Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Plague-ville Scarf

This project started life as braid of fibre. Irrisistably called Oh, go to Plague-ville!, the braid was part of the Vespasian themed collection in Countess Ablaze's Twelve Caesars Collection. I was eager to throw this on the wheel and went for some low twist fulled singles...

The twist wasn't as low as I wanted and the consistency wasn't as even but the entire process of fulling - sloshing the yarn from hot water to cold and throwing it about a bit - was incredibly fun and the colour is amazing.

Like with the spinning I felt I had to work with the yarn as soon as possible but I had other projects on the needles. Unfortunately just before Christmas my Grandma passed away. Knitting and the act of moving my hands is something that's always managed to help me cope. I craved for simple movement and the lacy front of the tank I was working on wasn't cutting it. So the night I heard the news I bought the pattern Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang and started knitting the soothing, predictable ridges in soft singles.

I cast off on the train back from staying with my family. I never know really how I'l feel about these simple comfort knits knit in times of stress and sadness. Will I feel like I can never wear it, or will I be able to forget it's origins? With this scarf it's neither. I remember why I started knitting it, but I still love it. It reminds me that good can still happen after all.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

Every January since 1979 people across the UK have taken part in the world’s biggest wildlife survey: the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Despite the name, you don’t need a garden to take part; many people visit their local park for the survey. Clare and I count the birds in the section of the estate we can see from our balcony, which includes two mature trees and planted bed of around 200 square metres.

Over the six years we’ve lived here we’ve seen fourteen bird species, adding blackcap to the list this winter. Five have graced our balcony: we’ve had single visits from a rook, a magpie, a wren, and a blue tit, and one year we had repeated visits from a pair of pigeons.

Our rather monochrome Big Garden Birdwatch 2015 results include the four usual suspects — feral pigeon, herring gull, magpie, and carrion crow — but this year they are joined by the pied wagtail, which are often seen around the estate but usually go into hiding during the birdwatch:

Saturday, 25 October 2014

RSPB: You didn’t forget the birds

In the past few days the RSPB has come under attack from a group going by the name You Forgot The Birds (YFTB), which appears to be a front for the country (that is, blood sports) magazine The Field. (For more about the people behind the campaign, see Spike’s post at Adventures In Conservation.)

This post isn’t going to study the group’s motives — it’s no secret that their idea of conservation involves the persecution of birds of prey to preserve shooting moors as an aristocrat’s playground — but the substance of their claim.

The claim

YFTB’s claim is that the RSPB spends only 24% of its income on conservation. This is based on two false assertions: firstly that the RSPB’s income is £122m, and secondly that it spends only £29m on conservation.

The reality

The diagram below contrasts the diagram from YFBT’s website with a truthful rendition of the figures.

The RSPB’s income

You’ll have to forgive me for a brief detour into accounting terminology here. Suppose I spend £13.1m on some goods in order to sell them on. I then sell them for £21.2m, which is £8.1m more than I paid for them. The £21.2m figure is called the revenue. Increasing your revenue is good, but not if your cost of sales — the £13.1m figure — increases more quickly. The more useful figure is the £8.1m — the revenue minus the costs of sales — which is the income. To complete the set, your profit (or operating income) is the income minus any other operating expenses. Note that the terminology differs between countries and accounting systems, but the fundamental concepts remain the same.

The can find the RSPB's income from their annual accounts, which have been audited by Crowe Clark Whitehill LLP. The operating statement is shown on page five, with the key figure in shown in the first grey line: the net income available for charitable purposes is £90.1m. The £122m figure quoted by YFTB is instead the revenue.

We can see why this is misleading by revisiting the example above — the figures I used were the actual figures for the RSPB’s commercial activities, consisting largely of the RSPB Shop, which are shown in operating statement as Commercial trading and Cost of goods for resale. Let’s imagine the RSPB’s commercial revenue doubled, and the costs of goods rose in proportion. This clearly benefits the RSPB’s charitable aims as the income raised from commercial trading would also double. However, because the YFTB analysis is based on the revenue (before subtracting costs of sales), YFTB would now report that the RSPB spending an even lower figure of 23% on conservation (assuming the extra £8.1m income was divided proportionately on the existing sources of expenditure).

RSPB spending on conservation

YFTB state that the RSPB spends £29m on conservation. Looking at the accounts, we can see that this is taken from the line Conservation on RSPB nature reserves, at £29.6m — note that YFTB has rounded down the figure. YFTB however ignore two other aspects of conservation: the Acquisition of nature reserves, at £2.7m, and Conservation – research, policy, and advocacy, at £34.7m. YFTB ignores the former and dismisses the latter as being spent ‘on people’ rather than ‘on birds’. This characterisation can only be described as deceptive: conservation work directly on reserves is no different from conservation research in the sense that it is carried out by people, but both are carried out for birds. Finally, we have Education, we helps the RSPB extend its reach by involving the wider public in the process of conservation, with another £14.2m.

Together these add up to 90% of the charity’s income, with the remainder consisting of 5% spent on Membership services (£4m) and Governance (£0.6m), and 5% left over as operating income. Total financial reserves total £48m, with £31.8m being held for specific future projects.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Vegan Mofo Day 29/I Bought A Book: Vegan Pizza

Day 29 of Vegan Mofo and I'm slowly coming to the realisation that being hot and cold all the time and tired and having sniffles may actually mean I've got a cold. Possibly being slow on the uptake is another symptom. Anyway in what I expect is the last review of Vegan Mofo I'm going to take on Vegan Pizza by Julie Hasson.

I bought the kindle copy because I'd heard there weren't really any pictures inside. It's true, apart from the cover all you get are a couple of stock photos. For me that's not a deal breaker but it made me decide I'd rather not pay extra to get it in paper.

The book starts with recipes for your pizza parts: base, cheesy sauces, and meaty stuff. The remaining five chapters are recipes for how to turn them into fabulous pizzas, creatively topped with everything from peperoni to broccoli. There's a lot more actually but peperoni and broccoli being my favorites I didn't really take it in.

I was slightly disappointed in some of the pizza recipes though. The meatball pizza (which I'm desperate to try) calls for '1 (16-ounce) bag frozen veggie meatballs' which is disappointing, especially because they seem to have disappeared from the shops at the moment. When cheese is called for it's mostly 'shredded vegan mozzarella-style cheese' which is discussed as being optional and you can sub in one of the cheesy sauces but it makes me sad that an entire chapter is devoted to the cheese sauces when the recipes suggest store bought. Much more helpful, I think, would have been a discussion about which cheesy sauce would have gone best on each pizza.

So then I made a pizza. I started with the base. I went for the Easy-Peasy Pizza Dough. I didn't find it as easy as advertised. Possibly I left it to rise too long (but within the 2-3 hours the recipe suggests) or perhaps I don't get on with no knead dough but it was sopping wet. I needed so much flour rolling it out. Admittedly out of the oven it was crisp as anything and really delicious.

For my creamy layer I went with the Cheadery Cashew Cheese which was delicious and added some lovely flavours and textures. Definitely more comparable to american cheese then the extra strong cheddar we favour but that's not a bad thing on a pizza. The rest of the toppings came from the recipe for Mushroom Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza. The overall effect was fabulous.

My overall impression was that Vegan Pizza isn't quite as comprehensive as I would like - there is no deep dish pizza for example - and for that reason I'd be hesitant to suggest shelling out for the print version. At only £5 on kindle though (on 29th October 2014 at least) it's a good deal. Pizza lovers (everyone, in other words) should treat themselves.

Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes

Friday, 26 September 2014

Vegan Mofo: Lunchbox School Lesson Four

It's the last friday of Vegan Mofo and the last lesson of lunchbox school. This week we'll be talking about the somewhat less glamorous topics of planning and preparation.

Lesson 4: Plan and Prep

The two things that make all lunchbox making endeavors go smoothly. This week I've made two boxes out of the same four key ingredients while less than ten minutes cooking time each morning.

Think Before You Buy

At the moment I make lunches two days a week, thursdays and fridays but I start thinking about lunch on a monday. I'm not an incredibly organised person or anything and I don't spend long thinking about it but as I draw up my shopping list I like to have a decent idea of what type of things I'm going to put in my box. It means I can make sure I buy all the food I need. This week I bought tofu, french beans, grapes and rice.

Leftovers, Overlap, Freezing Portions

Leftovers in your lunch box is a good option. In this box I used leftover curry. Think too about side dishes. If you are making glazed carrots the night before why not make a few extra for the box.

Overlap is another very handy thing. I knew that both days this week I was going to use the same ingredients so I was able to prep all in one go. The beans all got chopped at the same time. I boiled the rice one day and stir fried the leftovers the next.

You can also freeze things in lunchtime portions. If you only want two tablespoons of something like hosin mustard tofu (like this) then why not make a full batch and freeze the rest for next week.

You want to make fabulous, attractive, diverse lunches without doing all the work of making four or five tiny dishes each morning.

The Morning After The Night Before

So to make it easy for yourself you want to wake up in the morning knowing roughly what to put in your lunch and to have some of it leftover or prepped from another meal. You also have the option of getting things ready the night before though. In both these boxes the tofu was started the night before. The teriyaki tofu was put to marinate and the red hot saucy tofu was fried. In the morning I fried the teriyaki and put sauce on the fried tofu and done.

Nothing left to do but halve the grapes. Two lunches in ten minutes with the same four key ingredients: rice, teriyaki tofu, green beans and grapes, and fried rice with red hot saucy tofu and grapes.

Hope you enjoyed lunchbox school, it's possible a bonus lesson will come before the end of Mofo...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Vegan Mofo Day 25: Gingerbread Duckies

I'm so tired right now and combining balleling insomnia with icing (badly) eyes onto gingerbread ducks at six in the morning didn't help. But I couldn't help myself. I had a craving for gingerbread and couldn't resist these lovely cutters. Night all.

What do you mean it's only half seven? Fine, I'll try to stay awake then.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Banana bread with no added sugar [vegan]

Some time ago I stumbled across this recipe for fruit sweetened vegan banana bread, and bookmarked it for a future date when I might have 15 overripe bananas to hand. That hasn’t happened yet, so I scaled the recipe down by two thirds instead.

The unusual recipe involves cooking the bananas down to purée in a slow cooker over sixteen hours. I was impatient, so used a saucepan for three hours instead. The banana purée is the only source of sugar in the recipe, and the resulting loaf is less sweet than common banana breads, with the spices and the caramelisation of the bananas giving it a flavour similar to black gingerbread.

When I bring banana bread into work I often joke that a third of a loaf is ‘one of your five a day’, but with the number of bananas crammed into this loaf it really does make a noticeable contribution to your daily fruit intake.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Pittsburgh Steak Sandwiches

For lunch today I grabbed my copy of Vegan Sandwiches Save The Day and a hunk of its Moo-Free Seitan and made these fab Pittsburgh Steak Sandwiches.

Marinated steak strips, avocado, garlicky mayo and salad greens made an amazingly good meal. And I took the time to flip through Vegan Sandwiches again. There is so much in there that I haven't tried yet. I'd love to know what you recommend.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Vegan Mofo Day 22: Altella, again.

I think I've posted about Altella before. It's a gorgeous spread, an almond variation on nutella and the recipe is from Hearty Vegan Meals For Monster Appetites or Home-Cooked Vegan Comfort Food as it's now called. In fact this one recipe is well worth the price of the book.

And I think it's well worth a second post. I was ever very happy with the first picture anyway. Hopefully tomorrow my stomach will have settled enough for some more adventurous food.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Vegan Mofo Day 20: Lunchbox School Part 3

Everyone settled in? Good. It's lesson 3 of lunchbox school. I apologise for my unauthorised absence yesterday I was feeling a ill and I didn't want to sit up for any length of time. Today we're going to talk about keeping your lunches fresh and tasty. The opposite of me right now.

Lesson 3: Good 'til Lunch

Keeping your food happy and fresh until lunchtime can be a bit of a challenge. Especially in summer. We've all had days of wilted salad and soggy bread. How can bento help you avoid it? Well coincidentally all those little ideas for packing a cute lunch really do have a practical application...

Ice and Water

By far the easiest way to keep everything fab and fresh to pack it at the right time. Putting cooked food in a lunchbox while it's still warm can lead to condensation. So where possible I like to put everything in cool or at least wait until it's as cool as it can be before putting the lid on. I like to prep my lunch first thing in the morning but only cover it as I'm heading out the door.

Another super simple freshness tip is to grab yourself an icepack. In summer especially they are necessary to keep everything cool in hour bang. I tend to carry one strapped to my boxes but you can get mini ones to go inside.

Separate Your Flavours

I'm not suggesting you stop all of your food from touching. If that's your thing then go for it but I like a snuggly box. There are some things that get along better when they don't mingle though. Check out the box above. I have lettuce and grapes touching but the broccoli is sectioned off. Why? Well the broccoli is roasted, it's coated in oil and salt. Exactly the flavours I don#'t want to seep out onto the fruit. Or the bread. That would be one soggy sandwich.

You may also notice that this time I left the grapes whole. Halved grapes may be a space saver but they do add moisture to the equation. The skin of fruit is it's own protective packaging after all.

Play With Your Food

If you pack a sandwich exactly as you want to eat it, with all the sauce and all the lettuce the bread will be moist and sad. Putt he dressing on the salad before you leave home and lettuce wilts. Drape the sauce onto the pizza bowl and everything turns into a soggy mess before you can get to it. Packing things in separate containers and assembling at lunch avoids the issue. And it's fun. It won't take all of your lunch time to assemble things if you prep them at home but it will make a big difference in texture and flavour.

Next week is the last lesson of lunchbox school (or is it? I haven't decided yet, do you know?) and we'll be talking about efficient prep for a speedy packed lunch.