All in it together? A Girl Called Jack and #22mealsforacoffee

I’ve blogged previously about the amazing Jack Monroe, the blogger from Southend who talks more than a hell of a lot of sense when it comes to cooking, poverty and the politics of food on her blog, A Girl Called Jack.

She is absolutely bloody right when she writes:

 “to tackle food poverty and a culture of ping-ping meals, cooking at home needs to be less glossy, less sexy, less fancy kitchen equipment, less intimidating – and more accessible, more about what you can make from what’s in the cupboard, to spend less, reduce waste, and not spending all day tarting about in the kitchen or scouring shelves for asfoedita and artichokes.”

Anyway, Jack’s been at it again with the brilliant #22mealsforacoffee.

Her challenge?

Skip one latte, cappuccino or double espresso (whatever your morning poison, basically), average cost £3, and buy someone enough food for 22 meals. Buy low cost basics (she gives suggestions) and donate them to a food bank.

Yes, a foodbank – that criminal travesty of social justice that has arisen because as a society we seem to be too damn incapable of looking after each other. The Trussell Trust calculates a 170% increase in the number of people turning to foodbanks in the last 12 months:

“Trussell Trust foodbanks have seen the biggest rise in numbers given emergency food since the charity began in 2000. Almost 350,000 people have received at least three days emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks during the last 12 months, nearly 100,000 more than anticipated and close to triple the number helped in 2011-12.”

The Trussell Trust is the UK’s largest provider of emergency food packs but there are of course lots of smaller, local providers, often church initiatives, as well as work done by organisations like the Salvation Army. That means those figures from the Trussell Trust are the tip of an uncomfortably large iceberg.

For those who find their take on life is disadvantaged by the cynicism gene, the sort who simply think this is about people scrounging dinner for free, just pause for a moment. After you’ve grown up, think about the indignity of having to go and ask for food to feed yourself and your family because you can’t afford to buy it. I don’t think food banks are an easy option – but they are essential if some of those who are struggling the most are to have food on their plates.

I’m not going to tell you how to put a useful food pack together here on this blog. Jack deserves the traffic on her site, so click through to #22mealsforacoffee for suggestions. If, for whatever reason, this is beyond you, text FBUK13 £3 to 70070 to donate £3 to the Trussell Trust.

Jack’s posts are a constant source of inspiration and a rallying call to action for all those who are concerned about the politics of food. Which, when you think about it, should be all of us.

It is no good relying on politicians to sort this out. It requires all of us to change the way we look at food, its costs, production, social, economic and environmental impact. Start by swapping your £3 for 22 meals and may be we might just start to begin to understand the politics and economics of food poverty.

We are often told we are all in it together. That should be a social reality, not political vacuity. We should all be looking out for each other better than we do at the moment.

Thank goodness for the Jacks of this world for giving us a sharp kick up the arse.

A Girl Called Jack – food for thought in every sense

I was going to say I came across A Girl Called Jack on one of my regular trawls of the Internet.

I didn’t.

It probably isn’t the sort of thing that would leap out of the search engine at me when I am looking for astronomy, Forteana, weird art, gaming or ordinary politics. It was recommended to me by someone who does pay more attention to the realities of life – and particularly the realities of other people’s lives.

Living in Southend, Jack brings the reality of living on the breadline very close to home. It makes for sobering reading – as well as prompting a long and hard think about the way we use (and abuse) food.

As usual in our cynical age, there are plenty of people, even in the hallowed forums of The Guardian, no doubt liberally-minded sorts comfortable in their middle-class family homes, who are quick to pour scorn and deride. I think that probably says more about them than her, failing to recognise that circumstances change and that you can lose a standard of living, as well as improve it.

Her recipes are obviously to be commended, especially if you are on a tight budget. Her post, Hunger Hurts, is a blistering read. It should be required reading for anyone engaged in politics – in any party and none.

Sell your house and seduce an Australian with simple, delicious, freshly-baked bread #recipe #cooking

It’s true!

You’ll make your house smell more homely if the fragrance of freshly baked bread is wafting through the rooms (assuming that your viewers don’t have coeliac disease). And a survey of 4000 Australians placed the smell of freshly baked bread at the top of the list.

The real reasons for baking your own bread though are:

1. It’s so tasty

2. You know what’s in it

3. It is totally easy

There is also enormous satisfaction to be had in creating something so fundamental to life and that has been baked with similar ingredients for centuries. With that in mind I’ve decided to share the version of the family bread recipe that has made it down the Partridge/Williams wing of the clan. The really great thing about bread is that once you have the basics you can experiment with all sorts of ingredients and create your own distinct variant. And believe me – bread come more basic than this!

You’ll need a few things: flour; water; salt; dried yeast; 1 mixing bowl; scales; measuring jug; 3 baking tins; small knob of butter; oven.

It’d help if you had a few other things but they are not essential: 3 tea towels; 1 wooden rolling board; oven gloves; 1 cooling wire rack.


Before I go on to the how, a little bit on flours. I use a variety of different ones, including strong brown bread flour, strong white bread flour, strong wholemeal bread flour and wholegrain rye flour. There’s nothing fancy or special about them and I usually get the 2kg bags (apart from the rye which seems to come in 1kg bags). I always use a mix, half and half, but you can mix them up as you like. My usual mix is half strong brown and half strong white. Half strong brown and half strong wholemeal is delicious. Being a diabetic in denial, but trying to face up to the fact of it, I did a half rye and half wholemeal mix today. More on that later. If you want a simple starter, go for half strong white and half strong brown.

The bread bit

Mixing your dough

Pour 2 pounds of strong brown flour into the mixing bowl.

Add 2 sachets of dried yeast.

Add 5 teaspoons of salt.

Add 2 pounds of strong white flour.

Add 2 pints of lukewarm water (I use lukewarm water to kick-start the yeast).

Easy – it is all 2s except the salt. I would keep a little flour and a little water on standby, too, just  in case you need to adjust the mix slightly. However, the 2s, if exactly measured, seem to just work and give a dough of great consistency.

Mix it all up. It’ll take about 10 minutes to knead your dough. To begin with it’ll feel dead icky and it’ll look like it’ll never come together. Just keep going, mixing it up and scrunching with your fingers. Eventually, it’ll turn into a beautiful dough which will be firm, springy and somehow just feel right. If it’s a little too sticky add a bit of flour and knead in. If it’s a little too dry, splash some water and knead in.

First rise

Next, cover your bowl with a tea towel and let the bread rise. I prefer a warm room and I like to give it a couple of hours. The dough should pretty much double in size and there’ll be an unmistakable yeasty smell.

Before you begin the next step, prepare your bread tins. Smear a third of the knob of butter around each of the bread tins with your fingers. This is so the loaves slip out easily after baking.

Second rise

Flour a wooden rolling board (or a sideboard), take the dough and knock it back down to size on the boad. I like to really smack it around at this point, rolling it, pummelling it and generally working out the frustrations of the week. When you have a nice, fleshy dough, roll it into a sausage and then slice into three equal pieces.  Note: this helps contain your nascent Dexter.

Take each piece of dough in turn and give it a further good going over. Roll the smaller pieces into three even sausages and plop them into the three baking tins.

Cover them with a tea towel and leave them to rise again. It’ll take around 45 minutes, depending on how warm the room is, and you want the dough to be 1.5cm to 2cm above the top of the tins. About half an hour into this second rise, put your oven on gas mark 7 and pre-heat your oven.


Once you think they are ready (remember – 1.5 to 2cm above the top of the tin) place your tins side-by-side in your oven.

Cook your loaves for 35 mins.

When the pinger goes, take one out, slip it out of the tin into your other hand and tap the base. It should sound hollow. If it does, you can take the others out. If not, slip it back into the tin, pop it back in the oven and give them another five minutes. (NB You’ll work this bit out, but it’s sensible to wear oven gloves.)

When you are finished, take them out of their tins, wrap each loaf in a tea towel and place it on the wire rack to cool.

Voilà! House-selling, Aussie-seducing goodness that you can impress your Gran with!

Half strong wholemeal and half wholegrain rye – no Australians in sight

Rye is different

Be warned that if you use rye, your rises will be very different. Rye rises more slowly, even in a fifty-fifty mix, and doesn’t rise as far. Today was my first go with rye (I’ve baked with wheat flours for twenty years) and it was a messy business. The dough is stickier and has a more granular consistency than a 100% wheat mix. I let it rise for sixteen hours and it barely doubled in size (it developed a semi-hard crust in that time that got crushed back into the dough on the pummelling for the second rise). I gave the dough around two and a half hours for the second rise and whacked the loaves in the oven at a smidgeon over 1cm above the tins. Cooking time was the same 35 mins.

And they are still delicious!

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