Sunday, 13 October 2013

Breast milk cheese

Oh god, I haven’t blogged for ages! I’ve left it for so long that it’s even prompted my mum, who never normally sends emails, to write me a polite little note asking if she can have a new link (wowzas, and get her using the correct web lingo) because she’s not seen an entry for weeks.

Sorry mum. You’re not doing anything wrong on your computer. I’ve just been a bit tardy with the blogs.

I’ve still not been anywhere near a supermarket. But, quite frankly, I’ve completely run out of things to say about avoiding Tescos. Life has gone one without the trollies and endless aisles, and 10 months into the challenge I don’t even think about supermarkets any more.

So instead, seeing as I begun this entry by talking about mothers, I’m now going to write about breast milk cheese.

Yes, such a thing apparently exists, all thanks to a chap called Alex James, who most people will remember as the bassist from Blur, but these days is more at home churning cheese.

After his success with Blur, floppy-haired Alex moved to the Cotswolds, bought a farm house and turned it into a 200-acre cheese farm producing award-winning British artisan cheeses.

And yesterday I encountered one of the for the first time, thanks to the incredibly friendly lady behind the counter at my lovely new local deli, Fresh Basil, in Belper.

I’d popped in to grab some blue cheese, but the choice was so huge I ended up having a bit of a tasting session.

“What kind of blue do you like?” asked my new friend behind the counter.

“The stronger and stinkier the better,” I assured her.

“Ever heard of Alex James from Blur?” she continued.

I treated her to an impromptu and totally tuneless rendition of Song 2 by way of answer, joined halfway through the chorus by the lad working the cakes section alongside her.

She handed me a soft blue cheese called Blue Monday, made by Alex and apparently named after his favourite New Order track.

It was hands down one of the best blue cheeses I had ever tasted, but something was bugging me…

“It’s lovely,” I told the lady behind the counter. “But it’s not made with breast milk, is it?”

We both laughed. Alex James made headlines a few years ago when he talked about attempting to make cheese using his wife’s breast milk, and serving up a breast milk coffee to Gordon Ramsey.

But I’m assured that Blue Monday is definitely made with cow’s milk, so I take home a large chunk (which, 24 hours later, has mostly disappeared). Apparently breast milk is very difficult to curdle, which (thankfully) makes it less-than-ideal for making cheese.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Fantastic tips from a fellow bookworm

I’ve mentioned before that shopping local is a real movement… those of us who do it are really keen to help each other out, point out the best places and support our favourite traders. Yesterday, for example, I was chatting to one of the girls in Sound Bites, my favourite wholefood shop in Derby, and she said she was struggling to find really nice bread, so I immediately raved to her about Baked, the wonderful Bakery run by my friend Victoria, in Derby.

So it should come as no surprise that my Belper book clubs pals have been keen to tell me about their favourite places as I explore the town.

This morning I came into work to find a wonderfully thoughtful email from book clubber Michele, who had very kindly taken the time to look through the shopping list I posted yesterday and point out some of the places where I could buy what I need.

It included some brilliant insider suggestions such as a greengrocer who keeps large bunches of coriander at the back of his shop, a place in Heanor for herbs and spices that offers next day delivery, and a local farm that offers daily milk deliveries.

She also told me about Belper Farmers’ Market, on the second Saturday of each month, and included a list of other places to try, such as a fantastic Indian restaurant and a great local deli.

I can’t thank Michele enough for all this information and I’m definitely going to be checking out these places. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking the time to rave about their local Tesco or Morrisons in the same way.

Belper is already starting to feel like home, thanks to the welcome I’ve had my from book clubbers and the general friendly feel of the place. Every time I go out for a potter round town strangers stop in the street to say “hi” and the shopkeepers always have time to chat.

In the words of Orphan Annie (always a profound fountain of wisdom) “I think I’m gonna like it here”.

(Yes, I know she was referencing Daddy Warbucks’ mega mansion whereas I’m talking about a small, spider-filled cottage, but you get the idea)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Shopping list

Now that I'm living alone and have bills to cover by myself I need to try to economise a little.

And when it comes to food shopping I'm not really used to budgeting. I tend to be ruled very much by my stomach and what I fancy on any given day, meaning I probably spend too much on food - some of which (I'm ashamed to say) goes to waste.

I've decided to try writing myself a weekly meal planner and shopping list to stick to, in the hopes of using up everything I but and saving a bit of money. I'm on a late shift today so I've put together my first list this morning... and I have a feeling that part of my challenge will be finding everything I need from my new local shops in Belper.

My meals for next week include lentil and spinach cottage pie and pasta with leeks (both recipes torn from last Sunday's Observer Food Monthly magazine), roasted butternut squash ravioli (from Tuesday night's Hairy Bikers), bangers and mash, jacket spud with veggie fingers, and a quickie tea one night of egg chips and beans. I'm also going to make a banana cake and minestrone soup this weekend to take to work for my lunches next week.

Obviously I've already got some of the above in my store cupboard or freezer, so my shopping list is as follows:

White onions x3
Carrots x4
Bay leaves
Weighing scales (I left my old ones behind)
Vegetable stock
Spuds x5
Eggs x12
White flour
Red onion x1
Creme freche
Brown sugar
Leeks x2
Tupperware (to freeze some soup)
Baking powder
Bicarb of soda
Tin mixed beans
Tomato x1

Lets see how I get on...

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Under siege

I know I’ve been quiet again, but this time with good reason... I’ve been busy moving house and I’m happy to report that I’m now settled in my lovely new little cottage in Belper.

Lots of local shopping tales will follow as I start to get life back on track... but first I’d like to share this little missive on the joys of moving into a very old, listed building, right in the middle of spider season.

Now, as every arachnophobe knows, September is a dangerous month. It’s the time we spend the rest of the year dreading.... the time when all those huge monsters that usually stay tucked away beneath our floorboards come crawling out to terrify us.

Yes my friends, September is spider mating season.

It’s the month when those massive hairy lady spiders (because in the eight-legged world, the girls are bigger than the boys and there’s no such thing as a Gillette Venus) come out of their hidey holes and go parading around your house, like amorous singletons cruising the town’s cheesiest nightclubs on a Saturday night, looking for action.

These girls are on the pull.

So I knew the move could be dangerous and I braced and mentally prepared myself accordingly.

The first couple of spiders that appeared were only medium (on a scale that starts with microscopic and ends with utterly massive and satanic) so I bravely sucked them up with the hoover nozzle.

And when I spotted a couple of smaller ones in two little webs in the kitchen, I decided to try leaving them to it, and even Christened them Fred and Wilma in an effort to make them seem more pet-like.

I was on a roll and thought I’d got it covered, until Saturday night.

After a hard three days struggling to move all my worldly goods I was ready for a girls’ night on the sofa with the cat and rabbit, a glass of wine and a cheesy rom com. Something comforting with Hugh Grant in it.

And I was enjoying just such an evening when one of the largest spiders I have ever seen came sauntering out of a corner and strutted across the living room carpet.

My god, she was striking. She was the spider equivalent of the 6-foot leggy blonde parading across the middle of the night club.

As I levitated off the sofa in absolute horror I could be sure of only one thing.... there was absolutely no way I could allow any spider boys to get their hands (legs) on her. Such a beast must not be allowed to procreate.

In a fit of superhuman bravery I tipped out the contents of the bin and thrust it over her - trapping her inside.

I then dashed over to the bookcase, grabbed the Complete Works of Shakespeare (the heaviest volume I could find) and plonked it on top of the bin.


Heart pounding and knees trembling, I then took myself back to the sofa to have a little cry - partly in relief (I’ve got her cornered) and partly in horror (but what the hell do I do now?!).

What I did, of course, was frantically text a couple of my closest friends who are also arachnophobic for sympathy. Being scared of spiders is like a club - you’re either in or you’re out.

And of course the following morning, having re-assessed the situation and decided that I was absolutely not capable of dealing with the contents of the bin, I called in a brave (and definitely non-phobic) helper to tackle Her Ladyship.

I am now living in fear. Roll on winter.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Thank you to the Swedes

"Come on love, you can do it"

I'm at the check-out at Ikea, being cheered on by a pair lovely (and exceedingly patient) ladies in the (quite long) queue behind me, as I try to unpack my trolley (which seems to have turned into a giant Jenga game) onto the check-out conveyor belt thingy, which is frankly laughably short. I mean, this is Ikea, for Christ's sake, and the check-out is so small you can't even fit the inevitable accidental house plant purchase on it.

I actually don't really like Ikea very much, and in a previous life I will admit I spent a lot of time bitching about its nasty, characterless, flat pack furniture.

But in this life, with house move number two of the year looming, and with not much more than a pot to p*ss in, needs must... and where else can you find six glasses for a couple of quid and two frying pans for a fiver?

So I took the list from my last blog, gritted my teeth and headed off to the branch in Nottingham this weekend. And I have to say, I got all my household bits and bobs, including unaccounted-for things like a wok and bathroom bin, well within my budget. Thank you Ikea.

But I have to say, it was pretty much like a modern-day Challenge Anika. Ikea really is meant for couples. It's the old cliche.... you go to Ikea with your partner when you're in need of a good argument. But as a sole shopper, it soon turns into a bit of a nightmare.

The shopping trollies they give you really aren't big enough, and mine was soon so full that I couldn't even see over the top of it. I nearly flattened several small children on my way round that weird, claustrophobic, Ikea one-way system, forgot to pick up my kitchen bin lid because I got myself into such a fluster, and by the time I reached the check-out my patience was wearing thin.

"I need an ironing board," I told the girl at the till. "I didn't see one on my way round."

"You missed it," came the bored reply. "It's back in aisle five million and fifty eight."

I peeped over the top of my trolley Jenga and gave her what I hoped was a plaintive, puppy-dog look.

She sighed, picked up the phone and telephoned someone to go and pick up a £9 (£9!!!!!!!) ironing board for me.

Then of course I had to suffer the indignity of unloading the overflowing trolley while a bunch of other shoppers spectated and the bored cashier checked it all out and piled it up at the other side. Because apparently, at Ikea, there is no one to help you. Not like at Tesco where they ask you if you need any help packing up your shopping, when all you've bought is a packet of chewing gum.

As I trotted my empty trolley round to the other side of the till and started re-packing it, I could see the interest mounting with my fellow shoppers. Will she get it all back in again? Is that bin going to balance on top of that pan? I bet that cushion is going to fall off half way to the car park. And oh hell, where is she going to put the ironing board? I'm surprised they didn't start up a sweepstake.

Gingerly I grappled the trolley out to the car park, and then realised that I probably was going to lose the cushions half way to the car. It was time to give up trying to go it alone and call in some help. Luckily a friendly lady was waiting by the loading bays with her own trolley, having sent her husband (yes apparently they can be useful sometimes) off to pick up the car, so she offered to watch my trolley while I went to do the same.

Phew! Not an experience to be repeated again in a hurry, but at least it was cheap and cheerful, so I'll say a grudging thank you to the Swedes.