One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones

The premise of this book is simple – it is a collection of recipes which use one pan, low cooking times, and are primarily plant-based.

That alone should be enough for me to recommend it, but you should absolutely buy this book based on the Saag Aloo cottage pie. It’s worth it, honestly, just for that.

And I could say way more, but I’m not going to. Because I shouldn’t need to say anything beyond Saag Aloo cottage pie.

Because… pie. And curry.

Buy Better Consume Less by Sian Conway-Wood

This book wasn’t at all what I expected, but in the best possible way.

At this point in time, I’ve read a lot of books about the environment and if I’m being honest, I thought this would be another fairly low-hanging-fruit, take-a-reusable-water-bottle kind of affair. Happily though, it’s really not. It’s a considered, nuanced look at why the things we’re doing aren’t necessarily for the best and it’s a take that I feel is long, long overdue.

I’ll let this paragraph speak for itself.

This is exactly the sort of advice that the environmental movement is missing. Prior to this paragraph, the author details ways in which tools like Carbon Footprints, and Sustainable Clothing collections from mainstream fashion retailers are actually muddying the waters. The book discusses the ways in which feel-good slogans are weaponised against consumers, and used to fill our bandwidth with guilt so that we feel bad and buy more.

I mean, yeah, it’s technically true, but that’s a lot of pressure for your breakfast cereal to be putting on you at 7am

When tackling food waste, for example, it doesn’t patronise by suggesting meal planning, but talks about setting up or finding initiatives like community fridges. It also acknowledges that there are so many different fronts to fight when it comes to food – that so many times, consumers are forced to choose between avoiding plastic or avoiding animal products, or between local produce and vegan foods. Just having those decisions recognised shows how imperfect our fight against the climate crisis is.

If you’re sick of trying your hardest and seeing no change, this is the book for you. Yes, it’s hard reading at times, but it’s also important reading. As someone who’s been doing this a long time, I found it validating and galvanising.

Have you read this book? Have you participated in the author’s #EthicalHour on Twitter? What’s your favourite book for people a little further along this journey?

3 day camping trip! What I pack to eat for a family of 4!

Back in June, we had the chance to head off camping for a few days. We didn’t go far – primarily because there’s work ongoing at home and we needed to be able to get back if necessary, but mostly because I didn’t want the whole weekend to be consumed with the drive. We’re going to be doing enough of that over the summer holidays so I really wanted this trip to be about relaxing.

That said, there was absolutely no way that I could afford to eat out for most meals so food needed to be:
– cheap
– easy
– non-perishable because we don’t have a fridge/cooler.

So here’s what we ended up taking along.

So, what do we have here?

  • Marshmallows! I’m taking two children camping. These are the most important item here.
  • 3 cans of sweetcorn
  • 3 cans of kidney beans/chickpeas
  • A jar of flavoured cous cous
  • A 500g bag of pasta
  • A jar of curry sauce
  • A jar of pasta sauce (homemade)
  • 2 packs of easy cook rice
  • 1 pack of chocolate hobnobs (because Rik Mayall and Bottom!)
  • Child’s favourite tea
  • Some emergency oat cakes
  • Apples
  • Breakfast bars (not pictured)
  • Coffee (not pictured)

I chose not to pack lunches – this is probably the cheapest meal to eat out and as I didn’t know what we were doing each day, it didn’t make sense to bank on being at the campsite to cook.

Where I’ve priced stuff below, I’ve used the Morrisons website (because that’s what I’ve got a log in for), but it’s not really a supermarket I shop at now because I try and fit my shopping in around other trips. You’ll see a ridiculous range of brands photographed below because rather than waste fuel, I tend to buy items from a combination of a mid-sized Tesco/Asda and a refillery near my local library.

So, breakfasts!

Rather than pay for pre-made granola/breakfast bars, I had a go at making my own, using this recipe from Pick Up Limes. In an attempt to reduce the cost, I used peanut butter instead of almond butter, I didn’t bother roasting the hazelnuts before blending them, and I swapped out the pecans for walnut halves (the pieces are cheaper than the wholes and since you break them up anyway, it’s a good way to lower costs). I happened to have cranberries in my pantry, but if making these again, I reckon I could get away with using raisins. Normally I wouldn’t bother with the chocolate on top either, but we had some in a bowl, left over from baking so I thought I might as well use it up.

In the past, we’ve taken porridge with us – mixing rolled oats, powdered milk, cinnamon, cranberries/raisins and sugar in a jar to make our own ‘instant’ porridge. You just need to cover the contents in boiling water, stir, rest the lid on the jar, and then wait a couple of minutes. This has the added bonus that after a quick rinse, you can pop the jar into a recycling bin – less to take home, no dishes, and lots cheaper than the jars above. As we do this whenever we travel, though (including the huge walk we went on), I wanted a change.

Dinner #1 – chickpea curry and rice

We started with a super easy dinner – empty some things into a big pan, dish up, and eat. Looking at the Morrisons website, basics sweetcorn can be had for 35p per can, KTC Chickpeas are 45p per can, a jar of plant based Tikka sauce is £1 (though I got this one from Tesco for less than that, I’m sure). The Tilda rice sachets are £1 each, but you can get cheaper ones (i.e. sachets of microwave rice for 35p each and which heat up just fine in a pan). With the expensive rice, that’s £3.80 for four, or 95p each. With the cheap rice, that would be £2.50, or roughly 62p each.

Dinner #2 – chickpea cous cous

For this one, I made my own flavoured cous cous. Again, this was because we happened to have some plain cous cous in the pantry and I’m very stingy. I used 300g plain cous cous, a tablespoon each of bouillon powder and mixed herbs, and a pinch of chilli flakes. And then because my eldest is obsessed with the stuff, I threw in a spoonful of nutritional yeast for good measure. I’m not sure this adds much but…

I then added a good handful of raisins, and one of cashew nuts, and I shook the whole thing up in a jar.

Here again, the sweetcorn is 35p and the chickpeas are 45p. Flavoured cous cous sachets run to 50p per 110g so you’d need roughly 3 for the amount of cous cous I have here. That makes the whole meal at £2.30, or 57p each. Plain cous cous is 70p per 500g, so 14p per 100g, and 42p per 300g (which I’ve used here. If you’re just adding herbs and bouillon, it’s definitely cheaper to flavour your own but as I’ve added nuts and raisins, I’m not so sure. Either way, those are the sums.

Dinner #3 – pasta and sauce

Again, the sweetcorn sits at 35p, and KTC kidney beans at 45p. 500g of wholegrain pasta is 75p – I expect us to use roughly 300g of this, so 45p. I made the sauce myself from random things in my fridge, put it into a sterilised jar while hot and then waited for it to cool. It won’t keep indefinitely, but it’ll last a few days out of the fridge this way. The cheapest pasta sauce looks to be 65p and of a fairly similar composition, so that’s what I’ll price this as (I used 2 sad onions, some celery offcuts, half a pack of cherry tomatoes, a can of tomatoes, some herbs, and a lonely jar of roast peppers and sundried tomatoes which had been in the fridge for about a year, in case anyone is interested).

This is the cheapest meal of the lot, using the store-bought items. It comes to £1.90 all in and 47p per person.

For the dinners over the long weekend, it cost me roughly (because as I said, I used Morrisons costing and don’t shop there) £8, or around £2 per person. As detailed above, this could come to more or less depending on how much you do/don’t spend on cous cous/rice, and whether you make the pasta sauce yourself. I think the stuff that I made probably works out as more expensive than the supermarket option, but as it used up some things I might have otherwise had to bin, I’m calling it a win.

We did also take our own coffee with us, boiling the water first thing and taking that in a flask so as not to have to buy any while out and about. We weighed it into filters before leaving, and took our own collapsible filter holders with us (pictured above). This is pretty much my only indulgence when I’m camping and I make no apologies for it. We save a few pennies by weighing it out ourselves compared to coffee bags, but the main point in doing this is the lack of waste – the filters here are compostable and the site had compost bins, so it just made this luxury a little more earth friendly.

The rice sachets and the pasta bag are the only non-recyclable packaging we took along, though obviously if you’ve not got the time/inclination to make the breakfast bars, these would come in packets too.

Well, that was a massively long post! With bigger trips coming up this summer, I’d love to hear any ideas you’ve got about what to eat while camping! Do you cook on a gas stove, or a fire? If you try any of the above, I’d especially love to hear how you got on! ❤

Adrift by Tracey Williams

This is a really beautiful book. I borrowed it from the library expecting a fairly standard non-fiction offering, but there’s so much more to it than that – lovely colour photos throughout, thick paper (a real love of mine), and a smattering of poems,

Adrift looks in detail at the Lego which fell from the Tokio Express in 1997, and which continues to wash up along the Cornish coast. Williams speaks about her own experience of collecting the lost Lego, but also about the wider issue of plastics in the ocean. She speaks about material culture by chronicling the objects we lose in the sea, and brushes upon the impact said objects have on wildlife.

Despite being a short book – I read it in a day – it’s quite a dense one. At its core, it’s really an invitation for discussion. If there’s anyone in your like who still doesn’t feel like they need to curtail their materialism, or who doesn’t believe in the climate crisis, then this is an interesting, gentle challenge which teased at the issue with a humanising story. It never felt confrontational or intimidating.

For me, the best part of the book was the way in which it placed value on the objects washing ashore. We consider so much of what we find on the beach to be rubbish, but ultimately, these objects all still have a story. They all began somewhere and will all end somewhere, and just because they’re no longer fulfilling their original purpose, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be considered a resource again. Even the lost Lego has found a function in helping to map the tidal currents of the world. As a species, humanity is resourceful – adaptable – and we need to apply that adaptability to the issues currently impacting our world.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found washed up on a beach? I’d love to hear about your treasures.

xx

DIY reusable water balloons!

Summer is well and truly on its way – even in North East Scotland.

Unfortunately, so is Covid. Still. Again. I don’t even know any more.

Either way, I had both children off school recently with a dose of the plague (confirmed by a hoarded LFT). So, I took the opportunity to teach Eldest to sew some simple cushions.

To use as reusable water balloons! Hooray!

These are fairly self explanatory. In the scrap bag we found some pre-cut patchwork squares, left over from a previous project, but any woven fabric should do the job. And we stuffed them using the guts of an old bed-pillow – most of which was sacrificed to make me a kneeling pad for when I’m digging – so potentially, this is a cheap (if not ‘free’*) project.

We made ten little pillows in total, so each participant gets five. Eldest paired the fabric so that there are five pillows with matching sides and five with contrasting sides – odds v evens, if you like – but the design is pretty irrelevant. Once these ‘balloons’ are in play, they’re all free game!

These are a great way of using up scrap fabric, and a good way of preventing plastic waste in the form of popped balloons. On top of that, they use very little water, so if you’re on a meter, that’s good news too.

And if you’re in Scotland, they work indoors on cold days as mini ‘pillow fight’ ammo!

Cut/find two squares of fabric and place them right-sides together.
Sew around the edges, leaving a gap for the stuffing.
Turn the right way round and fill with stuffing.
Sew all the way around the edge, being sure to catch the opening properly.
And you’re done! Enjoy!

Do you have know of any really easy beginner sewing projects, suitable for someone just learning? We’ve done all the usual bits – aprons and tote bags, for example. I’m keen to try teaching Eldest how to make shorts next but I don’t know if I’m jumping the gun – I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’d especially love to hear about your attempts at making these plastic-free water balloons, if you decide to give them a try.

Much love

Farn.
_____
*Is anything really free? I mean, I bought the stuff once, right? And labour isn’t free, even if it is in the name of education. I feel like maybe it’s time we started acknowledging all of these hidden costs in things. Do you feel the same?

The things that Arwen taught me

From the 25th to the 27th November 2021, our house was buffeted by a named storm: Arwen.

We’ve weathered storms before – lost power, lost water, lost light in the winter dark. I’ve been in homes where the central heating has failed completely in the snow and we’ve huddled together for warmth – pressing our hands against the vents of feeble laptop fans in an effort to win back some feeling.

But those times were nothing like this. This was brutal in a way that the weather hasn’t been to me before.

But first, let’s head back to July, 2021…

One morning, beneath a sky of swallows, the components of a greenhouse that I’d waited a literal decade for arrived on the back of a trailer. We’d planned to purchase one in 2020, but because of the pandemic, prices rocketed and supplies dwindled as the UK took up gardening. A greenhouse couldn’t be had for love nor money.

Finally, that July, having saved up for eight years to buy one, they were finally in stock at our chosen retailer. It was my turn to own a greenhouse.

But…

Concrete shortages as a result of both Brexit and the pandemic delayed the process, and so the structure sat in pieces in my shed and I was forced to be patient for a little longer. In the end, the farmer helped us to secure and install offcuts of a flatpack concrete barn as flooring – oversized tongue and groove panels, hoisted over the hedge by friends and received by my brother and husband – crowbarring the three one-tonne slabs into place. Finally, on November the 23rd, the structure stood proud in the most sheltered part of the garden.

You all know where this story is going. I’ll spare you the details.

This wall should be vertical…

In short, one pane smashed, warping the frame at around noon on the 25th. We fought it until we couldn’t any more – packing plastic covered cardboard over the hole and using three rolls of tape in the process. The frame had warped too much though, and by the time the children had been rescued from school, we’d lost the doors.

At this point, it was no longer safe outside and so we retreated indoors – every glance at the garden revealing new devastation.

Then we lost the light.

And the power.

And part of a bedroom window.

Overnight, we lost the water supply to the house too.

We shut the cat-flap and made makeshift litter from a plant pot’s drip tray and some newspaper. With great trepidation, Husband braved the weather to take the dog out for the night. Then we withdrew to our room, children gathered in and around our little double bed as best as I could make us all fit.

The next day, the true extent of the devastation revealed itself – not only had we lost the greenhouse and some of the window casing, but we’d also lost over 20 of the trees which flanked the road to the farm – ancient beech giants which had stood like a guard of honour since at least the 1800s when they first featured on an early Ordinance Survey map.

After villagers attempted to saw through to reach us.

I wish I could show you more pictures of the devastation but the children are in most of them and I’m not keen to post their likeness online. If you look at the above image though, and imagine a full 7 trees down across the road, with a further three fallen, but balancing over the throughway against the branches on the other side, you can start to get an idea for the loss.

Messaging friends over the mountain, it became evident that we weren’t the only ones impacted. One of the parents at school had a tree fall not only on their conservatory, but also on their oil tank – the fuel contaminating the whole garden and seeping under the garage, necessitating its demolition for decontamination. My parents ended up being without power for 70+ hours, my brother for over 100+. Their cars kept them warm, as they drove to collect fish and chips from food vans provided by the council and the power company.

We hung my bike lamp in the living room for light, and cooked on a combination of the log-burner and the gas hob. Growing up in the North East at the start of the oil boom has distilled in me a ritual for when the power fails – a fossil in my habits from before the infrastructure here could cope with the number of houses being built.

If the lights go off, I fill every vessel which can hold water, close the curtains, and shut off any room I won’t use.

With the water gone and no way to get out for more, I was grateful for my sometimes icy childhood. We invited the neighbours round to share our fire, knowing they had none, and we spent the morning chatting, as on top of the previous night’s foul weather, we watched snow fall.

After forty-eight hours – longer than the greenhouse stood – the power flickered back to life.

Relaying it now, it’s evident that this occurred over an incredibly short time, all things considered, but I feel like it was something of a seismic event in my life, for multiple reasons.

Since the storm, I’ve been so grateful for things I previously took for granted – running water, for one. I I’ve always been conceptually thankful for it, but having to flush the toilet with buckets of freezing rain from the one water-butt which remained standing has a real way of highlighting what a luxury a flushing loo really is. I’m grateful that not everything in the house runs on electricity – ironically something I was trying to remedy in an effort to be more ‘green’. Our gas hob burns fossil fuel, yes, but it meant that we could eat during the power outage – something we wouldn’t have been able to do had we not had it. The fallen trees meant we couldn’t do what other people did, and utilise food vans or delivery services. I venture we’d have found a way, but to not have to think about that on top of everything else was a luxury I was glad of. I was grateful for the Bluetooth speaker and the ability to charge Husband’s phone via its USB port. I was grateful for my bike light, and the mountain of ‘decorative’ candles we inherited from my mother in law.

I was also acutely aware of how exhausting it is to be cold. The house I lived in growing up, and which used to lose power with reasonable regularity, was a 1970s bungalow which my parents had insulated, and which housed an oil-fired Aga at its heart. Even in the coldest of power cuts, we could huddle around the huge iron block of an oven, enjoying tea and toast at regular intervals. My house is not a 1970s bungalow – it is a 1901 farm-workers’ cottage. It is cobbled together from stones picked off the field. If it ever was insulated, the moths and mice have scurried the wool or straw away through generations of pests and we are left with granite. And only granite. One little Danish log-burner couldn’t hope to combat a storm like this – not alone. When unemployment hit us, it did so at the start of the summer and though it ate through our savings, we didn’t have to think about how we were going to heat the place. Hearing about fuel poverty now feels like a visceral dagger – that people have to experience bone grating cold when it is preventable leaves me awake at night. I know I need to find some way to help.

The farm sold off the trees it needed to clear and for months, our weekends sounded like chainsaws. Groups of people from the village came with trailers and equipment and left with firewood. The quantity they took was staggering. The wood in this picture is what was left from one tree – the people who bought it thought that this wasn’t worth taking with them. I am so, so grateful that the farm lent us their trailer so we could bring it home. Some I’ll season and burn, and some I’ll hopefully craft with.
The volume is greater than that of my car by at least 50%.

Less than two months after Arwen we suffered two more storms in close succession – Storm Malik, and then Storm Corrie. The power remained off for even longer this time but I knew I could survive them. Arwen hardened something in my soul.

I’m still waiting for another greenhouse, and it was still too high a price to pay for that tempering, but I’m grateful all the same. Because I know know, beyond doubt, that I am strong and resourceful.

The frame and remaining glass, incidentally, was collected last month by someone who found me via Freecycle. She took the panes to mend her neighbour’s greenhouse, and the metal of the frame to make an enormous chicken run. We received a dozen eggs in return, and it feels like a good trade.

Food Waste Slaw

I recently posted about making vegan mayo from chick-pea water. And that turned into the perfect excuse to make a good old-fashioned coleslaw!

In-keeping with the theme of using things you’d normally throw away (like the chick-pea water and apple vinegar for the mayo), I thought that instead of using cabbage for the main bulk of the coleslaw, I’d use cauliflower leaves.

This was exactly as easy as you’d expect. I shredded the leaves, grated two small carrots and an apple, then mixed the lot in some mayo. I added some chopped parsley and lovage as I served it – because we have some – but normally I might use fennel seeds or coriander/cilantro.

I didn’t tell any family members that I was using a different type of leaf, or a different type of mayo, but no one noticed and when I told them after we’d finished, they confirmed that they hadn’t noticed. So I’d call that a win!

How do you use your cauliflower leaves? Until now, I’ve just roasted them in oil and chili flakes whenever the oven has been on, and eaten them as a snack, but I’m always keen to try new things!

Vegan mayo from food waste that actually works!

I’ve got to confess, I was more than a little skeptical when someone first mentioned vegan mayo to me.

I had a go though – and it worked the first time! – but subsequent attempts were always runny. I hadn’t really lost anything but some oil for trying to make it, but with the price of sunflower oil skyrocketing in the UK right now, I put my experiements on hold.

Then Husband found this Danish recipe and everything changed!

I’ve translated it below, but because it’s not my recipe, I’d really appreciate you clicking the link above if you do try it. Credit where it’s due, and the original author definitely deserves the clicks. There’s even a handy video, so when you’ve got the quantities from down below, you could just head over and watch the instructions there? 🙂

Micadeli’s Vegan Mayo!

200 mls of neutral oil (e.g. sunflower/grapeseed/vegetable oil)
50 mls chickpea water
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp mustard (I use Dijon)
1 pinch of salt

Put all of the ingredients in a jar with a neck big enough for a stick-blender to fit in (or another type of container).
Blend with the stick-blender at the bottom of the jar.
Done!

The recipe above is really forgiving. You can use it with oil from jars of sundried tomatoes, for example (make sure it’s 100% oil that they’re in), or use a garlic or a chilli oil instead. We use raw, homemade cider vinegar for this, so depending on what food waste you’ve got – oil and chick-pea water – you only need to get mustard and salt to make this work!

I would love to hear how you get on if you try making this, and I’d love to hear about any variations you decide to use!

Raw Cider Vinegar – it’s basically free!

This blew my mind!

For years, I’d been buying expensive cider vinegar, but you can make it from nothing more than apple scraps, water, and a tablespoon of sugar!

All you need to do is fill a jar with scraps – peelings, or cores are perfect, but if you’ve got windfall apples, they’re great too! – then cover with a solution of sugar and water. You need about a tablespoon of sugar per 500mls/1 pint of water.

You might find that the apples float a little here, but you can’t let them get away with that sort of nonsense – that’s how mould happens. I fill a small carrier bag with water to use as a weight and this gets right up to the edges of the jar. In the past, I’ve tried to do this without plastic, but I’ve never been successful. This way has always worked though.

Below is a very bad picture – not of cider vinegar, but of sauerkraut. It should give you an idea of what I’m on about with the bag though (I hope!)

And that’s all there is to it! You just sort of… leave it there for about six weeks. Or longer if you forget. Then filter it through a coffee filter, or a cheesecloth, or… something. And that’s all there is to it!

Have you tried making apple cider vinegar before? If you have, how do you weigh your apples down?

A Guide to Eco-Anxiety by Anouchka Grose

This is a book I read a while ago now, and to be honest, I don’t remember a huge amount about it.

I really liked the concept when I first picked this up, but I remember that I felt the execution was a little lacking. What I really wanted to read, was something similar to Factfulness by Hans Rosling, but about the environment. But what I got was largely a self-help book with a slight eco focus.

I think I’m a fairly logical, ‘citations please’ sort of person, so what I’d actually have found comforting was seeing areas in which humanity had managed to make progress, coupled with an analysis of how we did that. Fact gives me hope. Deep breathing makes me feel helpless – it’s what you do when there’s little/nothing else left.

And I don’t want to believe we’re there yet.

If you do want to read something heartening, that did actually improve how I see the world, then the above-mentioned Factfulness is a much better idea. I think the subtitle is something like ‘why you’re wrong and the world is better than you think’, and honestly, that was just what I needed.

I think we have this misconception that we need to be right in order to be happy, but that just isn’t true. I think we need to be honest so that we can make progress and be happy.

This book is definitely worth a nosey if you see it in the library, and even worth a few pounds if you happen upon it in a charity shop, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for.

What do you do in order to stay optimistic about the state of the world? Have you got any books you look to for advice?