Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Case of the Disappearing Seitan Jerky and Other Mysteries

In the past two days a couple of very mysterious incidents have occurred.  

The first, like it does, concerns some seitan jerky I was in the process of making.  I love Primal Strips and have been wanting to try and make my own jerky for a while.  After all, I love them but hate the plastic involved.  I set about fiddling around with a seitan recipe I use quite often now, slicing and then coating it in some homemade BBQ sauce (combine tomato puree, cider vinegar, crushed garlic, maple syrup, soya sauce, a few drops of chilli sauce and a few drops of hickory smoke) before baking it.   Thirty minutes later I went to check it.  Hmmm, it seems that our oven is so smoking hot that one whole slice of jerky had completely evaporated.  Mystery number one.  

Okay, so it really wasn't that much of a mystery when you live with a food loving Phil.  I went to tell him about it, with a wry smile, to find him still chewing......innocently.  The mystery was more how he had astrally projected himself past me at some point in the preceding minutes to nick some.  

Well the jerky was ready anyway so I thought it was my turn to try it.  Phil obviously requested another bit.  Before we knew it.........well it was history.  I told myself that the cooler it got, the crunchier it seemed to become anyway so best to eat it whilst it was fresh and experiment again with making some more soon.  Taste wise, it was damn good.  Texture wise, it needs more work if we weren't going to scoff the lot straight out of the oven.

Mystery number two occurred today.  Again, like it does, it involves bats.  Have you ever seen bats during the day?  I'm not talking about dusk time but a clear, sunny day around 4pm.  There were about 4 or 5 of them flying around quite happily for about 5 minutes or so in a quiet Cornish wooded valley in the back of beyond we happened to be tiptoeing around.  Weird huh?  I looked it up when I got home and it seems that it isn't unheard of.  Mystery again solved but it was pretty amazing to see.

Oh I do like a good but trivial mystery to solve.  I guess that is the Scooby Doo coming out in me?!

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Fig Leaves and Thieves

Any of our regular blog readers may remember our relatively frequent musings on our beloved fig tree in our front garden (well beloved to me more than Phil!).  Despite its relative age it still only produced its first single edible fig for us to enjoy in 2016, then zero last year.  The wonderfully warm summer weather this year however seemed to have worked its wonder on swelling the fruits and, with no usual violent Cornish summer gales to knock them off, we looked like we were in for the best harvest yet.  

Every time I left my nightly badger "leave our squashes alone please" offerings or topped up the bird feeders in the front garden, I would have a glance up into the luscious green fig branches noting where each swelling fruit was or, on the lower branches, having a quick squeeze to check for ripeness.  Then I started to struggle to find the figs in the places I was sure I had seen them before.  The ones on the lower branches still seemed to be there though thankfully.  Then after a few days away I checked the aforementioned lower figs to discover that something had beaten us to it.  Two out of the three were visibly pecked to smithereens, despite the fact that they weren't quite ripe enough yet!  Determined that I at least deserved a little look in on our figgy offerings, I literally 'bagged' the remaining one.  Wrapped in a plastic bag protection I imagined this would not only protect it from suspected beaky raiders but help enhance its ripeness.  It worked from the former point of view but sadly the bag enhanced the ripeness just a little too much and it was way too ripe when I returned to it.  Not that it stopped the figgy raider from enjoying the fruits of my labour.  As soon as I had unbagged it, the masked attacker was caught red beaked and the fig finally succumbed in dramatic abandon.

Well that was that for another year, unless the new figs forming were going to suddenly get a growth spurt on before winter set in.  Another plan was needed for next year; one where the fruits were equally shared out.  In the meantime, I suddenly remembered something I had read about making fig leaf tea.  It had been in the depths of winter when the fig tree was devoid of leaves but a quiet determination to at least make use of some parts of the tree had unearthed the thought in my head.  I returned inside for a quick search and found very quickly that not only could you use fig leaves to make a tea but it seems it is really good for you too!  

A quick nip back outside, leaves picked, kettle boiled and I was brewing up a sample whilst I continued to read about the benefits.  It seems that for health reasons, particularly to benefit the treatment of diabetes, people take fig leaf extract.  Perhaps this is because they don't readily have a fig tree to hand, as a tea of boiled fresh leaves was also stated as beneficial.  In addition fig leaves have a positive effect on blood pressure, along with various other ailments including cancer.  Apparently they are a good source of fibre and calcium too.  The more I read, the more I felt a little better about old figgy outside and its inability to produce us big juicy fruits.

After what seemed like a sufficient brew, I poured myself a cup.  The smell itself was enough to indicate this was going to be good, and it was.  It is slightly reminiscent of a sun warmed bank of Cornish gorse or to put it in less Cornish terms; it smelt and tasted mildly coconutty.  It was delicious.

I merely took two leaves, cut them up and poured boiling water over them.  I have since read that generally people boil the leaves in water for about 15 minutes so I'll probably try that next time too.  For winter use it seems that the best approach is to dry some of the leaves before grinding them to a powder and then using this to make tea.  As we now have a dehydrator, that immediately went on my 'to do' list.  I even read that people use the leaves as edible wraps.  Hmmm, I wasn't so convinced by that but maybe I need to investigate the recipes first and give it a go before I dismiss it.

I felt pretty good after a couple of cups of fig leaf tea.  I even nearly forgot all about the fig thieves outside.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Reflections on Death

Fifteen months ago I lost my dad.  Four weeks ago my mum followed; hence the recent blog silence.  I was beside both of them for minutes, hours, days, weeks; holding their hands before, during, and after.  It is where I wanted to be, despite the fact it digs a hole right through you.  As you can imagine, I have spent much time reflecting on death recently.  The mind can be a muddled place as a result but I wanted to honestly and openly share some of these thoughts in the hope that others will find them interesting.

As vegans we have a respect for all life but what about death?  My first honest thought to share is that by the time death came to my parents, I welcomed it for them; willed it even. For the last four days of mum's life she was taking twelve laboured breaths followed by thirty seconds of not breathing, before gasping back into the cycle; that's four days non stop until the last thirty minutes or so when she thankfully calmed more.  My dad was less laboured but had more pain but ultimately for both it just seemed like such hard work for them.  When the time came I was flooded with numbness and huge relief.  I welcomed death, as I am fairly sure they did.  But a vegan welcoming death to another living being?  Under the circumstances I imagine most would agree this is totally natural but as a vegan, I also found it conflicting in my muddled mind.

My second honest admission is that such was the suffering, and for both thankfully they were blessed with less so than many, I did have thoughts of how I could 'help'.  This thought was both natural and shocking to me at the same time.  Mum even said about five days before she died "please help me".  I asked her in response, "have you had enough mum?" and she said "yes".  It tore me apart.  You can see why people do 'help'; that love drives people to do it.  That whole saying 'cruel to be kind' seems to have some substance here.  Ultimately though I couldn't have done it.  Some of it comes down to cowardice; whichever way that coin is flipped, but also I know really my dad and mum would have hated me facing consequences.  So instead I resorted to being there, monitoring, feeding back to the caring and loving staff my translation of pain and discomfort levels so medication could be tailored.  It had been a startling thought though; a vegan with fleeting thoughts of basically murder?

This is when I then got to thinking about our animal companions.  As hard as it is, us humans are given that 'power' to decide when our non human family members can no longer endure suffering and end it for them; peacefully, quickly, gently.  How easy the world perceives we can make that decision for animals and yet not for our human loved ones.  Does that make life cheaper for animals or humans?  If you love that living being, that dying being, you should be trusted to help both.  My parents both signed 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders a few years ago.  Maybe there should be a witnessed order available for 'please euthanise' too?  I'm potentially on very dodgy ground here but as a non speciesist being I am perplexed as to why the euthanasia debate still rumbles on for humans.

Another reflection for me centred around medication.  The pharma industry is the epitome of the devil to me on the most part but here I was discussing, requesting and willingly accepting the increased medical needs of my parents.  It was surreal how desperate and reliant I was, even thankful that an extra dose could offer some reprieve from any suffering as things progressed.  I spent some time talking to a lovely lady whose dad was in the room opposite my mum.  Her dad too was struggling.  Our despair was reflected in each others faces as we talked in one of our many 'take five' moments in the sitting room of the hospice.  She surmised that she would rather go into the middle of nowhere and take a load of hallucinogens if she were in the same position as our parents.  I had to agree.  This was by no means a reflection on the loving, caring and beyond amazing staff at the hospice.  It was more a reaction to the chemical cocktail constantly administered to enable the long drawn out process to be more comfortable.  As a vegan I think it comes down to choice.  For my mum and dad I facilitated what they chose.  When my time comes, and if I can make a choice, well I will.

I have already mentioned the nursing/hospice teams involved in my parents care.  How these amazing people can, in the face of what they experience day in, day out, maintain such unconditional and compassionate love and care is just mind blowing.  It brings tears to Phil's and my eyes just thinking about it.  Nothing was too much trouble.  Humans certainly know how to look after their own (although I truly recognise that this isn't necessarily the case the world over and horrible atrocities do indeed occur).  Dying humans are on the whole lavished with care; even in death and the ensuing ceremonies, service or rituals.  The death of some animals are indeed ritualised (cruelly so) but generally animals are led unceremoniously to their deaths and then ceremoniously served up on a plate.  This was just another random thought that a very muddled vegan had at the time.  

Here is another thought surrounding humans.  Many vegans associate kindness purely with other vegans.  Well I must say I have met some pretty uncaring vegans at times.  I have also met an awful lot of non-vegans who have shown me unconditional love; particularly so in the last two years.  To draw a distinction here is just insane and short sighted.  Kindness is kindness; whatever form or level it takes.  It shouldn't be dismissed purely because it doesn't go far enough.  

I could go on describing other thoughts and emotions during this dark time including anger, flatness, frustration and multiple stages of exhaustion and confusion but I imagine these are more natural reactions experienced by many.  Indeed I am kind of hoping that all of the things I have shared would be recognised by at least some others too.  Possibly they are a lot more natural than I thought?

Life does go on though and as I have now returned to Cornwall after my mum's funeral and sorting out some of my parents house, this outpouring I guess is also only natural.  I hope now to be able to move on to reflect on the wonderfully unusual, caring, funny and treasured moments of life with my parents instead.  They were both extraordinary in their own unique ways.

So to finish on a lighter note, here are two poems I wrote for my dad and mum, and which formed part of their commemorative services.

Robin Gill (The Robin) - 1936 - 2017
Yvonne Gill (The Chough) - 1942 - 2018

The Robin

Mum and Dad Summer 2015
I saw a robin perched on a tree
His tune was full and strong
I love the song he sung for me
Although the words were wrong

I saw a robin sat on my spade
He watched me as I planted
“You plan, you sow, you water” he said
“But you should never take life for granted”

I saw a robin upon the fence
As I walked along the way
Each time I passed he followed me
To ensure I was okay

I cannot see my bird no more
But in my heart he sings
And every bird I see now
Is my Robin on the wing

Upon the tree, upon the fence
And on the spade as well
My Dad will ever guide me
And in my life will dwell.

The Chough

The chough arrived when the sea below was turbulent and stormy.
The wind was strong to fly against with her battered wings still forming.
The cliffs seemed high but on she flew towards the solid ground.
Despite the violent heave of wave reaching up to pull her down.

She reached the shore, the sun came out and shone upon her black feathers.
She preened them now with golden beak to remove the salt strewn weather.
The gold of legs now stood her strong as she surveyed the world around her.
It was time to leave the past behind and search for her own future.

She launched herself high in the sky with a joyous burst of shrieks.
Twisting, turning, tumbling with acrobatic feats.
Her bold display soon caught the eye of a handsome little robin.
Whose breast of red and cheeky song the lucky chough was soon winning.

Their nest was built on solid rock and in it soon two youngsters.
And as the years went on this little family had much adventures.
Like her, the little chough had taught her girls to live and dare.
So they fledged the nest and went in search of lands full of choughs and bears.

Not long ago the robin flew towards the setting sun.
Distraught, the little chough took flight to follow his voyage on.
I see them now in bluest sky and above the azure sea.
Or amongst the bluebell woods upon their planted trees.

Whenever I saw a robin my mum I always told.
And a phone call made immediately upon spotting black and gold.
Whether Barranco bound, in Bretagne or on my Cornish bluffs.
I’ll still always call you mum to tell you of our choughs.