Monday, February 4, 2013

The Great Return to Blogging!

A quick text-heavy update before more goodies and tips for a financially modest life in Kits!

Hello dear Readers!

Shibaraku desu ne? (It's been awhile, no?). While my career pursuits still leave me with precious free time, I am so glad to quickly log-in and update Green, Broke & Living in Kits this morning!

There are so many topics to cover, so many new tips and treasures to share! And my appreciation of all things cheap and frugal and wonderful in Vancouver has reached new heights as my husband and I consider our pending relocation overseas.

Running away together is a romantic dream, and the ability to fly as far as possible from the nest has always been my goal. One of the few perks of being a broke graduate student is the opportunity for international employment and starting a life for myself free from the limitations and snares of the 'nest'. I desperately need my own air to breathe, my own country (or continent! Or both, in the case of Australia!), my own life, you know?

Vancouver is the greatest city I've ever known. And it's home. Apart from a half-baked retirement plan that involves running a B&B in Costa Rica (our friends Tom and Zoe are living that dream right now and are those who inspired the whole idea in the first!), Vancouver will forever be "home" in many senses.

Kits, Spring 2012


We've got itchy feet, folks! We've got experiments to run, new vistas to see, and a land to call 'our own'!

We haven't precisely pinned down a location, but we've got a few forerunners which we will keep to ourselves for now. For reasons most people will not be able to understand (consider yourself extraordinarily blessed if you are among them!), we have to keep our movements relatively secretive, lest we end up being suffocated and smothered by the same 'problems' we look forward to distancing ourselves from most of all.

Welcome New UBC Students for Fall 2013! 

Kits bustles around the first week of September and I do NOT envy those of you desperately seeking an apartment! A tip for apartment-hunting in Kitsilano - bring a wad of cash ($1000 or more) and a large friend to act as your security guard, and show up EARLY in the morning to the 'open houses'. I got scooped once though I got there first, said yes first, but only had a cheque... the person behind me brought cash, and from what I can gather, offered a 'tip' (bribe) to the landlord/building manager also in cash to bump me. They did. I got a better apartment in the end, but that stung!

Good things for new residents of Kitsilano (particularly UBC students) to know of:
  • The U-Pass. Definitely OPT-IN for this discounted transit pass option! It's like a monthly all-access transit pass, but it's much cheaper as it is subsidized! If you don't get a U-Pass right away, buy a booklet of Faresaver passes from a convenience store (7-11, Macs, even Shoppers Drug Mart and bigger grocery stores like Safeway sell them). These are cheaper than paying with cash for transit tickets, and they don't expire. You also won't need to carry exact change with you for the bus when you have a booklet of these in your wallet. When your friends come to visit, they can use these fare slips to get around. They cost just over $20 for a pack of ten.
  • Buses are PACKED during the first two weeks of September. Get to campus EXTRA EARLY to avoid being late, late, late! It's always terrible for the first two weeks, particularly at morning rush hour. After this period, miraculously, the volume of people lessens (or spreads out over the morning). Don't despair - I promise the B-Line and the SkyTrain will get more pleasant in a few days' time. Be patient; it's ugly for the first couple of weeks!
  • - People giving away things for free. Mostly junk, as you'd expect for 'free', but sometimes wealthier folk don't feel the need to haggle for $10 for an old DVD player, for example! Craigslist (both free and for sale) is also a good place to know about, but be WARY - people often run scams on such sites. Always have a friend with you when making transactions.
  • Bed Bugs. Vancouver recently has had an influx of these horrid beasties, which seemed to coincide with the millions of people that travelled here for the 2010 Winter Olympics. BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN YOU BUY USED ITEMS! If you're paranoid (or wise), you can put your newly acquired used items into the freezer for a week, assuming it fits, and that should alleviate your fears. (Incidentally, our building does not have bed bugs, thankfully! And we'll be moving soon, so if you want anything from our place that I can guarantee is bed bug-free, stay in touch!). Dorms on campus are often fumigated for bed bugs, which is also nasty in a noxious-chemical sense. Always inquire about bed bugs before you move into a building.
  • No Frills (Alfie's on 4th at Fir, or Joti's on Broadway at Yukon, or Paul's on 4th at Alma) for cheap groceries and food. These grocery stores are less pretty than a Safeway, Save-On or IGA Marketplace, but they are cheaper. Plastic bags cost extra (a few cents each), so bring a reusable cloth bag or make use of the excess cardboard boxes they have at the exit of the store to cart your groceries home. Other good and affordable groceries can be found at the independently-owned (often Asian) grocers, like New Apple Farm Market or Central Gourmet. Safeway and Whole Foods are the most pricey options and are best avoided unless you wish to buy a particular item that can't be found elsewhere. Kewpie mayonnaise, for example, costs $6 at New Apple Farm Market (Asian-owned and operated), whereas it costs $9.50 at Save On Foods. It costs about $5.50 at T & T, but generally speaking the prices at T & T (which sadly is not in Kits) are largely comparable to the smaller independent stores.
  • People generally move in on the first of the month (sometimes the 15th, but the vast majority are at the start/end of the month), so if you are into 'dumpster diving' or trolling the alleys for discarded furnishings, the 29th-1st is generally your best bet. I have been both the beneficiary and benefactor of this practice. Not something I'd brag about, but in just casually glancing out my own back-alley, I've scored some pretty good finds! Just be prepared to clean, clean, clean, disinfect, refinish, paint and clean some more. Also note that if you see something you might like, grab first and consider later. There are literally people who drive in from the suburbs with pick-up trucks to scoop up these moving leftovers for profit! (Please note that you can donate your items to the local Salvation Army so easily, and you should if they are nice enough for someone else to want. And you can also use FreeCycle or the 'free' section of Craigslist to advertise your things. Please don't be the jerk that just throws half their belongings next to the dumpster and leaves a mess for others to clean, though!).
  • WIND Mobile has no-contract cell phone plans which are cheap, have great reception and has a network worldwide. We recently switched to this and are very pleased. They have POOR customer service, however, so if you're a "I want to negotiate and create my own tailor-made plan" sort of person, try elsewhere. But WIND is cheap and efficient and hassle-free (unless they screw up your bill, then it's a pain in the butt! Someone else paid into our bill accidentally and screwed up the payments; it took forever to get them to understand what went wrong, and they weren't particularly nice about it from the call centre, either. Apart from this one mix-up, it's been fantastic!). We have Telus for internet, which I like better than Shaw, but they're both terrible, greedy companies - no one is a fan of either. Make sure you get the Student Rate and the specials that they offer in September and October. These specials are good deals, and they disappear quickly! Jump on them! You can't sign up for a Student Package in November or in the spring, typically. Just September and maybe October - act fast!

Are you moving to Vancouver?

Then we should talk, friend! Our moving sale, which will involve 99.9% of our 'stuff', all of which are requirements for comfortable living here in Kits and throughout greater Vancouver, will have to be left behind. (We will be moving overseas and taking just our clothes with us!).

We are estimating that we will move around September 2013, but that is tentative as yet.

Here's some of our much-loved furnishings and appliances that will probably not be worth shipping in a crate by oceanic freighter (there's an Ikea just about everywhere in the world after all!):
  • A lightweight but sturdy Ikea kitchen table (unfinished, with a gorgeous collection of table linens - check out my photos on earlier posts for examples!) with two Wedgwood-blue Ikea chairs and ecru chair pads (all of these are LIGHT but strong and fold flat for easy transport! A major perk!)
  • My beloved Klippan couch (with an off-white stock slipcover... note that snazzy new fabric covers are available from Ikea! A great way to get something sharp and 'new' looking that is a very good deal and won't depreciate! I recommend the Klippan couch highly, btw, if you're looking to purchase new. Mine is 7 or 8 years old and is still in fantastic condition! Would take it with me if I was staying on the continent for sure. It's light to lift and move, too!)
  • Two computer desks (one is HUGE and dark and masculine and has been 'adopted' from former institutional office use; the other is compact, cute, easy to carry and more practical!)
  • A leather 'corporate-type' desk chair (on casters with swivel)
  • Our beloved Poang armchair... I feel sad about this already, but we know we will just buy it's twin once we find a flat overseas! This is only a year old or so, and it goes perfectly with the Klippan couch (such comfy pieces - I will miss them dearly!)
  • A large, tall Billy bookcase in a warm-light wood (beech?) veneer (I don't even want to think yet about what will happen to all my lovely books! Yikes!)
  • A square Expedit black bookcase (low enough to be a bedside table, with storage)
  • A Lerberg powder-coated steel (charcoal grey) lightweight shelving unit (stores our towels in the closet, along with folded jeans, etc! Handy thing for a closet!)
  • A small table, handmade, inset with medium-sized teal and blue tiles (made in the 1970s in Victoria) which I use as a bedside table, but which is cute enough to be a focal point in a hallway, for example.
  • A tall wooden dresser from the 1930s with patterned inlaid wood drawers. It's a little worse for wear on the top as it's been well-used, but it's very pretty. And useful!
  • My all-time favourite Salvation Army score - a huge, deep chest of drawers with a large arched (comes to a gentle point) cathedral-window-esque mirror, from the 1920s-30s is my guess. It's SOLID and beautiful. I use it as a sideboard in the living room / kitchen area (the huge mirror makes the room seem bigger). It's awesome, and I've already decided that it's only going to someone who will love it as I do! So speak up if you might fit the bill!
  • Similarly, a solid (HEAVY!) wood construction early 20th century armchair, the likes of which interior decorators with the money (or the ability to DIY it) to reupholster an article at will would fight over! This is a solid wood (probably oak) framed lowish arm chair with "GREAT BONES" that I have been meaning to do justice by educating myself on reupholstering and trying my hand on other pieces before I got to this absolute treasure. It doesn't look like I'm going to have time to do that, so I'll have to pass it on, for a price, to someone who will cherish and covet it like I have!
  • A queen-size bed and boxspring (and risers, if you like to use the space under for storage, as we do!), which is firm and still relatively new. And VERY IMPORTANTLY, it's bed-bug free! (I wouldn't ever recommend buying a used bed in Vancouver for this reason! But our bed is still in fantastic shape and I couldn't stomach just sending it to the dump - it's got at least 10 years left in it; it's not even a decade old yet, and it was a high-quality mattress set. You'd also get all the bed linen and duvets and even pillows to accompany it, if you so desired! I would recommend buying a cheap Ikea linen set in new, bright colours to make it your own!
  • Kitchen appliances: an expensive (1 year old, wedding gift) Cuisinart coffee maker (with internal grinder and digital doo-dads and everything fancy); my beloved and quite new still (1.5 years!) Cuisinart 9-cup food processor (if I could bring this with me, I would! A little hefty for a suitcase, and the electrical outlets aren't going to match!); a microwave (nothing special); an electric kettle (white) and a simple toaster (black); both of my Crock-pots (one a genuine 80s solid Crock-pot, the other a Bravetti slow-cooker from the past decade); all of our dishes and glasses and stemware and cutlery and crockery! (I haven't decided if I should keep all my Lagostina pots and pans, and my Hawkins pressure-cooker yet - I would very much like to, but we may not be able to find storage for these. And would I still need them years later?). I also have this T-Fal Vita Steamer apparatus, which steams EVERYTHING (whole meals in separate compartments!) which has only been used twice because it's quite large and we have virtually no counter space here. I could sell this immediately, and for cheap. It works well, but it's bulky and difficult to store.
  • A countertop dishwasher, a Bekvam (Ikea) birch wood kitchen cart on which the dishwasher sits, and then a cartload of resealable glass jars (Korken (Ikea); 1L & 2L, with gaskets and metal spring tab-closure) which are very nice for displaying grains and flours and pasta, etc. (I've got all of my lentils and dried beans and oatmeal and popcorn in them).
  • A heavy (studs required) shelving unit from Ikea (Varde): birch-veneer two shelf and lower rail (with 5 s-hooks). I think it's a pretty thing, and it's definitely helped make the kitchen look nicer! I like hanging aprons, oven mitts and utensils from it.
  • Deck chairs and table (like the dark wooden Askholmen at Ikea, but slightly different and quite sturdy; originally Ikea 'Bollo' - see photo)
  • An old Husqvarna sewing machine (heavy and tempermental); a Noma space-heater (radiator-variety, on casters); a still new Ikea step-stool (I keep it in the front hall for sitting on when lacing up shoes); an iHome iPod/iPhone docking clock-radio (black, newer model); two Ikea table lamps (glass; one is white, one is frosted clear glass); all of our towels and curtains; throw pillows; blankets; speakers (computer, TV, stereo - we've got a lot of these for some reason!), and probably two desktop computers without the hard drives (but with everything else, though we might take one of the monitors with us, depending).
  • A couple of nice looking houseplants to sell, and the less nice to be adopted.
  • A vacuum (which sucks lit. and fig. speaking); hair dryer; bathroom wall cabinet; two folding laundry racks (both powder-coated steel and no rust!); two folding tables (TV-dinner style); rudimentary wooden shelving (ugly but practical) and a shoe rack (Ikea 'Portis'). A good and newish iron and a folding Ikea half-sized ironing board (folds flat and hangs from closet rail when not in use); a laser printer; a stereo receiver; a DVD player...
Bollo (Ikea) - two chairs and table (sturdy!)

Anyway, just about anything you'd need to relocate to Vancouver will be here and for sale, tentatively August or September of 2013.

If you're reading this and would like to reserve one or more items, contact me! We can negotiate prices as well, but I know that if you're reading this you're relatively broke like me. So we'd be on the same page, I'm sure!

In the meantime...

There are still many things to discuss about living greenly and living frugally in Kitsilano (and in Vancouver in general) that I'd love to share! So stay tuned for more cheap and eco-friendly ideas. I promise I'll be blogging again more often. Thank you to everyone who follows me!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dear Reader.....

So how does this new "Dynamic View" format work for you?

Do you hate it? Can you see this background photo tiled, or is it just dull, flat GREY on the sides?:

I recently tried to view my blog from my work system (which is a little archaic and prone to failure at times), and I just got this flat, boring grey background.

And then I started to wonder - does everyone see that?

The other thing I really don't like about the new Dynamic View format, is the SEARCH feature. Sometimes I want to find a post (or typically something I mentioned once but I don't know which post it's in!), and all it does is highlight the text, but I have to scroll down for an eternity to find it!

Do you hate it, too? Would you rather I revert back to a simpler format?

I may anyway, but I would love to hear feedback. Please cast your vote / post your opinions below (Comments).

Because the whole point of writing this blog is to SHARE information EASILY with YOU! And if it's not working, please say so!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Hawkins' Maiden Voyage

Well, I'll say one thing for pressure cooking - it's exciting! Slightly scary the first time, too! Jets of hot steam that you cap (manually and bravely!) with a weighted regulator, bursts of steam periodically from the vent (it sounds like a locomotive, which runs on steam after all!), and then the short-cut depressurizing by lifting the little stop-cock vent weight regulator with the end of a spoon or a fork . . . at which point all the steam comes hissing out right next to your fingers!

Only my fingers didn't get burned, but my thumb did. I (wrongly) assumed that the regulator would have cooled enough to handle it with my well-seasoned fingers after the entire lid had sat out cooling for a minute or so. Yee-ouch. It stays QUITE hot for quite some time!

The manual didn't warn about that (it covered everything else in great detail, so I'm not complaining!), so I will:

When removing the vent weight from the lid (long after you've removed the lid from the pot!), either wait for a long while for the metal to cool, or use an oven mitt/cloth because it gets, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite hot from having pressurized steam flowing out of it!

WARNING: this weight vent pressure regulator gets HOT HOT HOT!

And I suppose that this is why there should be a trial run! I'm learning, oh how I'm learning! One surprising minute after the next!

Here's a little slideshow of the steps involved:

Element set on "high"; contains 2 cups tap water + 1 tsp lime juice.

Steam at first spurts, then steadily blows out of the vent.

Then (the scary part) you CAP the steam geyser with the little regulator, pressing it down to "click" in place!

And after a few anxious moments, the thing BLASTS steam and lifts the weight! And then silence. And then BLAST! Then you reduce the heat to MEDIUM. I suppose this is a continuous cycle as pressure builds up, is released, then builds again. The steam didn't travel far from the pot.

And then another scary step - you remove the pot from the burner (while you move it, it BLASTS steam, which is really unnerving!), and then short-cut the depressurization process (optional) by lifting the weight with the end of a fork. And all the steam again comes BLASTING out!

Weirdly, the manual explicitly said to add 2 cups of water plus 1 teaspoon of fresh lime juice (which I did) in order to keep the inside of the cooker 'clean'. But when I opened it after the run, it had clearly become discoloured...

See the splash marks from the water and lime juice?

Ah well, I suppose I'll be putting worse into it very soon anyway! Next up are the navy beans for the Eggplant and Navy Beans in Kalonji and Tamarind Curry recipe (Vij's, of course!).

Add 1 cup navy beans (dry, unsoaked)

Add 4 cups water

Cook for about 25 minutes and voila! Cooked beans! (No, sadly not 11 min; that required a 1hr pre-soak)

Hey, did you know that "Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey - The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking" won the 2010 World Gourmand Cookbook award? I'm also hardly surprised that there's only four copies of this cookbook in stock on - the publishers must be so thrilled!

The Eggplant and Navy Beans in Kalonji and Tamarind Curry turned out fantastic (of course)! Everything I've ever made in this cookbook has been astonishingly delicious. If you're worried about the 'spicy' factor, all of the dishes are MILD for a Western-palate (I typically double the recommended spices, and even then it hardly hits "medium"!). Even the "spicy" dishes are still what I would consider to be mild.

So, so good. It's like baked beans - total comfort food. And I didn't have to soak those dried beans overnight thanks to Hawkins!

Total success. Totally pleased. Totally going to use my Hawkins 5L pressure cooker for everything!

Two other thoughts to round off the meal:
  1. I've decided that making your own tamarind paste (from page 42) is not worth it. It's the second time I've done it - either my strainers are all the wrong gauge of mesh, or I just don't have the knack for straining and pressing lumpy, chunky, skin-filled tamarind mush through a sieve. I also noticed that a jar of unsweetened, mostly tamarind, preservative-free paste (product of Thailand) at New Apple Market cost about $3.50. Seeing as this is only about $1.50 more than the block of tamarind, and it means I don't have to press unpressable fruit goo through a strainer inefficiently, I'd say it's completely worth it. I only needed 1 Tbsp of the paste in the end! I think if I were to make the tamarind chutney from scratch, I'd definitely do the full paste preparation. But for a Tbsp of paste added to an otherwise easy recipe? I'm taking the short-cut next time!
  2. I got a bag of tomatoes for $1.00 at the New Apple Farm discount shelf (outside, bottom left!). Everything tastes better when you buy stuff on sale! Score! (I should also mention that tamarind blocks are slightly cheaper at New Apple than at Sabzi Mandi (by $0.50 or so), but that cilantro is twice as expensive at $0.79 compared to $0.40 at Sabzi Mandi. So it all balances out if you happen to purchase both!).


My Hawkins Pressure Cooker!

I'm obscenely excited about this! A Brand New, Shiny 5L Hawkins Classic from Sabzi Mandi!

After much deliberation, I decided to go with the quickest, cheapest and easiest option - I bought the famous Hawkins Pressure Cooker from Sabzi Mandi (at the mythical Main and 51st location)!

See, it DOES exist! The internet may not support that notion, but it is here. And it carries MANY Hawkins cookers!

While Jen put up a very convincing argument for the Presto 1781 monstrosity, I couldn't actually get it here easily (and I wasn't about to pay more than $50 extra to buy the same product off the Canadian site when our dollar is worth more than a greenback!). The logistics of not only the purchase and shipping, but also of storage did not end up in favour of the Presto. Perhaps one day, given a house and a family and much canning, I'll look into it again. If you could use a giant pressure cooker - please follow Jen's recommendation and enjoy!

I already know which Vij's recipe I want to try first!

I'm so ridiculously excited about this little Hawkins pressure cooker! I went to bed reading the instruction manual (a 139 page Indian cookbook-cum-operations-cum-DIY repair manual!), and as soon as the alarm went off this morning, I picked it up again. It's really not my fault - this stuff is riveting! (Literally - there's these special alloy rivets in the handles.... oh, nevermind! I'm turning into my grandpa with all these terrible puns!).

I am starting to believe that I may lack in impulse control. This felt like the culmination of a 5 year mountainous journey with setbacks, upswings and surprises along the way; when in actual fact, two days ago I decided I "needed", desperately, a new kitchen gadget. I suppose this is what comes of the Sesame Street generation - short attention spans and lack of impulse inhibition.

These may as well be Tibetan prayer flags on the summit of  Mt Everest for all my celebrating

I heard through the grapevine that television is about to become much more dangerous to those even worse than me - the sort of people who "CALL NOW!" when infomercials shout at you to do so, the sort of people who are so easily persuaded by advertising. I'm not allowed to divulge what I know, but let's just say if you see something on TV and you want it, you'll be able to click on it and buy it off the internet instantly. Talk about targeting those with impulse control problems!

Fortunately, I have very strange shopping tastes. Though I fall nicely into that 30-39 age range, I'm not representative of most females. For example, I get really, really excited to buy kidney beans in bulk from the Sabzi Mandi. So excited that I blog about it:

2.19 lbs (that's 0.99 kg!) of dark rajma (kidney beans) for $3.26! Hooray!

Give me the choice between a day at the spa (oooh!) and a equivalently priced shopping spree at Devan Greenhouses in Abbotsford, and I'll be racing down the #1 like my life depends on it! A Coach purse loaded with lovely things from l'Occitane en Provence or having a Sabzi Mandi move onto 4th Avenue? Well, you can probably guess. I'm rather strange that way, I suppose. While most young girls spent time planning their dream weddings, I designed landscapes and made wishlists out of seed catalogues (I kid you not!).

In a by-gone era, I think I would have made quite the happy homemaker! I found a funny little excerpt to that effect in the Hawkins cooker manual:

"And substantial saving in time allows the housewife to devote more attention to the management of her household and pursue her other interests."

This advert didn't have a charming statement like the above, but I thought it was too cute to not share:

I like my new appliances to come with a faint waft of another culture. The pages of the manual even smell like Indian paper (Christine - it smells like your letters! I can't explain how!)

When I first brought my Hawkins home (note the language usage: MY Hawkins! Oh yes, there's ownership in that statement!), I wanted to get it going right away. I had heard about how misuse of a pressure cooker, much like misuse of an autoclave, can result in gross personal injury and property damage (alright! I feel like the Tim Taylor of the kitchen - MORE POWER!), so I was of course careful enough to at least briefly glance at the booklet and all the the bright red warning inserts...

And of course it recommended that I not only look over but "read this whole book from cover to cover and act upon it. Become an expert."

So I naturally skimmed through to the "How to Close and Open Your Hawkins" section, where it says, "The closing and opening of your Hawkins pressure cooker is easy once you have understood it and practised a few times." Hmm. Not immediately obvious, eh?

It's actually very well-engineered! Would you expect anything less from India?

I decided to soldier on - I'd figure it out, being the mechanically-minded sort. I jumped straight to the "Hawkins Cooking Tips" and started to get out my ingredients for Eggplant and Navy Beans in Kalonji and Tamarind Curry recipe....

....when I came across this passage: "Read this section carefully after you have taken the trial run and before you attempt to cook in the Hawkins pressure cooker."

This little vent weight IS the pressure regulator...hmm. Better read the instructions!

And so I valiantly admitted defeat and put a frozen pizza into the oven instead.

I've now practised opening and closing the cooker a few times - there is a knack to it, but it's really not that difficult. Like I said, it's amazingly well-designed, and there's a 5 year warranty and replacement parts and some impressive safety features as well. So far, so impressive!

Did I mention the price? Oops, how could I get so far without posting this!

My 5L Hawkins classic pressure cooker cost $44.99 from the Sabzi Mandi at Main and 51st on 7 May 2012.

Travel from Kits: #99 B-Line to Main street, #003 Main Street Bus to 49th or 51st. Easy! Return trip is the same - #003 to Broadway, then hop a B-Line back home to Kitsilano. The #003 bus travels as frequently as the B-Line during peak hours.

Sabzi Mandi Express - 6684 Main Street (Main & 51st) in Vancouver, BC. Great prices on sabzi (veggies)!

The #003 Main Street bus can easily deposit you here - catch it at Main and Broadway

$44.99 - that's it! The cheapest pressure cooker I could find elsewhere (London Drugs) cost $50, and it didn't look especially good. Those which cost $70 at Canadian Tire (on sale at 50%) off had the absolutely scathing reviews online that I mentioned in part 1 of my search for a pressure cooker. So I feel absolutely confident that I invested my money properly in a Hawkins.

I had done quite a lot of research on pressure cookers and had surmised that the Hawkins brand was the only choice when it came to the Indian-style cookers. The cashier at Sabzi Mandi even reiterated that this particular brand was famously good.

Of course, whenever I go to Sabzi Mandi (or its competition), I can never leave with just one item. I also bought the hilariously-named "Chunky Chat Masala" and "Deggi Mirch" (chilli powder) as recommended in that useful blog post by NellaLou that I mentioned in my last post:

Sabzi Mandi has the "Kitchen King" spice mix too, but it was just a mixture of spices I already have.

Chunky Chat masala contains black salt, musk melon and Bishop's weed (whatever that is!), so I figured it was a good investment as I didn't already have a stock pile of dried Bishop's weed....

Oh, I guess I do! Bishop's weed seeds are "ajwain"! Well, nevermind, I definitely do not have dried musk melon at hand.

The Deggi Mirch was more of an impulse buy, though it is nice to have a curry-specific chilli powder instead of the typical cayenne or Mexican chilli powder I generally have on hand. Also, "Deggi Mirch" just sounds cool, right?!

As if I needed any more recipes (honestly, I cannot advocate more for your purchase of a Vij's at Home: Relax Honey cookbook! It's all you'll ever need!), the Hawkins cooker came with a Northern India-specific recipe book, which also contains 8 recipes each from Western, Southern and Eastern India as well (there's 98 recipes in it, including some rather revolting "white people food" recipes in the back. Or maybe I'm the only one who finds caramel custard and spaghetti bolognaise gag-worthy! Poached mackerel is sure to do it for you - I'm sure the Brits got the better end of the culinary exchange when they moved into India way back when!).

My only real complaint about the Hawkins is the cover image on the manual. Urgh.

Speaking of mackerel, if you have never seen the "Weight Watchers Recipe Cards circa 1974" that Wendy McClure has written about, you're in for a treat! It's hysterical - the images are so horribly unappetizing, let alone the actual dish itself (would you make "Fluffy Mackerel Pudding"?! I didn't think so!). The front cover of the Hawkins North Indian cookbook is rather reminiscent of some of those infamous recipe cards (this one in particular!).

At any rate, I'm all set for my trial run this evening, before having a bash at the Eggplant and Navy Bean recipe (can cook those suckers in 11 minutes!) from Vij's. I'll be sure to rant or rave about my first forays into DIY autoclaving at home (oh, did I mention that the Hawkins manual also explains how you can sterilize injection syringes?! Oh my! Sterilization is a good thing, but perhaps let's not be reusing needles just in case. Hepatitis C is a terrible thing to contract!).

Although I am happy that the 121 degree steam and 15 psi will kill just about anything, I'm not sure I want to replace InSite with a Hawkins pressure cooker. Sterilization of drinking water is pretty boss, though. And I'd feel alright about cooking cheap cuts of meat, too.

And so there we have it! I have procured a pressure cooker! And not just any pressure cooker, a HAWKINS 5L Classic! Woo baby!

Now we're cooking!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Pressure Cooker Search, pt II

I get by with a little help from my friends....!

A great big heart-felt thank you to Jen for her email to tell me about her ongoing friendship with the Presto 1781 23-Quart pressure cooker!

Jen spent much time and effort in researching the best pressure cooker when she bought one last year, too. She ended up buying this 'monstrous' one from Amazon because it can also be used as a pressurized canner. Now that's thinking - I might be finally able to safely can low-acid foods (like antipasto, mmmm!). Apparently she can even fit a turkey in it!

But most importantly, it has been successfully used to cook Rajma Chawal from the Vij's cookbook! How's THAT for a tailored review! Thanks so much, Jen!

It honestly tastes much more amazing than it looks!

Jen describes it as "a total tank", which I wouldn't doubt. Apparently it lives in their spare room closet... I don't have a spare room (or many closets - not even a broom closet in this old place!), and I think my husband might lose his mind if I suddenly acquired a pressure cooker that wouldn't even fit in the kitchen cupboards...!

There's another problem - Jen lives States-side. On, the pressure cooker is $76.59 and it qualifies for free shipping.

On, the same darn thing costs $129.99 (note that the Canadian dollar is currently well above parity!!! How does this figure?!), though apparently it too will ship for free.

Now the question is - do I buy it on and ship it to my friend's place in Washington state and owe them a favour for lugging it up, or do I try to find the same model elsewhere?

I get excited just looking at packages of dried beans, now. This has obsession written all over it!

Or, do I go in search for a small Hawkins brand one from one of the Indian grocery stores, and slip it amongst my pots and pans in the kitchen cupboard (rather than perch it on the living room bookshelf, which is likely where the Presto monster would have to live!)?!

I did a little more searching and found another blog that mentions Hawkins (Indian-style) pressure cookers in Vancouver: Thank you, NellaLou! See, this is what the Blogosphere is all about - getting out the relevant information that we ourselves have struggled to find, and to make it easier for the next person. Ah, altruism! So $40 or so for a Hawkins in grocery stores in Vancouver, eh? Hmm.

I got a reply back from the people at Gagan Foods...

You can buy Hawkin Cooker from
Sabzi Mandi
6684 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
Phone # 604-327-4911
Contact : Chandan

Paul Arora
Gagan Foods International Ltd
8137 Swenson Way
Delta, B.C. V4G 1J5
Phone 604-583-6000
Fax 604-583-6001
Toll Free 1-877-327-9611

Note also the location (Main Street!) of Sabzi Mandi! I KNEW it wasn't simply a mirage! Blogosphere to the rescue once more!

Decisions, decisions. I suppose first I should find out why Canada Revenue has messed with my tax returns and find out if, and when, I'm getting that refund...! (Getting married part way through a tax year makes things woefully complicated!).

Thanks again, Jen! We'll see if I ever am able to adopt a monster like the Presto 1781 23-Quart. Just getting it here might be a problem (nevermind trying to find a place for it to stay!).

How could I forget to check London Drugs? Hmm, $50...

The search continues..... I'm getting closer....!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Search for a Pressure Cooker

Happy last-day-of-existence, according to the Mayan calendar! I still think some poor soul with very tired arms simply put down his hammer and chisel and decided that "2012" was far enough!*

Assuming there is a tomorrow, I would like to find myself a little closer to having procured a pressure cooker by then. And not just any pressure cooker - one that works, and which will continue to work for the next few decades!
*(6 May 2012 Update:  I checked the dates. Sorry - the end of the world is supposedly the 21 of December, 2012 according to the Mayan calendar. Looks like I still have time to find a pressure cooker!)

I'm sometimes tempted to purchase a 2nd one as a back-up. Awesome cookbook.

If you still haven't bought "Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey - The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking", then you obviously either haven't been reading my blog, or you really hate cooking, or Indian food, or both. Still, I will beg you to reconsider - this is THE best ethnic-cuisine cookbook I have ever used or owned, hands down. Every dish tastes incredible, and the instructions are idiot-proof (trust me, I know whereof I speak!).

Most of the recipes are quite quick - for example, our comfort food favourite "Rajma Chawal" (kidney beans and rice) takes only about half an hour with rice cooked simultaneously on the other burner.

Piping hot bowl of Rajma Chawal. I like to go heavy on the tumour-fighting turmeric.

But the one big trouble with Rajma Chawal is that sometimes I've used up all the canned kidney beans. Or, I've soaked dried beans overnight (8 hours), only to realise that it takes 45 minutes to cook them BEFORE I even start into the 30 minute recipe!

And after a long day, frozen pizza starts looking like a better option.

Rajma Chawal is so nice, though. It's vegan (not that I have many vegan friends to entertain, but it's suitable for those with dairy allergies), it's really good for you (high in fibre, iron, and low-in-fat, particularly when you skimp on the oil like I do), and it's easily made with pantry staples.

I really want to make this with dried beans, which are cheaper, particularly when bought in bulk or large bags. They're also lighter to carry home from the grocery store!

P is for Pressure Cooker!

But I don't want to have to plan a day in advance, and cook them 45 minutes prior to beginning a recipe. For starters, my dinner plans constantly change, and if I do manage to make it home in time for dinner, I don't relish having to pre-cook beans!

What I need is a pressure cooker!

I want, I want, I want, I want . . . . ! (Vij's at Home)

Vij's at Home talks about pressure cookers, and makes a good case for this investment:

  1. Money-saving: turns dried beans and cheap cuts of meat into perfectly cooked meals
  2. Eco-Friendly: makes your stove more efficient by reducing the time required to cook
  3. Time-saving: you can turn dried beans into cooked beans in 22 minutes!
This Hour has 22 Minutes?! Bring on the pressure cooking!
The page in Vij's at Home that convinced me of my need.

So naturally, the first thing I do is run to the computer and begin to comparison shop. This endeavour, I should mention, usually metes me with much success. But not today.


First, I tried Ming Wo. Apparently they don't sell pressure cookers. I tried the local guys, so now onto the national retailers.

Canadian Tire had two pressure cookers at half price! Could this be the steal I was looking for?! Like when we bought a cast-iron, enameled Dutch Oven for half price? (Thanks A & D for telling my husband about that particular scoop!).

On Sale! What a happy phrase!

Upon reflection, no. There were 3 reviews. The first was mostly positive. Below are the other two. If you don't feel like reading it, the summary is that one person bought and returned this particular cooker twice, taking the cash in the end because of an inherent design flaw in that the steam escaped through the handles. The third one didn't appear to have that problem, but it rusted on the first use, and then further on the second. Aluminum can rust?! Yikes.

Scary reviews. I'm so grateful these people posted them!

Okay, skip that. To Home Hardware. As usual, the prices here were staggeringly high. So I comparison-shopped at Amazon carried the Hawkins brand, the Indian-made pressure cooker that Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala know and love. And it was only $45! But before I added it to the 'cart', I noticed that the cost of shipping was estimated at $41. I can't handle that.

Even the aluminum base model was incredibly expensive compared to other stores.
$45 is great, but not when shipping is $41!

So I got desperate - I tried Walmart's website (ooh, I know - bad. Don't judge me! I was just looking!), but they didn't have any. Neither did Superstore.

Sabzi Mandi had cooking instruments - but they don't have much of a website. So I went straight to the manufacturer's, Hawkins, and had a look for local distributors. And lo and behold, of the three in Canada, one was in Delta, BC - Gagan!

Look at all those Hawkin's Pressure Cookers! Jackpot!

Gagan is, of course, wholesale only. Which means I'm going to have to troll around and find it in real life, and likely nowhere remotely close to home.

Efficient and practical - music to my ears!

And so this is the mission of my post today - to document Day 1 in the ongoing search for a pressure cooker, and to see if anyone reading can help me to acquire this incredibly useful tool!

It was going to take too long to write: "WANTED: PRESSURE COOKER" in beans

Don't miss my latest "PAGE" (see black navigation bar at top of blog): FRUGAL FOOD - Easy Frugal Dishes that Your Mama Didn't Ruin for You! (Free recipes linked to titles!)

My own photos and links to free versions of the recipes! It's a beautiful thing!