The Zero Waste Travel Companion is launched

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The Zero Waster’s Travel Companion, aimed at visitors to  a range of featured destinations, is an easy to use reference guide to local activities, shops, and restaurants.  The guide recommends where to buy environmentally friendly products, shop without packaging, donate unused items, or shop secondhand, taking the guesswork out of reducing waste while visiting a new place.  My home town of Leighton Buzzard features alongside 31 other towns and cities around the world.

The featured shops in Leighton Buzzard include The House of Coffee, Nature’s Harvest, Stratton’s Butchers, Selections Hardware, Ollie Vees, Oliver Adams Bakers and Pecks Farm as well as a variety of local market stalls.

The Zero Waster’s Travel Companion has been produced by the Zero Waste Bloggers Network* and is now available in Kindle and epub format at: http://zerowastebloggersnetwork.com

All proceeds will fund future Zero Waste Blogger’s Network projects to raise environmental awareness and help support the zero waste community.

Why reduce waste?

The extent of food and packaging waste has hit the headlines in recent months thanks to campaigns from TV personalities such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.   Did you know that a plastic bottle takes an average of 450 years to decompose – think about it, if they’d had plastic bottles in Tudor times, we’d still be storing them somewhere! Today, much of our plastic waste ends up not in recycling plants, or even in landfill sites, but in the sea, where it harms marine animals and can even get into our food as tiny plastic particles are eaten by unsuspecting fish. Plastic is also made from non-renewable fossil fuels. So, rather than focussing on disposal, the zero waste movement focuses on avoiding unnecessary waste by refusing it at source.  There are several easy ways to reduce your waste that everyone can do, and which will also save you money:

  • Remember to take your own bag to the shop. You’ll save 5p each time you do.
  • Buy loose fruit and vegetables (or in paper bags – the market offers this unlike supermarkets.)
  • Buy a refillable water bottle and fill it up at a tap rather than buying expensive bottled water.
  • Buy a reusable coffee cup or flask to use when you want a take out coffee (some places offer a discount for this), or to save more money, fill it up before you leave the house.

 

 

* The Zero Waste Bloggers Network is a nonprofit organization with over 235 members around the world dedicated to promoting zero waste with online and offline strategies. Founded in 2015 by blogger Inge Echterhölter, who co-authored and edited the

 

Useful websites:

Zero Waste Week  http://www.zerowasteweek.co.uk/

The Rubbish Diet http://www.therubbishdiet.org.uk/

Hugh’s War on Waste https://www.rivercottage.net/war-on-waste

Zero Waste Bloggers Network http://zerowastebloggersnetwork.com

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Natural Haircare – can you really wash you hair (and clothes) with horse chestnuts?

Horse Chestnut Tree
Horse Chestnut Tree

 

Natural haircare can be fraught with challenges.  Where are the ingredients from, how are they sourced, are they sustainable, and will they work?  Well, let me tell you a secret – I haven’t used regular shampoo to wash my hair for almost a year now.

Recently, I have been using a soapnut shampoo every 4-6 days, substituting for a wash of chick pea flour (a tablespoon mixed with a little warm water) every few weeks.

But, conscious that the soapnuts grow far away and of concerns expressed about the impact of their rising popularity here on their cost for those who have been using them for centuries, I have been looking for a more sustainable alternative.

So, when I heard  (via the fantastic community that is the Zero Waste Heroes Facebook Group) that horse chestnuts are a popular alternative to soapnuts in Germany I was keen to give it try.  Something both local and free – now what could be better?  Now autumn has arrived, I can finally give it a go.

My first foraging trip was unsuccessful and turned up just a single horse chestnut but then I realised a park would, of course, be the best place to look.  I found a few on my way to work (quick dash as I realised the park opposite the station was a good place, but that my train was in 10 mins!), but did much better in my lunch hour at the beautiful Cassiobury Park in Watford.  My cloth bag was swiftly filled, though as I carried them home at the end of the day I did wish I hadn’t gathered quite so many.

Now how to choose between the variety of recipes online?  Although I read a few I decided I wanted to keep it simple.  I crushed up about 5 or 6 horse chestnuts, but you can experiment with the strength to see what works for you and your water,  and soaked them in a cup or so of warm water overnight. Discard any that are split – I had a few and they went mouldy before I got to use them.

I strained the liquid in the morning (you should get a nice milky looking liquid – that in the photo below has separated out slightly – this was just before I shook and sieved it)  and used some of it to wash my hair. Giving it a quick shake revealed the frothiness caused by the natural saponins. I used an empty liquid soap dispenser to apply to my hair, focussing on the roots – an old shampoo bottle would work well too.  Take care to avoid getting any in your eyes.   The chestnuts apparently have a slightly lower ph value than the soapnuts. I’m not quite sure (will try to find out and update) whether this means a ph balancing rinse is  necessary  (not needed with soapnuts) but I did rinse with some leftover coffee with a splash of white vinegar. This also acts as a conditioner. The chestnut liquid won’t lather like shampoo and is much less thick, which may seem strange if you are used to shampoo.  I wasn’t sure it was working at first and my hair did feel a little waxy while it was wet (a hard water problem) but once dry I am really pleased – it feels lovely and soft, and importantly, clean.

I didn’t need to use all of the liquid on my hair so used the rest to wash a load of laundry.  I added a splash of vinegar to the machine as well as we have very hard water.  I wasn’t washing anything with stains so can’t yet comment on effectiveness there (I usually need to apply stain remover anyway with soapnuts) but they came out smelling nice and fresh.   I am sure you could add a few drops of fragranced oil if you like a scent to your laundry.  I’m used to it being unfragranced.

If you have collected enough chestnuts to see you through the winter you can dry the whole or the chopped up chestnuts, and then mix with the water as you need to use it.  A word of warning – I tried chopping the chestnuts in a mini food chopper and, it broke (though it’s possible that the plastic bowl cracked during washing up)  – so might be better to cut them,grate them or bash with a hammer, or at least not try first time in an expensive food processor. Be sure to label them clearly – remember that raw chestnuts are poisonous. Might also be worth testing a small amount on your skin in case of allergies.

Don’t forget that you can compost the used chestnuts.

I will definitely be trying this again, to see if I can replace soapnuts altogether, or at least partially.  Do let me know if you give this method, or any of the variations, a go and if  it works for you.

You can read more about the other natural hair washing methods I have used in my earlier post about Giving up Shampoo

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Hedgerow Harvest, Damson Gin, Plum Vodka and Prunes

Not such a bumper crop this year maybe but still managed to find a reasonable amount of damsons, despite council’s efforts at cutting back the trees rather early.

Homegrown and Foraged

The trees and hedgerows are certainly laden with a bumper crop this year.  I remember last year having to reach high into the trees for a few damsons, but this year there are so many.  Whether they are fully ripe yet I’m not sure, but I’m just too impatient to wait any longer and panicked about someone else beating me to it and stripping the trees bare.  Little hope of that this year I think.  Anyway, I left them in the kitchen for a couple of days in the hope they would ripen as swiftly as the huge amount of plums we gathered last week did.IMG_20130906_175944

Last year I made damson gin and also a lovely damson, cardamon and vanilla jam recipe from Alys Fowler’s book. Opened the last jar for my toast this morning to help me decide what to do with this year’s damsons, but realistically there is…

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Mixed successes in avoiding plastic – Plastic Free July.

So, since starting out with plastic free July I really haven’t had time to sit and write – instead I have been sharing some pictures of some of my plastic free efforts over on Instagram which is easier to do as I go along. Do pop over and have a look.

My 2 initial pledges were to replace plastic wrapped snacks such as crisps, and to find a local milk delivery in glass bottles.

Well, so far so good.  We had our first glass bottle milk delivery last Monday.  There is no denying that it is considerably more expensive than plastic bottled supermarket milk, but the additional cost is more than offset by the saving we have made since we swapped from individual plastic bottles of fizzy water to a Soda Stream back in September.  And it somehow seems really nice to open the fridge and see a couple of glass bottles with nice green foil lids.  Plus, we are supporting a local dairy.

Finding a feasible regular alternative to crisps and other plastic wrapped snacks has been a little harder, although I have managed not to buy any more once I finished off the couple of bags in the cupboard already.  In the first week I was really enthusiastic and made flatbreads, cut into triangles and baked with cajun spices and  popcorn – seasoned with a little melted butter, salt and plenty of black pepper.  In the second week I managed to buy cashew nuts loose (into a reused plastic bag – most suitable thing I could manage to find) to last me the couple of days in the office.  But I can only buy them near my work, not near my home which means my half hour lunch break was pretty much taken up with getting these.  In the 3rd week, things were getting really busy at work so I didn’t have a chance to buy nuts.  I baked some cake at home but then had no time or energy to make savoury snacks too so ended up taking along the spare crusts cut off son’s sandwiches as an extra filler – it did stop me being hungry but was a bit dull as snacks go.  I had one go at making my own crisps but managed to burn them and even the burnt ones were soft rather than crispy by the time I wanted them at work the next day – so I clearly need to practice this!

I haven’t asked the rest of the family to join in with giving up crisps etc but my son did enjoy popcorn in his packed lunch a few times instead of usual crisps.  Another week I gave him tortilla chips from a larger bag for less pro-rata plastic but he got bored with that after a couple of days and didn’t eat them.

At the start my husband forgot and bought home plastic wrapped chocolate a few times – but now he is remembering to look for the card or paper packaged ones which are fairly easy to find.

Looking back at the instagram pictures has helped me see how many plastic free things I have managed including:

  • Switching to glass bottled milk
  • Washing my hair with gram flour and vinegar
  • Using lemon balm from the garden to substitute some cups of tea, and drying some to use later on
  • Making yoghurt in my Wonderbag
  • Accidentally making granola – started out trying to make some raw energy bites ( oats, honey dried fruit and seeds) but I just couldn’t get them to stick together so baked the crumbly mess instead and it tasted great.
  • Making sweet and savoury popcorn ( the kernels were in a plastic bag but makes lots of portions) – my favourite is to coat in a little melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Making flatbreads, and baking some into “tortilla chips” seasoned with Low Salt Cajun Spice Mix
  • Buying a lovely bar soap in a card box
  • Buying fruit and veg from the market in my own cloth bags, as usual
  • Buying coca cola – which we buy quite rarely – in glass bottles
  • Only buying paper wrapped chocolate
  • Buying loose nuts
  • Finding that a local shop sells recycled toilet roll in compostable packaging – with no plastic!

I’m quite pleased with that and although I am not going to promise never to eat shop bought crisps, I will be making some of these changes on a more regular/permanent basis.  Next I am going to try loose tea to avoid the plastic in the bags.  I already buy our coffee this way and the same shop sells loose tea so will be trying that this afternoon.

When I wrote this last week we were about to go off to a festival which I suspected would rather ruin my plastic free efforts – more about that in another post as this one’s getting rather lengthy.

Rhubarb Bread Crust and Butter Pudding

It was only recently when we were trying out a bokashi bin to allow us to compost cooked food waste that I truly realised how many bread crusts we were throwing away, and how much of the bread was still attached to that crust.  It is such a waste to throw it away, and feels even more so when the bread is homemade.  From time to time I would cut off the crusts to use for breadcrumbs for example but we don’t use those a great deal so I just kept hoping that my son would eventually start eating them if I left them on.

Anyhow, I have now resigned myself to the fact that it is much lest wasteful if I just cut off the crusts beforehand.  Now I have almost a whole shelf in the freezer full of breadcrusts so had to come up with something to use them for.  I have been blitzing some up with cheese to make a crispy topping for lasagne and other pasta bakes, and found a recipe for brushing the crusts with butter, sprinkling with cinammon and sugar and baking until crispy which was a great success – my son and his friend polished that lot off pretty quickly.

We also have a lot of rhubarb so I wanted to come up with a dessert to make use of some of that as well as incorporating the bread crusts.  So here it is – bread and butter pudding (although this recipe doesn’t actually include butter but is not like British bread pudding) made with bread crusts and rhubarb.

Ingredients:

  • Rhubarb ( approx 3 stalks)
  • Bread crusts (equivalent to approx 4 slices of bread – you could of course use slices of bread instead)
  • 1tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • Approx 500ml milk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla essence
  • Ginger and cinammon to taste.

Method:

  • Wash and chop the rhubarb and place it with the sugar into a glass jug or  microwaveable bowl – microwave for a minute or 2 until it starts to soften.
  • Spread out the bread crusts and cooked rhubarb in a shallow dish. Add some ginger to taste (this can be fresh, ground, crystallised or stem ginger – I used crystallised ginger which I chopped up and scattered amongst the bread and rhubarb)
  • Mix together the milk, eggs and vanilla essence.
  • Pour over the bread and rhubarb and leave for at least 10 minutes to soak in ( in my efforts to use them up I had used rather more bread crusts than I should and it all soaked in pretty quickly).
  • Sprinkle with cinammon or additional brown sugar to taste.
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Before baking
  • Bake at 180 degrees C for 30-40 mins until set and golden.
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Fresh from the oven
  • Serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

I made enough to last us 2 days and I would say it was actually better cold on the second day served with vanilla ice cream – I guess the flavours had more time to mingle.

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Served cold with ice cream

 

I’d love to hear your ideas for using up bread.

 

A Day at the Spa

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Champneys flip flops

Last week we finally got around to going to a spa for a rhasul steam temple couple’s experience my husband had bought as a “zero waste” experience Christmas gift, influenced by my efforts at natural cleaning/haircare.

So, how zero waste did it turn out to be?

We arrived early at Henlow Grange Champneys Spa.  I’d been anxious to set off early  – it’s a 45 min drive away along a busy route and we had been given a 9am start time which I had (incorrectly it turned out) presumed was the time of our rhasul treatment .  This meant we were the first there for the day.  We were welcomed with an information pack in a resealable plastic wallet (which was practical for keeping the information dry) and shown through to a lounge where there was unexpectedly some breakfast and a juice (in a glass but with a plastic straw in already).

Someone came through to explain everything to us – really helpful as it was our first time there.  I had to interrupt as they launched into the promotions on haircare treatments and beauty products ( given the rhasul clay was all I was planning on using).

Then we were shown to the spa area and given dressing gowns  (to return at the end of the day) and a pair of white plastic Champneys flip flops each (in a sealed plastic bag) – ours to keep at the end of the day.

Our treatment wasn’t actually until midday so we had plenty of time to use the pool, steam room, sauna etc until then.  There were plenty of water dispensers around to keep drinking after the sauna etc but I hadn’t thought to bring a water bottle along with me – there were disposable plastic cups, individually wrapped in plastic – so the best I could manage was to pop the cup into the pocket of my robe so I could reuse it for the duration.  There was also a gym, and a range of exercise classes we could have attended during our day although as we were there to relax we focussed on the pool.

We visited the cafe and I ordered a Green Goddess smoothie – a mix of broccoli, spinach, mango, pineapple, banana and apple juice.  I know – a broccoli smoothie sounds a bit weird – but it tasted really good.  However, I was disappointed to see the smoothie was in an individually plastic bagged portion from the freezer – I really should have learnt this about ordering smoothies out by now.  I did manage to stop the plastic straw going into the glass though, and tried to explain that I was trying to avoid single use plastics.  I obviously didn’t explain it properly as the waiter then offered to get me a plastic glass to pour it into!

Anyway, on to the main event, the rhasul clay steam temple.  I had been looking forward to trying this, in particular to trying the clay as a shampoo alternative.  I had been saving washing my hair until this so was a bit concerned when it wasn’t until the end of the morning but my hair already felt pretty cleansed by the time I had used the steam room a few times.  The staff member who explained the process to us had never heard of using clay to wash your hair but happily gave me a bit extra so I could try ( you otherwise get a small bowl containing 2 different clays for face and body).  What we weren’t expecting, having come prepared in our swimwear, was to be told to strip off and just wear some very skimpy paper knickers!  Suddenly I was very glad we had exclusive use of the steam temple.  The steam temple is a hot steam filled room with low lighting (lights twinkling like stars in the roof) and gentle music, with Moroccan decor.  You cover yourselves with clay and then relax as the steam cleans you – at least it was relaxing until I managed to drip the clay into my eyes while using it on my hair and then wiped red clay all over the white towels and the white robe I needed to wear for the rest of the day.  The attendant did come in to provide fresh water for us to drink a couple of times during the 45 minutes which I suspect meant I ended up using a few more plastic cups.  Towards the end of the time warm water pours down from the ceiling to rinse the clay away (there was also a shower hose I used to rinse my hair).

I then headed off into the changing room showers to do a vinegar rinse on my hair – needed to balance the PH of the clay, before we headed off for a buffet lunch and a coffee.

All in all it was a really enjoyable relaxing day, particularly as son was away on a residential school trip meaning we didn’t need to rush back for the end of school.

In terms of waste, it wasn’t too bad overall but there clearly were a few things that could be avoided were we to go again, which we hadn’t thought of this time.  Definitely take along a water bottle (they were trying to sell their own plastic branded ones).  You may be able to take your own flip flops as well as we did see some people wearing different types.  I think I will be inclined to avoid smoothies now unless they are clearly freshly prepared (as they seem to do in Wagamama) rather than frozen.  And I guess we could have refused the paper pants and stuck with our swimwear.

The clay cleaned my hair well and gave it a lot of volume, although I did find the texture rather strange and dry for a few days.  It’s now 9 days later and I have only used one vinegar rinse on my hair since and it still feels pretty good so the clay is something I might well add into my hair routine as an occasional alternative to the soapnuts I have been using lately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plastic Free July – starting out

So , you may or may not have already heard about plastic free July.   Although I had heard it mentioned over the last few months, I was reluctant to sign up – we have already reduced our waste, including plastic, a lot over the last year, but we are still very far from plastic free.  Totally plastic free just sounded a little too scary.  So I was relieved to see a post on Facebook referring to it being about the plastic you manage to avoid, not what you still use.  That was just the bit of wriggle room I needed to get on board!

There is lots of information about plastic free July, and plastic free living in general over at plastic is rubbish. 

We have already made changes to significantly reduce our plastic waste, some in the last year, others for longer.   I have described some of these in previous posts including:

Waste and money saving since Zero Waste Week

Giving up Shampoo

Reducing waste in the bathroom

Now I need to think about what new swaps I can make for plastic free July, in the hope of getting the level of waste in our recycling bin down to the small level we now have in our landfill bin (thanks to our local authority taking almost all food packaging for recycling).

My initial tasks to reduce my own use of plastic here are to:

  • Find plastic free alternatives to crisps/savoury snacks to help me avoid these for the month..
  • Investigate local options for milk delivery ( we have used local milkman in the past but it was in plastic and they foten struggled to provide organic so more research needed here to see if there are alternatives).

If you are joining this challenge, I’d love to hear about any great plastic free finds.

I’ll be getting to grips with Instagram to share some of my plastic free swaps as I go along (@busygreenmum) as well as via the Twitter and Facebook links you can find at the top of the page.

 

 

 

Wardrobe Revamp – Preloved Style

Since I wrote about not needing any more clothes No new clothes – learning to love the clothes I have and realising I actually don’t need more., and successfully extended my challenge to not acquire any new or new to me clothing from an initial 4 month period to 10 months, I have really fallen off the wagon when it come to clothes shopping.  Over the last 6 weeks I have acquired, I think, 3 new dresses, 3 new tops, a scarf and a necklace .

But do you know, I don’t feel guilty about it at all – all my recent acquisitions have been pre-owned and purchased in aid of charity, at a friend’s fantastic clothes swap party and the local Oxfam Shop.    These are great ways of having a bit of a wardrobe makeover without breaking the bank, and in a more sustainable way than buying cheap new fast fashion. And this is pretty much all I have bought over the past year.

Buying pre-loved is an easy way to be part of a circular economy, prolonging the life of items and preventing (or at the very least delaying) them ending up in landfill.  My new clothes were all acquired without a need for more resources going into clothes production, and in turn many of the items I no longer wanted were passed on to new owners.

Swishing Party (Clothes Swap)

This has to be my favourite way of looking for some new clothes. Even though I didn’t end up with quite what I wanted this time, it was a great social event.

A friend kindly opened her house to host a swishing party which was really well attended.  I had a bit of a wardrobe rummage and managed to come up with 2 coats, 2 skirts, 4 pairs of trousers, 1 pair of shorts, 1 cardigan, 1 blouse, 2 hats, 2 necklaces, 2 belts and 1 handbag to take along.  Wow, that’s 18 things I had in my wardrobe that I didn’t need or want!  And that’s not counting the ones I couldn’t quite decide about, some of which went later.  I hoped to come home with a dress, ideally a shirt dress.

Clothes swap parties work in a number of ways but for this one, there was a £5 entry fee with clothes sold at a flat rate of 50p per item.  I also took along a bottle of Cava for the raffle and some Prosecco for the evening.  All proceeds were donated to the Red Cross.

As you can see from the poorly focussed pictures above (and I was only on my first glass of prosecco at that point), everyone had managed to turn out a lot of things from their wardrobes, so there was plenty of rummaging to be done, with clothes and bags spread across several rooms in the house and bedrooms serving as shared changing rooms.  Some people knew each other, others didn’t, but trying on clothes together is a great way of breaking down any barriers and we were soon trying things and passing them around between us to see who they suited and fitted best.  A few glasses of Prosecco probably helped!  At the first round of trying things on I decided on a T shirt and was persuaded about a pair of jeans.  Remembering I’d been wishing I had a larger scarf to cover up with when I had caught the sun a week earlier I managed to find one of those too. Sadly, although there were lots of dresses, I didn’t find quite the one for me.

After much rummaging, chatting, drinking and trying on a few more things we congregated for the raffle – there were so many prizes this went on for a while and I eventually won a cute little manicure set.

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At this point in the evening the clothes rails were still bulging so, as some people were starting to leave, I suggested a second round of rummaging.  This turned up a couple of blouses, a T shirt and a necklace to add to my earlier buys.

A couple of the items did end up going straight off to the charity shop when I tried them on at home, where I am sure they got more for them than the £1 I had paid, along with a few extra items I cleared out subsequently.  In total I had spent £8 (excluding the raffle and wine) on a whole load of new things to refresh my wardrobe. And I did achieve my goal of coming home with fewer things than I had donated!

At the end of the evening I helped with the clear up and took a bag of items to the nearly new  shop in town where they earnt some additional money for the Red Cross Charity – the event raised around £350.  I would guess about 10 bin bags full of good quality leftover clothings  were also donated to a variety of charity shops around town from where they hopefully found a good new home as well as raising additional funds.

 

Dresses

Still on the hunt for a dress I popped into my local Oxfam shop and over a few weeks managed to pick up not one, but 3 lovely dresses. My wardrobe has definitely become more dress orientated over the past few years , primarily pre-loved.

The first is a Per Una dress from Marks and Spencer which cost me £6.99.  This is perfect for the office, and happens, by chance, to match perfectly the grey and green necklace I had picked up at the swishing party.

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Per Una Dress for work

My next purchase was a bit of an impulse buy , which I am trying to avoid. We were off out for a walk on my birthday and I spotted a lovely green cardigan in the shop window.  As I was still thinking about it when we walked back I popped in to have a look but sadly it had gone already.  As it was my birthday I had a bit of a rummage through the rails anyway and came up with this casual cotton dress from  Mistral which will be perfect for holidays.  I think this one was £7.99.

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Holiday Dress

I then received an invitation to a family wedding.  I wasn’t going to buy something new but having tried on a few things from my wardrobe,  nothing felt quite right, and I noticed I had put on a little weight round the thighs since a cycling injury last year  which had forced a hopefully temporary reduction in exercise. In a spare 10 mins on the way to pick son up from his town centre school I nipped into Oxfam again and found this lovely Phase Eight dress which is perfect for the occasion and also fits perfectly.  It even goes well with a grey cardigan I have already.  A top quality dress for £12.99.

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Phase Eight Dress for a family wedding

 

I admit to buying another unsuitable dress along the way from a local Facebook group for £4 which I donated to Oxfam along with a couple of old dresses replaced by my new items. and a gorgeous dress from Cancer Research UK’s ebay shop which didn’t fit so is on its way back to find a more suitable new home. You can also buy online from Oxfam

Together all these new items,  including the clothes swap and the items I donated straight on again, set me back less than £40. This is all I have spent on clothes since last July.

And the quest for a shirt dress?  Well I’m about to try dyeing one I have already to give it a new lease of life. Will see how that goes.

What is your favourite way of buying new clothes?

 

 

 

Rhubarb and Apple Jam

 

 

Rhubarb is one of the few plants that reliably turns up a bumper crop in our garden every year. It grows so well in its spot next to the compost bin that we always have way more than we know what do with, even more so since my dad split it into 4 plants a couple of years ago.  Preserving it in a jam is a great way of keeping some for later in the year (although I must admit to starting eating this straight away).   Although best made with early rhubarb you can also use larger stalks just fine.  Our rhubarb plant has been passed down through the generations so I have no idea what variety it is – it originally came from a plant in my great grandfather’s garden and as a child it came with us when we moved house.  When I first got my own place we split the plant so I could plant my own and it has since moved again with me, and a plant has been returned to dad for his allotment.

The apples and the lemon rind and juice in this recipe help it to set – if you were to leave them both out you may need to use jam sugar, which contains added pectin. If you are organised enough to have planned ahead I am sure you could use frozen diced apples which would allow you to use foraged crab apples or homegrown if you are lucky enough to have an apple tree.

Rhubarb and Apple Jam:

Ingredients:

  • 1kg rhubarb stalks, washed and trimmed, then sliced into approx 1cm chunks
  • 3 eating apples or a large cooking apple, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces
  • 1kg preserving sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1tsp ground ginger (optional)
  • 25g unsalted butter

Equipment needed:

  • Large bowl
  • Either a preserving pan or a heavy based large saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Grater or lemon zester
  • Sterilised jars – you can reuse old jam jars. This recipe will probably make about 4-6  jars depending on the size but have a couple more ready just in case.
  • Jam or sugar thermometer (optional) or put several saucers in the fridge or freezer (to use later to test the jam setting point).

How to sterilise the jars:

Wash your jars thoroughly in soapy water or a dishwasher and dry in an oven at 140 degrees C for at least 10 mins – then keep them warm until ready to use.  Scald the clean lids in boiling water.  You can alternatively use a sterilising solution according to the pack instructions and warm the jars after rinsing thoroughly.

 Method:

  1. Place the sliced rhubarb into a large bowl with the sugar.
  2. Use the lemon zester or grater to grate the lemon rind into the bowl. Then cut the lemon in half and squeeze in the juice.
  3. Give it all a stir. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth such as a tea towel and leave for a few hours, stirring occasionally.  You should see some juices start to come out of the rhubarb (if not you can leave it longer – some recipes say to leave overnight but I find a few hours works fine).
  4. Meanwhile wash and sterilise your jars as above.
  5. Empty your bowl of rhubarb and sugar with all the juices into your pan. Add the chopped apple and ginger (if using).
  6. Bring the mixture to a boil slowly so that the rhubarb and apple have time to soften.
  7. Then bring the mix to a rolling boil and boil until it reaches setting point ( see below), stirring frequently to prevent sticking (and because personally I prefer the rhubarb broken up rather than in big chunks in the final jam). I found this took about 25 mins but this may vary.
  8. Once your jam has reached setting point remove from the heat, stir in the butter and leave to cool down a little. You may find it has formed a skin on cooling in which case give it a quick stir before spooning carefully into your warmed jars.  Place the lids on while still warm.

 

How to test for setting point:

Using a jam thermometer – setting point should be achieved at around 104 -105 degrees C.  However you may find it difficult to test accurately if you are making a relatively small amount of jam in a large pan – I have never managed it and prefer the saucer method.    When you think the jam is approaching setting point (it will start to thicken a little), get a cold saucer from your fridge/freezer and carefully drop a little of the jam onto it.  Give it a moment to cool and then press with your finger – if ready it should wrinkle a little. If not cook for another few minutes and test again.

 

Giving up Shampoo

It has now been 7 months since I last used a commercial shampoo to wash my hair.

My experimental journey towards “no poo” as they call it, started off fairly easily.  I decided to try living without commercial shampoo shortly after I had applied a colour to my hair, which handily means I know that where the colour ends is also pretty much where the shampooed hair ends.  I had read a few blogs about it, including washing with baking soda and apple cider vinegar either long term or as a transition to using water only,  and washing with honey (at blog High Heels and Training Wheels ), and as the honey method seemed to be popular with curly hair and suitable for use with hard water (ours is really, really hard) I decided to start with this method, with the ultimate aim of getting to water only washing. I also liked the fact that I know exactly what the honey is and where it comes from (within my small town), unlike many of the shampoo ingredients.

It started off really well.  I began by spacing out my conventional washes from approx 3 times a week to once a week, washing with just water once or twice in between.  I did this for a few weeks until I had used up a bottle of Bodyshop Rainforest shampoo that had been hanging around for a while (this shampoo contains no sulfates, silicones or parabens).  Then  I switched to a dilute mix of honey and boiled water to wash my hair (approx 1tbsp local honey dissolved in about 3 times the amount of warm water and left to cool) once a week.  And it seemed to work pretty well.  Initially I continued with a water only wash once in between.

I joined an international Facebook group of people living without shampoo and learnt so much more. They have a whole host of files with more information and shampoo recipes here , where you can find out more about most of the methods I mention.  I learnt to expect that my hair might feel waxy to start with as the silicones are gradually removed (although I was using a natural shampoo my curl serum did contain silicones), and that apple sauce could be used as a treatment.  I learnt that hard water can be a challenge, and can also cause waxiness.  I also learnt that tea or coffee can be used as a rinse between washes so gave both of these a try, along with rosehip tea, and lemon and ginger tea as I had these already.

I began my no poo journey towards the end of October.  By Christmas I was still washing with honey and water once a week but was finding the waxiness beginning to build up (which unexpectedly gave my hair loads of volume so didn’t look at all bad but felt pretty yucky).  So I tried an apple sauce hair mask.  Basically I chopped up a cooking apple and microwaved it until soft enough to mash up really well with a fork (generally advised to use a blender although I didn’t bother) .  Once it had cooled enough to not burn me but was still warm I spread it all over my hair and covered with a shower cap.  I rinsed it out thoroughly after about half an hour and hey presto, clean hair (if much flatter than with the wax).  Around this time (can’t recall if before or after) I also tried an egg wash which was also pretty effective – an egg mixed with an equal amount of cold water (hot water will cook the egg!), and applied to the hair (in the shower or over a sink as it will drip everywhere) then rinsed off after about 10 mins, again with cool water to avoid cooking the egg.   Due to the protein content this is generally not recommended more than once a month but it depends on your particular hair needs.  After new year I also tried a beer rinse as we had an open can left over – my hair loved this!

After another month I used the apple sauce and egg again.  A few months into the new year I was starting to find the honey was not as effective – I think this may be  because the new hair growth was not as dry as the coloured hair – and that my hair was becoming much greasier.  At this point I tried  using  a wash of chick pea flour – 1tbsp of chick pea flour dissolved in warm water.  I added some lemon juice which my hair seems to like ( in moderation).  This was the cleanest my hair had felt yet.  Sadly the next week it didn’t work so well  – this is because it has similar protein issues to the egg.  So I went back to the honey wash, but adding lemon juice, and at one point also tried using the olive oil bar soap I use for washing (not best in hard water and needs to be followed by an acidic rinse such as diluted vinegar) when I didn’t have anything else to hand.

Anyway, 7 months and a fair bit of trial and error later, I have found a different routine which is working really well  for me.  I am now using a wash of soapnuts with added honey and lemon juice alternating with a wash of tea (currently teapigs liquorice and peppermint bags I rescued from being thrown out at work) with a capful of distilled white vinegar.   At the moment I use one of these every 6 days and in between avoid wetting my hair by wearing a shower cap when I shower (to minimise the chance of hard water build up).  Towards the end of the 6 days I might wear my hair up, and brush with a bamboo brush or boar bristle brush at bedtime.  I mainly use soapnuts I have already used for laundry to make up the soapnut shampoo but find adding a couple of new soapnuts does help to make it lather sufficiently.  I make enough around once a month to fill an old small shampoo bottle – then  I use half and then pop the bottle in the freezer to keep the rest fresh for the next wash.  Since the soapnuts contain saponins which produce a lather and also work well in hard water this method seems to work much more like a regular shampoo than some of the other methods did for me and I am quite happy my hair is getting a good clean.  I have been using soapnuts for my laundry since last September and find they clean well so perhaps it should be no surprise that they also work well on my hair.  The effectiveness of the liquorice root and peppermint tea and a little vinegar is perhaps more surprising but smells great too (mint sauce!).

I am hoping this method will continue to work for the moment, at least until I finish the large bag of soapnuts I am using for the laundry.  At that point I intend to experiment with the more local alternative of soapwort, or ideally attempt to go water only.

Along the way my son also gave up shampoo – at the same time as going from long to short hair – he just uses water and had no transition issues (he’s 9 so was ecstatic at me allowing him to not use shampoo); and I found out that my dad had already switched to water only washing a few years ago.  My husband has just decided he’s going to give it a try too so we might well soon be a shampoo free household.

Have you ever tried giving up shampoo?  How did you get on and what method did you try?

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I have also started putting together a Pinterest Board on Natural Haircare .