30 March 2018

The Crabby Crafter's Life Hacks, Part One

I think it's important to teach your kids how to manage money, how to clean/organise, and how to negotiate. My parents taught me to be good with money (although it turns out I'm even better at it than they are), but they never taught me the latter two skills.

My dad always said that if everything has a place and you put it away when you're done, then you don't have to clean. He had a point, but it's not enough:  even if my husband and kids were as tidy as I am, crumbs, spills, dust, laundry, and accidents happen.  You need to have a cleaning routine! I clean a little bit every day. There are daily tasks (dishes, wiping counters, etc.), things I do on an as-needed basis (laundry, ironing, vacuuming, and cleaning toilets), and things I rotate through that are done regularly, but not every day (changing sheets, mopping floors, wiping cabinet faces, etc.).

The fine art of negotiation! This is not always about money, because you can also negotiate for perks (everything from job perks to nabbing samples at a make-up counter) or negotiate in a diplomatic way, but negotiation is definitely a money-saving skill. I got an email from my broadband company saying they are raising the price of my broadband and telephone package by £1.01 per month, but that this meant I could get out of my annual contract. My options were to either just suck it up and pay more, switch to another provider, or negotiate. I phoned and negotiated back down to my original plan for another year (this is extra good because at the end of my 12-month contract, my bill would have gone up by £10, so I've extended the deal by another 6 months).
Part of negotiating is that you need to be realistic. BT charge other broadband providers a ton of money for using their lines, so I knew I couldn't negotiate down to, say, £10/month, but I thought it was reasonable to ask if I could get it down to or below my original monthly cost (which is a very competitive one). The same thing applies if you are negotiating prices. It's incredibly unusual to negotiate a price down to under half the initial offer, and if you lowball too hard, they will think you are taking the mick and not want to deal with you. You also have to be friendly. Being chatty and charming makes you more pleasant to deal with and if someone likes you more, they will be more willing to cut prices and throw in perks.
It's also nice to reward the person on the other end of your negotiations if you can, by giving them a good review or telling their manager they're a good employee, by telling others about what a great service they provide (or sell), or even just thanking them. They are doing you a favour, and it's nice to my broadband provider, I asked the girl at the call centre if I could either tell her manager how great she was or if there was a survey I could fill out and give her a good review. She said she would email me a survey and was so pleased. Top marks for her! :D

03 July 2014

WTF Fennel Bulb -- Sesame Fennel Rice (GF)

I get the feeling fennel bulbs are one of those vegetables nobody knows what to do with.  You see them in the grocery store and think, "ooh, that looks fancy!" and maybe you bring it home and then the only recipes you can find for it are veggie stir fries and salads.  Which are fine, but maybe not as inspiring or original as you hoped.  I mean, turning a vegetable into a salad or stir-fry is not a big stretch of the imagination.

My husband found a pile of fennel bulbs in the reduced produce sale bin (I swear, half my posts are inspired by what my husband finds cheap at the grocery store!) and I made this dish two nights in a row, we liked it so much!

It's easy.  Thinly slice a fennel bulb (go ahead and use any fronds from it, too), and chop an onion (I used chopped ramsons, but I'm guessing they don't grow in your area) and maybe some garlic, too, toss it in a pot with some brown rice (I used about 1 cup of uncooked rice per fennel bulb, but I would usually use 1 bulb per 2 cups of rice -- the rice-to-fennel ratio is completely at your discretion), and cook it all together at once.  When everything is cooked, toss in some sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and lime juice (again, proportions are at your discretion -- if in doubt, just use a little, taste the result, and adjust accordingly).

26 June 2014

Goodness Direct Goodie Bag Review

A few weeks ago, the doorbell rang and an unexpected parcel arrived for me from Goodness Direct.

They are my favourite on-line health food store and I've been ordering from them ever since my friend Lizzie pointed me in their direction.  "I can't find popcorn kernels anywhere!  Where can I get bulk nuts?  I need nooch!*  ASDA stopped stocking my favourite eco-deodorant, whatever shall I do?"
"Goodness Direct!" she said, and then told me to use her tell-a-friend reference number with my order so she could get free organic chocolates.

Speaking of organic chocolates...

They even taste expensive.

It was so nice to get this parcel.  I was in the middle of a chicken pox epidemic with my 3 sons, hadn't left the house in weeks because they were under quarantine, and even missed our summer holiday.  So an unexpected care package was very gratefully received.  It came with this cute hand-written note:

They are thanking me for sampling their goodies.

Of course, I am happy to review their treats.  Let's start with the Booja-Booja Truffles

The box is so nice, I'm using it to store my fountain pen nibs now.
These guys are dusted in cocoa powder, which is the first thing you taste.  It's unsweetened and hits you with its intense and almost bitter flavour.  This is a wonderful prelude to the dark chocolate encasing the velvety organic Fine de Champagne-infused truffle center.  When I had one, I laughed.  They even taste expensive!  At 70 calories a pop, these guys are organic and vegan-friendly; dairy, soya, GMO, and gluten free; and delicious.  (Yes, that is a correct way to use a semi-colon.)  There are even some raw truffles in their range. I come from a long line of dark chocolate lovers and I can say with certainty that these would be a big hit on my dad's side of the family.  But hey, even if we weren't all huge fans of dark chocolate, these would still be a hit!

And then there were the Eskal Fruit Cremes and Mint Collection.  Both of these are vegan and certified Kosher.  The Fruit Cremes came in 4 flavours:  lemon, orange, strawberry, and dark cherry, all covered in dark chocolate.  I'm pretty sure the dark cherry was my favourite, but they were all really good.  The Mint collection had some dark chocolate mints, these dark chocolate mints with crunchy bits in them, and mint cremes.  I think the mint cremes tie with the dark chocolate mints with crunchy bits as my favourites of the bunch.

I also got some Nutri Snax -- Cashew Supreme and Ginger Rocks.  This is where I tell you a funny anecdote.
As someone who has been breastfeeding and/or pregnant for the last 6 years, I always carry snacks in my bag, which I call "emergency rations."  I have to carry loads because if I pull one out to eat, my sons and husband start begging me to share.  Kind of like when you are walking around a sea sidey town and want to eat something and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by seagulls who are dive-bombing and pecking and trying to get in on your snack.  My middle son also likes to raid my handbag for emergency rations when we are at home.

So my middle son came in with one of the Nutri Snax and told me he had a butt-rash, so he needed to eat an emergency rashion.  (He did not actually have a butt-rash, our affectionate term for diaper rash, nor is he in diapers.)  Actually, I think what he first said was, "I have a rash on my buttocks..."  Am I the only one with a 4 year old who uses the term 'buttocks'?  He probably picked that up from watching me do P90X.  Tony Horton is always going on about buttocks.  But I digress...
Anyway, these Nutri Snax are wheat free and vegan.  They are your standard dried fruit and nut fare snack bars and they are very tasty.

Last, but not least, the Provamel Almond Drink.  This is probably the most almondy almond 'milk' I've ever had and it even had a bit of almond pulp at the bottom.  Again, my middle son claimed this was a necessity and that he needed to drink it because he had the chicken pox.  I caved, of course, and let him have most of it.

Thanks for the treats, Goodness Direct!

You can also check out Goodness Direct on facebook, where they currently have a generous money off voucher code for £10 off an order of £35 or more (orders over £35 get free shipping).  And if you place an order with them, will you please use my Tell-a-Friend Ref No G8085693?  :D

The goodies reviewed in this post were given to me for free in the hopes that I would review them, and everything I've written here is my honest-to-goodness real opinion.  Nobody twisted my arm and I didn't drink the kool-aid!  ;D

*  Nooch is the affectionate term for nutritional yeast.  Nooch is delicious.  My kids love it sprinkled on their pasta.  Some people make fake mac'n'cheese-style sauce with it.  Just don't take the advice on the box and stir it into juice because that is just silly.

I got 99 problems, but a stitch ain't one.

09 June 2014

Sheaffer VFM Handwritten Review and A Pox Upon My House!

My oldest son took this photo of my middle son!
Guys, I know I promised lots of posts, but my house has been hit with the chicken pox.  I've been in quarantine for the best part of the last month -- first they had colds, then, one by one, my children got the pox.  My oldest son and husband are on holiday while I am at home with the other two sickies, trying to keep them happy.  So now is probably a great time for my handwritten review of the Sheaffer VFM which I won from The Pen Company.  I am usually a fountain pen girl, but not all paper is cut out for fountain pens, and I like ballpoints, too.
I'll try to get some recipes out to you soon, but in the meantime...
The Sheaffer VFM.
Click the photo to zoom in!

28 May 2014

Birthday Month, and an Optrex Eye Revive Moisture Mist Review

Where did all the time go?  Since my last post, I completed P90X (before/after/progress photos here), started writing in my diary every day,* did lots of knitting, and mastered Irish soda bread (I was inspired to by the photo in this post (scroll down)).  I'm also homeschooling, although we've taken the week off because my almost 6-year-old has the chicken pox!!

It's birthday month here -- my 3 sons have birthdays within 31 days of each other, and each of them get the cake and frosting of their choice and a handmade gift for their birthday.  (Do you guys want a vegan cake and frosting tutorial?  I can do that!)

Punk rocker bonnet -- we won best bonnets
in the Fun First Easter 'parade!'
 I have a few things planned in this blog for the next fortnight:
  • Soda Bread...Master this recipe so you can learn:
  • Awesome banana bread that happens to be unsweetened and fat-free (it's a soda bread variation and my favourite banana bread recipe at the moment).
  • Sheaffer VFM ballpoint pen review (I won one from The Pen Company and it included a nice little note asking if I'd mind reviewing it -- of course I don't mind!)
  • Goodness Direct goody bag review!  (I've reviewed products from them before, and was pleasantly surprised to get a package of goodies from them with a handwritten note in the post yesterday.)
  • More recipes (cake and frosting?) and maybe even some knitting patterns (find me on Ravelry)!
Nikita Cowl pattern, anyone?
I also received a trial Optrex Eye Revive Moisture Mist product to review (thanks BzzAgent, for the sample -- Marie Clare declared it a "handbag essential"), so here it is:
I don't usually suffer from dry eyes, but I thought this would be fun to try anyway. I was VERY skeptical of the claim that it wouldn't smear my make-up, so I did a trial run at home before I popped it into my handbag. My make-up didn't smear (!!) and the cooling sensation from the mist was very refreshing. I like the ingredients, too, they look like they will do a nice job of taking care of the skin around my eyes. So I know I said I don't usually get dry eyes, but I feel like _every_ time I am in this one grocery store, my eyes have some kind of weird dry episode and I end up wigging out. I was popping into the store's loo the last time this happened. "Blimey, my eyes! WTF?!" I thought to myself. And then I remembered the Optrex spray in my handbag. I tried it and immediately felt better! I am going to be honest here: I did not think this was going to work. I thought I would have clumpy mascara at the very least, but my eyeballs felt normal again and my make-up looked exactly the same. So, congratulations, Optrex. I am a major skeptic, but this spray is pretty awesome.
(And no, I didn't drink the kool-aid, I really did like the Optrex.)

So, see you all again in the next day or so!   Leave a comment to say hi or to nag me to post my cake and frosting recipes!!  ;D

*  Mostly with fountain pens.  Anybody else keep a diary?  Or like fountain pens?  Or any kind of pens? What are your favourites?  What do you write on?

29 November 2013

Easy Slow-cooked Butternut Squash with Lentils and Shallots (GF)

This is so easy and delicious -- it's pretty, too -- check out the photo.  The hardest part is chopping up the butternut squash.  I've posted variations of this before, but figured a slow-cooked version was due its turn!

Add to your slow cooker:  1 chopped butternut squash (aim for bits that are no bigger than 1" in any length -- no need to peel -- the peel will soften after cooking and is perfectly edible), quartered shallots (or onions cut into wedges), 1 cup dried green, brown, or French (Puy) lentils (not split lentils, though), 2 cups of water, a few garlic cloves (or 1-2 cloves of minced garlic), a generous glug of olive oil, red chili pepper flakes, sage, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, and salt.  You can also add a tin of chopped tomatoes to make it like more like a stew/a bit more saucey.

If you don't like lentils, you can just skip them and then skip the 2 cups of water, as well.  And you can skip the olive oil, too, if you want it fat-free, just add 2-3 tbsp of water if you're not doing the lentils.

This should take about 4 hours on low, 2 hours on high.  I like to stir everything up once or twice part way through slow-cooking and maybe add a little kettle water if things are looking a bit dry. 

I like it served on a bed of brown rice, but quinoa, millet, buckwheat, bulghar wheat, and such will all do just fine, as well.

09 November 2013

Pear Carob Cake (Fat-Free)

My husband came home with a bunch of pears the other day because they are in season right now.  And by in season, I actually mean really cheap

So, here is a cake recipe.  It's fat-free, delicious, and actually kind of tastes a bit like banana bread, even though there's no banana in it.  If you don't have carob powder, you can use cocoa powder and if you don't have pears to puree, you can use applesauce.  I cored and stemmed some pears and then pureed them, peels and all, with my immersion blender, but you could use a blender or food processor.

The whole cake is approx 1920 calories, and if you cut it into 8 slices, they are about 240 calories each and they are pretty generously-sized.  (The slices pictured are 1/16th of the cake each.)
  • 2 c flour (plain, whole wheat, spelt, or granary will all do)
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 c carob powder (or cocoa powder)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • a few drops of orange extract (optional)
  • 1-1/2 c pear puree 
  • 1/2 to 1 c sugar
Preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C.  That's not a typo.  This cake bakes low and slow.

Sift the dry ingredients (other than the sugar) together.  Stir in the pear puree and extracts if using.  The batter will be a bit stiff and thick because of the corn starch.  Don't worry.  If you like sweet cake, go ahead and add the full cup of sugar, but if you are like me and don't like to use too much, stir in a little at a time, tasting the batter to see if it's sweet enough. 

Pour the batter into a nonstick or greased (yes, I know that means the recipe isn't totally fat-free) and floured cake pan or a bundt cake pan and even a small loaf tin should do. 

Bake at 300°F/150°C for about 50 minutes.  Mine rose like crazy in the middle.  Pop it out of the baking tin and let it cool for a bit on a cooling rack or something before slicing.

If anybody has any ideas on how to sub out that sugar and replace it with something else, leave a comment.  Heck, leave a comment anyway!  :D

10 October 2013

Tomato Soup (GF)/Well Played, Vegusto (Part One).

Fake cheese that I actually, really like.  (I never thought I'd say that!)
So, a few weeks ago, the folks over at VeganMoFo had a little giveaway involving some Vegusto products.  Long story short, I entered and won.  Now those of you who regularly read my blog know that I pretty much never cook with fake meats or cheeses.  There are a few reasons for this.  I won't get into all of them, but one is that certain fake meats make me comically gassy.  Another reason is that, with two or three exceptions, I don't really miss cheese or meat.  And then there were those Tesco Free From fake cheeses I got last fall (for free as part of a BzzAgent campaign), that were so horrible, I swore off fake cheese forever.  Fake cheese usually kind of sucks, if you ask me, but the Tesco stuff was nothing short of a horror show. 
"Hang on, Big Momma," you're saying, "when you did the Living Below the Line-themed blogs, you said you had a Linda McCartney veggie sausage for breakfast almost every day!"  That's true.  They are definitely an exception and they don't make me gassy at all.  (They don't really taste particularly meaty, either, but that's probably why I like them.)  Anyway, quit your nit-pickin' and let me cut to the chase.
My free samples of Vegusto didn't arrive in time to blog about them during VeganMoFo, but they did arrive and I've tried them all.  I have to confess, I was pleasantly surprised.

Usually when someone gets melty fake cheese, they make pizza.  Not me.  I make grilled cheese.  I feel like grilled cheese is the true test of a fake melty cheese (and grilled cheese is probably the only cheese-thing that I ever miss).  I have had some fake melty cheeses that stuck to my teeth and some that just kind of tasted like rubber.  Not so, Vegusto.  This is hands-down the best melty fake cheese I have ever had.  I actually really, sincerely like it.

Fake cheese that doesn't suck.
The other two cheeses they sent me were the Aromatic and the Piquant.  The Aromatic is supposed to be like a fake cheddar and that's totally what it tastes like:  fake cheddar.  The Piquant is supposed to taste like a Gruyère (I have NO idea what Gruyère actually tastes like) or a parmesan and I thought it tasted kind of like maybe a fake Swiss?  I'm not in love with these, but they are not bad at all and pretty cheese-like for fake cheese.  If you're vegan or non-dairy and really miss cheese, I'd recommend them.  Even my husband, who loathes fake cheese, said they were, "the least offensive fake cheeses [he's] ever had."  My 3-year-old loves them.  (My 5 year old...not so much.  But he is an equal-opportunity fake-cheese hater.  It ain't personal, Vegusto.)  The cool thing about these cheeses is that they're made with nut butters, which, of course, makes me want to experiment and see if I can't make my own fake cheeses that don't suck.

Anyway, I couldn't make a post about fake grilled cheese without a Recipe for Tomato Soup!

In a little bit of water, boil a small onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic, 2 carrots, and 2 stalks of celery.  You can also add a potato, too.  It's up to you.  Once everything is soft, add a can (or one of those new-fangled tetra-packs) of stewed tomatoes (the 400g/14oz size) and puree everything up.  After that, I add another can (or tetra-pack) of stewed tomatoes (if they aren't already diced, I chop them myself) for texture (obviously, if you want a smoother tomato soup, puree both cans) and warm everything back up again.  Then I add some freshly chopped rosemary, basil, or parsley (skip it if you don't have any, it's still good) and a little salt and pepper to taste.  It's also fun to stir in a little homemade soya yoghurtWhat you say!!  Oh, yes.  I started making my own soya yoghurt.  It's fantastic and you can make it either in a slow-cooker or an insulated flask (like a thermos, not a booze flask).  I need to blog about that so you can learn, too.  Remind me!  Leave a comment!  :D

Stay tuned for Well Played, Vegusto (Part Two), where I review their very meaty fake meats.

30 September 2013

Spiced Tomato Millet and Friends (GF)

Someone asked me to Vegan MoFo up some millet side dishes.  Millet is a great gluten-free substitute for cous-cous and also works well as a substitute for white rice or any kind of grain that tends to clump together when cooked if you don't fluff it.  I was going to do millet and adzuki bean burgers today, but my adzuki beans just did not want to soften in time for dinner, so I made this instead.

Put a glug of olive oil into a sauce pan and gently fry thinly sliced onions and minced garlic on low heat.  Toss in some ground cumin and coriander (and a pinch of chili powder or smoked paprika if you're feeling feisty) and a cup of millet, stirring everything around and letting the millet get toasty in the bottom of the pan for a minute or two.  Then add a finely chopped bell pepper, 2 tbsp tomato paste, 2 tsp dried parsley (oregano would work well here, too), 2 cups of water, and give everything a good stir.  Put a lid on that sauce pan and let it cook until all the water is absorbed and the millet is tender.  If you take a peek and think things are looking a bit dry, stir in some water 1-2 tbsp at a time.

Once everything is cooked, remove from heat, stir in some lemon or lime juice and soy sauce or salt (feel free to stir in some beans right now, too) and let the millet sit, covered for a few more minutes. 

Now your fancy millet side-dish is ready to serve.  Take advantage of millet's clumpy nature and form it into a ball or a squatty cylindrical shape.  I served mine on a bed of lettuce, topped with some sliced black olives (my husband got his in burrito form) and splashed on some hot sauce. 

You could also wait for the millet to cool and then roll it into balls, smoosh the balls into patties, and bake or pan fry them.  (You can actually form the balls/patties first, but don't bake or fry until they've cooled -- otherwise the starches don't quite set and it can get a bit crumbly.)  Millet is really good for that kind of thing!

Two other options I've blogged about this month that would work well with millet are the Stuffed Bell Peppers and the side of herbed grains from the Tomato and Butter Bean Coriander Casserole.

29 September 2013

Trail Mix (GF option)

I don't know about you, but when I am out and about running errands and the like, I get friggin' hungry.  If I leave it for too long, I get hangry, the angry hunger.  Nobody wants to see that!  To combat this, and because I also have kids that become hungry on a whim, I always pack some kind of emergency rations.  The kids usually get granola bars.  My go-to snack is trail mix.

During the last month of my most recent pregnancy and for the first fortnight after, I was practically inhaling trail mix.  I had a bag by my bed at all times, I brought it with me to midwife appointments, and I even packed a bag of trail mix while I was in labour.  We are not talking easy labour, either.  I had to keep stopping to squat through contractions, but I was not going to the birthing centre without a big, fat bag of trail mix! 

At the very least, I feel that trail mix needs nuts and dried fruit.  The most basic of this is peanuts and raisins.  Now this is great, but I like a few different kinds of nuts (namely cashews, Brazils, and soy nuts), and while we're at it, why don't we add some dried apricots?  Skip this if you're gluten-free, but I also like to throw in some pretzels.  They get a little soft within about a day, but I kind of like them that way.  Gives a bit of a chew to them.  I will also sometimes break up a bar of dark chocolate and throw that in there, too.

My friend gave me some cute, reusable bags a year or so ago and they are perfect for trail mix.  I always try to keep a bag ready so I can pop it into my pocket or handbag before I hit the road.

What do you like in your trail mix?  Leave your answer in the comments.  :D

It looks like a cute little clutch!