Monday, 30 January 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--O, the Wind and Rain

Hello and welcome to part ten of Murder Ballad Monday.

This week we continue to explore versions of Child ballad 10 (The Twa Sisters) where the young girl’s bones are turned into a fiddle. Last week, I shared with you a version of The Wind and Rain by Paul and Kim Caudell. This week’s song is another variation of the Wind and Rain and is sung by Peggy Seeger, a well-known singer who hails from a family of folk musicians, most notably her half-brother the renowned Pete Singer.
 Image result for peggy seeger
Elisabeth Higgins Null says on Peggy’s Bandcamp page:

Peggy says she learned this American version of ancient ballad, The Two Sisters (Child #10) from her brother Mike Seeger.. Mike picked the song up from Kilby Snow, the Appalachian autoharp master.

Kilby Snow's song omits a key part of "The Two Sisters:" He eliminates the sororicide and [turns it into a] "murdered sweetheart" rendition. The miller fishes her out and makes a fiddle from portions of her body. The fiddle, as it always does when appearing in this ballad, plays just one tune, "Crying The Dreadful Wind and Rain." Snow says he learned the song from his grandfather, a Cherokee, when he was very little. He reconstructed what he heard from memory. This may help explain the atypical elimination of the sisters from the plot. (Editor’s note: I have yet to find a copy of Kilby’s version.) Mike Seeger restores the sororicide motif and has the oldest sister pushing the youngest into the river because a suitor gives the younger girl preferential treatment.

Peggy's version takes the tune of the other two versions and retains most of his story. The focus is on sibling rivalry and the descent of "two sweet sisters side by side" into jealousy and murder. After the fiddle is built and plays its woeful tune, we suddenly view life from the drowned woman's perspective: "Yonder is my sister sitting on a rock/tying my Johnny a true lover's knot." The fiddle has not specifically alerted others to the crime, ultimately bringing the murderer to justice. It rarely does so in American versions of "The Two Sisters." In a song where evil is unavenged, Peggy increases our discomfort by having the murdered girl witness her sister's amorous victory.

I chose this version because it is an American version of The Wind and Rain and because Peggy Seeger sings it. Personally, I don’t like this version. I am not that fond of a modal dirge, but that was not the point of this exercise. I wanted to expose myself (and other interested people) to as many variations of Child Ballad 10 as possible.

I have included the lyrics below if you would like to follow along. Listen to it here:

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

Name of ballad: O The Wind and Rain
Performed by: Peggy Seeger
O, the wind and rain.
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain. 
Number of sisters: two
Where did they live:  doesn’t say
Appearance described as: n/a
Sweetheart:  Johnny
Excuse to go to the water: to go fishing
Body of water: river/brook
“Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”: no
Miller and child: Yes
Mistaken for: n/a
Described in death: no
Who finds her on the bank: a fiddler man
Instrument she becomes: fiddle
Body parts used:  thirty strands of her long yellow hair, little finger bones, little breastbone
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: yes
Do the strings sing individually: no
What does the instrument sing:
O, the wind and rain
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.
Is the sister punished:
No—the song just has the fiddle watching her sister while singing Yonder's my sister sittin' on a rock
Tyin' my Johnny a true-love's knot.

Here are the lyrics so you can follow along if you wish. I have eliminated the refrain so it won’t be so long.


Early one morning in the month of May
O, the wind and rain.
Two sisters went a-fishing on a hot summer's day
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Two sweet sisters, side by side
O, the wind and rain
Both of them want to be Johnny's bride
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Johnny gave the young one a gold ring,
Didn't give the older one anything

The sisters went a-walkin' by the water's brim
The older one shoved the younger one in

Shoved her in the river to drown
And watched her as she floated down

She floated on down to the miller's dam
Father, father, there swims a swan

The miller ran for his driftin' hook
And pulled that poor girl from the brook

He laid her on the bank to dry
A fiddler man came walkin' by

He saw that poor girl lyin' there
He took thirty strands of her long yellow hair

He made a fiddle bow of her long yellow hair,
He made fiddle-pegs of her little finger bones

He made a fiddle of her little breast bone
With a sound that could melt a heart of stone,

And the only tune that fiddle could play 
O, the wind and rain
The only tune that fiddle would play
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Yonder's my sister sittin' on a rock
Tyin' my Johnny a true-love's knot.

So, that’s it for version ten of The Twa Sisters. Stay tuned next Monday for version eleven. 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Earworm That I Used To Know (Four ways)

Do you know what an earworm is? You know that song you can't get out of your head?
Image result for earworm

Spiderman would say that an earworm is a BAD thing. But I like it. I routinely become obsessed with a song and then hum or sing bits of it over and over and over to myself.

I don't even notice I am doing it.

Spiderman notices.

I don't think Murder Ballad Monday has been easy on him.

However, I am currently obsessed (Obsessed, I tell you!) with Somebody That I used To Know by Gotye (feat. Kimbra). I love the song, but am completely enamoured with the video.

I had always pronounced his name Got ya! Like Gotcha, but without the cha. Apparently, it is actually pronounced Go-Tee-Ay. You know, like Jean Paul Gaultier. Who knew?

But back to the video.

I adore this song and video so much.

  • I love the way the volume is so extreme--practically a whisper and then a shout. 
  • The way he sings at the beginning without seeming to move his upper lip, the music barely sliding out of the corner of his mouth. 
  • I love the way on the shouty chorus his mouth changes from a tiny crevice to an enormous cave. He's like a wide mouth frog. I have tried lip-syncing this song in front of the mirror and cannot, for the life of me, get my mouth to be this cavernous. 
  • I love the duel perspectives in the narration. 
  • I love the way she stands beside him and shouts her bit into his ear and he flinches.
  • Of course, the paint. I love the paint. I want to be painted like that. 
Watch the video here to see what I am talking about:

.  Isn't that bloody amazing???

OK, so while I was playing this song on repeat (when Spiderman was at work--I didn't want him to murder me) I discovered there was a Star Wars parody!!!! It is all about the travesty that began with The Phantom Menace.  You know what I'm talking about. Like Simon Pegg's character in Spaced ranting at that kid in the comic shop who wanted to buy the Jar Jar doll. "You weren't there in the beginning! You don't know how good it was! How important!"

In my opinion, the only good thing that came out of The Phantom Menace was Weird Al's The Saga Begins to the tune of American Pie.

So watch the Star Wars That I Used To Know  right now:

Isn't that brilliant??? I just love that they even made George Lucas do Kimbra's shoulder shrug!! Plus I really love that the whole background was slowly becoming a green screen.

Then, if that wasn't enough, I found a cover version of the song by Walk Off the Earth. The song is good, but the video is fantastic. Five people play the same guitar and sing. Yes, you heard me right. Five people simultaneously play the same guitar. Watch it here and be amazed:

That's pretty impressive, right? But wait. It gets better. The Key of Awesome has done a parody of the Walk Off the Earth version, complete with five people sharing a guitar, but for a very different reason.
Watch it here and be ready to laugh:

Now, you have an earworm too! However, I can't be held responsible for what might happen if you go around humming this to yourself all day.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

What We Ate Wednesday Tin Rip-Off Soup

Hello lovelies! It's What We Ate Wednesday again! Last night we had "clean out the fridge curry" which was delicious. Basically some potatoes, mushrooms, half an onion, a quarter of a pepper, a shrivelled up carrot and the scrapings from the bottom of the jar of curry paste.

But I neglected to get a photo before it was all in my belly.

So, instead I thought I would show you something else we ate last week. I like to call it Tin Rip-Off Soup because I am totally copycatting this Baxter's soup.

Now, I refuse to actually buy this soup because it costs something like £1.50 a tin. But I was always intrigued because the soup is accidentally vegan/gluten free and contains lots of things we love to eat.

I *knew* I could make it for less than £1.50 a serving. My soup makes a huge amount--enough to feed us over two days. it goes even further served over brown rice or  Anadama Bread.

The ingredients on the back of the tin are:
Water, Carrots, Butternut Squash (10%), Butter Beans (7%), Haricot Beans (5%), Sweet Potato (4.5%), Red Peppers, Onions, Yellow Split Peas, Celery, Edamame Beans (Soya), Cornflour, Lime Juice, Coconut Cream, Sea Salt, Coriander, Salt, Garlic Purée, Ginger Purée, Cumin, Red Chilli, Sugar, Yeast Extract, Turmeric, Black Pepper, Onion Powder, Potato Starch, Acid (Citric Acid), Lovage Extract, Nutmeg, White Pepper

I figured I could definitely make something along those lines and I was right. So here is my adapted version.

Tin Rip-Off Soup
You need:
1.5 lb sweet potatoes, butternut squash or a combination of both , diced small
1 onion, diced small
1 red pepper, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
lots of garlic
about a TB worth of ginger root diced or grated
1 tsp each ground cumin, turmeric, red chilli flakes, smoked paprika, garam masala

1 tin full fat coconut milk (Lidl sells the best ones--about 79p and nearly 100% coconut cream)
4.5 cups boiling vegetable stock
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over for small stones
1 TB sriracha hot sauce

1 cup defrosted frozen edamame
1 tin butterbeans, drained and rinsed
3 TB lime juice
1.5 TB liquid sweetener--I used golden syrup as we were out of agave and it was fine

1. In a large saucepan, saute the onion, pepper, carrot in a bit of oil until softening then throw in the garlic and ginger root.  Toss in your sweet potatoes/butternut squash and stir.
2. Add your spices and stir to get everything coated with their deliciousness.
3. Add your boiling stock, coconut milk, red lentils and sriracha and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and the squash is done.
4. Stir in the edamame, butterbeans, lime juice and liquid sweetener and stir until heated through.
5. Serve over rice or with Anadama bread. Or both. The slight sweetness of the molasses in the Anadama really compliments the soup. I used to make it with spelt, but these days make it gluten free and it is still delicious. Get the recipe for Anadama bread here:

If you need to feed a bigger crowd, add an extra cup of stock and another tin of butterbeans and serve over rice.  This will definitely please everyone.

And it didn't come from a tin.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Murder Ballad Monday-Wind and Rain

Hello and welcome to Part nine of Murder Ballad Monday.

Like last week, this version features the bones being turned into a fiddle. This version is one that “crossed the pond” and you often find Americans singing a variant of it. The particular version I am sharing today is set in Ireland (the lyrics say the two sisters are from County Clare), although it seems to have an American flair to it. This version is entitled Wind and Rain and is sung by the folk duet of Paul and Kim Caudell.
Image result for paul and kim caudell
When I looked at the frequency of instrument occurrence in Child Ballad 10, I discovered that there are 21 variations of Child ballad 10 (lettered A to U) and only six mention a fiddle, the rest mention her being turned into a harp.  Child ballads  E, D, F, I,  R and  O all mention an instrument maker using her body parts to make a fiddle that sings of its own murder. Child ballad I and E do not mention the actual creation of the fiddle, but merely that a fiddler took her hair. Child ballad I says a fiddler took her yellow hair “and the first song the fiddle played “it was my sister threw me in.” Child Ballad E is incomplete and simply ends with a fiddler taking her hair, and so we never discover if the instrument sings by itself.

Looking into versions of The Wind and the Rain, I have discovered there are several different variations of this song. Next week I will explore another version of this song.

I chose this version because I like the simplicity of it and the close harmony. However completely ignore the fact that it says under the video that it is a SCOTTISH ballad as it is set in County Clare which is in IRELAND. I have included the lyrics below if you would like to follow along.  Listen to it here:

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

Name of ballad: The Wind and the Rain
Performed by: Paul and Kim Caudell
 Oh, the wind and rain
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain 
Number of sisters:
Where did they live: County Clare
Appearance described as: One was dark and the other was fair
Sweetheart: the Miller's son
Excuse to go to the water: none given
Body of water: river
“Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”: no
Miller and child: mentioned as a sweetheart, not as the one who found her body                             
 Mistaken for: n/a
Described in death: "dead on the water like a golden swan"
Who finds her on the bank: fiddler
Instrument she becomes: fiddle
Body parts used: long finger bones, long yellow hair, breastbone                                                      
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: no
Do the strings sing individually: no
What does the instrument sing:

Oh, the wind and rain
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain    
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 sisters of county Clare,
Oh, the wind and rain
One was dark and the other was fair,
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain
And they both had a love of the miller’s son,
But he was fond of the fairer one.

So she pushed her into the river to drown
and watched her as she floated down.

And she floated till she came to the miller’s pond
dead on the water like a golden swan.

As she came to rest on the riverside                                                                                          
her bones were washed by the rolling tide.

And along the road came a fiddler fair
and saw her bones just a lying there.

So he made a fiddle peg of her long finger bone
he a made a fiddle peg of her long finger bone,

and he strung his fiddle bow with her long yellow hair.
he strung his fiddle bow with her long yellow hair,

and he made a fiddle of her breast bone,
he made a fiddle of her breast bone.

But the only tune that the fiddle could play was
oh, the wind and rain
the only tune that the fiddle would play was
oh, the dreadful wind and rain

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

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  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.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A Song Will Rise

There is a song by Bob Dylan called When the Ship Comes In that tells about the tide turning and a different way of thinking coming out on top. My favourite version is by Peter, Paul and Mary and you can listen to it here:

It begins with:
Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
’Fore the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in

Have you ever felt that way, friends? Where you feel that catch in the air before the storm? Sometimes a storm brings trouble and destruction, but sometimes the old ways need to be destroyed to make way for the new. 

There is so much darkness in the world, but there is also so much light.

The world is asleep, but the world is waking up.

The word is full of cruelty, but the world is full of compassion.
Image result for vegan
Being vegan, for me, is being part of the light. It means being fully awake to the needs and desires and rights of ALL others (animals and humans) and not just what benefits myself. It means choosing compassion over cruelty. It means leaving old ways of thinking behind and looking towards a better, brighter future.

The song says:
And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean

Every year on New Year's Day the Carmarthen Hunt parades through town on their horses wearing their "finery." They makes a show of themselves letting their hounds run loose, then collect money before they go out on a fox hunt.
Image result for fox hunting ban
Now, I should point out that fox hunting with dogs has been ILLEGAL since 2005. These hunters (and indeed all fox hunting associations across the country) routinely break this law. They are allowed to follow trails and often "accidentally" stumble across a real fox, and the hounds who have been starved for several days before the hunt tear the poor, terrified fox apart.

Recently, in Castlemorton, the Ledbury Hunt was chasing a terrified fox who tried to hide in a badger hole. The hounds were digging it out (which is breaking the law as it is illegal to interfere with a badger sett) and when hunt saboteurs tried to intervene one of the terrier men attacked a hunt sab and beat him so bad he had to go to hospital.

This is darkness. Senseless violence against animals and people.

The song continues:
A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in

What happened in Carmarthen during the parade was nothing short of a miracle. There were nearly a HUNDRED people there to protest against blood sports. I spoke to a man who was from West Wales Animal Aid who nearly cried when he saw the turnout. He told me that ten years ago it was just him and another bloke against 50 riders. This time there were nearly a hundred of us and only a dozen or so riders. I am also told that the numbers of spectators were down as well this year.
Image may contain: 1 person, walking and outdoor
gathering before the parade

The song ends with:

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in

Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharoah’s tribe
They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered

That is what it felt like. That the dream of a more compassionate world was coming true. That more and more people are waking up and finding their higher selves, their heart of compassion. 

It made me believe that Love is winning. That someday soon, those who choose cruelty and callousness and selfishness will wake from their beds and realise that that world had turned against them. They will see that a life of LOVE and LIGHT defeats a life of HATE and DARKNESS. They will decide to join us in a more enlightened world, or they will go the way of the dinosaurs. 

This is my hope for 2017:
May we be the light in the darkness.
May we defeat hatred with love.
May we make the world better for everyone who lives on this planet.
May we speak for the animals who have no voice and speak with the people who are suffering who do.

Our ship is really coming in.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Murder Ballad Monday- The Twa Sisters

Hello and welcome to part six of Murder Ballad Monday.
Image result for malinky far better days
Today I want to share a version of Child Ballad 10 by a group called Malinky. They are a Scottish folk band specialising in Scottish songs and were formed in 1998. Their version entitled The Twa Sisters is from their 2015 CD Far Better Days. This one is very unusual because it really is written in Scottish dialect (much like a non anglicised version of the one I read in 1981). But what makes this the most unusual is this:
According to the CD booklet:
"This is a Swedish version of the weel-kent ballad which Steve Byrne translated into Scots. We first heard this during a tour of Sweden in 2003 when we were introduced to the music of the band Folk och Rackare, as Malinky had been advertised as "the Scottish Folk & Rackare" - namely a band which took old traditional ballads and made them anew. We were delighted to perform a duet Swedish/Scots version with the band Ranarim at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow in 2007. The harp metaphor is often found as a fiddle in Scottish versions."

So here we have our first Scandinavian version of the ballad, but it is sung in Scots!

Here you can listen to Malinky singing a version of this ballad. I have provided the lyrics at the bottom in case you want to follow along. I love that the refrain refers to the "cold, cold weather" because that is so Scottish!  Also, this is the only version I know where the fair sister not perfect. In other versions, the dark sister is the evil one and the fair one is blameless. In this version, the fair one taunts the dark one and implies she is ugly, so you kind of support the dark sister for pushing her into the sea because the fair sister was a bitch.

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

Name of ballad: The Twa Sisters
Performed by: Malinky
Refrain:                                                                                                                                                      Blaws a cald cald weather ower the faim
Number of sisters: two
Where did they live: on the “white sea strand”
Appearance described as: ones was bright as the brightest sun, the other black as the blackest coal. The fairer ones taunts the darker one saying that she will never be as milk white as herself.
Sweetheart: bonniest leman (sweetheart) Does this imply she had more than one?
Excuse to go to the water: none given
Body of water: sea
Does it contain the line “Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”: no
Miller and child: no
Mistaken for: no
Described in death: n/a
Who finds her on the bank: harper
Instrument she becomes: harp
Body parts used: breist bane, gowden hair, fingers sma (breastbone, golden hair, fingers small)
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: “rang wi a voice tae melt stane” (rang with a voice to melt stone)
Do the strings sing individually: no
What does the instrument sing:  This bride she has taen ma fairest leman                              
Is the sister punished: she was “burned intae ashes and she deed” (burned at the stake?)

Here are the lyrics so you can follow along if you wish. I have eliminated the refrain so it won't be so long.
A fermer he bade on the white sea strand
Blaws a cald cald weather ower the faim
And twa fine dochters had this man
Blaws a cald cald weather ower the faim

The ane wis bricht as the clearest sun
The ither she wis black as the blackest coal

We twa maun ging wash in the watter noo
So I micht mak masel sae milkwhite as you

Gin ye wash as the nicht and the leelang day
Ye'll ne'er mak yersel sae milkwhite as me

Syne they baith stood on the white sea strand
So stotted the black ane her sister aff the sand

Oh sister, oh sister help me tae land
An ah'll gie tae you ma bonniest leman

It's weel Ah'll hae yer fair leman
But nae mair upon this green earth ye'll gang

There bade a harper on the strand
He spied in the water a deid body swam

The harper he's brocht her body fair
He's made fae her breist bane a harp sae rare

The harper he's taen her gowden hair
Harpin strings he's made frae her
The harper he's taen her fingers sma
He made the harp pegs frae them sa
He's pit them tae her white breist bane
The harp it rang wi a voice tae melt stane

He's taen the harp tae the merriage fayre
The bride she danced wi a gowd band in her hair

Twa blaws up on the gowd harp rang
This bride she has taen ma fairest leman

On Sunday she sat on the bride stool reid
On Monday she wis burned intae ashes and she deed

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