Thursday, 26 September 2013

How to make vinegar and mustard

How to make vinegar and mustard
I am someone who needs to get my feet in grass once a day.  If not, life begins to go wrong.  Get outside and my mind switches off.  I cut wood, garden and generally potter about without a care in the world.   A big sign I am working too hard is when things feel ‘wrong’ and there doesn't seem to be time to get outside, or to make good food. 

So instead of merely doing sums about whether it is worth growing a bit of veg, add this into the equation:
·        money saved on counselling (!)
·        arguments avoided with one’s spouse or significant others
·        money saved on going to the gym
·        eating one’s own home grown spuds can replace going out for dinner - because they feel really special you therefore don’t feel the need to go out.  It is not the equivalent of simply buying spuds.

Similarly, bought mustard will sit in the cupboard for many a year and not get eaten.  But if a friend gives me their home made mustard, it is yummy and special.  A friend did give me home made mustard and it got eaten in a couple of weeks.  She also inspired me to make my own.  When I found out that you can make mustard from kale seeds, the abandoned kale plants in the garden got a new lease of life.  They had gone to seed because I left the flowers for pollinating insects and now there was a use for all the seeds too.  Kale flowers are excellent for insects as are all brassicas  (cabbage family), onions and leeks.

 The kale seeds are now harvested and drying out for mustard making.  About half of the seeds used to make the mustard can be kale, the rest need to be regular mustard seeds.  I am stripping the kale seed pods from the stems and storing them in paper bags made from newspaper, until the pods ripen and the seeds pop out.  It is a bit of a fiddle but doing some every time I pass the kitchen table means they soon get done.

Kale seeds drying
Here is the mustard recipe – with thanks to my friends Gail and Gil and to

 Kale mustard
This is mild but tasty and the mustard seeds break down whereas the kale seeds stay whole, giving a nice texture. 

2 tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons of kale seeds (or use black mustard seeds)
100ml white wine, cider or other vinegar
Half teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon any kind of sugar

Put the mustard & kale seeds and liquids in a jar to soak for 3 days.  Put in a cupboard not the fridge.

After the three days put it in a blender and add the sugar and salt.  Then blend until it has the desired texture. 
NB the vinegar is important as it is a preservative so do not be tempted to skimp on the quantity.

Vinegar is another satisfying thing to make.
There are several ways to make vinegar.  The simplest is to use water in a jug, add a tablespoon of vinegar as a starter, a tablespoon of sugar or honey and some chopped up fruit.  Leave in an open jug for about 3 weeks  and stir every couple of days and it will turn into vinegar.  it will have a white film on it which is the vinegar 'must' and nothing to worry about.  Strain and bottle.  If you grow your own fruit this is great.

 Another way is to use the ends of bottles of wine.  Put some vinegar in an open jar or jug and leave it until it develops a white film on the top.  This is the vinegar starter.  Add the wine and leave to ferment for three weeks. 

Jamie Oliver suggests making vinegar from just wine as follows:
Wrap a half full bottle of wine (with the lid on) in a towel, enclose it in a plastic bag and tie securely with string.  Leave it in the boot of the car so it can roll about for three weeks.  The rolling about will aerate the wine and help it to turn into vinegar.

 By the way, we were given a huge marrow – people often have trouble giving these away, and they are great.  We  are grateful for them as they do not grow outside where we live so we usually have only one plant in the polytunnel.  We often freeze them and use the pulp later – and get lots of free meals.  This one was stuffed with leftover rice and beans with some seasoning and tamari (wheat free soy sauce) and baked in the oven.  We got a dinner and two lunches out of it.  Today I had the remains of another free marrow as soup.  Soup is a great way to use them up and the soup freezes well.  Add some curry powder for a great flavour.  So that’s a free dinner for two and several free lunches this week.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Food Challenge

The food challenge – how it’s going
That wonderful book,  your Money or Your Life has a quote;
‘the real inflation is inflation of our needs, wants and desires.’
It goes like this.  Something starts out as a luxury.  Then it becomes a comfort and then it becomes a need.  Think of almost anything and you can follow its track along this path.

Eg the phone.  To start with they were a luxury item and then more people got one and it became something every reasonably well off person had.  Then it became essential because of safety.  The trouble is that before phones, people just popped round to a neighbour’s house for help but now it is not seen as ‘proper’ to do that, so are we really safer? 

Mobile phones went the same way – started out as a luxury and now they are essential and we don’t feel safe without one.  But before we all had mobiles there were phone boxes all over the place, and you told someone where you were going.   Okay maybe the odd person is saved from a charging bull by phoning a friend but then again how many people are lulled into a false sense of security because they have a mobile in the first place and take risks they would not otherwise consider.

So what has this to do with food? 
Bernadine Lawrence wrote an amazing book about food in the 1980s called ‘How to Feed Your Family for £5 ($7.50) a day’.  It was re-printed once in the 1990s and when I last looked it was out of print.  However one very beneficial effect of the recession is that it has now been re-printed.   When she first wrote it she and her husband were totally broke, on benefits with four children and living in a high rise flat.  It was her powerful statement about how to survive and thrive when times are hard.  Every item was costed out carefully and thoroughly researched.

in the 1980s it was called ‘how to feed your family for £4 a day. 

In the 1990s it was called ‘how to feed your family for £5 a day.

In 2012 it was STILL called ‘how to feed your family for £5 a day.

In other words, the essential cost of feeding your family of six has gone up by a grand total of £7 a week since the mid 1980s.  Bernadine’s book outlines a tasty, home cooked and sensible diet, with meat on some days of the week but not every day.  There is lots of food for everyone and no one would be left hungry.  But I bet most people’s food budget has gone up a lot since the 1980s.  When you think about what has changed about the food we buy though, even if you cook everything from scratch our needs wants and desires have increased.   When I went through the book there were only a few items that have gone up in price and many have gone down.  Watercress was more expensive because you now buy it in fancy packets rather than simple bunches from the greengrocer.

But now we want blueberries rather than picking blackberries, pineapple instead of rhubarb and lots of fancy sweets, puddings and instant meals.  An instant meal used to be a boiled egg and brown bread  or beans on toast didn’t it?

The humble potato is a good example of how marketing gets us to spend more money for the same thing.  You can buy a 25kg sack of potatoes for £5/$7.50 if you shop around.  Or a smaller bag of potatoes for much more money.  Or chill cabinet mashed potato for £1.50/$2.25 for 100g.  Or a bag of chips for £2/£3.00 or a packet of crisps at 50p/75c for 20g.   

Our food budget
For the last few weeks I have been keeping watch on what proportion of our diet   we have grown, swapped or otherwise procured free or very cheaply. 
Today’s dinner was a vegetable and puy lentil curry.  The giant courgette was part of one of U Boat proportions that was given to us by a friend.  No one wanted it because of its extravagant size.  A tiny slice of it went into the pot. We added potatoes, shallots and cabbage from the garden plus some frozen cauliflower and a tin of those puy lentils that someone gave me because they had had it in the cupboard for ages and would never use it.  Pudding was some apples that I swapped at a coffee morning.  Ours are not quite ready yet.  So the only things we bought were the rice and the frozen cauliflower - £1 a bag and I used about a sixth of it. 

This is where we don’t buy organic.  We buy those organic things which are nearly as cheap as the non organic ones, such as brown rice or couscous.  We grow organic veg at home and use non organic stuff the rest of the time.  the logic is that I will get ill quicker by having to work long hours to pay for all that extra organic stuff instead of working out in the garden in my free time.  total cost of the meal then was about £1 and there is enough left for a family of five.

What pushes the food bill up is when I go to the supermarket or worse to a wholefood shop and Get Tempted.  I come home with lots of fancy fruit I didn’t want until I saw it, olives, special rice instead of ordinary rice, special pasta instead of ordinary pasta and so on.  And every time I take my eye off the food bill it goes up again, so vigilance is the secret weapon.

This week has been a good one for the food bill though.  salads from the garden, eggs which we gained by swapping, a totally yummy fish curry with fish that was a gift from a non fish eating fisherman.  We are trying to be good and eat what we have growing here and to have a good, plain diet.  I was stunned when watching the series Edwardian Farm, about farming in the pre- world war two era to learn that people hardly every went to shops.  They thought about what they had and used or ate that swapped with neighbours or bought from the farm gate and presumably market stalls.  There used to be farms in towns as well as in the country don’t forget – that rural/urban separation of agriculture and growing is a more recent development.

Christmas dinner...Oh no!
Finally - it’s time to be planning and buying that Christmas dinner and other paraphernalia again if you haven’t already.  I got two packets of Christmas cards for 50p in a charity shop the other day.  We will probably have fish for new year as there is a giant trout lurking in the freezer and I am saving it specially.  We still have some frozen marzipan from the year before last, plus the home made icing sugar and the final few crackers from two years ago. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

clutter, clutter, clutter


  • Our clutter awakening
  • Why extra possessions take up valuable time
  • The clutter journey continues

I want to tell the story of our original de-cluttering experience, now a number of years ago.  The reason I am revisiting history is that Life has moved on and we are again ‘cluttered up’, despite a ‘one in, one out’ policy for all our possessions. 
In other words, for every thing that enters our lives, something was supposed to go out.  A cunning plan to ensure the clutter does not build up and the cupboard doors still close.  Well it would have been if it had worked.
So, by writing the story of our original de-clutter, I am reminding myself why I need to do it again and why we moved to this lovely, simple, energy efficient house in the first place. 

Life changes but belongings, habits and routines do not always change with it.  So getting rid of clutter is one way to move into the present.
Once upon a time, 12 years ago, our previous house got too small for the five of us.  We were going to have to move...
Then, a book called ‘Freedom From Clutter’ by Don Aslett changed all that. 
When I first read that book (given to me by my sister, who ironically still has two of everything), I laughed until I cried.  He has a real knack of using humour to make a point.  (See fun quiz on clutter).
I loaned the book to a friend.  Actually I left it in her front porch and wondered if she would guess who it was from.  She did of course and phoned a couple of days later to say she and her husband had sat reading it to each other in bed and giggled throughout.  Both households then rolled up their sleeves and began to clear out.  It was fun doing it at the same time, as we could share our clutter horror stories.

Clutter is anything you no longer need, have not used for a long time, do not have room for (yes even if it could be useful!) or anything that is broken and is waiting to be fixed (but never will be).  It can be clothes that are out of date or do not fit, unfinished craft projects, empty containers that may come in handy (if you can find them), extra dishes that don’t match and anything else that is surplus to requirements.
And before you get holier than thou and think you do not have clutter, let me ask whether you have any empty margarine tubs, old flower pots in the garage, enough used Jiffy bags to last you till the next millennium, spare parts for a car you no longer own, some of those nifty carpet sample squares, or paint to touch up the bedroom from before you changed the colour.  Oh and yes – what exactly is in your loft?
Many of us end up buying bigger houses or garages to put it all in, or even pay for storage facilities. So the extra belongings actually cost money.  Yet we convince ourselves we are saving money and being frugal by hanging onto things.  But the money has gone.  You already spent it on the stuff.
Getting rid of the excess makes cleaning easier.  There is more space in the cupboards so they stay tidy.  It is easier to find things.  Stuff does not get broken or crushed and you do not end up buying another one by mistake because you forgot you had it (heaven forbid).

Only you can say what you want to get rid of but there are usually hidden benefits that only become obvious once some clutter has gone as you will see… 
In the beginning, we threw away some things that just needed throwing away, such as old paperwork.  With rare exceptions, like a passport or birth certificate, there is little paperwork that needs to be kept for longer than seven years.
Having saved every bank statement and pay slip for our entire adult lives just in case, plus lots of old correspondence, catalogues and other things that might come in handy, the filing cabinets were filled to bursting.  Everything was filed neatly, there was just too much of it.  With business as well as personal paperwork to look after, we had three bulging cabinets. 

After burning several bin bags full of papers (great fun outside on a winter’s day) we got rid of a whole filing cabinet.  There was now plenty of space in the remaining cabinets, so it was easier to find things.   I was no longer damaging my cuticles on the hanging file pockets.
Without the third cabinet, there was more room in the office, so we added an easy chair.  The office looked much better and was nicer to work in.  With the addition of the comfy chair, we began to use it as a quiet retreat as well as an office.  So the unexpected bonus was being able to use the room more flexibly, effectively expanding our living space.   

So that was three results that improved our lifestyle, just from cleaning out the filing cabinets. 
  • It was easier to find things
  • No more damaged cuticles
  • Having a quiet retreat and more living space

Now I try and throw something out every time I open the cabinet.  The paperwork still builds up, so in addition I have a New Year purge.
The garage was next.  There was much more room in the garage without the tins of old paint, car spares, and extra plant pots.  Hubby bought metal shelving and re-organised the remaining stuff. 
Wonder of wonders, THE CAR FITTED IN THE GARAGE.  So on frosty mornings, life just got easier. Again, a massive result from a relatively small action. There was no need to spend money on a shed, which had been the original plan.  So we just saved the price of a shed – our first financial result from de-cluttering.

So that’s two improvements in our lifestyle just from cleaning out the garage.
·         The car fitted in the garage.
·         We did not need a shed.

The kids, enthused by our efforts, relegated three bin bags full of cuddly toys to the loft.  The idea was to bring a few out at a time on rotation but once they realised how much easier it was to find their toys and how much more space there was to play, they were happy to leave them there.  Whoever invented the giant teddy bear should be locked away…

After that first de-clutter, we went through the whole process again a few months later.  It turned out to be a three stage process.  (And we have been re-visiting it ever since!)
Stage one involved getting rid of rubbish such as old paperwork, cuddly toys, old jam jars and garage junk.

Stage two was getting rid of stuff that still had some life in it but was not worth much, such as clothes that did not fit, surplus plastic food containers and mis-matched crockery.  This all went to charity.

 Stage three was awesome! This was good stuff but we no longer needed it due to lifestyle changes and kids growing up. 
It had stayed before because, although it was never used, it had cost quite a bit of money.  Then, whilst at a car boot sale with my sister, I realised that almost everything we had ever bought new was at the boot sale for a fraction of the cost.  A sobering thought.

That meant that we could earn money for our unwanted stuff but it also meant that if ever we regretted getting rid of something, it could be bought again for the same price we would get by selling it!

 With that safety net, on we went with the de-cluttering.  In fact there are only two things we have ever bought again and both cost LESS than we had sold the original one for.  In other words we made a profit.

Selling the stuff raised over £1,000 and that money paid off some of the mortgage.  We also bought a few new things that we really wanted, for instance we got African drums and went off to drumming camp – a really cheap and totally excellent holiday.
Now, if we buy something then find it is not useful after all, out it goes.  Remember the mantra – the money’s gone. It really helps if you bought it second hand to start with of course.

After a whole year of organising and getting rid of stuff, the truth was revealed. 
We did not need a bigger house at all.  It was the STUFF that had been taking up all the space. 
In fact, a smaller house would do just fine and we moved to a house that cost us a lot less money.  The remaining money went to pay off some of the mortgage.
The de-cluttering has therefore saved us many thousands of pounds.  It was a major factor in enabling us to pay off the mortgage early. 

It is now 12 years since we paid that mortgage off. In fact, it would have finally been paid off in December 2012 if we had allowed it to go full term.  Paying it off early meant we have never had to work full time again.  That is a big financial result, and a lot of it was due to de-cluttering.

After we moved, guess what? There was more.  ‘Why did we take that with us’ we wondered and sighed at the thought of all those boxes we had carried.
The table was just a little too big for the kitchen, so we sold it and bought a new (second hand) one that cost less money than we got for the old one.
The bookcases Hubby had made for the old house looked too big in the new, light and airy sitting room.  This was hard.  But we did not want our living room to be dominated by stuff and we liked that airy spacious feeling. 

So I went to the library armed with a list.  If a book was in the library, we sold our copy or sent it to charity.  Out went all those ‘high brow’ ones I meant to read one day, such as James Joyce (never got past chapter one), and Dickens (gave up when I was 12).  The library has them all, if ever I do want to read them.  And I never have.  Interestingly I then felt freed up to get some nice new books.   
And yes, you COULD get in the front door of our house before all this began.  It is amazing just how much stuff a house will hold before it begins to groan at the seams.

Pre de-clutter our home was reasonably tidy and actually looked quite normal. 
In part two of this article there will be more information on how to go about de-cluttering. For the time being, try making a small pile of things to get rid of.  Start with one drawer or cupboard.