A vegetable-based pondering

We know the deal with meat. Local is good, local and free-range is better, then local, free-range and organic is best. But what are the rules with vegetables?

Both of my local supermarkets supply an array of organic produce. The prices are higher than standard, naturally, but at least there is a choice of products. But what if these organic carrots have been flown in from thousands of miles away? Surely it is more environmentally sound to buy the carrots grown conventionally down the road?

And why should I give my money to the corporate supermarkets? My local greengrocers stocks both home grown and imported produce, none of which is organic. They are very reasonably priced and a family-run business, a rare sight on the modern high street. I have a sneaking suspicion that my greengrocer sells things that do not pass the supermarket standard test. The stickers on the grapefruit look strikingly similar to the ones in Sainsbury’s. If it’s true, I think it’s a marvellous idea, ensuring nothing is wasted.

It’s a minefield, the vegetable aisle. Either you purchase chemical-riddled veg, bred to perfection and cheap to buy. Or you get squeaky clean, odd-shaped veg, all the way from goodness knows where. Of course, the best solution is to grow your own, thus ensuring the best quality with no chemicals or air miles. Sadly, this is not a possible choice when you live in a third floor flat like I do. I know the next step would be an organic vegetable box delivery, but then Dan and the guys at Long’s would lose a customer. For now, I’m going to continue to support my local shop, getting the best value vegetables I can, alongside quality meat. Maybe I’ll give Abel and Cole a call in the future.

The vile truth

This is the book that changed how I view the meat industry in an instant. And I can pinpoint the exact sentence that changed my perception permanently. Page eighty-seven, the introduction to the poultry section. The line reads; “Chickens are bred to grow faster and faster, making them crippled under their own unnatural weights.”

Isn’t that grotesque? To take something as natural as the process of growing and forcing greater intensity to the point where the animal is in pain, mutated from its original form. Besides the holistic notion of the animal’s feelings, manipulating the genetics of a chicken for our own satisfaction is an abuse of science and cruel. We’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with life and death, our new boundaries are yield and profit.

A comment on the blog recently suggested a vegan lifestyle and I can certainly see its merits. Just a few would be the reduced impact on the environment, cheaper and no grossly engorged chickens for dinner. But I am of the belief that we as humans are designed to eat meat. Whether or not you agree with me is a debate for another day. One thing I think we can all agree on is the meat industry needs to be accountable and respectable when dealing with livestock.

As I mention constantly, I don’t have a lot of money. But to eat cheap meat now, after lifting the lid on Pandora’s box, it would simply taste like sawdust. My own actions will contribute to the conquest of the meat industry, to turn the entire operation on its head.

Eating less meat. The most obvious solution had to go first. By cutting back on my meat intake, I won’t be lining the pockets of the dirty scoundrels. Then, when I do purchase meat, it will increase the profits of farmers and companies that actually care about the produce they create.

Quality over quantity. I shall buy free-range at MINIMUM, stretching to organic when my budget allows. I hope to attend a farmer’s market more regularly, but I do have to take a train to Winchester now, instead of just walking there. It’s an additional cost, but might be worth it for excellent quality meat.

Making the most of the meat I buy. Rachel de Thample’s book has so many great recipes. I borrowed my copy from the library, but I’m hoping to purchase one soon. Confession – I’ve never made roast chicken before but I’ve been inspired to do so after seeing what can be created with the leftovers. One whole chicken, one death, instead of multiple to just get the breast meat or legs. Where do all the carcasses go? Oh gosh, that’s another horrible thought, piles of dead chickens, still with meat on the bones because those bits don’t come as part of the 3 for £10 deal at the supermarket.

            My aim is not to upset anyone by using this imagery, but I do hope it makes you think. I can’t stop the fat cats on my own, but with the rise of local, sustainable, free-range foodstuffs becoming more available, we will soon all be heading in the right direction. That’s a road I wish to travel.

Autumnal eating

My apologies. My commitment to daily postings was hindered by working hours and the fact my local library is closed on a Thursday. That’s the downside to free internet, you are at the mercy of those who provide it for you.

The challenge officially ended on Wednesday, with me withdrawing extra money in order to visit the greengrocers. The lack of fresh produce was too daunting to bear. However, I am still on strict economising lines as I still have a week to go until pay day. The freezer and cupboards are still my primary sources of meals/ingredients. Nothing is wasted.

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For example, I had a big Bramley apple that had been sitting pretty for at least a week. I also had a couple of Pink Ladies that were slowly but surely turning an unappetising shade of brown. But luckily, this was only on their skin. Both types of apples were peeled, diced and thrown in a pot with some brown sugar, mixed spice and a little water. The rescue mission was a success.

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There is only one sensible thing to do with stewed apple in November, and that is to make a crumble. I made the crumble mixture in the morning, put it into a jar, put said jar into the fridge and went off to work. There was a big part of me that felt hugely smug to come home to an apple crumble in the making. All I had to do was sprinkle the crumble mix on top and pop it in the oven. Considering I had already prepped my veg and was having leftover savoury mince from the freezer for dinner, it was a speedy meal. Truly, it’s easy once you know how and can spare a few minutes in the morning to get things ready. All I had to do when I came home from my shift was to turn the oven on. And make packet custard of course. Crumble without custard is treason, I’m sure.

PS Another meal out of leftovers; old bread, a cold sausage, rocket, carrot curls, cucumber with the seeds scooped out, all drizzled with mustard and garlic oil dressing. A perfect lunchbox.

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Lean Cuisine

I do so love the library. Not only does it provide free internet access for up to two hours a day, it’s also full of books! I’m slowly but steadily working my way through the cookery section, having previously devoured the entire WW2 section. It’s a brilliant way to sample cookery books that I may have been tempted to purchase, but am now relieved I didn’t.

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If I was browsing on Amazon, this delightful book may have fallen into my virtual trolley. After reading it, I’m very glad to have saved the money. Naturally, it was the title that drew me in, focusing on two of my favourite things: Economy Gastronomy. Co-written by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett, it was a dream to read – very witty and humorous, with helpful advice to boot. But the recipes somehow felt out of reach. The idea of cooking once and making the most of the leftovers was solid, but undeniably geared for families. Little old me would be eating lamb for a month if I bought a whole leg! Some of the ingredients listed went straight over my head, but the photography was stunning. All in all, I think you could tell it was written by chefs, a bit out of my league.

But the book inspired me to get in the kitchen and make sure nothing went to waste. The facts contained in the book were shocking, talking about how nonchalant our culture is about throwing away food. I set out to rescue my on-the-turn vegetables into a simple curry.

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The cauliflower and potatoes were set on to steam. I mixed a third of the potatoes with the last bit of light mayo, cress and chopped basil to make a cold potato salad for me to take in my lunch box to work.

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I gently sautéed an organic onion and the remaining half of a green bell pepper in some garlic oil. I folded through the potatoes and cauliflower and went crazy with the spice tin – coriander, cumin, chilli, organic curry powder, salt and pepper all went in the pot. I used the stock created from steaming the veg and brought it up to the boil. Then I added a decent amount of red lentil, put on the lid, turned the heat down and let it simmer for half an hour.

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Basically, I create six meals for the week ahead out of practically nothing. It’s my kind of lean cuisine, lean in terms of monetary costs to make. It was economical on fuel too, and meant that nothing went in the bin, aside from a few dodgy peelings. Thank you McAvedy and Merrett; that is a lesson truly learnt.

PS Tuesday was a no spend day – hurrah!

Forging a new path

It’s Day One of my latest spending challenge and already, the goal posts have been moved. The Friday night takeaway is no longer applicable and I added the remaining change from my purse to the pot. So I set off to go shopping yesterday afternoon with £17.37 for the week.

I have become increasingly aware of the damaging nature of the meat industry and fear for the ecological future. I have decided to live as sustainably as I can, within my means. A book has triggered my new mindset, more about which in a future post. Even though my budget is minimal, I will be buying local, free-range, sustainable, organic produce where I can. Also, I’m avoiding waste like the plague. I’m making the most of every scrap, so I can make the most of higher quality products.

In Sainsbury’s on Sunday, I bought:

  • SO caramelised onion chutney
  • Tin foil
  • Reduced Black Farmer’s Daughter chipolata sausages
  • SO bananas (6)
  • Reduced Free From Gingerbread man (a snack for me and the chap whilst shopping)
  • Toothbrushes

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The reduced sausages were a great buy. The label reads “British Outdoor Bred Freedom Food Pork.” What more could one ask for? I bought foil, which is not environmentally friendly, but I’m not perfect, goodness no, I’m just trying to do my bit to help the planet. And yes, organic Fairtrade bananas are more expensive than regular Fairtrade, but not by much, and the whole idea is less food of a higher quality.

I then visited Waitrose to get my free coffee (Fairtrade!) and pick up supremely delicious milk. Less than 20p extra compared to Essentials, but I think the flavour is noticeable. Plus, it’s a donation to charity as Duchy is affiliated with the Prince’s Trust.

You might think I’m mad (the chap does!) spending more on food when I could get similar items cheaper. But it’s not just about the money. Personally, I would rather cut out television and instant internet access than nourishing food. It’s starting to feel illogical to live any other way.

I spent a total of £10.77 on my Sunday afternoon trip, as I also purchased a Basic chopping board with the intention of using it solely for meat. I have £6.60 in my purse to last until next Sunday.

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PS This is why eating up the stores is so much fun – my Sunday lunch; GF ciabatta from the freezer, drizzled with garlic oil, topped with the last of the Cornish cheddar, accompanied by carrot batons with the last of my previous jar of chutney and cucumber. Pudding was the last of the packs of finger cakes from last week’s afternoon tea. All raided from the stores but felt very decadent!

PPS: Today, Monday, I have spent £4.40 in the greengrocers and local co-operative. I have £2.20 left.

Red Alert

Warning! Warning! I’ve discovered a delicious new shop and oh me oh my, how my bank balance is going to suffer! I stepped into White Stuff for the first time last week, whilst on a shopping expedition with my sister. I was thoroughly enchanted by its clothing and decor, but most of all, by its homeware collection. I have a deep fondness and affection for owls, and they were numerous in White Stuff. I knew one of them would be coming home with me and it was agonising to choose just one – my Christmas wish list was extended by several feet, of course.

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It’s perfectly fitting after my last post about afternoon tea that I bought the one thing my tea tray was missing. A tea cosy!

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Isn’t it charming? I can’t wait to showcase it at my next tea party. Priced at £11.95, it was an affordable treat.

My other recent purchase was a treat as well. I went out with the intention of finding a pair of black, leather Chelsea boots. It was in the second shop I ventured into that I found them, last pair on the shelf, my size, it was destined to be. And being offered student discount was the cherry on the cake. These practical boots are much warmer than my trainers and more chic that wellingtons. They fit perfectly into my wardrobe.

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Both of these items have a place in my home and warm my heart considerably. Strictly speaking, neither was vastly necessary – I could’ve survived without them. But the joy they bring cannot be measured in cost, although the money to pay for such luxuries does have to come from somewhere.

I save where I can so I can reap rewards in the form of new shoes and owl-themed goodies. However, I need to sow before I can reap again. I do believe it’s high time for another challenge. Next week’s budget is £15 – that’s £1 a day for food, £2 for anything else and £6 for a takeaway pizza on Friday night with the chap. Again, not necessary, but heart-warming. I hope to manage daily posts, so I can write about any purchases and how I’m making the most of my store cupboard, which is currently stuffed with supplies. Wish me luck, and do let me know if you’re tightening your belt too this week. The C word is hovering on the tip of my tongue . . .

Frugal Fridays #21

Out of all possible meal scenarios of one day (elevenses, brunch, supper and midnight snack included), afternoon tea is my favourite. Not only is it an opportunity for cake-based delights and gallons of tea, it’s a chance to use all the delicate and beautiful china I’ve been hoarding collecting. It’s actually quite a thrifty meal, especially if you adhere to the following tips.

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Make your own sandwiches with whatever is in the fridge. Shop-bought sandwiches are never up to scratch. Plus, it seems counter-productive to specifically buy ingredients when you already have a selection in the house. The magic comes with how you cut them. I did fingers of cheese and pickle, triangles of raspberry jam and trimmed my cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches with a cutter. The two different breads I used were bought from the reduced section, not that my guest needs to know that!

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Make your own biscuits. Yes, my home made gingerbread does look quite rustic, but I was complimented on the flavour. I know scones are more traditional, but you can knock up biscuits with minimal ingredients, thus decreasing the cost. I also quite like the different texture biscuits bring to the table.

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If you do buy your cakes, try to get ones on offer. I ran out of time to bake my own, and I’m not entirely confident with gluten-free cake anyway. Luckily, these finger cakes were two packs for £3. Standard cakes are much cheap, and once you add a little garnish (like my raspberries), who would know the difference?!

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Afternoon tea is an indulgence, gosh yes, and by no means a necessity. But it is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the company of a good friend.