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.
‘Just put it in the compost heap- and it will biodegrade!’ That is what I have heard from enthusiastic proponents of biodegradable ‘plastic’. But now I’m cautious about doing that. This is after my experiment trying to actually compost this stuff.
As you see in the photo above, this is what the plastic bag looks like after more than a month inside the pot. I filled the bag with dried and green leaves, hoping to start the process of biodegradation. But it remains as strong as ever with no signs of disintegration. My friend used a large ‘hot’ composter and she also found that the ‘vegware’ she threw in haven’t composted at all. I have since learnt that these bags require specific environmental conditions to biodegrade. Most require an industrial composting facility. If accidentally mixed with regular plastics, compostable ones contaminate the recycling process.
Keep Britain Tidy has complained, ‘The drive to introduce bioplastics, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics is being done with limited emphasis on explaining the purpose of these materials to the public or consideration of whether they are in fact better from an environmental perspective than the plastic packaging they replace.’ I also saw report from the BBC where a biodegradable shopping bag could still carry a full load of groceries after submerged in water for three years or buried underground for the same time. In some ways these are worse than the normal plastic ones because they come with the myth that they are somehow more benign to nature.
I was recently offered a ‘vegware glass’ at a charity meeting. When I asked for a proper glass, the woman said, ‘But these are compostable- and it’s all a part of a circular economy’. I replied, ‘Please show me where your composter is.’ She said the office didn’t have one. ‘So you expect me to take this home and compost it? What if I don’t have composter? What happens if the vegware doesn’t break down?’ She didn’t have the answers and so reluctantly led me to the kitchen and gave me a glass. Whether it is vegware, or biodegradable- it is also a single use item. Single use items should be banned- our planet is not big enough to take in all the rubbish we throw in it.
In the spirit of the wave against a throwaway culture and also of Konmari methods, I decided to use whatever I had in the house to make a homemade shampoo. This also meant that I did not buy the spice/coffee grinder that I was going to get from Amazon. After having browsed the website for days, and even got a free gift card, so I wouldn’t have had to pay anyway. I also looked into buying a manual grinder. But I was conscious that I would buying something that needed manufacturing, transporting and packaging, not to mention maintenance and cleaning. Some of the reviews were good and a few were bad but these days, one cannot trust online reviews either as many have turned out to be fake. Thirdly, using the heavy mortar and pestle is actually good for my joints as I have osteoporosis. I’ve been recommended weight bearing exercises and this appears to be a two things for one!
So this morning, I dug out an old mortar and pestle that had been found lurking in our old house and I had cleaned it some time back- I wrote about how to remove rust then. Then I found several things in my cupboard which I have substituted for the original recipe as some of the ingredients cannot be found in the a ‘Western’ country easily. Here is my recipe for a homemade shampoo, suitable for dark hair. But if you used dried hops or camomile, you can use this for blonde or lighter hair. These are traditional herbs that have been used for thousands of years, so they are tried and tested on humans. However, I am not a herbalist and I suggest you try a small portion on your skin before you put this on your scalp.
Four tablespoons of reetha powder ( I used my old heavy mortar and pestle to pound up this powder from dried reetha fruits I already had, after removing the black podlike seed inside)
One tablespoon fenugreek seeds
One tablespoon chickpea flour (substituted for green gram flour in the original recipe)
One tablespoon dried Tulsi powder (already had but now easily available in Western stores)
One tablespoon dried rosemary (substituted for dried curry leaves)- this is good for dark hair
One teaspoon dried amla lying in the house (again pounded up using the mortar and pestle) but you can omit if you can’t find it.This is what it looks like when ground up together. Don’t worry too much if you don’t seem to have a fine powder- it still works because you need to soak it in water for at least two hours before use.
One it has been soaked in a small amount of water, you can see the soapy liquid forming. Use a bit of rosewater for this if you have any- I used Nealsyard rosewater but ordinary water will do fine as well. Best of all it smells very sweet, can’t really describe it but so much better than any shampoo I’ve used so far, even if they claim to be organic and natural.
Before use, massage your head with some coconut oil, said to encourage hair growth. Leave it for about 20 minutes and then apply this paste to the head and wash off. It is such a lovely Sunday treat! Best of all, it was free to make with what I had in the kitchen.
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!)
Each summer, my olive tree and other plants get mealy bugs and woolly aphids. Now I abhor both of these. Looking up the Internet suggestions on how to get rid of these in the most eco-friendly way, If found the use of soap solution along with physically touching the stems and picking them off. How ghastly- I’d never touch these! I have been cutting off the branches each year and that has also helped with pruning. But this year, the tree appears to give off snowy showers when I shake it and I didn’t even feel like pruning it. I’ve tried the home made soap solution but I think the solution needs to stick to the infestation to be effective. I’ve tried vinegar solution but don’t like the smell.
This year, while thinking about the ‘stickiness’ aspect of the solution, I found some unused Ecover floor cleaner. I added 25% cleaner to 75% water along with a pinch of turmeric to act as disinfectant (total 500ml).
When I sprayed this, the foam actually stuck to the branches and nodes where the insects were. You need to shake the bottle from time to time as the turmeric tends to settle at the bottom. Almost immediately I noticed that infestation was gone!
I will have to wait and see if it does return but the olive tree looks amazing now. You have to be careful not to spray surrounds but as you see that my tree was next to wood, it was okay. Also, don’t spray edible plants with this spray. Ecover floor cleaner, which has linseed oil as an active ingredient, claims to have the following eco-credentials:
Fresh perfume from plant based ingredients
Cleans floors effectively and quickly
Excellent natural floor care and protection against staining
No petrochemical based ingredients
No residue of unnecessary chemicalsFast and complete biodegradability (OECD-test 301F, full product)
Minimum impact on aquatic life (OECD-test 201&202, full product)
Against animal testing
Suitable for septic tanks
I am not advertising for Ecover as this was just an experiment but I thought it was better to use this than sugar soap and WD40 which also some people have used as insecticide.
The cost of Ecover is £3-50 for 1L, so my spray works out to be less than 1pence for 500ml.
Someone else tried my solution for her rose bush and says it has worked on the aphids. So you can try it and let me know if it works for you in the comment section below- good luck!
PS- as an added advantage, I use this mixture to quickly spray and clean up wooden floors and non food use areas.
I have just started using coconut husk compost for my spring/summer planting. First of all, I have to comment on how easy it was to transport and use. I didn’t have to lug a heavy bag of compost on the bus- the compost comes a brick sized light block. I took it out of the paper wrapping (which was recycled unlike the usual compost which comes in a plastic bag and it is difficult to find places that recycle them), then put the entire brick into a bucket on a day when I knew it was going to rain heavily.
So when the bucket was full of water, the coconut compost expanded to fill the bucket (one block makes 9 litres of compost). I could then use it to fill my baby bath tub planter which I found abandoned.
I had used up the winter offerings of dried shrubs and leaves as a composting material, on which I lay the coconut husk compost. I spread some seeds on the compost and then spread a thin layer of the coconut husk on that. The coconut husk compost is easy to work with, unlike the conventional compost. My seeds are now sprouting and I will keep you updated on how the plants do.
I travel quite frequently for work, so while I like to see greenery indoors, I found that I can’t really take time over indoor plants. From books to plant feeds and self-watering systems, and once, even leaf shining wipes (embarrassing!), I have tried many ways to look after these plants. Inevitably these have been a waste of time and money. I have been responsible for many shriveled and dead plants. So now I have made a terrarium.
While I looked at many Youtube videos and web based advice before starting out, I was also keep to make it out of what I had at home and not buy more stuff. I also took inspiration from the Princess of Wales greenhouse at Kew Gardens, London. I learnt that there were some key ingredients for a terrarium-
An inert base made of charcoal, especially if there were plants needing frequent watering. The charcoal helped to absorb odours, keep the terrarium free of fungal or insect infestations, like it does in aquariums.
Moss- which helped to regulate moisture in the air, absorbing the excess
Main plants that you want to use inside and any ‘decorations’
Charcoal is useful if you are going for a closed self sustaining system but as I was using cactus and succulents, my terrarium needed to be open and so I didn’t need the charcoal. So I made the base of used match sticks, found the moss in the garden and I already had the pasta jar which I cleaned before use. I reused the compost that came with the succulents and cactus to which I added some sand. Believe it or not, the aloe plant came as a decoration from a plate of rice ordered in a restaurant! I needed to have a vision of what I wanted the terrarium to look like before starting. If you like, you can draw a rough sketch before inserting anything inside as it can be very fiddly to take things in and out and also this risks damaging the delicate plants. You can use chopsticks, or tweezers or any kind of grabbing instrument to place the plants.
I first laid out the matchstick base, then put in the soil over which I laid the moss. I kept space in between these where I wanted to place the plants. These plants do not need depths for soil- they are happy with shallow soils as their roots don’t go very far. What you need to be careful with is the amount of water you use as these plants need good drainage. After I inserted everything including the ornaments, I sprayed the inside generously. Then I forgot about it! It has been one month now and the cactus has sprouted a little baby and the succulents, aloe and the moss are doing fine. I spray water every 3 weeks and that seems to keep it fine. Too much water and everything will rot. My next project will be to make a terrarium for orchids.
Having an Armenian link in my family, I decided this year to make traditional Armenian Easter eggs alongside a traditional meal. Making these Easter eggs involves using onion skins, turmeric and other natural dyes to colour eggs. Here are some of my efforts. I collected red onion skins- shopkeepers were happy to get rid of them. I also put in some chilli flakes that I was not using (these also make the water red). I boiled these for about twenty minutes and left it to cool overnight. In the morning, I pasted some leaves I found in the garden on the raw eggs using water. I used organic hens and duck eggs. Then I put the eggs inside cut up old stockings and boiled them further for about 20 minutes. After removing them from the stocking, I left them to cool. When they were cold to touch, I polished them with some olive oil to make them shine. Even though the duck eggs were less successful, the over all effect of mottled colour with silhouettes of leaves, was charming on both types of eggs.
What about waste? The skins were put in the compost and the leftover liquid was used to dye an old white silk blouse which is now a pretty pink colour. No waste- perfect!
I will be trying out more natural dyes made from vegetable waste or origins such as blueberry juice, coffee, tea, etc. I have already used such colours in creating a portrait of person who likes spicy food (turmeric and onion skins), tea and coffee and more mineral colours.
Winter is a time of hibernation, of sleep, of drawing back but also a time for rejuvenation and preparation for the glory of spring and summer. I have been busy but there is not much to show at present. These gorgeous holly branches with their vibrant green and reds show that winter still has power to dazzle as much as spring.
Britain has been hit by storms and rains and it has been very hard to do any useful gardening work. However, the warmer winter has meant that the plants which normally would have died down by this time are still thriving without any help- such as as the sweet peas and some of the flowering climbers. But soon, I will be back out again, to show you some of the ‘invisible’ work that nature has been doing without my help. In the meanwhile, hope you all have a lovely 2016!
These days when anything can be bought from royal titles to a bit of the Moon, making something to give to someone appears very unique. When I was young, my Uncle used to give us the best presents- they were always the same and they brought me and my sisters so much delight. They were shoes boxes filled with the things we liked- crepe paper, scissors, glue, tape, tinsel, string and paint. From those things we created a lot more things- I remember those shoe boxes with such pleasure. A box that made me do something creative! Times have changed now- shoe boxes filled with such things won’t be accepted with such joyous innocence!
This year, I made something for my son alongside a ‘bought present’. Plants are very easy to propagate and make great presents. So here is my homemade Bonsai starter pot for my son.
I grew that little tree out of another bonsai tree that I was pruning, the moss was found growing on another pot that needing cleaning out and I had the sedum plants. I had found that little pot as well. There are many Youtube videos on soil composition needed for Bonsai, so I won’t be going into that. That said, the main things I learnt from the videos were that the soil needs to drain easily and that composition of the loose soil to that of the compost or hot soil is 75% to 25%. Some of the sandy soil I found in an old pot and mixed it with some fresh sand that I found when a local basement was been built (talk about sourcing locally!) I mixed everything by hand and instead of sieving as shown in the videos, I took out bigger bits of rocks and gravel by feeling with my hands. The rocks and shells have been collected during our holidays, so they will have memories and familiarity. It will take a few years for that tree to look like a bonsai tree (it is only 6 months old). Until then, he is going to have learn to take care of it as Bonsai needs a lot of looking after. So this is my version of our childhood shoe box presents- something creative that will encourage my son do something creative.