Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Soap pods

I've been spending some time recently thinking about soap pods, which I've been using happily for a couple of years now. The whole issue of them having to travel a long distance has been bothering me lately as well as some bits and pieces I've read on the internet recently about how the increase in popularity of soap pods (also called soap nuts) has led to some exploitation of this resource and those who produce it. With this in mind and considering I've nearly finished what I have I emailed EcoLogic, the organic mini-market in Dundrum where I buy them from. I was delighted to see they have a website up and running and even more delighted when I had an answer to my email first thing the next morning. Here is what John (the owner) had to say:

"In relation to air miles and Soapods yes they do travel a distance - from Nepal and North India. Our supplier advertises the fact that they are derived from sustainable plantations paying proper wages. That said they do not carry a Fair Trade stamp but we know the people bringing them in and we would trust them.

The alternatives are E-cover which is manufactured in Belgium and Lillies which is manufactured down in Cork. The ingredients for both products may travel a distance I don't honestly know but I will endeavour to find out.

Though the soapods travel I would think that their overall environmental impact is less and they also help sustain people in less advantaged areas of our planet. They use no energy in the production or disposal process for the product or the packaging. If not the soapods then our next suggestion would be Lillie's Laundry cleaner made in Cork, and though it is packaged in plastic containers we do offer refils.

Great to see people thinking things through. Looking forward to seeing you at the shop where we source Irish wherever possible and if not Irish as close to Ireland as possible."

Although I have shopped a good few times at Eco Logic I haven't been there since the beginning of summer and a lot of the changes in my thinking around the whole area of local and organic etc. have happened since then. I suspected that their policy would be local first but it's nice to have this confirmed. If you're in the area please do try and support this great shop - they also have stalls at some of the farmers' markets on the weekend see www.ecologic.ie for details.

I've decided to continue using soappods for now.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Nearly done

Well, after spending a couple of hours in work yesterday afternoon I realised that instead of the rain I thought had been forecast, not only was it still dry, it was sunny. So home I went and attacked the hole with renewed vigour. I finally got one side in and then the other. Not quite straight as the back is slightly wider than the front but close enough. It was nearly getting dark by the time I'd finished but I also managed to cut the grass (hopefully for the last time this year) and then actually put all the stuff in my new composter that I had. Some dead clematis and other climbing plants which were cut down about a month ago made a nice woody base which should allow some drainage. Then the grass cuttings. Some shredded newspaper. Then I emptied all the containers I grew courgettes and lettuce in this summer. I covered it all with a layer of newspaper which I soaked to keep in place. And finally even though it was full dark at this stage I swept the pavements and tidied up all the now empty pots. Such a great feeling to have done all those last little things I've been meaning to do for weeks.

I still need a back and a front for my composter. I intended our back wall to be the back of it but unfortunately couldn't dig down that close to the wall without destroying what I assume is the foundation of said wall. So there is a two or three inch gap at the back. Then I need something to cover the front and the top as well. If it were just me I'd probably leave it open but as it's a rented house in suburbia I need to have it looking neat and tidy looking for the landlord and minimise the chance of any critters (local cats included) getting at it.

One of my nephews recently finished school but hasn't yet decided what to do with his life. I know he loved woodwork in school so am thinking of asking him to build me something simple for the back, front and top. I'm sure he'd appreciate a bit of cash and while I'd love to do it by using bits of other people's rubbish I know I'd take ages more to get it finished that way. Will have to think a bit more about it. There are a few skips on the roads near me at the moment, I might see what I can scrounge from them first.

I'm a bit stiff today after all that but not too bad. Have some ironing to do this evening to keep me in work clothes for the rest of the week so hopefully that might loosen up anything that's still stiff by the end of the day. All in all I'm very pleased with my Sunday this week.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

hard work

I know that, logically, I will have to do a lot more physical work than I am used to in order to live this lifestyle. But knowing that and getting there are two different things. I feel somehow that I should be well able to just go out and dig a hole in the garden if I need to with no bother at all. But of course that isn't the case and I'm still trying to get my composter built. Admittedly it hasn't been helped by many rainy weekend days, shorter days meaning that I can no longer get anything done during the week as it's dark by seven o'clock (when I get home from work) but still, I know in my heart and soul that I'm also being put off by the sheer physical labour and I really need to get over that.

First of all I dug out a trench which was much too narrow (must remember to keep that adage about measure, measure and measure again in mind) to fit an upended pallet into. Then I hadn't dug it level. Then I realised it was much too shallow. At that stage it could have done, but I don't want to risk the whole thing collapsing and would really like to do it a bit better. So, this morning I've been out digging again. Of course because I'm getting further down into the ground it's far more solid and difficult to dig. I was at it for 30 minutes and had to stop. I've been doing something else since but hope to get back out soon and finish it but my arms are already sore. Still, I got the rest of the space along the back garden wall covered in cardboard and newspaper and shovelled some soil from my digging on top of it. I'll have to get some manure and some more soil for it but at least it's a start on killing off all the moss and weeds. I think I just have a problem with wanting to be able to do it all and forgetting I'll need lots of time to learn as well as lots of time to get physically fit enough to do more. As well as a problem with estimating the amount of time it'll take to do something correctly. I figured I'd need about an hour or so to get this composter together and have spent a good bit longer than that already!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Great start to the weekend

Two, no, three wonderful things to start my weekend off well:

1. I was able to drive to work today as I could borrow someone's parking space (and I need the car for after work so it has taken a lot of time pressure off me) and the traffic was relatively light so I was in work half an hour early.

2. I read the article on ...slowly she turned which talks about volunteering on organic farms and am so totally enthused by this idea I've used up that half an hour I saved on travel time earlier in reading about wwoof (see http://www.wwoof.org/ for details) and signing up for it.

3. The Kenny Rogers concert last night was excellent. He's a funny guy, still a great singer and fantastically laid back.

All in all, I'm on a bit of a high! Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kenny Rogers

I'm going to see Kenny Rogers in concert tonight - I'm so excited! He was always one of my favourites when I was growing up and as a teenager I continued to wear my mum's records out. I just love the timbre of his voice and I have to admit I've always had a bit of a thing for men with beards :-)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Freezer's full now

Didn't get much done over the weekend except realise that once you start eating proper food your stomach might not appreciate being given a weekend full of takeaways.

I had a chicken to cook so roasted that on Sunday evening - just put some cloves of garlic into a few slits in the meat which gives a really lovely garlicy taste throughout the bird when it's cooked. Have all that chicken waiting to be used up now - think it'll be a stir-fry tomorrow and a chicken pie for the freezer.

Not that I have any space left in the freezer or any Tupperware left to use either! A friend gave me a whole load of apples last week so I finally got around to making loads of stewed apple yesterday. Spent about four hours peeling and chopping. I meant to weigh the apples before I started but forgot. I got about five litres of stewed apple though. Most of it has gone into the freezer but I still have two litres in the fridge because I ran out of freezer containers and space. As I didn't make it to the market this week (except for long enough to pick up my chicken) I have no apples to eat so this will do just as well. I thought I'd have to throw out more of the windfall apples than I did - only about two were too bruised/rotten to use. Feels like I have enough to be eating Irish apple for a couple of months anyway.

I also made stock from the chicken bones yesterday which turned out really well so I'll be able to make a lovely vegetable soup as well - should have done it at the weekend too but it was just one of those weekends. Made me realise that I really need to be more organised so that when busy weekends turn up unexpectedly I'm better able to fit proper eating in around everything else.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

River Cottage

Many of my views on simple living were solidified a few years ago after channel-surfing one evening and happening on Tales from River Cottage (see www.rivercottage.net if you don't know about River Cottage already). I saw an episode where he was working in a local brewery for a day in return for a half-sack of barley. I tried to watch Tales from River Cottage whenever I remembered it was on and a couple of months later saw the River Cottage Cookbook for sale from the Book People. I bought it for myself as a Christmas present (and even put it away for the two months till Christmas!) - what a fantastic book. The most important message I think I took from my first reading of it was - just do it! You can waste a lot of time in thinking and worrying and wondering but in the end you have to just get up and out in the garden if you want to grow something.

Of course my brother borrowed that book from me a few weeks later and I've never managed to get it back from him since!

I've only recently realised that there is a website to go with it all which includes discussion forums. Can see this taking up a lot of my time so will have to try hard to limit my time on the web. I thought this comment (from this discussion
http://forum.rivercottage.net/viewtopic.php?t=17162&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=45) was worth sharing though:
"The butcher that we use will sell quarters or halves of any animal and a deepfreez is a life saver. Comming up with 600 for a side of beef isnt easy but it lasts the year and as its from his own herd its great. We have a jar in the freezer that we put in whatever the shop price would be for whatever meat we take out for dinner that day. When the freezer is ready for restocking the money is there."

I think this is a great idea and one to keep in mind for when I eventually have a place of my own big enough to have a really big freezer. The idea could probably be adapted to some other areas of my life right now so I'm going to have to think about that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

quick update on sesame sticks

Found Ecoshop's website (www.ecoshop.ie) and discovered they started a discussion forum this summer. I've posted the following there rather than sending them an email. Hopefully I'll get a reply. I've never really written this kind of request before so I hope I achieved the right tone and don't just annoy them so much they've no interest in replying.

Hi there

I was in the shop last Sunday (haven't been there for about two years, it's looking fantastic and it's great to see you expanding). As I was looking around though I became aware that a large proportion of products, particularly food, were not Irish made. While I believe it is important to buy eco-products and organic products I also believe it is very important to buy local, again particularly when it comes to food. Can you explain what your policy is on trying to source local products, please?

I have one other issue I wanted to ask you about. I decided to treat myself to some sesame sticks and bought the Ecoshop pack. Later I decided to look in more detail at the label and see that they were packed by Munster Wholefoods in Kerry. Not so local, although still in Ireland, probably didn't involve any air miles at least. Then I see that the origin is UK. So it feels like this product has been around the houses a bit. Can you tell me where and by whom it was actually produced, please? I'd like to know in part because I'd also like to find out what is in them and the list of ingredients leaves something to be desired: what spices? what herbs? what "natural flavourings"? what kind of vegetable oil? I can see nothing about this product which is organic or eco-friendly and it overall leaves me wondering about your policies for buying products. It'd be a great help to me if you could explain a bit about it.

I was looking up your website to find an email address but thought perhaps this might be a more suitable forum to ask. I've only recently started actually paying attention to labels and so on and so am really trying hard to find out a bit more about where I am buying and what I am buying.

Thanks for any help you can give.


Ecoshop report

I went to the Ecoshop at the back of the garden centre in Glen of the Downs last Sunday. It has expanded to at least three times the size it was last time I was there (which is about two years ago). Great, I thought, business must be good, more choice for me so.

They now have a lot of fair trade household and gift items and more organic cotton clothes - mainly t-shirts, socks and underwear although there was a baby section I didn't go near as well. In general there seemed to be a good range of organic and fair trade products and they seem to sell everything from toothpaste to chocolate, twine to tofu, clipboards made from reused circuit boards to ostrich feather dusters. There was a good selection of books and magazines as well and I picked up the current issue of the Ecologist as well as the Irish "Local Planet".

I needed pasta anyway so decided to buy one packet there - of three different ranges, none were Irish. I don't know if it's a case that not much pasta is made in Ireland or not. I looked at a lot of other products too and there were actually very few Irish products. Unfortunately the girl who served me has only worked there a month or so and didn't seem too interested in engaging in much of a conversation. Maybe if I were able to get there during the week (especially at a time when it's less busy) I might have more luck.

I decided to treat myself to a couple of things and bought some trail mix, sesame sticks and chocolate raisins as well as a couple of samples of Irish made chocolate (I'm going to try the mint and the ginger ones) from a new, family-run business and some German organic, fair trade chocolate. There were quite a lot of German products there overall. I think most of the clothes were also made in Germany. As visiting during the week isn't possible for nine-to-five me I need to find an email address and will see if they can let me know their policy on buying Irish and how much effort they put into sourcing Irish products. I read the label of the sesame sticks as I was eating them. They have an Ecoshop label, were packed by Munster Wholefoods in Kerry and the origin is given as the UK. I also realised that the list of ingredients contains that awfully ambiguous "natural flavourings" as well as simply saying herbs, spices. I really wish they'd tell us what they're putting in our food! I can't even go and try and find it on the website of the company who made them because I have no idea where (beyond "UK") they were made.
Will update on any reply I receive from Ecoshop about buying local and the origin of my sesame sticks.

As far as buying local goes I think my choices will have to be:

Organic Irish
Non-organic Irish (and as close to Dublin as possible)
Organic EU
Organic/fair trade from other parts of the world while reducing the amount of these products (chocolate for example) I consume.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Well, my last post wasn't very uplifting at all. I really hate to read back on things like that (one of the main reasons I've always been so bad at keeping a diary) but I've determined that I will not delete posts unless I really, really have to.

This weekend wasn't so bad. I have a real problem with procrastination (I blame it on doing Hamlet for my Leaving Cert - the theme of procrastination was very important to our teacher and she went on and on and on about it) but although I spent a good part of the weekend telling myself "I'll do that later" I actually did things as I was busy working out in my head how I'd manage to get everything done later. Simple things like getting some clothes washed, washing my hair, doing the dishes, cooking instead of getting a take-away, got to the recycle depot - but all things that would be too much to get done in an hour before work this morning!

I went to a different market on Saturday morning as I was in town anyway and have wanted to check out the Temple Bar farmers' market. This used to be a French food market with a few stalls of quite expensive stuff. It's now a wonderfully busy real farmers' market with a few different fruit and veg stalls. I found one stall which is a family-run certified organic farm in north county Dublin - I probably will not find much more local than that and the prices were very reasonable. I bought a bag of fresh mint for making tea with as well as some potatoes, carrots and a huge courgette (really a marrow at that size I think). On another stall I bought three Irish cheeses for €10 - good value and actually produced on the farm who were running the stall. I got a small brie, some nicely aged gouda and some raclette. Haven't tried the raclette yet but will do that next weekend I think. I also got some nice Irish apples which aren't too tart so all in all I was happy. So now I have a dilemma of sorts - this market is about the same distance away as the Marley Park one I usually go to. I can get more local veg and cheese in Temple Bar but the farmer in Marley Park who sells meat (Jens Krumpe) is really excellent. I suppose I'll try alternating between the two - I may try and get an email address out of Jens so that even if I'm not there one week I can order something for the next week. You need to be there fairly early if you haven't ordered. A lot of the other stalls were at both markets and I suppose one other advantage of Temple Bar is that it's more accessible by public transport so I wouldn't have to use the car as much.

Otherwise over the weekend I made some delicious stewed apple and managed to freeze two Tupperware ice-cube trays full. I've a promise of more cooking apples from a friend next week or the week after so will make some more of this to use during winter. I must learn how to make custard from scratch rather than using powder.

I covered over the flowerbed in my front garden (which I had weeded a couple of weeks ago anyway so it didn't look too bad) with newspaper, some leftover compost I had and lots of lovely topsoil which I got from a freecycler. It rained lots yesterday so I didn't need to do anything else. I hope to grow something there next year - will have to find something shade loving. In the meantime it looks wonderfully tidy with all the weeds covered up. While I was out in the garden I even cut the grass and swept the front driveway and path at the side of the house.

Didn't get any more work done on the composter as it lashed rain all day yesterday and I'd only gotten the spade then. Will try and do a bit this evening if I get home before dark.

The main reason I did manage to end up cooking is that I really wanted to try my new Tupperware slicer - I had a very shaky first go (turns out I was doing it backwards which as a leftie I'm more used to doing than you might think). So for dinner I had some sausages on a bed of thinly sliced apple all topped with some thinly sliced potatoes and with some stock poured over to cook it all in. Shoved it in the oven for 30 minutes and instead of sitting down and relaxing (as originally planned) I emptied the dishwasher and whizzed around the downstairs of the house cleaning the floors. Added some cheese to the top of the roasting dish for the last five minutes and it was yum! Only problem is I used too much stock so the apple dissolved into practically nothing.

This dish was loosely based around something my oldest sister told me about another sister doing one time and has lots of potential. I think next time I'd just use pork and cook it for longer on a lower heat with a lot more apples and adding potatoes at a later stage. And much less stock or maybe a combination of stock and cider.

I made garlic potato gratin yesterday for dinner. I am finally getting the hang of my slicer and I LOVE it. I can see a lot of thinly sliced things in my future.

And I finished knitting the scarf for my sister's birthday - it's not perfect but it's oh so warm - I hope she likes it.

I'll post about my visit to the Ecoshop in Glen of the Downs later. I really need to get the hang of shorter posting.

But here's a joke to finish for now:
What's orange and sounds like a parrot?

A carrot.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Difficult times

I was depressed yesterday. Really, really, out of the blue, didn't want to get out of bed depressed. I feel a bit better today but I hate it when days like that strike for seemingly no reason at all. I nearly feel that I should give in and start taking medication to help get me through the day when I have a day like that. It doesn't happen that often but there have been too many days like that over the last few months. There was a lot of coming and going and busy times over the summer (with my sister's wedding, family home from abroad, packing up her house when she went off travelling and so on and so forth). It was all good really but just that level of activity stresses me out and also, because there was so much going on I missed a few appointments with my therapist.

I've been seeing him for just over two years now. Have struggled with depression and a serious weight problem for years and I was stuck in a job I hated (had been trying to get a new job for over a year but kept messing up the interviews, something that had never happened to me before) and seemed to be just spending more and more money with nothing to show for it so I finally bit the bullet and started to go for counselling. I can honestly say that it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and has changed my life. Despite the fact that I was having so many problems with money I'm actually very sensible and practical so the first thing I had to do was keep properly to a budget so that I'd have money to pay for counselling. Once I had done up that budget I knew that I was going to have to be very careful all the time if I was going to be able to afford it and with a few bad months I've pretty much kept to it. But within a couple of months of starting I had a gotten a new job (where I still am and still enjoying it) and was starting to get back on track with losing weight. I'm still struggling with my weight but have dealt with many other issues so overall I'm in a far better place now. Once I'd started my new job I had to stop going every week and only see him every second week (I'd taken a pay cut to move into that job and couldn't afford every week anymore). The point of all this rambling though is that during this summer one of the very things which is hard to cope with i.e. my family was also the thing which stopped me being able to see my therapist and I missed three or four appointments. It's only in the last month or so things are getting back to normal and I think when you get through a tough time and back to normal it can all catch up on you a bit and that's what's happening to me now.

I feel bad to a certain extent talking about the summer and the wedding as being a tough and stressful time. Don't get me wrong, this summer I also had some of the best times I can remember from recent years. A lot of connections were forged again with family I hadn't had much contact with for years which is good too. But overall a lot of it was very emotional (I'm a terribly emotional and sometimes overly sensitive soul).

It's not helping I suppose that it's starting to get dark and cold again now. We had an incredibly mild September and it's only in the last week I've started wearing a jacket outside. I have to make a big effort now to get outside during lunchtime so that I'm getting some daylight at least.

I hope that the changes I've made in my life over the last few months when it comes to simple living will help me get through the winter a bit easier. I know that lots of people use anti-depressants for short periods of time and it can be a great help to them in getting thought it. Several of my sisters however have used different kinds and levels of medication and two of them ended up using way too much (in my opinion) and spending much of their time doped up to the eyeballs and not doing more than going through the motions and I'm very nervous of that happening to me. Addictive personalities definitely run in our family. One sister is using medication for a while now and has never had any problems with it so I have seen both sides, I suppose. Luckily I have an excellent GP who accepted that I had some qualms about using medication and is happy to monitor my situation while I see a psychologist and so far I haven't needed to use any.

I'm feeling much better today (so far) but now have a pile of work to get through as yesterday was not my most productive day in work ever. I managed to spend a quiet night at home though and did some more knitting which was nice and relaxing. I watched Ladette to Lady http://www.itv.com/page.asp?partid=6422 for the second week (think I'll need to make sure I'm home on Thursdays for the next few weeks) and then Grey's Anatomy but because I was knitting while watching telly it didn't feel like I'd had a complete waste of an evening plonked in front of the TV. Ladette to Lady is great - I always wanted to go to a finishing school when I was younger and watching it now, I'm sort of feeling like it would still be a great idea. I'd love to have a bit more social polish. Not to mention meeting all those eligible bachelors!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Weekend review

I had a lovely weekend. I'm starting to feel like I'm making some progress so just need to keep it up now.

I went to the farmers' market and got my pork chops. The farmer, (I have got to find out the name of his farm, I keep forgetting to make a note of it) told me two weeks ago that his pigs would be slaughtered the following Wednesday but would then need to hang for at least a week before being butchered. So, this Saturday they had pork chops which were absolutely delicious. They also had a special offer on beef so I got two bags of mince and one of diced beef and made the best stew I've made for a long time on Sunday night which is my lunches for part of this week.

My stew:

Organic beef pieces (Irish)
Organic carrots (Irish)
Organic onion (Irish)
Red onion (has been in the cupboard for a while, can't remember if it's organic but I think so)
Organic beans (not sure what type, bought them at market, they are Irish though)
Bisto granules
Worchestershire sauce
Olive oil (about 2 teaspoons)

Browned meat in the olive oil then transferred to casserole pot. Cooked onions until softened in the remaining oil/meat juices and transferred to pot. Made up a mug of bisto and added, then added about three mugs more of water and a good splash of worchestershire sauce and a small amount of freshly ground black pepper. Threw in chopped carrots, onions and beans, brought to boil for about 15 minutes then left simmering on lowest heat for an hour or so, then left in pot with lid on for another couple of hours. The meat was sooooo tender. Yumm.

The last three items are not organic or local but I have them in my cupboard and will only replace them as they run out. They are things I will have to make a decision about whether to keep using or not as they really are not produced locally.

I also boiled up some potatoes (non-organic but Irish) to have with it.

And I made soup as well which is making up some lunches this week too. I was having a good cooking weekend - the soup turned out really well too although a bit salty for my taste as I used a new organic vegan bouillion instead of my own chicken stock and it was very salty. My brother however said it was just perfect and he's normally giving out because I haven't used enough salt and pepper.

In other news this weekend I found a wool shop and bought some wool (well, it's 85% wool, 15% viscose - made in Italy, I must do some research on Irish wool) and needles and started knitting. I couldn't think of what to do to get started but wanted something simple, preferably with no pattern to follow. It's my sister's birthday next week so I decided to just make a scarf for her because that also gives me a deadline and forced me to get started straightaway rather than staring at the wool for months! I found once I had the needles in my hands it did sort of come back to me and I was able to cast on okay. (I have to admit I realised I'd forgotten how to cash off though and had to google it.) I knit ten lines and then switched to knit one row, purl one row. I've only mixed up the sides twice and each time realised before I'd finished a whole line so didn't have too much to undo. I haven't dropped any stiches as far as I know because I've counted every few lines and almost always had the same amount. Twice I'd managed to gather an extra stitch but I remember how to decrease so just fixed it at the end of the line. I do still have three unexplained holes though - it looks just like I dropped a stitch but I still have enough stitches so I don't know what happened. I'm just going to keep on thinkg that it adds to the charm of it. I made it probably a bit wider than necessary so now I'll have to go back and buy more wool on Saturday to finish it to a reasonable length - I'm using size 9 needles and 50 stitches across - I have no idea how many lines it'll end up being but will finish it with ten lines knit. I bought five 50g balls and have just started knitting the fifth one. My brother has seen it and already requested that I do one for him next.

Apart from cleaning the house (always feels good when I do a good job on that) I was also able to get out into the garden and make a start on my composter finally. I forked out the area I'll be using but need to borrow a spade to dig a hole deep enough to wedge the pallets securely into. I also got some chicken wire and cut it (I now own a wire cutters and feel very handyman-like) and nailed it to the inside of the pallets as a precaution against any large rodents. Have never had a problem before but better safe than sorry. I also bought a honeysuckle (an almost dead one but had one healthy looking branch and was only .15c, how could I resist) and planted it out. Hopefully it'll settle in and grow up a spare piece of trellis on the shed next year.

So all in all I had a nice relaxing but productive weekend. And ended up with enough food prepared that I don't need to be stressing about it during the week while trying to get to work/choir/Tupperware meeting etc. etc.