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?