Day 5, the last day of this “living below the line” challenge. A few hours more to go. It’s been hard at times, but it was worth the effort.
We interrupt this blog post to express our gratitude to Marijke Fontijn and Arno Brevoort for their donations. You guys are awesome! As I’m writing this, our joined efforts list at 701th position out of 5038 participants. It’s still possible to donate to Action Against Hunger for a good while to come!
Now back to our regular scheduled programming, where you’ll find out why I’ve been shouting at lentils.
But let’s start at the very beginning – A very good place to start. Let’s have a look at breakfast.
Poffertjes, or Dutch mini pancakes. Usually they’re made of buckwheat, but regular wheat will do today. Made just with flour, milk and a pinch of salt. most of the “trick” is in the cast iron “poffertjespan” with individual indentations. Normally these are dusted with some butter and powdered sugar on top… sometimes with some cinnamon. That does make them quite a lot nicer, but these were “good enough” for today. They weren’t too far off from the real thing anyway.
For lunch today, the obligatory lentils. No, these weren’t the ones I shouted at. I boiled them together with the carrot from the mixed veg. Since that was going to be nowhere filling enough to keep me going for the day, I added some peanut butter and finished it all off with a spoonful of flour. It looks pretty solid in the picture, and it was. Good thing the peanut butter was in there, because it also helped the taste tremendously. Nothing particularly inspired here though.
That would be, of course, because I saved most of today’s inspiration for supper. I was planning to make sprouted lentils part of the plan. They were supposed to take about three days to sprout. “It’s easy”, I read. Well, once again I’ve shown myself that I can’t rely on my non-existent green thumbs. I tried singing at these lentils, talking to them, and yes, shouting at them… (“GROW, DAMMIT!”)… In fact I even tried watering them. But no sprouting was going on at any time. Then they started to smell funny. So I decided not to use any lentils in supper.
Supper, of course, was going to involve a stir-fry. Luckily, although I had a mishap with my “bean” sprouts, I had good fortune yesterday as I found some wild onions.For a stir fry I’d normally choose spring onions/scallions/salad onions, but I expected wild onions to be similar enough that they’d do the trick just fine. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:
Above, the wild onions. Below, with a rubber band around them, the store-bought salad onions (which I bought before the challenge, by the way- and which I probably should use soon as they’re starting to wilt). Guess what? Wild onions made a dandy alternative. They were a bit stronger and a bit tougher than salad onions are but certainly a pleasant thing to have in a stir-fry.
I decided to to cut the leftover of swede into matchsticks (for you cheffy types out there, I think you call it “julienne”) to resemble similar-cut bamboo shoots. It worked a treat. I split my last half an onion. I rough-cut half for the stir-fry and finely chopped the other quarter, which I sauteed. Together with the remaining peanut butter and milk, this made for a satay sauce, of course using some herbs and spices for flavour.
And what about the leftover flour? Only one possibility, really. Noodles. Of course, I wasn’t going to use instant noodles. I’ve grown far too masochistic to do that on a day like this. No, I wanted proper food.
If lasagne is the easiest pasta to make, hand-pulled noodles are probably the hardest kind. I’ve been practicing since last year, and I can just about make them. I wasn’t even sure it was going to work with the self-raising flour I bought, but I’ve had some practice. Boy, have I ever had some practice. Since last year, it’s taken me 30 tries before I first managed to make a dough that stretched far enough. It takes flour, water, and a bit of salt. Some recipes add bicarbonate of soda, but I figured the fact that I used self raising flour would take care of that.
So, here goes.
Make a dough with water and flour with a bit of salt mixed in. Stretch, fold. Stretch, fold. Repeat until you get bored of it and it still doesn’t work. Use a mixer with a dough hook for a while. Return to stretching and folding until the gluten has developed. Stretch and fold some more. Every time the dough will stretch a bit further. More stretching and folding. Sure, use that mixer again. Does the dough feel too tough and rubbery? Add a bit of water, mix, stretch, fold. I hope you have a bit of patience because the process takes about an hour.
Finally I had a dough that showed promise, strands visible within the dough.
After more stretching-and-folding, I felt I had a dough that I could reliably stretch into noodles.
So I prepared a baking tin with flour (which saves a lot of cleaning-up afterwards!) and started stretching noodles.
Many strands. At least 64, anyway. And into a pot of boiling water they went, for all of 30 seconds.
I’m still going to have to figure out how to pull them more evenly. But hey, it’s a start. Definitely not a skill one picks up in a day.
Even Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay had trouble learning to pull noodles. The videos on the Noodle Oodle website filled in a few blanks for me, but more importantly made me realize just how hard it is to get the hang of. If even Chef Ramsay has trouble with it…
I’ll confess that I’ve been a bit obsessed with learning how to do it, and since London is within driving distance, I ultimately went there a few weeks ago as well (to the relief of my coworkers, who had a day without me rambling about hand-pulled noodles!). I observed the Noodle Master for a bit. He made it look so easy. Of course I couldn’t resist and had a meal then as well. If you have the opportunity and you’re near the place, and you’re not on a one-pound-per-day sort of challenge, try the La Mian with Peking Duck. It’s excellent and reasonably priced.
But I digress. Once my noodles were done, I added a bit of oil to keep the noodles separated and made my stir-fry using oil, the swede, onions, wild onions, green veg and sweet soy sauce. Finally, I put it all together.
I dare say… that was a pretty glorious plate of food.
Now the big question… did I stay under a pound today?
18p mixed veg
12p peanut butter (2 spoons, 6p each)
15p spices, soy sauce, oil
TOTAL – 94p YES!!! But only JUST. Is it a surprise to me? Not really.
Overall, this was the most expensive of the five days. No surprise there. I spent well under 5 pounds in groceries, which gave me some room to spice up my meals. I did end up consuming almost a whole bag of flour, almost all the lentils, all the mixed veg, the onions and the swede.
I do still have a small amount of the food left (little bit of flour, some peanut butter), which makes sense since I ended up under budget most days.
So, I guess the week was a succes! I’ve probably lost a little bit of weight, my blood pressure has improved a bit and most importantly, we’ve raised a good amount of money for charity! If you have enjoyed reading this blog, I’d appreciate it if you could still drop by at the livebelowtheline website and donate to Action Against Hunger and leave a little something there to help me reach my goal. It is my understanding that donations will still keep being accepted until the end of June.
This challenge differed from the one that I set myself a year ago. Last year, I started from scratch and had a one pound per day allowance for everything. Any money I saved, I could use in the future. I could never borrow from the future. It was very clear how much money I had in cash at any given moment, and I could never spend more than that One Pound. At the same time, I could use whatever resources were available to me, like a person living in extreme poverty would. I found out that ethics, to a degree, is a luxury. When you have little to spend, you have to dig deep to find it. It is harder to do the Right Thing if you can’t simply buy yourself a clean conscience.
The “Live below the line challenge” had its own set of rules. The easy bit was that I could spend more money in the beginning, allowing me to more easily obtain staple items than during my own challenge. On the other hand, food-and-drink items that in my life situation are freely available – such as tea and coffee – were suddenly off-limits. It’s been pretty hard having just water to drink and nothing else. Some of the rules were open for interpretation. Is garlic a “herb or spice”? Soy sauce? Oil? Where do you draw the line? I decided to allow myself using oil at proportional cost, this time. If I had anything to prove, such as that living on a pound per day can be done, I’ve proven it last year. Finally, as the challenge only lasted five days, ultimately I was much more restricted than last year, simply because a 5-pounds budget allows you to buy fewer different items than 31 pounds.
I think I’ve also shown that knowing how to cook matters. It makes a pound per day stretch a lot further than, say, eating peanut butter sandwiches for five days on end, three times a day. I dare say that despite the limited set of ingredients I had available, I’ve had a pretty varied diet this week (although it will be a while before I’m having lentils again), and more nutritious than that of most of my fellow participants.
And once again, I’ve concluded that flour is amazing stuff.
Sprouted lentils instead of beansprouts. That never happened. Otherwise, no regrets. I didn’t make gnocchi, probably could have. Or mixed veg dim-sum dumplings.
What’s in it for me?
Obviously, it’s good to know that I’ve been able to help out a bit. For me personally, I think the value in this has been to learn that even if life turns sour, things are going to be OK. It feels almost like having a secret little super-power. And then there’s the contrasting realisation that in my reality, I don’t have such problems. I’m more grateful of what I have because of it.
Sorting mixed veg, without a shadow of doubt.
Well people, that’s it for me. I’ll be enjoying a nice breakfast with fresh coffee tomorrow. It was worth the effort. Now to do the final paperwork.