Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ethical Shopping


It's normally around this time of year that I realise that Christmas is sneaking up on me. Now, 4 months away may seem like a long time. But experience has taught to leave shopping until December at my absolute peril. December is the month of school concerts, special assemblies, school trips, and last minute it's almost end of term playdates. December is when you can't get a car park at the plaza and the line in Target is 40 minutes long. Oh, and it's stinking hot  - just to make sure that waiting in the car and in endless queues is even more enjoyable.

Over the last three or four years I've started to think differently about Christmas shopping. The mass consumerism disturbs me a lot. Last year I went to the annual toy sale at a big department store and I saw people dragging two trolleys absolutely overflowing with toys up and down the aisles. They looked doped up on a shopping high. One man was blindly grabbing things off the shelves and hurling them in without so much as a thought. The greed and the MORE MORE MORE of that day turned me off big time.  I decided to cancel my layby and hand make almost all of my gifts. It took a lot of time to think of ideas, find materials in thrift stores (my goal was to recycle as much as I could), and then create my gifts. It would have been easier to buy things but nowhere near as satisfying.

So here we are again, at the tail end of August and it's time to start thinking about Christmas once more. This year my family and I are going camping in a National Park for a week, we're going to have portable solar showers, no fridge, no big Christmas lunch, and only a small amount of gifts. What we'll gain, I hope, is uninterrupted family time and connection. Time to talk. Time to tell the kids made up stories. Time to swim and make sand castles. Time to nap. We've already told the kids that there won't be many presents this year, and that we will be getting mostly 'family presents' for the camping trip.

The gifts I do buy, I want to buy consciously. I want to buy ethically produced, fair trade products, and things where I know a fair proportion of the money is going back to the people who need it. Websites like Oxfam and Kiva have online shops where you can donate on someone else's behalf. Oxfam has an online shop where you can donate money towards something tangible like a chicken, a water testing kit, or a fishing net. Or if you like to give something that can be unwrapped, they also have a store selling fair trade products like scarves, jewellery, musical instruments, and toys. I've already bought a few things from the Oxfam Shop that I'm squirreling away for Xmas. Here are some of the beautiful things you can find on the website:






Another one of my favourite websites is Ethikl. Ethikl sells "Eco friendly, organic, upcycled and fair trade products by independent designers and ethical producers". There's a huge range on their website, here's a teaser;



Where and how we spend our Christmas dollars is important. It's our shopping vote - I believe in this, I don't believe in that. My plan for this year is to have a simple, ethical Christmas. I hope you'll join me :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Home made Natural Cleaners

This week I've been experimenting with making my own natural cleaners. We've been using eco friendly cleaning products for about 8 years now, but this is the first time I've made my own. There are loads of recipes on the Internet for DIY cleaning products, here are a few that I like the most.

ALL PURPOSE SPRAY


Water
White vinegar
Eucalyptus oil
Tea Tree oil

Take a plastic spray bottle and fill it 2/3 with water. Some websites recommend distilled water but I've had no problems with normal tap water (you may want to look into the water quality in your own area). Fill up the other 1/3 with white vinegar. The cheap stuff is fine. Add 10 drops of each oil and give it a shake. You're done! It smells great and cleans really well too. I use this for my kitchen bench tops and my bathroom vanity and mirror. Eucalyptus oil is antibacterial and has a lovely fresh smell. Tea tree oil has antibacterial, antiviral, anti fungal and antiseptic properties.

ORANGE DEGREASER SPRAY

White vinegar
Orange peel

Every time you use an orange, don't discard the peel. Pop it into a jar and cover it with vinegar. Keep the jar for around 6 weeks and shake it regularly. What you'll be left with is a fragrant orange smelling spray that is an excellent degreaser for your oven and bench tops.

And now for a couple of projects I have lined up for next week, when hopefully this head cold will decide to leave me alone for good!

DIY LIQUID HAND SOAP

The Farmers Nest has a great recipe for making your own hand soap or 'soft soap'. I bought a lovely bar of goats milk soap especially for this and I can't wait to try it out.


You'll need a cheese grater (maybe best to buy a cheapie just for cleaning projects)
2 Tablespoons of glycerine (from supermarket, health store, or chemist)
1 bar of soap
1 gallon of water (about 3.75 litres)
1 big plastic bottle to put it in

Grate the bar of soap and add to the water in a big pot.
Add the glycerine and heat on medium until everything is dissolved. It will look like soapy water.
Leave for 10 - 12 hours.
The mix will harden, if it's a bit too hard you can whip it up using egg beaters.
Bottle it, label it, and give yourself a well deserved pat on the back.

* Dove soap or any soap with a lot of moisturiser will not work with this recipe. For more detailed info see The Farmers Nest.

DISH WASHING DETERGENT / LIQUID

1/2 C natural liquid soap (like the soap above you just made perhaps?)
1 Tablespoon of white vinegar
1 Tablespoon of grated soap
1/8 tsp tea tree oil or 1/4 tsp eucalyptus oil
1/2 very hot water

Place all ingredients in a bowl and pour the hot water over the top. Whisk together and leave to cool before bottling in a recycled dishwashing liquid bottle.

Do you have a favourite DIY cleaner recipe you'd like the share? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

DIY Not Peanut Butter


We have a four year old who used to have a peanut allergy and we're still wary of giving him peanut butter. I'm not a huge fan of peanut butter anyway because peanuts are so acidic and the state of the guts in our family is tenuous at the best of times. That leaves me with almond butter, or sunflower seed butter, and both are pretty expensive.

The other day I was doing the supermarket shop and as I approached the spreads aisle I had a thought. How hard can it be to make a nut or seed butter? Super easy as it turns out.

This morning I made a jar of almond and sunflower seed butter while I was making the kids their breakfast. It takes no time at all and the taste is amazing - nutty, sweet, salty and none of that gluggy oily taste. And have you ever read the ingredients on the back of a peanut butter jar? Some of the things you may find listed are: icing sugar, sugar, mono-diglycerides, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Making my own means I can use organic seeds and nuts if I choose to, for a fraction of the cost of a store bought organic spread. It also means I can control the amount of salt I use and I can keep it sugar free.

For this batch I used 200g of raw sunflower seeds and a handful of raw almonds with the skin on. When you're buying your nuts and seeds make sure they are unsalted, unroasted, and have no additives.

Place your nuts/seed mix on a tray and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius or until golden brown. You'll have to shake the tray every few minutes to stop them burning, and they do catch quite quickly.



Once they're nice and golden let them cool for a bit before blending them up. They'll turn to a powder first and then if you take it a step further the mix will start to form a paste as the oils in the nuts are released. I add a bit of oil to loosen it up, I like to use almond oil. Peanuts are naturally oily but almonds and seeds are less so, so I find it does need a bit of oil to turn it from a paste to a spread. I like mine a bit salty so I also add a small pinch of sea salt.



Once you're happy with the consistency and taste pop it into a jar and refrigerate. Yum!


I hope you'll give this one a try, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to make your own super yummy nut spread.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Morning






The children played with Lego for an entire day yesterday after setting themselves the challenge of using every last brick in the box. This Monday morning they were back at it as soon as they woke up. It's amazing to see them play so intensely with one toy for such a long time. I'm telling myself that our new kilim rug has helped in this department, surely having a soft and cosy spot to play helps to calm moods and aid in democratic relations?

This Monday morning I had my aptly named '7am muffins' in the oven just past, well, 7am. I can't get away from making these each and every school morning it seems, no matter how organised I am the night before. Thankfully they're quick to whip up.

This Monday morning I saw the placemats I ran up last night out of a vintage sheet in the harsh light of day, and realised they are a lot bumpier than they looked by candlelight last night. Oh well.

This Monday morning I continued to love our winter nature table, as sparse as it is. Ben made the Aboriginal bark painting at preschool and every time I walk past it I smile on the inside.

This Monday morning I saw the first blossoms on our magnolia tree uncurl and burst forth. I can't wait to see what this tree will look like in full bloom. Spring is on its way.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Home Goodness

I had a back to basics day yesterday. Benny and I went to a fruit and vegetable market, the co - op in Katoomba, and a butcher for our meat. I try to always shop this way but sometimes life gets in the way. Lately my groceries have been bought in a whirlwind tour of Coles late at night or in a rush after school pick up. Interestingly, whenever I stop buying my food from local suppliers my motivation to cook drops off dramatically. We've had more than a few baked beans-and-sausages dinners of late. Yesterday it was time to change that.

Shopping at a few different places takes all morning. Especially because my food co-operative is 30 kms away. Despite my best intentions it's not always going to be possible to shop like this, and I've come to realise that it's OK. My mothering motto has always been do the best that I can with what I have.  Some days I have lots of time and energy and patience. Other days I just don't.

Yesterday it wasn't a problem, Benny and I had no plans other than to shop and to cook so off we went up the mountain as soon as Jemima was safely aboard the school bus.

After a morning shopping we spent the afternoon cooking up a storm. Over the weekend J and I had a talk about the food he's eating at work and what we could do to make it healthier for him. Being gluten free he finds work lunches really hard work, and he often ends up eating a stack of Corn Thins (which are not a meal) or going without. Yesterday I made a couple of soups to help him out.

The first was a kale and bean soup that was really easy to make. In a stock pot I sauteed some leek in olive oil and a little butter until soft. Then I added a big bunch of washed and chopped kale. When it had wilted and the stalks were soft I poured in some chicken broth that I had in the freezer (just enough to cover) and two tins of drained cannelini beans. Simple, wintery, and nutritious.



My next soup was pea and ham made in the slow cooker. I rinsed around 2 cups of green split peas and added them to the slow cooker with three stalks of celery (chopped) and a ham hock from the butchers. Enough water was poured over the top to almost cover the ham hock and then it cooked on low throughout the day. I removed the ham and blended the soup and then added the ham meat (pulled from the bone) back in along with a good sized tablespoon of mustard.



The last thing I made was some rhubarb, grapefruit, and orange marmalade. We have a grapefruit tree at our house (of all the fruit trees to be blessed with, it had to be a grapefruit!) and at the moment it's bursting with big yellow balls. Oranges are cheap and a bunch of rhubarb was $2.00 yesterday at the market. I had 700g of fruit made up of 6 rhubarb stalks, 1 grapefruit, and 2 oranges. I used some peel from the grapefruit and oranges but not all because my kids don't really like chunky jams.



The fruit was cooked until soft with a little water before 550g of sugar was added. It took no time at all to reach setting point and I was done.


I have to say that I feel so much better after getting back on track with our food buying and prep.

Hope everyone is having a great day xx

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