Thursday, November 30, 2006

Uses for Shredded Paper

My dad gave us an automatic paper shredder, so now we can be self-sufficient in chicken bedding. When I told my friends, one said:
Aaaarrrgh! Why didn't I thinkof that? We shred stuff regularly, but I've always just thrown the resulting shreds away. and then paid for hay for the chickens bedding. Thank you.
We've used quite a bit of shredded paper as packing material for dad's belongings. You can also add shredded paper to the compost heap, or make it into briquettes for burning. Any other uses for shredded paper?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Review: Stitch 'N Bitch The Knitter's Handbook

My mum showed me how to knit when I was a child but I wasn't very good at it. As an adult I picked it up again from time to time but never really "got into" knitting until I found Stitch 'N Bitch by Debbie Stoller.

Knitting's not just for old ladies! Who knew?
The book is written in a "young" and irreverent style. It is stuffed full of knitting patterns for things you actually want to make. But where it really wins in my opinion is the clear instructions for every knitting activity you could wish. Knit and purl stitches, casting on and off (lots of different ways) sewing up, plus the odds and ends like increasing, decreasing, making a buttonhole or a picot edging and so on. This book contains everything you need to know.
Also check out Stitch 'N Bitch Nation by the same author. More fun and funky patterns, and it also teaches you to understand knitting, so you will feel confident enough to modify knitting patterns and even design your own patterns. Her new book about crochet, The Happy Hooker, looks good too.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To Do List

For over a month now I have been helping my dad empty his huge house in Liverpool so he can sell it and go back to Ireland. It's been a physically and emotionally difficult task, but we're getting very near the end now. We've had a lot of laughs and fun, too, and it's been nice getting to spend some time with my dad just talking and putting the world to rights and doing things side-by-side.

I need to spend time doing some of my own things though. I want to make my Christmas pudding, cake and mincemeat. I want to put lights in the henhouse, they have stopped laying altogether. I want to dig my allotment. And I want to never see the bloody M62 ever again.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Smash a Sprout

Here's a super little flash game. You control a man sat at his Christmas dinner and you have to smash the evil sprouts that come marching across the table. If you miss them they jump in his mouth, if he eats 3 he turns green and expires. The animation is Terry Gilliam-esque, especially the way his eyes bug out when he is stomping on the sprouts.
The serious point is that the ingredients for a traditional British Christmas lunch often travel up to 80,000 food miles which is especially crazy because they are all in season locally (which is the whole reason it's our traditional Christmas meal). Or you could just smash the sprouts because you don't like them. Either way it's a satisfying game.

Why not hunt out some top-quality local produce for your Christmas lunch this year? You could start by signing up to an organic box scheme.

Via Eco Street.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Allotment AGM

Last Friday was the allotment association annual general meeting. To my great surprise I was asked to be on the committee. This involves helping out in the allotment shed/shop once a month, so I am told. In my experience of joining committees it will involve much more than that but they never tell you until they've got you hooked.

Our committee are a smashing bunch of people - friendly, helpful, experienced and hard-working. I have often heard the stories of how they saved our site from a Tesco land-grab by their heroic efforts. But they sometimes come across as a little bit set in their ways. Requests for changes are often met with "We've always done it this way" or some similar refusal. But just to prove this impression wrong they appointed six new committee members on Friday, four of whom are young women so they're obviously not as averse to the possibility of change as they appear.

I'm looking forwards to being more involved in the running of the allotments. Whilst it's tempting to produce a whole shopping list of changes I'd like to see, I think it would be much wiser to put the list in my back pocket, roll up my sleeves and get stuck in with helping out and learning the ropes first of all.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Today is Buy Nothing Day. Run by the excellent Adbusters (whose online shop is closed for the day):

It's a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life for a day - anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

The challenge easy - try simple living for a day. Spend time with family and friends, rather than spend money on them. It may sound boring and cliche, but love is one thing money can't buy.

Buy Nothing Day also exposes the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism. The developed countries - only 20% of the world population are
consuming over 80% of the earth's natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and unfair distribution of wealth.

As consumers we need to question the products we buy and challenge the companies who produce them. What are the true risks to the environment and developing countries? It's our responsibility to look for simple solutions and Buy Nothing Day is a good place to start.

Buy Nothing Day isn't about changing your lifestyle for just one day - we hope it will be a lasting relationship - maybe a life changing experience? We want people to make a commitment to consuming less, recycling more and challenging corporations to clean up and be fair. Modern consumerism might offer great choice, but this shouldn't be at the cost of the environment or developing countries.

For Buy Nothing Day 2006 we're setting up affluenza clinics - credit card cut-up tables - creating a shopping free zones - dressing up as consumer piggies and meditating Zentas!

On November 25th people in around the UK will make a pact with themselves to take a break from shopping as a personal experiment or public statement and the best thing is - IT'S FREE!!! There is only one rule - anyone can take part, provided they don't shop on Saturday November 25th!

I'll be participating. Ed and I will take the kids to see my dad in Liverpool, and spend some precious family time together before he returns to Ireland.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Barnyard Movie

You don't want to go and see a science fiction movie with me. Or a technological thriller. I'm the kind of person who ruins movies like that by complaining that the science is wrong. You couldn't really destroy an alien civilisation with a virus written on an Apple Mac, the whole northern hemisphere couldn't freeze up by the day after tomorrow, an overdose of gamma rays wouldn't turn a mild-mannered scientist into the hulk, it would simply kill him.

But now I've discovered a whole other class of movies I can't bear to watch - those which feature gardening and agriculture. I can believe the impossible (talking animals don't bother me, for example) but not the improbable or the downright ignorant and so I shall not be joining the family to watch Barnyard:

"Barnyard" is a lighthearted tale centering around Otis, a carefree party cow, who enjoys singing, dancing and playing tricks on humans.

If Otis is a "he", he's a bull not a cow and he certainly doesn't have udders. I'm not trying to ruin your movie Mr Oedekerk, just draw him as a bull or bullock and leave out the udders.

Anyway, Gary Larson's take on the same idea was funnier.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bigger Allotment

I'm so excited!

I had a phone call today from the head honcho of our allotments. I have been given the rest of the plot. That more than doubles the size of our allotment. I can't wait for Ed to get home (so I can ask him to help me dig it all).
Looking forwards to spending the evening sketching planting plans and dreaming about all the lovely fruit and veg I can grow next season in our big allotment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Review: John Seymour's The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency

This is my uber-self-sufficiency book, the one I would save if my house were on fire. I could tell you it's because of the all-encompassing advice, from preparing an allotment to keeping livestock, making bread, tanning or spinning flax. I could tell you it's because of the picture he paints of life on a smallholding as hard but immensely rewarding. I could tell you it's because of his curiously opinionated writing style (he has harsh words for those who put salt on their porridge, for example). But in truth the thing I love best about this book is the illustrations. Not a photo in sight, the book is illustrated in colour with pen-and-ink drawings and glorious woodcuts I could just look at forever.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Top 10 Uses For Eggs

  1. Hard boiled (Sam's favourite)

  2. Real custard

  3. Eggy bread (Tom's favourite - dip bread in seasoned beaten egg and fry in butter)

  4. Scrambled egg on crumpets (with optional Marmite)

  5. Jammy eggy bread (Eleanor's favourite - dip jam sandwiches in beaten egg and cinnamon, fry, sprinkle with sugar and serve with whipped cream)

  6. Egg soap

  7. Fried egg sandwich (Ed's favourite)

  8. Soft boiled with toast soldiers

  9. Home-made mayonnaise (Mel's favourite)

  10. Pancakes (everyone's favourite!)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hen Research

Chris and Linda Evans, of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, have been studying chickens. It seems they're smarter than we thought:

When male chickens come across food, they make a “took, took, took” call to tell the flock – but hens react only if they don’t already know that food is around.

My chickens come running every time I open the back door, and make demanding clucks in the hope I'm going to feed them. But the animal behaviourists from Sydney think they're doing rather more than that:

“If you’re on a long drive and you pass a restaurant sign, that could be a salient piece of information. But if, after food has been brought to the table, someone says: ‘There’s food,’ that’s a redundant comment. It’s that kind of contrast,” Chris Evans explains.

In other words, this is not a Pavlov-type automatic response to a stimulus. Rather, there is a cognitive element which makes it more like human communication (I think it's going a bit far to liken it to language, as the New Scientist article does).

via Down The Lane forums.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Allotment Holders Catch Rapist

A rapist has been jailed for life, which is good to hear but not normally the type of thing I blog about. What caught my eye is the way he was caught:

The victim managed to struggle free and two schoolboys heard her screams. They tracked Walsh and alerted nearby allotment holders, who detained him until police arrived and arrested him.
Don't mess with middle-aged men bearing shovels.

Or (to be less flippant about what is really a serious matter) communities make us all safer. If two resourceful schoolboys asked me for help in detaining a rapist I'd probably be too scared to act alone. But if they asked me and a bunch of other people I knew and trusted, I'd be glad to help. That might be my neighbours, my colleagues, or my fellow allotmenteers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Self-Sufficiency Library

I must start with a confession. I copied the idea for this post from another blog. I saw the original post a while ago but I can't find it now. If the person who originally blogged about their own self-sufficiency library would like to mail me I'll gladly attribute and link.

Here are a few of the books I find useful and inspiring. It's not an exhaustive list, there are certainly other books scattered around the house I could have included. Over the next few weeks I'll review some of them.
Oh, and if any publishers would like to send me books for review, I'd be very glad to receive them. I'll also review CDs, chocolate, and bottles of wine.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Vegetarian Cottage Pie

Here's what happened to all the veg from the allotment - it became a cottage pie. The pinky colour is due to the beetroot in the filling staining the potato topping. That'll be a nice dinner to welcome Ed home tonight - he's been in France since Monday, where the cuisine is tantalisingly wonderful but alas vegetarianism is unheard of.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Allotment Loot

Here's the latest haul of things still growing on the allotment. Beetroot (red and yellow), kohl rabi, swede and carrots. Actually I'm getting a bit sick of root vegetables. Wish I'd planted some winter cabbage.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Carbolic Soap Co.

I've found the British equivalent of Lehman's (do you remember I posted about the Amish online store a few weeks ago?). It's Carbolic Soap Co., who sell all sorts of nostalgic cleaning products such as washboards, dolly pegs, borax, and of course carbolic soap. Like Lehman's, just browsing the site is a pleasure. But since the postage is within-UK, therefore much cheaper than international shipping, I'm looking forward to buying things from them and using them at home.

Thanks to Kate.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Down The Lane

In my dreams we have 8 acres of land with cows, chickens, pigs, an orchard, beehives, a vegetable garden, fields of wheat and barley. In the centre is an old farmhouse, large and rambling, and a collection of picturesque brick barns and sheds. A vintage tractor, lovingly restored by Ed, is our beloved (though temperamental) workhorse. In every direction are idyllic views. It's a nice dream.

But actually I'd settle for a lot less. I'm delighted with our chickens and our allotment. I'd love a bit more space so we could be seriously self-sufficient in veg. A whole allotment (rather than our quarter of one) would probably do the trick. Or an enormous garden. And, of course, the time to spend on it.

That's what Richard Cannon has. A big vegetable garden, two greenhouses, loads of chickens, a van and a reputation as a handyman. This enabled him to give up his full-time job on the railways six years ago, and he sounds very happy with his new "downshifted" way of life, even without a thatched cottage and 8 acres.

His website, Down The Lane, is full of useful information about vegetable growing, foraging, frugal living, and making money from sidelines such as boot fairs, making and selling chutney, and being a "mystery shopper". His pages about poultry keeping are invaluable. There is also a friendly forum, although the traffic is very low. If you'd like to downshift your whole life, or just some areas of it, and you'd like to read about a realistic way to make it happen, then spend some time browsing Richard's site.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Vegetarian Roast Dinner

My dad has invited us to Sunday lunch today. I'm looking forward to it, he does a great roast dinner. He's roasting a leg of lamb for himself and me, but my husband, Ed, is a vegetarian. It's OK, Ed loves all the trimmings and will be very happy indeed with a plate full of roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, mashed parsnips, carrots, stuffing, and plenty of bread sauce and vegetarian gravy.

When I do a roast dinner at home, though, I often make my own vegetarian version of a roast stuffed chicken: stuffed butternut squash. If I'm feeling lazy I might use a packet stuffing mix (one of the nice ones with rosemary and a sachet of apricot jam to mix up with the stuffing), but on special occasions I make my own stuffing.

Stuffed Butternut Squash
Easy version - cut a butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and feed to the chickens, mix up the stuffing according to the packet and use to stuff the squash halves. There'll be too much stuffing, so spread it all over the cut surface of one of the squash halves. Reassemble the halves to make a sort of squash/stuffing sandwich. Rub with butter or olive oil, wrap in foil and bake for a bit in a quite hot oven. (sorry I can't do temperatures in degrees and times and stuff, I don't usually cook like that). Serve with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, bread sauce and all the trimmings.

Complicated version - make stuffing as follows: fry an onion (chopped very fine) in 2 oz butter until transparent. Into this, mix 2 to 4 slices of wholemeal bread (ripped into smidgins), a good dollop of dried rosemary (perhaps a tablespoon), same amount of chopped fresh parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix in a beaten egg and a big lump of apricot jam. Then follow the instructions above.

Whilst we're on the topic: Bread sauce
Into a heavy saucepan bung 1/2 onion chopped very fine, 1 or 2 slices wholemeal bread ripped into smidgins, 1 oz butter cut into bits, 3-4 whole cloves, 1/2 pint full fat milk, 1/4 pint double cream. Bring it to a simmer then let it sit on the lowest heat with a lid on for as long as it takes to make dinner. Stir sometimes. Before serving add a dollop more cream, salt and freshly ground black pepper and a generous grating of nutmeg. Yum.

Are you entertaining vegetarians this Christmas? Hit "save"!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thermostat Challenge Research

Regular readers know that I throw out challenges to save energy by taking simple steps. But when I have researched whether these oft-quoted tips really work I have sometimes been surprised.

This month's challenge is to save energy by turning down your thermostat at home. Surely this will save energy. It doesn't seem like there can be any controversy here. So just how much energy can be saved?

The Energy Saving Trust says you can save around 10% on your heating bills by turning down your thermostat one degree.

The BBC agrees.

Friends of the Earth says turning down thermostat 1 degree saves £30 a year

Energywatch quotes the 1 degree = 10% saving

It's encouraging that they all agree. Still, none of these gives their sources. They could all be quoting the same source, which may not be reliable, so I will keep digging to find out who has researched this tip and what their findings were.

As I was digging I found an interesting snippet relating to our September challenge - to save energy by turning off devices on standby. If you remember we found that some people claim standby helps extend the life of electronic devices by protecting them from the power surge when they are turned on. I could find no evidence for this claim, and so I choose to switch off rather than standby. But the National Energy Foundation asks:

how many office PC screens are thrown away because they have broken down, and how many because they have become superseded by more modern technology?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Test (Chicken) Run

It's been raining a lot lately, so the improvements Ed and Steph made to the chicken run have been thoroughly tested. I'm pleased to say they seem to be working very well so far. The run no longer gets muddy and wet whenever it rains.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Down Time

Steph asked me to add some detail photos showing the blocks from the quilt I bought in a charity shop, so here they are.

This blog is supposed to be a journal describing the Rimmer family's journey to greater self-sufficiency. We dream one day of having a smallholding and giving up our full-time jobs. So far we have got an allotment and two chickens in the back yard.

It's a quiet time of year on the allotment. There are still some root vegetables in the ground - kohl rabi, beetroot, carrots and swedes. They can stay there safely until we need them as long as the ground doesn't freeze. And there are some onions slowly growing that will be ready next year. Even the chickens are laying less as the days get shorter, and I had to buy eggs from a shop last week as we had run out.

We're depending on the weekly organic veg box delivery and trips to the local shops. If we were really self sufficient we would have spent the summer preserving and storing the food we grew, and now we would be living on it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Charity Shop Quilt

I struck gold in the local charity shop when I found this 20-year-old quilt. It's a beautiful scrappy quilt in what look like upholstery fabrics. It has 25 blocks of folded patchwork in an eight-pointed star design, like a Lemoyne Star, framed in blue and separated by wine-red sashing. It's utility quilted with French knots at the corners of the blocks so the quilting doesn't show on the front. In fact there is a sleeve for hanging, so it was intended as a wall hanging but it's a perfect size for my king-sized bed.

The maker was obviously experienced as the folded patchwork is very accurate and has been carefully planned so that the motifs on the fabrics are aligned once folded, which is no mean feat. The placement of fabrics within the design is well thought-out and effective (something I'm not always good at in my own quilting). The patchwork blocks are hand sewn, this style of patchwork cannot be done any other way. The quilting is also hand-sewn and the sashing is applied by machine. The maker has embroidered her name in the border: Sandra Loder 1986.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Pumpkin Fairy

We spent some time at the allotment last weekend clearing all the finished crops and tidying up. Whilst there we found we had been visited by the Pumpkin Fairy who left a whopping 23kg (51lb) pumpkin for us. I knew I should have gone to the allotment before Hallowe'en!

My husband Ed's all for making another Hallowe'en lantern but I think we missed the boat there. I'll be spending most of today preparing it into puree and freezing it in portions for soups and pies all through winter.

Thank you, Pumpkin Fairy!
Edited on 07 Nov to add a photo of the pumpkin with Sam, for scale.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Today is Guy Fawkes' Night in the UK. We commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot with parties, fireworks displays, and bonfires on which we burn Guy Fawkes in effigy.

Our family went to the local park for the celebration there last night (Saturday must be more convenient than Sunday for a big organised display). We bundled up in scarves and hats and assembled in the car park of the civic hall. From there we followed a marching band in procession to the bonfire site, where a huge pile of wooden pallets and tree prunings were waiting to be lit. There were also fairground rides and stalls selling hot dogs and doughnuts, a first-aid ambulance and a fire engine. Most of the town seemed to be there and we chatted to friends when we bumped into them. At 7pm the fire was lit and we watched as it gradually changed from a smoky flickering pile into an impressive conflagration which scorched our faces even from a distance. Then at 7.30pm the children's firework display began, featuring colourful but quiet fireworks. I appreciate this because our children don't like loud noises and won't stay for the traditional firework display which commenced at 8pm. I love fireworks (even noisy ones) and would be sorry to miss them. After the children's display we left to go and buy fish and chips and return home.

I love Bonfire Night. I love gathering in the dark and cold with friends and neighbours and watching the fire, it's exciting and primal. I love the Britishness of it, I like feeling connected to all the other British people celebrating in the same way on the same night, and the people who have celebrated on this night in the past . I love the way it forms a landmark in the year, everything feels different after November 5th as we enter the very last slice of the year. I love the treacle toffee and parkin and toffee apples and hot chocolate with a generous slug of booze for mum and dad. I'm so full of joie-de-vivre I even gave a pound to a couple of kids collecting a "penny for the guy" today (looked like a leftover shop-bought hallowe'en costume stuffed with newspapers to me).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Scrumping Apples

The house next door is up for sale. The family have moved out. The apples are dropping off the trees onto the lawn. I had forgotten how much more delicious apples taste when you've scrumped them.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Philosphical Musings About Walnut Trees

I'm still helping dad empty his house in preparation for selling it. We moved there in 1982, six days before Christmas. I was 11. I grew up there, and now dad will sell it to strangers, just as he bought the house from strangers 24 years ago.

People used to live in the house they grew up in, work the land their parents worked. They planted walnut trees, even though walnut trees take 50 years to mature, because they knew their children and grandchildren would benefit, just as they themselves benefited from the work their parents and grandparents had done years before.

I don't know where my grandparents lived. I visited their houses when they were alive, but I don't know the addresses, don't know who is living there now. I won't be planting a walnut tree here. My children won't live in this house.

It seems like that's where we went wrong. One of the places we went wrong, anyway. We lost the sense of connection to the land. We don't know who was here before us, we don't care who will come after. There's no reason to plant walnut trees any more.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tyre Pressure Challenge Poll Results

The results for the tyre pressure challenge were as follows:

I've gone green! I will keep my tyres correctly pressurised. 25% (3 votes)
I was already green! I always have kept my tyres pressurised. 41.67% (5 votes)
I don't accept your argument! I like driving on marshmallows. 8.33% (1 vote)
I'm greener than thou! I only ever travel on foot or by cycle. 25% (3 votes)

I had difficulty finding research about the effect of tyre pressure on fuel efficiency, and what I did find showed that it has only a small effect. But it's still worth keeping your tyres pressurised for your own safety, and to extend the life of your tyres.

This month's challenge is to turn down your home thermostat and save money and energy heating your home. In the UK it's still unseasonably warm, and quite possible to be comfortable with only a low level of heating in the home.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mock Pumpkin Soup

One year I threw an adult Hallowe'en party. It was fairly staid, no dressing up or anything, but we had a roaring fire, plenty of wine, everyone had to tell a scary story, and I promised there would be pumpkin soup and home-made bread. Except when I went out to buy a pumpkin there were none to be had. None at all. Not even for ready money.

So I bought some onions, carrots and swede and I made "mock pumpkin soup". It was orange-coloured, it tasted autumnal, and it was delicious with home-made crusty bread.

A few weeks later I got hold of a pumpkin and made real pumpkin soup for my friends, but they unanimously agreed that the mock pumpkin soup had been better. So here is the recipe for mock pumpkin soup.

Mock Pumpkin Soup

Chop a couple of onions and fry in a knob of butter with a crushed garlic clove. Peel a swede and a few carrots (sorry for the lack of pounds and kilos here, I just don't cook that way - relax, it'll taste great, trust me) and chop into smallish chunks, then fry them also until they start to change colour. Add a pint or so of vegetable stock and about half a pint of milk and simmer with a bayleaf until the veg is tender. Remove the bayleaf and liquidise. Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and generous amounts of freshly grated nutmeg. Serve with a swirl of cream, and home-made crusty bread.