Sustainable Dubai Living?!

If you have been following my blog for a while you have probably noticed that I am interested in the origins of my food, love shopping locally and seasonably and try my best to use up what I’ve got and keep food waste to the minimum. I try my best to shop sustainably and ethically, get cross about pointless packaging and try to dispose of the waste I do make carefully. And now? This self-professed greeny has moved to Dubai! The land of excess. The city in the desert. The city of air conditioning and desalinated water. As you can imagine this is a challenge. How can I live sustainably in this place? Is it even possible? Do the little things that I do make any difference in a land where, if the whole world lived to this excess, we would run out of resources less than a quarter of the way though the year?

Inspired by an article I read recently about trying to be ‘green’ in rural America I have decided to share with you a ‘week in the life of’ me trying to live sustainably in Dubai. Some of the challenges are very different, some surprisingly similar.

This post is a little longer than my usual, but please stick with me and let me know your thoughts.

Sunday

It is the beginning of the week (weekends being Friday and Saturday here) and Steve makes his first packed lunch salad for the week. We buy most of our vegetables from Spinney’s which is just a few minutes walk away (a very hot few minutes unless we go early or late in the day). A little while ago they were selling reusable cloth bags for vegetables, they seem to have stopped selling them but I am still using them. They are also happy for us to take pots back to the deli counter to refill. The vegetables, not surprisingly, come from all over the world. I remain unsure whether it is better to buy local vegetables grown using desalinated water or things brought in from overseas. A positive choice I can make is to avoid pre-packed vegetables.

salad

Steve’s Greek Salad

  • Half a cucumber
  • a small tomato
  • Half a small onion
  • Feta cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar

Variations

  • Chopped olives
  • Hummus
  • Baked chopped beetroot
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Line caught tinned tuna

We also do some of our shopping at the local organic shop, making use of their fantastic discount days to replenish the store-cupboard and buy some meat for the freezer. It is quite an expensive place to buy meat even when there is a good discount, but as we only eat it about once a week we can afford to be choosy. I also love that they sell some ingredients loose which cuts down on plastic.

Monday

It is hard in summer to entertain a little one here, it is too hot and humid outside. My friends and I take it in turns to host playdates at home, but sometimes we just need a change of scenery. Today I took baby to a soft-play area to meet some of his little friends (they were all awake at the same time for once – a miracle). I choose a decaffeinated ice mocha at the café there, it is served in a glass jar not a disposable plastic cup like many places – good. But… I am too slow in turning down the straw, and I notice that having decaf means that the coffee comes in an individual plastic package to keep it fresh. You win some you lose some I suppose?

I get home and the little one has a nap, worn out from his playing. Do I have a nap myself or do the washing up? The perpetual question of a stay at home mum. I go with the washing up. It takes a while for the water to come through hot enough, so while it heats up I collect it in old milk bottles to water my plants on the balcony. Growing up in the driest part of the UK and then spending time living in Australia has made me rather sensitive about wasting water. While on the subject of washing up – one of the easy small changes I made a while ago was to start using washable cloths rather than sponges, it’s not a hardship to put them in the washing machine so this is an easy way to reduce waste.

Tuesday

For the first time since starting on the large refillable bottles of water we have run out before our Wednesday delivery and have to buy bottled water – bother. We also need to buy a big bucket of yoghurt for baby. I don’t think that there is a good alternative to buying yoghurt in a plastic tub – I could make it myself but I would still need to buy the milk in plastic bottles. At least buying a large volume reduces the packaging and baby is excited to have another bucket to put his toys in, and for playing water at the beach.

Wednesday

Today our big refilled bottles of water are supposed to turn up. I could lie to you and say that everything went to plan… but I’m going to be honest and admit that I forgot to top up the water app with money so the bottles didn’t turn up. So, I had to go shopping for bottled water again. Fail.

So, drinking water. An interesting dilemma here in Dubai. Arguably we could do better than the refilled bottles and have a filter tap installed in the sink… arguably we don’t even need to do that. Dubai water is, I’ve been told, drinking water standard at source however people still don’t trust it; possibly rightly because in some buildings there can be issues with corrosion of pipes. What I would really like to do is to send a sample of our tap water off to a lab so we can find out whether we can drink it or not. I expect that this isn’t an option so for the moment I’ll stick to my big bottles and do a little more research into filter taps.

Thursday

We have got back into the habit of using Steve’s bread maker again, which cuts down on packaging and means that there are no preservatives. The flour is packaged in paper and is an organic British brand, there doesn’t seem to be a more local alternative for Bread Flour. The oil and sugar are in plastic but bulk bought, yeast is in a tin but has a plastic lid to keep fresh.  We still buy local Arabic bread which is incredibly cheap, fresh and great with salad and for dipping in hummus – it is packaged in plastic, but at least the bags are the perfect size for our bathroom bin.

Friday

It’s the weekend!

I have decided that I want a bikini. I have to say that I am not a confident bikini wearer, I much prefer the support of a full cossie when swimming; but it is too hot and humid to comfortably walk across the road to the pool with a swimming costume under my clothes (first world problem?!). Which brings me to clothes. A bikini is the second thing I have bought since we arrived here in March, I also got a light long sleeved cardigan which I can wear with almost everything – which is great because I dislike baring my arms which are two dress sizes bigger than the rest of me (and at times it is inappropriate to have bare arms here, so it’s very useful garment).

I don’t like buying new clothes too often. I worry about the sweat shop it was probably made in. I worry about the resources used to make it – oil for manmade fibres, the huge amount of water for growing cotton. I love inheriting preloved clothes from friends and finding lovely things in charity shops. I am not sure whether charity shops exist here, but I think that I will put some time into organising a clothes swap – I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday

It is still the weekend, but the chores continue. Washing clothes seems never ending. Recently I have been reading about how we should wash clothes less in order to save water and lessen the micro-plastics getting into the water. This is difficult in such a hot climate and with a baby. Wearing more natural fibres would help (but I don’t want to buy new clothes, and growing cotton uses a lot of water so is not necessarily a good environmental option – difficult). Hopefully when it cools down in the autumn I can wash the grown-up clothes less. I could also be more consistent in separating out washing which just needs a quick ‘de-stink’ from clothes which baby has covered in food and… other nastier things. Having said all that, I don’t think that the onus should just be on consumers for reducing microfibres – this is an interesting article which discusses things which the industry could do before clothes even reach the shelves.

When we moved to Dubai I started using washable nappies. I would have liked to have done this from day one but I didn’t feel up to the task with a newborn, and then when I had things more ‘together’ the thought of having to dry them in a damp British winter was a bit much. Now I have finally have time, energy and a warm climate to dry things in – hurrah! Having said that I only use them when I am near home, I don’t like the idea of carrying a poo-filled nappy around with me all day.

Some final thoughts…

One of the points made in the article about being ‘green’ in rural America which really resonated with me was ‘some people feeling bad for decisions largely out of their control – and many people not feeling bad for actions they can control‘. Personally, I know that I am the kind of person who can easily start feeling guilty about things which I don’t do. Sometimes this is good and can lead to action, other times it just adds to the fatigue which often plagues me. When my little one was born I made a conscious decision not to use washable nappies and managed not to feel bad about it – I knew my limits and knew that I would probably surpass them with a newborn. Some environmentally conscious friends tried hard to tell me how easy it is to wash nappies, others supported the fact that I recognised my limits and was looking out for my mental health (thanks Kate!).

If you have got to the end of this post, thank-you  –  I hope that it hasn’t been too long and rambling! I would be interested in your thoughts – especially if you live here in Dubai and have any tips. I know that some of you will be of the opinion that I am over thinking things and that I should chill out a bit, and that others will think that I am not doing enough. There are lots of things that I haven’t discussed, such as all the flying you do when living internationally. Is there any point in the (arguably) little things I do day to day when I fly back to the UK a couple of times a year?! I think that is a discussion for another day!

So, your thoughts?

Basic Kitchen Project – debrief

basic kitchen

As promised in my previous post, here are some notes to close-out the Basic Kitchen project.

The first thing to say is that it was certainly hard work – I don’t think I would have been able to do it if I didn’t work part time, and if I didn’t enjoy cooking.

What I was really rubbish at was keeping a good record of what I spent, which isn’t very helpful for a roundup of how the project went! We were pretty close to £10 each week though. What I will share with you are some shopping tips and things which I consider to be the ‘best buys’, and the favourite things we ate.
Shopping

The first week we really missed green vegetables and colourful food – not that we ate badly, it’s just that the cheapest vegetables tend to be carrots which can get rather dull. In subsequent weeks we managed to do some good market shopping for vegetables. The best bargains came when we went to the market not long before it shut.

I would highly recommend finding out the best time to visit your local market.

Most of the meat and fish we bought came from the reduced section of the supermarket, with the exception of the wonderful ‘cooks bacon’ (the cheap offcuts). This meant that I had to think on my feet a little bit when shopping.

A good buy was the pack of beef sausages which I got in the first week. I used some straight away and then froze the rest in batches of three. Really yummy in casseroles.

Another bargain was some reduced beef mince. I decided at that point to reintroduce a big frying pan with a lid so that I could bulk cook traditional Bolognese. This fed us for a number of meals and cost just a few pounds. I will write up a Bolognese recipe for you at some point.

A good way to get protein and good flavour into budget food is to buy ‘cooks bacon’ from your local butcher or supermarket. These are the ‘scrag ends’ or offcuts – exactly the same meat as rashers of bacon but not a uniform size. If you’re going to chop it up for cooking anyway then why buy anything else?

I started the project with stock cubes, mixed herbs, chilli flakes and salt and pepper, in the hope that over the weeks I would be able to add to my spice cupboard within my budget. This was not possible. This is a bit of a disappointing discovery but hardly a surprise – £10 a week may be sufficient to eat healthily (if you have the time and energy to shop and cook carefully) but it doesn’t allow for very exciting ingredients. When I did my £5 challenge at the start of this blog in 2016 I allowed myself the use of what was already in my store cupboard, including spices; I found it significantly more difficult to cook creatively without this.
What I Cooked

One of the things I really enjoy about restricting my budget is that it forces me to be creative with what I have. Despite being somewhat limited this time – with having only chilli, mixed herbs, salt and pepper, I still found that I made some good discoveries.

  • One Pot Pasta! This is a one pot wonder. It is so simple to make, and easily varied depending on the ingredients to hand, that I wrote up two different versions of it (and made it many more times than I wrote about). It also makes for less washing up – bonus. One Pot Pasta has definitely entered my repertoire for good – just this week I made a delicious creamy version with bacon, onion, homemade stock from the freezer, crème fraiche and cheese. Yum.
  • Mackerel stuffed with haggis – I appreciate that this won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this was a truly magnificent and decadent meal – which cost only £2.30 to feed three people. It goes to show that, with making good use of the reduced section of the supermarket and some imagination, you can still make a rather impressive dinner party meal on a tight budget.
  • Breakfast Muffins – these were very yummy and cheap to make, and even such a reluctant breakfast eater as myself enjoyed them.

I found that I cooked a lot of tomato based dishes, because tinned tomatoes work well with chilli and with dried herbs. I managed to vary things a little by using fresh herbs from the garden; flat leaved parsley and sage were in season and I was very glad of them. I have to say though, that after a while I got somewhat bored of Italian inspired dishes and simple chilli dishes and really craved curry! Curry can be a fabulously cheap to make if you already have the basic spices, especially when you use a lentil base.

Anyway, that’s that. I hope that you found some inspiration from my little £10 a week project. I would love know what your favourite frugal recipes are. If you fancy writing up a favourite recipe as a guest blog post that would be fabulous – do get in touch.

‘over and out

Kitty x

Enough Challenges!

The observant amongst you will have noticed that I haven’t updated you on progress with the Basic Kitchen project. I have just found two blog posts sitting in draft, which review progress at week one and after a month – I obviously wasn’t happy with either of them (although reading them now I am not sure why).

Rather than belatedly publishing the two posts, I am going to tell you about what has been making me too preoccupied to write, and why I have quite enough challenges to be going on with at the moment! I do have some brief ‘lessons learned’ from the Basic Kitchen project to share with you, but I will do that in another post rather than make this one long and unwieldy.

I think I ‘may’ have taken on a little too much in the next few months! First and foremost I am expecting my first baby in early July – I think that this alone would slow most people down! In addition, Steve and I are organising the blessing of our marriage; we had a relaxed little wedding last summer, with the intention of having a big big party and blessing the following year. Originally, we were going to have the blessing at midsummer but that was (happily) scuppered by the baby, so we are planning the party for September.

Organising a big event with a baby on the way wasn’t enough to keep Steve and I busy… so we decided to put an offer on a house!

So, in summary, we are currently doing what are widely perceived to be three of the most stressful things in life – having a baby, organising a wedding, and moving house! Phew! All very exciting, but you can see that giving myself a tiny budget and blogging challenges won’t be top of my list for a little while.

So what can you expect from Kitty’s Store-Cupboard over the next few months? Probably radio-silence a lot of the time! When I do share recipes I expect that they will mostly still be of a frugal nature – buying a house and organising the blessing are quite expensive occupations. I’m sure that there will also be a few treats thrown in, and some excitement at being able to cook and eat things which pregnant ladies are not supposed to eat – such as pate and blue cheese. I am hoping that there will also be a few guest bloggers – watch this space!

I would very much like to write about the vegetables and herbs I am growing, however I expect that I won’t find time to do so. Currently I am sharing an allotment with my sister, it was very overgrown when we took it on earlier in the year but we are doing reasonably well given our different constraints (I’m not really up to heavy digging, however crouching down to weed is pretty good exercise for getting the baby into the best position for birth – you win some, you lose some!). We have got garlic, onions, beans, squash and raspberries growing, so I am looking forward to some harvest cooking. I am very excited that the house we are buying has a greenhouse – I have some very happy looking tomato plants in pots which will ripen nicely under glass.

So, here is an obligatory ‘bump’ photograph (now somewhat bigger!) taken in my scruffs down at the allotment. I will share the Basic Kitchen ‘lessons learned’ with you next week.

Kitty x

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The Privilege of Economising

Here begins a project that has been at the back of my mind for a year or more…

When I was living in Stroud, Gloucestershire and involved with my local foodbank I did a project which looked at the barriers which stop people from shopping and cooking frugally. There are many. A key thing I noticed when talking to people at foodbank drop-ins and to friends and neighbours who struggle financially is that many people don’t have the kitchen capacity to cook meals with multiple stages and ingredients; which means that they are restricted to expensive pre-prepared meals. What I mean by kitchen capacity is that they may have only a single saucepan, no mixing bowl, no chopping board… and they can be the lucky ones. I met many a single guy who lived in a single room with only a kettle – sometimes only a kettle shared among many, and when that was stolen or broken sandwiches and crisps were the order of the day.

It made me realise how many ‘implements’ I use in my cooking, and how the healthy, cheap food I cook is made much easier by having a well stocked kitchen. I have also realised that taking advantage of economies of scale are often the privilege of the wealthy; whether this is bulk-buying ingredients, having a slow cooker and large pans to bulk cook, or buying clothes that are expensive but won’t fall apart after a month.

utensils

So, the project that I have had at the back of my mind. I am going to pretend from this moment that I am starting my kitchen pretty much from scratch (I probably should have done this from when we first moved to our rented place, which has a much smaller kitchen than I am accustomed to – the cupboards are overflowing and make me stressed every time I try to find something!). I am going to start with what I consider ‘basic’ (which is still more than many people have) which I have costed up as though I were buying new items from the supermarket. Everything else will go into a box and everytime I realise that there is something else that I need I will have to ‘buy’ it back, factoring in this cost to the price of the meal I am cooking. I will also start with what I consider a basic store cupboard, everytime I feel I need a different spice I will have to ‘buy it back’ from the spice store that I will put to one side – I will find this difficult! Again, the store-cupboard prices come from current supermarket prices. I have assumed at this stage that I could afford to bulk buy things such as rice, I will also use up anything which we already have which is perishable – I cannot abide wasting food!

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So, this is what I will start with :

Utensils (£20.50)

  • One saucepan
  • One multipurpose knife
  • A wooden spoon
  • chopping board
  • Two bowls
  • Two plates
  • (I can get a four piece dinner set from Asda for less than the individual pieces so I will do that)

Storecupboard (£18.30)

  • Cooking oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Mixed Herbs
  • Dried Chilli
  • Beef Stock Cubes
  • Vegetable Stock Cubes
  • A couple of tins of tomatoes
  • A couple of tins of pulses
  • Rice (5kg bag)
  • Pasta (3kg bag)
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Milk

I think that more frequent washing up is going to be a side effect of this way of cooking!

I intend to go back to my strict food budget – which was £5 a week when I was on my own so now will be £10 a week. I will allow myself £10 a month to add to the utensils, if there is any left this can be spent on food or spices.

I shall call this little project ‘Kitty’s Basic Kitchen’.

So, now to start stripping my kitchen of all my privileged items! Wish me luck!

Harvest Time

A sad thing about moving house at this time of year is that I didn’t get to harvest the vegetables which I had lovingly grown. Thankfully my mum came to visit last week bearing gifts from her own garden. This picture was taken about a week ago and I have just polished off the runner beans, and only have a few  apples and over-sized courgettes (zucchini) left.

So how have I used this great abundance?

The courgettes I have of course stuffed – I will share this with you later in the week. I have also fried them in butter and garlic as a side-dish and ‘hidden’ them in other dishes, some sweet and some savoury.

The apples are delicious eaters and I have been munching on them as they are, as well as making rather wonderful cake with them.

The new potatoes were mostly a lovely variety called Pink Fur Apple; they are delicious just boiled and then smothered in butter and pepper, although I also had a go at roasting them.

… and of course everything has been served with runner beans (apart from the cake).

I still miss my garden.

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Simple September

Following a very decadent summer (getting married is a good excuse!) it is time for a ‘Simple September‘.
My husband Steve and I are having a near-complete shopping-ban this month; we are combining two very well stocked kitchens into a much smaller space, plus we have been eating and drinking rather well recently and some simpler fare won’t go amiss.   The exceptions to the shopping ban will be some seasonal vegetables, onions, garlic, eggs, milk… and the occasional treat of nice cheese or meat from the reduced section of the supermarket.
As well as saving money and kitchen space, I’m hoping that Simple September will kick-start my recipe writing again after a five month hiatus (I’ve been a little distracted!).

As a reward for getting the kitchen in our new house tidy, I decided to start Simple September with a (reasonably) healthy treat; coconut and apricot flapjack. All of the flapjack I make is based around the same basic recipe which I have shared with you previously. This time, I decided to have a go at using coconut oil; I substituted it for half of the butter because I wasn’t sure how it was going to behave. I’m glad that I didn’t make the switch to coconut oil in one go because it made the mixture rather more liquid; I recovered the situation by taking it out of the oven part way through cooking and covering it with a layer of drinking chocolate followed by desiccated coconut.

A delicious mistake which I fully intend to make again!!

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Holiday musings… continued 

I write this sitting in Malaga airport…

I have decided not to continue sharing my holiday musings on frugality with you.  I expect that you’re not disappointed – the Web is hardly short of blogs telling you how you should be budgeting and running your finances and my thoughts on the subject are hardly earth shattering. Also, it would be rather presumptuous of me to think that what works for me might work for you.

After Christmas it will be the year anniversary of starting my blog. Maybe I will give myself another January Challenge to mark the occasion – any ideas?

P.S. yesterday while visiting a vinyard in the Ronda region I got a fabulous Paella recipe from an equally fabulous lady called Ana. I will share it with you just as soon as I have tested it 🙂