plastic free july

I’ve covered this before, funnily enough in July!  I was very good, I avoided all sorts of plastic I otherwise took for granted but then as the year wore on I fell off the bandwagon.  So I thought I would assess how much I had managed to stick to.  I was pleasantly surprised.

 

  • Stainless steel straws.  I have struggled to get the girls on board with this but small steps.  If I go out I take my own straw.

 

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  • Glass coffee cup.  I don’t have takeaway cups anymore.

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  • Stainless steel lunch box

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  • Bamboo cutlery, none of that nasty and easily snapped plastic rubbish thank you 🙂

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  • Enameled mugs, plates and bowls for picnics.

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  • Portable BBQ, we have a lot of BBQs on holidays and now we don’t need to buy disposable ones.  We even have our own flint but that is a bit hardcore!

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  • Beeswax food wrap.  I made my own, but you can easily buy it now.
  • Leftovers always go in a bowl not in foil or cling film
  • Stainless steel wineglasses.  We still have glass ones, but these are the every day ones.  Less broken glass.  Also much nicer for picnics.

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  • Onya vegetable bags rather than plastic bags at the greengrocer/supermarket.  This has caused a bit of a stir at some tills, but so far nobody other than a chap in Romania has actually refused to let me use them.
  • Who gives a crap bamboo loo roll and kitchen paper.  It comes wrapped in paper not plastic  (which makes excellent wrapping paper for people who don’t mind the words!)  Also they donate 50% of profits towards building loos in the Developing World.  So win win.  I also have reusable kitchen roll which is fab.  It is sadly in a plastic box because all the metal ones were HUGELY overpriced.  I’m still looking.

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  • I keep all my paper bags.  Very useful for ripening fruit and vegetables and storing mushrooms.
  • I think it goes without saying that I never travel without my parachute Onya shopping bag.  No plastic bags thank you.
  • We rarely drink fizzy drinks but we do drink a lot of fizzy water.  I have a Sodastream now.
  • I mainly drink loose leaf tea and make my own herbal teas.  Most (not all) teabags contain plastic.
  • I bulk buy and refill wherever possible.  Sadly much that I bulk buy still comes in plastic (washing liquids, oils in particular)  I’m working on that.
  • Compost, compost, compost.  We had to build a new compost bin so I am starting from scratch and it will be a year or so before I have my own compost supply, but when I do I will not need big plastic bags of compost.

 

Where I have not done so well.

  • Animal feed.  All bar the chicken pellets come in big plastic sacks.
  • Even bulk buying liquids means I have to buy in plastic even if I am buying less plastic than if I bought individually.
  • I tried a bamboo toothbrush and still use it for travelling but I couldn’t give up my non-compostable electric one.
  • All toothpaste comes in plastic whether it is paste or powder.
  • We can’t get milk in glass or waxed card containers.
  • I have fallen up on buying pre-packed food (meat, vegetables, cheese, deli produce) I need to get back on the wagon again.
  • I stopped making my own bread, yoghurt, kefir on a regular basis.
  • I haven’t been very good at keeping cardboard boxes and so have often used plastic postage envelopes for parcels.

Still not bad, plenty of room for improvement but now I can see where I have to work.

Why don’t you give it a go too  Plastic Free July.

the upcycling cycle

I love social media, to be specific Facebook.  I quite like twitter and Whatsapp is great for group conversations but if I want to waste an hour without noticing then Facebook is the place for me.  I follow news outlets, political parties, craft groups and an upcycling group.

Upcycling- the new shopping.  Don’t buy something new, don’t throw away something old, upcycle it into something totally different.  It  ticks all the boxes for the eco-friendly.  You can create new, useful and beautiful objects from stuff that would otherwise go in o landfill, and at the same time you are not buying new and unnecessary stuff that will probably end up in landfill in a few years time anyway.  Perfect.

Or is it?  There are two types of upcycling projects.  The one where you find something lurking around the house and instead of chucking it out a light bulb goes off in your head and you say “wow this cracked decanter that hasn’t seen a bottle of wine in decades would make a perfect lampstand”.  Using my highly accurate survey methods (i.e. asking around, looking on social media and following a huge range of upcycling blogs etc) about 80% of potential crystal lampshades will remain as cracked decanters; 10% will get part way there and will metamorphose into decanterlamps that are missing vital parts and will never make the full transformation; 5% will be transformed but never switched on and will remain in the workroom/shed and a lucky 5% will shine bright on the table shaming every failed upcycler who comes into the room.

The second type of project is that created by the pro-active seeker upcycler.  This character scours markets, auction houses, freegle, swap and sale groups and second-hand  and charity shops actively looking for potential projects.  No three-legged chair is without potential and nirvana is a pile of pristine, unwanted pallets.  It is also not unheard of to purchase new (“what?!”) items purely in order to turn them into something else.  I will confess to  having fallen into that category.  Why buy something already made, when I can buy the constituent parts and make it myself.  We are not talking saving hundreds or even tens of pounds.  I suspect my rather lovely cake tin stand would have cost as much to purchase ready made as it did for me to make it (but it wouldn’t have wobbled quite as nicely as mine does).

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Returning to my highly tuned research methods I had assumed that these projects would have a higher success rate.  The people who take the the time to seek out the unpolished gem and part with hard earned cash for it are surely not going to let it languish unloved in a shed?  These are people who frequently sell their completed upcycles.  They have a vested financial interest in getting the job done.

Ladies and gentleman, we are all the same.  Whilst there are of course exceptions to every rule (and the standard deviation for my statistics here is probably in the region of +/- 2,500 or thereabouts!) the proactively sought and paid for projects stand just as much chance of making it to that final 5% as granny’s whisky decanter did.

As the build on the Barn and Gin Gan comes nearer to completion we have to move even more stuff out and rehouse it in our now smaller home.   The picture frame that I was going to turn into a gilt mirror, the china kept for mosaic work.  How long have I had them?  Have they magically transformed themselves in my absence?  Reader, they have gone.  Perhaps somebody else would like to house them in the vain hope that they might one day make a mosaic effect mirror?

mango mango mango

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There is nothing like a mango, nothing that I can know.  With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II.  One of the many, many bonuses of being in SE Asia is the proliferance of mangoes.  Back home we usually only have two choices of mango (Kent and Keitt) both of which are relatively bland compared to the huge choice available across Asia.  Mango is sold on almost every street corner in Thailand, chopped up in little bags with convenient little wooded sticks to avoid getting your fingers sticky.  As the girls will confirm, any attempt to prevent my fingers getting sticky and dribbling food down my front is bound to fail.  I am the messiest eater I know.  As a result when travelling and needing a snack to keep me going I avoided the fresh variety and instead stocked up on dried mango.  The only problem was that I could eat an entire family sized bag in one sitting, and frequently did!

The good news is that it is now possible to get other varieties of Mango in the UK.  One option is to seek out your local specialist Indian supermarket or if you live in Durham the wonderful Robinsons Greengrocers on North Road, but if you are in a specialist shop desert you can find some delicious Pakistani and Indian mangoes in some of the larger supermarkets and I am reliably informed that Thai mangoes will be available this year too.  Get hunting mango lovers.

However, dried mango is readily available and to maintain my mango fix without dribbling down my front I made these yummy mango balls from Madeleine Shaw’s Ready Steady Glow

  • 200g dried mango
  • grated zest of one lime
  • 180g desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • sesame seeds for rolling

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Soak the mango in water for half an hour or so and drain.  I kept the water and put it in my water bottle for the next day.

Add the mango to the rest of the ingredients and blitz in a food processor.

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Mould into bite-size balls and roll in the sesame seeds.  Keep in the fridge for as long as you can!

Next time I may pass on the sesame seeds or perhaps toast them first as I didn’t think they added all that much and they kept sticking between my teeth.  But the wonderful thing about this kind of recipe is the total adaptability.  Swap mango for dried apricots, swap coconut for chopped nuts (I’ve tried apricot and pistachio – you can see the little green squares on the left of the top photo – they were delicious and as you can see there are only a few left!)

Enjoy.

Love Gillie x

the kimchi kick

There is nothing like the kick that you get from a good mouthful of kimchi first thing in the morning.  It is the mother of all wake up calls.  But unless you happen to  have a Korean chef living in the kitchen, or live above a Korean restaurant you are going to have to make it yourself.

I have had several goes at  making kimchi with varying success.  I trawled the internet for recipes but I struggled to get the balance right.  Some were too spicy, some not spicey enough.  Some seemed like a vegetable explosion with a shopping list as long as my arm.  Some looked rather sparse.

Then I went on a little cookery books shopping spree and one of my purchases was this

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And there on page 98 was Kimchi nirvana.  Just the right mix of vegetables and just the right balance of spice.

Here it is, with thanks to Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo Classic Cabbage Kimchi (baechu kimchi)

  • 1 large airtight sterilised jar with lid

vegetables

  • I large Chinese cabbage (about 1kg)
  • 50g table salt
  • 70g sea salt
  • 450g daikon radish cut into fine julienne strips
  • 30g chives cut into 4cm lengths
  • 4 spring onions halved lengthways and cut into 4cm lengths

paste

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rice flour
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 20g grated ginger
  • 100g finely chopped onion
  • 1tbsp salted shrimp paste
  • 70g gochugaru red pepper powder (I substituted medium strength smoked paprika)
  • 100ml nam pla
  • 2tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tbsp coconut sugar (you can use unrefined sugar if you can’t get coconut sugar)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

First prepare the cabbage.  I misread the instructions and separated the leaves, this recipe actually asks you to cut the base off the cabbage and separate the leaves whilst keeping the cabbage intact.  Rinse well and sprinkle the sea salt on each leaf, focussing on the thick base and working up to the thinner peak then place in a bowl of saline made with 1 litre of water and the table salt.  Leave for four hours until the leaves are soft and limp.

Meanwhile make the paste.  This was new to me, I had never used rice flour before and this was a much thicker paste than I had made before.  Mix the flour with 2 tbsp of water with a fork until there are  no lumps and add a further 230ml of water and place in a pan.  Heat to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes stirring all the time until the paste is thick and glutenous.

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Remove from the heat and leave to cool, the paste will become thicker still as it does

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Combine all the rest of the paste ingredients in a food processor with the cooled paste.

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Transfer to a large bowl with the daikon, spring onions, and chives.  Mix well ensuring that all the vegetables are well combined with the paste.

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Now this is where I had to divert from the original instructions as I had separated my cabbage leaves.  I covered each leaf with the mixture and rolled it up.  If you have followed the instructions properly you spoon the mixture onto each cabbage half making sure to cover every leaf with the mixture and wrapping the outer leaf of each half around the cabbage to keep the mixture in.

Place in the jar leaving 3cm between the cabbage and the lid.  Seal tightly and keep at room temperature for two days.  By then it will have started to ferment and will smell a little sour and there will be plenty of juice.  Press the cabbage down into the juice, reseal and place in the fridge.  Start to taste it after a couple of weeks.  The longer you leave it the more sour it will become.  It should keep for about five to six months in an air tight container in the fridge.

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Enjoy

Love Gillie x

 

 

triangles, opium and rubies

I am leaping ahead a little, but as it’s my blog I make the rules.  Fast forward from Ko Samui to a couple of hours north of Chiang Rai.  We are staying in a community owned lodge called Lanjia.  It is well off the beaten track, and utterly beautiful.  There are four bamboo lodges each with two double beds.

These are no ordinary double beds.  For those of you who have read Heidi, cast your mind back to the moment when Heidi’s grandfather makes up her bed for the first time.  For the rest of you, imagine a down mattress, a light down duvet and down pillows. Sorry geese, but your feather sacrifice was worth it I promise you.

We are about an hour from the Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Burma meet, and where opium grows like nobody knows …

We have a car.  We always hire a car when we travel, it’s the only way to get around and see what you want to see when you want to.  You can hire a guide but we have found that with good books, good internet research and a map (or good old google maps – see my earlier post!)  you can find pretty much anything you want (well apart from the Mae Chan Winery – but that is a whole other story).

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The Golden Triangle is a tourist centre, but beguiling nonetheless.  I can only assume that until Laos became communist free and Burma became more democratic it must have been a no go area.  It would be easy even for me to swim across the borders.

Thailand on the left,  Burma the spit in the middle, Laos on the left.

Even young novice monks go on tourist trips, these three must have been about 13 years old at most.

There were Buddhas

And Hindu Gods

We left the Golden Triangle and went to visit the Opium Hall.  Not what you are thinking, it is the most amazing museum set up by the Princess Mother to educate people about the perils of Opium.  It is a striking building and excellent museum, with interactive displays, videos and well produced information and videos.  It begins with the history of opium, the development of the East India Company and the opium trade cycles the opium wars that resulted the free use of opium and cocaine during the nineteenth century (where do you think Coca Cola gets its name?)  and concludes with the herion trade and problems of addiction today.  It is one of the best museums I have ever been too and if you make it up here you must visit it.  There are no pictures because none are allowed, but here is a link to the tripadvisor page  for more information.

We finally headed up to the Burma border at Mae Sai.

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We didn’t cross over as the Volunteer has only a single exit visa and is off to Cambodia and Vietnam after we leave, but we went for a fascinating walk through the huge market that lines the street towards the border.

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Fish

 

P1020455Grapes the size of plums.

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Squid kebabs.  And gemstones, lots and lots of gemstones, particularly rubies, pearls, silver, gold you name it you could buy it.  Not sure of the provenance mind you!  Meanwhile the main road was packed with cars, songtaks and scooters heading across the border in both directions.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

food glorious food

Family Smellie is very keen on its food and Thailand has not let us down once.  So we thought it was time that we did a little hands on cooking.   Rather than just stuffing our faces with the delicious food cooked by others, we would do some of the preliminary work ourselves.

Enter Toi, chef extraordinaire at Sea Dance.  She was chosen to bravely steer Family Smellie through the cooking process.  This is what awaited us when we arrived for our lesson.

 

Even if we didn’t cook it but just feasted with our eyes and noses that would have been a sensual journey in itself.  But Family Smellie needed to fill its bellies so onwards and upwards.

First up, as in any good project of any kind, is the preparation.  I was put on chopping duty and managed to impress Toi not only with my knowledge of nam pla but also my prowess with a mini machete!

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We began with seafood salad and followed with chicken green curry and chicken and ginger stir fry.  The Travellerwas not impressed by having to skin and scour the squid, but she did an excellent job.

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The seafood was left to marinade in soy sauce, nampla, chopped chilli, chopped garlic and palm sugar.  The Boss was in charge of chicken prep.

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First up was the green curry.  The curry paste was added to hot oil and the coconut cream added spoon by spoon.  I am used to chucking the tin in all at once, but this way the sauce remained thick and cooked more slowly, it was thinned with water or chicken stock later.

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Chicken first and finally vegetables.

 

The volunteer took notes.

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Stir fry was down to the Traveller and she was not convinced she could do the flip so expertly demonstrated by Toi, convinced that instead she would cover the Boss with a selection of chicken and vegetables.

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But she got the wrist action and managed a perfect stir fry flip with no stray veg at all.

 

And the finished products.

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And time to eat.

 

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A few days later I bumped into Toi in the gardens and she showed me around her kitchen garden.  Many of the vegetables used in the kitchen are grown on site and Toi is an excellent gardener as well as chef.  I also managed to impress her again with my knowledge of Holy Basil, there are hidden depths to me yet!  She not only grows a huge range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs for the kitchen but also a comprehensive range of herbs for the spa as well.  And I can testify that the spa is as good as the kitchen!

Love Gillie x

 

 

the big buddha and the mummified monk

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Thank God for Google maps.  Usually we are good to go with a proper map before we even leave the UK but for some reason we completely forgot to order a Ko Samui or Chiang Rai/Mai map before we left so on arrival at Sea Dance we picked up a map in reception.   A pirate map….. to be fair it did show the major sights one might want to see, but the routes to reach them were overlaid with “oo ah me hearties” lots of treasure chests and a goodly amount of parrots and one legged men.  No I have no idea either, but either way it was up there with the chocolate fireguard.

Naively I let the Boss drive off without checking where he was heading.  He has many talents and gifts, a sense of direction is not one of them.  Seriously, how many people have to ask their wife where the kids’ school is?  So as we approached Chaeweng I knew we were in trouble, we wanted to go north, Chaeweng was south.  Also the main drag in Chaeweng is one way so when the Boss tried to turn around…. well you get the picture.  At this point it was also clear that any comment about in which direction we should be heading and how to get there may have led to an expensive and messy divorce case.

So back to Google Maps.  It may not be appropriate for the wife to correct the husband, but Google Maps is allowed to.  As a result we did make it to the Big Buddha still married.

The Big Buddha is big.  Very big and quite impressive.  Although in the  mid morning heat, walking up the steps to get up close and personal to the Big Buddha is also quite impressive.  Not least because I had forgotten my scarf and was wearing a strappy dress so had to cover my shoulder with a thick woollen number borrowed from the temple.  I was very hot and bothered.  Note to self.  Leave scarf in car at all times.

I was surprised how many people went into the temple in short shorts.  It’s not hard to borrow a gown, they had plenty to borrow for free (in Bangkok you had to hire them).  It’s common courtesy and it’s not as if there were not plenty of signs asking people not to enter inappropriately dressed.

Once you have visited the temple there is little else to detain you.  There are plenty of little shops selling clothes, ice-cream and knick-knacks, not over-priced but nothing you couldn’t buy anywhere else if the desire for a tie die dress overwhelms you.

So we headed on to Wat Khunarum.   This temple is particularly famous for its mummified monk.  Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to take a photograph of him so if you would like to see him, have a look and read his story here.  If you are interested in the possibilities of deep meditation, particularly the concept of meditation at death and beyond then google “tukdam” .

Before you leave go to the gong to the left of the monk.  If you can make it sing it is supposed to bring you good luck.  It is a little like making a singing bowl sing, it is all in the angle and the pressure. There is a bucket of water.  I found a wet hand and a little earth on your palm hit the spot.

Should you wish, there is, as in almost all temples, a monk who will bless you.  It is a rather lovely and peaceful place.  Not a lot to see, but a lot to feel.

Love Gillie