Day 2: Zero Waste Week 2016

How is Zero Waste Week going for you?

Click here for Zero Waste week
Yesterday, I set myself two small challenges to put me on the path towards becoming a Zero Hero. I was going to:

  1. cook the family dinner (from scratch) and freeze the leftovers, and
  2. clear and clean my fridge.

Those small challenges ended up taking me a while, but it was worth it as I now have three meals for four in the freezer (twelve portions!!), and a sparkling fridge.

When I decided to cook, I was just going to make double portions of the vegetable curry I’d decided on but, when inspecting the veg I’d bought for the recipe, I realised I had more than I needed – and it had already passed its best before date by a few days! I’m not a natural cook, but I took a deep breath and adapted the recipe. Basically I just chopped and chucked in all the vegetables I wanted to use up and added a bit more of the other ingredients to keep the proportions of the dish correct. An hour later, I had a huge pot of curry. I was delighted.

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Normally I would serve curry with naan bread, but I didn’t have any so decided to make a loaf in the breadmaker instead. To my dismay my wholemeal bread flour was past its date (definitely time for a cupboard clear out, I noted!) so I set the breadmaker for a plain white loaf instead. By the time dinner came around, the smell of the fresh bread permeated the whole house and the kids were desperate to get stuck in, forgetting that they are not curry fans…

I left cleaning the fridge until the evening. I’ll admit that I didn’t think this would be too big a job as I had a clear out recently. I must have cut a few corners the last time though because there were some horrible things in there. I am way too embarrassed to have taken any photos (who wants to see mouldy food anyway??) but there was a cucumber that had self-liquidised and leaked, a garlic that was going the same way – staining a shelf in the process, and some jam that had got stuck to the back wall with ice and had some floaty things in it. Urgh!

I also discovered a glut of peppers and cherry tomatoes. Some were still nice and fresh so I chopped these up and popped them into the kids’ packed lunches this morning, while others are good enough to hide in a tomato sauce or a goulash. I’ll also throw in the three courgettes I found. They look like they were bought for a reason – I just can’t remember what it was…

I feel great about yesterday’s achievements. It’s lovely being able to look into the fridge and see what I have at a glance. What can I do though to break my usual cycle of over-buying, throwing out horrible food and feeling guilty?

The answer came from KathrynH of secondhandtales who yesterday posted a comment under my post asking:

Have you got a meal plan for the week?

My heart sank a little, as of course she was right but….I hate meal planning!! It involves tying myself down, thinking really hard about cooking and food shopping (not my favourite daydreaming topics),then following the plan through all week. All week!

I’ve decided thought that it’s eminently sensible. I’m no domestic goddess and the safest way for me to break my bad habits is to write a fail-safe action plan. I even have some home cooked meals in the freezer so this week doesn’t need to be too hard.

My task for today is therefore to come up with a week’s realistic meal plan. I’m already sitting down thinking and writing about food so perhaps in another fifteen minutes, I can take my next small step towards breaking my bad food waste habits. I’ll report back tomorrow!

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Cooking, cooking and more cooking

For the past twelve days I’ve been on a mission to get my two foodie* New Year’s Resolutions off to a great start. As a result, my hands are raw from constant dish washing, I’m running out of tupperwear and my house stinks of cooking (I’m writing this with a scented candle burning), but… it’s happening! The freezer is filling up, and my family are showing interest in their meals again.

I’m feeling excited about finally getting on top of healthy eating, plus the reduction of our rubbish that’s happened as a result. I’d be lying, however, if I said it was effortless. Far from it – I have to plan meals a few days ahead, which involves scouring for recipes, making shopping lists, and popping out for ingredients. I realise though that I’m not in a routine yet. In addition, I’ve done a lot of time consuming batch cooking which will save me hours in the weeks ahead.

If you are even vaguely interested (!), then here are the evening meals I’ve provided for my family since the New Year began. I’ve only recorded the side dishes we’ve had where I’ve had to specially to prepare them to a recipe, but mostly we have veg and sometimes potatoes:

1 January: Steak Pie

2 January: Vegetable Crumble

3 January: Chickpea Stew

4 January: Pasta Bolognaise

5 January: Tomato Sauce with pasta

6 January: Vegetarian Haggis

7 January: Homemade Pizza

8 January: Quark Pasta with roasted butternut squash done in cumin & coriander

9 January: Chickpea Stew

10 January: Tortilla with roasted butternut squash with caramelised sugar (thanks Snail of Happiness!)

11 January: Vegetarian goulash with brown rice

12 January: Tomato and Mozzarella tart

On top of that I’ve batch cooked;

Lentil soup, vegetable soup and curried carrot soup (some of the meals above were also part of a batch)

and baked:

Flapjacks, pear pie, marble cake, quark cakes and countless loaves of bread in the breadmaker.

(I’ve linked to recipes where I’ve discovered them on the internet).

All of this food preparation has been both exhilarating and exhausting! My other half is truly delighted with the increased preparation in the kitchen and has been helping with other jobs around the house and child care so that I can get off to a good start. The kids are still doing a fair bit of poking at their food with forks (but what is it Mummy?!) but they are loving the extra baking I’m doing, and there have been some pleasant surprises – such as my youngest loving chickpea stew.

In an attempt to reduce our food waste I’m finding that no sooner have I prepared one dish than I’m looking for a recipe for another, to use up leftover lemons or half a leek, which keeps my momentum up.

Will I keep this going? I certainly hope so. I can slow down now that I have several meals prepared in the freezer, but I’m aware that healthy meal preparation is a habit, and I’ve got to keep working away at it so that it becomes part of my lifestyle. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!**

*1.I will dramatically increase the amount of food that I cook from scratch, using organic ingredients where practically possible, with the aim of reducing the packaging I contribute to landfill. 2.I am going to provide healthier and more varied food for my family.

** and I’ll include photos in the next food post – they won’t upload and my IT support is currently at work 😉

 

 

Preparing to prepare food

In my last post I outlined my New Year’s Resolutions. The first three (writing, sewing and knitting) are a pleasure so, if I’m not doing them, it’s likely to be as a result of time constraints, or being unable to justify them as a priority against the background of a busy family life. My last two however involve food planning and preparation – definitely more of chore!

With that in mind, I decided to jump right in at the start of the year and get off to a good start with cooking and baking from scratch.

As everyone who wants to succeed at anything knows, a little planning goes a long way. Often when I go to prepare a meal, I can only think of a handful of food options – and usually we’ve either eaten them recently or the kids hate them! I therefore grabbed a pen and piece of scrap paper one night with the family and got everyone to shout out every meal we’ve ever had.

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It was a surprisingly fun exercise and the kids happily shared their thoughts on each dish as I wrote it down (my other half kept quiet, he’s just happy he’s not responsible for the cooking!)

So now at least I have a list of ideas to keep handy when inspiration has deserted me.

I have been procrastinating over my next task for over a year. I wanted to find new recipes. In the end, it was a simple and quick job. I opened up netmums and mumsnet, went to their recipe pages and printed off the first ten that I thought looked easy and tasty.

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Finally I bought myself a small diary in the sales (£1) to record what I was making each day, plus what we ate for dinner every night. This is a way of monitoring my progress and motivating myself by being able to see a log of my good work – that’s the idea anyway…

To date (6 days in!), I’m happy to report that my methods are working. I’ve been cooking and baking most days. I’ve also been batch cooking and freezing the spare portions for those days the kids have classes after school, and I’m short of time to prepare food.

Realistically, after having a good break over Christmas, I know my energy levels and enthusiasm are much higher than they will be as time goes on, but for now, I’m off to a good start. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

New Year’s Resolutions – 2016

Happy New Year!!

It’s not the most original opening to my first post of 2016, but it’s sincere. I hope that you have a fantastic and fulfilling 12 months ahead.

I am starting this year full of hope. I have concocted five goals that I want to work towards on the blog – some build on my previous efforts towards creating a more sustainable lifestyle, some are new, but all (I hope) will bring new and exciting opportunities to learn. Equally as important is that they are all absolutely achievable, as long as I’m willing to put in the effort – and I am! I really am!

So, without further ado, here are my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016…..

  1. Increase my blogging. I’d like my posts to average out over the year at 2 per week, therefore I’m aiming to end in December around the 104 mark.

I love my blog, I really do, but I’ve found that without disciplining myself to write, it’s the first thing to fall by the wayside when life gets busy or stressful. I miss writing though, and without the motivation I get from publicly sharing my progress, I’m in danger of achieving less. I’m also missing my pals in the blogging community, so for lots of reasons, it makes a lot of sense to breathe some new life into my blog. It’s good to be back!

  1. To build on the good work I did last year when I learned to sew. I want to save more clothes from landfill by altering them or upcycling them into other items. Where I do make clothes from scratch, I want to start using some organic fabrics.

My motivation to learn to sew grew from my decision to take a step back (if not completely away) from the fashion industry. I don’t want to support slave labour or environmental damage. I want to use my new sewing skills to extend the life of the clothes in my family and ultimately prevent them from being left to rot and leach chemicals into the earth. By increasing (from nothing!) my use of organic fabric, I will – slightly – minimise the negative environmental impact that producing those materials cause.

  1. I will continue to learn to knit, with the aim of being able to produce items that can be gifted.

Last year, while doing really well with my knitting, I got carried away learning some complicated techniques. This year I must focus on producing pieces that can be given away as lovingly made and thoughtful presents, which have been created as ethically as possible.

  1. I will dramatically increase the amount of food that I cook from scratch, using organic ingredients where practically possible, with the aim of reducing the packaging I contribute to landfill.

I failed in my goal to keep reducing my rubbish last year, and I’m sure the amount of ‘convenience’ foods I bring into the house contributed to this. It’s time to reduce our rubbish and improve our diets! This will also help with goal 5…

  1. I am going to provide healthier and more varied food for my family.

I am bored of the food I cook, bake and buy. When the kids complain about the same old stuff, I tend to agree rather than reprimand – it’s got that bad! I amn’t keen on cooking and creating food but I’m going to grab the metaphorical bull by its horns and throw myself into this challenge. It’s time to cook new meals, bake (some of) our own snacks and find out what it is that those self-proclaimed foodies love about meal times. I want my family to look forward to their meals and be excited about what delight is served. I would like someone at some point this year to ask for seconds!!!

Good luck to everyone out there hoping to live your dreams in 2016, you can do it!

If you want to see how I got on in achieving my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015, check out yesterday’s post.

Day 8: Plastic Free July 2014

I’m really beginning to enjoy Plastic Free July!

Maybe it’s because I’ve chucked the rule book out of the window, and am focussing on all of my plastic-free successes, and, kind of just…ignoring the failures… 😉

Calm down! My heart is in the right place – in fact I’m slightly obsessed with single-use plastics – but I’ve decided not to sweat the small stuff. I’m focussing my energy on the areas I can make a difference and, if there are a few plastic casualties on the way, then so be it!

So, what’s been happening over the last couple of days?

In my war against plastic, I identified that a weak area for me is food shopping. Specifically, food shopping with small people! My kids know what their favourite things are, and are good at arguing their case! Nothing wrong with that. In their world, generally good things are healthy, bad things are unhealthy. I’m finding it difficult to deal with requests that are healthy, and therefore reasonable as far as they’re concerned, but that are wrapped in plastic.

It’s not especially fair for me to change the rules that they have become used to, so I decided to do a shopping trip alone in the evening. It worked well – I was round the supermarket in half the usual time, and was able to stick to my list, plus take a look for any plastic-free products that I hadn’t thought of. (I have little to offer in the way of suggestions, there is a lot of plastic in the supermarket!)

One thing that’s been bothering me since the start of July, is the discovery that there’s seemingly plastic in tea bags. Yes! In the actual bag! As I’ve written before, my main issue with this is that I detest the idea that I might be melting plastic into a cup of hot water, and then drinking it. It just doesn’t sound safe! Unfortunately for me though, I am somewhat attached to my daily cuppa (or five), so there was only one thing for it, I had to find a source of loose tea in plastic-free packaging, near home.

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Incidentally, I think you can save the planet with or without a babysitter!

I googled the relevant key words and phoned the first company listed. I cheerily explained that I was looking for packaging-free tea leaves. I was met by a silence, and then a stutter that…er… yes I could have it packaging-free, but I’d still have to pay for the packaging, because all tea arrives at the shop in the packaging. Not prepared to drive across town, just to have tea leaves cut out of their plastic and given to me, I hastily said goodbye. The next company raised my hopes by saying that their packaging was a cardboard box but, just as I started getting excited, the person on the end of the phone remembered that the leaves were actually in a plastic bag inside the cardboard box. My final call was to Wittard in Edinburgh, where a helpful sales person assured me that I could bring in my own container, and the only ‘packaging’ I’d have to accept was a sticky label with the price.

Really?

Yes, really!

She sounded amused that she’d made me so happy with this small piece of information, but she had! Getting into the centre of Edinburgh to execute this purchase is going to be one big hassle, but I’m keen to drink plastic-free tea, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

Finally in the last couple of days, I’ve done a mountain of food preparation. I think I’ve mentioned this in most of my posts during Plastic Free July! It really is, however, the key to me eliminating as many single-use plastics as possible! Actually I’m really enjoying the cooking, but I fully acknowledge that this is because I’m feeling motivated and full of energy – I know I can’t keep up this level of production throughout the year!

I made soup that was so close to being plastic-free, it hurts! The recipe is here. I left out the Alpro. I think that my only plastic fails were the plastic-clad curry powder, and the small bits of plastic on the cap and neck of the oil bottle .

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I froze it in old jam jars, which was great as it meant I could reuse the jars (with plastic-lined lids), instead of recycling as usual. Plus they were a good size for squeezing into the small spaces left in the freezer.

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I’ve been churning out bread-maker bread, boiling eggs, baking potatoes and making more almost plastic-free fairy cakes, which we’ve been consuming at home – instead of plastic-wrapped biscuits – and taking to friends when we visit.

The down side of all of this productivity is that it is generating lots of dishes, at the time of cooking, and all of these reusable containers that will need washed up when the food has been eaten.

Today at least though, Plastic Free July’s going well. Let’s just not talk about the odd pieces of disposable plastic that are sneaking in here and there! Let’s pretend they’ve never happened and maybe all of my preparations will mean that, one day, they won’t!