Surplus rocket and what on earth to do with it

So if, like me, you were pretty keen on starting your vegetable garden, but sensibly only planted the stuff that you’d eat, and were likely to buy the most at a supermarket, then you’d have gone for the fairly safe, easy, good-chance-of-success peas, courgettes, spuds, spinach, broccoli, onions… and salad, of course.

We all know that salad grows quickly, and unlike parsnips for example or onions, which once they’re out of the ground, they’re out of the ground and you have to store/prepare them, with lettuce you are guaranteed a continuously fresh supply throughout the whole summer. And let’s face it, you don’t really eat that many potatoes and parsnips in summer do you? Nothing better than a good homegrown garden salad. Refreshing, healthy, low calorie, versatile… And so good in sandwiches, yes it is!

What most people don’t realise (because you have to see it to believe it) is in which quantity the stuff grows. The incredible volume of leaves that those little plants can produce. In such a short amount of time. And because you want variety, just one type of lettuce would be boring, you tend to plant several kinds of lettuce, like six different varieties for example. And you are aware that you don’t necessarily have green fingers, so you want to maximise your chances. And so you sow the entirety of the seeds that the little bag you got from the garden centre holds. The whole several hundreds of them. “Well with a bit luck, we might have a plant or two”.

Two weeks later, you can hardly see the rest of your garden. Hopefully your lettuce bed is a bed of its own, otherwise I suggest you invest in a machete if you want to check how your runner beans are doing. And if you don’t have runner beans, I would invest in a machete nonetheless. You’ve made a few tasty dinners with your homegrown rabbit food, but everytime you cut some out, more comes. Much, much more. To the point when another couple of weeks later, your machete is blunt, you’ve had salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day, your neighbours are hiding from you, in case you want to give them yet some more “organic produce from your garden that you grew yourself”, and you are still not making a dent into this dense forest. You are seriously considering (re-)inroducing rabbits (or, worse, slugs!) in your garden.

And then, when all hope is gone, and you’ve practically turned green, the plants flower, the leaves become uneatable, and the plant slowly… well dies.

Hallelujah!

In hindsight (wonderful thing we all know), two or three rows with two to three different varieties each would have been more than enough for just the two of us. As it turns out, the horse doesn’t particularly like lettuce…

Lettuce is very satisfying to grow as a first-time veggie grower, but it is also its downside. You cannot really keep it that long, can’t freeze it… We were lucky in a way that three varieties came out first, with the spinach (also great raw in salads), we managed to get through two of them, froze the spinach. What we were left with whilst the other three were growing, was the rocket. Huge quantities of. Not my favourite but still not worth wasting.

So I searched the forums, and this lady had a great idea, make pesto with it. Eureka! Easy to make, great to store, and ideal for a quick satisfying pasta-pesto.

All you need is garlic, oil, pine nuts, parmesan and some seasoning if you like. And the green stuff (rocket in this instance, could be any kind of lettuce I guess, wild garlic, herbs…) Oh and a blender (solar powered 😀 ).

Mix it all in, give it a whiz, et voila. I then scooped the mixture into a couple of small muffin baking trays (size which I’d say makes a portion for two people), and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, I put all the individual portions into a freezer bag. Use it as and when needed.

Quick, easy, healthy, versatile… All that a salad should be… 😀

Brox x

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Homegrown… can food get any better?

We all agree there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed, well there is also nothing like eating your very own homegrown, handpicked food.

So last night we had barbecued marinated wild rabbit (recipe here, no picture sorry, too busy eating! this marinade really is yummy) with our homegrown garden salads (the rabbits had some too) and this morning breakfast with cereals and fresh garden berries (raspberries, red and white gooseberries). Delish!

And none of it is grown using any pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers… just a good dose of rain and sunshine, some elbow grease, and a real strong will to eat and live healthier.

I mean, can it really get any better…?

lookafteryourplanetblog_berry_breakfast

Brox

DIY kitchen compost bin

This is more a “this is what you can do” as opposed to a tutorial. And also, although firstly described as an alternative to an outdoor compost for those who do not have a garden, due to its size I find it better suited as a transitional container that you keep in one place until full, and empty on the compost heap every so often; if I lived in a flat and intended to compost, I would look t build something a bit more appropriate in a wooden crate of plastic box.

DIY Kitchen Compost Bin - Tools
What you need

The list is fairly simple:

  • an empty tub of your favourite freeze dried coffee (if you work in an office they are bound to have one there)
  • glue
  • scissors
  • newspapers
  • screwdriver

All I did was lining the outside, underneath and inside (sides only) with newspapers (use glue). Inside on the bottom I left some loose bits of newspapers, so they can be changed every so often (if they soak up any liquids). I then “drill” a few holes in the lid (simply by driving the screwdriver in).

Note that I use a degradable plastic compost bag in my bin. If you don’t I would probably put more newspapers at the bottom inside and maybe use a carbon filter that you can stick on the inside of the lid if you are worried about smell.

I find this bin fit neatly in my cupboard under the sink, there is a top shelf in there, and this happens to go right where the sink is 🙂

Take care

Brox

Denim Coasters

We all had it, this favourite pair of jeans that’s now a bit faded, or the zip’s broken, that you haven’t worn in a year, that you cannot give to charity as a “wearable item”, but you cannot bring yourself to throw away simply because it may well become handy one day.

Well that day has now arrived! let’s face it, you will never wear them again. But, and rightly so, why should you throw them away, when they can be given a new life and purpose as an underrated every day household item: the coaster.

 

Upcycling-an-old-pair-of-jeans-lookafteryourplanet
How to upcycle an old pair of jeans – Denim Coasters

 

Ingredients:
– one old/unworn pair of jeans (denim or any colour)
– one particularly stormy, rainy, horrible Saturday afternoon
– scissors
– fabric glue
– a bit of time

Method:
Fairly simple, cut the hems alongside your legs. Then use that width to cut the seams and the rest of your jeans (lengthwise). Cut out the pockets, maybe zip, and “belt” for other DIY projects (thinking of a couple).

 

Fabric-Cuts-of-Fabric-for-Denim-Coasters-lookafteryourplanet
Denim Coasters – Fabric Cuts

 

Roll the hems/seams/strips tightly onto themselves, gluing the end of the rolled strip onto the start of the next one, and continuing rolling until the desired size is reached.

As you roll, run your fingers around the edge the ensure a nice, straight edge. Trim any odd bits with the scissors if necessary.

Once the coaster is wrapped, apply a little glue to the end of strip, folding in it if necessary to ensure a nice, clean fold.

Let it dry for a few hours, et voila! One pair of jeans = 6 coasters (of slightly varying sizes…. I hadn’t really measured the width of my strips…). It resulted in perhaps slightly more “waste” than I would have wanted, for reason just mentioned. But they still look rather cool, are really easy to make and a great way to relax on a rainy day!

 

Denim-Coasters-Waste-and-reusable-fabric-lookafteryourplanet
Denim Coasters – Unused Fabric (top) and Next Project! (bottom)

 

Brox

Pumpkin Feast

So it was Halloween not long ago, and like most people I bought a pumpkin (not yet growing my own). It was a rather large 2 or 3 kg bad boy. I never got round to the carving bit, I was more interested in what could be done with this pumpkin.

You probably already know that everything is good in a pumpkin, and that you can get quite a few tasty dishes (that one fed us for about a week!).

So about a quarter of it went into making this tasty and very simple pumpkin soup.

Homemade Pumpkin SoupHomemade Pumpkin Soup
Homemade Pumpkin Soup

Another quarter was used for this yummy pumpkin cake (literally a heart attack on the plate, but after grating all that pumpkin you will well deserve a decent portion, and probably seconds; I did!)

Yummy Pumpkin Cake
Yummy Pumpkin Cake

The other half was used between a pumpkin curry, pumpkin mash and bangers and pumpkin mash (I used potatoes in the latter, pumpkin on its own is quite watery and you don’t really get the “creamy” mash effect).

I obviously roasted the seeds (love this, and really nailed it this time, much tastier than the ones I did last year). Didn’t really follow a recipe, just washed them, then added a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt, in the oven at very low temperature for about 1 h then under the grill until all toasted.

As I was trying to use ALL of the pumpkin, I then wondered “can the skin be eaten?”

Well it turns out that yes, you can eat the skin. Make pumpkin crisps!

Pumpkin and other squashes are great value for money, you can get so much out of it! And if you grow them yourself, they will most probably be a lot more nutritious too. I have kept a few of the biggest seeds before roasting them to plant. Homegrown pumpkin feast next year, watch this space!

More recipe ideas here 🙂

Brox

 

Healthy breakfast options

I am probably the worst person to give any advice on breakfast, as I tend to skip this very important meal and give it no recognition, credit, second thoughts, significance, nothing whatsoever.

When I eventually have my breakfast at about 12 noon (or any time by which I’m borderline fainting), I try to make it as “healthy” as possible. Mix of (ready-prepared [*cough*]) cereals, usually muesli, fresh fruits and yogurt. But I realised that usually an hour or two later, I get really hungry again (especially when I had no muesli but a mix of other breakfast cereals). When I say hungry, not just a “oh I feel a bit peckish” type thing, I mean a real mixture of thunder, earthquake and revolution going on in there! You know when you get that feeling of literally an “empty” stomach..

This is when I realised that even though I was trying to get as healthy a breakfast as possible, it probably wasn’t very nutritious, hence the lingering feeling of not being satisfied.

I therefore set myself to try to make my own breakfast cereals, out of nutritious stuff, not full of sugars and buffers. This is when I came across this article

http://www.rebootwithjoe.com/why-you-should-make-your-own-breakfast/

I chose to try Teff as it seemed like the most varied in terms of nutritious content. The second on my list would have been quinoa, due to lesser calorie content and greater potassium content, however no calcium…

Quinoa is usually available in your favourite supermarket, although the price will probably let you think each grain has been individually wrapped with an edible gold leaf. I went for the novelty and bought 1 kg of Teff seeds online for I think £8. Pricey might you say, perhaps not when you consider that I only need the quarter of a cupful for breakfast. I haven’t done any weighing to be able to say how much a bowlful of this would cost (I also bought some dried fruits, nuts, shredded coconut, and seed/nut mixture), but as a comparison a £2 pack of muesli will last me four days.

What I am trying to say here is that if my teff seeds last me for over 2 weeks, there’s a winner.

Here is how to cook the teff seeds

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-whole-grain-teff-porridge-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-200038

The picture above is teff seeds (a quarter of a mug) cooked, yogurt, fresh plums, dried fruits and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Another version below:

Healthy Breakfast Options - Teff Seeds
Cooked teff seeds with pear, mixed nuts and roasted pumpkin seeds.

 

I have only tried this over three days, so I would say a little early to notice any health benefits. However I seem to be able not to snack as often during the afternoon.

Morale of the story, don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself. As I always say if it doesn’t do you any good, it won’t do you any harm.

Brox

Correction: the price for the seeds was in fact £6 and not £8… even tastier!

Biomass Briquettes

With my beloved announcing a couple of days ago that he would be making a woodburning stove for the winter (I love a fire!), it didn’t take me long to start collecting all sorts of paper and cardboxes, whatever was destined to either the fire or the recycling bin.

I should probably mention that the end result will still be the same, burning all that paper material, however not the way you might think. This gathering phase precedes a processing phase.

I explain, or rather this tutorial explains

http://www.offgridquest.com/green/biomass-briquettes-an-alternative-fuel

Et voila! “Gottatrythis!!”

So with my biomass material, scissors and a suitable bucket, outside I sat under the beautiful sunset.

The poetry kind of stopped there, I have to say the whole shredding process got slightly boring after 10 minutes. The bits of paper half way up the bucket are somewhat much larger than the ones at the bottom! For this reason, I will probably leave it to soak for a good ten days. If you have the luxury of working in an office (yes I did just say that) that has a shredder, you have no excuse whatsoever to not try this.

Otherwise, any type of paper/cardboard that you would have otherwise burnt would do, from scrap paper, to envelops (there are some window envelops in that batch, which may be best removed (the windows, keep the paper bit of the enbvelop) as not ideal to burn), junkmail (not the glossy type ones), cardboxes, letters from the Revenue (joke!), newspapers…

In hindsight, and once I have done my first batch to see if it really works (which I do not doubt, but rather try small and add afterwards, than having too much on your plate for no result), I will operate a two-bucket system whereby when one is soaking, the other will be used to gather the paper, which will be manually shredded when thrown in. That way you can save yourself a good hour of shredding (depending on how much material you have) and all you have to do is add the water, when you feel like it/the previous batch is about to run out. Which makes the availability of briquettes pretty much on demand.

I will also stir the content of the bucket a lot (everytime I walk past more or less), to help the breaking of the fibers.

As for the pressing process, I have thought of another way instead of a chaulk gun, which not everybody may own.

I’ll trial that, and will post the results, with a couple of updates probably in between.

For the moment, it’s only been soaking for less than 24 hours, it’s still looking very papery and not very sludgy 🙂

Biomass Briquettes making. Thick sludging process
Biomass Briquettes making. Thick sludging process

 

But I am very excited about the end results, fingers crossed it’ll work!!

 

Brox

 

 

We made hay!

If you were there, you would probably be as impressed as I am. A bit of background about haymaking…

First of all, I am no farmer’s wife, girlfriend, daughter or sister, but I have a few farmer friends and neighbours. After lots of Googling and advice taking, we more or less came up to the following conclusions.

In order to make hay first you need some sunshine, so the fresh grass can dry correctly… which is a rarity in this part of the world and this time of year. Moreover, you need at least a good ten consecutive days of sunshine. If you live in the UK, you’ll know as well as me what a crap summer we’ve had, hence why this haymaking business happened in September and not in July.

In our naivety, we did not apply any fertiliser (understand dung), which turned out to be in our favour. You see, the more and the longer you let the grass grow, the stalkier it gets, as all the energy and the goodness in the grass is then used to produce flowers and seeds. So you would want to cut your grass before it reaches that stage, so it keeps most of its nutritious contents.

LAYP Good hay (left) Stalky hay (right)
Good hay (left) Stalky hay (right)

 

If we had applied fertilisers, this would have accelerated the growth of the grass and would have resulted in very below average hay if cut that late in the season.

Ideally, you would want a good two or three days of dry weather before you can cut your grass, so there is not too much water in the grass itself, but also in the ground (if you cut it 24 hours only after the last rain, the roots will still be absorbing the water that’s in the ground). Then you need to make sure you have at least four or five days of dry weather (and ideally very sunny and a bit windy) after you cut your grass, so it can dry. You’re looking to achieve a moisture content of below 20%, so it doesn’t rot in storage (and you also avoid dangerous rises in temperature when stacked, which can cause fires). In July, due to the longer daylight hours, the grass will probably dry quicker. The problem in September is not only reduced daylight hours, but also the dew in the morning, which is present until at least mid to late morning. So the grass may require an extra day or two to achieve the same level of dryness.

LAYP Turning hay using a tether
Turning hay

In any case, you have to turn the hay at least once if not twice a day during the drying process, to make sure as much of the cut grass as possible is exposed to the sun. If those days are windy, even better!

Look out for the next rainy day, and make sure your hay will be baled in taken in before that, otherwise all your hard work will be wasted.

So we watched and watched the weather in August, but it was never dry more than four days in a row. And then the opportunity came early September. Taking the few points above into consideration, it was now or never. So we cut the grass last Sunday, turned it everyday day and watched it gradually turn into this lovely pastely green colour. By Thursday morning we had hay. Although it could have done with an extra day drying, rain was forecasted for Friday evening, and so we couldn’t wait any longer. In all fairness, if it hadn’t dried by now, an extra day wouldn’t have made a lot of difference…

We baled it Friday afternoon (not lunchtime as originally scheduled, the baler having given us a fair amount of grief…), as the skies turned a very dark grey… we’d only baled a few when it started to rain… Our hearts sank, there was no way we would be quick enough, it was all wasted!! Luckily the spell was short-lived and did not go past the drizzle stage. Phew! We resumed work at pace and got the last bale in by 7pm, just as the real rain drops started to fall. Victory!

LAYP small hay bales
Small hay bales

All in all, there are about 250 bales, which for a field between 2 and 3 acres in size, isn’t bad… No pesticides, no fertilisers, completely organic. No money exchanging either as we did most of the work ourselves, and “hired” the machinery by trading favours. It is a lot of hard (hard) work and takes a lot of time, and all things considered, we would have probably been better of buying it…

But that’s not exactly the point though, is it… 😉

“Make hay while the sun shines” Never up until now realised how true this is.

And God bless the neighbours.

Brox      x

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