Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Recipe: Oaty Carrot Bars

As Munchkin-D doesn't tolerate wheat or dairy very well, his snack food options can be limited, especially since many producers of allergen-free foods insist on stuffing them with artificial nasties that we don't want him to have either.

A while back we discovered a brand of cereal bar which he enjoys, an organic no-rubbish range that we can get behind too. However, as they retail at around 40p per 30g bar they're eating a hole in our budget (even though he's only allowed one per day!). So I set out to see if I could make something similar.

The ingredients listed on the packet were very simple: wholegrain oats, raisins, sunflower oil, carrot juice concentrate, coconut, apple juice concentrate, cinnamon, orange oil. That's all. We already had most of that in some form or another in the fridge or cupboard (or in the case of the apples, on our own tree). The pack also had the percentages of each food printed, but I paid little attention to that and got stuck into inventing it all myself.

They're now cooked and I've scoffed as much of the leftover scraggly bits as I think my diet will allow, and I can say that for me they're a raging success. The little guy isn't home yet so I guess we'll have to see how that goes!

Ingredients (all cups are metric, though it won't really matter; tablespoon is 15mL):

1½ cups porridge oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup raisins
2 large carrots, peeled
2 medium green apples, cored
1 tablespoon cinnamon or mixed spice (I used the latter)
1½ teaspoons natural orange extract/essence
4 tablespoons sunflower oil


1. Preheat oven to 150°C
2. Grease and line a medium-sized deep baking pan (mine was about 24cm x 28cm with curved long edges)
3. Place porridge oats and desiccated coconut in a large bowl
4. In a food processor or similar, process the raisins until they form a paste; add them to the mixing bowl.
5. Cut carrots into chunks and process until finely grated; add to mixing bowl
6. Cut apples into chunks and process until they form a juicy mush; add to mixing bowl
7. Add spice, orange extract and sunflower oil to mixing bowl
8. Stir all ingredients together thoroughly until entirely blended
9. Spoon into baking tray and pack down firmly with hands to form a smooth flattish surface.
10. Bake at 150°C for half an hour
11. Remove tray temporarily from oven and use a normal table knife to score the mixture through to create bars. I pressed hard enough to feel the tray through the mixture, but I didn't go all the way through at the edges.
12. Return tray to oven and bake at 150°C for another half hour.
13. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
14. Gently re-score the bar lines and begin levering bars apart. I was gentle but not overly cautious, and the mixture seemed to hang together as a bar fairly well. Cut off any bits at the edges that have got too crispy, especially if the bars are for younger children.
15. Layer the bars in between sheets of greaseproof paper in a container that can be sealed. I'm assuming these are best stored in the fridge, so that's where I'll be putting them hehe.


I'll update once the little guy has tried one of these, to let you know how it went! Hopefully he will take to them given that they cost so much less to make. I'm certainly pretty proud of them.

UPDATE: He ate the first one in deep silence, then as soon as his mouth was empty he said "can I have another one?" I'd call that a raging success! :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review #1

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
Edited by Helena Whitbread
ISBN: 978-1-84408-729-8

Being interested both in LGBTI history and the Regency period, I was delighted to find this little gem available in my local library system and couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

Anne Lister was born in 1791 to an old, respectable Halifax (UK) family. She was a remarkable woman for her time - openly lesbian, independent, adventurous - but all the more so because she kept diaries totalling around 4 million words. This unique documentary account was kept partly in what Anne called "crypthand", a cypher alphabet that was translated by one of her heirs in the late 1800s. When the crypthand was decoded, translators John Lister and Arthur Burrell decided to conceal what it contained, partly for fear that John's own sexual orientation would be revealed as a result. They did not however destroy their keys to the cypher, and eventually both the diaries and a key came to be in the possession of the Halifax Town Council library system.

Although the crypthand was translated and studied several times over the past century, a curtain of silence was kept over the contents. They were referred to as uninteresting and dull by most researchers, though one did drop a hint that the crypthand should not be ignored. The editor of the current volume, Helena Whitbread, discovered the contents and was amazed and delighted. She knew she had found something important, and after many years of research finally published this work.

First, some notes on the editing itself. The entries are presented chronologically, with plain writing in plain text and crypthand in italics. From time to time the editor interjects a short introduction to the time period to follow, contextualising the entries and explaining references that were not clear from the text. There are endnotes for further information throughout. I found the format easy to follow.

One minor irritation was that the editor inserted [sic] after some of Anne's idiosyncratic spellings. I felt that anyone knowledgeable enough to have picked this book up in the first place would be well aware that the Regency approach to spelling was somewhat haphazard, and would not need the non-standard spellings highlighted. Whitbread mentions in her introduction that she had used [sic] after the first non-standard usage in each case; I feel that a note in the introduction explaining that spelling was variable in the time period would have sufficed. The use of [sic] was an unnecessary interjection and seemed a little patronising both towards the source material and towards the reader. It certainly did not add anything to the understanding of the text.

An even more minor gripe was that there were two small transcription errors that should have been caught at some point in the editing process. In one sentence the word "humour" appeared when the context clearly indicated that it should be "rumour"; likewise another sentence contained the nonsensical "convement" when it should obviously have been "convenient". It's impossible to know where in the process these errors crept in, but in such an important historical work based so heavily on textuality, an extra degree of rigour in editing would have been appreciated. Still, overall it was clearly presented and well formatted and the end-notes were useful.

The diary entries run from 1816 to 1824, from Anne's mid-20s to mid-30s. I found her immediately likeable and familiar. Despite the prevailing beliefs that homosexuality was wrong, by this age Anne seems to be entirely comfortable with herself. While discreetly concealing her feelings in crypthand, behind this guard she is quite open about her sexuality. If she had suffered any angst about it, it was long over by 1816. She writes freely about her love for women, her need for sex with women (referred to quaintly as a 'kiss' but clear from context that what she was talking about involved orgasms) and her relationships with several women in her social circle. As my own other half put it, "either her gaydar was really good, or there was a lot of that going on!". Anne seems to have had no trouble finding women who were amenable to her advances. She carried on long associations with two friends (the cause of some jealousy and tension between the two) but concluded that neither was her true life partner. Her longing for a wife (she used the word 'wife' herself) and the ability to live independently with a life partner pervades all nine years of the diaries.

There were several entries that astonished me. Anne writes of a lesbian friend who was having trouble sexually in her own relationship, and muses that perhaps she should have suggested that the friend use a phallus on her girlfriend. That she knew of such a thing at all, much less knew its correct name, is a testament to her wide education. She also touched on the possibility of one of her lovers marrying her in disguise (presumably Anne would play the man, being drawn to a more masculine appearance herself). This is known to have happened, just as a small number of actual lesbian marriages are known to have happened in the 19th century, but to see a contemporary woman considering it seriously was a delight. Anne knew who she was and what she wanted, and felt no shame in wanting to have the same rights to love and marriage as a heterosexual woman. Anne and one of her earlier partners took communion together after promising eternal devotion, their own way of sealing the promise, though it later fell apart as the other woman settled into her marriage and learned to be content in her publicly acceptable life.

Anne also relates conversations, particularly with her ageing aunt, which reveal that Anne's sexuality was not entirely a secret. Her somewhat masculine fashion choices were widely remarked upon (Anne relates some anecdotes of crude heckling from common labouring men) but her aunt and several of her friends seem to have understood that Anne favoured women and had no interest in men. Her aunt seems to have come to terms with the fact that Anne contracted a venereal disease as a result of sleeping with her friend Mariana, whose husband had caught it from an extramarital affair. Insofar as Anne's diary relates it, her friends accepted her 'oddity' and appreciated her for herself. Anne's self-confidence allows her to largely ignore her detractors and pursue her own interests vigorously.

I found both the crypthand revelations and the daily minutiae compelling, and spent several evenings reading intensely to finish the book. I was looking forward to meeting Anne's true love, Miss Ann Walker, who eventually moved in with her and lived with her as her wife until Anne's untimely death aged 49. Unfortunately the book did not extend this far. Although Ann is referenced once or twice in the text, it is only as a young neighbour who had not yet caught Anne's attention. Whitbread has also produced a volume of the 1924-1926 journals, which I want to find a copy of soon, and I sincerely hope she continues and gives us access to the rest of Anne Lister's life.

Anne Lister's life was an extraordinary one, but at the same time perhaps less extraordinary than we have been led to believe. Victorian and later squeamishness about lesbian activity has obscured a degree of acceptance that existed before that time. Anne's extensive network of lesbian or bisexual female friends indicates that Anne was extraordinary not for being a lesbian or even for being prepared to stand up for her sexuality, but for the fact that an account of it has survived. It is inspiring to read her words and wonder how many unwritten lives have been lived by lesbians over the years.

Overall, despite my minor problems with the editing style, this was a five-star book and I would happily read more from editor and author alike.

There is also a BBC production... and Christmas is coming... *hint hint*

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


... is your very own corn on the cob, apparently!

Monday, September 5, 2011


While I've been on school holidays I've been taking Munchkin-D to or from nursery four days a week (Granny does morning drop-offs or evening pick-ups, I do lunchtimes for both). On the way we talk about what we can see. Munchkin-D is fascinated by anything you can tell him about the world around him. Lately, with the season changing, we've been discussing berries, nuts and the changing leaves. He has been asking about fireworks for months and can reliably tell you that after the leaves change and the apples are ripe we will see a sign saying "fireworks sold here" and then it will be time for the fireworks. He has also informed me that one day he will be a birdy and eat the seeds out of the berries. The things that come out of that mind... he amazes and delights us every day!

Today we found some conkers by the footpath and gathered up three of them. Being an antipodean I never collected conkers as a child, and I've never looked closely at them before. Munchkin-D and I spent some time looking at their marvellous colours and shiny smooth skin. Then we took them home and put them in a bowl with some of our other autumn finds - a dried rose and a beech nut that was closed when we picked it up, but which sprung open overnight.

We have a little apple-tree in our backyard. We haven't tried the apples, but something will have to be done with them soon as they are falling off all over. We didn't take care of them this year, but we're planning to grow veggies next year and will try to manage our apples too. By then I should be able to eat apples fairly regularly without messing up my diet.

Today really feels like autumn - it's windy with passing rain. I can't help feeling a bit thrilled.

I got chatting to our upstairs neighbour last week. He is semi-retired and does a lot of gardening - his little backyard patch is perfect next to our scruffy plot! We talked about plants and our life histories and that sort of thing. He knew Mary, the elderly lady who lived our flat before us, and told me that one of the roses on the fence-line, which I had assumed was his, was actually on our side and had been brought there by Mary from her former house. It's a big, scraggly thing needing a good trim-back, but as we chatted I saw a few late buds on it and decided to leave pruning until after they were done. I was glad I did, as this week three or four stunning, fragrant pink-red roses sprung into bloom.

You can see how big and thorny that bush is - it will get a good trimming after the roses are done!

Growing up in Australia we constantly hear that our wildlife is bigger and scarier than everyone else's. This is mostly true, but back home I have never, ever seen a slug the size of this one...

It was about 8cm long! After taking its picture I ran in to grab my wildlife book and identified it as Arion ater, a Large Red Slug (... appropriately enough). 

I have been coming up with a plan for our garden. There's a very overgrown Hebe that I want to take out, a holly and a fuchsia to move elsewhere and a dead tree to remove, which will open up the garden bed down one side for veggies. I want climbing cherry tomatoes up the fence, and our staples in the rest of it: broccoli, cauliflower, courgette, aubergine and peppers, and a few other things, perhaps peas, spinach, chard, and some herbs. I'm really looking forward to the challenge.

Lastly, this afternoon we were walking back from the shops, all three of us together. Ellie and I were pointing out various berries and plants. I pointed to one and said "this one is hawthorn!". Munchkin-D's interpretation, shouted: "this one is AWFUL!". Ellie and I nearly died laughing. He is a joy!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New look, proposal and more ...

As you can see, I have spent the past two hours giving the blog an overhaul. The old template had gone a bit wonky thanks to blogger updates, and it was time for something new. As well as installing the new template, I've refreshed my links list and added 'About' and 'Contact' pages at the top. I also now have my very own 'favicon' - if you un-favourite and re-favourite the blog you should see a teeny-tiny pink rose on the tab in your browser instead of the orange blogger symbol. I hope to eventually come up with a better favicon using my graphic art skills, but a miniature of my favourite photograph is good enough for now!

I had a request on facebook to blog about "the proposal". To be perfectly honest, it wasn't a big flashy moment, but a very quiet and private one. In true Christine-and-Ellie style it was quite pragmatic and ended with a shared laugh. We both know how special what we have is, and this was a logical step. We're in love, we're getting married... pretty much all there is to it!

We've now got a few things booked, and I have lots of paper samples on order. I've been busy designing our own wedding stationery, which we will either print ourselves (depending on printer prices) or get printed at a local print-shop using paper ordered from a supplier. I'm learning a lot about the paper types available in A5! Laid and wove and silk art and hammer effect... fascinating. Can't wait to see the samples.

School goes back next week, so I might be supplying again as early as Wednesday. I feel unready to go back, as I always do. I've been lucky enough to have a proper holiday this year, with only house reorganisation and cleaning to get done, and getting back into the swing of working is going to be hard. Having an income again will be nice, though!

Autumn is gathering pace here. We went for a ramble the other day, the three of us, to see what we could see. The first fallen leaves are gathering on the ground. Conkers and beechnuts are ripening and coming down. We spotted the berries of holly, yew, elder, bramble and numerous others as yet unidentified. We even ate some blackberries - D's first, and he was rather impressed (especially as I've been drumming the "wild berries are good for birdies not for people" lesson into him on our daily walk to nursery hehe). I had a few too, my first fruit since starting the low-carbohydrate diet in February. They were amazingly sweet (except the couple of not-quite-ripe ones I accidentally chose, which were delightfully tart). We had  a lovely time and D is becoming amazingly confident in his knowledge of plants. Hearing him describe how to treat a nettle sting with dock leaves is too precious!

I've now lost two stone (28lb/12.7kg), bringing my weight down to 143lb (65kg/10.2st). I have 14lb/6kg to go until my weight is back in the healthy BMI range. It's now time to start reintroducing a few of the restricted foods and seeing how my body copes with them. I have found low-carb eating so beneficial that I never want to go back to eating sugar and grains on a regular basis, but I will be glad to have fruit, plain yoghurt, carrots, sweet potato, legumes and dark chocolate back. They'll be reintroduced slowly and carefully with lots of monitoring, and in conjunction with an increase in exercise, specifically cross-fit style body-weight training. Prepare for a lot of moaning about sore muscles! But it will be worth it.

I think that's all the news for now. I am making it a goal to update once a week from now on!