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And so it begins…Plastic Free July!

Yep, it’s the 1st July, and that means the Plastic Free July challenge is upon us once again. Someone asked me recently how my preparations were going. Thing is, they’re not..because every day is already plastic-free for us. Whilst I still get really excited about Plastic Free July, most of that excitement is directed towards encouraging others to take up the challenge, to spread the word and support plastic-free living with ideas and suggestions  – things that have worked for us.

This will be our third Plastic Free July challenge, so I feel we know a thing or two now about ways to reduce our plastic consumption by now! I thought to celebrate the start of the challenge, I’d trawl through my blog archives and share some of the most popular plastic-free blog posts that I’ve written; things that I learned along the way that have become a way of living.

If you’re new to the challenge, that’s great! Hopefully these posts will provide some ideas to get you started. If you haven’t signed up yet, go for it! There’s no minus points for starting late!

Plastic Free July: 5 “How-To”s for Getting Started

1. How to Line Your Bin with Newspaper

One of the arguments I always hear in favour of plastic bags, is “but what will I use to line my bin with?” The answer for us was the free community paper we receive each week. After we’ve read it, we line the bin. You can find step-by-step instructions by clicking the title above.

2. Make Your Own Deodorant

This recipe is really simple, uses ingredients that you’ll find in your pantry and most importantly, it actually works!

3. Make your Own Toothpaste

I even checked with my dentist that my toothpaste recipe was safe and effective, and she gave it her seal of approval. I use glycerin or coconut oil as a base, sodium bicarbonate as the abrasive, a drop of clove oil for its antimicrobial properties and peppermint oil to make it taste like toothpaste. Sort of. You may find it an acquired taste to start with, but it;s gets better with time!

4.  Make Your Own Nut Milk

cashewmilkfinalWe have found milk in glass bottles, but I also make my own nut milk. It works great on cereal and in smoothies and hot chocolate (yes it does!), and also for baking. If you can’t find milk in glass it’s a great way to reduce the amount you consume. This is the recipe for cashew nut milk, but you can try with all nuts (you may have to strain them) and even seeds!

5. Make Your Own Yoghurt

I started out making yoghurt with cow’s milk – it’s really simple and so much cheaper and tastier than buying it from the shops. Once I found out I had to cut out dairy, I had a go at making coconut yoghurt, which is a little more complicated but equally delicious! I’ve never tried with nut milks, and I still need to master making my own coconut milk for a completely waste-free experience, but I’m on the case and it’s a work in progress!

If you drink cow’s milk, try this recipe for natural yoghurt.

If you’re dairy-free, here’s the recipe for coconut yoghurt.

Are you taking part in Plastic Free July this year? Is there anything you feel stuck with? Or are there any great plastic-free tips and solutions you’d like to share? Join the discussion and leave a comment below!

Oven-Roasted Chickpea Recipe – a plastic free alternative to potato chips?

When we gave up buying food that came packaged in plastic, one of the hardest things for my boyfriend to give up was potato chips. He’d wander down the crisps aisle forlornly, rustling each packet and declaring I’m pretty sure this one is plastic-free! It feels like paper! See?

Sadly though, potato chips do not come in paper. They are all wrapped in plastic, even though the plastic is often cunningly disguised as paper, or foil (you can do the scrunch test to figure out if something is wrapped in plastic or foil. Scrunch it up; if it springs back into its un-scrunched position, it’s plastic).

Because of this we’ve had to find alternatives. I’ve not tried making my own from real potatoes yet, although I haven’t ruled it out for the future.

We found a bulk bin store that sells sweet potato chips, but they are very expensive and not something we buy often.

I’ve recently experimented with making kale chips (not as weird as they sound, although yes, they are made with kale), which are actually quite tasty, but you need a lot of kale for not that many chips, which makes them another costly option, and you can’t fit that many in the oven at once, so it’s quite a laborious process.

Our staple replacement is popcorn, made with popping corn kernels bought at the bulk bin store. It’s cheap, super easy/quick to make, and satisfying. Of course it tastes nothing like potato chips (it tastes like popcorn, obviously) but it meets that need for a savoury, salty snack that can be delivered by the handful.

Popcorn may be the current favourite, but there is now a new contender on the block – roasted chickpeas. I got the inspiration for this from a couple of places. I’ve seen them for sale in the bulk food stores, and if you’ve ever eaten Bombay mix or similar Indian-style snacks you’ve probably had them yourself.

Secondly, I always buy dry chickpeas and cook my own, usually 1kg at a time, as they freeze amazingly well and I try to avoid cans where possible to save waste. This always seems like a great idea, but when I’m storing the resulting 3kg of cooked chickpeas I’m thinking of novel ways to try to use them up so I don’t feel quite so intimidated every time I open the freezer door.

I’m not going to tell you that they taste like potatoes. Of course they don’t. I am going to tell you that if you want a salty, crunchy alternative that you can munch away by the handful, plastic-free, then roasted chickpeas are seriously worth considering.

They’re cheap and simple to make. Have them plain, or flavour them. I’m still experimenting with what flavours I like best, so I’ve given you a couple of ideas to get started.

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Recipe – Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked chickpeas (380g approx)
2 tbsp macadamia oil
Spice mix: 3/4 tsp turmeric, 3/4 tsp ground cumin, 1 1/2 tsp paprika (or omit altogether for plain chickpeas)
Salt and pepper

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Rinse chickpeas and spread onto a clean dry tea towel to remove excess water. Remove any loose skins and discard.

Put into bowl, add oil, spices (if using) and salt and pepper, and mix well until all the chickpeas are coated.

Line a roasting tin with greaseproof paper and empty chickpeas into tin, spreading out as much as possible. Place in oven and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and to ensure they cook evenly.

Remove and allow to cool completely. They will continue to harden as they cool (don’t be alarmed if they still feel soft when you take them out of the oven). Store in a glass jar if not eating immediately.

Chickpeas2 Spicemix1 Chickpeaspices1 chickpeas3 roastedchickpeas roastedchickpeas2 Enjoy! If you have a go at making them, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!

Baking Sourdough Bread.

I love real food, and I especially love fresh real bread. Not the ‘bake-from-frozen’ or ‘filled with additives’ bread that the supermarkets sell as fresh bread, but proper, slow-risin’, crusty, still-warm-from-the-oven bread that is sold in bakeries where the bakers have been up since 4am. The kind of bread with just four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.

I particularly love sourdough bread. Sourdough is slightly different to other bread because it requires a sourdough starter which, in addition to yeast, contains lactobacilli bacteria. These ferment the dough giving a distinctive and slightly sour taste. Compared to bread made with commercial yeast only, sourdough is easier to digest because fermentation helps break down gluten, and has a lower glycemic index (GI). Additionally, because sourdough is acidic it discourages mould from growing, and so the sourdough will keep for much longer.

The downside is that buying this kind of bread isn’t cheap. We used to spend over $11 a week buying two loaves from the bakery at the weekend markets. We also had to make sure we made time every weekend to go to the market in order to buy the bread, which was annoying if we wanted to make other plans. The dilemma: have fun…or have bread? Tricky.

So these factors (cost and freedom), combined with the appeal of learning a new skill, led me to decide I was going to teach myself how to make my own bread. That was six months ago, and we haven’t been back to the bread shop since.

There is a shedload of information about sourdough on the internet, and it can get a little overwhelming. I don’t claim to be an expert, but the sourdough I make consistently works, tastes amazing and keeps extremely well. If you think that bread from the shops that is still warm is delicious, wait until you make your own and eat it straight out of the oven!

How to bake a Sourdough loaf

Making sourdough can be thought of in four stages: looking after the starter culture, making the sponge (fermentation), making/proving the dough, and baking the loaf. The whole process takes about 36 hours from start to finish, although the physical time actually doing anything is far less. However it’s quite difficult to pause the stages because you’ve suddenly found something better to do, so it takes a bit of forward planning. That said, the fridge is your friend, and can give you a bit of extra time if something unexpected comes up.

The quantities described below are for making one large and small loaf. If you want to make one medium loaf, simply halve everything.

Total ingredients required: 175-200g sourdough starter culture, 1.010kg bread flour, 600ml water, 22g salt.

Sourdough Starter

To make sourdough you will need a starter culture, which contains yeast and lactobacilli bacteria. I got mine from a friend but if you don’t know anyone who makes their own bread, you could try eBay, Gumtree or Freecycle, or a local bakery.

This culture needs feeding and watering to keep it alive. I keep my culture in the fridge in a glass jar and feed it every time I make bread, which is usually every 10 days or so. It will keep fine in the fridge in-between bakes.

When you’re ready to bake, take the starter culture out of the fridge. It may have gone hard on top and not look very pleasant. Don’t worry! Stir in any lumps and they will be broken down. Leave the culture at room temperature for several hours to allow it to become active and ferment (or ripen). Leaving overnight is fine. What should happen is the culture should bubble and become frothy, and appear to double in size, before deflating back to its original size. This is when it’s ripe and ready to use. If you’re not sure whether it’s risen and deflated (if you left it overnight for example) look at the sides of the jar; if it has risen it will probably have left a residue.

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Starter taken from the fridge. It will have started to ferment in the fridge but will not be fully developed.

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The starter after a couple of hours. The bubbles show that fermentation is taking place.

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Fermentation in full swing. The starter will appear to have doubled in volume.

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Fermentation is complete and the starter is ready to use. You can see on the sides of the jar where the culture rose and then sank. Looking for this helps know when your starter is ready.

Before using the starter in your loaf you will need to retain some for the next time you bake. You will need to feed this with flour and water; the ratio starter:flour:water needs to be 1:5:5. So, for 20g of starter you need to add 100g flour and 100g water. This is called a ‘100% hydration starter’. Mix together in a bowl, pour into a clean glass jar, cover with a piece of cloth or a loosened jar lid and return to the fridge.

Making a Sourdough ‘Sponge’

Now you’ve fed your starter you’re ready to start making the loaf. The first part is making what is called the ‘sponge’. The sponge is made of flour, water and starter culture which is allowed to ferment for several hours.

Ingredients:
160-175g starter culture (remember to save 20g for the new starter culture)
460g strong white unbleached bread flour
580-600g filtered water

Method:

Weigh the ingredients into a large bowl (remember that whilst fermenting the mixture will rise). Cover with a tea towel and leave at room temperature for at least 8 hours (or overnight) until the mixture has risen and then deflated.

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The sponge mixture starts with a glossy appearance.

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As it ferments bubbles appear on the surface and the sponge rises.

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When the sponge is ready (ripe) there will be bubbles on the surface but it will have reduced in volume. You can see marks on the side of the bowl where the sponge rose and then sank. Look for this to know when your sponge is ready to use.

Preparing the Sourdough ‘Dough’

This is the stage where timing is more critical. If you don’t have enough time to make the dough, leave it to rise and then bake into bread, the sponge can be left longer until you are ready. I have left the sponge for a day in the fridge when something unexpected came up – just remember to bring it back to room temperature before using to make the dough.

Ingredients:
Fermented sponge (see previous step)
550g strong white unbleached bread flour
22g salt

(Don’t be tempted to leave the salt out. In addition to adding flavour it slows the fermentation rate of yeast, and also strengthens the gluten, which is what allows the dough to rise.)

Method:

Grease a loaf tin (or two) with butter or oil. Add the flour and salt to the bowl containing the fermented sponge mixture. Mix together with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes stiff.

Turn the mixture out onto an un-floured surface. It will look impossibly sticky and nothing like bread dough, but don’t be disheartened. Once you start working it, it will start to look like dough very quickly.

Don't panic if your mix looks like this! With ten minutes kneading, it will look like a proper ball of dough.

Don’t panic if your mix looks like this! With ten minutes kneading, it will look like a proper ball of dough.

Stretch and fold the dough for at least 10 minutes using your hands. (If it is really sticky a large silicon spatula is helpful to begin with.) Working it like this allows the gluten to develop which is needed for the bread to rise.

After 10 minutes the dough should be smooth and elastic (if it isn’t, keep on working it and you’ll get there). Shape into an oblong that will fit into the loaf tin. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. The time this takes will vary according to the temperature of your kitchen – in Australia I find that in summer it takes around 4 hours, and in winter nearer 6 hours.

You will know your loaf is ready when it has doubled in size. If you leave it too long it will start to sink.

Baking the Sourdough Loaf

Total time required: 30 minutes

Preheat your oven to 250°C.

Pour an inch of water into a roasting tin and place in the oven once it reaches the correct temperature. Once the water in the tray is bubbling, the oven is ready for your loaf. (You can speed this up by using boiling water to pour into the roasting tin.) The steam created will give your loaf a better crust.

Using a sharp knife, score the top of the loaf just before you put into the oven. This will stop the loaf bursting open as it cooks.

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Use the sharpest knife you have and try to cut the bread quickly to avoid dragging the skin.

Place the loaf in the oven. After 10 minutes reduce the heat to 200°C, and bake for another 5 minutes. If one end appears to have cooked more than the other, it is fine to turn the loaf around at this point.

Now turn the oven off and leave for 5 minutes, then open the oven door slightly and leave for another 10 minutes.

Take out of the oven and remove the loaf from the tin and onto a cooling rack as soon as possible – use a clean tea-towel to handle the loaf if it is too hot. If you leave the loaf in the tin the steam will make the crust soggy.

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Your loaf should keep for several days (and up to two weeks), and the flavours will continue to develop.

Baking Sourdough: Timings

It’s worth giving a bit of thought to when it will be convenient for you to actually put the loaf in the oven, and work back from that so that all the other steps happen at the right time. I have misjudged how long the loaf would take to rise and had to stay up past midnight in order to actually bake it so it wasn’t flat by morning!

This is what generally works for me:
Day 1: 6pm Remove starter culture from fridge and (leave at room temperature for 12 hours)
Day 2: 6pm Make new starter culture (10 minutes)
Day 2: 6.10pm Make sourdough sponge (leave at room temperature for 12-18 hours)
Day 3: 8am Make dough (10 mins)
Day 3: 8.10am Work dough (10-15 mins)
Day 3: 8.25am Grease loaf tin and put loaf into tin (leave at room temperature for 4-8 hours)
Day 3: 2pm Bake loaf (30 mins)

If you want to bake bread on a Saturday it’s quite easy to do the other stages on Thursday and Friday evening, and once the bread is rising in the tin you can leave it for several hours. I find it all starts to go wrong when I try to make the sponge and the dough on the same day, because the fermenting of the sponge can’t be rushed or speeded up, and it means I am still baking bread after midnight. If you start out with good intentions but come Saturday morning you can’t face getting up, let alone baking, the sponge can be left on the side for a few hours or put in the fridge for 24 hours without any adverse effects, and you can make the dough and bake the loaf the following day.

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How to… Make Your Own Natural Yoghurt

This is a recipe for dairy yoghurt. You’ll find my recipe for dairy-free coconut yoghurt here.

Ever since I went to a workshop, I have been meaning to make my own yoghurt. The workshop was in February. We’re creeping towards May. I needed to stop thinking about it and talking about it, and actually do it!

The delay was predominantly the result of my not having the right equipment, namely a thermos flask and a thermometer. Strictly speaking you don’t need either of these things, but it makes it easier. Plus they are both useful tools to have in the kitchen anyway, and I know I will use them.

After scouring Gumtree and eBay for two months I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new flask. A wide-neck one is more practical and there didn’t seem to be any available second-hand. I also bought a new thermometer. Both came with a few pieces of unnecessary plastic packaging (do I really need a carry strap for the flask, and even so, does the carry strap really need to be ‘protected’ by a plastic bag?!).

I don’t buy brand new things very often (see why here) but sometimes I have to admit defeat. At least now I can get on with my yoghurt-making!

(I have to confess I was slightly nervous about the end result of my first batch. I remember at school in biology class having to do an experiment where we filled test tubes with milk and a dollop of yoghurt and then incubated them at different temperatures for a few days. After waiting the few days, we ended up with…test tubes of milk and a dollop of yoghurt. Even the teacher was confused. But I needn’t have worried…)

Making yoghurt is simple. You will need: fresh whole fat milk and live yoghurt (it will say ‘live’, ‘probiotic’ or ‘cultures’ on the label). 1 litre of milk requires 1 tablespoon of yoghurt, and should make 700ml yoghurt. As well as a flask and a thermometer, you will require a saucepan and a wooden spoon.

Pour the milk into a saucepan. Warm over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer reaches 82oC. This heat treatment kills any bacteria that may be present in the milk. Turn off the heat and allow the milk temperate to drop to 45oC.

The milk needs to drop to 45oC so that when the yoghurt cultures are added they are not killed by the high temperature. Once the milk has cooled enough spoon the yoghurt culture into the flask (make sure the flask has been thoroughly cleaned with hot water beforehand) and add a small amount of the milk from the saucepan. Stir thoroughly before adding the rest of the milk into the flask.

Screw on the flask lid. Now you need to leave the flask for 8 hours to allow the yoghurt culture to do it’s thing – namely converting lactose (the natural sugar in milk) into lactic acid, which then causes the milk proteins to coagulate, which results in the thicker, creamier texture of yoghurt.

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Ta-da! Fresh homemade probiotic natural yoghurt.

On opening up the flask, you should be looking at a container full of delicious probiotic yoghurt! It will need stirring to make sure there’s no lumps. (This is why a wide-necked flask is useful.) The yoghurt can then be poured into a glass jar and stored in the fridge. It should last several days.