The fruits of my labour

So I mentioned briefly in an earlier blog about cider-making. Well, well done you for sticking with me. Here’s the main blog about it.

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A huge harvest of apples thanks to Trash Nothing

I posted on ‘Trash nothing’ that I was looking for fruit trees for picking. Every year, people post on various sites that they’re coming down with apples from apples trees, and I wanted to get onto that. And it’s not because I need them- I’m fortunate enough that I have a decent job which is pretty well paid- but because I want to. I adore foraging, there is just something amazing about taking something that nobody really wants and making something with it. But I digress. Instead of waiting for people to give away fruit, I put out my feelers early, offering to take surplus fruit off people’s hands.

And I got two good hits.

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The most prolific apple tree I’ve ever seen

One, I’ve mentioned before gave me a huge bounty of plums, and then another told me about an apple tree in her garden that was always covered in apples. They wouldn’t be ready for a while, but she’d let me know when they were ready, and I’d come along and pick them.

Last week, they were ready.

Me, my husband and our two little girls went out to her house near the international airport, and we filled our boots. Well, the boot of our car. I’ve never seen such a prolific tree. It was literally covered in apples of all shapes and sizes. They were a semi-sweet apple, nice enough to eat, but there was something that I really wanted to do with them- try my hand at cider-making. Surely that’s the pinnacle of homebrew? Plus, I have the notion in my head that, should it work, it will be ready in time for mulling at Christmas.

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My little helper

We got to work picking apples. My little girl helped a bit, and hindered a bit. I enjoyed watching her though. I hope that somewhere down the line when she’s a little older, she’ll be happy to come and forage with me.

I started with the apples on the ground. This is both easier, but also (I think) politer. After all, the best apples should go to the owner of the tree, so take the ones that are on the ground and might now be a little spotty. There’s also the Phoebe Buffay voice in my head telling me that I’m helping these apples fulfil their appley-destiny.

Only when you’ve taken the best apples from the ground, do you move on to the ones on the trees.

There is a zen to apple-picking.

There is something beautiful about the ‘snick’ of a perfectly-ripe apple when it is plucked from the tree. The slightest tug, the tiniest rotation and it off it comes in your hand. It’s worth waiting a year for that.

Then, of course, when you run out of apples you can reach by hand, you should turn to the use of a tool.

Apple-picking tools are available on eBay for in and around £30. Or you can use one of these.

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Hi-tech apple picker

This cutting-edge tool is a wallpaper roller on a telescopic pole. It’s great because it slides down for transportation, and it’s naturally hook-shaped. And as it’s something that I already have, it’s free. Yay!

It didn’t take too long to fill all of our bags, and then we headed to the Tesco Taste festival for some free samples.

It took a week before I had a chance to start cider-making. For this, I used the ‘River cottage Handbook No. 12, Booze.’ Classy name, eh? But the book is pretty good. I brought out my trusty Kenwood mixer that has a rarely-used mincer function. My mixer, I might add was seriously reduced in an Amazon lightning deal, and has more than paid for itself in pizza dough alone 🙂

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Mincer attachment on my trusty Kenwood

Then I spent hours chopping, mincing and squeezing apples. I added a load of cooking apples from another foraging session to help up the pH of the juice. After more hours than I’d care to remember, I had 22 litres of delicious apple juice.

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Chopping apples
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Squeezing the juice from the pulp
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Collecting apple juice in a demijohn

Next, I added 10 campden tablets (2.5 per 5 litres), 4 teaspoons of super yeast, some yeast nutrient and some pectinase.

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Some of my wine-making ingredients

Normally at this stage, I’d be expecting to add sugar, but if I’ve done everything right then the sugar in the apple juice should be sufficient. Now we just have to wait and see if it works.

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Size matters

It’s fitting that this is going to be a small post tonight- my back’s a bit sore from the early stages of cider-making (more on that later)- as tonight we’ll be discussing the size of products and how bigger isn’t necessarily better.

I decided to treat myself the other day in Asda and get myself ‘some nice peanut butter.’ Whole Earth peanut butter- crunchy, of course- is the nicest, and it’s palm oil free. And, as so often is true, the smaller one is cheaper per gram than the big one. 


In this case the cheaper price is due to the rollback, but this is a really common thing throughout supermarkets. So don’t just look at prices, also keep an eye on the price per gram. 

Renewing a driver’s licence

I haven’t posted in a while, and I’m sorry about that. Thing’s have been very busy recently, but hopefully I’m now in the right headspace to write a bit more. 

My husband and I have been looking at our finances alot recently, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how little we’ve spent. And there is a reason. A good reason. We look after every penny, we consider how much time it cost us to earn it, and then decide whether or not it’s worth our time. 

And we make sure that we don’t give away our money to banks etc.

Recently, I enrolled for a training course in England, and as soon as I had signed up, I realised I had no ID. Since the last election- and we’ve had our fair share this year- I have no idea where my driver’s licence is. Fast forward to me getting my application all filled out, then not being able to pay for it. They wanted a cheque, which I dont have (like, who still does really?) or a postal order. 

I figured a postal order would be easiet, as there’s a post office 5 minutes walk from work. £7.50. That’s how much they wanted for a £30 postal order. 

No thanks. 

Well, what about my bank then? I mean, it’s my money, and they had previously offered me a cheque book for that account. Surely them making me a single cheque would be free (or at least cheap). Nope. £10 to spend my own money. 

No thank you. 

And so, at lunch, out I popped to the DVA and paid my £30 using my debit card, and saving myself a pound or so on the price of postage too. It was a pain to have to run out, but I knew it was done, knew I wouldn’t have to wait for a cheque to clear and didn’t fund the bank manager’s Christmas party.

So spend a little minute thinking before you spend and you’ll find out you end up spending less.

Or don’t lose your drivers licence. Take your choice on which moral you prefer to end the story.

Five frugal things

I follow a blog called ‘The Non-Consumer Advocate,’ where the author frequently posts her five frugal things. 

I honor of her, and because having started a new job recently and not having much time or energy for a full long post- here are my five frugal things.

  1. I asked on my local freecycle if anyone had any fruit trees and I got two responses. A lovely lady that lived fairly close invited me around to her garden, where she had a number of mature apple trees and a big plum tree, just covered in ripe plums. So far I’ve made a load of prunes, spiced plum chutney and have a bucket of mashed plums in the fermentation bucket, on their way to becoming plum wine. We also just ate a ton, because they were so juicy and ripe. 
  2. We signed up the the Government’s Taxfree childcare scheme. Childcare is so expensive, but at least if we use the taxfree scheme we’ll save 20% on our childminders fees. 
  3. I made my own peanut butter. It’s the easiest thing. Take some roasted, shelled and deskinned peanuts, toast for a few minutes and then stick them in a food processor. Blitz them until you think you should stop. Then blitz for another 5 minutes until they’re a paste. 
  4. I made my own yogurt. Easiest thing in the world, and one that I’ll cover in a future post.5. I found a pound coins in a trolley, €2 euros in a carpark and have made about £15 over the past week or so with job spotter. All of that is hoing towards Christmas presents.

Foraging for beginners: Blackberries

If you’ve been outside at all over the past few weeks, you will have seen the blackberries that are ripening everywhere. I was going to say, ‘if you’ve been into the countryside,’ but having taken a wander into Belfast to visit St. George’s Market, where the Blackberries were literally pushing their way out from between buildings, I figured that I had to adjust my sentence.

Blackberries start green, turn slowly red and then ripen into a plump, black (well deep, deep purple) berry, but they’re guarded by batteries of piercing thorns. Most people will have foraged for them at some point in their lifetime, most likely as a child, and if you have never foraged, these little guys are the place to start. They are exceedingly difficult to mistake for anything else.

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The brambles (blackberry bushes) start producing ripe berries from the start of August to the middle of October. And whilst I could give you a list of where I’ve foraged for them, these little guys will pop up on any waste ground, particularly around the edges of fields. In the past, I’ve had good luck collecting them along the Comber greenway and around the Stormont estate. Also, a bit further out, Crawfordsburn country park, Jordanstown, and up around the hills and hedgerows in Larne where my sister lives. Honestly, it would probably be easier to list where they don’t grow.

Do try to pick them away from busy roads, or on waste ground that might be polluted, as these could potentially make you sick, though it’s not something I’ve experienced in my years of collecting and eating them.

The good thing about Blackberries is that, unless you want to et them fresh, you don’t have to collect them all in one go. Blackberries tend to give up more juice if you freeze them first, so what I do is to do small collections when it suits. When I’m out pushing the buggy, I’ll fill the little bag on the back, and then tip the berries into the bowl in my freezer, only foraging for 10 minutes at a time. So far, I’ve collected a decent amount, but I’m hoping to collect enough to make me some blackberry wine, the nicest of the homemade country wines. It is a lot of fun to go out on a big blackberry picking foray though, particularly with kids 🙂

When you collect blackberries, take plastic boxes, rather than plastic bags, as the brambles can snag the bags, ripping holes and spilling all of your hard-picked berries all over the ground. You might want to wear plastic gloves to save your skin from the thorns, but I don’t bother- sure a few cuts are just battle scars. Babywipes are a good thing to bring to, because you invariably find your hands covered in purple juice. Wear old clothes, and long sleeves and trousers, otherwise the brambles and/or nettles are likely to get you.


Once you bring all of your berries home put them in a colander and give them a good clean. Then either leave them sitting in light salted water, or in an airtight box and leave them to sit. The reason for this is that it will get any bugs out of the berries. Once they’ve sat for a while, rinse them again in the colander, and then they are good to go.

Once you’ve got to this point, the world is your oyster. Jam or jelly are the most common options, or you could make a chutney. I quite like the blackberry summer pudding, as it’s a way to use up stale bread. Me, I’ll hopefully make wine, as I said above. Stay tuned for that one.

Or, if foraging for Blackberries doesn’t appeal to you, you could always buy them from Tesco, where they’re £3.00 for 300g, and their countries of origin are: United Kingdom, Ireland, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa or Spain.

One for the ladies- reusable sanitary towels

So this is going to be a post about menstruation, so if you don’t want to read on, don’t worry, there are plenty of other even more wonderful posts elsewhere on this blog 😉

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Still here? Let’s begin.

Every month or so we ladies have to go through menstruation. And I don’t know about you, but I personally think it sucks. 

Not only do we have to bleed, but we have to be grumpy, bloated and crampy. Men really don’t know how lucky they have it.

Did you know that tampons are considered luxuries? They are taxed at a higher rate because of this. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never considered them a luxury. Tesco recently released an ad saying that they will pay this tampon tax for us and that’s great, but can we do better?

What I’m going to talk about will give some of you the heebie jeebies, but stay with me. The best way to save money every month is by the use of reusables. 

Let me introduce you to some of my reusable pads. These are just two of them, I have a selection of six, which cost me £5 on eBay. They are comfortable and soft, with various levels of absorbancy depending on the day of your period. Six is probably enough to get most people through a period, but if, like me, you have heavy periods, you might consider investing in more. 

They simply attach around your underwear by use of the little poppers. And whilst they can shift a little, I’ve never had an issue with them wandering off too far 😉 

Now, we’ve talked about the absorbancy of the pads, let’s talk about housekeeping. The fear, of course, is having to change your pads when out and about and having to carry a used pad with you. I have a little wetbag I carry around when I need it. I’ve never really needed it. 

When it comes to laundering them, I take the pad and rinse it in cold water- hot water sets the stain- until the water runs clear, then all you need to do is pop them in your wash. They wash up as good as new. 

I had a conversation about reusable pads with a friend who found the idea quite disgusting. 

“Don’t they smell?”

No, and here’s why. Because they’re made of breathable material moisture can escape, keeping them fresher. Women, in general, are advised to wear underwear that is made from cotton as we are prone to infections. Why then would wearing a plastic sanitary towel for 5-7 days be a good idea? Plus, you’ll have a smell bin when you disposed of your pads, whilst I won’t.

Also, there is a suggestion that bacteria can florish on the synthetic fibres of a disposable sanitary towel, increasing our risks of infection. That isn’t something any woman would want. That’s why from now on, I’m going to use disposables and just replace them when necessary.

The use of reusable pads is also beneficial to the environment. Because our disposable pads look nice and white, we kind of assume that they are made from some lovely, wholesome material, but its all just plastic, and as I covered in a previous blog, plastic doesn’t rot. And no one is trying to recycle used sanitary towels as far as I know. 

And the more I read up on plastic, the more and more I try to stay away from it.

And as for the price?

As I said above, my reusable pads cost me £5.00. That’s about 85p each. Now, compared to a disposable pad at about 6p it sounds like the maths doesn’t stack up. I use approximately 12 pads each period, or rather, I change my pad. At 12 x 6, that’s 72p each time for disposables. That means within seven periods they’ve paid for themselves. And if properly cared for they will last for years, meaning they will continue to save money for years to come. And yes, you could take into account the extra laundering, but as the reusable pads are just going into a wash with the rest of my laundry, this cost is negligible.

And if you have sewing skills, yoi could even try your hand at making your own.

So, to recap reusable pads:

  • Save you money
  • Are more comfortable than disposables
  • Are better for your vaginal health
  • Are better for the environment
  • Are easy to look after.

They also take up less space than disposable pads, and there’s never any need to stock up. 

Why not give them a try?

Please feel free to ask any questions you might have on them 🙂

Our plastic legacy

So, having not posted in a little while, I have three posts that I’d like to get out over the next few days, but with a couple of sick kiddies (especially my 9 month old baby), and me on the way down with the cold, we’ll see how we do.

I want to talk a little about our plastic legacy.

I know, I know, this is a money-saving site, you didn’t come here to read about landfill but:

  1. Money-saving and low waste do tend to go hand-in-hand and
  2. This is our only planet, so let’s try and do what we can to not totally mess it up.

So, I ask you to read this and try to think about it, and I’ll promise not to sound too preachy.

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1083666/Millions-tonnes-recycling-stored-warehouses-price-paper-plastic-collapses.html

 

Plastic is everywhere. Most of our food at the supermarket comes wrapped in a plastic layer, we wear it on our body, this laptop I’m currently writing on has a plastic shell and plastic keys. And it’ s easy to understand why it’s become such a ubiquitous material. Plastic is cheap, it’s easily formed into whatever shape we desire and it doesn’t rust or rot.

And in that last clause lies the problem.

According to Science news, more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced. Most of which has now been discarded. Over half of that was produced in the last 13 years, thanks in large part to disposables. But plastic isn’t like potato peelings. You can’t just bury it and expect it to be gone in a few years, because plastic doesn’t decompose. Oh, it does break up into tiny little pieces, but I’ll come back to that later.

Let me just reiterate that point above. Plastic doesn’t decompose. That means that the plastic components of this laptop will last longer than my kids. This means that basically every single plastic bottle you have ever drunk from, every plastic toothbrush that you have ever used still exists somewhere. We throw things away in our house, but as they say in the documentary, A Plastic Ocean (check out youtube. The links keep changing, but you’ll find it if you keep looking), there is no ‘away’ on a global scale.

But what about recycling. Don’t local councils collect our rubbish every two weeks and cart if off to recycle it? Well yes, but according to the Guardian, only 1/3 of our plastics are recycled in the UK. In the US it’s only 9.5%.

So what about all of the stuff that ends up in the oceans?

It ends up being eaten by marine life, such as seabirds and whales. It’s suggested that up to 90% of seabirds have ingested plastic. They mistake it for fish, eat it themselves, or take it back and regurgitate it to feed to their young. The birds may starve to death because they cannot digest the plastic and they feel full.

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The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific on Sept. 14, 2009.
Photo by Chris Jordan/USFWSHQ/Flickr

 

Or, if that’s not enough, plastic also degrades into microscopic pieces that end up in the foodchain of fish, disrupting their endocrine systems, making fish with messed up biological systems, including their reproductive organs. On a human level, we eat these fish, what would that do to us? And what will it mean for us all when fish stocks plummet? Such a large proportion of humans rely on seafish for food.

So, what can we do?

The easiest thing to do is to reduce the plastic that we create. I say above that the big increase in plastic usage is to do with disposables. So how can we reduce this?

Thanks the plastic bag levy, the use of disposable plastic bags has fallen by 84% as of 2015. I didn’t notice a major difference to my lifestyle, did you? Now I carry a couple of reusable bags everywhere I go. Not only do these come in handy in case I come across something I can forage, but it means that I forego the 5p bag charge (there you go, environmentalism and moneysaving going hand-in-hand) and I in turn am helping the environment.

We need to start thinking the same way about the other disposables in our life.

It’s not expensive to invest in a good travel cup. Some cafes offer a reduction to the price of a coffee if you bring your own cup. And frankly, if you have a good cup, you could skip the £3.00 charge and just bring your own from home. Many of the biggest coffee chains don’t pay UK tax, so I don’t worry about putting money in their pockets.

Same goes for sandwiches. It’s true that grabbing a chicken Caesar wrap is quick and easy, but you can make a sandwich for much cheaper at home and bring it with you in a lunchbox. Or if you prefer to grab something, ask them to make it fresh and put it into paper, not plastic. If enough people ask, shops will start providing paper.

And straws. Ever since watching a video of a sea turtle with a straw jammed up its nose, I avoid them. Feel free to Google that one, it’s not for the faint hearted. On zero-waste discussion groups people are always going on about reusable straws, and I always think, ok, that’s good that you’ve sourced stainless steel straws, but why bother? Humans don’t actually need straws to drink. Save yourself the money and the trouble. Even my 9 month old can drink from a cup sans straw.

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stylish, but sensible?

 If you can there are lots of other ways to reduce your plastic waste, such as not bagging fruit and veg that doesn’t need it at the supermarket, or better yet, shop at the market, buying dried beans and lentils and soaking and cooking them, brewing your own beer and wine, making your own bread and pizza, or making your own yogurt.

We all want to leave something for the next generation. At this rate it’s looking like our legacy will be our plastic and the problems it causes.
So, please, next time you spend money, shop conciously. Think not only about how much something costs you, but also how much it impacts the earth. 

Exercising on a budget

Well, I’m just back from my first jog in about three years. It’s been three years because between now and then I’ve had my two babies, and that was a really great excuse to sit on the sofa and eat ice cream.

But now my return to work is looming, and there’s a family wedding in a couple of months, so I’ve been attempting to be good. I’m down a stone and a half already, so now I have to keep the pact I made with myself and start exercising.

Anyway.

Since we lost the Robinson centre, the nearest gym is a bit too far for me. Plus, the outside is free. I don’t really like jogging, but I really want to get back down to my pre-baby weight.

When it comes to running gear, I really have pushed the boat out. My t-shirt was a free one I picked up on New Years at Palookaville, and my running trousers I got free at a swapping party. My trainers are Kalenji from Decathalon, that were on offer and have already put in quite a few miles.

I jogged/ ran for about an hour there and back, and I have to say, I really enjoyed myself. I mean, I know that its partly endorphins, but a large part of it was just enjoying being out in the fresh air as the sun came down over Belfast. You don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds each year to  gym that you may or may not go to. Plus, the outdoors has things that gyms don’t have.

When I stopped to take a look at a couple of cherry trees to grab a couple of ripe ones, I found a wild plum tree. For a minute I was really excited- I’d thought for a minute that I’d found a greengage tree, especially when I tasted one and it seemed ripe. I grabbed a few and shoved them in my little teeny jogger’s pocket. I realised once I got home that I’d been a little hasty. They weren’t ripe at all. Maybe they’re wee Victoria plums, and I’ll have to wait until they go yellow before I pick more. I should have remembered that with plums if you have to pull them off the tree, rather than just plucking them, they aren’t ripe. Still, the tree was covered, so I’ll be back.

About the size of big grapes. I’ll leave them with bananas and see if they ripen up

There were also a ton of rowan berries, which you can make a jam from, but I hear isn’t overly worth the work. Maybe I’ll see what I can do.

I also found a little apple tree that I didn’t see before, and possibly a bigger one. It certainly looked like an apple tree. I’ll keep my eyes on it when I’m out on future jogs (if I stick to this running malarkey) and see if anything grows.

Keeping my eyes open

I think the best tools in existence for living on a budget are these: 

A healthy curiosity and an inquiring mind. A set of eyes helps too.

I called in to IKEA the other day, I’ve covered my love-hate relationship with IKEA before, but I wanted some kids storage items, and it’s a good place for kids when you’re at a lose end. 

Anyhoo, when I was leaving, I had to pull over to fix the baby mirror in the back of the car and when I did, I noticed that the hedges had a plant covered in red berries. And what red berries?

Raspberries. Delicious, ripe raspberries. 

I took this photo first, thinking that perhaps this was a one off. Then I looked around. The whole of the hedge was full of big, fat raspberries. I took a few. More than a few. 

As I was leaving the IKEA car park I glanced to the left into the hedgerows beside the airport. Raspberries everywhere. I want to check to make sure I don’t have to worry about pollution from the aircraft, but I reckon I’ll be back for more. 

Another thing I’ve seen all round Belfast, and I do mean everywhere, are hazelnuts. Stormont, the Comber Greenway, along the outer ring, Victoria Park, even Belfast Zoo. 

Of course, these hazelnuts are not as big as those bought commercially and you do have to compete with the grey squirrels, but there’s enough to go around. A couple of years ago I collected enough for a gorgeous dukkah. 

The best baby gift in the world

When a baby is born, it’s shocking the amount of stuff that you suddenly need to own. Moses baskets, prams, cots and so many itty bitty baby clothes.

And don’t get me wrong, baby gifts are awesome. They are, and we’re grateful as hell, but suddenly there is way more laundry than you ever saw before in your life, and the sink keeps filling itself with dishes, and that little job that’s nagging at you is still not getting done.

And this is why the best baby gift out there isn’t material. It’s the gift of time. On Monday my mum came round and helped me tidy my house. She sat with the girls whilst I did dishes, put a load of washing on and cleaned the bathroom. Then, while I drank a cup of tea, she cleaned the dining room. 

My house is in no way clean, but it’s a damn sight cleaner. And I therefore feel a lot less stressed.

So next time someone you know has a kid, toys and clothes are good, but time is a really precious gift.