Upping my Zero Waste game

market shopHello! Life is full of little obsessions.  Lately mine has absolutely been about reducing the amount of plastic coming into the house. I was inspired by the recent ABC Four Corners documentary on the failing recycling industry in Australia, particularly the recycled glass market, and the mass warehouse storage facilities filled with broken glass waiting to be recycled.  I also heard an alarming statistic the other day – in the first ten years of this century we have produced more plastic then we did in the ENTIRE LAST CENTURY. Finally the science is out on how long it takes for plastic to breakdown, but a known known is that it at least takes longer than our lifetime.  So every piece of plastic I buy/use, I am sending to landfill for my children’s lifetime and beyond. It really got me thinking about how complicit I am in all of this excessive plastic production.

The primary plastic culprit in our house is groceries. And I am the grocery shopper, so it is really up to me to lift my zero waste game.  My theory is if I reduce our supermarket intake (processed foods) , and increase my market intake (unprocessed and likely to be unpackaged, food) then we will reduce our plastic consumption.

In our early, pre-zero waste days I would say the ratio would be 3:1 in the supermarket’s favour, in terms of quantity.

A couple of years down the track, and this week when I went shopping, our ratios completely reversed.  It did not take long.  Every month or so, I look for some new alternatives.  For example, with a bit of research, I located a deli that sold cheese cut from cheese rounds (like a beautiful triple cream brie) as well as tasty cheese – that was not pre-wrapped in gladwrap. The deli just wrapped it up in paper and I bought it home and put it in a cheese cloth. I bought some fresh pasta in a stainless steel tin – they just “tared” my tin (put it on the scales and pressed reset so I did not pay for the weight of the tin).

I then went to an organic butcher and purchased my meat in old Tupperware-types of containers. I know this is still plastic, but I also don’t believe in throwing everything away if it still has a useful life  – it’s going to end up in landfill in any event. Finally for mince, I reused some cereal bags that my husband eats – great for mince and they will be washed and recycled at the REDrecycle facility at Coles.

And they beautiful thing about it all – my early retirement plans were not compromised. The entire food shop came under budget, and I bought all organic meat, including two chooks, a leg of lamb, lamb and chicken mince and chicken breasts.

Strangely when I cooked with some of the meat last night, I treated it differently.  Call it psychological but I found myself not just dumping the meat to brown (or stew, when I try to do things too quickly!) but cooking it in batches, looking for the browning meat and making sure not to overcook it. I put way more love and care into my food last night.

That could also coincide with the fact that I now have more time, as I am working two days a week but hey, it felt great.  I enjoyed every mouthful.

Zero food waste fridge set up

zucchini spiral dinner

The ABC’s War on Waste has got me supercharged about food waste.  According to the show, and NSW Government data, the average Australian household throws out 345 kilograms of food waste a year. If you think about that in dollar terms – assume an average of $5 per kilogram of food – that is $1725 a year! Let alone the cost to the environment of the food that ends up in landfill centres.

I have a natural aversion to food waste and like to get creative.  For example this week I was invited to my mother in law’s house for a beautiful roast leg of lamb.  She generously packed us off home with some leftovers “for sandwiches” (what a sweet).  Knowing that sandwiches were already made for the week, I made a middle eastern lamb “pizza” for dinner the next night, using the cooked lamb, peas, mint, fetta, hummus and a smidge of pomegranate molasses that I had in the cupboard, all on puff pastry. YUMMO.  Crunchy deliciousness and no food waste.

Despite my commitment, I felt like I was still finding food that was past its useful life up the back nether regions of my fridge and so I decided to take action. I needed a new system that would enable me to use my fridge like a well ordered machine that would tell me what foods I needed to consume  now or soon.  The obligatory before shots:

I reuse the plastic bags for vegs that I buy and wash in the mesh bags when I get home – this keeps the veg fresher for longer. Bit of a mish-mash of all sorts of things right there in the fridge as you can see.  There is food behind the front row too, because our fridge is quite deep.  And there is no recognisable system of organisation in the fridge door full of condiments etc.

So I planned the system.  Really I wanted my fridge to tell me what I needed to use today, this week or this month.  I wanted to know whether the condiments needed to be used in the next three months or would keep for longer. I wanted to be able to look into my fridge and decide what to shop around, for the next grocery shop.  What needed to be used up next?

A couple of containers from the dollar shop (Home Base in Australia), my labeller and voila. System complete (apologies for poor photo quality – fridge light interfered….):

 

For a little closer look at the labelling:

Have you got any other fridge food waste hacks that I could implement? Hope you are all well.

 

 

 

 

Book Review – A Year of Practiculture, Rohan Anderson

 

Book Review: A Year of Practiculture by Rohan Anderson

There is nothing like the passing of a close loved one to sharpen your focus on living a simple life.

My husband’s father passed two weeks ago and we are still coming to terms with it all.

At the same time, I’ve been doing some contract work and while the work is meaningful, it’s challenging and I don’t have the internal resources to do that job well and continue to live simply.

So – I’ll be finishing up work in six weeks before we head overseas and I’ll head into another stage of simple life re-evaluation. Life is too short. Loved ones need to be loved. Life is to be lived and not endured.

So as a little break from my low waste journey, I thought I’d review a book that makes me happy. A Year of Practiculture by Rohan Anderson is just that book. It’s so many things! It’s a:

  1. Biography of one man’s journey from office worker to self-sufficient simple lifer. It’s a great story of how you can prioritise your health and have a meaningful, nearly self-sufficient life.
  2. Funny book. It’s hilarious. If you have a teenage boy sense of humour like I do, you’ll be chuckling the whole way through this book.
  3. Recipe book. It’s got 100 no-fuss recipes from Rohan, his garden and things he hunts. AND THE RECIPES ARE DELICIOUS. Fancy some lamb-neck with summer broad beans anyone? It’s a wonderful seasonal recipe book that you can use as your garden produces fresh, bountiful crops.
  4. Practical how-to in the garden book, written especially for Australian conditions. I love the way he makes mistakes and records them so we can learn from them. Like investing too much of the garden bed in a crop that didn’t produce (corn) and the precise calculations you need to make when surviving off the land.

I have a major confession. I am only half way through the book. I made my kids buy it for me for Christmas, and I greedily started zooming through the pages, sneaking little moments to read a little bit more. But then I realised because this book gives me such pleasure, I will eek it out through the seasons. I read Spring; Summer has been read, recipes tried and now I will wait until Autumn to dive in again to my favourite book. In the meantime I might re-read Spring and Summer again. Thanks Rohan for producing amazing material and inspiring us to grow our own, and live a simple life.

Zero waste transition Part 1

 

I think Bea Johnson is absolutely inspirational and I watch her household video that I wrote about last year OVER and OVER and OVER AGAIN. I just want my house to look that that. Now.

But of course, Bea herself admits that it has been a massive journey to get to that amazing household destination.

Here’s how we have started.  And please note, I don’t receive any commissions on any product recommendations below.

Bea’s first point is to refuse anything that goes to landfill coming into the house. Sheesh. Big ask. No-one in my household, apart from my oldest teenage daughter was into it at all, so I decided to start with refusing things that were completely in my control.

My fortnightly grocery shopping.

I’m a big cook-from-scratch kind of girl, so I thought this part would be easy peasy. I found that it was not, and I had to spend some considerable time researching in my local area to find some answers.

Firstly – the only store that provides foods in bulk, that I know of, is our local Food Co-op. There’s a new store called Nude Food, but I am a loyal co-oper.  I like their values.

So to complete my Co-op shop I either take to the shop some of these:

Breathable fruit and veg bags

Images courtesy of www.Onya.com.au and www.thehospitalityshop.com.au

Or larger bags to carry produce in (bottom right hand corner).

I’ve been unable to source some calico bags for flour and sugar, but they are on my wish list. In the meantime, I take glass jars (top right hand corner) to purchase these products.

I purchased a whole heap of glass jars from cheapo shops, but have found that their closures aren’t as good as the good quality homewares shops, so as they break down, I am replacing them with good quality jars like the one shown.

The Food Co-op then weigh the size of the jar and deduct it from your purchase.

I find at the Co-op I can purchase my bread making flour in bulk, as well as most of my dry goods like other flours, sugar, cacoa, pulses and legumes, spices and definitely their delicious organic dark chocolate covered almonds……

Then I shop at either the local farmers market or our fresh food markets. Here again, I take my produce bags, shopping bags and glass Pyrex containers to get my meat in. I find the organic meat shops are more used to these type of random requests (like please don’t wrap my meat in plastic and paper – put in my glassware instead please). Buying meat this way is a heavy job – usually I do the fruit and veg shopping first, empty my trolley into the car and then go and do the meat shopping.

That way, I can put the meat straight into the freezer or the fridge without any plastic wrapping or Styrofoam bases.

When I purchase bread (my husband doesn’t like my sour dough, even though it gets rave reviews from others!!) I go to Bakers Delight, ask them to cut up my bread and put it straight into my shopping bag. I’ve had to educate a couple of people on why I am doing it (saving the planet one plastic bag at a time) but now they joke that I am the crazy bag lady and it’s a bit of a novelty for them.

Once I come home from the fresh food shop, I do spend half an hour to an hour cutting up vegetables and making sure they are stored in glass containers in the fridge. You can’t store your veggies in the Onya bags because the bags are breathable and they go all limp….

Finally, last but least I do any other product shopping at Aldi or Woolworths. I look for recyclable packaging. Eg do you know that Aldi pasta packaging is recyclable? I finally put all of my shopping away in their containers, empty out any packets or packaging that I have begrudgingly had to purchase.

As I go around, putting my shopping away, I leave out any plastic, unrecyclable packaging that is going straight to landfill and I put it on a list to explore next time. The next time I go shopping, I look for alternatives, one product at a time, to reduce the overwhelming feeling of trying to zero waste everything at once.

zero waste list

I’m still looking for a gummy bears solution… my husband eats four packets a week…..

Anyway I hope you and your loved ones had a great Christmas break and New Year. My posting schedule will be fortnightly again this year (although I want to sneak in a review of this most beautiful book that I have been relishing over summer next week….). I look forward to hearing from you if you have any zero waste challenges or tips for me.

Root to stalk, suburbia style

IMG_3031

One of the amazing things I am learning as I reap the benefits of my slow growing brassicas and beetroot is that the winter/early spring crop can provide a family like mine an abundance of greens for dinner. I’m almost at an over-supply moment where I am going to have to start blanching and freezing. How exciting.

I’ve learned to cut off the broccoli head and to keep harvesting as smaller off shoots present themselves. This alone is keeping our family of seven every second week well feed. My cauliflower is now being harvested and eaten as well.

But the true gem of the garden, to provide sustenance during the lean late winter/early spring months is all wrapped up in amazing little book called Root to Stalk cooking by Tara Duggan.

I did know about cutting off the outside of broccoli stalks and slicing the inner stalk thinly for a stir fry, but my mind was completely blown when I realised that not only could I utilise the broccoli or beetroot in my suburban paradise, but I could also utilise their leaves. Kaboom. World blown.

Just like the snout to tail philosophy, much more of the vegetables grown organically in the suburban back yard can be eaten, providing essential nourishment.

So now, as I see the tender little leaves of broccoli and cauliflower growing, I harvest them, wash and slice finely for stir-fries. Beetroot leaves are harvest also and used for salads or stir-fries.

My brussel spout plant heads are also harvested (as well as the brussel sprouts of course !)

And my garden has become so much more interesting as a result, as I learn about the parts of the garden that I can harvest for nutritional value) and feed my family. It doesn’t get any better than that.

My sour dough education – still in primary school….

sourdough mark 2 soughdough loaf

Right so I might have underestimated the task and the science behind making sour dough……

Things I have learned as I am finally getting bubbles into my bread (as opposed to dense bricks of flour):

  1. The starter, which should be renamed the slower takes some time to mature.  My early bubbles within the first few days were not the required bacteria and natural yeast to leaven fairy floss. The starter is now three weeks old, smells like a cross between rotting fruit and nail polish remover and is bubbly in the mornings.
  2. Bubbles are your friend.  Because bubbles are your friend (to offset loaf density) your dough needs two periods to rise.  Today, for the second rise, I left mine out in full lounge room sun in the morning and when I got home it was filled with wonderful bubbles. Because of the long periods required to rise, the bread maker just does not cut it.  Bake and rise settings are too short in a machine.
  3. The way you knead counts.  You need to stretch and fold (as opposed to just getting your biceps into it without any precision).  The gluten needs to stretch.
  4. Even though I want to make a rye sour dough, I am not yet enough of a sour dough aficionado. I need to use the lightest possible bread flour with the most amount of gluten to get these babies to rise. Denser flours – you’ll have to wait.
  5. A pan with water also in the fridge provides sufficient moisture in the oven.
  6. The oven needs to be super hot (I crank ours up to the max of 250 degrees centigrade).
  7. Finally – I need to oil the pan a little bit more.  Today – pan remnants, scraped off, slathered with butter received some teenage daughter squeals of “give me more” but my bread today had no bottom (still stuck to the bottom of my loaf tin…….).

So in the interests of not curating a perfect life in a blog – here is today’s improved loaf. Still not high enough, still not enough bubbles, still a little bit moist in the middle – and stuck to the pan – but it’s improving. I am so excited. I am definitely the type of person who starts exciting things and leaves the finishing to others. I am persevering. I WILL learn to be a sour dough expert. I can’t wait to share my (perfected) Canberra north side suburban sour dough starter to someone else, to engender a love of making bread at home.