The problem with plastic

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Our family is taking part in Plastic Free July (PFJ). Our pledge is to attempt to not purchase any plastic at all and go completely plastic free for the month. The panic really set in last weekend on how we were actually going to do it. We all know that plastic isn’t so fantastic but it takes something more to get motivated to make the conscious effort everyday to make it a priority. I think the tipping point for us was this video taken at a really magic snorkelling spot we had been to and snorkelled there as a family. It really was quite devastating for us to see.

While we were in that same part of the world we went on a full day coast walk and came across a secluded beach that had quite a lot of plastic on it. There were no tourists there and it made me wonder how sanitised the beaches are on other parts of the island to hide the plastic that gets washed up on shore. Plastic is such a ubiquitous material that it’s not really noticed until you try to avoid it or see the rubbish like that.

The problem with plastic isn’t just the mess it creates. Plastic will usually end up having one of three journeys. Most plastic isn’t recycled and ends up in landfill. The plastic gets layered and compressed with other materials and as it rains the rain filters through the landfill it collects harmful chemicals. Those leachates seep into the soil and contaminate the water table which in turn affects the plants and animals.

The second journey is via wind or water into waterways making it’s way to the ocean. The ocean has very powerful and predictable currents that keep our planet habitable. These plastics have been accumulating in the ocean, most notably in the great pacific garbage patch. There is real risk that the patch will impact the currents that transport the cool water from the poles to the warmer equatorial waters and will interrupt the earths cooling system.

Finally, a small fraction of plastic will be recycled. However, plastic always eventually fatigues and breaks. It can only get down cycled it never goes away and will either end up in landfill or the ocean eventually.  While some scrunchable plastics can be put into REDcycle bins, it’s unclear if these end up in landfill or actually do get recycled. The ABCs War on Waste put a tracker into one of those soft plastic recycling bins and unfortunately found it went to landfill.

In the lead up to PFJ I also got the family to watch Plastic Ocean on Netflix which seemed to do the trick on re-enforcing the message to the family that plastic is not so fantastic. So in the words of Maya Angelou “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better”. This is easier said than done, plastic is absolutely everywhere, but I think half the battle is making it a priority when life is so busy. So here is how our first week of plastic free july went.

Most plastic consumed in our house is via the kitchen. So on Sunday 1 July the five of us sat together and planned out our plastic free meal plan for the week. We also did some food prep and cooking for the week to make it easier.

Weekday breakfast:

  • homemade sourdough fruit toast with butter
  • toast with jam, peanut butter, honey or eggs
  • porridge or homemade muesli

Weekend breakfasts:

  • Pancakes with maple syrup
  • Arepas with abuelitos eggs and honey

Snacks:

  • Seasonal fruit – eg apples, mandarins, oranges
  • homemade hommus or guacamole and vegetable sticks.
  • Date and ginger cookies
  • Apple and walnut cake

Dinners

  • Fish fingers with mashed potato and silverbeet
  • Spinach and ricotta ravioli with porcini sauce
  • Baked pakora with mango chutney
  • Baked lentil pasta
  • Heading out for dinner
  • Massaman curry
  • Minestrone soup

Dessert

  • homemade preserved apricots with macadamia mylk custard
  • dehydrated orange slices dipped in melted chocolate
  • hot chocolate

I always grow herbs, lettuce and silverbeet in the garden as this is pretty hard to get plastic free in the shops. I also have jars of homemade preserves and jam handy, but this is easy to buy in glass jars. The porcinis I collected and dried myself and store in glass jar, I don’t think dried porcini can be purchased plastic free. Part of the panic that set in on first day of plastic free july was having some meals the kids could cook that were quick and easy mid week meals, but we found some things they could manage.

We have almost run out of toothpaste so I had a go at making my own but it was a bit of a disaster. I found all the ingredients plastic free, mixed coconut oil, calcium powder, baking powder and peppermint essential oils and it set quite hard. It felt very good on the teeth when I used it before it set, so I am going to remake it without the coconut oil and use as a tooth powder and dip the wet brush in the container to pick up the powder.

On one of the days I forgot my keep cup for my almond milk cappuccino I treat myself to at work. I just grabbed a mug and took it to the coffee shop, without skipping a beat they made me a small cappuccino and off I went. Some cafes make their own nut milks for coffee and I’m hoping this becomes the new norm so that less waste is produced by us all. We also went to out to dinner one night. I just checked out the drinks in the fridge to see which ones were plastic free before ordering and made it really clear we didn’t want straws – easy.

I did have a couple of plastic free fails. I went to the kids uniform shop and was rushed and had about 10 other things on my mind and only realised when I got in the car that I had the clothes packed in a plastic bag, doh! I had also been making macadamia mylk from macadamia nuts I’d foraged. I love it but clearly noone else in the house does. They had been tucking into a can of powdered milk that we bought for a multiday hiking trip. So they decided that they would buy b.d. farm milk again. I’m determined to work on my nut milk recipe and try and make sure it doesn’t split and stays delicious and creamy and will try and win them back on that one.  Hopefully the plastic free gods will forgive us for the plastic bag and the 2L milk container. Wish me luck for week 2!

 

 

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Healing plants hidden in plain sight

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All around us are healing herbs that we take for granted and in some cases actively try and remove from our gardens. Take a moment to observe and it’s likely that you’ll find some gifts waiting for you in your garden. At this time of year the mallow Malva neglecta and chickweed Stellaria media are growing strong. While these two are delicious edibles they also have healing properties for the skin. Chickweed has the ability to gently heal any skin sensitivities and eliminate growths and cysts from the body. Mallow is also known for its skin healing abilities and getting rid of blemishes and irritation.

To take advantage of these healing properties they can be made into a salve. Salves are really simple ointments made from three main ingredients – plant material, oil and beeswax. This time of year local olive oil is being pressed and it’s easy to source. Beeswax can be picked up from people selling local honey. With a skin healing salve in mind I had a look in the garden to find other plants good for the skin and found:

  • Plantain Plantago lanceolata which has antiseptic qualities and reduces skin irritations from bites and stings.
  • Comfrey Symphytum works by increasing cell production which makes wounds heal quickly.
  • Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which can help to heal minor burns and bites.
  • Rosemary soothes the skin and is good for eczema and burns.

Another good ingredient to use would be Calendula flowers. These flowers can help with cuts, rashes and burns. This salve can be used for skin irritations, cuts, burns or bites and general skin repair and is applied to skin.

To make the skin healing salve:

  1. Gather clean vibrant plant material.
  2. Chop and dry overnight in a single layer on a tray to remove some of the water.
  3. Place plant material in a clean dry jar and cover with olive oil.
  4. Infuse the herbs into the oil. Infusing herbs can be done in many ways, I heated mine slowly at around 50C for about 9 hours all up over three days.
  5. Strain leaves from oil using some cloth and then place oil back in jar.
  6. Ratio to use is for each cup of oil add 80 grams of wax.
  7. Gently heat the oil and wax to combine.
  8. Once wax is melted, pour into containers for storage, wait until completely cool before putting the lid on.

 

 

 

Grow your own herbs and spices

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I pruned this lot of oregano today as it was spreading out into another spot I have reserved for growing vegetables. It’s now in the dehydrator drying to use later. While fresh herbs are lovely in cooking, I’m going to dry some other herbs from the garden like sage, marjoram, parsley, rosemary and add some dried Adelaide hills porcini I foraged to make my own Italian dried herb mix.

Spices can also be grown in the garden. Right now coriander, dill, celery and mustard have all gone to seed in the garden. When ready some can be used to start next seasons crop and some can be used in the kitchen as spices. All through the hills at the moment wild fennel is growing and the flowers heads are bright yellow. I’ve done a post previously on how to collect the pollen. In time, the fennel flowers left of the plant then transform into fennel seeds which can also be collected and used in the kitchen.

A substitute salt flavour is Old man salt bush (Atriplex nummularia) if you have saline soils. Dry the leaves and grind into powder to use. Dry Mountain pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) is used as a pepper flavour substitute. The history of the spice trade is pretty interesting and at times brutal. Growing your own herbs and spices is a much gentler option.

Native currant

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At this time of year something really special happens on the coast. I have fallen in love with all the gorgeous edibles that grow over the hot summer months. Muntries, karkalla, boobialla, coastal rosemary and many others are singing a beautiful song right now. This little shrub Leucopogon parviflorus sang out to me, drawing me in to taste its sweet fruit. This one truly is a little gem. Eat when white and pearl like. Plant in sunny spot in sandy soils.

Native cherry

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Native cherry Exocarpos cupressiformis is an elusive little plant. Much has been cleared because its leaves are toxic to stock. It grows as a parasite on host trees and is from the same family as quandongs. While it’s not a huge taste sensation the fruit is very much edible. Don’t eat the little seed that hangs off the fruit, the red part is edible and is ready when you tap it and it falls into your hands.

Wreath making

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Wreath making has been done by many cultures for thousands of years. While the symbolism varies between individuals, for the materials it’s best to use what’s on hand and in season in the garden. This wreath made today symbolises for me the circle of life continuing throughout time. The end of the year is fast approaching with a new year soon to come. The spring growth of the grape vines have a bunch of forming grapes as a promise of the summer harvest to come. The olive leaves were used to symbolise peace with some baby olives as a promise of the autumn harvest and winter pickling to come.

Radish

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Gardening is slow. Really slow. Sometimes it’s so slow I forget what I’ve planted and then discover it later. I put these radish in for a bit of a quick crop. I had expanded out the veggie patch and was thinking I needed something that would crowd out any other little plants coming through. Water well while its growing and eat soon once it’s reached a good size otherwise it gets a bit woody. Radish can be added to salads, sandwiches or baked in the oven as they come through. I also pulled up the rest and pickled them.

Pickled radish

4 bunches of radish

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons raw sugar

1 teaspoon salt

optional, 1 tablespoon peppercorns, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds

Top and tail the radish and clean well. Slice each radish in half then place the flat side down and slice into thin semicircles. Place all the radish into sterilised jars. This amount made two small jars. Add flavour of choice to the jars . I added peppercorns to one and coriander to the other.

In a small pot, add the water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Boil for a minute or two to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the radish and seal the jars. Store it in the fridge.