Before the Black Friday deals, I had been toying with the idea of buying new shoes. I justified the purchases by thinking that I hadn’t bought shoes for a few years! I did try a pair of shoes at the store, and then realised that I had a similar pair at home, albeit in a different colour. I think this is what commonly happens- you end up buying the most comfortable type of shoe in several colours. As I have a flat foot with an injury sustained as a baby, it is very important for me to have a comfortable pair of shoes. I also have very small feet so it is difficult to find shoes that fit me, so I tend to hold on to ones I have. I hardly ever wear heels- after having children, I found that my feet had changed. So this is what I did. I changed the colour of the shoes I already had. One was a florescent yellow, still fine but a bit worn and going grey inside and outside. These shoes are seven years old.
I dyed it blue and left the inside yellow as before. I think it looks good, perhaps even more expensive with the yellow lining inside.
I cleaned it first as best as I could and used Dylon blue dye for shoes. Why blue? Because most of my clothes are blue so this works very well.
Next with my tan brogues which were looking a bit tired (they are six years old), I tried a different technique using what I already had at home instead of buying. I had seen this technique used in a Youtube video but I added my own twist to it. This is the ‘Doc Marten’ technique where black shoe polish is used to make lighter shoes look more expensive. Step one involved cleaning the shoe thoroughly.
Next I covered them in black cream polish- I used Ecco cream polish.
The next step was about removing the black polish after giving it a good ‘soak’ for 10 minutes.
Buffing and buffing until I got this!
I think both efforts look good! And so much better than either throwing them away or buying new shoes. I know you can donate shoes but because these are so old and my feet are tiny (size 2.5 UK), they would have been more likely not used by others.
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.
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
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!
German scientist and man of letters Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was an 18th-century polymath: an experimental physicist, an astronomer, a mathematician, a practicing critic both of art and literature. Although he wrote and published a lot, he kept aside several notebooks where he jotted down observations and aphorisms. He numbered them by using the letters of the alphabet- all except ‘i’. Surprisingly he never meant these to be published and therefore called them the ‘Waste Books’.
I came across the New York Review of Books edition. It is quite amazing to discover these waste books were written in the 18th Century- they seem so relevant and contemporary. A typical aphorism reads- “Everything in a man must move towards the same end.” How pithily put- we must live and act by our values.
I looked at my collection of diaries and re-read some of these. I would like to think that these are my ‘waste books’ but these contain much personal material as well as my aphorisms (see photo). I used to feel ashamed of writing these as if it was some kind of subversive act but now having been inspired by Lichtenberg, I shall continue to do so. Lichtenberg probably did not regard these outputs too highly, calling them ‘waste’ and he never meaning to publish them. Yet reading them, I find them intelligent, humorous, humane and futuristic. These waste books have become his most popular writings.
Sometimes we don’t realise the value of our thoughts and words. For this reason, we must write everything down. Then leave it to posterity to judge. Did Lichtenberg the sage that he was, ever think that three centuries later, people from all over the world would be inspired by something he called waste?
Like many others I had read about procrastination and how to stop it, how I was frittering away previous time that would never come back and look at my life in term of minutes and seconds- not years. Those ideas certainly helped but what helped me the most was my watch.
I had stopped wearing my watch for many years because someone had impressed upon me about being ‘free’ from time constraints and being ‘natural’. So I did not wear my watch and even if I did, I developed a strange aversion to looking at it! I would even strain to look at watches of fellow commuters on a train to tell the time. So I was running late, not paying attention to what time it was and making excuses. I do a lot of desk work and there are clocks on my computers which I use. But I never looked at them or ignored them.
However, when I started wearing my watch, it all changed. I became more conscious of the passing of time and how I was spending it. There is this (slight)weight on my wrist which forces me to look at it. While I don’t panic or become a compulsive looker at my watch, I use it consciously to be creative and contributive. My time is my life!
Recently I was working on an piece of writing which felt like dragging a large stone, pointless and painful. I had worked on this writing for weeks, thought about it endlessly and yet, when I was working on this, it felt like such a chore. At one stage, typing even one letter of the alphabet seemed like a days work. Did I have to do this? No. Did I like doing it? No. Was this going to help me in anyway, financial or even fame? No. So why was I doing it when the answers were a resounding no? I reflected about how pig-headed I was at times. I figured out that the only reason why I was doing this was because I had started it- and so I had felt, it ought to be finished. Don’t all the self-help books say, finish what you started?! But what a stupid reason this can be.
So here was my big lesson. Certainly things or project that we start and don’t finish can offer a big lesson to us about why we don’t like doing something. They can tell us what we like doing- because we will for sure, bear the pain and finish something we love doing. It won’t feel like a chore, like a piece of stone dragging us down. Work will become play and play will become work. So if something is feeling like a stone, stop, and reflect. Only do it if you really enjoy it. Otherwise it is such a waste of your time- your life!
“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”
Daisaku Ikeda says “Everything passes. Both soaring joys and crushing sorrows fade away like a dream. However, the knowledge of having lived one’s life to the fullest never disappears.”
My life has been quite full so far and yes, I have done foolish things too and wasted time. However, the time that I have spent following my heart have been the most joyful (including writing these blogs, which have helped me to understand myself). Yes, I can to look back at the foolish stuff I have done, yet they were learning experiences, even though they may have been sometimes unhappy. The present is the only moment to live, fully. We don’t know what the future may bring but as Alan Kay says, “The best way to predict the future is invent it.”