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 these days of climate change with extreme heat and lack of rain, even in the UK, one has to think about how to keep plants hydrated. I went away for three weeks recently and had only just bought a lavender plants before leaving. I was worried about it dying while I was away. So I used a weed- nettles which grow well in my terrace- to make a green mulch.
The green mulch would not only save the soil from drying out but also as the nettle dried out, it would nourish the soil. It also would prevent other weeds from growing in the pot. I had first learnt about green mulch from some Cuban organic farmers who had used it during the ‘crisis’ days to grow urban food but had never used it myself.
Almost four weeks later, this is the result. The plant looks healthy and has grown well while the nettle has dried and become part of the soil. Some small weeds have grown in the pot but those will also form part of the new green mulch. This was so effortless and economical that I’m going to use it again and again.
Lately I’ve been walking around the streets trying to photograph bees. I’m not a professional and all I have is a smartphone, and these little creatures are very fast. So the photographs aren’t very good. However, I have noticed a much smaller number than last year, especially in my garden. I grow wildflowers and plants in my terrace, hoping to attract bees. But in one day, I may see about 5-8 bees (I don’t know if they are the same ones or different ones). Last year, I could see 10-15 bees each day in my terrace. The numbers of hoverflies remain the same as before.
Bees seem to like purple or pink flowers- I’ve noticed. Lavender, appear to attract the most bees, including bumble bees, while honeybees also like the blue/white borage flowers, and marjoram, which has small pinkish white flowers.
What I’ve also noticed are dead bees- particularly the large bumblebees. This photo below was taken on a nearby pavement.
Declining bee populations have been blamed on a combination of factors: climate change, pesticides – notably neonicotinoids – and varroa mites spreading in beehives. While the EU has imposed an almost total ban on neonicotinoids, climate change is decimating bee populations with late frosts and later summers. Honey is one of the products that bees create and we eat, but on a general level, bees are responsible for pollinating plants. This ‘unpaid’ act by these busy workers, help plants to grow and give food, flowers, cosmetics and thousands of other plant based products.
In a study by Sussex university on a project called ‘Honey bee health and well being’, it was found that bees do prefer all varieties of lavender and borage (which was the best all rounder). These are also very cheap plants to grow- while Lavender is a perennial, Borage will self seed. The lead scientist of the study, Professor of Apiculture, Dr. Francis Ratnieks, said, ‘The most important message from this study is that choosing flowers carefully makes a big difference to pollinators at zero cost. It costs no more to buy bee friendly flowers and they are not more difficult to grow and are just as pretty. The flowers don’t have to be native, wild flowers.’
Let us grow more organic blue, purple and pink flowers and help these hardworking saviours of humankind.
The open squares day is a great day to visit gardens in London- big or small. London’s hidden green spaces open their gates for public enjoyment and discovery.
The very first London Garden Square Day took place in 1998, with 43 gardens taking part. The aim was to draw attention to the contribution that green spaces made to the city- in fact, almost half of London is green. The open Squares days offer opportunity to explore those private and more secret gardens which are not generally accessible to the public and to join in the community events taking place. Caroline Aldiss, a resident of Collingham Gardens at the time, founded the event in 1998-9 with the support of the London Parks and Gardens Trust and English Heritage. She thought that a day when all the green spaces could become open to the public, would be good event for the summer and for people to become interested in gardens and gardening.
This year I visited St. Mary’s secret garden in Hackney with its wonderful array of tables selling home-made produce such as jams and chutneys, honey, plants, bird houses, tea and cakes. Along with the buzz of people, bees and birds, it was a lively atmosphere and inspirational. For over 25 years, St. Mary’s Secret Garden has offered a safe space where people with support needs and the local community can get hands-on experience of gardening, gain a sense of inclusion and receive the benefits of horticulture and other eco-therapy activities.
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.
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.
Its officially summer and time to work on the garden. The recent storms and previously unseasonal snow in February and March plus two travels, made my garden a bit untidy. I felt a bit embarrassed by it all, but today as I went out, I saw what I had been missing. There were bees flying around, spiders making their nests, earthworms in the soil and many other insects going about their business. Birds such as sparrows, pigeons and gulls floated about in the air. There was a real eco-system there which I had not recognised. Even tiny patio gardens have a way of making a complete micro eco-systems which are a part of the much bigger eco-system we live in. Even inside the home, there are spiders, ants etc which are part of an eco-system which help you- spiders eat other harmful insects such as moths and mites; while ants can take away bit of food that you can’t see. I’ve got all these and feel fine with it. What about your home?
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!
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-