Friday, 30 March 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--Lon Po Po (1989)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

Last week we looked at a version from China called Grandmother Wolf. This week’s version is a variation on that same tale entitled Lon Po Po (Lon meaning wolf and Po Po meaning grandmother) translated and illustrated by Ed Young. This book was awarded the Caldecott medal for best illustrations in 1990.
                   Image result for lon po po
I considered lumping these two tales together as they are both Chinese and feature Grandmother Wolf, but this darkly illustrated story really deserves its own post.

There are many similarities to last week’s tale such as there are three sisters who outsmart the wolf. There is also the same “death by ginkgo” for the wolf.  There are differences as well such as Lon Po Po doesn’t contain the scatological scene from Grandmother Wolf.  In Lon Po Po one of the sisters says "your foot has a bush on it" when she touches the tail and when the claws are touched it is remarked "your hand has thorns on it."  Many of the lines are nearly the same ("The chickens are in their coops") which suggests the Ed Young was highly influenced by the other version.

There are several videos where someone reads the terrific tale of Lon Po Po while showing you the pictures. If you bought the book with the audio CD, you would have heard the story performed by the great actor BD Wong. I found a version of this online, but it was audio only. If you want to hear his voice, I will include a link to it below. 

I chose a version that shows the pictures as well as tells the story.

The BD Wong version. it really is the best reading of it. Such a shame it is audio only.

Stay tuned next week for a tale from Korea featuring a tiger posing as the mother of three sisters. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

What We Ate Wednesday--Vegetable Frie(n)d Rice with Roasted Chickpeas

Hello lovelies! I sometimes like to browse recipe sites on my tablet in the evenings and look at all the pretty pictures of food and dream of cooking them in my tiny kitchen.

Sad, I know. But delicious, too.

Minimalist Baker is a blog that I often take inspiration from. I was just a-looking at recipes when I saw her recipe for fried rice which looked delicious and full of things we love and  ingredients I had on hand, so I thought I would give it a whirl.

Interesting fact:  for some reason I always  type the words FRIEND rice instead of FRIED rice. Every. Single. Time. So, in my mind, this is Friend Rice.

Anyway, the recipe was initially supposed to be made with tofu, which I have no doubt would be *amazing.* But as I have said before, a packet of tofu for one meal costs me around £2.09. I made this with roasted chickpeas which cost me 50p (Lidl was sadly out of the tins that cost 33p.) But even 50p is a savings compared to £2.09.

Is it less authentic with chickpeas? Sure. But was really tasty? You betcha.

If you can afford tofu, then by all means use it. Minimalist Baker has a great technique for drying tofu in the oven to really get all the water out and then frying to make it crispy. If you want to try her tofu techniques you can go HERE to get instructions.

Instead, I just roasted a tin of chickpeas that had been drained and rinsed. I added a TB of oil and a TB of tamari (or soy sauce). They came up savoury and crispy and yum.

So, as Spiderman will tell you, I cannot seem to cook a recipe without adapting it slightly. That is just my nature. I don't just mean substituting cheaper chickpeas for more pricey tofu, either. I added ginger root because.....ginger root. Plus, I cut the rice back from 1 cup to half a cup and added more vegetables and mushrooms.

It made two really full bowls with half a cup of rice. Next time (and there will be a next time) I may bump it up to 3/4 of a cup of rice or maybe just add more vegetables. If I was sharing this with company (instead of two greedy vegans) I would definitely use the full cup of rice and double the sauce, because we like things saucy in the Spider household.

Frie(n)d Rice Adapted from a recipe by MINIMALIST BAKER
Preheat your oven to 200C/400F

Follow the directions for drying out tofu if using (see link above) or drain and rinse a tin of chickpeas.

Put the chickpeas in a large roasting pan and add a TB of oil and a TB of tamari or soy sauce. Stir to coat. I used sunflower oil, but I bet toasted sesame oil would make it even more amazing and complement the flavours in the Friend Rice.

Roast for 30 minutes, stirring halfway.

The rice-y bit:

Cook however much brown rice you want.....we used half a cup for two people, but you could double it for four. My easy cook brown rice takes 25 minutes (or there about) to cook, so I started the rice when the chickpeas went in the oven.

Meanwhile, make the sauce.

The Saucy bit:
3 TB tamari or soy sauce
1 TB peanut butter
a few cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Now, cook the veg.

The Veggie bit:
When the rice is nearly done, cook the veg. In a large pan cook the following in a splash of oil or a splash of water. I used water as I had used oil to roast the chickpeas.

1 diced onion
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
half a (red) pepper, diced
some finely chopped ginger root (about a TB)
a couple of button mushrooms, sliced (optional)
half a cup frozen peas

Cook the veg until softened and then add the peas and stir until the peas have defrosted and warmed up. Add the cooked rice and stir to mix it all up and then mix in the sauce. Heat until the rice and veg and sauce are piping hot, then mix in the roasted chickpeas. Top with some roasted peanuts  for garnish.

This was fairly quick and easy to make and completely delicious. All the flavours that we like. I hope someday to try it with the tofu, but would happily eat it with chickpeas if that day never comes.

We like it quite saucy (Ooo-er, Mrs) so were happy to have half the rice and the full amount of sauce. Personally, if I made it with more rice, I would double the sauce.

So my dear friends, enjoy your Friend Rice.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--Grandmother Wolf (China)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week I want to continue looking at variations on Little Red Riding Hood from other cultures or countries. This is another version from China. Last week was a digression away from the traditional wolf into leopard, but now we are back to the familiar character of  a wolf. 

I cannot find any information as to how old this tale really is. We can be certain that it was told orally many hundreds of years ago, but the version that I found in print was published in The Water-Buffalo and the Tiger. Folk Tales from China (Second series) in 1980 with illustrations by Mi Gu.

In this version, it is not one but three siblings who outsmart the wolf that is posing as their grandmother. It bears some resemblance to the 14th century French version due to the excuse to relieve oneself plays a part in their escape. Also, we don’t have the traditional “what big somethings you have” and “the better to whatever you with, my dear” refrains of European versions, but you do get some questions and answers about Grannie's unusual body parts. For example, the Grandmother Wolf sit on a basket to hide her tail while pretending she has a boil on her bottom and can’t sit on a chair. Later when they are all in bed (again, shades of the 14th century version) the wolf claims that the bushy tail they can feel is a bit of jute rope she has brought with her and her claws are an awl she has brought for making shoes.

I like this version because the children outsmart the wolf on their own and are not shamed into compliance by a heavy-handed moral as in European versions.
Image result for ginkgo nut tree
Ginkgo nut tree
Grandmother Wolf
Once upon a time there lived a woman with three children. One day, as it was grandmother's birthday, the mother went back to see her, leaving the three children at home.
 "Sheng, Dou, Boji, my sweet babies," she said to them before she left, "now mind you're good while I'm away. Be sure to shut the door and latch it tight when the sun goes down. Mama won't be back tonight."

      No sooner had the mother left than an old wolf who lived in the mountains heard the news.

      When dusk fell, this old wolf, disguised as an old woman, came to their house. "Rap, rap!..." she knocked at the door.

      "Who's there?" asked Sheng.

      "Sheng, Dou, Boji, my little darlings, it's your grandmother."

      "Oh, grannie," said Sheng, "mama has gone to see you."

      "To see me? Well, I must have come one way while she went another," said the wolf. "I never met her."

      "Grannie," asked Sheng, "why do you come at this hour, so late at night? Why didn't you come earlier?"

      "The way is long but the day is short. By the time I got here, it was already dark," the wolf replied.

      Sheng suspected something from the voice. It did not sound like her grandmother's, so she said: "Grannie, grannie, why is your voice different today?"

      "Grannie's got a cold. My nose is stuffed up and I can't speak properly!" answered the wolf, going on cunningly. "Dear children, it is dark and windy out here. Open the door quickly and let grannie enter!"

      Sheng was still suspicious and wanted to ask more first, but Dou and Boji were impatient. One released the hatch and the other opened the door wide. "Grannie, grannie, come in!" they shouted.

      As soon as the wolf stepped into the house she blew the light out.

      "Grannie, we need the light in the room! Why did you blow it out?" asked Sheng.

      "Grannie's eyes are sore, I cannot bear the light," replied the old wolf.

      Sheng felt for the bench and pulled it forward for her grandmother to sit on.

      As she flung herself down on the bench, the wolf hurt her tail and cried out with pain.

      "What is the matter, grannie?" asked Sheng.

      "Grannie's got a nasty boil, dearie. I think I'll be better sitting on this basket," answered grannie, sitting down again as she spoke. Her tail hung down inside and knocked the sides.

      "Grannie, what is that noise in the basket?" asked Sheng.

      "That's a hen grannie brought you," was the answer.

      Sheng stretched out her arm to catch the hen but the old wolf hurriedly stopped her, saying: "Don't touch it or it'll fly away across the river."

      Dou and Boji went to the wolf, and wanted her to pick them up.

      "What a nice child! So plump and fat," said the old wolf, stroking Dou. "And what a sweet baby you are, Boji, so pretty and healthy." She put her front paws around Boji and said, "Dear child, grannie loves you! Grannie's going to take you into her bed tonight!" She pretended to yawn and said: "All the chickens are in their coops and the sleepworm is in my head. Come on, my dear children, bed time!"

      The wolf took Boji with her, and Sheng took Dou. The wolf and Boji slept at the one end of the bed, and Sheng and Dou slept at the other.

      Sheng put her legs out straight and felt a big fluffy tail with her toes.

      "Grannie, grannie, whatever's that fluffy thing on you?" she cried.

      "Grannie makes jute rope, you know," answered the wolf. "I brought along a bunch of jute with me."

      As Sheng moved her arm, she touched the sharp claws on 'grandmother's' feet.

      "Grannie, grannie, whatever makes your feet so prickly?"

      "Grannie sews shoes, and always carries an awl with her."

      Sheng lit the light and saw that 'grannie' had hair all over her head and face. Frightened at the light, the wolf hurried to blow it out. Sheng thought of a way to escape, and quickly sat 
up, holding Boji. "Ah," she said, "Boji wants to wee-wee!"

      "Let her do it under the bed," said the wolf.

      "She can't! There is the God of the Bed under there," said Sheng.

      "Let her do it by the window then," said the wolf.

      "There is the Window God there," answered Sheng.

      "Behind the door, then," said the wolf.

      "There's the Door God there," was the reply.

      "Go out to the kitchen!" said the wolf.

      "There's the Kitchen God," said Sheng.

      "Take her outside then," said the wolf.

      "Dou, Dou," yelled Sheng, "take Boji out, she's got to go."

      So Dou took Boji out.

      "Grannie, grannie," said Sheng, "have you ever eaten gingko nuts?"

      "What's gingko?"

      "Oh, it is wonderful! It is as soft and tender as a baby's skin and if you take but one piece you will become a fairy and live forever."

      "Does it taste better than human flesh?" asked the wolf.

      "Yes, much better."

      "Do you know where you can get it then?" asked the wolf.

      "Oh yes, it grows on trees," said Sheng.

      "Oh dear! Grannie is old, and her bones are stiff! She can't climb trees," said the wolf with a sigh.

      "Dear grannie, I'll pluck some for you."

      "That's my sweet child!" said the wolf, very pleased. "Get me some as quick as you can!"
      Sheng jumped out of bed and ran out to find Dou and Boji. She told them about her plan, and the three of them climbed up a big tree.

      Back in bed, the wolf waited and waited. Boji did not return, nor did Sheng and Dou, and no one brought her any gingko. She lost patience, got up and ran out, shouting: "Sheng, Dou, Boji! Where are you?"

      "We're up here on the tree, eating gingko nuts, grannie!" said Sheng.

      "Get some for me, my dear child!" demanded the wolf.

      "Grannie," said Sheng, "gingko is a fairy fruit. It changes when it leaves the tree. You will have to get up here, or else give up any thought of eating it."

      "Oh, grannie," called Dou, "this gingklo is lovely!"

      The wolf paced backwards and forwards under the tree, her mouth watering. There was a pause and then Sheng said, "Grannie, grannie, I have an idea. There is a wicker-basket by the doorstep, and a piece of rope behind it. Tie the rope on the basket, bring it over here, and then you can sit in it and throw the other end of the rope up to me. We'll pull you up here."
"Good child! That's a fine idea!" said the wolf, cheering up, and going over to get the basket and the rope.

      She threw the rope up to Sheng, and Sheng began to pull her up. Half way up, she let go, and down fell the wolf, getting a bad shaking.

      "Oh!" cried Sheng, pretending to be sorry. "I'm not very big, nor very strong. Poor grannie! You must be badly hurt."

      "Grannie," said Dou, "let's try again. This time I'll help sister to pull."
      The wolf had only one thought: she wanted the gingko, so she got back into the basket again and Sheng and Dou pulled on the rope together. They pulled the basket up higher this time before they let go of the rope. Down it went again with a heavy thud. This time the wolf broke one of her legs and hit her head. She was very angry, and began to swear terribly.

      "Don't be so upset, grannie!" begged Sheng.

      "One gingko nut will make you quite well again," said Dou.

      "I'll help my sisters to pull!" put in Boji.

      "This time we'll be sure not to fail," said Sheng.

      With a terrible curse, the wolf threw herself into the basket again. "Be careful, be careful!" she howled. "I'll make you sorry! I'll bite your heads off, one by one."

      The children all held the rope and pulled for all they were worth. "Hai-yo, hai-yo," they sang as they hauled. Up went the basket...higher than the first time...higher than the second time...and still higher, until it was thirty feet from the ground. Stretching out her front paws, the wolf could almost reach the branches of the tree.

      It was just then that Sheng gave a cough. They all three let go together, and the basket crashed down. The wolf's skull was broken and her stomach split open.

      "Grannie!" called Sheng. There was no answer. "Grannie!" called Dou. Still no answer. 

"Grannie!" called Boji. No answer. The children all climbed over to have a good look at the wolf. She was quite dead.

      They scrambled down the tree happily, went in and shut the door, latched it tight and went to sleep in peace.

      The next day their mother returned. She brought back lots of nice things for them to eat from their real grannie.

      As they sat enjoying the sweetmeats, they told their mother all about their adventure.

Stay tuned next week as we look at a second version of this same tale, beautifully illustrated and retold by Ed Young.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

What We Ate Wednesday--Good Gravy

Hello lovelies! I don't know about you, but a good gravy makes every dish better.

Maybe not *every* dish. I mean you wouldn't put gravy on ice cream.

Or would you? No, that would be weird.

Let me rephrase. A good gravy makes MANY dishes better. Roast dinners. Mashed potatoes. Mmmmm....mashed potatoes.

I never made meat gravy before I was vegan. I probably ate it. I ate gravy other people provided, but had no idea how it was made. A lot of my omnivore days were like the US military--DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL. Basically, I ate lots of things as long as I didn't have to know what was in them. I became increasing uncomfortable eating animals that looked like animals. A chicken has a leg and  I have a leg...making the connection...wait! Don't ask, don't tell! I ate lots of chicken strips because strips aren't a body part.

Anyway, back to gravy.

To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor--A Good Gravy Is Hard To Find. 

I have tried vegan gravy powder...convenient, but too salty. I used to make one that was a creamy gravy made with cashews, but it got expensive (and was just ok, if I am honest.) I had a great recipe for a flavourful gravy from a cookbook by Dreena Burton, But it had thirteen (count 'em, 13!) ingredients and like the cashew one required a blender. I went without a decent blender for two years after I accidentally broke my beloved Vitamix blender. I could blend it up in my inferior blender, but it took about ten minutes to collect all the ingredients, measure, blend for ages in my crappy blender, put all ingredients back where they belonged--which for me is the next room because my kitchen is so small. It just wasn't worth it.

So, I went to Google and started looking for a recipe.

And I found it. The Holy Grail of gravy. It was delicious, few ingredients, easy to make and no blender required. My Vitamix has been repaired, but i don't need it for this. I can whack out the gravy really quickly whenever I need a bit of some deliciousness. And did I mention it is fat free? I am not fat phobic by any means -- we need fat in our diet -- but this gravy tastes scrummy without it, so I can save my fat for something like dessert.

The recipe I adapted my gravy from is from Brand New Vegan  and you can read the recipe HERE.
Their recipe uses whole wheat flour, but I used rice flour. So, all you folks who don't have to be GF, can just you whole wheat flour.

Good Gravy

1/4 cup rice flour (or whole wheat flour if you are not GF) 
2 TB Nutritional Yeast
1 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
2 cups Vegetable Broth 
2 TB Tamari or Soy Sauce 
Optional: 1/2 tsp Marmite (I use Tesco brand Yeast Extract as it is Gluten free and not owned by Unilever) 

1. Add ¼ cup of flour, 2 heaping Tablespoons of Nutritional Yeast, 1 tsp onion powder, ½ tsp garlic powder, and ½ tsp black pepper to a small saucepan.

2.Whisk the dry ingredients together over med-low heat until they become toasty, no more than a few minutes. It will start to smell all toasty and delicious.

3. Slowly stream in the veggie broth and whisk to remove any clumps.

4. Now add the tamari or soy sauce and the optional marmite and stir to combine.

5. Simmer on med-low heat until bubbly and thickened

That's it. I think this gravy would travel well. Sometimes Spiderman and I rent a self catering place on a holiday. You could bring all the dry ingredients in a container and some tamari or soy sauce in those travel shampoo bottles (clean ones...not ones that have previously had shampoo in them, obviously!) Then you could make gravy on holiday. 

I have searched far and wide for a vegan gravy that is easy, cheap and delicious with a short ingredient list and this one wins--hands down--every time. 

Man, that's some gooooood gravy. 

Friday, 16 March 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--The Leopard (China, 1914)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week I want to start looking at variations on Little Red Riding Hood from other cultures or countries. The Chinese folktale The Leopard was published in 1914 in Chinesische Volksmärchen (Chinese Folktales.)

I have no doubt it was passed down orally for many generations, but this is the first recorded version of this tale I have come across. It was collected and published by Richard Wilhelm who was a German theologian and missionary who lived in China for 25 years, became fluent in spoken and written Chinese, and grew to love and admire the Chinese people. According to Wikipedia, he is best remembered for his translations of philosophical works from Chinese into German that in turn have been translated into other major languages of the world, including English.

It is unusual in that the villainous animal is not a wolf, but a leopard (as the title suggests), although I have seen a different translation which called him a panther, but the story was the same.

It is also unusual in that the leopard disguises himself as the mother rather than grandmother. Interestingly, the mother was on her way to visit the grandmother, so there is a grandmother in the story. Alas, the mother and younger brother are eaten on their way to visit Grandmother, which is why the leopard returns to the house in the guise of the mother to try to eat the remaining children. However, he hadn’t counted on the cleverness and bravery of the daughters. With the help of local merchants, the girls plan a series of booby traps (weirdly reminiscent of the film Home Alone) and attack the beast when he returns the following evening.

It also contains the curious lesson: Never let a leopard comb your hair. 
                      Image result for leopard china

The Leopard

Once upon a time, there was a widow who had two daughters and a little son.
 One day the mother said to her daughters: "Just you take care of the house! I will go to Grandmother with your little brother."

      The daughters promised to do so. Thereupon the mother set off. Along the way she met with a leopard who asked where she was going.

      She said: "I am going to my mother with my child."

      "Wouldn't you like to take a rest?" the leopard asked.

      "No," she said, "it is late already, and the road to my mother is far."

      But the leopard kept on talking to her, and finally she gave in and sat down along the side of the road.

      "Let me comb your hair a bit," said the leopard.

      So the woman let the leopard comb her hair. As he was combing her hair with his claws, 
he ripped of a piece of skin and devoured it.

      "Stop it!" the woman shrieked, "That way of combing hurts!"

      But the leopard ripped off an even bigger piece of her skin. As the woman was about to shout for help, the leopard grabbed her and devoured her. Then he turned to her little son and also bit him to death. He got dressed in the clothes of the woman and put the child's bones which he had not eaten yet in her basket.

      Thus he went to the woman's house, where the two daughters were, and he called at the door: "Open the door, daughters! Your mother has come."

      They looked through the chink of the door and said: "Our mother does not have such big eyes."

      Then the leopard said: "I was at Grandmother's and saw how her chickens laid eggs; I was so happy that my eyes have become big."

      "Our mother does not have such spots on her face."

      "Grandmother did not have a bed, so I had to sleep on peas; these have pressed into my face."

      "Our mother does not have such big feet."

      "Nonsense! That's because of the long walk. Now open the door!"

      Then the daughters said to one another: "She must be our mother," and opened the door. 

But when the leopard entered, they saw it was not their mother after all.

      In the evening, when the daughters were already in bed, the leopard gnawed at the little 
boy's bones which he had taken along.

      Then the daughters asked: "Mother, what are you eating?"

      "I am eating beets*," replied the leopard.
 Then the daughters said: "Mother, give us a bit of your beets too! We are so hungry."

      "No," replied the leopard, "I will not give you anything. Be quiet and go to sleep!"

      But the daughters kept on begging until the false mother gave them a little finger. Then the girls saw that it was their little brother's finger, and they said to one another: "Let's run away quick, otherwise she will eat us too."

      So they ran out of the house, climbed into a big tree that stood in the yard, and called to the false mother: "Come outside! We can see the neighbour's son celebrating his marriage." 

However, it was in the middle of the night.

      Then the mother came outside, and when she saw them sitting in the tree, she called angrily: "But I cannot climb!"

      Then they said: "Sit down in a basket and throw the rope up to us so we can pull you up!"

      The mother did as she was told. But as the basket was halfway, they swinged [sic]it to and fro and made it bump against the tree. Then the false mother had to change back into a leopard again, in order not to fall down. The leopard jumped out of the basket and went away.
Gradually it became morning. The daughters climbed down, sat down in front of their door and cried for their mother. Then a seller of needles passed by and asked what they were crying for.

      "A leopard devoured our mother and brother," the girls said. "Now he is gone, but he will surely come back and eat us too."

      Then the seller of needles gave them some needles and said: "Stick them into the cushion on the chair, with the sharp ends turned up." The girls thanked him and kept on crying.

      Then a catcher of scorpions passed by and asked the girls what they were crying for.

      "A leopard devoured our mother and brother," the girls said. "Now he is gone, but he will surely come back and eat us too."

      Then he gave them a scorpion and said: "Put it behind the hearth in the kitchen!" The girls thanked him and kept on crying.

      Then a seller of eggs passed by and asked what they were crying for.

      "A leopard devoured our mother and brother," the girls said. "Now he is gone, but he will surely come back and eat us too."

      Then he gave them an egg and said: "Put it in the ashes underneath the hearth!" The girls thanked him and kept on crying.

      Then a tortoise merchant passed by, and they told their story again. Then he gave them a tortoise and said: "Put it in the water jar in the yard!"

      Then a man who sold cudgels passed by and asked what they were crying for. They told him their sad story. Then he gave them two wooden cudgels and said: "Hang these above the gate door!" The girls thanked him and did as they were told.

      When it became evening, the leopard came to their house. He sat down on the chair in the room, but the needles in the cushion stabbed him. Then he went into the kitchen to make a fire in order to see what had stabbed him, but his hand got stung by the scorpion. And when he finally had lighted the fire, the egg burst and got into his eyes, and blinded one of his eyes. Then he walked into the yard and put his hand in the water jar to cool it down. Then the tortoise bit off his hand. In great pain he ran out of the gate door into the street, when the wooden cudgels fell down on his head and beat him to death.

*In the translation entitled The Panther, it was turnips rather than beets.

Stay tuned next week for another  story from China entitled Grandmother Wolf. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

What We Ate Wednesday--What I ate on my trip to the US

Hello lovelies! I recently spent two weeks in the US visiting my daughter and two delightful grand daughters.

Let's just start by saying, that no one in my American family is vegan or eats as healthy as we do. However, my daughter was a complete star--reading labels for unhealthy ingredients and animal products--and allowing me to fill up her fridge with vegetables and use her kitchen.

I haven't travelled back to the US since 2011. I had forgotten just how hard it is to find food without High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and hydrogenated oils. They are literally in EVERYTHING.

All the more reason to eat a whole food plant based diet while I was there.

Which was considerably more expensive than in the UK. I can completely see why families struggle to feed their kids healthy, nutritious food when produce costs so much and McDonalds cost so little.

If I had been at home, I would have cooked more adventurous meals, but I was not at home. I was far from home and having to use someone else's kitchen. So this is what I bought:

roasted garlic in a jar
bottle wheat free soy sauce
bottle of lemon juice
red potatoes
big bag of kale
tins of chickpeas
tins of black beans
tins of kidney beans
small tin of sweetcorn
stock cubes

Now, my mum gladly lent me some spices from her cupboard so i wouldn't have to buy any. However, if I hadn't had a mum who lived a few streets away from my daughter's house I could have brought a few spice jars with me or just bought the minimum spices I needed. The minimum I could have used were these:

Italian herbs

Would more variety have been nicer? Sure. But that was the minimum. I could make lots of recipes with those. My mum included a few more like curry powder and my daughter had some Creole seasoning I borrowed because it was there.

So, how did I start my day? With Overnight Oats. My wonderful stepdad Carl bought me the following ingredients ahead of time and brought them to my daughter's house, so when I woke up the next day after 27 hours of travel, there would be breakfast. Carl and I both get HANGRY (hungry + angry) so he was a life saver. I made my Overnight Oats with:

Quaker rolled oats
almond milk
apple juice
frozen mango

If I had been home I would have added chopped nuts, maybe some coconut and definitely some chia seeds. But I was trying to keep it cheap.

Because I am secretly a Hobbit, I always have Second Breakfast.  We found some vegan and gluten free frozen waffles and some organic syrup made from agave, maple syrup and cinnamon that were free of hydrogenated oils or HFCS. I baulked at the price of both, but my beautiful and generous daughter bought them for me. They had frozen waffles in their freezer too, and we could all sit down and "eat the same thing" together. For extra "staying power" I ate my waffle with a spoonful of peanut butter and the syrup.

After breakfast, I would drain and rinse a tin of beans and add some seasonings, put it into a reusable container and pop it in the fridge for lunch. For lunch, I would eat HALF of the spicy, marinated beans and then for supper I would cook onion, garlic, peppers and add in the remaining marinated beans plus cooked potatoes and kale. Because the beans were different every day, it tasted like a new dish every time.

I should also say that I cooked about 3 days worth of red potatoes in vegetable stock (from the exorbitant organic stock cubes I bought) and refrigerated them. then every night I just tossed a handful into my pan and reheated them.

Some of the variations I ate were:
magic beans made with kidney beans (4 TB nutritional yeast flakes--I had brought them with me in my suitcase--1 TB oil and 1 TB soy sauce)
chickpeas with 2 tsp cumin and 2 TB lemon juice
black beans with sweetcorn with cumin and paprika
kidney beans with Creole seasoning
chickpeas, 1 TB soy sauce, 1 TB lemon juice 1 tsp Italian herbs
black beans, paprika and defrosted frozen mango

Cumin lemon chickpeas with onion, pepper, garlic, potatoes and kale

We decided to try to eat some "family meals" together, even though we both ate vastly different things. We managed this two ways:

Spaghetti night. They had meat sauce and regular pasta, I had marinara sauce and GF pasta. I used some nutritional yeast flakes that I had brought with me in my suitcase as a Parmesan cheese on mine.

Brinner (Breakfast for Dinner) We made grits to share, frozen waffles of our individual sorts and they had scrambled eggs and i had scrambled tofu. I had to improvise on the tofu, but a splash of soy sauce, some nutritional yeast flakes and a shake or two of mum's curry powder (for colour) and it was all good.

We did eat out a bit. Many lovely friends wanted to see me and unfortunately, the only place in town that has a play area is McDonalds. Not my first choice (or my second...or my third) but with two preschoolers, you need a play area. On these occasions, my daughter and her kids ate there and  I brought a pack lunch of marinated beans and my cutlery roll where I can bring my own silverware and thereby avoid single use plastics.

Don't get me started on single use plastics. Can you believe there is STILL no recycling in my hometown????? I felt like I was committing a crime with every item that I had to throw away that I knew could be recycled. *Shudder.* Also, I was shocked at how several shops did not like me taking in re-usable bags and Every.Single.Shop. gave me a plastic bag whether I wanted it or not. (Even after I would preemptively shout "No bags, please!").

I could rant about this for days...perhaps in another post. It has made me come home to my beloved Wales and vow to be even better about my plastic use. I am really trying to reduce our plastic there may be blog posts on that that follow.

Anyway. Back to food.

If you are a vegan and must eat out in a fast food establishment in the US, Wendy's supposedly makes an awesome salad with roasted edamame(if you get it without chicken) and you can get a jacket potato. I was never able to try this  as they lack a play area for two frisky preschoolers. (see above) On my way out of town to drive to Houston to the airport I did eat at Taco Bell. If you order the crunchy corn taco shells it is GF and ask for beans instead of beef and "fresco style" you get pico de gallo instead of cheese and sour cream. It's not gourmet, but it is at least vegan. I had better luck here than at a really nice Mexican restaurant I went to with my cousin's family. Despite me repeatedly saying (and other members of the table saying) to the waiter about just bringing the VEGETABLES THAT COME WITH FAJITAS AND NO MEAT....I still got meat in there. Blech.

I also ate at an Olive Garden where I had a nice salad (sans croutons) and some GF pasta with marinara. I brought some nutritional yeast flakes in a small container for Parmesan. it was OK. Not brilliant...but edible. I ate at a fantastic independent Lebanese restaurant named Jerusalem  where I got velvety hummus and cucumbers (in lieu of pita bread) and some flavourful beans (that were good but too oily for my tastes.) I had a lunch at the Oriental Wok with my sister-in-law and her husband. I had remembered them having a huge array of vegetarian dishes, but hadn't counted on the fact that we had to order solely from the lunch menu. There was less choice. Well, one choice. I got Kung Bo tofu in a spicy sauce...and that was all I could eat. I couldn't eat the soup (not vegan or GF) or the eggroll (ditto) and the fried rice had egg. And maybe sausage. Who knows. I asked if I could get some fried rice without "stuff" in it and was told NO. it was already made. I am really spoiled as our friend and landlord owns a Chinese restaurant around the corner from our house and he often generously gives us free meals. He *always* makes sure we get vegan fried rice.

So, did I eat healthily on my foray back to the land of my birth? Yes. Mostly.

Was I able to escape HFCS and hydrogenated oil? No. Not completely.

Did I manage to have any treats while I was there? Yes. Quite a lot. I had to do a sugar detox when I came back. I found a few types of sweets that you could buy at the Dollar Store.

Image result for peanut butter logs
my Texas granny always had these peanut butter logs

Image result for chick o stick
Chick-O-Sticks taste like a naked Butterfinger

We also found a no bake cookie bar recipe that was both vegan and GF, plus free of the things I didn't want to eat. It was extremely decadent and sweet, but easy to do. We made it twice (twice!), one time with the munchkins helping with the measuring. The other time we made it and didn't tell the kids and just ate it all ourselves. FACT. 

Peanut Butter Krispie Squares

Melt in a pan:
1.5 cups peanut butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup Karo corn syrup (not to be confused with the UK I'd say use Golden Syrup or Brown Rice Syrup as it needs to be a thick syrup)

When melted, pour over 5 cups Rice Krispie type cereal. Stir until coated and then spread into a foil lined pan. Score some lines in there and refrigerate until firm. 

We used expensive Sugar in the Raw because white sugar in the US is not vegan on account of being processed through bone char. 

Did I enjoy my time in the US? You bet. I loved seeing my daughter and her kiddos and my mum and stepdad. I saw several lovely friends who gifted me with many wonderful gifts (mostly spider themed...they know me well.) 

Was I glad to get back to the UK? Hells yeah. I missed my Spiderman something fierce and I was glad to get back to affordable produce, recycling and sugar you don't have to think about not being vegan. 

Now I just need to go recycle something to do penance for two weeks of throwing so much away.  

Friday, 9 March 2018

Fairy Tale Friday--Little Red Riding Hood Re-Told (Britain, 1927)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday.  Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week we are looking at a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood by Carnegie Award winner Walter de la Mare. It was first published in his book Told Again in 1927.

His version is the only one I have come across that address the burning question: what exactly is riding hood? Countless tales say she wears a riding hood, but she never goes riding. Is it for horse riding? Is it for riding in a carriage? It always seems to be pictured as attached to her red cloak, but it appears that the hood is separate as her mother makes it for her out of a small strip of cloth.

This story immediately reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf which you can read HERE if you’d like. Both tales set up their heroine as a vain and shallow clothes-obsessed young girl who was probably quite tedious to be around due to her always banging on about how beautiful she looked and using a spoon as a mirror to check herself out. You know the type.

Both versions set the heroine up for a downfall based on their selfishness and vanity, but Walter de la Mare’s version does it tongue in cheek while Andersen sends her straight to HELL (that’ll teach her!) Andersen was rather moralistic in his tales. The Red Shoes spring to mind—she so admires the red shoes that in church instead of thinking of Jesus, she is thinking about how cute she looks in her red shoes. This causes her to be CURSED and have to dance without stopping until she falls down DEAD. She ends up begging the executioner to chop off her feet and lives a life as a cripple with wooden feet until she repents her wickedness.  You can read this tale of extreme vanity HERE

I bet Andersen was a hoot at parties.

And what is it about the colour red that makes these women lose their common sense?

Anyway, back to this story. Little Red Riding Hood (who is indeed wearing a riding hood, not just a red cap) is not only vain but greedy too. She can’t wait to offload the basket of goodies and fill it with the jam tarts she knows her Grannie will have in her cupboard. She is so excited thinking of the tarts, she forgets to wave goodbye to her mother.

The moment the woodcutter cuts her free from the wolf, she rushes straight to the mirror to check that her hair isn't mussed. So clearly, she hasn’t learned her lesson.

De la Mare ends it on a humorous note. Poor Grannie who had been on her deathbed, gets a second wind after being so warm and compressed inside the wolf. It did her rheumatism a world of good and she lived another twenty years until the age of 90.

The only other thing to look out for in this version is the archaic use of the word faggot meaning a bundle of sticks. In the US I only heard it used in a derogatory way against homosexuals and only saw it used to mean a bundle of sticks in fairy tales. In the UK, however, it is still in current use to mean a sort of pork meatball made of offal (hearts, livers, etc). A butcher’s shop on the corner of a nearby street from our flat advertises for pork faggots and there is a brand of frozen faggots you can buy called (rather unappetisingly) Mr Brain’s Pork Faggots. Just a bit of linguistic trivia for you.

                      Image result for little red riding hood illustration
The only online version of Walter de la Mare’s tale that I can find is a PDF that was scanned from the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature. Click HERE to read the story.

Stay tuned next week for a version from China where two sisters outsmart a leopard who has eaten their mother and brother and returns home posing as their mother. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

What We Ate Wednesday—Pizza Soup and Garlic Cheese Bread

Hello lovelies! This week’s recipes were happy accidents.

My friend Emma and I went to the FREE Book Shop (seriously, it’s totally free! It’s like a charity shop, but free! You are allowed three second hand books per day. Did I mention they are completely FREE?) It’s run by volunteers and their goal is to keep books out of landfills and to promote reuse and recycling. It’s amazing.

So, Emma and I went and one of the three free books I got was a cookbook for vegetarians on a student budget. Many of the recipes for vegan, so I decided to take it home.

In there, they had a recipe for tomato and red lentil soup which looked good, but it had no herbs or spices. I decided to use their basic recipe and add pizza spices and it was a huge success.

I was just going to make some of my 5 minute flatbread  with garlic butter on top, but then remembered I had some Quick and Dirty Cheese Sauce adapted from HERE  in the fridge leftover from when we had pizza and I thought I’d substitute cheese sauce for the yogurt and see what happened.

What happened was the bread was AMAZING.

The picture does not do it justice.

This comes together really quickly if you have the cheese sauce made in advance. It needs to be cold, so do your cheese ahead of time and you can make this in about 30 minutes.

Pizza Soup and Garlic Cheese Bread

Make your cheese sauce:

1 TB vegan butter
6 TB nutritional yeast flakes
1 TB flour (I used rice flour)
¾ cup non dairy milk
¼ tsp each garlic powder and onion powder
½ tsp salt
Shake of turmeric and smoked paprika for colour
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. While it is melting whisk everything else together in a small jug. When butter is melted, slowly stream in milk mixture, whisking constantly until heated and thickened. Let cool and refrigerate.

The soup:

1 chopped onion
1 grated carrot
Garlic to taste
Half a chopped pepper
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 TB tomato puree (paste)
50g (1/3 cup) red lentils, rinsed and picked over
400ml vegetable stock
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
1 tsp each basil and oregano
3 TB nutritional yeast flakes

Cook the onion, carrot, pepper and garlic in a splash of oil or water until softened then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. 

When cooked, puree smooth with an immersion blender.

Meanwhile, make the cheese bread.

Cheese Bread

Move your oven rack up close to the top. Preheat your grill/broiler. I set my temperature to 220C/425F.

Line a pan with parchment paper.

In a small sauce pan melt 1 heaping TB of vegan butter and a clove of crushed garlic.

In a bowl sift together:

200g (1.5 cups) gluten free flour mix or regular flour
3 tsp baking powder
½  tsp xanthan gum (only if using GF flour)
½ tsp salt to taste

Then add:

2/3 cup cold cheese sauce
¼ cup water

Keep adding water a TB at a time until the flour is no longer wet. It took considerably more 
water than when I make it with yogurt. Don’t panic, just keep adding and stirring. This will eventually result in a rather sticky dough.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces using wet hands and form circular patties with your hands approx. 5mm thick. Or do what I did and make 5 breadstick shapes.

Brush with the garlic butter you melted a minute ago, and top with a pinch of flaked sea salt.

Grill/broil for approx. 3-5 minutes on each side (depending on the strength of your grill) until lightly golden and puffed up. I always do 5 minutes per side. Don’t forget to brush with garlic butter when you flip.

It is amazing how this puffs up under the grill and goes all crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and golden brown and yum. The cheese flavour was really strong, and the garlic butter gave it a WOW factor.

We will definitely have this again. It made 3 bowls and the soup recipe could be easily doubled if serving a crowd.. 

But there won't be enough cheese bread, because I will have eaten it all myself. Sorry!