Friday, 28 April 2017

Being Elsa

This post is not a pretty one because I am about to expose some of my worst qualities.

No one likes to think they are flawed, but we all are. No one is perfect. We all struggle. We all have our own personal demons. We all "wrestle with an angel until the breaking of the day."

The things I like best about myself  are my exuberance for living and my generous nature. I am often so happy that I am actually dancing down the street. I laugh openly and loudly and everywhere I go, I have a wonderful time. I love to do things for others, I get enormous pleasure baking, making cards, doing sewing repairs and sharing the love. You need something done? If I am capable of doing it, it is done. Need something I have? You can have mine. What can I give here instead of What can I get here is my motto.
                                 Image result for heart with barbed wire
But there is dark side that lurks in my heart that is full of anger and bitterness.

If holding grudges were an Olympic sport..I *just* might win a medal. Not the gold...but definitely the silver or bronze.

And that really shames me.

Because I am such a passionate and dramatic person, I can't seem to simply *retell* a story..I have to *relive* it. So just telling Spiderman a story of something that happened where I felt hurt means that I feel hurt all over again.

I am a sensitive soul, and I have always subscribed the philosophy:

Hurt me once, shame on you.
Hurt me twice, shame on me. 

Which sounds like I am releasing the person and the letting go of the pain they caused, but clearly I am not. Just ask me about the time that my grandmother stole my play-doh when I was three and smashed up my elephant and made a kangaroo and liked it so much she decided to KEEP IT...well, you can see I'm still not quite over that one 44 years later. 

So what has triggered this bout of self reflection?

This year is my 30th high school reunion.

Yeah, I am old.

And because a Face Book page has been set up so everyone can discuss the reunion, I have had several unexpected friend requests.

These have been from people who really did a great job of trying to make me feel small and insignificant back in high school. They seemed offended by my zest for life and bizarre fashion sense and made it their mission to belittle me with hurtful words or withering glances and now they wanted to be my friend.

I was troubled by this (to say the least).

My first reaction was a foolish prideful one that went something like this:
Yes, of course I would be delighted to be your friend and give you a window into my life. You once spread rumours that I should be voted Most Likely to Commit Suicide by the age of 25 (and insinuated that I aught to go ahead and do it to decrease the surplus population). You will see that I am really happy and blissfully in love with my best friend. We have lived in two different countries in the UK and are incredibly successful. Ha ha! You are stuck at a job (that I hope) you hate back in po-dunk Louisiana while I am swanning around Europe. Suck on that!! 
                                                     Image result for blow a  raspberry
I wasn't proud of that reaction, either.

I thought about the times that I had also made someone else's life unpleasant. I am ashamed to say, I can think of several. I have tried over the years to make amends for the wrong I have done others. Perhaps these people have regrets as well. I have grown up a lot and become a better person in the last 30 years, perhaps they have too.

Or perhaps they haven't.

The wise Sufi poet Rumi says:
Spotting faults in others is easy
and rehashing them, even easier,
but recognising your own faults
is real mastery.

The Bible says something similar:
Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’’ while there is still a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5

If I really wanted to release negative thoughts and feelings once and for all, I was going to have to dig deeper into myself. Because who is being hurt by holding on to feelings of anger and bitterness? ME, that's who. Not them. ME.

                                    Image result for anger is a hot coal

My new morning routine includes positive affirmations, circuit training and prayers all at the same time in an effort to feed two birds with one loaf  (the proverb formerly known as kill two birds with one stone) and has proved to be enormously effective in strengthening my body, mind and spirit. I spent several days sweating it out with God, pouring my heart out to Him. Then throughout the day I would listen and hear what He wanted me to do. 

This is what we have come up this:

1. I do not have to accept their friend request. 
2. I do have to pray for them 
(But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those who speak evil about you, and persecute you; Matthew 5:44)
3. I do have to spend time every day sending them love and positive thoughts. I must wish for them everything that I desire for myself e.g love, health, a home, nutritious food, friends etc. I have to do do this until my heart is no longer on fire with anger and bitterness. 

Only if I do these things will I be able to be Elsa and be able to

                                     Image result for elsa let it go
          So here I am on day four of "letting it go." It feels pretty good. I feel like early Quaker Robert Barclay who said:

I found the evil in me weakening and the good raised up.         

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

What We Ate Wednesday--Savoury Lentils and Roasted Sweet Vegetables

Hello Lovelies! It's recently been Easter which means our favourite discount supermarket Lidl had carrots and parsnips on sale at holiday prices.A 1kg bag of carrots and a 500g bag of parsnips were on sale for 19p each. 19p, people! So of course we stocked up. The sale lasts for a week, so we bought some at the start and then went back the last day of the sale and picked up some for the next week's meals. Needless to say, we've had a lot of roasted parsnips and carrots. But I don't mind. They are healthy and nutritious. I have written about my love for the humble parsnip here. A 500g bag  contains 4-5 parsnips so I cook half for one meal and half for another.

Because the vegetables are sweet, it is nice to have a slightly savoury contrast with the lentils. This is really not so much of a recipe, as just throwing stuff together. But I'll do my best to explain it. Also, the lentils cooks a HUGE amount so we had some the day before mixed with sun dried tomatoes and kale over brown rice. I just heated up the lentils the next day for this meal, but am including the cooking directions below. The lentil recipe s based on one from Dreena Burton's fabulous cookbook Eat, Drink and Be Vegan. 

Savoury Lentils and Roasted Sweet Vegetables
To cook the lentils:
1 cup puy lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
2.5 cups strong broth (I used 3 tsp broth powder and 1 tsp marmite)
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp liquid smoke
3-4 cloves or crushed garlic

Bring it to the boil, simmer until the lentils are as soft as you like.

To make the sweet vegetables;
1.Heat your oven to 220C/425F and preheat your pan. 
Slice your parsnips and carrots into baton shapes and place them in a large bowl. 
3. Then add 1 Tablespoon of oil, salt and pepper to taste.
4. When the oven is hot, remove the pan and pour pour veg into the hot pan (hear that sizzle!) and roast in a hot oven until brown and caramelised (30 minutes stirring half way) and then drizzle on a tablespoon of maple syrup or other liquid sweetener and cook for 2 minutes longer. Don’t overcrowd the pan or they’ll steam and not brown. I use 2-3 parsnips and 2 carrots. 

Meanwhile, while your sweet veg is cooking, saute the following in another pan:
1 diced onion
6-7 diced button mushrooms
1 green pepper, diced
When that is cooked, then add your lentils and their cooking liquid.
Serve the savoury lentils, sweet roasted vegetables over brown rice.

That's it. it goes pretty quickly if you cooked your lentils the day before.

Next week, what else you can eat with roasted parsnips and carrots.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--The Singing Bone

Hello and welcome to Murder Ballad Monday, or perhaps I should say welcome to Murder Story Monday as for the next few weeks I want to continue with the theme that was explored in the ballad The Twa Sisters, but in prose form as opposed to lyrical form.

Whereas 305 traditional ballads were collected and categorised by Francis James Child (hence the name "Child Ballads") in the late 19th century, fairy tales and folk tales are classified under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Tale Type Classification (ATU).

Antti Aarne was a Finnish folklorist and began the classification system used today to categorise folk tales. He first published his classification system in 1910. In 1920, Stith Thompson translated Aarne's work and expanded it making the Aarne-Thompson Classification. In 1961, Thompson published an updated version of Aarne's catalogue and created the AT Number System. The AT Number system was updated and expanded in 2004 by Hans-Jörg Uther where it became known as the ATU Classification System. 

The type of folk tale I am interested in for the purposes of this blog is ATU 780, also known as The Truth Comes to Light.

In both the ballad and the prose versions, the bones of the wronged person speak up and "the truth comes to light."  In the ballad version, it is always one sister who kills another, but it many of the folk tale versions it is brother killing brother. 

The folk tale I would like to begin with today is one that I remember from my childhood. It is a story by the Brothers Grimm entitled The Singing Bone. Author and illustrator extraordinaire Shaun Tan has created sculptures for many major and minor Grimm's tales in his book The Singing Bones.                                           Singing bone

The Singing Bone was originally published in the Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) in 1812. Here is a copy of the Grimm's Fairy Tale The Singing Bones courtesy of

The Singing Bone
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A wild boar was wreaking havoc throughout the country. No one dared venture into the forest where it ran about. With its tusks it ripped to pieces anyone who was bold enough to pursue it and attempt to kill it. Then the king proclaimed that anyone who could kill the boar would receive his daughter for a wife.

There were three brothers in the kingdom. The oldest was sly and clever; the second was of ordinary intelligence; but the third and youngest was innocent and slow witted. They wanted to win the princess, so they set forth to seek out the wild boar and kill it.

The two oldest ones went together, while the youngest one went by himself. When he entered the woods an old man approached him. He was holding a black lance in his hand, and said to him, "Take this lance and fearlessly attack the boar with it, and you will kill it." And that is what happened. He struck the boar with the lance, and it fell dead to the earth. Then he lifted it onto his shoulder, and cheerfully set off toward home.

On the way he came to a house where his brothers were making merry and drinking wine. When they saw him with the boar on his back, they called to him, "Come in and have a drink with us. You must be tired." The innocent simpleton, not thinking about any danger, went inside and told them how he had killed the boar with the black lance, and rejoiced in his good fortune. That evening they returned home together. The two oldest ones plotted to kill their brother. They let him walk ahead of them, and when they came to a bridge just outside the city, they attacked him, striking him dead. They buried him beneath the bridge. Then the oldest one took the boar, carried it to the king, claimed that he had killed it, and received the princess for a wife.

Many years passed, but it was not to remain hidden. One day a shepherd was crossing the bridge when he saw a little bone beneath him in the sand. It was so pure and snow-white that he wanted it to make a mouthpiece from, so he climbed down and picked it up. Afterward he made a mouthpiece from it for his horn, and when he put it to his lips to play, the little bone began to sing by itself:

Oh, dear shepherd
You are blowing on my bone.
My brothers struck me dead,
And buried me beneath the bridge,
To get the wild boar
For the daughter of the king.

The shepherd took the horn to the king, and once again it sang the same words. After hearing this, the king had his people dig under the bridge, and they soon uncovered the skeleton. The two wicked brothers confessed their crime and were thrown into the water. The murdered brother's bones were laid to rest in a beautiful grave in the churchyard.

That's all for week one of Murder Story Monday. Stay tuned next week for a version of the Singing Bone from French Louisiana. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

What We Ate Wednesday--"Hoisin" Noodle Bowl

Hello lovelies! We're back with another noodle bowl idea. We sure do eat a lot of these! They are easy to prepare, full of veggies and delicious sauces. What's not to love?

Previously I have written about Cheating stir fry noodle bowl which is quick and Singapore noodles which is equally delicious, but takes more time to make. Todays "Hoisin" Noodle Bowl is somewhere in between. This is mainly due to how long it takes you to destem and tear up the kale. After that, it's a piece of cake.

Why have I put "hoisin" in inverted commas, you ask? Well shop bought hoisin sauce in a jar has wheat in it  and this a Gluten Free version. Plus that's what Oh My Veggies calls it. I adapted my sauce from her recipe for Asian lettuce wraps that are meant to be like PF Changs. You can read her version here.

I adapted my version to what I had on hand. I don't use miso paste as it is expensive and has to be refrigerated, but I know that miso gives you that umami taste so I substituted my old friend Engevita nutritional yeast as nooch has the same umami quality. I also don't have rice wine vinegar so I just left it out.

I pride myself on having cheap and nutritious meals. This is one of them. If wheat is not an issue, it can be made even cheaper by using Ramen noodles (not the spice packet, just the noodles). They were a staple of my diet when I was at Uni because they were like 4 for $1. I have to remind myself that I haven't been a poor student in 25 years and I have no idea what they cost these days, but I would bet still cheap. I use rice noodle nests as they are gluten free. I can get 5 noodle nests for £1.49. I bet Ramen noodles would be even cheaper.

Hoisin Noodle Bowl
Make the sauce:
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
2 TB peanut butter
1 TB nutritional yeast flakes
1 TB liquid sweetener (agave, maple syrup or golden syrup) 
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
1 TB finely shopped ginger root
1 tsp sriracha hot sauce

For the rest:
100g curly kale (4 cups or thereabouts? It's half a bag for us) destemmed and torn into bite size bits
1 onion, chopped
half a pepper, diced
half a large carrot cut into matchsticks
1 tin water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup peanuts
2 noodle nests. 

1.Cook the onion, pepper and carrot until soft and add the kale. Cook the kale (adding a splash of water if needed) until reduced and bright green.
2. Meanwhile, boil your kettle. Tear up your noodle nests into smaller pieces to prevent shlurping and put them in a pot. Pour over boiling water and cook according to package directions. For me that's 3 minutes, then drain. 
3. Add the noodles, the sauce, the water chestnuts to the pot and heat until the sauce is bubbling.
4. Garnish with peanuts. 

You will note that there are no water chestnuts in the photo because I was running my mouth trying to tell Spiderman an amusing story about my day and I forgot them. So the recipe is fine without them, but better with them. Perhaps you are more talented than I am and can tell amusing stories and follow a recipe at the same time. Perhaps not. 

No matter which way you try it, you will find it good. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--Cruel Sister (fabric art)

Hello and welcome to part 21 of Murder Ballad Monday. After finding 20 different versions of the ballad the Twa Sisters, I was inspired to create my one version of this ballad in fabric collage.

The idea came to me in the dreamtime (as so many of my ideas do) and so I woke up and sketched out the first four "pages" of the ballad. I wasn't sure how it was going to work. Would it be a quilt? Would it be a book? Time would tell.  I decided to look through my stash of fabric and bits and bobs and see what ideas inspired me.

I took a trip to our local craft shop Community Crafts.  This little shop has been in business for 40 years, and they always have the things I need. I spoke to the friendly ladies who work there, and they helped me find some special fabric to resemble water as well as some other speciality notions.

In the end, I decided to turn it into a book as it was more practical for storage. Also, it is a story so a book format seemed appropriate. I decided to add a caption for each panel. The caption was a line or a couplet from the ballad. I did not choose just one source material, I simply used the best line from several sources.

It took me several months to complete it, but it was worth it. It is a combination of hand sewing and machine sewing and I think it is gorgeous (if I do say so myself!) I am supremely proud of it.

You can click on any picture to enlarge it, if you want to see it in more detail.

the cover

close up

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I am so pleased with it. I feel I was able to capture their facial expressions and I used a variety of textures in the fabrics (which really doesn't show up in the photos, but trust me they are there). I felt like Holman Hunt-- Victorian painter and founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood --who liked to have a large catalogue printed with every painting detailing the symbolism of every colour choice and minute detail. I really did think about each colour, each fabric, each texture and was about to create a catalogue to go with my booklet, but felt it was a bit of overkill. But I could go on (at length!) if you ask me about it. Spiderman would advise you not to do so to save your sanity. 

But that is the end of my reflections on the ballad the Twa Sisters. For the next ten weeks I will be looking at variations, not in music, but in story form of this theme. I will be looking at traditional/fairy tales from around the world with the theme The Singing Bones.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

What We Ate Wednesday--Red Beans and Rice

Hello lovelies! As I realised that I had been posting lots of chickpea recipes, I thought I would post  a recipe featuring another of my favourite cheap beans--the kidney bean. I never used to be a fan of the ole "red bean" but these days at 33p a tin and great source of  folate, dietary fibre and copper as well as  a good source of manganese, phosphorus, protein, vitamin B1, iron, potassium and
 magnesium they make the menu quite often.

Red Beans and Rice are a traditional Louisiana food. They are often cooked for ages in a slow cooker until the beans are all soft and falling apart. They also are often accompanied by smoky sausage that is cooked in with the beans to give it flavour. 

But I don't have ten hours or a slow cooker and I don't need to use smoky sausage to get that delicious smoky flavour because I have a secret ingredient. Shhh...don't tell anyone. But after you read this, run don't walk to your local grocery shop (or if you are in the UK and can't find it locally then go to Amazon and place an order) and buy yourself some Liquid Smoke.
                                 Image result for colgin liquid smoke
This stuff is great. It give a real smoky aroma and taste to food that mimics the thing you liked about meat, but without the cruelty. OK, maybe you should tell people. In fact, tell everyone you know that they can get the flavour they want without anybody having to die.

I do a bit of a cheat on my Red Beans and Rice to break down the beans so they are that sort of broken down soup texture from my childhood without the ten hour wait. I use my trusty food processor to blend half the beans. Also, you know those cheap, generic plain label tins of kidney beans you see on the bottom shelf of the supermarket for pennies and were afraid to try as the beans might be all broken and not whole? This is the perfect recipe for them because you are going to crush them anyway, so don't spend the big money on posh brand name kidney beans for this recipe, OK?

This recipe serves two, but is easily doubled. I served it to my Mum and stepdad Carl when they came to Wales on their honeymoon and they enjoyed it. I like to use brown rice as that's they way we roll, but white rice is traditional, so use what you like. I also like to serve it with creamed corn as I think it looks pretty and the tastes go well together. if you live in the US, you can probably just open up a tin of creamed corn and blurp it in a pan and heat it up, but in the UK I have to make my own, so I'll include a recipe down below.

It should be noted that the picture only shows a small bit of creamed corn because I wanted to show off the rice and make it "decorative" in the photo. After I took the picture i poured more on and mixed it all together, as that's how I like to eat it, but do what you want.

Red Bean and Rice
1 tin cheapest kidney beans, drained and well rinsed
1 onion
1 green pepper, diced small (not traditionally in Red Beans and Rice, but the bitter green pepper compliments the Cajun spices. plus it is a way to use up that red headed step-child of the three pack of peppers)
lots of garlic
1 -2 TB soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp Cajun seasonings (or more, but I think this  flavours them just enough)
1 cup veggie broth
1. Use your food processor to chop your onion. It will chop them really small and will thicken the beans without a ten hour cooking time. Cook the onions in a big pot with a splash of oil while you do the rest of it.
2. Wipe out, but don't bother to wash your food processor and add 3/4 cup beans, all the garlic you want, plus the one cup veggie broth and blitz until broken down. It will never get super smooth as there will be bean skins. Just get it pureed and don't sweat it, OK?
3. Add the soy sauce or tamari to deglaze the pan and get any brown bits up and stir to coat the onions and add the bean mixture, the rest of the beans you didn't blitz, the green pepper, the liquid smoke and the Cajun spices.
4. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Because I use easy cook brown rice, I start it now and let my red beans cook until the rice is done.  If you are doing the creamed corn you should be making it and then heating it when the rest is nearly done. .
5. At the end, use the back of the spoon to mash the remaining beans a bit. Taste for salt. My Cajun spices have salt as the first ingredient, so it is as salty as I need it to be.

Creamed Corn
Cream style corn is traditionally made with just corn, water, salt and sugar, but this one uses non dairy milk which makes it super creamy, but feel free to use water. I adapted this recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction. This recipe is also easily doubled.

In your blender put the following:
1/2 cup non dairy milk
1 tsp sugar
pinch salt
2 tsp starch--I used tapioca starch, but you could use corn starch (cornflour to my British peeps)
1.5 cups frozen corn that has been defrosted in boiling water and drained

1. Pulse until the consistency you like, then heat.

That's it. A bit of Louisiana flavour in Wales. One that tastes like my childhood except without all the meat, but still just as tasty.  Bon Appétit! 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Murder Ballad Monday The Little Maple Tree (Hungarian)

 Hello and welcome to part 20 of Murder Ballad Monday. This is the first version where I have found a written record, but have not managed to find a recorded version.
                                Image result for hungarian classical ballads
I found this version in Hungarian Classical Ballads: And Their Folklore By Ninon A. M. Leader. It is a fragmentary version of the “singing bones” type ballad (Child ballad 10) entitled The Little Maple Tree. This particular fragment is from Transylvania.

I was interested in the fact the sisters were called “orphans” in the song, but a father appears later in the song. I always thought the term orphan was one who had lost both parents, but perhaps in some countries it only applies to someone who has lost their mother.
                                      Image result for little maple tree

The lyrics are as follows:
Three orphans set out
With three little pots
To the forest
To gather strawberries,
To gather strawberries.

Their dear mother
Had left them many costly pearls
Which they were dividing,
Going on their way,
Going on their way.

The three orphans agreed to this
That she, who would be the first to fill,
To fill her little pot,
Would get the pearls.
Little Bencoska filled hers first
Whereupon the two elder sisters killed her.
They put her bones into the hollow of a tree
And hastily went home.

Their father asks them
Where his dear little daughter has been left,
His little daughter,
His little Bencoska.
Three of them went out, and two of them returned.
Where has my little daughter been left?
Alas my God, where shall I go?
Where shall I go, what shall I do?
Where shall I look for her, where shall I go?

He travelled to the forest
to search for the little orphan.
Behold there is a little pipe there!
Behold there is a little pipe there!

He examines it, he even takes it out.
He is thinking what to do.
How can he play it in his sorrow?
Still, he starts to play it.
It has a peasant air.

“Play the tune, play the tune my royal father,
My dear nurse who brought me up.
My sisters have killed me.
They have put me in the hollow of a tree.

They went home and played the tune
And played the tune upon the pipe.
“Play the tune, play the tune my sister dear,
My murderer dear who has killed me!

I was once a princess too,
A princess, the little princess Pendzsoka! (sic)
A princess, the little princess Pendzsoka!
Now I am a little pipe.

My sisters have killed me.
They have put me into the hollow of a tree.
They have put me into the hollow of a tree.

Other Hungarian versions of this ballad contain the following variations:
      1.  The mother is not dead, but instead offers a beautiful dress to the one who fills her strawberry basket first.
      2. The sisters cut her head off and throw her body down a well
      3. The sisters cover her body with brushwood  and a maple tree springs up from the brushwood and a shepherd fashions a pipe from it
     4. The sisters confess their deed and are tortured as a punishment
     5. The sisters are thrown off a high cliff as punishment
     6. The father (sometimes called the King) cuts open the pipe and his youngest daughter emerges alive and well.

Here's how it breaks down compared to other versions:
Name of ballad: The Little Maple Tree
Performed by:  n/a
Refrain: none
Number of sisters: three
Where did they live: doesn’t say
Appearance described asdoesn’t say
 Sweetheart:  none mentioned
Excuse to go to the water: not to the water, but to the woods to pick strawberries
Body of water: n/a
Does it contain the line “Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”: no
Miller and child: no
Mistaken for: n/a
Described in death: n/a
Who finds her on the bank: her father finds her in the hollow tree
Instrument she becomes: pipe
Body parts used: doesn’t say
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: no
Do the strings sing individually: no
What does the instrument sing: it revealed the name of the murderer
Is the sister punished: doesn’t say

So, that’s it for version twenty of The Twa Sisters. Stay tuned next Monday for version twenty-one.