Always room for improvement

I am very pleased to have discovered a comfortable and pretty, organic cotton bra through Waschbaer.de. I ordered this and a couple of other things, and was also pleased that the parcel was done up with string, rather than plastic tape. Brilliant, ‘cos I re-use the string to tie up plants in my garden!

I’m including a photo of the packaging though, because in spite of the wins, there are a couple of “losses” when it comes to reducing plastic waste. I can understand that underwear is considered a hygiene article, so that would explain the plastic bag. Plus there’s the tag on the bra which is fixed on with a piece of plastic, not included in my photo.

I also ordered a ceramic “cress hedgehog”, for growing cress on: I’m looking forward to watching the cress grow and to harvesting it – and eating it! It came wrapped in two cardboard boxes: one with branding on, which left the hedgehog’s nose exposed. And an outer box which you see in my packaging photo, where you can also see what look like strands of plastic in the tape that held it closed. This is a tiny amount of plastic, but I wonder if it is really necessary?

And then there’s all the leaflets and adverts from other companies. Plus the printed receipt, which zero wasters would want to avoid. My third product that I ordered was a large plastic bottle of shampoo. I’ve read about “no ‘poo” but I’m not prepared to try it! So that bottle is future plastic waste that I ordered.

On the whole, I really like Waschbaer: they have products that I like and they seem to want to do something ethical. Some things are just right, and some leave room for improvement – rather like me.

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Jellies in jars – and apple juice

I’ve discovered the joys of making apple jelly! It’s so quick and easy to just chop the fruit and not have to worry about peeling or cutting out the cores, and then let all the pulp drip through my jelly bag overnight. I’ve been doing this ever since the June drop…

I started with an apple and thyme jelly, and a recipe involving vinegar: it tastes OK but making it really stank the house out! I looked up a different recipe for apple and herb jelly in what is fast becoming my preserving bible, Jams Preserves and Chutneys handbook, by Marguerite Patten. So I did a second batch of apple and thyme without the vinegar, and I prefer the taste too.

If you have the patience, Patten instructs that you can boil the pulp up a second time with a little more water, and strain it again to add to your first batch of juice.

Jelly bag drips into a red bowl, hanging off a red wire stand. Yellow bowl next to it holds 2 apples.

For my third batch, I harvested a few mint leaves from a struggling patch in our garden, and added a piece of lemon from my freezer and about 20 redcurrants also from our garden – because that’s all the redcurrants we’ve had, and I wanted to use them up. They made the juice go pleasantly pink! This time I did the second boil-and-strain, to make the most of my mint.

The juice was so delicious that we drank it (with extra water) at our afternoon tea party, and I only got one jar of jelly out of it.

A note about that lemon chunk: Patten said not to include the pith of citrus fruits, but to add the rind and juice only: I read that too late, so now I’m wondering why she said that: is it because of the bitterness or whether it will the pith affect the longevity of my jelly? Anyway, it tastes yummy and perhaps the jelly won’t last very long.

I am considering an apple and cinnamon jelly, and possibly also a bramble variety and an elderberry variety, if I get a chance to go hedgerow harvesting. I’ll have a read through Patten and see what else she inspires me to do…

If you’re wondering what I plan to do with all this jelly: that’s an ideal follow-up blogpost, so watch this space!

In German:

Es freut mich sehr, das ich es entdeckt habe, Apfelgelee zu machen! Ich finde es so schnell und einfach. Es ist nicht nötig die Kerne auszuschneiden oder die Äpfel zu schälen. Mann muss nur die Früchte schneiden und dann lassen alle Fruchtfleisch durch einen Geleebeutel über Nacht tropfen. Ich mache das schon seit Juni.

Ich fing mit einem Apfel- und Thymiangelee an. Das Rezept brauchte Essig: es schmeckt gut, aber als man es kocht, es stinkt wirklich durch das ganze Haus! Ich habe ein anderes Rezept für Apfel und Kräutergelee ausgesucht, in Jams Preserves and Chutneys Handbook, von Marguerite Patten. Dieses Buch wird zu einem Liebling von mir! Ich machte das Apfel- und Thymiangelee ein zweites Mal, aber ohne Essig gemacht, das auch besser schmeckt.

Wenn du die Geduld hast, Patten sagt, dass man kann das Fruchtfleisch ein zweites Mal kochen, mit etwas mehr Wasser. Dieser Saft wird mit dem ersten gemischt.

picture of Patten's book and a jar of pink jelly

Für meinen dritten Versuch habe ich ein paar Minzblätter einer kleinen Pflanze in unserem Garten geerntet und mir ein Stück Zitrone aus meinem Gefrierschrank und etwa 20 Rote Johannisbeeren auch aus unserem Garten hinzugefügt – denn das sind alle Roten Johannisbeeren, die wir hatten. Sie machten den Saft hübsch und rosa! Ich habe Pattens  „zweites Mal“ Technik versucht.

Der Saft war so lecker, dass wir es tranken (mit extra Wasser) an unserer Afternoon tea party, und ich machte nur ein Glas Gelee.

Patten sagte, dass Mann soll nur das „zest“ (geriebene Zitronenschale?) und den Saft benutzen soll. Wie heißt das weiße Zeug in der Rinde einer Zitrone? Das hätte ich nicht benutzen sollen, aber ich habe den Rat zu spät gelesen. Jetzt frage ich mich, warum Patten das gesagt hat: ist es wegen des bitteren Geschmacks? Oder weil das Gelee schnell nicht gut zu essen wird? Jedenfalls schmeckt es lecker – also, vielleicht wird das Gelee sowieso nicht lange dauern.

Als Nächstes überlege ich einen Apfel und Zimt Gelee, oder vielleicht eine Brombeer-Sorte, oder eine Holunderbeere und Apfel Gelee. Ich werde durch Patten für Inspiration lesen…

Wenn Sie sich fragen, was ich mit all diesem Gelee machen wollen: das ist ein idealer Folge-Blogpost, also Komm bald wieder!

Bake your own thyme crackers

For a long time, I’ve wanted to try baking my own savoury snacks as a way of avoiding some packaging waste. Months ago I found a great basic cracker recipe in German over on ZERO WASTE MÜNCHEN that I’ve now finally had time to try out. Spot the missing cracker in my picture, which has been eaten and passed the taste test!

home-made, rough-edged crackers on a black baking sheet
No time but plenty of thyme!

Next time, I’ll roll the dough out a bit thinner. I rolled it to 4mm which looked about right before baking, but of course it rose in the oven. So, for those of you who don’t have enough German to read the original recipe, these are the ingredients:

  • 200g plain flour (NB Germany doesn’t seem to have self-rasing flour, but you could perhaps use that and skip the baking powder!)
  • 1 tspn baking powder
  • 50g butter
  • 7 desert spoons water
  • (Plus: salt & herbs for topping, and more water for brushing on)

I tipped my ingredients into a bowl and used a knife to cut the butter pieces into the flour, then added water and started squidging it all together, until I had a crumbly dough that just about held together. I wrapped the dough in my baking sheet and put it in the fridge to rest – for a couple of hours as it turned out.

Later, I turned my dough out onto a floured surface and rolled it out, to about 4-5mm, but next time I’ll aim for 2-3mm. I stabbed it all over with a fork, sprinked salt and dried thyme onto it, and then cut it into pieces before brushing the pieces with water and then placing them onto the lined baking tray.

I put these in the oven at 160 deg celcius for about 12 minutes. Next time I’ll increase the temperature and aim for 10 mins but I was being cautious ‘cos it’s a fan oven. I might also double the quantity of dough and make two varieties, because it doesn’t make very many crackers.

I might add some poppy seeds into the pastry mixture, or put sesame seeds on top, or of course I could use different herbs on top, but thyme works really well.

It is not at all complicated, but what puts me off pastry work is the time it takes. First I need to clear & clean enough worktop to roll out the dough, and then also to clear space in the fridge to let it rest, and then after the rolling-out I have to clear up all the flour-y mess! In this case it rather conveniently took me the 12 mins whilst the crackers were in the oven, to wash and clean everything up. If only I had a freezer, I could maybe make lots of dough at once and save time by freezing some for future baking, but that’s another story!

Speaking of other stories: my baking sheet is a plastic-covered thingy that I’ve owned for some time, and of course I like that I’m not creating lots of baking parchment waste. On the other hand, it will one day become plastic waste so when that happens, I might prefer to use unbleached parchment paper. I already like to use the “If you care” range for occasions when I need to cut the paper to size: it’s easy to find in the organic grocery stores in Berlin.

Mission mitten!

One of my hobbies is knitting. I’ve always loved crafts, and I began knitting as an adult when I found that my fingers were cold at work. I wanted a pair of fingerless mittens, but I despaired at the made-in-a-sweatshop things on offer in the shops, which I knew had no real warmth in them. So I embarked upon knitting in the round for the first time. For extra ethical kudos, I bought some undyed wool and I produced these:

hand knitted, hand embroidered mittens, lying on grass. Embroidery is of a butterfly.
fingerless mitts

Well, technically these were my second pair for a friend. And knitters amongst you will spot the flaw: my 2×2 rib was not properly calculated for knitting in the round, and I have 4 purl stitches in a row. Never mind, I just embroidered over that! I added a little colour at the top in stockinette, too, but I don’t recommend that embellishment if you want the mittens for typing at work: the curled over edges get in the way! You can find a great pattern for similar mittens on Knitty.com. I went on to knit tens of pairs of mittens, for all my friends. Probably my favourite pattern is also from Knitty.com, called “Fetching“: these have a little tube for your thumb, as well as a classy cable design. I went on to improvise some for myself, which are knit “upside down”, from the fingers up the arms, so that I could increase as necessary for the width of my arm, and make them long enough to compensate for a 3/4 sleeve jacket, on a cold day:

blue wrist/arm warmer, with a single wide plaited cable across the top.
arm warmer!

I blogged before about my handmade socks: I graduated into knitting these, because there are only so many fingerless mittens that I can wear, gift or indeed, bear to knit!

Plastic is everywhere

I came across a guide to products like scrubs and shower gels, even sun creams, which have plastic in them, published in February 2017, and I wanted to share it here. The guide is in the German language but full of easy to understand tables. Many of the products are available across Europe and have names in English, so are they recognisable even if you don’t speak German. It was apparently authored by Friends of the Earth Germany, and I found it eye opening. It’s a pdf file and called “Mikroplastik: die unsichtbare Gefahr” which translates as “Microplastic: the invisible danger”. You can also read about the background of the microplastics problem in English, on the National Geographic blog.

I was surprised to find products from the Body Shop and LUSH on the list (I had expected better from them), and of course there are some more expected big name companies. But I still like the solid deodorant from LUSH, which I bought plastic-free in their store in Berlin.

Anyway, if you’re not a German speaker but are planning on exploring the German language list on the grounds that most is understandable anyway, then you might like to know that, in German:

  • Peeling = scrub (not a facemask that you peel off, as I first thought!)
  • Kunststoff = plastic (you also see “plastik” quite frequently)
  • Hersteller = manufacturer
  • Firma = company
  • Gesicht(pflege) = face (care)
  • Duschgel = shower gel

Well, that’s enough to get you started on exploring their tables… go look!

picture of a bottle of sunscreen
One of the products that I won’t be using in future…

 

 

Use it all up, I say! / Ich sage: Verwende es alle!

white plastic squeezy tube, cut into 3 pieces
All used up!

Sometimes, I can’t avoid making plastic waste. I can’t bring myself to trust homemade toothpaste, for example, and I have medications in plastic tubes too.

So I apply my mantra of “use it all up“. I squeeze as much as I can out of each plastic tube, and then I get my scissors out… It’s amazing how much product is still clinging to the sides of the squeezed out tube! More than one more use: I push one cut end inside the other end to close the tube back up for next time. Sometimes, I also have to cut the tube a bit smaller so that my finger reaches to the very end, to wipe out the last of the product.

And so I spare a tiny bit more plastic from the waste cycle – and I spare my wallet!

In German:

Manchmal kann ich nicht vermeiden, Kunststoffabfälle zu machen. Zum Beispiel, ich vertraue selbstgemachte Zahnpasta nicht, und ich habe auch Medikamente in Plastikverpackung.

Also, ich verwende mein Mantra “use it all up”. Ich quetsche so viel wie ich kann aus jeder Plastiktube, und dann benutze ich meine Schere… Es ist erstaunlich, wie viel Produkt ist immer noch an den Seiten der ausgepressten Tube kleben! Mehr als eine weitere Verwendung. Ich schiebe ein geschnittenes Ende in der anderen Hälfte, um die Tube zu schließen. Manchmal muss ich auch die Tuben etwas kleiner schneiden, damit mein Finger bis zum Ende reicht, um das letzte Produkt auszulöschen.

Und so schone ich ein wenig Plastik aus dem Mull, und ich spare auch ein bisschen Geld dabei.

Useful plastic: preventing plastic waste / Nützliche Plastik

Although my goal is to avoid plastic, I do make compromises. I’d like to celebrate a couple of well used, everyday items, which are made of plastic. These two little pouches are made out of recycled plastic bottles and they have saved me from acquiring many plastic shopping bags!

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Two everyday hereos of my household

The little blue sack is stuffed with net sacks for fruit/veg. At the till in a shop, the staff can see through the net so it functions in the same way as the usual clear plastic bags. When I get home, I wash the produce in these nets and then hang them up to dry: handy! The little green sack is a rucksack which is great for shopping and days out. You can see that it has been well used and even repaired with a discrete black patch:

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Two everyday hereos of my household

Quite often, one or both fit into my handbag “just in case”. They are so light and small that I don’t mind carrying them everywhere.

I bought them both in England but I found a German language website which lists this company’s innovative products.

In German:

Obwohl es mein Ziel ist, Plastik zu vermeiden, mache ich Kompromisse. Ich möchte ein paar wohlverdiente, alltägliche Gegenstände presentieren, die aus Kunststoff bestehen. Diese zwei kleinen Beutel sind aus recycelten Plastikflaschen hergestellt und haben viele Plastiktüten ersetzt.

Der kleine blaue Sack enthält Netzsäckchen für Obst und Gemüse. In einem Laden, können die Mitarbeiter durch das Netz sehen, so dass es funktioniert wie die üblichen klaren Plastiktüten. Wenn ich nach Hause komme, wasche ich die Produkte in meinen Netzsäckchen und hänge ich sie dann zum Trocknen auf. Der kleine grüne Sack ist ein Rucksack, der zum Einkaufen ideal ist. Es ist offensichtlich gut verwendet, sogar mit einem diskreten schwarzen Stoffstück geflickt.

Oft passen die in meine Handtasche “just in case”. Sie sind so leicht und klein, dass ich kann die einfach überall tragen.

Ich habe die beide in England gekauft, aber ich habe eine deutschsprachige Website gefunden, die die innovativen Produkte dieses Unternehmens beschreibt.

Just use less: reducing packaging waste when washing up

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I’ve no time to write a translation today but this stuff is called “Spuli” – one of my favourite German words

I’ve found that the easiest way to reduce packaging waste is to use less of the products that I regularly use. I don’t always need to use soap: for a plate with just a few crumbs, I can rinse or wipe it with cold water – money saved & fewer chemicals in the water system, too!

For liquid soap products, I like to use a smaller bottle because it gives me more control over how much I pour or squeeze out. So, I buy in bulk but I decant from the big bottle in the cellar into the middle sized bottle, which lives under the sink, and then I decant again from there into the tiny little bottle for actual use. A little time consuming but then I’m not going to the shops as often…

It works! My successful vinegar/Meine effektive Essig

2016-09-21-14-27-55

Here it is, my finished homemade vinegar, in a bottle donated by a neighbour. It is no longer an experiment but a useful way to make something that I need, out of rubbish. When bottling it, I had a little extra vinegar that didn’t fit in my bottle. I poured it onto some grass growing in patio cracks, but the grass survived and it wasn’t a great herbicide. Perhaps it isn’t a very strong acid, but we have hard water which causes limescale everywhere, and my homemade vinegar de-scaled my kettle beautifully.

It also did a grand job on my kitchen sink, when combined with bicarb of soda:

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Before cleaning with my vinegar
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After a quick clean!

In German:

Hier ist meine fertige, hausgemachte Essig in einer Flasche, dass von einer Nachbarin gespendet ist. Es ist jetzt keine Experimente, sondern eine gute Methode, um etwas Nützliches aus Müll zu machen. Ich habe mehr Essig gemacht als man sieht in die Flasche: ich habe es als Herbizid probiert und auf Gras in die Terrasse Risse gegossen. Ich glaube, dass es keine starke Säure ist weil das Gras überlebt. Wir haben hartes Wasser, die Kalkablagerungen überall verursacht, und mein hausgemachte Essig reinigte unseres Wasserkochers schön.

Mit Natron kombiniert, reinigte es auch die Küchenspüle wunderbar.