As a child I’d never even heard of asparagus let alone tried it. Something as exotic as asparagus never reached a small Staffordshire village in the 1970s! It took owning a campervan to encounter this wonderful vegetable. Back in 2007 we took our new Devon Sundowner across Germany and to Poland. It was late May and early June and driving through Germany we couldn’t miss the fields of asparagus and the roadside asparagus stalls.
Trying a new food can be daunting but I like to give things a go. At a farmer’s market in Hamelin I found a stall selling asparagus and decided to take the plunge. Not really knowing what was the right amount to buy and not knowing how to ask for half a kilo let alone a quarter in German, I came away with a kilo of green asparagus! We lived like kings, eating asparagus for three nights running and I quickly learnt different ways to cook it, adding it to risotto, flash-frying it in butter and roasting it. My love affair with this vegetable had begun. In Germany that year we tried white asparagus as well as green, which is grown beneath the soil.
Nowadays I can’t wait for May when the short asparagus season begins. Our first asparagus-based meal this year was a simple pasta dish. The asparagus was flash-fried in olive oil with garlic and black pepper in my RidgeMonkey grill pan and served with cooked pasta, sprinkled with some grated hard Italian cheese. We had a bottle of tasty Scottish beer to wash it down. What a Spring-time treat!
After the panic halfway through 2018 because our spending seemed out of control we changed our shopping habits with a plan to get things back on track and frugal. We continue to purchase consciously, rather than conspicuously, only buy what we need and use the think-about-it-for-a-month method for expensive purchases or for something new. We also continue to make do, wearing clothing until it is only fit for scraps and fixing things rather than replacing them.
Given that we are not prepared to give up our holidays, one of our bigger budget lines is food and grocery shopping. This represented 14% of our spending in 2018. We decided we would target this area of our budget and make some changes. The main alteration we made last summer was to switch pretty much all of our shopping while we are in the UK to Aldi, the German discount supermarket, rather than a combination of Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons.
Since last summer we were away during September and October but it is now four months since we returned from this trip to mainland Europe and I have been able to review what we have spent in supermarkets during that period [which includes Christmas].
The savings are clear. We have saved an average of around £50 a month [£600 a year is not an insignificant amount in our budget] As we all know, in terms of staying frugal shopping in Aldi is a win-win. This has certainly helped with our budget and although it is really too early to say, at the moment this year’s spending is on track [there I did say it].
I am less happy with the amount of plastic packaging we come home with from Aldi and this was the main reason we hadn’t shopped in Aldi previously. I do try and buy as much plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetables as I can from the store but this seriously limits our diet. Baking potatoes, spring onions, aubergines, peppers and celeriac are all favourites that are plastic-free. Fantastic, there are good things here that make great meals. But we also like to include carrots, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and mushrooms in our diet and these generally come wrapped in plastic, whereas in other supermarkets I could find them loose.
Being frugal and taking care of our planet are both important in my life and at the moment it feels challenging to balance these two principles. I have been an environmental campaigner for most of my adult life and this is very much a part of who I am. Travelling in our campervan is also something that is close to my heart. Spending more than our budget [the amount of savings we have are pretty much fixed] isn’t really optional. The only way we can live the life we want to is by keeping our spending in control.
If we squander all our savings before our pensions kick in we will have to go back to work! Not the end of the world I know [and don’t get me wrong I am not complaining and I know how privileged we are] … and yet I do wonder who would want to employ either of us in our mid-60s? And so our shopping continues to compromise our environmental credibility until Aldi start to reduce their packaging. Hopefully that is only a matter of time.
I have baked my own bread for a long time, mainly at home, although in the campervan I occasionally knock up some pitta bread. I became a bread maker in the days when we lived in a semi-detached house with a good-sized kitchen and I had room to leave a worktop covered in flour for a few hours while the dough proved. When we moved to our flat I still wanted fresh homemade bread but there was hardly enough space for kneading dough on the worktops of our tiny kitchen. We don’t have a good bakery nearby and shop-bought bread was so awful, buying a compact bread maker was an option that has worked well for us.
We have owned our Morphy Richards compact bread maker for nine years now. We have had to buy a new pan and paddle over the years but it has given good service, is easy to use and makes affordable fresh and tasty bread that we love. I particularly like knowing exactly what has gone in to our bread and just love the smell of bread baking.
We use the bread maker two or three times a week while we are at home. I would estimate before we retired we used it around 100 times a year and now we are away on campervan trips more we use it around 70 times a year. In nine years that is a lot of bread-making cycles!
WHAT DOES MAKING BREAD AT HOME COST?
Morphy Richards compact bread maker £46.50
Replacement bread pan £25.99
Replacement kneading paddle £8.99
TOTAL £81.48 [£9.05 per year / approx £0.10 per use]
BREAD INGREDIENTS [for one loaf]
500 gms of mixed strong white and wholemeal flour £0.28
Allinsons Easy Bake Yeast £0.08
Olive oil, salt and water cost pennies
Electricity approximately £0.12
TOTAL INGREDIENTS [for one loaf] £0.48
These calculations are rough and ready [our bread maker might last a few more years for a start] but show that the cost of a loaf and the bread maker over nine years comes to around £0.60. While you can get a sliced white loaf in a supermarket for around this price, the taste of this is no match for homemade bread. Buying a good loaf from a bakery would cost much more, so a frugal and tasty win!
We use our blue campervan all year around and so there is always food in the cupboard and dried ingredients in the storage containers. If we had to [in that end of the world scenario] we could probably survive for a few weeks on just what is in the ‘van! Fortunately, we use the ‘van enough that these tins and jars are rotated regularly enough. What this means is that when we decide to head off on a trip all we need to pop in the Blue Bus’ kitchen cupboards is the fresh food from the fridge and bread bin. Having these staple items to hand help us to build quick and delicious meals while we are on the road with the addition of a few fresh ingredients. We can also use them to make a hearty meal if we haven’t had time to shop and want something quick after a long day.
What do you always have in your campervan food cupboard?
Our store cupboard staples:
Tins of chickpeas [great for hummus or stews and curries]
Small cartons of tomato passata or small tins of tomatoes for stews and sauces
Tins of those delicious large Greek beans in tomato sauce
Tins of artichoke hearts, sweetcorn, green beans and Spanish peppers [useful if we can’t get fresh vegetables or don’t have time to shop]
Jars of pesto [great for a quick meal when the day doesn’t go according to plan]
Delicious puy lentils in tins or packets and dried red lentils [they cook so quickly]
Jars of black and green olives to nibble or lift a dish of scratch ingredients
Peanut butter for sandwiches or stews
Marmite [wouldn’t go anywhere without it]
Jam and honey
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Herbs, spices and bouillon
Pasta, basmati rice, risotto rice and couscous
Biscuits, crackers and nuts
Bread mix for pitta bread or rolls [cheating I know but easier in the campervan]
A packet of ground coffee, tea bags, instant coffee & Barleycup
In a British winter I long for warming and comforting food and this leek and nutmeg pie fits the bill. This is an affordable but impressive pie with a creamy and tasty filling. The pie is great for an everyday meal and also perfect for impressing guests. It is easy to make and the ingredients below make enough for a 7 inch diameter pie dish. This will feed two hungry and active people with a side serving of carrots and greens. If you are entertaining it is enough for four adults if it comes after an appetiser / soup and the pie is served with your favourite potato dish [mine are roasties or Dauphinoise potatoes] and a colourful selection of vegetables.
3 large leeks
large chunk of Butter or margarine
Fresh grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons of creme fraiche (low fat is fine) or vegan cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Shortcrust pastry to line and top a 7 inch flan tin
Halve the leeks and wash all the dirt from the layers. Finely chop the leeks. Melt the butter or margarine in a large pan and add the leeks. Stir well, cover and leave to soften for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the leeks are soft, add pepper and nutmeg and maybe salt if you haven’t used butter. Put this aside to cool for an hour or so. Before adding to the pastry case stir in the creme fraiche or vegan cream.
Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Grease your flan tin. Make your favourite pastry to be really frugal or buy it ready-made if you are short of time or room too roll. Line the flan tin and fill this with the cooled leek mixture. Top with another layer of pastry and decorate with left over pastry in your own style! If I have time I sometimes create a lattice effect with strips of pastry for the top. Brushing with egg yolk makes it look stunning if you are not cooking for anyone vegan and want to push the boat out.
Cook for around 40 minutes until golden brown. The pie is moist and delicious and makes a good affordable and comforting winter meal.
Like many other campervans our Devon Tempest has just a small combined oven and grill that runs on gas. While the grill is useful for comforting toast, I use the oven much less. I sometimes whip up some garlic bread or make pitta breads but we don’t heat up ready meals in the ‘van [preferring to cook from scratch] and I usually cook meals on the hob. I know there are those who cook a full Sunday roast in their oven but for others the oven is just the place to store the frying pans. Recently I decided to get my money’s worth out of this piece of campervan equipment and make cakes.
We were taking a camping trip in the Peak District and were being joined for the weekend by working friends who were due to arrive on Friday evening. As the two retirees with time on our hands we had arrived a day early and were in charge of the first evening cooking rota. We wanted to spoil our hard-working friends and as well as a selection of curries we were keen to provide a pudding, but with one friend joining us who is a vegan, a shop-bought cake was not an easy option.
I spent a happy hour on the Friday morning having my very own bake-off in our tiny kitchen, not really expecting it to be too successful. I have made vegan cakes at home and they are generally easy to throw together, not requiring the time consuming techniques you need for traditional sponge cakes. In the ‘van I used reusable silicone cup cake cases to make a dozen lemon cup cakes and was pleased when they came out looking great. Decorating cakes is not my strong point, I don’t have the patience for delicate work, so I cheated with ready-made icing to give the cakes the finishing touch to make them look special.
That evening the cakes were all wolfed down in no time and there is now no stopping me in terms of campervan baking, look out Martin Dorey!
Recipe for Vegan Lemon Cakes – makes a dozen cup cakes or one loaf
255 gms plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
65 gms sugar + pinch of salt
Zest + juice of 1 lemon [around 60 mls]
120 mls vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons of water
240 mls of vegan yoghurt [milk-based plain yoghurt is fine if you are not vegan]
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
50 gms melted vegan margarine
Preheat the over to 160C or similar. Grease & line a 1 lb loaf tin if you are using this.
Sift the flour with the baking powder & soda and salt in to a bowl. Add the lemon zest & sugar.
Add water, oil, yoghurt, lemon juice & melted margarine, combine quickly so that the flour is mixed in but do not over mix.
Pour your mixture in to your cup cake cases or loaf tin & bake until firm [about 40 minutes for the loaf tin, around 15 mins for the cup cakes].
Remove from the tin or cup cases & cool. A simple topping is a glaze of 100 gms icing sugar mixed with the juice of a lemon [add this while the cake / cakes are still warm] or with other icing or topping of your choice.
I bought a RidgeMonkey grill / sandwich toaster after a recommendation from another campervan owner [thanks Andrew Ditton] and what a revelation it has been, almost transforming my campervan cooking overnight. We generally have home-cooked food in our campervan, eat out in restaurants only on special occasions and only buy occasional veggie sausages for a fast food meal, so cooking is an important activity in our campervan. Previously I have struggled, even with a lidded frying pan, to get my cooking really hot when trying to brown or char peppers, aubergines, asparagus and other vegetables. They would cook but the pan never got quite hot enough to get them beyond soft and cooked to that attractive golden brown finish. Making Spanish omelette was problematic too as they took a long time to cook through. All these problems have now been solved by splashing out [£22] on a RidgeMonkey sandwich toaster.
This wonderful item is sold to anglers as a sandwich toaster, enabling them to make a hot meal while on the riverbank but it is so much more than that. I am sure it will make toasted sandwiches but I use it for vegetables, omelettes, warming crumpets, hot cross buns or baking fresh pitta bread and I feel sure over the years I will find so many more uses for this practical and versatile piece of kit. Other people report using their RidgeMonkey to create a full English breakfast and roast potatoes, the list of things you can cook in this wonderful pan is only as long as your imagination.
The RidgeMonkey opens in to two identical halves, both with a non-stick finish and each is just over 2 cms deep. The dimensions of the XL are 20.5 x 18.8 cms, so it isn’t enormous and I would suggest you buy this size as it works well for cooking for one or two. The long handles stay cool and fasten and clip together allowing you to turn it over and cook items such as omelettes or hot cross buns on both sides without turning them over. This mechanism also locks in the heat and means I can enjoy golden brown aubergine [and other veg]. With a non-stick finish the RidgeMonkey is easy to wash and they now come with a selection of utensils that won’t scratch the non-stick finish.