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One Month In

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Legendary tennis great Arthur Ashe famously said…

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I first read this quote in Katrina Rodabaugh’s Mending Matters, where she uses it to explain her approach to Slow Fashion.

For me, it’s great advice for all of us trying to live a bit greener.

Don’t be overwhelmed by how huge the environmental issues facing the world are. Don’t think that small changes can’t make a difference. Don’t get angry. Just start.

Start at whatever point your life is at. Use whatever skills and resources you have. Do whatever you can, even if it’s just separating your recycling out more carefully, or turning the printer paper over and using the other side, or setting your washing machine to the economy cycle. From experience, I can tell you that it’s like rolling a pebble down a snow-covered hill – once you see how much difference a small change can make, you’ll find it hard to stop.

. . . . .

As most of you know, we began our waste reduction plan last year. Here’s the end of year review I wrote about our efforts, with links to all the earlier posts if you’d like to catch up on our journey. I’ve also collated them all on one page for easy reference. The most important thing we’ve learnt so far is that while it’s impossible to change everything, it’s easy to change a lot. And every bit helps!

Our waste reduction efforts are an ongoing work in progress, but this year we’ve also turned out attention to reducing what we bring into the house. Coupled with a slow, considered decluttering, it’s starting to make a noticeable difference. Here’s where we’re at, one month into the process.

. . . . .

Tidying Up (Reduce)

It taking a bit of time to figure out how to get the things we no longer want or need out of the house. I don’t want to just dump it on others – all that does is pass my problem on to someone else, and it eventually ends up in landfill anyway – so I’ve been carefully sorting the wheat from the chaff. My old friend Vicki suggested a strategy of getting one thing out of the house each day, and it’s been working well so far.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt this month:

  • Tidying just one shelf/drawer/file/space per day is enough for me. By going slowly, things are being dealt with thoughtfully rather than simply thrown into the rubbish bin. Some days only one small thing goes out, but I’m reassured that the balance is improving – more is leaving the house than entering it.

  • Officeworks will confidentially shred your unwanted documents for $3 per 500 pages. Don’t worry, they’ll estimate rather than making you count the pages. I’m slowly working up the chi needed to tackle boxes of old statements.
  • Reverse Garbage will take your quirky stuff, providing it’s in a good working condition. I was so happy that they took our old gaming unit, complete with games and joysticks – it would have ended up in e-waste otherwise. Make sure you ring and ask first though, as they’ll only take what they can sell.

  • Fiona posted this great article a couple of years ago, which includes a link to Support the Girls, a charity which collects bras, toiletries and menstrual products for disadvantaged women.
  • Putting the wrong item into recycling can contaminate the entire batch. REDcycle will take a wide range of soft plastics, including used polyethelene shopping bags (the square green ones from supermarkets), but it’s important to only put the correct items in their bins. Here’s a list of what they will and won’t take.

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Use It More Than Once (Reuse)

This is a biggie, I think.

If we reduced the number of single-use items entering and leaving our houses, we’d make a big impact with that one step alone. It takes a bit of thinking ahead to remember to take mesh bags and reusable shopping totes, but it soon becomes a habit. As do KeepCups and refillable water bottles, cloth napkins and metal straws.

Although we bring virtually no plastic shopping bags into the house, it’s been harder to stop other bags coming in. These days, instead of REDcycling the thick plastic bag that the hazelnuts come in, we wash it out and use it to store loaves of sourdough in the freezer instead.

Too often we make the mistake of thinking it’s ok if an item is recyclable or biodegradable, but it’s important to remember that recycling uses a great deal of energy, so reuse is always the preferred option. And just because an item like paper is biodegradable doesn’t take away from the fact that it took energy and resources to make in the first place.

Glass is a confusing one for me. It seems such a high energy product to create and recycle, so we try to reuse it as much as possible. We end up with a squillion washed glass jars on the shelves as a result!

I’d love any suggestions you have for reuse – this is an area that we need to improve on. Thanks!

. . . . .

Mend and Make Do (Repair and Recycle)

After fourteen years of loyal service, our Miele front loader finally stopped working. It was very expensive to repair it, but even more expensive in earth terms to replace it. So we paid lovely Andy to put it back together again, and now it’s running smoothly, thanks to new shock absorbers and working valves…

The darning continues, and it’s extended beyond clothing.

Small Man’s runners were still in good shape after a couple of years of daily use (he’s an elf, remember), but he caught the side of one shoe on a nail recently. It was easy to darn the hole with strong linen upholstery thread that I found while tidying up…

Have you heard of the marvelous folks at Elvis and Kresse? I find them incredibly inspiring – in 2005, they set up a company in the UK to rescue London’s decommissioned firehoses which were destined for landfill. They have since expanded into rescuing leather, including the 120 tonnes of leather offcuts which Burberry will produce over the next five years. They even make their own packaging materials from recycled paper tea sacks.

This is my favourite video from their website

 

Segueing to another story…

30 years ago, my dad bought me a green Christian Dior satchel. I used it to death and loved it to bits, so much so that he got cross at how tattered it looked and demanded it back so that he could polish it. I haven’t used it in more than 20 years but I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw it out.


Last week, inspired by all the amazing work Elvis and Kresse do, I cut the bag up and turned part of it into a small zippered pouch. A section from the base became a key fob. It was hard going and I’m incredibly grateful for my industrial sewing machine…


The best bit of this story? As I was making it, smudges of green polish stained my fingers, a reminder of how much Dad loved us, but also of how heavy handed he was with things like that. The pouch is now used to store my bone conduction headphones, which means I use it every day. And think of my dad.

When we mend, reuse, upcycle and repair, we give our material things a second life. We save their old stories and give them an opportunity to create new ones. It can be a wonderful thing. ♥

. . . . .

Reducing The Input (Refuse)

Unsurprisingly, the difficulty we’re having in getting rid of unwanted items is a powerful deterrent to bringing more stuff into the house. Before I buy anything now, I try to ask myself…“does this have an exit plan?” And I remember this lesson from Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff

In the last month, the only non-food corporeal items we’ve brought into the house are five pairs of new underwear for Small Man (who was down to less than a week’s worth) and ang pao wrappers for Chinese New Year. That’s it.  These items have an exit plan – the underwear will go into the rag collection bin when they’ve done their time, and the wrappers have already been used up to make lanterns for gifts…

There have been several occasions when I’ve been sorely tempted to sneak in an indulgent purchase. The goal isn’t to stop buying things altogether, it’s simply to buy them with consideration and awareness. Do I really need it? Can I use something else instead? How was it made? What happens to it when I’m finished with it? Does it have a story?

I’ve been both surprised and embarrassed by how much “stuff” my decluttering has turned up that I’d forgotten about or misplaced. I haven’t really needed to buy anything new in the last four weeks (apart from the underwear).

I’ll keep you posted on how we go – thank you for being here to keep me on track. I wanted to buy a David Goldblatt catalogue after visiting his exhibition at the MCA (it’s both inspiring and powerful, if you get a chance to see it), but my friend Anne reminded me that I was trying not to buy any new paper books (ebooks and audiobooks are my preferred options). So I sadly (but gratefully) put it back on the shelf.

. . . . .

I hope you’re all having a great weekend! And I would love any feedback or advice you have to share – I’ve learnt so much from all of you on this journey!  ♥

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Some folks go shopping, others read prolifically, but I like to make things.

In fact, I realised long ago that I’m only happy when I have a project on the go. Over the years, my hobbies (just to name a few) have included papercrafts, kitemaking, counted cross stitch, a brief dabble in screen printing, a recurring obsession with jewellery making, and a lifelong love of sewing.

Pete and I made this one metre facet kite and the ten metre snake kite in the background for the Festival of the Winds over two decades ago…

I’m still making vintage Swarovski crystal angels to this day…

And then there’s sourdough baking, of course…

I’ve always enjoyed a fast project, like these little useful bags

Last Saturday, my friend Les, who’s now 82, told me that he still uses the bag I gave him years ago to keep his sunglasses in. “It’s just so useful!” he said…

Over this past year though, I’ve learnt to love a slower paced project. Like this linen shawl I made from one of Pete’s old shirts…

The pieces were machined together and then hand embroidered with sashiko cotton using a basic running stitch..

My focus has also shifted to projects which utilise existing resources, like my upcycled denim aprons. This one was modeled by Monkey Girl under protest…

Placemats made from the seams and waistbands of old jeans cover our dining room table…

Occasionally I’ll sit and crochet dishcloths – it’s not a craft that I particularly enjoy, but my hands don’t like to be still…

My latest adventure into visible mending is still going strong – I’m enjoying it so much that Big Boy and Pete have started hiding their clothes from me.

Small Man though, my beloved eco-warrior, is happy to wear my repaired creations. His jeans had just a little life left in them – the denim was getting thin to the point of translucent – but they still fit, so I quickly hand mended them for him. The small holes were darned and the larger ones patched boro style.

He’s worn them out a few times since, so he must approve…

Ian’s old Wranglers came back for another repair – farmers are hard on their clothes! This time I added heavy duty patches sewn on by machine. They needed to be durable enough for shearing and moving rolls of barbed wire…

Last weekend, I turned a formal kimono into a lined poncho. This was actually my third attempt at upcycling this garment.

If you ever get your hands on one, please let me save you some grief now. Don’t wash it! It’s traditionally hand stitched and if it’s a vintage piece like mine was, the thread might be over 50 years old and very fragile. Also, the lining silk shrinks more than the black layer. The traditional method of cleaning is (are you sitting down?) unpicking the entire garment, washing each piece, and then restitching it.

Anyway, I did handwash it, because it was old and stained and a bit too grotty for me to wear. In the end, after much experimenting and unpicking, I ended up with a very wearable piece…

I sewed a sized-up shopping bag based on my recent Useful Bag pattern, complete with long shoulder strap. It’s made from an old Japanese banner that I picked up from Cash Palace Emporium a couple of years ago…

It carries a surprisingly large load…

Nearly twenty years ago, my wise friend Diana told me, “Celia, my father used to say that one of the most satisfying jobs has to be bricklaying, because at the end of the day, you can stand back and see the wall you’ve built with your own hands.”

In this fast moving digital age where things often seem less real, having a project on the go grounds me. It gives me an opportunity to create, and to enjoy the great satisfaction that comes from having created.

Are you a maker too? If so, thank you for understanding what I’m talking about, because not everyone does. I’d love to know more about the hobbies you enjoy, and what projects you’re working on the moment. ♥

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A shout out to the guys at The Steam Engine!

My darling friend Allison works in Chatswood and every few months we meet up in her neck of the woods for lunch and a much needed debrief. The food varies a bit – for such a culturally diverse area, it can be surprisingly ordinary at times – but it doesn’t really matter because we’re actually there for the coffee.

The relief is almost palpable as we plonk ourselves into a couple of the dozen or so seats at The Steam Engine and order our brews – a cold pour over for Al and an iced decaf latte for me…

What makes The Steam Engine special though, isn’t just the coffee (although it’s very, very good). It’s not even the free sparkling water they have on tap.

For me, what’s truly impressive is how hard they work at minimising their eco-footprint. On their shelf sits a stack of 365 coffee cups, a reminder of how much waste ends up in landfill each year from a single takeaway coffee per day…

I’ve seen bags of spent coffee grounds outside the shop for gardeners. They bottle their cold brews in glass jars which folks bring back for washing and reuse. When we were in last week, I asked for sugar and expected a paper sachet. Instead, I was given a spoonful of raw sugar in a tiny metal jug. It’s the attention to small details like this that shows their commitment and mindset.

And here’s their latest clever idea – if you forget your KeepCup, they’ll sell you a $2 glass jar with a neoprene sleeve made from recycled old wetsuits. I think they’ll even lend them to locals who forget their reusable cups…

If we want to minimise our impact on the planet, we have to focus on more than just what we do at home (although that’s obviously the best place to start). We also have to make considered choices and support businesses that are trying to operate thoughtfully and sustainably. So if you’re in the Chatswood area, do pop in for a coffee at The Steam Engine. Just make sure you take your own cup! ♥

. . . . .

The Steam Engine

Shop 25A, The Interchange
436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood

Mon – Fri 6am – 4pm
Sat 7am-3pm
Sun CLOSED

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!

I recently bought some of these super cute piggy wrappers, just enough for handing out and making a few lanterns. I’ve been calling them my Day of the Dead piggies, but my very Chinese sister doesn’t approve (superstition dictates no mention of mortality during the CNY period)…

I dragged out my old instruction books…

…and made some old favourites…

…as well as a couple of new designs…

This one really tested my spatial skills, which are rubbish at the best of times…

Chinese New Year lasts for fifteen days, so there’s plenty of time left if you’d like to make a lantern. You can buy the red packets at most Chinese grocery stores, or substitute red mailing envelopes. Sometimes you can get them free from the banks as well. Here’s my tutorial for a very simple ball shaped lantern, and an even easier one for a single packet decoration.

. . . . .

A couple of weeks ago, I sorted out my lantern making supplies and took all my surplus stock to Reverse Garbage.

As I was going through them, I found these gorgeous old world wrappers – I’ve hoarded them for over a decade because I loved them too much to give away, knowing that they’d be discarded minutes later. I thought they might get a longer life if I gave them away as bookmarks, so I dragged out my old laminator and guillotine and set to work.

I made these ones as well…

Chinese New Year is always snake bean season in our garden, and we’ve had a bumper crop this year. We’ve picked this many every day for the past couple of weeks…

We feasted on them for our New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner…

We had chicken rice and homemade dumplings…

And Malaysian prawn crackers of course, fried to order…

. . . . .

Wishing you every happiness and the best possible health this Year of the Pig! And in honour of the swine, I hope you get to enjoy many delicious meals with your loved ones! ♥

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Ottolenghi Simple

Yotam Ottolenghi is visiting Australia at the moment, so it seems a good time to put up this post which has been sitting in my drafts for a few days.

I bought his book SIMPLE at the end of last year in iPad format. So yes, it has an exit plan – at any time I can just delete it from my library. But I can’t see myself doing that any time soon, because it’s brilliant.

I have several of Ottolenghi’s other books and they’re very inspiring but the recipes are complicated and often too much work for a family dinner. This one however, as the title proclaims, is simple. Last weekend, having come home excitedly with discount berries from Harris Farm, I made two of the desserts from it.

The first was the Blackberry and Plum Friand Cake (here’s a link to the recipe)…

It used five of our backyard eggs – whites only, so I turned the yolks into microwave custard to accompany it (recipe is here). I used all five yolks in the custard, even though my recipe only specifies four, and it was completely fine…

We had friends over for dinner and the entire cake was demolished for dessert…

The following day, I tried the Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake. If you’d like to give it a go, the recipe can be found here. Our lemon tree is on holidays at the moment, so I used one of the many limes I have in the fridge…

The cake was moist and very moreish. Big Boy and Small Man had three slices each…

I can’t recommend SIMPLE highly enough! The e-book is  well formatted, with lots of hyperlinks for easy navigation, and about half the price of the hardcover version. You will need a tablet or a computer though – I don’t think it will work very well on the original black and white Kindle. Enjoy!

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