Archive for May, 2008

Extremely frugal with food. Don’t like meringues.

I have, to the surprise of everyone who knows how terrible I am with numbers and knows my phobia of Excel spreadsheets extends to me having to check all my invoices by hand when I was freelancing, become finance coordinator for FOE. I won’t say I had my arm twisted, I’ll just say that any reasonably public-spirited person could not have just sat there and not volunteered. I don’t really mind: it apparently takes up very little time and involves very little work, and I think it’s very important that people do these things, and not just retired people, so that pretty much entails me being prepared to do these things from time to time, but, oh, WHY oh WHY did it have to be the one with numbers and money?

In other news, my Independence Days update for the week is:

  • Planted – another go at tomatilloes (I only had one) and the rest of my potatoes; earthed up some of the first earlies.
  • Preserved – have vodka, have rhubarb, will make schnapps this evening.
  • Worked on local food systems – continued badgering FOE about the seminar/film showing plus exhibition-type-thing and am in the process of compiling a directory of local food suppliers (plus other things).

I had a bit of a baking frenzy too. I was hunting through the freezer, assessing how soon we could order another half a lamb, and kept finding egg whites all over the place. I had such a vivid image of myself dying in 60 years’ time or so, and my relatives opening my freezer, discovering the accumulated saved egg whites of a lifetime’s cooking and immortalising me with the epitaph:

Extremely frugal with food.

Didn’t like meringues.

So I made coconut macaroons. And flapjacks for good measure.

Also trekked across to the Swindon Literary Festival last Sunday to see Andy and Dave from Selfsufficientish talk about their book and had a nice chat with them over lunch. There were some other interesting speakers there too and lunch was superb. I also managed not to get sunburnt. Result! (As they say…)


May 16, 2008 at 4:12 pm Leave a comment

A pretentious musing on carrots and what is wrong with society

A few weeks ago, on the way home from attending an event for work (in which I had basically had to facilitate the process of a large multi-national sacking people and was therefore seeking solace in food) I was munching on an extremely disappointing packet of M&S crisps, which do not taste half as good since they removed all the saturated fats and slashed the salt content, and gazing up at an enormous advert at Feltham station for some chips which said ‘Eat your greens’ in big letters and tried to convince me that chips were as healthy as some stir-fried spring greens and carrots or a salad, and I was struck by a thought.

Why are these people trying to convince us that crisps and chips are healthy?

Our media (and, partly by consequence, a lot of us) have an utterly schizophrenic attitude to food. Adverts all through December tell us to indulge and treat ourselves, have one more glass of wine, one more fatty hors d’oeuvre, one more chocolatey pudding because, after all, it’s Christmas – and the second we hit New Year it’s all diet, diet, diet; exercise, exercise, exercise; avoid, deny, refuse. Or: love yourself; hate yourself. Or: mmm, treat yourself, you’re worth it; you’re fat and ugly and unworthy, you need to change yourself.

Now, the pretentious, francophile, overeducated part of me is tempted to say something along the lines of: it’s the old idea of fast days and feast days that has underpinned our culture for generations (spending Ramadan in Morocco was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life), this balance between excess and restraint that in essence is healthy, but which, since consumerism has superceded consumption and networking superceded community, has got a bit out of kilter in the Anglophone world.

However, this is just a way of rationalising the fact that it’s MADNESS. Sheer madness. And (to bang on about tomatoes again) it’s because our healthy food does not taste of anything. I’m sure that the lack of pesticides and fertilisers and general absence of petroleum derivatives in organic food is excellent for our health, but personally, the way that eating organic or locally-produced, sustainable food has most improved my diet is because the apples from the farmer’s market taste of apples, so I eat them instead of biscuits; because the carrots and cucumbers in the veg box taste so good I eat them instead of crisps. In fact, I never even used to like: raw carrots, swede, cauliflower, beetroot, cabbage, cucumber and probably many other things until I started shopping and eating real food.

In my first couple of years at uni, I would buy apples or salad at T*sco and feel obliged to eat them, suffer my way through the underwhelming taste and texture, get a virtuous glow and feel like I’d ‘earned’ a chocolate biscuit or something. I made a peculiar mental division between food that is good for me and tastes horrid and food that is bad for me and tastes good.

I’ve since read more about food, politics and nutrition than is good for someone whose primary occupation does not require any of this knowledge and whose free time would be better spent actually getting outside and growing the stuff or at the very least washing up after eating the stuff, and I’m now pretty damn convinced that taste and nutrition are inextricably linked and that if it doesn’t taste good, it’s probably not doing you any good either.

Which makes me think that the solution to the problem people eat unhealthy food which tastes good and won’t eat vegetables is not make crisps more healthy (and carrots less healthy) but to make carrots healthy and make them tasty and then people might eat carrots instead of crisps that now taste of nothing because they have no salt in.

Of course, there is less money in encouraging people to grow and cook their own or shop in little local shops than there is in selling them highly packaged rubbish at the supermarket and a car to get there and then a gym membership to burn of the guilty calories and make up for them driving everywhere instead of walking.

And we’d have to fight the set of cultural ideas that mean that blogging (appeals to my vanity, uses shiny gadget) is more appealing than doing step three of the sourdough (healthy, creative) or preparing the ideas for the eco-day I want FOE to run (community).

But, hey, it’s a nice idea.

May 12, 2008 at 6:29 pm 5 comments

The best I can with what I’ve got…

Aka gratuitous garden photos.

Here are a few snaps of how the container garden is progressing.

May 12, 2008 at 12:29 pm 2 comments

Such a waste

Sometimes (and perversely), one of the things that gives me most hope for Western society is that there is so much inefficiency into the system that we have a lot of slack to play around with before things really start to bite. So many people waste so much food that we can start using that third of all the food we buy, which will stave off the effects of the food shortages. Most of our houses are so shockingly insulated and we’re so shockingly wasteful with energy, that there are a lot of insulating and efficiency measures we can put in place before absolute shortages of fuel kick in. We import a lot of food, but we also export a lot: the Transition Handbook is currently chez a friend from FOE so I can’t find the figures, but it’s something along the utterly insane lines that we import virtually the same amount of wheat, flour, butter, milk, lettuces etc as we export, so that food is still there, being produced in our country, to step into the place of imports, should it ever become necessary or strike someone as sensible. As I commented, driving back from watching Crude Awakening through the 1960s ‘new town’ of Bracknell, the saving grace of suburbia is the huge expanses of manicured lawns by the sides of the roads and at junctions that could be turned over to food production if necessary.

I’m not pretending inefficiency is a good thing or that it isn’t contributing in a huge way to the problem, but sometimes I wonder if it might offer us a cushion, a more gentle way in to being sustainable.

May 10, 2008 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

You win some, you lose some…


I am proud to report that after MONTHS of trying and ending up with everything from slightly warm milk with a tablespoon of yoghurt whisked through it to a globby ricotta-type mixture that was okay on pasta, I have finally managed to make yoghurt and end up with something resembling yoghurt. Looks like yoghurt, tastes like yoghurt, smells like yoghurt.

I have exorcised my yoghurt demons.

And the initial capital expenditure (item: Thermos flask; quantity: one) should have been recouped by November! (Though that’s not counting the additional benefits of owning a Thermos flask. Money saved by making yoghurt: 35p/week. Having proper loose leaf tea on the 7.56 to London Waterloo: priceless.)

I very nearly danced around the kitchen when I realised it had worked. I am not a total abject failure when it comes to yoghurt. =D

However, my Grant loaves were an abject failure. I was getting all lyrical, thinking of the wartime women working 12 hour factory shifts and bringing up children alone rejoicing over this bread recipe that took about 10 minutes to prepare, and I forgot to keep an eye on the kettle and the water got too hot and then it killed the yeast. I tried to repair the damage, but despite a token rise overnight, they then cooked too quickly and I basically have flat bricks of bread.

Ah well. You win some, you lose some….

May 8, 2008 at 3:51 pm 1 comment

I knit… I garden… That’s about it….

Damn, I thought I was just going to be compiling glossaries today so I was all set to go and work outside, but I’ve just had a transcription come in, so looks like I’ll be stuck indoors with the world’s most ginormous wasp instead.

Spent the weekend at the bf’s mum’s house as she is moving and we had to help clear the garage and loft. I did my best to save as much as I could from landfill, but things still crept into the skip when I couldn’t make a convincing case for putting them on Freecycle. Including a perfectly usable single bed and a bike, repairing which would have been cheaper than buying a new one. I did manage to salvage (for my own use) several plant pots, an old wooden lavatory cistern and a hanging basket for growing things in, plus a beautiful wicker picnic hamper (which the bf immediately placed in the loft, as the ugly free M&S cool bag donated by my parents is ‘practical’) made by the bf’s grandfather and a pair of curtains, and the bf found some apple juice that was three years out of date that is now in a demijohn in the downstairs bathroom, bubbling away.

I have also acquired a desire never ever to move and never ever to hoard things I don’t need. Books and CDs are going on Freecycle as I write this. It’s hard, though, to work out what to get rid of. I have so many CDs and books that getting rid of the two I might feasibly not like much seems like a very small drop in the deep, stormy ocean of decluttering. One birthday card takes up very little room, so keeping them seems innocuous, but assuming I’m lucky enought to have 60-odd more birthdays, that’s a lot of cards to keep….

My sock is driving me mental! I keep knitting about three rounds and then discovering I’ve gained a stitch, not being able to figure out where, having to unpick it all because it’s messed up the ribbing and hurling the four-needled sock monster at the wall shouting, ‘No! No! No! I’m not knitting you any more!’ I mean, going barefoot isn’t that bad….

I am having more success with the cardigan though. It looks more or less like half a cardigan! I’ve been preening and feeling proud of myself since it started getting big enough to be recognisable.

Peas and beans are out in the garden and still alive, but being rather recalcitrant and not climbing the canes. Planted some salady greeny things yesterday and will pot on tomatoes later today. I also think I saw some peppers coming through. And some wee potato shoots are poking their muddy heads above the soil. Hurrah. I also weeded one side of the garden in deference to suburbia and not having to spend a month sorting it when we move out.

Oh, and I’ve been reading ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver and it truly is inspiring. I thoroughly recommend it. I really want her life now – write fiction, grow vegetables, have entrepreneurial children who run their own egg business…

May 7, 2008 at 8:42 am 3 comments

The sad state of local politics

Well, how about a little rant for a Friday, eh?

Walking back from the polling station yesterday evening, my bf turned to me and said, ‘I didn’t realise there wasn’t a Green party candidate here.’ (I have trained him well, muahahahaha….) I scoffed and said, ‘I didn’t realise there was a Lib Dem candidate or a Labour candidate.’

Now, I’m a bit of a leftie. I don’t really ally myself with any particular party, but I general fall somewhere between what Labour should stand for and what the Lib Dems stand for. I readily admit that the kinds of changes I am looking to see in this country are waaaay beyond what any actual politician would be prepared to put in their campaign literature, but I’m pretty realistic and would be happy to be swayed by a convincing candidate, especially in the local elections: in a general election, although you aren’t really supposed to, I would tend to vote for a party and a Prime Minister, but in the local elections I would tend to vote for the candidate I felt most confident in. Overall, though, I generally believe that public services are in principle a good thing, I think we need to do more for the environment, I think the gap between the rich and the poor is too wide and I’d love to completely overhaul the education system.

So, I was looking forward to all the candidates coming around and asking me what issues were on my mind so I could grill them about their ideas for making Wokingham a more sustainable, resilient and environmentally-friendly place, about how they would follow up on the suggestions FOE gave them and if they would please stop concreting over everything and get rid of all the cars.

Now, I work from home and am usually in most evenings, so if anybody had come round canvassing, I would have known. We had leaflets shoved through the door by the Conservatives, UKIP and the BNP. Labour and the Lib Dems didn’t even bother to do that, let alone actually try and talk to me. It never even entered my mind to vote for UKIP or the BNP, and I didn’t really want to vote for the Tory candidate because a) his environmental policies were rubbish (basically: environmental issues begin and end with waste and recycling, and we couldn’t ever have alternative weekly collection, never, never, never, never) and b) all the material we’ve ever had from him has contained a big whine about how little funding the Borough gets from central government compared to….. councils where there are more poor people. Now, there is a genuine issue about how basing it on averages means the worse off in overall richer areas are even worse off than they would be in poorer areas where there was more central funding, but do they talk about this? No, it’s just ‘poor us, aren’t we hard done by, never mind that that’s how local government funding works or that the reason we don’t get as much is because we’re all well-off and don’t need it‘ – it’s like saying, ‘Oh, poor stockbrokers, they have to pay more tax than nurses and bin-men.’

So I didn’t want to vote for him either.

And so since I knew nothing about the candidates representing the two parties I might have swung between or their policies, I was damned if I was going to vote for them.

So, ladies and gentlemen, since people died so that I could have the right to vote and I did not want to dishonour them by allowing apathy to win the day, I am ashamed to say that I spoilt my ballot. I voted for all the candidates and drew a silly face at the top of the paper for good measure.

May 2, 2008 at 10:04 am 5 comments

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The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."