October 22, 2014

Chilli Peanut & Coconut Soup



My adventures in vegan cooking continued last night with a concoction from The Vegan Cookbook by Adele McConnell. This is the third recipe I’ve tried from this book. The last one was the ill-fated TofuUdon Bowl.

I made Chilli Peanut and Coconut Soup featuring tempeh (pronounced tem-pay), which is a fermented soya product. It’s really nothing like tofu as it was really textured and the flavor was overwhelming. I have to admit, even though I was really excited to try it, I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t like the taste, which despite soaking in soy sauce with chilli flakes, wasn’t good. My husband really liked it though.

I spent about an hour shelling peanuts when I got home from work, as I couldn’t find shelled roasted and unsalted peanuts anywhere. Doing so made me really crazy hot boiled peanuts, a southern roadside delicacy, so that may be on my blog in the near future.

The soup itself was goodish. I really thought it was going to taste more Thai as the smells emanating from the wok smelled like a Thai curry. Instead it was coconut infused soup that was a bit too bland.

The seasoning really came from the tempeh and even though I used a hand blender to whaz it all up, the peanut were still there giving it a nice crunch and with raw spring onions, purple mange tout and coriander leaves there was a lovely crispness to the soup.


This recipe wasn’t an epic fail but I don’t think it will be making it again. I am a bit disappointed that my tempeh hopes have been dashed. Oh well.

October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday- Zombie Walk


A few years ago when I lived in Edinburgh, Billy and I were heading up to the Royal Mile to meet some of his co-workers. The Royal Mile is the mega touristy spot usually filled buskers, street performers and well, tourists as it is the main road leading to Edinburgh Castle.

But in the middle of the week in October it was totally dead. I mean it was empty at first and then it quickly filled with the dead. Billy and I had unknowingly came upon a Zombie Walk.

It was crazy seeing the Royal Mile with some of the Scotland’s oldest architecture fill with the undead as bus drivers where waylaid by fairly convincing zombies. I luckily had my camera as we were going to see the Beltane Fire Festival, which also took place on the Royal Mile and is a Gaelic festival that has fire breathers and crazy puppeteering by dred-locked guys.


When the zombies attacked I got in front of a zombie nun trying to frame the cathedral into the shot and then the zombie got really close and actually freaked me out!

October 11, 2014

My Pick of Podcasts

Eighty percent of my workday is spent driving my car around sleepy English towns through winding country roads. Yes, I know it sounds quaint and if you love Jane Austen novels you would find this place captivating. I felt this too but after three years the English countryside has lost most of its charm.

To battle boredom while driving to my assignments I listen to podcasts. I used to only listen to music but after awhile I just needed some human interaction and I exhausted all the audio books at my library that weren’t Nora Roberts novels. I have a few podcast standards that I listen to regularly and there are a lot that I’ve vetoed for one reason or another.

I have loved listening to dramatisations on tape when I was a kid. My uber religious grandmother gave me a book of tapes called “Adventures in Odyssey” that were set in the fictional town called Odyssey and the stories are about the residents with a Christian theme.

I remember laying on my waterbed (whatever happened to waterbeds?) on my stomach and getting lost in the stories. I remember being surprised that I liked it, as I was such a TV kid.

Here are the podcasts I listen to regularly:


Comedy Podcast

Answer Me This! is a comedy podcast that comes out fortnightly. The hosts are Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann. They are both thirty-something Oxford grads working in broadcasting in London. The third co-host is Martin Austwick aka Martin the Sound Man who is married to Helen.

The show, which they record in Helen and Martin’s Crystal Palace flat, has Helen and Olly answering questions from listeners that range from sweet (How can I ask my friend out?) to mundane (Why are juice glasses at buffets so small?) to just crazy/gross (Do vegans spit or swallow?).

Whatever the question you can be sure the answer will be a) witty b) informative c) thought provoking d) snort out loud funny. I love this podcast and I was really bummed when it went to fortnightly instead of weekly when Olly got a job at London’s LBC radio in the 1am -4am time slot.

The show really benefits from really catchy bumpers thanks to Martin who, besides being a physicist, is a musician that utilizes his skills to make jingles in the styles of The Pixies, Elliot Smith and Bob Dylan to name a few.

I highly recommend this podcast and lucky for you there is a huge back catalog to keep you busy for months (the really old stuff isn’t free).

BEST BITS- Helen and Olly have such good chemistry that when they get on a roll (which is basically all the time) it can be hilarious.
WORST BITS- It’s only put out every two weeks now (even though it is longer than the weekly shows, it’s just not enough).


Trivia Podcast

Good Job Brain calls themselves an “offbeat trivia podcast” where the host Karen quizzes the players/other hosts Colin, Dana and Chris each week. They start out with general trivia round “Pop Quiz Hot Shot” where Karen uses a Trivial Pursuit card.

The rest of show has the players taking turns to quiz each other on whatever that week’s theme is. Every fifth show is an “All Quiz Bonanza” where the players come up with random quizzes without an unifying theme.

I have learned loads of fun trivia from this show despite the host’s obsessions with poo. I love when they tell fun stories while giving background to their quizzes. I remember one story about Prince using NBA player Carlos Boozer’s house for a music video. Prince, among many other alterations, painted Boozer’s house purple and is now being sued.

The show was a Kickstarter initiative in 2011 and has been rather successful in its first few years. The group met doing pub quizzes together in San Francisco and they work really well off each other with their own specialist subjects (aka Colin is the sports guy, Chris is the video game nerd…). They are around the same age as me so luckily I get their cultural references but younger listeners might not.

There are a few regular-ish features – “Brad Pitt or Lasers,” “Belgium or not Belgium,” “Umm Actually” and the Carmen San Diego parody “Where in the World is Carmen San Mateo.”

If you want funny and often useful trivia this is the podcast for you. It is pretty clean so therefore it is child friendly, except for all the poo talk.

BEST BITS- It is really entertaining and I learn loads of funny and interesting facts.
WORST BITS- They don’t always publish regularly on the same day- it went from Tuesdays to Thursdays; Karen annoyingly makes lots of “Ooooh” and “Ohhhh” noises throughout; The ‘fun size” episodes are really annoying short minisodes. It would be much better if they just recorded two shows at once when they know they can’t do a full-length show.


Culture & Knowledge

I tell my husband often “Josh and Chuck say…” or “Did you know… Yeah Josh and Chuck told me.” Needless to say my husband is sick of hearing about Josh and Chuck. The duo are the hosts of Discovery’s Stuff You Should Know podcast. The third, silent member of the team in Jeri, the producer.

The podcast has been around for years and is part of How Stuff Works, which puts out several other podcasts. Basically the writers and editors from How Stuff Works teamed up and started podcasts about a bunch of different subjects.

Stuff You Should Know started out with Josh and some other co-hosts but it didn’t actually pick up traction until Chuck joined the team. Josh and Chuck have amazing chemistry together and I think that is the real reason why the podcast has been so successful.

The dynamic duo have hundreds of episodes and they put out two podcasts a week about varied topics from ‘How the sun works’ to ‘How marijuana works.’ Recurring elements include “The Way Back Machine,” “Grabster,” “Hippie Rob,” and “Lou Vega selling ice cream or working at a petrol station.”

One of the best episodes I remember is when they dramatized the experiences of victims from the 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks.

BEST BITS- A varied choice of topics each week.
WORST BITS- They have to do adverts in the middle of podcasts for businesses like Graze boxes and –the worst- Stamps.com. I really hate the Stamps.com adverts as they are annoying and as I don’t live in the US they are completely moot for me.


History

Stuff You Missed in History Class is another podcast from the How Stuff Works people. Its been going since 2008 and has gone through a series of different hosts (one of the first hosts was Josh from SYSK). I have listened to every single podcast they have done in the last six years.

The current hosts are Holly and Tracey and they podcast about historical subjects- there really isn’t much more to describe what they do. The hosts that I thought worked the best were Katie and Sarah, but they both moved on to other jobs.

I think this is a problem when companies rather than individuals produce podcasts because they don’t seem passionate about the subjects at all and I have to rewind so often because I zone out.  

Holly and Tracey have zero chemistry and are seriously dull and monotone. This is really disappointing because I love the premise of this show. Tracey (who is the boss at How Stuff Works) has a really bad case of vocal frys that really does my head in.

I have probably just put you off listening to this podcast but I highly recommend listening to the older podcasts with better hosts.

BEST BITS- The podcast covers some really interesting subjects and a lot that I had never heard of.
WORST BITS- They have really annoying adverts selling razors and stamps.


Trivia

Atomic Trivia War 9000 isn’t a great podcast really. It’s a trivia podcast hosted by Jason Hawk, a reporter in Ohio with a gaggle of kids, and the players are Kevin, the Canadian father figure of the group, Rochelle, the only other American and the only female, and Omar, the Costa Rican obsessed with breasts.

Jason puts together questions from a slew of nerdy topics like gaming, comics, movies etc. The others answer the questions and Jason keeps score- sometimes.

The sound quality is meh and the structure isn’t well thought out. So why do I listen to it? I’m not quite sure myself. I try out every trivia podcast that comes out and I had it on my iphone. I ran out of my usuals and put ATW9K on and thought it was crap, but then I listened to the next one, then the next and now its one of my usual podcasts.

Obviously there is something to the podcast or else I wouldn’t keep listening, but I’m not quite sure what it is.

BEST BITS- The end theme is really catchy and I find myself singing it often.
WORST BITS- They don’t publish podcasts on a regular basis. It’s been two weeks since the last podcast.


Drama

The Archers target audience are old age pensioners, farmers and me. This is actually a show on BBC Radio 4 that airs 15 minute-long shows six days a week. It follows the residents of Ambridge, a fictional English town, where farming is the main industry. It’s been on the air since the 50’s.

At first this was a programme that I listened to occasionally on Radio 4 when I had run out of podcasts. Then I decided to try out the podcast and now I am thoroughly hooked. Even now I went on their website fact checking and spent half an hour looking at the character’s bios. I like it because they use the real people behind the voices as the characters.

There are a lot of issues that I completely disagree with when it comes to farming and the culling of animals. But I think the personal relationships are what keep me listening.

BEST BITS- Really good characters with plot lines that keep me wanting more.
WORST BITS- Susan, the village shop worker and gossip monger who I really want to get her comeuppance, Jolene, the landlord of The Bull pub who really gets on my nerves, Rob, Helen, Lynda and Edd… I must like the show if I get so angry at the characters.


Public Radio

Lucky you if you’ve never heard “This American Life” before. It means you have years of old episodes to binge listen to while you fall secretly in love with Ira Glass.

This American Life is the combination of every good element in a radio drama, a documentary and a quirky, off beat programme. I love TAL so much that I gladly re-listen to episodes that are re-aired when someone goes on holiday.

Each week they pick a theme and do different stories in three acts about the theme. Sometimes the stories relevancy to the theme is a bit tenuous, but the stories are almost always compelling. I could listen to TAL everyday.

Sometimes they devote entire episodes to one story like the episode about Dr Gilmer taking over a murderer’s practice. This murderer is also a Dr Gilmer and surprisingly they are not related. The episode is so interesting with twists and turns and a surprise ending. Have I enticed you? Good.

BEST BITS- Compelling stories and interesting characters
WORST BITS- When they repeat shows that they aired within the last year. I also don’t like when they use fiction during a theme- I prefer real stories instead.


Drama & Documentary

Serial is new. It’s a spin-off of This American Life that takes a typical story they’d cover and get stuck in airing an episode each week about the story. The story is about a murder in 1999 where a high school senior is charge with the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Here’s the premise:

“It's Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he's innocent - though he can't exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.”

I just listened to the third episode today and I can’t decide if Adnan is innocent or not. Every time I think yes he isn’t guilty, the narrative changes and then I’m not so sure.

What I am sure about is that I am eager to hear the next episode. But I knew that if this podcast was by the team behind TAL then it was going to be good.

BEST BITS- It’s like getting a double dose of TAL every week.
WORST BITS- I want to find out what happens… now. I’m really hoping there is a good resolution at the end of this.


Culture & Knowlegdge

Along with Serial, Radio Lab is the newest edition to my podcast repertoire.

I listened to the Galapagos episode today and I seriously think my dream of going to the islands was completely dashed. This isn’t because of the quality of the podcast, but rather it was story of 200,000 goats being murdered in cold blood by snipers in helicopters. This was done with full knowledge and at the behest of the naturalists in Galapagos.

The story went on to cover a lot of other atrocities on the islands that make me really sad. I grew up seeing the results of scientific exploration of the Galapagos thanks to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce, FL- my hometown. Harbor Branch made many expeditions to the islands and we’d go to the institute on field trips.

Anyways, there aren’t any specific topics they talk about. There was a heart-breaking story on autism called “Juicervoce” and a story about a dolphin being taught English while living with a woman in “Hello.”

I’m so happy I’ve found Radio Lab because now I can explore their archives. It’s like finding a great TV show and finding out there are five seasons you can binge watch.

BEST BITS- I’ve liked what I’ve hear thus far and they definitely have me hooked.
WORST BITS- Not sure yet. Hopefully none.

October 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday- Graduation Day


I love this photo. It’s my graduation day in 2005. I had been through two ceremonies the day before for Newhouse, where I got my photoj degree, and arts and science, for my anthropology degree. This day was the graduation ceremony with the entire graduating class and our speaker began by speaking in chimpanzee.

Yep, it’s the awesome Jane Goodall. When she looked down on the sea of cap and gowns she would have seen inflatable apes being tossed around and monkeys hanging from nearly every student’s mortarboard. My biological anthropology professor must have been going mental since neither or those are Chimpanzees!

After the ceremony I took my family (my mom, sister and my niece and nephew) to our photo studio to take a family portrait and then we headed over to the Schine Student Centre (I totally had to Google that because I couldn’t remember the name) and we queued up to have books signed by Goodall.

When it was our turn I asked if I could have a photo taken with her and she agreed. You can see how thrilled she is to have her photo taken with me! I still love this photo because it was the first time I’d met someone famous who I actually admired and I had just spent the last four years studying her work.

I found a video of her commencement speech but you have to fast forward through the rest of the ceremony so it may not be worth it unless you really have an interest in Syracuse University’s graduating class of 2005.

My Favourite Things: Veggi Wash



I am not a clean freak. When I clean my house I make sure I get under every piece of furniture, but I don’t need to hoover everyday. But I am a bit of a germophobe. When I worked in forensics I’d be at murder scenes where blood was splattered everywhere and I’d come back and have to take multiple showers.

I wore work clothes and a white zip-up forensic suit but I’d still launder my home clothes several times because they were on me after I’d been at a scene. I handled objects that had been at scenes everyday and they encouraged you to use hand sanitizer, which I did- constantly. I wore a bottle hooked on my belt loop.

This fostered a need for clean hands constantly and now I also need to have clean food. I wash every bit of food I eat, even if it has skin that you pull off before eating.

There are certain products that make my life easier and there are other products that I love because they make my life better. Veggi Wash falls in the latter category.

Veggi Wash is an amazing product that cleans all the dirt and pesticides off my fruit and veg. The best is when I clean a bag of spinach. You pour a capful of the wash into a bowl of water and after soaking the spinach for a while I pick it out the water leaving a bunch of dirt at the bottom of the bowl! Its rewarding knowing you have really cleaned your food.

I get the wash at my local health food shop and one bottle lasts for ages. It comes in real handy when I’m juicing. When you’re doing so well to get the healthiest food in your body you don’t want to be drinking pesticides (even organic fruit and veg can have yucky stuff on it).

October 2, 2014

Throwback Thursday- Renaissance Festival



Hazzah! My friend Arielle (pronounced r-e-l) and I had one of our first friend dates at the Atlanta Renaissance Festival in 2007. I think we were both afraid to let our nerd-dom out in case we scared the other off. Luckily we have the same level of nerdiness so it all worked out good. We have so much fun when we’re together that it’s a shame we live so far apart.

We had spent the day walking around the venue where swash-buckling pirates performed, knights in shining armour battled for a maiden’s love, and horses paraded and danced around an arena. It was brilliant. We both wanted some memento of the day and we found the perfect items. We both got clay formations strung on a thin rope- mine was a pair of cat ears and Rel’s was little horns.

They blended into our hair and Rel’s were so subtle that they almost looked real! We wore them the rest of the day (which did end up hurting after awhile) even when we went to Rel’s friends house where her entire Indian family was having a meal and thought us silly. Oh, and my cat ears also matched my actual cat's ears. 

I think that day was the real start of our friendship, so it will always be special to me. Hazzah!!

Lisbon

My husband and I went to Lisbon last week to celebrate our sixth anniversary. I can’t tell you how amazing the city was. It was our first time in Portugal and I don’t think it will be our last. The people were friendly, the food was great and the views were spectacular. It hadn’t been my choice of destination, but I can highly recommend it.

I am doing a series of posts on my photoblog with images from our trip broken up into themes. Here a few of my photographs.


September 25, 2014

Throwback Thursday- Wedding



I’m off today, with my lovely husband, to spend five days in Portugal to celebrate our sixth anniversary. Six years! I honestly can’t believe it’s only been six years- and I mean that in a good way. I feel like we’ve been together forever.

Six years ago, on the 27th, we got our friends from Washington DC, NYC, Atlanta, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow together to help us celebrate our big day. It was a perfect day considering we were in the middle of a tropical depression. Two days before the wedding the water from the Indian River was lapping over the sides of the at the place where we had rented four old Key West style fishermen cottages and the grass where the marquis was being erected was soaked.

But by the Saturday, the wind had stopped, the ground dried and the weather was perfect. Not too hot and wonderfully sunny. Pretty soon after the ceremony, which took place under an arch erected right by the edge of the river, we jumped into my friend Meg’s rental car and jetted across the bridge to Jensen Beach where we caught the last bits of sunset.

Then we headed back and dug in to my favorite bbq from Dales that was catering the event. Mmm, I know I don’t eat meat, but I still love their special sauce and baked beans! Then we went for the cake. I didn’t really want a cake, but my mom convinced me. Instead of the cheesy cake toppers I bought little groom and bride cut-out thingies at Michaels (which is where I got most of the stuff for the wedding) and I pasted our funny faces on and they still make me laugh when I see these photos.

We are going to attempt to have a wedding reunion for our tenth anniversary and invite everyone (well, mostly everyone- one of the couples have split and a friend married another one of my guests so I don’t think her old bf would come) to stay in the cottages again. Its very rare for me to see my friends in the states and it would be incredible to all be in one place again.

September 22, 2014

Tofu Udon Noodle Bowl



Usually I work late on Wednesdays, but I covered a day shift last week as a co-worker is on holiday. It was quite nice because my other co-worker Lucy and I got to have a little jaunt into town between assignments.

We work all over the place and rarely get to see each other. There’s one of my co-workers that I haven’t seen in six months. So this was a luxury. We are both interested in cooking and baking healthy food and we’re both veggies so we went in search of tofu for both of us and nutritional yeast for Lucy.

I ended up in a green grocer/health food/Asian food store that was brilliant and I was able to get everything on my list for our tea (that’s what dinner is called over here).

I made a dish from The Vegan Cookbook by Adele McConnell. The Udon Noodle Bowl was full of well udon noodles and pak choi, mushrooms and tofu.

Unfortunately the marinated tofu was the best part of the dish. The flavours were really good while I was working on it but the recipe called for four cups of water. I only put two and a half in but it was enough to completely drown out the flavours. I don’t think I’ll try this recipe again, but if I did I’d triple the amount of mirin, rice vinegar and miso.

There are other recipes I’ve tried in her book- like the artichoke pasta, which I’ve adapted by adding butter beans and is now a weekday staple for us- so I won’t let this one put me off making more. She has several recipes using tempeh, which is really hard to find around here. 

September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday- Scottish Edition





For my photo blog this week I spent hours scouring my image archives digging out photos from Scotland. I lived there with my husband the first three and a half years of our married life and had visited many times before when he and I were long-distance so there were a ton of photographs to choose from.

So in honour of Scottish referendum I am putting up a whole slideshow worth of Throwback Thursdays. I do sincerely love Scotland. Whenever I go back and see how beautiful it is I have this feeling that if I didn't have any ties there, if it was uncertain that I would ever be back, that would be devastated. But knowing that I will have a connection with the country for the rest of my life makes leaving it a little easier.

My husband is a highlander. But no body calls it the Highlands except for Americans. In Scotland its just called the North or up north. Thurso is as far north as you can get without getting on ferry and taking it to Orkney or Shetland. And north of that is Norway! Thurso is right where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea and therefore was home to an international surfing competition. (Billy's step-dad who sadly passed away this time last year used to say "Bondi Beach, Thurso!" comparing the surfing beaches).

Whenever I go up north I am always freezing. My mother-in-law (who was born in Glasgow but moved up there when she was 13) always has the windows open- even in the winter!! She opens the window in the bathroom after a shower and then I go to take a shower and my teeth are chattering. I always gravitate towards chunky fisherman sweaters when I'm there. I want to be warm and cozy. The sweaters/jumpers are called ganseys and they were different in each village so that if a fisherman was killed at sea whoever found him could find out where he was from by looking a the pattern knitted on his jumper.

See its these little things that make Scotland so special. If you want to know more about my opinion you can see my blog post on my photo blog though I tried to stay neutral.