I made a startling discovery this week: my plans for travel, house redecorating and various adventures was going to be severely curtailed by lack of funds. #Middleclassproblems, you say (because like me you’re ancient enough to think that saying “hashtag” out loud isn’t the world’s most embarrassing thing to do), but needs must and I’ve got a lot of adventuring to do while paying for fripperies like food and stuff (such frivolities!).
It’s at times like this that the glories of Lewisham (for this, read, the market and Lidl) really come into their own. I’ll spare the solemnising and give you some shared wisdom accumulated from my own mistakes and the super budget superpowers of Flatmate, who is the thriftiest person I know:
1. Snicker ye not at Lidl. It’s a mini-wonderland filled with the everyday, the needful, and the downright bizarre. Please feast your eyes on the following:
Lidl can be a cave of wonders or a strange black hole for all the world’s crap. Sometimes both at the same time. But for the gourmet on the go, vanilla pods for £1,99 and comte cheese for 99p on special offer aren’t to be sniffed at. Moreover, their veg is often very cheap indeed (beating Lewisham market from time to time), and their Rye bread is yummy, a good size and at 79p, beats Gails into a cocked hat (Gails have attempted to ruin my life and wallet by opening in Blackheath. Fortunately I bought James Morton’s amazing book Brilliant Bread about a year ago and so if I’m struck by the urge to eat posh bread, I can make it myself). I am still trying to work out HOW Lidl is so cheap and whether, ethically, I should be worrying about it. But I’ll console myself with the thought that I’m effectively eating like a king for very few pence.
2. Buy a slow cooker and learn to use it. Or don’t. Lord knows you can get away with sticking dried beans, stock, half an onion, a tin of tomatoes and half a bottle of BBQ sauce in it and make passable BBQ beans for next to nothing. You can also make all sorts of intriguing stuff if you have the time. Just don’t be like Lovely One’s friend who bought a slow cooker on the recommendation of his mum and then complained that taking 8 hours to cook stuff was a “fucking joke”. The clue’s in the title, hombre.
3. Plan ahead. Use your freezer, your ingenuity and resources like the BBC Good Food website (a seriously good source of ideas) to plan meals for the week and stick to it. Spending 3 hours doing a batch cook on a Sunday can pay dividends into the week.
4. Be flexible. While doing the whole “plan ahead” malarkey, do remember that waiting a little longer or popping to the shops at odd times of day can yield great results. Going to Waitrose today (Easter Monday) was a real eye-opening lesson in how much crap you can get for megasale prices. I stuck to some lovely ripe avocados and some char siu steamy buns but had I the inclination I could have had a side of salmon for £6. Now that’s a bargain. You just have to make sure you can flex your planning enough to accommodate treasures like that. Alas, my freezer is already full – curses.
5. MAKE YOUR OWN LUNCHES. I’ll say it again. MAKE YOUR OWN LUNCHES. Here’s how a day in Canary Wharf can easily unfold:
8.30am dash to coffee shop because you forgot breakfast. Grab flat white (£2.60) and almond croissant (£1.90).
10.30am suffer excruciating hunger because almond croissants have all the nutritional value of cake. Desire cake. Go on scavenge for biscuits and end up eating half a packet of gluten-free bourbons which belong to one of your staff. Overwhelmed by guilt when she gives you “sad eyes”, you agree to buy another packet at lunchtime (£1.50).
12.30pm While out getting biscuits, realise you don’t have lunch and decide to treat yourself to a little something. You decide you really need something healthy after all those biscuits so go and get a salad box from Itsu (£7.95), Leon (£5.95) or Tesco (around £5).
4pm Fatigued by the exertions of the day and unable to face any more tea with UHT milk pots, go to Pret for skinny hot choc (£2.25)
So, after a full day and about a billion calories, you’ve spent between £13 and £16 before you’ve even gotten to dinner. THIS IS MADNESS. Hence, the following:
Green Curry Cauliflower Soup
makes about 6 large servings
1 stalk celery
1 small knob ginger, finely sliced and julienned
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small potato, peeled and finely chopped
1 stock cube (veg or chicken)
1/2 tin coconut milk
1.5 tbsp green curry paste
1. First, get your onion and celery and get it over a high heat with a splash of oil, frazzle for a little bit then add in your garlic and ginger. Don’t let them burn, more soften in the heat.
2. Once everything looks a bit softer, add your curry paste and stir in, letting it get really good-smelling. Then tip in your chopped up cauliflowers. Please don’t worry about making this look nice, you’re going to moosh it all up eventually.
3. Add your stock cube, coconut milk and enough water to come up to the level of the cauliflower in the pan. Then chuck in the potato (this will thicken everything up), pop a lid on and the heat down, then bubble for about 20 min.
4. When the cauli is soft and really breakable, turn off the heat.
5. After a while, stick a blender in and whoosh it all into a creamy soup.
6. Sprinkle over salt, pepper and some chopped coriander and lime leaf. Job done! This soup can be frozen in batches and is best served with crusty bread and a smug look on your face. Why? Because each serving costs approximately 32p (based on the ingredients above, it would cost £1,93 to make the above judging by what I spent today on the caulis and onion and a comparison of the price of ingredients on the tesco website).
If you go hog wild, make sure you eat a proper breakfast and take along an apple with some almond butter (a treat costing around 80p), you’ll have spent under £1.50 on food for the workday. Huzzah!