Behind every book…

The American author Pat Conroy once said, “Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable.”

Or put more simply, in the words of Suze Orman, “Writing is hard work, not magic.”

As a writer myself, I’m only too aware of the enormous, painful and protracted effort that goes into producing a book. But the feeling when you’re finished is truly amazing. And it’s quite something to receive a great review from a reader.

So, as today is National Writing Day, why not check out a new author and support them? Or leave a review for an author you’ve recently bought a book from. Good reviews really help to make an enormous difference in search rankings. And…you might also want to consider writing somebody a note today. In our cyber world, getting a handwritten note or card from somebody is quite special. #NationalWritingDay

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Make your own: Dishwasher Tablets

I’m such a sucker for zero waste recipes, and I’ve tried a huge amount in my time – some of them were total flops. So I promise you, I will only ever post recipes that work (for me at least). I came across this formula for dishwasher tablets recently, and as I had all the ingredients here, I thought I’d give them a go. They worked perfectly. You can buy cheaper – Wilko sell a cardboard box of 30 dishwasher tablets for £1. But, these really aren’t expensive and it’s very satisfying to make your own. I buy my bicarb and citric acid in cardboard boxes, so zero waste for those ingredients. Here’s how to do it. You’ll need:

  • 1 Cup of Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1/4 Cup Citric Acid
  • 1 Tablespoon Dishwashing Liquid

Add the bicarbonate of soda and the citric acid to a large mixing bowl and stir together. Pour in the washing up liquid and mix all of the ingredients together thoroughly. I used my hands, but you could whisk it if you preferred.

Then, push lumps of the mixture into small silicone ice moulds. They will froth up a bit – this is normal (see image below). Just wait ten minutes or so and level them off with a knife. I put the excess into an empty mould space. This recipe made 24 tablets.

Leave them to harden for about four hours, or overnight. Then gently ease them out of the mould and store in an airtight jar. Place one tablet in your dishwasher compartment and you’re good to go!

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A good kind of sprout

I’m not a fan of sprouts (the Brussels variety). I’ll eat them at Christmas if they’re cooked with bacon or chestnuts, but otherwise, no thank you. However, if you’re wanting to reduce your food waste and food miles, there is a good kind of sprout – it’s amazing how many vegetables you can resprout to produce more leaves. So, before you throw your carrot tops and spring onion ends away, take a read of this…

Spring onions: This is super easy to do. When you’re chopping up spring onions, cut off the green stalks a little bit further away from the bulb than you would normally do. You’re aiming to be left with about an inch of the bulb. Then put the bulbs in a small glass jar or pot and cover the bottom of the bulb with water – you don’t want to cover any more than that. Leave it somewhere sunny, keep checking the water level so that it doesn’t dry out and refresh the water every couple of days or so. You’ll be amazed how quickly they start to resprout and soon you’ll have lots of new spring onion shoots.

Garlic sprouts: This is a similar process to spring onions. If you have cloves of garlic that have begun to sprout with a little green tip, place the garlic cloves in a container and pour in water until it just covers the bottom of the cloves. You don’t want to cover too much of the garlic cloves, as they will rot. Put the container on a windowsill or somewhere sunny, and within a few days, they will start sprouting. When you cut the green sprouts to eat, leave about a third of the length to regrow. Chop up the green garlic sprouts and use in salads, as a topper for baked potatoes (great with cream cheese or sour cream), or blend and use in salad dressings, soups etc.

Carrot tops: You can eat carrot tops! Use them as a garnish for stews in the same way that you would use parsley, cook them into soups (they’re great with spinach soup), stir fry with other vegetables or make carrot pesto (there are plenty of recipes for this online). You’ll need fresh carrots that have a little bit of green growth at the top. Cut about an inch or two off the top end of the carrot and place it in a bowl. Pour in some water, covering about half of the carrot top and place the bowl or pot on a windowsill. Again, keep the water topped up and change the water every couple of days. Within a week or so, the tops will begin to sprout.

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What a waste…

The great thing about trying to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle is that you’re always learning something new. Recently I’ve been trying hard to cut down my food waste. A quick online search showed me an amazing number of ideas to put into practise. One thing that struck me was how many scraps and peelings we throw away that can be put to good use – cutting waste, saving money and providing fun food & household help. Here are a few ideas…

Apple and pear peels: You can make a simple apple or pear juice by boiling the peels (and apple cores) in water with a little sugar. Add enough water to cover the peels & cores, thrown in a dash of lemon juice to stop the skins going brown and to help preserve it. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, then strain the juice. If you like homemade coleslaw, simply cut up the apple peel and add it to the mix. You can also dehydrate the peel (in a low oven for about an hour or in a dehydrator) and add to museli or even curries.

Potato peels: Preheat your oven to 190 C and make sure you thoroughly wash the potatoes before peeling them. Toss the peelings in a bowl with a little oil, along with salt, pepper and herbs of your choice – rosemary or thyme work really well. For a stronger taste, you could also add cumin, paprika, garlic – whatever takes your fancy. Bake them in a hot oven for about 15-25 minutes until they’re crispy. Give them a stir halfway through.

Stale bread: Never throw stale bread away! There are too many uses for it. Cut into squares and fry them for croutons with salad and soups or whizz the crumbs in a blender to make bread sauce or a stuffing mix. Whole slices of bread are great for bread pudding or summer pudding (our family favourite). You can always save them in the freezer until you have enough for whatever you want to make. If none of these appeal to you, a slice of white bread is great for getting marks off painted walls – just rub the bread on the marks and watch them disappear…

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This black soap gets you squeaky clean!

I’m always experimenting with new soaps for our family. The more successful ones eventually find their way into my online Ellie’s Farm shop. It’s quite a process though – to comply with UK regulations, each soap formula must be sent to a registered cosmetic chemist for testing to ensure it is safe to use. It is an expensive and lengthy process, but worth it!

I use only natural ingredients in our soaps, and it’s always fun to see what I can find to add colour, texture and health-giving properties to the soap. I’d read that activated charcoal is good for your skin, so, spurred on by my husband who asked for a more ‘blokey soap’, I tested a few ingredients and came up with our new Spearmint + Charcoal soap.

Activated charcoal is reputed to draw impurities out of your skin, and also gives a very gentle exfoliation. It works best on normal or greasy skin. I’ve scented it with spearmint essential oil for a light, refreshing fragrance.

The soap bar is made from coconut oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. They provide a lovely bubbly moisturising wash.

If you’d like to buy a bar, click here

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Save money – and the planet!

Often when people think of living an eco-friendly lifestyle, they assume it will cost them more money to do so. That’s true for some things – but actually there are a huge number of changes you can make to your lifestyle which help your purse – and the planet.

I reckon that by saving money with some initiatives, I can afford to then spend a little more on products like recycled toilet paper or eco-friendly washing up liquid that may cost a little more. Here are a few environmentally friendly habits that can save money. There are plenty more!

Bake / Make your own. We now make our own sourdough bread from scratch (we reckon it costs about 40p a loaf). We also make yoghurt, cream cheese, biscuits, cakes, vegetable and chicken stock, ice cream, jam, honey (from our bees!), pizza dough. Not only is it often cheaper to make your own food, it also costs the planet less in terms of packaging.

Using less. It’s so simple! There are so many things we can easily cut down on. Did you know that actually most washing machines do better on less powder or washing liquid? I cut down my washing liquid by a third, and my clothes are as clean as ever. I have really greasy hair, but a lot of people find they can go for longer without having to shampoo their hair if they try. Do you really need to use as much toilet paper every time you go to the loo? A biggie for a lot of us is the quantity of food we eat. Actually the majority of us really don’t need the portion sizes we currently eat. You can also eat more low cost staples like lentils or oats – which are more environmentally friendly than meat as well. These might seem like tiny little steps, but they all add up.

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There’s never an end to washing…

Eco egg laundry egg

Washing. Where to start. Okay, so we want to do away with plastic bottles (if possible) and certain leave nasty chemicals behind.

Just as an aside – my husband and I are both mildly asthmatic. I’d never thought about it before, but when I made the chance to an eco washing liquid for my clothes, lo and behold, I breathed a lot more easily. I’d never thought about that side of things before.

I’m going to start hard core with this post, and gently slip into reverse. So…

Conkers: Yes, believe it or not, you can do your washing simply by using conkers. You’ll need a wee bit of prep first. Collect your conkers and remove the green husks. Cut them into quarters and dry them on a towel if they are damp. Store in glass jar. To use, put 1/4 cup of conker bits into 1/2 cup of warm water and leave overnight. The resulting liquid will do 2 wash loads, and you can re-soak the conkers a couple of times at least.

ecoegg Laundry Egg: Some people love these, others think they’re a waste of space. Essentially, they contain two types of mineral pellets that produce a cleaning foam to lift off dirt without the need for laundry powder or liquid. Although they are made of plastic, you can buy the pellets separately to top up your egg, so it should last for ages. You can buy a scented or unscented version and they are allergy free and you don’t need to use a fabric conditioner. They’re available from Lakeland & Robert Dyas amongst others, or online. I have an ecoegg and I’m pretty pleased with its performance. It’s a good idea to treat stains with a stain remover first, and I must admit I do wash heavy duty dirt or the dog’s towels with an eco friendly laundry liquid. So, a thumbs up from me on the whole.

Smol laundry capsules: These are posted to you in recyclable packing and Smol claim to use less chemicals than conventional laundry liquids. I’ve just applied for a free trial, so I’ll keep you posted on these.

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Scrub Away…

Non plastic washing up scrubbies

So, going plastic free is a great thing. We’ve all seen the horrific images of beaches covered in plastic, and floating ‘islands’ of plastic that cover hundreds of miles of ocean. Here’s one way to do it. Ditch plastic washing up pads.

There are plenty of alternatives, so there’s something for everyone. I’m quite a picky washer upper – I like a dishcloth (cotton, so not a problem), but I also like a plastic sponge scourer. In fact, I love sponge scourers…sad as it may be. Here are a few environmentally alternatives I’ve tried. So long plastic sponges…

Loofah: I love my loofah! I tried to find a whole loofah, but everywhere I looked was out of stock. The word on the street is that you can buy them in Wilko, Boots, Savers and other high street stores. I managed to find a dedicated washing up loofah online and I love it. It has a really nice feel to it and does the job perfectly. Freshen it up in boiling water if it gets a bit yukky. The best news of all – it can be placed on your compost heap, where it will happily rot down and give you lovely wormy compost.

Coconut husk scrubbie: Great for pans and jobs that require a bit more welly. Loved it and again, the scrubbie bit is compostable.

Washing up sponge: If you really can’t shake the habit, don’t worry. EcoForce make a recycled washing up sponge. It’s a bit tougher than my old washing up sponges, but in the grand scheme of things it’s pretty good.

Unsponges: This is a general term for handmade washing up pads – look out for the ones with an eco friendly filling, made from organic cotton. I’ve not tried to make one myself yet – there are plenty of sources online. Shop small if you can and help an independant crafter. Otherwise, if you’re good at sewing, tutorials aplenty online.

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The mean, green clean

Okay, so many of the cleaning products we purchase in the supermarket contain unpleasant chemicals that are damaging to the environment and not particularly pleasant for us either. And most of them come in plastic packaging.

I’ve been on a mission to test some natural cleaning products and I’m amazed at just how effective they are. In some cases, they’re even better than their shop bought equivalents.

There are 3 main elements to your natural cleaning arsenal: sodium bicarbonate, citric acid and white vinegar. Here’s what they will do for you:

Sodium Bicarbonate: use with a damp cloth to scrub your kitchen surfaces; make into a paste with a little water and some white vinegar – slap it over your dirty oven, leave for a few hours and rinse off; put a teaspoon full in a dirty tea cup, fill with boiling water and watch it get to work.

White Vinegar: it’s great for cleaning kettles – simply put a cup full in a limescaled kettle, fill with water, leave to stand for a while, boil and rinse out a couple of times. You may need to scrub the limescale a bit. Put some in the fabric condition section of your washing machine drawer instead of fabric condition. Make an all-purpose cleaning spray with 50% white vinegar, 50% water and a dash of lemon juice.

Citric Acid: this saved my bacon on our dirty toilet. I clean our toilet regularly, but a limescale build up had left it quite grubby. I poured some citric acid around the bowl, left overnight and scrubbed. Sparkly clean!

The great news – you don’t have to buy these items in plastic containers either. White vinegar is readily available in bottles. Sodium bicarbonate and citric acid are available from Wilkos in cardboard boxes. Or you can buy any of these ingredients in bulk online. Go to it!

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Tea for Me…

Teapot from Oby Pottery

Yes I know, it’s far easier to pop a teabag into a cup, pour boiling water over it, swish it around for a minute and hey presto you have a cup of tea. But as you all know, many teabags contain plastic – an environmental no-no.

The great news is that leaf tea is much better quality than the dusty powder you find in many tea bags. So not only does it make a better brew, it can work out cheaper too.

It really doesn’t take much more time to make a pot of tea – if you don’t have a teapot, check your local charity shops. I’m willing to bet you’ll find one pretty quickly. Otherwise, why not buy one from an artisan crafter? I asked for two teapots for birthday gifts – a giant one for tea parties from Mudness Ceramics, and this lovely stoneware pot (above) for just me from Oby Pottery. They are stunning and every time I pour myself a cup of tea, I get so much pleasure.

Why not ditch the bag? Go on, you know you’re worth it…

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