Happy birthday to me!

It’s been just over a year since I started volunteering at my local food bank, and blogging about my experiences (as well as quite a few other things!). Thinking back on my year at Southampton City Mission, what stands out is how many lovely people I’ve met – both clients and volunteers. Talking to people while they wait to get their food parcels is one of my favourite parts of volunteering. I’ve had such interesting conversations with local people I’d never have otherwise come into contact with. I’ve also had some moving encounters with clients who have absolutely nothing and have been unfortunate victims of circumstance. These conversations have reminded me why I started volunteering at a food bank in the first place and, a year on, have made me realise that I’d like to be able to do something more than just offer a listening ear, so at the moment I’m finding out about other organisations I could volunteer with in Southampton, in the hope I’ll be able to make a bigger difference and to develop new skills.

In the past twelve months, I’ve also really enjoyed connecting with folks through blogging and Twitter who share my ‘love food, hate waste’ philosophy. But I’ve enjoyed discovering more generally how big the zero waste community is, plus how many people out there – like myself – are trying to declutter their lives by being more minimalistic. Something that’s had a big impact on me since I started my blog is Project 333; I own about 50% less clothes than I used to thanks to Courtney Carver’s website, and as I’ve never been remotely into clothes, shoes, handbags or fashion anyway, I now have a pretty small wardrobe!

Who knows what exciting things might be in store in my next blogging year?! I hope I continue to enjoy writing as much as I have this year! 🙂

Cookery leader training

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a two day Cookery Leader course, with Community Chef, aka the very talented Robin van Creveld. The aim of the course is to give people the basic tools and knowledge they need to be able to share their cookery skills with others in their local community. I was there with my Curb hat on; others were interested in teaching basic cooking to teenagers off to uni, helping people with specific dietary requirements, or working with mums and their young children. It was lovely to spend time alongside a diverse range of people (even if most of them were from Southampton’s rival city, Portsmouth!).

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The training was interesting and engaging, and – as you might expect for a food based course – had a strong practical focus. Usually when you go on training courses, you get a free lunch. Well, we did get a free lunch, but the catch was we had to make it ourselves! The photo below shows us salivating over our Greek themed lunch on the first day, which included sesame bread, dips and spanakopita (spinach and cheese filled filo pastries of deliciousness). I just love meals that include a bit of this and a bit of that, and since buying my mini blender, have become a fan of homemade dips, so this lunch was right up my street. And let’s face it, there is something satisfying about having made it yourself!

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At the end of Day 1, our homework was to do some research about an ingredient we liked cooking with, to find out some historical and dietary information. After much pondering, I went with sesame seeds. Did you know sesame seeds were used by the Ancient Egyptians? Or that Japan is the biggest importer of sesame seeds? Or that they’re a source of fibre and all kinds of vitamins? Robin asked us to bring the ingredient we’d chosen with us on Day 2, so I duly arrived with my jar of sesame seeds.

I was expecting to simply hold up my jar and tell the group about what I’d found out, but something more challenging was in store for us! Robin divided us into small groups and gave us a bunch of ingredients – a protein, a carbohydrate and some vegetables – with which we had to make a dish for lunch. The catch was, we also had to use the ingredient we’d brought in from home. As it turned out, my sesame seeds went nicely with the tofu, rice noodles, pak choi and mushrooms Robin had provided, but we didn’t even try to incorporate the Marmite, potatoes or lactose free milk other group members had chosen! Our Ready Steady Cook/MasterChef style challenge was probably one of the highlights of the course for me. As I’ve been discovering through Curb, cooking communally is great fun. Even with far too many people in a small, hot kitchen!

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From super seeds and smoothies to healthy apple crumble and bread, Robin challenged our existing culinary skills. It was great to be cooking with recipes that weren’t overcomplicated, were healthy and nutritionally balanced and, most importantly, tasted great. As well as practical skills, we spent time thinking about how we could develop our own projects, and I think everyone went away feeling more confident and inspired. Our only complaint was that the course was too short… We could have happily have cooked with Robin all week!

Housing former rough sleepers in style

This week I came across New York based not-for-profit Common Ground, whose mission is to tackle homelessness by encouraging people to stop sleeping rough and move into supported accommodation. The organisation owns over 3000 housing units, many of which are for single people, and designed to be green, affordable and incorporate communal spaces like gyms, gardens and computer rooms. Although small, the rooms maximise light and space, as you can see from the pictures below.

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Common Ground has a “housing first” philosophy. This is the idea that

before a long-time homeless person can successfully kick a drug habit, get a mental health issue under control, or become a productive member of society, they need a stable housing situation first.

and believes that having a physical environment people can feel safe and comfortable in, as well as proud of can be the first, key step towards positive change.

A busy month

June has flown by and I’ve somehow not managed to blog at all, until faced by the prospect of not even having a single post this month, I decided I’d better pull my finger out and get typing! My absence has partly been due to technical difficulties (ie. a rubbish computer!), but partly I’ve just been busy with more outdoor, sunshiney activities than blogging.

Anyway, here’s a quick roundabout of some of my activities…

  • Curb cooked a thank you lunch for the volunteers at our local repair cafe. I’ve always been curious about the cafe, so it was good to see it in action. The idea behind the cafe is to encourage people to fix broken household items, rather than throwing them away and buying more. We cooked a Mexican themed meal, which was accompanied by smoothies and a fruit crumble to finish.
  • Last week, Curb also had a stall serving snacks at Southampton’s first upcycled fashion show. It was awesome to see the creations that local volunteers had worked so hard on, as well as to experience a fashion show – albeit without any supermodels! Among my favourite outfits were two dresses, one made from a re-purposed table cloth and the other from net curtains. It was inspiring to see what can be done with a bit of imagination and a sewing machine.
  • Almost a year after I started volunteering at the food bank, I finally got round to having my induction!! It was nice to meet people from the other food banks, and I did actually learn the odd new thing or two, but let’s face it, when is health and safety aspects of lifting trays of tinned food ever going to be exciting?!
  • In July, Curb is taking over the Community Corner at our local wholefoods co-op, Rice Up. We’ll be displaying posters and information about what we do to raise awareness of food waste and ways of preventing it.

I’ll have to try harder to balance being in the garden with being in front my laptop next month, although I could simply combine the two…!

A taste of India

I mentioned recently that I have a new found spirit of positivity towards my culinary skills, and it was armed with this that I signed up for a four week Indian cookery course at The Round About Café, not far from where I live. The café is a wonderful local space, run by volunteers for the benefit of the community. It’s affordable, bright, slightly quirky and there’s always something going on. It’s exactly the kind of place Southampton needs more of.

I was expecting to do some actual cooking on the course, but it turned out to be more of an informal cookery demonstration (I probably missed the small print somewhere!) with the opportunity to chat to the teacher, Meera, and the other participants as we went along. In actual fact, it was a win win situation – Meera cooked while we watched and quizzed her about what she was doing – then we got to take the delicious fruits of her labour home with us for dinner!

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Some of the dishes that Meera cooked included Keralan fish curry, pakoras, lobia masala (black eyed beans curry) and onion bhajiya. My favourite was green tandoori chicken (or fish, in my case) as it was completely new to me. To make it, you simply whizz together mint, coriander and parsley with lemon juice, garlic, green chili and yogurt, then marinade your meat/fish in it before baking in the oven. Dead simple, but very tasty. The best part is, the mixture with some nuts added to it instead of yogurt makes a coriander chutney, so it’s like two recipes in one!

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What I enjoyed most about the course was that it made me realise Indian cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or take a long time. Meera made two dishes per class (an hour long), and I liked her approach of telling us what ingredients we could substitute, or how we could adapt the food to our own tastes. The world of Indian spices and how to combine them successfully has been somewhat demystified for me, and I feel more confident about having a go at home myself. As you can see from the photo above, we were given recipe cards to take away with us, so I have no excuse not to!