Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The evening after ...

The evening after the six days before...
... bliss!

на здоровье!
To health!

E x

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 6

Today is the last day of my £1-a-day Food Challenge. Quite a relief to see it arrive, I have to say and even more of a relief to see it finishing! And immediately I think that, or say that to myself, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be able to say that and of how many there have been, and are, in various parts of the world who live within these limits long term, or even permanently. Really sobering and there's no way I would have felt that so intensely without the experiential component of trying this challenge myself. As I said in my earlier post here, it would be both arrogant and rash of me to assume that because I've lived on £1-a-day for six days I know what it is like to live below the line. I don't and actually I have to hope that I never will. It's not something to be wished for, in any shape or form. I have found these six days difficult enough, even with all the extra resources that my context has provided me with. 

But do I regret starting on the project? No, I certainly don't. I've learned a huge amount in a way that I neither could, nor would, have done without doing it. It will all need a bit of digesting, (bad pun, sorry!), and reflecting on over the next while. But suffice it to say that I am ending the challenge very consciously grateful for even very ordinary things like the reliability of filled supermarket shelves, the water that gushes cold and clean from my kitchen tap, the fact that my freezer works, that I have a fridge, that tomorrow I do not need to measure and count and scrape every morsel of food I consume, or thin everything with extra water. 

A ration of black bread being weighed for sale during the siege of Leningrad.
The rations were tiny as well as adulterated - I saw one in the Siege Museum, 
in St Petersburg last year, no more than a single 125g slice per person in December 1941.
It's interesting, I think, that in circumstances where people have lived with serious food shortages, their thoughts often drift to better times and meals previously eaten and enjoyed without restraint. And these meals tend not to be special celebration dishes or rare ingredients but everyday things, sometimes very plain things, things that might not sound particularly appetising to someone free from any kind of restriction on the food they can eat. But where hunger is, or has been, a real presence, the wholesome and the everyday become freighted with greatly increased value and are treasured in a new way. 

I haven't experienced the acute hunger that many have but I have had more than a few hungry moments in the last six days. Two accounts of situations, where food has been short, have come to my mind in those moments that have immediately made me sit up and slap down any temptation to abandon the challenge or compromise with it, any more than I can absolutely help. 

I thought I might share them with you here.

One is the account of Elena Mukhina (Lena) who wrote a diary as a teenager during the siege of Leningrad. You can get it on Amazon here. Lena has been called 'The Anne Frank of Leningrad". She was sixteen when the German army invaded the USSR in 1941. Her diary covers the period May 1941 to May 1942 and includes the appalling winter of starvation Leningraders suffered once the city and its food supplies were cut off. The hunger suffered by the population was terrible. All food became scarce and even the meagre bread ration was adulterated. Up to 40% of the ingredients were substituted with dubious alternatives such as bran, oil cake, (made from the compressed husks of cottonseed, after the oil had been extracted), wallpaper paste and wood cellulose. This alarming concoction was supplemented by crows, pigeons, dogs, cats and even cannibalism. People died in their thousands after lingering months of weakness and gradual organ failure. As one siege-survivor put it simply, "Those who ate more survived, those who ate less died." 

A ration card for bread. Leningrad 1941.
Alongside the concerns of exam grades, boyfriend troubles and all the other normal concerns of a 16 year old girl, Lena's diary records the growing grip of hunger and her own and her family's desperate attempts to combat it. Inventive, but horrific, dishes of "bouillon made out of skin" (origin of said skin unspecified) p195, the family cat "our cat kept us alive for a whole ten-day period" p207, flour soup "they don't put any salt in it at all - it's just water thickened with flour" p225 and anonymous "meat jelly" and on a lucky day a "horsemeat rissole" p213. She and her mother dream of better days and even though Lena's fantasy meal is very Russian and some of it unappealing - I am not sure, for instance, about the appeal of crumbled black bread and gingerbread soaked in cottonseed oil - I've read and reread her words this last week and have found they have buoyed me up when the going has felt tough and reminded me that actually I have no idea how lucky I am, the food I have eaten on £1-a-day is a feast in comparison to Lena's rations.

So, Lena's fantasy meal...

"When the war ends and everything's back to normal and we can buy things again, I'm going to buy a kilo of black bread, a kilo of gingerbread and half a litre of cottonseed oil. I'll crumble the bread and the gingerbread, and then pour plenty of oil over the top and mash it all together, then I'll fetch a tablespoon and take great pleasure in eating my fill. Then Mama and I will bake all kinds of pies - with meat, with potato, with cabbage, with grated carrot. And then Mama and I will fry potatoes and will eat them golden and sizzling, straight from the pan. We will eat noodles with smetana [sour cream], pelmeni [the Russian equivalent of tortellini], macaroni with tomato sauce and fried onions, and warm crusty white bread with butter and salami or cheese. The salami will have to be thick enough to really sink your teeth into it when you take a bite. Mama and I will eat buckwheat kasha [porridge] with cold milk, and then the same kasha fried in a pan with onion so that it shines with butter. Finally we will eat hot buttery blinchiki [sweet pancakes] with jam and fat, fluffy olady [puffy buttermilk pancakes]. Dear God, we're going to eat so much we'll frighten ourselves." p154

Lena survives the siege - she manages to get evacuated in the summer of 1942  - but Mama and Aka the elderly family friend they live with are, by then, both dead. 

The other account is not in a book. For Holocaust Memorial Day at the end of January this year the BBC's Antiques Roadshow did a special edition centred around objects of significance saved by survivors of concentration camps. You may have seen it. It was incredibly moving. Most moving of all, I found, was a tiny, shabby teddy bear packed by the mother of a small boy in his suitcase before he boarded one of the Kindertransport trains from Germany to England. The small boy never saw his parents again - they committed suicide rather than face deportation to Auschwitz. The boy and his bear survived however and to see Axel, now nearly ninety, holding this small toy his mother had packed for him nearly eighty years ago and hear him tell the story was one of the most moving things I've encountered in a long time. 

But the account of Axel's teddy bear is not what I am referring to. What I am referring to pertains to one of the survivors who was not individually featured on the programme itself but who was interviewed in a BBC Radio 4 interview on the Today programme beforehand - Gabor Lacko, born in Hungary into a Jewish family, aged thirteen at the time of the Nazi occupation of Hungary in 1944 and forced to wear the yellow star proclaiming his forbidden status. Through a series of fortuitous coincidences, divine providence, or both, he and his family survived the war although his father became separated from the rest of them. Holding the yellow star his mother fashioned for him all those years ago, out of a scrap of cloth in her sewing box, he told the story of the family's reunion in Budapest. The culmination of the reunion was what to most of us is a very prosaic, very ordinary event, "We went to buy some bread, proper bread, nice, fresh, warm bread which we hadn't seen for almost a year. And it was served to us by a man in a white coat and not thrown at us by a Ukrainian servant of the Soviet Reich, made of sawdust." There is a pause in the interview and John Humphreys, audibly touched, comments, "And you smile as you tell me that story!" There is another pause and you can hear Gabor's warm smile in the silence, then he replies, "I smile every time I think of that story! It was great!" 

Good bread made with proper flour, not sawdust, wallpaper paste, or cattle food husks; simple vegetables, pasta; milk; jam - things we take for granted as a matter of course in less straitened times, are actually as precious as anything and this challenge has really made me sit up and think about that and as for wasting them, well, forget it. 

Homemade pasta is very easy to make. Especially if you have a food processor with a dough hook.

Homemade pasta
This quantity seems rather small to me - I would normally make quite a bit more for two people but greed has had to take a back seat pro tem.

150g strong white flour (Waitrose Extra Strong Canadian on special offer a few weeks back at £1.26 per 1.5kg) 13p
1 tsp olive oil (Aldi) 1p
½ tsp salt
3 bantam eggs (about 1½ large ordinary hens' eggs)

To make:
Fit the dough hook into your food processor and whizz the flour and salt to aerate it. Whisk the eggs in a jug and with the motor running, pour the beaten egg in a thin steady stream onto the flour. The mixture will go a bit like breadcrumbs and then bind together in a smooth lump of stretchy dough. You shouldn't need to add any water but you can add a drop or two if you really feel it needs it.

Remove the dough from the food processor and roll out. I have a pasta rolling machine that I was given for my birthday about 25 years ago which makes this an easy and enjoyable job but you can just roll the dough out thinly by hand. The egg in the dough makes it very well behaved and you shouldn't need much flour, if any, to ease the rolling. Once you've rolled out the dough into sheets - roll out about ¼ of the dough at a time - you can cut it into whatever shapes you want. I like a basic tagliatelle for pesto but you can cut thinner tagliolini, linguini or wider pappardelle, if you prefer. What you must do is hang your cut strips up to dry before storing, otherwise the strips have a nasty habit of clumping irrevocably together. I have a pasta-drying rack gizmo which works very well but you can improvise using a (wiped clean) radiator rack or a piece of washing line over which you can hang your beautiful handmade tagliatelle. Admire your handiwork for a while(!) and then either cook the pasta or I find it best to freeze it, if I am not going to use it straight away.

Total cost 14p. Enough (just about) for two people at 7p each.

I love pesto but sadly I can't make the entirely authentic version as garlic really does not agree with me any more. I love it enough to make it without the garlic and it's still pretty good. This version is not just missing the garlic, it's missing one or two other fundamentals as well. There is some basil in it but not nearly as much as there should be. My annual basil forest in the greenhouse is doing well but it's nowhere near harvesting in pesto quantity yet. There is some Parmesan - the real stuff too, grated from a hunk, but not as much as there should be and I've had to substitute toasted breadcrumbs for the pinenuts. That being said, spooned on top of homemade pasta, it's extremely good. I shall be making it again, food challenge, or no food challenge.

Thrifty wild herb pesto

You need:
a big bunch (56g to be precise is what I used here) of greens and herbs from the garden, whatever you can find basically. I used some spinach, some dandelion leaves, oregano, parsley as well as as much basil as I could cut from my very frugal basil plant and the baby basil seedlings in the greenhouse without damaging the plants irrevocably.

1 tsp salt 1p
20g freshly grated Parmesan (Aldi) 26p
1 slice thrifty homemade wholemeal bread* baked at 170 C for about 30-40 mins until crisp and dark brown but not burnt, whizzed to crumbs 1p
* This is basically my thrifty seeded roll recipe without the seeds and only a teaspoon of milk powder, baked in a loaf tin and sliced into 15 slices.

100ml Puglian olive oil (Aldi) 64p

To make:
Put the greens and herbs with the salt in the food processor and blitz to a thick green purée. With the motor running pour in the oil in a thin steady stream. Add the Parmesan, toasted crumbs and whizz briefly to incorporate. Spoon the pesto out into a clean jar and refrigerate if not using immediately. Get it out of the fridge in plenty of time before serving. Pesto is better not served fridge cold - the flavours become muted once chilled and it chills the pasta down too. Obviously, if garlic agrees with you, include a clove, peeled and roughly chopped along with the greens.

Total cost 92p. Judiciously spooned out, it makes 6 portions, each costing 15p.

Away from constraints of the challenge I would serve this more generously in which case it might serve 4 rather than 6.

Total cost for today only 90p.

So the totals for the six days of the challenge from beginning to end are as follows:

And in addition to  all my personal reflections and ramblings, I have today sent the biggest donation I can muster to The Hunger Project UK because, after all, just changing my own mindset won't feed those who tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after, will still only have £1 or the equivalent to live on for all their food and drink. 

Thank you so very much for your company and encouragement this last week - it's made the world of difference. There will be no more long posts for a while (you may be relieved to hear!) but I may post a single pic tomorrow. I'll leave you to guess what it might be!

Sending a hug to all of you who have been so kind as to read and / or comment here in the last little while.

E x

Monday, 29 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 5

There's been a lot of watering down and out in the last five days - watering down the soya milk I have in my tea, watering down the tea itself, watering out milk bottles and soya milk cartons, watering down milk for cooking and baking, watering out tins and cartons of tomatoes and passata, watering down soup, watering down and out jugs of whey etc, etc. Diluting stuff in order to make small volumes of ingredients go further. Not a joyful part of the project, for the most part. You'd think that where the volume of liquid is the same, it might not matter much if it's diluted heavily but it does. With some things more than others, of course. Foods taste "thinner"; obviously their nutritional value is less too and after a few days, you do notice it. 

One of the things that I will appreciate most at the end of this challenge is being able to go back to having unwatered-down milk, soya milk and soup. I will, however, continue to wash out milk bottles and tomato tins and use the results, where it genuinely doesn't make much difference, so that nothing is wasted. In fact I've always done that with tins of tomatoes but the principle, judiciously applied, can be extended, I feel, to other containers so long as you don't use too much water. Do you wash things down and out with water and use the results in cooking? 

The brown jug in the pic is my soya milk jug in which I carefully measure out the amount I can have in my tea each day on the challenge. I then add quite a bit of extra water, give it a good stir and know that I can use that freely, but no more, each day. It's not a lot but it stretches out the maximum of what the budget permits. I tend to leave the jug out, as it's only a day's worth and it's convenient to have it to hand. But now that the weather has warmed up significantly, the kitchen has had a stream of unwanted pesky fly visitors. It's unavoidable, living in the country. I do not like flies. Their personal hygiene is atrocious and their habits disgusting - I certainly don't want them alighting on the lip of my jug or taking a quick dip in my soya milk. 

The jug needs covering, obviously, but I have given up buying cling film. It's not good for the environment and I always end up with the box falling to pieces before the roll of film is anywhere near finishing, with that feeble, serrated strip that you're supposed to tear the film against, hanging off at a drunken angle and being no use at all. Very annoying when you are in a hurry; (which I usually am). So I've taken to using old china saucers and odd plates to cover bowls and basins. These work well as an alternative to plastic film. Jugs, however, have a hilly contour around their perimeter, which is not friendly to balancing a china saucer upon. So I took a leaf out of the Victorians' answer-book to pesky flies and made a beaded jug-cover. It may look a bit twee and old-fashioned, but never mind that, it's not there as an aesthetic piece, it's there to do a very practical job and it's doing it perfectly. 

I was too lazy and in too much of a hurry to crochet the whole thing but in my kitchen drawer were two lacy circles of fabric that had once covered little pots of orange conserve given out as wedding favours - as delightful an idea as I think I've come across as far as wedding favours go. 

I found a pattern for a beaded crochet doily-edging, adapted it quite significantly, to simplify it and make it fit and voilà! - one highly effective jug-cover that deters all winged invaders. It's easy to wash through by hand, in some hot soapy water, at the end of the day; I hang it up up overnight and it's dry again by morning. The beads I had in my sewing box for some years and have been waiting for a happy use - I'm rather pleased that they've found one.  The watery soya milk does not exactly fill me (or my tea) with joy but using this old French jug my grandparents bought in France well over half a century ago and making this thrifty little solution to my fly problem gives me no little delight. I know... tiny things etc etc! 

Same again! Enough said!

Green split pea and wild green soup

15ml olive oil (Aldi) 10p
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped (Aldi) 7p
3 sticks celery, washed, trimmed and chopped (Aldi) 22p
200g green split peas (Sainsbury's) 28p
1.5 litres homemade vegetable stock (as Day 1) 3p
a large colanderful of greens (wild and cultivated from the garden) I used some bolted spinach left over from last year, lovage, dandelion, Jack-by-the-Hedge, oregano, chives & parsley

To make:
Heat the oil in the base of a pressure cooker and cook the onion and celery for a few minutes. Season with black pepper and add the stock and split peas. Bring to the boil and cook under pressure for 7 minutes.

Release the pressure and stir in the greens which will immediately wilt and collapse down in a bright green mass. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Whizz to a thick, bright green purée in a blender. Serve immediately or cool and reheat as required. Try not to reheat for too long or the vivid green colour will fade.

Total cost 69p.   Makes 5 portions, each costing 14p.

Thrifty Carrot and Banana Muffins

250g carrots, peeled (Aldi) (You can save the peelings for stock-making) 11p
2 large ripe bananas, peeled (Aldi) 24p
170ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 19p
170g light soft brown sugar (Aldi) 23p
2 dsps (40g) honey (Aldi) 11p
280g white self-raising flour (Aldi) 8p
1 tsp baking powder (Waitrose) 2p
1 tsp mixed spice (Aldi) 2p
6 bantam eggs (or use 3 large ordinary hens' eggs)
70g raisins (Aldi) 18p

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Coarsely grate the carrots into a large bowl and set aside. Put the bananas, oil, soft brown sugar and honey into the food processor and whizz until smooth. Add the eggs, flour and mixed spice and whizz again to make a smooth batter. Scrape and pour the batter into the bowl containing the grated carrot. Add the raisins and gently fold the mixture together with a large spoon. Spoon the mixture into about 14 paper muffin cases and bake for about 25 minutes until well-risen and golden. Cool in the tin. These freeze beautifully.

Total cost £1.18. Makes 14 muffins ie 8p each.

In other news, we have also been preparing to feed the garden as well as ourselves on less than £1-a-day and making gallons of comfrey tea. D has cut down a vast load of the comfrey taking over the flowerbeds and left it to wilt overnight in the wheelbarrow.

Today we spent a happy Bank Holiday afternoon stuffing it into old, jute potato-sacks (as you do!)

These we then lowered into a ¾ filled, small, bargain water butt bought for the purpose at the local garden centre, (at a drastically reduced price, because it had faded, while on display). The butt has been prudently placed as far away from the house as possible, in a secluded corner, by the woodpile where, hopefully, the only ones to be assailed by any aroma of decomposition will be the huge, rugby-boot-wearing spiders who lurk among the logs and I don't mind if they are seriously offended and take themselves elsewhere (although not into the house obviously!)

In a few weeks' time we will turn on the tap at the bottom and out should come a very rich, (if smelly), liquid fertiliser to feed the vegetables and various pots. The smell is, apparently, the only drawback. The reason for putting the comfrey into the jute sacks rather than simply adding it loose to the butt is because otherwise the leaves can block the tap and then, as the website, where we found instructions for preparing comfrey tea, tells you happily, "you have to lower your watering can into the stinky barrel" to extract it. Hmm!

I have suggested hopefully to D that when it comes to removing the comfrey "tea bags" and emptying out their putrid contents, that particular job has his name on it, not mine! So far, bless him, he has not objected but we'll see how bad the stinkiness gets! It's reputed to be pretty bad but the fertiliser itself is second to none, as comfrey puts down very long roots that extract nitrogen and other plant goodies from deep below the soil surface that shorter roots never reach and comfrey tea is meant to be the plant equivalent of an all-in-one health tonic.

Nearly at the end of the challenge and the cupboard is almost bare.

Thank you for reading my rather repetitive posts these last few days - I am aware they are somewhat esoteric, not to say eccentric! Only one more at the end of tomorrow's final day and then there will be a breathing space, I think, for a bit!

E x

Sunday, 28 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 4

Thrifty cinnamon honey

Someone kindly gave me a wonderful jar of Hungarian cinnamon honey last Christmas. A spoonful of it on top of my weekend slow-cooked porridge is unbeatable but it's fiendishly expensive to buy in the UK at £8 a jar. Yes, I know - eye-watering! Even if you only have a teaspoonful, this costs out at about 20p per tsp. In the run-up to my £1-a-day food project I wondered if I couldn't make my own. After all, how hard can it be to mix my own honey and cinnamon together? It turned out to be very easy so I pass it on for you to try. Believe me, whether you spoon this onto slow-cooked porridge, spread it thickly on hot buttered toast, English muffins and crumpets or stir it into thick Greek yoghurt, you will thank me! So will your purse! In the first pic, which I took yesterday, you can see it's quite stiff - perfect for spreading gently onto toast and staying put but for porridge it's better slightly runnier so I stood the jar in some hot but not boiling water for a bit this morning just to make it slightly more pourable and easier to stir in.

To make your own thrifty cinnamon honey you need:

1 454g jar of set honey (Aldi) £1.25
20g ground cinnamon (Aldi) 28p

First, sterilise some small, clean jars (or one big jar) with tight-fitting lids by washing in hot soapy water, rinsing and then standing in the oven at 110 C for ten minutes.

Remove the lid from the honey and stand the whole jar in a small pan of hot, not boiling, water to loosen it and make it pourable. Remove the jar from the hot water once you can see that the honey has begun to liquefy round the edge and carefully pour and scrape all of it into a separate, clean, dry pan. Add the cinnamon and stir gently. Leave on a very low heat for 15 minutes or so to encourage the flavours to integrate. On no account should the honey get anywhere near boiling.

Now pour the cinnamon honey into your sterilised jars and allow to cool completely before screwing on the lids.

Total cost £1.53 for 474g ie 2p per teaspoonful.

As you can see, my lunch today looks pretty well identical to that of the last few days. It is pretty well identical to that of the last few days! I did take Anne's suggestion up and hunt down a few Jack-by-the-Hedge leaves to supplement the cress to change it up a little. It's just as well that I really do like this yoghurt-cheese-leaves-and-a-roll lunch or it could get rather tedious. I am beginning to dream of tomatoes and and a few black olives slyly peeping round the corner of the cress though! 

Boston baked cannellini beans

110g dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight and cooked in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes (Sainsbury's) 25p
10ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 1p
1 small red onions, peeled and chopped finely (Aldi) 6p
½ carton passata (Aldi) 18p
1 tsp demerara sugar (Aldi) 1p
1 tsp wholegrain mustard (Waitrose) 4p
1 tsp red wine vinegar (Waitrose) 1p
a handful of fresh lovage (from garden)
a fresh bayleaf (from garden)
salt, black pepper and 1 clove (Waitrose) 1p
c 400ml homemade vegetable stock 1p
chopped fresh herbs (from garden) to serve

To make:
Heat the oil in a heavy cast iron casserole and cook the onions until softened. Add the passata, demerara sugar, mustard, vinegar, a seasoning of salt, black pepper, a single clove and the stock and mix well. Add some of the bean cooking liquid to give a sloppy mix. Cover but leave the lid slightly ajar and bake in the oven at 170 C for at least 2 hours until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. Check the beans are not drying out too much towards the end of the cooking time and add some extra boiling water from a kettle, if need be. Or if the sauce needs to reduce more, cook the beans for a bit longer.

To serve spoon onto jacket potatoes and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs.

Total cost 58p. Makes 3 portions each costing 19p.

Away from the challenge I would add a stick of celery and maybe a carrot and reduce the amount of lovage. I was a bit heavy-handed with the lovage today - it's quite a strong herb. But the beans were good and will ride again. Possibly a little grated mature cheddar on top would be a nice addition. The thing that surprised me about this meal was the cost of the potato. I thought potatoes would work out pretty cheap but they don't, not at this time of year anyway. I am reminded again about how easy it is to become detached from the seasonality of food. In the autumn this meal would have been the cheapest of the lot using homegrown potatoes but now in May it's proved the most expensive. I thought I was quite tuned in to the seasonality of food but I am not sure I am as tuned in as I thought I was.

The rhubarb compôte is just 1kg rhubarb - every single stalk I could see in the garden - washed, trimmed, cut up, sprinkled with 100g soft brown sugar and baked in the oven in a lidded cast iron casserole for an hour at 170 C. Gorgeous - I just wish there were more of it!

As a Sunday treat I decided to use some of my precious stash of free home-produced eggs to make a custard to go with the tiny portions of chilled, syrupy rhubarb.

And I'm pleased to report that, with a bit of teeming and lading, in other words using semi-skimmed milk, not whole milk or cream and some ancient powdered vanilla past it's use-by date, and not drinking Earl Grey tea at tea-time to leave a bit more slack in the budget for supper, I've managed to squeeze it within my limits.

It feels like the most precious treat even though in normal circumstances I make this quite often without really thinking about it. And yes, I am afraid I did lick the custard spoon and scrape out the pan assiduously once I had spooned the custard into a jug to chill - it would have been wasteful not to!

Old-fashioned vanilla custard

6 bantam egg yolks (whites saved and frozen for meringues next week when fresh summer fruit and cream will be back on my menu)
800ml semi-skimmed milk (from Waitrose 6pt bottle) 34p
2 tsps cornflour (Waitrose) 3p
40g sugar (Aldi granulated) 2p
¼ tsp vintage vanilla powder (bought on holiday in France four years ago and whose use-by date was 2014!) estimated cost approx 4p - the equivalent of 1 tsp homemade vanilla extract

To make:
Heat the milk gently in a heavy-bottomed pan with the vanilla. Whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sorry, this is not a very good pic - taken with one hand on the whisk and one hand on the camera. When the milk is hot but not boiling, pour it over the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go.

Pour the whole lot back into the pan, return to the heat and stir gently and patiently until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of your wooden spoon as you can see in the pic.

This takes some time so be prepared to stand at the hob for a while. The custard shouldn't curdle because the cornflour stabilises it but keep the heat under control and don't crank it up too hot too quickly. Once the custard has thickened, remove from the heat and stand the pan in a couple of inches of cold water to cool it down quickly. Then chill and serve with fresh or stewed fruit or to accompany a summer fruit crumble. Absolutely delicious!

Total cost 43p. Serves 6 generously ie 7p per portion.

Outside budgetary constraints, I use whole milk for this, maybe even with some cream in there, golden caster sugar (why do I do that when bog standard granulated sugar is a fraction of the price and you really can't detect any discernible difference in the finished sweetness?) and a quarter of a whole vanilla pod, split open to expose and release the tiny black seeds of vanilla. A proper vanilla custard should be flecked with these and off the challenge, my first instinct is that I would still think it worth using the vanilla pod.  But then again this thrifty version was so delicious, is it worth it? Maybe I should compromise and make some vanilla sugar with a vanilla pod buried in a jar of sugar that could then flavour a good deal more than just 4 batches of custard.

So happy to end the day with a proper cup of Earl Grey tea! There's one more of these scavenged tea bags. I shall save it up for Tuesday evening as something to look forward to at the very end of the challenge.

94p seems to be my average score so far for the day's totals which, with sixpence spare, is well below the £1 limit. Wondering how many days at 94p I'd need to clock up before there was sufficient credit of spare sixpences for a gin and tonic or a glass of wine. Rather a lot, I suspect! But today I am just happy to settle for a decent cup of tea as opposed to the distilled silage of the Aldi Earl Grey.

E x