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.

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I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment, borrowed from the library, naturally. It’s called Consider the Fork, by food writer and historian Bee Wilson. I’m only a couple of chapters in but this history into the nature of the tools intrinsic to our kitchen habits is fascinating. So far, Wilson has discussed pots and knives, two vital components in the modern kitchen, not necessarily the case in years gone by.

She was discussing one pot cookery and those paragraphs certainly leapt out at me. Food in a pot, bubbling away and smelling delicious is primal. Nothing is better in this wet, wet, wet November we’re currently experiencing than a hearty one pot meal. The best of the bunch? Soup. Hands down. In Autumn and Winter, soup becomes one of my main food groups, which also includes wine and roasted parsnips. Not to mention being incredibly cheap to make. My latest batch of curried vegetable and lentil soup, as seen above, probably costs around 30p per portion. And that’s for a decent sized bowlful.  My latest batch of soup was a good one, but they all follow the same basic principle.

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1) Dice vegetables. Add to pot.

2) Add stock to pot.

3) Add spice, seasonings and flavouring to pot.

4) Bring pot to boil.

5) Simmer for a nice long time.

6) Blitz to a creamy loveliness.

This isn’t fancy soup with crème fraiche or chopped fresh herbs or pre-cooked veg sautéed in bacon fat. That would be a delight, sure, but this is more basic, more instinctive, simple and delicious. That’s my favourite kind of food.

My little den

It saddens me when I don’t have regular time to check in with the blogging world. I miss keeping up to date with postings from people I’ve followed for months. But then, when you only have a certain amount of time between sleeping and working, some things do tend to take priority, like seeing friends, doing laundry and cooking.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking lately, and writing about it too. My new venture into writing a student lifestyle book is coming along wonderfully. It’s a subject I’m truly passionate about and I think that’s coming across as I write.

I would like to be more consistent with my posting and my activity within the blogging community too. I’m going to carve out two mornings a week where I can dedicate an hour at the library solely to The Domestic Storyteller. That should give me a chance to not upload the latest instalment, but also read and learn from others’ posts too.

As much as I miss consistent access to the internet, there is one huge upside. I do get more done. Instead of scrolling through webpages before work, I read more and write more. Instead of spending hours catching up on television programmes on various services, I can improve my little flat. After making cushions, I was ready for another project.

The dark wood coffee table was unwanted by my parents, who kindly brought it with them on their last visit. It was accompanied by sand paper, a pot of paint and two paint brushes. Armed with instructions from my knowledgeable father, I set to work on transforming this piece. It was the only dark-wood item in the flat and I much prefer it when things match.

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IMG_0618 IMG_0620Whilst I had the sheet out and the paint brush wet, I thought I might as well cover up the faded wood of the stool too. It’s the perfect size for a bedside table for my chap to use.

Thanks to these cheap, personal touches, I really do feel like I’m home in my flat. It’s not much and it’s a bit shabby, but as a friend commented on seeing it for the first time; “You’ve done well here Rebecca.” I’m inclined to agree.

PS I’ve just updated my About page to put down in black and white my new intentions. I’d love to hear what you think! http://thedomesticstoryteller.wordpress.com/about/

Inspiration from unlikely sources

It sometimes saddens me that I don’t have the same allocation of time as I once did for blogging. I am woefully behind on reading all of my favourite blogs, it may be impossible to read everything ever typed. If I was perhaps more organised, I would arrange my posts at the start of the week, timing them to post every other day. But the thing is, that’s not what blogging is about for me. It reflects my life in a particular moment in time. Something may have caught my eye that I feel the need to express an opinion on. Or I’ve made something that I am keen to share. I am envious of organised bloggers who consistently write engaging posts. But alas, it’s not my way. Thank you all for sticking with me and sharing your thoughts and comments on my posts. I truly appreciate it.

My flat is pretty free from distraction. I have no internet, nor a television. The evening’s entertainment mostly consists of reading – I’m working my way through the stock at the library! For days when I’m not at work, I find it much easier to fall into my writing. I’m currently working on a teen fiction fantasy novel, which is still in the planning stages. But I have begun actual writing on another project, a non-fiction piece. And this is the book that prompted me to write it . . .

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My partner bought this with a voucher and was quite pleased with his purchase. Being an inquisitive cook, I decided to take a gander at it’s pages. I found it disappointing, but my boyfriend accused me of being unfair. For a beginner’s book, it does have basic recipes regarded most suitable for students; Bolognese, omelettes and so many versions of the same mayonnaise-laden pasta salad, I lost count. Sure, it’s fine. By solely using this book, it would nourish you better than takeaways.

But the book did serve a purpose. It prompted something in me that I felt the need to respond to. And so, I’m writing my own student advice book. It’s a recipe book, a funny book, an advice book and an all-encompassing document on student life and how to deal with it. I feel qualified to write such a piece after three years at University. I’m hoping it will evolve into something quite special.