Food is a huge part of my life – I spend a lot of my time cooking, eating, or thinking about what I’m going to cook or eat! But I think that with being a lover of food comes more knowledge about the ethical and environmental issues around it, and it’s something I’ve tried to take on as much as possible in my shopping and eating habits.

Give a Fork is Sustainable Table‘s annual campaign about making positive change through the food we eat. Hosts sign up to create a meal according to the year’s theme, and money raised from the tickets sold go to Sustainable Table’s efforts to educate the public about creating sustainable food systems. This year’s theme is waste free, focusing on taking action to reduce the amount of food scraps, uneaten groceries and packaging wasted by people every day.

Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase. That’s 1 out of every 5 bags of groceries they buy

I first heard about it through fellow blogger kellyyyllek, and thought it was such a great idea – and a challenge! And boy was it a challenge. Last weekend I spent the entire day shopping, prepping, cleaning and cooking before hosting 11 of our friends in our little home, all the while being mindful of creating as little waste as possible. I’m not perfect, and despite my efforts this dinner was still far from waste free, but it still was the closest to that ideal I’ve ever managed to get whilst hosting a party.

The (deceptively simple but overly ambitious) menu, not entirely in the correct order:

Wish I'd had time to do a proper chalkboard!

My plan was to avoid packaging waste as much as possible by sticking mainly to fresh fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s market and staples from a bulk bin shop, keeping the meats pretty simple and everything as homemade as possible. Things didn’t go entirely to plan, but here’s a few things that I learned:

‘Waste free’ is a difficult topic. I think part of this is that there is wastage at various levels – in producing the food itself, in packaging and transporting, in unused items or uneaten leftovers, in scraps. Keeping all of these things in mind at once is difficult and daunting! I felt like I had failed at one point because I couldn’t think of a way to buy meat without it being packaged in some form, but I still feel like I deserve props for trying.

Green bags are awesome. Although we don’t normally shop at a farmer’s market, our usual fruit and veg shop are happy enough for us to keep our veggies loose or in a green bag, to avoid using plastic. I didn’t realise what a habit it was to put things that don’t need to go into those tear-off plastic bags – like a couple of carrots for example – until I stopped to think about it.

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Fruit and veggies are easy to go waste free! We have a small worm farm, just a simple one buried in our yard, and they take care of our scraps for us. I have to admit to being too lazy to throw my peelings in there in the past, but now I’ve learned that rotting food in landfill gives off methane gas I’m a bit more mindful.

You can make chips from pumpkin or potato peel. I roughly cut the skin from my pumpkin into chip sized chunks, tossed in a goodly amount of olive oil, then baked in the oven until crisp. It was an experiment I didn’t plan to serve to my guests, but it was pretty awesome for something I’d usually discard.

Meat is not so easy. I couldn’t find free-range chicken that wasn’t wrapped in plastic, and even if I could I simply don’t have anything to transport it in. And though I usually keep chicken bones to make a broth from, I didn’t feel comfortable keeping my guests’ scraps so these unfortunately ended up in the bin. I’ve read that composting meat scraps is possible, but didn’t have time to research it beforehand.

Bulk bin staples are not as easy as you might think. I read an account from another blogger (in the US) who brings her glass jars to the bulk bin store and gets the checkout person to just deduct the weight of the jar when adding up their amount. Easy! Or not – the place I tried this at was very nice about my request, but their system doesn’t allow for deducting the weight of weird extra items, so I had to buy my dried chickpeas in a plastic bag. I did however buy enough to make hommus, salad and have heaps leftover for my work salads – the equivalent of a few tins. Next time I’ll bring a canvas bag for dried chickpeas, although for things like flour or sugar I’m not sure I see a way around the plastic.

Waste free alcohol? I’d be game to try brewing my own beer or moonshine, but in this case I didn’t have the time to experiment. A dinner party without wine is too foreign for me so I ended up requesting that my guests contribute something to drink, and those bottles unfortunately had to go into the recycling bin.

Choose your dishes wisely. I thought I’d kept things pretty simple, but because I chose to do it all in one day and made some bad choices it was close to 9pm before everything was ready to eat (thankfully I had some helpers and kept the flatbread and dips going in the meantime). I spent a lot of time with things I should really have done the previous day, like the sorbet and the chickpeas. I also regret the flatbread – it was pretty well received, but had to be served freshly toasted on a skillet, as opposed to my usual loaf which I could have baked in the morning. Also my stick mixer proved to be inadequate for making hommus, which then had to be mashed by hand by my helpers – but ended up being the favourite bit of the night for a lot of people!

Nothing wrong with ‘rustic’ decor. I pulled together a mismatched assortment of tables, chairs, plates, glasses and cutlery, lined up placemats as a table runner, laid out reusable linen napkins and adorned the table with cuttings from the olive tree outside placed in old beer bottles.

A tired hostess is not a great conversationalist. I was ready to go to sleep before my guests even arrived, so I wasn’t really in any condition to lead a conversation about trying to reduce wastage. I’m not sure if I managed to impart any knowledge through this dinner to be honest, but if it gets people to be aware of it at least then that’s something right?

I need to invite a photographer friend next time. I have pretty much no photos from the night, because I was too busy!

Our friends are awesome. It was an odd bunch of travellers, dancers, animal lovers and food enthusiasts. Most of them hadn’t met each other before, but made friends with each other and afterwards complimented me on my choice of friends. I’m so grateful that they came along to support me and share a meal.


 

If you think this is a good cause (or an interesting challenge), you can host your own Give a Fork waste free dinner until the end of October – just sign up on their website.

Yep, another month has gone by already! September was a blur for me, if you can’t tell from the less frequent blog posts, and October looks like it’s going to be at least as busy. I do always have a project or two going on, but this time there’s one big crazy one that I’m both incredibly excited about and a bit daunted by. Here’s my month.

“A monthly capture of my feelings and doings, in the raw.”

What I’ve been grateful for

The food blogging community. Although I’m not exactly a food blogger per se, I felt so welcomed at Eat Drink Blog and really enjoyed meeting new people. The energy and passion is so contagious, it’s hard not to get excited about all things food and blogging. A major shoutout must also go to this year’s committee, volunteers who put on amazing (and free) conference, the only one of its kind that I know of.

The local arts and crafts community. I’m not sure if Perth has gotten a whole lot more interesting lately or if I just wasn’t paying attention before, but I feel like there’s more cool workshops, markets, exhibition openings and new groups than I can fit into my calendar. Every thing I go to leads me to meet more artists and people doing interesting things, which lead to more avenues to explore. Everyone I’ve met, including people who I greatly admire, have taken the time to talk to me and be encouraging. It’s more valuable than they realise, and it’s exciting to see the arts become more visible in my hometown.

What I’ve been thinking about

The purpose of my blog. Talking to other bloggers has made me consider again why I started blogging, what its purpose is, and how it’s benefited me. From the beginning, ChiGarden has been my space for experimenting in the digital world – with website design, writing, showcasing my art, improving my photography, exploring food, journaling my travels and sharing my projects. It’s gone through various phases, but at its heart this blog has always been a personal one. Whilst this is not a recipe for a particularly successful blog in the usual sense, it has benefited my own purposes – I think my writing and photography have improved (albeit slowly), and my love for web design which began with this blog has grown into a successful career. I feel like these are the things I need to keep in mind, rather than pageviews and monetisation opportunities – my blog is serving my purposes well enough.

Reducing waste and the cost of convenience. In September I signed up to host a Give A Fork dinner, which is a yearly campaign run by Sustainable Table. This year’s theme was #wastefree, and although I think we’re generally pretty good about keeping our wasteage down, preparing for this dinner has opened my eyes to the many more things we could be doing. What it usually comes down to is convenience – a pack of pre-washed lettuce leaves is just easier than buying a whole head of lettuce sometimes. I’m still putting my thoughts together on this one, but will write about the dinner and what I’ve learned soon.

Slowing down and saying no. As much as I hate to admit it, I have way too much on my plate at the moment and am starting to slip in a few areas. I’m having to bow out of Baketober, Inktober and CoderDojo, and starting to say no to things I can’t give my full attention to at the moment. I’m hoping to have things under control a bit better after October is over.

What I’m excited for

Give a Fork dinner. Okay well I was excited for it, but now it’s over and I’m excited to write about it and put the things I learned into practice! Mostly though it was a big challenge to cook for, seat and feed 11 of our friends in our home, a record for us. It was a big challenge for me (and The Boy who I drag into things), and I think it mostly went really well.

Side Project – a zine for creatives. Our zine (as in short for ‘magazine’) is trucking along and shaping up to be a really high quality production. I’m wrapping up the articles I’m writing for it at the moment and looking forward to finishing up the website and working hard to promote it.

What I’ve been doing

Side Project (again). This zine project has really taken over my time, with meetings, writing and all day photo shoots, but it’s such an interesting process and we have a great little team putting it all together. I’ve been working on popsicles recipes, a calligraphy tutorial and an interview as well as working on the website and attempting to handle our social media promotion. The marketing stuff is quite the learning curve for me, but I think we’ve managed to generate a bit of buzz so far. You can sign up for our mailing list, and check us out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Screen printing. I recently participated in a screen printing workshop at Beau Est Mien, and printed a couple of my own designs onto fabric to sew into shopping/produce bags (coming back around to that waste free thing again). Just like with letterpress, I like that it’s such a dynamic and physical process compared to producing work digitally. I have a few more ideas of things I’d like to print, maybe to try and sell someday?

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What I’ve been reading

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. An English former nurse travelling in Scotland gets thrown back in time to 1742, where she has to figure out how to get back to her time whilst navigating the feuding Scottish and English. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything that focuses so much on a romance (although being a historical/sort-of-scifi novel there’s a lot more to it than that), and I have to admit I find those bits less interesting. I’m about three quarters of the way through and still undecided about whether I want to read the rest of the series at this point.

This article and this response about sexism and women in tech. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t experienced much in the way of overt sexism, but the systemic inequality affects all of us (yes, men too) and is much more difficult to deal with, because it is so internalised. It’s great that the larger tech companies are releasing their (mainly dismal) diversity stats and making an effort to help solve the problems, but there’s clearly still a long way to go.

What I’ve been spending my money on

iPhone 6. It does frustrate me that my three year old 4S is considered obsolete, but the leap forward in the camera sold it for me. Admittedly there’s things I don’t like about the iPhone 6 and Apple in general, but I’m just very excited to not always have to take my DSLR around with me!

Organic fruit and veg delivery. I’m trying out The Organic Collective‘s delivered seasonal produce boxes at the moment, and whilst it’s more expensive than my usual grocery shop it is nice to know that the suppliers are local, organic, and not having to lose out in deals with big super markets. It also cuts my weekly grocery shopping down to a trip to the butcher and some staples, which should free up a bit more time on the weekend.


 

If you’d like to join us or see others’ posts in this monthly series, head on over to helario.us for the master list.

Pictured at the top: the homemade pizza I served to the Side Project team during our photo shoot. Taken with my phone!

As part of Eat Drink Blog this year, we had a choice of three different activities for the Sunday. Whilst food styling and beer appreciation both sounded enticing, I went straight for the rooftop beehive tour run by Bee One Third, at their first location on the rooftop of Gerard’s Bistro in Fortitude Valley. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but dressing up in bee protection gear was not it!

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We were led up the ladder to the rooftop by apiarist Jack, who explained Bee One Third’s goal of bringing European honey bees into urban and suburban Brisbane via local business’s rooftops, encouraging pollination and creating artisan honey products, and educating the public about the importance of bees. ‘Bee One Third’ refers to the fact that bees pollinate over one third of the global food supply, so are incredibly important in producing food.

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Before clambering up we donned loose smocks with a mesh screened hood to protect ourselves from the bees, who were made calm and sleepy with a special smoke. I’ve been told that keeping calm is the best way to not get stung, although I’ll admit that with bees buzzing around my (protected) face it took some self-control to not give in to the urge to panic slap them away. Jack didn’t bother with such precautions – he’s been stung so many times that it doesn’t seem to bother him anymore.

He lifted out the trays for us to see the honeycomb and the darker hatching trays, although we didn’t see the elusive queen.

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Afterwards we were treated to a morning tea by Gerard’s Bistro, featuring honey and other bee ingredients produced by Bee One Third. Honey friands with honey cream and honey jellies, a spreadable soppressata with honeycomb, iced tea and tastings of various honeys (including one from the hives we just visited!), bee pollen and fresh honeycomb. I’m not ashamed to say that I hung around and probably ate more than my fair share of friands with cream, and tasted every one of the honeys. I didn’t end up taking a peek inside Gerard’s or checking out their standard menu, but I’ll certainly be heading over there if I’m ever in Brisbane again.

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Australia’s annual conference run by food bloggers, for food bloggers rolled around again – this time in sunny Brisbane. I ate, I drank, I [micro] blogged… I even sketchnoted! After last year’s exceptional Eat Drink Blog in Perth, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to go again, even it required flying across the country. Putting their own spin on the proceedings, Brisbane’s committee didn’t leave me disappointed.

Eating

I managed to miss most of the registration drinks at The Kitty, arriving just in time to down a glass of sparkling and rush off to dinner at the neighbouring Fat Noodle. Coming off of an all night flight doesn’t make me the best of company, but I managed to meet some lovely new people and not fall asleep head-first in my broken rice pork chop.

The next day the conference began at Wandering Cooks, a sort of incubator for food entrepreneurs, and a beautiful plant-filled venue for us 60 odd attendees. I managed to be late again, so grabbed a Flour & Chocolate danish and some Emma & Toms juice and took a seat at the back of the crowd. Being a food blogging conference, the food and drinks on offer were wonderful and very enthusiastically photographed. Highlights for me included coffee from Merlot Coffee, Passiontree Velvet cake, and Lick! ice-cream sandwiches.

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Drinking

We ended the day with drinks, canapés and the most ridiculous flaming (yes literally) dessert buffet at Bar 127.

Sketchnoting

Of course we weren’t there just to eat and drink (although as you can see there was a lot of that going on) – the day’s agenda included five talks and two panels, presented by bloggers, industry professionals, and chefs. This year I decided to try something different, so instead of attempting to photograph the speakers I decided to have a go at sketchnoting.

Sketchnoting has become common practice at tech industry conferences, and is a more refined form of something that I’ve done since childhood – doodling on paper whilst listening. Done properly, it’s not so much random doodles as a very visual form of note taking, and for many people is a better way of getting ideas down and remembering them than standard written notes. Plus, they look cool.

This was my first time sketchnoting anything so the results are extremely rough, but I did find it extremely useful and a good challenge for my handdrawn type skills! It’s certainly something I’d do again. For a more in-depth writeup of the speakers, I’d recommend heading over to Mimi Must Try who did a fantastic job of it.

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Keyonote with Nathanael Ho of Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow

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ACCC Guidelines (may have missed a ‘C’ in my notes!) with Clare Davie of Melbourne Gastronome

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Inspire/Expire panel discussion with Tracy Gray of Eat See Meet, Angela Hirst of Wandering Cooks, Nathanael Ho of Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow

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Chef vs. Blogger panel discussion with Brent Farrell of 85 Miskin St, Phillip Johnson of e’cco Bistro, Josh Okorn of Prive 249, Tony Percuoco of Tartufo

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The Evolving Media Landscape with Damien Condon of Lucid Media

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Ethical Food with Brenda Fawdon of Mondo Organic

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Blogging for Fun and Profit with Christina Soong of The Hungry Australian

Some thoughts

A few interesting conversations came up whilst speaking with the other attendees (in between all the eating), and I really enjoyed being able to disagree agreeably with people without it devolving into something messy!

Should Eat Drink Blog become a paid conference? This year’s committee had its share of problems, chief among them being unable to secure government funding. From speaking to last year’s committee members, a general lack of funds and over-reliance on corporate sponsorship can cause a lot of pressure, reduce options and make it difficult to keep the conference going on the spirit that it began with. Whilst the exposure is worth it for some sponsors, others (my guess is venues) are more difficult snag. In my opinion, charging a small ticket price is something that should maybe be explored and I’d be happy to pay it for the standard of event that it is. Of course, that brings with it other issues and won’t necessarily guarantee quality – something for next year’s committee to explore!

Where are all the male bloggers? I didn’t even notice until GourmetMale brought it up, but the vast majority of attendees were female! This seems to be the case across the ‘blogosphere’. I think that the general consensus was that perhaps this is because men are too lazy to blog, which seems more than a little unfair. I wonder if it’s because blogging involves so many ‘soft skills’ that are so encouraged in women, and less so in men?

DSLR Instagrams? Another blogger I spoke to (whose name I managed to forget after drinking too much wine…) told me she felt people posting non-phone images to Instagram was insincere. I used to be a phone-only purist, but now I have to admit that about a third of my Instagram posts are taken with a DSLR and edited in Lightroom. With the new Instagram advertising and greater opportunities for brands (including bloggers!) to promote themselves, I think we’ll be seeing more and more professional looking images and videos. Personally I no longer think it’s an issue, unless you’re misrepresenting your images as phone ones when they’re not.

Next up was my chosen Sunday activity – hanging out with bees! Coming in a separate post soon…

Something you may or may not have picked up about me from reading this blog: I am quite the nerd. So when a Hogwarts letter for me arrived in the mail (a very clever dinner invitation by food in literature blogger Bryton Taylor), my excitement was through the roof.

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Photo by Danica Zuks

I like to think I put effort into my dinner parties, but I have nothing on Bryt. Coming to the front gate, I could tell I had the right the house by the ‘Platform 9 3/4′ sign. The front verandah was decked out with broomsticks and Deatheater wanted posters. Inside, there were shelves and tables filled with spell books, jars of potions ingredients, candles, cauldrons and magical homework assignments. In the room decked out as the Great Hall, the ceiling had been decorated to look like the night sky, and candles strung up from the chandelier as if they were floating. The hallway had portraits of wizards past on the walls, and even the bathroom was decked out as the Herbology greenhouse, complete with a mandrake. I wasn’t the only one gazing around in wonder the entire time, wondering if I’d somehow made it to the real Hogwarts.

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Photo by Danica Zuks

As it was (wisely) decided to be a potluck dinner, each of the guests brought along a wizarding inspired dish (or one of the many very British dishes mentioned in the books). We feasted on chicken drumsticks, pies, and the best damn mashed potato I’ve ever tasted, along with Bryton’s butterbeer and Laura’s Polyjuice potion. Afterwards we had pumpkin pasties, cauldron cakes, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Jellybeans and Danica’s liquorish spiders, ghost nuts and Golden Snitch chocolate truffles.

With food bloggers and book bloggers (and all Harry Potter nerds) in attendance, there was a lot of conversation about nostalgia for old Young Adult novels, ‘shelfies’, how we go about reviewing things, fantasy tv series… Definitely my kind of crowd!

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Short on time but determined to make something vaguely wizard-y, I settled on the relatively simple treacle tart – the favourite dessert of Harry Potter.

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I followed this recipe from Adventures in Cooking with a few small changes, some good, some not so much! Here’s a few notes I’ve made for next time:

  • Try a different shortcrust pastry recipe – maybe I didn’t add enough butter and too much water, but I found this pastry got a bit tough, and in the large tart was almost impossible to put a knife through. This made it quite difficult for guests to serve themselves at the party! The shortcrust pastry I’ve used for tarts previously seemed to work much better.
  • I found rolling out the pastry much cleaner than spooning it into the tins as per the recipe.
  • Definitely a good call to skip the sugar in the pastry – the filling is more than sweet enough on its own.
  • It really does need the lemon juice – I tried to substitute with an orange I had on hand, but it isn’t acidic enough to cut through the sweetness from the golden syrup.
  • Treacle tart must definitely be served with cream and/or ice-cream – the flavour is quite intense, and the balancing it out with creaminess would make it just right.
  • The fact that golden syrup is difficult to get in the USA really surprised me – it’s something I’ve always taken for granted, and always have in my pantry.
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Besides the tart, I of course had to have a go at making a real feather quill (yes it really writes) and sewing up Hogwarts robes. I was slightly ambitious with the latter as I’ve never tried sewing a garment with lining or pockets before, but it turned out mostly alright, if a little short due to running out of fabric. I ran out of time to get any schoolgirl outfit pieces, so just went with a dress in Slytherin green under the robes. Almost everyone else came as Gryffindors! Oh well, it takes all sorts to make the world go around…

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Yes I decided to go ahead and make myself a prefect

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Me in Slytherin green – photo by Danica

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Photo by Danica

What an amazing night! Big thanks to Bryton for the invitation, Danica for the great photos and all the other guests for the fabulous feast.