Sunday, 30 December 2012

Gift wrapping: reduce, re-use, recycle ~

The mystery and gaiety of attractively wrapped presents is part of what makes gift giving special and fun.  But when I was ready to wrap my little stock of Christmas presents this year I found that I had almost completely run out of wrapping paper.  I usually keep some to hand, buying nice (reasonably priced) ones when I see them, but the sort I liked seemed no longer to be stocked.  Since I had very little cash I decided that I would have to make do with what I had:

I had a few small scraps, mostly of tissue paper, which I decided would do for the little ones.  The tissue paper had already been used at least once, but was nice enough to look special.  I avoided using cellotape so that it could be used yet again if desired:

The larger gifts were cloth supermarket bags that I had made myself from the good parts of old sheets, and I decided that these could provide their own wrapping, all nicely tied up with my favourite gold curling ribbon.  I gave all these away before I got around to photographing them, so have re-wrapped my own so that you can see the effect:

I hooked back a couple of strands of used ribbon to do it with.  You can see I'm very partial to the gold ribbon!  These gift-wrap ribbons can be quite well flattened and straightened out for re-use.  The ones pictured below have quite a few kinks in them:

A pair of scissors is all I use to straighten it out, but I'm sure you could use a vegetable knife just as well.  This photograph is not all that good: I'm right-handed, and lacking a tripod had to click the shutter while also holding the scissors!

Those of us who are right handed would use the left hand to firmly grasp the left hand tail of the ribbon while drawing the angled side of the scissor blade to our right, passing it along the back of the ribbon.  It makes a satisfying sound.  This is how you make the ribbon curl as well.  A firm hand will create tight corkscrew curls:

I prefer mine looser, as in the image further up the page.  To loosen the curl, pass the scissor blade lightly along the other side of the ribbon. 

Florists bouquets often come with beautiful ribbons, so if I'm choosing flowers myself I'm always fussy about which ribbon the florist uses.  Nice ones can be used again and again.  One of my sisters wrapped her gift to me in used florists cellophane and ribbon.  My guess is that it came from another member of the family before that, so it has well and truly been doing the rounds and we have all enjoyed it very much:

Little draw-string bags also make excellent gift bags and can later be re-used for storing handkerchiefs, delicate scarves and so on:

There are other alternatives of course: these are just some of them!

Having said all that, the best present I've had for a very long time came wrapped in newspaper!  It contained a pair of shears for cutting the edges of the lawn.  I was absolutely delighted as I had been wanting a pair for years.  You don't often come across this sort: these had been purchased second-hand at a market.  They are wonderfully sharp and just zip along - just thinking about them makes me smile:

That thong works just perfectly:

Well, so much for Christmas!  I wish everyone the very best for the coming year.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Tasty red beans and bulgar wheat ~ an easy vegan crowd pleaser

This simple recipe is a firm family favourite, enjoyed by vegetarians and meat eaters alike.  It's delicious hot or cold, can be made ahead of time and doesn't mind standing (nicer actually) and is just as tasty the next day if not more so.  It can also be stored in the freezer.  

Very little effort is required in the making of this dish, although it is important to allow enough time for the seasoning to be fully cooked and absorbed so I allow a half hour minimum for cooking time.  

I make this meal fairly often but had a hard time getting a photo as it usually it gets eaten right away!  This time I photographed it while still in the pan, where it couldn't get whisked away by eager diners!    

  • Bulgar wheat - 3/4 cup
  • Onions - 2 large
  • Garlic - 2 cloves
  • Oil, in which to sauté the onions and garlic 
  • Cumin, ground - 2 teaspoons
  • Green herbs, such as oregano and parsley, if you wish
  • Chilli powder - I usually use about a quarter of a teaspoon, but those with a robust taste for spices may like considerably more!  
  • Soy sauce - 1 Tablespoon
  • Red / kidney beans - One 425 gram tin, or about a cup and a half of beans you have cooked yourself
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Plenty of hot water
Now we come to a set of alternatives: The seasoning in this dish is what makes this dish so delicious: get it right and you have a winner; served with insufficient seasoning and all your work is wasted.  Both options here can be successful and it's really more a matter of what you have in the cupboard rather than anything else.  It's a very flexible recipe: 
Option (1)
  • Tomato paste - 3 Tablespoons
  • Sugar or honey - 1 dessertspoon
  • Water, hot - about half a cup
  • Lemon - juice of one
  • Stir all this up together and let it stand while you do the other cooking
Option (2) This is what I usually use, since I generally have these to hand:
  • Tomato sauce - 2 heaped tablespoons
  • Tomato relish - 2 heaped tablespoons
  • Sweet chilli sauce - some, if I'm feeling adventurous.  
  • Add these directly into the pan after the other things are cooking nicely
  • Place bulgar wheat in a bowl and cover it with boiling water and leave it to soak 
  • Decide whether you want Option 1 or 2 above and get that ready.
  • Chop onions and garlic and sauté them in the oil
  • Add spices, herbs, soy sauce, salt and pepper and allow to cook briefly
  • Add beans and continue to stir over a low heat
  • Add bulgar wheat and water
  • Add other seasoning as per Option 1 or 2
  • Simmer gently, adding further water as necessary.  It does absorb a lot of water, and take care that it doesn't catch on the bottom of your pan or pot.
  • Lastly and importantly: add further seasoning as desired.  It's much the nicest when it has a good strong tang.    
Serve with:
  • Rice or potatoes, or simply with salad or other vegetables.  
  • Non-vegans may enjoy the addition of grated cheese or a spoonful of cottage cheese on the side.  If lots of chilli has been used sour cream or yoghurt might appeal. 
  • For a delicious lunch the next day, try it reheated and piled onto whole grain toast.  I like it with grilled cheese on top!  

    Bulgar wheat, sometimes referred to as burghul wheat, is pre-cooked chopped wheat.  It comes in different grades, from finely to fairly coarsely chopped.  I much prefer the latter, which has a nutty flavour.  It takes longer to cook thoroughly but has a much better flavour.  

    Salutations and thanks to Alison Holst and Simon Holst who originated the recipe from which mine is drawn.  I am sure that their wonderful book, "Meals without meat", will become a classic among those featuring vegetarian cookery.  It certainly is in our family!

    If you enjoy this meal you might also enjoy this one, which is also vegan:
    My other recipes and food articles can be found via the link below:
    For a range of vegetarian and vegan mains dishes set out by protein type you can follow this link:

    Monday, 3 December 2012

    Christmas gifts ~ thrifty, eco-friendly, handmade and personal

    Too often Christmas time is associated with frantic shopping and the expenditure of quite a bit of money, but it needn't be.  Many of us can't afford it anyway.  My own thinking is that Christmas is a religious festival and should be separated out from commerce as far as practicable, so I'm happy to pass on the exchange of gifts almost entirely.  However, there are lots of choices about how we engage with gift giving, at Christmas as well as other times.  Here are some which find favour with me:
    • Reaching out to remember and appreciate friends, relations and associates can be a really nice thing to do.  I like to do this by giving cards and sending letters.
    • Gifts that have been personally created have special value.  
    • Giving through making time to spend with others is an important way of nurturing friendships.
    • Shopping at locally owned and operated businesses, especially small ones, is another way of showing appreciation for the services they provide.
    • Let's be sure to remember the importance of charity, especially at Christmas time: you can give directly by donating money or goods.  Charitable organisations can use these to help those who need it.  Alternatively you can provide support by shopping at charity shops which use the funds raised to provide services. 
    • One of the chief ways that I give is through sharing how and what I think: this finds expression in my writing of these Chronicles, and the time I spend helping people who are important to me, talking things over and working things out.  I have to say I find it puzzling that this form of giving is accorded a very low value by modern society.  However, one's skill and insight demands a degree of expression.
    Others have come up with similar concepts of giving although differently worded:
    I recently came across the concept of the five hands of giving which includes these five ways:
    • Hand made
    • Hand-me-down
    • Second hand 
    • Helping hand - donate
    • Hand-in-hand - spend time together
    This is excellent: personal, thrifty, eco-friendly, and including all that's best about gift giving!

    What I've written here enlarges on these themes:

    The writing of letters and the sending of cards can be special:
    If I receive cards that are beautiful I often leave them up to be admired for months.  I have one on a cabinet in the living room that dates from last Christmas.  Not many write actual letters any more - it's really nice to share this way.  Writing letters takes time and thought and shows  interest and care.

    Below you can see three cards I made in previous years:  
    I chose the photographs from those taken during the year had a number printed, and then mounted them on blank card purchased for that purpose.  It's much less work to buy cards than make your own! 

    All the items in that photo are second hand and three of them were gifts, including the beautiful sideboard, thank you dear Jan!  The other two, the jar and the little box, were second hand bargains.

    If you are going to purchase cards I highly recommend these beauties from 100% New Zealand owned and operated Rata Design.  These are art - and available on-line.  You can click through a see more:
    Here is a selection - anyone would be glad to receive one of these:

    ... or these:

    Shared food:
    Your own cooking and baking is a special way to celebrate festive occasions.

    My recipe for gooseberry shortcake is one I will definitely be repeating - so far there has never been enough of it to satisfy those assembled to eat it! 

    Gooseberry shortcake

    Easy access to all my recipes can be found on this page:
    In particular you might like these ones:
    Other people's food knowledge and skills have been a source of guidance and inspiration over the years, and I think of them as I create my own... 

    Some of them I can never hope to emulate.  One gifted sister (all my sisters are gifted!) created this cake complete with its marzipan icing decorations: 

    Food can be an excellent gift - if you can bear to part with the fruits of your labours.  Some examples of mine are:

    Jam and preserves:
    The recipe for marmalade was handed on to me by my dear friend, Valerie, whom I think of when I enjoy this, which is often - it's so delicious!


    Cordials and other special drinks:
    This recipe was given to me by my sister, many thanks, Rachel!

    Lemon drink

    Vegetables and herbs grown in your own garden: 
    The first potatoes of the season are an especially welcome addition to any festive feast.  The goodness of my own earth-fresh potatoes reminds me of my former landlord, Ken, who showed me how to plant and grow them.  Thanks Ken, that was a wonderful gift!

    More gifts from your garden:
    Flowers from the garden - anyone would be delighted to receive these, as I was a few years ago - still remembered, thank you, Penelope!

    Pot plants or other treasured plants that have been divided can be potted up and shared: 
    This one was given to me by my special friend Ray, some years ago and has since been divided and shared further with a number of people:

    Miniature iris

    Fruit from other people's gardens can also be a very welcome gift:
    Over the last few years my sister, Rachel, has given me a couple of kilos of raspberries purchased at a local berry farm for Christmas.  Scrumptious!

    Things you've made yourself add that special touch that even the most skilful of commercial producers cannot match.
    I've listed all my sewing and craft ideas on the one page for easy reference:
    In recent articles I've written about a number of things I've made myself, which may provide ideas:

    Hats: the one on the left was made from a worn out jersey and the other from some scraps of polar fleece I had left over from sewing something else.

    Shopping bags: I made mine from the good bits of worn out sheets - light and strong!

    Make a beautiful moisturiser:  
    It's easy to make plenty at once, so it's no trouble to make extra to give away to loved ones.  It lasts for ages!  When I get out this recipe I am reminded of my clever and exacting nice, Lucy, who formulated it, thank you Lucy!

    Second hand bargains can delight - and if shopping at charity shops this also supports charitable work in the community:
    When I shop at these places I'm reminded of the generosity of others in donating items, and of the volunteers who staff them. 

    Support local businesses:
    Local markets, as well as shops, can be a great source of all kinds of unexpected goodies!

    Wrapping gifts: there are suggestions about gift wrapping in my article

    Spend time with friends by eating out:
    It needn't be over-the-top costly, and supports your local businesses.

    Make a picnic and share it:
    This sandwich was made with home made bread and was filled with fresh goodies from the garden:

    Share time with loved ones by walking on the beach together:
    This is one of my favourite activities...

    A word about Christmas decorations:
    I usually put up a Christmas tree, although I don't regard it as essential.  It's a plastic one I keep in wraps for the rest of the year.  I have a string of lights and pretty decorations I put on it.  Plastic trees are not good environmentally, and indeed if manufactured before a certain date can be harmful to ones health:
    I comfort myself that the one pictured was purchased at the local Salvation Army store, so was 'pre-loved' and therefore did not end up in the tip, and I have not created further consumer demand for them by purchasing it new.  From memory it cost $3 ! 

    I bought one for another member of the family at the same time, which became a source of amusement both to me and those in the store at the time: I chose the biggest of the half dozen or so that were there, which presented some difficulty in carrying them to the counter, and then of getting them out the door and along the street - everywhere seemed too small for their handling, and bits became detached as we made our way along the street - all part of the fun! 

    Spending time with those I love is way more important, and thinking back over the year in gratitude to them and other absent friends and relations - these are the vital parts. 

    As already stated above, Christmas is a religious festival, and in my view should be separated from commerce as much as practicable.  Ideally these would be best separated entirely, and the exchange of gifts could well be transferred to St Nicholas Day, which is most often celebrated on the 6th December: it is in St Nicholas that we have origin of the modern day Santa Claus or Father Christmas.  Personally I'd rather remember the Saint than engage with 'Santa', but let's not get tangled up with that!

    Be that as it may, Christmas day has become traditionally associated with the exchange of gifts, and if we wish to participate in that it can be low key and much more relaxed and meaningful than a costly scramble around the shops.

    The central message of Christianity, which it has in common with other major religions, is one of love, not only for those who are good to us, but also for the rest of humanity, even when, or arguably most particularly when, it's difficult or seems impossible.  Therefore my Christmas wish is
    If we all have the willingness to live this out it will surely bring 
    And let's begin the New Year by striving for it to continue through all the years ahead.

    I'll leave you with a gentle meditation on these themes.  If it appeals to you, you might like to sit quietly while you dwell on it: 
    As I breathe in, may I be healed
    As I breathe out, may I be loved
    As I breathe in, may I be loving
    As I breathe out, may I be at peace

    When we look after ourselves adequately we can reach out and share peaceably with others.  This, rather than frantically rushing around spending money, is the way forward to a better world.

    Sunday, 2 December 2012

    Paper bags ~ fasten with simple folds

    Here is a photographic demonstration of how to close paper bags with a few simple folds.  This technique has lots of uses, but I use it most often when in the supermarket at the self-serve stand of nuts, seeds, dried beans and suchlike.  I avoid the plastic snap-lock bags provided and instead use the paper bags which are for bagging up mushrooms.  The name and code of the item can be written on the side in the usual way.  This bag contains pumpkin seeds, safely secured by those few simple folds:

    Here is the bag at the start.  It's helpful that it's fairly long, as it gives more than enough room for the necessary folds to be completed:

    Make that first diagonal fold right across the width:

    Now bring the top corner of that diagonal edge towards you and crease it so that its top portion is (more or less) parallel with the left hand side of the bag:

    The top point then tucks under the open edge of the first fold:

    The point of this one is quite long, so it needs to be folded under twice to make it secure:

    And there you are:

    You can also use that little tucked edge to carry it with by hooking your fingertips underneath it, which is a useful way of carrying larger paper bags with other contents.

    So far I have not met any resistance to my usage of mushroom bags from check-out operators.  As I pass them over I explain that I'm using them to avoid plastics, which is the same as what I'm doing in presenting my selection of fruit and vegetables in home made bags...

    ... and providing my own packing crates:

    By using these simple approaches I'm happy to be doing my bit to reduce consumer demand for plastics and the inevitable impact on our environment.  When enough of us do this we will give this trend a much needed boost!

    This article is a companion to two earlier ones which can be found by clicking on the links below:

    Thursday, 29 November 2012

    Fabulous falafels and tasty tabbouleh ~ more vegetarian crowd pleasers

    Falafels are one of those excellent foods that can be enjoyed any time anywhere.  They can be prepared in large batches ahead of time and stored in the freezer all ready to go into the pan at a moments notice.  I find this most useful as when I'm hungry I'm not good at waiting around.  Here's a nice photo to tempt your appetite! 

    They are not in the least difficult to make, but when making them initially it is helpful to plan ahead as the main ingredient, chickpeas, sometimes called garbanzo beans, can take quite some time to cook.  We allow 50 minutes.  The length of time they take may depend on how much they have been dried.

    • Chickpeas, cooked and drained - 4 cups
    • Bread - 2 to 3 slices of wholemeal bread.  Stale bread and crusts are fine.
    • Parsley - pick a large bunch which could fill a cup once chopped
    • Garlic - 4 to 5 cloves
    • Sweet basil - half a dozen leaves if you have it fresh, or a teaspoonful if you are using dried flakes
    • Cumin, powdered - 1 teaspoon
    • Turmeric - 1 teaspoon
    • Baking soda - 1 teaspoon
    • Salt to taste - 1 to 1 and a half teaspoons
    • Pepper to taste 
    • Water - about a quarter of a cup
    • Eggs - 2
    • Two tablespoons of plain flour
    A food processor can be used for making these but is not essential.  
    • Make your breadcrumbs, either in the food processor or with a grater, and put these to one side in a large bowl.
    • Put the cooked and drained chickpeas into the food processor with all the herbs and spices along with about a quarter of a cup of water, and whiz it until it takes on the appearance of crumbs. 
      • If not using a food processor a potato masher works well, but the chickpeas need to be hot and cooked soft for this to work well.
    • Add the chickpea mixture to the breadcrumbs in the bowl.
    • Beat the two eggs.  You can use the food processor for this as well.
    • Mix all these ingredients thoroughly
    • Add the flour, which will help it all hold together.  If the mixture is still too crumbly add more water; if it's too wet, add more breadcrumbs or a little more flour.
    Your felafel mixture should look something like this:

    Forming the mixture into shapes:
    Many recipes suggest rolling it into balls, but this requires that they be deep-fried.  Moulding them into flattish little fritter shapes is fine and although frying still requires that the bottom of the cooking pan be well covered less oil is needed. 

    Rewi likes to use a dessertspoon which he dips into a small bowl of cold water before using it to shape each one.  This makes them easier to handle and reduces stickiness.

    Freezer storage:
    Here is the latest batch on their ice cream container lid nearly ready to be slid onto a plastic snap-lock bag.  They can then be shelved in the freezer.  This make-shift tray inside the bag is a very good storage method, keeping them separate and easy to handle as well as containing the inevitable smell of garlic; when they are needed we can easily see where they are and lift them out without having to excavate for them.

    In the photograph below you can see how I've used this method with frozen vegetable greens, a tip which I shared in my earlier article about packaging:

    Cook now:
    So you'd rather eat them straight away?  Fine!  Fry each side until golden brown, and they are ready!  Standing them on a paper towel can help absorb any extra oil.

    Felafels are traditionally eaten with Tabbouleh, a simple salad made of:
    • Bulgar wheat, or cracked wheat or some similar grain or bean
    • Chopped tomatoes
    • Plenty of finely chopped parsley
    • Finely chopped mint
    • Lemon juice
    • Olive oil
    • Garlic and Onion
    • Salt.
    I'm impatiently waiting for my mint to grow so that I can eat both together!  I will add a more exact recipe once I've achieved that.

    Finally here is a little musical accompaniment of the tabbouleh variety to set your toes tapping after all that food preparation: food should be fun as well as delicious and nourishing!

    It's an anxious time in the East at present, and seeing this humorous video lifted my spirits; it also provides a window into a different angle on eastern culture than we see on the news, so thank you, GoRemy!

    My other food articles can be found via the link below:

    Gooseberry shortcake ~

    It is now the beginning of the gooseberry season, and I have had the great good fortune to be given a bag of this delicious fruit by a friend.  I love them as preserves and jam but decided to celebrate the beginning of the season by searching out a new recipe.  I found one similar to this and adapted it.  It is scrumptious.

    Here it is dusted with icing sugar and ready to serve.

    ~ RECIPE (slightly) REVISED DECEMBER 2014 ~

    I bake the shortcake in a round pie tin which is 20cm / 8 inches in diameterThe recipe fills this sized tin perfectly.  It could also be baked on an oven tray

    The shortcake is a form of short pastry, and very light and delicious:
    • Flour, plain / standard: 225 grams / 8 ounces / 2 cups
    • Butter: 125 grams / 4 ounces
    • Baking powder / 1 teaspoon
    • Egg: 2
    • Sugar: 2 dessert spoons
    This is the filling:
    • Gooseberries, chopped in half: I used approximately 230 grams / 8 ounces.
    • Sugar to toss with chopped gooseberries - I used about half a cup / 125 grams
    • Some fresh, finely chopped mint leaves if you feel inclined - I love mint with gooseberries!
    (Note that this is a fruit-to-sugar ratio of about 2 to 1, whereas the ratio I use for preserves is 3 to 1.)

    The mint is a special ingredient: it makes an excellent combination with gooseberries, drawing out their delicate flavour!

    • Finely chop the mint leaves - if you want to include them
    • In a medium sized bowl combine the mint with the sugar
    • Chop the gooseberries in half and add them to the sugar and mint and toss them
    • Set these aside while you make the pastry, stirring from time to time, which will coat the gooseberries with the sugar and mint.  The sugar is likely to liquify somewhat.
    • Grate the cold butter, put it in a bowl and then put it back in the fridge if the day is warm and it may have softened while being grated.
    • While you have the butter out take a knob of it and grease the pie tin with it. 
    • Set the oven to heat to 200 degrees Celsius
    • Sift flour and baking powder
    • In a separate bowl beat the eggs and add the sugar to them, then continue to beat until they have  thickened and gone creamy.  Keep aside a few tablespoons of it.
    • Combine the chilled butter with the floury mixture.  I use first a knife and fork, then a serated knife.  Pastry dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent it from becoming tough.
    • Add to it the larger amount of the egg and sugar, using firstly a knife or similar and then kneading it very lightly with the fingertips until the pastry adheres to itself and can be rolled out with a rolling pin.  If the dough doesn't seem damp enough add a small amount of cold water.  I may add up to a quarter of a cup if needed.
    • Note that the pastry is much more successful if it starts out a little too damp rather than a little too dry, and you can dust a little additional flour over the pastry as you are working with it to make it just right.
    • Divide the pastry in two halves; if using a tin for baking make one a little larger than the other.
    • Dust with flour the board or bench surface on which you will be rolling it out, keeping perhaps half a cup of flour to one side in a bowl to continue to dust the dough as you roll and turn it so that it doesn't stick to your working surface.
    • Take the larger half of the pastry dough and roll it into a circle large enough to line your tin.  It can be about half an inch thick although I usually make my pastry thinner.
    • Lift it into the baking tin.  You can either make a proper pie case (with sides) or simply cover the base of your tin leaving enough room around the edges so that the top cover can be pressed down into the base
    • Now use the small amount of egg and sugar that you have set aside to brush the inside of the pastry case, including the upper edges where it will meet the pastry used to cover the top.  This will seal in any liquid from the cooking gooseberries so that the base doesn't go soggy.
    • Note that milk brushed onto pastry will also assist edges to join which are pressed together. 
    • Spread onto this pastry case the chopped gooseberries, sugar and mint that have been standing to one side
    • Roll out the second round and place it over the top
    • Press the edges of the two layers together with your finger tips, trimming any excess which can then be made into decorative shapes for the lid.
    • Place these decorations on the lid after dipping them in milk 
    • Brush the lid with milk to enhance the golden colour it will turn when baked - if you feel like it
    • Slash the pastry lid with a sharp knife so that steam can escape
    • Place into your heated oven and cook for at least 30 minutes.  
    Ovens vary considerably so your own judgement will be useful in deciding when your shortcake is fully baked.
    The pastry should be golden and the fruit juicy.  It may be starting to ooze.  The fruit does need to be well cooked.  If it isn't the fruit will have considerably less flavour.
    Tip: if you find that the fruit isn't adequately cooked whereas your pastry is, you can even things up by placing portions of it in the microwave for a brief burst.

    Once cooked to your satisfaction remove your shortcake from the oven and let it stand until it has cooled sufficiently to be able to be lightly handled.  Turn it out onto a serving dish, dust with icing sugar, slice into wedges and serve with whipped cream.

    Turning cakes and pies out of their tins:  
    I use this method for the shortcake:
    • Check that the cake is free from the sides of the tin by carefully running a knife or thin spatula around the inside edge, gently easing it inward as you go.  
    • Next, place a large dinner plate over the top of it; then, holding the tin and the plate firmly together, turn the cake tin upside down.  The cake, pie or shortcake will now be sitting on its head on the plate and hopefully free of the tin which can be then lifted off.  
    • (If the cake doesn't come free from the tin when it is turned upside down, I turn it right way up again and once again use the knife or thin spatula to ease it away from the sides.) 
    • Next, the serving plate is the placed on base of the upside-down cake. 
    • Now, firmly holding both plates which now have the cake sandwiched between them, reverse them once more, lift the plate off the top and there is the cake, the right side up again!  
    I have no idea how other people get their cakes the right way up after removing them from their tins - I've just always done it this way.  Cake racks can be used in place of the plates of course, but not everyone has them.

    My other gooseberry recipes can be found by following the link below:
    To find my other articles about food and working in the kitchen click on the link below:

    Saturday, 17 November 2012

    Packaging gone mad ~ refuse (say No!) reduce re-use & recycle

    Most of our household rubbish is packaging, which I consider to be a crime against nature, and also against our intelligence.  We can do much better than this.  Why do we have so much packaging, especially, why do we have so much PLASTIC packaging?  Not only is much of it unnecessary and but also the continuing use of so much plastic is completely mad: it places an unacceptable burden on our environment and ultimately on us, the consumers who occupy that environment.  Let's be clear about this: any separation of ourselves and our environment is artificial - we do in fact occupy it.  Do we want to live in a rubbish dump?  No?  Well then, we need to take responsibility for it!

    Part of the answer is to say No (thank you) to packaging in the first instance where possible, and also to recognise the potential for re-use in some of it, and so reduce at least in part our society's rampant consumption of packaging products, which is what I outline here.

    The proliferation of packaging, especially the plastic variety, is a fairly recent phenomena, as can be seen in this photograph taken in the 1960s - not a shred of plastic is in sight:

    At that time our milk was delivered to the gate in glass bottles - which were collected on a daily basis and re-used, and as school children we collected the aluminium tops for school fund-raising projects.  Our bread, which was also delivered to the gate, wasn't wrapped at all.  This photograph shows how true this was!  Our milkman resented the placement of the delivery box which was a short distance up the drive and the row of bottles reflected his feelings most eloquently! 

    In recent months I've attempted to rid my shopping of plastics and to reduce the amount of packaging accumulated.  Refusing plastic shopping bags has been one tactic, and it's a start, but I've become uncomfortably aware that plastic packaging and / or components are present in very nearly all consumer goods and with food items in particular.  Next time you go shopping you might like to count the number of items which are not packed in plastic and are entirely plastic-free.  My own tally is woefully small.

    Packaging is big business, and storage containers are part of that.  For the storage of food my own preference is for glass, stainless steel and china / ceramics, which can be relied on to pose no threat to our health.  The environmental hazard of plastics is huge, and I'm sure that in the future it will be seen to have compromised our health as well, possibly for generations to come.  However, since we do have so much plastic, most of which we get whether we like it or not, it makes sense re-use those containers where they fit the purpose well. 

    I re-use everything I can until it really is completely useless, so while I abhor plastic packaging some of the good quality sort can be very useful.  Sometimes I even buy such things second hand:

    I can pick up six of these plastic ice cream containers for $2 at a corner store which sells it by the scoop in cones.  These 5 litre containers are the standard size for shop display cabinets.  They are useful for all kinds of things.  We bake all our own bread so they are useful for the large amount of flour that we like to have to hand.  The lids fit well which makes them good for food storage:

    Space in our pantry is very limited so they also make good storage containers for various foods in smallish packets or bags which would otherwise take up valuable shelf space.  Spot the leopard-print shelf liner!  Not my choice but it makes me smile!

    We have even used them for rising the bread dough (on occasions when we are rising it more than once).  They are relatively airtight, which saves the dough from draughts, and don't transmit cold in the way glass, metal and china do, and are just the right size to take dough for two loaves each.

    I use the lids like trays for easy food storage in the freezer. 
    These slide into snap-lock bags which seal them nicely.  In the photo below these greens have been lightly steamed and placed in portions onto the lid in before the whole thing is put into the freezer.  Portions can later be added directly to stews, curries, or to a steamer to eat as is.

    Plastic snap-lock bags can be washed with the washing up, rinsed, and pegged out to dry on the clothes line.  With a little care and effort they can be re-used many times.  In my opinion they should be safe for food storage as long as they are discarded before getting visibly worn.

    Those empty flour and sugar bags can be put to good use:
    Five kilo bags of flour and three kilo bags of sugar are commonly packed in sturdy, double-thickness paper bags.  Fold the top back and you have an excellent rubbish bag for your kitchen waste, or for the storage for your potatoes once they are dug.  The crumpled newsprint in this one was put there was on its way to the compost heap.  It was later torn up, soaked in water and added to the compost heap where it rotted down along with garden rubbish.

    Old newspapers or newsprint and even advertising brochures can be used to make handy containers
    I've given details of how to fold these shapes in an earlier article:

    Walnut shells make good fire kindling and can go on to the fire in this:

    A little box for clipped sewing threads and shreds of material can be a useful thing to have on the table when sewing:

    A used lunch wrapper can be used to make a little packet for left over scraps:

    Oh those glass jars:  
    Do think carefully before you throw these out!  If they have pop-top lids they can be re-used many times for jam and preserves.  I've written about how to do this in my popular article

    Pop-tops have a distinctive little dome or button in the centre of the lid which looks like this:

    Even those jars which don't have pop-top lids can be re-used for other sorts of storage.  Your local charity shop may take them so if you can't find a use for them yourself, consider giving these people a call.  Beyond that, at least glass is fully recyclable, and will be taken by bottle banks or the local recycling collection.  In places where these services are provided there is NO EXCUSE for tossing them into rubbish collections destined for land-fills.

    Many plastics as well as metals and papers can now be recycled, which is good, but do bear in mind that recycling itself is energy intensive, both in transportation and in re-manufacturing.  The small steps outlined above go some way to mitigating waste and unnecessary energy consumption.  

    This article is a companion to the previous one:
    Related news article on the Stuff website:
    My other articles about housekeeping and shopping can be found by clicking on the link below: