No Meat March


As part of my food blogging I’ve decided to take part in No Meat March.

I’ve always had vegetarian friends and family members, and I will quite happily eat vegetarian food.  About five years ago when a partner turned vegetarian I gave it some serious thought and I came to the conclusion, I really like meat.  Really like it.  I can remember coming home for Christmas, and the deep sinking feeling of disappointment when my parents announced they had become vegetarian and we would be having nut roast on Christmas day.  The horror.

However since that point five years ago there have been things that have changed.  I’ve got to know people who are very much into animal rights.  They’re not the in your face, all about making you feel guilty type.  Their the type of people who just live out their lives in accordance with their beliefs.  When I’ve seen them discussing the issues online, most of the time I’ve though “Yeah, I agree with that”.  Until it got to the point where it was so obvious that I agree with the largest part of what was being said, I really needed to start asking myself if this is what I  believe why am I not living it in my life?

That’s not the only reason though.  There is more and more proof that they way we farm animals for consumption is damaging to the planet.  There is also plenty of evidence that shows you can have a good balanced diet as a vegetarian and improve your health.

That’s not to say I’m approaching this zealously, I have my doubts. My other two concerns are iron intake, which I have spent quite a bit of time researching and also making food my daughter will also enjoy (which to be honest is a year round day-in day-out concern anyway so not that big).

I don’t ever think I will become fully vegetarian – you can prize those tiny sausages wrapped in bacon from my cold dead jaw – but I could do with expanding my cooking repertoire, eating more fish and focusing on health.  Although I do have doubts and concerns I’m also looking forward to challenging myself and expanding my horizons, learning some new things, maybe getting to know myself better in the process, and seeing what happens when I open my mind.


Review: Black Hole by Charles Burns

I’ve had a nasty cold recently, which has at least allowed me plenty of time in bed with books.  I’d got Black Hole by Charles Burns out the library as it is widely touted as one of THE graphic novels to read.

Black Hole is set in 1970s suburban Seattle. There is a sexually transmitted disease rife among the teenagers of the area. It manifests differently in everyone, but does include skin shedding, tail growing,  lumps, boils and tiny mouths in your neck that speak. In some people it is mild enough for them to be able to “pass” but in others it is written all over their faces, and they find themselves shunned from society, living in the woods and scavenging for food.

Despite being fictional, it reminded me strongly of my favourite non-fiction graphic novel, My Friend Dahlmer by Derf Backderf.  It’s the same era, has the same secrets hidden in woods, adolescents going through or witnessing trauma that they either can’t or won’t express to the adults around them.  Both relied on an extremely bold black and white artwork, which serves to underline the seriousness of the issues they deal with.   They also have a horrific story unfolding slowly in what many would assume is a safe suburban environment.

Black Hole is a portrait of the alienation that many teenagers feel.  Struggling to find their individual selves, while also deeply compelled by the childhood survival mechanism of fitting in.  Almost everyone has to negotiate this dichotomy at some point, and some do it with more success than others.  My expectations of Black Hole is that at some point something would happen, the kids would get the help they needed and the people who had ostracised them would learn a lesson – that’s how it works in my chaotic good aligned moral compass.

This is not what happens.  The children try to negotiate their problems on their own.  Some of them do so badly, some incredibly badly, and others find a modicum of success.  The success that they appear to have is not to do with how badly they are disfigured but how much they let their feelings of alienation dominate their interactions with others and the world.  While it appears that Black Hole is going to be a thinly disguised metaphor for aids, it is in fact a way of giving physical expression to the pitfalls of adolescence.  As many young people’s distress is displayed in their relationships with their bodies – self harm, binging, starving – the metaphor works well.

As a parent what terrified me most was the way none of the children seamed to think there was any adult they could trust and talk to.  It made me wonder if the punitive, authoritarian and inflexible parenting styles of ages gone by meant that barriers are created between children and all the adults around them, not just between the child and the parent.   Given the rising tide of mental health problems among teenagers it is probably more important than ever that we look at and dissect what goes on in the minds of young people.  Black Hole is a thought provoking example of how the arts are in a unique position to do this.  Like all the best art it does not give us any answers, but presents us with a lot of questions and inspires us to think.

Yes to… no.


A few years ago I discovered the Yes To range in the discount bin at Waitrose.  The Yes To Tomatos shower gel was reduced and I thought I’d give it a shot.  I was at first rather dubious as I wasn’t sure I wanted to smell like a tomato – however I found I loved the smell, not as much like pasta sauce as you’d assume.  I finished of the bottle pretty quickly.

I’m currently on the look out for a new moisturiser.  As I’m now quite close to 40 I need something that will not just deal with my combination acne prone skin with uneven tone, but also something that will help me age with enough grace to not panic about it.

As I’m a sucker for natural products and I loved the shower gel I searched through the Yes To range and decided to try the Yes To Grapefruit which promises a more even skin tone.  I also liked the fact that the moisturiser is cruelty free and,SLS and paraben free.  The website also says it is 98% natural.  I don’t put too much weight on boasts about skin products naturalness unless they are 100% – otherwise it’s just marketing spiel.  That last 2% could be made up of anything.  If you do want to check though the Cosmetic’s Database, is a good place to start.

The moisturiser definitely left my skin feeling moisturised.  However my main problem was that the fluid itself did not absorb easily, and left a chalky residue.  This meant that hours after moisturising finding fine white lines near my hairline or jaw, where I thought I had rubbed all the moisturiser in, but obviously hadn’t.

While Yes To Grapefruit didn’t do anything bad for my skin, at the same time it didn’t really do anything great.  After using a whole bottle I didn’t see much of a difference in my skin tone, my age spots are still as visible as they were and the acne scarring didn’t show any accelerated healing.  All in all a mediocre skin experience.



Currently 4Extra is broadcasting all the series of my favourite radio drama on the iplayer, Pilgrim written by Sebastian Baczkiewicz.  The series was nominated for a Prix Italia and won a silver Pix Europe with the actors involved also receiving nominations from the BBC.

The seasons make up part of the story of William Palmer who was cursed by the king of the grey folk for denying their existence, to live forever.  Palmer, also known to the grey folk as Pilgrim, now arbitrates between the modern world, the grey folk and all the supernatural beings which swirl between.  As ever with something I’m enthusiastic about on the radio it is partly to do with the medium itself.  The intimacy of radio is very seductive.

Baczkiewicz weaves a believable and atmospheric dark fantasy world where the legends of old England intruding on the lives of extremely normal modern inhabitants.   Baczkiewicz does not overly rely  on the well known supernatural monsters such as werewolves, which can create an overblown and predictable tale but delves deep into folklore.  Soon a thorn bush, a forest, the ringing of a church bell can all be sinister to the listener.  In fact when he does delve into a monster trope the results are not what we have come to expect.  It is the juxtaposition of the spectacular with the mundane which makes Baczkiewicz’s world so absorbing, always balancing precariously between horror and the everyday.

Ultimately though the tone of Pilgrim is one of weariness, as we see these fantastical and horrific events through the eyes of Palmer, who searches for a way to end his life.  While retaining his compassion, Palmer has also become detached, zen-like to the inevitability of conflict between the two separate worlds ever intruding on each other and his role in trying to limit the damage.  The listener wants Pilgrim to find the release that he desperate seeks, but also want to find out more about the intriguing world who’s surface has only just been scratched.  The listener pivots between these two desires as Palmer himself pivots between the two worlds he inhabits.

If you only listen to one radio drama series this year I would recommend this one.  If you are a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell, this is a series that will help the long wait for Susanna Clerks’ sequel.


Review: Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

With her Christmas money my daughter bought a copy of Goth Girl by Chris Riddel.  Goth Girl is Ada, the daughter of the famous Lord Goth who lives in Goth Hall.  She meets Ishmael, the ghost of a mouse, and realises something is wrong with Lord Goth’s indoor game keeper.  Ada and Ishmael investigate and take us on a journey in which we meet a host of whimsical servants and guests, many of them a humorous pastiche of historical or literary characters.  The profusion and detail of the characters belie the simple plot, and allow the adult reader as much fun as the child.

The story and characters are delightful the book itself is beautifully presented.  It’s purple, black and silver cover holds a wealth of excellently rendered illustrations.   All in all a delight to read.  However I am not the target audience for this book, so I decided to interview my daughter…

Me:  What made you chose Goth Girl?

Milla: Because it was suggested to me.

Me:  Who was it suggested by?

Milla:  A bookshop assistant.

Me:  Do you think that was a good suggestion?

Milla:  Yes.  A great one.

Me:  What is the best bit about Goth Girl?

Milla:  I had to write this in my book review at school homework.  Em, I said the same thing.  I said… it’s so good, I have to say all of it, all of it’s the best part.

Me:  Do you have a favourite character?

Milla:  Well, oh, this is a hard one.  It’s really hard.  They’re all so good, but I think my favourite character is Mal… No!  I think it is Mrs Beat’em.

Me:  Why?

Milla:  Because she’s big and scary and kind of funny.

Me:  Do you think anything could have been done better?

Milla:  My book review had the same exact questions!  But I answered, what could be better is…nothing.  Nothing could be better it’s the best book in the world!

Me:  Would you read other Goth Girl books?

Milla:  I’ve already read others.  And I’m just about to read the red one, the pink… the yellow one.

Me:  Who would you recommend this book too?

Milla:  I don’t know.  I’m tired.

Me:  What sort of person do you think would enjoy this book?

Milla:  Everyone.

Frontier food and prejudice

I went for lunch today with two of my American friends, who really wanted to try Frontier, a north American restaurant which has opened up near Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh.

There was quite a few dishes I had heard about, mainly from films but never tried such as cat fish, and Philly cheese steak settled in among the more well known hot dogs and burgers.  We all really wanted to try several dishes, so opted to order one each and share.

Cat fish

I’d often heard about cat fish in films set in the south, but had never tried it.  It was baked in parchment with orange, a preparation my guru’s for all thing America had not seen before.  The result was succulent, fragrant, surprisingly light and well accompanied with fresh salsa.  The fries felt a bit more like chips, but overall a good dish and a fish I’d definitely try again.


The carnitas came with a flour tortilla, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.  The pork itself was incredibly tender, moist and suffused with lime and spice making a flavoursome dish.

Colorado casserole

We all agreed that this was the stand out dish from the three we ordered.  Made with a mix of pork and beef with ancho and pasilla chilli, chipotle and chocolate, topped with cheese and sour cream.  It’s the tender meat and blend of spice which make it so wonderful.  The chocolate far from being overpowering lent a baritone of flavour to the stews tingling warmth that made this the perfect dish for a snowy Edinburgh day.

While we tucked into our dishes, I also realised something about myself.  I had been unconsciously carrying around a prejudice against American food.  In my mind I had consigned it all to the boxes marked “unhealthy” and “fattening”.  I myself get annoyed at people who assume all Scottish food is deep fried and unhealthy, but I had treated American cuisine in exactly the same way.

At the back of my mind I expected Frontier to confirm my prejudice.  It didn’t.  The dishes were fresh, well seasoned and flavoursome.  Yes, because they are kind of meat heavy if you eat a lot of it all the time and don’t have the calorie expenditure of a cowboy you’d put on weight.  But if you eat too much of any national cuisine you’ll put on weight.  It’s the eating too much or with little variation, not the cuisine that is unhealthy.  My sincere apologies to the chefs and cooks of the United States.

We none of us tried the desserts, but the menu does look pretty special and I plan to take my daughter for the Funfair Sundae.  I opted to finish with tea, which unfortunately was not great.  This may be the one are where my newly discovered and slain prejudice against American food may have been right.  I’d be happy to be proven wrong there too.

On top of the really excellent food I also have to put a word in for the staff.  Our waitress Sarah was friendly and efficient.  My friends also made some enquiries about how to source some of the American ingredients that they hadn’t been able to find in Edinburgh and the staff were able to give some tips and pointers about what they could do.  My customer service standards were both met and exceeded.

A delightful and pleasant experience.  We all plan to return.




Lush products, and random acts of kindness

My daughter and I really love Lush.  My daughter likes their playful and imaginative creations, and excellent customer service – she’s been shopping there since she was five.  I like the fact that unlike many beauty companies their ethical and body positive messages are not tacked on in response to a CSR policy or a focus group.  It was built into the fabric of the company from day one.  That’s authenticity.  Authenticity is a terribly attractive thing.

A few weeks ago I was feel physically low.  I’d had a stressful period at work, had to move home, had recently been on a course of antibiotics and unbeknown to me, was just about to come down with a dose of sinusitis.  Things that I can deal with on their own.  Stick them all in a two week period and it gets a bit much.

On my way home from work instead of waiting in the cold and dark for the bus I decided to pop into Lush on Edinburgh’s Princess St.  I spoke to the assistant and told her that I was looking for a product for a bit of pampering and relaxing because I’d been having a bad time.  She guided me through some products.  Cerdiwen’s Cauldron really caught my eye, but for some reason I can’t explain I didn’t get it.  I settled instead for the Floating Island bath melt and A French Kiss bubble bar.

Just as I’d paid for my purchases the assistant I originally spoke to came up to me, and gave me a bag containing a gift of Cerdiwen’s Cauldron – just because I’d said I’d been having a bad day.  It was like that moment in a friendship where you thought your friend was pretty cool and loved hanging out with them, then out of the blue they do or say something which makes you realise what an incredibly awesome person you’re lucky to be friends with.  Waiting at the bus stop to go home I certainly felt a little teary because of this unexpected act of kindness.

A French Kiss bubble bar

This bubble bar comes in a swirl of purple and white and is packed with French lavender and rosemary.  The bubbles were not as profuse as I expected, so if it’s frothiness you’re after another choice might be better for you. Rosemary is one of my favourite essential oils for its head clearing properties.  I’m a big believer in lavender for its relaxing qualities and it certainly did that.  Lavender however can be a little overpowering so I popped the bath melt in as well.

Floating Island

Now vanilla can be a slightly derogatory term in some circles, but in this bath melt it is heavenly.  You pop the melt in the bath and it slowly releases its oils and the warm and reassuring fragrance of fair trade vanilla.  A grown-up, and sophisticated way of relaxing in the bath.

Cerdiwen Cauldron

This was the main event for me and I was really excited to use it.  Cerdiwen is an enchantress of Welsh legend, who possessed the cauldron of poetic inspiration – could this be what I need to get my poetry writing kick started again?  She is also considered a goddess of rebirth and transformation, which is very much what I felt in need of.   It contains coco butter, oats, sandalwood and rose absolute – all products that sooth the skin.  To use it hang the muslin bag under the hot tap as it runs, and it melts into the water.  It was a great bath experience and it left my skin so well moisturised there was no need to use body lotions after.  What’s left in the bag is a kind of mulch that didn’t dissolve.  Instead of throwing it out I’ve been using it in the shower to get another hit of rebirth and renewal.

Cerdiwen’s Cauldron and Floating Island – big points for sophistication and luxury

A French Kiss Bubble Bar – Not all that

Staff and random acts of kindness – absolutely priceless