13 Apr 2014, 6:43pm

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Non-food items

    In my days as a cash till operator in shops, before all the fanciness of bar codes, you used to select a category for the item you were ringing up on the till. Even for a summer student job, it was bloody boring, but repetitive enough that one of the category names stuck in my mind: “non-food items”.

    I’m not quite that old, but you get the idea…

    I won’t labour the topic of this post, as it isn’t strictly within the remit of a blog called, “Simple Eating…” But if you’re going to save money on everyday items, you won’t be limiting price-watching to food. Even a girl with simple tastes like Mrs Ermine needs some basic toiletries and so on, so I thought I would share my choices with you. I’m not claiming to be the best groomed girl in town, I’m most certainly not that. But I brush up at least clean and non smelly on a very low budget.

    Hair care

    ShampooI use supermarket basic stuff. It is fine. It turns out that Mr Ermine helps himself to my shampoo, and his fur looks shiny enough. I don’t think he bothers with conditioner.

    My current shampoo. It costs a about a quid for a good sized bottle.

    Conditioner – I use something a bit above the basic range, but wait until it is on offer an buy it in bulk. Last time this lot was on half price offer I spend about £25 on over 10 bottles.

    Less than £2.50 for a large bottle when last on special offer.

    Split end control – Coconut oil, neat, rubbed in to the ends of my hair when dry. A small pot costs next to nothing from Superdrug and lasts ages.

    General toiletries

    Soap -  Imperial Leather, the original stuff, from Wilkinsons in town which is the cheapest I’ve found, though I haven’t checked for a while. It is nicer than really cheap stuff and it reminds me of my grandmother.

    Bubble bath – an essential thing for any lady farmer, though a bath is even rarer than a shower here at Ermine Towers (see below). I get pretty cheap stuff from Wilkinsons and add proper lavender oil bought from a nice lady on ebay.

    Deodorant- I used to find buying deodorant an absolute pain in the arse. Basically roll-ons didn’t work (as a farmer I sweat a lot) so I needed a pretty powerful solid deodorant. Most of the time these are really expensive so I used to wait for a special offer and clear the shelves, but I still ended up hunting round and paying too much in between times.

    But now, I am happy to say, I simply buy thai crystals from a nice person on ebay. I hope they will forgive me using their picture.  This set of four lasts forever and costs under £14 including postage. Every so often after a little too much red wine I give one away to a friend with much enthusiasm, which means the set of four doesn’t last as long as it could, but it is good to share the love.

    Thai crystal deodorant stones. Yes they do work, at least they work as well as any other deodorant I have used. Picture credit the nice ebay seller I get them from.


    Skin care

    I tried not bothering with face “skin care” to save money for a while but my face got irritated, oily then flaky in succession. I have sensitive skin which periodically reacts badly to something, most recently some washing powder that we finally had to chuck out when the source of the back itching was pinned on that rather than something nasty picked up from the chickens.

    I tried various cheap and expensive “skin care” items before I finally settled on this lot:

    Facewash – one thing I actually spend some money on, though it last for ages: Clarins foaming facewash which seems to go through various iterations, extra ingredients and whatnot, and makes my face feel comfortable and not itchy, unlike cheaper stuff I have tried. I only use it when I shower which is <shock> not every day, normally I strip wash each morning, washing  my armpits and ladies bits with a flannel and basinful of water.  My mother used to call it “top and tailing”, like a bean.

    Toner - according to some Guardian thing I read people don’t use toner any more, they use serums. Well I use a house plant spray filled with soft water from the water-butt that collects rainwater from the roof of Ermine Towers. Free, effective and avoids any skin reactions.

    Moisturiser - again used only after a shower. I get it from Aldi, again it seems to vary, but it always costs £2 for a pot that last ages. It has won awards, but I didn’t know that when I first bought it, I just couldn’t afford anything else.

    Spot control - tea tree oil bought from the lavender oil lady on ebay. Very useful for all sorts of skin eruptions and so on.

    5 Apr 2014, 9:12am
    Ingredients offal Recipe Uncategorized:

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Reject liver paté

    Every cook who aspires to improve their skill needs an honest critic. Particularly a cook who is pushing the boundaries of how little they can live on. Mine is Mr Ermine. I confess that, at times, I struggle to be gracious about my good fortune in having such an honest commentator on my cooking, but in my calmer moments I am grateful as he helps me to keep the “well” in “eating well for less”.

    One such time was when I served New Zealand lambs’ liver for tea. I can’t completely convince myself, but generally it looks as if New Zealand lamb is reasonably ok on welfare. Please correct me if I am wrong on this. The liver must be frozen for the journey (I just can’t see any other way it can get here without having rotted) and is then sold in a defrosted state in vacuum packaging. Somehow it is ok for re-freezing. I don’t know all that for a fact, by the way, I’m just having a reasoned guess. Generally I either produce my own meat at The Oak Tree Farm or I buy my meat from local farmers, but I was in Sainsbury’s, I needed some main meal ingredients, and there was the temptingly cheap New Zealand lambs liver, each packet under a pound in price. I bought two, and froze one.

    Liver, you see, is an excellent ingredient for the impecunious cook who wants nutritious food that costs less. Don’t trust me (and I make no apology for plugging this fine book once again) trust Sally Fallon in her masterwork “Nourishing Traditions”:

    The modern person’s squeamishness about “innards”, and general aversion to anything that has actual flavour, has led to a general decline in offal consumption in the UK, which is a dreadful shame for the health of the nation, but bloody great for Mrs Ermine’s bank balance.

    I didn’t mention the origins of this particular liver to Mr Ermine. Liver is a borderline food for him anyway: no ox liver, no pigs liver (though I suspect he knows I sneak small amounts of both into mince-based dishes such a chilli and bolognese sauce) but calves’ liver and lambs’ liver are deemed “alright for a change” which is diplomatic code for “don’t serve it up too often”.

    As he began to eat this particular lambs’ liver tea there was an almost imperceptible crease across the ermine snout.

    An exhalation that was just a little to close to a sigh to ignore. And then there was the longer-than-usual pause of the fork en route from plate to mouth. This wasn’t “alright for a change”. It just wasn’t right. I repeat, he had no clue to indicate that  wasn’t from the local farm shop, except the flavour, so he wasn’t being a food snob. I had pushed my money saving too far. He ate it that one time, considering it rude to reject a meal I had cooked for him unless utterly repulsive, but he wouldn’t do so again.

    So I was left with the second packet of this pesky liver in the freezer. I guess I could have liquidised it and put it in a chilli, but I fancied trying my luck once again with the ermine palate. The flavour needed to be diluted, and I decided to try making liver paté.

    Main ingredients for reject lambs’ liver paté

     Reject lambs’ liver paté ingredients

    • Reject lambs’ liver
    • Plenty of onions
    • Plenty of butter (if you’re feeling extra hard-up you could use lard).
    • Milk
    • Breadcrumbs
    • Very fatty bacon
    • Thyme (of course fresh is nice, but dried from Aldi is fine, and cheap)
    • Mace
    • Pepper
    • Proper salt

    You could add all sorts of other things: mushrooms, other herbs, sausagemeat… the key thing is to have fatty pig meat, liver, breadcrumbs and flavourings. If I had had port to hand I would have added some, but I didn’t.

    Reject lambs’ liver paté method

    Reject lambs’ liver paté

    1. Set the oven to gas mark 4, 180°C, 350°F.
    2. Chop the onions up (roughly if you like) and slowly fry them in plenty of butter.
    3. Once the onions are translucent, add the chopped up bacon.
    4. Soak the breadcrumbs in enough milk to make a stiff paste.
    5. Put the cold ingredients into a food processor then add the hot ones – yes, everything.
    6. Liquidise it all until smooth (I like smooth paté).
    7. Put the kettle on.
    8. Butter an ovenproof dish.
    9. Put the mix in the buttered dish, cover with foil or a lid, and put in the oven for about an hour and a half  in a deep baking tray containing boiling water reaching up the dish to half the height of the paté.

    This is the sort of thing you can slice to put on bread or toast on its own. It is very cheap to make. Mr Ermine’s verdict? “Good”.


    28 Mar 2014, 8:00am
    Better value elsewhere Ingredients

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Soy sauce is better value elsewhere

    Soy sauce is better value elsewhere


    I like Kikkoman soy sauce. I always have, from my student days making that classic late 80′s dish, stir fry.

    From my local Indian grocers it costs £4.29 for one litre. A certain large supermarket has this exact same product, yes, a one litre bottle of Kikkoman Soy Sauce, on sale for £6. Need I say more?

    Suffolk Peasant Cookery: Pig & bean stew

    I was going to call it cassoulet, that classic french peasant dish. But having ranted about the whole business of anyone in an urban UK setting claiming to make a French rural peasant dish, I thought it wise to drop the idea. So here, Dear reader of Simple Eating in Suffolk, is my Suffolk semi-urban, semi-rural cheap-ingredients-from-shops-I- have-found-to-be-good-value along with some of what remains of my side of Oak Tree pork peasant cookery. None of the ingredients whatsoever come from a large supermarket. Not particularly on principle, but because they are better value elsewhere.

    Suffolk Pig and Bean Stew


    • 1kg white dried haricot beans
    • 4 fatty pork chops with rind on
    • a six pack of half decent sausages from the co-op
    • two smallish home-made salamis
    • A few carrots, with bits of carrot fly damage excavated out (as a grower at The Oak Tree Farm, I eat the reject veg).
    • onions
    • thyme (dried, from Aldi)
    • decent sea salt
    • pepper
    • Some left over gravy because I had it to hand
    • Most people would add garlic to this, and no doubt it would be delicious. But Mr Ermine doesn’t like garlic, and if I eat garlic Mr Ermine doesn’t like me. I like Mr Ermine more than I like garlic, so I don’t eat it.

    Home made salami drying


    The point is that you can use a whole range of meats that you might have to hand. I just happened to have these ones.

    Note about preparing the beans

    Soak the beans in warm water with a little lemon juice added for a long time, draining and then covering with warm water again, each time with some lemon juice added. This is the method recommended by Sally Fallon in her masterwork:

    After a couple of days they’ll have lost a fair bit of the stuff that make them hard to digest, and they will be far better for you. I can’t remember exactly why, you’d need to read the book to find out.


    1. Cut the fat & rind off the pork chop and chop it into small pieces. Do not discard.
    2. Chop the salami into shortish lengths
    3. Drain the beans and cover with fresh cold water. Add the pork fat and rind, mix well, and bring to the boil.
    4. Skim off any froth while the beans boil vigorously for about ten minutes then simmer for a while
    5. While the beans are cooking, fry the chopped up pork chops and sausages in a frying pan. Only turn from time to time – leave them to brown on one side before turning (credit for this technique goes to Raymond Blanc)
    6. Once the bits of chops and sausages are nicely browned (but not necessarily cooked through) add them to the beans and mix up.
    7. Add chopped onion, and lengths of carrot, to the frying pan and soften for a while.
    8. Once soft, add some of the bean cooking liquid to lift the browning from the bottom of the frying pan.
    9. Tip the entire contents of the frying pan into the bean mix.
    10. Add thyme, salt and pepper to the bean mix, sir well.
    11. Simmer for ages. I left mine all day until the beans had cooked enough to thicken the cooking liquid. Watch that the bottom doesn’t burn. You can cook this in the oven rather than simmering after the initial preparation if you prepare.
    12. You can serve it with whatever you like, but I strongly recommend red wine.

    I learned to cook on an extremely dangerous gas cooking ring that I plugged into a “Bunsen burner” style gas outlet in my student accommodation, and I still feel more comfortable using a hob than an oven.  You can be quite sure that health and safety will have outlawed that fine gas cooking device years ago, which is a shame because you could get an unbelievable heat with it. Stir-frying was all the rage in the 80s when I first went to University, and that gas ring was, as Mr Ermine would put it, the dog’s bollocks for making a decent stir-fry.

    25 Mar 2014, 8:00am
    Philosophy Wild food:

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Peasant cookery, and peasants in general

    I am intrigued by the column “How to cook the perfect…” in the Guardian. For example, the latest installment  How to cook the perfect cassoulet had me interested enough to cast an eye over it, but with a background irritation: this isn’t what cooking is about, particularly peasant French cooking, of which cassoulet is a prime example. The lady writer clearly spent quite a bit of time scouring specialist shops for the ingredients, though she did choose cheaper, though less “authentic”, beans as a nod to the thrifty origins of the dish.

    Beans soaking: This post was going to be a thrifty Suffolk cassoulet recipe.
    Instead it has turned into a rant.

    Peasant cooking is entirely based on taking local, abundant and sometimes difficult-to-use ingredients and transforming them into something wonderful and delicious. My nettle soup is a local example. But you can be sure that whoever devised the original recipes (and this would have been a collective effort, with local rivalries and stiff village competition) they wouldn’t have bought many expensive ingredients to improve the overall effect. They would have made better use of what they already had. That was the whole point. They didn’t have much cash, but they had initiative and some plentiful ingredients to hand having worked hard for them. Thinking about it, there was quite a heated debate at last year’s Wild Food Walk at The Oak Tree about the best way to make nettle soup so I like to think we are continuing the tradition.

    Raymond Blanc is one celebrity chef that I have time for. He freely acknowledges his debt of gratitude to French peasant cookery, particularly that of his mother. His upbringing was far from wealthy, but his parents knew how to make the very best of the countryside they lived in, foraging for wild foods and growing vegetables in the garden. For a diverting read I recommend his autobiography:

    He also acknowledges that he takes that knowledge and creates fine cookery from it. It is an inspiration for something different, namely fine cuisine. I took inspirati0n from his childhood stories to create my own “peasant cookery” here in my semi-urban, semi-agricultural situation. Use the best of the shops around me, and the food I produce myself, to eat well for less.

    Raymond Blanc’s  cookery book “Simple French Cookery” again takes these recipes, which are often pretty complicated, and offers them in the context of a largely urban UK. Fair enough. Just don’t kid yourself that this is authentic peasant cookery in the context we find ourselves in.

    All this got me to thinking about  the word “peasant” (according to the Oxford English Dictionary “A poor smallholder or agricultural labourer ….”) which is generally used as mild insult in English, which says a very great deal about our fucked-up culture. I am a peasant, but to say so, particularly given my voice has something of what my ex-husband, and now good friend, Paul, would have described as a “ten bob twang”, makes me sound pretentious and pretty ridiculous. Hell, I’m even a member of the largest organisation in the world, the international peasant’s alliance La Via Campesina via it’s local wing, the Land Workers Alliance.

    From time to time, when people first meet me running The Oak Tree Farm, they assume I must be a bit simple in the head. I recognise this as I used to get it all the time as a young woman in the IT industry in the 1990s – I was the first woman engineer in most of the companies, or at least departments, I worked in. I’d be sent out to do the photocopying while discussing software specs with a customer, be told “women can’t program” etc etc. For a while it really upset me and undermined my confidence, but with time I learned to just carry on until I was accepted in a group. Only a few people couldn’t get over themselves, and I could usually work around them. If I couldn’t I would move on to a different job. So I recognise the symptoms: people using simpler language, assuming you won’t “get” subtle references, and generally being a just a bit too nice and over-explaining things.

    Mrs Ermine in her early 20s at an IT employer’s party. Yes, that is a cigarette.

    So when it happens now I confess I let slip something about my education/previous work experience etc etc because it is time consuming and annoying to be treated like an idiot. Generally this solves the problem and people cease to treat me that way. Sometimes they even look a bit sheepish. And if they don’t change their behaviour I feel justified in simply getting them out of my way as quickly and politely as possible.

    In the IT industry people treated me like an idiot because I was a (then) young woman, and there just weren’t many of us about. I actually felt quite sorry for some of the blokes that simply didn’t know what to make of me. It usually helped when I swore loudly (and unintentionally) over some mistake I’d made coding. They would have been desperately trying not to swear in front of “the lady” in the office.

    But in smallholding my gender isn’t the issue, or at least not often, rather it is my profession that leads a minority of people to make assumptions about me. Small scale farming is for stupid people, right? Certainly large scale farmers often dismiss small farms as quaint or just plain ridiculous. It must be easy, eh? I am forever being told I should employ people with learning difficulties, implying that this is a job that they would master easily. I find this particularly irritating as it is hard for me to avoid sounding like a complete bastard if I say “that wouldn’t work”, and of course there is the implication that I myself might have learning difficulties.

    Small scale farming is hard. Not just physically hard (which it most certainly can be) but brainpower hard. There are a thousand and one details to juggle. You need to make judgement calls quickly and with inadequate information. You need to ignore lots of “standard” advice and read obscure books for clues on the best way of doing things. Peasant farming skills have been all but lost in the UK, but if we are to grow decent food in the future without totally screwing our soils and atmosphere up, we need a good few people to re-learn small scale mixed farming techniques.

    This isn’t just the rantings of an over-caffeined lady farmer early in the morning. It is official. The UK government signed up to the IAASTD report Agriculture at a crossroads, although I am told that it is treated with scorn in government departments now. I confess I have never read the entire thing, instead I turn to my food policy hero (poor bastard, I was cheering and hooting when he came on stage at a conference a couple of years ago!) Tim Lang to give me a summary. I hope I am not distorting his option in when I take this quote from a paper of his.

    In 2008, the World Bank initiated IAASTD countered those who believe in GM as the new magic bullet, arguing that sustainable food systems could be built around supporting the social not just ecological infrastructure of small farmers.

    So you see, the cultural assumption that small-scale farmers are a bit ignorant and most certainly behind the times and unrealistic is very dangerous, and insidious. The latest changes to the EU Common Agricultural Policy mean that The Oak Tree, at 4.96 hectares in size, isn’t even eligible for agricultural subsidies (the threshold is 5 hectares). So we are officially “not a proper farm” just as a peasant “isn’t a proper farmer”. I had a heated disucssion with a local council official a couple of months ago when she told me that a farm of under 200 acres can’t be financially viable (I’m not 100% sure of the 200 acres figure, but she was certainly talking about a farm size far bigger than The Oak Tree). Yet we look set to employ two people full time, and feed 50 households with veg, meat & eggs. And we’ve only just got going – in the future we’ll be growing fruit, nuts and firewood too.

    Yep, all the rules are against us. Waste regulations, planning regulations, hygiene regulations designed to cope with unsanitary factory farmed animals not healthy free range ones. All too complicated and expensive for a small scale operation. We get no subsidies, while my big farm competitors do.  Planning rules are more stringent for farms under 5 hectares in size. But despite all this crap we keep going at The Oak Tree , and, wonderfully, many many people value the opportunity to get involved in producing their own food. Thanks to real people believing in what we do, we survive. In time, maybe, we’ll thrive.


    22 Mar 2014, 8:49pm
    Better value elsewhere Ingredients:

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Onions are better value elsewhere

    I have grown most of my own vegetables for a very long time with just two exceptions: onions and mushrooms.

    Mushrooms are just too much hassle to grow, requiring prepared composts or logs and no sunlight, although I will forage for wild mushrooms from time to time.

    My original motivation for growing my own veg was to save money. I didn’t like working in an office, so the less money I spent, the less of my life I would have to spend sitting in one. And indeed this tactic enabled me to buy The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm in my late 30s, and now I no longer have to sit in someone else’s office. I am so very glad I didn’t spend that money back then.

    I swiftly learned that it wasn’t worth growing onions to save money. They take up a lot of space, need lots of weeding and you need loads of them. Actually saying that I learned “swiftly” may be a little ambitious. I remember cycling a bike trailer full of onions home from my allotment, much to the amusement of local school kids, only to discover, on one of the few steep hills in Suffolk, that my bike’s brakes weren’t up to the job. Perhaps my aversion to growing onions today is partly a hangover from the trauma of that day.

    In any case, I still maintain that it isn’t worth growing onions to save money. They are fabulously and ridiculously cheap.

    Industrial Onions are grown on a field scale in Suffolk

    So it makes me more than a little sore to see how bloody expensive “value” onions are in a large supermarket. Two of the big ones (you know who I mean) charge 63p for a kilogram of “value” onions, which are small and fiddly to prepare, and given the increased surface area to volume ratio compared to larger onions (you were awake in biology classes, weren’t you?) there is less useful onion per unit weight.

    Let’s compare this price with a bag from my local Indian grocers. OK, this receipt is dated from 2102, but I bought some more the other week and they hadn’t gone up much, if at all.

    When I went to school, that makes one kilo of (decent sized) onions cost 35p, that’s to say just over half the price of the “cheap” supermarket ones. If you buy a larger sack from Afro and Asian, they are cheaper still, but I can’t easily carry them, and I don’t eat quite enough of them. As my hero of Self Sufficiency John Seymour said, “good cooking is inconceivable without onions”. Indeed. But there is no need to be ripped off.

    16 Mar 2014, 10:09am
    Better value elsewhere Drinks:

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Tea is better value elsewhere

    In addition to red wine and coffee, Mr Ermine and I enjoy a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea from time to time. This is another thing that I have found to be far cheaper from somewhere other than a big supermarket.

    We don’t drink a lot of tea, but you don’t need to drink a lot before you run up a considerable bill when a packet of 50 teabags from a major retailer (who appears to be under pressure to cut its prices at the moment, surprise, surprise) costs £2.79. The weight of the tea is 125g.

    £22.32 per kilo: this tea is dear.

    So I took a look at how much Lapsang Souchong tea would cost from my favourite coffee people, Garraways (I repeat: I have no financial interest in this outfit! That’s just a plain old link :) )

    They don’t sell packets of the teabags (at least not that I can find) so a small investment in a tea infuser:

    means we can use their loose leaf tea. This is slightly more hassle, but not much, and the tea tastes better.

    So how do the the prices compare? Garraways charge £10.49 for a kilo of tea. Order this along with plenty of coffee, as is the custom at Ermine Towers, and you’ll get the delivery free.

    Major retailer price per kilo of tea = £22.32

    Garraways price per kilo of tea = £10.49

    so less than half price. No wonder those “two for one” offers are so ubiquitous…



    Mrs Ermine’s Crispy Beef Habit

    Now that I’ve come clean about my red wine habit, I feel ready to share with you, dear reader of Simple Eating in Suffolk, another vice of mine. Actually, I suppose this is yet another vice, since a week or so ago I gave details of how I genuinely drink catering quantities of coffee.

    Cripsy Shredded Beef. The sort you get from a Chinese takeaway.  I daydream about it, obsess about it when I should be getting on with something useful, and it generally drives me to distraction. I particularly enjoy leftovers of it cold for breakfast after a good skinful.  While I routinely become fixated on it after a couple of drinks, the urge can strike at any time. I was once driving back to Suffolk via the M25 when the I felt its irresistible draw, and I pulled off the motorway in the direction of Chorleywood. To put it into perspective, I think I had spent the weekend on some course or other with vegan catering.

    It is a very unfortunate myth among some elements of the ecological farming type circles that I move in that veganism is good for the planet, as well as good for human health. It isn’t. If you doubt me read Simon Fairlie’s excellent book “Meat”:

    followed by Sally Fallon’s equally excellent “Nourishing Traditions”:

    and if you still disagree I will then discuss this topic with you, but not before.

    So there I was, recovering from an unexpected weekend of no wine, acorn coffee and a strict vegan diet feeling pretty damned hungry, so I was delighted to discover that Chorleywood did indeed have a Chinese takaway. Fortunately I have a baby campervan complete with table, plates and cutlery so this was a pretty civilised experience. And that crispy beef was very, very good.

    But Chinese takeaways are not cheap. Particularly when we get one delivered, which is my preferred option, due to the minimum charge. And if we do have an occasional takeaway, Mr Ermine prefers a curry or fish and chips, which I am also pretty fond of, so we tend to opt for one of those.

    So I had been on the lookout for a good value alternative to going to the takeaway for my crispy beef. I tried a supermarket “ready meal” crispy beef and it was truly nasty. Really not good at all.

    So onto the internet to hunt for a recipe. When I see a recipe with more than a couple of ingredients not already in my store cupboard I tend to reject it out of hand as too extravagant. Cooking should be the art of making use of what you have, not buying a long list of ingredients to match a particular recipe. But my crispy beef cravings continued, so with a little more searching I found this recipe which, with a few adjustments, would only require four additional purchases.

    Whittled down to 4 additional ingredients beyond the contents of the Ermine Towers Kitchen Store Cupboard

    First of all: the adjustments:

    • If you use sugar in a recipe where it will be mixed with a water based liquid it is pointless using caster sugar as granulated sugar is cheaper, and given a moment or two longer it will dissolve fine.
    • I have never noticed a major difference in flavour between the white bits of spring onions, and ordinary cooking onions (which are cheaper) so I used the latter.
    • Mr Ermine doesn’t like garlic, and if I eat garlic he doesn’t like me. I like Mr Ermine more than I like garlic, so I don’t eat it.
    • I never use vegetable oil for cooking, except olive oil for low temperature cooking, so I used beef dripping which has the added advantage of being cheap.

    Mrs Ermine’s adjusted recipe ingredients

    For the beef

    • A couple of blocks of beef dripping
    • 1 Oak Tree egg, beaten
    • 2.5 tbsp cornflour
    • Proper sea salt
    • A small slice of “sandwich” steak
    • 2 carrots

    For the sauce

    • 1 normal cooking onion, finely chopped
    • A bit of ginger chopped up.
    • Some chilli flakes
    • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
    • 25ml rice vinegar
    • 25ml normal soy sauce


    1. I just used a small saucepan to heat the beef dripping, and learned the hard way to only half fill it. Fat can and does “boil over” when you put something containing water (such as beef covered with batter) into it.
    2. Mix the sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Mix well so sugar dissolves.
    3. Chop the beef into strips as thin as you can. I used kitchen scissors.
    4. Slice the carrot into thin strips. A veg peeler works well.
    5. Make a batter with the eggs, cornflour & salt. Beat until smooth.
    6. Heat the fat to 180 deg C. Keep a close eye on it – hot fat can be dangerous.
    7. Put the sliced beef into the batter & drain into a bowl.
    8. Put the slices into the hot fat, keeping them seperate as much as possible.
    9. Deep fry until they go a light brown colour, then remove with a metal slotted spoon onto kitchen roll.
    10. Do exactly the same with the carrot sliced, including dipping them in batter.
    11. Stirfry the chilli, onion and ginger for a minute or so.
    12. Add the soy sauce, vinegar & sugar mix and stir round for a bit.
    13. Add the beef and carrot, mix until well combined.

    Someone sensible would then put it on a bed of rice, but in all the excitement I had forgotten to cook any, so I had it on its own. It wasn’t quite like takeaway stuff, it was different and very good. I didn’t realise quite how good until I caught myself licking the bowl clean <blush>.

    Pour the fat into clean dry jars when still liquid, leaving the bits of burn debris behind. I’m planning to store mine in the fridge, so the whole thing will cost very little more than the beef itself. Fortunately making this is enough work that I won’t be doing it daily if I plan to do anything else with my life. I guess even though I’m not bothered about the fat, I know that even a little sugar is bad for you.






    5 Mar 2014, 8:30am
    Better value elsewhere Drinks Fermented Philosophy Uncategorized

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

    Simple Eating in Suffolk Facebook Page.

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  • Red wine is better value elsewhere

    If, like me, you consider wine to be a staple without which life wouldn’t really be worth living, then you’ll probably buy a reasonable quantity at a time.


    One of Mrs Ermine’s pleasures

    Every so often I open a bottle of wine, turn my phone & computer off and enjoy an evening with Mr Ermine. We explore life, the state of the world, our hopes and fears, our joys and sadness, and goodness knows what else.

    Mr and Mrs Ermine explore the world together through the bottom of a glass


    One or more friends joins us from time to time. Rarely, we go to the pub and drink beer (it is pricey), and we drink beer at home occasionally.

    So this lady farmer needs a regular supply of decent red wine, on a budget. I could save an awful lot of money by giving up red wine, but I’m not going to. Here is my advice on where to get your wine from if you are in a similar situation. I used to spend hours in a large supermarket trying to remember whether the latest “half price” deal wine was any good. As often as not, it was pretty average, or even nasty, so I got fed up with not having a reliable supply of wine for about £5 – £6.  Then I switched allegiance to Aldi. Yes, dear reader of Simple Eating in Suffolk, despite running a local community food enterprise, I do shop at Aldi sometimes. Not for much, just some stuff. What can I say? They are cheap. And pretty good. That is where the farm digestive biscuits come from – we get through an awful lot and they cost 30p a packet. Value ones from other outlets are generally horrible.  But Aldi’s wine was erratic in quality, even the same line of wine went though phases, including a nearly undrinkable period when we had to just mull it (a fail-safe option with ropey red wine, though you’ll almost certainly have a sore head afterwards).

    A friend mentioned a local shop, Wines of Interest, and I went along to a tasting session that they hold at the local football ground. Not only was it great fun, I was also impressed by the wines. Most of them were outside my budget, but not all. After a few deliveries of consistently great value wine that was far, far better than big supermarket wines of a similar price, Mr Ermine and I settled on their Nero d’Avola at £6.19 a bottle, with a discount for cases, and free delivery in the local area if you drink enough (which we do). They delivery nationally if you are a “foreigner” (Suffolk expression for anyone who lives outside the county border ;) )  But try others from them – wine is a very personal thing!


    Wines of Interest Nero d’Avola
    Mr and Mrs Ermine’s favourite

    After the pigs escaped their electrically fenced pen on Christmas Eve, scattering to the four corners of the farm (though, fortunately, not beyond) I woke many loyal and wonderful farm members in the early morning to come and help round them up (I needed brandy, not just wine, after that incident…).

    I wanted to say “thank you” with some half decent wine and beer for them all. Suffolk brewer and wine merchant Adnams came to the rescue, and in the process I discovered a particularly good Romanian red wine from them which costs in at £5 a bottle if you buy it by the case. I suspect they will put the price up soon: Mr Ermine and I have been to their shop in Southwold a couple of times to buy a large quantity… curiously they don’t do it by the case by mail order.

    Adnams’ Paparuda Pinot Noir
    Very good value at £30 for 6
    You can buy just the red in Adnams shops, online they only offer mixed cases.


    So there you have it. Avoid the supermarkets, all of them, is my advice. Find a local wine merchant you get on with, or try the ones I use, they deliver across the UK. It is less sweat particularly now I hardly ever visit a big supermarket and better value.


    2 Mar 2014, 2:42pm
    Ingredients Uncategorized:

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  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

    Simple Eating in Suffolk Facebook Page.

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  • Eggy Bread Delight!

    I’m doing a lot of physical work at The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm at the moment, which means that once Mr Ermine and I have finished our evening meal, I usually want to eat the same amount again. We are approaching the Spring Equinox in the UK, and the rapidly increasing day length here in our Northern location is causing the farm chickens to lay lots and lots of eggs. One of the perks of working at the farm is taking home the shitty eggs that we don’t put into farm members’ egg shares.

    One of the Buff Sussex Hens from The Oak Tree Farm

    So we have plenty of eggs, I have already prepared one meal and I really can’t be bothered to cook anything else particularly fancy.

    Enter… eggy bread. It is cheap, good for you, filling and utterly delicious! Some sourpusses might say that the eggs and butter are bad for you, but if truth be known the dodgiest bit might be the bread, even if it is wholemeal, according to my new favourite food blog.

    Easy, delicious, cheap… and good for you?

    Ah well, often the Ermine Household makes do with what we have rather than seeking completely optimal nutrition. And eggs we have aplenty.

    Eggy Bread Ingredients

    • Sliced bread (I used wholemeal)
    • Eggs
    • Milk
    • Butter for frying

    Eggy bread method (it’s hardly difficult…)

    • Put a generous quantity of butter in a frying pan, and put on a medium heat.
    • Mix the eggs with a about half their volume of milk.
    • Beat the milk and eggs together thoroughly
    • Soak the slices of bread in the mix until saturated: it doesn’t take long.
    • Lift soggy bread out with some sort of flatish implement with holes in.
    • Let it drain for a moment, then put is into the gently sizzling butter.
    • Turn it like you would a pancake.
    • Serve immediately, with a blob of jam on if you have it to hand. Yes, I know that sugar is very bad for you, but you won’t want a lot if you’re not in the habit of eating sugar regularly. And it would be rude not to enjoy a particularly appealing Christmas gift…