Bland is so…bland – I had no idea I was a curry addict until…

Curries (royalty free image - Morguefile)
Curries (royalty free image – Morguefile)

So I am currently lying around at home recovering from throat surgery, a tonsillectomy. For those of you in the know, this is an incredibly painful procedure for adults and the recovery time is at least two weeks. Rest assured, this article will not be listing the horrors of my post-surgery life (trust me, you do NOT want to know, it’s bad) but I AM going to focus on one element of my current purgatory. Food.

Now I didn’t think I was a particularly adventurous or ‘different’ eater. My husband and I cook and eat out regularly, usually something Asian-inspired or Italian and sometimes we treat ourselves to a take-away pizza from our local (which is fabulous – inner-eastern dwellers of Melbourne, please check out Lina’s Pizza!) but I wouldn’t have said that I have ‘exotic’ tastes.

I have always taken for granted that I could eat whatever food I like; we are lucky enough to have a wonderful array of restaurants on our doorstep, Vietnamese, Burmese, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian. I would rate myself as an ‘above average’ cook and I have no food allergies so quite frankly, the world is my oyster. An average week of evening meals for me pre-surgery would have included a spicy veggie stir fry, a Malaysian, Indian or possibly Burmese curry, Cajun Salmon with some veggies, Pasta Puttenesca and/or maybe a thin crust pizza with prosciutto and mozzarella. Basically everything would have been spicy and/or tomatoey.

But post-surgery, oh how my culinary journey has been curtailed. I had no idea how exciting my diet was, what a wonderfully diverse range of cultures I could plunder for recipes, until now!!  Because right now I am restricted to bland, bland, bland. My throat is essentially raw; swallowing is painful and pretty much anything can set it aching and burning in the most upsetting way. So I have to play safe. Soup? Sure, but only if it is non-tomato based (ever cut your finger while slicing a tomato…imagine your entire throat feeling like that!). Pasta? Yep, but steady on, keep it plain, just a splash of olive oil and maybe a teeny sprinkling of parmesan. Stir fry? Why not but no chilli, ginger, garlic. Curry? Ha! I wish.  And did I mention the fact that even if I wanted a glass of wine (which I don’t!) I couldn’t; it’s not a good mix with the painkillers I am on plus I am pretty sure wine would hurt my throat just as much as tomato right now.

You may ask what on earth I have been eating for the last seven days and here it is. In all its glorious tedium:

  • wholemeal toast with a scraping of butter
  • porridge
  • pumpkin soup
  • poached eggs
  • baked potatoes
  • steamed vegetables (with no salt or pepper).

Oh, and before you ask why ice-cream isn’t on the list; let me tell you that it is an outright lie that you get to have ice-cream all the time after a tonsillectomy. Maybe that was the case in the good old days, but now you are expected to eat ‘normal meals’ straight away. And that means stuff that scrapes your throat but doesn’t ‘burn’. Plus you have to avoid excessive amounts of dairy as it – gross bit, apologies – creates mucus build up in the throat that can affect the healing process. In other words, no ice-cream.  I thought I could cheat with yoghurt, but nope, too acidic, thought my throat was on fire when I tried some.

A week on after surgery and although my appetite is finally starting to return and I am actively thinking about food again, unfortunately my throat is not playing ball; it is still way too sore to waver from the path of blandness. To distract myself as I chow down on yet another poached egg or plain baked potato (oh and did I mention that all of my food needs to be tepid – too hot and it’s like I am swallowing molten lava) I have made a list of all the food that I will be feasting on the moment my throat is healed (all washed down with the appropriate glass of wine or cider, rest assured!):

  • Lamb Rogan Josh with garlic naan
  • Chicken chilli & ginger stir fry
  • Stir fried rice
  • Tom Yum Soup or maybe a Laksa (or both!)
  • Chilli con carne
  • Dhal
  • Tapas such as patatas bravas, albondigas and chorizo
  • Every single tomato-based pasta sauce known to mankind
  • Chips (that would be ‘hot chips’ to Australians and ‘fries’ to Americans)
  • Salsa
  • Yoghurt
  • Brie, King Island Roaring Forties, in fact just cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese
  • Oranges, raspberries, rhubarb

So here’s to my swift recovery, ‘cos I have me some feasting to do!

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Voucher vulture: Or how to get the most out of your 2013-14 Entertainment Book

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It’s now coming up to half way through the 12-month cycle for the current Australian & New Zealand Entertainment Books. How many vouchers have you used so far? Have you even registered your gold card yet, let alone put it in your wallet? The Entertainment Book is a fabulous saving for those who like eating out and/or for those who want to stretch that dollar a little further. I think I can honestly say that I am an expert on navigating the book and therefore maximizing its value to me; my 2013-14 Greater Melbourne Entertainment Book is the fifth I have purchased and used.

I am assuming you are reading this because you know what the Entertainment Book is but just in case you have stumbled across my ramblings by mistake…the book contains hundreds of ‘up to 50% off’ and ‘2-for-1’ offers for many local restaurants, cafes, arts, attractions, hotels, travel services and online shopping. The books are sold by community groups, schools and other organisations as a means of raising funds for their causes. The vouchers/offers are valid from purchase until 1 June of the following year e.g. my current book vouchers will expire on 1 June 2014. There are 14 books available within Australia, and five in New Zealand, all based in and around the major cities.

So how to maximize dollars saved? No matter how you intend to use it, the first thing you must do is to grab a highlighter pen, go to the index at the front of each of the five voucher sections and highlight places you already frequent/want to visit. You must also register the gold card that accompanies your Entertainment Book; this gives you access to the members’ area and to the bonus dining offers, additional discounts for cinema tickets and holiday destinations, etc. Once registered, you will also receive a monthly email that lists the available bonus offers as well as the occasional special offer on specific services or destinations. And for social media tragics such as myself, you can also follow the Entertainment Book on Facebook and/or Twitter and be notified of additional bonus offers and changes to venues that way. Proviso, the restaurant vouchers do tend to be relatively city- and inner city-centric although the take away deals and services are obviously more flexible.

How much more time you spend on ‘prepping’ depends on you. If you always book ahead so know where you are going or if you drive everywhere, then all you need to do now is the put the book in the car/next to the front door (and remember you have it!). If you tend to take public transport or walk to lots of places then you are going to need to make the book  a bit more portable as it’s very bulky (and heavy)! I would suggest using the highlighted indices to find the vouchers you want, rip them out and put them in little envelopes, sorted suburb by suburb so you can simply grab the envelope(s) of the suburb(s) you are going to that day or quickly find the voucher to that local restaurant as you walk out the door.

The gold card that accompanies the book deserves a section all to itself. Offering discounts to ‘fine and contemporary dining’, using it just twice will mean the book has already paid for itself. Any usage on top of that is pure ‘profit’. The easiest way to maximize return on this section is to either go through and fold down the corner of the pages of restaurants you want to visit or make a note separately; then you can simply flick through or consult your list when you want some fine dining (I use Evernote on my iPhone). A word of warning, some restaurant staff rub off the wrong number, refuse to accept it, don’t understand the offer, forget to take it off the bill or all of the above. Just be nice and stick to your guns; all restaurants listed in the book have signed up with the Entertainment Book so they have to honour the discount (unless new owners of existing registered business, etc.). If you don’t have the book with you, you can always call up the website on your phone or use the app (see details below) to show the deal to the staff.

There is also a free Entertainment Book app, which you can use when out and about; however, the search function is pretty simplistic and of course, if it recommends a place that requires a voucher and you don’t have the voucher with you then it is no help at all and quite frankly frustrating! It is good for using the the gold card (which should be in your wallet at all times!) but you can’t search by ‘gold card’, just ‘fine dining’ (which will pick up most of them) or ‘near me’ and then you can laboriously go through each option. Also, the app doesn’t appear to have its info updated so it won’t show if a business has shut down since 1 June that year or if it has changed address.

Aside: I would love to see a day when we don’t have to buy the book anymore but can buy the app (with revenue still going to the charities of course). Imagine how much easier it would be to just show the voucher on your phone to the staff, they would discount your bill and then it would show as used on your phone. And the search function could be massively improved while they’re at it.

Don’t forget at the very back of the book are pages and pages of online savings for hotel bookings, car rentals, flower deliveries, magazine subscriptions, etc. This final section also offers savings on groceries if you purchse the discounted $100 gift cards and then use on your weekly shop at Woolworths or Coles.

And last, but certainly not least, if you have a friend who also has an Entertainment Book then you can double up on your vouchers/gold card savings when dining out (unless, rarely, the restaurant has specified this is not possible). This system is too complex to explain here, as it all depends on the value and type of the offer, but it is clearly explained on page 3 of the book. You can also swap unused vouchers with them, if you live in different areas and intend to use different vouchers to them.

SO there you go, my embarrassingly nerdy and tight-arse recommendations for getting the most out of your Entertainment Book. If I have inspired you, that’s great they are still available. And for those who have read this and scoff I would just like to say that it’s only the beginning of November and I have already saved over $295 (deducting the cost of the book). Of course, this really only demonstrates how much my husband and I eat out…

Top Ten Tips

  1. Use the index!
  2. Register the book/card to access the bonus offers.
  3. Keep the book in the car/easily accessible.
  4. Keep the gold card in your wallet at all times.
  5. Download the app for searching on the go.
  6. Don’t forget the online shopping discounts at the back of the book.
  7. Swap unused vouchers with friends who live in a different area to you.
  8. Keep the take away vouchers in your wallet, particularly coffee and fast food.
  9. Be aware of the small print – most venues don’t honour vouchers on public holidays/Valentine’s Day/Mother’s Day.

Bonus tip: Jot down the amount each time in the index & cross out voucher detail (this will help you keep track of money saved and therefore if it is worth investing in again).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own and are in no way endorsed or sponsored by Entertainment Publications of Australia Pty Ltd.