Wednesday, 16 December 2015

"How do you like your coffee maker?" "Unbreakable!"

Last spring, our coffee maker broke down. The pump stopped working. I sent an email to a company specialised in repairing small appliances. I got no reply. I called another one only to be told "sorry, it can't be repaired because we cannot source a replacement pump for this model"

More than £200 spent in 5 years
We've had this coffee machine for 3-4 years - a Dualit, since you're asking. Replacing it with a similar model would have cost us probably more than £120. It wasn't an option for the simple reason that it was the second time in less than 5 years that we had ended up with a broken coffee machine on our kitchen counter. The previous model was from a different brand - Krupp, to be precise. We probably didn't look after coffee machine number 1 properly - not descaling it on a regular basis, I confess. However, we had been more careful with our shiny chrome coffee maker. But, apparently, that didn't make a big difference to its lifespan.

What to do? As we don't own a car, taking the beast to a Restart party locally wasn't even an option. And, anyway, if a professional repairer couldn't source a replacement pump, my chances to find one on the Internet were slim. A quick Internet search didn't take me anywhere. No Dualit replacement pump in sight. 

In a skip 
The machine remained on our kitchen table for months and months. Until we hired a van to take some garden rubbish to our recycling centre in Brent. It was an opportunity to dispose of our cumbersome coffee maker. We grabbed it. Our coffee machine ended up into a skip with lots of other small electric appliances. "I put it delicately on of some printers", my husband insured me. Well, a skip is a skip. I doubt very much that the small appliances are dismantled and the parts reused. (That probably needs investigating, by the way.)

A zero waste replacement
Anyway, it wasn't the fate I had in mind for our Dualit coffee machine. I was hoping that it was going to serve us well for quite a few years. However, the good thing is that we now have more space in our kitchen. Plus, the risk of our new coffee maker to break down is very small. We've reverted to the humble cafetière - as you call in English. The coffee it produces is just as good - if not better. We even have two replacements for it, were it to be fall on the ground and smash into pieces. This is, my friends, the beauty of a simpler lifestyle. 

P.S: Do you need to have a small electronic or electrical appliance fixed? Have a look to the Restart project website. This fantastic charity has started a repair revolution. It's raising money to be able to fix even more things in 2016. 

Restart party at the library in Willesden Green on November 7th (photo taken by me)

Monday, 14 December 2015

Playing Secret Santa in Harlesden

Leading an almost zero waste lifestyle means that you spend less time shopping, tidying up and cleaning. Another upside is that you have more time to dedicate to other activities. My resolution for next year - on top of taking the zero waste challenge a step further (more on that on another day) - is to use some of my spare time to get to know my neighbours. 

Since moving to a new house last year, I have met properly my next door neighbour, Maria - and that's all. Considering that I am involved in a lot of community activities around North West London, it seems ridiculous for me not to invest more time in getting to know the people who live on my street. 

So, on Saturday, I baked a lot of gingerbread biscuits and, yesterday, I handed them out packaged in small paper boxes. I was wondering what kind of reactions I would get from people. In fact, most houses seemed to be deserted. I ended up leaving most of the boxes on doorsteps.  I had a nice chat with a couple of ladies, though. But I came back home asking myself what those little gingerbread men could bring about. What if nothing happened? Would I be entitled to feel disappointed? 

Well, 24 hours later, I can say that the gingerbread men have achieved their mission. A neighbour posted a thank you note through the door this afternoon. Another neighbour just rang the bell. When I saw his face through the window, I was worried for a second. He was clutching the box with an air of suspicion. 

"Am I losing my brains? Have I done anything for you?", he asked looking really confused, holding his glasses in his hands. Who thought that a small box of biscuits could cause so much perplexity? I certainly didn't. I almost felt guilty. "No, it just that I like baking...I've moved here more than a year ago and I haven't had the opportunity to meet many of the residents yet...", I replied trying not come across excessively warm/weird. 

It took a few seconds for my neighbour to realise that he had just been love-bombed by an woman he didn't know existed - or rather, by a small army of gingerbread biscuits - and that it was all fine. He introduced himself. He even offered to meet up for tea next year to have a proper chat. 

I am glad that I didn't wait until next year to act on my new resolution. 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christmas, a zero waste opportunity

When you decide to reduce seriously the amount of waste you produce, Christmas can be a stressful time. As obviously, for the vast majority of people, this time of the year is (still) synonymous with buying even more stuff than usual.
However, Christmas can actually be the perfect opportunity to affirm yourself as a zero waste advocate and, maybe, even try to convert your family and friends to your cause. Even if you don't set such an ambitious objective for yourself, you can at least be at peace with your zero waste philosophy by buying non-material presents and other gifts which don't come with a lot of packaging, a huge carbon footprint and a heavy conscience. 
The ideas listed below are not extremely original ones but they may well alleviate someone's anxieties out there. So here we go.

Homemade presents
For the last three years, I got into the habit of preparing some apple chutney before Christmas.  If you enjoy cooking a bit and you have cheese lovers among your relatives or friends, you are not taking too much of a risk preparing a bit of chutney. You don't need too many ingredients either if you follow this recipe.

The piece of fabric comes from a jam jar I bought in September. 

Just a note of warning: chutney doesn't keep for about six months. So, unless you intend to offer chutney to a large chutney-loving family, use small glass jars. You don't want your chutney to go to waste in someone's fridge.

Keep an eye on your gingerbreads when they are in the oven. 

Homemade gingerbread men can make people (surprisingly) happy. This is another tried and tested suggestion. You can go into the effort of decorating them or you can partially dip them in chocolate sauce, for example. The trick is to find small cardboard gift boxes to package them up. I did find some in John Lewis a couple of years ago - although I cannot see any on their website right now. As for the recipe, I've tried a recipe by a Swedish chef last weekend. It was very good, if a little bit too buttery.

Of course, there are lots of other DIY ideas out there which you can prepare outside the kitchen. I think putting together a photo album or a photo frame for someone can be a brilliant idea. Going through all the photos you've taken over the months or years can feel a bit of an effort, especially if you are a serial snapper. It is for this very reason that it can be very touching to receive a photo album from someone nowadays.

A chocolate box subscription 
I offered my husband a subscription to Cocoa runners last spring for his birthday. It comes through the post once a month. The packaging is very light and recyclable. As for the chocolate bars, they are very delicious! The quality is far more superior to big commercial  chocolate brands. If you want to treat a chocolate lover, I would definitely recommend a subscription to Cocoa runners (from £18.95 a month). You can also buy gift boxes and tasting courses from them. (This is not a sponsored post, by the way).

Cocoa runners' November dark chocolate selection 

A bar of soap (from a social entreprise) or a bike (from a charity)
There are lots of social enterprises popping up here and there and everywhere in the UK at the moment. Soap Co. is one of them. This soap making company employs people who are blind or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged. Their soaps are special and smell very nice (tested!). They also come with very little packaging. You can find a lot more social companies on this website, by the way.

As for the bikes I am thinking about, they are sold by a London charity called the Bike project. This charity helps refugees by teaching how to cycle, how to fix a bike and by giving second hand bikes - hence, a mean of transport - to asylum seekers. All the profits made by the Bike project shop go to the charity.

Theatre tickets, musical tickets, day trips, bread-making classes, pizza making classes, foraging days etc. The list of experiences that you can buy as gifts is indeed very long. If it's an experience you can share with the person you're offering this non-material present to, even better.
I bought discounted tickets for Billie Elliot to my parents recently. If you decide to buy your tickets via, choose a weekday (Monday, Tuesday), buy the cheapest tickets and the chances are that you will be able to move to a better seat before the start of the show. My parents absolutely loved Billie Elliot (who doesn't?), by the way. They are looking forward their next trip to London to go and see another musical.

You can buy vouchers from Shoreditch Street Art tour (£15 per person, valid 12 months).

According to an article published on The Atlantic website, "waiting for an experience apparently elicits more happiness and excitement than waiting for a material good'. So go for it!