Monday, 30 July 2012

A very, very long way from Yoga

Recently I have been venturing out into the scary world of fitness classes. This is because I am cross-training as I wish to become a better pole dancer because I am dedicated to my Art, those are words I thought I would never type. As I am always on the hunt for a Bargain, I prowl the wider reaches of community centres and colleges where good-value classes might be experienced. I have just been to one that had possibly the highest muscle-working-to-pence ratio I have ever experienced, and I think it may actually have killed me. Weights were involved. Crunches were also involved and a man shouting at me ‘come on, Susie, stick your bum out’, it was not dignified.

I had to fill in a questionnaire where you had to state what regular exercise you took if you were over 35 (I mean, that is depressing to start with), and I wrote cheerfully, ‘yoga and pole dancing!’, I bet they will read that afterwards and think, oh, the poor innocent (although, I would like to state that I was the only one there who could touch my toes). I am now going to have as hot a shower as I can stand in an attempt to stave off tomorrow’s inevitable suffering, which will involve me crawling behind the desk in the art shop moaning and looking like Mrs Overall, trying to look sad enough that someone will offer to go and get me a croissant. All those PE lessons I missed at school – I have now been paid back. I am half tempted to go back next week and see what I would look like if I actually developed muscles somewhere around my middle, as at the moment muscles are there none. Weights! Bench pressing! Something that may or may not have been called a Burpee?! I may need therapy. Read the small print, other intrepid bargain-exercise-class-goers, that is my advice, because that was a very long way from Yoga, to which you can generally wear your most stylish leggings and not break a sweat.

(You know what else is hard? Zumba is hard. But do you know, I’m starting to kind of admire my own intrepidness. Do you know there's a 37-year-old Russian gymnast? You see, you can get fit at any age!).

Monday, 23 July 2012

Zine review. Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food

As I have said previously, I am now vegetarian again and looking to expand my cooking repertoire once more. I have a useful piece of advice for you if you are vegetarian, and that is, learn to cook vegan food, because, to start with you might end up vegan and if that happens you will be half way there, but also, if you are vegetarian, there are a lot of very depressing recipes out there of the Add Cheese To Everything variety *cough* Delia *cough*. I stopped by a restaurant the other day and was looking at the menu, and I swear to you that every option for veggies involved goats cheese or blue cheese. The only cheese I can manage is cheddar.What would I have eaten? I would have starved, and that would have been sad. I think there was a period in the late nineties where it was actually illegal in Britain to not eat goats cheese and rocket salad at least once a fortnight if you did not eat meat. Anyway that is my rant about cheese, which is, in essence, that replacing a sausage with a bit of goats cheese does not a delicious vegetarian alternative make, and that is why vegan food is great as it is imaginative and different. If you are reading this and thinking ha, ha. No, then, you are not up with the revolution that is modern vegan cooking, Buster. Come here, sweet innocent, and be educated.
Try not to be scared by Papa Tofu. He means well. He just looks like something from your darkest nightmares
So, I wanted to show you this excellent recipe zine that I bought – Papa Tofu loves ethiopian food, by Kittee Berns. Kittee has a website which contains my favourite Evah recipe for Aloo Gobi, which we eat often and which is Partner’s top favourite, especially when I make a mistake and put too much chilli in. Anyway, I had no idea about ethiopian cooking, which (tilts head thoughtfully) I do not believe has come to Cambridge yet, but, I am dipping my toe cautiously into the waters.
You need to imagine how much better this photograph would be if I had not done it on formica so that everything is beige. That on the left is my delicious spicy niter kibbeh in a natty Klippit
Kittee’s recipes are based on a spice blend – berbere – and a flavoured butter – niter kibbeh (using vegan marg – I used Pure), and she gives you recipes for both of these. I was able to make the niter kibbeh (and should be able to make the berbere) using spices I had already, but, this is the spice corner:
Buying spices from Tesco and Asda isn't going to deconstruct heartless global capitalism, is it now. Think on, Susie
So you can see we have quite a lot (I tell a lie – I have had to buy allspice and I bought some fenugreek powder, but only because I hadn’t got the energy to grind it myself). If you have fewer spices to start with you will have to spend more money, but it is worth it (go to your local mad health food shop/ indian grocer, it is better value. You can see I have got my spices there from every shop in Cambridge, so I know whereof I speak). My niter kibbeh smells amazing (and that’s not a euphemism). I have unfortunately stained Papa Tofu already with turmeric, but I think he can take it. I suspect it won’t be the last.

I branched out into a bit of ethiopian cooking last Saturday. I had leftover dal (this is obviously completely inauthentic and from the wrong country but it was leftover, so, you know), and I made Kittee’s ye’abesha gomen, spicy greens, which were delicious. I also had injera. Kittee has a recipe for injera fakeouts in the zine, but I could not find teff flour even when I walked backwards and forwards the entire length of Cambridge chiz chiz, so I will have to order it online. In the meantime I used another recipe I found in this book, which used millet flour instead. God: injera is delicious. It is like an oatcake or a big fermented pikelet. How lovely does that sound, eh? A big fermented pikelet? Is your mouth watering? It’s like Derbyshire meets Ethiopia.
Best dinner ever and a giant fermented pikelet. Have I converted you all to the veggie cause? I must have done
I shall be making more Ethiopian next weekend – I am going to try red lentils in a spicy gravy, and I am very excited. I may even make the epic trek to Waitrose to see if I can track down any berbere and not have to pay a million pounds for shipping.

Anyway, in conclusion. This zine is great, and you should buy it. It has about 30 recipes, which are all vegan and even gluten free. There are starters, sides, spicy stews and milder stews, and something very exciting involving chickpea fish. It also has loads of notes on everything you ever needed to know about ethiopian food: how to serve it, where to get ingredients, why you should be careful with dachshunds (I cringed), what to do with leftovers, anecdotes, all sorts of things.

And I’m really impressed (says she, non-patronisingly) with the work that must have gone into it. So much research! How many mainstream cookery books have you seen that give you a recipe for niter kibbeh? Have you ever seen Nigella flip an injera? It’s fun to read, as well. Kittee comes across as a nice person. I mean, she might not be: she might be the sort of person who creeps up behind dogs, pokes them in the ribs, and goes ‘woooh!’ as I once witnessed happening to that poor unusually furry guide dog in John Lewis. Or, she might go through doors that people are holding open and not say thank you. We just don’t know. But she’s made a nice zine. So, if you would like to buy one, too, and be cool and ahead of the food pack like me, you can find the details here. And if you find anywhere that sells teff flour or berbere near Cambridge please let me know as I am fed up of going and peering thoughtfully in all the shops on Mill Road. I’m worried they’re getting suspicious.

(I mowed the lawn and did a zumba class! I’m so on a roll).

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Flag waving

I have found the most patriotic house in Cambridge. Unfortunately it was raining when I took this picture, as I can imagine this house looks even more impressive in bright sunshine. I felt there ought to have been a crowd of people outside, waving flags, drinking nice cups of tea, singing Jerusalem and being slightly sexually repressed.
Look closely at the corgi in the middle of the downstairs window. Is that literally the campest thing you have ever seen? I thought so
There were flags outside Al Amin too. (I say that as if you all know Al-Amin. Al-Amin is the nice shop on Mill Road where I buy my millet flour, of which exciting foodstuff more tomorrow, poppadums and harissa).
Yeah yeah, Al-Amin. Asian, Arabic, Persian and Afro Caribbean but not a single packet of berbere and I can't ask if they've got it because I don't know how to pronounce it. Burrburr? BearBear? Burrburr-eh? Chumley?
I am surprised actually at the dearth of flags and sports propaganda given that the Olympics are starting next week. I keep reading bits in the papers that say it’s because you are not allowed to use Olympic branding unless you are one of the official Olympic sponsors. Is that true? I found this in the Independent, which is obviously faintly worrying, as we have a little Olympic display in the window at work which consists of some wooden rings which we have painted carefully with acrylic paint and hung on transparent nylon thread. Now, though, I realise we have been cynically threatening the profits of Proctor and Gamble and BP, and indeed the ultimate viability of the Olympics itself! So, if you are sitting down next week, all ready with your Big Mac and Coke waiting for the synchronised swimming to start, and suddenly a message flashes up on the screen saying ‘there will be no synchronised swimming because a selfish shop in Cambridge impinged on our trademark and now we can't afford the nose clips’ then it will be my fault. I am just apologising in advance.

Objectively speaking, it would be a good idea for them to make an example of me because it is not like I am not used to lengthy pointless vindictive legal battles. I do hope I will still be able to watch the gymnastics, though, as I like them very much.

No rain next week. Its... summer!!!!. I think I perhaps ought to mow the lawn?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

In My Hands

When I was younger (in those innocent halcyon days) I only ever thought of my hands in terms of whether or not they were attractive and if any of my nails were broken, which was obviously a disaster of epic proportions, oh the naivety of youth. Nowadays I am much, much more paranoid about my hands, but I do not care any more what they look like, in fact I would not care if they suddenly became green and hairy (well, I suppose I might a bit). No: I am paranoid about getting cuts, burns or other injuries, as I am always doing so much with my hands that it is just so inconvenient to have them out of action. The other night there was a bit of an injudicious moment with a piece of hot aubergine and I was completely furious with myself, but luckily I have no blisters (not as bad as the time I put my finger in hot fudge. Don’t ever do this. Learn from my mistakes).
OK so I bleached my hair so I look the part, but it turns out you actually have to practice your chord changes as well. So bourgeois
These are my roughened and calloused fingertips from playing the guitar. I do not know if my guitar just fights back more than other people’s, but, I get actual string indentations in my fingers which last for days. The fingertip issue is my least favourite thing about guitar playing (it’s going very well, thank you for asking). I find it strange and creepy having reduced feeling in the fingers of my left hand. Actually, if I stopped to think about it too much, I might panic and run around the house squawking. Also, I do not know how this can be and I am sure I must be wrong, but, it does not seem to me that there can be many people who both play guitar and knit lace out of laceweight silk, because, when you knit lace with very thin slippy yarn you kind of have to flick the yarnovers with your left hand sometimes to separate them out as they get mixed up on the needle (do you know what I mean?), and, this is more difficult to do when your left hand fingertips are knackered and a bit numb, as are mine. I feel if this were a common problem there would be some kind of a product for it. At work we have a Special Rubber Knobbly Finger Thing for when we are counting out sheets of thin paper. Perhaps something like this would be a good idea, but then, I don’t know how I would get it to stay on, so perhaps I will leave the Special Rubber Knobbly Finger Thing in its Special Place behind the till.
Note to self, next time use more dry talc as hot skin on metal does not go well. I bet this kind of thing never happened to Anastasia
Blister from pole dancing: I took the top level of skin off. I have bruises as well, all over my knees and down the insides of my legs. I have been trying to get a good photograph for you but frankly I started to think that was a little odd, so I’m afraid you will just have to imagine. I recently found myself considering ways to ‘improve my upper body strength’ and pricing up – wait for it – gym memberships??!!!! (fyi, the YMCA seems to be relatively affordable although I stress the relatively - £10 a month?) as I had a vision of myself toning my biceps using some kind of a machine and then being able to hang upside down effortlessly from my pole. That sentence just there is top of my list of Things I Did Not Think I Would Ever Write. Readers, I am frightened: what if pole dancing is The Sport For Me? That would be crap, wouldn’t it? That would be far worse than falling in love with someone you shouldn’t fall in love with (as the song goes), because, experience tell me that I should not in any way underestimate my ability to domesticate & indeed render monogomous even someone utterly unpromising, but, I do certainly doubt my ability to fit a pole to the ceiling joist of our living room. In fact, the rooms in our house may literally not be wide enough to swing a cat in so what that says for me swinging round a pole with legs extended I leave to your imagination. I may go and google boxercise classes instead as this whole pole thing may be one of those things that do not end well. Anyway off to the pub to ponder these things further.
Out in the world in my Fairysteps shoes ( with the green laces. So comfy! I want a pair of the boots for winter but will have to rob a bank first! Don't worry though, I'll make sure I go for Barclays!
(It costs £150 for a pole. I do the research, so you don’t have to. You’d probably have to get someone to fit it, though. Good luck explaining that to a carpenter).

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Novel update and bored of the rain

God. What a month it has been. I have been dealing with my Difficult Situation, and there have been tears, laughter, glittery cupcakes and banging of heads against walls, but, I would now like to declare OFFICIALLY that I am (cautiously) back in the land of the living, and I would like to update you on my novel. I have gone through, rewritten bits and checked the spelling, and I have it now as a pdf and a word document which I am going to make a start at trying to upload to something or other tomorrow. As I do not know entirely what I am doing and how successful this is going to be (or indeed how long it is going to take…), I thought I would say that, in the meantime, if anyone just wants me to send them the pdf (obvs free of charge, indeed I should probably be paying you…), then email me at uselessbeautydesigns [at], and I will email you back with the pdf attached.

Remember: no matter how bad this book is, I guarantee you it is inner-goddess free. And no-one, at any point, ever says ‘Oh my!’ when confronted with bdsm paraphernalia. These things I promise you. And although it starts off a bit slow, if you can get through a few chapters it starts to pick up a bit, and, if you can get through the whole thing, then you will know who the characters are and be able to read number two, which is better. I bet I’ve sold you on it, haven’t I? I’ll wait for the flood of emails. (It’s alright, that’s self-aware irony).

I think it has now rained in Cambridge every day for three months. Every single day! And our front door is swollen and we cannot open it, so every time I leave the house I have to walk through the back garden, and fight all the greenery, which is overgrown, because I cannot get out to trim it, because it has rained EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR THREE MONTHS. I am very bored now of the rain, and would like to request some sunshine, please, although Partner says there will be no sunshine for another three years, as actually we are in year three of a strange six-year weather cycle, and he knows this because he heard someone say it on the cricket. Luckily, I have decided not to listen to Partner, and I decided not to listen to him anymore even before he told me that my hair made me look like the albino monk from the Da Vinci Code. But I still wish we could have some sunshine. Please?