6 July 2018

How eco-friendly is Europe?

Hi there,

I've just returned from a longish greenhouse gas-glugging trip to the US and Europe. One of the things I was interested in from the outset is how eco-friendly these places are compared to NZ. How are these old, beautiful countries dealing with things like too much packaging and greenhouse gas emissions?

I'm not an expert judge, and as a tourist and a non-expert could only observe the surface of what was around. But here is what I noticed.

Gardens

People love to grow things, everywhere. I adored the extensive vegetable gardens and orchards I saw from the train in Italy. They fill peoples' backyards. Everywhere there were allotments for apartment dwellers, and in Chamonix, the most beautiful town I've ever seen, the vege gardens are out the front. Fantastic! I even saw a vegetable garden outside the Notre Dame. It needed compost and mulch.

In Seattle, if you have no space for a vegetable garden, you just plant it on the street berm.

One of the struggling slightly raised beds next to the Notre Dame in Paris.

Plastic

Firstly, why does this matter? From the June 2018 National Geographic magazine: "On some beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii as much as 15 percent of the sand is actually grains of microplastic".

I was an ignorant foreigner! I repeatedly sinned by doing the wrong thing in shops. For example, in Italian supermarkets, every single produce item had to be put in a plastic bag, weighed and stickered in the produce department - even down to a single onion or banana! The idea of having produce weighed as it goes through the check out has not caught on, and you either do it yourself or there is a person who stands in the produce department weighing it for you - but you can never really tell which it is. Perhaps the weighing man has popped out the back, or perhaps you have to do it yourself.

The produce bags did seem to be "biodegradable", although whether they actually biodegrade or just turn into minuscule pieces of plastic, I don't know.

If you take your own cloth produce bags, which I did at times, the stickers won't stick, and then you hold up the checkout while the operator goes to reweigh it for you.

I also would not wear gloves. What gloves? The plastic ones that are provided for customers to wear while they are selecting their fruit and vegetables! Presumably this is so they don't put germs on the items they leave behind. There is a bin to put them in when you've finished.

I had heard that everyone in France takes their own shopping bags, and that fruit was laser-tattooed instead of having stickers on it. Well, it ain't happening. There were quite a lot of reusable bags and baskets in France, but that was about all. I saw nobody with reusable produce bags; everything went into either pure plastic or paper bags with a plastic window. A lot of produce had stickers on it. Many people took plastic bags in the supermarket, although they often cost money.

The shelves were full of plastic-packaged food.

We spent a week in the UK and found a wealth of fantastic food. However, the packaging was terrible. I wish I had a photo of the fruit and vegetable section of Tesco Express, but it wouldn't be for the fainthearted. The supermarkets have taken on self-scan checkouts, and for easy scanning 99% of the produce is packaged (mushrooms, lettuce, broccoli) or stickered (e.g. apples) . Presumably this also creates demand for uniformly-sized produce because a big apple surely can't cost the same as a small one? This must lead to more food waste.

I did find an unpackaged onion, but this humble brown vege caused problems because I went to the self-scanner that couldn't weigh anything. There were weighing self-scanning checkouts, but they didn't take cards and I didn't have enough cash. I therefore had to go to a manned checkout to buy the lone onion.



In Seattle, the bags were paper (and they cost 10 c or something) and the produce was weighed at the checkout, however you presented it.

Our contribution

We made plenty of plastic waste ourselves. We stayed in Airbnbs everywhere, so could cook in the kitchen, but also wanted to make the most of trying local food, so generally one meal a day was from a restaurant (rare), bakery or cafe.


In one Italian patisserie I nearly had to fight not to have a slice of creamy cake wrapped in a bit of plastic so as not to smear, and put in a plastic container so as not to get crushed. The woman at the till wouldn't look at me as she took my money, and instead began a conversation with the person waiting behind me, and said that I was "complexio" or something similar. I gave up after that.

There are wonderful foodie places in the UK where you have a huge choice of things like Japanese, Mexican or sandwichy-type food and salads. These are reasonably priced and premade, and you choose what you want and take it to the counter. They are always comprehensively packaged in plastic, and you eat with plastic cutlery and throw the plastic in a bin on the way out. There must be hundreds of people through these places each hour.

This was a Japanese bowl in Seattle.

Maybe it's actually like this in NZ, too! I just don't eat out much here.

Recycling

Yes, the recycling bins were impressive. Mostly you could separate waste and recycle it all. But this seemed  facile considering what was being produced. Convenience and economics were king.




The National Geographic article I mention above explains, though, that most of ocean plastic waste is from poor Asian countries with terrible waste management systems, and that the most important thing we could do is help them pay to collect and landfill the stuff. Instead there are vast quantities of dropped, uncollected rubbish washing into the rivers and sea. Not that there isn't plenty from western countries; it's just the volumes that differ.

It seems that collecting and managing plastic well, whether recycling it or not, is absolutely paramount to keeping it out of the oceans. I believe that using less is utterly important, but this is bigger than my righteous western ways. Desperately poor people can't afford a whole tube of toothpaste at once, and apparently in these countries the place is rife with discarded sachets of such things. That's all they can afford at one time; the sachets cannot be recycled; and nobody's collecting the rubbish. There may be discarded water bottles there, but there's no plumbing with clean, drinkable water delivering an alternative.

Just two days ago we were in Hong Kong. There is plastic packaging everywhere in restaurants and shops, but none lying around. There's a HK$1500 fine (NZ$300) for littering.

Clean energy

I'm not an expert on this. There were plenty of solar panels in Austria and Switzerland, particularly on farm buildings. In the UK we saw a vast solar farm, and across the Channel were patches of hundreds of windmills.

We saw electric cars charging on the street in Paris, and in driveways in Seattle.

There were city bike hire schemes in many places: Seattle, Rome (I think), Vienna, Paris and Oxford, at least. These are very cheap bike-hire schemes that encourage people to get around under their own steam. You grab one for an hour or however long you want, and it might cost $1.

We found these bikes parked all over the place in Seattle - for
example on the grass strip in front of a random house.
We hired and rode one, too. Unfortunately there
were three of us and only one bike per app allowed.
Did I mention the Seattle gardens? Oh, oh, oh. I took a million photos, and here are just a few. I love the way they nurture their old houses and don't knock them down for something shiny. A post is coming on them soon.

By the way, in Europe I only visited Italy, Austria, France and the United Kingdom. I would have loved to see what's happening in Germany! Good things, I suspect.

29 December 2017

Cow art

The year's nearly finished and we've had the hottest, driest November and December for years. The grass is brown and water restrictions are in force.

It's hard to believe that in early spring (September) we went for a bush walk near Te Aroha, and everything was rain and mud! Oh, for a good day of rain for our vegetable garden right now ...

Here's a small waterfall that took my fancy during the walk:


On the way home we stopped in Morrinsville, where I was quite taken by their stunning street-art fake cows.


A month or so later this same rural town was the site of a pre-election protest by farmers against a so-called water tax on farming. The concept of the tax went like this: said "If you use or pay for the resource, you pay accordingly."

It would have made the costs to the environment caused by farming part of the real cost of the produce. At present there are substantial environmental costs that come with farming (to the climate and to freshwater), but they aren't paid by farmers or consumers of their produce in any compulsory form. Instead they fall on society and the planet. This is not an ideal system.

Remember that NZ's cows provide dairy products to many millions more people than live in this country, and the vast majority of the land that is farmed was originally forests or wetlands, not grassland, so the scale of the impacts is rather large!


The farmers didn't think it was fair. I think it'll happen one day, but I don't know when.

Anyway, enjoy the arty cows! I found them far more appealing than the real thing. No offense to cows; I love animals, it's just that the bovine version does very little for me.

I've sized the photos to extra-large for your viewing pleasure.











17 November 2017

What to do about cats

Last year New Zealand announced its Predator Free 2050 strategy, which aims to rid the country of rats, possums and mustelids. It carefully didn't target cats (there was an election coming less than a year later, after all). But the omission was duly noted, and people have been talking more about cats and their hunting habits.

Cats kill birds so they must be constrained ... or they help the birds because they kill rats ... or to clamp down on cats is doing what the Nazis did to the Jews (seriously: this group is called Feline Rights New Zealand).

Happily there are voices of reason, such as the people behind the National Cat Management Strategy. I can't find a copy of it online, but I read the draft version closely, and found it very sensible and humane.


In the meantime, there is a small grey lion living in this house who likes to hunt. With spring firmly here and memories of the many fledglings he murdered last year still raw,  I bought him a Birdsbesafe collar from the US. I couldn't find a New Zealand supplier.

It's a simple, soft, colourful cloth tube that goes around a breakaway collar. I left the bell on the actual collar, because I understand there's also some evidence that bells alert birds.

The colourful ruff helps the birds spot the cat sooner, so they have a chance to escape. Birds are very visual, and bright colours catch their eye. Rodents, however, are not, so it doesn't reduce how many of them the cat catches.

Our boy hated the collar at first, and walked  backwards  to try to escape it! But soon afterwards he was behaving quite normally. I thought he was going to look ridiculous, but in fact we think he looks quite beautiful in it.

About three weeks later, this happened.


The collar doesn't help if the cat hides under a shrub and ambushes the bird, and of course this is what they do quite often. Ours has several prime ambush sites around our property.

Then last night - no collar. He came inside and it is just gone. Presumably it got caught on a branch which pulled it hard, and the breakaway collar just, well, broke away.

I hope we find it!

6 October 2017

The easy guide to going plastic bag free

I'm veteran reusable bagger. I remember doing it when travelling around Europe in 1996, and while living in England after that until 2001. The English thought it was quite strange, and I felt quite rude having to intercept them from giving me plastic bags.

Nowadays there's a real whiff in the air in New Zealand telling me that tide is really changing to reusable bags over plastic. Countdown supermarkets have just announced they're phasing out plastic bags at the checkout. New World supermarket is running a poll asking its customers whether it should charge for plastic bags. Boomerang bags are being lent out at the local Farmer's Market. These are made from donated fabric scraps by volunteers and lent out to whoever wants them. (Here's a link to the pattern in case you want to sew one.)





My bag strategy

Firstly, get some big bags to replace the standard supermarket bag. My favourite are these Envirosax, and I have three. They're beautiful, roomy and incredibly durable (the first one I was given must be getting up to 10 years old now, and I also use them for rough things like collecting pinecones). Crucially, they compact down to a very small size. Remembering to take your reusable bags to the supermarket is THE biggie for many people. Mine are always in my handbag, and I never have to take them out because they're taking up too much room.




Those bulky ones that the supermarkets give out are just too bulky to carry with you always. That's their downfall. The supermarkets like them, though, because they are branded.

Secondly, produce bags. If you're like most people, you already have big reusable bags, but still use plastic bags for fruit and veg. Cut it out, will ya?!



Admittedly it was only a year or so ago I got this sorted myself. I chose Pouch Products' reusable produce bags, after testing a couple of other options. These scrunch up small, are incredibly light so you're not paying for the weight of a heavy bag on top of the price of your produce, and they stretch to hold an unbelievable amount of fruit (or nuts/oats/seeds/beans from bulk bins). Honestly, just take the plunge and buy a five-pack - it is $25 well spent.

Neither type are compostable or organic, but they have reduced and will continue to reduce the need for so much plastic in their lifetime that it doesn't matter.

Take them everywhere

If you carry a handbag, you'll always have your compact bags with you. There's no need to get bags from any shop at all, even high class clothing shops (you're right, I never go there - but if I did I would whip out my reusable bag, quick smart).

If you don't carry a handbag, I don't know how you'll manage. Stuff at least one in your pocket. Keep them in the glovebox of the car.

Keep them clean

You want something you can wash, or else it will start to smell. Mine just go through the washing machine.



But I reuse my plastic bags

There are so many plastic bags in this world that you need never take a single-use one. I save and wash the plastic bags that continue to come into our house as food packaging. I use them mostly for storing fruit and veges in the fridge to stop them wilting, and for storing leftovers in the freezer.


But some bags are biodegradeable

So they say. But it turns out that most 'biodegradable' bags just disintegrate into minuscule pieces - the type that fish swallow. You probably eat the fish. And soft plastic recycling depots don't want them either.

Ban the bag!

Countries as diverse as Bangladesh and France have banned or taxed plastic bags (there is a list of them here). China has banned thin plastic bags. New Zealand has not, and the government is refusing to do so, so it's fantastic to see supermarkets leading the charge - no doubt with pressure from their customers.

I spoke to the manager of our local New World a few months ago. They currently give a 5 cent rebate per reusable bag. This has been the outcome of that friendly rebate:
- They give out 30% fewer plastic bags
- One in three customers brings their own bags
Plastic bags (the checkout type) cost the supermarket 8 cents each

There's quite a debate about whether it's best to punish people by charging for bags or reward them with a rebate for bringing their own. Neither works completely - Pak'nSave has charged for years (perhaps always) and every time I go there I see people buying those yellow plastic bags. And I sigh. Surely most of them knew they were going to the supermarket when they left home?

If there are no bags available, people will just have to get into the habit of taking their own - and once something becomes a habit it is mindlessly easy. If they forget - maybe they could take off their shirt and use it?! Especially if they're not women! You'd only have to do it once and you'd remember from then on!


9 September 2017

Wild woman and porcupine for lunch

Recently I was speaking with someone and I mentioned reading. At the same time, I must have groaned. She mistook my meaning: "You don't have enough time to read?". I was astonished. I always make time to read. How would I feel normal without it? It was probably a groan of pleasure.


Recently the book that made it to the top of my reading-in-waiting pile was Miriam Lancewood's Woman in the Wilderness.

I loved it. The gorgeous, Amazonian and smart Miriam, who is from the Netherlands, moved into the wilds of New Zealand with her husband, Peter. Peter is 30 years her senior, which makes for a fascinating side story. They have lived mostly in the bush for the last six years or so, and I hear they've now left NZ to explore the nomadic life in the wilds of other countries.

The book's been criticized for under-emphasising the trials of their life, but those were there: the cold, the rain, the hunger, the loneliness. The backsplash of the longdrop, the tediousness of the diet at times. For Miriam, though, the joy and beauty of it shone through brighter, which is why they kept doing it.

She hunted (possums, goats and hares), he cooked; they became expert fire lighters, navigators, seekers of water and forageable food. They had no phone or locater beacon if they became injured: instead they watched their every step and became strong and capable, completely responsible for their own well-being.

This contrasts with another true story I was told recently of a woman who keeps having to be rescued from the Hakarimata steps walk, which I've done as it is only half an hour or so from our house. It takes an hour or so to get to the top, and it's hard going. This woman keeps trying, and has been rescued TWELVE TIMES. Apparently the medics have had strong words with her.

What interested me most is how Miriam and Peter's stripping away of the comfort and security of a conventional life opened up a huge sense of freedom for them. They don't need soft beds, chairs, ovens, much money or, indeed, a house to feel comfortable. Their strong bodies get them places; their skills keep them uninjured, fed and watered. Their needs are stripped back.

It's so easy to expand what you need to feel comfortable, and then of course those comforts need to be serviced and paid for. They limit where you can go and what you can do, because without them you're uncomfortable. They are like your exoskeleton - an expensive one in so many ways.

My own watered-down version

I get this. My own little experiments  so minor compared to theirs — have given me a much watered-down version of the same realisation. I've got rid of quite a few things myself, or just never got them in the first place. Gone are shoes with support, new clothes, a soft bed, a lofty pillow, make up, hair colouring, and most recently chocolate (sad groan).

I've pared away some of my exoskeleton, and feels damn good.

We love our futon. You'd probably think it feels like rock.
It's just a thinner exoskeleton.


She can write

Miriam's writing is engaging and poetic, and the adventures and revelations arranged cleverly and satisfyingly. Miriam and Peter are not luddites who can't keep jobs; they're smart and sensible. They're also extremely organised: as Miriam told Mike Hosking in an interview "If we're not, we die."

The Hadza

Last night I watched Last of the First about the Hadza people in Tanzania, some of the world's true last hunter-gatherers. This was not about rewilding, like Miriam, but staying wild - under severe pressure not to. 

Image result


They grow nothing and store no food. Their houses are made of sticks and grass and degrade away when they move to another area (they're nomadic). They can tell when an eagle has downed an antelope miles away by a distant call they catch on the breeze (then they're off to get their dinner).

My cat leaves a heavier ecological footstep on this planet.

Each one of them sings like and angel and dances rhythmically, they hang out with their mates all day, have heaps of leisure time, move like Olympic athletes, are smart and self-aware and speak two languages.

As I watched I could see what we've left behind, and Miriam knows it too. I'm not sure that what we've lost is worth it.

I had to laugh at one Hadza boy. It took him and his friend two days to walk home after running away from school after being beaten, and they had no desire to live elsewhere. "Other people don't have Hadza food," he said, unsettled by the thought. Indeed, who would want to live without berries, baobab fruit, honeycomb and porcupine meat?

And who would want to be a boy who couldn't grow up running free with the other boys, making bows and arrows and practicing with them until they can hunt game? Bringing home small animals for the pot at age 10? My boy watched that bit longingly.

You can learn a bit more about the Hadza by reading the Facebook page of the Human Food Project. It's about an ongoing study of the Hadza's bodily microbes, and a whole lot about the people comes through (the porcupine hunting, mothers pre-chewing their babies' food - no blender needed). Highly recommended.

Rice and beans

It's all about this, really:

Two close boyhood friends grow up and go their separate ways.  One becomes a humble monk, the other a rich and powerful minister to the king.
Years later they meet.  As they catch up, the minister (in his fine robes) takes pity on the thin, shabby monk.  Seeking to help, he says, “You know, if you could learn to cater to the king you wouldn’t have to live on rice and beans.”
To which the monk replies, “If you could learn to live on rice and beans you wouldn’t have to cater to the king.”

1 August 2017

eARTh

On Sunday morning it was –3oC here in Hamilton, New Zealand. That's about as cold as it gets, and it usually means that it will be clear and sunny and there's a southerly breeze. Outside there was a frost, and it was absolutely beautiful.


Having not slept in a garage or out in the open, as no doubt at least some people had, I could just enjoy the beauty of the morning, with a warm fire at my back. He who had chopped our firewood (my husband) was twice warmed - or would have been if he wasn't out surfing. (Henry Ford quote: "Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice.") The water, he reported, was quite warm - at least, compared to the air.



Cheap thrills

A few weeks ago I heard a kakapo scientist on the radio say that each time a kakapo female lays an egg it uses 10% of her body's calcium. As a chicken-keeper, egg-laying is close to my heart. I don't know which percentage of her body's calcium a domestic chicken uses to produce an egg, but is spectacular how the three scrawny feathered things in our back yard can lay one ALMOST EVERY DAY for at least three years! One of ours is struggling a bit this winter - she's not as young as she was. But this feat of nature, helped along by a lot of selective breeding, is truly something to be appreciated.



Another of nature's feats that I notice is the ways trees branch. It's just like blood vessels in the body. The trees are maximising the amount of light their leaves get, and the blood vessels are maximising the tissues they can deliver oxygen and nutrients to. Same design.


I am the zillionth person to love this stuff. And the more you know about nature - the biology, chemistry or physics of the natural world, either because you've studied it or lived closely with it - the more there is to be thrilled by. It is truly the art of the earth.

Wanting too much

So it saddens and amazes me that here we are, these creatures who can intensely appreciate and admire nature, and understand so much of it, and yet we are unable to just enjoy it. Instead need a bigger house, a flasher kitchen, a newer car, a foreign holiday, more ease, more ease and more ease ... the list goes on.

And directly because of that insatiable list of wants, much of what makes this planet so spectacular has been and continues to be destroyed.

Please, can we all just want a bit less, and enjoy a bit more? Note: this will also make us happier!

(The New Zealanders living in garages are definitely allowed to want a bit more. They need roofs over their heads).

12 May 2017

Tribe

Ten years ago, my neighbourhood got into quite a fix. Everyone had received notice that an asphalt company was seeking consent to build an asphalt plant just down the road from us.

Because of this, something happened that still amazes me. We were upset about what felt like an imminent attack on our clean air. We formed a society to fight the asphalt plant, and ended up with a close-knit group of battlers, some of whom are still my dear friends today, and others who at least feel like an important part of my community.

From the outside, the prospect of the asphalt plant seemed like purely a terrible thing. But being a key leader in the fight was in fact wonderful. The camaraderie. The energy that filled me, despite having a three-year-old and a baby at the time, The intellectual challenge that I got from becoming with the legal and planning aspects of the case, and in the moves and counter-moves that were involved - because the outcome really mattered to our future.

In the end the asphalt company pulled out. Here's a photo taken that night:

How did the big baby I'm holding on the left get to be ten years old?
And the small boy in the spiderman T-shirt is a young man.

Tribe

I had unwittingly stumbled into a shade of a situation that Sebastian Junger describes in his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. The book hit me like something physical, because of what it reminded me of, and because of what it made me realise about this human life of ours.

Junger came across the magic of this 'Tribe' situation while interviewing people as a war correspondent. In the siege of Sarajevo, residents clustered together as tribes to survive, growing and sharing food, and fighting in the war. He later asked one woman who'd been a teenager at the time whether people had been happier during the war.

"We were the happiest," she said.

Another man  had been in a special unit that went behind enemy lines. Now he's a taxi driver. He and others spoke about how they longed for who they had been during the siege. As crazy as it sounds, people miss the war.

Which means not that war is good, but that it brought about an extremely rewarding camaraderie, vitality and reason to fight for the tribe that is missing from what is now normal life. Without those things, life is emptier.

What our little community had ten years ago was a hint of what humans always had until a few centuries ago. A close-knit group of people who had to share with and support each other to survive. A group inside which members gained status by contributing to the group and doing the right thing, without laws or policeman to force them.

Ye Olde Status Quo

Our ancestors lived in a world of physical threats that forced them into depending on each other, and they (we) thrived that way. We had to feed ourselves, and without fridges, we had to share what we found or grew to eat, because next week we might find nothing, but our neighbours might be luckier. Our full bellies would have depended on them knowing that we would return the favour.

Full bellies or not, another common threat was attack by another tribe. Fighting to the death made sense, because failure would mean the whole tribe was doomed anyway.

As Junger writes, 'The beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good." The firemen come, the police arrest, the supermarket or food bank provides. We might go through our lives without even having to give up our lunch for someone else.

Still the same

But we are still wired so that our most meaning-filled, satisfied lives come about in those now-rare situations. War and natural disasters fling people back into them.

Junger writes that "What catastrophes seem to do - sometimes in the span of a few minutes - is turn back the lock on ten thousand years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because there is no survival outside group survival, and that creates a social bond that many people sorely miss."

Your neighbour

A friend and I were talking recently how it is a bit uncomfortable to look at an animal - its eyes, its fears, its aliveness - and think that we're eating these things. I said that if we got hungry enough, that would change pretty fast, and that alive thing would make our mouth water. He said that the sight of our neighbour might make our mouth water!

But of course that is not true. Your neighbours would most likely be the people with whom you share your last collective drops of clean water. We joke with our friends about how they can huddle around our woodburner when there's no electricity, and we can all chuck our offerings into a stew pot to cook on top of it. On a cold night we'd probably all sleep around it. One family points out that they have a very large lawn in which we can grow potatoes.

(I'm thinking now that I should have planted more broccoli, just in case...)

Sharing food


In bitter safety

I love the first line of this poem that Junger quotes from Siegfried Sassoon, a WWI soldier sent home after being wounded.

"In bitter safety I awake, unfriended
And while the dawn begins with slashing rain
I think of the Battalion in the mud."

I think of the bitter safety of our weathertight houses, our overstuffed pantries, our soft doctored and medicated bodies and the fences dividing us from the neighbours who might annoy us - all of which I happily partake in, of course. Humans have always strived for convenience and comfort, and we have created lashings of it. In so many ways, life is so much better. Anaesthetic. Electricity. Rice. Transport. Phones... the list goes on.

But we have paid a price.

So, going forward, the mist has cleared a bit thanks to Mr Junger. I need to be with friends and family. People are more important than things. I need to play an active role in our community. I need to make sacrifices for goals bigger than myself. These are what makes a good life.

17 April 2017

Vegetarianism and our favourite black bean tacoes

You can't trundle along the green living route very far before you bang into vegetarianism and its hard-core cousin veganism. Sheep and cattle burp out potent greenhouse gases, so we need fewer of them, not more.

But perhaps something that's good for the planet is bad for us personally? The two things that have swayed me most to believe that this is not the case is the Blue Zones research, and (far more subjectively) Jane Goodall. She's vegetarian, in her 80s, sharp as a tack and travels something like 300 days a year to raise environmental awareness. If that kind of mental alertness and physical stamina comes with vegetarianism, I'll take it, thanks.

The beautiful simplicity of a pot of soaking beans.


The family problem

For many of us, the decision doesn't lie fully with us, because we eat as part of a family. The key to persuading others is finding vegeterian meals they like. I haven't found enough of these meals yet, so we are still eating red meat about once a week, chicken once or twice, and fish once.

But here is our favourite vegetarian meal - in fact it is my thirteen-year-old's favourite meal of any that I cook! He loves to have leftovers on rice for breakfast. I have them for lunch. Yum.

Over Easter I made this for extended family. My 10-year-old nephew ate FIVE tacoes, and kept asking if there was still more meat. He couldn't believe it was all beans!

You can use tinned black beans, but it's much cheaper to buy the dry ones from the Bin Inn.

Some key ingredients.

Black Bean Tacoes 

Feeds four, at least.

Black bean mixture (this is the main event)
2 cups of dried black turtle beans, soaked overnight and rinsed twice (I admit I don't measure the quantity these, but the recipe is forgiving)
1 chopped onion
1 Tblsp Tio Pablo Mayan Gold mexican seasoning mix (optional, but good... add at least double the cumin and oregano if you don't have this)
2 tsp cumin
3 tsp oregano
1 tin chopped tomatoes in juice
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 Tblsp La Morena chipotle sauce*  (optional, but really adds something extra)
chilli to taste (chopped fresh chilli, or dried powder)
salt & pepper

Gently fry the onion in olive oil until soft.
Add the spices and fry for a minute or two.
Add remaining ingredients apart from salt (add this once the beans are soft).
Add water to cover the beans if they are uncovered.
Cover the pot and simmer for about two hours (longer is good). Ensure the beans are covered with liquid by adding more water if necessary. They need to be so soft that you can squash them against the roof of your mouth with your tongue. The mixture shouldn't look like beans floating in liquid, but a thickened, stew-like mess of filling deliciousness. If it's too wet, boil it with the lid off for a while to reduce it.

Mmmm, what's that smell?
(Don't worry about what it looks like!)

Check that the flavour is full and spicy. Add more of what you need - sufficient spices are the key to this.

Don't worry that the beans are not cooked before you start! Cooking them this way means that as they cook they absorb all these wonderful flavours. It does NOT mean you will be crippled with flatulence.

Serve with guacamole, shredded lettuce, grated carrot and grated cheese. Each person should stuff these goodies, along with the bean mixture, into either their taco shells (baked for 5 minutes to warm and crisp them) or tortillas (home made ones are awesomely cheap and miles better than bought ones, but do take a while to prepare). Also very good with rice.


* Available from some supermarkets and the Tio Pablo website.

27 February 2017

Cake-faced and feminist

Last night I went to see comedian (comedienne?) Michele A'Court's latest show, Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter. It was at the end of an extremely busy weekend (next weekend you'll find me doing precisely nothing). Two minutes before I had to leave the house I hauled on the clothes I'd worn to last night's do, and wondered if I should put on some make-up. Alas I couldn't find it. I own some foundation, lipstick and a mascara. I haven't seen it for months and realised I no longer know where it is.

So I left the house anyway and never thought of it again.

Middle-aged woman's barefaced selfie (mine)

That is, until Michele said she forgot to tell her daughter that when you start feeling comfortable with how you look is about the same time you in fact start to look like shit (her word).

This is quite possibly true. She followed up with 'This is also when you are too tired to care'. Which is also true! Or, in my case, you think you have far more important places to expend your energy.

Cake face

She, however, did not appear to be too tired to care. She appeared to be sporting what my 13-year-old son calls a "cake face". She described putting on a face in front of her face, which at some point in the evening collapses, so she carries around her grandmother's compact to check it, which inexplicably now still contains her granny in the mirror! It was pretty funny.

And then the contradiction flew out into the audience and hit me. She started talking about feminism, and taught the audience a lot of feminist history. She also put up a photo of craggy old Leonard Cohen, barefaced, and everyone sighed in admiration. I can't remember why she put it up, but I don't think it was anything to do with feminism.

The pot accused the kettle


HOW COME SUCCESSFUL MEN CAN BE BARE-FACED AND CRAGGY, WHEREAS EVEN THE FEMINIST WOMAN STILL HAS TO WEAR A MASK EVERY TIME SHE GOES OUT IN PUBLIC?

Not only does the feminist have to apply the mask at least once a day, and wash it off at night, she has to take the time to buy the cosmetics, spend the money on them, and be comfortable with the amount of plastic rubbish they generate. They might also contain chemicals that have dubious effects on the body (the skin absorbs so much).

And she's doing it because (she thinks) she chooses to do so, enjoys doing so, loves how it looks and how it makes her feel. Which, I suppose, is how women felt when they strapped on body-deforming corsets, or bound their broken feet still tighter. Maybe us feeling that way is the secret of the prison's success: it makes us build our own walls and valiantly defend them.

Image result for clay plate lower lip
Not my photo

I know people have been trading their goods for bone necklaces and combs since the dawn of time. They make gaping holes in their lower lips, wear so many rings around their necks that they distort their ribcages, file their teeth into points, etc. We care so much about how we look that we go to lengths that are blatantly ridiculous - but the ridiculousness is evident only to those outside the culture in which it's happening. Those inside the walls are blind to it.

I reckon it's worth thinking about the trade-off - what we could be doing in lieu of all this - since we're all feminists now and can so clearly see the myriad ways that our culture forces women into submission.

Or can we?

P.S. It's quite possible that Michele would be out of work if she wore no make-up. That's show-biz - in her industry she probably has no choice.

21 January 2017

Mountain Frond Feather

In this family we (led me by me) are trying to grasp every fragment of the combination of summer weather, conveniently aged children and natural beauty. Feet are meeting mossy paths, hands are swinging on branches and mountains are being climbed.



Unfortunately, a bit of petrol's being burned, but we've travelled no further than two hours from home.

Pureora


Pureora is a State Forest Park in the centre of the North Island. It's a place of giant totara, stunning bush and wonderful birdlife. The camping's $6 a night for an adult, which makes up for the fact that the toilet's a long drop (but strangely, otherwise clean and completely unsmelly). The roads are unsealed and pot-holed, but that just adds to the character. The ex-logging village is now almost a ghost town, with just a handful of occupied houses. Perfect. See ya later civilisation.

Once upon a time I worked here. It's on a plateau well above sea level, so it gets chilly. We had frosts in March and piles of ice in May.

This time around we climbed Mt Pureora, which took about 1.5 hours and gave us stunning views of Lake Taupo and snowy Mt Ruapehu.

Everything gets mossy approaching the treeline.

The view, and a rest.

Coming down felt good....
I'm a bit in love with ferns.
The children gasped: the dead tree fern fronds look like they've been spray-painted gold!
In all my 43 years I've never noticed that. Now I'll never un-notice it..

We climbed a forest tower that took us into the tree tops (and these are big trees). It is near the site of an historic protest that moves me greatly. This is how the story goes: the New Zealand Forest Service, a government department, was logging Pureora forest. Of course most of our country's forest was clear-felled in the last 150 years or so, and that had largely stopped. But they were still doing 'selective logging' of the huge old totara trees. Naturally, felling enormous trees and dragging them out of the forest involves a lot of collateral damage.

A mighty old totara tree, playing host to many guests.
Some barefooted greenies decided that it had to stop. "Over our dead bodies," they virtually said as they climbed into the trees, ready to camp out there as the loggers approached. Others went into the forest and hid in the vicinity so that the loggers couldn't tell where they were. (They had tried all the sensible ways first, like petitioning parliament, begging and presenting rational arguments.)

There were some very angry loggers and millers, and a lot of money lost, but the logging operation was paused and then cancelled. Native logging eventually ended in New Zealand. It was also proven that the old trees, with their Thidwick-the-big-hearted-moose burden of vines, perching plants and moss, were vital to the endangered kokako bird's diet (that is true for many other bird species, too). It was once called the 'organ bird' for its song, which I hoped to hear on our trip but didn't, despite knowing there are now plenty of the birds around.

Aah, bloody greenies, what would they know?




I feel incredibly grateful to those people. Now we have this priceless, stunning forest (actually it's a bit patchy, but the good bits are great). Importantly, it's not just for us to enjoy. It, and its many inhabitants, are there for themselves, surviving, and the world is a better place for it.

Mount Maunganui

I grew up climbing this old volcano, which juts up bizarrely at the end of a flat sandy peninsula (on which many houses are built - foolish, I still say so many years after that Sunday School song, to build on sand!) and guards the entrance to Tauranga harbour. One summer evening after Christmas I climbed it. It was cool and windy, and I almost had the place to myself, despite it being a tourist mecca these days.

I got a few snaps amidst the huffing and puffing.





 And then, at the bottom, the surf beach. On it - one of the country's most popular tourist beaches, nearing the height of the season, had nested a pair of variable oystercatchers.


Spot the eggs in the 'nest': merely a scrape in the sand.
White sandbags protecting the nest from high seas, and rope and a sign to keep people away.
The incubating bird kept getting off its nest when people came near.




Last I heard, about a fortnight ago, the chicks had hatched!

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