Baking

The Tale of Two Vegan Banana Breads

Those who have known me for a long time know that I love to bake and, to an only slightly lesser extent, cook. Baking has been one of my go-to stress relieving activities. While working on the last year of my undergrad and also working full-time and raising a teenager I would often get frustrated or experience writer’s block. At my breaking point I would often drop everything and make a batch of cookies or loaf of banana bread. The act of doing something constructive and successful helped clear my brain.

About 6 weeks ago I became vegan. I might chat more about that at a different time. It has been a gradual process for me that started last fall with going back to being vegetarian. Eliminating eggs and dairy from my diet seemed almost like the natural next step. I don’t really miss them, but it has made one of my favourite past-times somewhat more challenging.

My adventures in vegan baking have been minimal. However, I have accumulated a nice supply of recipes to try saved on Pinterest (my absolute favourite place for recipes and photos of Benedict Cumberbatch😜) Sadly, I don’t have anyone to bake for right now. My roommate (aka my stepmum) is watching her calorie intake and my daughter lives over 2000 miles away.

I have attempted a couple recipes. The first was a success: Vegan Banana Bread. It was tasty, and I will attest that I doubt anyone would have known it was vegan. It was moist and had a good texture and flavour.

Vegan Banana Bread

My next attempt was just a couple of evenings ago. I had blueberries in the freezer from last year’s crop (yeah we have a few blueberry bushes) that needed to be used and ripe bananas so I found a recipe on Pinterest that looked promising: Gluten-free Vegan Blueberry Banana Bread.

So, this one was not quite as successful. It

Gluten-Free Vegan Blueberry Banana Bread

wasn’t a failure and I don’t blame the recipe. I will say I didn’t make it gluten-free (used part all-purpose flour instead of gluten-free) because that’s not necessary in this household. The problem lies in the fact that the recipe has not added sugar. Not a horrible thing if your bananas have flavour and it’s rare to find a banana that any flavour let alone enough flavour to sweeten up. The poor blueberries just couldn’t do all the work.

So next time, and there probably will be a next time because I haven’t given up on this recipe, I will add a bit of sweetener as suggested in the blog portion of the recipe. I must give a big thumbs up for how pretty the loaf turns out with the lovely blueberries giving it some colour.

Okay that’s it for now. If you’re interested give the recipes a go and see what you think. If you have any vegan recipes you’d like to share with me, please leave a comment. I’d love to try them out.

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I’ve missed this

It’s been a while, I know. So much for continuing to write despite not being in London. We’ll just get past that and start fresh here and now…

I’ve committed myself to writing at least 30 minutes on most days. This is writing for myself, not for work which is something completely different. Don’t worry though. This does not mean a influx of posts daily. The daily writing is just a exercise in doing the writing. Some of it will end up here. The rest will stay on paper where it belongs or maybe I’ll start that novel finally.

So..first things first. I’m just going to get this out…

On 13 April of this year, my father died. It was unexpected and has put me in a state of shock that I have been dealing with in many different ways. Grief it weird and unpredictable but it also can be eye-opening.

I won’t write more about him right now. I’m not ready. I’ve not really told many of my friends because I’m not sure how to respond to their loving words. I also didn’t announce it on Facebook because my dad hated Facebook or any kind of social sharing. He was a very private man and for some reason announcing his death on such a public forum didn’t work for me. Yes, I realise I just put it on my public blog. But he liked my blog so I feel like it might be ok.

With my father’s death has come some changes within me that I’m dealing with. Again, grief is weird. I hope to share some of what is going on as time goes by. I feel like it is positive and good and long over-due. But more about this later.

Another bit of catch-up for those who have been faithfully following my path for a while. I’m still living in the US but my heart is still in London. It’s still my happy place. I was fortunate enough to spend the first three months of 2018 in London thanks to the kindness of a couple of friends. They let me spend my very extended holiday with them in their flat. I am eternally grateful for this extension of hospitality as it let me be ‘home’ for a while. It’s especially meaningful considering what happened almost immediately after returning to the States in April.

This post is a bit crap. I’m sorry for that. I’ll do better. It’s just been too long with this blog sitting here idle. Time to show it some love. Talk soon…

London, Writing

Back in London

I’m back in London. It’s a short trip. Getting shorter by the day. But I’m here. When I was getting ready to fly back to London I got nervous. I was suddenly afraid I’d get back here and things would be different. I was afraid that all those feeling I thought I had when I was here would not exist and it would be like I had imagined it all and built it all up in my head because I wanted to be happy here. I was afraid I’d not like London anymore because it didn’t live up to the wonderfulness I had attached to it.

It turns out that those little fears were unfounded. As soon as my feet were back on British soil the weight of the last year had lifted away. I was exhausted from not sleeping and the rigours of a 10 hour flight but I felt alive and ready to get back to where I belonged. I didn’t make it through passport control as smoothly as I had hoped (that’s a whole other story) but I was still calm and relaxed. Something I don’t really think I’ve felt for a year. I got on the Tube for the hour’s long journey into Bloomsbury where I am staying and it felt like I had never left.

London Thames 190716
Thames looking towards St. Paul’s from the Hungerford Bridge

That’s how it’s been for the past week. Like I’ve never left. The only reminder that I’ve been gone has been that I meet up with friends and we have to catch up on a year’s worth of information. Otherwise, I’m back to enjoying walking around the city, visiting my favourite spots and seeing people who make me feel at home and who have I missed.

Of course some things are different. It’s been a year. Places change, people change, life continues to go on while you are away. That’s just how it’s meant to work. I know I have changed and probably not for the better so I really didn’t expect everything to be in exactly the place I left them when I made that horrible journey back to the States. It was good to know that I hadn’t imagined the entire year and a half that I was here. It’s good to know that I truly was happy when I was in London.

One of the happy results of being back is that I have actually started writing again. It’s a slow process with lots of scattered ideas that have either floated in my head or have been collected on my computer. After not writing a word that wasn’t work related for about ten months it’s a relief to have those scattered ideas and to not be afraid to communicate them. I’ve been apprehensive about of the things going through my head since being back in the US. Incredibly, those unhappy thoughts went away as soon as the plane landed last week.  So chances are there may be a few new blog posts coming up. I hope you are at half as excited as I am. 🙂

Pets

Gus

I’ve mentioned in the past few blogs that I’ve been having a difficult time finding inspiration to write. It’s plagued me for months and I’m, quite frankly, tired of it. It has occurred to me that I don’t really need inspiration to write so much as a topic to write about. I actually didn’t have to look too far for a topic or inspiration. I literally just had to look across the room at my dad and stepmum’s furry friend for the past 13 years, Gus. It makes sense because Gus has become the subject of many of my Instagram posts and occasional Facebook photos because he’s amazing and is a constant source of happiness for everyone in the house.

Sweet Gus
Sweet Gus

Gus is a West Highland Terrier. He is probably one of the sweetest and happiest dogs I’ve ever met. He’s 13 years old, deaf, and losing his eyesight but that does not stop him from heading out for daily walks (or runs, in his case) on the beach with my stepmum where people always seem want to stop and meet him. To see him running on the beach, with what can only be described as a joyous grin on his face, you’d think he was just a young pup instead of the senior citizen dog he really is.

Gus despises going to the groomers and used to hide under the bed if you merely mentioned the word ‘bath.’ He’s clearly not a vain dog because even when you tell him he’ll smell better after a bath and look less like a sheep dog after going to groomer, he still resists both. It doesn’t stop either event from occurring and is one of the few inconveniences that is forced upon him. Otherwise, Gus is pretty much indulged. He’s not spoiled rotten, just well taken care of.

Gus' adoration for John-Kelly was unmeasured
Gus’ adoration for John-Kelly was unmeasured

One of my favourite quirks about Gus has to be how obsessive he sometimes gets about certain cats. I had a wonderful cat named John-Kelly and for years Gus would come and visit and obsess over John-Kelly. It was truly a fixation where he’d just watch this cat’s every move. He would even lay outside my bedroom knowing that the cat was on the other side napping on my bed. John-Kelly knew that Gus was obsessed and would toy with him, as cats do, but that didn’t sway Gus’ adoration. I always told Gus he needed therapy but, in reality, it was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Turns out, John-Kelly isn’t the only cat to catch Gus’ eye and the obsession continues with my stepmum friend’s cat.

The reason why Gus is getting his own post is because he’s the perfect example of why many of us have furry friends, be it dogs, cats, or hamsters, in our lives. Gus has brought so much delight to my dad and, especially, my stepmum. He is their constant companion and his love is unfettered. That’s what furry friends do. They love us no matter what. They love us even when we are grumpy or sad or leave them alone for hours.

Gus a bit smooshed faced (photo credit: Lori)
Gus a bit smooshed faced (photo credit: Lori)

There have been times, recently, when I’ll be sitting there feeling low and I look across the room to see Gus napping on the couch, as he does. He’ll suddenly look up, with half his fur mashed against his face from where he has been laying on it, and I’ll suddenly be smiling because it’s simply adorable. He doesn’t know that he’s taken me out of my gloom in that moment, which is why it’s all the better. He elicits smiles by just being Gus. Thanks for that, Gus.

Knitting

Just Keep Knitting

‘I knit.’ I used to say those words with a bit of guilt or somewhat defensively. It was as if I had to justify having a hobby that isn’t associated with my age group. For some reason, people tend to correlate knitting with grey-haired grandmas sitting in a rocking chair, needles clicking away as they magically create an afghan out of balls of yarn. That’s not me nor is it any of the people I know who knit. Most of my knitting friends are actually younger than me and more than one of them wear Doc Martins on a regular basis.

Socks knitted primarily between London and Portland, OR
Socks knitted primarily between London and Portland, OR

I taught myself how to knit about 10 years ago because I wanted a craft that was a little more portable than the cross-stitching I was doing. I have always loved doing crafts and making things but most of the craft activities I did couldn’t be hauled to the airport or done while watching the telly. I will never regret my impulsive purchase of  a cheesy ‘teach yourself how to knit’ kit because I can shove my project in my bag and knit on the bus on the way to work.

Why am I telling you this? This isn’t a knitting blog. This is a blog about….Wait, what is this blog about? 😉

The shawl in need of some reblocking
The shawl in need of some reblocking

I’m telling you this because, right now, knitting is one of the few things keeping me grounded. I’m back in the U.S. The visa thing didn’t work out this time around. (Lesson: explore ALL the consequences of making a major decision because while deferring my dissertation didn’t affect my graduation like I was promised, it fucked (pardon me, I searched of a better word but couldn’t find one) up the bigger picture and made transferring my student visa to a work visa impossible.) So, while I work at getting myself back home (London), I’m in a weird state of limbo. While I search for a job that will get me back to where I belong, I’m living in the exact opposite atmosphere I’ve grown accustom to and love.

I’ve been fighting a constant state of unhappiness and feeling out of place in the country where I was born and raised. I’m eight hours behind the time zone I belong and thousands of miles from friends I, quite abruptly, had to leave behind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that I am able to be with my family and will soon get to see The Blonde Child (8 days!) but I miss my life. I miss every aspect of it, including the tourists and the unbearable heat on the Tube in the summer.

Willow Socklet
Socks for my step mum

The thing that is keeping me sane is knitting. I knit for hours throughout the day. I knitted   the entire time it took me to travel from London to Portland, OR. I’ve finished two pairs of socks and a shawl and started another pair of socks within the past three weeks (see photos for proof.) I knit because writing has proven to be woefully unsuccessful (it’s taken three days to spit out this blog post). I knit because there is little else to do in the town I am in. Knit because I cannot job hunt all day and I don’t want to start binge watching shows on Netflix.  I knit because it focuses my mind and calms my nerves. It allows me to think and plan. I knit because it keeps me from thinking too hard about things that make me sad.

I’m sure that things in my life will eventually get sorted. I’m hopeful that I will be back home soon and living the life I started in London. Until then, I’m just going to keep knitting.

Father's Day

Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. For me, Father’s Day sort of falls into the same category as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. They are nice and they celebrate special people in your life. No harm in that; none at all. However, I’ve always felt we shouldn’t need a special day to celebrate the people we love…it should be something we choose to do every day. That being said, today I celebrate the first man in my life. The man who I love, respect, and am so grateful for…my dad.

There is a lot I can say about my dad. He is kind, generous, loving, and supportive. He’s also stubborn, impatient (especially when driving), reserved, and shy. He has high expectations of himself and of others. He’s smart and can do maths in his head in a way that makes me envious and upset that I apparently got my mother’s maths skills (or lack there of). 
He’s a great father. Always there and always available even from many miles away. Yes, he expected us to behave, get good grades, and be good people. He still expects that of us but has never turned his back on any of us kids when we went a bit astray, shut him out, or were less than good people. Those high expectations were sometimes daunting and restrictive in our eyes (I’m speaking for my siblings without their input here) but, as I get older, I see two things about those expectations. They were things to strive for to make us better people and to have happy lives. He’s never wanted for any of us to be sad or wanting for the basics in life. 

The second thing I see about those expectations is that he has the same ones for himself. He has always been a ‘practice what you preach’ kind of guy. You’ll never see my father be rude or cruel to another person. He’s not the most sociable of people because he’s shy and he doesn’t do crowds well. Yet, he’s probably one of the kindest and most giving people you’ll meet. He cares about others and doesn’t like to see suffering. He always says that if he won the lottery he’d give the majority of it away to people who need it and that’s not just talk. I believe he’d do it…quietly and without a fuss because he’s also the kind of person who will not toot his own horn or draw attention to his accomplishments. 

I think the most incredible thing about my father is the fact that while he was a great father, he’s an even better grandfather. He’s been a part of my daughter’s life from, literally, Day One. Today, I was looking at photos my stepmom took when Blonde Child was little and you can see the absolute love between her and her grandfather. My dad and stepmom have always been a huge presence in my daughter’s life. The two constants even in times of domestic turmoil. I think so many of her best childhood memories involve the time she spent with her grandparents. I’m pretty sure my older nieces will say the same. 

Because I know my dad will probably hate me going on about him, I’ll finish here. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you today and every day. 

London, Writing

It’s Not Writer’s Block…It’s Stress

It’s been hard to write lately. I’ve been blaming it on my post-dissertation decompressing but I know it’s more. I’ve been stressed. There are things on my mind that I haven’t wanted to really share except with a few friends and some of my family. It’s nothing horrible or tragic…well not in the grand scheme of tragedies. It’s really just horrible and tragic to me.  My time here in London could very likely be drawing to close and it’s something I fear, dread, and can’t seem to wrap my head around completely. It’s something I have a hard time saying out loud so I try not to. Yet, it’s sitting there, hovering around my psyche and often polluting my thoughts.

I’ve always felt a bit out-of-place in the places I’ve lived. I grew up in a city that I never liked. It was hot for far too many months out of the year and always seemed small despite being a  fairly large city. I moved around a lot in my early adulthood and ended up in a city even worse than where I was raised. Oddly, I chose to raise my daughter there but that was more out of necessity and practicality. I didn’t like the idea of moving her around at my whim. It’s hard enough being a kid without having to make friends over and over again.  So we stayed put in a town devoid of culture and drenched in all things superficial.

It wasn’t until I moved to London that I finally felt like I belonged and felt “at home.” It’s very odd to me since I have no family here and  all my close friends are thousands of mile away. But this is where I have felt most free to be me, completely comfortable, and,  above  all, happy.

I walked for over 7 miles a few Saturdays ago. It was an unplanned journey through this city that I want to call my permanent home. I went from the Museum of London (where I had finally visited the Sherlock Holmes exhibit) in the City of London across a bridge (Millenium), along the South Bank to another bridge (Hungerford) that I crossed and then ended up walking up Regents Street to Regents Park and then through to Primrose Hill where I could see, in the distance, my starting point. It was 4 hours of walking and looking and being in London. Four hours that I will cherish even if I stay here forever because I appreciate how that feeling of joy it gave me.

When I first moved here I wondered if I’d become immune to the city. I feared I’d start to not see the beautiful buildings and that I’d not glory over the Thames or get giddy when I saw Big Ben. I’ve been here almost 16 months and I haven’t lost it. I have learned to negotiate the crowded touristy streets like  Oxford and Regents and I don’t get lost as often as I used to but I haven’t stopped appreciating the various sites and sounds and people in this city. I still look out the window of the bus on my way to work in the morning and see new and interesting things daily.

It’s especially difficult right now because my future in this city is in the hands of other people. A pretty promising opportunity to remain and receive a work visa was nixed by the University because they have rules and aren’t able to make adjustments that would help one of their students out. it is what it is and it’s a lesson in what happens when you don’t get all the information you need before making decisions. I’m still hoping that my employer can do something that will help me stay. It’s a really good company that I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of. I can only hope that they see my worth and what I can offer the company in the long run so that I am worth whatever hoops they have to jump through to keep me.

So there it is; that’s the reason I am not able to write lately. I have actually  written things, but angry diatribes directed at my university don’t count and have no place here or, probably, anywhere. The fact is this is a very First World problem and I should be happy I get to be here for however long I get to stay. I am very grateful that I get to see sites like the ones I have seen and the experiences I have had for the past 16 months. The photos below are from my trek through London. Can you see why I don’t want to leave?