Tuesday 27 November 2007

Banana Bran Bread

It's a while since I honoured "Recipe Tuesday", so I thought I'd get back into the habit. :o)

When DH and I go grocery shopping, one of our regular purchases is a hand of bananas. We both take a banana to work each day, so most of the time they get eaten before they go too black and soft. The ones that don't end up in one or other version of banana bread. Surplus bananas end up in the freezer until I'm in the mood to use them.

This is my favourite banana bread. My dad used to call it "Walnut Loaf", because the cooked brown rice takes on a nutty, chewy texture. It
must be brown rice; the recipe doesn't work very well with white. Sometimes the rice can get quite hard - I bit into a piece on Sunday and chipped an already dodgy tooth.

It's a good recipe to double, if you've got the oven space.

For Weight Watchers, follow the recipe using skimmed milk, oil, soy flour and the half sugar/half Splenda options. The recipe makes 12 muffins (at 3 WW points each) or 1 large loaf giving 20 half-slices at 2 WW points each.

Banana Bran Bread


2 soft bananas
70ml oil (or 100g butter)
100g soft dark muscovardo sugar/molasses sugar/raw sugar (or use 50g sugar & 1/2 cup of Splenda)
2 eggs (or 2 tablespoons soy flour and 3 tablespoons of water)
1/4 cup of milk (60 ml)
150g wholemeal self raising flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 cup cooked brown rice

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C.
  2. Cream together the banana, oil/butter and sugar +/- Splenda.
  3. Blend in the eggs (or soy flour and water if using), then the milk.
  4. Sift over the dry ingredients blending as you go (that's the flour, cinnamon and bicarb).
  5. Finally, stir in the rice. (If you are doing this in a food processor, just give it a quick burst to blend.)
  6. Pour into a lined loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Alternatively, pour into 12 muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes. It's done when a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cake cooler.
- Pam

Monday 26 November 2007

One of the great mysteries - Alcohol and the British

I have never understood the British attitude to alcoholic drinks. I've been thinking about it more and more, partially because LBC this morning was reporting a 12% increase in two years in ambulance call-outs in London related to alcohol consumption.

Two years ago, the Government liberalised licensing laws, enabling pubs and bars to stay open to whatever hour they have nominated on their licence application - so called "24 hour drinking". It's easy to blame the change in licensing laws, but I don't think that is the real problem. I think it's the "getting drunk for the sake of getting drunk" culture that exists in this country. In many circles, saying "I was so drunk on Saturday...." and then elaborating on some act of stupidity is a socially acceptable boast.

I've been pondering this for a long time and I don't think I have a solution or an explanation for the drinking culture in this country. Changing the licensing laws back to something more restrictive will just drive drinkers to downing more pints of beer in less time and then going outside to throw it all up. Or the pubs will return to the culture of illicit lock-ins.

I don't think it's a new problem, either. 17 years ago, I worked in the Accident & Emergency Department of a major suburban London hospital; 18 months earlier, I completed my second stint in the Casualty Department at a major, inner-city, Australian hospital. In the UK, we would receive our daily delivery of "PFO's" or "pissed, fell over"; two or three would delivered by ambulance during each day shift, more at night.

You didn't get that in Oz. We would get the odd drunk admitted on a Friday or Saturday night, usually with major injuries, and the occasional hard drinker, often derelicts from local shelters who were regulars known to staff.

I think one big difference in Australia is that people expected to drive to/from their social events - usually there is no alternative. Maybe it's the stringent drink-drive laws, or the daily publication of alcohol related road deaths. Also, the Mediterranean culture of eat-whilst-you-drink has taken hold - most pubs serve food as a matter of course and have facilities for children. Drinking at home is at least as common as it is here, if not more-so since it's the one place you can drink without having to drive afterwards. But people don't seem to get as drunk and I'm not sure why.

Don't get me wrong; I like a glass of wine or a shot of whisky. At last count, we had over 20 bottles of different whiskys in this house, 60 odd bottles of wine and 10 or so different vodkas, as well as numerous other bottles of individual spirits not already listed. However, I drink but I don't like getting drunk. I do not understand it's attraction, nor do I think it is a desirable outcome for an evening out. It seems I'm in the minority.

Can anyone enlighten me?

- Pam

Saturday 24 November 2007

Wash your hands

I'd like to apologise now - I haven't been inspired to write much this week. I guess I've been too tired. I haven't even gone through the photos from the trip to select a few to show off. I've even been to lethargic to cook! (I have to say that having some tubs of base and a few containers of chilli and stew in the freezer have been a godsend.)

So I thought I'd share one piece of useful trivia that I picked up from the Canadian news channel: apparently if you wash your hands at least 5 times a day (presumably in addition to toilet stops), you halve your chances of picking up the common cold. The Canadians are worried about an epidemic of a non-typical strain of the common cold, which the news channel dubbed "the uncommon cold". Unfortunately, I never did learn what the symptoms were; I'd obviously walked in at the wrong end of the news item and missed it being repeated.

As an ex-nurse, I thought I'd pass on the correct way to wash your hands. If you've ever wondered, here is a good "how to". The only things I'd add are:-
  • Start at your finger-tips and work your way down your hands and onto your wrists/forearms.
  • In most respects, it is the friction that kills the bugs (unless you're using a disinfectant soap such as Betadine). It isn't necessary to use a disinfectant soap in normal life, just make sure that you spend enough time washing your hands to do the job. In fact, it is possible to get surgically clean hands after 5 minutes of correct washing, using a basic soap and running water.
  • If you use a cake of soap, ensure it is dry. The BBC did a documentary a few years ago, The Secret Life of the Family, where they demonstrated that your hands would have more bugs on them after washing with soft, damp soap, than before doing so! Apparently, soft, damp, mushy soap is a perfect growth medium.
  • Scrub your nails if you get the chance with a clean, dry nail brush, then wash each finger, move rings up and down to clean beneath them. Move onto the palms, rubbing your knuckles into your palms, followed by the back of your hand.
- Pam

Tuesday 20 November 2007

back home

We flew back from Canada on Saturday night. I got very little sleep on the plane (had a migraine), but the jet-lag didn't really kick in until today (possibly because I was up past midnight re-writing my CV - more on that later).

I'll post some photos, etc, later, but here are some random thoughts about our trip to entertain you:-
  • I didn't knit on the way out. The Air Canada check-in staff advised me to pack my needles into my suitcase.
  • I did knit on the way home. The check-in staff sent DH off to speak to security to ensure they hadn't changed the rules since the last knitter checked in. Security's response was revealing - they couldn't quite comprehend why he was asking the question about such a normal activity. Nobody said anything to me when I went through security nor were there any comments on the plane.
  • Quebec drivers are worse than the British. DH's cousin says they're worse than driving in France.
  • Of the towns we visited, Quebec City was the most tourist friendly, followed by Ottawa.
  • I didn't find any yarn shops, but I didn't get the chance to do much looking. I did, however, manage to pick up two very nice knitted cardigans for reasonable prices.
  • I didn't drive on the wrong side of the road, but I did manage to turn the wrong way down a one-way street.
  • The deep water in a typical North American toilet-bowl still freaks me out. Why, in two countries obsessed by hygiene, do you run the risk of "splash back" every time you go to the toilet??? Drop the water-level guys!
  • I'd forgotten how big trucks could get. Saw my first proper road-train outside Australia.
OK, I'm tired. That's enough for now.

- Pam

PS: On the job front, I had a call yesterday from the recruiter who placed me in my current role. Seems he's set up on his own with some colleagues. Perfect timing. I wandered into the kitchen at work, talked to him for at least 10 minutes and officially started my job search.

Monday 5 November 2007

Waiting for the music to stop

I'm sitting watching yet another program about the current British property boom. The theme is simple - property is being priced out of reach of first time buyers. It's a horror story I've been watching for a while, coupled with the rise in personal debt. According to a statistic I heard tonight, the British have the highest per capita personal debt, including mortgage debt, in the world.

In most respects, I'm really glad DH and I are already on the property ladder. Our house needs work, but it is a solid 1930's semi in an outer London suburb. It isn't our ideal suburb; we procrastinated about house hunting in 2002 and watched houses in our favourite area go up by £100,000. They had been in the £150,000 region; when we started house hunting in January 2003, the cheapest in that neighbourhood was £240,000. That was more than four times our joint salaries. So we started circling outwards until found a house we could afford 7 miles from our original target. If we tried to buy it today, it would be out of our price range.

The property market here is has reached scary levels. I don't understand how "normal" people can now get on the ladder; mortgage companies have been advertising multiples of 5 or 6 times salary but even at those levels most people can't afford a small flat, let alone a family home. The average salary here is approximately £27,000; at five times salary, Joe Average could borrow £135,000. I did a quick search on www.findaproperty.com: he would be lucky to purchase a small studio flat anywhere in London. I counted 5, including one in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (another 20 miles out of Central London from here).

The real question is what will happen now credit is drying up? Wages are rising at 3% per year, whilst house prices are rising at closer to 15%. Employment and salary figures are skewed by the recent influx of Eastern Europeans, who happily take lower wages than existing residents because they don't realise how high cost of living is and/or only plan on working here for a relatively short time until they have improved their English or reach a saving goal. This can't carry on.

Academically, I know how this game will play out. People will borrow money on larger and larger salary multiples until either property prices rise completely out of reach or the banks stop offering them. Those that have borrowed crazy money will find their mortgage payments eating up large proportions of their salaries and disrupting how they'd like to live their lives. Then a crisis will hit, probably in the form of higher interest rates, particularly as long fixed rate mortgages are almost unknown here - most people are on variable rate. The overstretched will survive for a while using their credit cards to supplement their income. And then their personal house of cards will start to topple. And their neighbours. And their friends. Personal tragedies hidden in an avalanche of bankruptcies and repossessions.

It's like an elaborate game of musical chairs, but with consequences. How many people will be damaged, how many homes will be lost, and how many banks fold as a result of debts gone bad, before the music stops?

- Pam

Friday 2 November 2007

What to take with me?

We're off to Montreal in a week, to visit family. If I'm lucky, that'll mean 18 hours of knitting time on various planes plus whatever knitting time I can squeeze in whilst we're there. (It isn't guaranteed that I'll be able to take my needles onto the plane - I'll ask at check-in.)

I'm currently knitting the Soft Sweater With A Patterned Yoke that I wrote about way back in April. It's fairly mindless knitting (my favourite kind - you just motor along) and the Rowan Tapestry yarn flows through my fingers. The yarn is a single ply, soft with a slight halo and a tendency to untwist as it gets wrapped around my right needle.

The colourway is "Lead Mine", multiple shades of grey from pale to almost black. Unfortunately, the camera has given it a faint purple hue in this photo. It's got much more of a stripe than I really wanted (I was hoping for a more graduated flow of colours with bigger blocks of shading), but the finished sweater should look nice.

Anyway, my question is: what knitting do I take with me? I have several pairs of socks promised for Christmas; since I think they're more likely to allow bamboo dpns on a plane than metal/resin ended circulars (garrote anyone?), I was planning on sock knitting on the flight. Should I just focus on socks or should I take this sweater along too, to knit in the evenings at DH's aunt's?

- Pam

PS: Why do I knit socks with bamboo dpns? Aside from the minimal noise issue (no clack-clack), it's because they bend under pressure and look like they'd snap. Much less threatening to airport security. Of course, only an idiot would snap a bamboo dpn - they're far more valuable whole.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Knitting to show off

Here is the gaggle of socks I've knitted since our first Proms concert in mid-July. I've made completed 4 pairs now, all knitted on buses, the London Underground, train journeys and at concerts.

They're all made using leftovers from 100g balls of Opal self-patterning sock yarn, mixed with suitable contrasts. Do you recognise the ones on the right? They were the ones for which I couldn't find a suitable contrast yarn (from this post). Lisa Souza came to my rescue (thanks for the referral, Tama).

Yes, the second blue sock is missing - this was taken before the NFL match.

I've also completed the snowflake sweater. No, I can't model it. It's too small! Even though I based it on the largest size given in a 1942 Vogue pattern and double checked my gauge, it is tiny. The original had typical war-time styling (narrow sleeves, fitted waist), but had been revised for a 1980s publication "Knitting in Vogue", edited by Christina Probert. There was no mention of the massive amount of NEGATIVE ease I've encountered. I knitted the largest size (36 inches) based on bust measurement. Just as well I've lost 18.5 lb so far on Weight Watchers - I think I'll need to lose another 12 before this fits nicely and I doubt it'll ever do up properly over my bust.

I followed the Vogue pattern for the shaping. My modifications were the v-neckline, changing the bands, the snowflakes and the Swedish Stars on the shoulders. The whole design was inspired by the grey and white bands on this sock.

- Pam