Thursday, 30 December 2010

Ten things for 2010 - Revisited

Well, usually I let any list of resolutions languish in the back of the drawer, but given that I posted this one in January, I thought it might be good to get it out, dust it down and see how much I achieved!

1. Have our very own vegetable garden. The garden re-landscaping went really well and we were both very pleased with how the raised beds area turned out, in particular. Actually growing fruit and veg in our garden turned out to be a little less simple... I fell pregnant at a particularly awkward time and was practically incapacitated with morning sickness just at the time when seedlings needed potting on or planting out in the late spring. Still, quite a few things did survive and we had some quite tasty root vegetables, a major crop of shallots and garlic, and the top fruit and soft fruit both gave us good yields. We had our fair share of disappointments too, though, with our tomatoes, peppers and cucurbits cropping well below the levels we had in our previous garden. Equally, the potatoes, sweetcorn and squash felt like the crop received didn't really repay the effort expended. And sadly, the early harsh winter meant that between them, frost, snow and flocks of pigeons did for the brassicas, which had looked quite promising! Still, it was a very good learning experience and, hopefully, we'll have more success next year.

2. Waterwise. We did get the eco option on the dishwasher and we also invested in the amusingly titled 'water imp' to help soften our limescale-heavy water ,which assists the efficiency of both appliances generally and the boiler. Unfortunately, because we've been having to prop our greenhouse up all year, we didn't get around to installing any kind of eco-watering system for the garden. We've agreed to invest in a new greenhouse at the beginning of this growing season, which will include guttering and down spouts to connect to a water butt or two, and I'm already lusting after a water butt drip system. With a new baby I'm afraid our water usage is definitely going to go up, but we'll be looking at a variety of ways to minimise the environmental impact - watch this space!

3. Make. I've made a number of items from scratch this year, mainly for friends and their babies! Now that I'm about to have my very own little nipper, I'm looking forward to making a variety of items. My baby wrap-blanket is almost complete (just in the nick of time!) and I'm planning to knit a couple of cardigans too. I'm also stocked up with the full range of Cath Kidston books now (Make, Sew and Stitch) to keep me occupied over the coming months with some more adult projects!

4. It's a wrap. See my earlier December post about Christmas wrapping - I've been relatively good all year on this and am now a pretty dab hand at wrapping without sticky tape! I'm also developing a disturbing tendency to horde bits of paper, ribbon, buttons, etc - fine for the minute but not sure what will happen when the cupboard's full...!

5. Charitable giving. Done and done, but it was pretty easy - charities want you to give to them after all so the process is fairly easy!

6. Activism. Hmm, well again, the pregnancy issue sort of got in the way with this one, but I did join my local Women's Environmental Network and I've also signed up to volunteer with the NCT at some point in the future, so some small movement on this one.

7. Skin deep. I'm pleased to say that I've been completely successful on this front, spurred on by being pregnant and not particularly wanting any nasties in my system. I once watched a pretty horrifying documentary (Beauty Addicts: How toxic are you?) fronted by Sarah Beeny of property-programme fame (as well as for the fact that she seems to be almost constantly pregnant), on the levels of plastics and other unwelcome chemicals that cross over into things like breast milk. I've therefore added to my organic/green brand shampoo, conditioner, face wash and moisturiser, with organic make-up and deodorant and we already had a house completely devoid of any non-green brand cleaning products (although most cleaning is done using just a microfibre cloth or some bicarbonate/vinegar anyway. That's when any is done at all... )!

8. Buying recycled. This is a fail, I'm afraid, although at least partly because I've not been buying very much of anything this year! Will do better next year.

9. Plastic bags. I've definitely been better at not accepting plastic bags in the shops, but have fallen down occasionally when I've been taken by the urge to shop and haven't had enough reusable bags on me. This one really is just about being prepared. Doubtless with my new-found 'Mum' skills will come the ability to always have absolutely anything required in my bag at all times, including more bags!

10. Outdoor activities. Well, beyond gardening, this ambition fell by the wayside and I'm going to try and blame this on being pregnant too! However, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the garden, which surely has to count for something?!

Overall report card? Generally a good effort all round, with some highlights, but could do better. Here we come 2011, with all the new green challenges that our little baby is going to bring!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas: it's all wrapped up

As I've written about previously, I've been baking, preserving and creating in the kitchen madly since September, partly so that I could give the gift of food to friends and family by way of a personalised festive hamper. Typically, of course, the extreme weather over the last week has precluded delivery of a number of these boxes, so some people won't be getting their Christmas pudding until the new year - hopefully they won't be too sick of Christmas fare by then!

Speaking of making Christmas goodies, don't get me started on the Delia/Waitrose 'Christmas cake in a bag' which appears to be being marketed somewhat confusingly at people who don't have time to cook, but still want to make a Christmas cake (if you don't have time, you don't have time and you buy one, if you do, why can't you just buy the ingredients??!!). One piece I read in The Guardian suggested that it was a good idea, because you didn't need to buy ingredients in quantity with the remainder mouldering in the cupboard unused. Let me tell you, my store cupboard ingredients never get the opportunity to go off, particularly at this time of year!

The ingredients for my sticky ginger cake, which we have in our house in lieu of Christmas cake - possibly winging it's way to your door, or already consumed!

My hampers have included a selection from: Christmas pudding, sticky ginger cake, raspberry gin, Christmas cookies, gingerbread biscuits, jam, port wine jelly, apple jelly, pickled shallots, fudge and candied orange peel!

A hamper including raspberry gin, Christmas pudding, ginger cake, port wine jelly and gingerbread.

You can see that this type of gift has really lent itself to the commitment I made earlier in the year to reduce my use of shop-bought wrapping paper for packaging gifts. As WH gets to benefit from seasonal treats first-hand, he does get more conventional presents for Christmas, but I've tried to ensure that they're wrapped imaginatively and with not a hint of sticky tape in sight!

WH purchased one roll of Christmas paper, which I've utilised, but otherwise it's all recycled paper filling from mail order deliveries for the most part, done up with raffia and ribbon. Sticking to just a few colours seems to help in the presentation stakes!

I've been very fortunate in that almost everything I've ordered online has been delivered in time for Christmas (and that goes for a mountain of baby things too, luckily!) The only thing that didn't arrive was the organic bubble bath for our friends' baby. I posted them their festive hamper earlier in the week, but didn't want to leave out the baby completely, so whipped up a quick festive rattle from repurposed items.

Cracker rattle
1x clean, empty spice jar
Lentils, rice, beans or other filling
for wadding
Fabric to cover
Needle, thread, pins, patience

1. Fill your empty spice jar about one-third full.

2. Wrap up in some material to give extra padding and secure with a couple of stitches.

3. Create a tube from your 'festive' coloured fabric. I made mine so that it can be taken off for washing.

4. Decorate and include a handle for grabbing.

Merry Christmas!