An End of Year Note and Festive DIY
I promised myself that I would slow down towards the end of the 2018 year, and I did. Mission accomplished! It’s been possibly one of the busiest and most exciting years of my life between a new career path, further study and spending lots of time with friends and family. As the end of the year rolled in I knew it was time to slow down, hang up the litter pickers (for a little while at least) and switch off from social media as much as possible. Burn outs are real and we have to listen to our bodies when crash-and-burn starts creeping in.
I don’t really believe in New Years resolutions. A friend told me recently that she feels there is a certain time of the year that people feel particularly energised and motivated to do new things. This idea really resonated with me and we are too easily influenced by media always dictating our lifestyles; shape up pre-Christmas, indulge over Christmas, Dry January, Veganuary, Spring Clean, Plastic free July, etc, etc. It seems we are constantly prompted by alarm bells telling what to do next. Sod that!
I recognise that September, for me, is definitely when I begin to get that itchy feet feeling and starting up-routing myself from whatever lazy Summer slump I’ve been in. It’s good to follow your own energies and avoid the social fads going on around you.
The Christmas season, apart from being super fun and exciting, can be over commercial and I wanted as much as possible to avoid unnecessary waste. Below are a few simple ideas I practiced over the festive season to try reduce my waste and create a more humble experience for my family over the holiday season.
- Plastic free gift wrapping. Choose uncoated and natural paper. Hold the cellotape and tie with string.
- Apart from not really fitting a Christmas tree in my wee house, I couldn’t bear to chop a tree down this year. Instead we foraged for greenery and built wreathes and swags to decorate.
- Cork trees. Finally we have found a use for all those wine corks. Next year I aim to build a life size tree!
- I started seeding and developing house plants from shoots in early Winter to give as small gifts.
- Heirloom seeds. I’m not going to say too much about this because it’s an exciting project in progress!
- DIY cat-food! Not the most pleasant job for a vegetarian but I was delighted to reuse the Christmas dinner leftovers and Tommy certainly approves. Recipe is simple: meat scraps blitzed and chopped, gravy and gelatin.
- Bee’s Wax wrap. I’ll admit, I didn’t think this idea would be great and I hadn’t invested in them before. I was gifted two sheets of the reuse-able wrap and It’s amazing. It wraps really tightly and is easy to wipe down and reuse.
It didn’t surprise me to read that In the UK, 95 per cent of the 10 million pumpkins grown annually are carved into lanterns, yet only 5 per cent of them are consumed as food. Pretty frightful, right? This year, in Ireland, Aldi expects to sell 50,000 Irish pumpkins and SuperValu anticipate that they will sell over 100,0000 Irish pumpkins. I myself was ambitious to grow my own jack-o’-lantern fruit, however either I’m a bit behind in the growing season or perhaps I wasn’t so clever where I sowed the vine growing seed. Nevertheless they are still growing away and hopefully I will have a few wee gourd pumpkins before the frost. However, since my pumpkins are far from mature, I’ve stocked up on three healthy size, locally grown Irish pumpkins. I intend to get carving them this week so watch this space. In more recent years I have been very conscious the never let pumpkin fruit go to waste so over the next two weeks I will update this post with some of my favourite pumpkin recipes.
Pumpkin soup is a season favourite of mine and is a tasty dish for using up left over ingredients. Before carving a jack-o-lantern, salvage some of the thick flesh from the pumpkin. Stale bread can be reused into tasty croutons which keep very well in an air tight container.
2 white onions
Pumpkin flesh (butternut squash can be used either)
800ml vegetable stock
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp honey
Salt and pepper
100ml double cream (or just a drizzle for garnish)
Croutons (oil, stale bread, pumpkin seeds, 1 clove garlic and chopped rosemary)
Fry coarsely chopped onion in olive oil. Chop the peeled pumpkin flesh into chunks and add to the pan. Add a chopped potato and parsnip and soften the vegetables for 5-7 minutes on a medium heat (careful not to burn the onion). Add the vegetable stock and curry powder. If you want a thicker or thinner soup you can adjust the liquid. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables are soft. You don’t want to cook the cream for any length of time so before blending add the cream and increase the heat for 4-5 minutes and watch carefully to avoid the cream splitting. Add the honey, blend and season. For the garnish, chop stale bread into squares and crisp in oil in a hot pan. Add pumpkin seeds, coarsely chopped garlic and rosemary, salt and pepper and continue to fry until toasted. Remove large pieces of rosemary or garlic as desired and garnish the soup with croutons and seeds and a drizzle of cream.
Pumpkin Spice Donuts
3 tbsp unsalted butter, browned in a saucepan
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree (oven roasted and blended)
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp of buttermilk
3 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground clove
Mix ingredients well in a mixing bowl, one at a time. Cover with film and leave to chill in the fridge. Shape the dough into rings using a cutter and fry in a deep fat fryer. Dip in a spiced sugar and set to cool.
Wedge of pumpkin flesh (1 per person)
Organic vine tomatoes
1 parsnip scrubbed or peeled
Chick peas (I’ve used tinned)
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp honey
Salt and pepper
Handful of cashew nuts
Flat leaf parsely
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Scour the pumpkin wedge with a sharp knife, this make for lots of toasty edges! You need two roasting trays. In one add the pumpkin wedge and parsnip and lots of oil. This needs roasting for around 20-30 mins until golden. In the other tray you can add the chickpeas, cauliflower, curry powder, salt and pepper and lots of oil, give it a stir and add the second tray to the oven but roasting for a lesser 15 mins. The tomatoes and cashews don’t need too long in the oven so its best to add these to your pumpkin tray around 10-15 mins before everything comes out. There is no exact science for roasting time, use your own initiative and check that everything has enough oil and isn’t burning. The chickpeas should be crisp and the parsnip and pumpkin soft with a crispy skin. Tomatoes should be wrinkled but not exploding, and the cashews nicely toasted. If like me, you roasted a lot of the pumpkin you can make a seasoned purée with pumpkin, one or two tomatoes and a drop of honey. Arrange your plate with a purée spread, a bed of chickpeas, arrange the pumpkin in centre place with the rest of the ingredients around it. Garnish with chopped parsley and enjoy!
Since my textile development days I’ve collected a bulk of fabric cuttings and trims with the best of intensions to up-cycle them into new products. Finally I’ve launched into the sewing of a collection of cotton linen napkins and teacloths. I had a set of old linen sheets and scraps of Oxford cotton. You can sew them up any which way you like but I’ve decided to create them 2-ply with frayed edging.
Cut out your desired pattern for your napkin or tea towel. Work on the straight of grain where possible. I’ve taken my designer hat off and worked around the size of the cloth scrap to avoid any wastage, and I’m not bothered about slightly miss matching napkin sizes.
If you decide to fray the edges be sure to sew one or two edge rows using a short stitch around 1.5cm in from the cut edge before you start to pick out the threads (see the lower edge stitching in the above picture). This will prevent the frayed edges unravelling beyond the desired finish.
To fray the edges pick out the warp yarns one by one along the cut edges and ruffle up the weft yarns to the desired length. Trim with a hanger loop if desired and Voilá!
Recycling is big business in the waste world. Why not save money and create your own organic compost? Wether you intend to become a master composter or just keep a simple leaf mould, below is some practical advice on how to keep a healthy organic compost.
- Measure your garden and build/purchase an appropriate compost heap
- A walled heap works for a large garden
- An aerated bin is best for small gardens, you can buy these or make them yourself
- Make your own tomato feed, all you need is nettles, water and a jar
- Keep a leaf mould over winter
- If you want to start small get children involved, try making a simple bug hotel
Composting is a natural process, all we need to do is create the ideal conditions and let nature do the rest. Organisms such as soil bacteria, fungi, moulds, worms and insects work together with air and water to create a thriving compost. Composting is a biological process wherein organic raw materials are transformed by these organism activities into a stabilised soil like compost material.
Five essential conditions are needed for successful composting
- Brown and green materials
- Aeration and turning
- Particle size of material (should be small)
- Suitable size heap
Essentially, anything that was once living can be composted. Some things are easier to compost than others. Composting works best with a mix of nitrogen rich, green materials like grass clippings and food scraps and carbon rich, brown materials like fallen leaves and paper. Items that can cause a nuisance include animal materials (meat, faeces) and non-raw foods (cereals, pasta, cooked food) since they are likely to attract vermin. Citrus fruits should also be excluded since they grow green mould too quickly instead of rotting.
Last year I gave a talk during the Airfield Festival of Food on garden composting and one such participant in the audience was concerned they wouldn’t get the green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) layers evenly balanced. I rested him assure that every chore in the garden is a layer, for example cutting the grass is one layer, sweeping the leaves is another layer, weeding, vegetable kitchen peels, etc. Once you have an aerated composter or heap it’s hard to do anything wrong, just keep turning every few months for air and ensure it doesn’t become contaminated. Your soil like compost will be ready within the year and can be used to prep bedding in early spring.
An aerated bin is better for smaller gardens, you can buy these or drill holes in a plastic bin like the one I have done (well, sorry that Dad did, x).
Autumn leaves make a low maintenance compost product called leaf mould. Simply pile them in a wire mesh enclosure or bag them up in sacks over winter. They do not need to be turned, they decompose naturally by the action of fungi and other decomposing organisms forming leaf mould. In the early spring season the mulch can be used to insulate the ground around trees and the spring bulbs which lye beneath. Ensure you don’t cover the base of the tree trunk since this will create a dampness around the roots.
This is such a simple method which creates a great concentrated tomato-feed. Keep feeding nettles into a jar half filled with water, add more water as needed. The smell is mighty and its advised to wear a mask or scarf over your mouth and nose. The nettles rot to create a concentrated sludge. Mix with water in a 5:1 ratio and include every few weeks when feeding your crops.
If you want to start small get children involved, try making a bug hotel with garden clippings. It’s an excuse to keep an ‘organised mess’ corner in the garden and its great for encouraging biodiversity into your garden.
Summer is nearly upon us and the elderflower tree is coming into full bloom. Every year I have the best of intentions to make my own elderflower cordial but there is only a short timeframe to harvest these blooms when they are at their best. The beginning of June is when the buds are freshly bloomed. You can let the bees starting to collect their pollen on warm days signal to you that the flowers are ready for harvesting. Ensure you have a healthy elderflower tree, far from any air pollution source. I initially mistook elderflower for blackthorn but luckily seastainability has a botanist in our midst who helped identify the differences. Now I can look forward to blackthorn sloe gin in the late summer too. The elderflower recipe is very easy and makes a gorgeous preserved cordial, perfect for summer drinks or to flavour fruit salad and prosecco. You could give or take more or less sugar and lemon depending on your taste.
25 elderflower blooms
1 litre boiling water
550g sugar* depending on juice yield
40g citric acid *optional
Pick the flowers and in a large bowl remove any insects and trim away the stalks. Slice one large lemon and add the boiling water to the bowl, stirring gently. Cover with a cloth and rest overnight. Now is a good time to sterilise glass bottles. Once the flowers have made a tea, strain the mix in a muslin or linen cloth (strain all the juices from the flowers and lemon for best results). Measure your strained yield and 320g of sugar and the juice of half a large lemon for every pint of tea. Heat the liquid gently on a low simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the citric acid *this is optional and is added as a preservative to keep the cordial longer. Allow to cool a little and funnel into your glass bottles. Label and enjoy!
Time to Grow
Alas springtime is finally upon us and it’s 🌱 T I M E T O G R O W 🌱 Join us soon for a three-part blog post series dedicated to growing your own food, composting and the global epidemic that is food waste.
Whipped Body Butter
This home made Raw Body Butter is super easy to whip up and gorgeously rich. You can experiment with different oils and solids but keep in mind to maintain a 75% solid base with 25% oils.
2.25OZ Raw organic Cocoa butter
0.75OZ Beeswax (grated)
1OZ Coconut oil
A few pieces of lemon balm
A few drops of essential oil (I’ve used lavender)
Like melting chocolate in a tempered bowl over simmering water, melt the beeswax and cocoa butter until liquid. Note the melted weight and add the liquid oils in a 3:1 ratio. I’ve immersed lemon balm leaves in the melting mixture for fragrance.
During a cold winter, I made a similar moisturiser where it took much effort to combine the beeswax with the oils. Have patience and keep mixing until the oils bind together with the wax. Extract the leaves and remove the mixture from the heat. Add a few dashes of essential oil (it’s best not to over fragrance if you want to maintain the cocoa chocolate smell). Depending on the climate the mixture can set very quickly. It’s summer here now and I’ve had to freeze the liquid for 20 minuets to set. Remove the now solid paste and whisk with an electronic whisk. Voilà! This gorgeous fluffy body butter absorbs into your skin leaving it soft and nourished.
Atlantic Seaweed Focaccia Bread
Focaccia is an amazingly simple and fun oil based bread to bake. You can dress it with all sorts of toppings but seaweed is a favourite of ours with a rich and salty taste.
700g strong white flour
3/4 pint of water
1/8 pint of oil (I’ve used Donegal Irish rapeseed oil)
A few pieces of dried seaweed
2 sachets of quick acting yeast
25g of sugar
Pinch of salt
Soak just a few pieces of dried seaweed in water (they expand considerably when soaked). You could use any type of seaweed but I’ve used Sea Spaghetti from Wild Irish Seaweeds. Hang it to dry while you prepare your bread mix.
Combine the yeast and sugar. Add 1/8 pint of water, stir slowly and let sit for 5 minutes.
Mix the remaining water with the Donegal Irish rapeseed oil. When the yeast and sugar mix look frothy like a Guinness head add it to the water and oil and stir well.
Prepare your flour in a large bowl adding a pinch of salt and a handful of chopped seaweed. In three parts, add the liquid mix to the dry mix and work the ingredients into a dough ball with your hands.
Sieve flour onto a clean a worktop surface and knead the dough for approx. 5 minutes adding sieved flour if the dough ball is too sticky. The dough should be smooth in texture.
Transfer the dough to a clean bowl and seal it airtight with cling film and allow to proof. The dough ball should double in size.
When its risen spread it onto a large baking tin and prod finger shapes into the oval shaped surface. Drizzle with more oil and oven bake at 220 degrees for 20-30 minutes until golden in colour.
Spread, dip, dress it how you like and enjoy!
Rip and Repair Denim
What you need
Chunky cotton yarn
Wide eye needle
Fabric for patching
Cut a patch of fabric and pin it into place on either the reverse side or mount it directly over the busted area. Mark out your stitch design with chalk. Get creative and apply any stitch technique from stab stitch to cross stitch to chain stitch!
Sea Salt Face Scrubs
Replacing cosmetic body products with home made scrubs is easy but I still needed something lighter and more suitable for the face. The gorgeous lavender and walnut face scrub uses the same base ingredients as a body scrub but just in different proportions. The mixture is dryer and can be used once to twice a week. Apply a thumb nail size scoop to your dry face and gently rub using small circular movements. Rinse and pat dry- beautiful!
Lavender + Walnut
1½ Cup sea salt
¾ cup of oil (I’ve used Donegal Irish rapeseed oil)
A handful of freshly ground walnuts
A handful of dried lavender flowers
A dash of essential oil (I’ve used lavender oil to keep it in the family!)
In an electrical grinder, blitz the walnuts for a few seconds, avoid grinding them to a powder -they need to be gritty! If you don’t have a grinder just finely chop them or bash them up. Fill a glass jar with the sea salt, add the dry ingredients and mix.
Slowly add the oil, stirring gently. The mix should be slightly dry but sticky like a paste. If your mix is too runny just add more salt. Finish off with a few dashes of essential oil.
Sea Salt Body Scrubs
Making your own scrubs is another solution to consuming less cosmetic packaging. Using basic natural ingredients, It’s so unbelievably cheap and easy to make beautifully luxurious salt body scrubs. Why not make a batch and gift to friends and family?
Rosemary + Citrus
1 Cup sea salt
Half a cup of oil (I’ve used Donegal Irish rapeseed oil)
1 Freshly ground rosemary branch
Zest of one lemon
A dash of essential oil (I’ve used Olbas oil)
In an electrical grinder, blitz the rosemary branch (including the twig). If you don’t have a grinder just chop the branch using a sharp knife. Fill a glass jar with the cup of sea salt and add the blitzed rosemary, the jest of one lemon and mix.
Slowly add the oil, stirring gently. If your mix is too runny just add more salt. Finish off with a dash of your favourite essential oil.