Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Mmmm rice pudding...

One of the hardest things about budgeting for my Live Below the Line challenge was giving up my morning porridge. So one of of key reasons for including milk in my budget (although its had many other uses this week!) was so I could make rice pudding for breakfast. 

What I didn't realise was quite how much milk rice pudding uses - I mean, there's hardly any rice in it! And of course most recipes use full-fat milk and involve a host of other tasty ingredients such as cream, nutmeg and (most importantly) sugar - all of which I don't have.

But I gave it a go anyway - here's my rice pudding, made with half skimmed milk, half water and with a few generous spoons of lemon curd stirred through instead of sugar:

I appreciate that looks rather like a fried egg, but you get the idea.

Anyway, the best part about it that it was delicious! Pretty creamy even with the low fat content. And super-easy to make on the hob (despite a boiling-over disaster). So if you fancy a lower fat version of this classic pudding try experimenting! Though I think if I had the choice I'd replace the lemon curd with honey...mmmmmm.

Don't forget - still time to sponsor us here! 

Live Below the Line - dinner 4

There's no getting away from it - trying to make the most of what few ingredients you have takes time - I didn't get round to eating this lot til 10pm! But it was pretty good and actually felt like a proper meal rather than rice and veg...

Lasagne LBTL style ( homemade attempted pasta, nettles and tomato/mixed veg layers, white sauce and breadcrumb topping), roast (tinned) potatoes and foraged dandelion leaf salad.

Two more days to go - this week is dragging...

Live Below the Line - jackpot!

So what did I spend my last 30p on? Well this lot...

I happened to walk into Asda at exactly the right moment to grab these bargains - I've never seen this good reductions in London supermarkets before but it couldn't have come at a better time. One bag of bashed bananas, one bag of satsumas and a leek and potato soup mix to bolster my diminishing supplies!

I just wish I could send some to the Hullian :o(

Live Below the Line - the half way point

Well, we're almost half way through our week of living on £1 a day, and already feeling the effects of our restricted diet. I think we're both struggling to engage our brains fully at work and whilst I haven't been feeling that hungry, I also haven't been feeling, well full...or satisfied by what I've been eating, apart from my excellent curry dinner on day 2. I'm no nutritionist, but I wonder if this has something to do with the lack of fat in our diets. We also both have really dry mouths - all the time. I had put this down to the cold I'm still suffering with, but I think it may also be something to do with just drinking water - and perhaps, lack of salt/sugar to balance this fluid intake.

I have to admit to hitting a bit of a wall yesterday evening, after abandoning my session at the climbing wall after I came over rather dizzy. Still felt pretty light-headed on the walk home and sent a melancholic text to the Hullion, bemoaning the lack of cheesecake in my £1 a day diet. Suspecting that I actually needed a) food, and b) salt, I fried up a quick snack of rice-dal balls, with a healthy sprinkling of salt as a pre-dinner snack. Heaven. And it gave me some much-needed energy to make dinner, which was this:

Baked bean and veg pot, tasty rice (I.e. with added stock) and veg. I admit it doesn't look that exciting. And it is basically beans-on-rice-with-a-bit-of-veg.  But it was quick to make and filled a hole!

I feel I must make an apology for the quality of the photos on these blogs - unfortunately as it tends to be dark when I've finished cooking, the lighting isn't great and I don't have the energy to get out my proper camera, upload and edit the photos. So they're just quick phone snaps! But you get the idea of what we're eating...

Incidentally, here's a pic of the Hullian's baking efforts yesterday afternoon:

Impressive, huh? Though the yummy looking cake was sadly not made from ingredients in his £5 shop - it's to flog to his work colleagues to raise some pennies for LBTL. Talking of raising funds, a bit thank you to the generous cake-mad members of my team for raising more than £43 by buying my baked goodies. And well done me for resisting both chocolate buttercream and carrot cake (not together I hasten to add). 

Well, on with another day - I'm counting the hours until this evening, when I get to spend my final 30p! 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


I was missing having anything green on my plate, and just drinking water loses its appeal after, oh, 5 hours...let alone 5 days. Now the rules of Live Below the Line are fairly strict in terms of home grown veggies and accepting donations of food, but foraging is totally allowed. 

The Hullian was ahead of me on this one, and went on a foraging outing in the Yorkshire countryside at the weekend, returning with dandelion, nettles and elderflower. I figured I was out of luck on this score, living in the big smoke. Then I did a bit of Googling and realised how wrong I was! Apparently there are hundreds of edible plants in London's parks (presuming you can avoid those that have been 'watered' by the local canine population) - you just have to know what you're looking for. 

Which I don't...but figured I couldn't go wrong with nettles. So I armed myself with full body cover, rubber gloves and scissors and walked all of 100m from my flat to a small wooded area packed with fresh, juicy nettles. Five minutes later I returned with a bag full and wondered what I could do with them...

First up, nettle tea. This seemed pretty easy; add water to nettles, boil, strain, drink. It tasted....odd. But not totally repulsive. And having made a thermos of it to bring to the office today, it is definitely growing on me, so to speak.

I also figured it may work as a spinach substitute, so tested it in last night's curry dinner. Again, it was odd...but not too bad, and it was nice having some greens to add to the mixed frozen vegetables that I'm supposed to try and get my 5-a-day from. 

So another nettle-picking expedition may be in order this evening, and hopefully a lot more green on my plate!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Live Below the Line - meal of the week?

Well it's only my second dinner on LBTL but I think this may be the meal of the week already! Check it out....

Tasty rice, split pea ginger dahl, kind-of-sag-aloo (nettles and potatoes), gobi manchurian and homemade naan. And it tastes pretty awesome :o)

Live Below the Line - £5 buys you....

The fun part of the Live Below the Line challenge is deciding what to spend you precious £5 on. Both the Hullian and I had done some research before hitting the shops; considering endless combinations of smartprice tins, packets and bags, weighing up the benefits of eggs vs beans and trying to work out if it is possible to avoid the nondescript cheap bag of frozen mixed veg (it isn't).

The 'rules' of the LBTL challenge are outlined here - - basically, you have to buy items in full (i.e. you can't budget for half a bag of rice) with the exception of herbs, spices, salt and pepper which you can work out proportionately. We also included oil in the proportionate calculations. You can't accept donations of food and for food you grow you have to account for the cost of production.

Cue numerous questions from the Hullion, including "can I have rhubarb from my parents' garden?" (no), "am I allowed to buy 12 eggs for 20p from the roadside leave-a-donation-in-the-tin at the egg farm?" (no) and "what about if I accidentally hit a pheasant whilst driving home*?" (erm....).

Anyway without further ado, here is what we both went for...

The Hullion's £5 shop

Porridge 500g = 39p
Mixed fruit Jam 29p
Plain flour 1.5kg = 45p
Skimmed uht milk 1l = 49p
10 eggs = £1
Rice 1kg = 40p
Sausage mix = 30p
Tinned potatoes = 15p
Mixed veg 900g = 75p
Scotch Broth mix 500g = 65p
2 stock cubes = 7p (pack of 12 was 40p)

TOTAL SO FAR = £4.94

My £5 shop

Self-raising flour 1.5kg = 45p
Rice 1kg = 40p
Skimmed milk (UHT) 1L = 49p
Tin Kidney beans = 23p
Split peas 500g = 55p
Baked beans = 24p
Passata 500g = 32p
Lemon curd = 22p
Tin potatoes = 14p
Frozen mixed veg 1kg = 75p
2 bananas = 23p
Onion = 11p
Small piece ginger - 15p
Stock cubes (5 from pack of 10) = 10p
Mixed herbs = 15p
Vegetable oil (6tbsp) = 3p
Olive oil (2tbsp) = 8p
Salt = 2p

TOTAL SO FAR = £4.66

Now the beauty of this is, I have 34p left if I get really desperate - that could get me a 4 pack of Asda chocolate mousse (18p), some more bananas, or even (if I was really lucky) some reduced priced veggies (though I suspect this may be overly optimistic). Decisions, decisions...

Oh and finally, another plug for our sponsorship page - :o)

*Apparently you can only take roadkill if you don't actually kill it - so you need to hope that the car in front of you gets the pheasant not you - who knew?!

Mmmm pancakes....

Lemon pancakes for breakfast made with self-raising flour, milk, water and lemon curd - who needs eggs?!

And yes, they were delicious :o) 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Live Below the Line - the first meal

As I've got a long drive up north planned for Friday evening, with no hope of microwave facilities enroute, I decided to start my LBTL challenge tonight (Sunday evening).

And my first meal is...<cue drum roll>... Kidney bean and veg stew with herb dumplings (made with flour, water, pinch salt and 1p of fresh parsley from my herb garden). 

It tasted pretty good! Though I suspect that was largely the salt from the stock cube I put in for flavour. Dumplings were definitely a winner. With the other half of the tin of kidney beans and some carrots picked out of my bag of mixed frozen veg (yes I did actually handpick out the carrots - don't ask...) I made some kidney and carrot bean burgers for tomorrow's lunch. 

Tomorrow I *will* post shopping lists for both the Hullian and me, detailing what we each bought for our £5 - I was hoping to do it today but was too busy baking!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Live Below the Line - Interview with the Hullian

I estimate that about 90% of recent communication with the Hullian has revolved around the comparative price of frozen veg, the merits of curry sauce vs cheese sauce and meal planning. As this is his first time living below the line, I thought I'd ask him a few questions to find out why he took on the challenge, and what he's least looking forward to...

Why did you decide to sign up for the Live Below the Line challenge?

Since you told me about LBTL a while ago, it has stuck in my mind ever since. I'm lucky enough not to think about my food budget very often. I eat a lot and I eat healthily so I've always accepted my food bills and never given it much more thought. However, I'm very aware of social deprivation, food poverty and growing obesity trends locally. These concerns are dwarfed when you stop to think about poverty, inequality and food on a global scale so LBTL stuck in my mind as I think it's a really good way to get people to engaged in these conversations. 

What are you most worried about?
I guess my biggest fear is going hungry and then having to read your blogs about your great meals . I do lots of sports/exercise so I’m used to eating lots. I’ll be rationing my portions next week which scares me. I also worry that I will drop/break/waste some ingredients which could be disastrous.

How have you found shopping for LBTL?
Shopping has been really fun. I’ve spent a couple of days thinking about foods. Then I spent a morning comparing shops and prices. I live within walking distance of the University so I seem to have lots of low cost shops near me which meant I was able to shop around for the best prices.

What was your best buy?
My best buy may turn out to be fake sausage mixture (30p) and eggs (10 for £1 – unfortunately they are not the most ethical of eggs). The Sausage mixture uses Soya Protein and claims to make 8 sausages so I’m looking forward to Toad in the Hole on Thursday. Also, eggs means that I can have Pancakes for pudding every night :o)

What item of food / drink will you miss most?

I have no fresh fruit or veg. I also have no fish and no meat which will be really tough. I think the biggest absence - one which I overlooked when I agreed to this - will be my morning coffee. Not sure how I’m going to replace this. I don’t think foraged nettle/elderflower tea will have the same kick.

What will keep you going through the tough week ahead?

I’m saving my Toad in the Hole for Thursday to get me through the first few days. This will be a real treat as I rarely have a good, homemade Yorkshire Pud. I think a big breakfast with coffee will be on the cards Saturday.

Don't forget you can support us both through this challenge by donating on our Live Below the Line webpage!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Live Below the Line 2014

In a few days I will taking on the Live Below the Line Challenge - if you haven't heard of this, it's a campaign to raise awareness of global poverty issues and involves living off £1 of food a day for 5 days. I have done the LBTL challenge once before, a couple of years ago. Unfortunately the increase in the price of food hasn't been mirrored in an increase to the £1 a day budget, so every year this challenge gets tougher and tougher. I mean, kidney beans have gone up a whole 9p! And 9p is a lot when you only have £1 a day...

But I do have a couple of advantages this time round. Firstly, I know what to expect. Last time, I was paranoid about being hungry (I eat a LOT!), so stocked up on carbs; so much so that I actually ended up with flour, rice, oats AND pasta! And, needless to say, had a lot of it left over at the end. I also found that I was never really hungry, but I got heartily fed up of rice and frozen mixed veggies... So this time I'm going to try and reduce the carbs, make the most of everything I buy and hopefully get some fruit or fresh veggies in on the act!

Second advantage is that I've done more research this time around and am more aware of how imaginative you can be with food, even when you don't have much to play with. I'm a huge fan of Jack Monroe's budget recipes - she managed to stretch her £5 budget to a whole seven days, though I suspect she keeps key slim figure by not actually eating a huge amount - I usually eat double her portion size ;o) Perhaps even more impressivelyis the One Pound Per Day blog, where a guy ate for a month on a budget of £1 a day, but without being able to spend it all at once. If you want 101 things to do with a bag of flour, this is the blog for you (I really shouldn't be giving all my secrets away here).

But I'm not going it alone... there is a twist to the challenge, as the Hullian is also taking up the challenge! Usually doing the challenge as a couple is easier, as you can get a lot more variety with a £10 budget than £5. However, as logistically we're 200 miles apart, we're each going to have to do it individually with our own £5 budget. Which means (of course) that there is also an element of competition! In a supportive, romantic way of course... Although given that I got a text today claiming that sausages, chips, yorkshire pudding and gravy will be featuring on his menu, I think I may be onto a losing streak...

We are doing all this to raise money for AfriKids, a fab charity which focuses on sustainble methods of addressing child poverty issues in Ghana. Please help support us by donating via our Live Below the Line page -

Keep a look out here for daily blogs on our culinary endeavours!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Doing without Dairy

The Beginning

I haven't given up anything for Lent since I was a kid - I occasionally had good intentions, but it all seemed a bit too hard. For it to be meaningful, you have to give up something that you would really miss, but that makes it quite hard work, and as I've always said, I can resist anything but temptation...

This year though, I decided I was going to give it a go - I just hadn't decided what delicious edible items I would give up. Fortunately I was rather forced into a snap decision by the realisation on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in early March that it was Shrove Tuesday, and hence whatever I was giving up it had to start tomorrow. I toyed with the idea of giving up alcohol, but not having the option of a comforting glass of wine after a hard week/day/hour at work seemed a bit too harsh. Cake was considered, but discounted - I mean, if I didn't do any baking, the usual recipients of my cakes would suffer right? Chocolate flitted through my mind, but I quickly banished that thought (which probably means that I should actually try giving it up). I had thought about trying a vegan diet for a while, or at least reducing the amount of dairy products I ate, so I figured that perhaps this was the way to go - a test to see how much I missed cheese!

The Rules were set: for six and a half weeks I would have no milk, cream, butter, yogurt or cheese. I decided eggs were allowed. How hard could it be...


I figured the first few weeks would be easy - I mean it couldn't be that difficult right? Little did I realise how many food items include elements of milk or butter. On Ash Wednesday I went for my usual session at the climbing wall. Starving, after a couple of intensive hours of exercise, I stopped off at the supermarket to grab a cereal bar to munch on the train home. I picked up a box of my favourite brand and scanned the ingredients list. There it was - right at the top - skimmed milk powder. Bummer.

Needless to say, that set a pattern. I had thought it would be yogurt and cheese I would miss most, but it turned out that it was butter and milk - not milk to drink but the presence of milk and butter in things that meant I couldn't eat them! Like cereal bars. And milk chocolate. And cake. And lemon curd...

Possibly the hardest weekend was a friend's hen do; surrounded by amazing looking (and smelling) cakes, chocolate and cheese, it required a lot of willpower not to cave in. Particularly not to sample the rather scrummy looking chocolate mud cake which was my contribution to the festivities...

One of the reasons I chose to give up dairy, was to force myself to be a bit more creative with my cooking - and with my baking. A quick internet search showed up a huge range of dairy-free blogs, websites and recipes dedicated to making yummy things without butter, milk or cream. In particular, I discovered that oil was a great substitute for the butter or margarine usually used for cakes; the bakes turned out super moist and didn't dry out as quick as normal cake recipes. Some of my favourites were this recipe for courgette and lemon cake (I used part wholemeal flour and cut out half the sugar to make it healthier) and this fantastic vegan recipe for chocolate cupcakes - I swear they were as good, if not better, than the dairy-laden recipe I usually follow!

The times I did miss cheese were when cooking dinner - I used to routinely add a healthy shaving of Parmesan to the top of my pasta sauces, bean stews or soups. I missed that extra bit of richness - of fat, to put it bluntly. But I managed. The test came when my other half sent me a photo of the amazing, rich, cheesy lasagne he had just made. That was it - I had to have lasagne. A quick google turned up lots of dairy-free lasagne recipes, but they all involved tofu, which I didn't have any of.

A bit of imagination was required, and whilst my veggie and bean lasagne filling was cooking, I whisked up a kind-of-white sauce, with olive oil (instead of butter), flour, soya milk
 and a grating of nutmeg. There was never going to be a replacement for cheese, but a breadcrumb and mixed-nut topping did just fine, adding a nice bit of crunchy texture to the top of the lasagne. It was so good, I may even make it again, as a healthier alternative to traditional lasagne.

The End

Finally after 40 long days, the end was in sight. But I still had one final challenge to get through - my orienteering club's annual tea party. An array of light, dairy-laden sponge cakes, rich and indulgent cream cakes and traditional scones (with jam and cream, obviously). It was tempting, but with less than twenty-four hours to go, I managed to resist.

Easter Sunday dawned grey and misty. I got up, ate my museli with soya milk (all I had in) and ran for an hour and a half over a wet, Welsh moorland. As I walked into the marquee to say hello to my club-mates, I was handed a huge, fondant-iced, cream cake. It tasted delicious and I scoffed it down in a completely gluttonous, unladylike fashion.

I had made it through Lent without milk, cheese or butter, but there was no chance of me turning vegan any time soon. My diet had probably been a lot healthier without the dairy - less fat, more pulses and grains - and whilst cooking at home, it wasn't really an issue. The difficulty came when visiting friends (being the awkward guest), eating out and finding 'convenience' food. My admiration for my vegan friends has certainly gone up a notch, and I've certainly expanded my knowledge of dairy-free cooking, but a big part of me is very glad that I can go back to my butter, cream and Parmesan cheese.