Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sergeant Peppermill

We had a fab time in London yesterday seeing an art exhibit and going to a concert--and I will write more in depth about them soon--but I wanted to show you my newest favourite thing:

The Sergeant Peppermill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I saw this in a catalogue and have really pined for it--could not stop thinking about--I know we already have a peppermill, but this one looked like a Beatle! So when we were in London we saw it in a shop and I as squeaking and bouncing up and down and Spiderman was sighing and rolling his eyes, but he forked over a tenner so I could have it and then helped me fill it with peppercorns. What a guy!

Isn't it cute???? And it is functional cos you can really grind pepper with it as the name implies. And we do use loads of pepper. But now it will be even more fun because you twist his head and pepper comes out his butt!!!

So let me introduce to you
the one and only Billy Shears!
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

I would love to have a Chihuahua but I don’t speak Spanish

My grandmother’s friend actually said this once after seeing those Taco Bell adverts with the talking dog. Seriously, I am not making that up. Since we have come home form the Voyage of the Damned I have been craving tacos. This is probably because we ate tacos 3 times whilst in the US--twice at Taco Bell. I know what you’re thinking. Spidergrrl, how can a GLUTEN FREE VEGAN eat at TACO HELL? Well, you’d be surprised.  

Ÿ         If you get the crunchy taco shells--bang! That’s gluten free.
Ÿ         If you ask for beans instead of beef you get refried beans in your taco.
Ÿ         Ask for fresco style and you get fresh salsa instead of cheese. It is a fat saving measure to provide low-calorie food on the menu, but it makes it vegan.    

Sure, it’s probably not health food, but in a pinch it works and was cheap. In the airport we ate at a place called Salsarita or something like that. It was kinda like a Subway but with tacos. There were all sorts of cool salad-y fixing’s to put on top and you could get either black beans and rice or refried beans. I was so hungry at the airport that I actually went back and ordered another one it was so delicious. Sadly, it was not so cheap as we were paying airport prices, but it got me thinking about making some tacos at home.

Here are some we ate last week. Twice even--as a box of 12 crunchy shells feeds us for 2 meals (3 at each meal) I am not a huge fan of refried beans (despite having even them 3 times recently) as they can be a bit too gloopy for my liking. So I cooked some millet in some marmite stock to give it a savoury “beefy” flavour and then added a 200g tin of chopped tomatoes and half a packet of fajita spices and a tin of red beans. This was served hot in my crunchy shells.

I also heated the shells as per the directions which was nice when we added the cool fixings.

The fixings were some Greek style soy yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon to make sour cream, some sharp cashew “cheeze” sauce  and some “vine ripened tomato and chipotle salsa” that I got on a mark down as it was close to the sell by date.

I also made some Pico de Gallo type salad with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions, red bell pepper, sweet corn and lime juice and some red pepper flakes.

We served it all up with warm millet/red bean stuffing topped with salsa, “cheeze”, lettuce, Pico de Gallo, black olives and dollop of sour cream. Then more lettuce and Pico on the side. Plus some roasted broccoli I had hanging out that needed to get used up. Broccoli goes with everything, right? After the photo we had the brilliant idea to drizzle some “cheeze” on it. Mmmmm.

It was a glorious mess (it is a good thing there wasn’t anyone to see me licking my fingers and smacking my lips--Spiderman gave up and made his more into a taco salad)  that tasted amazing and fresh. Plus the millet/red beans made enough for 2 meals so on the next day I just heated that up whist I heated the rest of the shells and pulled out the leftover “cheeze” and sour cream and olives. All I had to remake was another batch of Pico de Gallo.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

Reverse the polarity

The saga of my backwards cold continues. I am to the unexpected sneezing stage where a sneeze rises up out of nowhere and without warning--no ah, ah, ah before the choo --and projectile snot is flung unceremoniously at whatever object is in front of me.  All this violent expulsion of snot at 90mph has caused my nasal passages to swell which kept me up half the night. I cannot breathe through my mouth when I sleep--I know it’s psychological--of course I can breathe but I get the distinct feeling I am drowning or suffocating and the sensation is so claustrophobic that I rise up gasping for air and get really pissed in the bargain. Because the moment I rise my nasal passages unswell and I can breathe through my nose.  But the moment I get the least bit horizontal BAM! They slam shut again. Which leaves me huffing like a hippo, muttering and swearing trying not to (but always succeeding) in waking Spiderman who pats my arm and mutters sleepily worlds like Poor pussycat before rolling over and falling back to sleep.  Must be nice. I have resorted to taking a decongestant in the hope it will dry up my projectile snottery but then discovered the reason the box said NON DROWSY FORMULA was that it contained caffeine. Shit. Could this be the other reason I cant sleep? 

I ended up steaming my head with water to try and relax my nasal passages which had decided at midnight to clamp shut even when I was vertical. I have this nifty contraption I bought at the chemist that is a cup with handles on either side--making it rather resemble Mr Rumbold from Are You Being Served--that you fill with boiling water and then snap on the spill proof lid (rather like a sippy cup for toddlers.) Then click a little anatomically shaped mask on top like the ones that you imagine would fall down in case of loss of oxygen on an aeroplane and (you must say this bit in your best stewardess voice) place it over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.  The steamy cup works and feels great on both the nose and any lingering chestiness I have. After about 15 minutes I can breathe completely normally and am feeling a bit drowsy from all the steam so I slither back to bed and enjoy a few hours of sleep until the decongestant wears off and then the whole things starts all over.

The other weird thing besides my nose being able to tell horizontal from vertical is that my nose can tell time. Seriously. All fecking night it wont let me lie down, preferring to make me gasp for air like an old man with emphysema, but in the daylight suddenly horizontal is acceptable. I can lie down and breathe reasonably well without the aid of decongestants or steam. I dont want to sleep all day and stay up all night. I am not a vampire. But having a cold always does this to me. Why is that? My theory is that I have been visited by an MMM (Malevolent Mucus Monster.) One whiff of horizontal during the night and it pinches my nose with a magical clothes peg so I can’t breathe. Then in the morning, mission accomplished, it nips off home for a spot of brekkie and a nice kip leaving my nasal area unobstructed. Laugh if you must, but it is the only plausible explanation I can find.  

The good news is all the throat and chest issues are gone. I sound normal again not like a husky Russian spy and my chest doesnt feel like I am breathing broken glass any more. I do have the occasional cough but it is not agony.  My nose, on the other hand, looks like Rudolph and I am still trying to qualify for the snot Olympics of 2012. Hopefully this stage will pass quickly as we have (long awaited) concert tickets to see the Bad Shepherds in London on Saturday and I am not missing that for the world. Snot or no snot.    

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A cold in reverse

I have been feeling rather shitty lately. I have this cold thing going on and I feel all blech. I've stayed home from school 2 days on the trot. it is a strange reverse cold and by this I mean it is going UP and not DOWN.

A cold for me usually begins with sneezing and then a clogged nose and sinus issues--the expression here is "my head is full of cold" and then the acid snot drips down my throat causing to me to lose my voice and then migrates to my chest where I end up using my inhaler repeatedly because my chest is tight and I can't breathe. This one started in my chest then moved up to my throat (I sound like I have smoked a pack of fags a day since the age of 7. Spiderman says I should be some Russian femme fatale in a Bond film or chasing "Moose and Squirrel" with Borris Badenoff) and today has moved into my head accompanied by sneezing.  Joy.

But I have done the right thing and stayed home and not spread my germs all over the school (which to be fair is where I probably picked up my germs). I sometimes have trouble resting when ill--in Louisiana you had to be practically on your death bed to be allowed a substitute teacher. Once I had horrible flu and was told there were no subs available and so I went to school in my jim-jams wrapped in a blanket and lay on the floor and showed films all day to my first graders. Maybe it is because I am not a teacher and my absence is not as difficult to cover, but my school is really good about illness. I showed up Tuesday all coughing and a voice like I should be singing Negro spirituals and was sent home by 9:00. They said "Go home and rest. you are clearly poorly."

And so I have. I have rested and drank lots of fluids and some echinacea and zinc and have watched films and tried to feel better. I hope I do soon.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Ah sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you

I have never been a tea drinker. My dear ole dad used to say I must be some sort of alien as I had no interest in sweetened iced tea. You can’t live in the American South and not drink an ice cold glass of refreshin’ tea during the sultry months. Well somehow I managed.  Over here, a cuppa with a splash of milk and no sugar tastes revolting. I’m sorry--but for the most part I think tea tastes like dried grass. Or hay. Like you went to a farm and pulled some up from the ground and poured boiling water over it, put it in a mug and presto--it still tastes of dead foliage.

I used to think that until (cue angelic music) I sampled Lebanese Iced Tea when we were visiting the US recently. This, my friend, is the nectar of the Gods. It was a combination of black tea, lemonade and rosewater and it was like licking unicorn sweat. Or what I would imagine unicorn sweat would be like. OK, maybe that’s a crap analogy. How about this: It was like drinking dew with the fairies. Or squeezing a drop of nectar from a honeysuckle flower into your mouth (which is the only one of these I’ve actually done) Suffice it to say it was delicious--precisely because it did not taste of tea. 

I came home on a mission--to locate and replicate a recipe. Thanks to google there are dozens out there. So I went out and bought some black tea. It was Twinings Rose Garden which is actually black tea with dried rose petals in it. I figured the more rose aroma the better. Then I went in search of rosewater. I found 2 types--one really expensive one that contained propylene glycol (which is in anti-freeze!! Um, no thanks) and a cheaper one with just water, rose essence and citric acid to preserve freshness. Guess which one I chose?

Then I tried to make it in various combinations. None were quite right. They were all missing that je ne sais quoi and so I did more research. Some recipes called for jallab syrup which was a type of sweetened molasses. I was told that middle eastern markets would have it. Not having any of those close by I searched on. Then I found it. A recipe that included pomegranate molasses which I happened to have in my larder. If you don’t know pomegranate molasses then seek it out. I buy mine at Planet Organic in London but again a middle eastern market would have it. All it contains is 100% pomegranate juice that has been boiled and reduced to a sticky syrup. It is tangy and sweet and YUM. This was the added extra I was looking for. So this is my recipe:

Lebanese Iced Tea
2 black tea bags (with roses if you can get it)
1 litre of boiling water
Pour the boiling water over the tea bags and let it steep about 15-20 minutes and then remove the bags and let the tea cool. When the tea is cool add:
2 TB pomegranate molasses
2 TB rosewater
Freshly squeezed juice of ½-1 whole lemon (up to about ¼ cup)
Sweetener to taste
I use stevia as my sweetener and it really doesn’t need much as the pomegranate molasses makes it sweet. For my stevia 1/8 of a teaspoon =1teaspoon sugar so I used 1 tsp stevia for the tea (meaning the same as 8 tsp sugar)

Then pour into a jug and chill in the fridge for a refreshing cold drink. If you want to be real authentic then after you pour yourself a glass float a teaspoon of pine nuts on top.

If this seems time consuming then do as I do--make the tea before bed. Take out the tea bags and let it cool over night. In the morning add the pomegranate molasses, sweetener, lemon and rosewater and put it up to chill. When you get home all hot and tired it is cool and ready and waiting for you. It’s that easy.

This is the best drink ever and completely disguises the taste of tea (which may put you off if you actually enjoy drinking hay) but if you can find the ingredients, give it a go. It is like manna from heaven. Seriously. Slurp. Mmmmm.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christmas comes early

This really annoys me--Christmas stuff already out in shops and it’s not even Thanksgiving. Yes, I am fully aware that we Brits don’t actually celebrate Thanksgiving (much to the annual surprise of my grandmother) but I hate seeing Christmas tat out before December. There was some  stuff out before Halloween even. Unbelievable.

Yesterday I noticed that the city Christmas lights were already turned on. Christmas lights--in November. November!  Last year I read something that said the city needed to raise £10,000 to pay for the electricity used by the city lights--and this was in addition to donations that paid for some of it. £10,000!!!!!!!!!! Can you imagine what £10,000 could do for feeding the homeless or providing toys for underprivileged kiddies? It boils my blood to see money wasted when there is poverty and emptiness in people’s lives. And maybe if you didn’t start using up electricity in NOVEMBER it wouldn’t cost £10,000. Just saying.

That being said, I really don’t mind getting or giving a Christmas pressie early. Yes, I know, double standard. But it is my double standard and I fully accept any responsibility for it (or any present that may come my way.) Saturday at the market Spiderman and I chanced upon a craft stall with a hand-blown glass red back spider (definitely the Australian red back as it has the red marking on the top side of its round black abdomen rather than the American black widow who has the red hour glass on the underside of the abdomen) on sale for £12. Now we set a limit of £5 each to spend on each other for Christmas and usually try to score something cool second hand--the cheaper the better. Last year I think we both managed to spend £2. The spider was so beautiful and well proportioned that we decided to pool our money and buy her as our joint Christmas gift even though we went £2 over budget. Look what a lovely cutie-patootie she is:

She has the place of honour under the big wooden one Spiderman bought me as a surprise gift a few months ago. 

So just to recap--senseless waste of electricity=BAD
Early gifts=GOOD
Just saying.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Search for Spidergrrl

I have had several people email me and inquire whether I was well because I have done such a poor job of posting on the blog since our return from the trip to the U.S. The honest answer is it has been a spectacular combination of jet lag and a big dollop of can’t be arsed. How long can I claim to be jet lagged? I fear that time is over and we are moving swiftly in the lazy arse category. To be fair, we have been occupied with other things--we had a wee bit of a health scare with Spiderman, but he’s been checked out with loads of tests and is now fine. Also I am awaiting my new glasses and am struggling to read/use the computer without sore, tired eyes so I have been purposely avoiding too much reading until Monday when I get my new prescription. So here’s a little something I saw on some other blogs I read, though I originally saw it on Crunchy Chicken‘s blog so I‘ll giver her the credit. It is making the rounds and it has been fun to read about others so here are the ones about me! Enjoy and pass it on!

The A to Z Guide to Me

Age-41--soon to be 42 in a few weeks! But many people have said I look much younger.

Bed Size-King--but I think King in the UK is the same as a Queen in the US. Big enough to scoot away from Spiderman when I'm hot but small enough so I don't go too far away. I also need to sleep with a pillow between my knees to keep my hip aligned and this size bed
means I’m not crowding him out.

Chore I hate-Washing dishes. After I’ve done the meal planning and the shopping and the cooking the last thing I want to do is the washing up. Spiderman says I don’t do it particularly well as I tend to miss spots so he tends to do it these days--and I am forever thankful. 

Dogs-None! Owing to severe allergy. We do have 6 tarantulas, however. So whilst they are hairy they don’t shed all over your furniture and clothes since they don‘t roam your house.

Essential start to my day-A snuggle with Spiderman who wakes up first, has a bath, gives me a cuddle and gentle, slow wake up and then a hot bath. Then whilst I’m bathing and getting dressed he is making the breakfast smoothie and finished off washing the dishes. What a guy! It makes my mornings start so easily.

Favourite colour-deep forest green

Gold or silver-silver. I’m not really a jewellery person but I do wear some small silver earrings.

Height-5'3 on a good day. It used to be closer to the 5’2 end but my posture has improved with pilates so I’m up to the full 5’3 when I stand well. I am, however, taller than my mum!

Instruments-I am teaching myself the ukulele. Plus my voice as an instrument because I sing quite a lot and I am a storyteller.

Job title-teaching assistant. I was a teacher for several years, but suffered from burn out. I now have the best job ever--I work in a school, I get to help and support children with their learning but I have no paperwork or marking or planning to do!

Kids-none. But I am a loving mentor figure who cares about each and every child in school. So in a sense I have hundreds of children! Thousands if you count all those I have helped and loved over the years.

Live-I grew up in Louisiana but now live in England!

Mother's Name-Rebecca, but most folks call her Becky

Nickname-As a child I was known as the Electric Flea. I tend to go by Mrs T or Miz Tiz at school and Princess Pussycat or Hedgehog at home. There are few nicknames too rude to print.

Overnight hospital stays-I had my tonsils out as a wee’un but spent a week in hospital in 2010 having a hysterectomy.

Pet Peeves-People who are perpetually late. People who thoughtlessly bring their pets everywhere--a real health issue for folks like me.

Quote from a movie-"I‘ll get you my pretty and your little dog, too!" Anyone tell me which movie this quote came from?

Right hand or left hand? I always say left handed--but really I am more ambidextrous. I write left handed, but I do much of my craft work like cutting and sticking right handed. I eat with my left, but use a knife with my right. I open jars right handed.

Siblings-I am an only child. I liked it because we were a “triangle family” with just the 3 of us and I was very close to my parents growing up and I think I had more of a say in family issues being 1/3 of every vote.

Time I wake up-On a school day Spiderman gets me up around 6:00 or a wee bit after. Because we don’t have the internet at home if I want computer time I need to get it before school at the library and I have to be at work by 8:30. On a weekend or holiday with no place to be I love to have a lie in.

Underwear-I have never been a girly sort of frilly nonsense type of person. Or a thong person--who wants to floss their crack? I am all about comfort. I’ve always worn comfortable cotton knickers. Since the hysterectomy I have gone to some big ole Bridget Jones’ style massive pants as they don’t rub my scar. And all my knickers are in black as you can wash them with the dark clothes.

Vegetable I hate-Green beans. Blech! I hate them so much we called them GBs when I was a kid. I also don’t really like the aubergine (eggplant to my US peeps)--I like the colour but not the taste. 

What makes me run late
-Having a lie in. Or not being able to find my glasses or my keys.

X-rays-Loads of chest X-rays as I had bronchitis nearly every winter. Plus some from the dentist and the chiropractor. 

Yummy food I make-If you ask me I say everything.  But my black bean brownies are always a hit. And no one knows they are gluten free, vegan and fat free.

Zoo animal- the jerboa. It is a nocturnal creature we saw at the London zoo--it is the size of a mouse but it has little legs like a kangaroo. Like a jumping mouse. We have a  stuffed toy one named Huntarian after our favourite science museum in London.

So that’s me, then. What about you?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Around the world in 10 days

OK, we didn’t actually go around the world--but we did go half way round. Yes, as you can see, we have returned from the Voyage of the Damned (so named as so many things seemed to be going wrong before we went we wondered if we would actually get there at all) but clearly we did and we returned back to our own nest where we are snuggling down and sleeping off the jet lag.

It was truly wonderful to see everyone. We hadn’t seen family and friends  for several years and so it was lovely to catch up with so many people. I had 3 main worries about going (if you don’t count the bit where I cringe at the thought of spending money. That’s not so much a worry as being a cheap-ass.)
Worry One: Being hungry. We are vegan and I am wheat free and Louisiana is about meat and meat and more meat. It was a very unfriendly place for plant eating people the last time we were there. Plus now the no wheat issue can make choosing food a bit trickier.
Worry Two: My back would hurt. I have some back issues stemming from a twice broken coccyx that  won’t allow me to sit down for too long comfortably and this trip was all about the travel--sitting on an aeroplane for nearly 10 hours as well as numerous car journeys. We flew into New Orleans and needed to get all the way to Monroe. That’s a lot of travel time.
Worry Three: That my allergies would be out of control due to aggressive Louisiana pollen and pet hair. Yes--being severely allergic to animal dander and having EVERY friend and family member be pet owners is a bit awkward to say the least.

It turned out that only one of the three worries really came true. Louisiana has become a much friendlier state about other people’s food choices/needs. There were many varieties of non meat foods out there including some soy yoghurt and gluten free pretzels! I was never hungry. We ate at several restaurants and there was always something to eat. We had lovely grilled courgette and asparagus with a marinated grilled Portobello mushroom the first night we arrived and it only got better from there. In Alexandria, I highly recommend the wee restaurant on Jackson Street called Little Greek. We ate there twice and both times the wonderful owner made us something special. The first time he whipped up these lemon garlic potatoes with brown rice and the next time he outdid himself by making us a special gluten free pizza with tomatoes, olives, onions, peppers, mushrooms and spinach and topped it with what he called “tofu cheese” which was a bag of soy shreds. I normally don’t go for the fake stuff but this was hands down--the BEST pizza I have ever eaten. And then he used leftover gluten free dough and an apple to make us a little baked apple in cinnamon pastry topped with powdered sugar for pudding!!! What a nice man!!! If we lived there I’d eat there all the time so if you live in Alexandria--go to the Little Greek and meet the nicest people who will cook you amazing food.

Worry two had been my back, but I was able to get up and stretch on the plane and my back was relaxed and loose and pain free until the flight home--and by then I didn’t care as I was going back to my own bed. It was so pain free that I was able to exercise many times taking advantage of the mini-gym in 2 of our hotels. I ran on the treadmill several days and even beat my record for press ups (push ups to my American peeps)--I did 40. Granted they were “girl” press ups--but hey, I did 40. Can you do 40? I think not.

Sadly the one problem that plagued me from beginning to end in varying degrees was allergies. Even Spiderman was suffering from the pollen so I know it was bad. But being a sensitive little flower I was affected by pet hair. My mum and step dad tried so hard and were 90% successful in keeping themselves pet hair free and keeping me from being sick. I love them so much for the amount of energy and money they spent from renting a car so I could breathe freely as well as coughing up money for a hotel room when my allergies couldn’t take the tiny caravan we had planned to borrow. It was fine until we brought out the sheets and blankets. Damn you allergies!!! I didn’t have as much success in Monroe and spent most of the visit with Spiderman’s family trying not to claw my face off or rub my eyes until they bled. I spent a good deal of time being pretty doped up from high levels of anti-histamine. This is precisely how I slept through the Bob Dylan concert all those years ago.  I was taking high levels of anti-histamines and people were smoking dope all around us and I just drifted off to sleep with my head on Spiderman’s shoulder and Bob Dylan looked really small on the stage and the speaker pulsed  like a giant beating heart. Thankfully, there was no dope smoking this visit so with just the anti-histamine to contend with I managed (barely) to stay awake and try to contribute to the conversation.  Despite my allergies, it was good to see everyone.

But there were a few things that I learned.

1. I am still not a petrol head. I am spoiled to the life we lead here with no car and excellent public transportation. I was shocked at how you really did have to drive EVERYWHERE. I feel like with the plane flight and all the driving (well, riding) in cars we did I am personally responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer. Polar bears are dying out there because of me, I just know it.

2. We are loved by so many people. We had family drive quite long distances (all the way from Texas!) to come and have lunch with us. Lots of people really wanted to see us and went out of their way to do so and I felt loved and supported by all. Some friends are the sort that you can pick up right where you left off 10 years ago and we were blessed to have dinner with our dear friend LeCrete who is as mad as a hatter in the best possible way. 

3. I adore Lebanese Iced Tea. I have never been a tea drinker. In the South it’s all about the sweetened iced tea but in England, it’s all about a steaming cuppa with a bickie. I don’t like either but I have discovered Lebanese Iced tea and I am working to replicate the recipe at home. It was sweetened tea, lemonade and rosewater with pine nuts floating on top and so delicious and refreshing I can think of nothing else I’d like to drink in the world ever again. 

4. There is such a thing as a Squirrel Cook Off. Have a favourite squirrel recipe? Then bring it along to the Squirrel Cook Off and you might when a prize. We saw a leaflet advertising this and it was funniest (and grossest) thing I think we saw the whole visit. Thank you Louisiana.

5. There’s no place like home. Or as it says in the book The Best Nest:
I love my house
I love my nest
In all the world
My nest is best.
I was glad to go and see everyone, but returning to a place where I can walk instead of drive, where I can recycle, where I can breathe clearly means everything. Louisiana was once our home but it felt very like a place to visit--it does not belong to us anymore--and I am so glad that we belong to England and England belongs to us.