Serbia Savings

I saw an Instagram post recently which read that when eating intuitively, birthdays are pretty much regular days with enough celebration foods to feel satisfied. It got me thinking how true that is for when I travel these days. Not the practice of intuitive eating, but eating well for less, when home and away. A week’s holiday in Belgrade, Serbia were pretty ordinary days eating-wise with enough holiday foods to feel extremely satisfied! 

 

During the working week, and some weekends, I do not leave the house without a refillable water bottle, flask, tea bags and a packed lunch; setting off to Heathrow airport was no different. Heathrow have water fountains and when I’ve not spotted them at airports I’ve had no qualms about asking for tap water in a coffee shop; in the UK we are fortunate to have readily available, drinking water. I have been on flights where there has been no free cold water available but quickly cottoned on that there is no shortage of hot; how else are they going to make teas and coffees for paying customers! Hence why I always have tea bags and cabin crew have happily filled my bottles. 

 

I do like the occasional barista brew and couldn’t resist stopping by Pret in the departure lounge. Ok, so when I say couldn’t resist, what I mean is at 50p off when you use your own flask and their filter coffee being 99p, they had me at 49p a coffee. I’ve heard the rumours about Pret but have never been on the receiving end of free food from a friendly server. I figured, you don’t ask you don’t get, so asked if I could try their vegan dark chocolate & almond cookie for free. What do you know, the friendly server said yes bringing my overall saving up to £1.95.

 

I’m so often asked whether food can be taken through security and onto a plane… yes! No fluids, but no one said anything about food. If you are familiar with my Instagram you’ll know that my food shop is made up of yellow stickers (food reduced near its expiry date or because of damaged packaging), and free foods; be it from friends, family, social media apps. So my lunch of veggie sausage and tomato chutney baps, parsnip chips, apple crisps and cucumber sticks came to a total of 40p; far more palatable than €4 for a bog standard bap, on flight. 

 

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Bappy Happy

I love cooking for friends and the favour was returned when I reached Sammy’s house in Belgrade. I was treated to a Mexican feast of veggie chilli, cauliflower rice, guacamole, salsa, tortilla chips. Not only was the food delicious but unlike a restaurant she didn’t frown at me when I asked for seconds, and we were able to sit outside till the early hours catching up, although I’m not sure her neighbours appreciated our hackling!

We had a couple more nights of eating in, it can get a bit much dining out three times a day, it’s costly and you can’t beat the comfort of home cooked food. The personal touch, thought and care that goes in when cooking for those we care about just can’t be replicated in eateries. I can’t overlook Sammy’s carnivore other half hosting a totally vegan BBQ for us.

 

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Serbian Yellow Stickers

Summer in Serbia is beautiful so eating outside is a must. I’m a lover of leftovers and they were perfect for picnics along the beautiful lake Ada Ciganlija, river Sava, we even packed our own food for a spa day at a 5* hotel and had the cheek to fill our bags with their fruit! You can be so creative with picnics; ours included leftover sausages, burgers, roast potatoes, aubergine steaks from the barbecue. Take away udon noodles, shop bought gyozas, leftover curry; all from the freezer. 

 

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Leftovers Alfresco

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No Poodle in this Pot Noodle

We ate out at some gorgeous restaurants; I’d recommend Mandala, Istok, Radost Fina Kuhinjica. The food is fantastic in Belgrade, they cater for so many dietary requirements and it is great value. We paid less than £40 for a meal for 2; 3 courses each, the extra bread we asked for and a bottle wine. 

I did find myself having the same conversations that I do with waiters at home. “Can I get you water, still, sparkling?”… “tap” (safe to drink in Serbia). “I’d recommend this wine”… “the house wine is fine”. With large wine production in Serbia you can’t go far wrong. Alcohol is cheap, although be sure to drink local brands. Importation comes at a cost; a Coca Cola was the same price as a measure of house brandy. 

 

At home, I’m blessed with a work bestie who supplies me with fruit and veg grown in his allotment. In Serbia, my bestie has a fig tree growing over her garden; they made for delicious smoothies!

 

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Homemade Fig Smoothie!

Speaking of local, it’s amazing how prices seem to vary, worldwide, depending on your proximity to tourist attractions. Continuing to walk through the city saw the price of street food, barbecued corn on the cob, drop from when we were at Kalemegdan park.

 

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Street Food Corn-ival

 

I had some of the best ice cream at an ice cream parlour near Sammy’s house. The server raved about her favourite vegan flavours inviting me to try them all; none of this 3 is your limit that I hear in London! She even spoke candidly about how their other store in the centre was more expensive. 

 

The hidden expense of food and drink on holiday is never ending. Having a flask bottle means that soft drinks are one less expense when you are on the move. With their local beer Jelen being not much more I know where I’d rather spend my money!

 

My sadness at leaving, and hangover, were softened by being upgraded to Business Class. You can’t visit Belgrade without making a splash on a Splav; their river nightclubs! Imagining all the free food I’d get in Business Class, I momentarily regretted making a packed lunch with what Sammy had left in the fridge; a roasted veg and ajvar (delicious Serbian roast pepper and aubergine dip) roll. I needn’t have worried, the Business Class lounge and flight were not particularly vegan friendly and there may have been some air rage had I not been fed. I was able to take salad from the lounge onto the flight; the advantages of having Tupperware in your hand luggage! 

 

All in all, it was an amazing trip, being able to eat and holiday well for less means that I’m already planning my return. It also feels good to not mindlessly waste food in one of the poorest countries in Europe. Serbia, and I still have a way to go in terms of sustainability. Waste management, recycling needs developing in Serbia and there were too few recycle bins in the city. I really need to get into the habit of refusing straws in bars, especially at the rate we were going through cocktails! Throwing napkins in the air as if they were banknotes seems to be common practice in some Splavs which are clearly striving for West End club vibes; think sparklers, Grey Goose, scantily dressed dancers. Yet, I can’t imagine it does much for their beautiful greenery. I guess holidays, like life, are based on journeys eh.

 

@reduction_raider1

The Reduction Raiders’ Guide to Iceland

Money saving tips to freeze your bank balance 

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” When you said Iceland, I thought you meant the supermarket! “

When I told people that I was travelling to Copenhagen last year I was warned. As soon as I mentioned I’d be visiting Iceland this year they sounded the alarm! There is no getting away from it, Iceland is expensive but there are still ways in which money can be saved.

As with every country you visit, pack your essentials; water bottle, flask, tea, coffee, snacks, your favourite tipple. Not only was I able to refill water at the airport, have a tea on the plane, fizz in the apartment, it also meant that I was able to repeatedly refill my water bottle on the go. The tap water in Iceland is lovely and they don’t hesitate when you request it no matter where you are; be it the Blue Lagoon, Bergsson Mathus or during stops on the Golden Circle tour.

Raider blog 1Make sure to pack the essentials

The girls and I packed vino but surprisingly, as imports normally cost more, there was a good deal on Smirnoff at the airport. We all brought staples such as bread, cereal, milk, spreads, snacks so were able to have breakfast, snacks in our Airbnb apartment and take food on the go. The first night we had Dominos; not only was there a deal but they do vegan cheese. Iceland caters for most dietary requirements.

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Vegan Dominos

If a Dominos deal is not your thing then be sure to look for other deals using the Icelandic Coupons app which has 241, money off on meals, drinks, other discounts in Iceland, and many bars have happy hours. A lovely Insta follower mentioned the app to me; it really pays to talk to others about where you are going, your plans. Our Airbnb host was able to advise that Bonus was a far cheaper supermarket than Iceland; go figure!

Iceland, the country not the supermarket, is on board with yellow stickers and we picked up reduced iceberg lettuce for our club sarnies. The Manc in tourist information gave us the heads up as to when it was worth going for the cheaper option with excursions; pack meals, snacks as they are not often included in the price.

Having an apartment and nearby supermarkets meant that not every meal needed to be eaten out and we could pack sarnies for the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, the most green I saw that night was the avocado that I’d added.

Also, go ahead and ask people you don’t know for ways of savings. The Icelandic are not ignorant to how expensive it is. They were happy to accommodate when we asked for a doggy bag in a restaurant. We went into a cake shop near closing and I wondered what they did with the waste. It was as if the server read my mind and boxed up the remaining Nutella cakes for us to take away free of charge.

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Freebies !

On that note, why don’t we verbalise our thoughts more often? We were offered a free drink and sugary, salty snacks on our return flight but no substantial food. One of our party starting penning a complaint to the airline; “cc me in that” I asked as she regaled tales of complaint compensation.

Catch me on @reduction_raider1 to find out if I get anything back for the inconvenience of only being fed 2 packs of popcorn, crisps and biscuits; hey don’t judge they’re snacks not supper. Apparently, I have to sing for that!

@reduction_raider1:   https://www.instagram.com/reduction_raider1/

Yellow Label App:   www.yellow-label.co.uk

 

Yellow Label Recipes: Family Curry for 25p

Swede & Sweet Potato Dal served with Pilau Quinoa & Bulgur Wheat and Chapatis

 

 

It’s amazing what can come from an 8p swede. I buy swede whenever I see it reduced and every time wonder what I’m going to make with it. I wanted a change from the usual roast, mash, so thought I’d spice it up with a curry.

The following recipe is based on what I had in at the time so feel free to amend ingredients to fit the contents of your cupboards.

Serves 4

Dal Ingredients:-

1 cup of lentils of your choosing, I used green

1 swede

1 sweet potato

4 shallots or 1 large onion

2-3 garlic cloves

1-2 green chillis or of your choosing

1 bay leaf

1tsp ginger

1tsp ground cumin or cumin seeds

1tsp mustard seeds

1tsp ground coriander or coriander seeds

If you’re limited with spices use 4tsps of garam masala or curry powder

Handful of fresh coriander

Coconut flakes optional

 

For the pilau quinoa & bulgur wheat or rice:-

1 cup of quinoa & bulgur wheat mix or use rice

4 shallots or 1 onion

1-2 tsps of turmeric

4 cloves

1tsp ground cumin or cumin seeds

Add cardamom pods if you have them; I didn’t

1 potato

1 tin of sliced carrots; you could use fresh and/or peas, sweetcorn.

I collected the tinned carrots using food waste app Olio. When buying veg, tinned tends to be cheaper.

Wash and boil the lentils until soft; I did this the night before.

Dice the swede and sweet potato, add to a pan with oil and cook on a low heat until soft.

Slice and add the onions, chopped garlic, chilli, spices, lentils and cook until onions softened. Can add a little water if needed to make a paste like consistency of the spices.

Add 500ml of boiling water, put a lid on the pot and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whilst the dal is cooking, wash the quinoa and bulgur wheat or rice.

Slice the onions and add to a pan with oil, cooking for a few minutes until beginning to soften.

Add the washed grains, diced potato (I didn’t peel mine but whatever you prefer), veg, cumin, turmeric, cloves. Stir so all is well mixed. Cover with boiling water, add a lid and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. You may need to add a little more water as you go.

When the dal is cooked, add in a handful of coriander; mine was straight from the freezer. I also added coconut flakes as picked these up reduced a couple of weeks back. You could add a little coconut milk, tomatoes when cooking or just leave as is.

Season dal and pilau to your taste.

I like to eat a curry the next day when the flavours have developed.

Don’t forget to take out the cloves when serving.

 

Chapatis:-

300g white flour simply because I’d run out of chapati flour so feel free to swap.

3 tbsps vegetable oil, I’ve also made them with olive oil. You can of course use ghee.

Water

In a bowl knead the flour, water and oil until you have a lump of dough. Add extra flour, water, oil as needed so you have a firm dough which is not too sticky.

You could cover the dough with a cloth and leave to rest for 30 minutes, longer. More often than not I don’t let it rest at all.

Dust a rolling pin and your counter then roll out pieces of the dough; you should get around 6 from this recipe. I like to roll them out to around the size of my small frying pan so they lay flat.

Heat oil in a pan although I’ve done them without and chapatis turned out fine; not sure how much my pan appreciates this.

Put your chapatis in one at a time. Leave it for 30 secs or so then flip and let cook for a couple of minutes. You want to see bubbles rising, flatten them with a spatula to ensure dough cooked and you get the burned bubbles. Flip again and when it is done lay in a tea towel and drizzle oil on both sides.

Repeat this with each piece of dough, stacking the chapatis in the towel.

The whole lot cost me around 25p using free, reduced, saved from the bin, food. I omitted salt as I didn’t have any. Don’t be afraid to play around with what you do have. Curries are a great way of perking up any sad looking veg. Carnivores could add leftover meat or fish.

@reduction_raider1

Cutting Cost not Carbs in Copenhagen

Whoever I told that I was going to Copenhagen for the bank holiday weekend, tended to come back with the same response; “oooh nice…it’s expensive though”. How bad can it be I wondered, and to be honest having been and come back, I’m still not sure that I have the answer. You see, it wasn’t a particularly expensive weekend for me and I’m hoping that I can share some tips that you can take away with you – pun intended, be it to Copenhagen or elsewhere.

I was flying with a budget airline so I was sure to check their T&C’s before I set off. No, not for hand luggage allowance, I think we should all be pretty au fait with those by now, to be sure that I could take food on-board. I couldn’t bear the possibility of being caught out and having to pay €10 for a cardboard meal deal when I had decent, yellow sticker, food at home which would need using up in any event. For those of you who don’t know, produce which supermarkets reduce massively, on its use by date, to avoid waste are often price tagged with yellow stickers. So off I set with an avo and egg roll, fruit, yoghurt, nuts; a meal deal of £1.68. On board, with my trusty flask and refillable water bottle, I asked cabin crew for tap water only to be told that they had none. I thought they must be making hot drinks somehow so I asked for my flask to be filled with hot water and was obliged. On the return flight, I was wiser, plus I’d found tea bags in my hand luggage, which I must’ve picked up from a previous trip, so I enjoyed a flask of cranberry & raspberry tea; saving £3.

Bottles also came to my aid on the ground. I laughed when I heard the story of vikings having been given 10 pints of beer a day as it was cheaper than water, yet the reputation of water being the more expensive remains. Tap water is fine to drink in most of Europe so I took my bottle out daily and asked for it to be refilled as and when, including in the ice cream parlour. There are no prohibitions for drinking alcohol on the streets so buying cans of beer from a local shop meant saving £4 per beer by avoiding the canal side bars. It tasted all the nicer on our boat tour. You could always have a couple of drinks before heading out, wine with nibbles, sundowners on your balcony. I can’t be the only one who’s mother instilled going out with spirits in a purse and only ordering mixers out?! Various discount vouchers were included in our canal tour tickets and I was in plant paradise when I spotted 30% off at a vegetarian/vegan buffet restaurant. It’s always worth looking on and off-line for restaurant deals, voucher codes, offers.

Supermarkets were great for getting in staples and we ate a fair few meals at my host’s home. Breakfast feasts of muesli, yoghurts, rye bread, jams, fresh fruits. Delicious salads at lunch and even a Ghanaian dinner one evening. Self catering apartments are fantastic for preparing your own meals. Hotel rooms generally have fridges where you can store cheese, meats, salad, drinks, the list is endless. With a kettle alone you have what you need for porridge, even couscous if you’re feeling creative. Many of the supermarkets had in-store magazines offering various discounts; I even managed to pick up some yellow sticker bits. Keep your eyes peeled, they’re international! In Copenhagen, you earn money back on depositing empty bottles, cans, to be recycled which meant even further savings and doing our bit to be green. Supermarkets were also a great place to buy gifts of chocolate, danish cookies, wine; far cheaper than the airport irrespective of duty free.

Talking of green, I’ve been dipping my toe into foraging, so couldn’t help but bag up the windswept apples I passed. They made for fantastic, no fuss snacks when out and about. I appreciate that this may not be for everyone but there is something to be said for going out prepared with snacks, or the contents of a hotel breakfast bar. Paying for snacks, drinks, meals out soon adds up, by saving money on the smaller things then you don’t mind splurging on what you really want and are less likely to be able to make yourself; in my case Belgian waffles with triple scoop ice cream!

Laura (@reduction_raider1)

Eat Healthy for Less: Introducing, The Reduction Raider

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They call me Mellow Yellow..

I could talk about yellow labels all day; otherwise know as the food that is due to expire that day which is reduced by up to 90% to save wastage. Supermarkets will also mark down their dry goods when the packaging is damaged, regardless of it’s BBD. Friends and family will tell you that I speak of little else and I have been known to show off the contents of my fridge freezer as if I’m on MTV Cribs. So I thought that I’d share some of the reasons why yellow labels have become such a huge part of my life.

I’ve been trying to build a healthy relationship with food for as long as I can remember. As a child I was an extremely fussy eater, pretty much raised on processed food and had few boundaries; if I wanted ice cream before dinner so be it. This carried forth into my adult years; it was a running joke in my family that you’d spot me walking down the road with a bag of crisps in one hand and a can of pop in the other. At University, I lived off fried chicken and and spent so little time in our halls of residence, communal kitchen, that it took me 6 months to realise that I’d left my jacket in there! I was also a can’t cook, won’t cook but loved working out and wanted a healthier diet. I wholly believe that being able to cook is integral to this. When I started living alone I was suddenly solely responsible for food shopping, preparing my own meals. I began cooking but relied on recipes that I’d mastered; spaghetti bolognese, chilli con carne and shepherds pie, basically anything with mince!

One lunch time a frugal work colleague of mine told me of his yellow sticker shopping, intrigued I started looking out for these reduced goods. Initially, the yellow vibes that I was channelling were the Homer Simpson kind “Oooh 6 donuts for 10p”. Figuring that I couldn’t survive on donuts alone, I began shopping for my staples; fruit, vegetables, dairy, bread, fish/meat, herbs, freezing what I could. I’m pretty perseverant and soon got wise to the times of the day that the supermarkets would reduce goods, when the discount was greatest and I confess, I am a reduction loiterer! Not only was I saving a fortune on my grocery bills but I was trying and embracing new foods, experimenting in the kitchen, relying less on recipes and making use of what I already had. I cook the majority of my meals from scratch and will seldom buy what I know I can make myself for a fraction of the cost; a big one being smoothies, soups.

I began to care more about the environment and took a greater interest in food waste; I was so excited to get a compost bin. I brighten up the house with cut price flowers, a luxury that I’d never have indulged before. And I can’t see it slowing down, not now that I’ve even started an Instagram account dedicated to the cause ha ha! We all have a personal and social responsibility; food, health and well-being should not be a luxury only afforded to the privileged. There’s been a huge rise in the popularity, of the often pricey, ‘superfoods’ which can make food and health feel all the more inaccessible for some. Well I think what really makes food super is being able to pick up a bag of Kale for 20p that would otherwise be binned!

@reduction_raider1

The Case of the Empty Shelves, and Empty Bellies

I go to buy food nearly everyday. This is usually delightfully uneventful. The store i regularly visit (which I will not name here) is full of food. You are greeted by a happy security guard. And you behold a picture of beiges dotted with brand images and sale stickers. On this day, however, it was not. I entered the store to gleaming white lights. This was no second coming, or indeed a dizzy phase, this was the white light of the back of the fridge. 
I’m sure you’ve seen an empty fridge before. The site of an empty fridge is a common enough site in my own home. However seeing this in a grocery store was very unusual. The point of this blog is not to lament the the fact that fridges can break. Nor is it about my apprehension to becoming a full time hunter gatherer if this, my primary food source, is now empty. The issue here is much more important, with much graver consequences. 

Slightly taken aback, I spoke to a staff member who we will call Captain Obvious, as he stuck “Empty” labels to the shelves. I asked him what had happened. Upon hearing the fridges had broken over night, I then asked where had all the food gone? His response: the bin. I was genuinely shocked when I heard that. I persisted and asked why they couldn’t redistribute the food, give it away, or sell it off cheap through their ‘Yellow Labels’. 

The answer was simple. “We can’t”. And with that, no reasoning why they cannot give away the food. The reason would become apparent later.

We all throw away food. Some necessary, some not so. But it was the scale of the food that was thrown away that startled me. Think of any grocery store and picture the fridges empty. Now take into account that this is a convenience store, and so has a high fridge percentage. Sandwiches, Salads, Meats, Fish, Pizza’s, Ready Meals, Deli Meats, Cold Snacks, Milk, Cheese, Yogurts, Fruit Juice. The amount of things that they keep in the fridges are astronomical. 

I was left thinking that there has to be a better way. There are too many hungry mouths around, and too much landfill used to just accept the mass throwing away of food because of health and safety guidelines arbitrarily written on the goods. I get that they were in the fridges, but surely it wasn’t universally spoiled. Given that the fridges were closed, and still cold, I would have definitely bought some of those goods, and I bet many of you would have as well.

With that slight sour taste in my mouth, I left the store. I was annoyed at the outcome, but what can you do? The food had already been thrown away. My day continued and the episode at the grocery store disappeared from memory. However it reappeared some days later when I went into the store again and mentioned it to the staff. Making half a joke about being happy the supermarket was “full this time”, I got talking to another member of staff there (unfortunately not Captain Obvious, we will name this one Doom Bringer). I half joked about going into the bins and getting the food because of the immense volume that was thrown, only to be told I couldn’t do that.

Now I expected the reason to be because it had already been taken away. However, to my horror, I couldn’t reclaim the food because they had poured bleach all over it. I then recalled seeing workers late at night piling food into pink bags that state the contents are not safe for human consumption, and the penny dropped as to why. Over 1m people in the UK visited food banks last year, and yet this shop decided to pour bleach on their perfectly edible waste.

I am writing this as I guess there must be a better way. I hope you, like myself, are enraged by this episode. This should not be accepted. I live in a fairly poor area and I see the hardship many have to experience on a daily basis. If even half the food had been given away, or even sold cheaply in my area, it could have made a huge difference to the lives of everybody, including myself. 

There will be a better solution. It may already exist, it may not. If not, it is only a matter of time before new ways to reduce food waste become normal. I just hope that solution comes around sooner rather than later.