Ditching the plastic: cotton dishcloths

Good marks for us for always using reusable dishcloths, not ‘disposable’ one.  Bad marks for us that until recently all of them were made of synthetic microfibres, which we now realise release microscopic plastic fibres into the water every time we use or wash them. I have continued to use them for a while, waiting to decide what to change to.  But now they have reached the end of their life (wearing out), so….

Time for a change.

In years past I knitted all our dishcloths from cotton yarn, and that’s what I’ve begun doing again.  At first I just used up oddments of cotton yarn I already had, and I found/developed a few simple patterns I enjoyed doing.  Now I have bought some more pure cotton yarn, and have developed another (rather zingy!) pattern that I’m loving making.

I was looking for a compact, easy (no concentration needed) project to do on holiday, and now I’ve found it.  I’m making us a replacement set of different coloured cotton dishcloths, enough for a clean one every day and a few in the wash.  I’ve bought a pack of cotton yarn with lots of different colours and I’m having fun playing around with combinations.

Two ‘problems’ solved with one solution.  I now have plenty to occupy my hands while I’m on holiday; and at the end of my holiday I will have a full set of new cotton dishcloths to use.  I may even go on to knit some to sell in the City Farm shop.

Here are a couple of simple variations, in case you’d like to have a go yourself.  These will work with any 4 ply or double knit yarn (choose natural plant fibres though).

Pattern one: the zigzag – you could simply use one colour, or as I have done here, two colours.  I’m using 4 ply yarn, with 2.5mm needles (I managed to find a double ended needle just the right size in a charity shop – perfect for someone like me who often drops and loses one needle!).  For a looser finish, use a slightly larger needle.  Play around till you find what works for you.  I find these each use about 30g of yarn, give or take a gram or two either way.

  • Cast on 72 stitches (or any multiple of 12).  I’m using the 2 needles cast on for these.
  • Every row is knitted the same: *K5, k2 tog, k4, k twice into next st.*  Repeat * to* to the end of the row.  Turn and repeat.
  • Start with a dark colour.
  • To achieve the zigzag stripe effect, change colours after two rows.  You will find that the new colour is waiting there for you.  If you hold the old colour taut at the back for the first few stitches of each new stripe, you’ll find the colours weave neatly along the side without any looping.
  • Complete 38 stripes plus one extra dark stripe to finish.  Cast off all stitches.  Sew in the ends.

Pattern two:  the corner-to-corner – this  is so simple, it hardly merits the description of a pattern.  But I have no shame, and will include it here.

  • Cast on two stitches.
  • Knit each row the same, until you feel the dishcloth is big enough.  I find that keeping on till there are 74 stitches is about right.  Then start to decrease instead of increasing.
  • Increase row:
    • K2, yarn on needle, knit to end.  Do every row the same as this (in effect you’re adding a stitch in each row, 2 stitches in from the edge)
  • Once you feel it’s big enough, start to decrease.
  • Decrease row:
    • K1, k2 together, yarn on needle, k2 together, knit to end.  Do this every row until you only have two stitches left.  Cast off.


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Zero waste: so you think you don’t like turnips?

My friend gets a weekly veg box delivered, which includes whatever the farm has ready at the time.  She and her husband really don’t like turnips, which is how two lots of turnips found their way to me.  I tolerate turnips rather than like them.   Definitely not a favourite vegetable.

Or so I thought before I remembered the pickled turnips that are served in Lebanese cafes alongside the mezze.

Taking inspiration from oldest son, I looked up the recipe and found they couldn’t be easier to make.

Day 1

I washed, peeled and cut up the turnips, pulled a beetroot from the allotment and did the same with that.  Didn’t have any celery leaves, but I have lovage growing on the allotment, so I added a couple of leaves.  Marinaded all the prepared veg overnight with some salt (for this I used the slightly lemony salt left over when I pickled the lemons).

The peel, tops and tails went into my compost.

Next morning I packed them all into a jar and covered them with a mix of salt, vinegar and water.  Shook them a little, then left them to stand for 4 days.

Day 2

Day 3

They are rather delicious.  I’ve been cutting up pieces to add to my lunchtime salads.

You can’t really see the pickled turnip here, but I love the colours. The red stripey bits are raw grated beetroot from the allotment

Sometimes all we need is to let our imagination run and wait for inspiration to hit.*

*In this case it would have been better if inspiration had hit sooner, because the first batch of turnips had become a little woody by the time I pickled them.  The second lot were fresh and crisp, and in future I will be sure to use really freshly picked turnips for this quick pickle.

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2019 goals: half year stock take

My mum’s birthday is exactly half way through the year.  This year we marked it by visiting the bench we had placed in her memory, with flasks and home-made shortbreads.  It was a beautiful day, and the end of a lovely weekend with friends.  It’s now 7 years since she died, and so much has changed and happened in the meantime.

Our visit put me in a reflective turn of mind, and I found myself looking back and looking forward on all sorts of topics.  One of them, when I realised the ‘halfway through the year’ thing, was to consider what progress I’ve made on the goals I set myself for this year.

As a reminder, here they are again, with a brief progress report:

  • Use less water in 2019 than we used in 2018 – this is about reducing our environmental impact – this is going well.  The trend for our water use at home is downwards, and I have adopted several new habits that I think will take us further.  Plans for more are in the pipeline.  Yes, pun intended.  In addition, I am working with colleagues at Bath City Farm to put additional water saving and water capturing measures in place there.  Growing salads and keeping livestock are water-intensive activities, and we need to ensure that we are as well prepared as we can be for the years to come, 
  • Use less single-use stuff in 2019 than we used in 2018 – as above – this is also going well.  I have continued with habits adopted over the past few years, but been much better organised about carrying a box and bags with me when I’m out shopping.  It’s rare now that I find myself accepting unnecessary packaging.  I have also, just this week, finally tackled my biggest issue: milk in plastic bottles.  It’s been clear for a long time that the bulk of our plastic recycling is milk bottles.  I’ve grappled with trying to find good (scientific) evidence about the relative environmental costs of milk in plastic and milk in bottles.  It may not be as obvious as it first seems.  But the recent TV programme showing the reality of what happens to our plastic ‘recycling’ finally decided me.  I have ordered milk to be delivered in re-usable bottle and it started this week.  It took me a long time to get there, but I’m glad I’ve done it. At the same time, my plan is to see if I can reduce the amount of milk I use.  One thing I know for sure, and that is that it will cost a lot more than the milk we’ve been buying from the Coop – largely because we buy our supermarket milk ridiculously cheaply compared to the actual cost of producing it.
  • Eat less meat – likewise – this is one I haven’t been measuring, so it’s hard to say for sure, but I believe I am getting better at this.  Certainly my choice is almost always not to have meat, but it’s not been my plan to give up eating meat altogether.  Several meals a week are vegan.  This is easier to achieve at lunchtime, when I’m normally eating separately.
  • Get my allotment and garden back (or maybe I mean forward?) to how I want them to be – I feel this is going really well.  For the first time in several years I can look at the front garden with pleasure, sit out on the back garden terrace and enjoy what I see, and feel that even the allotment is slowly slowly approaching what I want from it.  Another 6 months to go.  I’m feeling optimistic about this time next year.
  • Lose a stone in weight  (This is about health not appearance – the weight has steadily crept on over several years, and it has to stop) – OK so this one is to demonstrate to you and to me that I’m by no means perfect, and that wanting to achieve something is just not enough.  Time to ‘fess up and acknowledge that I have lost precisely no weight at all since I last wrote about this.  BUT – I weigh 3k less than I did.  “How can that be??” I hear you ask.  As well you might.  A recent visitor pointed out that she weighed significantly less on her scales at home.  Something I had noticed when visiting several other people.  So I checked our scales (using some weight-lifting weights), and found an error over-reading 4.4%.  Doing the calculation, that shows that I actually weighed several kilos less at the start of the year than I thought.  Which in turn means less to lose.  Another 6 months to go, so I’m still feeling optimistic.  I know I eat a really healthy diet, I enjoy my food, I drink very little alcohol, and I am fit and active.  It’s just that the balance between what I eat and what I do isn’t right.  My bad.  But when you enjoy your food as I do, what’s a girl to do? (I know, I know – more exercise!)
  • Do some sewing.  Not sure what.  Anything will be more than nothing…. – well yes, anything would be more than nothing.  And indeed it will.  I’m going to start by sewing some produce bags from old (worn out) cotton shirts. (Thanks here to Anne for the suggestion…).  I’ve made a start by sorting and tidying the room where the sewing will happen.  Well, you have to start somewhere.

Watch this space.

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A Further Adventure in Fermentation

And now for my latest Adventure in Fermentation.  This one courtesy of our friend Richard, who was kind enough to repay my gift of kefir grains with a gift of a kombucha scoby.

Halfway through drinking this bottle.

If ‘kombucha‘ and ‘scoby‘ are new words for you, it’s actually very simple.  Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea drink.  The scoby is a rather scary-looking jelly-like disc – a Simbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts – or scoby for short – which enables the sweet tea to ferment.

Armed with the scoby and the small amount of kombucha in which it arrived (in a small jar), brief instructions, a quart kilner jar, a teapot, some black tea, some sugar, and a small amount of trepidation, I made my first batch of kombucha.  A week later I was able to taste it.

My baby scoby

Readers, I love it.  It makes the perfect hot-weather cold drink.  I now make a litre each week, and once made I keep it in the fridge and drink it diluted with cold water (usually carbonated water made at home).

An added twist is to add some flavouring to the finished kombucha.  Oldest son has been making it from a scoby I gave him, and the batch to which he added grated and strained root ginger was delicious.  There are all sorts of other flavourings you could add, just experiment a little and see what you like.  I’m guessing an addition of lemon zest would be good.

Like many fermented foods, one of the nice things about this is that the scoby naturally increases in size, and in time you will be able to pass some on.  It cries out for neighbourliness and generosity.  You will also probably discard some layers as they become less effective – mine are just added to my compost.

So.  Yet another fermented food (drink) added to my diet.  I wonder what will be next?  I’m thinking probably fruit (apple?) vinegar.  Another option would be yoghurt, but that doesn’t fit well with my wish to reduce the amount of dairy producets I consume.

If you want to try it yourself, first find someone who can let you have a scoby.  Maybe ask at work, or try your local Freegle group.

Ingredients and equipment

1 litre teapot (or other container with a spout); tea strainer; equivalent of 4 tea bags (I use about 5 teaspoons of leaf tea); 80-100g sugar; 1 quart container; piece of muslin or other cloth to cover the container, with rubber band or similar to hold the cloth in place

Waste not, want not: this packet of tea had been sitting in our drawer for a very long time (gift from Nepal). Use it up, don’t waste it!

Instructions – I am writing this mainly to give you a sense of just how simple this is.  I suggest that you read something more detailed before you get started.

  • Make a litre of tea.  The instructions suggested using 4 tea bags, but I have been using loose tea since I realised that most tea bags contain plastic.  Fortunately I already had a beautiful large (1 litre) teapot with its own internal filter (into which I put about 5 teaspoons of tea).
  • Add 80-100g sugar (while the tea is still hot and brewing).
  • Leave to stand for 30 minutes, then remove the tea leaves or bags.
  • Leave the tea to cool, then pour it into the quart container (which I assume could be any large un-porous container) in which the scoby is already sitting.  You will find that the scoby probably floats to the top.
  • Cover the container with the muslin (hold in place with rubber band).
  • Leave it to sit at room temperature for 7-10 days.
  • When you’re ready to try it, pour the kombucha into a bottle or jug, leaving the scoby and a small amount of liquid in the container.
  • Keep the jar of kombucha in the fridge, and enjoy drinking it.
  • Start all over again to make a fresh batch.  Or if you’re not quite ready for that (or maybe are going away for a while), just leave the scoby and the small amount of kombucha in the covered container at room temperature until you’re ready to use it again.

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2019 goals: reduce single use waste – small steps!

That’s all it takes: small steps from each of us, followed by another small step, and another, and yet another.  Before you know, you’re walking then running.

BUT.  I have a real problem with books and articles and websites that seem to suggest we should ‘ditch the plastic’ and go out and buy new stuff made from something else (bamboo, metal….).  Surely not??  If we already have plastic things that still have life in them, and are doing no harm, shouldn’t we carry on using them for just as long as we possibly can?  Not searching plastic out, but at least squeezing every last drop of use out of what we already have.

We have ‘single use’ plastic food bags we have used and washed and reused for years (including the bag that once contained our porridge oats, before we switched to buying them from a shop selling them in paper bags that I then compost).  Until I find an alternative way of freezing bread I shall carry on using them.

And as for buying new stuff, if there’s something we really need, shouldn’t we be looking first to see if we can repurpose something we already have, or buy something secondhand (or get it for free!)?  Those things already exist: the more we buy new, the more we encourage making new.

Fortunately charity shops (maybe called goodwill? thrift? elsewhere??) and Freegle are excellent places to look for things that will help you in your quest to move towards a zero waste home.  Jars galore (beautiful ones too – I often see Kilner jars and Le Parfait in perfect condition), far cheaper than you could buy them new.  Our local Freegle often has offers of free jars for storage and food preservations.  I have even ‘rescued’ some beautiful jars from neighbours’ recycling boxes.

I have a particular love of old Tupperware (I mean actual branded Tupperware, not just any old plastic boxes), which I look out for in charity shops.  They are well designed and well made.  I inherited a few things from my mother-in-law that I use all the time.  The jug I keep my sourdough started in; a container we keep sugar in; my favourite sandwich box.

A few years ago I found three smaller matching versions of the Tupperware jug in a charity shop in Germany.  I use them to make my kefir.

Even longer ago, I rescued a collection of discarded (single use) flip top beer bottles when we were on a cross-channel ferry.  I use them each year when I make elderflower cordial, sloe gin (this year I’m planning to make elderberry cordial).  The larger olive oil bottles I rescued from a recycling bin are perfect for my kombucha (or just cold water) in the fridge.

We keep all our dry goods (seeds, nuts, grains, pulses) in a matching collection of old mayo jars.  Because I am slightly obsessive about matching.  I’ve also given away a set of 6 of these jars on Freegle.  My guess is that most people just recycle them.  We have to change that culture, and nurture our habits of re-using for as long as things are useable.   ‘Zero waste’ mustn’t become another reason for increased demand for new stuff.

All it takes is a shift in mind-set, and a good imagination.

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Seven (good) things on Saturday

Well you know how it goes.  This was going to be a Five on Friday post, but here we are and it’s already Saturday.  But no worries, because there are easily six good things to write about.  And then I couldn’t resist a seventh.  Equally alliterative.

  1. Summer and sunshine – while one part of me knows that this is almost certainly a manifestation of our climate emergency, I am still able to enjoy the summer and the light and the warmth.  I spent several nights sleeping outside in our garden room, where we have a futon in case of extra guests (and just for the sheer joy of sleeping out).  It is a still, quiet space and I love to be there.
  2. Gardens – we try to make sure that we have one day a week when we go out somewhere together, and that’s usually somewhere outdoors.  Often a long walk somewhere, but recently we have visited several gardens (Heale; The Courts, a NT garden nearby; Stourhead; Piet Oudulf’s garden at Hauser and Wirth in Bruton), sometimes with friends and sometimes just the two of us.  Plus this year I am so much enjoying the fruits of my labours at home – especially sitting out on the terrace on summer afternoons and evenings reading and knitting.  And then of course the wonderful gardens at Bath City Farm, where we’re regulars.  So many good places to enjoy, none of them too far away.
  3. Summer food – today my lunchtime salad was a confection of leftovers from other meals with a few additions.  A green salad (with added finely cut raw red cabbage, grated carrot, marigold petals and nasturtium petals for colour), leftover cooked brown rice, leftover cooked courgettes, plus cashew nuts, toasted mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin), a few chopped dates, and a chopped piece of salted lemon (from the jar I made earlier this year).  All mixed together with a drizzle of oil and vinegar.  A meal in a bowl, put together in moments, and utterly delicious.  No food waste, no plastic, mostly locally grown or produced.
  4. Good friends – last weekend we had a visit from some of our closest and oldest friends, on their way home to London from a much-needed holiday in Cornwall.  We were able to enjoy a relaxed and relaxing time together, a good balance of doing and being.  We ate good simple food, visited some stunning gardens, and just enjoyed each others company.
  5. Taking stock – halfway through the year feels like a good time to take stock of progress with various projects.  Some are going really well, others not so well, but there’s still lots of time to move things along.  On the whole, I’m happy with how things are going so far.  Still both room and time for improvement.
  6. Yoga – after a long period of intending to do some and planning to do some, I’ve finally got round to actually doing some.  And of course I’ve loved it.  So far, using online resources (Yoga with Adrienne, recommended to me by daughter-out-law).   Maybe eventually I’ll find/make the time to go to an actual class.  In the meantime, I’m 8 days into her 30 days of yoga programme.  I’ve made a start, I’m enjoying it a lot, and this has encouraged me to make a start on some other projects not yet begun.  One thing leads to another…..
  7. Granddaughter – oh the joy (and privilege) of being grandparents, particularly of a grandchild who lives nearby.  Now she’s 13 months old.  She’s walking confidently, starting to talk (and has some signs she and we use as well), and she’s a determined climber and explorer.  She loves our company, and we adore her.  Sometimes we manage to kidnap her for a whole day, and one of those days is coming up shortly.  We are old enough to have retired, but young enough to have energy and enthusiasm: a perfect moment to savour.

Oudolf’s Field, Bruton

Garden terrace in the afternoon

Detail of model vegetable garden, The Courts, Holt

Bath City Farm – view from the cafe kiosk, with lupins


Posted in 2019 goals, Community, Family, Five (good) things on Friday, Food, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Allotment update – June 2019

My renewed efforts on the plot have started to pay off.  I’m learning to leave behind the things not done, and focus instead on the successes.  Making sure that I learn what I need to from the failures.

This year what that means is that I have finally managed (with help from Malcolm) to fence around the whole plot using pallets, posts and cable ties.  This is the low-tech, upcycling solution to the problem.   I could have bought new fencing materials and just got it done.  I was sorely tempted to, till I figured out the price.  And the outcome is that, so far  this year I haven’t had a single badger incursion.  The first year in many that my potatoes, squash plants and asparagus haven’t been dug up and trashed.  I’m counting that one as a success.

We’re now eating home grown broad beans, strawberries, eggs and chard in abundance.   We have other crops to look forward to.

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