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.

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!

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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.

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.

Urban foraging

“Bye for now,” said a housemate recently. “See you soon.” No one knew how soon that would be, but the next thing he said was music to my ears.

“Help yourself to any thing I’ve left.”

His generosity, and that of other housemates who are indifferent to meal planning, resulted in my practically free lunch yesterday. Potatoes, a sweet potato, carrots and mushrooms were combined with my items from my own stores (leftover broccoli, a small piece of onion, gravy powder and a little cooking fat) to make a hearty bowl of goodness. This meal can’t have cost me more than 50p.

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I can’t abide waste, and the vegetables would have been left to go mouldy if I hadn’t used them accordingly. Waste averted and a lovely meal enjoyed.

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Pay day graciously arrives tomorrow and I am completely looking forward to it. I spent my last few pennies on a reduced loaf of bread this morning, but there is still pleasure to be found without costing a coin. I went for a wander this morning to pick up a stack of books from the library, including more WW2 material. I got stuck into these accompanied by a free Waitrose coffee, courtesy of my loyalty card.

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Simple pleasures don’t cost the earth, but I will feel more at ease when my bank balance looks healthier. Roll on Thursday!

Doing it right

Today I went shopping and it was glorious. The purse strings were able to be loosened a little this morning and I had wonderful time meandering around the local charity shops. I also popped into a couple of other high street shops in search of presents in lieu of an ample amount of birthdays in the pipeline. I can’t show pictures, just in case a birthday girl catches a glimpse, but let’s just say I’m very pleased with my purchases. I did pick up one item for myself.

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There is a talk of visiting this fine country in the future and what better way to begin my research than with a book about its famous food. I’m hoping it will tell me more about the varying regions and some origins of the classics.

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I was also lucky enough to find reduced bread in Waitrose. I’m only buying my bread reduced now, I can’t honestly afford it full price and as long as you’re patient, you’ll normally come up with the goods. I’ve visited Waitrose three times this week in search of reduced bread, and today was my lucky day. A loaf of seeded bread and four seeded rolls for the same price as one branded loaf. That’s shopping done right.

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I had a pleasant time this afternoon playing on my 3DS and baking flapjack. I tried a new recipe, using honey instead of golden syrup. It made a large dent in my rations, my jar of honey and box of oats still has to last me the month. But it did yield a good amount of golden bars. The sweet ration is running low, as you can imagine, so I need to bake to make sure I don’t polish off the eclairs!

I’m learning lessons whilst on this ration plan, and I’m going to make adaptations next month. I do think I’m going to stick with it though – my grocery bill is low, I feel healthier and I waste nothing. Not that I wasted much before, but I was guilty of having crisps for dinner or sweets for lunch on more than one occasion. My eating habits are better and I feel better because of it. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken.

Frugal Fridays #16

Today’s post is all about making the most of what you have. This mantra is high on the list of commandments for thrifty people. I personally think it’s very humbling and rewarding to make something out of very little. I thought I’d list some prompts that might spark off your own venture into a more frugal lifestyle.

1) Use your skills.

Money is tight for me right now, there’s no avoiding that. But I would never back away from celebrating Christmas. Hence, I am making a lot of my Christmas gifts this year. I may not be able to whip up some jam, but I’m not too shabby when it comes to sewing. A lot of the people I give present too are female, so I know my handmade items will be appreciated.

2) Go searching for buried treasure.

How often have you been rooting around in the back of your cupboard and have stumbled upon an ingredient you forgot you owned? I’ve done it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. After reading One Pound Per Day, I feel like a lady of the manor with my collections of herbs, spices and flavourings. I’m going to avoid the shops for a while to concentrate on making meals out of my stock.

3) Make your own entertainment.

I had forgotten what it is like to be totally engrossed in reading. I used to be an avid reader as a child, getting through three books a week, no problem. My interest waned when I was forced to read in school, but my passion for books is blossoming once more. I have plenty on my bookshelves that are, as of yet, unread. There is a wealth of free material in libraries, online or amongst your friends. It’s up to you to make the most of it.

I do hope my tips have given you some things to consider. I’m not a frugal lifestyle guru, I can’t even get my own life in order just yet. But I thought I would still share a few things I’ve learnt so far. Please feel free to share how you make the most of what you have.

A self-imposed curfew

The internet is a wonderful thing. It contains a vast amount of information on every subject imaginable, and is being added to all the time. It provides a means of communication all around the world, uniting families and creating friendships. It gives all causes and associations a platform for portraying their opinions. Granted, some don’t use this gift in the right manner (the trolls and their cyberspace bridges come to mind), but it’s still incredible that this is possible.

But I spend far too much time trawling the internet. Click after click, webpage after webpage. I use catch up services, like Iplayer, but also there are a huge number of programmes on YouTube that I love watching. I can lose myself in a fascinating blog and two hours have gone by in a blink. As grateful as I am to the services the internet provides, I do feel that this is perhaps not the most efficient use of my time.

I cannot abandon the web completely. Not only because I couldn’t tear myself away from my beloved blogging, but because it is such an integral tool in University life. The tutors communicate with their students via email. Constructive criticism outlets can be found on Facebook. All details surrounding our submissions and assignments are all found online.

I cannot sever the tie completely. But I can impose a ban on the mindless browsing that normally takes over my evenings. No screens after 6pm – that is my new rule. Now, this will not be the case for every night, I couldn’t give up movie nights either. But I’m hoping this rule will allow me to focus more on my writing, as well as turning my attention towards other hobbies. I would like to read more books, and not just the ones outlined on my course. I would also like to do more crafting, especially in the run up to Christmas. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in other activities. And then blogging about them, naturally.

(PS Thank you kindly for all the lovely likes and comments I’ve received about my brownie recipe – they made me beam!)

Am I lazy?

Students are the epitome of lazy, apparently. The stereotype suggests that we don’t surface from our smelly rooms until midday. We spend what’s left of the day dressed in hoodies, dragging ourselves to class. We then cram in our studying during the early hours of the morning, accompanied by a ready meal and a beer. Well, no, actually.

I’m a morning person, which is a good thing for a student. I like to be at my desk by 9am, notebooks ready and waiting. When you only have nine hours of face-to-face teaching a week, you have to make the most of the rest of the time available. University is all about self-motivation and self-study. If I’m not in the library gathering research books, then I’m reading them with a cup of tea. Or I might be reading fiction, learning what makes them work so I can reflect this in my own writing. I do an awful lot of writing, from plans to essays to timelines to the actual stories themselves. Although creating stories can be time-consuming, I normally find that the time flies by.

Not today though. Today, I have reached for the hoody. All I can think about is getting into pyjamas and watching films. I am burying my head in the sand with regards to upcoming deadlines and progress for my stories. Even my characters seem to be ignoring me today, no one wants to come and play on the page. There is no spark in sight. I feel like hiding under a blanket and forgetting that my responsibilities exist.

Does this make me lazy? You do indeed have to push yourself to get things done, but I would argue it is acceptable to give yourself a break every so often. I’m awful with anxiety about getting things done and completing tasks correctly. When I spend so long with my work during the week, sometimes I do want my weekends to be story-free. I don’t think that’s laziness. I think that’s me attempting to find harmony and a work/life balance. I will only have myself to blame if the balance is off kilter and my life is affected. I can accept responsibility for my own choices, whatever the outcome might be.

(Budget challenge update: A little expenditure today, but nothing too overwhelming. £3.35 for train ticket, 85p on flapjack and £1.50 for bus far = £5.70. So, £48.30 to last 21 days.)

Frugal Fridays #9

Inspired by the activity over at Down to Earth, I have been on a decluttering mission of my own. I have trimmed down my books, DVDs and trinkets this past week and have carried/dragged two generous bags of items to my local charity shops. I could have sold it, certainly, but it felt good to donate to a system that I thoroughly believe in. Plus, I did list a few other items on ebay, they can be seen here. I thought I would try and make a few pennies out of things that were starting to gather dust.

And what did I do to reward my decluttering efforts? Why, I bought more items obviously! Well, not loads more, just two books that I couldn’t resist on a jaunt to the Oxfam Book Shop with the chap.

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First up is Nigel Slater’s autobiography, Toast. I really enjoyed the BBC adaptation of this a few years back, with Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore. Slater inspires me more than any other chef, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.

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I cannot resist a WW2 book when I see them in charity shops, let alone on focusing on the domestic front. Bombers and Mash by Raynes Minns is a wonderful book that I have been devouring ever since I brought it home. It features facts I never knew and several bizarre recipes that I’m summoning courage to try.

So not only have I donated items to charity shops this week, I’ve also managed to donate £5 for these two lovely books. It feels very thrifty to give and take from a glorious system like charity shops. Smiles all round.