Lidl of this, Lidl of that

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What an original title, I am very proud of myself.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with the details, but I used to be a massive food snob – until University I never even particularly considered shopping at ASDA with Tesco and Sainsbury’s being my supermarkets of choice. However, with one of my best friends now being fabulously important at Aldi, and my parents, grandparents and friends extolling the virtues of Lidl at every opportunity, I thought I’d give it a try. Plus, it’s a massive supermarket in walking distance of the new flat.

Oh, wow.

I have never, ever, had a more interesting shopping experience. The range of vegetables, spices and meats on offer was extraordinary. James and I believed that we would have to be almost vegetarian to be able to stick to our tight budget, but lo and behold, we bought chicken, steak, pork loin medallions, mince, salmon and smoked haddock – all for under 10 pounds. Sweet potatoes, marrow, salad, chillies – and they’re all British grown, so environmentally we’re being more responsible! Fabulous!

I even bought a mint plant to accompany the basil that’s already growing on my kitchen windowsill. Definitely building up a herb garden on the balcony – so much cheaper than constantly buying packs of dried herbs. I also thoroughly recommend placing fresh herbs in ice cube trays and filling them with olive oil before freezing. This makes handy single portions of flavoured oil. Clever, huh?

So, in terms of getting the most for your money, I couldn’t recommend Lidl highly enough. I wanted to pickle some runner beans this weekend, and I managed to buy a pint of vinegar at Lidl for 23p. That’s how to work to a budget – none of this bogof nonsense where you save about 6 pence and feel like you’ve done really well and then everything you’ve bought goes off because you only really wanted one in the first place.

But I digress.

I want to tell you about my soup. It’s entirely vegan, and absolutely scrummy – plus I created 6 portions for about 2 pounds in the end.

First, I pan roasted some onions, whole garlic cloves and chillies in a tiny bit of olive oil.

Did you know you can freeze chillies? Neither did I (thank you Jamie Oliver) so I froze the chillies I didn’t use all of to use again in next week’s curries.

I then boiled some butternut squash, coconut, carrot, onion, lemongrass, ginger and chilli in vegetable stock. Then I added the pan roasted veg while I allowed it to cool before blending. Pan roasting the onion, garlic and chilli gives the soup a deeper flavour which is just delightful.

After blending, I added salt, pepper and cumin to taste. So good!

And I’ve seen all the ingredients I need in Lidl, so I’ll be making lots more, I can guarantee that. This is a must try recipe for anyone (vegan or not) who likes quick and simple food that tastes awesome – and I’m pretty sure everyone likes food that tastes good, because that’s sort of the point right? Apart from the fact that we need it to live, of course.

My soup’s going to be my lunch for the next week, and I’m really looking forward to it!

As I also mentioned, I pickled some runner beans this weekend, but as I had a bit of a cornflour incident and it takes a while to know if I’ve done it right, I might leave it a while before I tell you that recipe. For all I know it might taste awful, but I know that if I ever want to try it again I’ll find everything I need at Lidl.

Totally converted!

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Healthy Means Hungry?

As I said in my last post, I have started commuting and spending a lot of time thinking about vegetables.

In a previous incarnation (about 4 years ago now) I was really rather skinny, something which did not go unnoticed, largely by my mother and a trainee nurse friend of mine. I don’t know how it happened to be honest, but it all dropped off me overnight.

Then Uni happened and very slowly it all piled back on, and the some more – and then some more than that, just for good measure, I suppose. In the exact words of my grandmother I “did puff up a bit there, like a little puffball”. That was encouraging.

The commute and moving to London means I’m moving around more than I would ideally like (it’s almost exercise, you see, and I have a terrible allergy to that) so I am losing the pizza pounds.

But…

I am only just starting to think about my life in terms of healthy eating and moderate portions (even though I have eaten a LOT of pretzels today – let’s blame that on work stress and a delightful invention of my friend Anna’s called “Fat Friday”), and it really helps having a partner who is embracing the idea of healthier eating with me.

It’s actually relatively easy to do, and we’re living on a pretty restricted budget at the moment – but I’m sure there’s a way of managing on even the tightest of budgets. I’ll have to get back to you on that one after I go shopping tomorrow though!

The thing I really like, as I’ve said before, my favourite part is creating the menu – quick, simple and yummy. I haven’t had time to bulk cook anything yet so time is of the essence, the last thing I want to do when I get home at 8:15 every night is start chopping and carving and what not, so it’s all pretty bulky and ‘rustic’ – just the way my mother taught me!

Still looks pretty and colourful though, so I’m happy.

This weekend, I’m going to be making a butternut squash and coconut soup, flavoured with ginger and lemongrass – in bulk, and then freeze it down. The best thing? I can make enough soup for 8-10 portions for under £3. Not bad, huh?!

There is something so wonderful about cooking and having fun with ingredients that it’s pretty much what gets me through the dreaded commute. I’m going to start writing more about food and cooking with limited time and a limited budget, because I suspect that there are many people my age that want to eat healthy things and have no idea how to start.

I didn’t – it was my unofficial personal food guru, trainer and wonderful D6 office manager Helena that helped me – and she keeps giving me excellent ideas, she’s thoroughly wonderful and it would do you all good to take her advice (and she didn’t tell me to say any of that).

I hope she likes my soup. James won’t. Apparently he had a traumatic experience with a butternut squash when he was younger. Take that how you will.

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Adventure Time

I’ve embarked on a journey into the realm of adulthood by moving into a flat with my partner and having to commute for hours at a time. Strictly speaking, I’ve been an adult for at least 5 years now. Never felt like one though – and it got me thinking. Where’s the cut off point?

Most teenagers think it’s going to University. They couldn’t be more wrong, when you really think about it – you’re given a flat, told to attend lectures between 12 and 20 hours a week and given free reign the rest of the time… If you want to go out, go out – and if you don’t, then you can stay in and write that essay you were given 3 weeks ago.

Even in second and third year at University, your life is balanced by your student loan, so even when you’re dead broke, you know the money’s coming. And let’s face it, your parents still pay your phone bill, don’t they?

Thought so.

When you think about it, University shows most teenagers and ‘young adults’ how not to live your grown up life – because you don’t have free reign. You will always be hemmed in by bills, rent, and having to work bloody hard (in a job that might not be right for you) to afford those things. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many people (students included) who know this is true and do what’s needed.

Schools, colleges and Universities don’t teach you how to pay council tax, what the people at the bank are really saying and how not to get fleeced when you buy broadband. I’d like to see this happen to be honest, because it’s hard venturing out on your own for the first time, even when you have the perfect person to do it with. But as much as my partner, James, tries to keep my feet on the ground and take things easy, I’m likely to worry myself to death because the DVDs aren’t in alphabetical order. There’s a reason he calls me ‘Monica’, you know!

I will be constantly fretting and worrying about budgets, cleaning schedules and my pension, even though I’m only 23. I will spend my commutes reading articles on Buzzfeed about how to make my vegetables last longer – and I think this is where being a grown up comes into play. If you’d told me when I was at University that I’d be spending my time wondering about which greens I was going to cook with dinner, I would have tried to persuade you to lighten up, have a beer and go out.

Now, I want to do those things with James, and it makes me happy to know that I can have fresh basil when I want. That’s the cut off point then, it’s all about the mentality, not the age? Then again, if that we’re true my father would still be 15. It’s a tricky one, that’s for sure. As long as you’re happy though, right?

Now if you don’t mind, I have to make a decision between runner beans and ratatouille.

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The Power of Universal Communication

This is the first article I posted on the ol’ work blog, and it’s one I’m rather proud of. I just found out it has been featured on the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association website, so I thought it was only fair to reproduce it on my personal site too. Thanks, AIMA!

D.I. x

I am, as I have been told many times, in a rather unique situation. By day, I work in Media Relations in the Definition 6 London office. By night, I live in a convent. It’s only temporary, you understand, but it does give everyone in the office a great deal of amusement to call me a ‘Trainee Nun’.

On a daily basis, I communicate with people I have never met in countries I haven’t yet been to, and in the office too, where a mixture of different cultural habits is continually present and discussed. The workings of the NHS compared to the Portuguese healthcare system is a recent example, with the ways that both cultures view this huge organisation being both informative and, at times, downright hilarious. I have learnt, in the short time that I have been working here, the importance of communication in a business setting, in the tailoring of pitches and responses to suit the intended audience.

Recently, I have begun to realise how that affects my ‘home’ life on a similar basis. We tailor our responses to all communication, even unconsciously. You wouldn’t swear in front of an elderly relative or small child, but in front of friends, it’s (mostly) perfectly acceptable. We are constantly learning new methods of communication, depending on the people we meet and the ways in which we engage them.

At home, I have had to prevent myself using the phrase ‘Oh my God!’, but in the office or out with friends, it’s perfectly common. Engaging in regular communication with a nun is at the best of times, a pleasant experience, they are continually positive and really rather lovely. It can be, however, rather strenuous if one doesn’t know what to say. The golden rule with nuns: take it slow, frame your conversation with description and nice things, and don’t make too many references to pop culture. They have, however, heard of One Direction. Unfortunately. 

When speaking with journalists and broadcasters, the opposite is true: Don’t waffle. Make your point, ask as few questions as possible, be professional. These are busy people, they probably don’t want to discuss your love of knitting, and how beautiful the Houses of Parliament look at dusk.

Communication then, is the most useful tool anyone in our industry has in their arsenal. In fact, communication is the most useful tool in the world’s arsenal. Social media allows us to engage with different cultures on different platforms every day, which is incredible. The more personal touches such as communication via phone and in person, allow us to advance our knowledge of communication as an ever changing medium, to engage with more people with confidence, and to tailor our responses to ensure that your messages are always translated cross-culturally in an appropriate and hopefully beneficial way. 

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Social Science or Social Silence: The Qikserve App

I finished my penultimate blog post by telling everybody that I used to work in a bar. It’s true, I funded a lot of my University fun with part time bar work, and when I graduated I worked there full time for a bit. I saw some disturbing things, but there’s nothing more disturbing than watching a family plonking their young children in front of a tablet or phone screen to watch Peppa Pig whilst they eat.

 

It is becoming increasingly common that mobile technology is used to “shut children up”, to phrase it politely. As the eldest of a multitude of noisy siblings, I can honestly say that there were multiple occasions when I wanted nothing more than an afternoon of quiet solitude, reading a book and generally not having to listen to arguments about who was going to play Mario and who was Princess Peach. For the record, I was always Daisy. Still am.

 

However, I wouldn’t have changed the mealtimes. Lively conversation (and the occasional food fight) are part and parcel of family meal times, no matter what environment you’re in. Sure, other patrons at pubs and restaurants don’t want to hear small children screaming, yelling and throwing themselves on the floor – who does? But, and this is a very important but, people need the stimulation that comes from social interaction. We’re largely social creatures, you know.

 

You may have heard about Smartphone apps like Qikserve – which are designed to ensure that the customer never has to look a member of staff in the eye, unless they’re bringing the chicken wings you ordered and paid for using the app 10 minutes ago.  I can understand the benefit of using apps like this for efficient business lunches. Well, I’ll say I can anyway. But my favourite part of going out to a restaurant for lunch when I was younger was getting to order my own food. For that split second when I got to order to my lunch, I was in charge. It was brilliant!

 

Why are people so desperate to avoid genuine social contact? We are all very happy to comment away on social media, to ‘like’ things, ‘unfriend’ people and share pictures of pugs in hats, but we are beginning to shun genuine interaction, or at least referring to it as “awks” (which I believe means awkward). I see groups of people sitting together, staring at their phones, and it’s disheartening. We can do so much with technology, but I don’t believe it was ever designed to take meaning away from our social selves. Apps like Qikserve are attempting to utilise the “Argos” mentality, where the customer can order and pay for an item in a shop environment (because that’s where we’re comfortable) without having to be ‘bothered’ by shop assistants with all their knowledge of the products you want to buy.

 

Furthermore, what’s that going to be like for the staff? Or, what’s left of the staff anyway. Unemployment is a huge social problem in the current UK climate, and instead of creating more jobs, particularly those that are appealing to younger people either in or just having finished their education, there are companies creating applications that will remove the need for certain positions in the service sector. How will it spread? That’s another problem to consider. First Argos, ticket machines and self-service supermarkets, now there are self-service restaurants. What next? Self-service public transport? I’m pretty sure that’s just driving, but there’s probably more than one app for that.

 

Madness, I say. Utter madness!

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Fact Checking. Never a Bad Thing.

I feel a bit sorry for Justin Welby. For those of you who are not aware of Justin Welby and his recent, catastrophic, lack of fact checking, let me fill you in. Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who declared his intent to turn the Church of England into a pseudo pay day loans company and run Wonga (a very prolific pay day lender) out of business, just like that.

You can see why they did it. The Church has a large amount of resources at its disposal (nuns don’t take that much looking after – having lived with them for 6 months, I can testify to that), and it probably wouldn’t bankrupt as many people as the ‘traditional’ pay day lenders do – mainly because they wouldn’t be charging house-shaped interest. There is something slightly morally dubious about pay day loans companies. They have a certain demographic of people that they target, and these people are often drunk or under 5, as the news is very fond of pointing out.

Furthermore, no one really sees the Church of England as a viable business, our ideas of what the Church can do largely revolves around drafty services and trying not to sip too much communion wine, because people get ideas about you if you do that. But the idea of ethical lending is a very positive one, and one that many agree should be implemented more since pay day loans companies appear to be having none of that.

The problem with what Welby did was that he got all ballsy, but should he have considered the fact that the Church might be investing in companies like Wonga? He threatened to take Wonga out of business. He didn’t state that he was going to offer ethical lending to people in need, which might have been the sensible thing to do. He went out there and said “I am going to take you out” – like Terminator for Christians. What he didn’t realise, of course, was that there was a large portion of the Churches’ money which was being invested into Wonga – however indirectly.

This proves that whilst the Church may not be, the man is definitely fallible. The Church is a business, it may operate largely on a charitable basis, but it is a business nonetheless. In business, especially when in a media facing industry, it is vital to check any and all of your facts before you go to them and say “Look at me doing something very clever and unexpected”. Just a thought.

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Beauty and The Engineer: A LinkedIn Fairy Tale

I read a rather interesting article the other day, you’ve probably read it too, or one similar. It’s about LinkedIn. There we go – I can see the spark of recognition right there in your eyes. You’re looking stunning today, by the way. You must be an engineer.

For those of you who have not yet read anything about this, I shall briefly explain before I begin the nonsensical ramblings that usually dictate my blog posts. LinkedIn have got themselves caught up in a bit of a situation with an engineering firm. Now, the firm in question posted a job advertisement and, presumably to make the whole thing look a bit more attractive to all of those engineers out there, they used a picture of one of their female engineers. A very beautiful female engineer. Don’t worry, she did have clothes on, this isn’t taking a turn for the pornographic or anything. I mean, I let my mother read these.

It was because she was very beautiful that the users of LinkedIn decided that she couldn’t possibly be an engineer. I mean, we know full well that ALL engineers are men, and they wear glasses. Don’t they?

So. LinkedIn actually take down the advertisement featuring the beautiful engineering lady, and now they’re being accused of sexism. I’m not necessarily sure I think that’s what they should be being accused of. Pandering, that’s one thing they could definitely be accused of. Social stereotyping, too. But sexism? If the users had decided that a man in an advertisement for a nurse’s job had too much facial hair to possibly be a nurse, would that have been classified as sexism and caused such a fuss? Probably not. In all honesty, it’s probable no one would have even said anything about the fact that they were using a male to represent the nursing industry. They may even have encouraged it.

This is my point, dear blog readers. We stereotype people socially all the time, and we all hold certain notions about the world and its people. One of my favourite responses so far has been from this article as it shows just what a state we’ve managed to get ourselves into. Society seems to say: “You’re a woman in the 21st Century, the world is yours – go grab it by… something.” (I need to remember my mother reads these, and she has all the delicate sensibilities of a porcelain teacup in an industrial carwash). We are desperately trying to get girls into science, into maths, to engage in traditionally masculine areas, and to excel in them. Take a look at this Guardian blog, which suggests that at some Universities in Britain there are twice the number of full time female undergraduates over male ones.

However, we have still not reconciled the idea that a clever woman in the 21st Century can also be a beautiful one. A large number of people still assume that when brains go up, beauty goes down, and this is irritating to many, many people – men included. We are judged on just about every aspect of our personal appearance, I am still asked which bar I work in when people are trying to find out what I do – and I figure that must have something to do with the fact that I’m 23, and I don’t exactly wear trouser suits on a daily basis. In other words, I’m a bit scruffy around the edges on occasion. How well the social world manages to stereotype us because of our jobs, but also decide what our jobs are based on what we look like. That, my friends, is an interesting concept. Well, it is to me anyway.

To sum up, then. LinkedIn shouldn’t be accused of sexism, because that wasn’t sexism – we all know that there are many female engineers in the world, some people just have trouble believing that they wear mascara while they work. However, they could be told off a bit for social stereotyping or some form of ‘beauty discrimination’. I don’t work in a bar. (Anymore).

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