Flapjacks for complete idiots

So the boys have decided that they want to start having packed lunches for school. Whilst Smol was getting his dinners free of charge, they had school lunches; but now he moves into P4 we are going to have to find an extra £1.60 a day; so I went along with their notions and agreed that we would try packed lunches. It might be as the weather gets colder we will go back to hot dinners, but my two seem to savour the cold food choices anyway.

I found myself in Tesco clutching two very impressive looking bento box contraptions with lots of little compartments and tubs for yogurt or hummus or whatnot; I have since spent sleepless nights wondering how I am going to fill these things with cheap and interesting lunches that, I hope, will also generate less waste packaging than crisp packets and chewie-bar wrappers.

As a Beaver leader, I am also keen to add to my repertoire of ‘easy for small children to weigh out and mix together and let the adults do the hot bits’ recipes that we can use for our Cooking badge, using ingredients (oats and dried fruit) with proven health benefits that we can discuss as part of our commitment to healthier food choices. I have reduced the sugar and syrup in these considerably in comparison to most recipes – and certainly in the shop bought ones – but as with all treats they should be eaten in moderation. My boys will take a 5cm or so square in each day that they can either have as a playground snack at 10.30am or save for their lunch dessert alongside some fruit.

Ingredients

175g butter or sunflower spread type stuff.

150g sugar (I used demerera but any is fine)

150g golden syrup (you can get it in Asda in a squeezy bottle, which is probably easier than the old fashioned tins that always manage to drip syrup over you, the floor and every conceivable surface for the next three weeks)

350g porridge oats – just the cheapiest cheap ones are fine.

1 handful (sorry to not be more specific, I just did it by eye) of dried fruit – I used dates (finely chopped), and chopped mango and apricot pieces; but feel free to use anything – sultanas, coconut, seeds, nuts*, dried berries etc.

You can also add a teaspoon of spice such as ginger or cinnamon; or a dash of lemon juice. Be creative!

*our school is a nut-free environment so we don’t use nuts in ours.

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 150c / Gas mark 2

Now you have your first decision. Are you going to live on the wild side and just line the bottom of your 8 inch square baking tin with baking parchment, or are you going to throw frugality out of the window and use enough parchment that it comes all the way up at the sides (see photo below for what I mean)?

My preference is to have the parchment overlap each side of the tin, as it’s easier to lift out of the tin if you don’t have a push-up removable base; but if you prefer to just line the bottom of the tin, you go on your bad self – just remember to grease the sides of your tin, or this badboy ain’t budging for no man.

In a large saucepan on the hob, melt your butter/spread over a low heat, and once melted add your sugar and syrup and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar as dissolved, add your choice of fruits, nuts, spices etc and stir well.

Then add your porridge oats and continue to mix well until all the oats are well coated and moist (urgh, I hate that word).

Tip the moist (shudder!) mixture into your tin; and press down firmly with the back of a spoon, ensuring it’s pushed into all the corners and the top is nice and flat and as smooth as you can get it – this stops it just falling apart when you cut it.

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Check out our landlord’s comedy grouting, tho.

Cook in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes; then remove and leave to cool for 15 minutes before lifting out (this is when my parchment technique comes in handy!) and cutting into cubes / lengths of your choosing and banishing nosy children from the kitchen. Store them (the flapjacks, not the children) in an airtight box where they should last a week, but won’t, because they are delicious.

Don’t forget to test your creation with a nice cup of tea (we can celebrate Afternoon Tea Week ) and remind everyone on social media what a talented, homely little creature you are.

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August Playlist

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” 

Sylvia Plath

 

Oh, the wonders of Spotify and their incredibly clever algorithms that allow them to dig up treasures of sound based on your own listening habits. I am somewhat stuck in my ways when it comes to music, and would probably listen to three albums – none of them newer than 1996 (Aphex Twin’s ‘Richard D James’ album, in case you were wondering) ad infinitum. Spotify, however, likes to gently take my hand and introduce me to things it thinks I might like. These first three are gently bewitching, late summer sun and sudden showers tunes, camp fires, surf and hugs as the seasons gently change.

Marika Hackman – Claude’s Girl

Weyes Blood – Used To Be

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions (feat. Kurt Vile) – Let Me Get There

And this is one of the most beautiful songs I think I’ve ever heard..

Villagers – Dawning On Me

And this is one of the strangest, but most beguiling covers I have heard in a long time..

M Ward – Let’s Dance

And my song of the year (thus far) which I still have not tired of..

Michael Kiwanuka – Cold Little Heart

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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Vegan sweet potato and chickpea curry stew sort of thing.

We were incredibly lucky a few weeks ago to meet, and host, the wonderful Matt of A Human Love Story. Lucky Matt got to try my cooking. He survived, so that’s a positive sign. He also said he really liked it, and I promised to send him the recipe.

Hormones, stress and summer holidays meant that I completely forgot about it; but as I do love to brag about my occasionally edible dinners, a few other people have asked about it so I thought I would post it here.

It is basically a bastardization (that’s a technical term) of a vegan recipe on the Deliciously Ella website; but it has been tweaked a bit and things left out and a few measurements changed to make it more like a creamy curry.

It’s one of those things that, once you have the base, you could add all sorts of things into – butternut squash, pumpkin, some of your courgette glut – whatever you have lurking around, I’m sure. Do play around with the spices too, find what you like.

It freezes brilliantly too.

This apparently feeds 4, but I would say probably more like 6 (and my three malefolk have hollow legs, so….)

What you will need:

2 cans of tinned tomatoes (400ml each)

1 can of coconut milk (400ml)

2 – 3 large sweet potatoes

1 can of chickpeas (400g)

4 tablespoons of tomato puree

4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

4 teaspoons of turmeric

4 teaspoons of cumin

2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

4 cloves of garlic

fresh coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

Rice or naan to serve (naan is not vegan, I don’t think)

Method

Peel and cut the sweet potato into small chunks (inch or so) without removing fingers, steam these for 15 minutes. (The sweet potato pieces, not fingers. You’ll need your fingers)

Once the sweet potatoes have cooked put the tomato puree, vinegar, garlic, spices and salt in a hob-friendly casserole dish or fairly deep wide-based pan with some olive or vegetable oil, heat for a minute or two until happily bubbling away

Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, salt and pepper to the pot and stir really well to ensure the tomatoes and coconut milk are all blended together nicely. It may look at little lumpy and curdled at first, but it will be fine, I promise you.

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Wallop in the sweet potato, taking care to ensure you splatter both your new t-shirt and every inch of your kitchen with orange forever-staining liquid. Bring to the boil, then drop to a simmer once it starts bubbling into your eyes.

Allow the pot to simmer for about forty minutes, then add the drained chickpeas and start to brag to your friends that you are now, like, a proper vegan chef and could host dinner parties and all sorts. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes or so (stop before boring your guests to sleep with all this talk about your cooking prowess)

 Finely chop the coriander. Then serve the curry with whatever you fancy, and sprinkle the coriander on the top. DO NOT FORGET TO TAKE A PHOTO AND SEND IT TO INSTAGRAM.

 

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Magical two minute stir-fry sauce recipe

It’s been a while since I posted any of my kitchen experiments with you, dear reader. There is a very good reason for this – my cooking is generally somewhat underwhelming. I can occasionally create something worth telling you about but, whilst I’m actually a pretty competent cook, I don’t tend to cook things that are particularly interesting.

I think I’m probably guilty of being stuck in a rut dictated by things the children won’t turn their noses up at, and trying to be as frugal as possible with the grocery shop and I do like to cook from stratch as much as I possibly can. I don’t mind using tins of things like mixed beans, chickpeas, tomatoes and coconut milk; but I find that your pre-packed sauces (think Blue Dragon / Sharwoods / Dolmio and their ilk) are just far too cloyingly sweet and chemical tasting.

Now, I’ve never bought pasta sauces because I’ve always made my own, and thanks to the awesome Jack Monroe I can whip up a fairly decent curry – it makes a massive difference having spices that aren’t *ahem* five years out of date, I have discovered; but I have been looking for a sauce that would be good with a stir-fry – it’s the Chinese style sauces that I find particularly sweet and artificial tasting.

 

 

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We’d been up the community garden this afternoon to harvest some of our broad beans and our rather spectacular peas for a stir-fry with some peppers and mushrooms and some of last night’s leftover chicken (our Sunday chicken lasts us three meals); and I really wanted a sauce that was as fresh as the beans and peas were, something nicely zingy and not the same tooth-aching sweetness that you get in a jar or a pouch.

So I started to experiment. I even got my blender out, that’s when you KNOW I mean business.

 

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I dragged all my jars and bottles out of that kitchen cupboard, and set to work….

I chucked the following in my bad- boy shiny red blender:

1 teaspoon of nam pla

2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

4 tablespoons of runny honey

A rough 3cm x 6cm piece of peeled fresh ginger, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

8 spring onions, chopped

1 tablespoon of sunflower oil

3 tablespoons of white cider vinegar

Generous handful of fresh coriander, stems included

Half a teaspoon of brown sugar

Pulsed it until it looked like it was doing something mixxy-choppy-uppy; then poured that into the lovely glass bowl you see in the photo above, a bowl I’m sure I liberated from one of my less rewarding living-with-strangers houseshares from my days in that London.

After you’ve chopped all your veggies and whatever protein you want in your stir-fry and you’ve got your rice or noodles on (do they suit you? Do they?), you can commence with your stir frying – I added a teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the starter oil because I didn’t have a fresh chilli to add to the mix. Just before you add your sauce, just squeeze in the juice of a lime. Have a little taste, and add a bit more of whatever you fancy. I was tempted to add gin, but held back. I’m such a hero.

Family loved it, and I didn’t even have to bribe them. It tasted really fresh, but multi-layered and – with a few tweaks – would make a fantastic marinade and even a salad dressing; and it’s definitely something that could be played around with, adding different combinations and new ingredients to suit your own tastes.

 

Cheer up, goth.

So, dear reader, here we are again. Another post, another afternoon of sitting with a slightly anguished expression and another (probably unwise) coffee pondering on why someone who loves to write finds blogging so dreadfully difficult.

I wanted to write a piece on gratitude, and have managed to successfully procrastinate for several days on this particular subject, not because I feel I have nothing to be grateful for, you understand, but because I don’t know where to start without it all sounding rather twee and like I am giving you a lecture in stopping ruddy moaning and be thankful, thou churlish wretch. Which I would not want to do. No. Not at all.

So I shall just sit here and do the whole stream-of-consciousness thing and just type what comes into my head, or ‘doing a Virginia’ as I prefer to call it. Gratitude might certainly work its way into the whole word-soup eventually, it might not. It’s my blog, I can do as I please.

Shall we have a meme? One of those nice inspirational ones? Oh, let’s.

 

 

Oh, I don’t know about you; but I feel instantly 400% more inspired. Shall we have another? Shall we? Oh, OK then. If you insist.

 

There we go. That even has the ubiquitous brush-writing seen in every issue of Elephant Journal, every gift shop and certainly every branch of B&M Bargains in the UK. It would probably look pretty good on a mug, that, wouldn’t it? Maybe your Monday-morning-back-in-the-office-with-a-bit-of-a-hangover mug, the one that you really secretly want to throw at someone’s head. You’d read that and feel so overwhelmed with joie de vivre and a deep sense of oneness with the cosmos that you would leave a trail of eco-friendly glitter in your wake and a unicorn would come and fix the printer.

So yes, anyway. I was on the Facebook this morning and, as usual, up popped my memories from the days of yore – all those things that happened on this day in history (well, Facebook history). Shall we see what those things were, dear reader?

2016 – Ranty posts about David Cameron resigning, Brexit, more Brexit. Oh look, a barely concealed full-on panic attack about Brexit. Whinge about the children. A very real worry about chopping my fingers off with my new knife set (won in a pub raffle in Wales, in case you have always had a long-held desire to know where I get my knives).

2015 – Occupy Welfare wordy Nye Bevan meme cunningly disguising the fact I was panicking / ranting / have a sulky whinge about the cuts to the NHS. Something about the SNP opposing something (link no longer works and I have no clue what I was ranting about). Admission of being slumped on sofa for much of the day gripped with anxiety. Another moan about the children.

2014 – Moan about children, stress about indie referendum, uploaded some photos from when we were in Tenby (I complained that it was raining), comment about not having a very good day and ‘crashing to earth with a bump’. Brief interlude where I claimed to have enjoyed the Great Gatsby film.

2013 – Miserable semi-ranting about losing friends, why I shouldn’t have an opinion and having anxiety.

2012 – Ominous silence. That must have been when TalkTalk cut off our internet for no reason. Or I might have broken another laptop.

2011 – Was strangely upbeat and consisted mainly of friends posting up things with rude names on my wall. Yes, YOU, Emma. It was also the day I broke my ribs in a bizarre hanging basket accident, incidentally.

I think we’ll leave it there, shall we? I think we get the picture, don’t we?

 

I don’t think he does, yanno.

 

(Feel free to print that out and colour it in, if you’d like to. Mindful colouring is a thing, isn’t it?)

Next year, my Facebook memories from 2017 will include me asking:

Just been looking back on my memories, what a little ray of sunshine I have been all these years. Why didn’t anyone tell me to shut up with the incessant whining?!

And lots of lovely people telling me that I hardly ever whine, no, not hardly ever. Which was lovely and made me all smiley and a wee bit smug.

Thing is, though, it really rammed home to me today how much I took for granted, how I grinched my way through the days only commenting on the ‘bad’ things. The things that made me sad, or frightened, or frustrated or annoyed. Oh, there are mentions of the community garden, there are mentions of cooking, mentions of going out with the children.

But not one positive comment. Not one.

As someone who quite openly talks about the state of my mental health, and tries to advocate speaking up and shedding the stigma of mental health issues, I am not just shocked at my overwhelming pessimism in these posts, but also about my complete disregard for people reading who could have been having a far more awful time than me, and my complete and utter failure to link this pessimism and dissatisfaction with the state of my own mental health.

It would be easy to come out with something trite at this point like ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’, but that might imply that people are to blame for their mental health issues and that people struggling as I do with, say, anxiety and depression are ‘just not trying hard enough’ to get through it. And we all know that is a crock of shit, to not put too fine a point on it.

However…and there is a however (as well as the usual disclaimer of your-mileage-may-vary, the nature of spectrum disorders etc), I can certainly see a paradigm shift in my attitude to life over the last twelve months or so. So, what has caused it? Why am I so much more relaxed and positive in both my assessment and appreciation of current situations and my perception of the future, despite there no doubt being trouble ahead?

I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s actually a number of things, all working together.

Firstly, my meds. The combination of beta-blockers and Citalopram seem to be doing the trick – I have the mental energy to get up and get out and be interested in things – and anyone who has ever experienced depression will instantly recognise that ‘lack of interest in things’ as a major warning flag. I am able, thank God, to leave the house and go for a walk in the woods. I am confident enough to chat to a friend and say ‘Yes, that would be fantastic, I’d love to go walking with you / call round for a cuppa / have you over so the kids can play together’. I have been reading voraciously again – when I’m ill, I just cannot concentrate on even the shortest factual articles on a website, never mind get lost in a book. I have rediscovered the joys of art – drawing, sketching, painting, embroidery, silk painting. I’m not terribly good, but I wasn’t very good at crochet once. I persevered with it, I practiced over and over and over again until I got better.

They’re not very good but the fun I had was reward in itself.

 

Getting outdoors – this is, in so many cases, entirely dependent on the individual and I absolutely loathe that well-circulated meme along the lines that ‘nature is an anti-depressant, whereas as medicines are shit’. Can we knock that notion on the head, please? And may I respectfully add that, if all your mental health issues were miraculously cured by a stroll in the park, then I suspect you are mistaking ‘having a bad day’ with ‘a serious mental health issue’. Nevertheless, I am a great advocate of if you can get outdoors, get outdoors.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs

I cannot express how much peace I get from nature. It doesn’t have to be a long walk (though I do love a good stomp, it’s marvellous for shaking the stress and worries from muscles and giving you thinking space), just sitting in the garden listening to the birds and watching the bees busying around can be equally beneficial. I have taken much joy this spring and summer in watching the wild meadow areas around the village, and photographing and looking up and learning about the wildflowers, it has become something of an obsession. It has staggered me quite how rapidly life cycles, how the meadows look completely different week on week as different plants bloom and seed, attracting different insects, birds and animals. Maybe this is my mindful thing, this slow, quiet contemplation of the cycle of Mother Nature as she moves through the year.

There are other things too. My new habit of slowing things right down, my use of social media, my work/life balance, the people who inspire me; but I feel these should be saved for another day, another blog.

Just writing this has made me realise, actually, how lucky and grateful I am that I am responding positively to the meds, and that I am able to do these things; and I am painfully aware that not everyone is as fortunate. I do hope that this hasn’t come across as a brag about how jolly well everything is going in my life at the moment – that was not my intention at all. I just wanted to share some of the things that have helped me see the beauty around us, and to find a sense a balance in an otherwise pretty crazy world.

 

 

With thanks to Phil, who inspired this blog post.

Paths

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I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,—that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

I am a wanderer. I am fascinated by paths. I am overcome with a desire, like Alice peering down the rabbit hole, to follow new paths – paths, of course, that are only new to me. They have been trampled down, worn into the history of the landscape, by others for whom these are well-loved paths full of memories and dreams.
I speak often of paths, on multiple layers. There is the comfort I take from paths when I walk out, usually in the woods, to clear my mind and work through my problems or calm my nerves; or just to immerse myself in the beauty that envelopes me the moment I step into the shaded woods, a ‘hug of green’ as I like to think of it.
I think often, too, of the metaphorical paths that we are all on. The paths of our lives. Sometimes, often, the path underfoot is flat and comfortable, the going good, the pace is fast and our walk is carefree. Sometimes there is an unexpected obstacle – a fallen tree; a flooded area. Sometimes the path becomes difficult. It may become indistinct, lost beneath undergrowth, overgrown with nettles and brambles making the going slow and painful. Sometimes we struggle as a path leads us steeply uphill, leaving us breathless and weak and aching. Feeling like we can’t go on.
Sometimes we feel lost.
Sometimes we are lost.
Paths are, however, rarely ours and ours alone. Companions – if you are willing to ask them – will come along throughout your journey and help to clear the brambles; will help you work out how to move the tree. Will hold your hand to cross the flood.
They will show you the right direction when you are lost.
They may even walk with you awhile.
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A little more on Solstice – remembering Manchester and London.

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
Adam Zagajewski
My love and prayers are with those who have been affected by the hideous events of this June, whilst I have been blessed with the peace to look at flowers. Take nothing for granted. Love every moment, and love each other.
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Clockwise from left: Police looking at tributes left after the Manchester attack; Police run to Borough Market / London Bridge attack; aftermath of Finsbury Park mosque attack; Grenfell Tower fire. All photos in public domain/permission granted for fair use.