Saturday, 30 April 2011

I should be so lucky

It’s true. Spiderman and I are competition hounds. I say if you can enter for free then why not? Sometimes it pays off. Spiderman has won us everything from autographed illustrated books to concert tickets to see the Moody Blues with the Baton Rouge symphony to plane tickets to the UK (back when we still lived in Louisiana, obviously). I recently had a bit of success, hoorah! I won some groovy eco stuff from Ecozone in a giveaway from Egg Mag. It's all vegan and free of scary chemical stuff because it uses magnets!
 Check out my stash:
  You put Magnoball in the drum of your washing machine and it magnetically helps prevent limescale from sticking to your clothes making them all stiff as well as helping the dreaded limescale to not stick to your pipes. It claims you can use less detergent using a magnoball which will go on doing it's magnetic thing for 5 years. it retails at £14.99. Not too bad. But what, there's more!

The Magnoloo is a magnetic doo-dah you put in the toilet tank and will prevent limescale from sticking to your loo. We have a terrible time with this and while the magnoloo may not make it better, if it helps it not get any worse I'd surely appreciate it. You get a packet of 2--I suppose this is for those posh people who have more than one loo. We don't so this gives me 10 years worth of use and it also retails at £14.99. But wait, there's more!

We also got a box of kettle descaler that turned out to be my old mate citric acid! I know it works and now have more citric acid to descale my kettle with. There was also a box of washing machine descaler. Bonus! That's a total prize of about 35 quid! Not bad at all!

So I am pleased as punch at my eco freebies and can't wait to try them out because, quite frankly, I probably wouldn't have plonked down £14.99 for any of it--but if it works then I'll gladly plonk down the dosh in 5 years when they run out of magnetism or whatever they do.

Besides I just like saying Magnoloo--it sounds like a superhero. Stand back! This is a job for--Magnoloo!
And if it can defeat the dreaded limescale which is the bain of existence then it really will be a superhero.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Personally Paper Product Free Part Two

More alliteration, jolly good! Now for the one you’ve been waiting for. Toilet paper. I know what you’re thinking, even someone as crunchy granola as Spidergrrl surely must wipe with toilet paper. Nope. Think again. I have used cloth toilet paper (referred to online as “family cloth” --go on google it, you know you want to) for urine for a few years but only recently have converted to using it for everything. Lots of people--particularly families with small children in nappies use it--so why not me? You can even buy posh wipes like these from WallyPop.   

For years I used an old flannel sheet that I cut into squares. But over time it faded and grew stiffer and rougher from the hard water we have and lack of a tumble drier. At that rate I might as well have been using regular toilet paper. So I embarked on a quest to find a solution. I googled “family cloth” and read everything I could get my hands on. Most people were happy to tell you all about how they used it on their baby. How cloth wipes moistened with a bit of warm water and oil cleaned their precious baby’s bottom and they threw used wipes into the nappy pail and washed them that way. Many of these people said their whole family had converted to cloth themselves, but very few people went into details on their own adult personal habits. So I have collated the best of their ideas and plan to tell all. Spiderman, I think, is a bit worried about this disclosure (and wants me to assure everyone this is just me we’re talking about--although I hope to win him over one day) but I think a person needs to be educated. If you knew how easy and clean it was more people would be converted. So here goes:

Flannel is mega soft in the beginning, but only if you have soft water and/or a tumble drier. My experience is it goes all sandpapery which is to be avoided. My choice is fleece.  Not sheep fleece (although I once read something about this man who wiped his arse with a live goose--yuck) but the kind jumpers are made of--polyester fleece. I know some people complain that liquid beads up on fleece but I think this would only be an issue if you were weeing a fountain. The beading up can be solved by dampening the cloth slightly with a spray bottle. More on that in a bit. I have 2 kinds--some polar fleece that my friend who used cloth nappies gave me and some cut up jumpers. I wanted something soft, colourful (because let’s be honest, it is nicer to wipe with something purdy) and something that didn’t ravel in the wash. Also something that dried quickly. Fleece ticks all those boxes.  I bought 2 jumpers from a charity shop--one red and 1 salmon pink. I got them for £1.50 each because it was the end of the cold season and they were making way for summer gear. I cut them up into 6” by 8” rectangles (although the ones from the sleeves are more like 5” by 8”). The yellow fleece with cows used to be used a nappy liners (hence the kid friendly theme) but it was free and beggars can’t be choosers.

I store clean ones in a decorative basket made from woven banana leaves on the back of the toilet. After using one I store it in a mesh laundry bag--the kind for delicates or tights--that hangs up in a hook off the side of the washing machine. This air circulates through the mesh so there’s no smell. Then I just wash them with whatever laundry is going. But what about butt germs? That’s what you are really thinking at this point. I’m not putting butt germs in with everything else. Well, hear me out. This part may get a bit graphic so be warned. Spiderman, avert your eyes.

If you are going to just use them for a little dab o’ pee then what’s the big deal? Urine is essentially sterile. Lots of people just use it for number one--I did for years and if you are anything like me you wee about a dozen times a day. It saves on toilet paper and is softer on your girly bits. That’s fine. But what if you want to try the whole shebang? How do you do it to avoid the dreaded butt germs?

Okay, what you need is rinse system. The reason you use so much paper is because it is dry. Honest. I had to go back to regular TP on the Dr Who holiday and it was murder. You poo, then wipe, get more paper, then wipe, get more paper, then wipe--repeat until you are all covered in linty fluff and your bum hurts from all the rubbing. I know. You thought that’s how it always had to be. But it doesn’t. Rinsing then drying with cloth is so comfortable. But the rinse is the key. People in countries like India have been doing it for centuries, they use their hand to clean, although I advocate a cloth, but the rinsing bit is the part that makes the difference. Don’t you trust your Auntie Spidergrrl?

You need something to rinse with and an empty spray bottle. People from India have a lovely brass pouring pitcher to use but I find that too difficult. If you’ve had a baby and they gave you a “peri bottle” to soothe your torn perineum after birth those work great. I use one of those squeezy mustard bottles. I got it and a ketchup bottle for a total of 50p. I use the ketchup bottle to hold lavender scented vinegar for fabric softener for my wash--but that’s a different story. Fill the spray bottle with water and  glug of light oil (I like sunflower oil) and 3-4 drops lavender essential oil. The oil is there to make wiping easier (and the cloth easier to rinse if you need it) and the lavender is there to make it smell nice but also because lavender is antibacterial it helps cut down on odour or butt germs if you worry about that. 

When you are ready to have your BM fill the squirty bottle with warm water. Then sit down and do the business. When you finish hold the bottle behind you and aim the warm water towards the poop chute. You don’t need to get too close (no fear of contamination of the squirty bottle) the water will just squirt out and rinse. Rinse well. I usually do ¾ of a bottle of warm water. It feels nice because the water is warm. Pick up your spray bottle and give it a shake to mix the oil and water. Then take your soft fleece cloth and give it a few sprays. If it beads up on the fleece you are spraying too close. Move your hand back to allow a light mist to dampen the cloth.  Then give yourself a good old wipe. If you have rinsed well there will be little to no poo to wipe away. 9 times out of 10 there is none. On the occasion you get a tiny pea sized amount of poo on your cloth then give the cloth a quick rinse under the tap. The oil in the water helps the poo to just slide off. But this rarely happens. It fact it happens less and less the better I get at rinsing. Then take another dry cloth and dry yourself. Put them both in your mesh bag to dry and wash your hands.  I can't believe how *clean* I feel afterwards. The rinse really makes a difference. It's like going through a butt car wash. There, now that wasn’t so bad was it?

Now I just wash my fleece rags with whatever wash that’s going. Ewww…I hear you cry. I’m still worried about butt germs. Well, the crotch of your knickers has as much butt germs (more if you leave skid marks) as a wipe. Since I don’t leave skid marks because I have washed myself thoroughly and then dried I don’t feel this is an issue. We haven’t been sick or died yet so I think everything is hunky dory.

Still need convincing? Try these statistics courtesy of one of favourite eco blogs The Crunchy Chicken:
According to Charmin, consumers on average use 8.6 sheets per trip to the bathroom. That's a total of 57 sheets per day and an annual total of 20,805 sheets. There are 230 million adults in the U.S., each averaging a roll and a half per week. Since each roll of toilet paper averages about .5 a pound of paper, that's about 40 pounds of TP per year.

That equals 4.6 million tons of TP used each year. And that's just from adults. To take the calculation even further, if all U.S. adults used only Charmin toilet paper or the like (aka "virgin fiber" with 0% recycled content or post-consumer waste), the environmental cost is approximately (not including the issues with Dioxin):
  78.2 million trees
  1.35 million tons of air pollution
  32 trillion gallons of water
  2.1 trillion gallons of oil
  18.75 trillion Kilowatt hours of energy

All just to wipe your butt. Go green, go cloth! It’s softer on your bits and kinder to the environment.

Spiderman, you can open your eyes now. 

Personally Paper Product Free

How I adore alliteration. But it is true. As of a month ago I am officially paper product free. Not all paper products, surely? You ask. Well read on and find out.

Over the last few years we have fazed out products like paper towels. There simply is no need. We have plenty of rags and towels to do the job. I bought a pack of micro fibre cloths 5 years ago. I cut them into quarters and then hemmed the edges and presto! Scrubby wipes that clean everything from counters to dishes. I know some people would be even more thrifty and use old cut up shirts for rags, but we don’t have heaps of spare clothes that aren’t worn just lying about. We have very little clothes and what we have we wear. I always feel a bit bad that I have so little to donate when there is a clothing drive, but there you go.

Cloth napkins and placemats. I wanted something that was attractive but easy to wash. I made these placemats and matching napkins from a set of curtains I got in a charity shop. They wash up a treat and as I am really messy they are a huge help keeping tomato sauce off my clothes.

Cloth handkerchiefs. My dad was a firm believer and so am I. I prefer coloured ones because we don’t really have any whites--I don’t like to use bleach--and I’ve discovered that I need “man sized” ones. I bought some lovely coloured lacy ones from a charity shop about 6 months ago, but one blow and they’re full, if ya know what I mean. The last time I was in Stevenage I found a pack of coloured ones--purple, striped and plaid for £1. I bought 2 packs and they are perfect. They wash well with dark clothes and will be big enough to deal with the oncoming hay fever season.

Cloth menstrual pads. Okay, technically I am not part of the Princess Menses club since my hysterectomy, but for the 8 years before the surgery I used cloth, washable, reusable pads and I loved it. I was a dedicated tampon user since the age of about 14 and always suffered SEVERE cramps and had periods that went on for up to 8 days. Maybe it was because of the highly irritating bleached product stuck up my sensitive hooha, perhaps? In 2002 I switched to cloth pads and the change was remarkable. Little to no pain--periods shortened to 3-4 days and I never had cramps like that again. Cloth pads are great and easier to use than you think. You soak the used ones in cold water (I used an old teapot I bought at a charity shop) and because blood is heavier than water it all comes out. You can empty the pot into the toilet but if you really want to be an eco queen use it to water your plants. I don’t have plants so it mostly was poured away, but occasionally I brought some to a favourite tree as an offering and once I gave a jar of it away to a friend who wanted to perk up her roses. Then once the pad is soaked free of blood put it into a big container like a bucket with cold water and a few drops of tea tree oil. Empty the bucket water every day then wash with your regular laundry. I washed with towels or clothes--whatever was going. They wash up clean with no staining and are ready to be used again next month. I had a set of about 30--some I bought and some I sewed myself. Now they’re being passed on to a friend who is still in the Princess Menses club. She used cloth nappies (diapers) on her kids and said it seemed no different to when they passed the cloth nappies from the eldest daughter to the youngest.  So there. Speaking of which--I think cloth nappies (diapers) are a brilliant idea. It’s not like when your mum had to do it because there were no other choices. They come in bright colours and wash up easily. It is not as gross as you think.

There’s only one paper product I haven’t mentioned yet. Can you guess? Yup, it’s toilet paper. Toilet paper you gasp? That’s right. I’m devoting a whole blog post to the art of wiping yourself with cloth. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Goodnight, Mistress

I have just learned the sad news of the untimely death of actor Elisabeth Sladen best known for her role as Doctor Who traveling companion as well as having her own series where she played tough talking journalist Sarah Jane Smith in the Doctor Who spin off The Sarah Jane Adventures.

According to the Guardian:

Her character was introduced in 1973 alongside Jon Pertwee's Doctor as a feminist antidote to the traditional "Who girl" who asks dumb questions and screams a lot. Sladen ran with the role and helped pioneer a new genre of female hero in British drama – the feisty yet vulnerable female. She stayed with the show for two years after Tom Baker replaced Pertwee, and returned for the 20th anniversary reunion show The Five Doctors and a short-lived spin-off, K-9 and Company.

She was a true role model. She was there with the Doctor, saving the world along side and not just running down corridors and screaming. She had heart and soul and spunk and she will be greatly missed.

She leaves behind her faithful robot dog K9 as well as hosts of fans and women who grew up to ask questions and not just be eye candy. Women who could be beautiful—inside and out-- while saving the world.

Goodnight Sarah Jane Smith. May you be travelling the stars and be at peace.

Distant lands are not so far away

There are 2 kinds of shoppers in the world. The first kind are those who fly by the seat of their pants (or their stomachs) and shop when hungry and never make a list and just buy what seems good at the moment and can never recall if they have any couscous at home and so buy an extra box to be on the safe side and then get home to find they have 3 unopened boxes lurking in the pantry. You know who you are. Mum, I’m talking about you here. The other sort are those who meticulously plan and make lists and think about what they have in their cupboard before they go gallivanting off to the shops and plan recipes that share ingredients so produce doesn’t go to waste. This is us.

Going on a holiday where you have access to a kitchen is wonderful because you can avoid having to spend all your dosh eating in restaurants as well as making sure the food is vegan. But you don’t want to spend ages in the kitchen on a holiday, do you? Then let Spidergrrl  come to your rescue. This is how we plan our holiday meals to save you money and time without lots of food waste.

First you need to research what sorts of supermarkets there are in the area where you are going. This will determine what recipes you can plan to take. We were lucky on our Dr Who trip that there were several small shops in the town like a Spar and that our preferred supermarket Waitrose was a bus ride away.

Next you need to look through your cookbooks and find recipes that don’t require lots of specialty ingredients. Don’t choose anything--no matter how tasty and easy it is to prepare--if it needs 1 Tablespoon of an ingredient that you would have to buy and then would never get used for the rest of the week and then couldn’t easily be gotten home and would be wasted. I had to leave behind many of our favourite recipes that needed 1 TB tamari soy sauce. Also don’t choose anything that needs just a bit of produce --like 1 rib of celery--where the rest of the celery won’t get eaten.

Look for ways to adapt what you normally do. We love cowboy beans but British cowboy beans have a thin runny tomato sauce  not the rich molasses sauce we think of from Louisiana baked beans. At home when we open a tin of cowboy beans we add cider vinegar, molasses and grey poupon mustard to get it a bit of a kick but it would be impractical to bring or buy containers of those for 1 spoonful each. So what to do? We bought a small bottle of HP Sauce--kind of an A1 type sauce and used that with the beans. Not quite as good as our home beans, but definitely gave them some flavour to pep them up. Same with “cheeze” sauce. I do an awesome cashew cheese sauce based on Dreena Burton’s recipe for Vegveta. But you need my vitamix to make it as well as 1 TB tahini and 2 tsp cider vinegar. But we solved that problem by making a few substitutions. I used finely ground almond meal and increased the lemon juice to make up for the lack of vinegar and left out the tahini. It was not quite as rich as our home version but it tasted good.

Bring stuff with you. I packed my stick blender. It was great for whipping up sauces or pureeing soup. I have these little Rubbermaid pots about the size of yogurt pots. For each recipe I premeasured the herbs and spices into the pot, labeled them and taped the lid closed. They were easy to pack and saved having to bring 20 spice jars with you. I also packed ½ cup millet in a small ziplock bag, ¾ cup barley couscous in a bag as well as 1 ½ cups wholemeal spelt pasta in a larger ziplock. That way we didn’t have to buy bags of those and either throw away the rest or try to come home with opened bags. There would be nothing worse than getting home and opening your suitcase to find all your clothes covered in millet. And when empty, those bags could be storage for other things. After we ate the pasta I used the large ziplock bag to store some lettuce that I had bought.

Be flexible. I know if you have planned it can be hard to deviate, but you don’t quite know what you’ll get when you use someone else’s kitchen. I had planned to make a 3 bean soup that was big enough to eat over 2 meals but it was apparent the moment I surveyed the kitchen this would never work. There was not a cooking pot big enough to house the soup. I would have to attempt to cook it in at least 2 pots--perhaps 3 pots. So, deep breath and adapt, adopt and improve. At the supermarket we bought 2 tins of Amy’s lentil soup and at one of the local shops I spent 75p on a box of Cajun spices and bought a lime and presto! Using a tin of chickpeas invented a whole new recipe that was so good we’ll be eating it again this week. And I used the empty spice pots to carry home the rest of the Cajun spices. Bonus.

Make a shopping list. Write it down and use it. When we arrived we brought the list to the local shops and bought everything we could so we didn’t have to carry it on the bus. If you are willing to go with different brands than you normally buy then you can get lots more locally. In town we got most of the tinned beans, tinned tomatoes, hummus, HP Sauce and fruits and vegetables--apples, oranges, bananas, onions, potatoes, peppers, limes, lemons, carrots, frozen peas and bagged salad leaves. . Then we bussed into Hythe to buy more specialty items--health food cereal, multi grain wheat free crisp bread, Oat milk, chocolate Oat milk, soy yogurt, tenderstem broccoli, brown basmati rice etc. We only had to do the big shop by bus once--everything else we just topped up locally.

So here is what we ate:
The night we arrived and were tired--Amy’s lentil soup over brown rice. Served with roasted broccoli.

Sexy Mexi Millet--black beans and tin of chopped tomatoes and sweetcorn with chilli powder, lime juice and millet. Served with thickened yogurt sour cream.

Pasta and red sauce with cheeze sauce--homemade tomato sauce (tin tomatoes, tomato paste and Italian herbs) with cheese sauce made from almonds. Served with roasted broccoli.

Black eyed peas in curried yogurt--black eyed peas and slow cooked onion and pepper with a curried yogurt sauce over brown rice. I used the other half of the yogurt for this. Served with roasted broccoli.

Roast potatoes and cowboy beans. Just what it says. Served with salad.

Moroccan barley couscous with onion bhajis. --couscous with Moroccan spices and dried apricots, spring onions, red pepper, chickpeas and frozen peas and onion bhajis on the side. That was a bonus. I had planned to buy some falafel at the Waitrose but one of the local shops had onion bhajis in the freezer section. They are great because they are gluten free--made with chickpea flour. 

Cajun chickpeas with rice -- Chickpeas, red onion and a pepper in a sauce of lemon juice, lime juice, tomato paste and Cajun spices roasted in the oven over rice with peas and carrots on the side.

We spent no more than we would for a week’s worth of groceries and ate like royalty and I didn’t feel like a kitchen wench. Hoorah!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Our lovely vakshun

When I was a wee girl who liked to write stories and was still in the “inventive spelling stage” (let’s be honest—have I ever grown out of that stage? Thank goodness for spell check) I wrote a story called The True Story of Our Vakshun about the time we were meant to be on a family vacation but we all got a tummy bug and had to stay home. So from that day forwards in my family whenever you go on a holiday you must call it a vakshun.

So, Spiderman and I have just come back from the most awesome geekfest of a vakshun. I wanted to tell you before hand, but then you might have read my words and taken it upon yourself to come rob our house—despite the fact that it is protected by attack tarantulas. So I waited until we returned to tell all, far and wide, about our lovely vakshun.

Sometimes we like to rent a cottage for a week. It is usually between £300-£400 for 7 days which is heaps cheaper that a hotel for 7 days plus you get to cook your own food which saves £££ as well. It also saves your sanity trying to find vegan food in restaurants in areas of the country that tend toward a more meat centered (or in this case fish centered as we were by the sea) diet. I plan to write a series of blog posts about food and how to pack for it when you rent a cottage, but that’s for later. Now for the fun.

This is where we stayed. It was not just a cottage, it was a Dr Who themed cottage. We took day trips by bus to the surrounding towns of Hythe, Dymchurch, New Romney and Rye but in the evenings we managed to watch a staggering 26 episodes of the show from the extensive DVD collection. Basically we watched every episode since 2005 that we don’t currently own. It was glorious.  Click on the pix to make them bigger and if you fancy reading the ones that have daft captions. If you do, then please take the time to notice that we have matched the font to the picture—because we are sad like that.

Here’s me in front of the mysterious blue box a.k.a. the TARDIS for those in the know. I can’t recall what Spiderman said to me just before this shot was taking, but as usual he’s making me laugh.

Here’s Spiderman peeping out of the TARDIS with that look like he’s up to something—a look I know so very well.

Here’s us coming back from a lengthy adventure, travelling the stars and generally saving the planet with our fabulousness.

Here’s me being attacked by a vicious Dalek.

But I managed to win him over with love and now we’re married and are part of a Channel 5 documentary on mixed marriages. Honestly, why do people see us a human and alien? Why can’t they just see as two creatures in love?

Here’s Spiderman cleaning up after K9 because he made a whoopsie on the floor. We can save all those screws and nails for some weekend DIY projects.

Here’s me cuddling K9—the only dog not to make me sneeze.

Lastly, here’s me being assimilated as a Cyberman. The plan was to flood the city with poison gas by force feeding me beans. Although, on this holiday you didn’t need to force feed me. I farted a record 73 times in one day. But I come by it honestly—my dad was a gas factory as well. Thanks Dad!

So there you have it. How I spent my Easter vacation, or should that be vakshun?

All fiction is somehow autobiographical

When I was a preschooler begging for “just one more story” my mum would often retell events that had actually happened to me but using the silly names of Blip and Blop for the characters who represented me and my mate Amy. The best story was about the day Blop fell off the slide. It went something like this.

One day Blip and Blop were playing in Blip’s backyard and Blop fell off the slide and lay motionless on the grass. Blip went running into the house calling out, “Mommy, Mommy! Blop fell off the slide!” And Blip’s mommy ran outside and picked up the limp body of Blop and carried her home to Blop’s mommy who probably shot Blip’s mommy a look that indicated she thought she was a neglectful mommy for letting Blop fall off the slide and letting Blip watch programs like The Jeffersons on television.

Ok, that last bit wasn’t how she told it—but that is no doubt what happened in real life. Well, here is a modern retelling for our time. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Frick and Frack had been married for nearly 19 years. Frick did most of the cooking and Frack happily gobbled up all her delicious vegan food. Frack said that Frick could make any vegetable taste good. Frick and Frack loved to eat roasted broccoli. One day Frick roasted up and big ole pan of broccoli with a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of fresh cracked pepper. When she pulled it out of the oven she carefully divided the broccoli spears into 2 equal parts. Frack was a gentleman and always let Frick serve herself first because she had worked so hard cooking. She put 6 spears of broccoli on her plate and left herself 5 more for when she came back for seconds.
 “These pieces of broccoli on the right are mine,” she said pointing to the roasting pan, “The ones on the left are yours.” Then she sat down and waited for Frack to fill his plate. When Frick got up to get her remaining pieces of broccoli –duh duh duh! They had disappeared!
 “Frack, did you eat my broccoli?” she demanded.
“Um, was that some of yours? You said all that was left was mine.” He whimpered.
“No, you numpty, I said the ones ON the left were yours!” she laughed. So after that every time she roasted broccoli he made a big production of  saying “Now all of this is mine, right?” and she made a big production of laughing but what she was actually thinking was: if he steals my broccoli again I’ll knock his block off.

The end

Friday, 15 April 2011

It’s a Mistake

My dad and I used to play this game when I was a child. It was called mistake. Basically the game involved me trying to make him say the word “mistake” and him using silly and clever wordplay to avoid saying it. The game went something like this:

Me: what do you call a woman who has never been married?
Dad: Ugly
Me: No!
Dad: taking her career seriously
Me: No!
Dad: lesbian
Me: No dad! It’s a Miss.
Dad: Oh I see.
Me: (sighing) What is your favourite kind of meat
Dad: I’m converting to vegetarian
Me: No you’re not!
Dad: hamburger
Me: No!
Dad: chicken
Me: No it’s not!
Dad: (patting me on the head)  duck, duck goose
Me: (exasperated) No, it’s steak!
Dad: What did you say?
Me: (collapsing into fit of giggles while he ticked me) Miss-steak!

I somehow lost every time. He always had enough words to keep me guessing (and laughing) and inevitably I would grow frustrated and would blurt out the answer and be tickled until I shrieked. It was great fun every time we played.

In the 1980s when the song It’s a Mistake by Men at Work would come on the radio we would laugh until we cried remembering the game.

My life with you was never a mistake. I miss you, but I carry on. I've never stopped laughing.

Love from your Chick-a-dee

Eleven years ago yesterday my beloved father left his body to travel the stars. He died in the arms of myself and my mother as we sang him out of suffering and into peace. We carved these words on his cemetery marker:
An Uncommon Spirit
A Man of Great Integrity

Gentleman and Scholar
Husband, Father, Teacher and Friend

They were true, every last word. He was the most influential man I ever had the grace and pleasure to know. I was blessed beyond measure for the 30 years we had together. I think of him often and wonder what he would make of my life. Am I following the directives he set forth for me? Is he proud? The three most important things he said to me my entire life—made me repeat them every day to him—were these simple truths:
1.      Know that I love you
2.      Check your facts
3.      Stand up for what you believe is right
GLT, out there swirling the Heavens, do you think of me as often as I think of you? Can you see the work I have done for God’s world? Do you know how much I still love you? I hope I have made you proud.
Love from your Chick-a-dee

Monday, 4 April 2011

All hail Kale

Anyone who knew me as a child must have laughed their head off when I first went vegetarian and later vegan. You kinda have to like vegetables if you plan to eat a plant based diet. As I child I was the quintessential picky eater. It is rumoured that I survived on a diet of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and Spaghetti-Os for several years because I would eat nothing else. This is not much of an exaggeration. I was once heard to say, “There’s something irritable in my salad!” which by my definition would have meant anything except lettuce and shredded carrots. You think with the amount of carrots I ate as a kid my eyesight would be better. Or I’d have grown up to be a rabbit.

When I left meat (and later dairy and eggs) behind a whole world of food was opened up to me. I started to discover there were foods I had dismissed as yucky as a child had to do with texture or smell or being cooked to death by the school dinner ladies. I am supposed to have come home a very indignant first grader and proclaimed, “You know what they served today? Cooked grass!”  Thus making the connection between lawnmower day and mustard greens.

Over the years I have discovered the joy of raw, fresh tomatoes. But only if the goop is scooped out. Yeah, I know, “the goop is the best part”--whatever. It is all slimy and I can’t cope with the texture but I love tomatoes diced in tabbouli, a childhood dish I steered well away from until a few years ago. In November I discovered purple sprouting broccoli and tenderstem broccoli. Both taste amazing stir fried, but are heavenly good roasted in a hot oven until crispy.

Roasted Broccoli courtesy of several recipes I found on Google.
Preheat oven to 220C/425F
Cut your broccoli as thin as you can--split any large florets. Drizzle with 1-2 tsp oil (garlic infused oil is extra yum and keeps vampires away) making sure the florets are coated (rub ’em, around a bit in any oil that is at the bottom of the pan) and twist on some cracked black pepper then bake for 10 minutes. They come all  crunchy and crispy and yummy.

Now that fresh broccoli is in season I am trying it with regular broccoli. It is not quite as good, but because I can get it locally grown without plastic then that is how it will be for the time being.

My new favourite love is Kale. This green packs a powerhouse of nutrients. Kale is a source of Omega 3 fatty acids and its Omega 6 ratio is fantastic--right up there with flaxseeds. Kale is also high in absorbable calcium. One cup of raw kale has 90mg, about 10% of  your recommended daily allowance. It shrinks down a lot when cooking so it is easy to eat 3-4 cups in one sitting. (Source: Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbook Appetite for Reduction) 

To prepare it you have to pull it away from its tough stem but the only kind I can get is in a bag where someone has kindly done that for you. My bag of curly kale is just that--curly leaves of kale. My favourite way is to sauté it in a smidge of olive oil and a Tablespoon of water until it turns bright green and wilts slightly--less than 5 minutes. Then squeeze on a bit of lemon juice and a drizzle with toasted sesame oil and greedily eat the whole pan. Spiderman does not have a similar liking for kale yet. But I hope he will be so taken by my enjoyment that he will jump on the kale bandwagon. But if not, more for me. I was just telling him that I was blogging about kale and wanted to tell him all the nutritional info that I had discovered and he replied, “I have to read the blog, I don’t need the audio version as well.” He always claims that I portray him as the pantomime villain, but no where have I said he was dressed in drag as an ugly step sister or urged people to boo him. So there.

Another way to prepare kale is to roast it in the oven to make kale chips. This too is good, but makes the air have a suspicious farty cabbage-y smell. The one time I tried this Spiderman  accused me of making the farty smell myself (and to be fair normally he would be correct in his assumptions) so I don’t make the kale chips too much anymore. But if you don’t mind a small farty aroma but want crispy kale chips then here is the recipe courtesy of Lauren Ulm’s cookbook Vegan Yum Yum. 
Crispy Sesame Kale
Preheat oven to 375F/ 190C
Tear kale into bite size pieces then spread them evenly on a cookie sheet covered in foil. Drizzle 1 TB dark toasted sesame oil on top then scrunch the greens to get to oil distributed. Sprinkle on 1 TB sesame seeds and a pinch (or 1/8 tsp) salt. Bake for 10 minutes until the leaves are crispy but still dark green.

The only veg I still haven’t conquered my childhood dislike of is green beans. Maybe someday, but I doubt it.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

That Dreaded Villain Limescale…mwah ha ha ha ha ha

There are so many things that I love about living in the UK that I could not even begin to count them. But there is one thing that really gets me down. Hard water. And hard water = limescale. The stuff is everywhere, leaving spots on all my glasses and my stainless steel sink never shines. It makes scrubbing the toilet a Herculean effort and the tub gets soap scum the moment you run a bath. It makes your clothes all grey and stiff (especially if you don’t have a tumble drier and hang them to dry like we do.) It clogs the pipes like Big Macs clog your arteries and leaves its telltale chalky white flaky residue in your electric kettle.

There are ways to fight it, but never defeat it. Sigh… it is a losing battle. For the wash it really does help to use a water softener and a lavender scented vinegar rinse. Do you remember those Calgon adverts from the 70s? Not the “Calgon take me away” bath ones but the bloke who ran the Chinese laundry and the female customer asks how he gets his clothes so clean and he replies “Ancient Chinese secret.” Then his wife goes in the back of the shop and tells the camera that he actually uses Calgon water softener. It begins with the words “My husband, some hotshot” and ends with “Honey we need more Calgon!” to which the customer replies in a sarky voice, “Ancient Chinese secret, huh?” and the Chinese dude murders his meddling wife because the woman  stops coming there to get her clothes washed and just saves her money by buying a box of Calgon. Okay, that last bit didn’t happen--but it should have.  Anyway, back to the point, Calgon is full of some potential nasty chemicals and fillers but you can use Washing Soda Crystals (a.k.a sodium carbonate) to get the same effect. It is a cousin to baking soda (a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate) . I can get Washing Soda Crystals cheap here (£1.14 for a 1kg bag) and so have made an effort to use them in the wash and have seen a difference.

I have to use a micro fibre cloth in the tub every few days and then really scrub it down on the weekend with baking soda and lavender scented vinegar and or lemons if I have them on hand. If you use lots of fresh lemons save the rinds and use them to scrub greasy dishes or rub over soap scum or polish your taps or if you have a disposal put it down there to freshen the blades. But we compost all our food scraps so we don’t do the last one.

Lastly the kettle. This has been the bane of my existence. The most natural thing I could find for ages was vinegar. You mix up water and white vinegar in your kettle and boil it then let it sit overnight. Then in the morning your kettle stinks and all the limescale flakes are floating around and when you try to pour them out they cling tenaciously to the sides of the kettle. Then you have to rinse and boil, rinse and boil--repeat until the kettle no longer pongs like the Chippy which can take bloody ages. But if you don’t descale the kettle the water tastes all funky when you make your tea and if you do descale with vinegar then it still tastes funky. I was nearly ready to cry.

I went to my old mate Google and discovered that Citric Acid was good for descaling kettles (as well as washing machines) and I knew just where to find some. Our local hardware store carries stuff like cheap boxes of baking soda and borax  washing soda crystals and I was sure I had seen citric acid the last time I was there. I picked up a box today for £1.50 with enough in it for 4-5 descaling adventures. The instructions said to half fill the kettle, boil and some citric acid (I used 1/3 cup) and let it sit for 15 minutes then rinse. I did and the stuff fizzed like mad--like Alka-Seltzer--Plop, plop, fizz, fizz/Oh what a relief it is--God, I would so be the ruler of the free world if my brain were not filled with crap telly adverts from the 70s.   Well by the end of the 15 minutes it was dissolved and so was the limescale. Gone. Not floating around waiting to stick to the sides when you pour it out. The bottom of the kettle where the heating element is was so shiny I could see my face. I swear it like a mirror. And it smelled all lemony.

 Hooray! Natural products rule!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Vegans in the news

Why is it when vegans are in the news it is something horrible? Why are there never any articles about normal vegan going about their lives, making a difference in the world? Why is it always weirdo vegans? Weirdo vegans make the world think that all vegans are freaks.

Case in point: Couple in France who were vegan and their 11 month old baby died. Most of the articles I read started with the fact that the baby was—gasp! still being breastfed. However, many health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, including:
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians
  • The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine
  • The World Health Organization
  • The United Nations Children’s Fund
In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, continuing as long as mother and baby wish, while the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or longer.

They were claiming that the baby was vitamin deficient so therefore the mother’s milk was deficient therefore the vegan diet must be suspect. Yes, a person who doesn’t eat well can be low on nutrients. You could be a vegan and live on fries and coke. But most of the vegans I know (including us) eat a well balanced diet with more fruit and veg and wholegrains than any omnivore we know. Our cholesterol is normal, we don’t have a myriad of heath problems due to inadequate diet. We are bursting with vitality and energy. Yes, I do take a B-12 supplement. What of it? 99% of my vitamins and minerals come from beautiful, colourful, healthy food.
This where regular and weirdo vegans get mixed up. If I had a cold I would probably take echinacea and zinc and drink orange juice and breathe steam and rest. Nothing wrong with that. If the cold turned into a sinus infection or bronchitis I would see a doctor who would give me antibiotics. No problem there. But this couple only believed in homeopathic meds. When their baby got a respiratory infection, instead of taking the baby to hospital the couple tried to treat her with cabbage and clay poultices and massages with camphor and garlic oil. Again, freaking weirdo vegans making us regular vegans look like nutjobs when in reality we are just people who care  passionately about food and the planet and the welfare of all God’s creatures.

Why are there never any articles about that?

Out of the mouths of babes

At school this week year 3 has been learning about the Easter story in Religious Education. They had read some books about Jesus and watched a film and the assignment was to draw a picture and write a sentence about one part of the Easter story they remembered. My friend had this conversation with a little boy:

Boy: I think I can do this.
Teacher: of course you can. Why do you think that you couldn't?
Boy: Well I wasn't around when Jesus was alive, but I've seen all of his films.

That just cracked us up.