Meat Free Monday: Sneaky Ingredients

I just wanted to talk today briefly about the ingredients in food.  I know most vegans check their food religiously, but recipes change and vegetarians often don’t actually check ingredients (I’ve only ever met one who did, and he doesn’t bother any more).  That’s not a criticism it’s an observation.  We tend to rely on Good Faith, you know, you like to think, “how could fizzy orange juice POSSIBLY contain dead fish?” And they lull you into a false sense of security because you are a reasonable person and don’t want to be paranoid about whether there’s cow in your cake or what not.

So here’s some foods you need to be aware of as a VEGETARIAN (vegans, some of these foods are not for you):

1. Cheese:  A lot of cheese (especially in the US) these days is made using vegetarian rennet.  Some cheese (most traditional stuff) is still made using parts of sheep stomachs.  If it doesn’t say “vegetarian rennet” or “suitable for vegetarians” it almost certainly is not.

2. Marshmallows:  Made with gelatine.  Vegi mallows exist, but they tend to be super-expensive and all the recipes I’ve seen don’t yield the right results (although I’ve had to stop questing for this one in the past couple of months – I’ve cut sugar out to improve my mood stability).

3. Beer and lager:  When I was on a tour of Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire, I asked the tour guide, “is it vegetarian?” She said “the fish guts aren’t still in the beer when you drink it, so yes, we would say it is vegetarian.”  Obviously this is a crock of crap, and the fact of the matter is, fish died to make their beer whether they care to accept that this is the case or not.  Many other brands do the same.  Fanta did, too, for a while, but I’m not sure if they still do, as, last time I checked (2011), there were specific types of Fanta that definitely did (post mix syrup) and specific types that probably didn’t (cans).

4. Jelly sweets: Again it’s the gelatine.  Quelle surprise.

5. Anything fortified with “omega 3 and 6”: For example food marketed at children.  Heinz spaghetti shapes used to do it but they have stopped now and it’s 100% vegan again.  omega 3 and 6 can come from veg*an sources but the companies do generally get it from fish, this will always be stated in the ingredients.

6. Thai green curry, Thai red curry, ready made sauces:  Every single brand of Thai curry sauce that’s available in the supermarket in the UK makes it with either shrimp or anchovy paste which means they’re not vegetarian or vegan.  Some of them also contain milk.  They didn’t all used to have fish in them, but standards have clearly gone downhill in the past few years.  If you love Thai curry, get some coconut cream and the Thai curry paste, and make your own, it’s dead easy (I’ll go through it very soon).

7. “Freefrom” rocky road: This contains gelatine in the marshmallows, even though (annoyingly) it’s usually otherwise vegan and always gluten free.  Watch out for this one if someone buys it for you.

8. Refined sugar:  In the United States this is often refined with bone meal.  In the UK I have never come across this.  Tate and Lyle and Silver Spoon both don’t use bone meal, it’s just sugar, so theirs is vegetarian and vegan.  As far as I am aware, all other sugar in the UK is also fine.  I wanted to bring it up though in case you go to the US (or, if you come over here, feel free to stock up on British grown, animal free sugar, I don’t think customs limits export on it so bring a suitcase).

9. Walkers “meaty” crisps (potato chips):  In the past two years, walkers have made a move backwards towards the dark ages (I guess it upset them that they finally made their cheese and onion crisps vegetarian a few years ago).  Obviously they’re not happy if they’re not killing animals for seasonings, so their Smokey Bacon contains pork, their Roast Chicken contains chicken, and the Prawn Cocktail is still completely vegan, as are the Worcester Sauce, Salt and Vinegar (yes they stopped filling them with lactose a couple of years ago) and of course Ready Salted.  I’m not sure about their less “standard” flavours but do check before putting them in your mouth.

Those are the sneakiest ones I’ve found and which I feel don’t really need animals in them to make them tasty or edible or even chemically stable.  It’s just gratuitous.  But now you know.  And the more you know… (add your own to the comments, as long as it’s the most recent ingredients as they change unexpectedly)…

Note: This is prescheduled, I’ll reply to comments when I get back.

What is Micellar Water? CAUTION: SCIENCE!!

I’m away until Mon/Tue, this is prescheduled.  What is micellar water?
Are you someone who sees a new word and wonders what it means? I was looking into whey protein substitutes today and learned that the word “micellar” isn’t just a brand name. It’s a biological term, and I’m going to explain it to you in the most straightforward way I can, without dumbing it down. For me, it’s been interesting to put a name to a scientific process that I know well – it happens every time I wash my hands.  There is a glossary under the first picture to help with key terms.

What is a micelle?
It’s a collection of surfactant molecules that are dispersed in a liquid colloid. In an aqueous solution (a liquid made of mostly water), the surfactant usually has a head that is attracted to water (called a hydrophilic head) and a tail that is repelled by water (a hydrophobic tail). Soap forms surfactants, and the tail buries itself in the dirt in your hands, then the head pulls that dirt away by being attracted to the water from the tap.

Because the heads love water and the tails hate it, if you put a collection of surfactants in water, the heads which love water all want to be as close to the water as possible, and the tails want to get away, so if there’s enough of them and its warm enough, they form 3D balls like this one:

micelle diagram
This is known as a micelle.

surfactants: These are something you find in soap, shampoo, and household cleaning products such as washing up liquid, laundry detergent and bleach, it’s a type of molecule that cleans things. Imagine it looking a bit like a tadpole, except it’s not a living thing.

dispersed: When molecules split up and move around in a liquid without dissolving, they are said to have dispersed. Football fans disperse after the game ends.

colloid: A colloid is a liquid that is full of particles that haven’t dissolved but have still mixed into the liquid so it doesn’t feel grainy or gritty usually. An example is milk. Another example is any emulsion such as paint.

How do scientists get them to form in micellar water?
It takes two things to make them form, because naturally, the surfactants just float to the edges of the liquid where the tails can be away from the water. To make a micelle, you need (drum roll please, these two factors are what makes most chemical reactions happen)… higher temperature and higher concentration. That’s because of something you should have learned around age 15 in school science – collision theory. You probably know the process even though you might not have been able to put a name to it. Basically, all chemical reactions can only happen if two things collide with each other. If they don’t make that connection, they will go about their separate ways and nothing changes. It’s like how two people can’t make a baby if they’ve never met (assuming they’re not doing it in a lab). So collision theory says there’s a few things that can increase the chance of those collisions taking place, which increases the amount of a product we can make with the ingredients. The three things that affect the rate of a reaction (usually) are temperature, concentration of reactants (ingredients), and pressure. Technically, it all comes down to pressure, but we usually split it out into the causes of the pressure (temperature and concentration) to make it more clear so people can repeat the experiment. Experiments have to be repeatable.
So they heat the water and surfactants, they add loads and loads of surfactants to the water, and they get these micelles, which are basically balls of soap that are effectively stuck in the water, because the water-loving heads are all facing outwards.

What’s so special about micelles? Why is micellar water the Next Big Thing?
Firstly, it’s got the word “water” in the name so it appeals to the all-natural crowd. Secondly, it’s got soap in it. So it’s going to get you clean.

Micelles, as we said above, are only formed in very high concentrations of your surfactant, and because it forms those protective spheres, it’s less harsh on your skin, your hair, etc, than lower concentrations. A good example of this is sodium laureth sulphate. I’ve said before that, as a surfactant (a cleaning thing), it’s pretty damn good. In lower concentrations, it’s known to be quite harsh on the skin and hair – so the less you use at any given time, the more it will dry your skin or hair out. How can this be? How does this possibly make sense? Imagine the surfactants, the tiny molecules of sodium laureth sulphate, as sharp sticks:

surfactant sticks micellar

When the sticks are on their own, and facing in every direction, they will poke you and hurt you. When they are arranged like this, they can’t hurt you because the sharp bits are all facing each other in a big sphere that protects you:

micelle diagram sticks sphere
In detergents, soaps, and other surfactants, the pointy end is not a sharp stick, it’s actually a tail (although technically that’s still an analogy). It doesn’t like water, so it buries itself into the dirt in your hands, so that, when the water is washed off, the heads (which love water) swim away and the tails are still holding the bits of dirt. The problem comes when there isn’t enough dirt and that’s when it causes dry skin and hair – when they bury themselves in the natural oils of your skin and hair, the ones you want to keep, and then they swim away with them.

So what use is a micelle in water? If there’s no tails, how does it get the dirt off?
It makes surfaces easier to clean, by lowering the surface tension of water. This makes it easier to get into all the nooks and crannies (when you wipe a cloth over a surface, for example), and is also used for washing clothes. It has loads of uses inside the human body such as to get pharmaceuticals to release in a certain place or at a certain time, and special micelles in your liver (formed from fatty acids) are what absorb key vitamins including vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin D. What it can’t do, is get grease out, or anything else that won’t just wipe off. So micellar water will work a bit better than plain water, but not as well as real soap, but the micellar water will be less drying to the skin or hair.
So effectively, Micellar Water is very watered down inactive soap. It will get you clean because it has the exact same properties as any surfactant, and it will be gentle because it’s very watered down and all the pointy bits are facing inwards.

Have you tried micellar water? What do you think of it?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll reply when I get back 🙂

Anything Can Happen At A Festival…

It’s anything can happen Thursday and I’m going to Download Festival on a three night camping ticket until Monday.   I have ordered a tipi for the camping to happen in.  When I return, I can tick the following bands off my bands bucket list:

(ahem)
Motley Crue
Billy Idol
Kiss
Dragonforce
Muse
Apocalyptica
Judas Priest

And possibly Alice Cooper if he’s making a surprise guest appearance (it’s a possibility, because he’s supporting Motley Crue on their farewell tour and is playing at all the other festivals that they’re doing).

Also I will see Slipknot, Lacuna Coil and possibly Marilyn Manson (possibly not, the set timings have NOT been thought out very well on the Saturday) although these aren’t on the bands bucket list – the list of bands I want to see before THEY kick the bucket.

Still, exciting times. I’m a little nervous as I’ve never camped at a festival before (last year we got a day ticket for the one day all our favourite bands were playing on, and got to see Iron Maiden, Slayer and Anthrax on one day), and I’m going with my best friend rather than my husband so I am concerned that I might not sleep so well. Add to that, the tent arrived while I was on the school run, literally two minutes before I got home, and now I’ve got to collect it from the depot this evening (they very specifically said I could only collect it at 6:30… bizarre), and it will need waterproofing (which I knew when I ordered it) and I am still off alcohol and sugar for reasons of sanity, and no, that’s NO pressure at all.

Still, I’m sure it will be great. I felt like backing out of Lynyrd Skynyrd at the last minute and it turned out to be the most awesomest show ever.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, the most recent band that I ticked off my bands bucket list.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, the most recent band that I ticked off my bands bucket list.

Wedding Wednesday: The Rings

I struggled to write an introductory paragraph for this post on choosing wedding rings, buying them, etc, but I hope this post is helpful for anyone struggling with decisions such as: “Is it okay to buy a second hand vintage wedding ring?” Or: “Is tungsten carbide a good material for a wedding ring?” The answer is yes to both, by the way.

My ring was £249.99 from a Vintage/2nd hand shop in Bradford.  It is platinum and 1/2 carat diamond (round cut) solitaire in size J, because I have tiny fingers.  It took ages to find because a) A lot of jewellers don’t stock my size b) I was very indecisive.

I looked at a lot of things and I fell in love with an antique 1920s ruby ring that was sadly sold before we could afford to buy it (I’m glad, though, now) and later, I nearly bought an opal and 9 carat yellow gold dress ring (5 opals in a row).  The reason I didn’t (I was literally on the payment screen) was because I realized I have to wear this ring every day.  Every single day.  So I needed it to be fit for purpose.  Opals have a big drawback – their beautiful colours are caused by water trapped under the surface of the stone.  If you get them wet over a period of time, that water comes out and you are left with something that looks like a white plastic bead (I should know, I have a lot of opals in my crystal and mineral collection).  This means I would need to take my ring off like, all the time (I wash my hands a LOT and I do all the cleaning in my house).  That wasn’t what I wanted to have to do with my wedding ring.  Additionally, I wanted something that looked equally at home if I was wearing my ripped denim jacket or my beautiful wedding dress.  I needed something neutral, that looked good all the time.  So I chose a diamond, and I chose a silver metal for travel reasons – if I’m travelling, chances are, people will disregard it as a silver/cubic zirconia ring and not worth stealing.   An advantage of it being second hand is that its recommended retail price is £1700, so someone else absorbed that depreciation, and another advantage is that there’s less pressure on me, as it’s not perfect or pristine, just like me (not that you can tell from glancing at it).  Taking the pressure off the bride was the only way I was going to walk down that aisle, so YAY.  Before this, I had an engagement ring made of white gold, diamond and tanzanite, I got it for about £39.99 from Argos on offer, it went up to over £79.99 and stayed there for years, and I don’t know if they’re still selling it.  We got engaged in 2011.

My future husband chose a tungsten carbide alloy ring with the “One Ring” inscription from Lord Of The Rings.  It’s durable, it was cheap (like, under £10), and he assures me that it is comfortable to wear.  He doesn’t generally wear it; he seems to struggle with rings, and I think a lighter ring would have been easier for him to keep on his finger, but he wanted this one, so most of the time it lives on the mantelpiece in our living room.  His engagement ring was £19.99 from Argos; it was stainless steel with a Greek key pattern on it.

Our wedding rings.
Our wedding rings.  If you squint you can see the inscription on his.

Would you buy a second hand or vintage wedding ring?  Let me know in the comments.

Meat Free Monday: Lentil Moong Dal

The first time I had dal (or dhal, never sure how to spell it) I hated it!  I was at a fancy restaurant where they served up mushy, flavourless stuff that was like yellow mash potato!

The second time I had it, I was at a Nepalese restaurant (the Yak and Yeti Gurkha Restaurant, York, loads of vegan options and very good value for money) and it was wonderful.

Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.
Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.

I went home and did a few experiments before landing on my own lentil dhal recipe, something delicate but tasty:

1. Yellow mung dhal (moong daal) lentils.  I buy the ones that don’t need to be soaked.

2. Fresh (chopped) or dried coriander (aka cilantro) (2 tsp)

3. Bhuna or balti paste (a tablespoon is ample), or if you can’t find the paste, use a quarter of a jar of the sauce instead.  Patak’s do a nice one.

Get a fine meshed sieve and wash your mung dhal lentils until they are clumping together – this removes some of the starch.

Pop them into a saucepan and cover with boiling water.  Add a teaspoon of coriander (cilantro).  Simmer for about 30-50 minutes, depending on how mushy you want it.

When it has softened enough, drain and add the bhuna paste or sauce (or balti), and stir it into the dhal, stirring in the rest of the coriander (cilantro).  Leave on a very low heat for at least 10 minutes so the flavour penetrates the lentils.  Stir regularly so it doesn’t burn the bottom of the pan.

Serve in a bowl, either on its own or with rice.

Nutrition: Gluten free, dairy free, 80g of moong dal lentils are one of your five a day (and a separate one to regular lentils because they come from different species of plant), 30g of protein per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils and 45g of carbohydrate per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils.

Meet Our Rabbits

So I thought after all these months, it might be nice to actually introduce our rabbits to you.  I know I put lots of pictures of them up and obviously do all the rabbit care articles as well, so let’s go through them, in order of when we got them:

Banacek (2012-present):

Banacek when he had up ears.
Banacek when he had up ears.

Banacek is a mostly white, with brown splodgy bits on his fur, that used to look exactly like someone had drizzled treacle on his back when he was a baby.  Now he is an adult, it looks more like a respectable snowy camouflage.  We got him in April 2012, the week after Mother’s Day (UK edition, usually 2 months earlier than everyone else has it).  We bought him brand new from Pets At Home because there were no adoption bunnies in a 50 mile radius, and there hadn’t been for months and months (literally, I bought hay, toys and a food bowl for a new rabbit about 7 months before we finally gave up on getting an adopted bunny and just bought one).  He had up ears when we first got him, but after about a year they both gradually became lop ears, apparently this happens sometimes with particular cross breeds where the genes can’t make their minds up whether to give the rabbits up or down ears.  For a while he had helicopter ears, and even now, one of his ears is much more lop than the other.  After about a year, we realised he was profoundly lonely, and given that we weren’t allowed a bunny in our house, we started to look for a new house of our very own so we could bring a friend home for him to adore.  It took a ridiculous length of time but we found our perfect house and then we looked for a friend for him.  He likes to jump on the sofa and try to drink my tea (with soya milk and no sugar, of course – the bunnies are lactose intolerant and I have a milk allergy).  He also has developed a habit of trying to steal my toast in the mornings.

Cleo (2005 to present, we had her 2013-present):

Cleo in front of her home with Banacek.
Cleo (on top of the toy) in front of her home with Banacek (inside the toy).

When we were looking for a friend for Banacek, we were sure that we wanted someone who was adoptable, since we felt bad that we had bought Banacek, even though there were no adoption bunnies at the time.  We looked everywhere but there were no female rabbits for adoption.  Banacek was a male and we knew he hadn’t got on with other males since he’d been neutered at 7 months old, because he had regular playdates with my friend’s rabbits.  At long last, we found an advert on Gumtree.  There were three rabbits up for adoption, all Netherland Dwarf bunnies, about 15 miles from where we lived.  The owners were emigrating.  We phoned and asked questions.  We were initially disappointed, as the female hadn’t been neutered, and neither had one of the males, and the males were kept separate from the female, and they were all eight and a half years old.  We knew bunnies could live to see a decade, but I also knew that this was not always the reality of having a bunny, and I didn’t want my current rabbit to be lonely again in six months if his new friend died.  This was in September 2013.  We asked if we could arrange an introduction, and the following day, we took Banacek on the car ride that would change his life.

Cleo, Sebastian and Neville’s former owners had two outdoor runs, where the bunnies played out all day during the day, then went back to their hutches at night time.  We put Banacek in to meet Cleo.  At first she was terrified – Cleo had never seen such a big rabbit!  She wouldn’t stop running away and we didn’t think this was going to work – she was such an elderly bunny, and Banacek was so young and full of the joys of spring, that it looked doomed to fail.  We left them alone for half an hour, though, and Cleo started offering her nose to Banacek.  Netherland Dwarves do this to say hello, and other bunnies don’t do it as much, so it was astounding to us when Banacek offered his nose back!  He had never done this on any of his playdates with other buns the same size as him!  They soon were chasing each other as a game, rather than out of fear.  Three days later, we brought Banacek back, to check whether they were still going to get on or not, and they remembered each other straight away (which rabbit care websites claim is impossible).  The hardest part was having to put them in separate boxes to get them back down the motorway to our home, as they didn’t want to be apart!

We put them in the living room and let them play together.  I was still worried about leaving them unsupervised so I put Cleo in her hutch outside every night at bedtime, because she is such a tiny rabbit and I didn’t want to close her into Banacek’s hutch in the living room until we knew he was happy for her to be in there – and for about two months, she showed no interest in going into his hutch to explore.  One day, though, she had a bit of a cut on her nose and I wanted to keep her in as the weather was getting colder, so I put her into Banacek’s hutch, ready to pull her out again at the first sign of trouble, but she was ok, he was ok, and we came downstairs the next morning to find them snuggled together on the bottom floor of the hutch.  We did have to make some reasonable adjustments to the hutch as it was designed for a bigger rabbit and Cleo couldn’t climb up to the higher platforms, but once we put extra climbing blocks in for her to get onto, she was soon on the top floor at night time with Banacek – which was his favourite spot!

Cute flopsy fluffy snuggly bunnies

Neville (2005-2015; we had him 2013-2015)

Neville, our little Netherland Dwarf bunny.
Neville, our little Netherland Dwarf bunny.

Neville and Sebastian were twin brothers, and were from the same litter as Cleo.  When we went to get Cleo, my husband fell in love with the boys too.  The only problem?  Banacek didn’t get on with them.  After a couple of scuffles we had to give up on the idea of a rabbit foursome in our living room, so we then had to think seriously about what to do.  We decided that, if we only wanted to get rabbits to be friends with Banacek, then perhaps we shouldn’t get any rabbits at all, not even Cleo, because in our eyes they wouldn’t all be equals.  We re-examined why we wanted rabbits at all, and came to the conclusion that if we brought Sebastian and Neville home, it would be because we liked them and wanted them to be happy in a new home, not with any kind of illusions that they would ever be friends with Banacek (but it would be great if they ever did).  My husband decided he liked them anyway, and so they came home with us too.

Neville was always the loudest, most energetic of the two.  He was the one who had been neutered, and he was definitely the dominant twin.  Sebastian was a quieter bunny and liked to sleep for long hours, while Neville was the most playful little bun, always starting games with his brother.  More than that, they had never been apart since they were conceived by their parents.  When Neville got attacked by Fifer, later on, we took Sebastian to the vet with him to keep Neville’s stress down, and kept them both in the bathroom for a while, until Neville had healed.

Neville went on to make a full recovery, but about eight months later, just one month before his tenth birthday, we found him dead in a corner of his hutch.  We left him out for the other bunnies to see, as this helps them with their grief (if they don’t see the dead bunny, they will assume they are out somewhere, and will sit and wait for them to come home for weeks).  We buried him in our back garden the next evening.

Sebastian (2005-present, we had him 2013-present)

We didn’t think that Sebastian would cope without Neville, and watching him grieve was profoundly sad – if we’d had to guess, we both expected Sebastian to go first, not Neville, as he was less active and often didn’t leave his hutch during the day.  We thought he was winding down in life.  It’s five months later, and Sebastian is still going, still just as inactive as ever.  Occasionally we see him running round, but not often.  We tried introducing him to other bunnies, but it turns out that he wants some peace and quiet in his retirement, and hasn’t been particularly kind to Fifer when we tried to get them to be friends.  We are letting him have his own space as he seems content with the friendship that Katie and Fifer keep offering him through the fences between their rabbit runs, but face to face he is less than polite to them.

Sebastian and Neville snuggled together in the summer.
Sebastian and Neville snuggled together in the summer.

Fifer (2014 to present)

Fifer, enjoying a brisk morning hop.
Fifer, enjoying a brisk morning hop.

When I first saw Fifer in Pets At Home, he was 3 months old, and named Clover, and they thought he was a girl.  I thought she was the most adorable little bunny I’d ever seen, and she clearly was annoyed that she was up for adoption, disliking the attention,  preferring instead to hide in a tunnel so only her back legs and tail were visible.  She was a beautiful wild-looking bunny, and when I asked the store manager if I could handle her, she attacked him viciously, covering his hands in angry bloody scratches in seconds.  They clearly had a history.  The second he passed her to me, Clover stretched out her nose and snuffled mine, to see if I was friendly.  Then, when I brought her closer to me, she licked my face and snuggled into my neck.  She came home that same day, I didn’t care that we already had four rabbits (and really, I had shared ownership of Banacek, who is his own bunny, Banacek has Cleo, and my husband has Sebastian and Neville, so Clover would be a bunny just for me), she was my little darling.  I had high hopes that she would integrate with Cleo and Banacek, and offset how hard it was going to be for Banacek when Cleo died, as Cleo was 9 years old at this point.  Hilariously, I booked her in for a spay, and cried when I gave her to the vet to sort out.  The vet took a look and pronounced her male.  So we changed her name to Fifer.  Fifer got neutered, a procedure I was far less stressed about, and he came home and we stopped trying to introduce him to the other rabbits.  We gave him his own section of the garden to play in, which he really liked.  After about three or four months, though, he seemed really bored and disinterested in life.  He just sat in the same spot, day after day, staring wistfully at Sebastian and Neville.  We’d tried to get them to make friends before, and it had all gone wrong, so we didn’t want to try again until we were certain they would be okay.  Fifer had other ideas.

I came downstairs one morning to find Sebastian and Neville’s rabbit run strewn with fur, Banacek was sitting at the front of his run, staring into the kitchen window (he lived outside all of last summer) and Cleo, Fifer, Sebastian and Neville were nowhere to be seen.  I went straight outside, concerned that the boys had been fighting, and I was very surprised to see Fifer sitting in Sebastian and Neville’s run, looking like that girl at the start of Battle Royale.  I scooped him up and popped him on his own side of the run, and he had the sense to stay there.  I opened the shed doors to get to Sebastian and Neville’s hutch and found Sebastian trying to bite my hand, clearly trying to protect Neville, who was very very badly injured and had taken himself off to a quiet corner to die.  I ran to the house and grabbed a rabbit carrier, brought it back to the hutch, carefully extricated Sebastian, then even more carefully got Neville into the carrier, trying not to hurt him more by picking him up.  I left the other bunnies where they were, closed the runs and gave the vet a heads up that I was coming in with an emergency, and drove straight to the vets.  After 4 hours of surgery and three hours of recovery, I got a phone call telling me Neville was going to live, but we needed to keep him indoors for two weeks and give him strong painkillers and antibiotics and examine his wounds several times a day.

This is what Fifer did to Neville.  The saddest bit was that he lost a part of his ear.
This is what Fifer did to Neville. The saddest bit was that he lost a part of his ear.

We didn’t know what to do about Fifer.  We were obviously very angry, hurt and upset that he had gone out of his way to try to kill Neville, but we also knew that every time we’d tried to introduce them, Neville had attacked Fifer.  Fifer had learned this behaviour from Neville.  My husband suggested taking Fifer to the RSPCA, and we discussed whether we thought that what he had done was bad enough to warrant him being put to sleep.  I was heartbroken, and I didn’t think it was fair on Fifer, that he was such a young rabbit, not even a year old, for his life to be over when he had his whole life ahead of him.  It was the hardest thing we had ever faced with our rabbits, and I felt awful for bringing Fifer home in the first place.  I think this was when we realized he was at least a half-wild rabbit, and when we researched them, we found out he has the right shapes and behaviours to be at least part wild.  Our best guess is half-wild, half-Netherland Dwarf.  Despite all my negative feelings, I also felt that I had a responsibility towards Fifer.  He was my bunny, where none of the others were in the same way.  I went out to see him after two days of not looking at him when I fed him, and I picked him up, and I just held him and cried, because he was my little bunny and I didn’t know how he could do such an awful thing to another bunny.  He just snuggled me, but I could tell he knew he’d crossed a line.  But I’ve crossed lines in the past, and felt like there was no redemption in sight, like I would never be able to make things right, and I knew how Fifer felt.  So I made the decision that any mother would.  I bought him a bigger, new hutch all of his own, I got my husband to build it, I placed it in the living room, and I moved Fifer indoors.  I decided that if he was too wild, then we needed to bring him in so he could be around us and learn how to be more domesticated.  After about three months of taking it in turns with Banacek and Cleo to be indoors for the day, and always sleeping indoors at night, Fifer had shown a great improvement in his behaviour.  He stopped acting in fear and started feeling more confident.  That was about the time when I saw Katie.

Katie (2013 to present, we adopted in late 2014)

This was Katie Bunny's enclosure in the adoptable area at Pets at Home
This was Katie Bunny’s enclosure in the adoptable area at Pets at Home

Katie was (you guessed it) another adoptable from Pets at Home.  She actually came from the same holding enclosure as Fifer.  Her story was that she was dumped outside my vets in a cardboard box one night, so they passed her on to Pets At Home.  When I first saw her, I was very excited because I thought she was the perfect size to be safely paired with Fifer.  When I took Fifer for his vaccinations, I asked the vet about her, and she said that Katie had a lovely temperament and would probably get on with Fifer.  The best guess is that she’s two years old, but nobody really knows.  She was already microchipped and neutered when we got her.  I went to Pets At Home and arranged an introduction between Katie and Fifer.  There was uncertainty, there was scuffling, but ultimately, Fifer learned that this ginormous female marmalade bunny was just immune to his aggression.  She would literally just lie down and ignore him.  When she got bored, she’d lunge at him then go back to sleep.  After two hours of introduction, we decided they were getting along.  We didn’t take her until the Saturday, when we took Fifer back, expecting to have to re-introduce them.  They remembered each other, though, and shared a bowl of vegetables.  They were so friendly, I brought them both back in the dog box that we’d brought Fifer in (Katie was too big for those cardboard Pets at Home boxes), and when we got home and I opened the box, they just lay in there together for about an hour before coming out.  Katie moved into Fifer’s hutch straight away, and they’ve never been apart since.  Katie thinks she’s the size of Fifer, and he seems to think he’s the size of Katie; she’s very timid, and I don’t know what happened before we got her, as she has a lot of fears and hang-ups, but Fifer looks after her and makes her feel safe.  In return, she seems to have helped Fifer to become a kinder, more loving rabbit.  I would never separate them.

Katie and Fifer in the living room after a hard day's play.
Katie and Fifer in the living room after a hard day’s play.

So that’s all our bunnies.  We reconfigure who lives where on a regular basis so they all get their fair share of life indoors and outdoors, and we’ve just bought a new hutch (a £30 fixer upper two storey ex display model, down from £99, from Pets At Home) so Banacek and Cleo can move out for the summer to keep them cooler, and so we can get Katie and Fifer back indoors and spend more time with them.

Rome in A Day (and pushchair, wheelchair accessibility)

So, unless you believe it was beamed here by aliens, most people can agree that Rome wasn’t built in a day, yada yada yada.

However, it can be visited in a day (although you will miss out on loads).  Here’s the 5 things to see/do if you only have one day in Rome, I’ve included accessibility information for wheelchairs and pushchairs because I know a few people who have been put off going to Rome due to a perceived lack of accessibility:

5. The Spanish Steps – I really liked them, and I used a network of back alleys to get to the top, just as it was going dark, then climbed down, because it was actually less touristy to do it that way around and we only got harassed by two flower sellers at the top, not the zillion or so at the bottom, because I realized I couldn’t get a good shot from the bottom so I bought a postcard instead.

Spanish Steps Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s a monumental staircase.  The back way isn’t totally wheelchair friendly, if you’re a solo wheelchair traveller you would be disappointed, but it’s one flight of stairs after a bit of a hill (see my first picture, that’s the back way not the actual Spanish steps, which are much less accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, particularly due to size and shape of the steps, as well as crowds), so if you’ve got a carer with you, you might be able to possibly get to the top (depending on your circumstances).  Personally, I would have flagged down a strong person to help me lift the wheelchair to get my mum up these steps if I’d taken her (if she’d wanted to see the top, and obviously at a time when I was still caring for her), but obviously it depends on how comfortable you are with doing that.  No way in hell I would have got an electric wheelchair up these steps or a scooter, unless it was a child’s.  This is also the way up that I’d recommend if you’ve got a pushchair, pram or buggy.  If you look at a map of Rome, just trace back from the top of the Spanish steps down some alleys (alleys are a bit hilly) to see how to get up here.

The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.
The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.  Note these aren’t the actual Spanish steps, this is a MUCH shorter, shallower staircase.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps.  My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps. My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.

4.  The Trevi Fountain would usually come here, but due to current renovations it’s actually empty and covered with scaffolding at the moment.

The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014
The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014

Instead, I’m going to bump up The Pantheon, which has had all its repairs completed and is fully open.  I first saw the Pantheon in 2007, when it was covered in indoor scaffolding, and I was very pleasantly surprised this time that it was restored to its stunning former glory with nary a builder in sight.  It’s well worth a visit and when you do, look up at the ceiling as well.

The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible.  Entry is free.
The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible. Entry is free.

Trevi Fountain Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s all flat ground to get to the Trevi Fountain, but you can’t actually get to it, usually at Easter and Summer there are huge crowds, so I’m not sure how you would get to the front to see anything, also the actual sides of the Trevi Fountain are quite high to stop people falling in, so you might need to either stand up (if you are able) or get someone to lift you to see all of it.  It’s 100% pushchair accessible, though.  With the current glass floor, if your wheelchair isn’t too wide, you could get to see the current renovations up close before they restore it to its former anarchic glory.

Pantheon Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

The Pantheon is totally accessible by wheelchair and inside is nice shiny flat floorage and wide thoroughfares.

3.  Eat At A Pavement Cafe – one of my most memorable experiences each time I go to Rome is the food.  Yeah, it’s somewhat overpriced, and yes, it’s just pasta/pizza at most eateries.  But when it’s 9pm, the heat of the day is still in the air, the twinkling fairy lights are on above you, and some guy with an accordion is busking up and down the street, eating a pizza at a pavement cafe, either with someone you care about or solo, is one of the finest eating experiences of my life.  “But you have a milk allergy!” I hear you declare (or if you know me less well, “but you’re vegan!” which has only been since January)  I found this awesome place where the owner was really helpful and did me a dairy free pizza with no cheese, and the base was dairy free anyway, so that was fantastic.  I was very excited to have a vegetable pizza.  Mine cost 7 Euros, my drink (Sprite) was 4 Euros.

This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza.  They didn't overcharge us, either.
This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza. They didn’t overcharge us, either.

Pavement Cafe Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility: 

Pretty much every pavement cafe is wheelchair accessible, you can just roll up and they’ll pull the chair away from the table if you don’t want it, and they will bring everything to you, like they do for everyone else, although there’s often a step or three to get inside and toilets (where they have one) are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair, baby changing stations are also non-existent.

2.  The Coliseum – Being an archaeology graduate, Rome means Ancient Rome to me.  Getting to see the Coliseum (some nations spell it Colloseum, or Coloseo) and actually stand where thousands of people stood, watching the games that used to go on, wondering what they thought and how they responded when they saw such spectacles… that’s just tremendous for me.  While here, I bought a 7 Euro guidebook for the Forum and Palatine, because you get a combined ticket (which is easier to obtain from the forum with less queueing, but I did the coliseum first).

The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after (I think it was Caligula) renovated from the original dirt floor.
The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after Domitian (the original builder Vespasian’s son) renovated from the original dirt floor and added the top layer of seating, doing both in wood, which was later fire damaged around AD217.

Coliseum Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

There is a lift to get to the top stone floor where you can look at the actual arena, and the exhibition area, although once you’re up there, I don’t think the actual monument has wide enough walkways for a standard wheelchair plus hand clearance, so you’d have to go back to the lift to get back down again.  I’m not sure I’d pay full price for this, and I don’t know how wheelchair friendly the lower levels are, where only the guided tours are allowed, because I didn’t want to pay for a tour guide.  There were plenty of people with pushchairs at all levels of the coliseum.

1. The Roman Forum and palatine – There’s no decorum in the forum!  Depending which path you take from the entrance, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just a big hill with not a lot of interesting stuff on it, without any plaques etc to tell you what’s going on.  Go back to the entrance and either go right or straight on, rather than left, and you go round the hill to it’s foot, where you will see the most awesome remains, such as these, which made me wonder if I’d wandered onto the set of Xena, Warrior Princess:

I wish my house looked like this.
I wish my house looked like this.
This copper door is still keeping this building's contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built.  I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside...
This copper door is still keeping this building’s contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built. I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside…
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome.  This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome. This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.

Roman Forum and Palatine Wheelchair and Pushchair Accessibility:

The Forum’s accessibility is surprisingly good.  Another reason why it’s scored quite highly on this list.  There is a separate entrance for wheelchairs and pushchairs, with a lift to get to the correct level.  You can’t get to the Palatine at all as far as I can see but the Forum’s where all the best stuff is (all the above photos are of the Forum) and you can get around most of it that’s all on the same level.  If I was in a wheelchair or planning a trip for someone in a wheelchair, I’d have no worries about the Roman Forum.

Hat Tip:

And I also strongly recommend that you take a hat and plenty of water.  I had water (and there’s a hosepipe in the coliseum where you can refill although the water quality is not quite British tap water quality, something I gladly pay my water bills for back home) but I had no hat, and I still got heat exhaustion after 24 hours in Rome using factor 50 suncream because my head just got too hot during the heat of the day, from visiting so many outdoor monuments without ample breaks.

Toilet Tip:

The biggest issue facing disabled tourists in Rome will be the toilets, or lack of toilets.  I strongly recommend you find the McDonalds restaurants which are all over Rome because they have a standard design in Europe, which means EVERY McDonalds in Europe must have a ground level accessible disabled toilet.  They’re usually pretty easy to spot as well.  How do I know this?  I worked at McDonalds all over the UK for 2 years, full-time, and I always make use of their facilities when I’m on the road.  I am very conscientious and always buy something (cup of tea, large fries or even a garden salad if I’m not overly hungry, it’s part of my 5-a-day if nothing else), because some stores get really sick of tourists literally pooping on their facilities and not even buying anything, which means these people have no respect for the person who cleans those toilets (hi!), and I don’t want to see stores charging people to use the toilets or otherwise restricting access.  KFC and Burger King may also have accessible toilets, but I can’t personally recommend them since I’ve only ever had overcharged, bad food experiences at Burger King, and KFC’s food is excellent (love love LOVE their corn on the cob, fries and BBQ sauce) but I rarely use their toilets because their Drive Thrus tend to have short opening hours and they don’t have as many city locations.

Note on the Vatican:

You’ll notice that I didn’t include il Vaticano on this list.  The Vatican City is really a completely stunning experience, and very accessible, BUT you really need a full day, or at the very least, an entire half a day, to soak up everything.  I also recommend you getting an ISIC card (the European Student card) if you are possibly able to (I get mine from the amount of language courses I’m studying at my Uni – you don’t need to be a full time student to get one, just studying at a university that participates in NUS/ISIC) because it slashes prices for you at all the major sites, including the Vatican, and I wish I’d had it when I went to Italy last year because it’s accepted pretty much everywhere in Rome.

Oregano Pesto?? Vegan Pesto??? You better believe it!

I did an experiment yesterday; I wanted to know whether I could make vegan oregano pesto, and whether coriander pesto would be remotely tasty.

Ingredients for Oregano Pesto:

1. A tablespoon of dried oregano (can use fresh, in which case you don’t need the boiling water).

dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).
dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).

2. A teaspoon of boiling water.

3. Half a tablespoon of olive oil.

4. A tablespoon of hazelnuts.

hazelnuts ready for making pesto

5. Half a tablespoon of walnuts.

walnuts
Walnuts.

You will need a (hand) blender for the nuts.

Method:

1. Put the oregano in a cup.

2. Add hot water to the oregano to rehydrate it (if using fresh oregano, skip this).

3. Crush the hazelnuts and walnuts with the blender.

4. Add the nuts to the oregano and mix in with the olive oil.

Before I added the garlic and walnuts.
Before I added the garlic and walnuts.

5. Add a sprinkle of garlic to bring out the flavour.

6. Leave to stand until the oregano has softened.

7. Mix about a tablespoon into a bowl of pasta.  Mmmmm….

This was very delicious.
Oregano pesto over spaghetti with peanuts sprinkled on top.  Very delicious.

This oregano one was very, very tasty with my pasta yesterday!  You could substitute basil for the oregano if you wanted a more traditional pesto and I think that would be just as tasty, maybe fresh herbs would add a less strong flavor – a little of this went a long way!

I made some cilantro/coriander (they’re the same herb) pesto (same method, no garlic, use cilantro instead of oregano) and I had a little taste of that and I’m not sure it’s as nice as the oregano one, but I wondered if it was the cilantro I’d bought because it seemed to have taken on the odor from the packaging it was in.  It was my first time not buying a glass jar of dried herb so it didn’t occur to me that this may happen, but the whole lot tasted a little plasticky.  I will try again with fresh cilantro/coriander when I next get any because I know it has a very delicate flavor.  There was supposed to be some growing in the garden but it came up as parsley even though the packet said coriander!!!!

I didn’t use pine nuts (which is traditionally used in pesto) as I think they’re hideously expensive and the quality available has gone right downhill in the past few years, but hazelnuts and walnuts seemed to add a really nice taste to the oregano one.  I also sprinkled my pasta with a handful of peanuts for extra protein.

Do you have a good vegan pesto recipe to share?  Link to it in the comments!

Cute bunnies! Rabbit lawnmowers! One washes face; another sleeps, eats dandelion.

It’s Soft Soft Sunday, and here are my seven favourite cutest bunny pictures of my rabbits from this week.  In the spotlight this week are Katie and Fifer because they did some really adorable things while I had my camera to hand for a change (usually they dodge the camera):

Left: Fifer, Right: Katie.
Left: Fifer, Right: Katie.  This is a run I’ve set up in our front garden to get the grass mowed by bunnies.
Fifer strikes a pose.
Fifer strikes a pose, surrounded by grass he and Katie have cut down for me.
Left: Katie, right: Fifer
Left: Katie, right: Fifer.  Tired from lawnmowing, the bunnies settle to some flopsy time.

In the next four pictures, watch Katie eat a dandelion in realtime:

Katie eyes up a dandelion.
Katie eyes up a dandelion.
Katie bites dandelion
Katie bites dandelion
Katie eats dandelion.
Katie eats dandelion.
Katie moves on to find new nibbles.
Katie moves on to find new nibbles.  This whole sequence took about 10 seconds to unfold.

What did you think of Katie and Fifer’s cute bunny adventures this week?  They had a lot of fun exploring places but all my cat-proofing (which has stopped the other 6 cats getting in) hasn’t stopped one persistent feline from trying to get at the bunnies when they’re out of their run (which is all the area behind that fence next to Katie in the final 4 pics), so I have to supervise them outside rather than from the kitchen window, which limits what I can do when they’re outside, so affects how long they can be out, which is a shame.  Fifer is more timid and gets a bit scared about being loose in the garden if I’m outside, because he’s part wild and doesn’t relate to humans very well, so he hardly comes out while I’m there, but Katie will nose my legs and play chase with me sometimes.  She’s come a very long way from when we first brought her home and she was too scared to come out of the travel box for over an hour, and Fifer was the bravest out of the two of them!  I sometimes forget we haven’t had her for a full year yet, and that we’ve barely had Fifer for a year, they just seem so much like part of the family and I get bunnysick for them when we’re away from home, and they miss us too (all five of our buns usually won’t say hello for the first 24 hours when we get back from holiday just to show us that they are displeased that we let someone else come and feed them).

All About My Hair: Silver hair and white hair

Just in time to make the Friday blog update, I got this video finished!  I’m answering questions I’ve been asked about my hair including how I got it silver, how I get white hair, how I look after it, why my hair hasn’t all snapped off, whether I use silver shampoo and more.  Check it out if you’re vaguely curious:

Other hair colouring articles you might like: 

How to get better results from colour remover and how colour remover works

Wrecked your hair with bleach? Fix it!

Hair colour remover FAQ

Hair bleaching 101: How to bleach your hair

What do I use between the silver shampoos?

Silver toning routine

What colour will that box dye really go on your hair?

Silver and white hair Q and A