Bits and Bobs · Living the Good Life

Too much stuff!!

I find myself exclaiming this rather a lot lately.  It feels like we are drowning in a sea of stuff.  Junk, crap,  stuff we bought or were given and have either never or rarely used, never liked or which has now been superseded by yet more STUFF.    On those (rare) occasions when I’m in housework mode, I sometimes end up with piles of stuff in my arms trying to find a place to put it.  (What I really should do is sort it all out but y’know, time and always something more interesting to do!)

In all seriousness though, it does seem to me like we as a community, a society, certainly some of the planet, are in real danger of having so much unneeded stuff (there must a better word!) that it will bury us one day.  Why do we keep buying this crap?  I’m not a fan of shopping as a pastime and my husband and I really do try to minimise the amount of new items we buy, not always successfully.  I LOATHE Black Friday and the consumerist binge that seems to get worse every year from, oh about this time onwards, as people get all worked up over what to buy other people for Christmas.  A lot of which ends up being unwanted clutter and junk and either ends up in a charity shop, or worse, in landfill.

On that note, I was recently browsing in a second-hand shop (part of my #dontbuynew aspiration).  The amount of duplicated items was unreal – ten or fifteen copies of the same book, countless plastic toys, and ornaments.  Oh the ornaments.  Mementoes from long-forgotten holidays, commemorative plates from various royal (yes, even here in Ireland) and national events, and quite a few ornaments/plates/plaques to mark various wedding anniversaries.  I’m not talking about personalised ones with names, dates etc, just the generic ones like this –

25th wedding stuff
Dustcatcher!

Why?? Why do we buy this stuff?  All that will happen is it will sit on a dresser or shelf somewhere and some poor sod will have to take it down and dust it.  Life’s too short!

Anyway, later that same day I found myself in a branch of TK Maxx, not a shop I’d ever spent much time in as I thought they only sold clothes but I had 20 minutes to kill and discovered they sell housewares, kitchen stuff, nice stationery and best of all a small selection of books.  (If I have to spend time browsing in a shop those things suit me far better.)  Then I came across this –

stuff boxes clutter
Houston, we have a problem

Yes, a box marked Stuff in which to put stuff. Seriously, if we are now using up valuable natural resources and energy to make empty boxes just to hold more stuff, then we really have lost the run of ourselves completely.   I’m not opposed to storage boxes completely, more to the mindset whereby we’d sooner buy boxes to put ‘stuff’ in, rather than reducing the amount of stuff we have.  I’m not going all KonMari here, the day anyone catches me thanking my possessions for helping me through another day, they can have me committed.   For me, its a sign that its time to declutter more thoroughly.  I thought I was fairly good at decluttering until I found six operating manuals yesterday, three of which were for items we don’t even own anymore….

Its the volume of unnecessary, unneeded and frequently unwanted STUFF we seem determined to inflict on each other that baffles me the most.  Its like people feel obliged just to buy you something – anything – because its Christmas.  And Christmas does seem to bring out the worst elements of this.  Who really wants the gadgets that you’ll use maybe twice, the gift sets of toiletries with all that useless (and often non recyclable) packaging, and innumerable other items of tacky, poorly made TAT and CRAP  (now called novelty gifts) that will be appearing in a shop near you in the next few months weeks.  And that’s without mentioning the Christmas themed cushions, bed linen, aprons, teatowels etc that people rush out to buy, never mind the fact they have perfectly good equivalents already at home and the Christmas ones will be stored away for 11 months of the year (adding to the clutter!)

How about we all stopped mindlessly buying stuff and spent a little more time thinking about what we need and what we might really like to give as a gift?  If there is someone you feel you should buy a gift for, then what about a bottle of wine?  Or some delicious nibbles and treats?  A plant for the garden (if they are gardeners), or a gift voucher for a pampering session?  Ask yourself before you pay for that useless ornament, novelty gift or gift sets of toiletries – would I want to be given this?

Before you ask, no I’m not the Grinch, I happen to love Christmas.  But I like a simple Christmas, a simple life in fact where we are not surrounded by so much stuff we feel like we can hardly breathe.  Just stop and think before you buy more stuff.  The planet and your sanity might well thank you for it.  Not to mention your wallet.

#dontbuynew

 

 

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food · Living the Good Life

Milk is milk is milk – or is it?

Over my first cuppa of the day while daughter was still fast asleep and before life kicked in, I was browsing through one of my (many) cookbooks. Another one that I’ve never actually made anything from. Yet. This particular one was ‘Favourite Cornish Recipes’ and I’ve no idea when or where I picked it up. (That’s true of many of my books actually. Sometimes I think they are breeding.) It included a recipe for Cornish clotted cream, something I can’t abide but my husband would love on a freshly baked scone or two. That’s if I get round to baking any.

The method in the recipe says “Pour the milk into a wide-topped basin and leave to stand for a while preferably up to 8 hours in the refrigerator, to allow the cream to rise to the top.” And that sentence stopped me, mug of tea half way to mouth. Let the cream rise to the top. Do kids today (oh that sounds so middle aged) even know what that means? I vividly remember the cream rising to the top of the bottles (real glass bottles not the awful plastic containers that a lot of people refer to as a can of milk) and when it froze in the winter (real winter!) it used to push the foil lid up off the bottle. Top of the milk in our house was poured over apple pie and was a treat to get. I haven’t seen that in years, and I always buy what is labelled as full fat or whole milk.

milk cream
Whole milk – but where’s the cream?

So I took to Facebook and Twitter asking did anyone know could this still be bought.

Still musing about how food has changed over the years, I went on to ask if anyone knew could lard still be bought. I haven’t seen lard in a shop for years. I much prefer lard to solid vegetable oils for making pastry. A friend of mine replied that it can be easily bought up the North, which I didn’t know. So unless I track it down elsewhere it looks like I’ll be doing some cross-border shopping soon. Anyway, back to milk. I took a look at Asda’s online shopping site (I don’t shop online but its great for info) and yes, they sell blocks of lard. I searched for non homogenised milk but got zero results. I’ll be back to that word homogenised later.

I prefer to buy organic when I can (not always easy) so was interested to see that Asda sell organic milk. Its on the right in this pic taken from their website earlier today.

milk
What’s in our milk?

I was quite forcefully struck by the info that the non-organic milk has 9 days typical life whereas the organic milk has 4 days typical life. So what’s in the non-organic milk that gives it a longer shelf life?? I don’t have the answers (although I have emailed Asda) and maybe this is nothing new to some, but it jolted me. What are we really consuming and what is it doing to us? I saw a great thing on Twitter this week posted by the blogger Foodborn whose approach to food and eating I love.   It said “The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”  Food for thought for sure.

Back to homogenised. The milk I usually buy is always homogenised. The dictionary definition of homogenised in relation to milk is “a process in which the fat droplets are emulsified and the cream does not separate.”

Homogenised – or adulterated?

My question is why? Why is this done to milk? Are many of the health problems that we’ve almost come to accept as a society down to the way our food is altered from its more natural state? I’m very aware that many people have been thinking and writing about this far longer than me and are far better informed than me but at least I’m starting to really look at what’s in our food and question what’s best for me and my family to consume.

I think my cookbooks are going to get much more use.

Living the Good Life

Second-hand or preloved? It’s all better than buying new!

I was going through some things I’d bookmarked on Twitter earlier and found this post from a blog I’ve recently discovered and love called Treading My Own Path. Its fascinating and taps into an area of my life that is somewhat neglected. Anyway, that’s not what this is about! We have a lot of second-hand furniture in our house, kitchen table & chairs, kitchen dresser, a sofa, a nest of tables, my big old desk which will be going into my new office/study soon, various shelves and storage units. Some of them have a story attached, others we just liked.

Lindsey Miles who writes Treading My Own Path used to live in the UK, as did I. I’m not sure if she’s originally from there, but like myself, she’s comfortable with the term ‘second-hand’. Her piece mentioned above got me thinking about words. When I moved to Ireland nearly fifteen years ago, it was during the boom. Property prices were insane and what seemed to me to be houses that were really nothing special were changing hands for what I considered to be frankly obscene amounts of money. We were looking for a house at the time so spent hours online, trawling estate agents auctioneers’ websites and offices looking for our forever home. (There’s an example of word difference straight away, they call them auctioneers over here, but to me they’re estate agents) We probably weren’t an auctioneer’s dream clients, we wanted an old house, with a big garden, near to but not in a town, and ideally a renovation project. We eventually found one but that’s another story again.

What amazed me though was the use of the term ‘second-hand’ to describe a house, and it was often used in a negative way. “Oh surely you’d sooner buy a new house?” “What about building your own? Much better than second-hand”. Now maybe I’m naive (ok, I’m naive) but that didn’t make any sense to me at all. If there were (and indeed still are) a number of existing houses that were perfectly habitable and which you could make your own with decorating and remodelling if necessary, why would we go to the hassle of building? I understand that people should have the choice to build if they want and I’m not advocating denying that to them, but it saddened me (and still does) to see so many houses that had once been family homes lying empty because of the obsession we seemed to have with new builds. Why does everything have to be new??

Back to the term second-hand. I shop in charity shops, I get many of my books from them, some toys for my daughter and clothes for all of us. I buy new items of clothing if I need them (and I’m learning to sew so am making some myself) and I’m very open about the fact that I shop in them. Yet I find that for some people there’s a stigma about doing so. When did we develop this attitude that second-hand somehow equals bad or undesirable? How long do people think we can keep producing goods at the rate we currently are? And don’t get me started on Black Friday and all of the bloated consumerist madness that happens each December. It increasingly disgusts me. (I know that sounds judgmental and it probably is, but you know what, this is my blog, my opinions.)

I see terms like ‘preloved’ or ‘formerly owned’ being used a lot now. Like that sanitises it in some way. I just don’t get it. Seventy or eighty years ago, most of us in the UK and Ireland did not buy everything new. Clothes were swapped, handed down, made over, furniture was repaired not just dumped when it had served its purpose. Tools and utensils were repaired as much as possible. I’m not for one minute suggesting that life seventy or eighty years ago was all rosy and perfect, but I really do feel we’ve gone way too far down the consumerist/built-in obsolescence road. I recently had a sales call from my mobile phone provider, telling me I was entitled to an upgrade and could get a new iPhone (I think a 7?) The poor wee salesperson (who sounded very young) couldn’t grasp that I am perfectly happy with the phone I have, it does everything I need and works just fine. “But do you not WANT a new phone?” she squeaked. I ended the call rather quickly as I could almost feel the steam coming out of her ears.

Charity and second-hand shops are in some cases nearly full to bursting, full of all the stuff we thought we wanted/needed/deserved. And yet we keep buying more and so the manufacturers keep producing more. Drawing on already fragile natural resources and using unfathomable amounts of energy and fuel to produce this stuff. And that’s all it is really, stuff. Stuff that sits around in our cars and houses and workplaces and clogs up our minds and lives. Whether you prefer to call it preloved or second-hand, go take a look in some of those shops. Learn to mend and repair what you have. You might find you save some money. You might even find you enjoy it.

Before anyone accuses me of being preachy, my house is quite cluttered but I’m working on it 🙂

A Year of Living Seasonally · Living the Good Life · Parenting

What is seasonal food?

As some of you may have read here before, I have been undertaking a project which I’m calling A Year of Living Seasonally. It occurs to me typing this that I haven’t written much on it in the last couple of months – is that possibly something to do with the quietness and hibernation-type elements of winter? Maybe. Living seasonally – for me anyway – means being more aware of the seasons , more aware of the changes that each new season brings and one element of that which interests me is food. I love to cook and to try out new recipes, I love to eat, and I will happily read a good cookbook in the same way that I would read a novel. Or any half decent book come to that.

But back to food. Food, glorious food! I do most of the cooking and food shopping in our house and try to ensure we eat a range of different foods. We also grow vegetables and fruit and this year I am determined to plan our eating more around what we can grow for ourselves. We don’t have any animals (yet!). I am fairly choosy about the food I buy on the whole – 90% of the meat we eat comes from our local butcher’s shop who not only sell meat, they also have their own abattoir and as they are also farmers, produce some of the meat themselves. I buy very little heavily processed food, yes on occasion we do have takeaways, and yes on the odd occasion we eat with our daughter in fast food outlets (I cannot bring myself to term them restaurants), but overall we try at the very least to be aware of what we are eating. I am hoping to get hold of Joanna Blythman’s new book Swallow This, soon which may well be an eye opener for me.

So tying all of this into my Year of Living Seasonally project, I began to wonder what is seasonal food anyway? I would understand it to be food that is naturally ready for eating at any specific time. In terms of fruit and vegetables, it is those which have finished growing and are ready for harvesting. With regard to meat it is that which has grown to the stage at which those people who eat meat consider it ready to eat. Pulses, nuts, legumes, same as fruit and veg I would have thought. I have a feeling this year of living seasonally might change my understanding of what is seasonal food and might see me trying out some new foods.

I’ve been doing a bit of a declutter of late and I realised I have stacks of cookery magazines, many of which I’ve never even read. So this morning I decided to start looking at them. I started with Country Kitchen, a British based magazine. I freely admit I was seduced by the title and the tagline which reads “Cooking with traditional, seasonal and fresh food.” It’s interesting to realise that I’ve been thinking along these lines for years but have never done anything much about it. Country Kitchen magazine (I’m not sure if it is still in publication) listed the foods that were in season (presumably in Britain) every month. As I live in Ireland, the seasons are much the same as those in Britain so I’m going to take these as a starting point. I compiled this into a list of my own. (I love lists) Some of it was quite fascinating. To take this month – March – as an example, they say the meat currently in season is rabbit, spring lamb and venison. You won’t get rabbit or venison in any shop in my town (a small town I grant you) and round here unless you shoot or know someone who does, you’ll be hard pushed to get them. On to fish. Wild salmon, oysters, mussels, sea trout, razor clams, scallops and elvers. How easy are these to get hold of for most people? With the exception of the sea trout they are not easy for me that’s for sure. Fruit? They say apples, pears, forced rhubarb are all seasonal. Yes, I’d agree on the rhubarb, although I’d question if forced rhubarb is really adhering to having in its natural season. We have rhubarb in the garden and this year’s new leaves are just beginning to emerge. We don’t force it, never have. Apples and pears? Well if they are stored well from last year then I suppose they could be called seasonal. And what vegetables are supposed to be seasonal this month according to the magazine? Beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chicory, endive, garlic, kale, leek, lettuce, nettle, onion, scallion (spring onion), parsnip, potato, radish, seakale, sorrel, spinach,squash, turnip. Hmmm. I might not be thinking about seasonality the right way. We have grown many of these in our garden and none would be harvested around now. Garlic and onions yes we have had our own supply of those harvested the previous autumn and still using in spring (not this year though, last year’s onions and garlic didn’t do so well)

So is something considered seasonal if is still available from storage? That I am not sure about. I just discovered a lovely website Eat the Seasons which looks at all of this in more detail, and gives recipes too. While I am clearly still learning about what exactly constitutes seasonal food, I can make sure that I buy food produced and grown as locally as possible. I will not be buying strawberries in March, or asparagus in April, not unless the Irish seasons change dramatically!

food · Living the Good Life

From jam to jelly

I’ve made a fair few pots of jam this summer – gooseberry, gooseberry & elderflower, marrow & ginger, marrow & orange (divine) and blueberry. While I’m far from an expert jam maker it is getting somewhat easier and less stressful every time, although I am going to invest in a proper jam thermometer soon and try and take more of the guesswork out of the whole setting point palaver.

So today I’m experimenting and stretching my culinary skills (or lack thereof) just that tad further, and I’m making jelly. Blackberry and apple jelly to be precise. I’ve also seen it described as hedgerow jelly. Recipe is simple enough out of a tiny wee book and it really is tiny, look (the ball of string is just for comparison!) photo (5) The blackberries were picked from the hedges bordering our garden and a friend gave me a bag of apples recently so I figured I’d give it a go.

So you take equal amounts of blackberries and apples (I used a pound of each). Chop apples into small pieces but do not peel or core them. Place in a pan with the washed blackberries and barely cover with water. Bring to the boil slowly and then simmer for an hour. (That’s the easy bit). blackberries & apples Then strain the juice through a jelly bag. (Now it got more complicated)

I’m not naturally practical or technically minded and so I was pondering how to safely suspend the jelly bag full of warm cooked fruit (which smells fabulous) without covering the kitchen and myself in purple juice. After a couple of failed attempts I managed it. The jelly bag

And that’s where we are currently at. I’m sitting at my kitchen table looking at the jelly bag suspended over one of my mixing bowls very very slowly dripping juice. The temptation to squeeze it and hurry things along is great but all the books say that will make a cloudy jelly. I’ll report back when its finally done!

Books · Living the Good Life

The good life – and books good and well, less good

Ever read a book you were immensely looking forward to and ended up disappointed?  It happened to me recently.  I’ve been interested in self-sufficiency, the good life, living outside of the system, whatever you want to call it, for years now. While I’m not in a position to adopt that kind of lifestyle at present (and maybe never will be) it doesn’t stop me daydreaming and thinking about it.  In the last couple of years I’ve been reading accounts by and about people who have done this – or similar things.  And some of them have been fascinating – Carol Drinkwater’s series of books about her olive farm in the south of France enthralled me and I’d recommend them to anyone.  Some I stumbled across and didn’t expect to enjoy; Rosie Boycott’s Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes was one such. Review of it here (originally published as Our Farm).  As well as a highly enjoyable account of how she and her husband set up a smallholding near Ilminster in Somerset, it is a passionate call for people to realise the impact of supermarkets on small towns and communities and for us to think more about where our food actually comes from.  Rosie Boycott isn’t the first to write about such issues of course, but her book is so well written that it is easy to engage with the arguments she makes and you get completely swept up in Ilminster’s battle that the book becomes something of a pageturner.  So that was one book I loved although I wasn’t expecting to.

In much of my reading about self-sufficiency I came across many references to Scott and Helen Nearing, considered by many (and rightly so IMHO) to be the pioneers of the concept of ‘The Good Life’ The Good Life Center.  Intrigued by the story of this couple who built their own houses by hand, who gardened, who lived out of the system to a large extent, I ordered their books and looked forward greatly to reading them.  Now, my life being what it is, I waited for a time when I could read the books properly, not having to rush through them and read them bit by bit when other commitments permitted.  So I finally got round to them over the last couple of weeks.

Imagine then my disappointment when I read them and didn’t enjoy them.  Don’t get me wrong, they are quite interesting and full (sometimes too full) of useful detail and information for anyone who wants to live that life.  But oh my word the books are so dry and so puritanical.  You never get a sense of how they FELT to be living this way, what they thought, whether they had any struggles.  The life they describe comes across (to me anyway) as humourless and austere.  The word ‘dour’ (especially when said in a Scottish accent) sums it up perfectly.  Don’t misunderstand me, I admire what the Nearings did and I can see how and why they have inspired so many to try something similar.  But oh did life have to be so devoid of fun????

I read ‘Living the Good Life’, ‘Continuing the Good Life’ and ‘Loving and Leaving the Good Life’.  And they’ve all gone to the charity shop…… I hope someone else enjoys them. I really wanted to and I didn’t.  Ah well.

Living the Good Life

Baby steps Barbara-style!

For a long time now I have been entranced by the idea of self-sufficiency.  I LOVE ‘The Good Life’ (classic 1970’s British sitcom) The Good Life and always fancied myself as a bit of a Barbara to the extent that my husband and I jokingly call each other Tom & Barbara whenever we are working away in the garden or when he is repairing things around the house rather than just buying something new.  But I have never really done anything about it apart from read books on self-sufficiency from John Seymour to the Hamilton brothers and accounts of other people leaving the Rat Race (such as Elizabeth West) and daydream.  A lot.

But this year I am going to be 40. The big 40 where life begins so it is said.   And I’m thinking about it all again.  However, this time I’ve resolved not to rush into it all madly, and take on too much and then fail miserably and become depressed as a result.  Nope, this time I am taking it slooooooowly.  I have a lot more constraints on my time, with my little daughter and my own business so the first step I’m going to take is to carry on with the reading – and re-reading – and select an aspect that I can easily fit into my existing life without it costing lots of money because thats something we don’t have an abundance of either!  So watch this space!  This week I’m still trying to shake off a dose of flu so I defnitely won’t be starting anything outside but I’m carving out a bit of time to do some constructive thinking.   And I’m decluttering too, which I guess is part of self-sufficiency in its broadest sense – getting rid of a lot of stuff we just don’t need and assessing just what we do need.