a cosmic leap

the.semitrailer.project

day 079  : :  blog post 003

OK, so there has been a month between blog posts. Good reason for it: the “cosmic leap”. That being: the epic gulf between living in a unit with running water, electricity when you flick a switch, a place for your poo to go when you flush, things like solid walls and so on. It’s a reasonably big deal to have to fabricate this stuff quickly in a manner that will last the better part of a year of building our tiny house without feeling like we are perpetually camping. Thus the span between blog posts: I’ve been busy dammit 😝

Not only busy, but fretting about my capabilities not only in terms of our little tent village, but what I’ll be like building a “proper” dwelling. I spend countless hours frustrated with stupid tasks like figuring out how my solar panels should be mounted or how plumbing works or what a good composting toilet should function like. Everything takes WAY longer than I feel like it should. WAY.

Added bonus: it’s winter and cold with random moments of inconvenient rain and intense wind. I’d have my frustrations no other way…pile it on!

It’s not only the time taken but my mental anguish of not knowing how some basic stuff works after many decades of being on this planet. The dumbfounded looks I got at the electrical shop when I was talking about how 12V set-ups work or what material my ground wire should be makes me feel like I’ve been living in a cave. Of course it seems like every Australian goes camping and so they all are experts at 12-volt everything, but I’m just a noob who knows how to use a camera and his computer and that’s about it so it seems.

I also made the decision not to post too much about this part of the process as I wanted this to be about building a tiny house on a semi trailer, even though my new friend Rob believes that I should be showcasing the whole experience. I can say that it is definitely not for the feint of heart and I give Heidi credit for stepping away from homely comforts and embracing living in a tent for a few months and then in a tiny house. She’s taking it slowly and occasionally shakily (we did a re-design of our sleeping set-up after a recent blustery wind storm that vibrated our bell tent too much for her liking) but is still on-board with the adventure…for now! I agree with Rob in the sense that while this adventure is a definite challenge, it is worth doing these things in life to shake ourselves awake from our routine. It is good for people to see that it is possible to break loose from convention and follow our dreams, even if they seem crazy to others.

And so I continue to shape our temporary home. It is taking longer than I hoped for but I do realise that it has to be emotionally sustainable for us to do the tiny house build, and therefore has to be comfortable enough, functional and not a hindrance on a day-to-day basis. So if getting running hot and cold water, a fuss-free toilet, warm and safe shelter and reliable power takes me a bit longer, I guess it will pay off in the coming months. And I suppose (he says, trying to convince himself) I am learning transportable skills now for the tiny house, so hopefully it’s not at all going to waste!

Collecting raw materials

the.semitrailer.project

day 045  : :  blog post 002

Just a quick post with the first video that I have created. This will be part of the documenting of our journey that I intend to do through the various steps of our temporary accomodation, design, organising and build phases of the experience.

Forewarning: some stuff I post might only be interesting to Heidi and I, some things might be technical and only interesting to other people ready to embark on a similar journey, and some things I post will be of general interest!

Anyway, here’s a video just showing my first foray into collecting some materials for our temporary house build. My next video will be more of an overview of the intended project and why we are doing it.

welcome to the semitrailer project

the.semitrailer.project

day 043  : :  blog post 001

And so it begins!

We have decided to take the plunge and start building a tiny house. Heidi and I started talking about the possibility of compact living when we first met, as we loved the idea of simple living and neat designs like straw bale and cobb, cottages, cabins and other cute, handmade dwellings. Tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) came a bit later when I started looking into the work of tiny house granddaddy Jay Shafer who began to popularise the idea of living tiny on wheels around 2008.

It didn’t take us long to start dreaming of having one too, especially in the increasingly challenging Australian housing market. However, dreaming and doing are two very different things, and it took us awhile to get a combination of finances, opportunity and courage to put it all together into action.

I have cited the day as “43” here as I have unofficially made the end of a recent event the day that shifted our ambitions into gear: the first-ever Australian Tiny House Festival, in Bendigo, Victoria on 23-24th March, 2019. Once we saw all the great ideas, likeminded folks talking about it and getting excited about it, real-life houses we could walk inside and enthusiastic speakers giving inspired presentations, we felt like we had put it off long enough.

The only sad part is that, once again, we were ahead of the curve on this one but weren’t brave enough to be a pioneer and take the plunge when we first started thinking about it. Despite it seeming like a “popular” and “trendy” thing to do now, we still feel like it is an unconventional approach to solving the housing problem. Thinking about it more though, I’m sure that I am thinking it is more common than it is simply because I personally have been thinking about it for many years!

We have arrived at today, day 43, and the first entry to a journal that I aim to keep about the trials and tribulations of building not only a THOW, but one that is built from a trailer that usually sits behind a semi-rig. I’ll go into detail about this in my next blog post, but in short we heard about this approach from friends of ours and it appealed to Heidi and I because of:

  • the larger, maximised floor space
  • the pre-made outer structure that is already built to be on the road
  • the near limitless weight possibilities
  • the universal towing ease
  • the low entry price of acquiring the base trailer

among other things. We’ll soon see if this has been the right decision for us, but looking at the first trailer creation of our friend Rob, it seems like there is every chance that it will be a great canvas for us to create our very first home build!

001-delivering palletsDay 43, in practical terms, was just a day of me picking up some wood pallets (something I’m familiar with as I’ve built many an item of furnishing with them 😄)  in order to deliver them to the property where we’re doing our build and create a platform that our temporary tent home will reside on. So nothing too momentous, but a significant first step towards the big build and only 3 weeks away from living in a canvas shelter while we build for the rest of 2019!

Let the memories begin…


I’ll be throwing some photos of our journey up at our Insta site the.semitrailer.project and I’ll be documenting progress on YouTube as well (link to come)

Vegan foods reviewed – part 6 (USA edition)

I recently came back from LA due to some family responsibilities and while I didn’t get much time to explore the full gamut of vegan offerings while there, I did make sure to try some new stuff at the grocery stores.

If you’ve tried and loved Follow Your Heart products, I was delighted to find that they started as a restaurant/store decades ago and that place happened to be near where I was staying. (This was more of an anecdote because I was excited to visit their awesome restaurant…I’m not reviewing their food this time around! 😛)

This entire aisle is vegan food; a mind-boggling vista if you’ve ever been to a normal grocery store!

Anyway, today we have some fun offerings from Daiya, Clean South, Sweet Earth and So Delicious.

These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

About the ratings system: Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


PRODUCT: CLEAN SOUTH – VEGAN BUFFALO WINGS
Type: Prepared meal
Country of origin: USA
Clean South




clean south wings

Whenever I see things with “buffalo” flavouring, my mouth instantly starts to water. Back when I had an omnivore diet, hot chicken wings were my guilty pleasure. While I now think about how abhorrent it is to consume the little wings of young chickens, the desire for that flavour doesn’t leave you and I am forever on a search for the perfect buffalo wing replacement. Enter: Clean South’s Vegan Buffalo Wings.

I am not prone to using OMG to describe foods, but O.M.G. these were good. I honestly couldn’t even be bothered heating them for the first half of the box, but then when I did and paired them with Daiya’s dairy-free blue cheese dressing, flipping’ ‘eck bro, things got crazy-good. Now, in restaurants I have tasted some darned good vegan ‘wings’ but this was the first packaged ones I’ve had that just nailed it. Texture, chewiness, beautiful tangy and hot sauce (and plenty of sauce), tasty and addictive. I’m a big fan of Franks’ Red Hot sauce inspired hot wings sauce, so this was just right for me.

Being that I was in the US and this was a local LA product, I kind of expect things to be a wee bit cheaper, but no, these were quite expensive at US$9. I’m happy to support a local, small producer that is banging out awesome food though. I desperately wish I could get these in Australia, but I’ also glad as I’d be broke.


 

More to come….


Plant-based paradises: Chiang Mai

It’s getting easier to find vegan products in shops and cafes in the western world, but despite this it is still not as ubiquitous as I’d like. As far as I feel like we’ve come in Australia, I still have to hunt around for restaurants which are often a decent drive away from my suburb, or I get stuck with the usual terrible quality in convenience stores, petrol stations and corner chip shops.

There are places in the world, however, where there are plant-based options around every corner, especially when global tourism collides bringing together an amassing of worldly-wise visitors demanding ethical food options.

I am in one of those places now: Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Going back a few years, CM was already rising to meet the needs of vegans even though the momentum had not yet really hit its stride in the West. Coming back now, I’m am in plant-based paradise looking at the abundance of not only 100% vegan establishments, but a general awareness in many cafes that acknowledge and allow customisation to accommodate non-meat and dairy customers. My favourite phone app (also a website), Happy Cow, shows off the glorious results of Chiang Mai’s options with so many green pins (100% vegan) but encouragingly so many others with genuine accommodating options.

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Chiang Mai’s central tourist area around the Old City. Scale of this image is approx. 4km across

By contrast, my hometown of Adelaide, Australia – while improving every year – will have restaurants/cafes that offer “veg options” (red pins) but quite often that will just mean that one main meal on the menu is veg-friendly and even that might still have cheese on it. On top of that, the majority of the listings above in Chiang Mai are restaurants open all day; in Adelaide, over 75% of all vegan or vegetarian establishments are only open at lunch.

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Mouthwatering massaman curry with brown rice and salad at Bohdi Tree 2, Chiang Mai

The quality of the food in Chiang Mai varies like anywhere, but often it is at a very high standard. I have tried a variety of cuisines (lots of Thai options of course, but often Italian, American, Middle Eastern and Indian are the one that are covered well) plus exotic salad shops, street stalls and specialty places like dessert cafes. There are many places doing their own mock meats or non-dairy cheeses, etc to varying success as I suspect that finding international commercial products is not as easy or viable to keep costs down, but this also provides some great opportunities for chefs to try something different.

As competition increases, it’s easy to start pitting one vegan place against another. However, I am still gleefully just trying places, thankful for so many ethically-minded people and in a state of awe at the variety of options at my disposal. I try not to be too critical as I want this industry to succeed, and luckily much of the food equates to hardy home-cooking which will always satisfy on some level. To be fair, I am also not seeking out high-end eateries as there are so many low-to-midrange ones, so if you’re after fine dining, there might be fewer places available for you.

I have also visited Pai – about 4 hours’ drive from CM – and it too is well-endowed with vegan options given it’s tiny size. Check out this delicious mushroom-based bbq “pulled pork” roll I had plus gorgeous choco smoothie at Blossom Cafe.

The future is bright and the menus are exploding with choices!

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Vegan foods reviewed – part 5

I’m actually finding that my intake of faux dairy and mock-meat products goes in waves depending on my mood: when I feel sad or need comfort food, they get purchased in abundance; if I’m feeling good and healthy, then it’s all veggies, salads and smoothies for me! Lucky for you, I’m feeling a bit blah…so here come some omni-style treats! 🙃

We’ve got a “sour cream” show-down for you today, some meat-y snacking and a new offering from our American friends at Upton’s.

vegan-symbol

These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

About the ratings system: Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


** SOUR CREAM SHOWDOWN **

PRODUCT 1: TOFUTTI BETTER THAN SOUR CREAM

Type: non-dairy Sour cream
Country of origin: USA
tofutti.com

259850

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

vs

PRODUCT 2: GREEN VIE SOUR CREAM
Type: non-dairy Sour cream
Country of origin: Cyprus
greenviefoods.com

9415

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

Sadly, this will be a no-contest right off the bat when you look at the scores. When I decided to give the Green Vie a shot today, I was really expecting it to be a gloves-off, fight-to-the-finish competition between these two. I have been eating Green Vie’s cheeses and I find them good value and quite comparable to bigger, more established brands. I’ve been admittedly eating Tofutti for some time and it’s always my go-to for their sour cream and cream cheese products, but I figured there’s always opportunity to be newly wowed by competition. Today was not that day however.

Right off the bat, the Green Vie (GV) came in at over 20% more expensive than the Tofutti…I was expecting it to be extra gourmet! Tofutti is good value given that it comes from overseas and it is so tasty, but it still comes in at almost twice the dairy-equivalent price (as I’ve covered with this before, dairy is subsidised and undervalued so it’s not a totally fair comparison). Looking at the ingredients, the GV has a pretty short list and read more like it was one of their hard cheeses, which was a bit worrying.

The first thing that struck me upon opening the container was that they totally missed the boat with the texture (and have made totally false advertising on the package): it was lumpy, see-transparent and a cool-white colour – all very un-sour cream like. I didn’t care for it’s runnyness as I loaded some onto my corn chip. Sadly, the taste was equally disturbing: not so sour, quite strong coconut oil taste, and just a bit odd. I’m not sure how they missed the mark so spectacularly to be honest, unless sour cream in Cyprus is much different than North American or Australian equivalents.

The Tofutti is a very different beast. The texture is a little firmer than dairy sour cream, but if you stir it, it whips up into a super-smooth confection. Dipped with salsa on a corn chip (the way I love eating this combo), it is as near-perfect as I can recall to my dairy-eating days. It has a “sour” that isn’t simply some lemon added to the mix, but more subtle and accurate. Blobbed on top of nachos, or stirred into a mushroom stroganoff makes my tummy smile as to it’s perfect simulation for sour creamy meals. On it’s own it is also very good, though you start tasting that it’s not quite the same as the dairy version. However, I don’t recall ever eating sour cream straight from the tub so it doesn’t matter.

The verdict is quite clear: Green Vie, what’s the deal? How did things go sooo wrong?


PRODUCT: UPTON’S NATURALS – CH’EESY BACON MAC
Type: Prepared meal
Country of origin: USA
Upton’s Naturals

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-3

Bacon-Mac-Front

As I recently did my first Upton’s review, you can read a bit more in-depth background about them there, and I’ll just move into the review…

The meal comes in microwave-ready vacuum-sealed plastic pouches, one being the pre-cooked pasta (thick macaroni) and the other being the cheese and “bacon” mixture. As previously, the package says it is “2 serves” which is not true if you are a normal-sized human eating this as a main meal. It is a “just-enough” serve for one person, but I might be hungry in an hour. The $9 price point is therefore quite steep given the quantity but also the contents: seeing a simple bag of pasta and a little sachet of cheese mix and that is it made me think that this was quite a poor deal given their other products are more exotic with their ingredients. Worse yet, when I opened the sauce sachet, there were a whole 4 pieces of “bacon” and they were the colour of the sauce. Note in the product photo that there are at least double the amount of meaty red pieces. Not good Upton’s.

Flavour-wise I was not too impressed. Nutritional yeast (“nooch” as vegans tend to refer to it) is the primary ingredient and to me that is yesterday’s cheat to making something sort of “cheesy”. When I make homemade mac and cheese, I use cashews and a bundle of different ingredients to create a rich, creamy and very flavourful sauce. This one was thin, salty and too nooch-y. Even the texture failed as the sauce was a bit gritty and just not rich in that way that comfort food needs to be. Even with the obligatory ketchup drizzled atop the meal after I’d tasted it naked, it still revealed the gritty, salty side which just wasn’t satisfying.

Overall, a huge miss compared to the hit that was their Massaman Curry and the fact that both items were priced the same makes this one even more of a dud. Disappointed as I was very much looking forward to it.


PRODUCT: A&T INTERNATIONAL ROASTED VEGAN JERKY
Type: Mock meat snack
Country of origin: Taiwan
(no official site found; referring to reseller page Vegan Online)

overall-4
flavourrating-4
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

IMG_6785
When I did eat meat, I actually didn’t indulge in beef jerky all that much. I have liked hot and spicy food for many years however and that is probably what initially drew me to try this Roasted Vegan Jerky. It is made by Taiwanese company obscurely known as A&T International Soya Food and there is no official website from the Googling that I did. More than likely, that name is the distributor and their name is only in untranslated Taiwanese. Regardless, they sell the stuff at the link above if you are keen to try!

What I appreciate about this product most of all is the legitimate chewiness and fibrousness of the jerky, so it actually takes some effort to pull it apart, all the while kicking your butt with some hot chilli spices. I’ve not come across this texture simulation before in a vegan product. I like it! It’s also got a properly meaty flavour that isn’t just all hot, but also clearly a meat-like layering of taste. Thankfully, it’s not identical to the sinewy nature of dried animal muscle but it makes you work for it; if you miss that aspect of your former meat-eating days, then this will give you plenty of satisfaction.

The price is decent for what it is, albeit a small 120g packet for $5.50, but it’s a satisfying treat that does very well to simulate it’s meat-based cousin.

 


Vegan food shopping pet peeves

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Being vegan ain’t always easy. Actually, a lot of the time it gets me either really sad or truly angry. That is actually rarely about the food itself and more about the politics of raising animals for meat and dairy, the inherent cruelty of our animal agriculture system and the wilful destruction of our planet to feed people so-called “food” they don’t actually need to eat in order to survive.

When it does come down to the food though, there are so many great options, who can complain, right? Well, now… 😬   Here come my pet peeves (of today):

Unnecessary infiltrators

There could be SO MANY more vegan-friendly foods if companies that make an otherwise vegan product either slip “milk solids” or something stupid in there, or have a “May contain” list that includes dairy, eggs, etc even though the product doesn’t have those things in it. This happens far more often than it should!

Who decides on what the “perfect” hot dog is anyway?

There is a perception by meat-eaters and vegans alike that a vegan product has to faithfully reproduce the best version of a meat or dairy product or else it will be deemed unsuccessfully. The scrutiny is unfair and besides, who’s standards are we going by? In any food discussion, you’ll have people who swear by a certain thing, and someone else who thinks it is terrible. There is almost no gold standard for anything so we may as well get creative. If something “isn’t quite a meat item” but tastes awesome and looks very different, does it matter? If taste is paramount, then it should win out no matter what it looks like, even if the mock-meat is grey or a funny shape. If it looks weird AND tastes bad, well, that’s different. However, if it tastes “wrong” because someone was trying so hard to make that, say, blue cheese equivalent look, smell and taste identical, then maybe we need to address why it can’t just be it’s own thing. We need a new food category where foods are totally new but independently taste great without comparative scrutinising.

Making the food secretly vegan

Products that don’t mark specifically that they are vegan, nor dairy free and yet on the ingredients they have no animal products. If it isn’t on their allergens list (which they legally need to have) then it should be fair dinkum vegan, right? If so Food Company, why not just put vegan-friendly or dairy-free on the box?? Why make vegans hunt around and then take a risk or have to waste time contacting the manufacturer? You’re missing out on a growing market here people!

“Green-washing,” vegan style

Why is the vegan equivalent of a meat or dairy-based product by large companies still charged at a higher cost than the original meat/dairy item? Bigger companies are actually saving money on their core ingredients and their R&D departments are already well-funded and aren’t needing to recoup their development investment the same as a boutique company might justify their higher prices.

I am aware that animal products are heavily subsidised plus farmers are paid a pittance for what they do (which, in turn, results in the animals getting treated horribly in order to keep some profit margin). But pulses, veggies, grains and so on are cheap…

Of course, as I’ve been told before, the price of meat and dairy in western nations is unsustainably competitive. The “true” tally of our grocery bill should be about 2-3 times higher than it is, so maybe vegan foods are closer to the “real” cost. So while this one is a pet peeve because I just want to pay the same as everyone else, I could understand this price inflating if that were the real reason. However, I think it is just good old fashioned gouging.

Vegan options all in one spot

This one is more of a wish than a pet peeve I guess, but it would be utterly fantastic if vegan-specific products either got a special coloured tag at grocery stores or were all clustered in one area of the store. At the moment, the cool and frozen products tend to be together in their respective sections (albeit sprinkled together with vegetarian and gluten free and low fat – all things very much not vegan or just irrelevant to veganism) but the other products are often dotted around the store. Probably the former idea of a bright tag would be better as you cruise around the store, but either way I’m sure there are countless products that I simply miss which is unfair to the producer….and to mah belly! 😂

To end on a positive note though, I’m very thankful for all the people that are doing their best to give vegans a growing bounty of options! One day soon we’ll see a real respect by stores, food companies and the general public alike in accepting vegan foods as a genuinely profitable area worth exploiting at the benefit of our planet, our animals and us. 😊

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