Eating what we overlook

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I am really excited to have recently had a bit of an epiphany about what we class and edible and why.  I think, like many  people, I have become overly reliant on what is in the shops to guide my fresh food choices.  If it isn’t in the shop then (while I might be aware of it) I might not remember it or think of it when I am trying to choose fresh produce for my family.  If it isn’t there in the shop then I can’t buy it.  I think we are so blinded regarding what we can actually eat that we have can no longer see the possibilities.  For example I tend to forget that many flowers can be eaten and added to salads etc.  Take pineapple sage.  It is super pretty and attracts bees into the garden (and my 9 year old who likes to suck the nectar out of them), but I had never considered how they might be added to a salad to add flavour and a splash of brilliant red colour.

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Nasturtium capers!  I never realised that you could eat the leaves the flowers AND the seeds of these amazing plants.  All the more reason to plant some in your garden. 

I was looking for a relish recipe in one of my favorite recipe books and I noticed that you can pickle nasturtium seeds and use them like capers.  I was immediately curious and decided that a lockdown activity would be to pickle some.  I picked a jar of green nasturtium seeds and following a combination of several recipes I successfully pickled them. They have been maturing in the fridge since the lockdown and are now ready to open and try.   A friend told me they are crisp and crunchy and a bit spicy.  I can’t wait to crack them open the next time we make homemade pizza.

As New Zealand headed into the covid19 pandemic people suddenly started thinking about being more self sufficient as a way of making sure they could feed their families if things got really tough.  Seedlings and seeds were suddenly in demand.  One thing that didn’t occur to so many people is that the food we see and take for granted in the produce aisle is only a very small sample of the produce that is actually out there.  There are so many things that you can eat that you can’t buy in a supermarket or even at a green grocer (if you are lucky enough to have one local to you).  Perhaps an even bigger issue here is that the produce we see is often not the only part of the plant you can eat.

This latter point has come as a bit of a revelation to me as I considered during lockdown how I could provide for my family as we headed into winter AND tried to avoid unnecessary trips to the shop for produce that spoils quickly and can’t be stored in bulk.  This thought process has continued for me as we emerged from lockdown.  There are a lot of things that might be growing in your garden (flowers, herbs, fruits, vegetables and even “weeds”) unnoticed and unappreciated.  Just because you only buy a broccoli head doesn’t mean that is the only edible part of the plant.  When you buy a couple of beetroot tubers, shorn of their leaves and glad-wrapped onto a plastic tray it is easy to forget that the leaves are edible too.  A whole edible part of the plant has been removed and as a result we tend to forget about it and we are unable to make use of those parts in our cooking.  This has caused me to begin looking at the plants in my garden and the produce we eat differently.  I am surprised how much we waste because we forget that it can be eaten!  I hope to inspire you to look differently at your garden and the plants we consume.  So here is some food for thought.

  • People usually grow radishes for the root, but did you also know that you can also eat the green radish seed pods? Pick some to try with a salad.   That isn’t the end either because radish seeds can be used as a spicy sprouting seed, and as a micro-green.
  • Peas can be grown as a winter crop (although ours are off to a slow start) and everyone is familiar with peas in pods and shelling them into bowls.  But did you know that you know that you can also use peas shoots as a salad green, and you can eat the flowers?
  • Nasturtium flowers can be eaten, but so can leaves shoots and seeds (as caper pickles).  I have always loved nasturtiums.  I love the riot of flowers cascading out over paths and climbing over the top of boulders and tree stumps.  The flowers are so bright and vivid that I almost feel they hurt my eyes and are so bright they can’t be actually real.  I always find I am drawn the the intensity of the flowers, and so I always have them in my garden.  I have known for years that you can eat the flowers and I sometime dress up a salad by adding some.  But I didn’t know until this year that you can also eat the young leaves and the seeds as well.  We used the leaves in salad sandwiches during lockdown while we waited for our lettuce seedlings to get big enough to harvest from, and we loved them.
  • Beetroot is another plant that we often forget is about more than the root.  The young leaves can be used as a salad green as well and the leaves in general can be used like silverbeet. So often we think of beetroot as just coming in a tin but it is easy and rewarding to grow (providing you cover them to protect them from hungry birds).
  • When people pick celery they usually discard the leaves.  But celery leaves can be used to flavour soup stocks, and can be chopped into salads as well.  Personally I always use celery leaves when I am making soup stock.
  • Pumpkin is another versatile vegetable that has many more possibilities that the big ripe orange fruit we tend to think of.  For example pumpkin leaves are edible and can be used to wrap food for steaming.  The young shoots and leaves can apparently be steamed and eaten like silverbeet.  Small baby pumpkins can be used like courgettes.  The flowers can be added to salads and the seeds can be saved for next year.
  • Broccoli is an incredible plant with so many possibilities that you won’t see in the supermarket produce aisle.  Broccoli leaves can be used in both salads and stir fries, and they can be used like cabbage.  Broccoli is much more that just the delicious flower heads we usually consume.  If one of your plants goes to seed, you can sprout the seeds and eat them (and you can collect and save the seed for next year).  Even the flowers themselves can be used in salads.  So many more possibilities than you might think!
  • I only learned recently that the leafy green tops of carrots can also be eaten.  According to my investigations they are nutritious and taste of carrots with a parsley overtone.   I gather that they are rather coarse so might benefit from being finely chopped if you are adding them to salads raw.  I think they sound perfect for adding to soups and soup stocks.  The leaves are apparently a rich source of vitamin c (containing more than the root).  Who knew that?  All those years of discarding the tops!  I am going to try this the next time I make soup.
  • I have heard of growing mustard before (as micro-greens) but I hadn’t realised that the mature plant can be eaten as well.  You can eat them as sprouts, micro-greens, and as leafy greens for salads and sandwiches.  Apparently the stems (before they get woody) can be eaten and taste a bit like spicy asparagus.  You can eat the flowers, and finally the seeds can be made into your own whole grain mustard.  You can bet I am going to explore this vegetable further.  I have just planted some out into the garden .  I am watching and waiting impatiently for the seedlings to grow a bit bigger before I start plucking leaves off to taste.
  • Even some things we usually class as weeds can be eaten e.g. dandelion and plantain leaves.  I have to admit that this is an area that I am not very knowledgeable about yet.  I just hadn’t really stopped to think that I might have food plants growing all over the place but that I have been overlooking.

I think my grandparents knew a thing or two about growing produce and surviving through tough times.  They lived through the great depression and two world wars and they raised a family awhile living a more frugal and self sufficient lifestyle.  They always had a variety of well maintained fruit and nut trees, and a productive vegetable garden.  As the years have gone by it seems that many of the subsequent generations have lost a lot of the knowledge our grandparents took for granted.  Growing your own produce and preserving the surplus was normal for them.  They saved seed, bottled, dried, preserved, and pickled away happily while producing a lot of the produce they needed for their growing family.  The art of growing vegetables and fruit has been lost as consumerism has driven a change in how we shop and provide for our families.  Important knowledge (like how much of a plant is edible) has increasingly been lost as well, and the way we buy food in supermarkets limits what you can actually get.

Discovering that nasturtium seeds could be preserved and that the leaves taste amazing in salads and sandwiches was the beginning of a revelation.  I had been blind to how much edible green produce was sitting in my garden.  I didn’t need to worry about how we would provide fresh produce during lockdown, because we had an abundant supply of things we had never considered just sitting in our garden.   For me this feels like the start of an exciting new stage in my gardening journey.  I really hope I inspire you to look again at what you have in your garden.  It is easy to be blinded by what is laid out in the produce aisle, but what they don’t provide is even more exciting.  Don’t be afraid to try something new or to put in a vegetable patch.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Ideas for isolation – more recipes for scarcity

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Hearty homemade soup and overnight bread.  An easy way to stretch your resources and produce simple nourishing food your family will love.  A great way to avoid food wastage and make do with less.

Around the world people are grappling with a new world view.  After nearly 5 weeks in lockdown we in New Zealand are about to emerge slightly from the extreme rules of the level 4 restrictions.  We have learned (and I mean my family personally, but hopefully all of us collectively as well), that things look different from inside our “bubbles”.  Our bubbles have provided an odd sense of perspective that perhaps our busy lives have been lacking.  An enforced slowing of the normally frenetic pace of life.  Things that seemed important (getting to the shops after school, fitting in play dates, birthday parties, and sports practices, buying cloths, or take away coffee), don’t seem as pressing when you are looking at the world from the (hopefully) safe confines of your bubble.  A collective purpose to protect the vulnerable members of our families and communities is more than enough reason to sacrifice our freedom temporarily.   Perhaps you (like us) have had time to discover the joys of being with your kids, having time to play lego, enjoy board games and family jigsaws, have movie nights and snuggle longer  in the mornings.  

This new world of bubbles is definitely not easy, and homeschooling kids is mind bending.  I have taken to educating by stealth – hoping they won’t notice they are learning and studying until they look back later.  Add to that, working from home and it can feel exhausting.  That’s because momentous change is exhausting.  So I reckon its import that we go easy on ourselves and just do what we can.  There is no point in comparing yourself to anyone else.  Their  situation is not the same as yours.

Covid-19 has ushered in a desire in many people to be more self-sufficient and to rediscover the joy of cooking.   Going forward, the traditional ways to feed our families may not be as reliable or easy to access.  As the coronavirus spread, so too did the panic buying – toilet paper, pasta, flour, yeast and even seedlings and seeds.  Obviously people were suddenly visualising a future where greater self-sufficiency might give them greater security.

Because of the abundance of time on our hands, it seems many New Zealanders have suddenly turned to the idea of a home garden.  I think this is a hugely positive step for the population to be taking.  Every person who has pots or a tiny patch of garden can start producing nutritious fresh produce to supplement their families diet.  If you have enough space then you can actually grow pretty much everything you need to eat.  I encourage everybody to take the time to start growing food.  It is good for the soul and good for the body. 

I know that one of the things I have found hardest in lockdown is the need to cook mindfully.  By that I mean rationing butter and other ingredients to make sure they last as long as possible so that our trips to the supermarket are infrequent.   Also making things from scratch takes a bit more planning and time than I have often had in pre-corona times.  Everyone seems at least to be enjoying the meals coming from my kitchen so that is a blessing.

One of our go to dishes for the winter months is a good hearty soup.  I call it elbow soup because the amounts that I put in are estimated by the “feel in my elbow”.  No soup is ever the same twice because I very rarely have the same set of ingredients to hand.  My Grandma used to keep a pot of soup on the stove and throw all her leftovers into it.  She was a renowned soup maker.  She taught my Mum, and Mum taught me.  Now I am teaching my three kids.  This has turned out to be one of our easiest lockdown lunches.  It is flexible and works with whatever I have handy.  What I love about soup is that it gives us the opportunity to change our perception of useless or inedible by turning disparate scraps into a rich new creation.

Every soup I make starts with good stock.  I do buy dried stock powder, but wherever I possibly can, I always make my own.  Vegetable, or chicken stock is my go to soup starter, but you can also use beef stock.  Soup stock is something you can make yourself, it doesn’t need to come in individual plastic containers or in a plastic jar.  A simple way to make a healthy meal for your family also has the added benefit of using food scraps that would otherwise go to waste, and saving you a trip to the shop and potentially the environmental impact of plastic packaging.  I hope you find these recipes simple and useful during the strange times we are living through.

Homemade soup stock:

Next time you have a roast chicken (or any chicken actually), save the bones and boil them up.  Boiling the bones is where the flavour and goodness comes from.  We always boil up the remains of a roast and I will usually get two boilings off one chicken frame.  The first is more meaty than the second boiling and so I tend to add more veges and herbs to the second boiling to bulk it up a bit.  I create a bouquet garni, which consists of a sprig of rosemary, thyme, oregano, half a teaspoon of black pepper corns and maybe a bay leaf.  Sometimes I add parsley, but I am not traditional about this, I just add what I have to hand and what I think will add a nice flavour.  You are supposed to tie them into a muslin bag or tie them together in a bunch, but I just throw them in the pot with the bones (or vegetables) and strain the lot through a sieve when the stock is finished.  I also throw in a roughly chopped clove of garlic and and a slice or two of onion.  Sometimes I put in carrot peelings, celery leaves, and mushroom stalks.  All these things add to the flavour but you can just go with the basic herbs and pepper together with garlic and onion.  Cover the bones with water and bring to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering slowly until the liquid has reduced by about half (or until the flavour is good).  Sieve the stock into a clean container with a lid (discard the bones and bits or if you are going to boil them a second time start over adding fresh herbs and veges etc and repeat), allow to cool and then freeze it.  If you are using the stock immediately to make a soup, then decant it into a large pot and progress with the soup. 

I make vegetable stock by throwing into the pot everything as before (except the bones obviously).  I add more garlic, onion and celery (You can use celery leaves in stock).  Then I add anything that is a vegetable that I have to hand.  Odd bits of pumpkin, celery,  potato and carrot peelings and ends, mushroom stalks etc and boil up as for chicken stock.  

My “elbow”soup recipe:

Once you have your soup stock (instant stock powder or cubes is fine if you haven’t got a homemade stock) you are ready to begin your soup.  I always cast about the bottom of the vegetable bin for old mushrooms, slightly wizened looking carrots (with a bit of life), bits of limp looking cauliflower or broccoli.  In short anything that might be a little past its best that might otherwise be discarded. I put those in first, Chopping into 1cm chunks if I intend to end up with a chunky soup, and throwing in bigger chunks if I intend to mouli, sieve or blend it.  Then I cast around in the fridge for any leftovers and throw those in.  I use leftover rice, stir fry, pasta, pasta bake, spaghetti bolognaise, sausages or chicken.

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I usually put in some or all of the following:

  • tomatoes, (however many feels right to me – but usually between 2 and 8 depending on size and availability.  If I have a half used tin of tomatoes or pasata sauce I will put that in too.
  • a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic.  If I lack garlic I have sometimes used garlic salt.
  • one or two medium potatoes or left over mashed potato
  • bits of bacon (I am always sparing with the bacon and I use it for flavour rather than bulk).
  • a sausage or two.  I either cook them up especially for the soup or use any that are left over from previous meals.  Simply slice them and add.  Frankfurters are good too.
  • a carrot, grated or sliced
  • frozen corn if I have any
  • left over baked beans
  • pearl barley, red or brown lentils
  • left over porridge or a handful of porridge/rolled oats
  • sour cream
  • smoked paprika
  • a teaspoon of mixed herbs
  • some fresh ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • celery
  • spring onions,
  • pumpkin or kumara
  • pasta or rice (leftovers get used first to save wastage).
  • chives
  • parsley
  • mushrooms
  • a nice fresh courgette but I don’t use too much and always add near the end of cooking so they retain their colour and flavour.

Once I have finished adding the ingredients, I bring it to the boil stirring to make sure nothing sticks and then I reduce the heat and let it simmer on a low heat for as long as I can stirring every now and again.  I find the longer the better for flavour development. Add extra water if it is getting too thick.  If  the soup is to be moulied check things like lentils are soft and tender and that harder ingredients like carrot and potato are soft. Then I mouli the lot.  Sometimes we like to have noodles in our soup so I add cooked pasta after I have moulied it.  Sometimes I moulie the soup pasta and all.

Taste the soup and adjust the flavours to your taste.  My Mum always says soup tastes better if left overnight but soup isn’t safe in our house for long and so we very rarely have soup left to sample next day!

Overnight bread:

To go with your amazing soup you could try making your own bread.  During lock down, getting hold of flour and yeast has been more difficult that usual.  We have enough but are trying to make our supply stretch for as long as possible.  I was also concerned about friends and family trying to make their flour and yeast stretch the distance so I did some looking and found a recipe for overnight bread.  It is the simplest bread I have made yet.  No knead, no fuss, just simple and delicious.

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You need a casserole dish with a lid ( the deeper the better) or a dutch oven.  If you don’t have something with a lid use a deep oven dish and cover with tin foil instead.  You will also need baking paper.  I have found that I can reuse my baking paper several times before it reaches the end of its life.  

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of flour (standard white flour nothing fancy)
  • half a teaspoon of active yeast (granules) or one teaspoon of Surebake.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of water.   I have used both luke warm water and straight cold water from the tap.   I think the warm water is better if it is a really cold night but both work fine

Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl.  It makes a very sticky dough much wetter than my usual dough.  Sometimes when I am mixing it it seems a bit drier than usual so I add a little bit of extra water (say a tablespoon or two) in little dribbles until all the dry flour is mixed in.

Then cover with a plate and leave on your bench overnight.  I leave mine for between 8 to 12 hours, and on occasion even 24 hours.  It is very forgiving and so far I haven’t noticed any difference in the finished bread.  

Next day after 8 (or more) hours scrape the dough out onto some baking paper that you have sprinkled liberally with flour, and using floured fingers or a spatula shape it into a roughly circular shape.  This doesn’t have to be perfect, just rough. 

Leave for 30 mins to rest.  While the dough is resting, turn your oven on to 220°C and put your casserole or dutch oven or oven dish into the oven to pre-heat. 

When the rest period is over, use a serrated knife to cut a rough cross into the top of the dough, remove the preheated casserole from the oven (carefully because it is super hot) lift the bread dough on the baking paper and drop the whole lot into the casserole, cover with the lid, and place in the oven for 30 mins.

After thirty minutes carefully (it will be VERY hot) remove the lid and return the bread to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and lift out of the casserole using the baking paper and place on a wire rack to cool.

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Finished!  It just needs to be lifted out to cool on a wire rack.  It smells incredibly good.

It will make a very crusty and super yummy loaf to go with your soup, or to simply enjoy with stretched butterI have no idea how well it keeps because it never lasts our family of 5 for more than one meal!  I do note that it is easier to cut when it is cooled a bit. 

I hope these recipes are helpful and inspire you to try making your own soup and bread.  Let your kids try making their own bread and soup for the family.  This is a skill they will definitely be grateful to have when they are flatting in the future.  In the mean time, look after yourselves, stay safe, and be kind.

Kia kaha (stay strong), this too shall pass.

Recipes during scarcity – making what you have go further

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A selection of  what I have bottled over the last 10 days.  When I get stressed I like to be doing something, and recently that has translated to preserving.  From left:  Quinces, mixed peaches, “blackboy” peaches, “golden queen” peaches, gherkin pickles, tomato chutney, homemade tomato pasta sauce, and bottled pears.

It has been a quite while since I have been able to post a blog.  Writers block, combined with the general rush and exhausting frenzy of being a Mum with three kids and a part time job, has really affected my writing output.  Since my last post I (like the rest of New Zealand and the world) find myself facing a new and surreal situation.  Here in NZ we are locked down in our homes, united in our isolation as we face the new reality of Covid-19.  This is an unprecedented situation that none of us have faced before.  It is frightening and unknown.  We are unable to leave our homes except for supplies and medical needs, and the world has shrunk to the size of our houses and backyards.  Schools are closed, normal life has ground to a complete halt.  Each day I read the news with increasing apprehension and yet it is hard to look away. I keep reading with disbelief.   We are staying home to save lives, by staying home we all become heroes.  Faced with no libraries, no playgrounds, no socialising, and no cafes, what are we all going to do?

So far our time here has been spent chopping wood, and preparing our winter vegetable garden.  We are well into autumn in NZ, but we still have warm days so things should be able to get a good start before the weather turns properly miserable.

I thought I would share a few ideas to help you find some activities to keep busy and potentially stretch out your supplies.  Particularly regarding making what you have go further.   To that end I am re-sharing my bread and stretched butter ideas from previous blogs.  Simple but effective, I hope you find them as useful as we do.  I am also sharing some ideas for preserving what you might have in your garden or might be able to obtain from a neighbour.

Bottle your own fruit: 

Many people have fruit trees in their gardens (sometimes they are completely forgotten), and many of them will still be covered in fruit.  Our peach tree has just yielded its last fruit and our pear is covered in fruit that is yet to fully ripen.  Usually during the week you (like me) might find yourself too busy to do anything other than gather a few things for the fruit bowl.  But now…. facing four weeks at home, perhaps there is a fruit tree laden with fruit that might otherwise go to waste.  Suddenly there are a lot of people are thinking more about self sufficiency.  One way to be more self sufficient is to bottle and preserve your own fruit.  Or you might find you have a last crop of tomatoes, why not try making chutney or relish?  It is super easy and it looks great, and the chances are you can do it all at home without leaving the house. There are lots of recipes online to give you ideas.    Have a go see what you can make, bake and preserve using what you have.  Perhaps one of your neighbours might have a fruit tree and would be happy to pick a bag for you and leave it at your letterbox.  Sort through your recycling to find your old jam jars and pasta sauce jars if you don’t have preserving jars.

To bottle fruit you need:  jars with “popping” lids that seal (or screwbands and new seals if you have them), fruit, sugar, and water.

I use the basic method for hot pack bottling from the Edmonds Cookery Book.   The Edmonds Cookbook has the proportions of sugar to water for different fruits, and all the tips and tricks you need.   It sounds complicated to a lot of people, but it is really not so hard once you know what you are doing.   If you are uncertain try finding recipes or watching some video’s online.

Freeze what you can’t use now:

Another idea is to freeze any garden produce so you can retain the last of the gardens summer bounty to use later.  Beans and celery freeze well, so do diced carrots.  Even tomatoes can be frozen to cook with later (though not to eat in salads as freezing makes them mushy).  Beans, celery, and rhubarb should be blanched before freezing.  I do that by chopping  them and dropping them into a pot of fast boiling water for one minute before draining and plunging them into cold water.  Chop up pumpkin into 2cm chunks and freeze for later use in soups or for roasting.  If you have blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, you can freeze those to use throughout the year in baking, smoothies, desserts or to make into jam on cold rainy days.

Make your own tomato pasta sauce:

To make your own tomato pasta sauce you will need – tomatoes, onion, basil (dried or fresh), oil, garlic, black pepper, salt, and some jars with lids that seal.

This homemade pasta sauce is simple and easy to make and it tastes absolutely wonderful.  If you have jars and tomatoes you have pretty much everything you need.  Other veges can be added or omitted depending on what you have to hand.  I got my initial recipe from a book called Coromandel flavour – a year of cooking at the bach.  I have found this recipe to be so flexible and easy to adapt that I can add all kinds of things.

You will need: Roughly 1kg of tomatoes (preferably not cherry tomatoes, you really want something a bit bigger if you can get your hands on them).  A couple of tablespoons of oil (olive oil if you have it).   A good sized clove of garlic.  One medium onion.  About 10-12 fresh basil leaves if you have them, otherwise a teaspoon or two of dried basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Simply cut your tomatoes in half and remove the core at the stalk end.  In a large pot or frying pan heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (or cooking oil if you don’t have olive oil).  If you have onion and/or garlic chop and add it, if not never mind because when you come to open the jar you can always add the onion when you are preparing the actual meal instead of when you are bottling the pasta sauce.  When the onion is translucent, add the tomatoes and half the basil (roughly chopped or dried depending on what you have) to the pot/pan.  Cook uncovered on a low heat, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.  The tomatoes will give out their juices and the skins can be picked out as they roll up and separate from the flesh as they cook. The skins are pretty easy to spot because they are a darker red.  When the sauce has reduced to a thick jam-like consistency add in the last of the basil, and either serve with pasta or bottle the sauce to use at a later date.  I sometimes add chopped capsicum and celery to my sauce to add variety and use up other things in the garden or fridge.  If you don’t have jars with lids, your could freeze it in suitable quantities in plastic containers to be thawed at at later date.

Make your own bread:

Facing 4 weeks in lockdown there is no better time to try your hand at making your own bread.  I shared my bread recipe in a blog post a while back.  Nothing is more wholesome than the smell of fresh hot bread and your family will demolish it before you can blink.  It is truly filling and well worth the effort.  If you have yeast then have a go and you won’t look back.  I know that not everyone has yeast at the moment since people have cleared it from the supermarket shelves during lockdown panic buying, but never fear, there are other ways to make bread.

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Homemade soda bread, so called because it uses baking soda instead of yeast.  I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe to make this loaf.   Spread with “stretched” butter, it tasted amazing.

He is a link to Jamie Oliver and his little boy Buddy making soda bread during the lockdown in the UK.  Soda  bread uses baking soda instead of yeast.  I tried it with the very last of our wholemeal flour and it worked beautifully.  I did a google search and turned up a recipe for soda bread using only white flour, so don’t worry if you haven’t got wholemeal flour.  Get the kids to help kneading and measuring.

Stretched butter: 

Butter is something we are struggling a bit to get hold of during lockdown.  In our family butter is something we go through incredibly fast, so now that it is harder to get, I have begun “stretching” my butter again.  This way we can extend the time between trips to restock.   The way we do this is to “stretch the butter” using an old WW2 rationing trick that I wrote about in an earlier blog. This brilliant trick means you can make your butter last twice as long, and it is soft and spreadable.  All you need is butter, oil, and water.  What could be better?  Follow the link to my earlier post with the recipe and instructions.

If you are homeschooling your kids during lockdown, getting them involved with measuring ingredients is one way to cover off maths work.  Measurement is measurement after all, and it is a lot easier to do maths if you can eat it, than with a pen and paper when there are lots of things to distract you (like the lego box).  Following recipes help kids with reading and sequencing as well as measurement.  Learning in the kitchen is very popular with my kids.

Being alone with my own thoughts doesn’t scare me at all…. in fact, as a mother, I treasure the moments when I get to spend even a few minutes just thinking without interruptions (not that I don’t love the interrupters with all my being).  Never-the-less as I have absorbed the new locked-down world I find myself in, I have found a little ray of hope shining though.  This is what humanity can do.  We can actually unite.  We can all band together to do the same thing at the same time.  Perhaps there is hope for a global response to the climate and environmental emergency’s that are engulfing our planet.

We have to survive the pandemic first, but this is a demonstration of the best that humanity can offer.  Our ability to love and care for someone or something other than ourselves.

One more step on the plastic free journey – bamboo cotton buds.

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A sweet solution to one part of the single use plastic problem. Plastic free cotton buds. On the left, Go Bamboo brand and on the right, The humble co.

Plastic pollution in the ocean is largely invisible.  The water looks blue and the waves sparkle in the sunlight, but beneath the surface there are microplastics, and they are being ingested by the fish that end up on our plates.  There is also larger plastic rubbish washing up on beaches, and being ingested by our precious bird species, which leads to the starvation of chicks and adults.  Although it is usually invisible, every breaking wave on the shore is carrying a burden of plastic pollution!  We have to take steps to change our consumer choices and reduce our consumption of plastic.

Plastic pollution is a huge problem for our generation to grapple with.  Plastic can seem like the simple solution to so many problems.  For decades we have been seduced by how cheap it is, how light weight it is, how durable it is, how easy to replace, and now it is  found everywhere.  The problem of plastic pollution is now a problem so overwhelming that it is often very hard to find plastic free alternatives to anything.  Worse still we have become blind to single use plastics, seeing them as convenient and necessary.   Happily there are a growing number of companies that provide sustainable alternatives to plastic items we usually just take for granted (or at least I did until a few years ago).  I became concerned with the state of our climate, our environment, our water, and the future that we are leaving for our children to face.  Greta Thurnburg is right when she says that we should be ashamed of the future we are leaving for our children to clean up.  I have been bothered by that thought since before Greta began her school strike.  It is what motivated me to begin to make small changes as often as I can to look after this precious planet.

Cotton buds are common in many houses, they live in bathrooms and make-up bags everywhere.  They are intended to be discarded after use (who wants to reuse a cotton bud?)   Almost all of them are plastic these days, but when I was a kid the stems were made from rolled paper (like some lolly pop sticks still are).  Somewhere between my childhood and today, they switched to plastic.  Suddenly they couldn’t go in the kindling box, or the compost anymore.   I remember my Mum and I discussing it and being frustrated that we just had to throw them in the rubbish.  Three years ago, I began looking seriously into alternatives for plastic products and I came across bamboo cotton buds.  Our family switched as soon as we needed to buy new cotton buds, and we have never regretted it.  The switch was not hard at all.  The first ones we found were Go Bamboo cotton buds.  They are 100% biodegradable and the box is unbleached cardboard so that it can be composted.

Then in January this year I found that The Humble co. makes cotton buds too.  These are also 100% biodegradable, and the packaging is made from recycled cardboard.  These cotton buds are pink tipped if you prefer colourful cotton buds.  There is no good reason that I can think of not to make the switch to bamboo cotton buds.  If cost is a concern just consider the cost to the environment instead.  The image of a seahorse holding on to a cotton bud is not a pretty picture, and I am not about to let my cotton buds get into the ocean or contribute to the growing plastic pollution problem.  I want my kids to see that as a family we can make a positive impact rather than a negative one.  Every action (no matter how small) has real power to effect change.   Reduce, reuse, re-purpose, repair, recycle.  As soon as you find an alternative to plastic that is sustainable, switch to it.  Let your purchasing power speak for you.

Miss 9 is a member of her schools enviro group.  The school has been working towards its EnviroSchools Green-Gold award.  In a couple of weeks the judges are coming to see if the school as done enough to achieve this goal.  My daughter is passionate about the environment and I am stunned at her drive and determination.  If she can walk the walk at school with her friends, I am determined we will do the same at home.  She is refusing to use shampoo in plastic bottles because she knows how big the plastic problem is.  Instead she has been using my Ethique shampoo bars on the sly.  Even telling her that the Ecostore shampoo that we buy comes in sugar plastic bottles from a renewable source doesn’t dissuade her from her desire to avoid using products in plastic.  She finds this really hard at times when popular toys she is keen on turn out to be plastic, but most of the time she sticks to her guns and prefers to avoid it.  Honestly – if a nine year old girl can make tough decisions to avoid plastic, then so can the rest of us.  Start with choosing plastic free cotton buds next time you need some, a plastic free dish brush or plastic free clothes pegs.  We owe it to our children to do something now.

Backyard Conservation – making a difference in your own corner of the world.

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A NZ dotteral, one of those rare species that we share our country with.  This little bird was blissfully unaware that the person photographing it is one of those who has endangered it.  This little bird has no voice to beg for a future unless I (and my fellow humans) speak for it.

Conservation and restoration is vital to our survival as a species.  It’s important because we inhabit this world together with a myriad of creatures both large and tiny.  The way we lead our lives, dispose of our waste, decide what to purchase, and even what pets we own has an impact on the species’ with which we share New Zealand and the world.  They have no voice unless we choose to advocate for them.  No chance unless we value them, and no future if we don’t take action.  

New Zealand is rather special in that it was the last large habitable land mass in the world to be colonised by humans.  It is also the most recent large landmass to experience an extinction event.  New Zealand was the last ‘primeval’ wilderness on the planet, and as such it was utterly unique.  The extinction event in NZ occurred as a result of the arrival of humans, first Maori and then the subsequent arrival of European explorers and settlers.  Often I think we tend to view the extinction events associated with the arrival of humans in NZ as being in the past (done and dusted years ago), but in reality we are living right in the middle of it.  It isn’t over. We just don’t notice it happening and that is the real tragedy. We just don’t notice until it is too late!

Maori brought the pacific rat or kiore.   Then Europeans brought mice, norway rats, ship rats, black rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets,  catspossums, hedgehogs and more.    New Zealand’s native fauna evolved for millions of years in isolation. An enchanted archipelago of islands where birds and insects filled almost every niche that mammals would have occupied elsewhere.  We even have a ground foraging bat!  It was like nowhere else in the world.  If we don’t do something to stop the extinctions, and halt the decline of our threatened and unique species, then all we will have are animals that can be found elsewhere.  We will no longer be unique.

But it was not only the introduction of predators that decimated our native flora and fauna.  Maori began clearing the land through the use of fire, and the clearances intensified after the arrival of European settlers.  The signature of these two waves of land clearance show up in pollen and charcoal records from around NZ.  In some places the bands of charcoal are still visible in soil profiles today.

The clearances were unimaginable in scale.  Most of NZ is now denuded and bare of its native forests and ecosystems. What remains is still threatened in most places.   Against the saws and the fires of clearance our majestic forests stood no chance.  Now as you drive around NZ you drive through kilometers of rural landscapes, green grassy paddocks and hills dotted with sheep and cows and pine forestry.  But those same grassy fields should have towering trees covering them, filled with kokako, huia, and piopio. Sometimes when I look at the fields around me I feel heart sick at what we have lost.

A little over a year ago we managed to buy our first home.  Two acres of rural bliss, with a handful of pet sheep and some chickens to keep us busy.  One thing we decided to do is to replant parts of the property in locally rare native plants in order to create a seed source. We located some amazing local native plant nurseries that specialise in the specific plants for our particular part of the world.  Then we just started planting as often as we could afford to buy the plants.

We fenced off small areas at the edges of our paddocks to create windbreaks and shelter for our sheep.  These areas are being replanted with natives. Not everything has survived, we estimate that we have had a 20% loss rate among the things we have planted.  This loss rate is largely attributed to the damaged soil resulting from more than a hundred years of being farmed. The plants are in puggy degraded soils completely unlike the rich soils that would have been here 200 years ago and there is no shelter.  It is hard work getting anything established in that.

I recently planted a selection of native plants with my 9 year old daughter and 6 year old son.  We turned over the sods and shook the soil from the clumps of grass roots, and I found myself feeling excited as I watched the hands of my children placing native trees into the soil.  It felt good to work together to put things back the way they should be, even if it is only a tiny area.

Some things we can put back, like the plants I planted with my children.  But some things are gone for good.  There are no huia now, no matter what I plant, they are gone for good.  There are no kakapo here anymore and no kiwi either.  I might not get huia, kakapo or kiwi back by planting a seed source, but I will get, more geckos, skinks, wetas, tui, bellbirds, fantails and kereru.  It is worth all the effort just to get them.

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Evergreen buckthorn is an invasive weed that we have on our property.  It is fast growing and seedlings are coming up everywhere.  It quickly over shadows other plants.  I have been working hard to remove them from our garden beds.  This is one days worth of weeding out.

We depend on plants and vegetation for our environment so we need to plant intelligently.  At various times and for various reasons, exotic plants have been introduced to New Zealand.  Unfortunately many of them were unwise choices.  Invasive plant species such as gorse, ivy, old mans beard, pampas, sycamores, evergreen buckthorn, elaegnus and many more are a huge problem.  Invasive weeds destroy our native plant communities and ecosystems.  In light of this, another way that we are trying to make a difference in our little slice of heaven, is to systematically weed out any noxious weeds that we find.  We have a LOT of ivy to eradicate, and also a lot of evergreen buckthorn.  Given how prolific both buckthorn and ivy are with their seeding I imagine this is going to be an ongoing occupation for many years.   If you are keen to “do your bit” then familiarise yourself with the noxious weeds in your area and remove them from your property.

Consider bees (both native and introduced) when you plant your garden.  Put in some flowers for them, or plant manuka!  New Zealand has 28 species of native bees.  Our bees don’t produce honey or live in hives, but they do provide a critical but overlooked role in pollinating native plant species such as kanuka, manuka and pohutukawa. Throwing a few native plant species in your garden will help our little native bees.

I have always been passionate about NZ.  It is the only home I have ever had and the only place I would ever call my turangawaewae (place to stand).  I am a part of this place, it is a part of me.  I feel much the same about protecting our native flora and fauna and land as I do about protecting my children.  

Don Merton is one of my personal heroes, and I remember watching the Wild South TV series back in the 1980’s.  I was enthralled by the story of the Black Robins and how Don Merton was able to help rescue the species from just 5 individuals.  Here is a short video where he talks about saving the black robins.   He summed up the value of our native birds in this superb quote:

“They are our national monuments. They are our Tower of London, our Arc de Triomphe, our pyramids. We don’t have this ancient architecture that we can be proud of and swoon over in wonder, but what we do have is something that is far, far older than that. No one else has kiwi, no one else has kakapo. They have been around for millions of years, if not thousands of millions of years. And once they are gone, they are gone forever. And it’s up to us to make sure they never die out“.

He was talking about birds but it applies equally to insects, reptiles, amphibians, plants and our unique ecosystems.  In NZ we are teaching our children about the value of our native species and how to care for them and our environment But how often do we as New Zealanders actually model those behaviors at home?  We claim to want our children to value conservation efforts and protect our environment, but how do we show it?

Conservation can seem daunting when you step back and look at the scale of the problem. But doing your bit doesn’t have to be huge or onerous, it can be as little as reconsidering what shrubs you plant or taking the time to trap rats.  Here are some ideas to get you started.  One or two steps are all that you need to do to begin to make a real difference in your own backyard.

Ways to help NZ native species in your own back yard:

  • Weta motels
  • Lizard lounges and gardens
  • Consider the food sources in your garden and consider a nectar feeder to attract tui, bell birds and wax eyes.
  • Predator resistant compost heaps
  • Predator resistant rubbish bins
  • Removal of invasive weed species
  • Planting native food and shelter plants.
  • Sponsorship of an endangered species
  • Purchase of a humane predator trap e.g.  Goodnature traps – a humane, simple, and effective way to manage pest species in your back yard and around your property.
  • Careful management of pet cats and dogs. Keep track of your pets.
  • Go out into nature and teach yourself and your tamariki to value the things that are hidden in plain sight.  Taking time to go out and see the amazing animals and plants we share NZ (and our world) with.  Visit places like Pukaka Mt Bruce, Zelandia, Nga Manu, Hinewai, Orokonui Ecosanctury or just take the time to go on a day walk or and overnight tramp in our national parks and reserves.  It is easy to overlook the beauty that is all around us if we spend our lives with our eyes on a screen or cooped up inside.
  • Create your own mini native sanctuary in your backyard.
  • If you own a farm consider planting native shelter, fencing your waterways, creating native forest corridors to allow birds and insects etc to move from one place to another.  Perhaps you could consider it a “tithe” for nature.  Consider doing the same thing no mater what the size of your property.
  • Consider gifting trees as gifts for family and friends. Trees That Count is a great option.

Although native species might not have evolved to withstand mammalian predators, and the impacts of humans on their environment, the fact remains that they are the best and most perfectly adapted species for NZ’s unique environment.  A humbling thought is that kiwi have been in NZ longer than humans have exisited! Many NZ species have withstood millennia of climate changes in the past and they are still here. We should not write them off as failures simply because they cannot withstand introduced predators and landscape destruction.  We don’t have any more right to exist than our native species do. In fact they have been here in NZ longer than humans so perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that they have more right to exist here than we do.

De-extinction is no substitute for conservation.  At the moment there is no way back. We can’t (yet) bring back what we have lost.  Even if we can one day bring a species back it will always have limitations. It would be better not to find ourselves needing de-extinction in the first place.

We humans want quality of life, we seek happiness. Part of what makes us happy is variety and interest and beauty.  If we allow species to be lost, then the world will be less interesting and permanently dulled.  Unknown possibilities will be lost.  Every time we think we have exhausted the options from nature, we discover another valuable commodity that is derived from a species we could have over looked.  For example spider venom may be able to treat nervous system disorders. 

Our species and our whole way of life depends on the other species we inhabit this earth with. If we don’t value them, then I don’t see how we value ourselves or our own future as a species.

Eco-glitter update – more plastic free razzle dazzle.

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My two super cute, teeny tiny bottles of biodegradable eco-glitter from Three Mamas.

A few months ago, I posted what has become a very popular blog post on DIY alternatives to conventional plastic glitter.  The fact that conventional glitters are made from plastic is a fact that has escaped a lot of people.  I don’t think glitter has ever seemed anything other than innocuous, crafty, and fun.  It is rather sad then, that a microplastic menace is lurking in schools, kindergartens, and home craft cupboards everywhere.  Increasingly, the general public are getting the message that microplastics and plastic pollution is a huge problem.  Now we just need alternatives and sustainable options to chose instead.

Since I started making alternatives to glitter for my kids to use, I have talked to lots of people about it.  I have now had the thumbs up on my DIY glitters from the kids at our church sunday school (where we used them to construct a sign pointing the way to the kids corner), and from one of the teachers at school. My own kids love the homemade sustainable alternatives, and they really haven’t missed the sparkly kind very much.

I have now discovered fully biodegradable eco-glitter thanks to my dear husband, who noticed it and decided to surprise me.  Three Mamas eco-glitter looks like conventional glitter but instead of a plastic base, it’s made from non-GMO Eucalyptus cellulose, from a renewable source, and it is biodegradable.  Now we can have fun making our own, but still have a source of sparkly glitter for those special things that just need some extra pizzazz.  This glitter comes in both fine and chunky sizes and it comes in a large variety of colours.  Possibly the cutest part of this glitter is that you can get it in teeny tiny glass bottles with tiny corks.  I am a sucker for tiny things and and these push all the right buttons with me.  Miss 9 is pretty captivated with them as well, because they look like fairy wish jars.

Three Mamas eco-glitter is vegan, and safe for use in cosmetics. It takes about 6 months to break down in compost or marine water. Their website has a number of positive reviews.   So all in all a great discovery.

Microplastic contamination of the oceans is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns. Microplastics are defined as small particles of plastic that are 100nm to 5mm in size .    These microplastic particles are small enough to be ingested by many organisms and as a result there are concerns about bioaccumulation in our food chain.

The problem of microplastics is a huge one, and one that we are only now beginning to grapple with.  The impacts and consequences are far-reaching and long lasting, and the true effects of marine organisms and even ourselves won’t be known for decades.  I know that craft and cosmetic glitter can seem a bit insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but we all have to start somewhere, and ditching plastic glitter is as good a place as any to begin.  Little steps conquer big mountains.  Each person that starts questioning and thinking about issues such as plastic pollution is one part of the solution.   Why not show your children that there is a better way?  Help them to be part of the change.

Sustainable Clothes Pegs – SUST

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A few of my sustainable pegs.  Bamboo spring pegs from Go Bamboo, a single “dolly peg” left over from a craft activity, and my brand new Munch brand stainless steel pegs.

Have you ever considered clothes pegs? They are clever little things, so simple and so useful.  But how sustainable are they?  Clothes pegs are almost entirely made from plastic and are practically all manufactured in China.  I have picked up pegs in some pretty strange places; footpaths, roads, car parks, playgrounds.  But the most disturbing places I have picked them up is on beaches half buried in the sand. And I am talking about relatively isolated beaches.  We even found them on Mana Island during a beach clean-up.  This prompted me to start thinking about sustainable alternatives, and trying to find locally made pegs if I could.

I remember the day it occurred to me to wonder if my old broken plastic pegs could actually be recycled.   I looked at the gravel under my clothesline and noticed the fragments of ancient looking plastic pegs.  Some had simply been dropped and then stepped on.  Some had suffered plastic fatigue and had broken mid-use leaving my clothes hanging oddly, or in a sad heap on the ground below the line.  Others had served me well and probably date back to around 15 years ago, but had become pitted with age, faded, and brittle with extended exposure to the sun.  As I gathered the remnants of my expired pegs I found myself wondering if they should go in the rubbish or the recycling.  I turned to trusty Google and began researching, and then started firing off emails.

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Some of the broken remains of pegs that have reached the end of their lives…..all headed for landfill.

It turns out that while some plastic clothes pegs start out as technically recyclable plastic, extended exposure to UV damages them so that they are no longer recyclable.  I discovered this interesting fact when I tracked down the manufacturer of Sunshine Pegs.  I fired off my questions about how recyclable they are and they responded promptly to explain the effects of UV.

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Bright, colourful and practical. A few of my plastic pegs. On the far left are five NZ made Sunshine pegs.

Clothes pegs are a surprisingly recent invention.  The earliest references to clothes pegs date from around the early 19th century.  Prior to that date washing was apparently draped over a line or hung out over bushes to dry.  This might have been OK in England, but it wouldn’t work at all here in Wellington (the windiest city in the world) on what we would class as a slightly breezy day!  In my grandma’s day back in the 1940’s with a young family, pegs were wooden (and no doubt made right here in New Zealand too).  In fact my grandma managed to make do without plastic at all with three children during WW2 rationing.  Although times have changed and life is different today, I find her example inspirational.  The up-shot is that although plastic pegs are ubiquitous and convenient they are not sustainable and there are alternatives.   Here are just a few that I have found.

Sunshine pegs – NZ made, but not recyclable at end of life.

These bright, colourful, plastic spring pegs are made in New Zealand, so don’t require shipping to our shores with all the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Although technically recyclable when the product is new, this isn’t the case after prolonged exposure to UV.  Since pegs do most of their work outside on sunny hot days, they aren’t really a recyclable product. They are going to end up in landfill or washed down stormwater drains at the end of their lives.    I have a supply of them, and they are great, but only while they are not UV damaged and consequently brittle.  If you want to continue with plastic pegs, at least make sure that they are made locally. 

Go Bamboo pegs – Made in China, biodegradable

These bamboo pegs were my first exploration into the world of sustainable alternatives to plastic pegs.  Priced reasonably at $7 for 20 pegs and packaged in compostable boxes,  these pegs were made for Wellingtons famous winds!  They have an incredibly strong grip. I like them, and would happily have more of them.  They don’t stain or mark clothing.  However on the downside, their grip is so strong that they can be a bit fiddly to get on and off in a hurry (such as a sudden rain shower) and my Mum who has a bit of arthritis finds them nearly impossible to operate.

Go Bamboo make a lot of claims to be sustainable and to have good conditions for their factory workers, but they don’t back any of this up with accreditations such as fairtrade.  This bothers me, but so far I haven’t found an alternative brand with accreditations and so until I do I will continue to use them.  Basically they are asking me to trust that they are being 100% honest about what they are claiming, but an accreditation would make this a much easier decision.

Munch stainless steel pegs = Made in China

These are my newest acquisition.  My darling husband spotted them and got some for me to try.  Not a cheap option at $27 for a bag of 20 pegs, but I have to say so far they are worth it.  They are strong, easy to operate and don’t mark clothing.  They have handled some pretty mean winds and my washing has stayed firmly on the line.  I have no issues with these pegs.  I love them.

Although I haven’t tried them yet, I did stumble across some New Zealand made pegs made from recycled plastic.  They look good, and I am keen to sample them.  A google search turns up several pegs that are made in New Zealand from recycled plastic.  I think this would be a good option if you remain keen on plastic pegs.  Although exposure to UV means they will not be recyclable at the end of their “working life”.

I am unsure which is best actually, sustainable pegs that have to be shipped here contributing to GHG emissions, or plastic pegs made here in New Zealand but that can’t be recycled, thus contributing to landfill and the rising problem of micro-plastics and plastic pollution.  It is a tough one.  In the end I have opted for imported sustainable pegs so that I am no longer contributing old pegs to the plastic problem in our landfills and on our beaches.  I am hopeful that they will prove durable and will outlast the plastic pegs.  But as soon as someone starts making sustainable plastic free pegs right here in New Zealand, I will ditch the imports and buy New Zealand made again.

It may seem like an insignificant step to make towards a more sustainable future, but I think it is worth while.  Plastic pegs are not designed to last for long.  They are designed to be expendable and easily replaceable.  They must contribute a fair bit of plastic over the full life of an average family.  I don’t ever want one of my old pegs to end up inside an albatross chick instead of fish, and I don’t ever want my old pegs washing out to sea to end up polluting a beautiful beach somewhere.  New Zealand has so many native seabirds that this is a real concern for me.  If my pegs are made from wood or metal, that will never be a problem.  I challenge you to make a sustainable change in your laundry to remove another source of plastic, and wherever possible choose to buy local over imports if you can.  Together our consumer choices can make a difference, even if it seems insignificant.  Those discarded bits of plastic don’t seem very important to us, but it matters a huge amount to the albatross chick that gets a peg instead of fish.

Ethical Clothing – choices for a better future!

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Some of our ethical clothing choices, from left: hand knitted red top, pom pom hat knitted by my mum, a vest top (with pockets) knitted by my aunt, one of my amazing second hand merino cardigans, second hand red soccer shorts, a tee-shirt that supports the Genetic Rescue Foundation, my favourite  Tumbleweed Tee’s tee-shirt, and an awesome Etiko tee-shirt.

What if the person who made your shoes was a young boy who wants desperately to go to school?  How would you feel if that was your son? How would you feel if the person who made your tee-shirt was unable to afford to send their children to school? What if the manufacture of your clothing helped to destroy a habitat? These are questions that prey on my mind and are now shaping my purchasing decisions.  Our collective clothing choices have power.  Ethical clothing is not just good for the workers and the environment, it is good for your soul.

There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to ethical clothing.  I want to give you a taste of what is actually out there because a lot of people seem surprised that there are actually reasonable options to consider.  It matters a lot to me who made my clothes. I want them to have fulfilled and happy lives and I want them to be safe and healthy and educated.  In New Zealand we have labour laws designed to protect our workers as well as laws protecting our environment, which is why I think many of us take it for granted that other countries have similar laws. Because we don’t have clothing factories with horrific conditions here in New Zealand it is a largely invisible problem. Only a small proportion of clothing is actually made here.  Most of our apparel and clothing is made overseas and is shipped here (which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions because New Zealand is so geographically isolated).  Most of our clothing comes from places like Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico, Turkey, China and Indonesia – all of which have big problems with sweatshops, and poor environmental protection.  Given recent world events, it is also pertinent to consider how a country treats its migrants

Another closely related issue is that of “fast fashion”. Cheap clothing that is designed to be discarded seasonally as the fashions change.  Fast fashion is not made to last and the fabrics and manufacturing are often poor quality.  Fast fashion is hurting the factory workers and the environment, and most of it ends up in landfills.  This happens because we have collectively bought into the lie that we need to look fashionable, and that buying more and more clothes will somehow make us happy and fulfilled.

Every January when we pack up for 3 weeks away from home in a caravan,  I find I really don’t need most of my clothes.  If I can manage for three weeks in the summer with just one tiny drawer of clothing, then I have far more clothes than I actually need. To be honest I feel pressured to regularly vary what I wear. I feel pressure not to re-wear the same clothes every few days.  Now that I am aware of this I try to constantly consider what I have and why I need to buy something else.  I do find it hard and I’m far from perfect, but I am making an effort.  I am trying to buy new items of clothing only if I am replacing an item that is worn out. I have begun downsizing my wardrobe, but I do still find it hard to overcome the desire to have new things.  I am lucky that I have zero desire to shop in big malls. In fact I can’t think of anything worse. I dislike the pressure to impulse buy, and I really struggle not to see things I would like but don’t need.  It makes it much easier for me to stay away from malls and clothing shops.  I prefer to source my new clothing online from places like Tumbleweed Tees that don’t have shops in malls. I guess I am trying to become a mindful shopper.  

The good news is that there are options out there and not all of them are horrifically priced.  It is now easier than it used to be to research the ethical credentials of clothing brands, and there are useful guides out there to help you make informed decisions.  For example the Tearfund Ethical Clothing Guide is a great place to start.  It is updated annually so is always current.    Fair trade and organic clothing is something that I aspire to own and  I am determined to consider the origin of my clothing choices every time I purchase.  I buy to support causes.  I buy to last.  I also buy second hand.  I repair rather than discard.  Today I want to share some of the places you can find fair trade ethical clothing. I urge you to become part of the rising tide of people who consider where their clothing comes from, who made it and what its environmental impact is. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Kathmandu has good transparency, and now stocks fair trade items such as these mens and womens tee-shirts. I will be keeping my eyes open for these next time I am in a Kathmandu store.

The Paper Rain Project is a local New Zealand company producing high quality creative and sustainable products.  Their tee-shirts are 100% organic, fairly traded and locally printed using environmentally aware printing methods.  More recently they have partnered with other brands and now stock a range of sustainable, socially responsible products.  I love their tee-shirt designs and can’t wait to get one next time I need a tee-shirt. Well worth a look.

Humanity  is another New Zealand brand that is committed to sourcing and manufacturing long-lasting sustainable products as part of a circular economy.  I stumbled across their website recently and was pleased with the prices of its tee-shirts, which are not unreasonable. I share it here because I am impressed by what I see and the ethic behind the brand.  I look forward to shopping here in the future.

Freedom Kids  sells fun ethical, gender neutral clothing for kids in all colours and for everybody.  They operate out of the Wairarapa and offer ethical kids clothing. Perhaps not as affordable as I would like it to be, this company still offers options that are hard to come by elsewhere.

Tumbleweed Tees are a small New Zealand business that designs and screen prints its own tee-shirts and other items.  They donate $5 from every adult tee-shirt sold to a conservation group. Some of their designs are specifically linked with particular conservation groups/causes for example the Kea Conservation Trust.  I love the designs so much that although my shag tee-shirt (seen in the picture at the top of this blog) is now very old and worn out, I still can’t bring myself to throw it away, the design is too beautiful.  This is probably my favorite tee-shirt brand simply because they are New Zealand owned and completely unique.  I love that I am supporting conservation with every purchase, and the designs are fabulous. I urge you to check them out for yourself.

Thunderpants are a small, ethical, family owned and operated company, based in the Wairarapa. They make a range of underwear and other items that are made in New Zealand from certified fair trade organic cotton.  I have heard good things about them, and so I am thrilled to be able to trial some.  It’s early days yet, but so far they are super comfortable and seem very well made.  As a bonus they were posted out in a paper mail bag and their branded packaging is fully compostable.  

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Miss 16’s eye-catching Etiko tee-shirt.

Etiko, whose motto is wear no evil, sell a large range of mens and womens shoes, apparel and bags, all of which is certified Fairtrade, Organic, and B Corp.  My husband tried out some of their shoes with mixed results, but my 16 year old daughter has an awesome tee-shirt emblazoned with the words “This tee-shirt freed a slave”, that she grew out of before she wore it out.  They are well worth a look.

SaveMart is a large retailer of quality second hand clothing.  Our family recently visited and discovered some amazing bargains.   I paid $15 for a couple of cardigans in perfect condition.  I got new jeans ($4) and a merino thermal top ($5) for Miss 8, and new jeans ($4) and $3 soccer shorts for Mr 6.  Miss 16 got a brand new (high quality brand) raincoat for $15 and a MacPak puffer jacket for $30.  Shopping second hand is an affordable and environmentally responsible choice as it prevents clothing items from ending up in the landfill and it is easy on your wallet. Often you can find real gems like my daughter’s puffer jacket, or a pair of kids pajamas for $1.   Second hand clothing is awesome.  Try packaging up your old clothes if they are in good condition and hand them on to someone else.  This is a great option particularly when it comes to kids clothing, they grow out of it so fast!

 

Another option that is often overlooked are hand knitted clothes.  There was clothing before polar fleece people!  I know it is not so common these days to knit your own, many people don’t even know how to.  However you don’t have to look far to find someone who can knit.  An aunt, grandma, or one of the retired ladies at church or in a local craft group will often have incredible knitting skills.  There are quite a few knitters that have helped to clothe my children. My Awesome Auntie can unravel an old jersey, roll the unraveled wool into balls, and then re-knit it into an amazing kids jersey.  I am in awe of her skills, because she can knit at speed and watch TV at the same time! My Mum keeps my kids heads warm with a lovely succession of pompom hats and she makes jerseys for them too. The mother of one of my oldest school friends has also knitted lovely things for my kids.  We treasure these clothes because of the effort and love that goes into them. Perhaps there are knitters who would knit for you and your family. Maybe you could supply the wool.  If you are crafty like me try learning to knit and you might be surprised how much easier it is once you get started.  

Personally, I want my everyday comfy clothes to be as ethically sourced as possible.  But that doesn’t always have to mean finding a company or brand that is ethically certified. It can be as simple as visiting a few second hand shops or even organising a clothing swap between friends or family.  Why not be part of the change?

Look for ethical brands.

Source quality.

Buy less.

Repair.

Easy homemade bread – packaging free straight from the oven.

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The irresistible finished product.  Hot fresh bread, ‘stretched’ butter and a homemade beeswax wrap, no plastic in sight.

If you are trying to reduce your plastic consumption, then you will have noticed that bread these days is virtually always packaged in plastic with a plastic bread bag tag.  Not only that but it is nothing like homemade bread.   Whenever I can I like to make my own bread.  I don’t own a bread maker, I make it by hand, the old fashioned way, or I use the food processor to start the dough and then finish it by hand.  My Mum used to make bread the old fashioned way through much of my childhood and I vividly recall the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house.  There is something about the smell of freshly baked bread that is irresistible and wholesome. It’s a skill we seem to have lost and I think it is time more of us rediscovered it.

Every time you rush down to the shop to get some bread you use petrol (which we all know is unsustainable) and then you have to dispose of the plastic bags and tags.  The supermarket bread we are familiar with is a relatively new product (the machinery necessary to make it was introduced in 1961). This new bread-making process uses less flour, and is made possible by the addition of various additives that are not used in home baking.  Some people suggest that the process is partially responsible for the increase of gluten and wheat intolerance.  There are less vitamins and minerals in supermarket bread and in general it is widely known that cheap $1 loaves are actually incredibly poor nutritionally.  In today’s day and age, people have less and less time to do things despite technology constantly coming up with labour saving devices.  In reality with a bit of forward planning, and by that I mean don’t start making bread half an hour before you have to take the kids to their swimming lesson, you can actually make your own bread.

I don’t really understand why more people don’t make their own bread.  You don’t need a bread maker to make it easy, because it is simple to make without one.  Many people have said to me that they wish they had time to make bread themselves, as if it is a time consuming, complicated and arduous activity.  My response is always “give it a go, your will be surprised how easy it is”.

So here are my tips and recipe for simple homemade bread.  I plan for it to take roughly an hour and a half from start to finish.

You will need:

  • A loaf tin (if you are making a loaf of bread) or a baking tray if you are going to make bread rolls.  Actually if you don’t have a loaf tin you can just shape it into a loaf shape and bake it on a tray.
  • Baking paper if you are making rolls so they don’t stick to the tray.  Alternatively you can grease the tray with butter and then lightly dust it with flour.
  • Something to mix up the liquid in.  I use a 500ml pyrex jug because it has measurements on the side, but you can use a bowl.
  • A food processor with a dough blade or dough hook, or a large sized mixing bowl.
  • A clear space on your bench for kneading the bread dough.

Ingredients:

  • 3 and 3/4 cups of flour. I usually use mostly white flour but often substitute a cup of plain flour for a cup of wholemeal.
  • half a table spoon of sugar (white or raw)
  • half a tablespoon of salt
  • one rounded tablespoon of Surebake yeast
  • a good sized knob of butter or a tablespoon of oil (olive or sesame oil works well)
  • 100 mls boiling water
  • 200 mls cold water

Preheat your oven to 50°C

Mix together the 200mls of cold water and 100mls boiling water to make warm (blood temperature) water.  Add the 1 tablespoon of surebake yeast, stir together.  Put the knob of butter or table spoon of oil in the water and set aside.

Method One – for using a food processor:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar into the food processor  (fitted with dough blade or dough hook) and pulse briefly to mix a little.

Turn on the food processor and add the yeast mixture giving it a quick stir with a fork first to make sure the yeast is mixed properly and not stuck to the bottom.  After a short time the mixture should form a dough ball.  If the mixture seems dry and after a while is still not really forming a dough ball, add a teaspoon or two of warm water and shift the mixture around a bit with a fork before replacing the lid and turning on again.

Method two – mixing by hand:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl, mix briefly with a wooden spoon.  Make a well in the center of the flour.

Pour the yeast mixture (making sure to give it a stir first) into the well in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon or fork until it gets sticky and the dough starts to form.  When it gets hard to mix with the wooden spoon, turn out onto a floured surface (bench, table top) and form the dough up by hand until it is a firm ball.

Kneading:

Once you have got your dough ball your are ready to knead the bread.  I don’t know what the technique for kneading is supposed to be but I push it around, fold it back onto itself, stretch it out a bit and fold it back down using the heals of my hands.  You need to put some weight behind it, really use your upper body.  I am sure there are youtube videos that will be able to demonstrate techniques if you are uncertain. My recipe books say that you should knead for 7 minutes, but I never knead for that long.  I usually knead vigorously for roughly 4-5 minutes until the dough is silky and springs back when pressed lightly.  Kneading like this is strangely calming and I actually enjoy it.

Once you have finished kneading, the dough needs a short rest period.  Oil a bowl and put the dough in it making sure that the oil covers the surface of the dough to avoid it drying out too much during the rest period.  Then put the bowl in the preheated oven (50°C) and leave it for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes remove the dough from the oven, and turn out onto the bench (it doesn’t need to be floured this time) shape it roughly into a roll that will fit your loaf tin.  Put it into the tin and push down into the corners.  Return the loaf tin and bread dough to the oven (still at 50°C) and leave it for 20-25 minutes or until the dough is starting to rise up above the level of the tin.  At that point raise the temperature of the oven to 180°C and put the timer on for 25 minutes.  After twenty minutes check if it is looking cooked.  It should be a warm deep golden brown when it is done.  When it is cooked it will pull away from the corners and edges of the tin a little bit and it should sound hollow if tapped on the top.

If it isn’t cooked properly put it in for another few minutes.  When it is cooked turn out onto a wire rack.  If the bottom looks a little pale and underdone, put it back in the tin and pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Once you are satisfied it is cooked, leave it to cool on the wire rack and when it is cooled a little get a sharp knife and cut a slice!  Perfect with butter melting over it. Or you could try the ‘stretched butter’ recipe.

If you want to make bread rolls, then following the rest period you will need to divide the dough up into 16 equal sized pieces and shape them into rolls.  Place them on your prepared oven tray so they are spaced out evenly and put into the warm oven to rise at 50°C until doubled in size, I usually wait around 20 mins.  Then raise the oven temperature to 180°C and cook for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

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Homemade oven fresh bread, and a jar of ‘stretched butter’ covered with one of my homemade beeswax wraps.

So there you have it, easy homemade bread with no plastic bags!

This recipe is very forgiving, and it works brilliantly with variations.  Here are some ideas; add a couple of tablespoons of kibbled grains, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds.  Try replacing the butter with a tablespoon of sesame oil and adding sesame seeds.  You can add rolled oats (1/4 cup), and you can substitute a cup of wholemeal flour if you prefer.  Try adding a couple of teaspoons of mixed herbs for a more savory bread.  You can brush the top of the bread with milk and sprinkle cheese, sesame seeds or some rock salt on top.

If you want to make your own pizza bases use the plain white flour and add a teaspoon or two of mixed herbs.  Knead as usual, but omit the rest of the steps.  Instead divide into 3 or 4 equal sized pieces. Roll out on a floured surface until it is 3mm thick and then put onto a floured baking tray, add your toppings and cook each pizza at 250°C or 8 mins or until perfectly cooked.

It’s so easy and rewarding to make your own bread.  I really recommend it.  Best of luck with your bread baking.

DIY alteratives to non-biodegradable wet wipes.

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Homemade wet wipes, all ready to go.  Inexpensive, simple, and easy to make at home.  

 

Wet wipes are widely considered to be essential for any new parent to carry everywhere but most are non-biodegradable, contain plastic fibers, come in plastic packaging, and  can contain various things that can upset a sensitive skin.  Marketed as quick, easy and convenient, wet wipes are a multi million dollar industry that is anything but convenient for our environment.   Did you know that you can make your own?  Quick and super easy to do, here is all you need to know have a go at making your own.  They are inexpensive and you can be certain of what you are putting in.  This latter point is essential if you or your children are like me and suffer from contact allergies and atopic eczema.

Most wet wipes are unable to be flushed down a toilet, and must be disposed of in the rubbish.  I’ve seen them blowing around at the dump, and I have seen them spilling out of rubbish bins in public toilets.  Many people flush them anyway, and then they contribute to the formation of “fatbergs” which block drains and cause headaches for local authorities. While technically “disposable”, in reality discarded wet wipes don’t just magically disappear when they are disposed of.  They persist in sewers, drains and rubbish dumps for far far longer than any of us really want to think about.  Wet wipes are an increasingly serious environmental concern, both here in New Zealand and around the world.  Watercare in Auckland is now spending $1 million a year on removing fatbergs and blockages from the network.  In an article in 2015, The Guardian labelled them the biggest villain of the year.  They are ending up in rivers and waterways and they are making their way into the ocean where they contribute to the growing plastic catastrophe affecting ocean wildlife.  A walk on a beach is increasingly a first hand opportunity to see the effects of our plastic addiction.  For most people, wet wipes are an invisible contributor because once disposed of they are out of sight, out of mind.

A few years ago, as a Mum with two small children, I made my own baby wipes.  At the time finances were tight.  With my daughter I used organic wet wipes for traveling (when I could occasionally afford to get them) or baby sized re-usable cotton washcloths around the home.  When I had my son 2.5 years later, I was given a recipe to make your own wet wipes.  Initially dubious, I gave it a go and was instantly converted.  I used them everywhere and took them everywhere by packing a smaller quantity into a smaller container for the nappy bag.  I never had any problem with them, and it must have saved me a LOT of money over the years I used them. A huge bonus for me was that I could choose what I added to them.  Some brands of wet wipes cause me huge problems with my skin condition.  Making my own completely eliminated this problem.

A few generations ago, wet wipes didn’t exist.  My Grandma didn’t use them for her children or struggle to keep them clean without them.  She managed fine, just like everyone bringing up kids in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  I find a lot of inspiration from thinking about how my grandparents managed without plastic.   So many plastic things are sold to us as essential and necessary, but if they weren’t necessary and indispensable  70 years ago, are they really needed today?

Wet wipes come in plastic packaging which is currently not really possible to recycle, they are made from non-biodegradable materials, they are bad for our environment.  The good news is that despite what the wet wipe companies would like us to think, we can do without them.  You can actually make your own.

Here’s how to make DIY wet wipes.

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First, you will need to get a roll of paper towels.  They will need to be the super heavy duty variety, or they won’t work as well.

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Second, using your chopping board and a sharp knife, cut your roll of paper towels in half.  It doesn’t have to be exact, just use your eye-o-meter.

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Third, in a jug mix 350mls of warm water, a couple of squirts of your body wash or baby wash, and a few drops of oil (I use sweet almond oil).  If you want to you can also add a  few drops of New Zealand Manuka oil.  Manuka oil would be a great option given it’s clinically proven antimicrobial and antiviral properties – a good idea for anything to do with personal hygiene

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Forth, you will need a container with a leak proof lid that is big enough to fit your half roll of paper towels.  Put your half roll into the container.  Yes I have used a plastic container, but I already had it in my cupboard and it is reusable over a long period of time.

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Fifth, pour the water into the middle of the paper towel roll.  Put the lid on and leave for a couple of minutes.  Then tip it upside down and leave for another couple of minutes.

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Sixth, open the container and remove the paper towel roll, find the end and away you go.  Home made wet wipes ready to use.

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If you find that the paper towels are a little bit dry (it depends on what brand you use how much they absorb) just add small amounts of warm water until they are the desired dampness.

Cheap, easy, and effective, and fully biodegradable, they are perfect to replace the expensive shop bought ones.  They work for tiny bottoms, and they are perfect for camping, where handwashing and face washing are a little walk from the campsite.  The only caveat is that in warmer weather they can develop mold if not used fairly quickly.  Please note that in spite of being fully biodegradable they are a thicker grade of paper and still shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet because they can cause problems.  Depending on what they are used for you can just compost them – for example if you are just wiping sticky fingers and messy mouths.

Another tip to replace shop bought wet wipes is to simply get a decent supply of small washcloths or facecloths and use those instead.  This latter idea is particularly effective at home.  I have a large box of baby sized soft cotton washcloths left over from when the kids were babies.  I boil them with a small amount of ecostore soaker every now and again to freshen them up.  I don’t know why people have forgotten about good old fashioned fabric cloths.  They are such a wonderful solution to every kind of sticky kiddie mess and they are fully reusable.  Simply run under the tap, squeeze out and clean up the messy hands, then drop in the washing machine.

Reusable washcloths and homemade wet wipes are another simple way to make a difference.  One more step towards leaving a feather light impact on the environment for future generations.  Why not give it a go and see how easy it is for yourself?