Living below the line – Choosing a charity

19 Feb

This year, “Living below the line” will take place all over the world again. This year, it will officially be held in the week of 28 April 2014, but I might be somewhat flexible with those dates, but of course I’m planning to take part. To sign up, however, I’ll need to choose a charity.

Since I’m going to be asking for your support, I suppose it’s only fair if I also allow you to choose which charity any donations will go to.

Eligible charities are:

- Malaria No More UK
- Concern Worldwide UK
- Oxfam
- Restless Development
- Save the Children
- Unicef

Please leave a comment stating which of these you thing is most worthy of donations and why!

Thank you in advance!

In search of ideas!

27 Nov

Looks like there’s going to be another “Living below the line” in 2014, so I guess I’ll be in for that. In the meantime, I wonder how to make the challenge more interesting and/or useful.

If anyone has any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them!

Oh, hello there!

13 Nov

Hello people, what’s up with all the extra traffic this last week? Is it time for another week of ultra-cheap cooking or something?

What a glorious day.

3 May

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.


Four strands.


Sixteen strands.


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?

10p swede
10p milk
15p lentils
18p mixed veg
9p flour
5p onion
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.

Final thoughts

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.

Missed opportunities

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.

Craziest moment

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.

Signing off,


Vegetables, remixed

2 May

Massive thanks go out to Sue Hall, Neil de Villiers and Will Smith for their contributions! This takes us into the top 20% of highest contributors, which is fantastic going! But we’re still a good bit away from the target. If you haven’t yet, please consider donating on my “live below the line” profile page.

Now, on to the bloggy bit of this challenge.

I confess. Today was actually a bit of a struggle. I made a crumpet for breakfast (well, sort of one at least), which I had au naturel. Not trying to sound posh here or anything. Just admitting that it sounds better than “plain”, which is what it tasted like.

It was so ugly that its own mother would reject it. And that’s the better looking side right there.
I had run out of time for making anything fancy for lunch, so I figured I’d just make a quick flatbread and enjoy it with peanut butter.

Of course, it would be helpful if next time I’d remember to bring the peanut butter.

So here you go.


I had also thought of bringing some mint to have a nice hot drink, but noooooooo. I had to forget again. So I went through the day on a prisoner’s diet of water and bread. I tried to live it up with foraged tea:


… which didn’t look particularly inviting either. (Okay, it was a bit better after removing the solids, at which point it pretty much looked like a regular green tea).


It wasn’t great, but not too bad. That is, if you happen to like tea that tastes sort of like asparagus. Okay, so it was pretty bad. Still, it was a welcome change from only water day in day out. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy a nice cold glass of water, especially on a hot summer day. Nothing like it. But I thrive on variation.

This day just had to be turned around. Supper was certainly going to have to be a bit more interesting. I’d already been telling myself, “So, what’s for supper? I know, let’s have LENTILS again. Hurray!” You can just feel the excitement.

I decided to go for a bit of a walk before thinking of dinner. Certainly that would help inspire me. And guess what – it did. I had hardly left my street or I noticed some wild onion growing about. Never knew I had some of the stuff around. So what would I eat, pasta? I already had pasta yesterday. Italian influences seemed like a good idea though. Sardinian “music paper” bread came to mind. The stuff is basically paper-thin rolled dough, baked to a crisp, seasoned with salt and rosemary. Certainly that was achievable. Lacking rosemary, a few pine needles seemed the natural substitute. You certainly don’t want them to overpower! Anyway, I gave it a go and baked it at low heat – about 160°C (too hot and it would easily burn).

And what else, pasta? Nah, not today. Some cauliflower would be nice… This dinner was starting to take shape. So, I took all my frozen mixed veg and got to work.


I sorted my mixed vegetables by colour. That must be the most severely autistic thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Notice there’s considerably more carrot in the mixed vegetables than cauliflower or broccoli/peas. Carrot must be cheap, while broccoli and peas are obviously a lot more expensive. Since the bag only stated “Mixed vegetables in varying proportions”, I never had any idea what those proportions were. Well… Now we do.

With the vegetables sorted out, inspiration started flowing a bit better as well. There’s this dish, “gobi manchurian”, which is essentially a Chinese/Indian sweet-sour-spicy cauliflower tempura. Cauliflower, when submitted to high temperature, changes flavour considerably. I coated the cauliflower with some flour and pan-fried it with a tiny bit of oil until the flour started to brown a bit. If you’ve never liked cauliflower and you’ve only ever had it boiled – Try this. It’s like an entirely different vegetable. I realized I probably better eat my lentils, both to stay filled up and to fulfil my protein requirements. Oh well. I didn’t do anything fancy with them this time – for the first time this week. Sometimes having things plain is all the variation you need. I saved the peas and broccoli. I’ll use those tomorrow. I used about half the carrot, and decided to puree them with a bit of cardamom. That trick worked well with the swede last Monday, and I figured it would combine well with carrot, too.

Overall, I’m glad I did the sorting, as it allowed for slightly different textures and flavours than before.

So here is… my supper for today.


Vibrant carrot puree. Delicious lentils (meh). Crispy “music paper” bread. Nutty cauliflower, which was actually enjoyable. And a sprig of wild onion to help make it look posh (Okay, I guess it didn’t work. It still looks just like a messy heap of grub). At least my day has redeemed itself somewhat. And I’ve got a crispy nibble left for tonight.

Damage done:

Flour: 10p worth
Lentils: 20p
Mixed veg:  18p
Oil, herbs, spices, salt: 10p (that’s probably generous)
68p… More under budget than ever. I seem to be getting the hang of this.

Budget not spent yet: 58p. I’m allowed to spend it on either more groceries and/or herbs and spices. Which basically means, I can go overboard with herbs and spices tomorrow.

Then again, I probably should spread some peanut butter on that crispy nibble tonight.

Wrong hummus and lasagne

1 May

I have probably mentioned this last year, but time is just about the first thing that you sacrifice when your food budget is only one pound per day. In general, when you don’t have a budget, you won’t have access to convenience foods, and as a result you end up spending a lot of time on preparing your foods. (Yesterday’s tinned potatoes were a pleasant exception to the rule, being both cheaper and less work compared to fresh potato).

For the sake of food preparation, I do get up half an hour earlier than usual this week.  You won’t be surprised then that today I’m thrilled with what I ended up eating, considering preparation wasn’t all that time-consuming. As I’ve been doing, I started my morning routine cooking lunch and breakfast. I made some onion bread using the leftover of my first onion, flour water and salt. I put a bowl of water in the oven this time, as I read somewhere soft rolls are made like that. Although the resulting bread was nowhere near a soft roll, it certainly had a smoother crust.

I had the choice to be lazy and had one roll with chunky peanut butter.


Despite the lazy breakfast, however, today I had something that was lacking a bit yesterday: Inspiration. I wonder if my near-overdose in mixed vegetables last night had something to do with that. Part of that inspiration came from a treasure I found in my freezer drawer last night.

IMG_1502 IMG_1503

I’m big fan of fresh herbs, but lack the green thumbs to grow them (those genes went to my older brother). I also don’t mind a bargain, now and again (no surprise there). So back in September, I bought a little bag of heavily reduced fresh mint leaves, put them in my freezer and forgot about them. Look at them either way you want, but this nicely fits the description of “herbs and spices” within the rules, so I’m feeling entitled to use these at proportional cost. If you think that’s unfair and should count full (discounted) price, I’ll consider it. But not now.

I realized I could make a completely wrong hummus. Wrong?

Well, traditionally, the recipe goes something like this…

Traditional hummus

  • 200g/7oz canned chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt, to taste
  • 100ml/3½fl oz tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Additional flavouring (garlic, coriander, paprika…)


- Blend everything together in a food processor, until it’s a creamy paste

As for my one-pound-per-day version, it goes something like this:

Wrong hummus

Consider the traditional hummus recipe. Adjust amounts to whatever you need.

  • Replace lemon juice with vinegar.
  • Replace chick peas with boiled lentils.
  • Replace oil with water.
  • Replace tahini with peanut butter. Use less, as practical.
  • Replace coriander/garlic/paprika with heavily discounted mint leaves.
  • Don’t replace the salt. Salt is cheap.
  • Prepare as recipe above.

This resulted in a spread that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike hummus – but tasty enough to be enjoyable. I thought my lunch was going to look like this:


So I snapped a picture and headed off to work.

Use the toaster.

What was that?

Use the toaster! And get your ears fixed.

Well, thank you for the idea. Toasted onion bread and wrong hummus it was.


By the way, the pizza mentioned yesterday never materialised. I needed to suffer through the presence of some delicious looking sandwiches instead. After my wrong hummus on toast, it was not much of an issue though. Then there’s the nagging questions… Lacking tea, is it weird to drink hot water? (Hey, some mint leaves could make a nice hot drink!)

And what to have for supper? I decided on lasagne. Fresh lasagne sheets are the simplest pasta you can make. Just mix flour with a bit of water into a stiff, dry, dough and roll it out. Done. For the sauce, I sauteed half an onion, then added boiled lentils, mixed vegetables and oregano, pepper, salt. I added a bit of water and ran it through the food processor, then returned it to the pan and slightly thickened it with a water/flour mixture. I constructed most of the lasagne, then proceeded to make a bechamel with milk and flour, spiced up with freshly foraged garlic mustard. I topped the lasagne with the bechamel. Lacking cheese, I dusted the top with some flour, processed into a breadcrumb-like texture with a bit of water and some salt.


After baking it… Not too shabby. It would have been better with cheese, tomato and mince, but it was tasteful (as tasteful as one could expect at least), filling and halfway healthy.

I can’t eat another bite. I’m absowutewy ftuffed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shout at some lentils. But I’ll tell you more about that another day.

By the way, finances for today…

Flour 10p
Peanut butter 10p
Mixed veg 19p
Lentils 20p
Milk 11p
Onion 8p
Herbs and spices, salt 7p
Total spent on food… 85p

Previous total spendings: 425p
Proportional use of herbs and spices: 7p
New total spendings:  432p
Budget left for the next 2 days: 68p
Thanks go out to Sarah Smith for her donation today.
For those who wish to help fight world hunger, please donate here.

Free food, free food everywhere

30 Apr

I don’t feel particularly hungry so far, so nutritionally I mustn’t be doing too terribly. But I do notice that I’m a bit more focused on food than usual.

Specifically free food such as our Monday fruits. Now off-limits.


Or stuff that merely passes for food – Another celebration. Pass. Chocolate bars brought from abroad, that I’d been happily tasting last week – but not now.


An opportunity for free pizza this Wednesday. I’ll be skipping that too.

And no tea. Nor coffee. Nor milk. If someone living in extreme poverty had the chance, I doubt they’d say “no” to all of that.Going for a walk should clear my mind, right?

Wrong. Everywhere I look, I see food. Cow parsley. Daisies. Dandelions. Garlic mustard. Lavender. Nettles. White clover. Wild onion. Goose grass. Ribwort.
I could eat all of these if I had to.

cowparsley daisy dandelion garlicmustard lavender nettles whiteclover wildonion

And there’s more around. Pine trees. Hazelnuts. Blackberry. Sloes. Thistles. Sure, not all of it is in season at the moment. But it’s amazing how much there is.

But enough about food. Let’s talk food.

Breakfast: Pancakes, made just with flour and milk. They were OK, I guess. For lunch, a lentil burger on a bun I baked this morning. It was edible. It was filling. But I’m slowly getting enough of lentils. Great source of protein, though. So for supper, I used the stuff I bought yesterday: My 15p canned potato and a quarter of a bag in frozen mixed vegetables. Roast them in the oven.

2013day02_breakfast 2013day02_lunch 2013day02_supper

I finally emptied the jar of mixed herbs that I bought over a year ago, during my previous pound-a-day challenge. All 0.43 grams of it (I checked with my precision scales) that were left of the initial 18 grams bought at 18p. Since that’s less than 1/2 pence, I’ll be rounding that down. For extra protein, I had a spoon of peanut butter, about 6p worth. All in all, a simple meal – but a tasty one. I don’t really need any more carbs around, but I just might splash out on another 15p can of already peeled, already boiled potato. Worth it.

Breakfast felt like too much food. Supper felt like too much food. I’m eating and eating, but…

Milk 11p
Flour 5p
Lentils 10p
Salt 1p
Pepper 1p
Garam masala 3p
Mixed herbs 0p
Potato 15p
Mixed veg 19p
Peanut butter 6p
Oil 5p

Under budget. Again.

But how much of it is still unaccounted for towards my total budget?

salt 1p
pepper 1p
garam masala 3p
mixed herbs 0p
oil 5p
Previous balance 415p

So, total spent at the moment is at 4.25 pounds.
With only 75p left to spice up my food, I better be careful with which herbs and spices I use, as I’m limited to 25p per day for such ingredients.

By the way… I’d like to thank Mike for his IRL donation, as well as Anonymous (The hacker group? Who knows) for donating 20 pounds today.
The week is far from over though… I’m not even halfway yet. Encourage me, please? All proceeds will go to Action Against Hunger.


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