Watch Out! Don’t Get Squashed

Aim high. Reach for the stars. Dream big. The sky’s the limit…

Just some of the many encouraging phrases bestowed on me by my parents during those formative years on the farm. Keen to live up to my mother and father’s expectations, I took it upon myself to ensure that I mastered the art of being a consistent “high” achiever. And so began my diverse and rather unorthodox take on the concept of altitude training. From wheat silos and haphazard hay-bale stacks to peppercorn trees and ten foot high shade clothed fences, if there was a vertical challenge to be had then you could bet your last high ropes carabiner I’d be at the climbing ready to take it on!

Early spring was always the most exciting time of year on the farm. Unfazed by the cool air and ice capped fences, my three brothers and I couldn’t throw the bedclothes off fast enough to compete for first place in the great race that was getting to the calving shed in time for the morning serve of colostrum rations for the newly born poddy calves.

One morning, following a particularly large dumping of September rain, Jimmy and Tommy – my two younger brothers – and I arrived at the feeding troughs to the sight of a sodden and desperately mewing piebald kitten hanging precariously by the tips of it’s outstretched claws from the corner, eave purlin, of the shed roof. Realising this was the perfect opportunity to show off my now well honed vertical scaling skills, I seized the moment and skillfully swung myself up and over the steel hinged, shed gate and rapidly began my ascent along the red-brick wall toward the frightened feline.

Blocking out the piercing wails hailing from above, I heedfully navigated the desultory brickwork, using gaps in the mortar and some spare, stacked fence palings to advance myself upward. Over the years, Tommy, Jimmy and I had become quite accustomed to rescuing stray animals that had taken refuge in various sheds and abandoned machinery about the farm. So as I neared my petrified friend, I was well prepared for the bared teeth and angry hissing that ensued. Ignoring the defensive, claw ridden strikes at my hands, I quickly covered the fist sized fur-ball with the cuff of my jumper and slowly made my way back toward my awestruck, brotherly audience.

Of course the blame for what happened next will always be leveled at the rain soaked, slippery clay soil and not at all because my over-inflated, high rise confidence had hijacked my sense of risk and caution. One moment I was comfortably balanced atop a stack of sturdy, wall-hugging fence posts, the next, I was pinned under a corporate fat-cat sized weight of Ironbark, competing desperately for breathing space through the only remaining gap between the now frantically mewing kitten and an incoming deluge of red-dirt mud.

I’m not sure what was worse, the incessant fang and claw induced maiming penetrating my now saturated Nanna-made jumper or the ultimate dressing down and week long parlour duties I received from Dad when, after what seemed like an interminable paws in time, he lifted me from my cat-tastrophe.

This summer I just couldn’t help myself. Dejected and clinging onto life with all but a tinge of chlorophyll left in the wilted green leaves, I threw the neglected punnet of Cucurbita Pepo into my basket and marched toward the checkout of our local nursery. Three months and a lot of love, weed and worm tea fertiliser later, and I was right back in that calf shed: totally squashed!

squash

Lucky. That was the name our much loved cat who, after much pleading and chore bargaining, was adopted into the family as yet another addition to our motley menagerie of rescued pets. Lucky is how I would also describe our abundance of fleshy, yellow marrow. From curries and pasta bakes to humble soups and sandwich-able preserves, we certainly feel golden to have so many adaptable family recipes that prevent us from finding ourselves in a profuse pickle. For those also flush with yellow funds this summer, I present to you my recipe for sharing the button squash love to all those who have a penchant for pickles…

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Squashed Chutney (makes plenty of tip shop rescued jar fulls!)

In true rescuing spirit, I plunged into that crate full of throw away, reduced price goodies at my local farmers market store to ensure that those over-sized yellowy-green marrows had plenty of motley friends to keep them company in those bottled up jars of summertime love.

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700g button squash, diced
2 green capsicums, deseeded and diced
1 corn cob, dekernaled
2 onions, diced
1 ½ c white vinegar
1 c white sugar
4 tsp ground turmeric
4tsp mustard seeds (brown or black)
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp curry powder
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients into a large pot with a lid. Bring the mixture to boiling point and allow it to simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the mixture thickens.

Meanwhile, sterilise those tip shop rescued glass jars. To sterilise the jars and lids, wash the them thoroughly in hot soapy water (use a bottlebrush if you need). Rinse in hot water then leave upside down to drain on a tea towel. Place the jars and lids on a tray in an upright position then place them in the oven at 100oC for 15-20 minutes.

Bottle the chutney into the hot, sterilised jars and seal. Leave for atleast three days before consuming.

Chutney

For those in need of an extra squashy meal deal or a wholesome, lunch box treat for the kids, load up the that homemade bread with a spoonful of the chutney, top with some cheddar and throw it in the toastie maker (…also rescued from the tip!). Viola!

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Oh…and as for those large seeds hidden in the centre of the squash, don’t forget to dry and store them for next summer. It’s the golden gift that keeps on giving!

ZomB’ Day Apocalypse

As the sun, scarlet red and looming eerily over the horizon, peeked it’s way in and out of the blackened clouds, a horde of lilliputian afterlife worshipers and their parents descended upon a local community hall for three hours of Zombie themed birthday party fun!

Enamored by the cemetery themed energy emanating from our housing complex gathering last Halloween, K1 decided to bundle up and preserve, for few months, some party ideas for a morbid motif rebirth. Three weeks before the day of the great re-enlivening, and my excited little greening machine set to work on all manner of dark and gruesome, mostly up-cycled, paraphernalia to entertain his fellow birthday bash pals. From entrails entrees to a mean ‘n’ obscene pinata, no activity or food menu item escaped the clutches of K1’s insatiable appetite for brainiacal ideas:

A-wake: nothing says a welcoming Zombie themed gathering like a good ol’ clap of thunder and some omnipresent grey and smoky gloom. Throw in some adequately alarming “Welcome” posters and a cache of classic 1990’s spooky dance numbers and our local community hall centered birthday bash was off to an eeriesistable start!

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Engorge the innards: stuff the kids full of deathly delectable food and, what do ya know, you have a room (and outdoor play space…phew!!) full of boundless afterlife energy. In keeping with the engorgeous theme, K1 renamed some of our family favourite recipes with suitably gutsy epithets including Head Salad (Scott’s Supersize Me Salad); Eyeball Bath (Tabouleh with pearl barley as an eye catching alternative) and Blood ‘n’ Bone Mix (Freekah and Beetroot Salad).

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As for the main course, well that’s a rather decaying matter. Those popular Bishop Bread rolls, usually packed full of veggies for a wholesome school sustenance, were transformed in both shape and name to resemble none other than…Corpses in Coffins (Sausages in Bread).

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Entrancing games: when it comes to kids party games, I’ve always been a bit of a fan of stitching together some of the old and flagging traditional games with an element of leitmotif to keep the punters entranced. Inspired by the much loved family card game, Zombie Run, K1 and his artistically enthusiastic friend set to work designing plenty of weird and wonderful masterpieces for the more personalised “Pin the Brain on the Zombie”. On the day itself, the kids took to the the brains with colourful fervor and were keen to come back for plenty more brain munching action.

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Following a competitive stint of Zombie Musical Chairs, the captivated kiddycrowd then huddled about the homemade pinata waiting patiently for their chance to belt some lollies out of the Zany Green Zombie head. When the quadruple layered paper mache’ oval was finally breached, mass hysteria ensued as each sugar crazed child expedited a snatch and grab maneuver to secure their personal loot.

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sCoffin Cake: no good birthday celebration is ever really complete until the voice box has been given a good, Sunday service quality workout, with a cake-by-candle-light vigil to finish. Using a childhood favourite recipe (my mothers chocolate slice) for the ground and a traditional, Woman’s Weekly butter cake for the tomb, the party goers were quick to get sCoffin their sucrose laden share of the grave inheritance…with some bold enough to ask for more.

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Final goodbyes: all good things must come to their natural end. Laced with plenty of earthy-green, spirulina goodness, my mothers choc-chip cookies were the perfect send off for what was dubbed by all family members helping to organise the order of service, as a good innings.

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While Scott and I farewelled the last of the guests, the Aunt’s, Uncles and Grandparents bundled two very contentedly enervated youngsters into the car for a slow drive back home. After a long afternoon of party frivolities…let’s just say…my nutty duo did indeed Rest In Peace.

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I Love My Sunburnt Country

From as far back as I can remember, no summer has rung more true to the words of Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic poem, My Country, than the one that we have just endured. From the rugged, flame engulfed mountains, to the drought and ice-bullet infested flooding rains, this Australia Day gave our family cause to reflect on how lucky we truly were to only be defending our lungs against the smoke rather than our home or our livelihoods against the formidable natural elements.

As heat waves across the country relentlessly thrashed thirsty paddocks and homesteads with whip-like talons of fury, community spirit saturated the media channels and internet streams with heroic tales of firemen, allied health professionals, charity organisations and humble neighbours bestowing wilful and lavish volunteer hours and aid upon those gravely affected by the fires. Closer to home, and many of our townsfolk were offered all but a moments reprieve from the sunny monotony as the joyous news of incoming rain was quickly replaced with feelings of loss and frustration about expensive repair jobs and interminable waits for insurance claims: the drumming of an army being less of the steady soaking rains and more like cricket ball sized hail stones!

Through it all – the smoke, hail and encircling fires – our family sat in the extremely privileged position of being almost completely unaffected: Scott cycled to work the day the midday hail storm wiped out most of the cars in the office carpark; my gardens, both at home and at “The Farm” (our offsite allotment), received a generous dumping of rain (without the icey fusillade); and we all had sufficient lung capacities to challenge, albeit with gas masks, even the most menacing of smog counts.

On the morning of the 26th January, as I heedfully balanced my burgeoning basket of allotment picked produce on the handle bars of my bike whilst also herding my speedracing kidditroop home, I was suddenly struck with a Green n’ Gold epiphany. Inspired by the acts of the many thousands of opal-hearted volunteers who assisted in the fire and flood relief efforts, I brought my love of ordered woods and gardens to our series of long weekend guests by rounding out each meal with a selection of no-waste, giant cucumber infused indulgences.

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To all who share my sentiment about our great countrymen and women, or for anyone keen for an adventurous take on the green and gold theme, then please feel free to take a walk down my green and rather shady lane. I present to you my recipes for…

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My Country Cake (Cucumber and Lemon Cake) and Cool as a Cucumber Cordial

Who’d have thought that those flailing seedlings I picked up on the throw out table at our local nursery would prove to be so productive! In true Darwinian style I chose the strongest of the punnet to take prime position in my summer, cucurbitaceae family bed. The runts I planted about the edge as a means of keeping down the couch and protecting the soil from the blistering hot sun. Two months later and my family recipe book is brimming with new favourites that make good use of the glut of tough skinned monsters that have now run rampant about our patch. My Country Cake and Cool as a Cucumber Cordial are true Green n’ Gold winners for all-comers to enjoy on those scorching summer afternoons.

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My Country Cake ingredients:
1 giant cucumber
zest and juice of 1 lemon
150g butter
¾ c brown sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp cardamom
1 ¾ c plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ – ½ c milk
Icing:
125g butter, softened
1 ½ c icing sugar
1 tbs milk
½ tsp turmeric
½ c flaked coconut, finely diced

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Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthwise. Carefully remove the seeds with a sharp knife by slicing out the gelatinous flesh. To save the seeds for next season, push the seeds out from the flesh and rinse the seeds under cold water. Strain in a colander then place the seeds in the center of some muslin cloth. Tie up the cloth with some kitchen twine. Label (I use old egg cartons) and hang till completely dry (in the height of the summer, this usually only takes a few days). Cut the rest of the cucumber into large chunks and puree together with the deseeded flesh. Strain through some muslin cloth for atleast 30 minutes. You should have close to 1 cup of green cucumber liquid which can be frozen and used to make Cool as a Cucumber cordial at a later date. The remaining pureed cucumber in the muslin cloth is used to make My Country Cake.

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Cream together the butter and the sugar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla. Stir through the pureed cucumber. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cardamom and baking powder. Stir one third of the flour mix through the butter mixture then one third of the milk. Repeat until all the flour and milk is used up and the batter is a thick and dollopable consistency. Pour the batter into a greased and baking paper lined 18-20cm cake tin. Bake at 170oC for 40-50 minutes. Cool to room temperature before icing.

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To make the icing, whisk the butter until almost white in colour. Whisk in ½ cup of the sifted icing sugar and a dash of the milk. Repeat until all the milk and the icing sugar is used up. Whisk in the turmeric. Spread all over the cake to approximately 5 mm thick. Sprinkle over the coconut.

Cool as a Cucumber Cordial ingredients:
700ml cucumber juice (see method above)
a handful of mint, bergamot, lemon balm or lemon verbena
650 g sugar

Finely dice the herbs. Place the herbs, cucumber juice and sugar into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 3 minutes then leave overnight to infuse.

To sterilise the cordial bottles and lids, wash the bottles and lids thoroughly in hot soapy water (use a bottlebrush if you need). Rinse in hot water then leave upside down to drain on a tea towel. Place the bottles and lids on a tray in an upright position then place them in the oven at 100oC for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain the cucumber liquid to remove the herbs. Reheat the liquid to simmering point then bottle into sterilised bottles and leave to cool. Refrigerate till cold. To serve, pour 1 tablespoon into the bottom of a glass. Top with 1 cup cold water (or carbonated water), ice and fresh mint.

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Serve your cucumber delights to your patriotic guests with scoop of homemade ice-cream and a generous toast: “To those who know what brown country their homing thoughts do fly”. Enjoy!

Streusel All the Way

Dashing through the farm,

in a wagon packed with kids,

books tucked under arm,

berry coated lips.

Plants and flowers glistening,

banter fills the air,

what fun it is to laugh and bring,

some gardening tips and fare.

When it comes to the silly season and the jolly madness that is back to back festivities, family gatherings and kids causing a hoarding calamity about the food table…well…I have to confess…

…I’m a totally devoted and enthusiastic lover of the whole, Jingle Bells, shebang.

This years’ sleigh load of party going events was whip started into action by a newcomer to our family’s list: The Community Garden Christmas Gathering. Organised by Carmelita, the naturally glamorous green-thumbed mother of three, our family clan was greeted at “The Farm” by tables elegantly adorned with water jars – suffused with an array of native plants and flowers – and replete with all manner of home made and grown food items.

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While the adults quaffed and dined, the kids took to the red wagon – borrowed from our local Toy Library – like elves to Santa’s production line, taking turns to daringly cart each other about the acre of growing land. Even the goats, penned in the adjacent school agricultural plot, took to the festive atmosphere with gay abandon, ensuring they had their fill of hand picked couch and comfrey.

Of course, no festive party would ever be complete without a touch of gift giving. As the children sat, ensconced about the present sack, tearing at the paper covering the newest edition to their reading libraries, the rest of the attendees got busy trading gardening tips and exchanging recipes until the setting sun signaled the Dashering and Dancering call to set the family members on a course for home.

Presents
Charged with the task of using any produce that still remained in the plot of our gallant and vivacious Community Garden Coordinator – who has taken a temporary break from physical duties to wrestle it out with a particularly obstinate form of breast cancer – my contribution to the gastronomic events of the evenings frivolities included a unique take on a traditional, country cooking style, slice. I present to you, my recipe for…

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Santa’s Streusal Slice (Beet and Rhubarb Streusal Slice; Makes a sack load).

Streusel:
½ c plain flour
¼ c rolled oats
1/3 c coconut sugar
½ tsp cinnamon, ground
80 g butter
Filling:
3 – 4 coarsely chopped stems rhubarb
1 medium sized beetroot, peeled and coarsley chopped
1 tbs honey
Slice base:
100g butter
½ c caster sugar
1 egg
1 c self raising flour
1 tbs coconut flour

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Make the streusel by mixing together the oats, flour, sugar and cinnamon. Rub the butter into the oat mix and bring together to form a dough. Place in an airtight container and freeze for 2-3 hours or until very firm. To make the filling, place the beetroot and rhubarb in a small saucepan with ½ cup water. Bring to simmering point with the lid on. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the fruit is soft. Cool. Stir through the honey then puree’ the fruit. Place the fruit mixture in the fridge till cold.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Whisk in the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the self raising and coconut flours. Add the flours to the creamed ingredients and mix thoroughly to create a crumbly dough. Press the dough into the bottom of a 19cm square cake tin. Bake at 180oC for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

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Spread the fruit evenly over the slice base. Grate the streusel over the top. Bake at 180oC for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool then place in the fridge overnight. Using a bread knife, cut the slice into 3 cm squares then serve to your merry band of Santa’s Slice loving friends.

Ho, ho, ho…struesel all the way!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

…who is the fairest of them all?

Anyone knowledgeable in the art of weed foraging will be all too familiar with the up to three metre tall Evil Queen of the of Apiaceae family, Wild and (sometimes Bronze) Fennel (pictured below). Drawn towards its beguiling countenance, this aniseedy fragrant and rampant perennial herb has made many a striking appearance in my home: the leaves make an interesting addition to my children’s nature table and; when dried, the long, wand like seed fronds take pride of place on our palatial standard, hard wood bureau. As for being a suitor to the culinary crown, well naturally, that place is reserved for the fairer, more voluptuously bulbous cultivar, Foeniculum Vulgare.

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Earlier this year, when our landlords decided it was time to give our spartan, red brick rental property a twenty first century style makeover, Scott and I made the big decision to take a dive into the mortgage market. Since compromising on our lavish lifestyle of spending our hard earned cash on good food and great company would have morphed us into a cottage full of Grumpy’s, we opted to go small: we are now the proud owners of an inner-city town house. When our courtyard gardens could no longer house the dozens of refugee plants – rescued from the evil clutches of an overzealous skid steer loader at our previous abode – my adventurous kids and I went in search of greener pastures for all our vegetable growing needs.

Following a surprisingly brief passage through forests of medium density housing and abandoned, tree-root lifted car parks, we arrived at what can only be described as a food growing oasis. Home to a merry band of lovingly eclectic green thumbs, my kids and I were affectionately adopted into the growing residence of industrious community gardeners and allocated our bit of earth: twenty five square meters of thickly covered, couch ridden, clay soil. Heigh ho. Heigh ho. It’s off to work we go!

When it comes to physical work, I am anything but Bashful. Six weeks later, proceeding plenty of hours spent rolling up the sleeves, turning and sieving through the earth…three times over…to a foot deep, and my pallid, snow-white arms finally realised a clear site. Imbued with a sense of late winter gardening solidarity and bouyed by the regular injection of encouragement, helping hands and time-saving tips, my vacant block of previously disused earth was quickly transformed into an thriving, hot-bed of summer seedling growth…with plenty of space for Hairy Lumpy Scary Pumpy (the Hallo-inbet-Ween Scarecrow) and our much loved mud-pie kitchen.

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In addition to sage advice, affable miens and labor-loving energy, my fellow community gardeners have giant sized hearts. Each returned visit from our, now dubbed, “Little Farm” would yield a new family dish infused with the latest donation of produce. From Asparagus and Spinach Tart to Rhubarb and Beet Struesel Slice, having not yet grown a thing, Scott somewhat jokingly remarked that “it had been my most productive garden yet”!

One morning, after a particularly enduring session of drilling lumber and pitchforking compost through my weed-free, clay-rich soil, the very Happy Jay – a food growing doyen- bequeathed me a brace of her finest fennel bulbs. Now I have to confess, when it comes to cooking with this delicate, root vegetable, I am a little Dopey. Determined, however, to put my gift to good use, I delved into our collection of CWA (Country Women’s Association) and country cooking books to Doctor a few of our tried and tested favourites.

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From the family kiln of our new, inner-city bungalow, I present to you my recipes for A’seedy Tabouleh Salad and Evil Queen Potato Bake.

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A’seedy Tabouleh Salad (serves a small, mattock wielding, army)

Although the classic version of this delectable salad is nothing to be Sneezy’ed at, a bit of aniseed thrown into the mix will see even the most Sleepy of garden worker friends refueled and at the pitchfork digging ready.

1 cup barley
200g of cherry tomatoes (or 3 – 4 tomatoes, deseeded and diced), sliced
2 – 3 cucumbers, diced
1 handful of rocket, roughly chopped
2 handfuls parsley, finely diced
2 handfuls mint, finely diced
Dressing:
¼ c lemon juice
¼ c olive oil

Place the barley into a small saucepan with 1 ½ cups water. Heat on very low until all the water is absorbed. Cool then refrigerate till cold. Mix together the tomatoes, cucumber, rocket, parsley and mint. Add enough barley until a desired ratio of grain to vegetables is achieved (freeze any remaining barley and use at a later date). Shake the dressing ingredients and pour over the top. Mix. Serve with that illustrious Evil Queen Potato Bake.

Evil Queen Potato Bake (makes…enough to feed a ravenous, regal court)

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Whilst some might say that implanting fennel into the classic le pomme de terre (apple of the earth) bake recipe is just poisoning a good meal, Scott and the kids took to this quirky twist on the humble potato dish like The Prince to a glass coffin.

2 onions, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
2 rashers of bacon (or some salami), diced
2 handfuls tarragon, dill or fennel leaves
4 – 8 potatoes, thinly sliced
60 g butter
2 – 4 tbs flour
milk (atleast one cup)
cheddar cheese, grated

To make the cheesy, white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add enough of the flour to form a thick paste. While whisking, gradually add one cup milk. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens. Add a little more milk until a dollopable consistency is achieved. Throw in a handful of grated cheddar cheese and whisk till smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Leave to cool.

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On a medium heat, warm some oil in a fry pan. Add the onion and fry till translucent. Add the bacon and fennel. Cook for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat. Stir through the herbs.

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In a medium sized casserole dish, place a thin layer of the potatoes. Top with one third of the onion mix. Pour over one quarter of the cheesy, white sauce. Repeat this three times. Add one more layer of potatoes and top with the white sauce and a generous spread of cheddar cheese. Bake in the oven at 160oC for atleast 1 ½ hours or until the cheese on top is a golden brown colour.

Serve to all your family and friends with a side of A’Seedy Tabouleh Salad…

…Now…take a bite!

Luv en der Bouquet

Perhaps it’s my tendency to take walks down nostalgic, English memory-lanes. Or maybe it’s my fondness for all things green and flowering in the height of our dry and scorching summer. Whatever the reason happens to be, not too many plants could out-compete my love for the humble lavender bush.

Ten years ago, Scott and I traversed the red-carpet lined aisle of a 12th century built chapel to recite our wedding vowels before an audience of our dearest friends and relatives. Set against the backdrop of an immaculately maintained, Oxford College garden, we then transitioned into an afternoon of champagne sipping, croquet playing and high society wining and dining. With such botanical perfection to act as a substitute for the usual bevy of expensive flower arrangements, it seemed only natural to also take a more rustic approach to the acquisition of my wedding bouquet.

Until the day before I tied the knot, when my gaggle of girly-friends and relatives descended upon my cottage residence for an evening of hens night frivolities, I had always believed that my rather unorthodox life choices were due to some kind of genetic mutation in the “straight-laced citizen” gene. After all, for every one of my eighteen years of family-home life living, the bills were always paid on time, speed limits were obeyed and never, ever, ever were my school dresses allowed to be higher than my knees. Ever.

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After having our fill of Pimms beverages in the courtyard garden, me, mum and my covey of conspirators salleyed forth, through fields replete with cattle and sheep grazing on the early summer pastures, towards The Sun Inn. Feeling somewhat nervous about disclosing the evenings’ plan to my rule abiding, genteel mother, I surreptitiously hid my swindling equipment in the bottom of my capacious carrier bag and lingered, discreetly, at the back of the group. When the opportunity arose, out of the bag with great rapidity, came my scissors and roll of dampened kitchen roll. Into it went a prized specimen of only the finest English garden or wild flowers. By the time we had arrived at our destination, my booty bag was brimming with all the colours of the purloined, English countryside.

Awaking late following a solid evening of top quality pub food and anecdotal banter, I lackadaisically lumbered my way down the antique staircase in search of that invigorating morning cuppa. As I made my way through through the lilliputian, wooden kitchen door of our cosy, nineteenth century railway cottage, I was greeted with an opalescent display of floral handy work, adeptly gathered at the base with a silky, white satin ribbon. “The rose didn’t quite stand out enough…so I added some of my own hand picked work” said my mother with a smile. “I’m sure your neighbour will be thrilled to know her lovely lavender now takes pride of place in my daughters wedding bouquet”.

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As a reprieve from the hectic schedule of work, school, extracurricular activities and general day to day living, last Saturday evening saw Scott and I donning the fancy dinner garb to enjoy yet another of our treasured Dine-In-Date-Nights. Comprising only the finest garden sourced ingredients, my take on the humble, iced cream dessert forced us to, literally, take some time out to stop and smell the luv en der bouquet!

Lavender Ice Cream (makes approximately 1.5 L)

For me, making ice-cream is a forty-eight hour, labour of love. Having a moreish predilection for the french take on this humble dessert, means that I use a lot of eggs, cream and sugar: the sweetest things in life! The three step process sees me first making the custard. Cooling for twenty-four hours. Churning and then freezing for another twenty-four hours. Whilst a long time in the making, the effort is well worth the wait and is always received with happy smiles from all those who dare to take on my, often wacky, combinations of lingua experiments. Depending on how many flower heads one chooses to pick or pilfer, the intensity of lavendula flavour can be modified to suit all ice-cream comers.

600 ml single or pouring cream
400 ml milk
1 cup sugar
atleast 20 lavender flower heads
5 egg yolks (reserve the egg-whites for a spring take on the traditional, crisp almond bread: see below)

Atleast two days before you wish to make the ice-cream, place the ice-cream bowl (from and ice-cream machine), into the freezer. In a heavy based saucepan over a low heat, bring the milk and cream to simmering point. Cool for alteast 20 minutes.

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Meanwhile, break up the heads of the lavender flowers and rub them into the sugar. Whisk in the egg yolks till light and creamy (this may seem a little lumpy at first). Slowly pour in the heated milk mixture in a steady stream, whisking vigorously till all combined. Return to the saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until the mixture thickens. Do not let the mixture to boil.

Pour, through a sieve, the custard mixture into a mixing bowl. Cover and cool to room temperature. Cool overnight in the fridge. Two hours before you wish to churn the custard mixture, place the bowl into the freezer. Churn for 15-20 minutes in the ice-cream machine. Place the churned ice-cream into a tub and store in the freezer for 24 hours before serving. Serve in a bowl or cone together with a slice of Strawberry Almond Bread.

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Strawberries are dime-a-harvest-bounty-dozen at my house in November. Acting as a thick ground cover in our courtyard garden, K1 and K2 can often be found taking a forage break in order to retrieve these ruby-esque spring time fruits. In addition to mini-pots of jam, leftovers from the afternoon guzzle fests make a berry alluring twist to the standard almond bread recipe.

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5 egg whites
¼ cup coconut sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 cup buckwheat flour
¾ cup wheat flour (plus a little extra)
½ – ¾ cup almonds
½ – ¾ cup strawberries, sliced

Whisk the egg-whites till stiff. Whisk in the sugar. Mix together the flours. Gently fold through the flour, strawberries and almonds. The mixture should be dollop-able. Add a little more wheat flour if it is too runny. Pour into a small, 1 litre loaf tin. Cook at 160oC for atleast 40 mins or until firm to touch. Cool in the tin. Refrigerate for atleast 8 hours or overnight.

Turn the loaf out onto a board. Slice into 3 mm thin pieces and place on a baking tray. Cook again in the oven for atleast 20 mins at 120oC (this temperature is very forgiving). Flip each piece and return to the oven for another 15-20 mins. Cool.

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To serve as an accompaniment to the Lavender Ice-cream, slice each piece in half on the diagonal. Place one half (or both) into the top of your ice-cream serve.

Spread the lavendula to all your lovers and loved ones!

Happy Hallo-inbet-Ween

The 31st of October for our family – and the many other families in our town house complex – brings with it much hoopla and the usual surge of underworld inspiration. Despite the somewhat hectic schedule of after school and family activities, this years gawesome clambake was no exception to the enthusiastic rule: pumpkins, ghosts and zombie scarecrows being the pick of the haunted harvest crop!

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Far from it’s end of harvest time roots, Halloween celebrations are snubbed and dubbed by many Aussies as yet another Northern Hemisphere tradition spreading its haunting tendrils into our sunburnt turf. Furthermore, for the environmentally conscious citizens seeking to curb habits of over consumption, the spooky paraphernalia and individually poly-wrapped candy can seem like an unnecessary use of non-biodegradable resources. For Scott and me, seeking to relive our nostalgic North American and U.K. past whilst still being true to our families commitment to living a low-plastic-and-waste lifestyle, finding the happy Hallo-inbet-Ween can feel a bit like recreating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster.

Stitching together the best parts of the grisly frivolities, our 2019 trick or treat costumes and house adornments saw a murder of crow like children gather at our gates for a lower-environmental impact evening of horrifying fun. For those willing to get in on our terrifying secrets to having it all, say hello to the mysteries of the Hallo-inbet-Ween:

Go grave digging: there is nothing more settling to the anti-thow-away mind than being able to retrieve from the tip-shop’s textiles-bin coffin, some handy sheets and clothing for some quick sew costumes. As for that packaging that encased our new worm farm, well how bout some good ol’ fashioned cardboard box, fency decorations.

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Disect: thanks to K2’s ravenous appetite for chewing through the knees of winter jeans, my sewing room cupboard was replete with truncated denim bottoms (the top halves now hip-cat summer shorts): cut into squares as patches for the scarecrows outfit.

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Stitch: one queen sized flat sheet can go a long way. Folded in half length ways and then draped over K1’s head, I cut and stitched my way to ghost costume Victor-Frankenstien-ory. Finished off using a curvy edge – the off-cuts of which were fashioned into a cover for K1’s brain bucket and a head for the scarecrow – K1 was set to petrify the neighbours into candy giving submission.

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Stuff: well that miniature sized scarecrow – destined for a long working life at our newly acquired, community garden allotment – ain’t gonna fill itself. Doubling as a fun activity for a rare at-home-day-Thursday morning, K2 and I set about sawing, pinning and stuffing with straw those rescued, baby-sized clothes to create our very own charming, carbon loaded scarecrow.

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Enliven: bringing the Halloween celebrations to life is always a little easier with that wonderful ingredient called sucrose. As much as I would love to be that parent who is brave enough to offer dried fruit or jackolantern mandarins (an idea I seriously toyed with), K1 made it quite clear that I was already pushing the “not normal” envelope to it’s sustainability limits and so I went with the bulk buy party pack lollies packed into a paper bag option instead. Throw in a strawbale (and crunchy garden clippings) tunnel, some up-north pumpkins and those fence decorations from upcycled cardboard and skellybob’s your uncle!

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After maniacally battering and entering into over 20 houses in our town house complex, K1 and K2 returned home with a booty of…yep…more plastic wrapped candy than one could poke an electrifying stick at. Given our families strict rule of one sweet per day…it may be an eternity before we see the end of that burgeoning lolly jar!

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Happy Hallo-inbet-Ween!

In the name of the Father

…the sons and a wholistic toast!

When it comes to making those really big decisions in life, I’m pretty good at realising a burning pitchfork in the backside. I can say however, without fear of being crucified, that I totally nailed it in the selecting-a-y-chromosome-to-pass-on-to-my-progeny department: I couldn’t ask for a better father to my two children than Scott. So when the first Sunday of spring parked itself on the family pew, we assembled en-mass to bestow a God like worship to the patriarch of the house for Fathers Day.

This year K1 and K2 ascended to the kitchen altar and exercised their digits to provide a procession of offerings set to impress even the most ordained of clergymen:

Retrieved from the depths of the family’s cook-book tabernacle, the Egg and Bacon Roll cook-up has proven to be a ongoing fatherhood favourite…

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Be’lated Date Balls (Beet, Chocolate and Date Balls) – made from a some left over birthday cake, chocolate and those late harvest, garden beets – to round out the feast…

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And some organ inspired piano numbers:

Abounded in mind, body and spirit, we left the table in peace: to love and serve the day.

For those keen on giving some daily bread to that special man of house at the next Father’s Day worship, then look no further: Wholistic Toast. Packed full of plenty of go, glow and grow foods, the whole family will be singing from the rafters by the end of that big brekky feast!

Ahhh…Men.

Wholistic Toast (Gluten Free Man Food Rolls; makes 8)

Thanks to our family’s voracious appetite for homemade pasta and ice-cream, we accumulate a lot of egg whites. When combined with a selection of gluten free flours, psyllium and a generous swill of kombucha, one can have themselves a scrumptious addition to the breakfast feast.

300 g almond meal (although I have also been known to use a mix of gluten free flours including buckwheat, soy, rice, quinoa and banana)
55 g psyllium
1 tbs coconut flour
¾ tbs bicarb soda (baking soda)
½ tsp salt
4 tbs kombucha (or apple cider vinegar)
2 tsp honey (or rice malt syrup)
1 ½ c boiling water
6 egg whites
sesame and poppy seeds (optional)

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In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients (with the exception of the sesame and poppy seeds). In a separate bowl, whisk the egg-whites until they are white, fluffy and soft peaks can be formed. Stir the egg whites through the dry mixture until a bread crumb consistency is achieved. In a separate bowl again, mix together the kombucha, honey and boiling water. Add the wet ingredients into the flour/egg white mixture. Using a wooden spoon or strong spatula, stir vigorously until the fizzing has subsided and the mixture begins to form a firm but sticky dough.

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Pour the poppy/sesame seeds into a shallow bowl. Divide the Wholistic Toast dough mixture into eight, approximately equal, portions. Roll each portion into a firm ball, dip into the seeds and then place onto an oiled tray. Repeat for the remaining seven portions. Bake the rolls in the oven at 180oC for 20 – 25 minutes. Leave to cool.

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When ready to serve that deified Dad in your life his man food breakfast, slice the roll in half and load it with all manner of “grow food (protein packed)” goodies. Hallelujah!!

Light It Up: Lantern Festival

For me, getting out and about in the winter evenings with my two Energizer-Bunny kids, can seem a little like standing in the front row of a fireworks display with a leashed dog suffering from thunderstorm induced, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder! Yet every year, when our friendly and highly enthusiastic Neighbourhood Association puts on its annual lantern festival, I package up my nightmares about K1 and K2 drowning in the local wetlands whilst trying to recover a floating fairy-light display and hit the streets for a night of fire-fueled, community action!

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This year, the scene about our local shopping precinct was nothing short of flaming spectacular. In addition to reuniting with many of my hibernating-for-the-sub-zero-temperature-winter parental chums, there was also plenty of fundraising and entertainment activity to be enjoyed too. As K2 and I indulged in some Community Garden Herb Bread and lantern making frivolities, K1 and Scott took in the serenading sounds of a local and somewhat quirky folk band whilst dining out on an exceptionally long spiral of hot, fried potato.

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When dusk hit the party locale, it was time to light up the lanterns and file forth for a jovial jaunt about the shores of our local wetlands – the venue for the illustrious, Chinese Dragon led, night-light walk. From graveyard gimmicks and floating sea chariots to caroling choirs and living-light escorts, no natural stretch of the waters edge was left untouched by the most animated and luminescent party to hit our town’s winter calendar. At the conclusion of the sojourn, replete in spirit…and gastronomically speaking too, we replaced flame for L.E.D and hit the bike path for a slow cycle back to the homestead, enjoying plenty of post-event debriefing anecdotes along the way!

For those keen to break the mid-winter slump and create a night walking venture of your very own, I present to you the instructions to make a simple lantern from materials found around the home. If you are feeling extra enthusiastic, the activity can easily be up-scaled to include children at your local playgroup or a covey of family or friends: a soul-warming seller!

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Glass Jar Lantern

Resources:
1 large jar
super glue
scissors
paint brushes
scrap, coloured paper (such as old wrapping paper, tissue paper, craft paper etc.)
2 x paper clips (or some wire and pliers)
80 cm kitchen or garden twine (for around the top of the jar)
160 cm kitchen or garden twine (handle)
sand
1 tea light candle
matches

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Take the scrap, coloured paper and cut out pictures (from wrapping paper) or cut the paper into small rectangles (around 3 cm length and width). When you have cut enough paper to cover the outside of the jar, use a paint brush to cover the jar with a thin layer of super glue. Place the paper on the outside of the jar till covered. To ensure the paper is secured to the outside of the jar, paint over the top of the paper with another layer of super clue.

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To secure the handle, loosely wrap the 80cm length of string atleast four times around the top of the jar just below the threaded lip (where the lid screws on). Thread one paper clip through all four layers of the string. The paper clip will be used to attach the handle so ensure that the paper clip is strong enough to hold the weight. Repeat for the second paper clip but on the opposite side of the jar. Pull the string tightly so that the paper clips cannot slip around the rim of the jar. Tie the two ends of the string together.

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To attach the handle, first fold the 160 cm length of string in half. Thread one end through one paper clip. Thread the other end through the other paper clip being careful not to twist the strings. Tie the strings together.

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Fill the jar with enough sand to cover the base to a depth of 2 cm. Place the tea light candle on top. When you are ready to go on your illuminating walk, light a match and drop it into the jar just above the candle. With some tricky maneuvering you should be able to catch the wick: happy lantern walking!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!