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Mulberries: The Beginning

I am attempting a semi-microblog. I don’t think I quite managed it! lol

Here are the mulberries Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop picked. This is a ginormous sieve/colander. These berries filled two large containers.

mulberries in a big sieve

The mega mound of mulberries.

Day One of The Great Mulberry Harvest: Muffins

mulberry muffin cut in half on a plate

Check it out: the crumb isn't right and neither is the outside. But I like how the mulberries stain the muffin bluey purple!

I made muffins with 1.5 cups of mulberries. It was the first time I tried this recipe. I didn’t use any of the lemon stuff, and obviously, I used mulberries instead of blueberries. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overly thrilled. They came out a bit tough; the outside was too hard and chewy and the crumb inside wasn’t right. My friend Jho said they tasted like cardboard! Yankee Elv was slightly more diplomatic and just said they tasted a bit bland. Mr Teeny-bop didn’t like them, but he is super picky, so that was no surprise. I thought, however; they tasted reasonably good when warmed up and spread with some nuttelex. And it used 1.5 cups of mulberries, so that was a win!!

Day Two of The Great Mulberry Harvest: Giveaway

I gave a container of mulberries to Jho and her partner BB. Jho, as it turned out, didn’t like them (“They taste like semi-sweet small cherries!”), and she shared them around to other pepole in the office. BB will eat them with yoghurt, though. Yankee Elv took a much bigger container to work, where everyone picked at them all day long, quite happily.

Day Three of the Great Mulberry Harvest: Taking a Break!!

We still have a couple of cups of mulberries left in a container in the fridge and we’re still getting through the muffins too! I don’t want to make much more til we get through those, but I’m going to have to do something tomorrow or the berries will go bad.

I think we’ll probably pick the next lot of ripe ones off the bush (tree) tomorrow and get going on the next lot of things to make. Ideas include:

  • Mulberry nutbread: Yankee Elv makes a great one with zucchini and dried cranberries – I think the addition of mulberries would work quite well
  • Frozen mulberries: For later in the year when we want berries but the growing season is over
  • Mulberry cobbler: Yankee Elv introduced me to cobbler when we were living in the USA; we don’t have cobbler in Australia really. I love it.
  • Mulberry jam: I’ve never tried making jam before, and I’d like to try, but it seems like such a big job. If I have time, I’d definitely like to do this – especially cos it means using up berries now before they go bad, but not having to eat them incessantly for a month!
  • Mulberry syrup or stewed mulberries: To eat with pancakes, on icecream or with yoghurt.
  • Mulberry/hoisin marinade to eat with tofu
  • Mulberries in salad.
Anyone got other ideas?
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My Water Notice: Crazy or Awesome?

I got a water notice in the mail today. It’s like a bill, except there’s nothing to pay. They just tell you how much water you’re using. Normally, we are well under the local average and the Brisbane average, but for some reason (and this is where the crazy comes in), we are averaging 594L per day!!

piece of paper with two graphs; the first comparing water usage in the household (no data for same period last year, approx 150L per day for previous period and 594L per day for current period); the second comparing water usage in this period with the local average (about 400L per day) and the Brisbane average (about 420L per day).

The utilities company is new and I don't think their data is correct for last period either, much as I'd love to say we are that fantastic at water conservation. It makes me doubt the 594L, but then I wonder if I want to doubt it, so am I being unfair?

Now, this is still within the 200L per person per day limit that Brisbane has going on (remember, we have three people in our family); less than 200L each if you consider we have two cats and a very big dog (who, for medical reasons, needs a bath once a week). During the drought, the limit was 140L per person per day, which we met pretty easily, and we’ve never had trouble with the current limit, even though it’s under the typical water allowance for most western cities. Say what you will about Australia’s carbon emissions; when it comes to water-saving measures, we’ve got it a lot better than most. Years and years of drought will do that to you. Of course, now we have more water than we need, but that’s another story…

My point is, what the heck are we doing with that kind of water usage on our water notice? I’ve quizzed Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop and none of us can figure out where we might have been using extra water. Maybe a little bit extra per day – it’s summer, we might take more showers or wash our clothes more maybe… but we’re reaching here; we don’t really think that’s it. The last two weeks the toilet has been running a bit sometimes after a flush, but the sound is like fingernails down a chalkboard to me and I stop it as soon as I hear it, so I don’t think that’s been happening very much. We seriously cannot figure it out.

Maybe there’s a leak somewhere. More investigation to follow. I’ll keep you updated.

So anyway, on the other side of the coin, regarding the potential awesomeness, check out this little ad/graphic thingy that was on the back of the water notice.

water notice advertisement outlining the benefits of drinking tap water as compared to bottled water and other beverages, highlighting cost (you can get 10 glasses of tap water for one cent).

I like that this ad went out to every Brisbane home. It sends the right message.

How’s that for promoting town water (as opposed to bottled water or other drinks)? I’m really big on tap water and very very rarely buy bottled water – only if I’m out and I cannot find free water anywhere (or I forgot my bottle). I would say this happens maybe 2 per cent of the times I drink water when I’m out of the house. This is a conscious decision on my part. Read more about that in my previous post about bottled water.

Tap water rocks and tastes cool anyway. To me, just like you get different weather when you visit different places, you also get different water. If I drink from taps at certain beaches, it’s like a blast back to my childhood… the flavour memory is crazy.

water gushing out of a simple metal tap attached to a short blue wooden stake, outdoors

This pic is from Cairns.com.au - way up north - but the tap looks very similar to the ones at the beaches I went to growing up.

Even though I was really little, I still remember it every time I have a drink there. Mum, Dad and I (my siblings weren’t born yet) would get in the car and drive to the coast and I’d sit up in my booster seat as we crested the hill and shout ‘I see the water!’, cos I could see the ocean beyond the trees. Mum and Dad would laugh and we’d speed down the hill to get there a little bit quicker (naughty naughty – I do not advocate speeding now in my old age, but I was like a miniature drag racer back then). I’d be wearing my little togs and my yellow terry-towelling shorts and the vinyl car seat of the Torana would make the backs of my legs sweat, so when we got out I’d want to hop straight in, but Mum would slather me in sunscreen beforehand, but she’d let me have a drink of beach water from the tap first.

Hey, it was the 80s, ok? And Dad still teases me by saying ‘I see the water!’ whenever we go over that hill.

You can’t get that kind of hyper-localised memory in any other product really. Food can always be sold elsewhere, like how I can get other beach memories eating a Calippo from the corner shop at the top of my street, or how I can think of childhood trips to the Ekka when I’m eating a Ykillamoocow vegan dagwood dog at the West End markets. (Om nom nom!) That beach water though, it’s special.

So yeah, now that I’m finished with my sentimental trip down memory lane, I’ll back to the topic; do you think my water notice was crazy or awesome?

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Christmas Ham: Just Say No

I’ve just had a mini perfect storm of incidents that have gotten me thinking about factory farming again.

Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague about being vegan. He’d just found out that I am vegan and was telling me he sometimes thinks about it. Sometimes he’ll be eating a steak and he’ll stop and think: ‘This used to be a cow’. Then he’s sickened and can’t continue eating it. But the next day he’ll be back to eating meat – except any goat products. He had a pet goat as a kid and can’t stomach anything from goats; meat, cheese, milk… nothing. I wondered aloud if Mr Teeny-bop would go the same way once we move to our own house (we’re looking at the market at the moment) and get some backyard chickens. Would he stop eating chicken altogether? (Even if he doesn’t, at least I will know his eggs are cruelty-free.) I told my colleague that my son is old enough to make up his own mind. I also was careful not to denigrate my colleagues choices about eating meat. I’m always careful that way. Sometimes it annoys me that I’m so non-boat-rocky (this has been a challenge for me before). I want to tell everyone off and try to convince them what bad choices they are making but then I remember I have to work with them.

Anyway, the second thing in my perfect storm is that a friend of mine sent me a link to the Slow Food Sunshine Coast Hinterland group (I grew up on the Sunny Coast), and I was looking around on their Facebook page and found a link to the Factory Farm Map. A quick look at the site really appalled* me but as always, I thought: that’s in the USA. I know we don’t farm our cattle like that in Australia (almost all beef cattle are grazed), and I know we do factory farm chicken but that’s getting an increasing amount of attention (particularly cage eggs; Coles has recently agreed to reduce prices on free range eggs and phase out cage eggs, and Woolworths and MacDonald’s have pledged to increase the use of free-range eggs in their stores since last year). Not that that’s an excuse, but I guess I already had knowledge about those industries, so it didn’t get me thinking in the same way.

What the site did get me wondering about was the other kinds of animals ‘produced’ in Australia. A ex-colleague of mine had dairy-farming family in the Darling Downs and insisted that the cows weren’t factory farmed, and that the family farm was typical of the industry. She claimed that many of the horror stories came from the US and didn’t apply in Australia. I know from previous research that even the friendliest dairy farms still routinely impregnate cows and remove the babies from their mothers. And what about the pigs? I love pigs! So I thought I’d put my google-fu to work.

The sheer amount of information out there is so phenomenal that today I just limited myself to pig research. (That doesn’t mean I don’t care about other animals; I just started with pigs and got a bit overwhelmed.) I found that nearly 400,000 pigs are factory farmed in Queensland alone (5.7 million Australia-wide). The conditions in which they live are so horrible it’s hard to believe that people actually put them into those situations^.

Look at this video from Animals Australia Unleashed to learn more about the conditions in Australian piggeries.

pig in sow stall from unleashsed.com.au

Pigs get so stressed in their little stalls they begin obsessively biting the bars.

It’s well documented that many sociopaths first start out by being cruel to animals. A look at the pictures from piggeries makes me wonder if many Australians are supporting a ghetto of violent offenders (aka factory farm workers) with their pork, ham and bacon purchases… because there’s no way to look at those pictures and not see animal cruelty. Those pigs didn’t put themselves into tiny cages sow stalls. People put them there. How anyone could do that is beyond me. It made me cry (and I’m not one of those people who bursts into tears at the drop of a hat).

Then I listened to the latest radio ad from SaveBabe.com, aimed at getting people to think about factory farmed pigs right before the peak meat season (aka Christmas). It’s predicated on the fact that pigs have the intelligence of a 3-year old. The ad is from the perspective of a mother pig in a sow stall, describing how she feels… spoken by a little (presumably 3-year old) girl. It’s a very emotionally evocative ad. I had another little cry and then decided to do something about it.

So as a result of my perfect storm (thinking about factory farms + feeling disgruntled that I am so moderate in expressing my views to other people) I decided to take my new-found knowledge and share a little of it with my friends via Facebook, talk about it with people at work in a non-threatening (but firm and decisive) way, maybe mention it to my family at Christmas. The vast majority of the people I know are omnivorous, although generally open-minded about alternative dietary options… but I think after looking at some of those pictures, floating along with their open-mindedness is not enough. I need to try to do something. So I shall share here and elsewhere and commit to being more vocal, and see what comes of it. Do I think people will give up their Christmas ham because of my actions? I don’t know. It feels like such a small thing to do to help those poor pigs and other animals, but when I think that the average vegetarian saves approximately 100 animal lives per year, it gives me the hope that raising awareness can really make an impact. All I can do is try.

I hope videos like this one will help some of my friends and family think about the choices they are making with their food. Why harm other creatures if you can live without doing that, right? I hope they think that too.

Go here to watch a longer version of the video.

*I’ve written before about why factory farms are bad. Alternatively, click each part of the ‘Find out how factory farms affect all of us’ section at the top of the Factory Farms Map page or look at the Factory Farming – The Facts page from Brightside Farm Sanctuary.

^If you’re concerned that some of the sites included in this post may present a biased view since they are animal welfare sites, try looking into intensive pig farming on Wikipedia (I know it’s not necessarily unbiased either, but I think it’s closer to a middle ground).

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Eco-Friendly Dental Hygiene

You’ll remember a while back (a long while back; I had another hiatus, sorry ’bout that) I posted about my eco-friendly toothbrush.

For what it’s worth, I’m still loving it, although right now I’m using a Preserve toothbrush (til it wears out) cos local stores sold out of the Monumental Dental kind. It’s pretty good actually, I like it – but it’s three times the price of the wooden one, and recycled plastic is still plastic. It might be a good choice for Americans, who can send it back for re-recycling pretty easily, but internationally shipping a worn-out toothbrush seems a little over-the-top to me, honestly. So I was pretty happy to find the Environmental Toothbrush stocked at The Green Edge when I dropped by about a month ago.

I bought four.

I didn’t want to run out!

Anyway, that’s not what today’s post is about. Today I wanna go beyond toothbrushes… to toothpaste or bust!

Ok, I might discuss dental floss too.

So the impetus for this post is the fact that I’ve had a toothpaste convergence recently. That is, my toothpaste ran out and I had to buy some more, which made me feel bad about buying more plastic that I’m eventually just going to throw away. Then I saw this post from Pioneer Woman. I was feeling guilty over one plastic tube, let alone two..! But I can’t say I blame them. I mean, dude, look at that tube! P-Dub’s, I mean. MM’s is perfect fantastic normal fine. No, I’m not talking about his butt. (What? Lesbians can appreciate a good butt, even if it does belong to a man. Go on and look, you’ll see. There’re lots of pictures.)

Anyway, I digress.

I looked around to try find a non-plastic toothpaste tube. None in the supermarket, duh. I’ve looked in Flannery’s and The Green Edge. All plastic there too. I’ve read about the Tom’s of Maine metal toothpaste tube that Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish uses in her very comprehensive post entitled Plastic-Free Dental Floss? Not Quite, but again, I’d have to ship it from the USA and I try not to do that. Buy local, y’know? I know some people use baking soda, but I’ve heard a lot of stories about how abrasive it is, so I’m not sure that I’m keen. (There are lots of comments on Beth’s post, so have a look if you want lots of opinions!)

macleans mild mint toothpaste

At the moment I'm using this toothpaste. I recycle the box, and try to use the toothpaste sparingly.

So right now, I’m just trying to use tiny bits of toothpaste at a time. I also brush my teeth twice a day, but I only use toothpaste one of those times. It’s mostly the brushing motion that’s important anyway… toothpaste is a bit more of a breath-freshener (as far as I know, anyway…).

You didn’t think I was going to offer any solutions, did you? These days I feel like I’m asking more questions than I am suggesting possible answers.

Which brings me to my second question: dental floss. What do you use?

Beth (of the aforementioned Fake Plastic Fish) uses Eco-Dent floss, which is available here in Brisbane from The Green Edge and The Cruelty Free Shop.

eco dent floss in cardboard box

This is the eco-dent floss that comes in the cardboard package... but cinnamon-flavoured!

It’s not perfect, but Beth explains why it’s the best of the bunch. On the upside, the packaging is recyclable cardboard and the wax coating on the floss is from vegetables, not beeswax or petroleum. On the downside, the floss is still made of nylon, and the packaging has a thin plastic wrapper, two plastic stickers and a plastic spool. On the very very downside, it costs nearly $12 a box, is shipped to local stores from America and – here’s the worst part – it’s cinnamon-flavoured. I’m sorry, but what is with that?! Cinnamon might work as a flavour in the USA (although how, I don’t really understand), but I remember that Close Up era in Australia in the 80s. My cousin used that toothpaste. It was red and hot and nasty. Just like Dr Pepper, it was fad, fortunately gone quickly. Cinnamon should only be used in food, like apple crumble. Ew ew ew, I cannot use cinnamon-flavoured floss!

So I dunno what that leaves me with.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

(I couldn’t help it; it’s been a while since I used that quote. Forgive me.)

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Plastic-Free Vegan Chocolate WIN

I just had to share… Mrs Flannery’s (an organic health food shop in Queensland) has changed the recipe for their dark chocolate, so it no longer has milk in it.

So now, my fellow Queensland vegans, you can get:

  • Dark chocolate covered strawberries
  • Dark chocolate covered cherries
  • Dark chocolate covered blueberries
  • Dark chocolate buttons
  • Dark chocolate chunks (all sizes, including some rather giant chunks. I drool a little when I see them).

It is really nice dark chocolate. I do like strong, bitter chocolate (like 70% or 85%), but sometimes I want something a little milder and sweeter. I miss milk chocolate sometimes, and while soy chocolate is nice, it’s just not quite the same. This chocolate is not milk chocolate, but it totally meets my needs. It is definitely dark, but it is almost like a 50% or something, which I’ve never before seen without milk. It’s sweet and almost creamy… or maybe I’m just comparing it to 70%…

Even Mr Teeny-bop likes it, and he hates dark chocolate.

You can find these delicious products in the bulk foods section at Mrs Flannery’s so you can totally avoid plastic or other disposable packaging when you buy it! Mrs Flannery’s weighs their food, so they supply light paper bags for you, so they don’t really add to the food weight. Yankee Elv and I save our bags and reuse them. They do allow you to bring your own containers, but you’d have to get them to weigh the container first and take the weight off, and I think that might be challenging on a busy day at the store (like Supa Saver Saturday – the first Saturday of every month, when you save about 15% off bulk foods if you are a store discount club member). You could give it a go though.

Anyway, I’m really excited and I totally love it!

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Spotlight: Rescue a Battery Hen!

My mum is talking about getting chickens. It will be a while before she gets them, but she is very enthusiastic. Her local council has changed the law so her yard is now considered big enough, which she finds ironic. She had chooks in suburbia as a kid, then they were regulated out (only poor people and farmers had chooks – suddenly everyone was rich enough to buy their own eggs, so it became illegal to keep them). She and I had an interesting (if abbreviated due to time constraints) discussion about how everything comes full circle and we’re going back to the environmentally-friendly way things were done in the past.

Mum also saw an eco-coop at a university environmental day which caught her fancy. It was nice and big and had a trough on top where you could grow veges (like lettuce). Clearly the garden part would be conveniently handy to the chook manure!

In addition to those little incentives, Mum just plain likes chickens. Let’s just say that this weekend wasn’t the first time she and I have talked about her childhood chook, Penny. (Sadly, a snake got Penny when Mum was about 5 or 6.) Cows might make her nervous (‘They have such big faces!’), but she gets this really sweet smile on her face when she talks about chickens.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I suggested Mum rescue battery hens and she seemed keen on the idea. Mum is always keen to rescue animals in distress (I think she would be vegan if she allowed herself to really think about it, but let’s not get into that debate.)

Hens one month after adoption

Hens, one month after adoption. (Photo from The Battery Hen Adoption Project.)

I read about battery hen rescue on the Queensland Vegsoc forum (I feel like I’m reading everything there lately!). I’m going to send her links, but here are three threads about battery hen adoption, some with links to photos, for you all to read too.

  1. Jan 2010 hen adoptions (there’s a very moving poem on p4)
  2. March 2010 hen adoptions
  3. May 2010 hen adoptions.

The organisation that rehomes the battery hens is Brisbane-based. It’s called The Battery Hen Adoption Project. They have some really good information on their site about taking care of the chooks when they first come home. Of course everything is new to the poor bald chickens; they don’t even know how to sleep sitting down, or have a concept for getting up and walking to the water/food dishes to eat and drink.

There’s also the saddest video on the site:

I really want to rescue some hens now! I can’t wait til we’re not renting anymore. (I have visions of a strawbale type of construction to be a lovely, fox-free coop for them to sleep in at night.) I am also pleased with the idea of supplying Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop with some truly free-range eggs, since they both still eat them.

In the meantime, I guess I will have to make do with visiting Mum’s chickens, when she gets them. I wonder, if she gets them in winter, if they will need jumpers like these…

If you want to keep chickens in Brisbane, get all the info on ourbrisbane.

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Sustainable Menstrual Pads

I read an article on BlogHer today called iPads and Maxi Pads: Changing Women’s Lives in Uganda. Alison McQuade (the author of the post) uses the hype around the new iPad to draw attention to a more important issue – that Ugandan girls are dropping out of school at puberty because they have no access to sanitary items (pads, panty liners, tampons, menstrual cups etc). It struck a chord with me today particularly because I’ve just been trying out a new cloth pad. I’ve had it for ages but have been so enamoured with my menstrual cup, supplemented with cloth panty liners, that I hadn’t worn it before today – and I just felt like trying it out. The sock monkey called to me.

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve heard before that many girls in third-world countries don’t have access to any menstrual items, but I was surprised that the solution suggested in the post was to donate to a non-profit group (the Kasiisi Project) who provide disposable pads to the girls. The other group I know of who used to try to combat the same issue was Goods 4 Girls, who provided cloth menstrual pads to African girls (Crunchy Chicken, who ran the group, has since had to let it go – I’m not sure if anyone else has taken up the mantle). The advantage of cloth pads, of course, is that they can be reused over and over again with just a simple washing between wears. Quite aside from the environmental impact, I envisaged the aftermath of introducing disposable pads as something like a less serious version of the Nestle baby powder tragedy of the 1970s/1980s. What would happen if the Kasiisi Project ran out of funds? The girls would run out of pads and be right back where they started.

However, I did a little more research and while I still think cloth pads are a better option, I like the holistic set-up the Kasiisi Project has set up better than the ‘make a pad and donate it’ style of Goods 4 Girls. (Of course, this likely came about because the Kasiisi Project is a well-established non-profit organisation and Goods 4 Girls was a one woman who took donations – so you know, fair enough, you do what you can.) The Kasiisi Project donates Maka Pads, which are produced in Uganda as part of a cottage industry – often employing the families of the girls who will benefit from them. They are made from locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper, using little electricity in production. They can be worn for 8 to 10 hours, much longer than a regular pad (depending on your flow of course), so you use less of them. They’re cheap (US 0.5 cents per pad) for the city women who buy them, but most of the rural girls access them through donation.

Clearly the people behind this part of the Kasiisi Project have thought beyond the immediate need of the girls who would otherwise miss out on an education – they have also considered how to help the community and the environment. If you’re interested, I found this video much more informative than the websites (unfortunately there is no captioning).

Now, don’t think I’m dissing Goods 4 Girls because I’m not. It was still a worthwhile effort, as is the Kasiisi Project – every little bit helps (in most cases). But you know what would be best of all? A combination of their methods, which would, in my opinion, be the best option. Keep up the local cottage industry, but produce cloth pads, which can be reused for a long time. Of course, that then brings up the question – where does the cloth for the pads come from? Is it possible the Kasiisi Project already considered this and found locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper to be the more sustainable option after all? I guess if you had to ship in the cloth over a long distance, that would be a significant impact in and of itself. Also, has the Kasiisi Project factored in the disposal of the used pads?

I may email them to find out. Will keep you posted!

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