Tag Archives: supermarkets

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 #21: bye bye chicken breasts


Wonderful pink grapefruit from Daily Fresh

I’m quite unnerved by the amount of money I’m saving by not shopping at Sainsburys, or rather by the amount that I would throw at them without a thought to what I actually liked or wanted. I’m building up a mental list of foods that I have completely forgotten about since I started my no-supermarket challenge.  Smoked salmon, asparagus, raspberries, Danone yoghurts, mini corn on the cob, tenderstem broccoli and chicken breasts.

  • Most of those I wouldn’t get that often, except for chicken breasts which were hardly out of the fridge from one week to the next. I’ve now  realised that despite that list being worth over £20,  I don’t really like any of the things on it enough to seek them out, not even – in fact, especially not – chicken breasts.

Nigel Slater wrote somewhere that he could happily throw the breast of a chicken away and use the rest, as it’s such a dull, tasteless and unrewarding thing to cook. Yet I had begun to think that a packet of 4 chicken breasts was a kitchen staple.  Since they cost around £5 pounds a packet, just think what else you could eat if you just took them out of the equation for a week.


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?

30 days without supermarkets #17: How the middle class destroyed the high street


I have nothing to report, particularly, on the progress of my challenge, because frankly, it’s all going fine and far from ‘suffering’ from a loss of supermarkets, I’ve benefited in more ways than I could have imagined. It has made me particularly impatient with a certain breed of shopper, though.

Two months ago, almost to the day, This is Money published a story about how the middle classes were flocking to Poundland to buy, amongst other things, DVDs of Hamlet. The Daily Mail seem to be a bit slow in the uptake, publishing almost the same story on Friday two days ago, albeit with revised figures.  Nobody could accuse them of hacking a phone for that story.

Take a look at these people – most of whom have no need to shop in Poundland. These will be the same people who will lament the loss of local community, probably voted for the ‘big society’, and will lament the way the high street has suffered at the hands of the supermarket. Yet they will do nothing to support local shopkeepers.  It’s true you can get great ‘bargains’, you have to ask yourself whether you actually wanted any of them before you went in. As the author of the This is Money article says, you save money, but you also buy a ton of stuff you never needed. More to the point, Mr Kiplings Bakewells might be cheaper in Poundland, but imagine if you just didn’t buy them at all? How cheap would that be!

Oh and the birds in my garden can’t stand the fat balls from Poundland. They leave them completely untouched, whereas the ones from the pet shop in Tooting Market disappear in days.  Just saying.

30 days without supermarkets #16: Less is definitely more


Living without supermarkets is the  kind of challenge that’s  easier when you’re leading a fairly predictable life at home, less so when you’re on the road.  That’s not entirely true: what’s difficult is to get out of the habit of being unprepared because you know some supermarket or coffee shop chain will be just waiting to help you out at stations, service stations and garages. I was determined not to drop the good habits on a couple of long away-day trips to Birmingham, in a studio where there’s no food unless you bring it with you.

I’m glad I didn’t, because along the way I discovered a kind of instant coronation chicken sandwich filling that’s a keeper, and is a great use for the green tomato chutney I made last year, and the last of the tandoori chicken I made. Chop up the  chicken at a spoonful of  low-fat mayonnaise and a spoonful of chutney. Mix it up, put in a large wholemeal pitta bread and take to work. I also added a box of crudités made from carrots, kohlrabi & red pepper.

Not only has this saved me a lot of money that I would have spent in M&S, it’s also stretched out the food that I’ve bought in my local Tooting shops virtually to the end of the week. It’s also a lot more filling than an M&S sandwich.

30 days without supermarkets #15: A fridge full of food, a pocket full of money


I can’t quite remember when, but at my local shop, Daily Fresh, I bought four large chicken legs for £2.65, and a kilo of lamb mince for under a fiver, without much idea of what I’d do with them. We’ve had 3 days worth of kheema matar and tandoori chicken (thanks to my favourite Indian recipe book, left). I couldn’t be bothered to spend much time with the remainder of the mince, so I made wonderful meatballs that had yoghurt & mint in, from the same book. Sainsbury’s tends to drive you into thinking a meal at a time, rather than having a continuous supply of things that you might eat together, separately, for lunch, dinner, or hell why not, breakfast.

And while I seem to be talking about nothing except food, I’ve in fact lost 51lb in the last two weeks, as a result, I think, of eating less of more interesting food. It’s a strange equation, and I don’t pretend to understand how it works.

30 days without supermarkets #14: The power of old bananas


Banana muffins

This isn’t a direct result of not shopping at a supermarket, but it’s the kind of thing that happens more when you’re not living in a Tesco-induced stupour.

I rescued three bananas on their last legs on Sunday night, and while my coffee was brewing on Monday morning, turned them into banana muffins, thus using up not only the bananas, but a few other things that might have languished in the cupboard or fridge. Now I can’t use 12 muffins, so I kept two, and took the rest to work to hand out.  Why not.

I can’t really explain why shopping locally should have made me much more aware of waste, but it has. I think it has a lot to do with being able to buy what you need, and not allowing yourself the luxury of nipping out at any time of night to the supermarket. It’s not a luxury. You pay for laziness in a kitchen.


30 days without supermarkets #13: What £5.50 can buy you


7 carrots, ginger, 1 kohlrabi, 4 oranges, 4 apples, 2 aubergines, 5 onions, 1 cucumber: £5.50

Although the bag of fruit and vegetables I got from Daily Fresh at £5.50 round the corner was cheaper by far than it would have been in Sainsbury’s it’s not the price that’s the point. It’s the fact that you buy what you want.  I worked out a long time ago that the aim of a supermarket is to get you to spend a number on an item, not buy an amount of something. It’s £1, £2, or £5, and somehow they’ll get you to spend it. Apples? Don’t buy what you want, buy a £2 bag. Onions? Buy a bag. Carrots? Have a cheap bag for a £1. Oranges? £2 for a bag. New potatoes? Buy a bag for £1.99. You end up either throwing them away, eating more than you want, or having to use them up because you’ve got more than enough. Although you don’t have to buy bags of most stuff at Sainsbury’s, it only takes one or two to hike the price up beyond what you would pay if you selected the amounts yourself. And there’s the catch, and that’s yet another reason why I’m loving the challenge.