Tuesday, 31 March 2009

chateau kings cross

I mentioned the other day I'd read about this vineyard planting day on a Central London commercial estate...

So I turned up last Sunday, a lovely sunny morning, to a commercial estate just 10 minutes walk away. A few others were milling around the car park of the Alara factory and we contemplated the grassy verge that was to be our 'vineyard' (above) - it didn't look quite like the vineyards I've walked through in France or Switzerland...

Tools were dished out, lines drawn up and we all grabbed a space to dig (left). I LOVED the digging! Something hugely satisfying about throwing your whole strength into something and seeing this physical result accummulate...

(And refreshing too to have no Health and Safety rigmarole - I know it's a good thing, it's just boring. Somehow it's much more fun when people are swinging pickaxes and hefting shovels without having to sign pieces of paper and get kitted up in protective this and that...)

And here is a photo of the hole I dug! You may not think it looks much, but I was immensely proud of that hole. It came up to my knees. And I had to dig balanced on a slope!

Holes dug, we ferried to and fro with compost and water and made nice little homes for our baby vines.

(This is a painting of the day some super painters made whilst we were working... )

Once all the vines were in, we mulched with wet cardboard (old boxes from Alara's warehouse) and weighed down with stones and soil. My hands were FREEZING by this point, but ...

... once we'd finished they fed us all lunch - by this time quite a crowd had come and mucked in in the spring sunshine.

Yum! (there are some nettles on that plate that they picked from the verge before we started digging and blanched over an open fire of old unusable pallets!)

As an added bonus to a really lovely day meeting people and working in the sunshine, Alex, the man behind the Alara company and its attempts to create permaculture gardens around the factory, including this vineyard day, gave us some free muesli before we left, as a token of thanks.

I really hope the vines do well and can't wait to go and see them in a couple of months' time to see how it is looking. Apparently the first harvest will be in about 2 years' time.

Friday, 27 March 2009

aveda goodies

psst! go here http://www.aveda.co.uk/promotions/prize_feb.tmpl to enter aveda's prize draw for a hamper of £350 worth of products...

hmmm, I just realised I'm completely trying to cut down on lotions and potions, but ,well, if the odds happen to roll my way and I win the load of stuff, I'll dole it out as presents to people who do use all that. They do have relatively good eco credentials as well...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

going red

I made a vow a while back to stop dying my hair. It just stank so much - that feeling of fumes up your nose and icky stuff coating your skin - and it always ended up fading and looking skanky - that I decided it wasn't worth it.

The thing is that hair is one of those trivial kind of things that it's nice to idly think about when you've nothing better to put your mind to. Like what shoes you would like for summer, or what colour you could paint the house or whatever. And it's really tempting to think that a new hair cut or colour will vanquish the 'boredom' that's descended in relation to your current style, and it's really tempting to think it'll change the whole way you look...

So every now and then I get this itch to cut or colour or whatever, except now I am old enough to realise that the boredom is normally only vanquished for about three hours before the new look becomes old news too (or worse, just plain awful news) and I started to think that really I should be trying to occupy my mind with more noble ventures than the pruning and primping of stuff that grows on my head...

Anyway, not having enough noble and worthy stuff to think about, I got round to thinking about hair again recently - I can't remember why - and started researching henna. It had rave reviews, and all nice and plant based avoided the issue I had with the dyes which raised bumps on my scalp and the bleaches that burned white dots into my fingertips.

And... I could even convince myself I was doing it in the name of research and public service information, rather than a little vanity project tp fill up a Saturday morning!...

So, I took myself to Lush and bought a block of their Caca Rouge (left) - Lush's seemed to be well recommended on the various sites I read and seemed a bit easier than sourcing and mixing up the powder yourself. It's basically just the henna (which is a plant extract) with some cocoa butter and a bit of perfume. Their other colours include indigo and coffee to give dark or chestnut effects.

You pour boiling water on the block and leave it to soak a little (below right).
After a while (longer than it said) it's achieved the consistency of mud, or fresh cow dung or something and at this stage it looks really gross.
It smells a little weird too. However, smothering my head in warm stinky cow dung was a lot more fun than I thought.
There's a bit of a trick to it, but once some of it's on the rest goes on quite easy.
Then all you have to do is wrap your head up in clingfilm so you look like a freaky alien, and swan around the house doing this and that until enough time has passed (I did three hours, though I think people do anything from 1 to 4) .
And after a little rinsing and shampooing, a head of Very Coppery hair appeared.

For comparison, this was my hair before - it looks nice on the left in the light of the bathroom, but in notmal light looks more mousy like on the right.

And, this was my hair afterwards. Not great photos, but you get the idea - quite RED. Later it turned even more orange, which was a little scary, but it's settled into an auburn-y light brown now, which is nice.

So, all in all, highly recommended, if you're looking for a change with a lower chemical impact than the usual high street brands.
Find good info on henna here:

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

girl stuff

so yesterday I had to nip into Boots for a monthly purchase (yes, look away now if you don't want to read anything about matters menstrual...), and I had been thinking recently about all the tampons flushed into the sea and landing on beaches and the pesticide on the cotton made to make them, and how I ought to really investigate alternatives and should just get on the internet to look at it... (at which point I hadn't even read about all the chemicals involved!)

...and I was surprised to find that Boots are now stocking Mooncups on the shelves! So I could get on with my resolution straight away and I purchased one. I was pleasantly surprised at how cutely it was packaged - very chic little white box with flowers on and so on - you wouldn't know what lurked inside and don't have to feel embarassed at the till handling some scary looking contraption.

As for actually trying it out, well I'm not going to go into too many details... It looked terrifying at first, and was a little bit of a fiddle getting set up but very comfortable once installed. Removal was a whole other issue however, and I started to feel a bit dismayed, until I remembered how hard it was starting on tampons - I remember wondering how I would ever get used to it, so I think I'll have to reserve judgment until I've given it more of a chance.

For a more in-depth review read this - http://pewari.may.be/2003/08/01/the-mooncup-review/ , and this is quite an interesting article, although I was disappointed how quickly the author gave up -http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/article4833447.ece . I did however learn that advertising of menstrual products was banned until the '70s. Weird, another one of those little things I've never thought about before...

And if you want more encouragement, these guys seem to mostly love it - http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.html?t=196357 - on the money saving expert site, which is a reminder that it's not just a good idea for the green credentials, but also for the money saving potential, which is always a winner for me.

Also, should mention there are lots of other alternatives worth checking out - this is a good run-down - http://www.grist.org/advice/products/2008/11/18/index.html

Monday, 16 March 2009

making marmelade

I'm never entirely convinced it's worth making homemade conserves. It's quite a lot of effort for a product which is pretty much exactly the same ingredients-wise as a bought version, and I have in the past ended up with rock-hard plum jam that you had to slice, and completely unset fig jam, that I just had to pour all over anything remotely jam-suited in an effort to use it up before it went off.

However, the idea does still appeal. I don't know, there's something just very homely and satisfying about stirring up cauldrons of bubbling fruit, and ending up with cute little gem-coloured jars of produce.

So when I saw Seville Oranges (left) in my local organic shop, I purchased a whole load of them and dug out a marmelade recipe I copied out of the paper a little while back (you can find it here).

First, you boil them up (I was doing half measures of that recipe, so 5-6 oranges in 750ml water). They bob around a bit (top) so you can weigh them down with a plate (left) and after about 20 minutes stab them a bit to encourage them to sink.

After half an hour or so they'll be all soft, so lift them out into a colander (leaving the water in the bowl!) and leave to cool.

Now, you want to scrape the flesh and seeds into a muslin bag (or an old pop sock, which seems perfectly suited to the purpose). I stretched mine over the lip of a jug, which made it all very easy (left).

Then slice the skins to your desired thickness (below left) and empty your sugar (1kg) into the water that's still in the pan (right). It looks like a hell of a lot of sugar, but just think about all the good vitamin C in the oranges!

Then you tie the muslin bag of flesh and seeds to the side of the pan (below right) so it can release all it's flavours and pectin, and heat over a medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved.

And then you can tip all your peel in. Now all you have to do is boil it, stirring occasionally, until it reaches that magical 'setting point'...

In my experience, this always takes longer than they say. I think I boiled this for 30-40 minuites before I decided it was ready. I kept eating all the little blobs of marmelade as I tested them, making myself feel quite sick...

This picture is supposed to show the wrinkles that indicate the setting point, although to be honest you can't really see. Anyway, it wrinkles when you push a teaspoonful that you've dropped onto a cold plate. At that point - hallelujah - you are almost at the end of your journey...

You'll have washed some old jam jars earlier, and set them to dry in a cool oven, so now you can carefully take them out and ladle the hot jam in.

And here is my finished product. I was so excited - 1. it actually set properly! and 2. it tasted delicious! result.

And a final picture just to show you how much I got out of 6 oranges - that's one big jar, three small jars and a little tub of the leftover bits.

something interesting in central london

I try not to read the free london papers too often, because they're so full of brain-rotting drivel, however glad to be perusing one on Friday last, as I came across an article about organic vineyards, to be planted in central London!

The wholefoods company Alara, has their hq near kings cross and is planning to plant some vines on some old railway ground there.

Even better, their inviting people along to help planting, and providing a free lunch to volunteers! see http://alara.co.uk/193,l2.html . I can't find anywhere to sign up so I assume you just turn up. I have put it in my diary and just hope it is as beautifully spring-like a day as today!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

finished! the crocheted scarf

I decided this year to try really hard to make handmade gifts for most of my friends and family's birthdays. I've tried in the past and never really got the planning thing down, starting projects two weeks before a big date and abandoing them eight months later...

Anyway, this was the first project - a crocheted scarf for my mum, following a pattern in one of the Rowan catalogues and made with Rowan's kidsilk haze, which I did vow never to use again as it's so fiddly, but it does make nice and delicate yet snuggly things.

I only just learned crochet, and find it really addictive, even more so than knitting. There's a very comforting rhythm about needlecrafts. I think it's like a heartbeat.

I was pretty pleased with the final outcome. It's a tiny bit doily-esque, but not so much when you scrunch it all up. Also, fitting that my first crochet project goes to my mum, who was the one to teach me, last Christmas or whenever. I just hope she does get some use out of it!

Here's some pics of me modelling it:

my big foot

So, I've just been calculating my ecological footprint over at http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ . These things are kind of vague of course, but still, it's fun in the way quizzes are fun, and also it's quite neat to have the challenge of reducing it! I will check back and see how I am doing in a few month's time I think.

At the moment I need a massive 3.92 planets to support my way of life (if everyone were to live like me). It is a very vivid visual way of making you think about your impact...

Anyway, despite my BIG foot, the only way forward I think is by small steps. More of which to come...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

a good book

I've been spending my lunchtimes in the library recently. Geeky I know, but better than wandering round in the rain or staying stuck in the office. Also, I love libraries. I can't get enough of them.

Anyway, I started reading The Confessions of an Eco-Shopper the other day, which is dressed up to look like a chick-lit book and frankly I didn't have high hopes for it.

But, I'm really enjoying it, and highly recommend it. As the author says, there are way too many sources of information telling to do this and do that and making us feel guilty and confused in terms of living greenly, so it's nice to read something about what has worked and not worked for one person - more friendly and honest than preachy or doom-mongering.

And it's very much focused on fitting it all round a 'normal' life - work, kids, social life etc. so doesn't feel unrealistic.

I also really like the way the author sets herself challenges (to stop shopping at supermarkets, to test natural deodorants, to see if organic food tastes better, to compost etc.). I've been inspired to set myself some of those...

Monday, 9 March 2009

a cushion cover

I'll tell you about the cushion cover I made a couple of weeks back. Not because it's an exemplar cushion cover - it certainly isn't! - but just because it makes me kind of pleased to see it each day.

I went to Bangladesh a month or so ago, to visit a friend, L, who works out there. (And I loved it, beautiful green and crazy country.)

Anyway, whilst I was there, L had a dress dropped off by Mr Ali the dressmaker. You pay for the fabric and the labour, so the offcuts of fabric get dropped off too as part of the parcel, and L offered the shiny gold and red silk leftovers to me (god I wish people in London would dress as brightly as they do in Bangladesh; it would cheer things up so much!).

Previously I'd been using a cushion cover which my older sister K had made in a school textiles class, back in about 1993. Now, whilst this was obviously a superb example of scatter dye and machine-sewed patchwork, I must admit to a hankering to replace it. Still, I really couldn't bring myself to spend money on a new cushion cover when this one did the job perfectly well.

But with my shiny silk being just about the perfect size, it seemed time to indulge in a little house vanity and set off on an afternoon craft project.

I cut out a square and folded it in half to make a rectangle, which I pinned in to a smaller square, big enough to fit the cushion (double strength as it was really quite thin. This helped with edges as well.)

Not owning a sewing machine, I took up needle and thread and did my neatest backstitch all the way round two of the open edges.

I turned it inside out, and magically enough, it looked like a cushion cover!

At the moment I just tuck the open edge in like this, though I'm going to scout around for a spare button to fix in the middle.

And here it is in all its glory.

PS - fear not, the old cushion cover wasn't just chucked in the bin. It's in the fabric box, where it can be back-up lest the silky one fails, or from where it may be taken to be used in another craft project or as a cleaning cloth.

PPS - I was yarn shopping in Liberty the other day and happened across these super cushions whilst waiting for the lift - they don't have a picture on their website but they had an embroidered cityscape of the city of London on. And I was thinking, 'I could do that', which is probably nonsense as I've never really embroidered, not since 4th year juniors when Mrs Allen let us sew pictures of Victorian houses whilst she read the afternoon story, but still, it's another idea I'll file under possible projects I think...

where i am

I live in North London and work in a standard office-bound 9to5. I don't like my job that much most of the time, so I spend a lot of time pretending to work but actually making plans about what cakes I could make to use up sesame seeds, or drawing up excel tables of knitting projects I want to start, or trying to work out what chemicals are under my sink and how I could replace them with better alternatives. Writing out little goals for myself, ideas of things to make, resolutions to stick to, ways to make my personal impact on the environment a little lighter.

When I have access to the internet I'll peruse lovely sources of inspiration; people like these who tackle everything from drinking straws to solar panels to dishwashing with a cheerful optimism and thoughtfulness, and this who ponders beautifully on the links between crafting, society and the world at large, and this with completely aspirational crafting projects, or these charting their progress to an admirable zero waste goal.

And I am continually making notes of what I want to write about, and taking photos of this and that when I can, thinking one day I will share this with the world. And maybe something will come of it.

Because I am excited by my adventures into chemical alternatives, and homemade bread, and natural hairdyes. And I am proud of my unpackaged grocery hauls and my ways of using up bits of old vegetables or our salvaged homeware. But without sharing this and having some kind of community around it, it all feels a bit, somehow, wasted...

The problem is, I tend to favour plans over action. I spend a LOT of time thinking about things, and not a lot of time really doing them. I've planned bits of this blog time and time again, and got not a jot down and out into the ether because it never seems quite right. Or started and deleted and spent half a day debating the name...

So, I thought to myself, hell, just stop trying to shape this so much before you get there. Start from where you are. There's nothing wrong with starting right here. Whatever you have right now.

So this is where I am and this is where I start.