Lockdown projects — Month 1

Each weekend during lockdown, we’re trying to make at least one new thing. Nothing too ambitious. Many of these are gifts that we’ve never had the time to attend to. There are fewer excuses now. And there are other things we’re finding the time to do differently. These are the little projects giving us a reason to get up at the weekends.

Here’s what we’ve completed during month 1 of lockdown. Other projects are still in progress — — they’ll be highlighted after month 2.

Roasted butternut squash seeds
Roasted butternut squash seeds

Waste not want not. When lockdown began, I had a grand idea to cut down on our food waste. I sought ways to use up the seeds from a butternut squash. After a bit of Googling, I found this recipe. You can simply roast them in the oven with some olive oil and salt to make a tasty snack. I made this too salty, but I’ll know for next time.

Beer brewing in a pot
Beer brewing in a pot

We reckon we had the ingredients for this oatmeal stout lurking in our cupboard for at least three years. Beer brewing is a strangely stressful process, especially when you don’t really have large enough containers to make everything work smoothly. This beer is currently undergoing secondary fermentation, and should be ready to drink next week.

We’ve got a Punk IPA kit to use up at some point as well. That will come later in the lockdown.

A small round of firm goat's cheese
A small round of firm goat's cheese

I’ve had a goat’s cheese making kit for a while, so this isn’t entirely new, although I have ramped up production a little bit.

Making your own goat’s cheese is surprisingly easy. All you really need is the goat’s milk and citric acid (or lemon juice). Heat the milk up to the right temperature, drizzle in the citric acid, then stir gently. Then watch the curds and whey separate. Drain through a muslin, mix in a bit of salt, and hey presto, you have deliciously fresh goat’s cheese.

This week, I’ve experimented with a slightly different method to make a harder cheese.

I’m not sure how efficient or cost-effective it is to make your own cheese. After all, you still have to buy the milk, and the whole process takes two to three hours. But it is very satisfying.

There’s no need to waste the whey either. We use it for making bread dough. It makes delicious silky pizza bases. Speaking of which…

Loaf of sourdough bread on our table
Loaf of sourdough bread on our table

Yes, like many others, we have started baking our own sourdough bread. Well, really it’s Alex doing the work here. I just eat it.

She looks after our starter, Mildred, which came to us as part of a kit from Gartur Stitch Farm.

Hot cross buns on the table
Hot cross buns on the table

Alex also made these fantastic fruity sourdough hot cross buns for Easter.

Alex and me displayed on Louise and Jamie's TV
Alex and me displayed on Louise and Jamie's TV

Like most people, we’ve continued to socialise regularly, only through video calls. But our friends Louise and Jamie had a great idea to take things one step further.

We set our TVs up at our dinner tables, and use a Chromecast to stream our video calls on the TV so that it feels like we were actually around the dinner table together. This works surprisingly well!

In fact, the first time we did it, it was just like a real dinner party in that the conversation kept on going way beyond midnight and it was actually difficult to leave.

Louise, Elena and Jamie on our TV
Louise, Elena and Jamie on our TV

I entered a virtual 10k race with three of my colleagues — — Billy, Lauren and Stratos. Lauren told us about FindARace’s Plan B, a set of virtual races raising money for the World Health Organization.

There’s a 10k route that incorporates the different neighbourhoods Lauren, Stratos and I live in. This meant that we could all start at the same time, running the same route, but from different starting points — — thereby maintaining social distancing.

Despina's illustration: "Coronavirus is... Running!"
Despina's illustration: "Coronavirus is... Running!"

Our group has the name — — Pandemic Runners — — and we each have a designated hashtag. I’m #DashingDuncan. Stratos’s daughter, Despina, even created this illustration for us to one day wear on t-shirts. Coronavirus is… running!

I was pleased to achieve my personal best 10k (although I haven’t run very many 10ks), despite the rather hilly route. We’ll even get a funky-looking medal featuring an illustration of people tapping their elbows — — designed during a time when touching elbows was still just about permissible.

12 beers stacked up like a tower in front of the virtual beer festival stream
12 beers stacked up like a tower in front of the virtual beer festival stream

Lots of us have been to a virtual pub quiz by now, but how many people have tried a virtual beer festival before? By signing up to Beer52’s event last weekend, we were sent 12 beers and a special beer festival glass.

This is basically legitimising drinking heavily by yourself at home. However, we participated in a video chat with a bunch of friends.

Best of all, the beers really were quite good.

Me working on the paper rhino
Me working on the paper rhino

Our friend Gisèle sent us this paper rhino kit as a housewarming gift over four years ago. The box said to leave at least four hours to make it, but in the end I reckon it took us about two or three hours in total, albeit spread over two days. It was quite tricky though!

Paper rhino above our living room door
Paper rhino above our living room door

It now resides above our living room door.

Paper model of the National Theatre
Paper model of the National Theatre

A few years ago I’d bought myself a couple of these cut-out paper models of brutalist buildings — — Balfron Tower and Barbican Estate (Lauderdale Tower). Subsequently I have received a standalone National Theatre, and the entire Brutal London book, as a gift.

I’m now about halfway through building my complete Brutal London. I’ll post that once it’s all finished!

Alex holding the grow your own chilli plant can
Alex holding the grow your own chilli plant can

We’ve got a bit of a jungle developing on our living room window sill.

These chilli-growing kits have been kicking around for a while. We decided now was the perfect time to start the process. They’ve just begun to sprout and we’ve re-potted them. Apparently chillies should begin to grow within two months.

Alex holding the grow your own hops kit
Alex holding the grow your own hops kit

Less successful was this kit to grow your own hops, which I got Alex as a gift. We think we don’t have the right climate for it.

Our flatmate Ana, who moved back to Portugal just before the lockdown began, picked up a lettuce-growing kit from M&S. It contained a pellet that expanded and became soil when we added water. With luck, the lettuce will begin sprouting within two weeks, and we can harvest it in late May.

Avocado seed in the AvoSeedo
Avocado seed in the AvoSeedo

This is something else that’s not truly new to us. We’ve got an existing avocado plant that’s been growing for about a year. (With luck, that will start bearing fruit in about… 15 years.) We decided to start growing a friend for it.

The device is called an AvoSeedo, although seemingly this is not strictly necessary. But you simply take the stone from the avocado, peel off the thin brown skin of it, then float it in water for a few months. Roots begin to grow, and eventually it sprouts at the top. Then you can re-pot it, where it can grow into a handsome plant.

Pursuits in human-centred approaches — https://duncanstephen.net/

Pursuits in human-centred approaches — https://duncanstephen.net/