Author Archives: birminghamtomb

Getting to work by cycling

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I have now been cycling for 3 months, I bought a bike to improve my fitness and to stay away from public transport as much as possible. Although the train service into Birmingham city centre isn’t that bad and it is usually on time I do sometimes get tired of the same journey and monotony, the same faces, the same coughs and splutters in the Winter, the sweatiness in the Summer and also the struggle to get into a train carriage in rush hour. I haven’t entirely given up on train journeys into work but by cycling to work it has improved my green credentials and lowered my carbon usage in general.

My usual routes takes me either up the canal side which has recently improved due to the Birmingham Cycle Revolution  or through Cycle Route 5 which take me into parkland, through back roads, suburban areas and the city centre. I usually cycle in to work via Cycle Route 5 and then take the canal home as it is quieter and flatter, as the canal is flat it does mean I have to cycle more, therefore I can really go for it and work up a healthy sweat before I get home.

Apart from the greener aspect what I really love is the fact I can feel my wellbeing improve when I get on the saddle, soaking up some daylight whilst building energy up and serotonin makes me feel more prepared for work, if I have had a stressful day and then cycle I am usually OK when I get home. The 30 minute cycle ride clears my head, the need to focus on the road and my positioning doesn’t allow me to think about work like I would on the train, this ritual is a solid preparation and conclusion to what is usually a deeply busy day. I have found work based solutions on my bike for issues at work, it’s a nice way to subconsciously think.

I can now feel my journey times going shorter, I stay in higher gears for longer and enjoy the fact I am cycling harder and at more pace, the 30 minute journey can sometimes go down to 20 minutes if the lights are all on green – I feel fitter and more productive.

Another positive is the freedom, the freedom to zip through a park into a canal side, through a piece of waste land and then back onto a main road without having to wait in traffic. Familiar roads that I have journeyed in my car have a new feel when I am on my bike – these roads look different and going from one side of the city to the other is expressive as I can choose a different route quickly and with little planning.

Although I understand why people wear comfy cycling clothing, I am not one of these people who do the lycra thing. I wear a UV bib and a helmet, in the Winter I will pick up some lights for the darker mornings and evenings. At the moment I go to work and freshen up with wet wipes when I get to the office. I am not breaking huge sweats and I can usually stay fresh with a quick clean up in the bathroom at work, I have a basket which stores my rucksack on so my back doesn’t get sweaty. I also have a little pouch under the saddle with a small tool set and a puncture repair kit if needed. The basket has had my weekly shopping in, plants, parcels, documents and even a crate of beer.

The array of bikes in Birmingham that are being used currently by cyclists are fascinating, the traditional old-fashioned bikes right through to the thin and light racers are so interesting to look at. My bike is a Giant Hybrid, it has 21 gears and if I was going to improve it after 3 months of cycling I would make it a little lighter and also I would have bought suspension as an add on, going over the cobbled part of the Birmingham canal system can sometimes be a bit rough but it’s not so bad and is only a slight inconvenience. The bike is a comfortable ride in general, I can go long distance and I am pleased it is going through its paces with no difficulties.

For any readers on Self and Roots who have watched the scary YouTube videos of cyclists getting threatened and cut up or read the media scares and can’t face getting on a bike out of fear, I would recommend that the National Cycle Network can potentially come to the rescue and alleviate these worries, the route are usually quiet and used by walkers and cyclists only – if the route does go on to a road it is usually on quieter strip of the city centre allowing slow approaches to junctions and no worries of big lorries coming past and cutting you up. According to Sustrans 75% of us are within 3 kilometres of the National cycle Network and these routes cover 16,200 kilometres.

Cycling has saved me money, the train fares are not spent as much which has lowered my expenses and as a result I am healthier, happier and feeling more in touch with a greener commute, I am following closely the spirit and mission of Self and Roots when I get on my bike. I am pleased to be cycling and look forward to many more journeys across Birmingham in the future.

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June sunshine and red currants

It is warm at the moment, today I was away from Birmingham for work in Oxford. I walked from my meeting in the centre of town to the office I work in just outside of Oxford city centre. I support the operations of the team who are based there. It was a sweaty walk, touristy too. Summer attracts a lot of people from all over the world into Oxford – visitors marvel at the architecture, history and academia on show. It is a beautiful city which feels more like a town, the limestone spires are enchanting and fairytale like.

My work also allows me to see the more hidden aspects of the UK, I have not mentioned this on Self and Roots before but as a job I work with the homeless, people who have to sleep on the streets, people who live in hostels or people who live on their friends sofa. I manage three services in three cities which is part of a small but busy national charity. The contact I make with homeless people is a daily occurrence. It is a tough job that is hard but thankfully at times very rewarding, even in the Summer heat the shine of a town isn’t present for me all the time and I do notice the harder lives people are living even whilst appreciating the charms of provincial England. Working in the homelessness sector gives you a juxtaposition of England and its many paradoxes – beautiful cities and towns where sadly there are people in these cities that are living such hard lives they do not have the time or the outlook to enjoy them.
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I got home today and sat in the garden, glad to be in the shade – I had a reheated bean stew with a poached egg from the chickens, it was nice to be calm for a while. Not really thinking but just being quiet. The red currants at the back of the garden are about to go red, the 2 bushes could do with cutting back and pruning this year, the red currant season is so short it will probably be this weekend that I harvest them.

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The gooseberry bush that I moved to a sunnier part of the garden has fruited also and has fruited all it’s going to fruit this year. These garden growths are blessed distractions and in truth are petty far from the real world I know of in my day job. I am glad that I have these things in a world which seems fairly nuts at the moment. Even though the red currants are just red currants, I am still truly thankful.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs. A part of me thinks that doing a blog post about breadcrumbs is a bit strange, I mean what can we really say about breadcrumbs that we haven’t already ? They come from bread and well errrrrrm are then turned into crumbs which can be used in cooking. Blog post over, or maybe not.

In the spirit of Self and Roots and the fact I bake usually 2 to 4 loaves of sourdough bread a week, there are times when there is bread which has hit the stale point. It’s easy to have the odd bit of bread still in the bread bin, perhaps over a weekend we haven’t been in much to use the bread for toast. The bread may be then used for croutons or crositini. If not, at the very end of my bread life my loaves are then turned into breadcrumbs.

Fresh breadcrumbs are easy to make, all you have to do is use a box grater to grate the bread, these crumbs can come in handy for all manner of dishes, a favourite is to use the crumbs by seasoning them with olive oil, salt and pepper and thyme – they are then topped on a casserole or a stew and are then cooked in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to add texture to a dish.

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Dried breadcrumbs useful as they keep well in the freezer and you can use them for up to 3 months. To do this I slice the bread up, tear it into golf ball sized bready pieces and then put the bread in a low oven (around 120c) for 2 hours. The bread is then left to air dry for an hour to make sure every last bit of moisture has left the bread, I then put the pieces in a food processor and make the crumbs. They are then stored in a sealed bag in the freezer ready to be used whenever needed.

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Another point without being evangelical (as I did in my sourdough blog post) with regards to real bread, if you do make your own bread you avoid the many emulsifiers and treatment agents in shop bought crumbs. A really nice way of using the crumbs is to make a peasant type pesto, chopping up 2 handfuls of mint, parsley and basil with half a clove of garlic, olive oil, seasoning and a handful of crumbs makes a pleasant crunchy pesto that can be used in all the usual pesto ways.

A DIY approach in the kitchen cuts down on food waste, makes more ingredients for cooking and is a lot cheaper on the wallet. Go forth and breadcrumb.

Washing Up

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We are blessed with a deli near to our home which sells organic fruit, vegetables and store cupboard items. It is not that pricey in comparison to a lot of organic delis and most of the food is seasonal, we can stock up on produce as well as tins of food and plus the the odd samosa without having to go into the supermarket. The owners also sell ethical cleaning products, some of which we are now using.

We wash up on a daily basis, weekdays we leave our breakfast items for the evening clean as it is usually only toast crumbs, then at the weekend as we are in the house a lot more it could be up to three times a day that the sink is used to wash our plates, cutlery, cups, teapot and anything else that needs to be cleaned, the items are then air-dried. A contemplation we made when going on our self-sufficient journey was to eradicate cleaning items in the kitchen by also making our own cleaning products and also trying to cut down on waste.

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Using Ecover Eco Washing Up Liquid has helped us stop having to recycle empty bottles which is  a real positive, the actual washing liquid to clean has environmental advantages as it is completely biodegradable when going down the drain, it in addition doesn’t have the bad synthetic fragrances and chemicals that are attributed to cleaning items also.

Without sounding like an advertisement the best thing for me is that I can replenish the bottles of washing up liquid at my local deli, I can go to the deli and use the large 15 litre bottle to fill my own bottle –  in return I become more environmentally sure with ethical consuming. I filled up yesterday and the owner of the deli said that he was pleased to see the service in use; we got into the conversation of how the idea makes sense and is a good answer to recycling and improving greener home cleaning.

The owner also said that when he was a youngster he would go into his local shop to pick up a measure of items such as washing up liquid, soap or shampoo as standard practice – his mother used the same bottles for years on end. I like that idea a lot and although in reality it is small fry with being more ethical, greener and self-sufficient in a world where there is all manner of cleaning items to buy in my local neighbourhood,  but by making small ethical movements this will at least influence how we buy and what we buy for our ongoing project.

Kitchen towels. The wretched kitchen towels. I would love to do away with our use of kitchen towels, has any followers got any other ideas or solutions for an alternative in the kitchen ?

Chooks

We have had our chickens since April 2014 so they have just turned one. I am not sure why I have not put a blog post up yet on the chickens, maybe its due to the chooks just being about all the time and not popping up like plants do in the garden, but I do sense I should be celebrating our two little hens via Self and Roots as they are very special to us. We also have a goldfish in the house who is named J Gilla (a play on names from a personally much-loved hip hop producer J Dilla) so Beck and I have our own little platoon of creatures that live with us, well three animals and us two but it feels that way.

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Our chickens came with trouble when we had them, my dad hatched the hens at his home and we inherited three chicks which lived contentedly until one started to crow, the evening my dad dropped off the chicks he warned us that he thought one might be a cockerel, his animal intuition came true and we faced an issue of having to rehouse a cockerel in a world where cockerels are not needed as much as hens are.

We did find a home through a small holding forum eventually and the cockerel was sent to a large small-holding in the Midlands on a warm Sunday morning, there were tears from Becky and a feeling of responsibility and a little shame with being blinded with cuteness and rearing little chicks as they were so endearing. In reality we should have got point of lay hens, we were delivered with our first lesson in animal care with having to rehouse an animal which wasn’t very cool.

We got home that night, moved on to being more optimistic but only for another twelve hours as the next hen the following morning started crowing. It felt like a bit of a shitty joke nightmare at first, within two weeks we had to re-home two of our hens.

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Then we had to find another hen as hens can’t be left on their own, on the second guilty drive home we went to a hen breeder in South Staffordshire and picked up a Maran hen and settled her into her new pen. The only hen from the three first chickens established a pecking order quickly by starting a tussle with the new hen, the maran won the pecking order and by the first week had established her role as the dominant hen. It was a reasonably taxing couple week but once the blame disappeared and the hens became acquaintances we felt back on track.

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Without over humanising the chickens, they are good friends and spend all day together – we let them out in the morning and in the evening when we get back from work. They are not much hassle, we use an Eglu to keep them housed and they have a run which is extended with additional Eglu fencing.

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The hens eat our greens and kitchen scraps that we give them; they enjoy meal worms and provide us with compost for the garden. They also have sweet personalities and their own social order, the maran is so soft to hold, pleasant to be around and loves being fussed, the white hen who was the runt of the chicks is a little smaller and ballsy, she doesn’t hesitate to peck us now and again to let us know if she is hungry and she is also willing to demonstrate how she wishes to be next in line with the order and dominance in the garden even if it’s against me and Becky.

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Their rent is paid through glorious eggs which are poached for brunch, scrambled for breakfast, frittata’d (is that a word?) for dinner. We flipped a lid when the first eggs came and we are so appreciative to be provided with not only a great learning curve in animal care but also produce which could be used by us in the kitchen. They were in our lives before the eggs came and even then they felt they were more than worth keeping. Keeping hens like all living things thrive when they have food, water and a pen to be safe in – they do need to be cared for, checked on a daily basis and you have to be interested in them. What cost us initially a few hundred pounds to set up has been a worthwhile experience, an experience that we cherish on a daily basis.

A Saturday morning planting of Kale, Dill and Mint with Curtis Mayfield

It rained a lot yesterday, there was a real down pour for about 2 hours which really gave the garden a good soaking. This morning I went into the garden to check for weeds and to check up on the growth of the plants and vegetables I have planted this year. The lettuces look simply divine at the moment, wet from the rain and so emerald-green. Radish roots are poking up out of the soil and the salad mixes I have planted in the containers are ready to harvest. Long live these salads and radish roots that are so simple to sow and simple to harvest.

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This morning I planted 4 Red Russian Kale plants which I got at a bargain price for 60p from the local farmers market, I also planted in 3 green curled kale, both will look beautiful come the Autumn and will see me right through until the end of Winter next year. I also planted out some herbs, a lime scented mint which will be used for drinks in the summer and maybe the odd Mojito as well as a Dill plant which will be used to enhance fish as an aromatic, a herby omelette and summer soups. Tomorrow the chickens will be cleaned out, I will use the wood chip bedding for mulch and anything left over will enrich the compost heap.

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As I walked round my small urban garden I started whistling Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up. I am happy as a pig in shit to be doing these things and bringing food from the garden into the kitchen. It’s the little things with home growing and these little accomplishments keep me from reaching to the entrance of the supermarket, my improved wellbeing of watching the garden grow cannot be accomplished or measured with a trolley or a checkout till no matter how much the supermarkets tell us in their lifestyle friendly adverts. I am not even close to where I want to be with Self and Roots but I am hunting solutions out, finding different routes to grow erm roots.

Last night I met a friend at my local allotment who gave me a tour of his own allotment patch, he handed me the keys to tend to it while he is away on holiday for 2 weeks. There were all manner of things growing in his and his wifes raggedy patch – we were offered in return of a fortnight worth of upkeep the chance to take anything that was available, there are a lot of leeks but we also might get some early strawberries if we are lucky too. Moving on up indeed.

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