Tuesday, 17 January 2017

What We Ate Wednesday--German potato salad and kale

Well, I *was* going to write about what we had Friday night which is a super fast curry because I had come home from work exhausted and needed food right away.

As a Quaker, I try to not use exaggerated speech, I am not STARVING because I have never missed a meal, but let me tell you on Friday night I was RAVENOUS.

Ravenous, I tell you!
Image result for ravenous bugblatter beast of traal
As ravenous as the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

So the curry went straight into my belly without taking the time to take a photo. Luckily, this curry makes a huge amount and so we had it again Saturday night when I came home from work slightly less ravenous. However the camera refused to play ball and kept announcing the batteries were flat, so i gave up and ate my delicious curry.

Basically, this curry is:
1 onion
half a pepper
a tin of chickpeas
a tin of chopped tomatoes
3 TB Balti curry paste
600g cooked potatoes (about 9-10 egg sized potatoes)
2 cups defrosted frozen peas

It is fast and delicious and makes lots. We eat it over rice and the second day I often make it with creamed corn.

But! That is not the recipe I want to share. The recipe I want to share is for German Potato Salad and Kale. I grew up eating German Potato salad from a can and loved it's tangy taste. I hated potato salad with goopy mayonnaise. Blech! Give me German Potato Salad any day.

GPS (as I plan to abbreviate it from now on because I can't be arsed to keep writing German Potato Salad over and over again) is traditionally made with bacon so clearly I am going to veganise it! I like to use mushroom bacon, because mushrooms and cheap and healthy and a whole food.

There are 2 ways to do your mushroom bacon. Both delicious, one slightly less faffy than the other. You can bake them in a super hot oven (220C/425F)  for 12-15 minutes to dry them out and concentrate their flavour or just use as is in the marinade. I had a cake in the oven, so I used  them as is. Still delicious.

GPS with Chickpeas and Kale
To make the bacon mushrooms:
Dice into small bits 100g of cheap button mushrooms (about 6-7 mushrooms) and put them in a bowl to marinate with 1 TB tamari or soy sauce, 1 tsp toasted sesame oil and 1 tsp liquid smoke

To make the sauce:
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 TB water
1 TB liquid sweetener
1 tsp dijon mustard like Grey Poupon
2 TB nutritional yeast flakes (to give it a slightly cheesy taste)
1 TB flour
1/2 tsp sea salt

You need:
1 onion, diced
 100g kale, Maybe that's 4-5 cups? we just buy a 200g bag and split it in half.
1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
300g potatoes, diced small About 5 egg sized potatoes

1. Put the potatoes in a pot covered with water and bring to the boil. While that is happening, cook the onion in a bit of oil in a large pot.
2.Destem and tear up kale into bite sized pieces.
3. When the potatoes are done, drain them and let them sit in the colander.
4. Put the chickpeas, the marinated bacon mushrooms and their marinade in with the onion and cook until mushrooms are done. Then add the kale and cook until kale has turned bright green and reduced.
5. Add the potatoes and the sauce to the big pot and heat until the sauce thickens and then grind on lots and lots and lots of pepper.

That's it. Really easy and tasty. GPS. The best darned potato salad in the world. If you are a potato salad purist and don't want all the chickpeas and kale mixed in then just double (or triple) the amount of potatoes and double (or triple) the amount of sauce. But if you do it my way you get a shot of good quality low-fat, fibre-filled protein from the chickpeas and a serving of high calcium greens.

Whatever you do, just make some GPS.

Who needs goopy mayonnaise?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--The Bows of London

Hello and welcome to Part eight of Murder Ballad Monday.

For the next two weeks, the ballad makes a slight shift. In many of the European versions the sister’s body is turned into a harp, but for the next several weeks her body is turned into a fiddle.
Image result for martin carthy

My choice for this week is a version of Child ballad 10 sung by folk singer Martin Carthy entitled
The Bows of London.  Martin Carthy is an English folk singer who inspired the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Do you know Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair? Yeah...that's Martin Carthy's arrangement of the traditional tune. 

Martin Carthy has this to say about his version of The Bows of London:
"Ever since I heard Jody Stecher sing a luminous song called "The Wind and Rain" -a version of "The Two Sisters"- I have wanted to sing it. Its overwhelming feature is its concentration on the aspect of the story dealing with the building from the murder victim's remains of a fiddle which then takes on a life of its own and ultimately unmasks the murderer. Having found my own efforts at singing his to be as unconvincing as my efforts at American songs usually are, I cast around for a tune from this side of the water, came upon The Bows of London and then tried to stay close to Jody's words. A "bow" is the bend in a river."

Well, that answered one of my questions. I had been curious as to the meaning of the word “bow” in the song. Carthy claims it means a bend in the river, but others on various folk music forums have argued it is a reference to the “bow bells” which are the bells of the historic London church Saint Mary-le-Bow.  It is said that a true Cockney is one who born within the sound of these bells. Folklore says that the sound of bells of Saint Mary-le-Bow called to Dick Whittington telling him great things were ahead for him which made him turn around  and he eventually become mayor of London. Since this song is about a river in London, either explanation makes sense.

The refrain  Carthy chose puzzled me particularly the line Hey the gay and the grinding, but it has its roots in the Child ballads. There are three different versions that have a similar refrain.
Child ballad 10F says:
Hey with a gay and a grinding o
About a’ the bonny bows o London

Child ballad 10H says:
Hey with the gay and the grandeur o
At the bonnie bows of London town

Child ballad 10 version O says:
Hey wi’ the gay and the grinding
At the bonny, bonny bows o London

This version was recorded live and is sung by Martin Carthy while his daughter Eliza Carthy plays fiddle. I particularly like this version because it is a family affair, and my late father and I often sang together when I was growing up. I have included the lyrics below if you'd like to follow along.   Watch it here:

Here is how this version breaks down compared to other versions:

Name of ballad: The Bows of London
Performed by: Martin Carthy
Hey the gay and the grinding
By the bonny bonny bows of London
Number of sisters: two
Where did they live:  doesn’t say
Appearance described as: n/a
Sweetheart: not mentioned
Excuse to go to the water: none given
Body of water: stream
Does it contain the line “Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”: no
Miller and child: yes, miller and son
Mistaken for: swan
Described in death: n/a
Who finds her on the bank: a fool with a fiddle
Instrument she becomes: fiddle
Body parts used: long yellow hair, finger bones, breastbone
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: “the sound would pierce a heart of stone”
Do the strings sing individually: no
What does the instrument sing:                                                                                    
  It sang yonder sits my father the king
Yonder sits my father the king                                                                                                                    And yonder sits my mother the queen.
How she'll grieve at my burying
And yonder she sits my sister Anne
She who drowned me in the stream
Is the sister punished: doesn’t say

Here are the lyrics so you can follow along if you wish. I have eliminated the refrain so it won't be so long. 
There were two little sisters awalking alone
Hey the gay and the grinding
Two little sisters awalking alone
By the bonny bonny bows of London

And the eldest pushed her sister in
Pushed her sister into the stream

Oh she pushed her in and she watched her drown
Watched her body floating down 

Oh she floated up and she floated down
Floats till she come to the miller's dam

And out and come the miller's son
Father dear here swims a swan

Oh they laid her out on the bank to die
Fool with a fiddle come ariding by.

And he took some strands of her long yellow hair
Took some strands of her long yellow hair

And he made some strings from this yellow hair
Made fiddle strings from this yellow hair

And he made fiddle pegs from her long fingerbone
Made fiddle pegs from her long fingerbone

And he made a fiddle out of her breastbone
Sound would pierce the heart of a stone

But the only tune that the fiddle would play
Was Oh the bows of London

The only tune the fiddle would play
Was the bonny bonny bows of London

So the fool's gone away to the king's high hall
There was music, dancing and all

And he laid this fiddle all down on a stone
It played so loud it played all alone

It sang yonder sits my father the king
Yonder sits my father the king

And yonder sits my mother the queen.
How she'll weep at my burying.

And yonder she sits my sister Anne
She who drowned me in the stream

So, that’s it for version eight of the Twa Sisters. Stay tuned next Monday for version nine.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

What We Ate Wednesday--smoky cashew cream sauce

Hello lovelies! We have been eating some delicious food in the Spider household this week. I made a smoky cashew cream sauce that went for 2 pizzas and a pasta.

Pizza dough is ridiculously easy to make yourself and it freezes well, so I always have dough in my freezer ready for a meal. Having made the crust ahead of time, the pizza comes together in a snap and is hella cheaper than a takeaway pizza. Plus you can make it however you like it. White flour. Wholemeal flour. Spelt flour. Gluten free flour. Do what you need, just remember to take the crust out to defrost in the fridge the night before you want it.

This smoky cashew cream sauce is adapted from the book Vegan Pizza by Julie Hasson. It has an amazing taste and is very rich and creamy. Plus it is budget friendly as it only uses a half a cup of cashew nuts. The cashews add the creamy as well as tahini paste (made from sesame seeds) which is a great source of calcium. In fact, 2 Tablespoons of tahini have 128mg of calcium.

I make the sauce and then divide it three ways like this:

Half a cup for a pizza, half a cup for another pizza and then the rest for a pasta. I make the first pizza the day I make the sauce and then freeze the other pizza sauce (just defrost when you defrost your crust) and then refrigerate the big sauce and have it the next day over pasta with roasted vegetables.  

I make it go for three meals because I am cheap that way, but you can use it all in one go if you have more people to feed. It is great over pasta, over vegetables, over anything really. 

Here's how you make it. Now, if you don't have a high powered blender you will need to soak your cashew nuts overnight. The next day just drain and proceed with recipe. Since cashew nuts swell when soaked you can either use what has soaked knowing it is a bit more that a half cup (it will just make it creamier) or if you are on a budget and every cashew counts then measure half a cup and pull out 15 cashews then soak and it should soak to be about a half cup. 

This recipe uses nutritional yeast which is an inactive yeast grown on molasses and is high in B vitamins and gives it a nutty cheesy taste. Find it in a Health Food Shop. 

Smoky Cashew Cream Sauce
In a blender combine:
1/2 cup soaked raw unsalted cashews
1/4 or 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (we do the full half cup)
2 cloves garlic
2 TB tahini
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 cups water (add an extra 1/4 cup water if using for two pizzas and a pasta so the pasta will have a wee bit more sauce)

Blend like heck until completely smooth. Pour into a medium saucepan and cook on med/high heat whisking constantly until thickened. Use immediately or let cool and divide into jars.

Here is our pizza served with kale with mushrooms and red onion. Basically I just throw in to the kale whatever didn't go on the pizza. the pizza had smoky cream sauce, caramelised red onion, mushrooms and thinly sliced potato sprinkled with rosemary. For the kale I just use a splash of tamari, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and a squeeze of agave syrup. 

Here is it the next day with the pasta. I think the next day it benefits from a sprinkle of flaked sea salt and a smidge more liquid smoke. Basically I just cleaned out the fridge. I roasted up 2 sweet potatoes, 1 onion, 1 pepper, 1 parsnip and 1 carrot and then tossed it with pasta and a few chopped mushrooms that needed to be used up. 

This is easy and delicious and has no cholesterol. Go and make it tonight!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--The Wicked Sister

Hello and welcome to part seven of Murder Ballad Monday.
Image result for Méav Ní Mhaolchatha silver sea
Today's entry is performed by Méav Ní Mhaolchatha (known simply as Méav) who is an Irish folk singer specialising in the traditional music of her homeland. Her version of The Twa Sisters is entitled The  Wicked Sister and was featured on her CD Silver Sea in 2003 and again in 2011 when the CD was re-released.

This version is similar lyrically to other versions we have looked at, but is the only one which does not contain a refrain making it a full 3-4 minutes shorter than its counterparts. It is also one of the few sung in a more sprightly manner. Many versions of The Twa Sisters are sung wistfully or like a funeral dirge.

Here you can listen to Méav singing a version of this ballad. I have provided the lyrics at the bottom in case you want to follow along.

So, here is how it breaks down compared to other versions:

Name of ballad: The Wicked Sister
Performed by: Méav
Refrain: none                                                                                                                                            Number of sisters: two
Where did they live: on the North Sea shore
Appearance described as:  the younger was “radiant as the sun” and the elder was “darkly”
Sweetheart: a knight who courted them both with gifts, but loved the younger one
Excuse to go to the water: “To watch the ships sail o'er the sea"
Body of water: sea
Does it contain the line “Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”: no
Miller and child: no
Mistaken for: not really—it simply says “off she floated like a swan” which does not imply that she was mistaken for one
Described in death: n/a
Who finds her on the bank: a minstrel
Instrument she becomes: harp
Body parts used: breastbone and bright hair
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: yes
Do the strings sing individually: no
What does the instrument sing:
 "The bride her younger sister drowned
Now her secret you all know
Her guilty tears will surely flow"
 Is the sister punished: doesn’t say 

Here are the lyrics so you can follow along if you wish.
A mother lived by the North Sea shore
Daughters were the babes she bore
One grew radiant as the sun
Darkly grew the elder one

A knight came riding to their door
He travelled far to be their wooer
He courted both with gold and rings
But loved the younger o'er all things

"Sister, won't you walk with me
To watch the ships sail o'er the sea?"
As they walked the rocky shore
The dark one pushed her sister o'er

"Sister, sister, let me live
All that's mine I'll surely give"
"Thy bridegroom I will take and more
But thou shalt never come ashore"

Off she floated like a swan
The salt sea bore her body on
You could not see her lily feet
Her golden fringes were so deep

A minstrel walking by the strand
Saw her body float to land
When he looked that lady on
He sighed and made a heavy moan

He made a harp of her breastbone
Whose sound would melt a heart of stone
Took the strands of her bright hair
And with them strung his harp so rare

He brought the harp to the wedding hall
There to play before them all
When they set it on a stone
The harp began to play alone

The strings sang out a dreadful sound
"The bride her younger sister drowned
Now her secret you all know
Her guilty tears will surely flow"

So, that's it for version seven of The Twa Sisters. Stay tuned next Monday for version eight. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Silicon Heaven

Have you heard of Silicon Heaven the afterlife for appliances?  No? Clearly, you are not a fan of the sci-fi show Red Dwarf.  Watch this clip and it will all become clear to you.

I am sad to say that our beloved Vitamix blender has gone to Silicon Heaven. We got this high powered, industrial baby in 2010 right after my horrible hysterectomy.

That's six years ago.

The warranty was for five years.

You do the math.

She had started making a slight urgh urgh noise and smelled faintly of burning rubber the week before she died. Then one day right before Christmas, black smoke started pouring out of her during my morning smoothie.

To be fair, she might just be in a coma. It might just be that she needs a new belt or something. There was a definitely PING! sound like a screw fell out after the black smoke. But we can't even figure how to open her up for surgery, so at this point she is considered MIA, presumed dead. If you are a handy sort of person who lives nearby in Wales, please feel free to contact me and offer surgical assistance.

So what to do? We couldn't afford to replace her. A Vitamix costs an arm, a leg and a kidney. We needed a new blender, but one that was affordable. We also needed one that wouldn't die at our first attempt with serious blending. A Vitamix has a 1380 watt (nearly 2 horsepower) motor. 

You get spoiled to a high powered blender.

Well....a bit of searching on our parts and I found us an incredibly affordable replacement. It is not exactly a like-for-like, but it is good and we are happy.

I present to you the newest member of kitchen appliance family:
Image result for tower xtreme pro blender review
The Tower Xtreme Pro Blender. 

She is a lot smaller than the Vitamix so we have lots more counter space. We need all we can get in my tiny-ass kitchen.

But how does she measure up?

Pretty well, actually.

Wattage and horsepower
Vitamix --1380 watt (around 1.93 horsepower)
Tower--1000-1200 watt ( between 1.34 to 1.6 horsepower)
This is pretty close considering many of the blenders we saw were around 400 watt.

Size of jugs (no boob jokes, please)
Vitamix--2 litre
Tower--you get a 1 litre jug and a 800ml jug
So far this has not been a problem as we rarely blended up large amounts of stuff anyway. This has the bonus of "blending in the cup you drink from" so there is less washing up. It also comes with 2 lids for the blender jugs--one for storing and one with a drinking top for travel.  Plus, you can order spare jugs for £7.99.

Vitamix--variable speeds
Tower--one speed
So far, this has not been an issue. The little Tower blends like a champ.
Vitamix--£459 and you have to order online and have it delivered
Tower--£28 at Wilkos--bought it locally and carried it home
Well, that pretty much decides it then.

Will it do *everything* a Vitamix does? No, but it will do lots of things.

It came with a wee cookbook, so that helps to know what you can and can't do in it. It has many nut recipe, but the cookbook recommends soaking your nuts (again, no jokes please) and so we have.

Was it easier to just throw hard stuff like nuts and dry dates straight in the Vitamix without soaking? Yes. But is it really all that hard to put stuff on to soak before you go to bed to make the next day? No.

So far I have made countless smoothies, 2 cashew cheese sauces and creamed corn. It has worked beautifully.

Everyone goes crazy for a Vitamix saying it is perfect, but are there any drawbacks to a Vitamix? A bit. You can't remove the bottom of the blender so cleaning around the blade was a bit tricky to clean. The Tower has a removable bottom so you can wash it really well and you don't have to worry about gunk lurking under your blades.

Are there any drawbacks to the Tower? Not really. The only thing is the rubber seals on the removable bottom need to be checked EVERY TIME you blend as they can easily work themselves free and cause leakage. Is that really a problem? No. it just means I take 10 seconds to check before I blend.

Are there things the Vitamix can do that the Tower can't? A bit. The speed and heat of the Vitamix blades can make soup, but who wants to have their blender run for 6 minutes? Jeepers, you'd need noise cancelling headphones and an aspirin after that. A Vitamix can turn frozen fruit into sorbet, but we only ever did that in the summer and only if fruit was on sale. We only did it once last year, so not really missing anything. Besides, I can make banana ice cream in my food processor.

I am also working hard on being content with what I have. If you have seen my vision board then you know this is part of goals for 2017.

To be honest, the Tower works pretty well so I am not having to try very hard to be content with it.

 Would I buy another Vitamix? After careful consideration....no.  My little Tower takes up less space in my kitchen, blends everything I have asked it to do and only cost £28. I can think of lots of ways I could use £449.

But the million pound question is: Where do all the calculators go? 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Vision Quest

I don't do new year's resolutions. I just don't think they work. People start off with good intentions and real life gets in the way and the promises you made on January 1st just melt away. Most of them are quite negative anyway. I like to do something positive.

For the last few years I have made a vision board.  Basically, it is an excuse to cut and glue stuff, but with a purpose.

I always save back magazines, fliers etc and cut the letters out and file them alphabetically in a craft organiser (no, really) and use them to make interesting things. I really like that "ransom note" look! You'd be surprised how many magazines you can get for free. Our local Tesco one has every few months and the Health Food Shops give one away, too.

Aside from interesting letters, I also start saving interesting phrases. Words that speak to me and tell me what I want to do in the upcoming year or who I want to be. Qualities that I would like to cultivate or attitudes I would like to see more of.

Here is my board for this year:

I am cheap so I did it on the back of last year's vision board. That's why there are coloured triangles in the corners--not to be decorative, but to cover up the blue-tac!

I know it is a bit woo-woo, but it really makes me feel better and more empowered over the year. I put it up in my craft room near my desk, so I can see it as I am sewing or makings cards or writing in my journal. Every morning when get my exercise clothes from in there, I read it and think about how I will achieve these goals for that day. Right there I have already begun because exercise fulfils the phrases your body is designed to move and feel good every day and be well.  

 What are your goals for the new year? How will you achieve them? Why not try making a vision board to help you be clear about who you want to be in 2017. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

What We Ate Wednesday-Quick frozen vegetable curry

Spiderman says my super power is making a huge amount of delicious food for pennies. I can spot a bargain at twenty paces. I can make amazing meals out of leftovers.

This week we've eaten lots of leftovers. I have eeked out ingredients to make several filling recipes.

I have made a  500g pot of soya yogurt (£1.25) go for:
fat replacer in a chocolate cake
the curried sauce over black eyed peas and rice
a cooling topping for spicy potatoes and chickpeas with sesame seeds and peanuts
fat replacer in a vanilla blueberry cake. ( I found a punnet of blueberries in the back of the freezer)

Around Christmas, the discount German supermarket Lidl had bags of potatoes, carrots and parsnips for 19p each. 19p, people! I bought one of each and we ate potatoes in several ways as well as roasted parsnips and carrots twice.

Between Christmas and New Years, they still had everything on sale for 19p. We still had carrots, but I bought us another bag of 19p potatoes.

This week, I made a 19p 1.5kg of small potatoes into:
potato soup made with cashew cheese sauce left over from two pizzas (500g)
spicy potatoes and chickpeas with sesame seeds and peanuts (500g)
red onion soup with 200g potato (red onions were on sale this week 750g for 49p)
Hoppin' John at New Years (300g) 

This is my super power.

So I try at least once a week to make something completely out of stuff we already have. A Cupboard Meal. This week I made a dahl curry with frozen veg.

Tesco has these HUGE 1.16kg bags of frozen cauliflower, broccoli, peas and carrots where everything is cut really small. Just defrost in a bit of boiling water and throw them your curry for the last five minutes. It is a great time saver and a way to get veg in your food.

I always have tins of chopped tomatoes, red lentils, curry paste and brown rice on hand so a curry is always just a step away. I personally prefer curry paste over curry powder-- curry powder is cheaper, but curry paste imparts a richer taste. We love Patak's Balti Paste.

Quick Frozen Veg Lentil Curry 

3/4 cup (175g)  red lentils, rinsed and picked over for any small stones or dirt
1 400g tin tomatoes
2/3 cup(160ml) vegetable stock
1 TB curry paste or curry powder
some chopped ginger root, if you have it
2 cups frozen veg 

Bring it all to the boil (except the frozen veg) and then bring it down to simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed and lentils are tender.

Meanwhile,  defrost the 2 cups frozen veg in boiling water. Let it sit for a few minutes, then drain. Add the defrosted veg to the curry and let it simmer for about 5 minutes and serve over rice.

It makes three big bowls of curry and if you need it to feed more people, then add more veg and up the lentils to 1 cup and the veg stock to 1 cup. You could also serve it with naan bread to make it even more filling. If I hadn't used up all the yogurt already, I would have made naan for us.

I also like to eek out my ginger root. I buy a fat finger of ginger, peel with the back of spoon and chop into bits. Then I divide into three and use one and freeze two.

*This* is my super power.