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June 2014

Pantry pampering with pumpkin and ginger {DIY skin & hair treatments}

Pantry-pampering-Little Eco Footprints

I love pantry pampering. I wash my face with honey, soak in porridge and wash my hair with bi-carb soda. Every now and then I make a hair treatment or face mask with various combinations of egg, honey, olive oil, lemon, and yoghurt. Pumpkin and ginger are the latest additions to my list of favourite pantry pampering produce.

Pumpkin DIY skin-and-hair treatments

Thanks to a bumper pumpkin harvest, I have more pumpkins than I could ever eat. So I was thrilled to discover that it's a nourishing skin treatment.

Pumpkin-pantry-pampering-recipes-Little Eco Footprints

Pumpkin is a popular ingredient in anti-wrinkle and hydrating creams - for a good reason. It is rich in vitamins, antioxidants and natural exfoliating agents.

It is particularly nourishing for sun-damaged and ageing skin.

For a delicious-smelling face mask, combine a few tablespoons of mashed cooked pumpkin with a raw egg, a tablespoon of honey and a good pinch of cinnamon. Apply the mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Wash off after 20 minutes.

Pumpkin is also great for soothing and softening dry, cracked hands and feet. The face mask recipe doubles as a foot-and-hand treatment. Smother your hands or feet and then wrap in a plastic bag.

An exfoliating pumpkin body and face scrub can be made by combining one cup of mashed pumpkin with ½ cup of brown sugar.

Pumpkin is also good for your hair. It's high in vitamin A (good for the scalp) and potassium (promotes hair growth). To make a moisturising hair mask, combine one cup of mashed pumpkin, two tablespoons of honey and ½ cup of yoghurt. Apply the mixture to damp hair and cover with plastic wrap (or an old shopping bag).Let it sit for 15 minutes and then wash out.

Ginger DIY soaks, scrubs and masks

Ginger-pantry-pampering-recipes-Little eco footprints

Ginger tea is a well-known remedy for colds and flu - but you can also get the benefits of ginger by bathing in it. A ginger and Epsom salts bath is my favourite remedy for flu aches and chest congestion. I add two cups of Epsom salts and around two tablespoons of freshly grated ginger to a warm bath.

If the idea of bathing in ginger doesn't appeal, you can always try a detox mustard-and-ginger foot soak. Soak tired and aching feet in a bucket of very warm water with two tablespoons each of mustard powder (or freshly ground mustard seeds) and freshly grated ginger.

Ginger is also an antioxidant-rich skin treatment. It is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic so is particularly good for pimple-prone skin. You can make a facial cleanser by mixing freshly grated ginger with a little honey. Use this recipe as a nourishing face mask by leaving it on for around 20 minutes.

You can make a warming body scrub by combining ½ cup of brown sugar with ¼ cup of olive oil, one tablespoon of freshly grated ginger and the zest of one lemon.

Ginger is also great for dry and damaged hair and dandruff. Make a hair mask by mixing two tablespoons of freshly grated ginger with three tablespoons of olive oil and a dash of lemon juice. Massage into your scalp and hair and leave for at least 30 minutes before washing out.

So next time you want to pamper yourself, instead of visiting an expensive beauty parlour or spa, simply visit your pantry.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 23rd June 2014. 

What is your favourite pantry pampering recipe? 


New directory makes roadside stall shopping easier

Roadside-stall-shopping. Little eco footprints

Farmer's gate roadside stalls are my favourite place to shop. Buying direct from the farmer is a great way to source local seasonal food. The produce is typically super fresh and costs far less than what you would pay elsewhere. I especially love the unpredictability of roadside stall shopping. For me, stopping at a stall or two adds a sense of adventure to an otherwise boring car trip.

Roadside-stall-shopping-corn. Little eco footprints-002 Roadside-stall-shopping-pumpkin. Little eco footprints-002

Walk into a supermarket at any time of year and you can predict what produce you’ll find. In contrast, roadside stalls evolve with the seasons.

I used to zoom past roadside stalls. I focused on the destination and didn’t like the idea of adding a few minutes to my trip. I have since embraced the idea of slow travel and consider farm gate shopping an opportunity to support a farmer and grab a bargain. I now stop at most roadside stalls I pass at least once. Some stalls are a disappointment and aren’t visited again. Others are a delightful surprise and are revisited every time I pass by.

Roadside-stall-shopping-Tourist Route33-1. Little eco footprints  Roadside-stall-shopping-Tourist Route33-2. Little eco footprints

My favourite farm gate trail is Tourist Route33. When travelling home to the Hunter Valley from Sydney, my trip is punctuated with frequent stops and I arrive home with a haul of produce. My first stop, not long after turning off the freeway at Calga, is at an avocado farm where a bag of avocados costs only $5. A little further along Peats Ridge Road is the honey farm and then the strawberry farm. Tucked down a driveway in Kulnura is my favourite stall of the route. The contents of this small honesty stall changes with the seasons and I never know what I’ll find when I pull open the curtain. Last visit, I was excited to find giant cabbages for only $1 and limes, lemons and chokos for just 20¢ each.

Roadside-stall-shopping-flowers. Little eco footprints  Roadside-stall-shopping-manure. Little eco footprints

When travelling along unfamiliar roads, I keep an eye out for stalls. I have often wished for a map of roadside stalls. Much to my delight, my wish has been granted.

RoadStalls.com.au

Sonya Yell recently launched RoadStalls.com.au – a directory of roadside stalls. Sonya has "always loved buying from road stalls" but found that even she was zooming past them. "I wanted to provide a reliable way for people to find stalls" Sonya says.

Sellers list their stall, outlining what they sell and opening hours. Buyers explore a map to find stalls in their area.

The directory is not restricted to farmers. Urban gardeners can also list driveway stalls to sell their excess produce. Even if it’s "just a bucket of chokos" suggests Sonya.

The web-based directory was launched only a month ago and already 300 stalls are listed. I’ll be using the directory when planning car trips from now on.

I have already started selecting stalls I would like to visit. Next summer on my way to the south coast, I’ll be detouring slightly to pick up prickly pear fruit and figs from Leppington Valley Farm in Western Sydney. I also hope to find a reason to be travelling along Bucketts Way near Stroud on a Saturday morning so that I can visit the Two Men & a Pumpkin Roadside Stall.

I’m looking forward to watching the directory grow and hope that encourages more people to buy direct from farmers.

To find a stall near you, or to list your own roadside stall, visit RoadStalls.com.au

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 16th June 2014.


Raising chickens - a lesson in patience, responsibility and reality

A proud Little Eco and Zippy, the first chicken to hatch. Little eco footprints

Virtual pets are popular. The Tamagotchis and Furbys of the 90's have been superseded by cyberpet mobile phone apps. Little Eco loves Egg Babies. She buys a virtual egg that needs to be fed, washed, entertained and put to sleep. Eventually, it either dies from neglect or hatches. Despite suggestions that the Egg Baby app is teaching her life lessons in responsibility, I’m not convinced. So when she asked for an incubator for her birthday, I enthusiastically agreed. I embraced the idea of helping her raise real-life chickens.

Raising-chickens-from-eggs-Little eco footprints

We bought a dozen fertilised eggs. We chose Australorp, a hardy dual purpose breed, suitable for both laying eggs and meat.

How-to-incubate-chicken-eggs. Little eco footprints

The eggs were placed in an incubator at 37.5 degrees celsius and carefully turned five to six times a day. Little Eco marked one side of each egg with a smiley face and the other with a sad face so she could keep track when turning.

Candling-eggs. Little eco footprints

We excitedly studied chicken embryo development and tracked their progress. On day three, we candled the eggs for the first time and were amazed to see visible networks of blood vessels within most of the eggs.

Candling involves looking into the egg with a bright light to identify viable eggs. By day 10, we could tell that 11 of our 12 eggs contained developing embryos. 

We stopped turning the eggs on day 18. The eggs were in “lockdown” from here on. The incubator needs to stay closed until all the eggs have finished hatching to maintain humidity and temperature.

By the time we reached hatch day (day 21), we were growing impatient and started to fret that perhaps we hadn’t looked after the eggs properly. Did we turn them enough? Was humidity OK? By the end of day 21, nothing had happened and we were convinced that we had failed.

Towards the end of day 22, after anxiously waiting and watching, we were thrilled to spot the first pip – a small crack in the shell that tells us a chicken is almost ready to hatch.

Australorp-chicken. Little eco footprints

We watched the first chicken hatch that night. It made a teeny hole and then relaxed while it got used to breathing air. Eventually, it started to zip. It pecked through the egg in a circle, unzipping the egg until the crack was big enough for it to push the egg open. It emerged wet and ugly. Within an hour, it was dry, cute and fluffy.

Raising-chickens-from-eggs-Little eco footprints (2)

We had seven chickens hatch in total. I quickly learnt my first lesson in what not to do when raising chickens. Don’t name your chickens before you sex them. Little Eco enthusiastically named each chicken, distinguishing chicks by painting their toe nails in different colours and patterns. Then we sexed them using feather sexing, a technique that works with certain breeds when the chicks are only a few days old.

We have three girls and four boys. We’re only keeping one rooster, so now my Little Eco is struggling to choose between Rose, Cutie, Fluffy and Bubba. Names make such a difference. We’ll be renaming three of the boys stock, soup and sandwich.

Our sweet little chickens have taught Little Eco real-life lessons in patience, responsibility and reality. There’s been anticipation, concern, tears and joy. She watched a new life that she helped to create enter the world. Her pride and awe at that moment is something I will always remember. Nothing beats the real thing.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 9th June 2014.


Organic food is good for biodiversity and bees

Organic-food-is-good-for-biodiversity-and-bees. Little eco footprints

I grow my own veggies organically and often buy organic food. There are many reasons why I favour organic. I prefer my food be free of pesticide residues and I’d rather support small, sustainable farmers than large-scale industrialised agribusinesses. But the main reason I buy organic is that it’s better for the environment. Or is it? Robert Paarlberg, in his book Food Politics, suggests that my preference for organic food may be misguided.

I read Paarlberg’s 2010 book recently and it had me scrambling to double-check the environmental benefits of organic farming.

For me, it’s important to know the story behind my food. Permaculturalist Nick Ritar suggests that "every bite of food is a reflection of your ethics". "That doesn’t mean becoming a food snob who is a pain in the arse at every dinner party, but it does mean that when you buy something, you exercise your power by taking the time to understand what you are giving your money to."

What is organic farming? 

Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides. Instead, natural processes are embraced. Soil fertility is maintained using compost, crop rotation and manures. Weeds are controlled using mechanical cultivation, mulch and cover crops. Insect pests are kept at bay using a range of techniques including relying on 'good bugs' to eat the 'bad bugs'.

Is it better for the environment? 

Whether or not organic farming is better for the environment overall has been hotly debated for years. The focus of the debate has been on whether or not decreased yields from organic farms could have the unfortunate result of increasing the total area of land under agricultural production, resulting in more widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss, and thus undermining the environmental benefits of organic practices.

This argument is increasingly being dismissed as over-simplistic. Yields can be increased through improved farming practice and careful selection of varieties. Yield is also only one of many factors to consider when balancing the benefit of organic farming.

Environmental benefits of organic farming

What is clear is that organic farms are better at protecting biodiversity than conventional farms. A recent study by Oxford University found that organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms. It also found that the benefit was most pronounced for organic farms in intensively farmed regions and that small farms do a better job of protecting biodiversity. The benefit of organic farming was most pronounced for pollinators such as bees, with organic farms supporting 50% more pollinator species.

Pesticide use is having a particularly devastating impact on bees. Recent research from Harvard University has confirmed that pesticides, neonicotionoids in particular, are likely to be responsible for the massive colony collapse disorder happening in honey bees.

The environmental benefits of organic farming extend beyond biodiversity and bees.

Conventional farming is dependent upon large amounts of inorganic fertiliser. The manufacture of synthetic fertilisers is energy-intensive, uses large amounts non-renewable natural gas and contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions. Synthetic fertilisers also dissolve in water more readily than organic fertilisers and can leach through the soil and pollute groundwater, nearby waterways and ultimately, the ocean.

So after wading through the recent literature, I’m confident that my preference for organic food isn’t misguided. My resolve to support small local sustainable farms is stronger than ever.

Introducing organic farms into already intensively farmed landscapes can boost biodiversity, provide a pesticide-free haven for pollinators, and play a major role in halting the loss of biodiversity.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 2nd June 2014.


Creativity, compromise and conscious consumption

Compromise-education-and-conscious-consumption. Little eco footprints 1

The call to compromise on my environmental ideals comes more often now that Little Eco is older. She asks for packaged food in her lunch box and begs for the latest fad plastic toy.

Marketers are trying to teach her that life is about buying, whereas I am trying to teach her that happiness can’t be bought: How she contributes and what she creates is more important than what she consumes.

I use creativity and conscious compromise to help her navigate the pervasive power of marketing.

My strategy to minimise the influence of consumer culture includes avoiding branded licensed toys. I dislike how advertisers capitalise on a child’s love of a character by leveraging it to sell products.

Little Eco recently asked for a Frozen (as in the Disney movie) themed birthday party. I contemplated trying to persuade her to pick another less branded theme. Instead, I decided to follow her wishes and approach it simply.

She wasn’t asking me to spend money on disposable branded party plates and cups. She wanted to celebrate her love for a movie and its characters.

I helped her make her own invitations, decorated with hand-made paper snowflakes. We had so much fun making the snowflakes that we made more to use as party decorations.

Snowball-meringues. Little eco footprints

There was sugar-laden party food, but I kept it simple. Instead of a party table laden with choices, there were only two options: melting snowman biscuits and snowball meringues. The children later made their own pizzas.

For party games, they built their own snowman and played pin the nose on Olaf the snowman. The party was everything she wanted and in the end, was less of a compromise than I expected.

Occasional compromise paired with a good dose of education about responsible consumption is another of my strategies.

Little Eco has been pestering me for a Rainbow Loom for months. Initially, I resisted buying her one of these plastic jewellery-making kits and instead taught her how to weave bracelets using a cardboard loom.

The pestering continued.

In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne suggests fad toys play on a child’s fear of not having what everyone else has. ‘‘As a child grows into adolescence, not only will peer pressure increase, so will the prices of the latest must-have gadget,’’ Payne writes. He suggests that the longer you play along with the ‘‘keeping up’’ game, the more difficult it can be to stop.

Despite Payne’s advice and my concerns about the environmental impact of all those rubber bands, I eventually gave in to my daughter’s pestering power.

There is a good reason why harnessing ‘‘pester power’’ is one of marketers’ favourite ways to influence the purchasing of parents. It works.

I bought her a Rainbow Loom and used it as an opportunity to teach her about responsible consumption. We spoke of the risk that the rubber bands pose to pets and wildlife. Rainbow Loom bands can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed and they may get wrapped around the beak or neck of wildlife.

We brainstormed solutions and together came up with a plan to make sure she uses her loom bands wisely and disposes of them properly. She now reuses her bands and makes sure she does not leave them lying around.

Like most fad toys, the Rainbow Loom fad seems to have passed, at least in our household. The loom sits neglected and hundreds of small rubber bands have disappeared. With millions of kits sold, that’s a lot of non-degradable bands hanging around somewhere.

I’m hoping the next fad is finger knitting.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 26th May 2014.