Things are getting a lot more interesting

29 Apr

Caffeine withdrawal set in proper, and although I rested well last night, I’ve been feeling having headaches and been generally more moody today. And of course, I’ve had to figure out how to turn carrot and parsnips into a nutritious dinner with some major macronutrients missing.

Breakfast and lunch, on the other hand, were probably pretty much what you’d imagine after seeing yesterday’s groceries.

So, I had some toast for breakfast. I don’t eat a lot of bread, so usually I keep any bread I have in the freezer; and for the same reason, I’ve got an economy-class toaster, which doesn’t have a dedicated “frozen” button. Over time, I have carefully tuned it to perfectly toast frozen slices of bread.

Of course, the toast I was about to make was to be made from the last of the first pack of six buns, so it wasn’t frozen, and it turned out a lot blacker than I intended. In old fashioned, frugal style, I scraped off the worst black bits with a knife.


Once I arrived at work, it was soon time for a hobbit-like “second breakfast”. I still had some houmous left, and by slathering it on less generously than yesterday, I managed to leave half for lunch.


Lunch, predictably, was the second bun from the “frozen” pack, topped with the last of the houmous. The pot of pasta claimed to be a pasta salad, but I decided to turn it into a warm meal instead, which worked fine.


Supper was a bit of an issue. With just carrot and parsnip, it’s pretty hard to make something a lot more interesting than carrots with parsnip. Also, I needed to get some protein. I’d been pondering that by having saved over a pound on the first day, I could get a bag of frozen chicken pieces at around £1.60, but I decided for a box of eggs for two reasons: it’d cost less, and eggs can do a few things that chicken can’t – In fact, eggs could potentially turn into chicken, but never the other way around!

All in all, I decided I’d get my groceries before cooking this time. This also meant I could not benefit the best possible price for some groceries – some of them are priced down even further as the night grows older.


Still, the loot was reasonable. I got 2 tubs of potato salad at 11p each (which ultimately would have been priced down to 7p, I was told), a cabbage at 32p – not that great a deal compared to full price – and a box of value eggs, costing me 89p and thus most of the money I saved.


However, this choice allowed me to seriously jazz up supper. More on that later, as we have some paperwork to do:

2x discounted Kingsmill Rolls (pack of 6) @ 11p - 22p
Pint milk - 5p
Tub houmous -11p
Roasting veg - 18p
-- Daily subtotal: 56p
Half kilo carrots - 10p
Half kilo parsnips - 10p
Tub of pasta - 15p
-- Daily subtotal: 35p
2x tub potato salad @11 p - 22p
1x sweetheart cabbage - 32p
1x value eggs (pack of 6) - 89p
-- Daily subtotal: 143p
Shopping total for the first three days: 234p
Total budget: 500p
Budget left for this week: 266p

However, that’s not entirely fair because I caved in – I used a teabag for which I’ll have to charge 4p (it was fairly posh tea). I made sure to add lots of boiling water and let it brew for a long time, so tomorrow I can have a cup of cold tea for free!!
Also, I used a bit of salt, pepper and nutmeg, which might add up to 5p but probably less. So all in all let’s add 9p to my daily bill.

Total spend for the first three days, so far: 244p
Total budget: 500p
Budget left for this week: 257p

And while we’re at it, here’s an overview of what we have in stock right now:

4 kingsmill wholemeal bread rolls (frozen)
1.5 tub potato salad
200g carrot
200g parsnip
5 eggs
1 sweetheart cabbage

Next, I’ll probably have to buy some carbohydrate again. Splendid – carbs are cheap.

So what did I eat? I measured out 200 grams each of carrots and parsnips and steamed them to maintain as much as possible the nutrients in there; I then proceeded to puree the parsnip and carrot with handheld blender. I then whipped in an egg into the carrot, added salt, pepper and nutmeg from the pantry, and put it baking into a small oven dish for a good 30 minutes, essentially turning it into carrot soufflé.


I finally served up the lot on a plate along with half a tub of potato salad.


Now that tasted a lot better than just carrots and parsnips. Maybe partially because I had to wait so long, but it certainly felt like it was worth the wait.

As for raising money for charity, it’s not going very well today. No donations have come in.
But tomorrow is payday at the office – who knows!


A job well begun is a job half done.

28 Apr

It’s the end of the first day, and things are looking pretty good. I’ve had the usual issues with coffee withdrawal (as expected), but otherwise it was pretty smooth sailing.

For breakfast, I started by opening up my pint of milk and it still seemed plenty fresh – I’ve had dodgier milk without issues, so I didn’t bother boiling it. I toasted one bread bun in a skillet to prepare myself a classic: Toast sandwich.


I headed off to work, making sure to bring my frozen tub of houmous and two more wholegrain rolls, and when lunch time arrived, it was rather predictable:


I did have a bit of houmous left, so I figured I’d keep it cool and have it tomorrow.

For supper, what I had available was roasting veg, more bread rolls and a leftover of milk. While pondering what to do with the roasting veg, I decided to check how much there was of each, in case I wanted to do different things.


As it turns out, there were 150 grams of swede, 127 grams carrot; 86 grams of parsnips and 36 grams of red onion, adding up to a cool 399 grams of veg. There did seem to be a green flake of what looked like spring onion in there too, and rounding errors are possible, so I’ll consider the missing 1 gram of veg accounted for.

I decided to keep things simple and make a one-pan dish. I added the rest of the milk to it for protein and one bread roll to thicken it up and to lightly season the lot. I haven’t looked at this years’ rules yet, but presuming they are the same as last year, I can use products from my pantry as long as I pay for them in proportion; I just didn’t want to go there yet.

The resulting dish was an acceptable plate of grub – certainly not the best I’ve had, but filling and nutritious. I probably ended up around 1500 kcal, which is a bit on the low side so I should probably increase my intake a bit.


Then it was time to stock up for tomorrow. I didn’t find much that was worth bringing, so I only ended up getting a pot of pasta and a kilo of root veg…


… and spent all of 35p. Along with the bread rolls I bought yesterday and the leftover of houmous, that should pretty much keep me going for the coming day. Accounting for everything, this is where we’re standing:

2x discounted Kingsmill Rolls (pack of 6) @ 11p - 22p
Pint milk - 5p
Tub houmous -11p
Roasting veg - 18p
Half kilo carrots - 10p
Half kilo parsnips - 10p
Tub of pasta - 15p
Grand total for the first two days: 91p
Total budget: 500p
Budget left for this week: 409p

Of all the super powers I could have, being a cheap bastard is mine.

While things are pretty much under control in terms of veg and carbs, I should start worrying about protein. With a start as good as this has been, I’m about a pound UNDER budget so far, which should help make the rest of the week smooth sailing, budget-wise.

But let’s not forget this isn’t just about eating on a budget – I’m trying to raise money for UNICEF! If you wish to support me, tell your friends, donate, or both! My gratitude goes out to Steve Morris and the anonymous, French Dude “N” (I have a suspicion) who have donated to the cause. THANK YOU!

Start your engines… BARGAINS ARE COMING.

27 Apr

Hello people, welcome to the 2014 (and probably last!) edition of “One Pound Per Day” does “Living Below The Line”!

The cause: The United Nations Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF.
Last year, I raised 255 pounds for Action Against Hunger. This year I’m raising the bar to 500 pounds. I’ll need your help – Spread the word, pretty please and thank you!

To donate this year, please go to my Living Below the Line donation page.

As it happens, the end of my money came early this month, so I’ve been warming up to this thing for a while. It’s just as well. I have just returned from bargain hunting at my local supermarket and am – so far – pleased with the loot!


Now, that certainly looks like it’s enough food for a day. I’ll definitely not go hungry and I *think* I’ve already got breakfast settled for the next 5 days.
Best of all – Let’s all do the maths shall we?

2x discounted Kingsmill Rolls (pack of 6) @ 11p - 22p
Pint milk - 5p
Tub houmous -11p
Roasting veg - 18p
Grand total: 56p
Total budget: 500p
Budget left for this week: 444p

Nutritionally speaking, it’s reasonably balanced too: I’ve got my carbs in the form of rolls, I’ve protein from milk and houmous, and 400 grams worth of roast veg counts as 5 portions of 80 grams – in other words, my 5-a-day is fully covered for tomorrow.

However, there are a few things to watch from a food safety perspective. The roast veg, milk and houmous have a “use by” date of today (that’s Sunday). Meaning, the root veg and houmous have gone straight into the freezer so they keep a bit longer. I’ll certainly be giving the roasting veg a heat treatment. As for the milk, I’m keeping it in the fridge and it will be part of breakfast. It probably won’t go off in the next 8 hours before breakfast, but I won’t be drinking it without first heating it up.

Now to figure out what to cook!

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,