Saturday, 30 March 2013

A stodgy Food Waste Friday and a stodgy but yummy recipe

This Friday there was food waste to confess...

I'm the only one who eats mushy peas, but half a tin in one sitting is my limit. I should have used the other half tin up rather than let them camouflage themselves in a green cup for two weeks. The leftover mouldy pineapple was not camouflaged in the pink pot but I just didn't get round to doing anything creative with it.

There were also some stodgy food waste saves so it's not all bad news!

The bargain wholemeal scone mix from Approved Food hasn't proved a big hit here after all, and following some attempts at disgusing it in other things, all home baking that I serve is now prefaced with much inquisition, "Are you absolutely sure you haven't put any scone mix in this?" Mix it with dodgy bananas though, and say it's banana cake, and you're onto a winner. NOBODY suspected a thing! Ha!

Wholemeal scone mix + overripe bananas = banana cake

Fuelled with success, I went on to hide some swede (as unpopular as wholemeal scone mix with some of the family) in a homity pie. For recipe see this blogpost. I couldn't pull the wool over the kids' eyes this time and the innocent swede was detected, which just meant there was more for Husband and me, so we didn't complain.

Swede infested Homity Pie, centre.
It has been so cold that here there has been nothing to do but eat banana cake, homity pie and other stodgy stuff, including chocolate surprise pudding.

It's no surprise that the chocolate surprise pudding didn't last long enough for a photo in our house so I've 'borrowed' one from Nigella...

Nigella's chocolate pear surprise pudding - Thanks Nigella!

Trust me, it's just the thing for our Arctic spring...

Here's the recipe.

Chocolate Surprise Pudding

For the sponge: 75g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
100g butter or marg
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
1-2 tbspns milk

For the sauce:
100g soft brown sugar
25g cocoa powder
250ml hot water

Butter a 2 pint/1l pudding bowl really well.

Preheat oven to Gas Mk 5, 190 degrees celsius.

Boil the kettle.

Cream the butter and sugar, and gradually beat in the eggs.  Fold in the flour and add enough milk to make a soft consistency.

Spoon the sponge mixture into the bowl. (At this point you could put pears under the sponge, like Nigella. I added a couple of large spoonfuls of frozen raspberries to make it seem more of a healthful pudding...)

To make the sauce, pour the hot water onto the brown sugar and cocoa powder and mix well. 

Pour the sauce over the sponge mixture and bake the pudding for about 40 minutes.

The 'surprise' is that while the pudding is baking the sponge rises to the top and the sauce goes to the bottom. Husband pointed out that this means it is really only a surprise for the person who baked the pudding. And if they've read the recipe properly it's not really a surprise for them either. But it's still quite magical, even if you're read the recipe and made it a hundred times before, like I have. It's not actually that stodgy at all and most importantly, surprise or no surprise, it's still delicious!

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

Thursday, 28 March 2013

An Easter tree and an Easter plea...

Our Easter tree...

and an Easter plea...

Trussell Trust foodbanks will give emergency food to over 280,000 people nationwide in 2012-2013. More and more people are hitting crisis point where they can't afford food.  Help Crack UK Hunger aims to raise £1 million to launch 200 new foodbanks to provide food to an additional 200,000 people per year.

Text EGGS13 plus the amount £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 0r £10 to 70070 e.g. ' EGGS13 £5' or visit the Trussell Trust website here.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A totally pants weekend!

I think that we can say we are frugal, right down to our underwear!

I look to the M&S sales for bargains when I need new undies. And then there are the My Little Pony Pants...

Not mine, but Daughter's. She's 12 and a half now. She goes to secondary school. The knickers are for a 5-6 year old. They have pink ponies on them. Not good. Even if you take into account that she's a skinny girl and grows upwards rather than outwards it's still not good. Apart from the frugalness and the eco-ness. Seven years of wear? Now that is good! Really good!

I'd be tempted for her to get another year's wear out of them, of  course! And if I'm honest, I probably don't want to face up to the fact that my own My Little Pony knicker wearing daughter is transforming into a young woman. But I have to accept it; My Little Pony pants have no place in our home any more. 

Daughter convinced me that H&M is the place for tween lingerie.

And after our shopping trip there this weekend I think I agree.

I liked the signs we saw about bringing your old clothes in to the store for recycling. I can think of a lot of other places I can recycle fabric before I'd hit H&M in Bath, but if the least their posters do is to jog customers' memories about textile recycling that's no bad thing.

The staff were wearing T shirts promoting the H&M conscious collection. The collection is part of H&M's work towards a more environmental and sustainable future in fashion. 

As well as promoting recycling and working with UNICEF and WWF, H&M claims to be the number one user of organic cotton world wide, and to have saved 450 million litres of water in the production of denim. (Conventional cotton production uses up precious water and can result in chemical pesticides and fertilisers getting into local water supplies.) The company is aiming for all their cotton to come from sustainable sources by 2020.

We paid £7.99 for a pack of 7 knickers. I didn't even realise they were organic cotton until we got them home - that seems a very reasonable price to me and I might even check out the middle-aged lady lingerie range when I next need some new undies.

It looks as if H&M are doing a good job, environmentally, and have clear age guidelines when it comes to the use of child labour by their suppliers, but is it just green wash? What do you think? Are you a frugal or 'green' knicker wearer/buyer?!

(After all that hard work, knicker buying, we needed refreshment, and were pleased to discover Bath's latest new veggie/vegan/gluten free cafe, The Green Rocket Cafe. Friendly staff, lovely surroundings, yummy gluten free chocolate brownies, same colour scheme as this blog's spring theme. Thoroughly recommended! With all the money we've saved on NOT buying Daughter new knickers over the last seven years we could afford to blow some on a coffee and a hot chocolate!)

We liked the Green Rocket Cafe's
flower-in-teacup table decorations...

...and the patchwork textile wall art.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

'Decluttering Made Easy'! The Giveaway Winner!

It seemed appropriate for the tidiest person in the house to draw the winner for the Decluttering Giveaway this afternoon. He did and it was (drum roll...)


Hazel, please email me ( your email address and I will forward it to Tiffany at Decluttering Made Easy to set you up on the programme!

Thank you to everyone who commented, and those who entered. It's good to know that there are a few others out there who are as in need of decluttering help as I am!

(Now I'm off to go and recycle all the bits of paper with names on from the grand draw, before they start cluttering up my kitchen...)


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Using what we've got or "Omne vivum ex ovo"...

Maybe I would have been more enthusiastic about making the Roman gladiator costume for Son's school Roman day last year if I'd realised it was going to save us some time this week. And if I'd shelled out on a posh fancy dress Roman outfit, then hacking the helmet about would not have been such an attractive prospect. But it's only card and silver foil so why not?!

This work of art started as a Roman Gladiator's helmet.

Can you guess what it is yet?
Now it's an Easter egg
(with the Easter bunny on top, for good measure)
for the Easter bonnet competition at school.

The really good thing was that Son had the idea for this all by himself. My kids are getting the hang of the make do and mend philosophy! He used coloured paper, foam shapes and an Easter bunny that we'd already got in the craft cupboard, so as well as being mostly recyclable, it's all his own work. 

If you were around when we made the Roman gladiator costume, you'll remember we were still watching the glue dry and sewing Son into his tunic on the morning of Roman Day, but this time I'm proud to report that the gladiator-helmet-turned-Easter-egg was all ready at least 12 hours before it was required.

As for the Latin in the blog post title, the Ancient Romans believed that "All life comes from an egg". Egg decorating is a pre-Christian ritual so maybe Son is not the first Roman gladiator to have turned his headwear into a festive spring fashion accessory.

(Don't forget that the Decluttering giveaway is up and running until Saturday, so you still have time to enter!)

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A decluttering giveaway!

I'm the very last person you should come to if you want advice about decluttering. 

I'm the queen of big topply piles of papers, books and laundry.

Time for some filing...

Too many books...

Trying to be green means that we try to recycle and reuse everything properly rather than chucking it in a black bin liner and forgetting about it, so attempts at decluttering result in more piles of clutter to be disposed of in different directions. A 'hand-me-downs for the cousins' pile, a recycling pile, a charity shop pile, a 'borrowed-things-waiting-to-be-returned-to-their owners' pile, an Ebay pile, a 'move-to-another-part-of-the-house' pile....

Trying to be frugal means things are kept kept in case a use is found for them at a later date. Just take a look in our garage and you'll see what I mean...

My general rule of thumb is that there are lots of things I'd rather be doing than worrying about clutter, so it doesn't unduly bother me as long as the piles aren't becoming too much of a health and safety hazard and as long as I can still see small patches of carpet in Son's bedroom, under all the Lego and clothes.

BUT part of the motivation for joining in the Slim Your Bin project was to work on slimming our clutter too. Week 7 of the project focused on all the ways you can get rid of stuff without it going to landfill.

As if by magic, at the same time as we were slimming our bin, a decluttering fairy arrived in my email inbox, waving her virtual wand. She goes by the name of Tiffany Muehlbauer, an ex pat American living in Berlin, of the blog No Ordinary Homestead. Tiffany, a 'sustainable living guru' (and mother who understands the clutter of family life), was looking for people to try out her new online decluttering programme, Decluttering Made Easy.

Tiffany: declutterer extraordinaire and creator of the 'ultimate decluttering course!'

Husband laughed long and hard when I told him that I thought I'd give it a go, and said something along the lines of, "It will have to be a very good programme if it's going to have any effect on you..." But with the Slim Your Bin project up and running in our house, the timing seemed right, and besides, Tiffany was offering a membership for me to give away on the blog too.

In the name of you, my blog readers, I have been trying out the programme. 

What does it entail? Well, armed with a user name and password, you are ready to run. It's not scary at all. You don't get bombarded with emails and instructions - I think the content is pitched at just the right amount. It's not just another online thing to waste precious time that could be better spent on, let's say, decluttering! A ten minute video featuring Tiffany's friendly face and natural approach arrives weekly, with an acccompanying PDF document and other goodies eg blank templates of 'to do' lists and calendars. There's a 'members only' Facebook page if you like that sort of thing.

As a hopeless declutterer, the pace suits me. The membership is for a year, so there's no expectation to perform immediate miracles. Good advice abounds, such as reminders of the benefits of 15 minute bursts of tidying and acquiring the knack of 'just doing' chores that will only take a couple of minutes when you notice they need doing, plus suggestions for how to get the family on board. Improving your time management skills is also an important part of the course too. 

If you've been to my house recently (and some of you will have been) and you're wondering why it's not yet a minimalist haven, then it's because I'm only up to week 6 and it's been a gentle decluttering ride so far. In fact, although there's been a fair amount of tidying, not much actual decluttering has been done, but I think things are about to get serious. Who knows, I might even give you the odd update!

If you've ever thought about buying a decluttering book or thought about simplifying your possessions, or if you're in the process of decluttering and would like bit of a helping hand from Tiffany, then this could be the very thing for you!

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for free membership to 'Decluttering made easy', just leave a comment below by Saturday 23 March, midday (GMT) and I'll pick a winner at random. (If you do enter, please remember to check back to see if you've won later on that Saturday!)

I may not be the person to come to if you want advice about decluttering but I sure am the person to come to if you want a giveaway about decluttering!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Food Waste Friday - Feed the birds

Yesterday I watched Trashed. The movie (which follows Jeremy Irons as he journeys to different countries to witness the impact that our waste is having globally) is frightening, shocking and heart rending in equal measure. I'll be coming back to it in future blog posts.

The morning after Trashed, I'm gradually coming round from my despair in the face of such enormous environmental challenges. The message from Karen Cannard of the Rubbish Diet, who introduced the film and answered questions at the end, was clear; "Think big, start small", (aka "Think global, act local"). Don't let the enormity of the big picture dissuade you from tackling the little things.

And so the show goes on...Food Waste Friday rides again. The smallest of small things, but if it reminds us to make the best use of our resources, I hope it's worth sharing. Here goes...

This week was our attempt at Zero Waste week, as part of the final Slim Your Bin fling - we were extra nervous about food waste. Happily there's certainly no food waste in the bin. Hurrah! 

But there was food waste. Remember the porridge cake? (My unsuccessful attempt to reuse leftover porridge in a cake...) The frozen remnants reared their ugly head again as an emergency dessert, but it really was no more appetising the second time around.

Porridge cake and banana muffins left, and bird seed (for a balanced diet) right.

The up side is that we have hardly ever had Black Caps in the garden before, but boy, do they love porridge cake and mouldy banana muffins! A female Black Cap has virtually single-handedly scoffed the whole lot. It's just the thing for putting yourself in peak condition before migrating to Central Europe and nesting! Honestly. After her first meal of porridge cake, I worried that the dense stodginess of it might cause her to thud to the ground and be unable to flutter her delicate little wings and fly away. But she is a picture of health and vitality, like this one (I can't get such good close-ups with my camera).

As I looked at the sparrows out there this morning in my post-Trashed state, feeding the birds seemed another painfully 'small thing' to be doing, just like accounting for my food waste, in the face of environmental catastrophe. (Granny, what did you do to save the planet? Well dear, I tried not to waste a crumb of food, ever, and I always fed the birds...). If we lose our sense of awe, wonder, and respect for the natural world (or the big picture) that's on our own doorsteps, then surely we really are doomed.

My 'Free gift' sprout packaging - these sprouts were definitely grown with love...

The second food waste disaster was some beloved bean sprouts. Last summer some 'free gift' sprouts came in the veg box which reminded me about bean sprout growing. After some rather damp smelling, sprout growing attempts in a jam jar, I splashed out on a sprouter and have since had lots of success growing them; they provide easy and cheap green freshness, even in the depths of winter. Sadly the latest lot went from being seeds to mouldy sprouts before I'd even noticed. I'm embarrassed at my lack of conscious awareness...

But we are all interconnected in this cycle of life - the really mouldy ones were composted and the salvageable ones went to my other favourite birds, the chickens, and I wasn't downhearted. A new lot of sprouts has been started and I promise I'll nurture them better this time.

Any food waste successes in your house this week!?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Making music with waste?

As an amateur musician, people often tell me how much they would love to have learnt a musical intrument when they were a child.

Well, it's never too late...and it doesn't have to cost a fortune. Forget the price of an instrument or music lessons...why not learn to play the cups! What's even better is that you can reuse yogurt pots or other plastic containers - great for those of us slimming our bins.

We're late in discovering this musical style (we do live in rural Wiltshire after all) but Daughter had a very happy week recently, teaching herself the cups. She'd spent the previous week trying to convince me that she 'needed' a tablet (the computery kind) in order to be able to play some particular computer game or other, so it was refreshing to see that a plastic cup could provide that much entertainment.

Here's one of her performances (not too polished as one of the cups skids out of control in the middle, but is successfully recovered), playing along to one of the Youtube videos she learnt from (that's not us singing!):

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Have we slimmed our bin?

Since January we have been participating in the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Slim Your Bin project. Based on Karen Cannard's Rubbish Diet, the aim has been to reduce the non-recyclable and non-reusable waste going into our bin.

This was some of the contents of our bin at the start of the project.

I thought we were already doing as much as we could on the recycling front, (read my 10 recycly and reusey things blog post here!) but we have learnt so much since January and I'm grateful that Emma Croft from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust got us on board.

This week sees the culmination of the project, and the grand finale is a Zero Waste week. I'm not sure if we will manage zero waste exactly, but we emptied the bin yesterday ready for a weigh-in on Friday, and I'm hoping that we'll see a significant reduction from our initial weigh-in of 850g.

I'm sure you're all dying to know what our highlights of the Slim Your Bin project over the last couple of months have been, so here goes!

  • At the moment we can recycle plastic bottles such as milk bottles in our Cardboards and Plastics wheelie bin, but we learnt that we can also recycle other plastics such as yogurt pots and margarine tubs at our Household Recycling Sites, so we are collecting a big bagful. 
  • We discovered that 'stretchy' polythene can be recycled at Supermarkets at the carrier bag recycling points, so that doesn't go into our bin any more.
  • When we can, we are buying things like yogurt, rice, crisps, lunch box fare and loo rolls in larger packets or containers and decanting into smaller ones.
  • All packaging is being rigorously reused as many times as possible. Raisin boxes are being refilled from a large packet.
  • We're trying to eliminate plastic packaging when possible by buying things loose, in paper sacks or in our new Onya* weigh bags.
  • I've had a go at making my own washing powder.

  • We've visited our local landfill site to see what happens to our waste and recycling.
  • We've been to a 'Give and Take' day organised by our Transition Town group and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. A 'Give and Take' is like a jumble sale except no money is exchanged - you give stuff that you don't want any more and have a good old rummage to see if there's anything you want to take. I've got decluttering on my mind at the moment so I was keen to do more giving than taking at Saturday's event and we were successful!
  • We popped in to a toiletry making event, organised by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, and came away with some great 'natural' toiletries. (A blog post about this will be on its way soon).
  • I've made some really 'rubbish' friends! As well as Emma (pictured above by some bales of plastic!), Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Waste Minimisation Officer, I've met the lovely Jen who is now half way through her year of not buying anything new, and blogs very wittily and interestingly about it at My Make Do And Mend Year. I've also made contact with my Transition Town group's Zero Waste subgroup and am going along to my first meeting tomorrow.
  • Finally, one of the highlights of the Slim Your Bin finale week, still to come, is a screening of Trashed on Thursday. This is a film about the global effects of our consumption and waste and features Jeremy Irons. 
Trashed Film Poster

To quote the Trashed website: "Irons sets out to discover the extent and effects of the global waste problem, as he travels around the world to beautiful destinations tainted by pollution. This is a meticulous, brave investigative journey that takes Irons (and us) from scepticism to sorrow and from horror to hope. Brady's narrative is vividly propelled by an original score created by Academy Award winning composer Vangelis."

If you would like to see the film it is showing this Thursday 14 March at the Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from the Pound. The director will be there for a Q and A session, and also Karen Cannard from the Rubbish Diet, so it promises to be a really interesting evening.

I know there will be some harrowing scenes in the film, so it seems inappropriate to say that I'm 'looking forward' to watching it on Thursday, but I have no doubt it will provide us with more motivation to continue waste watching and reducing our consumption now that the Slim Your Bin project is drawing to a close.

If you are disappointed at the prospect of no more Slim Your Bin blog posts, then fear not, I still have a few up my sleeve. Watch out for another Slim Your Bin grand finale decluttering giveaway later this week! 

* There was of course, the great Onya weigh bags giveaway. Giveaway winners sometimes get lost but usually come home to roost eventually - the winner announced some time ago for this one was Tums - if you are out there and you are still reading Tums, please email me your address as the bags are waiting for you!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Simple Things - Puppets

Last year my kids discovered the Muppets, and I rediscovered the Muppets. (They've even appeared on the blog every now and again, here, here and here!)

In October we watched the latest Muppet Movie on DVD. And Son set to making his own no-sew versions. They tie in nicely with our waste watching project. (And in the words of the Muppets, it was a case of, "I've got everything that I need, right in front of me". No extra purchases necessary.) The first models were old socks with heads stuffed with cotton wool, and card mouths and button eyes glued on.

The second wave of puppets were more advanced, with hair transplants from other stuffed toys, and arms. The arms were secured with rubber bands and are movable thanks to some plastic yellow stick things (crash barriers maybe?) from the Scalextric set. (Son just went with whatever was to hand!)

They may be a little rough round the edges but Son's had a few happy afternoons making and playing with his puppets.

And perhaps the puppets have come to my mind this week because right now, at the end of a cold, my ears and sinuses feel as if they're stuffed with cotton wool too!

I know what will cheer me up...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sunday afternoon walk - Catkins and lots of logs

This year I didn't make any New Year's resolutions, but a few things seem to have evolved into resolutions all by themselves and for some reason it seems much easier to keep these ones. Probably because they're all quite fun. Like the monthly walk.

One of the self-seeding resolutions was to walk one of our favourite local routes at the beginning of every month to see the seasonal changes.

Interestingly it's already become something of a ritual. Last week there was a lot of planning of which day we would go, and a fair amount of looking forward to it (by some of us) and wondering which variables might have changed such as the muddiness and the force of the river. 

Part of the ritual seems to be that at least one member of the family is unenthusiastic about the prospect. Last month, feeling under the weather, I had to be cajoled into going; this time the tween was grumpy following a sleepover with not much sleep. She was persuaded that a good walk would wake her up and ensure a blissful slumber tonight.

What did we find on our walk this month?

The swollen river has abated. In January and February, the stepping stones in the photo above weren't visible and it would have been dangerous to attempt to cross the river.

Today, all was tranquil, and although it was a dull day, the reflections were magical.

The route was muddy, but dry muddy, not squelchy muddy. No-one lost a welly boot, unlike last time!

The pigs that we always pass, might not agree with our evaluation of the mud.

Husband was tempted by the 'for sale' sign advertising half a Saddleback pig for your freezer, and an interesting debate on the ethics of meat eating ensued. I think the younger members of the party will be sticking to Quorn for this week at least...

Bybrook Valley, 3 March 2013

Bybrook Valley, 2 February 2013

Bybrook Valley, 2 January 2013

The changes to the view up the Bybrook Valley are subtle. The trees are still looking bare but there is a discernably greener tinge to the whole scene, maybe because of the Catkins which are everywhere.

Even the grass is looking more verdant. This time Son wanted to take some photos too. He specialises in shots that involve lying on the ground or climbing on things so you get a beetle's eye perspective when he's in charge of the camera. Here's one of his:

A fallen Oak we had noticed last time had been transformed into logs.

Nobody had the patience to count the rings so we accepted Husband's estimation of at least 200 years old.

Remember the beautiful Chinese lanterns which we've previously marveled over? Snowdrops had taken their place.

You'd have to look very closely to see any sign of the Chinese Lanterns.
The (now absent) Chinese Lanterns, 2 February 2013

A Sunday afternoon well spent. Come with us for next month's walk when spring should have arrived in the South West of England! I predict daffodils.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Food Waste Friday - Carbs only and another frugal first!

Another low food waste week - yippee! Negligible amounts of rice and pasta for the chickens...

And this week, we ticked off another item on the frugal checklist, also food waste related.

You might be familiar with Approved Food, "the UK's biggest online seller of clearance food and drink". The company sells food close to or past its sell-by date, that would otherwise be discarded, so it's a valuable weapon in the UK's war on food waste. Lots of frugal bloggers write about Approved Food, and on checking it out I could see that the company indeed offers bargains galore, but also temptation galore (e.g. currently you can buy regular Cadbury's Crunchie bars at 20p each). The stock changes all the time as items sell out and new stock arrives, and prices sometimes change too; often, the more out-of-date a product is, the cheaper it is.

 Dominic Broken Mandarin Segments In Juice 298g

I've never got round to placing an order, partly because I feared I'd end up ordering everything on the website! In the end it was the tinned mandarins (10 tins for £1) and wholemeal scone mix (3.5kg for £1.49 making 98 scones) that persuaded me to make my first tentative order...I'm still a Devonian at heart and the thought of 98 scones - just right for filling up hungry children after school - was just too tempting. OK, and maybe, just maybe, the cheap Crunchies also caught my eye...

I tried to stick to food we would usually put on the menu, and to not go too wild with the sweets and treats. Notable bargain highlights of our first order?

2 packs of Discovery Mexican Large Tortillas x 6 - £1, 
900g black olives - £1.20, 
Patak's Mango pickle - 60p, 
4 packs onion bhaji mix for £1

and lots more.

The only surprise was these:

Next to a 5p so you can gauge the size!

Which were not quite what I was expecting. I'll make sure I read the product descriptions better next time. Can you guess what they are? (If you can't tell, I'll let you know in the comments over the weekend!)

Have you ever used Approved Foods and had any surprises?!

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