Friday, 25 June 2010

What's next?

My dear readers,

It's time for an impromptu quiz/survey of sorts.

In my quest to bake/become vegan I've stumbled upon a veritable plethora of non-sweet vegan recipes. Savoury recipes, if you will.

What I'm wondering is if you'd like to see some of them here? Shall I try them for "us", be the test-dummy for the vehicle that is this journey, this path that I've chosen?

I know that one of the biggest reasons for me to create almost -anything- vegan(friendly) is because I would love, someday, to start a sweet-treat vegan-friendly baking company and while that is still a wonderful and firm goal for my future I'm wondering how much of -me- you'd like me to share on the way there.

Shall I take you on my -entire- journeys? Shall I show you exactly what I'm thinking, planning, doing (part of the time*)?

So, dear reader, it's over to you.... How much would you like to see?

*there are some things I will keep to myself, alas. Like showering. I think I'll keep showering to myself, if it's all the same to you. *grin*

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Cookies with a sordid past

Several years ago Mr B made me some cookies that are fairly popular in Sweden called "Chokladsnitt" ("chocolate cuts") and were very yummy.

Mr B made these quite often and I normally brought them into work because it's difficult to justify two people eating an entire batch of cookies in one sitting.

When I first moved to London I was working with Her Majesty's Courts Service as Court Secretary in the now defunct* Marylebone Magistrate's Court (where Bob Marley was fined for possession of cannabis in 1977).

One of my responsibilities was with and to the Justices of the Peace. Three Justices of the Peace can sit together and hear certain types of cases here in England.

Every one of the JPs I worked with was monied to some level or another. There were even a couple of Ladies (titled, noble women, no exaggeration). One of these woman was so posh that when I spoke to her she'd look straight through me and not respond. At all. I didn't exist in her world, it seems.

She was not my favourite.

My favourite JP was a gentleman who, while not titled, had more money than god. He, unsurprisingly as we got along so well, was refreshingly down to earth.

The first time this wonderful man had Chokladsnitt he seriously proclaimed that "they simply -must- contain marijuana!" (imagine this said with a Queen's English accent) because nothing -legal- could taste that good.

Needless to say, they were a big hit and often requested.

Shortly thereafter, however, I was diagnosed with an egg-sensitivity. Total bummer as the Chokladsnitt normally contain at least one egg in most recipes (normally two if you add the pearl sugar).

It was quickly decided that we -must- discover a substitution for eggs. (I was intolerant to milk, too, but dairy-free margarine is reasonably easy to find, thank goodness.)

Eggs in recipes can be replaced by lots of things and it very much depends on the purpose of the eggs in the recipe.

For the Chokladsnitt the egg acts as a binding-agent. A few Google searches recommended using jam in place of eggs and when Mr B and I decided that we preferred cherries with chocolate...

A new star was born!

These modified Chokladsnitt have (on many occasions and in different places around the world) been baked in conjunction with the "standard" ones and by -unanimous- vote have come out as a resounding winner.

Mrs B bakes now presents Körsbär Chokladsnitt (I apologise, but because of the intricacies of the Swedish language I couldn't even -begin- to explain now to pronounce that!)

Let's call them Cherry-Chocolate Cuts or "Marijuana" Cookies (as they're known in our house).

The recipe is fast and fun. Great for a last minute treat and especially good when baking with children.

Cherry-Chocolate Cuts

500 ml (2 cups) plain flour
200 ml (just under one cup) sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanillin sugar (quick cheat: mix 1 drop of vanilla extract with a teaspoon of powdered sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
200g (7 oz or 1/2 stick) dairy-free margarine
3 tablespoons cherry jam (we prefer Morello)

Pre-heat oven to 190° C (375° F)

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, forming a dough.

Don't do what I did here... As you can see my mixture is still very dry, very grainy. Don't mess up and use only -half- the required amount of margarine. It -will- make a difference!

This is -much- better!

Divide the dough evenly. Mr B makes six even parts while I have a difficult time dividing into thirds so just keep "halving" the dough until I get 8 even parts.

Now roll the dough into snakes. I love it when I can play with my food!

Use your fingers to press the snakes and flatten them a bit. **

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes.

Cool completely and cut at a "jaunty" angle. (This is how they're traditionally cut in Sweden and I think it adds to their personality.)

Serve and enjoy! (Store in an airtight container/bag. These should last a good few days, given the chance!)

*Marylebone Magistrate's Court has been mostly demolished and rebuilt into a Super Court. I worked in it in 2005 when it still had strange staircases, a diving board, tiles from the old bath-house and a "haunted" cell area.

**Please don't mind the gloves, they're there for two reasons that are, really, one in the same. I have very very sensitive skin. Because of this and eczema and psoriasis -I- feel my hands have aged prematurely. This is a source of major embarrassment for me and you'll never find a picture of me that -I- have posted/shared that shows my hands because of it. Also, I am allergic to most foods when raw. I can handle some "simple" salad-type veggies normally, but even then I have to be careful when getting them on my hands.

Besides, it's just so much more hygienic wearing gloves in the kitchen.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Firstly, I must tell you:

I finished my Saroyan and I love her.

She's blue and cotton and oh-so-lovely...

Secondly, in a major fit of jonesing for Chocolate-Chip Cookies (and I'm talking the US-style cookies, not biscuits, not crunchy, crispy or hard English-made things at all) I decided I had to make (or attempt to make) these Vegan-friendly.

This is when I was met with another challenge (as if I had already thought the first bit would be a cake-walk)... The "good", reputable recipes for chewy cookies contain flax seeds. Because I am allergic to oh-so-many things, a lot of various seeds being just a portion of them, I decided to try to make my cookies without them.

But where to start??

What, on earth, can I use to replace flax seeds to give me the "chew" I wanted in my cookies without adding any animal-derived products? Asking this question on a Vegan forum sparked a LOT of debate.... One poster suggested adding more molasses but it was argued that because of the sugar content it would actually -crisp- the cookies.

Someone else suggested using banana or apple sauce, but as was later pointed out; these act more as binding agents than chewiness-givers (yes, that is an official baking technical term *grin*).

This debate went on and on and on among people who have been eating and cooking Vegan-friendly goodies a LOT longer than I have so I left them to it and began experimenting.

After all, what could it hurt to get it wrong a couple of times, right? It would mean I would have a place to start, a template, if you will, of a great cookie "blank" that I could then amend, chop, change the recipe(s) for as I saw fit based solely on the results I was getting from actual cookies.

I took some of their advice (I added a little more molasses, about 1/2 - 1 tsp more) but the mixture was very, I don't know.... grainy.

Because I'm relatively new to Vegan-baking but have been baking for decades I decided that -I- knew best and that I needed a more cohesive cookie dough than this particular recipe had produced.

Oddly, thankfully, luckily even, I had something in my baking arsenal that would (hopefully!) fit the bill.

I measured, made notes, mixed, shaped, balled, pressed, baked and prayed. My cookies didn't -spread- the way I wanted them to, the way I -needed- them to. I watched. I waited. I prayed some more. I even turned up the heat, hoping that I could -melt- the little beggars.

What I got first was the cookie on your left. A hard, little hockey puck of a cookie. A little nugget much like the cookies I have earlier explained I -didn't- want. Damn.

Back to the baking-board. Clearly I wasn't meant to leave them in for -that- long. Oops. What about actually -timing- the little beggars, Tanya?! Baking them for about as long as normal cookies bake, perhaps?

Well, lo and behold! Timing, baking at a slightly lower temperature and viola! A cookie to be proud of!

These cookies have been Vegetarian- and Omnivore-approved! (I don't happen to yet know any Vegans so I can't say they're Vegan-approved but the people who -did- eat them said they tasted just like (or better than) the cookies available with milk and eggs and allsorts inside them.

Meet the Mrs B bakes Chocolate Chip Cookie.

P.S. I must confess that these cookies, and the reception of same, have made me immensely proud. I managed, with my severely limited Vegan-baking knowledge, to make a -good-, a damned-good cookie, if I do say so myself (and if I listen to the semi-official Mrs B bakes taste-testers).

Friday, 11 June 2010

Busy times abound.

Often, when I read/follow someone's blog I love when they update/post about once or twice a week.

Following a blog that posts every day can be a bit daunting to keep up with (I follow quite a few!) but I often want to prod some bloggers along when they haven't posted in a while and I want to know what they're up to.

I'm believing my happy medium is about a post and a half a week to read but I'm not sure where that leaves me when it comes to posting.

(If you'd like to hear from me more often, please do let me know!)

I've been busy working, planning my after-work activities and realising that I will be unemployed for over a -month- before I even start looking for something else to food on put the table.

(Anyone want to place an order for something sweet for the second week in August? *smile*)

Here's the Saroyan I'm knitting (for myself) in Rowan Handknit Cotton in the Ice Water colourway.

I am so in love with this pattern and am thinking about making the Travelling Woman from the same series but I have to decide if I want to make it for myself or try to find someone knitworthy of it.

I've also tried my hand at making and iced sugar cookies.

OK, so the making of the cookies wasn't challenging but making them Vegan-Friendly was experimental as was the icing and "flooding" of said morsels.

I should have made the green (yes, that is the faintest of green on those cookies. Please click on them to see them bigger) a bit darker to highlight the white icing a bit more.

I had a LOT of fun considering it was my very first experiment and I think I have the recipes -almost- perfect.

They're very tasty, I must say, even though I don't have a sweet-tooth! (Especially the "Test Gookie". Yes, that's what it said but not what I had intended to write. I obviously need to practice my Cs and handwriting-on-cookies in general!)

I can't wait to get good enough that I can do full orders of cookies for someone's celebration!

In other news:

I made some more cake balls (new recipe) for a friend who is a royal pain in the bum! (OK, he's not. He's truly very sweet but he annoys me because he won't let me -properly- thank him for things that he does. Hrm, sounds a bit like "pot", "kettle" and "black" so I'll let it go at that).

I had written said friend an IOU (though I had to translate it as, oddly, "IOU" doesn't immediately translate in Italian. Who'd've thought!?) and made him a dessert of his choosing, hence chocolate cake balls. LOTS-of-chocolate chocolate cake balls.

July/August is going to be very busy in the lives of Mr and Mrs B so if we've made arrangements to meet up; please remind me/let me know when suits as itineraries are fast filling up!

One closing thought: Can you explain this?

Every time I scroll down a website/page to read/see what's on it; I -always- then scroll back to the top (or use CMD and the Up arrow to take me to the top of the page) before I can/will navigate away. WHY?! Every time I do it it annoys me but I never remember until I've done it and I'm annoyed!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Where do we go from here?

With a new blog comes a plethora of issues, concerns, considerations.

Do I add personal photos? Photos of any children I might have?

How much personal detail do I give?

And then there are "easier" yet more complex questions: will there be a theme? Will this blog contain superficial information or deeper, more personal thoughts, comments, observations?

Knitting, crocheting, considering Vegetarianism/Veganism, baking.. they're all easy things, things to discuss, to observe, even.

It's a whole other kettle of fish to discuss issues at work, post pictures containing the faces of the people I love, talk about holidays, when my family will be absent from it's home and it's protection.

The reason I am asking you, myself, the universe is because I've been doing a LOT of things this week and most of it has focused on work. I've been flipping back and forth about whether it is suitable for the blog that -I- want. I'm still not sure so I decided to err on the side of posterity.... here goes!

- On Tuesday I handed in my "notice" to leave the company in four-week's time. -

This wasn't a decision I made lightly, as I hope you understand, it's because of numerous factors, facts and emotions.

I've worked this job since early August of 2009 and I've literally been working my rear-end off (lost two dress sizes!) for the company and for myself. I've had immense satisfaction in the work I've done.

It's a "simple retail job" but I've been able to have my hand in almost every aspect of it thus far (as I tend to do and thoroughly enjoy). I've worked on the tills, with security, cash office, compliance, stocking shelves, ordering stock, you name it (but, I haven't done everything). I've really enjoyed working there.

So, why am I packing it all in, you ask?

Appreciation or, more accurately; Remuneration.

As I mentioned; I've been working with this company since August 2009 and I started as an "Operations Assistant" which wasn't what I expected as a job at all.

I had ideas of something simple, mind-easy, unchallenging... It's almost the complete opposite of that. A fact I am glad of with the benefit of hindsight.

Starting in early December, however, my role changed... I was now to take on a lot of the responsibilities of my boss who was leaving. This would not immediately result in a pay raise but come February time it should lead to the official company training that would result in more pay.

Things being what they are (most of those "things" are company policies and the individual's expectation of same) I wasn't able to enter the official training. I hadn't been with the company long enough and needed some foundation training first, something they had just introduced as a requirement.

My boss(es) then used an opportunity to get me into the department that would provide me the foundation training I needed and I was assured that everyone involved would be of the understanding that I needed to complete this training in good time to allow me to partake in the next sessions of the pay-raise-inducing training.

For reasons as of yet still unknown to me; while -I- have started the training myself, the person who is supposed to help me train has offered me no support. I don't know if this is because there has been a lack of communication to them about the importance of the time-frame or if that person contains a lack of willingness to help me. To be honest I'm not all that pleased either way.

While I might not like the situation; I have made moves to change it and I also have to take responsibility for it.

I made it.

I went above and beyond. I proved to be trustworthy and reliable. I became someone that they could depend on and not -have- to pay any more money for all of those traits. I was willing to do it just for the sake of a mix of my own work ethic and a little dash of ass-kissing. Yes, I am one of "those". I prefer to call it "people-pleasing" but when seen in slightly less rosy-coloured circumstances it can be considered the aforementioned "-kissing" so I'll be blunt.

As with any relationship where one party takes advantage of another I have to assume the responsibility of allowing it to happen. I -chose- to work harder/more/longer without compensation, just the verbal promise thereof. It had been enough for me and who can really blame the company who takes advantage of that fact? Here I am willing to do the work of someone who gets paid (an unknown amount) more than I do and doesn't cost as much. Surely that's a win for the company!

Fair play. You've had your fun. I'm out.

I half-heartedly looked elsewhere recently but found that I'm literally too drained by my current role to do much searching and the things that I am searching for involve first interviewing with agencies and then taking tests for them before interviewing with potential employers... all of that takes time and I can't fit that all in in one day every other week, I'm afraid, so my attempts to free myself and enter something else to help pay the bills haven't been successful thus far... All it's done is frustrate me more. Highlight the need to get out. The need to do something different. The need to change my situation.

I will honestly miss the people I work with (but let's face it.... I have a lot of them as friends on the Big FB and I only live down the street so it's my local branch of that particular retailer so I -will- see most of them again) but it's time I thought about me.

I need to be in a situation that is able to recognise who and what I am. Are there any small countries somewhere that need a leader?

[I'm not, by nature, a prideful person but I have my moments and one of the first of these was when my first London Boss told me I should be off running my own small country somewhere rather than working for him (I was temping!) and then told me to get in a temp to cover -me- while I disappeared on holidays but they wanted me back (another job that morphed well beyond my original job description because I can't help helping). I have to admit that that was the best. job. ever. but it can never be replicated. Those people (now mostly moved on. That building (now torn down). Only the great Doctor and his magic Police Box would be able to get it back. It was simply a -fantastic- place to be and I'm glad I got to be a part of it.]

Accepting that I will never have that situation again I am now set to move forward and find something at least comparable to what once was. A place/situation where I can help call my own shots. Where I've got the power and support to do what -I- feel is necessary or best for the business (either a company or even the business of myself) because I'm trusted/respected/understood.

I don't know where that will lead but I have to see. I have to allow myself to be unemployed for a while while I find what's right for me... Is it baking and selling vegan-friendly goodies? Is it temping in secretarial/admin positions where I can take weeks off at a time if I want? Is it looking for work with that special company that I can support and respect and that respects and supports me back?

My last day at work is the 29th of June and after a week and a half in July I'm "fully-booked" until a bit into August so it will be then that the hunt really commences.

All that time without a paycheque!??!

Mr B and I are in a time in our lives where it's possible, it's doable (and even reasonably comfortably so) so we've decided that I should take the chance.

And what is this blog but A Journey of Chances...?

(perhaps I -am- supposed to blog about these things, too!)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Are you "Knitworthy"?

I'm not a one-trick pony. I can do more than bake.

Some of my other passions include crocheting, reading, listening to music, finding spelling, grammar and punctuation errors in other people's work, and generally being creative.

The "other passion" I've most recently indulged in is knitting.

Mr B's German/Austrian Aunt recently celebrated her 60th birthday and since she's an avid crocheter I was hoping to make her something she'd wear and enjoy. I didn't want to make her something she could have made herself as I wanted it to be just that little bit more special.

I decided to knit the item and I decided it had to be lace. I know the wonderful "E" is fond of scarves so I set off in search of The Perfect Lace pattern that would fit her personality and agonised over colour choice for a bit.

I finally settled on Lace Shawl by Alice Halbeisen. I had "recently" been on a yarn shopping spree* at my LYS (Local Yarn Store(s)) so had 7 tonnes (not literally) of new, pretty yarn to play with. I had a gorgeous Rowan Lenpur Linen in the "Sol" colourway in the hopes that it would compliment E's colouring.

Pardon the dim picture.
This was taken at night under a single "Daylight" lightbulb.

Knowing that E is a fan of scarves does not necessarily dictate that she's a fan of shawls so I decided to do fewer repeats of the pattern thus creating the scarf-rather-than-shawl effect.

As D-Day approached and I didn't have the scarf done and the day came closer and the scarf still wasn't done I began to worry that I might not have it done in time and that I'd have to wrack my brain to try to think of something else she might possibly like (not making - totally buying). Then I got sick. This may or may not be a good thing but it meant that I was under doctor's orders to be off of work for about three days just before Mr B and I were to leave for Germany and the party.

The first day or so that I was off I was too sick to knit. (Too sick to sit and knit? Don't ask it's all rather depressing but I assure you that had I even attempted the simple YOs and SSKs, etc. the scarf would have been disastrous!) But, luckily, I was able to get some knitting done two days before we were set to leave which meant that I could wash and block the scarf on the day before (and hope that it dried) so it could be taken with.

I had put so much love and attention into the scarf (my first knitted lace item and first knitted gift of any size) that I made Mr B carry it in his carry-on luggage because I couldn't have been held accountable for my actions should it have been lost or misdirected during our travels. I'm too pretty for prison.

And the adorable E wearing her scarf

After seeing E's eyes light up when she opened her gift and put it on it was all so worth it. E is definitely knitworthy and my decision to knit for her because she'd appreciate it was concretely affirmed.

So, knowing a -bit- of what goes into a knitted gift; Are -you- knitworthy? Do you know someone who is? Who would you knit for and what would you knit them?

*It was the January sales at Liberty and John Lewis Oxford Street. Not recent but it was certainly a "spree" as all told I spent about £400 in yarn all told