Repurpose before you Recycle

Thank you for all the lovely comments both here and on  my FB page.  It is good to hear from so many people who want to ditch plastic and other single use items.  So in the spirit of reusing before recycling I have a challenge for you this week.  A repurpose challenge.


This morning I lost an old stained bamboo tee-shirt and acquired some dusters.  Very easy.  I cut up the tee-shirt and have a nice new set of lovely soft bamboo dusters.  The tee shirt wasn’t fit for charity but it wasn’t yet ready for composting.  Win win.

So my challenge for you this week, and I’ll try to do it too and let you know how I get on:

Monday:  Repurpose something you used to wear.  It could be clothing, jewellery, a scarf or a hair accessory, anything you used to wear.

Tuesday:  Repurpose something you made.  It could be last night’s leftovers or a three piece suit!  Please do not repurpose your children however irritating they are!

Wednesday: Repurpose something you have put out for recycling.  A plastic bottle, a jar, some envelopes.  Get creative in your recycling bin.

Thursday:  Repurpose something from your black hole.  We all have them, the place where we put things we don’t know what to do with but can’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of.  Some are as big as a garage or outbuilding.  Some are as small as a kitchen drawer.  You know yours, now go release something from it.

Friday:  Repurpose something that is broken.  If you can’t repair it can you turn it into something else

You get the weekend off!

Love Gillie


Plastic detox


I have been following Plastic Free July for several years now and have learned a lot and managed to cut our use of plastic considerably.  However, it’s not just about refusing plastic bags and using glass or stainless steel for food storage.  The real problem is the hidden plastic.  The plastic you can’t see and don’t expect.

When you buy food at the deli counter in the supermarket you may have noticed that some shops (eg. Sainsburys) no longer wrap your ham in a plastic bag but a paper one.  You duly put said bag in the recycling bin.  But is it paper?  No it’s not, it is “mixed  materials not currently recyclable”  The inside will be single use (i.e. non-recyclable plastic).

What about those teabags that you confidently put in the compost? If you buy organic teabags the chances are that they are 100% paper and are safe to put in your compost.  However most teabags contain polypropylene which is not biodegradable.  Which Magazine contacted major teabag producers to ask the polypropylene content of their bags.  These are some of the results:

Twinings: 0% polypropylene YIPPEE
Sainsburys Taste the Difference English Breakfast tea (Fairtrade):  1% Not bad
Morrisons: English Breakfast tea has 10% Could do better
PG Tips tea bags have 20%: YUK!
Yorkshire tea bags have 25%: YIKES!

If you are stuck on bags rather than loose tea then try to use those with the lowest polyproylene content and tear them before adding to the compost.

Most of us know that microbeads are not good.  They are clogging up the oceans and killing wildlife.  There are plenty of alternatives for scrubs.  Homemade using salt/sugar and oil, or scrubs from reputable organic companies such as Dr Organic from Holland and Barratt.  But what about the hidden plastics in cosemetics you didn’t know about?

A research paper published by the UN last year found a worrying level of hidden plastic in a huge range of cosmetic products  (UNEP report ‘Plastic in Cosmetics’, 2015)

“Microbeads and other plastic ingredients are present in products ranging from toothpaste and shower gel to eye shadows and nail polish. Their proportions vary in different products, from less than 1 per cent to more than 90 per cent of the content. In a typical shower gel analyzed in laboratory, there was roughly as much plastic material in the gel itself as in its packaging.”

You can download an app created by Beat the Microbead to check the microplastic content of a product before you purchase and look for the Look for Zero logo below to show that the product is 100% plastic free.

I mentioned the cardboard take away coffee cups yesterday.  Have you ever tried to pour hot water into a cardboard box!  There has to be something on the inside of the those cups to ensure that you don’t end up with a hot soggy pile of cardboard in your hands as you walk through the park.  Most of the time it’s polyethylene and renders the cups unrecyclable.

Likewise those cardboard juice containers, many tinned foods, some cigarette filters, till receipts, labels on everything from groceries to clothes.  All contain plastic.

When I first started using my own shopping bags and refusing to put loose fruit and veg in a plastic bag but brought my own reused paper bags I got a lot of very funny looks.  Now refusing a plastic bag is second nature.  The way we win the war against plastic is to refuse it.  Not just the plastic you can see, but educate  yourself about that which  you can’t.

Love Gillie x


how cut food waste, cut bills and see the back of your fridge

How often do you eat?  I rest my case.  You will spend a LOT of time in your fridge and larder (or food cupboards or wherever you keep the food that doesn’t live in your fridge, please don’t email me, larder is an easy word that you all understand 🙂 )

Is your fridge full of little bowls of leftovers, unidentified things in silver foil?  Do you take one look and think it would be easier just to pop out and buy a couple of chicken breasts for dinner?  How much money are you wasting on food?  Combine decluttering with the essential post holiday belt tighten and clear out your fridge.

Give it a really good clean whilst you are at it (a paste made from water or water and vinegar and bicarb is an excellent cleaner and gets rid of any unwanted smells).  Put back all the regular essentials (milk, butter, fruit juice etc.) and have a good look at what is left.  Divide it up into OMG how long has that been there , it is no longer recognisable as food, and the rest.  You can chuck the former.  This is the only time you will do that.  From now on there will be no more UFOs (unidentified food objects) in your fridge.

The rest needs to be sorted into what you have to eat fairly quickly, the open packet of bacon for example and what can hang on for a while yet, that hard heel of cheese.  Take the first group and work out what you could cook with them.  I tidied my fridge after the Christmas holidays, it was full of bits of leftovers and was driving me nuts.    The last bits of cooked ham, some cold boiled potatoes, some rather dried out sausages and the end of homemade terrine (ie I knew what was in it) was chopped up and added to the butchers scraps and cooked up for the dogs.  We had crunchy topped  cheese and squash bake using only leftovers from the fridge.  1 elderly and slightly worse for wear squash, 1 bowl of dried breadcrumbs, the remains of a pot of creme fraiche, the open packet of bacon and all the left over and rather hard heels of cheese from the holidays.  It was delicious.

If you really can’t think of what to cook with your assorted ingredients then hit the internet.  “Cabbage and cranberry recipes” alone brought up pages and pages of recipes.  So now you have tonight’s supper sorted you can put those ingredients to one side and look at the rest.

Again sort them into order of decay – i.e. use the ingredients that will last longest last.

Hey presto!  You have cleared your fridge AND written a menu plan for the next few days and you haven’t even spent a single penny.

If you are feeling brave you really ought to combine a fridge clear with a freezer clear.  With careful jiggling and swapping of ingredients you can take the hassle out of “what are we going to eat tonight”, save a fortune on groceries and find order in your kitchen.  What’s not to like?

I plan menus every week, it makes life so much easier and cheaper.  I don’t subscribe to the 15 (or whatever) circulating recipes.  How boring that must get.  Instead I start my shopping in my pantry and freezer.  Then I get out 2-4 recipe books and look for new recipes to try using the major ingredients I have found on my “in-house shop”.  I have planned every meal this week without having to purchase a single ingredient.  Last night we had pan fried steak and cranberry sauce using the left over cranberries and two rather small steaks from the freezer.  We are a family of five so cut the steak into strips after I cooked it, laid it over a mound of mashed potato, poured the sauce over the top and added lots of veg.

Once you have your recipes  allocate them to days of the week, taking into account any evenings where you will have to serve at different times to accommodate other people’s commitments or will have little time to prepare.  Baked potatoes and pasta (not together!) are our” no time to faff in the kitchn”meals.  The shopping list is made on the basis on the ingredients I need which are not in the pantry or freezer.

And this is what our fridge looks like now.


Yes I know there are still some foil covered bowls.  One is the last of the brandy butter and my life is not worth living if I don’t keep that, but I know it will go.  The other is the meat from the remains of a game pie I made which I am keeping to pill Meg (an elderly springer spaniel not my daughter – she has six tablets twice a day and it can be a bit of a challenge persuading her to take them).  Oh and you know those little plastic punnets that you get with soft fruit?  I keep them and use them to hold little things like garlic, chillies, ginger, cherry tomatoes, shallots etc.  It stops them rolling around in the vegetable drawer and means I can see exactly how much I have left of anything.

Tonight is cauliflower cheese by the way 🙂

i have a secret weapon

I have run out of window cleaner.  It is at these moments when you are prompted to look at a viable home made alternative.  Yes I can all hear you shouting vinegar and newspaper, but we have a lot of glass in our house and we are none too keen to live in  something that smells like a pickle jar and we are trying to reduce our newspaper purchases.

However, I am nothing if not resourceful, for that read enjoy research, otherwise known as nosey.  Prior to the arrival of the internet I began collecting recipes and books for homemade toiletries.  I collected rather a lot, far more than I would ever need.  Yes, I did pass some of them on in the Great Book Cull of 2013.  Who knows you might even have one of them now.

Post WWW I began to collate websites and links to recipes.   I have made a scientific, evidenced based discovery.  I cannot be faulted for the breadth of my research, the number of (unwitting) trial runs into thousands and are spread throughout the world.  Granted there was an element of self selection but in any trial you chose participants who actually suffer from the ailment if you are looking for a treatment.  No point putting Mrs Bloggs through a long trial for prostate cancer is there?

So drum roll…. big, prestigious scientific boffiny prize ……

Result: For any one homemade toiletry or cleaner required there will be no more than four ingredients using practically identical recipes.


  1. Vinegar, alcohol, lemon juice form the core of every cleaner.  Beeswax and oil form the basis of every toiletry.  Amounts vary depending on recipe and product required.
  2. The stuff we buy off the shelves must have some pretty expensive and quite probably unsavoury ingredients to justify the cost.
  3. I have been wasting money for donkeys’ years.
  4. I have a secret non-vinegar smelling solution.

So back to the windows.

The recipe that gets the most stars is vinegar, alcohol, water and cornflour.  As we can’t get rubbing alcohol (isopropanol – your useless fact for the day) my options would be surgical spirit, or if I fancied a change from the pickle jar smell, meths, which has the added advantage of giving it a gentle purple glow.

I am opting for the surgical spirit.  Not sure I am going to like the smell.  However as the Boss is currently bubbling vats of beer in the kitchen it might mask the hoppy yeasty aroma that is seeping out of every pore….

Now, the bit you have all been waiting for, the recipes:

Top Rated Window Cleaner from Crunchy Betty

  • 1/4 c. rubbing alcohol (or in my case surgical spirit)
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 c. warm water

Shake up and spray.  This is still going to smell of vinegar so I have a secret weapon.

Orange all purpose cleaner

  • Orange peel
  • Vinegar
  • Water

Yup that’s it.  You will need a large jar, I have a 2 litre kilner jar.  Fill it with orange peel.  I bought several bags of past their sell by date oranges, made copious quantities of orange juice (earning Mum of the year award to add to my scientific boffin award), shoved the peels in the jar and covered with white vinegar (or brewed condiment as it was quaintly called on the bottle).  Leave to soak for 4-6 weeks.  During this time the orange oil will seep into the vinegar and the vinegar smell completely goes (or so I hope).  Dilute with water and pour into spray bottle.  Hey presto.  I have at least 3 weeks to go before I can report back.

It strikes me that if I substitute my lovely orange smelling vinegar for pure vinegar in the various cleaning concoctions we will live not in a pickle jar but an orange grove …. where would you prefer to live?!

breaking rules

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.  Burns knew of what he spoke.  If one is to ship out the entire contents of a large Gin Gan (have you looked it up yet?) then one must empty the car of the 4454  envelopes currently residing there.

Quick advert break for The Durham Shopping Extravaganza (I know it seems very counterintuitive for a minimalist blog but stay with me).  We have been going for 25 years and have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities in and around County Durham.  For my sins I am joint chair this year and it fell to me to deliver the 4454 envelopes that we had stuffed with invitations and stamped with addresses to the the offices of the lovely Brewin Dolphin who are going to frank and post them for us.

But first I had to wait for the Singers to get ready so that I could drop them off at the station and then finally set forth to Teesside.  Reader Teesside is a very confusing place.  Even my sat nav was getting confused “Exit at the next junction, take the first left, keep right, turn left”.  How does one keep right and turn left without inducing the ire of every white van man in the North East?

Stage one complete and thence to Spennymoor to pick up the Dancer who is working in a GP surgery.  There are a surprising number of GP surgeries in Spennymoor, particularly bearing in mind it is really not very big.  They must be a poorly lot.  Four surgeries later I found her.  I returned home at 2.45pm  Clearly not a lot of clearing out was going to get done before I had to pick up the Singers…..

I am completely against multitasking.  I have done my fair share and I am pretty good at it, but as part of my mission to slow down I now ONLY DO ONE JOB AT A TIME (sorry about the shouting).  I do get interrupted, but that’s life.  If I must then I stop job one and complete the more important interruption, if not the second job waits until the first job is done.  Life has become much less stressful and I am getting more and not less done.

Today was a day to break the rules, for what are rules for if not to be broken?  I cleaned the kitchen and made the latest batch of rosehip jelly.  I cleared out the fridge and chopped up roast chicken for sandwiches.  I sorted out the clean washing and  cleared a “dumping corner” in the hall.  I sorted and wiped all the jellies, preserves and salves we have made recently whilst doing the washing up.

Sometimes needs must.  I will not be doing it again in a hurry though.  I have zero appetite tonight, I couldn’t eat supper if you paid me.  A sure sign of stress for me.  Tomorrow normal slow service will resume

all hands on deck

It is that time of year when it’s all hands on deck to pick, pickle, jelly, jam, syrup, or preserve in some other way.

There is so much free food out in the hedgerows and indeed your garden, and I don’t mean the vegetable patch.  In the past I have been overwhelmed, unable to do everything and then become exhausted and slightly resentful that I missed out on something.

There is nothing different this year.  In fact I should be more busy as I am taking my turn to chair The Durham Shopping Extravaganza, I am President of our village WI and this is the first full year that Liz and I have been running Messy Church.  But I’m much more in control.  I think I may have Mother Nature on my side.  The late spring and summer has meant that the harvests are just a little bit later and sit nicely in the school holidays.  Furthermore as I am not going back to work in September I don’t have to panic to get everything in before term starts.

Today I picked the rosehips.  Our front garden (actually probably the side garden, but it’s a bit hard to explain) is surrounded by rugosa and dog roses.  And the rosehips are looking splendid.  I stuck to the rugosa today



and boiled them up for rosehip jelly.





As they are notoriously low in pectin I boiled up some bramleys which have conveniently ripened at the same time.



Now they just have to drip away overnight and jelly making tomorrow.

We never really use the rosehip syrup all that much so I may pass on that this year, although I will dry some and whizz them up to make rosehip tea.

Back to my old favourite lavender.  I was going to make plum cobbler last night (not my plums, they are still green, but British ones nonetheless) but nobody was in the mood for something quite so heavy.  Poached plums were requested for tonight and we thought we would experiment with serving them with lavender syrup.

They dehydrator is working overtime (currently filled with past their sell by date raspberries) but I managed to squeeze in a tray of lavender and as I type it is seeping away in sugar syrup.



I’ll let you know whether poached pears and lavender are divine or disgusting.



On the no plastic front, my stainless steel atomisers arrived today.  I couldn’t find any without a plastic atomiser head.  Do they exist?  The next job will be to make up the cleaning fluids and fill them up 🙂