Tag Archives: Tooting

30 days without supermarkets #24: Lemon shortbread


Lemon shortbread biscuits

In the spirit of my non-wasteful ambitions of recent posts, i just had to finish up some butter and a couple of lemons, so I made some lemon shortbread biscuits, and used up the end of a bag of ground almonds as well as semolina that the recipe called for. It took minutes, and though I say it myself, they were delicious. They also made four people that bit happier today.

That wasn’t quite it though. I also had a lime, two lemons and a pot of double cream about to expire. I quickly whipped up a lemon ice cream, adding the end of a bottle of rosé instead of the water in the recipe.

That’s it – absolutely nothing wasted this week, and a bunch of delights in the process.

30 days without supermarkets #23: How I learned to stop throwing stuff away


Watermelons in Nokta by Tooting Bec

One unmistakeable effect of this no-supermarket challenge is that I simply don’t waste food anymore. Yesterday was the last chance to use up a lot of things I had left from the beginning of the week – onions, peppers, carrots, half a kohlrabi, mild green chilis, some quark. I made a big mixed vegetable curry out of all of it, using the quark to thicken it (something I’d never thought of doing before, but it works like a dream).

I probably wouldn’t have done that before. I would have looked at it and wondered what to do with it, because it doesn’t fit into the food-framing that Sainsburys does for you: it must involve meat, particularly chicken breasts, and vegetables are an accompaniment, not a feature (at Tooting, for example, meat is near the front door, vegetables are at the back).  What’s more, there must always be a luxury ingredient, and you shouldn’t have to work too hard.

Now, I’m not saying any of this is necessarily explicit or Sainsbury’s fault, but it’s  what walking round Sainsbury’s does to me. After 3 weeks of not going there, I feel like I’ve got my life back.  I’m also aware that sometimes I’d just go to a supermarket and get more stuff that was easy to make into a meal, rather than work out what to do with what I’d got.  There’s something insidious about the way that celebrity chefs, magazines, food journalism and food retail all work together to create a kind of a food-porn that reconstructs  what cooking and eating means for us and sells it back to us as if it was what we wanted all along. It takes effort and definitive action to step outside it and think for yourself.



30 days without supermarkets #22: Hello Harissa


I’d never tried harissa before a few months ago, and only really heard of it about a year ago. I made a special trip to Waitrose once to get a jar so I could try it, since I’d given up finding it anywhere else. I tried it, I liked it. It’s one of those magic ingredients that you don’t need much of to lift even the dullest food out of its torpor.

Since avoiding supermarkets for the last 22 days, I’ve discovered that in fact my local shop, Daily Fresh, has loads of harissa, and not at yuppie prices. What’s more, it has the the wonderful brand name of Le Phare du Cap Bon. Who could resist?

Harissa paste


30 days without supermarkets #22: Goodbye mugs



So today I made the Lebanese coffee the right way, and managed to find a small cup to drink it out of. Delicious.

It makes a nice change to have a cup, rather than a bucket of coffee. Which reminds me how much it annoys me when you can’t just get a human-sized coffee from places like Starbucks and service stations.

M&S café at St George’s hospital in Tooting is the one that annoys me the most. There is no option to get a cup that is either in size or weight suitable  for an old or infirm person to drink out of. Every time I’ve taken my mum there, I’ve had to ask them to pour some out because she can’t lift it or hold it safely. They don’t get it, and still fill them 7/8 full. I have to go outside and pour half of it down the drain, but that still doesn’t change the fact that if you have to carry hot liquid half a mile round a hospital, you don’t want a wobbly cardboard bucket that you can hardly get your hands round.

When did this happen, and why? In what other country in the world is a standard cup of coffee bigger than any mug you have at home?


30 days without supermarkets #20: Wake up and smell the (Lebanese) coffee


Lebanese coffee from Daily Fresh

The best thing about this no-supermarket challenge is that as a result of kicking me sharply  out of my shopping and eating habits, I have begun to  think differently and creatively  about the way I do all kinds of other things. The benefit to my state of mind and the projects and problems I’m working on has been immeasurable. It started out being about food, and ended up as something much more.

So here’s another habit that changed thanks to my no-supermarket challenge. I am such a coffee junkie that I sometimes go to bed wishing it was morning just so I can go through the coffee ritual. Bearing in mind that my favourite ground coffee comes from Lidl, I worried for a moment about where I was going to get the next fix.

This is how supermarkets blind you to what’s round the corner. Daily Fresh, my favourite local store, sell coffee.  In fact, they sell the most appealing looking coffee I’ve seen in a long time, Maatouk 1960 Lebanese coffee.  They do two versions, one with cardamom, one without. It reminded me of my student days in Zagreb, when my Lebanese room-mate Ahmed and his friends would brew up coffee and cardamom on a stove on the floor in our room.

First time around, I’m trying the plain version. It’s very fine, rich and aromatic, and without thinking I made it the espresso way which was wrong for the kind of coffee it is. I should have done it the Turkish/Lebanese way by adding it to  boiling water and sugar in what I call a džezva and drinking it short with thick coffee mud in the bottom.  Time for a change in the coffee rituals – something else to look forward to.


30 days without supermarkets #19: pleasures of the haphazard


Home-made muesli bars

Cereal bars are  one of the things I used to buy regularly from supermarkets. It’s only laziness that stopped me from making my own. They don’t take much time at all, and are probably much cheaper and more nutritious. Best of all, they taste different every time you make them.

I don’t really have a recipe, just principles of how to throw them together. Muesli bars are a great way to use up stuff that’s been languishing in the kitchen, because they use up bits of everything. This batch started with the fact that I had a bowl of soaked prunes that I’d lost interest in.

Muesli bars

This isn’t a recipe, so much as an account of what I managed to use up. The things that muesli bars absolutely have to have is some fruit juice and/or pulp (to avoid using too much fat) , some fat (but not too much) something naturally sweet  (to avoid using sugar), muesli, and – for my taste – nuts, to give them crunch and protein. Beyond that, you can use pretty much anything you’ve got left, the details don’t matter. Amounts depend on the size of your tin. As long as the mixture binds together well, you can take a guess at the ratio of liquid to dry stuff.

  • Juice and grated zest of an old orange
  • 1 whole grated apple – to save it from being wasted
  • 1 tablespoon treacle – the end of a tin
  • About 1/4 cup of sunflower oil
  • Bowl of prunes that had been soaked in water
  • Chopped mixed nuts – cheap in Holland & Barratt, need using up
  • Chopped walnuts – don’t know how old they are, time to get rid of them
  • Sultanas – because they need using up
  • A bit of mixed fruit soaked in cherry brandy that I found in the freezer
  • A tablespoon of semolina (don’t ask me why, it was just a passing thought)
  • Holland & Barratt muesli base. Not sure how much  – it depends on the size of the tin.
  • Heaped teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg

Mix it all up, so that it’s a moderately stiff mixture, though not dry. Spread the mixture flat in a shallow oblong  baking tin lined with non-stick baking parchment and cook at around 160 (fan) for about maybe 20-30 minutes, depending on what’s in the mixture. Keep an eye on them, and rescue them before they burn. Cut them into slices immediately, and try to lift them onto a wire rack early, so that they dry out rather than sweat on the paper. They’ll be softer than the average cereal bar, so don’t try and cook them til the’re crisp – they won’t ever be.

These turned out as some of the nicest I’ve made, and I put that down to the dark, sweet flavours of the treacle and prunes, and the old alcohol in the fruit. Who knows. That’s  the fun of real cooking, the iterative process of trying stuff out until you find things that work, the variability of ingredients, the additions and subtractions, the forces of circumstance that subtly change the chemistry of what you’re making. This is precisely what you don’t get with all that stuff that you buy by the box in supermarkets.

30 days without supermarkets #18: do you really need all that stuff?


Today I had to go to a supermarket because I was shopping for someone else.  In only 17 days, I’ve got completely out of the habit of thinking like a supermarket junkie. I used to be quite excited at the idea of going to an enormous Sainsburys like the one in Balham – you could buy anything and as much of anything as you like! But after a couple of weeks away from them, supermarket shelves begin to look ridiculous to me. It’s as if a child had vomited her idea of what heaven would look like into an aircraft hangar.

If you had to go to an off-licence every time you wanted a bottle of wine rather than picking one up as you pass the bread aisle, would you drink so much? If you could only buy sweets in a sweet shop, would you buy chocolate everytime you went to the shops? Who needs so many biscuits? When did Kit-Kats diversify into so many combinations of size, flavour and shape? And – to return to one of the earliest themes – who needs bottled water?