Halloween Gingerbread Persons

Inspired by the Great British Bake-off, and needing a break from writing, I tried my hand at baking gingerbread persons for Halloween. The recipe came from the BBC website.

lying about waiting to be eaten

lying about waiting to be eaten

Next time I make these I will knead the dough a little bit more and use a bit more flour when rolling out because I found the first roll-out was too soft. Later ones were better; easier to roll, cut out, lift and turned out more crisply than the earlier ones. It is also best to leave them overnight to develop the ginger flavour.

Icing skills obviously need more work, but overall I was quite pleased. They don’t look scary: they look like they just need a cuddle.

And because there is always a little dough left over:



Sustainability – the problem of cups

Climate change is “a condition under which human beings will have to make choices about such matters as economic development and the way we govern ourselves” ⁠(Rayner 2009:xxii). One of the ways people have responded to climate change is by becoming more sustainable. But, as we know, it is not always clear what sustainability is.

People have said all sorts of things about it – as if it is a ‘thing’ that can be defined. But mostly, they have tried to make ‘rules’ about what it is and how we can determine what the best course of action might be. This has been difficult at best, with consensus difficult to build.

For example, Meadowcroft (2000) decided sustainability is an accommodation between economic growth and environmental security, while Beckerman calls it an all-embracing concept “with no clear analytical bite” ⁠(2008:1). Giddens ⁠(2009) says it is a slogan; others, a positive vision; Dryzek ⁠(2005) a discursive construct; Kates et al., ⁠(2005) call it an evolving idea; Adger & Jordan ⁠(2009) decide it is a process; and along with Lele (1991): an inevitable outcome. 

During fieldwork, I came across the way different people work out sustainability in interesting ways. On one day I attended a seminar at the Garden Museum and afterwards we had tea and coffee. A little note was put above the cups to explain why their china cups had been replaced with plastic ones. As the museum is housed in an old church, the floor is paved with flagstones. It turns out that too many cups were being broken on this hard

floor that in the balance of all factors it was more sustainable for the museum to serve coffee and tea in plastic cups.

Garden Museum

Garden Museum

One week later, I was attending a meeting in The City, in a building of an entirely different kind: one of the contemporary, bright and light glass buildings (don’t say I don’t get around) and at coffee time I spotted a sign above the cups explaining why they were china and not plastic: in order to be sustainable!

Expectation. In the garden museum the expectation of customers and staff is that we have china cups, which are then washed and reused. In The City, deep in ‘coffee culture’, the expectation is to have hygienic, portable, one-use, individual cups. The reversal demanded an explanatory note.

Calculations. The working through of ideas of sustainability depends entirely on context. In the case of the garden museum the cups were breaking so often that buying new ones which continued to be broken became unsustainable. Money, time, effort, accidents all conspired to make plastic – widely considered unsustainable – the oddly sustainable choice, solving the problem of cups.

However, in the modern office environment, unsustainable plastic has been replaced by reusable china. This will involve paying someone to load them into a dishwasher, but these economics are now part of the calculation of sustainability. Sustainability here also involves offsetting the material qualities of objects and their relationship with time. The initially expensive but long-lasting china cups now signal sustainability over the temporary, but recyclable plastic ones.

Shiny offices in The City of London

Shiny offices (not exact location, but similar)

And what is the decisive factor in the calculations? Flooring. In the museum, the hard flagstones makes china unsustainable and in the office, the carpet means that dropping a china cup, while causing a mess, will probably not result in breakage.

The capacity for excess, or ‘superfluity’ ⁠(Buchli 1999a:11) contained within the idea of sustainability allows it to be adaptable but that also means it is completely context-dependent. The concept can have everything to do with ecological matters, or nothing. This has spawned an industry dedicated to the interpretation and implementation of sustainability (Kates et al. 2005:11). Some believe that defining it further is counterproductive (Adger & Jordan 2009) while others (Rayner 2009) view the lack of definition as an obstacle to agreement and a hindrance to effective action.

Works cited:

Adger, W. N., & Jordan, A. (2009). Governing Sustainability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Beckerman, W. (2008). “The Chimera of ‘Sustainable Development’”. Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development, 1, 1.

Buchli, V. (1999). An Archeology of Socialism. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Dryzek, J. S. (2005). The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. Oxford: Oxford Universisty Press.

Giddens, A. (2009). Politics of Climate Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kates, R. W., Parris, T. M., & Leiserowitz, A. (2005). What is sustainable development? Environment, 47(3), 8–21.

Lele, S. M. (1991). “Sustainable Development: A Critical Review”. World Development, 19(6), 607–621.

Meadowcroft, J. (2000). “Sustainable Development: a New(ish) Idea for a New Century?” Political Studies, 48, 370–387.

Rayner, S. (2009). Foreword. In M. Hulme (Ed.), Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (pp. xxi–xxiv). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sustainability and the Home Front(ier): Between governmentality and embodied environmentalism?

In August, I’m chairing a panel which looks very exciting indeed. If you are interested in sustainability and are in London, come along. The panel has been convened by the Sustainability, Environment and Culture of Materials Research Group at UCL – and mainly through the hard work of Saffron Woodcraft.
Sustainability and the Home Front(ier): Between governmentality and embodied environmentalism?

Urban Geography Research Group Sponsored Panel Session at Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British GeographersAnnual International Conference 2013, London

Thursday August 29, 2013 2.40 – 4.20 PM

The household is a critical geographic scale for understanding how urban governmentality and everyday practices of sustainability collide. This panel will interrogate the household as a frontier for policy interventions promoting “sustainable behaviours”, exploring normative understandings of house and home and addressing important questions about sustainability and social justice.

Michelle Shipworth from UCL’s Energy Institute will lead a discussion in response to four papers:

Domesticating environmental responses through rainwater harvesting in Mumbai Cat Button, Newcastle University

Retrofit policy ‘done to’ the occupants: how does this dynamic affect the outcomes? Jennifer Love, University College London

Practicing Renovating: From “I change furniture like once a month…” to “…that extra room would really add to a better quality of life while we stay here.” Charlie Wilson and Lucy Crane, University of East Anglia

How are policy interventions received at the scale of the home? Findings from an investigation of fuel poverty Kate Simpson, Loughborough University, and Faye Wade, University College London

Full details of the panel theme and session abstracts can be found here. This panel has been convened by the Sustainability, Environment and Culture of Materials Research Group at UCL. Queries to: saffron.woodcraft.11@ucl.ac.uk

Panel theme
The household “looms very large” in debates about urban environmental sustainability (Lane & Gorman-Murray 2011). Mitigating the environmental impact of cities is no longer framed as simply a public issue or the duty of legislative bodies, but as a collective concern to which citizens should contribute within their own homes. Although ‘home’ and ‘city’ have never been discrete private and public spheres, ‘green governmentality’ has meant they are more deeply entwined in material and behavioural networks than ever before. Interventions include strict recycling regimes, reducing household energy demand through retrofitting schemes and increasing so-called “sustainable behaviours” such as energy monitoring, ethical consumption and local food and power production. Consequently the household is a critical geographic scale for understanding how urban governmentality and everyday practices of sustainability collide.

However, as Hawkins identifies, the household in environmental policy is “highly normalized and constituted through specific empirical processes” (2011) that often overlook the complexity of home as a site of cultural meaning, a political space, and frontier for interactions between public and private bodies, ideologies, technologies and materials (Gibson et al. 2011; Blunt 2005) that shape domestic sustainability practices. Such normative understandings of house and home matter for how city-wide policy interventions are conceived and implemented, and raise important questions about sustainability and social justice.

The London Brownie Inspectorate

If you haven’t seen our new blog The London Brownie Inspectorate – click on the link and see what we’ve been nibbling on!



Spring Planting

Now that spring has sprung, my plants are starting to thrive. This year I’m planting three types of tomatoes: 3 standard size plants in a grow-bag, some miniature/dwarf plants which produce cherry tomatoes and a couple of hanging tomato plants. Underneath the miniature plants I have planted some spreading basil. This is my new variety for this year

Spreading basil

Spreading basil

It will be interesting to see how it grows as it is now outside. I still have several kinds of mint (ginger mint, lemon mint and regular mint) from last year which are just popping their new leaves up. Other plants include sage, chives, two kinds of chillis and woad which I bought last year and over-wintered successfully. Also for the first time I’ve planted sorrel, for soup and salads.


The chillies from Wahaca planted last year didn’t grow and I’ve tried them again this year so we’ll see what happens. They will stay inside on the warmest windowsill just to make sure they get the best conditions possible.

Reduced Carbon Cooking: The B’goven

The b’goven (big oven) is my version of the hay box. It is filled with polystyrene beads and cooks a pot of food slowly over several hours without any heat source.

All wrapped up

All wrapped up

The instructions below are for a huge b’goven. This is because my husband, Bruce wants to buy a larger cast iron pot so I made it big enough for that plus the pot we have.

The B’goven

For 9 inch (24cms) pans.

For the ‘bag’ you will need:

2 large circles with a radius of 22 inches of fancy cotton material

For the base you will need:

2 small circles with a diameter the same as the pan plus 3 inches or so of either fancy cotton or white cotton material

For the lid:

2 small circles with a diameter the same as the pan plus 3 inches or so in

*It is important to use cotton material because the heat from the saucepan will melt synthetics.

Also needed are cord and toggles/beads, to finish
To make the bag: Take the two large circles and pin them wrong sides together.

Divide into ten or twelve segments and mark lightly with chalk.

Sew together, starting at the centre and working out to the edge of each segment.


segments, with gaps for filling

Then sew along the outer rim of the circle, allowing a gap of 2-3 inches in each ‘pocket’ (so they can be filled).

Fill with small polystyrene beads. A tip: take a drinks bottle and cut the top off to make a funnel. Then use the body of the bottle as a scoop. This makes things a lot easier by reducing the static on beads.

Do not fill too full as the segments have to bend to enclose your pot. Tack the tops shut. It is best to test how full the stuffing is at this point, so that some can be removed before sewing it up. When you are happy with the stuffing, sew it up.

Next, turn over the edge and sew and sew a wide channel to thread the cord through. Leave a gap of about 1 inch to allow it to be threaded easily.

finished main section

Next sew the base. Place right sides together and sew round edge, leaving about 1-2 inch gap. Turn right side out. Stuff with the polystyrene beads and sew up the small gap.
Repeat with the fancy cotton for the lid section.

Thread the cord through and pop some fancy beads on the ends and its all ready to go.


To use:

Cook your stew recipe to the point where it should go into the oven (about 20 minutes) and put the hot pot on the base (I did not attach it to the bag) inside the bag and then rest the lid on top. Pull the drawstring through to make it snug and leave for about six hours to cook.

Our first b'goven stew

Our first b’goven stew


Ecobuild 2013

I spent an enjoyable day at Ecobuild today. It is always interesting and I go every year. Every year is slightly different.

Impressions are that green infrastructure is growing! The number of stands selling and informing about greenroofs and green walls has grown from last year. This also seems to be reflected in the seminars too. Good news there.

Biotecture Living Walls

Biotecture Living Walls

I had a good chat with lots of stand holders. Among them, John Dyer of Biotecture Living Walls, who generously answered all my questions. Apparently, they are installing super-duper indoor green walls in well-lit, well-to-do London homes as well as quite a few in commercial buildings. The photo below is one of their walls which clearly shows the way the plants are positioned.

plug planting on a green wall

plug planting on a green wall

Good news for materials, too. It may be that I didn’t pay them much attention last year, but it really seems like there were more stands showcasing materials. And more ‘traditionsl’ ones which are moving to be more sustainable, energy efficient and less carbon-heavy. Lots of concrete, stone and brick. Lots of wood, too, which is almost always thought of as a sustainable material.  Many companies had touch and feel exhibits.

Its all about the concrete

Its all about the concrete

There is also a new substrate in town. PolyGrow were showing a polyurethane foam layer for greenroofs. They weren’t particularly friendly and even though there were three of them standing about doing nothing, I had to actually ask for attention. This is fairly typical of Ecobuild. However, they weren’t too forthcoming with information either and I actually had to ask the person if the layer of polyurethane was lighter than other substrates. (The answer is yes, as I very well knew) No word on how it preforms long term though, whether plants like it or what the carbon footprint of the polyurethane is. I just wasn’t getting any help so I moved on.

There was also much more of an emphasis on water management this year. I enjoyed seeing more rainwater harvesting systems. Like the one below:


Toilets are always a touchy subject. People don’t like to talk about them much. A few years ago, there was quite the craze for Far Eastern designed toilets which had heated seats, washed and blow dried. They offered far more than the bog standard British loo. But I’ve never met anyone who has one. This kind of design on the other hand isn’t fancy and doesn’t do much more than take water from the roof (grey water) and plumb it to the loo. Brilliant.

Speaking of roofs – and why not – what’s perhaps not such good news is that the solar companies seemed sparse compared to last year and they all appeared lack luster. I presume that this is due to Austerity (no-one’s got any money) and the falling market (from the reduction in Feed-in-Tarrifs). There wasn’t such a buzz round the stands. I think this is a shame because if you have a south facing roof and between £4 – 6,000 to spend it is still worth while doing. The cost of the panels has dropped enormously from about £6,000 to £2,000 per kW.

The Forever/Zed eBike

The Forever/Zed eBike

The Forever Zed eBike was wonderful. It is solar powered with its own docking station. The power is stored in a battery. It can be peddled and takes over when you stop peddling. They had a track set up and were offering rides on the bikes. It was a very long queue, so I didn’t get a go on one. The guy was extremely helpful and had lots of information. it would be great for those who aren’t too good going up hills, or have health conditions which could put them off cycling. At about £2,000 its still a bit too expensive, but as prototypes go it has a lot of promise. Here’s the solar array…

solar power for bicycle

solar power for bicycle

This year I didn’t go to many seminars but did catch a talk and a panel presentation. This year they seem to be attracting more celebrities to speak and I caught a small snippet of one chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby (off the telly) with Joanna Lumley but it was so crowed that I couldn’t get near so the screen outside the seminar area was very helpful. She seemed to be praising Marks & Spencer very highly for their sustainability strategy. Then she started exhorting us all to live life to the full. So, I did. I left.

Much more interesting  was a panel chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby (again) called Beating the Performance Gap – Regulate or Educate? And featured lively debate between Don Foster  who is an MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Bill Bordass, a research & policy adviser at the Usable Buildings Trust, John Tebbit, the deputy chief executive at Construction Products Association (CPA) and Pete Halsall who is the chair of Good Homes Alliance.

And, lastly, here’s my pet peeve with ecobuild. Every year there are those who think that sticking a few plastic flowers on a stand will make us stop to find out what they do. No, it really won’t.

Plastic flowers

Moving on now ……