Thursday, 6 December 2012

Advent, a Season of Preparation

How are you preparing for Christmas this year?  Something I read on Gai's blog made me wonder what different people find essential for Christmas.

Is it about lots of material goods like presents and food or about a state of mind and being able to spend time with your nearest and dearest? If you are feeling full of joy and good cheer towards your fellow human beings do you need much more to make Christmas special. If you feel no reason to be joyful or to grateful can anything conjure up that special Christmas feeling for you?

If turkey and sprouts and being given presents is what Christmas is all about for you, that's fine, and I hope you have all that you are wishing for.

If you struggle to find any meaning in Christmas it may be because you aren't a Christian and see no place for it in your culture, but otherwise if you feel Christmas has lost its sparkle for you, try thinking about all the things you have, rather than all the things you don't have and see if that helps. If you are in seriously dire straits I do hope your friends, family and neighbours will realise your need and give you many reasons to be grateful and cheerful.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Are Wood Burning Stoves the Answer?

There is a lively debate within my local Greening group about the merits of wood as fuel. I have heard convincing arguments on both sides and am not entirely sure where I stand, but I certainly have my reservations.

I have heard wood fuel talked of as if it is the ideal sustainable fuel and also as helpful in reducing our carbon emissions.Yet, when you burn wood it does release carbon dioxide.

If you plant one tree in the place of each tree you burn, it will in time absorb an equivalent amount of carbon, but it will need time to grow. A well managed woodland with trees at many stages of development will get round this problem to some extent. This is because if the woodland is managed well you won't chop down a large wooded area all at once and then replant it, so that there are a number of years before the same amount of carbon is being absorbed as there was by the trees you originally chopped down. However, if you chop just one tree down, it will still take time for a new tree planted in its place to reach the same size.

So, it seems to me that there is a reduction in the amount of carbon absorbed and an increase in the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere whenever a tree is cut down and burnt, even if it is only for a short while. Planting new trees in the place of each one felled merely limits the shortfall in carbon absorption, but does not stop it entirely.
Ash tree
Nationally we have recently learned that it is important to only plant locally grown saplings grown from native tree seeds, yet the more we need to replant I suspect the temptation is greater to import saplings from abroad especially when they are being sold at a cheaper price than native trees.

You may wonder if you can argue with a woodland being 'well-managed', but what this seems to mean is a way to make a woodland profitable while ensuring that enough of it remains to allow most of the wildlife that inhabits it to survive. However, there is also merit in an unmanaged woodland where trees have fallen down due to old age or the effects of strong winds and have been left to rot and so become a habitat for mosses, lichens and all manner of insect life, which in turn will feed many birds and other animals.

We must remember that a woodland is not just a collection of trees, but also a complex habitat for numerous and diverse plant-life and creatures great and small. The longer the woodland has been undisturbed the greater the biodiversity.

If you like the idea of living as naturally as possible or think our ancestors ways were often better than the way we live today this does not necessarily mean that wood fires are a good idea in modern Britain.

If a few people burn branches that have fallen from trees in their local woods along with the occasional tree that has fallen down in high winds, this will release a minimal overall amount of carbon dioxide into the air, the CO2 emitted during transport will also be minimal and the woodland will have suffered minimal damage, but the more people do even this and we shall increase the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

If we need to transport the wood even a few miles the C02 emissions are likely to rise substantially. The more people who wish to use wood the more damage will be done to the woodlands as there will not be enough fallen wood to cope with demand. Coppicing is one way to ensure large trees are not felled, but a coppiced tree produces spindly growth to begin with, so will still have less capacity to absorb and store carbon than it did before it was coppiced.

If you want to burn wood, do make sure it comes from a sustainable source, as locally as possible, but I can't see this being the answer to our fuel problems as a nation.

Once upon a time Britain was covered in forests and woodlands, but even in the Iron Age large scale felling started to reduce our woodlands substantially. Under Henry VIII a large boat-building programme helped to hasten the progress and all the while wood had been used to build houses, churches, cathedrals, barns and stables etc. Come the industrial revolution and even more wood was needed to create charcoal for the greedy furnaces. Even the great Caledonian Forest is a shadow of its former self. Surrey is the most wooded counties in England, but it cannot even supply all its residents if they all wanted to feed wood burning stoves - thankfully not everyone can or wants to do so.

If Britain does have wood to burn it might be more efficient to burn it in a power station rather than in individual wood burning stoves and then everyone could benefit. Although I won't deny there's nothing so cosy as a roaring fire in the grate on a cold day if you are lucky enough to have a fireplace and chimney. Perhaps this would be best as an occasional treat, however?

Now I don't pretend to be an expert on these matters and they do say a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, so if you are an expert or can point me in the direction of articles written by experts I would be very interested to hear your views. If you are not an expert I should still be interested in what you think about all this.

This is an article by the Carbon Trust advising how carbon savings can be made by using biomass as opposed to conventional fuels.

There is a diagram on page 2 entitled 'Biomass and the Carbon Cycle'. It makes the point that because new trees are planted to absorb some of the carbon dioxide released into the air by burning wood, it is better than burning coal or oil, which cannot be replaced like trees.

I've also found something about wood fuel on the Permaculture UK Forum. Permaculture is about living as sustainably as possible.  While one contributor called JohnB acknowledges it can be a sustainable source of fuel for some people he suggests that individuals consider their own circumstances and needs in order to decide on the best fuel sources and that other measures such as insulation and dressing warmly in cold weather are also important.

My suspicions are that for most people insulation and choosing more sustainable forms of electricity and gas could be the way forward. However, I await an overwhelming argument in favour of wood fuel to convince me otherwise.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Some Thoughts on Buy Nothing Day

I think it's a great idea to take a break from shopping now and again. If it fits in with your lifestyle it's best to buy fresh fruit and vegetables little and often, but most of us get carried away around the supermarket now and again as we succumb to a special offer on something we don't really need or only needed one of, not six. Old fashioned list writing can help there, as can shopping in small independent shops, but not everyone has decent small independent shops near by.

However, I'm not sure how helpful it is to have National Buy Nothing Day in Britain at the end of November when many people will be trying to get their Christmas shopping done to beat the mad December rush. There are also a lot of Craft Fairs and Christmas Markets around where we could well buy something unique, or at least a bit out of the ordinary, made by a local craftsman or woman that someone we love would really appreciate as a Christmas present.

Personally I would encourage you to treat tomorrow as an encouragement to think more carefully before you buy, to consider if you really need that 'bargain', can you eat all 3 packets before the sell by date without ruining your waistline or consuming a very unbalanced diet for the next week or so? Let it be the day you think carefully whether Aunt Flo really would like that attractive item on the craft stall that when you think about it will probably just add to the clutter in her house and has no real use.

Do make a resolution to buy nothing once a month or once a week and enjoy doing something completely different, like taking a short walk in your lunch break and taking in your surroundings.

Do take a few days off from shopping after Christmas and resist the urge to treat the after Christmas sales as an entertainment. Use the extra time to play board games with the family or go for a walk or something else that enhances your life and relationships, but if it's not helpful for you to buy nothing tomorrow, don't feel guilty about it at all.

By all means spend more time enjoying the things that are free in life, and often more life-enhancing. What could you do if you spent less time shopping?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Someone Remarkable and Something Unbelievable

It seems like time for another post, so what should I write about?  Shall I tell you how much we enjoyed the two DVDs I got out from the library? We watched 'The Artist' on Saturday night and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was very relaxing watching something without the usual noise of background music and the talking and the story-line held our interest. I even enjoyed watching the little dog and all his tricks even though I'm not a great fan of domestic pets. I was less amused by the dog being allowed to sit on the breakfast table, cute as it was.

Sunday we watched the equally good but less amusing film, 'The Lady'.  Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a truly remarkable woman, but this also tells the story of the sacrifices made by her children and her husband.

On the other hand, I've just heard that the government have decided to stop the imminent badger cull from going ahead. I'm very pleased for the badgers, but I wonder why the members of the government keep announcing policies only to have to say they've changed their minds a bit later when they realise just what a bad idea it all was after having been made aware of the full facts.  Why can't this government check the facts properly before announcing their policies? Are they really fit to run the country? How much money are they wasting as a result of their unbelievable haste and ineptitude?

Getting back to the badgers, or more crucially still, TB in cattle, wouldn't it be better to vaccinate the cattle and/or the badgers and to make sure the cattle are given plenty of space and fresh air as well as a nutritious diet. When we had high levels of TB in the human population we didn't shoot anyone who was deemed to be a carrier. No, the combination of vaccinating children and, over time, better nutrition and housing conditions for the majority of people all but eradicated the disease. Have we learned no lessons from the past? The Farmers' Guardian admits that "[cattle] with a low nutritional plane, mineral deficiency or a compromised immune system are more likely to get TB."

Thursday, 11 October 2012

International Day of the Girl

Apparently today is the United Nations International Day of the Girl. It's purpose is to highlight, celebrate, discuss, and advance girls lives and opportunities across the globe and "to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”

The cowardly shooting of 14 year-old Malala Yousafzai by Taliban gunmen only two days ago highlights the plight of many girls around the world who cannot go to school and are abused by men who seek to control and dominate them.

By 2015, women are expected to make up 64% of adults in the world who are unable to read.

Only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary school. In America the dropout rate is worse for boys but one in four girls does not finish high school and the dropout rate is even higher for minorities. I wonder what the situation is in the UK.

One in seven girls in developing countries is married off before age 15. In the US more than half (54%) of all rapes of females happen before age 18.

The reporting on the case of Jimmy Savile shows us that there is still room for improvement in the way women and girls are treated here in the UK.

One in 5 high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. Worldwide children as young as age 11 are forced to work as prostitutes. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year.

More than half (54%) of 3rd-5th grade girls worry about their appearance and 37% worry about their weight. More than half (57%) of music videos feature a female portrayed exclusively as a decorative, sexual object.

Find out more by visiting the website.

Watch out this evening for the London Eye turning pink, around 10 pm I think, to mark the occasion.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Petition for Dairy Farmers

With regard to Friday's post on the price of milk, there is a petition on the direct gov e-petition website, which I think is a bit vague:

Dairy farmers must be paid more for their milk 

Responsible department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The UK Government must do more to protect the interests of British dairy farmers. The low price of milk is forcing extremely hard working farming families in to poverty and increasing the dependence on antibiotics used with animals that will have a devastating affect on the industry. If the price of milk is not increased soon then the UK will suffer a shortage of supply and thus pay more in the long-term.

If, like me, you agree with the sentiment, as it's better than nothing, you might want to sign it here.

I have updated the original post I made on Friday, so do have another look if you haven't read it since Saturday.

If I get responses to my more recent e-mails I'll write a new post.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Fair Price for Dairy Farmers

I don't know if you heard about the unhappy dairy farmers on the news this morning.

Dairycrest, among others, is planning to cut the price they are paying the farmers for their milk. Robert Wiseman is another of the dairies announcing cuts. I believe Asda and Morrisons were mentioned as supermarkets not paying a fair price to dairy farmers.

(Co-op are supplied by Robert Wiseman dairy, who have dropped the price they pay, but Co-op say they've upped their premium per litre to compensate. I'm still finding what price per litre the farmers actually get.)

For small farmers this could be a disaster, shaving £10,000 or £20,000 pounds off an already tight budget, yet for most of us it would only mean the difference of a few pence a week if we drink a pint a day, a bit more if we use more.

The National Farmers Union says it costs more than 30p a litre to produce milk, and of course processors and retailers will be adding their cut, so cheap milk means dairy farmers are being short-changed. It seems milk is expensive to produce, but we don't value it highly enough.

Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose were all said to be paying dairy farmers a reasonable price for their milk.

This article is from the Grocer magazine yesterday and this one is from the Guardian.

The Farmers' Weekly have also written a report of this story.

This article from April  refers to an earlier cut in price and farmers' response.

So I would like to urge you to write a similar e-mail or letter to whoever supplies your milk to the one I have written to Dairycrest (see below) if they are not paying dairy farmers a fair price or are planning to cut what they pay, and to buy your milk from Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco or Waitros, or even better, a local farm.

I thought it was a good idea to support my local milkman and I like having my milk in glass bottles, but I will be changing my milk-buying habits at the beginning of August if I am not convinced that the money I pay Dairycrest for the milk they deliver to me represents a fair price to the farmers who produce it.

My e-mail to Dairycrest:

Dear Dairycrest,

I have a regular delivery of milk from one of your milkmen and have been very happy with the service, however I was appalled to hear on the news this morning that you plan to pay two pence a litre less for milk, the second cut in less than six months.

I believe that dairy farmers should be paid a fair price and am happy to pay more for my milk if the extra money goes to hard-pressed dairy farmers.

I do not want to see more mega dairies. I believe it is important to support the smaller-scale dairy farmers we already have for the sake of the environment, which in turn effects our own well-being, as well as for the sake of common decency: I believe people should be put before excessive profits.

If you have not changed your mind about this cut in price by the end of the month I shall be buying my milk from other, more responsible suppliers. I refuse to collude with you in your careless disregard of the well-being of dairy farmers.

Yours . . . .


To their credit Dairycrest have responded very promptly:

Good Morning **********

Thank you for contacting us to express your concerns.

Dairy Crest is the UK’s leading chilled dairy foods company and, as such, we use over 2 billion litres of raw milk every year.  We grew out of the Milk Marketing Board whose membership consisted of farmers and we are proud of this dairy heritage and our links to the countryside.  We aim to pay fair, market-related milk prices and when we can pay a premium we do so.

In Devon and Cornwall, for instance, suppliers to our Davidstow creamery (where Cathedral City and Davidstow cheeses are made) receive a price premium.  We also operate “milk pools” - groups of farmers who supply some of the major supermarkets.

After a strong year for milk prices in 2011, we were very disappointed to have to reduce the price we pay our farmers.  We delayed this decision for as long as we could. We know that milk production costs remain high and that this will be a blow to those of our farmers who are affected. However, the market pressure on our business has left us no alternative.

We certainly haven’t taken this decision lightly and have considered all other options. We have undertaken a thorough review of our selling prices and our customer base and we have also cut our own costs.  The tough decision to consider closing two of our dairies as well as making reductions in depot and head office jobs demonstrates this. We are extremely proud to be a British company buying British milk from high quality, professional dairy farms.

Kind Regards
Wendy Cruickshanks
Dairy Crest Consumer Careline Advisor

Here is the recent news that the milk plant in Aintree is to close.

Looks like those of us buying milk from low paying  retailers might not be able to buy milk from 1st August if they don't up their prices!  See here Farmers for Action website

Milk production in this country seems to be really struggling at the moment.  Is this down to competition from cheap imports? If this is a factor, is it the only one?   As a nation are we consuming less milk and dairy products?  Are there other reasons?  What can be done about it?

I would like to find out.  I've written back to Dairycrest with more questions and I've written to my MP,  Jeremy Hunt.  I await their responses.

Do you have any ideas about the cause of the problem and/or the solution?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Today is World Environment Day

Apparently today is the United Nations Environment Programme World Environment Day.

This year's theme is Green Economy: Does it include you?

On the website a Green Economy is defined as one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to be catalysed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes.

In what way are you contributing to the Green Economy?  Find out more about World Environment Day (WED) here.

I was investing in local biodiversity this morning by cutting some areas of grass with the garden shears to avoid cutting down some wild flowers before they had finished flowering.  I also planted a few more flowers to provide nectar and pollen for insects that feed on those.  In the end I came indoors because the rain had become heavier and I was getting wetter.

I'm not sure how else I am contributing to the green economy, but the website looks interesting.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The High Price of Materialism

I've just been watching this video on No Impact Man's blog. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you take a look.


Monday, 23 April 2012

Can We Save Our Bees?

The way we tend the plants in our gardens and the way our food is grown has a huge impact on the world around us, either for good or for ill.

Having learnt that some slug pellets were bad for the birds that might eat slugs and snails that had consumed the pellets I now use only Growing Success pellets, and sparingly.  I find copper rings can be just as useful in keeping my plants from being chewed (or should that be sucked?) by molluscs and a recent experiment with coffee grounds resulted in several dead snails.

I also try to buy organic food as I know many of the chemicals used by other farmers and growers can be damaging to wildlife.

One of the most concerning agrochemicals are neonicotinoid pesticides, which are a group of insecticides based on nicotine that include 'imidacloprid', 'clothianidin', 'thiamethoxam' and 'fipronil'. They have been designed to attack an insect's central nervous system, causing paralysis and eventually death when high levels overstimulate and block the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, or nAChR. They have been made to destroy insects which damage crops such as vine weevils, aphids, whitefly, Colorado potato beetle and termites. These chemicals cause paralysis and death in the target insects, which damage crops, but also harm other, beneficial insects such as bees and can interfere with their navigation systems and impairing their ability to groom themselves.

The other evening we watched the BBC 4 programme 'Who Killed the Honey Bee?', which someone had a recording of. It was looking at sudden colony collapse, which leaves bee hives almost empty of bees for no apparent reason, and the possibility that they could not find their way home was raised as a likely reason for this phenomenon.

It has been shown that bees which groom themselves more are more likely to survive attacks by the verroa mite, so if chemicals are reducing their ability to do this, then that could be a contributory factor to the number of bees dying due to infestations of the verroa mite.

Bees are also under stress due to climate change and the diminishing numbers of wildflowers available to them as food sources due to modern farming practices.

Early bumblebee
While people worry more about the loss of honey bees for commercial reasons, all of our approximately 250 species of bee must be under threat if these chemicals are damaging to bees, and bees of all kinds are vital to pollinate the crops we depend on for our health and strength. In fact the red mason bee is a more efficient pollinator of fruit crops than the honeybee. As Friends of the Earth tell us, "bees pollinate 75% of our most vital crops and favourite foods. Without bees and other insects we'd also have 20% less vitamin C, 41% less vitamin A and 9% less calcium". Once again we see that mindless damage to the environment and other creatures has a knock on effect on ourselves.

If you want to find out more about neonicitinoids, Bee Strawbridge has written an informative article.

A recent article in the Guardian reported the results of tests carried out by the Universities of Stirling and Avignon of the effects certain pesticides can have on bees, which backs up suggestions that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees.  Similar reports appeared in other newspapers. Yet the authorities seem to continue to think there is no need to worry.

Launching their new Bee Cause Campaign recently FoE also tell us that
"Without bees it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate our crops.
That's more than it costs farmers to produce all the milk consumed in the UK every year. "
"Bees are essential to our gardens, parks and countryside.
Bees and other insects help pollinate over 75% of our plants, which in turn are vital to our insects, birds and animals. "
Friends of the Earth's Bee Cause Campaign suggests several ways you can help improve the situation for bees and other beneficial insects from sending David Cameron an e-mail to planting more bee-friendly flowers in your garden.

I hope you will feel able to support the Bee Cause or do something to help the bees in your vicinity.  I have written about bee-friendly flowers recently here and here, if you want some ideas on what to plant to help feed the bees in your area.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Any Man's Death Diminishes Me

I was listening to Sam Roskams, a member of the Bahá’í Faith, on Good Morning Sunday this morning. I liked his ideas about the unity of the human race and that all religions are equally valid, but speaking to different times and places.  The fact that so many people still find the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, the sacred texts of Buddhists, Hindus and other faiths show that they have something to say to us today, although we need to be careful to separate the universal truths from ideas that were tied to a particular time and culture when people might not have understood some things as well as we do today. However, the ancients who first articulated many of the ideas found in these texts were very wise in some matters, wiser than many of us are today, and we should not dismiss everything they say.

Aled Jones, the presenter of Good Morning Sunday also had a Tibetan Buddhist, His Holiness The Gwalwang Drukpa, on his programme this morning. I was interested in hearing that his response to the vast amount of rubbish that is thrown away mindlessly was to organise his monks and nuns to participate on a Padyatra, or giant meditative litter pick cum pilgrimage lasting several weeks.

This all ties in beautifully with a line from "An Inspector Calls", the play by J. B. Priestley, which was on Radio 4 yesterday afternoon, in which Inspector Goole reminds the Birling family that their actions have consequences and that we are all more responsible for other people than we might think.

"An Inspector Calls" is about a girl whose life has become so wretched and desperate that she takes her life.  We learn that the father of the family had sacked a girl who may well have been her for asking for a pay rise, showing that employers who don't pay their workers enough to live on must take responsibility for the consequences their actions can have on their employees or ex-employees and the rest of society.

The daughter's and the mother's judgemental attitudes have also had serious repercussions and the son of the family and the daughter's fiancé have both had a role to play in the girl's downfall as they had both used her for their own sexual gratification.

Today more than ever John Donne's words, 'No man is an island' hold true:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 
Today we also know that even simple choices about the food and clothes we buy can be a matter of life and death for people on the other side of the world and using more than our fair share of the world's resources means someone somewhere in the world has to do without as a result. We also need to be aware of how much carbon dioxide our activities create as we learn that this substance we cannot see could well be responsible for droughts, severe storms and other drastic changes in the climate in other parts of the world. Speaking hatefully or even disrespectfully about a person who has a different faith from our own or whose race or sexual orientation is different from ours can also have devastating consequences that we might not have intended or foreseen. We all need to think more before we speak as well as before we act.

We could all benefit from practising mindfulness on a daily basis, considering the consequences of our actions and finding better ways to do things so that we might harm this planet and the people on it less than we do at present and learn to be more compassionate and considerate as the major world faiths teach.

I shall leave you with the words of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa

“Unless the minds of the people change and all of us learn to improve our inner being and understanding, a few of us will keep cleaning the environment and it will never be clean. A lot of education and activities need to be done not only by us but by everyone in this world so that we all can contribute to make this world better, greener and happier.”

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Fairtrade Fortnight

Fairtrade Fortnight will soon be upon us, so here is a brief introduction to the concept of Fairtrade for those who are unsure what it's all about.

How we live and how we choose to shop and do business has an affect on how producers in so-called 'developing countries' are able to live and whether they are able to make basic choices to improve their own future and their children's future.

Fairtrade is a guarantee of a fair price and decent working conditions for those people in less economically developed countries who produce food and other products people like us in the wealthy West to buy.

Although we may not realise it, many of the everyday things, such as cotton, rice, tea, coffee and chocolate, are produced by people who are not being paid enough to live on for their long hours of work and who can be working in dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

If you aren't convinced that Fairtrade is necessary read this or some of the producer stories here.

Fairtrade initiatives aim to stop this. Through selective buying, you can ensure that the producers at the bottom of the supply chain, such as poor farmers, get a fairer share of the money you spend on their goods.

All the major supermarkets stock Fairtrade products these days, as do many small shops. Some cafes and restaurants use Fairtrade produce, too. This will give you an idea of the wide range of Fairtrade products available in the shops.

There will soon be lots of offers on Fairtrade products for Fairtrade Fortnight.

Look out for this logo when you next go shopping.

You can find out more about what the logo means here

Fairtrade fights poverty through trade.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

This is a lovely, rich and warming soup for Autumn and Winter.

We had a similar soup some years ago at a family celebration, but I didn't get the recipe and it took me a few years to manage to make a similarly pleasing soup.

Butternut and other squashes are in season at this time of year and we sometimes get one in our veg box, in which case I make this soup, which has become one of our favourites.

  • First of all I roast a medium butternut squash, cut in half lengthways, and probably crossways, too, so that it will fit in my dish.  I drizzle it with olive oil and put it in an fan-assisted oven set to 180°C for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbling.  
  • While it is in the oven you can be frying a sliced medium onion and a few cloves of garlic in a large saucepan.
  • Once the squash is well-cooked, scoop out and remove the seeds, then discard the skin, adding just the flesh to the saucepan . Pour in about half a pint of water and simmer for a few minutes to make sure everything is soft.
  • Next puree the mixture with a hand blender. 
  • Then add a small can of coconut cream, a tablespoon of garam masala and a tablespoon of stock powder.

You want the soup to be fairly thick, but if it is more like thick porridge, add a bit more water, stirring well, until it has the right consistency. Heat it through well before serving with a crusty roll or a piece of naan bread.  You could garnish with a few coriander leaves if desired.

Today I made about 7 ladles full, so it depends how big your appetites are, but I would say that was just right for 3 hungry people for lunch. However, it could serve 6 as a starter.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Steps in Reducing Waste (1)

One idea behind this blog is that changes need to be made gradually. Human beings, especially busy 21st century human beings cannot cope with too much change all at once, indeed we tend to find big changes in our lives very stressful.

However, all the signs suggest that most of us need to make quite a few changes in our lives if we aren't going to destroy our environments, run out of natural resources and upset the climate, making many parts of the world uninhabitable. So, the best way to do this, I think, is by making one smallish change and then another, when we've got over the shock of the last one. Otherwise we make wake up one day to find we have suddenly got to change the way we live in many ways, all at once.

Reducing the amount of waste we create is a step in the right direction for all of us.  If we think about how much we really need an item and how long it's likely to last we shall stop filling our homes with impulse buys that are not as essential as the advertising blurb convinced us it was.  This will help us avoid clutter and mean that we are not mindlessly consuming rare resources.  It will also mean we have less cheap, broken, 'five minute wonder' gadgets to consign to the dustbin.

Cutting back on excess packaging is another way to keep precious resources out of our dustbins.  Even if packaging is recyclable, water and energy are still used to recycle the materials, and things like plastic and paper degrade each time they are recycled, so they cannot be used forever.

Karen Cannard is now on week 4 of her Rubbish Diet, but if, like me, you like to take things more slowly, you might want to look at her tips for reducing the amount of rubbish you bring into your house and put into your bin, sending it on its way to landfill, which she gave for week 2.  I find one or two changes a month is enough for me and the people I live with.

I've found that buying fruit an veg from a veg box scheme that uses minimal packaging, such as Riverford, has helped me have a lot less packaging for my bin or for recycling.

A lot of dried goods, such as fruit and nuts, pulses and cereals such as oats and rice have to be packaged. Oats I can buy in a paper bag, but the rest I try to buy from Suma as their packaging states clearly that it is recyclable. Since our wonderful little health food closed down I've found the Ethical Superstore is the best place for me to buy Suma products at present.

If plastic bag style packaging doesn't indicate whether or not it can be recyclable then this tip from Karen Cannard should be helpful,
 "any packaging film that's not labelled, will mostly be polythene (where you can push your thumb into the film and stretch it) or polypropylene (which makes a crinkly sound when you squeeze it). The polythene film is the type that can go in with carrier bags."

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Why Contentment is Better than Entitlement

Be thankful for what you’ve got

Is there something wrong with me that I wouldn't feel comfortable accepting an annual income of one million pounds or more, or even anything approaching that?  Do I just not have enough self-esteem to think I am worth it?

Or could it be that we should view people who accept such inflated salaries as having the problem?  How can anyone reasonably justify being paid so much when  others are paid so little?

Stephen Hester was being interviewed on the Today Programme this morning and did not show any sign of believing that neither he nor anyone else is worth a million pounds in payment a year, never mind several millions more in bonuses.  Rather he seemed more interested in emphasising how important banking is for the economy.

Sadly Stephen Hester is not alone in believing he is worth millions of pounds a year. Why can this man not see the inequity of his situation?  Perhaps he gives a great deal of money to charity to help those less well off than himself, but we haven't heard that he does.

What do people like this spend their money on?  Why can they not be content with a comfortable home and the trappings of a comfortable life, which can be obtained for substantially less than one million pounds a year?  What drives them to require more than they really need?  Isn't this a form of greed, a form of unsatisfied hunger perhaps because they are so insecure they can never have enough put by for a rainy day, or because they are the ones with low self-esteem, so low that however high they rise up the ladder and however much they are paid they never feel it is enough?

Are not people who appear to have an insatiable craving for high position, power and wealth as much in need of psychiatric help as those who despair of ever finding a job and have learnt to survive on the scraps society throws them in the form of benefits? Or is their moral compass so disturbed that they are unable to see the enormous inequity of their situation?  Should we feel sorry for them and send them for counselling or are they criminals who should be sent to gaol?  What is the generous attitude to such a lack of generosity?

This cartoon seemed apposite

Surely the 21st century is the time to stop reinforcing immoral Victorian values such as the large gap between the poor and the wealthy and making our country much more equal at last. Victorian values were generally not that great and should be outmoded by now.

Let us not be ruled by the modern barons of banking and big business with their threats that undermining their power will damage our economy.  Let us stand our ground and see just what will happen if the businesses with high turnovers are forced to pay a fair level of tax and big bosses of all kinds are only paid up to 10 times more the hourly rate their cleaners and other low paid employees are paid. Some may leave, but not all and perhaps not most. Our economy needs to find its proper level.

We need to address the pay of the lowest paid who do not earn a living wage.  In some cases this enables you and me to buy cheaper goods but they are not really so cheap as we must also pay these people housing benefit etc out of our taxes. Taxpayers should not be subsidising stingy employers or tight-fisted customers and besides if someone works full time and to the best of their ability they should be afforded the dignity of no longer needing state handouts.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Meanwhile in the garden . . .

Life remains busy, but I have managed a few posts about our garden recently, partly because I don't need to think about them so much, I can just say a few words about the pictures, and partly because a new planting season is approaching and in some cases is already upon us. I'm also excited about Anna and Bella the new chickens we purchased at the weekend.

Anna and Bella don't seem excited by the snow

Read more about our garden at Notes on a Garden

Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Week's Rubbish

At the end of this week I can say that mostly what we have thrown away to go to landfill is plastic wrapping, which I'm fairly sure I can't recycle. There was also a disposable face mask and a few scraps of cooked food, which should not be put in the compost bin because they are likely to attract rats.

I believe our council will provide separate bins for food waste later this year.

Friday, 20 January 2012

A Rubbish Challenge

Karen Cannard aka Amost Mrs Average is throwing down the gauntlet again and challenging us to slim our bins. If you think you need to go on the Rubbish Diet to find how just how much you can recycle and cut down on excessive packaging not to mention to see if your bin can be as slim as Karen's then pay a visit to her Rubbish Diet Blog. Take a peek now to see how to prepare for the kick off on Monday.

I made a start last year, but seem to have given up after the first week. Perhaps I'll do better this year.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Facebook Group

If you read this blog you might want to join the Green and Generous Facebook Group, so I thought I'd write this to let you know about it.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Week That Was

It's been quite a week, hasn't it? I weren't badly effected by the gales on Tuesday and Thursday. I was lucky that I didn't have to work until things had calmed down a bit on Tuesday and Thursday I had no reason to go out. The downside was that between the weather and returning to work I haven't been out walking much, although I do walk around the library, especially when shelving.

This weekend hubby and decided to enjoy the sunshine on Saturday by taking a walk on St Martha's hill, somewhere we haven't been for a couple of years. It is on the route of the ancient Pilgrims' Way and has a little church, St Martha's on the top, although it is thought it may once have been called Saints and Martyrs Hill. I'm not sure which came first, the church or the name of the hill. The church is thought to have been built in the 13th century, but much of it has been restored as it had become a ruin.

Today we walked around the RHS gardens at Wisley. We were greeted near the entrance by a robin singing his heart out and there were flowering plants such as snowdrops, primroses, camellias and rhododendrons here and there. There was also the hot house with some very colourful specimens.

On the ground level there was a fascinating display about roots. Apparently there is a strangler fig that grows in rainforests which grows around a tree blocking it's light and sucking up all the nutrients out of the soil until the tree is just a hollow shell.  The mesquite tree can grow in arid areas because it's roots can go down 30, and sometimes even 50, metres into the ground until they find water.  Then there is the mangrove, which can move up to a metre a year to find more light. The mangrove swamps in parts of Asia are important to prevent flooding, but the lure of cash from tiger prawns has resulted in some of the mangrove trees being chopped down, leaving the surrounding areas more vulnerable to flooding.

Monday, 2 January 2012

A Brighter Day

Hubby took daughter back to uni town today as she had to work this afternoon.  That is the downside of her Christmas job, but at least she now has experience of paid employment to add to her CV.

I washed all the jumpers and woollen walking socks that have been sitting in our laundry basket for some months, plus a few hubby had in Switzerland and brought home recently.

I also managed to defrost and clean our fridge freezer, which is something I've been meaning to do for a couple of months, but not managed to get round to.  Freezers run more efficiently if they are defrosted every few months.  Once the ice had melted I gave everything a clean with bicarbonate of soda followed by a good wipe to rinse it all off. Bicarbonate of soda is the best thing to use for cleaning fridges.

After lunch hubby and I returned to Winkworth Arboretum to take some photos of the unseasonal flowers we'd seen yesterday, now the sun was shining, although it was getting low in the sky by the time we left at half past two.

Early daffs

For dinner tonight we made borscht with the frozen beetroot plus a potato and carrot mixture and some tomato sauce I also found in the freezer as well as a quarter of a cauliflower and similar quantity of swede left over from last Wednesday's vegetable curry.  Soups and stews are a great way to use leftover vegetable.  As we'd bought more double cream than we needed for the holiday we used that instead of sour cream to swirl in our soup.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A New Year Begins

A Happy New Year to you if you are reading this, and to everyone who has read my blog over the last year.

I find that the trouble with New Year's Day is that it follows New Year's Eve and subsequently, a late night, which makes it so much more likely that we will break our New Year's resolutions on the very first day of the year.

So, I am sitting here with a cup of rooibos chai, trying to stay awake long enough to write my first blog post of the year, as we stayed up until half past one this morning watching 'It's a Wonderful Life' on DVD. It's the first time I've ever seen the film and we all enjoyed it, hubby, daughter and me. As daughter had to work New Year's Eve she wasn't able to join her friends in Plymouth, so came out to dinner with us and then joined us for the evening playing charades and watching the aforementioned DVD.   We had a very pleasant New Year's Eve and toasted 2012 with the last of the bottles of bubbly we were given for our Silver Wedding a couple of years ago.

A wet start to the year
Today I ate an apple and a clementine for breakfast, as well as my cereal, did not eat between meals and managed to go for a walk in Winkworth Arboretum even though it had started raining by the time I was ready. So I can feel I have done something to make this a healthy year and to start to get fitter for 2012, although I have no Olympic ambitions, let me hasten to add.

After the walk we had a lunch mostly of Christmas leftovers but with a little smoked wild Alaskan salmon to mark the first day of this new year. Then we played scrabble after which, as we had started the day so late, it was time to start cooking the beef for our roast beef dinner with all the trimmings.  That was followed by the last of the Christmas pudding.

So, this year I am going to be healthier and fitter than last year.  I shall take more exercise and spend more time in the garden so that we manage to grow more of our own fruit and veg, and generally save the planet.  I could go on with the list of all I hope to achieve.  I would need to be Superwoman to have any chance of achieving it, and I am definitely not her.  What about you, what do you aspire to achieve this year?

Experience has taught me that life has a habit of showing just how human we are, but these days I don't tend to see that as a reason for guilt or despair. Being human means that we cannot be perfect.  We all have to settle for our best in any given moment. As Don Miguel Ruiz says,
 "Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret."
 If you do not achieve all that you hoped to achieve today you may need to modify your plans for tomorrow.  Another trait common to most people is to be over-ambitious and unrealistic about what we can achieve in the time available. Of course it's not a good idea to give up to easily, but we need to be realistic about what we are capable of so that we know when to try harder and when to realise we have done our best and need to readjust our expectations.

So let us not be discouraged this year when things don't go entirely according to plan or that we couldn't manage all that we wanted to do.  We may need to review our plans from time to time, make a reality check or work out strategies to help us do better.  Most of all we mustn't give up because of set backs along the way.  They are to be expected and will help us develop character and experience.

At this time of year we are subject to the effects of darkness on our bodies to which our ancestors responded by slowing down and only hunting or working during the daylight hours.  Now is not a good time to expect too much of ourselves, but rather a time to respect the natural rhythms of life remembering,  as this New Year begins, the seeds of hope and potential which lie dormant in the Winter darkness, waiting to come to life in the Spring.

As the petals of 2012 unfold may a happy, healthy and fulfilling year blossom for you.

As for me, right now, I'm off to bed to catch up with my beauty sleep. After all a good night's sleep helps us all to be healthier and to have more energy.