Add your thickened cream, maybe a half or two thirds of a cup, and stir until the sauce is creamy and a pale green colour.
  7. Whack it into a bowl, and stick some grated cheese or Parmesan on top.
  8. Enjoy, with gusto.
Optional extras
  1. With meat bits: Obviously, cook them. And in a separate pan! Once they’re done, whack’em in the sauce after the cream step.
  2. With carrots: Slice them thinly, cook’em in a pan with a tiny bit of either butter or olive oil until they’re to your liking. I usually only leave them in the pan for five minutes because I like mine crunchy. When they’re done, whack’em in just after them basil step. Cream is optional for the carrot version, because the pasta is really nice with just the basil pesto and carrots.

If you don’t like basil pesto, I’m pretty sure you could sub sundried tomato pesto here, but it may take some experimenting. I personally think tomatoes are the devil’s fruit, and are suitable for consumption only in tomato-based sauces in Italian cuisine. And even then, you need Parmesan for disguising their presence. BUT, I guess it could be done. If you had to.

RESULTS:

  1. Basil sghetti deliciousness, and if you make enough there’ll be leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow, too.
  2. At most (with optional extras), 3 pots and/or pans, eating utensils and plate, spatula (for stirring sauce), knife (carrots) and grater.
  3. The feeling of accomplishment at the realization that you have successfully feed yourself, and also you can pxt your mother to show her you’re not subsisting on 2-minute noodles. Anymore.

See? Even you can cook this!

Stay weird xxx

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Vegetarianism – The Transition

So, here we are. Writing a post I never thought I would write, and in your case, reading yet another post about some millennial hack who has gone vegetarian and is probably going to start bugging you about it soon, jesus h. christ can’t a person have a bacon sanga in peace…. Hah. If that is the case, off you trot. What are you even doing here? I decided to write this post to talk about why I decided to go vegetarian, and how I went about it, because let’s get one thing straight: I did not give up meat because I don’t like it, or because of some dietary requirement, or health reasons or whatever. I gave up eating meat strictly for ethical reasons, and there are some days (still) when I would absolutely consider killing (or at least maiming) someone for a proper burger. So why?

I first starting seriously considering vegetarianism about two years ago, when I was 23. Videos starting going around about the Yu Lin festival in China, and I have never been so close to passing out or throwing up or both just from watching a video on social media. That sort of cruelty is something that makes no sense to me at all, and is utterly and completely unnecessary. You don’t have to be cruel to a creature just because you plan on eating it; I would actually argue that you should be nicer because of the fact! I truly considered giving up meat then and there, but of course there was always a reason not to. Aforementioned bacon sangas, for one. And I really do like the taste of meat, I always have. My sister, on the other hand, has been a vegetarian since she was eleven years old. Her willpower is the stuff of legend in my family (and serious, serious envy). And since she clearly survived childhood and her teenage years ( a bit bedraggled, along with the rest of us!), then vegetarianism obviously won’t kill a person. And she didn’t seem like she missed it, so… I guessed it must have been alright, at least.

It’s like the Baader Menhoff phenomenon though, you know? See something once, and then all of a sudden you’re seeing it freaking everywhere? I feel like videos about animal cruelty, animal abuse, animal testing….it all ended up on my feed and it was horrific. And that’s not to mention the environmental effects of the huge herds of animals that are bred specifically for food. Google it, the statistics of wastage are atrocious. And there came a point when I realized I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just could not do it. At the same time, I seriously doubted my ability to go cold turkey (hah), so in November of 2016 I gave up red meat, but continued to eat chicken and fish.

And, my dudes, it sucked. It sucked hard. I missed bacon. I missed burgers. I missed stroganoff. Lasagna. Spaghetti and meatballs. Bolognese. All foods that I loved that were beyond my reach. And, no lie, even nearly a year later I still crave meat every once in a while. I do. No point in hiding it, it’s the truth. I never eat any though, because my desire to eat meat in no way on this earth is greater than my desire not to be part of a system that perpetrates cruelty and abuse upon species’ that literally cannot defend themselves against us. And then, once it sucked slightly less, I gave up chicken and fish as well. June of 2017 was when I became a proper vegetarian, and again, it sucked hard. I hadn’t realized how much I had increased my intake of chicken in particular, until I cut if from my diet. No more chicken pesto toasties, no more chicken nachos, no more chicken and mushroom fettuccine. But I did it, and it sucks a little bit less all the time. And, even better, I feel pretty damn good about it. I now have to take a fistful of vitamins every day (no joke, three different ones every morning) to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies common in people with vegetarian diets, but that’s ok. Because I no longer eat anything that was born to a mother, was capable of feeling pain (and other sentiments, I’m sure) and may otherwise have lived a full life. Even fish have families. And I know, I know that one person (i.e., me) not eating meat is unlikely to make a blind bit of difference to the global overproduction of food (including meat and meat by-products), but it might. And it makes a difference to me, you know?

Now, beyond the obvious, there are other things that I don’t (can’t) eat due to my vegetarianism. Like literally anything with gelatin in it, because gelatin is made out of rendered pork skin oh my god. I truly to god nearly threw up when I first found that out, and it is so upsetting because gummy bears were life. Also, certain types of sauces like pesto; my (former) favourite brand had animal rennet it in! Just…no, you know? People don’t buy basil pesto thinking it has meat in it. They buy it because they think it’s got basil in it. They put it on their sandwiches with aioli because the combination is delicious, and probably feed it to their vegetarian friends thinking they’re doing the right thing and being supportive but they’ve been completely duped because the god damn pesto has animal bits in it!

Read the ingredients, my dudes. Read the ingredients.

Also, I’ve learned to compensate for the lack of meat in my various different recipes. Nachos ar eamazing with chickpeas and lentils instead of meat. Put lentils and red or blackbeans in your bolognese sauce instead of mince. Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and red beans work fantastically in lasagna. And, most importantly, I did end up finding a damn good basil pesto that did NOT contain animal rennet. For the win! And when I really just want something to chew on that is not a freaking lentil or chickpea, there’s Quorn, so I can have not-schnitzel and not-nuggets and not-burgers and they honestly taste pretty good.

Maybe think about reducing your intake of meat to two or three days a week, and see how you go. Look for some vegetarian recipes (they’re a lot more abundant than they used to be!); if you’re really keen, check out the Revive series of vegetarian recipe books, because the food in those is bomb.

If you have any questions that I haven’t answered here, or just want to chat about vegetarianism or ethics or whatever, leave a comment below or send me a message via the Contact Me page, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Featured image credit: Google and then this place

KIT System 1 – Notes on Readings

Hi nerds!

The first installment of Keep It Together is dedicated to taking notes on readings, whether that be books, chapters, papers, articles, whatever.

One of the most important parts of developing good systems and habits as a student is understanding precisely what it is that you are reading, and developing a good note-taking system is, I think, a crucial part of that. The most crucial part is of course the reading, which I have a separate KIT for.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and harp on about my excellent note-taking skills. Learning is a process of constant evolution, and my note-taking style has changed a multitude of times over the years that I have been a tertiary student. However, in the last few years there are some base rules that I have developed in my own note-taking. These have lasted longer than previous methods I have used, and as they continue to make sense to me I shall continue to use them. This is important; do NOT use a system, any system, that you struggle to understand or remember. That way leads to frustration and madness, and usually to really crappy notes. Wasted time all around, not to mention the inevitable headache and whining about spending all that time and learning precisely zip.

So.

Tip the first: pick a system that works for you, that you can remember, that is easy for you to use and understand.

Tip the second: stick to that system. I speak from experience when I say that there is nothing worse, when prepping for an exam, than flipping through notes that start out formatted and written one way and then just gradually devolve into bullet points that don’t make sense even to the person that wrote them. You know that feeling, that you’ll know what you were talking about when you read it again later? That voice in your head that says “I don’t need to write anything else here. I’ve done the reading, I will know what that refers to, so it is a waste of time to write anything else here.” That voice is a damn liar. You absolutely will not remember what that three-word bullet point means six weeks after writing it, three hours before your exam. Stick to your system: you settled on it because it has value, so don’t get lazy about being serious at school.

Tip the third: flag the important bits with a post-it as read, and take your notes after you finish the reading. For me at least, I gain a better understanding of the material if I read all the way through first, and then go back to the important bits. That way, I can mull over the concepts I flagged as important on the first go round, thereby increasing my information uptake and understanding. Then you take the notes, in your own words as much as possible. I do insert word-for-word sections in my notes if I think something is particularly important and I cannot personally think of a better way to articulate a point, but try not to overdo it. The act of thinking about what you are taking notes on helps to cement that knowledge into your brain.

Tip the fourth: pick a colour system. Yes, I highlight my own notes. It has actually become invaluable to me as a PhD student when I am looking for something specific in the notes I have taken. There is nothing quite so infuriating as being absolutely, positively CERTAIN you wrote down that thing about that other thing and then being completely incapable of locating it in your notes. If you have a working colour-code, this task becomes so. Much. Easier.

As you can see in the gallery above, there are four colours that form my primary code: pink, orange, blue and green. Each of these colours performs a different function, and indicate to me their content.

Pink indicates (for the most part!) a new section or, as in the example notes above, a new chapter. This lets me know that my notes are about to shift focus to a new topic. Sounds stupid, but this sort of indicator is actually really useful and a lot of the time it is overlooked.

Orange indicates an incident, operation, or event that I think is of interest. As a cyber scholar, there are a LOT of incidents, operations and events that are of (academic) interest. This just allows me to skim through my notes for particular cases, and then I can read the notes surrounding them.

Blue indicates important concepts and terms. Again, because I am a cyber scholar there is a lot to learn, and very often I come across terms or concepts which are new to me. Blue highlights let me know that these are concepts that are important to understand.

Green indicates actors or parties that are active in cyberspace, or potentially have an interest or stake in an incident, operation or event. This familiarizes me with the names of individuals, groups, agencies and militaries that are or have been active in cyberspace. Knowing these names can help you make connections you may not otherwise have seen as you move through the body of literature for your topic.

Other colours like yellow or purple are used here and there, but not in a systemic fashion; sometimes, just to emphasize something that doesn’t really fall into one of my system categories, which I think is still worth highlighting.

Tip the fifth: Save your work. I know these are only notes, but for the love of little green apples save them somewhere. I personally use Evernote and Evernote Scannable; I scan my notes once finished and save them to a notebook in Evernote. The photos above are just photos taken with my phone, and if you don’t want to use a scanner app go right ahead and just take pictures and email them to yourself or whatever. The point is, just friggin save your notes. Imagine what an absolute waste of time this would all have been if they get lost, stolen, or destroyed. Then where will you be when exam prep rolls around?! That’s right, you’ll be just fine because you did as I said and you saved your notes somewhere.

As an academic and a long-time student, I know this all sends like a hell of a lot of work, especially when you sit down and think about actually doing this for each and every assigned or important reading that you do. HOWEVER: it is going to be useful to you, and not just to exam prep. More and more often recently, I find myself turning to notes that I have taken over the past couple of years because they all of a sudden are pertinent to a new paper I am writing, or a proposal I am polishing, or better: I suddenly realize that a book or article I have notes on is actually the perfect reference for such-and-such section of my thesis. Huzzah! In addition, you may find that as you take these notes and break down the meaning the authors are trying to communicate, you will actually start percolating article ideas of your own. Understanding someone else’s work can lead you to further, publishable work of your own. That, my friends, makes all the effort of note-taking valuable far beyond exam preparation.

And as a bonus? You know stuff. Sort of the whole point of why you’re a student, isn’t it? To know stuff? All of this, all of the reading and the note-taking and the classes and the learning and the knowing stuff contributes to a foundation of knowledge that will eventually earn you the title of “expert in your field” that we Ph.D. candidates value so highly.

I hope this KIT system has helped you, or at least entertained you for the ten or so minutes this post took to read. If you do use this system or something like it, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message through the Contact Me page; I would love to hear from you!

Stay weird xxx

Baby Steps To Planet Saving, Step 1: The Charcoal Toothbrush

Hi nerds!

Excuse the frankly terrible photo quality; iPhone 5s….ahem. Maybe the lens was dusty as well. Maybe.

In this the first edition of Baby Steps To Planet Saving, I would like to introduce you to The Charcoal Toothbrush. The Charcoal Toothbrush is an awesome Australian company and product (peak efficiency at naming things) that is designed to reduce a little of the plastic with which we are polluting our beautiful oceans.

I first found this company through Taryn Smith’s Instagram account; she also runs the website A Bird With Beliefs, which is also definitely worth a look. Taryn had put up a post about this toothbrush she had bought, and what caught my eye was that fact that the toothbrush was almost completely biodegradable. That is to say, once its shelf life had expired (three months of use, if you didn’t know, which is the same as normal plastic toothbrushes) you could snap off the brush head for and whip it into the recycle bin, and the rest of it you could shove in the garden. To biodegrade. Within approximately six months. So, instead of buying four toothbrushes a year which are inevitable thrown away and usually end up in the ocean killing what wildlife we don’t actively and directly kill ourselves, you could buy a toothbrush that is biodegradable and recyclable. Because most plastics will last for ever and ever and ever and ever amen and a lot of them, despite those handy recycle bins we all have at home, can’t actually BE recycled. Hence the landfills. And the oceans. And other bodies of water which inevitably have human trash thrown in at some point.

Except these toothbrushes won’t. Because they’re made mostly of bamboo which will biodegrade, and the bristles are made of activated charcoal-infused nylon which is recyclable.

And before the inevitable questions, no, using bamboo to manufacture toothbrushes will not starve the pandas, because pandas do not eat the type of bamboo these brushes are made from; Charcoal Toothbrush foresaw that lance and put together a brush FAQ.

Another really awesome thing about Charcoal Toothbrush is that instead of purchasing one or a certain number of toothbrushes (which is possible, of course), you can purchase a year’s subscription, and they’ll automatically send you a new toothbrush every three months. This is pretty brilliant, because you don’t have to worry about replacing your toothbrush with the hygienic regularity you SHOULD, and because you pay for the subscription up front you don’t have to pay for toothbrushes again for a year. You’re helping beat back the environmental devastation we as a species are wreaking upon the planet (still the only one we have), and every charcoal toothbrush purchased helps another marine animal to live.

Baby steps to planet saving. We can’t do it all at once, but as they say in one of my favourite movies of all time: one raindrop raises the sea.

Step 1: The Charcoal Toothbrush.

Stay weird xxx

 

Banner image credit: The Charcoal Toothbrush