I’m a Barbie girl…

…in a Barbie world…life is plastic…it’s fantastic…

Well…you get the plastic-picture. Or do you?

Unless you’ve been sitting on the back shelf of a Mattel warehouse collecting dust, then you will probably know that last month was Plastic Free July. You know….that month when you take a few moments to examine your life – and realise how hard it would be to function without that highly versatile product of convenience – and then try to do your bit to curb the oncoming apocalypse that is a plastic-waste tidal wave.

Each year the world produces approximately 448 million tons of plastic, 40% of which is only used once. Given that it takes about 450 years for the stuff to biodegrade, that leaves a corporate-giant-sized amount of rubbish accumulating each year on the shorelines of developing countries and in rivers, oceans, and…wait for it…human flesh – in the form of nano-particles. With such massive figures staring us in the micro-plastic (…ever had a look at the ingredients on that favourite bottle of facial moisturiser?) face, mucking in to try and reduce ones own plastic consumption can easily seem like a futile and overwhelming exercise.

I myself am a professed, dyed in the HDPE (in particular) plastic fan. I mean, c’mon, how could you not fall in love with such a robust, rigid specimen that holds up to plenty of repeated bouts of rough and tumble in that spare room cupboard, garage and even freezer! However, when it comes to single-use, soft plastics – and all those hidden petrochemicals found in cleaning products, clothes, cosmetics and food packaging – I give them but a cursory, haughty glance followed by a dismissive SMS: Sorry. Mindful Shopping…that’s just not my style! Whilst I don’t pretend to have a fantastical imagination about ridding the world of all it’s poly-chemical woes, I do believe that life is my creation: I have a duty to my children to teach them how to play and live in a sustainable way.

So you’ve done the cloth shopping bags and you’re getting used to the idea of carrying around a re-usable coffee cup for your latte’s-to-go. Now you’re up for a bigger challenge. Well what better moment is there for a new, plastic-free challenge than that dashing, dine-in-date-night with the love of your life. From preparing the house to donning the glitzy garb, below are some additional tips to add to your expanding, plastic-free tool kit (purse or wallet).

C’mon guys and dolls. Let’s go for a ride:

Setting the romantic scene: for me, nothing sours a dine-in-date-night faster than seeing the kitchen and dining space in a state of disarray. Fortunately, after years of trying a number of commercial equivalents, I have cottoned onto a couple of house-hold cleaning winners to ward off that bitter edge to the night. That is, the trusty old vinegar and bi-carb soda. With the exception of our washing powder (the eco-friendly, bulk-buy brand that I get from a local food co-op), these are the only other two cleaning chemicals I use in the house. Scented with some orange peels or garden herbs (there are plenty of free recipes on the web), no floor, bench, window, wall or oven is safe from these super-chemicals (and kid safe) clutches. As for the table adornments; my kid’s nature displays and an elegant bees-wax candle arrangement set the scene perfectly.

Dolling up: before it’s time to brush your hair and undress everywhere (uh..hmmm), it might be worth taking a look at the ingredients in your favourite tube of eyeliner or men’s deodorant.

Generally speaking, any long winded chemical with the word poly at the front or -ene at the end is probably going to be a micro-bead plastic. Recently PCCP’s (Plastics in Cosmetics and personal Care Products) have taken center stage in the bimbo-plastics department. And for good reason. Ultimately – after they have escaped from water treatment plants, been taken up by a local river system and then used in agriculture – they wind up in your body, potentially wreaking havoc with your reproductive system and general cell functioning. Yikes!

Fortunately there are plenty of great products out there in the cosmetics and personal care market that are micro-plastic free…if you are willing to part with a pretty penny. Some of them even eschew the plastic packaging too, such as shampoo bars and bamboo toothbrushes. Otherwise there is always the rustic alternative that is make-up free….with a glass-packaged deodorant paste to match.

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Dressed to impress: continuing on with the micro-plastic theme is that of synthetic clothing. I am a devoted worshiper of the natural fibre and I am constantly raiding tip bins, clothing swap racks and charity shop collections in search of these scarce items. That said, I have plenty of polyester, rayon, spandex and man-made fleeces in my wardrobe and I’ll be darned (see what I did there?) if I’m letting go of my nylon stockings. Once again, the big, bad thing with plastic clothes is the nano-sized particles that break off during the wash and, at the grave stage of the life-cycle, disseminate through land fill. For me, when it comes to that daring, glamour-in-pink, date-night number I follow three rules: natural if it’s new, second-hand if it’s synthetic and always follow the care instructions!

Plating up: now we’re getting to the business end of the night. It’s time to get naked!

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Ok, ok…so maybe your not quite up for that! In fact, unless you’re willing to give up your day job (…no really…it’s a big time commitment), relinquishing food packaging completely is seriously hard work. Besides, not everyone is lucky enough to have a farmer’s market outlet and a whole-foods shop just around the corner. Also, for most busy families, there just aren’t enough hours (and energy) in the day to hand-make all the families key staples such as bread, yoghurt, snack food and home cooked meals each night. There has to be a trade off!

Now before you go all plastic-packaging-ice-queen (or king) on the lovely check-out person or manager at your local supermarket, there are some simple things you can do – in addition to your cotton veggie-huggers and re-usable shopping bags – that put a big smile on the environment’s dial. Firstly, if you have to purchase something that is wrapped in plastic, it can be helpful to think about what is going to happen to that packaging at the end of it’s life time: how recyclable is your packaging?

In an almost-naked nutshell, if you have to purchase an item that is packaged in a soft-plastic – which is not easily recycled and breaks down into mirco, water-polluting particles that re-enter the food chain and therefore your body – try to look for brands that have a zip-lock (or other), closure so that the packaging can be reused. For meat, nuts and other products purchased from the deli, ask if you can bring your own containers, otherwise you could consider offsetting your plastic packaging footprint by choosing a high-end product instead. Farms that identify as being organic or biodynamic adhere to strict practices that have a lower environment impact and therefore reliance on the petrochemical industry. Oh and one last thing, for those of you who love to pick-up the big and hunky, purchasing items in large quantities (such as a block of cheese and a family sized pack of crisps instead of the individually wrapped alternatives) increases the product to plastic surface-area-ratio and hence means less poly-carbon waste in your dustbin.

Feeling set to walk and talk the reduced plastic date-night challenge?

Then act like a star. Have some fun. And go and party! Ah ah ah yeah…the Aqua planet with love you!

Souper Getaway: in the Sunshine State with ‘Kin

“Into each day put: one teaspoon of good spirits, a dash of fun, pinch of folly and a spoonful of laughter” – anonymous. 

Surviving the subzero, July temperatures in our cool climate town is a monumental challenge at the best of times. Throw in a rental house with an EER of 0.5 and two active little sprouts addicted to the outdoors, and all of a sudden making it through the winter weeks can seem a little like pushing a wheelbarrow load of hefty pumpkins uphill with a flat tyre!

Fortunately for us, when the freezing weather tightens its icy tendrils about our abode, we apply a two-pronged, garden-fork bushwhack to see us through the mid year hump. Namely, some hearty, pumpkin themed, winter warming dishes and…

…a three week getaway with friends and family in Queensland.

After germination, our heirloom variety, second-hand family sedan hit the highway for a meandering journey north towards the radiant centre of our great nation. By the end of the three weeks, we had bartered some ‘Kin favourites, a case of wine and a posse of local cheeses in return for a bumper crop of home style cooking and fruitful banter. Such highlights included: Garden Bake and Games Night in Gosford; Souper dining in the bush at Mt. Crosby; the Geebung Pizza Oven Supreme; roast lunch with a view in Nambour; poolside scones with jam and cream in Bridgeman Downs and; familial crockpot catering in Mt. Clear. Of course no wining and dining trip to the sunshine state would ever truly be complete without that regal standard high tea at Mrs. O’s…

…and a fabaceous forage in her Castledine Garden.

After a captivating journey home through the vast expanse of inland NSW farmland, we alighted at a refurbished, rustic pub in Narrabri. Stealing time to reflect on our invigorating holiday while our humble and portable supper soup sat heating in the communal kitchen, my eyes fixed upon a fading poster tacked above the kitchen sink:

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An felicitous description of our solfull venture!

For anyone else hooked on the fleshy, orange love of ‘kin, I present to you my recipe for Dahl ‘n’ ‘Kin Soup: a home grown, eatable companion for the long haul, road trip to happiness. Enjoy!

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Dahl ‘n’ Kin Soup (Moong [or Mung] Dahl and Roast Pumpkin Soup)

When the mercury drops, our usual travelling meal of salad and tart is substituted for the the warming fare that is a hearty winter soup with home baked bread. As most hotels are decked out with a microwave, soup makes for a quick and frugal alternative to the truck stop or road side restaurant alternatives. I have even been known to throw in my metho-fueled Trangia stove…just in case!

½ medium sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 cup Moong (Mung) Dahl

2 onions, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely diced

2 carrots, cubed

500 ml stock

2 tbs fresh thyme

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Place the pumpkin pieces on a tray. Roast them in the oven at 180oC for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse the dahl and place it into a saucepan with atleast 1 L water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes on medium heat. Drain through a fine colander.

In a large, heavy based saucepan, fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat until the onion is translucent. Stir in the carrot. Cook for another couple of minutes. With the exception of the thyme, stir in the remaining ingredients. Place a lid on top of the saucepan and leave the soup to simmer on low heat for 30 – 40 minutes. Check regularly to ensure the soup is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Puree’ the soup and stir through the fresh thyme.

For travelling purposes, place the soup into an appropriately sized casserole dish (or microwave safe plastic container). Upon arrival at your hotel, throw the soup into the microwave for 10 – 15 minutes then serve, with some crusty home baked bread, to your weary travelling companions: Souper ‘Kin for your dahling kin.