Fermenting (AKA Micro-Gardening)

I’ve started to learn about fermented foods. At the moment all I do is sauerkraut and sourdough but I can tell it’s something that will be with me for life now so I’m bound to learn more and more.

For those who don’t know: right now there are millions of microscopically-tiny creatures all around you, swimming around in the air, floating up your nose, kicking about on your skin and just generally having a laugh. Fungal spores (‘seeds’ of mould, mushrooms and so on) and bacteria are always around us, they are as essential a part of the ecosystem as plants and animals. Inside our guts they are an important part of our digestive system – if we didn’t have them we’d not be able to digest our food properly and just having the wrong balance of one variety over another is quite likely to cause stomach and digestion problems. It’s like a garden, if you let it get over-run with nettles it’s no fun.

One of the most well known fermented foods is bread. Yeasts (there are lots of different kinds) feed off the carbohydrates in flour and excrete gases (fart, basically) which produces bubbles and makes dough rise. Nowadays bread tends to be made with commercial yeasts but originally (and in the case of sourdough) it was/is made using natural yeasts and bacteria found in the air around us. If you mix flour and water and let it sit, these microorganisms will settle in it and get to munching. With a little control over conditions (mainly temperature) and repeated additions of flour and water, over a few days you’ll end up with a frothy, bubbling, soupy creature called a sourdough starter. You now have a pet which needs to be fed every few days if you want to keep it alive (they can live for a century or more and are often passed down through generations). In return you’ll be able to bake bread, pizza, make pancakes and all other kinds of rising baked goods.



Velcro, Hooks and Rubber Bands

“Yo tech! You don’t have to be high to be cool you know!”

In fact I’m enjoying low-tech solutions more and more nowadays. It tends to be cheap, easy and readily understandable. I like it when I can see how something works.

I bought a big multicoloured bag of rubber bands from a pound shop about a year ago and it was one of the most useful things I’ve ever bought. I have used them in all kinds of places I’d never have thought of but the thing is, if you keep them within sight and they’re all lovely colours then they often just suggest themselves when you’re having a problem! Here are some pictures of some usage:


Hooks? I have around 70 hooks (I lost count but it definitely went over 60). In the tiny cramped world of a caravan hooks are just amazing, I have them all over the ceiling, walls and shelving, they let me keep all kinds of items visible (no point in having something if you can’t find it when you need it) and easy to grab. They also allow for things to be moved around from hook to hook (the obvious example is a small lantern which can be hung above wherever you’re sitting.


I love Velcro (“other hook and loop fastening strips are available”). It’s fairly strong and secure, relatively cheap (as long as you shop around) and it makes lush noises. I have found many uses for it…


Lowest Power Lighting

I’m still working on reducing my power demands. Getting all of my ‘leccy from the sun and living at a latitude of about 50 degrees means I often run out of power by evening, especially during the shorter, darker days of winter.

I can handle things like laptops and screens running out, but having no light is harder to deal with. When it gets dark outside at 4:30pm and your indoor lighting goes out a couple of hours later (and it’s cold!) it becomes pretty hard to stay motivated. Also you bump into things a lot.

So I’ve been looking into cheap, simple ways of making sure I always have access to lighting, even when my main leisure batteries (which the solar panels charge each day) run out.

Thankfully, we’re living in the LED era. LEDs are amazingly efficient – the power/brightness balance is really good. Also, the technology is constantly improving and ridiculously cheap. I’ve settled (for now) on a combination which works really well for me.

[PIC OF LED WHITE AND WARM] These little USB LED sticks are very bright and smoothly dimmable via a simple touch-mechanism (‘smooth’ meaning they fade up and down smoothly rather than in steps – so you have a lot of control over exactly how bright they are). They are also available in a ‘warm’ option. One of the not-so-nice things about a lot of LED lamps is that they are often very white, which is quite harsh and uncomfortable especially in the evenings. The warm version provides a much nicer kind of light which feels more like traditional indoor lighting.

These sticks cost about £3 each (at time of writing) on eBay in the UK but by putting up with a long wait and buying them direct from China I was able to get 5 for less than £3 in total – literally pennies apiece. I also bought 5 of the white version – as mentioned above the light isn’t as cosy, but it’s great for painting or any work where colour is important (the yellow/warm light causes a distortion in hue which means if you paint under yellow light at night you’re in for a mildly depressing surprise when you look at your painting in the morning daylight and realise all the colours are wonky).

[PIC OF BATTERY HOLDER] Another silly-cheap item, these battery holders are made for 18650 cells (they look similar to AA batteries but are a bit bigger and can be found inside old laptop batteries). I salvaged 6 of these from a ruined laptop (I fried the motherboard with my slack electrical skills – I’ll save that tale of woe for another time). When inserted into these holders the batteries can be charged via an extremely common micro-usb cable (pretty much all non-Apple phones and tablets use them). The LED stick can then be slotted in the top and BO! – you have yourself a bright, dimmable, warm, cheap, lovely little light.

Stop Saying Van – It’s a Caravan!

sheep run past caravan windowFunny you should say that. In fact the word van is a contraction of caravan.

Caravan once used to refer to a large group of people carrying a lot of baggage and may have its origins in the Sanskrit word karabhah (meaning ‘camel’).

Why listen to me though? A Judge at the Court of Appeal has laid down some education on the matter.

(To be reasonable: van for most people nowadays does generally mean a motorised vehicle.  I tend to use it over caravan mainly because it has fewer syllables – caravan is quite time-consuming. When I use ‘van meaning caravan I always prefix it with the apostrophe to denote the contraction.)

Limiting Data Usage in 2017

## Controlling data usage is becoming something of a dark art

Firstly, it’s something that is less often necessary than it was in the days of dialup. Everybody has fast internet now! Web developers presume everybody is on unmetered broadband and desperately needs to see their carousel of huge JPEGs at no less than 95% quality. App developers feel they must be pumping out updates every couple of weeks just in case the users become too comfortable with their interfaces (OK I’m being facetious, some updates are important of course eg: security fixes). Advertising networks merrily squirt dozens of megabytes of tracking data into your internet boots with every step you take. None of these people have an interest in helping you control your data usage. Is it even possible to enjoy today’s world of connectivity on a limited data connection?

I currently survive on a very limited budget. The trailer I call home might end up anywhere in the country (UK for now). I’m aiming to move away from the grid as much as I can, step-by-step. For these reasons my current connection method is mobile broadband, using a new PAYG SIM every month.

My favoured deal for the past year or so has been the 10GB EE SIMs available on eBay for £7-9 (the price fluctuates by a few pennies each month). For this I get 10GB of data on the EE network for 30 days. EE has a decent network which covers most of the UK with either 4G or 3G. 3G is actually ample for the way I use the internet.

I get a lot of enjoyment from the internet. Be it through reading, listening to audio, interacting on social media or even watching the occasional video, a large proportion of my entertainment makes use of the internet and therefore: data. I’m a geek, I like to write code and have it backed up in a remote git repository. I’m a Linux user and love to experiment with new applications and keep existing apps up-to-date. I’m enjoying all of this usage for around £8/month, with no contract and without sharing a significant amount of personal info with an Internet Service Provider (as I have a brand-new SIM card every month).

I’ve had to make some adjustments to my habits and this post will describe what I’ve done in case it might be helpful for other people with similar needs.


## Use Linux

OK this is not for everybody but I happen to use and love Linux. I’m currently using Microwatt OS which is Ubuntu-based with a focus on being slim and having low power demands (electricity, like data, is a precious and limited resource for me). It comes with the i3 tiling window manager which is fun and efficient.

Ovenless Cooking

Store cupboard basics

  • tinned toms
  • flour
  • garlic
  • onion
  • olive oil
  • stock cubes
  • sea salt
  • pepper (bagged)
  • cumin
  • seeds
  • coriander seeds
  • turmeric
  • paprika
  • demerara sugar
  • dried milk
  • birds eye chilli dried
  • frozen green beans
  • frozen peas
  • oregano dried
  • thyme dried
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • pasta
  • lentils

chilli(with rice, with home-made naan, with roast potatoes)
mince/gravy (with roasties, with boiled)
cottage pie (using chilli mix or using mince/gravy mix)
veg curry (potato, carrot, squash, sweet potato, root veg basically, can chuck green in later)

white fish sandwich in home-made bread


Discarding 50% of my Wardrobe

I set myself the task of discarding 50% of my wardrobe today. All that fabric stuffed so tightly into a small wardrobe and touching the wall (where condensation forms) acts like a massive sponge which in the damp weather makes it very difficult to keep the air dry in the caravan.

Getting rid of all this clothing one of the hardest ‘minimising’ jobs I’ve done – which is surprising considering how little of a toss I give about clothing.