Jack Monroe. Echo/Gazette 31st Jan 2013. Photograph by AL UNDERWOOD.

Jack Monroe, ‘Chef For Less’: Echo & Gazette 31st Jan

After a day spent cooking for the Telegraph, I sit down to relax with my local rag and…

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“I have a tiny kitchen and a tiny budget, and a tiny boys mouth to feed on a daily basis. I grow herbs on my window sill (currently coriander, rosemary, parsley, thyme and mint, wedged in rusty loaf tins) where they topple off when I turn the tap on in my sink to do the washing up.

I spent a year unemployed from 2011-2012, and with a budget of around £10 per week for food for myself and Small Boy.

As phrases like ‘double dip recession’ ‘austerity’ and ‘fiscal cliff’ graced the news headlines and hit the wallets of the nations, I moved from shopping online and having swanky organic fruit and vegetables delivered in a recyclable cardboard box, to living out of the orange and white livery of the Basics range at my local supermarket.

The ardent foodie in me was utterly miserable. Cheap processed ready meals and a lack of fruit and vegetables led to poor sleep patterns, a constantly hungry child, and for the first time in my life, my skin broke out in big angry spots. Something bad was going in, and nothing good was coming out of it.

I decided to dust off my gingham apron and cook meals from scratch, as cheaply as I possibly could. I cut down on meat and dairy products, out of necessity, and fell in love with home cooked food again.

The results were, and continue to be, surprising. I have found that my £10 a week budget extends to home baked breads for breakfast, thick wholesome protein-packed soups, winter warming casseroles and curries and stews, home made burgers and piles of fruit and vegetables.

Small Boy and I are healthier, happier, still a bit soft around the edges, with three meals a day and a supply of bread and snacks as and when we want them. Cooking for one and a half people used to feel pointless and laborious; now it’s quick, delightful, with minimal preparation and washing up. All my recipes listed can be made easily for one hungry person, or one person and a child, or in multiples thereof.

Being a single parent means I don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen, so most of my recipes are quick and simple. There’s no tarting about, no fancy expensive ingredients, but still, when I call my friends and invite them over for dinner, I manage to fill a table and they manage to clear their plates with compliments and smiles and disbelief that I do it so cheaply. In January 2013, my Pasta Alla Genovese cost just 19 pence per portion to make, when a leading restaurant would charge £15 for the same.”

(Accompanied by recipes for Pasta Alla Genovese at 19p per portion, and Tomato And Haricot Bean Soup at 15p per portion. Also pictured is my Mandarin And Poppy Seed Loaf at 38p per loaf.)

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Don’t Blame Single Mums For High Streets Problems

Letter in the Echo newspaper, Thursday 1st March. In response to the following article: ‘Anna Waite: Druggies, Drunks and Single Mums Driving Upmarket Shops Out Of Southend.’ http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/9557798.Druggies__drunks_and_single_mums____driving_upmarket_shops_out_of_Southend___/

“Anna Waite thinks druggies and single mothers are killing trade in Southend High Street.
It would be great to be married with two incomes and a nice family business, but I’m not. Instead I gave up my well-paid job in order to be a better parent to my child. I’m not in the best financial state, but my pennies go back into the town centre, because it’s where I live!
Generalisations like Ms Waites show that we are all tarred with an ugly brush by silver-spooners who have no idea what it is like to live a day in my shoes. New lighting, pavements and bins will not bring people to the town centre.
Might I suggest free parking on weekends like the larger shopping centres do? More shoppers equals more shops, as the old business rule of supply and demand goes.
When General Haig’s incompetence and Neville Chamberlain’s dithering appeasement created two whole generations of single mothers, I don’t recall seeing in my history books any signs in shop windows saying that single mothers weren’t welcome.”

Ms Jack Monroe, Southend on Sea.