Edible Gifts Easy As Pie

A week ago, I shared my ideas about edible gifts with the folks at the Zero Waste Christmas Festival in Dublin.

As promised, here are all the recipes I mentioned for anyone who’d like to try gift some yummy surprises this Christmas.

If you are looking for sweet, savoury or boozy treats – here are some for you to try – most of them are simple and quick, some of them need a little bit more time and craft, some of them are even fully plant-based.

When gifting a food gift, remember that the packaging is a part of the gift – you can decorate your jars or boxes with festive ribbons, cut-outs, labels or go natural with pieces of holly, evergreen, cones. Forego the impersonal wrapping paper and customise your presents using materials you already have – that pieces of cloth or forgotten Christmas paraphernalia will come in handy!

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Skip directly to recipes

Chocolate Pralines
Chocolate Bark
Cookie Mix
Christmas Biscuits
Raw Truffle Mix
Candied Peel
Crackers
Pestos
Marinated Cheese
Chutneys
Pineapple Vinegar
White Mulled Wine Mix
Eggnog
Mint Liqueur

Sweet

Chocolate Pralines

(inspired by Ina Garten)

Ingredients
300g good dark chocolate
100g good milk chocolate
250ml double cream
2 tbsp liqueur of your choice (I used grenadine syrup)
½-1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

Chop all the chocolate until fine.
Bring the cream in a small saucepan just to the boil, turn off the heat and let sit for 20 seconds.
Pour the cream through a fine mesh sieve into the chocolate. Whisk until all chocolate is melted.
Add vanilla extract and liqueur/syrup if using.
If you are pressed for time or just want the easy way, pour straight into silicone moulds and refrigerate. It will set in about 2-3 hours. Take out of moulds and pack. The less handling the better as the chocolate will thaw.
If you want to go for more of an artisan look, let the chocolate mixture cool in a room temperature for about an hour. Dollop 2 tablespoons of the mixture on a sheet and refrigerate them until firm (about half an hour). Take out of the fridge, roll them in your hands to form a ball and roll them in icing sugar, cocoa powder, dessicated coconut, chopped nuts or anything else you fancy.
These will keep refrigerated for weeks (allegedly, they never lasted me that long!) but serve at room temperature.

Chocolate Bark

If you are looking for something chocolatey with a nice wow-effect, you can try one of these chocolate barks.

In short, it comprises of choosing the ingredients you want in your bark (nuts, candy dried fruit, spices, etc.), spreading them onto a baking sheet and covering with melted chocolate coating or tempered chocolate.

It might involve a bit of a skill (tempering the chocolate as you might not find a chocolate covering without palm oil) but you can easily source the ingredients in bulk, so it’s worth to try.

Cookie Mix (Chocolate Chip and Walnut Brownies)

The internet is full of recipes for jarred cookie mixes and rightly so, it’s a fun present that is easy to make and looks good.

The idea is that you layer all dry ingredients in a nice jar and gift them with instructions – with wet ingredients to add and how to bake.

This is my one of my favourites:

Layer up in a jar:
1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups (160g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (75g) cocoa, unsweetened
2 cups (300g) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup (75g) coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Wet ingredients to be added:
2/3 cup (160g) melted butter, divided into halves
1/2 cup (125ml) boiling water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method
Heat the oven to 180 C. Grease and flour a 30x20cm baking pan.
In a large bowl, combine cocoa and baking soda. Blend in half of the melted butter. Add boiling water and stir until well blended. Stir in sugar, beaten eggs and remaining butter. Stir in flour and salt.
Stir nuts and the chocolate chips into batter. Spread batter in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the brownies are firm and begin to pull away from sides of pan.
Cool before cutting into squares. Voilá!

Christmas Biscuits

If you are a baker or do not shy away from mixing some flour, butter and eggs, you can always bake nice Christmassy biscuits, pop them into a jar or a box and I guarantee you they will be received with thanks.

Every year, I make these ‘gingerbreads’ – in inverted commas because they, in fact, have no ginger in them. They are actually honey cookies which are soft and taste like Christmas.

Honey Cookies (Medovníčky)

Ingredients
500g plain flour
190g honey
150g icing sugar
60g butter
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
3 crushed cloves
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Method
Mix all the ingredients into a (somewhat sticky) dough.
Divide into halves and place in a bowl, cover with a plate or wrap in a beeswax wrap (instead of cling film) and leave to rest overnight in a cold place.
Knead for a few minutes before rolling out.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Roll out to about 5mm thickness and cut out shapes with cookie cutters.
Place on a baking sheet with baking paper or silicone mat.
Bake for 6-8 minutes – do not over bake – the edges shouldn’t be browned.

The cookies can be decorated with lemony sugar icing – whisk 1 egg white, 140g icing sugar, juice from one lemon until the sugar is dissolved and the icing is shiny and thick. Fill in a freezer bag or a paper cone with the icing, make a tiny hole in one corner and decorate.

However, if you don’t have time to do that just brush the cookies with a beaten egg white or whole egg before baking. You can also add a dollop of jam and a walnut half on top.

pernicky

Some from last year…

Raw Truffle Mix

If you are looking for a cookie version for your vegan friends, here’s an idea.

The recipe is courtesy of Íde of Bring Your Own – you can buy all the ingredients in bulk in their stall or, if you’re pressed for time, even buy the mixture already jarred.

It’s super easy.

In a nice jar, layer up 50g of almonds, 50g of dates and 10g of coconut flakes. (Feel free to double it up for more truffles.)

Method: Tip out the coconut flakes in a blender and blitz them to shred them. Tip out on a plate and put aside. Put the rest of the ingredients in the blender and blend until a sticky consistency. Roll out small balls and finish them rolling in the shredded coconut. That’s it!

Candied Peel

I like this recipe because it’ using up orange or other citrus peel that would otherwise end up in the compost bin.

I takes a little bit of time to make but it’s mostly waiting time – plan accordingly.

I made it a couple of times and really like the recipe from Bright-eyed Baker which you can find here.

My only note would be don’t cover the pan so that the water can evaporate – I made this rookie mistake the first time I made it…

Savoury

Crackers

There are few things that go together better than crackers and cheese, or even better, crackers, chutney and cheese.

You can make up a hamper filled with this holy trinity of foodiness…here are a few recipes to help.

Sourdough crackers

If you heard about sourdough and were intrigued or even better, gave it a shot and realised it’s the best thing ever, I am happy for you. If not, maybe try some sourdough bread and you may just become interested enough to try it.

If you do have sourdough and feed it regularly, you know you end up with quite some of the ‘starter discard’ but don’t do what it says on the tin. Don’t discard it – rather turn it into delicious crackers.

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe from Anne Marie Bonneau, the Zero Waste Chef, which you can find here.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup unfed starter from the refrigerator
6 tbsp olive or sunflower oil
1 cup rye flour
1/2 cup spelt flour (plain or wholemeal)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp linseed

Method
Combine starter and oil in a non-metallic bowl. Add flours, salt, baking soda and seeds. Combine. If necessary, knead the dough a few times to incorporate the last bit of flour. Cover bowl with a plate or towel and let rest for six hours at room temperature (I often skip this step and it’s fine – just rest it for about 15-20 minutes before making).

Store in the fridge after this if you won’t bake right away. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. Let it warm at room temperature for 15 minutes to half an hour to making rolling easier.

When you’re ready to bake, divide the dough into quarters on a generously floured surface.
Preheat oven to 190C.
Roll the dough out about two millimeters thick.
Transfer the dough to ungreased baking tray.
Cut into rectangles with a pizza cutter or a knife. I do this on the working surface rather than on the baking tray – but that’s me 🙂

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, turn crackers and bake 6 to 8 minutes longer. Crackers are done when crispy and slightly browned. Know your oven and baking trays – some may bake quicker and some longer (glass baking trays are usually slower to bake on as I learned).
Transfer crackers to a rack to cool. Store in a glass jar. These also freeze well if you don’t munch on them all at once.

crackers

Easy crackers

If sourdough isn’t your thing, fear not, these easy crackers from The Kitchn are as good.

Ingredients
3 cups (360g) plain flour, or a mix of plain and whole grain flours
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (250ml) water
Optional topping: 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 1 tbsp fennel seeds, 1 tbsp poppy seeds, 1 tsp sea salt

Method
Heat the oven to 230°C and place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Sprinkle a baking sheet lightly with flour and set aside.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the oil and water. Stir until a soft, sticky dough is formed. If a lot of loose flour remains in the bottom of the bowl and the surface of the dough, add more water a tablespoon at a time until all the flour is incorporated. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
Divide the dough into halves and shape the dough into a square. Working from the center of the dough out, roll the dough into a rectangle roughly 2mm thick or thinner. If the dough starts to shrink back as you roll it, let it rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes and then continue rolling.
Sprinkle dough with topping (optional): Brush the surface of the dough very lightly with water. Combine the seeds in a small bowl and sprinkle half of them evenly over the surface of the dough.
Cut the dough into cracker-sized rectangles using a sharp knife. If you are after more fancy shapes, use cookie cutters.
Transfer crackers to baking sheet and prick with fork to prevent them from puffing during baking. It’s fine to crowd the crackers very close to each other.

Bake the crackers in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are browned. Thinner crackers will bake more quickly than thicker ones; you can remove the crackers as they brown to your liking and continue baking the rest. While the first batch of crackers is baking, roll out and cut the remaining dough.
Transfer the baked crackers to a wire rack to cool completely. The crackers will crisp further as they cool. Store the crackers in an airtight container on the counter for 3-5 days. If you’re crackers are a little old and less-than-crispy, lay them on a baking sheet and put them in a 180C oven for a few minutes to re-crisp.

Pestos

If you are heading to a Christmas party and want to bring some crowdpleasers to the savoury table, you can make some pesto – it’s quick, easy and you can even use up things otherwise destined for compost.

Also, you don’t need to feel limited by the classic components – mix up your nuts, greens or use nutritional yeast instead of cheese if you want your pesto be fully plant-based.

I will borrow a carrot pesto recipe from Lindsay Miles of Treading My Own Path which you can find with 3 other great pesto recipes here.

Carrot Top Pesto

Ingredients
2 large handfuls of carrot tops
1 large handful of basil
1/3 cup (50g) cashew nuts (or other)
9 brazil nuts (50g) (or other)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1/2 avocado (or 3 tbsp of olive oil)
1/3 cup (30g) nutritional yeast or grated cheese (or to taste)

Method
Blend the nuts in a food processor until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs and set aside.
Chop or crush the garlic, then add the basil leaves and carrot tops in the blender and blend until fine. Add oil and avocado and blend again. Add nuts and cheese/yeast if using and pulse to combine. Add more oil to taste if required. Store in a glass jar in the fridge, and use within 5 days. Can be frozen.

Marinated cheese

If you are putting together a foodie hamper, you can include a jar of marinated cheese. It’s easy, quick and looks and tastes good.

Ingredients
Brie or other soft cheese
Shallots/onion
Red capciscum pepper
Dried porcini mushrooms (a small handful)
Peppercorns
Bay leafs
Garlic cloves
Salt
Parika
Chilli flakes
Sunflower oil

Method
Cut the cheese into 5mm slices and sprinkle with salt. Layer up in a jar with thinly sliced shallots, pepper and halved garlic cloves. Soak the mushrooms in a bit of boiling water for few minutes, then squeeze out the water and add to the jar. Add a couple of peppercorns, a bay leaf and some chilli flakes. Work your way up to fill the jar. Once full, pour over sunflower oil to cover everything. Leave in the fridge for 5 days for flavours to combine. The cheese can be served with crusty bread or crackers. Leftover oil can be used in cooking – salads or aforementioned pestos are a good choice!

Chutneys

The third part of the cheese-cracker-chutney combination may require a bit of effort and time but it’s definitely worth it. Preserved in sterilised jars will keep for a year (and maybe even a tad longer).

I took inspiration from this classic apple chutney recipe.

Classic Apple Chutney

Ingredients
1½ kg cooking apples, peeled and diced
450g granulated sugar
100g molasses
500g raisins
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
700ml cider vinegar (I used a mixture of homemade apple scrap or pineapple vinegar)

Method
Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium heat, then simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for about an hour, or until thick and pulpy. Remove from the heat, leave to cool and transfer to sterilised, clean, dry jars and seal.

chutney

Chutneys ready to impress…

Raw Pineapple Vinegar

If the recipient of your edible gift is a fan of healthy homemade concoctions, you can surprise them with a raw apple cider or pineapple vinegar.

The latter I came across when a pineapple I bought started to go sour but I refused to throw it out – I looked up a recipe for a fruity vinegar and the result pleasantly surprised me. I used this recipe from the Fermented Food Lab.

Ingredients
½ pineapple
4 cups (1l) water
1 cup (180g) brown sugar (I used a mix of granulated sugar and molasses)
2 whole cloves

Method
Cut up the pineapple into big chunks and leave the skins on.
Mix the the sugar in 4 cups of water until sugar dissolves.
Add the pineapple and the sugar water to a glass jar.
Add in the cloves.
Cover with a cloth and secure with a rubber band.
Store in a cool, dark place (away from direct sunlight) for 3-4 weeks.
Stir the pineapple every few days to aerate it and prevent mold from growing on the surface.
If mold forms on the surface, scoop it out. Don’t worry, the vinegar is still good.
Taste the vinegar after 3 weeks. If it tastes sour and acidic like vinegar, strain out the pineapple chunks and bottle it. If not, let it ferment for another week. Repeat until it tastes like vinegar.
Store in a glass container or bottle in your pantry for several months to a year.

Use in salads or in a chutney 🙂

If you like apples and use a lot of them for cooking, you may be left with some cores and peels that seem to be no good for anything else but that’s a mistake – with the same method as above (fermentation of sugar water by fruit), you can easily make apple cider vinegar. Find the full recipe here.

Boozy

If there is one part of festive food that I look forward to during the year it’s the boozy concoctions. Casually sipped with friends while catching up, sweet enough to be a dessert but somewhat too sweet to drink too much which avoids the next day hangover. Perfect.

The following recipes are also easy to make, don’t need heap of ingredients and are quite easy to buy in bulk.

White Mulled Wine Mix

Do you think that all mulled wine has to be red? Au contraire. White mulled wine is just as (if not more) delicious.

Put together a bottle of wine, an orange and jarred spices and you have a gift that won’t go unappreciated.

Spice Mix
55g white or brown sugar
5 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 star anise
A piece of cassia bark or a small piece of cinnamon

Layer up in a small jar. Print out the following instructions and attach to the jar.

Add: 750ml white wine, 250ml water (optional), 3 slices of orange/lemon. Bring almost to boil. Strain, reserve spices and serve. Add 55g of sugar and repeat.

Eggnog (Vaječný koňak)

This recipe was definitely the favourite sample at my workshop. There are many methods and recipes for this Baileys’ type of liqueur – the following one is quick, easy and delicious. (It does contain raw eggs so if you prefer, look for recipes that cook the egg yolks in a bain marie first.)

Ingredients
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tin condensed milk
300ml dark rum (the Aldi one works nicely)

Method
Whisk egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract until foamy. Add condensed milk and whisk for further 3 minutes. Stir in rum and taste, add more rum if you’d like. Pour into a clean bottle, store in the fridge and use up in a week.

Mint Liqueur

If you prefer something longer lasting and also plant-based, you may try this simple mint liqueur.

Ingredients
350 ml vodka
300ml water
30 mint leaves
300g cane sugar
Zest from ½ lemon

Method
Shred the mint leaves with your hands and place in a dark container with the lemon zest. Cover with vodka and leave to macerate for 3 days. Then strain through a fine mesh sieve, a coffee filter or a muslin cloth. You should get a clean liquid.
Over a medium heat, dissolve the sugar in water. Add this syrup to the mint macerate, transfer into a clean bottle and leave to ripen for three weeks in a dark place.

A day in the life of an aspirational zero-waster

I wake up in the morning and shuffle to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. While squirting my ‘compromise’ toothpaste (it’s all natural but it’s still in a plastic tube) on my bamboo toothbrush I consider if I’m maybe ready to try that homemade toothpaste with coconut oil. Well, the last one I bought at a farmers’ market had bentonite clay in it which is really just ‘white mud’. Let’s just say that didn’t work.

I put on my cycling gear and head to the fridge to take out the food for the day prepared last night. Overnight oats, some leftovers for lunch, another jar with snacks – nuts, seeds and dried banana chips I managed to buy in bulk. Sometimes, when I’m packing the salad, the thought of that jar weighing possibly twice as much as those leaves crosses my mind, but it’s quickly followed by the ‘more exercise for me so’ thought.

After-work jars...

My daily jars 🙂 – including the Friday’s ‘used loose tea for compost’ jar

I kiss my other half goodbye and hop on the bike. As I am approaching the cars stuck in the bottleneck leading to the city centre, I am silently judging them from my high-horse, ehm, saddle…as they sit in their gas-guzzling pollution-puffing machines. I smile at my efficiency but frown at all the smoke I have to sniff in order to be green. Go cyclists!

I take a shower (which could be shorter but the hot water feels so gooood), innerly praising my employer for providing the facilities. As I am using my shampoo bar on my hair I’m thinking about the possibility of going no-(sham)poo or just water washing. But then again, could I handle smelling like vinaigrette? I put on the store-bought deodorant which I can’t wait to use up because I want to have a go at the homemade stuff. A mental note creeps in: get arrowroot powder for the recipe.

Fresh as a daisy after the morning workout (streamlining does work – commuting on the bike means no need to go the boring gym – yay!), I make myself a cup of tea. I’m feeling smug praising my decision to stop drinking coffee all those years ago. It was long before ZW and it started as an experiment but it seems to have taken hold. The tea is loose, a great maté blend from the tea shop where you can fill your own tin. It’s funny how it’s easier to get luxury items without packaging, like tea and nuts, but looking for a few lentils in bulk can be a nightmare. I wish there was a proper bulk shop around but I’m happy with the bulk options I found so far (and they seem to be growing!). After steeping the tea, I put the leaves into a jar and I explain to my curious colleague that at the end of the week, I bring the jar home to empty it in my compost bin. I wish my company had compost bins. They’re doing well to have recycling bins in, it’s a start. Perhaps, if I put my mind to it, I can make them change theirs.

As the days continues, I go about my work. From time to time I think how great it would be to work for a properly green company, one that works in the sustainability industry. Immediately afterwards I think that working on my own green venture would be even better. One can dream. Or plan 🙂 While snacking on my nuts from a jar, I occasionally check the local Zero Waste Facebook page. Sometimes I comment and think back about the beginnings of my ZW journey…how much I learned and how much I changed my habits since! Figuring out what worked and what didn’t was the fun part! And it still is.

For lunch, I have my no-food-waste-in-my-house leftover provision. After I’m finished, I casually check the canteen’s general  bin for any recyclables. Most of the days, there are some. As I’m washing them, I think about what would make others actually give a crap and at least recycle. Then I think back to those days when I had a ready-made salad packed in a plastic bowl for lunch, a plastic bottle of orange juice and a packet of crisps or a Kit-Kat for mine. Thankfully, those days are gone. I put the recyclables where they belong and think that if there was a deposit system for plastic bottles, it would be much easier to get people to change. I just can’t grasp how all the plastic bottles get used for about 30 minutes and then get dumped. Sigh.

After lunch, rain or shine, a short walk is in order to clear the head and get some (reasonably) fresh air. I walk along the canal and pass a lunch food market with lovely smells from all the different  kitchens. Instead of looking at their menus, however, I look around at the amount of polystyrene trays and plastic cutlery left behind. They are in a bin in the best case, near the bin or, in the worst case, on the footpath. For about the fifth time that day, I cannot help thinking if my own ZW efforts can change anything. All the plastic I avoid and all the rubbish I don’t throw away will still be created somewhere. I feel a bit down but then I realise it doesn’t matter what other people are doing right now. As long as I keep doing my bit, there is a chance I can spread my way of thinking. Then I remember that activism is the best way to change things so I decide that I will send a message to the market organisers to see if they could maybe provide more bins or compostable food containers. Or, even better, to encourage customers to bring their own lunchboxes. Bit by bit, starfish by starfish.  

I finish up my work, gather all the empty jars from the day and rattling like a bottle bank I hop on my bike. As I am cycling and thinking what culinary marvel I will try to create for dinner (the veggie box arrived yesterday so I have lots of fresh produce to play with), I make a list in my head of things to do…water the raised bed with some semi-decent gardening attempts, change the beer traps for slugs who love the aforementioned attempts, buy some baking soda, trying to find that Redecker dish brush online and find out who could crochet some dishcloths for me…I am flying on the bike (reasonably restricted by the jars’ clanking) but have to, yet again, stop behind a puffing bus at the lights. Ah well, ups and downs, ups and downs.

It’s strange to think that just a couple of years back, none of these thoughts crossed my mind in an average day. I guess this is what happens when you find a cause that you really want to get behind. But I do sometimes wish I didn’t have to think about these things so much and living sustainably was the norm. Until then, I’ll happily do it all again tomorrow.

Zero Waste Week!

Originally, I planned to share with you my first attempt at a zero-waste-festival-trip. But, since this week is International Zero Waste Week, this of course takes preference 🙂

zero-waste-weekcampaign-13

What is it?

It is a campaign raising awareness of the environmental impact of waste and empowering participants to reduce waste. It was launched in 2008 and the campaign is conducted almost exclusively online via their website, newsletters and social media. Like with Plastic-Free July, the idea quickly spread from its origins in the UK across the world. It might not be as strong as PFJ yet but it’s definitely an international affair! Anybody can join, doesn’t matter if it’s an individual, community group, company or school – the more the merrier! If you fancy it, you can still do it on zerowasteweek.co.uk.

Themed effort

Every year there is a theme for Zero Waste Week. This year it’s “Use it up!”, focussing on food waste. If you partake, you get a daily email with lots of tips and tricks on how to minimise food waste and be creative with your leftovers, ehm, I mean, future ingredients 🙂 So far, the spotlight has been on salad, bananas, bread and cucumbers – the most wasted foods in Britain according to the ZWW survey.

Their website is full of easy ideas and delicious recipes for tackling food waste. Check them all out here.

My top 3

Buy the right amount

This specifically applies to fresh produce like fruit and veg. The cauliflower or broccoli looks so tempting at the farmers market stall but if I don’t have a specific plan, it might end up sad in the compost bin after lurking in the fridge for about 2 weeks. Even if I do have a specific plan for this or that, something comes up (usually dining out – yay!) and I have to abandon my plan. But I still try my best to use it all up – usually disguised in a curry or stew where the wonky veg is suitably perfect. 

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Wonky veg cauliflower curry!

Shop in your cupboards/freezer

I make a lot of food from scratch and I always make bigger amounts to save time. Thankfully, we don’t mind eating the same thing three days in a row 🙂 Sometimes though, I freeze half of the food ‘for emergencies’, which are usually office lunches or hangover days… I often cook pancakes (Sunday brunch essentials) and freeze half of batch so the next time it’s a quick and tasty meal with no mess. Or naan bread. Or lasagne. Or pies. I think you can freeze pretty much any cooked (or assembled ready to be cooked) food, more than the obvious soups and stews. If you are using a recipe, it often says something about its suitability for freezing. So, if  you have a freezer full of goodies, don’t store them there for a year, take an evening off and declare an emergency 🙂 

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Japanese night anyone?

Cupboards are a funny thing. Even if large and spacious, they have hidden corners where you can find some real, ehm, treasures? The Zero Waste Week campaign prompted me to do yet another audit of what’s in mine and what could/should be used up. The highlights were a sushi making set (including brand new unopened bamboo sushi rolling mats), a can of okra, a sad half-bag of short-grain brown rice and a tub of malt drink bought (in pre-ZW days) for a Jamie Oliver recipe which I made. Once. Oh and about 6 tins of various granulated Indian  teas. I thought I was better than this.

 

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Tea-drinking season is approaching…

 

Even though some of the above offenders might have passed their ‘due date’, I often think that these are, especially in case of dry or canned goods, very safe estimates. When stored properly (no sunlight, extreme temperatures or bugs), they are fine even after a good while. So, my pledge is to use it all up leaving the cupboards in a better shape than I found them. 

Plan your meals

I consider myself to be quite organised but not to the point of having a meal plan ready on Sunday evening for the week ahead. After all, there are only 2 people in our household so it’s not completely necessary.

I do, however, like to think a bit ahead about what we’re gonna eat so that I can minimise my shopping trips. One trip on Saturday usually does the trick with maybe one or two stops for the perishable items during the week. On Saturday though, before going to the shop, I have a good look in the fridge/pantry to see if there is anything that needs to be used up and included in the meal prep 🙂

There are days though when I just don’t have the time to plan (we all do!) so I always keep eggs in my pantry as an omelette is my go-to meal! Quick, easy, versatile. Done.

 

If you think about it, wasting food is wasting money. Unless you’re super rich and don’t care, you don’t like wasting money. According to research, the average householder wastes €40 of food per month which could be, if you ask me, spent on other fun things!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be clever about the food one eats. As always, apply common sense. Don’t buy what you cannot use in time and use up everything before you go to buy some more!

Here’s to the Zero Waste Week 2016!

Zero Waste House Move…

The best way to move towards a Zero Waste life is literally ‘to move’. Ideally, to a much smaller house than your present one. But in my opinion, unless you live in a tent, I don’t think a ZW house move is possible. Maybe, just maybe, if you already are a hardcore zero waster, you can do it. The rest of us, unfortunately, will definitely face some unplanned rubbish.

A good thing about this is that moving house is an amazing opportunity to think about, see and physically become aware of all your possessions (and I mean ALL). This leads to a natural second step – reducing them!

It’s seeing all the stuff that you have somehow collected over all the years of your adult life stuffed into numerous boxes, crates and bags that does it. The sheer fact that you have to transport them from one place to another makes you wish you had so much less.

In my case, we moved about a year into my ZW journey which helped because a good portion of my stuff was already donated, given away to friends or repurposed. To my surprise though, I still own a lot.

movingboxes

Not proud of this much…

It’s up to you to decide what’s ‘a lot’ and ‘enough’. Lindsay from treadingmyownpath.com said it perfectly: “Minimalism, decluttering and finding our “enough” has nothing to do with going without, or holding back. It is about finding our “enough”.”

For each of us, this means something different. In some people’s eyes, I have a lot of glass jars. But, they are essential for me and I use them a lot. My boyfriend has a lot of books and they are essential for him. In comparison to other people, we might not have enough clothes or not enough bottles in the bathroom. We have a good range of gardening equipment but no TV. It’s all about personal preferences.

Sorting

When you know what’s important for you and what is not, start sorting. I am not gonna lie, this is a tedious and time-consuming job. You have to go through all your things in a true KonMari fashion and question the effect on your life of every single thing you own. Yes, it might take aaages. But, if you can do it, you will be rewarded with a clutter-free home.

Changing hands

You hit another dilemma – on one hand, you do want to reduce the amount of stuff you own but on the other, you don’t want to create waste!? It’s not sustainable to throw things out just to own less!

So, once you have your ‘give away’ pile ready, start looking in your social circle. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbours. Functional things in good order might just find a new home…the Star Wars cushions, random kitchen accessories you never used and three sets of placemats….they all have hope.

Use the power of internet – post an ad online on local sites (Donedeal.ie and Adverts.ie are a godsend!). If you have brand new things that don’t fit, duplicate items or decent working electronics, they might even generate a little bit of cash!

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Teddies that found their new home…:)

I had a bunch of teddy bears that made their way into my home one by one but weren’t happy as nobody played with them. With a little bit of time spent internet exploring, I found a teddy bear hospital who took them and they will be a part of an annual charity event for to help people with MS. I was really happy with that I can tell you!!

Ask in your local charity shop what type of things they accept (the answer in my case was: pretty much anything except furniture) and bring the rest there.

Back in the cycle

If you have items that didn’t make it into any of the above categories, see if you can reuse them (old clothes as rugs, old pillowcases to be sewn into produce bags, etc.).

It’s inevitable though that you still end up with some stuff, hopefully suitable for the recycling bank – small electronics and broken cables, broken glass – and for the curbside recycling – the takeout containers from when you were too tired to cook and all the jars were still boxed up :).

Last resort

After all this (and I did do my best), we still created waste – from broken things that were, let’s be honest, never going to be repaired, things that were just not suitable for a charity shop or a second hand exchange (worn shoes, etc.), things and materials that couldn’t be recycled because they were too small, plastic wrap, dust bunnies (or rather elephants), it all piled up. I am dedicated to Zero Waste but there was a line between it and retaining my sanity by making the move as quick and smooth as possible. The compromises!

The good news is, we did manage to avoid some of the usual wastefulness associated with moving. I got the packing boxes second-hand from a shopping centre and will try to pass them on to someone in need (internet should take care of this). All the cleaning that had to be done in the house was successfully completed with the well-known combo of vinegar and baking soda, no bleach or other nasties needed. We organised the stuff properly to minimise the car runs (ok, more or less…).

Lessons learned

What did I learn for the next time?

  1. Organise the stuff you’re moving properly – content of boxes clearly marked, screws of disassembled furniture securely stored!, etc. – it will save you a lot of time when unpacking.
  2. Deep cleaning your new house will make you feel instantly better. Especially when you only need 2 ingredients and hot water. Don’t forget the appliances – your washing machine, fan extract and dishwasher will thank you.
  3. Opt for paperless billing and opt out of promotional emails when first contacting your new energy providers – it will cut the junk mail. Speaking of which, get a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign for the door if there isn’t one yet!
  4. Be ruthless with your possessions – find a new home for anything you haven’t used in a year. Seriously.
  5. Make new friends – find a charity shop in your new neighbourhood and talk to the butcher showing him your glass jar 🙂
  6. Don’t get too upset when you create waste, moving itself is stressful enough. Do your best and bin the rest.

Don’t forget, a new house is a new start, so it’s onward and upward now!

Free yourself from plastic

With the month of July in full swing, you might have heard about an initiative called Plastic Free July. It’s a simple idea developed in 2011 in Australia which has since spread around the world. It aims to raise awareness of the amount of plastic in our lives by encouraging people to eliminate the use of single-use plastic during July each year. Anyone can sign up – individuals or organisations.

Check out their website and perhaps you might give it a go!

The challenge is quite simple. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, you can try the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, bottles, takeaway coffee cups & straws).

If you think about it, all of the TOP 4 plastics are easily avoidable. I have put together a few tips that might help you with the challenge.

1. Avoid plastic bags … bring your own

Reusable totes are prettier and sturdier than the flimsy single-use plastic bags and they are totally convenient to carry in your handbag for all cases. Pick one that folds into a little packet and off you go! 

Reusable bags

Handy to keep in your handbag! (Photo: designmom.com)

Tip: They can also be used as an emergency seat cover, picnic cloth or umbrella. Boom.

2. Avoid plastic bottles … bring your own

Getting used to bringing your own reusable bottle (stainless steel, BPA-free plastic, glass) will solve a few problems at once. If you get thirsty or need some water to wash your hands, you don’t have to find a shop first and waste money on overpriced plastic bottle of water. Also, if you are out and can’t finish your drink, you have a handy container to pour your leftover drink into.

Reusable water bottles

Cool water bottle anyone? (Photo: flaska.eu)

Tip: A full bottle of wine fits nicely in a 750ml stainless steel bottle without raising any suspicion – you know, when you’re going to a festival and are low on cash or to a children’s party you’d like to make more interesting.

3. Avoid takeaway coffee cups … bring your own

Not only are the paper cups you get with your takeaway coffee lined with plastic, which makes them harder to recycle, the cups and the lids actually very rarely end up in a recycling bin. Choosing to bring your own makes so much more sense! Remembering your travel mug in the morning before you leave the house might need a few post-its on the door/mirror/steering wheel of your car but it’s definitely worth it.

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If I drank coffee, this would be my go-to cup! (Photo: hellogreen.com.au)

Tip: They are also much more spill-proof than the paper cups and can carry all sorts of liquids if needed – or foods for that matter! On top of that, you might even get financially rewarded for your efforts!

4. Avoid straws … bring your own or simply say no

Depending on where you live, your drinks might usually be served with a straw. In Ireland  it’s thankfully not as common in general and applies mostly for bars. Fast-food chains also give you the option to take the straw yourself. (Hint: Don’t.)

Tip: You could invest in nice reusable bamboo, metal or glass straws (I would question their durability – at least in my clumsy case!). Or, simply ask staff not to put any straw in your drink – consume it like a responsible adult with your mouth and gravity. I haven’t used a straw for a good while now and I am not missing it at all!

Plastic straws

Not cool, people, not cool!

Bringing your own reusable straw can spark a discussion and raise awareness – educate people and enjoy the quizzical looks!

Once you have successfully avoided the TOP 4, you might want to take things further and continue with #5.

5. Avoid plastic packaging – buy in bulk or in recyclable packaging

The majority of plastic in a typical household comes from food packaging. If you have the option, buy in bulk or packageless directly from producers (farmers’ markets and all that jazz!). If not available, choose recyclable packaging that you can reuse first before recycling (cardboard or paper).

Because ‘on-the-go’ foods are the biggest culprit in this plastic saga, think ahead and prepare you brekkie, lunch and snacks at home and bring them along. Leftovers from dinner make a great work lunch, overnight porridge takes about 2 minutes to prepare and homemade trail mixes have a much better mixture of goodies than those overpriced teensy packs.

The unavoidable side-effect is that you WILL start eating healthier and soon enough you will cook like a boss.

It is only fair that I weigh the pros and cons before advising you to do this. So, here they are:

CONS

  • You will need to be organised. Some of us are naturals, some less so.
  • You will need a bigger handbag/rucksack. Carrying all your BYOs takes up some space alright.
  • You might be looked at quizzically/with surprise/disbelief. Be a trendsetter and embrace it.

PROS

  • You save money. Skipping all the impulse buys ranging from a pack of raisins to a far-too-expensive fancy sandwich with rose petals will be kind on your wallet.
  • You will feel better. Physically because you’ll eat better and mentally because your actions WILL make a difference. Maybe only one more turtle will not get a straw stuck in her little nose. But that’s huge.
  • You will become an eco-warrior. That’s a synonym for a hero, a better person and a responsible citizen of the planet Earth in my book.

Is that enough for you to consider joining the movement this July? Remember, you can join any day, even if it’s  just for a day. The Earth will thank you.

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Ups and downs

Switching to a simpler life came with one added bonus – I can engage my creative skills in making things myself. Being made from simple ingredients, they are better for me – and I get the satisfaction of making something with my own paws.

However, as with everything, there are successes and failures. I want to share my experience with homemade potions to encourage you to try something new (and not be discouraged if something doesn’t work)!!

Laundry

As mentioned in my last post, a homemade laundry gel is not only very easy to make but also much cheaper in comparison to store-bought products. I gave it a chance after an experiment with soap nuts which did not work for me at all. I bought a kilo of them when I started looking for an alternative to conventional laundry products. I closely followed the instructions on the nice textile bag. All was well until after a full 40 degree cycle, the clothes came out just simply wet. No feel or smell of cleanliness or freshness. I also probably didn’t fasten the little bag with the nuts properly so they ended up spread all over the wash. I was not impressed! Quickly after this, I decided to look elsewhere. In true zero waste fashion, I thought I would use the nuts for some second-degree laundry (rugs, mats, etc.) but never actually came around to do that. So, if anyone wants to give them a chance, I will happily send them my bag for free!! Maybe you can have better results than me. (Conclusion: Laundry gel – YES, soap nuts – NO)

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Soap nuts vs laundry gel…

 

Kitchen

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Buying in bulk 🙂

As we have a dishwasher, I searched for a recipe for homemade dishwasher tablets. After some internet research and entering the world of opinions on Borax I, luckily, found a recipe that consisted of washing soda (soda crystals), baking soda, salt and citric acid. Simple enough ingredients and simple enough instructions. Basically, mix it all together. Well…. The first batch was great. Consistency was fine, cleaning power decent as well. So I went ahead and bought a bulk pack (a 5kg tub) of citric acid. Hmm. Perhaps a slightly rushed decision. Every batch after the first one just didn’t cut it. The mixture either turned to liquid (this apparently happens in humid conditions – Ireland, duh!), turned to stone (citric acid reacting with the sodas apparently) or didn’t really wash the dishes properly (when the citric acid was added right before the wash). So, after a few trials and errors, I reluctantly went back to shop-bought tablets. I chose the Ecover brand which is supposed to be not damaging to the environment but every tablet is still wrapped in plastic. Not ideal. However, I haven’t given up on this one yet. Especially when looking at that full citric acid tub 🙂 I will try again. Perhaps the drier summer climate will help the result. (Conclusion: Dishwasher tables – MAYBE)

One more nature-friendly swap for your dishes is to change the shop-bought rinse for vinegar. I tried out red wine, white wine, malt and apple cider vinegars. They all worked perfectly and are all cheaper than the original rinse. (Conclusion: Vinegar rinse – YES)

Personal hygiene

I am not a big fan of mouthwash but here and there I like to use it. I don’t like, however, the alcohol-laden Listerine and similar products, so I searched for a natural one. The internet proved to be full of ideas and recipes which were pretty easy with simple and easily found ingredients. I followed the recipe from DIY Natural. Water, baking soda, a few drops of essential oil and you’re done. You can add some xylitol if you don’t like the salty taste of baking soda 🙂 [Recipe I use: Mix together 1/2 cup filtered water, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp xylitol, 2 drops of tea tree oil, 4 drops of peppermint oil]. You might need to mix the concoction more often than you buy a bottle of Listerine (big batches are not really wanted as the oils blend and the mouthwash changes taste slightly) but it literally takes 2 minutes and I am fine with that. (Conclusion: Mouthwash – YES)

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Some time back, I came across an article on Treehugger about natural body scrubs and said to myself that I am going to try them out! I picked the last one with sea salt and oil. I used some sea salt that I bought in bulk (well, bulk-ish – a 2kg tub), olive oil from the kitchen and added some dried lavender from my garden. I mixed everything in a nice little Kilner jar and put it in the bathroom. But, boy oh boy, what a mess trying to use it! Maybe I am just fussy but it just didn’t work for me. The oil was everywhere and most of it was soaked in my towel rather than by my body. Not to mention the bathtub was all oily and slippery after use. I suppose if you use very hot water for your shower (which I don’t), it wouldn’t be as bad. Either way, I was happy when I finally finished the jar. I still like a good scrub though so might try the dry one – no added oil – less mess guaranteed. (Conclusion: Oil scrub – NO).

At the local market, a girl was selling homemade cosmetic products and I was curious to try her natural clay toothpaste. I tried it twice. The second time just to reassure myself that this is not for me. I am not sure if it was the weird texture or the extra salty taste. Simply put, it was just yuck. But then again, that’s just me – my friend used it and loved it!! I happily traded her Waleda toothpaste for my clay one. Until I find something else acceptable to brush my teeth with (pure baking soda sounds like a very unlikely candidate for me), I will keep using the Kingfisher natural toothpaste. Smooth and refreshing. I like. (Conclusion: Clay toothpaste – NO)

Cleaning

If you haven’t tried it yet, the internet-praised cleaning power of baking soda and vinegar is, in fact, true. I was a bit sceptical at the beginning as it did seem a bit odd just to scrub the bathroom with some white powder and spray what is basically a sour water but it does work. The child in me also loves the fizzing when you mix those two together 🙂 There are dozens of uses for this combo but I mostly use them to get the bathroom to a spotless condition. Including that pesky black mould that is an organic part of an (c)old house in a humid country. (Conclusion: soda and vinegar – YES)

There are many more but these are just a few examples of fun stuff you can try to make yourself ! Homemade soaps, lotions, shampoos…all you need is an open mind and maybe a bit of patience 🙂

 

Green Whites

One of the things that I like about Zero Waste is the fact that I save money. Money that can be spent on going out, meeting with friends, trying out new fun stuff. So when I learned I can replace the commercial laundry detergent with something simple for a fraction of the price, I was sold on it pretty quickly.

All I needed to swap all the chemicals usually found in laundry products for something greener were two things – a bar soap and washing soda – and a bit of time to mix them together. I found this laundry detergent recipe in the Bea Johnson’s book and adapted it a bit.

You might be sceptical if this easy solution works but I’ve been using it now for a couple of months and I am very happy with the results!

What you need

Bar of soap – recipes in cyberspace ask for all kinds of different soaps but your basic castile soap bar, laundry soap or any natural soap bar will do. Bea recommends using the blue one which contains optical brighteners. I bought mine in Slovakia last time I visited but I am sure you can find it anywhere 🙂 Dr. Bronner makes soap bars that should be fit for the purpose!

Washing soda – or soda ash – usually sold in supermarkets in the laundry aisle. It took a little bit of internet research to find out that in Ireland I need to look for soda crystals! I found one kilogram bags being sold in Tesco – the bags are still made of plastic film which is not recyclable but at least the pack lasts some time.

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The last ingredient is just warm water. Other than that a few utensils will come handy – a basin or a bucket for mixing, a measuring jug, a measuring cup and a mixing spoon. Depending on the method you use, you might need a hand blender to liquidise it.

How to make it

For a 3-litre (about 3 quarts) dose, you will need a ½ cup of washing soda and a ½ cup of soap. Measure up the washing soda and pour it in the basin. Grate the soap (I use a conventional cheese grater) and add to the basin. Mix them together a little.

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Pour in about 0.5 litres of hot water (about half a quart). I use boiled water to start the mixing. Stir until the soap and soda are mostly dissolved. Add another litre of hot water. I then pour in 1.5 litres of cold water to bring the temperature to lukewarm. Stir the mixture for a little while and leave it to settle, best overnight. In the morning, when the liquid has turned into a wobbly jelly, enjoy this chemistry magic for a while and then break it with the mixing spoon. To bring it back to liquid form (it will be nicely thick), use a hand blender for a couple of minutes. If you used an unscented soap and you would like to add some scent, you can now add a few drops of any essential (not synthetic) oil – lavender, citrus or tea tree work well.

I asked my lovely boyfriend to film this part of the preparation process – please be kind with your comments 🙂

Pour the finished product into a prepared jug (I use a 3l plastic milk jug) and voila, your laundry gel is ready to use.

If you don’t have a hand blender or you want to skip this step, you can pour the warm mixture straight into the jug you are going to use to store the product and leave it to cool in there. Just make sure you shake it a couple of times in the next few hours to ensure all the ingredients are mixed properly. I found that with this method, the gel is more likely to separate when not used for a while but then just shake the bottle and you’re good to go.

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How to use it

I usually use about a cup (250ml) per load, adjusted for the amount of clothes and level of dirtiness 🙂 One 3l dose lasts me for about 13 washes. With 3 washes per week on average (darks, lights and towels for 2 people), I have enough for a month to 5 weeks. The recipe is very easily doubled or tripled if you want to make more, so no need to skimp!

I normally pour the gel into the detergent compartment in the washing machine but I don’t see why you couldn’t put it directly in the drum.

How much it costs

I mentioned in the video that this laundry gel costs about 10 times less than a conventional gel. These are my calculations:

Expenses:

300g laundry soap €1.501kg soda crystals €1.39

For 3l of the gel I need 60g of the soap (one pack lasts for 5 doses or 15 litres of gel) and about 90g of the soda (for 15 litres I use half a pack for €0.70).

In total, 15 litres of the gel costs €2.20. That is €2.20 for 65 washes (5 x 3l dose x 13 washes per dose).

A comparable conventional laundry detergent (let’s say Persil Small & Mighty Non-Bio 60 washes) costs €19.80 – which is 9x more. On offer, Ariel Bio Washing Liquid 60 washes costs €10.00 which is still 5x more than my non-toxic and totally working laundry gel.

The prices might vary where you live but I guarantee you that you can save money (not to mention all the chemicals which will not get into the waterways from the washing machine).

Final notes

My friend also uses this recipe because she and her daughter have very sensitive skin and conventional laundry products are quite irritating for them. So, that’s another brownie point for the homemade stuff.

Finally, if you’re asking about fabric softener that would be natural and eco-friendly, think  vinegar. Apple cider vinegar and white distilled vinegar work well for me.  About a ¼ – ½ cup (60 – 120 ml) with a few drops of essential oil of your choice (I like grapefruit or tea tree) will give the clothes nice smell and touch.

Well…are you tempted to give it a try yet?