Thursday, September 27, 2012

Solar panels on our roof!

We finally installed solar panels on our roof this week!

It seemed like the right time to do it:

  • DH and I will be at home during the day more than in the past. As the solar panels will, of course, be making electricity during the day it is most cost effective if we are at home to use it. We can wash clothes and dishes and have our computers on during the day, and reduce our energy use at night when we are buying it from the electricity company.
  • Solar panels and inverters are getting a lot cheaper than they were in the past. See the link below for the story on this.
  • Our income will be less than it was, as we are both working less hours, so reducing our recurring expenses like power costs is a good idea. We have calculated that the cost of installing the system is like paying off part of our electricity bills in advance for the next 5 years, and then after that the system will be producing electricity for us for free. 
  • We have done as much as we can to reduce our energy use before we got to this stage. Easily the cheapest way to cut power bills is simply to use less. We bought energy efficient appliances, we turn things off at the wall when they are not needed, we use passive cooling and heating as much as is possible in an old house like ours. 

Are you thinking about solar panels? Maybe you have them already? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Eat less meat and help save the planet!

Meat eaters in developed countries will have to eat a lot less meat, cutting consumption by 50%, to avoid the worst consequences of futureclimate change, new research warns.

In this second post during Sustainable September, I want to think about the practicalities of changing now by cutting our consumption of meat by 50%.

I have started doing this at our place -for budget reasons as well as health and environmental reasons. We are not vegetarians -have no plans at this stage to go down that path, although I respect those who do.  All I am doing is reducing portions of meat when we do eat meat, and trying to develop a habit of one meat meal on one day, followed by a non-meat meal on the next. I am in the habit of making a weekly or fortnightly meal plan, so this can be a deliberate choice. I find that if I am prepared, it is much easier to make this work. 

When you think about it, there are some great classic recipes which are already likely to be part of everyone's experience, which are vegetarian -though we would not often think of them as such:

1. Pumpkin soup -a classic favourite among me and my friends -often made more spicy these days with the addition of ginger and chilli, and flavoured with coconut milk. Yummy with a crusty loaf of bread or hot-out-of-the-oven scones.

2. French onion soup -if you have read Kerry Greenwood's "Corrina" books, you will know that there are often recipes added at the end. Kerry's recipe for French Onion soup -with or without the cognac- is  real winner! 

3. The great Aussie mum stand-by of  'zucchini slice" - an oven baked dish made with zucchini, eggs, flour and cheese. Great for adding to lunch boxes. 

4. Fried rice -a quick way of using up left-over rice, but good enough to make for its own right. I make a simple egg omelette, cut it up and add to rice which has got some nice sauted vegetables through. Add a splash of soy sauce and some nuts if you like them, and you're done. 

So it shouldn't be too hard to think of enough vegetarian meals to mix with meat meals.  I am gradually building up a repertoire of these to add variety and spice to our meals. 

 The other obvious way to cut meat consumption by half is to reduce our portion sizes. Have you ever been to an antique shop or found a wonderful old piece of dinner ware at an op shop, and been astounded at the small size of serving dishes, cups and bowls? In the olden days people ate smaller portion sizes whilst being more active. Is it any wonder we are all struggling with increasing weight?

Of course it requires some finesse on the part of the cook, to have the rest of the family cooperate with such a reduction in portion sizes without revolt. Any teenage boy will be only too aware that their usual dinner of two sausages and associated accompaniments, is now reduced to one!

One way to reduce the complaints is to simply cut the meat up into bite sized bits, add lots of vegetables and such and serve it as a casserole or stir fry- the amount of food on the plate may look the same, even if the meat ration is smaller.

You can also invest in smaller plates to achieve a similar result.

There are some great recipes from other cultures, where they have developed the fine art of using meat as a condiment to the meal, rather than the main part of it. Chinese meals are good examples-lots of rice, lots of vegetables, lots of tasty sauces, and small amounts of meat.

What is for dinner at your place? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Waste not, want not

Did you know that on average, Australians throw away one third of the food they buy? Government sources estimate that this adds up to a whopping 4 million tonnes of food per year!

It is easy to understand how it happens. We buy more than we need, and it goes off before we use it. We cook it up and then, because we have no plan for using the rest, it sits in the back of the fridge until it becomes a 'science experiment" and then we throw it out.

Throwing away food is a way of throwing away money, so curbing waste is a good idea if you want to do something more exciting with your funds or just pay the rates or whatever!

Food takes efforts to grow, and fertiliser, water and transport -and that all adds up to a big hit on the environment. If we can curb our waste, we can help the planet at the same time.

This month many of us in WA will commemorate "Sustainable September", an annual festival of all things which go to making our world last longer. My theme for this week is 'reducing waste" in the kitchen.

This is what I do:

1. Plan meals ahead so I know what I need to buy. I have added some measure of planning for our lunches as well as our evening meals. Our lunches are often the leftovers from a recent evening meal. If I put these leftovers in small containers, it is easy for DH and I to grab one as we leave for work. Hey presto! Nutritious for us and cheap too. DH told me this morning that he has not bought his lunch at all for the last 3 weeks. If he spent $13 on each lunch (easy to do in Perth -we are an expensive city!) then that is awhopping  $195 we didn''t spend on those!

2. Try to establish a routine of shopping once a week. In the past we used to shop quite frequently -whenever we noticed something was 'low'. I have found if we shop only once a week, we are encouraged to be creative with our meal choices. No celery-maybe we could substitute the ribs of a silverbeet leaf instead? No fresh fruit? There are stewed apples in the freezer.

3. Freeze leftovers. One of the biggest problems with freezing leftovers is not knowing what the unidentified bits of stuff are, there lurking in the freezer. I have found that masking tape or painter's tape is good at low termperatures, and I can write on it in pencil. I have a roll which I keep near the kitchen, and any time I want to quickly label something I just snip off a small piece. It sticks to freezer bags or pyrex containers.

4. Freeze things likely to spoil before we use them. This goes for the bread I make -one small loaf is enough for a whole week sometimes, but other times it goes faster. No-one really likes week old bread, so I slice it up after it is made and put half in the freezer.

5. Store food carefully. I prefer glass containers where possible -with tight fitting lids. I put extra bread flour in the fridge as I have had it spoiled by weevils. My "simple living" friends say it would be better in the freezer, but I don't have room in my freezer so it lives in the fridge. So far so good! I did have some success for a while storing bulk rice -but the weevils found it in the end, so now I prefer to keep stocks low, until I can be assured that I can keep it without spoiling. I find that a tight fitting lid on a container in the fridge can keep may vegetables crisp for quite a long time.