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!
Launch of Energy Gardens
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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Mindful cooking and happy eating
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!