Live LAGOM 3

Time for the final blog and is this the end of the journey? No, I don’t think so. Doing the Live LAGOM challenge has brought new insight into things I can do to live more sustainably. I said at the beginning that I thought I already “did my bit”; but nevertheless I’ve learnt stuff and made changes.

Energy – mild winter or not, the addition of extra rugs and blinds on the windows has made a difference. Definitely cut the draughts from single glazed (grade 2 listed) windows and gaps in floorboards. Furry housemates have greatly approved too.

Cat on a rug

Cat approval given

New LED lights, replacing of bulbs and reusable batteries for fairy lights dotted about the place have also helped the cosy effect. And there’s been some energy saving – I’ve just renewed my plan with Ovo (green tariff, natch) and my direct debit has dropped by £11 per month due to reduction in use. So that’s £132 saved.

 

Tidying – seems an odd one, but being a bit more organised by using the KORKEN glass jars in my cupboards has meant it’s a whole lot easier to do a stock take on what I actually have and therefore don’t need to buy again. I’ve also been inspired by the Live LAGOM philosophy of having just enough to review my home in general. I joined a Facebook group – Living with Less – as a way to share the triumphs and challenges of tackling the hoarding instinct I’ve inherited from my parents. Not quite there yet, but I’ve shed rather a lot of books, excess kitchenalia, old clothes and my favourite thing, hoarded paper. Over 300 magazines and five boxes of newspaper clippings have been recycled and I’ve got into the habit of putting read magazines by the front door, ready to pass on to hospitals and doctors’ waiting rooms. I’ve also stopped two subscriptions, never having the time to read them so that’s another £72 a year saved. On the list to do next? Sort out the linen cupboard and attic.

I’m also embracing William Morris’s maxim, “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Because I don’t like waste, I also hang onto things a little too long, so the beautiful reference is especially apt. Torn? Stained? Chipped? Recycled. I’m also trying very hard to stop “saving for best” – life is short, so we need to use the best china, light the expensive candles and wear the good shoes. Mind you, it is a bugger when you then break something nice…

herb and tomato plants

Herb and tomato plants

Gardening – I’ve always enjoyed a potter but haven’t done much seed sowing before. My little VINDRUVA greenhouses have enabled me to grow tomato plants from scratch, so much so, that they are slightly taking over the house. Annoyingly, I managed to drop one greenhouse cover – and unfortunately, they don’t bounce on a stone floor. So that’s on the list for replacement. I also had a go at the herb pots – success for parsley & basil, not so much for the mint. A couple of things from my list haven’t quite found their niche yet the BITTERGURKA hanging planters are a little too big for indoor use in my home and because they have no drainage holes, they’re not so useful outside, filling up rapidly with rainwater – although that’s useful in itself! The outdoor SKRUV lights on a timer have also made my little courtyard area safer (no more tripping over plant pots on the way to the bin); and more useable after dark.

Whom would I recommend taking part in this challenge? Everyone really. It’s a good opportunity to reflect on your everyday activity, the habits we all get into and the chance to make a few small changes that can have a big impact.

Live LAGOM. Not just an excuse to go shopping.

IKEA goodies

IKEA goodies

Small niece being a bee.

Small niece being a bee.

Below The Line

A challenge from a Twitter mate – Sal Godfrey has led to me attempting to live below the line – ie below the poverty line on the princely sum of £1 per day for 5 days. Yup £5 for 15 meals.

My Shopping List

Chopped tomatoes 400g 24p

500g carrots 25p

Peanut butter 89p

Chicken stock cubes 30p

Plain flour 1.5 kilos 45p

Soft cheese 180g 49p

Butter 79p

500g penne pasta 29p

1 kilo onions 35p

4 baking potatoes 35p

Broccoli 35p

Total: £4.75 – Sal says we are allowed salt, pepper & herbs at 1p a pinch so am “spending” my last 25p on salt, pepper, oregano and smoked paprika. All I can say is thank goodness for Aldi and their Super 6 deals…

You’ll note there’s no tea or coffee, no wine, cake or treats. And definitely no gin. None….

So how to do this? Basic and repetitive frankly. One thing I know about myself is I get “hangry” – short tempered when not fed. So my 5 day menu is pretty carb heavy as I know it will fill me up and prevent Lucy rage. I bought flour so I could continue to make my sourdough bread, which although not using the spelt & lovely organic flour I usually spring for, will at least make a decent couple of loaves. Breakfast will be sourdough toast with peanut butter. And water. Yum.

Soup is my go to for the office lunch in any case but I do usually supplement it with lots of fruit and a nice yogurt. Not this week. Starting with a big pot of minestrone, made with carrots, onions, pasta, potato, broccoli stems, stock and a bit of wild garlic for additional flavour. I miss the umami hit of parmesan but cooked long and slow, the veggies do become full of flavour and the pasta adds a bit of bulk. Add a slice or two of bread (told you this was a carb heavy diet) and I’m set up for the afternoon.

First day supper, couldn’t be bothered faffing so baked a potato, scooped out the centre – mashed it with pepper & butter, added grated carrot and two teaspoons of cream cheese and shoved it back in the oven to crisp up. It was filling but a bit dull to be frank. Normally I’d have served something like this with a lovely green salad drizzled with ev oil and lemon. Instead I made do with more wild garlic (thank goodness it’s in season) some dandelion greens and half of my broccoli florets. No dressing. Sad face.

Day 2. Same breakfast & lunch so won’t bore with the details. Got a bit fancy for supper though with a creamy pasta bake. Achieved with 300g penne, an onion, a carrot, 1 pack of chopped tomatoes, a little butter, oregano, some more wild garlic and a dollop of the cream cheese. Topped with cucina povera style rough chopped breadcrumbs and crisped up in the oven with a little butter dotted over – an old Italian trick to deceive the mouth into feeling like you’re eating lovely crunchy melted cheese. Enough for three nights, that’s Wednesday and Thursday taken care of.

So how do I feel? Bored. Bit cross and missing my morning coffee. I don’t drink a lot of caffeine, I went off it last year when ill, but I do like a morning coffee when I get up. Breakfast is a favourite meal of mine, I like poached eggs, kippers, bacon, avocado on toast etc. Peanut butter on toast is hitting the savoury note I crave but I can tell I’m going to be fed up of it by Friday. What am I missing? CHEESE. Can I emphasise that a bit more? C H E E S E. Not that fussed about meat tbh, I can manage without slabs of it but I do like adding bits of bacon/ ham etc for flavour to much of the food I make. I’m also not much for sweets, so the lack of sugar hasn’t been too hard to deal with but not having fresh fruit has been tough to take. And of course, the minute you tell yourself you can’t have something, it becomes the one thing you want…

Thank God It’s Friday. Last day of this experiment and I’ve got no reason to complain. I’ve been fed, monotonously, but haven’t gone hungry. More importantly, I’ve chosen to do this, not because I have to. Tomorrow I can run off and buy lovely things and play in the kitchen because I’m fortunate enough to have a full time job that pays me decently. What have I learnt? That I’ll smack the next person who suggests people who are struggling on a low income don’t know how to budget. I’ve spent more time working out how to live on £1 a day for food and juggling my pennies than I normally ever think about when food shopping. I’m humbled. And angry that this is the “choice” for so many people in our country. I believe that food should bring joy and health to us all. It’s not just fuel and it’s wrong to treat it as such. Having just enough food in your tummy to fill you up and get by isn’t enough for the human soul.

I’ve found this week hard on several levels – one, I love cooking and making dishes, playing in my kitchen and feeding other people is my way to relax and have fun; two, it’s been boring eating the same thing, I wanted more flavour than my budget would allow; three, it’s been tiring, filling up on carbs is all very well but the lack of protein depletes energy levels, leading to tired grumpiness; four, you feel apart from everyone else, isolated in your little bubble of deprivation. Imagine that being your constant state of mind. No wonder we have high levels of depression amongst people on low incomes and asylum seekers. Doing this challenge has given me much food for thought. Thank you to Sal Godfrey from Sal’s Kitchen @Sal_Godrey for encouraging me to take part. I’ve chosen to make a donation of my “normal” food budget to Asylum Link Merseyside who support destitute asylum seekers who truly are living below the line. Find out more here: http://www.asylumlink.org.uk/ and do spare a few ££ to support your local food bank when food shopping if you can.

Fellow food bloggers who took the challenge are listed below.

http://salskitchen.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.veggielad.com/

http://www.joeatslondon.com/

https://cateinthekitchen.co.uk

http://lepetitoeuf.com/

You can follow our week via twitter using hashtag: #fdbloggersBTL

“Recipes” below:

Cheat’s Minestrone

2 onions, chopped roughly

4 carrots, diced

Broccoli stem (not florets), diced

1 baking potato, not peeled but diced

200g pasta – ideally spaghetti but I used penne because that’s what I’d bought

4 chicken stock cubes

50g butter

Handful of wild garlic leaves

1 pinch oregano

2 pinches salt

2 pinches pepper

Prepare veg. Melt butter in large pan and add onions, cook til soft, then add carrots and broccoli stem. Cook for 5 minutes. Add in the potato and 3 litres of chicken stock made up with the stock cubes. Add oregano and salt and pepper, stir well and leave to gently simmer for two hours on a low heat. Add the pasta – break it up into small pieces and chopped wild garlic and cook for another 5 minutes or so til the pasta has softened. Serve.

 

Penne Pasta Bake

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, diced

400g chopped tomatoes

30g butter

1 pinch oregano

2 pinches salt

2 pinches pepper

2 tbsp cream cheese

handful of wild garlic leaves, chopped

300g penne pasta

chicken stock cube

two slices of stale bread torn up into small pieces

20g of butter, diced

Melt 30g butter in an oven/ hob proof dish. Add chopped onions and carrots and sauté gently over a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, rinsing out the tin/ box with water to get every last bit out! Add oregano and chicken stock cube and leave to simmer gently for half an hour, until the veggies are tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Take off heat and stir in cream cheese and wild garlic. Set aside whilst you cook pasta to al dente (it cooks more in the sauce in the oven). Add pasta to the creamy tomato sauce, stir well and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the bread crumbs/ pieces and dot with butter. Place in a medium oven, 180C/ GM5 and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the topping has crisped up. Serve.

Wild garlic potato gnocchi with cream cheese & broccoli

 2 baking potatoes

Flour

Wild garlic leaves

Cream cheese

Broccoli florets

1 onion

20g butter

Cook potatoes in their skins – either in the oven or boiling them until tender. Scoop the flesh out into a bowl and mash with a fork. Shred the wild garlic leaves and mix in. Whilst still hot, add flour slowly till you have a smooth dough. Set aside in a cool place to rest for half an hour. Dust chopping board with flour and turn out dough. Divide in half and roll out into two long sausages. Cut into half inch pieces, rolling in a little more flour and set aside to firm up in the fridge.

Make sauce – cook broccoli florets in a little water until tender don’t use lots of water because you want to use the water as part of the sauce. Mash with a fork and set aside. Chop the onion finely and cook in the butter til soft and golden, don’t allow to brown. Add the mashed broccoli mixture and then stir in the cream cheese to make a creamy green sauce. Season.

Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil, season with salt and drop the gnocchi pieces in one at time. They will rise to the surface as they cook, scoop out with a slotted spoon into a colander to drain. Add gnocchi to the broccoli sauce, toss gently and eat!

 

Live LAGOM 2

Bit of a serious post this. It’s time for my second blog about the journey I’ve embarked upon as a member of the live LAGOM community. And it is a journey. To recap, live LAGOM is a project by IKEA, encouraging a group of us to think about living more simply and with “just enough”. We’ve all been given access to a wide range of IKEA products to help us in this goal. Home visits were made by the IKEA team and recommendations were offered based on current living. As I mentioned in a previous post, I like to think I already “do my bit”: I recycle, monitor my energy usage, buy organic meat and vegetables, bake my own bread, preserve fruit etc. BUT. I also use a car, almost daily; I hoard food – my store cupboards bulge; and my particular besetting sin is the retention of stuff.

I live in a grade 2 Georgian cottage in Liverpool. Sandstone walls, stone floors, draughty single glazed windows that don’t let in much light, and planning required to make significant changes such as installing double glazing. From a practical point of view I needed to cosy things up, and add more light. My IKEA booty included 5 rugs, 3 blinds, 3 lamps and a whole load of battery operated LED fairy lights to use in dark corners. It’s been a mild winter but nevertheless it does get chilly, adding rugs & a blind to my bedroom means I’ve not actually switched on the radiator at all in there as the white fabric blinds block draughts from the window but don’t cut the light.

Morning light.

Morning light.

And I love that they are magnetic! The new rugs keep my feet warm on the cold floors and have been very popular with my furry housemates…

I’ve also been rearranging my cupboards, with the help of a LOT of Ikea glassware. Not perfect yet, but the systematic use of jars large enough to hold all my spices is meaning that at least I can see what I need before I go to the shops.

I mentioned this was a serious post at the start, so I should explain why. My Dad passed away 6 years ago, leaving me as executor of his will and sorter out of his estate. This was no small task. He resided in an 8 bedroomed house, plus garage and cellars. It was the family home for 40 years and I’d moved in with him in his last year, mostly to try to help him sort it out and aim to down size into something more manageable for a gentleman in his later years who wasn’t in the best of health. Sadly he died before we could achieve this, but I’d begun the truly Herculean task of going through the house. If I tell you that it took me TWO years to clear the house, and during that time I found myself dealing with much of my deceased mother AND grandmother’s personal items, you may have an inkling over what changes I want to make within my own home.  My own attic contains boxes of “items” left over from this period. Stuff I just couldn’t deal with, have no clue what to do with but struggle to throw out.

I really, really don’t want to end up like my Dad, filling rooms with “stuff” rather than throwing it out. I’m already spotting an alarming tendency to hoard paper – newspaper clippings, magazines, birthday cards etc.  So, not only did I join the Live LAGOM project, with an aim to be more sustainable, I also really want to take the message of “just enough” seriously.  I found a group on Facebook – it’s a closed one but you can apply to join – called Living With Less – basically it’s an online cheerleader for those of us who are trying really hard to reduce the clutter and live simpler lives. We post about the difficulty of letting stuff go, cheer on each other when we manage it and console each other when we just can’t deal with it any more. Since January 2016 I have got rid of: 5 boxes of magazines; 3 boxes of newspaper clippings; 28 books; 4 bags of “nope, you’re really not EVER going to wear that again” clothes; 2 boxes of random knick knacks (mostly weird presents, sorry); and 2 lamps that “just needed a little work”. I have a long way to go yet, haven’t even started on the stuff in the attic, but it’s a start. I want clutter free space where I can display the things I really DO want to keep.  Still trying to Live LAGOM…

Cat on a rug

Cat approval given

Live LAGOM

picture of store cupboard

One of the hiding places…

It probably says something worrying about me that the phrase Live LAGOM runs through my head to the tune of Ricky Martin’s Living La Vida Loca. Every time I think of it. And I’m going to think about it a lot this year. What am I on about? LAGOM originates as a Swedish phrase Lagom är bäst, meaning the right amount is best. Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s the porridge that was “just right”, not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold, not too sweet, not too salty. It’s a concept that IKEA are keen for us all to embrace. Enjoying all that life has to offer but in moderation, by living sustainably and looking after the planet as you do.

I’ve been chosen to take part in the IKEA Live LAGOM challenge, joining another 249 households across Britain who are all hoping to reduce waste, save money, energy and water, and live healthier and more sustainable lives. We’ve each been given a budget to spend on IKEA products that will help us on this journey, enabling us to make changes, some small, some larger, in how we live. It’s going to be challenging, interesting and hopefully inspirational being part of this project.

My first thought, when approached about this, was but I already do all that. Don’t I? I recycle, I use low energy bulbs, I’m fanatical about food waste, I turn the lights off when I leave rooms, turn off electrical items not in use, monitor my water use, surely there’s not much else I can do? Oh but there is. Much, much more. I live in a 200 years old stone cottage. It’s grade 2 listed so I’m restricted in what I can do externally – no double glazing allowed – but that doesn’t mean I can’t reduce the draughts by adding internal blinds to all those windows. I have a mix of stone and wooden floors that can get a tad chilly underfoot, so that’s rugs added to the list. My scented geraniums that come in for winter and go out for summer – self watering pots with wheels – immediate benefits for all concerned – me not giving myself a hernia lifting the pots, the plants getting the RIGHT amount of water.

And what about my behaviour? What can I change? I have a confession to make. I hoard. Food. Paper. Books. Stuff. Time to let some of it go. My resolutions for this year have all been about simplifying. Starting with the food thing. I’m an unabashed food fanatic. I write about it, make it, eat it – I even work in a food related area – I’m the Sustainable Food City coordinator for Liverpool and I blog and tweet as Grab Your Spoon, as well making and selling my own preserves under the same name. So I have cupboards. Full of spices, sugars, exotic ingredients, types of flour, pastas, pulses etc. You rock up to my house with an army in tow? I’ll feed you. No problem. Except there is a problem. I really can’t see the spelt wheat for the self-raising flour. I have NO idea what is in my cupboards. They are crammed. This means I regularly re-buy things that I already own. I make a guess when shopping as to whether or not I have turmeric. Turns out I do. Three unopened packets of it, that aren’t going to get used up before the potency of the ground spice dissipates. This is NOT cool. Bring on the stackable glass jars from IKEA that are going to help me organise my pantry. Lists are going to be made. Labels will be printed. And I WILL have order. Same of course goes for the fridge, the freezer and the slidy drawers in my tiny kitchen. Described as functional chaos, I’d like the kitchen to be a bit more functional and a bit less chaotic. I’ll deal with the books, the paper and the other stuff afterwards. One step at a time, and this kitchen is going to be a big step. Upside, inside out, I’m living La Vida LAGOM….

Resolutions for food lovers

These are personal to me, but you might find inspiration!

What am I eating? Read those labels. Ask the questions. If buying a sauce in a jar, read the ingredients and choose one containing stuff you’ve actually heard of… e.g a 440g jar of value pasta sauce costs 39p but contains water, maize starch and calcium chloride (yum).  Buy a 500g pack of value Passata at 34p, add a crushed garlic clove, pepper and some herbs. Simmer slowly. Much better.

Grow herbs & salad leaves. One of the biggest food waste culprits for supermarkets is pre-packed salad. 68% of salad in bags is binned (source: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/21/food-waste-tesco-reveals-most-bagged-salad-and-half-its-bread-is-thrown-out) An average bag of pre-packed salad costs around £1.50 for 200g. A packet of cut and come again salad leaf seeds costs between 99p and £1.50. Sown in succession in shallow troughs, (window boxes are perfect), you can harvest your own mixed salad for months. Alternatively, ditch the pre washed stuff (mostly washed in chlorine – mmm), and pick up a whole lettuce for around 60p. Wash the outer leaves – use in soup, and eat the centre sweeter leaves raw in salads. Herbs add joy to a meal and need little effort to cultivate, as most will grow quite happily in pots. Even if you start with a pot from the supermarket shelves, decant into a bigger pot with plenty of added compost and watch it thrive. I managed to keep a pot of basil going for 5 months this summer, not bad for a 79p investment! Good herbs to grow for kitchen use include: bay, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, marjoram and basil.

Eat seasonal – of course it’s not practical to solely eat seasonally, but think about what you are purchasing and try to enjoy the fruit and vegetable bounties at the appropriate time. Strawberries in June are always going to taste much better than in December, Asparagus should be celebrated for the joyous seasonal speciality that it is and gorged on during May and June. Hydroponically grown tomatoes in February are really not going to taste as good as the ones on sale in September following a season of sun ripening. Make the most of gluts and get bottling/ jamming/ ginning!

Eat kind, choose free range, organic meat where possible. Eat it less often so you can afford the extra it costs – although I purchase all my beef and lamb from a local organic farm – www.forsterorganicmeats.com and they often undercut the prices in the supermarkets and it tastes and cooks SO much better. Respect the animal and use it all, don’t just use selected bits.  Support fair trade producers of sugar, coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas. Use free-range eggs.

Support local – there are lots of small and even not so small food & drink producers in your local area. Give them support. Go to your butcher. Visit your baker. Locate your independent wine seller.  Find out when the farmer’s markets are on. Even a once a month purchase will help, and you might just enjoy the process of having a chat with the food person and feeling that you’re making an informed choice.

Explore your locality, seems obvious but be a tourist in your own backyard. Step away from the usual coffee chains and try that little café you keep passing. It might be rubbish, but it also might be fantastic! Make it a resolution to try an independent restaurant, not a Brake Brothers delivery point of food that goes ping!

Meatless Mondays, exactly what it says on the tin. Ditch meat once a week. Explore the use of pulses, vegetables and grains. Italian and Indian cuisines are particularly good for meals that deliver flavour and satiety without meat.

Potluck suppers, invite friends over. Don’t make it fancy, just ask folk to bring a dish – a pud, a salad, whatever and enjoy the experience of communal eating. Give it a theme – try something new. I love the Jewish Shabbat custom of Friday suppers for friends and family to come together.

Try new: food/ ingredient/ cuisine, I’m increasingly interested in the food of Northern Europe, the mix of spice, sweet, salt and sour in Danish smorgasbord and the wide range of breads and pastries found in Sweden.

Learn a new skill, I’ve said it before, but this year I really want to learn how to make bread. I’d also like to learn how to carve a chicken properly, as opposed to my usual “rustic” hacking… Other ideas might be to master pastry, make your own bacon, brew your own beer…

Plan ahead and waste less, I’m convinced I was once a starving peasant in the middle ages – how else to explain my manic hoarding of food?  (other than sheer greed, obviously…) No, 2014 is the year I USE the store cupboard and freezer contents up and achieve an enviable Nigel Slater like calm of shopping only for what I need and stop buying things “to have in”…

Happy New Year to you all – good health & good eating for 2014.