wonderful weeds

I’m sorry if you are a fast reader,  I am having to type very slowly due to the fact that the Devil himself has taken up residence in my right shoulder and is drilling away with a red hot poker.  He has been there for almost two weeks and I was rather hoping he would be bored by now and have moved on to another victim but it would seem that he has settled in for the duration.  Codeine and hot wheat packs are making a small dent in the pain.  I shall pause briefly for you to say “Ahhh” and share some sympathy before moving on to the subject of the day………..

I promised recipes and those you shall have.  All in good time.  We have had a couple of days of sudden and heavy rain and we were rather hoping that there might be some mushrooms in the woods.  There were not.  Not to be defeated we picked our first rowan berries





and some pineappleweed.



It is still quite early for the rowan berries and I will pick more later in the year when they are a richer red.  In the meantime they are simmering away on the stove ready to be made into rowan jelly.

The pineappleweed you will know, and quite possibly hate.  It grows rampantly on driveways and similar hard stoney ground.  If you crush the little yellow buds you will release a beautiful pineapple fragrance.  You can dry it and make tea, but as the only teas I like are builders and apple I won’t be bothering with that.  Instead I whizzed up a cup of buds with two cups of sugar.  The oil in the buds makes the sugar rather wet so you have to leave it out to dry.  It also makes it rather green.


But it makes delicious cakes and biscuits.


Now the salve recipes


  1. Collect and dry the comfrey leaves (I use the dehydrator)
  2. Crush and weigh leaves.
  3. Mix 1oz of leaves to 1 cup of olive oil
  4. Either leave to infuse for 4-6 weeks or heat gently (do not let boil) and leave to infuse for 24 hours.  No prizes guessing which method I use.
  5. Strain through muslin.
  6. Add 1oz of beeswax (grated or use pellets or granules)  to every cup of oil.
  7. Heat gently until wax fully melted.
  8. Pour into prepared jars to set.


Pretty much the same method but using dried lavender flowers.


I used this recipe from Quirky Cooking  I don’t have the specialist cooker/mixer she uses but it worked just fine with a heavy bottomed pan and a whisk.  I used 6tbsp of rosewater rather than rosewater and water, and I added a couple of drops of pure rose essential oil.  Divine.


Part of the decluttering process is finding alternative ways to meet essential needs.  I have always been fascinated by herbal medicine and though I know a bit about the basics I would like to learn more.  I have played around with making lotions and potions and soaps but the driving force, the one that says “this is for real not for fun” wasn’t there before.

Now I’m not just making face creams for presents but because I don’t want to buy them.  I have a field full of comfrey full of lavender.  I don’t need to buy comfrey salve I can make it myself.

So today I did.  Three jars of comfrey salve, one of lavender salve and three of rosewater moisturiser.DSC_1657


Recipes tomorrow, because I have a family to feed and potatoes to dig up and salad to pick for supper 🙂

first steps

I’ve had a tremendous response to my announcement about going plastic free.  Thank you very much.  However, it is rather daunting, perhaps I should have kept quiet and then my failures (I am not so naïve as to think there will be none) will not be so public.  So striking whilst the iron is hot, here is update number one.


  • Plastic chopping boards have been put away.  We still have two wooden ones so they were surplus to requirements anyway.
  • I cannot find any dog, cat, poultry, parrot or fish food that doesn’t come packaged in plastic.  I will have a word with our feed supplier.  We are good customers so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
  • Toiletry containers.  I make my own toner with rosewater and witch hazel and store that in metal bottles, but the bulk rosewater and witch hazel comes in plastic …….  I’ve got quite enough moisturiser and oil for the moment and will use them up but can see this might be problematic.
  • cleaning products.  I tend to use bicarb, vinegar and essential oils for most house cleaning and have bought metal trigger spray cannisters for the bathrooms.  I am experimenting with soapnuts.  I have plenty of washing up liquid and dishwasher powder for the moment.  When it needs replacing I can get loose dishwasher powder in cardboard.  Washing up liquid  will be more of a challenge.  Back to bicarb?
  • Food.  A whole post on its own I think!
  • Cd and dvd.  I got rid of the cases years ago and store them in specialist folders to reduce space.  New music and films can be downloaded.
  • I rarely take a plastic bag as I have always had  my own and have two onya bags that live in my handbag for emergencies.  However, the rest of the family is not so observant.
  • Freezer bags and Tupperware.  I know that you can freeze in glass but it will take time to build up a suitable collection of containers.  We use our freezer a lot.  We buy whole sheep, we have a large orchard and fruit garden  I freeze tons of fruit.  I often bulk cook and place additional meals in the freezer.  I make stock with every carcass …..
  • Medicine bottles.  I noted that Bea Johnson conceded that their medicine cupboard was the one area where she had not managed to avoid all packaging so I don’t feel quite so bad.
  • Diary cartons.  The milkman won’t deliver to us as we are too far out but he will deliver to the castle and I can pick up from there.  I can easily go back to making my own yoghurt and soft cheese.  That leaves cream/crème fraiche.
  • My pencil case is leather but the girls have to have clear pencil cases for their exams.  Short of having a glass box I am not sure how to avoid plastic here.
  • Junk mail.  I admire anyone who has managed to get their junk mail reduced, I am fighting an endless battle, one step forward two steps back.
  • I have been wanting a new watering can for the garden and the house for a long time so now I can get one!  Garden hose is more of a problem and essential for our garden especially the vegetable beds.
  • Clothes pegs.  Easily replaced.
  • Washing machine balls.  Hmm, they are supposed to be ecologically sound in that they help the washing with less powder so a conundrum.  Have switched to soapnuts and think they could probably do with the help.
  • Tumble drier balls.  With a family of five living in the back of beyond with 3 dogs, 5 cats, chickens, geese and a small lake we have a lot of dirty clothes.  In the winter even with the Aga and the overhead airer I need to tumble dry to keep up.  The balls are supposed to reduce the amount of drying required.  Second conundrum
  • Kitchen sink plug – simple buy a metal washing up bowl – if I can find one….
  • Fermenting bin.  This isn’t my area of expertise, can you use metal bins?
  • packaging.  A parcel came today wrapped in bubble wrap.  Normally I would keep it to reuse, it seems pointless to throw it away and I will need to wrap parcels at Christmas?
  • Packing tape.  Apparently non plastic does exist, I just have to find it.
  • Folders.  Plastic does last longer than cardboard.  Research required.
  • Meat baster.  I did have a glass one once.
  • Shower cap?  Help here please.
  • Husband has metal razor, I see no reason why I can’t.


|I’m exhausted already!



plastic free

2017-07-03 10.34.45Inspired by nzecochick, who along with thousands of people in New Zealand, Australia and an increasing number of other countries, went plastic free in July.  I decided I would attempt to do the same in September.

I have given myself August to start planning and preparing.  This is an arbitrary and incomplete list of the plastic already in our house.

  1. pet food sacks
  2. toiletry containers
  3. cleaning product containers
  4. food wrapping
  5. toothbrushes
  6. hairbrushes
  7. food storage containers
  8. cd cases
  9. dvd cases
  10. bags
  11. freezer bags
  12. bin bags
  13. medicine bottles
  14. dairy cartons
  15. pencil cases
  16. junk mail/catalogue covers
  17. watering cans
  18. clothes pegs
  19. washing maching balls
  20. tumble drier balls
  21. chopping board
  22. kitchen sink plug
  23. fermenting bin
  24. parcel packaging
  25. wrapping tape
  26. folders
  27. meat baster
  28. shower cap
  29. razor
  30. clothes packaging (multibuy underwear, shirts etc)

I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist.  Suddenly it didn’t seem so easy after all.  Also with three teenage daughters and a husband who thinks that one can go too far and I am approaching that point, I am going to be flying solo.

Fortunately the plastic free movement is live and kicking.  There is a vast array of blogs and information sites on the internet:

Yesterday I walked around the house and looked at what I could change immediately.

2017-07-03 10.36.01

  • stainless steel water bottles
  • enamel picnic ware
  • stainless steel straws
  • replace travel mugs (ours are falling apart)
  • bamboo  picnic cutlery
  • stainless steel lunchboxes
  • wooden chopping boards
  • clothes pegs
  • make own yoghurt
  • make own toiletries and cleaning products
  • use stainless steel containers for toiletries and cleaning products
  • download music
  • use DVD library and Netflix
  • cut up a loofah for a pan scrubber

2017-07-03 10.26.15

Also I have discovered that there is a Food Weigh House in Gateshead and in Newcastle so I may just be able to buy bulk without packaging after all.  My wonderful butcher thinks I am bonkers but is happy to let me use my own containers and now I just have to have the same conversation with my very friendly fishmonger.  Fortunately the greengrocers are already quite happy for me to tip everything willy nilly into my bags.

Plastic free kitchen storage is going to be a problem.  I need big storage containers for flours, nuts, rice, etc.  I have found some good deals for 2 and 3 litre kilner jars but they are just too (1cm to be precise) tall for my pantry shelves.  I may be able to move some stuff around but this is going to be a more complex issue than just buying new jars.  If anyone knows of any wide & flatter glass storage containers, at least 2l in size please let me know.

So that’s the tip of the iceberg sorted.  Now for the rest.  What plastic can you exclude in September?

food from the foreshore

This is how not to do it.


This is a mixture of pepper dulse and carrageen.  I was running out of bags and thought I would have no trouble separating them out when I got home.  As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman “Big mistake”.  Fortunately PM was on the radio and Eddie Mair kept me going.  Thank you Eddie

Finally I had this.


Carrageen on the left and pepper dulse on the right.  Both will be dried and stored.  Carrageen is an excellent alternative to gelatin and has the advantage that it can be used warm or cold.  Pepper dulse lives up to its name and has a strong pepper flavour and dried is a delicious condiment.

Sea spaghetti will be kept in a plastic bag in the fridge.  I like it just as it is, like samphire, but we had it with a soy sauce dressing on Saturday evening and that was delicious too.


Gutweed and Sea lettuce are drying in the oven and will be fried to make genuine chinese seaweed (rather than the cabbage or lettuce many restaurants substitute)


Finally the kelp drying on the line!


This will be chopped up and fried to make delicious crisps.

In other news the dehydrator has been working overtime and I’m hoping to get going on some salves.  Lime vodka and lemon vodka are on the shelf with their friends and I have a huge bowl of freshly dried lavender for bread and biscuits.

from vodka to seaweed

I’m not the world’s greatest vodka fan.  I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Grey Goose and Aldi.  On the other hand it is a wonderful preservative for things like chillis (which are dripping off the plants in my greenhouse) and even I quite like a vodka and tonic when the vodka has had a little help.



From left to right, lavender vodka, raspberry brandy (the interloper) and raspberry vodka.  It is harvest time and if I don’t get down to making cordials, jellies and infusing spirits soon there will be little left.  There are plenty of recipes for fruit spirits I don’t follow any of them.  I take the flower or fruit and add them to the spirit.  My personal choices are brandy and vodka although when the brambles come out later in the year I will make bramble whisky, the strong flavour of the brambles complements the whisky, it goes well with brandy as well but is pointless to waste vodka on them.  Vodka is best for the subtler flavours such as flowers and raspberries.  I don’t add any sugar.  If you want to make a liqueur then I prefer to add sugar syrup to taste once the infusion is complete.  Personally I prefer to leave it as pure spirit, if somebody wants a liqueur I can always add the sugar syrup later.

The rosehips need to mature a little more before they are ready but the meadowsweet


is everywhere and I want to get plenty of syrup made before it fades.

There is so much in the garden, and not just that which I planted which needs to be harvested.  Today I will collect and dry comfrey and lavender.   Comfrey is no longer considered safe to eat due to its high levels of alkaloids   but it is a great healer.  You can use the leaves direct on a wound during the summer months and I shall make a salve for the winter.  It also makes a terrific fertiliser.

I like to have a good store of culinary quality lavender and what better way than to grow your own?  It’s great in baking, and its soothing properties makes it good in salves as well.

Finally I must dry out the seaweed we collected at the weekend.  The lavender smells better but needs must!

food for free part 1

I promise not to bore you to death with endless posts about foraging but if you really are seeking to downshift, to get away from packaging, to eat truly fresh food then learning to forage is essential.  It is also great fun, what is not to like about going for a walk and coming back with supper?

If you are in the UK (or even not, one of our fellow foragers and his wife are regular’s on Chris and Rose’s courses and they live in Isreal!) then you really cannot do much better than have a look at Taste the Wild.  Chris and Rose and immensely knowledgeable and very good company.  We have now been on two of their courses and I am eyeing up a few more.  I have been on other courses, but I can say hand on heart, their’s were the best.

These were some of the things we found on our hilltop walk on Saturday morning.





This is everywhere and not hard to find.  The buds make a delicious green vegetable and the dried seeds are wonderful in baking.  It is a member of the notorious carrot family  (which includes several severely poisonous plants including hemlock and hemlock water dropwort) Notice the leaves.  If you are unsure then avoid any of the umberliferous plants with small fern like leaves.   Hogweed has larger fully formed leaves.




You will have this in your garden.  I guarantee it.  If you are a keen gardener you will be intimately familiar with it, well help is at hand, you can pull it up and eat it.  It is easily identifiable and only likely to be confused with yellow pimpernel (which is poisonous) however, the clue is in the name.  Chickweed has tiny white flowers whilst those of the pimpernel are yellow.  Also if you crush the leaf of chickweed it will crumple to mush whist the pimpernel will uncurl again.  Finally, if you snap the stem chickweed leaves a small string between the two halves whilst the pimpernel breaks into two separate pieces.  The stem of chickweed also has a row of tiny hairs along one side – pimpernels are bald!

It is an excellent addition to salads, green soups, stir fries and added to anything where you might use something like spinach eg. fritters, omelettes etc.





Another commonly foraged plant.  Always pick in open grassland in full sun and not under hedgerows or trees where you may confuse it with lords and ladies.  L&L is poisonous but the leaves are fundamentally different.  Sorrell has pointed backwards pointing lobes whereas those of L&L are always rounded. The sorrel flowers are small and red and as they often grow alongside buttercups you can sometimes see a red haze above the yellow.

The flavour is quite strong so is best mixed with gentler flavour leaves in a salad and they make a tremendous sauce or stuffing and are wonderful in omelettes.  However if you were to eat vast quantities of sorrel every day you could do yourself some damage due to the high oxalic acid content.


Fat Hen



I love this name, I imagine a huge great hen waddling round the courtyard.  I have no idea where the name comes from though. It grows best on disturbed, nitrogen rich soil it is very salt tolerant and is thus common along the coast.  It is the bane of almost every gardener and  very easy to find.  However they can be mistaken for the nightshade family so stick to the younger plants which have a distinctive mealy surface or to the fully grown plants with their distinctive spikes of tiny whitish flowers.

Use the leaves as a green vegetable including the flower spikes.



DSC_1501               DSC_1503


Although umberliferous it is easy to distinguish from the poisonous plants  as the groups of florets are much smaller and the  leaves are long featherlike spears.  Can group up to only about 18″ so is also much smaller.  Use the leaves in salad, they are quite peppery and dried they make a good tea.




Anyone remember coltsfoot rock?    It is made exclusively by Stockley’s Sweets in Lancashire using coltsfoot extract.

The underside of the leaf is downy and the plant produces a flower not unlike that of the dandelion, thought the leaves are distinctly different.  The flavour is slightly aniseedy and can be used as a flavouring as well as in salads.  The flowers are also edible.

Apparently the soft underside is easily rubbed off and before the free availability of matches the leaves were wrapped in a cloth dipped in a saltpetre solution and dried in the sun.  They were then used as tinder.


Ribwort Plantain

DSC_1505                               DSC_1506


There are plenty of plantains and you may well have them in your garden, all over your lawn!  We do,though mainly in the meadow rather than the lawn.

The leaves are pretty uninspiring but the tips of the seed head are lovely in salads, pizza etc. with a mushroomy taste



In a journey towards less, there is more to contend with than removing things from your home.  You must also consider how and why you let things into your home, and indeed your life in general.

I have long been a supermarket avoider.  I am one of the founder members of The Durham Local Food Network, and have over the years made my own  butter, cheese, soap, shampoo, furniture polish, cleaning products, face creams as well as the more usual, preserves, breads, wines, fruit brandies etc.  All were a huge success with the possible exception of butter, which though it tasted delicious was really not worth the effort.  If I had to make all my own butter we would never bake again!

I have always loved foraging. I am not particularly knowledgeable, but have always been eager to learn. I have never poisoned anyone, but there have been some less than successful experiments.  Acorn coffee tasted rather good, but like the butter, was a faff to make.  Adding cleavers to salads enhanced it in my view, but not in that of the rest of the family.  Rowan jelly is delicious after two years, it is vile in year one.

Imagine my delight to discover that the Boss and I were going on a two day coastal foraging course with Rose and Chris Bax and Caco from Taste the Wild.   We went out mushrooming with them in October last year and it was such a fantastic day that when I opened the voucher on Christmas morning I was devastated to realise that I had to wait until August.  It was well worth the wait.

I have pondered whether to give you a blow by blow account in one post or not.    Fearful that some of you might not be able to contain your excitement and could suffer an unexpected early onset life threatening condition through sheer joy I shall sprinkle the reports over the next few weeks.

However, as a small taste of what is to come.

This is me fishing for whiting and cod on “All My Sons” with Sean.  Day one was not a great success for me (though great for the others).  I caught up well enough on day two. On the first evening  I was also suffering from a touch of sea sickness and spent the latter part of the journey, whilst they were emptying the lobster pots, with my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon…


This is supper on day two… in addition to which we also had two HUGE lobsters, a guarnard, winkles, limpets and some shore crabs.  Anybody recognise anything?!  With the exception of the bread, the salad and salsa verde we caught or foraged all of it.


I would hazard a guess that depending on where you live, at least half of the “weeds” you are trying to eradicate from your garden you could eat one way or another.

  • chickweed
  • rosebay willow herb
  • fat hen
  • hogweed
  • grape plantain
  • Everlasting sweet pea (NOT the annuals)
  • Ground Ivy

And that doesn’t even begin to include all the things that probably don’t grow in your garden …..


The is becoming a pleasure not a chore.  When I went out to work I would always put my clothes out, including shoes and jewellery out the night before. Some nights I would panic and just grab one of my standard outfits just so that I didn’t have to think about it in the morning.  These days I don’t have to dress up for work, but I do have to dress!  It is always easier in the summer, a single dress, underwear and sandals and hey presto.  Winter requires more planning because it requires more clothes but I am hoping that by beginning my training with Project333 this summer will help for the winter.

We have just come back from two weeks in Turkey.  The clothes required for a daily temperature of 30-35 degrees is somewhat different to those required for summer in the north of England (even in our heatwave).  I had to make some changes to the 33 items.  At first I thought I had failed, but on reflection I decided I hadn’t.  Failure would be to have gone back to my old wardrobe and I didn’t do that.  So this is was what I did.  On  my return I looked at the clothes in my suitcase and put them in three piles.  Those that had come from my original 33 items; those that had not and would not return to that pile (beach dress, bikini for example); those that had not but I would like to keep.  Pile one and three were put in my 333 wardrobe (after washing of course!).

Then I took out of my 333 wardrobe all the clothes that I had originally put in but hadn’t worn.  I felt compelled to put in trousers including a pair of jeans because I thought I might need them.  But I hardly ever wear trousers.  They were returned to the storage wardrobe.

Now I dress from the much reduced 333 wardrobe, but if I want to wear something that is not there I take it from the storage wardrobe and return it to the 333 wardrobe after wearing.  I’m not up to 33 items yet and everything in my wardrobe has earned the right to  be there.  It is interesting seeing what does go in and I am looking forward to comparing the final 33 at the end of September with the original 33 I chose in July.

No posts over the weekend as I am off on a foraging weekend with Taste the Wild.  I can’t wait!


more please

When I started this journey I had only one thing on my mind – to get rid of all the stuff that was irritating the hell out of me.  Perhaps I thought that once I had done that my life would be sorted.  Much like the “if I lose 20lb/get a new job/earn another £10,000/get married/have a baby [delete as appropriate] everything will be perfect”.  But life isn’t like that, you can’t measure contentment, despite the Government’s determination to measure of happiness it cannot be done, it is not a determinable constant measurable on an analogue scale.  On the other hand if you are prepared to measure logarithmically perhaps it can be done; the happier you feel you are the happier you become.

I have achieved a huge amount in only a month or so.  We have a huge house and it has happily held a lot of stuff for a very long time.  I have cleared books, clothes, kitchen equipment, linen, jewellery, paperwork,  It is true that stuff will expand to fill the space available. We have a lot of space and I am a very organised person.  I knew where everything was, everything was in its place and apart from a few hot spots the house didn’t look cluttered (except perhaps to a serious minimalist).  But I knew it was and boy have I been proven right.

Despite everything I have managed to do thus far there is still a long way to go.  Am I downhearted?  Absolutely not.  I am thrilled.  The more I achieve the more I want to achieve.  As I move around the house putting away washing, cleaning the sink or picking up the detritus generated by three teenage girls I see more opportunities to declutter.  I worked through my jewellery yesterday afternoon in just under an hour, while I was at it I reorganised where it went and gave my dressing table a once over.  Result – clear space, jewellery I will wear and three daughters delighted with the rejects.

The less I have the more I want – more of less.