Monday, November 24, 2008

The sky at night

The skies have been brilliant and inspiring over the last few days. The days are cold and the wind is whipping up from a different direction. The garden is being put to bed and my attention is drawn to the inside of the house.

Now is a time to tidy the tools away, clean and oil them. It is satisfying to see that the garden will still be producing some salads; purslane, parsley and celery still abound and there have been plenty of bulbs planted to bring spring colour.

The canning equipment is being put away, the damson gin is about to be put into bottles as gifts for loved ones and a tipple for me when it gets really cold. From the corner comes the spinning wheel and the many bags of fleece that still need to be spun,the knitting needles can click away, the pile of books is ready to be read. I have started a sweater that is lighter and warm for next year's cold spells. I also check the supplies of essential oils, essences and other supplies.

It’s time to begin making gifts for the December holiday season! First though, a day of Thanksgiving. This year, my thanks are not only for continued health, friends, the shop, the home that feels more like ours and the countryside around me; but more - they are for quiet, serenity, inner peace, and a recognition that the things with which I am blessed become too numerous to list as soon as I begin. May it be so for all of you who share this blog and downshifting journey.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Money saving tip -1 - 10 breakfast ideas

Breakfast under the Big Birch by Carl Larsson
Breakfast under the Big Birch

Breakfast appears to be the most important meal of the day as literally we wake up and break our fast. Our bodies need nourishment that will carry us through the day. Serve in a pretty place, in a special bowl.

Wheat free, sugar free and dairy free offer a challenge so what follows are our top breakfast choices. These have more variety than 12 months ago. We have branched out into uncommon resources, uncommon because we were not familiar with them. Quantities are per person.

1 - Oaty fruit

2 tablespoons oats, soaked in water, add 1 tablespoon of sultanas and a handful of raspberries or choice of berries. In the morning add pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and a few almonds. Mix.

2 - Apple millet cereal

1 cup of millet add 2 cups of water. Cook on the stove for about 30 mins ( check water content).
When cooked stir in 1 chopped apple, a little butter and some maple syrup.

3- Quinoa with bananas

1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water. cook for 20 mins ( check water). Add berries of your choice and a banana. If you want to indulge, some cocoa powder and the banana.

Cereal choices of grain - millet, quinoa, oats,barley

Topping for cereals
apricots, bananas, apples, cherries, raisins, currants, flaked coconut, walnuts, cashews ( unsalted), almonds, , sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts.

Sweet things to add to cooked cereal:
honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, molasses, manuka honey.

4 -Eggs

Boiled, scrambled with tomatoes. On toast or with rice cakes.

If you are not dairy intolerant :
5- Pancakes, waffles etc

6 - Rice pudding

7 - One of a kind granola ( good for travelling )

Preheat the oven to 150 C. Combine in a heavy roasting pan
1 cup wholemeal flour or soya flour
1 1/2 cups dry milk powder ( optional if dairy intolerant)
1 1/2 cup bran
1/2 cup buckwheat ( optional)
1 cup sesame seeds
6 cup oats
1 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1 cup hazelnuts

Combine in a saucepan
1 cup oil, 1/2 cup honey, 2 tablespoons molasses, 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Warm over gentle heat to blend. Pour into dry mixture stirring well. Roast for 45 to 60 mins stirring every 15 mins until everything is golden brown.
After it has cooled add - 2 cups of raisins, 1 cup each of chopped prunes, dates, apricots and cocunut, 1 cup of other nuts. Store in a pretty jar or several and serve either with milk or juice poured over it.

Voila, not a single cereal packet to deal with. No cartons to recycle, no shopping to carry in vast quantities. Since 2 out of the 5 of us do not drink milk, we have less plastic bottles to recycle.

Most ingredients can be bought in the wholefood shop for a song. The beauty is that with all the neat jars full of wholefoods each person can add what they like.

8- Smoothie
1 banana, 1 handful of raspberries ( or other fruits), add fruitjuice of your choice ( cranberry, orange, apple, tropical), whizz in the blender and enjoy.

9 - Popcorn

10- Fresh fruit
2 pieces of fresh fruit of your choice with a handful of almonds, cashews or hazelnuts.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Local food - Wild rabbit with field mushrooms and shallots

Mogimont Village Ardennes Belgium by Ledent
Mogimont Village Ardennes Belgium

In the Ardennes where I grew up, Rabbit, Venison, Wild Boar were often on the menu. This week I am going to try and eat locally with what is available in the garden and in the area.
My personal diet is mostly vegetarian for many reasons but also because most meat products are fed on wheat to which I am intolerant.
Rabbit is in season currently and I have taken my grandmother's cookery book out and am making a rabbit stew marinated in a local Peregrine Dark Beer from Cotleigh Brewery. It requires marinating overnight. My family are not accustomed to rabbit so it may end up a complete disaster in the taste stakes.
The cost for 2 rabbits from the local butcher came to £ 4.40 which is less than a free range chicken. Rabbit meat should taste like chicken and contains a lot less fat. I know, it is a cute animal but very prolific here in the countryside and it is my intention to eat as locally as possible and not discount any resources.

This is a very lengthy process so you need more than time on your hands.

1 carrot ( peeled and cut into 4)
1 celery ( cut into chunks)
1 large onion sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
a couple of black peppercorns
2 bottles of Cotleigh Brewery Dark Beer
2 table spoons of cider vinegar

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade into a large dish, add rabbit pieces and leave overnight in a very cool place.

Day 2

4 tablespoons of flour
4 oz of butter
1 tablespoon of oil
1 pound of fresh mushrooms ( field mushrooms are best)
10 peeled shallots
6 fluid oz of stock ( vegetable or chicken)
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of redcurrant jelly
2 tablespoons of fresh minced parsley


  1. Remove rabbit pieces from the marinade and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Save marinade.
  2. Heat butter in pan until it froths and brown rabbit pieces on both sides. Work in small pieces so that it does not crowd the pan.
  3. Return all pieces back to a large pot , pour in all the marinade with vegetables, herbs and spices. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer covered for 45 mins.
  4. Place the cover slightly ajar and continue cooking for 45 to 60 mins until the meat is very tender and falls from the bones.
  5. prepare the mushrooms and onions. Melt some more butter over medium heat and add mushrooms. Cook for 8 to 10 mins then set aside.
  6. Melt some additional butter and add onions, with stock, sugar, salt and pepper in small saucepan. Add the onions and cook partially covered over medium heat until the onions are tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrup, about 30 mins. Remove from heat and set aside.
  7. Remove rabbit pieces from set, then puree the remaining ingredients in a blender; the pureed vegetables will thicken the sauce and give extra flavour. Return pureed sauce to saucepan, heat to the boil and add redcurrant jelly.
  8. Return the rabbit pieces along with the mushrooms and onions.
  9. Heat through and serve with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

I agree that this is not a quick recipe but if mastered on a cooker could continue to bubble on a woodstove for braising and gentle heat.

The family were appreciative of the fact that the meal had taken such a long time to cook. The smells pervaded the house and tantalised their noses. They were unsure of what it would be like but said they would not object to having it another time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

10 ways to cut spending

  1. Eat home made cereals instead of shop bought ones. Saves on sugar too.
  2. Turn the heating down.
  3. Take a packed lunch to work. Cook from scratch with seasonal ingredients.
  4. Plan a menu and shop with a list.
  5. Find someone local to cut your hair.
  6. Car share, walk or cycle.
  7. Compare transport costs car -v- public transport.
  8. Increase vegetable intake, reduce meat consumption.
  9. Invite friends home to eat potluck supper instead of meeting at a restaurant or pub.
  10. Do a financial reality check.

Over the next 10 posts I will be expanding on each one and giving you an insight in how we work these principles here.
You Can Save Money, But Money Can't Save You
You Can Save Money, But Money Can't Save You

Monday, November 17, 2008

In the blank space

It is known in nature that some seeds need to be burnt by forest fires before they can germinate to grow into new lush growth replacing a devastated forest. The landscape may look very bleak and yet the very devastating conditions provide just the right medium for new growth to take place.

May now be the time for seeds to provide new growth. Let us find the courage to start afresh. I will be looking at the resources around me in the next few days and reflect how they can be used in a positive way to move forward.

It is said that love changes everything......

The clip is of an Irish blessing sung by the wonderfully soothing voice of Snatam Kaur.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


The news has been dismal this week in the newspapers and if it is to be believed we should be hurtling into a recession at great speed. Hopefully you are still strapped in the rollercoaster and hanging on. I sense that the only way now is to ride it out however horrible the landscape is we are passing. Life from now on is going to be different. We have not been in this situation before and an alignment and adjustment is taking place.

Logically the news should mean that everyone wants to stop purchasing anything that is not a luxury and batten down the hatches. Some however will be panic buying. If you are a saver, the returns on your money are very low and if that is your source of income then things will get tight. If you worked in financial services, call centres and any other service orientated line of work, you may face redundancy and with that difficulty living and honouring any commitments you have. Many people live one paycheck away from disaster. It can be a situation where we all feel powerless, helpless and in shock. How did it get to this?

The response of our government is to drop interest rates, rescue the banking system and borrow more. We might otherwise be heading for a deadlock.

There is no doubt that we are heading into difficult waters and the situation will be unique to every one of us, depending on how old you are, what your commitments are, your skills etc.

5 years ago I was enjoying a job I liked very much and became ill. As the main breadwinner my panic button was pushed. My husband had been the one staying at home and on the 21st December I was sitting in the unemployment office having to prove that I had been let go from my job due to ill health. ( A project cannot be managed by a sick manager, not when it involved people in crisis)I was told that I would not be getting anything for a while. I felt lousy, could hardly walk and wondered how it had come to this. I felt I had failed and was being failed. I felt I had done my best and all I wanted to do was go hide, sleep or worse.

What has struck me about humanity is that we have the ability to unite and perform miracles together whereas individually the task may seem too great. As this is a crisis which faces the whole of humanity on a global scale and we are beginning to realise that what we do here has an effect somewhere it is conceivable that whatever effort we make to reduce our consumption, voluntarily or not will have an impact somewhere in the universe.

We can look at what we cannot do, at what has gone, grieve for a time that has passed and then we need to keep our heads high and pick up where we are now.

My job was dealing with people in a crisis and when I found myself in one I looked on from the outside and wondered how I could use the skills I had used professionally to make a way through.

Here are some olive branches :

Remind yourself that you are alive, very much alive and that at this moment you have all you need. Get up each day, face the sun and look around.

Gather your family and friends around you if you can and check that everyone is OK. Reassure the people around you that you can work together to find a solution. Listen to all options and make decisions. It is inaction that increases our fear; be flexible and reassess the situation each day.
Promise yourself to get up each day and face what happens in the moment.
Do not panic as fear can make things look like a nightmare.
Every day you will need water, food, shelter and warmth - plan with what you have.
Find out the resources you have available and make the most of what you have.
Let go of some possessions.
There will be people with money and no time that now find themselves at the other end of the spectrum, time and no money. Invest in your health and your relationships.
Gather your strength, work out what is possible and believe that you can achieve the impossible with the help of your friends, family, community, country and the rest of the world. Believe that you have the skills to bring you through. Let go of the expected and expect the unexpected.
Stand tall and smile. There is everything to live for and there is time to reconnect.
Really look around you, take it all in and then breathe, breathe, breathe and look ahead and reach out.
Let go and forgive.

Music is empowering to me and Mariah Carey's song has some great words to go by.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Warm hearts

The heating challenge continues and we are doing fine.

In the past we expected to guess at the temperature that would be comfortable and just put the heating on on automatic. Now the temperature gauge says it is 65 and with a sweater, baselayer and woolly socks we are doing fine. The children have less difficulty staying warm as their metabolisms are working at a higher rate. We have found that a daily walk with the dog or bike ride for the children, rugby games etc makes a huge difference to how cold one feels. The only time I personally feel the cold is on days when I feel unwell, rest and immobile.

We are adapting to less heat and with the savings we made we have given the children some money to do with as they wish. It is their share of savings made over the last month. The looks on their faces was great to see and warmed our hearts.

It is possible to stay warm with less. It is possible because we have some control over our environment here, we live and work in the same place. The shop is not heated and we have now repaired the shop doors so that they can be closed with ease and are more draughtproof. The benefit is that the heat generated by the appliances heats the shop instead of evaporating into the village street. There are working environments where the temperature has to be higher such as oncology units and coming home to a colder place would be more noticeable.

Living in one room is getting easier too. As usual the dog and cats find their way in the seats nearest to the fire. They provide an accurate temperature gauge too ; the cats are quite happy outside in the porch. When it is due to rain they stay in the porch, when the weather is set for very cold they insist on a mesmerising place in the chair near the fireplace.

Nevertheless the savings are worth considering not just personally but also environmentally.
It still stuns me that the little changes we make can make such a big difference. Life without central heating is possible and living with less is such a freeing concept.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cost of living

Autumn Grazing by Bill Saunders
Autumn Grazing

How did you get to live in the house you are now?

Housing costs depend on what choices have been important to you and are currently important to you.

Some questions to explore :

How much space do we need?
How can we maximise the space versus costs of property?
What are our housing needs?
How much are we prepared to pay for our housing costs?
Do we need to own a property?

If you did not reassess your housing costs before here are some ways of saving money or making your house help make ends meet.

Check that your house meets your needs ( i.e. could you manage with a smaller house, smaller garden different location etc). If it feels too small ask yourself how you can make it appear to be bigger? What is the core issue that makes you feel you need a larger house?
If you have a mortgage on your property check that you have the best possible rates and that you can manage the payments. How much are you prepared to pay for the way you live?
If you have a spare room, would you consider taking in a lodger. There is an issue with lack of privacy but if extra income is necessary could it be an option. Aim for maximum occupancy for your home which will also reduce your ecological footprint. Ensure that you have lodgers on a contract basis to protect yourself and your home.
Have you insulated your home as much as is possible both in terms of investment and possibilities in your home?
How much stuff do you need? Can you continue to declutter?
Is working from home a possibility cutting out commuting?
How much vegetables and fruit can your garden provide?
What temperature are you comfortable with?

With hindsight anything is possible; as I see people move into their new home I recall the many many boxes of stuff I packed, paid to be moved and then never needed. It is not a quick process but part of the downshifting journey.

My definition of success is total self acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day, Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day – is a day to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war; this was possibly done upon the suggestion of Edward George Honey to Wellesley Tudor Pole, who established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917.[1] ( wikipedia)

Now my life is only weeping by Karl Jenkins is part of his new work Stabat Mater and I offer you the clip by Miss Wed combining the song with clips from the Robin Hood series 2. Its a powerful emotional combination.

Remembrance and grief are universal themes and part of our human experience whether in wartime or other times. As leaves fall to earth, as trees are felled and lives end, let us contemplate remembrance and in particular family, friends, fellowship and the fragility of life. (© Anne - downshiftingpath 2008)

Let us not forget.......

Monday, November 10, 2008

changing seasons

The autumn and winter weather here in the UK are comparatively mild in temperature compared with the USA for instance. It gets wet,windy and damp and to go out requires some effort. The dog is an excellent creature of routine and expects at least 2 walks per day. The difference living here is that it gets light after 8 am and quite dark in the afternoon, just after 4 pm when the children get home from school.
Pumpkin carvings by Nathalie Halloween 2008

Light and candles are therefore important during these months and I feel drawn to scented candles and a daily walk in the fresh air. It feels like a time of hibernation, rest and contemplation and this year, I intend to give in to that rhytm a little more than previous years.
Dampness in the air, colder nights and daylight have a mellow feel to it. There is a poignancy about this time of year. Nature is still blooming, ripe with berries, hips and haws and there are still many flowering plants in the garden. Yes we know that it is impermanent and that change is imminent.

At the same time, our bodies change too in anticipation of a different season. The ancient chinese associated this season with the earth element. When you look around at harvesting of crops, gathering fruits of your labour in the garden it can be linked naturally with digestion and nourishment. Autumn and winter bring us back inside, out of the cold, expecting warm nourishment and a time of rest.

I find it fascinating that eating with the seasons brings me into a different way of preparing meals that are suited to a woodstove. Comfort foods; warm stews, soups and hot drinks centre us at this time of the year. Cold food and drinks are thought to deplete the spleen and stomach energy. When cold food enters the stomach it has to be warmed diverting valuable energy from the digestive process.

Some seasonal preparations:
  • millet is a gluten free grain which in Chinese medecine is thought to be supportive to the spleen and is cooked in much the same way as porridge : 1 cup of millet flakes to 2 cups of water, simmer for 30 mins.
  • Root vegetables can be roasted in the oven ; sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, squashes and yams are high in natural sugars and are a healthy way to indulge a sweet tooth.
  • Slow cooked foods; casseroles, stews and soups.
  • Add cumin seeds, and coriander to vegetable, bean and lentil dishes- this helps digestion.
  • Drink peppermint tea after meals.

Despite the wet weather, I love the colours, the composting scents in the countryside and I look forward to coming home and taking up my knitting, my reading and spinning in the warm room.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The scents of winter

Mandarin Oranges, Dates, Pomegranate and Cinnamon Sticks by Ulrika Pousette
Mandarin Oranges, Dates, Pomegranate and Cinnamon Sticks

As my daughter tells me that all little insects crawl away at the beginning of November and the onset of winter is nigh, I feel the need to create some winter concoctions to keep the air moist with orange and spice and all things nice.

The woodburner is great at producing heat but simultaneously has a habit of drying out the air around us. A simple thing to do is to have a pot with some water on the woodburner where water evaporates and makes the air moist again.

Much more fun is adding some things to the water- it could be a soup bubbling away but today I feel the need to add some ginger, orange, cloves and cinnamon to the water. Tomorrow it might be pine and eucalyptus.

It sure makes cabin fever more pleasurable. As an aside we did spend some money on base layers to wear under woolly jumpers and I am certainly feeling the benefit of that.

More spicy tea now and then a brisk walk with the dog. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing - a saying I remember from Denmark. It may just be correct....