Happy New Year! The daffodil leaves are green salutes pointing tall out of the snow and this evening as I closed the gate I spied a little burst of yellow, the first crocus. Spring isn’t here yet, but I’m starting to think about what I might plant on the windowsill come February. My box of seeds is a jumble of store-bought seed packets and re-used envelopes stuffed with seeds harvested from the garden: coriander, pumpkin, courgette, butternut squash, lettuce, poppy, pot marigold, french string bean, fennel, pepper, and aubergine.
There’s invariably a tray of seeds drying out somewhere in the kitchen. I have difficulty throwing them away. It’s the promise they hold that gets me. And all the different shapes and sizes. The seahorse-like tails of pot marigold. Brown broad beans like dice in my hand. The translucent pearly sheaths on squash. The hairy pods of love-in-a-mist. Friendly collections waiting.
I was discussing seeds with our local organic market garden farmer, who supplies vegetable baskets to our community, and she told me it’s illegal in France for her to harvest her own seeds. She has to buy them each year from a catalogue. Score one for the corporate seed lobby and its success at trumping common sense.
Meanwhile, for want of a gardenable garden and the fact it’s too early for planting seeds on my windowsill, I’m going to try and restore order to my seed filing box and its gazillion potential plant lives!
You know the sad, dark-brown skinned bananas that get left in the bowl and no one wants to eat? Don’t through them away! Chuck them in the freezer. They make the perfect ingredient for banana bread or muffins.
According to UK-based charity Love food hate waste, if British households all stopped wasting food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road. Check them out for tips on how to reduce food wastage and recipes to make the most of leftovers.
So here’s my recipe, which you can adapt depending on different food allergies/tolerances/tastes:
BANANA MUFFINS oven: 350F/180C bake time: 22- 25 min
2 eggs (or replace with two servings of 1 tbsp ground chia seed mixed with 3 tbsp of water)
1/2 cup of sugar or 1/3 cup of agave syrup
1/2 cup of sunflower or other vegetable oil
3-4 well-mashed bananas, the older the better (if frozen use the microwave for a quick defrost or if you have more time leave them in a bowl of hot water to soften)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/3 cup of the juice of half a lemon topped up with milk (cow’s/rice/soya all work, as probably would other grain or nut-based milks) or a 1/3 cup of sour cream/creme fraiche
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 cups of flour (if you’re using gluten-free flours, I usually use a combination of whole rice flour, chickpea flour and manioc flour, and I’ve also been experimenting recently with adding some psyllium and ground linseed for extra fibre and 1/2 tsp xantham gum for structure)
100g of chocolate chips or half a cup of walnuts for added interest!
The first thing I ever baked when I was a kid was banana bread. Now I use the mix to make muffins. It’s my go-to recipe when I want to whip up something quickly for an afternoon treat. Mix the ingredients in the order they appear, pour the mixture into a greased muffin tin, pop them in the oven and when they start smelling good, they’re ready!
I am a great believer in letting plants self-seed and establish their own natural way in the garden. But there are limits – like when pot marigolds and lemon balm herb take over the vegetable patch and raspberry canes pop up through the grass.
I have a hard time killing plants so was super happy when I discovered what has become one of my favourite annual events taking place in Grand Saconnex, Geneva this afternoon: a plant exchange called Jarditroc. For each plant you take in you get a coupon to take home someone else’s plant. Everything is laid out on long trestle tables and you can take whatever you like. I am like a kid in a candy shop with change in her pocket. Last year’s big find was a David Austen climbing rose. This year I’m giving away heritage raspberry canes, borage, pot marigolds (calendula officinalis), daisies, lemon balm and chives. Off I go!
The first purple crocus has come out today. This means spring! In our garden, first come the yellows, as early as January, then the creamy white crocuses. I wait, and wait, and when winter is finally on its way out, only then do the purple ones appear. I’ve been down with the flu and it’s cheered me up no end.
The weather forecast for the next week is calling for sun, sun, sun with rising temperatures – hooray! Everything is waking up, jutting through the soil – all the bulbs promising colour everywhere.
Right now is so exciting. You have to get down close to the ground to appreciate all the new life springing up. New shoots, soon green, start off bright red or pink.
A Lady’s Mantle’s leaves about to unfurl appear tightly folded like a fan.
And my favourite: the hot brainy pokers that will soon stretch out and become the first rhubarb stems of the season!
After the slowness of winter when snow impedes any work, now everything is moving fast, fast, fast and there’s suddenly loads to do. My first task has been to clear a raspberry bed and prune and cut out dead canes. They are full of buds – all those stalks won’t be naked for long!
Then there’s the veggie beds to prepare, manure and compost to lay down, the pea seeds to plant, the comfrey leaves to stew into fertilizer, the nettle soup to make….it all awaits!!!
Winter flu still has its grip, but not for long – sun and the garden will heal me!
The first corn of the season is ready and green beans are dangling everywhere. My Canadian cousin taught me about the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. It’s a Native American idea to grow them together. The corn is a pole for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen on their roots for next year’s corn and the big leaves of the squash suppress weed growth. Next to the travesty of my rainpour-rotten tomato bed, this experiment has turned out well. I’m looking forward to stripping back the corn husks to reveal those juicy lines of kernels ready for lots of butter! And it’s an easy veg to get kids to eat.
They don’t seem to sell corn in their husks around here. So weird. It’s the perfect packaging and part of the fun is making a loud “schwack” as you strip them back. The corn on the cob in the local supermarkets is sold naked, in pairs, on a tray of white styrofoam covered in cling film. Neatly wrapped but what a waste. Same goes for all the fresh organic produce. I wish the supermarkets around here would stop packaging it. Non-organic is sold package-free. Are there really that many people who are set to cheat the system and pass one off for the other??
You can skip the plastic wrap and shop at organic supermarkets like Satoriz in Thoiry and Ferney-Voltaire, which are great, but life being what it is, it’s not always doable to visit more than one food shop in a week. (And Satoriz don’t even sell fresh corn on the cob, just some cooked vacuum-packed excuse that tastes vile). There is also some organic produce here and there in the local village markets or you can become a member of a local organic vegetable-box scheme.
Coming up on Sunday, October 12, Ferney-Voltaire is hosting a big organic market, which promises “crafts and artisanal products, local bio products, and clubs for sustainable development”. By then I will have exhausted my own supply of fresh corn and will be found scouring the stalls.
With the arrival of baby2 I’ve been having fun taking out all the mini baby clothes that were stored upstairs in our attic. I also brought down a box full of “bum genius” cloth diapers. They really are genius – they have pops that are adjustable and mean baby can wear the diapers from newborn to toddler stage. They are easy to use, easy to wash and come in a range of happy colours. I’m sure there are lots of other cloth diapers out there that are just as good, these are just the ones that I happened to come across when doing research across the net.
The experience of baby1 and the intense sleep deprivation that it entailed meant that – for now – I’ve given myself a break from using only cloth diapers and the additional laundry work it creates. Images of diaper mountains at the dump don’t sit well with me, but during these early days, I’m also using the best eco disposable diapers I can find. Moltex is great – available online. The French supermarket Intermarché has also started its own-brand eco diaper, which is decent. I had a nasty experience with Carrefour’s own brand eco diaper – the inner absorbent material leaked, or rather exploded all over my baby’s bum on the first and second try and was promptly returned. From what I can tell, there is no such thing as a 100 per cent biodegradable disposable nappy. Someone should invent one!
My sister-in-law over the pond uses a cloth diaper cleaning service, which sounds dreamy, but I haven’t heard of anything similar here. Maybe a start-up business idea for the Pays de Gex?!
For more on the debate about re-useable nappies/diapers, the Guardian’s Dan Welch has some motivating statistics from the UK: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/apr/26/nappy-debate
“An alternative to the current system there must be, even if those paid to do so have not yet dreamt it up. But conceiving of such an alternative and populating it with useful ideas, means seeing beyond the sixth form history text books: for this is no straight fight between the free market and the state. Indeed, what many people seem to long for are working lives over which they have more control; not micro-managed by government, subject to the whims of unregulated capital, or humiliated by incompetent managers. Fulfilling this longing will require re-inventing some things which have been long-since abandoned; enterprises rooted in local communities; capital markets focused on nurturing local businesses and stewarding natural resources; and above all, a political ethos which recognises value above and beyond that which can or will delivered by financial markets……..A renewed sense of place; a commitment to value above efficiency; a willingness to challenge vested interests and restore economic power to local communities; all these things would characterise a government that really believed in responsible capitalism. They would also take us several steps towards a green and more sustainable economy. Building a new economy is the hard work that lies before all of us.”
Part of the idea behind this blog is to share information that has to do with what Ruth writes about: “nurturing local businesses and stewarding natural resources” here on the Franco-Swiss border.
As a start, I can’t think of a better example than supporting local farmers through vegetable/fruit box schemes. You know where your food is coming from, it’s fresh, it’s seasonal, it’s invariably organic, food miles are zero, and by paying up front for the year’s produce ahead, you guarantee the farmer an annual income. In France, such schemes are called “une association pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne” or AMAP. I’m aware of three in the Pays de Gex, and they all have waiting lists, so I hope more will be created in the years to come:
I’m also growing my own vegetables, and one day hope to have enough expertise to ensure a regular crop of produce throughout the growing season. For the moment, sharing a vegetable/fruit basket from my local AMAP with a neighbour means we eat local, fresh, organic produce nearly the whole year long and we are helping to support the livelihood of a farming family of three.
It’s the kind of win-win situation that makes total sense, methinks.
Bring on the spring and a new year of yummy harvests!