Live LAGOM

picture of store cupboard

One of the hiding places…

It probably says something worrying about me that the phrase Live LAGOM runs through my head to the tune of Ricky Martin’s Living La Vida Loca. Every time I think of it. And I’m going to think about it a lot this year. What am I on about? LAGOM originates as a Swedish phrase Lagom är bäst, meaning the right amount is best. Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s the porridge that was “just right”, not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold, not too sweet, not too salty. It’s a concept that IKEA are keen for us all to embrace. Enjoying all that life has to offer but in moderation, by living sustainably and looking after the planet as you do.

I’ve been chosen to take part in the IKEA Live LAGOM challenge, joining another 249 households across Britain who are all hoping to reduce waste, save money, energy and water, and live healthier and more sustainable lives. We’ve each been given a budget to spend on IKEA products that will help us on this journey, enabling us to make changes, some small, some larger, in how we live. It’s going to be challenging, interesting and hopefully inspirational being part of this project.

My first thought, when approached about this, was but I already do all that. Don’t I? I recycle, I use low energy bulbs, I’m fanatical about food waste, I turn the lights off when I leave rooms, turn off electrical items not in use, monitor my water use, surely there’s not much else I can do? Oh but there is. Much, much more. I live in a 200 years old stone cottage. It’s grade 2 listed so I’m restricted in what I can do externally – no double glazing allowed – but that doesn’t mean I can’t reduce the draughts by adding internal blinds to all those windows. I have a mix of stone and wooden floors that can get a tad chilly underfoot, so that’s rugs added to the list. My scented geraniums that come in for winter and go out for summer – self watering pots with wheels – immediate benefits for all concerned – me not giving myself a hernia lifting the pots, the plants getting the RIGHT amount of water.

And what about my behaviour? What can I change? I have a confession to make. I hoard. Food. Paper. Books. Stuff. Time to let some of it go. My resolutions for this year have all been about simplifying. Starting with the food thing. I’m an unabashed food fanatic. I write about it, make it, eat it – I even work in a food related area – I’m the Sustainable Food City coordinator for Liverpool and I blog and tweet as Grab Your Spoon, as well making and selling my own preserves under the same name. So I have cupboards. Full of spices, sugars, exotic ingredients, types of flour, pastas, pulses etc. You rock up to my house with an army in tow? I’ll feed you. No problem. Except there is a problem. I really can’t see the spelt wheat for the self-raising flour. I have NO idea what is in my cupboards. They are crammed. This means I regularly re-buy things that I already own. I make a guess when shopping as to whether or not I have turmeric. Turns out I do. Three unopened packets of it, that aren’t going to get used up before the potency of the ground spice dissipates. This is NOT cool. Bring on the stackable glass jars from IKEA that are going to help me organise my pantry. Lists are going to be made. Labels will be printed. And I WILL have order. Same of course goes for the fridge, the freezer and the slidy drawers in my tiny kitchen. Described as functional chaos, I’d like the kitchen to be a bit more functional and a bit less chaotic. I’ll deal with the books, the paper and the other stuff afterwards. One step at a time, and this kitchen is going to be a big step. Upside, inside out, I’m living La Vida LAGOM….

Resolutions for food lovers

These are personal to me, but you might find inspiration!

What am I eating? Read those labels. Ask the questions. If buying a sauce in a jar, read the ingredients and choose one containing stuff you’ve actually heard of… e.g a 440g jar of value pasta sauce costs 39p but contains water, maize starch and calcium chloride (yum).  Buy a 500g pack of value Passata at 34p, add a crushed garlic clove, pepper and some herbs. Simmer slowly. Much better.

Grow herbs & salad leaves. One of the biggest food waste culprits for supermarkets is pre-packed salad. 68% of salad in bags is binned (source: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/21/food-waste-tesco-reveals-most-bagged-salad-and-half-its-bread-is-thrown-out) An average bag of pre-packed salad costs around £1.50 for 200g. A packet of cut and come again salad leaf seeds costs between 99p and £1.50. Sown in succession in shallow troughs, (window boxes are perfect), you can harvest your own mixed salad for months. Alternatively, ditch the pre washed stuff (mostly washed in chlorine – mmm), and pick up a whole lettuce for around 60p. Wash the outer leaves – use in soup, and eat the centre sweeter leaves raw in salads. Herbs add joy to a meal and need little effort to cultivate, as most will grow quite happily in pots. Even if you start with a pot from the supermarket shelves, decant into a bigger pot with plenty of added compost and watch it thrive. I managed to keep a pot of basil going for 5 months this summer, not bad for a 79p investment! Good herbs to grow for kitchen use include: bay, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, marjoram and basil.

Eat seasonal – of course it’s not practical to solely eat seasonally, but think about what you are purchasing and try to enjoy the fruit and vegetable bounties at the appropriate time. Strawberries in June are always going to taste much better than in December, Asparagus should be celebrated for the joyous seasonal speciality that it is and gorged on during May and June. Hydroponically grown tomatoes in February are really not going to taste as good as the ones on sale in September following a season of sun ripening. Make the most of gluts and get bottling/ jamming/ ginning!

Eat kind, choose free range, organic meat where possible. Eat it less often so you can afford the extra it costs – although I purchase all my beef and lamb from a local organic farm – www.forsterorganicmeats.com and they often undercut the prices in the supermarkets and it tastes and cooks SO much better. Respect the animal and use it all, don’t just use selected bits.  Support fair trade producers of sugar, coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas. Use free-range eggs.

Support local – there are lots of small and even not so small food & drink producers in your local area. Give them support. Go to your butcher. Visit your baker. Locate your independent wine seller.  Find out when the farmer’s markets are on. Even a once a month purchase will help, and you might just enjoy the process of having a chat with the food person and feeling that you’re making an informed choice.

Explore your locality, seems obvious but be a tourist in your own backyard. Step away from the usual coffee chains and try that little café you keep passing. It might be rubbish, but it also might be fantastic! Make it a resolution to try an independent restaurant, not a Brake Brothers delivery point of food that goes ping!

Meatless Mondays, exactly what it says on the tin. Ditch meat once a week. Explore the use of pulses, vegetables and grains. Italian and Indian cuisines are particularly good for meals that deliver flavour and satiety without meat.

Potluck suppers, invite friends over. Don’t make it fancy, just ask folk to bring a dish – a pud, a salad, whatever and enjoy the experience of communal eating. Give it a theme – try something new. I love the Jewish Shabbat custom of Friday suppers for friends and family to come together.

Try new: food/ ingredient/ cuisine, I’m increasingly interested in the food of Northern Europe, the mix of spice, sweet, salt and sour in Danish smorgasbord and the wide range of breads and pastries found in Sweden.

Learn a new skill, I’ve said it before, but this year I really want to learn how to make bread. I’d also like to learn how to carve a chicken properly, as opposed to my usual “rustic” hacking… Other ideas might be to master pastry, make your own bacon, brew your own beer…

Plan ahead and waste less, I’m convinced I was once a starving peasant in the middle ages – how else to explain my manic hoarding of food?  (other than sheer greed, obviously…) No, 2014 is the year I USE the store cupboard and freezer contents up and achieve an enviable Nigel Slater like calm of shopping only for what I need and stop buying things “to have in”…

Happy New Year to you all – good health & good eating for 2014.