Thursday, 26 April 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--Petite Rouge (Louisiana)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I'll begin.

This week we look at a story from my home state of Louisiana entitled Petite Rouge (Little Red.) It is written by Mike Artell who lives in Covington, Louisiana which is about three hours from my hometown. I recognised the illustrations because Jim Harris also illustrates several retellings of fairy tales, the most well known probably being The Three Little Javelinas.

I like this retelling because it fits all the tropes of Little Red Riding Hood stories, but in a fresh way that combines things that are specific to Louisiana culture. In this tale, Petite Rouge is a duck who lives in a swamp and is taking a basket with shrimp etouffee, boudin and gumbo with hot sauce. to her Grandmere. She paddles to her granny's house in a pirogue (a type of boat) and meets an alligator. 

While these are all things you do find in Louisiana, not everywhere is this rural. I grew up in a city and never paddled a pirogue in my life. I recall in 1990 as an exchange student being very cross because my host family assumed that because I was from Louisiana my life was living in a swamp, playing the banjo, surrounded by alligators. Growing up I did see gators, but only when we went specifically out to places like Indian Creek at night. Or the time I went on a school trip to Avery Island where they make Tabasco Sauce. One of my classmates was nearly eaten by a gator there. Actually, a friend had a gator that lived in a bayou that ran through her backyard. They fed him raw meat and called him Alexander Hamilton.

Perhaps I am more of a stereotype than I realise.

While I do find books like this charming and terribly fun to read aloud, I worry they perpetuate myths about Louisiana.

I like this version, however, because unlike other versions where our protagonist is either helplessly consumed or sits around blubbing for someone to save her, Petite Rouge and her clever cat TeJean outwit the gator by making him eat boudin with hot sauce until smoke comes out his ears. Although it really is the cat's idea, Petite Rouge is the one that pours on the hot sauce and saves the day.

The illustrations are charming, but my only critique would be I really feel like the bottle of hot sauce which is central to the story should be Tabasco Sauce. To me, Tabasco is the quintessential symbol of Louisiana spices. Practically every child I know went on a school trip to the Tabasco plant on Avery Island. In reality, I prefer other hot sauces, but Tabasco is symbol of the state.  Perhaps it's because Jim Harris is from North Carolina or maybe there was a copyright issue. Who knows.

I have found a good version on youtube where someone reads it enthusiastically with a reasonably good Cajun accent as the illustrations are shown. I say reasonably good because of  the pronunciation of words like Grandmere (the a should sound more like ah to resemble the French pronunciation) and the word cher which means dear/darling and should be pronounced more like shah than sher and NEVER with a hard ch sound (chah) like he does in the video.

Ya'll have a good time, yeah?

Stay tuned next week where a brave and clever young girl outwits a fox and managed to carry her basket of eggs safely to their destination.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

What We Ate Wednesday--Marmalade Granola

Hello lovelies! We were lucky enough to be able to sponsor poverty campaigner, frugal chef extraordinaire and newly qualified vegan Jack Monroe's Kickstarter campaign a few years back to help her publish her second cheap, but amazing cookbook entitled Cooking on a Bootstrap. The book (which took ages to put together, but was totally worth it!) has arrived and I am making my way through all the recipes. Like her previous cheap but amazing book A Girl called Jack this book is chock full of  recipes that are cheap and healthy. Neither cookbook is vegan, but so many of the recipes are vegan or are easily veganised. Jack went vegan during the writing of Bootstrap, so her AWARD WINNING BUDGET BLOG features lots of cheap and easy recipes. I am a HUGE fan.

 As soon as I saw the recipe for Marmalade Granola I knew I had to try it. As I have been on a reducing plastic kick as well as my love for DIY this seemed perfect. All the materials for this come in a jar (marmalade), paper bag (Lidl oats) and tin (golden syrup). The only plastic involved are my bottle of sunflower oil (but it is not a single use bottle, so i feel ok about using it) and the wrapper to the (optional but worth it) chocolate bar I cut into chunks. I could have bought a chocolate bar in paper and foil, but it would have cost over £1 and the one i bought at Lidl was 35p.

Jack Monroe tends to go for the cheapest marmalade, but I had to hunt a bit to find a cheap one made without glucose-fructose syrup which is just another name for high fructose corn syrup. If you don't know why HFCS is bad for you, CLICK HERE. I ended up buying Mackays Marmalade because it was the cheapest per 100ml that didn't use HFCS.
Mackays Natural Fruit Seville Orange Marmalade 340G
It was also on sale at Tesco.

Jack makes hers with just oats. I measured out my jar and found it contained 10 Tablespoons which was enough for 2 and half batches marmalade. I decided to make the 2.5 batches over a two day period (it's really easy and mostly hands off time) so i would not run out too quickly. I decided to make 2 batches with just oats and the last half batch with seeds. I also threw in some chocolate chunks and some dried cranberries.
Image result for jaffa cakes

It makes it taste like a Jaffa Cake! 

This is really quite easy. I had it in my head that granola would be a faff that required lots of stirring and lots of fat. I recall once in my early vegan days looking at a recipe that asked for 1 cup oil. ONE CUP! No way. Jack Monroe's recipe is lower in fat and no stirring required.

Marmalade Granola
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Grease a large roasting pan.

You need:
300 grams (3 cups) oats (use GF if needed)
2 TB oil
4 TB marmalade

In a large pot melt 2 TB oil  and the 4 TB marmalade. Stir in the 300g oats and stir to coat. Spoon into your greased roasting pan and bake for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 160C/325F and set the timer for 10 more minutes. You don't need to do anything--no stirring, just lower the temp and go about your business.

When the timer goes off and the granola has baked for 30 minutes, take it and out and let it cool completely then store in an airtight container. I love it because it really sticks together in big crunchy clumps.

It is truly delicious like it is, but if you want add in this is what I did:

Batch one:
I used the above recipe then added 100g (half a cup) of chocolate chunks, cut from a chocolate bar after it cooled.
Batch two:
I used the above recipe then added half a cup dried cranberries after it cooled.
Half Batch three:
I used one cup of oats and a half a cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup sesame seeds and 2 TB chia seeds and only used 1 TB oil and 2 TB marmalade. Baked as above.

Mix all three batches together in a big bowl and decant into an airtight container. Jack says it will last three months at room temperature, but mine lasted about two weeks because I have eaten a bit every day.

Stay tuned next week for Peanut Butter Granola.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Progress not Perfection on my Zero Waste Journey--Small Swaps

Hello my eco-conscious friends. In my last post I talked about trying to buy more NAKED PRODUCE. That has definitely been working.

I also have swapped STOVETOP POPCORN for crisps to save on packaging. I've also been making my own granola as I like to do that sort of thing and can get  nearly everything needed to make it in paper or glass. This isn't necessarily a money savings, but it's no more to make than buying a box of our favourite cereal. It is quick and easy and tastes 100 times better than store bought stuff.

This week on What we Ate Wednesday I will write about Marmalade Granola. 

Mmmmm....Marmalade Granola.

But I digress.

I started to look at ways that we use disposable items in every day life that could be substituted for something with less packaging, no packaging or become reusable.

Some were less successful than others.

 Item one: 
Cotton wool (cotton balls to my American peeps)
I like to use cotton wool. I tried to make each one last by tearing it into thirds, but i was basically using a cotton ball a day. One-third in the morning to put on my homemade ROSEMARY VINEGAR deodorant (1/3 cup rosemary vinegar plus 1-2 TB witch hazel), one-third in the morning to apply diluted apple cider vinegar to my face, and repeat that same ACV actions before bed with the final third

That's 365 cotton balls a year. .

So what did I do?
1. I swapped my deodorant into a spray bottle that I already had. Would a glass bottle be better? Maybe. But I don't have a glass spray bottle. I am all about using what you already have. Plus, i know from recent trip to the US that everything in glass had to be decanted into plastic for travel. Glass + travel= a heavier bag with something breakable in it. Which equals a giant BAD IDEA.

Excellent. If i spray a few times, then rub into my pits and then spray some more and rub in, I avoid the dreaded drip. Also, I need to remember to spray first and then use my body oil, otherwise the spray bottle slips out of my hand.

2. I made some reusable face wipes that can be washed in a washing machine. I know you can buy stuff like this from Etsy, from people with better sewing machines that have sergers to make professional edges around their organic unbleached fabric, but i needed to make it cheap.

I hunted around charity shops til i found a 100% cotton flannel shirt for £2 and cut it into squares and zig-zagged the edges to stop them unravelling. I store them in a jar and then put the used ones in a mesh laundry bag that gets washed when we go to the launderette. Since we only go every three weeks to wash there (otherwise we wash in a bucket) I made enough to go a full three weeks.

Excellent. I have really enjoyed them, they work well (as well as cotton wool) and wash and dry nicely. I did make sure they went in the tumble dryer at the launderette so they would remain soft. Flannel can get a bit scratchy if it is left to air dry. I had tried this previously with polar fleece and the liquid just seemed to bead up on top and roll off--fleece is supposed to repel water after all--but it just never worked for me and I went back to disposables. My only complaint (if it is indeed a complaint) is that I feel like a need a wee bit more product to saturate the flannel wipe than I did a cotton ball, but since my product is merely diluted apple cider vinegar, it's not a big deal. But having to use a wee bit more product because it is ABSORBED by the fabric is miles better than it being REPELLED by the fabric.

Also, I only used the sleeves and the upper back of the shirt to make 25 little pads, so when these wear out I have lots of shirt left to make some more.

Item 2:
I like to make GARLIC PASTE once a month and freeze it in teaspoon portions. Previously, I had spooned it into plastic ice cube trays, frozen it then popped them all out and stored them by wrapping cubes in cling film and foil and then put in a plastic baggie. I did this on advice from something I found on google. I decided to see if i could just flash freeze in my big pyrex baking pan and then pop into a jar.
This seems to work really well. They don't stick to each other having been frozen separately and there is no disintegration issues that I used to get prying them out of the ice cube tray. Excellent.

Item 3:
Storing leftover cake
What's leftover cake? Seriously, I know other people who always take their cake out of the pan it baked in because they have baked layer cakes, but I never bake in layers. I always leave my cake in the pan it cooked in and serve directly from the pan. My way of dealing with it has been to throw some cling film over the top of the pan and call it a day. But obviously now I am avoiding cling film where I can. This is a genius hack, it actually makes sense if you aren't too concerned about presentation.
This is an amazing coffee and walnut cake I made that was inspired by a cake I ate at the Waverley recently. When i bake a cake it makes 8 rectangular slices. After we ate the first two, I transferred what was left into some airtight containers i already had.

Excellent. This is a bit of a DUH moment for me, as I can't believe I never thought of this before.

Item 4:
Snail towels
In years past we had virtually fazed out disposable PAPER PRODUCTS. Since we moved to Wales and have no washing machine I have had to give up my beloved CLOTH TOILET PAPER as there is no way to wash it. We do most of our washing by hand in a bucket and only pay to wash at the launderette every three weeks. I had been good about not using disposable paper towels if I could help it, but since the Bronte Snails came into our life, our usage of disposable paper had increased tremendously. Spiders are really clean and their waste is a dry, white powder. Snails poop A LOT and they poop EVERYWHERE.  And I didn't want to wipe up their poop with the same towels I dry dishes with.

I had thought about buying some designated snail poop towels, but couldn't justify the expense.Then I had an idea. This was another DUH moment for me. A lot of my kitchen tea towels are really old and worn. Why didn't we buy more kitchen towels and relegate old tea towels for snail poop? (I told you it was a DUH moment)
I bought us some really nice waffle weave tea towels from the market (6 for £5) and relegated 4 towels for the snails. I wrote on them in a permanent marker just so they wouldn't accidentally be used in the kitchen. I relegated a separate bucket for washing, so it's all good.

Excellent. We've been really happy with this system. the new waffle weave towels really dry dishes well and the snail ones clean up poop and slime, dry condensation and wipe out water dishes. Feel a bit daft i didn't think of it sooner. If you have pets, i would highly recommend getting some poop towels especially if you have a washing machine, but even if you don't like we don't--it is still doable.

On an separate note, after reading my post about my beloved cloth toilet paper (I really miss it!) I am going to try to figure out a way to start again. Probably only with urine, but at least it will be a start.

Item 5:
Kitchen scrubber
I roast vegetables in my oven several times a week and we don't have non stick pans (things like TEFLON can actually be really dangerous) so i often need a scrubby doodah (technical term) when doing the washing up. Steel wool has been our scrubby of choice. Supposedly it is recyclable, but i can never find a place to take it. But it also always seems to come in a plastic tray in a plastic bag. Another reason to try and find an alternative.

I looked into some of those wooden scrub brushes with natural bristles. First off, they were hella-expensive. Secondly, what exactly do they mean by natural bristles? The ones I found online turned out to be make from pig bristles. thanks,

I came up with (what I thought was) a genius idea. I bought a loofah sponge at Wilkos for £1. No packaging. Compostable. I sawed it up with my trusty hacksaw Hank. (yes, my hacksaw has a name. What of it?)
Then I could use it for scrubbing pot and pans.

Of all the things I have tried, this is my lowest rated one. It's not BAD, per se, it's just not as brilliant as I had hoped. My thought when I bought it was "this is so stiff and scrubby, it feels like steel wool but natural!" Those who use a loofah will see where I made my mistake. I had not realised it would get SOFTER when it got wet.

And when you do the washing up, things have a tendency to get wet.

It just doesn't quite have the scrubbing power of steel wool. I have tried soaking the dishes longer. I have tried adding some bicarbonate of soda for extra scrubbing power. Those things help...but it is still not quite what I had hoped. I will continue to use it until I come up with a better solution.

In my journey of Progress Not Perfection towards Zero Waste I will try to keep adding small swaps that a make a big difference.

What are your tips for small swaps?

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Fairy Tale Friday—Pretty Salma (Africa)

Hello and welcome to Fairy tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

Last week we looked at a fragment of a Swedish song where a wolf attacks and murders a young lady on her trip through the dark woods. It was a hoot and a half, let me tell you. For the next four weeks, I want to explore Red Riding Hood variations from other countries or cultures.

This week I begin with an illustrated picture book entitled Pretty Salma by renowned South African author and illustrator Niki Daly who is responsible for some greats books such as Not So Fast, Songololo, Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky and the Jamela series. 

On an interesting note, Spiderman and I were both gobsmacked to find out that Niki Daly is a man. Niki is short for Nicholas. All the time that we have been enjoying books by Niki Daly we have pictured a female author and illustrator, so this was an interesting bit of trivia for us.

 I have liked books by Niki Daly because as it says on his biographical page, “Daly looks at the day-to-day interactions of the myths that shape black South African reality.”

Bright Star Bedtime Stories says his strength is, “His ability to see the world from a child’s perspective and see the world in a rainbow of shades, reflective of multicultural modern South Africa.”
Image result for niki daly pretty salma
This Red Riding Hood tale, set in contemporary, urban Ghana, features a more traditional costume than a red riding hood. Here, Salma wears her blue scarf and stripy ntama (wrap around skirt) as well as white beads and sandals. Instead of a wolf, she meets Mr Dog who managed to talk the poor, innocent child into giving up her clothing, her basket of goodies and even her song in order to fool Granny. This reminded me a bit of the tigers who steal the clothes of Little Black Sambo or the updated with less racist illustrations, Sam and the Tigers.

I like that it follows the traditional European formula of trickster animal and innocent girl helping her granny but manages to infuse it with real picture of African culture. Yes, there may be some people like Salma going to market with a basket on her head, but there are also people driving cars. It just shows you a more realistic Ghana rather than a stereotypical, primitive one. Daly also does this well in Not So Fast, Songololo where the young boy and his grandmother catch a bus into the city and go shoe shopping. In the 80’s when this book was published I was always told that Africa was so primitive that they all lived in mud huts, not cities with busses and shops.

It also ends with some uniquely African imagery with masks and theatrics (which reminded me greatly of Who’s In Rabbit’s House by Verna Aardema and beautifully illustrated by Diane and Leo Dillon) and I was excited to see grandfather in his Anansi the Spider man costume.

I have found a video where someone performs the story while showing the pictures. It is a delightful tale and worth watching. The sound is a bit low, so turn your volume up to 11. (if you know what I mean!)

I really liked that it mirrored the European tradition of “What big somethings you have!” but was completely bothered by the fact that it is only after she see Mr Dog’s tail that she becomes concerned that scrawny, hairy Mr Dog is not her beautiful granddaughter.

I would like to think that my mum could tell me apart from her many dogs. But maybe not.

That’s all for this week, stay tuned next week for a tale from Louisiana.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

What we Ate Wednesday--Stovetop Popcorn

Hello lovelies! If you follow my blog then you know that we have been seriously trying to cut down on the waste we generate. So, for the next few weeks I want to share food that we make from scratch instead of buying them in plastic or in this case, non-recyclable bags.

Today, I'm talking Crisps.
Crispy, crunchy crisps.
Packets of crisps.
Chips, if you are American.

We don't indulge in crisps that often because they really are not healthy in any way. You can tell yourself they are good for you because they are made from potatoes, but those potatoes are fried and salted and so not really a health food. Plus each individual bag costs around 50p. Sure you can find multi-packs that are cheaper, but they just encourage us to eat more because they are there in the house.  Plus, you've now got at least six non-recyclable bags to throw away--the five that came in the multi-pack and the outer bag that contained them all.

I have taken a vow to give up crisps until the packets become recyclable, so every week i make a batch of stovetop popcorn. Sure you can buy ready popped popcorn these days, but it comes in a non recyclable bag and is often loaded with sugar and salt.

Yes, you can buy an air popper. We've had one. It made all the popcorn taste like polystyrene  packing peanuts unless you drowned it with butter. Again, no thanks.

So, I pop on the stove. It is economical and makes the popcorn taste better than air popped. It is better  and cheaper than single serve crisp packets as one 500g plastic bag of popcorn costs around £1 and makes 25 servings of popcorn.

25 servings. One bag.  £1.

Even I can do the maths on that.

I wasn't even going to do this as a blog post, but so many people ask me how did I make it. I don't have a fancy popper. I just use my biggest pan.

Stovetop Popcorn

In your largest cooking pot add the following:

1 TB oil (I use sunflower oil)
half a cup (100 grams) popcorn kernels
pinch sea salt

1.Use your hands or a spoon to stir the oil and coat the kernels.
2. Put the lid on the pot and turn it up to med-high. This is 5 on the dial of my hob. I have ceramic plate burners which take a few minutes to heat up unlike gas which is more easily controlled.
3. Tidy the kitchen while keeping an eye on the pot. When the lid of your pot fogs over with steam, put your oven mitts on (or grab two tea towels) and hold the handles on either side and give it a good shake. From now on shake every 10 seconds or so. I just count to ten and then shake on ten.
4. Soon, you'll hear it start to pop. Keep shaking otherwise your kernels will burn. Soon it will be popping like mad, just keep counting and shaking. I start counting to five and shaking when the popping gets going.
5. After a few minutes or so, the pops will slow down. When the pops are a few seconds apart, remove from the heat and crack the lid. Some rogue kernels may still pop. The cracked lid will let steam escape but keep late popping kernels in the pan.
6. After a minute, when it has gone silent, take the lid off and stir to move any salt from the bottom onto the top and add a bit more if you'd like.
7. Decant into a large airtight container and let cool. I keep most of it in a large resealable plastic box, and my single serving in a small plastic sandwich box. When completely cool, put the lids on to retain freshness.

I timed it and the whole thing took me eight minutes. If you have a gas stove, i bet it would be quicker as it heats up faster than ceramic plates.

Eight minutes for 5 days worth of whole food, crunchy, fibre filled snacks.

It's worth it.

Progress not Perfection on my Zero waste Journey--buying naked produce

Hello my eco-conscious friends. I am happy to report I had another successful day out with my Zero Waste Kit yesterday. My friend Sarah and I went to Skanda Vale and I am happy to say it gets easier and easier to bring my own stuff everywhere I go.

Today I want to talk about things I have doing to reduce my waste. Some have been really successful and others just so-so, but that is how you learn what works--by trial and error.

The first thing we looked at was trying to buy more fruit and veg "naked." Because we are on a tight-as-a-drum budget, money has to be a consideration. Our usual plan of action had been to buy everything from Lidl in a plastic bag because the prices are so good. Lidl sells little to no loose produce, so if we were going to do this, we had to first do a cost analysis.

Now I love this sort of thing. I am happiest when making little charts and diagrams and comparisons. The one thing I struggle with is the math aspect of it. But most places tell you the price per kilogram so I don't have to work it out myself, but occasionally I had to do a little calculating on paper. And then double check by using a calculator and then get Spiderman to check my calculations. Sigh...

We are lucky in that we have several supermarkets that we can get to. Carmarthen has a Lidl and a Tesco and a Marks and Spencer Food Hall all within walking distance of our house. Spiderman works in Lampeter and there is a Sainsburys there.

What I did was write down everything we normally buy in plastic and the price we paid for it, so I would know how much more it would cost to buy it without plastic. The agreement was if it was a small difference between loose and plastic (something like 15p) we would do it, but if it was like 50p or more to get it plastic free, we would continue to buy it bagged.

Would we like not count the cost and just be 100% zero waste? Sure, but it isn't going to happen at this time.

This is what I found:
45p per kg bagged at Lidl, 60p per kg loose at Tesco and Sainsbury--15p more---- YES

£2.83 per kg in plastic at Lidl, £2.75 per kg loose at Tesco, £2.70 per kg loose at Sainsbury--8p to 13p less---YES (this surprised me--most things are more to buy loose)

57p per kg in a plastic net at Lidl, 75p per kg loose at Tesco and Sainsbury--18p more--YES

new potatoes
price varies at Lidl but on average 75p per kg, no loose new potatoes at Tesco, Sainsbury and M&S both sell loose new potatoes for £2.50 per kg--£1.75 more--NO

in a plastic net at Lidl 97p for 5 medium oranges, both Lidl and Tesco sell loose oranges at 30p each so it is 53p more to buy them loose. --Maybe. We have been buying them loose because I have found some savings elsewhere (9p savings on buying 500ml sunflower oil at Poundland not Lidl etc)  I think we will buy them loose, unless there is a sale on, then buy them in a net.

£1.28 per kg in plastic wrap at Lidl, £1.57 per kg loose at Tesco, £1.35 per kg at both M&S and Sainsbury. 7p more--YES.  A thousand times yes. I have bought loose broccoli twice at M&S, both times selecting the biggest head i could (sadly, they have no scale, so i never knew how much it was going to be) but each time paying around 57p and that head of broccoli fed us for three meals which is incredible value for money.

apples(Braeburn or Gala) 
Hard to say about apples at Lidl, there are different kinds in bags all at different prices per kg, they did have some loose ones but they were GINORMOUS and I didn't want to get two apples the size of a baby's head for one kilo, so I looked elsewhere. £2.20 per kg at Tesco, but again...a bit on the big side. That's what makes bags convenient as you get 5-6 smaller ones. £2 per kg at M&S and Sainsbury. I haven't seen the ones at Sainsbury in person, but the M&S ones are a decent size. Not huge, but not titchy either. I got 5 apples at M&S at roughly 37p each. YES

pretty much everywhere you shop, loose peppers are 55p each. I can get a bag of three at Lidl for 92p (sometimes less) That's a 73p difference.--NO

Tinned tomatoes
34p each at Lidl, 35p each  at Tesco. these are both loose without that shrink plastic connector thing. Buying the shrink plastic set of 4 at Tesco, they are only 1 p more. YES

Baked beans (reduced sugar and salt)
we prefer the reduced sugar and salt cowboy beans from Tesco. This really chaps Spiderman's ass (as they say in the American South.) To buy them loose they are 32p each, to buy them with that shrink plastic connector thing they are 4 for £1, making them 25p each. Why should it cost LESS for extra packaging???? We always buy a 4 pack because sometimes i am too tired to cook and you need something easy and healthy. It's 28p more to buy them loose--YES, but grudgingly. 
Side note: I have found that Sainsbury will collect the plastic shrink wrap on multi packs of cans in their carrier bag collection box.

Recycle Now says they also collect:


Plastic carrier bags

Any non-Polyethylene film (e.g. PP, PVC, others)
Plastic bread bags (shake out)
Cling film
Plastic cereal bags i.e. Porridge Oats (not inners from boxed cereals)
Food and drink pouches
Plastic wrappers and ring joiners from multipacks of cans and plastic bottles
Crisp packets
Plastic wrappers from toilet roll and kitchen towel packs
Film lids from ready meals and food trays
Plastic freezer bags 
Plastic magazine and newspaper wrap (type used for home delivery only)
Thin bags used for fruit and veg at supermarkets
Bubble wrap
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) - resin ID code 4

 The list above will help us recycle some of the things we have previously thrown away because our local counsel doesn't accept them (like plastic wrappers from toilet roll and magazine wrap)

So what have I been using to bag my naked produce? After much consideration, I have chosen to buy rather than make something. I normally am all about the DIY, but the bags needed to be lightweight and see-through and I didn't have anything in my fabric stash that fit the bill.

I ended up buying some of those zippered lingerie bags from Poundland. They are perfect. Easy to fill, machine washable, 10g in weight (so they don't add much to your cost since the supermarket won't subtract the weight of the bag)

Every shop i went to, someone stopped me and marvelled on what a good idea it was and where did I buy them, so hopefully planting seeds of being a good eco-steward.

Here they are in action:
apples and broccoli from M&S

mushrooms and onions from Tesco

The only downside to the bags is they came in a plastic packaging, but the packing says "Please recycle this packaging" as opposed to the dreaded "This package is currently not recyclable" so i am going to try my luck taking it to the Sainsbury bag collection.

So are we mostly plastic free? Well, there are some things like cucumber and lettuce for the snails, salad, kale and spinach for us that are always in plastic and never naked. I can see why kale, spinach and salad need to be bagged, but why-oh-why does a cucumber need a shrink wrap???

We have started using empty salad, kale and spinach bags as a bag in the bathroom rubbish bin. We figured give it a second job before it goes in the black bag.

In my next post, i'll go over some of the other ways we have made changes to reduce what we throw away.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Grief is the price we pay for love

Yesterday was eighteen years since my dad died. How is that even possible?
Image result for grief

For years I suffered terrible from an anniversary grief that would punch me in the solar plexus and squeeze me until I couldn’t breathe and leave me gasping and crying. Then I went through years of anniversary grief where I would just shut down and hibernate until the day had passed. But now, sometimes the day approaches and I don’t even know it is coming until I look at my diary or check the calendar to write down an appointment. Is this good? Is this bad? Am I healing or am I forgetting?

When you lose someone that you love
Are they really lost?
You know where they are:
In an urn
In the earth
In your heart
Can you go on?
Or do you shut down?
Sometimes one and other times the other
Sometimes I miss him so much and the grief is so palpable that
I can’t breathe
I can’t think
I can’t move
I can only cry
But sometimes, whole days pass by
Without a tear or a maudlin thought
When suddenly I realise
I feel
Am I losing him?
Have I forgotten?
And then I look at myself in the mirror
And see his face
Our impossibly low foreheads and strange eyes
One near-sighted
One far-sighted
Both dimmed through too much reading
I think of my brain
That remembers and recalls
Details all
Every fact able to be quoted when needed
I look at my heart
And know I am brave
Brave like he was brave
I stand up
And am counted
I stand up
For what matters
For WHO matters
I got that from him
And so
I know
I am not alone
He is not gone
Or forgotten
Is with me
I love you GLT

Saturday, 14 April 2018

My First Zero Waste Event--Absolutely Fabulous Vegan Fayre

Hello everyone! In my last post, I talked about creating my own ZERO WASTE KIT from stuff I already had. Today was my first day to try it out.

Because I knew I was going to bring home LOTS of delicious food I loaded up my kit with 3 containers.

So how did I do?

Brilliantly. I was like 99.9% zero waste because each of my ice cream cones had a paper napkin that I forgot to refuse. I was just so incredibly excited about vegan ice cream, I didn't even see the napkin until she handed it over.

I actually ate ice cream TWICE because it was that good. The nice lady from Cardigan and her company Ice Green makes cashew based ice cream with homemade gluten free waffle cones. This is why I had it twice.

There were so many flavours I couldn't decide. First I had Black Forest Gateau (chocolate with GF brownies and cherries) and then went back and was so indecisive so she kindly did me a half scoop each of Peanut Butter and a sort of Pralines and Cream with a caramel swirl and cinder toffee.

This was also how I was so mesmerised I forgot to refuse the napkin on the second cone.

This is actually not my ice cream cone because despite eating two, I forgot to take a photo before consuming them. This is the hand of a friend who kindly acted as my stunt double.

So two strikes for getting paper napkins when I had a cloth one, but let's see what I did right.

For lunch I ate from the lovely people who run Brownwins Caribbean Food. They had Chinet heavy duty paper plates for their food or you could get it in a cardboard box, which was great. However, I had come prepared.  

I got the jerk tofu with rice and peas and coconut curried vegetables. It also came with salad but it wouldn't fit in my box, so I had the hot food in one box and salad in the other. I used my own cutlery and cloth napkin to eat it.
close up of my jerk tofu in spicy gravy

 There was so much food, i saved half of it for my supper tonight.

I went and washed my fork in the bathroom and shook out my salad box and went and filled it with cake from Vegangela Rose Cakes  (Angela is my ice cream stunt double ).
Image may contain: dessert, food and indoor
This cake was gluten free white chocolate banoffee cake with salted caramel and a sprinkle of vegan meringue. 

Here it is in a box. There are two slices in there, plus a big blop of icing she plopped in as an extra.

Because my supper was sorted with jerk tofu, I went and bought a Mr Nice Pie for Spiderman and refused his offer of a paper bag and used an old Swedish Glace ice cream tub instead.

I was pleased to see so many stalls having paper containers and wooden cutlery.  This may be because vegans are more environmentally aware that non vegans. But I was still happy I had brought my own.

Verdict: it was easy and doable. People were really nice about letting me use my own containers and no one looked at me weirdly. It was perfect for carrying leftovers home--my cake didn't get squashed, my gravy didn't seep out the bottom of the cardboard box.

If I can do it, you can do it. It didn't take much forethought because all i had to do was chuck a few extra containers in my Zero Waste Kit.

If I had not been such a greedy guts about the ice cream, I would have been 100% zero waste. But I am not beating myself up over it.

Progress not perfection.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--Black Forest (Sweden)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week is a very short summary of a popular Swedish song entitled Jungfrun i Blaskagen (Black Forest). It supposedly appears in Folkeviser, 3. 68, 69, but I can not find this source or any lyrics for the song.

I almost didn’t include it as it is just a wisp of a fragment, but something about the summary compelled me. To me, it harked back to the moralistic “don’t stray from the path” original versions of Little Red Riding Hood, but with a darker, sexual element such as the one by French writer Charles Perrault. His version is just a metaphor for chastity (much like the Twilight series of today. Seriously, what did you think all that "he can't drink her blood until after they are married" was all about?) 

This tale somehow feels like it has been ripped from the headlines.

The song calls her a “girl” (Can I digress and say how much I hate that term. She is clearly a woman because she has a sweetheart. And before you say, Spidergrrl you call yourself girl, let me say that GRRL is a whole different pot of flowers than GIRL. It’s like Riotgrrrl.)

Anyway, this could just be a straightforward “Don’t talk to strangers” sort of message, but something in me sees it more of a description of sexual violence.

Let me let you read the fragment and then I will give you my view on it.

Black Forest

A girl is to go across the country to a wake. Her way leads through a dark forest, where the grey wolf meets her. “Ah dear wolf,” says she, “do not bite me, and I will give thee my shift sewn with silk.” “Thy shift sewn with silk is not what I want, I will have thy young life and blood!” So, she offers her silver shoes, and then her golden crown, but all was in vain. In her trouble she climbs up a high oak tree, but the wolf undermines the root. In her terrible anguish the girl utters a piercing cry. Her lover hears it, saddles his horse, and rides with the swiftness of a bird, but when he arrives at the spot, the oak is lying uprooted, and all that remains of the girl is one bleeding arm.

It's pretty gruesome. All he finds of his true love is her severed arm. That’s really why I  decided it should be part of my research—because of the severed arm. I just loved that creepy detail.

I know it says she was walking through the forest to attend a wake…but the forest is dark. She is walking alone in beautiful, enticing clothes. She attracts a predator. She bargains to try to save her body, but he corners her. She can’t escape and tries to cry out, but it is too late. He has taken what he wants and leaves her broken and bloody. If he were to be caught, it would be her word against his. What was she doing walking alone in the dark forest? She deserved whatever she got. She was wearing a sexy silk shift and high heeled silver shoes. And what's with the golden crown? Who does she think she is, anyway? Stuck up, bitch. She was asking for it. Good girls don’t stray from the path. Bad girls get what’s coming to them. And that sweetheart—he’s never going to look at her the same way again. He’ll always see the bleeding arm and hear her cry and she’ll never be his “princess” again. She’s dirty. Contaminated. It was All. Her. Fault.

Or maybe it is just a sad song about a man who lost his lover to a wolf in a terrible accident.

Next week, we’ll get away from all this seriousness and begin to look at variations on the Red Riding Hood theme from various children’s books from around the world.

Progress Not Perfection on my Zero Waste Journey--the First of the Five R's (Refuse)

Greetings and salutations my eco-conscious friends. This is my third post inspired by my recent incredibly waste producing trip to the US where I went to visit my lovely daughter. I  had several panic attacks while there over the amount of rubbish I was single-handedly producing and was gobsmacked by the sheer quantity of single use plastics that pervaded everyday life. If you missed that one and want to read about the 56 single use plastic water bottles I used in two weeks you can CLICK HERE.

When I was growing up, there were only Three R's--Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Times have changed. Now there are Five. Because we live in such a throwaway society with all these single use plastics we have to start with the most important R.
Image result for just say no
Refuse.  Just say no. Which is a lot harder than it seems as my recent trip to the US proved. I thought the UK was bad, but it is a piece of cake compared to the amount of refusing I had to do in the US.
Image result for bag for life
In the UK, they charge you 5p for a plastic bag, so there was an 85% drop in people getting plastic bags. People started to bring their own cloth ones (I upcycled and sewed some from old curtains)  or bought Bags for Life--heavy duty reusable ones that are made from 94% recyclable plastic. Places like Tesco will replace your worn out Bag for Life for free if it is one of theirs.

In the US...a different story. Every. Single. Shop. popped my items in a plastic bag before i could refuse. Even my shouts of "No bag, please!" were ignored. It is just habit for the cashiers. You buy, they bag. My attempts to give back plastic bags were frowned up. The cashier would sigh and screw up their faces because I had messed up the system. The bags are on a special doo-dah (technical term) that held each bag open and made it easy to pop items in. My giving back a bag meant that they would have to fight to bag the next person's items.
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And the straws!  For Frith's sake, Every. Single. Place popped a straw into my drink before I could say "No straw!" Boom! It was in there. The one place that brought me a straw in a paper wrapper was Olive Garden. When everyone was opening their straws and putting them in their glass of water I said I wanted to reduce my use of single use plastics, someone in my family actually said to me:

I *always* use a straw. you never know about the cleanliness of the glass. I don't want to put my mouth directly on it. 

She said as she ate with a fork off of a plate. If you are that afraid of grot at the Olive Garden then you shouldn't eat there.

In the UK, we do a pretty good job of refusing...partially because people don't give you stuff like bags or straws. If any of my US peeps want to try this (and I would urge you to do so) have your work cut out for you.

In the UK, I nearly always have a water bottle...I think I have bought a single use plastic bottle a dozen times in 14 years. I do have a cutlery bag to carry cutlery and cloth napkins, but I don't always have it with me. I originally made it to go on hikes and picnics. Now I have it with me always. The sorts of places where I eat out give you real silverware not plastic...but there are *always* paper napkins, so now I am prepared to refuse those as well.

Here's my new improved DIY cutlery roll made from stuff I already had. Eagle-eyed friends will recognise this fabric as I have clothes made from it. It's basically two pieces of 10 inch by 14 inch fabric, sewn together on three sides (right sides together), turned right side out and top stitched to close the gap on the open side and folded up 4 inches to make a pocket. I sewed pocket divider lines and attached a button and elastic loop closure. I did the whole thing in a little over an hour.

After seeing all the smug Vloggers with their cute (and expensive) bamboo travel utensils, I was like--I can do better. It would have been even cheaper to just use some cutlery I already owned, but we only have place settings for four and I didn't want to always be shouting, "I know we've got more bloody spoons than this!" at Spiderman. So, I went to a charity shop and bought 2 spoons and 2 forks for 10p each. 40p. Splashing out the big money. They're not matchy-matchy, but oh well.

If you can't sew, why not just reuse something like a pencil case. or if your old pencil case is grotty, buy a new one for like £1.

If I was the sort of person who liked a straw in my drink (or lived in the US) I'd get one of these stainless steel reusable straws:

It even comes with a wee brush for cleaning it. I'm told the trick is to show it to your server when you order a drink to imprint on their mind not to give you one.
Image result for reusable coffee cup
I rarely get stuff to go. If we are going to pay to eat out, we are damn well going to sit in and enjoy ourselves. But if you are the sort of person who always gets a Starbucks latte (other brands are available, and might even pay taxes) or whatever, invest in a reusable travel cup because that paper one that you just throw away is lined with plastic and can't be recycled. Plus lots of places will give you a discount for bringing your own. If you want to be all cool and hipster, bring a jar. But be aware that many jars aren't heat proof and might explode, so get a kilner jar which can withstand the heat and has less of a chance of leaking. Personally, glass is HEAVY and a faff to carry about because of the weight and the fact that it is BREAKABLE. (says the clumsy woman with back problems)

I was given one by my lovely daughter, so now, if I want to I can get my hot chocolate with soya milk to go, I can do it guilt free.

A reusable container is one I never thought about carrying. As i said, when we can afford to eat out we tend to eat in the establishment and don't get stuff like takeaways. But what about leftovers? You can ask places to put your leftover food in your own container. Or if you buy a slice of cake from a vegan stall, it can go in your box.
Medium Square To-Go Container - Clear
Now, you could spend money on a stainless steel container like the one featured above from A Slice of Green which costs £18 plus postage, or you could dig around in your cupboards and find something you ALREADY HAVE. Which conveniently is the third R in the Five R's--REUSE. Some people just carry a huge ass reused glass jar with them for this purpose.

I am using a BPA  and Phthalate free plastic, leak proof box i got on sale from Tesco for £1.75. It is also much LIGHTER and not BREAKABLE because lugging around a giant jar would be murder on my back.

So here is my DIY Zero Waste Kit. It is made with cheapness in mind--I made the cutlery bag from materials i already had and I spent 40p on cutlery to go in it. I used my regular BPA free water bottle from Wilkos plus my new coffee travel mug that was a gift and a container I got on sale and stuck it in a free bag I got 5 years ago at a science thing.

I can carry it as is or pop it in my backpack. I plan on trying it out Saturday at the Vegan Fayre in town. I will report back on my experiences.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

What We Ate Wednesday--Roasted Clean Out the Fridge Meal

Hello lovelies! Sometimes, you just can't be arsed, am I right?

I keep us on a tight budget, by making a menu and a shopping list and sticking to it. But life has a way of cropping up and sometimes you don't always get to eat what you had planned.

We were invited out for a meal and then some friends who are developing some spice packs for their burgeoning business asked us to be recipe testers which we were more than glad to do. (It was lovely by the way.)

So, suddenly we were left with lots of odds and ends in the fridge...a little of this....not much of that. I cannot bear to let food go to waste, so i quickly threw together a meal made of scraggy bits and slightly wilted veg and a sad looking wrinkled lemon. I couldn't be arsed to research a recipe, so I just threw together stuff and hoped for the best.

I know that roasting brings out the  best flavour, so that's what I did. Basically we had chickpeas and half a yellow pepper roasted with the juice of half a lemon and a splash of tamari/soy sauce with roasted broccoli. Then  a few small potatoes cooked in vegetable stock with a handful of kale thrown in at the last minute to the boiling liquid to soften it. Then the other half of the lemon squeezed on.

Easy peasy. And delicious.

Roasted Clean Out the Fridge Meal
Preheat your oven to 200C/400F

In a large roasting pan add the following:
1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
half a pepper, chopped
some broccoli

Spritz both chickpeas and broccoli with oil and drizzle juice of half a lemon and a splash of tamari/soy sauce over the chickpeas. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.

I like to segregate my chickpeas and broccoli in the pan. This is not racist, it just helps them cook better.

In a large cooking pot, add some chopped potatoes (I had about 400 grams--4-5 egg sized new potatoes) and cover with water and add a stock cube.Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. When close to the end of their boiling throw in a handful of kale.

Meanwhile, roast for 12 minutes, remove the pan and stir the chickpeas and flip the broccoli then roast a further 12 minutes.

When the potatoes and kale are done, drain and return to the pan. Add the juice of the other half of the lemon and some pepper. Serve with your roasted chickpeas and broccoli.

Sorry to be so imprecise about the measurements, but i was making it up as I went along.

It was good though. Real good. I am sure we will have it again the next time we have to clean out the fridge. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Tying myself in knots: Why Zero Waste is a myth (but why we still have to try)

Greetings and salutations, my eco-conscious friends.  Do you ever feel overwhelmed by it all?

Trying to be a good person in a world that largely doesn't give a shit is hard.

When you want to buy things there are so many things to consider:

Is it vegan? Does it contain animal ingredients?
Is it cruelty free? Was it tested on animals? 
Does it contain harsh chemicals that disrupt hormones or are used in antifreeze?
What sort of packaging does it come in? Is it reusable? Or recyclable? 
How much does it cost? 

This is why I make so many things like tooth powder, moisturiser, make up and deodorant because I can't find something that meets all the above criteria. 

If it's food you also have to think about things like:
Food miles
Packaging (again)
Is it vegan? (again...animal products can sneak into products in ways you don't expect)
How was it grown? Is it organic?
How much does it cost?  

The problem is we are on an immensely tight budget. This is the life we have chosen and are happy to do so. We work less and so have lots of time to do the things we love, spend time together, be in nature, rest, read, relax, create and enjoy life. But it comes at the price of having to watch our pennies. 

So for us cost is *always* a factor. When you add in all the other things it can feel really overwhelming. Do you buy the organic apples if they come from New Zealand? What if  the only organic apples come in a non-recyclable plastic bag? 

If you can even afford organic. But you can't NOT afford to! I hear people cry. Well, our food budget is £30 a week. We don't drive. We don't have a farmer's market nearby. 

I get so sick of watching smug videos of Zero Waste Gits--I mean Vloggers, showing off their tiny jar of the last two years worth of garbage and going on and on and on about the great farmer's market and buying all organic produce and then popping over the Bulk Bin shop and bringing their own containers and then spending a ruddy fortune on a toothbrush made from bamboo. Since they didn't know which kind of bamboo toothbrush they wanted, they ordered 5 different expensive kinds before settling on the perfect one. They just spent £30 on toothbrushes. That could feed us for a week.

We don't live in a market town anymore like we did in England. Without a car, the supermarket is our only choice for food. The nearest Bulk bin shop is in Pontardawe. That's 30 miles. 

I found a Zero Waste Starter Kit for sale online. You got trendy, matchy-matchy things like a glass water bottle, stainless steel reusable container, bamboo cutlery, cloth napkin, reusable ceramic coffee cup in an organic cotton bag for £55. 


It just makes you feel overwhelmed like a deer in the headlights. It makes you think:
This is impossible.
I can't afford this.
I'll never be able to get all my rubbish in a small jar.
I might as well give up.

Then I gave myself a good talking to and said:
You are the Amazing Spidergrrl. you can do this.
You are the Queen of DIY.
You love to research and find a bargain. See what you can reduce (like plastic packaging) and still stay under budget. 
You can make stuff. You can sew.
Be more gentle with yourself. Progress not perfection. 
You already do things like always have a water bottle and carry reusable bags. You probably already do more than you realise. 
Just take some baby steps and keep adding in good things to your journey. 

So, I started to alter my google searches. I searched for things like Zero Waste Cheap and Zero Waste Budget and I found a Vlogger called Leafeco. 

This woman speaks my language. She has a great video about setting up your own Zero Waste Kit with stuff you probably already had. Suddenly, all my worries melted away. I can do this. I may not get to a little jar, but I can make better choices and not go into debt. 

Watch her video here and get inspired. 

So, I have made myself a DIY Zero Waste Kit out of stuff I already had and sewed myself something new to wrap my cutlery in as I wanted to improve on my previous attempt at a portable cutlery wrap.

You see? I already had a portable cutlery wrap! I am doing better than I thought.  I'm thinking of making some to sell in my Etsy shop. 

I'll blog about my Zero Waste Kit next time. .