Archive for September, 2008

Busy week

I had a busy week last week. As well as trying to understand economics, I went to a Transition Towns meeting and subsequently was asked to get involved with their food group (sadly not my town, and a couple of us were talking afterwards about doing it here, so I don’t know how much of my time I can give to the other lot, but I will try to be as helpful as I can).

Scientist Boyfriend finished exams and there was much rejoicing.

I went to visit friends in London, got lost in Putney thanks to some erroneous directions and angsted about what to do with my life and they were reasonably helpful

Scientist Boyfriend and I went to a Slow Food evening, and hobnobbed with all sorts of notable local food figures* and came away replete and furnished with an info sheet all about chillis and a DVD about disease.

Yesterday actually wasn’t busy, I just lounged around, pretty much, reading exciting books and staring at my tomatoes hoping they’ll go red (or, in the case of one bush, yellow). I appear to have successfully saved some tomato seeds and am waiting for them to dry out, but left them so long some of them sprouted so I’m now wondering if that means they won’t germinate next year??? Maybe I should have left them in the mouldy, watery sludge and experimented with hydroponic tomatoes in a mug…

Today I went to the Museum of English Rural Life which had an interesting exhibition on food, a wonderful settle with space in the back to hang bacon on, a beautifully inspiring wall of comments from children (and adults, judging from some of the handwriting) which made me want to weep and an awful lot of billhooks. If I’d known about the billhooks I’d have found out what the exciting hedgelaying tool that my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather invented was so I could look out for it, but I didn’t. Ah well. And this evening we went and picked some blackberries and hopefully have enough to make wine! Hurrah!

And I found two Joanna Blythman books in charity shops, The Food We Eat (which I’ve read, but was good) and Shopped (which I haven’t yet), and How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher, as featured on the Wiggly Wigglers podcast (yonks ago).


* For those interested in syntactic analysis, they were both [[notable] [[local food] figures]] and [[notable] [local] [food figures]]

September 28, 2008 at 9:03 pm Leave a comment

The economy explained (with sheep)

I’m only vaguely acquainted with the world of finance, a relationship marked by a profound mistrust on my part. (When I heard about Lehman Brothers, my first instinct was to withdraw all my savings and buy hand tools, seeds and a spinning wheel.) However, thanks to Scientist Boyfriend explaining short-selling in terms of sheep, I now have a clearer understanding of what is actually going on. You lend me your sheep, I sell them for a high price and buy them back in a month’s time for a low price. I now realise that my failure to understand economics is not because I am stupid, it is because economics is illogical.

Beneath the veneer of my expensive education, I am still, at heart, a peasant.

(Update – He then tried to explain GDP in terms of sheep, but when we got to the bit about sending 1,000,000 sheep back and forth across the Atlantic every other day in order to convince both the UK and the US that you only had 500,000 sheep, I made him shut up.)

September 27, 2008 at 11:03 am 5 comments

Article on looking at the food crisis

I quite like this blog anyway (some of it is a bit America-centric but other parts are fascinating), but I read this this morning and found it v interesting.

“That brings us to framing. News coverage of the food crisis has focused on the global poor as consumers whose lives are thrown out of whack by rising prices. The obvious solution, as they frame it, is to do anything necessary to make food prices low again. But in many cases, the poor are actually farmers or workers in the ag supply chain — or they used to be. If they were farmers still, they’d be making pretty good money right now. Ugarte was asking a profound question: Is the food crisis really about prices? Or is it, at its core, about policy and ownership?”

September 25, 2008 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

In which I realise heirloom vegetables are superior to F1s and experiment with vegetables

Scientist Boyfriend has spent all weekend swotting up on pensions for an exam, so I’ve been trying to find ways to entertain myself that don’t involve making a lot of noise or having to use the sitting room. I haven’t yet got round to making curtains, but I have sewn up the end of my second sock, which looks a lot better than the first. I might take a picture of them to put up next week if you promise not to mention that one of them is a good two inches longer than the other (and than my foot).

I’ve also pottered around the garden, by which I mean I’ve done a bit of weeding and stared at my tomatoes like a paranoid… thing that stares at tomatoes. (Hmm. Must work on analogy.) Three of them are turning red (as, excitingly, is a pepper, which I had more or less resigned myself to eating green!) and I am totally converted to heirloom varieties. All the plants grown from organic seed or given to me by other gardeners (who I know use old, non-F1 varieties even if I don’t know exactly what sort these plants are) are, if not ripe, at least looking mostly healthy and appear to have withstood the sneaky substitution of a deluge for summer, while the F1s, designed for commercial growers who spray with things, have all succumbed much worse to blight and the fruits are going rotten and I don’t know if I’ll be able to salvage much. So there we are.

I also made a chocolate chilli cake yesterday, which was yummy, although there was no evidence of my having put any chilli in it. If you fancy trying it and want a bit of a kick, up the chilli content. I’ve also discovered more things to do with kale, in preparation for a winter of cabbage and parsnips. (Also got the first parsnips since last winter, will be making soup methinks!) Heartily recommend both these recipes for a veg box crisis moment:

Penne with kale, gorgonzola and roasted onions (from, and

Stuffed mushrooms with kale

Didn’t follow them to the letter – had no gorgonzola so just added parmesan (and also pine nuts because we are pine nut fiends and add them to almost everything!) to the first and used brie instead of goat’s cheese in the second – but that’s a much more fun way to cook anyway. Also had two nice squash dishes this week, much more exciting than last year’s stuff-with-brown-rice-and-roast experiments, acorn (I think) squash and hazlenut lasagne a few days ago and spaghetti squash with olives, tuna and tomato sauce this evening.

And once I have snatched Scientist Boyfriend from the jaws of pensions-related doom we’re going blackberrying again and are going to make blackberry wine. Found lots of berries last week on my 11-mile walk last week, so have to hope they haven’t been eaten by anything else in the meantime. (I was trying, incidentally, to decide what I wanted to do with my life, as everything I want to do requires me to have money and everything that pays will make me miserable. All I decided was that walking is fun and I’d quite like a dog. Blackberry wine, I suppose, comes a close second to meaning and direction or hard capital, though.)

September 21, 2008 at 7:54 pm 2 comments

What are we going to wear to the apocalypse?

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for months.

I’ve been reading loads about peak oil lately, with the Transition Handbook and various other avenues it’s prompted me to explore, and it’s great that people are writing about the stuff we need to actually do: much great stuff out there about relocalising food, growing our own veg, building houses from local, sustainable materials, walking instead of driving and bringing our lives back within walking distance so it doesn’t seem like such a wrench….

But, with the notable exception of Sharon Astyk, who says we should all be knitting socks, all peak oil writers seem to be neatly sidestepping the problem that once we all start farming and building houses and doing a lot more physical, outdoor work, we’re going to need suitable clothes. Blimmin’ men. 😉 Most people in the West today work indoors, usually in air-conditioned offices or shops, and we can get away with wearing flimsy acrylic jumpers or (in some mind-boggling cases) T-shirts in January. We aren’t really equipped, as a society, to get out there and dig. We don’t have warm enough trousers, jumpers and coats, we don’t have proper boots, and some day we won’t just be able to buy a new pair of socks every time ours get holes in, like we do now. We won’t be able to grow or import so much cheap, fossil-fuel-intensive cotton, and we’re probably going to be wearing out our clothes a lot faster.

Speaking purely from personal anecdotal experience, during the coldest parts of this year, I was wearing my two woollen jumpers and my one (beautiful, utterly decadent) cashmere jumper on a constant rotation. My dad had always sworn by natural fibres, but my parents’ central heating was so efficient I never really realised it until we moved here. Hmm. Rising fuel costs, anyone???

This should be on the agenda too! The tone of what most of what I’ve read implies that clothes are a symbol of our cheap, disposable culture, and should go the way of these pesky electronics and allow us to get back to the real stuff we need to worry about; but relocalising textiles and fabrics and creating durable, repairable items of clothing is, I grant you, not as important as growing vegetables, but easily of equal importance as building durable, repairable houses and furniture.

Objectively speaking, our unsustainable obsession with fashion extends beyond simply clothes to the Changing Rooms-esque regularity with which we are all supposed to replace our kitchens and bathrooms or the furnishings and decor of our rooms, and from both of these we can extract a sustainable alternative (I say ‘alternative’ as if that’s the weird option… you know what I mean…) based on the knowledge that having something to live in and something to wear are of more or less equal usefulness. And yet the gruff, rugged masculine option is the one that gets all the attention…

September 11, 2008 at 3:05 pm 2 comments

Garden – before and after

Yonks ago now, I was looking for a photo of my garden to send to Pattie for her Victory Garden Drive and idling through the folder on my computer (self-deprecatingly called ‘Hippy Photos’) where I keep photos relating to gardening, knitting etc and came across an old one of the garden when we first moved in. I acquired boxes and plants grew so slowly that I never noticed it changing, and I’m now so used to it being chock full of green things, but what a contrast!

This was the garden when we moved in.

This is the garden now. (Not pictured: beans, peas, potatoes, butternut squash, dalek.)

September 11, 2008 at 1:57 pm 3 comments

Weather, soup and socks

I realise that, as my parents live near Morpeth and now need to replace all their downstairs carpets and floorboards, it seems rather petty to whine about the fact that my tomatoes and peppers aren’t ripening, but


And now here is a recipe for curried parsnip soup, adapted from Appetisers, Finger Food, Buffets and Parties by Bridget Jones (ed.):

Serves 4

2 tbsp butter

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 onion, chopped

1 tsp each ground cumin and coriander

4 parsnips, peeled and sliced

4 tsp garam masala

450 ml stock

450 ml milk

4 tbsp sour cream or yoghurt

squeeze lemon juice

salt and pepper

1. Melt butter, add garlic and onion and cook over medium heat for 4-5 mins. Add spices and cook for further 1-2 mins.

2. Add parsnip slices, sweat them briefly, add stock. Cover and simmer on low heat for appx 15 mins.

3. Remove pan from heat, leave to cool slightly then blend until smooth.

4. Return to pan and stir in milk, heat gently for appx 2-3 mins then add half sour cream (if using) and squeeze of lemon juice. Season to taste.

5. Serve with swirls of yoghurt or the remaining sour cream and chopped fresh herbs (chives, coriander…) and naan bread.

This recipe, from River Cottage, has been the most successful I’ve used yet but you might have your own. The recipe calls for 2 tsp curry paste, but I never have any so I just use garam masala instead. I also sometimes use more stock to cook it and then add a smaller amount of cream at the end instead of milk, or just use yoghurt as that’s what I most often have in the fridge.

In other news, I’ve finally finished the second sock and just need to sew up the toe! I will have warm feet this winter, if no home-made tomato sauce…

September 10, 2008 at 10:37 am 1 comment

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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."