Unclutter My Life. Day Two. Too many cookbooks.

I have jumped to Chapter 4, Wednesday Evening, of Unclutter Your Life in One Week. I am sorting my cookbooks into three piles. Yes my life is that interesting. This is how they were stored previous to this sorting process.

The task got started on Sunday afternoon. I think that the fact that I started a Monday morning task on Thursday afternoon (sorting my wardrobe) and a Wednesday evening task on Sunday afternoon gives you some idea of how I approach most things in life. Not a linear person at all. What I am doing however is tackling the jobs I can deal with. It seems to me it is pretty unreasonable to do all the jobs she suggests in 7 days. Others seem to agree, going on some of the reviews on Good Reads. I too am flicking through and cherry picking the tasks that work for me. Letting go of stuff is never easy so why force myself into a place that makes me uncomfortable? The task was to sort them into books I use once a week, once a month and those I rarely or never open. These made it to the less than a monthly/rarely pile. Some have one or two recipes I use occasionally. I checked and they are all available on line. All of these are being offered for sale.

Which books have I kept? My cookbooks nowDelia taught me to cook. Both are over 30 years old. I think they have stood the test of time. The student book is one I use all the time. The Hairy Bikers is relatively new so I have not tested which category it belongs to yet (that said all the recipes are on line) and this is the most used Jamie Oliver cook book. As most of his recipes seem to be availble on line even this may go. The juicing book came with the juicer and I live in hope of becoming a dedicated juice type of person. We shall see. How many cook books do you have and could you get rid of them like this?

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Not buying it – from the Big 4 supermarkets

Not a year without supermarkets, just not using the Big Four

I would love to think I could avoid supermarkets altogether like Team Pugh and I probably could if I was willing to drive to buy groceries. We have some good butchers on my local high street and recently the Halal butcher has increased his range of fruit and veg and everyone who has been there has said how lovely he is. The outside of the shop looks welcoming, which I hope translates into custom.DSCN0285

He also sells a good range of tinned items, dry goods, cooking oil and dairy.  Of course he has a niche market in the Halal offer and the customer service is excellent. I do shop there occasionally, but he is the other end of the high street, so to carry heavy items from there is an issue for me, and to take the car is also a problem as parking outside is limited. I suppose the solution is to get a shopping trolley!

I love Aldi

However the real reason, despite me wanting to support indies is that I like to shop at Aldi. It is good value, good quality and meets most of my shopping needs. I usually go on foot and buy what I need each day, and as by being limited to what I can carry this limits my spending too.

As it was dreadful weather so I chose to use the car for the 200 yard drive or so and stock up on things that are too heavy to carry. Total spend was £54.29 and that included non essentials such a bird food for £6.99, cleaning and personal hygiene items and some of their excellent New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which at £5.79 a bottle is a steal. Potatoes were on offer at £2.36 for 5kgs. At less than 50p a kilo I would be hard pushed to get them that cheap at the markets.

Meal Planning

I am still planning meals on what I have in the house already: dinner Wednesday was pork chops, mashed potatoes, and various veg with a cheese sauce, as I had bits of cheese that need using up and chops in the freezer. Yesterday I made the pasta bake based on this Jamie Oliver recipe. I have also just found this brilliant meal planning resource from Butcher Baker.DSCN5623

Pasta at 29p for 500 g, why would anyone spend more?

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British and Local

What I really like about Aldi is that most of the fresh meat (if not all) is British as is much of the fresh vegetables. We really need to support our farmers. So while I am shopping at a supermarket, it is local to me. I usually walk there and use other local and independent shops and businesses. I am supporting British farmers. Not perfect, but it feels better to me than using Tesco or Asda. I am definitely spending less money and wasting less food by shopping at Aldi. I also visit local farmers markets, usually the one in Harborne, get fresh and dried herbs from Urban Herbs and most of my clothes come from the local charity shops.

My Girl called Jack week

Next week I have 4 days of only feeding 2 people and am thinking of this being my cook like A Girl Called Jack, to use up the lentils, rice and potatoes as the 2 mouths I am feeding will try anything new. The other mouth  The Gamer is off on an Outward Bound type week somewhere in the Welsh Borders with The Princes Trust. His team has to cook once and while he can’t remember where they are going, he has already planned what they are cooking and made a shopping list. And proper cooking, not noodles in pots or sauces from jars and beans on toast. Easy spaghetti bake from this Martin Lewis book.DSCN0435

I am doing something right then.

What are you cooking this week and what are you not buying?

Not Buying It – food I don’t need

We seem to live in a very unbalanced world. We have food poverty side by side with obesity, a whole industry based on making us feel guilty if we choose full fat of anything and while some spend money on food in order to be thinner, the numbers of families dependent on food banks rises. I struggle to make sense of it.

this is what gets thrown away

this is what gets thrown away

And I see food waste every where. Supermarkets are possibly the biggest culprit of food waste. They encourage customers to buy more than they need with various offers, yet apparently one third of the bread we buy is thrown away! Food retailers need to really need to work out how they can support charities more effectively by donating unsold food and not throwing it into skips. I am already on the case on one chain of bakers who throw bags of bread away each day, to see if they can support SIFA fireside to provide breakfast for homeless people in Birmingham. And I am hoping that the recent case where charges were dropped against the men who raided a skip outside Iceland prompts them to work on a policy of working with charities.

surely some of this ccould be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

surely some of this could be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

I like food. I like cooking it and love eating it more. Sometimes I think this blog is more about food than travel. Yet faced with food waste by supermarkets and in the home, I am Not Buying It.

Of course I need food, I need to eat, but how many of us have food that we bought and never use or throw away ? I do, which is why I am not going to buy food I do not need.

One of my very first posts was written at Heathrow Airport for Blog Action Day 2011. I was in the food court, reflecting on how much some of have while others starve. You can read it here.

Food poverty is something that makes me really angry, and the past year or so there have been certain politicians who seem to be in denial that his is happening in a first world country. Ian Duncan Smith can, he told us live on £53 a week ‘if he had to’. I tried to and failed, and again I wrote about it here. In fact I banged on about it quite a bit so feel free to explore my blog to read more.

Then there is the annual Live Below the Line challenge. Five days with only £5 for food. Yes, I had a go at this too.  I would not compromise on nasty value sausages and plastic bread, choosing lentils and other cheaper and healthier ingredients, and some rather good Aldi sausages instead. I was spending slightly over the £1 allowed, but eating very well.

My food hero is A Girl Called Jack. I think she has done so much in the last twelve months to highlight the fact that many of us could end up on benefits and experience food poverty. More than that, she is jolly inventive with cheap food to provide nutritious meals for her and her son. Tinned potatoes and carrots are regularly used in this house now as they are cheaper than fresh. Add a tin of beans, some good sausages and an onion and you have a tasty supper. And the Creamy Salmon Pasta at 27p per portion is lovely. 

Another blog I followed avidly in 2013 was A Year Without Supermarkets. No supermarkets at all for a whole year with a budget of £50 per week to feed two adults and one toddler. And they did it. Indeed the average food bill was less than their budget.

So as part of the whole not buying it in 2014, I decided to really trim my food shopping. I have planned meals around what I had in the freezer, fridge and store cupboards and while I would love to say I have avoided supermarkets, I haven’t. But I will not give the big three (Orange one, Green one and Blue one) my money. They suck you in with the BOGOF deals and you end up buying thing you don’t need.

This month I have hosted a 20 year old French student who is studying English. Like most 20 year old men, he has a big appetite. Annoyingly he seems to be able to eat twice as much as I do and still stay slim as does my 21 year old son. The French student loves pasta and bananas. (only 29p a bag) and I seem to be buying a kilo of bananas a day. Thank goodness for my saviour of cheap food, Aldi. I have visited the open air food market in Birmingham a couple of times, and while it is undeniably cheap, I find by sticking to the Aldi Super Six, is more cost effective for me, as is buying the biggest bag of potatoes. The bargain bananas are 68p a kilo. 

Gateway pie

Gateway pie

So what have we eaten? Despite having those lentils and rice that are destined to haunt me (I know I have to use them) I have been experimenting with new recipes. The Hit and Run Tray Bake has become one of my favourite dinners to make as there is absolutely no faffing. To use up the potatoes I made a student favourite layering slices of potato, onion and bacon bits with a cheese sauce. Back in the 70’s the Gateway supermarket in Clifton had a deli counter where they had all the off cuts of bacon and cheese at silly prices so this was how this recipe got invented, I think. Because I had some spinich lurking in the fridge, that got added too. And I also made the Sweet Pea Fish Pie, another recipe from Jamie Oliver. All of these came to less than £1 per portion and the Gateway pie, as I call it, nearer 50p per person. We have had a roast turkey dinner, using up the half price crown of turkey I bought on Christmas Eve. That £55 has of course been supplemented by food I already had in. I am lucky, I have storecupboard staples and a freezer so that when I do see a bargain I can store it for another day.

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

I suppose what I am saying is that yes it is relatively easy to eat well on a small budget, if you have some basic cooking skills and live near a place where you can access cheap, good quality food. Not everyone does, of course and and not everyone can afford to buy in bulk which is often cheaper. That said, I have two elderly neighbours who buy the Aldi Super Six and split the packet and the cost. They can’t get through a big bag of carrots alone yet still want to save money. Excellent planning!

Planning  is the key to saving money on food, I list what I have in the house and cook around it buying only additional ingredients when necessary. I avoid the Big Three. If I go to the Green one I always end up being tempted to buy something I do not need. And this is how all this Not Buying It began.

Not Buying It – But Borrowing Books

I love books. I really do. My first proper job after graduating was managing a book shop. I have worked in the library service. I love book shops. My favourite one at the moment is Scarthin Books in Derbyshire. If you have never been, you are in for a lovely surprise. Independently owned, it is an Aladdin’s cave of books. It has a lovely cafe and a wonderful view. Even the loo is worth a visit.

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I have all sorts of books, novels, travel books, cookery books. And it is hard to part with them.

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I have spent the last year weeding out my collection of books. I had too many. I need to declutter. I have probably got rid of over half my collection and the Jane Austen and Bronte novels I bought in the 1970’s were the first to go. That was hard. I knew that I would never read these editions again (I will re read the novels again and again) because the print is too small for me to read.

The process of deciding which ones to part with involved a lot of emptying of shelves and stacking of books. And a lot of dusting.

The sorting of the books begins

The sorting of the books begins

My cook book collection

These are in the kitchen and are all cookery books, with one or two gardening grow your own type books (I plan to and never do).

Two bookshelves in the dining room.

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The collection in the sitting room.

Books in the sitting room

Books in the sitting room

The ones I am thinking about donating or maybe not.

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I was tempted by a bargain book at the Green supermarket a couple of weeks back and as documented in a earlier post, I did not fall to the temptation.

I won’t be without my best friends though because I can get all these lovely books, for free at my library.

Currently on loan from Sandwell Libraries

Currently on loan from Sandwell Libraries

Twice a week I got to Make Friends with a Book, a shared reading group, that has four groups in Sandwell Libraries. I love the going, it is so relaxing and everyone is so welcoming and friendly. I am a little bit a lot biased as I was part of the team that sourced the funding, five years ago, to bring shared reading to Sandwell. The groups share short stories, novels and poem, all read aloud. There is always tea of course. The conversations that we have, when reflecting on what we have heard are always interesting. On Monday I admitted to being very much like the young boy in Powder, who, as he always thinks ahead, numbers his coathangers. (I don’t number them, I do have a system though).

As well as meeting to share books, the group have gone on theatre visits too. Most recently to see a Christmas Carol at the Birmingham Rep. they have also been to Stratford to see The Tempest and All’s Well that Ends Well.

Make Friends with a Book go to Stratford

Make Friends with a Book go to Stratford

Many of the short stories we read are from a collection put together by The Reader Organisation, who were the pioneers of shared reading with their Get into Reading groups. The facilitators of Make Friends with a Book in Sandwell were trained by them.

To find out more about shared reading in Sandwell visit the Make Friends with a Book website here.

I am looking for a good home for my collection of feminist novels by Fay Weldon and my Harry Potter books.

The Harry Potter and Fay Weldon books currently seeking a new home

The Harry Potter and Fay Weldon books seeking a new home

Let me know if you can re home them.

Not buying it – winter boots

The cat peed on my favourite leather boots.DSCN0356

They are not new boots, possibly 6 or 7 years old. I got them on sale but they were still about £80 or so. They meet nearly all my requirements. Flat but not frumpy, a good grippy sole for when it is icy. Good quality leather. Look good with dresses and jeans.

Now they are a bit stinky. Cat pee is stinky.

What to do?

I reluctantly decided that I may have to buy new boots as my only other boots are these.DSCN2215

Great for camping.

Not so great for an interview, or for a meeting.

My other favourite boots did not survive this weather last year.DSCN3732

I went boot shopping. I hate shopping and I hate shoe shopping. Not a shopper.

I spent three hours looking at boots, trying on boots, long boots, brown boots, and got fed up with shopping and I looked online and I really liked these boots from Toast. Met all my criteria for boots, see above, but not the price, see below.

Then I read this.

In this article Jessica Seaton, director of Toast, replied that her 14-year-old company seeks out women or men “with intelligence and something special about them”. She added that on “a couple of occasions” people of colour had been found who fitted this description. Is she really implying that black models simply aren’t bright enough?

I didn’t buy any boots. Not even those lovely ones even though they are on sale.

I reasoned that if I really want to make travelling my lifestyle and want to be in warm countries most of the time boots were probably not a priority. Heavy and bulky to carry and absolutely not needed in the countries I want to visit.

I was also incredibly shocked by the high cost and low quality of most of the boots in the shops. The average price was £150. The ones I got close to liking were over £200.

No boots. Not buying any boots.

I cleaned my leather boots inside and out. Saddle soap and a bit of Multi Purpose Cleaner and they don’t smell any more. Worried that they may foam in the rain (this has happened to me before).

The cat won’t pee on them again as I now put them away in the shoe cupboard.

And if it snows it will be wellies and socks.

Not buying it – a winter coat

If I had been in need of a winter coat there are some fantastic bargains out there. Not in the sales but in my local charity shops.

Last week I spotted what appeared to be a brand new beautiful camel wool and cashmere Mark and Spencers coat at £15 and an Eastex coat, probably last season, for a tenner. Both of these coats would retail at well over £100 if not more.  I nearly faint at the price of clothes when I go into Birmingham as it has been such a long time that I have bought anything new or not on sale. I cannot understand how people can afford to buy a new winter coat every year or why they would need to.

If I were not, not buying it I would have been tempted by the camel coat as it was such a bargain. But I don’t need one. I have plenty of coats. One for every imaginable occasion.

And for unimaginable ones too. A cyclone in Fiji? No problem, I have my trusty £5 bargain kag in a bag. The most useful item of clothing on my world trip. More about this here.IMG_7742

And I already have one camel coat I never wear as I am afraid it will get dirty. That was my TK Maxx bargain 6 years ago and based on a cost per wear ratio the most expensive at £50. It is a good coat for interviews though, I feel very grown up and sensible in it.

My oldest coat is 21 years old, and is now showing signs of wear. I call it my Scottish Widow coat as it is black wool and cashmere, almost ankle length and has a big hood. I was a pram pusher with another child at primary school when I bought it so needed a coat that would keep me warm and dry as we walked to school. It has now been relegated to being worn only in extreme weather conditions, yet this may be its last year (especially if I move to a warmer country). On the cost per wear ratios a bargain at £30, less than a quid a year.

I inherited a Gloverall Duffle Coat. Warm, practical, and who knew, Duffle Coats are back in fashion this year. Thanks mom, your overspending on and hoarding of high quality clothes will benefit me this winter. However the four Burberry Macs you left me are destined for another home via Vestaire.

I have the more glamourous Chamonix faux fur evening coat, for when I attend red carpet events or a spring lunch in the snow. (The second one has happened last March). This was also a charity shop bargain, £30, for a coat that retails at about £300. Cost per wear ratio not brilliant but it has been loaned out to friends and family. I may also be destined for Vestaire.

For days at antique markets I have the wool Cotswold Collection jacket, again from a charity shop. £10. DSCF1408

I also have one ski type jacket that I bought in a discount store in Cornwall as we were camping and it was raining. And a Jaeger dog-tooth coat, charity shop, not worn for over 8 years, maybe it needs to go?

I make that 7 coats and jackets. Is that too many? I would love to know what you think and share the secrets of your coat closet? And, have I, like mom, got the hoarding habit?

I really this not buying it year will be good for me, my purse and my wardrobe. What are you not buying this year?

Not buying the cook book – step one of not buying it in 2014

Most of us, even those of us who don’t make resolutions at the beginning of the year are looking to find ways to cut back on spending at this time of year. For some of us it is because we spent a lot at Christmas,  for others it is because we are facing higher fuel bill and the last few winters have been very cold.

My cook book collection

I am cutting back for two reasons, I want to save up for more holidays and short breaks, and I want an uncluttered home. I am in the process of re reading Not Buying It and planning to incorporate some of the principles into my life. I am continuing my mission to clear the clutter in my house and mind. I have also been inspired by Team Pugh, the guys behind A Year Without Supermarkets, who plan that 2014 is their Year with Less and will be following their progress with interest. The first rule of decluttering, for me, is to stop bringing more stuff into the house. I am hoping that by not buying things I do not need will not only save me money but also reduce the amount of stuff crap we seem to have accumulated over 30 odd years.

I think I passed my first test of temptation earlier this week when I popped into a local supermarket. Those of you who read my posts will know that I am not a big fan of supermarkets, especially the ones who offer bogofs and other such marketing ploy that tempt you to buy things you really did not plan to buy or more than you need. And it is so easy to get sucked into the lair, with jolly background music, amazing offers at the end of every aisle and heavy discounts on my weakness, books. This week I had to visit the big green supermarket to return an unsuitable Christmas gift, and as I did not have a receipt  I was refunded via their store card. I decided there and then that this was going to be my only visit in 2014 so I would need to spend the £5 today. I was also very keen to avoid making another trip there in the car, hunting for a parking space and negotiating zombie like shoppers mindlessly filling up oversized trolleys with food and bargains and stuff. So I had a mindless wonder around the shelves (a rooky mistake, no list) and then I saw it. It was a cookery book that had been recommended, and it was reduced from £14.99 to £5. Bargain! And somehow it found its way into my basket and before I knew it I was heading to the tills, giddy with the notion that I had bagged myself a bargain.

Just in time I remembered where I was and realised that I had fallen under the retail spell. I then gave myself a good talking to reminding myself that I had reduced my hoard of books at home by about 50% in 2013. And I really did not need another cook book. And I put it back. I did manage to spend the £5 (on some rather good wine from New Zealand) and now I have no reason to shop there again. Later today I am going to the Birmingham Markets, to see if it is cheaper to shop there than the discount supermarket I usually buy most of my food from. The Super Six fruit and veg offers are good value but I am finding it a struggle to get through a kilo of carrots or sprouts (made soup, frozen the sprouts) especially now we don’t have the chickens who used to get a lot of the excess veg.

Join me on the Not Buying It journey and see how I get on.

Despair has set in

To tell the truth I don’t know if the £53 figure bandied around is for one person or a family. After my last blog about this when I saw in black and white how much my weekly outgoings were just on what I consider essentials (including cable and internet) I got a bit down. When I saw what our income would be if we were dependent on benefits compared to this figure the truth hit home. And I got a bit depressed because if my husband lost his job tomorrow, we would have to make some drastic changes to our lifestyle. Add to this all the Margaret Thatcher stuff in the media and I was well and truly fighting off the Black Dog. I thought it wise therefore not to attempt to blog (although I did draft some random thoughts about sausages).

Because I was in a grump, I lost the shopping receipt for Wednesday.  I know I bought peppers and some Creme Fraiche and the bill was about £5. No idea what else was purchased (which illustrates how shopping can become a mindless activity and why tracking your spending is a useful if painful exercise). I made fajitas using these ingredients plus items from the freezer and store cupboard. I use a fajita kit which is the nearest we get to a ready meal in this house, yet once you add up the cost of the ingredients it comes to about £8 for feed three people, which is not cheap. This meal may be coming off the meal plan.

Thursday we had a French student arrive to stay with us for three months, who will be sharing some meals with us. This will inevitably add to my overall shopping bill. I am still not sure how to divide the costs, but as I like spreadsheets I may have a play at dividing food, overheads, luxuries and clothing, depending on how I feel of course. You can see that I need a distraction from other more important tasks. Like sorting 30 bags of clothing and filling in tax forms.

This was my Thursday shop:

Water 1.99
broccoli 0.79
oranges 1.49
grapefruit 0.29
tomatoes 1.29
mushrooms 0.85
leeks 0.89
sweetcorn 0.32
single cream 0.69
double cream 0.85
pork steaks 2.69
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I had previously noted that we seemed to be lacking in fruit in our diet and the French Boy said he liked fruit for breakfast so this seemed to be a reason to ensure there was more fruit in the house. As it was his first meal with use I did go a bit overboard with the supper making pork chops with mushrooms and cream (the first thing Delia Smith taught me to cook) with some vegetables and used up some potatoes and onions in a Pan Haggerty recipe I got from The Bearwood Pantry. It was really lovely and there are plenty of leftovers for lunches. Seven meals (as I also used up two pork steaks from the freezer). Total for the ingredients was £8.26 which is £1.18 per portion. Not bad even if I say so myself, as it really was very tasty and seemed luxurious.

What has struck me is that the seemingly luxury meal cost a lot less than the supposedly cheap and cheerful option. A bit more work went into it, I am not sure that double cream is a healthy option for every day, yet no packet was opened in the making of this supper. That is a good thing, yes?