Imperfect Produce

“How are the baking classes going” a work colleague asked. “Ah, my Christmas cake was a bit of a flop so I’ll now be eating the lot rather than saving it for Christmas” I told him. He went on to suggest that I blog about it and reminded me that not everything has to be perfect.

Why hadn’t I thought of this I wondered. I’d taken a before picture of the ingredients which I’d saved from the bin; buying yellow stickers, using food sharing apps. I’d planned on taking a snap of the finished product and sharing on Instagram, showing how you can eat well for less, I didn’t bother when the bottom of the cake stuck to the tin as I lifted it out.

The last blog post that I wrote was on eating well for less during the festive period, yet I had no intention of sharing that I’d baked a Christmas cake until Andre gave me the nudge I needed. It’s not like I’m precious about food; it was just the other day that I found an orange on the pavement, proudly declared this to an old flame on the phone before proceeding to eat it. I realised, that whilst I’ll publicly advocate to remove the 10 seconds from the 10 second rule, that I attribute a whole different meaning to street food, and will happily eat your leftovers, that something changes when posting on social media. It’s less about it being public, more the sharing of an image.

No matter where the ingredients come from I still want a glossy image, of a perfect cake. And I’m not alone in this, we can get lost scrolling through pictures of avocado bun burgers, food bloggers arranging photo sets to snap a cold meal; steam will blur a picture you know!

The dilemma is that an image is a perception, a representation, profile, it is what is put forwarded and presented, polished, manipulated even, it is not the subject, or object in its entirety. Food on the other hand is the substance. It’s energy, it’s what fuels us, comforts, soothes, nourishes, keeps us alive. The more we focus on the aesthetics of food the more we lose sight of its primary function. The more pressure on supermarkets, farmers to provide consumers with perfect looking produce. The easier it becomes for us to say I don’t like that, I’ve gone off it, maybe I have an intolerance, I don’t know how to cook it, oh just bin it.

My Christmas cake didn’t go to waste, it was delicious afternoon tea and I shared it with my Andre who asked for any royalties from the blog; cake is as far it stretches mate ha!

He couldn’t tell what had gone wrong with it, and neither can you in the image that I’ve attached. Because it’s simply that an image, the cake was still tasty and when all said and done, it’s the substance that’s important. It’s food that satisfies you, images just make you hungry.

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We wish you a cheap & cheery Xmas, and an even cheaper New Year 🎶

I’d watch the adverts for Park Christmas and think that’s quite a good idea. You know the plan where you make payments toward Christmas throughout the year, to ease the burden come December? I’ve never done it myself mind you. I’ve been shopping with friends post Christmas when they’ve bought reduced price cards and wrapping for the following year; I’ve never bothered with that either. Truth is I’m not that prepared, and sooner justify not buying cards by pointing out that family always forget them when they leave and we gotta save the trees.

When it comes to the food however it’s a military operation that I take charge of. In the same vein, I don’t want to be crippled financially by a roast dinner! There is a tendency at this time of year to go completely overboard “ooohh let’s get these undersized, overpriced vol au vants, it’s Christmas”! We catch ourselves saying that throughout the whole of December to justify any excess; “it’s Christmas”!! The shops fill their shelves to meet our demands and bring in new produce we’ve never heard of, or even wanted until it got to Christmas. How many of us can hold our hands up and say that we eat sprouts all year round, let alone Heston’s profiter coals!

The other thing that is in excess at Christmas is food waste! Supermarkets who are afraid to risk under ordering. Households defeated by food comas. Being in charge of buying the Christmas food, I shop in the same way that I do the rest of the year ‘yellow stickers’, food reduced on its use by/best before date, when packaging is damaged, or a line needs clearing.

It takes a little extra preparation and thinking but it is more than doable, especially if you familiarise yourself with food storage/hygiene. I’ve already bought yellow sticker sprouts; they’ll last weeks in the fridge. If you don’t want to take the chance then freeze. I’ve had yellow sticker cranberries in my freezer since November!

Remember the giant pumpkins from my work bestie’s allotment which I’ve been living off? I chopped and froze them, they’ll be delicious roasted as a Christmas side. Who says pumpkin is just for Halloween! I recently attended a vegan Christmas cookery class where we made chocolate truffles. The teacher said that they would last months so I boxed them up, took them home and put them out of reach; my reach that is ha!

We come across food all the time which would otherwise be wasted, we just need to take notice. It’s easy to become caught up with all that sparkles, yet food is still food no matter the time of year. Pay attention to what’s reduced to clear in your supermarket. Do you need another Christmas cake if you still have one lurking in the cupboard from last year. What is available to you that others can’t use. I bought a yellow sticker Turkey one year and have seen farmers offering them on food sharing app Olio for a small donation. If your mum is anything like mine and brings over sweet goodies in abundance, then do you need to buy more?

Most shops are open all over the festive period if you do forget something or need extras. I think it’s pretty save to say that most of us have been left with too much food after the big day, seldom too little. Perhaps we could even spare a thought for those who genuinely do go without at this time of year. I’ve followed in a friend’s food steps with a reverse advent calendar where an item is put aside daily for 24 days ready to go to the food bank. It means that I’m giving far more to the food bank than I ordinarily would, and that I’m having a good look through my cupboards to take stock of what I already have, whether there is anything else that I really need; no more gravy granules that’s for sure!

I wish you all a very merry Christmas. Look to the ghost of Christmas past to see what foods you already have, the ghost of present in what can be bought now and safely stored, the future ghost to ensure that you don’t see in the new year with only a leftover Christmas pudding pot to p*ss in!

Peachy Pumpkin Soup

When your work bestie keeps supplying you with mutant pumpkins from his allotment, and tinned peaches with a best before date of 2015, from I don’t know where, there’s only one thing to do.

You put the pumpkin in, take the peaches out, in out, in out, shake it all about. Enough of this Hokey Cokey, it’s peach pumpkin soup!

If you like sweet and sour, you’ll love this soup. When I get an idea, I google it and if it’s been done before it validates it for me. I’m yet to come up with a recipe that has not been done before, no matter how out there it may seem. So go ahead and use up any veg, and fruit that you have lying around and let me know if you think of an original mix.

Recipe

  • 1kg chopped pumpkin chunks, I used a bag from frozen which I’d pre chopped and stored: Andy’s allotment
  • 1 chopped red chilli: Andy’s allotment
  • 1 clove of garlic: jar collected using Olio
  • 420g tin of peaches in light syrup, given the BBD was 2015 I clearly would have used any type of peaches or fruit ha
  • 1 inch of fresh turmeric: yellow sticker
  • Half a thumb size of fresh ginger: yellow sticker
  • 2 pints of vegetable stock: yellow sticker
  • 1 tsp garam masala: Olio
  • 1tsp cinnamon: cinnamon
  • Chopped coriander from frozen: yellow sticker
  • Salt & Pepper to season

I added all the ingredients, bar the coriander, in a pot, brought to the boil, then simmered for 20-30 mins.

I simply did this because I wanted to save time, you could fry spices before adding pumpkin and peaches.

Turn off the heat, blend with hand blender or alternative, stir through coriander and season.

I like to wait until the next day to eat soup to allow the flavours to settle and for it to thicken.

Vegan Pumpkin & Kale Cheese Bake

Every year I’m blessed with squash from the work bestie’s allotment. This year he’d outdone himself, and me, with a pumpkin so huge that it had to be cut into slabs from the boot of my car; check out my instagram for the video! After gifting pieces to friends, family, donating on Olio food sharing app, making pie, kao pung, hummus, soups, bread, muffins and roasting I was still left with plenty so cut into chunks and stored in the freezer. He threatened, promised I mean, to bring another so I thought I best clear some freezer space and think of another recipe.

I thought of adding it to macaroni cheese as a friend had but with no pasta thought again. I loved cauliflower cheese growing up and having picked up vegan cheese and parmesan using food sharing app Olio, I thought why not a pumpkin cheese bake!

If you’re still harbouring pumpkins from Halloween or fancy something a little different for thanksgiving why not give it go. If you shop from your kitchen and use completely different veg let me know what you make!

Recipe:-

  • Roast a dish of chopped pumpkin and kale with a couple of sliced red chillis from the work bestie’s allotment, 4 garlic cloves from Olio, sunflower oil from my sis, reduced price dried sage for approx 30 mins. Be mindful that pumpkin produces a lot of liquid particularly if defrosted so either drain when adding your cheese sauce or incorporate it into the mixture.
  • To make white sauce 4 tbsps sunflower oil with 4 tbsps of flour, mix into a roux. Slowly add 500ml coconut and almond milk or of your choosing. Add 50g of grated vegan cheese, or an alternative or leave out. Stir vigorously, until sauce thickens and to consistency of your liking; approx 15-20 mins add seasonings.
  • I added dried sage which I’d bought reduced. Chopped chives, again reduced and stored in the freezer, salt and pepper.
  • Add the white sauce to the dish, mixing with the veg. Top with grated cheese; I used a mix of vegan parmesan and vegan cheddar.
  • Bake for 35-40 mins until top golden.
  • I served with yellow sticker roasties and green beans I got for free but be as creative as you like.

Tastes like Plastic

I started buying reduced, yellow sticker, food simply because it was so cheap. I was amazed by the savings; it would put me on such a high. I loved calculating how much it should have cost compared to what I’d paid. I’d be telling anyone who wanted to listen, who am I kidding, interested or not I’d talk incessantly about what I’d bought. As time went on I learnt more about food storage, hygiene, safety so the range of food I bought expanded. I became all the more experimental and confidant in the kitchen, until it got to the point where yellow stickers became the bulk of my food shop.

What I’ve gained has been far more valuable than money; cookery skills, independence, interest and greater enjoyment of food and being more socially aware. I began volunteering with the food waste charity The Felix Project, and whilst it’s not a charity I donate and collect surplus food on social media app Olio. Saving restaurant food from the bin using app Too Good to Go. I have volunteered with Contact the Elderly, who arrange monthly tea parties for the elderly, for almost 10 years, yet it’s only been in recent years that I have come to appreciate the symbolism and meaning of food. That it can communicate care, belonging, value.

I don’t know that I can honestly tell you that I’ve given food to someone who is street homeless or donated to a food bank before I shopped in this way. At the most I might have thought I’ll do it next time. The truth is I would have been too concerned with myself; what do I need to buy, how much will this cost me. Whilst I have become more mindful of those less fortunate, being charitable is never selfless, at the very least it allows us to feel good about ourselves.

A popular cause at the moment is reducing plastic and the rise of zero waste. I’ve started to make small changes; using a keep cup, although this only came after my niece witnessed me trying to reuse a shop bought take away coffee cup and the contents fall out of the bottom! I use cloth bags to do my shopping, but I can’t say that this was a regular occurrence until the 5p levy. I recycle food as well as plastic and make the effort to buy cruelty free products. I guess it’s had a domino effect; be it through education from public awareness campaigns, taxes being imposed or sharing on social media.

When I post my yellow sticker hauls, food saved from the bin, on Instagram I tag eat well for less, zero waste, sustainability; a lot of the buzz words at the moment. For the most part I have a really positive response on my account and it has become a place where we can share ideas, recipes, tips. From time to time, I am attacked for my buying of single use plastic i.e. a plastic box of grapes reduced to 50p. How can I justify buying so much plastic? I try and keep calm, avoid being defensive, and hold an open dialogue, although it feels ironic having a conversation about the impact of plastic on the environment via our mobile phones which are hazardous when they too reach landfill.

I don’t have the answers, I’m not sure that @devotion2daocean does either. What I do know is that I need to eat, we all do, the food that I’m buying is otherwise heading for landfill which produces methane and has negative effects on climate change, global warming, that a huge amount of energy and resources are used to produce this food, that the supermarkets make little, if any, profit from these mark downs. I know that food waste doesn’t sit right with me when there is not only a guy going hungry outside my local Tesco’s but starvation worldwide. I know that buying yellow stickers made me aware of how big a global issue food waste is, to incorporate good habits at home, to help others where I can, adopt a plant based diet. It’s not the only issue, and tackling it doesn’t come without compromising others. Neither does plastic; what good would come from food being binned so I can say I buy no plastic or I drive across town, emitting carbon dioxide, so I can shop at the new zero waste store? There is no single answer, which can come from one person, it’s raising the uncomfortable questions, the struggle for solutions which promotes change. We grow from discomfort and it’s all too comfortable a position to say I’m right and you are wrong. So let’s come together and open an uncomfortable discussion; I’ll bring the tea and biscuits, yellow sticker of course!

Pine nut Allergy

Nut free Pesto

Ok, I’ll admit I don’t have a nut allergy, but I am intolerant to paying over the odds for food when I can use what I already have.

Having collected free garlic, vegan parmesan, using the food sharing app Olio. Being gifted sunflower oil by my sister and buying yellow sticker basil, 17p a 30g pack, I felt that I had nearly enough to go ahead and make a pesto. With no other nuts at home to use in place of pine nuts, to give the pesto texture I wondered what I could use.

I remembered the ground flaxseeds that my bestie gave me when she emptied her kitchen before moving.

It worked a treat and the pesto was

  • 2 generous tbsps of ground flaxseeds
  • 2 bunches of basil
  • Glug of sunflower oil
  • Grated parmesan to taste
  • 2 garlic gloves
  • Salt & Pepper

The homemade pesto came to a grand total of 34p; nuts!!

Humble Pie

I’ve started a 6 week pastry course and we began by making mini leek and pimento tartelettes. Well the rest of the class did, I on the other hand turned up with yellow sticker kale, a red onion that I collected for free using food sharing app Olio and large red chillis from the work bestie’s allotment. Who tells me that I wouldn’t be able to make it as a contestant on X Factor as I can’t follow a theme ha ha. If you’ve ever heard me sing you’ll know that it’s not the theme that’s keeping me from being a reality singing star sensation! I can follow instructions, most of the time, ok some, alright occasionally, but why am I going to go out and buy full price veg when there’s a perfectly good variation which would only go to waste?

If I do say so myself the kale, onion and chilli worked a treat. And the chef agreed! It worked so well that I adapted it and made a larger open pie at home. So if anyone’s eating humble pie it’s the work bestie; I’m too busy getting my 5 a day!

If you fancy humble pie, with any veg that needs using up, then you can follow this recipe as a guide:-

100g plain flour, I actually used Polish wheat flour; another freebie on Olio.

50g butter, margarine; I used sunflower oil which was a present from my sister, and made the pastry vegan

2tbsp water

140ml milk of your choosing; I used reduced price soya

Chopped vegetables of your choosing; for the larger pie I used 2 red chillis, 2 diced roasted potatoes, 150g small brussel sprouts, half a red onion, a large handful of chopped kale.

Egg replacer which I picked up off Olio. You could obviously use egg if you eat dairy or try other substitutes such as flaxseeds, aquafaba.

    Rub the flour and fat in a bowl until it looks like breadcrumbs. Bind with water to form a dough and rest for 15 mins.
    Cook the veg in drop of oil with seasoning until softens down. If roasting do this separately.
    Make the filling by whisking egg/substitute with milk, salt, pepper and whichever herbs you fancy.
    Roll out the pastry, then line in dish pushing out any air pockets.
    Spoon veg mix into dish, pour the filling over the veg.
    I added grated vegan cheese when I made it at home as was another Olio freebie. However, I went without in class and they were still delicious.
    Bake in preheated oven, gas mark 6 for 20-30 mins until filling set and pastry cooked. Leave to cool before taking out of the dish. I sliced mine in the dish.

I served with green beans and broccoli, yet more freebies from Olio which I boiled from frozen. Freezing is such a great way of avoiding waste!

Fast Food, Fast Clothes

Sustainability at Betsy’s Closet Swap Shop

I’ve loved traipsing around clothes shops since I was a child. “What are you looking for?” My mum would ask. I’d always reply “I’m just looking”.

I was always just looking, just looking for what I didn’t know that I needed. Looking for the next item to make me feel happy, look like a princess, be special. I’d be so excited for any new clothes that I’d change straight into them in the toilets of a well known fast food restaurant. Of course we went there, it always felt like such a treat after a day of shopping; I mean it was called a happy meal, what more could you want as a child?! All of this emphasis on feelings; happy food, shoppers high, retail therapy.

I never thought much about needs as a child, that was the responsibility of adults. Now I am the adult I wonder if much has changed. Food and clothes have become so disposable that we don’t think much about need, but wants. ‘I want to try that new restaurant’, ‘I want a new dress for drinks Friday’, ‘I’m going to detox this week so I can fit into my new dress’. ‘I could do with a wardrobe overhaul I’m going to have a clear out’, ‘I’m not eating gluten anymore, throw out the bread’.

Where do our things end up in this throw away culture? What does it take for us to have them in the first place? Who do we dismiss when we are disposing of stuff? According to WRAP 2016, UK households waste 7.3 million tonnes of food, whilst 8.4 million people struggle to afford to eat. 250,000 tonnes of the food wasted is edible. The fashion industry is just as wasteful, it is estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.

I was invited to Betsy’s Clothes Swap Shop Saturday, which was at St Margaret’s, Bethnal Green, to talk about food waste, eating well for less. However, how many of us honestly want to spend our Saturday’s talking sustainability? It’s the weekend, we want to eat, get dressed up, be with friends, have fun; so I came prepared! Armed with pumpkin bread, apple butter, ginger & banana brownies and almond chocolate chip cookies, all made with food saved from the bin, I lured the shoppers with free food, we need to be able to see, taste what can be done with what we already have. And the shoppers came in droves, ready with their preloved garms to trade for new threads. I even threw down the apple butter knife and got stuck in. Oh the buzz, the Nike trainers I bagged; after I wrangled the other shoe from my sister that was! The new dress for my upcoming holiday, work tops; who else hates buying clothes for work? All the same feelings I have shopping, the high, the imagined possibilities of what the new outfit will bring, but better. I tried on clothes that I wouldn’t ordinarily, not only do the items have stories to come they have past histories, I was part of a community, amongst friends.

It was an eye opener as to how much we already have. As with the baked goods made from food which would have been wasted, we already have what we need, and actually what we want and if we don’t want it someone else will. Our friend, neighbour, workmate, the homeless, the needy. Let’s share what we have, what we no longer need, want. Let’s experience the joy that comes with being with one another, thinking of each other, after all we gain in the process. Fast food will only lead to indigestion and fast clothes, well you risk coming out of the toilet with your skirt stuck in your pants.

The Future is Bright, the Future is Yellow!

Want to eat more greens, whilst spending less greens and do your bit to be green? Then shop yellow!

Yellow stickers’ became the bulk of my food shop several years ago. I buy produce which has reached it’s use by date, so supermarkets reduce the price by up to 90%, and will eat, cook with whatever I have. More recently, this has extended to sourcing free food.This type of shopping, eating has meant that I’ve increased my confidence in the kitchen; I am a reformed can’t cook, won’t cook. I’ve been introduced to a range of new foods; I am fussy eater no more. Massive savings on my grocery bill which has also meant that I have become choosier and more conscientious of how and where I am prepared to spend my money. More mindful of food waste, sustainability, which has led me to volunteer with the commendable food poverty charity The Felix Project and make a concerted effort to recycle, compost, reuse jars, bottles etc and less plastic.

I’d like to share my 3 top tips for eating well for less:-

 

1. Check the reduced sections each and every time:

Supermarkets will reduce early in the day, sometimes the night before, at say 25%, this will increase throughout the day and final reductions can be between 75-90%, with 7-8pm being the optimal time but this will vary. Get into the habit of checking the reduced sections irrespective of which store you are in, including petrol stations, mini supermarkets, or the time. There is usually an allocated crate in the fruit/veg aisle, dairy, meat, bakery and look out for dry goods; this will normally be damaged products such as a dented tin or when a store needs to clear a line. 

2. Adopt a waste not want not attitude:-

Olio is a food sharing app where users can advertise food that they no longer want for whatever reason; moving home, change of dietary requirements etc. Businesses such as Deliciously Ella and Pret a Manger also distribute food on there which would otherwise be wasted. Aside from social media, how often is there surplus food from office meetings, a neighbour with an apple tree, family and friends who have decided thatthey no longer like a certain brand; be the one who is open to trying new foods, recipes, meals. Take my word for it, talk about food waste and being able to make meals with what you have for long enough, people will give you food just to shut you up ha!

3. Research food storage:-

I had no clue that cheese could be frozen and have been guilty in the past of binning it as soon as I spotted mould. Milk, bread, dairy, meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, herbs, cooked meals can all be frozen. Simply by making use of what you have and wasting less you will instantly save money. Remember shop from your cupboards, dine from your freezer.

Frugal Festive Feast

I’ve been eating less meat in recent years, giving it up completely, followed by fish. I made the decision to go veggie for a variety of reasons but food cost was one of them. Last year I hosted my first vegetarian Christmas dinner and whilst I bought less food, spent a little less there was still an abundance of leftovers; except for the cat he got nothing but cream!

I’m going to show you how to make my pasta bake featuring a lot of the food that is often leftover from Christmas Day; veg, cream, cheese, even the crackers and for the carnivores the cooked turkey can easily be thrown in and will be a delicious addition. Whether you have the veggie or meat option, this dish is filled with carbs, protein, vitamins and fats, all great to fuel your Boxing Day run.

Ingredients:
(Feeds 8)
500g wholewheat fusilli or whatever pasta you like
1200ml milk
250ml double cream
4 shallots or 1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
4 spring onions
170g grated blue cheese or whatever cheeses you have left over
1-2 tbsp chives and basil, use whatever fresh or dried herbs you have
Cranberries, sprouts, parsnips, carrots, red peppers; again use up the veg that you have
6 cream crackers crushed; the Jacobs kind not bad jokes, silly hats. Cornflakes can be used or just as easily left out.
6 tbsp self raising flour or plain I just happened to have the former
2 tbsp olive oil

Boil pasta in salted water according to packet instructions.
Make the white sauce by frying chopped shallots and garlic on a low heat for a few minutes until the onions start to sweat.
Add the flour and mix with the shallots to make a roux, add more oil if needed.
Stir for a few minutes until well mixed.
Slowly add the milk whilst continuously stirring with a whisk for a smooth consistency. I substituted half the amount of milk with water as I ran out.
Bring the sauce to the boil which should take about 15 minutes.
Add the grated cheese and herbs whilst still stirring. 
Lastly stir in the cream.
Layer the cooked pasta, vegetables, and pour the sauce on top. 
Sprinkle the crushed crackers over the top. 
I the added extra grated cheese on top of the crackers.
Bake in the oven, gas mark 6, 30-40 minutes until golden on top.

You can add cooked turkey, cold meats, smoked salmon when layering the dish.
The idea of this recipe is to use up what you have rather than buying more.