Gearing up for plastic free July

Plastic Free July starts on Saturday and I’ve starting organising things so we’re ready to take part in the challenge. The idea of the challenge is to refuse single use plastic for the month and set goals to either:

  • avoid single-use plastic packaging
  • refuse the top four: bags, bottles, straws and coffee cups
  • go completely plastic-free.

This will be the third time we’ve done the challenge and I’m glad it’s coming up as we’ve had a lot of plastic sneak back into the house. If you start looking into plastic it’s a pretty dreadful environmental problem. It’s causing a great deal of harm in the oceans and will never go away. It’s also an endocrine disruptor and bad for your health. Our goal is to take more responsibility for our plastic consumption and reduce our use of single use packaging.

So here’s my top ten tips for getting the family ready for the challenge.

1. Find plastic free food

The biggest use of single use plastics in our house is from the packaging on our food. Have an explore and go to food shops in your area and see what they have in bulk. Take notes about what’s available and their prices. Often the bulk is cheaper but sometimes the prices can vary a lot between stores. For example, the exact same item was $9 a kilo at my local Foodland and was $24 at Goodies and Grains.

Take note which shops stock favourite items of family members or items they consider as essential – eg only one place sold bulk cornflakes. Make a game of it with the kids and see if they can find plastic free food. Find a good place to get your local fruit and vegetables as this will be the bulk of your shopping. The Adelaide Central Markets are a bit of a one stop plastic free shopping spot to go if there aren’t many options close by.

2. Find ways to bring the food home

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So now you’ve found your bulk food supplies you’ll need to get it home somehow. Get plenty of cloths bags to use in place of those thin plastic bags and packaging. These can be made, bought or repurposed. Save old bottles to bring home things like oil, vinegar and tamari. Some bulk places will sell you new bottles to refill and reuse. Bottles can also be bought at kitchen stores and places preserving items are sold. Wide mouth flip top jars are good for things like meat and cheese. Just make sure they tare the jar before weighing your items.

When you get home you’ll need to store the food in something. Save jars large and small for storing your food. I found gumtree and op shops were good for getting fowlers jars. These jars are really useful and used to be part of every home many years ago. Lids and seals for the fowlers jars can be bought at mitre 10. They can also be used for preserving.

The main thing is you don’t need to spend a fortune to get organised with containers. Reuse and repurpose what you can. One thing the family have made clear is that they need things labeled so they know what’s in the jars. I just use a bit of masking tape, stick it on the jar and write on that. To keep your vegetables fresh in the fridge put them in the crisper part of the fridge, get a pillow case, wet it then wring it out so it’s damp and lay it over the top of your vegetables. Keep it damp and replace it at least once a week.

3. Plan a plastic free menu

This is simultaneously the easiest and hardest part of the whole month. It’s easy because you have to work with what you can get and usually what’s in season so the menu is almost planned for you. The hard bit is making sure everyone knows what they can eat. On our first plastic free July I got a phone call from home saying they they were facing plastic free induced starvation because they had no idea what to eat. It only took me a minute to explain what was for planned for dinner and what snacks were in the house. They were then able to get dinner started. Unfortunately there are some things that you’ll just have to give up finding plastic free in the shops like potato chips, corn chips and berries.

4. Pack plastic free lunches 

Packing a plastic free lunch also needs a bit of preparation. As an adult it’s fine to take a jar with soup and your own bowl and spoon to reheat at work but for kids they don’t have that option. The focus of this prep is for kids lunches. Purchase a small food thermos for each of your kids so that they can take a warm meal of left overs or soup to school. Pack a fork or spoon in their lunch box.

Pack your own water. There’s really no need to buy bottled water, even less need to buy water imported from overseas. When your children’s plastic drink bottle dies, which it will, replace it with a stainless steel drink bottle. Kleen canteen has a good range and sell a plastic free lid made of bamboo, steel and silicone. I’d personally stay away from the aluminium drink bottles.

Pack a tiffin. Get some two or three tiered tiffins. If your child gets three breaks in the day get a three tiered tiffin. One level for each meal break -eg fruit time, recess, lunch. Stainless steel tiffins are a great investment, they will last forever and can be used to transport food when you have to bring a plate to share or are going on a picnic somewhere.

Pack using a cloth napkin. These can be used to wrap sandwiches, cake,  biscuits and any other dry food instead of using plastic wrap. I use the Japanese Furoshiki way of wrapping which is simple and effective. There are lots of products available, to wrap sandwiches etc, I used a fair few but I’ve found napkins go the distance and are easy to keep clean and double up as you guessed it – a napkin.

Again keep your eye out at op shops, I’ve picked up a thermos, stainless steel drink bottle and napkins from op shops. I don’t recommend packing glass drink bottles or glass jars in your kids lunch boxes – they’ll break and the school won’t be happy. For the grown ups, when your plastic containers die replace them with a good quality stainless steel lunch container. BYO cutlery and say no to straws. Take your own keep cup when you buy a coffee on the run.

5. Slow the flow of plastic in the bathroom

If you are looking for some quick wins then this is your room. No need to get anything, just swap to plastic free alternatives as things run out. Check online for more plastic free alternatives and ideas when things run out. Here are some of the main things you might run out of during the month.

Soap – get rid of the pump pack. Since when did soap need to be pumped out of a plastic bottle? Swap it out for unwrapped bar soap, this can be easily bought.

Toilet paper – most brands are wrapped in plastic. Unfortunately I found out that the Safe brand that I thought was wrapped in paper has a sneaky layer of plastic under the paper. The only brand I’m aware of that’s plastic free and easy to get is ‘Who gives a crap’. We get it in bulk in a box delivered to our house.

Tooth brushes – there are a few brands of bamboo tooth brushes around. We get ours in bulk from Environmental Toothbrush, again delivered to our door.

Shampoo and conditioner – there are lots of blog posts around on diy shampoos and conditioners. I haven’t tried any of them. Shampoo bars are available and look much like a soap bar. The Honey Shoppe and Soapbox at the central markets sell bulk shampoo and conditioner so you can refill your old bottles. Take small jars and trial a few first to see what works best with your hair before filling up a big bottle. You can reuse an old shampoo and conditioner bottle.

Tampons and pads – Without getting up close and personal menstrual cups are a far superior experience than tampons. There are also plenty of tutorials around on making your own reusable pads. These can also be bought online at places like etsy.

6. Make your own cleaning supplies

Bicarb and white vinegar will become your new best friend. You don’t need all the cleaning products on the market. They’re expensive and full of toxins. If you do want to buy some they can be refilled at a bulk shop. Here are some of the main things that might run out during the month.

All purpose cleaning spray – can be made by reusing an old spray bottle and half filling it with vinegar and the other half water. Add half a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil.

Bathroom cleaning spray – can be made by tightly packing orange rinds in with white vinegar for 2 weeks and then decanting into a spray bottle without the rinds.

Use a cotton face washer to wipe up spills and to use as a cleaning cloth.

Glass cleaner – spray with vinegar and wipe off with scrunched up newspaper to stop streaks on the glass.

7. Ditch the synthetic clothes

If you need to replace any clothes during the month replace with 100% natural fibres like wool, cotton, linen or hemp. Plastic microfibres get washed out with each rinse and end up in the oceans and in the bellies of fish and then in your belly if you eat fish.

8. Ditch the plastic toys

You could be doing really well during Plastic free July and all of a sudden someone will give your child a plastic toy.  Even worse the kids will pester you for some plastic widget that all the other kids seem to have – think fidget spinner. It’s really surprising how these things weave themselves into the house. It takes active and sustained vigilance to stem the flow of plastic toys.

If people want to buy a gift for your child suggest things like books, Waldorf/Steiner style handmade toys, or an experience – eg trip to zoo, cinema ticket. Some kids ask people to donate items to a charity thats important to them. Older kids might ask for money. When your kids ask for plastic toys it’s a good way of having the conversation about plastic. When people offer you or your kids plastic toys as freebees politely say ‘no thank you’.

9. Go for cloth nappies

If your kids are young enough to be in nappies there are a few plastic free options available and I’ve tried them all. Mine are well and truly out of nappies so there may be some other alternatives out there now. Different things will work better at different times. Choose what works for you:

  • cloth nappies – a good option, cheap to set up, dries quickly but not so good if you have to rely on tank water in a drought to wash them
  • designer cloth nappies – fitted nappies that you don’t need to fold, look good but take longer to dry and can be expensive to get set up
  • elimination communication – when done well its a great way of toilet training babies, saves on nappies and boosts confidence of the child.

Rather than using polyester wipes to clean your babies bum use cloth wipes. These can be bought at baby stores but I’ve found that target and Kmart sell them in packs for a very reasonable price. Get a small tea thermos and fill with hot water. When you need to clean the baby use the hot water to damp the cloth. This makes for easy cleaning.

10. Start small

Start small, start with one thing then move onto the next – eg if you get bread in plastic get in the habit of buying loose bread from the bakery. Most bakeries will sell it in paper but you can take a pillow case or other large cloth bag to transport it. Then once you’ve incorporated it into your routine move on to the next thing.

The thing about plastic is that it almost always needs replacing, it weakens with exposure to light, breaks and can’t be repaired.  When a thing need to be replaced see if something else you’ve already got can do the job. Does it actually need to be replaced? If it does opt to replace with steel, wood or glass alternatives.

Another good swap out is to grow your own herbs rather than buying them from the shops in plastic. Salad greens and other greens like silverbeet are really easy to grow at home either in the garden or in containers, they are much fresher too and don’t need to be bought in plastic. If you can grow your own berries and enjoy them when they’re fresh and in season. Visit a farm and pick your own berries and take your own container.  Work out what is doable and go for it.

Read books like Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson to get more ideas about plastic free living with a family. Check out online – No need for Mars, Treading my own path, Trash is for tossers, Zero Waste Home, the rogue ginger for ideas. This is a big challenge but well worth the effort. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

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Illawarra Plum

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Podcarpus elatus, also known as Illawarra plum are ripe at the moment. I found a street that had been planted with them as street trees. I grabbed around 3 kilos worth because I wanted to experiment and cook a few recipes with them. They can be eaten fresh, just wait until the flesh is soft and gives when you squeeze it. Remove the external seed by twisting it off, don’t eat the seed. Before eating and cooking I soaked them in vinegar and water just to clean them up a bit. They can also be frozen or dried.

I made fruit leather with them. I used 1 kilo of the last of the apples from our tree out back, 300 grams of the plums and the juice of half a lemon. I put it all on a pot on the stove with 1/2 cup water and cooked on a medium heat. I used the stick blender to puree then allowed it to stew for about 10 mins to bring out some of the sweetness in the apples. Then I placed in dehydrator for 7 1/2 hours at 70C. Make sure it’s completely dried before storing.

Another thing I tried that worked out well was –

Illawarra plum muffin recipe

300 grams wholemeal spelt flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

220 g coconut sugar

3/4 cup shredded coconut

400 grams Illawarra Plum, puree with stick blender

1/3 cup macadamia mylk

1/3 cup olive oil

2 eggs

2 teaspoon vanilla essence

Pre heat oven to 190C. Place all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Get all the wet ingredients and whisk together until well combined. Then add the wet to the dry ingredients. Stir until it is just combined, don’t over mix the batter.

Place in a 12 hole muffin tin and cook for 25 mins or until a skewer comes out clean.

 

Beginners guide to pine mushrooms

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I took some friends for a picnic yesterday at one of my mushroom hunting spots. We spent a bit of time searching for mushrooms then ate a picnic lunch and fried up some of the mushrooms we’d found. We were searching for Lactarius deliciosus and hoping for Porcini which also grow at this spot. I realised at one point that I probably take what I now know about these mushrooms for granted so I thought I’d put together a beginners guide to these mushrooms.

So here’s the disclaimer. I’m not a scientist, mycologist, botanist, fungi expert of any kind. I’m just someone who’s interested in all things edible. If you’re thinking about eating your first wild mushroom based on this post think again. Do your research and head out with someone who knows what they’re doing and collect with them. Do some courses and get to know how to identify mushrooms and plants in general. It will give you a discipline to draw from when trying to identify the edible from the not so edible.

Lactarius deliciosus mushrooms are commonly called pine mushrooms or saffron milk caps in South Australia. There are no poison lookalikes that I’m aware of growing here. Mushrooms it might get confused with are Gymnopilus junoniusLactarius deterrimus, Lactarius semisanguifluus, Lactarius torminosus. Be aware that not all people holding workshops or courses are 100% correct all the time. They might say the wrong thing by mistake or have the wrong idea about a particular mushroom. Check and triple check the information you have been given.

The main features are a round orange blotchy depressed cap with concentric circles. The cap can be anywhere from 4 – 15 cm.  As the cap gets older the edges turn up and it’s more bowl shaped. The gills are orange and close together. The stem attaches to the central part of the cap and has blotches of white on it. A few hours after picking it bruises green where you’ve handled it. When you cut the stem it exudes a orange milky sap. In the older mushrooms the stem is hollow.

Here are some of my rules when I go hunting for these guys:

  • If in doubt leave it out

Don’t pick it if you have any doubt in your mind about it.

  • Take children with you

They have eagle eyes and always find the best ones.

  • Don’t pick ones that look a bit deformed or have any weird growth on them.

The deformity could be because they’ve been pressing on a stick or other mushroom as they grow which is ok but other kinds of deformity could be from a disease.

  • Don’t pick bruised ones

These ones have been touched by something. That something could be anything. I don’t really want to imagine what that anything might be.

  • Pick the young ones

These ones are the freshest and most likely haven’t been interfered with by people or animals.

  • Clean as you pick

Take a sharp knife, clean paint brush and damp cloth with you. Use your brush and hands to remove any pine needles from the cap. Hold the mushroom like a you would hold a CD so the cap doesn’t drop into the dirt when you cut it. Then cut the stem horizontally with your knife. Use the cloth to clean the cap and then place gill side down in basket. This keeps the gills clean so you don’t get grit in your mushrooms and also helps spread the spores around as you walk.

  • Always cook them

This should kill off any bad germs that may be on them.

  • Read the landscape

These mushroom grow under mature pine trees in the Adelaide hills. Think about the space these trees grow in and how the space is being used. Do people walk their dogs here? Would people use some spaces as a toilet spot if there are no public toilets around? Are they close to paths and roads that would see more traffic on it? Try to avoid picking in high traffic areas. Also, avoid areas near young pine plantations as these get aerial bombed with glyphosate to kill grasses and other plants competing with the young pines.

  • Eat that day

I’ll generally only pick what I’m going to eat that day. If you need to store them keep in the fridge in paper like you would a store bought mushroom. If you love them and end up eating heaps just be aware that your urine will go orange. Much like what happens when you eat a lot of beetroot. On that note, they are very nice but like all new food just eat a little at first you never know, you might be allergic. There are stacks of recipes on the web but I like eating them in mushroom pasta.

 

Bush food tour

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During reconciliation week there were so many wonderful events celebrating Aboriginal culture. My work organised a range of events during the week and of course I couldn’t go past putting my name down to go to the bush food tour held at the Botanic Gardens. Haydyn Bromley from Bookabee tours was our host. He was a very knowledgable guide and we were in very capable hands.

I find bush foods really interesting because there’s alway something new to learn. There are an estimated 30,000 edible plants across the world and people subsist on a tiny fraction of these. Supermarkets seem to sell countless versions of wheat, sugar, corn and rice. It all looks and tastes the same to me. There are so many interesting foods out there and I got to find out about a few more during this tour. Along the way he discussed responsible harvesting and how these plants were part of culture. Some plant highlights from the tour:

  • Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata – edible vermicelli-like core, butterscotch flavoured resin, young whitish parts of leaves chewed to quench thirst, seeds made into damper.
  • Eucalyptus camaldulensis Karransis – animals that lived in the tree were hunted, bees make home in the hollows and give honey, the hollowed out trunks used as shelters.
  • Macadamia tetraphylla – I’d heard there were some trees in the gardens so it was good to finally see where they were.
  • Podocarpus elatus – they were fruiting on the walk and Haydyn described the texture as being like oysters, I like to think they’re more like Turkish delight.
  • Araucaria bidwillii – used as a family home, nuts eaten and also the centrepiece of a festival at harvest time.
  • Cymbopogon ambiguus – used as a tea, particularly to settle the stomach.

Haydyn was such a knowledgable and friendly host and I really hope I get to spend some time walking amongst the plants with him again.

Kalamata olives

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We have a Kalamata tree in the backyard that’s about 15 years old. Each year it gives us a good crop of olives without too much effort. If we don’t water or fertilise it, we still get a good crop. This year we had a huge crop and interestingly I don’t think it was due to the long wet summer because the tree by spring was absolutely loaded with thousands of babies. It was clear in spring that it was going to be a bumper crop. Last winter was quite warm and maybe that had something to do with it.

Olives are a declared weed in South Australia under the Natural Resources Management Act. They grow in many Adelaide parks and conservation areas freely. These wild olives can be collected for pickling or making oil, just make sure they haven’t been poisoned by some well meaning land care group. There are literally thousands of wild olive trees loaded with fruit right now ready for picking. Cultivated olives aren’t too much of a problem as long as all the olives are collected. This minimises it’s spread into the hills by the birds. Although I think the cat is well out of the bag on that front.

I’ve been collecting a bucket from our tree a week or two apart. I’m already up to my fourth 10 litre bucket and will probably get another two or three buckets. In hindsight, this has been a very good experiment to find the ideal time to harvest the olives for flavour and texture. I didn’t mean for it to be an experiment, I’ve just been super busy and that’s how it’s worked out. I hear the best time to pick is when the tree is 80% has turned black and 20% is still green. Then you go back when the last 20% has turned black and do the rest. When Kalamata are picked too late they go soft and aren’t as nice.

This year I am doing some Zen processing of the olives – which pretty much means I’ll find a way to process them in the limited time I’ve got however that unfolds. First, I am soaking them in a 10% salt and water mix for about a week or two then straining. Then preparing a fresh batch of the 10% brine to soak for another week or so. I’ll keep doing this until they taste ok. Then when they’re ready I’ll store in a brine using my mother in laws recipe.

100 g salt per litre of water

20ml red wine vinegar per litre of water

Top jar with olive oil

When ready to eat open jar and keep in fridge, you can add oil, spices, herbs and garlic – whatever you have on hand in the garden.

It’s also nice to hot roast the olives with wild fennel seeds, orange peel and olive oil. Serve warm.

 

 

The crone

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Deep in the forest lives an old crone. She lives amongst the trees that reach high into the sky. Their roots reaching deep into the ground. She lives in the space between the sky and the earth where all is well.

She made her home many years ago from things she gathered from the forest – stone, wood and mud. It is a beautiful home that has served her well. She is very fat and her fingers gnarled and old. Nobody knows how old she is but she has always been there.

She has lived there as long as anyone can remember and is known by all as a very wise woman. She spends her days walking through the forest and visiting the trees and the animals that share her home. She gathers all she needs to eat from the forest. Enjoying the dandelions and their cheerful yellow flowers, and all the other greens that nourish her.

One day, she was walking by the river and saw a big ribbon gum. She saw signs that there were witchetty in the tree, with their small white eggs on the bark and sawdust spilling out onto the ground. In another place, she saw holes with doors made of sap marking the place the witchetty had made their home, digging in deep and then up the tree.

She knew the witchetty would give her strength so she decided to dig them out. She knew that digging them out wouldn’t hurt the tree, instead it would help it. Those witchetty get greedy sometimes and kill the tree. First, she got a sharp stone and made the hole bigger and higher. Then, she took a hook that she used for many things and pushed it up into the hole, hooking the witchetty and pulling it out gently. Then, she cooked it over hot coals and was full.

On this day some people who had heard of the wise old crone decided to come and find her to gain some wisdom. As they reached deeper into the forest they heard things they hadn’t heard before. The plants started whispering their secrets to them about the things they could do. They told them about the ways they could help them. The animals welcomed them and were happy to share the forest with them.

They didn’t find the old crone that day but left the forest with the wise wisdom of the plants. They always remembered their time in the forest. They remembered to listen very carefully to the plants, and kept that wisdom for all their days.

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