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?

Make your Christmas a cracker! – DIY Christmas crackers.

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Everything you need to make your own Christmas crackers.  Wrapping paper (from last year), re-purposed toilet rolls, TradeAid Christmas string, chocolate treats, little magnetic bookmarks and embroidery thread as gifts, cracker snaps, and finally handwritten jokes and quotes.

It’s Christmas time again.  Another year is growing old.  School has finished for my kids and they are tired and ready for the summer holiday.  If only the weather would dry out and feel a bit more festive.  Last year I wrote a blog about ethical ideas for Christmas.  This year I thought I would encourage people to get creative and try ditching the bought crackers full of cheap plastic trinkets.  Let’s be honest, the rubbish in commercial crackers is almost immediately forgotten. The plastic trinkets end up in the rubbish sack when the dinner table is cleared after Christmas dinner, or a few days later they go up the vacuum cleaner.  If you really want them, why not make them?  Or get your kids to make them for you.  It is actually really easy.

It is so easy to consume things we don’t really need.  We are told that buying will make us happy, but actually love makes us happy, love is what makes us feel safe and secure.  Love is something you can’t buy.  My husband was recently in California again for work.  He was saddened to see signs everywhere saying things like “give a toy, give joy” and “Toys bring happiness”.  Those billboards couldn’t be more wrong if they tried.  Toy’s and things don’t bring happiness, LOVE brings happiness and joy.  Sacrificial love, not love of things.  Christmas is really about love, and it always has been.  The first Christmas in a stable long ago was about love.  It is time to reconnect a bit with the real reason for the season.  It is hard to that when it’s all been so commercialised.

If we truly care for the environment then we will think carefully about what we choose to buy even at Christmas.  Cheap crackers with rubbish inside that are instantly thrown away are not something that the planet needs.  In light of this our family hasn’t bought crackers for years.  Some years we haven’t had any at all – and I promise you Christmas wasn’t ruined because they were missing.  Some years I have made them, and the response is worth the effort.  People really enjoy something when they can see the effort and love you put into it.

If you or your kids are looking for a little extra something to do in the last few days before Christmas, why not give it a go.  You can even do it without snaps.

First, save a few toilet rolls.

Second; google some actually funny jokes and write them on slips of paper.  Or if you prefer, search up some inspiring quotes to help get people motivated for the coming year.  You could even personalise it further and write a nice little note to the recipient about what makes them special in your eyes.

Third; find some nice little treats small enough to fit inside a toilet roll, chocolate coins, minties, fruit bursts, liquor chocolates etc.

If you are keen on little presents then find or make a little gift for each cracker.  Usually I have chosen little Christmas decorations or small cookie cutters etc.  Other ideas are pencil sharpeners, or home baking.

Forth; if you want crackers that crack, then you will need to find the snaps.  I got mine from Pete’s Emporium in Petone, but I have seen them for sale in all sorts of places and if you are desperate a google search should help you to locate them.

Fifth; get wrapping – use reused Christmas wrap from last year or make your own from large pieces of paper. Or if you are brave newspaper! Use salvaged ribbon to tie the ends.

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The finished cracker!  Looks better than a bought one and it is made with love, it couldn’t be better.

Bingo – your Christmas crackers are done.  It can be fiddly but it is fun and actually it doesn’t take too long.  If you turn the TV off for an hour one evening you can easily make them with the family helping around the table.  You can even personalise them so everyone gets something they actually want!

I don’t know why crackers are only ever seen at Christmas…. why not make them for a family birthday to add some fun to the birthday dinner table, or New Year even?  The possibilities are endless.

That first Christmas 2000 years ago was about love, but it was also about family, and relationships.  Those are things that you can’t buy either.  It is so easy to get caught up in the commercialisation and to feel pressured to spend and buy.  But for us, our experience has always been that the best Christmas’ are nothing to do with what you get given, the best ones are always about being with others and showing them that you love them.

Excessive business and rushing in our lives and societies seems to drive us to consume more stuff.  When you consciously step back from that business and choose to slow down a bit, it seems like you have more time to think about what you really need, what other people need and perhaps most importantly, what the environment really needs.

Recycled paper, ribbon, and re-purposed toilet rolls.  Small treats, home baking and hand-written jokes, it really is worth the effort and it isn’t bad for the environment or your wallet.  It is one small way to show your family that you love them, and to care for the planet at the same time.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone.

Plastic free razzle dazzle – DIY eco-glitter

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DIY eco-glitter that you can make at home.  It’s biodegradable, compostable, and easy.  Clockwise from top: dyed cous cous, dyed eggshells prior to crushing, eggshell glitter, beautiful coloured rice.  Center: dyed penne pasta.

Over the time I have been writing this blog, one of the themes that has emerged is a strong desire to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that we use. I want to become more sustainable, taking care of the world I live in leaving a ‘feather light” footprint on the Earth.  That whole concept – to leave a feather light footprint – is so much harder to achieve than it looks in popular glossy magazine articles.  Hard, but I firmly believe that it is achievable – one step at a time.  Today’s step towards a more sustainable future involves mircoplastic.  In particular, craft glitter (but body glitter and make up glitters are equally problematic).

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.  There are two ways microplastics are formed.  Firstly, they can be formed from the breakdown of larger plastic debris in the environment. Secondly, they can be pre-made, such as the microbeads that were in common consumer products such as toothpaste and facial scrubs before they were banned in 2018 in New Zealand.

The term microplastic is commonly associated with the microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries. Of course there is more than one type of microplastic causing problems.  Fibres from synthetic fabrics can get into the water from our washing machines, other types of plastic break down into micro-plastics once they are discarded.  We saw this first hand when our family visited Mana Island earlier this year.  We participated in a beach clean-up where we were astonished at the amount of plastic that you could pick up in one hour, but we were also dismayed to find fragile pieces of plastic that broke into ever smaller fragments at the lightest touch.  This is a problem we are going to have to grapple with here in New Zealand too, because microplastics are being found around our coasts.

This is not just an environmental problem but also a health problem for us because these microplastics make their way into soils and waterways and from there into the ocean and ultimately into the food chain.  Microplastic has now been found in humans for the first time.   I don’t know about you but this causes me a lot of concern.

Did you know that glitter is actually plastic?  Yep that’s right, that wonderful craft item we all take for granted.  A must-have item in any home with kids and found everywhere at Christmas.  Once you know that glitter is plastic it is alarming when you consider how it is used at kindergartens, playcentres, day care, or schools.   Kids (and adults) throw this stuff around at every opportunity.  It gets into hair (and eyes), stuck to skin, all over tables, chairs, and floors where it leaves a sparkly evidence of the activity you have just been doing.  After the glitter is finished with, the tables get wiped down with a wet cloth that is rinsed in the sink and the glitter on the floor gets walked inside and outside (and everywhere in between) until it is vacuumed or mopped up.

It’s a similar story at home.  My kids love art and craft.  All three of them have been art and craft crazy since they were tiny.  We’ve had our share of glitter and I have dealt with a fair number of unexpected glitter bombs!  The most memorable glitter bomb occurred when I came back after a quick trip to the toilet to find my toddler had managed to spread glitter all over himself, the chair, the table, the floor, the window sill, and the kitchen bench behind him where it was adorning the loaf of freshly baked bread that was cooling on the bench.  There were glittery footprints all around the kitchen and lounge. When he moved he appeared to be enveloped in a sparkling cloud, and he looked like a tiny Elton John.  It was interesting trying to clean up after that.

A couple of years ago, I realised that glitter is, in fact, almost always plastic and therefore non-biodegradable.  We haven’t bought any new glitter since.  Having discovered the truth about glitter I was then confronted with what to use as an alternative.  I had to come up with something to provide the razzle, dazzle, glitz and glam to the endless array of craft productions in our house.  To begin with, I steered my kids into environmentally friendly (and cheaper) alternatives.  We picked up acorn shells, autumn leaves, feathers, and even sand.  We used flower petals too.  We had a lot of fun, but it isn’t quite the same as glitter.

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Gorgeous eggshell eco-glitter before and after crushing.  Want finer glitter?  Just smack it harder!

What did people use before glitter?  I pondered this question for a while and then asked my mum who trained to be a kindy teacher in the 1950’s, “what on earth did you do before there was glitter?”   Back then glitter was really expensive and was usually made from powdered glass. She suggested using dyed crushed up eggshells.  Brilliant!  I tried it, the kids loved it, and they could also be involved in the manufacturing process from beginning to end.  We saved eggshells for weeks, and then we washed and dried them.  I boiled water, added food colouring and a teaspoon of white vinegar (to set the colour) and added eggshells.  I left them to sit in the hot dye till they looked nice and bright.  Then we took them out and left them to dry in the sun on a paper towel.  Magic! Bright and vibrant, the kids were instantly attracted to them.  Once they had dried, the kids had a fabulous time crushing them up in their fingers on a tray.  The end result was as fine or as coarse as you want to make it.  The kids used it instead of glitter without any complaints.  To my eyes it actually made for brighter pictures because glitter can appear dark if the light isn’t catching it but the coloured eggshells look bright from every angle.

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Penne for your thoughts…… is this bright enough for you?

Another technique is to dye rice, different shaped pasta, or couscous using hand sanitiser instead of water.  This process is interesting because there are so many pasta shapes out there.  You can even get alphabet pasta and dye that.

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Glitterbugs beware, coloured cou cous is very hard to resist.

I wanted to see how successful dying pasta and rice would actually be, and so I set about dying small amounts of rice and pasta using hand sanitizer and food colouring.  The results were lovely and bright.  I left the coloured rice and pasta on plates to dry overnight.  Next morning I showed my efforts to my 5 and a half year old son and 8 year old daughter as they ate breakfast.  I asked what they thought of it and they were very impressed.  So much so that I later caught my little boy setting up for a full-on craft extravaganza at the table with paper, glue, and glitter alternatives all set out ready for action.  He was super keen to get started, before I had even had a chance to photograph the glitter alternatives for this blog post!  I think that is an indication of how bright and enticing the finished product is.  All three of my kids are really keen on these alternatives to craft glitter.  It has all been a huge success.  The whole process is great, from preparing them to using them, and it is a learning experience as well.

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Fabulous vividly coloured rice is so tempting to creative little artists. So simple to make and fully biodegradable in your household compost heap.

Here in New Zealand we have a word – Kaitiaki.  It means guardians.  That is how we should all see ourselves, as guardians of our land and the creatures we share it with. Today I showed my kids that we don’t need plastic glitter.  It is just one step, but it is a step in the right direction.  Why not give it a try.  Kick the glitter habit and try plastic free craft fun.

Grandma’s tips to save the world!

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Wholesome plastic free goodness!  The cheese dish my grandparents used every day to store their cheese and a preserving jar full of ‘stretched’ butter,  served on the folding tray that Grandpa made.

Our family is on a bit of a journey to try and make more environmentally friendly and socially responsible choices.  One of the big things we are trying to do is to reduce our plastic consumption.  These days plastic is absolutely everywhere. I think we have all got so used to plastic that we are blinded to how much of it there is.  Seventy or eighty years ago things were very different.  My Grandma brought up her family in the 1940’s and 50’s.  Mum remembers when her father brought home their first plastic cups.  He threw them all on the kitchen floor to see what reaction he would get when they bounced instead of shattered.  Plastic was ‘new-fangled’ and Grandma didn’t have much of it, yet she managed just fine without the plastic we have become accustomed to.  So what were her tricks?

Tips from my Grandma’s kitchen!

Use a container.  Grandma had tins and jars.  A container and a lid removes the need for cling film or zip lock bags.  Choose to reuse a yogurt container and lid or ice-cream container rather than put them out straight away with the recycling.  Label with a vivid!  Or use a glass jar with a screw on lid.

Put a plate over the top of a bowl, or use two plates.  Put food on one plate and cover with another, brilliant!  Food stored this way is stackable.

You can use a tea towel or a piece of fabric and a large rubber band.  Fabric used in this way can be washed and reused.  Food covered this way breathes so you don’t end up with damp or slimy food.  Cheese used to go hard when stored this way (but remained usable), nowadays cheese in plastic goes slimy or mouldy.

Cellophane, a rubber band and a jam jar works well too.  In fact at craft fairs you can find homemade jams and chutneys with cellophane lids that are airtight!

Grandma didn’t have plastic straws around the house. Instead, occasionally as a treat they had waxed paper straws.  My mum remembers these from when she was a little girl.  They were seen as a treat.  We now have a supply of paper straws in our kitchen.  A more recent alternative to paper straws is re-usable metal straws. We have a few of these and we love them.

Lunch paper can be used to wrap sandwiches.  Grandma used grease-proof paper to wrap sandwiches. My Mum wrapped my school lunches with lunch paper.  It worked fine then and it’s still fine now.  Used lunch paper can go in the backyard compost heap at the end of its life.

My Grandparents had a large vegetable garden and grew a lot of their own fruit. I don’t know if it fed them completely or if they had to supplement it but it was just how people did things back then.  Vegetables and fruit these days often come pre-packaged with moulded plastic trays and plastic bags, or even shrink wrap.  If you grow your own vegetables and fruit, then they don’t come in plastic packaging. Just pick fresh from the garden. Not everyone has the room for a vegetable garden (we certainly don’t), but you would be surprised how much you can grow in fish bins and pots.

In Grandma’s day they didn’t use plastic bin liners.  In our house we have abandoned bin liners altogether.  Every couple of weeks, we simply wash the bins out with hot soapy water.  If you can’t face life without a bin liner, then choose eco-brands that are compostable.

There were no plastic supermarket bags in grandma’s day.  Baskets, paper bags and reusable bags must have been the norm.  Most people are catching on to reusable carry bags, and increasingly you can get re-usable produce and bulk bin bags.  I have a little collection and very rarely need to use the plastic bags supplied in the supermarket.

Dish brushes and cleaning clothes weren’t made from plastic in Grandma’s kitchen in the 1940’s.  In a previous blog I talked about using alternatives to plastic dish brushes.  This is a surprisingly easy switch to make.

Think mindfully about food.  In my Grandma’s day, she didn’t have a fridge.  Instead she had a food safe to keep food cool and protected from flies.  I suspect that she was more aware of how fast food would perish and used food quickly before it began to spoil.  She made smaller amounts of food so she didn’t have to worry about storing the left overs.  This is a great way to reduce food waste.

Try ‘stretching’ butter.  My Grandma brought up her family during WW2 and wartime rationing.  She never bought spreadable butter in a plastic container.  I have now stopped buying margarine or spreadable butter products because they come in plastic.  A wonderful friend of mine gave me a WW2 era recipe for ‘stretching’ butter while rationing was still in place.  So simple and effective, I wish I had known about this earlier.  Here is the recipe to make 500g of butter into 1kg of stretched butter.

You need: 500g of butter at room temperature, 1 cup cooking oil (whatever type you prefer), and one cup water.

Simple whiz up the butter in a food processor (or with a hand held mixer), till whitish and pale, then add the oil and water half a cup at a time and mix until blended.  Scrape it into a container with a lid and pop it in the fridge.  If you want to stretch the butter further you can add 1.5 cups of water and 1.5 cups of oil.  I prefer the mixture to be slightly firmer and not to melt quickly so I use less oil and water.  I was told that this ‘stretched’ butter is fine for baking but I haven’t actually tried it.  However it does taste great on freshly baked bread, and you never need to deal with a greasy plastic container again!

There are other things you can do too.

You can try to avoid convenience foods.  This is hard to do and believe me I still struggle with this one.  But more and more I am considering my purchases and choosing to avoid buying things that come in disposable plastic packaging.  Or better still try making your own convenience foods; muffins, crackers, bread or biscuits taste better if they are home made.

Tinfoil can be used in almost exactly the same way as cling film AND it can be recycled!  One person I have spoken too prefers cling film because she can see what’s in a container.  An easy way around that issue is to have a permanent marker and simply write on the tinfoil. While it is energy intensive to manufacture it is reusable (if you take care of it) and recyclable.  Used tinfoil isn’t clogging up our oceans.

Beeswax wraps might not have been around in the 1940’s but they are an option these days.  They’ve become increasingly popular in the last few years. Check out my blog on these nifty alternatives to cling film.

My Grandma and Grandpa didn’t buy anything they didn’t need, and they didn’t throw out anything they could use.  They grew up in the depression and lived through WW2, times were tough.  They saved string to reuse, they saved wrapping paper to reuse, and Grandpa apparently straightened old nails to reuse.  I think my grandparents would be stunned to see how people take plastic for granted.  Thinking about Grandma’s kitchen I can’t work out why we even need it.  If she could manage to bring up a family without plastic during a war, I am certain I can do it today. Challenge yourself to make a few small changes and you will be surprised how easy it is.

Get SUST with beeswax wraps! Ditch cling film and change the world!

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Cling film annihilation kit ready for action.

Cling film has been a staple feature of just about every kitchen for years.  It’s so quick, so convenient, so useful, so effective.  What would we do without it?  A hundred years ago in my great grandma’s kitchen they had never heard of it and it would be years before it arrived to make life in the kitchen easier.   My great grandma managed just fine without it so why can’t I?  Challenged by this fact I finally abandoned cling film (Glad Wrap) in my kitchen about a year ago.  There are so many alternatives, that replacing it was surprisingly easy.  Most recently I tried and liked some beeswax wraps, so I decided to try making my own.  So here is one way to replace cling film and all you need to know to make your own beeswax wraps.

I researched the history of cling film and was startled to discover it was invented back in the 1930’s. But I don’t think it arrived in household kitchens till the 1950’s.   Sadly our concern about it is a much more recent thing.  As a result the environment and the animals we share this planet with are drowning in an accumulation of forgotten plastic, including cling film.

Cling film is one of those things you use, throw away and never think about again.  What happens when it’s finished with?  It is often seen blowing around school playgrounds.  I’ve fished it out of the Hutt River and I picked up shreds of it on a beach in the Coromandel this year.  Last time I visited the rubbish dump I saw it caught in the bushes lining the road to the dump.  I’ve read about how it has been found in the stomach contents of dead albatross chicks and how sea turtles think it is jelly fish.   Adult sea birds often mistake floating plastic for fish and they feed it to their chicks not realising that it isn’t fish.  A tummy full of fish helps a chick to grow, but a tummy full of plastic is a death warrant.  We are hearing much more these days about the problems associated with single use plastic and how devastating it is for our oceans.  I read with increasing alarm and shame that we are heading for a future where there will be will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

There are many ways to replace single use plastics in your kitchen. I’ll be looking at this more in my next blog post.

Make your own beeswax wraps!                      

Beeswax wraps.  These have become increasingly popular in the last few years, but according to good old google, people have been waxing fabric since ancient times.  The benefit of beeswax wraps are that they are made from simple “good” ingredients.  These nifty wraps mimic most of the properties of cling film and are compostable.  Even better, an old beeswax wrap can be cut into strips and made into fire starters (you can even buy wrap off-cuts for this purpose).

Because I was trying to find alternatives to single use plastic, I was very curious to give them a whirl.  Last October I decided to get a couple of small Munch beeswax wraps and see what I thought of them.  I was pleasantly surprised.  They smell wonderful, and they really do seem to work well.  Unfortunately they are expensive (at least initially) and I wasn’t able to afford any larger ones.  I had some difficulty getting them to stay properly on the cut end of a cucumber, but a rubber band sorted that out.  They stay on most bowls alright.  Sometimes they need to be pressed on again with warm hands after a day or so.  I’ve had no problems washing them, and they make a packed lunch a visual treat!

I really wanted to get a couple of larger ones since we often need to cover larger containers but the expense put me off.  Then I discovered Pure Nature.

This amazing company sells everything you need (except the fabric) to make your own.  This is where I purchased the beeswax, pine rosin, and jojoba oil to make mine.  It’s pretty good value since I will get another 4 batches of wraps out of the bag of pine rosin, and another two batches of wraps out of the bottle of jojoba oil. The 100gms of beeswax was used up on one batch of wraps.  Making my own was a cheaper option for me than buying ready-made wraps.  I ended up with 5 large (30x30cm), 2 medium (20x20cm), and 2 small (15x15cm) sized wraps.  I love being creative so making my own was great fun, and really simple.

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Cutting the fabric to size.

Here’s how to make your own.

You’ll need to get some cotton fabric or dig into your fabric stash if you have one.  Natural fabrics (cotton or hemp) are best (but not wool).  I pre-washed my fabric and then cut to size with pinking shears.

You’ll need an old pot and an old bowl (to use as a double boiler), tin foil, a paint brush (a thicker one so you can brush the mixture on quickly), and a set of scales.

Ingredients: 20g pine rosin, 3 tablespoons jojoba oil, and 100g beeswax.  Jojoba oil is used for its anti-microbial properties.  Pine rosin is used to achieve a slightly tacky texture and helps the wrap to more closely mimic the properties of cling film.

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Wrap making in action.  Brushing the mixture on with a brush.
  1. Cut fabric to size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
  3. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the pine rosin.
  4. Put beeswax, crushed rosin and jojoba oil in the bowl.
  5. Melt together over double boiler. Stir to mix.
  6. Put a sheet of tin foil on a baking tray and lay a fabric square on it.
  7. Brush beeswax onto the fabric quickly, making sure to cover evenly and try to avoid pools. It will start to set very quickly.
  8. Place tray in oven for 3 minutes to allow the fabric to absorb the beeswax.
  9. Remove and check that there are no bare spots and that the wax is evenly distributed.
  10. Hang to dry.
  11. Start using.
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The finished product!  Nine new beeswax wraps.

Wash with cool soapy water and hang to dry.  Avoid heat, and don’t use to wrap raw meats or fish.

Simple and fun.

The question I keep asking myself regarding single use plastic like cling film is whether I really need it. Is a moment of perceived convenience worth the cost to our environment and the animals that share it with us?  We throw it away when we finish with it, but where is away?  As David Attenborough says “There is no ‘away’ because plastic is so permanent and indestructible.  When you cast it in the ocean…it does not go away”.  It doesn’t go ‘away’ when it ends up in the landfill either.  I feel the weight of that plastic like a burden.  But each time I use one beeswax wrap I know I am making a small but significant difference, and it is worth it for my children’s future.

Get more mileage out of your jandals with a soldering iron!

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Repaired jandal after successfully discovering the art of jandal soldering!

Kiwis love their jandals.  It wouldn’t be summer without them. Everyone knows the classic Kiwi BBQ;  beer, cricket and jandals. What trip to the beach would be complete without a pair of jandals?  The only footwear for summer!  Us kiwis love our jandals so much that some die-hard fans will wear them everywhere, even tramping through the Himalayas (true story).  Every jandal lover dreads the day the jandal finally gives its last gasp.

With all jandals comes the inevitable frustration when they unexpectedly wear out.  We have all heard of the bread bag tag hack to stop the knobby bit pulling through the sole after a ‘blow out’.  A brilliant bit of ingenuity.  But what happens when the knob comes off altogether?  It’s always been the end of the jandal.  No bread bag tag can fix that!  Almost invariably the break happens at the most inconvenient moment.  You know what I mean, in the middle of the road causing an embarrassing stumble or halfway through a game of backyard cricket causing you to miss an easy catch. The last time it happened to me I was halfway through the walk to school on a baking hot afternoon to collect my kids!

In January we had to buy a new pair of jandals for Miss 14 after the knobby bit parted company with the rest of her jandal strap in Taihape at the start of our summer holiday. We hurriedly searched out a new pair and she was happy again.  A fortnight ago the knobby bit came adrift during an energetic game of poison pole at Youth Group.  Not only was she infuriated to lose the game (she’s very competitive), she was pretty disappointed as the new jandal had lasted barely a month and it wasn’t a budget brand either.

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One broken jandal looking sorry for itself before jandal soldering was attempted.

My husband had watched vinyl layers at work welding the vinyl seams in a hospital fit out.  He got to thinking about the problem.  He got a bee in his bonnet that there must be a way to fix the jandals.  So after some thought he decided to try welding the knobby bit back on to the broken strap with a soldering iron.

First he made sure it was clean and dry with no dirt or sand adhering to the broken surfaces.

Then he simply made sure the soldering iron was hot enough to melt the strap, and carefully melted both bits at the same time before pressing the pieces together and holding till the repair cooled.

After a bit of wrestling to get the newly reattached knobby bit back through the hole in the sole, hey presto! One fixed jandal ready to go again.  He actually repaired both pairs of Miss 14’s jandals so now she has two trusty pairs of jandals again.

More than a week later the repairs seem to be doing just fine.  It looks like they have plenty of flip flop life in them.

Everywhere you go these days you hear the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle.  There is one thing missing from that list and it is an important one.  Repair.  Repairing broken things is something we have forgotten about in today’s consumer society.  If something breaks you are encouraged to just throw it away and go and enjoy some retail therapy as you buy another one.  In order to be truly sustainable, repairing and fixing is a skill we all need to rediscover.

Of course eventually every jandal will bite the dust permanently and no amount of repair with a bread bag tag or a soldering iron will restore it to its former glory.  When that day finally comes, I’ve found an awesome brand to try out.

Subs is a flip-flop company from New Zealand. Their aim is to prevent and reduce plastic waste by transforming it into high-performance, recycled plastic flip-flops. At the end of their life they can be recycled into new pairs of Subs.

Subs are made of recycled plastic sourced from beach clean-ups & recycling, and they pledge to remove ½ a kg of debris from our ocean ecosystems for every pair sold.

We are just waiting until someone’s jandals finally can’t be fixed so we can try them out and see what they are like.  Seems like it might be a long wait now we have discovered the art of jandal soldering!

Until then, in our house the mantra is “reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair”!

How to keep your other half happy! Bottle cutting and Karma Cola.

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Before and after up-cycling!

In line with our families desire to step away from consumerism and pointless plastic clutter, we have been looking for ways to up-cycle things.  For some time we have admired various up-cycled bottle ideas.  So with that in mind I got my wonderful husband a glass bottle cutter  off Amazon.  This amazing gadget allows you to cut a glass bottle and turn it into a drinking glass or other interesting knick-knacks.

I don’t know how many other people out there sometimes struggle to get their other halves Christmas or birthday presents.  I can’t be alone.  I’ve heard the stories.  I am lucky to be married to a multi-talented amazing man, who has eclectic and varied interests and often expensive tastes.  He is usually pretty specific about the things he likes and doesn’t like.  He doesn’t like leather slippers for example (I didn’t give him those), he does like expensive woodworking tools (I can’t afford to buy him those).  Every year I field a range of phone calls from people wanting to know what they should get him for Christmas.   Occasionally I do hit the nail on the head.  Last Christmas was one of those times.  I got it right!

For a variety of reasons drinking glasses have a rather short life in our house.  We must be a fumble fingered family, but every month or so another one bites the dust around here.  Cheap Warehouse style drinking glasses last us about a week a glass (no joking).  I have been reduced to eating a specific brand of chocolate hazelnut spread each time a glass was broken because it comes in a glass jar that then works perfectly as a drinking glass.  I assure you that I don’t break drinking glasses on purpose to justify buying the spread…..I would never do that!

In all seriousness, although it tastes SOOOOO good, I am aware hazelnut spread isn’t good for me, and I am also aware that most brands of the stuff contain the dreaded ingredient palm oil.  I am happy to switch to something more sustainable and better for my health.  And thus the bottle cutter looked like a good idea.  We have already switched to avoiding plastic bottles where possible in favour of glass.  Now we can save cool and quirky glass bottles and up-cycle them into drinking glasses. And that is exactly what my husband has been doing.

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We saved a couple of karma cola bottles and he has now turned them into drinking glasses (still with their stickers on).  They look awesome.  My husband has been happily cutting bottles and grinding and sanding the tops to make them smooth.

Karma cola is an amazing company with a social conscience.  They are Fairtrade, and organic, and now their bottles are getting a new life as drinking glasses.  Karma Cola operate principally to benefit the people who grow the cola nuts they use to make their drinks.  It takes social responsibility seriously.  The Karma Cola Foundation has enabled the building of a bridge (for safe transportation), provided scholarships for young children to attend school, supports teachers, built rice processing plants and much more (read more on their website). Karma Cola aims to make sure that the people who grow the cola get something back from the people (like us) who drink it. I love drinking something that does so much good and tastes fantastic too.

So I get to drink Karma Cola, I have a happy husband busy in his man cave being creative, and a new set of glasses in the cupboard!  It’s all win win and loads of fun to boot.  Who would have thought that a dinky little glass cutter would have been such a great idea?