Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday 28th after a bad weekend

Lunch was home made veg soup with a bit of chicken thrown in and some homemade bread. I've also had an apple (which I brought in) and a pear and a banana from the fruit platter in work.

Dinner will be something with chicken. I bought a chicken from Coolanowle yesterday, slightly smaller than usual but still a good size. It, plus three (very tasty) rashers and a half-dozen organic, free range eggs cost €18.19. I got some onions and a few leeks from Denis Healy as well, who for once actually had marked up what was Irish organic produce which cost €2.15. I allowed myself to be persuaded to go to the cinema on Saturday, bought popcorn there (definitely not a frugal thing to do but as filling a lunch as any other) and after the film we went for a couple, well, three drinks. That plus the takeaway I felt I needed on the way home left me not much of my budget for the rest of the week. I do have €20 left from last week which will have to do me for going out to lunch later in the week. Still, I'm glad I went out on Saturday - I rarely do anything spontaneous like that and I had a good time. Mind you, deciding to get off the bus early and stroll down Grafton Street on the way to the cinema wasn't such a great idea - I couldn't believe the amount of people and then remembered why I don't go into town much anymore.

Yesterday, after spending what felt like the whole day (but was really only a couple of hours) giving a driving lesson to a panicky friend who was having her driving test today (she passed, thank goodness) I was in no mood for doing anything in the house so I spent the last hour of glorious sunshine tidying up the shed a bit and cutting the grass, turning the compost a little and generally tidying up the garden, including chatting to the neighbour over the front garden fence for twenty minutes. I really needed to get out in the fresh air. Still didn't feel like cooking or expending any effort when I came in so I just shoved the chicken into the oven to roast. By the time it was cooked though I at least felt enthusiastic enough to strip the carcass and put several portions of meat into the freezer for next week plus some into the fridge for today. And then I also made stock straightaway.

While doing all this I managed to keep the washing up under control so this evening when I go home I just have to clean the bathrooms, the cooker and do the floors. A last quick tidy up before I go to bed (for which read, bringing everything that's lying around upstairs and dumping it in my bedroom instead!) and the house will be good enough to show people tomorrow - the landlord will be over and showing the other room to prospective new tenants. I spent a few hours knitting yesterday instead of cleaning the house and I really want to get back to it so it's an added incentive to not dally while cleaning and just get it done.

I made a new hat for my youngest niece and started and am halfway through a scarf for her older sister. This is really their Christmas box I'm making stuff for as I couldn't summon up the energy in December to make and send things. It's my nephew and brother-in-law's birthdays this weekend so I'm aiming to post stuff over by Wednesday for both the birthdays and Christmas pressies for everyone.


I've been tinkering with my budget spreadsheet. Over the past four years or so I've amended this spreadsheet to come up with a format that I can manage. It serves as both my budget planner and for tracking my spending. What I've never done is add in/figure out percentages as part of all that. I know it's important though and seeing items of expenditure expressed in percentage terms can make things hit home a bit harder (a good thing). This was mostly prompted by my rent going up so I now know that my rent has gone up by about 6% and, as a fraction of my income that's just over a 1% increase.

I've expressed expenditure as percentage of take-home pay. The only items which are taken out of my gross salary are pension, health insurance and tax/PRSI. So, for January (including my expected outgoings up to the end of the month) things look like this:
Loan repayment: 19.45%
Rent: 18.59%
Visa: 12.53%
HSA: 1.78% (this is a cash plan to supplement health insurance)
Donation: 0.83%
Car savings: 5.93% (savings account to use for car repairs and tax)
Car insurance: 1.45%
Savings: 0%
AA: 0.59%
Counselling: 2.77%
Misc. (food etc.): 49.93%
Bills (esb, gas, phone): 3.96%
Bank charges: 0.81%

The amounts on visa refer generally to petrol, parking, bus tickets and, for this month, antibiotics I had to buy (and which I should get a part refund on from HSA). I also took cash out once - something I normally don't do and now can't remember why. I use my visa mostly for the convenience and it is paid off every month in full. Bills includes the landline phone in the house but I pay separately for credit for my mobile phone, usually topping up once a month or so. The amount for bills is put into an online saving account with high interest - all of these bills are actually paid by direct debit by our landlady and I then transfer my share to her. I put more or less the same amount in each month to make sure I have enough to cover bills as they come up and am slowly building up a bit of a reserve for emergencies. I did need to spend money on a new car battery this month but that is covered under misc. as I didn't take money out of my car account this time. Misc. also covers some money which I put into savings to hold it for a month until a charge comes through on my credit card for products I ordered from Innocent Oils - I'll transfer that money back into my current account to cover part of the cheque I write to pay the credit card bill this month. The bank charges were government stamp duty on a new cheque book and the annual charge on my ATM/laser card - I have a current account with no admin fees.

Observant people among you might notice that that all adds up to more than 100% - this is because I had some extra income this month, money my boss gave me for Christmas and that my sister sent me for Christmas as well. However, it's more realistic to express things as a percentage of my normal take-home pay. Ideally any extra income should go straight into savings or be used for bigger, one-off expenses so I need to try and stop fooling myself into thinking I've managed well, when in reality it may only be the extra money I had that month that kept me afloat.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Having read so many blog and comments from people who knit their own dishcloths I decided to finally try my hand at it. I plan to send these to my sister in Sydney. I wanted to try this a while ago and so when I was in a shop and saw some cotton yarn I bought it and it has been sitting in a bag for months waiting for me to do soemthing with it. Of course, that was before I really copped on that there are different sizes of cotton yarn, just like wool and these were very thin types. I'm still not sure what worsted weight is but I just went for it and knit these by using the two different cottons together, one is a light yellow and one is a cream colour. The colours don't show up well in the photos.

I also had some cotton yarn which was given to me for the workshop on continental knitting I attended during the Knitting and Stitching show and it's a lovely soft one (possibly not so good for a dishcloth but what the hell). All three cloths are slightly different lengths and widths. I look forward to making some for myself now.

Dinner 24 January

I realise these types of posts will be pretty boring for anyone who may be reading and isn't possessed of any voyeuristic traits but this is a handy way for me to track my eating and cooking as well as my spending so I'm going to keep it up for as long as it's working for me with an aim of getting back to a proper tracking of my food by the end of February assisting me in losing weight.

Last night I didn't get home until just after eight and, despite the mars and crisps at six I was very hungry. I needed to make soup as I had the stock out of the freezer and in a way that was good as it forced me to cook and since I was chopping veg for soup it didn't seem too much to contemplate chopping a little bit extra to make a dinner. This is exactly the kind of evening that in November and December ended in me phoning a takeaway while walking home from the busstop so that I'd have a (very unhealthy but very filling) meal delivered not long after I got in the door.

I decided to toast two small slices of bread to eat while I was preparing the food to stave off the hunger for a little while longer. First up I made some pastry and then put that into the fridge. At this stage I'd totally forgotten about the mince I'd also taken out of the freezer the night before and had decided to make a quiche. Pastry went into the fridge to cool while I chopped onions, garlic, shallots and leeks, doing enough onions and garlic for the soup as well. I also took out some carrots, potatoes and celery for the soup and a large scallion I'd completely forgotten about. I sauteed onion, garlic, shallot and leek for a few minutes and took the pastry out to roll out. Placed pastry into a dish, spread the onions etc. on that (would normally spread a bit of mustard onto the pastry first but wasn't in the mood for mustard this time), added a few sun-dried tomatoes and three or four slices of goats cheese. I used duck eggs mixed with a little milk, seasoning and herbs and the whole lot went into the oven while I made the soup.

Washed and chopped potatoes and carrots, sauteed them plus the remaining onions, garlic and scallion for a couple of minutes and then added the stock and left to cook. As I was trying to do everything so fast I'd managed to spread out over the whole counter so next I spent a few minutes tidying up, washing the dishes I'd used and wiping down the counter. Had no sooner finished this than I remembered the mince. So, back off the draining board came the chopping board and I chopped another onion and a couple of carrots while the mince was browning a bit. This mince had a huge amount of fat in it (so I was very glad the farmer had thrown in some extra without charging me for it!) so I poured most of it off into a bowl and then added the onion. Finally the carrots and some stock and seasoning and left the whole lot to simmer while I tidied up again and took the quiche out of the oven. All of that, plus changing out of my work clothes, opening my bedroom windows to air the room, bringing the compost out and lighting some incense and candles in the living room took me just over an hour and then I was able to sit down and relax while eating my dinner. Which was delicious by the way. I've just finished the rest of the quiche for lunch today - can't believe I've finished the whole thing in two meals but I was really, really hungry last night and did go back for seconds.

I added a few frozen peas to the mince and that mix is now waiting in the fridge to be made into shepherds pie, which I'll probably do tomorrow. I had the last two tiny slices of bread as toast for breakfast this morning so will need to make more bread this evening or tomorrow. One loaf is plenty for a week and of course, the joy of homemade bread is that it keeps very well for that long. I have buttermilk though so will make soda bread again this week. I got the River Cottage Family Cookbook a while back and am dying to try my hand at sourdough bread too.

I'm trying to clear out my cupboard, fridge and freezer so will be going through them this evening or early tomorrow to decide what I can make over the next couple of weeks with what I have, adding the minimal amount of shopping to it. I've a lunch with colleages next week, a work night away plus a hen night away next weekend, am due to go back to the dentist on Thursday to have two old fillings replaced and the landlord is showing the other room to prospective new tenants on Tuesday evening so need to take all that into account as well.

Positive attitude

I just read this on the A Posse Ad Esse blog and had to share. Possibly the best reason I have ever heard of to stay positive! Fantastic stuff. Absolutely brilliant.

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.
~ Herm Albright

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Food and spending 24 January

Yesterday's dinner was scrambled eggs and toast - quick, delicious and filling, just what I needed.

Up late this morning and no time to even think of breakfast.

Sausage sandwich from work canteen: €1.90

Lunch was leftover pasta from Monday. I thought I'd taken soup out of the freezer but it turns out I had no soup left and took out a big container of stock instead. So I grabbed the last of the pasta from Monday and that did with an apple during the afternoon and am now having a packet of crisps and a mars.

Crisps and mars from machine: €1.40 (because I didn't have exact change got charged 10c more, oh well).

Shouldn't need to spend any more today. Looks like I'm making soup this evening, since I have stock out of the freezer. Also took out the lamb mince to make shepherd's pie - will see if I feel up to all that work, if not will just brown the mince and do the pie tomorrow. Actually I think that is what I'll do - it's supposed to be made with leftovers anyway.

Total: €3.30

Tired and dizzy feeling again in the last couple of hours - need to get home to bed I think.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Spending 23 January

Lotto: €4.00
Packet of crisps and maltesers from work canteen: €1.30

Total: €5.30

Spending 21 January

From local shop (which recently became a Centra):

Glenisk creme fraiche - €1.65
Glenish cream - €1.51
Hula hoops - €0.85

Total: €4.01

Lunch on Monday was leftover roast lamb with some homemade bread and chutney (from McNally's). Snack was an apple and some more of the dried fruit & nut mix. Dinner was the leftover potatoes and carrots from Sunday layered with some onion and garlic and creme fraiche then cooked in the oven for half an hour. The hula hoops were my appetiser, eaten on the way home as I got delayed in work and was very hungry by the time I got to the shop, never mind by the time I got home. Had two Lindor sweets for dessert.

Was sick yesterday, thought it was a migraine coming on, I was feeling really dizzy when I got up so stayed home and slept for a good part of the day - any time I got up I still felt dizzy. It was very disconcerting as I'd feel fine while I was in bed but then woozy just from getting up. Was somewhat better by evening so got up and ate the soup from the freezer which I'd taken out for lunch with some more homemade bread. I also cooked a simple pasta sauce as I'd taken tomato sauce out of the freezer the night before as well. A couple of hours after eating the soup I was hungry again so I threw some pasta into the cooked sauce and reheated it, cooking the pasta at the same time. I ate some of that and will have more of it for lunch today.

The fact that not only was I able to eat, I was actually hungry suggests to me that it wasn't a migraine at all, or else an extremely mild one that only a few hours sleep was able to take care of (unlikely but not impossible). I still have the remnants of a cold and chest infection since before Christmas and I think it may be related to that. Am in work today but did feel a bit dizzy again when I got up this morning. Will see how I feel after work before deciding if I should head to the doctor or not. I'm waiting to see a neurologist about my left foot (since October, my appointment is for the first week of March), which has been numb for unexplained reasons so that makes me very nervous about any other strange symptoms. At least it's Wednesday so we're halfway through the week.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Other expenditure - 19/20 January

Paid mechanic for rest of car battery: €15
Takeaway treat on Saturday evening, beef curry from Thai Thai: €15

Remaining budget for week: €40. I have taken small change (€4.13) out of my purse and put it in a separate envelope as it'll just get spent otherwise.

Expected expenses:
Bus ticket: €3 - I have some left from previous weeks so should only need to buy tickets for one day.

Market shopping - Saturday 19 January

From Down to Earth health food shop:

Honey (Wexford) - €6.20
Chocolate - €2.50

Total: €8.70

From McNally's (organic, local) at market (I didn't write down the individual prices of what I bought but rather the kilo prices):

Potatoes: €1.75/kg
Carrots: €2.20/kg (€2.50/kg for washed carrots, didn't bother with them!)
Yellowstone carrots: €2.50/kg
Leeks €5.00/kg

I also bought 6 duck eggs, a small jar of goose fat (€5) and a pint of buttermilk (75c).

Total: €14.50

I was also delighted to see the apple guy there again so from Llewellyns (non-organic but Irish grown. These are the Elstars and Jonagolds):

2 kg Louth bramleys: €5
1 kg Elstar: €3
1 kg Red Jonagold: €3
Special offer of €1 off 2 kgs of Elstar/Jonagold

Total: €10

Grand total (including €3 bus into town and home): €36.20


I have a lot of thoughts on money and the cost of food but I have to admit I've been very careless about prices for a long time now. When I lived in Germany after college I knew the price of everything I bought in every supermarket. I didn't just go to one supermarket - I went to five, which one depending on what I was looking for. That was also my first time living in my own flat but following my first experience of cooking for myself the previous year during a semester abroad, I felt confident enough to move on from Ragu to making my own bolognese sauce (I started by still buying Ragu and adding tins of tomatoes and gradually worked up to doing it all myself) and even real cheese and bread instead of easi singles and that horrible long life toast bread. I only had two rings for cooking and no oven so my diet was pretty basic - potatoes, pasta, bread, cheese, sausage, eggs, milk and cereals, fruit sometimes and an occasional piece of meat although it tended to be mince or something frozen (usually chicken) which could be fried. That was the period when I was closer than I've ever been to a normal weight although my cholesterol went through the roof so I had to learn to buy pasta made without eggs and so on and so forth.

When I came home in '97 I moved in with my oldest sister as it was an easier commute to work than from home. The idea was that I'd spend a month living with her and then find my own place but as my dad got sick I ended up staying for seven months. Had a great time though as my dinner would be more or less ready on the table every evening when I got home and she'd even make me sandwiches for lunch when she was making her kids' and husband's lunches. So, no need to go food shopping.

After that, even when I moved into my own place I somehow never got into the habit I'd had in Germany of checking and knowing the prices of everything in the supermarket. I was working in my first real job at the time so even though I wasn't being paid a lot it was way more than I'd ever had before so I just bought whatever I felt like. Of course, I couldn't really afford to do that so eventually a few years later I ended up with a huge credit card bill, got a loan to pay that off, ran the card up again, needed a bigger loan to clear all that. I feel so stupid now that I let it happen but at least I'm somewhat under control now and am slowly but surely paying my loan (yes, I do still have a credit card but it has a very small limit and, except for my wobble back in October/November it is paid off in full every month). I was reminded during last week of some financial advice I read once. It was during my first real job, working for a US I.T. company and they used to send short emails around every few months with different tips for managing your finances. Of course, at 22 most of it seemed irrelevant to me, who cares about pensions and mortgages! Other than joining the mandatory pension scheme when I was 23 I didn't really think any of it applied to me. This particular bit I remember though said that you should always aim to have six months salary in savings, to get you through any rough spots in case you might not be able to work. At the time I thought this was crazy - such a lot of money, as far as I was concerned a rainy day fund didn't have more than a couple of hundred pounds in it (and rainy days meant you needed something to wear for the weekend, not that you didn't have a job). It was still close to the start of Ireland's economic boom and as I'm not a diva when it comes to work (I have a not too proud to clean toilets if that's what going to pay me attitude) I couldn't imagine a situation where I wouldn't be able to find work. And this from someone who grew up in the '80s in Ireland, hearing nothing but more redundancies and the percentage of people on the dole going up and up all the time.

Enough of that, where was I? I'm sure I had a point. Oh, yes, savings. Well, I don't have six months worth of salary in savings at the moment but my loan is down to about six months worth of salary (gross that is, still more like ten months worth of take home pay) which is some progress at least. At this stage of my life though I'm far more aware of the need to have some savings to fall back on if necessary so it's hard to keep moving on paying my debt and not feel under pressure to be saving more. I will need money to move to Germany and so everything extra I can get will have to start being put away for that. I've done a fair bit of overtime this month so when I get paid that will need to go straight into a savings account.

This week my budget had a boost when someone who owed me €40 gave it back to me. I used that for my shopping at the market, will post list separately and also bought some honey from the health food shop - it's difficult to find Irish honey anywhere else. I've stayed pretty well on track this month budgetwise (even paying for new car battery without using money from my car savings) and although it's 21 January I still have money in the bank. Practically unheard of for this time of year. I need to help this budgeting along by making sure I'm fully aware of the price of everything all the time - I've become one of those sad people who aren't entirely sure how much a litre of milk costs. So that's my aim for the next while, not just to stick to my budget because when I've spent x amount I've nothing left but to be able to have a good idea before I go shopping what I'll get for the x amount I have with me.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Dinner yesterday evening: pancakes, a couple of plain ones and a couple with cheese which finished off a tiny piece of Comte which was hiding under someting else in the fridge (it would never have lasted that long if I'd realised it was still there) and started a goats cheese I got from Corleggy recently. I quite like the taste of goats cheese but am not mad about the texture and this is a hard cheese I thought I'd try. Turns out when it's cooked in something to melt into the same consistency as most goats cheese so I think I'll need to use a much thinner slice next time. I made enough pancake batter to have a couple of sweets ones after dinner this evening.

Lunch today was vegetable soup from the freezer with some of the bread I made last weekend. I need to finish that bread off so am going to try a variation of the savoury bread and butter pudding recipe on the Beansprouts blog - I'm not sure how well it will work with soda bread but we'll see. I have eggs I need to use up as well so it seems like a good plan. I think I have some garlic cheese in the fridge as well that I can use - it's been there for a while but was very thick so some of it should be salvageable. I really need to clean out the fridge - it's one of those tasks I'm sure I don't do half often enough.

My housemate is moving out at the end of February as she has decided to try and buy this year and will move home unti she has found somewhere. I've enjoyed sharing with her and will be sorry to see her go but I think 2008 is one of those years where a lot of people will be doing big things. And since I hope to be moving to Germany I'm one of them. Have made a start on translating my CV and want to spend an hour or so on that this weekend. It's not so much the translation as all the conventions which are stalling me e.g. that it's normal to include a passport size photo with a German CV and it's expected to be a professional job, not popping into the machine in the local train station on the way home. Of course there is now legislation (part of the equality legislation) preventing companies from asking for a photo but I've been trying to get advice from a secretaries' forum in Germany and the word is you should still send one. I'll get there in the end I'm sure. I need to be doing something positive for my life this year before I start to get paranoid about my multiple-of-elevens years. My mum died when I was 11, my dad when I was 22 so now that I'm 33 I need to try and make sure any big life events are of my choosing!

It's the Saturday market for me this week to stock up on veg - I hope to keep a better record of my spending this week. I'm sticking to my budget but want to get a better idea of where my money is going within that budget.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lunching on leftovers

Well, I made far too much rice the other night and so I am having the last small portion for lunch today. I used a bigger cup than I normally would to measure the rice out. Normally I use a small mug to give two large portions of rice but since it's a while since I've cooked rice I couldn't remember which mug I used to use and obviously used a bigger one. Portion size control is something I need to work at, one of my problem areas when it comes to food.

I've a history of issues with eating since I was about 13, some of which I'd admitted to myself years ago and some I didn't even realise were there until the last couple of years. One I have been aware of and working on for a few years now is knowing when to stop eating. At home, we had to eat whatever was put in front of us, not so unusual I think, it happens to most people. The problem started when my dad remarried (I was 12, it was just over a year after my mum dying) and my stepmother wasn't too nice. She definitely had some control issues and one of the things which was imposed on us was a no exceptions to the eat everything on your plate. She also forced us to eat vegetables (I didn't eat any vegetables at the time and being forced to eat them at that stage put me off anyting to do with veg for a long, long time) and, something I only realised in later years, gave me far bigger portions than I needed. We did not have a house where you argued with the grown-ups or went against them in any way (and of all the ways of dealing with that kind of situation, mine was always to be as good as I could be, I was always terrified of being bold and was never the rebel) and so it never occurred to me to say I didn't want so much or was full and didn't want any more. I went through a stage of frequently needing to throw up after dinner, not because I was forcing myself to or wanted to, but simply because I had had too much to eat and couldn't keep it down. Of course, if you eat large amounts of food you will eventually get used to eating way more than you need and you become unable to know when or if you are hungry so it is a long process to educate yourself in both mind and body to knowing when you are hungry and when you are satisfied. Only making a certain amount of something, for example taking 30g dried pasta as a small portion, and eating only that helped a lot when I was trying to teach myself portion control. Also, finding out that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to register food was a revelation. Following the example of my sister (who is married to a Frenchman and living in France), helped a lot with this so I always try to have a small bit of something as an appetiser about half an hour before eating dinner - often that means just munching on something as I start cooking. It means that by the time I sit down to eat properly my system is working and ready to let me know when I've had enough. In conjunction with this I try to make sure I take my time eating - it's possible to get a huge amount of food into your gob in 20 minutes, possibly far more than you need if you're not paying attention. If you have family or friends around for mealtimes I think having an appertiser also helps with making the meal a real meal and not just a food-shovelling exercise.

I also try to have at least two courses because it means you're not trying to fill up on one thing, just eating enough (what my mind knows is enough even if my eyes/stomach want more) because there's still more coming. And of course I have to remind myself that even if I have finished dinner and I'm still not satisfied I can just wait for an hour and then eat something else - this is another hang-up from my teenage years as we weren't allowed to eat anything without asking first so there was no just opening the fridge and helping yourself if you felt peckish in the evening. Only, now I'm all grown up and living on my own and if I feel like having a slice of toast or an apple, I can do it. It never ceases to amaze me how deeply ingrained some things from those those eight years living with someone like my stepmother are - but 12 to 20 is a very impressionable age I suppose.

Wow, that was more than I intended to write today. It does help to write it down though sometimes. And now, back to the rice. It gets a bit boring to eat the same thing every day but it's not something that would freeze well and I prefer not to waste it so it's leftovers for lunch. I finished all the bits with meat in yesterday so it's rice, peas and broccoli today. I also have a slice of lemony cake in with me which will fill me up nicely if I'm feeling peckish in the afternoon. As well as a packet of fruit & nut mix which I started yesterday and will probably have on my desk for a week.

This evening will be something made with eggs - I'm thinking of doing pancakes, it's a miserable gray day today and pancakes are a great food for that type of weather. Actually pancakes go with almost any kind of weather - love them, love them, love them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More leftovers

Dinner on Tuesday evening: Starter was the last small bowl of vegetable soup accompanied by a slice of homemade bread and followed by rice cooked in beef stock with some frozen peas, a small amount of corned beef and leftover broccoli thrown in for the last few minutes. Nearly a risotto but not. Delicious and very filling. Could have had more cake for dessert but was way too full for that. Had two squares of dark chocolate a while later and a cup of herbal tea before bed.

Lunch for Wednesday was pasta in a tomato sauce in a local restaurant with a colleague (lunchtime happy hour €9.90 special). Dinner this evening will be last night's leftovers as I need something very quick to eat before heading out to choir.

I'm reading Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson - have just finished the first chapter and started onto the second and am really enjoying it so far. If the practical sections live up to the beginning this is a book I'll be buying in the future.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can I afford to eat well?

It has been a very interesting week or so reading some of the discussions which have arisen around the issue of cheap, intensively reared chicken. A major issue which some people don't seem to want to let go of is that they can't afford to buy free-range or organic. I've come more and more around to the point of view over the last year or so that (a) you need to have your priorities right about where you spend your money and food should be a big part of your budget and (b) that might mean that you don't get to eat meat every day and there's nothing wrong with that. A lot of people have been saying things like "tell me how I can afford it when I only have £50 to feed a family of four a week". I decided to write down what I'm eating for lunch and dinner this week, including the cost of the meat.

Obviously I'm only feeding myself (and occasionally my brother or a friend) but I'm not on a very lavish and have been getting back into micromanaging my money a bit more again as I was getting a bit lax about the whole thing and need to get it under control again. Not least because I've just had to go to the dentist and need to get about €1,000 worth of work done (crown) in the next month or two and have just had to get a new car battery, not to mention paying the car tax and knowing I need to get the timing belt looked at soon. My budget for January after paying for rent and bills is €10 per day. That's quite a lot but is not just for food, it's to cover bus (2.80 per weekday), petrol (about 30 for the month I hope am trying not to use the car so much) and any going out I might do. I'm aiming for going to the Saturday market to buy veg every second week (also buy butter, buttermilk, eggs, chutney from farmer) and the Sunday market for meat every other week (farmer sells his own lamb, pork and beef products and poultry from a neighbouring farm) and not spending more than €20. I'm also using up whatever I have in my cupboard i.e. pasta, rice, barley, tinned tomatoes, nuts/seeds, flour etc. - I stocked up on a bit of this stuff (mostly organic and fair trade) as my winter present to myself in December. And finally I've started baking my own bread - alternating between brown soda bread and a multi-seed loaf, one per week is more than enough. Another €10 per week should be more than enough to cover milk, yohgurt and any other bits I need.

This week I went to the market on Sunday to buy meat. I also stopped at the vegetable stall and bought a few lemons and a small head of broccoli - cost just under €5. From the farmer I bought a small piece of shoulder of lamb (about half a kilo), some lamb mince (250g approx.) and a piece of corned beef (435g, €16/killo = €7.44) plus 6 eggs (free range but not organic as he had already sold out the day before) - total cost was just over €19. The eggs were €1.70 so the meat came in at €17.60 or so (I've lost the receipt). I felt like I had bought a huge amount of meat but it's going to take me a while to get to know how much is enough for two weeks.

It's entirely possible that I could have bought the same meat for far less in the supermarket (although lamb tends to be horrendously expensive in the supermarket I think) but I don't really think like that. I just think "this is how much it costs" rather than "wonder if I could have gotten it cheaper" as I've never been disappointed buying from Coolanowle (the quality is excellent) and am prepared to pay to support an independent farm.

The shoulder of lamb and mince went into the freezer as my brother cancelled on my for dinner - I'll take it out next weekend when he can come over. I expect to feed both of us and have enough leftovers for at least two or three meals. I'll use the mince to make shepherds pie which will do for a couple of dinners and lunches next week or into the freezer as back up for future weeks.

I cooked the corned beef on Sunday evening and ate probably a little over a quarter of it with some mashed potatoes and broccoli as well as some tomato ketchup from the cupboard which I made during the summer (on a side note I'm very pleased that my canning effort seems to have worked so well - I really expected a film of mould and a foul smell when I opened the jar!). For dessert I had some stewed apple, again which I had processed a month or so ago and had in the cupboard. I was absolutely stuffed and had to wait a while before I could eat my dessert.

I also made a lemony cake on Sunday and some soda bread, which I had had for lunch, just plain bread and butter and a slice of cake. A basic meal but oh so satisfying when it's all hot out of the oven.

Yesterday I had some vegetable soup (homemade and leftover from last week) for lunch with a couple of slices of bread. I had stewed apple and yoghurt with me for an afternoon snack but had a hectic afternoon ending in a dentist appointment so didn't eat that during the day. When I went home I was really hungry (and since the dentist had been working on the tooth which had a root canal done a couple of years ago it hadn't needed to be numbed) but needed to go to the library. I grabbed a big slice of cake and ate that while walking to the library to keep me going. I then ate half the stewed apple while preparing my dinner. I get heartburn/indigestion if I go too long without eating something and find apple is a good filler-in that calms my stomach (so long as it's a sweet rather than sour apple) so it was perfect as an appetiser.

Dinner was potato cakes made with the leftover mash from the day before mixed with a small amount of corned beef, half a large red onion, two eggs and a small amount of gouda cheese all chopped up small and mixed together. I fried circles of the potato cakes until golden brown, flipped to the other side and did the same. And this time I managed to be patient enough to actually allow them to brown rather than having them fall apart because I try to take them out too soon. It was, if I do say so myself, absolutely delicious and there were four left which I've had for lunch today. I finished the rest of the stewed apple with some yoghurt for dessert.

I still have enough corned beef for at least two meals and have the broccoli to finish as well - either pasta or an omelette or quiche for this evening maybe.

My aim for this month is to get back into the habit of cooking and eating properly. I'm not going to obsess too much about whether I've had my 5-a-day fruit and veg or not or worry about whether I'm using too much butter or oil. If I can get back on track with cooking proper meals (I had a very, very bad November in this respect and was sick for much of December and not much better then) this month then next month I will start to pay more attention again to the healthiness of my food.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hugh's Chicken Run

1st programme of 3 aired last night on Channel 4 at 9. 2nd and 3rd parts are on tonight and tomorrow. It's all part of the Channel 4 Food Fight series with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver and whatever about the other programmes Hugh's Chicken Run is riveting and a very well-made piece of television.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) tries to make his local town the first free-range chicken town in the UK using a variety of methods. He gets some locals on an estate to raise chickens (for eggs and meat) on the local allotments, he tries to get local businesses to use free-range chicken in their canteens, tries (so far unsucessfully) to get supermarkets to engage in discussion about stopping stocking non-free range chickens and finally, he decides, as no factory farms will allow him access, to set up his own intensive operation, one half fully intensive, one half free range so that people can see what it's really like. It sounds like it was hard for him to decide to go ahead with it and it looks like he certainly struggles with raising chickens intensively but, as he said at the beginning of the programme, if it takes the sacrifice of these chickens to save many, many more, maybe it'll be worth it.

Discussion on the programme here and probably on many other forums as well.