Plastic-Free Living: 10 Foods I Make From Scratch

Reducing plastic and living with less waste means ditching the plastic wrap and other single-use packaging, and some foods are hard to come by without packaging. Either that, or they are very expensive to buy plastic-free.

As I’ve gone down the path of waste-free living, I’ve tried making various things, mostly for these two reasons.

Some things, I have discovered, are well worth spending the extra money on to buy the package-free version and not have to make your own! Others turned out to be either so simple, so tasty, or so much less expensive to make from scratch that I really have no reason to ever go back to the pre-bought versions.

This isn’t about being a slave to your kitchen. I do enjoy making things, but I appreciate it isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, so I’ve focused on the quick, the easy and the satisfying. I’ve put together a list of foods I make that are less waste and low fuss. You’re welcome.

DIY Crackers

If there’s one thing that’s impossible to buy plastic-free or zero waste, it’s crackers! I tried making crudites (fancy word for vegetable sticks) and slicing fresh bread in place of crackers, but they lack that lovely crunch which makes crackers so desirable to eat.

I’ve tried a few different recipes. The ones that get made the most are the seed crackers. They are simple to make; all they require is soaking the seeds in water, then spreading out on a baking sheet and slowly drying in the oven. You can find the recipe here.

If already you’ve decided that this is a step too far, another super easy way to make crackers is to thinly slice a baguette, drizzle with oil and bake in the oven, turning once half way through.

These are so simple to make and require only 25 minutes in the oven, that they probably don’t even require a recipe, but here is the recipe if you’d like to see the steps.

DIY Pesto

I make pesto all the time, with whatever greens I have to hand. Basil pesto is a summer classic but in winter when the parsley, coriander and nasturtiums are growing, I use these instead.

The basic formula is garlic, two large handfuls of greens, 1/2 cup of nuts and some oil (avocado sometimes to add smoothness and thicken, and nutritional yeast for cheesy flavour if required). You can also sneak in wilted salad leaves to reduce waste.

A blender is ideal, a herb chopper will also work and so will a pestle and mortar. Most pesto will keep in the fridge for at least a week, and it freezes really well. Four zero waste pesto recipes here.

DIY Dips (Hummus, etc)

Have you ever noticed that the more natural ingredients (and therefore ‘fancy’) a store-bought dip is, the more packaging is included? There’s the tub, the foil lid, the plastic lid to go over the foil lid, the cardboard sleeve and then the tray it’s displayed on in store.

Rather than pay for all that packaging, I make my own. They taste much better anyway. I mostly use a food processor, but you can also use the herb chopper attachment with a stick blender, a stick blender itself if you’re making large quantities, a pestle and mortar if you don’t have gadgets, and even a fork if you like a more textured dip (I always use a fork when making guacamole).

My staple dip is hummus (you can find the recipe here). If I’m being fancy (well, if I need to use up old veg and want to disguise them in something tasty) I’ll add beetroot (raw or cooked) to the mix, or roasted sweet potato. When fresh broad beans are in season I use those in place of chickpeas, without the tahini and a lot more lemon juice.

DIY Legumes (beans, pulses, lentils)

I don’t buy chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils or any other legume in a tin, I make my own by cooking the dried beans.

Lentils are really easy because they just need a quick wash and then can be thrown into soups, stews, dahls as is, and will cook in the pan.

Beans and chickpeas need soaking first. They all vary slightly but the longer the better. If you change the water every 8 hours you can keep them soaking for days (they won’t go bad, but eventually they will sprout!) and you can pop the still-soaking beans in the fridge to bide some extra time before you’re ready to cook them.

I soak my chickpeas for a couple of days, then boil in water for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. (If you have a pressure cooker you can reduce the cooking time to minutes).

They store really well, in the fridge for at least a week, or you can store in glass jars (just chickpeas, no liquid) in the freezer. They fit really well in my freezer door.

DIY Sprouts

I’m counting these as ‘making’ and not ‘growing’: soak most seeds and smaller lentils and beans (chickpeas also work) and they will sprout a root, making beansprouts.

They don’t look the same as the ones you buy in the store: they are not as elongated (expect a length 1-2 times the length of the original seed/lentil) but they are so much tastier.

You don’t need any equipment for this, just a glass jar (or a colander if you want to make heaps). Soak and drain the sprouts but keep moist, cover jar with cloth or colander with a plate, rinse and drain morning and evening. In 2-7 days you’ll have sprouts (depending on the lentil/seed type – mung beans are very quick, and you’ll need a week for chickpeas). Full instructions here.

DIY Apple Cider Vinegar

This is one of my favourite things to make because it ticks all the boxes: it is low effort and super simple and it can be made for (almost) free! Bought apple cider vinegar , on the other hand, is expensive.

All you need is some apple cores, stems and peels (you can use whole apples, but I prefer to eat the actual apple and just use the waste bits), some water and a spoonful of sugar, all mixed together in a glass jar. The natural yeast in the apple will ferment the sugar first to alcohol (you’ll smell cider) and then to vinegar (which is what happens when alcohol is exposed to air).

It takes about a week to finish fermenting, and only requires the occasional stir during this time. Stores for months. Recipe here.

DIY Nut Milk

Nut milks (and their cousins seed milks) are really easy to make from scratch. Soak 1 cup of nuts (or seeds) overnight, then rinse and blend with 4-5 cups water. If you have a cheap blender, add the water one up at a time rather than all at once for a smoother result.

With some nuts, like almonds, you might like to strain (I use cheesecloth) because there is a lot of pulp. Other nuts like cashews don’t need straining at all.

Cashew milk is one of my favourites as it also lasts well, around 7-10 days in the fridge. Homemade almond milk lasts 3-4 days. Recipes for cashew and almond milk here.

DIY Nut Butter

An easy thing to make and a great way to avoid palm oil, added sugar and salt and of course, packaging. Peanut butter is the one we always think of but you can make any type of nut butter. Cashew and macadamia butter are light and sweeter, and of course, hazelnut butter pairs best with chocolate.

You’ll need a food processor or a high power blender (most blenders are designed for liquids, not solids). Roasted nuts blend much more quickly and easily than raw ones (and taste better, generally). It will take about 5 minutes to make your own. Full nut butter instructions here.

DIY Stock

Rather than buying stock powder, I make my own using vegetable scraps. I save onion peels, leek tips, garlic skins and any other bits I don’t eat (except kale stalks, I did that once and never again), filling a jar in the freezer a I go until it’s full.

If I peeled carrots and potatoes I’d save these scraps too, but I prefer not to peel and eat the scraps as they come!

Then, I boil the scraps in a pan of water for an hour with some bay leaves, strain off the scraps, cool down and freeze in a wide-neck jar or ice cube molds, and use as I need.

DIY Frozen Sweetcorn

Before I went plastic-free, I’d buy bags of frozen sweetcorn. I’ve never liked the canned stuff, so I didn’t want to switch to that, but I like the ease of having it in the frezzer. So I make my own.

I buy fresh corn cobs, boil, drain and cut the kernels off. One cob has about 150g kernels. Then I pack tightly in a glass jar and freeze until I need. Step-by-step instructions here.

I don’t believe that the zero waste lifestyle or going plastic-free means making everything from scratch. There are a lot of things I don’t make from scratch, or only make sometimes. But when it’s quick, easy and low fuss, you save on all the single-use packaging and you get to eat the results of your creations, why wouldn’t you at least give things a try?

You may find it fun, you may wonder why you haven’t been doing this your whole life already, or you may decide it is an experience never to be repeated. But you’ll never know if you don’t try. Whatever happens, you’ll definitely have a new-found appreciation for the things you eat – whether it’s something homemade or something you’re extremely glad someone else is making so that you don’t have to.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any favourite from-scratch recipes? Are their any foods you can’t find in packaging that you’re yet to successfully DIY? How do you balance making your own with buying ready-made? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!


Is Almond Milk Bad for the Planet? (+ Some Myths Debunked)

First almond milk and other plant-based milks are lauded as a healthy alternative to regular milk; the next thing is they are being hailed as environmentally destructive. I exclusively drink nut milk at home (I make my own) and when I first starting hearing these claims, I decided to look into it a little more.

I want to live as sustainably as I can, and I also want to understand as much as I can about where my food comes from.

Articles with headlines like “Almond milk: quite good for you – very bad for the planet” and “Your Almond Habit Is Sucking California Dry“, published by reputable news sources (in this case, The Guardian and Mother Jones respectively), make it easy to see why many people think nut milk is bad for the planet.

But these articles don’t tell the whole story.

The headlines definitely don’t tell the whole story.

Sustainable choices are rarely completely black and white. There’s often compromise, or prioritizing one aspect of “green” over another.

If you stopped at the headline, you’d think that almond milk is bad for the planet. I want to go beyond the headline, to find out what reasons they give, and explore the rest of the story.

NB Statement quoted below were taken from this article by the Guardian.

The ‘Water’ Issue

The main environmental concern with almond milk seems to be the amount of water needed to grow almonds, coupled with the fact that most almond trees are grown in drought-hit California.

“It takes 1.1 gallons (4.16 litres) of water to grow one almond.” (The Guardian quoted this article, which stated where they obtained their data from: Mekonnen, M. M and Hoekstra, A. Y 2011.)

There are 92 almonds in a cup, which makes a litre of homemade almond milk. That means 1 litre of almond milk requires 384 litres of water to produce.

(Store-bought almond milk appears to have a much lower almond content, listed as around 2% of the total. Most brands do not list the number of almonds used per litre, but it is thought to be much less than homemade nut milks.)

“This isn’t to say cow’s milk, which takes about 100 litres of water to produce 100ml of milk, is more environmentally friendly”. (The Guardian quoted 250ml as requiring 255 litres; this source contains the research data.)

A litre of cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce.

Almond milk requires 384 litres of water per litre, and cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce, which is 2.5x more water. Almond milk is less water intensive than dairy milk.

 Environmental Impacts: the ‘Cows Versus Trees’ Issue

It is very frustrating when environmental impacts are measured on one factor alone. For many companies, using plastic is considered a more environmentally friendly option than using paper or glass, as it has a lower carbon footprint and is cheaper to transport. But when you take into account reuse-ability, recycle-ability and nenew-ability, it is a different picture.

Talking about the environmental impact of almonds based solely on water usage is only part of the story. What about the fact that almonds grow on trees, which stabilise soil, add oxygen to the atmosphere and decrease soil erosion?

Compare this with dairy cows, which are big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (methane), require huge swathes of land to produce feed, and contribute to soil erosion and waterways pollution.

Animal welfare and ethical issues aside, growing trees seems the more environmental choice over raising cows.

The ‘Location’ Issue

Almonds seem to be targeted because they are grown in California, which has been hit by drought in recent years.

“More than 80% of the world’s almond crop is grown in California.”

This means 20% is not. Australia is the second-largest almond producer. I exclusively purchase Australian almonds as they are local to me. All produce has a printed country of origin, even products purchased in bulk stores. I purchase all my nuts from The Source Bulk Foods (they have 33 stores across Australia), as they stock Australian almonds as well as other nuts from Australia.

Almonds are also grown in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. World production is 2.9 million tonnes, and the USA produces 1.8 million tonnes. There are a million+ tonnes of almonds not grown in the USA to choose from.

For all of us living outside the USA, we have the option to purchase non-Californian almonds. However, Californian almonds are definitely more common.

If low food miles and sourcing locally grown or produced food is a priority, and almonds don’t grow close to where you live, almonds might not be the best choice for you.

“Its production is not concentrated in one area of the globe.” Meaning that whilst dairy milk is produced globally, almond production is concentrated in California.

Does distribution even matter? Or is it more about scale?

In 2014 California produced 2.14 billion pounds of almonds. In the same year California produced 42.3 billion pounds of milk. Regardless of worldwide production distribution, California produces more milk than almonds, and milk has a greater water footprint than almonds.

When the water used to produce Californian almonds is dwarfed by the water used to produce Californian dairy products, it seems a little misleading to claim that it is almonds that are “sucking California dry.”

They may not be blameless, but they seem to get more blame than they deserve.

The ‘Scapegoat’ Issue

California might have a lot of almond trees, but it’s an agricultural powerhouse, growing more than 200 crop varieties including almost all of America’s apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in the US production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries.

California also produces huge numbers of animal products including milk, beef cattle, eggs, sheep, turkeys, hogs and horses.

Dairy and livestock are considered far more water intensive than vegetable crops. Almonds use similar water to other nut trees (and 99% of America’s walnuts are also grown in California). “Fresh” crops like lettuce and broccoli not only need large quantities of water to produce, they need to be refrigerated and are often air-freighted to their destination.

Why do almonds get a bad rap, whilst all the banana bread bakers adding Californian walnuts to their loaves get not a single talking-to?

I wonder if it is because almond-milk drinkers are seen as trendy hipsters. I wonder if people are trying to make it into a “class” issue (if almond milk is seen as middle-class). I wonder if it is because the dairy industry has a lot of money to push towards fighting the growing nut milk industry and the potential decline of dairy milk sales.

I can make my guesses, but I can’t know for sure. I do think that almonds (and almond-milk drinkers) are unfairly targeted. The issues go much deeper.

The ‘Packaging’ Issue

It is not the growing of almonds that is so bad for the planet. It is the mass manufacture of almond milk and the global shipping to stores worldwide that is having a negative environmental impact.

Shipping water all around the globe is crazy. Most of us wouldn’t dream of buying bottled water (assuming we have drinkable water coming from the tap), but carton nut milk is 98% water. It is virtually the same thing!

Then there’s the containers. Nut milk is usually packaged in Tetra Paks, and these aren’t as easily recycled as their manufacturers would like us to think they are. Theoretically recycable is not the same as actually recycled in our town/municipality/state.

Recycable or not, they are designed to be used once only and not refilled.

Buying carton nut milk, especially one that has been manufactured overseas, is not an environmentally sound choice. From a transport (and energy) perspective, dairy milk has a lesser impact as demand is typically for fresh milk, so it is sold locally.

The great news is, it is really easy to make your own almond and other plant-based milks. I typcially make my own cashew milk and almond milk, but you can use any type of nuts. I’ve made macadamia milk, walnut milk, and brazil nut milk. I’ve even made seed milks! Experiment, and find your favourite.

Yes, seed milk is a “thing”. And they are surprisingly delicious! This one is my favourite, pumpkin seed milk.

What is the Most Environmentally Sustainable Milk Option?

At it’s heart, I don’t think this is about almonds. Or dairy cows.

The real issue here is industrial agriculture in a fragile, sensitive environment, and pursuing profit at the expense of the planet.

If you can, support local farmers, and buy products produced in your local area – or as close to your local area as possible. If you choose to drink nut milk, consider buying nuts and making your own. Oat milk is another (nut free) option.

If you’d rather buy packaged plant milk, look for one that has been manufactured locally (even if the ingredients are from overseas). Coconuts require far less water than other nuts, and grow in climates where rain is plentiful.

Of course, we could refuse milk entirely, dairy, almond or otherwise. We could drink black coffee. We could just drink water, which we harvested from the roof in our rainwater tank. We could… but will we? There’s the perfect world, and then there’s the real world – the one we live in.

I think it’s important to ask questions, and to try to understand where our food comes from. I think it’s valuable to understand why we make the choices we do. Sometimes our choices are less than ideal. It isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying to do the best we can.

How to Make (Scrappy) Apple Cider Vinegar from Scratch

I love knowing how stuff works. Even though I can buy apple cider vinegar  from bulk stores locally, I want to know how to make my own. Not because I’m a glutton for punishment who wants to make everything from scratch ‘just because’. I think its important to understand where our food comes from and how its made. Making actual food out of “waste” food appeals to my love of avoiding waste. Plus of course, my inner chemist likes to play with her food.

Once I know how to make something, then I decide whether it’s worth the effort involved to keep on doing it, and how easy/affordable it is to buy. I don’t have time to make everything. I buy my pasta, and laundry powder. I make pesto and crackers and peanut butter.

Apple scraps/cider vinegar is such an easy and low effort thing to make that there’s just no reason not to.

Apple cider vinegar is made from the apple pulp left from making cider, which uses whole apples. Apple scraps vinegar is pretty much the same thing, but only uses the cores and skin of apples rather than the whole thing. The end product is pretty much the same.

Unless you’re making cider, I wouldn’t recommend using whole apples to make apple cider/scraps vinegar. It works just as well with the cores and peels, and you can use those apples for something else delicious. Making apple cider/scraps vinegar from the waste bits is much more satisfying!

I’ve made apple scraps vinegar a couple of ways, and I’ve included both methods below. One uses the cores and peels only, and the second uses the leftover pulp from juicing apples.

Frozen apple cores ready to go, and a previous batch of finished apple scraps vinegar.

 Apple Scrap Vinegar from Apple Scraps

Although I’ve given you quantities, they don’t really matter all that much. More apples will work more quickly, and make a darker vinegar than less, but don’t sweat it if you have different amounts. Try and see!

A couple of pointers before we start:

  • If you don’t eat a lot of apples, pop the cores (and peels, if you like to peel your apples) in a jar in the freezer, and wait until you fill the jar.
  • The sugar is to kick-start the fermenting process so don’t leave it out! 1 tbsp is adequate but I find it works faster with 2 tbsp. Honey should also work if you’d like a more natural alternative to sugar but I haven’t tried it.

Ingredients:

Apple peels and/or cores from 6-8 large apples (around 300g)
1.5 litres water (rainwater or filtered water if possible)
2 tbsp sugar

Method:

Part 1:

Pop the apple cores and peels in a clean glass jar with a wide neck, add the water and sugar and stir. Cover with a clean tea towel. The secret now is to keep stirring, whenever you remember. Any time you walk into the kitchen, give your jar a stir. First thing in the morning, last thing at night – stir!

You want to stir to keep it aerated, and to stop any mold growing on the surface. Fermentation works because the good bacteria/yeast/microorganisms win against the bad ones, so we need to keep conditions favourable for the good guys! With most ferments the aim is to exclude oxygen, but not this time. To make cider, the oxygen is excluded, but to make vinegar it is not.

Keep stirring your jar over a few days and start to notice how it changes. It may start to smell like cider, or like vinegar, or both. Bubbles will appear on the surface and maybe froth or scum. All of this is good! Once any trace of alcohol smell has gone, there are less bubbles,  and the apple pieces begin to settle and the vinegar will be ready for the next step.

Part 2:

Strain the contents of your jar into another clean jar (or a bottle) using a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Squeeze out the liquid from the pulp. (If you taste the pulp, you will find that it is completely flavourless.)

Now there are two options.

Option 1: Put a lid on your jar, and leave on the kitchen counter for a few days, opening the lid every day to release any pressure. If there’s any fermentation still happening, the pressure could build up and the jar might explode in your kitchen cupboard, so this is a safe option.

Option 2: If you can’t keep an eye on your vinegar, or you want a break, pop the bottle in the fridge to slow down the fermentation. I’d recommend loosening the lid so any gas can escape. It will ferment very, very slowly. When you’re ready, bring it back to room temperature to continue the fermentation.

Straining the spent apples from the vinegar. Cheesecloth is the best option but muslin or a fine sieve will also work – you’ll just end up with slightly more sediment in the vinegar.

After a week, taste your vinegar. If you find it sweet, leave on the counter to continue fermenting. Once you’re happy with the way it tastes, secure the lid and store in a dark cupboard.

Apple Cider Vinegar from Apple Juice Pulp

This is a great way to use up pulp from juicers. Unlike the first recipe, this contains all the fibre and flesh of the apples, but with the water (juice) squeezed out. This means it looks totally different – but it produces the same result.

Ingredients:

Leftover juice pulp of 6 apples (around 300g)
1.5 litres water (rainwater or filtered water if possible)
2 tbsp sugar

The apple pulp from juicing 6 small apples. Don’t worry about the brown colour, it is simply the apples oxidising.

Method:

Pop the apple pulp in a large 2 litre jar, and add the water and sugar. The pulp will expand and absorb all of the water, and will look totally crazy and you’ll be sure you’ve done it wrong. In fact, I currently don’t have photos of this because when I tried it, I was sure it was going to fail! If it looks wrong, it’s right!

Stir. As above, stir, stir, stir. When not stirring, keep covered with a tea towel. Because the pulp is so fine, it is hard to see bubbles developing, but you will notice the smell changing to cider and then vinegar. Keep stirring. After 4-5 days (longer if the room is cold) you will notice the pulp start to rise and clear liquid will be visable at the bottom of the jar. Keep stirring to push the pulp down. Because the pulp floats, it may get pushed up out of the jar if you don’t stir.

Once the pulp is consistently floating, strain the contents of the jar into another clean jar using cheesecloth (or an old tea towel).

Leave the jar on the counter with the lid loosely fastened until content with the taste, secure the lid and store in a dark cupboard.

A note about colour:

The colour will vary with each batch made, dependent on how many apples you use and how brown they are. I tend to find that using apple pulp makes a darker vinegar than using apple scraps; and that fresh apple scraps make a lighter colour vinegar than frozen apple scraps. Rather than use the colour as a guide, go by taste. You’ll be eating it, after all!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever made apple scraps vinegar? Have you ever made cider? Do you have any tips to add? Did you struggle, and what went wrong? Are there any other pantry staples that you currently buy that you’d like to make? Are there any that you make already that you’d like to share? Have you ever tried any other fermentation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet (but no, I’m not a vegan)

The food choices we make have an impact on the planet. There’s 7 billion of us, and we all need to eat, so we’re talking a huge impact. When I quit plastic in 2012, I stopped buying food products in plastic packaging, which meant processed and mass produced food. Initially I was motivated by waste, but then I began to think about how sustainable my food choices were in other ways.

I started shopping locally and buying whole foods and the environmental impact of my diet reduced as a result.

Recently I’ve started hearing more and more about choosing to go vegan to fight climate change, and “eating for the planet” and it got me thinking about my own diet and whether being vegan was the most sustainable choice for me. I’m 99% meat free and this year I committed to aiming for fish-free too. I avoid dairy.

I guess you’d describe my diet as plant-based, but I’m not a vegan. Here’s why:

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet

Plant Based Diet Not a Vegan Treading My Own Path

I love vegetables.

I mean I really truly absolutely love vegetables. They are friggin’ delicious. Give me all the vegetables any day! I love the fact they are so varied, so versatile – you can eat them boldly, or you can sneak them into anything.

I love making vegetable-based desserts (it’s far more possible – and delicious – than it sounds).

Did I always love vegetables? Not particularly. But when you step away from the supermarket and go to the Farmers’ Markets and grow your own you discover a whole other world of taste and satisfaction.

Creativity in the kitchen.

Experimenting in the kitchen is my creative outlet. I love mixing things together and trying new combinations, or new ways of doing things…and vegan cooking is a world of opportunity.

Vegan food in the 21st century is super creative, with raw desserts that rival conventional desserts, dairy style products made of nuts that are a million miles away from those processed-fake-cheese-vacuum-packed-blobs and clever ideas like making meringues from leftover chickpea brine that make my mind run overtime.

Fish and plastic in the ocean.

I stopped eating meat a long time ago, but my husband and I have always eaten fish. More and more though, when I see the reports of how much plastic is in the ocean, and in our fish, it makes it seem less appetizing.

If you’ve taken part in a beach or river clean up then you’ll know exactly what I mean! That plastic is being ingested by fish (a study showed 25% of fish contain plastic) and what that means for human health is still being researched.

Plastic aside, the other question is whether there really is sustainable seafood. There’s plenty of issues with fishing – like overfishing, using indiscriminate nets and bycatch.

I’m happier sticking with my vegetables.

Bottle Return Schemes are a pain.

Until recently, my husband still bought dairy milk for his coffee. We bought the milk in glass bottles and returned the containers. Simple – except without a car, returning the bottles was difficult, and we’d end up storing several months worth before we could return them.

Cue a cluttered kitchen and much grumbling. We did it because we cared.

Eventually he decided to switch to nut milk (we use cashew nut milk for coffee, or a blend of 50/50 almond milk:cashew milk if I make both at once). The clutter-free kitchen, the fact it is much harder to run out of cashews than milk and the general ease means he won’t be going back.

The Ethics of the Dairy Industry.

If I’m completely honest with myself, I always knew that the dairy industry wasn’t all happy cows and green grass. But I ate so much dairy (milk and cheese) and liked it so much that I never thought I’d be able to give it up – and so I didn’t think about the ethics. (There’s a term for that. It’s called cognitive dissonance.)

I didn’t want to think about it.

What changed my mind was Plastic Free July. It changed the way I shopped and the types of meals I cooked, and I started buying less dairy and experimenting with nut milks and other alternatives without really intending to.

Once I realised I really wasn’t consuming that much dairy any more, I finally opened my eyes to the dairy industry. Cows produce milk after having a calf, but the farmer doesn’t want the baby drinking the milk, he wants to sell it to us. So the calf is removed (sometimes only hours after birth) – and if it’s a male calf it will often be destroyed (and we’re talking millions per year worldwide). Mothers get no time to bond with their young.

To keep a cow producing milk she needs to give birth every year, as milk production declines over time. So 305 days after calving, she is taken off milk production to gestate another calf (she is given 60 days to rest prior), and the cycle begins again.

It’s industrial agriculture.

Cow Angelina Litvin

There’s plenty more I could say, but I’ll just say this: personally, supporting the dairy industry doesn’t make me feel good, and I don’t think (in its current form) it’s a sustainable industry in the 21st century. I try to consume as little dairy as possible, and we no longer buy dairy for home.

Out and about, it’s hard to avoid completely and we do what we can.

Why I’m not a Vegan

I’m motivated by sustainability principles.

I’m also motivated by ethics and health, but my guiding value is sustainability. Living in a city in a country with an abundance of fruit and vegetables, it’s very easy for me to choose to eat a plant-based diet.

Were I to live somewhere else where vegetables weren’t so prevalent, my diet would probably be different. I value local and seasonal over big business agriculture and industrial food systems, and that means I won’t rule out non-vegan alternatives. I’m always open to new ideas.

I still eat eggs.

It’s not possible to get B12 from a plant-based diet without eating fortified foods (mass-produced chemical laden cereal and bread? No thanks) and I’d rather get the nutrients I need from food than take supplements.

That said, I’m pretty fussy with my eggs. There is no way I’d eat a battery egg (despite being banned in the EU since 2012, they are still available to buy in Australia) and after the controversial press surrounding labelling of free-range eggs I stick to super local, organic, clearly labelled eggs – or get them from friends.

Eggs Autumn Mott

I still eat honey.

Bees are amazing, and honey is a superfood – full of nutrients and thought to be immunity-boosting. I love that it can be produced locally, whereas other minimally processed sugars like coconut sugar are imported. The other alternative? Big business sugar cane sugar with all the nutrients stripped out. No thanks.

I still buy non-vegan fabrics.

As I’ve mentioned before, my goal is to have a wardrobe comprised of almost entirely natural fibres. This means silk and wool (both no-nos for true vegans) will be a part of that. I’ve bought leather in the past but since I’ve learned more about how polluting the leather industry is and the toxic effects of chromium poisoning, I’m avoiding this until I learn more.

I’m a ‘freegan’ more than a vegan.

I’m definitely not into labels or trying to pigeon-hole myself into any kind of category, but I can’t bear waste, and this includes food waste. I’m not bothered so much with the waste of food-like substances like pre-packaged, processed junk food (well, I hate the waste of course, but I’m not gonna eat that stuff!), but if I had the choice between eating a grass-fed organic steak or watching it go in the bin and going hungry, I’d probably opt for the former. Fortunately that kind of dilemma doesn’t happen very often.

To sum up, I’d say that negotiating ethics and morals is a minefield, and there’s almost always compromise somewhere. I’m comfortable with the choices I’ve made. Eating locally produced food as much as possible, seasonal always and small-scale and independent as an ideal, a plant-based diet works for me. But no, I’m not a vegan.

Now it’s your turn to give me your thoughts on this! How would you describe your diet? Do you eat a plant-based diet? Would you call yourself a vegan? Whether yes or no, tell me your reasons! Why have you made the choices you made? Have you changed your diet due to environmental, ethical or sustainability reasons, or is food an area that you’re not willing to compromise with? Is it something you want to change in the future, but you haven’t begun yet? Does the place you live restrict the choices you make? This is such an interesting and juicy topic and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Zero Waste Strawberry Recipes (And None of Them Are Jam)

A small miracle happened. I went to the Farmers’ Market…and found plastic-free strawberries! Oh the excitement! The elation! I haven’t bought strawberries in 4 years because I won’t buy them in plastic packaging, and let’s face it, that’s sad, because seasonal freshly picked strawberries are delicious. There was just one catch. They came in the hugest box you’d ever seen. Sold as “jamming strawberries”, there must have been the equivalent of 20 punnets there. I kid you not.

Of course, at the time it seemed like a great idea. I marched home with a massive box of jamming strawberries (which means all those berries that are misshapen, blemished, slightly too ripe, and a couple that were starting to sprout furry bits). It was only then that I realised the enormity of the task ahead: washing, chopping, planning and eating these 20 punnets of strawberries before they expire! As we all know, fresh strawberries do not last long!

Luckily for me I like a challenge, especially one that involves food. After spending a weekend with these strawberries, I have some great ideas for how to use up a glut of strawberries…without making jam.

First Things First: Freezing Strawberries Successfully

Strawberries actually freeze very well. I wouldn’t trust them not to be mushy when defrosted, but they are perfect for adding to smoothies or using in baking. The trick is not to chuck them all together in a bowl, or you’ll be left with a giant frozen mass that can’t be separated. Instead, after washing, chop into quarters and lay out on a baking sheet lined with a tea towel. Pop into the freezer for a few hours. Remove when frozen, pop into a container with a lid (I use a glass Pyrex container but a glass jar would work too) and keep in the freezer until needed.

Preparing Strawberries for the Freezer

How to prepare and freeze strawberries

Strawberry Sorbet (Contains raw egg)

Ingredients:

400g strawberries, chopped and frozen
200g ice
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 egg white
50g icing (superfine) sugar

Method:

You will need a high-powered blender or food processor for best results.

Blend ice, frozen strawberries lemon juice and icing sugar together until smooth. The smoother it is, the less ice crystals will remain – however the longer you blend, the more it will heat up (and melt). If your blender is struggling, pop the jug into the freezer to cool and resume once refrozen.

For best results, use a whisk attachment for this. Add egg white and whisk for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Eat straightaway. You can freeze leftovers in a glass container however remember that this sorbet contains raw egg, so it’s best not to defrost and refreeze.

Strawberry Sorbet

All light and fluffy!

Strawberry Sorbet in a bowl

Dairy-free strawberry sorbet (contains raw egg)

Strawberry Sorbet (Vegan)

Ingredients:

400g strawberries, chopped and frozen
200g ice
1 cup aquafaba (liquid left over after cooking chickpeas)
50g icing (fine) sugar

Method:

You will need a high-powered blender or food processor for best results. Blend the frozen strawberries and ice until grainy, and add the sugar. Blend to combine. In a separate container whisk the aquafaba for several minutes until soft peaks form. Using a whisk attachment with your blender, add the aquafaba slowly to the mix and beat for 2 minutes until fluffy.

Eat straightaway, and store leftovers in a glass container in the freezer.

Strawberry Aquafaba Vegan strawberry sorbet icecream

Aquafaba (water drained from cooked chickpeas) can make sorbet fluffy too!

Vegan Strawberry Sorbet Aquafaba

Dairy-free vegan sorbet.

Strawberries on Toast

This was conjured up out of desperation, but actually, it was such a hit that I feel it could become a summer regular. It’s not just me that thinks so either; it’s been one of my most popular pictures on Instagram!

Method:

Quarter equal numbers of strawberries and cherry or baby plum (grape) tomatoes. Mash some avocado onto sourdough or other good quality bread or toast, squeeze some lemon juice on the avocado and add chopped fresh herbs if you have them(coriander or parsley would both work well).  Top with strawberries and tomatoes and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Strawberries on Toast

Strawberries on toast. Trust me, it works!

Strawberry Smoothie

I don’t think smoothies should be dictated, they are more about using what you have on hand. I find almond milk a great base for smoothies, and it’s really simple to make your own.

For the almond milk: soak 1 cup raw almonds overnight. Rinse and blend with 4 cups water in a high powered blender for 2 minutes. Strain using cheesecloth (you can freeze the pulp).

For the smoothie: Blend 1 cup almond milk, 1 cup strawberries, a handful of hemp seeds and a handful of blueberries together until smooth. Add sweetener to taste.

Strawberry Blueberry Hemp Almond Milk Smoothie

Strawberry smoothie. In a jam jar. Just because.

Strawberry Oat Bake

Ingredients:

165g strawberries
35g coconut oil
25g cacao butter (if you don’t have this, substitute for more coconut oil)
2 tbsp macadamia or other vegetable oil
75g honey or other sugar
220g oats
55g almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

Blend the strawberries with the vanilla essence until smooth and set aside. Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a pan, add the sugar and mix until combined. Stir in oats, ground almonds and lemon zest. Mix until coated.

In a square tin (I used a loaf tin but a square tin would work much better) spread out half the oat mix, and press down with the back of a spoon. Add the strawberry mix and spread over the oats. Top with the final layer of oats. (If you have them, add a handful of chopped nuts into the remaining oats or sprinkle on top. I didn’t do this and wish I had!)

Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes until golden on top. Leave to cool completely, then place in the fridge. Cut into squares or slices once cooled (it will be less crumbly this way).

 

Strawberry Oat Bake

Half the oat mix spread into a tin, then the strawberry mix spread on top.

Baked Strawberry Oat Slice

Strawberry oat bake.

Strawberry Oat Slice Baked

Strawberry oat bake.

Chia Strawberry Jam

I know, I know. I told you I wouldn’t include jam recipes. But this isn’t jam in the traditional sense. By traditional sense I mean adding 400kg refined white sugar to your strawberries, boiling for half a day and then storing in the pantry for all of eternity. This is fresh, it won’t keep more than a couple of days in the fridge, and it’s got all the goodness of fresh fruit. Think of it more as “strawberries that spread”.

Ingredients:

1 cup strawberries, chopped very small
2 tbsp water
2tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp maple syrup or other liquid sweetener (or more to taste)
Couple of drops of vanilla essence

Method:

This is so ridiculously simple it doesn’t really warrant a “method”. Stir all the ingredients together in a glass jar, put a lid on and leave in the fridge overnight.

Strawberry Chia Jam

Strawberry “jam”, made with chia seeds and fresh strawberries.

I had so much fun with these strawberries that I’m actually relishing the chance to buy another box and experiment some more! The strawberry season isn’t long, and seasonal produce is far more delicious than its imported cousins, so I think it’s worth indulging in the glut whilst it lasts : )

Not Quite Homesteading: My Balcony “Farm” Project

Living in England, I had a beautiful allotment, and I loved growing my own food. It gave me so much pleasure! Moving to Australia meant giving that up, and the flat we lived in for the first 2.5 years had a dark balcony and no natural light, so it was almost impossible to grow anything.

Last May we moved across the hallway to a flat with a much bigger balcony with a much better aspect, and I was determined to get some plants growing. After all, this was what I was going to see every time I looked out my living room window if I didn’t…

Concrete Balcony

The concrete balcony outside our flat (and living room window)

When we moved, the plan was to be here for about a year, and then move onto somewhere where we could actually grow our own plants. We decided to keep things in pots that we would be able to transport with us to the new place.

First up, we bought some trees. A lemon, a lime, a strawberry guava and a blueberry bush.

Balcony gardening fruit trees

A Tahitan Lime, Strawberry Guava, Blueberry bush and a Eureka Lemon tree.

Next up, we bought a couple of old wine barrels from a local winery, and four planter boxes made from old mattress parts (sold by a local company that recycle mattresses).

Drilling Wine Barrels2

Drilling holes into the wine barrels for the citrus trees.

recycled planters

Four planter boxes made from old mattress components – the trellises are made from old cot mattress springs!

We also got herbs and seeds from friends and family, and slowly planted these into the planters and other pots that we found on the verge.

Not Quite the Garden of Overflowing Produce I’d Dreamed Of…

We quickly realised that we didn’t get enough sun to grow many veggies. My early experiment with seedlings saw them grow elongated and straggly. Fortunately the planer boxes are on wheels, so I was constantly moving them about to get more sun, but from the whole first planter box, I grew two radishes and four carrots. The kale would have made it had the caterpillars not decimated it first…

Planter with seedlings

Poor straggly seedlings : ( Two radishes made it, and 4 carrots, plus there’s one kale seedling still clinging to life several months after it was planted out…

The other problem that came with the lack of warm sun and the exposed position on the corner above the driveway was that it got very cold in winter. My lime tree didn’t make it.

My peas and beans in the trellis planters never took off either, and I had a handful of beans and a couple of peas.

The odds may have been against us, but we kept on trying. And we did have some successes.

Not Quite Urban Homesteading – but it’s a Start!

When spring came this year, the trees fruited! All of them! The strawberry cherry guava (which may not actually be a strawberry guava at all but a lemon guava) has several fruits, and the first three were harvested at the weekend. The lemon tree flowered prolifically and has about 15 lemons slowly maturing on the branches. Plus my mandarin (which replaced the lime) has a sole fruit – it did have two, but the other dropped off. The blueberry has, to date, yielded 2 blueberries…

Cherry Guava

Strawberry cherry guavas… except they’re not red! The yellow colour seems to mean they are actually lemon guavas. Regardless ,they were delicious!

Lemon Tree with Lemons

My lemons are slowly ripening on the branches…

Balcony Project March 2015

Can you see the lonesome mandarin? On the tree on the far left – it’s on the right hand side. It’s still very green at the moment!

We’ve had success with the seedlings we’ve pushed against the railings. A couple of cucumbers, a single capsicum (with a second on the way), and heaps of cherry tomatoes. The aubergines have been flowering continuously, but are as yet to bear a single fruit. Still, it makes me happy that they are there, greening the place up. We’ve also got oregano and parsley, and last week I planted a mango seed that I found sprouting in the worm farm, so we’ll see what happens with him!

Aubergine plants

I have 7 aubergine plants, and despite their continual flowering, I’m yet to get a single aubergine. Ah well. I enjoy their company!

Tomato Crops 2015

Tomatoes tomatoes! I had three plants and these have gone great guns! Plus I love the pop of colour they add to the balcony.

Whilst it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to stop food shopping any time soon, the few things that we have managed to grow have given us heaps of joy. Gardening is so magical, and I never tire of the excitement of a seed sprouting, or a flower turning into fruit. I’ve probably spent far more in soil and planters than I’ll ever recoup in food, although I hope the planters last for many years, and the soil I can amend with compost and worm castings which are free. I’m excited that in 6 months time we’ll be moving to a place with a proper garden, and I’ll be able to go crazy!

Sadly Not Everyone Thinks Like Us…

My husband and I are very proud of our little corner of greenness, but sadly one of our neighbours isn’t. (He’s the neighbour that heads the Strata Board (and built the whole building), and last week we received a letter from the Strata company informing us that pot plants need to be kept out of common walkways. Whilst we consider this to be our own private space, our landlord has taken this to mean we can only have a couple of pot plants by the front door, and has threatened to issue us with a “breach of contract”.

Threaten away, landlord, because I’m not getting rid of my beautiful plants without a fight! Removing my plants will be like cutting off my arms! How can I get rid of them, when the outcome would be this?

Doom and Gloom - our Balcony with No Plants

Doom and Gloom – the view from our front window if we moved all our glorious plants…

Have you had any experience of balcony gardening? Are there any tips you’d like to share? Plants that grew well, or things that didn’t? How about strata companies…have you had anyone try to evict your plants (or you!) simply for trying to grow some tomatoes? And tell me…who’s willing to come round and chain themselves to my fruit trees if it comes to it?! ; p I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below!

5 Superfoods You Already Have in the Cupboard

Superfoods is a word that’s banded about a lot these days, and marketers have got on the bandwagon, telling us we need to be buying superfoods (complete with super-hefty price tag) for optimum health and well-being. If you’re into sustainable living, and don’t want to spend a fortune on your food budget, purchase overpackaged ingredients that increase your plastic consumption, or buy produce shipped from faraway countries, superfoods can seem like they’re an impossible ideal.

Thing is, if you know what “superfoods” actually means, and look through all the marketing hype, you’ll find it’s possible to source superfoods that are cheap, sustainable and readily available – in fact, you probably already have a few in your pantry. Not all superfoods are super-expensive air-freighted plastic-packaged portions of exotic berries, or fancy obscure powders.

The term “superfoods” means foods that are particularly nutrient-rich, and considered beneficial for our health. The sometimes outrageous health claims that accompany some of these ingredients are marketing hype, often designed to sell more or to justify the hefty price tag. Whilst these claims may or may not be true, superfoods are proven to be packed with minerals, nutrients and vitamins that our bodies need.

Disclaimer: this is for information purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Superfoods are not a substitute for professional medical care.

Five Superfoods You Probably Already Have in the Cupboard

1. Cinnamon

cinnamon pic

Cinnamon is a spice made from the bark of Cinnamomum trees, which can be found as rolls of dried bark or as a ground powder. There are two main varieties of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and Chinese (or Cassia) cinnamon.

In studies, cinnamon has been shown to control blood sugar levels, and aid people with type 2 diabetes to respond to insulin. It is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, preventing the growth of bacteria and fungi, including Candida. Cinnamon also boosts brain activity – even the smell of cinnamon improves cognitive processing! There have also been links made to prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, MS and HIV. (If you’re interested in the science, check out this link).

Cinnamon is very high in manganese, a mineral used by the body to form connective tissue, bones, blood clotting factors, and sex hormones. Manganese also plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism and calcium absorption. Cinnamon is also a very good source of calcium and an excellent source of fibre.

Serving suggestions: sprinkle some cinnamon on your porridge in the morning, add to muesli or hot chocolate, or use to spice up your baking.

2. Turmeric

turmeric pic

Turmeric is the bright yellow spice used in curries and Asian cooking. The powder is made by drying and grinding fresh turmeric, a root that looks similar to ginger on the outside, but with orange flesh inside.

Turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which is responsible for many of its health benefits. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant (antioxidants absorb free radicals which cause cell and tissue damage), which may help reduce symptoms of inflammation-based diseases such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel symptoms and and heart disease. It supports healthy liver function and is thought to aid digestion. Studies have shown curcumin having the potential to fight degenerative brain diseases and depression; in lab experiments curcumin has been shown to inhibit tumour growth.

Turmeric is high in iron, and also contains calcium. Fresh turmeric is a source of vitamin C. Black pepper aids absorption of curcumin into the bloodstream.

Serving suggestions: Add to curries and soups, or add to egg dishes such as omelettes. If you’re feeling braver, add some to your smoothie. Some health cafes serve turmeric lattes as a coffee alternative – they’re usually made with nut milks.

3. Cacao

cacao pic

Cacao needs no introduction – yes, we’re talking chocolate! Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. This is different to cocoa, which is made using roasted cacao beans and treating the powder with an alkaline solution (called Dutch processing) to produce a more mellow flavour. The processing also makes the resulting cocoa lower in nutrients, particularly antioxidants. Confusingly, the two names are sometimes interchanged, but raw cacao will always say “raw” on the label.

When the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory tested the antioxidant activity of a number of foods, measured as an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score, raw cacao was found to contain the highest antioxidant activity of any food, with a score of 95,500 per 100g. Whilst only having around a quarter of the antioxidant properties of raw cacao, roasted cacao still contained the third highest level of antioxidants of the foods tested, and more than berries such as acai, goji and blueberries.

Not only that, raw cacao has the highest concentration of iron of any plant (double the iron in spinach), and is very high in magnesium. Cacao also contains potassium, manganese and zinc, and also the “bliss chemicals” theobromine, phenethylamine (a mood enhancer) and anandamide. These are what cause the happy feeling you get when you eat chocolate!

Serving suggestions: use raw cacao powder in smoothies, desserts and baking. If buying bars of chocolate, dark is best and the higher the cocoa content the better.

4. Honey

Honey jar pic

Honey has been used by humans for millennia. Cave paintings in Spain dating to 7000BC showing beekeeping practices, and Egyptian hieroglyphs from 2400BC showing bees kept in hives.

Honey has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been found to help burn wounds to heal more quickly. In lab tests, honey has shown antibacterial activity against bacteria including E. Coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus. Honey also helps soothe coughs and sore throats.

Antibacterial quality varies between different types of honey. Manuka honey is a particularly potent anti-bacterial honey, due to the presence of methylglyoxal (MG) found in manuka flowers native to New Zealand (you can read more about manuka honey here). West Australian Jarrah honey also has high antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Generally, honey that is darker will have more antibacterial and antioxidant power. Raw unprocessed honey is considered better and more nutritious than regular honey, which has been heated and pasteurised.

Nutritionally, honey contains manganese, iron, zinc,selenium and calcium, plus B vitamins. Refined white sugar contains none of these!

Serving suggestion: anywhere in place of refined sugar! Drizzle on porridge, add to smoothies, include in salad dressings or use in baking as an alternative to sugar.

5. Oats

Oats pic

Oats are a grain that, unlike wheat, rye and barley, are naturally gluten-free. (NB Because oats are often processed in the same facilities as these other grains contamination may occur, so they are not usually considered gluten-free unless processed in a separate facility.) And yes…actually, oats are a superfood!

Oats contain more dietary fibre than any other grain. The insoluble fibre aids in digestive health, whilst the soluble fibre, beta-glucan, has cholesterol-lowering properties. Oats have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels due to the presence of tocotienols, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, relieve hypertension and to stabilise blood sugar levels.

Even when hulled, oats contain all three parts of the grain: the bran, endosperm and germ. This makes them wholegrains, meaning they retain their natural minerals and vitamins. Oats contain manganese, selenium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, molybdenum and iron, and also folate, B vitamins and vitamin K.

The other super thing about oats? They’re super cheap!

Serving suggestions: start the day with a bowl of porridge or make your own oat-based muesli, bake into cookies or cereal bars, or grind into flour. You can make oat milk by soaking oats, blending with water and straining.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to be healthy. Ordinary foods have super powers too!

A Recipe: Plant-Based Banana Chocolate Muffins (Gluten-Free)

These muffins may look plain on the outside, but there’s a decadent rich chocolatey centre hiding inconspicuously inside each one. Because chocolate makes everything better, don’t you think?!

They’re great for people with allergies, being vegan and dairy-free, paleo-friendly and gluten-free. They are also full of nutritional goodness; rather than flour and dairy they’re packed with bananas, almonds and flax seeds. Bananas are packed with potassium, magnesium and manganese, and B vitamins including B6 and folate. Almonds are a great source of magnesium, calcium and zinc (as well as many other minerals) and are also high in vitamin E. Flax seeds are super high in omega-3s, B vitamins and minerals including magnesium and selenium.

Did I mention that they’re super tasty too?

pic4 pic9 pic8 pic7 pic11

Recipe: Chocolate Surprise Banana Muffins

Makes 10 muffins.

Ingredients

3 bananas (about 300g)
1/4 cup nut milk (I use cashew nut milk – you can make it yourself; it’s super simple)
2 tbsp maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
50g macadamia oil (or other high quality flavourless oil)
175g ground almonds
30g ground flax seeds
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp chia seeds

For the chocolate filling:
30g macadamia oil
20g cacao powder
20g maple syrup

What To Do

Preheat your oven to 170ºC.

Blend bananas, maple syrup, cashew nut milk and oil together until smooth. Add the ground almonds, ground flaxseeds and baking powder and mix well.

Put the 1 tbsp chia seeds in a bowl and add 3 tbsp water, stirring well. Leave for 10 minutes or so until the chia has formed a gel.

Separate 1/4 of the cake mixure and place in a separate bowl. If you want to be accurate, use scales. Otherwise guesswork is fine! Stir the chia gel into the larger cake mix portion.

To the 1/4 mixture in the separate bowl add 20g cacao powder, 20g maple syrup and 30g oil and stir until combined.

Put a heaped dessertspoon of cake mix into 10 muffin cases. You should be left with a small amount of cake mix. Using a teaspoon, make a well in the centre of each muffin.

Divide the chocolate mix between the 10 muffins, carefully filling the well in the centre using a teaspoon.

Top each muffin with a thin layer of the remaining cake mix, using a spoon to seal the gaps. You shouldn’t be able to see any of the chocolate mix.
pic12premuffin1 premuffin2 premuffin3 premuffin4 premuffin6Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

Enjoy!

pic2

Tips:

  • I used chia seeds to help bind them together as these muffins don’t contain egg. Flax seeds and bananas are also great binders though, so if you can’t find chia seeds just leave this step out.
  • If you think the assembly sounds like too much hassle, don’t stress. Just fill the cake cases with half of the plain mix, add a spoonful of the chocolate one and then top with remaining plain mix. They might not look quite so neat but they’ll still taste amazing!

How I Quit the Supermarket

For a long time I was uneasy with shopping at the supermarket. I wanted to shop sustainably from independent producers, support local businesses, and buy ethically, yet quitting the supermarket seemed so… drastic. I wanted to divorce my supermarket. Split up with my supermarket. “That’s it! I’m leaving you!” Storm out of the door, dramatically, never to return. However much I might have wanted to, something held me back. Actually taking action seemed too overwhelming.

Yet I realised at the start of this year that I don’t really shop at supermarkets any more. As a couple, for every $100 we spend on food, we probably spend $1 in the supermarket. In the space of two years, I’ve gone from shopping there multiple times a week to maybe once a month. What happened?

I didn’t divorce my supermarket. There were no fireworks, no drama, no tears and regret. Things simply changed. We drifted apart. We had nothing in common. It was a gradual shift, so subtle that I didn’t really notice it, until one day I realised that we just weren’t doing things together any more, and I was free.

Here’s how I quit the supermarket.

The first thing was starting to buy my fruit and vegetables elsewhere. Supermarkets in Western Australia have very expensive fruit and vegetables, limited choice and almost no organic produce. I tried a few things – shopping at the local fruit and veg stores (cheaper but most produce was imported from China), before switching to Farmers Markets (more expensive but locally produced) and signing up for a weekly organic vegetable box delivery.

The second thing I did was to stop buying bread from the supermarket (it’s filled with additives, preservatives and palm oil) and start buying bread from a proper bakery. Nothing beats freshly baked bread! I also learned how to make my own sourdough, both to save money and so I could enjoy fresh bread when I needed it, rather than just on Saturdays.

Thirdly, I started shopping at bulk stores for grains, pulses, spices, nuts, and seeds. The prices here are far cheaper than the supermarkets and the choice is better. I have at least three very good stores close to me, and the more I look, the more I find.

Next, I gave up plastic. This meant not buying anything in plastic packaging. This was quite a big shift, and saw my supermarket consumption drop considerably. I found a local supplier of milk and yoghurt at the Farmers Market with products packaged in glass (and they collect empties for re-use). I also learned that is really simple to make yoghurt at home.

I discovered that it is possible to buy laundry and dishwashing liquid in bulk from the bulk bin stores by bringing my own containers. Rather than buy shampoo, conditioner and shower gel from the supermarket, I found a local artisan producer who used natural ingredients so I could avoid the chemicals found in regular brands. I now make my own deodorant and toothpaste.

You don’t need to buy expensive cleaning products from the supermarket either. Green cleaning solutions such as using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar work just as well, and are far safer than a lot of products for sale in the supermarket.

The next thing to go was switching from the supermarket service counters when buying fish, cheese and deli items. I found a local fishmongers; although the price is higher, the quality is infinitely better and the selection is amazing. We buy olives and cheese from a local deli rather than the supermarket.

From this point I was only stopping in at the local supermarket for odd bits and pieces, and the challenge now is to find alternative sources for these few things. We had a win recently with finding an alternative source for toilet paper, which was one of the last remaining supermarket staples.

Important note – this was not a quick process! It has taken me two years to get from where I was to where I am now! I started slowly and just chipped away until there was almost nothing left.

So…what is left now? There are a few things that I still go to the supermarket to buy. One is tins of coconut milk. I still can’t find an organic brand that I like, so for now, I sticking with the supermarket brand. It’s not a regular purchase though; I’ve probably bought 4 tins from the supermarket so far this year. I also bought a jar of black tahini recently as I’d read about it, wanted to try it and hadn’t seen it stocked anywhere else. Eventually I’ll find alternatives for these, too. There’s no point worrying about what is still left to achieve; it is far better to celebrate successes, and I’m pretty happy that I made it this far!

Have you thought about quitting the supermarket? Have you given it a go or do you find the whole idea of taking action a little overwhelming? Maybe you are you a pro with loads of tips to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Do you know what’s in your food? (And can you trust your supermarket?)

If we all knew what went in our food and connected with where it came from, if we all shopped locally and supported independent shops rather than the big supermarkets and if we all cooked a little more from scratch, rather than buying products in packets containing dubious ingredients, then in my mind, the world would be a better place. We’d be healthier, we’d be more connected to the seasons, our food systems would be more sustainable, and local economies would thrive.

But the problem is, supermarkets dominate the landscape, we’re short of time, and so supermarkets seem like a good option. The choices are endless. There’s a lot of “choice” on those shelves that isn’t even real food. Products made with fake ingredients, pumped with preservatives and then packaged and marketed in a way that make them look enticing, often with clever and emotive language, and of course, pictures.

Most of us don’t really stop and consider all this choice. It’s overwhelming. We put our trust in the supermarkets and the companies that sell the products lining the shelves. We let them choose for us. We don’t realise that in many cases we’re being misled. Just because something looks healthy, or comes from the “healthy” aisle, or has “natural” printed all over the box, it doesn’t mean that it is.

We don’t know what’s really in those packets because we don’t take the time to study the ingredients. Most of us don’t have the time. Even if we did, spending hours in the supermarket reading all the labels may not be our idea of fun. But filling our bodies with man-made ingredients, chemicals and preservatives isn’t much fun either, and it certainly does nothing for our health. I’ve thought of a solution. Rather than encouraging you to read all the labels next time you need to buy groceries, I thought I’d make things a little bit easier. I’m bringing the labels to you.

The Bakery Aisle

There’s nothing more ironic than the “treats” lining the bakery aisle, all fillers, preservatives,  mystery ingredients and refined sugar.

tempting temptingingredientsIngredients are always listed starting with the ingredient that there is most of, in descending order. Which means these cupcakes have more sugar and water than anything else. Yes, water. In a cupcake. By adding emulsifiers, water can be mixed with oil and stabilised. It’s a sneaky way to bulk out a product on the cheap. junk15 junk16These muffins contain more flour than sugar, and more oil than water, but they’re still making use of the emulsifiers to bulk out the product with non-ingredients. You might notice at the bottom of the label that they have been “Thawed for your convenience”. So these have been made somewhere else, cooked, frozen and transported, and then defrosted in order to sit on the shelves as a bakery product. junk20Everything about these is wrong. There’s 24 E numbers, a high water content, palm oil is a listed ingredient (demand for palm oil is causing large-scale deforestation and devastating the orangutan population) as well as thickeners, preservatives and added flavourings.

The “Health Food” Aisle

To distinguish between this junk food and all the other junk food lining the shelves elsewhere in the store, the supermarket has labelled this section “health food”.

healthaisleThere is a high proportion of gluten-free snacks, but being gluten-free doesn’t automatically qualify something to be healthy. Nor does the label “organic”.

jnk2 jnk1I tried to count the ingredients of these crackers several times, but had to give up – there’s just too many. Not to mention the brackets within brackets within brackets. Food should not be this confusing.jnk3 jnk4 Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids are synthetic (man-made) fats. They are also E numbers (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides is also called E472e). Shoppers often avoid E numbers, so manufacturers write the names of the ingredients out in full to make the product appear to be more natural.jnk5 jnk6These organic vanilla bars contain brown rice, sugar, oil and salt. In fact, they contain 5 types of sugar and 2 types of oil. And that’s pretty much it. Doing the maths, these bars are 35% rice, so they are 65% oil and sugar. Yuck. They are a great example of how organic doesn’t necessarily equal healthy.

The Drinks Chiller

Adequate breakfast solutions? Hmm…jnk7 jnk8This “chocolate-flavoured beverage” has 0.5% cocoa. That’s less than 2 grams in a 350ml drink. The four main ingredients are water, sugar, powder and oil. Because the vitamins listed do not state their whole food origin, it is extremely likely that they are synthetic. Synthetic vitamins are not absorbed by our bodies as easily as natural vitamins, and don’t behave in the same way. Synthetic B6 is actually made from petroleum. jnk9 jnk10I find these ingredients crazy. If you want to drink mocha flavoured milk for breakfast, why wouldn’t you add some coffee and a spoonful of cacoa powder to your own milk in the morning, and add some sugar if you like it sweet? Why go to the shops and pay extra for milk solids, modified starch, emulsifier, flavours, salt and artificial sweeteners?jnk11 jnk12Interestingly, this pack claims a serving size is 250ml, whereas the serving size for the chocolate milk in the previous pictures was 600ml. By making the serving sizes smaller than are probably realistic, the calories, sugar and fat content seem much smaller. One serving of this contains 21.25g of sugar. But if the serving size was comparable with the other product and was 600ml, there would be 51g of sugar per serving!

So what are the solutions?

Don’t despair! If you’ve been reading this and feeling guilty, despondent, or overwhelmed, there’s really no need; there are plenty of alternative options and choices out there. Here are just a few that I’ve found helpful.

  • Make your own at home. I don’t mean making everything from scratch, all the time, if that’s not your thing. Figure out what works for you, in terms of what you like to eat, your time and your skill level. There’s always options. If you can’t bake, and haven’t got the patience to learn, what about simple raw desserts like this one?
  • Get yourself a blender. It doesn’t need to be expensive or even new (you can pick one up from somewhere like Gumtree with minimal outlay) and you can make smoothies, milkshakes and even desserts (like this chocolate mousse) in minutes. I use mine almost every day and I wouldn’t be without it.
  • Think outside the supermarket. If you like the convenience of ready-made, look around your local area for a bakery, a deli and a butcher/fishmonger that make things from scratch and sell them fresh. My local bakery bakes their bread every morning on site. The local butcher makes ready-to-go meals daily, and the fishmonger sells chowder, sushi and marinara mix in addition to the usual fish.
  • Farmers’ markets are the perfect place to find local producers, and a great place to pick up all kinds of delicious treats. Usually you’ll get the chance to talk to the people who actually make the products so you can find out what goes into them, hear about new things they are planning to try out, and even make your own suggestions.
  • If you’re time-poor, vegetable box schemes are a great option and often deliver far more than fruit and vegetables to your door. Riverford in the UK deliver organic pies, tarts, soups and vegetable burgers as well as dairy products and pantry staples, in addition to their core business of fruit and vegetables.
  • If you really need convenience options and can’t ditch the supermarket, try the freezer aisle. Freezing food is a way of preserving it, because of this frozen foods don’t need fake ingredients and extra preservatives to prolong their shelf life. That’s not to say there isn’t some junk in this department too, but it can be a better alternative than the chilled aisles.
  • Don’t beat yourself up when you do buy and eat something rubbish, and definitely don’t give up. Just because you ate one Dunkin’ Donut, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure and doomed to eat Dunkin’ Donuts forevermore. Or that because you ate one, you may as well finish off another 11. Or because you ate one, that you’ll never be healthy/be able to quit the supermarket/be perfect etc etc. Accept that we all have moments of weakness, forgive yourself, dust yourself off, and try again.

Whilst I do think it’s important that we realise what’s in our food, that’s not to say that there’s not a place for convenience – we all have busy lives. But the better our food choices are, the better we feel – both inside and out. Choosing real food helps support farmers, growers and local businesses. Ultimately it gives us more options, better quality, and safer, healthier, more nutritious food, whilst encouraging farming and production systems that don’t deplete soils, damage the environment or harm wildlife. Who wouldn’t want that?

What do you think about convenience foods? Do you have anything you struggle with, or any great tips or things that have worked for you in avoiding junk? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!