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?

Mending Son’s Trousers – a Do Nation pledge

Some of you might remember my earlier posts about repairing Daughter’s water bottle and my old sunglasses.

At the beginning of the pledge,  I promised to mend four items – which,  if you think about the amount of things in the average house,  really isn’t a lot.

As with the water bottle,  I nearly didn’t report this one.  I fix clothes fairly constantly, but then I thought the method might be of use to someone.

So,  two holes in a pair of hand-me-down 100% cotton joggers – one on each knee. For the first,  I sewed up the hole and stitched a patch over the top.  Interestingly,  the patch came from a pair of Daughter’s shoes – there is a loop on the back for the laces. We took them off to make them more suitable for school but put them aside for just this sort of thing.

For the next hole, I didn’t want to use a patch as the tear was tiny.

To start with, I secured the hole…

This is technically a fix in itself and if your child/you is happy with the hole like this,  you should definitely leave it – less work! Unfortunately,  my child wasn’t happy with this so to create a patch, I began weaving over the top with some cotton yarn I had left over from a project.  I chose cotton so that the added fibres could be washed at the same temperature without the risk of uneven shrinkage – something I can’t sew my way out of.

I’m really pleased with the finished trousers – the structural integrity is restored and Son is happy with how they look. I would call that a win.

 

 

Every scrap.

So, before I start, I just want to tell you that I took SO MANY pictures to go along with this post.

Only two survived, though, and I honestly don’t know what happened.

Which is sort of heartbreaking, because I did everything I possibly could to make sure as many edible things as possible survived the making of my dinner tonight (see what I did there – nice link into the subject matter, eh?)

Tonight I cooked from the Leon Vegetarian cookbook.

It’s possibly my favourite culinary tome at the moment – the Readers Digest cookery year aside, obviously – and that’s largely on account of the ‘cous cous with seven vegetables’ recipe. I managed to find a copy online, so I would absolutely recommend taking a look, even if you don’t own a copy of the book.

My mission tonight was to save resources in every area I possibly could whilst cooking dinner. Let me talk you through it and I’ll highlight anything I think I’ve done which cuts down on my resource use. You’re possibly doing a lot/all of it already, but I think it’s worth taking the time to recognise when we’re doing well 😉

First of all, this meal was vegetarian, the fresh vegetables were purchased without packaging and the cous cous was bought in a cardboard box from Lidl (though I can now buy it from the plastic-free shop in the village).

Even though the recipe called for plain cous cous, I used some leafs from a cauliflower I had sitting in the fridge – this is a part of the plant people usually throw away, but it’s tasty, valuable food. I fried these with a little garlic and tossed them through the cous cous before adding the water and a stock cube, then setting it aside.

I used the same pan to begin the recipe – see link above for procedure –  and rinsed the tomato can with the 100mls of water to get the most tomatoes possible. Then when I drained the chick peas, I retained the liquid from the can to use in the making of chocolate mousse for my child’s packed lunch.

I placed all of the vegetable peelings in a paper flour bag I saved so that I could put them in the compost bin.

We kept the leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.

In the text above, there are nine seperate uses of bold text – nine seperate times when I chose not to waste resources in a 20 minute period.

If we all did this for every meal, we would go a long way to eliminating food waste.

As I said, I don’t have any pictures of the beautiful finished meal, but I do have photos of the leftoves – a.k.a lunch!

   

If you’re interested in the chocolate mousse recipe, you can find it in my post about Aqua Faba.

What are your favourite ways to reduce your waste in the kitchen? Why not come and let me know on Twitter?

Aqua faba

Recently,  I was asked to contribute an article to my local magazine. I made the decision to focus on the waste we create around our food.  You can read it here – I’m on pages 14 & 15.

In case you can’t view the PDF, here’s some pictures of the vegan meringue and chocolate mousse I made to go along with the article.


Aqua-faba meringue recipe

  • 1 can’s-worth of aqua-faba (I prefer the chick-pea kind but kidney bean works well too)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the over to 100C.
Whisk the aqua-faba until it doubles in volume.
Add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk until the
AF stands in stiff peaks.
Slowly add the icing sugar and fold in, gently.
Spoon dollops of the mixtrue, or pipe it, onto a lined baking sheet.
Place in the oven for two hours and don’t open the door during this time.
After the two hours, turn off the oven but do not remove the meringues for at least another hour, though ideally, they are best if left until the oven has reached room temperature.
Once completely cooled, store in a cool, dry place.

Chocolate mousse recipe

  • 1 can’s-worth of aqua-faba (I prefer the chick-pea kind but kidney bean works well too)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g dark chocolate (use vegan-friendly chocolate if required)

Set your chocolate to melt in a bain marie or bowl over a pan of boiling water.

Meanwhile, whisk the aqua-faba until it doubles in volume. Add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk until the AF stands in stiff peaks.

Gently fold the melted chocolate into the AF mixture.
Spoon into appropriate recepticles (I use old china teacups, but glass ramekins from store-bought
puddings work really well too).

Refridgerate for a few hours until firm.

Enjoy with fresh berries and whipped cream/coconut milk, or eat plain as a desert

 

The reality of plastic-free shopping

This morning, armed with my shopping list, meal plan and a rare full tank of petrol, I decided to see how many things I could purchase without generating plastic waste.

As Husband didn’t have any work this morning, he opted to join me and our youngest child (4) on our mission. Given that no one was remaining in our home, the dog had to come too*, which added an extra dimension to our trip – an almost full car, a time limit in each shop, and little space to put the groceries.

Three supermarkets and one private dairy later, and this was the state of affairs:

The circled items contain plastic packagaing. Though the above picture isn’t that clear, I hope that it’s visible enough…

Anyway – the first place we called was Lidl. I like shopping here because they have a bakery section with loose items, a good selection of loose veg, and you can buy nuts by weight – ideal snacks for after school. It’s also cheap, so if I can get the majority of my shopping here, I’m onto a winner. I also made sure to buy something from the bakery section for us to snack on for when the 4 yr old announced ‘I’m Hungry’, lest we accidentally gave in to the inevitable incessent requests for something grab-sized and packaged.

Again, the picture quality isn’t amazing but items on the list which did come housed in plastic were those which I knew would be plastic-wrapped anywhere but which were cheaper at Lidl.

These were:

  • Muesli (one of our sensory safe foods which must come from Lidl anyway).
  • Double cream – I will use the pots for packed lunch deserts/freezing things in.
  • Greek Style Yogurt – for a recipe in which the yorgurt serves as marinate. Leftovers will be breakfast/decanted into smaller containers for packed lunch and the bucket will be used to store/freeze/transport items from the package free shop.
  • Spatzle/German Egg Pasta – Husband’s taste of home. I don’t begrudge him that and Lidl only sell it every few months so we stock up. I will use the bags to freeze things in as they come with metal ‘ties’.
  • Cod Fillets – I don’t know. Husband put them in.
  • Scottish Baby Potatoes – See ‘Cod fillets’.

After Lidl, it was on to Morrisons. There is maybe a mile between the two, through the town centre. On my own, with a shopping trolley, I would definitely have walked it in my pre-children days. Of course, in my pre-children days, you didn’t get fined for staying too long in one car park. This ‘parking eye’ nonsense means that unless you plan to ignore all the fines you get sent until they leave you alone**, you have to keep moving your car between supermarket car parks. In our case, we had to travel through the centre of an already concested town.

Anyway, that’s a rant for another day… Plastic purchased from Morrisons, bearing in mind we took our own jars for olives etc:

  • 4 Packs of salted Brittish Butter (this makes many things a safe-food – non-negotiable)
  • 6 packs of Stockan’s oatcakes (though I forgot to circle two cheese-flavour packs for the picture). These are wrapped in a thin layer of plastic and nothing else, unlike the likes of Nairns – for example – which are in cardboard and then further plastic inside. Both Stockan’s and Nairns use sustainably sourced palm oil for their oatcakes.***
  • 1 pack of fresh corriander – we can grow this in future, but I accidentally killed off the last plant and the new one hasn’t germinated yet. Buying cut herbs in a bag seemed less wasteful than buying living herbs in a pot when I already had a pot.

Finally, we made our way to Tesco, which I’d been hoping to avoid, but Morrisons had run out of fresh yeast (on the plus side, the yeast from Tesco is free so… bonus). Another store within a mile – again it was necessary to repark.

As you can see, the reciept does not say ‘fresh yeast’ on it… basically, you just walk up to the bakery section in large stores and ask the staff for some fresh yeast, please. They then go grab you some, give it to you, and you show it to the cashier as you leave. Then that’s it – you’re not charged (or shouldn’t be).

You might also be able to see that most of what’s on the Tesco reciept is plastic wrapped, but in this case, I’m glad of the individual plastic packaging. Only the tea, the asprin and two of the essentials toothpastes came home with me. The rest went into the foodbank collection box. I’m not sure how easy it would be to distribute a huge sack of salt, but little plastic shakers are easy enough to pass out. Obviously “poverty plus plastic” is too large a topic for a layman like me to tackle, but it’s instances like this which  raise a lot of questions for me. It’s easy to get judgy about plastic use, but our situations are all so difference and there are so many without a choice – it’s a nice reminder to be gentler with another.

But I digress, of the stuff that came back with me, the following contained plastic:

  • The toothpaste tubes – a ‘sensory safe’ item, this is non-negotiable.
  • Curry powder – not available in larger containers in any of the supermarkets we visited and not available at this time from our plastic-free shop.
  • Asprin tablets – the only thing which will touch my migraines. I live in the cope of finding these housed in glass bottles somewhere but have yet to be successful.
  • Leaf tea – the box is cardboard, there are no bags so no plastic there, but the film beneath the lid is ‘not currently recyclable’. Still, it’s a start.

And then we went to the dairy. I refilled my three 1-litre glass bottles, as well as a large plastic milk bottle originally from Tesco and a plastic 1 litre tonic-water bottle. The later two were sterilised using milton, so didn’t require heat. I’ve frozen both of the plastic containers so that we will have lower-waste milk for longer this week.

You might have noticed a large quantity of some of the goods – the muesli and the toothpaste, the tea and croissants, for example. These are either part of our ‘safe’ set of products, or are part of the ever-vital routine of our household (Sunday morning croissants – mmm). I’m trying to gather a little ‘backlog’ (I don’t want to call it a stock-pile yet), in case Brexit does disrupt food lines to the extent expected. At least this way, I have options.

If you’d like to read more about stockpiling, Jack Monroe – as ever – has you covered.

So yes, having been to 4 seperate businesses, 12 out of the 45 different items purchased were packaged with some kind of single-use plastic. That’s just over a quarter of all food.

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*The dog happened to us, almost accidentally. He was originally purchased as a Jack Russel x Chihuahua by someone who, presumably, had never seen either breed (given that he’s undeniably a sight-hound x labrador). On his growing larger than the family had expected, they put him on Gumtree as ‘free to a good home’ and he was lucky enough to be picked up by a local greyhound charity. Placed with one home, it soon became evident that he couldn’t be left alone without destroying things so he was moved on. To us. Because 99% of the time there’s someone in our house, he’s usually the happiest, easiest dog ever. On that other 1% of occassions we toss a coin and either leave him here (in which case he destroys ALL THE THINGS) or we take him with us. Today we took him along.

That was a really long back-story for one sentence… oops.

**I don’t recommend it. It’s pretty stressful…. or so I hear. Ahem.

***I know you can make oatcakes fairly easily, and I do quite often, but these are just so great to have in the house – ready made – for if my packed-lunch plans fail, or if the bread doesn’t work for lunch and we don’t have time to wait for me to make an alternative.

My Zero Waste Kitchen – Dorling Kindersley

This is a really cute, colourful little book – laid out in classic Dorling Kindersley fashion. As one would expect from this publisher, there is a lot of really solid advice here, spread out in bright and cheery text boxes.

Overall, this reads like a cook-book for the experienced, rather than an environmental book and I’m not entirely sure who it’s aimed at. If you’re the sort of person who cooks the sorts of things in the book then you know most of these tricks already, however if you need the book to tell you this stuff, then you probably need more detail.

My eldest child (8) really enjoyed reading it and said it was very educational, but at the same time, how many 8 year olds are in charge of a kitchen? Perhaps this is something for students who are just starting out in their own flats?

That sounds disparaging, but I’m a really experienced cook and there was still new information to me here – I didn’t clock that microwaving my dish cloths would sterilise them, but of course that’s A Thing. Can’t believe I didn’t think of that before!

I guess this is one to get from the library if your local brach carries it. A great once-through sort of book with a few key points to take away.

What great waste-reducing tips have you found in unlikely places? Why not come and share them with me here or on Twitter?

 

Making the most of what we’ve got – thoughts on food

It’s really easy to get into the habit of automatically ditching things, either because it’s what you’ve seen others do, or simply because you’re used to produce looking slightly different – shining cream potatoes or glossy-skinned apples, for example.

This year, our apples took a real battering. The skins were cracked by the sun and rain in combination, and beneath those blemishes were what looked like apple scab. Reading online, the best way to ‘treat’* the fungus is to make sure there’s as little detritus left from the tree for the fungus to grow on, after the tree has dropped its fruit and leafs for the year.

Being honest, my initial thought was to simply scoop everything up into the compost after the last leaf had fallen, but the tree has always been such an excellent fruiter that doing so seemed oddly like the betrayal of an old friend.

So, when a child-sized barrow full of apples was proudly presented to me, I decided to have a go at making the most of the fruit that was there, regardless of looks.

Sure enough, there is a lot of unusable apple in there. The cracks in the peel had made the flesh into a wasp-buffet, which in turn had turned the wasps into gourmet food for our local bird pupolation so stayed on after supper for the apple desert course.

Knowing that apple scab wasn’t a harmful fungus, I decided to just cut away the cracked areas and peel the skin off. Usually I don’t bother peeling the apples from the garden – they’re grown so far from anything that even resembles a pesticide that a rinse under the tap is more than enough to clean them – but on this occasion, I made the choice to strip them back to the fruit itself.

When that was done, I chopped them up and separated the core from the flesh. I packed the cores into a jar and covered them with a water/sugar solution to make cyder vinegar. There are recipes everywhere but Spot of Earth does a pretty detailed tutorial of how to make it.

With the ‘proper’ fruit, I filled a crumble pan and made a topping – a vegan one, in fact (using vegetable oil in place of butter works really well if you use golden sugar – the oil is cheaper too). There were still a good few cups full of chopped apple left so I grabbed the baby slow-cooker which I inherited from my grandmother, filled it and made my go-to apple butter recipe – 1 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of powdered cinamon for every 2 cups of fruit .

The apple butter will top my porridge in the coming months, and my toast, and any yogurt I happen to achieve… or honestly, I’ll just eat it with a spoon. It’s honestly the greatest preserve I have ever eaten.

It got me to thinking about other foods which don’t get eaten because of… well, I don’t know why.

I’ve always dug out the seeds from pumpkins, melons and squashes – because why would I buy these when they come free in my food. I either toast them in the oven – if we’re already drying mushrooms, or herbs or vegetable peel – or on the car dash-board. I either use them in bread to add some extra texture, or just snack on them.

So when we didn’t eat all of the cake that I made earlier in the week, I resolved not to throw it out. In fairness to my family, this particular cake was terrible – I ran out of cocoa powder so it was a not-so-chocolatey batter that I overbaked in cupcake cases to become what were essentially powder-dry hockey-pucks.

Ahem. Not my finest hour.

Anyway, using a pestle and mortar – I kid you not – I mashed up the ‘cake’. Then I poured homemade cherry schnapps onto it. Not much – just a tablespoon, but it’s potent stuff so that flavoured the lot. Then I folded this cake-powder mush into some chocolate buttercream icing. This, I rolled into balls and covered in dark chocolate.

Honestly, they’re so good I would make bad cake on purpose again.

After the cake incident, I had a look through the council-collected food waste caddy we keep under the sink. The contents tend to be things that are half-eaten. Single, once-bitten potatoes – for example – feature heavily, but not as heavily as Husband’s coffee grounds or my spent loose-leaf tea.

So my challenge is – how would you use these things? The tea and coffee, specifically, rather than the bitten tatties. Why not come and let me know on Twitter?

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*Unfortunately, there’s no real way to treat it that I’ve seen so I can only really attempt to minimise its impact on future crops.

Sensory issues and the environment

This is something of a sensitive topic, and isn’t one I had expected to cover so soon. But with a post about oral hygeine coming up, I wanted to talk about something seldom discussed in regards to budget or environmentalism – sensory issues.

In the case of our family, sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a result of an autistic spectrum condition, but many people struggle with certain textures and sounds – even amongst the neurotypical population (nails down a blackboard, anyone? Open-mouthed chewing?). In some cases, a person’s senses can be so hurt by a certain taste, or sound, or feel that all but a handful of foods are considered ‘safe’. I don’t have science at hand to support me on this one, but often, these safe foods are provided via the constant, unchanging recipes of ready-meals and convenience foods.

These tend to be the sorts of food which are heavily packaged in plastic, but if your child/ren or other family members won’t eat anything else, what options do you have?

Honestly – not a lot. In our case, toothpaste and brushing is the issue and we’re not going to get plastic-free in this area without endangering a child’s dental health, so it’s just not happening. What I’m trying to do instead is change my own actions first and explain them, in the hopes that modelling my beliefs and having an open dialogue will help. I’m also going to make alernatives available in case – as it occassionally does – the urge to try something new does occur and my child chooses to attempt the toothpowder/whatever I eventually decide on.

Perhaps it won’t though. And that’s OK too. I keep telling my children that we can only control our own actions – not those of others, and I think it’s important that I adhere to that myself.

But none of this is addressing the issue of food packaging.

Is there anything that can be done about having to buy food that’s heavily wrapped in plastic?

That really depends on where you’re buying your food and just how restrictive a diet the person with sensitivities has. According to Greenpeace, Iceland has the best policy for reducing single use and non-recyclable plastics, with Morrisons coming a close second. If you could swap – for example – brand name fish-fingers for own-brand ones in either of these places, that’s a good start. Though as I say, that does rely on there being a certain degree of culinary flexibility.

And if you can’t make the change? That’s probably ok. Do the best you can with what you’ve got.

I worry that there is a huge degree of ableism inherent in the ideal of a low-plastic lifestyle. I haven’t even begun to touch upon the pre-chopped vegetables that are housed in plastic and the positive impact these products can have on the lives of those who need them. I’m always reminded of the deep joy experienced by a friend with macular degeneracy – who died at 92 – when he discovered packets of prepared veg. Buying diced beef and ready-cut carrots, potatoes and onions meant that he could dump the lot in a slow cooker with a can of beer and feed himself a tasty, hot meal every night. It allowed him to remain in his own home until his eventual death without relying on me or his neighbours to make his food for him. He was a proud man who deeply valued his independence, something that the much maligned packaged vegetables granted him.

It was, literally, life-changing to have the option of these products, just as I’m sure it’s life-changing when one stumbles upon a safe food for a relative with extreme sensory issues.

I genuinely am doing my best to reduce our waste but there are a number of sensory constraints in our household. It makes this all very challenging and ultimately, we are all human and are all learning. I ask that you’re gentle with me when I post things which are less than ideal becuase I promise – I have looked for alternatives and I will continue looking.

A Bunch Of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy – Sarah Lazarovic

I first read A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy by Sarah Lazarovic when I was looking at how to reduce our outgoings, rather than as part of a more eco-friendly way of life.

To a point, thriftyness and earth-friendly living are very much two sides of the same coin, and this book beautifully sums that up. Use things up, borrow what you don’t have, swap if you need to, buy used, make it yourself and only if you can’t do any of the above, buy new. It’s great advice – both financially and ecologically.

Lazarovic has made an absolutely glorious book here. The illustraitions and text – if you can call them that – are individual works of art, and it’s a genuine pleasure to read. There’s no guilt-trip attached to purchasing – no inherent judgement – but it still manages to get its message across. The overall tone is warm and humerous, and – a massive bonus for me – I managed to read it in a single afternoon.

Part of the book includes the ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’:

I think this is probably the core concept that a reader should take away from the book – i.e. consume slowly to reduce your impact on the world and your wallet.

Whilst I love this little orange tome, I think it speaks to a specific demographic – those of us with enough disposable income to spend without having to employ the pinpoint precision of those on the breadline, those whose consumption is already limited to life’s absolute necessities. It highlights the fact that there is a great deal of privilidge inherent in living a broadcastable low-waste lifestyle – to have to choose low-impact alternatives is, by definition, to have the luxury of choice. So yes, let’s choose sustainability when we can, but let’s also fight for legislation which makes these low-waste options available to everyone at an affordable price. Because speaking honestly – who creates less waste? The low income family who watches their electricity consumption, their water metre, their food waste and clothes use, or those of us who have to think about whether or not we “need” a new jumper that happens to be really pretty? I know who my money’s on…

But I digress.

It’s definitely a book I’ve appreciated having. Because I’m a messy human, it tends to just sit on my living room table so periodically, the bright orange cover serves as an invitation to leaf through. That each two page spread is a work of art on its own makes it really easy to dip in and out of on the odd occasion I’m at a loss for something to do for a minute.

Regardless of where you are with reducing your waste, this is a really nice book to have, even if it’s just for the art.

Mending Daughter’s Waterbottle – a Do Nation Pledge

I wrote recently about fixing my sunglasses as part of Do Nation’s Fix It Pledge.

Specifically, I said I planned to mend a minimum of four things. Whilst I haven’t managed to get round to mending my quilt or oven yet, I’m already halfway there after tackling my shades and now, Daughter’s water-bottle.

We bought this SIGG flask for my now-eight-year-old when she hit the six-month mark. As a life-long chewer, the sports cap of the bottle had seen better days. I was all ready to shell out on a Klean Kanteen for her when she pointed out that if you could get replacement parts for other branded bottles, you might be able to get one for hers.

So, we did a quick search and I was really impressed by SIGG’s website and the available spares. Whilst the cap itself was far beyond the point of unhygeinic, the lid was totally fine and it was so heartening to see that you could purchase both parts seperately, allowing me to reuse the lid we already had.

The ‘repair’ was so easy that I nearly didn’t write about it. I simply screwed the old cap off, clicked the lid away, clicked it onto the new cap and then screwed that on… job done!

The bottle is now good for another seven years! Inevitably, she’s going to grow out of the beautiful animal pattern by then, but I’m not above a flask with zebras on so when that time comes, we can do a swap.

My singular complaint here is the cost of the postage. The cap was an affordable £3.49, but I didn’t get the option to select second class delivery when I ordered – something which would have made the total cost lower.

Still, two repairs down and only two to go – I wonder how many I can overshoot by, before the end of my pledge!

Have you taken part in a Do Nation pledge?