In the continuing war on waste, at a household level by far the most effective strategy I have for reducing our municipal garbage output is composting. I have a very simple and comprehensive composting system.
Three large compost bins. One is filled and has been spending several months quietly composting away. One is nearly full, and one is waiting to be filled.
These bins are recycled plastic and made in Australia. They are the simplest type of compost bin - they have no base, are placed directly on the soil, they have a hinged lid. You don't need to buy compost bins - you can use any old lidded bin of any size, cut out the base and away you go. Now these bins won't make your classic turned, hot compost. They are too small to heat up properly. To make a hot compost that kills pathogens and weed seeds you need a heap that is made all at once and is at least 1 cubic metre (35 cubic feet) in size. This is generally not practical in a small suburban garden. My plastic bins are not compost bins so much as large worm farms. They produce what is called 'cold compost' but is actually pretty much worm castings, and the process takes at least a year in our temperate cool climate. If you live somewhere warmer than Tasmania the process will go quicker, and if you have snow in the winter, it will take longer.
There is no secret or complicated method to producing cold compost. You start with a bucket full of kitchen scraps on the bottom of the bin, and add some compost worms (these are the worms you buy for your worm farm. Or ask a friend with a worm farm or compost. If you live in Launceston, ask me). You will need a double handful of worm-filled compost to start. Then add all your kitchen scraps, soft weeds, autumn leaves and vegie garden prunings. Anything that isn't actually sticks can go in. Sticks take longer to break down. I throw in all my kitchen waste, even the things that you aren't supposed to put in compost bins and worm farms, like meat, bones, dairy, onions and citrus skins. The worms in my bins have never seemed to care. Mind you, I don't have rodents or a dog that digs, so I know that what goes into the bin stays in the bin. Other things I put in the compost: hair, dust and dog hair from the dust pan, a small amount of fire ash, paper towel, natural fibres of any kind, tissues that haven't been used for anything nasty. Cold compost will not kill pathogens, so I don't put anything in it that will spread germs, like cat or dog poop, or snotty tissues. Tissues I flush down the toilet. Guinea pig and rabbit poop is fine though, and their bedding, and the newspaper from the bottom of the budgie cage. Another thing cold compost will not do is kill seeds, so do not throw in seeding weeds, or plants like ivy which will cheerfully resprout under any condition whatsoever.. this also means that you will have hundreds of tomato, pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber seedlings popping up when you spread the compost in the garden. This may be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I do admit it is very difficult to be hardhearted and hoe all of these baby plants back into the soil.
After a year or so the compost looks like this:
The only identifiable ingredient is eggshells, which is kind of bad news for when I get chickens, as chickens who peck at eggshells can become egg eaters. From now on I will be drying and grinding up the eggshells, and saving them as a chicken feed calcium supplement for my (as yet hypothetical) chickens. Otherwise the compost looks exactly like potting mix, but has more heft to it. It is wonderful, magical stuff for the garden. It adds nutrients, but also adds organic matter to the soil, helping it to become better draining and making it a more hospitable place for plants to grow.
Things to remember - site the bins in the shade so you won't kill the worms. Keep the compost damp in the summer. Worms like alkaline, so add a little fireplace ash or garden lime occasionally. If a cloud of tiny flies fly out when you open the lid, add another handful of lime and some garden soil. You will sometimes see an explosion of tiny white wriggly worms in the bin. Do not panic. They are the baby worms, and will grow up to do important composting work like their parents, so feed them well.
I have all the new curtains thanks to the kindness of my friends. When I moved in to our new house I had a quote done for curtains and blinds in three rooms. $2000. I thought again. Curtains. They are hemmed rectangles, right? I can hem a rectangle, I thought to myself. Then I hauled myself around town looking for the exact rustic weave, natural linen fabric I was after (none of the curtain-making places could produce this for me. The $2000 quote was for fabric that was synthetic). I figured it would cost a bomb, but hopefully less than $2000. But there wasn't anything that I wanted, at any price. Then I went to the hardware shop for paint for Rosy's door. And I found a shelf full of marvellous unbleached cotton fabric in a canvas weight, and it turned out to be painters' drop cloths. Brilliant! I bought enough fabric for the three windows that needed curtains, and it sat on my bedroom floor. For a year.
Until my clever and kind friend Katherine from the Living Better With Less Group said, "Why don't we come and help?" and I said, ever so gratefully, "Oh, yes please!" So they did. Katherine sews lots of her own clothes, has never sewed curtains, but was game to try.
Cindy actually knew what she was doing, being an experienced producer of curtains. The rest of us tried to be useful by handing over the scissors and making lots of tea. I was already at the point of wilting due to having had extensive conversation with the lady at the curtain shop, who was very nice but she also seemed rather doubtful that I had the least idea of what I was doing (she was so right) as she sold me blockout lining, header tape, hooks, and then I had to return because I forgot to buy thread. Still, we measured twice and cut once, and apparently did all the right things, because curtains happened.
Benson-the-curtain-making puppy helped immensely. He lay on his bed and had naps and didn't stir even when we accidentally dropped curtains onto him. Oh, wait, he says he was holding the curtains for us until we needed them again.
I tried all sorts of cunning tricks to avoid having to actually help sew. I made lots of tea, and served blueberry muffins and a cheese platter, and then more tea, and had run out of excuses and had just sat down to start hemming at the insistence of everyone, when there was a knock at the door... a couple who were just visiting Launceston had deduced that this was the wife's grandmother's house.. of course, I offered to show them around and discovered that a nice old lady called Dulcie Harris lived and died in this house about thirty years ago..
The others were convinced that I had arranged the whole affair in order to get out of sewing... but look, here I am, actually sewing, with photographic evidence. And so, thanks to the kindness of my friends, I can now sew curtains. And, no, it is not just theoretical knowledge, because this week I have sewed curtains for Posy's room, all by myself which is an actual miracle.
During the course of the sewing afternoon Cindy said, "We don't ask each other for help enough." It's so true. I hate asking for help. Most of us in our society can afford to buy help, so we do that. In our Living Better With Less Group, and in my wider circle of friends, we are attempting to turn that tide by learning to rely on each other a little more, giving and receiving help for all sorts of projects and learning and teaching so many new skills. And the truth is, being part of a community and doing things together is just more fun, as well as providing a practical safety net for each other.
Oh, and no surprises, my house is now much warmer. I can't believe I lived for over a year with no curtains in the house. Especially on the biggest window which is right next to the woodheater. Now we are cosy and warm. And if anyone wants help with curtain making, give me a call. I will make the tea..
Do you have a community of friends or family who volunteer to help with the quilting, the canning and the barn raising? How do you begin to become that kind of community?
Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags a year. There are only 24 million of us. I cannot fit enough zeros on my calculator to do that maths (to be honest, I don't actually know how many zeros there are in a billion), but really? That is a lot of bags.
I can tell you right now, our household is not contributing nearly that much to landfill per year. Oh, it probably used to, although even at the height of our rubbish production the neighbours would always use our bin as first port of call to stuff extra rubbish bags in. Over time, as I have become less and less excited about buying new things, very much less enthusiastic about plastic, and have become very enthusiastic about composting, our rubbish production has bottomed out. So much so that in our new kitchen, when we moved into our wee cottage last year, I noticed that there was no intuitive place to put a bin. So I decided to have a benchtop bin. See that small canister above? The one next to my teacup that is there for purposes of comparison? That is my bin. The large canister is the compost bin (I had to move all my dirty dishes to take this photo! The bins live right next to the sink). There is also a small bin in the bathroom, and the girls each have a desktop bin about the same size as the kitchen bin. They empty theirs about once a month. I empty the bathroom bin once a week. The kitchen bin gets emptied every two or three days.
We have a 104 litre (27 gallon) wheelie bin and we put it out once a month, for a family of three. We could probably stretch that to five or six weeks, but monthly works well, as our recycling bin only goes out on alternate weeks, so it is easy to put them both out once a month.
Here is a sample of what our kitchen bin contained, pre-Plastic-Free July. First, the carrot bag bin liner:
Next, the contents:
Note the single rubber glove? I save the other one and eventually I get a pair again! The biggest item in the bin is the cryo-vac packaging from farmers' market meat. And that is the reason I used a plastic bag to line the bin. Now that I am buying my meat plastic-free from the butcher's down the road, I haven't needed to use a lining in the bin. There is a rice cracker packet. The lid from a plastic milk bottle. Now I am toasting sourdough instead of using crackers, and buying milk in one litre cartons. Which is expensive and annoying, as they get used up really quickly. The can lids? Well, this is embarrassing. I always worry that the recycling centre employees will cut themselves on the sharp can lids. I am everybody's mother. When I told a friend this, she looked at me strangely. "They wear gloves," she said. "If you're really worried, stick the lid inside the can and squish the top together." So now that's what I do.. After I took this photo I realised I could use the cardboard clothing labels as fire starters. The labels are from a shirt I bought from the op-shop that still had its labels attached.
My girls are away from home this week, and this is almost a week's worth of bin contents for just me, in full Plastic-Free July mode:
I bought a small pot of natural yoghurt as a starter for making home-made yoghurt, as I killed my last batch (added the starter while the milk temperature was still too high and killed the yoghurt bugs. Sorry, little guys). The black plastic circle is the thingie you pull off to get the lid open. There is the sticker from my meat purchase in my own container today, a sticker I pulled off the furniture (thank you Posy) and some bits of candle wax I scraped out of a jar I was using as a candle holder. There were also some till receipts but I added them to the newspaper fire starter yesterday afternoon (I haven't been recycling till receipts because I thought they were below minimum size for recycling, but I just researched that and discovered that it is only shredded paper that is too small for recycling. So recycle your till receipts and put your shredded paper in the compost. The cardboard labels up above could have been recycled as well).
So hey, at this rate it will be two months before I have to put the bin out.
I know that reducing and refusing plastic is the goal of Plastic-Free July, but my friend Katherine sent me some information on the weekend about what I can recycle at our local tip, sorry, Waste Centre and Transfer Station. It is pretty schmick and organised now, and it is free as long as you are recycling and not dumping waste to landfill. It even has a cool tip-shop. Anyway, the point is, I discovered I can recycle soft plastics there. That is, things like bread bags, plastic bags, plastic wrap, chip packets, lolly packets, pet food bags etc etc. Now mostly I don't buy things in plastic BUT frozen peas! Cat food! Hurray, now I will be able to recycle those last pesky items that reproach me with their plasticness. I already have half a bag of plastic bags with holes in and empty frozen pea and corn bags in the pantry, because I knew if I waited long enough I would find a way to get them recycled. And here it is!
One thing I do put in the rubbish bin that I shouldn't, is noxious weeds. I have a messy corner at the bottom of the yard where I throw all my green waste. Next year I want to plant some fruit trees there, but until then it can accumulate green goodness. I hate having potential soil fertility leaving my yard, so I hoard clippings, prunings and weeds because really, they are green gold. But then there are noxious weeds like oxalis and ivy and grass which grows on a rhizome under the ground, all of which shoot and sprout from every tiny little piece given half a chance. All of them go straight in the bin. I have gleeful thoughts of the entire Launceston landfill site being overtaken by ivy, oxalis and twitch grass. But it will probably sit and mummify for a century underground, and then spring back as cheerful as ever in the far distant future when landfills are mined for goodies.
What could I do with noxious weeds instead of putting them in the rubbish? Well, I could put them in a lidded bin and cover them with water for.. a very long time. This would theoretically kill them and then I could compost them. But I'm not sure I trust that method. Would they really be dead?
Soon, a green waste collection is starting in Launceston, to encourage residents to put all their kitchen scraps and garden waste into a bin which will be collected weekly to make municipal compost. This is an excellent plan. I don't think I will order a bin though, because I hoard my kitchen scraps and garden waste to make my own compost. And the more I turn my jungle into garden, the less noxious weeds there will be. What I need is to find someone else with a green bin, and make some judicious deposits. It will be just like the neighbours used to do with my wheelie bin, except it will be composting which makes it all fine, doesn't it?
What do you put in your bin that you wish you didn't? Bare all, and maybe other readers will have some good ideas about ways to keep things out of landfill.
PS I just had a brainwave! I pulled the candle wax out of the bin and put it in a jar. Posy makes candles so I will keep all the stubs and wax drips for her to experiment with. If I keep the aluminium tea light holders, we could even refill them. Posy has lots of candle wicks..
PPS I went to put the candle wax in Posy's candle-making drawer and she already has a bagful of scraps. She is way ahead of me.
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a fascinating parable of society, wild and magical and disturbing. A man sets out into the jungle with his friends and family and founds a town in splendid isolation. The novel follows the fortunes of this family and their town over the course of one hundred years.
In this, my favourite quote of the novel, Colonel Aureliano Buendia, son of the town's founder, is reminiscing about the best days of his life, many years before when he had been a simple metalsmith creating golden fish in a tiny studio behind his house:
He had had to start thirty-two wars and had had to violate all of his pacts with death and wallow like a hog in the dungheap of glory in order to discover the privileges of simplicity almost forty years late.
The Colonel himself might be a parable for own society. How many wars do we have to start, how much wallowing in the dungheap of glory before we discover the privileges of simplicity?
I love the term 'privileges of simplicity'. Simplicity is not regarded with great enthusiasm generally. It is mostly seen as a state in which we choose to go without something we might otherwise have rather enjoyed. Like ease, convenience, nice things.
But what are the privileges of simplicity? Well, for me, what I aim for in seeking simplicity is peace of mind. Living simply on less means not worrying so much about money. It means having time to pursue creative projects, stand in the vegie garden and daydream, and drink tea with my friends. It means deciding that 'wallowing in the dungheap of glory' will not be a life aim, which then means that my ambitions can be purely for my own entertainment. Nice.
In respect to the wider world, the privilege of simplicity for me would be not being morally responsible for wars, famines, corruption, or death, ill health or miserable lives for other people so that I can have ease, convenience or nice things.
The privilege of simplicity for nations would mean giving up our hysterical attachment to growth, not sending our citizens off to war on a regular basis for reasons of empire or oil, living within our means and not giving a damn about cutting a figure on the world stage.
Mind you, a nation of folks quietly going about their business and doing whatever interests them for its own sake, and not in thrall to governments, banks or corporations would be a mighty thing.
Anyway, enough of grandiose philosophical visions, let's talk about me. This week I received an email informing me that an article I submitted has been accepted for publication in the Spring edition of Earth Garden, one of my favourite magazines ever! Can you imagine my state of extreme excitedness?? The article is about edible weeds, which I love particularly at the moment, as my garden is a complete wilderness, but has produced an enormous crop of chickweed, which I am making into lovely, lovely pesto. Happy days all round :)
For years I have been buying this toilet paper because it is recycled and wrapped in paper. Brown paper. So wholesome! But just last week I realised that the inside of the paper was shiny. I have extra-sensitive plastic detecting sensors at the moment because it is Plastic-Free July. So over the course of the last week I have been having this conversation with the sales department people at Encore Tissue:
Hi, just wanted to let you know I have used your toilet paper for years because it is recycled and packaged in paper, and sustainability is the thing I look for first in a product.
A quick question - I have noticed that there is a shiny lining to the paper packaging on the Safe toilet paper. Is that a plastic lining? Is the packaging recyclable?
Thank you for taking the time to contact Encore Tissue regarding your below enquiry.
The shiny lining is in fact a plastic layer which helps the paper bind and stick together when being sealed.
Both elements are recyclable.
Sales At Encore
Thanks for getting back to me. Good to know both elements are recyclable. Just to clarify, does this mean I can put the paper Safe toilet tissue packaging in the council recycling bin or recycle it wherever paper recycling is available?
After looking into this further, as there is a plastic layer behind the paper - it is to go into landfill.
Sales at Encore
Thanks for looking into this Sales people.
It is disappointing that the paper wrapping for a recycled toilet paper product needs to be binned, and I would really appreciate it if this is something that your company could look into to make Safe Toilet Tissue a truly sustainable product.
I am really unhappy about this outcome. I am grateful to the Sales Department (I did actually talk to a particular person with a name, but didn't publish it here) for looking into the matter for me, but really, Safe Toilet Paper people.. if you put a product into brown paper packaging it seems to me to be a reasonable assumption that it is paper, and therefore recyclable. Paper with a sneaky plastic backing? What is the point? And why? Why not just put it in brown paper? Sigh. I will now be sharing my friend's Who Gives a Crap toilet paper order. PS I do apologise, but despite trying multiple times I cannot get all the text on this page to remain the same size..
Delicious organic biodynamic milk and cream in glass bottles - but with a giant sticker.. what is all that about?
What I have learned about plastic-free eating: lots of vegies. And eggs. And lots of cooking.
Food you can't buy without plastic wrap: tortillas, flatbread, sushi nori, rice paper rolls, crackers, biscuits, teabags, non-gourmet cheese, dips, butter (even the foil wrapper has a plastic lining), any meat from the farmers market, ice cream, chips, pasta, sliced bread, crumpets.
Food you can buy plastic-free if you have a fabulous bulk bin shop like I do: flour, sugar and all the baking requirements, spelt pasta, dried beans, rice and grains, cereals, loose teas, spices, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, honey, peanut butter, oil, condiments, chocolate covered goji berries.
Food you can buy plastic-free from local shops: bread, cakes, biscuits, slices, meat (if they let you bring your own container), gourmet cheese (if they wrap it in tissue paper), fruit, veg, eggs, flour, milk and cream in cartons or glass. Food in cans or glass bottles.
Food you can buy plastic-free from the supermarket: fruit, veg, eggs, flour. Milk and cream in cartons. Food in cans or glass bottles. Edited to add, from comments: Butter in paper, sugar in paper.
My takeaway from this is: the global food industry couldn't exist without plastic. Local food bought fresh is mostly what you get when eating plastic-free.
Even my fabulous bulk bin shop isn't plastic-free - after all, the lentils don't arrive direct from heaven in crates made from compressed rose petals and delivered by angels. They arrive from India in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box. The reason this is a good thing is that twenty people can go home with a kilo of lentils each and only one plastic bag is used. The same effect can be achieved by buying a twenty kilo bag of lentils from the Asian grocer and sharing it out with nineteen of your best friends. And if you do not have a bulk bin shop near you, this is an excellent alternative.
But only really local food can come unpackaged. Bread straight from the oven. Veg from the farm. There is a shop down the street that sells pasta made on the premises. It just occurred to me I could ask them to pop some in a container for me. So for options if I don't want to cook?
Recently I read about an adorable 'buy home-cooked food for dinner' set-up called Josephine. Home cooks make dinner, and you order it, turn up at their house, pop dinner in your Tupperware and off you go. If you live in the US you can give this a go. I think this would work anywhere among friends, without having to wait for a San Francisco start-up to come to a neighbourhood near you. Plastic-free takeaway.
Meanwhile, I am going to pop up the hill and buy chips from the food vans at the park. Everything is served in cardboard and paper bags, which I will use as fire starters tomorrow, because nothing starts the fire better than fat-soaked cardboard. Thanks, bearded millenial food truck entrepreneurs, for getting it.
Oh, my goodness, I have been so sad today. Some days the whole world comes crashing down, and today was one of those days. Posy has been telling me recently that she misses our old house, and I woke up this morning unbearably sad that on a whim last year I had moved my children out of the house they grew up in. The Girl is home for the holidays and instead of being able to cuddle up in her old room with the cat she has to take it in turns bunking in with her sisters.
And suddenly, for the first time, I missed the ease of our old house. It was completely renovated and everything worked. It had a lovely garden and heating that didn't rely on me splitting wood on a daily basis. It had lots of couches and space for all the children's friends and a courtyard and huge dining table for neighbourhood lunches and dinners. There was even a study for me to write in instead of my current options - the dining room table or sitting up in bed. Also, I had just had the kids' old cubby turned into a chicken house before I left. If I had stayed I would have had chickens for a whole year by now!
I love this house, but it throws up so many challenges - heating with wood, the garden/jungle, it still has no curtains, no door knobs on my bedroom or the bathroom and I am in negotiations over building a verandah and some more retaining walls, which might take actually forever, and somewhere in the jungle is space for chickens, but where? But most of all I grieve for Posy who is grieving for her past - not only her old house, but her old life and an intact family. No matter what solutions I can come up with (and I am all about solutions), nothing is going to fix that grief. That is something we have to sit with and be sad about together.
I am trying to make some career decisions which will possibly be disastrous and end in tears. Risk versus safety. I know I am going to take the risk, but I am all about safety and am frankly terrified.
I went to the farmers market today and so much beautiful fresh food there was wrapped in plastic. I was just despairing and miserable about the planet, about the mess we are leaving for our brave and vulnerable children, and also irritable at myself for endlessly taking on challenges that are difficult and annoying. Today I wanted to just walk into a supermarket and buy all the things, plastic wrapped, produced by mega-corporations and breaking the planet, whatever. I just wanted life to be easy.
I bought two litres of wonderful organic, biodynamic milk in glass bottles from the market, and it is so sweet and yummy that by five o'clock in the afternoon we only have half a litre left. I am panicking because it was so expensive and we won't have any left by tomorrow.. and I'm panicking because I don't see how we can eat ethical and afford to eat..
What else? I made yoghurt and for the first time ever it didn't set. At all. I did nothing different. Nothing! The universe conspires against me.
This afternoon I went to bed and cried. The dog came and used me as a pillow. I stared into a certain future of having no-one in my life except the dog because I am grumpy and irritable and other people are just impenetrable mysteries, or maybe I am just incompetent at people. I second-guess every parenting decision I ever make and wish I could press the rewind button, oh, at least twice a day..
So much woe.. and what is the point here? Well, you know, I am usually such an optimistic person. I bob along on the river of life like a cork. It is so hard for me to be down for long. It is 10:02pm, and already my day is on the up. The Girl made dinner, and dessert. She gave me hugs. We all played a silly board game after dinner and the girls are playing their loud and cheerful music all through our tiny house. I swept the floor and did the dishes, and although there is no milk I am not worried. I'll get a carton when I am out tomorrow. It doesn't matter. So much doesn't matter. The children will always love me, no matter where they are. I will always love them. We will always have something to eat. The dog will always use me as a pillow, and why not?
Today I had a bit of a wobble. I have been sick for three weeks, and here at the tail end I'm just having a down day. It's not surprising. Tomorrow I will be back to my smiley self. What I wanted to say is.. I am so lucky. I have the occasional sad day where everything falls apart. But mostly my days are full of small joys and glorious possibilities. My brain is pretty sunshiney.
There are people in my life who are not so lucky. They fight through dark panic and grey fog and doubt and sadness most days. They battle anxiety and depression and their bodies and minds fail them on a daily basis. I was pretty miserable today. I can't imagine feeling like that every day. I can't imagine keeping on going without the encouragement of sunshine and cheer. And yet, you do, my darlings.
So here's to you my lovely, loving, beautiful, brilliant, brave fellow souls and sojourners, those of you I know and love, and those of you I know are out there struggling through your own dark day today. I appreciate what you bring to the table of life. Thank you for everything you show the rest of us about courage and resilience. I wish I could share some sunshine with you.
I used ONYA brand mesh produce bags at the greengrocer's, paper bags (which I save and reuse), and cloth bags at the bulk bin whole foods shop, and my cloth shopping bag collection at the local, independent supermarket.
I have to say, the possibilities at the supermarket were limited. I bought cans of fruit and coconut milk, a jar of curry paste, and a knob of fresh ginger because I forgot to pick one up at the greengrocer's. That was a month's supermarket shop.
Things I have realised you can't buy if you are plastic-free: anything from the frozen food section. Anything from the personal care aisle. Any crackers. Tortillas. Actually, pretty much anything from the supermarket except fresh fruit and veg.
Tonight, The Girl (she is home for uni holidays!) made tortillas for our vegetarian bean burritos. They were brilliant! She says they are easy. Huh, there you go.
Here are my cool reusable bags. I love them to bits!
My friend Carla bought me the mesh produce bags for my birthday. They are so cool and they come in a drawstring pouch so you can keep them all together in your handbag or glove box or wherever. Do you know what I gave Carla for her birthday? A tub of compost worms from my compost bin for her new compost bin. I think that whole transaction is pretty much a reflection of our relationship as a whole..
The small cloth drawstring bags were sent to me a couple of years ago by the lovely Jess. She made them out of an old sheet from the op shop. They were originally open at the top, meant for produce, but Rosy kindly sewed channels around the top and I threaded cotton piping cord through to make them into drawstring bags for filling with flour, sugar, oats, beans etc from the bulk bins at my favourite Wholesome House. Thanks so much, Jess! I love these so much, but I need more for my monthly shop. I am wondering which child to bribe to whip some more up for me..
I bought milk in cartons. These are marginally more recyclable than plastic milk bottles (I believe that you can only recycle plastic once). At least cartons are made from a renewable resource. On Saturday I will get some organic milk in returnable glass bottles at the farmers' market. It is almost twice as expensive so we may have to drink less..
I only bought a few days' worth of fruit and veg. The fridge feels very calm and uncluttered. What I couldn't get from the greengrocer is loose greens. They only come in plastic bags, so I will wait and get some on Saturday at the market. There is a stall there with the freshest and most wonderful greens selection I have ever tasted. Meanwhile we will eat broccoli.
Here is my plastic fail from today:
This is baker's yeast. I have to make bread somehow, and I am all out. At Wholesome House they open a large bag of vacuum-packed yeast and repack it in little plastic tubs and keep it in their fridge. At least the tub is reusable and then recyclable. What I will have to do is take a glass jar in with a note for them to fill it when they open their next bag of yeast. Or I could become a sourdough baker. Ok, not going to do that right now. Maybe later.
Anyway, at least Alter Eco chocolate is packaged in cardboard and foil. No plastic! Thanks, Alter Eco people:)
Well, it is July. We are rolling down the slope of the year now, and it seems like the perfect time to take on a new project. Along with thousands of other people, the girls and I will be attempting a Plastic-Free July.
Living plastic-free is one of my life goals. Plastic is just so unaesthetically pleasing. How can I possibly live my Anne of Green Gables fantasy life with plastic everywhere I turn? Impossible. Oh, and also it is breaking the planet. Honestly, of all the stupid things we have done as human beings, covering the planet in plastic has to be right up there. Just because we invent it, doesn't mean we have to use it everywhere, does it? I mean, we invented chocolate, but we don't make bags and cheese wrappers out of it, do we? See? My logic is irrefutable.
Anyway, one hundred years ago my great-grandmother managed to live perfectly well without plastic at all. Her name was Ruby and in July 1917 she had been married five years and my Grandma Muriel was about to be born. The plastic industry was then in its infancy.
It wasn't until my Grandmother Muriel became a mother herself in 1947 that plastic really began to worm its way into our lives in a big way. Plastic had been used extensively during WWII, and when the war ended industrialists all over the world had all these enormous plastics factories and all this raw product (ie, oil) and there was SO MUCH MONEY to be made, if only.. we poor suckers could be persuaded to buy plastic everything. And, guess what? We let ourselves be persuaded.
As with most modern inventions, plastic bags and cheese wrappers are not actually necessities of life. They do not make our lives better, they do not make our world prettier, and they create an enormous mess. But, they also make SO MUCH MONEY for purveyors of plastic ticky tack everywhere. Which is why they persist. But, never fear. We can reverse this process by refusing to have a bar of it. If we refuse to buy it and pretend it doesn't exist, eventually it will go away. Already we are seeing lots of paper wrapping and minimal wrapping options turn up in the marketplace. That's because consumers prefer it. So let's prefer it quite decisively and make it happen quicker, so I can live my Anne of Green Gables fantasy life sooner rather than later.
My first and only July purchase so far has been two lamb shanks from the local butcher. My Great-Grandmother Ruby would have got her meat in one of three ways. First, she was a farmer, so she probably ate meat straight off the farm. Second, butchers used to deliver meat straight to the kitchen table, unwrapped, from their van or cart, or else the butcher's boy would deliver it by bicycle, well wrapped in paper and string and balanced precariously in the wicker bike basket. Third, Grandma Ruby may have popped into the butcher's on a trip to town, and picked up her meat, also wrapped in paper. Now we often get meat wrapped in 'butcher's paper' but it is generally plastic backed, and the meat is pre-wrapped in a plastic bag.
Several years ago I tried to go plastic-free with meat but kind of gave up because it seemed too hard. But this time was going to be different. I armed myself with my glass Pyrex dish* and popped down to the butcher. I have faced blank stares and non-cooperation in the past with this request, but I was prepared to give it a go. This is how the conversation went:
Me: I am doing a challenge called Plastic-Free July, and I am wondering if you can weigh my container and put the meat straight into it? Butcher: Certainly we can do that for you. (Puts meat in container. I pay. She offers to keep the weight sticker and recycle it.. can you recycle stickers? I don't know - anyway, I said yes) Me: Thanks so much. The alternative was becoming a vegetarian for a month. Butcher: Well, that would have been a concern.. and by the way, good on you for having a go at reducing waste.
Well, I was gobsmacked. That was surprisingly easy. I believe it helps to choose a small business. I frequent two butchers, and this one is a farm gate shop in town, staffed by the farmers and their relations, who are generally pretty calm and straightforward folks. Also, I think reducing waste is an idea whose time has come.
A very popular TV program here in Australia recently has been a three part series called War on Waste (I have no idea if you can watch this outside Australia, but really, watch it if you can. It is fascinating and horrifying). So many people I know recommended it to me that I finally looked it up on-line and showed it to the girls. It appears to have taken the waste problem into the mainstream. Which is positively excellent.
So, Plastic-Free July, Part 1: Buying Meat. Sorted.
*There is no reason why I could not have taken a metal container or a Tupperware container or even an old ice cream container. It is just that this is what I have.
A new bread recipe and the last of the apples for stewing.
The curse of the winter solstice plague is back, and has slapped me about this week. I have completely lost my voice which is a disaster, as I always have so much to say! It is just as well that I have this outlet to unleash the voices inside my head..
I haven't been at work this week because plague, which has made it easier to potter about the kitchen and force my children to eat leftovers between taking to my bed with a hot water bottle. I am still continuing my challenge not to buy food for a fortnight, and to eat what we have. So far this fortnight I have bought milk, minced beef for the spaggy bol, and a hand of bananas. Rosy is by far the most calm and stable member of the family, but just try to tell her that there aren't any bananas for breakfast.. today I will buy one more meal's worth of meat. I'm thinking stewing beef to put in the slow cooker, and then I think that we will make it to Tuesday without any more purchases.
Despite not shopping, more food has turned up at our house, because I am a free-food magnet (lucky me). A neighbour brought me half a dozen eggs from his new Silver Laced Wyandottes, which are the most decorative chickens I have ever seen. He also brought me his old newspapers for the fire. I gave him some lemons. My mum brought me some beautiful rhubarb from her garden which I stewed up with the last of the apples from this box. Mum also brought me two bags of food from a friend of hers who is moving house. Mum has been helping her clean out her kitchen, so now I have extra rice noodles, self raising flour, herbal tea, organic rye flour, popcorn kernels, basmati rice and tomato sauce. Also, a huge bag of ground cassia. Until last month I did not know what cassia was, when I was at my favourite shop in the whole world, the bulk bin shop Wholesome House. I was asking David about the difference between cinnamon and Dutch cinnamon and he told me that Dutch cinnamon was from the cassia tree, and was cheaper. Posy and I sniffed both and we liked the Dutch cinnamon better, so we bought that. It is also called baker's cinnamon, and is on every cinnamon baked good that you buy - because it is cheaper. Anyway, I now have half a kilo of it, if anyone local would like some?? Mum also brought me extra milk that was left over from a function at her church. Happy days!
What I have run out of: plain flour, dried fruit, canned fruit, and as I said, I have bought one meal's worth of meat for each of my buy nothing weeks. That's it! We have hardly wanted for anything. I can't make any more muesli without dried fruit, and I love my muesli, but instead I am eating boiled Silver Laced Wyandotte eggs, or stewed apple and rhubarb with home made yoghurt for breakfast, so I am hardly to be pitied.. Posy loves her canned fruit for freezing and making sorbet in the blender (use canned fruit in natural juice. Freeze in plastic container. Tip into blender. Whiz up for delicious sugar-free sorbet). But this week she has had to eat real fruit instead. The horror.
We also generally buy a delicious loaf of sourdough at the farmers market each week, but this week, I made two loaves of French bread from this recipe instead. Folks, this is the best bread I have ever made, barring the sourdough I made twice in 2013 before killing the starter due to shameful neglect. Making bread is the perfect activity when you have the plague. It involves ten minute bursts of activity punctuated by long rests. I followed the recipe to the letter, a thing I rarely do, and it was perfect. A crunchy crust, a beautiful crumb - the loaves themselves were a bit lopsided, but the bread cut so well that it would make great sandwiches, so next time I will pop the dough in a loaf tin. Next time will be after Tuesday as I have no plain flour left. Until then, the only bread-like substitute will be scones as we have plenty of self-raising flour.
What I have learnt from this exercise is that I buy too much food. Even though I only shop once a month for dry goods and once a week for fruit and veg I have this siege mentality that we are all going to starve or something. I have cupboards full of dried beans. We are not going to starve. But instead of eating dried beans I panic if the fridge isn't full, and go out the next week and fill it up again. And that means I waste food, especially the food at the back of the fridge that I can't see. And we cherry pick our favourites and end up wasting what isn't our favourite, but is cheap and seasonal, like brussels sprouts and cabbage.
It is nearly two weeks now that I haven't shopped, and I still have eleven pieces of fruit left, not counting the extra bananas I bought, which would take it up to sixteen. And we eat a lot of fruit. I still have a kilo of carrots in the fridge, half a head of broccoli, half a bag each of spinach and lettuce, most of a cucumber and a capsicum. Oh, and a whole cabbage for making sauerkraut. In the freezer there is a bag each of frozen corn and peas, and a kilogram of blueberries that we picked in the summer. I think that in my enthusiasm for feeding my family fresh vegies I buy way too many, and then waste too many. Our small fridge is always stuffed full and things fall out of it all the time. It is infuriating!
For a more zen approach, here is an email conversation between me and my brother:
Me: What is in your fridge right now? Brother: Out of date condiments and a punnet of cherry tomatoes. Me: Really? What other food do you have? Brother: A bag of brown rice. Next day: Me: Oh. What did you have for dinner? Brother: Brown rice. Me: Breakfast? Brother: Cherry tomatoes. Next day: Me: Do you have any more food yet? Brother: Yeah, eggs, and vegies to go with the brown rice.
And this, my friends, is how you avoid middle age spread..
(I would like to point out that whenever I see my brother he eats like a horse. He parties cheerfully then goes back to his vegies and rice.)
So, here is the thing. I live two blocks away from a green grocer. I do not need to stock up every week like the apocalypse is coming. Because frankly, an extra head of broccoli is not going to help in that situation.
Meanwhile, it is nearly July, and the girls are up for Plastic Free July. We are going to do it! So July will be all about reducing down our garbage to nearly nothing. Goody. Can't wait.. also, July starts before Tuesday, so I can't cheat and run out and buy lots of plastic-wrapped food.. curses. I will have to perfect the home-made cracker in the month to come..
Who would like to be plastic-free with us in July?
I am searching out pockets of leftovers that have been lying low in the kitchen for far too long. Last night we had curried lentil soup with some cauliflower that has been lurking in the crisper. We ate that with the last of the hummus that Rosy made last week, vegie sticks, and the dregs of crackers at the bottom of cracker jars that no-one can be bothered reaching right down to the bottom of.
This evening I made coconut macaroons from the two egg whites that have been sitting in a jar in the fridge for a week. Several-day old egg whites are actually better for meringue than fresh. They whip up better. How convenient. They were left over from when Posy made custard. I also whipped up some blueberry muffins because it is cold and raining and miserable and Rosy had an exam and we all need carbohydrates.
I went to get the patty pans out of their basket, and found some paper bags half full of forgotten goodies. I often throw treats up into the basket on the top shelf when I don't want the girls to find them, and there they lie, forgotten by everyone for who knows how long. So after the macaroons came out of the oven I put in a tray of slightly limp banana chips and bhuja mix to crisp it up. Also some flaked almonds I found in the back of the spices. The flaked almonds will be sprinkled on the greens at dinner and I'll serve the snacks in tiny bowls as an apertif. Tiny bowls are so useful in the kitchen. You can fill them with two spoonfuls of leftover whatever and it looks interesting and intentional. These I bought from the op shop, five for a dollar. I think they are tiny cups for green tea.
So as the winter solstice works its magic and the globe rolls slowly on carrying Tasmania back ever closer to sun I am doing the very small and absorbing work of trying to find a use for every scrap of food in the kitchen.
The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. Calvin Trillin
I detest waste and love using up leftovers. Well, I love imagining that I am going to use up leftovers. Often I put them in little pots in the fridge and let them languish for two weeks before I tip them thankfully into the compost. But no more. Confession time - we have been overspending our grocery budget recently. We always make it up from somewhere else, and no-one here is about to starve, but robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a long term strategy calculated to make me calm and happy, so drastic action is required. It is my absolute favourite kind of action. That's right, it is not shopping. I am thinking I should rename this blog. How To Never Go To The Shops If You Can Possibly Help It has a nice ring to it.
So what I need to do is to get us back into the black and then save up another whack to fund our once-a-month dry goods shopping trip. Extensive mathematical calculations show that this means two weeks of no food shopping. Well, we can buy milk when we need it, and some meat, because right now we have none at all. But we will be mostly vegetarian. Can we do this? I don't see why not. We have a lot of food. Most of it is lentils and dried beans. Because you can buy and store a lot of dried beans for very cheap and in very little space. It will be very good practise for the apocalypse. And reducing waste in the kitchen makes so much sense on the sustainability front. Apparently in Australia we waste up to 20% of our fresh food by forgetting to eat it. Oops. I do not throw away 20% of my food. But this week I threw 6 mandarins in the compost which we had collectively decided not to eat. I am as guilty as the next person of buying new mandarins before the old ones are eaten up. And every time I throw food in that compost bin, I cringe a bit because food is so precious. For most of human history, and for large swathes of the world today, food security is not a given. Three meals a day is a hope, not a guarantee. And yet, in my life, food is so abundant and easy to come by. In our society we can afford to waste food. And so we do, because it easier to throw food away and buy new food than to stop and work out clever things to do with the just-past-its-best food. Not wasting food is a creative endeavour that I try to embrace and often fail at. But over the next two weeks it will be a priority. So here we go!
I started today, by using up some more of my summer-grown potatoes and the week old brussels sprouts from the bottom of the fridge. I imagine that every European cuisine has winter recipes for potatoes and brassicas. I am sure I have accidentally recreated some old peasant dish here. Buttery boiled taters, steamed sprouts tossed in bacon fat with bacon. Yum. There is nothing you can do to make this food look pretty, but it certainly sticks to the ribs on a cold night. Here is how not to waste any precious bacon: cut off the bacon fat (I do this with scissors) and let it render out its delicious fatness in a hot pan. Put the curls of fat in a wee bowl to cool and crisp, cut them into little pieces with scissors, and use them as dog treats. Rosy is trying to teach the dog to lie down. It will be a long process, but bacon certainly helps (mind you he lies down all day, so I'm not sure why she feels this is important..). Meanwhile, use your rendered fat to cook the sprouts. Oh yum. Only sensible way to eat sprouts.
Anyway, on to the next adventure. The tub of leftover rice (I got enthusiastic about cooking rice for curry the other night) I made into fried rice for Posy's school lunches this week. Then I used up the last of the old yoghurt to make new yoghurt, which is just amazing kitchen magic. I am writing this while I wait for the heated milk to cool enough to add the old yoghurt.
So, kitchen adventures this week and the next. The last time I bought any food was, let me see, yesterday. Vegies and milk. So Tuesday the 4th of July will be my next shopping day. Would you like to join me in using up what you have, and banish waste from the kitchen?
We spent the weekend at St Helens, a sleepy seaside town, in a little blue cottage, lent to us by generous friends. I am an evil ingrate and moped for two days beforehand because I hate leaving the house. Posy is just like me in this respect. She kept leaving notes all over the house which read, "I hate the beach." She really does. She is an unnatural child but I completely understand this quirk. But Rosy is an adventurer who loves to experience new things, so we did it for her. Hermit propensities notwithstanding, we all managed to have a nice time. Posy did not so much as set foot on the sand, so was perfectly happy. She made us play Monopoly, and we took a handful of Hayao Miyazaki movies to watch.
Rosy and I hung out on the beach in the rain and climbed on rocks and found dead fish. We walked in the rainforest, and Rosy got to drive for six hours towards her driver's license. She loves driving. She is a strange girl. When I go on road trips I like to stop frequently, and luckily the girls do too. We stop for photo opportunities, historic monuments, bookshops, ice cream, animals, interesting walks and roadside stalls. The girls would not let me stop for bags of horse poo, but while Rosy was jumping out of the car to photograph cows in the mist at sunset, I spied a useful log of firewood on the side of the road and nipped out to put it in the boot. Waste not etc..
We are the most diverse set of human beings here at our house. It really puts the Nature vs Nurture debate to bed. It is Nature all the way for personality. Character probably owes something to nurture. And this brings me to burning the dinner. Reasons why I regularly burn the dinner: I was reading something important. I was bringing in the washing and got distracted by the sunset. I was talking to a child or the neighbours. I was walking the dog. I went out to pick parsley and accidentally weeded the garden for half an hour. Last night's excuse was reading something important.
It's not that I am completely incapable of cooking dinner without burning it, it's just that I have to concentrate really, really hard. Conditions must be perfect and quiet, and there must be no distractions. I often cook perfectly on an afternoon when there is no-one else in the house. But I am not a hands-on person. I am kind of flaky and easily distracted. Cooking can go wrong very easily indeed. But mostly the girls are very forgiving, especially since the alternative to having me burning the dinner is for them to cook it. They would mostly rather risk rustically caramelised roast veg than actually don an apron.
Here are some advantages of living with other people, especially those you are related to and cannot escape from: you must learn to accept their little quirks, like hating the beach, always wanting to try new things, or burning the dinner, or will go a tiny bit insane. Can I accept those quirks of my family without trying to change them? Does anyone else find it hard to try not to tweak their best beloved?
Honestly, they all have MUCH WORSE quirks than that.. and so do I. It is so tempting to just try a little nip here, a tuck there.. and then I remember the burnt dinners, and decide to leave well alone.
PS Blogger resized Rosy's stunning beach photo. Click on it to see it in all its widescreen splendour.
This is one of those soups I threw together one day using the only veg left in the house - and it is now our winter favourite.
Gently saute an onion. Add some curry paste and garlic. Add several handfuls of red lentils and lots of stock, any kind. Chop up all the pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot that is left in the refrigerator crisper. Tip it all in the pot and let it bubble away until you are ready to blitz it up and eat it with toast. You can serve this with cream or coconut cream and nutmeg.
Today I discovered that if you bring it to the boil for a few minutes, turn it off and go out for an hour or so it will be done by the time you get home. I am going to use this lazy and thrifty cooking method more often..
Morning dew on a cabbage leaf. Garden magic. Is there a better way to start the day than cabbage appreciation?
Let's talk about food again. For the past few weeks/months/years I have been attempting to make more ethical choices about where my food comes from, and frankly, to make procuring food more fun than pushing a trolley around the supermarket. Not a high bar, to be sure. However, my natural laziness and general incompetence at any form of forward planning have conspired to make supermarket shopping a feature of my life. After all, supermarkets are predicated on the idea of convenience for the consumer and this has corresponded to conveniently large profits for the supermarket giants. Recently I turned 46. Not a particularly auspicious number, but every number after 40 is a reminder that there are probably less years left than have gone before. 46 really did it for me. I have decided to do whatever I want for the rest of my life. Yes, it is anarchy at Chez Blueday.
And one of the things I really want turns out to be a life of ridiculous inconvenience and a reasonable amount of chaos in order to assure a life of great food and joyous shopping. Yes, you read that right. Joyous shopping. Every time I snap on the dog's lead to walk to the butcher or the greengrocer, that is a joyful adventure. Every time I take my ridiculous blue op-shopped trolley-on-wheels to the farmers' market, that is an adventure. There are friends, dogs, fresh air, people to meet, new cheeses to try, buskers. What's not to like? Even if I leave home in a vile mood (not uncommon) it is hard not to succumb to being out in the weather and chatting to people in shops. So, apart from the lead up to Easter when we kept popping into Coles for their chocolate choc chip hot cross buns, which are indecently delicious, I have not been to either of the Big Two supermarkets for months (I have now mastered the art of home-made chocolate choc chip buns so we are all good for supermarket-free decadent treats).
So here is to the catalyst of mortality. I am not going to live forever, so the time I have left will be devoted to living deliberately and joyfully. Supermarkets and agribusiness, you are dead to me. I will buy my food from real people and help them live their dreams. I will do garden magic and make food in my own backyard, or forage it from roadsides. It has been slow in coming, but I think I can say, yes, this part of my journey is on the right track. It is a good feeling.
Winter afternoon sunlight on red chard. What about ending the day with chard appreciation? You could do worse.
Well, the rosehip syrup is magnificent! I have been making salad dressing with it. As part of my determination to eat more local I have been eyeing the various condiments in my cupboard and fridge. For years I have been planning to make my own salad dressing, but have never quite got around to it. You know how it is, it always seems easier to just take another bottle off the supermarket shelf than try something new. Well, who knew, salad dressing is ridiculously easy. And, oh, my goodness, this is delicious. I have a thing about salad dressing. It has to be the perfect blend of sweet and tangy, and this is quite marvellous. Did you know that many vitamins require fat in order to be metabolised? This is why a good salad dressing is very important for your health, so spoon it on with abandon, and enjoy your garden greens with this heavenly dressing.
I stumbled upon this recipe and I have used it as a base and substitute all the ingredients at will.
1/2 cup oil. Use any oil that tastes nice. I use a Tasmanian olive oil combined with an Australian sunflower oil. If you want to store the dressing in the fridge, you must cut the olive oil with a polyunsaturated oil, or it will go gloopy. That is a technical term for solidifying in cold temperatures.
1/4 cup vinegar. Again, any nice vinegar you have on hand. I am using up a bottle of verjuice I have had for quite some time, and also use apple cider vinegar. Balsamic vinegar would make a lovely dressing, I imagine. Lemon juice would also work.
1 Tablespoon honey or other sweetener. This is where I add the rosehip syrup, which is very sweet indeed.
1 Tablespoon grainy Dijon mustard. I am using a lovely local honey mustard that my mum gave me for my birthday. It has whole mustard seeds in it, and makes the dressing look interesting.
Salt and pepper to taste. Here you can also add whichever herbs and spices seem advisable. Go crazy.
I also add a couple of tablespoons of water to this recipe to thin it out a bit. Because I am thrifty. I make it by pouring everything into a jar with a screw top lid, and shaking. Then I pour it into a bottle, and shake again before serving. I store it in the cupboard because olive oil goes thick and gloppy in the fridge, and because my fridge is already overfull of condiments and bottles of salsa that didn't seal properly. There is nothing in this recipe that requires refrigeration.
There you have it. One more product that gets made in the kitchen instead of travelling thousands of miles to a supermarket shelf near me.
And it makes me think. I know someone who makes vinegar out of apples. And I am pretty sure making mustard is not difficult..
It has been a week of free food here at Chez Blueday. First, there was a frost, so I picked the last of the capsicum crop. Then, walnuts. There is a walnut tree on the verge at the end of my street. I have kept my beady eyes on this all autumn, and over a couple of weeks I have brought home walnuts in my pockets or shopping bags every time I have been out. I think I have them all now. It is only a small tree.. maybe I will surreptitiously ply it with compost to help it grow..
My mum and I went to City Park to see the baby monkeys. Launceston is in every way a Victorian relic - it even has wild animals in an enclosure in its City Park. After inspecting the tiny new baby monkeys clinging upside down to their mamas' bellies, I dragged my mum to the other end of the park to forage for feijoas under the big old feijoa tree there. I salute the city gardeners who planted a food tree in the park many years ago. I visit it every year for feijoas to dry and add to my morning muesli.
I wanted to make salsa with my capsicums, but didn't have enough tomatoes left, or so I thought - I asked for sauce tomatoes at all the local grocers, and was told I was too late. Oh no, what to do? Well, I went out to the garden and gleaned. It is amazing what you can find if you are desperate (desperate not to pay $8kg for tomatoes for salsa, that is) and I found sixteen cups of tomatoes still on the bushes, enough for two batches of salsa. Happy days.
My friend Katherine came and brought me zucchinis, more tomatoes, some chillies and some adorable little bantam eggs. Friends with gardens :) She was here for a purpose - we were going to help another friend put up a marquee for Agfest, which is, unsurprisingly, a local festival of all things agricultural. Then we were going to visit a wonderful food garden at a drug and alcohol rehab centre. More of that in a later post, but first - we needed to do a spot of foraging.
Katherine makes old-fashioned rosehip syrup for her family to give them a shot of Vitamin C and keep winter ills away. She had spied roadside hips, so of course we stopped to pick. Luckily I always have bags in the back of the car. The roadsides of Tasmania are rich in the old fashioned dog roses that make such wonderfully flavoured red hips. Fortuitously we also found a patch of sloe bushes, and picked some of those too, to make sloe gin. Or maybe I could use Katherine's recipe for Sloe and Cider Liquer. I couldn't find a recipe for that on-line, but I did discover another wonderfully alcoholic recipe for the left-over infused sloes after you strain them out of your gin - sliders. All of these sloe recipes take a year to mature, so I will be doing a review in autumn of 2018, just after picking next year's batch of sloes.
We had such a fun day of foraging. I wish you could have seen us - we were still wearing our neon high vis vests from putting up the marquee that morning, and I am sure we looked pretty silly, but hey, we didn't get run over, and we had a blast. We also found a roadside wild apple tree that we picked some apples from - not very many sadly, as we hadn't brought a ladder.. maybe next year..
But that's ok because this box of apples came from my friend's mother-in-law's next door neighbour's apple tree in Hobart. Did you get that relationship? Six degrees.. These things turn up at my house because I am careful to say yes to all offers of food, no matter how odd, inconvenient or arcane. I figure I can always find something to do with it later. And I always do. So far some of the apples have been stewed, but most have gone into the dehydrator. Some people dip their apple slices into lemon juice and spices before they dehydrate them, but I just slice them and whack them in. Sometimes they go a bit brown, but no-one here cares, we just gobble them up regardless. Apple chips. Yum.
And finally, the potatoes. I planted one bag of seed potatoes in spring. We have been eating them since January. I haven't bought any potatoes in four months, and this week I decided it was time to lift all the leftovers, because I want to do some winter planting in their bed. 14.6kg (that's 32lbs) of potatoes I dug up. That will last us at least another month. That's five months of potatoes for a $5 bag of seed potatoes. Now that is what I call a win. The vegetable kingdom just never ceases to astound me with its generosity. It is the original gift that keeps on giving. Along with bunnies and guinea pigs.
So tomorrow's list. Dry more apples. Dry feijoas. Make rosehip syrup. Buy gin. Ah, it's the forager's life for me..
Food Gardens in the Central Highlands of New GuineaImage credit
Meh, food. I have been known to wish for human kibble, and sometimes eye the 20kg sack of dog food in the porch with a view to its nutritious qualities. Surely the children wouldn't mind finding a tub of that in their lunch boxes? I have a tricky relationship with food. My mother isn't known for her enthusiasm for cooking. Her favourite kind of soup comes in a can. My father can make toast. Once when I was very young and Mum was sick and safely confined to bed he decided to find out how many times he could put the toast back into the toaster to toast it some more. He only stopped when he set the toaster on fire. This is my culinary heritage. But my mum is a trooper. Even though she regards the act of cooking with fear and loathing, she has put a meal on the table three times a day every day of her adult life. I think that deserves a medal, right there. Despite my parents' non-interest in food, cooking or growing it, I grew up in the midst of a permaculture paradise. The highlands of New Guinea are the world's oldest continuously worked gardens, having been cultivated for around eight thousand years. In the 1920s when the first European explorers struggled over the mountains that ring the Wahgi Valley in the centre of Papua New Guinea they were astounded to look down into a valley that resembled the countryside of medieval England, with its squares of gardens edged with hedges and trees and little thatched villages. Fifty or so years later I lived in a small town there in the Highlands with my parents. Our houses were surrounded by gardens and fruit trees and my favourite place to play was inside the hibiscus hedge that surrounded the huge vegie garden in our back yard which was grown by the young local men who worked for my parents' missionary organisation. When I wasn't in the hedge I was climbing trees to eat guavas or stuffing myself with slightly unripe Cape gooseberries. Later we lived down on the tropical coast and Mum cut down bunches of bananas with a machete and stored them in the outside laundry until they were ripe. So although my parents weren't much into food, I grew up knowing that food comes out of the earth and drops down from trees. Much later, as a teenager, I lived in an Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory, where again, for tens of thousands of years a small population lived off the land and changed the environment to do that without breaking it. Extraordinary. We didn't do that of course. We went to the supermarket.
Much later again, as a young mum I moved into an old cottage with a big yard full of fruit trees. Peaches and oranges rained down, and I felt that this was how things should be, but I had absolutely no skills or knowledge to do anything with them. It was there that I first attempted to make jam, which turned out to be syrup. I didn't know what to do with that either, so I gave it away, then heard with grateful surprise that my friends loved it and poured it on their porridge in the morning. That was when I learned that almost everything you make is generally edible, but sometimes you have to relabel it. At this stage of my life I was just learning about cooking with actual, real food, instead of eating from jars and packets at the supermarket. It has been a long and interesting journey. Slowly I have learned that the food that drops off trees and springs out of the ground can be the staple part of your diet, and not just an occasional snack. That supermarkets are not really about providing us with the staff of life, so much as providing shareholders with dividends.
Food isn't always about eating. Sometimes it is about making unimaginably large amounts of money for people somewhere far away, who frankly, don't really need it. Ten multinational food corporations own most of the companies which make most of the food in the supermarkets. It is a racket. Most food in packets is made from corn, rice, wheat, soy and sugar. Most of this food contributes in various ways to making us very unwell. On top of this iniquitous peddling of nastiness, all the food in the packets relies heavily on oil - to grow the food, to process it in factories, to make its plastic packets, to transport it the average 1500 miles (2414 km) it takes to get to our plates. Then we have to drive to the supermarket, trudge around a giant ghastly architectural eyesore which is a blight on our urban landscape, shuffling behind a wonky trolley full of nasty food, and then we have to dispose of all the horrible plastic that this food leaves behind it in a trail of unsightliness.
Why do we do it? Because it is the easiest way to get food in a suburb. In Australia the two giant corporations that control 80% of our retail experience have made sure that there is a supermarket in every shopping centre near you. And me. And it's just part of our modern lifestyle.
But that is a very tedious and boring reason to do anything. There are much more fun and exciting ways to acquire food. Even if you don't live in the cradle of the world's oldest agriculture. Even in the suburbs. For instance, one of the verge trees at the end of my street is a small walnut tree. I have been keeping my beady eye on it, and now that the walnuts are dropping I come home with a heap in my pockets every time I walk the dog. Yesterday I went walking with a friend and we discovered a patch of blackberries that need a couple of weeks of sunshine to be perfect for picking. I say yes every time someone offers me food. This week I came home from Easter lunch with a bag of home-grown grapes, and a bag of feijoas that I foraged from under my friend Sandra's feijoa tree while everyone else was hunting for Easter eggs. I dried all that fruit to add to my muesli. Then my neighbour up the street gave me some kangaroo meat and some venison from his freezer that he had accidentally thawed thinking it was something else, so he gave it to me for the dog. This week Benson-the-carnivorous-puppy has been eating like a king. Because I had a long conversation with my elderly neighbour about the iniquity of waste, which both he and I disapprove of, he is now intending to send along all the leftovers from the deer and kangaroo carcasses that his mate the hunter brings him.. Benson will be eating well. Sometimes it is just being in the right place at the right time and saying yes. Another friend emailed the other day to ask whether I wanted some pork mince for $5kg because her farmer friends were killing their pigs, which have spent the last weeks of their lives snacking on acorns and strawberries. Oh, yes please. Mind you, I cultivate the right kind of friends..
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of finding sources of local food. This is without really paying that much attention. If I seriously applied myself, I am sure I could feed us all completely from local sources without spending too much. That is the kicker, isn't it? I could feed myself at enormous expense on local gourmet delicacies, because Tasmania is a foodie paradise, but I'm not about to do that, because I can't. But anyone can pick up walnuts from the side of the road..
And there is my garden. I love my garden, and like every gardener ever I am always saying, "Next year, I can grow even more food." And every year I do, but I am nowhere near the limit of the amount of food that an average backyard can produce yet. This week we are eating potatoes, tomatoes, silverbeet, rhubarb, capsicums and lemons from the garden, plus assorted herbs, and the last of the summer's garlic that I grew in pots. I still haven't managed to get a continuous supply of lettuce going, but I should be able to, because there is no month in Tasmania where it is impossible to grow lettuce in the open. It requires regular resowing though, which is my nemesis.
Do you know what I find hardest about eating from the garden? It's eating from the garden. Using what is right out there in the backyard for weeks on end - right now it is a potato glut - and then suddenly there won't be any more for the next nine months. It means having a hundred recipes for everything that is in season, actually cooking it, and not leaving it until next week when it will have gone off, or finding a way to preserve it. This requires a lot more organisational capacity than I actually possess, but I am working on it. At least if food goes to waste in the garden it goes straight into the compost to to be made back into food again, but I do get very cross with myself when I fail to take advantage of nature's mad bounty.
There are lots of ways to eat well and local even if you don't have a garden. There are farmers' markets. These can be expensive, but a lot less so if you stick to buying fruit and veg and stay away from all the lovely cheese and meat and artisan breads that are there to tempt us all away from the straight and narrow. There are fruit and veg boxes from local farms. There is foraging and eating weeds. This year I have started adding weeds to my salads. There are about half a dozen that I use now, and they are everywhere! There is making friends with farmers and food growers, and saying yes! whenever anything is available, and going to help them and buying food from them whenever possible. I buy my eggs from a work colleague who has chickens for much less than buying free range eggs at the shops. Hunting out local and affordable sources of food can be fun. I mean, who knew that I know someone who knows someone with pigs, or who hunts deer? Networking isn't just for people in suits. I also keep my eyes peeled when walking the dog or visiting friends. That's how I found the walnut tree. There are edible trees all over the place when you look out for them. Also, weird bits of them are unexpectedly edible. This week I discovered that new birch leaves are edible and you can add them to spring salads. Amazing!
And why is all this so important, you might ask. Well, of course you know. Less oil, less energy, less plastic, more food security. All that. But for me, what is also important is more life. We have given huge corporations power over the most central need of life. Our food. It is what keeps us alive. I don't know how much life we are getting from those plastic packets though. Even in the highlands of New Guinea there are supermarkets. You can buy frozen peas and beans in cans in a big warehouse there just as easily as you can in my local suburb. But if you want some real fun, go to a market and buy beans from the person who grew them, just like people have done for thousands of years. You may meet your friends and have a good gossip and get out in the fresh air, and make your local community more fun. Or you can have even more fun and plant some baby pea seeds and watch them pop out of the ground and wave their tiny baby tendrils around, and give them some sticks to grow up. Or watch bean vines twirl around their bean poles and wait for the world's most miniature beans to start peeking out of the bean flowers at midsummer.
What I discovered from my childhood of watching gardens grow, and trees drop food and pigs and chickens running around all over the place is that food is everywhere and is also pretty much a crazy carnival. What makes supermarket grocery shopping disappointing is that it is in no way a crazy carnival. It is dreary, because it is about money. Large corporations making money so that I can eat is just not fun at all.
My relationship with food is still tricky. I am not a natural born cook. I would honestly rather read a book than make soup. But I would rather make soup than eat soup out of a can. Because when you make soup out of vegies you grew in the garden or bought at the markets, or received in a bag over the fence from your neighbour, well, that soup is pretty special. It tastes good, and it is made out of community and life and fun, and not out of money. And now I am learning to make my own dog food so I won't have to buy giant bags of it from the supermarket. My children are probably slightly relieved about that..
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son (The Boy), one grown up daughter (The Girl), two girls at home, Rosy (17) and Posy (12). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much..