The $35 Challenge has only just begun and I’m already feeling the pinch – isn’t that pathetic?

The weekends are usually times we spend doing what we like and eating what we like, telling ourselves it’s a reward for a hard week’s work. Usually Senhor R and I will eat out a few times, grab a few coffees and spend an evening or afternoon in the pub. Harmelss weekend fun.

But it’s becoming all too clear to me that food and eating are my main pastimes. There isn’t anything wrong with food as a hobby, but eating? I’m not so sure. I can’t help but think back to times when I was less well off – I ate healthier than I do now, which flies in the face of almost every statistic on poverty and nutrition. And having just spent a week in bed with a head cold and resulting middle ear infection, I can’t help but think Senhor R is right when he points out that my current lifestyle isn’t really the path to a strong immune system.

I have been productive though. I’ve scoured the freezer, fridge and pantry and put together a veg-heavy menu for this week. It’s really made me appreciate the stuff we keep on hand. It’s the starting point for any meal. These are my 5 pantry must-haves, a pretty dull, but essential list.

1. Pasta
If I’m at a loss for what to make, pasta takes 10 minutes to cook and goes with pretty much everything. I usually buy Barilla spaghetti no 5, but this week on the $35 challenge I’m testing out a 59 cent pack of spaghetti from woolies to see if my brand loyalty is warranted.

2. Tinned tomatoes
If you have tinned tomatoes, you have an amazing tomato sauce. Just fry some onions and garlic, add the tomatoes and a slosh of wine and simmer for up to an hour. Add a pinch of sugar at the end and it’s perfect for pasta, pizza or even on toast.

3. Extra virgin olive oil
I wait until it’s on special and then buy one of those massive 4 litre tins for about 20 bucks. If I could only have one kind of oil, this would be it. As it stands I currently have canola and sesame as well but they’re really just extras.

4. Basmati rice
It’s the rice with the lowest GI and also the easiest to cook. 1 cup of rice with 1½ cups water simmered for 20 minutes with the lid sealed tight and then left to sit for 5 – perfect every time. Just stir fry some veg and meat while the rice cooks.

5. Oats
This is my breakky staple whenever I’m skint. It’s also the key to ANZAC bikkies.
Find my porridge recipe below.

Lau’s Porridge (serves 1)
1/3 cup oats
About 1 cup water
A slosh of milk (whatever type)
Sweetener – honey, brown sugar, golden syrup

Dried fruit/nuts/fresh chopped fruit

On the back of a packet of oats they’ll tell you porridge consists of chucking equal amounts of oats and water into a pan and simmering until done. For me, porridge is more akin to risotto. I put the oats in a pan and then add a good slosh of water. Give it a stir while it simmers and once the water is soaked in, add some more and if you’re adding dried fruit, nuts or fresh banana, do so now. Keep adding water and stirring in until you’ve got the consistency you’re after. At that point, stir through some milk and turn off the heat.

Serve immediately with a slosh of cold milk, a sprinkling of brown sugar and whatever fresh fruit you have on hand – in my case, I used strawberries but you can use blueberries, pear, banana (although I like to add bananas early on so they get mushy) or whatever you fancy.

It’s not too late to support the $35 Challenge. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 16-22, participantshave $5 a day to spend on food. By experiencing poverty for just 7 days, we come to a better understanding of the realities and stresses of those living in poverty. By blogging or tweeting this experience, we can raise awareness of an issue so often swept under the rug. And by donating the remainder of the money we would usually spend on food to OzHarvest, we can make a real difference.

What are your pantry must-haves?

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