environment · food · food storage · lifestyle

Easy Kitchen Eco Swaps

I’ve written before about how we’ve been working to reduce plastic waste around the house through swapping the everyday products we buy for alternatives that are plastic-free and more eco-friendly – eco swaps, if you will! I thought it was time for another update, this time focusing on easy kitchen eco swaps. A lot of plastic waste that we generate comes from the kitchen, so it seems like a logical place to look for opportunities to make life more sustainable…

Easy Kitchen Eco Swaps

Milk Delivery

One of the best swaps we’ve made recently is moving towards a traditional milk delivery by a real, live milkman! When I was a kid we used to have a milkman, but I’ve not had one for years – then, in the autumn we had a knock on the door from a new local milk delivery service, and I thought we’d give it a go. It’s super convenient, and much more eco-friendly – the switch to reusable glass bottles means it completely does away with the need for plastic bottles. Plus, our milk service also has the option to deliver other local produce like eggs, jam and more.

Plastic saving: We used to get through about 6 – 8 pints of milk a week, usually in 2 – 3 bottles. I’d estimate that by switching to a milk delivery, we’ve saved 130 plastic bottles per year – or 2,600 bottles over 20 years… wow!

Refill Shop

When a refill shop opened up in our town, I was super excited, but it was kind of a new concept to me! What is a refill shop? Well, it pretty much does what it says on the tin: it’s a shop where you bring your own containers to buy products which are free of packaging. Every store is different, but often they offer dry foods such as rice and pasta, and liquids such as cooking oils, cleaning products and more. The idea is to make shopping more sustainable by cutting down on plastic packaging, and often by offering fresh local produce as well, to reduce food miles. In general they’re a great option for making your shop more eco-friendly (although I recommend checking out this article by Wired where they look at some of the potential pitfalls of refill shops, as well).

We’ve tried to move to using the refill shop as much as possible for the products that are available, and that has meant that we’ve completely cut out plastic packaging for some products that we use every week – particularly rice and granola. We now also get to mix the perfect granola every morning: combining plain granola and a sprinkling of dried tropical mix, which solves the problem that you get with bags of granola where all the good stuff ends up at the top of the bag, and the last few bowlfuls are rubbish.

Plastic saving: I’ll write about plastic savings on refill toiletries in another article, so focusing just on the rice and granola that we buy regularly, I would estimate that we save a minimum of 68 items of plastic packaging a year – that’s 1,360 items over 20 years.

Eco Friendly Dish Sponges & Scourers

Up to now, we have always used washing up sponges and dish brushes from the supermarket, but these are all plastic, so I started looking into sustainable alternatives. I’ve not bought a new dish brush yet, as our old one still has plenty of use in it, but we’ve swapped to using eco sponges and scourers. They’re great, and there’s plenty of different options out there, made from sustainable materials like plant cellulose, hemp, coconut fibres and more. The only thing to be aware of is that normal plastic-based dish sponges often include ingredients to kill bacteria, whereas sustainable scourers won’t be, so it’s important to keep them dry.

For hard-to-shift, dried-on food, I also found a coconut husk dish scraper which is great for cleaning pots and pans.

Plastic saving: We probably would get through around 6 sponges a year, so that’s 120 plastic sponges saved over 20 years.

Sustainable Washing Up Liquid

Linked to the above, I realised we were getting through a lot of washing up liquid bottles. I’ve tried a solid washing up bar – lemongrass dish soap by LoofCo – but while I loved the smell, and found it cut through grease surprisingly well, I still found liquid washing up soap easier to work with. So currently we’re using our local refill store to top up on washing up liquid, and reusing an old Fairy Liquid bottle to store it.

Plastic saving: I’d guess we save on about four bottles of washing up liquid per year, so that’s 80 bottles over 20 years.

More Eco Friendly Ideas

If you have any ideas for further kitchen eco swaps that I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments! I’m always interested to hear about new green products and sustainable alternatives.

And if you’ve enjoyed this article, why not check out my previous blog post on eco swaps to reduce plastic waste or this post on keeping the weaning process more eco-friendly?

cocktails · food · food storage · recipes

How To Make Hawthorn Berry Gin – Foraging Recipe

Basically, foraging is like shopping – except everything is free, so it’s better. As I’m on maternity leave, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to pick haw berries this year, so I wanted to share some of the recipes I’m trying out. I’ve heard that hawthorn berry gin has a taste a bit like sherry, so of course that was first on the list to try. Whether you live in the town or the countryside, chances are you’ll have a hawthorn bush nearby, as they’re one of the most common types of plant used for hedges in the UK.

This is a great way to transform a bottle of cheap £10 supermarket vodka into a bottle of fancy hawthorn berry gin you’d pay at least £25 for. Because yes – gin is basically just vodka that’s been flavoured either during or after the distillation process. So hawthorn vodka is hawthorn gin! Who knew?

Fair warning: this is my first time making hawthorn gin, so it’s not exactly a tried and tested recipe just yet! I’ve tried to read through a number of different hawthorn recipes and select the “average” set of instructions to follow…

Hawthorn Gin: The Recipe

1. First, pick your hawthorn berries

It’s the perfect time of year for picking hawthorn berries (also known as haw berries) in the UK! They’re also a great thing to forage, because unlike blackberries or even damsons, they’re not that popular, so it’s unlikely that other people will get there before you and pinch all the ripe berries.

The hawthorn berries are ripe when they’re a lovely bright red, from late August through to October depending on where you live. If you’re not confident identifying hawthorn, you can find a guide here. It’s not likely that you’d mix it up with another plant, so it’s a pretty safe bet for a new forager! Remember not to pick all the berries you find – they’re important food for wildlife too.

Some people say you should wait for the first frost to pick hawthorn berries, but it’s not really necessary for making gin. If you want, you can freeze the berries and defrost before using them in this recipe, to achieve the same effect.

You should also note that although hawthorn berries are edible, the seeds are mildly poisonous, which is why most hawthorn berry recipes involve cooking and then straining the berries to remove the pips.

foraging for hawthorn berries to make hawthorn gin uk

2. Prepare your hawthorn berries

Sort through the haw berries to remove any that are discoloured, and give them a wash.

Ideally at this point you want to top and tail each haw berry, cutting off the stems and the little brown bit at the bottom. You don’t have to, but apparently if you remove these parts, it reduces the amount of sediment that you have to strain out later. Some recipes leave the berries whole – others cut out the stone in the middle (but that seemed like too much effort to me) – this seems like the most popular approach though.

preparing hawthorn berries to make hawthorn gin recipe

3. Bottle it

Pack the haw berries into a sterilised bottle or preserving jar, adding sugar between the layers as you go. I find a lot of homemade gin too sweet, so I’ve not been over-generous with my sugar, but some recipes recommend vast quantities of the stuff. It’s basically just there for flavour, so you can add it to taste.

Leave a space at the top of the jar so you can give it a good shake. Then fill the jar or bottle with cheap supermarket gin or vodka.

making hawthorn gin at home recipe with hawthorn berries

4. Wait for hawthorn gin/hawthorn vodka

And now… We wait! Leave the hawthorn berry gin for about a month, giving it a shake every few days. Then, strain your gin. You can do this the traditional way through a muslin, or through filter paper.

Next, let it mature for 2 – 3 months before drinking. It will keep for about a year after that, so make sure you label the bottle.

how to make hawthorn gin at home with hawthorn berries

Now, I can’t report back on the flavour just yet because my gin is still infusing, but I will let you know how it turns out when we crack it out in the winter!

Your hawthorn berry recipes

I’ve really enjoyed making this hawthorn berry gin recipe and I’d love to know how else I can use up all these delicious haw berries! Do you have any great hawthorn berry recipes? Let me know in the comments!

coronavirus · food · food storage · recipes · top tips · Uncategorized

Lockdown Larder: Kitchen Tips and Tricks for Food Shortages and Limited Shopping Trips

Hi guys! I thought today I would share some of my best lockdown larder tips for cooking and stocking your kitchen during the current coronavirus lockdown. My husband is the chef in our household, while I do the baking. As I’m on maternity leave though, I’ve done most of the organising of food shops and storage.

I’m currently sat in our living room with my three month old son, who is busy doing a poo. This is a rather involved process requiring a lot of concentration, so I guess we could be here a while. I might as well do something useful with the time…

Lockdown Larder: Kitchen Tips and Tricks

1. You Can Freeze Milk

I was surprised how many people don’t know this! But you can totally freeze fresh milk. My mum has been doing this for years to ensure the house never runs out. I currently have four spare bottles of milk in the freezer for the times when we can’t get hold of it at the supermarket. Obviously if you’re going to do this, be considerate – don’t buy up loads of milk at once, as that’s what leads to shortages. Buy a little extra and set it aside over several shopping trips. Also, fair warning: frozen milk does turn yellow, which looks slightly horrifying, but it goes white again when you defrost it.

Bonus tip: you can also freeze butter.

2. You can make bread without yeast.

I know a lot of places are experiencing shortages of baker’s yeast, but you can make delicious flatbread without yeast, such as Indian naan bread (click for the recipe) or, if you prefer something that’s a more traditional loaf, you can make Irish soda bread.

However, in actual fact you can make a lot more kinds of bread because…

3. You don’t need yeast to make yeast

You can make your own yeast with just flour and water, by capturing natural yeast from the air to make a sourdough starter. Once your sourdough starter is going, you can bake all kinds of yeasted breads and cakes from it. Plus, if you’re homeschooling kids, it makes for a great home science project!

Speaking of which…

4. You don’t need eggs (or flour) to make cake

Obviously a lot of cake recipes require egg, and there seem to be a lot of shortages of eggs at the moment. Local farm shops/veg box delivery companies are a good alternative source to the supermarket, if you live somewhere a bit more rural.

However, if you can’t get eggs there’s still plenty of easy bakes you can do without them (and if you have kids, they’ll enjoy making them too). Try making scones,* or flapjacks are a great bake if you can’t get hold of eggs or flour. You can even make meringue without egg whites. There are also lots of vegan recipes online that are egg free, so get a’googling!

5. Green lentils bulk out meat dishes

If you are trying to ration what’s in your freezer, but want to make dishes such as cottage pie or spaghetti bolognese (really anything involving minced meat), you can make your mince go further by bulking out with green lentils. Cook your ragu or sauce, add the lentils about fifteen minutes before the end, and your meal will go much further, still taste deliciously meaty, and actually be healthier as well. Triple win! Plus, kids will not notice that you’re secretly feeding them veg. Quadruple win?

6. Freeze freeze freeze

Obviously you want to be making best use of your freezer right now, and minimising the number of trips to the supermarket wherever possible. There’s a lot of stuff that you can’t just freeze – lots of fresh vegetables need blanching before freezing, which is a total pain. On the other hand, I hear that scurvy is worse.

If you’re lazy like me, you can straight-up freeze onions and peppers (chop them first) without blanching, which is handy for making fajitas and stir fries etc. Then put other veg in sauces, soups, ragu etc. which can be frozen once cooked and make for an easy ready meal for your future self.

…And that’s me pretty much done on the top tips front, so let’s finish up with a few wise words from Ryan Gosling.

Lockdown Larder: Your Top Tips

Do you have any lockdown larder tips for food storage or preservation? I’d love to hear your ideas! Let me know in the comments.

* The recipe I’ve linked to suggests using egg to glaze, but you can substitute milk, or just not bother glazing!