Thrifty Kitchen: Over 120 Delicious, Money-saving Recipes and Home Hacks
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She tells me she woke at 6.15am, got dressed, pottered around, let the dog out, fed the cat, did all the routine things. Then she sat on her bed to put her boots on, and the next thing she remembers is waking up at 2pm. I ask why she is so exhausted. “I’ve just been overdoing it recently. Everybody’s been saying, ‘You need to slow down.’”
People say you’ve taken money, I start to say. “Yes: ‘She’s a fraud, she’s a liar, a thief, a chancer.’ I’ve heard it all.” How do you answer that – you don’t seem like a fraud to me, but it does look as if you’ve taken a lot of money. “I’ve been an absolute chaos. I’ve been very ill, physically and mentally.”I just wanted to put the brakes on for a bit and go, right, I’m going to work normal human hours, spend some quality time with my son and have a quiet time,” she says. That lasted for a couple of months. “Then the cost of living crisis hit, and I did a tweet, and life went nuts.” While the chef is vegan, all his recipes are written to be easily adapted for dairy, fish and meat so people can make use of whatever is in the fridge to ensure less food waste. A month later, Monroe was in the news again, after celebrating the return of more budget items to her local branch of Asda. (Asda said they had “taken onboard” Monroe’s comments and were making their cheaper lines more available). Now, as winter draws in, the 34-year-old is busier than ever, fielding interview requests to debate the cost of living crisis and dish out advice. Alongside her activism, she is still writing cookbooks (the next one, her seventh, is Thrifty Kitchen, published in January).
She has been in recovery for about 18 months, and tries to go to 12-step meetings every day. “One of the things about being in recovery is you sit down and assess your life. You do what we call a moral inventory. You go over five years at a time, and identify things you’ve done, things other people have done, and you look for the clues.” What has she discovered about herself? “From a very young age I’ve had a self-destruct button.” I got really depressed and had severe anorexia. My parents said, ‘You need to start eating otherwise you’re going to die’ Now an award-winning cookery writer, TV presenter and campaigner against hunger in the UK, she’s penned six best-selling cookbooks, including Cooking On A Bootstrap, helping people on a budget create delicious dishes from basic store cupboard ingredients.
Monroe is the anti-poverty campaigner and food writer who kept herself going by making the most of her pennies. She showed us how to survive in the age of austerity by being frugal in the extreme – making meals for 30p, and reusing every leftover. But I’m about to find out that it wasn’t as straightforward as that. It was when she was training to transfer from the control room to become a firefighter that she became pregnant with her son, who is now 12. She found the shift work was incompatible with motherhood. Her union rep told her she would probably win at an employment tribunal because she had not been offered flexible working, but Monroe decided to walk away from her decently paid job without a fuss. “It’s ironic, because I said, ‘Don’t pursue it because I don’t want to end up in the papers.’ I didn’t want the attention.” For her first year at grammar school, she was top-of-the-class swotty. “Everyone thought I was going to get 15 A* GCSEs and be a doctor.” At 12, she crashed. “I got really depressed and had severe anorexia. I stopped trying at school. My parents said, ‘You need to start eating otherwise you’re going to die.’” She sends me a photo of herself from that period in which she looks skeletal.