You may be wondering why I’m writing about cranberry sauce when Christmas is over! There reason is that I made some this year and it was a huge hit. I gave some away as a present too. The best thing is that it is very simple to make and uses very few ingredients. The only thing could be finding the fresh cranberries themselves but loads of grocery shops sell them as they are seasonal. You can also use frozen cranberries. If you find some on reduced price, buy them and make the sauce. It will keep in the freezer and I found it goes with a lot of foods, not just turkey. For instance, it goes well with cheese, Indian and Mexican foods- the tanginess sets off the spicy flavours.
So here it goes-
100g/3½oz light brown sugar (cost 46p)
100ml/3½fl oz orange juice ( I used the cheap carton of orange juice but you can also use freshly squeezed orange juice and use the rind, as below to make the zest) 86p
250g/9oz fresh or frozen cranberries (80p for 300gm)
1 clementine or small orange, finely grated zest only (optional)
Bring the sugar and orange juice to the boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the cranberries and simmer for 5 minutes or until tender but holding their shape. Frozen cranberries will take longer than fresh. Refrigerate until needed, it will thicken as it cools.
I also added ginger powder and a clove into the mix and took out the clove after I finished making the sauce. I added the zest later.
Total cost of homemade sauce £2.12, i.e £ 0.70 per 100 gm
Shop bought cranberry sauce cost: £0.68 per 100 gm
So you see there isn’t much difference in the cost but the difference in taste (and the colour) is enormous. And since it is so simple to make, why compromise? Plus it can be a zero waste gift. I’m now thinking of using this recipe for other seasonal berries.
I have written previously about how winter leaves gifts behind, although spring and summer are seen as seasons when we have more gifts from nature. I made this gift for my colleagues at work using leaves and dried flowers that I was going to put into the compost heap. It was easy to do and looks quite good I think. I had all the stuff at home including the vase and the sponge base, so it is a zero waste zero price gift!
This is spring time in the UK and we can hear birds flying, chirping and building nests. Walking under a tree, I heard the sounds of baby magpies hidden somewhere while I watched the anxious parents bring food to them. Birds are amongst the non humans who actually build homes for their young ones. Many birds are expert builders (and don’t seem to need any training!), and some are experts at repurposing holes, ledges, and parts of buildings for their nests. As an architect, I first learnt about non human architecture from this book many years ago-
A weaver bird’s nest from South India (credit: wikimedia commons)
But these days, given our penchant for weeding and tidying gardens straight after winter, our non human friend have nothing to build nests with, especially in cities. This year, I have been very busy finishing a book and had forgotten to ‘tidy up’ my patio. It was full of dead plants and I felt very embarrassed about how it was looking. But one day, raising my head, I saw two magpies busy pulling at my dried plants and branches and fly off with a beak-full. Next, I saw a little robin that has become a regular, taking little branches and stems for its own nest. I have also had a thrush coming by to pick up building materials. Ahh, I realised, my patio was actually being useful, even though it looked a state!
my untidy patio with metal robin
Seeing these birds has been such a delight and given me another reason not to tidy up so soon. Along with the nest building materials, they have taken away weeds, cleared up spider’s webs and eaten some slugs- saving me some work. I never knew how useful birds are to the canny gardener. Make sure you keep some of these materials to attract birds into your garden and help them build their nests in the spring-
Things that birds could use
Twigs or sticks
Grass clippings or dead grass
Moss or lichen
Pebbles or small rocks (not the ones in the photo though!)
Spider web silk
Straw or other dried plant stems
Do keep some water for these thirsty parents too!
PS- As these birds tend to be wary of humans, I tried but couldn’t take a photo!
This Christmas a lot of tinsel, wrapping paper and cards will make their way to you via many different routes. Tinsel is not recyclable (so I reuse the tinsel that I actually found 12 years ago on the street) and any wrapping paper that doesn’t stay crumpled up, is not recyclable (try crumpling a part of it and see). Each card takes about 140 kgs of CO2 to make and send- enough for two cups of tea.
One of my cards made out of the box that my Panettone came in!
For years, I have been using the same plastic Christmas tree and its decorations so it is as sustainable as I can get.
Our 12 year old Christmas tree!
I generally believe that living plants should stay living, in its natural habitat but terrariums are another thing. Especially during cold and wet days, it is quite nice to do indoor gardening!
This year, instead of buying flowers, I made a terrarium and a planted pot to decorate the Christmas table. Here is the step by step guide to both (which are slightly different to what you will find elsewhere). So first the things you need-
Activated charcoal (from an aquarium or pet shop)
Pebbles and rocks (I had some and bought some from the pet shop and washed them carefully)
Moss (I got these from the pots outside)
Different plants- I bought a fern (asplenium), a plant with colourful leaves(Fittonia Skeleton) and an orchid (Dendrobium Berry Oda)
A glass bottle (I had a leaky one which I’ve used)
packets of desiccator usually found with food
Any decorative things- I had some sea shells, sticks, and bigger rocks
Tools which included a newspaper to cover the table, a cloth to wipe, a wood spoon to tap soil and place the plants inside the bottle, secateurs, and a plastic funnel (the one I used was a leftover from an old dishwasher)
The first step was to wash the bottle thoroughly. Once it was dry, I put in the desiccators first and sprinkled some charcoal around it. Then I put in the washed pebbles, following it up with some more activated charcoal. One advantage of choosing colourful rocks was that the charcoal doesn’t look too out of place.
Instead of buying more soil, I used the ones in the pots- they were were more than enough. I put in the soil next. All my plants were quite big, so it I had to divide them up. The Fittonia was easy to do but the fern and the orchid were hard. I looked up various articles on how to do this on the internet but I’m still not sure about the orchid (which was the most expensive thing to buy!). Time will tell if these plants will survive although I’ve followed the instructions. Upon reflection, my advice will be to buy the smallest possible plants which will grow into bigger ones and are also easy to handle. On the cons of that, you will need to buy enough potting soil.
Dividing the orchid was difficult!
Planning the inside is also an art- you don’t want it to be overcrowded but to look well managed. The plants need space to grow and breathe. So I have placed the plants well apart as the orchid was pretty big.
There was enough soil and plants to make another pretty pot, so I did that using all the leftovers. This is what it looks like.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
And here are some ideas from Tom Dixon Studios for some fun terrariums (they don’t need many plants only a sense of humour and creativity!)
The lotus flower grows, which is an aquatic perennial, in muddy ponds all over South East Asia. But the flowers are offered to the gods and kings, despite such humble origins. That a muddy dirty pond should give rise to such a beautiful and majestic flowers- a flower that is the national flower of a country, India- is not a contradiction. In Buddhism, the lotus flower is held up as a symbol of how one can transform life’s trials and tribulations into beauty, compassion and wisdom.
Worshippers in Kandy, Sri Lanka with the white lotus
The lotus flower is also unique in the sense that seeds and flowers are to be found almost simultaneously in it, as a metaphor for the Buddhist belief that cause and effect are to be found together.
White and purple lotus flowers on sale at a stall, Kandy, Sri Lanka
The lotus flower is also held up a symbol of longevity. Seeds of a lotus flower which bloomed 1300 years old in a lake in northeastern China ago were made to flower. The lotus flowers are to be found in ancient Egyptian murals as well as many countries of Asia- China, India, Japan and Korea- testifying to the universal sense of wonder that one experiences when seeing them. Now they are grown all over the world.
My friend’s terrace where he grows the lotus flower in a small container
Photo of my friend’s lotus flower
So next time you see a lotus flower, enjoy its beauty but also think about the various metaphors associated with it that might help you in life!
I have written previously about the garden we were working on the station platform at Acton Central Station, West London. We finally had a grand launch on Friday with members of the community, our work partners- Repowering London, Groundwork Trust and Arriva (the train company) and the local Member of Parliament. The garden is complete with ornamental and food sections- from which the local community can freely take away what they need, as long as they leave something for others! The centre piece of the project consists of a large ornamental bed featuring a stone plaque with the encouraging words of Nichiren, a 13th century Buddhist philosopher, ‘Winer always turn to spring’. These words are not just about seasons but also about finding hope and inspiration. The bed is also a tribute to a station staff, well loved by the users of the station and local community, who died suddenly from cancer three years ago- around the time that the project started. We hope that these words give hope to everyone while they wait at the platform.
We will now begin the second phase of the project which will concentrate more on the ‘energy section’ with solar panels and water harvesting schemes in the station. Here are some photos from the event-
Charushila/Energy Garden – Acton Central Railway Station Flower Bed opening – 18/5/18
Charushila/Energy Garden – Acton Central Railway Station Flower Bed opening – 18/5/18
Charushila/Energy Garden – Acton Central Railway Station Flower Bed opening – 18/5/18
My speech from the day that you can see me reading out went like this-
‘Charushila is a charity, working to promote social engagement through the design and creation of community projects. ‘Charu’ means beautiful and ‘Shila’ means foundation in Sanskrit.
The charity is based on the theory of ‘Value creation’, as put forward by the 20th century Japanese school teacher, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. Value creation consists of three aspects- beauty, goodness and benefit. In all our projects, we have strived for these aspects to shine through. Through this broad yet profound philosophy, we have found that we can work with people from all backgrounds, communities and countries. To date, Charushila has worked in the UK, India, Venezuela and Palestine. In the 1920’s Makiguchi was writing about the ‘generosity of plants and animals for which we are totally dependent upon our survival’. While today which is also the endangered species day, Makiguchi’s ideas seem so natural and logical, they did not go down well in war time Japan. He was banned from teaching and ultimately thrown into prison, where he died on 18th November 1944. He was 74 years old. Makiguchi was an extraordinarily far sighted man, whose legacy lives on. He particularly felt that young people would benefit from learning within a community. He said in 1930,
“The natural beginning point for understanding the world and our relationship to it, is that community which is a community of persons, land and culture, that gave us birth. It is that community that gave us our very lives and started us on the path towards becoming the persons we are. It is community that gives us our rootedness as human, as cultural beings.”
Today is a great celebration, and we are together here on this platform on a sunny day to launch this project. There will be days when it will be cold, the sun is not shining, and we might be alone on this very platform. When spring will turn into winter! For me, the success of this project will be when I see that people from the local community are helping to take care of the garden and also taking away food grown here. I am very grateful to Dr Huq for coming here to launch this project, to Robert Harrap, General Director of SGI-UK for his encouragement, and to my colleagues at Charushila and our partners in the project- the Energy gardens team, Groundwork Trust and Repowering London. My gratitude to all the station staff with whom we have worked for nearly three years. The project might be small but hopefully, the effect will be big- creating beauty, goodness and benefit for all.”
I hope the readers of this page can visit the station sometime!
Recently at Kew Gardens, there was an exhibition called ‘Life in death’ which featured an installation made of dried flowers, itself inspired by garlands found with mummies in Egypt. There was a solemnity and dignity about the work, while reminding us about the fragility and beauty of life. I was immensely touched by this exhibition by Rebecca Louise Law, an installation artist based in London.
It also stirred up my childhood memories of working with seeds and pressed leaves and flowers. Fresh flowers can be fleeting joy but correctly preserved, flowers can give pleasure for a long time as the garlands from the Egyptian tombs show. I try to bring back flowers which are meant to be thrown out after just a few hours in an event- such a waste not just of the flowers but also the artistry that made that bouquet. Recently, I was attending an event with a lovely bouquet at my table made of white or pale flowers. It reminded me of both life and death.
I brought the bouquet back home and after a couple of days, the flowers started to dry up. Normally I would have thrown the entire bunch in the compost but these struck me as having a touch of fragile beauty, a whiff of life with a whiff of death about them. I photographed them before it went on for composting. Here are the results-
I hope these two encounters with dried flowers will rekindle that spark I used to have for them!
Last year, I started a project with my charity, Charushila, for a concept called ‘Energy Gardens’. The Energy Garden project is a partnership project delivered by the NGO Repowering London and environmental charity, Groundwork Trust, with Transport for London. In time, 50 of London’s Overground stations will be transformed into community ‘Energy Gardens’ with thriving gardens that will incorporate food growing plots and solar panels providing on-site renewable energy for lighting, water pumps or other station amenities. In addition to improving the daily commute of people going to work the creation of the gardens will also help people get into work through training opportunities and paid horticulture apprenticeships for young people.
Charushila was a partner in facilitating the project at one of the stations, Acton Central. The first year was spent in community engagement which provided a blue print for what the local community wanted and getting ideas for the project that people felt were of local importance. The engagement was also about securing future commitment to the project in terms of maintenance and ownership. In all, about 200 local people were consulted for this project- including residents, passengers, station staff, school children and local businesses. The project has been taking shape slowly and many ideas are yet to be implemented. Some of the planters have already been adopted by local organisations, so if you’d like to adopt one, please let us know. We are looking for volunteers to plant, water and weed, so please come along if you live nearby.
But even though it is yet to be finished (these community projects involving gardens always take a long time!) , it is always heartening to get compliments from people getting in and out of the trains (a man said, “wonderful to see this work!”) and even better to eat the produce. My two recent recipes involve spinach and pumpkin flowers (these flowers were about to be thrown away!)
Spinach, Bangla style:
Wash the spinach carefully and chop.
This is about 500 gms of spinach but as you’ll see when it cooks, the volume reduces!
Heat couple of spoonfuls of cooking oil in a wok- I used organic sunflower oil. Throw in a teaspoonful each of mustard seeds, black onion seeds (Kalonji) and Fenugreek (Methi) seeds, one birds eye chilli pod, a tablespoon of turmeric and a small ball of jaggery/molasses or if you can’t find that, then a teaspoon of sugar will do. I also added some chopped carrots. Put in salt to taste- the spinach is slightly salty anyway, so put in less than you might do for other dishes. Put on a lid and relax with a cup of tea while the spinach cooks. In about 20 minutes, take off the lid and check- it should look like this-
Pumpkin flower fritters
Wash the flowers carefully and and take out the hard stalks and petals at the bottom of the flower but make sure you keep the shape of the flower. Dry them on a towel.
This is for three flowers- so if you have more or less, do adjust accordingly. In a small bowl, mix a teaspoon of freshly crushed coriander and cumin seeds, add salt to taste (and paprika powder to taste if you like chilli taste). Add three large heaped tablespoons of chickpea flour and carefully add water so that you get a runny consistency. When you dip each flower into it, the paste should stick evenly to the whole of it, otherwise adjust the water so that it does. If you make too much of it, you can always add chopped onions and make some bhajjis with the same paste! These are now fried in hot oil and you can eat them with ketchup (like my son does!) or with tamarind chutney-
These are photos from an ‘Energy garden’ project we are doing on a London Overground station. The intention is to have vegetables, herbs and flowers growing on the platform, with rainwater harvesting, composting, and recycling. So the vegetables and flowers have been planted and are doing well- thanks to the station staff who look after them. A mural and slate plaque are planned for later this summer.
This work is being done as part of the environmental design charity I started, Charushila. For more information see www.charushila.org
This video introduces the Energy Garden concept which is a partnership between London Overground, Groundwork Trust, Repowering London and local organisations like ours-
Lemons, preserved or not, are really great for many types of foods from Western to Eastern, stopping by at Middle eastern, so really universal. Lime is sweeter than lemon and is used more in Eastern dishes but you can interchange them as I discovered if you have one and not the other. I have been experimenting with lemons and limes recently so here are some of my discoveries and money saving tips.
To keep lemons and limes fresh for a long time, do not put them in dishes and display them on dining tables as they show in home improvement shows. Instead, put them in a jar and fill it with water and keep in the fridge. This way, they keep for a long time instead of becoming dried and unusable. Lemons and limes are quite expensive, so this is a good money saving idea.
Lemon rinds can be dried at home, before you use the juice for cooking, so try to buy unwaxed limes and lemons and make lemon peels instead of throwing the peels away.
It is quite easy to make preserved lemons however, the cost and time required are not worth it, according to me. So it is cheaper to buy organic preserved lemons than making them at home. Plus you can buy these anytime of the year- if you choose to make them at home, lemons can be quite expensive in the summer, so you have to wait for winter to make them at home. However, one money saving tip I have discovered is not to throw the fleshy bits as many of the Moroccan recipes suggest and only using the rind. In fact, once you cut everything in bits and discard the inedible internal skins and bitter seeds, you can use everything up. I have so far used these in Moroccan style lamb and chicken; and Italian style pork. I have used grape juice to sweeten the dish as the lemon bits can be quite sour.
Both lemons and limes can be used to make lemonades. I prefer a quick version using squeezed lime and lemon juice and some sugar and a pinch of salt- then mixed with fizzy water and ice. You can thrown in the used rinds and some mint leaves if you have them. A cheap cool drink for the summer.