Thursday, March 10, 2016

* My Name is Tracy and I'm a Food Hoarder

Is that a thing, I wonder? Can one hoard too much food? I’ve always felt better when my kitchen cupboards and freezers are full, but with the impending food shortages and price hikes I’ve kicked it up a gear. I’m bordering on survivalist prepper. Most people my age use the freezer for ice cream and vodka and think I’m mad to have KGs of chicken and leftovers in the freezer … until we’ve finished the vodka and everyone is a little peckish and I can pull out a whole mezze platter chop-chop like. Then I’m the queen!

The fact that I’m a food hoarder became obvious to me when I had to evacuate the kitchen to make space for the renovations. I have boxes of stored food. I think it’s inherited. My Mom has always stored food too. That’s how we know for sure the size of a condensed milk can has reduced in the last 10 years. Yup - that’s why your fudge doesn’t come out quite the same as it used to.

I just don’t see how it can be weird or unnecessary to buy extra supplies when things are on special. Then when you are low on cash you still have food. Recently we’ve been stocking up on extra basics like flour, sugar, vinegar, butter, dried beans, salt, bicarbonate of soda - things I can’t make or produce myself. Everything is going to get more expensive, it has already started, so I’m not even waiting for the specials at the moment. If we have the basics we can make anything.

I preserve a lot of fruit and veg and the vinegar and sugar are essential for this. You can extend the life of almost any fresh produce with these ingredients, a big pot and a few glass bottles. Mason jars are coming back into fashion as more people start bottling again. Look around for Consol or Ball jars. You can buy new lids and all your bottles are the same so they pack neatly. I still reuse product jars though, so I have some to give away or trade. I prefer the Consol to the Ball jars, mostly because Consol is a South African company, but I have to admit that the Ball lids seal better at the moment. 

I’ve been making my own bread because I think it is nicer than supermarket bread. Also I can make thin ‘buns’ sort of like pita bread but just a little thicker. These are great for sandwiches and homemade burgers. This cuts down on unnecessary bread, there is just enough to hold all the good bits together, and they have a lovely crust you don’t get on sliced bread. Also - I know what ingredients I’ve put in it. That makes me happy. 

This is were I would have inserted  picture of my beautiful homemade bread. But we ate it all. Sorry. Next time I bake I’ll be sure to post a pic.

Here’s my recipe. It’s nothing fancy but it is tried and tested. I make a big batch and freeze extra so there is always a bread roll or loaf on hand - just as if you were buying it from the supermarket. This bread freezes well. If you know you’re going to freeze it you can bake the bread till it’s just done and then pop it back in the oven when you’ve defrosted it to finish it off and give it that just-baked freshness.  This bread + a dollop of Mom’s homemade apricot jam = HEAVEN.

The recipe is from my recipe book. I’ve been updating it and writing in all the recipes I had laying around on scraps of paper and serviettes. I’ve found so many recipes I forgot I had. If you like this one I’ll be sure to share a few more with you in the future.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

*It's All About the Money

Droughts and floods are effecting food production in South Africa and all over the world leading to food shortages and price hikes and the South African Rand is in the toilet. Everything is getting more expensive and prices are predicted to keep rise until well into 2017.  No matter how hard you work or what job you’re in things are going to get tight for everyone.

I don’t make a load of money. I’m just not that person. Working for myself making upcycled creations it’s always feast or famine and much to many people’s horror, I am ok with that. I don’t fit into any of the regular type of jobs or professions. The only employment I could get in these times is a minimum wage job and even those are scarce. So I’d rather live the way I do than spend hours doing something I hate - being a slave to a 9-5 job that gives me no satisfaction and getting home exhausted and demoralized every evening only to earn a minimum salary that at the end of the day is probably less than my average earned for my creative work anyway. I don’t need a lot of things. I would rather do without if it means I am a little more free from the strangling need to make more money. I really am, I’m not just saying that to justify my choices or to sound like an airy-fairy hippy. I know it’s weird but I have spent a long time soul searching and thinking on it from every angle and I really don’t like money. The more you have the more you worry about losing it.

We went through some hard times when I was growing up and the thing I remember from then is how easy it was to be happy. As a treat, Mom would buy a chocolate on the way home after school and we’d cut it into three pieces for me, my sister and my Mom. Happiness. No matter how hard times got my sister and I always got our pocket money. I could buy a bottle of coke. Happiness. We got home-cooked everything because it was cheaper and even though we didn’t have much money, we lived on a farm and ours was still the place all the kids came to visit and Mom would feed them all with vetkoek and mince and homemade biscuits and cakes. Happiness.

I am so lucky to be blessed with an amazing husband who supports and encourages me every day even though I know he would really be quite happy if we had a little more money coming in every month. Tom has a day job as Curator of Exhibitions at the National English Literary Museum. He writes, which is his passion and is what he’d really like to do all day long. His comedy novel ‘Midnight’s Chicken’ is set in a book shop and is about working in retail and why you shouldn’t take up terrorism as a hobby. He loves photography, and has just signed up to do a PhD.

And herewith a quick word from our sponsor...

So it is  obvious I am not good at acquiring money but I am fabulously good at not spending it. So I aim to prove I can make money by not spending it. I know this is possible, it was something that was made clear to us when I moved from working at home to my shop/studio and our home expenses noticeably rose and our quality of life deteriorated when I was not able do all the little things at home that I had done. Working at home simply works for me, I can do so much more in a day. I like to do a blend of work and home chores and I know all the ‘work at home’ gurus, articles and Internet advice say you should separate your work from your home stuff - but that’s what works for them, not me.

The basics of my plan is to make more of our own stuff. Food, cleaning solutions, toiletries even, thereby saving on all the stuff one buys because it is easy. Homemade stuff is usually a bit more expensive to start with but it lasts a lot longer because it is of better quality and when you make it yourself you’re less inclined to waste anything. It also reduces the amount of products you have to buy - vinegar and bicarbonate of soda will pretty much take the place of window cleaner, bath cleaner, counter top cleaner, stove and oven cleaner … you get the picture. I’ll be trying out all the Internet recipes and advice on these things and let you know what works for me. In this way you won’t have to do all that for yourself. So many of the recipes are written in other countries and have to be ‘translated’ into South African measurements and products.

We have already saved some money by cancelling our satellite TV. Now don’t get me wrong - we didn’t give up TV altogether! We love our TV, a little too much maybe. Instead we have signed up for the Internet with Imaginet who offer brilliant service. They are super friendly and helpful and they are local. We have also signed up with ShowMax a streaming website. With ShowMax you pay a monthly fee of R99 and you can watch anything on their site. You pay for the data to stream the show you want to watch but you can choose how much you want to watch instead of paying R800 or more for satellite TV whether you watch it or not. And we needed the Internet at home anyway. I think this will reduce the amount of time we sit in front of the TV randomly surfing channels, wasting time, just because it’s there. That in itself will save money as it frees up time to do something more useful or more time to sit on the stoep with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down. Which is really the desired end result of all of going to work in the first place isn't it?

 I hope to find more ways to save money that can be just as easily implemented in a household run by two working people. Most of the money saving changes – like any changes we make – are mostly about changing habits. Like the way the car just takes you straight to the supermarket instead of the local little fruit and veg shop you have vowed to support as they sell all the best local produce and even have farm-fresh free range eggs! Or the bag of bread rolls you buy even though there are homemade bread rolls in the freezer. Habit. Or plonking down in front of the TV and flipping through channels only to land on something that ‘will do’ and letting it suck up hours of your life. Habit. Let’s make new ones.

I do feel that I have to at least attempt to make my own veggie garden. Again. I am a terrible, terrible gardener but I feel if I am going to talk about home sustainability I have to at least try one more time. We have a new community group on facebook group for the people of Grahamstown to share and sell their excess produce so it would be great if I could get my garden going soon. If anyone has any advice on growing vegetables please do share, I’m going to need all the help I can get. Just so you know, though, I am a terrible gardener but an amazing bottler so if you live in Grahamstown and have extra fresh fruit or veg I’d gladly make pickle, sauces or jams and trade you for your excess produce. Deal?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

*A Few Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

I am still determined to reduce the amount of plastic we use so I have been experimenting with a few options. If you have any interesting ideas please let me know - I'd love to know what you have tried and tested.
Being a crafty sort of gal I like to make and do a lot of stuff myself. I have recently discovered this amazing alternative to plastic bags or cling wrap in the kitchen - waxed fabric! Love it. I made my own after reading up on the internet see here how to do it (where would we be without google!). It’s so simple, melt some wax on cotton fabric and viola! It moulds and folds and keeps things airtight enough. I used bite block wax instead of beeswax - what? You don’t have a pile of bite block wax laying around at home? No? Ok I’ll explain, it’s the wax used in the art of denture making.
My Dad is a dental technician and I couldn’t let those wax off cuts go to waste! The wax has a percentage of beeswax in its make up but melts at a slightly higher temp which is great for the weather over here just now. Glad I found a use for those off cuts - they have been piling up…
Or - if you’re a more normal person you might like to look at getting some professionally made waxed fabric by Abeego. The lovely Colleen Black over at Life Lived Simply is starting to import this lovely product into South Africa, along with a few other waste saving items you might find useful. Do pop over to Colleen’s blog anyway, it is a South African blog and is therefore so much easier to relate to her advice.
I’ve also started to freeze my homemade stock and soup in glass bottles. No, it’s not madness, it works! You just have to leave the lid a little loose and don’t fill the bottle to the top, leave some room for the liquid to grow as it freezes. And let it defrost naturally so the glass has time to adjust to the outside temperature. So far so good, no broken bottles yet.
And what we cant avoid we try to recycle. I use most of our snack wrappers etc in my Upcycling work. I have also started using the thicker plastic packaging from cat food or washing powder bags. We have limited recycling options in Grahamstown but we do what we can, we are about to sign up with a new, all local, company called Eco Bins Solutions and they should be able to take care of almost all our recycling needs.
Every little thing counts and it’s better to slowly change everyday habits that make huge temporary gestures. What little changes have you made to reduce the amount of plastic you use?

*Plastic - Not So Fantastic

 plaThere’s just so much of it - right? I’ve read a few articles this week and it is so overwhelming and depressing. You don’t ever want to touch the stuff again. The thought that plastic in the ocean could outweigh fish by 2050 is just crazy. More plastic in the ocean than fishes!! Whaaat?! 

Plastic now pollutes every corner of Earth and we can’t just carry on as normal. But what do we do? The stuff is everywhere. There are a huge number of people who are doing amazing things - going completely plastic free. Erin Rhoads has blogged about her two years of living plastic freeand Bea Johnston has written a whole book on her not just zero

stic but completely zero waste lifestyle!! Amazing and inspiring reads. Right - no problem. We will no longer use plastic. Ok then.
We try to do most of our shopping once a month. So off we go to the shops. I am traumatised. Here’s me - shopping carefully, aware of every bit of plastic packaging and when we get home and unload out reusable shopping bags the amount of – now useless – plastic is still overwhelming. It’s at this point that I start to feel depressed about the whole thing. How on earth are we going to do this?
Although we buy loose veggies, the few we don’t get in our veggie box from Nitarah once a week, I look for bulk bags of whatever I need (still comes in plastic, just less), I’ll choose glass over plastic bottles, I’m buying ingredients instead of ready-made meals, sauces, pickle and preserves which cuts down on the number of bottles and packets I buy – and still we have a heap of plastic. And I can’t figure out a way to get rid of the plastic layer I have to add to my upcycled products I make either. It makes it stronger and makes the product last so much longer – but still. It’s there.
It’s all hopeless! What’s the point! We’re all going to die in a heap of suffocating plastic anyway!!

DON’T let this happen to you. We have a long way to go and I have to remind myself that every little bit helps. We are trying to change a generation or more of habit and lifestyle. We have to stop and think each time we purchase something or think about supper. We are all working full 9 to 5 and who has the time, we can only do the best we can. And a little bit is better than nothing. It will get better, it will get easier and with the more people trying, the easier it will be to carry on.  It’s not impossible to cut plastic from our lives – it’s just damn difficult. 

We have started by making small changes at home. The first habits we try to break are the ones where we automatically accept plastic. So we take our reusable shopping bags with to the shops, and if we forget to take them inside - we have to buy a new reusable bag or more often than not carry everything in our arms. It’s easier than you think to juggle milk, eggs and a bag of cat food. Buy products that come in glass instead of plastic. Buy in bulk, thereby reducing the quantity of plastic we consume and sometimes avoid it completely if you can bring your own container.

What we can’t avoid we try to recycle. I use most of our snack wrappers, etc., in my Upcycling work. I have also started using the thicker plastic packaging from cat food or washing powder bags as materials. We have limited recycling options in Grahamstown but we do what we can, we are about to sign up with a new, all local, company called Eco Bins Solutions and they should be able to take care of almost all our recycling needs. Oh, and just today, we started a facebook group for the people of Grahamstown to swop and sell thier excess homegrown fruit and veg, free range eggs etc. so that should be package free. 
So the bottom line is - Never give up! Never surrender! Don’t let the immensity of the problem overwhelm you. Every little thing counts and it’s better to slowly change everyday habits than make huge temporary gestures. Next time I’ll share a few easy and effective ways in which we have been able to cut down our plastic use. Hopefully you’ll find it useful.

*Let's Begin Again - This May Happen a Few Times on This Journey

Phew, made it through the silly season in one piece. It’s been a bit of a crazy time what with house decisions to make, shop to close up and work space to move, along with getting through the Christmas orders and spending much needed time with family around the Eastern Cape. After that we sort of hibernated in our little house in the 35-degree-and-up heat for a while, gathered our thoughts and rested.
So now - onwards and upwards into 2016! Plans have changed a bit since last we spoke. The offer on our house sale fell through at the last hurdle and after 6 months and more than one unsuccessful offer we were starting to think the universe was trying to tell us something. We learned so much through the process and in the end I think we were lucky that the offers failed.
We started the house-selling journey in need of a change and early on we were made aware of the fact that no matter how perfect our house might be we are ‘not in the right area’. For a while I bought into the panic thinking, “Oh no! What will we do! The house is worth so little simply because it’s on the wrong side of the tracks. We need to get rid of it urgently or we will lose out.” Then time dragged on and I started to think, but what makes it ‘not the right area’ to live? We don’t have any significant crime in the area (touch wood), and I feel safe at all times in my house. Our neighbours are lovely people, even though the dogs can be a little more than I’d like from time to time or a car might be revved a little earlier in the morning than suits me on occasion - nothing out of the ordinary, right? The road is busy during the day but that’s the same as living closer to town. Houses are cared for and full of hard-working families.  
It turns out it’s more about old South African city layout than anything of any real concern. We are happy living here and so we took our house off the market and instead of buying another house and then spending more money to make that house what we want, we will stay here in the house we know and love. The house we got married in. Yup, right out there in the back yard. We’ll do some alterations and fixes that will fix this little baby right up. We might not increase the monetary value of our home but we will increase the quality of life for ourselves and really, isn’t that what it is all about?
Of course, when I decided to close the shop and move home with my work space I thought I’d have my own space in an outbuilding in the ‘new house’. Hmm. As it turns out, for now I am squeezed into a spare room in the house until we get the renovations under way. It will be a challenge working in half a small house with builders and rubble underfoot for a while but it will so be worth it in the end. And if we needed any further incentive to live more lightly, paying for the alterations will definitely do the trick. Eek! But there you go, I do like a challenge. My job now that I am at home is to work on my website and increase online sales and also to save as much money as I make. It is so easy to overspend when you don’t have time to think about things. Often little things that add up. Buying too much bread because it’s Monday and you buy bread on Monday. Throwing away the moulded bread from last week. 
Anyone who knows me knows I am a true believer in little things adding up. And if I can save on the little things it’s the same as making that money in the first place - right? I’ll let you know. Maybe along the way as I investigate methods and products I can do the legwork and you might benefit from the results. There are so many recipes, solutions and products on the internet - who has time to try them all out? And then translate them into South African practicality. Oh! Oh! Pick me! 
So I’m not 100% sure where this blog is going really, but I hope you stay along for the ride as I share my journey, recipes and musings on living lightly with you. We might all need to learn to live more lightly even more than we thought as the drought sets in and the rand tumbles faster than a tumble week in the outback!

*Life Goes On

It’s been a while, I know. I do apologize, I was so hoping to start my new installment with “The house is officially sold and we’re on our way!” But this is not to be the case, as it turns out having a willing buyer is only a small step in the sale process. The bank has all the say and our buyers’ bond wasn’t approved. So we start all over again. House selling is not for sissies. 
But life goes on. As Christmas creeps nearer I am drowning in orders, mostly wholesale at the moment so each order is large. Which is good. Every hour of every day is full up with cutting and stitching and communicating with clients, while keeping the shop going at the same time. If I was ever unsure if closing the shop was the right thing to do, I am now convinced I can’t do it all. It doesn’t leave much time for living at all let alone living lightly. And really, what is the point then?I have got a little bartering done since last we chatted. It is a hard thing to get one’s head around, especially trying to make sure the trades are fair. The way I see it, as long as both parties are happy your trade is a success. First I traded a bunch of fresh beetroot from one of my fellow Nitarah veg box customers for a bottle of pickled beetroot. Then I traded with Siobhan at Wimze - two old printer’s trays and a couple of craft mags for chain and charms for a new project I have planned for next year. I also traded a bespoke Kisma Kreative handmade folder for a stash of bits and pieces of jewellery from Sarah at      G-Town Gems. These will be used for the same project. Intrigued? Good. You should be. Watch this space!

I’m getting the hang of it but it is sometimes awkward to suggest trading to people. Not everyone gets it and would prefer the black and white simplicity of cold hard cash. If anyone in Grahamstown has green thumbs 
and you have too many potatoes, tomatoes or onions I’d gladly discuss trading for preserves, pickles, or maybe a trade from my veg box? Beetroot for onions, etc? Or maybe there’s a Kisma Kreative design you have your eye on? Let’s chat. 
I’d best get back to it. So many orders, so little time. Have a beautiful day and remember to smile - it’s contagious!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

*Soda Streams and Dried Cabbage

It’s a busy week! I’m getting the shop ready for a special day. We’re having a jumble sale this Saturday, filled with new Kisma Kreative stock, post-spring clean stuff, and new summer stock from other crafters. It seems the winter is mostly over and we are celebrating the return of the beautiful South African sunshine. Says me, as I sit in the darkness of a rather dreary rainy day. Oh well. The shop will be quiet and I can get on with the job at hand.
If you're in Grahamstown do join for complimentary coffee and cake while you browse.

The jumble sale is full of household stuff from our home as we start to empty out so we can fit in our new, small, simple house. It’s amazing how much randomness we can collect, just because there is space to put it. The money we make will go into a special savings tin to be spent only on what we need in the new house.

My Mom- made granadilla
syrup comes in  old beer bottles
that neither of us can throw
The other bottle is an old Soda
Stream Bottle.  They used to be
made of glass. Do you
remember them? The bottle top
was white but I lost it. FYI, an
old Soy Sauce  bottle top fits
just fine.
I guess I'll need some
new fashioned ones now.
One of those things is a Soda Stream machine. Something I haven’t used since I was a kid but what fond memories.  It was a novelty then but now it will be much more practical. My Mom makes this awesome granadilla syrup. Totally amazeballs! Yes, that’s what I said - it’s that good. We add it to a glass of soda water, a few ice cubes and it is the most refreshing, delicious drink in the word - forget Sparletta Granadilla. It is also chemical and preservative free. Yes, it has sugar (a natural preservative) in it - probably a whole lot of sugar. But it is sugar that I understand - those little white granules - not some derivative, or sugar-like substance - TTPD42 something or other. Personally I feel sugar has got a raw deal. Use a little moderation, people. The other ingredients are fresh, natural granadilla and lemon juice.  Both grown in Mom’s back garden. It doesn’t get better than that.

The problem is I hate all the plastic 2l bottles our soda habit is producing. I mean, yes, you can reuse a 2l plastic bottle, but only so many! The answer - the humble Soda Stream machine. Who thought an eighties invention would actually be practical? It turns out they are quite a bit more expensive than I thought so some of the money from our jumble sale will have to go towards it. Unless of course someone out there has a Soda Stream machine they want to swop for something off the jumble sale? No really - wanna trade? Then all we need to do is find a recipe to make tonic water and that’s Tom’s  summer G ‘n’ Ts sorted too. This would make me happy.

One more thing I want to share with you this week - dried cabbage. It’s a thing. We get a veg box from Nitarah Farm every week. The box is full of  freshly picked, organically grown, in-season veg. You get whatever is growing and ready for picking that week. We often end up with an overflowing supply of a certain vegetable and I will not let this go to waste. There will be more vegetable preserving recipes on this blog. If you have any recipes of your own please do feel free to share them in the comments below. It would be much appreciated. I’m always looking for new ways to preserve excess vegetables.

This is my shriveled cabbage. Cool hey?
We have had a large number of baby cabbages recently. Beautiful, sweet baby cabbage. We’ve eaten loads of coleslaw, I’ve made a ton of pickled cabbage and we’ve had stir fry for days. There is, however, only so much you can do with a cabbage. Quite by chance I came across a post by someone on the Internet with the same problem. When she sent out a request for new ways to preserve cabbage the common reply was: dehydrate it. Really? Dehydrated cabbage? The thought never crossed my mind.

What I have discovered is that a lot of the time folks do tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. Now I’m sure you could dry your cabbage out in an electric oven on super low. I have a gas oven and the temperatures range from really quite hot all the way up to super-hot. We live in a fairly dry climate and we did have a lot of beautiful sunshine this week.  I sliced the cabbage really thin like they said and laid it out on a clean tea towel on a large baking tray. Then I stuck it in the useless spare room with an ordinary fan angled on  the tray. I thought, let’s see what happens.

At first there was a rather pungent cabbage smell and I thought, hmm, this might not be worth it. But the smell hung around for about an hour and then dissipated ( thank goodness). The slivers of cabbage started to shrivel up quite quickly. I went in from time to time to move the bits around so they didn’t stick and to let the air get into all the nooks and crannies. The next day - fully shrivelled cabbage strips. Like little worms. They were still a little leathery so I popped them in the hot oven after I’d done a casserole. I turned the oven off but the residual heat was just enough to crisp them right up.

So now I have a stash of dried cabbage I can through into soups and stews. They say you can use it in stir fries but I don’t see how - sort of crispy. But maybe if you soak them first? I dunno - I’ll get back to you on that one. I hope we get more cabbage in our box this week!!

Ok boys and girls, I have to get back to jumble sale tagging and shop renovations. Go dry a cabbage and tell me how you get on.

 PS: Make sure you never miss an exciting instalment of Living Lightly. Subscribe to the blog via email - over there on the right hand side of the page at the top. Then you’ll get every new instalment right there in your email inbox. And it will make me feel loved. It’s a little lonely out here in cyber space.