This way to cornbread!

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I bought a few of my Live Below the Line food choices in duplicate so I could practice some recipes before the week itself. With the self-raising flour, the main thing I plan to make with that is a variety of quick-bread type things. Two days ago I made a dome-shape loaf using 150g SR flour, 30g peanut butter, a pinch of salt and just enough water so it formed a dough I could knead for a few seconds. It was pretty tasty!

Today, I thought I’d try adding more water to see if that improved the texture (I don’t think so, the firmer dough seems to rise just fine) and making it more of a cake batter texture so it formed a thin layer in the pan (which is about 8″ square). I also added 50g crushed cornflakes to vary the texture. It was quite pleasant, though I think next time I’ll add some mustard or onion pickle juice in too to make it a bit more interesting.
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Ingredients cost breakdown:

(bag of flour 45p for 1.5kg) 150g self-raising flour = 4.5p
(peanut butter 62p for 340g) 34g peanut butter (I was going for 30 but too much dripped off the fork) = 6.2p
(cornflakes 31p for 500g) 50g cornflakes – 3.1p
(salt – 25p for kg) pinch of salt. Let’s say .2p, as that rounds up the total to 14p.

The picture above is only half the quantity the recipe made, and it was pretty filling, so I definitely think that would do as a day’s worth of bready stuff.

Further thoughts re. “poverty tourism”

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I’ve now seen several more angry articles decrying “poverty tourism”. Something to do with Gwyneth Paltrow (boy, people really don’t like her, do they?).

I do get where people are coming from in some of the criticisms they make, but I think some are overstating the harm of well-off people playing poor. This Time article claims “people already know that other people are hungry. And telling people that others are hungry by pretending to be like them for a short while doesn’t help the lower-income community. In fact, it could even hurt. In the Orange County example, those families took rare fresh produce from those who really needed it.” Well, I agree that taking fresh foodstuff from a limited supply when there are others who need it more is harmful, but regarding the first part of the sentence, they may know others are hungry in the abstract, but if you’ve never experienced hunger or want or having to make tricky decisions about what to choose with a tiny amount of money then I don’t see how you can have more than a smidge of an idea about how it might be for people who live like this for longer. Sure, playing poor for a few measly days isn’t going to thrust you into the world of real, grinding poverty, and anyone who says they now understood all the issues after taking part would have to be a clueless fool, however I haven’t seen anybody actually saying that!

Most Live Below the Line blogs I’ve seen mention how lucky it made the people taking part feel, but that it gave them a slightly better understanding of how hard it must be to live on less than £1 a day in the long term. If enough well-off people are interested in taking up the challenge and they talk about it to their friends, they are likely to tell them how hard they found even the lightweight dip into constricted living, and some of those people may be in influential positions in government, local government, etc. and may be influenced to consider how their actions could improve the lives of those who do not choose poverty but have to live in it anyway. It’s to be hoped that those who develop a better empathy are more likely to dig into their own pockets and/or make more effort to help with poverty relief initiatives as well.

I guess I’m a little thin-skinned about the criticisms because I dread being perceived as insensitive or patronising. My own earnings are less than the Joseph Rowntree Foundation defines as poverty level in this country – “Those with less than 60 per cent of median income are classified as poor. This ‘poverty line’ is the agreed international measure used throughout the European Union.” Clearly this is a relative measure of “poverty” and in a completely different class to those who Live Below the Line are attempting to help. In part the fact that I earn so little is also my choice based on personal preferences and possibly slightly masochistic tendencies! I don’t feel I need a car, a television, frequent holidays or most “luxury” goods, so I don’t work every hour I possibly could. I usually manage okay, but those who read back on this blog will see that I’ve spent several months documenting varying levels of restricted spending. These were restrictions based on less than the amount I could have spent, but not by a wide margin: I didn’t have a particularly large safety net as my permanent job did not cover my outgoings, some bills and all in-hand expenses were covered by extra casual (zero hours contract) work, so any prolonged period of sickness which meant I couldn’t pick up that work would have dragged me into debt pretty quickly. But, perhaps selfishly, having the choice to take part in a challenge like this really helps me realise how lucky I am compared to many others in the world. I also get a buzz if I feel I am able to help other people, and if I am spending £1 a day for 5 days it means I will have extra money available to donate.

I am a bit obsessed about the nuts and bolts of the challenge and I hope to make a lot of spreadsheets comparing prices by supermarket, cross-referenced with nutritional values, as well as meal plans, and I think these will actually be pretty helpful to people. I’ve always been fascinated by this kind of thing and read with interest any articles/books about how to manage on very little (there’s a good essay in The Man Who Ate Everything), but obviously food prices and types change according to crop failures, supermarket price-wars etc., so it really needs a database to be kept up to date. I am considering trying to eventually create something a bit like Barnivore for vegan foods ranked by protein/cost/other nutritional info, I don’t know if that’s too ambitious, but for veg*ns on the poverty line boundaries or those trying to save money for something I think it’d be a very useful resource.

So, I’ve got that off my chest! I’ve been practising recipes, so expect more food, less self-justificatory rambling next time!

Live below the line 2015

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Despite some people coming up with more or less valid criticisms of this concept (mostly that poverty shouldn’t be some tourist-like experience privileged people feel they can dip their toes in for a few days) I am seriously considering taking part in Live Below the Line 2015, which is a challenge asking participants to spend only the amount on food that people below the poverty line in developing countries have to buy everything. In the UK the amount is £1 per day, USA $1.50 and Australia is $2. In the UK and USA most people are taking part between 27 April and 1 May, although some people will be going for longer (I’ve seen someone doing a month and another brave soul has been going for 60 days).

I am fortunate to live in a big city with a lot of shops competing with each other within walking distance of my home. Since this is an advantage a lot of people don’t have I am choosing to ignore the option of “buying” small portions of cooking oil, spices and seasoning already in my cupboard prior to the challenge. This means I am looking for foods that do double-duty (e.g. peanut butter as a margarine/oil sub in baking as well as a protein, pickled onions so the juice can be used in places I’d deploy vinegar/lemon juice).

Since a lot of my savoury cooking starts with frying an onion it took me a long time to let go of that idea, despite onions not being very economical on a cost vs. nutrition basis when bought in small quantities. Since the cheapest vegan oil I could find was a block of solid cooking fat at 70p I rejected the idea of that and started considering other cheap oil sources. Jars of olives in oil would be way too expensive, the most likely prospect would be to get the cheapest frozen oven chips, as there’s often quite a large amount of fat left on the baking tray once cooked. They also worked out at around the same or less cost per kilo as most of the smaller bags of fresh potatoes (I did not consider spending more than £1.20 on any one item of food).

Frozen chips are still an option, but for the sake of nutrition I’m erring towards fresh potatoes (particularly as there were 1kg packs of baking potatoes in Aldi for 39p today! I don’t know how long that offer is on for so I may have to come back to the frozen idea.

After several hours of price checking Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons as the supermarkets with their prices available for online shopping which are also within walking distance, I concluded that Tesco had the cheapest and widest choice of value items (Sainsbury’s were almost universally more pricey, e.g. the cheapest mustard was 35p as opposed to 25p at Tesco and Asda, the peanut butter was 3p more, the salt was more, the cheapest vinegar was more. The only thing they came out way cheaper on was tomato purée). Asda also had a lot of value items I was interested in but they’re not within easy walking distance. It’s no good buying from the market on this occasion as most of the quantities are over 50p, they are usually £1 a bowl for most fruit and veg. Time and again you realise that the more you can afford the more you get. It’s not just having the money to buy the 5kilo bag of chickpeas for £4.99, or the 15 kilos of onions for a fiver, you need room to store them, containers to keep them secure from vermin, etc. Anyway, I digress!

I felt the best tactic would be to buy all my store-cupboard items at Tesco:

tesco 291 shop

Split peas are 53-55p per 500g across the supermarkets, and by far the cheapest pulse  as the next options seem to jump to around double that price. I’m not a huge fan of split peas, and if there were an extra 46p going spare I’d definitely be tempted by these 99p beans I found in Morrisons, but I just don’t think I can justify it.

morrisons 99p beans

Since Aldi’s vegetables looked in pretty good shape and seemed a good deal cheaper than the other supermarkets, I’m going to try to get the fresh items I’ve chosen from there. The best balance of nutrition for the least price seems to me to be a mixture of cabbage (45p for at least 600g), carrots (49p for 1kg) and potatoes (39p for 4 baking potatoes weighing not less than 250g each). The veg comes to £1.33 which brings the total to £4.24.

After narrowing down my options, I made a spreadsheet to check how it came out in terms of calories, protein and a few vitamins and minerals. The obvious omission is omega 3, I don’t think there’s much in what I’ve chosen. I think iodine is one you can get away with missing for a little while, I normally take a supplement when I remember. If this were a budget I was forced to keep there are more than enough calories to keep going for a while, I would have to save up and spring for some iodine tablets and/or a multivitam, I think. Supplement tablets are the cheapest option in the long-run, unfortunately it’s impossible to fit them into a short-term plan like this. It was difficult to find valid-seeming or consistent information so I’ve done my best where there were discrepancies, this is just a rough guide really (just realised I made a mistake with the potatoes, basing them on a 1.5 kilo bag. I’ll maybe change it later).

breakdown of 1 day core foods nutrition

The calcium shortfall isn’t too bad, I could make the B12 match the rda if I up the cornflakes to 100g (but that puts the calories up quite a bit), or I could buy a carton of fortified soya milk for 65p, which would leave me with 11p and I don’t think you can buy anything with 11p these days. Maybe a very small knob of ginger or a small loose chilli.

Cheering myself up because I’m sick on the long weekend – silly nails!

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I have a cold. Booo! And it’s dim and drizzly weather. Double-booo! So I’m lolling around the house painting my nails and reading Terry Pratchett.

Lilac base, orange polkadots on the left hand and light turquoise on the right then an overcoat of “golden goddess” clear with sparkles. All E.L.F. polishes. Sadly the company that distribute E.L.F. in the UK are quitting, so I bought a few things in the sale they have on at the moment, including two sets of 3 solid bright colours and a bottle of the sparkly polish.

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Sunday lunch

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Seems like a long time since I posted anything, so here’s my lunch! Broccoli in creamy garlicky almond sauce, paprika potato wedges and fried mushrooms and onions.

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I made the sauce by blending soya milk, a big carrot, a couple of handfuls of almonds, 2 cloves of garlic, some soya sauce and some English mustard. Poured it over the previously cooked and drained broccoli and heated until the whole lot was bubbling. After I took this picture I covered it liberally in nutritional yeast and salt!

Going to mix the leftover broccoli and mushrooms later with some silken tofu, nooch and some wicked smoked chipotle powder I bought from a new deli in town and make a quiche, I think.

Planning on doing another money challenge soon, might have to come up with some kind of forfeit if I fail, since I didn’t manage to get through more than a few days last time I tried.

Cinnamon buns with orange glaze – happy new year brunch!

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I kinda made up the recipe, but basically it’s 225g bread flour, 1/4 pint warm water, about a tsp instant yeast, 1/2 tsp salt, knead it all together and leave it to rise for an hour somewhere warmish. Roll it out into a rectangle. Heat about 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a little saucepan until it’s melted, then cool it down by adding about another tablespoon of oil (I used rapeseed), add in a couple of tablespoons sugar (I used soft brown) and a teaspoon of cinnamon and maybe quarter-half a teaspoon of allspice. Spread the cinnamon mix onto the rectangle, roll it up and slice it into 8 pieces, arrange them in a baking dish and leave them to rise for another 40 mins, then bake them in an oven at about 180c/350f degrees for 15-20 mins. The glaze was just a bit of icing sugar and a couple of spoonfuls of soya milk and the zest of an orange, but you could use the juice instead of milk if you wanted it really zingy, or leave the zest out if you just want the cinnamon to shine through. It actually could have stood a bit more cinnamon but that was the last of the jar and it had been open a while so your mileage may vary.

Christmas Jumper

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So, someone has a “wear a silly jumper to work” day tomorrow, and was going to buy an acrylic monstrosity for the best part of thirty quid. Instead I persuaded him that I could make him a Christmas jumper using an old item of clothing and synthetic felt.

I ended up finding a craft activity in the shops which just required sticking pre-cut shapes to other shapes to make a snowman and Santa which were then meant to go on sock shapes. Instead I stuck them to the jumper and made a tree, holly and present out of some of the sock fabric. And for the heck of it I just sewed one of the sock sections onto the back of the jumper. The top is open, so there’s scope for putting sweets in it, for bizarre novelty value.

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For a quick and cheap solution I think it turned out quite well! (yes, I am aware it’s ridiculous!)

It’s that time once mo’…

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The month of vegan food blogging is here again: VeganMoFo will be on for the whole of September and I’m getting excited to see people’s quirky, inventive themes, beautiful food styling and witty commentary. I love seeing the stuff folks come up with, and it’s a great challenge too! Even if you’re not vegan, it’s a great opportunity to try out new vegan food and show off what you can make or find.

Of course, not everyone will produce spectacular food that has been photographed beautifully. Witness my first item.

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Can you guess what it is? That’s right! Tiger bread!!

No? You think it’s more of a lumpy burnt-looking possibly-a-cat? Yeah, well the only way is up from here, my friends!

It puzzles me when people don’t understand why vegans or vegetarians would want to eat fake meat. I think anyone who has been veg*n for any length of time gets pretty tired of explaining that it’s not the taste most of us didn’t like, it’s the idea of something having to have gone through pain and death to get to our plates, so I thought I’d take the ‘eating fake animals’ thing to the extreme this MoFo and cover all the tasty animals we can eat that aren’t really animals at all.

One small hitch is that I’ve got about 8 ideas at the moment (and the goal of MoFo is to post at least 20 times in the month), so expect it to get pretty tenuous towards the end! Or I may just give up and start posting pictures of sandwiches. The above abomination came about because I only realised when I came to stripe-up my tiger-patterned pizza that I didn’t have any olives or in fact anything dark and savoury so I just left the tomato-paste and turmeric orange base on, thinking I could go out and get some olives to top it once it was baked. Then I burnt it. Like I say, it can only get better from here!

I am so boring

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Sorry for the lack of updates, I didn’t get round to much foraging, partly because after the norovirus-type-illness I had a double whammy of a cold and hayfever, and so I’ve been taking advantage of the supermarket price wars to mainly subsist on 49p broccoli but have been splashing out on the odd box of cereal too. Bad show, really. I’m still within this month’s £93 allowance but I’ve got just over £11 to last me until the end of the month now.

I did continue the free entertainment quest with a trip to Abbey Park though – this is one of the larger parks in Leicester and shamefully I had not previously made any effort to visit. It seemed a pleasant sort of place apart from a little ‘pets corner’of animals in small, fairly bare cages which made me sad. There was this cheerful bush at the park though!

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London is expensive! (not news really)

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Having pre-bought coach tickets to London did battle with still feeling a touch rough yesterday morning, and thriftyness won; I strolled over to the coach station and took the trip in order to redeem my free entry to the Grand Designs show (courtesy of the Money Saving Expert website, which have offers to these kinds of home-improvement exhibitions fairly often, if you like that kind of thing).

First expense: had to top my Oyster card up by £10. It was fun to go on the Docklands Light Railway though. Yesterday was a bit cloudy and the amount to building work along the route to the show at ExCel, and (to my eyes) modern-looking buildings contrasted nicely with the few picturesque derelict blocks and ominous skies. In general, I do find zipping about on public transport in big cities stimulating. What if the stop gets missed? Ooh, mild peril!

The ExCel centre seemed huge, and the Grand Designs show was somewhat difficult to navigate. I kept getting disorientated. I’d been hoping there would be lots of freebies but the end tally is fairly modest:

– a tiny cup of Fever Tree elderflower tonic water (and I ended up spending a fiver on their show offer for four bottles as it was really quite nice)

– a small cup of smoothie from the VitaMix demo stall

– a wickedly strong espresso from the Brita water filter stall. This was meant to demonstrate the difference filtered water can make to your brew but since I’m normally a filter coffee or americano drinker I was none the wiser. I could feel the caffeine though!

I could also have had several samples of alcohol, but since I’m having a teetotal year I declined these.

So far, the day was well within my budget. At three pounds a day, and having only spent 18p so far this month, I had £20.82 available before going into arrears. However, it seemed a waste not to get a few things I’d been hankering after. I justify going to Wholefoods at Piccardilly Circus and spending £8.37 on Mexican food ingredients by reasoning that at least I’m saving on postage, as otherwise I’d have to mail order the stuff, and I’ve been unable to try many of the recipes in Viva Vegan until now.

I also splurged £2.50 on a cronut-type pastry at Vx. Not sure if it was the recent sickness, but I found this far too sweet and fatty to enjoy more than a couple of bites. A shame.

Along similar lines, I needed to eat something by 7 o’clock as I’d ingested nothing but theaforementioned samples since my breakfast porridge, and Moaz falafel seemed like a good idea. I got the meal deal of falafel, salad bar, chips and a drink. The chips had a good texture, and the minty lemonade was great, but something about the rest of it just lacked something and I could only eat half of it. This was £8.50 (I think. By this time I was really tired!) so not too bad for London but in hindsight I should have stuck with the almonds and dried apricots I was carrying or maybe tried to get something lighter like a soup from somewhere.

In total yesterday, I spent £34.37. Add the 18p and my month’s spend is £34.55. That means I’m halfway into my allowance up to 12th May so far. I enjoyed my day, and on the whole I’m glad I went, but I wish I had taken a sandwich with me!

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