Archive for July, 2008

Rent a cherry tree

For anybody who didn’t listen to the Food Programme the other week when it was about cherries, this is a fabulous scheme based in Kent, where you basically pay £30 at the beginning of the year and in the summer you get to spend a day in the orchard picking up to 20kg of fruit, which saves you £££ on buying them at the shops. Am getting a group of friends together in a cartel for next year and deeply enthusiastic about the whole idea!

July 26, 2008 at 8:13 am 1 comment


I’m still here, but have been more than usually engaged in real life – have been doing lots of interesting things at work rather than just writing up meetings and seeing lots of uni and gap year friends, and the weather’s been lovely and amongst all that I haven’t really felt like paying too much attention to the internet, nice as it is.

I’ve been rather neglectful of my garden, however, and am now worried my potatoes have blight but I think this is unlikely to be a direct consequence of anything I have done or not done and more likely because the weather was rather damp for quite a while. We have acquired a table on which we can eat outside and most time spent in the garden is now spent drinking sauvignon blanc and eating dinner rather than digging. I’ve also managed to write, ooh, a whole page of my novel. This is progress, but only compared to what I’ve achieved in the last year.

I’ve eaten some peas and they were yummy and some new potatoes (lifted the whole crop today and they were all fine) which were quite possibly the nicest potatoes I’ve ever eaten. Two of my blueberries appear to be ripening and my bean plants are covered with mini-beans. They’re also being rather aggressive towards the peas, taking over all their stakes, as well as sending off shoots to climb the potatoes or the honeysuckle hanging over the fence from next door, and one enterprising shoot sent itself two feet into the air and, finding nothing to climb, is now climbing straight down the cane again. I’m beginning to see why the story was called ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ rather than ‘Jack and the Tomatillo’ or ‘Jack and the Pak Choi’.
I started knititng the second sock but had to unravel it and start again as it all fell off the needles and I got confused. I’ve managed to do quite a lot this week. There was an article in the Guardian about the type of people who were going to be least affected by rising inflation, and it was basically anti-social knitters who walk everywhere, but really prefer to stay at home, drink vodka and have sex rather than fly on holiday and go to the cinema.

So, that’s what I’m doing this winter then!

July 26, 2008 at 7:56 am 3 comments


Blimmin’ ‘eck, you could barely get a 2-bed terrace for that around here.

Me want.

July 9, 2008 at 4:09 pm 4 comments

Not evicted!

Well, our landlord came to inspect us yesterday. We were slightly worried what they’d make of the 5 demijohns of wine, plastic bottles full of other suspicious-looking home-brew and the sheep fleeces in the study, or whether they’d agree that ‘maintaining the character of the garden’ could accommodate the acquisition of a dalek and the depositing of wine boxes with salad in them in every available space, but Scientist Boyfriend said they were ever so impressed we were growing so much stuff and that I’d made 10 jars of jam and agreed to all our requests to tinker around with the garden and put up curtains.

So, I’m allowed to dig out the spindly-looking fern out and replace it with something. Scientist Boyfriend wants veg, I want things for bees. Or we might put some fruit bushes in, so future tenants will benefit too. We’re also allowed to put in a water butt. I wonder if this will mean we’re doomed to get no rain and thus counteract the summer-destroying effects of the garden table, or if the weather pixies will get so confused about which to avenge us for that order in the cosmos will break down…

Now I have to figure out how to turn the curtains in our cupboard into something that will fit on our window before next winter. Hmmm….

July 9, 2008 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

Independence days challenge – 7th July 2008

I’ve changed my goals with regard to the Independence Days challenge, because I was making it too easy for myself with only two a week (and generally did more anyway). I’m aiming to do one thing from each category every week instead.

Planted: I didn’t plant them, but I have received into my care a lemon tree and a bay tree.

Harvested: First peas!!! They were yummy!! And rocket and lettuce. We also went to the PYO and got about 5kg of fruit! Some hunter-gatherer instinct kicked in, and since we could see ripe berries, we just had to pick them.

Preserved: I rescued the rhubarb and ginger jam from its rather solid state and turned it back into something resembling jam through the judicious addition of a bit of water and recooking it. Haven’t tried any yet, but it looks more jam-like. I also made 5 jars of raspberry jam and have 1kg of strawberries in sugar, ready to be made into jam when I can brave the rain and make it to the shops to get more sugar. Also drying some lavender. Nik resourcefully used the scum from the jam to make raspberry champage. I remain to be convinced.

Prepped: Not a lot, unless you count stocking up on muesli – Waitrose have yummy posh muesli for about £1.30 a pack and we now have 5 boxes of it on top of our fridge. It’s been a bad knitting week. Everything needed unpicking.

Cooked: Had Scientist Boyfriend’s family over for dinner, all in varying states of sunburn,* stress and distress thanks to (variously) an impending house move and two weeks sleeping in a tent. We fed them: a Jamie Oliver recipe for chicken with new potatoes and cherry tomatoes, this salad with rocket and peas from the garden and foccacia. I was terribly worried about the foccacia as it didn’t rise, but it sorted itself out in the oven. Also a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake concoction, made by combining these two recipes. and

Managed reserves: Nothing in particular.

Worked on local food systems: Aside from the PYO, we’ve done rather badly on this. The butcher was closed so we had to get a chicken from Waitrose and I stupidly forgot the chocolate and we had to go to T*sco for that (which I came out of utterly depressed about the future of the human race, on which more in another post 😉 ). Also, the lady who ran the gardening course and who we get eggs from is moving abroad and the cookware shop run by the slightly intimidating American is closing. I wonder what we’ll get instead.

We’ve also bought a garden table so we can eat outdoors. I think we’ve cursed summer. If it rains every day between now and September, you are perfectly within your rights to blame us.

* I don’t know what category this comes under, but the looks on Scientist Boyfriend’s family’s faces when I produced a leaf from my aloe vera plant for L.’s sunburn were priceless.

July 7, 2008 at 10:18 am 2 comments

Unconventional Agriculture (or The Linguistics of Environmentalism)

One of Scientist Boyfriend’s sisters won’t eat lamb. Which is fine, and as dietary quirks go is pretty easy to accommodate, but it got me thinking about something I read in my first year at uni. English is quite rare among European languages in largely having separate words for animals and the meat they give you. So in German, you see a Rind (beef cow) in the field and eat Rindfleisch and in French it would be un boeuf and du boeuf; similarly you would have Schwein (pig) and Schwein (pork) or un porc (the animal) and du porc the meat. (For anyone who’s interested, the English words for animals generally come from German, through the Saxon peasantry, and the English words for meat are generally derived from French, via the Norman ruling class, who probably didn’t get their hands dirty feeding any of those animals and just ate the end product.)

Now, it would be fair to say that Scientist Boyfriend’s sister, L., has broader unreconciled issues with eating meat, much as I used to, and she definitely isn’t alone in having specific difficulty eating lamb, because if you say ‘lamb’ to anyone who isn’t a sheep farmer it immediately conjures up images of little fluffy white things skipping around the fields at Easter-time and it’s harder not to confront the fact that that’s what you’re eating, rather than the more anonymous ‘beef’ or ‘pork’ where it’s easier to ignore the fact that they come from cows and pigs.

I don’t want to dwell on this too much, as we risk straying into linguistic determinism; that is, the idea that language shapes thought. You’ve probably heard that the Inuit have 400 words for snow. Linguistic determinism would say that this modifies their world view and would give them a different mode of existence from a speaker of English. However, common sense would tell us that their mode of existence and world view are more likely to be determined by, for instance, the fact that they, unlike your average English speaker, live in a place with lots of snow and that, as a result of that, it might be sensible to have more words for it.

Reality comes first, then we describe it.

And in actual fact, the Inuit don’t have any more words for snow than any other language, definitely no more than expert skiers do. Sorry to burst that bubble. 😉

But it’s interesting (to me at least) to look at what the terms we as a culture have chosen to use for various things reveal about our own world view and mode of existence, or instances such as L. and lamb where language can enhance or exacerbate ideas or concerns that we already hold.

Like most people, I used to talk about ‘organic agriculture’ and ‘conventional agriculture’, but the more I read about it, the more I realise ‘conventional’ agriculture is only really conventional in the post-war West, and in the broad scheme of human history and geography, ‘organic agriculture’, which we mark out as being unconventional and somehow different or unusual by contrasting it with ‘conventional agriculture’, is actually overwhelmingly more usual. In the world view I’ve developed over the last year, there is nothing normal about a way of feeding ourselves that impoverishes the soil and leads to resource depletion, salinisation, erosion and tomatoes that don’t taste of anything. And at some point, I shifted and started talking about ‘industrial agriculture’, or ‘intensive agriculture’, ‘abused chickens’ instead of ‘conventionally reared chickens’, or in occasional sloe gin-fuelled rantings, ‘the oil-guzzling behemoth of agribusiness that will be the ruin of us all…’

Similarly, we used to have ‘the recycling’, ‘the compost’ and ‘the bin’. The bin was neutral, unmarked. It was the default place to put rubbish. Again, and as a result of knowing and caring much more about where my rubbish goes, and as so little (the exceptional part, God bless Bokashi) of our rubbish goes in there, it doesn’t seem like a neutral, default place to put stuff any more, and I’ve now started calling it ‘the landfill bin’.

Which I think is interesting, at least…

July 4, 2008 at 10:47 am 2 comments

Apples and oranges

I had meant to go to the farmer’s market yesterday, but I dithered about a bit (i.e. decided to have lunch first as going when hungry could lead to financial ruin) and by the time I made it everyone had packed up and gone home except the indefatigable fruit farm from down the road. It was only about 2.30, so I hope this doesn’t mean rising food prices have turned everyone off local food. I wanted to get something nice for dinner (inc. inspiration!) and a joint of beef or something for Sunday when Scientist Boyfriend’s family will be here, but all I ended up with was some raspberries and strawberries and a money-off voucher for PYO for each of the next three months.

Not that I’m complaining, though – my kitchen smelt wonderfully of raspberries! I think we’ll go and pick some more on Saturday and make raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake for pudding on Sunday. I rarely make anything with strawberries or raspberries, mostly because if you buy really tasty ones, I feel very little can improve on their fresh, gorgeous simplicity. I used to think that about meat, though, too – that marinades and sauces couldn’t improve (and might even detract from) a really good pork chop (or whatever), but after Scientist Boyfriend suggested it might be nice to have pork chops cooked in some other way than browned in the pan then baked in the oven with a glass of white wine and six cloves of garlic, I branched out into almost its polar opposite, some sticky marinade involving all manner of strongly flavoured ingredients such as ginger, chilli and various spices. We both agreed afterwards that actually the chilli enhanced it and that rather than masking the quality (I’ve long agreed with HFW’s statement that supermarkets sell you cheap meat, but you then have to buy their expensive marinades to make the spongy, watery flesh taste of anything) it actually brought it out.

So I’m going to apply the same principle to soft fruit. And marinade it in Chinese five spice powder. 😉 Hmmmm.

I also got a steak in the decadent Italian deli of which we had half each. Their cheese is really quite reasonable though and they sell seeds, exciting things like borlotti beans and yellow beans and romanesco, which it’s a bit late for now but which will be useful next year. Thursday (veg box eve) is normally ‘Uninspiring Dinner Day’ – usually a concoction of tired vegetables that don’t go together in any form of unified meal but need eating up – but we actually did rather well, with the new potatoes not too tired and the mouldy broccoli put into the compost and replaced by some salad and about 3 pak choi leaves each from the garden. Total self-sufficiency still quite a way off, I feel…

I must stop being surprised that the cheese at the deli is so reasonable. Every time I go and buy cheese I wince as he tells me how much it’s going to be, and then think, ‘Oh, actually, that’s cheaper than the supermarket,’ and I haven’t tried the goat’s cheese yet but the Parmesan is also vastly superior.

My friend pulled me up on something the other day. Apparently I have two arguments in favour of local food: firstly, that we should be prepared to pay more for decent food and secondly, that local food generally costs less.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but yes, that does seem rather contradictory.

I would now like to amend my statement to add emphasis to the prepared in ‘prepared to pay more for decent food’. 🙂 We should be prepared to pay an honest price for what we eat, and sometimes (in the case of chicken, for instance, or anything that someone else has to make, like cheese or bread or jam) that is a lot more than simply buying the cheapest option available (and although I’d add not comparable, not everyone would agree with me) and that we just have to live with. But at other times, like with vegetables and, apparently, cheese from the Italian deli, you might be pleasantly surprised.

I would also add that we need to change how we eat as well as what. If you eat a chicken breast one night, pork chops the next, steak the next, lamb chops the next and so on and so forth, yes, you’d get a nasty shock if you got all that from a local farmer! But if you buy meat in bulk and eat it less often (which is a damn sight easier when your vegetables taste nice) you can save a bucketload of cash. I’ve replaced the time spent shopping with time spent baking bread and making jam, so rather than paying for someone else’s time when they make my jam, I get the raw materials cheaply and do it myself, which again is easier when you haven’t got to go around checking the label of every single jar of jam in the shop and trying to find out where the fruit came from and why the hell they have ingredients other than just fruit and sugar in them.

You can’t compare like with unlike. It’s like saying ‘showers use less water than baths’ without looking at, say, my grandparents. They never shower, they always take baths, but they have about three baths a week and share the water (they take it in turns to go first), unlike most of my generation who all shower every day and feel disgusting if they don’t. I bet my grandparents use much less water overall. Nor have I personally ever noticed my grandparents smelling (other than of normal grandparent smells, like Old Spice or talcum powder). A shower uses less water than a bath, just as a free-range chicken costs more than an intensively-reared chicken, but the practice of bathing rather than showering doesn’t have to use more water, nor does the practice of eating sensibly-produced food.

July 4, 2008 at 8:55 am Leave a comment

Most recent ramblings

July 2008
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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."