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: