Following a serious illness, I’ve been recovering- the Covid19 pandemic with its enforced separation, has been a gift although I miss not socialising (as I’m very much an extrovert). But the days of being alone and silent, reading, and resting have been worthwhile. I’ve managed to work, mainly via online platforms but any form of external visits have not happened.
But being at home, doesn’t mean end of creativity. So I’ve been able to do creative things such as writing and crafting. This was a recent creative endeavour during Easter, colouring boiled eggs with natural materials such as turmeric, onion skins, and coffee with layering on bits of leaves, flour paste and skin to create texture and decorations. In times of stress, any bit of creativity will enable healing. I also created a painting out of bits of used ‘Over head transparencies’- remember those? and odds and ends on a bit of discarded empty picture frame (without glass) found on the street. Even frozen water bubbles became an idea for musing about the passage of time. Cooking became a very creative pastime. I realised that anything can be creative if you want to make it so.
Pottering about is an art. Being creative is about being healing yourself- it is a magic!
Having bought some energy balls which I use to ward off hunger when running late for lunch or dinner, I realised how easy it was to make them instead of buying them. Apart from not costing much, they also didn’t come in packaging that can’t be recycled. So this is what I made today- it is easy and you can change the contents if you are allergic to nuts or another ingredient. I also realised that the shop bought energy balls had too much coconut oil- an oil that is difficult to digest in a raw form and could be allergic for some. It is high in calorific values. So I have used less of it than in the shop bought energy ball. The cost was about 67p as opposed to the shop bought ones which were £1.99 each.
In the photo you can see all the ingredients except one- goji berries, raisins, mulberries, cranberries, cherries, crushed cashew nuts, chia seeds, maple syrup and couple of teaspoons of coconut oil (the white bits). In this, I added organic raw cacao powder. Then I let my fingers work the magic. I found that it works much better for mixing if fingers are used- the body heat melts the oil and shapes the balls better than using an ice cream scoop.
The best bit? It’s getting to lick your fingers after making the energy balls!
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!
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.
I’ve got an autoimmune condition which causes blood clots for many years. I’ve had a stroke and several miscarriages. Since then, I’ve been either on self injected medication or on tablets. I need to have a blood test every week or so, depending upon the result to make sure my blood is at required level of ‘thinness’ or INR. I also go for other medical tests every six months as well as eye tests. Now all this takes up an awful lot of my time and attention- I’ve only forgotten one appointment in almost ten years (for which I apologised profusely). I’m also fed up of having so many medications, of not being able to travel as much as I’d like to, unable to do some kinds of sports, and of constantly watching my diet because I’m not allowed certain foods. Although I’ve made the most of it, it is a very restrictive life. Last year, I had a setback when some medication I was given with another issue reacted with the warfarin and I was back on an increased dosage. There have been two occasions when certain medications reacted so badly that I was back in the A&E on various drips with a BP of 35. And another thing- the warfarin also leaches bones so I’ve developed osteoporosis in my spine which gives me terrible pain but I’m not allowed painkillers due to reaction with the warfarin. It is an endless cycle of medication against medication!
This year, I made a New Year resolution of being medication free by the end of the year. As it has been said time and time again, ‘Let food be your medicine’, I am trying a new diet which I have called my #cleancurecooking. The idea is to use organic foods in season, cook using the least amount of oils, spices and salt, and thereby save money and time. I’ve watched many food programmes and read a lot of research on using food. There are many spices and herbs which are reputed to thin the blood- turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc. But one of the reasons that warfarin is used instead of traditional herbs or foods to thin the blood is because the dose can be controlled and managed. As I’m being tested each week and every six months anyway, I wondered if I can use food to reduce and ultimately get rid of my medication. The risk is minimal and if there are problems, the warfarin can be topped up. I also eat more starchy carbohydrates than really needed and consequently feel hungry while putting on weight (although I’m small 5’4”, I am tending towards overweight on the BMI chart). I’m not a huge meat eater but if I don’t eat meat at all, I will need to have some more medications to increase iron and Vitamin B12. So the recipes and ideas I’ve devised are not vegetarian or vegan.
Another thing I’ve done to reduce portion sizes is to serve food on plates with dividers. I found that I’m not conscious of how much I’m eating if eating on a plain plate. I’ve stopped having sugar, instead I’ve fruits in season. I have two cups of black, unseated tea with some cloves which gives it some sweetness (think mulled tea!) Apart from cranberry juice mixed with some apple and pear juice, I don’t have any fruit juice or carbonated drinks. My treat is dark chocolate which again is supposed to help with thinning blood. I generally don’t drink although this Christmas I’ve had a few glasses of wine. A few tricks from reading up and experimenting-
Having lemon juice with protein increases absorption of iron and allows you decrease amount of salt without losing taste
Keeping your room slightly colder than usual, helps to lose weight as well as be eco-friendly (from Science Magazine)
Lentils help with gut biome which help with losing weight- they are also a good source of protein, especially combined with meat. Lentils with meat dishes are good because you can reduce the amount of meat used.
Many spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and red chillies help with blood thinning as well as the immune system. Think how the warming and spicy mulled wine is used in the winter. I like the taste and smell of fresh turmeric which although is expensive, is a luxury worth having. If you can’t find any, powdered will do.
Herbs and foods such as corianders, onions, fresh chillies, and garlic are also good for boosting the immune system, so I often use chopped up coriander, spring onions and chillies to garnish my foods. These foods also bring up saliva which is good for digestion.
Drinking water is often good- sometimes when you are thirsty, you think you are hungry, so try the water first.
Use distraction as a way of warding off snacks. I often make calls or do some engaging work and I find I’m thinking less about food!
Chew your food more, that way you will feel satiated with less.
Foods in season taste better and cost less. For example, I’ve now given up buying expensive tomatoes in winter- they taste like boiled potatoes. In summer, I buy less of lemons and oranges but use tamarind to provide sour taste.
Use foods to provide sweet or salty taste instead of adding actual salt or sugar- so for example, raisins can make food taste sweeter and celery can make it salty. Using more herbs can make the food more tasty than adding more salt.
Dry frying onions and adding oil once the onions have turned translucent uses much less oil than normal frying.
Here is one dinner-
Next I tried this one which seems to have worked better as it the portions of protein and carbohydrate appear to be better.
I’m due for a blood test on Tuesday, so I will see if this diet is working or not!
The main premise of this blog post is about creating value using beauty, goodness and benefit. So I was wondering how to make a suitable gift for my son who is leaving home for University. In the UK, this is the time of departures for Universities, of leaving the nest and so emotionally this will be a sea change for us and him. I wanted him to have something that was homemade and practical. It was his birthday as well this month. So I made him a cook book and a ‘cooking tool kit’. It was in the form of two things- a cookbook (the software as I call it) and the toolkit (the hardware!)- plates, utensils, tools, etc. It took me almost a year of planning and making, so here are the steps-
The cookbook– This is actually a photo album that I found in a charity shop. In it are my cooking, healthy living, and money saving tips, his favourite recipes and photos of him cooking as a baby and child. I did a cull of photographs which was something I had to do anyway and found a treasure trove of photos that reminded me of the recipes that he has always loved. Of course, coming from mum, the tips and recipes have corny titles! So the making the recipe book also served many other purposes.
The toolkit– Over the year, I ‘retired’ several items from the kitchen and cooked without them, just to get used to not having them. These included cooking and serving spoons, bowls, pans, etc. I rang up my son’s University and asked them what facilities he was going to have in his kitchen and based on what he liked to cook, I added some new items- either from charity shops or bought at sales. Some items had even been picked up from the street! Some items were repurposed from ready meals such as the china bowls from an environmentally responsible brand that makes chilled food and glass shot glasses from a French yoghurt brand. These ready made food items were also reduced so this made for a double reduction! Some items are also ones that came from my University days thirty years ago. Most items can be used in at least two different ways, for example the wooden tray can be used as a serving tray, a rolling board and a chopping board. Obviously this took a lot of planning and thought.
These items were then packed into his dad’s old rock n’roll box. The final toolkit looked like this when packed. All neatly tidied up into boxes and bags, using tissue and paper and strong bags I had saved up.
I know that some items might not come back and I am happy with that. Life is about loss. There are items I haven’t put in, deliberately- I need him to make some effort too which I I know he will. At least I know I have set him up, food wise!
Let me know if you’ve done similar things for your child when they headed off to University.
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!)
Lately, I have been thinking about how growing up in India in extreme poverty has made me into what I am. At one point, I used to be extremely embarrassed by our family’s state- especially as my father who was a very proud man told us never to talk about our lack of money. We wore badly fitting home made clothes out of scraps of materials that my mother found. Our school clothes were also made at home, while my friends had tailored clothes. In Delhi’s bitterly cold winter, we went without sweaters- sometimes wearing cast offs, and saving our school sweaters and blazers for school wear and occasions. We went to the local BATA shop where we bought shoes at least two sizes larger and cardboard was inserted so that they would last a bit longer as our feet grew. My mother went to the street market late in the evening when the sellers were selling off damaged or not so fresh produce at cheaper prices- I still remember her walking slowly in a distinct gait coming back with her shopping, as she has a pronounced limp on one leg. She bought rice, lentils and other goods from the government ‘Ration’ shop. These were of very poor quality. So I used to take a long time to eat- two three hours sometimes- picking out maggots and weevils from the rice and vegetables. We could afford fish and egg once a fortnight while chicken and goat meat were a luxury for once a month. My mother used to write each and every cost in a diary, the most meticulous record of expenses that I have ever seen in my life. We were severely malnourished though and in particular, despite being inoculated, I had every disease going- from malaria, whooping cough, diphtheria amongst others and nearly died from a severe case of jaundice. I remember being given steroid injections in order to make my muscles grow but evidently they never worked as can be seen today.
We (three girls and our parents) lived in one small room surrounded by an open terrace which was baking hot in the summer while the leaking roof and badly fitted doors allowed rainwater to come in during the monsoons. The kitchen was also outside and my mother used to get wet getting food from there and back. There was an outside toilet and bathroom with asbestos roof and tin doors that didn’t shut properly. There was one small table fan. The day when we got a ‘ceiling fan’ was wonderful- we sat, taking in the cool breeze that came from the top that cooled down the hot room. Mains water came in intermittently- once in the morning and once in the afternoon (as it still does). So everything from cleaning dishes to cleaning the rooms had to be done in those times- these were such hive of activity all around the neighbourhood. We each had a set of one dish, one bowl and one glass- all made of stainless steel and given to us at our ‘annaprashana’ when the baby eats the first solid food at 8 months. So we had responsibility to wash these after each meal. When I was 22, we got a fridge and then later, a television- both were welcomed with great joy. But it was too late to wipe off the humiliation we had suffered at the hands of various children who had visited our home and the relatives who wondered if we would even live to tell the tale, so great was our poverty. My father valued education, so via scholarship and scrapping money together, we went to a Christian school, which had a much better standard of education than the government schools. My school mates were rich, some even turned up in a car- a rarity in Delhi in the 70’s, so we were the target of many jokes.
The onset of teenage years brought on further humiliation due to poverty. Not only could we could not afford to buy bras, but also sanitary napkins. So we used my father’s old dhoti’s which were soft and I fashioned them to be like sanitary napkins that I saw on the packs in the shops. But my mother made us wash these rags out and re-use them which I found an terrible and embarrassing task, especially if men were around. Further, these home made pads would sometimes pop out of my homemade underwear when playing at the school. After much pleading, my mother bought us bras when I turned 13 years old. And when I got into architecture school, I had some money to buy sanitary pads. But the humiliations continued throughout. Even richer members of our family did not hold back. One of my uncles taunted my father, ‘You can’t even feed these girls, how will you pay for their dowries?’ Another rich cousin sexually abused me and my sister- it seemed we were the butt of every humiliation going. My father used a bicycle to get to his school where he taught. Although in the West, cycling is seen as a middle class pursuit, in Delhi where materialism is worshipped, he was taunted by not only his colleagues but also his students. Recently while cleaning, I found a report that he had been physically assaulted by a colleague in an unprovoked attack. I also clearly remember walking with him with some school boys hurling insults at us. I did not know why they were doing so, but I was afraid. When I grew up, I learnt that these boys were making fun of him because he seemed to have two of each shirt- he bought extra cloth to get two of each items made, thus saving money. So in those boys’ minds, he was a cheapskate. How angry I feel now!
But in midst of these dire times, there were also times of joy. My beloved Uncle, Meshai, who nursed me back to health after my attack of jaundice, encouraged us to paint. He also took us to see exhibitions of modern art, much of which we couldn’t understand but perhaps absorbed something by osmosis. So each weekend was spent in creative pursuit, using PVA paints made from turmeric (yellow), sindoor (red) and the blue dye used as a whitening agent. We made secondary colours out of these basic ones- green, purple and orange. But there was no black paint, which might explain why even today, I don’t use black! We had old calendars, on the backs of which we painted scenes from imagination and also copied pictures from our school books. He also bought us glitter, glue, cellophane, and shiny paper for our birthdays- again, I love these today as they remind me of my childhood joys. I used to steal the foil from his cigarette packs, smelly though they were, and used them. Waste seeds, lentils, scraps of cloth, paper-everything seemed imbued with the possibility of a rich new creation. My tendency to layer waste and found materials in my art today, is probably a nod to my past. The day my Uncle gave us a pair of scissors was a memorable day, but stupidly while playing doctors and nurses, I cut my sister (and deservedly got a good spanking for it!)
I know I have a tendency to hoard which comes from having so little as a child, and so doing ‘Konmari’ or even the ‘Swedish death cleaning’ has been a ritual to exorcise the past. I also used to store things to give to other people, and it took me many decades to realise that people neither appreciated these gifts nor reciprocated them. So now I give donations straight to the charities that I support. For me, this was personally a big lesson. To be messy may be my particular tendency but again, some of that comes from having too many bits to deal with. I used to have a cardboard box in which I stored many images from magazines and old calendars that I got from my Uncle- the foreign magazines were of good quality paper and so, were much desired. When I grew up, I stored a lot of images- pictures cut out from magazines, photographs and even digital photos. I am now getting rid of much of these photographs that Konmari called ‘Komono’ as a way of getting rid of my inclination to store things that I don’t use. The box is long gone but instead, I am slowly going through the images in my mind and visiting these places that I saw in some far away moment in time, in a calendar or a diary. It seems such a miracle to be alive and to be where I am today. My older son suggested I should tell my story, he said, ‘Mum, no one can imagine where you’ve come from when they see you today’. That is why I wrote this piece. Hope you liked it!
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