a train, a parade and a ferry

From markets to sleeper trains.  On the Sunday evening we headed back to Hualumphong to wait for our sleeper.  Despite all the street food we had eaten at JJ we were all still ravenous so we took it in turns to look for a bite to eat that looked a little more appetising than that on offer at the station food court.

The Boss and I found a lovely street cafe, a few chairs and a small stall.  A selection of pork, rice, half a hard-boiled egg and endless iced tea.  The girls went in the other direction and found an apparently excellent noodle bar.  All in all the food choices around the market are not great.  There are several stalls selling fruit bags, banana rice and waffles and we later found a small noodle bar by the station itself but that was about it.  To be fair it was a Sunday and we were in the middle of the business district and there did seem to be more on offer when we were there on Thursday but if you have time to kill and an appetite, eat before you arrive.

On the subject of food.  We were in first class, which costs only a little more than second but sells out very fast.  Tickets go on sale 3 months before departure so if you know your itinerary, book asap.  In first they offer you food.  Don’t bother.  We got caught out by a steward offering us glasses of orange juice before we departed.  How lovely we thought – how pricey we thought when we were offered the bill.  We made the mistake of ordering breakfast and went for the sandwiches.  The Thais like sugar.  I have never tasted sweet mayonnaise before.  Suffice to say one mouthful was enough.  Apparently the fruit juice that came with it was even sweeter.

Fortunately we had stocked up beforehand with fruit bags, banana rice, seaweed (me only!) cremos (the girls – exactly like oreos but half the price), dried fruit and nuts. I suggest you do the same.  There is a small store in the station and two 7/11 stores about 5 minutes walk away via the metro subway.

We had a connecting cabin with the girls – who insisted it was kept closed!  The steward came to make up the beds around 8.30.  They were excellent, larger and more comfortable than the Highland sleeper and the top bunk has a barrier put up so no falling off in the night.

A word about the air con.  It is wonderful – but VERY powerful (apparently the top bunk is warmer – I’m having that one next time). We never found the controls so I had rather an icy night, however the girls worked out they were controlled manually on each air vent.  Failing that bag the top bunk and let the cold air sink to the person in the bunk below!

We were woken with the aforementioned breakfast and a welcome cup of tea at 6am and pulled into Surat Thani at about 7am.  Pretty much on time.

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All very efficient, our ferry vouchers were exchanged for tickets.  The Boss and the chap in charge of the buses to the ferry waxed lyrical over Phuket and Ko Samui 30 years ago and I went to investigate the parade.

This was one of the smartest parades I had seen for a long time, albeit with a rather incongruous bride like young woman at the front.  Apparently it was National Health Day and health workers across Thailand were parading and being appreciated.  Perhaps something the NHS should think about, it needs some love.

The bus ride from Surat Thani to the ferry is a lot longer than any of us expected – at least an hour, an hour and 15 minutes.  But the bus is air conditioned – even if some of the signs are redundant.  There are no seat belts!

 

We took the catamaran to Ko Samui, which is a lot faster than the regular ferry.  If you manage to blag a seat on the top deck (where the views are amazing) do take lots of sun cream in your hand luggage, all cases (though not back packs) are put in the hold.  Failing that there is a very pleasant air-conditioned room downstairs.

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On arrival it is mayhem.  We had a hire car ordered so it was a bit easier for us.  There are hotel pick ups, taxi touts, everyone!

On the car hire front we were recommended to take photographs of all the scratches and dents on the car even if they had been written down.  Just in case!

Then off to Sea Dance.

The roads are good until you turn off the main drag.  Turnings can be very small and what you think is a dirt track may well be your road so keep your eyes open.

The oasis that awaited was stunning.  We had a two roomed hut with private pool.

The main pool was pretty stunning too.

The food outstanding (more about our cookery lesson later).  We were hungry.  Margarita and lunch.

 

This is breakfast.  I usually start with yoghurt and fruit salad.

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The Boss prefers honey on his.  My favourite juices are watermelon or carrot but there are all the usual suspects.  I usually follow with dim sum and banana pancakes, I know, but it’s my breakfast and I like it.  However if you feel the urge, there is pad Thai, Tom Gha, bacon, sausages, eggs cooked to order…

And endless pastries, croissants, toast and home-made preserves all in an airy dining room with a stunning view.

 

But most important the staff, they are out of this world, nothing is too much and they are friendly and helpful and just gorgeous.  Faith is a star and can organise anything, I am sure she could arrange for Pink Floyd to play at dinner if we asked nicely enough!

Love Gillie

Lessons from Dory … just keep swimming

How did you get along with the repurpose challenge?  For the final Friday challenge I repaired a photo frame that had been propped against a wall for eons and my knitting bowl that had a disagreement with the floor!  Not sure if it counted but I podded a bowlful of mangetout that had been allowed to grow on.  The peas are not great, a bit to marrow-fat for my liking but they made delicious soup and far better than putting them in the compost.  The chooks enjoyed burrowing for the handful I thew on the grass as well.

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This week has been Olympic week.  Especially exciting as we watched Duncan Scott who we have known since he was a wee tot win Silver medal in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay and set a new British record in the 100m freestyle.  The final for the latter is at 3.00 am UK time on Friday morning if you want to cheer him on!

 

Duncan Scott

L-R: James Guy, Duncan Scott, Dan Wallace, Stephen Milne (courtesy of Ian MacNicol)

Watching the Olympics it is easy to get caught up in the razzmatazz and excitement and forget about the all the hard work that goes into just getting there in the first place.  Duncan announced he wanted to swim in the Olympics when he was nine, that’s ten years of early starts, homework in the back of the car on the way to evening training.  Ten years of driving across the country to swim in qualifying heats.  Ten years of physical hard slog.  Furthermore it’s not just Duncan that had to make sacrifices, who do you think drove Duncan across the country, sacrificed family holidays for training and so on?  Then there are the sports clubs, the ones that train our Olympians.  They don’t run themselves, someone has to be official timer, keep the books, fundraise, all volunteers.  There is much more going on behind the scenes than we ever see on the screen.

So when you look at your plastic bags, or the recycling that didn’t make it to the recycling box; when you buy a takeaway because you are just too tired and too hungry to cook; when you look at all the stuff you have accumulated and wonder how on earth it got there, don’t worry, don’t give up.   It took ten years for Duncan to become an Olympian and he worked at it seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Nobody expects you to downsize, declutter, go plastic free, live off grid (delete as appropriate 🙂 ) seven days a week, 365 days a year.  You have other responsibilities, needs, goals, ideals to fit in as well.

Do what you can, maybe up the ante every now and then and nudge yourself on.  But don’t beat yourself up and give up because you haven’t achieved it all in a year.  Watch the Olympics and remind yourself that nothing is quite as easy as it may look and congratulate yourself on getting as far as you have already.

Love Gillie x

The reusable takeaway

Following on from yesterday I’m keeping to a bit of a theme.  The reusable takeaway.  We all like a good takeaway, for my husband it is a doner kebab with lots of chilli, the girls and I worship at the door of our wonderful Indian takeaway Jalsa in Ushaw Moor (their Chicken Makatoni is to die for).  BUT and there is a big but, all those plastic/styroform boxes are the pits.  At least our lovely Jalsa uses tin foil boxes so they can be recycled but still, we can do better.

I don’t drink coffee much, and when I do I like plain black from a cafetiere so all the fancy coffee shops are lost on me.  On the other hand I do like tea, I like tea a lot, I like lots of different types of tea.  I’m not a great one for buying a tea on the go, but there are times when I am out and about or waiting for a train when the only thing that I really want is a good strong cup of black tea.  But I don’t want a non-recyclable cardboard cup from Starbucks.  And they aren’t easily recyclable see here .  Those plastic coffee pods are bad, but those cardboard cups are just as nasty.

Did you know that almost every coffee shop / tea room will let you take your takeaway in your own mug/thermos so long as it has a secure lid?  This is what I take my tea away in.

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Joco glass mug with silicone lid.  It also comes in a lovely sturdy cardboard tub that I now use to store my Earl Grey!

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You met my water bottle yesterday.  I fill it up with tap water if we stop at a cafe or restaurant.  Most cold drinks come in their own bottles, but not all.  Plenty of smoothies, juices and cold coffees are made to order and are served in plastic cups.  I use my joco mug or water bottle.

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Finally food.  We have these brilliant stainless steel lunchboxes which come from the same company as the water bottle.  I’ve not yet tried them at my Jalsa (will update you when I do).  However, I have taken sandwiches, paninis, salads, pies and even a doner kebab away in it.

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Don’t be afraid to ask, the worst thing they can say is no.  I have yet to find a health and safety (the usual excuse) reason why I cannot use my own container so even if you do get a no, ask why!

 

Love Gillie x

The reusable holiday

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I’m just back from a fabulous three weeks in Romania, which is why the blog has been so quiet (that and some techy issues that seem to have been resolved).  However, I am aware that for many of you, particularly those of you with school age children, the summer holidays have only just started and you are probably packing and sorting ready for a few weeks R&R.

It doesn’t really matter where you are going, whether it’s a fortnight on the beach or hiking in the Alps, there are some things that are not just useful, but essential for a hassle-free holiday.  In our case these tend to revolve around food and drink.  We like lots of picnics, we like to try out the local foods and no holiday is complete without a beach or riverside bbq.

Most of the things required can easily be bought in the disposable picnic area of any supermarket.  But I don’t want disposable, I don’t want plastic.  I want reusuable and sustainable.  So this is what we packed to go to Romania.

Bamboo Cutlery.  One hundred percent biodegradable and compostable when they finally come to the end of their life.  In the meantime, light and easy to use.

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Food wrap.  These are great and double up as plates as well  I make my own using organic cotton and beeswax but there are plenty available online.  Just rinse with hot water.

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Drinking cups.  Well you don’t really want to be swigging the wine out of a bottle!

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Water bottles.  There is only a few things I loathe more than plastic water bottles, not only are they unneccessary for most day to day situations, they contribute to vast amounts of waste and most contain bpa which is directly linked to some cancers.

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Portable fire bowl  and grill.   This is the best thing ever!  We used to buy a disposable  bbq and reuse it all  holiday but this is one stage better and is absolutely brilliant.

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Finally, don’t forget a sharp knife, a corkscrew and/or a bottle opener!  Happy holidays 🙂

Love Gillie

 

shake it all up

Yesterday I was invited to talk to a group of business women about money.  I am not an accountant, and I was fired by Barings as a corporate finance executive because I was rubbish at the job (and hated it even more) so I was an interesting choice of speaker.  However, I am passionate about simple living and about organising oneself to achieve more time to do what you want to do rather than having to spend every hour God gave us working in order to keep one’s head above water.

I had a lovely morning, they were a super group of ladies and I think we all had a lot of fun and learned a lot from each other.  During the course of my talk I held a jar with a thick cream liquid in it that I shook constantly.  I said all would be revealed at the end.

This is what I made

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Butter.  And very delicious butter with no additives.  Organic double cream which I shook, on and off for half an hour or so.  By product, buttermilk for pancakes at the weekend.

Here it is wrapped and ready to pop in the fridge until we need it.

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I am not suggesting that you all make your own butter, but I am pointing out that cutting out the middleman, making it yourself isn’t as hard as most people think  It also means you know what is in it and it usually tastes a whole lot better too.

Love Gillie

 

upcycling the kitchen disaster

One of the pitfalls I faced when I first began decluttering was the little economical eco-freak who sat on my shoulder and whispered little things in my ear like “you could keep that broken jug, break it up a bit more and use it for drainage in the bottom of your pot plants.”  Yes I could, but I knew I wouldn’t, by the time the summer came and I was planting out my seedlings I would have completely forgotten where I had put my collection of broken crockery.  I know my limits.

On the other hand there are somethings that I have no problem reusing or finding new uses for.  Using up leftovers is something most of us do by second nature.  More recently I have discovered I can use up kitchen disasters as well.

At the moment I only have an aga, my electric oven having died some months ago.  Lovely though it is, as every aga owner will know, you cannot smell anything that is cooking.  The opportunity to prepare a burnt offering to the aga god is frequently presented.    That is why on Saturday afternoon I popped some bread in the oven and went out to do some gardening.  It was over an hour later when I finally removed an exceptionally well cooked loaf.  Believing that even the chickens would reject it I left it on the kitchen surface and  went back to the garden to work off my frustration.  The Boss wasn’t going to let an overcooked loaf get the better of him and when I returned he had bashed it up and pronounced it an excellent alternative to Grape Nuts.

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The second culinary disaster was the yoghurt, also made on that same Saturday.  I left it too long and too close to the aga and it had curdled.  I poured off the whey (it went into the ill fated loaf) and mushed the residue around a bit.  It tasted like yoghurt, but the texture was all wrong.  Bingo Chocolate Coffee and Maple Brunch Cake (by Charlie Scott-King of the Durham Dales Clandestine Cake Club).

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While I don’t aim to have kitchen disasters, it is good to know that I can usually find someway of using them up.  Failing that there are always the animals.  The chickens loved my overdone granola 🙂

 

 

zero waste vs zero food miles

Once upon a time all our needs were met locally.  We collected wood for a fire, grew and raised our own food, made our own clothes us using whatever fabric was local to us from hemp to cotton to wool.  There are some people who, admirably, manage to do this today, but for most of us it is essential to engage in transactions with third parties to feed and clothe and entertain ourselves and our families.

I have long been involved in both the Slow Food and Local Food movements.  I was a founder member of The Durham Local Food Network and believe passionately in supporting local producers, not just of food but of as many other consumables as possible.  However how can I reconcile that with a zero waste lifestyle.  You would have thought it would be easy, surely the two go together.  But they don’t.

Bea Johnson, who genuinely does live the closest to a zero waste lifestyle as anyone I have come across in this journey purchases almost all her food from Whole Foods.  This is because she is able to take her own containers (thus no unnecessary plastic or even paper bags for anything from bread to meat) and she can purchase loose goods from pasta to biscuits from the bulk bins.  Well therein lies the first problem.  However, lovely Whole Foods is, it is essentially an upmarket supermarket (and has prices to match).  There is little local about purchasing my oats at Whole Foods even if I could get to one.

So the other option?  Durham Food Co-op buys in bulk from a large range of local producers and the balance from Infinity Foods (a co-operative wholesaler of organic and non-organic foods); Durham Farmers’ Market  has an excellent selection of local produce; I have access to a good local greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger and cheese merchant.  The problem?  Most of the food I buy will come prepackaged.  I don’t have the option, other than for the vegetables, to use my own containers.

Last year I read about Plastic Free July, unfortunately I heard about it rather late so when I attempted to go plastic free for a week I didn’t have the ongoing tips and support and fell quickly by the wayside.  I have signed up for Plastic Free July for this year and am giving myself three months to prepare.  I am going to need it.  Plastic free is very hard to achieve.  The easiest way to go plastic free is to start making as much as possible from scratch.  I make my own soft cheese, yoghurt, dog food and dog treats, granola, jams, jellies, wine and cider vinegars, pickles etc.  I have asked for a canner for Mothering Sunday with a view to canning our own home grown vegetables.  But there is only so much I can do myself and I don’t work full time so I have the time to do all this.

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So do I go package (and predominantly plastic) free or do I go local?  I know in my heart I will go local.  But that will mean compromise.  What is more important to you.  Zero waste or zero food miles?