My week living below the line, on £1 a day, is almost at an end.
In a weird sort of way I have almost enjoyed the experience. It has been very interesting to try and come up with ways to keep the tastebuds tempted and belly relatively full on such a meagre allowance and sparse cupboard. But I think I’ve done pretty well.
I was surprised how, once it sank in that I wouldn’t be having my daily avocado, my beloved matcha green tea, the sliver from cakes made for others – just to test of course – that I got used to the repetitiveness. I have found a comfort of sorts in knowing that I don’t have a dazzling choice of ingredients with which to play. In fact, my latent pioneer side has come to the fore when faced with my week’s rations; I can’t feel more Little House On The Prairie if I had a gingham pinafore and pigtails (and Laura Ingall’s cute freckles, at least as seen on the tv show).
But really, I am play acting. I know that at any point – and that come Saturday morning – I can have a slurpy, veg-filled tofu curry, a big-as-my-head cardamom bun (steady on girl!), brain-freezing, freshly blended frozen fruit smoothie. Anything at all.
I’ve never really had to worry too much about a budget, never mind one that is restricted to £1 a day. For a staggering 1.2 billion, this is course a daily, unremitting reality. And health and opportunities suffer – usually permanently – as a result. Me doing this exercise from the comfort of my well-insulated, safe, gas- and electricity-powered home hasn’t been about trying to pretend that I can live like the many, many people that his campaign wishes to support. It has been about me keeping these marginalised communities in my mind, and perhaps encouraging my readers, friends and those who follow me on social media to give to my chosen charity, or perhaps take part themselves. Doing this exercise has made me more aware that not only am I spoiled (I knew that) but that I need to be much more grateful to have health, money, education, stable government, access to affordable, safe food, clean water and really everything I need. If I am hungry I can immediately sort something out by grabbing a bought sandwich, picking something from my fertile (ish) garden, or filling up a shopping cart. Others don’t have that luxury – through no fault of their own.
My charity, Health Poverty Action is just one of the charities taking part in the Live Below The Line campaign. Health Poverty Action works in the poorest communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America supporting projects that tackle a range of factors affecting health: weak and non-existent health systems, communicable diseases, lack of health education (a cause very close to my heart), harmful traditional practices, gender-based violence, lack of nutritious food and income, and poor water and sanitation. Things we often take for granted.
The official week of living below the line is April 27-May 1. I would be absolutely over the moon if some of you decided that you wanted to take the challenge too. Remember, it is only for one week. The campaign is about raising awareness, and of course raising money to support projects that help the globe’s poorest citizens. If you wish to donate, could you use the link on my sponsorship page. And to sign up to take the challenge, use this link. Thanks so much.
Now that I have hopefully tugged at your heartstrings just a little, I’ll tell you what I got with my £5 for the week. But first, a ‘helpful’ preamble. Of course.
I bought and used only what you see below, but I did keep some money back to account for the few spices I used, and also a little cooking oil. Also, I was able to add some fresh greens into this very un-fresh diet because I grow them. I accounted for the seeds that would have been used to grow my kale, chard and burgeoning herbs. You will see that there is no tea or coffee on the list. These aren’t things I drink regularly so I happily did without, but most folk find that one or the other has to be bought and very much rationed – 1 tea bag for 3 uses kind of thing. As for salt, I used the stock cubes for any thing I wished to season. The cheap ones – 20 pence in my case – are very salty! All of my products were Tesco Value range or similar. Many of you can probably go even cheaper by buying at local vegetable markets, Aldi/Lidl, and Chinese or Asian grocers. Bargains on bread, fruit and vegetables can usually be had just before major supermarkets close for the day. If I had been able to find the baker at the Tesco bakery counter then I might have been able to get some free fresh yeast. I waited for ages but to no avail – so roti it is! Oh, and don’t expect to be able to afford dairy or any animal products other than eggs, although some folk (hello Ceri) have blagged free chicken carcasses to make stock! I am feeling very bloated and carb-bound right now, and certainly miss a variety of protein. And my beloved avocado! Like I said, spoiled.
MY MEAGRE SHOPPING LIST
Rice (1.5 kg) – 45p
Peanut Butter – 50p (it was reduced from 65p)
Baked Beans, 1 tin – 24p (I ate half as is, and rinsed the other half to add to homemade soup!)
Flour – 45p
Stock Cubes – 20p
Frozen Mixed Vegetables (1 kg; these were surprisingly good) – £1
Porridge Oats (250g) – 55p
Bananas (brown and spotty, so reduced) – 10p
Eggs (1/2 dozen) – £1
TOTAL SPENT: £4.49, leaving me with 51 pence for spices, accounting for my homegrown veg, some oil.
Next time I will post my menu for the week to give you some ideas if you fancy doing this yourself, or if you are just curious as to how anyone can make three meals a day on the above ingredients. You may be in for a surprise!
Meantime, here is our favourite thing I have made all week. Andrew, although he wasn’t doing the challenge with me as he was not around much this week (by design?), did have this quick and cheap version of a stew that I already make and we love. He absolutely loved it and said no one would be able to tell it was a budget soup. And the roti as accompaniment is a must. I made up the dough twice this week, twisting each portion into little snails for rolling out as I used them. One batch makes 4-6 roti/flatbreads. This is what I used for my bread, even having at breakfast with either a smear of peanut butter, or underneath a fried egg. Oh, btw, if more than one of you is doing the challenge you will obviously have more to spend and the money will certainly go further and give more variety. Club in with friends or colleagues if you wish. That is what the staff at Health Poverty Action are doing.
I hope you are tempted to give this challenge a go. It’s not easy but I have honestly found it a very rewarding week. And as my extra reward I am going to have another bowl of this soup. Slurp!
Spicy Peanut Butter and Vegetable Soup with Roti
I made this for my week-long Live Below The Line challenge – sticking to a £1 a day budget – so the recipe reflects these restrictions. Please feel free to add beans or leftover meat to this dish for more protein. And to garnish as you please. Hard-boiled eggs, herbs, chopped lettuce and even bananas are fairly traditional toppings for this West African-style soup. The cost per serving works out at approximately 20 pence per bowl, max.
1 litre hot vegetable stock – I used a stock cube in this instance
3 cups frozen mixed vegetables – I used a value brand and it was fine
4 heaped tbsp (more to taste) of smooth peanut butter
4 tbsp oats (these thicken the soup and make it heartier)
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, turmeric and cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or similar (optional)
Method: Add all of the ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. This tastes even better the following day.
I think this is the best way to enjoy bread on a very restricted budget. Make a batch and only roll out what you wish to use at that meal, storing the rest of the dough for the next day’s meal(s). Don’t skip out the “oiling and coiling” stages as this is what gives these breads their surprising flakiness. If you leave out the stock cube (my budget restrictions meant that I didn’t have salt so used stock cube to cover any salt “duties”) then these roti can be used for sweet purposes, as you would, say, toast and jam.
2 cups plain or bread flour (I used plain)
1/4 tsp fine salt or pinch of stock cube (leave out the stock cube if you wish to have the chapatis with anything sweet)
1 tbsp oil
1) Add the flour and salt/stock cube crumbles( or use none at all) to a large bowl and stir. Add in the oil, stirring with one hand while you hold the bowl with the other. Open your fingers out and ‘rake’ through the flour as you stir to distribute the oil. Really drag your hand around the bowl. Then use your fingers to ‘pinch’ the clumps out, as you would for pastry.
2) Add a small amount of water – about 1/4 cup – and stir again with your hand, gradually adding water until you have a soft but not sticky dough. Work it in the bowl until it is smooth, kneading it a few times.
3) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a fat sausage shape, long enough to cut into 4-6 even pieces. Roll each piece to about 3 mm thickness, brush with a little extra oil and roll each up like a fat snake. Now coil each into a snail. Rest the dough for 20 minutes or in an airtight container, refrigerated, overnight.
4) Press flat each piece of dough that you wish to cook and roll as thinly as you dare.
5) Heat a heavy skillet (I used a cast iron one – brilliant) and slick with a tiny bit of oil. Lay on a rolled out piece of dough and cook on each side until bubbled and browned in places and it seems cooked through. Carry on with the remaining, and eat warm. If you are feeling decadent, brush the breads with melted butter before serving…