Saturday, 30 August 2008

I'm Back But Off Again



Well LM and I are back from our quick trip to London but unfortunately things didn’t go quite to plan (do they ever?). I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Mum and Paul as I’d hoped and I ended up injuring myself but we’re still alive and that’s always a good thing :)

I’m in a hurry right now as I need to do a few things before I leave for Llangollen later. Richard and I are going to the balloon festival, y’see. Once it’s dark they’re going to send up illuminated hot-air balloons and then have a firework display so I’m really looking forward to that. Normally, when I’m knackered (which I am) wild horses wouldn’t get me out of the house but I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while and I’m blowed if I’m gonna miss it!

I’m staying over at his tonight so no post tomorrow morning but I’ll be writing a few posts over the coming days letting you know what went on in London and some of my thoughts about why things are the way they are, from the aggression of so many East Londoners and why my dad should never have had a dog, to our not quite successful visit to the theatre and the fact that East Londoners seem to be perfectly happy to wade around in filth! To be honest, I really don’t feel like visiting the place ever again.

Am off to order some flowers for Mum’s next door neighbour now. If she weren’t there looking out for her, I’d worry about Mum a whole lot more.

Sharon J

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Kohlrabi - That Weird, Alien Looking Vegetable




When I first saw a basket of kohlrabi on display at the grocer’s shop, I had absolutely no idea what it was. Hmm… I thought… could that be something worth trying? Always up for trying something different, I bought one and set about finding out what I could do with it.

Since then I’ve had a number of guests ask me what that strange looking vegetable is, the reason being that for many years, it was ‘out of fashion’ and used mostly to feed livestock. Thankfully, people are nowadays starting to rediscover just how versatile this vegetable is.

Kohlrabi is a cultivar of cabbage (in fact, kohl rabi means cabbage turnip in German) and, according to the lovely man at our local farm shop, will grow almost anywhere, making it ideal for anybody wanting to grow veg in their garden. If I can find a big enough container, I may well try some myself next year.

Kohlrabi can be quite big, about the size of a large turnip with several stems sticking out making it look a bit sputnik-ish. If you can find smaller ones, always go for those as they’re far more tender and sweet. They’re quite thick skinned though so peeling them can be a bit of a nightmare but I generally just chop off and peel a bit at a time, as I need it. Luckily, they keep for about a week in a paper bag in a dark cupboard or even longer, up to a fortnight, if kept in the fridge. They also freeze well - just chop them into chunks, blanch and freeze.

Taste and texture wise, they’re kind of a cross between a carrot and broccoli stems. The flesh is very pale and excellent to use grated in salads or boiled as a side vegetable or in stews and casseroles, the latter being exceptionally good because kohlrabi have a way of drawing other flavours to them. Because it has a mild flavour, kids are generally happy to eat it too. If you’re boiling kohlrabi, chop it into chunks or slices and boil in salted water for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the pieces - they’re ready when they’re almost translucent. About 150g per person is a good sized portion for one of your five a day.

The most popularly available type around here are purple although white ones can sometimes be found too. I've heard that white ones can be more easily found than purple in other parts of the country though so I guess it depends on what the local farmers choose to grow. Taste wise, I haven’t noticed any difference though. Both also have the same nutritional qualities. They’re high in vitamin C and also contain magnesium and phosphorous, both of which help our bodies absorb calcium, and they have a decent amount of folic acid and potassium just waiting to be utilised too.

Fresh kohlrabi are available from late summer through to early spring so make a good winter vegetable as well as being useful in salads on warmer late summer days (assuming we ever get any of those, of course).

If you’ve never tried them I’d definitely give it a go. A kohlrabi won’t break the bank and you may just find that you love it :)

Quick Recipe: Kohlrabi Gratin

Serves 4 - 6

Half a large onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons butter
About 900 g of kohlrabi
200 ml milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
chopped fresh parsley to garnish


1. Sweat the onion in half the butter until it’s soft and clear.

2. Peel the kohlrabi (if it’s big, peel it thickly so that the woody outer layer’s removed). Slice thinly and layer half with the onions and seasoning in a lightly buttered shallow ovenproof dish then add another layer of kohlrabi.

3. Pour in the milk and dot with the remaining butter.

4. Bake in the oven at 200c (gas mark 6) for about 1 ½ hours until tender.

5. Remove and garnish with parsley.

If you’re in a hurry, you can parboil the kohlrabi first then bake the gratin for 30-45 minutes.

Also, if you fancy something a little more luxurious, substitute half of the milk for single cream.

Sharon J

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Friday, 29 August 2008

Boredom - The Root To All Evil?




It’s said that money’s the root to all evil but I personally think boredom has one up on the dosh. When people are bored, all sorts of trouble occurs.

Unfortunately, what we’ve created is a society of boredom and THAT, in my opinion, is what needs to be addressed because I really can’t see crime figures falling otherwise.

We think we’re lucky these days because we have all sorts of entertainment laid on for us in order to prevent boredom but the truth is, unless we actually use our imaginations and get out there and do stuff for ourselves, boredom will continue to reign. Computers, Tvs, games consoles and the likes, they all take away a huge part of our ability to be spontaneous and imaginative. I mean, we’re even lured into thinking that social networking sites like ‘Facebook’ and ‘MySpace’ will keep us connected with our friends, when in reality we’d be far better off actually going out and spending quality time with those friends instead of sending them silly, meaningless messages and ‘gifts’ through a website.

When it comes to fashion we’re told that this season we should be wearing this or that. Follow the trends and end up looking like everybody else - how boring is that? It certainly doesn’t take much imagination to dress well when we let others dictate our wardrobes.

Walk through just about any town these days and they’ll all pretty much look the same. Whereas once there was a diversity of small, local shops, these days the majority of shops are part of huge chains and all look the same. W.H. Smith, Woolworths, HMV, McDonalds, Greggs the bakers, New Look, BHS, Domino’s Pizza, Subway, River Island, Evans, and so forth - if you've seen them in one town, you've seen them in them all. They look the same and they sell exactly the same things. Even charity shops have a ‘corporate identity’ these days.

Any large town has its share of housing estates where each house is exactly like the next - if you've seen one Barrett's home you've seen all of those too! What's worse, these days even the front gardens are less likely to have individual flair because boundry markers in the form of low fences and hedges are often banned on new estates. Open plan is the 'in thing' with just a patch of lawn and a driveway, each and every one of them pretty much the same. When it comes to interiors we're told which colours we should decorate with this year in order to be 'hip' and appear 'successful'. How boring and unimaginative!

A huge percentage of our jobs are automated to the point where we perform them in an almost robotic like manner, from the check-out people at Tesco and those working on factory production lines to the ‘cooks’ at McDonalds and those working in call centres. Mind numbing work that leaves us looking elsewhere for ‘happiness’, usually by spending the money we’ve earned through the work that caused our boredom in the first place.

When people are bored, they have a greater tendency to do anything to break the monotony, whether it’s something relatively innocent like throwing paper balls at their fellow workmates or something far worse, like turning to drugs and alcohol or hanging about on street corners looking for ‘a laugh’, although often their idea of a laugh is at the expense of somebody else. Violence often stems from boredom, too.

We don’t even really need to think that much anymore. We’re governed by countless rules and regulations that do our thinking for us, leaving us without the need for personal responsibility through common sense.

I know how I've felt when I've been bored, because even though I think I'm pretty good at avoiding boredom, there are some situations that just cannot be escaped. Like being left in a miserable waiting room, totally alone with nothing to do for absolutely ages at the hospital! What a way to help people get better! I've wanted to throw something, jump on something, scream, rip something.... anything to make whatever I'm doing a little less tedious. I'm sure you've felt the same way, too.

I don’t have all the answers to the problem but I do believe that people need a greater sense of personal worth, to have diversity, responsibility and spontaneity brought back into their lives and to build a stronger sense of community, otherwise boredom and the problems associated with it will never go away.

Sharon J

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Thursday, 28 August 2008

My Home Organiser - One Of The Most Useful Things I Have


I was going to tell you about my Home Organiser today and how helpful it’s been to me but I’ll point you in the direction of Simple Mom’s post on the same subject instead. Easier for me, and there’s never really any point in repeating something that somebody else has already said so well, is there?

Obviously my organiser’s tailored to my particular needs. Along with all the usual stuff that most would include it also contains information related to my health needs, my food diary, a list of things I need to make either for the home or as gifts, decorating & DIY tasks that need doing including my list of niggles, and an area where I keep temporary stuff, like travel itineraries, packing checklists and what have you.

If you don’t use a home organiser, I’d highly recommend you take a look at Simple Mom’s post and the links at the bottom because having everything in one place really does make life easier.

Sharon J

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Wednesday, 27 August 2008

I'm Off To London




Later this morning LM and I will be heading down the M6 to visit the Queen my mum and Paul in London. We’re staying in Woodford, which makes East London, where they are, easily accessible but without having to stay in the dreadful hotel that we used last time. The beds were like slabs of concrete and I’m afraid I like a little more comfort. My bony body doesn’t do hard very well and my days of crashing out on floors and in bath tubs are well and truly over.

I’m really excited about going because, for one reason and another, it’s almost two years since I last visited Mum. Not only will it be really nice to spend time with a lady whom I have huge love and respect for, but I’ve been missing Paul a lot lately too. What's more, I’ll get to eat Pie & Mash and there’s nothing quite like a good ol’ East End Pie & Mash dinner, with lashing of liqour!

I’ll also get a spring roll from my favourite Chinese take-away. It’s been there since I was just a girl and the recipe doesn’t seem to ever have changed. It’s the best spring roll in the world! Well… probably. Obviously I haven’t tasted them all but it’s by far the best of those I have tasted.

Tomorrow evening we’ll be going out for dinner followed by a visit to the theatre to see 'The Lion King'. Oh, the indulgence! But hey… it's also two years since we last went to the theatre (to see a ballet performance of 'Cinderella') so it’s not as if we do it every week. And even though I'm supposed to be saving as much as possible, I really don't mind spending a bit on some quality entertainment and time spent with my daughter. Mum and Paul won't be coming - Mum because she can't leave Dad and Paul because he won't leave Mum on her own. One day we'll all do something together.

LM’s driving - I’m not sure I’m strong enough to manage the long drive back after a busy couple of days yet, so we’ll be poodling down the motorway in her old Corsa. It’s not let her down so far so finger’s crossed it won’t conk out somewhere between here and East London.

I’ve scheduled a couple of posts to go up while I’m away but obviously I won’t be responding to comments or reading other blogs. I’ll do my best to catch up once I back home and rested, though.

Have fun while I’m gone.

Sharon J xx

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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Damaging Extremes of Going Green


While trying to live in an as environmentally friendly way as possible is a good thing, going green doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stress over everything you’re not doing; taking things to extremes can be more damaging than it’s worth.

These days we’re told that we should be driving hybrid cars, using ‘A’ rated electrical appliances and heating our homes via solar panels or wind turbines. We should all have water butts installed, preferably one that has our grey water rerouted into it and our gardens should be turned over to the production of vegetables.

Now while all of those things are good, stressing over the ones we’re not doing isn’t going to change anything and actually doing them could cause us further problems. Is there any point to getting ourselves into debt in order to switch out our perfectly usable fridges, cookers and washers or exchange our not particularly environmentally friendly old banger for a brand new hybrid car? Surely it’s better we wait until we need to change these things rather than feeling guilty because we haven’t?

Digging over the garden and turning it into a vegetable plot may come easy to some but that doesn’t mean we can all do it at the drop of a hat. Not all of us have the ability to garden on that kind of scale and paying somebody to come in and ‘landscape’ it would mean more paying out and the possibility of even more debt. The same goes for installing grey water channelling, solar panels and the rest.

Of course, if somebody went out and bought a huge 4x4 to drive around town in rather than buying something more environmentally friendly then that would be thoughtless but I'm talking about those who have a green conscience and who really do want to make a difference here.

What’s important, in my opinion, is that we focus on the things we are able to do and know that no matter how small they are compared to what some others are doing, we’re doing our bit to help the planet sustain life as we know it whilst improving the quality of our own and others' lives.

If or when the time comes that we can do more, so be it, but none of us can do more than we’re able. And stress is never a good thing.

Sharon J

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Monday, 25 August 2008

Harking Back To The Past




I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the past. My own past and our collective pasts - pasts that we didn’t experience but that we know happened. History. Personal, national and global history.

Some would say I should stop ‘living in the past’ and look to the future instead and while I agree that we can’t get too stuck in our ways or we’ll never evolve, I believe that the past can help us understand which path the future needs to take.

For me, finding simplicity in my life again has been largely dominated by a time in my past where I lived much simpler than I have been doing for the past decade or so. I look back and compare how I felt in one stage with how I felt in the other, how my different choices affected both me personally, my family, the community around me and the planet as a whole. What changed? Did it change for the better or not? Was I happier? Did I have more or less time to spend with my family? Was I under more or less financial pressure? How was my relationship with my friends? These, and others, are questions I ask myself and the answers let me learn and develop as I move forward through the changes I‘m implementing now and, because we‘re continuously evolving our lives and attitudes, they help me map where I want to go.

When I listen to my mum tell stories from her past; from a time when reusing was the norm and recycling just happened without needing a name, I’m learning ‘new‘ ways of wasting less. When she tells me how the neighbours all rallied around for one another, looking out for the elderly and making sure the new or sick mum had the help that she needed, I realise that we intelligent, evolving humans have built a society of loneliness and isolation; we close our doors and the rest of the world can just ‘get on with it’. She has so much to tell me and I have so much to learn.

Yes, we can hark back to an ideal and imagined past when everybody was happy and all was well with the world and long for a utopia that hasn’t and never is going to happen, and yes, there are some who do just that, but reflecting on what has been doesn’t have to mean we’re living in a dream state, exiling ourselves from reality, but that we’re learning from the mistakes and triumphs that we’ve experienced personally, or that our ancestors experienced before us.

And yes, the past has happened and we can’t go back there, but we can build on certain elements of history, incorporating them into our lives in order to create a better, more fulfilling future where contentment and freedom from commercialism, debt, isolation, endless rules and regulations that strip us of our personal responsibility, and the constant need to keep up with the elusive Jones’ can again be enjoyed; a life where stress, anxiety, depression and exhaustion are no longer part of ’the norm’.

The past was what set me on my path to rediscover a more simple way of living - I knew I’d been happier without credit cards, fast food, endless rounds of shopping, expensive holidays taken just for the sake of it, closed doors amongst neighbours I barely know and ‘stuff’ cluttering every corner of my life. By looking back I could identify what had changed, how it had changed and what I needed to do in order to incorporate some of my past ways into my present life. I can’t turn the clocks back to become young and healthy again but I can find some of that past contentment and happiness that had been lost amongst the endless ‘wants’ I’d developed - wants that had led me to a life less pleasant.

The past has happened and we can learn from it - the future is nothing more than fantasy.

Sharon J

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Sunday, 24 August 2008

Paul - A Prime Example of Simplicity


My son’s 30 and has what’s termed as ‘profound learning difficulties’. When he was six months old I was told that he would be ‘a vegetable’ (the doctor’s actual term) and was advised to put him into care and forget him. Yes, that’s actually what I was told.

I didn’t. I was just 17 but I knew that with my mum's support, I could give him a life he deserved.

He was 3 ½ when he took his first step and nowadays we call him ‘the roadrunner’ because he dashes along, making it practically impossible for even fit people to keep up, let alone me with my dodgy legs or my mum on her aging pins. He can dress himself (although needs to be reminded put on clean clothes otherwise he’d wear the same things for a year!), he can bath himself if he’s supervised and reminded to rinse himself off properly and given help to wash his hair and get dry, and although he can’t prepare a meal, he can eat without help (although I have to admit that a good deal of it tends to land on his t-shirt or his lap) and he can perform simple household tasks like emptying the rubbish bin, feeding the pets, and vacuuming the floor (but not if it involves pulling the furniture out). In other words, he’s far from a vegetable.

He can’t speak but has an amazing ability to make himself understood through gestures and body language although you’d have to meet him to really understand the extent of his talent (and it IS a talent). He can’t count to more than 3 or write anything other than his name and some crosses (kisses) and he can’t manage complex computer games or even board games. He can sit for hours ‘counting’ pennies and stacking them up though, and even longer with his Magnetix and believe me, he loves nothing more than helping out.

Paul is kindness personified. As long as it’s within his capabilities, he’ll do anybody a favour, and most often he’ll give it a go even if he can’t do it. Unfortunately, the latter sometimes leads to problems because he‘ll have a go at something he hasn‘t been asked to do (like when he decided to change a plug or the time he drilled a hole in the wall). He’s only trying to be useful, though.

He loves animals, nature and sunshine but he doesn’t really complain if it’s raining and he gets wet. He hates it if he thinks people are being unfair to others and cries if a person or animal gets hurt. He’ll comfort you when you’re feeling down and he’s a master at making people laugh. In fact, it doesn’t take much to make him laugh - watching The Simpsons has him in fits!

Paul doesn’t demand much. He doesn’t ask for the latest Cds or DVDs but is happy when he gets one. He doesn’t demand the latest fashions but is happy when he wears something new (unless we’re talking trainers, in which case he’d rather wear the old ones until they fall off his feet). He’s perfectly happy with second-hand furniture in his room and at the moment he’s more than happy with a mattress on the floor in his nan’s room (there’s no room for a proper bed) just because he’s close to her and can be there for her should she need help in the night. He doesn’t want to dine out at fancy restaurants but thinks it’s fun to pop into the bakers for a cake and a cup of hot chocolate now and then, and he neither smokes nor drinks alcohol. He does drink too much milk for his own good, though.

What really upsets him is the way some people react. The stares, the comments made within earshot, and the sniggers from the ‘uneducated’. These things make him both sad and angry.

Recently I told him that I was planning to take him away on holiday. He hasn’t been anywhere for over 2 years - not even as much as a day trip - so I thought that being as he spends the majority of his time either helping Mum with the shopping, helping her with my very ill and dependant father, or just doing some bits and pieces to help Mum around the house, he’d appreciate a break. Alas, Paul didn’t want to go.

Sunshine, beaches, the warm sea, karaoke bars and hotel type join-in entertainment, all of which he usually loves, just weren’t enough to entice him away from his nan. His answer was that she needs him with her to help look after Grandad and to be able to carry the shopping home. That’s a kind and incredibly unselfish heart!

When I see ‘kids’ making demands on their parents for the latest computer game consoles, the latest designer gear, the best holidays and lord only knows what else, and still they’re sulky and miserable and complain that they’re hard done by, I can’t help but think how much better Paul’s life actually is. He’s happy in his simplicity.

Next time somebody says “he’s simple, isn’t he?”, I shall take it as a compliment. He is, he's happy that way and I love him for it.

Sharon J

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Saturday, 23 August 2008

Financial Goals



I recently read a post on Saving4Later where the author of the blog tries to list her 20 financial goals as advised by the author of a book she was reading. She was only able to list five.

I thought it sounded like an interesting exercise so I tried writing my own list. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Save £2,000 for new kitchen.
    I really need my kitchen re-fitted and completely re-decorated so this is one of my number 1 goal at the moment.

  2. Save £3,000 in an emergency fund.
    Everybody should have one.

  3. Pay off ALL debts.
    By December 2009, if things stay on track, I should be debt-free. Never again!

  4. Save £500 for a bonding holiday with LM.
    I've had a holiday with just Lise alone but not with LM. That needs to be rectified. Spending time together, discovering new places is a good bonding experience.

  5. Save £1,000 for a bonding holiday with both my girls.
    I’ve had a few short bonding breaks with my girls but never one with both together (alone, without males around) so I’d really love to go away somewhere warm with them and just enjoy being together.

  6. Save £2,000 for a holiday in the Maldives with Richard.
    We’ve dreamt of this for a long time now. One day we’ll get there. I hope. Probably when we're old and grey but even so....

  7. Save £1,000 for a holiday in Cuba.
    I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba and haven’t given up on the idea yet.

    (These are the only holidays I really want - anything else is just a bonus. I did offer to take Paul away recently but he refused; he's perfectly happy just plodding through life, living VERY simply)

  8. Save at least £50 per month in pension scheme.
    I started this a few years back but dropped it because I just couldn’t afford it anymore. Paying off the debts had to come first. Once they’re paid, I’ll take up paying into this again. If I don’t, I’m gonna end up one very poor pensioner.

  9. Use one credit card for earning cash-back.
    Once the debts are paid off I’ll continue to use the card that gives me cash back whenever I make expensive purchases. I won’t use it unless I have the money ready to pay it with though.

  10. Save enough to give the house a complete make-over.
    Once the kitchen’s finished, I intend to start on the rest of the house, one room at a time.

  11. Save enough to give the garden a complete make-over.
    The garden’s a shameful sight - I need to have it redesigned so that it’s easy maintenance with space to grow some native plants and shrubs as well as a few veggies.


Hmmm… that’s it. I can only get to elleven. I really can think of anything else I'd need large amounts of money for.

Sharon J

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Friday, 22 August 2008

Finding Out What Makes Me Sick - My Food Diary



A comment left by Catz on Frugal Trenches' blog sparked off my own decision to keep a daily food diary. Like Catz, I also have a health problem that can be made more difficult to cope with if I eat anything that my body doesn’t agree with, and although my problems are very different to hers, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would benefit from keeping a diary.

The strange thing is, the idea was suggested to me by the nursing staff on the unit when this first happened to me, but I was never organised enough to follow it up. Some may scoff at the idea of keeping lists of things but for me, lists are part of making my life much more simple. I used to have them years ago, but gave up when my lifestyle changed. I’m just glad it’s gradually changing back again now. I don’t just want simplicity, I need simplicity.

It’s early days yet, obviously. I’ve only been keeping my food diary for a very short while but already I’ve seen that there’s a pattern forming. Nothing that I can say for certain is affecting me yet, but it’ll interesting to see how things develop.

Of course, unlike most, I don’t really need to track whether I’m getting enough proteins, dairy, fruit & veg etc each day, because my body can’t make use of the nutrients anyway; it’s how my stomach reacts to the different food stuffs that’s important to me so I’m actually keeping a track of those things anyway because it could be that I react if I get too much of one type of protein rich food or something. I really don’t know. I’ll see how it pans out anyway.

Hopefully, once I’ve been doing this for a while I’ll be in a better position to plan my menus without having a night spent on the loo or an afternoon with my head in a bucket.

Sharon J

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Thursday, 21 August 2008

Making The Most of Carrots



Two of my children are not big veggie fans but luckily both of them are perfectly happy to eat carrots. Ok, so the little lass generally insists on covering her entire meal in thick Bisto gravy (I personally don't like the stuff but she buys it herself) but even with the tastes practically drowned out, the goodness is still there.

Carrots are one of the UK’s most popular vegetables and with good reason - they’re sweet, juicy and packed with nutrients. They can be eaten raw or cooked, used as an accompaniment to just about any dish, can be boiled, baked, roasted or steamed and used in soups, stews, casseroles and pies. Talk about versatile! And because they’re bright and cheerful looking, kids usually love ‘em. Even my darling daughter ate them without smothering them in gravy, but that was a while ago.

Carrots are also cheap enough to be regularly included in meals, are available all year round and just three tablespoons counts as one portion of your five a day. What more could anybody want from a humble vegetable?

It’s good that carrots are popular because as well as being cheap and tasty, they’re our best source of both vitamin A and pro-vitamin A and include a good few other useful nutrients too. BUT… did you know that how you eat them is important if you’re gonna make the most of those nutrients?

Until I met Richard, I thought it was just a matter of… well, eat ‘em! Not so. Apparently his ex wife had done some reasonably extensive research into food because she wanted to give her kids the best start in life - as you do - and had learned a thing or two about carrots. Being curious, I followed up with some research of my own and found that what I’d been told was indeed true.

Carrots are more nutritious when eaten cooked rather than raw.
Because of their tough cellular walls, our bodies are only able to covert around 25 percent the beta carotene in raw carrots. Beta carotene's the stuff that’s then turned into vitamin A. Obviously, some vitamin A is better than none at all so by all means carry on munching those raw carrot sticks and using them in salads but if you want to maximise their nutrient potential, cook ‘em. Whether you boil, roast or do something else with them, cooking helps dissolve the cellulose walls by breaking down their membranes. Just be careful not to overcook them because that has the reverse effect. Crisp yet tender is what we should be aiming for.

Carrots should be served with fat.
I don’t mean you should only eat them with fatty meats or fried stuff, but serving them with some fat helps the body absorb more of the carotene. Tossing them in some butter is a tasty way of serving them, especially if you mix a little dill in too, or if you're using them in a salad, drizzle it with an olive oil based dressing. Obviously, if you’re serving them with a fat-based sauce or have roasted them in fat or oil, the problem’s already solved for you.

Carrots shouldn't be stored with their tops on.
When carrots are laid out in the greengrocers, complete with their fresh, green tops, they always look somehow more tempting but unfortunately they're less likely to be nutricious than their topless counterparts. The green plant will continue its struggle to survive, drawing goodness from the root (the carrot) thus depleting it of important nutrients. If you do buy carrots with their tops on, cut them off before storing them. BUT, if they're so called 'dirty carrots', don't wash them before storing - the soil helps preserve them.

So there you go. How to make the most of carrots. And guess what? They really are good for the eyesight too. Apparently it’s that beta carotene's production of vitamin A that we can thank for that.

Quick Recipe: Glazed Carrots

Serves 2

300g carrots, cut into 5cm strips
150ml chicken stock
A good dollop of butter
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
Salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon mixed chopped fresh mint & parsley

1. Put the carrots in a pan with the stock, butter and sugar. Season with salt & pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes until they're almost tender.

2. Remove the lid and boil rapidly until the liquid in the pan has evaporated and formed a glaze on the carrots. Stir in the herbs and serve hot.


Sharon J

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Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Tetra Pak Recycling



At long last our borough has introduced Tetra Pak recycling, an important addition to the recycling schemes, and considering that 20 billion of the 55 billion cartons produced were recycled on a global basis as far back as in 2005, it's not before time.

Apparently, Tetra Paks - those cartons that drinks often come in - are quite easy to recycle even though the paper, aluminium and polythene need to be stripped away from one another. Ours can’t go into the kerbside recycling bins but a number of supermarkets have council recycling units in their car parks so those who shop there anyway can easily take them along and pop them in.

To find out where you can recycle your Tetra Paks, take a look at the recycling location map.

According to Tetra Pak the company, their products have a far lower carbon impact than plastic cartons so while I’ve been choosing plastic over cartons until now, simply because I had no way of recycling them, my choice will soon be changing?

Why soon and not straight away? Because I still need to get that darned bin cupboard de-cluttered (the bin doesn’t actually ‘live’ in there) and some shelves put up so that I can store my recycling. Once that’s done, I shall definitely be recycling Tetra Paks. Unfortunately, until then, I just don’t have anywhere to store the papers, bottles and now, plastic lined cartons, that need to be taken ‘elsewhere’ to be recycled. I really must get my skates on.

Sharon J

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Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Whining About Wine - It Can Be Dangerous Stuff Y'know!



Are you one of those people who enjoys a glass of wine in the evening? While I don’t actually drink a great deal of it, I have been known to participate in the sharing of a bottle now and then and generally have a nice bottle of rose tucked away somewhere, as well as the couple of bottles of cooking wines that are in my food cupboard, ready to be sloshed into marinades, sauces, casseroles and whatever else takes my fancy.

What I didn’t realise is that wine - the non-organic, conventional type, that is - contains LOADS of pesticides! Being made from fruit, I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before, but doh… I didn’t. Having mentioned it to a couple of others, it turns out I’m not the only one either.

The European Pesticide Action Network (PAN) ran tests on conventional wine and discovered that 100 percent of those they tested contained dangerous chemicals from pesticides. The wine they tested didn’t just originate from Europe, though - they tested wine from Chile, South Africa and New Zealand too. And what’s more, some of the wine came from world famous vineyards.

Both the chemicals themselves and the amount found in the wines varied but while the average was four different pesticides, one was found to contain as many as ten and five of those most commonly occurring have been classified as either carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic or endocrine disrupting. Sounds like we’ve been swigging away at some nasty stuff.

The main reason for this problem is that grapes are one of most contaminated foods that are allowed to be sold in the European Union and can contain up to 15 different chemicals. Fifteen!! That’s certainly got me thinking twice about ever buying non-organic grapes again!

Of course, the clue as to what we can do to avoid this can be found in that last sentence - yes, we should buy organic wine instead.

Most supermarkets have some organic wine available but for a wider choice (or if you’re a bit of a connoisseur), it’s probably better to shop at specialist online organic wine stores like Vintage Roots or Vinceremos or even Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard, the UK’s original organic vineyard established as far back as in 1979.

I feel rather sad to be waving bye-bye to my favourite wine - Blossom Hill White Zinfandel Rose - but with a bit of trial and error, I’m sure I’ll find an organic wine that I’ll like. Rather that than drink myself silly on chemicals!

Sharon J

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Monday, 18 August 2008

I’ve Been on Holiday!



Ok, so I haven’t been on holiday as in the usual sense of going on holiday, but I’ve still been on holiday. Let me explain.

A while ago I decided I’d try to recreate a meal that Richard and I had both enjoyed during a holiday in Tenerife a few years ago. It was a relatively simple meal - just pork steaks in a creamy mushroom sauce with sautéed potatoes and a salad but there was something about it that was incredibly more-ish. As I’d found a recipe for Spanish style sautéed potatoes, last night I made the meal. LM wasn’t home so it was just a meal-for-two eaten by candlelight (a stab at being romantic) and, even if I do say so myself, was actually quite delicious.

While we were eating Richard commented that the sound of the kitchen fan that was extracting steam was somewhat reminiscent of the air-conditioning in the restaurant where we’d first enjoyed the meal I’d tried to recreate. I agreed and we were transported back to Los Cristianos.

After our meal, whilst still in the ‘holiday mood’, I suggested that as I don’t need to hook up to my feed pump on Saturday evenings, we could drive to his and I could stay over there. I haven’t been away anywhere this year, not even for a night, and really felt like ‘getting away’, even if it was only to the other side of town.

You’ll probably think we’re daft as brushes but because Richard hasn’t been able to lay carpets or install much furniture yet (he’s also living frugally - things will happen when they’re meant to), there’s a lot of echo there so we pretended we were in a caravan. Ok, childish it may be, but it was fun and that’s what mattered.

For breakfast we had a traditional English fry-up (not healthy, I know, especially after a thick sauce and sautéed potatoes the night before, but you have to indulge yourself sometimes and we were on holiday!) and then, for lunch, we decided we’d head for Scandinavia and have a my favourite smørbrød (open faced sandwich) - a slice of thick white bread with prawns and mayo on a bed of lettuce and garnished with red pepper and a slice of lemon (for squeezing over the mayo and prawns). Absolutely gorgeous! Thank you, Richard, for going out to Asda especially to get the prawns.

Then, once lunch was digested and a cup of coffee had been enjoyed (another rare treat for me), we jumped in the car and headed for the countryside, choosing narrow B-roads that we hadn’t explored before. We passed through some beautiful places that are right on our doorsteps before stopped by the canal (Trent & Mersey - although I‘ve no idea just where we were) to eat a custard doughnut and drink our cartons of 12-fruit juice before taking a short stroll along the tow path.

This was, beyond any doubt, the most enjoyable 24 hours I’ve spent so far this year and proves that real pleasure can be found in simple things - it’s just a matter of using your imagination.

Sharon J

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Sunday, 17 August 2008

Natural Ways To Get Rid of Ants



I haven’t had a big problem with ants this year (touch wood) but a few weeks ago I noticed a couple of the blighters crawling around in my back porch and knew it would only be a matter of time before they’d invaded the house and would be driving me absolutely insane.

Now, I’ve nothing against ants in general - they’re very beneficial little chaps that help clear away dead insects and animals while aerating the ground and carrying organic matter into the soil so that our plants will grow bigger and stronger. What I dislike is the fact that at this time of year, they tend to think it’s their given right to just move into my house whenever they please and I’m sorry, but I just ain’t sharing!

The thing is, if they’re not controlled they can make nests in the insulation layer found below houses and from what I’ve heard, that's when you really have problems.

Of course, the best thing to do is make sure there’s nothing in the house that’s likely to attract them in the first place. Anything sweet and sugary that can easily be found will be like a magnet to them; once one has found it, the entire working population of the nest will be marching in to pick up their share. Unfortunately, even if we’re careful to keep sugar, honey, fizzy drinks, sweets, and the likes tightly packaged and away from kitchen work surfaces and other areas that are easily accessible, ants can still find something that attracts them. Just one tiny grain of sugar or biscuit crumb is all it takes.

Not wanting to use commercial ant-killer stuff to get rid of my visitors - the common Lasius niger, otherwise known as garden ants, that are the general cause of problems here in the UK - I decided to look into ways of deterring them through natural means. This is what I came up with:

Lemon juice - pour around the areas that ants frequent. This is meant to destroy their scent trails, confusing them into marching around witlessly rather than following their trodden path. A piece of string soaked in lemon juice and left where they come in is meant to do the same job.

Chalk - draw a line across their path and apparently they won’t cross it. A couple of people have told me they’ve successfully tried this but as I didn’t have any chalk, I didn’t get a chance.

Bicarb (baking soda) - does pretty much the same job as chalk. Sprinkle a line of it across their path.

Baby Powder - again, does the same as the above.

Vinegar - this one worked for me! Apparently ants absolutely loathe the stuff so spray it around doorways and anywhere else they may be coming through, as well as across their paths. I tried a mixture of 50/50 white malt vinegar and water and the ants were gone the next day!


If ants in the garden are a problem (and who wants them harvesting green fly on the veggies?), growing mint amongst the plants is said to be a deterrent. I can’t vouch for the validity of that, though. If that doesn’t work, you could always try laying your own sweet, sugary trail leading them elsewhere (like the compost heap, for example).

I have my vinegar at the ready should they decide to return to my humble abode. Until then, I’ll just relax and be happy that once again I managed to solve a problem without turning to synthetic and potentially harmful chemicals.

Sharon J

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Saturday, 16 August 2008

Five A Day - Are You Getting Yours?



Because I wasn’t entirely convinced that either of my children are actually getting their five a day, I decided to research just what constitutes one portion of fruit and veg and try to do something to improve the situation because even though LM’s leaving home very soon and Lise already lives abroad, I can still have some kind of influence on them when they visit. Paul’s down at my mum’s at the moment but once he’s back, I intend to make sure he eats healthier too.

The following count towards your five a day:

Fruit
One medium apple, orange or banana (and other medium sized fruits)
Half a large grapefruit
A full slice of melon
Two small citrus fruits such as tangerines, satsumas etc
One tablespoon of raisins
Three apricots or plums

Vegetables
Three tablespoons of cooked vegetables such as carrots, peas, sweetcorn, broccoli, green beans etc.
One average sized cereal bowl of mixed salad.
One cup of sprouting alfalfa, cress etc (that's a lot for the average person to manage)
Beans (kidney beans, butter beans, etc) and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, etc) are counted as one portion regardless of portion size or how many types you eat.
Potatoes DO NOT count towards your five a day.

Drinks
Fruit or vegetable juice, smoothies etc count as one portion no matter how much you drink or how often during any 24 hour period.

Fruit Pies
Really shouldn't be eaten too often as the pastry contains a lot of fat and 'empty' carbs and the fruit's generally cooked in sugar but on the occasions when they are eaten, one slice counts as a portion.

Yoghurt and similar fruit based desserts aren't generally counted but can still be good for you depending on the sugar and fat content. Personally, if they contain a lot of fruit then I'd still say they're better than nothing at all so I usually count an average serving as a half portion.

What’s more, fruit and veg doesn’t have to be fresh to be counted. While I'm not advocating the use of convenience foods as an alternative to fresh fruit and veg, there are times when they're handy and most of us use them from time to time. It's good to know, therefore, that tinned and pre-packed frozen veg is counted towards our five a day too. Even baked beans are counted. You can read more about processed fruit and vegetables here.

But let’s say somebody eats a sandwich that includes some lettuce for lunch; it isn’t enough to count as one portion but surely that salad’s gotta count for something? I mean, it’s still better than no salad at all, isn’t it? I think so and generally count it as half a portion.

If you're uncertain about what constitutes a portion, Perfect Portions is worth looking at.

Some ways of ensuring that you get your five a day are:
  • By choosing raw fruit or vegetables as snacks.
  • By adding fruit to cereals, either dry or fresh.
  • By having a side salad with sandwiches, pizzas and similar. Actually, it's worthwhile having a side salad with just about every meal (ok, so maybe not a stew!)
  • By adding fruit to rice and custard desserts and plenty of veg to casseroles and stews.
  • By serving fresh fruit instead of a traditional dessert.
It's also important we vary the fruit and vegetables that we eat. Even though six tablespoons of carrots counts as two portions, as do two apples, and one portion could be a lettuce and carrot salad whipped up for lunch, we don't want to be eating just carrots, lettuce and apples every day as our bodies still won't be getting the variety of nutrients they depend on. Check what's in season and make the most of nature's treasure trove. We're lucky to have such a wide variety of fruit and vegetables available, after all.

I really don’t want to become obsessed by this so don’t intend to go into battle with my grown-up kids and other guests over whether or not they’re getting enough, but if I provide fruit and veg with their meals and have a supply of fruit - both fresh and dried - and salad on hand, at least they can get their five a day if they want them. I would like to see my younger daughter eat more 'good stuff' though.

And even though I don’t need my five-a-day and have to be careful how much raw veg I eat (for the sake of newcomers, I mention again that I’m an intravenous feeder with intestinal failure) I shall make sure I get them when the kids are around or I have guests in the house who aren’t particularly health conscious so that I can at least go forward as a good example.


Quick Recipe: Tropical Rice

Serves 4

1/2 mango
1 kiwi
1 slice pineapple
(or use any other tropical fruit combination that takes your fancy)
2 tablespoon raisins
1 teaspoon soy sauce
chicken stock
250g long-grain rice

Boil the rice according to the packet instructions using chicken stock instead of water. When ready, mix in the soy sauce then transfer to a serving dish and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, dice the fruit and add to cooled rice.

This goes really well alongside spicy foods such a Cajun chicken but works equally as well alongside a bacon chop on the barbecue during summer. Of course, the fruit won't be local but although I try to stick with locally grown fruit and veg as much as possible, I think it's ok to look further afield now and then.

Sharon J

PS: I tried eating tomato (more about that here). Richard chose some oval shaped organic vine tomatoes for me but I'm still not sure about them. I didn't mind the flesh too much but that globby stuff in the middle is awful. It tastes like sugared vinegar! I didn't give up though - I tried again before sticking them in last night's chilli. Still didn't like them much though. I'll keep trying - 2 tries down, 15 to go.

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Friday, 15 August 2008

The Effects of Self Neglect



Due to a combination of physical illness, mild depression and my general apathy I recently went through a phase - a relatively long phase - where I neglected myself far too much. The consequences, sadly, were not good.

More often than not I wouldn’t bother to get dressed. By the time my feed was finished being pumped into me it was already past noon and as I knew I’d be knackered and heading for bed again by 8 o’clock, there just didn’t seem much point. I’d rarely be going anywhere, anyway.

When I did sleep I didn’t sleep well. Ok, so having 2 ½ litres of fluid pumped into me during the night generally means several trips to the loo anyway, but the fact that I’d allowed my bed to become strewn with magazines, books, writing paper, the remote control, the phone and all sorts of other odds and sods wasn’t helping. Instead of clearing it all away every day, I just crawled into bed as it was. Sometimes I only had about two foot of bed available to sleep in and then wondered why I always felt tired in the morning!

I rarely went outside so, although my bedroom window is kept open, I wasn’t getting either enough fresh air or sunshine. I became seriously lacking in vitamin D and the situation just got worse. It was like a vicious circle.

Eventually I pulled myself together and broke the circle. Nowadays I spend the morning in bed catching up with blogging, chatting with friends online, making telephone calls, paying bills, updating my accounts etc etc. In other words, I try to be productive even though I’m not actually up and about. I could go downstairs with my pump but at the moment I’m just not strong enough to keep carrying it up and down the stairs - it just about all I can muster to get up the stairs without it!

Once I’m unhooked, I have a wash and get dressed. One day, when I can eventually afford to have a shower installed, I’ll shower every ‘morning’ too. For the time being I have to make do with a wash though, and a shower at Richard’s when I’m up to it. Hopefully, the occupational therapist will be able to help me with the cost of installing a shower but I’m not banking on it.

What I eat doesn’t actually make any difference to me as very little nutrition is absorbed into my body (hence being intravenously fed) but it does have a psychological affect, as strange as that may seem. When I’m eating properly, I feel better for it. Gone are the countless biscuits and other sweet things that I’d pack in before (I figured if it didn’t matter, I might just as well enjoy myself) and in their place are more healthy options. I still have to be careful how much fruit and raw veg I eat because my bowel can’t process the fibre but looking back now, I don’t know why I imagine I’d enjoy biscuits and cakes more than fresh, wholesome food! It’s ok now and then, but yukky in large amounts! And then there’s the cost involved! What a waste!

Exercise is another area that I was neglecting. Whereas I was getting along well before the bout of illness that knocked me for six at the beginning of the year, once I got out of hospital I kind of gave up for a while. I knew I’d need to keep pushing myself if I was to build up my muscles again (I could hardly walk from the bedroom to the bathroom at that stage) but it all just felt too difficult.

Nowadays I feel much better about myself. There’s still room for improvement - lots of room - but at least now if somebody turns up unexpected I don’t have to be embarrassed because I’m not dressed or the house looks as if wild dogs have run through it. And if I want to go out, all I need to do is pick up my keys and bag and go.

I get out and about as much as I can and if I’m not going out, I try to get some kind of exercise in the house, either by going up the stairs once more than I really need to or doing little things around the house that I would have once felt too tired to do. The results are starting to show - last time I visited the clinic I’d built up 2cm of extra muscle mass : )

I sit for at least half an hour in the sun every time it shines because I really don’t want to lose the muscle mass I’m gradually building up again though vitamin D deficiency. I may well need another ‘jab’ before winter but for the time being I’m making good use of natural resources.

If you’re also suffering through lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, not getting enough sleep or being indoors too much, remember that if I can do it, you can do it too : )

Sharon J

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Thursday, 14 August 2008

An Earth Friendly, Multi-Purpose, Extremely Frugal Cleaning Fluid



As most of you probably know, I’ve long since stopped buying commercial household cleaners that are full of nasty toxins, much preferring simpler, safer ways of keeping the house clean.

One of the cleaners I love the most is one that you can easily mix yourself from really inexpensive ingredients that will go a looooong way.

Here’s what you need:

1 litre Spray bottle
White vinegar
Water
About twenty drops tea tree oil
2-3 drops eco-friendly washing up liquid (eCover or even one of the mainstream supermarket own brands)

Mix it all together and use it to clean worktops, mirrors, windows, floors, chrome, cooker tops, the inside of the fridge, wood and plastic chopping boards, stainless steel, and porcelain. And because of the antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal qualities in the tea tree oil, it can also be used to clean the toilet, bath and shower tiles. The only place you shouldn’t use it - because of the vinegar content - is on marble. It’s even good at loosening up stains on the laundry. Just spray it on, leave it for about 10 minutes then wash as you normally would. It cuts through grease well, too.

Once it’s mixed it can be stored for ages although it’s best to store it away from direct heat because it can go kind of ikky otherwise.

Life’s so much easier when you have a true multi-purpose cleaner at hand, and one that you know isn’t doing scary stuff to the environment. Gone are the myriad bottles and packets that used to live under my sink and come crashing out at me everytime I needed something and in their place are just a few cleaning essentials that do the job very nicely, thanks.

Sadly, most commercial cleaners are full of polluting chemicals that destroy our water based eco systems and can also have a negative impact on our own health but judging by what I see at the supermarket, they're still being bought by the barrel load. The fact that the law doesn’t insist that manufacturer’s list their ingredients because most are considered to be secret doesn't help, either. (would Cif be better than Flash otherwise? Assuming it is, of course. Though I doubt it).

Sharon J

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Wednesday, 13 August 2008

How Simple Living Can Be Damaging



There isn't a day go by where I don't think about what simple living means to me and how I might be able to simplify my life even more. Today I got to thinking about how the extremes of anything can be more damaging than they’re productive.

Let’s say you’re staying at a hotel that’s less than green and you can’t find anywhere to put the rubbish that you know should go to recycling. You don’t have a car to drive to a recycling point and as you hardly know the area, finding one on foot isn’t easy. Because you’re so determined not to go against your green principles you could well end up spending the best part of your holiday obsessing over what to do with the said items and fretting over the hotel management who just aren’t doing their bit.

Or perhaps you’re intent on eating only healthy foods but the hostess who invited you to dinner has cooked a meal that’s far from what you would have chosen. What do you do? Sit and pick at your food because there’s no way you’re going to eat something that’s less than healthy? Start a discussion with hostess about her choice of menu? Or might you just eat and enjoy it, knowing that one ‘bad’ meal now and then isn’t going to kill you?

Maybe you’ve promised yourself that you’ll only buy locally produced fruit, veg and meat but when you get to the shop, all they have is imported stuff. You’re tired because the kids have been moody and you really just want to get home but, even so, you stalk off the next shop even though it’ll take you an extra 15 minutes and the kids will be even moodier because there’s no way you’re feeding them imported food!

There are myriad situations like these where obsessing over our lifestyle choices can be damaging to our ability to live quietly and with contentment and that really can’t be the best way forward when living a simple life.

There’s such a thing as the 80/20 rule. Basically it means that we should all live by our own standards 80 percent of the time and accept that the remaining 20 percent may not be exactly how we’d prefer it.

Sometimes we eat things we don’t feel we ought to, whether it’s because we’re eating out or simply because we fancied that indulgent bar of chocolate; sometimes we throw something that could have been reused and at times we might buy something we didn’t really need. Then there are times when we might spend more on something that we feel we should have or watched more TV than we promised ourselves we would.

Beating ourselves up over these situations is non-productive. We’re human and no human’s perfect. We don’t live ‘perfect’ lives.

We’re allowed to make the odd mistake, take a shortcut or indulge ourselves occasionally - I know I certainly do and i don't feel guilty about it, either. I used to, but I've learned not to. It really is just a matter of keeping everything within reason - that 80/20 parameter.

Sharon J

PS: No spend days so far this month: 5/16 (lost one on Monday as wasn't well so ordered a take-away to save cooking a meal - it wasn't even nice!)

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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Seventeen Tries & Tomatoes



According to Antony Worrell Thompson, you have to eat something 17 times before your tastebuds adjust to a new taste. Or at least take 17 bites. I don’t suppose you actually have to swallow the food if you don’t want to, although choosing not to might prove somewhat embarrassing at a posh dinner party. Or even a not-so-posh one for that matter.

I think that's quite an interesting titbit and one I shall remember next time I taste something and decide I don’t particularly like it. Notice that I didn’t say really found it foul though, because if that’s the case then I’m not going to put myself through taste hell seventeen times just to see whether I eventually become accustomed to it. No way. There's a big difference between unpleasant and disgusting.

Seriously though, it’s really worth remembering when you’re teaching children to accept new foods as it’s obvious that persistence is key if they’re actually going to accept a taste that they don’t find particularly appealing to start with. I have to admit that I gave up long before I’d made seventeen attempts, going back to things now and then and trying again, but as only one of my three children is willing to give most things a try, I do feel a bit “if only I’d known that then”-ish.

I used to be very picky myself - probably because my mum was never really interested in cooking so tended to serve the same things over and over - but I’ve improved as I’ve got older. I want to improve even further though. I want to broaden my food horizons and discover the joys of everything nature has to offer our palettes.

The one thing I’ve always refused point blank to even consider tasting though is a tomato. I’ve always hated them. Really despised them. Not the taste or the texture - I wouldn’t know what they’re like - but just the thought of them would make me feel ill (all in the mind, of course). I’ve decided it’s time to overcome that now, or at least try. I shall buy a tomato next time I shop, and will try a tiny piece. It won’t be easy, I know that, but I’m gonna try. And I’m gonna try seventeen times! After all, there must be something I’m missing because everybody else seems to love ‘em!

Sharon J

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Monday, 11 August 2008

Everything Has Its Price



I can have just about anything material that I want, y’know, and so can you. Luxury holidays in far-flung exotic places, a flashy car, designer clothes, expensive furniture… you name it, we can have it.

Let’s say I wanted to live in a bigger house. I could have it if I really wanted to. I could give up the security of living in a housing association, forget any ideas of paying off my credit cards at more than the minimum monthly payments, wave bye-bye to an emergency fund and privately rent a lovely big house that would be the envy of my friends. Or I could take on two or three jobs even though that would make me very ill, but it’d get me a mortgage the size to match the house. I could even go a step further and gather the money through fraudulent means but I’d be risking prison if I were caught.

As much as I’d like a bigger house, the fact is that financial security, a reasonable level of mental health and the ability to sleep well without worrying about the police knocking on my door are all far more important to me. Sure, I could have the house if I really wanted it, but the price would be way too high.

But that’s the thing with ‘wants’. We don’t always stop to think how much those things we want are actually going to cost us - the other things we also want and maybe even actually need, that we won’t be able to have because of that one particular thing, whether it’s an object, a lifestyle or even a friend.

We can have just about anything we want if we want it badly enough but there’s invariably a price to pay and while that price is sometimes acceptable, sometimes the price is WAY too high. I know that the lifestyle I’d been living caused not only my debt problems but my health problems to and, for me, that’s a price that just wasn’t worth it. Neither was it worth the pressure it was putting on me to “keep up”, let alone the damage it was doing to the planet.


Sharon J

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Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Problem With Plastic



I read quite a few simplicity and ‘green’ blogs and one thing that I’ve noticed is the number of people who are trying hard to eliminate any kind of plastic from their lives. I guess I must be the odd one out, because I don’t have a problem with plastic per se.

The way I see it is that plastic, polythene and other polymer based substances aren’t necessarily bad things - they have their place in our modern society and I’m perfectly happy to use my plastic watering-can, bucket, food storage boxes, garden trug and other bits and pieces and I realise that my telephone is made mostly of plastic, my laptop contains a good deal of it, as does my fridge and a whole host of other useful items. What I’m not happy with is the way in which so many people treat plastics.

It seems to me that the majority still view plastic as something that’s easily disposable. It’s cheap so they’re not losing much when they open the bin and dump it in. Every day,

Apparently, last year 17.5 billion plastic bags were given away by supermarkets here in the UK, equating to 290 bags per person or more than 5 ½ bags for each of us every single day. What on earth are we doing with all those bags?

Also, of the total amount of plastic produced here - around 4.7 million tonnes of it - 35% was produced for packaging alone! That’s more than 1.6 million tonnes of plastic packaging!

When you consider that only around 7% of that total was actually recycled, it’s no wonder our landfills are overflowing with the stuff, not to mention the amount of plastic that’s ‘disposed of’ in the countryside and on our streets.

Even our oceans aren’t free of the stuff. On a world basis, it’s estimated that around 46,000 plastic objects are floating within every square mile! Yepp, shocking isn’t it? Not only are our beaches being swamped with plastic debris washed up by the tides, but marine life is suffering through our selfish abuse of our own ability to create new substances. In fact, 170 different species of marine wildlife have been reported to have been fatally injured through mistaking plastic for food. Here in the UK an average of 2 plastic items can be found on every square meter of beach, either washed up or left behind by visitors.

Plastic’s durable because it doesn’t decompose quickly and therein lies the problem. Because it’s also cheap to produce and therefore acquire, it’s all too easy to just get rid of it again without a thought to where it’ll go or what will happen to it.

Thankfully, things are gradually improving. The government have given stores until next spring to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags they hand out by at least 70% or they’ll introduce a forced fee per bag with the income going to environmental projects (or so they say). Marks & Spencer have voluntarily introduced a 5p charge per bag and already the number of bags they’re handing out has been reduced by 80%, proving that if people have to part with their money for something, they’re more likely to think twice about it. Perhaps the problem with plastic is that it’s simply too cheap?

When you can buy a bucket for £1.99, it doesn’t hurt much to just ‘chuck it’ and buy a new one when the original’s looking past its best or no longer matches the décor, whereas if the same bucket cost £10, I’m sure far more people would think twice.

One of my pet peeves is the amount of plastic that supermarkets use for packaging. I bought two small pork chops a few days ago that were packed in a relatively large plastic tray that was again covered with a sturdy plastic film. Now I realise that, unlike the local butcher, they need to pre-pack their meat while leaving the contents visible but the plastic tray was far larger than it needed to be; at least four, maybe even five, chops would have fitted into it. What a waste!

That’s the last time I buy ‘small’ from the supermarket. I prefer to buy my meat from the butcher anyway, but sometimes I have no choice. From now on, when the supermarket’s my only option I shall buy in bulk. Half a dozen chops, chicken breasts or pieces of steak packed in one piece of plastic has to be better than the same packed in three although I know I still won’t be entirely happy about opening it, dividing the contents for freezing, and then discarding the plastic. Some I can reuse to at least extend their life a little but not all of them. The butcher, on the other hand, wraps his meat in a small piece of plastic film and then greaseproof paper - very little packaging in comparison.

Any plastic carrier bags that come into the house are reused as bin liners - the council still prefers us to wrap our waste rather than dump it straight into the bin (health & safety) and I’m blowed if I’m buying special bin liners! I have a friend who only ever uses scented bin-liners but throws her carrier bags straight into the bin. What, I ask you, is the point?

As I said, plastic is here to stay and has its place in our lives - it’s the way in which we use it that I have a problem with.

Sharon J

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Saturday, 9 August 2008

A Bit About Lettuce



“Lettuce is like conversation; it must be fresh and crisp and so sparkling that you barely notice the bitter in it”. ~ C.D. Warner (19th Century)


If there’s one thing on our tables that sums up summer better than anything else it has to be salad. In our house salad’s served either as a meal itself or alongside most other meals during summer and even though I have to be careful how much raw veg I eat these days, I always make sure I get my bit!

Lettuce has been a staple used in salads for as long as I can remember. My nan used to use it and Mum certainly did. In fact, I can’t remember Mum ever serving a salad that didn’t include lettuce. Mind you, the salads back in the 60s and 70s were pretty dire compared to the ones we usually drum up these days, but we didn’t know any different and I wolfed them down. Salad with ham, salad with grated cheese, salad with prawns, salad with spam (no Monty Python jokes, please), salad with boiled egg and… well, salad with just about anything.

Lettuce is thought to have been brought to the UK with the Romans although it’s history dates back as long as 6,000 years to one of the first civilised cultures - the Sumerians. If it’s survived that long, it’s gotta be good, right?

Although the nutritional content varies somewhat from type to type, almost all lettuces contain vitamin C, iron, calcium, folate, fibre, potassium and beta carotene, which the body uses to produce vitamin A. That’s a lot of goodness in a leaf!

Cos, watercress and spinach, all of which are part of the lettuce family, contain the highest concentrates of vitamin C. These three also contain the most folate, which is really important during those first few months of pregnancy so if you’ve just signed up for your membership to the pudding club, stick a few leaves in your salads. Folate’s also said to protect against Alzheimer’s disease so maybe it’s just as well I’ve always ate a load of it (not spinach though - can’t stand the stuff).

All members of the lettuce family are very low in calories yet high in fibre so they’re great if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, you may well find you burn up more calories because of the fibre content (the body uses calories to break down fibre) than you’ve actually eaten while still getting loads of vital nutrients.

My personal favourite is Lollo Rosso - the loose-leaved lettuce that’s kind of frilly to look at and tinged a lovely deep red. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to source but when I do find it, I enjoy it so much the more. It tastes fresh but mild and is absolutely beautiful to look at.

Apparently Iceberg is the most often eaten variety in the UK, having arrived here in the 70s from the US where it was first developed. It’s popularity is no doubt down to the fact that it keeps fresh for longer than any other type - up to five days in the fridge. Close on its tail is Cos, which as you can probably guess, originated on the Greek island of the same name. Rocket, which is also a member of the lettuce family, is fast gaining ground too because of it’s peppery taste, making it an excellent choice for Mediterranean style salads.

It’s years since I last grew any lettuce but I can’t remember them as being at all difficult and Dad certainly never had any trouble with his. I may well give them a go again next year - some Lollo Rosso in a few small pots and some Rocket in a couple of others. If you’ve grown them in pots, do let me know how you got on, please.

Lettuce is available from UK growers from May through to October so there's still plenty of time to enjoy locally grown varieties even if you don't grow them yourself. From October onwards, what's found in the shops will either be imported or grown in greenhouses using fossil fuel so I shall be giving those a miss. There's plenty of other salad stuff to choose from during winter so I really don't need it.

I'm having guests for dinner tonight but unfortunately I couldn't find my favourite lettuce during yesterday's shopping trip so some iceberg will have to suffice. Chopped up with red cabbage, carrot, kohlrabi, onion, yellow pepper and pomegranate with a simple vinaigrette dressing served alongside honey and mustard glazed salmon fillets and home-made potato salad, I’m sure it’ll be just fine.

Sharon J


Other posts that may be of interest:

Cross Cabbages
Garden Plants to Use in Salads
BBQs - An Eco Friendly Way of Preparing Food?

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Friday, 8 August 2008

Why My Fingers & Toes Are 'Au Naturelle'



For ages I’ve wanted a professional manicure. My nails grow reasonably long but they never look as good as those of the ladies I see emerging from the nail studios around town, and if I’m honest, I’ve been a bit envious of them. I’m not so fussed about my toes - my feet are ugly and a pedicure wouldn’t do much to enhance them, but a manicure…

I also used to wear nail polish a lot. Well, by a lot I actually mean all the time. Every single day I’d remove the polish from the previous day and apply a new colour. I had a bit of thing about it - it was almost an obsession I suppose.

But then I started to think about things. What’s actually in all that colourful varnish I keep slavering on my nails, and what about the acetone in the nail varnish remover?

Nail varnish contains all sorts of phthalates, formaldehyde, toluene, alcohol and acetates. Apparently, one of those chemicals, called nefarious dibutyl phthalate (or NDP for short), has been linked to cancer in laboratory tests and to underdeveloped genitals in baby boys. Now I know that most of us know plenty of women who’ve used nail polish during their pregnancies without having weird things happen to their son’s ‘downstairs areas’ but even so, I don’t like the sound of it and is it really worth the risk?

You really only have to get a whiff of wet nail varnish to know that it can’t be good for you. Christ, you can even get high on the stuff! And there we are, happily painting our nails with what’s basically a poison, in badly ventilated rooms and thinking nothing of it.

Then there’s the remover, which is basically pure acetone, a chemical that’s harmful when absorbed through the skin (and how many of us manage to remove our nail polish without getting it on our skin?). Ok, so you’d need a lot for it to be fatal, but it can make you ill, especially if you spill it over your lap or down your legs, like I’ve been known to do on occasion. When it comes to the environment, acetone’s said to deplete aquatic systems of their oxygen because it causes some kind of microbial activity that simply consumes it.

There are a few ‘environmentally friendly’ nail varnishes on the market, including Suncoat, but it’s relatively expensive and really not something I can afford at the moment.

No, I’ve decided that I’m giving up nail varnish for all but very special occasions. It doesn’t actually enhance my life in any particular way so I really don’t need it. If people don’t like looking at unpolished fingers and toes - the way nature intended them - then that’s tough!

Maybe I should consider hanging some silver bells from my toes instead? Or decorating them with henna?

Sharon J

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