Monday, July 28, 2014

Sure as eggs is eggs

I have wanted to go no-poo for aaaaaages. I've tried many alternatives, but never anything that really worked. I could kid myself it worked but I knew it looked unwashed. I've tried conditioner only. I've tried baking soda and vinegar. I've tried black tea and lemon. I've tried water only. I've most recently been using soap, followed by a vinegar rinse. I went a year without washing my hair not so long ago. I've never felt happy with how my hair looked, and always ended up caving to the shampoo.

I recently decided to try again. I went water only for a week, and was unhappy but unsurprised to find a waxy build-up in my hair. I've had this before. It never really goes.  

Then I found inspiration online. For the last two weeks, I have been washing my hair with eggs. Yes, eggs. You read that right.

My hair is clean clean clean - as clean as it would be after shampoo, but also soft and thick and bouncy, where shampoo left it feeling thin and stripped. My scalp, after a brief dandruff shower, seems to have settled down more than it has in years. The egg has totally cleaned off the waxy deposit, and the oily build-up, and my hair is CLEAN!

Egg wash is endlessly versatile, and I'm experimenting. Some washes work better than others. This is the basic recipe/method I'm using at the moment:
Eggwash for hair
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp olive oil
2tbsp cold water

Mix it all up together, apply to dry hair, massage into scalp and along the length, leave for 10 minutes or so, wash out in lukewarm water (to avoid scrambling the egg), and then follow with a final rinse of cold water.
I've seen recipes online which use only egg white, or only the yolk, or which include yoghurt, beer, vinegar, essential oils and myriad other ingredients which I have yet to explore. The first time I did this, I used one egg on its own - not as effective as the wash above but still quite good.

I haven't worked out the cost yet - I imagine it is probably more expensive than commercial shampoo, but it is so lovely on my hair! I'm using it twice a week so far, but I am hoping that I can stretch out the gap between hair washes as my scalp adjusts. I should really have waited a few months to see if it is still working but I am so excited to have finally found an option leaving my hair feeling beautifully clean and nourished that I just had to share it!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Homemade pizza

Saturday night is treat night. For several years now, we have planned, cooked and eaten (well, my boyfriend largely does the planning and cooking) healthy meals during the week, and on Saturday we can forget about diets and weight loss and cholesterol, and splurge.

It's a great trick because it's not that we can't eat pizza, burgers, ice cream, chips - we just have to wait until Saturday, so it helps with will power when one of us is trying to lose some weight. It also means we don't get too tired of eating healthy meals, or too tired of cooking, because we have usually eaten out on Saturdays, or got takeway. No cooking, no washing up.

Then we had a go at homemade pizza. I don't think we will ever again be able to spend €30 between us on a couple of takeaway pizzas, when we can make even more fabulous homemade pizza for half that, and have enough to invite some friends over to share it with us. We can even open a nice bottle of wine, or some craft beer, and still spend far less than we would in a pizza restaurant.

Homemade burgers followed, with homemade bread buns, grilled cheese and bacon. Yum. Why go out to a noisy pub when we can enjoy something so much nicer and cheaper in the comfort of our own home? (I've been checking out recipes for barbeque sauce, might have to have a go at that.)

I strongly encourage everyone to have a go at homemade pizza. I've been making bread for years and thought pizza dough would be difficult, but its the easiest bread recipe I've come across. I use this recipe from the River Cottage Bread Recipe Book. It only needs to rise once before baking, so I can have it from the bowl to the oven in less than an hour, or it can be left to develop more. 

My boyfriend mixes up a paste from tomato concentrate, which we always have in the cupboard. The only thing we need to go out and buy for this is the cheese, ham or other toppings. It's super quick and super tasty and super filling.

Saturday night is still treat night, but we are increasingly using it to invite people over. A couple of pizzas, a bowl of salad and a bottle of wine makes for an incredibly easy but really nice evening. Throw in some decent ice cream or even a pre-prepared tiramisu and we can call it a dinner party. 

I've even been able to add some fresh basil - my first homegrown ingredient on a homemade pizza.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I'm sooooo tired. I have been for the last ten days or so. Counterintuitively, I've been sleeping far better. I think this means I'm catching up on a long-standing sleep debt, and that's why I'm craving more sleep.

I'm sleeping much better for one very simple reason. At my boyfriend's suggestion, I am observing a 9pm 'curfew' after which I switch off my laptop and put my phone on silent. I don't check emails, don't read blogs, don't browse facebook or watch videos on upworthy or chat to people on skype. I also don't channel-hop on tv, but can watch a pre-recorded programme or a film.

As a result, I use my time more effectively earlier in the evening because if I want to send an email or write a blog post, I have a self-imposed deadline. I have a more relaxed evening, more focused on what I'm doing now instead of multi-tasking (or multi-failing, more accurately).

I wind down earlier, and find myself heading to bed earlier as well. I used to go to bed between 11 and 12, but now I find myself dozing off by 10.30. I sleep far better and awake more rested. I'm a definite convert.

Have you tried something similar?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jam is not just for toast

When I was growing up, jam was eaten on toast. On occasion, it might be eaten on a scone or crumpet, but that's about it. But jam is so much more than a spread for toast. All that concentrated sunshiney sweet fruit, the tangy vegetables, are a beautiful accompaniment to other food groups you may not expect.

Jam with meat. Yeeuch, I hear you say. Fruit and meat? Ho yes. Back in ye olde times, mixing meat and fruit was common, cos its yummy. Turkey with cranberry sauce, anyone? Pork with apple jelly, or lamb tajine with dried apricots? Redcurrent jerry in homemade gravy? Preserved fruit most definitely has a place on the meat dish, whether in the marinade or next to the cooked meat. My favourite is cranberry and port jam with poultry or pork.

Jam with cheese. Fig jam with a soft brie and a slice of homemade bread is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Cherry jam is also good for this, as is our favourite cranberry. I've not yet made it, but onion marmalade is also delicious with cheese.

Jam with ice cream. Peach and walnut jam on vanilla ice cream is summer in a bowl. Cherry jam just takes so much more cherry-y than plain cherries, somehow. Strawberry jam, with a drizzle of melted chocolate for good measure. (Just wait until I can make my own ice cream. Then this will seriously rock.)

Jam with porridge. This is one for winter, or for days when I need cheering up in the morning. A bowl of warm, comforting porridge with a spoonful of raspberry or cherry jam. So, so yes.

And for good measure, you can still eat it on toast. How about you? Any favourite jam tricks? I keep meaning to try using them in drinks, fruity flavour and sweetness in one hit.

Edit Things wot I missed:
Jam with yoghurt
Jam in sandwiches
Jam with meatballs
Jam in cakes (Victoria sandwich)

Cue a Monty Python-style song: jam, jam, jam, jam, lovely jam...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Free plant containers

So as you may know, I've been frustrated in my container gardening aspirations by my refusal to spend silly sums of money on gardening centre pots, and my difficulty finding any cheap alternatives.

However, recently I've started seeing free pots. Everwhere. I don't know if it's because everyone's chucking them out or because I've started looking at random plastic tubs differently. I picked up a couple of slightly cracked storage boxes which had been dumped by the roadside (we have a problem with flytipping round here but on this occasion it worked in my favour). I pushed a few holes in the bottom, glued the cracks shut and voila.

I took advantage of the gorgeous weather this week to sow lettuce, radishes and sunflowers in one pot. The other one (in the middle) is only waiting for me to get some more potting compost - it will hold rocket, sorrel and spring onions. I took this opportunity to interplant some lamb's lettuce with the beetroot, and sow some herbs in some small pots that were cluttering up the balcony. 

It's certainly looking a bit more like a balcony garden, no? I picked up the watering can for €2,50 from the second-hand shop, I think it will make watering easier than using a measuring jug.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Project 333 - take three

This weekend marked the end of my second 3-month stint of Project 333, so on Sunday afternoon I duly got my bags out of the basement for the selection of my next 33.

It's getting easier and easier to select my 33. The first one took ages and was a real wrench to make decisions. Now I can see duplicates or near-duplicates more easily. I see combinations more easily, and I am more aware of when I actually wear things. There are several lovely items of clothing that I have held on to in the hopes that my life would enable me to wear them but in reality I spend less than one day a year lounging on a beach with a book. I prefer holidays with interesting things to see and do, with time lounging in the shade with an ice cream/cold beer and a book. Why do I have garments specifically designed to be worn over bathing suits on the beach? Very silly. Another bag of clothes I don't use is heading for my favourite charity.

You will not be surprised to learn that I am a complete convert to the principle of Project 333. I don't think I will ever go back to that awful crowded wardrobe. I'm not sure how much longer I'll stick with the 33 rule, but I will continue to limit the contents of my wardrobe and rotate through the seasons.

I still haven't managed to make much of what I think I want to create but that's ok. I'm wearing everything in my wardrobe now, can always find what I am looking for, and have a clear idea of what I want to add. Laundry is less stressful and my clothes are better cared-for. Best of all, even when the house is a tip, getting dressed is always stress-free, and I have a daily reminder of the benefits of minimalism.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Individual and collective choices

I wanted to share this video with you, because it has really stayed with me over the last week. I am struck her comments about how the focus on individual choices can distract us from collective choices that we make as societies and nations. I think the two can complement, can reinforce - but I also think it is true that my focus on what I can do to declutter, to be more frugal, and to live more sustainably is masking my lack of engagement on these issues more broadly. 

Blogging links those of us exploring this way of life together, offering valuable encouragement and ideas like virtual neighbours. This is incredibly important when we are starting out because we need to know that we are not the only ones exploring these life choices. However, I think our engagement online, in this community without elections, without institutions or governments, should at some point support engagement in our local communities.

To be honest, that's kind of scary. Deciding to grow beetroot on my balcony, reduce the temperature at which I wash clothes or knitting my own dischcloths is a lot easier than trying to build change locally. Where do I start? And the language issue does not help - I speak French reasonably well but not fluently, and speak almost no Dutch at all. I also don't know the local systems, norms and infrastructures as well as I do in the UK, even after several years. 

The idea of trying to get involved in local efforts at commuity, city or national level is very daunting. I have engaged with various volunteering projects or crafting groups since I've been here, although most of those have fallen away with the greater workload at my new job, but most of these were expat-dominated. I don't know most of my neighbours in the building, let alone on the street. But I'm coming to the conclusion that it's something I really want to do, something that is an unavoidable part of being true to how I see the way forward.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The fabric hoard

Oh boy.

I finally dug one of the big boxes up from the basement for a declutter. The boxes were packed so long ago that I now only have a vague memory of what is in them. This one was marked 'craft' so I knew it was more craft supplies. This is what I found:

The box was full of old clothes and scraps of fabric that I had intended to turn into a quilt at some point. I think I had wildly overestimated how much fabric was needed for a quilt, and what was suitable fabric for a quilt, and was quite clearly incapable of letting go of jeans with holes in - eight pairs. EIGHT! I have always hated clothes shopping, I think this must represent the bulk of the jeans I have owned since my early teens.

 You see that blue check dress? It was one of my favourite things to wear - when I was about 9 years old. I think I might have a hoarding problem.

I've been very strict with myself. Everything still in wearable condition is being donated (apart from one top I had forgotten I have but really like). I'll cut up one or two pairs of jeans for my quilt and the rest will go in the bin (unless anyone has any genius ideas?)

I've also got a big stack of cheap t-shirts from summer holiday activities. I'm torn between donating them to people who could really use a free t-shirt (as there is plenty of wear left - at least one of them has never been worn, and several were only worn for the individual project they relate to), and cutting them up into t-shirt yarn. What could I use it for? I could make a tarn rug but I'm not sure where I would put it, and suspect it would just end up being one more thing to clean. However, we do lose a fair amount of heat through key parts of the floor in winter...

Let me know if you have any crafty suggestions for the jeans or the t-shirt. Either way, I want the content of this box gone in short order - so I can get on with the next one!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Around the World Blog Hop

This is my first blog hop and I'm feeling very chuffed that Eleanor over at Seeds and Stitches has invited me to join in.

Taking part next week are:

Kaylie over at Kindred Like Me who blogs about books and theatre, her own writing, and her broader journey to shape and direct her life. Kaylie wrote me a poem for a Christmas present once that is still one of the best presents I have ever received.

Cheryl at Time to Craft, sharing beautiful pictures, thought-provoking reflections and super simple tutorials for crafting at home, particularly with kids, and slowing down to savour everyday moments. Spinning and patchwork, garden and chooks, and rescuing bats all feature.

What am I working on?

Several projects - a skirt made from a pair of my boyfriend's old trousers, an embroidered table cloth and my first patchwork quilt. I also have several 'in-progress' projects tucked into various cupboards which are a bit stalled.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Probably the greatest difference is my tendancy to run before I can walk, and taken on epically huge projects. This embroidered tablecloth is such overkill and will take me months to finish, my first attempt at making a skirt is done without a pattern, just adapting as I go, and my first piece of patchwork is not something small but bigger than two square metres.

Why do I create/do what I do?

I get enormous satisfaction from making something tangible. A lot of what I do in the day does deliver progress but you can't see it, touch it, use it. Looking around me and thinking 'I made that' gives me a warm feeling on the coldest winter day.

The process of crafting is often therapeutic in itself, knitting, crochet and embroidery help me to slow down and take my focus away from a tv or computer screen.

I also like making practical, useful things that are good value for money. I made all the curtains in the flat for slightly over €300 - custom-made, heavy, lined curtains would have cost me considerably more than that. The most satisfying creations are those using scraps, odds and ends - essentially free. These show me that I can fulfil some part of my homemaking dream even while working a busy job - whether that's making dishcloths or a pair of pajamas.

How does my creating process work?

Inspiration comes from blogs and pinterest, and from my imagination. I know I should restrain my ambition but where's the fun in that? I plot out what I'm planning to do very loosely - develop an easily repeated embroidery pattern based on more complex examples, calculate the number of square patches for the quilt - but rarely develop a precise and clear plan. This is both a strength and a weakness - I enjoy being able to adapt my plans as new ideas come, but sometimes I can't decide or end up duplicating stages because my ideas change part-way through. Not really a sophisticated process but it works for me.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jam jam jam

It's that time of year again - fresh fruit perfectly ripe on market stalls at silly prices. Jam time!

If you don't make jam, please please please give it a try. We've met people who think it's a huge, time-consuming, complex undertaking. Making jam is very straightforward and as long as you sterilise things, pretty safe. And there are three big advantages of homemade jam over shop-bought.

You can make it the way you like it. As with bread, pizza or any other food product, making it yourself means you can make it your way. You can try wacky flavour combinations, add nuts or spices, mix different fruits and go for exactly the sweetness level you want. We got so sick of shop jams with no pieces of actual fruit in, and now really enjoy making jam with big whole strawberries and chunks of peach floating around.

You know exactly what's in it. Homemade jam is fruit and sugar, and you control how much sugar you use. (We also add some lemon juice to help the set.)  There's no colourings, flavourings or preservatives, and if you want to, you could make it organic.

It's cheaper. This kind of surprised me, I figured that commercially-made jam would benefit from economies of scale and would work out cheaper than homemade, but no. It varies from fruit to fruit, of course, but our jams come in around €3-10 per kilo. That's with fruit from the market or the supermarket, I imagine it could be even cheaper with homegrown fruit.

Jam-making is a perfect Sunday afternoon activity, and we'll enjoy the sweet fruity taste of summer in the colder months.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Knowing when to take a break

I've been thinking and reading and talking a fair bit about self-discipline over the last months. As you know, I struggle to resist the call of chocolate chip biscuits at work and tend to have more projects on the go at any one time than I can possibly complete. I don't do sport or exercise anywhere near enough and the housework is usually just overlooked.

As I suspect are many people, I am an expert in feeling really guilty about 'being bad' - whether with my health or my home - though not very good at turning that into action. It's actually a fairly familiar background feeling.

However, I had a conversation last week which has made me rethink this. After a busy week at work, I felt I ought to get out of the house and do something at the weekend, towards one of my other goals, but I was so tired physically and mentally that I really just wanted to curl up with some knitting, an old DVD and a cup of tea. The response was that self-discipline also means not pushing yourself too hard, knowing when you have earned and in fact need a rest.

I realise that I generally feel that I should be doing something productive, and if I'm not, I feel bad. But after putting in a lot of time and effort at work, it's perfectly ok if I preter to read than to sweep the floors. I do want to get that done too - but feeling bad about not doing it will not help, nor will pushing myself to sweep the floors at ten o'clock at night, or clean toilets first thing on a Sunday morning.

I really enjoy a lot of the posts about home from people like Rhonda at Down to Earth and Shannon at Radical Homemakers. I love the idea of home as the harbour we come back to after our trips out to sea - some beautiful, some tempest-tossed, some fruitful and some frustrating - where we restock and repair. nourish body and soul, and prepare for the next trip. Today, home is making pancakes for brunch in spite of the state of the floor.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Of birds and stones, or crafty decluttering

Hello and welcome to everyone visiting from Stitches and Seeds. I'll be joining the Around the World blog hop next week, but in the meantime if you haven't already seen Eleanor's beautiful Persian sweetie shop blanket, then get hopping!

I've been tackling my craft-related clutter recently. I've been pondering this, and particularly Rhonda's thoughts on a stash of yarn or fabric as another kind of stockpiling. My stash is just clutter - I don't know what to do with it, a lot is poor quality, none of it goes together and I still have to go out to buy new fabric or yarn for a new project.

There's one exception. I'm cutting up off-cuts and torn clothes into patches for my first attempt at a quilt for our bed (partly because I want to try quilting, partly because we don't have anything between heavy duvet and light sheets, and parly to use up the huge pile of fabric odds and ends I have accumulated). Wondering what to use for backing fabric, I came across a vast quantity (about 3m by 2.5m) of plain white cotton which I bought on the basis that white cotton would always come in handy. I bought it from 'les puces' - the fleas - at my favourite fabric shop, Le Chien Vert (the green dog). It's all the ends of rolls that have been moved to the back storeroom to save space and they are super cheap - my 3m of white cotton was €5.

I can see that with a little more understanding of the kind of things I do make, I could accumulate a small stockpile of quality, versatile, low-cost fabric which would come in useful when the crafting bug bites on a Sunday and nothing is open, and help keep the costs of that down when I'm tempted by €12/metre fabric. It's like stockpiling food - only do it with things that will keep and you know you will use. Most of what I have really falls under the heading of 'wishful thinking.'

So this has convinced me. I'm no longer going to try to go no-stash, but I do want to clear out what I have and start to think about building a small but versatile stockpile. I'm trying to find ways to clear the decks without either buying more stuff or just chucking it out, and I have had one small area of success.

Killing two birds with one stone, I have used all the leftover odds and ends from other projects involving cotton yarn to make some lovely new washcloths. I was running low and thinking of getting some nice pretty cotton for nice pretty washcloths and then decided I can do that when I've used up all my cotton stash. These washcloths are noticeably better than my first attempts - looser knit, bigger and a better pattern/texture for washing. Plus I enjoyed getting my needles out again, and the feeling of frugal smugness when knitting washcloths in leftover yarn.

Have you got any top tips for stash-busting?


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