Sunday, 21 February 2010

it all began with a jar of beans...

I am challenging myself to have zero food waste. We have been doing this for a while, and really don't waste much OR SO I THOUGHT.
well, it includes what is in the cupboard and does not get eaten too, and I have only been counting what actually goes in the bin.

Today, I decided to cook some of the large jar of mung beans that have been looking at me reproachfully from beside the cooker. I have a really good recipe for mung bean casserole. We try to eat beans once a week. Any more seems to interfere with my digestion and I get well, er, bunged up.
The lid of the large (10 litre/4pint) jar was stuck. We both tried to no avail and I resorted to pouring boiling water over the lid in the hope it would loosen. It loosened so much that water got inside before I realised.

MUNG BEAN COOKING MARATHON...This meant that some of the beans inside got wet so I decided to cook them all, and freeze the remaining bean casserole. (Goodness only knows when I will eat all that but never mind.)
I put the beans into 2 large pots and poured boiling water over them. WHAT WERE THE WEE BLACK THINGS???
I thought they were rougue seeds but closer inspection revealed they were some kind of insect. Very dead ones, but once I had given the pot a stir there were about 12 in all. Not weavils, but something insectivorous.

So now the question was this:
Do I chuck all the beans in the bin or not?
I decided not to, as the insects were well and truly dead and there were not that many (is that actually possible with insects, or were the rest just lurking...)

I decided (in between cooking mung bean stew) to do a stock take - how much other food in there was too old, or was simply not being used?

Now we are veteran de-junkers and thought we were good at using things up, not buying things we don't need and so on. Not the case. Clutter, including the kitchen and bathroom kind, creeps back in the night, I swear it does, even when you have a 'one in one out' policy. Except that our one in one out policy has somehow managed to by-pass the kitchen.

So I spent the afternoon doing a stock take and made a list of all the things in the cupboards that have not been getting used up. See if you can spot a theme here...

    1.  Sprouted broccoli powder - unopened packet use by Nov 08
      2. Pollen tablets use by Mar 08
      3. Kelp powder - slowly going down but elderly - Date unknown
      4. Cardamoms - very old.  Why do these come in such large quantities I 
           use about 12 pods a year, and do like them - but the famiy don't.
      5. Cajun powder Bought in a large quantity but we don't use enough of it.
      6. Fenugreek seeds smelled off, age unknown and don't like the way I 
          smell of them the next day! These went in the bin. The only thing to do 
          so so far.
      7. Wine yeast. Oh dear. I chucked this out and then bought bread yeast.
      8. Bread yeast - managed to use it up but the bread was a bit solid. Was
      past its best.
      I HAVE JUST FOUND THE ECHINACEA. I nearly bought more, but there it was under all the stuff I don't use.
      9. Brown chick peas, large quantity. YUCK. I really do like most things,
      incuding ordinary chick peas. These still have their coats on and I find them indigestible and the coats just won't come off. I have some in the
      freezer all cooked and ready to use, too. Maybe I will make chick pea flour,
      in my state of the art grinder/processor, or try sprouting them.

      10. Xanthan gum. Apparently good for making non-gluten flour stick
      together to make better cakes and bread. I don' eat cakes and bread often.
      When I did try this it had a dramatic effect in the wind department...
      11. Dried onions. Rescued from a holiday cottage. Now I know why they were
      there. How can they taste so different to ordinary onions?
      12. Carob powder. Why do I keep buying this? The last packet went in the
      bin, and it is highly likely this one will too, but not today.
      13. Cocoa. Probably bought when I made a birthday cake but nobody uses it
      for anything else.
      14. Shitaki mushrooms, dried. Best before Mar 2009
      15. Pollen granules. Was going to use these on cereal but they make it go
      all yellow and too sweet for me.
      16. Almond butter, 3 jars. Best before 2004 (ouch) still fine, actually and
      very tasty but also very fattening and I am never sure what to do with it.
      17. Glutinous rice. (see later!)
      18. Rice noodles half packet (got forgotten)  Half a packet is not enough for 2 of us. 
      We used to use these a lot but somehow we forgot about them.
      19. Sesame seeds. I used to put these in seed mixes as a snack but they are
      impossible to eat without shoveling them directly into your mouth and always
      end up at the bottom of the jar. I have ground some and added to a flour mix
      for baking (except that I don't often bake)
      20. Powdered Wasabi use best before 2003. (where does the time go?)
      21. Aduki beans. Same story as the other beans, only these are even older.
      22. Poppy seeds. What exactly are you supposed to do with these? You buy
      half a pound (450g), sprinkle them on 2 loaves of bread and are stuck with them
      for the rest of your life. My mother had some and I bet you've got some too...
      23. Popping corn.
      24. Red Quinoa. Never used this. Same as the white stuff with its skins on.
      25. White quinoa. I do try and like this. Each time I cook some it
      goes off in the fridge because no one else will eat it. And no, it doesn't make
      a good alternative to porridge.
      26. Various sprouting seeds. Actually I do sprout a lot, so I get to feel a
      tiny bit smug here. These jumbo packets were a bit over-ambitious though.
      27. Hatcha miso. Good intentions but packet never opened.
      28. Brown rice miso in fridge, opened. forgot I had it when I bought the
      above. Not sure how long its been there. Never seem to have the chives and
      parsley cut to go with it.
      29. Buckwheat. Must make this into flour too...I bought it to sprout but it
      is a challenge. You have to soak it in water and rinse every half an hour for
      4 hours before sprouting or it goes stinky. And no, it doesn't make a good
      alternative to porridge either, even with cinammon.
      30. Ground mixed seeds for porridge. Keep forgetting and, well it is nicer
      without it. I prefer whole sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and DO use them.
      31. Several half packets of rye bread in the freezer.
      32. TEA: Green tea (wrong make) 4 packets, Blackcurrant tea bags 3 packets,
      choco tea, lemon verbena tea Pau D'Arco tea (hunted long and hard for this).
      All need using up.
      33. 2 packets and half a jar of linseeds in the freezer.

      DID YOU SPOT THE THEME?Yes, I have been reading those healthy eating books. All of these things are supposed to change our lives and make us healthier.
      Well they don't make your wallet any healthier.
      Here is my take on it:
      Keep the money and you won't need to work so hard to pay for all those expensive promises. Then you can relax more and be less stressed. That is better for your health than anything else.

      We all know how to eat healthily. Your mother tells you, you learn it at school, on TV, in books and newspapers. That doesn't make you do it, any more than buying expensive supplements and super foods does.
      If you want to be healthier:
      * Eat 5-9 fruit and veg a day. (not all fruit some green stuff too)
      * Exercise half an hour 3 times a week
      * Take time to relax.
      * Simplicity leads to less stress, as we get out of debt and begin to exercise choices in spending and lifestyle.

      Nothing new there then, huh? Bet your mum could have told you that.

      So now I have 2 vats of mung bean casserole (amazing how those beans swell up) with shitaki mushrooms and dulse. (Forgot about the dulse and several other kinds of seaweed I have.)

      I have also cooked the glutinous rice.
      Neglected to tell hubby what it was and he spent a while trying to rescue it and make it non-sticky by rinsing it through the sieve. The sieve may never recover, and we now have a large quantity of cooked glutinous rice. Amazing how that swells up too.
      It was great when we had it in that Thai restaurant but what to do with it at home? Glutinous rice and mung bean casserole for a week could lead to plumbing problems...

      Have also managed to:
      Use up one blackcurrant tea bag.
      Start lots of seeds sprouting.
      Make a variation of peanut butter cookies (sugar free peanut and almond butter with gluten free flour that needs using up cookies). These have had a lukewarm reception.

      PS: I also forgot about the 2 large jars of apricot kernals, one in the fridge and one in the freezer. I have doggedly eaten 2 seeds a week (ish) for the last 3 years and the jar is NOT going down...These may well end up in the bin. I feel guilty every time I open the fridge.

      Friday, 5 February 2010

      It's January and there's food in the garden

      It's January and there's food in the garden. That is in spite of all the snow over the last few weeks.
      Our journey to simple living and frugality has always invovled a flirtation with the idea of self sufficiency.
      A part of me is wistful about living in a culture where that was still possible. Where you could just build a house and the local Council would not make you come and take it down again because it did not have plumbing and wiring and meet building control standards.
      In one of the World Vision charity newsletters, there was lad living in an 8foot by 6 foot square brick shelter with no windows.
      He had built his house with money provided by World Vision for people who had no where to live. He was 18 years old and by himself. When asked why he did not build a bigger house he simply said that as it was the first one he had built, he thought it best to build a small one! To him it was a palace. I wonder whether he would rather have my bungalow with plumbing and electricity? It means a constant drain on the finances that he will not have.
      When you have to pay Council Tax (the UK's property tax paid each year based on the value of you house) and electricity and gas it can seem like there really is little chance of cutting down those bills to the point when you don't need so much money.

      It is more possible than it seems though and we are a case in point. We put our efforts into making sure there is no waste. the idea is to spend no money unless it adds to our quality of life and enjoyment.

      Earning a living growing vegetables in the garden may not be sustainable in Western culture. What they can do is to supplement our income somewhat. I have heard it said that growing vegetables does not pay because they are cheap and do not save much money. NOT TRUE. Admittedly if you work it out purely on the basis of how much a carrot costs it does not save much money. But here is our sum.
      1. Substitute buying more expensive groceres and eat what you have in the garden. Plan meals based on what is ready and change your diet to suit. it will end up being more delicious and healthier once you can bring yourself to make the change.
      2. Plan what you plant based on what you eat a lot of.
      3. Plant things that are expensive to buy. For example rocket and watercress are expensive to buy. Rocket and land cress are very easy to grow and will self seed.
      4. Grow small amounts of many different things rather a lot of any one thing. Then you won't get sick of it. NB no one is likely to eat more than 12 large cabbages in a year...
      5. Any thing that says on the packet it is an 'early' can also be planted at the tail end of the year with the exception of parsnips. If you have any cover at all, even a bit of plastic and some old bricks, you can plant something under it to provide winter salad. (when it is most expensive to buy). You can extend the season a lot even by planting outside in August and September in Scotland so if you live farther south it is even more worthwhile. We have a 20 foot long polytunnel and get greens all winter.

      6. The following are hardy winter salad crops in order of hardiness, with the hardiest first.

      * Kale. This is yummy in salads as well as cooked. The trick is to pick it often and then you get lots of young tender leaves. These are sweet and not at all like the tough bitter old leaves we often think of when the word 'kale'is mentioned. And it has all those winter vitamins in it.

      * Leeks. Will stand outside all winter no problem just like the kale. If I had a tiny plot I would put a kale plant and 2 dozen leeks in it for the winter.

      * Winter cabbage. Great for cole slaw.

      * Mooli, or White Radish. A long huge radish. The variety long White Icicle is very hardy. Grate it in the cole slaw along with the carrot, put it grated in stews, curries and soups. I once had Mooli Parathas in an Indian Cafe and it was great, so try stuffing savoury pancakes with it too.

      * Early carrots planted in september - will survive well outside till December. Will survive all winter in a polytunnel or frame. If they are small, leave them and they will start to grow in February and be a good size by April.

      * Lambs lettuce. will survive almost any weather even without a cover. put something over it and it continues growing all winter. Ours has an old plastic caravan window over it and has survived -13c.

      * Claytonia. Will last all winter in a poly tunnel. Does quite well in a cold frame with a layer of bubble wrap inside it in Scotland. If you live south of Scotland the world is your oyster. I used to live in London and could grow winter lettuce outside till November. Claytonia is much hardier than winter lettuce.

      Right now we are eating the following straight from the garden: All of the above except the carrots and mooli which are all eaten. PLUS spinach, pak choi, endives, lettuce, beetroot, parsley and a number of different herbs. A lot of this was planted in July, August and September and that is the trick. And do bear in mind we had 12 inches of snow for 2 weeks and have had temperatures of minus 13c several times this winter.

      So dinner starts with 'what's in the garden', and mostly includes a salad. We use leeks instead of onions until they run out.

      We are sprouting most of the time. Any green salad looks better for some sprouts. We have two of those stacking salad sprouters and keep them in one huge stack to save space. I don't keep the sprouts in the dark to start with like some books suggest. I do keep the trays tilted all the time as they drain better. Irun them under a brisk tap twice a dy.

      At the moment we have a mixture of soya beans, chick peas, 2 kinds of lentils and aduki beans in one tray and alfalfa in the other. It looks really good in a salad and the first kind is ready in a couple of days. Chick peas are the quickest of all so in an emergency just do a tray of them. Red Cabbage sprouts are really tasty and colourful.

      I soak all the seeds overnight in water before putting them in the trays as it speeds them up by a day or so. NOTE: next time you are in a supermarket check out the price of salad sprouts. If they have them at all they are not cheap. Grow them yourself and they cost pennies.
      I take them when we visit friends for dinner as a gift and they are always appreciated.
      I put the word out that I wanted the seeds for sprouting as many people have them but don't use them. In return I gave the donors some sprouted seeds.
      Another tip: they also grow well in the garden and work out a lot cheaper than buying seeds that are intended for the garden. You never know what variety they are but they grow well.
      The same goes for seeds sold for culinary use, such as celery or coriander. Just plant some in the garden and they will grow. I have grown all my celery like that for years.

      YOu don't need to move to the country to do this. In fact please don't - it is a lot more expensive.
      We used to live in the country and we know.
      You will spend more on extra fuel for the car than you will save growing vegetables and it is a lot worse for the planet.

      If you are not a gardener and want to do a little bit, here is a suggestion.
      If you have a 1 metre plot of land, plant one potato, a few cloves of garlic from the supermarket and some rocket or a few lettuce plants this spring. Then in July put some lambs lettuce and some more garlic in and it will be ready in spring.
      Next year put in a kale plant, a dozen leeks and some salad.
      The year after, some mange tout on tall canes and a courgette plant.
      In year 4 go back to the beginning.
      It will taste like nothing else. If you don't have a garden plant a few herbs in pots on a windowsill. Try basil if you have a sunny window sill. If you have a patio or path or anything outside at all, plant one potato in a bucket.
      If you don't want to grow from seed buy a pot of herbs from the supermarket. split them and put them in several pots and they will last a lot longer. The more you pick them the longer they will last, so long as you always leave some leaves on the plant. Basil and parsley work well.