Friday, November 27, 2009

Vegetables Are All Your Body Needs

I loved this ad by the International Vegetarian Union. So clever.

Via Neatorama

Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day 2009 is this Friday. I suggest you do something fun that doesn't involve shopping. Have a family movie night with home-made pizza or popcorn. Play a board game with your loved one, or play video games with your friends. Visit your parents or your relatives. Invite your neighbours over for a coffee and a chat. Phone an old friend you haven't spoken to for years. Put all those photographs into an album like you keep meaning to do. Or go through your wardrobe and sort everything into three piles - keep, repair, thrift shop.

What are you going to do for Buy Nothing Day this year?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Coffee Cosy

My cafetiere holds 3 mugs full. Ed and I drink a mug every morning, and after the school run I re-heat the final cup and drink it. My sister Stephanie crocheted me this cafetiere cosy with yarn from my stash, and now I don't have to re-heat the last cup, it stays nice and hot until I am ready for it.

I use the cosy every day. It saves a little bit of energy, and it makes me smile. Thanks, Steph.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dog Walking in Autumn

Gil, my dog, becomes very excited every time I start putting on my coat and hat. It's annoying when I am just going out to post a letter, or collect the kids from school. But this time he has guessed right - I am preparing to take him for his daily walk.

I grab his lead and we head out together. Crows squawk at each other from the bare treetops. The farmer stops his hedge-trimming as we walk past so we won't be bombarded with hawthorn-shrapnel. I smile and raise my hand to him, sitting in his tractor, in thanks.

The sound of the wind fills my ears and it is hard to hear cars approaching. A few times I mistakenly call Gil to me, thinking I hear a vehicle. Obediently he comes. But his hearing is better than mine and his good sense better than I give him credit for. He trots closer to me long before I hear the cars.

We meander along lanes, paths and tracks. The rain-sodden leaves are more treacherous underfoot even than the mud. It occurs to me that the sensation of mud oozing up between my toes is, at one and the same time, my least-favourite part of the experience and Gil's most-favourite. Eventually the track becomes too muddy for me to pass (though not too muddy for him). And in any case the rain is starting to fall again. So we turn for home.

Back at the house, the milkman has been. There is milk, juice and bread on the doorstep but I ignore it. I know I must be fast to grab the old towel I left by the front door, and rub down the dog before he shakes mud all over the hallway. Too late. Again. After I rub the dog I also have to wipe the walls and the door, the stair-rails and the dresser before I can even start to strip off my own wet muddy trousers and socks.

In warm dry clothes and clean fluffy socks I fill the dog's water bowl and he laps it thirstily while I make myself a hot cup of tea. Then I sit down in an armchair, Gil flopped at my feet, to write this blog post and rest, before resuming the rest of the day's duties.

Everything You Know About Going Green Is Wrong

The Daily Green recently posted an article titled Everything You Know About Going Green is Wrong, subtitled "Why driving the most fuel efficient car and buying the most energy efficient appliance matter much less than we think. (Hint: It's all about stuff.)"

It's about the work of Joshuah Stolaroff of the Environmental Protection Agency, who wrote two reports which conclude:
the stuff we buy and the packaging that comes with the stuff we buy represent our biggest contribution to global warming – far more so than the amount of electricity our stuff uses, or the amount of fuel our stuff burns on the highway

Well, technically I already knew this, and probably so did you. But so many manufacturers and retailers are jumping on the green bandwagon that we are now bombarded with advertising telling us we can save the planet it we buy the right "green" stuff.

But that's not just wrong, it's dangerously wrong. What we actually have to do is buy LESS stuff. This is timely advice with Buy Nothing Day coming up this Friday. And if you haven't seen it yet, take 20 minutes and go and watch The Story of Stuff. It's really eye-opening.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Wisdom of Eleanor

My 11-year-old son Tom was excited about his new video game and boasted he would probably beat it in about a week. his 9-year-old sister Eleanor replied,
"It's just a video game. Even if you beat it in five minutes, you still lose"

Probably best not to remind her of her words the next time she is playing the Sims. I have been known to waste appalling amounts of time on computer games myself, and have a level 80 Blood Elf priest to prove it. But just because it's sometimes hard to live by, doesn't make it any less wise.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Save the Planet - Wear a Condom

What's the best thing you can do to help fight climate change? Buy a Prius? Quit flying? Insulate your loft? How about wearing a condom. On Wednesday the UN population fund said that the battle against global warming could be helped if the world slowed population growth by making free condoms and family planning advice more widely available.

As part of a whole raft of measures, it sounds like good sense to me. And of course it's also a crucial part of the fight against AIDS.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Craft Day

I had a fantasic day today with my sister Lindsey and her husband Andrew. We met up in Poynton and visited my favourite hand-crafted gift shop, Warm Earth Gifts. Afterwards we had coffee in a pavement cafe next door. And then we went back to my place for lunch and spent a fabulous afternoon making crafts in my studio/shed. Lindsey made a gorgeous ring, and helped Sam make an amazing wire-work bat. I'll show you some photos of that later. And I made this quilted clutch purse from my fabric stash and a few other items. I had a wonderful time, and with any luck we will be doing it again soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I have been in a whirl of artistic inspiration lately from the book Mixed Mania by Cheryl Prater and Debbi Crane. It is a craft/art book about mixed-media art (my husband calls it "gluing-and-sticking") The chicken image on yesterday's post was one of my creations inspired by the book.

But it also contains a small number of recipes, including an intriguing one for a Greek spinach filo pie called Spanikopita. I had to try it and it turned out spectacularly good. Not only did it look stunning but it tasted delicious, and was so easy that the second time I made it I did it from memory.

Debbi Crane
has very graciously given me permission to reproduce the recipe, so here it is:

Thea Betsy's Spanikopita (from Mixed Mania)

Over medium-low heat, put 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add a chopped onion and a minced clove of garlic and sauté until the onion becomes translucent. Add a 10 oz package of fresh baby spinach - it will mound up in the pan but cooks down, so don't panic. Add about a teaspoon of salt (not too much because feta is very salty) and about a teaspoon of oregano and 1/2 teaspoon of dill. Stir as the spinach cooks down.

When the spinach is cooked all the way down and dark green, remove the frying pan from the heat and tip it so the oil and water drain off to one side. I blot it up with a paper towel and even blot the spinach a bit to get all the extra moisture out.

In a small bowl, slightly beat an egg and add to a 4 oz container of crumbled feta cheese. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan or Romano. Mix the cheese in with the spinach in the frying pan. Set aside.

Using a basting brush, coat a glass pie plate with 2 oz butter melted with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Next lay one sheet from a package of filo pastry in the plate (you will have excess hanging over the edges, don't worry we'll deal with that later). Brush that sheet with the butter/oil and lay another sheet on top. Do this until you have 10 to 12 sheets in your pan. This is the bottom crust. Scoop the spinach mixture into the crust, and top with a sheet of filo. Create the top crust with remaining filo, brushing each layer with the butter/oil mixture.

To finish, here's my mom's advice, straight from the recipe card: "You can trim off the excess filo if you like. I fold it in along the edges and baste it with the butter/oil. Turns out nice and crunchy. Bake at 350 degrees until golden on top. Looks like a lot but it goes fast."

You can say that again!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Follow Bean Sprouts on Twitter

Bean Sprouts now has a Twitter feed. The name is beansproutsblog and you can become a follower by clicking the link!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gardening Kit Competition

McCains sent me two gardening kits for children after I posted the article last week about the Potato Bus, and I'm offering them as a competition prize. Watch the video to hear the riddle. If you think you can solve it, email me with the answer and your name and address. Two correct answers will be drawn from a hat on Monday 23 November and I will post a children's gardening kit to each of the winners. I'm afraid the competition is only open to UK addresses for reasons of postage costs.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tom's Scones

In September my eldest son, Tom, started high school. This means he is doing all sorts of subjects he has never studied before, such as Spanish, drama and cooking (although they call it "food technology"). Unlike his brother and sister, Tom was never interested in cooking with me at home, and claims not to enjoy it at school either. But he seems to have a natural talent. Yesterday he made these cherry scones, and they were delicious - quite unlike the hard grey lumps I produced the first time I ever attempted them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

Sesame Street has just reached its 40th birthday, so I thought I'd share this lovely video of Kermit singing "It's Not Easy Being Green"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Quilt Maker

You may remember the beautiful quilt I found in a local charity shop (thrift store). It had a date and the maker's name embroidered on it, and I mentioned these when I blogged about it back in 2006.

Well back in October I had a surprise email from the maker, Sandra Loder. She had come across the article about her quilt and got in touch with me. I was delighted to hear from her. She told me that she probably sold it for about £100 - £120. The sashing and blocks are in Laura Ashley fabrics which are probably a few years older than the finished quilt. The block pattern is called Somerset Folded Patchwork (or Somerset Folded Star) and there is a tutorial on a blog called Bronze Wombat. By the way, Bronze Wombat is a super blog and worth a browse if you are at all interested in crafts, gardening and so on from an Australian perspective. The pattern is quite an old one, and the Americans have their own version called porcupine or quill patchwork, although neither of those terms seem to yield much in a Google search so I'd be interested to know if anyone can find any relevant resources.

The quilt is much loved and is in daily use here. Right at this moment it is folded over the back of my sofa along with a crocheted afghan, and piled high with home-made cushions. It decorates our home and it keeps up warm when we snuggle under it in the evenings, and it gives me even more pleasure now I have made contact with the lovely lady who made it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Buy Nothing Day 2009

There's just over a fortnight to go until Buy Nothing Day 2009. What will you be doing on Saturday 28th November this year? You can keep it simple and just buy nothing all that day. Or you can print out and display a poster from the BND website, or join the Facebook group. There are videos to watch on the BND website too.

If you are feeling a bit more energetic you can join an event, or even organise your own. I like the idea of:

Credit card cut up
Volunteers stand in a shopping mall with a pair of scissors and a sign offering a simple service: to put an end to extortionate interest rates and mounting debt with one considerate cut. Be careful though: in some first-world countries, carrying scissors in public can get you arrested as a "terrorist".

Zombie Walk
The cheerful dead wander around malls, marveling at the blank, comatose expressions on the faces of shoppers. The zombies are happy to be among their own kind, but slightly contemptuous of those who have not yet begun to rot.

This activity has the advantage of being most likely to piss off security personnel. You and nine of your closest friends silently drive your shopping carts around in a long, inexplicable conga line without ever actually buying anything.

I love Buy Nothing Day because it makes me smile. We're bombarded with advertising telling us that the way to happiness is through buying stuff. So it is easy to characterise anti-consumerists as being cheerless killjoys (I'll let you in on a secret - some of them really are). But it shouldn't be like that. In truth, the pursuit of happiness through buying stuff is guaranteed to end in misery and dissatisfaction. If you ever actually bought the holy gizmo that made you feel fulfilled and happy you would stop buying stuff, and the businesses don't want you to do that. Wandering through a shopping mall dressed up as a zombie sounds way more fun to me than rushing through a shopping mall trying to find the perfect pair of bootcut low-rise stonewashed jeans in my size before the shops shut.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mass in Blue

Last night my choir, St George's Singers, sang Will Todd's Mass in Blue at the Royal Northern College of Music. It's the words of the Latin mass set in a jazz idiom. It works surprisingly well and is terrific fun to sing. We were accompanied by the College's jazz ensemble. The soloist was Tina May, whose delivery was quite extraordinary.
The music is very melodic and rhythmic and "catchy". I know I am not the only member of the choir who has been humming the tunes in the shower ever since we started rehearsals. But it is also very sensitively set to the words. It starts solemnly with Kyrie (Lord have Mercy) set to a plaintive melody reminiscent of a negro spiritual, which the soprano soloist takes away in a soaring variation. The Gloria (Glory to God) is joyful and upbeat, but the Credo (We Believe) is my favourite movement. I have always wanted to sing in a Gospel choir and the Gospel-style writing here is probably the closest I will get. The solo part is just sublime and Miss May's singing was incredible. The Benedictus (Blessed is He) is probably the most fun movement to sing as the different parts of the choir imitate musical instruments in a sort of jazz quartet. The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is the most musically complex, but it segues unusually into a reprise of the Credo and the whole mass finishes on the most glorious high. The audience applause was as rapturous as any I have ever heard.
I had a really fantastic day singing this super piece. It will be quite a come-down to start rehearsing boring old familiar Christmas music after this.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The McCains Potato Story

McCains potato busI have been inundated by comments and emails since I resumed blogging. Thanks for all the support, Bean Sprouts readers, it means a great deal to me.

I have also heard from some organisations who would like to be featured on the blog. For example McCains (of the oven chips) thought my readers might be interested in the ‘Potato Story’ bus which is currently touring Liverpool.

McCains say that:
  • 1 in 10 children aged 7-11 think chickens lay potatoes (where on earth do they think eggs come from, then?)
  • 1 in 5 have no idea that potatoes are grown in the ground (I've grown most of mine in bags this year, but that's just nit-picky)
  • 1 in 5 don't realise that chips are made from potatoes

That last one may have something to do with children these days getting their chips from plastic bags of frozen oven chips. And no doubt McCains have a marketing agenda here. I doubt they are acting out of the goodness of their hearts. But someone ought to educate children about where food comes from. I rather liked their Potato Story website which features videos and games and resources for parents and schools. The McCains logo is clearly featured on each page. You can make your own mind up about whether that is brand placement or honesty. I'd have been more uneasy if it wasn't there but that's just my response.

McCains have also offered me a couple of gardening kits for kids, which include a gardening set, colouring book and crayons plus some vouchers. I'll always tell you if I am offered an inducement to include anything on the blog, and I try not to let it affect my decision but I'm only human. I was only ever offered cash once and told readers about it straight away. Mostly I get offered books to review. I remember once I was offered biodegradable poop-scoop bags. I usually give them away as competition prizes to readers and that's what I plan to do with the gardening kits.

What do you think about this kind of education-cum-marketing? I think as long as it doesn't masquerade as being independent and unbiased I am OK with it. Do you agree or disagree?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Paper Dolls

paper doll 1By the infallible method of "switching it off and on again" I have managed to persuade my scanner to talk to my laptop, so I can share with you the crafts I have been doing this morning. I've been making mixed-media paper dolls and dressing them up with scraps of paper and fabric and embellishments.

paper doll 2A part of me is complaining about the futility of this activity. I am not making clothes, or curtains, or furniture or anything else I will use. But another part of me replies "Shut up. It is fun. I am playing and enjoying myself. Not everything has to have a function."

paper doll 3I'll show you some of the dolls in the book. There was a template you were supposed to copy for this doll, and then dress it however you wanted. But I am so sick to death of female figures invariably being represented as stick-thin that I rebelled and drew my own doll with more lifelike proportions (lifelike to me anyway. I had a good look in the mirror and took a few measurements). I tried to keep the cartoony look, such as the over sized head but the big hips and little bust are true-to-life.

paper dolls from craft bookI don't think the public run screaming in horror from images of female bodies that are generously padded. I don't think fat (or just average-sized) women look disgusting or repulsive. And I don't think anorexic lollipop-headed women look beautiful. Beautiful women look beautiful, whatever their size or shape, whether they are fashion models or cartoons or paper dolls.

Thanks for the Welcome

Labrador puppyThanks everyone for your kind comments on my last post. I never imagined there would be anyone still reading after all this time.

Yesterday I spent the whole day running around like a blue- fly. The evening was meant to be a relaxing get-together with Lindsey and Andrew, but it took me two-and-a-half hours to make a one-hour journey there. So that only added to my stress.

I decided that today should be a fun day instead, so I have spent the morning doing craft projects from a book called Mixed Mania. I'd like to share my projects with you but my scanner is absolutely refusing to play ball, and as this is meant to be a no-stress day I have quit fighting with it and given up. Instead here is a photo of my dog, Gil, when he was a puppy. He's much bigger than this now but he still has the brain of a Labrador puppy. That is to say he has the brain of a bowl of porridge. On speed.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I'm Back

suitcaseI've been away, but I'm back now. I've been suffering from depression for the last year or so. I only figured it out in April (with prompting from my sister Stephanie, for which I am very grateful), and started getting some help.

While I was ill I was unable to blog. I was unable to cook or garden or craft. I was unable to answer the telephone or read emails or open letters or see people. I'm much, much better now and all these things are starting to return. What is more there are new things in my life. For example I have a dog who makes me laugh, keeps me company and forces me to leave the house and get exercise. While he and I are walking together I notice the flowers and fruit and nuts as their seasons come and go. I notice the migrating birds, the turning leaves, the changing height of the sun at midday and the phases of the moon. He has really been a vital part of my recovery.

I have also taken up art. I love drawing and painting, and other media such as lino prints. I don't think I am expressing any deep inner feelings through my art, unless I have deep inner feelings about fruit and vegetables. But while I am creating I am so engrossed in wordless evaluations of colour, light, line, form etc. that my verbal self-critical inner dialogue is completely closed down, and temporarily I have peace. And this peace has lengthened and spread so that now the nasty inner dialogue is rarely heard at all.

One by one I have picked up the threads of my life and started doing the things that used to give me joy, and reconnected with the people who love and support me. Now I feel ready to begin blogging again. So if there is anyone out there who still reads Bean Sprouts - hi. Thanks for sticking with me. It's good to be home.