Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Fooling Nature

The weather seems to have played a strange trick on the seasons this year. It's as though the plants and animals are not quite sure what has happened. The birds seemed to think that Spring had arrived this September, getting up early to chirp loudly every time the rain eased off. The elderflower made the same mistakes, still springing up thick and fully flowered along the railways until well into the start of this undeserved autumn.

But the good news is, my chilli plants don't seem to have noticed the difference as I have kept them snugly inside. They have grown more prolifically than we first imagined and now the first chillis are making their way out into the world. I have no idea how big they will get, I'm just hoping I get to eat them before the aphids do. Here are a couple of the plants in the minature greenhouse Sal bought. It's awesome:

The next project is Christmas tree seeds. They have been germinating in the fridge but need planting now if we are to have seedlings by Christmas. I keep thinking about one day having a home-grown Christmas tree in the front room... All this wind and rain has made me feel prematurely festive and nostaligic.

Having the plants around the house and living so close to the independent shops in Slaithwaite has made me want to try even harder to become more sustainable in my shopping choices. Today, I popped to the shop for some tuna but they had none. The lady suggested I tried their sustainably caught smoked mackerel instead, which I had never tried in my life. So I said yes, and a delicious lunch followed. It reminded me that you don't always have to get exactly what you fancy.

Sometimes something new can be good for you.

More updates soon, I am contemplating compiling a list of winter veggies that you all can help me decide what to make with over the next few months. I see a lot of soup on the horizon...

A x

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Movement and growth

Hello my lovely friend,
I am so sorry I have been absent. I have not abandoned my mission! It is pretty much a part of life these days. But there has been a big development...

I've moved to Slaithwaite!

Yes, Slaithwaite, home of the Green Valley Grocer, my favourite shop. I know that if I had never started this mission, and had never come out to Slaithwaite to see what the shop was like, I wouldn't be living here, happy in my little flat, a ten second walk from a beautiful selection of independent shops. This goes to show that you never know where things will take you when start. I can do pratically all my shopping now without having to visit a chain store of any kind. It's amazing.

In other news, I have started growing again. My greenhouse was stolen the day we got here to sell the metal as scrap which rather put a damper on things but luckily the herbs I had been growing were having a couple of days inside so they are now happily growing like weeds on my windowsill. Yesterday I planted several chilli plants. I had successfully killed some earlier in the year so I am giving it a bash, despite the slightly late planting date. I am hopeful that I will have some chillis at the end of the summer.

Sal has purchase a big window box and filled it with flowers, and we have ferns and ivy growing in the house so I feel surrounded by green and very happy. Yesterday I took a walk in the sun along the canal and thought how lovely it is to live outside of towns.

Lastly, I am thinking of starting to try and make some pennies from my cakes. I love baking and am thinking it would be wonderful to be able to offer a cake baking service to people where I can assure them their cakes are free-range, organic, and made with supermarket-free produce. I hope that there will be a lot of people out there who would appreciate knowing that their cakes are happy ones :) I will let you know how I get on.

More news soon, I am back on the writing now I have so much more to say,
Ash x

Friday, 16 December 2011


So here in the frozen depths of winter there is very little growing... aside from Sal's stepdad's swedes, which are still bigger than my head and lining my worktop as I try to think of ever more ways to serve them. The recent winds and rains have blown my greenhouse to bits so I am collecting poles from around the garden. At least it was empty. I am looking forward to sitting down after Christmas and making a planting schedule. Some veggies and herbs will need to be planted in the early Spring so if you are growing, it's a good idea to make a list of what to do when.

I am out of paid work, though very much enjoying my voluntary radio stuff, so money has been an issue recently. That means I have sadly reverted back to the Co-op for the time being as I haven't had money for the veg box or to drive out to my shop which is quite a distance away. What I have enjoyed about being at Co-op is a lot of their eco friendly products that are cropping up so I thought I would highlight a few.

First up, it's the One company:
These eggs are almost permanantly 2 boxes of 6 for £3 which is a bargain because they are organic, free range beauties. The One company gives every penny of the profit from these eggs to help African farmers establish egg farms. That's brilliant.

Next up it's Method washing-up liquid:

This stuff has it all. It's derived from natural goodies, so it doesn't hurt the fish once you've flushed it down the sink. It's sold in a recyclable, 100% recylced plastic bottle. And what's more, it's not tested on animals. It won the House Beautiful Award 2011 for best cleaning product. It's concentrate, so you only need a little squirt and Co-op sell it for £2. Bargain.

Other great things they sell include their own brand organic cheese for just £2 for a big lump. They also do an ENTIRE free-range chicken for as little as a fiver. Why buy the breast when you can have the whole thing and make a delicious soup or a stock? That's what we did when we had early Christmas last week. Sal's stepdad also supplied a freshly shot pheasant and both birds were wonderfully tasty. I promise you, free range tastes better and it's better for your soul so ignore those cut-price nasty breast fillets and get the real deal. The effort will be worth it.

After Christmas, when I get back to Huddersfield, I am going to throw myself back into getting the Co-op out my life for all but their tuna (can't find pole and line caught anywhere else, anyone got any ideas?). I know I can make it affordable if I plan ahead and this mission still means a great deal to me.

Merry Christmas all,
A x

Monday, 12 September 2011

Autumn? Already?

Firstly I must apologise for a prolonged absence from the blogosphere. Those who follow my baking blog will know that I have been kept busy with moving house and, ahem, being on holiday for three months. I was in America for two of those months and it certainly lit a fire in my belly for continuing to try to be an ethical consumer. I have been many times before but never with the same interests as I have now. The US is definitely the land of plenty and it is shocking how much goes to waste. Everywhere in the cities there are bins overflowing with plastic bottles. Many houses do no recycling at all. Everything is served in and with plastic. The supermarkets are so large and plentiful that it made me feel sick to think of 50% if it going to waste there and then, and another 25% in people's homes.

So you can imagine that I was not pleased to return to England and find  a few of my poor plants had not survived my absence. Sal and Ed had tried to keep them going but not all had made it. Still, it is my first shot. We have managed to successfully grow so much lettuce that we did not know what to do about it. Our chillis are going strong and about to yield us some fruit I believe. We still have tomatoes -both cooking and cherry- growing and have been eating them throughout the summer. Although my garlic perished before it reached full size, I ate the bulb and it was delicious.

Next season I am looking forward to trying more different kinds of seeds. Certainly growing lettuce saves a lot of money and is very easy, so I will be doing that again. I would also like to grow some spring onions and, if we have the space, try some root vegetables. Growing your own food brings an enormous sense of satisfaction. Not only do you help support life, you then get to eat it. It's a winner. I bought my greenhouse from Wilkinsons. It was around £30 and it's brilliant.

This weekend Sal and I were at her parent's farm in East Yorkshire. Her stepdad has given us two huge bags of vegetables, including beetroot, swede, turnip and leek. I will be making a lot of autumny food this week with these wonderful veg and will let you know some recipes in my next post. Autumn is a wonderful time for veg and I am very excited to have the likes of squash, leek and swede back in full swing. Remember there are tonnes of berries out there too right now so get picking. I have picked some sloes and will be making gin later today. I already have damson gin and raspberry vodka on the go. They'll be delicious by December. For recipes, check my baking blog at www.homemadebestmade.blogspot.com

See you soon, green beans.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Veg Ahoy!

I am so excited because I am going to talk about my veg box (which I love). We decided to have another stab at veg boxes after theorganicfarm.com really let us down (avoid like the plague) and went this time with national company Abel and Cole because there was very little offered locally. You can get most anything from them, we went with a small veg box at £6.50 and a small fruit box at £7.50. It arrives about the same time every Tuesday and thus far it's been super.

The company sources most of its produce from farmers in England, using LPG vans to deliver it, but they do sometimes ship from nearby countries veg that is in high demand. I don't really know how I feel about this. Ultimately I only what to eat what is available... This is a big down-side for me. Also, I'm happy to support British small-farmers but I would love to specifically support local ones. This is something everyone should weigh up when choosing to have food delivered.

So what have we been getting? Well fruit wise we've had blood oranges, satsumas, bananas, apples and pears so far. They are all sweet and juicy, the apples particularly so. Some of the nicest I have had. I've been baking with the blood oranges, recipes at www.thoughtsforoli.blogspot.com and also the bananas. Found out this week that 1.2 million bananas are thrown away every day in the UK so my interest in ripe banana recipes has been stirred! I'll be putting up recipes as I find them.

Veg wise, we've had radishes, salad stuffs, beetroot, onions, carrots, mushrooms, big tomatoes... and potatoes every week. All have been delish and have kept a long time in the fridge due to them being so much more fresh. The sheer size of some of the stuff we've been getting has been surprising! Check out this pepper we got. It was the biggest I'd ever seen and made two meals. I've put an egg next to it for scale:

Check that out! Awesome.

I'll let you know how it goes with the veg box and if we find a more local company (I have had suggestions). I'm moving house soon, hopefully to a place with outside space, so the summer may be all about growing things myself. I'll definitely be blogging because I will need help!

Lots of boxy love,
Ash xx

Thursday, 10 February 2011

In t'olden days...

It struck me this week that the way we shop has changed so much over the last few decades, largely due to the influence of supermarkets. As a country we have become very used to being able to go to just one place for everything we need. But it's more than that. What we feel we need has changed too. In the past, you could only buy what was available. That meant mainly local and seasonal produce. Now though, we can go and buy tomatoes in the dead of winter and leeks in July. We've learned to expect everything to be available all the time.

Therein lies the problem.

If everyone knew that they wouldn't be able to get a parsnip in August then we probably wouldn't fancy eating them then. But imports from far-flung countries and an immense demand for more and more different kinds of food to be in the shops all year round have taken away the need to learn about the importance of eating local and seasonal produce. They've taken away the sense of winter that root veg can bring, or the taste of summer that is a fresh salad. Maybe I am a bit of a lunatic thinking that these things matter.

It was a real struggle to get out of the habit of thinking of a meal, then going to the shops to get what I needed to cook it. I'm still learning now that giving up supermarkets means a different style of shopping. Now, when I go to the Slaithewaite shop, I don't have any thoughts about what I want to make. I just get there and see what's fresh, and delicious. I see what veg are having a good season, see what's British or locally grown and just get it all. Then I get home and decide what to cook with it. It's a liberating way of shopping and it's improving my cooking skills too. There are things that I can always make of course- chilli, bolognese, sausage and mash- things that have always readily available ingredients (I am yet to manage life without tinned tomatoes).

And then imagine my delight when we went shopping a couple of weeks ago and there was an English lettuce, local cress and a couple of other salad ingredients on the shelf! We had a lovely big salad and it felt like forever since I'd had the pleasure (no tomatoes yet of course).

Anyway, in other local food related news (I promise to stop ranting now) I ordered food from the Suma website this week. They sell organic and British products of pratically every nature. Anything you need for your home, or anything non-fresh that you want to eat can be found on this site www.sumamarket.coop. I found the service really fast and easy to use, though admitedly it is not cheap. Ed and I bought pasta, rice, a big box of recycled toilet paper, fairtrade coffee, tinned tomatoes and beans, cereals and a few bathroom supplies such as toothpaste. The total was around £25 and I opted for next-day delivery which cost £5.95. It came on time, everything we wanted was in there and it was packed in recycled materials. I will be using the site again for sure.

Rather less successfully, we ordered a veg box and a fruit box to be delivered from The Organic Farm (http://www.theorganicfarm.co.uk/index.aspx). Not only did it not arrive last Thursday when it was supposed to, but they never answer the phone when we call or reply to answerphone messages. I tried e-mailing a couple of days ago but to no avail. It's this kind of disorganised service that makes staying out the supermarkets difficult. I'll keep you up to date on whether or not our food ever turns up.

Until next time, my green friends.
Ash x

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Please sir, can I have some more?

Hello all,
There's a decent reason as to why I have not been able to be very focused on writing up my blog in the last few weeks and it is this: poverty. That's right. I am el broke-o. Like pretty much everyone else in our blessed coalition country. Uni is 3 days a week so I'm only able to work 3 mornings and two full days Monday-Friday. I play hockey on Saturdays, no way I can give that up, so that doesn't exactly make me an employer's dream. I kept shopping out at the Slaithwaite community shop up until about the beginning of November when I existed for a couple of weeks on whatever was left in my cupboard and whatever I could steal from my lovely Sal.

Things have not progressed much in the pennies department but I do now have a little cleaning job on a Friday, just £25 a week but enough to buy food again. I've been shopping at our local tiny Co-op supermarket mainly. It's not felt great, having to go in there. Co-op is by far the best of the supermarkets (excepting Waitrose which we do not have up here), much of their food is fair trade, free-range or organic. Even their tuna is both dolphin friendly and sustainably fished. Obviously I only buy their British vegetables too. So it's not really the products that are the problem in supermarkets like this, it's the amount of waste they produce and the brand name products (Nestle, etc.) whose behaviour they support. It's hard to draw a line between what is OK and what isn't with ventures like this. You have to know so much about where everything comes from.

Still, I am not giving up! When I get more money on Friday I will be going out again to the Slaithwaite shop. I am looking forward to seeing what veg they have in at the moment, the earth is so frozen and snowy, I love to see what resilient veg has persisted with growing. The problem with having very little money is not that this shop is more expensive than the supermarkets, it's that what I would usually buy has changed from plenty of veg and fresh food, cheeses, fish and meats, to simply potatoes,  pasta, rice etc. I live with my good friend Ed now, and splitting bills means we can get a bit more. But still I am looking forward to a time when I can really afford to shop the way I want to. It makes me sad that the supermarkets, even if it's just the local Co-op one, have one up on me at the moment.

I'll do some research into super-cheap winter meals possible without supermarkets and let you know how I get on.

Lots of love to you all on this brilliant white snowy day,