And the food mountain is reduced

Since shocking myself at the amount of food there was in my kitchen, I am still planning meals around the Food List.

On Saturday night we had Greek Pie.

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This was made with the puff pastry loitering in the freezer, passata bought earlier in the week, onions and garlic from the food mountain, herbs,spices and the other half of 500g mince. It was ample for four portions, served with potatoes, baked beans and broccoli (one of the Aldi super six this week). Cost of pie based on ingredients purchased to make it, 53p per portion. I still have potatoes left from the £1.99 bag, so they will take me well into next week. I am guessing that each serving of spuds is about 10 p per person with milk and butter added to make mash. Baked beans are 25p and brocolli 49p.

I made a chicken dish on Sunday. Pollo impanato alle noci con mozzarella. Sounds a bit fancy, it’s not. Used up bread in breadcrumbs to coat chicken breasts, after I bashed them with a rolling pin. A tomato sauce and some mozzarella cheese and pasta. Of which I have plenty. It worked out at about £1.70 a portion, the most expensive meal I have cooked all week.

The last of the bacon hiding at the back of the fridge was used for Sunday breakfast. Lunch was carrot soup. There are still some leftovers from various meals that will feed us all for lunch the next couple of days. We are really loving our leftovers this week.

I plan to look at the food list and check off what I have used and tally up my food spending for the week at some point. I have definately spent less and it has been satisfying to know that I am limiting food waste.

World War I poster. "Waste not, want not....

World War I poster. “Waste not, want not. Prepare for winter. Save perishable foods by preserving now.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I plan to do now is to donate any unopened items that I don’t think I am going to use to the local food bank. I know that I am fortunate to have so much food and know that others are not so lucky. I cannot afford to waste food yet if I am not going to use it, that is wasteful and I would rather someone who will use it, have it.

This exercise has taught me is to only buy what I need and to plan more effectively. A good store cupboard is the basis to be able to eat well on a budget, but having more than you need is wasteful. Food you don’t use, filling up your kitchen cabinets, fridges and freezer is just the same as filling your living rooms with clutter you don’t need. Building a collection of spices and herbs is acceptable but three jars of pesto with mould growing on them (yup had to bin the pesto) is not. Buying something because it is on offer is fine if you know you need it and will use it, but if you don’t and won’t, that is wasteful and will only add to the kitchen cupboard clutter.

I have used up the pastry, most of the sausages, the cooking apples and vegetables from my list. Utilised the leftovers in the fridge to make budget meals. Leftovers that in the past may have gone off and then thrown away. Yet I have had to throw some food away. On closer inspection the cream and the pesto was past the sell by date and eat by state. I hope this is the last time I have to do this.

Those lentils are still there though. And that is the difference between someone like me who has to keep to a sensible food budget yet isn’t inclined to eat lentils and the person who has no choice as they have no money to buy anything else. And there, by the grace of our employer, the Job Centre, the bedroom tax, the redundancy notice and the mad men in Westminster, go all most of us.

Spendy Sunday redeemed by a thrifty Monday

Short post today (and a bit of a rant)

The flu bug or whatever I have has decided to come back with new nasties. Week 4 and I am now really fed up of being ill. If I had to add in the cost of all the medication, prescription and over the counter I had bought, I would be struggling to live on the IDS £53 let alone on £1 for the Live Below the challenge. As it was all these costs were in March and now I am just powering through it with the help of Diagnosis Murder re runs. So no drugs denting the budget in April so far.

I don’t think this governement factored in the cost of being sick if you are on a low income, because even if you get free prescriptions, the cost of over the counter drugs can be very expensive. The form you have to complete to apply for reduced medical costs such as prescriptions is so very long and complicated, it is quite frankly off putting. The threshold for eligibility is relatively low, so I suspect a lot of people don’t bother to apply. Another benefit that potentially thousands of people are not claiming.

Back to the subject of a month of monitoring spending

I am living on water which is keeping my food bill down today. Which is just as well as we did spend rather a lot on Saturday. Then on Sunday the OH announced that he needs a new satnav. His old one (I am guessing it is about 7 years old) finally stopped working. He does a lot of driving in his job and claims he would be lost without one. As he is on a temporary contract and working for a cash strapped library service, this cost has to come out of his own money. We did some cost comparisons and Argos was the best price at £80. It is a local shop within walking distance of home so at least we kept to shopping locally. Yet is was another big chunk out of our limited budget.

We treated ourselves to brunch too

On Sunday we had the not very pleasant task of sorting out the bedroom of my mom who passed away in January. She was, it would be fair to say, a bit of a hoarder. To brace ourselves we went to Warley Woods cafe for a small breakfast each. At £3.99 each including a mug of tea (and the small breakfast is actually quite a big one), so we were working on a full stomach. This cafe is owned by a local person, so not only were we spending our money locally, we were spending it at an independent. There is free wifi there and views of the golf course and the park. A very pleasant place to visit, at any time of the year.

No other spending though

All other food shopping had been completed on Saturday our total spend was £88 on Sunday, which for us is a lot for one day. No shopping today (Monday) as we will have left overs from Sunday Lunch for supper tonight. Lunch today for the rest of the family has been leftovers from Saturday. While the spend on Saturday was well over budget, the food is stretching over a few days. I am hoping this will balance out the budget over the next three weeks. Time will tell.

Budgeting for unexpected purchases

If we were having to live on a restricted budget, we would never have had the spare cash to buy a satnav and the other luxuries such as new clothes and a bottle of wine with supper. And what if a major appliance or the central heating boiler broke down? Where do people who earn the minimum wage or live on benefits find money for such emergencies? They can’t afford to save for a rainy day or a holiday.

Being grateful 

I am lucky as I have a small amount of savings and my husband works so we can, for now, find the money for a sat nav and the occasional brunch. Yet there have been times when we have not been so fortunate. A few years back we lived on what was then Income Support for over a year. We had no car and no holidays. What saved us then was the generosity of our parents. And not everyone has parents who can or would help like that. It was horrible being dependent on hand outs and worrying if we would lose the house. Every day I count my blessings. I am grateful that we can afford to eat well, treat ourselves to a brunch, but I never forget what it was like to have to have no money in the bank and pay for my gas and electric on a pre pay meter. 

And on taking a gamble

On Saturday we frittered away a tenner on some horses. We had some wine with supper. If I was on benefits I am sure someone, somewhere would accuse me of being a typical product of the welfare state, wasting money on booze and bookies. Well, I will let you in on a guilty secret. Many years ago, while being totally dependent on the Welfare State I spent my last pound on a lotto scratch card.

I won £50 and have never bought another scratch card again.

You never forget your first moussaka

Mine was on the ferry from Piraeus to Crete. It was 1979, the end of my second year at uni, and I was travelling with Sara, Rob and Elli in a camper van though Greece. On a whim, or because it was the first ferry to sail, we decided to go to Crete.

The signs indicating the location of lifeboats were in French and English and the walls were decorated with views of the White Cliffs of Dover on this former English Channel ferry. Yet there was no doubt we were in Greece, surrounded, as we were, by extended Greek families with their belongings wrapped in colourful blankets, tied up like a sack. Old men smoked their strong cigarettes, older women with headscarves slept on their makeshift sacks and children played games on the deck. I didn’t see a goat but it wouldn’t have surprised me if I had.

We were travelling deck class. I was contentedly cocooned by all this hustle and bustle, the shouted conversations, the clatter of the backgammon games, the welcome gentle breeze after the heat of the day, the prospect of sleeping on deck under the stars. I didn’t think it could get any better. And then I found my moussaka.

We had descended into the chaotic deck class canteen, heaving with hungry travellers. Burly chefs guarded the food in giant catering tins, with ladles as weapons, to beat us off if we didn’t take it in turn. It was a scene reminiscent of an old school dining hall, hungry children queuing for food while dinner ladies kept us in line. Except in Greece there is no such thing as an orderly queue.

The moussaka was divided into huge portions. Meat sauce, rich with tomatoes and onions, interweaved the towers of aubergines and potatoes, held firmly together by a thick white sauce. A savoury layer cake, glistening in olive oil. I pushed my way to the front of the gesticulating crowd, caught the eye of one of the cooks, pointed at the moussaka and thrust a few thousand drachmas into his hand to seal the deal.

Moussaka. It’s as if all the food and flavours of Greece have collided in one dish. Giant red tomatoes, ripened in the sun, deep purple aubergines, lamb combined with cinnamon, fresh oregano, custardy béchamel sauce, made with Greek yoghurt and fresh eggs, left to cook slowly all day, then cooled so it could be cut into slabs. And this moussaka had been cooking long enough for all the spices, herbs, tomatoes and olive oil to meld together; the taste of Greece in one delicious mouthful. My senses were bombarded, and Alice in Wonderland like, the moussaka said, ‘Eat Me!’

I’d been in Greece for about two weeks and had got used to lukewarm Greek food. I had discovered salads bursting with flavour, sprinkled with salty feta cheese; so unlike the English limp lettuce Sunday tea salads. Yoghurt and honey for breakfast, enormous juicy melons and apricots, souvlaki, retsina and Fix beers.

I had enjoyed meals in taverns on the beach and high in the mountains. Food was good, plentiful and cheap. Yet this moment has stayed with me. I can still smell the aroma of herbs and spices, can still see the olive oil seeping out of the sauce, and recall the taste of my very first moussaka.Image