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Friday, 7 December 2012

Christmas Shopping in the Bag

So, the book is finished and available on Kindle.  The paperback is on its way to the printers, but is out of my hands at the moment.  That can only mean one thing...

Yes, I have to accept that it is nearly Christmas!

And that means ... Christmas shopping, planning the social calendar with family and friends, buying Christmas cards, deciding what to eat... and opening the door to Harry Potter's bedroom to find all the stuff I stashed from last Christmas.

Some people (like my lovely sister) have amazing abilities with tissue paper and curling ribbon, but I'm not one of them. So having arrived home from my shopping trip to Bath Christmas Market, where I managed to find lovely local foodie Christmas presents for all the family (hope they aren't reading this blog), I then wondered how I was going to manage to wrap up these goodies.  I can't deny the smug grin that crossed my face when I got down my pile of accumulated gift bags that gets stashed at the top of the cupboard under the stairs (Harry Potter's bedroom) each year.  I have more than enough bags in all shapes and sizes to sort out this year's Christmas wrap.

If you didn't do it last year, don't miss out this year.  Grab those discarded gift bags, ribbons, bows etc and you will save yourself time and money next year, as well as doing your little bit towards a greener Christmas. If, like me,  you did store away a stash of stuff from last Christmas, join me in allowing that smug smile to lighten up the Christmas countdown. There are advantages to being 'green'!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Blackberry Crumble

Throughout this month I have been doing a lot of research about food waste for my forthcoming book.  I was horrified to discover that in the UK we waste 8 million tonnes of food and drink every year. That's a huge carbon footprint for absolutely no need!

Reading about food waste and its carbon footprint has certainly focussed my attention on trying not to waste food myself.  Any food waste I do have goes to my compost bin or my wormery and will then get used to grow future years' vegetables and for potting up my non-hardy plants to over winter them in my conservatory which has really just become a green house.

We will always have food waste, because even if we use our banana skins to fertilise our roses, it is still food waste.  I can't imagine we are ever going to eat our banana skins and I don't imagine we will eat our tea leaves and coffee grains either.  But much of our 8 million tonnes of annual food waste is thought to be avoidable.  That is, we are wasting food that we could have eaten.

I have actually bought very little since thinking so much about food waste.  My weekly shop is now tiny.  That is partly because I have a few vegetables in the garden but also because I am making sure I use up everything I buy.  A couple of weeks ago I bought two chicken breasts from the butcher's - proper whole chicken breasts - not the trimmed pre-packed ones we see in supermarkets.  I made a casserole with them which provided one main meal and then I used up the remaining casserole liquid as a pasta sauce and used the chicken in a sandwich, then in risotto and then boiled up the bones with some leek trimmings and onion peel to make stock for soup.  I'll admit that when my grandma asked me to stay for lunch and share the cooked chicken she had asked me to buy from the supermarket I had to suppress the 'Oh no, not chicken again' thought.  But it did make me realise that I had probably been buying and wasting far too much food.

Now I am buying much less and so I have much more chance of making sure that I use every scrap of food I buy.  But I also realised how much food there was around me that was going for free - just in my garden.

I have often joked that my best vegetable crop is nettles, but I rarely use them in cooking, though I did make a batch of mini quiches with some nettles I pulled up from around a row of carrots and they were delicious.  But all in all I have always thought that there is a lot more in my garden that might be edible and so  I decided to invest in a little help in the form of Richard Mabey's Collins Gem book, 'Food For Free'

I had no idea that you could eat so many leaves and berries, that fat hen can be cooked and used like spinach and that mallow leaves can be deep fried into crisps!

My experimentation is yet to start.  I haven't exactly been adventurous with my harvesting this weekend. Yesterday I combined a bit of gardening with some blackberry picking, so now I'm off to make a crumble.  But, the carrot peel and other vegetable trimmings from this evening's roast dinner are in the stock pot awaiting the chicken carcass and I'm planning to use the resulting stock to make some nettle soup and next weekend I'm going to try out Richard Mabey's recipe for 'Autumn Pudding'.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Olympics get my green gold

Yesterday I had an amazing day at the London 2012 Olympics and aside from the fantastic atmosphere, lovely location, inspiring sporting achievements going on all around, I'd also give the event a gold medal for green thinking .

There are things you can't take in.  It is pretty similar to getting on a plane.  You need to make sure you don't have things like nail scissors, pen knives, aerosols in your bag or pockets because you have to part with these at the security. I'd really like to know what will be done with all the stuff that gets handed over in their 'zero to landfill' ideal.

Also, like on a plane you can't take in liquids. But, you can take in your own empty drinks bottle, which once inside you can refill with water from the various fountains. Worth it when soft drinks are £2.30 and beers £4.30.

I did take in my own sandwiches for lunch but planned to eat from the various food stalls on offer in the evening.  I was impressed that the food  I bought was served in compostable packaging and there were bins for this compostable packaging, for any food waste and for recyclables.

View over the Park Live area at the Olympic Park
 with the Velodrome in the background

The recycling bins at the airport security style entrance.

Wild flowers were a big feature of the landscaping

Here's the link on the London 2012 website to read more about how this Olympic Games is making efforts to have sustainability at its heart.

I hope it will inspire other events and festivals to think green.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Ten Green Bottles and One Clear One

I was alarmed to read the other day that the average UK household uses around 330 bottles and jars a year. Alarmed, yes, because I'm sure I can get through that many in a month!

I was reading about glass recycling in the UK, and was not surprised, given the UK's (and my own) liking for wine that Britain generates a surplus of green glass cullet (the broken down glass that is then formed into new bottles) but has a shortage of clear glass required by the British food and drinks industry.

The next time I walked into my kitchen I noticed my ever growing hoard of empty glass jars.  You know, the ones you keep just in case you feel like making blackberry jam next September.  I'm going to try to cut down on my hoarding habit and admit to myself that yet again I probably won't make time to make jam.

But the other thing that struck me about this issue is that the increasing popularity of Pinot Grigio (comes in clear glass bottles) must be a blessing for the UK glass industry! Nice to think I'm doing my bit for the planet.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Chocolate Fridge Cake

Why is it that no-one believes me when I say I have 'left-over' chocolate to use up?  Surely it isn't just me?

This time of year I often have a fridge full  of leftover chocolate. Okay I exaggerate a bit - it isn't exactly full of the stuff - but there's often a couple of bowls containing bits of abandoned Easter Eggs and sometimes even some chocolate left over from Christmas.

Chocolate Fridge Cake is an ideal way to use it all up.

Here's a recipe but you can adapt it in lots of ways depending on what you need to use up.

250g Digestive biscuits (or any biscuits that need eating up!)
300g Chocolate - whatever you find lying around the house that you've asked more than once to be moved or eaten up is fair game
100g unsalted butter
150g golden syrup
200g approx of dried fruit e.g. raisins, chopped cherries, chopped apricots, mixed peel  (and nuts if you like) 

Bash up the biscuits in a plastic bag, melt together the butter, syrup and chocolate over a low heat or on low power setting in the microwave, stirring occasionally. Add the biscuit crumbs and fruit to the melted mix.
Line a 20cm square tin or glass bowl with cling film and pour in the mixture.  Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours. When set, turn out the cake and peel off the cling film.  Cut it into chunks while it is still cold.

One day I might be able to post a picture, but the cake keeps getting eaten up before I get round to taking a photo!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Post Christmas Clean-up

Happy New Year!

Here's my post Christmas tidy-up schedule.

Eat any leftover Christmas pudding for breakfast.
(That's my favourite bit of tidying up)

Collect up all the empty gift bags to use next year. This year I didn't have to buy a single gift bag but I have got pretty good at rounding up any abandoned bags left by my Christmas guests. Given that gift bags can be anything from about 80p to £2.50 and that I'm no good at wrapping up I think I must have saved about £20 by re-using gift bags and most of them seem to have found their way back to me ready for next year.

Extract all the ribbons and bows from the Christmas present unwrapping. So you don't need to buy any for next Christmas. More money saving.

Cut up Christmas cards to make labels for next year.
 But don't do what I did and lose them. This year I've made sure to keep them next to my stock of gift bags so I'll know where to find them.

Recycle your Christmas Tree.
For a few years I had a pot-grown Christmas Tree which was great but it didn't survive more than about five years of neglect. Since then I've not been organised enough to find a pot-grown tree at a reasonable price. But most local councils offer a shredding service for Christmas Trees now. We used to have to take our tree to one of several local car parks for shredding. That was always a messy business that I felt a lot of people wouldn't bother with so it is great that many local councils now pick up Christmas Trees along with the normal waste and recycling collections this week or next week. Check out your local council's website for details.