More on Poverty & Education

My piece yesterday on education and poverty struck a nerve with many of you. I received a slew of messages here, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on my phone, from women who found themselves in similar situations. Women who tried desperately hard to educate their way out of poverty. Women who tried to grab life by the scruff of the neck and gain an education for themselves so they could lift their families out of poverty.

Some of us end up pursuing more than one degree in an effort to improve our circumstances. Unfortunately, in Ireland, if you want to pursue a second degree that is not higher on the NFQ than one you already have, you will not receive state funding. That means that if you find the MA you have isn’t enough to secure employment – and you can’t, for whatever reason, pursue a PhD – you will have to self-fund. This is what I ended up doing. My intention was to use the money from a settlement for sexual abuse to pay my fees (and for the therapy I need as a result of the abuse to keep me mentally healthy).  The problem is that one of the brothers who raped and otherwise sexually abused me decided not to honour the settlement. In desperation, I launched a Go Fund Me campaign explicitly, exclusively and entirely to ensure that I stay fit enough to parent, and that I can finish my degree and graduate.  And, then, maybe – just maybe – get a job somewhere. Anywhere.

It struck me earlier today how gendered this all is. The men walk away from their financial obligations, and abuse the children they have decided not to support. They further abuse the women to whom they don’t pay child support because they know that (most) mothers will go hungry before they allow their child/ren to suffer.

The structures of our society and our legal system are patriarchal and allow men who do not wish to support their children, to walk away from their obligations. The women who are then responsible for every aspect of raising the children are then vilified by the society that does not men to account. This, in turn, enforces the belief that many of these men (and, to be honest, I am thinking of specific men; not necessarily men in general) hold; that women deserve to be abused. That women who stand up to the men who bully them need (in my ex-husband’s words) ‘to be taught a lesson’.

Even before I became a mother, I knew one thing; no woman creates a child on her own. Not even those who have virgin births or those who claim impregnation by entity. To continue to promulgate the myths around mothers who are forced to raise their children on their own shifts the focus from those who are doing nothing for their families to those who are doing everything they can for their families. Those who are doing all they can to make their lives, their children’s lives and, therefore society better.  Ironically, we are frustrated by the very society we are trying to improve as we are trying to improve it.

Ireland may no longer lock up lone mothers and sell their babies, but it has a long way to go before it can become in any way congratulatory over the way it does treat them.

 

 

Educated Poverty

Pic of Student Card number erased

Yesterday, I read this piece in the Journal. I didn’t write it – but I could have.

Those of us who parent alone – and the vast majority of us are female – experience the highest rates of deprivation: Nearly 60% of those in single-parent households live with the lack of basic necessities. And, according to the CSO, more than half a million people live in one parent families. That’s a lot of lack.

Like many poor people, lone parents are blamed for their circumstances and for their poverty. In spite of the fact that many women are married, or in stable relationships when they have their children, they are judged as feckless ‘young wans’ whose only desire is to ‘sponge off the state’. May of the comments on the piece I’ve linked to above demonstrate this. One of the things that bothers me about nasty comments and judgements aimed at single mothers is the fact that those who deride them are picking on the wrong parent. They are picking on the parent who is actually parenting. They are picking on the parent who didn’t abandon their child. They are picking on the parent who is doing their best, in spite of the odds, which are stacked against them.

For the longest time, the accepted narrative is that the only way out of poverty is education. Sadly, that’s only half the story. As a woman who has been parenting on my own in Ireland for nearly 12 years, I have direct, personal experience of this. I returned to education when my eldest was 3.5 years old, and my youngest was just 16 months old. Four years later and I was able to put the letters BA (Hons) after my name. Now I had a degree, I was sure I’d find (or make) work for myself.

Sadly, I was wrong. I graduated in 2009, when the Celtic Tiger was in its death throes. Few places were hiring. Even fewer were hiring new graduates. Even fewer would even acknowledge an application from a single parent of two young children. After a year of trying to secure gainful employment (and giving many, many hours for free to NGOs and charities and publications), I returned to education. In 2012, I added ‘MA’ to those letters after my name. Now, surely, someone would hire me.

Again, I was wrong in thinking that I would be offered a job by a company in Ireland. To add insult to injury, several of those employers who deigned to employ me had no difficulty accepting my services for free before they had ‘openings’ for which I applied. Repeatedly, when applying for jobs I was already doing for NGOs and other agencies for whom I had done volunteer work, I was told that I lacked the ‘law piece’. So I applied, and was accepted, to the Law School at Queen’s University in Belfast.

In between finishing my MA and starting my LLM, I was accepted on to a PhD programme at Trinity College, Dublin. I did the first year ‘off books’ (a term meaning that – while I was studying – I hadn’t paid fees, so I wasn’t technically registered, and my access to certain things was restricted). When it came time to start my second year at Trinity, I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t commit my kids to another three years of poverty. I opted to go to Queen’s instead, thinking that I was better off to spend a year studying intensely and get myself a degree at the end of it, than spend a year studying intensely and still only be part way through a degree. Even if that degree was a PhD. So far, the idea that a primary degree and two Master’s degrees will open up employment opportunities has proved unfounded – but I live in hope (because, frankly, I have little else).

Tertiary education, to me, means being hungry. I don’t mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally. When I’m studying, I can’t afford to eat three meals a day. So I don’t. I drink a lot of coffee (that I bring from home), and insist that it’s all in a good cause. And anyway, I can afford to lose a few kilos. Plus, I’ll get a job at the end of it, I tell myself on the days and nights when the gnawing in my stomach distracts me from the words on the page. That last, so far, has proved to be a lie.

No matter how highly educated you are in Ireland, you can’t be sure you’ll get a job. I think part of the reason for that is a lack of ability on the part of Irish employers to recognise, and understand, the value of transferable skills. The idea that the skills single mothers use on a daily basis – financial juggling, multi-tasking, fire-fighting, negotiating, prioritising, communicating with government departments, healthcare, etc. etc. – are useful in the workplace, completely escapes Irish employers. There is also a reluctance to acknowledge that people can retrain, change direction, and bring their previous experience with them. The Irish way is that you have a box that you have been put in, and you must stay in that box forever. Especially if you are a woman. And most especially if you are a woman raising children on your own.

Education, on its own, won’t help lone parents lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a start – but it’s not the complete solution. We need access to jobs once we’ve graduated – and access to quality childcare, and employers who understand that we are no less committed to our jobs than our childfree colleagues. In short, we need support from the state and the society we’re living in. We need the opportunity to put our expensive educations to good use.

 

Austerity Bites – A Reflection on the Recipes

I posted my recipes this past week pretty much as I cook them, so I thought I’d add a few words here about things that go on in my kitchen that I didn’t address properly/at all in the recipes I posted.

 

First, a word on… salt: At the moment, I’m using Pink Himalayan Salt – because it’s pretty (!) and because it’s inexpensive – but otherwise I use Maldron Sea Salt.  That table salt stuff I buy to use for cleaning and for salting certain ‘squashy’ vegetables – courgettes, aubergines etc.

 

We need salt. We don’t need lots. The pink salt I use is very ‘salty’, so a pinch is enough. Otherwise, the average adult needs about 1.5g of sodium per day, and we all need more in the heat (when we’re perspiring more than usual).

 

Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt

A word on…..portions: I’m a big fan of cooking once to eat twice. The recipes I used last week allowed us to do just that – and even have some left for sharing/freezing. Few things were finished. The exception being the masoor (red) lentil dish on Day 6.  You could easily halve the ingredients I listed and feed an adult and 2 kids with moderate appetites.

 

A word on…..utensils: We don’t use non-stick utensils in our house. For years, we kept pet birds. Teflon is not kind to little birds (in fact, it kills them) and Kashmira reasoned that if it’s not good for them, it can’t be much good for us, either.  In order to ensure things don’t stick, I don’t increase the amount of fat I use – I just cook a little more slowly, and add a bit of water if I need to.

 

A word on…..chilli: I don’t use buckets of chilli. I think that the purpose of chilli – and other spices – is to add flavour to dishes, not mask the flavours of the food you’re cooking. Being able to eat really hot food is not a sign that you are ‘hard’, ‘tough’, or ‘cool’. It means you need to find a new hobby. And possibly that you’re lacking in zinc.

 

Chillies

A mixture of dried and fresh chillies.

 

Finally, a word on…..spices: Spices are wonderful to add something special to your food. Don’t be too heavy-handed, though. While a little is good, more is not necessarily better. Again, you want the taste of the spices to enhance the taste of your cooking, not overwhelm it.

 

When it comes to buying spices, don’t forget that they are far more expensive in supermarkets than in Asian stores. In Asian stores, however, they can often come in larger quantities than you’d like. If you don’t use spices a lot in your cooking, why don’t you consider buying with a friend or two (or three)? For about a fiver each, you could buy a bag of each of the basics and divide them up between you.  That way, you can each get ‘starter’ packs of all the basics for way less than you’d get them in a shop with a well-recognised name.

 

Spices

 

Back left: Fenugreek Powder

Back Right:Turmeric Powder

Centre: Ground Cloves

Front Left: Cardamom Pods

Front Right: Coriander Seeds

Austerity Bites – A Reflection

Six Days of Austerity was a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed sharing my recipes with you – and I was delighted by all the support you gave me in my endeavours.

 

The first post in the series felt like the bravest post I’d ever published. Braver than talking honestly and openly about my own mental health issues; braver than talking about sexual abuse, spousal abuse or other family issues. Braver than taking an unpopular stance on political or parenting issues. Braver than anything else I ever wrote about because, in that first Austerity Bites post, I admitted to being financially insecure.  I have always felt that Ireland is a land of inveterate snobs, where people are judged by material possessions and looked down on when they are in financial difficulties. I’ve always felt that, in Ireland, there was nothing worse than being poor. So to come out and admit that I was trying to raise two kids on next-to-nothing felt like the bravest thing I’d ever written.

 

The kind, supportive reactions of people who read and commented on this blog turned that from ‘brave’ to ‘liberating’. So thank you all for your kindness and support.

 

Of course, after the social welfare cheque hit and I’d paid (a bit) off  (some of) the bills, I realised there’s  not much more this week than there was last week. The thing about this past week – which was particularly punishing – is that I used up much of my reserves. I went in to the six days knowning that there were still certain staples (lentils and tins of tomatoes, for example). They have been used up now. The cupboards are bare. Before heading into the next week, I have to sit down and think how on earth I will manage to replenish the stocks somewhat in order to provide nourishment for my girls.

 

Given all that,  I have a feeling there will be more Austerity Bites posts and recipes in the near future.  Stay tuned! 🙂

 

There will be reflections on the recipes to follow.

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 6

Pancakes

200g Plain White Flour

2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

3 Teaspoons of Sugar

400mls of Coconut Milk

1 (precious) Egg

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.

Add the salt and sugar.

Crack in the egg.

Mix in the coconut milk.

Stir the lot together, adding water by dribbles until you have a smooth (though not runny) batter of dropping consistency.

Heat a drop of oil in shallow frying pan.

Drop a soupspoon-full (or dessertspoon-full) of batter on the pan and spread it slightly with the back of the spoon.

Cook over a medium-high heat until bubbles appear on the surface, then turn them over and cook for another minute or two.

There is so much you can serve these with – yogurt, berries, fruit, ice-cream, cream, sugar & lemon, honey….. 🙂

Red Lentils

200g Red Lentils

1 Litre of Water (approximately)

1 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Pinch of salt

1 Tablespoon of Ghee

1 Onion

2 Teaspoons of Panch Phoran*

400g of Tinned Tomatoes

Rinse the lentils. Put them in a sieve and run cold water over them until the water runs clear – otherwise, the lentils will be scummy.

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.

Leave them to steep for about half an hour.

Drain the lentils and add about 1 of fresh cold water – really, you just want enough water to cover them and come about another 2 cms over the lentils.

Add turmeric and salt.

Bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer the lentils, covered,  for a half an hour or so – until they are soft, but not mushy.

If they are still too ‘soupy’, take the lid off the pot, raise the heat and boil rapidly for a few minutes. You’re looking for a more like ‘porridge’ than ‘soup’. A bit like this:

Cooked Dal

While the lentils are cooking, prepare your masala:

Peel and chop the onion.

Heat the ghee in a frying pan.

Add the onion and caramelise over a low heat.

Add the panch phoran and cook for another five minutes, until the spices release their fragrance.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes.

For divilment – and so I can call it fusion (!) – I added a splash (about 1 teaspoon) of Balsamic vinegar.

Add the drained lentils and, stirring, cook for a further five minutes.

*There’s a recipe for this spice mix on Day Two of Austerity Bites 

Austerity Bites – Day 6

Well, we made it! Six days of budget meals has seen us all still in one piece and nary a hunger pang between us.

For breakfast on this final day of Austerity Bites, I used up our one remaining egg to make pancakes. As we had no cow’s milk, I used coconut milk instead. My one can had been in the freezer for a few days (I’d intended using it for ice-cream or something, then changed my mind) and spent another fortnight in the fridge, so it was still quite solid. This meant I had to use a bit of water to make my batter better.

Now, a word about coconut milk – the stuff found in cans in German supermarkets is every bit as good as the stuff in premium British supermarkets – and only half the price. It’s cheaper again in Asian supermarkets where you also have the option of dried coconut milk that you then reconstitute with water.  Even though it works out a bit pricier to buy the canned rather than the dried, it is worth the extra few cents. Reconstituted coconut milk has a more mucous-y consistency and lacks a little of the flavour. Finally, don’t use coconut cream instead of coconut milk because they’re not the same thing.

These pancakes are more substantial than crepes and are very filling (the girls had them with sugar and the last of our lemons, while I had mine plain). There’s enough batter left for tomorrow’s breakfast as well. 🙂

Pancakes, Breakfast, Day 6

I must confess, I didn’t cook lunch – Ishthara (my 11 year-old) did. She used up the last of our 500g bag of pasta (bought last week) and cooked it to perfection before adding in our last jar of olives (again bought last week) and the second of the two Mozzarella balls we bought last week as well as the second bag of rocket I bought a few days ago. The final dribble of olive oil in the bottle finished the dish off.

Pasta, Day6

Dinner was one of my favourite comfort foods; a lovely, easy way to cook red dhal (raw red dhal pictured below).

Raw Dhal Day 6

It takes very little to turn that to this:

Prepared Dhal

We had the dhal with rice and the 200g of frozen broccoli that I was holding on to for just this purpose.

I don’t have a proper bamboo steamer anymore – so I ‘steamed’ the broccoli by putting enough water to come half-way up the vegetables in the pot and brought it to the boil. I then simmered it for 6 minutes and took it off the heat and drained it.

Broccoli Day 6

The drained water I added to the remaining carrot & orange soup the girls weren’t fond of on Day 2. This will be watered down a little bit more with other ‘extra’ water from vegetables over the next few days. I will then add an onion, boil the whole lot up and call it ‘stock’. Then, I’ll freeze it in an ice-cube tray and have stock cubes for the next while. 🙂

A grating of nutmeg and a grinding of salt and pepper rendered this broccoli delicious. Also (would you believe it?) there was enough of the spiced molasses cake left for a slice each after dinner.

Ishthara and Kashmira managed to have fruit today as well – there was about 100g of frozen berries left in the end of the bag we bought last week and they polished the lot off (leaving it in a covered dish in the sun for about twenty minutes first so it defrosted). Also, in the middle of the afternoon, my friend and neighbour Susie dropped in a bunch of radishes – which the girls demolished as a snack.

As usual, recipes will follow…..

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 5

Hummus

1 Tin of Chickpeas

8 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

10 Tablespoons of Tahini

2 Cloves of Garlic

1/2 a lemon

2 Teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout

Salt & Pepper to taste

100mls Water

 

Drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Peel the garlic (this is the only time I’m not heavy-handed with garlic; because it’s not cooked, the flavour really can overpower the dip).

Juice the lemon.

Pop all the ingredients into a bowl (again, I find 1kg yogurt pots excellent for this purpose) and blend with a stick blender, adding the water as needed until you have a smooth – but not runny – mixture.

 

Paprika is generally used in hummus, but I substituted ras-el-hanout because I happen to like it. A dash of chilli pepper will give a slightly spicier hummus if that’s your thing.

 

Rasa

2 Onions

400g Tin of  Tomatoes

60g Dessicated Coconut (unsweetened)

2 Teaspoons of Garlic-Ginger Paste

8 Whole Cloves

8 Whole Peppercorns

6 Dry Red Chillies

1 Teaspoon of Poppy Seeds

1 Teaspoon of Fennel Seeds

4 Tablespoons of Oil

1/2 Turmeric Powder

Salt to Taste

 

If you’re using eggs, hard boil one for each diner. Maybe you know this already, but a few years ago, I realised that boiling eggs works best if you start with cold water. (Even if you don’t keep your eggs in the fridge, boiling water can shock them into cracking. Using cold water means the water and the eggs rise in temperature at the same time) When the water comes to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave them for ten minutes. When they are done, take them off the heat and drain them. When they are cool (covering them in more cold water can speed the process up), peel and halve them. 

While the recipe calls for 2 onions, I only used one because I only have two left, and I want the other for tomorrow’s dhal.  

With regard to the oil, we are down to a dribble, so I used 3 tablespoons of mustard oil instead. It gave a lovely sharp taste to the mixture.  

I had two green bell peppers, so I added them to the pot as well. 

 

Drain and rinse the kidney beans.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and add the cloves, peppercorns, chillies, poppy seeds and fennel seeds. Sauté the mixture until the spices yield their fragrance.

Add the onion until it’s softening then turn the heat down and add the ginger-garlic paste. Fry until the vegetables are browned, but not burnt. Garlic burns really easily, so you’ll need to stir the mixture continuously.

Add the coconut and continue frying until it browns.

Add the tomatoes and continue frying for about five minutes.

Grind this mixture to a paste – adding in a little water if you need to.

Prepare the peppers – top and tail, then quarter and cut out the white membrane – and cut into chunks. Sear them in the wok/frying pan and then leave them to one side.

Transfer the paste back into the pan and add the salt and turmeric and a splash of water (if needed) to make your desired consistency.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes and add the peppers, after another 5 mintues, add the kidney beans.

Serve with boiled rice, chapatis, or baguettes.

Austerity Bites – Day 5

Well, we’re nearly there. Today is the second-last day of rationing in Larkin Lodge – well, until the next time, that is. 🙂

Today, we finished off our one sliced loaf of bread for breakfast – toast and cheese, supplemented with dry cereal. There’s still coffee in the pot for me, so all is well on that front.

I’m drinking tea during the day when I would otherwise have coffee. But when this is what you’re making tea with, it’s a greater pleasure:

Tea, Day 5

My tea set is a beautiful hand made set brought back from Korea by my lovely friend and former neighbour, Howard. It goes perfectly with the Oolong tea that he brought me back from China.

Lunch was hummus, carrot batons, olives and some of the lovely fresh rocket I bought last night,  and some more chapatis.

Lunch, Day 5

Later, when I was cleaning under the stairs (in times of plenty, I store extra tins, bottle of water and spices in the cupboard under the stairs) and I found a tin of tomatoes and two bottles of water. Result!

For dinner, I made an Indian dish that is typically associated with the state of Maharashtra – where my eldest daughter was born – and which always makes me nostalgic for Pune whenever I cook it. The dish is usually served with boiled eggs, but my girls don’t like boiled eggs – which is just as well because we only have one egg….. So I substituted a tin of kidney beans (bought with 21 cents from the €2 I found in my jeans).  We had two green bell peppers in the fridge from about two weeks ago, which were still in good shape, so I added them, too.

Rasa Dinner, Day 5

Fruit bowls were harder to assemble today. There was a nectarine and 20 cherries left (I thought they’d polished the lot off yesterday, but I was mistaken) and they had another orange each. I’d have preferred to have given them more, but it wasn’t there.

I’m hoping that their fruit bowls, carrots, olives, tomatoes, onion and chickpeas will all combine to make up their five-a-day.

Tomorrow will mark the end of our six days of “Austerity Bites”. I can’t say I’ll be sorry.

Recipes to follow…..

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 4

Kashmiri Aubergines

Vegetable for shallow frying (I’ve little  oil left, so used ghee)

1 large aubergine

4 green cardamom pods, bruised

1/2 tsp fennel powder

1/2 tsp tumeric powder

1/2 tsp dried ginger powder

Pinch of asafoetida (hing)

300g natural yoghurt

Salt

I salt aubergine before I use it (unless I’m roasting it). This is seen by some as ‘old-fashioned’, but I find that it removes excess moisture and ensures that the vegetable  crisps up nicely when fried, and doesn’t go ‘spongy’ when you cook it any other way. Often, people who don’t like aubergine find the texture objectionable, not the taste. Anyway – to salt the aubergine, top and tail it, cut it into discs and pop the disks into put it in a plastic sieve or colander (metal, salt and water not being the best combination). Shake a generous amount of salt over the eggplant (you can use cheap salt like Saxa for this job!). Leave it to drain over a bowl or in the sink for about half an hour. Then (and I know this seems counter-intuitive) rinse the salt off under running water and gently squeeze the discs against the sides of the sieve to get all the water out. If you like, you can pat the discs dry in kitchen paper or a tea towel. 

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan until it is very hot.

Fry the aubergine on both sides until it’s golden brown in colour.

Drain on kitchen paper and keep to one side.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon of oil.

Drop the cardamoms, spice powders and asafoetida into the oil.

Add the yoghurt immediately.

Season with salt and heat through, stirring constantly, until the gravy is heated through.

Add the fried aubergine and serve immediately. If you have coriander, it’s nice to garnish the dish – I’ve none the moment, but we survived. 🙂

Urid Dhal 

There are two types of urid dhal. One is whole urid – which is black – and the other is split urid – which is white. For this recipe, I used the split urid, which doesn’t need much soaking. 

1.2 Litres of Water

150g Urid Dhal

1 Onion

1 Teaspoon of Ginger

2 Green Chillies

1 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

2 Bay Leaves

3 Cloves

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric Powder

Pinch of Garam Masala

Squeze of lemon juice (I’ve loads of lemons – they were on special 2 weeks ago!)

1/2 Tin of Tomatoes (I still had half a tin in the fridge from Day 2)

Wash the urid dhal – put it in a sieve and run cold water over it until the water runs clear.

Put the lentils in a pot with enough water to cover them and soak for about 15 minutes.

Change the water on the lentils and bring to the boil.

Simmer the lentils until they are soft, but not mushy – 30-40 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the masala.

Peel and chop the onion.

Cut the chillies into small pieces  (I use a scissors).

Bash the ginger with a pestle in a mortar. If you don’t have those, bashing it on a chopping board with a rolling pin or wooden spoon works just fine.

When the dhal is nearly cooked, start the masala.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the cloves, bay leaves and cumin seeds.

When they start to splutter, add the onion and ginger and green chillies.

Fry for a few minutes then add the dhal, lemon juice and tomatoes. Stir gently over a medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Add in the garam masala and serve immediately.

Naan

I’m not sure I should post this seeing as I didn’t get it right, but I will anyway! 🙂 

300g Plain Flour

1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Soda

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Powder

150 mls Hot Milk

120 mls Hot Water

2 Teaspoons of Nigella (Onion) Seeds

Take the racks out of your oven and cover them with tin foil.

Turn the oven on to maximum.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

Mix the baking powder into the hot milk and leave it for about a minute. When a few bubbles pop up on the surface of the milk, add it to the flour and mix well.

Knead the mixture, adding the water to make a soft dough. Keep kneading until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Keep it covered, in a warm place, for 3-4 hours, until it rises.

Divide the dough into 6-8 balls.  Shape them into oblongs and pop them in the oven for about 15 minutes. The bread is done when it rises slightly and brown spots appear.

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day Three

Carrot & Orange Soup

6 Carrots

1 Orange

10g Fresh Ginger

3 Spring Onions (or one onion)

Knob of Butter

1 Litre of Water (or stock, preferably)

Salt and pepper to season.

Peel and slice the carrots.

Juice the orange.

Pound or grate the ginger.

Melt the butter in a pot.

Snip in the spring onions and sauté them.

Add the ginger and stir for another minute.

Add the carrots, orange juice and water (or stock) and bring to the boil.

Simmer for ten minutes, until the carrots are al dente.

Blend the whole thing and serve. We had it with rice because there isn’t much bread left and because we tend to eat soup with rice.

Rogani Kumbh

1 Onion

3 Medium-sized tomatoes (I used canned because we have no fresh)

2 Green Chillies

5 Cloves of Garlic

10g Ginger

1.5 Tablespoons oil (I used ghee – stop laughing down the back!)

1 Teaspoon Coriander Powder

1 Teaspoon Cumin Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Chilli Powder

Pinch Turmeric Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala

250g Mushrooms (I used chestnut mushrooms)

Salt to taste

3 Tablespoons of Natural or Greek Yogurt

Halve (or quarter, depending on size) the mushrooms.

Peel and quarter the onion and blend it with the tomatoes, chillies, ginger and  garlic.

Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the blended mixture and spice powders.

Stir – being careful not to let the masala stick or burn – until the oil begins to separate from the rest of the mixture.

Add the mushrooms and stir gently.

Season with salt and add a splash of warm water.

Cook for about ten minutes until the fungi are soft but not pulpy.

Take off the heat and stir in the yogurt.

Chapatis

450g Atta Flour (plain flour is fine)

2 Teaspoons of Melted Ghee (or oil)

Warm Water

We love chapatis and they are quick and easy to make. I have friends in India who pride themselves on how perfectly round their chapatis are. I don’t get it – I think they taste the same no matter what shape they are. 🙂 

Mix the ghee (or oil) into the flour and slowly add enough warm water to make a soft dough. (The amount of water you’ll need depends on the type of flour you’re using and how hard or soft your water is – so apologies for being vague!)

Now comes the fun bit – knead the dough for about 10 minutes. I know this sounds like a long time, but I normally only knead it for about 5 minutes. Last night, however, I lost the run of myself and kneaded it for at least 10 (could have been 15). The result? The best chapatis I’ve ever made.

You need a flat pan to cook these on. I’m lucky – I have a purpose-built tawa that I got in India which does the job perfectly.

Tawa

Separate your dough into between 12 and 15 lime-sized balls. Dust them with flour and then roll them out until they’re quite flat.

Dry fry these on your flat pan.

When they bubble/puff up, turn them over and use a clean tea-towel to gently press them down. Each one only takes about 3 minutes to cook.

Keep the chapatis warm in tinfoil and serve straight away. If you’re keeping them for later, re-heat quickly on the stove or in the microwave if you have one.

Dhal

There are many ways to cook lentils. This recipe is for a Red Lentil Curry

200g Red Lentils

1 Onion

2 Teaspoons of Oil

3 Teaspoons of Curry Paste

2 Teaspoons of Curry Powder*

1 Teaspoon of Ground Turmeric

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cumin

1 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

Pinch of salt

3 Teaspoons of Ginger Garlic Paste**

200g Tomato Paste

Tip the lentils into a sieve and rinse them under cold running water, until the water runs clear, otherwise the lentils will get scummy).

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to the boil over a high temperature.

Turn the heat down and simmer the lentils until they are soft but not mushy – about 40 minutes.

Combine the curry paste, all the spice powders (including the curry powder) and salt in a bowl.

While the lentils are cooking, caramelise the onions.

Add the spice paste and poweders to the onions and cook over a high heat for about 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste and reduce the heat. Allow the curry base to simmer away while the lentils finish cooking.

There should be little or no water left on the dhal when it’s finished cooking. If  they are very watery, drain (most of) the water off – you don’t want the curry to be sloppy.

Tip the lentils into the curry sauce and mix well.

Serve with chopped coriander, if you have any.

*I make my own curry powder. It’s easy and cheap if you already have the spice powders

3 Tablespoons of Coriander

2 Tablespoon of Turmeric

1 Tablespoon of Ground Cumin

1 Tablespoon of Chilli Powder

1 TAblespoon of Fenugreek

2 Teaspoons of Amchoor (mango powder)

2 Teaspoons of Ground Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cloves

1 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cardamom

Mix all the above together and store in an airtight container.

** Ginger garlic paste can be bought in any Asian shop, and in some supermarkets, but it’s easy to make your own. Just take equal amounts of ginger and garlic and pound them together in a mortar and pestle.

Austerity Bites – Day Three

This morning, Kashmira made the smoothies for breakfast. She added ground almonds to the mix we used yesterday.  I think she enjoyed it:

K with Smoothie on her face

 

 

I decided to make soup for lunch. We had a bag of carrots and plenty of oranges so it seemed obvious that I should make carrot and orange soup. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was serving it up that I remembered the last time I’d made carrot and orange soup, the girls hadn’t really liked it. Still, they were hungry, so it was eaten. But no one went back for seconds.

 

Soup, Day 3

 

 

Fruit in the afternoon was melon and pear with a good grinding of nutmeg.

 

Fruit Bowl Day 3

 

 

Dinner was dhal (lentils) with rogani kumbh (mushrooms in tomato & onion gravy) and chapatis.

 

Dinner, Day 3

 

 

During the day, there was chocolate and a slice of the molasses cake made on Day 1.

At this stage, no one is going to bed hungry, but I am a bit worried that there hasn’t been a green leafy vegetable eaten all week. I’m also aware that we don’t have nuts in the cupboard and “eating a rainbow” on a daily basis  is beyond our capabilities this week.

 

We’re also rationing – I want to make naan for Day 4, so I had to measure out milk from the one carton we could afford this week, and caution Ishthara that there’s not much left for her cereal.

 

Ishthara had wanted us to make pancakes later this week, and was disappointed we mightn’t have enough milk. But we have coconut milk so that will do beautifully. Also, we have one egg (again, not enough money to buy more this week),  so we’re trying to figure out the best way to use it! I had wanted to make an orange cake yesterday – but the recipe I use needs eggs. I can’t experiment because our resources are too scarce to flirt with the possibility of wasting ingredients.

 

We have precious little yogurt left, either. We go through about one and a half kilos of yogurt (natural or Greek) every week. Then I remembered how I used to make my own when we lived in Asia. So I made the decision to use a few drops of our remaining milk to revive that tradition.

 

I’m also a bit concerned that even with rationing, I’ll run out of coffee. I have a terrible coffee addiction and suffer awful withdrawal headaches (akin to migraines) if I don’t get my ‘fix’. I know that green tea contains enough caffeine to sort me out if I get desperate, but I love the taste of coffee and  I’d like not to get desperate.

 

Recipes from Day Three to follow….. 🙂

Austerity Bites – Day 2

Day two of Austerity Bites started with a breakfast of smoothies – made with frozen berries, Greek yogurt and honey – for Kashmira and I, while Ishthara had a bowl of cereal with a splash of milk.

Lunch saw us polishing off the left-overs from the night before (apart from the roasted tomatoes, there was a bit of everything) and supplementing that with toasted cheese sandwiches.

Even after we’d gorged on them twice, there was still plenty of the patatas bravas left. I dropped the remainder into my friend to supplement supper for herself, her partner and their two kids. Only fair, really, considering she gave me half a bottle of olive oil yesterday, when I ran out.

Lunch, Day Two

My girls had a chocolate bar each mid-morning, and in the afternoon, their fruit bowls contained a sliced fresh nectarine and 125g of cherries each (both on special offer in Aldi this week).

Dinner was puy lentils with feta and olives, served with pasta.  Apart from the pasta and the olives, everything else I needed for dinner was already in our cupboards.

Puy Lentils

Before bed, Ishthara had another bowl of cereal with milk. I managed to survive on just three mugs of coffee. I had several cups of Minty Moroccan tea, and one of peppermint to keep my mouth happy throughout the day.

Here are today’s recipes:

Berry Smoothie

9 Tablespoons of Greek Yogurt

200g Frozen Fruits of the Forest/Berries

3 Tablespoons milled linseed

1 Tablespoon Clear Honey

Put all ingredients in a bowl (I find the pot from a kilo of yogurt works well) and whizz with a stick blender. If you use the berries while they’re still frozen or semi-frozen, the whole thing ends up being deliciously chilled.

Puy Lentils With Olives and Feta (Serves 3)

125g Puy Lentils

90g Olives

100g Feta

1 Large, Dried, Chilli (optional)

For The Dressing:

1 1/2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar

1 Teaspoon of Dijon Mustard

1/2 Teaspoon brown sugar

Salt & Pepper to season

Put the lentils in a pot with cold water and bring to the boil. Let them boil for a minute and whip them off the heat. Drain the lentils (I just pour them into a sieve and let the water run off). Put them back in the pot with the dried chilli and add just enough cold water to cover them.

Put the lentils back on the cooker and bring them to the boil.

Turn the heat down so the lentils are very gently simmering. Simmer for 30 minutes until soft but not mushy.

Meantime, make the dressing. Take all the ingredients and combine them in a screw-top jar. Shake well.

When the lentils are cooked, take them off the heat and drain if necessary. Tip them into a bowl.

Halve the olives and add them to the lentils.

Crumble the feta over the olives and lentils.

Pour the dressing over the dish. I used a spatula to make sure I got every last drop out of the jar!

Yesterday, I made mention of panch phoran and one of you queried what that might be. It’s a mixture of five spices (panch is five in Hindi) that are used to give flavour to many Indian dishes. You can buy it in Asian shops – or easily make your own by taking equal parts of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, nigella seeds and fenugreek seeds, mixing them together and storing in an airtight container.

Panch Phoran

Austerity Bites – Day 1

I went grocery shopping shortly after I’d published my last post. Before leaving the house, though, I warned my daughters that there probably wouldn’t be any chocolate this week. My eldest ran upstairs and returned with the contents of her purse for me.

“I don’t want to take your money!” I told her.

“I don’t need it for anything right now,” she replied.  “And now you can get some chocolate. And maybe some ice-cream?”

The forecast was for weather in the mid-twenties for the next few days. Definitely ice-cream weather.

As I added her money to mine, I discovered another €2.70 in my own wallet, bringing the grand total at my disposal to €37.96.

Money

Putting my mental maths to the test, I went to the first supermarket and spent €19.72. In the second, I spent another €14.89 before stopping in the last place for chickpeas and ice-cream; a total spend of €37.84.

Lidl receiptLidl receipt

For breakfast, I had coffee and the girls had cereal.  Lunch was pasta and fresh pesto (which was already in the fridge).

Pasta

At 4pm, the girls had a bowl of ice-cream and some frozen berries each. I tried to soothe my coffee-craving with various types of teas and infusions.

Ice-cream & berries

Dinner was a mezze of sorts: I made a grapefruit and avacado salad, honey and garlic roasted cherry tomatoes, courgette & mozarella in garlic lemon oil, dry-roasted chickpeas with lemon & panch phoran and patatas bravas.  Pudding was spiced molasses cake.

Mezze

Grapefruit & avacadoMolasses Spice Cake

I’ll post up the recipes next in case you want to recreate the veggie-fest.

Austerity Bites

So, this morning I found myself with the grand total of E23.66 to live on until Thursday of next week. That’s twenty-three euros and sixty-six cents with which to provide 18 meals for myself and my two daughters. Time was, I’d have spent more on a round of sandwiches.

 

Most weeks, I do have more money to spend on food, but this week one of my daughters needed a medical procedure that Crumlin hospital expected her to wait a few years for.  I made the informed decision to have the procedure done privately and don’t regret it. But our gas bill and the house insurance went out today, resulting in the afore-mentioned scant few bob left in the bank.

 

I’m not daunted, though, we’re vegetarian and I love to cook – plus, we do have a few staples (lentils and spices mainly!) in the cupboard.

Vegetables

 

I’ve decided to blog our meals this week and let you know how we get on. Will we end up eating the furniture by Tuesday? Or will we eat like kings? Will our foray into austerity eating see us missing out on vital nutrients? Or will I be even more aware of our nutritional needs now there is so little to play with?

 

Stay with me and find out! 🙂

 

Photo credit: Photobucket http://i364.photobucket.com/albums/oo83/vannessave22/fruit/Vegetables.jpg