Friday, 15 January 2010

Moving again...

I've carried notebooks round with me for years. Currently there are just the two - one for organisation - my calendar, my expenditure, birthdays, addresses and so on; the other for notes and lists and that kind of thing. Previously they were mostly for 'musings' and trying to write stories and so on.

The thing is I never finished any of my stories, I never followed through on any ideas I had for particular collections of musings or projects. I never even finished any notebooks, because the appeal of starting a new one always got so strong. Ah, fresh white pages...

All of which I mention, because blogging is kind of my notebooks in the internet age. This was my fourth (after a quickly deleted personal one, a relatively long-lived food one and a short-lived movement and dance one). And now I'm moving on to my fifth!

As I mentioned in my last post (which, by the way, thank you for all the nice comments on), I started to feel a bit constrained by this blog, and a bit false. I started to want to write somewhere a little looser, and dare I say it, more personal (I always swore I'd never have a blog just about 'me and my musings'). I still want to write about trying to live greener and more diy, but I don't want to feel that's all I can post about.

So, I've moved here: . The intention is to use my dream of owning and running a little cafe as the thread to bind together various interests (mostly food, craft, eco-living) and a little random rambling. As I'll cover things I've covered in this and my old food blog, I may re-publish the odd post from here and there.

I wish I was a focused person, a person who could get into things and really get into them; but I am not, I am a dabbler. I can never have just one interest to focus on, it has to be two, or four or five. Same with projects. I took a multi-subject degree, and then another one. I've lived in 12 different houses in 9 years. I flit.

So I think this will suit me better - flitting around whatever is interesting me just then, able to improvise and expand.

I would be delighted if you'd come and visit me there:

Friday, 16 October 2009

the blogger's apology

it's a common refrain on blogs - the 'oh my god, i'm such a bad blogger, i haven't posted in weeks' post. the promises to do better...

(it's a common refrain in my life come to that, the 'i really planned to get round to that, but somehow it slipped by the wayside' explanation...)

I had a long post planned about why posting had dried up, but i don't think all that detail's necessary. I'll summarise:

1. I started wondering too much about the point of some of the things I was doing and posting about
2. I was starting to find the selectiveness of blogging a bit like presenting a false front - why blog about the one decent meal i make a week when the rest of the time I eat chips and fishfingers in front of the TV? that kind of thing. it troubled me.
3. I changed roles at work and the ratio of my office hours I spend actually working increased from about 40% to a hair's width off 100%. the last thing I want to do with my free time is type, and look at a screen.
4. I found more often that not I wanted to just eat things, make things, see thigns, without stopping to photograph them first, and without stopping to plan how to present them in print

so, sadly, this blog, which I started with a great deal of ideas and exuberance, and which went quite swimmingly at first, has swiftly trailed off. as so many do.

which isn't to say I won't blog again - it's a nice project to have, and I do like projects. i really think a lot of good can come from the micro-communities blogs spawn; i've really appreciated comments i've got here, adn the inspiration i've got from other blogs. i can still feel the urge to blog. but it's a little like that urge to re-invent one's wardrobe or finally kick off the fitness programme in a big way - a nice idea, but not much without real commitment and realistic aspirations.

Anyway, I think that's about all I needed to say. I just felt I should come and finish things off nicely.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Exfoliation 3 - the shoe rack

In my ongoing battle against the accumulation of stuff, these shoes left the house recently.

The three in the middle went to charity shops, whilst sadly the battered old boots with holes and no heels went to landfill. (the flip flops I've ended up keeping as I realised I have nothing else summery to wear, although they are pretty battered).

As with all things I'm getting rid off, throwing things away is making me think about getting them in the first place, and shoes is a particularly bad area for me. I'm awful for buying shoes that don't fit, cheap shoes that fall apart almost immediately, shoes that are impossible to walk in, shoes I don't really like but feel like I 'need'.

I should be buying shoes that are a) comfortable b) durable and c) likeable. I really need to find some shoes that will last for years instead of months, shoes that won't give me corns or bruises or bend my feet out of shape. For some reason I don't think I have ever managed to do this.

Part of my excuse is that I have size 8 feet (41 european, I think a US 10), which are wide, with long toes, and one hammer toe. It is very difficult to find anything which is remotely nice-looking that fits, so if I find something 'almost there' I tend to buy it.

And I also have a fair amount of vanity about my shoes and clothes, so although there may be some tough, comfortable shoes out there, I'm still going to be pretty reluctant if they make me miserable with their ugliness. I have a semi-legitimate reason for some of this vanity, as I work in an environment where I am often meeting clients and am required to look reasonably smart.

Aside from the freakish feet and the vanity however, there's another reason why my holy grail of shoes has not yet been uncovered - which is that there just don't seem to be shoes out there (where I'm looking at least) that fit my criteria above. So many are made cheaply, which not only leads to them quickly wearing out, but also often means they are not designed for feet, but for fickle fashion followers, and are mightily uncomfortable.

So, at the moment I have one good pair of work shoes, I have my scrappy flip flops I got free off a magazine (I've accumulated so much awful tat through it being 'free' - another bad habit I'm trying to break!), I have various trainers, some falling apart flats I wear day in day out, and a few smart shoes which kill my feet but that I can wear for a couple of hours if really required to dress up. For the time being, this will do me. But as I come to replace these ones that will rapidly expire, I really need to find some shoes that will fit my brief. The search is on - I'll update when I find some goodies. In the mean time, all suggestions gratefully received!!!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Michael Pollan - The Omnivore's Dilemma

I think I'm behind the times with this - seems like everyone in blog world read this about a gazillion years ago, still, if you have read I'd love to hear your views, and if you haven't I can heartily recommend this book, so I thought I'd do a short review...

It starts out talking about corn, the peculiarities of the plant and how it germinates. I'm not sure exactly what I expected of the book, but I'm sure it wasn't an in depth discussion of corn... I was however, riveted, completely drawn into the story. By way of corn, Pollan touched on so much else and reading was like rapidly unearthing more and more gems of knowledge about food and how it works in our modern world. Things started fitting together, a big picture started building in my head.

From corn we journeyed to the world of intensively farmed meat, a part I found shocking and sad. Although I had an abstract idea that industrially farmed meat was 'bad' I had no real details on why this was so. This book has left me with a lasting picture in my mind's eye of cattle walking round in a vast concrete grid, carpeted with their own antibiotic and supplement ridden shit, eating a horrifying mixture of other animal waste parts, chemicals and corn. And with a lasting impression of the craziness of separating off parts of agriculture so that 'waste' products can not be used and put back in a cycle, and become pollution.

The section on organic food is also extremely illuminating - looking at the industrial organic and the smallscale 'balanced' and holistic farmer who may not be 'organic' in a strict legal definition sense, but is so much more so in other ways. I started dreaming at this point about living on a farm, finding out about permaculture principles and ways to make my farm a whole eco system where production is based on getting the most out of using nature's own systems. An un-intensive farm with all sorts of good foods and plants growing happily together...

It finishes on foraging and wild food, which was fascinating also, although probably less important to me than the other sections (I am unlikely to go hunting for wild boars, whilst I do face choices about organic from overseas versus non-organic small-scale local, and choices about meat and fish and processed foods every day, so the information about how things are produced was what was really useful).

I don't normally read non-fiction books through to the end - however interesting they are, I give up after a while, but I found myself reading this on the bus, in bed, everywhere, and then - probably quite annoyingly - peppering all my conversations with tidbits of information about cereal design, or cattle feed or wild mushrooms... It was really engagingly written, very vividly painting pictures of the places Pollan visited and rarely getting lost in realms of detail or complicated arguments. I enjoyed also getting a bit of an education in links between politics, business and agriculture. Definitely a lot of food for thought there.

All in all, highly recommended, for anyone at all interested in food, where some of it comes from, and why.

Friday, 17 July 2009

The waste challenge - an update

Inspired by others' examples, I rather rashly decided a couple of months ago to set myself a challenge. The idea was to carry all the waste I produced around with me for a month, rather than throwing it away. At the end of the month, I thought I would be able to draw meaningful conclusions about where the waste I produce comes from, and how I could best reduce it...
I'm sorry to say it didn't quite go to plan. I kept getting confused about the rules (and having no better authority to consult than myself, never really resolved this). I got really busy at work, so much so that cooking and exercising and doing anything in the evening aside from slumping on the sofa got abandoned. I got to that state where anything that seemed 'difficult' was jettisoned, including the challenge...

Still, it did give me food for thought, about 'challenges' as well as about waste, so I thought I'd gather my thoughts and consider what next here.

Is it possible?
There were two things I kept thinking as I went on - firstly, it seemed increasingly that it must be possible to get to a nil, or nearly nil, waste output. I didn't think it all through in complete detail but the more I thought about each piece of waste the more it seemed entirely possible to live a life where no waste was produceed, and even in a world where waste wasn't seen as something completely unavoidable. The second thought was how hard it would be getting there. The culture of getting rid of, of disposability, of throwing away, of ignoring the fact that throwing 'away' means throwing 'somewhere else' is completely prevalent and pervasive in the world I live in.

Think about it
The challenge, failed or not, forced me to think about this business of just 'throwing away'. Close your eyes and try and picture it - the whole situation - imagine your country in your mind's eye, and see the millions of people and households and businesses churning out waste here there and everywhere. And then look at the people and trucks and ships taking it away, burying it, burning it, throwing it in the sea... Picture that and tell me it's not crazy. There is not infinite room. Not to mention contamination and pollution. (Did anyone see that film Gomorrah? Possibly one of the most depressing films I've ever seen, it shows a really really ugly side to waste disposal (see exploitation, government corruption, mafia terror, illness, deaths and injury, illegal and dangerous working practices...)). This gave me a real motivation to continue with this.

The nitty gritty
From the grand scale to the minute... I started to see each little bit that contributed to the stuff I throw out. There was waste at every point of the day, decisions I had to make in all situations. I used hand dryers instead of paper towels, I tried using fresh tomatoes instead of canned, I had to make an effort to get to my local organic shop on time so I didn't end up in the palace of packaging - Tesco Metro. I chose loose cabbage over bagged up spinach, but then went to the farmer's market and bought lovely local organic strawberries in plastic containers, felt overwhelmed by the difficulty in getting everything right. I succumbed to buying weekend papers, and lamented the amount of stuff that came through my letterbox only to go straight in the recycling bin, unopened. I realised how often I threw stuff away without even being aware of it.

The plan
I realised that the way I tackle things best is bit by little bit, and that an all-out waste starvation diet was not going to help me change my behaviour in the long term. I read somewhere that if you do something for 30 days a habit will be formed. And once something is habitual you don't have to think about it anymore. I need to create waste-light habits, and one by one so I don't feel over-loaded and defeated.

So, the plan is this. Each month going forward I will tackle a different area of waste. My long-term aim will be to get to a place where I have a very very small amount of waste each month, all of which is recyclable - nothing to landfill. As I tackle each area one by one, hopefully my binbag will shrink and I'll move through the obvious stuff to the less obvious stuff, eliminating waste slowly but surely. And I want to invite you to join me in this challenge - either taking the same subjects as I do, or creating your own.

Join the challenge!
I just ate a little pot of fruit for lunch which came in a plastic pot with a plastic fork. I could easily have just bought a banana. And I ate a chocolate mousse, also in a plastic pot with a plastic lid. I could have bought instead a pudding from the canteen that comes in a china bowl. One thing I did do whilst doing the June challenge, was to eat lunch every day on a plate with proper cutlery - either from canteens or brought from home. It was so much nicer than eating with plastic forks from plastic containers, and I'm sure sitting down properly for lunch made me much more productive in the afternoon.

So for August I'll tackle food-on-the-go (as opposed to food shopping bought for home use, which is a big area I'll try and break down into smaller bits!), and hope you might decide to do so to! It would be great to share lunchbox recipes, tips for carrying coffee mugs and cutlery, or other ways to avoid accidentally picking up plastic/paper accompaniments to takeaway food. I'll post about how I'm doing and would be great to hear from others doing it too. Comment if you're up for it!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

July List!

A little late, but there we go...
From top left, clockwise:

1. Mini-break - Five of us (parents, sister, brother-in-law and I) journeyed down to the Loire recently to participate in a 'Balade Gourmande' - a 5km walk round pretty villages and vineyards, from one local food and wine tasting stall to another, accompanied by various musicians along the way. Got a little bit drunk and a little bit sunburnt and a little bit stuffed... All in all, a good day.

2. Reading list - Spotted this flagged up on the lovely Angry Chicken. It's a handwritten/hand-drawn zine with all kinds of information and tips about "how to craft a sustainable domestic life outside of consumer consciousness". Available here - it looks super.

3. Organic Cotton Sun Dress - from Lav & Kush, available here on Mudshark Streetwear. Gorgeous.

4. Visitor! - this is a picture from my trip to Bangladesh in Februrary to visit my good friend working out there. Looking forward this month to her trip back to the UK. yay!

5. Southbank - for the last few years the National Theatre's held a festival of outdoor free events throughout summer, called Watch this Space. In the past I've enjoyed: circus skills graduate shows after work; a crazy show involving a lot of fire, acrobatics and firemen dancing on podiums; and sitting in a deckchair watching old films and short films projected onto the concrete tower. This year they have a parkour week coming up, so hoping to get down to see some of that. I love the athleticism and grace of parkour, as well as the way it treats the urban environment as a playground.

6. Summer footwear - I like this smart looking flip flop from Melissa Sin at the Inhabitat shop. It's made of recycled plastic in a closed loop manufacturing process apparently.

7. Sunshine clutch - have been eyeing up these Bobelle bags for a while. They're made of eel skin - a a by-product of the food industry in Korea. All BoBelle products are hand made, hand dyed and fairly traded, according to their website. They also have some great looking hand bags and cute coin purses.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

A local meal!

A little while ago (feels like a very long while ago!) I signed up to LivingSenses lovely challenge to prepare and eat one local meal a week throughout June and August.
Well, I managed one week, before "things" got in the way...
It isn't much special, but let me tell you anyway.
At the farmer's market I chose:
- broad beans, because they reminded me of my parent's garden in summer - we were often tasked with shelling them
- strawberries, after tasting one and realising the seller wasn't lying when he claimed they were a variety acclaimed for their sweetness and flavout
- asparagus, just because it looked good
- and gooseberries, on a nostalgia trip also - these grow in my parents garden as well, and I never really see them in the shops.
All were English, and from fairly nearby, though I can't remember now which was which - Kent, Essex and Sussex I think.
I took my haul home and steamed the beans and asparagus to accompany poached eggs (from Somerset) and toast (yummy bread from a South London bakery).
Strawberries became breakfast pudding. At which point I should confess to distinctly non-local coffee and tea accompanying this virtuous-sounding feast, and quite possibly a second breakfast pudding of cake from the Portuguese shop (I love breakfasts that stretch on all morning!)

Later, I finished the beans and asparagus in a green veggy quiche - some old spinach and spring onions from the fridge (also both English I think) joined them, along with the Somerset eggs again, and English milk, and flour I think, though I forget now. This lasted several days for packed lunches.

And then, I topped off a day of local (ish) cooking, by baking this gooseberry cake. It doesn't look pretty, but it tasted a-mazing! I used a recipe meant for plum cake, which produced a very soft and light yet still somehow moist cake. Very very good. I'll dig out the recipe and post it here soon!

Although I've been kind of rubbish at this challenge so far, it's already been good to me, in that I never really bought much from the farmers market before, and have shopped there several times now, which has been really nice. And hopefully, I'll put together a few more local meals before the challenge-time is up, so watch this space for that... And do go and visit Local Senses and join in the Go Local challenge if you're feeling inspired.