Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A Light Shines in the Night

These are the words on our advent wreath. It has truly been the season of Light. Quakers often speak of the Light as an image of God --of Good—and I like to see it that way. When a Quaker prays for you they will often say “I will hold you in the Light” and that gives a person the sense of being held in warmth and love.

Christmas is the time of Light. The return of the SUN with the winter solstice—the longest night of the year but afterwards the dark  begins to recede and the Light and warmth of spring and new life come again. It is also the return of the SON with the birth of Jesus celebrated at Christmas.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. After 21 years together we have no real need for lavish gifts. We tend to have experiences—go places, see things, participate in life together—and then buy each other some small thing from a charity shop that costs less than £5. This year I got Spiderman a small hedgehog figurine to go with our hedgehog collection and a small carved wooden mouse that looks so like the ones carved on the front pews of the medieval church near by. He got me 2 CDs—Best of the 80s and Best of the 70s with the proviso that I only listen to the 70s one when he is not home. The other thing we do is donate money to a worthy cause. For the past few years we have sent the money we would have spent on each other to my pen pal on death row in Texas.

Christmas is a time for miracles. I have been pulled by a strong worry about the freezing weather and snow and the many homeless in our community. I have been praying that God would show me a way to help. And then the email arrived from Churches Together. One local church was keeping their doors open during the day for homeless and vulnerable people to have a place to go. They would provide hot food and drinks plus games and people to talk to. They needed volunteers. It was as easy as that.

I spent from 2:00 until 6:00 yesterday serving food and chatting with many homeless people. I made some real friends who I am sure will seek me out in town now that they know who I am and know I am up for a chat. That is good. Sometimes being homeless means you aren’t seen as human anymore. You are so easy to overlook and many of  these people need companionship—the warmth of kindness. The Light. I’m going back to day to do the same shift and hope I will see some of the same people again.

I hope this season brings you Light. I’ll be back in a few days with some craft projects.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Aye, my eye!!!

Happy times in the old Spider household. I was just minding my business last night, dozing on the sofa and reading my library book when I chanced to rub my eye and FFFFFTTTTT! Just like that it went up in flames and swelled shut within a few minutes.

Now the whole itchy eye swelling shut thing is a normal sort of thing that happens when I am exposed to animal dander. If I visit your house and you have a pet or I stand next to you in a lift and you have pet hair on your clothes that is a likely reaction. But reading a library book???????????? The only thing we could figure is that maybe the person who had the book before me had pets. I mean once someone handed me a DVD from their pet filled house and my hand went up in immediate hives so anything is possible.

This morning I was greeted by my eye still swollen shut and stuck together with some sort of oozy, crusty glue. Spiderman swears he had no part in this (I checked for bottles of Elmers just lying around) but it took a wet cloth to open up my now bloodshot eye. Joy.

After several minutes with a hot compress I was able to open it and let me tell you I looked rough. Like the unfortunate love child of bug eyed comedian Marty Feldman and the Elephant Man. After some cold compresses of spoon from the fridge I managed to get the swelling down to an acceptable level—now I just looked like I had been punched in the eye.

I dragged my poor self to the chemist to speak to the pharmacist who said that the crusty oozy muck was a sure sign of Conjunctivitis.  Conjunctivitis is inflammation (swelling) of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the transparent membrane (thin layer of cells) that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inner surfaces of the eyelid s (according to NHS online)  Double joy.

I was given a tube of ointment to put IN MY EYE 4 times a day. For the next 5 days. You have squirt it in, close your eye, roll your eye ball around and then open to a weird blurry film over your eye. Good times. But having squidged one dose in my eye it already feels better.

So I am bravely trying to make it through. I shall soldier on.

On a completely unrelated note I have had a massive craving for a grilled cheese sandwich. So we bought some ciabatta bread (which we call Chewbacca bread) and I made a batch of Cashew vegveeta from Dreena Burton’s cookbook and blog  
http://viveleveganrecipes.blogspot.com/2009/03/vegveeta-cheese-dip.html  which we plan on spreading on crusty bread and toasting up in our panini maker for lunch. So it’s not all bad.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Oh Noooooooo!

Do you remember Mr Bill? That old clay character from Saturday Night Live? He and his dog Spot were forever being smashed in some way to plaintive cries of “Oh noooooo! Mr Bill!” in a high squeaky voice. When I found the pattern online for this ornament this is what first came to mind. I found the idea on this website: http://www.elsiemarley.com/pattern-for-a-half-eaten-gingerbread-man.html

Her instructions are easy to follow and I adapted it to make some smaller ones. I made several medium sized ones to give away to friends and family--and promptly forgot to have Spiderman take a photo of them before giving them away. Oh noooooooo!

But here is a photo of the teeny tiny one I made for our Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Our tree is only 3 feet tall so we need small sized ornaments. As you can see someone has been nibbling at his head and leg. The larger ones had more detail that I had to sacrifice for the smaller one, but I still think he is adorable.

You can make one too easy peasy if you follow her directions.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Clove Studded Oranges

This is a treat from my childhood. I can remember do this with my mum. They are easy to make and your house will smell wonderful. There are ways to dry them out using orris root and letting the orange sit in a paper bag for a month, but frankly who wants that? They come out all brown and shrived like the shrunken head of a missionary. This way they look and smell beautiful and when they start to go off put them in your compost and your food scraps will smell heavenly!

You need:
Some oranges
Some whole cloves
A large pin like a safety pin--saves your thumb from getting sore
Some red ribbon (optional but nice)

Decide what pattern you want on the orange. I like to do stripes--single and double row--but do what you like. You can even go crazy and cover the whole thing, but I have not got the patience for that.

Poke a hole with your pin and wiggle it about ever so slightly. A drop of orange oil may appear-- this is good. Pick up a whole clove and shove it in the hole you made. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Etc etc etc until your design is how you like it. You will notice that pushing the clove into the hole makes your thumb sore. Imagine if you didn’t have the pin to make a starter hole! I know you were thinking you’d be all tough and manly and do it without the pin, but aren’t you glad you followed the directions? Because drops of blood from your thumb would spoil it. Ask me how I know this. This is why I use a pin.

Then tie it up with some festive ribbon you happen to have laying about. I am a crafty person so I always have a bit o’ festive ribbon laying about.

It looks pretty enough to eat! And you could, too. You could boil it in some red wine or pomegranate juice (sans ribbon) to make a wassail but I think they make a wonderful centre piece for your table at Christmas.

The View From Our Window

We have had more snow. We are so lucky to live where we do--we have an excellent bay window that we have filled with coloured bottles which overlooks a magnificent view. This is the view in winter. Click on it to see it inmore detail. You can see our Christmas tree and my seasonal tree on the far left all decked out for winter (I change it 4 times a year at the solstice and equinox) I will admit that the winter solstice is not until tomorrow, but it looked a bit funny having the autumn leaves next to the Christmas tree and all that snow so I changed it a few days early.
Isn’t it lovely? If this keeps up we'll have a white Christmas!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Right. Where to begin. I guess first to say that I had the most magical 3 days in London with the Amazing Spiderman (who really lived up to his name) for my birthday. I will write more about our adventures and post some ideas for Christmas craft ideas when this week is over and we have begun the holiday. Right now school is too hectic and I have a chesty cold.

School. That’s where the trouble began. This morning when I walked in I was asked would I be willing to help make mince pies with year 6. My thought was “There will probably be butter in the pastry. Can I handle that?” And the answer was a reluctant YES. I deal with other people’s dairy all the time. Our school fridge is jammed with milk jugs for people’s coffee and tea and I serve milk when I help with refreshments at the Historical Society once a month. I don’t like it, but I can do it as long as I don’t have to eat it. But here is where the trouble began.

I went out to the teacher’s car to pick up the supplies and there were EGGS. Lots of eggs. Who knew there were eggs in pastry? Probably non vegans, but as an omnivore I never made pastry so I don’t know. But the eggs had the words CAGED on top in big letters and I could feel a heaviness in the pit of my stomach as we unloaded. I looked at the small print—my vain hope had been the caged referred to the plastic container—and sure enough it said “Eggs from caged hens.” I felt genuinely sick. I said “Oh, these are caged eggs” and I was wondering what to do when the teacher said “Hell yeah. They’re so much cheaper than free range eggs.” And all I could see were those poor hens crammed up in wire cages living in their own shite having been debeaked with a hot wire and living miserable lives.

We walked into the building and were unloading the supplies. I could not even bring myself to unload the eggs and busied myself with the bags of flour. I knew I would not be able to make it through this. I could feel the tears pricking at my eyes. I knew that as children merrily measured butter and cracked eggs I’d be so po faced that someone would notice and someone would ask. This is my journey and it is not right to impose my beliefs of others—not in this sort of situation. I talk about my vegan and Christian beliefs very comfortably but in neutral conditions and only when children ask me. This would not be an appropriate time or place and I knew I couldn’t do it without saying something. I was sitting in the room crying and trying to decide what to do when another teaching assistant came in and agreed to do it in my place. Thank God for Cheryl.

I never thought I would feel like this. Like I said, I deal with other people’s dairy all the time and cope. But this was different. I know free range is a myth and hens can still have bad lives that way—but battery caged hens live a painful and torturous existence with no redeeming features and to hear the teacher’s callous laughter about it made me feel ill.  

To me the suffering of animals is connected to the suffering of Christ. To knowingly hurt a living creature is like punching God in the face.

I was told afterwards that several children complained that the eggs weren’t free range. That is a step up because children are aware of animal welfare. If only adults could be.

Friday, 10 December 2010

You say it’s your birthday….

.....Duh nuh nuh nuh NUH nuh
It’s my birthday too, yeah

Tomorrow is my birthday. I am one of those people who doesn’t mind growing old. I want to. I want to live a long and healthy life. I am proud to be 41 years old. Spiderman says this is because I do not look it. My hair is free of grey and my skin smooth and unlined. He claims it is like The Picture of Dorian Grey   and that I have a painting up in the attic that ages as I stay youthful. He has even remarked that the painting must be of him because he is grey and lined and I am young and fresh. Silly Spiderman. We don’t even have an attic. I keep the painting under the bed.

Every year since my childhood we have had the tradition to put up the Christmas tree on my birthday. My granny puts it up the day after Thanksgiving but that was always too soon for us. My birthday is about 2 weeks before Christmas and that was just enough time. The tradition stuck when I married and Spiderman and I have added traditions of our own over the years.

Every year we buy or make an ornament so that we have one for every year of marriage. This year will be our 20th one. We also buy a card and writer a message to each other that reflects the last year and our hopes and dreams for the future. These are sweet and sad to read as we went through Spiderman’s cancer and recovery and the death of my father. They are full of hope when we were planning to give up all we knew and move far across the ocean. It was a gamble that paid off because we love it here, we really do.

We make leek and potato soup. For some reason this soup reminded us of England so much that we always made it to remember our love for dear old Blighty and our desire to go back. We had to make it with onions because I could never find leeks in Louisiana supermarkets. Now that we are here, it reminds of what we love and warmth and comfort.

We watch The Muppets Christmas Carol. Once we rented every version of a Christmas Carol that we could find and watched them all back to back and wrote down copious notes about which ones said this bit or left out that bit. Which included dialogue or narration straight from Dicken’s text. We referred to our annotated copy of the book to answer any queries. Because we are geeks like that. But our favourite one is always the muppets. Sure Michael Caine is not the best Scrooge out there (that would probably be George C Scott or Patrick Stewart) but the muppets have all the right dimensions--laughter, joy, sorrow, tears, music and muppets!!! It makes it completely accessible to young people and with Gonzo the Great playing “a blue furry Charles Dickens” you get some of the real beautifully written narration straight from the text that other films try to show. But all you see in those is Scrooge looking all pissed and grumpy  wherein this film you get the words:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and as sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, and self contained and solitary as an oyster.  

Now that is beautiful. And the first scene where you meet Bob Cratchett (Kermit the frog) and Mrs C (Miss Piggy) and their frog and pig brood and Kermit’s nephew Robin playing Tiny Tim--it is played broadly for laughs. But the second time you see them and there is “a crutch without an owner” and you think Tiny Tim is dead it just played so gently and heartbreakingly you forget they are puppets. Kermit says “Life is made up of meetings and partings, that is the way of it.” which is not from Dickens, but might as well be. I am always blubbing by this time and feel so relieved at the end when they say:

Rizzo the rat: And Tiny Tim?
Gonzo:  Tiny Tim….who did NOT die!
Rizzo: Awww, gee that’s swell!

And that is straight from Dickens--well not the Awww gee that’s swell bit, but the other bit. It is written just like that. Tiny Tim who did NOT die. Just in case you were worried. Like me. Even though I know I still worry.

My favourite song in there expresses what I feel in my heart.

It’s in the singing of a street corner choir
It’s going home and getting warm by the fire.
It’s true where you find love it feels like Christmas.
It is, the season of the heart,
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear.
It is the message of the spirit
The message if we’ll hear it
Is make it last all year.

So whilst you guys are reading this I’ll be eating my soup and sniffling my way through the film and looking at my lovely Charlie Brown style Christmas tree and then Spiderman has all sorts of plans and adventures for me over the weekend so I say TTFN.

Ta ta for now.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Two, Four, Six, Eight--How do you exfoliate?

Body scrubs are easy peasy Christmas gifts that can be made with stuff you find in your kitchen and are easily stored in small jars that have been washed out with hot water and the label soaked off. Salsa jars are just the right size for this. They make excellent Christmas gifts. I keep a jar of this in our bathroom at all times. I like to use Fairtrade ingredients if at all possible. It means your gift gives back to the farmers as well.


1 cup Fairtrade demerara sugar
2 TB liquid soap (makes it easier to wash off)
2 TB Fairtrade cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
Oil (I like sunflower oil)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and then add oil until it is as wet as you want it. Store in a wide mouth jar that you have washed out with hot water.

½ cup  polenta (cornmeal)
½ cup ground oats (oat flour)
2 TB liquid soap (makes it easier to wash off)
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp cloves
10 drops orange essential oil (nice but you can leave it out)
Oil (I like sunflower oil)

Make the oat flour by putting some oats in your food processor and zooshing them until they are all powdery. The name says it all, really. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and then add oil until it is as wet as you want it. Store in a wide mouth jar that you have washed out with hot water.

They are good enough to eat, but don’t try it because of the soap in there. It will taste like yack. But if you want one you can eat try this one. It’s like washing your face with cake.


2 TB ground almonds a.k.a. almond meal (look on the baking aisle at your local supermarket)
2 TB dried shredded coconut
2 TB Fairtrade sugar
4-5 TB vegetable glycerine --enough to make a paste.

Glycerine is a by product of the soap industry so be sure you get one labelled vegetable glycerine otherwise it will have tallow in it from animal fat. Craft stores are good about having vegetable glycerine. Glycerine is a humectant--it draws moisture to it. It is completely edible and very sweet--diabetics beware. It is sold in the UK on the cough and cold aisle at Boots for soothing dry, sore throats.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and then add glycerine until it is as wet as you want it. Store in a wide mouth jar that you have washed out with hot water.

I wash my face with this twice a week and my skin is really clear.

Enjoy and yum yum!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Read it and weep

This list originated on the BBC--some of the books are distinctly our side of the pond and I am not sure if their authors are famous world wide (e.g.Iain Banks ), but I could be wrong there. The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here . Which just makes me sad. If you like copy it and mark the ones you have read and email it to me. But don't feel that you have to--this is not some sort of weird chain letter that has been going since 1972 and someone you love will die if you don't send it to the first 569 people you know. Just for funsies, ya dig? 
  Bold those books you've read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read an excerpt. I made a few comments on the way.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen but I have read  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which contains huge passages from P and P but with zombie action—does that count???
 2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
 3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte 
 4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling 
 5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
 6 The Bible
 8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
 9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman Spiderman and I had lunch with him in2002
 10 Great ExpectationsCharles Dickens
 11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
 12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
 13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare  everything but the histories
 15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
 16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien 
 17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
 18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
 19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
 20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
 21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
 22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
 23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
 24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
 25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
 26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
 27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky graphic novel version—does that count???
 28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
 29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
 30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
 31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
 32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens 
 33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis 
 34 Emma – Jane Austen
 35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
 37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
 39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
 40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
 41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
 42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
 45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
 46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
 47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
 48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
 49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
 50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
 51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
 52 Dune – Frank Herbert 
 53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
 54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
 55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
 56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
 57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
 58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
 59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
 62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
 63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
 64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
 65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
 66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
 67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
 68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
 69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
 70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
 71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
 72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
 73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
 74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
 75 Ulysses – James Joyce
 76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
 77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
 78 Germinal – Emile Zola
 79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray bloody hated it
 80 Possession – AS Byatt—no but Angels and Insects by the author
 81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
 82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell              
 83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
 84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
 85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert 
 86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
 87 Charlotte ’s Web – EB White
 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
 89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
 90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton   no but have read her Famous 5 series
 91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
 92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
 93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
 94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
 95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Tool
 96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
 97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas 
 98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
 100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


Monday, 6 December 2010

A Light in the Night

Christmas lights. Love em or hate em? I have a real problem with the lights in Hitchin. All over town centre there are big lights. This year they have expanded and put lights on side streets and further away from town centre. Big metal sculptures covered in tinsel and fairy lights. They have to be hung by blokes in cherry pickers and are turned on every night at dark--which this time of year is 4:15 - 4:30. Soon it will be getting dark at 4:00. They stay on way into the night a-twinkling away in the night sky. The good news is they have replaced all existing bulbs with environmentally friendly LED lights. But here is where the problem comes in. I picked up a leaflet that said:

It comes at a cost and as well as the BID company, thanks are due to Hitchin Councillors, Hitchin Property Trust, the Arcade company and Hammersmatch. Even with all this support we still need to raise £10,000 to maintain the attractiveness of Hitchin.

What???? £10,000 just to run some old lights over December? £10,000 is a heckuva lot of dosh--about £4000 more than I make in a year. There are so many homeless and vulnerable and poor people in the area. Do they know what £10,000 could do for them?

No matter how I try--I cant justify the cost. Particularly with all the freezing weather weve been having there will be homeless people frozen to death soon. It doesnt bear thinking about.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Let it Snow

Weve lived in England for almost 7 years. It has snowed every year, but not until late February and sometimes early March. Im sure if you watch the news (or for my UK mates if you live here) you will have noticed that  weve been snowed in. Some places are blizzards, some knee deep in the white stuff. Thankfully we are only just freezing our booties off with about 1 inch of snow and ice. Today it was -4 degrees C--with a wind chill factor of -8. Our lives are going on pretty much as normal--school still in session and all that.

What worries me is what does this mean for the upcoming months? Will they continue to be this bloody cold? I am worried about Hitchins homeless who have to sleep rough in this weather. A man named  Mark who sometimes sleeps behind our church has a terrible chest infection. I am not sure he can take the cold. He has tried to get into a nearly shelter 3 times and each time he has been turned away---they are overbooked. This may be his last winter. I keep bringing him blankets  and oranges for the vitamin C--he takes the blanket but rolls his eyes at my oranges. I am trying to help him stay well, but it may not be enough.

There are always those in need and we must look out for them if we are in a position to do so. This is one of my favourite carols and really exemplifies what I hope to do with my life.

    Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Thro' the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
Mark my footsteps, good my page;
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Whats your weather like? How do you help the homeless and downtrodden of your city?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Chestnuts roasting on an open oil drum

This is a magical time of year where we wait for the arrival of a very special man. He comes once a year to spread warmth and joy to all who encounter him. No it's not Father Christmas. Nor am I thinking of Jesus at this moment. Do you give up????

It's the CHESTNUT MAN! Every Saturday in December the Chestnut Man appears in our market with his oil drum. The drum has holes drilled in for ventilation and he lights a fire underneath and roasts chestnuts on top. If you have never eaten fresh roasted chestnuts then you are in for a treat. You have to cut a bit into the shell to let steam escape or they will jump around like popcorn! For £1.20 a bag you can buy a serving of hot roasted chestnuts. All you do is peel away the softened shell and munch your way to happiness.

The man knows me by name which should really say something. He also knows I ask for 2 bags because I don't want to share. Today when I went to the market my heart was beating in my chest for fear he would not be there. But he was! Hooray!

I love you Chestnut Man!!! You are one of the traditions that make Christmas special.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Meet Rose Peppercorn

Because I am such a gobby show off who loves dressing up in a costume and swanning about on stage, teachers at my school often ask me to write a monologue and perform it for their class to tie in with their history lessons. This is for year 3 who have been learning about WWII--particularly what it was like to be an evacuee. For those of you who don’t know about what was dubbed “Operation Pied Piper” (and I only had the vaguest sense before moving to the UK) during WWII because England received such terrible bombings of major cities, something like 90% of all children over the age of 5 were sent away to be fostered by strangers in other, safer parts of the country. Many of these city children had never been on a farm before or seen so many trees. Some were cared for by kind and loving people--but others, sadly, were not. It was compulsory to take in evacuees--if you had any spare space you were given a child/children.  Some people resented this job and treated their charges more like slaves.

11 year old Rose Peppercorn lives in London with her working class mum and dad and 13 year old brother Stanley, 4 year old sister Kitty and baby brother Jack.  Her mother fiercely vows she will never send them away. Her father is busy as a fire fighter and is often absent. Stanley (being a boy) is allowed considerably more freedom than Rose who doesn’t care for babysitting or knitting comforts for the soldiers. All she cares about is reading--she dreams of becoming a teacher. But unfortunately, there are no books at home and Rose must do her reading at school.

At first it doesn’t seem like there is a war on. They are given gas masks, but thankfully never have to use them. Things don’t get real until the bombs begin to fall. Being in the Anderson shelter is frightening--you don’t feel very protected from the bombs. Then her school is bombed and the library destroyed. Rose is heartbroken. Her mother asserts over and over that although other children on their street are being evacuated, she will never send them away. Then their house is destroyed by a bomb and everything changes.

They must be evacuated. Her mothers last words are that Rose must look after Kitty at all costs. The train ride to Wales was exciting until Kitty needed to use the toilet. There was no toilet on the train and Kitty has an accident. They arrive in Wales and it is like a slave market and children are chosen by their ability to work. Stanley is chosen to work on a farm.  No one wants Kitty and Rose will not go without her. They are the only children not chosen. The billeting officer drives them around and takes them to an old woman’s house who had not attended the collection of evacuees. Her first words to the girls are “Come in. I didn’t ask for you. I don’t want you, but come in anyway.” Rose and Kitty are forced to share a small room and sleep in the same bed.  Kitty still wets the bed and Rose is teased at school for smelling bad, but the lady refuses to wash her clothes. They are fed very little and are always hungry. The woman is very cruel and chains Kitty up outside like a dog because “Even puppies can be housetrained. If she is going to act like an animal then I will treat her like one.”

The next day Rose complains about their treatment and the billeting officer comes to remove them, but they must be separated. Rose does not see her sister again until the end of the war--5 years later.

Rose is taken to a retired teacher’s house to stay. The woman is kind and allows Rose to call her Auntie Gwennie. She indulges  Rose’s love of reading and encourages her to go to university after the war.

It has been 6 years from the start of the monologue and Rose is now 17 years old. Kitty is so grown up she didn’t recognise her. Stanley has decided to stay in Wales and continue farming. Her baby brother Jack died during the war, but she has a new sister named Victory. Her father breathed in lots of smoke and now has black lungs and cannot breathe and therefore cannot work. The mother takes in washing, but it is not enough money. Stanley says he will send some money from the farm every month, but it is not enough to feed the family. Rose is told she must go to work to put food on the table. It ends with the words:

“All my dreams of university….of becoming a teacher…of reading every book in the world….gone. Gone. All because of the war.”

 Here is Rose looking very worried about being evacuated. You can click on the pictures to make them bigger if you really want to see the detail (and a close up of our slightly messy flat) You can see in the photo I am wearing my evacuee label. All children were tagged before they left home. The tags had their name, a number assigned to them and were stamped with their final destination.

The monologue runs 25 minutes and afterwards will follow a session where children can as me questions and I will answer as Rose. It is always great fun for me and the kiddos.

I should say that every detail in the monologue is true--in the sense that it happened to a real person who then recounted their memories in one of many books I used as research. The whole things takes about 6 weeks to put together from research, writing, finding the costume, memorising it, staging it and finally performing it--which I am doing TODAY at 9:30. Woohoo! Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

T’is the Season

I love December. I love the ritual counting down of days until my birthday and Christmas. I love the smells of Christmas like clove studded oranges that I’ll make in a few weeks. I get all crafty in December. I spent all afternoon making a cheap advent calendar from some coloured construction paper--fondly called “destruction” paper in my household. Advent calendars are big in the UK. They have little doors that you open every day with a piece of chocolate hiding behind it. But they are almost always made with milk chocolate by a company like Nestle that we boycott. (If you want to see why we boycott them click here: http://www.breastfeeding.com/advocacy/advocacy_boycott.html .) But this is a simple crafty one made with old fashioned paper chains stapled or glued together in a tree shape. You cut off a loop each day until Christmas. What fun! I tried to number the loops but quickly realised that they are so interconnected that you might cut off number 12 and 13 and 14 would fall off! Damn my poor spatial maths abilities!  But luckily I just slid the numbered loops around to face the wall and didn’t sweat it. This isn’t meant to be perfect--just fun.

December is all about traditions for me. We have an advent candle that has the numbers 1 - 24 on it and every day you burn down one more day until you get to Christmas. Every night we burn down a number and read from a booklet I prepared of Christmas/holiday/winter poems and readings then we cut a loop from the paper chain tree and snuggle up to watch a Christmas episode of our favourite shows on dvd. Tonight we watched The Black Adder Christmas special where Ebenezer Blackadder was the kindest man in all of England. As the song in the opening credits suggests:

He’s always kind unto the sick
He’d never spread a nasty rumour
He never gets on people’s wick
And never laughs at toilet humour 

He is routinely taken advantage of until one night is visited by the Ghost of Christmas (played by a splendid Robbie Coltraine)  who has a “drop of something a wee bit medicinal” and shows him visions of his baddie ancestors. This completely turns him around and he becomes the nasty, sarcastic Blackadder we all know and love. Huzzah!

Over the course of the month I’ll show you some of the crafts I do like making ornaments, clove studded oranges and some easy and cheap pressies you can make. I’ll also showcase any of our holiday baking.

We’ve got trips planned galore this month so stay tuned for reports on all the comings and goings from the Spider household.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Vegan MoFo

This has been Vegan MoFo--Vegan Month of Food where vegans all over the world blog what they eat so people can see we don’t just eat sticks and leaves and that compassionate eating can be delicious.

Things I have learned this month:

I really need to learn to use the new camera. Spiderman took all the lovely pictures and was getting a wee bit testy by the end snapping pix while the food was getting cold.. Thank you Best Beloved for all your help!

I really like broccoli. A lot. I didn’t even think I did like broccoli but in August we ate some tenderstem broccoli and it was love at first bite. I cannot get enough of its greeny goodness. Then I discovered roasted broccoli and it was all I thought about. I even dreamt of its crunchy goodness. We have eaten broccoli 7 times in one month. That may be a record.

That my food is beautiful food. That the colours and flavours are exciting and everything tastes so fresh and delicious when there is no suffering on your plate.

That we eat well. We eat a diet high in fruit and vegetables-we get way more than our 5 a day. That we eat a diet high in whole foods--not processed foods and that we eat home cooked meals 99% of the time.

When you know about animal suffering--it just makes sense to follow a cruelty free diet. There are people who say to me “I don’t want to know because I don’t want to give up foods I love.” well let me tell you, there are plenty of foods out there that are delicious and way better for you than animal products. They don’t cause suffering and taste great. Hope you’ve enjoyed the recipes and see you next Vegan MoFo!

Monday, 29 November 2010

BBQ Tempeh with potatoes and roasted broccoli

We had a bit of tempeh hanging around in the fridge as well as some broccoli that needed to be used up. There were local new potatoes I had bought on the weekend that wanted using as well so I threw this together with a bit o’ BBQ sauce for a tangy, down home flavour. I also slow cooked some onions until they were brown and caramelised to go with the boiled potatoes and roasted broccoli. I threw a yellow pepper in to quick roast as well as it was just hanging out in the crisper feeling lonely. 

A word about BBQ sauce. Everyone has their favourite brand that can be squeezed from a plastic bottle, but I have yet to find one that didn’t have lots of High Fructose Corn Syrup or Glucose-fructose syrup or loads of unnecessary fillers. It is just about as easy to whip this one up in the time it takes for you to dig around in your overcrowded fridge or pantry and find that bottle with the crusty screw top because the last person who used it didn’t wipe it down only to discover that the bottle expired last summer..

This recipe is adapted from a tiny book called Vegan A Go-Go by the lovely tattooed Sarah Kramer that was a Christmas gift from our friend Karen. Here is a picture of it sizzling in the pan in front of my beloved vita-mix blender. Doesn't it look scrummy?

BBQ Sauce
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
3 TB tomato puree (paste)
3 TB maple syrup (I cheated and did 2 TB maple syrup and 1 TB agave cos I ran out of MS)
2 TB molasses--preferably blackstrap as it is a bigger source of iron
1 TB Dijon mustard
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp liquid smoke

I can’t find liquid smoke here so I just shook in about 10 shakes of smoky Chipotle Tabasco.

Stir together and heat until bubbling. That’s it. I poured it over tempeh that had been browned and had the onions, potatoes and roasted veg on the side. BBQ sauce makes it feel like summer instead of these “arctic winds” and snow we’ve been having. Finger lickin’ good.

Walnut Crusted Quiche with Roasted Broccoli

I loved quiche in my omni days. We used to visit a restaurant called La Madeleine that had all this gorgeous, rustic French food. They also served strawberries Romanoff which we have veganized --but that will be a post for summer when the strawberries are in season.

But you can’t make quiche without breaking a few eggs, I hear you cry. Fear not, dear reader, Spidergrrl to the rescue with a quiche made from silken tofu. Seriously. Silken tofu is great when you want a thick pudding-y type texture. You can make a silk pie with it that is to swoon over as well as this quiche. This recipe was adapted from the blog Fat Free Vegan and her post on crustless tofu quiche. http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2006/12/mini-crustless-tofu-quiches.html  I like a bit of a crust and this wholemeal walnut crust delivers a healthy and savoury punch to hold up the delicious quiche. I served it with roasted tender stem broccoli because I love it and can’t get enough of its roasty goodness.

Wholemeal Walnut Crust

Preheat your oven to 180 C/350 F
1 cup wholemeal pastry flour (not bread flour--it’ll be too tough--I used spelt)
½ cups walnuts
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 TB olive oil
¼ cup “milk” I used oat milk
Pulse the flour and walnuts in your food processor until the walnuts are like course crumbs. Then add the baking powder, salt and oil and milk and mix until a stiff dough forms. Press into a greased pie plate (important to grease it!) and bake for 5 minutes.

When you take it out to cool bump up the oven to 190 C/375 F.

Wash out your food processor and let it dry. Then start work on the quiche.

5 sun dried tomatoes (not oil packed) soaked in a bit of hot water
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 small pepper (or half a large one) finely diced
Large pinch dried rosemary
Lots of grinds of black pepper
4 strips smoked tofu, diced--I used Taifun smoked tofu with almond and sesame

In a greased pan saute the onion and pepper until soft and add the black pepper and rosemary and drained sundried tomatoes and tofu. Stir to coat with spices and then set aside.

In the mean time while the above stuff is sizzling in the pan work on the quiche.

1 box firm silken tofu put into a clean tea towel and squeezed over the sink to get rid of some of the water. Squeeze until it looks like crumbly ricotta. I used Mori Nu brand
¼ cup “milk”
2 TB nutritional yeast
1 TB arrowroot or cornstarch
1 tsp sesame tahini
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp turmeric (for colour)
Psst salt

Whiz all this together in your handy dandy food processor until it looks completely smooth and custard-y. Pour this into the pan with the rosemary onion, pepper, sundried toms and smoked tofu and mix well. Spoon into the crust and bake for 40 minutes.

Then you can work on your broccoli. Drizzle a bit of olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil to ring the changes) and black pepper and sea salt. When the quiche comes out it needs to sit for 10 minutes to firm up so crank up the oven to 220 C/ 425 F and roast that broccoli for 8-10 minutes until it’s all sizzle sizzle and roasty toasty. Then serve!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sticky Asian Buffalo Tempeh with Roasted Veggies

Have I mentioned how much I love my Vita-mix blender? Yes, we paid nearly a month’s salary for it, but it has something like a 2 horsepower motor and it does everything. I mean everything. Besides just heavy duty blending it can make soup and ice cream (not at the same time obviously) and we use it at least twice a day. We make a power smoothie for breakfast and I use it for cooking dinner in the evenings. I love my vita-mix and as Spiderman always says, the vita-mix loves me too. This is a recipe from the cookbook that came with my blender. This Asian Buffalo Sauce is a low fat but flavourful twist on traditional Buffalo wing sauce. That’s according to the blurb at the bottom of the recipe. When I was an omnivore I never ate Buffalo wings so I can’t say how this compares, but I can say it is delicious. I wanted something quick so I made it with barley couscous and roasted broccoli and carrots. Done and on the table in about 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to  220 C/ 425 F

To prepare the tempeh:
Cut an 8 oz packet tempeh into strips and boil for 10 minutes in water with a splash of tamari soy sauce and a blop of marmite to take out any bitterness and infuse the tempeh with a bit of flavour. While that’s boiling make your sauce in your blender.

Asian Buffalo Sauce 
¼ cup tamari soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp (or more) Tabasco or hot sauce of your choice
2 TB agave syrup
1 orange peeled and pulled into segments
Piece of peeled ginger as big as your thumb (I used 2 tsp BART ginger paste)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 inch strip orange peel
Stick it all in your blender and blend until the orange is completely pulped. I guess you could use a food processor for this if you don’t think your blender can hack it.

When the tempeh is done drain it and let it cool while you get your vegetables sorted. I just wanted some broccoli and carrots. I drizzled them with olive oil and massaged it into the broccoli. Then I  ground on some pepper and sprinkled on some sea salt.

Heat a non stick skillet and when it is hot enough for the tempeh to go in put the vegetables in oven and set the timer for 9 minutes. Cook the tempeh on medium high until browned. Keep flipping so all pieces get browned. In the mean time pour some boiling water over your couscous and set aside. Use whatever kind (we like barley) and however much you want. Just do it like it says on the packet, ya dig?

When the tempeh is browned then pour the sauce over it straight from the blender and let it heat up and bubble. The agave will caramelise in the hot pan and go all gooey. It will look a bit runny, but it thickens up as it cools. Remove from the heat and wait until the timer goes off and the veg are smoking hot and roasted and all brown and crunchy/crispy. Fluff your couscous with a fork and you’re good to go. Quick and easy and tangtastic (there’s that word again. If I use it enough the OED will adopt it, I feel sure) Enjoy!