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Don’t Throw That Away! An A-Z of leftovers, tired veg, etc and what to do with them.

This piece started after an article in the Independent about the top 10 foods that we apparently throw away in the UK. I took to Twitter to ask people what usually ended up in their bin, and then spent a whole day and night answering hundreds of queries – some of them came up a lot, like bread and mushrooms, and some were rathee more surprising, like ‘half a jar of caviar’ (not a problem I can say I have ever had, but I am here to help, and inverse snobbery is as ghastly as the original kind so please, resist the urge.)

I have compiled them all here as an A-Z, and will keep this list going, and add to it regularly, as a handy reference point – so keep checking back! And add your own tips at the bottom, our ‘hive mind’ is a much better thing than my admittedly limited experience!!

Also remember you can always use the search bar on the blog to find recipe ideas too, for that stray carrot, half a tin of pulses or bargain bag of oats…

As ever, I would love this to be shared far and wide as I have designed it to be useful, but please bear in mind it has been about 14 hours unpaid work so please don’t just nick it – link to it or credit, and if you are a profit-making site or news organisation get in touch and we’ll sort something out, coz I’m happy to help individuals – it’s what I do – but if you’re a big fish gonna make money out of me it’s probably fair to pay me too. Friendly little prod. If you suspect this is about you then it probably is, HuffPo, Daily Mail, I’m looking at you.

ON WITH THE SHOW.

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A.
Almonds: Blitz into a pesto with greens, garlic, lemon, oil and salt. Cook with sugar and spices. Make almond milk. Cook into a passanda. Toss through salad. Chop and add oats and sugar and bake in granola.

Apples: Sweeter apples make a great apple butter, there are lots of recipes available online for it. Stew them until soft and use as a vegan egg replacer in cakes. Dried apples are good too, slice and bake in the bottom of the oven to dry out then store in a jar for a few months.

Aubergines: Baba ghanoush, aubergine curry, miso aubs, aub and kidney bean burgers, roast aub soup, aub and lentil pasta sauce…

Avocado (bruised/freckly): Some brown bruised bits are fine, use your judgement. Excellent mashed in guacamole with lots of lemon or lime, you won’t even see the bruises by the time it’s all thumped together.

B.
Baking powder: Lost its fizz? You can use it to clean things with, like stubborn pots, the oven, whites in the machine, etc. Some folks clean their teeth with it (!), others their microwaves. Horses for courses I guess!

Bananas: Dry them, mash and freze them, make banana pancakes, banana muffins, banana bread, mix with oats and bake for banana granola, lob in a smoothie with oats and milk for a morning power breakfast…

Banana skins: Tape to the bottom of your foot for verrucas like my mum used to. (Hey, it worked). Other suggestions on Twitter included using them to extract splinters, and drying them out to make shoes. Yes really.

Beansprouts: Easy to freeze! Just freeze half when you get a bag so they stay at their best. Can be cooked from frozen in a hot pan so heck, freeze them all.

Beetroot: Pickle them, freeze them, juice them, soup them, crisp them, falafel them, burger them, roast them, bake them into a cake, grate into a magical looking slaw, and for the really wrinkly ones boil them in a pan of rice or pasta to turn it pink and surprise the kids (or yourself).

Blueberries: Freeze them when you get them, anything they work in they’ll work in frozen as they’re so tiiiny. Bake in pancakes and muffins. Dry out in the bottom of a warm oven and snack on. Snack on them frozen, come to that!

Bok choy: Separate it from the base, wash and freeze it. High water content in the stalk means it freezes well. Use in soups and stir fries from frozen.

Bread: Roux, cheese, break up bread, stir, dish, cheese top, bake. Mac-n-cheese/bread pud hybrid would be IMMENSE. Do it! Also freeze half the loaf when you buy it so it stays in good nick. Use for toast, pappa al pomodoro, bread pudding, breadcrumbs, bread sauce, etc.

Broccoli: If it’s losing its colour it’s also losing its goodness, so act quickly. Blanch it and freeze it to use later. Blitz raw in a blender and add to salad, or blanch and cool and make a pesto by adding lemon, garlic, oil, nuts or seeds. Pesto can be frozen and used later, or kept in the fridge for around a week. There’s always broccoli soup, too!

Broccoli stems: Slice and stir fry, or make a great soup. Fry for a few mins to start them off for a better flavour. Gorgeous cooked until soft with crushed garlic, salt, lemon and chilli as a side dish, too.

Butternut squash: See ‘squash’

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C.
Cabbage: Pickle it! Slice thin, boil in water with 1 tsp each sugar and salt. Jar, Add vinegar, fridge, enjoy.

Cake (stale): Make a basic semi freddo, (recipe on my blog), crumble pud, fold through, freeze, enjoy all year. Make cake pops. Slice and make a trifle or tiramisu.

Caraway seeds: Fry them and store in oil to infuse and keep in the fridge. Add to sugar and infuse for bakes. Breads. Biscuits. Toast and use to top salads. Add to rice when cooking to accompany curries.

Carrots: Grate or julienne, and pickle them. Especially delicious with indian spices, garlic, white wine vinegar, mustard seed, and salt. Oof. Also ribbon with a veg peeler and toss through pasta.

Cauliflower: Blitz raw into tabbouleh. Roast with turmeric. Ottolenghi has some wicked ways with cauli, he’s my brassica hero, so look up his Guardian recipes and ignore any fancy ingredients if you don’t have them.

Celeriac: Roast for soup, make a celeriac dauphinoise, grate into slaw, dice and fold through mac n cheese…

Celery (leaves): Pop in water in the fridge to infuse for a very yummy drink, or blitz into pesto, or add to juices and smoothies.

Celery (wilting): Soak it in cold water overnight to refresh it then roast it and blitz with spuds and stock for a gorgeous soup.

Cereals (gone soft): Most can be rescued but there will be some exceptions. Shake them onto a baking tray, bake at 140C for about 20 mins, let cool, and they should be good as new. If not, make them into crispie cakes or rocky road or fridge cake, and scour poundshops for decent cereal-storage containers so it doesn’t happen again!

Chard: I am obsessed with chard. Massage with oil and salt and lemon to soften it, top a pizza, make salad, pesto, drop it into soups, make a saag aloo, and use the stalks like celery.

Cheese: Cheese can be frozen but it goes a bit crumbly, so grate it and use from frozen for best results.

Clementines: See ‘Satsumas’

Condensed milk: Amazing in a risotto base or carbonara but temper with something sharp like lots of lemon to balance. Dollop into strong coffee. Make fudge or extra-rich caramel sauce or Scottish tablet.

Coriander: Just freeze it or dry it when you get it, and use it like that. Much simpler than finding it soggy in the fridge.

Cottage cheese: You can freeze it because of sloshy texture. Just defrost in the fridge overnight before use. Or lob in an omelette.

Courgettes: Can be made into fritters, ratatouille, roasted for soup or pasta sauce, chips, battered and deep fried, pickled, and someone has a very popular courgette gratin recipe…!

Cucumber (soft): If it isn’t actually slimy, slice and freeze to add to water or gin/vodka based drinks. If it’s too squashy it’s beyond help this time, but generally the exposed end wastes first, so cut a bit off then give it a prod to see how gar down the damage goes. Or pickle it in white wine vinegar with salt and mustard and fennel seeds.

D.

E.

F.

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G.
Garlic (dried up): Excellent. Pop it in a jar, and you have yourself some dried garlic. Use in anything slow cooked, like soup, stocks, curries, casseroles, stews.

Garlic (sprouting): Pop it somewhere sunny and let it grow, if you’re curious. The green shoots are delicious lightly fried – like a cross between garlic and a tender spring onion. Use cooked to top soup, in soup, in hummus (again, cook it first), stir fried, but make sure you cook it. Raw sprouted anything can cause serious stomach upsets and worse for lots of reasons too gross to go into here. I’m not in the business of scaremongering but I’ve had raw sprouted stuff twice in my life and both times I was horribly sick for days. So cook them. Please. The raw garlic shoots you buy in fancy shops are a kind of chive, not grown like this.

H.
Herbs: Freeze or dry the other half and use later on. Stalks can be blitzed with oil + lemon for salad dressings, keep in the fridge and use within a week.

Hummus: Makes an excellent pasta sauce hot or cold with veggies. Or mix with mac n cheese. Or top pizza with it as a vegan alternative to cheese. Have it on toast, too, it’s yummy melting into a slice of warm toast…

I

J.

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K:
Kale: Kale pesto, or wash and freeze it to use later. Good in soups (I have a kale and barley recipe) and curries, and saag aloo. I drop it into pasta sauces and casseroles blitzed into tiny pieces too.

Ketchup: Use it in place of tomato puree in most recipes. Can be frozen in an ice cube tray and used from frozen in soups, stews and casseroles, too.

Kohlrabi: Was my Grandad’s fave freaky little vegetable. Good as mash, roasted, in a salad, dauphinoise-style, or grated in a slaw.

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L.
Lemons/Limes (whole):

Lemons/Limes (squeezed out): Dry them in the bottom of the oven or on top of a radiator and keep to use as firelighters, the oils burn off and smell amazing, and if they are on a BBQ, they impart a great little flavour too.

Lettuce: Slice, oil, lemon, salt, toss through pasta for surprisingly delicious pasta salad. Or cook with peas, french style. Also great tossed into a pea soup sliced thinly at the end.

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M.
Mayo: Use in place of butter when mashing potatoes for a richer taste if you struggle to get through a jar. Use instead of butter for cheese on toast, plain hot toast, or sandwiches, too.

Milk: If it’s only just turning you can add it to natural yoghurt to make your own yoghurt. Store in the fridge and keep an eye (or nose) on it. You can also use it in place of buttermilk in soda bread and scones.

Mushrooms: Best thing is to dry them. It intensifies their flavour and they can keep for a year in a jar. Simply leave to dry on a baking tray for a few days, or pop in the bottom of the oven when it’s on for something else. They make an excellent earthy stock too, just slow cook with herbs and an onion, a carrot if you have it, and a pinch of salt for an excellent base for soup or risotto.

N.

O.
Olives: Tapenade! Also can be dried, blitzed & kept for months. I have been known to serve dessicated olives with a cheese course just because I can, and people always loved them. Also great sprinkled on a risotto, or added to stews, casseroles and soups for a deep tangy flavour.

Oranges: See ‘Satsumas’

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P.
Pasta (cooked): See ‘spaghetti’

Peppers: Roast and blitz into a pasta sauce with tomato and onion, or sneak into pizza sauce. Freeze either in ice cubes and use as required.

Pickled cabage: I’m thinking drop it into a beet soup and cook off the vinegar… Yum!

Pizza: Breakfast. Like a superior cheese on toast. Or dice small and bake and add to soup like intense little croutons. You’ll thank me.

Plums (unripe): Stick them in the microwave wrapped in a thin tea towel for 2 min on defrost. Voila.

Plums (squishy): Boil up with a little sugar and lemon to make a compote. Store in the fridge or freezer and add to yoghurt, granola, toast, porridge, bircher, cakes, etc.

Q.

R.
Rice: COOL IT COMPLETELY. Add an egg (gram flour if vegan) and chill it. Fry in patties next morning for amazing brunch. Also see ‘bibimbap’ for ideas from Korea of how to sex up fried rice. Oof.

Roast potatoes: Have them cold in a potato salad, hot in saag aloo, blitz for soup, make a spud curry, slice and refry for potato sandwiches like my Aunty Helen used to make.

Rocket: Rocket makes an excellent fiery pesto. Add oil, lemon, garlic, S&P, cheese, nuts or seeds. Freeze for months or fridge for 7-10 days.

S.
Satsumas: Boil up and simmer for a compote to spread on toast or add to birchers, or make small marmalade; equal weight fruit to sugar, boil, simmer, jar, fridge, enjoy. Also delicious in a curd, find a simple lemon curd recipe and replace the lemons with satsumas and off you go.

Spaghetti (cooked): Chop it up small and start a minestrone soup. Can of tomatoes, stock, carrots, peas or greens, go.

Spinach: Freeze half of it when you buy it to prevent the sludgey bottom of the bag. Use in pesto, soup, curry, casseroles, tagines – I put it in everything!

Spring onion/scallion tops: Slice and add to oil with garlic, lemon, ginger, chilli, salt/soy = sexy spicy asian-style dressing for noodles, stir fries, salads and veg. Slice and add to mash for colcannon, too.

Squash: Dice it and blanch it and freeze it. Chips. Mash. Risotto. Soup. Mix into hummus. Grate it and make a rosti. Posh bubble and squeak. Pasta sauce with chilli and cheese. Curry with chickpeas and spinach.

Sweetcorn: Shuck it and freeze it and use it from frozen. Dry the middles and donate to friends with guinea pigs – mine loved to gnaw on them!

T.
Tahini: Make halva. Lots of halva. And send me some.

Taramasalata: Makes a great pasta sauce warm with lemon. Add a mashed egg and some spinach/kale for luxury.

Toast: Pappa al pomodoro is excellent made with toast. I do it with SBs discarded half eaten toast if it’s only had butter or marmite on.

Tomatoes: Just cook slowly with a few cloves of garlic, dash of vinegar or lemon and a pinch of salt for the best pasta sauce. Or make a panzanella! Or blitz/mash for passata and freeze it until you need it.

U.

V.

W.
Weetabix crumbs or similar: These are very good in a crumble topping! Just store in a small bag or jar until needed. If you bake your own bread they can be added to the flour too.

X.

Y.
Yoghurt: If not too far gone, add salt and mashed garlic, pour into a teatowel, hang in the fridge over a bowl to strain overnight, and you have labneh. Experiment with spices like cumin and chilli, za’atar if you have it, lemon zest and pepper if you haven’t. (I don’t have za’atar but someone might!)

Z.
Zested citrus fruits: Slice them and freeze them whole and use in water/alcoholic drinks. Or cook immediately into compote or a curd before they harden.

What do you struggle to use up? If I can answer it I’ll add it to the list – just comment below!

Jack Monroe. On Twitter/Instagram @MxJackMonroe.

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Cooking On A Bootstrap: BOOK THREE needs YOUR help!

  

Well hello my wonderful readers. It’s been a year since my last cookbook came out, and I am inundated with messages every day, asking when my next book is coming out.
The good news is, it is nearly written. A hundred budget recipes, in the same style as that surprisingly runaway bestseller A Girl Called Jack, with Breads And Breakfasts, Super Soups, Beans Pulses And Lentils, etc, with extra chapters ‘Eat Your Greens’ and ‘Don’t Throw That Away’ for nifty tips on using leftovers. (Stale cake truffles, anyone? Or bread crust soup?) It has been an absolute joy to write; irreverent, cheeky, nifty, thrifty, and delightful. I’ve stripped it back from the gorgeous gloss that was Book Two, as beautiful as it was, the glass slipper didn’t quite fit my budget foot, so I’m going back to basics.
My first book came about by accident. Some of you may know this story, or most of it. I started writing a politics blog after a local councillor declared that ‘druggies, drunks and single mums are ruining our town’ in early 2012. I started going to the council meetings, as an unemployed single mother, and writing about what I saw. The blog expanded to a diary of my day to day life, the impact of housing benefit paid 11 weeks late, of cuts and suspensions to benefits and the real impact that had on a young mum and a two year old boy. Of turning the fridge off because it’s empty anyway. Walking everywhere in the pouring rain in your only coat, dragging a child behind you, into every pub and every shop in walking distance to ask them if they have any job vacancies. Of trying hard not to go red when the person behind the counter assesses your ripped jeans and scruffy jumper and the crying child behind you and says no. You add the ‘not for you’ in your head, unsurprised. You drag that toddler home and pour the last of the tin of tomatoes over some basic pasta and you try not to hurl it at the wall when your three year old says “I want something else, Mummy.” Because there isn’t anything else.
I made a decision, then, to try to feed myself and my son as well as possible on the scraps of change I had left at the end of the week. My first recipe, a carrot and kidney bean soup, had 100x as many hits as my previous blog post on local election results, and so I carried on, documenting my food shop, poring through famous recipe books and adapting their recipes to the contents of my local supermarket basics range, forensically costing it, and uploading it onto my blog.
The recipe blog turned into a publishing deal, and in February 2014, A Girl Called Jack was a runaway success. The letters and emails pour in daily from readers who have learned to feed themselves and their families on low incomes, well, and simply. I never set out to create a movement, I just wanted to share what I was doing with others. Yet still the letters come, from desperate people trying to make meagre incomes stretch to meet rising living costs, growing children, and demanding working hours. Students trying to supplement their loans with part time jobs balanced between their studies. People who have just left the military, having joined in their teens, unable to cook a meal for themselves. People from all walks of life, who want to learn to cook but haven’t the money for fancy gadgets or premium ingredients. People asking me, when are you going to write another book? We need another book.
So here we are. I’m not looking to make a fortune or have a number one bestseller (although the first one was nice!); simply to write and deliver a book to anyone who wants it, and to be able to pay my bills. I’ve decided to do it like this, myself, because I’m a bit of a maverick, and so I can deliver something affordable, authentic, from my heart to your kitchen counter – the best book I can write, to the people who want and need it, as quickly and directly as possible.
 I might not succeed – Kickstarters are only successful if they reach their full funding amount, and I have crunched the numbers to try to keep my costs low to deliver an affordable cookbook, without compromising on the quality. I’m going to try – for every one of you who has asked me for a third book, I’m going to try my damndest to give you one. Will you help?
TO PRE-ORDER A COPY OF ‘COOKING ON A BOOTSTRAP’, CLICK HERE.

THANKYOU!!
Jack Monroe. Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr: @MxJackMonroe

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The Transformation Of Jack Monroe (The Times, November 2015)

  

Jack Monroe, true to her self-outing last month as transgender “non-binary”, is surrounded by a mountain of masculine/feminine stuff in the small two-bedroom flat she shares with her five-year-old son in Southend, Essex. The skateboard with a shark on it (matching tattoo on her thumb), for example, versus the Disney Belle dress she tried to wear for Hallowe’en but couldn’t (due to testosterone therapy and working out to make her physique more masculine) encapsulate the contrasts.

She’s just dyed her hair white, with blue and purple chunks on the top – a far cry from how her image first came to widespread attention. Then, she appeared homey and ever so slightly mumsy in a floral pinny in the inside pictures in her first cookbook, A Girl Called Jack, followed by A Year in 120 Recipes.

A Girl Called Jack, her bestselling breakthrough, was published in 2014. It started with a blog. The media pounced on something she posted, Hunger Hurts, in 2012, about trying to feed her son healthily (and at all) on next to nothing, going without herself and visiting food banks when she resigned from the Essex Fire Service after they rejected her request to work flexibly. She wrote her resignation letter from a hospital bed after she tried to commit suicide because she didn’t know how to both earn money and raise a child as a single parent. Her own parents were horrified when they found out she was on the breadline – “I kept it from them.”

Monroe, now 27, was more or less turned into an overnight star, not just as a “real” person capable of writing properly affordable recipes. Even The New York Times wrote a profile of her. She became what she called a “lezzer” food columnist for The Guardian (her son was conceived as a result of a brief relationship with a close friend, which she called off before she knew she was pregnant), and an impassioned liberal spokesperson for the underclass on a variety of political shows.

Today she looks like the most beautiful boy, or is it that she is a very androgynous beautiful girl? “Now my categories are completely wonky, because I don’t even know what I am.”

Since declaring herself transgender non-binary last month, she is already on testosterone, and seeing changes to her voice and stamina: “I’m not saying I want to be a man, just a slightly more masculine version of me. I want to be Jack. I might be a titless wonder, but I’ll be a titless wonder with great big long eyelashes and a pair of heels.”

The phone has started to ring again, after a fallow period brought about by ill health, both mental and physical, which meant she stopped writing and cooking. Now, modelling agencies are interested in her androgyny – “I think people find it interesting that I will model as male and female” – and the media have looked to her for transgender comment and explanation as it’s an issue very much in the air. Monroe has starred in a music video and there are also a few high-end clothing brands interested in attaching themselves to her. “But before I say yes, I have to know about what they pay their staff, their cleaners, the morality of it.”

She’s started to cook again properly, devising recipes, being creative and blogging: “I’d got to the point that it had bubbled up so much I couldn’t keep pushing it down. I don’t quite know where it’s all going to end. It will click into place and I’ll stop.

“And now I’ve got this off my chest – quite literally! – I’ve started writing again and creating recipes and I’ve got back in the kitchen. [Before then] I felt like I wasn’t being honest with my readers about something that was very fundamental. I had a two-month total absence from my blog and then I came back and had to say, ‘Please don’t call me “a girl named Jack”. I don’t feel like a girl. That name doesn’t suit or fit me any more.’

“In the morning I get showered and dried and put my binder on and then I like what I see in the mirror. I knew I had made the right decision to go public when I left my binder at a friend’s house for about four days and I was going mad. I have actually bagged up all my old feminine clothes and tea dresses to give to a transgender charity.”

She pulls up her shirt to show me her binder. I feel her flat bosoms (yes, I do!). She’s right. It’s like a very, very tight sports top. She doesn’t want a penis, she says: “I have seven of those in the drawer!” Pause. “I’ll spare you the show and tell. I have no desire to have a ghastly amount of surgery.” Are the seven penises for aesthetic reasons or sexual? “Both!” she says. “Multifunctioning! As far back as I remember I’ve roamed around the house with a sock in my pants, when other girls were sticking socks in their bras. [A penis] is not something I need or generally use, but it’s there and handy and it makes me laugh. I drag up sometimes. There are drag kings as well as queens.”

I think it’s safe to say Monroe and I have broken the ice. We’re sitting among all her higgledy-piggledy possessions, drinking tea and eating crisps. She’s got the munchies constantly, she admits, because of “the T” (transgender shorthand for testosterone), which is making the fat on her hips, thighs and tummy melt away.

There’s a sledge crammed in one corner; a baby grand piano she inherited from the landlord (she’s musical, with a beautiful voice, now lowering, and once busked with Billy Bragg); and bits of furniture she’s been given over the past three years since she sold everything to keep the bailiffs from the door in 2012.

There’s a note on the fridge – “For you, darling, Nigella xxxx” – which came attached to one of the little gifts the domestic goddess sends her regularly, and she wears a wedding ring on a right finger, moved from the left hand…

“I’ve come full circle,” she says. “Everything I own is pretty much in this room.”

Money, these days, is tight again: “Bills did and do scare the s*** out of me.” Monroe’s current financial situation is, she says, “hairy, shall we say hairy. I had to borrow money from a friend this month for my rent, but I know I’ve got money coming in. It’s feast or famine.

“One of the reasons I moved back was to root myself and cut my outgoings. To have a bit of financial security and sort myself out.”

It has not been easy this year. Today, she is covered in hives from stress. She shows me them – angry red patches – on her legs through the rips in her jeans and rubs Sudocrem over the hives on her fingers. Within the last month she has had three very terrifying episodes involving her heart in which she has, at least once, been hospitalised.

But she is trying to take better care of herself now, and falling back on old methods of feeling in control about money, making columns and lists about money coming in and due out. (In the dark old days of mouldy flats and bailiffs at the door, she had spreadsheets.) The fear of this happening again, I detect, is not far from the surface.

At the beginning of this year, Monroe had a nervous breakdown, which she attributes to breaking her foot, then being unable to work (lucrative recipe consultancies for high-street brands meant ten-hour days on her feet).

This coincided with the end of her broadsheet column. Much was also made in the press of the fact that Sainsbury’s, for which she had filmed an ad a year before, had supposedly “dropped” her over a high-profile Twitter comment she made about David Cameron using his son’s death to score points about the NHS. This was not true, she says. “I filmed the ad a year before. There wasn’t a ‘contract’ at all. But it’s safe to say I am f***ing ashamed of that comment and I wrote a page and a half letter to Samantha Cameron apologising. I should never have done it.”

It only takes a skim of her Twitter feed to see that Monroe is so impassioned that she can often be her own worst enemy. She regularly gets into long social media scraps with the Daily Mail (which seems to loathe her and everything she stands for). “I won’t be complicit in their lies about me,” she says.

She says she was written off at her very academic girls’ grammar school in Westcliff-on-Sea as a troublemaker. She was bored. Despite her obvious and fierce intelligence, she left with four and a half GCSEs, not enough to sit for A levels. She went to work in Starbucks.
“You’re only good to flip burgers,” her head of year apparently told her. “And when my first book came out, I turned down the corner of the page of my burger recipe and sent it to that teacher with a note, ‘Dear Mrs so and so, remember when you said, “I’m only good to flip burgers”? Well, here’s the recipe from my bestselling cookbook.’” She laughs.
It’s a great, ballsy story – a cautionary tale to teachers who underestimate – and a reflection of what makes Monroe such a powerful voice, but it also demonstrates the level of nervous and emotional energy that keeps her going. Her tweets show she has an almost constant instinct for combat, perhaps born of having to fight prejudice, perhaps because it’s her personality. “The abuse that I get thrown … I have had such a hellish time at the behest of trolls,” she says.

Underpinning the nervous breakdown, aside from the exhaustion and burnout, was, she says, fear of having to go back to her old life. “All the demons I have pushed down since the fire service came out,” she says. “I had panic attacks, anxiety attacks. I can’t even begin to describe the midnight nightmares, the sobbing and shaking in corners. My biggest fear was falling back into a spiral of unemployment with no money and poverty and everything that brings. Ridiculous, because I was living in a beautiful house with a woman who loved me, but I was very much terrified that everything was going to get taken away by the bailiffs.

“There was no rational thinking. I fell apart. I was so ashamed and fearful and I had all these readers telling me that my blog gives them hope for the future and I felt I needed to keep this sunny, chirpy personality going because people write to me every day.”

By then, Monroe had written her second book, A Year in 120 Recipes, at the bar of the Groucho club, sung with Bragg, been named Woman of the Year, appeared on Question Time and cooked and socialised with most of London’s foodie royalty. On a Wednesday night, she and McEvedy would cook at McEvedy’s new restaurant, Blackfoot, and come out together to meet the diners. She had cooked for and still drinks with Sue Perkins, who turned up to the book launch of her first book. “I was just thrown into this world,” she says. “What the f*** are you doing here?” Monroe remembers thinking when she saw Perkins. “I was almost too scared to set foot in the Groucho, let alone talk to anybody.” But, more importantly, she had continued to write her blog – now, post transgender outing, called Jack at a Pinch – in which she provided her recipes and advice free, determined that those unable to afford lots of cookbooks would not be excluded from being able to cook well. These were the readers for whom she felt she had to remain a success story. Unable to work, “I thought I’d become irrelevant.”

One night, she took too many sleeping pills. “I didn’t want to die. I just wanted that particular night in question to end, but when it’s a second attempt, they start to look at you really seriously then. But I was determined I didn’t want to be admitted, that I hadn’t wanted really to die and that I didn’t want to lose Johnny.” After a lot of initially expensive therapy at the Priory and then later through Mind and the NHS, Monroe recovered: “It was a really messy couple of months.”

“It was having to admit to my readers that it was over,” she says. It is the only aspect of talking about her life in which she exercises caution. All Monroe will say is that about the breakdown itself, “[Allegra] was nothing less than perfect”, that she regrets absolutely nothing and that they are friends.
__________

Jack Monroe has a birth name of Melissa. She changed it by deed poll after Johnny was born – an early step towards where she is now. Contrary to what her detractors think, “I’m not ashamed of it or embarrassed by it,” she says. “It’s on my bloody birth certificate and on my karate records and my GCSEs. My mum cross-stitched me a beautiful picture with bears on carrying a banner across saying Melissa and it’s in my flat. I haven’t burnt it or torn it to pieces or unpicked it or restitched it. I’m fine with it, but Jack is my real name.”

Jack was an old nickname and she changed her surname, too – “In for a penny” – because it sounded better. She had been intending to come out as transgender then, after Johnny was born, but she “bottled it”. She’s wanted to have her breasts removed – save during and post pregnancy – for nine years.

While her haters are always keen to bring up her birth name just to annoy her, and insist on ignoring the transgender politically correct “they” and “them” (sticking to “her” and “she”), she says to me, “I don’t mind if you call me ‘she’ and ‘her’.”

She’d bound her chest on and off since school (initially with bandages, a dangerous method, and now with the two compression vests) and has hated her breasts since puberty. She kissed a girl at 10, and began coming out from 14. She did dress in a girlie way at times, but always felt it was “dressing up”. She has no plans to give up her stilettos.

When she was working in the control room of Essex Fire and Rescue, she shaped her body with weights and protein shakes, cut her hair and tattooed her arms to look masculine.

She shows me some photographs that reveal her as a teenage skinhead. She grew up in the fold of the Baptist church (her mother, a former nurse, is religious), but was, she says, asked to leave Sunday school teaching once she had shaved her head and come out and was deemed “an inappropriate role model”. The Fire and Rescue period, during which she is photographed with her back to the camera in male pants, covered in tattoos, is what she calls her butch dyke phase (her words), but it was never really enough. “Like a hexagonal peg in a square hole,” she says. She’s also had a phase where she “tried to shag [myself] straight”, but that didn’t work.

Her son’s birth is, she says, an absolute blessing because she is devoted to him, and now she’s transgender, childbirth is unlikely to happen again: “Everything had to happen as it has.”

Having Johnny, she admits, also changed her relationship with her body and delayed her public admission that she was transgender non-binary, not least because she expressed her breast milk to feed him. Perhaps it’s why her look softened, too?

We look at the pictures of her in her cookbooks and on the front pages of the various magazines after she became high-profile. One shows her in a minxy blouse, which clings to her now famous “34DDs”. There is a whole wave of Twitter haters preoccupied by the imminent removal of her breasts. They are threatened, Monroe says, by her sexuality and it’s why she gets into frequent social media scraps.

Monroe is, without doubt, fashion model beautiful. A couple of model agencies said her face was right, but that at 5ft 2in she was too short. She was told to lose two stone. “How ironic is that?” she says. “A woman who hasn’t got enough money to feed her child, writing a cookbook, then being asked to lose weight.”

On one magazine cover, her face is made up, with mascara-covered lashes and painted lips. “I hate that picture because of them,” she says, pointing to the bosoms. If she hadn’t had big bosoms, she might not have come out as transgender, but might have just gone about flat-chested and topless, having built up her torso. “But I felt I had to be honest.

“I don’t [feel beautiful]. I photograph well if I’ve slept OK. I think that is about as far as I’ll go. I don’t consider myself to be attractive in any sense of the word.”

Her editor brought a floral pinny for her to wear in the pictures for A Girl Called Jack, which she rejected at first, finally relenting. “But I said, ‘That is not going on the cover.’” (There she wears a plain blue apron.) The idea of her wearing a floral pinny now is ludicrous. She looks like she belongs on an album cover. She’s wise to the game: “I probably wouldn’t have got a mainstream book deal if I’d been transgender then.

“The sexual objectification of women in my industry is absurd,” she says. “You look at Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley sisters … Like any female newsreaders, TV presenters, they are all identical. One of the things I most admired about Allegra was that she broke that mould. She was ‘out’ and gorgeous and wasn’t the cookie-cutter celebrity chef.

“It’s one of the things I admire about Nigella. You can’t put her in a box.”

Do you fancy her, though? She screams with laughter. It’s not what you think, she says, of the little billet doux on the fridge. Well, do you? She spends five minutes talking about Lawson’s kindness, her generosity, what a great, loyal friend she is, how she is the first to get in touch if Monroe is monstered in the press, and how her recipes (and Gwyneth Paltrow’s – who knew?) got her through her breakdown and then says, “Doesn’t everyone?”

Now that Monroe is clearer about the unclear nature of her gender, she can set her mind to the future. Her first appointment at the London Gender Clinic is in the next couple of weeks and, providing she makes it through the necessary psychological checks, she expects her surgery will have taken place by next summer. Her parents are fully supportive and Johnny, who calls her Mamapapa after the Barbapapa children’s books, is unfazed. There might be modelling to come, another couple of books, one of which she hopes will be political, and maybe some day in the future a political career, probably with the Green Party, to which she defected from Labour over immigration. And then there’s more kissing of girls – “beautiful, very feminine women who always smell so lovely, all the way through to the butchest of dykes” – to be pursued. “I must make time for that – it’s a wonderful way to unwind!

“I feel more confident, I walk taller – I know I need to have this done. I felt like I was lying to people. [By admitting it] I sort of unblocked the dam. I can write again now – spend three hours scrawling recipes and ideas, because … I just can.

“I’m doing all right. I’m doing OK. In fact, I’m doing better than OK. I have been through the mill and I’m out the other side of it. I can look back and say, ‘Life gets crap and I’ve pulled through.’”
By Louise Carpenter for The Times, published 14 November 2015.

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How To Shop On A Budget – from A Girl Called Jack

These are the handy hints in the front of  my first cookbook, A Girl Called Jack and are as useful now as they were then – it’s advice I give readers all the time, old and new, so I thought it would be handy to pop it here too:

WRITE A LIST AND STICK TO IT. It sounds obvious, but I only generally have two kinds of shopping experiences. Those where I walk into the store, list in hand, doggedly stick to it and come out with everything I need and no money wasted. And those where I run in in a hurry, flail about, grab things I don’t need, and berate myself all week for wasting money and forgetting certain essential items. The first few times may feel awful. Many a time, as a single mum on benefits that were suspended or delayed, with no spare money in my bank account and just a handful of change, I found myself standing in the freezer aisle staring at luxury ice cream. Picking up the posh coffee and just remembering what it smelled like. Calling a friend in tears, beaten, because I didn’t have any money for butter. Not even the value brand butter. I didn’t have any money for butter. It’s the small things that can be the most defeating, sometimes. A list, to me, was a triumph. I could get to the end of it and feel I had achieved something. I ticked things off. I doodled joining-up lines between the beans and the tomatoes and wrote ‘chilli?!’ in the margins. I could create my way around the supermarket with a tiny goal and feel at the end of it that I had done something right. If nothing else, make a list for the sense of achievement. Make it by category ‘Proteins, Carbs, Fruit, Veg, Storecupboard’ so you know at a glance that you are getting something akin to a balanced diet. Make it for your sanity. And stick to it.

INVESTIGATE THE TINNED AISLE. Tinned fish, tinned potatoes and tinned fruit are usually all cheaper than their fresh counterparts – and with far less pressure to use them up by the end of the week, so they reduce food waste, too. In my worst days I ended up turning off my fridge. It was empty anyway. Tins are a godsend. I still panic if I run out of tinned kidney beans or tinned tomatoes. Get yourself some tins.

BUY FROZEN GREEN VEGETABLES. Green veg, folks, is expensive. You’d think it would be dirt cheap to try to encourage us to eat it, but it’s expensive. And leaves go limp at the turn of a day. According to Love Food Hate Waste, leafy veg is one of our most-thrown-away items. Sod it. Buy it frozen and use it at your leisure. Some of it even comes pre-chopped, like a sous chef in a bag.

GET ON YOUR KNEES. Supermarkets spend eye-watering amounts of money analysing shoppers behaviour and positioning things accordingly. Expensive items are generally positioned on higher shelves, for the posey kudos of having to stand on your toes and stretch like a cat for your Charlie Bighams £7 macaroni cheese, I guess. By contrast, the plain value branded labels can generally be found near the floor. Get down there and scrabble if your knees will let you. Nobody cares. Nobody is judging you. Nobody is even looking. You’re buying beans. They’re buying beans. Let’s just all get on with it.

DOWNSHIFT ONE BRAND AT A TIME. If you normally buy a premium brand of a product, drop down to the one below. If you buy the supermarket own brand, try it in their value range. And so on. Just buy everything slightly more price-consciously than you did last week, and notice the difference at the checkout. Then see if you notice a difference in your cooking. If you really can’t stomach one thing or another, then switch back next week. It’s just a week. You might just be surprised by how good some of the value brands are… I can’t bring myself to buy anything but basic chopped tomatoes, veg, fruit, pasta, etc these days. Plus the orange-and-white tins have been repurposed as pen pots and plant holders around my little flat, so I need to keep up my collection – it matches.

TAKE A WALK. I have moved house thirteen times since my now-five year old boy was born (mostly under difficult circumstances – I’m hoping this one is . Every time, one of the first things I do is go for an amble around the streets around my new front door, and poke my head into every shop that I can find. You’ll be surprised where the bargains are – I have found chickpeas cheaper than the supermarket’s own in a little fags-and-booze shop, cheaper toilet paper in the hardware stores, and things marked down for quick sales in the most surprising places. Ethnic food stores are excellent – supermarkets are expanding their ‘world food aisles’ to compete with their prices up and down the country. I am lucky enough to live near some competitive fruit and veg stores that sell more exotic wares cheaper than mainstream stores, with fat green plaintain cheaper than bananas, but apples are a side-eyeing 50p each. Wander, explore, note down, smile, say hello, make friends. It’s not always practical to shop around the entire neighbourhood, but is useful to know where the emergency cheap loo roll is, or the big bags of spices. My old butcher used to love a chat, too, despite me never picking up much more than the odd heart or liver and occasional chicken. Be friendly, and there’s no harm in asking for bones or scraggy bits. They can only say no, after all.

BUYING IN BULK DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN IT’S CHEAPER. Most shelf labels in major supermarkets will now give you the price per unit, or price per 100g, as well as the larger product price. If a big bag of pasta is 40p/100g, but the value stuff is 10p/100g, buy a few bags of the value stuff. It’s hard work at first but quickly becomes second nature.

WHAT HAVE YOU GOT? I make a shopping list divided into four sections: Protein, Carbs, Fruit/Veg and Storecupboard – and before I leave the house to go shopping, I rifle through my cupboards, fridge and freezer and note down what I already have in those categories, before drawing a line under it to make my list. It helps to plan meals, keeps in mind what needs to be used up, and stops a pile of useless tins accruing in the cupboard.

WRITE A MEAL PLAN BEFORE YOU GO SHOPPING. Plan meals using similar ingredients (use the search bar tool on my blog to help) and incorporate anything you already have in the cupboard, fridge or freezer.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO SUBSTITUTE. Use one green veg instead of another. Any vinegar will do, or lemon juice, where vinegar is called for in a recipe – it’s just a bit of acid to lift some flavours, don’t worry about keeping several kinds. Pasta is pasta, rice is rice. Red wine in slow-cooked dishes can be swapped out for strong black tea – yes, really – as it’s the deep tannin taste you’re after in a casserole, risotto or bourgignon.

TAKE A PEN OR CALCULATOR WITH YOU. I keep track of costs as I go, marking them next to the item on my shopping list, and totting them up to avoid nasty surprises at the checkout. In the darkest moments when I would get to the till and realise my shopping was more than the cash in my hand, it made deciding what to leave behind a little easier (it’s never ‘easy’, but you hopefully get my drift). Shoe on the other foot, occasionally there would be a completed list and a little left over, so I knew exactly how much I had to treat myself, too. Usually a tin of Basics custard, or a jar of lemon curd, but it’s the little things that make all the difference sometimes.

If you have any shopping tips for tight budgets, or any money saving ideas to share, please share them below so we can all learn from each other – thankyou.

Taken from my book A Girl Called Jack and adapted for the blog. November 2015.

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter @DrJackMonroe and Instagram @MxJackMonroe

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Feed a family of 4 for less than £9/week – me for the Daily Mirror

  



On Monday afternoon, I received a message from the Daily Mirror, asking if I would be interested in writing a piece about food. Having discussed almost nothing but my body for a fortnight, I leapt at the chance to get back into the kitchen with gusto, and said yes.

They asked if, in response to Prince Charles plea for us all to support British farmers, I could write a meal plan for a family of four, on the Living Wage. Hmm, I thought. Impossible to know what their food budget is without knowing household costs, bill commitments, gas, electricity, whether they have a telly and what subscription service they have, how many hours a week that Living Wage is being paid for, and if it was the real Living Wage or the Government’s pretend one? So, I sat down at my desk and started to rifle through my books. I decided instead to use my £10 a week as my benchmark, that was my average when I started writing this blog. I was a single mum on benefits, unemployed, with endless trouble with my Housing Benefit payments meaning that quite often I missed my rent, accrued bank charges, missed bills because the bank charges took me into a negative overdraft, got late payment charges from the missed bills and more bank charges as the unauthorised overdraft spiralled. To put it bluntly, I was in shit. It has taken me three years to get out of that shit, and I’m still not quite there.

Anyway – they came to me because I guess they thought I know a thing or two about planning meals around miniscule amounts of money, and making those meals something that children might actually eat. All of my recipes have been run past my son, and the general rule is that if he doesn’t eat it, it doesn’t end up in my blog or books – what’s the point in cooking two separate meals every night?

And so, I set about it with gusto. Copied recipes onto small pieces of paper and stuck them on my wall for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Shuffled them around, started to make a shopping list, whipped out any that needed ingredients that wouldn’t be used up in the week or couldn’t be put in anything else, shuffled again, added some more. Made a new shopping list, dug out my recent receipts to see the prices of ingredients, cross-checked them online to check they hadn’t changed, and started typing up condensed versions of my recipes, deducting things from the shopping list every time I ‘used’ it to make sure it would all last the week.

Now normally, week to week, I do this without thinking about it. I just open the cupboard, see what’s in there, rustle it into something, type it up afterwards and do the cost calculation. But if I was going to make a truly helpful resource, on the basis that someone was starting with nothing but a bit of cooking oil and a pinch of salt in their cupboards, I had to be forensic.

I finished at 7am the next morning – up all night with copious cups of tea and occasional flails into the kitchen to check if I could thin my berry bircher pot overnight with milk and come back to it thickened up in the morning (yes, I could). I made my mushroom risotto with tea instead of wine at 4am and prayed my upstairs neighbours were heavy sleepers as I smooshed berries and yoghurt in my blender shortly afterwards.

And in the end, I did it. A menu plan for two adults and two children, for a week, for £35. It won’t meet everyone’s dietary requirements, but it’s a start. (I’m working on a vegan one now, and a gluten free one too, with no promises for a delivery date because I need to speak to the paper to see if this is something we can do again – but I am working on them.)

So, as a starting point, a foray into cheap and simple cooking that doesn’t require fancy gadgets or too much technical ability, it’s all here. It’s not too carb-heavy, as my own diet was back then, I’ve learned a lot in the last four years or so! It averages 5 fruit and/or veg a day, and protein is the biggest section on the shopping list. It’s not perfect – but if you find yourself in a sticky situation financially, or know someone who is, or just want to learn to cook a little, save some money, or live a week in the life of my stomach, here you go.

The Shopping List: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-the-shopping-list/

The Breakfasts: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-breads-breakfasts/

The Lunches: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-lunchtime/

The Dinners: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-dinnertime/

The Desserts, Snacks & Juice: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-dessert-treats-and-juice/


Enjoy, good luck, and please share it – you may not need it, but you probably know someone who does.


Jack Monroe. Twitter: @DrJackMonroe. Instagram: @MxJackMonroe

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Feed a family of 4 for less than £9/week: Dessert, treats and juice.

  


PBJ cookies:

3 tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp sugar

1 egg

2 heaped tbsp peanut butter

8 heaped tbsp self raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a baking sheet in preparation. Mix the oil and sugar together in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add the egg yolk and the peanut butter, and mix until the peanut butter is evenly distributed through the mixture. Spoon in the flour and stir to make a soft dough.

With lightly floured hands, break off a walnut-sized piece of dough. Place on the prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly with a fork. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Using your thumb, or a teaspoon, make a deep well in the centre of each flattened ball of dough – the cookies will flatten and spread out slightly as they cook, so don’t be afraid to dig in. Melt the jam slightly in a microwave for 30 seconds on a low setting, then spoon a little into the centre of each cookie. Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden.

  
Jam Tarts:

50ml sunflower oil

120g plain flour

1 tbsp cold water

6 tbsp jam

Preheat the oven to 180C and pop a tablespoon or wooden spoon into the freezer. Lightly grease a 6 cup muffin tray and set to one side.

Pour the oil into a large mixing bowl. Add a little flour and mix well to form a paste. Add more flour and repeat, and repeat until all the flour has been incorporated.

Add a tablespoon of cold water, remove the spoon from the freezer and use it to mix the dough together. Repeat if required.

Briefly knead the dough on a floured worktop and press or roll out until approximately 0.5cm thick. (I don’t usually use a rolling pin, I find that a bottle or my palms work just fine.) Using a pastry cutter or a tea cup, cut circles from the pastry that are slightly bigger than the muffin cups.

One at a time, gently press a pastry circle into each cup of the muffin tray. Repeat until all the dough is used up. Pop a heaped tablespoon of jam into each pastry case, being careful to only fill two-thirds full, as the jam will bubble and spill when cooked.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool before serving.

BANNOCK BISCUITS WITH CHEESE OR JAM:

3 tbsp oil, plus a little extra for greasing

a splash of water

120g oats

flour, for dusting

Pour the oats into a blender and blast until they are really ground down. Tip into a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt and add the oil. Mix quickly and firmly to form a stiff, sticky something like dough, adding the water if needed. Cover and leave to one side for 30 minutes for the oats to absorb the liquid and soften. Preheat the oven to 180C (another one that is handy to make while the oven is on for something else). Then dust a work surface with flour and pat the dough out to flatten and shape. I use my hands for this, to press the oats together, slapping it down gently with my palms and fingertips until less than 5mm thick. Use a cookie cutter or mug to cut into circles – as large or as small as you please. Grease a baking tray. Lay the bannocks on top, with a little space between each, and pop into the centre of the oven for 20 minutes, turning over halfway through. Allow to cool and harden before eating, with cheese, peanut butter or jam.
FRUIT:

From the shopping list, you will have extra fruit kicking around for snacks: apples, pears, sultanas, berries and bananas!
JUICE:

To make a simple lemon juice, heat 250ml water in a saucepan with 200g sugar. Bring to a medium heat – not boiling – then reduce to a low heat, and stir to make a simple, runny, syrup until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in 100ml lemon juice with a little more water. Allow to cool and transfer to a bottle or jar, store in the fridge, and dilute to taste, shaking gently before opening as contents may settle. I find that when I make my own juice – and see just how much sugar goes into it – I drink less of it and give less to my son… It was worth the effort as a wakeup call, even if I never do it again…
You can follow me on Twitter @DrJackMonroe and Instagram @MxJackMonroe

Jack Monroe. November 2015.

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Feed a Family of 4 for less than £9/week: Dinnertime

Starting with a Sunday roast and breaking it down into leftovers the way my mother always did – although in her case it was a chicken made into chinese chicken curries and avgolemono soup, recipes for which are available on my blog. I’ve started with a pork shoulder, I don’t buy meat just for myself any more but recently cooked a roast for my parents and younger siblings and clocked that an 800g pork shoulder joint was £2.50 – it served six of us with leftovers, so I’ve used it here. I always say those people who don’t like pork haven’t had it cooked properly. Overdone chops are a travesty, but a rolled shoulder joint rubbed in salt and oil and cooked slowly is a beautiful thing.

  


Sunday roast pork with veg and gravy.
1kg roast pork shoulder

1 tin of potatoes (tinned ones make excellently fluffy roasties because they have been pre-cooked)

6 carrots

200g frozen peas

For the gravy:

2 onions

2 fat cloves of garlic

2 tbsp oil

1 tbsp flour

a pinch of mixed dried herbs

1 stock cube dissolved in 600ml water

For the yorkshire puds:

2 tbsp oil

125g self raising flour

½ tsp mixed herbs

2 eggs

150ml milk

Preheat your oven to 220C. Score the fatty top of your pork with a sharp knife, and rub a little salt and oil all over, working it into the scores. Place in a roasting tin and cook for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C, cover loosely in tin foil with the shiny side down, and cook for another hour.

Next make your gravy – peel and finely slice your onions and garlic and add to a pan with the oil. Cook on a low heat to soften for a few minutes, then add the flour and herbs and stir well to coat the onions. Add a splash of stock and mix well. Add a splash more, and repeat. Repeat until all the stock is used up – it may look a little thin at the moment but it will thicken as it cools. Remove from the heat and set to one side to cool and thicken.

Wash and chop your carrots and place in a pan of cold water on the hob, and pop your peas in cold water in a separate pan. Do your Yorkshire pudding prep – frop a little oil into the bottom of each muffin tin and set to one side. Take a large mixing bowl or jug (I use a jug to make pouring it easier). Add the salt and herbs and mix. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients – admittedly a little harder in a jug. Break in the eggs, pour in the milk and beat to form a smooth runny batter. If it’s lumpy for any reason, cheat it in the blender on a quick pulse. Cover and chill it in the fridge – the best, lightest, crispiest batters are made when very cold batter meets very hot oil – and relax for about 20-30 minutes.

When the pork has just 30 minutes to go, drain your potatoes and toss in a little oil, a pinch of salt and herbs, and place around the outside of the joint.

Remove the pork, wrap tightly in 2 layers of foil to retain the heat, and rest it to one side. Pop the oiled muffin tin in the oven for a few minutes. Bring the carrots to the boil. Remove the hot muffin tray, pour a little batter into each tin until around a third full and put back in the oven. Reduce the carrots to a lively simmer, cover, and cook until tender.

Warm the peas through and warm and taste your gravy, if it is too salty for your liking, add a dash of lemon juice to balance it out and stir well.

Remove your yorkshires and potatoes, drain all the veg, uncover and slice the pork (remembering to leave some for tomorrow – be strict about seconds!), and serve.

CHEAT GRAVY:

For a quick instant gravy without all the onion hassle, I keep a jar of this in my cupboard: Finely chop 4 stock cubes to powder with a very sharp knife and tip into a jar. Add 2 tbsp flour and 1 tbsp dried herbs, screw the lid on and shake well. To use, shake again to evenly distribute as the ingredients may settle when stored. Mix 1 tsp of the mixture per person, with a splash of boiling water, and stir to form a thick paste. Add a little more water, stir well, and repeat until it is your desired consistency. I make a big jar of this, multiplying the above quantities, and use it for a quick gravy fix or as a base for meaty casseroles and stews.

  

PORK KOKKINISTO WITH GREEN RICE:

300g leftover cooked pork, diced small

2 tbsp oil

2 onions

2 fat cloves of garlic

200ml strong black tea (or red wine if you have it…)

400g tinned tomatoes

1 tsp mixed dried herbs

1 tbsp sugar (optional)

300g rice

frozen spinach

Peel and finely slice the onion and garlic and pop into a pan with the oil. Cook on a low heat for a few minutes to soften. Add the tea (or wine) and tomatoes, stir well, then add the pork and herbs and sugar. Bring to a boil to heat through, then reduce to a gentle simmer.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the rice. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Drop in the frozen spinach and cook until the rice is soft. Drain – in a sieve to catch the spinach, add a dash of lemon juice, and serve with the kokkinisto.
PORK AND BEANS ‘CASSOULET’:

1 onion

2 carrots

100g cooking bacon

1 tbsp oil

2 fat cloves of garlic

½ tsp mixed dried herbs

all remaining pork, thinly sliced and shredded

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 stock cube dissolved in 200ml water

400g chopped tomatoes

400g baked beans, with the sauce rinsed off thoroughly

Peel and slice the onion and garlic and wash and dice the carrot, and chop the bacon. Pop into a pan with the oil and bring to a medium heat, stirring to disturb so the onions don’t burn. Finely chop all your remaining pork and add to the pan with the herbs. Add the stock, tomatoes and beans, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the carrots are tender – between 10 and 15 minutes depending on how small you chopped them! Serve in a bowl with green veg of your choice in the side.

  
MUSHROOM AND BACON RISOTTO – makes extra for tomorrow’s soup

1 tsp sunflower oil

4 fat cloves of garlic

100g cooking bacon

400g mushrooms

1 tsp mixed dried herbs

400g rice – (basic rice will do, the ‘ris’ in risotto means ‘rice’ not ‘specific fancy rice’)

300ml black tea – in place of red wine – it’s a tannin thing and my readers swear they can’t tell the difference in recipes – though I can’t vouch for it as a lukewarm evening beverage to relax…

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 stock cube dissolved in 1l water

frozen peas to serve

Heat the oil gently in a frying pan. Peel and finely slice the garlic and chop the bacon and add to the pan.

Gently clean any excess earth from the mushrooms with a clean tea towel, chop them into small chunks and add to the pan. Shake the herbs over and allow everything to cook together for a few minutes to soften the garlic and mushrooms.

Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil. When the rice starts to turn translucent, pour in the tea (or wine if you insist…) and add the tomato puree, stirring constantly to prevent any of the rice sticking to the pan.

When almost all the tea has been absorbed, start to add the stock, half a cup at a time. Stir in each time until almost all the liquid has also been absorbed and then add more. Repeat until either the stock is gone or the rice is cooked to your liking. Sprinkle on additional herbs to taste and serve.

You can cheat the peas in the microwave – I learned this in a pub kitchen in my youth and it works for most frozen veg. Put them in a microwave-proof bowl, add a splash of water, cover with clingfilm, pierce in the middle and heat on high for a minute. Instant peas, a little energy saved, and handy to know. For even easier peas, fling them in the risotto at the end and stir to defrost and warm through – but this makes for a slightly funky coloured soup for tomorrow’s lunch…

  
BEST EVER CHILLI:

400g kidney beans

400g baked beans

1 onion

a pinch of dried chilli

½ tsp cumin

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 stock cube dissolved in 200ml water

20g dark chocolate

250g rice

Tip both tins of beans into a colander and rinse thoroughly. If you are using baked beans in tomato sauce, make sure to rinse it all off for this one! Pop the beans into a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then reduce to a gentle simmer.

Peel and dice the onion and put into a large sauté pan along with the chopped chilli and cumin. Add the oil and cook on a low heat until the onion softens into a spicy sweetness. Pour in the tea (or wine if you insist), add the tomato puree and the stock, then simmer all together on a low heat.

Drain the beans and tip into the sauce. Add the chocolate and stir until the beans are mixed through and the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly – the flavours develop as it rests.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the rice. Reduce to a simmer and cook according to packet instructions – the basic rice is broken bits and tiny grains so cooks faster than the posh stuff. When soft, drain and fluff with a fork. Heat the chilli through on a high heat on your biggest hob, stirring well, and serve. Young children would benefit from a dollop of natural yoghurt to calm the heat, or if you’re worried, simply leave the chilli flakes out when cooking and just sprinkle them onto the adult portions to serve.

  

FRIDAY FISH PIE:

600g tinned potatoes (approx drained weight of 2 tins)

2 onions

a pinch of mixed dried herbs

400g frozen white fish fillets

100g tinned sardines

300ml milk

2 tsp flour

2 eggs

100g frozen spinach

a handful of cheese

peas and carrots to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ gas mark 4.

Wash and dice the potatoes and bring to the boil in a large saucepan of water. Reduce to a medium heat and cook until tender – tinned potatoes take a matter of minutes as they are already cooked, but generally not soft enough to mash.

Meanwhile, poach the fish. Peel and quarter the onion and put into a large sauté pan or saucepan with the herbs. Add the fish, cover with the milk, and defrost-to-poach on a low heat for around ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, take out the fish and onion pieces and place on a plate. Add the sardines, removing the large bone down the middle carefully with the prong of a fork. (It is edible and a great source of calcium, I leave it in if cooking just for me but take it out when cooking for my 5 year old son.) Break up all the fish gently with a fork. Reserve the poaching liquid to make the sauce with later.

Boil or poach the eggs in a small saucepan for six minutes. Drain and carefully spoon on to the fish plate.

Drain the potatoes and tip back into the saucepan. Mash with a little milk. Grate the cheese into the mash – if using – and stir well to melt through.

Warm the oil gently in a pan over a low heat and add one tablespoon of the flour. Stir well with a wooden spoon to make a thick paste. Add the other tablespoon of flour and repeat. Now take a tablespoon of the reserved poaching liquid and stir it into the paste until well mixed in. Repeat, gradually adding more liquid, until blended together in a thick sauce. Add the spinach, stir to defrost, then tip in the cooked eggs, mashing them with the back of a fork to break up. Add the onion then the flaked fish and mix everything together well to coat in the sauce.

Spoon the fish mixture into a large ovenproof casserole dish then top with the potato mash, starting at the edge of the dish and working inwards, using a fork to fluff up the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until the mash is golden and crispy on top.Tips: Instead of one big pie, make individual pies to freeze separately. Fill small freezer and ovenproof dishes half full with the fish mixture then top with the mash. Do not cook but instead allow to cool, cover and freeze for up to three months. To cook, remove from the freezer and bake straight from frozen in an oven preheated to 180°C/ gas mark 4 for 30 minutes.

  
HAM AND PEA CASSEROLE:

300g cooking bacon

2 onions

1 tbsp oil

1 stock cube dissolved in 300ml water

a pinch of mixed dried herbs

1 tin of potatoes

150g frozen peas

a dash of lemon juice, to serve

Dice the bacon, and peel and slice the onions. Put into a pan with the oil and cook on a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, to give the onions a chance to sweeten and the bacon to seal. Drain and rinse the potatoes, slice or dice, and toss half of them into the pan with half of the stock. Put the remaining potatoes and stock in a blender and blitz to make a thick sauce. Tip this into the pan and stir well. Add the frozen peas, turn up the heat and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until piping hot. Add a dash of lemon juice and pepper to serve (no salt needed – the stock and the bacon will see to that!)
You can follow me on Twitter @DrJackMonroe and on Instagram @MxJackMonroe

Jack Monroe. November 2015.

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Feed a Family of 4 for less than £9/week: Lunchtime

I’ve tried to account for a variety of lunch situations – from filling protein-packed soups for homes or offices with microwaves, to portable mini pizzas for kids lunch boxes (my son’s school had a mini fit the first time I sent him in with a pizza so a I put two together and told him if anyone asks it’s a sandwich, I haven’t had any hassle since!), and pastas that can be eaten cold in lunchboxes or warmed through. Everyone’s lunch circumstances are different, so pick what works for you. And if you’ve never had leftover mushroom risotto baked onto a pizza, you’re missing out.

  
Mini Pizzas: top with spinach, cheese, bacon, anything you have kicking about from your shopping list. I make a batch of these, cut them out around an upside down mug, and they’re a perfect lunchbox size.

250g self raising flour

2 tbsp UHT milk powder

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp sunflower oil

200ml water

a dash of lemon juice

4 tbsp tomato puree

4 tbsp water

1 tbsp oil

A pinch of mixed dried herbs

Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the bicarbonate of soda and powdered milk. Make a well in the centre and add the oil, water and lemon juice, and mix well. The lemon juice and milk powder may seem an odd choice, but this is pizza base made with ‘soda bread theory’ – and it works. Flour your work surface and tip the dough onto it, lightly knead it for a moment and shape it into a round. Unlike ordinary pizza dough, there is no rising time, and the trick to handling soda dough is to scarcely handle it at all. Roll it to desired thickness – bearing in mind it will rise in the oven! Cut with cookie cutters, a mug, or if you’re feeling lazy, sling it all on a floured baking sheet and cut into squares with a sharp knife, jostling them a bit so they don’t stick together in the oven.

Mix the tomato puree and water in a bowl with the oil and herbs and smear onto each pizza base. Top with your desired topping, add grated cheese, and voila. Can be frozen raw with the sauce on, uncovered, on a baking tray, then when frozen pop them into a freezer bag and use at your leisure as a vehicle for leftovers.
MACARONI PEAS:

250g penne pasta

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 onion

2 tbsp sunflower oil

150g frozen peas

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the pasta, and cook according to packet instructions (usually around 8-10 minutes). Meanwhile, make the sauce. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in a pan, add them to it, and cook for a few minutes. Add the peas and cook until tender but still a good vivid green – for extra goodness you can add some frozen spinach too – there’s no hiding that it’s going to be green anyway so you might as well make the most of it! Remove a third of the mixture and set it to one side. Tip the rest into a blender with a few tablespoons of cooking water from the pasta, grate in some cheese and blend. The sauce should be smooth(ish) but not too runny. (If it is too runny, don’t fear. Take a saucepan, add a tablespoon of oil and one of flour and combine over a low heat. Add a splosh of the liquid, stir well to thin, and repeat a few times to make a sauce. Gradually add the rest of the liquid to it, stirring, to make your sauce.) Drain the pasta and toss with the hot pea sauce and reserved peas and onions. Garnish with more cheese, and serve.

  
LAZY SALMON PASTA:

250g penne pasta

1 onion

a pinch of chilli flakes

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp bottled lemon juice (plus more to taste, if liked)

200ml natural yoghurt

75g jar of fish paste

frozen spinach for extra goodness, seeing it’s there – I eat a lot of this!

Bring a medium pan of water to the boil, and add the pasta. Reduce to a simmer and cook according to packet instructions, usually 8-10mins. Peel and finely slice the onion. Pop into a pan with the frozen spinach, oil, lemon juice and chilli flakes, and cook over a medium heat to soften the onion and defrost the spinach. When the pasta is cooked, remove from the heat and drain. Remove the onions from the heat and stir in the fish paste and yoghurt – don’t add them to the pan on the heat or the yoghurt may split, still edible but doesn’t look very nice at all! Stir well, the pasta should warm it through but if you like your food piping hot, put back on a low heat for a moment and stir briskly to prevent it from splitting. Serve with extra lemon juice and a pinch of salt for the grown ups.

MUSHROOM RISOTTO SOUP – Made from leftover mushroom risotto (recipe here……). Add stock to thin it, pulse half in the blender, combine with the other half, warm through and enjoy it.

  

Chocolate and chilli bean soup:

400g kidney beans

1 onion

2 carrots

a pinch of chilli flakes

½ tsp cumin

1 tbsp sunflower oil

300ml strong black tea – a replacement for red wine in the original recipe, it’s a tannin thing

1 stock cube dissolved in 300ml water

400g chopped tomatoes

20g dark chocolate, or to taste

natural yoghurt to serve

Peel and slice the onion and wash and dice the carrot, then put them all into a saucepan along with the chilli and cumin. Add the oil and cook over a low heat until the onions and garlic soften.

Wash and chop the carrot, and add to the saucepan. Pour the tea and tomatoes in, and stir through. Crumble in the stock cube, then add the dark chocolate and 400ml boiling water. Drain the beans and tip into the pan. Stir and leave to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the carrot is tender.

If you like, pulse the soup in a blender until smooth. Serve hot, garnished with a dollop of natural yoghurt.
Carrot, cumin and kidney bean soup:

1 onion

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp ground cumin

3 carrots

1 stock cube dissolved in 400ml water

400g tin of kidney beans

Peel and chop the onion, and wash and chop the carrots, and pop them into a saucepan on a medium heat with the oil and cumin. Cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften – this takes the ‘raw edge’ off. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Drain and thoroughly rinse the kidney beans under cold running water, tip into the pan and heat through. Tip everything into the blender with 2 tbsp yoghurt, and pulse until smooth.
Tomato and bean soup:

1 onion

2 fat cloves of garlic

2 carrots

500ml stock

1 tin of baked beans

A pinch of mixed dried herbs

400g chopped tomatoes

Peel and chop the onion and garlic and slice the carrot. Pop them all into a saucepan and cover with the stock. Add the tinned beans – rinsed of the salty sugary tomato sauce or not rinsed, it’s down to you – and add them with the herbs and tomatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the carrots are soft. Tip the lot into a blender and pulse until smooth. Enjoy!

For the rest of the recipes for the week, and the shopping list, click the links below!


You can follow me on Twitter @DrJackMonroe and on Instagram @MxJackMonroe
Jack Monroe. November 2015.

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Feed a family of 4 for less than £9/week: The Shopping List

  


Shopping list – based on Sainsburys, prices correct at time of publication. Other major supermarkets have similar products available at comparable prices.

TOTAL: £35.42 or £8.86 per person


Meat/Dairy/Protein: £13.80

1kg boneless pork shoulder joint, £3

670g cooking bacon, £1.15

500g frozen white fish, £1.70

1 tin of sardines, 40p

6 mixed weight free range eggs, £1

400g dried skimmed milk powder (makes 8 pints of milk), £1.05

3 tins Basics baked beans, 75p

3 tins Basics kidney beans, 90p

500g Basics low fat natural yoghurt, 50p

Salmon paste 45p

625g Basics cheddar, £2.90

Fruit and Veg: £12.30

 Basics apples, 80p for 5

Basics pears, 80p for 4

500g Basics sultanas, 85p

1kg loose Basics Fairtrade bananas, 68p (approx 8 small to medium, choose carefully!)

1.5kg Basics carrots, 75p

1kg frozen peas and 1kg frozen spinach, £2.50

1.5kg Basics onions, 90p

4 x 400g cartons of Basics chopped tomatoes, £1.40

2 bulbs Basics garlic, 35p

400g Basics mushrooms, 97p

400g frozen berry mix, £1.50

Carbs; £2.35

1kg Basics rice, 45p

2 x 500g Basics pasta, 70p

1kg porridge oats, £1.20

4 tins of Basics potatoes, 80p or 1kg Basics salad potatoes, 70p

Storecupboard – £6.97 – please check what you have before you go shopping! This initial outlay assumes there is absolutely nothing in the cupboard. With this week’s menu you will have some quantities of most of these items left, meaning subsequent shops will be much cheaper.

Basics peanut butter, 62p

Bicarbonate of soda, 85p

Basics dark chocolate, 35p

Basics chicken stock cubes, 30p

Basics mixed dried herbs, 40p

1kg fairtrade sugar, 80p

Bottled lemon juice, 50p

Basics strawberry jam, 30p

1.5kg Basics self raising flour, 45p

Dried chilli flakes, £1

Ground cumin, £1

40 basics teabags, 40p
To find out what to do with it all, follow the links! (I put it all up separately to make it easier to read rather than one looooong stream of text and lots of pictures that take forever to load…)

Follow me on Twitter @DrJackMonroe and on Instagram @MxJackMonroe 


Jack Monroe. November 2015.

Jack-at-a-Pinch (The story or two behind the new blog title)

The eagle eyed among you will notice that the domain name of my website, formerly agirlcalledjack.com, has changed. It was inevitable, following my recent coming-out, although truth be told I had been considering it for a while anyway. At 27 years old I would have taken umbridge at being addressed as ‘a girl’ by a stranger, so why continue to do it to myself every day?

I have tried many, many options on for size, to find with dismay that my name was taken by some scoundrel, unsurprising as there are many ‘Jack Monroe’s out there, including a Nomad comic book character otherwise known as ‘Bucky’. I get his Google alerts for comic book conventions and some rather eyebrow-raising fan fiction from time to time.

I quite liked ‘MxJack’, and it was almost the contender, but the Twitter and Instagram handles were taken and I didn’t fancy the unnecessary confusion. 
Jack At A Pinch works for me – not least for the cooking connotations, and the implication of slight annoyance that my political musings occasionally bring. A bit of research shows that in the early 1800s a ‘Jack-at-a-pinch’ was a poor hackney parson, and the term grew to mean someone who was useful in an emergency, which also suits me quite nicely – from evacuating a club in London last month when I walked in to a midnight fire alarm from the boiler room, to answering emails from readers with a fiver in their bank account and a few sparse bits in their kitchen cupboard, to my previous incarnation in the Control room in the Fire Service – Jack At A Pinch will take some getting used to, but like a trusty white shirt, it fits rather well straight from the hanger.

And for the forgetful among us, myself included, if you type http://www.agirlcalledjack.com into your toolbar, it will automatically bring you here.

‘Rebranding’, for want of a less horrendous word, is always a bit of a struggle, and I hope this doesn’t cause you, my dear readers, any upset or inconvenience. I am a one-person outfit, I do my own blog, emails, social media, with help with contracts and complex events from the brilliant Ed, Aoife and Rosemary at United Agents. I haven’t got a ‘social media strategy’, and should I ever even utter those words again please feel free to yell at me about how disappointed you are. I get things wrong, I lose my temper, I fluff up, and I do things because they feel right and true and necessary. So here we are. As I said before, I am proud of A Girl Called Jack, of that gorgeous book that still flies off shelves and into university dorms and food banks and through letter boxes around the world, I am proud of what it does and continues to do, but I needed to change my website. Fingers crossed for an easy ride, and now I can bear to look at it again, you can look forward to a host of new recipes.

Love and light and thankyou for your good wishes and understanding over the last few weeks,

Jack Monroe.

Twitter: @DrJackMonroe  Instagram: @MxJackMonroe

I was Borg.

Heart attacks, nut burgers, school places and politics.

Hi all.

I know it’s been a long time since I wrote on my blog. Some of my regular readers will have noticed I moved back to Southend in the summer, and have been adjusting to life outside of London and generally trying to take it easy for a while after the whirlwind that has been the last few years…

New very very tiny kitchen, so I made cupboard space by precariously stacking boxes up one wall. Oooooh...

New very very tiny kitchen, so I made cupboard space by precariously stacking boxes up one wall. Oooooh…

…or so I thought, until I found myself in Accident and Emergency with a drip and an ECG following a suspected heart attack. Months of testing later and two further ambulances into A&E, including wearing a LifeCard heart monitor for 5 days and nights – and we are all none the wiser as to what exactly is wrong. As my doctors have said, I am 27 years old, in good health, I eat well, I walk everywhere, I should not be having minor heart attacks. So I powered down for a while, bought myself a smoothie maker to get even more goodness inside me, turned down a lot of work and tried to sleep and rest as much as possible. Because I don’t know what’s going on but my body was deeply unhappy and I needed to take some time out and love it to give it a chance to get better.

I was Borg.

In all of this, I was trying to find a school place for SB – a process that ended up taking around 14 weeks. Someone tell me why, if a parent takes their child out of school for a few days for a holiday they risk losing their child benefit, but it’s acceptable for the authorities to leave a child out of school for 14 weeks.! He finally started the week before last, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He’s settling in well, loves it, and as much as I loved home educating him for those few precious months, reading Horrible Histories books and doing maths over pizza and reading stories together and doing ‘art’ and ‘P.E.’ and music with him, he is such a bright and sociable darling that he really needed to be in a class with other children. I miss him now we don’t have long lazy morning cuddles every day, replaced instead with the ‘SHOES! WHERE’S YOUR OTHER SHOE?’ of the school run mornings, but his grin as he runs into the school gate and his infectious enthusiasm as he runs out again bursting with things to tell me, is adorable and exactly what he needs. I am so thankful for the months we spent wrapped up in each other, as a forced rest and joytime, as work drifted to the back burner and I focused on totally loving my son instead.

Schooling. Honest.

And so, with SB back at school and – touch wood – no ambulances for me for a while, I have thrown myself back into my work. All to come as separate updates, but I did 1,000 mile round trip to Glasgow to speak at Scottish Green Party conference last weekend, made the most amazing nut burgers for friends, had a meeting with a publisher about the long awaited Book Three, and made a tiny but world-changing announcement on Twitter… And signed up to run a marathon… I might have been away but I’m not boring just yet🙂

Lots of love and blog posts to come, and thank you all for your patience, and kindness.

Jack xxx

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Dear Mr Farrington, The Mail believes oral sex and Pringles give you cancer. Maybe you shouldn’t believe what they write about me either.

This letter appeared in the Southend Echo on 25/08/2015. I felt compelled to reply in full, below.

Dear Editor,

It appears that your correspondent P. Farrington in Tuesdays Letters page has fallen foul of the first rule of Common Sense and Decency that is, do not believe a word that is published in the Daily Mail. This is, after all, a newspaper with its loving arms around one Adolf Hitler, that claims that all large families on benefits may be spearheaded by a maniacal serial killer, and that while Pringles and oral sex cause cancer, tofu and ketchup can cure it. It is this same publication that, in a mere eight lines last week, managed to get my name wrong, invent a quote from me, invent a quote from a detractor for what can only be imagined as ‘balance’, and cast aspersions on my ability as a parent based on my, er, tattoos. I had just finished signing off the solicitors letters to that odious hate-mongering rag, sat down with a cup of tea and my local paper, to find the baseless and defamatory accusations repeated verbatim on the very pages that I write for as a columnist. My, my.

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 To answer Mr Farrington’s questions in turn, as the only person who reasonably can:

1. ‘How can blogger call herself Dr?’ I am a twice-published author with a best selling book. I am a campaigner for Oxfam and the Trussell Trust and have raised over £50,000 for Street Child United, the Trussell Trust, the YMCA, Stonewall, The Food Chain and Oxfam through various fundraisers, mostly involving me starving myself for a week for charity, sleeping on a cardboard box on the floor of a car park, or catering large and complex events free of charge. I am an ambassador for Oxfam and a patron of The Food Chain. I am a mother. I am a journalist. I am a campaigner, forcing a debate on food banks in the House of Commons by getting 140,000 signatures on a petition in a matter of days, and travelling to Tanzania to interview female farmers in the rice fields of Morogoro. I have attended the G8 summit, spoken at Conservative Party conference, and Labour, and the Greens, and the Peoples Assembly. I have been on BBC Question Time. I have cooked dinner for Claudia Roden, Mary Portas, Clare Balding, Sue Perkins and dessert for Bill Nighy (but not all at once). I do write a blog, yes, but it is a fraction of what I do.

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2. ‘I am very surprised that the Echo wrote nothing about blogger Jack Monroe…’ I am unsurprised that the Echo did not see fit to write a news story about another newspaper’s Diary section that was mostly false and defamatory about one of their own columnists. I am however astonished that they published a prominent letter bemoaning their lack of news story about another newspapers Diary section that repeated the false and defamatory allegations. 

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3. …that Mellisa, which is her real name…’ Firstly, the name I was assigned at birth was ‘Melissa’, with one L and a double-S; goodness, if you’re going to try to pull my ‘old name’ out of a bag you could at least pull the right one. This is something I occasionally have to address when people, usually men with a grudge (#NOTALLMEN) try to undermine my ‘authenticity’ by claiming that my name is somehow false. I will explain very clearly. When I was born my parents gave me a name that was very definitely feminine and I never felt particularly comfortable with. I adopted male nicknames for myself throughout my childhood. When I left the Fire Service I was struggling with the realisation that I may be transgender and realised that this was my opportunity to adopt a new better-fitting name without the hassle of having to impose it upon my colleagues. I had been considering doing this for several years by this point. And so I changed it by deed poll, legally, and proceeded to change my bank details and passport accordingly. I cut my hair short. I bind my 36DD breasts to make my chest flat. I wear clothes from the menswear departments, but they aren’t ‘mens clothes’, they’re ‘my clothes’. My real and legal name is Jack, and has been for many years. Calling someone by their former name, especially a person who identifies as genderqueer, genderfluid or transgender, is known as ‘deadnaming’ and is not only highly insulting but is an attempt to dimish them. It is simply saying ‘you cannot be who you are, you must be the person I insist you should be.’ I refuse to accept such crass and offensive belittling from an imperfect stranger. It is CAITLYN Jenner. CHELSEA Manning. JACK Monroe. Get it? I am currently taking legal action against the Daily Mail for printing that my ‘real’ name is not Jack. It certainly is. I have the passport to prove it, and gently suggest that the Echo, nor any of its correspondents, repeat this claim.

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4: ‘I find it alarming that she can even give herself that title.’ I didn’t. The University of Essex did. I subsequently changed the first two letters of my user name on a social media website, with their blessing and in accordance with their policy. I do not refer to myself as ‘Doctor’ in any formal setting, but if I wanted to, it would be ‘Dr Jack Monroe (Hon)’. Regardless as to your feelings around honorary degrees and title use thereafter, those who take Twitter so very seriously should probably go for a walk or join a book club or take up meditation. There is a whole world out there not limited to the inane 140 character ramblings of the mostly-media-circle. Go on. Read. Fuck. Bake. Log off. Wind down.

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5: ‘…just a good self publicist…’ See point 1.

6: ‘…with not much business acumen behind her…’ At this point I Googled to see if Farrington had ever had a bestselling book. Oh. Please tell me more about my failed business acumen, with my recipe development for high street food chains, my work with Universities, my part in the School Food Plan, the Peoples Supermarket meetings, my patron status of charities, my books, my frequent political commentary in newspapers and on television, my speaking engagements to corporate companies to try to improve their understanding of social needs and poverty and LGBT rights in the workplace, my work with food banks and at political conferences, the 80 hour weeks, meaning that I type this letter to you at 02:39 in the morning because I fly to the US tomorrow for new and exciting work. Please tell me more about my failures. I am always willing to learn.

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7: ‘…and a failed relationship which has resulted in a child in tow…’ If you consider an eight year friendship followed by five years of solid co-parenting and a very happy, safe, secure, intelligent child to be a failure simply because Mummy and Daddy don’t have matching wedding bands, then I am genuinely saddened by your narrow viewpoint. Families come in all shapes and sizes, from divorcees to widows to lesbians to shared custody arrangements to single parents to remarriages to adoption and fostering. To quote the actress Sophie Ward in last week’s Telegraph: “Bringing up children is mostly common sense. They need love and security and encouragement and boundaries, none of which is gender-specific.”

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8: ‘If she considers she is a good cook…’ My friends and family clear their plates. I don’t have an opinion on my cooking other than that I enjoy it and so do several million other people. And my guinea pig loves it, because he gets the roots and shoots.

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9: ‘…she should…earn more honest money that way.’ To be clear, lobbing ‘Dr’ onto the front of my Twitter handle (see point 4) is neither ‘dishonest’ nor a money spinner. Of the work I have done in the last six weeks since receiving my honorary degree, none of it has been related to my title. None. To suggest that I earn my income as a fraud is a serious allegation and one that I am minded to challenge the Echo on, or any other newspaper, if they ever publish such baseless insinuations again.

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I hope this clarifies the matter and draws a line beneath it. I shall keep this letter as a handy resource for anyone else who wishes to repeat the Daily Mail’s claims. Repetition of slander is still slander. Publication of that repetition is as serious as the initial offence. I hope I make myself absolutely clear.

I shall be carefully considering whether I still want the Echo to publish my column, which I give them for free every week and have done for three years, as it seems my name is good enough to sell their newspapers but somehow simultaneously worth undermining for a little consternation and controversy. I respectfully request that you do not publish any more excerpts from my blog – except this one – while I make a decision either way, and am deeply saddened by such gross disloyalty from the newspaper that took me in as an untrained junior journalist when I needed a job, cut my teeth and let me fly when the Guardian came knocking. The newspaper that frequently refers to me as ‘Our Jack’ in its headlines. I thought we were family, and not of the distant-cousins-bitching-on-Reddit variety (I see you). It would have just taken a phone call, you guys, a quick clarification. My phone number and email address haven’t changed since I sat at my desk off Alexandra Street. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. It could have been so easy.

Yours with a heavy heart and wondering where all the good people go,

Jack Monroe. ADDRESS WITHHELD. <<<for obvious reasons, I hope.
Jack Monroe || Twitter: @DrJackMonroe || http://www.agirlcalledjack.com

Thinking of applying for Britain’s Hardest Grafter? Read this first.

TwentyTwenty productions are looking for applicants for a new television show that has been described as ‘Benefits Street meets The Hunger Games’. Are you thinking of applying for the chance to win that staggering £15,000 sum? Here’s what you should know first – and I am probably doing myself out of ever getting another job in television by writing this article but you know what? Fuck it. Because I wish someone had told me.

1. Only one of you will win that £15,000. It’s also classed as ‘earnings’, so you will have to pay tax on it, and National Insurance contributions.

2. The rest of you will be ‘recompensed’ ‘not less than the National Minimum Wage’ for your time on the show. Bear in mind that the people you will be surrounded by, the presenters and camera crew and the ubiquitous ‘celeb’ they’ll roll out here and there, will be being paid hundreds, if not thousands, every day. You will be surrounded by people whose ‘wage’ will be worth dozens of yours, and some of them will treat you accordingly.

3. The media will trawl through your social networks and dig up and store any photographs they can find as evidence to fit the ‘character’ they will invent for you. Take my advice and remove completely any pictures of you with a beer in your hand, and DEFINITELY any champagne bottles or glasses. It doesn’t matter to the picture desk whether that’s a Cava from Lidl, they will paint you as a champagne-quaffer at the taxpayers expense. Ditto any photos of you with a fag in your hand (or worse), any party pictures, foreign holidays, shit even any pictures of that Devon caravan park where the weather was good because a little PhotoShop and they can legitimately accuse you of living it up on holiday. It doesn’t matter how private you think those photos are, it just takes one untrustworthy person on your friends list to right click em and save em and forward them on. And believe me, they will contact your friends list for access. It’s not illegal. It’s not right, but it’s not illegal. These days I only drink bubbles from wine glasses, firstly so the Mail can’t get their ‘Champagne Socialist’ picture caption and secondly if I’m at the kind of party where they’re handing booze out on the door, I need as much of it as possible to peel myself off the wall and talk to someone – and wine glasses hold twice as much.

4. They will dig out photographs of your children, from Facebook, from twitter, from Instagram, from any personal blogs or websites, from parenting groups, from Mumsnet, and store them to use at their leisure, to accompany any stories about you that they wish. They will name your children. They will speculate on their parentage. They will judge the clothes they are dressed in without giving a fuck about whether they were coming in from the garden or in old clothes to help decorate or a bow tie for a wedding. Commentators will judge your children on their weight, appearance, speculate on your family makeup. I write recipes, for crying out loud, and have defended about seventeen different versions of events of how I got pregnant and what happened next, including a Daily Mail piece asking how lesbians get pregnant in the first place. They could have just asked, but honest answers are hard to shoehorn into a narrative, so they invent instead.

5. It is not ‘tomorrows chip paper’. Not any more. Not in a digital age. Other peoples lies and versions of your life story are digitally stored to be pulled up for years and years and years to come. Your children, growing up, will be able to find the nasty things that people wrote about you for other peoples entertainment. They’ll be able to find the nasty things that people wrote about them, for other people’s entertainment. Lazy journalists will use old articles as gospel, and quote them in their own. The twisted version of your life story will be repeated so often as to become an irrefutable fact in the minds of the establishment media.

6. People who you thought were your friends will be queueing up to make a fast buck at your expense. Worse, people you had forgotten even existed, old cousins, people you have never even met but have some loose connection, will formulate something shocking out of scraps of memory held together with large doses of fiction and their own bollocks opinions, and try to sell it to whatever rag will have it. They’ll legitimise their version of events with a few childhood photos, or some other tenuous link. Think it won’t happen to you? I get emails forwarded to me from newspaper editors where people I barely know have ‘offered’ completely fictitious stories, demanding cash for them. It was Jimmy Carr’s dad who lit the blue touch paper about his tax – whatever you think of it, it illustrates that people who are supposed to be our nearest and dearest can be utterly shit when faced with the prospect of easy money and their face in the paper.

7. Journalists will harass vulnerable members of your family. My mum is profoundly disabled – I don’t generally talk about it, but this is the Mum that Edwina Currie tried to claim was loaded on national television to unhinge me in a debate about food banks. My mum was a nurse, until she hurt herself lifting a patient when I was about five or six years old. She has half a scrappy kidney, chronic fybromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and she’s deaf. She has walked with crutches for as long as I can remember. I spent most of my early childhood up to my teens not understanding why she was in hospital almost every month for an operation and fearing she would die any moment. This doesn’t stop the Telegraph banging on her door the day after she has got out of hospital from an operation, refusing to take no for an answer, returning several times (having been told she is sick in bed and it takes a long painful time to get down the stairs). She phoned me in tears asking me if there was anything I could do to get them to leave her alone. I tweeted to 70,000 people that they were utter shits or something along those lines, and they stopped knocking. For now.

8. The scummier arms of the media don’t care about your personal life or relationships beyond selling newspapers. The Sun interviewed me about my book back in 2013, and managed to twist my saying that my son’s father was an excellent, supportive man into making him sound feckless and absent. He reads the Sun. His friends read the Sun. I have maintained a good relationship with this man for the last 6 years while we raise a child together and a few sentences in a national newspaper caused such ferocious upset I feared it may never heal. His friends went mad at me, accusing me of lying to the newspaper to get publicity (it didn’t occur to them that journalists tell lies). He was hurt and bemused by the assault on his character, and I felt obscenely guilty – it was my ‘success’ causing hurt to so many people I love and care for, and I took the blame for it.

9. You will be painted as a scrounger, a skiver, reckless, feckless and workshy. Television programmes are edited for the ‘most interesting’ footage, X Factor and Big Brother style. Any arguments, disagreements, a 30 second clip of you scratching your bum, being last to turn up, will all be threaded together like a necklace of car crash pearls, carefully planting the seeds of your assigned ‘character’ in the minds of the viewers. Future employers will likely be watching this show, and you can say what you like in interview, but their minds will already have been made up for them by however TwentyTwelve Productions want to paint you.

10. Years later, you might buy yourself a roast dinner at a pub, and a newspaper will try to ruin you for it. I completed the Live Below The Line challenge this year, raising over £7,000 for Street Child United by eating barley and tiny portions of soup every day for 5 days. In recognition of that and because he’s a nice and awesome person, my friend Nick who runs the Drapers Arms in Islington invited me to lunch at the end of it, to celebrate surviving the week and to get something good inside to try to restore my carb-laden tiredness and nutrient-deprived body with some meat and vegetables. I had a wonderful time, restorative and joyous and relaxing and just a brilliant afternoon. The next day a Daily Mail features writer tweeted a photo of my lunch, claiming it had cost £60 (it hadn’t), and trying to smear me as a hypocrite ‘at Islington eaterie’. It’s not an eaterie. It’s a pub. He even tweeted the Green Party into the bargain to stir up the old argument that all Green supporters should be vegan or vegetarian. I have been gainfully employed for about three years now. I work 70 hours a week. I am typing this ON HOLIDAY at half past 8 at night because I work from waking to sleeping, seven days a week. Nobody pays me while I am sick. Nobody pays me while I am on holiday. I just work. And if I want to spend some of the fruits of my labours on a pub lunch, I fucking will. I pointed out to him my Mulberry handbag, bought with my second book deal advance, because if I am ever poor again it’s nice to know I have assets to sell to get back on my feet, although I think the 5 year old doodling on it with a blue biro might have knocked a bit off its value. Regardless, you will be made to feel bad for ever doing well for yourself or breaking ‘out of character’. When someone asks me where my loud and proud gay trousers are from, I am embarrassed to say ‘Vivienne Westwood’ because it has been drummed into me that I cannot have nice things. My nice tux I wore to the Stonewall awards? It’s from The Kooples. And I WORKED for them and I EARNED them and I will wear them with fucking impunity, and if I am ever so skint I can’t afford to eat again, I will sell them and buy kidney beans and rice and bacon. Most of the rest of my wardrobe is Oxfam. But yes, I can now have nice things.

I am writing this because I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had told me, before I signed a book deal for a recipe book – because I needed a job and it was a job – that I was going into a war, unarmed. That that war would be fought against multinational corporations with huge legal teams, against keyboard warriors, against anonymous abusers and newspaper columnists with followings of millions of devoted acolytes. I am writing this because people applying for this show don’t even have the guarantee of the cheque at the end of it, like I did with my book deal. You have ‘a chance of’ winning £15,000. That will be taxed before you get your hands on it. And take months to turn up in the first place.

It isn’t a life changing amount of money. You can clear some debts with it and pay a few months rent, but at what cost? At what price? For daily abuse and trolling and maybe even death and rape threats into the bargain? For anonymous commenters speculating about how your kids should be taken away? For Gods sake, Chukka Umunna stepped out of the leadership race for the Labour Party because the media started digging around in his private life. Lucy Meadows, a teacher who was transgender, hung herself after Littlejohn wrote an article attacking her in the Daily Mail. You really think they won’t do it to you, too?

Jack Monroe. On Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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Live Below The Line: The Whole Week

                    

   
                 

Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe

This was my Live Below The Line challenge to raise money for Street Child United – I’ll blog all of the recipes I haven’t got around to over the next couple of days. In the meantime you can read about it (and sponsor me!) over on http://www.livebelowtheline.co.uk/me/agirlcalledjack&nbsp;

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Live Below The Line Day 6: Breakfast Banana Barley Pancakes with peaches and yoghurt, 24p

This morning saw the use-up of some of my last ingredients from Monday’s £5 ‘below the line’ shop – including the largest of all the bananas at a whopping 11p (the other two were 6p and 7p respectively) – I’d been saving this one until the bitter end as in previous years I’ve used all the good stuff first and trudged over the line at the end of the week – who remembers the 80p sausages and 15p stuffing from 2013?! 

And somehow I managed to make a tin of peaches eke out over six days, willpower previously unknown as I’ve been known to eat the entire thing in one sitting before – and feel a bit sick and sugar-high afterwards…

  
So this morning, day 6 of a 5 day challenge (go figure), I had this:

Served 1, and satisfyingly:

1 banana, 11p

20g barley flour (ground up pearl barley), 2p

30g natural yoghurt, 3p

Plus 40g tinned peaches, 4p and 40g natural yoghurt, 4p, to serve 

First heat a little oil in a frying pan – keep an eye on it so it doesn’t get too hot while you do the next bit. If it starts smoking remove it from the heat and let it cool.

Mash the banana and yoghurt together in a bowl, I find the side of a teaspoon much more effective than a fork for this job but each to their own, cheap teaspoons are wafer-thin so go through bananas like a knife through butter. Mix to a rough paste, and stir in the flour – any flour will do if you haven’t ground up a load of pearl barley like I did.

Dollop into the pan, spreading with the back of your spoon into a round shape. Cook for a minute or two until you can carefully turn them over, then cook for a minute or two on the other side. Remove onto a plate (I put a piece of kitchen roll or a clean tea towel down to absorb excess oil) and repeat until all the batter is used up. 

Serve with peaches and yoghurt (or topping of your choice), and enjoy. And if you think it looks good, well, you’re in very good company…🙂

  
Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

I’ve been taking the Live Below The Line challenge to raise money for Street Child United. You can find out about their great work (and sponsor me!) by heading to http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack&nbsp;

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Live Below The Line Day 4: Barley pancakes with Elvis egg and beans, 38p

I found myself eating dinner at 5pm today, shattered and raggedy around the edges and having spent much of the afternoon in a blanket sullenly poking at my phone and trying to work. I guess the teeny tiny roast vegetable soup didn’t quite cut it on the satisfaction front, but I hit a sort of panic and started rationing ingredients today, worried I might run out. Truth is I still have a whole head of broccoli, a carrot, an egg, some stock cubes, a banana, a bit of yoghurt, some barley, barley bits, barley flour, peaches and two soups I made yesterday in a fit of organisation, so I think I’ll make it to the end. But it’s scary. I caught myself absently spooning baked beans from the fridge today and when I realised I was horrified, trying to mentally calculate if my moment of zombie-like gluttony would cost me a meal later down the line. 

I had an egg white left over from Tuesday’s soup, where I just used the yolk, and had carefully slid it into a jar in the fridge. I’ve hidden all my LBL ingredients from the rest of the family, stowed behind jars of pickles and backs of fridge drawers so they don’t get eaten accidentally, which is a double edged sword, as it means I’m confronted with everyone else’s asparagus and creme caramels as I pick my way through the fridge for my pot of yoghurt and an egg white. I’ve even labelled it all, purple Sharpie on fat white labels, reminiscent of days spent in a fire service mess room and then a newspaper office where goods not clearly identified as belonging to someone were seen as fair game. Anyway, I digress. Pleased to report the children have not helped themselves to my succulent tinned peaches, my moments of sweet joy in an increasingly difficult week, but that may be because they’ve had about seventeen lectures on the matter…

And so, this was dinner. I think it’s my most expensive LBLUK meal this year so far, but oh, it was worth it. I’m writing this two hours later and I’m not hungry. It was hot. It was stodgy. It was protein-packed. It was exactly what I needed.
  
Served 1:

Barley pancakes:

20g barley flour (made from ground up pearl barley), 3p

3 tbsp natural yoghurt, 

the White of a medium free range egg, 7p

Plus:

135g Basics baked beans, 8p

1 medium free range egg, 15p
In a small mixing bowl, combine the egg white with the yoghurt and barley flour (if you haven’t been following this so far, I made barley flour by flinging a load of uncooked pearl barley in my blender and pulsing it, and repeating about ten times. It wasn’t the most efficient flour-making method but it was all I had, and made a small amount that has got me through the last few days. The little cracked pieces of barley that were left behind have so far been cooked in soups and found their way into something like a bircher pot). Mix well with a fork to break up the egg and form a thick batter.

Brush the bottom of your frying pan with a little oil and heat on a medium heat. Some schools of thought cook pancakes on a shit-hot high pan but I’m too easily distracted and that doesn’t work for me, but feel free if you think you can tame it.

Dollop a little batter into the pan, spread into a round if it needs a little help finding its shape, and repeat until your pan is full of little pancakes. I like mine blini sized at the moment, they cook fast and the sheer number of them fools me into thinking I’m eating more than I am. Let them cook, and turn over after 30 seconds to a minute when it’s all holding together. Cook for another minute or two, then remove. Repeat until all your batter is used.

Meanwhile, I fried my egg and flung my beans in the microwave to heat through – hey, it’s Live Below The Line, not a contest for a Michelin star.

And devoured. Gratefully, stodgily, happily, devoured.

I’m eating for £1 a day to raise money for Street Child United and you can read all about it (and donate!!) here: http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack

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Live Below The Line Day 4 Lunch: Roasted onion and carrot soup (11p) and half a banana (3p)

Last night I made bread for the family – none for me, but I’m hoping there will be some left by Saturday morning – and while the oven was on I decided to fling half an onion and one of my carrots into the bottom of it, sliced and sitting in a roasting tin with a little oil. Oh, I’m so glad I did, because it tastes practically of luxury today, blitzed with a chicken stock cube and demolished in under a minute flat. I often cook things around other things in the oven, I call it ‘Cauldron Theory’, as in medieval times you would pack as many foods into your cauldron as possible to all cook together, saving you having to keep the damn thing going all the time. I have given the instructions below as pan-cooked, instead of roasted, but if you do have the oven on then feel free to fling them in for half an hour with a splash of oil for a sweet, succulent flavour.
  
Served 1 (barely) at 11p

1 carrot

Half an onion – I would have used a whole one but I have started rationing my ingredients

1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 400ml boiling water
First slice your carrot, skin and top and all, and peel and slice your onion. Toss into a pan with a small amount of oil and bring to a high heat. Cook for a few minutes until the edges start to caramelise, disturbing with a spoon to stop them from burning and sticking. When the edges start to crisp slightly, turn the heat down medium-low and add the stock. Cook for around 20 minutes to soften the veg, then blend and enjoy.

I’m doing the Live Below The Line challenge this year to raise money for Street Child United. You can read more about it, and sponsor me, at http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack&nbsp;

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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Live Below The Line: The obligatory day 3 soul-search, luck and self-loathing.

Love is making a rye and beer bread loaf for other people when you’re in the middle of doing Live Below The Line. Fact. This year’s LBLUK challenge (living on £1 a day for 5 days to raise money for Street Child United) has been strangely discombobulating as I find myself with two toddlers and a cacophonous revolving door of friends and guests to cook for. It’s not that I don’t want to share my 23p barley pancakes and peaches with everyone else, it’s that my ingredients for Live Below The Line are in such scarce supply that if I share them, I won’t be able to eat come Friday. And so the rest of the household has carried on business as usual, with me eating separately to everyone else – as my hunger patterns are different, and there may be a small outrage from the shortest people in the household if they see me stuffing a small pile of pancakes down my neck.


And so this evening I found myself obsessively trailing through other people’s Instagram accounts, reminding myself of the food world I accidentally landed in and come Saturday, can rejoin with gusto. It’s an uncomfortable thought, that there is an end in sight. Because I lived this, day in day out, for months and months and months on end. I didn’t know food writers back then. I didn’t have an Instagram account. I just dug around the back of my sofa (until I sold it) looking for change that was rarely there, scrabbling through the two handbags and whatever pockets routinely, several times a day, rarely fruitfully. I would insert my debit card into the ATM outside Sainsburys a mere minute before walking inside, and write the available balance on my hand. If it was more than a tenner, I would stop at the customer services department and buy a £10 gift card and tuck it in my purse for safekeeping, a guarantee that no matter what happened in the next week, I could buy a little food.


I logged out of my Instagram account, annoyed at myself for looking, for the pangs of self-pity at David Loftus’s beetroot cured trout, or Marina’s blood pudding with a soy cured egg yolk, or Jackson Boxer’s endive. Irritated by the heckled jibe from Fraser Nelson at the Spectator debate when I was talking about my £10 food shop, that “that’s not what it is not though, is it?” I rounded on him, wounded, telling him about Live Below The Line and challenging him to join me. The audience cheered. He didn’t take me up on it. And what marker of civil society is it that we seek to keep the poor ‘in their place’? That someone can take a shot at me for not being ‘poor enough’ any more, for not struggling hard enough, any more, for daring to have more than one kind of flour in my storecupboard, flour bought with 70 hour working weeks and more than a trace of exhaustion around my ragged edges? People dismiss it as ‘lucky’. I retort that it’s funny how the harder I work and the more opportunities I say yes to, the luckier I get. I’m not denying the debt of gratitude I owe David Giles at the Echo for passing me the Talk To The Press enquiry in 2012, nor the Sunday People for running the feature, nor Lisa Markwell for picking up a tweet and including it in an article about hospital food all those years ago, nor Xanthe Clay for getting in touch at the Telegraph. I owe so much to Robert Gwyn Palmer and Adrian Sington, and many many many more people, too many to list one by one here – but I also work seven days a week most weeks, run my diary like a military schedule, travel to the furthest reaches of the country, and still drop the children to school and pick them up again most days of the week. I work late into the night, early in the morning, on the treadmill, on the train, in the bath. Yet I’m pulled apart on stage in a live debate for not being ‘poor enough’ any more. As I said to Fraser, he doesn’t know what I earn. It’s probably less than most people think. But I’m grateful to have a job and grateful to have the work and you mustn’t think for one moment that I’m complaining about it, because god, I know what it’s like to not have those things and I wish for a world where nobody lives through those experiences. I wish for a world where a woman doesn’t get fired from Harrods for taking her free lunch home because she’s too busy at work to eat it. I wish for a world where a single mum claiming benefits doesn’t walk out in front of a lorry because the Bedroom Tax has taken every last scrap of the fight out of her. I wish for a world where I wasn’t at the desk of my local newspaper when a woman called in tears to say her friend, known to me at the local food bank, had hung himself after the latest round of sanctions from the JobCentre. I wish for a world where I didn’t have a regular slot on Sky News talking about food banks because I wish for a world where food banks were no longer needed. 


Forgive my rambling – Day Three is typically the deep and meaningfuls from previous years of Live Below The Line, as faint hunger starts to gnaw at my senses and the tiredness from caffeine withdrawal and carb spikes and plummets start to take their toll. I’ve had two naps today, almost missed school pickup and hared down the road to the school gates 10 minutes late as I crashed mid-afternoon. But for me, in two days time, it will all be over.


Please dig deep and donate for those who don’t have that bright light at the end of the tunnel. Those who don’t have an Instagram account full of London’s finest food writers to drool over. Those who aren’t checking off the days on their calendar until they can buy a small luxury again (mine will be a bottle of Dr Pepper, no idea why, I craved it through my pregnancy but let’s quell that rumour right there – maybe something to do with the sugar and caffeine I’m missing at the moment?!) Please head over to http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack and even if you can only give £1 – well, if all my readers, Twitter followers, facebook fans and Instagram followers gave £1 we’d have half a million quid on the spot. We can change lives. Make plans. Give hope and a future. Let’s do it. Together.


Jack Monroe. Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

Live Below The Line Day 3 Dinner: Broccoli stalk and yoghurt soup, 29p

Day three, dinner three, sees me over the middle hump of this year’s Live Below The Line challenge. In previous years, I’ve found myself at the end of the week with the scraps and scrag-ends of my £5-for-5-days food shop, exhausted, cranky, and willing it to be over as I try to be inventive with whatever bits and pieces there are left. I’m trying not to let that happen too much this year; in the same way I gently encourage my 5 year old not to leave the ‘green veg’ on his plate until the end for a dragged-out, miserable dinner experience (if anyone finds the answer as to why small boys are totally happy to eat their own bright green bogies and lick their radioactive-looking snot from their noses but abhor anything green that might be good for them, please, I’m dying to know) – I decided to shoehorn some of the ‘scraps’ into the week, rather than drag my heels and pouty lower lip all the way to Friday. So here we are, Wednesday, and a broccoli stalk soup. Rather this than the mushy peas, anyhow, that are glaring at me passive-aggressively from the worktop and filling me with fear.


I decided to dice and slightly char the broccoli stalk – there’s no real knowledge or science behind this decision, I just figured it needs all the help it can get to take it from ‘thing I would usually feed the guinea pig’ to ‘thing I’m really looking forward to for my dinner’. And as ever, I’m padding it out with a little pearl barley, because a) I seem to be barely making a dent in it despite eating it with almost every meal and b) I need all the energy I can get in order to not just sit in the middle of the living room, get fired from all my jobs, and let the toddlers run riot and draw on the walls.


Served 1 at 29p


1 broccoli stalk, diced (weighed a whopping 150g), 14p

2 spring onions, 8p

1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 300ml boiling water, 2p

30g pearl barley bits, 3p

30ml natural yoghurt, 3p


First dice your broccoli stalk. Grab a non-stick pan, or a griddle if you have that sort of thing lying around the house (personally I have one favourite large shallow non-stick pan I use for everything, it doesn’t get the fancy lines on it that you would get from a cast iron griddle but having spent some of my errant youth flinging skinless-boneless-tasteless-chicken onto a griddle in a local Harvester I don’t have positive associations with identikit charcoal lines on food anyway…). Pop it on the hob and crank the heat up to shit-hot. Fling the diced broccoli in and turn the heat down to medium-low, depending on the size of your burner. Big burner low, little burner medium. You want some heat, but not so much, that pan should be hot hot already. Stir the broccoli to disturb it a bit and stop it sticking, you want a light char rather than something that tastes like you’re chewing an ashtray… Add a tiny bit of oil if your pan needs it. When it’s a bit soft around the edges, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.


Give it a minute or two, and add your stock (adding water then crumbling the cube in is fine, it will all come together in the end) then the pearl barley. Return to the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the pearl barley is soft and swollen.

To serve, add your yoghurt – DO NOT just dollop it into the pan as it will split, which is perfectly edible in a sour kind of way but does look rather off-putting. Put your yoghurt in a separate bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the soup to it, and stir quickly to combine. Repeat this step about 6 times, gradually thinning the yoghurt and warming it without it splitting. When the yoghurt-soup mix is warm to touch, tip it into the remaining soup and stir in. And serve. Voila. Broccoli stalk and barley soup.


I’m taking the Live Below The Line challenge to raise money for Street Child United – you can sponsor me at http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack


You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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Live Below The Line: My £5 Shop, crying in the supermarket, and the dreaded mushy peas.

This morning I went shopping for Live Below The Line, having spent well over an hour last night researching the nearest cheapest supermarket to me, their ranges and products, and making a list of potential contenders for ingredients by food group. 

Anyone thinking this looks like an extraneous amount of effort? It’s how I used to shop all the time. Organising foods into categories to make sure I had something approaching a reasonably balanced diet for me and SB, and the passive-aggressive headlines gently reminding me to try to buy as much fruit and veg as possible.

So this morning, decisions made and list in hand, I hit my local Sainsburys. There isn’t an ASDA, Aldi or Lidl in reasonable walking distance, and only a very small Iceland. Besides, Sains is familiar, and familiarity is comforting under pressure.
The first hurdle came with a swing round into the frozen aisle, to find no Basics frozen mixed vegetables that were supposed to be there, supposed to provide me with a kilo of veg for 80p. There wasn’t even a hole where they should be. For some reason my local quite large Sainsburys has decided that the community of Hammersmith doesn’t need basics mixed frozen veg. I quietly despaired at the cost of their cheapest bag, at £1.40 it was nearly twice the price, and sloped back to the fresh fruit and veg at the start of the store to try to make a kilo of vegetables out of my alloted 80p. On the way out of the freezer department I spied a large 65p frozen pizza, and almost had a ‘fuck it’ moment and picked it up. But, remembering previous years, I’m a person who definitely NEEDS vegetables, I notice the difference in my energy level and personality after a day with no fruit or veg in it, and I’m not going to put myself or my family through it. I push on….
…and find myself on my knees palming my way through every carrot in the loose carrot basket. Good people of Hammersmith I can assure you I am fastidious about hand washing so your carrots are all fine, but I just needed to find the smallest ones as they are sold by weight, and I’ll be damned if my budget is blown by a fat carrot. Ditto the onions, raking through for the runt of the litter and surreptitiously palming off the loose outer layer of skin – if I can’t eat it, I thought to myself, I’m not bloody paying for it.
Ditto bananas, I pull three babies out of bunches and note with some pleasure that they’re still Fairtrade, and at 68p a kilo my little banana will be far cheaper than the ’20p each FOR THE SAME BANANA at my Sainsburys Local.
Ditto mushrooms, and now I’m really not sticking to my list any more, but it’s all the fault of the mixed frozen veg (or lack thereof). I pick the two smallest mushrooms from the box, and pop them in their little brown bag. By now I’m a little bit cross that there’s no scales in the veg section, when did that stop? I used to be able to weigh my veg to calculate what I was spending, when did supermarkets take for granted that nobody needed to know that stuff any more? Of course we do, and some of us more than others…
I leapt for joy at the 45p broccoli and spring onion offers, and threw them in my basket. Maybe I should put some back. I can discard one or the other at the checkout if I go over budget. Nervous now, that looks like a lot of veg. I try to mentally calculate it but without the scales I have no idea how much my carrot or onion or mushroom would cost. 

The best part of the trip was finding mixed weight free range eggs reduced from their recent price of £1 to 85p, rare that prices go backwards at this end of the economic scale (in fact many products have gone up since last years challenge, or disappeared altogether). I feel a bit better about my veg haul with the extra 15p to play with, but still eyeing it nervously.

I swap 55p pilchards for 40p sardines, clawing back another 15p for my veg budget, and scowl at 55p yoghurt that was 45p this time last year.

More disappointment awaits at the tinned fruit aisle as the grapefruit I was planning on having is notably absent and I flail at the pineapple and peaches trying to work out which would be better suited to the rest of my ingredients. I settle for peaches, grouchy that they’re the same price as the grapefruit but 120g less. So much for careful planning.

Next up, while I’m in tins, a cursory glance over the tinned veg with a fond longing for sweetcorn. Maybe a corn pancake, I think, or a creamy corn soup…..but it’s victim of another price hike at 30p a can, and I very very reluctantly pick up a can of mushy peas instead. I hate mushy peas. The scourge of my childhood memories as they sidled up to my mashed potatoes and pea’d all up the side of them. But at 20p, they were the cheapest veg there, and I had a few in my food bank boxes over those months, and always managed to force them down. You do, when you’re hungry. You’re suddenly a lot less fussy about what you eat. 

I finally grab a bag of pearl barley and head for the self service checkout, self service to avoid the humiliation of having to ask someone to take something off the conveyer belt when I can just discreetly abandon it in my basket instead. And discreetly abandon I do; the brown paper bag the mushrooms are wrapped in. If I can’t eat it, I’m not paying for it, I think for the second time.

With a bag of nerves and a stroke of luck, it all comes to exactly a fiver, thanks to the puny vegetables. And I’m off. You can follow the challenge here, and sponsor me at https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack


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Live Below The Line: Barley Pancakes with Yoghurt & Peaches, 23P

 
 Makes 4 small pancakes

20g barley flour (pearl barley, ground in blender and sifted), 2p
40g natural yoghurt, 4p
1 egg, 14p
2 peach slices (30g), 3p
To make the barley flour, I put a few handfuls of pearl barley in my blender and pulsed it for 30 seconds, then repeated an absolutely laborious amount of times. Tipped it into a sieve over a mixing bowl and sifted the finely ground grain out, and jarred it up as flour. I was left with lots of tiny broken bits, and have put them in a separate jar to do ‘something’ with in the week – not sure what yet…
Combine 2 rounded tbsp of flour with the egg and half of the yoghurt to form your batter.
Heat a non-stick pan (I brushed mine with a little oil to protect it) and dollop the mixture on a tablespoon at a time. Cook for 2 minutes each side, then remove and serve with remaining yoghurt and diced peach.
This was a complete experiment for me and I must admit to being very nervous as I dolloped barley flour (a new concept for me) into a mixing bowl, with yoghurt in place of milk, eyeing it suspiciously and praying it would make something that resembled a pancake. Cheering with joy as I dolloped it into the frying pan and it did a pancakey thing. Thank goodness. I’ve a feeling I might be eating a lot of these this week… They’re this years bannocks!🙂
I’m fundraising for Street Child by taking the Live Below The Line challenge, living off £5 for 5 days, and writing about it here. You can follow my progress here, and on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe
Please read why I’m doing the challenge and donate at http://www.livebelowtheline.com/agirlcalledjack&nbsp;
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The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook



I’m very honoured to have been a part of this book, along with many friends and other cooks, chefs, dieticians, and nutritionists. I have lost two good and important men in my life to Cancer recently, and know that if this book had been around before now I would have given it to them, their families, and many other friends besides who have bravely battled through this ravaging and indiscriminate horror.

This is a book of meals to share with friends and family, for during treatment, and after treatment. It was compiled by Catherine Phipps, and introduced and edited by Dr Clare Shaw PhD RD, the consultant dietitian at The Royal Marsden. The beautiful photography was by Georgia Glynn Smith.

Dr Clare Shaw introduces the book: ‘Your diet has a strong bearing on your overall health and your ability to withstand Cancer treatment: there is much truth in the saying ‘You are what you eat.’ The food you consume affects whether you lose or gain weight and can influence your muscle strength and how you feel. The overall balance of your nutrient intake can also affect how well your body responds. People who lose a lot of weight before or during cancer treatment may find it more difficult to cope with the treatment, and side effects may be more common or harder to withstand.’

‘The first part of this book will help you decide which balance of foods suits you. What you need may change over time according to how you feel, changes in your weight and your taste or other factors that influence your food choices.’

‘The second part, the recipe section…begins with recipes for the period when eating is more difficult. The dishes here are designed to be high in protein and energy and provide plenty of vitamins and minerals. They may be built around particular flavours to tempt your palate or give ideas for times when cooking is a chore. The recipes are designed for all the family so there is no need to cook separate meals.’

‘For times when you need more energy or protein, if you are struggling to eat or recovering from treatment, there are hints and tips on how to fortify your foods as necessary or choose high energy foods. These recipes are not just for those who have cancer: good, healthy eating a applies to everyone.’

I wrote a simple pearl barley risotto recipe with beetroot and peas, and a lemon-chilli oil (below). Liz Earle (pictured below) donated a juice recipe. Mary Berry gave a cake recipe, and other contributors include Allegra, Gwyneth Paltrow and Nigella Lawson.



The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook is available to order from various online book shops, my favourite is Hive Stores, supporting independent book shops – and they deliver, too: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/the-royal-marsden-cancer-cookbook-nutritious-recipes-for-during-and-after-treatment-to-share-with-friends-and-family/19554206/

Apologies if this post has seemed a little weary and stilted – I am aware as I write that I do not sound like myself and aware that readers who have been given 850+ blog posts over 3 years may pick up on a change of tone… Today is a difficult day. Please buy this book, it is so beautiful, but so important. I wish it had been around sooner.

Jack Monroe. Twitter/Instagram @MsJackMonroe

For the Grandads. x

Photo taken by Kerstin Rodgers, aka MsMarmiteLover.

BBC Good Food 25th birthday party, and I won a thingy.

Photo taken by Kerstin Rodgers, aka MsMarmiteLover.

Photo taken by Kerstin Rodgers, aka MsMarmiteLover.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation in the post to the 25th birthday party of BBC Good Food – and squeaked with excitement. I credit the BBC Good Food website as being one of the main ways I taught myself to cook, by looking up and poring over recipes online, studiously copying them into notebooks that I still have…in fact it’s got me into trouble on occasion, when I needed an ‘alternative’ Christmas cake recipe late last year for a feature, I remembered I had a really good plum one written down in one of my early notebooks. I typed it up and saved it to send on, but something wasn’t quite right. I’d cooked this about ten times, it was a firm favourite, but it just didn’t feel like ‘my’ loose, informal style. A quick internet search later, and there it was, gram for gram, sitting on the BBC Good Food website. Needless to say, I didn’t submit it. Quite a few of the recipes in A Girl Called Jack have been credited back to the site too, I’ve been tapping ingredients into their search bar ever since I packed my first bags and flew the nest almost a decade ago.

Having such an easy to access resource (even on a mobile phone!) with thoroughly tested recipes and photos that looked a little like my attempt at the end result, gave me the confidence to experiment and explore in my first kitchen… and the next one… and the next one. I had a little jolt, holding that invitation in my hand, that I was about to meet a LOT of people who unknowingly and unwittingly had been my long distance cookery teachers, food stylists and mentors, for many years. Yikes.

And so, in a rare fit of ‘oh my goodness this is seriously special’, I, er, put a dress on. In my defence, I’d been to another cookery ‘do’ two nights before and spilled some sort of canape on my only waistcoat, so I couldn’t wear that. The Dress was bought in a fit of madness when I got my first book deal, a ‘just in case’ garment, that hung on the back of a door ever since. I got it down. I cut the labels out. I put it on. It looked like this:

The lesser-spotted Jack-in-a-ballgown. Photo by Kerstin Rodgers, aka MsMarmiteLover.

The lesser-spotted Jack-in-a-ballgown. Photo by Kerstin Rodgers, aka MsMarmiteLover.

And then, on the way there, I had an email from the BBC Good Food team to say I’d won a thingy. I’d been named one of their BBC Good Food Game Changers for 2015, for ‘influencing and shaping the food revolution, raising awareness about budget cooking and championing universal access to affordable home-cooked food.’ I didn’t really know what to say to that, except a very surprised thankyou!

The other Game Changers include:

James Martin, for hosting the longest running Saturday morning programme in UK history, and providing a platform for so many up and coming chefs.

Anna Beattie, creator and executive director of The Great British Bake Off, for galvanising a new generation of bakers, with a global TV sensation that has homemade food at its heart.

Angela Hartnett, one of our highest profile female chefs, who has inspired a generation of women to follow in her footsteps in professional kitchens.

Fiona Hamilton-Fairley, for changing the lives of families for over 20 years by teaching children to cook.

FoodCycle, for tackling food waste from supermarkets and connecting the community with local food and cooking services.

Michael Mosley, for changing the way we think about our food and health by keeping the subject in the headlines.

Thomasina Miers, for changing the perception of the chain restaurant scene and Mexican cuisine with the hugely successful Wahaca – and continuing to innovate.

I think all that remains for me to say is a great big happy birthday to BBC Good Food, and long may it continue. I said on the night through a mess of overwhelmed sobs that I hope my blog is as useful to a few people as the BBC website was to me, in finding my feet, learning the basics, experimenting, exploring, and best of all discovering a little community of like-minded people ‘below the line’ in the comments underneath the recipes, who share their tweaks, ideas, and suggestions to encourage people to stray from the recipes into a whole new world of exploration and innovation. So thankyou BBC Good Food, thankyou to the commenters who share their ideas, thankyou to all of my readers, and all of you who make my blog and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram a friendly, supportive community to be part of. I am always very humbled by awards and accolades – because this has been such a shared journey, as Professor Green titled his most recent album, a definite ‘Growing Up In Public’, and you’re still here three years to the day from my first blog post (WordPress sent me a birthday reminder today!), still supporting, still encouraging, still sending me photos of your cats when I’m having a bluesy day. Nobody could ever have predicted this, least of all me, and I’m really very thankful for it. (And a little titbit of random knowledge; I read somewhere last weekend that Caroline Lucas keeps all her awards in the fireplace – I thought I was cool nonchalantly using them as doorstops and bookends, but hey, she’s just cooler than me!)

  Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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The man who lives in his car, and giving my range cooker up for Lent…

A few days ago I interviewed the wonderful, resourceful, innovative and very charming Nick Andrew for an upcoming feature for BBC Radio 4. For those who don’t know Nick, he’s a man who has lived in his car for the last eight years. Yes, lived in his car for eight years. And still does.

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We talked Trangias and Sporks, travel kettles, disposable cutlery, and how to boil an egg in a kettle. I left the passenger seat of his green estate brimming with a head full of ideas – not least the romantic dream of gallivanting around the country in a camper van (but unlike Nick, I have a family that includes two school-age children, so I think our experiences would be markedly different on the peace and quiet front…)

Anyway, back to the real world and a small idea started to form. For a while now I’ve been pondering playing with a microwave and seeing what I can come up with, and lots of my readers have requested meals that can be cooked in a microwave, either at home or at work. This is very much a Work In Progress, so any ideas you have, recommendations, reading material, I’m open to trying anything. And I guess that gets me to Lent. I’m a bit late to the party, but I’m going to give up my range cooker for Lent (apart from for work but I do still need to earn a living!!) For the next 40 days and nights, I have a microwave and two hob rings. I may dig out my tiny slow cooker, but time will tell, and I’m not even sure where in blue blazes it is these days….

Now, who’s got a good mug cake recipe?!

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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I can’t even open my own front door.

This is an article that I wrote for the Guardian in December that I didn’t post on my blog, because I hadn’t done anything ‘political’ on here for so long that I didn’t want to scare people away. But I am who I am, and this is a very big part of who I am, so if you’re here for just the cheap recipes, then I make no apology for talking a little about why I started writing them in the first place.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Anxiety, trauma, mental health, PTSD, debt, poverty.

My head in my hands, choking out words, tears rushing down hot, humiliated cheeks, I raised my head to look at the array of varying expressions looking back from the other side of the room; a Labour MP, two Conservative peers, and a Conservative MP looked back, a mixture of horror and sympathy as I publicly crashed and burned. Fear and humiliation and self-loathing leaping on me like a set of hyenas, as I sobbed: “I can’t even answer my telephone, any more. If it’s an unknown number, if it rings early in the morning, or I don’t know who it is. I can’t even open my own front door. It’s not the same front door, as the one I sat with my back to, morning and afternoon, cowering as bailiffs battered on the other side of it. It’s not the same phone number. It’s not the same front door. I’m not in debt. There are no more final demands, no more red capital letters, no more threats. But … I can’t even open my own front door.”

I gave evidence at the all-party parliamentary group inquiry into hunger and food bank use in the UK a few months ago, one of over 1,000 pieces of evidence heard by the committee – expecting to recount a story told and retold at party conferences, charity events, radio interviews, to journalists, again and again and again over the past two and a half years. But the APPG wanted more than ‘hunger hurts’. They asked, probed, dug, questioned, opening up the old wounds, and made notes as I trembled in my seat, recalling nights of wrapping a baby up in a vest and a babygro and a dressing gown before putting him down to sleep. Of going to bed shortly afterwards because there’s nothing else to do, and it’s dark, and cold, and you sold the telly, so you go to bed at 7pm and curl up beside him and hold him, because it feels like the only good thing you have. Of being asked, very quietly, by a member of staff at my local children’s centre if a food bank referral form would help us out “for a little while”, as she noticed us having seconds at lunch, and thirds, and three or four sugars in endless cups of tea, of offering to wash up and boxing up the leftovers to take home, away from the eyes of the other mums in the group.

I talked about the unexpectedness of it all, of applying for flexible working hours and day work roles in the fire service before I resigned, of applying for every job I saw in the 18 months afterwards – care work, shop work, minimum wage work, apprenticeships at £80 a week to be told I was “too old” at 23, when the 16-year-olds were cheaper to hire. Of the bank charges that mounted up when bills bounced, and the late payment charges, and how quickly a £6 water charge can spiral into hundreds of pounds in late fees and bank charges, and nobody will give you the smallest of overdrafts, to tide you over, because those charges and subsequent interest are worth far more to a high street bank..

I staggered out of parliament, clutching a friend, shaking and crying. I went home, phoned my partner at work, and wept down the line. The mental breakdown I had been holding back for two and a half years through keeping busy, writing books, smiling for the cameras, crashed down around me.

Poverty took me from being the girl who was always the lead in the school play, to a woman who can’t open her own front door. I suffer panic attacks, anxiety attacks, seemingly random triggers that immobilise me, render me useless but simultaneously unable to explain myself. I’ve cancelled talks and events, crushed into a corner of my sofa, sobbing until my guts ache at the drop of a final demand letter from a years-old debt landing on my door mat. One doorbell ringing unexpectedly last April sent me scuttling to hide at the top of my landing, peering fearfully down the hallway until whoever it was went away. I often miss interviews, because a certain broadcasting corporation calls from unknown or withheld numbers, and I just can’t bring myself to answer them. I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me my poverty wasn’t real enough, or long enough, or whatever their particular factors deem to be poor enough – and all I can say to them, is that I can’t even open my own front door.

This article first appeared in the Guardian on 10th December 2014.

Jack Monroe. Also on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe

Books available at Hive, who deliver to your local independent bookshop – please try to support independent retail where you can, and this is a really easy way to do it: http://www.hive.co.uk/by/jack-monroe/21868634/

Quick update re foot, crabbiness and recipes!

HELLO and welcome back, dear readers. It’s been a whole ten days since I foolishly skidded down the stairs at silly o clock in the morning and found my toes sticking out at odd angles and my sorry ass in the waiting room at Charing Cross A&E, and what a long and frustrating ten days it’s been. I haven’t strictly been taking life as easily as instructed, not being the type who can sit still for ten minutes let alone loaf around in bed with my foot in the air. I did a day of filming for a campaign that comes out tomorrow, wobbling around with a walking stick between takes, was kindly invited to the Telegraph’s ‘Out At Work Top 50 LGBT Executives’ thingy at the House Of Commons (and bailed after 20 minutes, unable to stand and smile simultaneously and sure nobody wanted me grimacing and whimpering in the corner all night like a proper party pooper) and did a much-longer-than-usual food shoot for the Guardian – thankyou Linda, who was kind and understanding and didn’t rush me as I shuffled around the kitchen grumbling to myself. And through all of that, my family have been kind and understanding and generous and very very caring, from the toddlers ‘finding’ my stick for me to help me walk around the house, to endless cups of tea in my bed-work-nest, to them all leaving me alone to wallow in frustration when I was just being Really Crap And Crabby.

Some of you may remember that I made a New Years Resolution to cook something new every day for 2015, to learn new things and explore my culinary imagination, as well as delving into the wealth of cookbooks I and my proper-chef-better-half have accumulated between us over the years – not a week goes by where a new one doesn’t drop through the letter box, kindly sent to review, or as a present, or just because, and there are towering towers of them precariously throughout the house – plenty of reading material for inspiration and innovation. (Sometimes we both get sent the same book at the same time, but for some reason they’re very easy to give away to friends and family…!!)

My latest favourite tomes are Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, Jane Grigson’s ‘Observer Guide To British Cookery’, Cucina by Angela Hartnett and The River Café Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. (Rose Gray’s son, Ossie, runs The Brackenbury restaurant in Shepherds Bush, our date night venue of choice for fantastic dinners, if you’re ever in the area and the sort of person who likes eating good food in nice places without breaking the bank. Er, not that I’m offering a date night, as I am a Well Spoken For Woman, just making a recommendation!!)

Anyway, the point of this longer-than-intended and rather scrambled ramble was to say that I’ve mostly stuck to that resolution (although Dry January kind of went out of the window with the broken foot thing, apologies, I might try again in February when I don’t need to knock myself out to sleep…) and will be posting a pile of recipes shortly from the last few days.😀

With love, and thanks for all the good wishes and karma and healing vibes,

Jxxx

On Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe

The longer we argue, the longer the queues at the foodbank get…

My column in Society Guardian, Monday 8th December 2014.

“Poor people don’t know how to cook”, Baroness Anne Jenkin said at the launch of the Feeding Britain report yesterday, and suddenly it was as though ten months of evidence gathering, and 160 pages of written report, hadn’t happened, cast aside to be summed up in seven words.

Welcome to the new politics, where every character counts, and every statement met with an equal and polarising one. Instead of discussing and debating the 77 recommendations in the report on Monday evening, as a former food bank user who had given oral evidence to the committee myself in July, I found myself on regional and national radio and television, being asked about Baroness Jenkin instead.

And herein one of the big problems with politics today lies: instead of discussing the issues at hand, the baying mobs on all sides are waiting in the wings for someone to say something imperfect, and they pounce, hurling insults and escalating debate into personal attacks and rudeness, and nobody is talking about hungry people or how to feed them any more. Instead it’s all ‘those big bad Tories’ fault, or ‘the Church shouldn’t be commenting at all because they have a bit of gold kicking about’, or it ‘started under Labour…’

The longer we all stand on opposing sides shouting over each other, the longer the queues around the foodbanks get, and the longer the benefit delays, and the longer the queues at the JobCentre. As I said to one interviewer: at home, I have two toddlers, and quite frequently, things get dropped or spilled or broken. I could stand there for twenty minutes, listening to them both blaming each other, or I could pick it up, clear it up, or mend it.

The Feeding Britain report outlines 77 recommendations as part of a strategy to eliminate hunger in one of the richest economies in the world. If Labour MPs and Conservative peers can work together, and the Government and the Church can work together, then surely we can all put our political and ideological differences to one side and galvanise the campaign, and make a difference to the 1 million families relying on emergency food handouts, and the many more working for less than a living wage. Go on, try it. Making a genuine difference is far more satisfying than shouting the odds on Twitter.

The original article is here: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/dec/08/jack-monroe-feeding-britain-food-banks?CMP=twt_gu

Jack Monroe

Twitter & Instagram: @MsJackMonroe

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Britain Isn’t Eating.

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A few weeks ago, I was asked to collaborate on a film project with the Guardian, Royal Court theatre, playwright Laura Wade (who wrote ‘Posh’, recently released as the film ‘The Riot Club’, about the notorious Bullingdon Club) and director Carrie Cracknell, on a microplay film project based around current affairs. I was asked to be part of the food film, and this is what we did:

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“A politician learns an uncomfortable truth about food-bank Britain. Katherine Parkinson stars in a microplay written by Laura Wade and directed by Carrie Cracknell, after conversations with social affairs writer Amelia Gentleman and food blogger Jack Monroe. Britain Isn’t Eating is the first in a series of plays made in collaboration between Guardian journalists and Royal Court theatre-makers.” – The Guardian, 17 Nov 2014.

To watch the video, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/video/2014/nov/17/britain-isnt-eating-microplay-guardian-royal-court-video#comments

And, for the record and the harpers and the snipers, no, I wasn’t paid for this. I did it because I thought it was really bloody important. And it makes me kind of sad, how many times I’ve had to say that today.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

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Happy book-birthday, hurrah!

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Happy book birthday!

And so the day is finally here, and true to form on publication day, I’ve spent most of my waking hours on various radio stations and chatting to journalists, not to mention signing a pile of 503 quite large and heavy books in the Penguin offices on the Strand. And now, finally collapsing in a quiet corner with a nice hot mug of tea, I thought I’d jot a few words down here.

It seems as though the ink is barely dry on the first book, A Girl Called Jack, when suddenly out of almost-nowhere this one has come along. Well, I wanted to write a book that summed up my year – from sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a room I shared with my son in a house share in July 2013 in an effort to get my life and finances back on track, all the way to where I am now, living in London and having lots of adventures. As my dad used to say, “it’s amazing how many nights it takes to become an overnight success” – and he’s absolutely right. Although ‘overnight success’ isn’t how I’d describe myself at all, the sentiment is the same; it takes a lot of hard work to get from a food bank queue to the top of a bestseller list! And yes, I’ve been extremely lucky along the way – contrary to popular belief (if the comments on the bottom half of the internet are to be paid any mind at all), when I started writing my blog I had no friends in politics other than a few local councillors I delivered leaflets for, and no friends in the media. As I started to write, cook and campaign, I met people and made friends along the way, and some of them remain very close friends, who have supported me greatly through many new and terrifying experiences.

So, I wanted to write a recipe book that was more like a mini-autobiography, with anecdotes and happy endings slotted in among cheap, seasonal recipes. I hope, for those of you holding a copy in your hands, that that’s what I’ve managed to do. It’s a bit political, a bit cheeky in places, and I sincerely hope that the person who wrote me a very long complaining email last week about ‘the use of innuendo in recipe writing’ hasn’t bought a copy or will skip the January-February chapter lest he explode with rage at a few sentences I’m amazed made it past the proof-readers and copy-editors… That’s all I’m saying!

I’m very proud of this book, of every dish loved and created and scribbled down in notebooks, of the tinned potatoes still kicking about in the ingredients lists and the long grain rice and the kidney beans, and I hope it brings you as much pleasure cooking from it, as it gave me to write it.

Thankyou all of you, for your support and kindnesses, in what has been a pretty good, and extraordinary, year.

And as ever, if you want to order it online, please order it at the Hive, who will send it to your local independent bookshop – support your local community bookshops please, because they are a joyous thing. (Link here: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-year-in-120-recipes/19054328/)

Jack.

xxx

Photo courtesy of ITV This Morning, October 2014.

Cauli Mac-N-Cheese, as seen on ITV!

Photo courtesy of ITV This Morning, October 2014.

Photo courtesy of ITV This Morning, October 2014.

This is part mac ‘n’ cheese, part cauliflower cheese, and deliciously golden and moreish with some crispy bacon thrown in for good measure. Baking it at the end to melt the cheese isn’t essential, but oh, it’s so good. It’s a quicker method than the traditional ‘melt some butter and flour to make a roux then thin with a little milk’ – but with pretty much the same end results. You know me, I like to keep things simple, but if the thought of not making a ‘real white sauce’ distresses you, then melt a tablespoon of butter over a low heat with a scant level tablespoon of flour, mix well to form a thick paste, thin with a little milk, stir until smooth, add more milk, toss in the cheese, melt, and remove from the heat and set to one side until you need the saucy bit. I find (personally) that the eggs thicken the mixture and a good whack in the oven finishes it off, but hey, there’s many roads up the mountain to a perfect mac n cheese. I just don’t like to make more washing up than I absolutely have to, and let’s face it, pasta in a cheesy sauce is hardly haute cuisine…

Serves 4:
300g short pasta, like penne, or macaroni
2 tbsp oil 200g cauliflower, grated or broken into small florets
200g bacon, chopped 2 eggs 200ml milk Black pepper 100g hard, strong cheese, grated

Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Add the pasta and reduce to a simmer according to packet instructions, usually around 8 minutes, to cook and soften.

Meanwhile, gently heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the grated cauliflower and bacon. You can finely slice the cauli instead of grating it, but the key is to get it into little pieces so it cooks quickly. If you have a decent blender, you can fling it in raw to pulse it to a fine grain – you’ll lose the ‘cauli cheese’ element of the dish, but save yourself some chopping. (Incidentally, raw cauli flung in a blender and pulsed to a fine grain makes a great alternative to bulghur wheat or similar in a tabbouleh salad, that Ottolenghi chap does a marvellous one…)

Back to the mac! In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and pepper. Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to bring it to a warmish temperature (so it doesn’t turn to startled scrambled eggs when you pop it in the oven) and beat in.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it and add to the pan with the cauliflower and bacon. Pour in the egg mixture and mix through.
Tip the lot into an ovenproof baking dish, top with the grated cheese and bake for 12-15 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the cheese is golden and crispy. And serve! And enjoy! And all that jazz.

Recipe adapted from A Year In 120 Recipes by Jack Monroe, published by Penguin and available to order here. To watch the shy and nervous clip on ITV Player, click here.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Photography by Susan Bell, from A Year In 120 Recipes by Jack Monroe.

Photography by Susan Bell, from A Year In 120 Recipes by Jack Monroe.