17 for 2017 – February Update

Spreadsheet

Spreadsheet

Here I am again with a 17 for 2017 progress update (where does the time go?). If you look carefully at my spreadsheet, you can see that one of the rows is full! There are still some rows that don’t contain anything, but I’m making some progress, and some is very seasonal anyway. So, here’s where I am so far:

Seventeen… Love Rocks or other little random yarny/sewn gifts. I sent off my first of these just the other day. I want it to be a surprise for the recipient (although she knows it’s on the way), so no photograph just yet.

Sixteen… batches of homemade biscuits. I’ve only made one batch this month, but since I made loads last month, the total for the year so far is a respectable 7 batches

Fifteen… cheeses.  No hard cheeses this month, but one batch of curd cheese.

Another pair

Another pair

Fourteen… pairs of knickers. Three more pairs completed this  month bringing the total to five. I’ve getting better with the overlocker, so they are getting easier to make.

Thirteen… mends. Three this month: the knees of Mr Snail’s work jeans patched again; a hole darned for a friend and a pair of my leggings mended.

Twelve… letters to friends. Just one written this month, but that’s ok because I only have to average one a month to reach my target.

Eleven… new items in my Etsy shop. I’m delighted to say that there are now seven bird roosts listed – some felted and some made with woollen twine. I haven’t sold any yet, but it’s early days.

Ten... plants given to good homes. None yet – it’s still too early in the season.

Nine… games of Scrabble. None yet… we seem to have been so busy.

Eight… meals using only our own produce. None yet, although we’ve eaten lots of omelettes, making them partial meals from our garden!

Seven… visits to see “social media” friends. I’ve managed two ‘big’ visits – first to Manchester, where I saw a whole load of friends who I know via Twitter, as well as my dear Sarah, who I’ve known since I was 18 and my niece Alex; second to Birmingham, where I got together with lots of permaculture friends, most of whom I communicate with via FaceBook.

Six… Pairs of socks knitted, using at least three different patterns. None yet… it’s all been about crochet recently.

Five… book chapters written. None yet, although I may have persuaded a friend to contribute to the book.

Max quality-controlling the final blanket

Max quality-controlling the final blanket

Four… blankets for charity; knitted or crocheted. All four done… I will make more later in the year, but I’m having a rest for a while.

Three… sessions in the loft, sorting out some of the accumulated ‘stuff’ up there. None – it’s still too cold to venture up there yet!

Two… patterns published and on sale. I did one last month, but nothing further this month.

One… denim gardening apron. Not yet, but I will try to sort out the fabric in the coming month.

So, it’s progressing well – how about your projects this year? If you have 17 for 2017 blog post or an update on your progress, do leave a link in the comments.

17 for 2017 – January Update

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see- very geeky!

As we are coming to the end of the month, I thought I’d give you a 17 for 2017 progress update. I’ve got quite geeky about it all and made myself a spreadsheet with hyperlinks to pictures and (in one case) a second spreadsheet, meaning that I should be able to see how I’m getting on at a glance… if I remember to actually update the spreadsheet as I do things! Anyway, in less than I month, this is what I’ve done:

Seventeen… Love Rocks or other little random yarny/sewn gifts. I haven’t finished any yet, but I’m working on quite a big creation to send as a surprise gift.

Sixteen… batches of homemade biscuits. This was under-ambitious for the year – I’ve already made five batches!

Fifteen… cheeses.  I’m not sure whether I should count one or two here – I made a tomme-style cheese, and then I made ricotta with the whey. I’ve only entered this as one cheese on my spreadsheet, because it was only one cheese-making day.

Fourteen… pairs of knickers. Good progress here: two pairs completed and another six pairs cut out and ready for sewing.

Thirteen… mends. Two done: some boro mending on the knee of a pair of jeans belonging to Mr Snail and a tear in a cotton tunic repaired using my overlocker.

Twelve… letters to friends. In a flurry of activity on a dull and wet day, I wrote five letters!

Eleven… new items in my Etsy shop. None yet (although one pattern is now listed, but that’s lower down this list)

Ten... plants given to good homes. None yet – it’s too early in the season.

Nine… games of Scrabble. None yet… we’ve got a bit carried away with watching The Blacklist on dvd to the exclusion of playing games.

Eight… meals using only our own produce. None yet, because neither of us fancy kale omelette!

Seven… visits to see “social media” friends. One visit to blogging friend Katy the Night Owl.

Six… Pairs of socks knitted, using at least three different patterns. Yarn and new pattern at the ready, but none started yet.

Five… book chapters written. None, although I’m planning a talk on ecology that will form the skeleton of one of the chapters.

Four… blankets for charity; knitted or crocheted. Two completed – one for Knit for Peace, one for Sixty Million Trebles, and two on my hooks.

Three… sessions in the loft, sorting out some of the accumulated ‘stuff’ up there. None – it’s too cold to venture up there yet!

Two… patterns published and on sale. Bird Roost pattern finished and available as a digital download from my etsy shop.

One… denim gardening apron. Not yet – I’ve been dithering about the fabric!

If you have 17 for 2017 blog post or an update on your progress, do leave a link in the comments.

17 for 2017

Over the past year I’ve really enjoyed hearing what fellow bloggers have achieved off the lists that they made at the beginning of the year in 16 for 2016 (and before that in 15 for 2015). So, reading this year’s lists from gillyflower, Nana Cathy, Murtagh’s Meadow and others, I’ve been inspired. As I’ve said, I don’t like new year’s resolutions, but I do like a list. I started off on paper with some ideas.

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it started with a mind map

 

Finally I’ve settled on this list of some of the things I’d like to achieve in 2017…

Seventeen… Love Rocks (my rocks will have little crochet vests rather than glued-on hearts) or other little random yarny/sewn gifts to be given to individuals or left to be found by anyone

Sixteen… batches of homemade biscuits

Fifteen… cheeses… it’s ambitious, but now I have my great source of milk, it’s do-able and they don’t all have to be hard cheeses

Fourteen… pairs of knickers… that’s how many I’m planning to make!

Thirteen… mends… darning, patching, gluing, stitching… whatever needs doing

Twelve… letters to friends, using real paper and real ink

Eleven… new items in my Etsy shop (this is long overdue)

Ten... plants given to good homes (this one is inspired by Murtagh’s meadow)

Nine… games of Scrabble… Mr Snail and I used to play often, but we rarely do now even though it’s something we both enjoy

Eight… meals using only our own produce (except oil and seasoning)

Seven… visits to see friends who I normally communicate with via social media

Six… Pairs of socks knitted, using at least three different patterns (I have one pattern I use over and over, but I want to diversify)

Five… book chapters written. I’m planning to write a beginner’s guide to ecology

Four… blankets for charity; knitted or crocheted

Three… sessions in the loft, sorting out some of the accumulated ‘stuff’ up there (I think there’s a box of 30-year-old bank statements!)

Two… patterns published and on sale. This year I will finally complete my crochet bird roost pattern and my skeleton hat knitting pattern (which involves a chart).

One… denim gardening apron

So, really it’s business as usual, but one or two of my goals may be quite a challenge and this should help to give me focus.

If you have 17 for 2017 blog post, do leave a link in the comments, I’d love to read what you are planning.

Just one thing

The other day, someone on a discussion group that I’m a member of asked what one thing they should do to start leading a more sustainable life. I have to confess that I didn’t respond, but it is a question that I’ve been pondering ever since. Of course there’s lots of things you could do, from saying no to plastic bags to catching the bus rather than driving the car, but on reflection, I think my advice would be to consider your eating habits.

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In control of your own potatoes!

If you start thinking more about the food you eat, you will begin to wonder what’s actually in it and where it came from. The more your food has been prepared or processed before it gets to you, the more difficult it is to unpick its history, so you become less and less sure of what you are actually swallowing. Let’s consider two extremes, in the form of mashed potato:

  •  If you eat a potato that you have grown yourself, then you can be sure how far it has travelled, what chemicals have been applied to it, exactly what variety it is and when it was harvested. In addition, it’s pretty certain that it won’t have had any packaging, except when it’s parent seed potato arrived for planting. You can boil it and eat it without any additional ingredients, but any that you do add – salt, butter, milk, oil – will be under your control in terms of source and amount.
  • If you buy pre-prepared mashed potato, you’ll have to look at the ingredients to know what’s in it (for example, Tesco Fresh Mashed Potato contains: Potato, Skimmed Milk, Whole Milk (9%), Butter (Milk) (3%), Salt, White Pepper). You won’t know how the potatoes were grown, and you may only have the vaguest indication of where they were grown and/or processed (the Tesco version states “Produced in the UK” and nothing else). There’s bound to be packaging (plastic and cardboard in this example) and there’s going to have been lots of food miles, because of transporting the potato to the processing plant, transporting the product to a central distribution centre and from there to the shop, before you can finally transport it home to eat.
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Buying in bulk can mean less packaging

Of course, we can’t all grow our own food, and many people can’t grow any of their own food, but if you can (even a little bit), you can be completely in control of that part of your diet. The next best option is to buy direct from the producer – if you buy from the person who grows or makes your food, you can ask them questions about it. In addition, in my experience, small producers of non-luxury foods generally minimise their packaging as it costs them money: many small-scale sellers will aim simply for freshness and protection. Buying direct also reduces food miles because the supply chain is so short. The popularity of farmers’ and producers’ markets has given many more people the opportunity to buy direct, plus more and more small producers are selling online. This is encouraging, but still you’d be very lucky to be able to source all your food direct – almost all of us have to rely, at least to some extent, on third party suppliers, and then there is an element of trust in the relationship.

Over the years I’ve read so many labels on packets containing food. Sometimes, I just can’t face the disappointment of discovering that my favourite biscuits contain palm oil, so I don’t read the ingredients, but sooner or later I get round to it and often it results in me making changes to my diet. There are some products that I’ve given up not because of the ingredients, but because of the packaging (teabags, for example). As a result there are now only a few things that we eat that I haven’t made myself, and increasingly I find that I no longer enjoy the flavour of pre-prepared/processed things that I used to eat or drink often . This, however, has been a very gradual process. Twenty years ago we did almost all our food shopping in a supermarket and I didn’t think twice about buying a pizza or a bag of frozen chips. And this is one of the joys of focusing on food – small changes accumulate over time and because we eat every day, a little change can have a big impact over a whole year.

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Some home-made food is fancier than others

I wish I’d kept better track of the way our food has changed – it would be interesting. I’m sure that stopping going out to work made a big difference. Since I now do all my paid work from home, it’s much easier to fit in cooking from scratch. My commitment to cooking has also meant that I have bought kitchen equipment that I would otherwise not have bothered with – for example, my Kenwood Chef sure does get a lot of use, and we like it especially because a single motor can run the coffee grinder, blender, ice cream maker and mincer as well as the basic mixer; it’s also possible to buy spares if there’s a problem. Having the right equipment makes a huge impact on the speed I can make things, although very few items are essential.

 

So, if you want to make a start on saving the planet, think about your food and make a few changes that fit your lifestyle. You may be surprised how your shopping and diet are gradually transformed without a huge traumatic shift in your habits.

Réchauffage

No too bad for 'left-overs'!

Not too bad for ‘left-overs’!

We used to have a friend who detested left-overs… he simply would not eat them. He probably would have died of starvation in our house as ‘left-overs’ comprise a remarkably high proportion of the food we eat. But when I come to think about it, many of our left-overs are created deliberately, they are not the result of an accidental over-estimate of the food required. Like Sam Vimes, our food does not need any favours.

‘Needs eating up.’ That was a phrase of Sybil’s that got to Vimes. She’d announce at lunch: ‘We must have the pork tonight, it needs eating up.’ Vimes never had an actual problem with this, because he’d been raised to eat what was put in front of him, and do it quickly, too, before someone else snatched it away. He was just puzzled at the suggestion that he was there to do the food a favour.

Terry Pratchett. Thud!

I like cooking enough on one day that I have something to eat the next. It’s not about using waste, it’s more about planning ahead. In this world of ours where ready meals are so popular (according to the BBC, ready the meals industry is worth £2.6bn in the UK alone), I quite like making something myself that can be quickly heated up.

I can always find a container in which to freeze or store left-overs

I can always find a container in which to freeze or store left-overs

A rather strange programme on the BBC last week, Nigel and Adam’s Farm Kitchen, encouraged us to make and freeze our own ready meals, Although growing your own durum wheat with which to make your pasta (as they did) seemed an unattainable starting point for anybody watching the show, I was hopeful that the subsequent demonstration would provide some good ideas for viewers. Unfortunately, Nigel Slater got carried away and made 30 small lasagnes, each in their own foil tray. Hmmm… in our house, we would have made a large lasagne in a Pyrex dish, cooked it, eaten some of it and frozen individual portions in reusable plastic tubs. OK, this would require portions to be transferred out for reheating in the oven, but since most folks reheat in a microwave, there’s really no issue.

I regularly make a big pot of spaghetti bolognese ,or of soup, with the specific intention of having food for the next day or for the freezer. And if you have one of those discerning individuals who does not like to eat ‘left-overs’, just assure them that you have made Réchauffage; after all, the French are great cooks, so it must be good!

A sour taste

Fermented apple scraps

Fermented apple scraps

About a month ago I started making apple scrap vinegar, and I can report that the process is going well. The idea was to find a use for apple peel and cores rather than simply putting them on the compost heap (although that is not a bad use in itself). By making vinegar, however, I am able to obtain an additional yield and still have compostable material… three outputs from one resource!

The strained liquid - each jar holds three litres.

The strained liquid – each jar holds three litres

It’s good to be deliberately making vinegar – I have done it inadvertently in the past, in the days when I used to make my own wine! Having added some sugar-water and allowed the scraps to ferment naturally for a few weeks, yesterday I strained the liquid off and put it in a couple of large glass jars. It’s fascinating that the mixture had not gone mouldy, but naturally occurring  yeasts had caused the fermentation (you don’t add any brewers yeast). I could have allowed it to ferment for a bit longer, but I need the space that the bucket was occupying, so I decided to move on to this next stage of the process.

Covered with loosely-woven fabric and ready for the next stage - vinegar formation

Covered with loosely-woven fabric and ready for the next stage – vinegar formation

I covered the large jars with cloth squares (lovely colour because these are off-cuts from the kitchen curtains) and transferred the jars onto the dresser to allow the liquid to continue its progression towards apple vinegar. Apparently I can now leave it for between two weeks and two months before it’s ready for filtering through a fine cloth and then it can be used directly or pasteurised to allow me to store it. The fermented apple scraps cannot be fed to the chickens (I really don’t want a drunken ‘hen party’ outside my bedroom window), so they have gone straight onto the compost heap. In fact the girls have not been missing out as they’ve had lots of scraps whilst I’ve been processing more apples for the freezer… there’s a limit to the amount of apple vinegar that a girl can make use of!

Recipes old and new

My next-door-neighbour, Betty, phoned the other day to ask what I do with marrows. I restrained myself and did not say ‘as little as possible’, but instead mentioned soup (always a good stand-by). She then told me she was trying out a new recipe and would bring a sample round later… without actually mentioning what she was making!

IMGP1688We waited with anticipation. I know that she normally turns marrows into chutney, so the only thing we were sure of was that it wouldn’t be that! I was half expecting marrow and ginger jam, as that was something Mrs Robinson had been waxing lyrical about over the weekend. But what, in fact, finally arrived was a jar of sunshine, Isn’t it beautiful? It’s sort of sweet and sour preserved marrow chunks. Betty (who is in her 80s) says that her mother used to make them and that they would eat them with cold meats or even as part of a dessert. We think they would make a lovely addition to a stir-fry. Anyway, they recipe had disappeared from her family and she has only just managed to track down a version of it.

As you can see, Betty wrote out the recipe for me. I have a book in which I store such recipes, and as I was putting this latest addition into my stash, I came across a much older hand-written recipe – one that my paternal grandmother gave to my mother when she married my father. It is a recipe for pork pie – something that may father has always been inordinately fond of and that, clearly, my grandmother expected my mother to make for him. I’m not convinced that she ever did – I’ll have to ask! There were professional bakers on both sides of my family, but my father’s side seem to have been better known… there’s even a book of recipes from the family bakery in Lincolnshire – A Pound of Fine Flower –  so I’m sure my grandmother’s recipe was well tried and tested. Anyway, if you fancy having a go at making a traditional pork pie, here’s how to do it:

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And if you do try it out, please let me know, as I’ve never attempted it myself!

On reflection, the two recipes probably go really well together – now that’s serendipity.

Soup-er

I don’t really like sandwiches, especially ones that have been hanging around in a lunchbox for hours. This is one of the reasons that I’m very glad that I work from home these days. It means that I can make something fresh each lunchtime, even if it is only a piece of toast.

Hand-thrown soup bowls (by my friend Joe Finch) just waiting to be filled with homemade soup

Hand-thrown soup bowls (by my friend Joe Finch) just waiting to be filled with homemade soup

As winter approaches, however, I start to want something warming for lunch and so I’m always glad if there is homemade soup in the freezer. This is why, in recent weeks, I have been busy converting lovely fresh vegetables (from the garden or local organic farm) into soup. There were two squashes that got to about 15 cm across and then stopped growing and started to go soft. I knew that unless I acted quickly, these would rot, so they were converted into squash soup, flavoured with freshly ground coriander seeds (which I grew a few years ago) and coconut cream (which it’s not possible to grow in west Wales!)… delicious. The spare courgettes have been gradually turned into courgette and carrot soup or Mulligatawny. Although I could never make enough soup to last the whole winter, it is great to think that there is some tucked away for later use.

As the winter progresses, different vegetables will become available and I will move on to making leek and potato soup, curried parsnip soup and Russian vegetable soup ( a soup of root vegetables with shredded greens added a few minutes before the end of cooking). Served with fresh bread, all these make for a healthy and delicious meal. If I could get my act together and start cultivating mushrooms, that would add yet another option…

So, what are your favourite soups to make?

Pass the passata

A trip to one of our local organic producers the other day yielded two bags of squishy tomatoes.  I occasionally manage to get some of these and am really happy when I do. Because they are too fragile to be taken to farmers’ market, they are only available direct from the farm and because they are not premium produce, they are always cheap. To me, however, they are perfect for making passata… especially since I don’t tend to have great success growing tomatoes myself.

Ready for roasting

Ready for roasting

I could bottle (can) them, but my preferred method of preservation is to make a concentrated passata and then to freeze it**. The approach is inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, namely that I roast the tomatoes first and then pulverise them. The roasting does two things – first it gives them a nice flavour; second, it reduces the water content, so I’m storing tomotoey goodness rather than liquid, which I can always restore later, but don’t need to keep in my freezer!

My tomato mill

My tomato mill

In fact what I do is much more simple than what Hugh suggests. I cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a roasting dish. Then I drizzle them with oil (olive or sunflower, but whatever you like is fine) and I roast them in the oven until they are cooked through – soft and possibly slightly browned. If I’m doing them on their own, I’d set the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and cook them for about 60 minutes, but I often roast them when I’m cooking other things, and the temperature is flexible and the time can be adjusted accordingly. I used to sprinkle them with seasoning and perhaps garlic or herbs, but these days I tend to leave them unadorned for a more versatile end product.

Cooked tomatoes in...

Cooked tomatoes in…

Once cooked, I leave them to cool in the tin (often overnight) and when they are cold I run them through my tomato mill – a magic machine that separates the the pulp from the seeds and skin. It’s hand cranked, so doesn’t take any electricity, but is a bit of a pain to wash afterwards. If you don’t have one of these wonderful items, you can simply sieve the cooked tomatoes, but this takes much more effort.

... passata (in the bowl) and skin + seeds (in the tray) out

… passata (in the bowl) and skin + seeds (in the tray) out

Finally I separate the passata (i.e. tomato pulp) into small containers for freezing. The little pots I use were sold as containers for baby food, but they are ideal for making small blocks of tomato. When required, you can defrost as many of the blocks as you require – one for a pizza or four for a bolognaise sauce – and enjoy the taste of summer through the winter.

Ready for freezing

Ready for freezing

-oOo-

  • Update November 2015: These days I also bottle it in 250ml Kilner jars, to avoid the need to buy another freezer!!

More glut busting

Last night we were visited my friends – both old and new – for dinner. My aim was to feed them on produce from the garden, with any additional ingredients sourced locally. It’s such an abundant time of year that this turned out to be relatively easy (until I got to wanting ice cream).

Our main course consisted of:

  • Yum!

    Yum!

    Frittata, which is a sort of vegetable quiche without the pastry. Ours contained eggs, potatoes, courgette and peppers from the garden, plus onion and tomatoes from a local organic farm.

  • Glamorgan sausages, which are a vegetarian dish made from wholemeal breadcrumbs (flour from the local water mill), cheese (Snowdonia Black Bomber – a Welsh Cheddar) and sage (out of the garden) bound together with beaten egg (home-produced) and shallow fried.
  • Cherry tomatoes (from the garden)
  • Lettuce (from the garden)
  • Boiled potatoes (from the garden)
  • Monkey bread (flour from the local water mill, herbs straight out of the garden)
  • Couscous (haven’t found a local source of this yet!) with home grown pepper, coriander, courgette and tomato

For dessert we had:

  • Strawberries (from a local organic farm) and blackberries (picked in the afternoon from a local hedgerow)
  • Meringues (home-produced egg whites, but bought sugar)
  • Whipped cream (bought)
  • Homemade chocolate ice cream (home-produced egg yolks, but all the other ingredients bought)

You may be wondering why I bother to make ice cream at home when we live near The Hive on the Quay – a great source of locally produced honey ice cream. Well, the issue is that being lactose intolerant, I can’t eat it… so I make my own lactose-free ice cream and it helps to use up the egg glut when there is one (like now).

So, there you have it… a diversity of food, with very few miles on the clock… and now I have a few less courgettes to think what to do with too!

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