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Write your Frugal Feast story!

HerCanberra Team

As part of its Frugal Feast fundraising campaign to raise money for Canberrans in need this festive season, YWCA Canberra is hosting a writing competition.

Writers are asked to write a short story, up to 1500 words, on the theme ‘frugal feast’, and make a donation of $10 to the Frugal Feast campaign. Submissions that are creative and interpretive with the theme are encouraged – consider potential futures, different cultures, and different meanings of the word ‘feast’.

You have until 10 December to enter, and there are some excellent prizes on offer, so get writing! Find out more here.

To help get your creative juices flowing, here are some short tales YWCA Canberra has drawn together.

The Soak

By Robyn Cadwallader, author of The Anchoress and a judge in the Frugal Feast Writing Competition.

He had said there would be water. In this exact spot, he said. A tank rigged up to collect rainwater. But there was nothing.

We double-checked the map to make sure we had the spot that was marked. This was it, just the right place to bed down: soft grass covering a basin sunk into the hills above a bay. Shelter from the sea winds. Perfect. But no sign of water. There was swearing, and then some more swearing. Graham, the youth group leader who had planned the hike, must have felt his ears burn as he sat down to eat his dinner and drink his water back at the Wilson’s Promontory camping ground. We swore and we searched, each of us heading out like spokes of a wheel from the centre. We were hot and tired, but at that moment, we wanted water more than rest.

We found nothing. There was no water tank. There was a soak, a kind of muddy indentation where water had gathered, but that was all. A few of us had water bottles, but we’d drunk most of it on the way, planning to refill at the promised oasis. We had brought cordial to drink, but dinner was to be one of those dried meals so handy for camping — small sachets, superlight, easy to carry, and all you do is…add water.

I was seventeen and hungry and it was getting dark. The others in the group were grumpy and hungry, the boys with hollow legs, especially. And so it was decided: we would extract whatever water we could from the soak. By a process of gradually drawing off the topmost layer, being careful not to disturb the mud beneath, we poured the brown liquid into a mug. Again and again. Waiting for the debris to settle, we did the same with the water in the mug. Slowly, slowly, we gathered enough for cooking — it was lighter than mud, but still brown. And disturbingly thick.

A couple of people refused to eat, thinking about what might have been living in that dark soak, but those of us brave enough, or desperate enough, tipped the dehydrated lumps into the water, boiled up something resembling a meal and spooned it into plastic bowls. We ate, nervous and ravenous.

The food was salty, as those dried meals always are, and that probably killed anything too nasty. It tasted wonderful, spiced with a certain je ne sais quoi. Above us, the stars were bright in the black sky, the moon was a sliver, and the waves sang their rhythmic song to our weariness.

A small fire warmed the circle of our conversation. The mud didn’t matter. That meal was one of the most special that I’ve ever eaten.

Friendships remembered

By Zoya Patel, founder/editor of Feminartsy, Corporate Relations and Advocacy Manager at YWCA Canberra, and a judge in the Frugal Feast Writing Competition.

When I was growing up, we didn’t celebrate Christmas. My family are Indian-Muslims, so we celebrated Eid and the most Christmas-ey we got was the occasional Secret Santa with some family friends.

So my first official Christmas lunch was when I was 21, living in a sharehouse as a student with two of my best friends. Our house was a ramshackle 70s duplex, and none of us had much money from our part-time jobs, so it was definitely a ‘frugal feast’.

We were all also fairly average cooks, and mostly vegetarian, so the meal was unlikely to ever be traditional. In the end, we cobbled together a lunch of roast vegetables, salads, bread, and four or five desserts, and indulged in all the best bits of Christmas with popstar versions of carols and thoughtful, inexpensive gifts.

For us, the feast was truly in the friendships, and it’s an ethos that carries through to my Christmas lunches today.

A true feast

By Karan Gabriel, Communications Manager at YWCA Canberra, and former Yass Tribune Managing Editor.

The presents fanned out from the tree, skirting the television and the coffee table. It was satisfying looking at them; it livened up the rundown beach shack we’d rented for the week.

Buying those presents, and renting the shack, had steadily drained my bank account, and now, with just three days until Christmas, I was wondering how to pay for everything else. We always found a way, I told myself. Like many a solo parent, I knew how to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear and avoid disaster by the skin of my teeth. Skimming along on an empty bank account was uncomfortable but nothing new.

Then, by some miracle, I received a lump sum for a bunch of freelancing I’d done over the previous months. Money flooded into my account, like a river of gold. I knew what I wanted to do with it – we headed to the local shopping centre and bought up all the traditional Christmas foods, and then some. I was going to give my kids a ‘storybook’ Christmas, with all the trimmings. This would make up for all the frugal meals we’d had during thin times.

We all cooked the three course meal together, deveining the prawns, hand-making the stuffing, fussing over the dessert, and it was as perfect a meal as we could make. But when I look back on that Christmas, I barely remember the food. What I remember is that we laughed and laughed, and talked, sang silly songs, reminisced about Christmases past, and planted memories for Christmases future.

Image of ‘Cookie gift with tag over old wood background‘ via Shutterstock


Her Canberra

Sometimes a story is bigger than one person...that's when the HerCanberra Team puts its collective head together to come up with the goods. Enjoy! More about the Author

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