Category Archives: green living

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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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 ?