Monday, 29 June 2015

Last day of Live Below the Line – raised £1,217 for Unicef

This year’s Live Below the Line campaign ends today.

Although I did my five days feeding myself on £1 a day from 26 to 30 April, to raise funds for Unicef and awareness of global poverty, the campaign continues until the end of June.

This year, I hesitated before participating, and finally decided that if I was going to do Live Below the Line I should really go for it.

So after all the planning, price comparisons and shopping I updated this blog, posted on Facebook, tweeted my progress, emailed virtually everyone in my address book and put out an appeal on a weekly work bulletin.

Today, I am both astonished and touched to have raised £1,217 for Unicef. Many, many thanks to everyone who has contributed.

The role call of donors is almost overwhelming: parents, siblings, cousins and godparents; friends from school, college, flatsharing, fellow bloggers and the school gates; work colleagues from assorted jobs and voluntary work; plus the big boost from the fee for my article in the Sunday Times, and donations from some complete strangers who read it.

I don’t think you can do Live Below the Line and emerge unaffected by the experience.

It gives a tiny glimpse into the soul-destroying reality of living in extreme poverty and struggling to afford to feed yourself. To me, the hardest part of Live Below the Line isn’t hunger, it’s the fear of it, the multiple anxious decisions and the social isolation.

In addition to the big issues about poverty, inequality and the distribution of resources, Live Below the Line has made me much more conscious of food pricing, sensible shopping, meal planning, healthy eating and minimising food waste.

(Winning tickets to see Blur in Hyde Park, after filling in a Live Below the Line survey, was pretty fantastic too. I’ll put that one down to karma.)

I first did Live Below the Line three years ago, and the impact of those few days still continues.

I remain immensely grateful that for me, due to an accident of birth, it’s a temporary challenge rather than the grinding reality, day in, day out, for so many others.

If you could spare something – anything – today, to help more than 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide, do consider a donation.

This is the link to my fund raising page:

And if you have any questions about the campaign, or about participating yourself, do ask!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Week 3 Store cupboard challenge update

Our third week of eating down the food in our cupboards, fridge and freezer contained culinary high points as well as low moments, much socialising (for us), limited food waste, and a lot more food shopping than originally intended.

I've listed the meals we ate in my previous post.

Roll on week 4!

Culinary highlights were the red lentil and bacon soup, which I have every intention of repeating, and the roast pork which worked out really well and has provided several subsequent meals. 
Using the extra mince mixture from lasagne to make cheesy topped cottage pie created fine comfort food from a long-forgotten box in the freezer, and I enjoyed the coleslaw even if the children didn't.

The low point was the veggie meat balls made from black-eyed beans, sweetcorn, oats and fajita seasoning. The recipe seemed a fantastic way of using up store cupboard ingredients, but really I reckon the “meat”balls needed deep frying in half a truck load of oil to make them properly crispy rather than softly disappointing.

I also tried making cauliflower and broccoli cheese in advance, resulting in overcooked veg, so I’ll need to tweak the timings in future.

Food waste
We were invited out for a couple of evenings, which was great, but meant a couple of meals I’d planned didn’t happen. Unfortunately half a red chilli pepper and the inside of the coconut went mouldy before I’d had the chance to use them – at least the waste was limited to 43p.

Wow. On a store cupboard challenge where I’m meant to be eating up the food in the house, and limiting money spent, I really blew the budget this week.

Looking back, my spending was driven by:
  • Specific events: a cooked breakfast on Fathers Day, and inviting a couple of families over for a barbecue, then buying different food when the weather forecast was rubbish.
  • Yellow-stickered bargains which I find hard to resist
  • Restocking fresh food (e.g. fruit, veg, milk, cheese)
  • Taking advantage of a cereal offer of 3 packs of Kellogg’s cereal for a fiver, so we also got vouchers for two free tickets to Legoland at some point in the next year.
  • Ingredients to fill gaps in planned recipes, like mozzarella for movie night pizzas, or hot dog sausages for mini toad in the hole.

The grand total came to £70.21 in cold hard cash, and £3 from a Co-op voucher.

Day 16 Co-op supplies: £20.78 plus £3 voucher
Spot the Fathers' Day breakfast items...

Day 17: £20.49 after £1.23 overcharge refunded
I only went in for sugar...the barbecue stash

Day 19 Dash to Morrisons: £25.35

Barbecue alternative & cereal offer

Bargain squash + husband's essential coffee + forgotten bottle of squash: £3.59

So in week 3 I ended up spending more than six times as much in cash as the week before, plus only a tenth of the vouchers. Painful.

Although none of the food will be wasted, I’ve ended up with more food in the freezer at the end of the week then the start, quite the opposite of my intentions for the store cupboard challenge!


Week 1 spending summary
Cash spent on food: £52.24 
Vouchers spent on food: £6

Week 2 spending summary
Cash spent on food: £6.65 
Vouchers spent on food: £30

Week 3 spending summary
Cash spent on food: £70.21 
Vouchers spent on food: £3

Running total after 3 weeks
Cash spent on food: £132.10
Vouchers spent on food: £39
Total value: £171.10, of which £62.34 has yet to be eaten.
So after three weeks on the storecupboard challenge, more than a third of the supposedly essential top-up food has yet to be eaten. I really should be able to batten down the hatches and spend less next week!
On the bright side, over the first few months of this year my food bills were running at £67 a week for a family of four.
During the challenge, I’ve spent £44 a week – down by a third.  
What other ways do you recommend for cutting your food spending?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Week 3 eating from the store cupboards: meals

I've kept going with the store cupboard challenge, although my spending on food shot up this week partly due to the combination of Fathers' Day and a couple of families coming over for lunch on Day 20.

I bought food for a barbecue, which was all relegated to the freezer when the weather forecast was rubbish, and I ended up buying stuff for an entirely different meal.

Anyway here's what we ate in the end:


Breakfast: Porridge with banana
Lunch: Sandwich thin with ham, soft cheese, cucumber and tomato
My Husband's Packed Lunch: Ham, soft cheese, chutney and salad sandwiches, plus leftover apple pie and toffee sauce
Dinner: Baked smoked mackerel in breadcrumbs with rice. Served with mixed veg for the children, and black-eyed bean and sweetcorn salsa for adults.

Lunch in a hurry, then we all ate together early evening. The children have eaten baked mackerel in the past, but today it caused more resistance.


Breakfast: Porridge with raisins
Lunch: Leftovers lunch of tinned tuna, artichoke hearts and rice salad
My Husband's Packed Lunch: sandwich, fruit and lemon cake.
Children’s Dinner: Pasta in tomato sauce with grana Padano and broccoli
Dinner: Veggie meatballs in tomato sauce with wholewheat pasta and broccoli

I finally tried some more of the Pizza Express light dressing from an Approved Food order aeons ago, and it was fine. The tomato sauce was not a great success with the children, and my husband was not a fan of the veggie meatballs made from tinned black-eyed beans and tinned sweetcorn. Suspect I didn't fry them in hot enough oil in the first place. 


Testing out the lentil and bacon soup

Breakfast: Porridge with banana
Lunch: Lentil and bacon soup with tuna and sweetcorn sandwich thin
My Husband's Packed Lunch Salami sandwich, lemon cake
Dinner: All invited out for a family barbecue

I finally used up some red lentils that had survived the house move, combined with some of the cooking bacon bought at the beginning of June. Great tasting version of lentils! Lovely time out at a family barbecue in the evening.


Breakfast: Porridge with banana
Lunch: Lentil and bacon soup with rolls with yogurt cream cheese and cherry tomatoes
My Husband's Packed Lunch: Two sausage rolls with cherry tomatoes and lemon cake
Dinner: All invited out

Today I survived a whole morning of sports day for my daughter, followed by a whole afternoon of sports day for my son, with only very brief time off for good behaviour in the middle when granny and I sprinted home for some soup. We were all invited out again in the evening, so no time for photos of food, just Bo Peep and PE Ted riding a sheep, all as part of Hadleigh's Year of the Sheep at the start of Sports Day. They duly reappeared for the second session, and re-ran all the same gags. 


Breakfast: Forgot
Lunch: Lentil and bacon soup with yogurt cheese, tomato and cucumber on a sandwich thin
Children’s Dinner: Mini toad in the hole with broccoli, plus strawberry and banana smoothies
Dinner: New potatoes with chorizo and roasted peppers

The soup was tasty even on the third day running, and new potatoes with chorizo and roasted veg were minimal effort while I cooked ahead for the next day. I had fun making mini toad in the hole for the children, with strict instructions about who wanted toad in the hole, and who wanted plain yorkshire puddings served alongside frankfurter sausages.


Breakfast: Porridge with banana for me, croissants for everyone else
Lunch for 10: Roast leg of pork with crackling, chipolata sausages, mashed potato, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli cheese, gravy and apple sauce. Berry lemon cheesecake and roast plums with cream
Children’s Dinner: Movie night baguette pizzas with olives, cheddar and mozzarella, plus yogurt tubes
Grandparents’ Dinner: Cheddar topped Shepherd’s Pie using lasagne mix from freezer, with sugar snap peas and mangetout
Our packed lunch on the train: Rolls with leftover roast pork, cucumber and mango chutney, cherry tomatoes, satsumas.

Another day that passed in too much of a rush for food photographs. Two families came round for lunch, and the bargain leg of pork proved very handy when the dreadful weather forecast put a stop to any barbecue. There were lots of great leftovers however, as photographed. My husband and I also discovered two days before that we'd won tickets to see Blur at the British Summertime Festival in Hyde Park, after I filled in a Live Below the Line feedback survey. So the grandparents very kindly stepped into the breach to babysit while we zoomed up to London for the concert. Brilliant night.


Fathers’ Day Breakfast: Bacon, sausages and fried egg with toast and orange juice
Breakfast: Pancakes with banana, grapes and strawberries for the children, porridge and banana for me
Lunch: Rolls with leftover roast pork and mango chutney, home-made coleslaw and mozzarella, tomato and cucumber salad. I had a sandwich thin using up the last tinned tuna and artichoke heart.
Children’s Dinner: Sausages with gravy and leftover mash and carrots, plus strawberry and banana smoothies. Crumpets with jam.
Dinner:  Cheesy topped shepherd’s pie with the remaining lasagne mix and leftover mash, peas.

The excitement of seeing Blur the night before was a great start to Fathers' Day, which continued with a cooked breakfast for my husband and pancakes for my daughter and my son. At lunch time we had a picnic lunch outside in the sunshine, where my attempts at coleslaw were rejected by the children because it wasn't as sweet as the school version. Pah. All the more for me. Dinner time marked the final demise of the lasagne meat mix, squirrelled away in the freezer since Boxing Day to be given new life as shepherd's pie using leftover mash.

Snacks throughout the week
Fresh and tinned fruit, with the addition of value range natural yogurt in my case
Home-made lemon drizzle cake
Chocolate crispy cakes for school sports day refreshment stand
Bread or crumpets and jam
Yogurt and fromage frais tubes

Treat for the children after swimming lessons: Fruit Shoots, packet of crisps from a multipack and a hot cross bun each

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Losing hours amongst the lavender beds

Lavender beds and path before...

This evening I declared that I would just nip outside for half an hour, to weed the lavender beds either side of the path to the front door.

I thought it would be a quick job. Two straight beds, and some tidying up of the cracks between the paving.

The advantage for me in dealing with these particular beds is that I know exactly what is meant to be in them - lavender and nothing else. Makes it a lot easier for a novice gardener to weed, with no dilemmas about whether a strange plant should be there or not. Lavender - stays in. Anything else - out.

Yet somehow it is three hours later, and I've only just finished.

...and after weeding, as the light dims...

I sat on the path prodding and pulling and yanking and clipping over enthusiastic grass.

Meanwhile the children wandered about, went in for their baths, and came out in pyjamas.

My husband went out for his run and returned.

The children skipped about with bamboo poles and discussed feathers and showed me laborious writing and absconded with my abandoned gardening gloves and re-appeared with contraband jam sandwiches before finally disappearing off to bed.

And I kept on poking at unwanted plants, levering them out and filling the garden waste sack.

Who knew two small beds and a path could contain so many weeds and grass and stones?

The golden light dimmed, slipping away and leaving me in twilight, as I brushed earth from the path and watered the little lavender bushes.

...and after watering, as the light disappears.  

So now the path and the lavender beds are much neater and more tidy.

Next morning: lavender in the sunshine

But I wonder if the weeds took with them some of the romance of an overgrown garden, enclosed and enchanted behind that low door in the wall.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

My Mirror Online article: 5 of the best budget food bloggers

Smiley faces on the Mirror Money website

I read an awful lot of frugal food blogs preparing for Live Below the Line, when I fed myself on £1 a day for 5 days to raise funds for Unicef and awareness of global poverty (sorry for another plug, it’s an interesting challenge, great cause, and is still running until the end of June if you fancy taking part or can spare anything to donate).

So last week I wrote an article for the Mirror website about five of my favourite budget food bloggers.

Familiar names like Jack Monroe (aka A Girl Called Jack), Frugal Queen and Thrifty Lesley are fantastic sources of cheap recipes, and I mentioned Skint Dad for his fakeaway series. I also added Pat Parker’s friendly Facebook group: Feed Yourself for £1 a Day.
It is always hard to cut a long list down to just five, and I did cheat by cramming in a few more links at the end of the piece (Penny’s Recipes, The Skint Foodie, North/South Food, Natural Kitchen Adventures).

Many of the frugal living blogs include great recipes among a myriad of other useful advice, and I am sure there are many more excellent blogs that I haven't stumbled across yet.

However, there are also several blogs I found particularly helpful for Live Below the Line, but either don’t have continuing posts, or just had limited parts relevant to Live Below the Line. 

Here are some I particularly enjoyed:

I’ve put the link to the first post in Sue’s 2014 challenge to spend no more than £1 a day on food, plus any food from existing stores in the house, vouchers, discounts, donations, prizes or the garden. This particular challenge is now finished, but fortunately Sue continues her normal blog at Our New Life in the Country

The author decided to spend January 2014 feeding himself on £1 a day, and describes it in his own unique way. Ever read The Rosie Project? It does remind me a bit of this blog.

Written by a keen cook who did really interesting recipes, with everything from making his own pasta and warka wraps to living it up on yellow-stickered sea bream. I’ve just seen there are even a couple of posts this year, so maybe he might be back!

Back in 2012, Masterchef finalist Koj did Live Below the Line, and posted some of his shopping and recipes here, with inspiration for stretching a chicken and cooking with split peas and pearl barley.

Originally generated by posters in the MoneySavingExpert forums, still available in archive, with sensible meal plans and recipes.

Lots of good advice about healthy food on Live Below the Line, even though I won’t be starting my days with spinach smoothies any time soon.

I only came across Yumsome after doing Live Below the Line, but her food looks delicious and the photos are beautiful.

Which blogs do you turn to for inspiration on low cost but interesting food?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Week 2: Store cupboards before and after

Back at the end of May, I took photos of my kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer as I was determined to eat up some of the stocks. 
Here's the original post: store cupboard stock check challenge.

This is the result a fortnight later - some progress, but still a way to go!

Main food cupboard before

Main food cupboard afterwards: a few tins and bottles gone, some sugar added

Big fridge before

Big fridge afterwards: bit less, no fruit juice, more jam jars of leftovers

Freezer before

Freezer afterwards: Bye bye pizza, ice cream and sausages,but still full

Small fridge before

Small fridge afterwards: loads of elderflower cordial, not much else.
Top of the green cupboard before

Top of the green cupboard afterwards: jam and cereal decimated, children complaining

Mantelpiece before

Mantelpiece afterwards: fewer raisins? I'm clutching at straws here.
Dry stores before

Dry stores afterwards: fewer potatoes, more cake (bonus)

Hidden snack stash before

Hidden snack stash afterwards: more drinks, different crisps

I haven't posted new photos of the herbs and spices and mug cupboard because there's no real difference. We also have a big 12.5kg bag of potatoes in a cupboard which I've forgotten to photograph both times.

During the fortnight, I made three shopping trips for additional fresh food to stretch the supplies, some of which has made it past the ravening hordes and into the stocks.

Here's the shopping:

Morrisons on Day 2: £6 vouchers, £38.39 cash, daughter extra

Co-op on Day 3: £7.07 cash
Co-op on Day 11: £30 vouchers, 14p cash

The only other items bought were a bargain leg of pork and coconut, some citric acid to make elderflower cordial and a load of Fruit Shoots, which cost £13.29 altogether.

Running total after 2 weeks
Cash spent on food: £58.89
Vouchers spent on food: £36
Total value: £94.89, of which £39.44 has yet to be eaten.