The Savvy Student blog: your indispensable guide to fine living for students who can’t afford it.
Student living doesn’t have to be Pot Noodle and Primark. I’ll be giving you lots of hints and tips as to how to save money on the basics and how to be creative with the luxuries.
My name is Sienna Lula Somers. I am a model and a student. Whether I will be a model student remains to be seen. I am studying Zoology at the University of Exeter Penryn campus in Falmouth, commencing in September 2014. I was called Sienna long before it entered the list of most popular girl’s names. And Lula because my father was walking through Dovedale singing Be Bop-a-Lula she’s my baby.
My going-away-to-university presents were a fishing rod, a Japanese kitchen knife and a set of vintage china. My stepfather and I went down to the canal below our cottage and caught a bucket of signal crayfish with my new rod that same day. The previous night, my celebratory dinner for getting my place at university consisted of bone marrow, free from the butcher. With champagne, of course.
The idea for this blog came to me because I know from experience that I can eat really good food for free, or very cheaply, which then leaves more money to spend on life’s luxuries. Although even luxuries can be free – I’m soon going to attempt to make my own champagne from the invasive Himalayan Balsam plants lining the hedgerows.
When I was a baby, my Dad apparently used to go to the supermarket at 7.50pm every day and haggle with the manageress for the last of the soon-to-be expired products, often returning with a shopping bag full of duck or a 50p turkey at Christmas. More recently, he has shown me where to find great prices at wholesalers for Chinese and Indian ingredients.
Mumma grows vegetables in our cottage garden in Staffordshire and makes jams, jellies and desserts from hedgerow finds. I remember when I used to go to pony club at a beautiful public school nearby, she always used to park under the apple tree when she collected me in order to surreptitiously scoop the windfalls into her car. It’s amazing what we find in the hedges around our cottage; not just the usual rosehips which we use for smoked chilli jelly (delicious on butternut squash) but plenty of gooseberries and raspberries too. An abandoned orchard nearby provides a constant supply of damsons and apples through the autumn – I love damson ice cream.
My mother is a fashion designer and I have been going to London Fashion Week for years. Keep your eyes open for my insider knowledge about where to buy great clothes for less, from designer sample sales to the best vintage shops. I just bought a vintage Gucci clutch bag for £3, so I really do know where to find the bargains!
My stepfather is the chef of the family and dinner every night is like going out to a restaurant. He used to work in a Cordon Bleu French restaurant in the US, but now he just cooks for us. Dinner might be roadkill pheasant, nettle soup, dandelion ravioli or free sweetbreads from the butcher, a delicacy in so many places but apparently unwanted locally. While most of our neighbours stamp on the snails in their garden or throw them over the wall, my stepfather collects our garden snails, purges them on home-grown organic lettuce, and cooks them with garlic for dinner.
Holidays are often spent in Branscombe, a small village nestled in a deep valley where my Mum’s family have lived for 500 years. Branscombe used to grow the earliest potatoes in England, and I walk down the Jug and Basin path to the beach which was used by donkeys in the past to transport the seaweed to fertilise the potatoes. The rockpools below are filled with shrimps, which are coaxed from underneath the large rocks and tickled into nets.
Winkles, mussels and even limpets are collected from the shoreline, whilst the sea lettuce is dried and taken home, used later in everything from savoury dishes to a seaweed salt caramel sauce poured over ice cream. Mackerel are plentiful and when we are bored with the bar-b-q variety, we make mackerel sushi or ceviche. My great-grandfather, who grew up in the village, was a real poacher, catching all sorts of game in the grounds of the local grammar school at night.
Myself, I’ve been cooking since I could hold a wooden spoon and some of my earliest Christmas presents were an apron and mixing bowl. I love animals but am pragmatic about them too. I helped in the upbringing of two piglets, Bubble and Squeak, who I later ate. Sticky pork ribs are one of my favourite meals.
Whether you are on the coast like me, or in a city centre, there is free and cheap food to be found everywhere. My grandparents live in central London and they are always out gathering wild plums or crab apples.