Friday, 31 August 2012

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Restocking the pantry - and the food bank.

One of the most popular posts I ever wrote at The Simple Green Frugal Co-op, or at least one that generated the most discussion, was this one about the reasons I keep a well stocked pantry. My definition of well stocked changes with circumstance - I had about six months worth of stores when I went on maternity leave in late 2008 and it saved us a fortune as food prices rose. It also made me feel nicely nested and meant that I didn't have to trawl around shops with a small baby.

The Guardian recently ran a series about 'Breadline Britain'. Food banks are on the rise in the UK after 4 years of rising unemployment and benefit cuts. As well as 'the working poor', the professional classes - teachers, nurses, middle management - are finding themselves with no cash flow and bare cupboards.
Now, I doubt that both of us would lose our jobs at the same time and at the moment we have modest savings to fall back on - but never say never. Nobody can say for sure where things are headed in the next few years; and so it is better to prepare as well as you can with the resources you have. So, it is time to stock up for autumn and winter and anything that might come our way. And as we buy food for our own cupboards, we will begin to buy a little extra for our food bank too. The Trussel Trust is one of the biggest food bank charities in the UK and there website will list your local bank, as well as ways to get involved.

But I think the best way we can support those support systems is to do everything we can not to have to fall back on them. Put as much distance between us and the need for a food bank voucher as possible. I know that there are people for whom this is too late, or who were never in a position to live anything other than hand to mouth.  There are also lots of people in a position now to cushion themselves who think that that kind of thing doesn't happen to people like them. I have a suspicion that during this long recession, a lot of folk are going to surprised at just what can happen to folk like them.

I think the best cushion is actual food in the cupboard, because it is then also a cushion against food chain disruption and other causes of barren pantries. Our stocking up strategy follows a several pronged approach:

  • Every few months, using a £10-£15 money off voucher that the supermarkets send out to lure us in, we do an online shop costing around £60 - £90 after deducting the voucher. This buys us cat food, coffee and tea, flour, pasta, pulses, grains,oils and fats and sometimes frozen fruit and veg. A well stocked cupboard to me is now about three months worth. That money creeps up, or stretches a shorter distance with every month that passes. Higher food prices might well be here to stay. 
  • In addition to this we frequent our local Chinese and Asian supermarkets for more unusual grains and pulses, tofu, spices and condiments. Most small cities and large towns now have such shops and they provide better value than the big four.
  • If I see something on offer that I know we use frequently - say tinned tomatoes - we will buy a few months worth. I will take money from the savings account to do this, although technically £20 of our monthly food budget goes to restocking the pantry anyway.
  • Finally, of course, we make sure we actually eat the food we buy and cook from the pantry and try to minimise our kitchen waste as much as possible. There is always a good meal to be made even if there is no fresh produce in the house, which really is better than money in the bank.
This week I will finally be getting to grips with meal planning. It is something I have never done, but cooking for a fussy preschooler on top of shift work is taking it out of us. Our kitchen waste has crept up. Planning isn't something I really like to do, being happy go lucky most of the time about most things, but this is something I am actually looking forward to, given the pay off in peace come supper time. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Always better than nothing...


I have no idea what variety they are, the plants were given to me. I almost refused them. I am so glad I brought them home and made room after all. We have had a mini harvest every day for the last few days as they ripen. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The cure

I haven't spun since late last year, not for lack of desire but rather time and spindle. Mine finally cracked along the shaft that was already held together with particularly fetching holographic gift tape. This occurred just as I spun up my last roving; and at a particularly difficult period of my life and so that was that. Since then, I have missed the spinning, but a new spindle was the last thing on my mind. A series of stressful, anxiety inducing events against a backdrop of pregnancy, work stress and the arrival of a daughter, from the spring of last year to Christmas finally brought me crashing headlong into a wall.  I finally found myself in a therapist's office shining a light on the darkest, mustiest corners of my mind.

This difficult period, I realize now was simply the endgame of a trajectory I have been on since I was 15, one that has manifested as anxiety, panic attacks and depression since then. That the spindle cracked finally from an injury sustained long ago, just as I finally did, makes me all the more attached to that particular craft and I wish I had kept my first, imperfect spindle. I am that spindle.

It is a shame, that when I first presented to my doctor at the age of fifteen, feeling a bit low after a prolonged viral illness, that he didn't dig a bit deeper instead of throwing a diazepam (an anti-anxiety drug that I recently found out will worsen depression) prescription at me. If he had dug a little deeper, he would have referred me to a mental health team - although I realise that this was not commonplace in the early noughties. That mental health team would have probed a bit deeper and my diagnoses would not have been that I needed to pull myself together. That generalized anxiety,  bad dreams, flashbacks and the feeling - no, make that certain knowledge - that I somehow don't belong or deserve to be in this world is actually PTSD  - post traumatic stress disorder. I would never have suspected this, thinking that you had to actually be the victim of a particularly traumatic events to acquire it, but it turns out witnessing a traumatic event, even hearing about it third hand can trigger it. If you have, like me, witnessed several; you have good odds of developing it.

Well, the therapy helped. Just unpacking it all helped, painful and triggering as it all was. I have a lot of work to do and in all honesty I will probably never be fully cured - there are chemical pathways that were laid down when I witnessed those events that will continue to trigger that fight or flight response for many years to come. Now I have the tools to deal with it. I feel the most consistent level of peace I have in years.

I really recommend if you have been feeling low or anxious or paranoid or any other mental malady, that you don't try to just pull yourself together. I realise now that this process of unpacking actually begun a few years ago, with the birth of Gus, with my becoming a parent. This was the time we really began to simplify our lives. Even if I didn't believe that I could ever have a good life filled with good experiences, I could set my family up to have that. The appeal of this quiet pace of life I have wanted for myself, for all of us, I realise, was just my trying to find a little peace when tornadoes were tearing up my mental and emotional landscape. The focus, the mindfulness of a deliberate life, the wanting to contribute something beautiful and lasting to the world. In a way, our son was my saving grace, although that grace took several years to fully infiltrate my mind.

This month I finally bought a new spindle. I never realized just what spinning gave me that all my other crafts did not. Spinning beautifully dyed roving into yarn absorbs my attention like no other craft can. Everything else fades away as I try to perfect my technique (long way to go on that front by BTW) and control the weight and consistency of my yarn. This is what we humans have always done, provided for our own and our families' and our communities' most basic of needs with our own hands and creativity. I have hope that I will eventually get to the point where I can take a sheep, shear it, clean and scour the wool, dye it, card it and spin it and then give that hank of yarn or a finished knitted object to another. That process will link me to the deep time of my human ancestry and the awareness that all situations are temporary. That awareness will bring relief in times of grief and bittersweet grief should it arise in happier moments. Either way, it is a reminder to make best use of the time we have now, right now, because the next moment may never come. I have finally begun to make my peace with that.

This is my cure.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Edible City

I found this via Gavin's blog and felt it deserves to be shared far and wide. The whole film is available to watch online and is worth an hour of your time. If you are struggling to find your grow food/change the world mojo after the ridiculous weather/diamondjubilee-London2012-pimms-teaparty season/grinding recession we have had this year, this might just help a little.

Our own growing project isn't going so well. A dry spring, followed by hot damp weather brought blight to our plot. No tomatoes, no potatoes. We have a few tomato plants in the back garden that fingers (and toes) crossed will reach maturity. The strawberries were decimated by slugs and the garlic crop failed to bulb before the stalks fell. I have seriously lost my own mojo. Too little time and a plot too far away to visit daily, plus torrential rain for weeks on end that has brought out the 10,000 gastropods of the slugocalypse. Urgh.

Corn still stands and sweet potatoes are translating all the rain into lush vegetation and hopefully some tubers. And nothing, NOTHING - not drought nor gales nor torrential rain- will dissuade the jerusalem artichokes from doing their thing. So all is not lost, even when it feels as though it might well be. There will be some overwintering veg courtesy of a plug plant pack we purchased last year too late in the season to be dispatched. There are plans afoot to cover the rest of that ground in thick pond liner over the winter, ready to hit the barren ground running in spring with mulch and plug plants. Next year, once again, will be better.

How does your garden grow?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Soon, my pretties...soon

I am hoping that it is going to be a good year for my favourite fruit. I love blackberries. Even in this city they grow rampantly and huge areas of common land are thick with accessible brambles. I have fond memories of blackberrying in woods and country lanes back in the motherland and on our holiday there last year we blackberried some, foraging for them along with damsons, apples and sloes. The stained fingers and clothes, the thorn scratched arms and occasional deeply cut finger are all worth it for the basket that never quite fills as every other berry makes its way into your mouth.

If there is one fruit I know how to handle in the kitchen, it is these. It is such a shame that they are so underused in this country. They are a rare sight in grocers (why, why, WHY do people choose watery imported blueberries and raspberries over these fat little gems?) usually sold in tiny overpriced cartons as if they are an exotic fruit. They are not; and if you are yet to experience a days blackberrying, now is the time to scout out some brambles. 

Another week or so and they will be mine.


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