Sunday, 25 May 2008

What Price Happiness?

Okay so we’re all hard up these days. Even the rich are noticing that food costs more. Gordon Brown is stacking up a raft of tax breaks to help them out. Isn't that nice of him? I'm sure the 10 pence tax band casualties will be thrilled.

Some rich people are even forsaking Waitrose for less salubrious aisles.

I shop at Iceland, and for two reasons. It’s cheap and it’s the nearest supermarket for my pregnant (did I tell you she’s pregnant?) PA. She herself shops at Iceland because she has five and a half kids to feed. She also likes their ‘You buy it, we’ll deliver it’ policy. Ideal for those who don’t trust supermarket staff to select their goods for them but still want it brought to their door. Plus carting home as much shopping as she gets through must be exhausting.

A lot of Iceland’s stuff is fine. Why pay more for store cupboard staples? What bugs me though is the distinct absence of what a friend and I have christened ‘happy chickens’ (and yes I fully expect vegetarians to find this most unfunny) and the other little perks that keep your spirits up during a credit crunch like, oh I don’t know, bags of rocket and spinach salad and red onions and Green and Black’s chocolate.

But as Sainsbury’s online just makes me spend more than my budget I tend to stick with Iceland and give my PA £20-£30 cash a week to see what she can get. She’s very creative and we eat well.

But sometimes I get fed up with budget food. So I tried an experiment today. Is it possible to make your own homemade luxury items and offset the blandness of it all without breaking the bank?

I started by totting up my crumpet consumption as it’s currently my main comfort food. I realise that when feeling particularly miserable I can get through perhaps three packets a week. Now, Warbuton’s crumpets are 67 pence for a pack of six. I consider this to be a cheap bedtime snack. And so in a bad week I spend £2.01 on cheering myself up.

Cheap but a bit samey. Plus my son hates crumpets. And they are not in the same league as chocolate.

I wasn’t going to go to Sainsbury’s today really I wasn’t, but the little voice whispering ‘chocolate brownies’ just wouldn’t go away. Then my son applied some devastating logic to my argument that it was tipping down with rain. Looking out of the window and examining the evidence he said: “There’s a lot of it, but it is quite small.”

So off I went on my increasingly clanky scooter in search of pecan nuts and organic chocolate. My son chose to stay indoors and draw cartoons. Obviously the rain wasn’t ‘small’ enough to convince him to accompany me, but the promise of chocolate brownies was enough for me to go out in it.

For the quantities in Nigel Slater’s brownie recipe, I spent 66 pence on free range eggs, £2.66 on Green and Black’s chocolate, £1.23 on unsalted butter (unheard of in Iceland) and 56 pence on pecan nuts. Yes, Nigel, pecan nuts. I don’t hold with his theory that nuts interfere with the purity of a good chocolate brownie. Nuts are essential in my book. The remaining ingredients, caster sugar, flour, baking powder and cocoa powder we had at home, and amounted to another 80 pence at Sainsbury’s prices.

That’s £5.91 for a batch of 16 brownies which comes in at 36 pence a brownie. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference chocolate brownies work out at £5.57 for 16. Oh dear. But I bet they aren’t as nice as the ones we made. And no way would they have the top quality ingredients we used. Anyway (do you detect an argument crumbling as fast as a chocolate brownie? Have you even read this far?) you cannot possibly eat more than two brownies a day as they are so rich. I frequently however, eat two crumpets a day and that costs me 22 pence. Two brownies a day is, erm, 72 pence. Which is five pence more than a whole pack of six crumpets. Oh dear oh dear.

I set out to demonstrate that home-baked goodies are a cost effective way of enjoying a taste of luxury in these hard times of ours. I failed.

Or did I? What if the Waitrose exiles become so depressed at their new diet of broken biscuits and factory chickens that they blow £5.91 on a bottle of wine? It could well happen. But wine gives you a hangover. Chocolate brownies just make you go all warm and smiley inside. They boost Serotonin levels, sharpen brains affected by cognitive disorders, and homemade ones contain no additives. They are completely organic. As healthy as an unhealthy snack could possibly be.

My conclusion? Are you still reading? Nuts to Nigel Slater and who gives a crap about the credit crunch? Chocolate brownie anyone? Mmmmmm.


The Goldfish said...

For some reason unbeknownst to me, the cost of Divine Chocolate (the particular Fair Trade chocolate that I am addicted to) has dropped at Tesco and is currently 56p a 100g bar. It's not on special offer, I think they have made a long-term error, because it's twice that anywhere else.

I eat very little meat, but I do make a korma with free range chicken - it does cost a fortune, but I bulk it out with vegetables and make many meals worth of curry which we then freeze. I'm not sure whether this works out cheaper than ready-meal curry, but it is naturally superior.

Anonymous said...

I too shop at Iceland - great variety and cheap like you say. You also say the rich are noticing the cost of food going up too - but in contrast to the working class, they can afford it.

Cusp said...

Well I'd have one if they were gluten free but I guess they're not ;0( --- though there is a very good recipe on the Dove's G-F flour packet.

There's no Iceland near us but we shop at a mixture of Tesco and Lidl. Lidl do organic veg.,salad, olive oil etc and nuts now and all sorts of other good stuff if you shop carefully. They do good bread mixes for the bread maker too.

I'm never sure about Nigel Slater -- or any of those TV cooks. How many of them actually have families or cook for them on a day to day basis. Even the sainted Delia, who lives about 5 minutes from here, and insists she is a cook rather than a chef, has no children and Nigella is more loaded than us.

I'd really like to see some of those people try and feed two fussy children and partner over a 3month period on a normal budget.

Next time you make a batch I'll make some GF ones too and pop over for a cuppa.

Reading the Signs said...

Dear Seahorse, I have just spotted in your subtitle blurb that you are really a seahorse. This is good to know, as is the fact of your dedication to the pursuit of real, authentic chocolate brownie treats. It is ages since I've had that - or a bit of crumpet, seeing as I'm on this wretched low sugar/carb thing. Not quite sure why any more. And I am mightily persuaded by your arguments in favour of the brownies.

Thank you so much for your comments. Have been away in Germany.

seahorse said...

Goldfish: I'm sure your korma is vastly superior to a ready-bought one. I had to eat some Wiltshire Farm Food meals the other week (retrieved from my Grandma's freezer before it was sold) and never again, no matter how done in I am.
As for Fair Trade chocolate, that is indeed a very good price. I have tried Divine and it is the best.

kacy: how true. I can't see the Mum I bumped into in Sainsbury's switching to Iceland in a hurry. But she did have a good moan.

cusp: Lidl...Lidl...trys to get brain to confirm if second nearest supermarket to home is a Lidl. Think it may be. Tesco is miles away but if Lidl does half-decent salad I'll send my PA out on a recce pronto. Re Nigel, Delia et al - I think they'd better start turning their attentions to budget cooking. And I bet they will given that their target audience has started to grumble. You read it here first.

Signs: Hi there. How was Germany? Just so you know you're not alone in the avoidance thing, I'm supposed to be avoiding sugar like the plague to allow my CNS to 'settle' during a taper from one of my meds. Hah! No chance. I need brownies. And they're so rich you feel sick after less than one. I can confirm this after last night's pig out. My son was still awake at 11pm! And I left out the coffee. So, little and often is the way. Let's see how long they keep.

The Goldfish said...

Took me all day to think of this, but when you do hit upon a cost-effective recipe for something sweet and munchy, you should entitle said treat "Credit Crunch"

Oh dear, it wasn't that funny, was it?

seahorse said...

Hey, I nearly called the post Credit Crunch Cookery. Then I didn't. I thought it would be cruel to snatch such a catchy phrase from (select tabloid newspaper...). Mind you, they don't generally run foodie sections do they? It'll be used somewhere I'm sure. I think we were right to show restraint ;-)
But, just to rise to the challenge, I will create a delicious and economical treat and post accordingly.

Anonymous said...

my local iceland (portswood, southampton) is selling packs of 12 crumpets for 50p.

seahorse said...

mair: 12 for 50p??? That's incredible, though I do confess I am partial to Warbuton's and tend to pay the price as a result :-)

D Phoenix said...

I'm impressed with your budgeting skills. Down to the penny! Your organic brownies would be 3 times the price of the regular ones should you try to buy them in a shop.

I think splurging on good ingredients like that makes it even more of a treat. Me, I don't do well on sugar, so my big thing is honey. I have 5 different kinds right now. I think my fave is the Macadamia nut flower honey from Hawaii. Very nutty and dark and not at all bitter or sharp. Try some of that on a crumpet! New Zealand's Rewarewar (or something like that is also rich and dark.

Have you ever read the book "Diet for a Poisoned Planet"? It tells you how to make choices around which things to buy organically (if you can't afford all organic - who can?). For example, even though bananas are grown with a lot of pesticides etc. none of it actually gets into the fruit itself. Potatoes are the worst for sucking in all the chemicals and concentrating them. It's a handy book.

And can I just say that Nigella gives me the creeps?

seahorse said...

Donimo, Nigella is just plain annoying. Top tip on the book front. I am suddenly starting to care and I realise that even though very broke I can still make some positive choices. Thanks for the compliments on the brownies. And I am a big honey fan too. But it has to be English, not because I'm a raving nationalist but because I care about the Plight of the Bumble Bee. Old headline but still think we need to support our beeleagured population. Agave is good too, I hear from diabetic quarters.

D Phoenix said...

I see I'm not the only punster. The bee situation is definitely not good here in Canada, either. I use lots of our local stuff as well, but I wonder how does buying English honey help your local bees?

seahorse said...

It's got something to do with imported honey affecting our bee population. But I can't remember how or why. Maybe it was just racist propoganda! I'd better go and check it out.