Thursday, 31 January 2013

Slimming my bin - week 2

We're enjoying our waste rehab programme, Slim Your Bin, run by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust! We pride ourselves on being pretty good at recycling, especially as Husband works in waste management. If anyone knows their polyethylenes from their polypropylenes it's him. But taking part in the programme has shown us that there's no room for complacency.

What have we learnt so far?

  • Although we recycle our plastic bottles in the cardboard and plastic wheelie bin, our household recycling centres will take all plastics - thick polythene, plastic pots and tubs, plastic toys and garden furniture.
  • You can put stretchy polythene into the supermarket carrier bag collection points.
  • There is a collection point for pens and biscuit wrappers at the Rowde Community Shop.
  • We could do better with our bulk buying. We haven't got a big house with lots of kitchen storage, but this week we've started tackling this one by buying a big sack of potatoes and a big bag of bargain basmati rice from Lidl.

7.5kg of spuds and 5kg of rice should
keep us going for a while.

  • We could improve our reuse of packaging. We already save polythene bags and cereal packets for reuse,

Cereal packets rinsed and drying in the sun last spring.

but we have now also started cutting lots of other packets carefully so they can be reused too: Son took his sandwiches to school wrapped in an old crisp packet the other day. Turned inside out these look like foil, so the embarrassment factor is reduced. Pasta packets are also good and strong for reusing. With a refilled raisin box and an apple, that's one packed lunch sorted!

The kitchen drawer is filling with packaging to reuse!

  • We try to minimise packaging on fruit and veg coming into the house and get a fortnightly veg and fruit box, but we are going to get round to making or sourcing some reusable bags for when we buy veg at the green grocer or supermarket, and which could be used at the health food shop too. (The Slim Your Bin project is running a crafty make-your-own-bags workshop but I can't get there).
  • Decanting items from larger bags into your own containers (such as biscuits and crisps) will result in less packaging than buying smaller individual packs. The lunch box market is huge in the UK, with mini packs of just about everything. Stop and think: cute as they are, do you really need those mini packs of Oreos!
  • We're working out what we can stop coming into the house in the first place. You'll remember that for zero waste week last year, we found out about recycling Tetrapak cartons. They can be recycled at our local recycling centre, but that means a 5 mile drive, so eventually we decided that for us it is better to boycott Tetrapaks altogether, which is not that difficult. Our main Tetrapak culprits used to be fruit juice and passata cartons, both of which can be obtained in other formats. And I'm sure there are other items we could also bypass.
At the beginning of Slim Your Bin, our weekly non-recyclable waste was just under 800g. As part of the project we have to decide on our target for the weigh-in at the end of the project! How low do you think we should go?!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Food Waste Friday for the strong stomached - Burns Night (or things that look like p**)

Hooray! It's a good food waste week. Or rather a good lack of food waste week.

Only a little bit of bread and rice for the chickens.

And this.

Thing that looks like p** - specimen 1

It was originally a really nice pear and chocolate sponge, but the last morsel got overlooked and had been in the fridge since I don't know when. In real life it didn't look so human waste-like and I can assure you that that wasn't the reason it didn't get eaten.

Moving swiftly on; 25th January is Burns Night, celebrating the birth of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns.

At this time of year, I'll clutch at anything that will bring a bit of celebratory spirit into the house, so it doesn't matter that we're not Scottish and don't know anything about Burns really. Tonight I'm happy to show solidarity with my Scottish friends and eat haggis. Veggie haggis naturally. I won't take my pseudo Scottishness so far as to start messing around with stomachs and livers and other offal, although I know it's probably a very frugal option. Fortunately the veggie alternative is frugal too.

I found my recipe on the Guardian website here. Unfortunately I made the mistake of reading through the readers' comments on the recipe, which made a lot of reference to the photo of the veggie haggis' similarity to....., you've guessed it. (I hope that by getting that out of the way, I'll save you from leaving a comment here suggesting the same thing. Although you lot are a much more polite bunch than the snidey types who leave comments on the Guardian website.)

Thing that looks like p** - specimen 2, served with 
tatties and neeps (and cabbage)

Son couldn't get over the eew factor, and wouldn't eat it, but the rest of us thought it was delicious. It's certainly very filling, and there's none left over so you needn't worry about any more unaesthetically pleasing photos of haggis in next week's FWF blog post. We didn't follow the traditional Burns Night protocol, and we hadn't got the Address to the Haggis to hand, so we made do with the Silver Tassie instead (not the most appropriate poem for our dry January).

To be honest, I had really planned to get a MacSween's veggie haggis. Always tasty and hitherto, cheap. There were none in the local supermarket and the health food shop proprietor said he has stopped stocking them as they have become too expensive. Which is a shame, as I for one, would be happy to try and balance two veggie haggises on my shoulders.

Kate and Veg
There are several versions of the veggie haggis 
according to the MacSween website.

Fortunately the Guardian version wasn't too difficult to make. I had most of the ingredients in the kitchen already, and I'm inspired to see what else I can do with pinhead oatmeal, other than the obvious.

If you think cooking haggis would be a faff and you would prefer to catch a wild haggis, watch this short Scottish film, about wild food foraging! (The haggis catching is at the end).

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Simple Things - the Seasons

One of my very favourite things about blogging has been the fact that in my 8 months of writing I have been more aware than ever of this tilted earth's journey around the sun. It seems ironic that blogging, a digital activity that is not at all weather dependent or bound by the calendar should help heighten such sensory awareness, but for me, it has. 

Here in the south west of the UK, the season's boundaries can sometimes seem blurred into weeks and months of mild damp greyness, but I know for sure that although 2012 was a wet year it wasn't always raining.

In spring there were fresh green leaves, blossom and seedlings, even if we did end up with a poor harvest.

In the summer there were some hot, lazy days with picnics, swimming and outdoor dominoes.

And just two and a half short months ago, the woods were afire with orange and yellow leaves.

Now there is snow on the ground, and a snowman and a snowdog in the garden. After a monochrome week, it seems that it was always like this, but I know that just like the blossom, the shade of the summer trees, and the vibrant autumnal colours, the snow too will soon pass.

"No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn." Hal Borland

Monday, 21 January 2013

Giveaway winner and a slimming binner.

Firstly, the results of the recent giveaway for the little Food for Free book.

There were nine commenters, of which one (Dan of Zen Presence) didn't actually want/need the book, so then there were eight.

All the names went on the back of an envelope, were torn and folded into tiny pieces, and one lucky winner was drawn at random.

Live and Learn please do email me your address and I'll post the book to you with great pleasure. I always enjoy a visit to Live and Learn's blog and the window onto daily life in her corner of the world, so far away from mine, that it gives, and if you ever bother to read the comments on my blog posts you'll know that L&L is a truly faithful commenter here (as well as several other blogs) and always takes the time to share an experience or a thoughtful insight.

That's the nice part of this blog post over with. Prepare to hold your noses as what comes next may be a bit smelly!

I told you here, that I was going to take part in Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Slim Your Bin project, which officially starts today, and I am true to my word, despite the rather unsavoury nature of the first assignment.

The initial task was to weigh a week's worth of domestic waste (not the recyclables) and analyse it.

A week's waste at Everyday Life On A Shoestring

I had been intending to get a blog post about this written over the weekend, but as you can imagine, there were a million other things to do (like building snowmen and throwing snowballs!) that somehow seemed much more appealing than ferreting about at the bottom of our bin.

However I forced myself to do it this evening, and it was an edifying exercise. The photo above is our non-recyclable waste for the week, removed from our kitchen bin. It doesn't include bathroom waste, as Husband disposed of it this week before I could get to it, but most of that was recyclable anyway (cardboard toilet roll tubes, empty plastic mouthwash bottle etc).

Some of the many empty packets of stuff we ate this week.

There's not much waste (under a kilo) in terms of mass, and it doesn't take up much room, but actually there's loads. Mostly it was loads and loads and LOADS of plastic food packaging! Frozen raspberries, chicken, potatoes, oven chips, cheese, biscuits, nuts, muesli, chocolate, bananas, ham and more. We ate it all. The healthy stuff and the not so healthy stuff. 

I will be really interested to hear about how, short of not eating, we can reduce some of that kind of waste. Just sifting through it has given me a few ideas; for instance there's really no need to buy pre-packed bananas. They could be purchased loose without a bag, and we could invest in a big paper sack of potatoes, rather than smaller amounts in plastic bags, which would probably save us money too. If I got really clever, I could make my own reusable bags to buy fruit and veg in. I'm sure there must be plenty of other things we could do.

My rummage through the bin also revealed that I'm pretty ignorant about what some of the recyclable symbols actually mean. The one above, is on some thin plastic, but I have no idea where I could recycle it locally. I'm hoping that participating in the project will clarify the complex plastics recycling issue for me.

Apart from recycling, how do you minimise your domestic waste (especially food packaging)?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Food Waste Friday - the chilly one!

Last week was the week food waste hit the national headlines; the Institute of Mechanical Engineers produced a report on Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, "found that between 30% and 50% or 1.2-2bn tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate." (The Guardian). 

The Guardian was peddling advice which is old news to all of us, but it's good to see the message hitting a wider audience; do buy 'ugly' fruit and veg (in the UK 30% of vegetables that are grown are not even harvested because they don't meet the standards that supermarkets and consumers demand), do cook from scratch, do treat sell-by and best-before dates with scepticism. And as we know, all these measures will save you money: for the average UK family the Guardian reckons possibly £50 a month.

Home made pasties...
and  fruit loaves.

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I willingly do all of those things (no horse meat burgers in our freezer). But achieving zero food waste is hard. This week we very nearly got there but sadly waved goodbye to a tub of coleslaw, that had been bought on a reduced label. A bargain isn't a bargain if you don't really need it, and salad and coleslaw haven't been a popular option in recent cold weather.

Today's snow!

You don't see the Narnia effect often in Wiltshire
so you've got to work it into a blog post somehow!

I partially atoned for the wasted coleslaw. We rarely eat out, but when we do, do we stop thinking about food waste? After a recent pizza meal gift from a member of the family, we took the leftover bits of pizza home in a box, but we also asked for an extra box to bring home all the salad leftovers (including coleslaw), pizza crusts and pasta twists for the chickens. It may well be that Pizza Hut has a food waste recycling system, but at least I know for sure that our food waste ended up being recycled into eggs.

Other chilly food waste advice! If you are bringing your shopping home on a sledge, make sure you don't lose any items when you bump the sledge up the kerb! We lost a bag of flour this way today. Retracing our steps, we recovered our escaping red lentils (although coleslaw may be unpopular there's a run on tomato and lentil soup!), but not the malted flour. I hope the finder makes a good loaf.

For more food waste news, watch ITV's Tonight programme What a Waste broadcast yesterday and available to watch on ITV catch up.

And don't forget to enter the Food for Free giveaway on this blog; just leave a comment on yesterday's blog post!

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

What's in season this season? And the first giveaway of the year!

Synchronicity was at play this Christmas.

Husband's main Christmas present from me was the Collins gem guide Food for Free by Richard Mabey.  And one of my favourite presents was a tea towel (thanks Mum!) Yes, really. 

It's a seasonal guide to British wild foods.

So now we're pretty well covered when it comes to identifying wild foods.

And we have no excuse for not knowing what's in season.

According to Richard Mabey it's chickweed, oyster mushrooms and velvet shank.

Chickweed is at its freshest in the new year and has a taste similar to mild lettuce. You can cook it or use it in a winter salad.

Chickweed - commonly found in hedgerows and  gardens.

Oyster mushrooms are obviously and velvet shank not so obviously, fungi. Now, I'm not very confident about foraging mushrooms. Intellectually I accept Mabey's argument that, "Wild fungi are the most misunderstood and maligned of all wild foods. There are 3000 species of large-bodied fungi growing in the British isles, yet only twenty-odd of these are seriously poisonous." But unfortunately, as he later goes on to say, many of the poisonous suspects closely resemble edible fungi, so there's plenty of room for confusion. I guess you really need to know what you are doing. 

The good news about velvet shank is that it is one of the few fungi able to survive severe frosts, so at this time of year there's not much chance of it being confused with anything else. Check out The Mushroom Diary blog for some photos and identification tips.

My tea towel tells a different story to the gem guide. According to its unbleached cotton calendar, (way too organic and useful to be used for drying up!) chestnuts, cow parsley and juniper berries are the things to look out for. Chestnuts I can do. Without even having to leave the house as I have some left from Christmas, sitting in a bowl in the kitchen.

Cow parsley

Cow parsley is the closest wild relative of chervil. I thought I'd be certain at identifying it, until I checked Food for Free and found that I should be careful not to confuse it with hemlock or fool's parsley. Oh dear. It seems that this foraging lark might be harder than it first appears. Maybe I need to find a foraging friend, with good botanical knowledge.  In the meantime Richard Mabey does give clear guidelines on identifying the edible and the inedible. 

And even if you never set foot near a hedgerow, woodland or field, Mabey is a wonderful writer and it's a pleasure to read his descriptions and suggestions for cooking.

Where's all this leading?

When I saw that The Works had Food for Free in their sale (if only I'd waited until after Christmas to get Husband his Christmas present!), I felt it my duty to get a copy for one of you. Just leave a comment by 7pm on Sunday 20th January, and a winner will be selected at random.

If you prefer to stick to bought and home grown foods, then British fruit and veg that are seasonal this month are: apples, pears, broccoli, brussels' sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, onions, parsnips, pears, potatoes, pumpkins, swede and turnips. 

And of course, as my tea towel says, this blog post "is intended as a guide only, do not use for identifying plants or fungi. Similar looking species may kill you!"

I'd love to hear your experiences of foraging for wild food.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Simple Things - Kite Flying

Boxing Day Kite Flying

Reasons to fly a kite

Cheap (you don't need a fancy, stunt kite). You could make your own.

Feel the wind in your face and fresh air in your lungs.

The magical, exhilarating moment, (after you've untangled the string a million times 
and spent a long time throwing kites up in the air only for them to flop back down to the ground), when the kite is finally sailing and soaring into the clouds.

The memories of all the other kites you've ever owned, 
and places you've flown them, and people you've flown them with.

They're refreshingly undigital. No plug, no charger.

Kites nourish the soul in a way that not many other toys do.

Kites have a 2500 year history and tales to tell. They can be sport or art.

To remind yourself that for all our human complicatedness and machinery, nothing much can beat running around at the top of a hill or on a beach throwing a piece of fabric at the wind.

And if kite flying really isn't for you, then why not go and run around at the top of a big hill all the same!

Westbury White Horse

Friday, 11 January 2013

Food Waste Friday - first food waste cake of the year!

Sadly there was more Christmas food waste this week; the last of the pate, now very out of date, and a gooseberry fool. The chickens rejected a small chunk of camembert this week, so we won't even try them with the pate or the fool.

We've been eating our way through leftovers and things in the freezer to keep January a low spend month. Even the fruit bowl, that had been full of variety on New Year's Eve, this week was down to some lonely oranges, bought for Christmassy recipes. As a fruit to be consumed in their natural state, they are never especially popular here; we're a lazy bunch, and an orange represents too much hard work - all that peeling, the pith, the squirting of juice in all directions...give us clementines, any day!

Fortunately I have a really good orangey cakey recipe, that Daughter, all fired up by the prospect of her impending first ever cookery lessons at school, was eager to attempt, unaided, last Sunday.

Chocolate, Orange and Almond Torte

It really is exceptionally yummy and you can kid yourself that it's almost healthier than an orange itself; no fat is added, it's gluten free and the dark chocolate has all those anti0xidants. It's a torte rather than a cake, so it's thin and suitably January-ish. (Ours is a bit thinner than intended. Due to 12 year olds not having much experience at separating eggs the egg whites weren't whisked on their own, as they should have been!) It must be packed with vitamin C, as the sponge is soaked with orange juice, so it's even good for warding off seasonal bugs and viruses.

Despite the torte's healthful benefits, it was a Sunday treat only, and the rest of the week we were feasting on humbler concoctions such as food waste smoothie that was more of a yogurt icecream, made with some of last week's frozen apple juice, a frozen yogurt, frozen food waste grapes and raspberries, and a banana.

Apart from the banana, this was all stuff that, in pre-Food Waste Friday days, might have been left to go well past its sell-by date and thrown away or composted, so it was an extra satisfying dessert. 

Chocolate, Orange and Almond Torte

(for the cake)
4 large eggs separated
175g caster sugar
grated rind of 3 large oranges
110g ground almonds

(for the syrup)
juice of 3 large oranges
caster sugar
brandy (optional)

(for the topping)
100g plain chocolate
100g milk chocolate
double cream
toasted flaked almonds

Pre-heat oven to 220 deg c, gas mark 7.

Grease a 9 inch round cake tin.

  • Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they are thick and creamy. Add the orange rind and mix well. Gradually beat in the ground almonds.
  • In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold into the almond mixture. Pour the mixture into the tin.
  • Cook for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 160 deg c, gas mark 3 and cook for a further 15 minutes. The cake will rise and fall down again.
  • While the cake is cooking, make the syrup. Strain the orange juice and stir in as much sugar as required (we only used a teaspoon). Add the brandy if using. 
  • Remove the cake from the tin and place on a serving dish. Pour the syrup over the cake. Allow to cool.
  • Melt the chocolate and cream in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Pour over the cake and sprinkle with toasted almonds.
Notes: We didn't use as much chocolate, and used plain chocolate only. You'll also see from the picture that we didn't have any almonds to put on top.

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Little treats!

Simple soups are truly wonderful, really, and I know I said that Christmas was over in our house, but gingerbread houses are just what's required when you need a pick-me-up after the first day back at work and school!

Gingerbread house - before...

It's even better when the gingerbread house was a free blog giveaway from Simply Being Mum! Thanks Jo! We hadn't got around to making it until yesterday when we realised it would be just the thing to do to cheer us up on the last day of the holidays and to feed the extra mouths we have in the house after school on a Tuesday.

We passed a happy half hour constructing it and proved that:

  • It's always worth entering blog giveaways!
  • Aldi gingerbread houses travel through the post very well. The only thing to suffer was a sugar child's head and we managed to perform lifesaving surgery with a bit of icing.
  • Maybe we need an icing bag, although at least our snow looks as if it is suitably melting into the New Year.
  • Sugar decoration letters, with which we were going to write New Year messages on the roof, cannot be kept two years after their sell by date; I'd never seen a weevil before but I think I have now!
  • Gingerbread still tastes nice in January; this is my favourite kind of soft gingerbread. In fact this is the best gingerbread house we've ever sampled; it beats an IKEA one we had a few years ago, that didn't want to stick together (although maybe that's hardly surprising given the reputation of some of their flat pack furniture...)
  • And lastly, it takes no time at all for three hungry boys to deconstruct a gingerbread house:

Gingerbread house - after....

Monday, 7 January 2013

Simple Things - Soup

The decorations are down, the Christmas tree's gone and our diet is simpler.

Soup and bread on the table have been a welcome sight.

Last week we've worked our way through leftover parsnip and celery soup, and today was a load of old lentils.

Just plain old tomato and lentil soup. Comes up trumps every time, even though the photograph may not be very flattering! The recipe is below, but you can mess around with the ingredients without altering the end result, e.g. less tinned tomatoes, but add tomato puree or passata. It's one of those recipes where you don't really need to measure anything. You can also add bacon for a meatier version; just fry it at the same stage as the onions.

Tomato and Red Lentil Soup

2 - 3 tins of chopped or plum tomatoes (or 1kg fresh)
200g lentils
2 onions
1.25 l veg stock
Basil or mixed dried herbs

1. Peel and chop the onion and fry until golden.
2. Add lentils (rinse first), followed by tomatoes, stock and seasoning. Stir well.
3. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes.
4. Blend the soup, adjust the seasoning and if necessary thin it down with stock, according to taste.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Food Waste Friday - the Christmas review!

So how did we do?

One of my favourite Christmas cards!

We certainly haven't contributed to the 2m turkeys, 5m Christmas puddings and 74m mince pies (source: lovefoodhatewaste) that Britons will have reportedly wasted this Christmas. 

We had a modest free range chicken for our Christmas bird, that was used up entirely. The leftover Christmas pudding is in the freezer for a treat later in the year, and the spare Christmas pudding will keep until next Christmas. There is some mincemeat in the fridge, but that will last a bit longer and provide a couple of desserts over the next month.

Cubed bread for croutons

Aside from not over-buying in the first place, the freezer has been our main ally in reducing Christmas food waste. Leftover bread has been frozen as croutons (thanks to Zoe from Eco Thrifty Living for this tip a while back), and leftover veg will help keep January a low veg spend month. The freezer also has other unusual contents; apple juice very near to the fermenting stage was frozen in ice cubes to be used in smoothies, or for slowcooking ham or pork, or cooking with red cabbage. Fruit yogurts just past their sell by dates are about to go in the freezer for smoothies and yogurt cakes. And Husband seems to have stockpiled jars of olives so any surplus that are open will also be frozen for pasta sauces and pizzas.

The cheese situation is mostly under control although a small amount of cottage cheese gone mouldy makes up pretty much the only food waste. There's no need for any cheese freezing. Stilton and cranberry sauce on toast has been popular, and the return to packed lunches should use up extra cheese next week.

All in all, not toooo bad!!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Slimming in 2013?

It's the time of year when the thoughts of some people turn to slimming. Healthy diets, exercise programmes, reinventing yourself - you know the sort of thing.

We're no different. Except fortunately, none of us desperately need to lose weight.

Everyday Life On A Shoestring says 
regular wading through puddles and streams
helps maintain a healthy weight!

No, we're planning to take part in Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Slim Your Bin project. Based on Karen Cannard's Rubbish Diet, the project is an 8 week programme designed to reduce waste and save money. Each week there will be a different focus, such as bathroom waste, food waste or decluttering. There will be events, newsletters, and the opportunity to follow the progress of the households involved. You'll be hearing more about it here in the weeks to come.

The saving money aspect of the Slim Your Bin project is particularly appealing to us this year as it looks increasingly likely that Husband will be subject to a Slim Your Job project too, run by his employer (except they call it 'restructuring' or even possibly 'redundancy'). 

Which way will 2013 take us?

To offset a reduced income or loss of one income altogether, in common with lots of you, we're watching every penny, saving all that we can, and plotting various ideas for generating alternative sources of income. This includes reducing our outgoings even more, and looking forward to our own Slim Your Mortgage project, when our mistimed 5 year fixed-at-a-silly-rate, pre-recession deal comes to an end later this year.

So if you've ever wondered where the 'shoestring' element of this blog title comes in, it should be present this year more than ever. But hopefully still with a good dose of everyday life and simple things thrown in too.

Chinese lantern flowers at Long Dean, 2 Jan 2013

And to return to the theme of healthy living, we're all intending to keep healthy and active, and to stay positive, so expect lots more healthy food and good old Wiltshire fresh air! And maybe the odd cake (only to use up the food waste, right?!) too.

Bybrook Valley, 2 Jan 2013