Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Stamping again

I found another use for that leaf stamp I made. Something that I ordered online came with a receipt that was printed on sticker paper. Amazon receipts and others usually have one part that's sticky, while the rest is ordinary paper. This one was all sticky, with backing paper, so I cut it up and saved the blank parts.
Bits of receipt + homemade rubber stamp + pretty multicoloured ink pad (from Blade Rubber Stamps near the British Museum) = stickers! Who doesn't love stickers? Perfect for closing a mauve lokta paper envelope, now on its way to my grandmother.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A week next Pancake Tuesday

We have a pancake day most weeks in this household. Pancakes are easy and tasty and probably not at all bad for you - if you eat them, like we do, with fresh fruit and sugar-free jam.
There are lots of gluten-free pancake recipes on the web (scroll to the bottom of that post for links to more), and all sorts of other options like egg-free, vegan, etc. Most of those recipes seem to be for thick, American-style pancakes, which don't feel to me like the right sort for Shrove Tuesday (I'm not a Christian and this is an aesthetic objection rather than a theological one). More to the point, most of those recipes have very long lists of ingredients. Suppose you can eat gluten and milk but you plan to invite your more sensitive friend over for pancakes (she'll be delighted), or perhaps you avoid gluten and dairy yourself but you don't do much baking; either way, you probably don't want to spend the cost of a very decent meal out on special ingredients for one lot of pancakes.
Round here we make gluten-free and dairy-free pancakes with four ingredients. We don't usually measure anything, just add flour and liquid gradually until the consistency seems about right. Last time I measured as I went, to share the sort-of-recipe here. So, please note: I'm no chef and this recipe hasn't been tested like a professional one - but it's approximately what we do weekly, and it works for us.

For about 10 pancakes: 
1 medium organic egg 
225g rice flour (organic brown rice flour is my favourite, and we get ours from Infinity Foods, but the Dove's Farm rice flour is more widely available and also makes good pancakes) 
425ml 475-500ml rice drink (I use Probios Rice&Rice + Calcio; you can try Rice Dream, or soya drink or another milk substitute)
Half a teaspoon flax seeds (ground flax is best but I bought cracked flax by mistake and it works; whole seeds might be OK too if you let them soak in the rice drink for 10 minutes or so)

You need a fork, a mixing bowl, a ladle, a spatula, and a small non-stick frying pan, as well as a clean tea-towel to keep the pancakes warm in.

Break the egg into the mixing bowl and beat it with the fork. Add about half of the rice drink and all of the flax seeds and beat again. Then gradually add the flour and the remaining rice drink, mixing thoroughly as you go to avoid lumps. When everything's combined to a creamy smooth texture, you can start frying. Get the pan really hot; on our electric hob I actually start heating the pan while I'm mixing the batter. Oh, of course you'll need a tiny bit of fat for the pan - does that count as a fifth ingredient? I put no more than half a teaspoon of sunflower oil in the pan at the beginning. The first pancake turns out quite oily, but then I don't grease the pan again. It probably depends on your pan; mine's a non-toxic Green Pan (apparently Teflon is not very nutritious...).
The rest of the work is just pancake basics - obvious unless you've somehow never made a pancake or seen anyone else make one. Just in case: ladle some mixture into the hot pan, immediately spreading it by tipping the pan (if the first one doesn't spread easily, add a tiny bit more rice drink to the mixture). Turn it over when the surface is set - this takes a matter of seconds. You can't wander off while the pancakes are cooking. You have to stand there the whole time and it can be quite enjoyable if you let it. The second side takes another few seconds to cook and then you put the pancake into the folded tea-towel to keep warm.

When they're all done, fold them or roll them or stack them with your topping(s) of choice and eat them straight away. Sliced banana is good, with or without blueberry spread. Stewed apple can work too. If your kitchen, and therefore your plates, are very cold, warming the plates beforehand is nice. Our kitchen's pretty warm, so I just put the folded tea-towel on top of the plates while I'm frying, and the waiting pancakes warm the plates slightly that way.
About the egg: if you really can't find an organic one, at least make sure it's free-range. But while free-range standards are of course preferable to the horrors of battery farming, they don't actually guarantee an awful lot. Soil Association organic certification demands a much higher level of animal welfare, including more space, more access to the outdoors, and no beak-trimming. (I'm not sure what terms and regulations apply in countries outside the EU. "Pastured" might be the US equivalent to free-range; CIWF recently investigated factory farming in the state of Georgia.)
If you try out this recipe, I hope you enjoy it and please do let me know how it goes - comments are experimentally open at the moment!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Feed the birds

Sunflower seeds, raisins soaking, and a jam sandwich for the fox
It's snowing here in London this evening and after a few bitterly cold days it's settling perfectly. Looks like I'll be slithering my way to my orchestra rehearsal tomorrow (not quite like this). But right now I'm donning extra layers and heading out to leave some food for the birds. When the ground's covered up it's hard for them to find anything to eat, and they need plenty of nourishment to help them survive the cold weather - keeping warm burns a lot of calories. It's important to know what foods are good for birds and what can harm or even kill them; the RSPB gives some reliable guidance on its website (note that the list includes things that are bad for birds - you have to read the information under each heading to find out if it's a do or a don't).

Tonight I'm putting out things that I had in the cupboard: sunflower seeds and raisins (which should be soaked in water to soften them before you put them out). If you have cheese, grated cheese was a big hit last time I put that out. Apparently cooked rice is good, too, so I might make a little extra for dinner. The jam sandwich in the picture is intended for the fox I saw a couple of nights ago - I hope s/he won't mind pumpernickel! Of course with the snow still coming down the food could be covered up in no time, certainly before morning when the birds will be out searching again. I'm going to place it all underneath some concrete benches that we have around here; hopefully they'll find it there. Perhaps you could put out some food and water to help your wild neighbours in this winter weather.

[Once you're thinking about helping others through the cold, you might add your voice to the campaign to make sure nobody is ever forced to sleep on the street in the UK. If you can afford it, Crisis would be glad of a donation too.]

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

(tiddly pom)

Early findings from an on-going study by the Department of Thermal Concern and Personal Insulation Studies at the University of Nina suggest that most people regard long underwear as a subject of humour and not as essential winter equipment. My study mostly consists of waiting for someone to complain that they're cold, and then asking them if they're wearing long-johns. Generally the subject will laugh and say that they're not, and then laugh some more when I tell them that I am, no really I actually am [sometimes at this point I'm required to hoik up a trouser leg to prove it], and that I'm therefore not as cold as them. While writing this it has just occurred to me that some of these people may not even be wearing vests - a hypothesis so shocking that I hadn't thought to investigate it until now.

Apparently another big freeze is on the way. We don't take the weather seriously here, and we pay for it when conditions become extreme. Making the nation's homes fit for our climate is a longer-term project, but dressing ourselves sensibly is simple. Layers are the key. Long-johns under trousers make a surprisingly big difference. (One of my cousins shares my belief in long-johns and says he has three pairs: one for work, one for weekends, and one for best. I didn't find out what made the 'best' ones special.) I assume you are wearing a vest already - perhaps even a beautiful hand-knitted one like Krisha's. If you don't have long-johns, leggings are very similar and tights work too but the nylon kind are pointless - thicker cotton ones are better and woollen tights are excellent. That's another thing people don't always know about: wool is very warm. Two layers of cotton plus one layer of wool is far warmer than three or four layers of cotton alone. The above-mentioned study has revealed a widespread ignorance of the benefits of woollen socks. How did we forget about these things? It's a bit embarrassing that the government has to remind us to wear warm clothes in cold weather. (I'm not entirely sure this is necessary in other countries. Scandinavians expect the winter to be very cold - that's why their homes have triple glazing.) Perhaps it's a symptom of our disconnection from the natural world, or our slavish following of fashion and convention even when they don't serve our well-being. A disconnection from our own senses must play a part, too.
What to wear in cold weather
To clarify what I mean by sensible clothing, my standard cold weather attire is: knickers and bra, long-johns, sleeveless vest, woollen socks, long-sleeved t-shirt, trousers, jumper. (By the way, jeans are not warm, even though they're thick. Cords are better and woollen trousers are best of all, if you have them.) To venture outside I add a woollen coat, and woollen scarf, hat, gloves. Mostly I wear some not-especially-warm trainers but in the coldest weather I bring out my felt boots. If I'm still cold with all of that on, I add more layers: a second jumper (cashmere layers very nicely because it's not too bulky, and there are tons of cheap second-hand cashmere jumpers on Ebay), a short-sleeved t-shirt over the long-sleeved one, cotton socks under the woollen pair, mittens over gloves, a shawl on top of my coat. On one or two sub-zero occasions I've even been seen to sport a calf-length knitted skirt over my trousers, which was very much like being wrapped in a blanket. You might think I look silly. I think that girl turning blue at the bus-stop in 40 denier nylon tights and a cotton jacket is silly. There's just no point in catching hypothermia, people.