Monday, 30 September 2013



Lamp post

Yeah, right, I hear you mutter, as you look at a badly lit photo of something unidentifiable. Allow me to identify the object as a lamp post with a speaker attached. For a week or so it played different sounds everytime I passed. Turkish drums one morning. Crickets on another. The sounds of something burning. Breaking waves. And one lunchtime, just to confuse the shoppers, the voiceover for what sounded like a retro documentary on fire.

This was part of the Sensation festival organised by the cultural events team at Chelmsford City Council. They explain that the concept behind the festival was about multiple sensory experiences. Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.

Happily their leaflet fell into my hands just as I was feeling the need to learn and experience new things. As the activities were mainly free there was no excuse for not to attend at least one.


So on Friday night, Mimi and I paid a visit to Anglia Ruskin University to hear a talk by Caroline Hobkinson. Let me begin by saying the campus is amazing. I've often gone past but never actually visited. It goes without saying that I loved the green sofas on the man entrance. What I really liked though was the atmosphere. Tend way that giant bean bags, low stools and sofa were grouped in open areas. For me a vital part of learning is talking to other people, and these spaces with inspirational images and words on the walls really encourage this.

Caroline's talk was about how we experience and our expectations, often cultural around this. She shared some of her own work, which falls somewhere between performance art and chef. Diners eating from a table that has been lifted to a gallery ceiling. Eating with wooden stakes or oversized cutlery. Cameras hidden in food so that the dinner party can be projected on the walls of the room. Eating blindfolded, or bring fed.

By reminding the audience of birthdays cakes, and celebration meals she was able to put her work in context. We all have rituals around good which are absurd when viewed objectively. Eating with forks, lighting candles on a cake, and eating certain foods for certain times of day (why not noodles for breakfast?).

Do not eat!

We then got the interactive part where we ate the contents of the box we were given on arrival. So we'd explored expectations of taste from colour and texture. The impact noise can have on taste. How holding your nose can prevent you tasting something. And the tastes that are like a touch.

Caroline reminded us that food is central to our lives. We celebrate with food. We socialise with food. We mark travels with food. We might not talk to anyone in a strange location, but rely on the food to gve an experience of the locale. Then our memories of trip are all about food.

It was a fascinating way to spend a Friday night. It made me realise that food is very central to my life (and that's normal!). Mimi and I talked after about preparing a meal and the associated experiences as one might go to the theatre or an art gallery. We also recalled our own experiences of rituals tied to food; pumpkin carving parties, New Year's Eve, and Brunch club being key examples.

I'm now looking at the programme for the Chelmsford Ideas Festival with fresh eyes, keen to engage and learn.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Ready in the morning

Porridge with baked fruits
It took me a while to come round to the idea of overnights oats. I'd experimented with Bircher Museli at university, but grating apples before bed wasn't a high student priority. I'll leave you draw your own conclusions about pre-bed activities but let me say toasted sandwiches were high on the agenda.
So I stuck to hot strudel porridge in the morning until I was called away by other breakfast foods. The years passed in a whirl of rice cakes, kiwi fruit cottage cheese, and fried egg muffins.
But then I found my way back to porridge again. Now made with various plant milks and microwaved for speed. I'd have said that apart from varying the dried fruits I added I was set.
Still never say never, a friend gave me some chia seeds to try. An Internet search later I was giving overnight oats a try.
I'm taken with the creamy taste, but what I really like is that they're waiting for me in morning. It's so easy - put oats in a bowl, add fruit/nuts/spices, pour milk over the top, and stick in the fridge. Preparation in the evening has made me more adventurous as to what I add (like the baked autumn fruits in the photograph) and gives me something to get out of bed for.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

What's in my lunch box? Autumn abundance

I had so many lovely things to go in my lunch box this week I had to really stuff them in. The market and my allotment have been an abundance of seasonal produce.
Clockwise from bottom right:
  • Potatoes fried up with onions, roast peppers, and smoked tofu
  • Peach/nectarine - I'm sure the label at the market said peach but they seem more like nectarines. Anyway they're ripe, juicy and delicious. The small red tub contains salt, pepper and chilli flakes
  • An advocado (for mashing and adding contents of red tub) and various leaves (rossof lettuce, rocket, and spinach) from the allotment
  • Julie and Julia by Julie Powell I loved the passion for cooking in this. Not so much the meaty bits.
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mini pittas - torn up to fit in the box

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Learn something new for September


Piano with play me sign

September is a month all about fresh starts, scanning for signs of autumn, and rediscovering a desire to learn.

Essentially it's a month to challenge yourself. To find out more. To take a look at where you are (after the distractions of summer) and see what you can do with those cliched winter evenings.

If you're looking inspiration, I have the perfect thing. I got chatting to Duncan from Noonesreadingme at carnival yesterday (a rather wonderful evening of leaping around to various bands) and he told me about a friend who had recorded an album. It's her and a piano. The 'feel inspired' bit is that a year ago she couldn't play a piano.

Of course, you don't have to go to such lengths. I've signed up for some courses with Futurelearn. These are free online course from UK universities. All kinds of things with varying time requirements are on offer. I'm going to be learning more about Richard III in November, and discovering the basics of Forensic Science in January.

So here's to an inspiring autumn where I discover all kinds of new and exciting things.

Wishing you all things green,



Wednesday, 18 September 2013

What’s in my lunch box? Embrace autumn soup

Who would have guessed that pea pods had so much fibre in them? So much as it turns out that even the mighty Vitamix was able cope. So instead I strained my pea pod and roast pepper soup. I've never strained soup before. It feels like I'm throwing away goodness. This, however, was extremely hairy goodness. On tasting, it seemed a little lacking so I threw in cooked new potatoes, oven cooked sweetcorn, allotment peas form the freezer, and some dried chili. The result is like a rather chunky hot and sour soup. I'm calling it embrace autumn soup. It seems more optimistic than end of summer soup.
Clockwise from top left:
  • Embrace autumn soup – just the thing for a grey and damp day
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Beautifully written, with quiet, yet engaging characters. Reading it is like taking deep calming breathes
  • Plum clafoutis – I enjoyed last week's so much I had to make more
Wishing you all things green,

Monday, 16 September 2013

Saturday adventure

Gosh, I hear you say, that looks a bit bleak. Not surprised that you've been worrying about September blues.

It may look a tad desolate but it was an excellent place to spend an afternoon, even with a bit of rain. I was visiting some family and they suggested an afternoon at Thames Chase community forest.

It's a fantastic site. The paths are wide and gravelled making it highly suitable for users of mobility scooters and wheelchairs as well as small children on bikes and scooters.

There are plenty of things, in additional to nature, to look around the trail. Excellent for encouraging said small children to keep moving ("we're nearly at the fort"). Great for acting as landmarks and ensuring one doesn't get lost. Oh, and rather good fun for climbing and frolicking whatever age you are.

They'd thoughtful labelled lots of the trees.

And there were no end of blackberry bushes. Which did lead to some discussion about why we felt ok picking blackberries as we walked but were hesitant about doing the same for apples or any other fruit.

The teepees are both fun, and slightly Blair witch.

Building your own is good exercise, although my technique needs some work.

There's a visitors centre with a cafe, crafts for sale, and various activities. Parking seemed plentiful. And there was a wonderful juxtaposition of untamed nature park and manicured golf course.

Definitely an excellent afternoon by my standards. It put a glow in my cheeks and left me more than ready for a cup of tea, and some dinner.

Wishing you all things green,


Friday, 13 September 2013

September blues


Everyone talks about the January blues. That period after Christmas when it’s cold and dark and a long way from summer. When there seems to be no joy in the world. When everyone is broke, on a diet, and just in hibernation.

Just like January, September is a time that is earmarked for new beginnings. It’s the start of the new academic year. You tell yourself that you’ll buckle down after the madness of summer. Then after a few days you’ve stopped packing inspiring lunches, ironing your clothes in advance, and doing morning yoga.

Instead life feels joyless as the days get colder and darker. Anything exciting seems a long way off. You have a strong urge to stay in bed with the cover over your head until next spring.

I’ve been facing the September blues by:

· Getting out of bed when the alarm goes off – may as well face up to the day

· Thinking about all the things I really enjoy at this time of year – seasonal vegetables, preparing to do a wardrobe changeover, stomping through piles of leaves

· Planning things to look forward to. This has nothing to do with looking ahead to Christmas. Instead I’ve booked places on some free talks (the local university has an excellent programme), and noted some free events to attend (impressive work by the City council).

· Taking time to relax – I’ve marked out a weekend to stay home and read – all weekend long

· Letting things go – I want to look for things to celebrate, not invite misery by getting worked up because a car is parking in the wrong place

Wishing you all things green,



Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A tale of two restaurants

Dinning out should be pleasure. It’s an opportunity to enjoy food without having to think about what might go into it, labour over preparations, or worry about washing up. I intended to eat out twice last week and the experiences couldn’t have been more different.

Experience 1 – the Saracen’s Head Hotel, Dunmow
On Thursday I decided it would be nice to eat dinner out. The weather was warm. The forecast for the next day was rain. I thought it might be the last night of summer.

I choose the Saracen’s Head Hotel on Dunmow High Street. I‘ve eaten there on several occasions in the last year and always found them very accommodating. The chef made me a fantastic five mushroom risotto on Easter Sunday which I still recall with delight.

However on this occasion things did not go so well. Having ordered a drink I began to size up the menu for things that could by alteration or omission be made vegan. The mediterrrian platter with roast vegetables, hummus, olives, bread and halloumi seemed like an option (minus the halloumi). There was also a rather delivious sounding vegetable curry. When the waiter arrived I explained that I was a vegan and asked if he could find out if the curry contained any animal products.

A few minutes later another member of staff appeared . She told me that she had spoken to the chef and that everything contained eggs or dairy. The only thing they could offer me was a bowl of dry leaves. Or nothing.

I considered asking if they could manage an oil and vinegar dressing to go with the dry leaves. Or if the roast vegetables were cooked in oil. Or what animal products the hummus contained.

Instead I decided to take the ‘nothing’ option and eat at home. I began to finish drink. Before I could leave the staff member returned to reiterate that they had nothing I could eat, adding that I should notify them in advance in future.

Experience 2 – Giraffe, Chelmsford

Sunday evening I’d arranged to have dinner with some of my fellow burlesque enthusiasts, and those who taken part in the Change your life in 20 weeks project. We decided to eat at Giraffe simply because someone had some vouchers.

I was a little late arriving but my fellow dinners had already mentioned my vegan lifestyle to the waiter. He was extremely happy to go through the menu with me and suggest which dishes could be altered. He was also very helpful when other in our party wanted alterations to dishes.
I enjoyed a Falafel burger, followed by a sorbet sundae (yes - a vegan desert) and a soy cappuccino.

The staff were excellent. Cheerful, accommodating and good humoured.

The combination of good food, lovely staff, and delightful company made for a really good meal. Our party left Giraffe feeling relaxed, well feed and ready for the week ahead. I feel quite enthusiastic about returning to Giraffe in the near future.

Wishing you all things green,