Sunday, 29 August 2010

Beans, beans, the magical fruit*...

Cooking is one of the skills I possess that I actually have some confidence in. So, when I utterly messed up making Boston Baked Beans the first time I was at once angry, embarrassed and annoyed. I knew I must make amends. Here's the long anticipated "Boston Baked Beans, the Redux". (OK, I'm probably the only one who's anticipated this for a long time but let's face it: the first run was such a stunning disaster that I've been itching to redeem myself in the baked bean world.)

I now proudly present to you.... Home-made vegan Boston/New England style Baked Beans!

Don't they look a LOT better than the previous attempt?!

I think so, too! And I can honestly tell you that the first attempt was utterly inedible so to say that these little beauties taste "better" is, quite honestly, a severe understatement.

These beans are just the right amount of smoke flavour (without the bacon/pork), molasses and mustard to set my little New England heart a flutter. (Even MrB thinks they're good and he didn't grow up with these in his staple diet.)

Without further ado I present...

Vegan New England-style Baked Beans
Serves approximately 16 (portions can be frozen. I halved the recipe for my use)

2 pounds white beans (northern or navy beans - I used Haricot)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard or 5 teaspoons prepared mustard (I used 1 tablespoon of yellow "American" mustard)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar (optional, if you like your beans sweet)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
For both preparation methods:
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of tap water (make sure you soak in at least four times more water by volume than beans). If you don't have the time or patience to soak your beans overnight you can bring the beans to a boil on the stove, cover and allow to sit for about two hours. This will reduce the cooking time significantly but it is still a crucial part of the preparation.

If you opted to soak your beans you must now boil your beans for about 30 to 45 minutes.

Drain off any soaking/cooking water.

Crock-pot method: Mix all ingredients in your crock-pot and add the beans. Cover with at least enough
hot water to cover the beans completely. (This is what the recipe I used said to do so I didn't measure the water. I also then had to add more water later in the cooking process. If you do this, make sure you use freshly boiled water or else it will lower the cooking temperature of your crock-pot and add significantly to the overall cooking time. When I make these again, I will add enough water to cover the beans and so that the water level is half-again as high. Or I'll chicken out, add the amount at the beginning and just check about half way through the cooking like I did last time.)

Put the lid on the Crock Pot after you’ve mixed everything up in it, and cook it on High for about 3 or 4 hours, or on Low for 8 to 10 hours (when it comes to crock-pot cooking I'm all about Low and Slow). I positioned a folded dish towel on top of the lid of the crock-pot to help keep the heat in while the beans were cooking to ensure they would, indeed, cook. The dish towel helps maintain a temperature hot enough to just barely simmer the beans.)

If you don't want to cook your beans in a crock-pot you can use this method...

Oven method:
In a very large casserole (4 quart) mix the beans with all of the above ingredients. Add enough hot water to barely come to the top of the beans. Put a lid on the casserole, or tin foil. Bake the beans at 300°F (
for about 5 to 7 hours.

The cooked beans may be frozen in 2-cup portions to substitute for canned baked beans or canned pork’n'beans in any recipe. They make a good main dish, or a side dish for a large crowd.

*If you grew up in North America, as I did, chances are you're aware of the little ditty that I borrowed today's post title from. If not; I'm sorry to have introduced you to such immaturity. In any event; feel free to remind me that I have the brain of a seven year old, though I must confess that I am well aware of this fact. *grin*

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

All in the name of science

Today was a day of itches.

Not the nice "ah, let me scratch that.. that's better" kind of itches. No. Today was a day of "For the love of -goose- that itches and I can't scratch it!" kind of itches.

Today, I went to The Sadist (professionally known as my Allergy Specialist) who loves nothing better than mixing a myriad of food and plant stuffs with some benign solution, pricking my arm repeatedly (no less than 22 times this visit, thank you!) then sending me out to the waiting room for a period of 15 to 30 minutes while I marinate, cry, itch, squirm, count the seconds until I can take an antihistamine. (For those who don't know what the Skin Prick allergy test consists of: stay tuned to the end of the post.)

Yesterday, I had headed to a "healthy" kind of grocery shop and stocked up on some foodstuffs I was concerned/curious about. Here are the dry ones...

Last night, MrB and I meticulously packed sample-size portions of each food so that I wouldn't have to lug all of those containers and their contents halfway across London on the Underground and here are the ones that were deemed "safe"*...

and the ones that we need to test some other day...

I called The Sadist's secretary yesterday to ask if I should soak the beans/legumes/pulses/lentils overnight or just cook them or leave them be or what but The Sadist wasn't available for contact so I was advised to just bring them as they were. It turns out that most of these babies are too tough in their solid state to guarantee any food actually penetrated my skin when it was broken meaning that any results aren't certain. (Mushy foods are much smaller molecularly and therefor easier to force under the skin.)

So, I need to make another appointment. *sigh* To be honest, though, the 20+ pricks I got today were tough enough that I'm glad I didn't have another ten itchy spots to contend with.

Things I learned today:
  1. I am severely allergic to goat's milk. (I know that I have a severe allergy to cow's milk but MrB and I were curious as to the possibility of other animal milks.) It turns out that if you have a severe cow's milk allergy the odds are that you will be allergic to the milk of other mammals. The Sadist asked if I'd like to be challenge tested for sheep's milk because my reaction wasn't as severe as the other milk reactions but warned me sternly that "under no circumstances" was I to encounter/test myself with an animal milk at home "or even sitting outside A&E [the ER]".
  2. I was wrong when, as a child, I had convinced myself that I was allergic to nuts. It turns out I am not. (The Sadist and I have agreed that what probably happened is that I had a bit of an OAS reaction to walnuts not quite knowing how it differs from a dangerous allergy. This is, interestingly, attached to my Birch allergy.) And, now that I'm not allergic to any of the nuts The Sadist tested for today (and also peanuts, cashews and almonds) I'm allowed to perform my own OAS investigations at home with nuts. (Basically, take a nut, rub it on my wetted bottom lip and wait 15 minutes to see if I react.)

Almost two years ago I "had a run in" with strawberries that meant I've been earnestly avoiding them since. It wasn't an allergic reaction or even OAS but it was weird and something I wanted to not repeat so strawberries were out. Because my body is so sensitive and changes so often I decided I'd get tested for them, too. Turns out (as I suspected) I'm not allergic to them so I am now sitting down with this...
(they really are as yummy as they look) see how I fare tomorrow. If said weirdness returns tomorrow I will know that I cannot have strawberries and I will, of course, report my findings here to you. (This odd symptom isn't something "new" or unique to me but it is still relatively unknown because strawberries aren't usually consumed in huge amounts.)

So, how did you spend your afternoon?

(Skin prick allergy testing involves preparing myself up to a week in advance. Because I have eczema/psoriasis I have to stop using topical steroids on my hands/arms for about a week before I get tested because their presence can inhibit any reactions. I also have to stop using my antihistamines for at least 24 hours -I try to go 48ish to be sure- for the same reason. If The Sadist is testing me for an allergen he has in his handy little kit then it is a liquid placed in a small drop (it looks like water) on my skin through which he pierces my skin with a lancet-type device that doesn't just have one sharp point but four. And he turns it to make sure it definitely breaks the surface of the skin. A little annoying but I can handle that pretty well. If there's a substance/food that isn't in The Sadist's little bag o' tricks then I have to provide it. Liquid, soft or mushy foods are best as they are comprised of smaller molecules which means it's easier to get enough of the sample through the break in my skin that any reaction (or lack thereof) can be deemed as official. If the substance is solid/too hard/dense (as we found out today) then The Sadist can't guarantee that there was enough of it on the lancet-type thing when it penetrated the skin to ensure a real result (if I don't react was it because I'm not allergic or because there wasn't any/enough allergen introduced?). This is done until we run out of things we want to test/The Sadist gets bored. Then he pricks my skin with a lancet with -nothing- on it (known as the Negative Control = I shouldn't react at all) and a lancet that has pure histamine (known as the Positive Control = I should react and the size of that reaction can help him gauge the others). Then he sends me out of the room to stew. I try to occupy my hands with an electronic game (usually on my phone) so that I don't scratch/rub/scream. I've tried crocheting and knitting but sharp objects that are perfect for scratching aren't so good when you're trying desperately not to scratch. Plus, I fidget so much during that time that I'd be dropping stitches left, right and centre. Not a calm me would that make. When I'm called back into the room The Sadist reviews the sizes of my bumps (ooer!) and makes his diagnoses. Then we discuss if/where/when we need further testing and I am allowed (finally) to take an antihistamine to help calm my system down. Once that's done we shake hands and I head home. Not too horrible, really, I'm just a big baby when it comes to really itchy itches. *grin*)

Monday, 16 August 2010

A lesson in failure...

I want to let you all know that it's not always sunshine and roses in Mrs B's kitchen.

I don't always perform feats of culinary mastery. More often than not I'm flying by the seat of my pants/trousers and if there's a good result... Bonus! but sometimes (a lot of the time) there are mistakes, mis-read recipes, ovens left unattended or forgotten.

That kind of thing, admittedly, doesn't happen often. Most of the time the little fairies in my oven work wonderful magic and I pass it off as my own "hard work" after lots of praying "please work please work please work" and doing a little jig in front of the oven door.

I do make mistakes, though, and here's proof...

I read an idea on The Interwebs the other day that Bananas make really good vegan ice cream... if you freeze them whole, then put them straight into the food processor/blender, they contain just enough freeze and self-binding that that's all you need to do. Freeze, scramble, eat.

Simple enough, right? So, I froze some bananas....

And then I tried to peel them. But peeling them from frozen seemed rather tricky so I jumped back to The Interwebs and did a search for "peeling frozen bananas".... And it would seem that I'm an ass. Did you know that you should Peel. Them. First.!? Neither did I! So, all those brown, ugly, useless rocks were composted and I did this...

That seems so much more sane... with the benefit of hindsight. - I'll be making Banana Ice Cream soon (once I get over the self-humiliation of The Frozen Banana Peel Incident) and I'll let you know how what I thought of it when I do.

I decided, then, that it was time for a success in Mrs B's kitchen, so I did this...

I soaked some haricort beans so I could make some vegan Boston Baked Beans using this recipe.

This is what I got after 7 hours in the crock pot...

Nasty, no? See how they're all black/brown and there's almost no water/moisture? Not like Boston Baked Beans at all! So, why didn't the recipe tell me to add water?? What did I miss?? I went back to the recipe and scrutinised it...

When I made the recipe I read the ingredients and the bit about cooking them in the crockpot rather than the oven. This means I skipped the instructions that weren't relative (as far as I could see) to the method I planned to use. I read "Boil the soaked beans for 30 minutes, as directed above. Then, instead of combining everything in a casserole, combine them in the crock pot instead" which, to me, means that I add everything that's in the ingredient list, right?

No, as it happens. I'm a dumbass. There are instructions for both cooking methods in the first paragraph. How many times have I read a knitting pattern, a sewing pattern, a crochet pattern through All. The. Way. to make sure I understood everything?? Too many to count. There is supposed to be water added. Now I know.

And "knowing" is half the battle.

So, here I am, two failures under my belt in the same day. Argh.

What do I do? Do I admit defeat and call the day a wash? Start again tomorrow?

Hell no! I start again straight away, salvage some of my cook-esteem, redeem myself in the eyes of.... myself.

I made this little beauty...

Apple Tosca

And here's how... (non-Vegan advice can be found at the end of the post)

Preheat your oven to 200C (just under 400F)

While your oven is heating, slice 4 medium-sized apples and spread over a baking pan (for this amount, I find a pie plate is a sufficient size) and put in the oven so that the apples have a chance to cook and soften a little while you're preparing the top.

Now, in a saucepan over low heat, combine the following:

75 grams (1/3cup) milk-free margarine

75 ml (just under 1/3cup) sugar

2 tablespoons agave nectar (I used less because of the ice cream) you could also use maple syrup or corn syrup

2 tablespoons cream (I had oat cream but decided to use soy ice cream)

200 ml (just under 1cup) oats

75 ml (1/3cup) flour

1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional. I didn't add it this time)

When everything is melted and mixed well together: take the apples out of the oven. Pour (scoop) the oatmeal mixture over the apples and spread evenly.

Bake for 20 minutes.

It should look something like this (if you omit the cinnamon. If you use cinnamon it will look like this but speckly)...
Pretty, isn't it? It tastes even yummier than it looks!

Here's mine with soy custard...
And Mr B's with soy vanilla ice cream...

So, to come we have Boston Baked Beans, the Redux and Banana Ice Cream, also a Redux. Let's hope these incarnations go a little more smoothly! I don't think my cook-esteem could take another blow this week! *grins*

Apple Tosca comes from a family favourite that's totally not vegan so feel free to use normal margarine, cream (or ice cream) and honey as to your heart's content. My family loves each version equally as *whispers* they can't tell the difference! ;)

Friday, 13 August 2010

There's always room for...

I have a lot to talk about in this post, so please, bear with me.

It's quite difficult to express what it is I want to say sometimes so if I tend to drone on for a while I promise I will, eventually, come to the point and there -is- a point.

So, you all know about what I'm currently doing (not specifically - specifically I'm typing :P but in a much more -broad- sense). I'm currently starting afresh. Starting anew. It's something I've become quite good at over the past couple of decades. Adapting. Changing. Rolling with the punches.

Now, don't et me wrong, I've not always been "punched". This is a skill I've developed regardless of whether times are "good" or "bad". I like to mix it up, keep it flowing.

I suppose you could say: I refuse to grow up. I -still- don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I truly don't. A butcher, a baker a candlestick maker... all sound good to me... OK, perhaps not "butcher" if I'm being completely honest but I'm open to just about anything and I haven't yet found my niche. The one role that makes me Me.

On this journey of exploration, this journey of chances, I've come to discover some things about myself. Some of them wondrous, some baffling and some of them not so nice but I'm grateful for each and every lesson. No matter how painful or difficult to learn.

Of the things I've discovered I've managed to discern a few more... concrete things about myself. One of those things is that I don't like being an employee. I have very high standards that I set for myself and those around me in a work environment and I don't suffer well any failure to meet those expectations. If you've ever been an employer of mine you will well remember me complaining (often and I'm sorry) about the ineptitude of others. About the injustice I felt was happening when I put so much of myself, my energy, my skills into something and the person beside me/down the hall/in the next department wasn't capable of tying their shoes without direct supervision. One of my favourite-ever bosses (at a financial PR firm) was able to show (teach) me that the way I was perceiving everything wasn't necessarily the way it was. Nor was it healthy. With her and because of her (thank you, Ms C) I'm working on becoming more accepting of the work habits of others. I do regress quite often, however, and I stress myself out unnecessarily but I am learning.

Keeping this and other character "quirks" in mind I've been working on some projects here at home in the hopes that I can, at some point, be self-sufficient and won't have to again trouble a boss with my near-constant complaining.

These endeavours have taken a slight backseat as I rebuild our post-holiday lives. (Man! Living out of suitcases for a month takes it's toll!) There are also some things I am doing around the house that I had neglected while I was at my most recent job. Organisation things, mostly, some cleaning here and there. Nothing major, physically, but there are a few things that I'm working on that involve some major secretarial work.

One of these is the problem we're having with the DVLA (the UK's agency that registers cars, makes sure the tax has been paid on them, etc.) and a person whose name appears to be "Jhon" that used our address to register his car and then proceeded to park illegally, drive through the Congestion Zone and not paying, speeding and a myriad of other "fun" things. Because our address has been used -we- are responsible for the fines, penalties, etc. (In the UK your life isn't tied to a number like the Social Security Number in the US. We have National Insurance Numbers but they are issued when a resident turns 16 and are usually only used for tax and employment purposes. Credit and other liabilities are linked to a physical address.) This all means that I had to compile eleven separate envelopes containing a total of, are you ready for this? 33 charges/infractions. I called the police when we first got wind of what happened and everything's been reported to the DVLA who say they've taken our address off of the system so it's no longer linked to that car but for some reason the letters keep coming. We even received two letters from Metropolitan Police dated after I had reported everything to them. We have to send proof to each of these agencies that it's not us who's responsible, that Jhon does not and has not lived at our address in the 3+ years that we've owned our flat and that they can whistle for the money for their fines.

Yeah. Tons of fun. Tomorrow I head to the post office to send said letters and get tracking numbers for them. We've decided that any more letters that land after we've sent all of these off will be responded to with phone calls and I honestly wish I knew where Jhon actually lives so I could sue him for the cost of printing all of the durned things and posting them!

Another of my little secretarial tasks is hunting for a landscaper/ing company to fix our back garden (yard). We've lived here for over three years and have never used outside our back doors because of the maintenance it's required of us. I would very much like to use this area of our "house" so am finally putting some of MrB's bonus this year towards making it a usable space once more.

I'm also sorting out all of our files (bank records, receipts, mortgage statements, etc) and getting all of that in order. And doing a general organisation of our flat (man, I have a lot of stuff!) to sort of streamline how we live. To make a little space in our lives. To stop leaving things sitting around because there's no space for them to be put away.

My major stumbling block is MrB. He's a pilot, you see (of ships like this). We joke that he's "a pilot. He takes stuff from one place and piles it in another" (Pile it) - Unfortunately, over the years I've absorbed some of this tendency. Here's proof. Our dining room table this morning:

and now, our dining table tonight...

And I promise I didn't Pilot! It's all put away nicely or ready to be taken upstairs and put away (the box and bag of papers on the chair).

I'm not sure as to the exact cause of me becoming a Pilot. I think it's a mix of laziness on my part and a bit of feeling like I'm fighting a losing battle. Either way, it's something I've recognised about myself and I'm going to quash it. (Can't say what will happen to MrB but if he wants to "hire" me to be his full-time housekeeper, I'd gladly consider it! ;) )

While MrB and I were away I picked up some great "bits" to use in my jewelry endeavours and some recipes/ideas/jumping off points for my baking but these have taken a backseat at the moment while I sort through the tornado that is my organisational process and what we brought home from our travels (where am I going to put more stuff?!). There's a suitcase in my kitchen, for goose's sake! Once I get my kitchen and crafting areas back it will be time to continue with my business related plans.

I did pick up some treats for myself that are Vegan and I'm so excited. I can't these (or anything like them) here in the UK...

After this I've also got some knitting and crochet commissions that I have to complete. A lovely blanket in some beautiful, organic cotton that looks a lot like pewter. A scarf/wrap and beret in a soft, blushing baby pink and finally a snuggly, smokey grey neckwarmer.

Another thing I've learned about myself along the way is that I'm a starter. I love to jump head-first into a problem or a project and get my hands/feet/face dirty. This, when it comes to work, is a good thing. I'm not afraid to take the lead. I'm not afraid to get it wrong. I'm not even afraid of complete failure. The ride, the joy comes from the doing, the experience of making, creating, solving, experimenting. Whatever it is that I want to accomplish in that instance I love the doing of it.

When it comes to crochet or knitting, however, this can be a bad thing. A very bad thing. I've started and not finished more projects than I can count. For example: I asked myself "Can I knit socks?" I found this amazing tutorial, bought some gorgeous needles for the task and began experimenting with some inexpensive acrylic yarn. I successfully cast on, knitted the rib of the cuff, I even successfully turned my first heel (I'm SO proud of that fact) and started knitting down the foot. Then I had that project-fatal thought "See? I can do that!" (in this instance "See? I can knit socks!")...

...aaand I stopped knitting that sock. This happens way too often in my yarn-crafting life. So, a new challenge to myself is "can I finish the yarn projects I've started!?" I'll keep you posted on how that goes. (I've already started two more projects but, but in my defence they're for my adorable niece and nephew and they're small. I swear!)

Another part of myself that I've been working on is my diet/eating habits. While we were away I ate a Vegan diet whenever MrB and I ate just the two of us but I didn't want it to be a "thing" with family so when eating around them it was usually what was on offer and/or I'd pick the non-Vegan bits out. Not Vegan, I know, but for me: this is a process. A gradual thing. A fundamental change that I don't want to jump in and out of on a whim.

When MrB and I arrived back in London the full switch was made to a plant-based diet. I can't say that it was Vegan as there were a couple of times I had "trail mix bars" that contain honey but I can honestly say that I switched to a Vegetarian diet that also excluded milk and eggs.

I wasn't quite prepared for this, it seems. I know all of the nutrition aspects and the fundamentals for any diet/eating regime but when I switched I didn't cope well. I was going to bed hungry (I have a hiatus hernia so I can't eat after a certain time before bed) because the nuts I was consuming as my sources of protein (I'm severely allergic and/or intolerant to most standard forms of Vegan-friendly proteins. *sigh*) don't seem to satiate my stomach for as long as meat was always able to. I was hungry for longer between meals but I was scared to just start snacking or eating Little-and-Often because I didn't want to suddenly balloon in weight when the whole goal of this endeavour is to become healthier and I know the pitfalls of constant snacking and it accidentally becoming A-Lot-and -Often or -All-The-Time.

The sudden increase of fibre and lack of "stodge" threw my IBS for a loop as well but I shall spare you the details. Let's just say there was a lot of pain for a few days.

On Thursday I had a business lunch and was feeling particularly wretched. I sat there hoping that once I started eating lunch I would feel better, blaming it on low blood sugar. Then I stopped to think (half way through the meal when I wasn't miraculously feeling better) that I had vanilla soy yoghurt and bran cereal for breakfast only 4 hours before. I wasn't starving. There was enough protein in that meal that I shouldn't have been suffering from low blood sugar... and I wasn't. But, man, was I a wreck.

I feel almost whole today, thankfully, so all is well on my little planet, but I am making no commitments and reviewing my diet carefully.

I've also got to review my thyroid levels again with my endocrinologist. I've been getting some of my old symptoms back and, remembering what I lived through before I started thyroid-replacement therapy, I am determined to get this nipped in the bud. I cannot, will not go through that again. I say this because it's something I'm keeping in mind as I'm dealing with the nutritional aspect of my days, to ensure that I'm aware of any connections/contraindications, etc. between the two.
I think that about sums up what has been going on on my planet for the last few days but I'll be "in touch" again soon as I'm planning (another) Celebration of Love, Life and Happiness party this year (November) so I'll excitedly be telling you all about the process here.

See you soon!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

And so it goes...

We're (Mr B and I) home from our one month sojourn and I couldn't be happier nor sadder at the same time.

It was wonderful to see so many loved ones, related and not, and the time away was nice but I am SO glad to be home.

I get to sleep in my own bed. I get to not have to wear PJs. (all of the little things I usually take for granted)

The highlight of our trip was my 15 year high school reunion and meeting my niece and nephew! They're both so stinking cute!

This is Miss Allison (who has officially named me "Auntaya" which I'm finding pretty darned sweet!)
Miss Allison and I at the "Paygound"

I took 7 tonnes of photos but there are too many (most of them not flattering) and not enough time in the day to show them all!

But, of course, there were the obligatory family photos....
(l-r) Jason (brother), Carrie (mom), Thomas (AKA Munk, nephew) Cara (sister), Miss Allison (niece), Me (AKA Auntaya)

Nana Bird, you're always in my heart and my thoughts. Get well SOON and enough of this "playing around!" ;) Robin... I demand copies of those pictures! ;)

Lots of changes coming up over the next few months for me, so if you're interested, I'd like to take you along on the journey, so stay tuned!

And an added bonus for my UK/Top Gear friends... I know who he is!