The humble wooden spoon has an honoured place amongst my beloved tried & trues. Plain, modest, and common, yes. Impossible to improve upon, remarkably adaptable, ecological, economical, ergonomic, and quite simply, essential, very much so!
I like to keep a collection of wooden spoons of varying shapes. (Why yes, that’s my handmade pitcher, all glazed and grand.) Some are reserved for tall pots of savoury things, others are strong and sturdy and kept for the physicality of baking. I try to keep the baking spoons from doing the work of the cooking spoons, so that I don’t end with a garlicky cake. I’ve a spoon of my grandmother’s with a lovely curved hook to balance the spoon on the edge of a pot. I’ve very old dark ones, rubbed with olive oil over the years, stained by berries and tomatoes. I’ve a weakness for variety and will buy unusual shapes as I come across them. They never scratch a surface, not smooth steel or enamel, nor do they bend, melt, or release toxins of any kind. Easily washed, easily stored. These are the sorts of ancient tools one keeps for a lifetime, or two. I’ve heard that even the finest chefs will point to the ordinary wooden spoon as the most essential tool in the kitchen. One day I’d like to make one myself.
Autumn sets me to baking, mm, maybe apple-cream-turnovers! Did you see appleturnover’s quarterly yet? Fratelli’s recipe comes with every subscription.
Watercolours, in all their simplicity, make my list of indispensable art materials. Like a set of good, rich drawing pencils, and a fine black pen, a paintbox of fine colours is essential.
I like to make sure my children have professional materials to work with, and watercolours are an inexpensive, non-toxic, easy-to-clean solution. We share our materials, though I must watch that the best paintbrushes aren’t left in murky water to permanently turn left!
Archival watercolour paper is tempting, and gorgeous brushes are needful things, never mind box easels and palettes, but I am regularly amazed at the effects that can be achieved with the simplest materials.
Water, pigment, paper. These are so elemental in artistic expression, and we return to the old materials again and again. I bring out the watercolours in the summer especially, inspired by that wonderful old tradition of painting en plein air. Peaceful habit. Ever so grounding. I’d like to sit down to paint more often.
p>These paintings are my children’s experiments, very old and very recent; they’re completely different from their pen and pencil drawings; I love how materials can break you out into new territory. You might like to see some gorgeous pen and ink drawings that my lovely friend Sania Pell made with her child. Ever so inspiring.
I’ve been trying to stop producing so much garbage by looking carefully at what we’re buying. Most of our packaging comes from our food, so I’ve started there, but many of the ideas translate to other things we need.
- Buy it directly from the farmer or producer. If you’re very lucky to live near a farm or market, you can get food and other things with little or no packaging.
- Buy locally. If it doesn’t need to travel the earth to get to you, it doesn’t need so much packaging around it. Fresher, in season food, without the fuel spent transporting it, and supporting the people and businesses in the community around you are clearly great side benefits.
- Make it from scratch. I like to do this not only because I can control the ingredients and how they’re prepared, but because it’s far cheaper. If you’re careful, the ingredients to make it will result in less garbage than if you were to buy the thing you’re making, especially if you make a good amount of whatever it is. I’m often amazed how much faster and easier it is to make things like oatcakes, yogurt and cream cheese, than I think it will be, especially once I develop a weekly ritual.
- Buy it in bulk. Often the packaging is massively reduced, though I was once distressed to find that the ‘bulk’ peas I’d bought were actually a dozen small individual packages of peas. Shucks! Set up a buying group to share the base amount required to get a discount. Often buying organic can be 3/4 to 1/2 the price if you buy from the folks that supply the organics shops. Make a list of anything that stores well that you could decant into jars and store somewhere, if you can find some space for it. I buy flour, tomato paste in glass jars, butter to freeze, beans, grains, pasta, toilet paper, cleaning products like vinegar and baking soda, epsom salts and fair trade chocolate in bulk. Chocolate so I have lots of it, that’s clearly a staple.
- Choose the option available in less or recyclable packaging. The brand of dish soap we use comes in a refillable bottle, and a local shop will refill it. Brilliant. There are refillable pens on the market (though my fountain pen is by far the most ecologically sound).
- Ask if you can bring your own containers or get whatever it is delivered loosely in a box, as appropriate. I’ve been surprised how many restaurants even give a discount, if you show up a bit early with your own containers for a take-away.
- Tell the shop, the company, the owner, that you’d buy their product if it were available in an ecological mode. I love the idea of voting with your dollars, but speaking up is a powerful thing to combine with it. If you’re organised enough you can ask others to join in requesting better packaging options. When ordering something online, in that little window that says ‘special instructions’ I like to make a polite request for ecologically sound packaging.
- Set up a custom or standing order. Sometimes having a standing order for something gives you an opportunity to request it in a particular way – for example I get cream in glass, in a pint size, since I make cream cheese with it, and this way I avoid the plastic that the smaller size comes in, which isn’t a recyclable type where I live (though if I do get the small size I use the pot in my garden!)
- Preserve your own food. This is getting more popular again, and is very easy when you know how. Get someone to show you, look at video tutorials, read books. It’s another frugal option, can allow you to eat organic, foraged, or farm-picked foods, and buying in bulk is a great option to get in-season foods at a great price and preserve them for later. If you love jam but not sugar, try a calcium-set pectin, it allows a good set without all the sugar to wig everyone out. A row of beautiful jars of preserves is also a tremendously satisfying thing.
- Bring your own bags. I know you know this one. Keep some in the car/by the door/in a shopping trolley/folded tightly in your bag. I also have a few little mesh ones I like for filling with smaller things like carrots or apples. And you know I love my market basket.
Any more ideas for me? I’d love to hear. Have a great weekend! I’ll be watching historical weddings, eating the last of the chocolate, and taking a cue from England to have Monday off as well. As I’m here. Twist my arm. I’ll see you here on Tuesday, refreshed and ready for May.
Breakfast is something I like my children to make for themselves, if at all possible. They became rather fond of a couple of boxed cereals, and though they are organic, wheat-free, and low in sweetness, to me the convenience wasn’t quite worth the distance they had to travel, the cost of the food, and the bag of plastic that had to be tossed out. We talked about this a bit and we’re revisiting an old solution to a quick breakfast. Granola.
I hope to keep them interested with frequent variations on ways to dress granola up, with fresh fruit, yogurt, dried fruit, and flavours like maple syrup and vanilla. To make this version, I turned the oven to about 150C/300F, melted a cup of coconut oil (or as little as 1/4 if you prefer) mixed in a splash of vanilla, a glug of maple syrup, a few drops of stevia and sea salt to taste, then stirred in about 450g of oats. I baked that for 20 minutes, tossing now and then. Then I added seeds and chopped nuts, and baked for another 10 or 15. Mix the dried fruit in while it’s cooling.
They can easily help themselves to this one.
And they do. I always think I’m making enough for a week, but these yummy things never last long around here, I’ll have to triple the recipe. It leaves me a bit more time to get on with other projects. The furniture is all finished! I’ll photograph it very soon.
I am always elated to find a solution that is inexpensive, ecologically sound, effective, and a pleasure to use. Unlike many tools for washing up in the kitchen, the luffa functions perfectly from beginning to end.
The natural plant sponge is easily grown (somewhere hot, mind- but they’re extremely light to ship), and just as easily composted after months of use; it scrubs clean all kinds of surfaces without damaging them; it dries quickly and avoids mildew; it’s strong and beautiful; it is ideal. For a household tool that needs to be somewhat regularly replaced, I am entirely satisfied with it. I use it in combination with a wooden scrub brush with fantastically rough natural bristles, which has done its duty for a good two years now, and will be composted when it no longer functions, and an ecologically friendly dish soap, with a shaker of baking soda for polishing the ceramics. Having spent much of my life avoiding the dishes, these are some of the things that have altered my relationship with the task.