Day Trip to the Seaside

Easter Saturday, a fine sunny day, perfect for a trip to the seaside with 2 friends.

Set off on the 9.10 train to Cleethorpes. Friends delighted when I produced bucks fizz and plastic wine glasses from my bag. Hilarity as tried to pour without spilling on table. Poor chap occupying fourth seat asked to move – not because he was getting off, but because we were getting lary.

First time for me in Cleethorpes.  Very excited because I love the sea, having grown up on the south coast.  Living in landlocked Sheffield, had not seen the sea for 3 years. Friends said the sea at Cleethorpes is in fact the Humber estuary and very tidal. When tide is out, there are acres of sand flats, so you can barely even see the sea then.  Well, if I go all the way to the seaside and don’t see the sea, there’ll be trouble.  Fortunately when we got off the train, the sea was all there.

View from the pier

View from the pier

On the pier

On the pier

Pretty awful run-down seaside tat around the station. Pier had been cut down to a few yards in wartime. Traditional seaside donkeys and hardy British bucket-and-spaders despite chilly wind.

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Strolled down the prom to the bird sanctuary and were passed by a delightful miniature steam train going ‘toot-toot’!  Everyone waved.

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Stopped at the point where the line of zero longitude crosses the east coast, marked by a signpost and a metal plate in the pavement ‘Greenwich Meridian Longitude – zero’.

Greenwich Meridian marker

Greenwich Meridian marker

Found the miniature train station complete with traditional signage, men in railway uniforms of yesteryear, and a stout man in a bowler hat announcing departures via a cordless microphone. A fusion of old and new in one fat controller!

Then came across a wonderful boating lake, big, with 3 islands and a host of ducks, geese and swans. And tourists trying to row against the stiff breeze off the North sea. I have sea legs so insisted we join in. Seven quid for 30 minutes, he said, but we filled our boots for an hour and no-one minded.

On the boating lake

On the boating lake

Boat man held boat steady as we clambered out, and asked him where’s the best place round here for fish and chips? Steele’s in the market place, without a doubt.  Found Steele’s, and even though it was nearly 3pm and past the lunchtime rush, a queue out the door. Worth the wait. Slap-up fish and chips, traditional style. Comes with a pot of tea and bread-and-butter. Pot of tea comes with a jug of hot water – the mark of quality. Dessert menu included banana split, knickerbocker glory, and spotted dick. Wonderful. But a bridge too far for us.  Besides, there were freshly-baked donuts to buy back on the prom. And sticks of rock. And cinder toffee.

Seaside rock shoppe

Seaside rock shoppe

Back on the prom, the sea had gone!

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Bye-bye seaside,

Till next time,

L x

 

Raw Food Swap

I have a temporary job at the moment doing some admin for the NHS.  The people there are lovely and we soon got talking, and soon enough I mentioned my three Maine Coons. ‘Oh you must speak to Bev,’ they said,  ‘she’s got two amazing cats, can’t remember what breed, but they are spotty like leopards’.  Wow, I thought, they must be Bengals.

Sure enough, when Bev appeared we started talking cat.  She was soon showing me pictures of her two stunning Bengals. Then I said ‘I raw feed my cats’ and she said ‘I do too!’

Bev said she had never met anyone else who raw feeds their cats. We explained to the others the basics of raw feeding and why we do it. Everyone was fascinated. It was a great opportunity to spread the word.

I get most of my cats’ food from a great supplier in Sheffield called Better4Pets. Bev lives out of town and buys selections of meat in the appropriate ratios from local suppliers, and chops it all up herself. Her cats are quite fussy and sometimes refuse what they happily ate a week ago. Typical eh? The upshot of this is that she has a freezer full of Natural Instinct Wild Game Bird which her cats won’t eat. Well, I said, I might  be able to take it off your hands.

Next day, Bev brought me a tub of said Wild Game Bird, and I brought her a pig’s heart in return. Our co-workers were terribly amused by this.

Natural Instinct packaging

Natural Instinct packaging

I have never tried Natural Instinct, although I have heard of it.  This is only because there is no stockist near me, and it’s quite expensive to purchase via mail order. So I was very interested in trying it out on my cats.

It really is top of the range stuff. Just look at the packaging.

Special reusable box

Special reusable box

Great info on the wrapper

Great info on the wrapper

The food is very finely minced, so the texture is quite soft and mushy. So you would need to look after your cat’s teeth in some way if you fed this regularly. However, they have taken all the worry out of raw feeding because they have balanced the food and guarantee the correct ratios. The price to be paid for this is – it’s really expensive. The tub shown is 500g, and it costs £2.25 (you buy it in a pack of 2 for £4.50).  I buy a similar mince from Better4Pets called ‘Mixed Game’. It is not guaranteed balanced, but it does contain some bone and offal. It’s £0.95 for 454g (1 lb) – roughly half the price. The supplier to Better4pets is Manifold Valley Meats, who are based in Leek, Staffordshire.

Well, two out of my three cats loved the Natural Instinct. That was good enough for me to go ahead. Bev asked me to buy some food from Better4Pets to try on her cats. I brought her some Rabbit and Turkey, Mixed Game, and Venison Trimmings. We held our breath to see if her little darlings would go for it. It would save her a fortune if they did. But no! Fussy little noses were turned up, gah!

Still, I took the freezerful of Natural Instinct off her hands. She only charged me £1 a tub. Herbie still won’t touch it but the other two are polishing it off. And I have a nice stack of re-usable tubs in the cupboard.

Till next time,

L x

Butter-free Carrot Cake

As part of the new dairy-free regime, I have been looking into dairy-free baking. I see that you can replace butter in a cake mix with oil, which doesn’t sound very appetising. But then I consider that butter is a type of oil too, which when you think about it isn’t that appetising either. It’s just that it tastes soooo good!

There is absolutely no point in making shortbread without butter, in my view. The whole point of shortbread is the butter. But what about carrot cake? Moist, flavoursome, with brown sugar, cinnamon and sultanas, the butter is not the star here. I found a recipe online which uses sunflower oil and gave it a whirl yesterday.

It turned out really well, and I would definitely make this again.  Next time, I think I would add a pinch of salt to enhance the flavour. As I’m used to baking with salted butter, I found the salt was missing.  Some chopped walnuts would be a good addition.

The other thing I really liked about this recipe was that it was so much easier to mix by hand than a butter mixture.  With butter baking, unless you are using a food mixer, it’s quite heavy-going. I don’t have a food mixer, because I really enjoy the process of baking by hand. I like getting up close with the ingredients, and feeling the rhythm of it all. Firstly, the butter has to be soft enough to beat, so you have to remember to take the butter out of the fridge and soften it before you can get started. Beating the butter and sugar by hand is quite hard work. Then folding in the flour properly takes a little time. I always think of those remarkable ladies, the cooks in the great houses in past centuries, who did all this mixing and beating by hand. They were strong women with stout arms!

With the butter-free recipe, light stirring is all that is needed. The egg does not curdle with the oil. When you add the dry ingredients, you just ‘lightly mix’, and it’s ready to bake.

Mmmm, carrot cake!

Mmmm, carrot cake!

I had a cup of coffee yesterday, mistakenly made with semi-skimmed milk instead of soya milk. It tasted surprisingly rich, but not in a good way. I drank it, but would have much preferred the soya milk. It’s as if my body is quietly on dairy alert.

I am also trying to think of dinners to cook which are free of red meat and dairy products. Unfortunately the OH likes red meat and creamy sauces. At the very least, he will want to chuck a knob of butter in. So we are looking for compromises at the moment.  Last night I devised a dish of spicy couscous with chargrilled chicken, roasted vegetables and salad. Well, it was a nice dinner, but the subtlety of flavour I was trying to achieve (lemon, coriander, spices) was rather swamped by the extra chilli powder he threw over the chicken. Still, I was pleased to have achieved another dairy-free dish we both like.

Till next time,

L x

Shortbread Is My Favourite

Sure is. I love it. Such a simple treat. Only 3 main ingredients: sugar, butter, flour. But it tastes wonderful. I have sussed out the best commercial varieties (Walkers Scottish brand is the best). I have also discovered that ‘all-butter shortbread’ may not actually contain that much butter.

As with a lot of things in life, if you can work out how to do it yourself, you are more likely to get the result you want. There is also the added bonus that you can take all the credit for it. Home-made shortbread is the best of all. Through trial and error I have honed my recipe to perfection.  Here it is:

250g salted butter, softened

125g caster sugar

300g plain flour

50g cornflour

Flavourings: a teaspoon of vanilla extract, or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Combine the butter and sugar. Mix the flours and add gradually to the butter/sugar until you have a smooth dough. Add vanilla or cinnamon along the way.  Roll dough into a long cylinder shape, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in a cool place for a while.

When you are ready to bake, prepare 2 baking trays and pre-heat the oven to a medium heat. My oven is like a furnace so I only put it on 120 degrees. Take the dough and using a sharp knife, cut it into slices of about 5mm thick. Lay them out on the trays (they won’t spread much). Finish with a sprinkle of caster sugar and bake for 10-15 minutes. You don’t want them to colour too much. Let them cool on the trays for ten minutes before removing them to a cooling tray. They will be soft at first but will harden as they cool down.

These biscuits are melt-in-the-mouth delicious and they are great with ice-cream for dessert, or just on their own with a cup of tea. Here’s a batch I made the other day. I sprinkled brown sugar on top as I didn’t have any caster sugar to hand. I rolled the edges in brown sugar too.

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Herbie was watching my every move, no doubt hoping to get a lick of the bowl. I got my storage box out to put them in, and before I knew it, Herbie was in it.

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So much for my dairy-free diet eh? The shortbread biscuit could be the very last bastion of dairy for me – in fact it could be a bridge too far. Once the biscuit is baked, you can’t see the butter, so it isn’t really there, right?

Till next time,

L x

Week 2 of no dairy

It’s almost 2 weeks since my doctor told me to cut out diary products, and it’s been surprisingly easy. I haven’t had any dairy cravings particularly. On the occasions when I would typically chow down a load of butter, cheese or milk, I have snacked on an alternative, or just not eaten anything. In fact I am really enjoying trying new foods and new flavours.

I am wondering if the almost constant headache and feeling of fatigue is due to dairy withdrawal. Or perhaps more likely, a slight head cold. How irritating to get a head cold after the amount of fresh fruit and salads I have eaten recently. Still, I have been sleeping a lot better, which is a good sign.

It’s interesting how differently I regard dairy products now. I feel as if I am on ‘the other side’: before dairy, and now after dairy. My attitude has completely changed. I really do not want milk in my tea now. I don’t particularly want creamy, cheesy sauces on my dinner plate. As for butter, my no 1 favourite food for years, I realise what I really loved about butter was the saltiness. I have salt cravings more than sweet cravings. I never crave chocolate. I’d rather eat a great big packet of crisps. So when I’m in the danger zone and want to rip through the bread and butter, I either have some plain mixed nuts, or a slice of bread drizzled in olive oil, salt and pepper.

I have a few business trips coming up, so I will have to be careful to avoid dairy whilst out of my usual routine. I went to a big trade fair on Monday with a colleague. She thoughtfully brought some sandwiches to share. Cheese and pickle, or chicken salad. I reminded her that I was avoiding cheese, but said I would share the sandwiches anyway. She insisted I have the chicken salad, but was concerned that there might be butter on the bread. No danger of that in a Tescos sandwich, I said. More likely to be a scraping of industrial grease. So that was OK then. Thank goodness I’m not a vegetarian as well. Or I would have gone hungry that day. If I was a vegetarian, I guess I would be trying to go vegan right now. Which seems terribly difficult to achieve.

One thing I need to work out is, where am I getting my calcium from, if not dairy? And what about probiotics, as I’m not eating yoghurt?

Sometimes compromises have to be made. At work one morning, I had masses of work to do but felt lethargic. It was only 10.30 but I really wanted to eat my lunch. A large coffee with milk and sugar was the answer. It really picked me up.

My other weakness is butter biscuits. I pretend that because I can’t see the butter, it isn’t really there. And I need the energy to fuel my 40-minute walk home…

Til next time,

L x

No More Dairy

My doctor told me this week that I should give up dairy products. This was quite a blow, since I love all things dairy. I love toast slathered in butter, cheese sandwiches, desserts in pools of cream.  One of my earliest memories is being caught by my mother with my fingers in the butter. But in order for my nasal medication to have the best chance of working, I have to cut out, or at least radically cut down, on dairy foods.

The whole subject of diet is such a minefield, rife with contradictions. I have always been an advocate of eating anything you fancy, in moderation, including as much variety as possible. Now my doctor says that dairy proteins are quite a foreign to humans, in evolutionary, biological terms. Milk is meant to feed baby cows. When we ingest it, the body isn’t ideally equipped to deal with it, leading to some quite adverse effects. Yet milk is considered healthy for kids because of the calcium (and the protein). I suppose when we reach adulthood we can sometimes develop an intolerance.

I am at the point now where I am almost constantly blocked up, especially at night when I often find I can’t breathe at all.  So I wake up and pace about. This is very disruptive to my sleep and leaves me with a headache all day.  It can’t continue, so I am being sensible and embracing the new regime.

The new regime consists of non-dairy alternatives to what I am used to eating. So at breakfast, instead of cereal with loads of milk, or yoghurt on muesli, I have some cooked plums, apples and raisins in a sort of syrupy compote, on muesli, maybe with a banana.  At lunchtime, instead of the usual cheese salad sandwich (which included butter!), I am having a salad or a wrap of beans and feta cheese, or beans and tuna or smoked mackerel. At dinner time, I am cutting out creamy pasta sauces and cheese sauces.

I have stopped eating bread altogether, because I will only spread loads of butter on it. For snack time, which is the danger zone for me, I have stocked up with plain mixed nuts. As for tea and coffee, I don’t much like coffee anyway and can only take it with lots of milk and sugar.  So I can quite easily give up coffee.  I drink a lot of tea but I only have a drop of milk in it.  So it’s a small step to having black tea. Fortunately I quite like Chinese teas like Pai Mu Tan, so it’s time to get the teapot out again.

I’m feeling very motivated at the moment because I really want to breathe properly and sleep well again. Ultimately if there is no significant improvement they will offer me surgery to widen the nasal passages. In fact they offered me this surgery 3 years ago but I declined because it seemed a bit radical at the time.

Still, I am not going to obsess over this.  If I fancy a bit of cheese on top of my spag bol, I will have some. And the occasional butter shortbread biscuit is not going to guilt-trip me. Who knows, I might even shift a bit of weight.

If anyone has any suggestions of non-dairy snacks or recipes please let me know!

Til next time,

L x

A Handmade Gift

It is lovely to receive a gift.  Big or small, it’s the thought and the good intention behind it which warms the soul.   I like to give people gifts that I have made.  I like making things, and at least with a handmade gift I can know for sure that they won’t already have one like it.  Still, I don’t always manage to give people gifts that I’ve made: time is short and I’m not that well-organised.

There is a perception, however, that by giving a handmade gift you are some kind of cheapskate because you probably haven’t spent a lot of money on it.  This implies that the most appreciated gifts are the most expensive.  But I don’t necessarily agree.  By giving an expensive gift you are showing that you have a lot of money and are willing to spend it on the recipient. That’s all very well, and such extravagance is exciting, both for the giver and receiver, especially when the gift is something that they really, really want.  Don’t get me wrong, if someone gave me an iPad or a diamond necklace I’d be over the moon.  But I’d also be a little embarrassed about returning such generosity.

On the other hand, a handmade gift can actually be quite expensive when you consider the cost of the higher end yarns. But whatever the cost of your materials, a handmade gift should be especially appreciated: the time and skill involved really shows you care.

Sparkly slippers handmade by Vicky

Sparkly slippers handmade by Vicky

For Christmas I received these marvellous sparkly knitted slippers from a friend. The design and construction intrigued me. I loved the mad, multicoloured sparkly yarn they were trimmed with; I loved that they stayed securely on my feet; and that they were a perfect fit.  I know my friend is on a tight budget, and I know these slippers would not have cost a lot to make, but that isn’t the point. The fact that they were made by her own fair hands is very special to me. She knows me, and she knew I would love them, wear them and find them interesting. For a gift you can’t ask for more than that.

Last week we caught up with some friends who we hadn’t seen over the holidays because they had been ill. With embarrassment they presented us with this beautiful cake, being modelled here by Herbie.  Seconds later he was trying to lick it.

Happy New Year cake

Happy New Year cake

Our friends felt they had to excuse the absence of bought gifts. They felt they had to explain. They are both working, but with pay freezes, childcare costs and house maintenance they are feeling the pinch, and they hoped we would ‘make do’ with this offering. They further explained that it was a quarter of a large Christmas cake which they had baked but not managed to decorate because of illness. Of course we were delighted with our gift, and the fact it was handmade was all the more special. There was no need to explain. I love how the cake is boldly decorated and placed on a handmade silver foil cake board with extra sugar flowers. It’s just delightful. OH has not allowed me to cut it yet because it’s so special and beautiful and he wants to take a picture of it. We will eat it and enjoy it.

What special handmade item did you give (or receive) this year?

Til next time,

L x