Resolutions…

Hello 2018!

How are you doing?! Already getting packed for 2019 maybe – how can it be May next week?! It was like yesterday that I was thinking about my resolutions for the year!

I said I would keep it simple – so back in January I set only three. The first one was to ‘sleep more’, which I was following for a good few (read 2) weeks but now not so much. The second one was to ‘blog more’ – we can all see how that’s going…being end of April now and not a single new post! It might have something to do with the first resolution to be honest. But also the fact that I was busy with other projects, more or less eco-related.

One of eco-related engagements and one I am very happy about is the Zero Waste Festival which I help organise. There were three last year and the first one this year took place in February. Have a look at the Facebook page to see more! If you missed it and would like to see what all the fuss is about, fear not – we are already planning the next one for June…

The third resolution and the only one that I delivered on was to ‘read more’. I didn’t specify any more rules so it all counts – fiction books, factual literature, even magazines. So far for the 4 months the count is 6, which is probably more than for the whole of 2017!

As I said, these books included fiction as well but I would like to share two eco-related titles which I really liked, especially because they were a bit unexpected.

Hungry City by Carolyn Steel

HungryCityAn excerpt from this book’s summary says:

The gargantuan effort needed to feed cities across the world on a daily basis has a massive and vastly underappreciated social and physical impact on both human populations and the planet. Yet few eaters are conscious of the processes that are required to bring food into a metropolis.

This original and revolutionary study examines the way in which modern food production has damaged the balance of human existence, and reveals a centuries-old dilemma that holds the key to a host of current problems, among them obesity, the inexorable rise of the supermarkets, and the destruction of the natural world.

I am not big into history but start talking about the history of food and I am all ears. What can I say, I love food! It was a hugely interesting book that covered all stages of food’s journey – both through the centuries and the physical process of getting food on our plates. It made me even more conscious about what I eat and how it got to my table and why it’s so important to pay attention to these things. (Have you ever thought about the healthiness of the produce planted next to motorways or sprayed by someone wearing a full bodysuit with a facemask on?) The author uncovers a lot of truth in the 7 chapters, each dedicated to one link of the food chain. It’s really food for thought and it made me want even more to grow my own food, however much I can.

The other book was one that got recommended to me by a librarian friend.

The World According to Anna by Jostein Gaarder

AnnaWhen fifteen-year-old Anna begins receiving messages from another time, her parents take her to the doctor. But he can find nothing wrong with Anna; in fact he believes there may be some truth to what she is seeing. Anna is haunted by visions of the desolate world of 2082. She sees her great-granddaughter, Nova, roaming through wasteland with a band of survivors, after animals and plants have died out. The more Anna sees, the more she realises she must act to prevent the future in her visions becoming real. But can she act quickly enough?

Yes, it is a book for a younger audience and yes, the critics might have said it’s a ‘climate change pamphlet for dummies’ but I like it. If you have a teenager at home who is asking questions about the world around them and you want to present them with an enticing book, I highly recommend this. I am probably biased because it talks about the effects of climate change and anything about this topic I regard as very important!

There are already several books on my list and I am dedicated to see this resolution through. (Well this post counts as the first stab at the blogging one…).

The books on the list include:

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Hilary Weston

Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

 

If any of you have any book suggestions, please do share!

Zero Waste Fairy’s Thoughtful Gift Guide

I created the below (not only) Christmas gift guide last year to help you give greener gifts to your family and friends. As we are getting closer to the big day, it’s relevant again…so, in the spirit of the 5Rs, you are more than welcome to reuse it again!

Happy (conscious) shopping, making or just giving!

P.S. If you are based in Dublin, Ireland and would like some more inspiration about how to waste less this festive season, pop in to the Zero Waste Christmas Festival that is happening on Saturday the 9th of December in the St. Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street. There will be workshops, a swap shop with a dedicated Christmas jumper rail, bulk and unpackaged food and non-food products, ZW essentials, natural cleaning products and more!

I will be preparing some edible treats if that’s your gift of choice at my workshop at 12noon. You are welcome to join me and sample away!

[Entry to the Festival is free but a workshop pass is needed to attend any number of workshops on the day. Buy tickets and see more info here.]

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A late (autumn) post…

Hi! I am back. I mean, not that I ever left but blogging was pushed aside by many other things – some eco-related, some less so 🙂 Let’s just say that a new post is overdue.

As we sailed through the busy summer months, my favourite season came again – Autumn! I love autumn. I love all of its stages. The first cautious September days with their fresh mornings that signal the summer might be over. The mid-September Indian Summer days that say maybe not quite yet! Blackberries everywhere you look and beautiful tree colours. And the moment when I realise that the gradual transformation is complete and the season has definitely changed.

Most of all I like the autumn air. Is it just me or is it much cleaner than in any other season? How every smell is somehow magnified. Maybe it’s just because the smell of fallen leaves and bonfires remind me of my childhood. Or maybe because it travels better in colder temperatures…let’s leave it to mystery.

As the days get colder, I start looking for the scarves and gloves I put away in March. The clocks go backwards and the dark nights slowly set in so that all I want do is cuddle up with a book and a mug of tea. One day there are pumpkins everywhere and then as soon as Hallowe’en is over, they are replaced almost overnight by Christmas decorations. Is that still autumn or is that winter already? I can never decide.

Autumn, being a time for nature to wrap up an go into hibernation, patiently resting through the cold months, is (for me) just the opposite for the mind – I can feel ideas brewing and awakening. While not distracted by all the fun to be had outdoors, I can focus on thoughts, plans, intentions, solutions. It really is a magical time.   

Is it just a nice coincidence then (at least in Ireland and the UK), that autumn is full of environmental drives? The first week in September is the Zero Waste Week, the last week in September is the National Recycling Week, October is the National Reuse Month. Worldwide, November is  the World Vegan Month, Black Friday was re-dubbed as ‘Buy-Nothing-Day’ and on and on. To be honest, who cares if  it’s a coincidence or not. The main thing is that these initiatives are getting more to the forefront of people’s minds and making mainstream news.

Before I go back to more regular updates, here a few snaps from some interesting events over the last couple of months.

Honey Celebration

I got my first hive share from Brookfield Farm back in 2016 and since I agree with what Ailbhe, the owner and chief beekeeper, wants to achieve, I sponsored another one this year. As a part of it, I got to go to the Honey Celebration back in August. It was one wet day but as they say, there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. Here is what was waiting for us in Nenagh…

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Zero Waste Festival

Following the success of the inaugural Zero Waste Festival on June 25th, the September edition took place during the Zero Waste Week and it comprised of 7 days full of events, markets, swap-shops and overall ZW merriment. This time around, I was happy to become a member of the organisers’ team which was a lot of fun! And guess what…there will be another festive festival soon

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Reuse Month Festival

The first Reuse Month Festival took place in a repurposed old fire station in Rathmines in October. It was a chilly day but a fun one!

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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.

Dandelioney

It’s something I kept hearing about when I was a child but we never actually made it at home. Probably because we lived four doors up from a beekeeper who always supplied us with amazing local honey. I am talking about ‘dandelion honey’, another Spring treat that’s quite satisfying to make!

It’s a very simple, 4-ingredient recipe – water, lemons or oranges, sugar and dandelion flowers.

Recipe

  • 450 dandelion flowers
  • 1.5kg sugar (white or brown)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1.5 l water

Step 1 – Collecting

Since it’s best to collect the flowers and steep them without washing (the pollen strengthens the flavour), I picked them early in the morning after a night of rain and before the doggies could get to them. I guess since the extract is boiled afterwards, it’s pretty safe to use them without washing. A little piece of advice: the collected dandelion heads will stain your hands and your bag so use one that can get dirty and perhaps a pair of gloves.

Park meadow

There were enough dandelions for me and the bees…

 

Collecting

It was about half a bag of dandelion heads…

Step 2 – Steeping

Cover the dandelions and sliced lemons/oranges with 1.5l of cold water. Bring to the boil, simmer shortly, turn off the heat and leave to macerate for 24 hours.

Steeping

A pretty mix

After macerating

After 24 hours…

Step 3 – Cooking

Strain the mixture through a very fine sieve/muslin cloth/nut milk bag/tea towel or whatever you can find and squeeze out all the liquid.

Straining

Squeeeeeze!

Add 1.5kg of sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer uncovered on low heat for about 1.5 hours or more, if you think it’s too watery but the mixture will thicken when cooling so don’t be too stressed!

Cooking

Add sugar and simmer.

Step 4 – Preserving

Prepare the jars by washing in hot water and sterilising them. (Put them in a cold oven and set the temperature to 100C/212 F, when the temperature is reached, leave them in for 15 minutes, then turn off the oven but keep the jars warm until you need them.)

Jars

Ready to be sterilised.

The above recipe makes about 1.5l of syrup (5 smaller jars and 2 Bonne Maman jam jars :)).

Pour the syrup into warm jars, close tightly, turn upside down, cover with a blanket or towel and leave to cool. Done!

Ready

The colour!

The consistency and colour of the finished product are very much like that of proper honey and even the taste and smell are very similar.

This honey contains significant goodies – trace elements and vitamins such as calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, phosphorus, silicon, vitamins A, B and C and the antioxidant lutein. Who knew…

Another good thing about this homemade sweetener is that the only waste I created was the paper bag from sugar.

As a bonus, even though I am not an expert, it looks like a valid vegan honey replacement if you happen to be looking for one.

I cannot wait for our Sunday pancakes and putting it to the test in some oaty flapjacks! What would you use it for?

Where the wild things grow…

My favourite season may be autumn but who wouldn’t love spring? When almost suddenly, after a long grey period, there are colours all around. Greening trees, yellow daffodils, blue hyacinths. The smells of spring are even more enticing. Freshly cut grass, blossoming gorse bushes and fresh crisp mornings with a promise of a sunny day.

Walks and runs are becoming more interesting, there are suddenly things going on…plants, animals, everything is waking up. One of the ultimate spring signs for me is a little green plant with a distinctive smell and taste. Wild garlic. Called ‘bear’s garlic’ in Slovakian, this plant with dark green leaves at first and beautiful white flowers later on, is bursting with flavour and is the first dose of natural vitamins available after the winter hibernation.

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Spring harvest

Wild garlic is very popular in Slovakia, growing happily in woods and creeks, free for all. Sure, the climate in Ireland is similar and it’s even more humid – it must be everywhere here as well, me thinks. So I went into to the woods, searching high and low but no luck, I am afraid. Well, that was last year…

This year, I had a better idea and asked people who  actually might know. (All hail Facebook!) I was right and the power of community demonstrated itself once again. Lovely people identified a couple of spots in and around Dublin (Phoenix Park next the the American Embassy and the Knocksinna Wood in Enniskerry, to be precise) and they were really spot on. Being a very happy bunny, I picked enough leaves to eat raw and make some pesto from the rest.

The Allium Ursinum plant can be invasive so if there is a place it likes, it can overgrow there really fast. I still made sure though I only took as little as I needed and didn’t damage any other plants. You know, like a sensible human being.

The raw leaves can be added to a green salad or used as a garnish for savory meals. My favourite use is simple though – on top of an open sandwich of sourdough bread and butter. A version with spreadable cheese works very well too.

The collected leaves will last for a few days in the fridge, in an airtight container. You can also pick them leaving longer stems and store them in a bouquet in a glass of water in the fridge.

They can be also frozen I hear but I haven’t tried that yet so cannot vow they won’t turn into a gooey mess when defrosted. I will try it though because any way to reminisce about Spring when there is a winter storm behind the window is very appealing.

What I did try, and with a decent level of success may I say, was making a few jars of wild garlic pesto. There are a good few recipes online, I picked the Donal Skehan one and adapted it a little.

As with any pesto, it’s a combination of a green part, a cheesy part, a nutty part and an oily part. These are mixed together with some basic seasoning to a consistency you like.

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Ingredients

My recipe

200g wild garlic leaves (washed and stringy stems removed)

120g parmesan

100g nuts (mixture of pine & pistachio)

300ml ‘pure’ olive oil (the normal one)

Juice of half a lemon

Salt

Pepper

Put all the ingredients into a blender/mixer and mix together. Loosen with some more oil if you want. Pour into sterilised jars and cover with olive oil to create a seal.

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Wash it…

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Dry it…

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Put it all in a blender…

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Pour it all in sterilised jars.

The above made about 3 cups of finished product, so you can half it if you prefer. Also, this batch was too much for my blender to handle at once so I made it in two batches.

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And voila…

It lasts in the fridge between one week and one year, apparently. Well, go figure. I’d say if you pour a bit of olive oil on top to recreate the seal, it will last for a good while. There is no chance of that happening to my batch because I like it so much I put it in and on everything. And I mean *everything*…on a piece of bread with cheese or a hard boiled egg, stirred into a creamy veggie soup, on a savoy cabbage roll, on scrambled eggs and mixed with brie and gnocchi or pasta. Let’s just say I may be making another batch soon…as I cannot wait to try out more recipes to use the leaves I found online.

A word of caution to wrap it up though – it is quite a pungent condiment so I advise you to keep a toothbrush closeby…:)

 

Christmas & Co.

Christmas is once again around the corner. Christmas means love, joy and amazing smells. But it can also be a bit stressful time if you feel under pressure because of conventional gift-giving tendencies. If you struggle to find or receive a gift that would be aligned with your values, let the Zero Waste Fairy help you.

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