Making kind choices in your everyday life.

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Best Pumpkin Soup EVER

Posted by on Jul 27, 2014 in Soup | 2 comments

I implore you to make this heavenly soup.  Not only is it one of  the most scrumptious soups I have ever tasted but it is also quick to make, nutritious and incredibly thrifty (I worked it out to be $1 per hearty serve). It will undoubtedly give you chronic garlic breath but that is a common trade off in my house. It will make 4-6 servings.

You will need :

* 1.5kg butternut pumpkin.

* Olive Oil

* 8 – 10 large cloves of garlic (make sure it is the nice Australian grown garlic) – leave skin on.

* 2 brown onions – diced

* 2 tbsp grated ginger

* 1.5 litres of “chicken style” stock (I use the vegetarian Massel brand cubes)

* 2 potatoes peeled and diced

What to do :

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Peel pumpkin, remove seeds and chop up. Put in baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic cloves (skin still on) to the tray and roast in oven for about 30 mins.

Heat large pot over medium heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions and ginger and cook on low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove pumpkin and garlic from the oven. Allow the garlic to cool a bit before squeezing the garlic from their skins and into the pot, along with the pumpkin. Add the stock and potatoes and bring to boil and then simmer for about 20 mins.

Puree soup via food processor or hand held mixer.

 

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

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Plastic free July – Plastic Bags

Posted by on Jul 13, 2014 in Environment | 6 comments

“There is absolutely no reason why a single plastic bag ever needs to be produced again. It is absolutely within the capability of everyone shopping in the known world to vow never to use a single plastic bag again” – Mark Watson (from his very funny book “Crap At the Environment”.)

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My nanna trolley and big squid bag

 We are half way through “Plastic Free July”. Although I haven’t formally signed up, I am trying my darnedest to adopt the “refuse single use plastic in July” motto – namely water bottles, plastic bags and coffee cup lids. In keeping with the above quote, I am going to take it one step further and make a vow to myself not to ever use a plastic bag ever again. I think, armed with my pretty nanna trolley and array of re-useable bags I have collected, it will be an achievable and fairly easy feat. (Don’t have a nanna trolley in your life ? – check out these ones !)

I have been pretty good with my (non) useage of plastic bags for many years now but I still remain a bit “crap at the environment” – in quite an illogical manner too. I refuse to buy bottled water whilst out and about but I drink my fair share of large plastic bottled mineral water and cranberry juice at home.  Inconsistent and illogical – most definitely !

There are many good reasons to try to rid our world of plastic bags. They fill up our landfill (429,000 recyclable plastic shopping bags are dumped there in Australia EVERY HOUR !!) and, horrifyingly, find their way (even from land fill via the wind)  into our oceans and rivers where they suffocate, cause obstructions in the digestive system or maim thousands of birds and marine animals like seals, turtles and whales – who often mistake the plastic debris for food. Only 3 % of bags are currently recycled and 10 million new plastic bags are used every day in Australia. They are made from non-renewable crude oil which is obviously unsustainable. Plastic bags take up to 1000 years to break down and, even then, this process leaks toxins into the soil.

NSW is being left behind (again) with what seems to be an easy to fix problem.  Bag taxes in Ireland and Denmark have led to massive (around 90%) decline in plastic bag use. Single use, light weight plastic bags are banned in the  ACT and South Australia and Coles Bay in Tasmania has been plastic bag free since 2003 due to the threat that plastic bags posed to migrating whales (and a one man campaign from the local baker – love these stories !!).

If, like me here in NSW, you are twiddling your thumbs, waiting for your State government to make some kind of educated reform about plastic bags, we can take some action for ourselves. This is what I’m doing – not just this month but from now on :

No longer using bin liners: In our Odd Couple household where I am very much Oscar and my fella is totally Felix Unger incarnated, I thought this suggestion may cause some horror. I have been given the green light but am under strict instructions that I am now the keeper of the bins in every respect for this proposal to work. I am 1 week  in and, so far, so good. Anything a bit dribbly (like the old baked beans I just turfed) is wrapped in newspaper prior to being deposited into the bin and everything else is carefully placed in either the recycling bin or the compost bin as per normal.

Making a habit of saying “no bag thanks, I have one” no matter where I am shopping :

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www.bagladies.com.au

 Again, illogically, I have mastered the no plastic bags at the supermarket fairly well but as soon as I purchase something from somewhere else, say Myers for example, this rule often goes out the window. But no more. My pretty little scrunched up bags will remain on standby in my handbag permanently. You don’t have to stick with the ubiquitous “green” supermarket bags either…..there are so many cute ones available…..food shopping wise, I love my aforementioned nanna trolley and have just discovered these ones, which I have my eye on for next time. I have a few Onya ones for general use as they scrunch up easily and are made out of plastic bottles (!!).

* Bagladies have a great array of captioned bags including the one pictured above (with $3 going to PETA Australia).

Using biodegradable dog poo bags : I cannot think of a viable alternative to plastic poo bags for our dog and I am too scared to investigate what is considered viable for people who are determined to live completely plastic free. I buy these biodegradable ones from Maxpak but I like the look of these too as a profit (50% !!) goes to dog rescue groups and they are biodegradable.

Donate some re-useable shopping bags to someone not so environmentally “keen” : In this case, at my workplace. Our “social club” shopping is always done through the use of a multitude of plastic bags as nobody is ever organised enough to buy the green bags. I have just ordered 5 of these cute ones from Animals Australia to donate to my workmates – which not only promotes re-useable bags but also compassionate shopping, whilst supporting the brilliant work of Animals Australia.

Taking those inadvertent collection of plastic bags to a good place : In general, I do not like the duopoly of the big supermarkets but Coles and Woolies have done the right thing by supplying bins to take your plastic bag waste which cannot be recycled via your normal household bin system. Coles participate in a worthy scheme known as Redcycle where your “scrunchable” plastic waste (including biscuit packets, pasta bags, bread bags, shopping bags) is made into outdoor furniture for schools and kindergartens. This enables so much of our waste to be used for good (furniture) rather than evil (landfill).

Scorn the thick plastic soil, mulch, compost gardening bags :  Aaaahhhhh – this particular dilemma is driving me nuts. If you were to peer into my garage, you would find a pile of gardening plastic bags reminiscent of the most devoted hoarder. I have written emails to all and sundry about where I can recycle them and, to date, nobody has given me a solution so there they wait until I find one.  The irony of buying soil, mushroom compost and the like to do the eco friendly thing of creating a vegi garden whilst being left with swathes of thick, un-breakdownable plastic to be sent to landfill does not escape me. Unfortunately, I only had this epiphany about 6 months ago, at which time I bought some lovely big, white sturdy, reusable bags from my local hardware shop. The next time I need some soil, I will visit my local gardening center equipped with my bags to manually shovel and fill them up. Slightly less convenient but good exercise, cheaper and definately kinder to the environment.

Reuse where possible : Rather than relying on glad wrap and the like, a plastic bread bag or similar can be used again and again and again to accommodate your lunchtime sandwich.

Ignite the beachcomber within : I love the “Take 3” initiative (of taking 3 items of rubbish away with you when you visit the beach, rivers etc). There is a slight feeling of this being like picking up a grain of sand in a desert when you do this but you still have the satisfaction that the one bottle top or straw you remove from the beach may be one less thing for a beautiful sea creature to ingest.

Niggling those big businesses into doing the right thing : Writing a quick letter or face book post is a good way to have a bit of a vent to those big businesses who have so much influence on our habits. I wrote on the Cole’s facebook page with my suggestion about how shopper’s who are doing the right thing by bringing their own bags (and, therefore, cutting the costs for the supermarket) should receive a little incentive (like a small shopping voucher). Shops like to please consumers so feedback is a good way of voicing your concerns. My local council is next on the list. Petitions are always good too – here is a link to Animal Australia’s one seeking to ban the one use plastic bags in Australia and New Zealand. It takes 1 minute to complete.

Using alternatives when fruit and vegi shopping : I am going to invest in something from here to get around the “what do I put my baby spinach in ?” dilemma at the fruit shop. Until then, the paper bags usually reserved for mushrooms will do.

It a nut shell, the mantra of the 5 R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Re purpose, Recycle (in that order) – is a good way to live, for many things, not just plastic bags.

Planet Ark has an informative FAQ page about plastic bags if you want to learn more.

I would love to hear if you have any tips on reducing your own plastic bag usage. Please let me know in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Cup of Tea with Me

Posted by on Jun 28, 2014 in Uncategorized | 14 comments

 

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Being a bit of a procrastinator and ditherer, I am so glad that I took the plunge and did the Blog with Pip course. As a result of my new found skills, my blog’s format will be new and improved at some point in the near future and I have made lots of new cyber space talented and entertaining friends.

My final “assignment” is this one – listing five things I am “loving right now”, over a pensive cup of tea (Japanese green tea from owl covered tea pot). This post is timely for me as I have been trudging through a bit of a hard patch for a while now so I like this gentle little reminder to myself that, despite some almighty hurdles – which I am still in the midst of dragging myself over, my life is pretty damn fine and here is my list….

Number One : Living in Sydney.

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I stalk country properties on Domain endlessly and yearn for a tree change – far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Damn you River Cottage series with your rolling green hills and bountiful vegi gardens, have a MORE envy inducing lifestyle why don’t you ?!?  HOWEVER, the reality right now is that me and my fella have our city jobs, our city family and friends, our city house mortgage to pay and this fantasy will not be happening in the foreseeable future (it will happen though !). Until then, I am lucky enough to be living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We have the best Japanese restaurant EVER (inclusive of Japan) in walking distance from our house. We can see wonderful exhibitions like the World Press Photography exhibition, like we did last weekend, for free.  A drink and snack by a glistening harbour is an easy thing to do and we were even lucky enough to indulge in “Roar and Snore” at Taronga Zoo (*) a few nights ago (birthday pressie to my fella). I have great places to walk my hound (and lots of lovely new-ish friends to walk with) and, overall, I am loving living where I do right now. * I have mixed feelings about zoos – more about that another day – but Taronga is definately one of the better examples.

Number Two : Having a bath ritual.

I recline like a princess in our generous sized, 1950’s bath pretty much every night. Candles, bubbles (Coconut Bathox), a book and sometimes a wine are included in this indulgence. My dog always comes in and stares at me. Whatever worry I have during the day (aplenty of late), feels not nearly as daunting or fearsome after my little contemplative soak.

Number Three : Winter Hibernating with good books and shows.

Winter is my favourite season and  is the perfect time of year for some good old fashioned, guilt free lurking at home rather than gadding out and about. I do have a bit of a hermit-ish inclination to my personality so it suits me just fine ! Thanks to Kate from One Small Life, I have just started a new book which, one chapter in, I know I am going to love – The Happiness Show by Catherine Deveny . TV Series wise, we have just finished the brilliant series of Borgen (who knew that Danish politics could be so engrossing !) and have started on series 2 of “Orange is the New Black” which I am loving. Pottering at home is massively under rated.

Number Four : A couple of successes in the garden

My beetroots, chilli plants and garlic are growing abundantly and I am learning how to prepare my garden beds for the next project of potatoes. I get a gigantic thrill out of cooking from my garden offerings.

Number Five : Fostering some resilience and courage from within

This is a big one for me at the moment. This very so apt card :

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sums up what is making my working life shitty at the moment. It is one of those “beyond my control problems” where only recently, after several months of way too many sad sack tears and feeling utterly morose and powerless, I have  felt myself turn the corner and I can proudly step back and survey all the things I have learnt (and put into action !) from this vile and testing time. I can finally see some silver linings emerging and feel positive rather than teeth grittingly resentful about the changes which I know I have to make.

Part of my “sticking it to the man”….(thanks Ashley from The Squee for this brilliant turn of phrase – courtesy of your unmissable “giving it to” Joe Hockey post), I will be taking some glorious time off  (thank you long service leave)…weeks and weeks of doing nothing much aside from the top four things mentioned above, along with meandering walks with my dog and, no doubt, you’ll be hearing from me much more often. So, the anticipation of being able to do all things “I am loving right now” for almost a couple of months in the not too distant future is a wonderful thing.  As is the new found realisation – that………..   saying

 

You can head over here to find some of the wonderful blogs from my fellow classmates and hear all about what they are “loving right now”.

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Lemon and Barley Soup

Posted by on Jun 21, 2014 in Soup | 1 comment

Having not mastered the art of food photography,  with most of my dishes looking plain (but tasting sensational !) you can have an autumn leaf / Garp photo instead !

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Ahhhhh, winter and soup…..there are few finer things for the soul.

This recipe (thanks to Sanitarium) is delicious….quick and easy…..and healthy…..and filling…..so, get to it.

Ingredients

* 6 cups of water

* 2-3 heaped teaspoons of Vegi Stock powder (I use Vegeta as it is palm oil free)

* 1/2 cup of pearled barley

* 1 onion cut into quarters

* 1 peeled garlic clove

* 1 bay leaf

* 3 sprigs thyme (very easy plant to grow by the way).

* 400g tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

* 1/4 cup of lemon juice

* 1/4 cup of chopped parsley

* olive oil to drizzle

* Pepper to taste

What to do

Bring water, stock and pearled barley to the boil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Simmer for 45 mins. Remove from heat and remove the thyme and bay leaf. Add cannellini beans and process the soup (I use a hand held mixer but either wise a food processor would do the job).  Stir through lemon juice and serve up. Sprinkle parsley on top and drizzle with olive oil.

Makes 4 generous servings.

 

 

 

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Being charitable

Posted by on Jun 15, 2014 in Charity | 4 comments

“Of the various kinds of intelligence, generosity is the first” – John Surowiecki

It is quite terrifying that June 30th is a mere couple of  weeks away…..can we seriously already be half way through the year ??

I am far from being a financially savvy person but I do know that as the financial year ends, this is a wise time of year to reduce our taxable income through deductions and so forth. One of the best kind of “win win” deductions surely has to be donating to a charity/cause that is dear to you.

Not all of us are cut out to be hands on animal rescuers / activists, myself included (aside from our little rescue dog, Garp – thanks to Monika’s doggie rescue).  On days when my emotions are fragile, I will drive a different way home to avoid seeing a particular little bird in a tiny cage outside the corner shop as it never fails to break my heart. So, I have found that the best way for me to remain sane and  to help the animals in a practical way is to donate – in a variety of ways – to those organisations whose workers are brave and courageous enough to endure the heartache of actual animal cruelty investigations and rescues.

If ever you need any inspiration in your world, have a read about the stories behind Jill Robinson (Animals Asia), Lyn White (Animals Australia), Mary Hutton (Free the Bears) and Pam Ahern (Edgar’s Mission) who are just a few of the lovely lady crushes I have going on within the animal activist world !

There are so many extraordinary organisations out there that the options of who to donate to are endless.  Animals Australia, Voiceless, Oscars Law and AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural & Remote Indigenous Communities) are just a few of the amazing groups out there (not to mention the fabulous animal sanctuaries like Peanuts Funny Farm and Little Oak Sanctuary)…..but my heart (for over the last decade) belongs to….

Animals Asia

I remember hearing someone compare what the bears in bear bile farms endure to the life of Prometheus – the Greek mythological figure who had his liver pecked out by an eagle each day, only for it to regenerate over night and for the cycle to begin again. This life changing (for both people and animals) organisation came about when Jill Robinson visited a bear bile farm in China in 1993. Her ensuing devotion to creating real change in China and Vietnam has led to the rescue of hundreds of bears from the agony of being trapped in tiny cages and “milked” for their bile. Her persistence and education campaigns have led to a substantial tide of changing opinion in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam about how animals are treated. The indisputably lovely and hilarious Ricky Gervais and Olivia Newton John are just a couple of the high profile names who support Animals Asia. As do the cast of Downton Abbey – love this clip.

I only read this morning that the guru of all things kind, philanthropist Philip Wollen rates Jill Robinson, alongside Gandhi and his mum, as one of his inspirations in life so am not alone in the awe I feel for this woman.

If you are seeking out a cause to donate some pre end of financial year cashola to…..Animal Asia currently need funds more than ever before. They have recently taken over a bear bile farm in Nanning, China with the aim of converting it into a sanctuary for the current 130 bears. See Piece by Peace for more on this remarkable mission. 

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Apparently, on average, Australians give about 0.25 % of their income to charity. I think it is fair to say that in our privileged world we could be pulling our weight just that little bit more. So, why not pledge to reduce some luxuries in your life such as buying lunch at work every day or having a monthly pedicure and send what you save to an organisation who will be able to put it to much better use. Signing up for monthly deductions makes it an easy thing to do for the forgetful. Or there are the sporadic Kickstarter / Crowdfunding campaigns such as these ones : Dog’s Best Friend and Aussie Farms Repository which make ordinary people’s dreams come to fruition just by a whole stack of people banding together by donating a little bit to fund something big and wonderful.

Other sneaky ways to send some of your hard earnt money off to a good cause (without really noticing as you would have spent the money anyway)……..

Make a bet : This tactic has a lot going for it – guilt, redemption, making one ponder poor decisions and inevitable downfall resulting in financial gain for a good cause. I have a shameful habit of social smoking which rears it’s ugly head on average a couple of  times a year. In an effort to make said social smoking a little bit more unappealing, I have made a bet with my fella to part with $10 for each shameful cigarette smoked which goes directly to his charity of choice (Medecins Sans Frontieres).

Charity fund raising holidays : Travel and animals – two of my favourite things. One of these trips is on my whopping to do list – working with rescued wildlife in Bolivia as detailed here or treks such as this one, in Lakdah raising funds for Vets Beyond Borders.

Use consumer driven occasions such as Valentines day for good, rather than wasting money on chocolates, flowers etc which will be forgotten in a heart beat. This is what I receive every year from my sweet man (which wins him way more brownie points than a bunch of flowers ever would). Read my post here about having a charity christmas kris kringle which has become a yearly tradition in our family. Or, if you do want to buy something tangible….re-visit my kind gifts post.

Oh, and possibly my favourite….drink wine whilst sending a large chunk (50 % of the profits in fact) to your favourite charity.

We like wine in my household so are regular customers of  Goodwill Wines. I love this company – the wines are beautiful and many are animal product free. The story behind it’s foundation is a bitter sweet one too and shows what one can do when faced with adversity. The last case we had sent money to BAWP (Barristers Animal Welfare Panel) after seeing the legal work they have done to fight for dogs like Zeus who have been seized by various councils under the very dodgy Breed Specific Legislation. Our latest case (yes, shall I mention again, we do like wine in our house !) sent money to Australian Working Dog Rescue after reading about their recent rescue of Shenzi (have tissues handy if you open that link) and Edgar’s Mission as they are just wonderful and have recently moved to a bigger property to enable them to rescue yet more animals.

If money is tight and donating financially is not a possibility right now, there are other ways to do your bit. What are you good at ? Hair cutting ? Toe nail painting ? Cooking ? There are a myriad of ways to make some stuff or use your fabulous talents for good to raise money and awareness for your favourite charity. I discovered the inner candle maker within myself last year and made these….(ta da !)

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….to flog to family and friends to raise money for Animals Asia. With Honey Money Days just a couple of months off, I will soon be turning to this new favourite hobby of mine to raise some money for the bears.

Love baking and want to spread the biscuit love ? – check out this sweet initiative, Biscuit Billy. You can bake some biscuits (and receive some tasty dog treat recipes) and have them delivered to some deserving recipients – dogs in shelters.

Whilst we are on the theme of generosity, have a read of this post by one of my Blog With Pip classmates (Katie from one of my new favourite blogs, Life With The Crew) – her comments about how she goes without and lives more simply so she can rescue dogs in the remarkable way she does, blew me away.

Another fellow class mate shared this gorgeous initiative……for disadvantaged kids in Christchurch. If only I could knit !

I would love to know who your favourite charity / rescue group /giving initiative is….please let me know in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

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