Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wetherspoons Flatbread & Dips

Wetherspoons have a new starter on the menu (at least, I'd never noticed it before). It consists of two flatbreads, each cut in half, and little pots of roasted veggies, tzatziki, red pepper tapenade, and houmous.   It's £4.10, and similar to their roasted vegetable flatbread, which consists of the flatbread with houmous and roasted vegetables in it, which is suitable for vegans.  So, I wrote to them, and asked if the flatbread and dips were too.



There you go, everything except the tzatziki.  It's good for sharing.  I asked them not to bring the tzatziki out, and gave Anthony two of the flatbread halves, so he could have a chip butty.  I quite liked having extra houmous, and slightly less veggies, as well as the tapenade, because I still have issues with veggies.  I'm so much better than I used to be, but not yet at the point where I'd pick them over a slice of bread and v. margarine (or, indeed, warm flatbread and houmous).  It'd be a nice shared starter if you were with a group of non-veggies - just avoid the yoghurt.

I like Wetherspoons because it's a high street pub chain.  It's reasonably priced, and it's not 'special'.  It's not vegan, people don't give it funny looks when they walk past, and I can go there with a group of omnivores.  Plus, there's one pretty much everywhere, so if I'm in another city, I know I have options.  Its sheer British mundanity and comfort is exactly what I like about it.

Off the top of my head, there are three options for vegans, including the two above (though the website says these are "selected pubs only".  The third option is the sweet potato and chickpea curry without naan bread, which I generally go for, especially on a Thursday, when the price is a lot more reasonable (£5.99, with a drink, as opposed to £7-8 otherwise).

Looking at the menu (all vegan options here), there are a few other options, mostly chips, salad, and the baked potatoes.  I try to never actually order chips and salad when I'm out, simply because they tend to be a compromise when no vegan options are available, and the ones I make at home taste better anyway.  I'm a poor student; if I'm buying prepared food, it had better be nicer than what I can make myself, for less money, am I right?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Drag Me To Hell

This is something I've been wanting to do for a while now - discuss veg*n people and characters in the media.  And not just because it gives me the chance to talk about films and books, either.

This post will contain some spoilers for Drag Me to Hell.

No one here who doesn't want to be?  Good.

Drag Me to Hell focuses on Christine Brown, an ex-farmgirl who moved to the city, lost weight, changed her accent, and, in short, totally disassociated herself with her former 'Pork Queen' identity.   Here, have a look at the trailer.

The film has something of an oral fixation, and there are fan theories that the character is bulimic or anorexic, based on several points; the aforementioned oral fixation of the film, the lingering shots on food which Christine never eats, her claim of being lactose-intolerant while suffering no ill effects from eating ice cream, and so on.

Pictured: Oral Fixation.  Image taken from here - take a look, it's a very good review.


Christine is also a vegetarian, and I don't believe that this is purely to disassociate herself from her former identity, or to keep from eating fatty foods.  The character is, generally, very soft-hearted, and it's possible that, away from the farm, which presumably had a big meat-eating culture - since, after all, she did literally win 'Pork Queen' - she felt able to stop eating cute animals. 

Much like Elle Woods of Legally Blonde - who introduces herself and Bruiser, her dog, as "Gemini vegetarians" - Christine is a nice girl.  She's kind-hearted, and the heroine.  There's a certain image that the film is going for, regarding her character, and I think 'vegetarian' is used as shorthand for this, a little bit of detail that tells us that this character has a soft side.  Note also Slap Her, She's French, in which the main character, after losing her Libby status, also outs herself as a vegetarian, a bit of trivia that seems to confirm her new-found kind manner.

My impression of Christine is that she doesn't like to make waves, which is why I suspect that she only stopped eating meat after leaving home.  I also think that her vegetarianism is coloured by this character trait.  She's soft-hearted, and doesn't want to eat cute animals, so she doesn't - but being a vegan is too weird, too unusual.  Vegans are an entirely different stereotype - a more militant, more hippy-like creature.  At least, that's the impression I get.

Christine also has a small cute pet, like Elle's - a kitten.  It seems to be another aspect of the same kind of characterisation.

On a side note, it seems odd to me that a vegetarian would keep a carnivorous pet.

In the film, Christine sacrifices her kitten.  She is also part of a ceremony in which a goat is to be sacrificed, both due to the lamiae's torment.  What do other veg*ns think of this, the idea of a vegetarian being put into a position where she must choose between eternal torment and killing an animal?

On the one hand, why should a goat or a kitten be sacrificed for Christine?  That said, she is going to hell, to eternal torment, if she doesn't.  Is the kitten going to be tormented, to take her place, or will it have a different afterlife?  If the kitten is going to eternal torment, well, why should it go instead of her (if it isn't, then, mathematically speaking, one creature in a natural afterlife is way better than another in eternal torment)?  Kitty didn't do anything, unlike that asshole Stu, or Mrs Disproportionate Retribution Ganush.  Or even that dick, Rham Jas.  If San Dena had been eagerly waiting for the chance to defeat the Lamiae - as she tells Christine when she meets her - why did she require ten thousand dollars, in advance?  My theory; Jas kept it for himself.  He also put Christine in danger by telling her only one option at a time, and not helping her nearly as much as he could have, considering he knew she was going to be dragged to hell in three days.  If he'd been given the button, he'd have had a better chance of getting out of the curse than Christine (or the poor kitty) had.

So, what do you all think? Is 'vegetarian' an easy code word for a certain kind of character? Is Christine bulimic? How should she have dealt with the curse? What happened to the kitty?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Graze

This is the Graze box I bought myself after walking that marathon.  I deserved it.

This was also my first Graze box without chocolate in it, which was a tad disappointing.  I got Desert Island Nuts, Italian Stallion, Pitted Kalamata Olives with Herbs (purely functional title, that one), and Fiery Seeds.

I'm going to go ahead and copy my Graze intro from a previous post.  You can skip this bit, if you like.

To recap; Graze is a (British) company, who will send you a box of four healthy snacks, for £3.49.  The kinds of snacks you can choose are listed on the website, and you can rate each snack with 'bin' (never send), 'try', 'like', or 'love'.  You can also set your account to send boxes every week or every fortnight, and to send you either a majority of things to try, or a majority of things you like or love.  Mine is set to 'try', in my ongoing attempt to be less fussy (I ate salad today!  It used to make me gag - today, it was delicious!  Progress!).  You can also choose to bin all non-vegan items, all non-coeliac items, and anything containing milk or dairy.  Or all three.  Everything is vegetarian.

If you click on that icon to the right, or in my sidebar, you can get your first box free, and your second half price (normally, just your first is half price). Or, you can get that same deal by entering the code 14Y9DGY.  If you do, I should point out that my account gets credited with a pound, which I can give to charity or put towards a box.  It's a nice bonus, but seriously, it's a great deal, use any code you can get your hands on, anyone with an account can give you one.

I like to write these posts, describing what I got, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it makes the boxes feel even more special.  There's nothing not awesome about getting a box of snacks through the post, all wrapped up, ready to surprise you.  It's better than Christmas, because they never, not even once, include socks.  Also, I have a goal of trying every vegan item they sell, and it just feels right to jot down my feelings on each one.  It's like part of the goal.  Finally, I figure someone else out there has yet to try goji berries, or mulberries, or physalis, and might be curious about the taste.

Speaking of physalis (try not to say 'syphilis', like I did earlier, that's a completely different thing), they're very sour.  They taste quite a lot like some kind of mix of lemon juice and cranberry juice.  I found them a bit strong, to be honest, and I like lemons.  Those were in the Italian Stallion, which also came with green raisins, cranberries, and blueberries.  I had never seen green raisins before.  I didn't even know they were a thing!  I guess they're green grapes raisinified, rather than red ones. 

Dried cranberries I have tasted before, and like.  A lot.  I've never had dried blueberries, but I've had fresh ones, and those are good too.  The physalis is also in Mayan Mocha, which isn't vegan.

I'm not the biggest fan of coconut, but I did like Desert Island Nuts, too.  That's dried coconut, almonds, and brazil nuts.  The coconut had an unfamiliar texture, and I think I prefer it non-dried, if I'm going to eat it at all.  I do like almonds, but I prefer them chocolate coated (they taste like heaven!).  And brazil nuts are always nice, but not really special.  It was a great combination, but, that said, I don't think I'll ask for it again.

(It does feel so mean to click 'bin' on a snack that's perfectly fine and edible, just not totally to your taste.  We need another option, like "I'll eat it if someone else offers me some", or "well, it's not my favourite".)

I took the Fiery Seeds to work with me, and had them with my lunch (another stacked sandwich, complete with classical music - Wagner, this time, on Anthony's recommendation). They were yummy; slightly hot, but not too much.

The Pitted Kalamata Olives with Herbs, I had some trouble with.  Olives are a food I've had little exposure too, and, at the moment, they're a taste I've yet to acquire.  I used to be like that with tomatoes too, so I'm sure I'll get to like them eventually, or at least find them edible.  I've left them on 'try', so I can keep exposing myself to them.

That little skewer is adorable.
This batch I ate with warm crusty bread.  I had to actively try to eat them, but they slipped down easily enough.  I used to be like this with tomatoes.  I still remember when a tiny little pea or carrot would make me gag. 

Being fussy is terrible.  You can't tell when you're in it - it's normal, then - but once you stop, you realise how much you were missing out on.  More than anything, I regret not tackling my fussiness until I went vegan.  Think of all those foods I never tried when I had the chance!  Of course, now I've admitted to myself that I think eating animal products is wrong, and I can't do it any more, I can't do it any more.  I can't unthink that, or unknow it, and I wouldn't want to.  But, damn, all those times I could have gone anywhere, and ordered anything, and I just got the same old thing, with half the ingredients scraped off or avoided!  What was I thinking?!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Ideas about Veganism

I've been vegan before, though my love of a real burger and lack of finding a good veggie burger caused me to stop, its always been a neat challenge. What I don't understand though, is how healthy it is to eat all the processed soy products? Is it really so terrible to eat meat that you'll eat imitation meat? Same with all the vegan frozen meals, all processed. I'd be interested to hear vegans views! Please note: I'm honestly curious so there's no need to get defensive or be rude or tell me what I eat is wrong. I welcome all your input! :)

I came across this on a forum, and it's an interesting and common misconception.

As you've probably gathered, if you've taken a look through this blog, I don't really at anything she mentions.  I do sometimes use tofu - like, once every two months? - but I can never get through a block of it, and I do drink soya milk for the protein.  That's it, that's the limit of my processed soy.

As for imitation meat...well, I was going to say that I don't eat it, but I guess seitan counts.  I don't buy pre-made imitation meats, or meat mixes, and my mind doesn't instantly link seitan with imitation meat.  Seitan is its own kind of food - a tasty, tasty, protein source.

Same with ready meals.  I don't eat them.  I do my own cooking.

If you did try to replicate a standard western diet, using vegan equivalents, you'd be dissatisfied.  It would be expensive, and it would be a poor imitation.  While vegan diets often do use flavours and textures from omnivorous diets - again, the meaty texture and flavours of seitan - I find it naturally evolves into its own kind of thing.

I try to avoid straight veganising recipes, particularly cakes and other baked goods, and avoid things like commercial egg replacers.  I find that recipes that are designed to be vegan are often better than those which try to be omnivorous, but replace animal products with fakes.

One thing that really gets on my tits is the way that 'try commercial fake meats' often sneaks onto lists of tips for new vegetarians.  Now, I admit, I ate a lot of quorn at first, and it worked for me.  I transitioned into making my own seitan when I went vegan.  I can't remember why it originally occurred to me to make seitan (or how I found that first recipe, since I'd never heard of it before last year), but I'm glad I went that route rather than the fake meat route.  It's cheaper, for a start.

In Oprah's recent experiment in veganism, I gather that they simply replicated a standard American diet using commercial fake meats and cheeses.  There's an article on Oprah's experiment on Wicked Good Dinner, and while I agree with most of it, I do need to call out another common idea which bugs me (particularly when omnivores bring it up, as if it will score a point, but that's an entirely different topic).

I always thought veganism was based on a health and/or moral decision to avoid animal products. Eating foods pressed into shapes of animal products or made to mimic animal products, which is what Kathy was promoting, seems to negate the purpose of becoming vegan.

I fall into the moral decision category, and, to me, eating seitan which is designed to play the role traditionally taken by meat in my diet does not negate the purpose at all.  I stopped eating animal products because I think the way animals are treated is wrong.  As long as I don't eat any animal products, I'm good.  The only thing I could do, apart from that, to negate my purpose would be to buy new leather, wool, suede, or silk products.

For those who make the decision for health reasons, I would, again, disagree, with homemade seitan in mind.  It's about as bad for you as homemade bread.  I know there is debate about the gluten, but I'm neither gluten-free, nor a raw foodist, though I do avoid processed foods.  I am also, happily, not allergic to any of the ingredients.  Seitan is well within my self-defined dietary requirements (minimal processing, homemade with natural ingredients, animal-free).  However, if I consider commerical fake meats, then I agree.  Heavily processed foods set off my "should I put that in my body?" triggers, so, yes, if I'd become a vegan for health reasons, I'd be avoiding those (I do anyway).

(I've italiced 'my' a few times to drive home the point that I am purely speaking for myself, and my diet and choices, not all vegans.)

Anyway, short version is, I disagree that commercial fake meats defeat the purpose of a vegan diet for those who became vegan for moral reasons.  However, Oprah was, I believe, promoting health reasons, so yes, I guess it was hypocritical, though not for the reason stated.  Plus, I have a feeling it directly lead to that question at the top of the page, pushing that idea out to omnivores that a vegan diet has to include this stuff, or that those products are the things vegans normally eat.  There's a very good discussion on the topic here.

In summary; a vegan diet is not a poor imitation of an omnivorous diet.  It doesn't have to be expensive or heavily processed.  And it's really, surprisingly, fun, to come up with creative ways around the restrictions placed on vegan cooking.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Hiatus

I can't write right now.  One of my friends died on the 5th of this month, and I just found out.

I'm an atheist, but I hope I'm wrong.  I hope he's happy, and that I'll see him again someday.

Goodnight, Rob.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Squirtle used Storm of Links!

These are all the news articles that I found interesting, but not quite interesting enough to write a unique post about.

Krav Stuff

An article on FitSugar proposes Krav Maga as a workout class.  While the article does stress the self-defence elements, my instructors have been disappointed by women who treat Krav Maga as a boxercise class, and don't take the self-defence elements seriously.  That said, self-defence becoming more of an option for women is always a good thing, even if the thought of burning of three to four hundred calories per hour is at the forefront of your mind.

There's also a much longer, more thorough article on Krav Maga on the CourierPostOnline.  It contains a lot of good information about the defence system, and I intend to add the link to my 'Krav?' page.  For information on Krav Maga from a female perspective, check out Krav Lady's Blog, where she writes about the subject far more thoroughly than I do.

Animal Rights Stuff

There's an article here by Kevin Horrigan, discussing the proposal by the editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics, that we should rephrase how we discuss other species.  I don't entirely agree with their choices, but I feel that Horrigan's decision to make fun of the idea without actually considering it is disappointing.  To be honest, as I've said before, I find the entire concept that we can 'own' other animals, and that this is perfectly normal and right, very, very strange.  However, I don't think that simply refusing to refer to the 'owned' creatures as 'pets' is actually effective or sensible.  I think it's a complicated issue, and one that, perhaps, should not be much of a priority right now, as it distracts from other issues.

Speaking of words, I found a piece on NewJersey.com discussing 'flexitarians', "vegetarians who sometimes eat meat".  I'm sorry, but no; that's an omnivore.  When discussing diet, it's important to use words accurately, to describe what you will or will not eat, otherwise everyone gets confused.  Sierra Shafer, the "flexitarian" mentioned in the article says "I’m more sensitive to the idea of eating flesh.  Whenever I do eat meat, I tend to have a moment of gratitude and connection."

I really disagree that this makes it okay.  I'm a vegan because I don't believe we have the right to enslave or kill other animals.  Only doing so occasionally and being 'grateful' for it doesn't make a huge difference, in my honest opinion.  And I've written here about the fallacy of sustainable meat - namely that it's only sustainable for small amounts.  Of course, Shafer clearly doesn't share this viewpoint, so, by her standards, it is not morally wrong for her to eat meat.  And, as other people in the article mention, if someone finds it difficult to go vegan or vegetarian, then being flexitarian or weekday vegetarian is another option, a way of cutting down meat intake in a way that's less scary.  It worked as a doorway for me, and I can see it working for other people.  I just don't understand people who set flexitarian as their goal, and don't want to go further, or don't understand why they would want to.  But I'm starting to sound evangelical, so I'll leave that one.  I will mentioned that Graham Hill, who originally introduced me to the idea that I could go vegan step by tiny step, has released a book on Weekday Vegetarianism.


KFC's DoubleDown (a 'sandwich' which consists of cheese, mayonnaise, and bacon, pressed between two slabs of chicken) has also drawn attention to the care of the chickens used.

Ugh, look at the grease.  Picture taken from the Daily Mail.  Incidentally, this is not the unhealthiest thing you can purchase from KFC.  Not kidding.


On the topic of animal rights, PETA has attempted to buy advertising space in schools.  The article focuses on one school who have refused the other, but also mentions that PETA has extended the offer to other schools in the country.   Now, if a school does not allow advertising at all, I have no problem with them refusing PETA's adverts.  If, however, they're allowing soft drink, fast food, and confectionery companies to advertise or sell their products within schools, then I'm mildly disgusted.  PETA don't have the best reputation, and, admittedly, their idea here, to teach the kids that they can learn other than by dissection is embarrassingly out-of-date, since I gather most schools offer an alternative now.  But, though their message about animal rights is less socially acceptable, it's certainly not as bad as encouraging school children to eat fast food and drink sugary sodas more than they already do.

Veg*n Stuff 

On a more cheerful note, vegetarian-only school, SOAR, in Denver, Colorado, is attempting to raise a nation of healthy eaters.  All school-provided meals are plant-based (a less controversial term than 'vegetarian'), with 80% of students choosing to take the school meal provided rather than bring their own.  Snacks are fruits and vegetables.  Go take a read, it's a really uplifting article.  Unfortunately, this article from British newspaper, the Daily Mail, states that Americans are buying more meat than ever.  

Speaking of food, an interesting new site has popped up; Vegan Black Metal Chef.  Reminds me of the Steve Hughes joke - "we're going to raise the devil, but first, nibbles" (funnier in context).  To be quite honest, he writes like a teenage boy who has just realised he is the only saviour of the world (that is, the way all nineteen-year-olds write; I'm sure I have some of that earnestness too, at twenty-two), but that's not a bad thing.  And I like that none of the vegans I know of are stereotypical hippies.

Earlier this week, I found a veg*n porn site.  I also read about a Sexiest Vegetarian Competition in Southern California.  To be honest, I have never been attracted to someone, or found them sexier, because of their diet, but, at least people are celebrating plant-based diets?  Huh.  Whatever works for you, I guess.  PETA has also blogged about the many vegetarian ladies on AskMen's Top 99 Most Desirable Women list.

To be quite honest, while veg*ns do tend to be healthier, in my experience, than omnivores, if I'm merely appreciating the aesthetics, as it were, then I'm not terribly concerned with how they got there.  It's more important if you're planning a relationship with someone, but it's obviously not a dealbreaker in my case.  And relationships are not, honestly, at the forefront of my mind when I am watching porn.

Glee Stuff

Finally, Glee's Dianna Agron (Quinn Fabray) and Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina Cohen-Chang) are vegetarian while Lea Michele (Rachel Berry) is vegan.  That may not be news, as such, but I didn't know it about the first two.

I'mma go ahead and hijack the end of this post for my thoughts on the Rachel-Quinn-Finn triangle.  There's nothing except Glee beyond this point, so feel free to skip it.  I should mention that I've seen every episode up to and including Born This Way (UK is on a two-week delay), so I'm going to mention things from those episodes.

Photo owned by GQ Magazine.

Firstly, I'm fondest of Rachel, so this post is going to be biased in her favour.  I want her to be happy.  Sorry, I'm not sorry.

Rachel is self-absorbed, and, yes, she is irritating, but she has a kind heart.  She's wildly ambitious - it's more important for her to be a star than to be liked - but she doesn't actively trample people in this ambition (much.  She did send Sunshine to a crackhouse, though).  I do believe that she'll achieve her dream of being a star in future; the actress herself is a Broadway star, so Rachel has the talent, and she certainly has the dedication.  She's also honest; when she tried to cheat on Finn with Puck, she told him right away.

Quinn, on the other hand, is mean.  She despises who she used to be (Lucy Caboosey), and is terrified of going back there.  This makes her cruel, especially when she feels threatened - ie, to Rachel, when she suspects that her prize, Finn, would rather have her, or to Lauren, when Lauren runs against her for Prom Queen.  Quinn is not afraid of lying to get what she wants; she lied to Finn about Puck for months.  She also insisted that Finn pay for the doctor's bills, all the while calling him stupid, and generally insulting him.

Quinn described her own future; she'll graduate, marry someone steady, and have a few more children.  I'm not sure of her judgement here; I can see Quinn attending college, coming to terms with her insecurity and becoming nicer, stepping out from under her parents thumb, and, generally, becoming an interesting adult.  She's described as being a straight A student, so she's not stupid.

Finn is a nice guy.  The general impression that I have of him is his being easy-going, and just going with things.  When I think about it, though, that's unfair.  He has his moments, of trying to lead the Glee club, and make things work (though he also has his moments of wimping out).  He stood up to Rachel when she asked him to quit the football team due to her insecurities.

Finn's on the mid spectrum of honesty; he was wary of cheating on Quinn with Rachel, but he had no problem with helping Quinn to cheat on Sam.

Quinn described his future, too.  He'll grow up, inherit Burt's store, get married, and, generally, be a Lima Loser.  If that's the case, he'll drag Rachel down.  I can see that happening, and that's what Quinn hopes for.  I can also see him pushing Rachel and supporting her dreams, or, perhaps, becoming a football player or a businessman.

Rachel loves Finn.  It's more debatable whether or not Quinn does.  She cheated on him once, with Puck, and then cheated on Sam with him.  Quinn needs a boyfriend on the football team to be her Prom King, although, that does beg the question, why trade Sam for Finn?  She and Finn both talked about fireworks when they kissed, but would she care so much about those if Finn wasn't the Quarterback?

Finn broke up with Rachel after she attempted to lose her virginity with Puck, after finding out that he lost his to Santana.  He was very unsupportive of her in that episode, pointing out that she seemed to be mostly upset about the fact that it was with Santana.  Well, of course she was, Santana is the one who calls Rachel 'munchkin', and makes fun of her constantly.  He told her he couldn't forgive her for the fact that it was Puck, that she knew that this would hurt him most after what Quinn did.  He then got back together with Quinn.

Perhaps he loves Rachel more, and that's why he couldn't forgive her.  Perhaps he loves Quinn more, and that's why he could forgive her.  Perhaps he's quite fond of both of them, attracted to both of them, and always prefers the one who isn't his girlfriend.

That said, when Finn was with Rachel he spent relatively little time with Quinn, compared to the time he spends with Rachel when he and Quinn are together.  He was also never tempted by Quinn when he and Rachel were together, while he nearly made out with Rachel the first time he and Quinn were together.

I could easily argue for both Finchel and F'Qinn here.  The one point I can't get over is the fact that he found 'fireworks' with Quinn, and none with Rachel.  Does that mean anything, in universe?  Does it imply a lack of spark in his and Rachel's relationship that would doom them long term?  Or was it just random teenage hormones that won't matter in the long run?  Was he lying to her?  I couldn't say.

If you go right back to the first season, Rachel fell for Finn when she heard him sing, during Don't Stop Believing.  Finn grew attracted to Rachel as he watched her perform - in Vitamin D, he mentions that she can really sing, and has a hot body.  From the future Quinn predicted though, with her as a real estate agent, and him inheriting Burt's store, as mentioned above, she wants a different part of him.  They're attracted to different strengths.  That said, Rachel is attracted to his security as well, and she becomes nervous when he shows his strength - ie, when she asks him to quit playing football.  Quinn, on the other hand, needs him to be a football player.  Rachel decides that she'll accept him as he is.  Quinn doesn't express an interest in him till he's back on the football team.

In short, I guess I'm in favour of Finchel as long as he makes her happy, and doesn't hold her back.  After all, the first thing she said to him on screen was "you better shape up".  To her heart, she must be true.  On the other hand, if he isn't right for her, Quinn can have him.

Of course, all this is a moot point.  The characters graduate soon; they'll be cast out into the world to make their own way.  They don't have to stay with who they loved at sixteen or seventeen.  Really, it's probably better if they don't.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Hot Mess

I've called this cake The Hot Mess, because, honestly, my first attempt was not the most beautiful thing.  But it tasted so incredible that I just had to share it, right now, without waiting for pictures of another attempt.


See how gooey that is?!


This is a soft, moist, dense chocolate cake, with a syrupy chocolate glaze, and heavenly light, fluffy, creamy icing in the middle.  The cake itself is based on this one, which I also used for the Kiss Me With Tongues Chocolate Roulade.  I also used the glaze given in that recipe.  The icing is a veganised version of this one.

Make the cake first.

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/4 Cups of Plain Flour
  • 1 Cup of Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup of Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Cup Warm Water
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Tsp of Cider Vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5.
  2. Mix together all the wet ingredients.  Mix together all the dry ingredients.  Pour one into the other, and mix some more.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes.  I found that they were still slightly gooey after this time, but they were fully cooked.

 While the cake is cooling, make the icing.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup of Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1/4 Cup of Icing Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup of Vegan Margarine (I used Vitalite).
  • 3 Tablespoons of Plain Flour
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

  1. Mix the flour with the milk, and heat slowly.  As it reaches boiling point, it will thicken.  This will happen fairly quickly, so keep mixing to avoid lumps.  Take it off the heat, and let it cool.
  2. Cream together the margarine and the sugar.  When the milk mixture is cool, mix it with the margarine and sugar, and add the vanilla.

You may have noticed that my icing is red, in the pictures.  I'll explain why later.

Sandwich the cake together with the icing, and make the glaze.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Vegan Margarine
  • 2 Tbs Non-Dairy Milk
  • 2 Tbs Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

  1. Mix all of the ingredients except the vanilla, and slowly bring to a boil.  Stir rapidly for a minute, before reducing to a simmer, and continuing to stir for a further two minutes.
  2. Take it off the heat, and keep stirring for five minutes.  Add the vanilla at this point.  The glaze will thicken as it cools.
  3. Pour it on the cake!
Try to let it cool.  The glaze sets very nicely.

I'm also planning to use this glaze on my Midlands Mud Pie (oh, it'll be incredible!  Bourbon biscuit crust, chocolate ice cream centre, chocolate glaze on top!), and on profiteroles, with the icing serving as the whipped cream.  I also plan to use that icing on a trifle, if I ever get any more Agar Agar, to set the jelly properly.

While making this, I also made a tester of my birthday cake, and coated it with the red icing.


It tastes incredible, but I think I'm going to need to use marzipan, or something similar, rather than the soft icing.

As for why my birthday cake looks like this...well, my ribs look like this.

His name is Patrick.

As for the name of the cake, the Hot Mess...that came from Glee.

This episode, in fact.

I would, in fact, disagree with Santana's verdict here.  That is not a hot mess.  That's just hot.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Graze

I love my Graze boxes, I do.

That little booklet has all the
ingredients and nutritional info listed.
To recap; Graze is a (British) company, who will send you a box of four healthy snacks, for £3.49.  The kinds of snacks you can choose are listed on the website, and you can rate each snack with 'bin' (never send), 'try', 'like', or 'love'.  You can also set your account to send boxes every week or every fortnight, and to send you either a majority of things to try, or a majority of things you like or love.  Mine is set to 'try', in my ongoing attempt to be less fussy (I ate salad today!  It used to make me gag - today, it was delicious!  Progress!).  You can also choose to bin all non-vegan items, all non-coeliac items, and anything containing milk or dairy.  Or all three.  Everything is vegetarian.

If you click on that icon to the right, or in my sidebar, you can get your first box free, and your second half price (normally, just your first is half price). Or, you can get that same deal by entering the code 14Y9DGY.  If you do, I should point out that my account gets credited with a pound, which I can give to charity or put towards a box.  It's a nice bonus, but seriously, it's a great deal, use any code you can get your hands on, anyone with an account can give you one.

I wrote about the items in my first box here.  They were yummy, so I was looking forward to my second box, which came the other day.  Again, I took myself off to lie in the sun and snack.  It was lovely.

This box contained the Lost Army Cracker Mix, Dark Rocky Road, Mulberry Flame, and Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

My least favourite was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which I've asked them not to send again.  It's one of the newer snacks, and contains chopped dates, apricots, and pitted dried plums (all fruit and berries are dried, so the post doesn't ruin them).  I knew I was never the biggest fan of dried apricots - too chewy and a bit bland for my liking - but I'd never tried dried dates or dried plums before.  Good experience, but yeah, no, not a fan.

I did like the Mulberry Flame though.  That consists of dried cranberries and mulberries.  I love the former, and had never tried the latter.  They're nice, quite cinnamonny, and they look like cute little pine cones.  Adorable!

The Lost Army Cracker Mix was my first savoury snack, consisting of  mixed rice crackers and mixed peanut crackers, flavoured with various sweet and salty things, including caramel and soy sauce.  It was an interesting mix, and that one got a 'like' too.

Yeah, I went to Pigeon Park again.
Great place to people watch!
The one I really loved was the Dark Rocky Road, which included dark chocolate buttons, cranberries, and pecans.  Two of my favourite things are in there (I am not ashamed of my sweet tooth).  I don't usually buy pecans, but I loved pecan pie when I tried it, and plain pecans are really good too.  I still prefer hazelnuts, but they're right up there.

I ordered another box for the end of this week, because I felt like treating myself after walking that marathon!

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Omnivore's Dilemma

In my wanderings through the intarwebz, I came across this delightful bit of logic, from the book the Omnivore's Dilemma. Which, in total fairness, I haven't read.

One very interesting point in "Omnivore's Dilema" is that in the broad scope, it is impossible for us to eat without causing the death of animals. Even if you decide to eat only plants - what happens to the mice, moles, etc. when you plow the earth to plant the food? So, if your interest is to cause the least number of animal deaths, then eat the largest animal that you can grow for food purposes - which would be the cow. 

Firstly; yes, every vegan is aware that we cannot save every animal in the world. We just do our best.  I get really tired of people who decide vegans are idiots, and try to prove it by throwing out things like "I bet you wear leather shoes!" (real quote).  Seriously?  Most vegans and vegetarians do avoid animal products in areas other than food.  Most veg*ns I know are neither stupid nor hypocrites, at least no more than the rest of the world.

Main point; what exactly do you think the cow eats?

Answer; 12lbs of grain per 1lb of meat.  Not including the 55 square feet of rainforest, and 2500 gallons of water.  If you eat the cow, you are consuming all of that, plus the cow.  Not just the cow.

So yes, although you cannot save every single life, you will minimise them, not by feeding grain into a cow which will produce less food, but by just eating it yourself.

Besides which; I can't be the only person who thinks the phrase "animal you can grow for food purposes" sounds a bit sociopathic, can I?  Really think about it.  That's a creature, not a thing.

Some farms do advertise themselves as fully grass-fed and sustainable. Those words are contradictory after a certain point.

Grass-fed cows need a lot of space to wander around in. This space becomes more compacted and arid the longer they stand on, resulting in the death of plant life followed by the death of local animal life. With a very small herd of cows, it would be possible to keep rotating them through different pastures. However, if the demand for this meat grows, more cows are required. Which means more space. A lot more space. Byebye rainforests.

Grass-fed cows will also be given hay in winter sometimes. Which comes with all the harvesting problems mentioned above.

Grass-fed cows only work if only a few people do it. Like freeganism. It relies on everyone else either eating factory farmed meat, or a vegan diet. Plus, it doesn't account for dairy cows, and their calves.

Finally, in my case, grass-fed sustainable meat isn't possible, or desirable (don't let the word 'meat' fool you, we're still talking about living creatures). Furthermore, I couldn't live on a fully carnivorous diet. I doubt most humans could. Which means I'm still going to be eating quite a lot of grains, and vegetables. Replacing my meat intake with those grains doesn't actually raise the total amount significantly.

Pregnant Kravists

I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL, ASK YOUR DOCTOR.

Earlier, I asked Krav Lady (check out her blog, she's way more informative on the Krav side of things than I am) whether she'd considered how she'd train if she became pregnant.

This is not on the cards for me at this point. Anthony and I are both students, we've been dating for less than six months, and most importantly, my IUD has another four and a bit years to go. Getting that little sucker removed hurts (my last one partially expelled, and had to be pulled, if you're wondering how I know). I am not having it taken out until I have to.

Anyway.

Krav Lady asked Krav Mascara (Sarah Brendlor! Women only classes in London!) for her thoughts, as she's more experienced than both of us. She has twenty years of fitness training, eight of Krav Maga, and children.

I've previously read that, if women are already active when becoming pregnant, it's fine and healthy to continue exercising.  Taking up new sports is not a great idea, but carrying on with running or swimming or whatever is okay.

Krav Maga is slightly different, as it's a close contact sport ('Krav Maga', in fact, literally translates to 'close contact').  I wouldn't feel right if a pregnant woman were holding a punch pad for me to punch or kick.  Likewise, I'd be uncomfortable about sparring with someone in that condition.  I don't know anyone who would be totally fine with it.

That said, if I were pregnant, I really wouldn't want to miss up to a year of training.  It should be okay to keep fitness up with gentle cardio and calisthenics, but I'd imagine skills would rust.  Unless you were able to gently practice on a partner, who wouldn't be able to practice on you, which seems unfair.  You could take one-on-one classes, I guess, and Krav Mascara suggests watching Krav DVDs.


As I said, wondering about this isn't relevant to me right at this point in my life, but very useful to know. 

I was like this at school, to be honest.  For everything we learned, it would be "but what if -unlikely event- happened?!".  Heh, I get interested in things.

Why Blowjobs Are Vegan

Alternative title;  You Want Me To Swallow What?

Short version; I don't eat animal products because I don't believe I have the right to take those things without permission, which other creatures are unable to give. Regarding blowjobs though, human beings are perfectly able to give consent, and most are quite enthusiastic about receiving oral sex.

Incidentally vegetarians are move giving than omnivores in this respect - perhaps we need the protein (I'm kidding, of course; a vegetarian or vegan diet offers ample protein, and semen is pretty much just sugar anyway).  Anyway, my point is, if someone is that happy about you taking it, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's morally okay to consume it (or not, y'know, it's a personal thing).

Someone did once ask me "so if I jizz on a plate of food, it's vegan?".  Well, yes, if it was vegan already, but that doesn't mean I'm going to eat it, Mr Immature&Disgusting.

Likewise, breastfeeding. It's perfectly okay, by every vegan I've ever known, for babies to consume breastmilk. That's what it's for. Adults consuming breastmilk is a bit weird (though, when you really think about it, not as weird as consuming milk from another species), but when people go to this much effort to advertise it and sell it, and they're in their right mind, I'm going to, again, go ahead and say it's morally fine by me to consume it.

...interesting texture.


One thing from the human body that I'm not okay with is paint made from mummy's bandages, which, happily, is really not much of a concern anymore.  You put that body back in its grave, mister, those aren't your bandages.

I guess, logically, this means I have issues with the display of human remains, and their removal from their initial burial grounds.  Mentally, though, I do feel that this is less of an imposition than things done to members of other species, when we do it to our own.  For some reason, this just doesn't bother me as much, if the body is treated with a modicum of respect, and not, as above, torn up for bandages or burned as fuel.  Logically, by my feelings on veganism, it is immoral, but I'm not going to go out and protest it.  It's lower on my list of priorities.

I'm an atheist, I should point out here.  My preferred afterlife is reincarnation, but I appreciate that this isn't really something I can count on.  Nonetheless, I think of the human body after death as being like a set of abandoned clothes, rather than something vitally essential for the afterlife.  But, that said, they're still not your clothes, mister.  The dead can't give permission any more than other animals can.

Of course, that's not a practical viewpoint.  As I said, I hold no special veneration from the body after death, apart from feeling that it should be treated respectfully.  And we have to do something with them, even if the deceased didn't specify burial or cremation, we can't just leave them lying about, making the place unhygienic.

Moving on, since I'm getting myself all confused.

Would be more, but I slept with a bisexual man, which makes me ineligible to donate for a year.
Yeah, I think that's an overreaction too.


I'm a blood donor, and I'm on the Anthony Nolan register for bone marrow donation.  This was done perfectly willingly (though I am terrified of needles).  If you need either of those, go ahead and use them (unless you're B, O, or something negative.  Sorry!).  If I willingly give you a part of my body (that I grew all by myself, I'll have you know), I would hope you would simply be appreciative, and not argue with me about whether it's vegan or not.  Seriously.  That's why I wrote this, so I can just go *link* instead of repeating myself.  Take my blood!  Seriously!  It's okay!

But not you, Tall Dark & Glittery.  You get intense about it.

Human hair weaves, on the other hand, are debatable.  Watching Good Hair (if you have a Lovefilm account, you can watch it online for free), it does seem like most of the women who grew the hair receive no recompense for it, and have no idea where it's going.  Sure, they don't seem to care what happens to it, as the removal is the significant part, but it still seems like they should be given the choice of whether or not to sell it themselves, rather than have someone else steal it.  I guess, though, if they don't care, then it's more about theft (is it, to take something that's being thrown out?) than veganism.

One litre, ahahaha!  Two litres, ahahaha!


Anyway.  Bottom line is; always ask permission before taking something from someone else, whatever form they take.  Did we not all learn that from Sesame Street?

Oh, and, of course, picking your nose, biting your nails, eating your belly-button fluff...have a ball, you gross thing, you.  Just don't tell me about it.

PETA's 'nasty vegan chocolates'

Following the death of Osama Bin Laden, PETA sent vegan chocolates to locally-based Navy SEALs.  This article criticises them for 'seeking publicity', and the comments indicate that many people find this kind of behaviour heinous.  Really, how dare you send that "nasty vegan chocolate" to Navy SEALs?  How awful!

Image owned by PETA.


Seriously, people.  Firstly, yeah, PETA got some publicity out of this.  Maybe they intended to.  I will say though, that PETA's primary concern does not seem to be what people think of them.  Furthermore, even if this is purely a publicity stunt, it doesn't mean that it's not a nice thing to do.  For all you know, there's a vegan or lactose intolerant SEAL out there who is very grateful for the free chocolate.  Love My Rifle More Than You, for instance, describes a female, vegetarian US soldier who often had trouble finding foods she could eat.  Or, maybe there's someone out there who's simply open-minded enough to appreciate the opportunity to try it. 


This criticism also seems really hypocritical; name me one single omnivorous company who has never, ever, done anything for the publicity (if you've heard of them; how can you, with no publicity?).  Wanting publicity for your company is not a horrible thing to do; it's just good business.


The chocolates, which feature Bin Laden's face, were created in 2009, when US Troops in Afghanistan suffered a chocolate shortage.  There are at least two people in the comments who think that 'created in 2009' means that only one batch of chocolates were made then, and these were the ones sent to the troops.  Really?  Are you that desperate to criticise PETA?  They're not perfect, but reaching that hard just discredits you, as it makes you look like an idiot.  PETA also offers the chocolates for sale on their website, with free shipping to US military addresses.

I should also mention here that chocolate is naturally vegan.  Cocoa beans do not come from animals.  Dark chocolate can be made with no milk whatsoever, and I bet most people have had some 'nasty vegan chocolate' without ever noticing a difference.  Secondly; these people are American.  The 'chocolate' they know is made by Hershey, and tastes like tile grout.  I'd ask forgiveness for being snobby, but I'm not sorry.  Unless Hershey has drastically improved their chocolate in the past four years or so (which is definitely possible, to be fair, it is a long time), then it still has that awful after-taste.  Even Cadbury's products made in the US taste disgusting, since they're manufactured in Hershey factories.  You don't get to pass judgement on any kind of chocolate if you've only had Hersheys.  End of discussion.


(That paragraph is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but, really, Hershey's chocolate, is in my opinion, gross.  Don't pounce on me).

All of that being said, I'm not totally behind the fact that the chocolates feature Osama's face.  He caused the death of thousands of people, and I don't think he has the right to claim our sympathy (he can get in line behind their families).  And, true, PETA is a charity which fights for animal rights, and some people see a contradiction in the celebration of violence and a human death there.  (I don't; there's a difference between hunting and farming, whether it applies to humans or animals.  I don't know what the right thing to do was or is, but I can see why it's less complicated to just shoot him - it's not the same as keeping him captive, forcefully impregnating him, removing the children, and shooting him at  young age (dairy cows).  Nor is it the same as slicing body parts off him, and keeping him in a small cage, on a floor of his own filth (that would be chickens).)

I'm going off on a tangent.

My point is, I do find it in bad taste for the chocolate to feature Osama's image.  I don't often see eye-to-eye with the admin of etiquette hell, but I do agree with her summation of the situation, that this is a time to treasure life and freedom, not celebrate death.

I think it would have been more of a positive symbol to have something which celebrated the SEALs achievements, not just the fact that they killed a man.  Maybe an image of the Statue of Liberty, or something, something positive and life-affirming, not a celebration of death, hypocritical or not.

While I'm not convinced that the death of Osama Bin Laden is the death of terrorism (I don't think this is one of those occasions where you cut off the head and the body dies), it is, perhaps, still a time to celebrate an achievement.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Best Lunchbreak Ever

I don't know why my lunchbreak the other day was so great. It's not like I had much time to make food.

Bread is under the lettuce.
 I got home at 1pm, dirty stop-out that I am, and had an hour to get myself ready for work, and make lunch. I work in fast food (I'm a poor student, bite me), so I do get a free meal per shift. I just never take it.  If I'm going to eat a high fat and calorie item, I want it to be absolutely delicious, not a fast food veggie burger and fries. However, since this free lunch is available to me, it feels wrong to go out and buy my lunch, unless I'm really craving something from the chippy.

Anyway, short version is, it is important to me to make my own lunch, even with limited time.

I sliced up a veggie sausage, and put it in a container with two slices of wholemeal bread, and some lettuce leaves (only two or three). Then I deseeded a tomato, and chopped it into thin slices. I did the same with a cucumber. The seeds are the wateriest part, so if you're making a packed lunch, it's always nicer to deseed things first, especially cucumbers and tomatoes.  I put the cucumber and tomato pieces into their own little tub, and salted and peppered them.  I can get salt and pepper at work, but they're not freshly ground.  And, seriously, nothing is better than freshly ground seasalt, especially on cucumber slices, and pepper on tomatoes.

Finally, I put some tofu cheese, in another little container, and added my pink plastic picnic plate and cutlery (I have four!  Green, pink, blue, and orange!  So cute!).  Just so, y'know, I could put my sandwich together on a plate, with a proper knife, and not a disposable one (so bad for the environment).

On my break, I was the only one in the crew room.  I put some Pachelbel on, and started layering up my sandwich.  It was so nice, to have good music, and great, freshly-prepared-by-hand, vegan food.  And the stacked sandwich, that was awesome.  Tofu cheese on the bread, then lettuce, sausage, cucumbers and tomatoes, another dab of tofu cheese, more lettuce to hold it all together, and topped with another slice of tofu-cheese-spread wholemeal bread.  A wonderful crisp bite, with a meaty texture and a good, savoury taste from the sausages, with the tartness of the tomatoes, the creamy tang of the tofu cheese, and the salty cucumber slices.  So good.  Incredibly filling, too.

I'm reading Atlas Shrugged.
It's pretty good.
This lunchbreak was so relaxed, even though it was only forty-five minutes, same as always.  It felt like it went on long enough for me to really wind down and enjoy myself, just me, the music, my sandwich, and my book.  Even when one of my coworkers came in and turned the music off without acknowledging my presence or even letting it finish (rude), it didn't ruin my mood.  I'm almost - almost! - looking forward to work, just so I can do it again.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Easy Tofu Cheese Spread

I haven't been able to get any agaragar for a while. This has made it difficult to make this recipe for vegan mozarella.

This hasn't been a huge problem, admittedly, for the simple reason that I really don't care about cheese any more.  I really don't.  It's just not relevant to my interests.

However, last Friday, Anthony and I made pizza - and I'll be posting about that later, it came out so well! - so cheese was required.  Since I didn't actually require it to be solid, as we were melting it anyway, I went with just thickening it with cornflour, making a spreadable version which worked really well.  If you use no thickener whatsoever, it's liquid, which is very rarely useful. 

Most of the flavour of our pizza came from the base - a wonderful garlic focaccia with rosemary - and the tomato sauce, which contained garlic purée, fresh basil, and oregano.  The tofu cheese was really only required to add some creaminess and a slight cheesy essence, which it did very well.

I also used it on a stacked sandwich I made for lunch the other day, where it acted like a mild mayonnaise with a great tang to it.

This tofu cheese is, as I said, closer to a mild mozarella than a strong-tasting cheese, like cheddar.

Ingredients

300-350g Silken Tofu (buy it from a Chinese supermarket for under £1).
1 Cup of Non-Dairy Milk (about 250mls.  I used soya).
1/2 Teaspoon of Garlic Salt
1 Teaspoon of Salt
1 Teaspoon of Rice Wine Vinegar
3 Tablespoons of Cornflour

  1. Put everything but the cornflour and half the non-dairy milk into a blender, and blend until evenly mixed.
  2. Mix the cornflour into the reserved milk.
  3. Heat the tofu mixture in a saucepan until it starts to bubble, then, stirring continuously, drizzle in the cornflour mixture.  It will start to thicken.  Once it has, take it off the heat. 

This mixture will keep in the fridge for about a week. I've used it on pizza, lasagne, and on sandwiches, to replace mayo (I never actually liked mayo, to be fair, I used to be crazy fussy.  But the creaminess is really good).

To be honest, I find it hard to get through this amount in a week, which is why I rarely make it.  I also rarely eat tofu.  I'd never have expected it, but cheese really does become totally irrelevant, surprisingly quickly.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Fortnightly Link Storm

These are the news articles that stood out to me in the past fortnight.  Not enough for me to actually make a long post about - just enough for me to want to share. I want to make this a fortnightly thing, but we'll see how it goes.

Firstly, the Food Network show, Great Food Truck Race will feature a vegan food van, which focuses on obtaining food from local sources.  The shows follows several food trucks across the country, as they compete to sell the most food.  I'm not sure how well the locally sourced thing will work on that journey, but good luck to them.  It's great to see vegan food in the mainstream like that.

As reported in the Beverly Hills Courier, a restaurant has advertised itself by spray-painting a donkey pink, and writing 'pink taco' on it.  I'm not really sure what they're going for here.  Are they saying they serve horse meat?  Had they simply drunk too much tequila?  This is bizarre.

Update:  the restaurant have promised not to do it again, but still have not explained what the hell they were smoking.

This isn't really news, but I really liked this post from The Joyful Vegan, about some of the issues she's faced as a Christian becoming vegetarian and vegan.  Most vegans I know are atheist, which I guess contributed to the lack of sympathy and empathy she found around her with these joints beliefs, of Christianity and Veganism.  I didn't realise it was something people felt so strongly about, in a Christian context (I found the post when I was looking for a good title for my short story The Riotous Eaters).

I quite enjoyed this interview with Jake Shields, from MMA Weekly, which mentions his vegetarianism.  He says he's proud to show that you can be a top athlete without consuming meat.  I think that's great.  Similarly, there's an article from The Hawkeye, the student newspaper of Hillsborough Community College, which asks the question 'can athletes succeed as vegetarians?'.  The article features quotes from Lane Trembley, a vegetarian with a black belt in Karate, and mentions other vegetarian athletes such as Joe Namath of the New York Jets, who was named the MVP of SuperBowl III, record-setting tennis player, Martina Navratilova, and Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers, who hit 50 homeruns in his breakout season of 2007.  What an inspiring way of making the point that you don't need meat to be a good athlete.

Speaking of athletics, this article from NewJersey.com discusses how Millburn High School women are being taught the basic principles of Krav Maga.  I think it's vital that women are taught self-defence techniques.  As Susie Greenfeig, one of the instructors, states in the article, "one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their freshman year in college".  The majority of these will not be reported; women will tell themselves that it was their own fault, or that it doesn't matter.  It was not your fault, it does matter, and self-defence will help you to encourage natural justice by kicking these creeps in the balls.  (And if this kind of thing makes you as angry as it does me, check out what Girls Gone Wild are planning).

Sometimes, you need to be able to defend yourself because no one else will, as in this shocking report of a high school teenager who was punished because she refused to cheer for her rapist.  The young girl, known only as HS, was assaulted by the player in question at a house party, at the age of sixteen.  The accused, Rakheem Bolton, pleaded guilty to misdeamenour assault, but not rape, and was sentenced to community service and anger management.  He continued to play for the schools basketball team, and HS continued to cheer for them - until Bolton took a free-throw, while she stood silently by, with her arms folded.  HS was dismissed from the cheerleading squad while Bolton was allowed to remain on the basketball team.

HS and her parents pursued a compensation claim from the school, on the grounds that her right to exercise free expression had been violated.  They lost the lawsuit, on the grounds that HS sacrificed her right to free expression when she agreed to perform as a cheerleader, and were ordered to pay $45,000 (£27,000) in costs for filing a 'frivolous' lawsuit.  I would like to take this opportunity to lead us all in a loud cry of 'what the fucking fuck?".

News is depressing, int it?

BRMBs Walkathon - I did it!

I walked slightly over twenty-six miles yesterday, and I don't feel nearly as bad as I expected.

I left the house at 7:30am, and caught two buses to Summerfield park, which, incidentally, is a twenty minute walk away - the buses took forty, what with waiting for them, and them taking a longer route. It was a psychological thing - I wanted to start totally fresh.

I got a text from my friend Stan while I was on the bus. Turns out, he was one of the volunteers working at Summerfield, so I went and had a chat with him when I got there. Then I wandered about taking pictures.

Not many people started from Summerfield - the majority were starting from King's Heath, where they'd actually staggered the start, they had so many.

All of the rest points and start points (which also functioned as additional rest points and end points, during the walk) had food, water, and toilets available.  At Summerfield, Asda were giving out free bananas, cereal bars, and water.  There was also a burger van, a tent with souvenirs, where Stan was, and one of those annoying DJs from BRMB (I find all DJs annoying, but I am not terribly well enamoured with BRMB at present - you'll see why later).

...I'd be brave as a blizzard...
One of the cereal bars that Asda was handing out was their Vitality Banoffee bar, which, according to all the sources I can find, is vegan.  Annoyingly, there was no ingredients list available, on the packaging or from the staff, so I had to go by the allergen list at the time.  The packaging doesn't even state whether they're vegetarian or not, although the website confirms that they are.

We did a brief and ridiculous warm up.  We were going to walk, for gods sake, that normally is a warm-up, and, secondly, how exactly did they think we got across the park in the first place?  But, that said, it's probably some kind of requirement for this kind of event, to provide a warm up for the people taking part.  I can understand that.  I don't understand why they had us stretch out our arms and shoulders, but not our legs or hamstrings, though.

I think some of the best people started from Summerfield, notably, a lion and a group of Vikings, which I heard mentioned by the DJs all day, as we moved from rest-stop to rest-stop.  After we'd started walking, I asked one of the Vikings if they were going for specific characters, or just a general time period.  The Viking - Naomi, her name is - told me that they were a mix of time periods, though all costumes were authentic.  Most of them did wear modern shoes, though.


The Lion ran ahead, and finished the whole thing within two or three hours.  At the first rest stop, I realised I'd gone to school with one of the Vikings.  I did not expect her to grow up to be so big, hairy, and muscular, but, y'know, time changes people.  No, I'm just kidding, she was dressed as a tiny witch with a giant wig, which is why I hadn't recognised her till then.  I talked with Laura for quite a while, and found myself unofficially adopted by Vikings, which was much nicer than my original plan of listening to podcasts for most of it.


Charlie, Jake, and The Chainmail
We were all starting to feel it a bit by Yardley.  Even Laura admitted to her little toe hurting.  Jake had the worst of it, though.  He was in full chainmail, and authentic shoes.  Just for some context, his chainmail weighed about six stone, making the entire weight he was lugging around close to twenty stone.  My bag was starting to make my shoulders ache, but I felt quite churlish complaining.  I still did, I just felt silly about it.

It was around this time that we noticed the first problem with the signs.  Two of them had gotten mixed up, so, shortly after seeing that we only had nine miles to go, we found out that it was actually eleven.  To be honest, I was amazed at how much ground we'd covered.  I'm even more amazed now, at how fast that distance went.

The wardens were quite good, really.  For all of those first twenty miles or so they were at every corner and crossing, telling us which way to go, and the way was pretty well signposted too, apart from that mix-up.

We stopped for a bit at Yardley, to get various wounds checked out.  One poor Viking reached that point of exhaustion where she just sort of went pale and toppled over, but she agreed to try walking a bit more.  We carried on to Acocks Green, where Anthony managed to find us.  He wasn't officially walking, he just came to keep me company.  It did help.
At the Shire.  No hobbit jokes; Tolkien grew up around here, so it's probably not a hilarious coincidence.

Naomi and Charlie both left at the Shire, too injured to go on, and on the walk to Kings Heath, Anthony and I got separated from the rest of the group.  I was going to slow down, to catch up with Laura, Jake, and Gur, but then we reached Kings Heath, and figured, well, everyone will meet up here.  But, after looking around a bit, and picking up water, bananas, more banoffee bars, and a ridiculously over-priced flapjack (£2!  They must have been relying on the sugar cravings to make people pay up, it's the only reason I did!), we couldn't find anyone.  Anthony and I kept walking.  It was at around this point that the route went to hell.

Firstly, for about three miles, there were no signs whatsoever, and there were some tricky turns, too.  We kept to the 11 bus route, knowing that the Walkathon loosely followed it.  At one point, we had to figure out which way to go from bus timetables.  Eventually, though, we found the signs again - along a perfectly straight road.  One sign every other lamppost, saying 'straight ahead'.  So helpful.  We didn't see a warden until about twenty minutes after this point, and they told us that a lot of wardens just hadn't shown up for their afternoon shift.  We didn't see any after Bournville, until we got back to Summerfield.  This is doubly ridiculous, because the part of the walk between Kings Heath and Summerfield was the single busiest part, with it being the first leg for everyone starting at Kings Heath.

We got back on the right path for a while, then the signs disappeared near the Queen Elizabeth hospital (I was born there!), and we got lost again.  The route had abandoned the eleven route shortly before this point, so we couldn't rely on that.

We'd just passed a sign for '3 miles to go!', so I just brought up google maps on my phone, and found Summerfield park.  The distance it gave us was three miles, so we figured it wouldn't be cheating to just follow the map back.  We did miss out on the Metchley Lane rest stop though - later on, we figured out that we'd walked on the road behind it, instead of the one in front.  Slightly wrong turns, but right distance.  I call it good (and BRMB incompetent.  If they're going to plaster their names on the signs, they can take the blame for the horrible organisation here.  And, seriously, if you want people to walk this distance to raise money, you can at least make the route clearly signposted.  Okay, wardens didn't show up, it happens.  That's why you need the signposts in the right places).

You would not believe how excited I was to see this.
.
Completely accidentally, though, we stumbled back onto the signs, and I remembered from the map - which we didn't have with us at the time - that the last bit of the walk took part on the Harbourne rail path.  Where I run, so I know the damn thing intimately.  This is why google maps gave me a longer distance than the actual path - because the Harbourne rail path is a handy shortcut which doesn't show up as a route on google.

Knowing the path that well meant that I walked the thing two or three times in my head, as well as once with my feet, which really didn't make things easier.  That last mile took forever.  Incidentally the signs reappeared here.

Yes.  YES.  Because this totally straight path is confusing, not that roundabout with several plausible routes and no sign whatsoever.

At the end of it, though, medals!  And a cheering horde of Vikings!

Turns out that several of them had stopped at Kings Heath, and gotten the bus back to Summerfield.  Jake had carried on for three miles with Laura and Bob, before eventually calling it quits.  Which was pretty damn awesome, with that six stone of chainmail (I tried to lift it; I couldn't).  Everyone was camped at Summerfield, waiting for Laura and Bob to finish walking.  They were only about twenty minutes behind Anthony and I.



The organizers were packing up, so they gave us all the extra food.  Ham and cheese sandwiches, jam doughnuts, a case of water bottles...

There were only three jam doughnuts, so we saved two for Laura and Bob, since they'd walked the whole distance, and gave the spare to Jake, since he'd walked twenty-three miles in chainmail.  I was the only other person to cover the entire distance (though Anthony walked nearly twenty miles, purely to keep me company, and they gave him a medal for that), but Tesco jam doughnuts have dried egg powder in them.


When Laura and Bob got to the finish line, Laura told us that they had found the Metchley Lane rest stop, but people were already packing up.  We finished at seven or so, so we were hardly that late (we lost an hour or so through injuries and lunch).  Plus, the last leg of the walk is the time when people most need encouragement and more water.

I seriously thought that was blood at first.
Gave me such a shock.
It's the dye from the under-armour padding.
I didn't expect there to be any vegan items available during the Walkathon (which is why I carried a stack of PB&J in my bag, along with some apples and bananas), so I was quite pleased about the bananas, and ecstatic about the banoffee bars.  It's a shame that there was literally nothing I could consume at the finishing line.

To be fair, it's hard to think of a vegan sandwich filling that's as simple to put together, and as inexpensive as ham or cheese.  And I do suspect that I was the only vegan walking, judging by the number of people who had no clue what vegans don't eat.  Seriously, if you work in food, we should not have this exchange;

"I'm a vegan."
"What about this?"
"Doesn't that have milk in?"
"Oh, are you allergic?"

I blame the bloody pescetarians who go around calling themselves vegetarian, and the vegetarians who claim to be vegan because they 'want' to resist milk, but not quite enough to actually get on with it.  Yes, sometimes labels are silly and pointless - emo, goth, rocker, whatever weird high school stereotype TV is on about now - but, if they describe what you will or will not consume, at least try to use them accurately.  Otherwise everyone gets confused.

Sorry, tangent.  Anyway, it'd be nice if I could come up with an easy-to-put-together vegan or gluten-free option - I know a few meat and dairy-eaters who'd have trouble with sandwiches too - but I think, until veganism becomes more mainstream, it's always going to be something that involves a bit of extra time to put together.  We can dream, eh?  If I come up with an easy vegan sandwich I'll let you know.  Houmous is out, because you'd have to spread it, ditto PB&J (not a problem with cheese or ham), and, with seitan, you need to make it.  Buying pre-packaged vegan cheeses or lunchmeats are expensive.

In other news, including Gift Aid, I raised over £100!  My friends are awesome!
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