Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chickpea curry and a simple quark dip

I made chickpea curry again yesterday and just so I have a note of it for the future, I'm doing a quick post on what went in this time. I soaked 250g of chickpeas overnight and put them on to boil. In the meantime I chopped the couple of handfuls of chard that I bought yesterday at the market, an onion, two cloves of garlic and a small piece of ginger. When the chickpeas were nearly ready I put heated some sunflower oil and added the chard stems, onion, garlic and ginger and let that saute for a couple of minutes. Then I added some black and yellow mustard seeds (about 1 teaspoon each) and some black onion seeds (about half a teaspoon). Gave it all a good mix and then added the other spices, a teaspoon each of tumeric, cardamon, cumin and coriander. Then I added the last of the jar of curry paste, which was about two teaspoons. Used some of the cooking water from the chickpeas to rinse out the jar to get every last bit of it.

To all of that, I added my very last jar (0.75lt) of tomatoes. Oh the smell when I opened the jar. Heavenly. Really must bottle a very large amount of tomatoes this year. There was a small amount of basil in that jar but after a year and a half, there wasn't much of it to smell. I let all of that simmer for a while and then added the chopped chard leaves. At that stage, I drained most of the liquid from the chickpeas into a bowl. I then added the tomato mixture to the chickpeas and mixed it all up and tried to judge how much more liquid was needed. I ended up adding back in all of the cooking liquid (there was slightly more than needed but sure why not). I left all of that simmering for a short time while I took care of the washing-up and was just about to serve it up when I remembered that I'd intended to add some grated carrot. Typical. I took one bowlful and then grated a carrot into the pot. It's not like carrot needs to cook, now, is it?


I actually felt like having a more creamy than spicy meal so I dolloped a couple of spoonfuls of quark into my bowl and mixed it all up. It was all delicious. So much so that I went back for seconds. I liked it with the carrot, too. All in all, I'm fairly pleased with it. The bowls I ate were more liquidy than what I left in the pot. That was on purpose though as I want to use the leftovers to have in wraps for lunch next week and slightly less liquid is always good for that. There were three decent portions for filling wraps. So that's more or less all my food sorted for next week now. Monday evening is book club and we're going to a Mexican restaurant. On Wednesday a friend is coming to town unexpectedly and she rang me today to invite me to dinner with her and her husband. So I just have Tuesday and Thursday dinners to think about and I think I'll be taking the easy way out and just having eggs or pasta.

Or I'll have something like yesterday's lunch, which I really enjoyed. Bread from the bakery next door, this one is called Kornkaiser. About 50g of the turkey salami I bought at the market (it has gone up in price and now costs 25.50 per kilo - that's 2 euro/kilo more than it was in 2011, the last time I seem to have made a note of the price). And the little bowl is three teaspoons of quark mixed with about a quarter of a teaspoon of the curry paste. It only occurred to me to do that as I had already taken the jar of curry paste out of the fridge in preparation for dinner. Will definitely do this again!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

YNAB

Recently, while skyping with my friend J.,  in Ireland (my original debt buddy, although she caught her problems earlier than I did and got out of them quicker) I mentioned about how I sometimes feel a bit nervous about how I'll manage post-debt. I've planned various things over the year, have spreadsheets with new budgets made out for various levels of income and that kind of thing but until the time is actually here, I won't really know how I'm going to manage. I think I've learned enough and my spending patterns have changed enough that I'll be okay. But still, that nervousness of the unknown does creep in now and again.

J. mentioned that for the last while she has taken to using an app on her phone called YNAB, or You Need a Budget and has highly recommended it to me. I took a look at their website and have been slowly reading through some of the stuff. Of course, once one person had mentioned it to me, I started to hear about it all over the place. Some people are of the opinion that there are enough budgeting and financial apps out there that it makes no sense to pay for one. A valid enough point, I suppose but at something like 40 or 45 euro (I think it's USD 60 but have heard you can often get good deals or coupons), it's not very expensive really and if it works then it's worth every cent. At any rate there is a free trial version so whenever I do get around to getting a smartphone, I'll definitely get that anyway. I like the idea of entering the amount I've just spent onto my phone as I'm walking out of the shop - far less chance of me forgetting something and although I do sometimes to this with pen and paper, I'm not so able to do that one-handed and while walking.

I think what I like about YNAB is that it reflects most of what I've already learned/come up with on my own. The method is based on four rules. Rule 1 is "Give every dollar a job" - check. When I do up my spreadsheet for the month I never leave an overrun - all expenses that I know about are put in, the remainder is divided by the number of weeks and becomes my discretionary spending (food, going out etc.). On the rare occasions that weekly amount is a lot (I usually have about 50 euro) then I just increase the amount going to debt or savings. Rule 2 is "Save for a rainy day" - yep. Although I don't have a lot of savings, I do put money aside to cover expected annual expenses, including a small buffer for unexpected things. Rule 3 is "Roll with the punches" - absolutely. I check and update my spreadsheet at least once a week, and on the weeks where there's lots of bank activity more often than that. Although it sometimes feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul, I do know that allowing some flexibility in what the money is spent on does make for a less stressful time.

And finally, rule 4 is "Live on last month's income". Okay, not at all something I do but something I have wanted to do for a very long time and talked about on and off over the years. I never really thought I'd ever get to a position where it would be possible though. So this is something I'm going to have to give serious thought to. Because actually, the thought of having a full month's salary just sitting in my current account doing nothing is more difficult for me to take these days. So I may go with a variation on this one that involves keeping one month's worth of salary in an easy-access savings account earning at least some interest.

How about everyone else? Any experience with YNAB? Any favourite apps or budgeting methods to share?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

My new favourite way to eat eggs

I first saw this idea on the Two Men and a Little Farm blog last December. I immediately thought it sounded delicious and wanted to try it out but as these things go, it's has taken me a while to get around to it. I've seen mention of similar recipes a few times since. I'm not sure if it's just doing the rounds or if it's a case of becoming aware of something and starting to see it everywhere. The latest mention was just a few days ago, when Dani's Simple Tomato Supper and today the stars aligned and my new favourite way to eat eggs was brought to light.

I took a ziploc bag out of the freezer this morning, which had tomatoes, courgette and onion in it from last summer. I was actually having a fasting day today so it suited me to have something substantial but simple for a lunch. As things turned out I got caught up doing a few things and since I wasn't feeling particularly hungry I just kept going. So it ended up being an early dinner at around six o'clock.

I put the tomato sauce into a pot and brought it to a boil, reducing the heat after that so that it was simmering. I then popped two slices of bread into the toaster and slipped the two eggs, which I had already broken into a cup, in to the tomato sauce. I put the lid on the pot and started to put away the few dishes still on the draining board. When the toast was ready, I buttered that and then I scooped out the eggs into a bowl and added plenty of tomato sauce. I had forgotten about adding cheese, which both of the recipes above do, but in my opinion, it didn't need it at all. Poached eggs are a favourite of mine anyway although I've never been successful at cooking them so it tends to be something I have to wait for someone else to cook for me. But this method is the business. And having the veg to eat, too, just makes it even better. I actually thought I had overcooked the eggs and that they were going to be hard inside but when I cut in to them, they were just perfect. I didn't get a picture of that - too busy scoffing the lot. I was very full when I was finished, I have to admit. And how wonderful to eat an almost entirely local meal at this time of year - tomatoes, courgettes and onions from the market last summer, eggs from the same market just yesterday, bread from the baker next door. I think only the butter wasn't local.
Eggs poached in tomatoes, courgette and onion - it tasted far better than it looks in the picture
There is still some of the sauce left - I may be having this for breakfast in the morning again!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Food for the week and beyond

I'm sabotaging myself a bit and I should know better than to set myself difficult goals because they make me freak out a bit and then I seem to go out of my way to do everything possible to not achieve what I've set out to. It's funny, it was only when commenting yesterday on Jen's post about keeping track of goals that I realised I've been doing exactly what I was trying to say I never do. I know strict goals don't work for me so why do I keep trying to follow the generally accepted wisdom that it's important? My budget was pretty tight for this month but there was enough money for each week. Because it occurred to me that if I managed to not spend quite everything and then have the same kind of month next month I would be able to clear my debt fully, did that make me even more determined to not buy anything that wasn't strictly needed? Well, yes. For about half a second. And then somehow I managed to spend just about every cent I have for this month in a week. You're selling raffle tickets? Of course I'll take a few. It's for a good cause (but hang on, I'm my own best cause, what the hell am I thinking of!!!) At least I did manage to bring lunch almost every day this week - thanks to the pulled pork I made in the slow cooker last week. It was far too much though - I forgot that I meant to freeze some of it when it was done so by yesterday I was a bit sick of it. The first three days of wraps were fabulous though. Fresh oakleaf lettuce from the market last week with some pork on top of that. Yum.
These are the spices (and the sugar) that I used for the pork last week, 2 teaspoons of each spice except the 5-spice, which I only used 1 teaspoon of. For the liquid I used a jar of my runny tomato ketchup, couple of spoonfuls of honey, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar and vegetable stock.
It was a very stressful week in work though and I worked far too much and did not get half enough sleep, which meant that I also ended up spending money on taxis to get to work slightly less late a couple of mornings. So I need to be careful to get to bed at a decent hour every day this week.

Let's just call today the start of a new week and see how it goes from there. No big goals. But plenty of food in the house to see me through the week and beyond. I went to the market this morning and bought potatoes, a couple of leeks, lettuce and eggs. That was 8.50. Then I stopped at the Reformhaus to buy vinegar (the clear cider vinegar that I use for my hair) and while I was there remembered that I wanted to get some vitamin C. I started to feel a sore throat on two days this week and I really don't want to get sick again so I thought I'd try out the old trick of high vitamin C dosage for a while. Then, when I looked in one of the big drugstore chains, there was no simple vitamin C to be found, just mixes, almost all of them with vitamin D, which I already take in a very high dosage on prescription. Anyway, I found some this morning at the Reformhaus and I'm glad I got it, even if that was 9.50 I hadn't really been planning on (yeah, why is it I have no money again?).

I resisted the temptation to go somewhere for lunch or to buy a pizza, came home and had some toast. Much better. As I was sitting here running through the cupboards in my mind's eye and thinking that I really should do a proper meal plan, I realised that having one or two other things on hand would be very useful to round off what was already there. So off I went again, this time round the corner to Aldi with a decision to see what I could get for 10 euro. Really, what I wanted was to make sure I got a couple of jars of olives - these are my saving grace when I arrive home ravenous, I can eat a few while getting something heated up or cooked. I spent just over 11 euro, as I decided to buy some hard Italian cheese (just as good as parmesan) and that was 3.30. I also got two jars of olives, three tins of kidney beans, 1kg of flour, baking powder, a big packet of fish fingers, a tin of tuna, a tin of sardines, some quark and some grated cheese. Along with what I already have on hand I'm fairly well set now, I think.

Next Saturday I shouldn't need to get more than lettuce, apples and milk. I'm also going to start following the fast diet principles again and tomorrow will be my first fast day. I'm actually looking forward to it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

So glad to live a local type life - but seriously need to get fit!

Really seriously need to start walking more again. I was fairly good at walking home from work once or twice a week over the few months before christmas but haven't done it as much since then (what with being sick and taking ages to shake off the cold, then the bronchitis). It takes me about 35-40 minutes so it's really not a very long walk (a bit more than 2.5 km and add in some time for waiting at traffic lights).

Yesterday and today there have been strikes here so there were no trams or trains running and only one or two buses. So, up early to walk to work yesterday and that was kind of pleasant. The weather, at least, has been great - bright and not raining but cool enough to make walking really nice. Then yesterday evening was the big walk as I needed to get to choir, which is a bit further away (about 5.3km) - managed that, although my feet were starting to hurt a bit by the end of the hour and fifteen minutes it took me. No blisters but I do need to get new orthotics I think. So that left me feeling pretty good about myself, even if I was a bit stiff and very glad that someone offered me a lift home afterwards.

This morning was a bit of a different story though. The walk into work wasn't quite so pleasant - I was really tired and it didn't take long for my feet to start feeling a bit sore again. I was able to get a bus to the evening class I go to so then all I had to do was get home after that. It's about 3 km and I decided to just take it slowly. It occurred to me about halfway home that if zombies started to chase me I wouldn't have an ounce of extra to even make a token effort to get away. I'm shattered and it took me nearly 50 minutes to get home - I even took my shoes off before walking up the stairs to my apartment, just couldn't stand the thought of having shoes on for one second longer than I had to.

I need to try and keep it up now after such an enforced good start, though. Won't walk tomorrow but I'm thinking of bringing my togs into work with me so that I can head for a swim straight after work tomorrow. Then next week, I'll see about walking in a few mornings too. Need to do it now as often as possible before the weather gets too hot to make it feasible.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Freaked out by debt - but is that a bad thing?

I thought when payday came around this month I'd be heaving a big sigh of relief. The last two months have seen quite a few biggish expenses so I haven't been able to send very much to clearing the overdraft on my Irish bank account. That meant I was eagerly anticipating being able to knock a big chunk off it this month, as I have no large anticipated expenses in April. Got paid today, transferred a very big chunk of change and, thanks to the new SEPA (single European payment area) systems that finally seem to be working properly, it even hit my Irish bank account by the end of the afternoon.

But you know what? Even though I am pleased to see the total on that overdraft coming down, I am not feeling at all relaxed about it. I'm very close to clearing my overdraft, with this payment I'm well away from the 2,000 mark, even if I haven't quite managed to break the 1,000 yet. And I feel just as freaked out as I did last week. So although I know it's getting there and I'd kind of like to be feeling a bit more comfortable at the moment, I actually think it may be a good thing that I'm not. I feel like I've finally gotten to that stage when any debt is just unacceptable.  Long may the feeling last because it might be the only thing that stops be ever doing it again!

Being patient is difficult but I just have to try and have another month of keeping my head down and just getting on with things. It'll be easter towards the end of April, which means a nice four-day weekend. I have a couple of social things planned but none of them are particularly expensive. There'll be a meal for book club but I'll do what I did last time and not have any alcohol to drink and try and order something cheap from the menu - not every single meal out has to be a three-course extravaganza. Myself and a friend finally made it to the table quiz in the Irish pub last Sunday evening, which was a lot of fun. We plan on going again in a couple of weeks but at 10 euro per team plus whatever you drink, that can be a very cheap night out, too. And I plan to start making full use of the ArtCard that I bought. It cost 54 euro and gives me entrance to just about all of the museums and art galleries in town for a whole year. Along with the lengthening of the days, I should have plenty to keep me occupied. I shouldn't be wishing my life away but I just really want to get to the end of April as quickly as possible so that I can finally see my debt dip into the hundreds. But best of all at the moment for me is the fact that I've booked a Tupperware party at the end of May. I am ridiculously excited about that - it has been so long since I've had one, I'd say at least 7 or 8 years. Oh how I do love my Tupperware. Sigh.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Butternut squash lasagne

I bought a butternut squash before going to Halle in February and then didn't do anything with it since I ended up getting sick. Since I finally feel like I can't possibly put off getting back to eating and cooking properly (helped enourmously by going to a friend's for dinner last night for two delicious vegetarian dishes from the Ottolenghi book) I took the herby quark I bought at the same time and put into the freezer back out yesterday to defrost. I actually starting the day feeling like I was going to have another unproductive day but when I went into the kitchen just before one to get myself a very late bowl of cornflakes for breakfast I ended up turning on the oven, preparing the butternut squash and putting it in to cook. I actually hadn't found the recipe for lasagne again yet so forgot that they just saute the butternut squash in cubes - still, roasted with garlic and a red onion gives me just about the same, cooked squash that doesn't even need any more mashing or pureeing to use it in the recipe. The recipe doesn't call for it to be mixed with cheese or quark either - I think I was just mixing it up with the stuffed butternut squash recipe I often do. And hey, garlicky, herby, creamy butternut squash has to work at least as well as just mashed butternut, don't you think?

Since it's now cooked I thought I'd better just find the recipe and check I remembered it quickly. And of course I had completely forgotten about the white sauce part of things. No problem to whip up a quick white sauce though, right? I even have milk, not always a guaranteed thing. The one thing I don't have, however, is flour. I ran out in February and have completely forgotten to get some more in. So frustrating. So I could upset my day's planning to try and get out now to find a small shop open on a Sunday (there's a general Sunday shopping ban here for most instances, only touristy things are allowed open except for a couple of times a year - small tobacco selling type kiosks can open sometimes, too and some of them stock some basic groceries, too). Or just try it without the white sauce and sprinkle a bit more cheese between each layer. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Edited to add the photo I had forgotten I took: