Monday, 20 May 2013

Crossing the finishing line

We did it!

In the face of chickpeas, much-maligned value bacon, burnt pineapple syrup, stilton cravings and a school PTFA cake sale on the final afternoon, we succeeded in feeding ourselves on £1 a day each for 5 days.

I can’t say we were ever truly hungry, given the volumes of bread/oats/pasta/rice consumed, but it certainly made us much more conscious of the straightjacket of a minimal budget, the repetitive nature of the meals possible, and the juggling needed to survive.

I am incredibly grateful that for us this was a choice, rather than the grinding reality for so many people, day in, day out. We only had to cope with limited food: throughout the challenge we were always fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, the fuel to cook and heat our home, safe water to drink, the money for transport to work and access to education for our children.

The most common question we’ve been asked since finishing the Live Below the Line challenge was what we ate to celebrate.

A lobster extravaganza? Venison and claret?

In fact, the thing I was most looking forward to on Day 6 was a banana - accompanied by a cup of my normal tea, with normal milk. My husband treated himself to a pot of real coffee, and revelled in eating some cheese for lunch.

After 5 days of subsistence living, and more fried rice than I could shake a stick at, I couldn’t face lavish, rich food.

We started Day 1 with this:

The start: £10 worth of food (plus 12 eggs)

and finished Day 5 with this: 150g oats, 145g rice, 25g dry spaghetti, a bit of jam, loads of tea bags and 85g garam masala, worth about £1 in total.

The end: worth about £1

The remaining oats met a worthy end when I transformed them into flapjack, something which the whole family could enjoy. 

The joy of oat-based snacks
The combination of oats with sugar, syrup and Stork was about as luxurious as I could cope with, and at 7p a piece might even have fitted into a Live Below the Line budget.

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here:

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Day 5 of Live Below the Line – the final countdown

Decisions, decisions.

I woke on our last day running through different combination of food, trying to work out how on earth to allocate the leftovers and still come up with recognisable meals.

BREAKFAST: Tea with porridge with apple 21p or boiled egg and toast 15p

Doh cast my own shadow over the food
We didn’t have quite enough milk and eggs for us both to have the same breakfast. 

Josh opted for a boiled egg on toast so he’d still have enough milk for tea during the day, and finished off the pineapple chunks he’d hoarded from yesterday, while I ate porridge with half an apple. 

Josh took the other half apple into work.

LUNCH: Egg fried rice with carrot and kidney bean burger 24p

Last bean burger marooned in mass of rice
I churned out yet more fried rice for our last day, snipping bacon fat into the pan to replace the oil we couldn’t afford and softened a quarter of an onion and some garlic.

Last night I boiled up 140g of the rice with a stock cube, so I bunged that into the frying pan, along with the last carrot (grated), and the last couple of eggs. 

I’d frozen two of the six carrot & kidney bean burgers from Monday, and fried them so Josh and I could each eat a solitary bean burger with the rice.

Bland on bland
SNACK: Mock minestrone soup with toast 9p

I made some soup the night before that I have called mock minestrone, solely on the basis it had some pasta in it. 

Again, I used chopped up bacon fat to soften a quarter of an onion and a clove of garlic, before adding the last 50g of frozen carrot and 50g of frozen cauliflower from the mixed veg bag, some veg stock, and 50g of spaghetti snapped into smaller lengths to make the soup easier to eat with a spoon. 

Heated through as a snack at tea time, accompanied by a piece of dried toast, it didn’t taste of much but was warm and filling.

Celebrate in style: jam on toast
SNACK: Jam on toast 3p

When the only treat food you have is jam on toast, you start looking forward to it, and Josh and I both enjoyed a celebratory slice on our last evening of Live Below the Line. 

Josh also had another slice of bread and jam at work, plus his half apple (extra  12p).

DINNER: Pea and mushroom risotto 30p

Peas! Cheese! Delicious.
I'd planned a vegetarian meal for our last evening, with the end in sight, as I thought the bacon would be needed to boost morale earlier in the week.

As I frantically chopped yet more tiny pieces of bacon fat into the pan, I felt relieved that I could return to cooking with oil the next day. 

I softened the last half onion and the last clove of garlic in the bacon fat, added 170g of the value rice, and ladled in veg stock from the last cube, simmering in a separate pan. 

A few minutes before the end of the 15 minutes cooking time I added the last frozen mixed veg: 75g of laboriously separated peas.

Finally I added the last 110g mushrooms, dry fried in a different pan, and the 30g sliver of Red Leicester cheese, retrieved from the freezer and grated.

I thought this tasted fantastic, perhaps due to an almost Wallace-and-Gromit worthy delight in savouring cheese for the first time in five days.  

Total day 5, including a couple more cups of tea: 89p for me, 95p for Josh

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here: 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Menu suggestions welcome!

Here's the food left to feed Josh and me all meals, drinks and snacks on our last day of Live Below the Line (plus an apple and some jam, languishing in the fridge). 

Food left on the last day, for all meals, drinks and snacks for two adults

Menu suggestions welcome, especially if you can create anything appetising from a carrot, an egg and some oats.

The food is, l to r from the back (and no doubt sung to the tune of "A Partridge in a Pear Tree"):

3 mixed weight eggs
200 odd ml of UHT skimmed milk
200g porridge oats
Few bits of spaghetti
315g rice
85g garam masala
Lots of value tea bags

Box with 2 portions of mock minestrone soup
Bowl of 75g peas, laboriously separated from the mixed veg bag
6 slices of bread
30g Red Leicester cheese
1 veg stock cube
Single depressed carrot
Single clove of garlic
Half an onion
Box with 2 portions cooked rice

Last 2 carrot and kidney beans burgers, based on recipe from A Girl Called Jack
110g hoarded mushrooms
Box with quarter of an onion, chopped, with a bit of garlic

..."and an apple and a bit of jam forgotten in the fridge"...

I'm so glad we can return to normal tomorrow, without fear of hunger. 

Unicef helps some of the millions of children for whom extreme poverty is a grinding reality, day in, day out. 

If you can spare the £1 that covers my food today, click here:

Day 4 of Live Below the Line - nearly there

We started Day 4 with the smell of burning pineapple syrup.

The Live Below the Line £1 a day budget didn’t extend to sugar, so I tried to create a sweetener for my husband’s porridge by boiling up the syrup from the tin of pineapple.

Unfortunately I then wandered off to load the washing machine and disentangle a toddler from a chair, as you do, and only remembered the saucepan when it had reduced the liquid to burnt pineapple toffee.

So we ate a chilly breakfast on Day 4, with all the windows open to get rid of the smell.

The winner: porridge with pineapple
BREAKFAST: Porridge with pineapple chunks and a cup of tea 21p

Turns out that even without the syrup, my husband actually liked porridge when he could eat it with pineapple chunks, rather than value jam or grated apple. Many cheers.

He liked it so much he even saved some pineapple to eat with porridge tomorrow morning, which is more than I managed to do. 

Nostalgia in a bowl
LUNCH: Egg and bacon fried rice 21p

 Today I used up the extra rice from yesterday to make lunch for us both, with the addition of a smidgen of onion, some garlic, 50g of frozen carrot, 60g of the cooking bacon and a couple of eggs to make it egg fried rice. 

I tried grilling the bacon to make it crispy, but I can’t say it made much difference to the end result. Eating egg fried rice with minimal additions made me nostalgic for cheap backpacking holidays as a student, but Josh said his was a bit dry. 

Jam. Toast. What's not to like?

SNACK: Jam on toast and a cup of tea 4p

I gave Josh the last remaining portion of pea, bacon and cauliflower soup from Day 2 to take to work, and he reported cheerfully that it was quite flavourful.

I had good intentions about making some soup for myself, via the alchemy of a single carrot and a stock cube, but in the end I couldn’t be bothered and just ate a piece of toast and jam instead.


Here’s a photo to give you an idea of Josh’s packed lunches: a box of soup, a box of fried rice, a couple of slices of bread and some jam decanted into a small pot. 

He took in a bunch of value tea bags and some of the UHT milk at the beginning of the week.

Nothing like a comedy car lunch bag to improve your credibility at work.

DINNER: Bacon and broccoli pasta 21p

Bacon, broccoli, pasta - er that's it
Again, Josh was hungry when he got home from work, and delighted when there was enough bread to have an extra slice with jam.

For dinner, I cooked up a decent amount of the bacon, 150g, with all the broccoli from the bag of frozen mixed veg (120g fact fiends) and used 225g of the spaghetti. 

It tasted good even if a bit strange to be eating spaghetti with something that didn’t have a sauce, but penne or fusilli would have been more expensive.

TOTAL Day 4: 68p for me, 85p for Josh with the additional soup, bread and jam.

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here:

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Different strokes for different folks

There’s more than one way to approach the Live Below the Line challenge of feeding yourself for £1 a day for 5 days.

As you can tell from this blog, my approach is to read up on it, research it, compare prices, churn out the spreadsheets and make meal plans, then do a lot of cooking. Throw a whole load of work at it, in fact. When I die, I fear the word “organised” will feature in my epitaph.

But please don’t let me put you off trying Live Below theLine, whether this year or in the future.

Mad? Yes.
Yes, I pursued it in a fairly insane way.

If further evidence were needed, I confess to sorting through a kilo bag of Tesco Everyday Value frozen mixed veg to separate out the peas, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower so I could use them to cook different dishes and wouldn’t get bored by eating the same combo every day.

But I salute those who take a different tack to living on £1 a day to raise money for worthy causes.

In particular, I give you Philthejournalist, who one day blew his pound on oven chips, and seems to have survived on biscuits and bananas most of the rest of the time.


This made me laugh in the face of chickpeas, and worry less about how on earth to turn an egg, a carrot, some garlic, loads of oats and a shedload of rice into lunch on Day 5.

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here:

Day 3 of Live Below the Line

BREAKFAST: Porridge and grated apple with a cup of tea 21p

Grated apple: good on porridge or not?
Day 3 started with our first fruit during Live Below the Line – three cheers for one apple between two. I quite often eat porridge topped with grated apple, although I’d normally go wild and have a whole apple all to myself.

Given his dislike of porridge mixed with value jam, my husband was willing to give it a whirl, but found the apple/porridge combo disappointing compared to his usual additions of sugar or golden syrup. Waste of a good apple, apparently.

SNACK: Toast and jam 3p

I had a headache this morning. No idea whether related to Live Below the Line or not (although I can say with absolute certainty it wasn't a hangover...), but I didn’t feel great even after taking a paracetamol. 

I threw caution to the winds and ate a slice of bread and jam mid-morning, in the hope it would help, and avoided further cups of value tea.

LUNCH: Sweet and sour bacon and pineapple fried rice 14p

Luxury element: ice cubes in water
Lunch and the soup today were made from odds and ends of ingredients, scavenged from other recipes.  I’ve had to spend much more time than normal planning what we’d eat when Living Below the Line, so I could eke out the ingredients rather than face a mound of plain rice.

The starring role this lunchtime went to the 20p M Savers tin of pineapple in syrup from Morrisons.

In the morning I’d cooked 200g of rice to cover four portions, adding a stock cube to the water for some extra flavour.

Then I fried up the bits and pieces – a quarter of an onion, a clove of garlic, 50g of the cooking bacon, 100g of the frozen cauliflower and carrot chunks from the bag of mixed veg and a token 60g of the pineapple. I chucked half the rice into the pan, along with some of the syrup from the tinned pineapple, and heated it through. Ta dah: sweet and sour rice for two people. 

I’m not convinced it was my most successful Live Below the Line meal so far, but my husband liked it as a packed lunch. 

SNACK: Curried bean and tomato soup and a slice of bread 22p

No really, there are some beans
 and veg in there somewhere
Again, this soup for two was created from odds and ends deducted from other meals. 

I held back 50g of the chickpeas from Monday’s curry, 40g of the kidney beans from the bean burgers and 50g from each of the tins of tomatoes, stacking the fridge with tiny plastic boxes. 

To make the soup itself I softened half an onion (eking out the original six as far as possible) with a clove of garlic, before adding the beans, chickpeas and tomatoes along with veg stock, some garam masala and yet more of the frozen carrot and cauliflower.

I even liked the end result: interesting to eat and definitely tasted of something.

DINNER: Mushroom and potato fritatta with grated carrot and a slice of bread 40p

My husband and I were both pretty hungry this evening, and ate straight after the children went to bed. Luckily fritatta is pretty quick to cook.

Five eggs! In one meal!
This evening’s meal used up the remainder of the tinned potatoes from Monday’s curry, with a small amount of the mushrooms squirrelled away from the big pack we started with.

In attempt to make the potatoes taste less tinned, I cut up some of the fat from the cooking bacon and used that to fry some garlic and half an onion along with the potatoes.

Must...step away...
from the butter dish...

In an extravagant gesture I used five of our 12 eggs in this single dish, and made sure the top was cooked by sliding the frying pan under the grill.

We ate it with a slice of dry toast each, and the nearest we’ve come to salad all week: a single carrot, grated, and shared between us. 

I really liked the frittata, even if I’d rather have eaten it with a whole big salad. My husband thought it was fine, but tasted a bit strongly of onion. Think he was missing the cheese and ham I’d normally chuck in.

Day 3 Total: £1.00 per person

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here:

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Day 2 of Live Below the Line

BREAKFAST: Boiled egg on toast and a cup of tea 16p

Ringing the changes, we had a boiled egg on toast each for breakfast, washed down with more value tea bags with a dash of UHT simmed milk. 

No ketchup, no salt and pepper, no butter. I’m getting all wistful about condiments again. 

Now you see it, now you don't...
Maybe better to mourn condiments than consider the living conditions of the Iceland chickens providing eggs at £1.25 for a box of 12. 

I scarfed mine so quickly I forgot to take a photo (plate on left) so here’s a reconstruction with a stunt egg and stand in bread.

Ooh floorboards. A career in
food photography awaits

LUNCH: Chickpea and potato curry with rice 22p

Second portion of yesterday’s chickpea and potato curry with value rice.  

Still warm, still filling, still unconvinced by tinned potatoes but tastier than I had expected.

SNACK: Pea, bacon and cauliflower soup with a slice of bread 14p

Tasted better than it looks,
In true “here’s one I prepared earlier” style, I cooked some pea, bacon and cauliflower soup on Sunday night ready for my husband to take to work on Day 2 and eat with another slice of bread. 

The breadline budget means that my husband has to take packed lunches every day, rather than eating at the work canteen, and I have to be organised enough to deliver a packed lunch before 7.15am in the morning.  

I was trying to riff on the theme of thick, delicious pea and ham soup.

However, my Live Below the Line version involved 60g of the cooking bacon, padded out with  cauliflower from the bag of frozen mixed veg, as I wanted to save some of the peas for a risotto later in the week. 

I added a litre of stock along with half an onion and a clove of garlic, but then only boiled the veg for 5 minutes to avoid disintegration, so it ended up more watery than I’d hoped. 

Still, it tasted OK and helped me avoid hoovering up the crusts from my son’s ham sandwich.

DINNER: Bacon, mushroom and tomato pasta 46p

Value bacon in starring role
Bacon always raises morale in my household, so when I discovered I could get a variant of bacon for only 81p it seemed worth a punt. 

This is my version of bacon, mushroom and tomato pasta, and something we’ve eaten in the past, even if with fancier bacon.

The Live Below the Line tweaks were that I used spaghetti (only 19p a pack) compared to penne (30p a pack), bunged in yet more frozen carrot cubes from the mixed veg bag to bulk it out, rather than the grated carrot I’d normally use and couldn’t add any of the magic ingredient aka wine. 

I chopped up 150g of the thicker bits of bacon from the packet and fried it in a bit of veg stock with onion, garlic, mushrooms. Then added most of the tin of chopped tomatoes, carrot and some veg stock, and simmered for as long as it took the spaghetti to cook.  

I boiled up 200g raw spaghetti for the two of us, which is quite a lot, and had intended the pasta sauce to cover three portions. In the end, we both felt pretty hungry and devoured it all in one meal. Boy, did it taste strongly of bacon, but again it was warm and filling.

Otherwise, my husband came home craving gin and stilton and missed parmesan on the pasta.

I skipped a slice of jam on toast, hoarding bread to have with the omelette planned for tomorrow as well as soup and snacks on other days.

I felt extremely virtuous handing Mr Pog (aged 3) a sausage roll in the morning and a reward croissant in the afternoon, and not filching any of it at all. Very unsure how long that will last.

Day 2 Total: 98p per person

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here:

"The things I do for you"

I want to say thank you to my long-suffering husband.

Day 1 before value jam...
...and after value jam
My husband started Day 1 of Live Below the Line muttering “the things I do for you”, but cheerfully tucked into porridge mixed with jam. 
He was less cheerful after actually eating the jam, and I’m not sure we’ll be adding another 29p jar of Tesco Everyday Value Strawberry Jam to future shopping lists, but I am so grateful that he volunteered to do Live Below the Line with me.

When I first mentioned it, my husband immediately said he’d join me in the challenge, with me banging on about 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty and the shocking rise in demand for food banks even in the UK.

Any money we raise will go to Unicef, which works to ensure that children have clean water, food, health care, education and a safe environment - all the things we take for granted for our own children, but are lacking for so many others.

In our house, I do the cooking and my husband does the appreciative comments and the washing up. My husband reckoned that Day 1 was easier than he’d thought, and said he enjoyed his lunch, made by mixing together the curried carrot soup, rice and carrot & kidney bean burgers in one big bowl. 

My husband even ate the chickpea curry for dinner, when he doesn’t like chickpeas. It apparently “tasted OK, if slightly on the bland side”, which believe me is a rave review for a vegetarian dish involving chickpeas.

So – thank you. And thank you especially for letting me post the “before jam” and “after jam” photos on Facebook, that generated our first donation to Unicef.

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here:

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Day 1 of Live Below the Line

Day 1 dawns, and we final get started on Live Below the Line, feeding ourselves on £1 each for 5 days.

BREAKFAST: Porridge with jam and a cup of tea 14p

Starring my husband as a hand model
At first sight, my breakfast on day one of Live Below the Line is the same as normal: a cup of tea and a bowl of porridge.

The reality is that the tea is made from a value tea bag, rather than the Earl Grey I’d prefer. I’m cautious about adding too much milk as we’re likely to run out later in the week.

I eat more porridge than normal, as I can’t bulk it out with my accustomed banana or raisins, both of which were beyond my budget this week. Instead, I add a dollop of value strawberry jam, with noticeably lower fruit content.

Even the porridge itself tastes different, as I’m used to adding semi-skimmed fresh milk rather than a UHT skimmed version.

One meal down, and I’ve already had to make multiple trade-offs that aren’t quite what I’d like, as nice as I’d like or as much as I’d like. Yet again, I’m grateful this is only temporary, rather than the continual grinding reality for so many others.  

LUNCH: Carrot and kidney bean burgers with rice and carrots 16p

Any resemblance to an animal
face  is purely coincidental
For lunch I tried out a version of A Girl Called Jack's “Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burger” recipe.

I say only a version, because I substituted garam masala for cumin, only had the carrot, onion and kidney beans, and had to do without coriander, oil and flour.  Suspect the suggested mango chutney would indeed have made all the difference, but it stayed resolutely in my store cupboard rather than on my plate.

I had to cook the burgers, rice and soup the day before, so my husband could take his food into lunch. Living Below the Line doesn't allow the leeway to grab food when you're out and about.

I ate the bean burgers with rice and chunks of more carrot from the frozen mixed veg bag. I missed having salt, but it was fine. I’d even be tempted to try the recipe again once Living Below the Line is finished and I can raid the condiments again.

SNACKS: Curried carrot soup with toast 23p, then a slice of toast and jam 3p

A carrot fiesta
Just in case it's hard to
visualise a  piece of toast and jam
One of the trickiest times of day for me is when my children are eating their evening meal, so I waited until then before eating my curried carrot soup and a piece of dry toast. 

Normally I’d finish off the odd left over fish finger or discarded grape, but I managed to restrain myself today. Can only hope my will power extends to the end of the week. 

I also had a slice of toast with some more of the value jam.

DINNER: Chickpea and potato curry with rice 22p

Warm and filling, but
unconvinced by canned potatoes
I figured our will power and enthusiasm would be highest on the first day, so cooked entirely vegetarian meals with a double dose of rice for both lunch and dinner. 

Dinner was Chickpea and potato curry, inspired by Penny's Recipes. I used half the tin of potatoes, as cheaper than ordinary raw potato, stuck in a single tin of tomatoes, used garam masala rather than curry paste and substituted frozen carrot for frozen peas, as there are more carrots than I know what to do with in the mixed veg bag. 

With no oil to cook with, I've been dry frying onions in a non-stick pan, then adding a little vegetable stock to make really sure it doesn't stick. It tasted better than I expected, and was very filling - which was a relief, because we'll both be eating it again for lunch on Day 2.

I drank another couple of cups of tea with a dash of milk during the day, adding another 2p. 

Day 1 Total: 80p per person

To donate to Unicef at Live Below the Line, the global poverty project, click here: