Thursday, 28 February 2013

Slim Your Bin - Clean but Green

The theme for the Slim Your Bin project a couple of weeks ago was cleaning. All the bottles and packets create extra waste, and the sponges and scourers too. Not only that but the cleaning products themselves can be damaging to the environment.

Housekeeping is not one of my strong points and I'm certainly not guilty of spending hours squirting anti-bacterial products and bleach around the house or even their natural equivalents, but I'm going to use my 'lite' cleaning methods as the first green cleaning tip:

#1 Less cleaning = less waste = less pollution; sounds good to me! 

On the other hand, it's important to remember that the most important ingredient in cleaning is elbow grease. A bit of hard graft with a damp cloth, a duster and a squirty thing filled with white vinegar cleaner (see below) will work wonders!

The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust provided us Waste Watchers with plenty of other ideas, some of which you may be familiar with and some you may not:

2012-08-29 09.45.17.jpg
Sister's old PJs being put to use as dusters!

#2 E-cloths don't require any cleaning products so are a good eco-friendly choice. And of course, you can reuse old clothes by cutting them up for dusters and cloths. (My sister sent me the photo above to prove she was getting good value out of some spotty pyjamas I gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago. How sweet!)

#3 Instead of cleaning sponges, buy a large loofah and cut it up into smaller chunks. Coconut fibre scourers are also available. If like me, you currently use regular cleaning sponges, get the maximum use out of them by washing in the washing machine or dishwasher, and reusing. Replacing sponges is my next green cleaning aim, and should be fairly easy to implement.

#4 Save the bags that oranges come in and wad together to make a DIY scourer.

#4 As with food, it's sensible to buy larger amounts or concentrated products that you can dilute or decant into smaller amounts. This will often make good economic sense too. We havn't got much room for bulk storage but are able to take our washing up liquid bottles for refilling at the Health Food shop.

#5 White vinegar and water mixed half and half makes a good multi-purpose cleaner. Lemon juice supposedly takes the edge off the vinegary smell but I haven't tried this. I have tried the non-lemon version and it works well. The vinegary smell can be off-putting but it soon wears off. Lili at Creative Savv posted her citrus infused cleaner recipe here, a while back, and it looked good enough to drink! My other favourite is the Ecover multi-purpose cleaner, for which you can buy refills.

#6 White vinegar has myriad other uses; cleaning drains, removing limescale, cleaning toilets, rinse aid in the dishwasher, and fabric softener in the washing machine, so it's a good investment!

#6 Bicarbonate of soda is also very versatile, both by itself or with a little water for all sorts of cleaning jobs, and in combination with other ingredients such as white vinegar. It's great for odour neutralisation (nappy buckets, fridges, thermoses) too.

#7 I'm a relative newcomer to the benefits of citric acid. The first time I ever bought any was for elderflower cordial making last year. Imagine how excited I was to find (via Rhonda's Down to Earth blog in Oz) that it descales loos really well too. I chucked half a cup around the toilet basin and not very much later, after a bit of a work out with an old toothbrush, we had one sparkling loo. (Limescale build-up is a big problem round here - we're in the Wessex Water region (hard water); you've seen our Wiltshire white horses on the blog which gives a clue as to the area's geology!)

#8 A good alternative to washing powder or laundry detergent is soap nuts.

These are really good value. I bought a bag for £7 last July which is still going strong. I don't use them exclusively - extra soiled clothing and whites still get the washing powder treatment. (As an aside, I bought them in my Health Food shop, via SaveSomeGreen, who are a fantastic local company with an online shop. It's worth checking out their website for eco home solutions. I've since bought bamboo toothbrushes from them and am currently saving up my pocket money for some coconut fibre scourers!)

Soap nuts are the shells of the soapberry, which release saponin, a natural detergent and anti-bacterial agent. I wasn't quite sure if they were doing much when I first tried them, but after some tips from Economies of Kale who blogged about them here, I perfected my method which is to put about five shells in a muslin bag and soak them in boiled water before popping them in the washing machine.

Supposedly you can reuse them several times and then boil them up and use as a multi-purpose cleaner. I made the cleaner once but I wasn't convinced it was any more effective than squirting diluted tea around the kitchen (*waits for someone to tell me that diluted tea is a very effective kitchen cleaner!*).

My main environmental concern with soap nuts, (and I have to confess I haven't researched these concerns at all), would be whether they are farmed sustainably and whether the airmiles expended still outweigh using a laundry powder that is produced closer to home.

#9 Having run out of washing powder and in the interests of waste watching, I finally took the plunge and made some washing powder last week, after discovering an easy peasy recipe via Lois at Living Simply Free, who posted a link to Trash Backward's recipe: 1 cup soda crystals, 1 cup borax (I could only get borax substitute) and 1 bar of soap. Grate the soap (finely), and mix with the other ingredients. 

It didn't make a lot (that's a pickled onion jar in the photo below), but then you only need to use a tablespoonful. The borax substitute was £1.99 and the soda crystals, 99p, and I still have lots left, so the most expensive ingredient was the soap. (Dr Bronner's Castile soap always seems to be a popular ingredient for homemade cleaning products but at over £3 a bar, it was not going in my shopping basket).

I've used it for about three washes this week and it seems to work really well, even on the grubbiest member of the family's clothes (9 year old Son). You can add a few drops of essential oil if you want a subtle fragrance but I'm happy with the soap flavour.

#10 Both soda crystals and borax (substitute) are like vinegar and bicarb; they have multiple uses...some of which might start to sound familiar...soda crystals can be used for drain cleaning, cleaning sinks, stain removal...and borax does similar things too! The Dri Pack website makes it crystal (excuse the pun) clear; bicarbonate of soda is the weakest, soda crystals are the strongest and borax substitute is in between, so I guess you choose according to how clean or dirty the household job you are tackling.

Dri Pack also explains that borax substitute has replaced borax because "The EU has reclassified the 'Borate' group of chemicals that Borax belongs to, so it is no longer available as a cleaning and laundry product." Confusingly it still seems to be available to buy online from some retailers - I guess for non-cleaning or non-laundry purposes.

#11 Eco balls are also an option for laundry. When I first started looking at 'greening up' and economising on my laundry practices, I decided against these, mostly because of plasticness, cost and over-packaging. From what I could make out, although refillable, they don't last forever either.

#12 I bought all the ingredients I needed in the local Hardware shop. The local Health Food shop also supplies white vinegar for cleaning; you just take your own bottle along and they'll fill it for you. Summer Naturals was recommended by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust as a good online source for anything you could need for homemade cleaners and toiletries.

My own conclusion from all this is that there are some good old fashioned, cheap products that will keep your house squeaky clean and that are much safer for you and your family, and the environment. If you have lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar, you'll be able to tackle most jobs. As the need arises you might want to add soda crystals and borax or borax substitute to your cleaning tool kit.

Have you got any frugal or eco cleaning tips? Or a favourite cleaning product recipe to share?

Monday, 25 February 2013

What's the next best thing to gardening?

What's the next best thing to gardening? 

Reading about gardening!

For Christmas, my sister gave me The Therapeutic Garden, by Donald Norfolk.

This has been the ideal book to enjoy during these cold days of January and February when therapeutic reading is far more appealing than therapeutic gardening. 

It is not your average gardening tome; there are no photos, plans, instructions or lists of plants. And it doesn't provide a step-by-step guide to planting a therapeutic garden. Rather, it's a book of guiding principles, ideology, and more about the 'why' you should plant a holistic garden than the 'wherefores'. Gardening is put forward not as an end in itself but as a means of cultivating "happier, healthier human beings."

The vegetable garden, Beatrix Potter's house, 'Hill Top', Near Sawrey, Cumbria

There are numerous references to gardens in history and in literature, for example the gardens that were cultivated along the Black Sea coast pre 7000 BC, right through to the exploits of imperialist collectors in the last century.

My own garden is not huge but this book excludes nobody. Whether you are a garden owner or not, Norfolk suggests that we can all benefit from appreciating gardens, however small our space. And if you have no garden, then many of the benefits can be gained by 'adopting' a public space as your own, psychologically rather than physically.

Lytes Cary Manor, Somerset

What were the aspects of the book that particularly interested or resonated with me?
  • The notion that a therapeutic garden should include the elements, fire, water and stone in addition to earth. A water feature, a standing stone, pebbles, time for bonfires, candles, barbecues...
  • The informal therapeutic garden; contrived but not formal. It is in harmony with nature, contains no overly bright colours and no lines that are too straight.
  • I particularly enjoyed the parts of the book that reflected my own love of fresh air and walking (each has its own chapter); a garden provides the perfect antidote to "stuffy living" and should provide somewhere to walk. Although Norfolk talks about the grand landscape gardens and boulevards, he argues that even in the smallest of gardens, "if there is a will to take a garden walk, a way can always be found", using the slow meditative walks of monks in the cloisters as an example. I like the idea of a daily slow circumambulation of my own garden. At a normal pace I could zip round in a minute and a half, but why not more slowly, and why not in the winter as well as the summer? For non-garden owners, the suggestion is to treat a regular walking route in a local park as your own.
  • Use your garden to enjoy the stars and the seasons, solitude and communion with others. An evening stroll is an excellent "prelude to sleep", and "Those stars which light our evening sky are a constant reminder of the permanence of nature, however ephemeral our own lives might be."
  • A therapeutic garden should provide fun, pleasure and rest; it should be "a place for enjoyment, not just toil" and "we must always enjoy the fruits of our labours". To this end, labour-saving techniques are advocated such as no-dig methods and plenty of ground cover planting.
This book was an inspiring read, and made me look at my own small space in many new ways. There's no reason why it shouldn't be a place for nourishing the soul as well as a place where small boys can run about and kick a football around.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Food Waste Friday - Glamorous pasta making?

We've been on a good minimal food waste roll recently. This week I threw away two halves from a tin of peaches that were past their best, and some left over cake icing that sat for a long time in the fridge waiting to be used up. Surprisingly, given our penchant for cake, none was baked for a while and although it was probably fine, after a week or so it started separating into its separate ingredients, crystallising and generally looking a bit gloopy.

As well as riding the food waste wave without going under, we've been enjoying a February pasta making craze, which has proved a good way of using up vegetables and other odds and ends.

The pasta thing began when I bought myself a little Christmas holiday treat, The Simple Things magazine (at £5 it was quite a big Christmas treat actually, although it's far cheaper if you subscribe). The Simple Things started up in 2012, and as I like to think I cover similar subject matter here, I felt it my duty to see what they were up to! Indeed there are similarities, and although some of the products featured in the magazine are certainly not frugal, there are some good 'green' recommendations, some interesting features and definitely an appreciation of simple pleasures.

Most importantly its beautiful photography lures you into thinking that you, too, could produce wafer thin tagliatelle at home whilst looking glamorous and elegant, and surrounded by glamorous and elegant friends. It certainly fooled my children into thinking that. "That looks really fun!" they said. Fortunately I know enough about my own limitations when it comes to things like homemade pasta, glamour and elegance, so I pointed out that we don't have a pasta making machine like the beautiful Simple Things people, and hoped they might forget about it.

Then Rhonda at the Down To Earth blog did a blog post about making pumpkin filled ravioli, without a pasta making machine. Rhonda is beautiful and elegant, but also, as her blog name suggests...down to earth. She made me think that maybe we could crack pasta making after all.

And we did.

The first time we made tortellini and that little known version, the tiddy oggini (Cornish pasty style), with red and green fillings. (Spinach, ricotta, pesto and garlic versus sun dried tomatoes, onion and red pepper, see recipes below). 

It was fiddly but there were two of us at it (me and Daughter), and once we'd made the dough we developed a good system between us - one of us rolling, and the other filling. It took up much of the evening but in a good way, and Daughter pronounced that, "This is making me feel happy", by which I think she meant that it is the kind of hands on, therapeutic activity with a satisfying outcome, that when conducted at a leisurely pace and companionably is made even more pleasurable.

Tortellini, Tiddy Oggini and the wild card 'sausage'!

Everyone liked our pasta, although we had to warn our fellow diners that 'every piece of tortellini has been lovingly handmade so there may be some variation in size and consistency', i.e. some bits were quite delicious, others were a bit tough and doughy, especially where the pasta was joined at the edges of the tortellini

The second pasta-making session arose when my able assistant had taken a weekend off to go and stay with a friend, but the ricotta needed using up, so I soldiered on alone. I eliminated the fiddliness by making cannelloni tubes, which were easier, and more successful as there were less stodgy seams. So far so good.

Everyday Life On A Shoestring's Cannelloni tries (and fails) to look
as if it wouldn't look out of place in The Simple Things mag!

But then came the most recent pasta creation. Lasagne had been promised for supper on Thursday, but when it came to it I found I had run out of lasagne sheets. Ha! I thought. I shall knock up some pasta dough. But I was in a rush to get the whole thing made before Cubs; any notions of glamour, elegance, leisurely pace and happiness went out of the window. Husband arrived in the floury kitchen to find me with my hands stuck together with pasta dough and various attempts at Lasagne sheets dangling precariously over the kitchen scales, the empty tin of tomatoes, in fact anything that didn't have too large a surface area for the dough to glue itself to. Anything less like a Simple Things magazine photo shoot, you would not be able to find, and Husband threatened to take some picturess for the blog to show people what it's really like here. You know me well enough by now to be able to imagine that for yourselves. Like all my best cooking disasters, it all turned out OK in the end, even if the kitchen work surface did take an awful lot of scrubbing.

I think I'm going to give pasta making a little rest for the moment and find other ways to use up odds and ends. The Simple Things magazine was passed on to Angela at Tracing Rainbows who blogged her thoughts about the magazine here, and I'm hoping she'll write about her husband Bob's pasta making experiences some time, so we can compare notes! And of course you may have noticed that I have stolen the magazine's title for a mini series of Simple Things blog posts of my own. I have no doubt that the magazine pinches a few ideas from 'simple' blogs, so I think it's only fair!

Pasta Dough Recipe

I allow 2 eggs for every 200g of pasta flour.
400g made too much stuffed pasta for the four of us. 200g made the right amount for two layers of lasagne.
Add a splosh of olive oil, a pinch or two of salt, and keep adding spoonfuls of water until it makes a pliable dough.


We used a packet of spinach, an onion, a couple of generous spoonfuls of pesto, half a tub of ricotta, garlic and some bread crumbs, for the 'green' filling.

For the 'red' filling, we used half a red pepper, a few sun dried tomatoes, an onion, mixed herbs and breadcrumbs.

Tortellini and Oggini

Roll out pasta dough and cut circles. Put a blob of filling in the middle (a little goes a long way), and fold into a semi-circle for an Oggini. (We found olive oil worked well to stick the seam together). Bend the semi-circle and join in the middle for Tortellini.

300g amount of dough. Roll out rectangles and fill with the 'green' filling. Lay in a dish and cover with passata and herbs, and some grated cheese if desired.

Roll dough into sheets and lay on top of filling. I did two layers each of lasagne and sauce (finishing with lasagne), with a white sauce and grated cheese on top. The filling was a leftovers affair of onion, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, red lentils and tomatoes.

Be prepared to get sticky!

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.

Monday, 18 February 2013

A rubbish day out!

What was the highlight of our half term holiday last week?

A trip to the local landfill!

As part of the Slim Your Bin project we're taking part in, a tour was organised and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to find out where our waste and recycling goes once it has been emptied from our wheelie bins.

Emma Croft, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, in front of
several hundred pounds worth of plastic bottles!

Led by Emma Croft, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Waste Minimisation Officer, we were able to see the innermost workings of the Hill's waste management site near Calne, and it was truly fascinating.

We started with a tour of the recycling operation. There were mountains of glass bottles, which confirmed glass as my favourite recyclable. That's not just because fine wine comes inside glass bottles. Historically it must be one of the earliest items to be reused and recycled and glass is virtually infinitely recyclable. With none of the toxicity concerns of plastic, it gets my vote all round.

The metal recycling was impressive. There's money in metal these days, and much care is given to sorting it correctly. Two staff at a conveyor belt, pick through the metal which arrives from the recycling lorries, getting rid of carrier bags and non-metals. One of the most spectacular sights to our easily impressed eyes was the large electro magnet which sorts the aluminium from the steel. The cans seem to come to life as they jump through the air! Again, aluminium is infinitely recyclable, and whilst I'm not a fan of fizzy drinks, it's a much more sensible use of resources to recycle it.

Similar care and attention is given to the cardboard, which is sorted by staff to make sure plastic packaging etc is removed before it is baled.

Newspaper, textiles and plastics are also collected at the site ready for the next stage of the recycling process. We didn't see much WEE (waste electricals not urine) but many of the larger appliances are refurbished and sold at low cost by local charities.

Once we'd toured the recycling area, it was onto the hard stuff.

Photo of capped landfill from Hills website

Sadly, in February the landfill site doesn't look as much like a Timotei advert as it does on the Hills website and we didn't have such good views of the Cherhill White Horse. But we did see the pumps which extract the methane from the capped landfill cells, just like in the picture. Electricity is produced from the waste methane and fed back into the national grid.

The whole site is vast, with capped landfill cells, areas where gravel and sand are extracted (which will make room for more rubbish), as well as the landfill itself. We couldn't get too close to where the rubbish was being deposited, so no shocking sights and smells to give the kids nightmares, but we got the message. What goes in the landfill stays in the landfill. Forever.

What did the tour teach us?

  • We're familiar with thinking about the history of our consumer purchases; did the person who made it get a fair wage? Was it doused in chemicals before it arrived in my kitchen? Did it have to use up valuable resources just to travel to my house? But the impact of our purchases after we have discarded them was made much clearer to us than our theoretical understanding. It's a hugely complex infrastructure and it's a money making business. In Wiltshire some of our recyclables are processed locally, but some travel northwards and some to Wales to be processed. The message, though, was clear. It will always be more energy and resource efficient to transport recyclables, even if it means shipping them across the globe (after all, throughout history raw materials have always journeyed around the world), than to dump them. The landfill should really be a last resort for the stuff that absolutely cannot be recycled. And on a personal level, seeing the people who handle my waste has made me rinse my cans out more thoroughly! Those people wear ear protectors against the machinery noise, but not nose protectors.
  • How soon could you expect to be reading a newspaper made from a newspaper you have recycled? Within 24 hours theoretically, but realistically, within a week, which is not bad going!
  • If Henry VIII had worn disposable nappies they'd still be visible in the landfill today!
  • Although it was heartening to see all the different materials that are recycled, Wiltshire's recycling rates currently only average 42%. Surely we can do better than that? This figure brought home the fact that there is no obligation for residents or businesses to recycle.
  • Although the methane is extracted from the landfill, turning it into electricity will still result in greenhouse gases being emitted. Biodegradable waste in landfill is a real problem.
  • Even though things like mobile phones and ipods can be refurbished and recycled, we need to consider the resources that go into making them in the first place, and the related environmental issues (eg lithium extraction for batteries). Treat these items with respect and look after them so that they last as long as possible before needing to be recycled.
  • We must buy items made from recycled materials to ensure there continues to be a demand for recyclables.
The tour has made us even more aware of our waste watching, and hopeful that by the end of Slim Your Bin we will have cut our waste that is destined for landfill to the very bare minimum.

Disclaimer: I haven't included too many facts and figures in this blog post, primarily because it was so freezing cold when we did the tour that it was too chilly to take notes, and my brain froze. I hope Emma will correct me if there are any gross inaccuracies!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Onya Weigh bag winner!

Numbers were allocated to all commenters for the Onya Weigh bag giveaway.

Thanks to everyone for their lovely comments. It was interesting to learn about how you are reducing your use of plastic bags, and to hear that some of you are already satisfied Onya customers.
Number 12 was drawn, which was tums ! So tums, please contact me via the blog email,, with your address, and I'll pop them in the post for you!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Slim Your Bin, Onya Weigh bag, fab giveaway!

In week 2 of participating in Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Slim Your Bin project, I noted that one way in which we could reduce the excess packaging going into our bin would be to make or get hold of some reusable produce bags.


Wiltshire Wiltshire Trust provided a link to the company Onya, for just such a thing. I have already used their neat little foldaway shopping bags, but didn't know about all the other things they produce, including the 'Onya Weigh' bags. I got in touch with Onya and the generous Dan has kindly provided me with a set to review and a set to give away, as well as also providing a discount code for any of you who want to shop at the Onya website (see below for details). Thank you Dan!

Onya have been making plastic bag alternatives since 2004, and if you read the Onya story on their webiste, you'll see that they try to minimise the company's carbon footprint as much as possible, from the packaging and postal service that they use to sustainable working practices such as home offices (no pollution from driving to work!)

One of the tulle 'Weigh' bags. 

The reviewing part of the deal is really a no-brainer. I wouldn't choose to review something that wasn't in keeping with the ethos of this blog, or that I thought was not going to be useful to you,  and I thope you'll agree that there's nothing not to like about these bags! There are 5 strong tulle bags in a tiny pouch, which are so light that they won't affect the scales when you come to weigh your produce. All Onya bags are made from rPET material (recycled bottles).

Pouch attached to my keys!

They have a handy clippy thing to clip to your bag or keys so that they are 'always handy, always Onya' !

As well as using them when you're out shopping, the leaflet that comes with the bags says they can be used to wash your veg in, or to store it in the fridge (the tulle bags let your produce breathe so it lasts longer). And I think I read somewhere that you could even use them in place of a jam muslin. I can't substantiate those claims because having the bags is a bit like having a new toy - at the moment I want to keep them all nice and white and shiny! 

When the bags arrived, I was like Eeyore on his birthday with his burst balloon from Piglet, and his empty honey jar from Pooh. I got the bags out of the pouch. I put them in again. I got them out. I put them in again. I thought it might be like putting a sleeping bag back in its stuff sack; there's always a bit of the sleeping bag that doesn't want to squish back in, but I can happily report that all five Onya weigh bags scrunch back in their pouch easily.

After a lot of Onya bag admiring in the comfort of my own dining room, the next test was to take them shopping.

Onya bagged broccoli commands
the respect of Coop checkout staff!

The lady at the checkout in our Coop was bemused for a moment, "Are those your own bags?" quickly followed by, "I'm well impressed!". In fact the two checkout staff on the tills and the customer in front of me were all in awe of the Onya Weigh bags. So many people use reusable shopping bags and 'bags for life' that surely it's only a small cognitive leap to see the sense in using alternatives to thin plastic bags.

I hope that in using the Onya bags, I, and the lucky winner of the giveaway set can help others to think about making the switch.

If you would like to be in with a chance to win a set of Onya Weigh bags (in a red pouch), just leave a comment below by Friday 7pm GMT when I will draw a winner at random. They are so dinky and light that I'm happy to post the bags anywhere!

Please do check out the Onya website, where you can see the full range of their products which include both the original plastic bag alternative and its big sister, (which is the size of a pillowcase), the handy backpack in a pouch, the pram bag, a sandwich wrap, biodegradable dog poo bags, and the H2Onya - a stainless steel, bisphenol A free bottle with a range of tops. If you want to buy anything then stick the code 'eco1' into the shopping cart, and you will get a 15% discount.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Food Waste Friday and Slim Your Bin, Week 3 - all rolled into one!

This year we've been joining in with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's waste watching Slim Your Bin project which is based on Karen Cannard's Rubbish Diet.

Each week has a different focus and this week it was Food Waste. Great! That's one thing we do know about!

Let's rewind to May last year. This was when I stumbled into blogging through reading a few other thrifty, frugal blogs. 

One afternoon I decided to see how difficult it was to set up a blog and whether someone like me, with no technological know how, could do it. Somehow I got myself set up on Blogger and I thought that if I did a couple of posts based on the Frugal Girl's Food Waste Friday, I could try the whole blogging thing out whilst being fairly sure that no-one would actually read what I was writing, because there are plenty of much better blogs out there and no-one could possibly be interested in reading about the food that a middle-aged woman in Wiltshire was throwing away, could they? That would be the end of it.

Nine months later, I'm still blogging. Baffling as it may seem, people did seem to read what I'd written and some of the most popular blog posts here are the Food Waste Friday ones. Which is lucky because it's meant that by being so publicly accountable, we really have reduced our food waste and saved money as a result. I also hope that it reflects a growing awareness that there is an environmental and moral imperative to reduce our food waste. With more and more people in the UK relying on food banks, and more and more people globally affected by food crises, we all have a duty to use our food wisely. If I can play a small part in the awareness raising process then I'm happy to keep chronicling my food waste successes and failures!

This week I thought I'd share with you everything I've learnt about reducing food waste in the last 9 months, as well as some of the tips that were sent out in this week's Slim Your Bin newsletter.

1. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers quickly, so that you can reuse them.
    Left over Christmas dinner veg
2. Ideally, keep leftovers in see-through containers so that you remember to use them once they are in the fridge.

3. Transfer bagged salads into a bowl with absorbent cloth or keep in a damp tea towel in the fridge. 

4.Most things can be frozen. For instance I never knew that yogurt can be frozen, but it can. I liked Emma Croft, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Waste Minimisation Officer's quote: "I think of freezing as pressing the pause button."

5. Freeze fruit oddments for smoothies and easy sorbet type puddings.

Sorbet - it's just blended up frozen leftover fruit
6. Beware of BOGOFs (buy one get one free) or bargains. A bargain's not a bargain if you won't get round to eating it or you end up throwing it away.

7. It's amazing what can be recycled into a cake! Porridge, over ripe bananas, dried up oranges, excess yogurt...we've used them all!

Chocolate and Yogurt cake

8. Rescue cooking disasters rather than throwing them away; you can always cut burnt bits off (or use up super thick porridge in a cake...)

9. Save croutons or breadcrumbs in the freezer. (One day I'll do a special breadcrumbs blog post!).

Bread chopped into croutons for the freezer
10. Pay attention to the weather. Fruit and veg go mouldy and squishy more quickly in the heat and my family stop eating chilly things like yogurt and salady stuff when it's cold.

11. Lemon that's past its best can be used for cleaning.

12. Menu plan: use up what you've got or make a list for what you haven't got. Then stick to the list.

13. It's perfectly safe to take a cavalier attitude towards 'best before' dates. These are a 'quality' date rather than for food safety. 'Use by' is a safety date, so you may want to be more careful with these. 'Display until' and 'Sell by' are information for the retailer only. Trust your senses and your common sense. Does it look and smell OK?

14. For food waste that you really can't freeze or reuse, consider getting a food digester or a couple of chickens!

Have you got any other food waste tips?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

It's the compulsory Snowdrop blogpost!

One of our top ten frugal activities is getting outdoors for a walk. Some members of the family grumble at the prospect, but once they are outside and walking, the moaning soon stops.

This weekend was no different but unusually the grumbler was me! Fighting a cold, I was feeling weak and rather pathetic. Never mind that; we needed to start one of our 2013 projects. 

When we went on one of our favourite local walks in the early New Year, it was the first time we had taken any photographs en route (there are some photos in this blogpost). We (well, me actually) decided it would be fun to come back and observe the seasonal changes each month.

Just at the point last Saturday when an afternoon nap looked very appealing, the kids held me to my word, and I'm glad because I felt a lot better for it.

What did we find in early February? The view up the Bybrook Valley doesn't look much different yet:

Bybrook Valley, 2 February 2013

Bybrook Valley, 2 January 2013

The trees are still looking pretty wintry. (If there's one thing this blog has taught me it's that I do like photographing trees!)

It's still very muddy out there. If there's a boggy or wet route, Son will always take it. We managed to rescue him when he got stuck.

Stuck in the mud!

The Chinese lanterns have hung in there through the snow, rain and storms of the past month, but they're looking a little more battered and skeletal.

Chinese Lanterns, 2 February 2013

Chinese Lanterns, 2 January 2013

But best of all, there are snowdrops! Spring just might be on its way.

If you look closely you'll spot that this is the cottage
you can see nestling at the foot of the valley
in the photos at the top of this blogpost!

How are your 2013 projects progressing?!

(And here's Winter Trees by The Staves to continue the wintry treey theme).

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Simple Things - Bookmarks

Our local library currently has a display that has me lingering in the foyer every time I go in there, feeling rather sorry for the exhibits; lost bookmarks.

The artist photocopied the library's collection of lonely and abandoned bookmarks, and although she began by displaying them randomly, they fell naturally into groups (maybe subconsciously influenced by the Dewey Decimal Cataloguing system?); foliage, religious, embroidered etc.

I'm not a great bookmark collector, but I've also never been a corner-of-the-page-folder-overer either. I'm happy to use an envelope or postcard or whatever's to hand. 

Although I thought I wasn't too fussed about bookmarks, the carelessness of North Wiltshire's readers is quite astonishing. There are some beautiful bookmarks here. Protective angels, prayers, souvenirs from holidays, wildlife, embroidery and cross stitch that represent considerable hours of hand crafting, special grandma poems and works of art - all are represented. And they're just the ones that can be shared. The more 'personal' bookmarks weren't copied. All of these lost souls waiting to be reunited with their owners.

Coincidentally I noticed the exhibition in the same week that I'd set a themed 'design a bookmark' activity at work. It's always surprisingly popular and the kids produce some amazing designs.

The exhibition and the homework made me look at bookmarks with new eyes; with the growing popularity of e-readers, bookmark design may be a dying art. I haven't got a Kindle  so I wouldn't know if e-bookmarks exist but surely they can't be quite the same? Best to appreciate the humble card or fabric bookmark while we still can.

I rushed home from the library to check I could find my one and only all-time favourite bookmark, produced by Son when he was at playgroup. Found it! Phew.

'My mum is ssp' - special?

How about you? Bookmark owner or corner-folder-overer? Do you have a bookmark collection or a special bookmark? Have you ever lost one? Or have you abandoned books and bookmarks completely for the e-version?