What I’ve Learned From 8 Years of Studying – Part 2

Hey all!

Over a year ago now, I wrote the Part 1 post of this and said that Part 2 would follow a few weeks later… OOPS!
I wrote the Part 2 post, but with exams and stuff, I forgot to actually post it. I realised last week when I was going through some stuff, so I decided to post it for you guys now.

If you haven’t already read the Part 1 post, I’d recommend going and reading that first.

What I’ve Learned From 8 Years of Studying – Part 2

8. Making friends is easy – making lasting friendships takes longer
You will meet at least one person on the first day – maybe your roommate, the person you sat next to in orientation, a random that you meet wandering around on campus – but that person will not necessarily become your “best friend”. That person may not even progress to being an actual “friend”. That is OK.
Keep talking to different people, even after you think you’ve found your “core group”. You may find someone who you never though you’d be friends with at all, but then they end up being the one who is there to support you when everything goes to s***.

9. Sitting on the fence is fine – particularly in regards to people
You do not have to actively like or dislike anyone. This seems to be something that a lot of people have difficulty understanding. You can “nothing” someone – and by that I mean you can have no real feelings about a person in either a positive or negative direction.
There are plenty of people in my classes who I talk to when I see them in class, but I honestly feel nothing about them. I do not like or dislike these people. I do not actively pursue friendship with them, but neither do I actively avoid them. This is an idea I recommend you get used to while at university, because it is important for your working life. You WILL NOT be able to have emotions about every single person you work with, and you need to be able to deal with this and still work with people effectively.

10. Schedule ‘downtime’
Find something you enjoy doing, and schedule time for it. It could be cooking, spending time with friends, playing computer games, crafting, reading, or even watching TV.
Schedule this downtime. If you don’t, one of two things will happen – either you will work until you drop, or you’ll do the thing you enjoy heaps and ignore the stuff you should be doing.
How you organise this time will depend on your preferences – some people prefer to have a little bit of time every day, where as others prefer to have one whole day ‘off’ once a week. If you’re not sure, try both and see what works best for you, then stick with it.

11. Always have a snack with you
Having snacks with you will help keep your energy up and reduce the chances of you getting distracted due to hunger pangs. Bringing your own snacks is both more convenient and cheaper – you can’t really sneak out in the middle of a lecture without someone noticing, but you can generally nibble on some nuts without causing a disruption. Buying snacks from the cafeteria can also be quite expensive, and are often less healthy than what you bring yourself.
Stash things that are shelf-stable and reasonably un-crushable in your uni bag (like muesli bars, dried fruit, nuts, crackers) so that you always have something for snacking emergencies. You can pre-prep other more perishable snacks (like vege sticks, dips, fruit, cheese) in single-serve containers and store in the fridge for easy grabbing on the way out the door.
I also carry a stash of teabags and coffee sachets (the type with the creamer already added), in case I feel the need for something more than plain water. It is also worthwhile to carry your own cup or mug, as most cafes/coffee shops will give you boiling water for free if you have your own mug. If you have access to a tea room or student lounge with boiling water, that’s even more convenient!

12. Good food is important
Related to #12 – don’t fall into the trap of eating crappy convenience food. Your brain and your body will not thank you for it.
You need good food and a balanced diet to power your body and brain. If you’re on a meal plan, take an extra couple of seconds to evaluate the food options and their health merits. It might be as simple as adding some salad or steamed veges to your plate instead of that extra scoop of the (admittedly delicious) potato bake. If you cook for yourself, schedule some time every week to plan your meals and assemble them (along with your snacks).
I can speak from experience here – if you have a yummy meal in the fridge or freezer that will take <10 minutes to be ready to eat, you are far less likely to get takeaway, because it will take longer than what you already have on hand.
Research ‘copycat’ recipes, so that you can make your favourites and have them on hand when you have a craving for something (like mexican or chinese).

13. Get dressed
Even if you’re not planning on leaving your room/house, it really is worth getting changed out of your PJs into real clothes.
There seems to be something about wearing PJs all day that is the enemy of productivity. Getting changed (even if it’s just to put on trackpants instead) seems to say to your brain “OK, we’re going to do stuff today”.
If you’re feeling off or unwell, having a shower can also help you feel a little better.
Only wearing your PJs when you’re actually sleeping is also good for keeping your sleep patterns in check – association and conditioning are powerful things!

14. Housework is not your enemy
I am the first person to admit that I don’t particularly like housework. I always feel that it is taking away from other ‘more important’ work that I could be doing – which is actually rubbish.
As much as I have fought the idea for so long, a tidy living space really does help make you more productive. Clean, tidy spaces help calm the mind, and sometimes housework itself can be calming.
I don’t tend to like doing the dishes, folding washing, ironing, or cleaning the bathroom – but it all becomes far less onerous if you put on a TV show/movie you like, or listen to an audiobook/podcast.
If you feel like you really can’t afford to not be studying, watch lectures or summary videos of the topics you need to review.

15. Get active
Exercise helps you learn, and moving around freely (like walking in a park or hiking) can even increase your creativity! You won’t get the same creativity boost by walking on a treadmill, but any activity that isn’t sitting at your desk will help with a motivation slump.
Sometimes all you need to resurrect your motivation and focus is a quick active break – even a 10 minute walk around the block can help. If you’re feeling like you need a nap, try some quick exercise first – it will probably ward off the sleepy feelings.
The same principles apply to exercise as for housework – jazz it up by listening to an audiobook or podcast. You could also try doing some reading (textbook or recreational), or watching TV/lectures while on the treadmill or elliptical. Just BE CAREFUL – if you’re on anything with independently moving parts, getting distracted puts you at risk of getting injured. Stick to listening only if you’re jogging or running, you don’t want to get yourself hurt!

Hope you can find something helpful from this, and best of luck to you all for your studies!


How to put on a Duvet cover – the EASY way

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook last week, and I knew I had to try it the next time I made the bed….

IT WORKS SO WELL!!! I’ve been fighting with our king-size doona for the last 12mths when I didn’t have to be!

Only thing I will note that this video doesn’t say – make sure the cover is inside out, with the top side on the mattress. Because science, the inside-out upside-down cover will end up right side up and right way out when you unroll it.


Being a money-savvy adult

Today, we’re going to be looking at something that can seem somewhat scary – MONEY! (and it’s friends, Credit Cards and Loans).

I’ve had an awful lot of “learning the hard way” experience with all of these things, and hopefully I can help  you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. These are my rules for how I manage our money day-to-day.

Rule 1 – Live within your means
Do your income and your outgoings match up? Or are you earning $1000 a week and spending $1050 (or even more!)?
If your income is equal to or more than your outgoings, YAY! If your income is less than your outgoings, you need to do something about that. Which brings us to…

Rule 2 – Have a budget and stick to it
This is important, whether you are living within your means or not. However, if you’re spending more than you’re earning, this will be a much more painful process.
There are several ways of doing this – an app, on a excel spreadsheet, or good ol’ paper.
First step, no matter what method you’re using, is to take all your ins and outs for a month and categorise everything – groceries, cars, spending money, EVERYTHING. This is can be somewhat scary – I almost had heart failure the first time I did this and saw how much we were spending on food (not even takeaway, just plain old grocery shopping).
Use these ins and outs to design your budget and work out where you might be able save some money.

Rule 3 – Save a little bit each pay packet
This doesn’t necessarily mean putting money into a specific ‘savings’ account, but that’s definitely the simplest way.
What we tend to do makes our money work harder for us – we have a loan with a redraw facility, so we put our “saving” money into the redraw account. That way, while the money is sitting there, it is reducing the amount of interest we’re paying on the loan and we can pull it out if/when we need it.

Rule 4 – Be smart with your debt
The first part of this is that just because you CAN get a certain amount of debt, doesn’t mean you should. You want to minimise your debt. Just because the bank is willing to give you $25,000 for a car loan, doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a $25,000 car if a $12,000 one will do. Don’t get sucked in by those credit limit increase offers that banks send out regularly – a lot of people get the increase “just in case”, then end up spending the money on things they don’t really need. Which is exactly what the bank is counting on you doing. Avoid this, and just don’t do it.
The second part about being smart about your debt is managing it well. Always make your payments on time. Pay more than the minimum payment amount. Pay off your credit card every month.
If you’re in a situation where you’ve ended up with several credit cards with high interest and you’re not able to pay them off, go visit your bank and have a chat. Often, you can roll those amounts into a single personal loan, which will usually have lower fees and interest rates. The big thing if you do this is to not go and just get another credit card afterwards.

Rule 5 – Re-evaluate everything on a regular basis
Life changes, and with that your cash flow requirements can also change. I’d personally recommend doing this every 12 months, or whenever you have a ‘major life change’.
Not regularly checking in is almost as bad as not making a budget in the first place.


I was approached by Jessica from Credit Card Insider to do this post. I did not receive any compensation, monetary or otherwise, for this post.


What I’ve learned from 8 years of studying – Part 1

I’m what you might call a ‘perpetual student’. I finished high school at the end of 2006, and since then I’ve only had 18 months where I haven’t been studying in some capacity.
My first attempt at uni only lasted 3 semesters – I was doing an Arts degree and by the end of that 3rd semester I hadn’t even decided what my major would be, so I figured I should take a break and work out what I wanted to do.
I got a job as a receptionist at an insurance company, and worked there for the 18 months of “no study” until I decided that I wanted to go back and study Psychology.
This year will be my 7th year straight of studying at university, and in that time I’ve finished the Psychology degree and started my second undergrad degree (Nursing).

I’ve learned a few things over the past 10 years, and I’d like to share them with you so you don’t have to find them out the hard way.

1. Uni is not real life
No matter how much  your uni tries to tell you that they’re educating you for the outside world – things are NOTHING like uni when you get there. Number 1 pet hate – lecturers saying “Group work at uni is good preparation for performing in a team in the workplace”. NOPE. For starters, you generally get people in the workplace who are actually experts (or at least experienced) in what the group is working on, so it’s not a case of “blind leading the blind” like it is in uni, and there’s almost always a clear group leader (also unlike uni groups).
You could do 1000 practical placements as part of your degree, but when you actually get to doing it as a job, you’ll find there’s a million things you haven’t learnt.
Learning does not stop at graduation.

2. Do your readings
Seriously – if the lecturer suggests you should read a chapter, you should at least LOOK at it. In-depth reading is not always required, and even skimming is better than not looking at it at all. Lecturers don’t set the readings for no reason.
Sometimes, those readings can be the difference between superficial and comprehensive understanding of a concept, and that can mean the difference between a Pass and a Distinction in the exam.

3. Lecturers really do want you to do well
They’re not all sitting there, conspiring to put super-difficult questions on the exam (OK, some might be, but most of them aren’t). I have never had a lecturer who wasn’t willing to help a student who needed it and ASKED FOR IT.
Remember, this isn’t high school – nobody is going to offer you help if you don’t ask for it. You need to seek out the assistance if you want/need it.
Attend your classes, talk to your lecturers, talk to your tutors, and if you have questions – ask them. If you need help, ASK. Which leads me to…

4. Don’t leave it too late
This applies to more than just assignments. Don’t let yourself get so stressed and unwell that your only option is to quit the class without at least speaking to your lecturer/school counsellor/admin office first. If you find yourself in a position where you aren’t coping, speak to someone about it early. There are usually heaps of resources available for students, from food banks and interest-free loans to free counselling or even additional tutoring. Depending on where you live, these things are typically either free or very low cost.
For example – there’s a food bank run by a local church in my area, and it’s $7 for a 6 month membership. You register the number of people in  your family and any dietary requirements, and you get free fruit & vegetables and “basics” like pasta, rice, bread, canned meat/fish, and milk, with other ‘luxury items’ (like biscuits, processed cereals, etc) available for a very low cost (e.g. $0.20 for a 500g box of sugary cereal).

5. Your physical and mental health are more important than your job or your marks
If you are sick, nothing will go right. I know that from experience.
If you’re working 30+ hours a week as well as studying full time, maintaining a house, and trying to actually see your friends and family, you’re going to burn out.
DON’T DO IT. If your school recommends only working a certain number of hours per week (e.g. my uni recommends 15hrs max if you have a full-time study load), try and stick to that. It will probably be hard. You’ll probably be poor. It will definitely mean reworking and prioritising things to save money where you can. But it is SO WORTH IT, particularly when you get awesome marks and make it to the end of semester without a nervous breakdown.
Find out what government payments/bursaries/scholarships you are eligible for, and apply for them all. Work heaps over the uni breaks and save the money for during semester.

6. Nobody cares if you wear the same things all the time
Honestly. It’s highly likely that no-one will even notice. If you know something suits you and you’re comfortable in it, wear it. Who cares if you wore the exact same thing last week? And denim all looks the same – nobody will realise that you have worn the same jeans 3 days in a row, as long as they look clean and don’t smell.
Have enough clothes for 2 weeks (this allows for exam/finals time when household chores tend to be low on the priority list). This is particularly important for underwear and socks. You can get away with re-wearing a shirt that you’ve already worn once, but it’s not a good idea to wear socks or underwear for more than one day without washing them (that’s a health thing, not just a “gross and smelly” thing).
If you’re still worried about what people will think, make it a uniform – if it’s intentional, it’s OK. Some of the best business people in the world have a “uniform”, because it reduces decision fatigue if you don’t have to think about what you’ll wear. Find a style of shirt you love, and buy it in 4 different colours. Get 3 pairs of the same jeans in different colour washes. Adding a different scarf or other accessories can completely change up an outfit.

7. Be yourself, but be open to new experiences
If you’re not a “big party” person, you don’t have to go to them. You don’t have to sit with people all the time for meals or between classes – no-one is going to judge you if your companion is a book. Highly likely that no-one will even notice, they’re all too busy worrying about their own stuff.
On the flip side, if you’re a super-sociable person, don’t always be surrounded by people. Take a little bit of time on your own to do things, even if it’s just going to the library on your own for a few hours. You may find you even enjoy this ‘alone time’.
That said, whether you like parties or not, if there’s a university-hosted dinner/conference centred around something you’re interested in, GET YO ASS THERE! You can probably start gaining networking contacts in  your future professional area. I got my job at the hospital through meeting someone at one of these sorts of events. They’re definitely worth the missed study time.

Part 2 will be up in a couple of weeks, once I’m done with mid-semester assessments.


Tips for Eating Cheap

My Mum is the QUEEN of cheap eating, and she’s taught me how to do it too – so I’d like to pass a bit of that wisdom on to all of you!

Eating cheaply does not mean eating boring!
Cheap eating does not have to be the same thing day in, day out. There are quite a lot of things you can make for very cheaply that use the same ingredients, put together in different ways.

Herbs & spices are a godsend
Herbs and spices are reasonably cheap, and can turn a meal of something like rice and beans from boring to awesome! Different spice combinations can make the same base ingredients taste like a meal from anywhere in the world, which makes meals a lot less boring. Eg – a bit of tomato paste and some italian herbs can turn beans and rice can turn it into something akin to a stuffed capsicum, or add a bit of curry powder and cornflour and make a curry sauce! Beans and rice easily take on the flavour of whatever they are cooked with, so using stock instead of water to cook them can give them a bit of flavour as well.

Rice, beans, and frozen veges are your friends
So you all know about the rice and beans – but the way I’m talking about is not how you’re used to hearing it. Use legumes and grains to extend your meat (e.g. add beans to taco mince, add cooked lentils or barley to casseroles, put both in soups – there’s more, but that’s some ideas), as well as without meat.
NB: On their own, most legumes (beans, lentils, peas) are not complete proteins. However, grains contain the missing amino acids, so eating them together means that your body can make better use of the protein. Hence the beans-and-rice combo.
If you’re making something that is served with rice (e.g. curried sausages), mix the rice and sauce together before you serve it. This means you can make the meal stretch further, because even though you’ve made more rice, mixing it in together with the sauce first makes it look like you’re getting more food. I think it is because you are looking at a big bowl of something all the same colour, not a little blob of something on top of the rice.
Frozen veges are awesome – they keep FOREVER, they’re just as good as the fresh ones (often better, because they are frozen at peak ripeness), and they’re usually pre-chopped! I always have 3 different bags of frozen veges (corn only, peas only, corn peas & carrot mix), because they are absolutely the most versatile things you can have. They mix well with anything! Add them to literally everything, they’ll extend the meal as well as making it healthier.

Meal planning is the bomb
It may seem like a pain, and I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, but meal planning really DOES save money. I never used to do it when I first moved out, because it just seemed like way too much effort – but after I started doing it, I was amazed how easy it actually was!
It enables you to buy only what you need, so you don’t have food going gross in the pantry/fridge because you didn’t eat it. It also means you can plan ahead a bit, and incorporate a bit of variety into your meals. You can plan to buy a big bag of something this week, which will last a few weeks and frees up a couple of dollars next week for something else.

You really do need freezer space
The best thing you can invest in for cheap cooking is not a slow cooker – it’s a decent free-standing freezer. I have a little bar-fridge-sized freezer in addition to my fridge-with-attached-freezer, and it’s the main thing that makes it so I can keep my meal costs down. It means that you can cook a meal and freeze the extras, so you don’t need to eat the same thing for 3 days straight before it goes off. It’s also often easier and cheaper to cook a meal that serves 4+ people than it is to cook a meal just for one person. You’ll also want to invest in a big pack of those plastic ‘chinese containers’ (you know, the ones that food from chinese take-aways come in). The 6ooml size easily fits a one person serve, and they stack nicely in the freezer. If you’re squeamish about reheating food in them, just get a couple of glass containers with microwave-safe lids.

That said, I do love my slow cooker
Having one means that you can buy the cheaper cuts of meat (particularly red meat) and still make it edible. They’re also great for turning dried beans into perfect-texture cooked ones (except kidney beans. You need to boil those, and a slow cooker doesn’t get hot enough).
A slow cooker is also a god-send for if you are both time- and cash-poor. While you’re doing dinner the night before, you can prep all the ingredients for the next day’s slow cooker recipe (only 1 lot of dishes required!) and chuck it all in the fridge overnight. Then the next morning, dump everything in and let the cooker run while you’re at work/uni/home-but-busy and when dinner time comes around, voila! You have a large pot of something yummy ready to go.
NB: Bigger is not always better for a slow cooker, particularly if you are only feeding 1 or 2 people. A slow cooker needs to be at least 1/2 full to work properly, so get a smaller one (3L-ish) if you aren’t feeding a large group on a regular basis (or plan on making lots of really big stews/soups/roasts). I have a big 6.5L one and a smaller 3L one, and the 3L definitely gets a better workout than the big one – I only use the big one if I’m making big pot of something for a get-together or similar. The 3L is our everyday cooking item.
You can still cook slow-cooked meals without an actual slow cooker, but most of those methods use the stove/oven, which means that you can’t necessarily leave the house while it’s cooking.

As promised in my post last month about meal planning, I will be doing a list of my pantry staples VERY SOON. Hopefully ready for next week’s Tutorial Tuesday (fingers crossed!)



My tips for meal planning

A few months ago, I did a post about about how I use Evernote for meal planning. In this post, I’m going to build on that and give you some of my tips that make meal planning work effectively for me.

1. Know what you’ve already got
Whether this involves checking your fridge, freezer & pantry before you meal plan, keeping a running list of what is there somewhere, or just being ‘aware’ of it in your head, it’s really useful. I use a combination of the checking and being ‘aware’ of what we’ve got, because there are some things that Hubby mainly uses and he never remembers to tell me when things are running low, but I’m usually aware of how much is left of pantry staples/stuff I use.
This also includes knowing how many meals-worth of frozen food you have. I freeze everything in single-meal serves, so I can quickly count up the containers and know how many meals we have in the freezer.

2. Know what your staples are
These are different for everyone. My staples are even very different from my Mum’s, and she’s the one who taught me to cook. If you have NO IDEA what your staples are yet (be it because you’ve just started cooking for yourself, or because you’ve never really thought about it), there are a few options.
If it’s just because you’ve never really thought about it, collect up your favourite/most-used recipes and look at the ingredients. Anything that can be frozen or is shelf-stable will make up the beginning of your staples list.
If you’ve just started cooking for yourself and don’t know where to start, because you don’t even really have favourite recipes yet, I’ll be doing a post next week about my pantry staples. You can also google ‘pantry staples’ and see what other people recommend.

3. Always have your staples on hand
They’re not really staples if you don’t have them on hand 🙂 If you always have your pantry staples, you can make a lot of meals just out of your pantry. This is great for weeks when you don’t have a lot of money for food, as you can just get a few fresh ingredients to supplement what you already have.

4. Stock up on staples when you can
If your pantry staples are on sale, replace anything that you’ve used. Eg, if you always have tinned tomatoes in the pantry, decide on a “standard” number of cans (maybe 10) and replenish your stock up to that number every time they’re on special.

5. Check the use-by dates on everything
Always keep an eye on what is about to go out of date, to save on wasting this food. There’s nothing worse than planning a meal for the week, and really looking forward to eating it, only to go to make it and find that one of the main ingredients has gone yuck. Then you have to make another trip to the shops and buy the ingredient, which often is not on special at that point, or run around trying to find something that you DO have that you can use instead.

Necessary kitchen appliances

Sometimes, it feels like I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t own a waffle maker.

There are SO MANY yummy looking recipes for making your own waffles, and I want to try them all, but I don’t really want to shell out $50 for an appliance that will only get used once a month, and take up cupboard space the rest of the time. (I haven’t yet been able to find a waffle maker that costs less than $40, except for those cast iron ones that you put on a gas stove… and because I don’t have gas, I can’t get those either.)

Which got me thinking – what appliances are “essentials” for me, and what could I survive without, but would rather not?

One thing to note – I haven’t included “fridge” on this list, because as far as I’m concerned, that isn’t even something that should be considered as optional, EVER. It’s a case of food safety, particularly when you live somewhere that never leaves the “danger zone”, even in the coldest depths of winter. (The “danger zone” is 5-60°C – this is the favoured temperature range for bacteria growth. I’m afraid I have no idea what that temp range would be in °F.)


For the record, I have never lived somewhere that didn’t have a hotplate. If I was looking at rentals, and the kitchen did not have a stove/hotplate setup, I would not even consider it.

This is tied to the hotplate thing – I’ve never lived anywhere that didn’t have some sort of oven. I love baking, so a lack of a decent-sized oven at a house would be a deal-breaker for me. If we were buying a house and there wasn’t an oven/hotplate in the kitchen, they would be the first things I bought.

Deep freezer
This probably has a lot to do with how I was brought up – Mum would always make extra/buy in bulk and freeze everything. The 6mths I spent without a deep freezer was hell (old one died and we had to save up the money for a new one) – we spent so much money on food, because I couldn’t buy/cook in bulk to have easy meals for days when we were busy, so we ended up eating so much takeaway food.

This is the single most-used appliance in my kitchen after the kettle. I have been known to survive on variations of toast-and-toppings during busy uni times, or when my mental health takes a crash. Toast is an easy, quick food that requires little or no thought and invites minimal decision fatigue.

Could survive without, but don’t want to:

Yes, I can survive without a dishwasher. I have done so for the past 2 1/2 years. BUT now we have one again, even though it’s only a little one, I don’t want to have to go without it again. It saves a heap of time, and when we have a dishwasher, Hubby actually does the dishes (i.e. packs and unpacks the dishwasher).

I don’t use this a lot, but when I didn’t have one, making pureed soups was incredibly annoying. You CAN do it, but it takes FOREVER and involves a colander, a potato masher, and a spoon. And the puree is never as smooth as you get it from the blender. The one I have also has a kitchen whiz bowl and all the associated attachments, but I think I’ve only used those maybe twice in the 5 years I’ve had the thing. I keep them, but they’re in the back of the cupboard and hardly get used.
Hubby also likes the blender, because it means he can make his “Death by Chocolate” thick shakes, though I’m surprised he hasn’t killed it yet because of how thick they are. No kidding, you can stand a spoon up in one, and it won’t touch the sides of the glass.

This is another one where when our old one died, we were without one for a month and it was such a pain (the only reason we were without one for a month was because it died a week after payday, and we got paid monthly at that point so we had to wait until the next pay run to get a new one). I do not advocate having a complicated microwave, or even a strong one. Ours is only 700w, and is seriously the tiniest thing in the universe – it barely fits a dinner plate inside, you have to tip the plate on an angle to get it through the door – but it does what it’s designed to do. It reheats food, and occasionally cooks something (mainly steaming veges when the idea of cleaning the full pot-and-steamer-insert setup is way too painful to contemplate for a single serve).

Handheld beaters
I would LOVE to have a stand mixer – but realistically, it’s not a necessity. However, if I don’t have access to handheld beaters I avoid recipes that call for extreme amounts of beating. They make certainly things so much easier on the arms! They also don’t take up a lot of room – mine is smaller than one of my shoes (which is saying something, since I’m only an AU size 6 – which is a 4 in Converse sizing).

Rice cooker/slow cooker
I’ve included these under the same category, because it is possible to get ones that do both. I currently have a “do both” on my wishlist for my birthday, because I have 2 separate appliances atm. Slow cookers are a god-send for busy weeks, and are fantastic for bulk cooking. I love my rice cooker because we eat quite a large amount of rice, and it makes life SO much easier when I don’t have to worry about yet another thing on the stove. I will personally be keeping my large 6L slow cooker when I get my “do both”, because the large one is great for doing soups & roasts, while I will use the smaller one more for things like pasta sauce, curries, and other similar things that I don’t want to make 20 serves of.

Sandwich toaster
This looks sort of like a baby George Foreman grill, but with flat plates. I have cooked way more than just sandwiches on this – we have also used it for bacon, steak, sausages, eggs, and pancakes.

Electric kettle
I actually don’t have one at the moment. Mine got invaded by ants, and I couldn’t get the taste of them out, so I just bought a cheap stove-top kettle. The stovetop one works fine, but I can’t wait until I can get an electric one again. Electric kettles use less power, and are rather less noisy (I have gotten very good at taking the kettle of the heat the moment it even THINKS about whistling, because I hate the sound), but are also more expensive. Particularly seeing as I refuse to buy a plastic one – fussy fussy me just thinks the water from them tastes yucky. The nice metal one I’ve got on my wishlist is $30, and that’s not even the most expensive!

That’s my thoughts on what is necessary for a decent kitchen set-up, and those appliances do everything that I need.

Most of these appliances don’t have to be expensive – I bought my 6L slow cooker 8 years ago, and it’s a no-name brand and only cost me $20. The rice cooker and sandwich toaster both only cost $10, and the toaster we currently use was $5. The blender cost quite a bit more, but it was a birthday present the first year after I moved out of home.

Does anyone have other appliances they can’t live without?


Veges in the microwave

There’s heaps of reasons for cooking veges in the microwave instead of on the stove.

  1. Boiling your veges causes a lot of their nutrients to leak out into the surrounding water. When you microwave them, this doesn’t happen.
  2. It’s far quicker in the microwave than on the stove – you don’t have to wait for the water to boil first.
  3. You’re less likely to over-cook the veges – the microwave stops cooking as soon as the timer is up, but on the stove they will keep cooking until you take them out of the water/off the steamer
  4. The microwave uses less energy than heating a pot of water on the stove

What you’ll need:

  • veges (duh)
  • a microwave (WARNING: my microwave power is 700W at maximum. Please be careful that you are using approximately the same power level on your microwave, otherwise you may over-cook your veges or even melt your container)
  • a decent quality microwave-safe container with a lid (preferably with a steam vent – I generally use one of these – remnants of my time as a Tupperware demonstrator)

How to:

  1. Chop up your veges – make the softer ones larger pieces, and the harder ones a bit smaller. I generally chop carrots into rounds that are about 5mm (1/4″) thick, broccoli/cauliflower into florets about the size of a golf ball, and softer things like zucchini into rounds about 1cm (1/2″) thick.
  2. Put all the veges into your microwave container, and top with a 1 tbsp of water per serve of veges.
  3. Put on lid – if you have a steam vent, make sure this is open. If you don’t, leave one corner of the lid un-sealed so steam can escape.
  4. Cook veges at approx 700W for 5mins for 1 serve (2 serves will take about 8mins). If the veges are undercooked for your liking, cook them further in 30 sec bursts (still at 700w) until cooked through.
    The cooking time will vary slightly between microwaves, but if you’ve got the wattage pretty close to 700W, this will make cooked veges that still have some bite to them – I don’t like super-soft veges. The times stated are what I use in my microwave.

I have a steamer insert that sits over my largest pot (a 6L soup pot), and if I’m doing veges for a lot of people (or if I’m cooking something in the big pot – e.g. pasta) I’ll put the veges into this instead of in the microwave. Steaming your veges in this way has many of the same benefits of microwaving them, but you do have to make sure you take the steamer off the pot as soon as they’re ready, because they’ll keep cooking as long as they are over the steam.

I always microwave my veges when I’m making bentos though, because it is much quicker and results in less clean-up, because I just re-use the same microwave container for everything I need to reheat, generally in the following order:

  1. Defrost frozen rice
  2. Cook veges
  3. Defrost meat items (always do meat last if you’re using the same container, and follow the food-safety tips from this post on JustBento if you’re packing a lunch)


Rice for 1

If I’m going to be home at lunch time, I prefer to make my rice fresh when I’m about to eat (it just tastes better in my opinion).

Only problem is, I don’t always need to stock up my freezer stash of rice, so there’s no point using my rice cooker (I need to cook a minimum of 2 cups in that, and that’s 4 serves once it’s cooked). So I’ve fine-tuned this stove-top method to make it useable for a single serve.

What you’ll need:

  • a very small pan with a heavy base and a well-sealing lid (I use this one) – if you can get a pot with a glass lid it makes everything a heap easier
  • bowl
  • fine mesh sieve/strainer
  • 1/2 cup dry japonica rice (also called “sushi rice”)


  1. Rinse the rice 3-4 times. The video below from Just One Cookbook shows the proper method for rinsing the rice and also gives a really good idea of what the water should look like at the end of the process. This tutorial is what I used as a baseline for my experiments with times for cooking a single serve of rice.
  2. Drain the rice well (leaving it in the strainer over a bowl), and leave for about 10-15mins.
  3. Put rice into saucepan with some water (For 1/2 cup dry rice, you’ll need 1/2 cup + 1/8 cup of water). Allow to soak for about 10-15mins.
  4. After it has soaked, put the pot on the stove at medium heat (with lid on) until the water boils. This is where a glass lid comes in handy! If you don’t have a glass lid to your pot, listen out for the bubbling and have a quick peek (don’t take the lid fully off, just lift it enough to check that the water is boiling).
  5. Once the water is boiling, take the pot off the hotplate and turn it off. LEAVE THE LID ON. Allow the hotplate to cool for approx 2 mins, then turn it back on at low heat. Replace the pot (lid still on) and cook for 8mins without lifting the lid.
    Gas cooker: Once the water is boiling, turn the gas down to low and cook for 10mins (covered). I’m figuring that this will be roughly equivalent to the electric instructions, because SCIENCE REASONS involving ambient heat and heat retention.
  6. After the timer goes off, remove pot from heat and allow to sit for 10mins COVERED. Do not lift the lid at all unless you absolutely MUST peek at your rice.
  7. After the 10 mins, take off the lid and give the rice a gentle stir with a rice paddle. There should not be any water in the bottom of the pot, but occasionally there might be. If there is, put the lid back on and heat over medium heat for a minute or so, until the water is gone. Allow to sit (covered) for a couple of minutes afterwards.
  8. Your rice is now ready to eat!

If you’re putting rice in a bento box, you should always allow it to cool before sealing the box, or the steam will make it go a bit slimy. You can eat the rice plain, or you can top it with just about anything! If I’m putting it in a bento, I’ll usually put a bit of my homemade nori furikake on it.

This makes 1 cup of cooked rice, which is a good-sized serve for your average adult female. 1 cup of rice will make approximately 3 average-sized onigiri if you want to do that. This is a great tutorial of how to make onigiri in an easy, mess-free way (it’s how I make them).

– Rice on the bottom of your pan is all brown and crunchy, but the rest of the rice is fine: you may be cooking the rice on too high a heat (or for too long). High heat is most likely, so try cooking it on a lower heat. Generally this will solve the issue.
– There is ALWAYS water left at the bottom of your pot at step 6: try cooking on a slightly higher heat or for an additional minute or two. Alternatively, if rice is cooked through and there is left over water, use slightly less (see the last point about the weather and humidity)
– Rice is gloopy once all the water is absorbed: there may be too much starch left on the outside. Try rinsing the rice a few extra times next time.
– Rice goes mushy and loses its shape: you are using too much water. Use a little less water next time (this will tie in with the 2nd troubleshooting point as well). Generally, I use a 1:1.25 (rice:water) ratio for the stovetop instructions above.
– Rice is not cooked all the way through, and all water is absorbed: add a little extra water. I find in very dry weather (i.e. winter for me) I need to add a little extra water, so in winter I sometimes use a 1:1.5 ratio instead.