Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Vegan Advent Calendar

Last year I bought myself an advent calendar.  I know that's a pretty sad thing to do, but I really like the idea of advent calendars, even if in practice it's just a painful test of patience.

When I was a kid, I once got one that folded out into a model of a mouse hotel, and all the doors were rooms and cupboards and things in the hotel and you'd uncover more of the 'story' each day, and that was so awesome that I still have it in the Xmas decorations box.

Other than that, I used to have this sort of pillar box thing that The Mother would fill with treats that she knew I would like, which gave advent a thoughtful as well as fun touch.

The generic flat advent calendar, either with dull pictures of Xmas stuff or with that disgusting, stale, third-rate chocolate they put in advent calendars does not excite me.  (The lego ones look pretty cool though.)

Anyway, as a vegan, choice of chocolate treats is somewhat limited, and while the options expand every year, if you want a chocolate advent calendar, you're going to have to eat some pretty rank stuff, because they only seem to do vegan versions of those really lame chocolate advent calendars, and nothing exciting.

And then while looking for something else, I came across the 'Vegan Store Luxury Gourmet Advent Calendar' on the Vegan Store, which is a pretty good online vegan shop, and I know I'm an adult so I don't need an advent calendar, and getting yourself one is pretty sad, but the idea that someone made a GOOD vegan advent calendar was too much.  So despite it being darn pricey, I bought one for myself, and also one for The Housemate so I could pretend I wasn't being entirely self-involved.

It was filled with six different types of fancy vegan sweets, which is a pretty good variation (also it means there is only four of each type so if you don't like one, you're not stuck with loads on your hands).  On the down side, it had to be pretty chunky to fit the larger ones inside, which meant the smallest ones tended to escape their slots and fall to the bottom of the box.  Leaving the calendar lying on its back was the way to get around this, but I worked this out too late to stop a few escapees and on some days, you'd open the door to find a blank space staring at you.

Here are the sweets:

Le Preziose Fruit Jellies With Orange, Covered In Dark Chocolate

This is an orange jelly covered in chocolate and they had a slight crunch to them.  These tasted like jaffa cakes, without the cake, so without the gritty soggy worst part of jaffa cakes.  They were probably my favourite sweet in the calendar, which is a high recommendation for these fellows because I'm not usually that fussed by jellies.

Oddly enough they are not for sale in their chocolate covered form on the Vegan Store, but a quick google search showed them here.  Apparently they come in different flavours.

Super Fudgio Organic Toffee

This is a stick of toffee with a slightly gooey centre.  They were quite a dark toffee, rather rich, so actually could have done with coming in smaller portions.  I'm not sure whether the centre is supposed to be gooey or not as it seemed to vary between pieces.  I think I prefer a creamier toffee.

The Vegan Store has several different varieties for sale.

Bonelle Pate Du Fruits

Your basic fruit jelly.  Probably pretty good if you are into that kind of thing.

Another one not currently on the Vegan Store and they're not popping up on google either.  Wait, I think I found them on this Italian site.

Pernigotti Nocciolato

A block of chocolate containing a hazelnut.  I was pretty excited to see these in here because Pernigotti makes lovely rich and creamy chocolate, but I am a much bigger fan of their truffles rather than just chocolate so this was a little dull on its own.

I think it's these ones, although apparently these are truffles.  Hmm.

Kuhbonbon Caramel

A toffee/caramel.  Hmm, now these were my least favourite of the lot.  These are the little culprits who wouldn't stay in their slots, so it was a while before I got to eat one and it didn't live up to the wait.  They are very bland.  Almost no taste at all, apart from a slight sweetness.  That said, after eating a few more they did grow on me, so I think if you had a whole bag to munch on, they would be pretty moreish.  Basically had the two ends of the toffee scale in this calendar - too dark and too light!

Anyway there are quite a few versions on Vegan Store.

Belvas Organic Praline Truffle Balls

A praline truffle with dark chocolate coating.  These are a really decent size, but the chocolate coating is very dark, so wouldn't appeal to everyone.

Available on Vegan Store.

Overall this advent calendar had a good mixture of different varieties of sweets, and they were all nice, although I probably wouldn't buy a whole bag of either of the toffee/caramels.  However both were made using coconut milk, and I often don't like products made from that (coconut ice cream and yoghurts are awful and sour) and I didn't have a problem with the taste of these.  If the Vegan Store bring these calendars out again next year, they might want to rethink the design of the box, or make sure all the sweets are of equal size, to stop the smaller ones getting loose.  It was definitely a good buy and I hope to see more interesting vegan advent calendars on the market next Xmas.

Did you have a vegan advent calendar last year?

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The Beans Are Nuts

So the other day, The Housemate and I were doing our 'weekly' food shop:

I bought a bag of broccoli and a pack of blackberries and offered some to the rats at the same time, to let them choose what they would like.

All three rats went for the broccoli over the blackberries.  Then they went back for seconds of broccoli.  Only when there was no hint of greens left, did they have a look at the berries.

...They're freaks.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Musical Monday #193

And now for the only non-boring romantic song in all of Disney:

Kiss The Girl from The Little Mermaid
Performed by Samuel E. Wright, written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

Well, I might be a little biased since this is my favourite Disney cartoon, but I have a pretty low tolerance for romance, being aromantic (possibly), so making the 'time to take the kids to the loo' scene something that is fun and exciting and intensely plot relevant really makes you pay attention instead of squirming in tedium.  Sing with me now, shalalalalalalala

Never really thought about this before, but one of the reasons Ursula goes through her whole evil convoluted plan in order to take King Triton's trident is so that she can control the weather.  But in this scene, Sebastian clearly shows that he can control the wind.  A crab, the court composer, can control the wind...  I don't think she needs that trident.  Aim lower, Ursula!

(Also I feel vindicated at how much I used to hate it when people mistakenly called me Rachel.  Ariel don't want to put up with that shit either)

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The Three Magic Beans

So ever since I got three pet rats, people ask me, “What made you decide to get rats?”  As if getting rats as companions is… weird or out of the ordinary, despite the fact that I know of lots of people who have or had pet rats and the only people I have ever heard say anything negative about rats are people who have never been around any.

It’s such a confusing question to me, because I don’t remember ever NOT wanting a pet rat.  I mean, they’re small and fluffy, with shiny black eyes and twitchy noses and little fingers; they’re all of the cute things.

Traditionally The Housemate is a dog person, and I am a cat person, but we rent so we're not allowed either anyway.  We have been toying with the idea of asking our landlord if we could get something small for... well since we moved in.  But we never had the courage.

Then one day a valiant knight from the RSPCA went on a quest to save a poor tormented animal from an ogre, and while inspecting the property, the knight came across a whole shed of poor imprisoned rats and managed to rescue them.

These many rats were nursed back to health and put up for adoption, and seeing that the local RSPCA shelter, which I like to look at to torment myself, had this sudden influx of rats, it seemed like fate was calling us to action.  So The Housemate and I finally asked our estate agents to ask our landlord if we could adopt some of these little critters.

And we waited.  And we waited.  And we waited, while most of the rats got adopted.

And then finally we were given a YES, and we rushed to the RSPCA to meet the rats left for adoption, which came down to two cages of four, to be given out in even numbers, of whom the guy knew almost no useful information.  No idea on their age, and they come from a bad background, so likely to develop health problems and they don’t like being handled.  Just what you want to hear.  Being inexperienced owners, we decided to go for just one pair.  So we went for the first rat we saw, a little brown creature with adorable pointy-up ears, who was out of the cage in a flash and climbing all over us.  And we decided to take her fluffy grey friend who eventually followed her over.

But then it turned out, oops, there were actually only three rats in the cage, not four.  So we were destined to adopt three rats, so long as we got all the necessary equipment and permissions in time.

And so we suffered through the most irritating and stressful week of useless incompetence, as every inconvenience and problem that could be thrown our way was.

But then, a miracle, the day came and we were able to visit the RSPCA again and take our new babies home.

And that is how we ended up with our three magic beans, which we decided to name after some characters from The Princess Bride, in memory of William Goldman, since he happened to die just as we were about to adopt.

The brown bean, Inigo – the most curious of the rats, who seems to have boundless energy and likes to lick your hands.  She is what we consider a ‘starter rat’ because she is so easy to handle.

The grey bean, Fezzik - the bounciest of the rats, who is big and fluffy and likes to observe from a height.  She is a little temperamental, switching from shy and retiring to hyperactive zoom-zoom in half a second, which took us by surprise at first and she is the most likely to escape the pen, but also the mostly likely to fall asleep in your dressing gown.

The white bean, Vizzini – the fieriest of the rats, who is silky and soft and likes to build nests.  We’re slightly terrified of Vizzini, because she is shy and nervous, but also wants as much attention as the other two, but she’s a bit blind and clumsy which means occasionally she bites.  This has only caused serious damage once, but you know the phrase.  I'm sure with more time we'll all get more comfortable with each other.  Just don't tell her that we only adopted her because the RSPCA guy miscounted how many rats were in the cage.

The great equalizer of course, is to offer them a sleeve and all three will climb and burrow all over you.  We've had them nearly a month and a half now, and they steal away my spare time constantly, because they're just so gosh darn adorable.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Keeper Of Rats

So I never wrote a post about adopting three adorable/nefarious rats.  Which I will do now.... well... soon.

But in the mean time, here is a photo I tried to take of the three of them together, except the camera kept focusing on the bars instead of their faces, so I opened the door and perhaps the inevitable ensued.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019


Yesterday I looked back at my resolutions from 2018 (found here).  Last year I said to tune in this year to see how I did.  Spoiler alert, not very well.

1. Send stuff off to get published like all the time, instead of not doing that.

Uh, well, I think I entered maybe three or four writing competitions... and submitted zero things to agents or publishers.  Not quite the 100 attempts I should be going for per year.

2. Spend more time with my friends; visit the local ones, penpal the distant ones.

I have spent more time with one pair of friends due to us having a weekly Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG.  But then we haven’t arranged the next session (apparently RPGs tend to fall apart after the sixth session and we seem to be following suit.  Which is pretty annoying because I switched characters halfway so have barely started my character ark) but as for the others, I have either not seen them at all or only once, and I didn’t penpal anyone, unless you count Xmas cards.

3. Get fit; possibly not by joining the gym because it is £40 a month which is INSANE, but if not then replace the broken wii and use the wii fit daily and on nice days use the outdoor gym that is NEXT TO YOUR FLAT.

I am not fit, although I do so much heavy lifting at work I have discovered that I can carry quite heavy stuff without too much stress.  I did get a new wii (we took all our unwanted DVDs to CEX which happened to equal exactly the amount they were charging for a wii – if however I had known that the majority were ‘selling’ for 1p, I wouldn’t have given them to CEX, but strangely enough the employee didn’t mention this).  But I haven’t used the wii fit in months.  As for the outdoor gym, it is always crawling with children even though they literally have their own playpark in the same park.  I did email the local college about their gym but I don't think I ever even read the reply.

4. Use the, how many is it now? Got be 20 at least, cookbooks you own to make new and interesting and healthy meals instead of eating the same two frozen dinners every night until you come to regard dinner with dread and loathing.

I did cook a bunch of new recipes from one of my cookbooks, but I have yet to put any into regular circulation.

5. Read more books. Don’t stop reading for months at a time just because Frankenstein was boring.

I did read more for a little bit and I even took to reviewing them on goodreads.  But then I got to another boring book and it wiped me out for the rest of the year.  Gotta stop doing that.

6. I nearly had ‘tidy up after myself’ in the list, but, you know, who am I kidding.

I didn’t put this as a resolution, because I knew I wouldn’t do it, but I still don’t pick up after myself and I am now drowning in rubbish.

In conclusion, although I did try a bit, basically I failed at all my resolutions, or certainly failed to keep at them consistently.

So as with all my work, looks like I need to play catch-up on the stuff I haven’t done as well as trying to achieve new things.

So, can I achieve any of these goals this year?  To be honest, before I try anything, I really need to clean and tidy the house which has become a complete dump since the rats moved in.  That's right, blame it on the rats.  Poor little scapegoats.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Meet 2019

When we get to the new year, most people I know now don’t even bother with resolutions, since we all know no one ever sticks to them.  They just sort of say ‘I had good times with family last year, here’s to more’ or ‘I am exercising well at the moment, I will keep doing that’ which is presumably a sign that they are actually already achieving the things they want.  Well done them.  You win life.

For several years in a row my vague resolution was just ‘do better’.  Then I tried actually listing stuff I wanted to achieve and still didn’t do anything about it, so this year I’ll go for somewhere between the two, which is ‘those things you want to do? Do them, do them more, do them better, do them at all.’

I wrung (is that right?) in the new year, kneeling on my pillow, watching a panorama of fireworks across the town from my window, thinking about how I see so many memes about using silent fireworks so you don’t traumatise animals etc, but they sure don’t seem to have caught on.  And then I recalled that I am a pet owner now, and I raced downstairs to check that my babies were okay, and clearly they couldn’t care less.  Jump a mile when you make a kissey noise they weren’t expecting, but no visible sign they even noticed the bombardment of explosions.  I guess rat hearing isn’t strong enough to hear that far?

Well anyway, after sleeping in all morning (whoops), I have started off the year by writing birthdays on my new (rat) calendar.  Hopefully I will fill it with many interesting things that I will actually do.

For example, according to the random ‘holidays’ pre-printed on to the calendar, did you know that this month sees such exciting events as Epiphany, Martin Luther King Jr Day, Burns Night, Australia Day and International Holocaust Remembrance Day?  I looked up the names and then the dates on Facebook events and apparently the only one that is observed around here is Burns Night, which could be fun in theory, particularly since vegetarian haggis is a thing, except for all the non-vegetarian haggis and whisky and poetry that will be there, which pretty much sounds like a room in Hell to me.

Now I’ll go check the ‘what’s on in Hampshire’ site to bookmark a bunch of events I will never go to.  Oops, wait, that’s 2018 thinking.

Well that’s my obligatory first post of the year over with.  I wonder how far I will get before I get bored of blogging again…

Now tell me, friends, what are your plans for 2019?

How will you be celebrating Martin Luther King Jr Day and Australia Day?