Recipe for the-only-thing-easier-than-making-it-is-eating-it hot salsa

This salsa is ridiculously easy. It won’t take more than about five minutes and will leave your lips tingling, but not your tonsils.

Ingredients

Makes 300g of salsa.

  • 1 400g can of plum tomatoes.
  • 2 green chillies.
  • 1/3 of an onion.
  • 1 handful of fresh coriander.
  • 1 squeeze of a lemon.

The total cost of these ingredients is about a £1*. This is cheaper than supermarket salsa, tastes better and doesn’t have Xanthan Gum in it. Whatever that is.

Tools

  • Knife.
  • Bowl.
  • Sieve or colander (optional).
  • Blender (optional).

Method

  1. Drain the can of tomatoes. You can use a sieve or a colander or just pour the juice out of the can. It will look like you’re losing a heck of a lot of product. Don’t panic, just drain those plums! Now throw them into the bowl.
  2. Chop the stalks off your chillies. Take out some of the seeds and pith while you’re there. Throw into the bowl.
  3. Chop off a third of an onion. Throw into the bowl.
  4. Grab a handful of fresh coriander. Throw into the bowl.
  5. Chop a lemon in half and squeeze some into the bowl.
  6. Blend the ingredients until they are salsafied! If you don’t have a proper blender then just mash and chop with your hands and your knife. Salsa should be pretty rough anyway – you’re not making a soup here.
  7. EAT.

You can always modify to taste with garlic, salt or chocolate. I won’t shout at you.


* You will have to buy a whole onion and a whole lemon. Save them for next time.

Haute Cuisine in Sarajevo

A restaurant in Sarajevo. My friend is interrogating a waiter about his establishment’s unhelpful menu.

“…and what’s in this – the Sultan Bey soup?”
“That’s lambs brains fried in offal fat.”
“And this one?”
“Sheep liver with beef.”
“Er, what about this one?”
“Chicken with two types of ham.”
“And this… Tahamoa?”
“No meat.”

My friend pauses to take this information on board. Then he resumes his attack.

“What exactly is in the ‘fishy fillet’?”
“Fish.”
“Thanks. I’ll have that.”

The waiter leaves.

You know, for a city that makes such a big thing about how disgusting the food was during the siege, they don’t seem to have celebrated a return to haute cuisine.


I was in Sarajevo in summer 2007. I loved it.

11 Tips on How to Eat and Drink Less, in 59 Seconds

This is taken from 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman, a book that wants to make your life better – in 59 seconds or less. It is all based on scientific research. If you like that sort of thing.

  1. Start eating at normal speed, then slow down to enjoy each mouthful
  2. Drink from a tall thin glass.
  3. Place food out of sight to avoid temptation.
  4. Focus on your food – you eat more while distracted. Like popcorn at a film. Or, in my case, Marylands in front of the computer. I can inhale them now.
  5. Use smaller crockery.
  6. Keep a food diary.
  7. Use the power of regret to motivate you to get to the gym: you know you’ll feel bad if you don’t go so just do it. As someone once said. 
  8. Do not exercise in front of a mirror, you’ll get really self-conscious and do less!
  9. On the other hand, do put a mirror in your kitchen to make you aware of your body.
  10. Use more energy in your day-to-day activities.
  11. Diet packs of food just make you lose vigilance so you end up eating more.

    No Supermarket: Week 4 – The End!

    So it’s over: 31 days without spending money in a supermarket. Before the post-mortem, some details about this past week.

    Things I learnt this week:

    • Eggs are cheaper in my local shop: only £1.09 for 6, compared to £1.57 in Sainsbury’s.
    • Tesco Express (i.e. a small supermarket) stocks 26 different varieties of bottled water. You do know that you can get it out of the tap, don’t you? For free.
    • Sainsbury’s is very useful: for their extensive recycling facilities and the pharmacy where I get my (free) prescriptions. This month I have shamelessly used supermarket resources in exchange for nothing.
    • Expenditure at No Supermarkets: £17.00
    • Hypothetical expenditure at Sainsbury’s: £16.18.

    The Final Score

    • Over the course of one month shopping at No Supermarkets I spent £89.94 on food.
    • The same stuff at Sainsbury’s would have cost approximately £80.28.

    So what am I going to now it’s over?

    Will I go running back to the fluorescent-strip-light warmth of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Lidl? Hell no.

    Was everything perfect about my month of No Supermarkets? Hell no (where the devil can I get decent, reasonably priced cheese?). Can I do it better? Hell yes. I promise myself every week that I’ll go to the local markets more often, rather than running out of food, panicking and buying soup and biscuits for dinner.

    I’ve enjoyed visiting all my local and not so local shops. I’ve built up quite a rapport with a shop around the corner from where I study. Cherry flapjack: £1.05, thank-you very much.

    But why do I like No Supermarkets so much?

    • I don’t have to queue, like I would in the Sainsbury’s just up the road. 
    • I don’t have to walk around six aisles just to find the flapjacks, like I would at the Sainsbury’s. 
    • I’m not paralysed by the choice of six thousand different oat-based snacks you can have from Sainsbury’s. Half the time my shop doesn’t even have any of the cherry ones left. So I have banana. Variety is the spice of life and all that.
    • I’m not advertised at.
    • I can have a little chat with the person who serves me and they say please and thank-you like they give a shit that I came into their shop. Because they own it.
    • It’s closer to the college where I study.
    • I like the fact that their prices are marginally cheaper than the other little shop just across the road. It reminds me that competition is alive and well. It hasn’t just been blown away by corporate supply chains.
    • I feel like the money I’m handing over for my flapjack is going to someone I know.
    • The lighting isn’t so bright. Not everything gleams. The floor might even be dirty. It’s human.

    Yeah. I like it. In fact, I like it so much that I’d feel a bit wrong going into a supermarket now. Perhaps I will for some things. Perhaps I won’t. I no longer feel restricted in my shopping habits. I no longer feel compelled towards those glowing orange lights.

    So here’s to much more No Supermarkets in 2011.

    No Supermarket: Week 3

    No Supermarkets again this week (apart from my little tourism on Tuesday). It’s really a lot easier now than I thought it would be. It’s hardly even inconvenient, in fact it’s fun. When I go some place new I keep my head up for little shops, pop in, have a chat, browse and buy. Already my local shopkeeper calls me ‘a regular’, which is nice.

    Here’s another thing. This week I met up with a friend for dinner. Normally we go down to Sainsbury’s, do some shopping and get cooking. Not this week. We went to a restaurant. Shock. More expensive, maybe, but it’s about more than just the chow – it’s the experience. That might sound like pure guff. It is. But hey, I enjoyed it.

    So how was it price-wise this week? Not including the restaurant, just going on what I bought at shops and markets, here’s the comparison:

    • No Supermarkets: £23.07
    • Sainsbury’s: £18.91

    As usual, there are a few discrepancies: I would have had three less avocados at Sainsbury’s – but one extra banana and a smidgen more spinach.

    One thing I found is that I spend a good deal more on fruit and vegetables at local shops, compared to local markets. This explains a lot of the difference in price this week. I can get fruit and veg cheaper at local markets than at Sainsbury’s, but the shops tend to be a little more expensive. The key to getting good deals at No Supermarkets is to shop around, travel, investigate and explore. The French had it right when they called their supermarket Monoprix.

    I won’t bore you with a great long list of things I bought this week, but here’s a good one:

    • 48 Ibuprofen tablets from New Cross Station Pharmacy: £2.25
    • 48 Ibuprofen tablets from Sainsbury’s: £0.84

    Massive.

    However, this might not be such a big win for Sainsbury’s as it first appears. The purpose of buying Ibuprofen is to kill your pain, right? It shouldn’t matter how much it costs, right? – Wrong. Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University, has shown that the more you pay for your pain-killers, the more powerful their effect. You can watch a short video of Ariely here.

    It’s hard to tell if paying more has worked for me, but all I can say is that my foot is much better today than it was on Friday morning, when I started taking the tablets.

    No Supermarket: Air Miles and Bursting Aisles

    I went to my local Sainsbury’s on Tuesday – no, don’t panic, I didn’t buy anything. I went there to do a little research. I wanted to know a couple of things:

    1. Where in the world does Sainsbury’s food come from?
    2. How much choice is there at supermarkets?

    And here is what I found.

    Where is Sainsbury’s Food From?

    Answer: Spain.

    I only looked at the Fruit and Vegetable section because that seemed a reasonable sample size: 119 products. Astonishingly, these products came from a total of 36 countries. The top five were:

    1. Spain (20 products)
    2. UK (19)
    3. Israel (9)
    4. Morocco (6)
    5. South Africa (6)

    I was surprised to see Israel at number three I have to admit. We get tomatoes, peppers, herbs and exotic fruit like kumquats and Sharon fruit from there. The West Bank did also appear on the list with two products, the herbs dill and sage.

    I guess one big reason for the reliance on overseas fruit and vegetables is the time of year. Traditional English Summer produce like cucumbers, tomatoes and spinach have to be shipped in from Spain or elsewhere.

    More concerning, however, was the number of products that ARE in season in the UK, and yet it was still possible to buy them from abroad. For example: apples, pears, beetroot and mushrooms, as well as packaged herbs. It seemed that if you wanted herbs in a pot, then they had to be British, presumably because of the care required for potted plants, but packaged herbs came from abroad, presumably because they are cheaper there.

    The full list of countries supplying Sainsbury’s New Cross Gate (in order of products supplied): Spain, UK, Israel, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Italy, France, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, USA, Brazil, Chile, China, Holland, India, Portugal, Senegal, Thailand, Turkey, West Bank, Argentina, Burkina Faso, Canary Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Namibia, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia.

    How Much Choice Is There?

    Answer: Too much.

    To focus my research, I examined just one type of product from Sainsbury’s 30+ aisles: soup. Here’s what I found.

    There are, broadly speaking, four different kinds of soup product on sale at Sainsbury’s: tinned, potted, fresh and dried soup mix. Tinned represent the overwhelming majority of the market.

    There are, in all, sixteen different brand labels on sale, including eight for Sainsbury’s alone: Be Good To Yourself, Sainsbury’s, Chunky, Basics, Microwave, Simmer Soups, SO Organic and Taste the Difference. Prices range from £0.17 for Sainsbury’s Basic tomato soup to £2.29 for some of the posh fresh soups.

    This meant that there were, in total, on sale at Sainsbury’s… Wait for it – 138 different types of soup.

    That, my friends, is ridiculous. Contrast my local shop, where I can purchase one brand in about six different flavours. Fine, considering I only ever buy cream of tomato! Prices there range from £0.89 to £0.89.

    Is Choice a Good Thing?

    Supermarkets rely on the idea that more choice makes us happier. But is this actually the case?

    Malcolm Gladwell makes the case for supermarket-style choice in a TED video from 2006. He recounts a story of the psychophysicist Howard Moskowitz:

    Vlasic Pickles came to him, and they said, “Doctor Moskowitz, we want to make the perfect pickle.” And he said, “There is no perfect pickle, there are only perfect pickles.” And he came back to them and he said, “You don’t just need to improve your regular, you need to create zesty.”

    From this idea, pickles, spaghetti sauces, soups – everything – proliferated, all in the cause of making us happy.

    You can see the full video here:

    But Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, warns:

    Beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures.

    “In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis. And in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.”

    In other words: choice, generally-speaking, is good, but too much choice is toxic.

    At my local shop I have the choice of about six different flavours of soup. That’s a reasonable selection, given that I could make my own soup if I wanted something a little more customised. But faced with an aisle of 138 soups?

    I wouldn’t know where to start.

    No Supermarket: Week 2

    Week 2 and I still haven’t been to a supermarket – or even so much as a High Street chain. I have to say, it’s going rather well. The Suma order arrived on Thursday with 12.5kgs of oats for our house at only £8. I also got a load of Jasmine tea, raisins and eggs. Cue massive omelets.

    Yesterday, I went to another local co-operative, Fareshares, who sell organic, mostly fair trade food and other household goods at the right price. Here’s what I bought:

    • 1l washing detergent @ £2.96
    • 250g sunflower seeds @ £0.50
    • 100 rooibos teabags @ £2.83
    • 500ml Aspall’s balsamic vinegar @ £2.83
    • 680g sauerkraut @ £1.67

    And I made an incredibly generous (!) £0.21 donation to make it £11.00 in total.

    The same stuff at Sainsbury’s would have cost me £10.34, but I would have had 500ml more detergent, 50g less sunflower seeds and 20 fewer teabags. [Incidentally demonstrating there the way you use ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ in the English language. I’m educational too!] If I’d been able to buy the exact same quantities, Sainsbury’s would have cost me a theoretical extra £0.05, so it more or less evens out.

    However, as I’ve said before, it’s not all about price with No Supermarkets. The stuff I would have bought at Sainsbury’s probably wouldn’t have been fairly traded and certainly wouldn’t have been organic. I also wouldn’t have met the lovely people at Fareshares or ended up with some random sauerkraut!

    Fareshares

    Fareshares is a food co-operative near Elephant and Castle in South London. They buy their stuff from wholesalers and then sell it on to us little people at near wholesale price. The people who work there are volunteers and the only major overheads are for the building.

    They sell all sorts of stuff. There’s lots of dry foods: seeds, rice, millet, oats, nuts and dried fruits. They also sell tinned things like tomatoes, bottled things like oils and sauces, cartoned things like soya milk. There’s also a small stock of fresh fruit and vegetables and bread (on Thursdays only) – and I’m sure much much more.

    It’s a co-operative so try and turn up with a bag or some cartons for your stuff. Then go around picking and packing your own shopping, totting up the total as you go on a piece of scrap paper. Then head to the till and pay. It’s an honesty system, so be honest!

    Opening hours: Thursday 2-8pm; Friday 3-7pm; Saturday 3-5pm
    Address: 56 Crampton Street (near Walworth Road), London SE17 3AE

    Go – it’s brilliant!