My mum got me a copy of A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe for Christmas, and already I am in love with it!
I heard about Jack a while ago, through her work with Trussell Trust, and her writing in the Guardian. I had read that blog post from July 2012 that so eloquently illustrated what food poverty is really like. I had seen her recipes in the Guardian, and loved the fact they showed the cost per person and contained the kind of thing you either have in the cupboard any way, or could easily pick up from the supermarket without spending a fortune.
When I first opened the book, I actually didn’t get to see it for a couple of hours – my mum was busy looking through it, trying to decide which recipe she liked the most!
I eventually got to sit down and read it that afternoon, when my mum was otherwise occupied, watching Jungle Book. I loved the introduction, and knowing that this woman has walked the walk for herself. She’s not sitting there in some posh town house, thinking up cheap recipes while her husband plays golf – she’s played the game where you weigh up putting the heating on, against being able to afford the rent/the council tax/the water bill/food/whatever else. These recipes didn’t come from the idle imagination of someone with more than enough; they came from a woman who was desperate to feed herself and her child – and that is something to which I can really relate.
What I also love about this book is that the recipes are generally suited to either one person with a big appetite, or an adult and a child. I have never come across recipes before, that I could actually cook without having tons of leftovers. The ingredients in these recipes can easily be doubled or tripled if you have more mouths to feed, but otherwise are perfect for just me and S.
With a lot of recipe books, they seem to be selling a lifestyle, or rather the aspiration of a lifestyle. They come with a TV series attached where we watch the star playing with family, smiling with friends, serving their dishes up to happy, beautiful people in a flawless kitchen with all mod cons. We watch the show while we eat our ping meals, and then we buy the book and resolve to start cooking these meals, living this life. It never happens. We can’t find or afford the ingredients for half the recipes in our local supermarket; the books collect dust and we go back to our ping meals. Jack Monroe’s book is different because she’s not selling some aspirational lifestyle. Her recipes were born out of necessity and appeal to one’s sense of frugality rather than aspirations of affluence.
Jack’s list of kitchen essentials is short and to the point: buy what’s cheapest, or on offer that week. Rotate your carbs, with a bag of pasta one week, then rice, then potatoes. She gives advice on which herbs you can grown on your window sill if you don’t have a garden, and which will be most useful, and then gives a short list of equipment you need. This list is refreshingly short and does not involve the purchase of any expensive electrical equipment or fancy kitchen implements. I hate when a recipe says “throw it all in the food processor” and I think, what food processor?
The recipes themselves are easy to follow. They don’t involve ridiculously convoluted methods involving what I can only describe as arsing about. You get the food, you cook it, you eat it. No arsing about required. I love that there are tips at the bottom to advise you how you can amend the recipe or what to do with leftovers.
On Boxing Day, I made the Vegan Banana Bread. It was ridiculously easy, and came out looking and tasting fantastic:
What I loved about this recipe was the tip at the bottom saying that if you don’t want to keep your oven on for a whole hour, you could make banana muffins instead and have a shorter cooking time. I have never come across a food writer before who cares about my electricity bill!
I absolutely love this book, and would recommend it to anyone – whether you’re on a tight budget or not! For me, I hope it’s going to help me to spend less on my weekly food shop, but also to cook some tasty meals for S and I, rather than just opting for whatever is cheapest or closest to hand. Money has been tight since we moved house, and the food shopping has taken a hit as I struggled to keep enough electricity on our key meter or to pay other bills on time. With this book, I am discovering that the dusty cans at the back of my cupboard can make us a nutritious meal that might taste half decent!