Category: Eating Well For Less

Easy Pizza

Who doesn’t love pizza?

I remember going to Pizza Land (I think it was Pizza Land) on New Street in Birmingham. It was the mid seventies, and this was date night with my boyfriend. For us poor A level students this was a height of sophisticated dining. They had tablecloths and candles way back then. I think that was the first pizza I had ever tasted.

The UK was a bit of a food desert in the seventies (at least in Birmingham it was). We had heard there were Indian Restaurants in some parts of Birmingham (now the famous Balti Triangle) where you ate with your hands, but we didn’t go there because There Was No Cutlery. There were a few Chinese Takeaways where you got curry sauce and chips after the pub and your parents would take you out to a Berni Inn for a birthday treat.

His family would have none of that ‘foreign muck’ and were traditional and repetitive with their food choices, always steak on Thursday, roast for Sunday lunch and a proper Sunday tea with tinned salmon with limp lettuce and tasteless tomatoes, and evaporated cream from a tin poured over tinned fruit. My family were obsessed with Black Forest Gateaux and we’d go to all you can eat carveries, armed in advance with Tupperware to take the leftovers home.

As a way of rebelling against this blandness I introduced him to Vesta Curry. It was considered exotic and authentic and we happily rehydrated cubes of chicken and beef and boiled the bag of rice that accompanied it. We knew how to live in 1976.

With that culinary history it is a wonder that I ever managed to cook much more than beans on toast. But then I found Delia and set off to uni with a Kenwood Mixer that was my 18th birthday present.

There were a lot less supermarkets in the seventies.  I worked in Presto on the tills and I don’t recall anything more exotic than a pineapple and I am pretty sure you couldn’t buy a pizza. Of course, you can get hundreds of different pizza in the supermarket now, ranging from ‘value’ to ‘Specially Selected – yet many store bought ones have added ingredients that really shouldn’t be there and if you pay 99p for a pizza I guess that is to be expected. Of course you can order one online and get it delivered, which my son happily does – but I baulk at paying £12 for pizza that I can make at home.

Homemade Pizza

This recipe was given to me by my friend of 34 years standing, Anne. She and her daughter are excellent cooks and bakers. It does take some bread making skills and you do need to make the dough in advance. Unlike the naan it also needs proving time. This pizza gets the thumbs up from the son who usually orders in, and if you have veggie resistant children this is a good way to get them to eat more,  as when they decorate their own pizza they get tempted by the colourful peppers.

pizza

Ingredients
700 kg strong bread flour

1 packet dried yeast

Splosh of olive oil

250 ml cold water

250ml boiling water

pinch of salt

Topping for your pizza

2 tins of chopped tomatoes or a carton of passata

A couple of balls of mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces and/or grated mozzarella

then, this is the fun bit, add what you want, this is not a definitive list

Bell peppers – as many colours you can find, chopped

1 onion, chopped I like to use red onion for colour

A selection of cold cooked meat – such as BBQ chicken, ham or chorizo – whatever you like

Pineapple

sliced tomatoes

basil

Prawns

BBQ sauce

Method

In a large bowl add the flour and yeast, then combine the hot and cold water so that it is hand hot, and gradually add it to the flour. Mix with your hands until it becomes a ball -not too dry nor too sticky – add additional flour or water if required, and continue to knead for about five minutes adding the oil to lift all the flour from the side of the bowl.

If you have a mixer with a dough hook you can add all the ingredients to the mixer bowl and let the machine take the strain. I used to but now I prefer to use my hands. It is very theraputic is kneading.

Cover with a cloth and leave to prove for about an hour.

While the dough is proving prepare the toppings. If using tinned tomatoes, simmer for about 20 minutes and let them go ocld.

Chop all the topping and put them in separate bowls so everyone can choose their own toppings.

After proving, divide the dough in half and leave one half in the bowl to prove again. You will be making a loaf with this half.

Set the oven to about Gas 8 or the setting appropriate to your oven – conversion chart here

With the other half of the dough, roll out on a baking sheet – floured or a sprinkling of semolina grains, which soaks up the moisture and gives you a crispy bottom.  You will get one large rectangular pizza this way – or you can divide the dough to two/three or four balls and roll out individual ones and transfer them to shallow cake tins or baking trays.

Spread the cold tomato sauce or passata over the base, choose the toppings, and put in a hot oven for around 15 to 20 minutes.

The other half of the dough will  have proved again by now, so after you take out your pizza, shape the spare dough on a baking tray, or pop it in a loaf tin and bake for around 30 minutes. The bottom should sound hollow when tapped when it is done.

Italian Pizza

 

 

 

 

 

Since I started making this I have had pizza at a place that James Martin reckons makes the best pizza in the world. He is not wrong. I strive to continually improve on my pizza dough. You can read about that pizza experience here.

 

 

 

 

 

Carrot, Potato and Coriander Soup

Soup is the ultimate winter comfort food

Soup in a mug

It so easy to make at home. And really cheap too.

I had a few potatoes and carrots in the fridge that needed using up. It is almost always cheaper to buy vegetables in bags rather than loose, in the supermarket at least. Markets too seem to be selling by the bowl, so it is easy to end up with a glut of veg in the fridge. Then you have to use them before they go soft, and, when there is only two of you in the house there is a risk that you end up with not so fresh veg that needs using up.

Once you have made this soup, experiment with other vegetables. Leek and potato is particularly good. Add some ginger, chilli or other spices if you want it to really warm you up.

My husband made this for me as I have had to be on a diet of soft food for a couple of days after a small op on my mouth. I am sipping small amounts from a mug as I write, and it is delicious. Great convalescence food if you have been ill or are fighting a cold.

Ingredients

Four medium potatoes

Six medium sized carrots

1 onion

1tsp of ground coriander

Vegetable stock cube (optional)

Seasoning to taste.

Method

Peel and chop all the vegetables up and gently fry in butter or a small amount of oil. Take care not to let them brown, just soften them.

Add the ground coriander.

Add a litre of water (and stock cube if using) and bring to the boil, then simmer until the vegetable are soft.

Let the soup cool then liquidise with a hand held stick blender.

Gently reheat, check the seasoning and serve with some fresh coriander if you have some.

 

Simple

And that is all there is to it. When I have made this soup in the past, I have always added a stock cube, but we had run out of them – and really it made no difference except that it needed seasoning with a little salt. Stock cubes usually have salt in them and if you use one you probably won’t need to add any extra salt. I don’t usually add potatoes either, but they needed using up and it gave the soup a thicker texture, more like a chowder.

All of the vegetables used are organic. I prefer to use organic where I can but I know that they are not always readily available and can be more expensive. Not so much if you buy them at Aldi though.

 

Naan Bread

Bread is easier to make than you think

Vintage Bread

 

I used to think it was complicated and manufacturers of bread making machines would have you believe so too. I am still a rookie at bread, and let me tell you this, make time to make bread. Don’t buy an expensive machine. Kneading dough, as Albert Smith of Ubuntu will tell you, is therapeutic. I have had the good fortune of being taught how to make bread by Albert when I commissioned him to deliver bread making skills for Smethwick CAN. Albert is currently featured in the Homemade in Smethwick  exhibition which is currently touring in Sandwell Libraries, so if you are local to the area, do go and see it.

Home Made in Smethwick: Liz Hingley

Through intimate portraits of individuals and families, Liz Hingley celebrates and documents the cultural diversity and the home cooking fusions of people living in the Victorian terraces of Smethwick, one of the most culturally diverse towns in England.

Back to the bread

I will share other bread recipes with you in the future. I chose this one first because if you have never made bread before and think you need complicated ingredients, rising time, tapping the bottom to check it sounds hollow – you know how Paul Hollywood make it all so difficult – well this ain’t that. Again I have to thank The Kitchen School and Smethwick Can Cook for this recipe.

Ingredients

250g plain flour

2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp (half) salt

1/2 tsp baking powder 110 – 130 mls milk

2tsp vegetable oil plus extra for greasing

Herbs/garlic/sesame seeds for optional toppings

Method

Sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.

In a small bowl or jug mix together the milk and oil.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour in the liquid mixture.

Slowly mix together the dough by working from the centre and incorporating the flour from the edges of the ‘well’ to make a smooth, soft dough. Knead well for 8 to 10 minutes, adding a little more flour if too sticky.

Place the dough in to an oiled bowl (I just splashed a bit of oil into the bowl I kneaded the dough in and kneaded it into the dough), cover with a damp tea towel (a clean one) and leave in a warm place for 10 – 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 5 balls.

Preheat the grill to medium and place a heavy baking sheet on the upper shelf of the grill to heat.

Roll out the dough balls quite thinly, ideally in a teardrop shape, or a circle. Sprinkle over your chosen topping and press into the surface of the dough.

Place the naan onto the hot baking tray and grill for 1 – 2 minutes, or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter or oil and serve.

Lentil dhal

 

 

 

 

 

I served mine with the dhal I made earlier this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Lentil Dhal with Tomatoes

I love Lentils

I have store cupboard ingredients to use up. Some time ago I overstocked on lentils when they were half price in the local Co Op and I have been experimenting with dhal recipes for some months now. Some have been better than others. When I saw that Smethwick Can Cook had made a dhal, using a recipe by Jayne of The Kitchen School I requested the recipe. And it is the best dhal I have made so far. Not the best I have ever eaten I hasten to add as Dhal at Lentil as Anything is a hard act to beat.

Allow yourself plenty of time for the lentils to cook and keep an eye on them. A watched pot may never boil,  but take your eye off lentils for 5 minutes and they burn.

  • Lentil dhal

To make the Dhal

Ingredients

400 g red lentils

2 tsps turmeric

2 knobs of unsalted butter (or cooking oil if you are vegan)

2 tsps cumin seeds

1 small onion finely chopped

2 – 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 – fresh green chillies finely sliced (remove seeds to reduce the heat of the chilli) or if like me you dont like it very hot add the chilli whole and pierce it with a knife

1tsp garam masala

1tsp ground coriander

thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated

2-3 fresh tomatoes, chopped into small pieces

Fresh coriander to garnish

All of these will be available in your local supermarket. However if you are lucky enough to have a small local shop that sells such ingredients it will be almost certainly be cheaper than most supermarkets. Cumin seeds in a jar from a supermarket were £1.25 in a local indie shop a large packet was 89p.

Method

First get all your ingredients prepared and measured out in advance before you start cooking. This was one lesson I learned when cooking with Jayne. I tend to be scatty and get things out as they are needed then realise I need a chopped onion and I thought I had one in the fridge and I don’t so have to run to the shops.

First rinse the lentils in a sieve a couple of times, then place them in a pan and cover with enough cold water to come about two inches above their surface. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top. Reduce to a simmer. Stir in the turmeric and a generous knob of butter. Cover and leave to cook gently.

In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin seeds over a gentle heat until toasted and fragrant (no more than a couple of minutes). Remove from the pan and set on one side.

Melt a second knob of butter in the same frying pan and gently fry the onions and  garlic until the garlic is golden then add the chillies, tomatoes and grated ginger. Add the toasted cumin seeds, garam masala and ground coriander.

Give the lentils a good stir. they should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than hummus.

Add more water if required. They can get thick very quickly with just a couple of minutes of cooking.  Then add the aromatic mix of spices and vegetables.

Season to taste.

Serve with basmati rice, a side of greens or some naan bread.

Garnish with fresh coriander.

More about lentils

Since I gave away most of my cookbooks I use the internet more than ever to find new recipes and cooking tips.

This BBC Good Food link about lentils is useful – I never know which lentil to use or why. You will find more information about lentils with links to other recipes.

 

 

 

Why I cook and why you should too

I share many photos of the food I cook

I love to cook, yet rarely share the recipes. Yesterday I posted photos of the dhal I was making and a friend asked for the recipe. Indeed that friend came round to the house today and took the left overs. Which got me thinking about adding recipes to the blog.

The recipes

Aware of copyright, the recipes I share will either be my own, or links to the recipes I use a lot. I have culled my cook book collection and use the internets more and more. I share recipes on Instagram and in a group on Facebook in an effort to share them and keep them handy so I don’t have to google them and then forget which one it is I like…

Recipes are meant to be shared

Often they are passed down through families. My nan never used a cookery book or recipe to my knowledge, she had it all in her head. My mother burned baked beans in a Melamine dish she put under the grill to heat and also melted the dish, so no family recipes here. Delia was my cookery teacher. If you like the recipes you find here, share them with your families and friends.

Inspired by Smethwick Can Cook

I met Jayne, chef and owner of The Kitchen School a few years ago at an exhibition at The Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. She was doing some cookery demonstrations – making soup out of left overs including vegetable scraps. I had just started work with Smethwick CAN a charity that, alongside other projects, manages Smethwick Foodbank. I got chatting to her, took some contact details and began to think how I could use her skills to deliver cookery lessons in Smethwick. Many months later Smethwick CAN secured a small amount of funding from Near Neighbours to run some cookery lessons. The focus of these were to have fun in the kitchen, meeting new people from other cultures and faiths, while learning to cook healthy, affordable food. What I had specified when writing the bid, was that as well as cooking, participants would sit down and share the meal they had prepared.

Food binds communities

Jayne agreed to deliver the course and I also persuaded Albert Smith, an inspirational baker, to teach bread making. Both were committed to building community and shared my conviction that food binds communities. The breaking of bread is something that happens in all cultures and all faiths. By cooking and eating together, without the distraction of social media or the telly, conversation happened. In the community kitchen at Raglan Road Christian Church, magic happened. All over the country, community kitchens in churches are under used. What we started here we hoped would spread to more empty kitchens in Smethwick. People baking bread together, eating together and making food for their local community. Food brings people out from the isolation of their homes

Making bread is easier than you think

Watching Albert make bread is a wondrous sight to behold. He doesn’t use weighing scales, but mugs. Tasting it is a treat. Warm bread, straight out of the oven is enough to encourage kitchen phobics to learn to bake. And they did.

What white sauce doesn’t have to come out of a jar?

Well that is not quite what was said – but after making a bechamel sauce for the first time, one woman said she did not realise how easy it was to make and after tasting it declared that she would never buy a jar of sauce again.

Be inspired

This project inspired me to now share not just photos of food, but recipes, cooks that have influenced me. Food I love and hope you do too.

Find the recipes from the first Smethwick Can Cook here.

Another good resource is Can Cook Kitchen – a food project in Liverpool. Their 2 can curry looks amazingly simple to make. I must try it.

Eating my way around Melbourne – vegetarian and vegan

First off I am not a vegetarian. Don’t think I could be, but every so often I come across really good vegetarian cafes and don’t miss meat at all. And so far my favourites have been in Melbourne.

The one place I ate at many times in Melbourne was Lentil as Anything. a not for profit organisation. Back in 2011 my husband and I volunteered at Lentil in St Kilda. Enjoyed every moment working there and even ate there on our days off.

St Kilda is one of my favourite places to hang out in Melbourne, as it is near the sea, has my favorite allotment in the world and is a glorious meld of backpackers and the well heeled. Sitting outside Lentil is a great place to people watch.

The other Lentil we also went to was the one at Abbotsford Convent. We spent Christmas Eve here in 2011, happy memories of the Farmers Market, lunch at lentil then listening to the band at the bar around the corner.

This year we took the dogs to the Farmers Market at Abbotsford, which in retrospect wasn’t a good idea. Neither of them like crowded places, so after eating we found a quiet place to sit with the dogs and took it in turns to go around the market.

That said, Mac was so funny, when he saw anyone with food in their hand he sat straight away in front of them and gave them his ‘feed me look’.

The dogs were always a hit at all the cafes we took them to. they came to brunch with us at  by the dog park regularly (on our non veggie days) And Lentil St Kilda was our post beach or Botanic Garden walk visits.

Lentil as Anything has a Pay as you Feel policy. There are no prices on the menu, just suggested donations. If you can’t afford to pay the suggested donation, pay what you can afford, as all donations are anonymous, made via the Magic Box. Also you can pay by giving your time as a volunteer.

The clientele are eclectic, there is a little bit more of the hipster vibe at Abbotsford while it is more backpackers at St Kilda, along with anyone else who goes there for the amazing food. I always remember my last shift as a volunteer when a family donated $80 for their meal (we only knew because he paid by card). The manager had actually keyed in $18 and was shocked when the customer said to him that he was paying $80 not $18. That is how Lentil works.

The other vegetarian cafe  I visited with Phil was in the city on Swanston Street. Crossways is a Hare Krishna restaurant, a few steps away from Flinders Street Station just past McDonalds.

Seriously why anyone would eat at a fast food place when you can get two courses and a drink for $7.95 or $5.95 for concessions is beyond me.The menu changes daily and there is a lounge area and a yoga studio on the top floor.

 

It is basic, you share tables, the portions are generous and you can go back for seconds. Here you are as likely to share a table with an office worker as you are a backpacker.

Melbourne is a food lovers paradise. The markets have amazing food to take home, or take a walk along Lonsdale Street and  you can choose from Burgers, Italian, Greek and South East Asian food within a minute of each other.

The amazing burgers and brunches make me want me to book a ticket to Melbourne right now. Yet for value for money, for the planet, to be part of the community and to give your body a break from all the animal protein go visit Lentil and Crossways . You won’t regret it.

Live Below the Line 2015

Up front, I break all the rules of Live Below the Line. I don’t go to the shop with a fiver in my hand and buy my food for the week. I had lentils in the cupboard and pretty much decided to base my food plan for the five days around these. I have calculated my budget on what it would cost me if I had bought them. My shopping list is at the end of this post.

Breakfast has been an egg and a slice of bread for me, and husband has had toast with home made bread costing under 27p per loaf.

I also had these waiting to be used before they went well past edible. I hate throwing away food.

Tired veggies needing tlc

This is what I have spent this week. £9.52  I am cooking for 2 adults and one meal (sausage casserole) was for 3 adults.

So what have I been eating?

I used the flour to make bread and flat breads. At 27p this is better value than any cheap supermarket bread and a lot healthier.

Monday

Dinner was A Girl Called Jack chickpea and peach curry, costing 22p per portion.

I cheated a bit at lunch as I am facilitating a cookery course for Smethwick CAN, who I work for. We made 3 pasta dishes and bread and then we sit and share a meal. The portions per person we costed at £1.50 so I skipped the meat dish, and had one slice of bread, and a small portion of the vegetarian one.

Tuesday

Lunch: Leftover chickpea and peach curry

Dinner: Lentil casserole with onions and spices, served with rice.

Wednesday

Lunch. Leftover lentil casserole.

Dinner. Sausage casserole. This cost a totals of £2.56 serving 3. At 84p per portion it takes us over budget.

Thursday

Roasted vegetable soup

Lunch. soup made with roasted peppers, onions, celery and tomatoes.

Dinner. Lentil curry and rice.

Friday is going to be tricky as I am going away for the weekend. I know lunch will be soup, and we may have some curry before we head off.

Yes I have cheated, again. I have spent more that I am supposed to. My husband added butter and jam to his toast and had tea every day. I have used herbs and spices in everything I have cooked. I had a ‘free lunch’. I bought meat. I have however only had 2 cups of tea this week although the plan was to stick to hot water. I have gone hungry and have been light headed. I have missed vegetables and fruit but not meat as much as I thought I would. Meat takes you way over budget too. I have also re discovered that peach and chickpea curry is so lovely it will be on the weekly meal plan going forward.

In the past I have been critical of the menus suggested by Live Below the Line. I ranted on about the use of value sausages and cheap bread. This year, I have to praise the resources available. And I wish I had planned better.

Why do I so this challenge every year (and fail)? I did not sign up to raise money, I do it to raise awareness. I work for a charity that manages a Trussell Trust foodbank. What I have saved on food this week will be used to buy much needed items for Smethwick Foodbank. Over 1 million people in the UK were given 3 days emergency food by Trussell Trust foodbanks last year (2014/15). Other foodbanks, soup kitchens and food drives, temples and mosques are also feeding people in food crisis. That is scandalous. Get sad then get angry that children go to school hungry. I do and that is why I Live Below the Line.

I have written posts before about my Live Below the Line attempts and failures. If you want to see those, just click on the Food and Live Below the Line category tab on the blog or use the search box. If you want to. Also please comment, I like that. And if you can afford to donate food to a foodbank, please do so.

Shopping list (most items from Aldi)

Lentils 500 g £1.29

Onions £0.79

Chickpeas 35p

Tinned peaches 35p

Tinned potatoes 15p

Tinned carrots 19p

Tinned tomatoes 31p

peppers £1.17

rice 40p

sausages £1.99

Strong flour 75p

Yeast 59p

6 free range eggs 95p

celery 59p

tomato puree 37p

 

Cooking with Jack and baking with Mary

For Christmas, as I am not accepting actual items into my home any longer, my good friend offered to give me a baking lesson. It has taken time, but I finally had a lesson in making shortbread.

We chose shortbread because:

  • My previous attempts have been rather disastrous as in over cooked, and too biscuity.
  • The good friend, is a big Mary Berry fan, and has made this shortbread twice with success.
  • My son likes shortbread.

I made it all by hand, which I think I prefer as it it quite therapeutic I find to crumble the butter and flour together. I had my doubts that I would achieve the dough, yet with patience I got dough, and then got it into a tin.

The verdict, well there is only half left, as we all dived in and ate almost half before it was even cool. The son, yet to be weaned off shop bought shortbread, with additives and palm oil, said it was better than Scottish Shortbread from Aldi. And I even managed to find a suitable tin to store it in.

Traybake Shortbread

Of course the upside to this, was that I finally got to sit and have a cuppa with the good friend as we have hardly spoken since Christmas. And that is the way it is with good friends, we cannot always see them every day or week and that it ok, as when you do catch up, it is still easy.

And so to the Jack part of this post. I made soup with tired veggies lurking at the back of the fridge using this recipe for Simple Mushroom Soup. All made in a microwave and cost next to nothing. My greens were some pak choi, not cabbage. Lunch for both me and my husband for Monday. Out of things other people would have probably thrown away. Tasty Wastey!  The Real Junk Food Project would be proud of me. And one for the Live Below the Line challenge later on this year.

Simple Mushroom Soup

 

Why I write

Why I write

And who do I write for?

Feedback

A few weeks back a regular reader who often comments (thank you for both) took me aback with a remark about the bloody trench coats. Not quite ‘don’t mention them again’, more ‘I am bored now, move on!’

I was momentarily upset. It is after all my blog and I can post what I want. I write this for me. I very nearly stamped my foot. I may have said a swear word or two.

After I had calmed down I thought maybe they do have a point. If someone has taken time to write it, it may be true. It wasn’t unkind, or mean spirited. And when you blog and publish and share it on Twitter, you open yourself to feedback. If you only write or blog so that people say kind things to you, stop now. Really, stop.

I typed the ‘B’ Word in to the search box and yup. I have mentioned them a lot.

So I won’t be mentioning them again. They have gone and I have moved on.

I was stuck

And then I wondered why I had gone on about them so much? And I came to the conclusion that they had become symbolic of the clutter that was holding me back. I was stuck in my life. I wasn’t playing the same old record over and over again, I was just playing the same line in a song. And not getting to the end of it. Time to nudge that needle to the next groove. And give that record a good clean.

Whenever I thought of having too much stuff, it always came back to the fact that Mom had bought the same things over and over again. She too was stuck in the same groove, not moving on.

When she took up machine knitting, she had three different models. They all did different things you see, one did not satisfy her needs.

When she took up golf, for all of five minutes, she got all the gear. Pringle sweater this and plus four that and special shoes. To play on the local council owned golf course, not at The Belfry.

Stuff and mental health

Her stuff helped me understand the relationship between clutter and mental health and to realise that surrounding yourself with stuff does not make you happy. Happiness is not a designer handbag, a wardrobe of shoes or three knitting machines and a collection of Wedgwood Calender Plates. Or piles of books and a vinyl collection that you could never ever have time to play in its entirety. It cannot be bought. Happiness can be found in one song that takes you back to one moment in your life in an instant, that brings all those good memories flooding back. Of course there maybe a song that can remind you of the sad times too. And that is ok because that means that you are alive, you have memories, happy and sad, that have made you who you are. We can’t be happy all the time.

Let go

If a book or a CD or a handbag is gathering dust; if you don’t love it and you don’t use it; it holds none of those precious memories. It is just stuff. Taking up space in you house and your mind, leaving no room to let other things in.

Most of the cookery books I had were thick with dust. The ones with food stained pages and repaired spines were the ones I loved and used and I have kept those.

Remind me of why

Why do I write? I write because it gets me in touch with all those raw emotions and reminds me that I am alive, and I can laugh and cry and love.

I write because the more I write the better I get. I know this, as I have a record of how I used to write, and how I write now, in front of me. I don’t’ use ‘and’ and ‘so’ as much. Although I still use them too much.

I write because I am learning about blogging and WordPress and Plugins and self hosting. Learning is a good thing. It keeps the brain busy, even if technology make me swear a lot. (You should see me with a remote control).

I write because it make me feel better, it improves my mood. I know this because I have in front of me a journey of highs and lows laid out in posts about lonely people in cafes and days out at local festivals. I write because it is better than taking medication for those highs and lows. Much better.

I write because I want a record of my travels and of my life so my kids can read it in years to come. (They don’t read it now). I write because Mom always said she would write her life story, and she never did. I wished she had as it was a pretty amazing life. Until it became normal.

I write because I know that one or two of my posts have moved and inspired people, and they have thanked me for it. Just like other writers have moved and inspired me. Helped me understand farsickness. The blogging community is a mixed bunch I have found. Some are happy to share and engage, some think they are special. Some make a judgement on their readers and choose not to engage as they decide that I am not their target market (yes, really). And many don’t. And so I tidy them out every now and again.

I write because it makes me a more adventurous cook. I know more about baking and cooking and food poverty now, because I write. I understand better the connection between well being and food. And writing makes you read more. I read more about food and food poverty. I was directed by the blogging community to writers like Jack Monroe and getting angry about food poverty brought me to the job I do now. The job that I have been looking for for most of my life. A job that I couldn’t have done if I had not experienced the happy, sad and despairing moments that makes me who I am. Met the people who have shaped my life. And that is why I write.

I write for me. I write for Mom. Who didn’t. Yet she taught me to write, encouraged me to.

mom and me Tenby Sept 59

And I write for you, if you want to read it you can. Because this isn’t a locked diary that I don’t want to share. It is not the musing of a love crossed teenager who wonders what to wear at the disco on Friday night.

I write because this is about me and what I am thinking and how love, death and stuff can mess up your life and why trying to be normal, to conform, made my mother the person she wasn’t. And that is not going to happen to me. Because I write. For me.

 

 

 

Pay as You Feel for Real Junk Food

Junk food but not as you know it

At the Real Junk Food Project, Birmingham. I took two new potential volunteers to help out in the kitchens. As I was ill, and banned from the kitchens, I had the opportunity to see the cafe from the point of view of a customer.

There is a whole group of regulars now, and this was the busiest Sunday service yet. Some of them knew each other, from hostels or from SIFA Fireside, others, from sheltered housing who came alone the first time, now eat communally with new friends. They possibly have the only conversation they will have all day, help with the washing up before returning to their lonely flat and Corrie.

Our customers

We have an open-door policy. We’ve fed teachers, solicitors, asylum seekers and bankers. People who are food insecure come here – the homeless, those on income support, students and the elderly. We also feed people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs: we’ve had people in here taking a hit of methadone and sweating in a corner, drinking coffee and sugar and then they get up and say, “Thank you, there’s nowhere else I could do this. – See more at: http://www.logarty.com/lifestyle/logarts/feed-leeds-with-real-junk-food#sthash.LA6i3ocx.dpuf

Adam Smith, The Real Junk Food Project

One of the regulars, who helped make the gravy to go with the roast beef dinner this week, said the place was a lifesaver. She helped make cakes sometimes, too.  The guy I sat and ate lunch with told me that he had been homeless for over a year, but was settled now, living on £300 per month. As there were people waiting to be seated, we offered our seats to them once we had finished, and he left. He came back, later, he had gone for a walk he said, as it was sunny. We talked the people I had brought with me. He spoke to them about life in South Africa, and cleaned the tables.

Almost everyone puts some money in the Magic Box.

Volunteering at Lentil as Anything

It was in 2011 that I first came across the concept of Pay as You Feel. It was in St Kilda, Melbourne and the cafe was called Lentil as Anything. I was in Readings,  a book store and more on Acland Street with my husband, and while he perused the vinyl, I had picked up a book about the project. Realising that the cafe was just a step away we went and had lunch there.

Lentil as Anything

After enjoying the delicious vegetarian food, we got chatting to the manager and offered to volunteer. Like most people new to the Pay as You Feel concept, we struggled to work out what to pay, as there are no prices on the menu. As a volunteer it was probably the most common question I was asked by customers. ‘How much money should I put into the magic box?’ By volunteering, of course we were contributing to the running of the cafe, we always put some dollars in the box for the food we had. We also ate there when we were not volunteering. Not just because the food was so good, and not because the cost of living in Melbourne was seriously denting our travel budget, (it was) but because we loved the concept that what we paid enabled those that could not afford to pay much or at all, were able to eat there because of the contribution we made.

The customer base was made up of backpackers and families, of media types and artists. Rich and poor and in between. On my last day I fed a young English lad who had no money left till the banks opened after Christmas, and a family from Brighton, Melbourne who left $80 for their meal. Which convinced me that the model could work.

Eating out in Melbourne was not cheap, but we usually donated to Lentil the same amount as we paid in similar eateries. Another of our favourite places was Crossways which if the website if correct is still only $7.50 ($5.50 for students) for two courses. And you could go back for seconds. This was always busy, people in suits and yoga kit, backpackers and tourists all sharing tables and eating very good vegetarian food. The cost of a McDonalds meal is about $6, so the food at Crossways was really good value and healthier.

As for what people choose to pay it seems that this is not always enough to cover overheads, if this article is anything to go by.Lentil have now a suggested donation, yet they do not want to lose sight of their core philosophy.

Lentil as Anything is a unique not for profit community organisation. At our core are the pay as you feel restaurants where customers give what they feel the food is worth and have the opportunity to contribute towards a world where respect, generosity, trust, equality, freedom and kindness rule.

Adam, the founder of The Real Junk Food project had come across Lentil on his travels. This and other food experiences in Australia developed into the idea which has now created an ever growing network of Pay as You Feel cafes and pop ups in the UK. Food is intercepted before it goes to landfill and is cooked and offered at cafes in Leeds, Brighton, Birmingham and Bristol. The menu changes as food intercepted can be anything from mangoes and plantains from the market to Christmas hamper food from a well known store that is never knowingly undersold.

At the table we are equal, eating food that otherwise would have been thrown away. In a world where bankers and coffee chains and giant retailers legally avoid paying tax, we have people going hungry and food going to landfill. We have foodbanks.

And that is why I want to see more Pay as You Feel cafes, across the country. Across the world. Let’s really feed the world.