Blog Oct 2011-Sept 2012

Blog history

  • Is non-UK OK? 22nd-28th September For various rather boring and convoluted reasons I have been venturing to the supermarket almost weekly, with a vegetable box delivery only twice a month. Over the past year I ...
    Posted Jan 11, 2013, 3:19 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Leaving food: 15th-21st September I think in cafes your parents & the staff at the cafe should give you small portions because most of the children at the cafes leave their main course & start eating ...
    Posted Sep 26, 2012, 11:49 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Carnage: 8th-14th September The atmosphere was tense. A red mess oozed over the floor, real carnage. The area was cordoned off with a Police Danger ribbon. The spectators stood far enough away for ...
    Posted Sep 18, 2012, 11:59 AM by Dinner Lady
  • My bridges over troubled water: 1st −7th September This week started with a culinary bang. One of my girl friends, a mother I met on the school playground, had organised a ladies' dinner party at her house to ...
    Posted Sep 11, 2012, 12:37 PM by Dinner Lady
  • An infestation of unwanted visitors: 25th-31st August Regular readers amongst you will recall reading in June about our attempts at creating our own urban kitchen garden (Our English country garden). Despite the mysterious overnight disappearance of two ...
    Posted Sep 3, 2012, 11:56 AM by Dinner Lady
  • I fell off the wagon: Summer holidays 2012 Four and a half bellies are back, a week early, because the third guest blogger was unable to meet the deadline set for him. Given that this guest blogger is ...
    Posted Aug 28, 2012, 1:52 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Mango, monkeys and maffe: 4th-10th August Four and a half bellies are away and will return at the end of the month.  This is a Two and a half bellies guest post dispatched to you from ...
    Posted Aug 26, 2012, 2:51 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Chicken: the good, the bad and the unbeatable roast:29th July-3rd August The Four and a half bellies are enjoying an Olympic staycation. This is a Two aging bellies guest blog written by Dinner Lady's mother, Gigi.  Dinner Lady and the ...
    Posted Aug 8, 2012, 12:15 PM by Dinner Lady
  • The uncle who came to tea: 14th-20th July Once there were two little boys called Maths Geek and The Noble Knight and a little girl called Princess Baby and they were having tea with their mummy and daddy ...
    Posted Jul 25, 2012, 1:19 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Rebellion: 7th-13th July We have nearly had a mutiny this week at Four and a half bellies HQ. Or at least rebellion in the ranks. On Thursday I opened the bin to put ...
    Posted Jul 17, 2012, 12:07 PM by Dinner Lady
  • Paralysed by choice: 30th June-7th July I am such a bad shopper. Or, from the perspective of Mrs Doubtfire's bank account, I am a great shopper. In that I hate it.  If you want to ...
    Posted Jul 10, 2012, 12:17 PM by Dinner Lady
  • Great expectations: 23rd-29th June While I know I like my wine glass filled to the brim, when it comes to my approach to life, I sometimes wonder whether I am a glass half full ...
    Posted Jul 10, 2012, 3:18 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Our English country garden: 16th-22nd June Ok, I lied.  We have an English town patio, not much larger than a postage stamp.  But when I venture out there I like to imagine it is a large ...
    Posted Jun 26, 2012, 12:17 PM by Dinner Lady
  • Working dinner ladies: 9th-15th June On Wednesday I had four cups of tea and coffee. And finished them. While they were still hot.  This is because I had re-entered that peculiar place known as ...
    Posted Jun 19, 2012, 12:06 PM by Dinner Lady
  • Feeding time at the zoo: 2nd-8th June I still despair about our food waste. On Friday I regrettably threw away 1 pear, 3 slices mouldy bread and only just rescued a bowl of week old cooked pasta ...
    Posted Jun 12, 2012, 11:45 AM by Dinner Lady
  • A night to remember: 26th May-1st June The highlight of this week would have to be attending the Observer Ethical Awards 2012 party on Wednesday night, the climax of a real adventure.  Mrs Doubtfire, Princess Baby (who ...
    Posted Jun 12, 2012, 6:35 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Moderately healthy: 12th-18th May Having written several recipes down this week that call for "a large knob of butter" or "a generous splash of cream", I started wondering how healthy our "healthy (ish)" Four ...
    Posted May 29, 2012, 8:18 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Information overload: 12th-18th May The other day I was walking past our local deli and saw them advertising their "local ham". I automatically paused to look at it.  Maths Geek, who is reading every ...
    Posted May 22, 2012, 1:07 PM by Dinner Lady
  • Celebratory whiskeys: 5th-11th May It had been an otherwise dull day in all respects. I had worked hard on the blog post about the ethics of eating meat, had posted it, but felt rather ...
    Posted May 15, 2012, 12:32 PM by Dinner Lady
  • To meat or not to meat? That it the environmental question: 28th April-4th May I am surprised that we are still eating meat at all.  Every week we give praise and thanks to the chicken, pig or cow (lamb seems too pricy) who gave ...
    Posted May 15, 2012, 4:51 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Dinner Parties: 21st-27th April Perhaps it is something to do with the seasons, literally "Springing" out of our winter's hibernation. Maybe it is because after a couple of weeks of being allowed to ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:46 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Rage, not waste: 14th-20th April Sometimes I think our Four and a half bellies challenge is great and I am proud of all that we are achieving and of what the children are learning.  After ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:45 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Holiday food: 7th-13th April In my view, holiday food should be easy. It should be delicious. It should involve treats. Carefree and spontaneous.  For the person who usually cooks, it should create minimal effort ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:44 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Seasonal figs: 24th-30th March My mother hired a caterer for her birthday party last week. I don't blame her. After all the parties she has hosted over the years she deserves a day ...
    Posted May 29, 2012, 4:04 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Genetically modified Fartichokes: 17th-23rd March At Friday lunch time I took a risk.  Hours before a job interview I consumed a whole bowl of Jerusalem artichoke soup.  I had been hoping to blow the interview ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:43 AM by Dinner Lady
  • A crumbling relic: 10th-16th March Eight eggs, a deluge of flour, a mountain of butter, an avalanche of sugar and a fountain of chocolate. When your shopping list starts with these items, you know that ...
    Posted May 29, 2012, 3:49 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Comfort food: 3rd-9th March On Sunday morning, The Naughty Knight went back to bed after half an hour of being awake. In that half an hour he must have said "Yes, Mum" at least ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:41 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Ready meals: 25th February-2nd March I despair! Again, we went well over budget in February, £30 of which can be attributed to our indulgent two takeaways. Takeaways. The ultimate in convenience food. For what could ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:39 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Feasting and fasting: 18th-24th February On Tuesday morning Maths Geek reminded me that it was pancake day. "Wrong week," I replied, thinking it was last week.  "But school told us it is pancake day. Ask ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:38 AM by Dinner Lady
  • A week in Senegal: 11th-17th February The Four and a half bellies are away (not in Senegal, alas). This is a "Two point bump bellies" guest post dispatched from our man in Africa.  For more Senegalese ...
    Posted Feb 21, 2012, 4:17 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Drowning: 4th-10th February Some of you might have noticed that I posted last week's blog a day late.  Here's why.  If the expression "It never rains but it pours" is true ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:37 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Princess Baby has feeditis: 28th January-3rd February Princess Baby has refused her meal. Again. I cannot profess to her enjoying her food, unlike her older brothers who scoffed any morsel I threw in their direction, making delicious ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:35 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Loin of squirrel, deep fried locusts and free range chicken noodle soup: 21st-27th January Which of the above meals might make it onto the menu of your local, cutting edge, ethical-eating gastro-pub?  The answer, actually, might need to be "all of them ...
    Posted May 29, 2012, 3:46 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Food for friends: 14th-20th January A week before the Christmas holidays Herman came to stay. We liked him, he was easy to look after, feeding only occasionally. Undemanding, yet so giving.  But we had to ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:31 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Fancy tarts undressed: 7th-13th Jan At the weekend I had the rare excitement of going out to the pub with my sister who was on a brief trip back from her new home in Malawi ...
    Posted May 10, 2012, 1:28 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Life is sweet: 31st Dec-6th Jan 2012 2011 fizzled out with an early night but 2012 started with a culinary bang. Having been up most of the previous few nights with Princess Baby, who was trying to ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 6:03 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Malnourished: 10th-16th December It is official: we are malnourished. At least that is the only explanation I can think of for our never ending colds, coughs and sheer exhaustion.  I have spent the ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 6:02 AM by Dinner Lady
  • This food wants to go in my mouth...does it?:3rd-9th December "This food wants to go in my mouth, does it!" declared The Naughty Knight on Sunday, with that over excitement that takes over whenever a meat feast is put on ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 6:01 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Foraging and fancy fish: 26th Nov-2nd Dec This week I went foraging for food in a dustbin. Sort of. The weekend saw us feasting on turkey and trimmings a month earlier than our fellow Brits, thanks to ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:59 AM by Dinner Lady
  • I took my eye off the ball: 19th-25th November This week I took my eye off the ball.  I got so engrossed in creating this website I forgot what it was all about. I need to tell you that ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:59 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Failure: 12th-18th November Oh dear, looking at the weekly menu below I weep, thinking how far off piste I have come in relation to our challenge. Expensive Chinese takeaway. Repeats of the same ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:58 AM by Dinner Lady
  • A meat fest: 5th-11th November Mrs Doubtfire could be renamed as Mr Meat and Two Veg.  This week he has been very pleased with the abundance of pork, chicken and beef that has arrived on ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:57 AM by Dinner Lady
  • What's in this?: 29th October-4th November When The Naughty Knight asks "What's in this?" he is frowning, nose screwed up, with a look of the upmost distaste, as if I might be serving him a ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 12:58 PM by Dinner Lady
  • Convenience food: 22nd-28th October We are all streaming with cold and have been for some weeks now. Mrs Doubtfire's commute to his course is taking its toll. Maths Geek is nearing half term ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:53 AM by Dinner Lady
  • A Welsh loss: 15th-21st October Wales got through to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals. Yes, I shall repeat that. Wales got through to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.  I am not a rugby ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:55 AM by Dinner Lady
  • Too spicy?: 8th-14th October I have been pleasantly surprised by the boys' food preferences this week. Saturday night's supper consisted of a smorgersboard of left overs: the paneer and pea curry, sausage casserole ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:54 AM by Dinner Lady
  • The way to my men's heart: 1st-7th October On Sunday we were lying on the beach sweltering in the sun. We even swam in the sea, and for a magical ten minutes, thanks to a snoozing Princess Baby ...
    Posted May 9, 2012, 5:37 AM by Dinner Lady
Showing posts 1 - 47 of 47. View more »

Is non-UK OK? 22nd-28th September

posted Oct 2, 2012, 11:38 AM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Jan 11, 2013, 3:19 AM ]

For various rather boring and convoluted reasons I have been venturing to the supermarket almost weekly, with a vegetable box delivery only twice a month. Over the past year I have rigidly stuck to my 'usuals' list on the monthly online shop and so my in-person supermarket visits have broadened my shopping horizons as I venture down aisles previously unknown to me.   I have also braved the experience with all three children.  We would be spending the money on the shop anyway and so I consider it as "free" entertainment when the weather is wet and we need to get out of the house.  Despite the inevitable silliness at the check out, supermarket trips with the children are generally quite fun.  We enjoy looking at and talking about all the tempting food.  This Sunday I told each boy that they could each choose an edible treat for the week and instead of lurking too long in the chocolate or crisps section much of our time was spent in the fruit and vegetable aisles lusting after ripe mangos, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, juicy tomatoes. Unfortunately much of our food lusts originate in other countries, and it begs the question: given I have pledged to buy local, how does this fit with our aspirations? If we buy into the 'buy local' mantra for sustainable eating, we have been failing within the first few minutes of arriving at the supermarket!    

We 'ethical food' consumers are fed the instructions to buy locally produced food from local food outlets, shunning imported produce and the large corporate supermarkets.  And last year, when I was writing our Rules and regulations I too bought into it. So much so that I asked the farm vegetable box to leave out French vegetables, which they sometimes included, even though France is closer to us than some parts of the UK. I pass chalk boards outside popular grocers, butchers or delis, advertising their 'local' produce. Restaurants are considered good when they source only 'local' ingredients. And they get my custom.    

So why is only UK ok?  When I stop to think about it I wonder. How do I know that my local farm's agricultural methods are sustainable?  More than once I have read that eating grass fed lamb imported from New Zealand is more environmentally friendly than eating grain fed local lamb.   How do I know that my local tomatoes come straight from the farm direct to my local grocer and not via some long motorway journey, emitting clouds of carbon in the process?  I don't, unless I have time to ask this question of each food product I buy.  And what pollutes the air less:  me driving to several (usually out of town) farm shops, butchers and grocers or popping into one supermarket on the way back from another trip, where the produce has arrived on one large lorry?   I don't know. And I haven't got time to go to my computer to find out or create a spreadsheet because by that time my children will be hungry and grouchy and it will be time for me to go to work.  When I buy local, am I buying into some kind of middle class, green protectionism?  
Over the past year I have come to realise that 'farm to fork', or food distribution, is only one small part of the life cycle of each piece of food we eat.  Taking a more 'cradle to grave' approach, I now understand that how we Dinner Ladies store, cook and dispose of our food contributes a significant proportion of a food's total carbon emissions.  According to Love Food Hate Waste, if we cut out all the food waste we UK Dinner Ladies create, it would have the equivalent effect of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road!   And every few months I read something in the news about turning to a vegetarian or vegan diet as a necessary means of slowing down climate change.  

The good news.  If we Dinner Ladies made these seemingly simple small steps, we may actually have a powerful impact on climate change.  And these steps are something over which we have direct control.  The bad news.  For hardened meat lovers like myself, a diet of pulses, however healthy, however sustainable, is hard to stomach.  For those on a budget, buying a more expensive but more efficient fridge is a big sacrifice.  As winter approaches the idea of eating raw food rather than leaving the oven on for hours to slow cook a casserole is not comforting.  And for the busy Dinner Lady time spent scouring through the fridge, the larder and the fruit bowl to spot rotting produce before it walks away by itself is time not spent sitting down with a book or playing with our children.  In short, these seemingly simple small steps are not trendy and certainly not easy to buy into.  

Waste not want not

rotten or gone off 2 small potatoes; half onion; 1 pear; 1/4 pack salad leaves; 1 pot taramasalata; 1 kiwi; 1/2 cucumber

left on our plates PB- a few crusts and 4 chewed pieces of satsuma; 2 small pieces of crumpet; 1 tbsp Weds lunch

- we have been working on portion control and PB has been leaving less and less

left overs I have forgotten to use up 1/4 jacket potato

The amount of food I have let go  off is shocking. It would have been really easy for me to have eaten or cooked them before they went off. I suspect I have been planning meals badly and buying too much food.  Given the amount of methane all this food is going to produce, I need to do better. 

Leaving food: 15th-21st September

posted Sep 25, 2012, 11:31 AM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Sep 26, 2012, 11:49 AM ]

I think in cafes your parents & the staff at the cafe should give you small portions because most of the children at the cafes leave their main course & start eating their dessert. I don't like people leaving their food. There are 3 reasons. 1 in other countries some people don't have enough money to buy their food and they go hungry. 2. it is bad for the environment and 3. it is unhealthy because the desserts are usually sugary. By Maths Geek

Ideas, words and most of the spelling by Maths Geek (aged 6 years old); complicated spelling by spellchecker and Dinner Lady; last line and a half dictated by a rather weary Maths Geek ("for some children writing is very boring") and typed by Mrs Doubtfire.

Weekly menu

Sat 15th - breakfast: toast with Maths Geek spread 

         - lunch: cream of chicken soup (made and frozen last week and defrosted from freezer 15 minutes before lunch) 

          - supper: tandoori chicken, red onion chutney and pilau rice 

Sun 16th - lunch: pesto pasta 

           - supper: poached and roasted gammon, baby potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary from patio; steamed carrots and broad beans; upside down peach and chocolate cake for pudding 

Mon 17thlunch: (PB) left over fish and pasta from Fri night

          (me and friend) cream of roasted tomato soup, bread, cheeses, olives and baby tomatoes 

           - supper: aubergine and tomato bake (no anchovies) with left over pilau rice from Sat 

Tues 18th - lunch (PB & NP) left over aubergine and tomato bake 

            - supper: (kids) boiled egg, soldiers, olives, baby tomatoes 

            (us) cold gammon slices with red lentils which had been cooked slowly in the gammon stock with the left over carrots and broad beans from Sun - this was a tip from my friend - absolutely delicious! 

Weds 19th - lunch: (PB & NP) cold gammon with the left over red lentils from last night 

           - supper: (kids) cream of roasted tomato soup, bread rolls 

              (us) pasta with stilton sauce and salad 

Thurs 20th - lunch: (PB) pasta with stilton sauce and cucumber slices 

             - supper: Autumnal warmer, brown rice and salad 

Fri 21st  - lunch: left over Autumnal warmer 

          - supper: (kids) macaroni cheese 

             (us) steak, boiled new potatoes, steamed broccoli (I am ashamed of this meal - spent the whole day looking for a new car for long and convoluted reasons - had no time to get a meal prepped and cooked before I went out for the evening, so I ended up DRIVING to a SUPERMARKET and buying STEAK. It was delicious though).  

Maths Geek "The tomato soup was Yum Yum Yummy".  Maths Geek created a drink called Maths Geek's green Water.  

Copyright Maths Geek and Dinner Lady 2012

Carnage: 8th-14th September

posted Sep 17, 2012, 12:21 PM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Sep 18, 2012, 11:59 AM ]

The atmosphere was tense. A red mess oozed over the floor, real carnage. The area was cordoned off with a Police Danger ribbon. The spectators stood far enough away for the policeman's liking, but were craning their necks to have a look at the horrific sight.  And then I caught sight of the clock and realised that if I let Maths Geek carry on like this supper would never get cooked.  

Over the last few weeks tempers have been frayed here at Four and a half bellies HQ: Maths Geek is exhausted with return to school; The Noble Knight is nervous about his impending school start and Princess Baby has got an acute attack of the dreaded Separation Anxiety.  Mrs Doubtfire is working harder than ever, and when he is home, is preoccupied by his final assignment for his diploma.  As for me, I am confused about which days I am a mum, which days I should dress respectably for paid employment and have no idea as to which member of the family needs me most.  On Sunday night I felt like I was meeting no ones needs, least of all mine, and so I thought a good ole family cook up might cheer us and bring us together.  Little did I dream it would turn into the cock up it did.
From his earliest days Maths Geek and I have enjoyed cooking together.  As early as 6 months he would sit in his high chair and wave a wooden spoon while I mixed cake ingredients and we would babble away together.  A few months later he was promoted to the important job of banging the spoon in the mixture and then a few months later to laying out the cup cake holders, just the right size for his chubby little mitts, on a baking tray.   I remember making the weekly Victoria Sponge with my father when I was growing up, and it was a spectacle, watching this sloppy sweet mixture transform, as if by magic, into a light and airy cake.  Cooking with a parent was also a magical time, being an opportunity to have undivided adult attention and the responsibility of cooking for the rest of the family. 

Hoping to recreate some of that magic, on Monday night I sat with the boys and we scoured the children's recipe books for something that the boys fancied cooking.  The Noble Knight, aka Pasta Monster, chose a simple spaghetti recipe calling for bacon rashers (a rare treat), olives (delectable), sun dried tomatoes (we had a few sitting in the bottom of an opened jar, waiting to be finished off), passata (always available, as if on tap) and spring onions (thankfully a few left).  Princess Baby sat in her high chair and was given a spoon and the job of the principal taster: a tiny bit of each item was presented to her to check it was fit for human consumption and she seemed happy with this role and allowed us to get on with the food preparation.  Maths Geek was in charge of reading the recipe and also given the role of chief measurer.  The Noble Knight offered to fetch the said ingredients, open the jars and chop. I was allowed to grill the bacon and occasionally manage the project by offering my more experienced perspective.

Waste not want not

Rotten or gone off - 2 slices bread

Left on our plates -  PB: 2 tbsp cereal; 2 tbsp lasagna; half ham sandwich; TNK 1/4 ham sandwich; small piece of cheese MG 5 piggies satsuma (too tart)

left overs I have forgotten to use up - 1 tbsp smoked mackerel gratin from last week; 2 tbsp rice; 2 tbsp lasagna; 2 tbsp marrow chunks in cheese sauce: these are pathetic amounts to have as left overs, so I shall encourage everyone to try to eat a little more.  

I was right last week: we had not been logging all that we threw away and so this week is a more realistic picture of our food waste.  On the plus side, I saved 3 tortillas from the bin by keeping them in the fridge and not being afraid of using them on Friday despite them being open for at least a week.


Supermarket:           £49.66

Vegetable box:         £22.50

Total Sept so far:     £205.30

My bridges over troubled water: 1st −7th September

posted Sep 11, 2012, 12:36 PM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Sep 11, 2012, 12:37 PM ]

This week started with a culinary bang. One of my girl friends, a mother I met on the school playground, had organised a ladies' dinner party at her house to celebrate the end of the summer holidays and reconvene before term started.  We were treated to the most delicious vegetarian banquet: bruschettas to start with followed by a mezze of chickpea and spinach curry, green salad, a sweet and salty cucumber salad, fried halloumi and then perfectly rounded off with fruit salad and ice-cream.   I am excited that the recipes have found their way to our house as I am most keen to eat them again. Soon.

I had not seen most of these lovely ladies for six weeks because our weeks at home and away were not synched.   For once, therefore, Mrs Doubtfire was unable to cast doubt over the need for us to meet. Usually when I go out with my girl friends Mrs Doubtfire wonders what we could possibly have to talk about.  And it is true, sometimes we chat after dropping the children off at school, we might meet for a coffee with the preschoolers during the day if we are not out at paid employment, natter again while we pick the kids up from school, and then we might think nothing about meeting up in the evening for conversations more suited for the over 18s.  And we chat nonstop.
Apart from during school drop off and pick up, most conversations are centred around food and drink. Every couple of weeks it is a lunch or brunch at someone's house, each Dinner Lady friend sharing one of their delicious recipes, each friend holding and feeding each others' babies as required. Then there is the odd weekend dinner party where husbands are allowed to join us.  If someone is feeling flush, we girls might treat ourselves to a coffee and biscuit in a cafe, but then I tut about the wasted sugar sachets which are given out as a matter of course; the paper napkins that are put underneath the cake, which then have to be thrown away whether one uses it or not.  And it is less relaxing as the children are clambering to run, jump and climb as soon as they have finished their drink.  So more often than not we liaise and share a flask of coffee or squash, depending on the weather, while we sit in the playground as our children all play together.  Last year Herman, the German friendship cake, made a regular appearance, devoured by children and grownups alike, and it felt almost healthy with apples and raisins as ingredients.   And on a Friday afternoon a flask of something slightly stronger, slightly more medicinal, occasionally finds its way to us: Friday afternoon's "whine and wine", as my friend so elegantly put it.  

Waste not want not

rotten or gone off - none

left on our plates - 9 tbsp off TNK and PB plate 

left overs I have forgotten to use up - none!

This all seems very little, and so I am suspicious. I suspect that NP, Mrs D and I have not been recording all that we have thrown away....


Supermarket:           £99.17

Vegetable box:         £22.50

Cafe/ restaurant:      £83.63

Total Sept so far:     £205.30

Not much left if we are going to stick to budget this month. Eating out twice has used up more than one week's worth of budget. Fun, easy and convenient: was it worth it?  

An infestation of unwanted visitors: 25th-31st August

posted Sep 3, 2012, 11:56 AM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Sep 3, 2012, 11:56 AM ]

Regular readers amongst you will recall reading in June about our attempts at creating our own urban kitchen garden (Our English country garden). Despite the mysterious overnight disappearance of two courgette plants I talked about the promising looking runner beans, potatoes, spinach and strawberries and thanked ethereal beings for the rain that was keeping the soil so moist.  All the while dreaming about an endless stream of freshly grown produce to keep us well fed and satisfied, just like last summer.  We were particularly excited by the number of strawberry flowers - many many more than last year - each one a prelude to a round, ripe, red ball of summer sweetness.  

And sure enough by mid July those round, ripe, red balls arrived, sometimes seemingly turning from an unappetising green to a ready-to-eat red overnight. But however early we woke up, however quickly we got the strawberry once it had ripened, we were always pipped to the post by a plague of woodlice and numerous fat slugs and snails.  All we could do was watch on mournfully as the woodlice squirmed their hungry way through - from afar it looked as if the strawberries themselves were wriggling and alive.  The boys concocted several plans, such as leaving a "No woodlice allowed" sign for our uninvited visitors.  Or creating a woodlice trap using a large fake strawberry, reminiscent of 'The Giant Jam Sandwich'.  Despite our plotting and planning the woodlice took no notice and we gave up, heading out to a local farm to pick our own instead.   Once the strawberries were done in, the pests turned their attention to the potato leaves. And then the runner beans. And finally the spinach.  Our potato crop was delicious, but meagre; the spinach enough to pad out a few small meals; the beans a total stringy flop.  All down to the unsatiable appetites of these slimy pests.  
At about the same time, we received a letter from the farm that supplies our weekly vegetable box. Because of the very wet summer, an army of slugs, snails and other pests had wreaked havoc with their and other suppliers' crops meaning that seasonal produce was in short supply and therefore prices were having to rise slightly.  This letter and discussions with countless friends who have had similar flops made me feel like less of a gardening disaster, realising that our misfortune was being shared by many.  But my heart went out to the farm, knowing that this could have a severe impact on their livelihood.  

As the summer holidays draw to a close, I look out of my kitchen window and survey the damage. Our once so lush and beautiful patio garden resembles something from some apocalyptic Hollywood movie.   I count the losses - 8 lupins, 10 marigolds, countless spinach leaves, 2 courgette plants, numerous strawberries, and an untold number of potential runner beans.  Wasted money, time and precious seeds. And I mourn what could have been a summer of plenty.  I stand, raging and cursing these slithery pests, interrupted by Maths Geek who irritatingly reminds me that the slugs and snails "are God's creatures" and I shouldn't get cross with them. Quite where he has picked up this holier than thou religious approach to life, I am not sure.  

Waste not want not

Rotten or gone off - nearly one whole carton of double cream, left over from the frivolous summer period; a few ends of rhubarb that had gone slightly mushy having been left in a bag on the side of the kitchen; 1 slice of bread

left on our plates - far too much - a couple of spoonfuls from each child's plate most meals, as we have got into terrible habits while on holiday

left overs I have forgotten to use up - none 


Local supermarkets         £ 2.36 on 2 pints milk
Supermarket                £ 100.76 
Vegetable box & 12 eggs    £ 22.50
Local corner shop          £ 1.89 for a small slab of butter! It does not pay to run out of staples - must be better planned.
Takeaway                    £16.50
Total week                £ 104.01

This is £34 over the weekly budget, but most of the vegetables and eggs will be eaten next week.  

I fell off the wagon: Summer holidays 2012

posted Aug 28, 2012, 1:48 AM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Aug 28, 2012, 1:52 AM ]

Four and a half bellies 
are back, a week early, because the third guest blogger was unable to meet the deadline set for him. Given that this guest blogger is only just six years old, takes about 30 minutes to type one sentence, has a concentration span of 15 minutes and has set himself a rather ambitious food writing project, I decided to forgive him and give him a second chance. You'll hear from Maths Geek in the next few weeks.

It has been an exciting summer of food for us at Four and a half bellies HQ.  Exciting from my point of view, in that it involved a host of culinary treats that I had little or no hand in preparing.  Such as BBQs lit and tended to by Mrs Doubtfire, which we enjoyed on the beach, just as the crowds were leaving for home.  Such as a Thai take away treat while I stayed at Mrs D's parents.  And the couple of lunches out that we enjoyed as a family.  Or the week of naughty food we scoffed while at my parents. Naughty for me, because it involved meat at almost every meal and because Happy Hour started whenever I wished, but certainly no later than 6pm. Naughty for the children because they were allowed to leave food on their plates, eat a multitude of sweet things and were encouraged to consume the ultimate in banned food substances: the fish finger.  At home during our Olympic staycation, I discovered a range of convenience foods, purchased from the supermarket, requiring nothing more than turning the oven on, sitting back with a large G&T and waiting for some sumptuous aroma to come wafting out through the oven door, round into our patio, tempting me with "I'm ready and I'm hot and I'm waiting for you now".  A special treat I purchased for myself, as a reward for extra child care duties while Mrs Doubtfire stayed in London, treating himself to an evening of Basketball, has slightly backfired on me. I cut off a little of my steak and saved a few dollops of pepper corn sauce for the children to enjoy the next day for lunch.  This has now become Maths Geek's favourite meal, the meal he requested immediately, with dancing eyes, when my mother asked him what he would like her to cook for him, despite its dubious ethical credentials, ability to corrupt my bank account and ambition to clog his arteries.  

I like to hope that our unsustainable eating has perhaps been made up for in part by the food situation in the Olympic Park which exceeded my expectations.  Mrs Doubtfire and I had gone to the Athens Olympics in 2004, and even then, despite our lack of knowledge of anything resembling sustainable eating, we were shocked by the waste and that a certain McMultinational Fast Food chain had a total monopoly over our food options. We thought it was shameful, even as the carnivores that we were then, that the only veggie option seemed to be a salad. Once you had hand picked out all the bacon bits.  Yet here, in London's Olympic Park,  the food options seemed to have improved. Although McMultinational still had a prominent place in the centre of the park, there was at least a chance to celebrate a range of world foods where one could enjoy traditional Fish n Chips or a Thai curry.  Healthy deli food or artery clogging hot dogs. One paid a high price, but even the fish earned a tick from the Marine Stewardship Council.  Much of the waste seemed to be recyclable and this was well organised.  
In my last post I had vowed to uphold the Four and a half bellies Rules and Regulations during this summer of frivolous eating.  I have fallen off the wagon for sure, although I am desperately clinging on to the wheels.  In a scenario reminiscent of a Western film I am whisked around in a cloud of dust as the wagon careers from one social event to the next.  I am trying to claw my way back on to that wagon even though I know I might get bucked off again at any moment when it lurches from the pressure of combining paid employment, looking after the family and our house and my passion to keep up with this project.  Many friends have warned me that when I am busy back at work I will not be able to keep on cooking from scratch, I will have no time.  And sometimes I nod in resigned agreement. But when I look back at the past year since I set us this challenge I know that I have never been busier.  And when I look back at the past month I have had relatively little to do, with lots of help with the children and no paid employment or blogging demanding my attention. I have come to realise that throwing rotting food out of the fridge and into the bin is not to do with an overlong to-do list.  Relying on ready meals is not to do with being too busy.  Running out of inspiration and resorting to easy to think of and boring food cannot be blamed on running out of time.  I fell of the wagon for two reasons.  
 The worst of the waste
-2 rotten limes (60p)
-half tin baked beans that I forgot to put in the fridge and went mouldy (18p)
- 2 plaice fillets that went past their use by date and smelled, well, fishy (£4.20)
- half tin sweetcorn that sat in the back of the fridge and I had forgotten to use up (27p)
- half carton double cream which I forgot about and did not use up until it was beyond sour (75p)
- spoons and spoons of food left on plates as I relaxed our rules on eating everything up
- odds and sods of bits of cheese and crusts and bits of sandwiches from picnics that I did not think were safe to reuse given the heat


Supermarkets:      £396.40

Restaurants:       £145.80

Organic veg box:   £64.50

Total:            £606.70

Oh dear, the price we have paid for fun and carefree eating this month. We have spent double our food budget!  Meals out haven't helped, but I suspect those ready meals, buy-what-looks-good-without-a-thought-to-what-we-need-or-already-have approach to shopping, and fun items like the little boxes of naughty cereals have really dented the budget.  

Mango, monkeys and maffe: 4th-10th August

posted Aug 23, 2012, 1:15 AM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Aug 26, 2012, 2:51 AM ]

Four and a half bellies are away and will return at the end of the month.  This is a Two and a half bellies guest post dispatched to you from our man in Africa. For more Senegalese adventures check out  

Hello, it's me again, your man in Africa. Since my initial post back in February, we've seen the birth of our son and bought land that we're developing into a sustainable eco-lodge where we'll live more or less self sufficiently. Although I'm currently up to my elbows in mud bricks, straw roofs, solar power and digging wells, I still make time for discovering new West African foods, as well as adapting some European favourites to dishes I can manage on a fire, with one pot. 

Our land already has some food sources, although we're planting more.  We have mango, palms for oil and wine and several varieties of local fruits. In the past two weeks we've planted further mango, orange, mandarin, banana, cashew, guava and avacado. We wanted to get these established quickly as the monsoonal rains are just beginning. Once we've finished building a fence, to keep the goats out, we'll also start a vegetable garden. 

We also nearly caught some protein.  A local delicacy, often eaten as a bar snack, is grilled bush rat. A couple of weeks ago, as we pushed over an old rotten palm trunk, several of these were made homeless, but faced more immediate problems when three guys chased after them with machetes. This time they lived to see another day. 
Sometimes, bar snacks are less tempting than grilled rat. Although I've read a lot about "bush meat", the eating of various wild and endangered species in West and Central Africa, it was only recently that I experienced this, accidentally.  We were visiting Djembering, a mystical and picturesque village set amongst the roots of giant kapok and fromagier trees.  Fromagier trees are so named as the French use their wood to make the boxes for cheeses such as camembert.  When I ordered something to eat in a small thatched roof bar, I asked what was available and the man replied "meat". "Okay then", I replied, thinking it would be the usual goat. A plate of small charred chunks arrived with lots of small bones. It didn't taste like goat and so I asked Khady, my partner. She said she thought it was some kind of bush antelope, but would check with the bar man. He told her it was monkey. Although it was delicious, I stopped eating, not keen to eat this distant cousin.  


Budget: 15000cfa (£19)
Actual spend: 2500cfa (£31)

I had thought it would be cheaper during Ramadan, but we eat well every evening with better fish and are also feeding four builders who are staying with us.  

Chicken: the good, the bad and the unbeatable roast:29th July-3rd August

posted Aug 8, 2012, 12:15 PM by Dinner Lady

The Four and a half bellies are enjoying an Olympic staycation. This is a Two aging bellies guest blog written by Dinner Lady's mother, Gigi.  
Dinner Lady and the Four and a half bellies will return at the end of the month.

A quarter of a century ago I would make at least one trip a week to the local supermarket, often accompanied by some or all of my three healthy and lively children ranging in age from 3-12 years.  No internet ordering and delivery in those far-off days. I'd push the trolley up and down the aisles, shopping list in hand, stocking up on all the basics necessary to support ordinary family life - at the same time as keeping a beady eye on the younger generation's goings-on. By the end of each trip I'd accumulated an enormous amount of stuff in the trolley which then needed transferring to plastic bags, lugged into the car, then lugged back into the house, unpacked and sorted.

Now an occasional visit to the supermarket satisfies the needs of us two elderly grandparents, and a glimpse into my tiny trolley would reveal the delicate goodies in it - small amounts of exotic cheeses, a few rolls of bread, some fish, maybe a little pate, a few well chosen vegetables, and of course, bottled water for our fancy coffee machine and wine.  And the occasional roll of toilet paper or some other such necessity. This hardly feels like a proper shop when I think back 25 years ago, and it did take me a while to get used to such minimalist shopping.  But it seems to suffice, augmented occasionally by the random picking up somewhere of a piece of fish, maybe, or some particularly nice home-made sausages perhaps.  

So our meals are often rather haphazard.  This week, for example, we have eaten Badt-e-badt on the day we returned from holiday; Moroccan chicken from the freezer (I still tend to make too much food each time I cook); turbot from the freezer (a job lot of fish purchased at my front door from a travelling fish merchant from North Shields) and home grown spinach; gammon steaks bought on holiday from a garden centre in Norfolk; and fish fingers and cucumber.  Food gleaned here and there with not much planning involved. 

A short while ago I spent a week with the Four and a half bellies.  Dinner Lady and I planned a picnic as a summer holiday treat. I bought some plump, luscious looking chicken drumsticks from the local supermarket thinking how much fun it would be to gnaw on the bones in the local park. However, after cooking, the lovely drumsticks had morphed into mingey, scraggy-looking and unappetizing disasters. I realised that what I had actually bought was a pack of water-filled, mass generated apologies for real chicken drumsticks. No more shopping for chicken from anywhere but my beloved local family butcher in the future.  

It made me think back to when I was young and chicken was a rare treat. The thought of the smell of that real free range chicken roasting in the oven, its skin slowly turning golden and crisp, and the idea of the roast potatoes sizzling away beside it, both produce a gushing of my salivary juices. And that started me thinking about my dear mother, Dinner Lady's grandmother, who was such an amazing cook. Her forte, perhaps, was good old-fashioned plain English cooking at which she excelled.  But she was always keen to experiment and here is an unusual recipe she gave me for a chicken dish, as different as you can imagine from her bog standard but unbeatable roast chicken. Incidentally, the recipe for Chicken a la Stanley, handwritten on the back of a torn envelope, is typically vague on particulars, leaving you, the cook, to decide how best to interpret it.

Chicken a la Stanley

Melt 4 teaspoons of butter, add onions and a chicken, cut in pieces.  Cover, cook slowly for 10 minutes. Add stock and cook, covered, until meat is tender. Remove the chicken, rub the stock and onions through a sieve. Thicken with 3 tablespoons of butter and flour mixed together. Add cream. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce around the chicken pieces, garnish with bananas cut in diagonal slices and sauteed in butter.  

So I think I'll go off to the local butcher to buy the chicken.  And then I shall go to the supermarket to buy the bananas and a few other things I need for the week.  A poor excuse for a shop. These days it's only when a visit from Four and a half bellies is being planned that I feel like a real food shopper again, and I can hold my head up high as I walk the aisles with a loaded food trolley - buying all the treats I can think of for the Bellies. 

The uncle who came to tea: 14th-20th July

posted Jul 24, 2012, 1:12 PM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Jul 25, 2012, 1:19 AM ]

Once there were two little boys called Maths Geek and The Noble Knight and a little girl called Princess Baby and they were having tea with their mummy and daddy in the kitchen. Suddenly there was a ring at the door. Their mummy said "I wonder who that can be. It can't be the organic vegetable box delivery, because that came a few days ago. It can't be Nanny Poppins because she has a key. It can't be Mrs Doubtfire, because it is a Sunday and he is at home. We'd better open the door and see."  They opened the door, and there, was a tall, smiley and very excited Uncle Dada, sitting on his suitcase, all the way from New York.  Uncle Dada said, "Excuse me, but I'm very hungry and rather jet lagged. Do you think I could come and stay with you?" And everyone said "Of course, come in".  Not long after, the grandparents arrived at the doorstep, a surprise for Uncle Dada.  

And together, they ate all the tasty nibbles of crisps and taramasalata and hummus that Mummy and the boys had bought as a special treat.  They ate all the roasted lamb with onion sauce that Mummy had cooked, knowing that Uncle Dada misses the traditional Sunday roast when in the USA.  They ate all the take away Indian Curry that Dadu, the grandfather, bought as a family treat.  They ate all the birthday cake that was baked for Princess Baby's first birthday, swallowing each slice in one large gulp.   They drank all the champagne that was left chilling in the fridge and emptied Mrs Doubtfire's newly stocked wine rack.  And when they had all had just about as much fun as it is possible to have, and eaten about as many naughty meals as is wise to consume, Uncle Dada said "Thank you very much for having me to stay. I think I better go back to my family in America".  And everyone was very sad because they loved their Uncle Dada so much. But they knew they would have another family reunion another time and they hoped that the next time they saw him he would be with his wife and children and that Dinner Lady's sister would also be there to join in the fun.  
When an Uncle comes to tea, one needs to buy more than a very big tin of Uncle food. Diets, budgets, ethical living and the humdrum of ordinary life need to be thrown out of the window.  This attitude was beautifully encapsulated by my mother's innocent comment, made as we all sat around the kitchen table about to tuck into a row of far too many overflowing Indian take away cartons: "I have read somewhere that the best thing one can do to be healthy is to eat very small amounts"!


Don't know and don't care. Too busy spending time with precious relatives to be worrying about collecting receipts.  

Waste not want not

Far too much, have been very lax. The worst waste was when Mrs Doubtfire was holding Princess Baby and reaching for the chilled champagne, which dislodged an open tupperware of rice and scattered it over the floor. I was tempted to salvage it and make a soup out of it, but thought that might be taking it a little too far. 

Rebellion: 7th-13th July

posted Jul 17, 2012, 12:07 PM by Dinner Lady

We have nearly had a mutiny this week at Four and a half bellies HQ. Or at least rebellion in the ranks. On Thursday I opened the bin to put something in it and found, to my horror and disbelief, rather a lot of bread in it.  I accused the usual suspects, no one has owned up and it remains a source of irritation for me as I feel that all my control has ended up with the bread. 

I have worked really hard to ensure that healthy(ish) meals, cooked from scratch (subject to certain redefinitions in Ready Meals) have arrived at the right time to the right people on our family kitchen table.  This is despite spending most of the working week out in paid employment or writing this blog.  To achieve this I have either stayed up late cooking several days worth of food in one evening (see Tuesday night, where I cooked a record four meals) or delegated the chore out to a willing volunteer (Mrs Doubtfire was nominated, being the only other person in the family at the moment who is capable of working the cooker safely).   By Wednesday night I was left feeling that I had a choice of either running myself into the ground, or delegating more often. I have chosen to delegate. But there I have another choice. I can mourn the extra waste that ends up in the bin when Mrs Doubtfire either attacks the job of chopping the veggies with less finesse than a grizzly bear might or decides to purge the bread bin, the fruit bowl and the left overs shelf (what, I wonder, will happen to me when I start to wilt and wrinkle?); I can tut when the kitchen floor and hob end up dirtier than they were to start with; and I can moan about the extra washing up when pretty much every utensil is used in the process. But that would be ungrateful and spoilt, and so I have worked really hard to appreciate a husband who has jumped to my side when he was called upon and served up several delicious, home cooked meals.  After all, he is out of practice, and I don't think I would have done nearly as good a job had I volunteered to take on his role at his work place.  
I have to confess now, that I have also rebelled against the Rules and Regulations somewhat.  In no way have we stuck to budget. After our supermarket blow out last week, it is clear that there is no way we will stick to budget this month. This has led to my "two fingers up at the budget" attitude this week.  Finding the bread in the bin has left me wondering how much else is ending up there without my knowledge and wondering, frankly, why I make such an effort when the efforts aren't shared by us all.  By Thursday I spent the day lusting after a steak so badly, that I dispatched Mrs Doutfire, who was working from home, to buy the said offending and very unethical items.  I am not pregnant, and so can only presume that my preoccupation with red meat stems from a need in my body to gobble up missing nutrients. It is exhausting trying to be good. 

Waste not want not

I don't feel it is fair to list this week, as I don't think it would be a fair reflection on what might have ended up there. I have thrown away a few ends of crusts and a few tsp of food off PB's plate each meal.  


Again, I feel I have lost control and have bought so many small bits and bobs, delegated some of the shopping and have forgotten to keep a record of it all.  Certainly we have spent more than £70.  

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