Monday, 30 May 2011

Merry Widows

One of the cool things about living so near London is we can nip in by train and do lots of amazing things and then be back home home at a (semi) decent hour. The other thing is that going to watch a BBC television programme or Radio recording is FREE if you know how to apply on line for tickets which we do. So even though we don't own a telly we love to go to recordings because you watch them on BBC-i player later on.

Last night we went into to London and saw the filming of a pilot called Merry Widows about 3 generations of women on the day of the daughter's husband's funeral. It was set in the Lake District and starred the hilarious Miriam Margolyes as the slightly dotty, fond of a drink granny who lost her husband in Borneo whilst she was pregnant with the daughter played with love to be a grief martyr funnyness by Michelle Gomez whose husband died of a virus that she thought was man flu. It was set on the day the grand daughter (played by Natalie Casey) buried her husband--slightly shell shocked trying to find a place to grieve for her newly dead husband killed in Afghanistan while Laurel and Hardy are joking it up about their widowhood in the kitchen .

it was good and funny and sad and poignant with a spoiler I won't reveal in case it gets picked up a series. I hope it does. But at least we were there to see the pilot.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

These are a few of my favourite things

I could eat my own body weight in wasabi peas. Fact. But I have discovered, as you do, that they taste great with chocolate. I know, I know, just hear me out. Put about 6 chocolate chips in your mouth until they start to melt then throw in some wasabi peas and close your mouth and breathe through your nose. The taste is sweet and hot and yum. Plus your nose burns. If your nose doesn't feel like it has been scorched and your eyes aren't watering--then you need more wasabi peas in your mouth. Fact.

Friday, 27 May 2011

I scream, you scream…

We all scream for ice cream! As I have had the sore throat and earache I have been craving cool, soothing frosty goodness to slide down the back of my throat. Obviously dairy ice cream is out of the question. But never fear, there are alternatives. Swedish Glace makes a delicious soy milk ice cream, however it is loaded with sugars, fats and some artificial gunk.

Juicy Raspberry contains:
Water extract from premium graded soya beans, raspberry ripple 14% (sucrose, raspberry, water, pectin, stabiliser: E410, citric acid E330, preservatives: E202, E211), sucrose, glucose, non-hydrogenated vegetable oils, emulsifiers: mono- and di-glycerides from vegetable oils, stabilisers: carob bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan, salt, colour: red beet powder, raspberry flavour.

Per 100 gram serving it has:
Calories 210
Protein 2.5g
Carbohydrates 29g
Of which sugars 28g
Fat 9g
Of which saturates 5g
Of which mono-saturates 2.5g
Of which poly-unsaturated 1.5g
Fibre 1 g
Sodium 0.1g

That’s a lot of gunk to put in your body as often as I crave a frosty treat. So what is a hungry but health conscious Spidergrrl to do? Adapt, adopt and improve!

Frozen Yoghurt is our newest discovery. You just freeze pots of soya yoghurt and then take them out and let them thaw and they are ready to eat. For this comparative exercise I will use cherry yoghurt since I was talking about raspberry ice cream. They're both fruits, right? And cherry is my favourite. Pop your pots of yoghurt in the freezer over night and then before you want to eat them take them out and sit them on the counter. In 45 minutes they are defrosted enough to be the texture of ice cream but not melty puddle-y. They really do look and taste very similar to ice cream or TCBY frozen yoghurt. Yum! It seems to work best with fruit ones—the plain vanilla one went all icy, but the fruit ones rock.  Maybe that's because the plain vanilla ones comes in a big pot and you have to divide it up into your own smaller pots. Who knows. anyway, let’s see how Alpro Cherry Soya Yoghurt compares to Swedish Glace.

 Alpro Cherry Soya Yoghurt contains:
Water, Hulled soya beans (7.3%), Sugar, (Cherries (6.3%)), cherry juice (4.6%), Glucose-fructose syrup, Tri-calciumcitrate, Stabiliser (Pectin), Acidity regulators (Sodium citrate, Citric acid), Natural colouring (Anthocyanins), Carrot concentrate, Modified maize starch, Flavouring (), Sea salt, Emulsifier (Lecithin), Vitamins (Riboflavin, B12, D2), Yogurt cultures (S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus), Antioxidants (Ascorbyl palmitate, Tocopherol-rich extract)

Per 100g serving it has:
Calories 75
Protein 3.7g
Carbohydrates 19.4g
Of which sugars 19.2g
Fat 2.0g
Of which saturates 0.4g
mono unsaturated 0.4g
poly unsaturated 1.2g
Fibre 1g
Sodium 0.08g
Calcium 120mg
Plus 15% of your daily allowance of riboflavin, B12, D2

Wow! What a difference!

The second way we indulge in frozen goodness is to make banana ice cream When ever bananas get over ripe and are brown and speckled, peel them and cut them into chunks and then freeze them. When you have 3 frozen bananas then you can make ice cream for  two people. This is where the frozen yoghurt can help ease your cravings--it can take a while to get enough bananas saved up for this. But when you do have enough bananas saved up it is totally worth it.

Banana Ice Cream
Put all the frozen banana chunks in a metal bowl or pot. Add a drizzle of maple syrup and a blop or two of yoghurt (not frozen--just from the fridge) and a pinch of sea salt--smoked if you can get it (smoked sea salt gives it caramel tones)  then use you immersion blender to pulverise it until it is the consistency of ice cream which doesn’t take long. Then add a handful of nuts--walnuts make it like maple walnut/pecans like butter pecan--and pulse quickly to chop and incorporate into the ice cream. Serve immediately. 

Some people do it in a food processor but I found that always made it melty and gloopy. I like the metal pot because it gets super cold--so cold the metal almost burns your skin--and it keeps the bananas from melting and retains their creaminess with no gloopy bits. But that’s just me. If you wanna try it in the food processor then go for it.

These are 2 of the ways we keep cool in summer. What do you eat?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The volcano in my ear…

…Has finally erupted. I am on anti-biotic tablets now with cotton wool in my ear. It feels better already albeit a bit messy. I am also temporarily deaf on that side, but that could be from the cotton wool. Without the cotton there is an unpleasant ringing in my ear, but that will subside within 24 hours.

When I was seeing my doctor and he was trying to sort me out some anti-biotics he absentmindedly asked me if I was on the pill (anti-biotics make the pill less effective so they advise back up birth control) and then suddenly he slapped his forehead with his palm and said, “No of course you are not. I remember…hysterectomy…gigantic fibroids….heavy as a bag of sugar” and I swear his eyes were as big as saucers and he trembled as he said it . So yeah, that’s me. Giant fibroid girl. Thanks for remembering.

 Anyway, during my confinement I have had way too much time on my hands and have had to resort to  pondering questions like “What was the other hit song by Rick Springfield besides Jessie’s Girl? The answer in case you care (and even if you don’t) is I‘ve done everything for you (you‘ve done nothing for me). Why should anyone be thinking of Rick Springfield, you ask? Well it was because I was remembering a girl I went to school with whose name I will not mention but who we shall call DD as those were her initials. DD was completely in *love* with Rick Springfield  when we were in junior high. She wore nothing but Rick Springfield concert shirts and  I’m sure she even had one made up at the mall that said DD loves Rick (and I believe Rick loves DD on the back). Every day right after lunch she was overcome with illness so that should could go home and watch her beloved Rick as he played Dr Noah Drake on General Hospital. The office got wise to her scheme and refused to send her home but she kicked up such a fuss at home--refusing to eat or saying she’d kill herself or whatever it took--that her folks bought her a VCR so she could record General Hospital. “So, what’s the big deal?” you ask. “We’ve all got one of those gadgets these days.” Well honey-child, you must remember this was the 1980s when all that technology was brand spanking new and quite expensive. We had only just started fazing out 8 tracks and Beta Max in 1982. If you don’t know what those are then you are seriously too young to be reminiscing with me. Anyway, they spent like $800 to buy a video recorder and all was well. No more missed school for DD. But then it happened--duh duh DUH!

DD went to a Rick Springfield concert and was on the first row. She was so close she could touch him and probably did. But then it happened. Rick was a bit phlegm-y from all that singing and  he SPAT into the audience. Right in DD’s hair. Now if anyone gobbed in my hair (famous or not) I’d be pretty pissed, but not DD. She was delighted. And proceeded to walk around with a big old glob of Rick Springfield loogey on her head. And she proudly told everyone what it was and why she didn’t plan on washing her hair again. This probably only went on for a few days but when you are in junior high and can actually, truly die of shame it seemed longer to me. I recall the guidance councillors calling her in for a friendly chat. Ditto the kindly Christian PE teacher. But to no avail. Eventually she did wash her hair and eventually she went off Rick Springfield.

But here’s the kicker: She always pretended it NEVER happened. I mean we were all there. But she would swear when we were seniors that we must have been thinking of someone else. She would say “Who?” when we would mention Rick Springfield--like she had no idea who we were talking about. Then we’d say, “Oh DD you simply must remember. You were obsessed. You wore nothing but Rick Springfield shirts, your parents bought you a VCR so you could tape General Hospital! Dude you wore a glob of his spit in your hair!” And she would look at you right in the eyes, cock her head to the side like she was thinking hard, then shake her head slowly and say, “No. That wasn’t me. I never watch the soaps.” And the rest of us would fall about because we knew it was a bunch of hooey.    Maybe it was trauma-- the ball of phlegm hit her head so hard it caused amnesia. I don’t know. I personally think a person should remember (and laugh) at their silly/embarrassing childhood exploits so I’ll start us off.

These are just a few of my embarrassing moments.

I was truly in love with Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett in the 1970s and spent many hours deciding which one I was going to marry because they both were obviously going to want to marry me. How to choose? A few years later, just to show my disdain for the whole idea, I drew big red zits and green snot running out Shaun’s nose on my album cover. Had I had a Leif album I’m sure I would have done the same.

In the 4th grade when filling out a form at school about what I wanted to be when I grew up I wrote “Disco Queen.” 

My older friend TH (who was forever leading me astray) told me that when I was 10 we were going to run away from home and live in a shack in the back of the soybean field  behind our houses and she would home school me because she was 2 years older. We would have a battery operated portable telly from Sears and because I blubbed agreed we could visit my folks on weekends. She made me do 4 hours of fire drill practice from my tree house one boring summer afternoon. She timed me and made me keep going until I had my time down to 30 seconds which included packing a big bag of provisions. I was so gullible back then I thought that word wasn’t in the dictionary.

I once wore my bra backwards on a bet in the 6th grade to see if anyone noticed. They didn’t. This is probably due to the fact that I had no boobage at all and had no business wearing a bra in the first place unlike my 2 friends DD (not that one, another DD) and EG. DD was a tomboy and refused to be needing to wear one because she wanted to play sports. EG knew *exactly* what she was up to and all the boys were around her like bees on honeysuckle. 

The first real conversation I recall having with the boy who became my close friend (and is still my bestest friend today) was at the choir Christmas carolling concert. We were standing by the fire to warm up after carolling in the neighbourhood awaiting our steaming mugs of hot cocoa to arrive and I rather wittily remarked, “Do you want a weiner roast? Go stand in the fireplace.” Ho ho ho a cheap sexual allusion makes the world go round. It is surprising that he is still friends with me after a crap chat up line like that, but I am thankful he is. Thanks DW.

These are just some of the silly/embarrassing things I did before the age of 12. The list of silly things after the age of 12 could fill several volumes--WA HA / hoo ha 6:00 and all that jazz. LM if you’re reading this you know what I mean. KS if you are reading this ask your brother “What do ya think of them carrots?”  Nuff said. 

Sunday, 22 May 2011

I'm hoping my ear drum will rupture

Not as horrible as it sounds. I've had an earache for several days and last night the pain was agonising. This morning with a hot compress I managed to shift the pain  a bit and then there was the curious sensation of water in my ear--a sure precursor to my ear drum rupturing. I am hoping it will go ahead and happen because then the pressure in my eustachian tube will go away. The down side is I'll have what looks like snot running from my ear hole for about 24 hours but the reduction in pain and pressure is worth it. Don't worry, I've been through this before. My ear drum has ruptured twice of its own accord and one I had it lanced to relieve the pressure--huge mistake. I realized this the moment someone had to hold my head in a headlock to keep me from moving. Plus when the scalpel nicked my ear drum it hurt a million times worse than a rupture on its own. So here I wait, hoping it will go ahead and explode or I'll have to see the doctor.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Officially my new favourite band

We’ve been watching reruns of our favourite 80’s alternative comedy The Young Ones and I mentioned to my mate Clare that I heard that Ade Edmonson who plays Vyvian (the one with the orange mohawk/metal stars on his forehead/likes mindless violence) had a band. Clare jumped up and down and squealed and said they were brilliant and the next day brought me a CD of The Bad Shepherds called Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Methera which is ancient Cumbrian for One, Two, Three, Four! The album is awesome! What they do is take all your favourite punk/alternative songs from the 70’s and 80’s but—get this—play them on folk instruments like the mandolin, uillean pipes, penny whistle, bodhran and celtic fiddle. It is a perfect reimagining of these songs in a cool folksy way with reels and jigs inserted between lyrics. Clare has now taken up the mandolin, how cool is that?  

The CD Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Methera features these songs:
  1. I Fought The Law/Cockers At Pockers
  2. Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
  3. Rise
  4. Whole Wide World/Hag With The Money
  5. The Model
  6. Humours of Tullah/Teenage Kicks/
    Whisky In The Jar/The Merry Blacksmith
  7. Once In A Lifetime/Pinch Of Snuff
  8. London Calling/Manchester Calling/The Monaghan Jig
  9. Up The Junction
  10. Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Methera!
    (Fraher's Jig/Coppers & Brass/The Old Bush/Rip The Calico)
  11. God Save The Queen/Mountain Road

Their new CD By Hook or by Crook which I soon will have features these tracks:
  1. Anarchy in the UK
  2. Sound of the Suburbs
  3. Making Plans For Nigel
  4. Friday Night, Saturday Morning
  5. Ramones Medley
  6. Panic
  7. Ace of Spades
  8. Ever Fallen In Love With Someone
    (You Shouldn't've)
  9. White Riot
If you like punk music or are stuck in 80’s nostalgia but also love folk music—check them out. You will not regret it.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Are you achin’ (Yup Yup) for some bacon (Yup Yup)

…..He’s a big pig, you can be a big pig too, Oy! Enough of this witty banter from The Lion King.

Someone once said that bacon is the gateway meat. Bacon was the hardest meat for me to give up when I began to think about where food really comes from and decided to stop exploiting animals for my own purposes. I loved the salty, crispy  feel of it. The smoky flavour. The sometimes maple flavour if you were lucky to find maple cured bacon. The savoury-ness of it. After I stopped eating it for a while I would find that the smell still really got me salivating but watching it fry up in a pan with all that fat and grease made my stomach turn. There is nothing that really tastes of bacon that is not made from slaughtered animals and I am not willing to go forgo my morals just for a momentary pleasure. But when you think about it--what is it that was so good? Salty, crispy, smoky, maple, savoury. Could that be replicated in a way that was satisfying to one’s taste buds and one’s moral code?

In quick succession 2 blogs that I visit showed the same recipe for gluten free/soy free vegan bacon made from adzuki beans and buckwheat groats (which despite the name buckwheat are actually gluten free.) One claimed to have adapted it from the other blog so I decided to try it and do a taste test. When I was a wee nipper one of my favourite magazines was Consumer Reports because I loved how they tested every product and rated the results. The recipes were fairly similar--both had the same amount of adzuki beans and buckwheat and the method for preparing them the same. What was different was the other ingredients. One had more maple syrup, tomato puree and smoked paprika than the other, but they both had the same amount of  liquid smoke, salt and oil. One had tamari (soy) sauce and the other had some rubbed sage. I decided to do up both and compare.

The first one I chose was the version from The Ordinary Vegetarian’s blog   who adapted it from No Meat Athlete’s blog.  

This is version one:
Amazing Homemade Vegan Bacon
(adapted from No Meat Athlete)

1/2 cup dried adzuki beans, or other small red beans
1/3 cup whole grain buckwheat groats (not buckwheat flour)
1 tsp onion powder
1/3 tsp garlic powder
1/3 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp thyme
1-1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp liquid smoke*
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1-1/2 tbsp coconut aminos (if no need to be soy-free, sub bragg's, tamari, or soy sauce)*
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp coconut oil (may sub any oil you prefer)
1/2 tsp salt

Rinse the beans and buckwheat, place in large bowl covered with several inches of cold filtered water; let soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans and buckwheat.  Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with an s-blade, along with all of the other ingredients. Pulse several times to combine, scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl and continue pulsing until uniform, but not completely pureed.

Line a 9 x 13 casserole dish or rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with baking spray. Place bacon batter in pan and spread evenly with a spatula. You may choose to spray another piece of parchment paper lightly with baking spray and press the paper on top of the mixture and flatten with your hands. Remove and discard the top piece of parchment paper, then use a spatula to spread over and fill in any bare spots.

Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Slice into 24-32 strips, whatever size you prefer, I cut mine into 1 inch by 4 inches slices (Do this by making one lengthwise cut down the center, and then 12-16 cuts across the shorter side. See photo above).

At this point freeze any strips your don't plan on eating immediately. Frozen strips can go straight into the skillet at a later date, no need to thaw first. To fry, heat a skillet with a small amount of oil and fry both sides to desired level of crispiness. You may also choose to fry slices in cooking spray, for a less crispy, but still very delicious result.

It was easy to do and cut up nicely into strips. I fried some and they were delicious--crispy, smoky, sweet and savoury. They were fairly sweet from the 3 TB maple syrup so I was interested to try the other version which had less maple and a bit of tamari which would give it a bit more salty flavour. But first I needed to use up most of version one and then when I was down to the last few strips, make version two and have a taste test.

So then I made version two which comes from No Meat Athlete’s blog  . Yes I realize if this were a real test then I would have tried this one first as it seems to be the original but I had printed the other one and this one was still stuck on my memory stick so it got done second. So there.
This is version two:
Homemade Vegan Soy-Free Bacon
·      1/2 cup dried adzuki beans or other small red beans
·      1/3 cup hulled wholegrain buckwheat (not buckwheat flour)
·      1 teaspoon onion powder
·      1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke
·      4 teaspoons nutritional yeast
·      1 teaspoon smoked paprika
·      1 tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos (May be substituted with soy sauce)
·      1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
·      2 teaspoons tomato paste
·      1 teaspoon coconut oil
·      2 teaspoons maple syrup
Rinse the beans and buckwheat,  place in large bowl covered with several inches of cold filtered water; let soak overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F/200 degrees C.
Strain the soaked beans and buckwheat and rinse.  Place in the bowl of a food processor.  Add the onion powder, liquid smoke, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, aminos or soy sauce, salt, tomato paste, coconut oil, and maple syrup.  Pulse several times to combine, scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl and continue pulsing until uniform but not as pureed as hummus.
Line a 9×13 casserole dish with parchment paper and coat pan with baking spray.  Place bacon mixture in pan and spread as much as possible with a spatula.  To get the mixture very thin and evenly spread, spray another piece of parchment paper lightly with baking spray and press the paper on top of the mixture and flatten with your hands.  Remove and discard the top piece of parchment paper, then use a spatula to spread over and fill in any bare spots.
Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then slice into 24 strips, about 1 inch by 4 inches (Do this by making one lengthwise cut down the center, and then twelve cuts across the shorter side).  Remove the strips with a small spatula.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat.  Fry the bacon slices for 2-3 minutes, flipping once.  Alternatively, before frying, you can freeze the bacon, then fry when ready to serve (no need to thaw first).

The results were this: Version Two from No Meat Athlete wins hands down. It seemed to make slightly less—I got 22 not 24 strips out of it, but the results were not so sweet—just a kiss of maple—and definitely savoury/salty enough to satisfy a bacon craving. Version One was more "bready" compared to Version Two which was more "bacon-y."

I’ll be honest, no pig eatin’ omnivore is going to squeal with delight and exclaim, “OMG, dude! This tastes just like real meat bacon!” But they are good. They fulfil all the criteria of salty, smoky, maple, crunchy and savoury. They are weirdly addictive and easy to prepare as they really do cook up from frozen in a jiffy. They remind us of these Linda McCartney sundried tomato sausages that we used to buy that seem to be discontinued. They didn’t taste anything like sausages, but tasted rather like sundried tomato hush puppies--these have that same sort of flavour. They are delicious fried up on their own as a snack or beside other “breakfast” dishes.

So no, it is not exactly like bacon or even something like bacon, but they are yummy strips of vegan goodness and no beautiful, intelligent pigs had to die to make a BLT. 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A person’s a person no matter how small

Do you know what today is? May the fifteenth. The fifteenth of May. Ring any bells? Hmmm? Hmmm?  Probably not. For most people this is just your average day in May, but if you read your Dr Seuss closely you will know this--this is the beginning of  Horton Hears a Who. And so it begins:

On the fifteenth of May
In the jungle of Nool
In the heat of the day
In the cool of the pool
He was splashing enjoying the jungle’s great joys
When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.

The story continues with Horton locating the sound—a small dust speck inhabited by a race of microscopic people (The Whos) who are floating by and in danger. He rescues the Whos and the town of Whoville by placing the speck on a soft clover and thereafter is mocked, ridiculed, teased and taunted and bullied as other members of the jungle call him a fool and plan to boil the speck in Beezlenut juice to prove that small insignificant creatures who they believe are all in Horton’s head don’t matter. He pleads with them that this race of people are alive and have feelings and families, but no one cares. Out of sight out of mind. They can’t see them so why should they care? Horton finally gets the Whos to make enough noise right before they are slaughtered and they are saved and every animal has a change of heart and agrees to protect them “no matter how small.”

This story had a huge impact on my life. I loved the plot of standing up for what you believe in even when others try to destroy your hope. When I was in High School I memorized the entire book for a speech competition and won several prizes with it. I still recite it every year to classes on Dr Seuss’ birthday.

But to me the message is this—we must—if we have an conscience at all—stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Animals in factory farms are treated with appalling cruelty –if this were people who were treated this way we’d call it a Concentration Camp and everyone would be up in arms. But when it is animals—who cares? They can’t reason so why should we care about them? But I say, it is not can they reason but can they feel pain and suffer? In this life we should be looking for ways to avoid inflicting suffering on others and help those in need. Animals may not have the words to say that they are suffering but by their sounds—cries and moaning/bellowing or actions—biting themselves or other destructive behaviours—they let us know. Animals do have feelings and they do form attachments to their young and it is a cruel thing to take a child away from its mother while she cries for her baby so that humans can get something they WANT not NEED.

A person does not need to eat meat or milk or eggs or honey or wear leather to survive. We take from animals because we are bigger and stronger and we can. I can never understand how anyone with a shred of conscience can be ok with eating something that was tortured for their plate.

So I’m with Horton the elephant here. Look out for those who are small and weak and helpless and cannot speak for themselves—be it animals or people. Their only voice is ours.

Monday, 9 May 2011

My lunch is packed, I’m ready to go

This is what John Denver would have written before he went off on a jet plane if he had my new lunch bag. I am a pack lunch kind of gal. I pack a snack to eat at break time every day--usually a piece of fruit and some almonds. Almonds are high in calcium as well as being filling. 16 almonds is a serving so I actually laboriously count out 16 into a wee pot and bring it with me. For lunch I bring leftovers (if there are any) or a bag of goatmeal to tide me over until I can get home. If you have no idea what goatmeal is--look here. 

But I needed a new bag. I had one that was just the right size but was getting fairly tatty. See it here? 

 It is small with a wide flat bottom and stands up fairly well (meaning it doesnt sag) and it was a free gift from sister in law who got it from Whole Foods in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for me. It came as a set of two but the other one had already gone on to meet its maker. Now this one was wearing out.  So whats a crafty Spidergrrl to do? Make it herself of course!

I had cut apart the first one to use as a template but trying to choose the correct fabric was a puzzler. I had previously tried to make one that was waterproof--meaning you could wipe it down if you spilled anything. I dont generally spill stuff (well not in my lunch bag--everywhere else, yes) so that is not really an issue. I just really liked the cool wipe off designs on the plastic laminate tablecloth that I bought at the market. I tried to ignore the fact that it was plastic and  concentrate on the pretty design. That was a dismal failure. It wouldnt sew. It was too thick and broke my needle. I bought a heavy duty needle for denim but the tablecloth tore. I scrunched it up and threw it in the bin and cursed myself for being seduced by plastic. That was a few months ago. Since then Ive been trying to think of what to do to replicate the parts of this bag I like before it completely disintegrated on me. Then Saturday night--it came to me in dream. I know that sounds like mystical hoo ha but I really work that way. I often dream craft projects or short stories and whilst recovering from the horrible hysterectomy I dreamt (and subsequently wrote) a 60,000 word novel.

Anyway, I woke at 8:00 Sunday morning and I could picture what to do. I knew I had lots of scrap fabric that had pretty designs and was FREE just waiting in my fabric offcuts bin. I knew I had heavy duty iron on interfacing left over from making the pink backpack.  I thought about a bag we have that has a piece of something stiff in the bottom to keep it flat and help it hold its shape. I was sure I had some craft foam lurking in my crafty drawer just waiting to be used. I excavated the old cut apart bag and guided by my dream imagery, I went to work.

By 9:00 when it was time to get dressed for Meeting for Worship I had gathered my materials, cut them out and ironed all the interfacing onto the cloth. I went to church and then came home and finished the job.

Here is the completed bag. I am very pleased with it. I didnt have enough of one fabric so I had to piece together different coordinating fabrics to make it. I had *exactly* enough iron on interfacing which did give the bag some stiffness and helped it keep its shape. I decided after putting a strip of craft foam in the bottom to put some in the side pieces as well. It really stands up nice and tall without sagging but the foam is flexible enough if it needs to get squashed into another bag. I modified the strap from the original because I like one that hangs on the crook of my elbow and not always in my hand as I am less likely to drop it. I decided some sort of closure would be nice so I dug around in my sewing drawer but couldn’t find a button that would work. I had to go to the Haberdashery stall at the market and buy a button. I spent a whopping 20p on a festive yellow button, made a button hole and sewed it on.

Voila! The new lunch bag!
I've also had another craft project dream and am in the process of making a new handbag! Hoorah! Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of Old bag/New Bag.

Watch out for falling prices

Anti-histamine and I are old chums. In fact, I cannot remember a time in my life where I wasn’t having to take the stuff. My first product was the green liquid Novahistine. I liked it because it had a slightly minty syrupy flavour a bit like crème du menthe (that delicious liqueur that I was allowed to drizzle on ice cream once a year on New Year’s day)  and it was green as if it came from the Emerald City in Oz. The green alone would have sold it to me in those days because I was an enormous Oz fanatic. Still am actually, but for that’s for another post. I recall when they changed the formula of my beloved Novahistine--I think it was to make it sugar free--and after it had a weird cloying aftertaste I could not abide. I moved on to anti-histamine tablets as soon as I could swallow pills. It soon became a lifetime of pill taking for me.

 Yes, I have hay fever. So the hay fever season can be particularly bad when pollen counts are high, but to be fair I have not suffered nearly as much since moving to the UK because I am away from most of my worst enemies.  Pine was particularly bad for me and I lived for many years in the town aptly named Pineville. Throughout those years I suffered constant headaches and sneezing fits that could have possibly earned me a place in the Guinness Book of World records.  But I have discovered a new enemy here. The fields of yellow that stretch for miles and look as though they are the property of a Winkie farmer (there’s another OZ reference--it is everywhere in my life as I am such an Ozophile) are the fields of oilseed Rape commonly know over here as Rapeseed and known to my US peeps as Canola. They make me eyes red and raw, but do not bring about the sneezing and headache of pine pollen.

But there are other enemies. I am forced to take the dreaded anti-histamine every day of my life and not just hayfever season. The enemy is the hair of the dog (not the hangover cure!) but the hair of the dog or cat or rabbit or guinea pig or rat or whatever hairy creature one can keep for a pet. And rest assured if it is hairy, a child has it for a pet and that child will be precisely the child I am meant to working with. There is nothing amusing about trying to help a small child learn to read and covering their book with your snot.

In the US I took Claritin and if my memory serves the prescription cost me about $30 a month or $360 a year. Over here on the NHS no prescription will  cost more than £7 which is good because in the US I routinely paid hundreds of dollars for meds every month. Spiderman even gets his thyroid replacement meds for free here as it is a chronic condition. When we moved here I went to Boots the chemist and bought a box of Boots brand Loratadine--which is generic over here for Claritin--for £7 a month or £84 a year. That sounds like a good deal, but wait for it-watch for falling prices.

A few years  ago Boots came out with an even more generic one. You paid £7 for a 28 day supply of pills (£84 a year)  if you got the blue box with the picture of the blue sky and the yellow field. But if you bought the white box with the red writing and no picture you paid £1.04 a week or £4.16 a month or £49.92 a year. That’s a huge savings just for going with the ugly packaging. Now that sounds like a good deal, but wait for it--watch out for rising prices. Ha ha--you thought I was going to say falling prices again, didn’t you? Well I can’t because VAT (taxes on items) went up and every thing went up in cost.

So my £1.04 a week or £4.16 a month or £49.92 a year went up a wee bit and became £1.08 a week or £4.32 a month or £51.84 a year. Not much of a change and still less than buying the one in the prettier box. But wait for it--now you can watch for falling prices.

Last month at Wilkinsons (think TG&Y type place) I found generic Claritin in a box for 88p a week or £3.52 a month or £42.24 a year. I like those prices even better. I don’t know if Wilkos (as it is known here locally by all the cool people-- well, by the people) will continue to sell this after hay fever season  so I am stocking up. Every time myself or Spiderman go in we buy a couple of boxes at that price.  And the boxes are a soothing butter cream yellow and have a pretty picture on the front of all the things it stops you being allergic to. The first is--I swear-- the actual picture of the blue sky/yellow fields from the £7 box of Boots brand Loratadine. It is followed by a photo of a Dalmatian dog--to represent pets which is definitely a problem for me. Next is a picture of a cloth--I assume to represent dust allergies and the last is a photo of someone’s hands in case you are allergic to your own hands. Although, now that I look at it, it probably is to represent skin allergies although to be fair it does look like someone who is allergic to their own body parts.  

Since I have to have to take it every day of my life it is nice to be able to save a bit of dosh to put toward the entertainment fund. Just going from the Boots generic at £51.84 a month to the Wilkos £42.24 a month saves us £9.60 a year--enough for 1 train ticket to Cambridge or ¾ of a ticket to London. No too shabby.

all of this math was done by me, scrunching up my face and gnawing the end of my pencil as I scribbled on scraps of paper because our calculator has died and gone to Silicon Heaven (all Red Dwarf fans know what I‘m talking about here.) I believe all my sums to be accurate, but in truth I cannot promise that. If you are a maths scholar, then forgive me. If you are my mother, you’ll think I’m a bloody genius.     

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Sufferin' til suffrage

Because of our first time to vote in the UK (see previous post Election Day) I thought I would put in some of my favourite lyrics from School House Rock. Women in the United States earned the right to vote in 1920, but women in the UK had to wait longer. Only women who were householders over the age of 30 got the vote in 1918; women over 21 (the voting age for men) did not get the vote until 1928. I feel obligated to vote because of those women who "carried signs and marched in lines" and endured spectacular ridicule and abuse and imprisonment to give me that  privilege.

Yeah! Hurray!)
Now you have heard of Women's Rights,
And how we've tried to reach new heights.
If we're "all created equal"...
That's us too!
But you will proba ... bly not recall
That it's not been too ... too long at all,
Since we even had the right to
Cast a vote.
Well, sure, some men bowed down and called us "Mrs." (Yeah!)
Let us hang the wash out and wash the dishes, (Huh!)
But when the time rolled around to elect a president...
What did they say, Sister, (What did they say?)
They said, uh, "See ya later, alligator,
And don't forget my ... my mashed potatoes,
'Cause I'm going downtown to cast my vote for president."
Oh, we were suffering until suffrage,
Not a woman here could vote, no matter what age,
Then the 19th Amendment struck down that restrictive rule. (Oh yeah!)
And now we pull down on the lever,
Cast our ballots and we endeavor
To improve our country, state, county, town, and school.
(Tell 'em 'bout it!)
Those pilgrim women who ...
Who braved the boat
Could cook the turkey, but they ...
They could not vote.
Even Betsy Ross who sewed the flag was left behind that first election day.
(What a shame, Sisters!)
Then Susan B. Anthony (Yeah!) and Julia Howe,
(Lucretia!) Lucretia Mott, (and others!) they showed us how;
They carried signs and marched in lines
Until at long last the law was passed.
Oh, we were suffering until suffrage,
Not a woman here could vote, no matter what age,
Then the 19th Amendment struck down that restrictive rule. (Oh yeah!)
And now we pull down on the lever,
Cast our ballots and we endeavor
To improve our country, state, county, town, and school. (Right On! Right On!)
Yes the 19th Amendment
Struck down that restrictive rule. (Right On! Right On!)
Yes the 19th Amendment
Struck down that restrictive rule.
(Yeah, yeah!
Yeah, yeah!
Right on!
We got it now!
Since 1920...
Sisters, unite!
Vote on!

Thanks ladies!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Election Day

It was our first election today since we were sworn in as British citizens and became eligible to register to vote. I have such fond memories of voting as a child. Voting machines were exciting and a treat—like going to the video arcade—because they made great noises and you could fiddle with knobs. I loved going to vote with my folks. When I was small I was allowed into the voting machine with them. You have to pull this enormous lever that requires a lot of strength—the kind you see on Dr Who these days that people have to strain to move during ensuing chaos because they have to close the portal or rip a hole in time—you pull the giant lever and KE-CHUNK! The drab coloured industrial strength fabric curtains magically close behind you with a dramatic swish. All people can see are your legs—it was like being a magician’s assistant and getting sawn in half—you weren’t really sawn in half it just looked like it to the audience. Then you get to flick the tiny levers beside the candidates or amendments you are voting for (or un-flick if you changed your mind) then when you are sure you have done the right thing, pull the magic lever again and ZING! The curtains magically fly open, the top half of your body is reunited with the lower half and your vote is registered. It was so much fun. I recall being allowed to pull down the levers as my mum pointed to them reminding me not to say out loud what we were voting for as it was nobody’s business but ours. I even recall once a family hike to the Pop Holland Scout Hut to vote followed by a picnic lunch then a hike home. Good times.

Well Spiderman and I went to vote first thing this morning at 7:00am when the polling station opened. I think we were their first customers. But listen to this—there were no big machines. We were given 2 paper ballots and told to stand in a cubby hole and put a big cross (X) in pencil by the ones you wanted, then fold up the paper and put it in a box with a slit in the top. Someone would then count all the paper votes later in the day and give the results. My Pilates teacher said her daughter’s high school was helping count the votes. Is that funny or what? It was so lo-tech and old fashioned. Like voting for prom Queen. But this is how they do it here.

I never thought I’d say this being someone who is noticeably technologically disinterested but I miss the machines. I liked the KE-CHUNK and the boring curtains and the joy of flicking the levers. How strange is that?  

The games are the same only the names are changed

Today at break time I noticed a group of kids playing a game. I got really excited and was flooded with memories because this was my all time favourite game—Chinese Jump Rope. How I adored this game. I had my own stretchy elastic rope which I wore as an accessory around my neck so a game could begin at a moment’s notice. I played this game every evening until dinner time for at least a year. It involves needing 2 other people to hold the elastic rope around their ankles (and gradually sliding it up higher as the difficulty increases) and one to jump in the middle reciting some cod Chinese—which now that I think about it may have actually been closer to counting in Japanese. You would jump a complicated rhythm of left and right (straddling the rope) then some jiggery pokery inside the rope with in and out leg movements like doing jumping jacks. Then the Pièce de résistance—you stomp on the ropes pinning them to the ground. All the while saying your fake Chinese—
 Kill it!

 Kill it obviously being the bit where you jump on the ropes. I managed to play this with only 2 people by employing this small pylon thing that probably wasn’t mean to be used that way—I don’t know if it held water things or electricity things but it was small and encased in a convenient kid sized box outside my neighbour’s house. Well, I’m not dead so it must have been ok.

Anyway, as I said I saw some children on the playground, leaping enthusiastically over some stretchy rope. I went to enquire and do you know what? It is called French Skipping here. Skipping means jumping rope here. And the words were different.
On it!
Fancy that! It was great to relive my old favourite pastime with a new generation of kiddies—even if it is slightly different.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Life with bells on

Today I spent the morning at the British Schools Museum for a May Day celebration. What a celebration it was! May day marks the traditional day where Briton's celebrate the first day of summer. I know--the real first day of summer in not until June, but in this cold and dreary land May is when the sun begins to warm us and life feels renewed. It was a glorious day--the bluest sky--the warmest sun with a breeze--and lots of traditional dancing!

There was Maypole dancing for a start. If you've never seen it it is a beautiful sight--a large phallic pole tied with multicoloured ribbons that dancers weave in and out of each other to music plaiting up the ribbon onto the pole then the other direction to unplait it. It was indeed often used in pre-Christian rites as a fertility symbol. Many village greens still have a permanent Maypole in place--Cromwell chopped them all down saying they would lead to "licentious" behaviour but after he was deposed they were all built back up again.

It was wonderful because they let the children do the Maypole dance. The older children on their own then the younger ones each with an adult helper to guide them (like a sheepdog) in the correct direction. I was there with my friend who has a set of 2 year old twins (what a handful!) and we managed to dance with a baby on each hip whilst the child held the ribbon. Whew! Packing around a wiggly toddler counts as exercise, right?

Next were my favourite--Morris Dancers! The art of Morris Dancing dates back to 1448. These traditional dancers--always men--wear coloured sashes and knee britches with bells and straw hats with flowers and dance waving white hankies or banging sticks together. it is a sight to behold! the music is usually on a small accordion or fiddle and the dances are merry and fun as they jingle with every move. This particular troop have come to recognise me because I turn up at all their local gigs. They say I am their best looking groupie! Ha ha!  Spiderman says it is sad to derive joy from being flirted with by old men waving hankies, but I disagree. At the end they let everyone who wanted to Morris Dance come up and have a go. I was so enthusiastic I was approached by a woman who does a traditional Women's Folk Group! I'm hoping to hear from her because I would *love* to join. Here was me thinking I'd have to grow testicles to be able to fulfil my ambitions as a Morris dancer.

Here is a link to the the website of our local Morris Men-- 

It was a lovely May day to celebrate the warm weather--so welcome after such a long period of grey. Since I am now a British citizen it is a legal requirement to talk about the weather.

Happy (almost) summer!