Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Going fridge-free was easy - now I'm cooking without gas and electricity

Snuggling in the sitting hammock.
Albie is hiding his face in my elbow;
he likes it dark when he's snoozing!

I've been living without a fridge for almost 8 months now. Even before I got my driving licence and car, it was easy. Surprisingly easy. I just switched off the fridge and stopped thinking about it.

Lately I have been trying to figure out a meal plan and a food budget that I can stick to. I'm not great with routines, but as I will be living on the road soon, I think it is important to come up with a routine that will help me keep the finances under control. Being a minimalist, food is one of the few things I find myself spending money on, so having a budget makes sense.

Using the brilliant cookbook 5 ingredients 10 minutes by Jules Clancy of Stonesoup fame, I came up with eight delicious, easy, quick yet inexpensive dinners for my meal plan. Why eight?, you ask. Well, it just made sense that way. It means I will be going shopping every four days, which shouldn't give any of my fruit and veg time to go off before I've had a chance to eat it! ;o) So I was all set for dinners. I'm not much of a breakfast person, so I decided to have an apple and some brazil nuts in the morning, followed by a yummy chia seed porridge/pudding for lunch. The chia porridge contains lots of seeds, bee pollen and a banana, and it is a bit expensive but as it is packed with protein it is well worth the investment. I found that if I buy the chia seeds in bulk (3 kg bags), the price of my lunch drops to a fairly frugal £1.31 per day.

Knowing myself fairly well by now, I also budgeted for a little nakd bar treat and some yummy tea as a snack every evening. I hoped that would help me stick to my plan and stop me from looting the chocolate shelves by the tills when I go shopping... ;o)

With a bit of work, I managed to get my monthly food budget under £150, even though I buy organic whenever possible. I duly patted myself on the back and looked forward to testing it out in practice.

However, after a few weeks of following this meal plan (which worked a treat, by the way!), I realised that I would be better off coming up with a plan that doesn't rely on gas and electricity - that way, it will be easier for me to wild camp, which will keep campsite fees down, and I don't have to deal with having gas in the vehicle, figuring out which adapters work in which countries, etc. I've never been comfortable cooking with gas, I guess it's because I grew up in Norway where we always cook with electricity (we export our natural gas to Britain!). So I decided to see if I could revise my meal plan and food budget, simplify my life further and make my kitchen gas and leckie-trissie-free (apart from the kettle and lighting in the evening, that is. I've been dishwasher-free since the machine broke down about a year ago.). It didn't actually require too much tweaking, and I managed to come up with a budget that was just over £145 per month! And after looking into Thermos cooking, I found that I can still have cooked quinoa if I should fancy it (I have a small 12-volt camping kettle that can be run off the car battery, so I will have access to hot water). Cue more patting of self on back... that is, until I suddenly had the idea of checking how much calcium I get from my diet.

The horizon just after sunset yesterday.

I can't even remember where the thought came from, but I am very glad that it decided to pop into my head! As it turned out, I wasn't even meeting half my calcium requirement per day - in fact, I was just getting a little over a third, despite taking a calcium supplement! This would explain a LOT, so I got to work revising my meal plan and food budget for the third time, this time to make sure that I get at least 8,000 mg of calcium over the 8-day period. Turns out calcium is difficult to come by when you're a vegetarian (borderline vegan) who isn't too fond of your greens - and calcium sources that don't need refrigerating are very expensive!

I spent most of the bank holiday Monday indoors, despite the glorious weather, trying to find calcium sources I could incorporate into my diet without totally blowing my budget. As much as I wanted to enjoy the sunshine (vitamin D from the sun is important for calcium uptake in the body, among other things), I knew this issue needed to be dealt with and the sooner the better, as I realised I already have some minor symptoms of calcium deficiency (such as random cramps and tingling, something I have never experienced before). I took a break to take the dogs for a sunset walk up on the common, and continued my research when I got home.

Albiepops snuffling away in the forest.
After a few more hours in front of the computer, I was starting to get somewhere. I e-mailed the producer of my calcium supplement and found that I could take almost four times the recommended dose on the bottle. That helped. I added 50g of almonds to my breakfast. That helped. I added 2 litres of orange juice to my budget - to be drunk on the day of purchase as I won't have a refrigerator in my van. That helped a little, too. But I was still coming up short. Then I decided to substitute the honey in my chia porridge with a tablespoon of organic blackstrap molasses. That helped a lot, although I don't know if it will actually work. I've never tried it before, and reports on the internet are confusing as to how it tastes. But I was still coming up short! So I added another tablespoon of blackstrap molasses to be mixed with hot water and drunk instead of my evening tea. Yet I was still coming up short. At this point I was feeling very grateful that I had decided to look into how much calcium I was getting, because clearly if this had continued for much longer, I would be in serious trouble!! I considered adding some yoghurt that I could eat right after purchase, but I love cows way too much for that. My chia porridge is already full of seeds, and I don't want to eat just nuts, seeds, beans and herbs all day long... So in the end, I added a bit more blackstrap molasses. This means I shall have to take two tablespoons and one teaspoon of blackstrap molasses every day. I have no idea how I'm going to get on with that, but I hope it will work out for me. At least blackstrap molasses is low GI and as an added bonus it is high in magnesium and iron, as well as in copper, manganese, potassium, folic acid, B vitamins and zinc.

If it doesn't work, my meal plan and food budget will just have to be tweaked again. But for now, after adding the blackstrap molasses and getting rid of all the random foods that are high-ish in calcium but cost a fortune and won't incorporate into the meals I'm actually eating, I have managed to get my food budget down to just under £155 per month. For a while there it was nearly £200, so I'm fairly happy about this. I've had to cut out the nakd bars and my favourite tea, but drinking blackstrap molasses as a tea should hopefully be enough to satisfy my sweet tooth! 

It was a bit of a shock to realise just how little calcium I have been getting lately. If you're not consuming lots of dairy, I would strongly recommend that you have an in-depth look at how much you're getting as well. It was time-consuming and involved a lot of maths, but considering the positive impact it will have on my long-term health it was more than worth it! One website that was really helpful to me is NutritionData, so that's a good place to start. Now I just need to order a jar of blackstrap molasses and find out if I can stomach the taste... ;o)