Low waste treats

When we initially sat down to take stock of what we were throwing away, one item stood out above the rest – snack packaging.

I’ve always been a baker, so cake-packaging was never particularly prevalent, but chocolate bars and crisps featured heavily. Happily, there are lots of chocolate bars out there which come in paper and foil – everything from Green & Black’s Organic, to Lidl’s most basic line. The other expenses of the week dictate which I choose, but the Lidl ones are really good for cooking with.

Anyway, though I love chocolate as much as the next person, there comes a point when you want to have something… other than just chocolate.

Obviously, alternative snack options include the usual unpackaged suspects – fresh fruit, homemade pop corn (ideally from a refillery, but even in a plastic bag, the packaging is vastly reduced), and home bakes are all excellent. Sometimes though, you just want to eat trashy sweets that remind you of your childhood.

So what are your options here?

Well, chocolate fudge is incredibly easy to make. You need:
-500g of chocolate
-a can of condensed milk.

You melt the ingredients together (either in a pan, slow cooker or bain marie), allow the mixture to cool and then slice into blocks. At this point, you can eat it as it is, or cover the blocks in chocolate and enjoy a homemade Fudge bar. All of the ingredients’ packages are fully recyclable, and if it isn’t eaten first, lasts for quite a while in the fridge.

The other pre-packaged chocolate that’s surprisingly easy to make is honey-comb/Crunchie/cinder toffee. It took me years to attempt it because… well… it just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you could make at home. I wish I’d tried sooner, though.

I followed this recipe, then dribbled chocolate over the top. I’m considering buying a silicone mould so I can make actual bars of this – it’s absolutely delicious. The ingredients come in metal tins (golden syrup), paper (sugar), and recyclable plastic (bicarb), though the bicarbonate of soda can sometimes be purchased in a refillery, or in bulk online. I buy huge quantities at a time because I used it for cleaning, bath bombs and cooking, which reduces the quantity of waste this produces.

I would love to be able to show you some beautiful photos of these things when I finished making them, but they didn’t last long enough for that. They were consumed within minutes. Literal minutes.

My next step in eliminating snack waste will be to attempt making my own crisps. I have a deep fat frier, but before I get involved in that whole endeavour, I want to try out baking potato skins.

Are there any other recipes you know of to replicate store-bought snacks? I’d love to hear them.

 

Extending garment life with natural dye.

When I first started writing this blog, I never thought I would end up flashing my underwear online, but fast-forward and here we are – a post, solely about my smalls.

Before we go any further, I should probably explain.

Generally, when something of mine wears out, I replace the item with its second-hand equivalent. Generally. There are, of course, some exceptions. One of these is definitely underwear. So, that being the case, when I do buy underwear, I buy it with longevity in mind. For me, that means 100% cotton, bright white (the reasons to be explained below) and with replacable elastic. I can’t honestly remember where the current set came from, but they’re ingenious – the waist band has what appear to be button-holes sewn in, but they’re actually there so that if the elastic snaps, it’s a really simply job to replace it.

Above, I mentioned that I like to buy bright white underwear – that’s because I used to bleach them to extend the time they looked new. Then I realised that bleach probably wasn’t environmentally brilliant so I took to dying them when they started to look a bit grey. This worked far better in terms of longevity – begin with a pale shade and then go darker until eventually you dye them black. Winning. Only, until now, I’d been using the machine-dye packets which are probably even worse than the bleach for my septic tank.

Then I watched this video, and decided to try some of the natural dye techniques it suggests. In this case, I made dye using red onion skins and turmeric.

I won’t show you the horrible, grey ‘before’ shots of my old pants. No one wants to see those… but here are some pictures as things got underway.

I started by mixing water with some of the non-brewed condiment I bought a few months ago – a ratio of around 2 parts water to 1 part condiment. Then I added the cotton and the onion skins and boiled for half an hour. I allowed this to cool in the pan and then tossed them in the washing machine drum.

Then onto the turmeric. Again, I added a 2-1 combination of water and non-brewed condiment, then around 3tbsp of turmeric powder.

Again, I boiled this for around 30 minutes and allowed it to cool. Then I tossed the cotton in the washing machine drum with the onion-dyed garments.

I washed both at 30 with my regular powder (at this point, Asda Non-Bio), then dried them.

The results were far better than I had expected. The vibrancy of the yellow doesn’t really translate to the screen very well, but it’s like sunshine in real life.

What I didn’t realise, as I threw the turmeric underwear into the machine drum, however, was that there was already a pile of napkins in there. The napkins were, from the residual turmeric, turned a very pale lemon colour. Fine – thought I – I can use some laundry bleach on them to bring them back to white. Not ideal, sure, but at least it’s laundry bleach and not actual bleach bleach.

Well… here’s the thing. When you add an alkali to turmeric, it goes red. So there I am, stirring laundry bleach round my slightly yellow napkins and they’re turning slightly pink and it occurs to me that a lot of this ‘bleach’ is probably bicarbonate of soda. My next experiment is absolutely to see what sort of red turmeric and bicarb make.

I’m not sure how these will wear, or if the colour will rub off on other clothes, but underwear seems like a fairly safe starting point – if it does transfer to other clothes, it will be on the inside.

Like I said above, dye is a really great way to extend the life of clothing. I tend to buy ‘new’ things (i,e, in charity shops) in as pale a shade as possible so when they start to look grubby, I can hide all the stains with a new colour. I love the process too – you never know what you’re going to get at the end of it. Some of my all-time-favourite garments have come about this way.

Is there anything you do to make your clothes last longer than they would otherwise? I’d really love to hear about any methods you use.

Minimal Waste Garlic baguettes

One of the things I like to do regarding food, is to see how long I can go between meal-planned shopping trips. This results in less food waste as I’m forced to find ways to use up the odds and ends in the fridge which might otherwise go to waste.

One of the easiest, quickest, most obvious ways of using up wilting vegetables is soup and so we tend to eat a lot of it – I am a lazy cook! That said, it can get a bit samey  if you’re having it a few days in a row. For that reason, I really love to serve it with different things; oatcakes, cheese on toast, porcini bread (more on that later), and the all time favourite – a garlic baguette.

The obvious issue with these is the packaging. Some are better than others, but often you find the bread on a plastic tray within a plastic bag, or two baguettes individually wrapped within a larger bag…

As we were getting through so many of these, I decided to try and find a reduced waste alternative. Unfortunately, I can’t get butter without creating waste, but otherwise, I think I’ve got it cracked!

First, you need your baguettes. You can buy these loose at many bakery counters within the supermarkets. I can vouch for the quality of those from Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco, but haven’t tried any from other outlets. Pictured below are some reduced baguettes I bought for 11p. Yes, they came in plastic, but I’ve been keeping these sleeves after use to freeze loose baguettes so they won’t be destined for the bin for a while yet.

Plus, I’m not going to lie – I’m not going to say no to 11p bread. But that’s a discussion for another time. For now, I’m claiming that my buying them helps to reduce food waste…

In addition to the bread, you need around a third of a pack of butter, a garlic clove and a big handful of parsley. I got the parlsey from the reduced section this time, too, but when my plant outside recovers, I’ll be using homegrown again. I’ve also been known to use dried in the past and it does work though obviously you need less –  I reckon about 1tsp is a good quantity.

First of all, melt your butter. Today, I had some just-boiled water in my kettle from the cuppa I was drinking so I used a bain marie, but you could just toss the butter in a bowl in the microwave for around 20 seconds, mashing it at the 10 second mark.

After your butter has melted, mince/finnely shred your garlic and very finely chop your parsley. Mix the lot together and place this in the fridge/somewhere cool until the garlic butter has the consistency of Mr Whippy ice cream.

While you’re waiting slice across the baguette, but leave about 1cm attached the bottom. I don’t know what’s going on with the above picture, by the way. The bread looks miniature but I swear it’s just the angle…

After the butter has hardened a little, it’s just a matter or spooning it in between the slices. Slip the bread back in its plastic, or in one you’ve been saving, or another recepticle of your choice and then freeze.

To reheat these, turn the oven on to around 160C/320F and allow around 20 minutes. To make the most of the oven being on, I usually cook something else at the same time – a cake/some cupcakes/the soup in a casserole dish, for example.

If I’d purchased baguettes loose, bagged them up in my reusable bags like I normally do, and used parsley from the garden, the only non-compostable waste would have come from the butter packet.

Definitely an improvement on the pre-made baguettes, and a fraction of the price.

I would call that a win! What are your favourite ready made foods? I’d love to see if we can figure out a low waste, super-easy alternative! As ever, let me know either here, or on Twitter.

 

Red cabbage rescue

So, you’ve had your festive feast and made sure to save any spare cooked vegetables for classic leftover dishes like bubble and squeak. But what about the vegetables which didn’t make it to the pan – the half red cabbage, for example?

Cabbage is actually one of the easiest vegetables to save from the rubbish bin. Unappetising in a soup – unlike most other vegetables – it makes the most amazing fermented preserve (I’m told by German friends and relatives that I can’t technically call this sauerkraut because it’s red cabbage, but it’s definitely sauerkraut-adjacent).

First, you need to very finely shred your cabbage.

As you can see from my picture, I did not ‘very finely’ shred my cabbage. This doesn’t really impact on the taste, but when you’re grabbing handfuls of it, covered in salt, it’s much easier if it’s thinly cut.

You need to add around 1 tbsp of salt per half a small cabbage (accurate measurements there), then grab handfuls of the cabbage/salt mixture and effectively knead it in the bowl. Eventually, the cabbage will begin to give up a brine. If this doesn’t happen after around ten minutes of kneading then you probably need to add a little more salt and keep kneading.

To store the cabbage during fermentation, you will need a jar, and a weight that fits inside the jar. Please excuse my laziness in not properly removing labels from re-used jars – they do come off on their own eventually…

Decant the cabbage/salt/brine mixture into the jar – the cabbage should have reduced significantly in volume by now. Add any spices you think would be nice – we really like mustard seeds, fennel seeds, corriander seeds and nigella. Mix them all together and then begin to compress the cabbage until all strands are sitting below the level of brine.

When you’re happy with your cabbage/brine arrangement, you need to weigh it down so that the cabbage doesn’t escape as the liquid evapourates.

At this stage, sensible people would add weight inside the glass ramekin…

I am not a sensible person, so I put a jar of rosehip jam on top… Job done. But only because you shouldn’t close the jar lid as the cabbage ferments. If you do, you could end up with a build up of pressure from the gas created by the fermenting process. Place your jar somewhere room-temperaturey (again, very technical instructions) and check on it regularly to make sure no cabbage is escaping the brine.

After about 4-5 weeks, start tasting your cabbage. When it’s ‘sauer’ enough for you, remove the weight, give it a good stir, decant into another jar and put the lot in the fridge. This will then slow subsequent fermentation.

Serve as you would any pickle, but it’s especially good on a creamy oat cake.

How are you using up any leftovers this year? I’d love to hear suggestions here, or on Twitter.

DIY Lego Kits

Recently, I posted about ways to utilise the ‘5Rs’ over the festive period.  If you haven’t already, I would absolutely encourage you to go and check out the full post – there are loads of really lovely ideas for a more sustainable Christmas – but today, I wanted to focus on one of the suggestions in particular.

DIY Lego* kits.

My kids are so incredibly lucky – they’ve inherited a Lego stash which dates back to 1956 and which has been added to over the years by various generations of enthusiasts. Needless to say, we have enough Lego in this house.

That said, both children get an awful lot out of building to the instructions – my youngest, for example, learns how to build in sequence which is a vital skill for pre-reading. And for my eldest, it’s an enormous 3D jigsaw puzzle.

Which begs the question – how do I provide the experience of a kit, without actually buying a kit?

Well, the bricks have infinite possible uses, so all I really need in this situation are the instructions. And it just so happens that the Lego website comes with free instructions for their ‘Classic’ kits, and for ‘Minibuilds’.

I opted for the May Minibuild because:
– I’m relatively sure we have all the parts
– The necessary pieces are presented as a list for easy finding
– The instructions are printed on fewer sheets of paper.

After I’d printed the instructions, I went to gather the parts… There was so much Lego in the box, I literally needed to use a head torch…

And completely failed!

Unfortunately, it became apparent after around 45 minutes of searching through our giant Lego box – with a head torch on! – that we didn’t have some of the more recent pieces required. So, back to the drawing board… or rather, the Lego website…

With a better knowledge of what I could/couldn’t easily locate within the stash, I selected… none of the patterns from the website!

Instead, I did an image search on Ecosia (which – if you’re not using yet – you totally should be 😉 ) and came up with…

This!

It’s clearly not going to satisfy the older of my two children, but for my youngest, it’s perfect.

Or would be, if I could find the parts! I did manage to get an alternative for the windscreen though, and as I’ll likely have to hear about every single block my child places, I can be there to talk about how the windscreen needs to be a different piece.

To package it, I made a large envelope out of an old calendar sheet (I posted an image of a tutorial here) and drew a shoddy Lego block on the front. I’ll write my child’s name on the top too, but I don’t really want that all over the internet so will leave it off for now.

So, was it worth the trouble of the research, the searching, half building a model and failing, then frantically trying to find the parts to a second model before Husband arrived home with the children?

Probably. I mean, we have a lot of Lego. I think if I do any more of these prior to Christmas I will:
– refill my printer ink, because the print qualiity doesn’t look amazing,
– invent my own model and photograph each stage
– hoover out our Lego box more often because I found items I’d lost over 20 years ago in that box and even though I’m not hyper vigilant when it comes to dirt, even I am grossed out by this…

In the end, the whole thing took about an hour and a half, and cost me the printer paper and ink. I potentially saved a Lego box, an instruction booklet, an inner plastic bag and the blocks themselves from being dragged into being. I probably saved myself around £5.

Will you be trying to reuse your existing toys in this way? It doesn’t just work for Lego – K’nex, Duplo and other construction kits can be repurposed like this. I’d love to see pictures of any you decide to do – why not get in touch here, or on Twitter?

__
* Fun fact – the plural of ‘Lego’ is not ‘Legos’. The term is actually an abreviation of ‘Lego Mursten‘, meaning ‘Lego Bricks’. As this is a compound noun, the pluralisation is added to the second word – i.e. Mursten/Bricks, meaning that ‘Lego’ remains the same, even in the plural.

The term ‘Lego’ is actually a contraction of two Danish words; Lege, which means ‘to play’ and Godt which means ‘good’, or in this case ‘well’.

Look, dad! I used my Danish language degree in real life!

Orange-peel stars – plastic-free Christmas decor

Just a quick tutorial for you today, but it’s super cute and uses orange peel – a pretty common waste product at this time of year!

All you need is citrus skin and something to cut it with.  I used cookie cutters, but a knife and a steady hand is fine.  A microwave is beneficial, but not essential.

First, peel your fruit in as big a piece as possible. Lay it flat on a chopping board and cut out your shapes.

Once you’ve done this, you can set the shapes aside to dry for a few days, or you can cheat and microwave them on full power for around a minute and a half.

Once the shapes are dry, they’re ready to use. I plan to thread these on some cotton to hang on our tree, but they would also be great as a gift tag – perhaps with the recipient’s initials on.

Some practical notes: larger citrus fruits produce larger skins, but they’re also thicker and therefore take longer to dry. With thicker skins, it might be prudent to pierce any shapes you wish to thread before allowing the peel to dry – it gets increasingly tricky as the citrus skin hardens.

So, that’s it!  I would love to see your results if you have a go! Send me a picture  here or on Twitter 🙂

 

Crafting Gifts in #NothingNewNovember – The map!

I had been planning to buy my dad some woollen socks for his Christmas gift, or to knit a pair. This being #NothingNewNovember, though, I’m unable to just buy the socks, or even the yarn to make them with. Whilst my stash holds plenty of scraps for a few child-sized pairs, there aren’t any leftovers big enough for adult feet and he’s really not an odd-sock sort of human.

So, back to the drawing board.

One of his great passions in life is ‘maps’. He collects a certain vintage Ordnance Survey collection, and I did consider keeping an eye out for some of those missing from his collection – they’re not new, after all! The issue with this is that I don’t know which he has and which he doesn’t. That being the case, I consulted the all-knowing entity that is Pinterest.

And found some absolutely amazing map embroidery – the crafter had consulted (I presume) the satellite photos available online, and from them,  stitched a beautiful, textured landscape.

I’m not an embroiderer, but as I’d inherited a huge stash of sewing silks I decided to give this a try. It’s also going to help towards my Do Nation ‘All Made Up’ pledge…

First, I turned my laptop brightness up to its highest setting and traced the features of the landscape round my parents’ house onto some paper.

I then took this sheet over to my kids’ light box and used it to trace the image onto a scrap of tablecloth (the rest of which I’d used as quilt backing, last year).

I then slipped the cloth into an ambroidery hoop, inherited from my mother-in-law and proceeded to sew!

I haven’t really done any embroidery since I stitched the trails of the planets on a solar-system sampler in my school years (during which, Pluto was still very much a proud planet!), but I remembered chain stitch so started there…

Finally, I started adding in some colour – French knots for the trees and satin stitch for some of the fields…

Then I stopped.

Don’t get me wront – I’m delighted with how it’s looking so far, but I have some travelling to do next week. And frustratingly, I’m going to have to fly.

Aside from the obvious ‘air travel produces SO much waste’ thing, I’m frustrated by my mode of transport for two reasons:
1. I don’t trust that I’ll be able to take my knitting with me, given that my needles are metallic and very pointy.
2. I am terrified of flying.

So, I’m going to take my embroidery along instead, hoping it will have some sort of magical hypnotic power to take my mind of the impending doom that I fear will befall me whilst locked in a metal box, miles above the earth…

Ahem. I digress.

You’ll have to wait until I get home to see the finished article – I’m really excited to see how it turns out and I hope that it’s given you some ideas for tricky gift recipients. ❤

Are you making any of your gifts this year?

The first gifts…

In the spirit of #NothingNewNovember, I thought I’d share some of the second hand gifts I’m planning to give in December as these are the only things I plan to buy throughout this month.

To start with, I’ve bought some second hand earrings.

Image

I bought these five pairs for £5.50 from my local charity shop. Here they are, drying after a bath in cold-water sterilising fluid. I chose to clean them in the cold-water solution because I didn’t know whether the beads were glass or not, and if they were, whether they would be able to tolerate boiling water without cracking.

My plan is to pierce holes in some pretty card to display these on, and then package them in some origami envelopes made from pretty, festice paper.

Peppy envelope | origami book | Pinterest | Origami ...

My eldest child actually taught me how to make the envelopes, but the image above is a really clear tutorial that came up in a quick search.

Last year, I spent around £40 on new earrings for family members, so at a quarter of the price I’m delighted with them, even without the eco-friendly aspect.

This is one of the many occassions that sustainability and affordability go hand-in-hand. What are your favourite money-saving, earth-friendly gift ideas – I’d love to hear about them! 

#NothingNewNovember

In a recent exploration of Twitter, I stumbled upon the hashtag #NothingNewNovember. And yes, it’s an old one, but one I’m going to attempt it this year regardless.

The reason this appeals so much to me is the timing – it comes at a point in the year when I would normally be getting ready for Christmas. And yes, I already buy a large number of my gifts used – particularly for my own children – but this is a great way to focus my mind in the run up to what is arguably the most wasteful time of year.

I’ll be doing another Do Nation pledge to help me along with this too – All Made Up, in which those participating promise to make a certain number of gifts themselves. As a crafter – I knit well, crochet adequately, and mash things through a sewing machine – I’ve got loads of resources with which to create amazing gifts so I probably need to purchase very little to make this Christmas happen (though many people will be getting knitted socks…).

In addition to only buying used items to gift, or making gifts myself, I intend to buy nothing at all for  my household during this time – beyond the obvious consumables (i.e. food, soaps, petrol etc.)

This will be especially difficult given the fact that I’m going to visit friends midway through the month.

What are your top tips for reducing the amount you buy over the holiday season? Come and let me know!

Microwave drying

I’ve spoken briefly before about drying herbs in the microwave, in order to make stock/boullion. Now, as the weather starts to turn, I’m drying what’s left of my annual herbs, and the perenials which die back over winter.

Lovage is amongst the first to yellow, but with its big, fleshy leaves and a celery-like, peppery taste, this forms the basis of most of our winter stews. In order to keep us in lovage over winter, the kids and I gathered as many good leafs as we could and took them inside.

Once washed and dried, we spread them on a microwavable plate and cooked on high for two minutes, stopping half-way through to let the steam out of the microwave in order to speed up the process.

After the two minutes of cooking time, the leafs had retainned their vibrant green colour and wonderful smell, but could be easily crumbled and compacted into a jar.

(The jar in the picture above is actually the mint we dried… I had a brain fart and photographed the wrong container, and it’s too dark to redo it now).

There are many wonderful things about drying herbs this way.

  • You can enjoy herbs which aren’t readily available at the supermarket, all year round.
  • There is no packaging to dispose of – plastic or otherwise!
  • The process is quick and relatively energy efficient – definitely faster than drying in an oven!
  • It’s free, aside from the power usage.
  • It’s a great way to use up any excess fresh herbs you buy, rather than letting them turn to slime in the fridge.
  • Most leafs can be dried in this way. In addition to mint, I’ve also tried camomile greens, nettles and borage. I’m going to try raspberry leaf next summer, too.
  • This is a great activity for even very young children to help with – there’s no cutting involved, no hot pans and it’s easy to see results in minutes.

Do you dry your own herbs and teas? I’d love to hear your experiences – why not join me on Twitter?