Monday, 29 June 2015

Deep seated prejudice or unbelievably lazy? You decide.

I am a reader. I read every day. I go to the public library several times a week and always have at least two books on the go at all times. There are stacks and stacks of books in our house.

But what do I seem unable to bring myself to use?

A bookmark. 

Seriously. Now before you get all up on your high horse I would NEVER ever dog ear the page of a book.

That's like grounds for divorce when you are married to a librarian.

But I seem incapable of using a proper bookmark.

It is not that I don't have them. I do. I have loads. In fact, I know where all of them are. In a little pot on the bottom shelf of a wine box on the stairs. What I don't have is the energy to get up and get one when I am reading in the living room and need to get up for some reason.

Or maybe I just really hate bookmarks.

So what do I use? Any old thing I lay my hand on.  Here is a list of things I have used to mark my place in a book because I cannot be arsed to go and get a proper bookmark:

1. receipts
2. a 2p coin
3. a bit of loose thread I pulled from the bottom of a shirt I was wearing
4. the peel off tabs from a plaster (band-aid)
5. the outer wrapper from the same plaster carelessly left on the table when I had bandaged up my finger the night before
6. some fluff I found in my pocket
7.  a small square of green felt that was left on the floor after a craft project
8. the wrapper from a peppermint cream
9. a strip torn off of a newspaper I had finished reading
10. an anniversary card from a friend

So do I have some dark secret lurking in my past whereby I cannot bear to be in the presence of bookmarks because they bring back the pain of my childhood?  Was I once greatly wronged by a bookmark? Did it give me a paper cut? Or am I just undeniably lazy when it comes to reading?

You decide.

I'll just go ahead and finish my book.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Do you know the Muffin Pan?

As the old children's rhyme (did not) used to say:

Do you know the muffin pan?
The muffin pan?
The muffin pan.
Oh do you know the muffin pan
that makes such yummy treats?

So, despite the rising temperatures I was determined to try out some new muffin shaped recipes in my new muffin pan. Chocolate Covered Katie is one of my heroes. She makes healthy, decadent, low fat, lower sugar treats--many of which can be gluten free. When I saw this recipe for Hummingbird cupcakes I knew we needed to try them.

Despite growing up in the Deep South, I had never heard of Hummingbird Cake before but apparently it is the most popular recipe ever to have come out of  Southern Living Magazine.
The Original Hummingbird Cake Recipe
click to enlarge.

Why is it called Hummingbird cake? There are several theories.
1) it makes you hum with pleasure when you eat it
2) it is as sweet as the juice you put  in a hummingbird feeder.
3) as it contains pineapple and banana and the original recipe *may* have come from Jamaica  it is named after a type of hummingbird found there

The original recipe called for 1.5 cups of oil. Southern Living has made it slightly healthier (but not much) and Chocolate Covered Katie has made it *very* healthy.  

CCK frosts hers with cream cheese frosting but we feel that soy cream cheese is highly processed and rather expensive so I used this for my topping to make it truly decadent--a coconut brown sugar crumble:

I also used Tate and Lyle brown sugar with stevia in the actual cupcakes so I could use as half as much sweetener (although she only calls for 1/3 of a cup plus 1 TB sugar) as I knew I was also using sugar in my crumble topping. Mine had a total of 1/2 cup refined sugar overall. 

I also thriftily puréed the leftover tinned pineapple and juice and froze them in ice cube trays for future sorbet when the weather gets beastly hot. Pineapple sorbet--bonus! 

Later on for dinner I whipped us up some mini crustless quiches! My mum laughed on the phone when I said I was making quiche without egg or cheese. I used to make tofu quiche sometimes but it was a bit expensive and laborious and took ages to cook. This was a game changer. 

The secret ingredient? Chickpea flour. Naturally gluten free this stuff is inexpensive and high in protein and fibre. 8 grams protein per quiche and 7.2 grams fibre for the basic batter not counting vegetables!!  I used this recipe to make my quiches.

First I sautéed some thinly sliced onion and mushrooms as well as some roasted red pepper from a jar that I needed to use up. I put a little in each greased muffin cup along with some leftover coconut bacon I had. Bacon not pictured as I only remembered it after I took the photo and was too lazy to do another.

 Then I poured over the batter.

Then I baked it in a hot oven as per directed. I was pouring with sweat when they came out but it was oh-so-worth-it. 

I let them cool 15 minutes and then they popped right out of the pan. Thank you oil! 

We had them with a massaged kale salad which was lovely. Also, there were leftovers which we polished off for breakfast the next day and I can attest that they were just as good on the second day. Bonus! 

In the future I might add some cheesy flavoured vegan nutritional yeast and some herbs or finely chopped spinach. 

We would definitely use this muffin tin in the winter for more savoury dishes. I am picturing individual servings of things like nutroast or "meatloaf" frosted with mashed potatoes. 

Plus all the cupcakes I can get down my greedy gob.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

There is nuffin' like a muffin

I have always been more of a cake baker, but truth be told--I love me a muffin. Or a cupcake. What is the difference? Size? Sweetness? Healthiness? Frosting?

I dunno. But I like 'em.

They are handheld. They have a cute little shape. They are portion controlled. What's not to like?

Well....muffin pans for a start.

I went through a faze where I wanted all silicone bakeware. It was supposed to be non-stick and flexible to get your food out. yeah...but it also was a pain in the arse to deal with. The cake pans were so floppy that you needed to put them on a cookie sheet just to get them in and out of the oven and they never cooked properly. The baked goods were as rubbery as the pan. I had muffin tins as well and they were just as horrible. The few times I tried to make muffins they stuck horribly to the pan and ended up with a weird rubbery smell.


So they were eventually consigned to a charity shop in the hopes that some one else might want them.

But recently, I have invested in a metal loaf pan from Poundland of all places. I love that pan. We have had many super-duper-always-comes-out-right breads and cakes with that £1 loaf pan.

So when I saw some interesting recipes that needed a muffin tin I thought it was time to reinvest. This time in a metal one. Because metal pan actually cook the food.

I tried Poundland and the 99p Shop (weirdly both owned by the same company!) with no luck. Eventually after some price comparisons  I bought a 12 muffin pan (not two 6 muffin pans) from Wilkinsons for £4. I could have paid more for a non-stick one made with Teflon but there are lots of health indications with using Teflon such as the fact that fumes from heated up Teflon can be deadly to birds. So I just got a plain ole metal one that I would either need to grease or line with paper muffin cases.

My first try was some fat free chocolate and cranberry muffins from Happy Herbivore. They were ok. I chose them as I had some frozen cranberries left from Christmas in the freezer that needed to be used up. The recipe called for apple sauce and so I tried pureeing a couple apples with some water in my blender. It was ok, next time will probably use soy yogurt I just didn't have any on hand at the moment.

There was one little itty bitty problem, however. I tried to use some muffin cases that someone had given me at Christmas and they stuck to the muffin. Are you supposed to grease them? If so, then what is the point of the paper????????

Really stuck. It got to the point where I just thought "Well. a little paper is just some extra fibre"  and ate them anyway. But after flossing a bit of paper out from between my teeth I just decided to do it the old fashioned way.


I am not oil phobic. I don't think too much is healthy, but a little is good for keeping your joints lubricated. Most of my baked goods have some oil and some yogurt for moisture.

And boy did a little dab o' oil do the trick. Since then I have made two muffin sized dishes--one sweet and one savoury.

Hummingbird Cupcakes and mini chickpea batter quiches! Whoa mama, these were both amazing. Despite the heat (it is getting a tad warm to be using the oven over here without air conditioning) these were definitely worth it.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the recipes!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Make Lemonade

Sometimes, when things don't go your way you just have to adapt, adopt and improve. As the saying goes, if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

I am totally cool with this concept these days. But it has taken years to be able to go with the flow and not have a set picture in my head that has to be adhered to the letter or else a fun time *cannot* be had by me or anyone else.  

Besides, I actually really like lemonade.

We were all geared up to go out to Skomer Island on Sunday with the Carmarthen Vegans. Skomer Island, for those of you don't know is a nature reserve in Pembrokeshire with real honest-to-goodness puffins. Seriously, puffins. But it can be a bit tricky and here is why.

1. We don't live in Pembrokeshire we live in Carmarthenshire.
2. They only allow 250 per day out on the island and you can't reserve a place so you have to get there super early to queue for a spot on board the boat.
3. The boats don't always run if they suspect inclement weather ahead and you don't know until you arrive.

We set out as a hopeful party of six all arriving at Skomer from different locations. We left Carmarthen at 7:30 to get us to Pembrokeshire by 9:00. Alas, they suspected choppy seas later in the day and so they boats weren't running. While we are all disappointed, we just laughed and said, "well, we've got all this gorgeous picnic food. Let's go for a walk and have a picnic." Also on the bright side we saved £21 each not having to pay to go out to Skomer making this an incredibly cheap and fun day out. Bonus!

Priya, Susie, Peter and Kathryn, myself and Spiderman went to a beach near Susie's house (she actually lives in Pembrokeshire and has to travel a fair distance to come to any of the meet-ups in Carmarthen so it was so nice to be in her "neck of the woods" as they say.) We also texted another vegan friend Allison and invited her and her dachshund Ruby along. After swinging by to pick up the dogs  Daisy and Nougat from Susie's house we were off to Newgale beach near St Bride's bay. 

This did not disappoint.

The beach was beautiful and there were many amazing geological structures to look upon. There were hosts of caves--some you could explore and some you couldn't.

Thanks to Spiderman for taking all the snapshots. Enjoy the view:
the view out to sea

the view up the coastal path

a rock that was just begging for a Little Mermaid to sit on it and sing
Outside a cave

inside the cave
one of many other caves
It was great to see the caves as a cave features very prominently in our favourite graphic novel Locke and Key. 
Don't go into the Drowning Cave!
some caves were cut off by the tide

the winds picked up and the sea was rough so they were right to call off Skomer
the back of us being whipped by the wind
if you look carefully you can see Carmarthen Vegans written in the sand
Priya wrote Carmarthen Vegans in the sand and a few miles down the beach ran into a Pembrokeshire vegan who was excited to know other vegans were about.

After walking about three miles we walked to another part of the beach and in the shade of a hanging rock we sat down, tired and hungry for our food. There is something about walking along the beach with friends that builds up an appetite.

It was a veritable feast with sandwiches galore and food to share--crisps, watermelon, hummus and vegan cheese all being passed around. It was a glorious meal and then we beach-combed for another two miles or so (where I nearly slipped and fell in some rather slippery seaweed by a lagoon) and then all went back to Susie's for more snacks (flapjacks, chocolate and hot tea) and several hours of lazing about in her beautiful garden and just chatting about anything from silly things to serious deep subjects. We practised our song that we are singing next month at the Summer Vegan Meet Up and realise we still need a bit of work but we thoroughly enjoyed it. We even had Susie's 88 year old Mum joining in on the chorus!

The best thing about the day was the friendship. This group of lovely human beings adopted us straight away when arrived in Wales. We ran into Kathryn and Peter who run a vegan information stall in the market every Saturday. They invited us to join the Carmarthen Vegans and a week later we were at the Waverly cafe eating and visiting like we had known each other forever. There we met the rest of the gang and suddenly we found ourselves being invited to picnics and hikes and we had a social life that involved fresh air, good food and exercise as well as laughter and good conversation. I mean just like that--two weeks after we arrived people were offering us lifts to places and we had friends. These friends have helped us both be more active about veganism and have given us ways to help change the word for animals. 

So even if we didn't get to Skomer, we still had an excellent time. What more could a person ask for?

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Count(ess) Von Count

Do you remember The Count  from Sesame Street? Sure you do. He was always one of my favourite characters because he loved counting things just like I loved counting things. . Plus he was a "wampire" and spoke in a mysterious foreign accent that I loved to imitate. Also  lightning would flash whenever he counted something successfully and he would say something like, "Five! Five spiders! Ah ha ha!"  Yeah, I did try to count like that in my dubious foreign accent waving my hands dramatically about, but lightening never flashed for me. Although once I did that in the first grade maths lesson and Mrs Stanley gave me the stink eye. The stink eye is not as much fun as lightening. FACT.

I am still a secret counter. I just like the satisfaction of knowing how long something is in time or steps or miles or how many reps of an exercise I have done or how many grinds of pepper there are in the soup. Twenty. There are always twenty grinds of pepper when I make the soup. When Spiderman makes the soup I always ask, "How much pepper did you use?" and he answers cryptically with phrases like "I dunno. Lots" or "A buttload" which is frankly no help at all.

So rather reluctantly but to my great excitement he has bought me a pedometer!!!
Omron Walking Style III Pedometer - Black

I did copious amounts of research before we ordered one off of Amazon. I knew what I wanted. I had one once that came free with a box of cereal but it was flawed. Heavily flawed. I wanted one that fit this criteria:

1. One that didn't make a clickity-click sound when you walked.
2. One that wasn't so sensitive that brushing up against it with your coat or bag would reset that damned thing back to zero.
3. One that also measured in miles/km as well as steps taken
4. One that also told you calories burned.

And we found one! The Omron Walking Style III. Yes, Omron makes a Walking Style IV now, but this was £15 cheaper being the previous model. It does everything I wanted and MORE!

It also has a storage feature that will store your daily steps for seven days. It automatically resets itself at midnight for the next day so when I wake up it is raring to go as well. And it has an action mode that will store steps for a specific activity like exercise or in my case How many steps to the library/shops/train station etc. If you know that roughly 2000 steps is a mile you can gage how far something is. My only complaint is it only measures in km not miles but my phone has a conversion thingee so I can input the number of km at the end of the day and see it in miles if I wish. But mostly I do the 2000 steps is about a mile way. Plus you don't have to wear it on a belt loop where it might fall off. I tuck my in my bra and it measures just fine. I have checked it with activities that move my upper body--typing or chopping/peeling veg and the counter stays still. Only when I actually move my legs does it count so that is super too. Too sensitive would be as undesirable as not sensitive enough. This is the Goldilocks of pedometers--just right!

This is really fun and I love the challenge of taking 10,000 steps (approximately 5 miles!) a day. It is pretty easy to do here because we don't have a car and have to walk everywhere. It is 1494 steps from our house to the supermarket Lidl making it approximately 3/4 of a mile away. My only worries are the days that I work in the tiny clothing boutique--there is not much space to move about, but I have been practicing walking in place and seeing how hard I have to fidget to make it count as a step. Obviously, I would NOT do this when customers are there. Duh! Because the job involves a lot of standing, I often go behind the big clothing display rack between the mirror and the changing room and if no one is about then I jog on the spot or kick my legs or do squats or calf stretches for my tired legs. Shhhhh...don't tell anyone that. It will be our little secret.

Spiderman keeps giving me frowny looks every time we arrive somewhere and I pop my pedometer out of my cleavage to see how many steps we have been. "Is this going to be a thing with you?" he asks suspiciously.

Probably. Not in an obsessive way. Just a fun keeping track of way. Plus it feels great to say I walked 5 miles to day as part of my daily routine. We sure as shit could not have done this 11 years ago when we moved here. We were both so fat and out of shape and just beginning to change our diet and lifestyle. Now in our mid 40s we are in the best shape of our lives. We have bags of energy and eat incredibly healthily and exercise is just built into our daily routine although I also do weight lifting (expect a blog post on my Eight Minutes in the Morning Routine that I do every day).

I have worn the pedometer for three days and have fairly easily been able to get to 10,000 steps. And I *really* want to get there because when you do a little stick man jumps up and down and waves at you.

That in itself, is reward enough.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Dau ddeg tri

Dau ddeg tri. Twenty three. Literally two-ten-three in Cymraeg.

That is how long the Amazing Spiderman and I have been married.

Friday was our 23rd anniversary so what did we do to celebrate?

Sat our welsh exam, of course! We have just finished 30 weeks of Cwrs Mynediad (entry level course) in Welsh, going faithfully to the college for three hours every Monday night and then working at home in our spare time on the homework for the next week. We covered two chapters a week and now are on our way to learning a new language. Bendigedig! (brilliant!)

Welsh (or Cymraeg as it is known) is a bit of a tricky language. Things mutate. Like zombies with a chesty cough, Cymraeg involves mutations and lots of guttural ch sounds like you are coughing up phlegm.  But we are getting there!

It is amazing after only deg mis (ten months) of living here how much we know and understand. The exam consisted of four parts--Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.

The Reading portion had you read a series of adverts for things like concerts, classes and school fairs and then answer questions about them e.g. when does the concert begin? What is the class teaching you? Who will be teaching the class?  How much does it cost to get into the school fair? Then you had to read a dialogue between two people and answer questions e.g. How did they each get to work that day? What did they each do Saturday night? Where are they going tomorrow? Then you had to read a series of sentences and fill in the blank with the missing word. It was usually a grammar thing like subject/verb agreement or conjugate the verb in the past tense or write the word with it's mutation. like the word car meaning....duh! car, if you want to say my car  the word my causes a nasal mutation making car turn into fy nghar. That's right. The C turned into NGH.

Then the Writing portion where you had to write a postcard using five words such as beach, last night, tomorrow, rainy, hotel.  You didn't know what the words would be until the test. We were surprised with the words the sea and busy which we had ever encountered on past papers before, but we coped. I forgot to mutate the word for busy as I was trying to work out how to use it in a sentence but that will only lose me a half point.  Here is a sample writing using those words.

Annwyl ffrindiau,
Wel, dyma ni yn Sbaen. Wedi cyrraedd yn saff Dydd Sul. Mae'r gwesty yn fawr ac ar bwys i'r traeth. Roedd hi'n bwrw glaw ddoe ond mae hi'n heuog heddiw. Neithiwr, bwyton ni cawl a bara ac yvon ni win coch. Mae'r  gwin coch yn fendigedig! Yfory dyn ni'n mynd i'r traeth yn a bore a dyn ni'n mynd i'r cyngerdd yn y nos. Bydd hi'n heulog, gobeithio.  Gwela i chi wythnos nesa.

That translates to:
Dear friends,
well, here we are in Spain. We arrived safely on Sunday. The hotel is big and near the beach. It rained yesterday but today it is sunny. Last night we ate soup and bread and drank red wine. The wine was brilliant! Tomorrow we are going to the beach in the morning and a concert in the evening. I hope the weather will be sunny. See you next week.

It's not Shakespeare, but I can write it with ease and play around with the words.

The other bit is the writing test was writing in the third person from a picture prompt. So you wrote things like Nyrs yw hi (She is a nurse) and Aeth hi i'r sinema neithiwr. (she went to the cinema last night) Easy peasy.

Then the Listening test. You had to listen to a radio announcement about a variety of activities and write what time they started the price it cost to attend the activity. Then you had to listen to a dialogue and answer questions. The answers were multiple choice and had a picture clue for each one. A cool bit of trivia: English numbers their multiple choice as  A, B, C, D but Cymraeg numbers theirs as A, B, C, CH. Because that is the order of the letters in the alphabet. And yes, before you ask, CH is ONE letter. Then we had to listen to a weather bulletin and listen for what the weather was yesterday, today, tomorrow and next week.

Then it was lunch time.  Hoorah! We ate, stretched our legs, chatted with friends, quizzed each other from our flashcards for the oral exam.

Then it was the oral exam. We were called one at a time into a room with a very friendly lady who gave you plenty of time to silently read over the words before saying them aloud. First you had to read a dialogue with her. Easy. Then answer questions in the third person about a picture. Pretty much just like the writing test, but spoken. easy peasy.  Then answer some questions that she asked you. We had a list of 20 questions such as where do you live, what do you like to do in your spare time etc that we were able to prepare answers for--we just didn't know which questions it would be on the day. Lastly, ask some questions to the examiner. We were given a list of five words you had to use in your question. If you got the word byw (live) you could ask Ble dych chi'n byw? (where do you live?) if you got hoffi (like) you could ask Beth dych chi'n hoffi i wneud yn eich amser sbar? (what do you like to do in your spare time?) All in all, not too bad.

We did a great deal of eat and drink and be merry cyn ac ar ol (before and after) the test. Thursday we went out and had a delicious meal at the local vegetarian café. Hyfred! (lovely!) Then Friday after the exam we were tired and could not be arsed to cook so we got Chinese takeaway which was also delicious. Da iawn! (very good)

Spiderman treated me to a pedometer --something I have been wanting for ages. Expect a blog post about my goal of walking 10,000 steps a day! I am currently at 9498 steps and it is only hanner awr wedi chwech (6:30) so I know I will make it today.

So I will say goodbye and goodnight! Hywl a nos da!