Saturday, 28 March 2020

A Slow and Seasonal Guide To April

*Disclaimer: I started to write this post before the corona lock down happened in the UK. I have since edited it slightly but I thought I would still like to share it. Most of these things can still be appreciated on our one outing a day, things can still be foraged and nature still enjoyed. If it is difficult for you to get out into the countryside I hope it might bring some calm to your life during this time, a bit of an escape and help you to be reminded that nature is still continuing even in this strange and alien world we are living in at the moment.*

April derived from the Roman word Aprilis which means “to open”, is the month of true beginnings. The Latin word Aprilis certainly gets it right here as all of nature seems to open its doors to this new month. The flowers bloom, the birds build nests and the sunshine beckons all and sundry from their closeted homes and out into the fresh air.

April begins with a frivolous and silly morning; the tradition of April Fools. A chance to let out your mischievous side and trick those in our lives who are most gullible. It is a sweet and fun tradition, but we know very little about why it started and where it came from.
This year it will be shortly followed by the Christian celebration of Palm Sunday. A time when churches around the world will parade through the streets and around their local neighbourhoods waving palm leaves in the air to remind us of the time Jesus rode into Bethlehem on a donkey. Unlike our vibrant European neighbours, in England it can be a rather quiet affair, but many churches have been known to process round the church grounds waving handmade palm crosses and even the odd donkey has been sighted.
Just a few days later star gazing will be high on the agenda for many as on the 8th of April we will be treated to a Super moon even greater than the one in March. The moon will be at its closest to the earth then it will be all year, only 357,030km away and should therefore appear 14% larger and 30% brighter. A once a year opportunity and a great chance for some soothing moon bathing.
The Christian tradition of Easter will be coming upon us rapidly in those first few weeks of April and it is the perfect time for family activities and creative pursuits. Some of my personal favourites include painting eggs to hang on an Easter tree, creating a miniature Easter garden in a seed tray from stones and flowers you find in your own garden and of course the traditional Easter egg hunt. Fun for all the family young and old.
After a sea of yellow flowers in March, April is the time of white, pink and green. The hedgerows begin to fill in again as hawthorn bushes are covered in a myriad of green buds ready to open in May. The first green shoots of bluebells begin to appear in our ancient woodlands and the white and pink blossom still blooms coating our countryside in a wash of candyfloss colour. And of course, we cannot forget the wondrous sight of baby lambs dotting our hills and fields all over the country. Their joyful leaping and happy nature always brings a smile.
In our own gardens we will begin to see bees emerging from their hives heading straight for cherry blossoms, cowslips and dandelions. This is also the time of year we begin to see the first butterflies appearing, their delicate wings stretched out and fluttering in the spring sunshine.
It is a busy time for us in the garden as many will begin to sow seedlings grown in green houses out into pots now the last of the frosts is over. Many salads, tomatoes, beans and much more can be planted out towards the end of month when the weather really starts to warm up.
Delicious vegetables which we haven’t seen for many months such as rocket, and asparagus will once again be available. Rhubarb is in season and perfect in that Easter Sunday crumble. April is also the beginning of wild garlic season and many keen foragers will be taking to their local forests to find the delicious green leaves perfect for pesto pasta.       

Another foraging delight at this time of year is the humble nettle leaf. It has been used traditionally for any number of ailments including postpartum recovery, hay fever and to promote healthy adrenal glands. Pick fresh during the month of April and May and dry out for use throughout the year in homemade nettle tea.
Towards the end of the month we have Earth Day, St Georges Day and Shakespeare Day in England. All wonderful opportunities to celebrate, my suggestion would be to take a picnic outside (into your garden if it's still not possible to leave the house) and enjoy our beautiful world whilst eating some traditional home baked food such as scones with jam and cream and read or listen to a sonnet or two.
April is the perfect cool and pleasant spring month encouraging us out from our houses and into the sunshine preparing us for a bountiful summer. A particularly special month for me as it is full of family birthdays including my own. There is always much joy and merriment this time of year and I intend to make the very most of it.
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Friday, 20 March 2020

Low Waste Living Part 2: Fresh Food Shop

 Hello and welcome to my new series "Low Waste Living". One of my big goals for 2020 is to try and reduce waste, single use and plastic in my home as much as possible. It's something I've tried to do for a long time now but just kept feeling overwhelmed by all I needed to change in my life. At the end of 2019 I sat down and wrote down all the ways I could help cut down on plastic and waste in our home and made a plan to try to work on one small area of my life each month. It can be as small as changing to a bamboo toothbrush but each month I want to make at least one change that will help improve our planet.

This month I wanted to share with you how we've changed our fresh food shop to try and avoid as much plastic as possible. I hope this will help inspire you and give you some helpful tips on how you could also reduce waste and plastic in your own home.

1. Loose fruit and veg - we now do our weekly food shop at our local farm shop where all the fruit and veg comes loose. We take our own produce bags and when we get home we empty them into bowls or draws in the fridge. I know not everyone can afford or is able to get to a farm shop so here are a few other ideas. You could order a fruit and veggie box from Riverford. The majority of their fruit and veg comes package free and the stuff that doesn't, like mushrooms, come in a compostable packet and anything that comes in plastic such as salad, the bag can be sent back with the boxes when you get your next delivery. You could also take produce bags to your local supermarket and try to pick the fruit and veg that only comes loose.

2. Plastic free meat - our farm shop is old school and we love it! They wrap all meat in brown paper which has meant no nasty plastic packaging that goes straight in the bin. We have had to pop our meat in a container or on a plate in the fridge as the meat juices can leak through the paper but that's fine with us. Other ideas could be to take your own stainless steel containers or Tupperware to your local butcher or butchers counter at the supermarket and ask them to place your meat in their plastic free. Just get the sticker they normally stick to your package and pop it on your box for check out.

3. Fresh bread - we now get a large loaf of fresh bread from the farm shop in a brown paper bag which we then cut into slices when we get home and freeze so we can just take one slice each day. Other ideas would be to get yourself a large produce bag and pop down to your local bakery and ask them to put your bread in there. Or you could even bake a loaf yourself!

4. Eggs - we try to remember to bring our egg container each time we want eggs so we can fill it up again at the farm shop therefore reducing the amount of egg cartons that end up in the waste. We hope one day to have our own chickens so we can collect eggs fresh from the garden but for now this is a delicious and low waste option.

5. Milk - we rarely buy milk but unfortunately the only option in supermarkets and our farm shop is plastic bottles. I know in some places the milk man is making a come back but right now we don't have that option here. Hopefully as the culture in this country changes we will start to see a resurgence in reusables once more.

I hope this has given you some ideas and inspiration. This is just the fresh part of our food shop. I am hoping over the next few months to start working on our store cupboard such as herbs, spices, tinned tomatoes and pulses. I would love to hear your ideas on reducing waste in your food shop so please do leave me a comment. I hope you all have a great weekend!

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Friday, 13 March 2020

On March

March is a strange month. After the middling month of February where we hope for Spring but continue to fend off the biting cold of winter, March has emerged like a shiny pound coin from the bottom of our handbag. Exciting, unexpected, but not as much as we'd hoped for. The cold wind still bites, and the rain is still frosty against our skin.

Our only reprieve from the winter cold is the myriad of Spring flowers that seem to have burst forth from their tiny green shoots without warning. The egg yolk centre of a fiery daffodil bobs and sways in the frigid winter breeze, unafraid and unabashed by the fact that no one has told the wind and rain that March is here.

Packs of tiny tete-a-tete's cling together in clumps under trees and in the corners of gardens singing their bright and joyful song. Primrose grow low to the damp ground clustered together like a group of gossipy women. Their tender yellow petals quiet in comparison to the gold and orange of the narcissus. And every so often we find the odd crocus, still holding onto its patch, shining like an amethyst amongst the sea of yellow.

As the month draws on the sun begins to peak her head from behind the silver clouds only to return back again a few hours later to her sleepy bed. Those fleeting blue skies illuminate the tiny blossom petals that have begun to spring from gnarled naked branches. Each time the wind blows a scattering of pink and white is left across the road and we feel the urge to quickly run out, collect them up and stick them back on again.

Without even noticing the days grow longer and dark nights turn to cloudy evenings. Every now and then we are treated to a glimpse of that elusive and silvery orb in the sky. In traditional English country life the March moon was known as Plough Moon due to the brightness of her glow that allowed farmers to continue to plough into the night. This year we have been treated to a Supermoon, only 357, 399km from our planet she shone brighter and bigger than we have seen her in a long time but only a few were lucky enough to see her out and not hidden amongst the clouds.

Even as the sun becomes hesitant to return to her bed we still feel the cold and darkness of those long winter nights but earlier mornings bring a reprieve. The morning chorus starts up again and we are treated to a myriad of tweets, calls and song from our feathered friends eager to start the year.

And like the rest of nature, as March tumbles on into sunnier days, warmer rain and brighter nights, we wake up. Brushing off our wintery slumber we pull our selves out from cosy evenings wrapped in blankets and oversized knitwear hiding the extra padding that kept us warm and happy in the winter season and move into the new year. A slow and quiet start to 2020 has allowed us to recoup, enjoy the cold and dark and feel reenergised to step into Spring with the vigour of nature. 
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