19 July 2016

Suspicious of convenience

The things that humans have invented to make life more convenient are truly mind-boggling. Paper and pencils, mattresses, electric lights, taps and ovens... I love them. My favourite appliances are the washing machine and dishwasher for the hours of time they free up each week. (Written, I suppose, from the point of view of someone who's never lugged water from a well.)

The latest invention: a laundry folder. Available from www.foldimate.com
to the truly lazy and spendy.

The laundry folder: a step too far

At some point, however - and I think we are at that point - trading money and the earth's resources for convenience must stop. We have to draw the line somewhere! People are welcome to mortgage their financial futures for playstations, heated car seats and this laundry folder, but with a few billion of us around now, they are not welcome to create demand for more and more stuff to satisfy humans' inbuilt desire for convenience.

After all, it's to be our great grandchildren's planet, too.

Yes, it might be available, and it might even be cheap. However, it will almost certainly be polluting, and it will certainly fill your house with yet more 'stuff'. Boo to both of those.

Stealing skills

It will also erode your ability to look after yourself. Packaged food means you don't need to be able to cook, a heatpump means you never learn to chop wood and light a fire, a laundry folder means that the deftness required to fold laundry fast need never develop, or if it has it will fade away.

Stealing movement

Automated blinds? Ah, no need to use those thighs and buttock muscles to raise yourself from your comfortable armchair. No need to use arm muscles and fine motor to control to pull a chain. You, too, can be relieved of this burden. 

Wireless technology for easy installation
Automated blinds. Sedentary, couch-shaped people can
 enhance their current shape by purchasing these from Luxaflex.

Just remember, your body reflects and adapts to what you do with it. Move it!

The solution

The solution, of course, is to actively be satisfied with what you have, even if it means doing a bit of work, and honing skills that couch potatoes don't have. It means acknowledging that people who lived before these things were invented were every bit as happy as we are, if not happier. Because 'stuff'' never makes us happy.

Gratitude is a big help here. When I focus on being grateful for an oven that heats up at the touch of a button, sparing me the woodchopping and firelighting that cooks had to do for thousands of years, I am grateful!

When we take modern conveniences for granted, and let our mind rest on what could be easier and faster, our thoughts turn to what we haven't got, rather than what we have. A gap is created that we crave to fill. It's a normal human desire, but it's a route to the equally normal human feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Advertising, of course, steers our minds in the dissatisfied direction, as does every television programme that shows people in flash houses and cars. They subtly reveal to us a gap between what we have got, and what 'other people' have. The result is dissatisfaction - unless we actively choose the opposite.

Self control

It all comes down to the marshmallows, really. As I was reminded recently by the first part of a documentary on the Dunedin study, so much of success in life comes down to self-control. Preschoolers' success at not eating the single marshmallow on their plate in order to wait 15 minutes for two marshmallows predicts a large number of facets of their future, from graduating from university to having a successful marriage.

Not buying stuff that is expensive and polluting, but just might save us some effort, is much like refusing to eat that delicious, tempting first marshmallow. Of course we all want to gobble it immediately*! The secret is to look away from it, which is what the successful preschoolers did, and remind ourselves of why we are saying no.

The delayed gratification of two marshmallows in 15 minutes is equivalent to the healthier body and planet, the more satisfied and therefore happier mind, and the more secure financial future that not buying brings about.

From a purely financial point of view, the US$800 or so that the laundry folder costs will turn into $1200 or so in 15 years at a 3% interest rate. That's not a lot, but if you apply the self control consistently, it would be quite achievable to avoid spending $5000 on convenience products in a year. That would turn into nearly $8000 in your bank account 15 years later. (Low interest rates are pretty hard on savers, that's for sure. In times of more normal interest rates the increase would be much greater.)

The convenience pyramid

If convenience items were arranged like a food pyramid, I'd put weatherproof housing, running water, pre-woven cloth, and needles and thread at the bottom. At the top would be the clothes folder and automated blinds, and the contents of some children's lunchboxes.

But we get to behead the pyramid above the washing machine and dishwasher, right?

*The funniest bit in the documentary was the little girl bursting into tears as she lost control and ate the first marshmallow!

7 July 2016

A nourishing winter garden soup

I've got a bit of a 'not buying' theme happening at the moment, but there are certain things it's very difficult to avoid buying, like food.

A productive garden means buying less food. It saves money, but requires you to spend time on it. Some things, though, take almost no time or effort, and butternuts are in that category.

Our frosted winter garden a few days ago.

Almost-free butternuts

One seed + a fertile patch of soil + a little of water = 10 or so butternuts.

Note that these butternuts will not, like commercial crops, be grown in depleted soils and have artificial chemicals added. Nope, they will be organic and bursting with the goodness of what the plant has extracted from your soil.

How to grow butternuts

In early September, poke seeds into a bit of compost in a pot with drainage holes. Keep it moist but not soaking wet. These are big, tough seeds that germinate very reliably (as in, like weeds), especially if kept reasonably warm.

About October, transfer the baby plants (or even just the finest-looking one) into a fertile spot, preferably next to a compost bin or pile, or where one has been so the soil is very rich. The growth of your plant depends entirely on this richness. If the spot isn't perfect, you will still get fruit, but they probably won't be numerous or have dark orange flesh.

Ideally, also plant it next to something it can climb on, like a fence. This means it will take up little ground space. It probably won't climb the fence by itself, so when you see a long branch spread out across the ground, take it up the fence and tie it there with something like old pantyhose or a T shirt cut into strips.

These things grow vigorously, so if you want to grow them exclusively over the fence you need to be vigilant about tying them up before the branches get away from you.

Water it when you think of it. An existing compost bin will provide it with a lot of the moisture it needs.

It's wonderful to see the flowers, then fruit, appear and develop.

In autumn, when the plant is starting to die off, cut off the fruit, leaving a good thumb-length of stem. Wipe the butternuts clean, dry them off and sit them in the autumn sun in a dry sunny spot for a week or two. This toughens the skins so the butternuts won't rot over winter before you can eat them.

Store them somewhere cool and dry. The danger here is them rotting where they sit on the ground, which I've found is more likely if the ground is concrete. Sit them on some wood or old sacks, perhaps.

The remainder of our haul in storage.

Turning them into nourishing deliciousness

The only way I truly love pumpkin, or butternuts, is in soup, although I'll happily tolerate them as part of a roast dinner with lashings of gravy.

I put much of my good health over winter down to my butternut soups. If I eat them regularly I need to take a lot less of this stuff. Although it's called Zinc Fix, it's got plenty of betacarotene in it (which the body turns to vitamin A as needed), and other zinc supplements don't have its miraculous effect, so possibly the betacarotene is doing some of the good work. Without it (and the soup, which is obviously also rich in betacarotene) my sinuses would be infected for much of winter, which is very debilitating.

The soup

This isn't my recipe, so I won't claim it. It's Nicky's tomato soup from the wonderful Nelson-based Homegrown Kitchen. I strongly recommend it, with the following changes:

- roast the root vegetables first (even the onion if you can) in oil, for more depth of flavour. You can include parsnip, too, and rather more butternut than the recipe calls for. Naturally where it says pumpkin or squash, I use butternut. I don't peel it first - the very thin but sneakily fibrous skin will feed your gut microbes.
- just use plain white vinegar if you don't have apple cider vinegar
- add a splash of milk rather than cream if you don't have cream, or omit altogether
- last time I made it I used lamb stock rather than chicken stock, made by boiling up bones from roast lamb, and included a few fragments of roast lamb meat. It made superlative soup.

It's wonderful with buttered fresh bread, or toast.

Yum. Freeze some in containers for future cold winter days if you can.

Hope you love it as much as I do, and may your winter be a healthy one.

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