Are you feeling the pinch?

A recent report by INSEE, the French national statistical agency, shows that the average income is just €19,740 and that some 8.5 million people in France (14% of the population) live below the poverty line on just €8,540 a year, or €987 a month.

That is not a lot of money and whilst we live in a fairly wealthy part of France, I know of several people who are really struggling. I can only think the situation must be much worse in other parts of France. So how is it near you?

Well done. I don’t think I’d have the strength of character to go through all that.

Can’t be sustainable for France in the longer term, can it?

True, I know several families who earn more on benefits than they would working!

Indeed my partner's ex is on allocs and earns more than my partner, whose job pays well above the smic!

Plus she's in cheap HLM housing and last year got almost 1000€ from the CAF to take the kids on holiday for a week!

My partner calculated that if he left his job, he would get a decent chomage plus allocs - and be better off. He's in the process of negotiating a new mortgage so needs to stay employed, otherwise the temptation to become unemployed would win!

Touch wood it continues, but I am now earning a very good living

But after I closed my business in 2010 it took a while to get back on my feet and my monthly earnings were rarely above 500€. It didn't even cover my mortgage. Some weeks I only ate every other day and had both elec and water turned off.

My heart really goes out to people living below the poverty line - I would have lost the plot had it not been for great neighbours, help from the community and French people's solidarity in times of crisis.

At least, having seen and done it all, I can now help people pull through.

Wish I had a magic wand Helen...

struggling is not the word for us in Manche and not looking like it's going to get easier. Because the conseil generale had given me allocation adulte handicappé for 2 years we had no rsa which blocked all reinsertion contracts for my French husband (unemployed for 2 years now after the end of a cdd) I haven't even bothered to renew the aah claim and have instead changed my party planning vdi status to micro entrepreneur only last month. Hopefully I will be able to add some teaching to the business too. In the meantime despite my contacting caf on 1 June about the change of status etc, no one called back as promised so I chased it up and they have finally told us we need to make a completely new claim for rsa which will take min 6 weeks so no allocations bar apl next month. Dreading it as it's going to be tough especially with it being school holidays and having to entertain the youngest

We are also going around in circles as neither of us drive - to learn to drive we need to either have a good job to pay for lessons or ask for a grant BUT no one will employ us as we have no means of transport. I was offered a few weeks of teaching which I could hardlt refuse BUT I was walking min 8 km per day, some days the full route of 16 km

Doreen, that was the point I made about saucisson IF someone needs weaning off meat as opposed to commpletely cutting it out of the diet or regime, or even budget.

Although I am now 95% vegetarian I am not a fanatic, or evangelical about it. It definitely saves a LOT of money, but once in a while I do fancy a bit of chicken or as i said a bit of saucisson amongst the lentilles.

Re leftovers, well not too many of those in our house, we budget to eat the stuff not save it up and then end up throwing it away. Yes, the garnishing can be anything almost, as can the vegetarian mixes, which is why I do get surprised why restaurants are not forthcoming with the option.

Wonderful Norman, I have just cut and paste your whole message into my recipe section :) I tend to be quite boring in my "cooking": tin of tuna and some lettuce, but I need to be more creative for my gourmet French OH ( who is a wonderful cook, but doesnt keep an eye on costs) so that I can wean him a little off meat. The other day I was really pleased with myself as I made a nettle and dandlelion leaf soup for myself and it cost zero, apart from a little electricity to heat it. The OH wouldn't go near it though ;-)

Try this one; Vegetarian Cottage Pie

Do exactly as you would do with any other cottage pie (ie boil potatoes and mash them) but replace the meat with red lentils. My wife tends to soak lentils overnight, but I admit to just using canned lentils, then augment with carrots and sliced onions. Heat and place in a Pyrex-type dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the lentils and carrot mix, then cover (according to taste) with grated cheese. Put the whole lot under a grill (to brown the cheese), and bobs your uncle! Usually serve with a bit of green salad, but that's not essential.

If you need to wean your husband away from meat, I admit that sometimes when I am on my own I use the big can of Lentilles & Saucisson (800g) from Lidl), and then I have a meal for two clear days, even with my relatively healthy appetite. I invariably plus up the vegetables - carrots etc. though just the same. NB this meal costs less than €2 - not bad for two days, and very tasty and acceptable.

One of my simplest favorites is Cauliflower au gratin, which I find is a meal in itself and dead simple even for me to make (I don't do the sauce she uses, just again grate cheese over the steamed cauliflower and under the grill!)

Winter dishes do tend to be thick vegetable soups according to season. A dash of Marmite or Vegemite gives these a bit of a zip I find,or a cube of stock, but always good, and varied because of availability.

She also does stuffed aubergines, cold soups from courgettes with mint and a host of other things.

In the Summer yes, loads of salads mostly with fish, and the Lidl salmon strips are very good for this when grilled, but cans of tuna and sardines are also ideal. A good (not mayonnaise as it kills the other flavours) dressing does make all the difference here, but salads are only limited by your imagination, but apart from the obvious lettuce, sliced but not cooked onions can surprise and please the palette. Red and Green peppers, corn (canned or off the cob), radishes, cheese cubes (often also used as a meat substitute), Roquet is another favorite of hers, but it is not to my taste, but grows well.

Her growing garden is totally herbs, but with recent addition of tomatoes which came as gifts. So things like chives, basil, even verveine will often be added to dishes.

There are two essential pieces of equipment in her kitchen - the blender and the bread-maker. She does NOT use a microwave but a standard oven at all times as she feels she has more control over the process this way plus no loss of vitamins, so who am I to argue?

I will take out the manuscript and see what other things she has prepared. These are the things I do for myself now when I am on my own, so even your hubby can do them believe me!

She also does simple things like Polenta and Cornburgers etc. the list tends to go on....

I've never cooked any vegetatarian meals Norman but I'd be interested if your missus would like to share one or two.... I'd have a go at cooking them, my OH is like you a meal without meat is unheard of.


my wife certainly can, and has written a yet as unpublished menu book , which through misplaced modesty she won't let me finish off.

It has a title and a theme 'Feeding the Brute - Vegetarian Meals for Carnivores' which she worked on before my Diabetes 2 made it more interesting and sensible to me. I still want her to round it off, but she says it needs more than the 50 meals she has in it currently (at least I think that was the last count).

I was the original carnivore and a meal without meat was unheard of for over 50 years. I was amazed at how good the meals were and are, and how quickly I was weaned of dead animals for sustenance.

I am not sure about the Vegan regime though.

Perhaps vegetarianism is the answer to many woes!

Would be interesting to know how many people can prepare

and cook interesting vegetarian meals.

My first restaurant was vegan.

When living in Norwood I went to a KFC in Croydon in 1974 and while I waited at the counter I could see into the kitchen as they’d accidentally left the door open. There was a guy running (dead) chickens through a circular saw. I have never had a KFC since.

A few years back I 'risked' a chicken nuggets & chips in the Rue St Catherine branch of the KFC - I was violently ill one hour later !

Yes, something a bit extra when you know you don't have to look after it., This goes a full 180° and is beautiful and probably the main or key reason for buying the house - but we love the house as well, plus it was in budget (i.e. low) so we have now been here for four years with not one ounce of regret.

We also have superb neighbours - so what more could one ask for?

In the event of a power cut Rue St Catherine without the neon might just be dumped in a planner's plastic recycling bin. Mostly overprice tat there.

Inevitable, yes, but planning? Do they really?

Lovely view, Norman. We will have a massive field of sunflowers view soon. Free of charge and is better than watching the TV :)

Funny how this discussion started with 'feeling the pinch'?