Thursday, August 31, 2006


In order to dejunk your life from unwanted calls, faxes, email messages, silent calls etc, you can register your preference with this service. Its very busy at the moment so that can only mean that many of you are already actioning this. The reasons for reducing junk mail are :
  • if the post comes you will not be looking through so much,
  • you will not then need to recycle paper
  • you will save your muscles carrying the recycling box
  • you will save time

A few minutes now could save you many hours during the next 5 years.


If you have a glut of tomatoes at the moment, you could try this roasted tomato base:

Cut tomatoes in half and put face up, next to eachother in a shallow roasting dish. Add a few sliced onions and cloves of garlic. Pour over olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.
Roast in the oven at 190 degrees until the juice runs out. Slightly charred is good too. Sieve to get rid of seeds. You can reduce this sauce by boiling it for a few minutes.


  • use as pizza base
  • Simple pasta sauce - add shredded basil, mix and serve with parmesan
  • Tomatoe soup- add equal quantity of stock to tomatoe puree, and 3 tablespoons of cooked rice, some cream if you want to, whizz together and voila, another tomatoe soup.

I freeze all of the above for use during the winter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Autumn announces itself

The autumn season annoucnes itself a little early I guess this year. The harvest spiders are coming in, a sure sign that the season is getting cooler.
Today, I have continued to can 14 jars of plum jelly, a gift from a neighbour. Sufficient to say that we will be OK for plum jam over the next year. Still, just blackberries to go and we are fixed for jam.

By the way, I am not keen on spiders.


At the end of the summer, we usually have a look at what our goals were at the beginning of the year and see what still needs sorting before the end of the year is whizzing by. Our main goals this year related to changing the ways in which we used energy, improving what we could and make changes where possible.

In the beginning of the year, we switched some lightbulbs to energy efficient ones, and although the costs of the bulbs was quite high, they are not needed to be replaced that often and have a reduced energy requirement to run. My Dh was not keen on replacing all of them at once, but having already changed the kitchen bulbs twice since installing one set in the dining room, he has been persuaded. On my list remains the spotlights in the kitchen. We kept normal bulbs in areas where an immediate light response is required such as halls and stairways but all rooms have energy efficient bulbs in for the main lighting and some for side lights too. This will complete the light-bulb changes possible in our home. If you need some info check ban the bulb.


Increasing your insulation by putting a sweater on works well when it gets cold, so putting more layers into your home also makes sense. The amounts of insulation recommended has increased over the years and there are some grants available to enable this work to be carried out. Check the energy savings trust website for good ideas and availability of grants in your area. We have increased insulation in our home and I look forward to a warmer winter and a cut in energy bills.

Whatever source of heat you use when the weather gets cold, check out how it compares. Our house did not have central heating although we are in the process of having that done. Certain heating boilers currently are more energy efficient, so if you have no heating, again, check what is available in your area. The energy savings trust provides a variety of info on the matter. When you use heating, you can keep the temperature at a comfortable level, use temperature controlled radiators for each room and use your common sense. Again, this will vary from person to person, the common sense and the temperature you want in your home. We did not suffer the cold for more than 2 weeks per year and used to wear sweaters, warm socks and drink plenty of hot drinks to keep us warm in the mid bleak winter.

If you have none of that, it will help to keep the heat in and the cold out. Leaky, draughty windows...been there....


The costs of energy suppliers is going up and there is some variation in the costs per unit. Check with uswitch to see if you have the best deal available in your area. Also worth asking your supplier what deals they have should you want to stay with them.

This is an area we are continuing to work on. We have appliances in the home and in order to reduce the amount of energy we use we can ask ourselves, in what way this mechanised and electric machine is going to make our life easier and whether pure muscle power could do the same. When an item breaks, check whether your life depends on it, such as toasters, kettles, hairdryers, timers, clocks, radios, tv, washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, freezers. All of these either are essential to your way of life or not. Its not up to me to say what is and what is not in your life, but being aware of alternative ways and the costs involved may help you make different choices. We have an 8 year old dishwasher but when it goes, it will probably not be replaced. A dishwasher has meant we need more crockery and dishwashing tablets mean the cost of a load is 50 p per wash. A personal choice that depends on the amount of people in your home. With 5 of us, it makes sense sometimes but we could as easily wash by hand.

One of the plans we have is to look as to whether we invest in solar energy on our south-facing house. I balance this up every time it enters in my awareness and although I realise that we are never going to make enough energy for our current needs with 5 people, if we continue to reduce the amount we use and increase the amount we produce, we will eventually meet in the middle. Solar power for electricity will be a project to look at seriously and explore further in the months to come.

Again a work in progress, we have 2 cars as mentioned before and we make choices. We no longer travel by plane and are looking at the viability of public transport which in a rural area is limited. You still need to have plenty of time to make that happen. Instead we plan better use of our cars and journeys which is working well so far.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The DAILY LOAF - whats in yours?

To tell the truth, we used to eat pappy bread. That is until one day, I packed it on my bicycle with an elastic to keep it tight and found out that most of it was air and chalk. Not good. It has however taken a few years to change the daily habit of pappy bread to a nice crisp french loaf which is still being made in the breadmachine as well as granary, wholemeal and brown bread which are made by hand as well. Its a transition and I have gone through the brick stage as well, the loaf with holes in the middle, the collapsed one as I left it to rise too high etc etc, but never a dull moment with the production of the daily loaf. It needs very little actually, flour, yeast, water but even breadmachines need to have sugar and salt and yeast to make it happen within the small space and timelimits imposed and exact temperatures. Its scary to read what is finding its way in your daily loaf these days in order to keep it looking fresh, tasty and well....artificial. Read more here and please have a go at making bread, it does not take that long, the time is in the rising and waiting around and I do not have the time. Even if you make a loaf at the weekend when you do have time, you will learn a valuable skill and it may even exercise the muscles you have overused typing away or clenching the steering wheel whilst commuting. Bread.....hmmm...its not only the taste for me but the heavenly smell that permeates the house and the sound of boys who tuck into a doorstop sandwich.( actually its probably one of the times they are quiet and peaceful as chewing takes their attention away)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

planning a journey

One of our cars has a flat tyre again. ( yep we still have 2 we are trying to reduce the impact of chucking one of the scrapheap). We make a choice on length of journey, fuel consumption and nature of the journey to choose a vehicle. Both are over 4 years old now, one is a petrol engine estate care ( good for trips involving carriage of items) and we travel 5 people in a small medium family car which is more fuel effective but has no space for luggage. This week we will be trying to manage with just one car and adapt accordingly.
The cost of the cars is limited to running costs as we do not have any loans on the cars. But as fuel prices increase we are looking at alternatives. The budget limitation on fuel is tight and as prices increase we have to make different choices.

Some of the things we have changed so far :
limit shopping journeys from once weekly to a once a month home delivery and online order.
making a list of items that we need and plan shopping around other essential journeys.
Use our local food producers and growing our won food ( no food miles).
using the best mode of transport based on economy, amounts of people/ luggage, distance.
Check out alternatives.
Give up on flying to far away destinations.

2 of our family members are limited in mobility which makes long walks difficult.
One excellent resource online is the travel planner which allows you to make a comparison on cost, time and best route to take. Now with 5 people going by car is often the cheapest and quickest route to take but it is worth looking at other alternatives just so you know why you are choosing to take the care, bus, train etc.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Organizing your bedlinen

Still decluttering, this time we focussed on the bedlinen in our house. Needless to say we have enough to run a hotel. How much do you really need? This simple formula will make laundry day and changing sheets a lot easier.
Spare bedsets to be kept in each bedroom. When washed store the whole dry set in one of the pillowcases and store. When you need a sheet, duvet cover and pillows, it will all be to hand. Makes it handy when kids throw up in the night, just dig deep in the drawer and voila your next set is ready and lined up. ( If you are like me, you are not at your best at 3 am to try and find a set of bedcovers).

For adult bed, one set on and one in the wash.
For children above 8 years old - same as adults
Children 3 to 8 need 3 sets each.
babies and toddlers need 4 sets each plus waterproof covering for mattresses.

This left us with 5 sets with no home, well we freecycled them and some will be used as backing for quilts when I get around to making that.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A video about Path to Freedom

If you want to see what can be achieved on a small plot, take a look around at the treehugger video of Path to Freedom, always good to see folk actually doing well working with their hands, and reducing their energy needs.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On poverty

As far as the government statistics are concerned, we live in poverty. Its devastating to know that. Well, I mean, we do not have the luxury of other people to go on holiday, to consume whatever takes their fancy and yes we do have to think before we spend out on things. We cannot purchase take out’s, we cannot go and enjoy leisure activities, we hire our games instead of buying them, and we have cut down on eating meat. We do not go shopping on a regular basis etc get the picture.
However, we do have time as a family, we talk, we eat together, we learn skills, we spend time in the garden, go for walks, wonder at the earth and the beauty, look at thunder storms and lightning, enjoy conversation, go for picnics on the beach, build birdhouses out of scrap wood, pick apples and plums, enjoy fresh eggs from our chickens, turn over compost heaps, watch lettuce grow, learn about plants and food stuff as we grow it, care for our animals and ourselves, and sleep peacefully at night. We may fulfill a government statistic that we live in poverty...but in many ways we are enriched by the experience we are living. And then there is always bread and jam..........

The point is that it is questionable how we, in the west, whose main needs are satisfied every day, can be considered living in poverty when there is actual poverty in the world, where children starve, have no fresh water, have no roof over their heads, or their parents are ill, the crops do not grow, through either a drought or war. We may live in considerable financial poverty compared to the ‘ consumer norm’ but we still find enough resources to sponsor a child in Bangladesh..... And then, there will be candles at the table, fresh soap to wash with, nice apples to eat, without any chemicals, fresh water to drink, great conversation and the enjoyment of being a family member can bring. Its a smaller life as far as statistics are concerned, but a much bigger life experience making smaller footprints on the earth and making a bigger impression on the lives of our children.

Money we may be short of, but thats probably the only thing we are short on compared to other people, time we have plenty of and we still have time for each-other.

bread and jam

One of the food items people in this household will not go without next year is bread and jam, the staple of our lives. the cupboards are filling nicely and if there is a crisis there will always be bread and jam.
I am reading a book on Optimum Nutritrion in which bread and jam would figure badly. There were however some interesting pointers that I thought could be incorporated. The message of the book is that every human being has different nutritional needs depending on genetics, environment, culture etc but that all of us have some things in common that need to be supplied. The diseases currently surfacing are not just new diseases but are the result of not having the optimum nutrition required for our bodies.
Easy things you can do without changing too much:
  1. one heaped teaspoon of ground seeds or one tablespoon of cold-pressed oil ( omega oils)
  2. Two servings of beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu, or seed vegetables
  3. three pieces of fresh fruit such as apples, pears, bananas, berries, melon or citrus fruits.
  4. 4 servings of whole grains such as brown rice, millet, rye, oats, wholewheat, corn, quinoa as cereal, breads and pasta.
  5. 5 servings of dark green leafy and root vegetables such as watercress, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, green beans, peas and peppers.
  6. 6 glasses of water, diluted juices, herb and fruit teas.
  7. eat whole organic, raw food as often as possible
  8. supplement your diet with high strength multivitamin and mineral preparationand 1000-mg of vitamin C
  9. avoid burnt and browned food, hydrogenated fat and excess animal fat.
  10. avoid any form of sugar, also white, refined and processed food with chemical additives, and minimise intake of alcohol, coffee and tea. have no more than 1 unit of alcohol a day ( i.e. one glass of wine).

Thats probably enough to get you thinking. Its a good book, very scientific so can only be read in stages. Food as we buy it in the shops however has not got the amount of nutrients we need, and that is why we supplement with sweet foods which give us an energy boost but it is not good for our bodies.

Changes I have made as a result is adding some seeds to my cereal and granola, eat more berries and try out some other grains that I had not heard of. The green leafy vegetables are not an issue because we grow them anyhow. There is a general reduction in our household in meat eating...but then again, you cannot change people’s eating habits over night it needs to be done gradually.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Working hard for your supper

The work ethic is continuing in the house. Dh is painting a bedroom with the assistance of 2 boys. One was asked to put masking tape around the plugs and they all went off, got changed into ‘ work clothes’. The day was a busy one. DS 1, in charge of all techno things, updated and swapped technology and they continued negotations on what was necessary. In the meantime, I picked some tomatoes and brought some eggs to a neighbour. I returned with a box of apples and some freshly picked sweetcorn. The secret of sweetcorn is that the sugar turns to starch the older they are so they were on the menu at lunchtime. I made 6 quarts of apple sauce, then boiled up the sweetcorn and we sat down all together enjoying a hearty lunch and counting our blessings.
The boys really worked hard all day in the house, painting, sorting and playing with trains in the lounge. In the evening, I picked some salad leaves and we had a stone baked pizza with salad followed by a plum tart with yoghurt. It all felt like a hard days work but very satisfying.

On a garden note, I am planning the salad leaves for the autumn and winter, merveilles des quartre saisons, rocket and mizuna.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Changing rooms

It all started out with my DD moving into her very first flat and de-cluttering her home. In the city it is often difficult to get rid of accumulated stuff, and with no car it almost seems impossible to deal with things on a timeline. We took the stuff home, and found some other homes for things, some things we adopted and others we did not but all in all it was interesting to see the next step. My boys decided they too would move, not house, but would de-clutter their stuff ( does this ever end, we have been downsizing stuff for 12 months now!). They will be changing rooms, sharing with a different brother which means that stuff needs sorting, recycling, selling, free-cycling etc. I wonder where they get their ideas from, might it be that our downsizing efforts and tactics are filtering through. yes, you can live with less stuff. One of the boys bagged up about 15 teddies and soft toys and although a part of him hankers after holding on to some of it, another part of him says it is no longer going to be cool to have that many softies around. Toys they have not played with for years are being rediscovered while they clear stuff. So now, instead of being in front of the play-station, they have turned the lounge into a giant brio trainset with complicated tracks and bridges they have just newly rediscovered. The duplo they gave a miss but trains and cars are hard to part with. The dog was less convinced and caused a major catastrophe by falling onto the bridge ( simply stretching its legs). The dog was given ‘ time out’ and they resumed their game, with trains.
Another interesting development was the asking ‘ can I have an apple’ instead of the usual sweets, crisps etc that were found in the larder. And then there was a strange look when they were banished from the foodfactory back to the railway game. Life certainly has changed. One thing I would like to see them change is the ability to make every room in the house in the flux of change. Their stuff now dons the landing, both rooms, the lounge and even the bathroom. I keep reminding myself its the process that counts, a smaller life, with more space, more fun and community. Ah and the communication for working together also needs a little tweaking. On day one there was a lot of shouting, day two less shouting and stomping off. It feels like bootcamp but I do think they are having fun by the way and it sure beats the cues in airports and the eco costs of holidays. Who would have thought you could have so much adventure in your own backyard. The team have gone to bed in different rooms ( just trying it for size) and I guess some negotiation will continue to happen but thats good, when they are talking to eachother and learning to talk and use eye contact, at least they are not trying to kill someone in a game. I am keeping my fingers crossed, my hopes high and look at the growing that is taking place.


A recent visitor asked what it was that I had fed my tomatoes on as the vines are positively dripping with fruits. I did not actually feed them but made sure that the soil was healthy. I do a rotation of potatoes, beans, salad, tomatoes,courgette and cucumber then salads again. Each time I plant the potatoes and tomatoes I add some compost to the soil. Regular watering also enables the plants to grow well as well as taking out the sideshoots and stopping the plants when 4 trusses have formed.
This basket is the first harvest from about 8 plants and was 15lbs in weight. Some of them have been frozen and 6lbs became spicy tomatoe chutney. Last year the 6 jars made, just dissappeared too fast in winter. We also had roast tomatoe soup for lunch with some homemade ciabatta.
Today, my bartering partner arrived with 21 lbs of plums in exchange for the tomatoe plants and other nursery plants I had given them at the beginning of the season, so I guess I shall be busy canning those today. Yeah. Practice makes perfect.

Now, I cannot say that this type of lifestyle is easier than going to the supermarket but it is more satisfying and interesting thats for sure.

Its simple to make things difficult, but it is difficult to make things simple.

Canning peaches

The first batch was a lovely experience. The kitchen has stopped being a kitchen and has turned into a food factory where preserving the harvest has become a daily occupation. I am not certain that the peaches are meant to be floating at the top, but it may have to do with too much air in the jar or a condension of peaches, who knows. What matters is that I managed the process and am looking at the start of a fullish pantry.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Avian Flu

Someone kindly asked by leaving a comment whether Avian Flu was going to be a problem. Here in the UK I follow the advice of the NFU and follow the guidelines should I find 3 or more dead birds. My chickens are in a coop that is partially covered and they are locked at night to ensure that the fox cannot eat them for dinner. I cannot protect them much from wild bird droppings because there are pheasants in this area and wild geese fly overhead. The key for me is to keep my small kids away from poultry, have impeccable hygiene as far as the water canister and food supply goes. If your animals are healthy and you look after their welfare then that is all you can do I believe. If avian flu hits the area, then we will have to do what we are advised to do, but in the meantime, I care for them as best as I can following the guidelines provided. For the USA info can be found here on what is happening worldwide.

The strangest thing in this country is that they have a sheep, cattle and pig register and also want owners of flocks of more than 50 chickens to be registered. All animals in this country should be able to be traced by tags and numbers. On the other hand, they are able to lay astray, illegal immigrants and escaped prisoners...which to me seems a little ironic.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fishy Business

My oldest boy and his friend went mackerell fishing yesterday and brought home a dozen as victorious hunter gatherers. Hmm....what to do with them now?
I have a good library and had seen someone gutting and filleting a fish so the only thing was to get real and do it myself. Its true, you need sharp knives, plenty of newspaper, then keep the cats at bay, boys out of the kitchen and then get on with the gruesome business. It is not as pleasant as canning I have to say, but dinner is sorted anyhow and it will be lovely for the boys to eat what they caught for supper. That experience is not for sale in the supermarket. Ok it was messy, I was clumsy with it, but I am sure the end result could not be fresher. I am enjoying this after all...thats what I keep telling myself.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Zuchini pickles

After the jars arrived I thought I would practice canning something using the water canner and opted for ingredients that were to hand, small quantity ( in case it went wrong) and got everything ready. Actually, the kitchen looked like a laboratory, a food factory and I donned my apron and banished everyone to the outer boundaries of the house. Cries of ‘ mother is experimenting’ went on in the distance and small people occasionally gathered at the door to test my patience, check my mood, frustration and anything else they might wish to spot. What they saw was a carefully planned, executed canning operation with the resulting 4 small jars ready and waiting after the canning operation.
I still have a vision of rows of canned produce, hopefully in sterilised jars with no bacteria showing through because a mouldy cupboard would just about make me come out in tears and screams. I am hopeful, I followed the instructions, used a thermometer to check that it had reached sterilisation temperature and I have survived with 4 jars to show for it.
At this point I am tempted to say, well I could as easily go to the supermarket and buy the stuff but that is hardly the point. I wanted to make the transition of growing our own veg and fruit, creating a larder of canned convenience foods and be independent from the middle man, less trips to the stores, less fuel used etc etc. I am holding on to that vision.

The enthousiasm and success of 1 afternoon in my kitchen food factory have not killed my wish to continue. Awaiting ripening a little are 2 boxes of fresh peaches, my boys have a jobs scheduled to go and pick my neighbours apples and I am waiting for the plum harvest. Guess I will be busier than I want soon but then in the winter I will be able to hibernate, put my feet up and enjoy the fruits of my labour. In principle. At least my survival does as yet not depend on my canning activities, if I really mess up I still have the fail safe plan that I can, if needed go to the store............I sincerely hope I will not have to do that but its always nice to know that I can and yes, I can can now. Heavens have managed to add another skill to my portfolio......guess there is not much call for it yet. Just you wait, canning will be in again soon. I am running ahead of a new trend.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Time away

You are probably wondering where I went off, or then again I may be flattering myself that you have given me a thought at all. Its been a daily round of gathering, cooking and preserving in this household as well as picnics to the beach and family time. Summer seems to be here forever, it has a lovely feel to it, as if summer in the UK always has been like this, which in fact this year is an exception. There is a need to be vigilant for mildew and trying to plant some more seeds so that the vegetables and fruit continues in the harvesting months.
The shipment from Lehmans with canning equipment came yesterday which was an exciting event. It will be even nicer when the larder boasts rows of jars with produce to be eaten during the colder months. The anticipation of that made me clean some more shelves and get rid of some more clutter. Seems endless the accumulation of stuff.
I realise that when I spin the fleece of a sheep, turn it into yarn, then knit a sweater with it, that I value the product I have made because I had some part in its journey from resource to product. The end result is pleasing and it reminds me that the garment is unique and priceless because it just cannot be mass produced. It is made to fit and I value the journey I have taken with the resources I was given. I think my generation has lost sight of that. A cheap T-shirt or other stuff I accumulated in the past,does not have that connection and if I knew when buying some clothing that some woman was being paid less than the cost of living to produce it, I may think twice about buying it. Growing fruit and vegetables, making food from scratch and not adding to the consumerism is not an easy road to is not a simpler life, in fact it is a harder road to walk, with the knowledge that I am going to need to learn skills, that I am going to have a glut of some things and that bugs are eating my cabbages. At least there are butterflies.....they symbolise a freedom and if by not buying a cheap T-shirt, I stop one child from having to work under slavery conditions, then that too is worth it. I can do without another , I can do without violence, I am no longer prepared to pay for that. I can be an ethical consumer yes, but it is going to be costly, in fact the way we consume is consuming the earth and you may say that one person cannot make a difference, but stopping the urge to continue consuming may be a step worth taking.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Deep in the magic bean forest, overlooked for many days, a cucumber grew quietly benefiting from the heatwave. Today, while it as a little cooler, I walked in to find a 3lb cucumber hanging in between the greenery. I harvest every day and despite looking very carefully I miss quite a bit really, a marrow as well. Todays harvest is
1lb green beans
1 marrow
4lbs cucumber
5 onions
3 apples
1 lb courgettes

So we will be having courgette soup for lunch with crusty bread, tonights salad is salade nicoise with fresh tomatoes, home produced eggs, some green beans and salad, what is not from the garden will be the tuna and dressing. That feels so great to do. To drink will be a vegetable juice from cucumber, lime and carrot which promises to be very refreshing. All I need to get on with is the fresh bread rolls.