This year, I am pleased to say that it was the greenest Christmas I’ve ever done. All the presents were simple and inexpensive or even free, and bought from small shops (as opposed to buying from a large online store which shall remain unnamed!), and wrapped in old paper from previous Christmases or in newspaper (the Guardian does central spreads which are worth using as wrapping paper!). My cards were all homemade using leftover card, ornaments and paints. The food was all home cooked as ever. I made my own cranberry sauce this year- it was extraordinarily simple and very tasty. Finally, my fake Christmas tree and its ornaments – all of which have been going well for the last 16 years!
Quite simply because you can cook with it!
Here is my Indian paneer (Indian cheese) recipe that I made for lunch. I had two small bottles of milk which my son sniffed and said, ‘Mum, it’s gone off!’ and proceeded to tip one down the sink. I managed to stop him in time.
My family never used shop bought paneer but paneer is now widely available outside India. Even in India, you can buy commercially made paneer. The commercially made paneer is quite hard and strangely enough softens up during cooking. If the food goes cold, the paneer goes hard again! Apparently paneer doesn’t like being refrigerated or being cold, but I am guessing there must be other ingredients in the commercial product to keep it fresh that make it behave in that way. Anyway, the homemade version is very easy to make and tastes lovely. It doesn’t go hard, soft, hard! And there is no plastic waste.
I took the milk and boiled it, squeezing a few drops of lemon juice in the pan with it. Soon, the milk had curdled up. Then I tipped the entire thing on to bowl covered with a fine cotton cloth and the liquid (called whey) drained away into the bowl, leaving me with the paneer on the cloth. I brought the ends of the cloth together and squeezed it tightly. The fresh paneer was ready.
I dry fried teaspoon each of cumin and coriander, and couple of cloves and inch cinnamon stick and a tiny piece of red chilly in a wok. After a minute, I took the wok off the stove and crushed all the spices using a pestle. Then I put a table spoon of rapeseed oil and put the paneer in the wok along with a teaspoon of turmeric and two teaspoons of dry ginger (fresh ginger is very nice but since I am trying to use up all my dried ginger, I used that). One tablespoon of dried mango powder and salt to taste. I fried this mixture for about five minutes.
I added half a cup of water and one cup of frozen peas. I also added a tablespoon of tinned tomatoes. After about 10 minutes, the paneer dish was ready. And it was so tasty! (The photo below was taken on another day when I decided to cut up the paneer pieces so that it cooked quicker. It was even tastier as the flavour of the sauce had penetrated the paneer more)
What of the whey left behind?
Whey is full of protein and dried whey is used by people wanting to build muscles. It is believed that it flushes out the kidneys according to Ayurvedic beliefs ( but I don’t know if that has been scientifically tested yet). But it seems stupid to throw it away! It has a pleasant enough taste, especially if lemon juice is added (some also add honey) but personally I don’t like it. So I used it to make the chapati (Indian bread), using the whey instead of water to make the dough. And that turned out to be a hit too. Certainly a zero waste lunch!
You can also make Western ‘sourdough’ bread with it. I leave the dough to rise overnight instead of one hour- that’s the difference. Otherwise, use your usual recipe and instead of water and yeast, use the whey.
A recent project carried out by my charity, Charushila, where I have used the principles of Value Creation- Beauty, Goodness and Benefit
I have written previously about the garden we were working on the station platform at Acton Central Station, West London. We finally had a grand launch on Friday with members of the community, our work partners- Repowering London, Groundwork Trust and Arriva (the train company) and the local Member of Parliament. The garden is complete with ornamental and food sections- from which the local community can freely take away what they need, as long as they leave something for others! The centre piece of the project consists of a large ornamental bed featuring a stone plaque with the encouraging words of Nichiren, a 13th century Buddhist philosopher, ‘Winer always turn to spring’. These words are not just about seasons but also about finding hope and inspiration. The bed is also a tribute to a station staff, well loved by the users of the station and local community, who died suddenly…
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Recently many apps have been in the news for reducing food waste- it seems in the digital age, we need our smartphones to tell not not waste food and share food. But food waste is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, nothing really went to waste, despite not having fridges or freezers. In my village, food was cooked fresh and as there were no fridges, it was stored for a few hours. Usually most of it got eaten, if not by us, it was distributed to the rest of the village. Anything leftover after that was given to the cows, dogs, chickens, ducks and compost heap. I never saw any rotting mounds of food anywhere and generally everyone looked happy and healthy. Even when we went there for our summer holidays of two months, we put on weight as we were generally malnourished in the city. I have also lived in communes and villages in the UK and have not seen wasted food.
So it seems food waste is an urban problem, which is where these apps come in. I also see many homeless and hungry people in the cities all over the world. So there are people wasting food while there are people wanting food, similar to how I see there are people with second homes while some have none. It isn’t an equitable world.
I’ve given to food banks and donated to charities which distribute food to the poor, and helped at soup kitchens which I think is a better way to do things. Apps don’t really solve the problem of poor people going hungry, they are for the rich. So I think for those of us who have more than enough, there could be ways of reducing our waste. This could not only help our bank balances but also the environment. Here are some ways that I have done so-
- Using up all bits, i.e. roots to shoots cooking- Some of my recipes use the broccoli stems, carrot leaves, beetroot leaves, potato skins and stems of greens such as summer greens, cabbage, etc.
- Using water left over from boiling pasta and vegetables- these make useful and healthy soup stocks and the pasta water is also very useful for mixing flours for bread and chapati making.
- Many preserves and pickles come in olive oil or salted water and these can be re-used. The sardine or anchovy olive oil can be used with pasta or bread- it makes lovely base for bruschetta. The salted water or brine can be used in the preparation. I’ve also used up the lemony mixture in the preserved lemons bottle in a chicken bake that had a Moroccan twist. The vinegar that comes with olives has been used for ‘washing’ lamb that makes the strong smell disappear.
- I’ve saved up the fat from cooking bacon and burgers and used those for further cooking. Sometimes I’ve added the pasta water to the hot pan with the lovely bacon fat and then put that away for freezing. The beauty of this is that the starch in the water soaks the fat away and it makes it quicker to clean.
- I use bits of bread to make croutons for soups and spicy mixes to sprinkle over baked potato, cabbage and spinach. Birds can also have leftover stale bread
- Seeds and lentils can be used to make bird feed if you don’t want those.
Sometimes I’ve used a tiered cooking arrangement that soaks away the fat and cooks food with it. You see, my way is the lazy way to cook and clean!
I also carry ‘doggy bags’ for uneaten foods at restaurants and events- I’ve been told that much of the food at events gets thrown away after four hours because apparently that is when the food goes off.
Remember the best way to stop food waste is not to have food waste in the first place.
Recently with the squeeze on my finances, I have been looking at how much I spend on cosmetics. I don’t mean make-up which I hardly use but creams- face, body and hands. I tend to buy the best I can- organic, locally made and without any additives. The results are good- for many years worth of buying such products has been good for my skin as the skin is your largest organ and benefits from the best products used on it. However, now with the financial imperative, I began to wonder if I could replicate that quality at home using organic ingredients and save money and time.
So here is my first attempt-
I was out of face cream and looked around for what I had lying around. So here is what I found, all of which went to make this face cream-
One teaspoon of Neal’s yard Wild Rose beauty balm (you can substitute this with coconut butter and drops of your favourite essential oil)
40 grams of Shea butter (I have to admit this was 17 years old! and lying in a drawer)
One table spoon of organic aloe and rose gel (or use plain aloe gel as I did below)
I used a fork to whip these inside an old Neal’s yard jar and voila! I had my lovely soft nourishing face cream which smells of roses.
Then I used some of the Neal’s yard balm and added some scraps of lipstick and again, I have a tinted lip balm that gives me winter protection for my lips and cheeks.
For this year’s Mother’s day, I again replicated this formula to make face creams for my mother and friends. I have photos of the ingredients in this one (you can use your own), along with the empty jars I’ve used. This time the shea butter was not 17 years old!
This what one of the jars looks like now- I placed the jars on the radiators so that the shea butter would melt slowly (as per my philosophy of least work, maximum value!)
I don’t drink much tea or coffee to confess outright. It used to be one cup of either in the morning and one cup in the afternoon for a long time. Then I started to feel dissatisfied and started to have more tea but it was never enough. As I buy the best quality organic tea and coffee- loose tea and coffee beans- it was also quite an expensive habit. Again, I had to go and get these products from specific shops, so there was the additional time/cost element to it. I was suffering from poor sleep as well- perhaps even that little bit more caffeine was bad for me? So I thought- is a there a way of cutting down on these? Again, going back to the three basic points of sustainability- could I save money, save the environment and save my own health? I also wanted to do this in a pain free way because I know if you are deprived of something, you crave it.
I had read about the Konmari method sometime back when her books came out. Something seemed to resonate in that and I thought of trying to drink out of cups that I really loved. I got rid of cups I didn’t like and got out two that I really liked. One was a charity shop find while the other was found on the street- perhaps someone else did not like it!
I had stored both cups away- always for a good time, for another time. Yet, time was passing me by while I was drinking out of cups that I didn’t like and not enjoying the drinks either. I had in the past, tried drinking out of other smaller cups but didn’t like them. To my surprise I found that by drinking out of these cups, not only was I drinking less but also enjoying drinking the tea and coffee, so much that I didn’t need another cuppa. It is the same tea and coffee but tastes so much nicer- I wonder of the spark of joy that Konmari often talks about can be had in drinks as well. I have also changed to eating out of plates that I love and I have found that I eat less as a result and enjoy my food more! Imagine if people who wanted to lose weight tried to eat out of plates they loved- they’d eat less simply by eating with joy out of a plate they loved. Or if someone wanted to reduce alcohol consumption, and they drank out of a well loved glass (I don’t know- might work!) Also, I reduced my waste as I made less tea and coffee, and drank all of it.
Visiting a tea estate brought upon me the hardship that the women who pick tea leaves for us go through- they work from 7-30 in the morning to 5-30 in the evening in the baking sun or rain. Sipping tea now makes me really grateful for this work that these women do and makes tea drinking time very precious. I drink less of it naturally as I enjoy it more. Also, as a side benefit, my teeth which had become stained are now shining again like pearls!
If you should try this method, please do let me know in the comments below if this worked for you- many thanks!
My mother never bought yoghurt in India while I had always been buying yoghurt in the UK. I was sort of okay with that until I realised how much waste I was creating and as we eat a lot of organic yoghurt at home, it was also costing us. So I looked at how I could make yoghurt at home. Googling the topic I came across yoghurt makers, yoghurt cultures, thermometers and many other things that I need to buy in order to make yoghurt. But I wondered how I could make yoghurt without buying any gadgets, like my mother did? So I did some research and here is what I do. I use my senses- eyes, touch and nose rather than gadgets to create this yoghurt.
The most important thing is the temperature of the yoghurt while setting- the starter culture of live bacteria need a incubation range of 110°F to 115°F or 43° to 46°C. Most yoghurt makers say that you should check this temperature with a thermometer. But what if you did not want to buy that either? I read that skin starts to form on the milk at 113° to 122° F(45° to 50° C) when it is heated. So what I do is heat the milk and wait until the skin forms. Then I remove the skin and wait again for about 5-10 minutes. (I can test the milk temperature by putting a drop on my palm. If it is just bearably hot, then it is above my body temperature of 98° F or 37° C). But I find that removing the skin thrice in about 5-10 minutes does the trick.
I mix about 60 grams of organic yoghurt (I use Yeo valley yoghurt but there must be equivalent in other countries) with half litre of the warmed milk. I then place the container in a wooden box and cover with blankets and towels. I also use an insulated glass panel found on the street, to cover the top. About four hours later, the yoghurt is ready. Make sure your container is clean and freshly washed, otherwise the milk will curdle when heated. People who have had my home made yoghurt say it is delicious and my children do not want to eat shop bought yoghurt again! You can keep aside a bit of the yoghurt to make a starter culture for the next batch of yoghurt but after awhile you will need to purchase a small amount of shop bought yoghurt again as the culture starts to get ‘diluted’ with use.
Cost of buying 1 kg organic yoghurt= £2.75
Cost of making 1 kg organic yoghurt by my method= about £1.28 (assuming 1 litre=1kg and taking into account some heating and the price of the bought yoghurt). Plus no waste. If not using bought yoghurt, then the cost would similar to the price of 1L milk from Tesco, i.e. around £0.97/ L
The yoghurt is ready!
I love cooking and even though I have a chronic illness and suffer from tiredness and pain, I feel it is something I can do and actually enjoy it! So over the years, I have devised ways to cook well, easily and cheaply. The money saving is essential because the ingredients I use are organic and fresh, and cost much more than conventional stuff. Also, obviously it has to be healthy cooking too. So money has to be saved in other ways. So here are my top 20 tips. You may not agree with all of them and some of these go against ‘conventional wisdom’, so please feel free to comment below.
- Eat between the hours of 8-00 am and 8-00pm. Apparently this the optimum time for food to be digested properly as the body clock starts slowing down. In fact, it starts to do that by 6-00pm but as I usually don’t finish work by then and have to cook from fresh, the food is not ready until about 7-30pm. Try to make your first meal the biggest and the last one the smallest and don’t snack in between.
- Oil is one of the most expensive ingredients, so use it sparingly. It is also healthier to use less oil. On the other hand, I use butter and ghee for cooking too. I have found that these ingredients add a richness to bland starchy foods such as pasta, potato, breads and rice so that you end up eating less of such foods. A dollop of butter in pasta sauce adds amazing flavour.
- Put a lid in the food that is cooking- it makes it cook faster, save energy and therefore cheaper, and the flavours get locked into the food by doing so.
- Eat seasonally and fresh- so that the ingredients will be cheaper and have more flavour. More flavour also mean that less salt and other condiments will be needed to make the food more tasty.
- I don’t agree with the concept of mise en place, i.e. getting all the ingredients ready and then cooking, for all types of cooking. Stir frying is one example where this technique would be useful. But the leaving the chopping until you are ready to cook is better as the ingredients are fresher. I often let the oven or pan warm up while I am preparing the vegetables.
- We don’t eat ready prepared desserts anymore. Not only are they expensive, wrapped in plastic but also do not taste nice. We might have healthier desserts such as fruits or my homemade yoghurt or even a piece of dark chocolate.
- This trick I learnt from my grandmother- no more than three flavours together. This gives such a clean but tasty flavour.
- We have at least one component of the meal that helps with digestion as I have real problems. So we can have yoghurt or fermented vegetables (kimchi) or sauerkraut along with the main course.
- The bulk of the food is vegetables, with about 30% meat or other protein.
- Clean up as you go along, putting away items in the dishwasher/sink for washing and removing peels and other waste from the work surface. It makes tidying up later much easier. One pot cooking is marvellous- so much less to wash up and also saves money.
- I cook in steps. So I might marinade something a day earlier or defrost something couple of day earlier and so on. Some of the cooking such as gravy or fried vegetables might have been made earlier.
- Always have something in the freezer that can be defrosted the day before so that you can eat as soon as you can, instead of rushing to get a chilled meal from the supermarket. It has been many years since I’ve had a supermarket meal and now if I have a small mouthful, I realise how ghastly they taste. I suppose our tastebuds get used to such food and only until you’ve had a good long break, that you realise that these foods have no flavour at all- mostly salt and sugar to give it some.
- Find ways to reduce food waste. So I use the potato skins, broccoli stems, bottoms of lettuce, carrot or radish leaves, etc. (I will put some recipes later on). Even with meat, there is hardly any waste- only after using the bones to make broth, I throw them away. I don’t have a big composter (I have a home made composter which can only handle a small amount each time) or a garden, but our bodies are the best composters. Avoiding buying foods that have parts that need to be thrown away is also good. But some are inevitable such as lemons and bananas. So I will use the skins of the lemons for making washing up liquid or lemon zest. Banana skins can be used for polishing shoes and wood but I don’t like the smell and these skins tend to be my biggest throw aways. If you have a garden composter, then you can be a bit more wasteful.
- You can wash out ketchup, jam and sauce bottles with water and add that flavoured water to soups or curries. Then your bottle is also ready for recycling. Soups are nourishing and filling- you tend to eat less if you have the liquid and solid together as with soup.
- Many bloggers advise buying in bulk. I live in a flat and there is little space to store sacks of grains or pasta. Also I have found that spices lose their flavour if kept for too long. So buy little and often. It might be more expensive but it is better value.
- I have problems cutting hard vegetables such as pumpkins and squashes. So I bake them whole and make soups or mashes out of those. The seeds can be dried and eaten.
- This is a great trick I learnt- if some of the ingredients have been in the fridge and freezer, take them out so that they are at room temperature before you cook them. Not only does it save energy but also improves flavour.
- I get my vegetables and meat delivered from the farm- local, seasonal and fresh. This saves me trudging from the supermarket carrying bags of shopping which I can’t really do. It is also expensive. I can plan out the meal for the week depending on what I receive- so it also saves time and money. Also there is less packaging to deal with as these come with hardly any and if they do, they are taken away by the delivery company. One less thing to do!
- I try not to have drinks with food. I keep them separate. Juices can be expensive. Water is good enough!
- Finally, try to eat mindfully with those you love. My uncle used to say that food eaten in good company always tastes better!