Friday, 30 April 2010

Projecting the "me I want people to see"

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

(Note that this post is a re-vamped version of an earlier post in my personal blog on simple living, consumption and identity)

I wonder though what other people see when they see me and my home? I wonder if they see that I do this out of choice - to avoid human exploitation as much as possible? Or do they think I've fallen on hard times? Or do they think anything at all?

I have a feeling it falls into the latter category. I think that many people see so much stuff that they become kinda blind to how much they can see ("stuff overload"??).

My theory of "stuff overload" can be supported (I think) by the experiences of Alex who wore the same brown dress every day for a year...and she said that most people (especially those at her work) didn't even notice she wore the same dress every day. I also know that I don't really notice what other people wear or have either unless if they themselves point it out to me (and even then I usually have forgotten about it by the end of the week.)

"Too Much" Photo by Joe Madonna

So where am I going with this? I am starting to develop a theory (or should I say further develop my original consumption and identity theory).

I believe that consumerism has become a major way for us to project our identity - in this context:
  • the me I want people to see; or
  • the me I want to be.
The problem, however, is that in projecting our identity in this way we start surrounding ourselves with lots and lots of stuff....and we all develop "stuff overload blindness" (let's call it SOB).

And because we become blind to stuff, we then don't understand why the stuff we have do not seem to be projecting "the me I want people to see" or the "me I want to be".

Which leads us to think that our stuff must be "wrong" and so we get more new stuff. And we think "great! this is the stuff that will finally get people to see!!" or "great! this is the stuff that will finally project the me that I want to be!"

But the reality is that no matter what stuff we get, people (including ourselves) still have SOB and therefore won't be able to see for any meaningful length of time what we want to project...

So the whole thing is a pointless exercise which leaves us feeling dissatisfied.

...anyway, I hope I've made sense in this post. What do you think about my little theory?

I wish you all a good weekend.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Recently I posted about my morning routine, which led me to reflect on the changes in my sleep pattern since I swapped a very busy life for a simpler, greener and more frugal one.

When I had a busy London career, I often left my home by 6am, in hopes I could actually catch a bus and not be left with a two hour commute, for a journey which should take thirty minutes when not in traffic. My line of work was grueling and I was often only leaving the office around 9pm, if not later. When I got home there were chores to do (albeit a lot was pushed aside) and I would simply crash for another 2-3 hours before rolling into bed. Days off were spent either trying to madly do those things which must be done or ignoring it all and vegetating. I "managed" on six hours sleep a night, often not falling asleep until midnight. Needless to say I was constantly exhausted although I didn't really realize how bad it was until I stopped.

When I gave up that busy career, opting for part time work, it was as if years of exhaustion caught up with me. I was tired, constantly, which was not what I expected. Slowly my energy levels returned and I settled into a new norm. Only, I found a few things out about sleep that I didn't know.

- I needed a lot more sleep than I thought. I may have functioned on 6 hours a night, but when I began listening to my body and stopped setting an alarm, I found that my body told me it needed 7.5-8 hours a night.

- My body wanted more sleep before midnight and less after. I began noticing my body showing signs of winding down around 9pm and becoming alert and ready to act around 5:30am. I can't always go to bed by 9:30 or 10, but I notice if I listen to those signs I can usually make sure I'm starting to think about sleep earlier, which inevitably means I stop busying myself and begin feeling and listening to what my body needs.

- My body thanks me for getting enough sleep and following it's sleep cycle. I am less tired, more level headed, less emotional, able to get a lot more done; my skin is better, I choose healthier options for food and exercises. I now have the energy to tackle knitting challenges or try new recipes for freezing in the evening and don't need to rely on media technology to relax; and yes enough sleep even helps me stay on top of that laundry. Listening to my body when it comes to sleep trains me to listen to my body in other ways.

- My body can cope with the exceptional. Last night I couldn't get to bed until well after midnight and my body naturally woke up around 5:30. Yet I feel fine, I will make sure tonight I get an earlier night, but all in all my body can now cope with a short period of less sleep because it is more well rested.

I now honestly feel that sleep is a really important aspect of enjoying a simple life. Enough sleep means my body doesn't need the adrenaline of rushing around, caffeine, TV etc to keep going and it has the energy to rise to the challenge of new green endeavors like my allotment. My body now tells me what it needs and makes me feel able to enjoy my peaceful, simple, frugal and green existence.

How much sleep do you need? How did you determine this? Does it help you lead a simple, green and frugal life?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Homemade Mustard

by Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow

I admit this isn't a new post on my personal blog-it's been out there for a while, but it is one of the more popular, and is also one thing on my list of to-dos this week: Make Mustard.

I cannot live without mustard-an oddity in our house that loves ketchup (honestly, blech. I can't stand that stuff. Good only as a tomato base in my barbecue sauce, and I working on changing even that. I may like a homemade one, but that is a whole different post...) and ranch dressing.
I don't know why it took me so long to track down and try a mustard recipe, but for whatever reason it did. This mustard is a yellow mustard, and thus, uses yellow mustard seed. I will be working on a brown mustard for the future. I took Alton Brown's Best Ever Mustard recipe and changed it to work with the way I like to cook-without the microwave-and tried to substitute local ingredients where I could. Mustard is easy to grow in the garden, and many seed companies have started carrying different varieties, something I hope to look at this summer. The greens of most plants can be used as well, making it multipurpose, and the seed stores well. You just grind it up to use as you need it, and the fresh flavor cannot be rivaled by the pre-ground nastiness you get at the store. For those of us who don't have your own homegrown seed to use for mustard, it can be affordably gotten at places like Penzey's Spices, or Frontier Herbs here in the Midwest. The other spices needed can be gotten there as well, and honestly, if you are doing any serious cooking with *real* flavor around your place, you need to have them on hand, anyway :)

As a note, this goes so quickly, it is crazy *not* to just make your own at home. It is also a good use for the juice leftover from pickles, or maybe some pickled pepper juice for a little more kick. Up the honey content for a honey mustard, as well.


2/3 c yellow mustard seed
2 t honey
1 t sea salt
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 t paprika
1/4 t garlic powder
1/2 c pickle juice-Alton calls for sweet. We don't do sweet here, though the recipe we do use has some sweetener in it. I think the regular works just fine, and like I mentioned before you can easily play around here with other pickled items
1/4 c water
1/2 c vinegar-cider works, I used red wine as it is what I had on hand. I will most likely experiment more here, as well, as different vinegars will give a different undertone. Yum.

Grind the mustard seed in a grinder until it is completely ground-nice fine powder, about a minute.

Mix it and all the other dry ingredients in a medium sized saucepan.

In a separate bowl mix all the liquids and honey. Whisk them together well, then add to the dry ingredients in the saucepan.

 Bring to a boil over low heat, whisking together as it heats, then cook 30 seconds. Turn 'er off, put your mustard in a lidded jar, and stick in the fridge. It should continue to thicken as it cools. If it isn't as thick as you like, bring it back up to a boil for another minute or so, and let it cool again. Be sure to make notes, so you can just cook it that long next time, though mine looked fine after the initial cooking. Can be used as soon as it cools just like any yellow mustard, but the taste is just so much better, and better yet, we know EXACTLY what is in it. Should store well in the fridge for at least a few months, but with that much vinegar and the spices in it, will most likely keep until the jar is empty and mustard beckons again...

Growing Garlic

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I believe that garlic is one of the simplest plants to grow in your garden.  I also believe that once you have had fresh garlic grown in your own garden you will never buy garlic from the supermarket or green grocer ever again.  Never again will I eat rubbery garlic without any flavour imported from a foreign country.

You can too.  Growing your own garlic is simple, easy and very low maintenance.

Planting is also easy.  In my climate zone, (heat zone 4, cold zone 10), I plant just after the first full moon in March or April.  I find that the soil is still just warm enough so that the garlic shoots quickly and gets a good start.  Take a decent sized garlic bulb, either from your seed provider or organic grocer and pull off the individual cloves.  Only use the fattest cloves, as these will give you the largest bulbs.  Use the smaller inside cloves in your next meal.

When preparing the bed for planting, don't add any fertiliser to the bed if you did so in the summer.  You will get more leaves and smaller bulbs.  Plant the garlic in a bed that you had a very hungry crop before hand, like brassicas or tomatoes.

Make a hole with your dibber (I use a bit of old sawn off broom handle) about 2" deep (5cm) and then place each clove in the hold pointy end facing upwards.  Plant them about 6" (15cm) apart, so that you get good sized bulbs.  The closer they are to each other the smaller the bulbs.

Back fill the holes and water well.  Within about 4-6 days they will send up the first green shoots through the soil.  All you need to do is keep the soil moist for the rest of the season, and keep the bed weed free.

Around mid winter, I apply a couple of handfuls of blood and bone fertiliser to the bed and water in.  This gives them a boost as they are beginning to form the bulbs just before the start of spring.  This is what they look like after about a month and a half.

In late spring (depending on your heat zone) the stalks start to go yellow and fall over.  This is the sign that your garlic is ready to harvest.  I leave them to dry for about a week in a basket before I use them.

I once heard that you have to plant garlic on the shortest day and harvest on the longest, but in my climate, it is not the case.  Last year I harvested in the last month of spring.  Here is my harvest of soft-neck garlic.  I plaited them and hung them in the kitchen, where they have kept very well without sprouting.

This is the crop from only two bulbs of garlic!  I was well impressed with my efforts.  This year I planted out an entire garden bed, and not just two rows like last year.  I kept the six largest bulbs that I grew last year to plant out this year.  I should harvest about 60 bulbs of garlic at the end of this season, all being well.

We use garlic in our main meal just about every second day.  Garlic is such a flavoursome plant and very versatile in the kitchen. I don't know if it is a myth, but I have not had a cold since I started growing and eating my own garlic.  I have heard that it is something to do with the large quantities of natural occurring sulphur in the plant.  Oh, and I haven't seen as many vampires around in the last two years either! ;-)

So, in summary, garlic would have to be one of the easiest and most satisfying vegetables to grow in your garden each year.  Easy to grow, and it keeps for a good eight months if dried well.  Have you had much success growing this wonderful vegetable?

Monday, 26 April 2010

Chronicles of a New Garden: potatoes

by Francesca


Over the last few years, something strange has happened to the potatoes sold in the stores in my area. Formerly, I could buy several different varieties of yellow, white and red potatoes, but gradually these have disappeared, and nowadays there's just one kind, generic “potatoes” that come in huge bags. Unfortunately, these have a soggy, mealy texture, and a taste that's just plain bad - eating them is like biting into a lump of stale flour.

So, imagine my delight when I first stuck a hoe in my new garden plot, and discovered that the soil was dark brown, very soft and loose, and felt remarkably warm to the touch, despite the unseasonably cool temperatures we've been having: perfect for growing potatoes! What a difference from my previous garden, where the soil was tan colored, so clayey that it clung to the hoe in clumps, and took a long time to warm up. That soil was too dense for root vegetables and tubers; after a few harvests of short, twisted, scrawny carrots, radishes and potatoes, I stopped planting them.

seed potato

~ seed potatoes are potatoes that have produced shoots. Plant whole if the potato is small, or cut into pieces, each containing a few eyes, and allow to callus over by leaving exposed for several days before planting ~

Potatoes are an easy and rewarding crop, and they do reasonably well in a wide range of soils. Also, their main enemy, at least in my climate, is the potato beetle, a large, striped, golden-colored pest which feeds on the foliage and lays bright orange eggs on the undersides of the leaves: easy to spot and get red of. However, this beetle is quite voracious and prolific, so remain vigilant and act immediately when you notice that the beetle has set up shop in your potato plants. The potato beetle will also attack eggplants, so avoid planting potatoes and eggplants close together.

My farmer neighbors taught me how to plant potatoes. They use the “trench-to-mound” method, which has always struck me as both clever and efficent.

potato trench method

Dig a trench about 6” deep, plant your seed potatoes there with their shoots up, spaced about 14” apart, and cover with some soil. Potatoes need regular watering during their early growth stages, and the trench helps to funnel the water to the young plants.

As they grow, take some of the soil you dug up when you made the trenches, and progressively mound it up around the plant, keeping the buried tubers well covered. Because potato plants have a relatively long growing cycle, between 16 to 20 weeks, I've sowed fast-growing crops like arugula and radishes along the sides of the trenches. I'll be harvesting them long before I need to use the soil they're growing in to make mounds around my potato plants, and in the meanwhile, these crops are keeping that soil from being left uncovered, exposed to weeds and the weather. Also, I've intercropped my potatoes with garlic.


~ potato plant intercropped with garlic, 20 days after planting ~

Reduce the watering when the potato plants begin flowering, and stop it altogether when they stop flowering: by that time, you'll have completely filled in the trenches with soil and created mounds around your plants. (You'll find excellent step-by-step instructions on how to grow and harvest potatoes here and here) And in a couple more weeks, your potatoes should be ready for lifting, and you'll see for the first time what you've produced.

roast potatoes
~ roast potatoes with lots of garlic, rosemary and sage is my family's favorite potato dish ~

The potato harvest, when you finally pull your underground crop out into the light, is quite a satisfying, even momentous, occasion!