Live Below the Line: Eating on $1.50 a day

 

 

Live Below the Line
Is it possible to eat healthily on $1.50 a day for 5 days?

The Challenge:

My sister Johanna texted me a few weeks ago, ‘I want to do Live Below the Line but you have to help me do it healthily’.  I’m always up for a challenge and I love my sister so of course I said yes, but I also love what the Live Below the Line campaign is doing worldwide to raise awareness of extreme poverty.  Their idea is that to fight poverty you have to understand it, so they are challenging people to live for 5 days eating and drinking for just $1.50 a day.  Yes, that’s just $7.50 for the week and yes, it’s tough.

Live Below the Line

The Shopping List:

Most of the people I’ve seen do the challenge will understandably turn to white rice, cheap bread, packet soup, noodles and foods like that.  Those foods make it much easier but we wanted to see if it can be done at all healthily so I set out to build my sister a meal plan.  Armed with a calculator and a basket (no need for a cart when you’re working with $7.50) I embarked on a frugal shopping trip at our local store.

Basically, you can bypass the produce section; too expensive. I took one banana and one carrot per day, an onion for the week, and moved on.  A few staples from the bulk section brought me the bulk of the calories for the week: brown rice, oats and lentils and as to not eat completely bland food, the next few dollars went on a few things for flavor: soy sauce, garlic salt and tomato puree. Usually our nut butters are homemade but I didn’t want to require a blender so I added some peanut butter to my cart spice up breakfast and snacking, a dozen eggs for protein (don’t even think about free range), and finally with the last few cents, 3 tbsp chocolate chips! Done! This is what $7.50′s worth of food looks like when you stretch it.

5 Bananas: $0.79
5 Carrots: $0.55
Onion: $0.36 
Whole Oats: $0.53
Lentils: $0.83
Brown Rice: $0.64
Peanut butter: $0.61
Garlic Salt: $0.08
Tomato paste: $0.48
Soy sauce: $1.48/$0.74 (1/2 bottle)
A dozen eggs: $1.86
3 tbsp chocolate chips: $0.24
GRAND TOTAL $7.53

Live Below the Line

The Meal Plan:

I came home and sat everything on the table and planned it out, then divided it up between days and came up with a meal plan (you can find it at the start of each day’s journal entry).  It’s very simple and you’re not going to be eating diverse hugely flavorful food, but with a combination of oatmeal, bananas, and simple pancakes for breakfast and lots of lentils, rice and egg fried rice combinations for lunch and dinner, it’s possible.  We even managed to sneak in some 3 ingredient chocolate chip cookies at the end of the week!

The Diary:

So is it actually possible to feel healthy on $1.50 a day? My sister Johanna, a photographer and social media manager in New York City, test drove our meal plan for the 5 days and told us what she thought!  With some extra hungry gym trips, brown rice fatigue, cravings, and a few cooking mishaps, below are her fun journal entries from each day.

Day 1: A hungry gym trip and happy lentils

Day 2: Cravings and failings

Day 3: Burned rice and reality 

Day 4: Pancake Day

Day 5: Cookies and a round up

 

Live Below the Line

 

 

 

Lavender Loving

Lavender Lemon Bars, Lavender coconut milk and Lavender Lattes

paleo lemon bars

If you’ve been following our produce box journey you’ll know I’m overexcited about my produce box each week and I’ve been making myself use all of whatever local goodness it brings.  Mostly that’s ok but one thing in ten is a curveball (thank you google for saving me, what on earth is marjoram?!).  This week’s challenging item was lavender.  Smells amazing, looks pretty, makes nice lavender bags, but cook with it… nope, no idea.  I read around to see what other people do with it and it seems so work well in a lot of things.  Being in a more vegan state right now I didn’t want to use it on meat, which meant a dessert.  I mentioned lemon bars to Jared and his face told me we’d be making those.  The tart lemon with a little hint of lavender worked well, a definite hit and a second batch came very soon after the first.  Then a coffee shop owner friend told me a lavender latte was their most popular drink, great idea. I didn’t have almonds for almond milk but I used coconut flakes and made lavender coconut milk which turned into a heeeavenly latte.

paleo lemon bars

Paleo Lemon Bars

Crust:
1/3 cup coconut butter
1 1/2 cups almond meal
2 tbs raw honey
1/2 teaspoon lavender

For the Filling:
2 large eggs and an extra yolks
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (I used 3 lemons)
1/4 tsp lavender, crushed.

Pulse the crust ingredients in a blender until they just come together then press into a 7×7 pan lined with greased foil.

Prick it with a fork and bake at 325 for 15 mins or until it begins to brown.

While it bakes whisk together the eggs and the honey then add in the other ingredients and whisk well until combined.  Pour it over the warm crust and continue to bake but at 350F for 30 minutes, until the lemon layer is just set.  Leave it to cool in the pan and on a rack then slice it and store in the fridge. It will further set in the fridge.

Lavender Coconut Milk

lavender coconut milk

You’ll need:

2 cups organic coconut flakes
1 tbsp raw honey
1/2 tsp lavender
4 cups boiling water
Nut milk bag

Pour the boiling water on the coconut flakes and let it stand for 30 minutes.  Pour the whole lot in the blender, add the lavender and honey and blend well for a few minutes.  Pour the blended mix through a nut milk bag over a bowl and then transfer into a sealed glass jar to store in the fridge.  It’s amazing and refreshing cold, it’s divine in a latte too and this morning we blended it with frozen fruit to make ice cream – yum!

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Butter-less Butter Chicken

 

Butter chicken

 

From my first visit to India as an excited 14 year old, I’ve been a huge lover of Indian food.  Both times I went I was vegetarian/vegan and I loved that you can eat there in abundance with so much flavor and excitement in food and never miss the meat.  A good curry in Balham is always one of my first stops on arriving back in London.  When we met Jared had never tried Indian food and well into the first year of being married he was more than happy to let me get my ‘foreign food fix’ without him.  Then one day, the kind selfless man took me on a date to our local Indian restaurant and (thankfully) fell in love with it himself.  Actually I think mostly he just fell in love with butter chicken, but that works for me.

So one day I thought I’d be a great wife and recreate it at home.  It was only after promising it to my happy husband that I discovered our local store doesn’t carry the spice blends Butter Chicken needs and I ended up with 25 little bags from the bulk section, painstakingly making the blends myself.  Way too much work.  They are now my request for anyone coming from England. (They’re also easy to find in larger grocery stores and on Amazon here and here. Phew.)

Looking at a recipe I was amazed by how much butter and heavy cream it’s possible to cram into one dish! I wanted to try and clean it up a bit so I experimented with less and less butter and we’ve now moved over to this ‘butter-less butter chicken’.  It is coconut based, fairly simple to make and has a more balanced fat content than the original (I’m not anti fat or butter but I’m still not sure a dish should be 75% butter and heavy cream) – and it’s still amazingly delicious and passes the husband test.  I’m currently snacking on it cold as leftovers from the fridge as I blog.  Still amazing.

 

Butter chicken

For two people:

1/2 pound chicken thighs (or breast but I do thighs for price)

4 tbsp coconut oil (or organic grass fed butter)

1/2 onion, grated

2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 can tomato sauce

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

Salt to taste

A pinch of cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 tbsp tandoori masala

Cook the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp coconut oil until soft.  Into the pan add the coconut milk and tomato sauce with the garam masala, cayenne pepper, salt and remaining coconut oil and simmer on a low heat.  While that is simmering, cut the chicken into cubes and coat with the tandoori masala, then bake it on a baking sheet at 350F for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.  Once it’s done, add the chicken into the tomato sauce, mix and continue simmering for about 5 minutes.  Jared has his with brown rice and I eat it with salad, or in my fingers cold from the fridge, naturally.

*I like to make a few meals worth and freeze it for easy meals on more rushed days or I’ll make enough for a lunch the next day too.

*You can also add in veggies or remove the chicken completely, just treat the veggies as the chicken and bake them with the garam masala and a little coconut oil for a vegan option! 

 

Plum Fool Ice Cream (Dairy Free)

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetMy grandparents’ home was my second home growing up.  We spent all our holidays there, a glorious big pile of cousins, beds in every room, dogs, aunts and uncles, newspapers, tennis matches, glorious long meals, more long meals, sherry before dinner, ‘who want’s coffee’ at the end of dinner, dog walks rain or shine, horse riding, beach bonfires… some of my happiest childhood memories are in that home.

My hero of a grandmother raised 5 children on a very tight budget so she made use of everything that grew around them.  The house had two orchards and many hedgerows and she would bottle and freeze apples, plums, blackberries and damsons for weeks ato eat year round.  It was a habit that never left and still we pick fruit, peel apples for hours and have massive blackberry picking outings, trotting out with various kitchen receptacles, dressed in long sleeves and trousers to allow for deep in the bush foraging, and armed with walking sticks to hook branches down.  We have it down.   Using up that fruit year round you have to get creative and she would do all kinds of things with it – two of the staple favorites were apple crumble and plum fool.   To preserve the fruit it would all get stewed and then ‘fool’ meant it was pureed and folded into stiff whipped cream.  Slightly sweet but still tart, light and full of air but still decadent from the heavy cream… it’s wonderful.  Having dug my ice cream maker out of hibernation last week I knew that something in this week’s produce box was destined to become ice cream!  When I saw plums I thought I plum fool, so that’s what we did.  A slightly sweet ice cream made with coconut milk and a little honey.  It’s not heavy on the fruit so it stays creamy but there’s enough to bring a summery feel and the wonderful plum tartness.  This recipe works with any stone fruit, last week I did it with nectarines and it was wonderful too.

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2 cups plums or any other stone fruit

1 can heavy coconut cream

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup honey plus 1 tbsp

4 egg yolks

Start by cutting the plums in half and placing them in a skillet on a medium low heat with a drizzle of honey, put a lid on and let them stew down until they are completely  soft, about 20 minutes.  Then take the lid of and let the liquid reduce down a little.  You can leave them gently reducing, while you do two things.

First empty the can of coconut cream into a second skillet or heavy based saucepan and heat on a medium heat stirring a few times until it begins to foam a little.  While that is heating (it will take about 5 minutes) take the yolks of 4 eggs and add in 1/4 cup honey.  Beating them well with an electric hand mixer until they are combined and fluffy.  Now to put it together.

Stir your reduced fruit into the coconut cream skillet and then once combined, with the beater running, pour that whole mixture into the egg/honey mix. Beat for 30 seconds once it’s all added and then pour it all back into the hot skillet but this time with the burner off.  The skillet should have enough heat to thicken it into a custard without over cooking.  Continue stirring for a few minutes until the mixture will coat the back of the spoon and leave a clean line when you run a finger through it (see picture).

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Let the mixture chill in the fridge for a few hours until completely cold and then pour it into an ice cream maker.  You can either eat it soft out of the ice cream maker or transfer it to a container and freeze it until solid.

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If granny was here, she would serve it to you with heavy cream on top, and make you have seconds.

Paleo Chocolate Torte with Chocolate Ganache

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Long meals are my love language.

Life is often shaped in such a way that we can’t sit down and take time to stop for every meal but I do  think that our need to eat is a gift to make us take time at regular points in our busy schedules.  Time to breathe, to rest and to enjoy time with people.  Food is only half what it’s meant to be if we eat it alone.

If you follow my instagram you’ll know that the last few weeks have been full.  I’ve been running on less sleep and regular trips to my favourite coffee shops have kept me smiling.  Well, we made it.  The school year is over and I’ve had a few glorious slow days.  Selah.

To celebrate the end of the year, our team and our other halves drove up to a cabin on a little mountain top and had a gorgeous evening together sunbathing, hot tubbing, enjoying a long dinner, and time around the fire pit.  With my love of long, shared meals and belief instilled from my childhood that every real meal ends in coffee and chocolate, I was not going to let it go easily when my boss suggested that dessert wasn’t needed.  I politely told him I would bring the dessert and I commandeered a few of our guys to do coffee.  A sweet couple catered an exquisite dinner for us and we ate overlooking the lake, it was perfect.  They made an incredible spinach and walnut salad with a sweet maple syrup dressing that was to die for, a grain free white sauce (for pasta but I left the pasta) thickened with egg yolks from their own hens… oh my goodness… delicious.

And to finish?  Chocolate, of course.  And coffee. Our guys made coffee to perfection.  17g of hand ground freshly roasted coffee in an aeropress, the right amount of water, heat, time… they make it a science.  And I made this dark chocolate torte.  It was the perfect combination.  Just add in the perfect summer evening weather, the pink setting sun, views of the lake from a mountain top, my husband, and the best colleagues in the world.  My heart was happy.

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For the Torte

1 bar 100% dark chocolate (4oz)

1 cup freshly ground (or gently melted) coconut butter

1/3 cup good cocoa

3 eggs

pinch salt

3/4 cup honey

For the ganache

1/2 cup melted coconut oil

1/3 cup good cocoa

3 tbsp maple syrup

a good pinch of coarse sea salt for the top

Cocoa to dust

Bake 25 mins at 375F

You’ll need one 8″ springform tin lined with parchment paper on the bottom.  If you don’t have a springform pan, line the sides too for easy removal.  You can alter the size of the tin, I’ve made it in bigger and small, you will just end up with a different thickness of cake and need to adjust the cooking time by a few minutes accordingly.

Place a heatproof glass bowl over a pan of simmering water.  You don’t want the bowl touching the water. (I recently cracked my one glass bowl so I put a small frying pan over another pan. Ghetto, but it worked).  Break up the chocolate and place it in the bowl with the coconut butter and stir until the chocolate is almost melted.  Now take the bowl off the heat and continue stirring until it’s completely melted. This starts to cool the mixture so it doesn’t cook the eggs.

In a separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, eggs, salt and honey until completely combined and then add the melted chocolate mixture in and stir well to combine.

Pour into the prepared tin bake in an oven preheated to 350F for 2o mins.  Then check and give it another 5 minutes if it needs.  You want the outside edge to be firm and springy and the center to be cooked but not baked to the springy-to-the-touch stage.  As it cools it will set up a bit more and the wonder of this torte is that it is dense and rich and not light and fluffy like a regular cake so you want to keep the center moist.

For the ganache: Melt the coconut oil and whisk in the cocoa and maple syrup.  You can use honey but personally I prefer to cut the honey taste for the ganache.  Let it cool until it thickens slightly, don’t put it in the fridge as it will go solid but at room temperature it will thicken a little.  Then pour it over the torte until it’s just running over the edges.  It’s a rich dessert, this quantity will easily feed 10-12.  We ate it alone with coffee but it would be great with berries, or whipped coconut cream.  Chocolate torte

 

Enjoying the view :)

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Paleo chocolate chip cookiesGrowing up we had a shelf of cookbooks under my Mum’s desk in our family kitchen. Out of all the thousands of recipes, we only actually used the books for about 6 things: Carrot cake from a white book with a panda on the front, lamb koftas from an Indian one, Christmas cake, brownies, a tabouleh salad by Delia Smith, and from a small, well worn American cook book with a beaten up pale yellow cover, Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies.  There’s never a need to use the index for any of those recipes, the necessary pages are all a little crispy with cake-mix-covered-finger smears and tell tale signs of much loved, much indulged in, recipes.

I don’t know why it’s taken me two years of marriage to experiment with the chocolate chip cookie, and I’m equally unsure why it then occurred to me on a 30 minute lunch break on my way to a work party this week, but it turned out well.  40 hot cookies disappeared very quickly and I then realized I’d thrown things in a bowl and not remembered the recipe (a habit I need to change).  So I went in for round #2 the next day and left them for my parents in law and husband while I was at work.  Those little babies passed the test, the husband test, the father in law test, and the people-who-don’t-like-healthy-food test.  There are lots of paleo choc chip cookie recipes out there so this is nothing new but I wanted a simple one that used the ingredients I tend to have in my kitchen, so here you go.

Paleo chocolate chips cookies

1/3 cup coconut butter

3/4 cup honey

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 cups nut meal (I used almond)

pinch salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp coconut flour

1/2 cup (or more!!) clean chocolate chips

Mix together the coconut butter and honey until completely combined and then add in the egg and vanilla.  Mx the nut meal, salt, making soda, coconut flour and cinnamon in a separate bowl and then add in to the wet mix.  Finally stir in the chocolate chips.  Set the mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes then preheat the oven to 350F.  Cover a baking sheet in parchment paper and then use a 2 tbsp cookie scoop or two spoons to make golf ball sized cookies.  Bake for 12 mins then let them cool before moving them, they will harden up as they cool.  Keep them stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days but preferably enjoy them warm before that!!

 

paleo chocolate chips

 

You can use your own chocolate chips or homemade, if you buy them try to go as dark as possible for a lower sugar content – sometimes that’s easier to find in bar form so just chop it into chunks.  I like to make my own with 1/2 cup coconut butter, 1/4 cup cocoa and 2 tbsp honey.

Indulging in freedom

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People often ask me, ‘What does it look like for you to indulge? Do you ever just crave fast food?’

 

I don’t eat fast food. It’s not an admirable feat though or the result of much self control, I’ve just never craved it. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t grow up on it, I don’t know but I do indulge in other ways. This last week in England was a week of liberal indulgence so as I fly home I thought I’d give you some of my thoughts. Oh and I’m also finishing up a jar of chocolate sprouted almond butter as I type, with a spoon. Indulgence #46823 of the trip.

 

Whatever I eat, I always want to make food fun and happy; eating is about so much more than just filling my stomach to stay alive and I like it to be a joyful moment. I also want to love my body well. I want to be free to eat, to indulge when I want and when I do, to know that what I eat still loves my body. I want to know that I’m filling myself with great healthy ingredients that I can enjoy in the moment, and which I won’t regret eating afterwards. That means that for me indulgence isn’t sporadically choosing to eat something I consider ‘bad’ such as fast food, but rather letting myself enjoy foods on occasion that I fully love putting in my body but wouldn’t choose to center my diet on every day. I think it’s important to have times where we let go, but in letting go I want to think about my whole life not just the moment. I want freedom with food that is truly free. To me, it’s not worth it to eat something that tastes great during the meal and then makes me feel not so great or that on reflection I’ll wish I hadn’t put in my body. So I choose my indulgences and then enjoy them wholeheartedly.

 

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At home, although I make a lot of desserts, few of them end up on my plate. They are mostly for events, friends, made on request or for my husband. I like to keep my sugar intake low even if it’s unrefined but this week I let that go. Royally. That doesn’t mean I sat and devoured entire cakes without thinking – that would only be fun while eating and way less fun after. I’ve learned that that’s not worth it to me. Instead, I chose how to indulge and then did it with true freedom and loved it with no guilt, regret or need to hit the gym to be able to feel good again. I don’t think freedom is doing whatever you think you want whenever you want. I think real freedom is having the strength and wisdom to look at your life as a whole and think about what you want to accomplish and who you want to be. Then it is having the ability to accomplish that without restraint. If I see a brownie and want to avoid it but look at it a second time, give in, and grab it, I don’t think that’s freedom. Wanting to say no and then following through and not eating it might look like a lack of freedom but I think it’s actually the person who wants to say no to the cookie but takes it anyway, who isn’t free. The cookie had a hold on that person; I want to be a person free from the hold of food. So I choose what I eat out of freedom; I eat what I want, when I want. I just know that ‘want’ is a word spanning more than this single moment of time. And remember, it’s a journey. I haven’t always had that resolve. Along the way in my journey with food I’ve learned how I feel best, so please don’t beat yourself up if you say yes to the cookie when you didn’t mean to. It’s ok.

 

Letting go this week meant I ate a lot of dessert. We had copious amounts in the house and I let myself enjoy it. All of it was ‘clean’ in my book: sweetened with raw honey or dates, nothing refined, all homemade nut flours, organic eggs, organic coconut butter, organic fair-trade cocoa… so nothing was off limits. Even that good clean dessert doesn’t feature much in my everyday diet though where most of my meals are based on fruits and vegetables, beans, a few grains, nuts, seeds, good meats and fish but I let this week be different. London. 10 days. Vacation.

 

Like I said, vacation doesn’t mean I throw out all wisdom, stop loving my body and pay for it afterwards, but I do let myself go a bit. I’m ok eating dessert every day, perhaps twice. I’m ok having a cup of coffee, and then another one, and sometimes another. I’m ok indulging in a late night slice of paleo chocolate birthday cake with my brother. I’m ok going to pick up raw dessert slices to go for dinner and actually tucking in right there at the bar in the restaurant with my parents… and still getting extras for dinner! I’m ok sitting with that dessert selection in front of me and eating more than I normally would knowing it’s good food and that I’m free. I’m more than ok with it, I did it all on purpose, with joy, and zero regret. Then I’ll hit the gym again when I’m home. I don’t put in extra minutes on the treadmill to feel good about myself again, or out of punishment for indulging or with a sigh of regret… no, I go because I love it and I love me.

 

And food aside, perhaps the biggest indulgence of the trip for me was actually one with no calories, sugar or cash value. More than any of the culinary indulgence, I loved the time to stop and enjoy the small things in life, the time to be spontaneous, to sleep, to be, to say yes to anything, to breathe out and relax.

 

So in answer to the question of what it looks like for me to indulge, right now it’s probably a huge salad, a gorgeous raw dessert, a cup (or two) of really good coffee and an unending amount of time to enjoy it with someone I love.  As often seems to happen on the back of one trip, I’m finding myself at my laptop planning the next one! Next up, a little weekend getaway where we’ll be combining all of those things we love. Watch out for #TWFDgoestoSanFrancisco in a few weeks time and in the meantime, indulge thoughtfully, eat with freedom, rest, take time and love yourself.

 

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