Foraged food – the Giant Puffball

My absolute favourite way of getting zero-waste food is foraging. I mean, for a start it’s free, but more than that, there’s a thrill to it – seeing the golden, shining cap of a chanterelle mushroom is so like finding treasure.

Aside from the usual berries and leafy weeds, Husband is a great mushroom hunter. It’s important to add here that this is absolutely not a tutorial for how to find or identify fungi. If this is something that you want to get into, you need to seek out expert guidance. In our case, though, Husband grew up with a father whose granddad was an actual Snow-White style German woodsman. I’m not even kidding. So when my father-in-law was little, he used to walk in the woods with his granddad and search for mushrooms.

Despite his life-long skill, my father-in-law still carried an identification book at all times and never ate anything he was in the slightest doubt over. Contrary to popular belief, there are few ways to go wrong with wild mushrooms, but when one does make a mistake, it’s deadly.

It just isn’t worth the risk.

Just to stress again – this isn’t a tutorial. It’s just what we do. 

All that aside, as the season for mushrooming gets ever closer, I find myself getting increasingly excited and I thought I’d share one of my favourite recipes from last year, in case you’re lucky enough to find someone who knows what they’re doing.

We made what are essentially vegetarian schnitzel from the flesh of a giant puffball mushroom. I started by removing the outer layer, leaving the nice, clean centre.

Then, I sliced it into 4 rounds.

I smashed some stale bread into crumbs…

… mixed said crumbs with salt and paprika…

… then turned the ‘steaks’ in a whisked egg and the crumbs. I then fried this off as I would a chicken burger – until the outside was golden-brown and crunchy.

We ate these as burger substitutes and the mushroom flesh was delicious – aromatic and light, silky but firm. It was almost like tofu, but less chewy and more flavoursome.

As the breadcrumbs are leftovers from loaves gone by, the only real cost in all of this is the egg and the spices – a definite improvement on a pack of four vegeburgers/meaty burgers.

I’ve been told that it’s getting increasingly easy to source oyster mushrooms in the supermarket, and that being the case, I can imagine that this is a great way to serve larger examples. If you can, I would defintely urge you to try it with a fungi you know is safe (though not with a Portobello mushroom – I find tey go slimey).

Do you forage? What are your favourite things to find? I’d love to try out some of your recipes. As ever, contact me here or on Twitter.

Dandelion Cake

We have an abundance of dandelions in our garden. I love that they bring some much-needed colour after winter bleaches the Scottish landscape, and that they feed the bees which seem to happily inhabit our garden… but they really do take over huge swathes of ground.

I play a game of chicken with them every year – how long dare I let them flower? Too long and they release clouds of seed across the ground, but no long enough and my polinators go hungry.

And I really don’t like just (compost) binning them. The dandelion is a versatile food source – roots and leafs and flower are all edible. What a waste of food to simply pull it up and throw it away.

Lots of people make salads, dandelion wine, vegan ‘honey’*,  root ‘coffee’, or Greek radikia, from various parts of the plant, but I wanted something quick and child-friendly so I settled on a 2-egg Victoria sponge with petals in it, baked in a loaf tin.

Some notes: I don’t actually use a recipe when I’m making Victoria sponge. I weigh my eggs, add the same weight of self-raising flour, the same again of sugar, then half that weight of vegetable oil and half of milk. I use the veg oil/milk combination  because it’s cheaper than the equivalent quantity of butter, and because I don’t need to buy an extra ingredient i.e. margarine. If you go down this route, vegetable oil and sunflower oil work beautifully. Extra virgin rapeseed oil is awesome for nutty cakes like carrot, or coffee and walnut, but not so much for fluffy sweet things. Whatever you do, don’t use olive oil or sesame oil – trust me. Just don’t.

In case you’re not an egg-weighing person, I roughly used 120g sf flour, 120g sugar, 60mls milk, 60mls oil and 2 eggs for this cake – plus the 2 eggs and the dandelion petals.

To get your petals, all you need to do is pick some flowers – or have small, helping hands do that for you – and chop the green bits off.

It doesn’t matter if you leave a few stray greens in – it’s all edible – but too many will leave a bitter taste.

In total, you need around a cup of dandelion petals, but you can add more or less depending on your personal preference. I’m not a precise cook so I would absolutely encourage experimentation.

Bake the cake for around 40 minutes at 160C, or until a skewer comes out clean. Once you’ve done that, leave it to cool and slice when ready. If you can bring yourself to, though, I would recommend leaving it for 24 hours for the flavours to mature a little. You’ll get more of the sweet, honey undertones that way. The texture is also much more stable, and therefore willing to carry more butter. Just saying.

And there you have it. A tasty way to reduce the spread of weeds in your garden.

Have you tried eating dandelions? What are you favourite recipes? I would love to try them out! Contact me here, or on Twitter.

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*Which I’m sure my 90+ yr old friend said was what most people would have used during WW2 if honey wasn’t available, though I could be wrong.

Recovering my ironing board…

Some of you might have seen my recent post about beeswax wraps, and that I wrecked my ironing board cover while making them.

I’ve made covers for this baby ironing board before, but they’ve all been more than a little rubbish until now. I just couldn’t quite figure out how I should add the elastic/string to the main fabric. Then my friend posted a really clever method of doing so, and I’ve been waiting to try it ever since.

But I’m lazy, and the other cover was… mostly fine?

Maybe not.

Anyway – after I clarted everything in wax, I decided that now was the time to fix things. I grabbed an offcut of cotton from the kids’ curtains and set to work….

First off, I chose cotton because I know it’s not going to melt, and because I know I can machine wash it, if I get grease on it from making cheese toasties.

… Irons can do many things…

Anyway, first of all, I took the string out of the channel and set it to one side. Then I ripped off the horrible, amalgamated Franken-channel, formed from the deceased ironing board covers that came before it…

Which left me with a shape I could cut around.

After I’d done that, I went stash-raiding for some bias binding. This I found amongst my mother-in-laws things, in the ideal shade of turqoise.

And all I did after that, was open the binding out, fold it in half, and sew it around the edge of the old curtain, using the machine.

If you’ve got a more recent machine than mine – and being quite honest, as my machine is from 1895, chances are  you will have a more recent one – you should probably do a zig-zag stitch around the raw edge. Or use an overlocker if you have one. If you’re using an overlocker, you could do as Amelia suggests, over at Sewing Machinations, and overlock the wadding to the cover, but again – I’m lazy. And I didn’t.

After I’d finished, I tied the original string to a safety pin and passed it through the new bias binding channel.

An important point to note, at this stage. As soon as you have both ends of the string in your hands, tie a knot at the very tip. Then, as you try and even out the distribution of the string through the channel, you won’t lose one end and have to rethread the entire thing. After you’ve placed the cover on the board and tightened the string, then you can untie it and retie it in a tight bow. This will save you a lot of work if it gets lost.

All that’s left to do then is to put the cover on the board. As you can see, my ironing board is a tiny, table-top one – largely used for ironing sewing projects and toasted sandwiches (because who has space for a dedicated sandwich toaster?!) – but the principal is the same no matter what size of ironing board you have.

I really hope you’ve found this useful – I’d love to see your before/after pictures if you’ve had a go, either here or on Twitter.

Beeswax wraps

A little while ago, my friend and I had a go at making beeswax wraps and – quite honestly – it was a total disaster that resulted in a lot of wasted wax and a huge amount of mess.

Having then bought some wraps from a lovely lady at a craft stall just before Christmas, I discovered that instead of using the internet’s favourite ‘brush the melted wax on with a pastry brush’ method, that I could have just sprinkled some grated wax on some cloth and ironed it between two sheets of baking paper.

Well, now I’ve had a go at that and I can absolutely say – it’s so much easier and it actually works!

First, I grabbed some scraps of cotton, some pinking shears and some beeswax blocks, then I trimmed the scraps into regular shapes.

After I’d done that, I had a good pile of lovely squares.

Next step, was to grate the wax. I just used my regular cheese grater, but I think going forward – if the charity shops reopen any time soon – I’ll get one specifically for wax. It just makes cleaning it perfectly far less important.

I would like to state at this point that each of those nubs of wax made one wrap. So, if you want to do more than around 3, you’ll need several bars of the beeswax that you find at hardware stores. I buy this because it’s package free – unlike the stuff you get off eBay. But if you’re making these during lockdown, and you decide to order beeswax online, I would absolutely opt for the pre-made pellets, rather than grating a block.

Anyway, this is one of those nubs, grated…

And this is that grate nub spread out onto the cloth it’s about to cover.

And now, for the ironing. I put one sheet of greaseproof paper under the fabric and one on top, then brought out Old Faithful.

This is my Nan’s Rowenta iron. It was made in West Germany, which should give you some idea as to its longevity. Unfortunately, the temperature dial no longer works, so now I use it to iron toasted sandwiches and various craft projects. My ‘fancy’ iron – a sale buy from John Lewis costing a whole £10 – ends up staying clean this way…

Anyway, after you’ve run the iron over once, you’ll notice some parts of the cloth aren’t saturated – like the edges here. They’re a much paler colour to the rest. All you do is sprinkle a bit more wax on and repeat the ironing process.

And then you’re done – two lovely beeswax wraps, from scrap cloth and some package-free wax, ready to replace freezer bags and clingfilm. As these are for my mum, I made some packaging for her…

I just got some brown paper that had been used for padding in an online order, and cut it down. Then I drew on it with the kids’ felt pens.

As you can see – hopefully – from my scrappy handwriting, these wraps are really easy to care for. And if you’re a heavy cling-film user, they could end up saving you lots of plastic over the course of those 6 months.

I feel that I should add at this point that I wrecked my ironing board cover whilst doing this. I didn’t mean to, but actually, it was a good thing because it was dropping to bits anyway. It gave me the impetus to replace the manky, ancient thing I made when I was learning to sew. This could have absolutely been avoided, however, by making the fabric significantly smaller than the baking paper. As I wanted to ‘use up’ some baking paper that we’d used for bread, however, I cut my fabric to the same size and so spilled wax onto the ironing board. And the iron. It’s all a big mess…

Click ‘follow’ for ‘how to recover your ironing board’! 😉

Have you tried making beeswax wraps? Which method did you use?

I’d love to hear about your experiences – why not get in touch in the comments section, or on Twitter?

‘Tomorrow’, the Film

Before the lockdown, a friend of mine lent me her copy of the film ‘Tomorrow’.

Written by Cyril Dion, and directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, the film focuses on the powerlessness it’s easy to feel when dealing with the climate crisis, and what people all over the world are doing to combat this at both a grass-roots and political level.

Featuring segments about urban agriculture, local currency, Finnish schooling, and all manner of subjects in between, the film-makers manage to paint a really positive picture of how our world could look in the near future. And most importantly of all, it looks achievable. The interviews with people who have already made aspirational changes make it look easy, and rather than the feeling of doom that’s so prevalent in much of the media in regards to climate, I came away from watching this with a feeling of hope.

Hope that I could do more, hope that what I was doing mattered, hope that others would try too. The Los Angeles Times Review said it really well;

‘”Tomorrow” swaps the usual handwringing doomsday prophesizing in favor of a decidedly more proactive approach.’

I particularly loved the soundtrack to the film, which is possibly a bit of a superficial take-away from it, but I felt it was so perfect for setting the tone and keeping things positive, but not ‘jolly’. And from a personal stand-point, the division into ‘chapters’ really aided my watching this – it meant that I could sneak a segment in daily whilst the children were occupied with other things.

Have you seen the movie? Is it one you would recommend? I would love to hear your thoughts, and any other suggestions for things I could watch. Contact me here, or on Twitter.

Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler

Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler was one of the library books I was lucky enough to get trapped with whilst on lockdown. I ended up reading it last, though – after Jen Gale’s Sustainable(ish) Living Guide, and a wonderful bit of literary criticism which explores why everyone seems to love Mr Darcy (I still don’t get it, by the way!)

I sort of wish I’d read this first though, as it’s definitely relevant to the quarantine situation we’re in.

In short, the book is about the hidden nature we find within our cities, but also within ourselves. It chronicles Fowler’s exploration of the Birmingham canal network, and her own sexuality.

The love story Fowler tells is elegant and honest – a tale of romance which  features both the canals and her new partner. She does an artful job of centring her own experience in the breakdown of her marriage, whilst somehow managing not to sound self-centred. What struck me most was how she quietly respected the privacy of both her former husband and her lover, without losing a sense of intimacy in the prose.

I said that this book is relevant to the lockdown we find ourselves in, by which I mean: – lockdown is shifting our proverbial lens to focus on enjoying nature in unexpected places. So many people who live within cities and who might normally drive out to a country park or National Trust property, are now forced to seek out green spaces closer to home. Those who might not have previously made the effort to enjoy the natural world around them may now have a greater appreciation of what is on thier doorstep – I know I certainly do, and I walked the lanes around me daily even prior to the pandemic (followed by a very springy dog).

What I found most interesting – aside from the incredible chapter which detailed the impossible-sounding life cycle of eels* – was the inversion of accepted wisdom regarding wild spaces. The book was a wonderful reminder that the neat, tended fields of farmland are anything but wild, whilst the abandoned banks of an industrial canal …? They belong entirely to Mother Nature – reclaimed from man by plants and creatures. If we wish to see feral things, perhaps we need to stop searching in the manicured countryside and look to our city scapes instead.

It’s an interesting thought, and something that I will definitely keep in mind going forwards. It’s also a fascinating prism through which to view the rewilding process – perhaps all we need to do in order for the earth to reclaim spaces we’ve used is to trust that she will, and let her get on with it.

Have you read Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler? Or have you read any of her other books, or Guardian column? I would love to hear what you think, if you have. As ever, feel free to contact me here, or on Twitter.

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*Please – if you know of any easily digestable eel-related non-fiction, I would absolutely love a recommendation. I honestly spent a hefty chunk of the book with my mouth open in astonishment at the lives of these mind-blowing creatures.

Think Pink

This is a bit of a controvertial one, so I ask that you’re gentle with me. Views are my own and are only opinion, You do You etc.

But…

Before my youngest child was born, I was faced with something of a dilema – or at least, what passed for a dilema in the pre-Covid world. My older child was one sex, whilst my impending bump would be another.

At the time, there was a lot of talk about ‘gender neutral’ parenting, but the more I read, the more frustrated I became. The whole thing seemed to hinge on one entirely illogical element – the absense of pink.

If colours truly are – as every article I read regarding the subject insisted – “for everyone”, then why was it that pink seemed to be an absolute no-go, and what message was this sending?

There seemed to me to be a hypocricy in this, as though what was actually being said was, “any child can wear any colour, as long as it’s not pink because that’s for girls.” It simultaneously undermined the ‘colours are for everyone’ rhetoric, and devalued femininity.

So I made a choice – I was going to dress my boy in pink, and pass the clothes between children when they were outgrown as I would have if I’d had babies of the same sex.

The first time I dressed my boy in pink, I felt strange. The first time it was commented on, I felt ashamed – I won’t lie. My husband had a wonderful line, though, which he toted out regularly, “I’m not daft enough that I need my kids colour-coding, thanks.”

After a while, the comments stopped – the final one being, “Aren’t you afraid he’ll get into ballet or something?” I replied that I hoped so – it seemed to have been good for Jean Claude Van Damme’s action movie career.

So why am I writing about this on a blog which deals primarily with environmental issues?

The whole concept of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ garments was devised in the early 1900s as a way to sell more clothes*. The division of colour based on the sexes renders many parents ‘in need’ of new items with the arrival of a baby, and this can as much as double the environmental impact a child has.

These days, this divide in colours based on sex extrends far beyond clothes. I remember seeing requests in Facebook groups saying things like; ‘WANTED – paddling pool, suitable for a girl. As if somehow, the paddling pool would be less fun for the child were it not purple, or pink. Other discussions included; ‘I really want to use the pink sling I had for my daughter with my new baby – do you think it’s too girly for my son?’ Invariably, comments would ping back suggesting the same weave in different colours, or saying that of course she could use a pink sling because she was the one using it, not her boy.

We need to reject this idea that pink is a gendered colour. We also need to reject the notion that in order to raise children of different sexes equally, we should delete the colour pink. As soon as we do, we can return to a world where we naturally reuse the baby clothes from our first child for our second, where we see a toy for its play value, rather than its implied affliation with one sex or the other.

I won’t lie – it’s far easier to dress a girl in ‘boy’ clothes than it is to dress a boy in pink, but that’s only because people have worked hard to normalise women in trousers over the last century or so. If we’re brave now, we can ensure that our children don’t think twice about reusing the same items between siblings and cut down on huge amounts of waste.

When I first began thinking about my environmental impact (after reading Lucy Siegel’s ‘To Die For’, some ten years ago) I didn’t honestly expect it to touch so many aspects of my life. I hadn’t realised – to my shame – how huge an influence consumerism has on what we do. In order to truly reduce the harm I cause by over-consuming, I need to look increasingly at other areas of inequality in the world – in this case, feminism and gender issues.

As ever, I can only speak for myself, but I do passionately believe that if we’re dilligent and face these inequalities head-on, we can tackle climate change in the decade we’ve been given to do so. And if we look at all the causes of social inequality as we go, we’ll build a wonderful world.

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*Cordelia Fine’s work goes into great detail on this subject, as does Peggy Orenstein’s – the later being a lighter read.

4 easy things you can do to reduce your environmental impact – right now.

At the moment, it can be hard to make planet-conscious choices at the supermarket, given the various supply difficulties that Covid 19 has brought about. But there are still so many things we can do around the house to help keep our environmental impact low.

The actions detailed below shouldn’t cost anything (with the possible exception of number 4), and in most cases should actually save you money by reducing consumption of the item in question.

The ideas below aren’t listed in any particular order. In terms of impact though, switching your energy supplier is probably going to be the best single thing you can do.

  1. Squish your toilet rolls. It sounds daft, but if you change the shape of the inner tube, you make it less likely to turn too far on the dispenser, leaving you with too much loo roll on your hands. This is especially good when dealing with small children. It seems like it wouldn’t make a difference, but I honestly notice when I forget to squish the tube as I replace it!

  2. Mark your kettle so you only boil what you need. Take your favourite cups, fill them with water, and pour this into your empty kettle, one at a time. Use a permenant marker pen to note the point the water comes up to after each one. I know some kettles come with ‘cups’ marked on them, but in my experience, these don’t match up to the bucket-like vessels I drink my tea from. Also, marking the kettle myself made me more aware of over-filling so I tend to take the time to fill to my own mark now.

  3. Switch your search engine to Ecosia. This is something you only need to do once, but after it’s done, the ad revenue your searches generate will go towards planting trees. I’ve been using it for years now and have no issues with it, but some people report that as it’s based on the Bing engine and not Google, that searches aren’t as… accurate? thorough? good? as they might be. As I say, I’ve never had an issue, but you could always use Ecosia to search Google at the start of each session – then you’re getting the best of both worlds? You can read more about it on Wikipedia – here.
  4. Switch to a green energy supplier. Again, this is a simple, one off act that you can do now and then forget about. I use Cheap Energy Club to keep me updated on the lowest price green provider. The beauty of looking for energy prices this way is that you’ll get an email if a cheaper provider becomes available, so it takes the hard work out of keeping your costs down.

And that’s it! Four simple things which don’t necessitate buying zero-waste alternatives, four simple things which are either free or will save you money, and four simple things you can do from your house!

Which actions would make your list? I’d love to hear if there are any other obvious things I could be doing! As ever, contact me here or on Twitter.

‘Project Wild Thing’, the film

Project Wild Thing, by David Bond, is a really interesting little film. Released back in 2013, this one has slipped under my radar until now and I’m not entirely sure why… It appeared on my Twitter feed as something free to watch during lockdown and so, excited to see something new, I thought I would give it a go.

Project Wild Thing Screening - Upper Hutt - Eventfinda

I spoke before about how, in order to get children to care about the natural world, we needed to get them out in it, and invested in what was happening there. This film is about doing exactly that.

In the beginning, David appoints himself ‘marketing director for nature’ and from that point on, the narrative just sort of writes itself. He looks at the amount of time his own children spend outside and comes up with a pretty sad pie chart – only 4% of his daughter’s time is spent outside. This is the same proportion of time that she spends in the bathroom.

Speaking to marketing advisors and various creative people, David discovers that whilst parents want their children to go outside and enjoy the natural world, many are too conscious of risk. He touches on our societal fears of abduction and injury and I feel like these points are really important to acknowledge.

The scene in which David interviews a classroom of teenage girls really resonated with my own secondary school experience. In short, the pressure to look a certain way dictated their actions – in this case, they avoided the natural world. They didn’t want to go outside in bad weather because of the clothes they’d be made to wear by parents. It was a stark reminder of the culture amongst secondary children – peer approval really is everything, and unless we normalise the use of appropriate clothing amongst older children/young adults, this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away.

After watching the film, I had a better look at the website for The Wild Network. There are all sorts of things on there which I want to explore more of – specifically the various activity ideas.

At the time of writing, the film was available to watch for free, but even if that’s no longer the case, I would still recommend seeking it out. It’s a properly interesting little documentary.

Have you watched Project Wild Thing? What did you think? Do you have any ideas for other films I should see? As ever, contact me here or on Twitter to let me know.

Carrots

I’m trying to grow some carrots this year, which I’ve been told can be difficult. I thought that as I have two different varieties (because a. I got excited, and b. I don’t know what I’m doing), that I would try growing them in different ways. This isn’t going to help me determine which method works best, or which variety suits our climate best, because there are too many variables for this to be a proper experiment, but it will let me try out a load of different things – which is excellent (see points a & b, above).

So, method one… The lady at the seed library advised wetting a sheet of kitchen roll, spacing the seeds on it and then covering the sheet of kitchen roll with a very fine layer of compost (just enough to hold it down). I have tried this with some yellow carrot seeds which I got from the seed library but there’s no signs of life yet.

But I still have some left, so I thought I would also try….

Method two… Which is a lot more involved, but oddly, seems far simpler. I basically watched this turorial and decided to try pre-soaking the seeds, then suspending them in a cornflour gel for easy distribution in the raised bed. This method was extra-welcome, because it meant I could make excess cornflour gel and let my small tag-along play with this while I did garden work.

And just because ‘why not’, I thought I would try sowing my root parsley seeds in the same way too.

First of all, you soak the seeds in water until you see the tiniest tip of a root showing, then you drain the water off and suspend the lot in the cornflour gel (see tutorial link above for gel recipe).

As to where I’m planting – I decided to plant my carrots in the same bed as my onions because I’d read that planting the two together works really well, and I decided to put the root parsley with the chives and garlic. I read somewhere once (specific, I know!) that carrots and parsnips should be kept seperate and whilst I know root parsley isn’t parsnips, I didn’t want to risk it. Root parsley is one of the husband’s favourite vegetables and as we haven’t been able to buy it anywhere, growing it is the only option. I usually get the seeds from Real Seeds, but due to the Covid 19 outbreak, the daily buying window for the site is too short and I had to buy on eBay instead.

But I digress…

The gel was really easy to make, though I feel like I should reiterate that you need it to cool before using it. If you don’t, you risk cooking your seeds before you get them in the mud. And obviously, this method uses a plastic bag as a dispenser, but there’s nothing to say that you need to use a brand new freezer bag for this – reused packagaing works just as well, it transpires.

Above is a picture of the seeds supsended in the gel. It looks… snotty…

Out in the raised beds, I lay a bamboo cane on the soil and pushed it in so I would get a line to squish the gel into. As you can see, I’m planting the carrots with the onions. The onion on the bottom right is a shop-bought one that started sprouting in the cupboard so I thought I would put it in the mud to see what happened… technical stuff…

Over in the other bed, I did the same thing with the root parsley seeds.

The next few days have rain forecast, so hopefully I won’t have to do too much watering to keep these guys from drying out.

I will send an update when I have one! Cross fingers for me!