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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Serendipity Soup

Serendipity Soup
I was trying to think of how to use up some gravy and came upon this idea. Simple and delicious. The story and the recipe are on the Leftover Pie blog.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Blue Planet Effect

I’m loving the Blue Planet Effect. Never before has plastic packaging had so much attention.
But I’m noticing that people are sometimes deciding to ditch single use plastic in favour of other forms of single use packaging, which can be more carbon intensive to produce. Paper, glass, and compostable packaging are undoubtedly less damaging to the ocean.  But all packaging comes with its own issues.

Plastic has become a popular packaging because it is lightweight, which reduces the carbon footprint of transportation.  Plastic is cheap, which helps keep prices low.  Plastic is waterproof (until it rips!) so helps with deliveries that could otherwise be spoiled by rain. Some advocates of plastic say it helps to reduce food waste. For example, plastic packaging (of the airtight kind) can help prevent oxidation which leads to discolouration of foods such as meat or avocados.  It is said that cucumbers are wrapped because it slows down the rot, making them last 10 days longer (as long as you don't open the plastic, I guess).  As I read on one pro-plastic website:

"Try as we might, we will always create some waste. In the end,
 which would we rather create – a little bit of plastic waste or a lot of food waste?"

They've got a point, of course, but we won't mention the tonnes of wonky cucumbers that get wasted because they are not the right size and shape to go through the packaging machine.

Another advantage of plastic is its recyclability. Unlike paper and card which can only be recycled up to 5 or 6 times before the fibres become too short to be usable, plastic can be recycled over and over again.  For food grade plastic, we can't say that it is infinitely recyclable like aluminium or glass, because a tiny fraction of the inside of the plastic is scraped off and disposed of to ensure the resultant rPET (recycled Plastic) is clean. However, it is more recyclable than paper and card.  

Furthermore, a paper bag has a carbon footprint of approximately 16 times that of a plastic bag yet probably doesn't last as long.  It seems like we can't win, doesn't it?

The big problem with plastic really is almost the same as the advantages.  It is lightweight and cheap. Because it is lightweight and cheap it is hard to ensure that transporting used plastic for recycling is economically viable.  It needs to be crushed and baled in order to get rid of the air before it is transported.  Because it is cheap, not many organisations that produce waste plastic value it enough to  have the space for a baler and to store enough bales for it to be viably transported.

Because it is lightweight it is easily blown about by the wind.  So even if you do put your used plastic into a bin, if the bin is not well designed the plastic can find its way out again.

The real way forward is to ditch those things you can do without altogether by switching to reusables.  Here are my top 5 easy switches:

·      Straws …either refuse or get a reusable, dishwasher-proof stainless steel straw. 

Metal straws with cleaning brushes

·      Bags… you can buy or make lightweight reusable net bags for your fruit and veg and reusable shopping bags are plentiful and equally easy to make your own.  In my local butchers we have no problem taking our own tubs to buy our meat and we can reuse our egg boxes too. 

Net veg bags from Onya
·      A reusable water bottle will save you money and be kinder on your health as well as the planet. We know the downside of fizzy drinks, and don’t be fooled by flavoured waters, milkshakes or fruit juices as they can be just as bad or worse. Bottled water has a carbon footprint 1000 times greater than tap water in a reusable bottle.

My refillable water bottle comes with me everywhere.
 It has saved me a lot of money over the years.
·      Cling film – it is a nightmare to use anyway, so swap for a lidded container or a plate that fits over the top of the bowl.  Clean tea towels are also a good thing to cover food with as they prevent the food from drying out, keep off any flies and (most*) other creatures.  Unlike cling film, though, a tea towel will stop the food from sweating. I also invested in some reusable silicone baking sheet and this sometimes does the job of lining things that I might previously have lined with cling film, like for making fridge cake in a loaf tin.  I also invested in a couple of packs of Bees Wrap which I find very handy.  It rinses really easily and I have been using mine for a couple of years now and it still looks like new.
Various alternatives I use in place of cling film.
·      Takeaway coffee – break that habit and you would save a fortune, but if you really can’t then make your savings bit by bit with a reusable coffee cup. Many outlets now offer money off your coffee if you bring your own cup.

If I don't have my coffee cup with me I don't get coffee
 unless it is in a proper cup!
If you are not quite ready for reusables yet, you can still do your bit by making sure you recycle all the plastic packaging you can.  In the UK we recycle 58% of our plastic bottles. That means that a whopping 42% get discarded in the general waste and in the hedges and ditches of our countryside.  

There has been a lot of talk about the Chinese ban on waste form other countries. Switching to brands using recycled packaging helps to keep the value of recycled plastic high and this will help the UK companies that recycle plastic. Higher demand means higher prices and that comes from brands that use recycled plastic in their bottles getting good sales and those that don't losing market share. We can all help with that by checking out the packaging of what we buy.  Many years ago Coca Cola did an experiment to see if a 100% recycled bottle was a viable option.  It was, but we are not recycling enough of our plastic to meet the demand for 100% recycled so they opted for 25% recycled content.

Switching to compostable packaging helps too but only if you then put it on your compost! Compostable packaging breaks down in a home compost or industrial compost facility, but it won't break down in anaerobic digestion and it will take many years to break down in Landfill.  I decided back in 2015 that I wouldn't buy snacks like crisps, cakes, biscuits or nuts unless they are in compostable packaging, which I do then take home with me for my compost.  Making that decision has, I am sure done me a lot of favours, as I usually take some nuts and dried fruit from home in a small container when I am travelling about and otherwise, I just wait until my next proper meal.  I think my waistline thanks me for that decision on a regular basis!

* Neither cling film nor a tea towel will deter a mouse.  It will just chew right through it to get to the tasty offerings beneath :)

Friday, 26 January 2018

Book Review

101 Ways to Live Cleaner and Greener for Free  December 2016
Author Anna Pitt,
Illustrated by Toni Lebusque
Publisher: Green Lanes Publishing 2012
172 pages ISBN  978-09574637-0-7

The author aims to make us more aware of environmental actions in our homes that we could do something about. It also gives, as the title promises, 101 tips on small, free and often very simple things we could do to reduce our environmental impact. The author explains her definitions of ‘clean and green’ as avoiding pollution and waste and caring for the planet.
Sections in this book look at reducing food waste; saving water, energy and fuel; recycling; reusing. All sections have science facts, maths number-crunching and tips; the latter presented using cartoon illustrations and humour.

We learn about gases and toxic leachate liquid produced at landfill sites and about food waste processing sites. The maths includes how much CO2 emissions are reduced when food waste is diverted from landfill and the financial savings to families.

Alongside ‘carbon footprint’ which people are generally familiar with, we learn about the ‘water footprint of avoidable food waste’.  ‘Embedded water footprint’ is the amount of water needed to produce 1 lb of food - beef tops the lot with 6810 litres per lb, goat with 480 litres and potatoes 450 litres.
Fossil fuels, biodiesel from crops and our increasing carbon footprint are clearly explained.
Saving energy, we learn, can be as simple as not leaving phone chargers plugged in all night and it ‘is estimated that up to 40% of the energy we consume is actually wasted’ (p.53).

My favourite everyday kitchen tip was number 27 - use a measuring jug when adding water to the kettle so you only heat the water you need.

The chatty style of this book will appeal to older teens and young adults. It can help families starting their journey to reduce their environmental impact. It is practical, easy to read book with handy tips.

Alona Sheridan

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

No Waste Within

A new campaign is being launched by Zoe Morrison of Ecothrifty Living blog and Emma Dawson of The Food Brood to highlight the issue of food that gets wasted during food photography sessions and to champion a movement of food bloggers, food stylists and photographers who refuse to waste food.

I first read about the waste that goes on within the food writing industry in Shane Jordan's book, Food Waste Philosophy. When I was writing my own book, Leftover Pie, there was no way I was going to allow that to happen. Before my first photo shoot session I said to the food stylist that all of the food was going to be eaten. I am very glad that I found people to work with who care as much as I do about food. Part of the planning that day involved planning what we could eat when, everything was cooked according to the recipes as they are in the book and the tweaking and rearranging that did get done was with strict instructions that the food would still be edible and yummy! and Oh   ...boy! There was a lot of tweaking and rearranging.  I had no idea how long it would take to get the perfect amount of pickle to run down the side of the jar!
Most of the photos on my blogs, both here and on are photos I snap while cooking everyday food that my family are about to eat.  But stories I was told as we were getting the perfect picture of my scones were horrifying. Leonie's fridge and freezer were packed full of f ood she had rescued from photo shoots.  I even took some kale  home with me. She said it would take her weeks to get through all the kale she had rescued so I felt obliged to help out.

I  know this is a much needed campaign and it is great to see it being well supported by food bloggers across the UK. Please do share it widely.  And join in with the hashtag #nowastewithin.

I am always surprised when people ask me if we ate the 'Leftover Pie.' Of course we ate it!

Here is my pledge...

“I promise that no food waste was created by the development, cooking, styling and photographing of this recipe and that, where it wasn’t possible for me to enjoy it myself, I have redistributed, repurposed, retained or recycled the food.”

Saturday, 11 November 2017

A Freegle flurry

We recently had some building work done in our house, which involved a room where we stored a whole lot of stuff, some of which was in daily use, such as wellies and trainers, and other things that are used every now and then - like sellotape, string, spare lightbulbs and the like. However, as we found when moving it all out of the room, there were a fair number of things that we haven't used for years.  So I was time to get Freegling!  Freegle have a lovely new site, quick and easy to use.  Here's the link. 

So we said goodbye to the chocolate fountain that has given us some fun times through SD and JD's teenage years, and it was goodbye to a couple of sets of Scaletrix, some "Scene-It" games that we've known all the answers to for many years.  Plus we parted with a huge box of books, some DVDs and lots of art and craft materials.

As for the more obscure items, we had a roll of chicken wire that we are not going to use and that found a good home and we parted with some large builder's supplies sacks that we had some gravel delivered in. They are great for use in the garden, but we accumulated a few more than we need.

That brings me to one of the wonderful things about Freegle: you often get to meet people who have similar interests to you and similar philosophy on life.  You can end up being inspired by other people's intended uses for the things you no longer use any more.

To see what I mean, here is how Louise and Mark made use of our gravel bags, and a few other things that we managed to find for them when they were telling us about their allotment and their plans for it.  They had originally envisaged cutting open the gravel bags to use as matting to suppress the weeds.  However, we had recently put up our fifteen year old tent for the very last time before we decided to retire it - too many leaks, bent poles and a large rip along a seem.  I had been contemplating what further uses I could find for it, and was thinking shopping bags from the upper part, underlay (i.e. weed suppressing) for paths for the ground sheet but being very busy with my new book I realised my projects would be unlikely to happen this year.  Louise and Mark were much more likely to make use and when the time comes, having had the idea, I am sure old tents are being decommissioned on a regular basis, so I could probably find what I need from friends or Freegle, when I need it.

Our old tent is now a weed barrier
It is so great to see your things rehomed and put to good use.

Louise says:

"The gravel bags are going to be used as a sort of raised bed, the idea is they get filled with compost (we will need some stronger posts!) and sink down onto the existing weed covered horrible clay soil.  We will then build up the sides, using more recycled wood (everything on the allotment is from Freegle or Freecycle, or various skips etc. throughout West Oxon).  The top bit of the bag then is cut down the seams, and folds over the wooden sides. The groundsheet/flysheet we have put down to prevent weed growth.

The gravel sacks are now raised beds
"The tent is currently just thrown over a terribly overgrown patch of mint and grass, and currently held down by anything we could find.  It doesn't look terribly attractive, but we get really high winds, so need anything we can get to hold it down.  Once the weeds have gone in the covered areas, we will rotivate (rotivator was found in a barn, and my husband Mark restores old engines so has made it work again) and then do more ground cover to stop the weeds and make raised beds with some decent compost on top.  Hopefully, we will be able to extend the concrete slabbed area for a pot garden - slabs, naturally, came from Freegle, and we will hopefully find some more!

Water butts and drainpipe collected from Freegle

A beautiful shed!

"I have also added a photo of the shed, which was upcycled from one on the allotment that was a wreck - it had blown over in the high winds earlier this year. We repaired it, painted it with some leftover paint from the garden at home, and re-felted the roof (alas, not recycled - we tried but it leaked).  The gutter, drainpipe and water butt are from Freegle.  Oh, and the compost heap is made from bits of wood found anywhere!"

Isn't Freegle a wonderful thing! I was so inspired that I decide to do a donation to Freegle.  It is such a wonderful service, it deserves our support.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Judges go bananas over banana skin curry

 Last weekend I was invited to take part in Low Carbon West Oxford’s ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ style competition at their ‘Beet the Waste’ 10th anniversary celebrations at Tap Social in Oxford. My fellow competitors were cooking professionals, Christina from Relish and Sandra and Marie from Waste2Taste.
I hadn’t realised that I was supposed to be a team on my own.  I thought I was joining one of the other teams, so I had only brought one frying pan, a chopping board, one knife, some spoons, some spices and a big bunch of herbs I’d picked from my garden.  When I was shown to ‘my station’ and saw the two gas burners I was a little daunted.  What was I going to cook with just me and my one pan?
As three competing teams, we had an hour to select our ingredients from the food surplus at Oxford Food Bank, and then cook up a feast with what we found.  Read more...

Friday, 29 September 2017

Foraging fortnight

Autumn is a great time for foraging.  I’ve been picking apples, blackberries, pears and plums from my garden and hedgerows.  I’m planning to go blackberrying again and I’m hoping to add in some elderberries too.

We are also lucky to have a vegetable patch which is producing carrots, spring onions, beetroot, courgettes, celery, beans, and spinach at the moment. But it isn’t just the outdoor foraging that I want to invite you to think about. Now is a really great time to go foraging in your fridge and freezer. What better time to cut down on spending than after your summer holiday and before you start thinking about Christmas. Read more...