Soup

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Much soup eating has occurred in this house since November. Partly because its cheap, partly because its warming but mainly because its easy. My cooking mojo upped and left for a while and, honestly, it’s not completely back but with soup you get something wholesome, healthy, simple and usually edible. It’s usually the perfect way to meld those random ingredients into a meal. The above soup is tomato and lentil , one that seems particularly versatile and easy to throw together. Just onions, garlic, lentils, tomatoes, some veg stock and some herbs/spices. Nothing complicated. Sometimes I might add carrots or sweet potatoes. Maybe some chopped spinach might find its way in. All good.

Some other soup ideas are: minestrone, tomato and coconut, lentil and vegetable, roasted root vegetable, leek and potato, lentil and sweet potato, lentil and roast garlic, tomato rasam, Hungarian bean and paprika, courgette and rice (with pesto) or Thai banana and coconut.

Do you have a favourite soup?

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baked apologies

I'm sorry. I haven't been baking and therefore have been a terribly  poor participant in vegan bake month. I am in awe of the beautiful breads, pizzas, cakes and spring rolls below… but have mainly been making juices, smoothies, salads, sushi rolls and things like that… but there were some baked potatoes.

Ta da!

Tatties

I had great plans to then photograph them served with baked beans (misleadingly named, I think they are boiled in the tins) and rice salad but was ADHD style distracted by reading, writing and sunshine… that keeps happening…

However, though there is no photo, I did make a very nice salad with the extra ones the following day: cube the leftover baked tatties leaving the skins on, roughly chop two oranges and a cucumber. Dressing: a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard beaten up with a tablespoon of walnut oil and some lime juice… lovely 🙂

An unexpected salad on an unexpectedly hot day

Well thanks glorious weather! You have completely ruined my menu plan. The thought of making and eating shepherds pie on such a hot day exhausts me just thinking of it. I want crisp cool salads and warm juicy fruit but it’s March and summer sun missed fruits are nowhere to be found. (I don’t count “imported from the other side of the world” or British grown “never seen daylight just UV light” foods).

Fortunately there were plenty oddments of vegetables that were unessential to the rest of the weeks menu languishing in the fridge. The last of the lettuce, a handful of spinach, some old broccoli stems I had been saving, celery, a few spring onions and a homemade mayonnaise made a light and creamy salad. All that was missing was that mouth pleasing crunch of croutons.

Frugal five: saving on the food shop

'Frugality' and 'austerity' are two words which have  catapulted into our lives recently. Losing my job when pregnant was hard enough  but now it is compounded by increases in bills, the mortgage and  fuel costs as well as changes to working tax credits. We have never been forced to cut back as much as now.

I know we're not alone in having to drastically cut back our expenses and honestly some days it can be down right depressing but on the whole I view this recent self imposed austerity as a challenge.  (I like to view most things in life as an exciting challenge, a bit like a computer game with achievements to be unlocked…even the crap achievements).

What I absolutely refuse though is for it to impact on the quality or imagination of our meals. I don't think we have to eat pasta 5 days a week (and anyway, pasta and a tomato sauce no longer seems a cheap meal option any more ) and I don't think we have to entirely forgo the occasional treat. What we do have to do is think more about what we eat and be as savvy as possible with the money.

We've been cutting back on our expenses gradually over the last few months and weeks and so far here are my top 5 tips for saving money on your food shop.

1) Menu plan. I love it when a plan comes together.

I am a very recent convert to the menu plan after discovering that it not only saves me money but I no longer have to think every day about what I will make  the following day (and I can see at a glance how balanced the weeks food is nutritionally). It takes a bit of time initially but keep previous weeks plans and after 6 to 8 weeks they can just be rotated. To get me started I had 'themed' evenings so I knew that one night was pasta night another curry or Mexican…that sort of thing.  My plans also contain things I need to remember to do such as put beans on to soak the night before or take something out the freezer to defrost.  Thats not an essential part of the plan but it invariably saves me from going to make dinner only to find the pastry is frozen solid. (As  a slight aside most menu plans seem to just focus on evening meals but  I like to include lunches, snacks and baking)

Note: Once you have started menu planning make sure everyone in the house knows the score. If you have all been in the habit of dipping into the cupboards and fridge to snack on leftovers or crackers and dips it may take some adjustment especially if those leftovers now represent tomorrows lunch. If necessary make it explicitly clear they are not to be picked at. This may mean designating a shelf in the fridge or in the cupboard to foods which can be snacked on or colour coding containers so that people keep their hands off!

2) Write a shopping list…and stick to it!

Go through your menu plan and make the list as detailed as possible. Try and remember all the things not included. Do you need oil, margarine or …it's easy to miss something important. Sometimes at this point you can already see that your weeks shop is going to be too expensive so you might need to rejig your menu plan. That's ok though as remember once you have a few weeks worth of plans and lists you can just rotate them. Keep a copy of the shopping list for this reason.

Note: send the strongest willed person into the shop. You've made a list so if it isn't followed it becomes null and void. Supermarkets are run by devious people who have analysed human behaviour and therefore target our weaknesses. Be vigilant! If you know that one member of the household can't be trusted not to fall for the BOGOF or the seemingly reduced products then DON'T let them do the shopping. If that's not doable then try getting it delivered. Even if there is a delivery charge you may still save money that would have been spent on unnecessary items.

3) use key basic ingredients which can be used for multiple meals.

 I would not be without onions, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, a couple of fresh herbs and something green (spinach or broccoli for example).  Here's how I would consider using them:

The first 4 ingredients can be used as a flavour base for meals such as soups, stews, chilli…carrots and celery will also find their way into sandwich fillings and salads. Potatoes are still a cheap and filling carbohydrate and are versatile enough for it not to get too repetitive through the week.  Boiled, mashed, baked, roasted or made into wedges they can go into salads, be smothered in gravy, topped with beans or served with chilli or a burger. I like to eat my greens as they are a such an important source of magnesium, iron and calcium so there are always one or two green things on my shopping list. Coriander and parsley are the two fresh herbs we always have. Coriander will go with curries and chillies and parsley with almost everything else. Not only do they add flavour but can be considered as a green vegetable providing the same nutrients. Parsley is also very good for kidneys and urinary tract and coriander is a blood  cleanser. It's like eating superfoods at every meal.

4) Why buy it when you can make it? Or, don't buy it bake it!

In previous years I was the opposite of this but now, if I think something could be made cheaper and/or better, I'll do it. I make every meal from scratch with the only exception being the occasional  bean burger (but i make the chips!). I also make my own breads, rolls, chappatis, flatbreads, worcestershire sauce, biscuits, cakes…you get the idea. Yes, i could buy value range biscuits, beans and bread and it might work out cheaper but by making my own I can have luxury high end  items at a fraction of the cost. I may be trying to save money but I still want good quality foods for my family.

Note: making your own doesn't mean spending all day every day cooking and baking. Many things freeze or store well and I'll make double/triple/quadruple batches of things. It will take minimal extra time to do this rather than making the same item from scratch every few days or week.  I don't get much time myself to cook but I do have a 2 hour window in the mornings when the baby  will entertain herself quite happily so I get as much of my days cooking and tidying done between 7 and 9. The upside of this is the majority of my days household jobs are done first thing freeing up the rest of my day. This won't work for everyone but other suggestions are to spend one morning/evening a week batch baking for the month or to see if any friends are interested in sharing the tasks (so one person makes a load of cookies and someone else does bread and then share them out).

5) Don't get sucked in by the supermarket

As mentioned above deviousness abounds in supermarkets. 'Half price' items are not always a great deal, BOGOF's are only good value if its something on your list and value baked beans only end up being cheap if your family likes them and will eat them. Sometimes pre packed vegetables work out cheaper per kilo and sometimes not. Sometimes buying a larger size works out cheaper in the long run and sometimes not. It now takes me much longer to shop than it used to because I am checking the price of everything and I always, always look at the cost per gram/kilo to see what is cheapest.

If you are lucky enough to not have to shop at the supermarket consider where you are shopping. When I lived in Glasgow the fruit and veg in the grocers on one street was considerably higher than the fruit and veg in a grocers two streets away. The only difference? The expensive one marketed itself as a deli. There was no difference in the quality of their produce.

(For other money saving tips visit Lucy's  Frugal Living in the UK (UK specific but information applicable for all) . There are also many, many other ways to reduce the cost of your food bill listed and there are cheap recipes too.)

packed lunches

A sandwich

Davie always takes a packed lunch to work. It's far cheaper and healthier than buying things or visiting the chip van. He works hard and needs lots of food. The sandwich above was an experimental mix of redwood turkey style slices with homemade mild guacamole (mash two avocados with the juice of one lemon, mix in a diced red pepper and tin of sweetcorn, chopped fresh chives are good too) which was declared 'awesome'. Other favourites just now include: spicy tomato pate with cheesly and Plamil mayo; avo and peanut butter; sausage and pickle; salad and marmite… lots of other ideas here (scroll down a bit).

As well as sandwiches there's always a sweet thing. Flapjacks are the most commonly recurring item right now but on the photographing day it was these little chocolate fudge cakes made with spelt flour and including quite a bit of golden syrup for the fudgie-ness. White chocolate buttons go fudge-y too when cooked 🙂

Cakes

Sometimes there's soup if we had it for lunch but this time there was an ice cream tub of chick pea and veg curry. (chick pea curry recipe here)

Curry

Pressure cooking beans makes the house smell of flatulence, and almost becoming a lady

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(7am is not the time to be making beans look attractive)

That's the only problem with beans. They permeate and linger and leave the whole house smelling of flatulence. I still do it though and in bulk too! We eat a lot of beans (maybe it's not the beans making the house smell) so the cheapness factor wins through over the smell. After all, I can always just open a window or blame the dog.

It does involve a bit of forward planning. Not much though! I mean, come on, I manage it! Soak the beans overnight (the only bit of planning required) , rinse, put in pressure cooker with fresh water and bring up to pressure (about 15 minutes), cook for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on bean type) and then turn off heat and leave.

It might sound a bit of a hassle but really it's not. Mostly the beans are doing their own thing and I put them on just before having breakfast so I'm in the kitchen anyway and don't have to hang about. Even including the cost of the fuel it's much cheaper than tinned. I then drain, cool and freeze them in handy portions.

I started cooking beans this way when I was 17. Back in the day the only beans I could get tinned were kidney beans so for variety I started buying dried beans and quickly realised the only way to do them was in bulk and in a pressure cooker. There is definitely a greater variety of tinned beans now but they're still costly.

I refused too eat beans and lentils as a child. It was probably a texture thing as I also used to refuse to eat anything which I decided had any texture at all. If memory serves me correctly I really only ate tomato soup and macaroni cheese. Oh, and cake, jelly, ice-cream, biscuits…funny that…somehow all sugar laden foods were deemed to have a good texture…Now I eat some form of beans or lentils every day. Sometimes twice a day. I should add that all rumours of beans causing gas are only vaguely true…I wont go into details. I guess many people think that all beans are the same which is a shame because they are missing out on the variety of flavours and textures as well as their versatility. I'll not bore you with their nutritional prowess but suffice to say they are good for you.

Some other things:
Still organising. It now requires me to get things out rather than just filling bags for charity and stacking up piles for selling. I've found that half the battle is getting started. Before I began the huge organisation I started small because if I achieve something I'm more likely to continue. I started with my bag which began like this:

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(genuine contents of my bag. No purse, no phone. Mainly sweetie wrappers…but a nice pen!)

And is now like this:

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(All brightly coloured so I can find it in my bag)

Look! I'm almost a lady! (In my head ladies are organised, wear co-ordinated outfits, look elegant, have refined manners, don't swear and carry handbags… I have a handbag so I'm almost there)

And finally a question for any sewers out there. I'm in the process of deciding on a sewing machine  and what I want to know is… What is the benefit of all the fancy extra stitches on the more expensive models (other than being fancy)? If it helps I'm planning on using the machine for a whole variety of craft, quilt and clothing projects. Thanks.