Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Is this the way to Oriontar?

Have you ever heard of Oriontar? Surely you have. It’s where the three kings come from. You know, we three kings of Oriontar.

Yesterday I received a beautiful hand drawn Christmas card from a sweet young girl in my class. She is very clever and one of the best writers we’ve got. Her story about being trapped in a snow globe was a real page turner. 

The card had a funny picture and the subversive lyrics to this familiar song:

We three kings of Oriontar

Bearing gifts we travel afar…

One in a scooter

One in a car

Oh darn! I don’t know where to park!

It made me laugh out loud as that is a silly variation of the song that I had not been previously acquainted with. But I loved with all my heart the word Oriontar. Well, think about it, that’s what it sounds like. Orient are…Oriontar. This may be the best mistake ever. It also came with an apology in case the card was offencive which just shows you what a lovely polite girl she is. I assured her that I found it hilarious.

The other British version that I know was taught to me by a funny young lad who is now in year seven. We used to tell each other jokes and try to stump the other person with riddles.

I taught him to sing Ren and Stimpy’s We Wish You a Hairy Chest Wig (and a bucket of beards) for which I’m sure his parents were eternally grateful to me and in return he taught me this one:

We three kings of Orient are

One in a taxi

One in a car

One on a scooter

Beeping his hooter

Smoking a big cigar!

I just love the Britishness of it. Beeping his hooter. In the classic book Wind in the Willows, Toad beeps the hooter of his motor car and you will never guess the sound it makes. Go on. Have a think. You ready for it? When Toad beeps his hooter it says POOP! POOP! Ah, those wacky Brits.

The version I grew up singing (this song really does lend itself ever so nicely to parody) was this one:

We three kings of Orient are

Smoking on a rubber cigar.

One was loaded

It exploded….

We two kings of Orient are!

Oh how we laughed at that when I was a child.  Back in the 70‘s that was cutting edge comedy. Or so we thought.

So here’s to a lovely holiday.

May we laugh.

 May we sing.

May we go to Oriontar.


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Taking stock

Stock cubes, bouillon powder, broth….it all makes water taste better.  We are devoted to adding it to practically everything. Soup (but of course!) but also to the water used to make rice and to boil potatoes in. It just makes everything tastes that little bit richer.

The downfalls are that stock cubes can be a pain to get to dissolve and sometimes you only want a bit of one and then you have all these partial cubes laying about. So we decided to go with a powder as it was more economical and you could just use what you needed. For years I bought Marigold brand bouillon powder.

Some had whey powder in them, but there were two types labelled vegan. The regular one we felt was a bit high in salt so I used to buy a small pot of the regular and a small pot of the low salt and mix them together. Perfect!

Except for one thing. They contained palm oil. Palm oil is one of those things that has gradually moved into our consciousness and set up house. We worry about the destruction of the rainforest that occurs due to palm oil production and the fact that it is destroying the habitat of orang-utans. Therefore we try to buy it as little as possible.

For a while I was buying these Knorr stock pots which I felt gave a really rich feeling to soups (probably due to the long list of fillers and artificial flavour enhancers), but they were made by Unilever and yet again, the ugliness crept into our hearts and we knew it would have to go the way of Marigold Bouillon. Unilever doesn’t have a very good track record on animal right’s issues--they are one of the leading companies who still use animal testing for their products. They are not the worst of the lot, but they are not the best either and our consciences  would not allow us to continue.

So what do you do? Make it yourself of course. This was a huge DUH! Moment for us--we make so many other things from scratch, why not this one?

I started with a google search. I came across many types, including one that pureed fresh vegetables and herbs with a huge amount of salt and then was frozen. The salt kept it from freezing solid, but I found it just lacked the depth of taste we were looking for and was way too salty. So into the bin that went.

Then I came across this one from Super Veggie Mom at  and it seemed just right. It looked just like the Marigold broth powder we loved (but without the palm oil) and I had nearly everything on hand. Plus it was lower in salt than any other recipe like it that I found. I liked also that she specified sea salt as I think sea salt has a much richer depth of flavour than table salt and so you get more flavour with less. I use Malden Sea Salt with the big flakes of salt.

So here goes. How to make your own homemade vegetable broth powder.


  2 cups nutritional yeast

½ cup sea salt

2 TB onion powder (I used dehydrated onion flakes because that’s what we had)

1 TB turmeric

2 tsp dried dill weed

2 tsp marjoram (I used 2 tsp mixed herbs which has sage and marjoram in it)

2 tsp dried lemon peel (I left this out as I could not find it in the shops)

1 tsp celery seed

1 tsp basil

1 tsp thyme

1 TB dried parsley

1.Place all ingredients except parsley in a food processor in the listed order and blend until powdered together. 

2. Add parsley and pulse to blend

3. Store in an air tight container


4. To use--combine 1 tsp of powder with 1 cup water.

That’s it! I had it made in less than 10 minutes and that included clean up.

It tastes delicious--just as good as the commercial ones and possibly better as you know it is not full of fillers, palm oil, animal suffering and junk.

Look at the ones you buy and if you are shocked with the unpronounceable ingredients, palm oil or MSG then give this one a try.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Kenning

Have you ever heard of a type of poem called a kenning? No, neither had I until recently. If you want to read more about them and see some examples go here:

 Yesterday we were writing them in year 4 about Boudicca and the Romans and it seemed like great fun so I decided to write one about myself.


I am…

An avid recycler

An open drawer leaver

A theatre goer

A book reader

A train traveller

An Oz collector

An animal protector

A green bean hater

A joke teller

A Doctor Who watcher

A spider nurturer

A jewellery maker

A library user

A mind changer

A kale devourer

A badger protester

A ukulele player

A razor refuser

An art buyer

A letter writer

A tradition keeper

Why don’t you have a go at writing one about yourself?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

What do you call a man who hangs on a wall?


Boom boom!

 It’s that time of year again, folks. Advent and the coming of Christmas is my favourite time of year. Time to light candles and read a poem or holiday quotation to warm our hearts. Time to celebrate my birthday with the traditional leek and potato soup, decorating the Christmas tree and watching (and blubbing through) The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. A time for silly puns and terrible jokes in Christmas crackers. Time for shouting “Oh no it isn’t!” and  “He’s behind you!” at the Panto.

What’s not to love?  

Spiderman and I often just club in together for our gifts--buy tickets for an experience or purchase something we both love to share. You may recall last month we purchased a fantastic drawing from the wonderful illustrator and cartoonist Tom Gauld.  He very kindly offered to hold back another drawing  for us that we had our eye on  until December. Well, it’s December folks! Our purchase of Interview With a Cultural Teddy Bear has arrived!
Embedded image permalink

 This cartoon featured on the blog last year as just one we had seen and found funny and quirky. Who knew it would someday belong to us?

Spiderman excelled himself for my birthday, getting me some more amazing artwork and supporting a good cause. Our friend Chris Priestley  is one of the best young adult writers of our age. His Tales of Terror series invoke a real sense of unease and delicious tingling down the back of your spine as you read them and his novels inspired by great works of literature such as Mister Creecher (Frankenstein) and The Dead Men Stood Together (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)  are some of his finest. They take a refreshing look at the original source and fill in details that the authors gloss over.  Mister Creecher fills in the bits where Frankenstein and Clerval travel to England to find the parts to create a mate for the creature. This book is possibly one of the best written books I have ever read and it cleverly woven (just to make it that bit better) with Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Mary Shelley (who actually wrote Frankenstein) and her husband Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley as well as a whole host of literary and culteral references But before Chris was a writer, he was an artist and illustrator.

Spiderman stumbled across an auction in aid the typhoon in the Philippines and Chris had kindly donated some works. Spiderman bid on it and won and so we are the proud owner of the original cover art from Mister Creecher and a personalised copy of the book.

 Here is the pen and ink drawing for the cover of Mister Creecher. Please click on the picture so you can see it in all its glory. I’m not sure you will be able to see all the details, but the skin stretched tightly over the skull and the look of anguish in the creature’s dead eyes are truly haunting.

It also came with this one--a picture of the graves.

The two pictures were married together on the computer to form the cover which looks like this when you buy it in shops:

 And here is the front of the book, personalised to me with a happy birthday message and a pile of skulls. Every girl wants a pile of skulls for her birthday.

I know I do.

 I realise that not everyone would find it romantic to receive a drawing of a pile of skulls and a creature reanimated from the bodies of the dead, but Spiderman knows me well. He knows how I love art and the books Frankenstein and Mister Creecher. He knows that I am drawn to the haunted, the downtrodden and the wounded.

He knows me well.

So happy advent, happy birthday, happy Christmas and happy life.

Friday, 6 December 2013

I am the song

My class of year 4s (think third grade to my American peeps) read this poem by Charles Causley

I am the Song

I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks the man

and we were inspired to write our own version. It really makes you think in a different way. I was so proud of them because they also performed it at the school carol concert on Wednesday.  It was beautifully and simply recited and a refreshing change from the many soppy poems recited in unison in a sing-song voice.

Well done Spain class.

I am the Song

I am the song that caries the angel

I am the angel that caries the song

I am the wood that lights the fire

I am the fire that lights the wood

I am the excitement that holds the night

I am the night that holds the excitement

I am the tree that protects the man

I am the man that protects the tree

I am the joy that comes with a child

I am the child that comes with joy

I am the king that follows the star

I am the star that follows the king

I am the cradle that warms the baby

I am the baby that warms the cradle

I am the choir that sings in the church

I am the church that sings in the choir

I am the child that lights the candle

I am the candle that lights the child

I am the song that gives us light

I am the light that gives us song

I am the peace that comes with the baby

I am the baby that comes with peace

I am the boy who believes in Christmas

I am the Christmas who believes in the boy

Isn’t that beautiful? We also sang a rousing, but slightly out of tune version of Band Aid’s charity single in aid of the Africa Famine from the 80’s Do they know it’s Christmas? You recall it--with that extremely catchy bit at the end where everyone sings

Feed the world

Let them know

it’s Christmas time
As a teenager in the 1980's I had it on 45 record. I told my class this was the way it was originally produced (not the CD backing track we were using)  and all but one said, “What’s a record, Miss? Is it like a CD?“ which made me feel really old. The only one who knew what a record was said, “My granddad has a turntable and records at his house but he’s ancient.” Then I felt even older. Ha ha

 All in all it was a magical, but exhausting night getting 200+ children to the church on time (literally and metaphorically) but it was worth it.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Dragon Breath

There was a cartoon we saw --probably 20 years ago--that we still use as a joke. It had a dragon talking to another dragon saying, “Your breath…it’s so minty fresh…I can’t stand it.”  Spiderman has a love of all things peppermint and so often has quite minty breath. I always think of dragons when I think of minty fresh. 

 I love the idea of mouthwash, but have you seen what goes into commercial mouthwashes these days? Artificial colours anyone? Plus a whole host of ingredients from artificial sweeteners to fluoride.

I fall into the anti-fluoride camp because I know it is a by-product of the fertilizer industry. It is illegal to dump it in rivers as it kills fish and so the fertilizer industry did a deal with the dental industry and the rest is history. Personally, I don’t think I want to put something in my mouth that tells you to call poison control  if you ingest too much. Actually brushing  and flossing (not toothpaste) is what cleans teeth. I use a natural fluoride free toothpaste and I’ve got lovely teeth.

I started looking for  a mouthwash free of artificial muck and poison, but they cost a packet for a teeny bottle and I thought…hang on a minute…I could make that at home. For practically free.

You’ll need to find a small glass bottle with a lid (I used a mini wine bottle) and a shot glass. I bought my shot glass for 30p at a charity shop.

Dragon’s Breath Minty Mouthwash

 1 cup warm water

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

Peppermint essential oil

1. Dissolve the bicarb into the warm water. Bicarbonate of soda is excellent for killing bacteria.

2. Add  drops of peppermint to taste. I like 12 drops.

3. Funnel it into your bottle. That’s it! It’s ready!

 No weird stuff. No nasties. No artificial sweetener. Just pure minty freshness.

As  it doesn’t have any emulsifiers, you’ll need to give it a good shake to distribute the oils right before you want to use it.

If you find you need a bit of sweetness then add 1tsp vegetable glycerine--available at the pharmacy. It’s used here for sore throats. If you need a more medicinal mouthwash then add a few drops thyme oil (thymol is the key ingredient in Listerine) or essence of myrrh (myrrh is quite astringent and good for tightening loose teeth)  or use a few drops of clove oil if you have a toothache. Incidentally, a few drops clove oil put right at the gums of a sore tooth does wonders. It is sold here on the dental aisle.

Now isn’t that better than all that lime green Listerine?

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Elvis Sandwich

When we got our first microwave back in the early 80s, my dad I loved to make microwave bacon. In order to cook it you had to line a paper plate with a dozen paper towels to soak up all the grease.

Now that I am more health conscious the thought of all that grease makes me feel a bit queasy, but I still recall fondly our favourite sandwich which we dubbed the Elvis.

Peanut butter and bacon. I think my mum was horrified by our tastes, but the combination of sweet Jif  peanut butter (choosy mothers choose Jif) and salty, smoky bacon really hit the spot. If you really wanted to be like Elvis you could add some sliced banana as we read somewhere that had been his favourite sandwich combination.

This is where Spiderman interjects and reminds me how Elvis died--fat, alone, on the toilet with a sandwich in his hand.

But no matter. This is the healthy version of the Elvis.

These days I would never choose Jif peanut butter--it is full of additives like huge amounts of hydrogenated oil and loads of sugar. I prefer just plain peanut butter make from peanuts. Just peanuts. Sometimes I make my own flavoured ones (like chocolate peanut butter or chai nut butter) but I always have a container of just good old plain peanut butter on hand for making peanut sauce.


Elvis would have used toasted white bread but I used a rye crisp instead as it is lower in gluten and healthier.  I spread it with a layer of peanut butter and added some sliced banana and the topped it with some coconut bacon.

Heaven. Just heaven.

It reminds me so much of my dear old dad. This would be a way we could still eat the same thing side by side. If he were alive, I’m sure we would.

So here’s to you, GLT. I’ll eat my Elvis sandwich and think of you. Maybe you are somewhere in Heaven, eating yours and thinking of me.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Smoky, salty, crispy…yum!

Who here doesn’t like bacon? Well pigs, for a start. But we all crave that smoky, salty, crispy  taste. I admit that bacon was the hardest animal product to give up, for precisely those reasons. But I also know that compassion taste better than anything so I am always looking for ways to include that smoky, salty umami flavour in my food. Because Spiderman and I realised pretty early on, it’s not the meat we were craving, but the sauce or the way of cooking it that we loved the taste of. You could cook anything that way, with that sauce and it would be a satisfying meal.

 Cue coconut bacon. This is all the rage in vegan land. As Isa Chandra Moskowitz once said, “Given the chance, vegans will make bacon out of anything.” It ticks all the boxes of smoky, salty, (with a hint of sweet) and crispy and is made from the whole food of coconut chips. Sure, you can buy Bacos which are accidentally vegan or make your own using TVP (which is little dry soya nuggets that need to be re-hydrated) but both of those are highly processed and we prefer to eat more natural, plant based food.

But as coconut bacon proves--you can still have delicious kick ass food that is healthy.  

An internet search revealed dozens of recipes. I ended up adapting several to match what ingredients I had. The one thing you will need for sure is those wide slices of unsweetened coconut meat not the shreds. I found mine in a bag at our local health food shop.


Coconut Bacon

Preheat the oven to 300F/150C

125g bag coconut chips (a little more than 2.5 cups)

1 TB liquid smoke

2 TB tamari or soy sauce

1 TB maple syrup

1 TB toasted sesame oil

1 tsp smoked paprika.


1. Mix all ingredients in a little bowl and then pour over the coconut in a bigger bowl and really mix it in with your hands to get all the pieces coated.


 2. Line a large roasting tin with parchment paper and lay the coconut as flat as you can, trying not to have too much overlapped.

3. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. The bacon will get darker and dryer as it goes on.


4. Take it out of the oven  Remove the parchment from the hot pan and set on the counter to cool and crisp up. When the coconut is cool, it is very crispy…and salty…and smoky…and sweet…and yum.

Super yum. It reminds me of that crispy bacon you used to get at IHOP with your pancakes.

Several recipes called for  1TB water instead of toasted sesame oil, but I like the smoky quality the oil adds. I might even cut back the maple syrup a wee bit (by ¼ a teaspoon) next time and add ¼ tsp extra liquid smoky.

Because there will definitely be a next time. It will store on the counter in an airtight container for a week, but I doubt it will last that long.

We’re having it on pizza tonight and colcannon jacket potatoes on Wednesday (twice baked potatoes filled with tangy cashew cheese and kale) and I’ve been sprinkling it on everything.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s recipe--the Elvis Sandwich.