Leicester Vegan Fair 2015 is coming soon!

And it looks like it’s going to be amazing!

I really enjoyed the fair in 2013, which I wrote about here and this year it’s moved to a bigger venue at De Montfort University’s Queens Building, where the fair will run from 10am-4pm on 21st November, followed by an after-party at a nearby pub.

Here’s the poster:


There’s a good-looking mix of local and larger businesses, organisations and charities (and the charities usually have fancy calendars and chocolates and that kind of thing, which I like), a tempting array of purveyors of delicious things to shove in my gob (I cannot wait to see what Gelato Village bring to this fair!) and enough businesses who I’ve not encountered before for me to be intrigued.

I gather there’s going to be a family room which I heard and thought “sounds like it will be noisy and full of prams, I’ll stay away” but then I heard the person organising the room is planning all sorts of fun things, so I’ll probably have a good nosy around that as well.

I’m really starting to get excited about this event and it’s still over three weeks away! I hope there are a lot of visitors from Leicester and further afield because I really do think this city has a lot to offer vegans and those interested in eating more plant-based foods, and it gladdens my heart to see that we’re in the list of towns and cities putting on a fair this year.

There’s an events page on Facebook if you want to be reminded or there’s a community page where I think stall information is going to be added. Oh, and it’s on Meet-up under Leicester Vegans too, if you like to meet new people in a formal kind of way.

Hope to see you there! 🙂

Hospital food’s not so bad, if you’re in the right hospital!

Things have been a bit quiet on here recently, as I had to plan a visit to the hospital a couple of weeks ago for some surgery. I’m feeling a lot better now, but one of the things I was worrying about prior to being admitted was that I wouldn’t be able to get any decent vegan food. I could not have been more wrong!

I was greatly heartened to see that they actually had an option listed as vegan on the printed menu!

tray holding plate of rice and curry and bowl containing an orange.

My first meal was chick pea and sweet potato curry, served with rice. For pudding the vegan-suitable options were either a piece of fruit (orange, banana or apple) or a little cup of tinned fruit salad in fruit juice. Not the most exciting desserts in the world, but the fibre and vitamin content are surely helpful (anyone who’s been confined to bed for a while at the same time as having to have an anaesthetic and pain meds will know you need all the fibre you can get)!

I think there might have been some coconut milk in the curry, as it was listed as a calorie-dense meal. It was very mild, but well-flavoured and I enjoyed it a lot.

When the next meal-time came, I wasn’t keen to have the same thing again, even though I’d enjoyed the first one. Although there was only one item specifically marked as vegan, there was also an Asian Vegetarian section on the menu. All the meals were basically a vegetable dish, a pulse-based dish, rice, chapati and yoghurt, and there was a choice of about 7 meals. I asked the lady who had given me the menu whether the meal was milk-free without the yoghurt and confirmed they were all egg-free. She didn’t know about the milk, but I asked her if she could find out, and with a little insistence on my part I got her to agree to bring me whichever of the meals did not have milk listed on the allergens box (all the meals were pre-prepared and bought in from an outside company). The chapatis were somewhat disappointing on these meals, but apart from those they were excellent and I think I enjoyed them a lot more than my neighbouring ward-mate liked her meal – she told me the shepherds pie was okay, but “not how you’d make it yourself”. Since she seemed a very polite lady I took that to mean it wasn’t actually that nice, but was edible!

I also enjoyed the many tea rounds that occurred throughout the day. There were biscuits I could eat (chocolate bourbons), crisps, and fruit juice on offer. I got through a lot of little tubs of pineapple juice. I also liked the cheery demeanour of most the staff members who pushed the trolley, especially one who kept trying to tempt me to a cake because “they’re from Marks and Spencer”! I’d prepared a box of snacks in advance in case there was nothing I could eat, but I ended up barely touching them.

So, in conclusion, I’d like to congratulate the catering team at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust on their menu choices for vegetarians and vegans, and I loved the blurb at the front encouraging people to enjoy their food as an integral part of the recovery process!

Worth the salt

I’ve still got most of the kilo of salt I bought for 25p a month back for the challenge (this is not a surprise when you think about it, I would probably be dead if I’d eaten that much salt in so short a time period!). Now, I’m not exactly a salt snob, I’ve always owned a big plastic container of the next stuff up from Basics (I think it’s worth paying about 12p more for the convenience of not having to heft a large plastic bag of salt around, and being able to close it up easily so bits don’t accidentally fall in it or a huge avalanche come out if it’s picked up wrong), but I also like to buy bags of proper sea salt when I’m on holiday, particularly in places that specialise in salty treats, such as Lanzarote with their salty potatoes, and if I see some smoked salt, or fancy pink Himalayan salt cheap on sale you know I’m going to buy it, so I was already pretty well stocked up.

Meanwhile, I’ve been on a huge baked tofu jag recently. I can get about 600g for £1.30 from one of several places around Leicester (usually Asiana or The Farmlands) and I’ve been dicing that up and coating it in combinations of sesame oil, soya sauce, smoked paprika, pepper, liquid smoke, allspice, Herbamare, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, ginger and garlic. Sometimes I’ve made one batch, let it cool enough to scoff half and fridge the rest and then gone on to make another batch in the same Pyrex roasting dish. Consequently, the flavouring was really baked onto the dish as well as the tofu and despite soaking overnight I had a huge struggle trying to clean the dish today. Then I remembered the salt I’d decanted into an espresso cup to make it easier to use. There were about 3 tablespoons left, and I poured half onto the burnt pan and used the previously-ineffective scourer with the salt and a squirt of washing-up liquid to give the burnt-on grease a beating it won’t forget in a hurry!

I’m sorry I didn’t take before and after pictures now, it was a very satisfying transformation. I know salt isn’t news for dish cleaning (especially if you have a dishwasher. I don’t, but I’ve seen them in action), but I was happy to realise I had this low-cost and high impact way of tackling the problem. Now to go out, buy more tofu and begin the whole cycle again!

What’s left in the cupboard after Below the Line

In terms of surviving I did fine on this challenge. I have hayfever or some kind of seasonal blossom allergy which is lessening my appetite anyway, which I guess was a kind of silver lining last week! Even so, I got quite sick of some of the things I had chosen – it’s going to be a good long while before I can face a pickled onion again, although if I was having to eat on less than £1 a day long-term they are definitely a valuable flavour addition (just not for nearly every meal!).

Here’s the list of items left at the end of 5 days:

  • approx 30g tomato purée
  • 20 teabags
  • approx 125g mustard (about 2/3 of the jar)
  • approx 200g pickled onions & pickling liquid (just under 1/2 of the jar)
  • 230g cornflakes
  • 810g flour*
  • 250g carrots*
  • Maybe 70g peanut butter (about 1/5 of the jar)
  • 378g red cabbage (plus about 1/2 a tupperware container of slaw leftover, and maybe 200g of the stuff I cooked)
  • The vast majority of the salt!

* 330g of the flour is in the freezer, along with about 250g of the carrots, which made spectacularly brick-like carrot bread. I had been planning to take this bread on my journey but it was too heavy and unpalatable, so I will defrost it some time to use as something like beanburger bulk filler.

There are no potatoes or split peas left. Unfortunately I did not consume all of the split peas, I had an accident where I dropped one of the containers and at least half of the cooked peas spilt over the cooker and the floor and I didn’t feel they could all be saved (although I did rescue and wash off what I could of the ones that fell on the counter-top).

This means over the course of 5 days I’ve consumed

  •  690g flour (2450cal, about 65-70g protein, some calcium, iron, niacin and thiamin)
  • 1500g potatoes (1155cal, 30g protein, some vitamin c, iron, b6 and magnesium)
  • about 280g peanut butter, 290 minus 10 for what’s left of the slaw (1898cal, 73.9g protein)
  • 270g cornflakes (1007cal, 20.25g protein, an average of 45% rda per day of vits B1, B2, niacin, B6, folic acid, b12 and pantothenic acid, and 30% rda of iron)
  • about 220g carrots, 250 minus 30 for what’s left of the slaw (90cal, 2g protein, beta carotene to make vitamin A – sources vary really widely in their estimates, I’m going to guess I averaged 50% of the rda, but that’s a very very rough estimate)
  • 542g red cabbage, 892 minus 150 for what’s left of the slaw and about 200 left of cooked cabbage (168cal, 7.6g protein, about 100% average daily vitamin c rda)
  • Approx 500g cooked split peas (590cal, 40g protein, 22mg iron)
  • And a few odd calories and nutrients from the onions, mustard and the greens I foraged.

Calorie total for 5 days is approx 7358, which divides to 1471 per day. I lead a fairly sedentary life although I do a reasonable amount of walking, and I’m not tall. To maintain my weight I probably would have needed to eat about 200-250 calories more per day. I certainly could have done this if I hadn’t been scared of running out of the peanut butter and rationed it more carefully than needed, or if I’d managed to eat more cornflakes.

Protein total for 5 days is approx 223.25g, which divides to 44.65g per day. That’s a bit low, I would have been okay if I hadn’t dropped the split peas, or been miserly with the peanut butter.

I hadn’t expected to hit the targets for everything, I don’t think I did, and that’s fine for this length of time. If I had been doing this for 10 days, or had combined with someone else so there was £10 to spend for 30 meals rather than £5 for 15 the whole thing would have been a great deal easier and more palatable, but doing it this way has made me even more grateful than usual that I don’t live in a food desert!

Once again, I should stress that I am exceptionally lucky to live in a big city, within walking distance of several large supermarkets with ‘value’ ranges of foods, and who need to price their other items competitively. I have easy access to the internet so I could price-check most of the items I was interested in online (the only one I had to visit in person to view the prices was Aldi). I’ve been looking at the World Bank’s report on extreme poverty and realised anew that I can’t begin to conceive of the kind of life that people living on less (sometimes much less) than £1 a day are having to put up with. Many of the countries with large percentages of their population living at this level have average life-expectancies of 50 or less. The percentage of people with access to the internet, television or even radio is far far less than in my country. I feel helpless when I see how vast the situation is, and yet according to that report there are less people in what they class as absolute poverty than there were 30 years ago.

I don’t know what the solution is, at all. I really wish I did. I hope that donating to poverty-alleviating charities does reach the intended targets in a timely fashion, and I will continue to save where I can so that I can donate what I can, and hope others will do the same. It’s also worth considering what volunteering work could be done, either in charity shops for organisations providing aid, or in food banks to help communities who are struggling closer to home – if we can lift our own societies out of relative poverty the government will have even less excuse to reduce aid they provide to those in countries who need it most. And if you’ve read this far and have any pet schemes for helping to raise people out of poverty, please let me know in the comments section!

Day 1 – evening

I wasn’t planning on going anywhere by car to buy food, I was going to get it all on foot, but I unexpectedly had the opportunity of a lift to Asda where they are selling 1.5kg (which worked out to 6) potatoes on special offer for 87p, so I’ve got my spuds after all. I even got half of them baked for me!

I took the rest of my daily portion of slaw and 2 pickled onions in a container with me to serve over a potato, but ended up just eating a half-potato as I have been strangely un-hungry this evening. I will eat the rest cold over the next couple of days, but I also saved the other 3 to boil/mash/add to soup.

Since I’ve got everything I planned to, pretty much, here’s my final list for the week:

  • Tesco yellow split peas, 500g – 53p
  • Tesco value cornflakes 500g – 31p
  • Tesco value crunchy peanut butter 340g – 62p
  • Tesco value silverskin pickled onions 440g – 30p
  • Tesco value self-raising flour 1500g – 45p
  • Tesco value mustard 190g – 25p
  • Tesco value teabags (40) – 20p
  • Tesco value salt 1000g – 25p
  • Sainsburys tomato purée 142g – 20p
  • Asda ‘Extra Special’ Rudolph potatoes 1500g – 87p
  • Aldi red cabbage (weight not listed, but weighed by me at 1270g) – 45p
  • Aldi carrots 500g – 27p

That leaves me 30p as I couldn’t decide between a jar of jam, a bulb of garlic, an orange or lemon, and I was even kind of tempted to buy some Love Hearts sweets, even though they probably have even less nutritional value than the jam.

I don’t know if there’s much point in my costing out each day’s worth of food (I did make a start but it got fiddly with all the components in each thing I made), but I will run through what is left at the end of the challenge and work out the total spend and average nutritional intakes that way.

I already know I have enough here to last the 5 days in terms of calories and protein and will do roughly okay with regard to some vitamins and minerals although I’ll be falling short on a few things e.g. essential fatty acids and B12 and won’t manage to make the 5-a-day fruit and veg goal unless I eat more dandelions and other freebies.

I’m lucky to have plenty of spare time to source the cheapest item from each store, cook from scratch, and to own the equipment and know-how to carry that out, and I know that has made my cash go a lot further.

Prep for next week, part 2

Back from my journey to Aldi, followed by a walk into the city centre. The good news: I got a 1.27kg red cabbage (grown in the UK) for 45p! This is by far the cheapest I’ve seen red cabbage in a supermarket, they’re usually about 80p a kilo. The bad news was that there were no fresh potatoes available for less than £1. They had 500g bags of carrots for 27p, and I decided to buy one of those instead of a 1kg bag for 49p, even though it works out at 5p more a kilo, because I think 100g of carrots a day will probably be sufficient and it gave me a bit of extra cash to play with.

carrots 500g 27p Aldi

I left Aldi and walked into town via the medium-sized Sainsbury’s on Humberstone Gate. I was hoping for better potato luck there, but the only loose ones they had were bakers for £1.25 per kilo, so I didn’t get any, but what I did get was a special offer tin of tomato purée for 20p, which I think is going to make my split peas taste a whole lot better, so I’m really pleased with that! That means I have £1.17 left to spend.

tomato puree 142g 20p Sainsbury

I also dropped by one of the Tesco Express shops in town. They didn’t have any usefully-priced potatoes either, but what they did have (although I didn’t buy them) were 500g bags of oats for 68p:

oats 500g 68p Tesco

Now, you can get 1kg bags of oats for 75p in Morrisons, larger Tesco stores and Aldi (they didn’t have any today though), so these aren’t the best value around, but if I end up being desperate for oats with less than 75p left it’s worth knowing about them, as until now I thought 75p was the lowest price available for oats.

Prep for next week, part 1

I’ve already got my dry goods ready to go, and I’m just about to take a trip to Aldi for the fresh veg. I’m not a regular Aldi customer as it’s not within my usual walking area so I was a bit dismayed to read on someone else’s blog that the 39p potatoes I was hoping to buy there were part of a special offer which ended last week.

I have £2.09 left to spend, and I was aiming for a red cabbage (45p), carrots (49p) and potatoes (which I thought were going to be 39p) which would have left me with 74p for a jar of cooking sauce/tomato puree and a bulb of garlic, or some jam, or a litre of soya milk – I hadn’t quite decided yet. If I just buy cabbage and carrot that leaves me with £1.15. I could either just buy a couple of loose potatoes, or I could spend the whole lot on a big bag of potatoes, or 65p on a bag of frozen basics chips from Sainsbury’s leaving me 50p for more flavouring options. Ack, I dunno! Maybe I’ll just leave the potatoes altogether for now and see how I get on! Might be good to have some spare pennies.

I really dithered about whether to set up a fundraising page for the challenge next week or not. In the end I decided it couldn’t hurt to make a quick way for people to donate if they felt like it, so here’s a page for Unicef, partly because they say they’re already in place to help those affected by the dreadful earthquake which has just happened in Nepal. https://www.justgiving.com/dropsconelbl15

I’m also open to suggestions for other charities, preferably those that are already linked up on JustGiving or another site which offers mobile phone text message donating, because donating by text seems not to incur an admin fee so 100% of the donation goes to the charity.

Live below the line 2015

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, Canada $1.75 and Australia is $2. 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.

I am so boring

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!



is how much I’ve spent so far this month.

Unfortunately that’s partly because I caught a sickness bug over the weekend, so haven’t eaten much and didn’t feel like going anywhere. I was also saving my money for a trip to London tomorrow, as I have a free ticket to the Grand Designs show which I thought might be interesting, I’d bought my coach tickets last month for a fiver each way plus booking fee, and I was planning on rounding up the day by going to the third anniversary of London Vegan Potluck, however I’m not sure if I’m still contagious or not so can’t risk preparing food for a load of people, and am not sure I’ll feel up to going anyway, as I had to leave work after 50 minutes this morning after trying to eat a ginger biscuit, which was a surprisingly bad idea.

Yesterday I did manage a brief stroll around Aylestone Hall and Gardens in the afternoon, as part of my quest to visit all the free attractions in Leicester. This is a very pleasant garden, with some beautiful flower beds and handsome trees.

It’s not a large park, and the noise from the busy road slightly mars the tranquil vibe but it’s worth a look if you happen to be in the area.