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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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My Kitchen Store Cupboard: A Shopping Guide

  

I try to shop with the rules of a healthy balanced diet in mind, although it isn’t always easy if you’re working to a limited budget. I make my shopping list in four sections: PROTEIN first, as it’s generally one of the more expensive food groups. CARBS next, as they’re cheap and filling. FRUIT AND VEG from the tinned fruit aisle, the baking department for dried fruit, the freezer department and the fresh produce section. STORECUPBOARD for herbs and spices, flavours, and things to generally make your simple ingredients a little more exciting and a lot more versatile. See here for an example:

There’s no need to get everything all at once – all storecupboards are built up over time, with a spice picked up here and a vinegar there, a bag of flour one week and a bag of rice or pasta the next. Here are a few essentials that I try to keep kicking around – but please, if you only have a very tiny budget or not much spare, don’t feel you have to get everything on this list. Pick a few recipes with similar ingredients to start you off, and go from there.

PROTEIN:

Many people associate protein with ‘meat’, indeed, my vegan friends are constantly asked where they ‘get their protein from’. Sources of protein are not just limited to chickens and beef, but can be found in much cheaper forms. Tins of sardines, for example. Jars of fish paste. Bags of frozen fish fillets. Tins of beans and pulses, or the dried variety to soak and cook in advance. I pack out soups with pulses (kidney beans and chickpeas, usually), and also use tinned beans to make chilli, burgers, curries, daals and stews. Beans, pulses and lentils are easier and cheaper to store than joints of meat, as they can be stashed in a cupboard and have a long shelf life. 

DAIRY:

A large pot of plain natural yoghurt goes a long way, either as a standalone breakfast with a little tinned fruit mixed in, or as the base for a smoothie with a fistful of oats, a sauce for meat, a curry base, or to toss through pasta with lemon and herbs. Value range cheeses are excellent, with Brie, anything hard and strong, and blues all packing a punchy flavour for pennies. The stronger the flavour, the less you need for your recipe, so don’t be put off by the whiffier varieties, just use less.

CARBS:

The cheapest carbohydrates in the shops are invariably, at the time of writing, long grain white rice and tinned potatoes. Brown rice costs less than white rice, despite white rice being processed. Something about supply and demand, I suppose, but I am neither a rice grower nor a supermarket buying controller. The same goes for pasta. White flour, again, is cheaper than wholemeal flour. I go by the principle of ‘everything in moderation’ – I was brought up on white rice and white bread and I did just fine. Besides, if you are cooking your meals from scratch, from this book, a little white starch isn’t going to do you any harm. Especially not as an alternative to salt-and-chemical-laden ready meals, for example. A bag of oats goes a long way, too, for porridge, breakfast smoothies, flapjacks, granola, oat pancakes…

FRUIT:

Most supermarkets sell large bags of apples, pears and bananas. They may be small, or wonky, but they’re very useful for getting fresh fruit inside you – or your children – for a fraction of the cost of the loose and beautiful ones. Check out the tinned fruits too. Tinned pineapple, mandarins, peaches and pears are handy to have in the cupboard as a snack, dessert, for flavouring yoghurt or even throwing into a curry. The freezer department is always worth a look too, for bags of frozen berries much cheaper than their fresh counterparts. I love a bag of cheap sultanas, too, for making my own granola, as a snack for my Small Boy, for stirring into porridge, or poshing up a korma, etc. 

VEG:

I buy most of my vegetables either frozen, or tinned, with the exception of large packets of root vegetables. Onions and carrots tend to go in everything, so I buy them buy the kilo (at the time of writing this article, 1.5kg of Basics carrots are 75p, and 1.5kg Basics onions are 90p). Tinned carrots, tomatoes and sweetcorn are handy storecupboard staples, and often cheaper than their fresh or frozen counterparts. And mushy peas, if you like that kind of thing, but I am not a fan. I buy my greens frozen – spinach, broccoli, peas and green beans are all far cheaper bought frozen, and don’t go to waste in the drawer of the fridge.

STORECUPBOARD:

Dark chocolate can be used as a base for mexican soups and chillis, melted into cornflakes for quick simple snacks, or as a hot chocolate. 

Lemon juice: Bottled lemon juice is far cheaper than a bag of fresh lemons, and lasts longer. I have used it for years, even for very ‘foodie’ friends, and none of them have ever picked up on the difference.

Oil: Any oil will do. I use sunflower oil for cooking day to day, for salad dressings and even for baking. Olive oil is nice but useless for roasting as it has a low smoke point, so goes slightly rancid, and is much more expensive. I like the lightness of sunflower oil for making pestos and marinades and sauces, in that it takes on the flavours of the ingredients it is mixed it, lubricating and emulsifying without taking centre stage.

Raising agents: Bicarbonate of soda and yeast are essentials in my store cupboard as I bake a lot of bread (and cake!) and use them interchangeably in pizza dough. You can make a quick soda bread from just bicarb, lemon juice, flour and milk, so it’s useful to have kicking about.

Spices: My essential spices are paprika, cumin and turmeric, and for a long time they were all I had kicking about in my kitchen, with a sad chilli plant struggling on my window ledge. I use them all liberally, to enliven simple ingredients. If you live near an independent grocery store of the ethnic variety, pop your head in, as they usually have large bags of spices far cheaper than the tiny jars in your nearest supermarket.

Stock cubes: I generally use chicken stock for everything. There, I said it. But if you are a stock purist, keep a few varieties – most shops do a ‘value’ range of these too. I use half a stock cube for most recipes with a liberal pinch of salt, meaning they go twice as far.

Wine or beer: I buy a bottle of value wine, red or white, and keep it on the side to cook with. Depending on how often I use it, a bottle can last a month. If the thought of spending £3-4 on a botte of wine just to throw in cooking alarms you, then you can replace red wine with strong black tea for any slow-cooked recipes, as the aftertaste of red wine in cooking is the tannins, and you get the same thing from tea. Several of my readers tried it, and couldn’t tell the difference. Neither could the friends I made a black tea bourgignon for last summer, and most of them worked in restaurants. It’s the little tricks.

Taken from the book A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe. Adapted November 2015.

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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: Breads & Breakfasts

My favourite breakfasts are the grab and go variety, although I’m partial to a weekend pancake, which can be made easily from the simple ingredients already on your shopping list. I like to smuggle fruit into my breakfast to get one or two of my five a day underway without giving it much thought! I’ll bake a banana bread on the weekend and slice and freeze it ready to toast in the morning, and the berry pots keep for three days after making so can be made in a batch, making mornings easier. The granola keeps for a month in a sealed jar. Of course, you can always just buy a packet of cheap cornflakes (35p for 400g) and be done with it and skip this section entirely, it’s down to you.

  

SODA BREAD – can be used for breakfast toast, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, pork sandwiches, etc. You can make two of these loaves through the week from your bag of flour. No breadmaker or rising time required. I pop mine in the oven whenever it’s on for roasting anything, like the pork or when cooking the granola – to save me turning it on again just for bread. Make two at once and freeze one, pre sliced, for later in the week.

2 tsp bottled lemon juice

300ml milk

400g self raising flour

1 ½ level tsp bicarbonate of soda

a fistful of sultanas – optional

Preheat your oven to 180C. Put the milk powder in a jar with 100ml water, screw the lid on tightly and shake it well to dissolve – it’s much nicer than stirring it, which can leave it a bit lumpy! Add the rest of the water, and the lemon juice, and stand it to one side to curdle slightly and start to separate. It looks a bit gross, but that’s normal.

Weigh the flour into a bowl, add the bicarb and mix through. Make a well (dip) in the centre of the flour and pour in the milk-and-lemon. Mix well with a spoon to form a sticky dough. Grease and lightly flour a loaf tin or cake tin, and pour the dough in from the bowl. Score a line down the middle with a sharp knife and dust with a little extra flour. Place in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes. Once baked through, it should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and feel light. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Spread with jam, peanut butter, mashed bananas or cheese to serve.

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Banana Bread:

3 old bananas

75ml sunflower oil

225g self raising flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

80g sultanas

Preheat your oven to 180C, and lightly grease your loaf tin. Peel the bananas, slice and mash with a fork in a large mixing bowl. If the bananas aren’t of the old, squishy variety, add a little of the oil to start them off (or ping them in the microwave for 10 seconds, peeled and in a microwave-safe bowl). Add the oil and sugar to the bowl and mix well. Tip in the flour, baking powder, and sultanas if using, and stir well to form a lumpy batter. Pour it into the loaf tin and bake for an hour, until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. It freezes well, slice it first for convenience, or keeps in an airtight bag or container for 3 days.

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Peanut Butter Granola – again, can be put in the oven when something else is cooking, most of my recipes are 180C for that very reason, so I can cook things together and save on energy bills. A flat baking tray will sit at the bottom of the oven but will cook more slowly than the specified recipe time as heat rises, so just check it and give it as long as it needs.

25ml sunflower oil

4 tbsp peanut butter

4 tbsp sugar

300g porridge oats

Preheat your oven to 180C. Lightly grease your baking tray with a little oil. Melt the peanut butter and sugar together – either in a saucepan on a low heat or ping it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir in the oil. Add the oats and mix well. Tip it onto a baking tray, flatten roughly with a spoon, to spread approx 1cm thick. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 mins until golden (lower shelves will take longer!). Remove and allow to cool for a further 15 mins, before roughly breaking up any large pieces with the side of a spoon (or sharp knife). Allow to cool completely before transferring to a jar or airtight container.

  
Berry Bircher Pots:

100g mixed frozen berries

250ml natural yoghurt

150ml milk

100g porridge oats

sultanas to garnish

Combine the oats, yoghurt and defrosted berries in a bowl. Make up the milk by pouring 100ml water into a jar, add the milk powder, seal tightly and shake well. Add the remaining 100ml milk to thin it. Pour this in gradually and stir well. Spoon into small dishes for convenience or one large one (you can turf the remaining yoghurt into a glass or cup, cover and put back in the fridge and put the berry bircher back into the yoghurt pot, if you like – it just about fits!) Make in advance and the oats will soften and swell and it will thicken back to a yoghurt consistency, magic!
Berry Good Smoothie

100g frozen berries

a handful of sultanas

30g oats

1 banana

600ml milk

Slice the banana and pop in the blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blitz until smooth, and serve.
Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie:

2 bananas

2 tbsp peanut butter

4 tbsp oats

600ml milk

Slice the banana and pop in the blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blitz until smooth, and serve.

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: 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.

Vodka for breakfast (When recycling goes wrong)

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When recycling goes wrong at 10am, a conversation with my five year old this morning…

“Mama what’s VOD-KA?”
“It’s a special drink for grownups.”
“Like wine?”
“Yes.”
“Why are you having VOD-KA for breakfast?”
“I’m not.”
“You are.”
“I’m not. I made a smoothie and poured it in here so I could take it out with us because Mama keeps all her bottles to use again…” (gestures to place where bottles usually are to find it empty. Shit.)
“With VOD-KA”
“No.”
“Yes. VOD-KA.”
“NO. I’ll tell you what… I’ll pour it into a different bottle before we leave the house…”

I await the conversation with his school teacher about how Mama has vodka for breakfast.

And the smoothie recipe is to follow – I just thought this might make you laugh!

Jack.

Twitter: @DrJackMonroe   Insta: @MxJackMonroe

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

Dear Daily Mail, transitioning isn’t a setback, it’s a freedom (and 19 other corrections for your 8 line article)…

Dear Daily Mail,

I don’t know how you generally kickstart your working week, but at 6am on a Monday morning I’m just about hanging in to my last REM cycle before being woken up by a 5 year old, to begin the email flails and checklists that have gathered in my inbox from the last midnight-on-Sunday clearout.

I get up, meditate, do some morning yoga, lift some weights and pop a fat scoop of protein shake, a slug of coconut cream, peanut butter and two shots of coffee in my blender – adept by now at making whey protein taste like something remotely palatable. It’s like a peanut butter mocha. You’re welcome.

This morning I woke up at 0515 to a flurry of emails – Google alerts and missives from concerned friends and readers – and I groaned as I clicked the link, mentally steeling myself for the staggering lies and inaccuracies I knew would be on the other side. It seems your ‘deputy diary editor’ Richard Eden, who impertinently emailed me on a Sunday lunchtime to try to link my personal life with my transition, doesn’t actually speak to the ‘diary person’, Seb Shakespeare. How very odd. So, for the avoidance of any doubt, I enclose the email conversation that looks like it wasn’t passed along the amoeba chain. (#NotAllAmoeba)

And so, blow by blow, here’s all the shit you managed to get wrong in a surprisingly short diary piece. Some of my readers will ask why I’m bothering to do this. Because someone cannot lie about me with impunity on a public platform, and expect not to be called out on it. And absolutely cannot lie about someone I love, and expect not to be called a shitbag for it. For avoidance of doubt, Richard Eden and Seb Shakespeare, you are shitbags. Fetid rumour-mongering turdy little trolls festering in the gangrenous gossip-column scrotum of the internet.

1.The headline. ” Foodie Jack Monroe splits from chef … as she announces she is transgender” is a complete lie. The eagle eyed among you will notice that I moved to Southend five months before I came out as transgender. By eagle-eyed, I mean, it’s all over my blog and Instagram and doesn’t take a genius to work out why I suddenly need to restock an entire kitchen and am instagramming pics of my rather delicious but sadly single bed. A five month gap would tell anyone but the most salacious gossipy pricks that these two events are unrelated. In between the two I have been to Vegas, yet no “Jack Monroe jets to Vegas as they announce they are transgender” headline. I have had three tattoos, yet no “Jack Monroe gets three tattoos as they announce they are transgender” headline. I have gained a stone (mostly muscle, thankyou), yet no “Jack Monroe gains a stone as they announce they are transgender” headline. I have done a poo (or 150), yet no “Jack Monroe takes a dump as they announce they are transgender” headline. You get me?

2. “She”. See here for media guidance around pronouns:

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…and see here for where I explicitly pointed that out to your journalist. No excuses.

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3. “She is…” should be “They are”…

4. “Sainsbury’s former pin-up girl”. Having never bent over with my bum in the air, nor donned a pair of stockings for them, I’m not sure the term pin-up girl is entirely accurate.

This is a pin up girl.

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This is not.

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5&6: “Jack Monroe has seen things go off the boil in her love life.” Er, nope. And “their love life”. It’s not that hard.

7. “The tattooed 27-year-old’s engagement has been called off.” As much the tattoos fault as the trans-outing fault, I suppose, but you never miss an opportunity to remind your pearl-clutching readership that I am a Tattooed Person. I expect all future stories about Samantha Cameron to refer to her as “The tattooed Prime Ministers wife” in the interests of balanced reporting.

8. “…the latest set-back for Jack” – Firstly, ‘setback’ is all one word, and my transition is not a setback, it is an enormous amount of freedom.

9&10. ” who was reportedly dropped by Sainsbury’s after she accused David Cameron…” – Reported by you, which was a lie. Quelle suprise. I filmed a television advert in October 2013 for Sainsburys along with 3 other food bloggers. It aired for 6 weeks from December 2013 to February 2014, and that was that. In November 2014 you reported that they had dropped me ‘over’ my comments re Cameron and the NHS. This was and still is a lie. I made one advert, one year before, and we had no ongoing relationship beyond me still shopping there occasionally. Ugh you suck. Also “she” should be “they”.

11. Again: “She…” should be “They…”

12. “…has considered breast removal…” BECAUSE SURGERY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF ALL OF THIS BECAUSE TITS AND COCKS AND COCKS AND TITS. It’s so puerile. If you care a jot about accuracy, I am currently training for a marathon in April so will see how my body shape changes naturally with running and weight training before making any snap decisions about surgical procedures. The preferred term is ‘chest reduction’ rather than ‘breast removal’ BTW. As for any other surgical speculation, I already have bigger balls than your entire newspaper, to say nothing of my cock collection, and we’ll leave that there.

13. “…as part of her…” = “…as part of their…”

14. “…sex change…” Not a term that is okay to use. See this handy infographic for details. (Apparently you helped All About Trans make this?)

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15. “but one ex-fiancee ‘hit the roof’ at the idea, telling her…” Again, telling THEM.

16. “She adds” should be “They added”.

17. ” ‘When someone tells you that the core of your relationship is your bra size, you hightail it and run.” I’m being picky now but the end of my tether is a pedantic place to be – the original quote didn’t have the ‘it’ shoehorned in. In terms of writing content and quality, I hate to call rank on Seb Shakespeare with the ‘number one bestseller’ card, but don’t mangle my words to fit your shite gossip column. Thanks.

18. Dat pic. It’s a very happy one, granted, and I look good, but if you really wanted to rile your readers why not go for the full on masculine tats out and a Marlboro red job? A missed opportunity, I feel.

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19. But at least you had the good sense not to insert my deadname into this article, which is a first. Less ‘good sense’ and more ‘bored of paying my legal fees’ though, isn’t it?

20. As warned in our correspondence yesterday, my lawyer will be in touch. (Let’s cut out all the middlemen and see if your other columnist, of the last legal wrangle, will foot your bill?)

With my VERY best wishes and an awful lot of red pen,

Jack Monroe. (F. See me after class.)

Now, protein shake and a bloody hard run. I once promised myself to do 15 reps of either press ups, sit ups or weights for every time I responded to trolls. Someday soon I’ll have the body of a Chippendale, and Seb Shakespeare will still be writing in his angsty little diary. I’ll send y’all a signed pic to say thanks for your contribution. Ooft.

PPS, courtesy of Brian Bilson, and thank’s H for the reminder:

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Portfolio photos.

For high resolution copies of these photographs for press publication, please use the contact details listed below each pic. (Etiquette: Please note photographs are the property of the photographer – many of whom are my friends and self employed, so please do not steal them – large scale press corporations especially MailOnline, I’m looking at you. You will be invoiced for them. Bloggers and similar unpaid online platforms feel free to use them with just a credit to the photographer. Rule of thumb is, if you’re going to earn from it, pay the person it belongs to. Most of my photographers are friends, small businesses and self employed people trying to make a living. Be cool.

by  Tom Jackson for Times Magazine, November 2015. For use, email mail@tomjacksonphotography.com

by Tom Jackson for Times Magazine, November 2015. For use, email mail@tomjacksonphotography.com

at home by Tom Jackson for The Times, November 2015. For use, email mail@tomjacksonphotography.com

at home by Tom Jackson for The Times, November 2015. For use, email mail@tomjacksonphotography.com

By Adrian Lourie, in Southend, November 2015. For use, contact on www.adrianlourie.co.uk

By Adrian Lourie, in Southend, November 2015. For use, contact on http://www.adrianlourie.co.uk

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Jack Monroe, Southend on Sea. (Photo credit/FOX FISHER). For high-res or to use in publication email justjackmonroe@gmail.com

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Jack Monroe, Southend on Sea. (Photo credit/FOX FISHER). For high-res or to use in publication email justjackmonroe@gmail.com

Jack Monroe. Email: jackmonroe@live.co.uk   Twitter: @DrJackMonroe   Instagram: @MxJackMonroe

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Please don’t call me A Girl Called Jack. I have something to tell you.

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First published in the New Statesman on 20 October 2015. If you are a journalist or other media outlet, please scroll to the bottom of this piece and read carefully.


“URGENT: Legal warning: Jack Monroe has requested you do not publish her birth name (*******) in the future.” 

I love a Google alert. That particular nugget of joy pinged into my inbox courtesy of political gossip blogger “Guido Fawkes”, less than an hour after lawyers had sent the final letter in a lengthy dispute with the Daily Mail for an article written in August claiming that “Jack” was not my “real” name. The article was eventually amended, with no apology or admittance of liability, and the correspondence marked private and confidential was leaked – as though I, not the Mail, were in the wrong. On cue, the trolls filled my timeline with my deadname, with 140-character questions about my genitalia, sexuality, parenting ability, in gifs and memes and puerile attacks.

In hindsight, they did me a favour. Psychiatrists sometimes use a technique called “flooding” to help conquer phobias, exposing their client to their particular fear again and again and again until they have the coping mechanisms to deal with it. If I were being generous, I would thank Paul Staines and his griping band of internet warriors for saving me hundreds of pounds and several painful hours in therapy, as a seven-letter proper noun that once immobilised me now bounces off me. I recently had a group of bees tattooed on my forearm, a tribute to the English translation of the name given to me shortly after I was born. It was for my parents, and for the years spent in that skin.

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I wasn’t the first in my immediate family to change my name. My older brother adopted his middle name from the age of five, and my youngest brother, now nine years old, changed his name the year before I did. My parents have excellent taste in knitwear, but I think by now they’ve resigned themselves to their offspring exchanging their names for new ones. Everyone knows that Caitlyn Jenner’s real name is Caitlyn Jenner, and any media outlet who refers to her by her deadname is an insecure bullying asshole. And by the way, Guido, my birth name was “Baby”. I was a few months premature, and my parents kind of weren’t ready for me. I’m not sure they ever will be.

Three days before the Mail-Guido-Twitter triumvirate, I had come out as transgender. Non-binary, transgender, to be precise. It was National Coming Out day, I was on my way home from a 1,000 mile round trip from Southend to Glasgow via Manchester and back again to to talk about austerity at Scottish Green Party Conference, and I was tired of my closet full of Underworks binders and denial. I typed the words, saved the tweet as a draft, and tried to call my Dad. He didn’t answer, so I texted him instead before I lost my nerve. “How are things?” he asked. “Ok. I’m about to come out as transgender. I hope we can talk about it some time.” He replied three minutes later, three minutes I’m not ashamed to admit I spent gripping my phone so hard that the small crack in the screen now splits from top to bottom. “Of course you can talk to me. It matters not one jot how you express yourself. Unless you become a Tory. Then you can fuck off :)”

I breathed out, reassured him via Aneurin Bevan that “no amount of cajolery, no attempt at ethical or social seduction” would make me join the Conservative Party, and came out to the world with the prod of a finger.

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Love poured in, drowning out the few predictable hurtful, hateful messages, and many nonchalant but supportive messages of actually-not-surprised. I changed my Instagram username to MxJackMonroe to match my surprisingly progressive bank details, dropped the “A Girl Called…” from the title of my Facebook page, and am working on doing the same for my blog. I love and am proud of my first cookbook, as a reflection of where and who I was at the time, and have no regrets about the title, but my third may not carry the “A Girl Called…” branding. I’m not a girl. I’m not a boy either. As Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall said at Labour Party Conference earlier this year, “not all transgender people will transition in the way that you think you understand it”.

Non binary, in simple terms, means outside of the binary gender norms of “male” and “female”. It’s somewhere in between, one of the many many shades between the society-imposed candy pink and baby blue. It’s being shoved in bars for looking like a “pretty fucking poof” with a skinhead and a short sleeved shirt and standing at 5’3’’. It’s being thrown out of female bathrooms in nightclubs by confused and sometimes angry toilet attendants. It’s the “What ARE you?” from ignorant, belligerent officers at US airports time and time again as my name and appearance don’t quite match up to the gender stated on my passport. It’s more than teenage tomboy angst, although that’s how it manifested itself for years, as I stole my brother’s poloshirts, gave up ballet for martial arts competititons, and prayed to a God I half-believed in to turn me into a boy “for a day”. If the book Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl? by Sarah Savage and Fox Fisher had been around when I was growing up, I might have understood myself before the age of 27.

I legally changed my name by deed poll immediately after leaving Essex County Fire and Rescue Service at the end of 2011. I had been thinking about it for years, but found the thought of strolling into the mess room and demanding that my colleagues call me something else terrifying – for all the questions I knew I would be unable to answer, for the potential for deadnaming and bullying in a not-particularly-tolerant organisation. Not a great place to be gay, let alone genderqueer. I missed my own passing out parade in 2008 because “female” dress uniform was a knee length skirt, sheer tights and high heeled court shoes. I asked the tailor to measure me for trousers. He refused. “It’s the way it’s always been,” he shrugged. “Old chief liked the girls in skirts.” He laughed. I didn’t. When I asked to change the rules, my Watch Officer handed me my copy of the Code Of Conduct, pointing out the uniform regulations that I had signed. I hung my skirt in my locker and let it gather dust, and stayed in bed while the squad I had trained with for 12 weeks proudly held their heads high for friends and family. I’m missing from my team photo, all for the want of a pair of trousers. I wore combat trousers to work every day, but my value on the parade ground was measured in a denier, a skirt length, a heel height, rather than personal qualities and attributes, skills, and rigorous training.

And so, with nobody to finally answer or explain to, I changed my name. I cut my hair short. I revelled in my hard, masculine body – before I left, I had been training hard with the hope of moving from the Control room to the fireground full time, spending break times and down time in the gym, downing protein shakes, visiting Service Training Centre in Witham regularly to test myself against the firefighter fitness standards and meeting them with flying colours. I was strong, broad shouldered, I could bench press the Queen* (*my weightlifting chart was, for motivational purposes, set at benchmarks like “12 tins of beans”, “a small marsupial” and “The Queen”). I had earmarked two trees in my local park that were the right distance apart for the bleep test. I was fit. I looked like this:

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But this wasn’t new. This wasn’t a 2011 reincarnation born of being spat into a world of unemployment and the loss of identity that my uniform gave me. I recently insisted on digging out the family photo albums one Sunday at my parents house – my mother is an impressive documenter, and an entire cupboard bulges with grainy snaps annotated in her intricate joined-up hand. Me, aged seven, in a baseball cap and jeans. Me, aged twelve, with a one-inch crop all over my head. Me, aged thirteen, insisting on wearing trousers to school like my friend Z. Sixteen brought the first of many skinheads, seventeen was my first bandages wrapped around my chest, forays into mens clothing stores with my meagre wages from whatever café or coffee shop I was working in at the time for ill-fitting suits from bemused middle aged men who harrumphed into their tape measures and shook their heads.

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Yet the increasing collection of tight vests, flamboyant ties, too-small sports bras and oversized suit jackets was punctuated with occasional “femme flails” into charity shops for tea dresses and sky-high heels, an enviable collection of costume jewellery and red lipsticks, rarely worn past my own front door. I gritted my teeth and put a frock on for a few hours for my parents wedding vow renewal, running home to change into my trusty ill-fitting suit after the official photos had been taken – though the gritted teeth did me no favours for those, and neither did my self-shaved head. We live and learn.

I found non-binary friends opening up to me about their feelings again and again, ranging from surgery questions to querying sexuality and gender dysphoria – and I answered them with ease, not stopping to ask myself why I was awake at night researching a double mastectomy on the internet, or foods with high testosterone levels, or bodyweight exercises for building shoulders and arms. I have spent about ten years as a sounding board for friends’ transitions and expressions, while burying my own. I confided in one former school friend down the pub one night while watching their boyfriend’s band, and they wrote down where they bought their waistcoats, taught me that a big scarf can hide a multitude of unwanted lumps and bumps, and that two pairs of thick insoles in a-size-too-big loafers can do wonders for your confidence.

I was living with a former girlfriend (NOT VERY RECENTLY – there has been some hurtful speculation about this and it is NOBODY in the public eye) when I first said the words out loud a few weeks later: “I’ve been thinking about getting top surgery…one day.” She hit the roof. “I fancy GIRLS babe, GIRLS. What the fuck?” She accused me of deceiving her, I retreated to the sofa for the remainder of our shattered relationship, our wedding plans reduced to whether I would wear a suit or a dress and her pre-emptively mourning the loss of my double-Ds. When someone tells you that the core of your relationship is your bra size, you hightail and run. When I was cast in a Sainsburys advert a few weeks later, I wore a chest binder to the audition to eliminate any awkward surprises later on.

A life lived in public is both a blessing and a curse. I am humbled and awed by the messages I receive from readers about learning to cook and their own stories of survival. People lay out their histories and their futures in my inboxes and letterbox every single day. As I said in a recent interview for the Women Of The Future award, I don’t consider myself a leader. I live my life and do what I love and feel strongly about, and every now and again when I turn around there are people behind me helping me on. I am here, writing and talking about this at last, because I stand on the shoulders of giants, those pioneers who have gone before me and pushed for these conversations, the activists who have tirelessly lobbied Parliament for changes to laws that unfairly affect transgender and non binary people, those who told their stories years ago, before Channel 4 had a “trans season”. Thank you to Ruth Hunt, Ruby Rose, Fox Fisher, Sarah Savage, Paris Lees, Rebecca Root, Captain Hannah Winterbourne, Laurie Penny, Bethany Black, Fish, Georgi and CJ especially.

And to old boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers and fleeting friends: I’m so fucking sorry. Sorry for all the times I vanished into myself, or into the distance, into bed or bottles or week-long benders, internally raging with disappointment and confusion and despair and self loathing. To my brother – I’m sorry I insisted on wearing a suit to your wedding like an asshole but I was right, nobody noticed or cared what I was wearing because they were so busy loving and celebrating you and your beautiful wife. Except ‘that’ Uncle, who told me I looked like ‘a fucking poofter’ and I cried in the gardens holding my young son, scared I had spoiled your day.

To the boyfriends – me coming out doesn’t ‘make you gay’ any more than it makes me deceptive. I had no idea – so how could you?

To the lesbian community – thank you so much for your love and support over recent years. Please don’t now reject me from women-only or lesbian spaces. The L-word doesn’t fit comfortably any more, not 100% of the time, but neither do my jeans and I wouldn’t dream of throwing them away. Allies and friends and supporters are important. Quibbling about genitals and testosterone isn’t.

To A – simply, thankyou. Your love and support gave me the space and freedom I needed to dig deep and finally thrash this out, and thankyou. There aren’t really the right words right now, so thankyou.

To Georgi, for sending me Ruby Rose’s video ‘Break Free’ last year, I will be eternally grateful for the puzzle pieces and the safety net of the last 10 years of friendship, love and kindness.

And to my parents – I have some great reading material and resources for you, to help answer any questions and to explain it to the children in a non-sensational and sensitive way, when they and you are ready. You haven’t lost a daughter, you’re gaining another son. Sort of. Oh god it’s complicated but e’ll get there. The GIRES website is a good place to start.

I’m sorry I kept it in for so long. The last two weeks since I came out, I have had no anxiety attacks, no panic attacks, no heart funnies, I have walked taller, laughed louder, sang out loud to myself. I will be donating my old ‘femme flail’ clothing and accessories to transgender support groups and womens refuges, with the exception of one very special pair of high heels and my Kate Spade bag that looks like a car dashboard, because gender norms are so passe and I could rock both of those with a full on beard, Conchita style, if it came to it.

Love and light and the weight of a thousand worlds thrown from my shoulders,

Jack Monroe.

Me, Captain Hannah Winterbourne and Fox Fisher.

Me, Captain Hannah Winterbourne and Fox Fisher.


NOTES FOR JOURNALISTS/MEDIA/ETC:

Name: Jack Monroe. Real name: Jack Monroe. On my passport and bank account: Jack Monroe. Name assigned at birth: None of your business, and of no relevance to your story.

Pronouns: Pronouns are how you refer to a person when not using their name. Please use ‘they/them/their’ in place of ‘she/her’ etc. They/them pronouns are grammatically correct when used to denote a single person, although common usage is plural. It might look odd at first but it’s definitely okay.

Photographs: I deliberately took the time to have updated portfolio photographs taken after I came out as transgender, please replace old stock or file photos with these ones. I’ll be adding older photos to the portfolio over the next few days, but please respect that I am at the start of a lengthy transitional period and using old photos with a much-despised Photoshop-enhanced chest (for example) is just not cool. I can’t erase those photos from the archives of the internet and nor would I want to, but don’t be an irrelevant, disrespectful, outdated asshole. It’s not about vanity, it’s about sanity. I spend 16 hours a day in a tight neoprene binding vest so I don’t have to see those DDs, I don’t want to see them when I open a newspaper. Use these: Portfolio Photos for Press & Media Use

Everything else: For everything else, here’s a handy style guide from All About Trans. If you don’t have one in your office, please print it out and stick it up until it becomes second nature and I and the wider transgender community will thank you for it.
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Thanks! If you have any questions please email me on justjackmonroe@gmail.com – I am very easy to contact for fact checking and quotes. Daily Mail, I’m throwing you serious shade over here. And that’s it.

Jack Monroe. Twitter.com/DrJackMonroe   Instagram.com/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

Extra-Wholesome Banana Bread (VEGAN)

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This beautiful bounty of Sunday morning baking was based on the vegan banana bread in my first book, A Girl Called Jack, but uses some wholemeal flour and coconut oil for extra goodness. If you don’t have coconut oil, fear not, as the song almost went, Any Oil Will Do. Vegetable, sunflower, light or mild olive, groundnut, rapeseed, whatever you have to hand. Sesame might be a touch overpowering but if you like that sort of thing then give it a go. Same principle applies to the flour, if you don’t have any wholemeal then plain old white flour will be just fine, I’m just trying to make my baking a bit better for me these days, as there’s a curious correlation between writing a book (!!) and my jeans being rolled down around the waist because they don’t actually do up any more… harrumph.

Anyway, in the words of my gorgeous friend Sue and to join in the current Bake-Off frenzy, LET’S BAAAAAKE!

Makes a 1lb loaf tin, a 2lb loaf tin, 10 muffins or anything in between:

3 ripe fairtrade bananas, 24p (between 6p and 12p each loose – buy sold by weight not ‘snack’ bananas around 20p each!)
75ml KTC coconut oil, 46p (£2.50/400g)
50g fairtrade sugar, 5p (90p/kg)
120g plain or SR flour, 4p (Basics 55p/1.5kg)
100g wholemeal flour, 7p (£1.10/1.5kg)
1 tsp bicarb, 3p (£1.35/200g)
1 tsp fairtrade ground cinnamon, 7p (£1/45g)

First preheat your oven to 180C, and lightly grease your loaf tin or muffin tins.

Peel the bananas, slice, and toss into a large mixing bowl. Mash with a fork or (a recent discovery), the side of a thin cheap teaspoon makes an excellent mashing tool. As does a masher, as the name suggests, but I get that not everyone has every kind of whizzy dizzy kitchen gadget and if I ever write a recipe that requires anything of the sort then please WRITE TO ME IN CAPITAL LETTERS EXPRESSING YOUR DISAPPOINTMENT cheers.

(If your bananas aren’t old and squishy then add a little of the oil to start them off or ping them in the microwave for 10 seconds to soften them up – but not in a metal bowl or you’ll be calling 999 and won’t have any banana bread, boo.)

Add the rest of the oil and the sugar to the bowl and mix well. It won’t be pretty right now but that’s okay, if you’re pulling a face at the oily gloop, you’re doing it right. It gets better.

Add both the flours, bicarb, cinnamon and a fistful of dried fruit if the mood takes you. Mix well to form a lumpy batter.

Pour the mixture into your loaf tin or muffin tins, dust with flour, and bake for an hour in the centre of the oven – twenty minutes for the muffins.

And voila! Vegan banana bread with enough healthy twists to make it guilt free…

You can follow me on Twitter @DrJackMonroe, on Instagram @MsJackMonroe and on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Smoky Dogs (VEGAN), 10p

On Thursday, I got a text message from my best friend asking if I wanted to meet for lunch and casually mentioning that it was National Hot Dog Day. Normally I side-eye those National Something Days but heck, National Hot Dog Day? There’s something I can get behind with aplomb. Gusto. Unfettered enthusiasm. And sausages.

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I’ve been making vegetarian sausages for years – originally based on a recipe by Irish chef Denis Cotter in his excellent and beautiful book For The Love Of Food. Over time I swapped the chestnuts for peanuts, the tofu for white beans, ekeing and tweaking in the way we all make things our own. And THOSE sausages are great. Joyous. An oral sensation. But they have eggs and cheese in, and today on this nationally sausagey day, I thought I would challenge myself out of my accidental culinary hibernation and make a vegan dog. I’ve been reading Peace And Parsnips by Lee Watson lately (follow him on Twitter at @lee_the_vegan) and it’s a PHENOMENAL book. Inspiring, beautiful, peaceful, funny, cheeky, and full of all the noms. Separate blog post to follow on this amazing guy but he’s inspired me to cook more vegan nosh these days and hence the sausage challenge – plus I figured my vegan readers would appreciate it too, and there’s a lot of you out there, hello fellow plant-noshers!

Makes 6 decent sized sausages at 10p each

1 small onion, 9p (from 1.5kg Basics bag, 90p)
1 small carrot, 9p (from 1.5kg Basics bag, 75p)
1/2 tsp paprika, 2p (50g smoked paprika, Sainsburys, £1)
1/2 tsp cumin, 1p (100g Rajah Jeera, £1)
1 tbsp cooking oil, 2p (3l veg oil, £3)
1 tbsp peanut butter, 8p (Sun Pat (£1.80/340g)
400g tin of kidney beans, 30p (Basics)
30g fresh breadcrumbs (1 slice of fresh bread grated or blitzed in a blender), 2p (800g loaf of Basics bread, 40p)

First very finely chop your onion and grate your carrot, and tip into a pan – frying pan, saucepan or saute pan, they’re not fussy, you’re just going to soften them up a bit. Add the spices and oil and bring to a medium heat, stirring to disturb them and stop them from sticking and burning. Stir for a few minutes to take that raw edge off, then remove and allow to cool to one side.

Drain your kidney beans and thoroughly rinse them, then test how soft they are – some canned beans are very soft and easy to mash as they are (super cheap basic and value ones), and some need a little more work (Napolina, I’m looking at you). Place one on your worktop and press the prongs of a fork against it with a medium pressure, if it yields and splits, you’re good to go. If it sulks and holds tight, pour the whole lot into a pan of water, bring it to the boil, reduce it to a simmer, and cook for 8 minutes to soften up. Remove from the heat and drain.

In a large mixing bowl, combine your veg, beans, and peanut butter and mix and mash until it forms a rough paste. You may need to loosen it with a splash of water but only a splash or they’ll fall apart later down the line!

When you’re satisfied that it’s all nicely mashed, add the breadcrumbs, flour and chopped herbs and stir through. Pop the mixture in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up – important otherwise they will fall apart in the pan!

Remove from the fridge, and roll into sausage shapes in your hands. Heat a little oil in your frying pan and gently, carefully place them in – they are fragile! Cook for around 8 minutes on a medium heat, gently rolling them at intervals to cook evenly. Remove (gently, carefully) and serve. Ta-dah!

Jack Monroe.
Twitter: @DrJackMonroe
Instagram: @MsJackMonroe

PS, I had a little help with these… Here’s my Small Boy making sausages…

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Corn Bread Muffins, 10p each

  

I’ve made corn bread about nine times this year and every time I do I think to myself “I must blog this recipe” as it’s one of my favourites. But the kitchen needs cleaning and the children need entertaining and there’s a wash to put on and a week goes by and I forget all about it. So this time, beating together corn and eggs and milk and forensically slicing an onion, I was absolutely determined to finally share this with you, my lovely readers. I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted any recipes – I don’t know where my time is going at the moment, I’ve been up til 3am some mornings working and up at 7am sneaking forty minutes of admin in before the children wake up and there still don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to sit at my table and write any more. And it makes me sad, because my little chats with my readers make me feel happy, and useful, and part of a great community of friends – I’ll make a concerted effort to remember to blog more, I promise. And I’m starting with this one. I hope you love it as much as I do, it’s sweet enough to tempt the kids with (leave the chilli out if you’re making it for little mouths) but savoury enough to top with cheese and pop under the grill.

As ever, prices are based at Sainsburys, using the Basics range where available. I grow my own parsley and coriander but have priced them for this recipe as I don’t have enough to send you all, unfortunately:-) Free range eggs (85p/6) are slightly more expensive than barn eggs (70p/6) – personally I would rather have no eggs than barn eggs but I’m not here to preach to anyone who has to make difficult decisions around their household budget, just letting you know why I do the things I do. With the same hat on, I only buy Fairtrade sugar – again there are other options available but with a readership that spans millions I feel I have a responsibility to be honest about the decisions I make, and informative about how affordable (and simple) more ethical choices can be. We could improve the lives of farmers and coffee growers and sugar-harvesters and banana-pickers and chickens immeasurably for 15p here or 15p there – I know ‘affordability’ is a sliding scale dependent on circumstances but the margin between free range and Fairtrade products, and their uncomfortable alternatives, is getting smaller all the time. Now, let’s make corn bread.

Makes 8 generous muffins at 10p each or a loaf for 80p

250g plain flour, 9p (55p/1.5kg)

½ tsp salt, <1p (25p/750g)

10g/2 tsp baking powder, 5p (85p/160g)

50g Fairtrade sugar, 4p (80p/1kg)

¼ tsp chilli flakes or two pinches of cayenne pepper, 2p (£1/32g)

70g tinned sweetcorn, 11p (30p/198g, Sainsburys Basics)

50g onion, 3p (90p/1.5kg)

2g fresh parsley or coriander, 6p (80p/28g)

1 free range egg, 14p (85p/6 mixed weight)

50g butter, 18p (90p/250g) – if you’re totally brassic, use 50ml sunflower oil instead at 5p (£3/3l)

250ml milk – can be made with 25g skimmed milk powder to 250ml cold water, 7p (£1.15/400g)

First grab a large mixing bowl and your baking receptacle of choice, be it a deep muffin tin or a loaf tin or a shallow cake tin – any of these will do but baking times will vary. Lightly grease your tin to stop your delicious soon-to-be-cornbread from sticking to it, and pop the oven on to 200C to preheat. Weigh your butter, dice it, and pop it on top of the oven in a bowl to gently soften.

Add the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar to the mixing bowl with a pinch of cayenne or chilli flakes and give it a stir. Drain your sweetcorn and mash roughly with a fork and fold through – you can roughly blitz it in a blender for a smoother consistency if you like, depends on your feelings towards ‘texture’ in your loaves (and if you have fussy children or teenagers or even grown-ups in your house who will eye easily-identifiable vegetables in bread with suspicion and realise it’s not the ‘cake’ you might have told them it was…)

Very finely chop your onion and parsley-or-coriander; if you’re blitzing the corn in a blender or food processor then feel free to fling that in too for an easy life, and add to the mix.

Make a well in the centre of the mixing bowl and crack in your egg, and pour in most of the milk. Remove your butter from the top of the oven and beat the wet ingredients in to combine to form a soft and slightly sticky dough – it should be looser than a normal bread dough but a lot thicker than a batter – if it struggles to fall off your spoon, you’re doing it right. If it’s too runny, add an extra tablespoon on flour. If it’s too stiff, add a splash more milk or a little water to loosen it.

Pour the batter into your tin and sprinkle the top with flour. If making a loaf, score a split down the centre – in Soda Bread Theory, this is to let the fairies out, and I like the thought of fairies baking my bread, so I always do this. If making muffins, make a small X in the top of each one. Place in the centre of the oven – a loaf will need 40 minutes to cook, the muffins around 18, but check after 15 minutes and insert a sharp knife into the centre to check that they are cooked through.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin. The bread will need a further 10 minutes cooling to firm up before slicing, whereas the muffins are ready to eat almost immediately, if you have an asbestos tongue, that is… I like to dip mine warm into butter, or halve and fill with cheese while still warm and let it melt and stick together in the middle…

They will keep for 3 days in an airtight container. I slice the corn bread loaf and freeze it in slices, ready to be toasted or defrosted at will, and the muffins freeze well too.
Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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

Tummy tea, 3p

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It’s been almost a week now since I fell ill at Ballymaloe literary festival on Friday night – festival-goers hopefully didn’t notice my decidedly below-par sluggishness under a professional veneer of an inch of makeup and a litre of strong sugary tea, as I was there to work and didn’t want to let anyone down by cancelling any events at the last minute, so powered on through and napped in between.

I don’t know what exactly it was that pulled me under, my chief suspect was a delicious sea urchin I’d had for dinner on Friday evening,  as I have had difficulties with shellfish before (most notably a piece of regurgitated shrimp sitting in my hair through the duration of my appearance on BBC Question Time…) But six days later with a still-upset stomach, I’m not so sure my sea-urchin-diagnosis is correct. I’ll spare you the gory details.

This morning,  frankly bored of being unwell, I decided to make myself something with turmeric in, to try to rebalance my digestive system and settle my tummy and get everything back to normal. It’s mostly better,  but caffeine, alcohol,  acid and spice set it back off to gurgling and burbling and cramping and rather like my mums IBS,  actually. And in my line of work that’s deeply unhelpful. I could shrug off caffeine and booze – reluctantly – but without lemon or vinegar or chilli or pepper or paprika, well, I think I’ve knocked 99% of my recipes out right there. Not a happy thought.

So, here’s my Tummy Tea. It’s not a miracle cure but having spent the last six days on a cocktail of ibuprofen and imodium and rennies (and then halting the ibuprofen because it buggers up your stomach lining and I didn’t want to make myself worse), this is a very pleasant change. Ginger is known for relieving nausea, hence the ubiquitous packet of ginger snap biscuits found in the handbags of most pregnant women, and turmeric has wondrous anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. I added the honey to sweeten,  but you can replace with any sweetener of your choice.

Makes 2 cups at 3p each

1/2 tsp ground turmeric, 1p (Natco turmeric 75p/100g, Sainsburys)
2 slices (5g) of fresh ginger root, 2p (40p/100g, Sainsburys)
1 tsp honey, 3p (Basics honey, £1/340g)
500ml boiling water

First boil your water and find a nice jug, if you have one, or your largest mug if not.

Slice your ginger and toss it in, and add the turmeric and honey.

Pour over the boiling water and stir well. Leave to stand for five minutes to cool, then pour and enjoy.

Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter at @MsJackMonroe and on Instagram @MsJackMonroe and find me on Facebook as ‘A Girl Called Jack’.

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Protein pasta, yes really, and it’s gluten-free. 17p.

    
As part of my ‘health binge’ that I’m currently embarking on after the carbtastic Live Below The Line challenge followed by scarcely and sleep and a lot of crap sandwiches to power through a General Election, I decided to experiment and see if I could make gluten free pasta. I’m not a fan of ‘gluten free’ flour, having used it a few times in the past and being decidedly unimpressed with the results – and pasta being one of my absolutely favourite foods, I wasn’t going to run the risk of something that tasted like wet cardboard spoiling one of my favourite experiences. And so, the big bag of gram flour came down from the top of the fridge again, and I decided to have a play.

I’ve made pasta with ‘ordinary’ flour in the past (once!), using a simple ratio of 1 egg to every 100g of flour and a splash of oil for good measure – so I applied a similar theory here to see what happened, upping the egg ratio for no good or fathomable reason other than because it felt like the right thing to do. A lot of my cooking is like that, instinctive and unexplainable – if you’ve read the Roald Dahl book ‘Matilda’ (or indeed, seen the film), there’s a line in it where Miss Honey asks Matilda how she manages to do such difficult sums in her head, and Matilda can’t explain it. That’s kind of how I am with food – often food friends and chefs and writers with a world of experience ask me why I make some of the culinary decisions I do, and I just shrug. I don’t know. Some of it is meticulously planned and executed, but mostly it’s guesswork, trial and error, and an enormous dollop of instinct. So I upped the eggs on my gram flour pasta. Maybe the flour looked denser, or something. I don’t know.

And boy oh boy oh boy was this a treat. I was expecting to make it a few times, to tamper and tinker and fiddle with it, but it worked first time, and delightfully so. I had mine with a mushroom pesto (dried mushrooms reconstituted with herbs, oil, garlic and cheese – yummy!) and wilted spinach folded through. Making pasta is a bit of work, but the first batch is always the hardest. The second batch went like a dream, and took a third of the time – probably because I wasn’t photographing every stage for my Instagram account! And if you ever make your own bread, well, pasta is about the same amount of effort. And this gluten free high protein version packed full of nutty delicious flavour, is totally worth it.
Made approx 275g dried weight, serves 3 at 17p each

150g gram flour, 20p (KTC gram flour £1.30/kg, Sainsburys)

2 free range eggs, 27p (6 mixed weight free range eggs, 95p, Sainsburys)

1 tbsp oil, 2p (Sunflower oil £3/3l)

a pinch of salt, <1p (Sainsburys Basics table salt, 5p/750g)

a little cornflour for dusting, 2p or more gram flour (Cornflour £1.20/500g)

First grab a large mixing bowl and a small mug of lukewarm water. Sift your gram flour into the bowl – regular readers may be raising their eyebrows as I rarely sift anything but I believe it makes a difference here, especially as gram flour has a tendency to lump and clump together after it has been opened.

Make a well in the centre of the sifted flour and crack the eggs into the middle. Add the oil and salt and beat together to form a dough. If it’s too dry, add a tablespoon of that lukewarm water. If it’s too sticky-tacky, add a tablespoon of flour.

Dust your surface with more gram flour, and your hands too, and knead as you would bread dough, pushing your knuckles and palm into the dough to stretch it, folding it back together, then turning it a quarter-turn and repeating. Knead for a few minutes (you may have to add extra flour to your work surface) – just to soften and smooth the dough, there’s no need to do the full ten minutes usually required for bread baking as there is no gluten to activate in this one, but kneading it evenly distributes the ingredients and gives it a smooth consistency that will be apparent later on as you roll it out. When you’re happy with it, pat it all over with the worktop flour and loosely wrap in clingfilm or pop into a bowl and cover with a damp teatowel to rest for an hour.

Once rested, dust your worktop with cornflour (or more gram flour if you have no cornflour) and split your dough into four pieces. Take one piece and roll it out to around 2mm thick. Cut into strips, and then into rectangles. Pinch the middle of each rectangle to form a ‘bow’ shape, and carefully transfer to a floured tray. Repeat until all the dough is used up – if your dough starts to stiffen from being out in the open, simply add a few splashes of water and work them in before rolling it out.

Leave your pasta pieces on the tray(s), covered with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel, to dry overnight. (See above photo) 

Once dry, gently shake off any excess flour (I put mine in a sieve and shook gently to loosen it) and store in an airtight jar or container until ready to use.
 

To cook from dry, pop into a pan of boiling water and cook for around 8-10 minutes on a simmer, and serve with a sauce of your choice. And enjoy!

Jack Monroe.
You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter at @MsJackMonroe and my books are available from the local-bookshop-supporting taxpaying lovelies at Hive Stores – check it out here: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/
  

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Gramcake, 15p (GLUTEN-FREE) (VEGAN)

  

Some people say socca, some say farinata; I decided to christen my breakfast this morning ‘gramcake’ – a pancake made with gram flour and little else. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to crack into my bag of gram flour, seeing it ticks all of my culinary boxes – it’s high in protein, versatile, and I can bake with it! All of which make me very happy indeed. This simple recipe made for a very satisfying breakfast – you can amend the spices and flavours to whatever you like, as the base is slightly sweet and nutty, so will complement all manner of things. I opted for spice this morning, because chilli and cumin are great any time of day, and I’m more of a savoury than sweet girl myself.

Serves 1, easily doubled or tripled or multiplied by 87:
50g gram flour, 7p (KTC gram flour £1.30/1kg)

100ml water

a pinch of salt <1p (Basics Table salt 25p/750g)

a splash of oil 2p (Sunflower oil £4/3l)
optional: 

¼ tsp ground cumin <1p (£1/42g)

a pinch of dried chilli flakes <1p £1/32g

a wedge of lemon, 3p (Basics lemons £1.10/5)
Beat the gram flour with a little of the water to form a thick paste, then loosen with the remaining water for a runny batter. Making the paste first stops the gram flour from forming into clumps and lumps, as it might when you add the water all in one go. For a richer pancake you can make it with milk instead of water, but water works just fine in this. I’m looking forward to a future version with coconut milk or almond milk, but I don’t feel that this version is a compromise in any way!

Add the cumin and chilli (or whatever spices you choose) to the batter and mix through, then stand the batter to one side to rest for 30 minutes – if you’re in a rush it’s not absolutely utterly essential to rest the batter but the results are better if you do.

Heat a little oil in a pan and pour the batter in. Cover the pan with a lid/plate/foil to trap the heat and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for around 5 minutes, until the edges are coming away from the side of the pan and the bottom is crisp. Covering the pan cooks the top of the pancake with the trapped heat, rather than the palaver of trying to flip it over. I am a rubbish pancake tosser (we all have our flaws) so worked out how to cheat them a while ago! Fold in half, squeeze some lemon over, and enjoy.

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

If you like my blog you might be interested in one of my cookbooks, check them out at the tax-paying independent-bookshop-supporting Hive Stores (they also deliver to your home) http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/

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Cakey-Goodness Bread, 62p a large loaf (VEGAN)

One of my readers got in touch last week to say that they had started baking bread using recipes from my book and blog, and that it helped immensely with their anxiety. I totally get that – I find if I’m having a wobbly day, or week, a good session of kneading dough helps to work through it somewhat. It’s not a catch-all solution, but it is one of the rare moments in my week where I can stand still and rhythmically bash something, both well recommended for calming the soul. 

Today I decided to do that thing, still not sleeping brilliantly after a fortnight of madness and a little jittery around the edges, and in the beautiful synchronicity of the universe, we had also run out of bread. I like how life works out sometimes.

I was a bit worried when I pulled this out of the oven, the peanuts and high wholemeal ratio had made it a rich, dark brown; exactly the way I like it, but sure to be greeted with abject suspicion from the 5 year old and 4 year old. I got round it by smearing it with honey and telling them it was honey cake toast (my honey cakes are legend among the two smallest people in the house, and how the recipe has never made it on this blog is beyond me, I’ve easily made them ten times this year alone. I’ll have to fix that…)

And so, without further ado, honey cake toast, as christened by the two Smalls, both blissfully unaware that they were asking for seconds of Super Healthy Bread. Aha!

  


Makes 1 large loaf, serves 8-10, for 62p.


200g white plain flour, 7p (Basics, 55p/1.5kg)

200g wholemeal flour, 15p (£1.10/1.5kg)

100g peanuts, 35p (Basics salted peanuts, 70p/200g)

1 tsp dried active yeast, 3p (5g), (Allinsons, 65p/100g)

1 tbsp oil, 2p (Sunflower oil £4/3l)

300ml warm water

First soak your peanuts in cold water for half an hour and rinse thoroughly to remove any excess salt, then shake them in a clean tea towel or kitchen paper to dry them. If you want to speed the process up and don’t mind using the energy, pop them in a dry pan on the heat and blast them, stirring, for a minute or two.
Then pop  your peanuts in a blender (you’ll have to pulse them a few times and give the jug a shake to loosen any bits that get stuck around the blade), or food processor if you have a fancy whizzy one, or bash them in a pestle and mortar if you have one of those, or if you’re low-tech fling them in a freezer bag and bash them with a rolling pin. Whatever floats your nut-boat, you just need to crush them into smithereens.
Tip them into a large mixing bowl, and add both kinds of flour and the yeast and the salt (salt can be omitted if you are cooking for children or are watching your intake, I don’t add it to much but do the occasional bread and usually a little to stocks and sauces). Mix the dry ingredients to evenly distribute them.
Make a well (like a big deep almost-hole) in the centre of the dry ingredients. Add the oil, then most of the water – it should be just warm to touch, if it’s too hot it murders the poor living yeast and then your bread won’t work!) Mix it in well to form a soft dough, adding the rest of the water if it needs it. Your dough should collect all of the flour from around the bowl, but not be too tacky – it shouldn’t leave a residue on your hands. If it’s too dry and cracking, add a splash more water. If you overdo the water, shake a little more flour in.
Tip it onto a well-floured work surface and knead well for a few minutes until it is soft and springy. Kneading is basically stretching it out with your palm and knuckles, folding it in half, giving it a quarter-turn and repeating. And repeating. And repeating, until it is bouncy. Don’t throw it on the floor to test, just gently prod it with your finger to make an indent – it should slowly poof back out again.
Tip it back into the bowl and cover with cling film or a plate or a tea towel, and pop it somewhere warm for an hour to rise. If your home is chilly, or you can’t find a warm place, pop a few tea towels in the microwave for a minute then wrap them around your bowl to give it a big warm cuddle.
When it’s risen, almost doubled in size, pop the oven on to heat at 180C. Tip your dough out onto your floured worktop again and shape into a loaf – this will help knock some of the extra air out, but don’t fiddle with it too much, that air will contribute to a nice light loaf with a wonderful texture. Flour its bottom and place on a baking tray. Cut down the middle half an inch deep with a knife (to let the baking fairies out, according to Irish folklore), and bake for 40 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when it feels light to hold, warm, hollow sounding when you tap the bottom, and your home smells like freshly baked bread. 
My family love it spread thickly with honey, hence the title (although that then doesn’t make it vegan, obviously), CakeyGoodness Bread. One day I might tell them, but until then, I’m enjoying cramming them with unbeknown goodness. Good for grownups too – I like mine with butter and marmite and strong cheese, and Allegra had hers with marmalade…

Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe and find my book online at the tax-paying local-bookshop-supporting Hive Stores: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/

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Home Made Salt-Roasted-Honey-Peanut-Butter, 88p

It won’t come as news to some, that I am a peanut butter fanatic. Both of my published books feature it heavily, from peanut butter bread and hot chocolate in A Year In 120 Recipes to frozen yoghurts and satays and those adorable thumbprint cookies in A Girl Called Jack. As far back as I can remember into my childhood, I would spoon peanut butter from the jar – just one teaspoon, and replace the lid, my snack of choice, and a slurp of milk to wash it from the roof of my mouth.

Lately I have been trying to make better decisions about my shopping, from free range to FairTrade, without compromising the budget side of my blog that I know is so important to my readers. I try to strike a balance, between ethical choices and necessities, and have often come under fire for choosing free range eggs or FairTrade bananas – I do genuinely understand that sometimes there is no luxury of choice, if your finances are hacked back to the bone then your priority is to feed yourself and your family. I get that, I really do. So I don’t tell people what they ‘should’ be doing, because I don’t dare, I mean, I’m a stubborn filly myself and if someone tells me sanctimoniously that I ‘should’ do something then my instinct is to dig my heels in and do the opposite!! I just talk about what I do, and why, and have generally found my blog and Facebook page to be a much more supportive community because of it. Often it comes down to choosing your values – do you value free range over organic, or organic over FairTrade? Because it’s hard to have it all. I believe the little choices matter. In the last few years I have seen barn eggs go from taking up an entire supermarket shelf, to being a small sad thing at the bottom tucked out of the way. Free range has become so commonplace that the margin between happy eggs and sad eggs is negligible. In some supermarkets all of their bananas, from the Basics range upwards, are FairTrade. Good choices are easier than ever. And those that are in a position to make those choices far outweigh those who have to buy products that they may not agree with in a perfect world.

I had a few messages this week from readers about peanut butter, which is what this is really about. People buying the cheapest varieties and ‘turning a blind eye’ to the Palm Oil added to them. I don’t know enough about palm oil to be able to get up on a soapbox about it, but I’ve seen enough sad orangutans and photographs of devastation and deforestation for it to make me feel distinctly uneasy. So I’m trying to avoid it. Sadly, it seems to have snuck into everything over the last few years; where Sunflower Oil was once the lubricant of choice, now if you look closely at the ingredients lists on the backs of packets of sauces and dips and all sorts of goodies, there’s the palm oil. And especially cheap peanut butter. I once sat on the floor in my local supermarket examining all of the jars of peanut butter, looking for one that didn’t have palm oil in. I laid them all on the floor (asked twice by a member of staff if I was ‘alright there, Miss?’), and scrutinised the backs. When I had the few jars that contained sunflower or peanut oil, I calculated the cost per gram to find the cheapest one. It was, for the record, Sun Pat Crunchy, at three times the price of the Basics brand. I bought it, and used it for my recipes.

And on Monday, shopping in the supermarket, I spied a bag of salted peanuts, 70p for 200g. I remembered my friend Andree once proudly presenting me with a jar of peanut butter she had made herself in her blender. I bought the peanuts, determined to bypass the palm oil problem and present an affordable solution for my readers. So here we are:

  


Makes a 275g jar of peanut butter for 88p:


200g peanuts, 70p (Sains Basics salted peanuts 70p/200g)

50ml sunflower oil, 6p (£4/3l)

2 tbsp honey, 12p (Basics honey £1/340g)

The Basics peanuts are rather salty, but cheaper for it. I started by roasting mine in the oven at 180C for 10 minutes to deepen the flavour.
Remove from the oven and tip into a bowl, and cover with cold water. This will soften them to make them easier to blend, and remove some of the salt. Leave to soak for at least 20 minutes.
Drain the peanuts and rinse thoroughly, and tip them into a blender. I used an ordinary jug blender for this, which gave a crunchy, textured peanut butter. If you are one of the lucky people who has a food processor, that would be my equipment of choice, but a blender does the job. Add the oil to loosen it – you may need to stop-start your blender and scrape the peanuts from the sides and mix it up a bit a few times.
Blend until the peanuts have broken down and are staring to form a paste, and then tip into a bowl. I added honey to sweeten – I toyed with the idea of using coconut oil instead of sunflower to sweeten it but my 5 year old son despises coconut, so I opted for a sunflower oil and honey combo instead.
And voila. Spoon into a jar and press down, and enjoy. I made mine fairly runny with extra oil so I could store it in the fridge, as I didn’t use a sterilised jar – as this is a first time experiment I’m not sure what the shelf life is but at a wild guess it would keep for 4 weeks in the fridge, I’ll report back if it’s wildly different to that.
And there you go. Home made cheap peanut butter, as crunchy or as smooth as you like, with no sad orangutans. Enjoy.
Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe and if you like my blog then you might just like my book, which is available from http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/

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Socca frying-pan-pizza base (Gluten free), 14p

As part of my ‘health binge’ I am currently indulging in, I bought a bag of gram flour from the supermarket. At £1.30 for a kilo (brand: KTC, widely available at major supermarkets), it’s not as cheap as Basics flour, but it is gluten free and very versatile, or so I’m told. I used to shuffle past it in the supermarket, eyeballing it, wondering what could be done with it other than bind my bhaji, so to speak. 

And then I took the plunge. And got some. And brought it home. Yesterday I used it as the binder and coating on my new kidney bean and peanut butter burgers, for an extra smidge of protein, and just to get the bag down and open and into my consciousness. You might be seeing a lot of gram flour recipes over the next couple of weeks, but that’s a good thing – it completely goes against my cooking philosophy to ask my readers to buy one specific ingredient for one recipe and never use it in anything else again. It’s not how I cook, and it’s not how I want to encourage people to cook either.

Today I ended up here. I picked some chard from the garden (more on that later, or head over to my Instagram if you can’t wait that long…) And in my house the larger leaves of chard end up on pizzas – a compromise for the kids, you can have a pizza for dinner sure, but I’m going to cover it in greens. I usually make theirs with wholemeal bases, but today they were treated to a crisp, delicious, protein packed socca base, and I even managed to wrestle a slice for myself!!

  

As ever my ingredients are based on Sainsburys and the Basics range where available. I do this to keep my recipes accessible to all as I have lots of lovely local shops near me but you can’t all get to Shepherds Bush, so that’s why I do it. It’s not to ‘promote supermarkets’, it’s to keep my recipes accessible to as many people as possible.

For the base (which would serve 2 adults at 14p each) I used:

120g gram flour, 14p (£1.30/kg KTC brand)

250ml water

2 tbsp oil, 4p (Sunflower oil £4/3l)

A pinch of salt, 1p (Basics 25p/750g)

1 tbsp mixed dried herbs, 6p (Basics 40p/13g)

2 more tbsp oil, 2pm
First find a good non stick pan, this starts off like a pancake batter so will need to be contained somehow in order to cook! 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the gram flour, herbs and salt with the oil and water to form a very runny batter. Ill admit I was eyeing it suspiciously thinking I had done it wrong, but was working with four different socca recipes on my table and hadn’t deviated wildly from any of them, so quieted the suspicious little voice.

Leave it to one side at room temperature for half an hour at least, an hour would be better, for the mixture to settle and thicken slightly.

Then…

Heat your pan either in the oven at 180C or on the hob until it’s hot hot hot. Protect your hands and remove from the heat.

Add the other 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and pour in the batter. Cook at a high heat for a few minutes then reduce the heat to medium and cook for a further ten, either in the oven or on the hob. The hob will give a crisper base whereas the oven will cook it more evenly all the way through. Remove from the heat when the edges start to come away from the side of the pan.

Now top it! I smeared 2 tbsp tomato purée on mine, a fistful of chard from my roof, and some dollops of Basics cream cheese – but everyone’s perfect pizza is a different beast which is why I only gave the base as the recipe!

It’s so delicious, I think it might be my new favourite way to eat pizza. And it’s full of protein! This health binge is making me so happy. I hope my enthusiasm isn’t too annoying for you all!!

You can follow me and my health binge (on a budget!) and my guinea pig on Instagram & Twitter @MsJackMonroe

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Kidney bean and peanut butter burger, 22p (VEGAN)

One of my most clicked-on, photographed, and tweeted-about recipes is ‘the 9p burger’, a carrot, cumin and kidney bean burger born of a toddler nagging for burgers and an empty storecupboard and a handful of change. Mashed and shallow fried, they looked like burgers, and he wasn’t any the wiser – though I’m sure he can tell the difference three years later, he still eats the bean versions as well as the occasional beef ones.

This morning, I opened a can of Basics kidney beans for brunch and only used a third of them. I knew as I put them back in the fridge that it would be bean burgers for dinner, and that excited me, as I haven’t had them for ages and people keep tweeting me pics of theirs, and I’ve been getting a Hankering.
The first hurdle was a lack of carrots in the fridge. Luxuriating in its place was a Deathbed Leek, so dry around the edges that the first three layers were stripped back for the guinea pig. I can’t remember the last time I even bought leeks – or how I hadn’t spotted it before. 

If you’ve read today’s Evening Standard article, you’ll know I have worked a few shifts at Blackfoot, Allegra’s restaurant in Exmouth Market. One of my favourite things to cook there was a Mega Nut Burger (not on the revamped Spring menu, I’m afraid), with a base of leeks and chestnuts and roasted nuts. I looked at my leek. I looked at my kidney beans. I looked for some nuts. I had no nuts. In all manner of contexts. No nuts. I did, however, have a tub of peanut butter (I use Sun Pat as it’s the lowest price brand that doesn’t use palm oil, and I don’t know enough about palm oil to be able to advise anyone else on it but there have been news stories of deforestation and sad looking orangutans and it just doesn’t sit well with me so one day I sat on the floor of Sainsburys and turned over all the jars of peanut butter scrutinising the ingredients for ones that didn’t have palm oil in and then compared the price per g and ended up at Sun Pat. Short soliliquy to peanut butter ends.)
And so, this was born. And today I am grateful for my disparate fridge and lack of nuts and my health-binge, because I can say quite frankly that this will be one of my favourite ever recipes. It tastes like it’s bad for me. And I like that in a healthy dinner. The peanut butter adds extra protein (I sense the next few days will be protein-tastic), and to finish it off I dusted it in gram flour to keep it gluten free (and more protein), and fried it in coconut oil. I know these are both new additions to the pantry but gram flour will feature heavily over the next few weeks as a lot of readers have asked for gluten free recipes, so bear with me. If you aren’t gluten free then feel free to use ordinary flour. And coconut oil has been a fancy health fad for so long now that it’s finally available at affordable prices. I found mine in the world foods aisle, it’s KTC, and was just over £2 for a large jar. I use less of it than I would sunflower oil, as I spoon it out of the jar rather than slosh it in, and think although it won’t go as far as a 4l bottle of sunflower oil at the same price, it’s still not the £17 it once was in Holland & Barrett. If you don’t think it’s worth it, hey, don’t buy it. I’m just doing my thing, and you do yours too.

  
Makes 4 generous adult burgers or 6 kiddy ones or a gazillion canape-sized ones at 22p each
(As ever prices are costed at Sainsburys because that’s where I do my shopping and no I’m not doing any more ad campaigns with them, they’re just local and I like the staff):

400g can of Basics kidney beans (240g drained weight), 30p
50g leek, finely sliced, 10p (£2/kg loose)

50g onion, finely sliced, 3p (Basics 80p/1.5kg)

2 tbsp coconut oil, 13p (KTC £2.25/500ml)

pinch of salt, <1p (Basics table salt 25p/750g)

½ tsp paprika (or cumin would be nice instead), 2p (£1/42g)

50g peanut butter, 27p (£1.80/340g)

1 tbsp gram flour, 1p (KTC superfine gram flour £1.30/kg)

First drain your kidney beans and give them a thorough rinse with cold water, and tip into a shallow frying pan.

Peel and finely slice your onion (50g is about half a small onion, a quarter of a massive one) and add to the pan. Ditto the leek, I chopped from the bottom of mine as I just want the white bits for this recipe, the green bits will be used somewhere else in the week. Add your salt and oil, paprika and peanut butter, and cook all together on a low heat to saute (soften) the vegetables and the kidney beans. Stir well to disturb your ingredients and stop them from sticking to the pan. Cook low and slow for around 10 minutes until everything is combined and the veg has softened, and the beans start to split. Mash them to a pulp, mixing with the other ingredients – it doesn’t matter if some of the beans are left whole, in fact it gives them a quite pleasant knobbly texture.
Tip the mixture into a bowl and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to cool and set – an hour or more is better, overnight even more so, but if you’re in a rush 30 minutes will do the job. This step is important – as the mixture firms up and thus the burgers don’t fall to a mush in the pan when you cook them. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve cooked the original bean burgers on film and rushed this step and then had to re-shoot the whole thing as I’ve ended up with Scrambled Bean Mush instead of burgers!
When the mixture has firmed up, remove it from the fridge and heat a little oil in the pan. Shape the burger mixture into four or six balls with a little gram flour to stop them sticking to the pan, and flatten gently to make your burger shapes. The thinner they are, the better they cook through, although as all of the ingredients are already cooked, it’s a taste thing rather than a health and safety one. Cook for a few minutes on one side on a high heat to seal and crisp, then carefully turn them over and repeat for the other side. Turn once more, turn the heat down to a low-medium, and cook for a few more minutes to warm right through. And serve – I had mine straight from the pan in a fit of gluttony, but they would be delicious with some kind of grain and some greens. I just didn’t get that far tonight!

Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe and find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

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Whipped eggs with hot chocolate beans, 65p

I kicked off my health binge in style this morning, with a brunch so hearty that as I type this at 3pm I’m only starting to feel the rumbly grumble of my tummy again, so for all the eyebrow-raisers among you, this is not a diet. I repeat, this is not a diet. I am feeding myself goodness to try to recover my ruined head and body from the last fortnight of Below The Line followed by a General Election, and also coz you my lovely readers have been asking me for ages if I can tackle head-on the healthy food trends without breaking the bank. And so I started here… The beans were an afterthought, but a very happy one, as it makes for a protein-packed meal and protein keeps you full and makes you strong. So, yay.

So without further ado, here it is. The beans are loosely based on my chilli recipe, make them as simple or as complicated as you like.

  
2 free range eggs, 28p

30g cream cheese (about 1 tbsp), 8p

a few stalks of fresh herbs, I used parsley but basil or coriander or mint would be nice in this, 8p

2 tbsp sunflower oil, 4p

a pinch of salt and pepper
80g canned kidney beans (drained weight), 10p

1 tbsp tomato puree, 4p

1 square dark chocolate, 2p

a pinch of cumin, 1p
First drain your kidney beans and rinse thoroughly to wash off any can-slime (regular tinned-bean eaters will know exactly what I’m talking about!) and to get rid of that ‘we’ve been sitting in a tin for a year’ taste. It’s easy to wash off and I’m making it sound worse than it is – if you are a New Bean User don’t be put off! Pop them in a pan of cold water and bring them to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. If you want to save time and the energy used to cook them for 10 mins then you can cover them and pop them in the microwave on full power for a minute instead, I just want them slightly soft and splitting so they can be mashed a bit later.

When the beans are hot and soft, drain them and stir in the chocolate (it will melt against the hot beans), cumin, and tomato puree. Season lightly and set to one side.

Next heat a little oil in a small shallow frying pan. Break your eggs into a bowl and add the cream cheese, mixing it in with a fork to break it up. Finely chop your herbs and toss them in, and gently season. Whip hard (er, can’t think of another way to say that…) until the eggs are frothy – this makes your omelette bigger, and lighter, I think I first read about whipped omelettes in a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe book but please, reserve your judgement, a lot of her book is very easy to translate into cheap healthy recipes and I like her bright, non-patronising writing style. Lots of healthy-food-writers can come across as prescriptive and finger-waggy and GP is a refreshing voice among all that. And, she whips her eggs. Works for me.

Pour the whipped eggs into the pan and count to ten. Stir well with a wooden spoon to mix the cooked egg bits in with the uncooked mixture, and gently shuffle your pan to redistribute it into an omelette shape. Cover so the top cooks (lid, plate or foil all work, cat not so much) and reduce the heat – and cook for a few minutes until done.

Prices based on my most recent Sainsburys shop because that’s where I shop but you can shop at th/e shop you want to shop at. Correct at time of blogging but those pesky supermarkets change them all the time.

Free range eggs 86p/6. Basics cream cheese 75p/500g . 28g fresh parsley 80p. 3l sunflower oil £4. Basics kidney beans 30p/400g (240g drained weight). Basics dark chocolate 30p/100g. Tomato puree 50p/200g. Cumin £1/42g.

You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @MsJackMonroe and find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack.

And if you’re feeling particularly altruistic or kind and don’t have a copy of my books yet you can make me and a local bookshop AND the tax man happy by popping over to Hive and treating yourself. If you can’t afford to, then I’m really sorry and I genuinely hope things get better for you (and not so you can buy my book, but just because being skint is fucking difficult). And local food banks are always, always happy to see copies of it donated, too. No pressure, just ideas. Link here: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/

Have a lovely day and I’m feeling really positive about this healthy adventure, so I hope the positivity is contagious and not just simply irritating! :

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A 28 Day Healthy Recipe Binge – Mending my head and body post-LBL and election…

Morning! So it’s Monday, and after a week of doing Live Below The Line followed by a week averaging two hours sleep a night while Election Mania raged, I broke down in the Ladies at Paddington train station yesterday – and not at the injustice of having to spend 30 pence to spend a penny, either. Exhausted, ragged, ravaged, rugged, ruined, I stood with my back to the cubicle door and sobbed my heart out, for no single determinable reason. And I realised that in The Great Fight Back that has to happen now, I was in no fit state to be any use to anyone. So I decided, that as of tomorrow (today now, as it was yesterday), I was going to mend myself. And perhaps time Live Below The Line better next time, giving it a wide berth from any large stressful events, like a General Election.

So, I decided I was going on a health binge. It’s like a health kick but with much much much more eating, because eating is comforting and I enjoy it. I’ve been mulling over doing it for a while, and a lot of my readers get in touch to ask for gluten free recipes, or various other health requirements, so I thought I would just get to it. And I’ll be costing my recipes out like I used to – doing it for each recipe for Live Below The Line reignited my love of forensic calculation, and let’s be honest, things may be about to get a lot worse for a lot of people over the next five years, and one of the practical ways I can be a bit helpful is to bulk this blog up with a fuck-ton of cheap simple recipes to nourish minds and bellies for job interviews and long working hours and pounding the streets with placards. People generally function better when they’re fed.. If I start to get a bit edgy, or suddenly collapsing the middle of the afternoon, I’m probably in need of a snack. We’re all better, fed.

So, without further ado, I am going to try to make myself a better, saner, more functional human, with a bloody good nosh. Who’s in?!

As ever, I will irritate you all with recipe links on Twitter (@MsJackMonroe), Instagram (@MsJackMonroe), Facebook (www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack) and my blog. I hope you enjoy the journey, and if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see then comment below and let me know, and I’ll pick a few to explore and experiment with (hang fire on the goji berries, you at the back,  they’re a little out of my price range).

Love love, and positivity and karma and kindness and unicorns (I am trying to Stay Positive),
Jack Monroe. Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

If you feel like a touch of altruism, please head over to Hive Stores, who support local independent book shops AND pay their taxes, and pick up a copy of A Girl Called Jack. Linky here:  http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/ – if you already have a copy, buy one for your cat and teach it to cook so you can have a night off. 

Post election post mortem.

It’s Sunday already. I’ve started writing a blog post about the election so many times since Thursday evening, and Friday morning, but they were stilted, words slowly forced onto a page as my shocked and scrambled head for once didn’t know what to say. 

It started with a heavy, sinking feeling as the exit poll data was announced. Based on 22,000 people of the some 41million who voted, and putting the Conservatives in the lead, I prayed it was wrong. For a start, it was the data from 0.0005% of the total number of people who voted. The margin for error was enormous, I told myself, not in denial – as I have been a politics nerd for long enough now to know that nothing should come as a surprise and nothing should be taken for granted – but in hope. Hope that a couple of the digits were slightly here or there, hope for a slight shift of margins, hope for something other than the desolate prediction rolling across the bottom of my television screen.
“It’s another bad result for Labour”, Andrew Neil said of one early announcement of a Labour-won seat. I furrowed my brow. Dimbleby was proclaiming from the off that the polls were right, as the Lab-Con scorecard read 7-2. Bit premature, I thought. The 12th result was deemed ‘the last Labour stronghold’. Strewth, I thought to myself, there’s 638 more results to come. Sports commentators don’t predict the outcome of a football match from the first 8 seconds of the game, that would be silly. And I held that hope.
As the night rolled into morning, the Conservatives edged ahead. And stayed there, the gap between the numbers growing larger and larger. And the majority was secured. A triumphant Cameron returned to Number 10, unfettered by the “great yellow albatross hanging around the necks of the Conservative Party”, as Boris Johnson said in his keynote speech at the party conference in 2013. “We want to tear off that albatross, and drown in it the river!” People stood and cheered. I hovered at the back of the room, shifting uncomfortably at their obvious delight in the violent imagery presented with a veneer of buffoonery. I was there to give a speech on the rise of food banks in Britain, and regular readers will remember that I was banned a few days before (I suppose they finally clocked on that they might not like what I was going to say). A brief but extremely public skirmish later, it was reinstated without an apology. When I turned up, my event was curiously completely unpublicised. Not a mention in the literature, nothing. Odd for such an organised operation, I thought. And then walked into a conference room that was standing room only, packed so tightly that people were standing in the corridor outside. I raged about food bank use in Britain, about its causes, I reminded the people in that room that donating a tin of beans or potatoes was the very least they could do considering they voted for the people who implemented the devastating policies impoverishing ordinary people up and down the country. I raged, I cried, I spoke, I begged, I got a standing ovation at the end of it.
Over the next few years, as benefits are ‘capped’ and the welfare budget slashed, as the NHS is crippled and the cost of living rises, those food banks will grow in number, as will the number of people needing their help. I don’t imagine for one moment I will ever be asked back to the Conservative Party Conference to talk about it again. 
I found some glimmers of light in a long night – in a consecutive 52 hours awake and exhausted. Rupa Huq, the Labour candidate grossly and violently manhandled by Conservative Party lackeys on the campaign trail won her seat. Esther McVey, the Conservative Employment Minister who revelled at Iain Duncan Smith’s side as they cut benefits, sanctioned claimants, united against ‘the evils of idleness’, and denied there were any links between cutting support for vulnerable people, and the subsequent deaths of vulnerable people with no support.
I remember reading the article in the New Statesman, where she was handed a photograph of David Clapson, a diabetic man who died alone in his flat after his benefits were suspended. David’s fridge had been turned off, meaning his insulin was no longer effective. When confronted with evidence that the DWP had to carry out 49 peer reviews following the death of a benefit claimant after sanctions and cuts, she acidly responded that “we followed our processes correctly.” In an interview with the Daily Mail, she breezed that “disabled people get better” and insisted that they were the biggest benefit abusers in Britain.
When the result for Wirrall West came in at 5am I made a sort of strangled noise from my sofa, hardly daring to believe it was true. Eight minutes later, still shaking, I tweeted “No result affected me as deeply as McVey losing her seat. For all affected by welfare cuts, DWP shit, ATOS, she’s gone.” And sent her a link to the Government form to apply for benefits. Petty, but satisfying.
Mark Reckless, UKIP, lost his seat in Rochester to the Conservatives. Douglas Carswell, UKIP, held onto his in Clacton. The loudest cheer of the 13 hours parked in front of my television (which is more than I would do in an average month or two!) came at 10:36 in the morning, as a grinning Farage failed to win Thanet South, and resigned as leader of the UK Independence Party. He said in a garbled and slightly manic speech that he had never been happier. I am sure millions of people up and down the country shared the sentiment. 
The Greens held on to Brighton Pavilion with the wonderful Caroline Lucas getting 42% of the vote. They received 1.2million votes across the UK, and a single seat to show for it. In contrast, the SNP received 1.4million votes, and got 56 seats to show for it. Thus the fight for Proportional Representation begins again – but with PR must come the realisation that if we had had it for this election, UKIP would have walked away with around 80 seats – 23 more than the Lib Dems had after 2010, and Farage could well have been our Deputy Prime Minister. However with Proportional Representation might come greater voter engagement, as all votes would count equally and people might finally vote for what they believe in, rather than tactically ticking the box of the least worst option most likely to be elected.
Finally, following the resignation of three party leaders on Friday morning (Farage from UKIP, Miliband from Labour and Clegg from the Liberal Democrats), for the first time almost all of the political parties in Britain have a woman as their figurehead. Except the Tories. Harriet Harman is currently holding the reins of the Labour Party. Nicola Sturgeon is still leading the SNP. Natalie Bennett for the Greens. Suzanne Evans for UKIP. Leanne Wood for Plaid Cymru. Sal Brinton for the Lib Dems.
Apart from Suzanne Evans, who is a terrifying cookie-cutter of her predecessor, this is extremely good news for women in politics. 
And now, what next? Well, I’ve been crunching the numbers extensively for the last few nights, doing extensive vote analysis constituency by constituency, and am halfway through. I started because I was tired of hearing some old Labour friends claiming that those who ‘vote Green got Blue’, blaming the surge in membership and votes for the Green Party for their failure to secure a majority, or even enough votes to form a coalition. I lost count of the amount of people who sneered at me that I was to blame for voting Green, as though my one vote affected the 84 constituencies that Labour would have needed to form a majority Government. I tried to point that out, to deaf ears. I sort of understand. People are hurt, they’re tribal, they’re angry, they’ve worked hard so need to blame other people as in their eyes their hard work should have been successful. I get it. So I stepped away from the one-by-one discussions and am instead doing a comprehensive statistical analysis, which I will post on my blog in due course. It’s cathartic, it’s extremely interesting, and when everyone has calmed down we can have a conversation based on what actually happened, rather than bruised egos and flared tempers. And I look forward to that, because I like a discussion and a debate, and I’d love to chew this over with some people and get their thoughts – my head has felt full of wasps the last few days, and I think it would be healthy to get some sort of proper, reasonable conversations going.
For now though, I bid you all goodnight. I have averaged two hours sleep a night since Monday, and am looking forward to regaining some sanity.
Remember what I said on Wednesday? If we wake up on Friday morning with a Government we would rather not see in power, if all your dreams didn’t come true at the ballot box, it is not the end. It is just the beginning. You do not have to accept the cuts and austerities and policies that will directly negatively impact on your life.
We can rally. We can protest. We can organise. We can campaign. We can petition. We can scrutinise, pressurise, but we must not give in.
To quote my late friend Hetty Bower, who I campaigned with in 2013, one of the women who – and who died at the age of 108 still fighting against austerity and for the National Health Service: “We must fight. If we fight they might win. But if we don’t fight then of course they’ll win.”

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

Please go out and vote – who else can speak your truth but you?

Have you lost your polling card? Me too. I have two children under five, so I’ll find it in a few months stuffed down the back of the sofa with wobbly portraits of me scrawled across it in blue felt tip, or pictures of spiders and imaginative beasties. I can barely tell the difference. The good news is, if you’re registered to vote, you don’t actually need it, spiders and beasties or no.

It’s a curiously British thing, a card dropping through your door with a footnote on it saying it’s surplus to its own requirement, but I suspect it serves as a reminder that there is an election coming up, for those not permanently embroiled in the inner scandal and machinations of the Houses of Parliament. To vote without your polling card, simply find your nearest polling station (link here), turn up, and state your name and address. If you had a postal vote that you haven’t posted, just complete it and hand it in. I was advising people to take some form of identification with them yesterday, but was widely assured that it wasn’t necessary – however I get asked for ID for everything from cider to hotel bookings, so I always carry my Provisional Driving License to be on the safe side. Not being a car driver, I suppose it cheers me to give the small piece of green plastic some purpose.

But polling card or no polling card, postal vote or hastily-completed-and-handed-in-vote, please do vote. And vote with your heart. Or your mind. Or your conscience. Or your gut. Or an other indeterminable part of your anatomy. This is your slice of representation, this is your voice, your chance to be heard. Who else can speak your truth but you? Who else can colour your beliefs and ethics and convictions and priorities and moral fibre into the great tapestry of our diverse and wonderful country, but you?

It’s easy to cast a sweeping glance over a bunch of people in smart blazers and think they’re all the same. They aren’t. One is an immigrant who used to be a journalist. One set fire to money in front of homeless people for laughs. One is a former banker bankrolled by 90% of the donors to party he claims to be so different from. One has inspired an entire fan club of teenage girls into a One-Direction-esque rapture. Their histories form their priorities and their priorities form their politics, just like you, and just like me.

If your conviction is that you don’t want to vote, then fine. If you are genuinely apathetic about the potholes in your roads, about the price of your train tickets, the price of food, the cost of your rent, mortgage, stamp duty, inheritance tax, if nothing in your day to day life matters enough to you to take ten minutes out of your day once every five years to make a decision about it, that’s fine. If you don’t care about school places for your children, or the quality of their education, the cost of higher education and the accompanying debts that young people are saddled with as they face a hostile jobs market and the likelihood of being one of twenty people to apply for every job at their local coffee shop, that’s fine by me. If you genuinely think that over the next five years you won’t need to see your doctor, or visit A&E, have a baby, call the midwidfe, call the Police, or the Fire Service, okay, don’t go out and vote.

The reality is that ‘politics’ isn’t restricted to the catcalls and baying mob that pantomime on Prime Ministers Questions. It’s not the select few flicking through ringbinders with prepared answers on BBC Question Time. It’s not just homogeny in suits making decisions on our behalf – it’s all around us. Politics is life, and all aspects of life are deeply political. Admittedly a First Past The Post system is clunky and not truly representative, but the less of us who vote, the less representative it becomes. I hope for a proportional representation system in the future, but we need to vote for it if we want it. We need to vote for progression, if we want it, or austerity, if you really believe that’s the answer, or whatever you believe in or the closest thing to it you can find.

If you really believe you are too small a cog in the system to change anything, remember that constituencies have been won and lost on a single vote.

If you really don’t know what a difference you could make, remember that three years ago I was a single mother, unemployed, with my Housing Benefit suspended and a Section 21 eviction notice through my letterbox. I felt helpless, hopeless, at the bottom of a scrap heap and resigning myself to it because I couldn’t imagine anything else any more. A chance glimpse of a headline in a local paper enraged me enough to write a letter to the editor. I started my blog. The rest is history. Now I register young homeless people to vote. I’m canvassed for my opinion on news sofas as a ‘social commentator’. I write for national newspapers. I have been on Question Time. I forced a debate in Parliament with a relentless and furious campaign. I’m nothing special. I had no media training, no ‘friends in the know’. I just got involved. You could do that too.

And if we wake up on Friday morning with the possibility of a Government that we would rather not see in power, if all your dreams didn’t come true at the ballot box, it is not the end. It is just the beginning. You do not have to accept the top-down cuts and austerities and policies that will directly negatively impact on your life. We can rally. We can protest. We can organise. We can campaign. We can petition. We can scrutinise, pressurise, but we must not give in.

To quote my late friend Hetty Bower, who I campaigned with in 2013; “We must fight. Yes, if we fight, they might win. But if we don’t fight? Then of course they’ll win.”

Jack Monroe.