Monday, 29 July 2013

Green Catching Up

It's been a busy few weeks in the Green Life. Work has mainly consisted of music festivals (WOMAD and Chagstock) with a few village fetes thrown in for good measure. The aim? Explaining how fantastic the RSPB is and why people should support it by joining as members (and you all should, via me so I get the credit!).

But with work on the go, go, go I haven't really had time to catch up on two very interesting green-ish programmes that have started recently.

The first is Kirsty Allsopp's new series Fill Your House For Free. Showing people how to collect, upcycle and rescue furniture to fill their homes for next to nothing. It's not quite free once you've bought paint and hired tools but it is very cheap! the first episode (Tuesday 8pm Chanel 4)  was very interesting with a good mix of usable ideas and wacky TV stuff. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.

The second is Monty Don's new series on Radio 4 called Shared Planet. I've only caught snippets of the programme which aims to explore the complex issues surrounding a growing human population and the pressures put on our wildlife and planet but it sounds great.

So, while I relax and recover from my festival adventures I'll be relaxing and catching up with these. Why not give them a listen/watch yourself?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Size Does Matter

...when it comes to food waste.

I can cook meals for four but somehow meals for two or one end up always being meals for about one extra person. This is great if an unexpected guest arrives but otherwise, without a freezer, the extra leftover food becomes a bit of a waste.

Thankfully there are several ways to avoid this problem. The first is to measure things properly. My cooking style is definitely experimental when it comes to portion size. Add a bit of this, an extra handful of that, and suddenly a one person dish is a filling the biggest saucepan. So, I have fallen in love with one utensil in particular, my rice cup. I got it free last year at a green event and I use it religiously now. Before I used any small cup that came to hand and it worked almost as well.

Two cups of rice, 4 cups of boiling water and 6 minutes (stir) then four minutes in the microwave and you have perfect rice for two. For one person just halve all the quantities. No waste.

                                                             how much rice per serving

Another way of dealing with waste is to use it up rather than avoid it all together. I love meals that start as one thing and end as another. Leftover roast from a Sunday can turn into a stew on a Monday, chili on a Tuesday, Soup on a Wednesday and so on. Adding a few extra ingredients goes a long way. Leftover veg or rice and curry make the most delicious sandwich and wrap fillers that make Monday morning blues just disappear.

So that's my message for the week. Size matters. Whether it's the amount we eat, the amount we use or the amount we waste. Pick up a cup and take control.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Fluttering Away?

All the signs of summer are around this week. The smell of BBQ's, the sound of lawn mowers and lots and lots of butterflies. I remember seeing quite a few back at the start of April but since then these flying gems of colour seemed to be hiding, but not anymore.

I'm glad I've been seeing more butterflies because this weekend is the start of Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count. In its third year now this is the biggest butterfly survey in the world (I wonder how many butterfly counts exist?) and last year there were 223,000 butterflies and day-flying moths counted.

Butterflies are amazing. Painted ladies take six generations to make a 9,000 mile migration from sub-Saharan Africa to the Arctic circle and some of them spend the summer fluttering around in our gardens here in the UK. All that travel, navigation and perseverance from a creature with a brain the size of a pin head. But like the rest of the nation's wildlife butterflies are facing stormy times ahead.

The State of Nature report revealed that 72% of the UK's butterflies had decreased in the past ten years with common "garden" species declining by 24%. What would a summer be without red admirals, orange tips and peacock butterflies floating around the flowers? The large blue has been helped by dedicated conservation projects and is on the way to recovery but the familiar small tortoiseshell has declined by 77% in the past decade. Now we know the damage that has already been done, hopefully new conservation projects will be able to turn the tide on the huge loss of wildlife that our country is facing.

Each of us can play our part. Small tortoiseshells can be helped by growing (or leaving!) nettles around the edges of gardens as this is a favored site for the species. Planting butterfly friendly flowers will encourage many species into your garden which is nice but also provides a vital safe haven in an often otherwise barren landscape for these incredible creatures. And of course you should do the Big Butterfly Count.  It only takes 15 minutes and it's another great excuse to spend some time enjoying wildlife in the sun (as if you needed one). So between now and 11th August go and see which butterflies are fluttering near you.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Shopping for Greens

Isn't summer brilliant? Long, hot, sunny days are great for picnics and parties, but also good news for anyone trying to grow vegetables and it's showing in our shops. Last summer's terrible weather hit crops hard across the country but this year the shelves are full of amazing UK grown crops.

With all this fabulous veg on offer I wanted to see how much of my weekly shop I could get from UK growers and I was pleasantly surprised. With any seasonal shopping menu's need to be able to adapt to what's on offer and what's best in season so I swapped my normal staple of apples (this time of year you can only get ones from South Africa or New Zealand) for Somerset strawberries and Scottish raspberries. I found UK  lettuce, peas, peppers, mushrooms and onions as well as adding English courgette to my basket instead of the unseasonal squash. I'll have to wait another month or two for them to be ripe enough for shops. Thanks to the late spring there is still British asparagus in the shops too, although I also found some being sold from abroad which seems odd when we have such a fantastic crop here.

With my fruit and veg  collected I headed round the rest of the shop to see what other British buys I could find. Cheese, bread, milk and eggs were all successes and a surprise buy of British meringues went perfectly with the seasonal fruit too. This really is the season of plenty.

With the food shop done, and so much wonderful veg available I decided to have a bit of a veggie week  since it's been ages since my last one. It's always nice to rediscover how versatile and, to be completely honest, yummy in season, British grown veg is without needing any meat to add to a meal. So, my menu this week looked something like this:

Sunday: Macaroni Cheese (possibly my favourite veggie meal ever, the best comfort food)
Monday: Mushroom stroganoff and rice
Tuesday: Falafel and British peppers in pitta breads
Wednesday: Spicy Vegetable Stew (Kidney beans,courgette potatoes, peppers, sweetcorn, onions, stock, spices)
Thursday: Asparagus and boiled eggs on toast
Friday:Spicey Vegetable Stew
Saturday:Asparagus and boiled eggs on toast

It's nowhere near a vegan week, but I was please how little cheese I used considering it's my normal fall pack veggie ingredient.

So if you haven't already, I challenge you to find something new, seasonal and British grown in the shops this week.  You might event discover a new favourtie or an old friend.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Sounds from the Sea

In May I wrote about the Tweet of the Day series on Radio 4. With over 40 tweets now available to listen to it is a fascinating collection, highlighting the huge diversity and wealth of the UK's birds. In particular I've enjoyed the many episodes which reveal the sounds of seabirds. 

As an island nation the UK is home to a huge array of marine wildlife; seabirds are some of the most noticeable, and I presume, noisiest on our shoreline. While some, like the gannet, are familiar favorites from Spring Watch and other natural history programmes others are less well known.  I had never even wondered what a Great Skua sounded like, let alone be able to guess. 

So, in case you haven't had a chance to hear them yet, have a listen to some of these amazing sounds from the sea. 

Cormorants are common on rocky shores and in winter gather in large roost of hundreds of birds.

Great Skuascommonly known as bonxies, two thirds of the global breeding population are found on Scottish islands.

Gannets  have a two meter wingspan and regularly dive up to 20 meters into the water.

Arctic Terns make a round trip of over 70 thousand kilometers as they migrate. They see more daylight than any other animal.

Manx Shearwaters nest around the UK, mostly on remote islands such as Skomer. Around 90% of the world's population breed in the UK.

Razorbills look beautiful with their smart black and white feathers, although their call is less attractive!

Puffins are one of the most colourful seabirds. Their calls sounds similar to cows moo-ing.

Kittiwakes get their name from their call, and have been nesting on the cliffs near to me at Exmouth.

Storm Petrels  just sound bizarre, purring away through the night. They appear to walk on water and are known as "Jesus Christ birds".

Guillemots  learnt to fly by jumping off high cliffs. The eggs are pear shaped to prevent them falling off the cliffs and guillemot nests are the smallest of any bird, only 5cm square. 

Shagswith their deep green plumage, are true seabirds compared to their black feathered relatives the cormorants. Shags make nests of seaweed and driftwood.