One of my desires for the new year was to listen to new (or new-to-me) music. Thanks to friends who answered my plea on various social platforms, I've now got heaps! And what's the point of enjoying all this music without passing it on? Here are 10 tunes you might enjoy.
In the past I've asked for recs for artists or albums, but this time I asked for one song only. This has worked out much better for me, and I've been able to create myself a little playlist/mix tape. I haven't included all the recommendations here - not because I didn't like the songs, but because there were just too many, and some of them didn't quite fit with the vibe of this particular playlist.
Across the Blue Ridge Mountains - Rising Appalachia
This playlist starts slow and simple, with this abridged version of "Across the Blue Ridge Mountains" in two voice a cappella style. You can really hear the Scottish/Irish folk heritage here. You can find a live version with more story verses on YouTube - or buy the Sails of Self album.
The West Coast of Clare - Dervish (feat. Dave Gray)
Leaning into the Irish folkishness! I loved the arrangement in "The West Coast of Clare". It sounds so simple yet each instrument weaves me through and beyond the lyrics into wistful imagination. (The title is a line from Loreena McKennitt's "The Old Ways", which I think makes an interesting conversation partner to this song.) Find out more about Dervish on their website.
The Wild Rover - Lankum
While "The Wild Rover" is a traditional folk song, the arrangement is not - it's very contemporary. The sharpness, the drone, the assonance, the slow build of instrumentation and intensity. The video is also disconcerting and I like it! More about Lankum, including tour dates, on their website.
Maalie - Erland Cooper
The landscape link to the last video is hard to ignore here! "Maalie" is from Erland Cooper's 2018 album Solan Goose, part of what appears to be an ongoing love letter to Orkney, his home. This gorgeous short piece builds from the gentleness of a still morning to the exuberance of birds, clouds, wind, sky. Read an interview with Erland Cooper here, or visit his website to explore his other projects.
Nautilus - Anna Meredith
"Nautilus" was such a surprise and a delight! As with the previous piece, this explores repetition - this time over a chromatic scale, with a simple bassline and driving rhythm. It's such a big sound, and I am so here for the tuba - who knew?! It's worth listening to the whole mini-concert if you're interested ("Nautilus" is the first song). Anna Meredith's website.
Cosmic Ratio - Enrico Sanguiliano
Oh yeah, we've been heading here, and now it's time for some proper techno! "Cosmic Ratio" was recommended as a "wake up", and it definitely is - it makes me so happy I can't stop moving. More from Enrico Sangiuliano here.
Final Form - Sampa the Great
OK, let's get some lyrics back in the mix - and let's start with some particularly good ones. I love the energy of "Final Form", love the film clip and only have one criticism: I wish there was more of it! More about Sampa the Great (and this song) here and on her website.
Oh my god, speaking of film clips . . . As I said to the person who recommended "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings", I am so distracted by the amazing crappy-90s-fantasy-TV-show aesthetic and weird dancing that I can hardly remember the song itself! Interview with Caroline Polachek here or check her website for tour dates.
The Dying Song - Montaigne
"The Dying Song" has been stuck in my head since I first heard it - such a bouncy, cheerful tune. The person who recommended it said it was a kind of Bollywood nihilism, and I'd say it's like Regina Spektor singing about playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I think these are both equally valid descriptions.
The Barrel - Aldous Harding
After this festival of energy, let's go out gentle and weird with "The Barrel". This one is my own cheeky recommendation, and another clip that's definitely worth watching. Also recommended: everything else Aldous Harding does, much of which you may be able to find through her website.
I hope you've found a song or two to enjoy here! If you fancy it, leave me a comment with a link to one song you're really into at the moment (yes, just one!) and let me know why you like it.
I can't tell you how relieved I am that spring is here. Actual light! Actual warmth! Actual greenery! The world is waking up and I am cheering up.
And so, for no reason other than I'm happy, let's have some April photos. These aren't masterpieces, just a selection of pics from the iPhone (some mine, some Dan's), but does anyone really care about that when there are blossoms and blue skies and sunshine to be enjoyed?
(Just a little tune to look at photos by!)
Stuck in traffic around the back of Lewes, we decided to stop and explore Malling Down Nature Reserve. A brilliant idea, it turned out!
And so, we head into May. I want to gobble up as much lovely springtime I can, and I'm looking forward to some nice walks and trips to Wales, Oxfordshire, maybe Bristol . . . What are your plans?
What are you working on? What do you want to achieve by the end of the month? And what do you need to do this week to reach those goals? I wrote about our online goal-setting group The Monthly Weeklies over at The Research Whisperer . . .
Many people are familiar with this approach to time and project management - figuring out your big goals and breaking them down into smaller steps. But sorting out what you need to do is one thing, while actually following through is quite another!
This can be especially difficult if you operate in a more solitary environment, as do many writers, artists, researchers, and people involved in projects outside of their paid job or formal study. Without the everyday structure of collaboration deadlines, team meetings, and so on it’s pretty easy to let the weeks slip by, to transfer an item from one to-do list to the next, to de-prioritise your own goals in favour of things that other people want from you. It can be hard to hold yourself accountable.
I started The Monthly Weeklies online goal-setting group with this in mind. My aim was to create a structure that would help me think seriously about short and medium term goals, a place to record those goals and my progress, and a team of people who could help keep each other focussed and celebrate each other’s successes.
The group started in September 2016 and, as the name suggests, it runs in monthly cycles with weekly check-ins. Members come and go, finding the structure useful in different ways. Benefits might include:
The fairly simple format of our group should be easy for others to replicate. If you're interested in setting up a group like this, or in learning about ours, please do pop over to The Research Whisperer to read more. . .
Thanks to Tseen Khoo for inviting me to contribute to The Research Whisperer blog - the closest I've been to an academic publication for many years!
Do you like food? How about cycling and/or camping? Are you a woman, a feminist, a queer person and/or a vegan? Do you like women, queers and/or vegan food? Then I suggest you get your hands on these two zines.
Content note: There is a GIF at the bottom of this post.
3rd Gear is a bike zine by women and queers, which explicitly aims to give a platform to voices not usually heard from in cycling magazines (which, let’s face it, are usually aimed squarely at people with most of the privileges). The zine is edited by Danni, who some of you might remember from her bike touring microadventures last year (September, December). Issue #2 features reflections, articles, art, bike shed updates and advice on topics including electric bikes and mental health (“Is that a cheat’s bike?” by Esther Johnson), the politics of cycling (“War on our roads: Entitlement, cycling and victim blaming” by Danielle Madeley), cycling as a trans person (“Transcyle” by Bobbi Jane), contributions from the folks of No Award, plus more!
Tofu and Trangias is a spin-off, also edited by Danni. It’s a vegan camping and bike touring cookzine divided in two sections - the first about pre-preparing foods to take with you, the second focussing on preparing and cooking when you’re out and about. It has recipes for cookies, spice mixes, curries, vegan sausage rolls, salads and more. As it’s an Australian zine, it’s biased towards Australian considerations (climate, ingredients, availability of water), but it’s definitely translatable to other places. I have a recipe in Tofu and Trangias, so obviously it’s a top quality publication. I thought I’d share my recipe here, to give you a taste (haha, get it?) of the kind of thing you might find in the zine. You can get your own copy of both zines from the Wrenchworthy store.
Recipe: Energy Balls
These tasty little treats have got me through many a mid-afternoon slump on long walks. They work a bit like scroggin, only you don’t end up having to eat the dregs made up of the crap nuts/seeds/fruit that you don’t like.
Energy Balls (or Energy Truffles, if you are feeling fancy) are super easy to make and very forgiving if you want to experiment with ingredients and flavourings. They also keep pretty well without refrigeration, although the chocolate can melt if you’re out in hot weather . . . and there is the temptation to shove them all in your mouth at once.
We've been off travelling for the last couple of weeks, doing a Channel to Channel walk across Devon and Somerset, then a canoeing trip down the River Wye. I'll try to get a post up next week with photos of those delightful places!
During these short, dark, drizzly winter days, I’ve spent a lot of time curled up in front of the fire dreaming and reading about adventures. I’ve become slightly obsessed with riparian adventures - travels down, up, on, beside and in rivers. We’ve got a couple of potential river walks in mind for 2016 and (hopefully) a really big, exciting one in 2017 . . . stay tuned! In the meantime, here are nine things I like about river journeys. (Supported by evidence in the form of books, mostly. But also some TV.)
1. It's relatively easy
Find a river. Follow it. What could be more simple? Olivia Laing’s To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface is a gentle exploration of the River Ouse in East Sussex, a walk taken one hot summer week. It’s a musing on the meaning of rivers as well as a bit of a history of this area and those who have lived in and loved it, with a particular focus on Virginia Woolf (who lived in the area and drowned in the Ouse). Laing stops along the way to lie in fields of long grass and take dips in the cool water. The UK’s rights of way network means she can follow footpaths for most of the route, including the Ouse Valley Way, a signposted long-distance walk. It’s more a rambling holiday than an exciting adventure. It sounds delightful.
2. It's difficult
Find a river. Try to follow it through ravines, jungles, deserts, cities, war zones . . . it's not always a walk in the park. Levison Wood walked the length of the Nile (well, most of it) a few years ago. Wood’s 6,850km (4,250mi) trek took him from Rwanda to Egypt via Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan. The documentary series shows danger on all sides: from humans, wild animals and from the environment itself. He’s robbed on the road, encounters hippos and crocodiles and narrowly avoids being caught in the gunfire of civil unrest. The fighting means he has to abandon part of the walk. In all this high drama, the mundanity of the scene in which Matthew Power, one of Wood’s travelling companions, dies of hyperthermia (heatstroke) is quite shocking. But Wood experiences some incredible sights, stays with hospitable people and visits some fantastically interesting places. Watching his dash into the sea at the end almost makes me want to do it myself. Almost.
3. You can mess about in boats
Are your river fantasies are more Wind in the Willows than Wild West? I like the idea of recreating Three Men in a Boat (as Griff Rhys Jones, Dara O’Briain and Rory McGrath did for TV a few years ago) or hopping aboard a narrowboat and exploring the UK’s waterways, following in the wake of L.T.C. Rolt, who helped revive interest in Britain’s canals in the mid 20th Century. There’s also a huge river network in Europe. Who's to say that taking a steamer up the River Yenisei to spend a miserable season in the Arctic coldness of Dudinka - like Colin Thubron does in In Siberia - can’t be a kind of depressing adventure, too? If your ideal journey involves a bit more physical work yourself, take inspiration from the women who attempted to kayak the Amur River from Mongolia, through Russia to the Pacific Ocean, try paddle-boarding the Thames like Mel and Michelle, kayaking the Murray like Rod Wellington or packrafting down the River Spey like Alastair Humphreys and Andy Ward.
4. Discover ancient history
Rivers have been used as trade and transport routes for millennia. In Meander: East to West along a Turkish River, Jeremy Seal travels 500km on foot and in his fold-away canoe. He travels through fields and along highways, he finds traces of cultures, wars and mass migrations winding back thousands of years. At one point, Seal reads the history of a mound of earth and sees “the early people who had settled by the tributary banks 6,000 years ago, the Arzawans and the Hittites, the Phyrgians, the Persians and the Greeks, the Romans and the Byzantines, the Mongols and the Tartars, the Ottomans, their dead sheikh entombed where the past broke surface, and, finally, an agricultural consultant . . . pondering Anatolia’s present troubles.” Later, he moors up beside an island, tying his canoe to the remains of a fluted column rising from the water and is accosted by goats as he eats his lunch among the ruins.
5. It's a window onto changing ecologies
Travelling along a river, either upstream or downstream, is a bit like playing detective. Each new day sheds light on the day before: why the salt is creeping upstream, why the fish are abundant (or not) this year, why farmers have stumbled on hard (or easy) times, or why local attempts to clean up the river are facing an uphill battle. Following a river can give you an insight into the into the environmental effects of climate change, intensive (mis)use of water, damming, waste disposal and agriculture. In the four part series The Mekong River with Sue Perkins (and this will come as no surprise to you clever readers) Sue Perkins travels up the Mekong River. The series touches on the history, cultures and environmental impact of river users in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, China and Tibet. Near the end, it’s a shock to be confronted with the construction of the enormous Xayaburi hydroelectric dam, which will block the flow of the river.
6. It only takes a day
You don't need to save up, quit your job and get on an international flight. Find a short river somewhere near your house and block out a day in your diary to explore. Last year, we spent a day walking and driving the length of the River Cuckmere in East Sussex - starting at the sea and ending at the source (or one of them). On the way we visited chalk carvings, churches and a reservoir and learnt more about the history of the area. The biggest surprise was the source itself: a bright orange, iron-rich spring bubbling out of the ground. There are many of these shorter rivers in the UK (Roger Deakin dabbles in a few over the course of his brilliant book Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain - recommended reading).
7. You can cross countries . . . and continents
Africa has the Nile, the Congo and the Niger; South America has the Amazon and the Paraná; Asia has the Mekong. But you have to travel a significant way down the list of the world's longest rivers before getting to one that flows through continental Europe: the Danube. In December 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off to walk across Europe to Istanbul. His journey is documented in three books, published in 1977 (A Time of Gifts), 1986 (Between the Woods and the Water) and - unfinished, posthumously - 2013 (The Broken Road). In December 2012, Nick Hunt set off with apparently very little preparation beyond reading Fermor's first two books and setting up a Couchsurfing account to retrace Fermor's steps and find out what had changed in the intervening eighty years. Hunt's book Walking the Woods and the Water, published in 2012, is an account of that journey, often along the Rhine and the Danube, through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. It’s not only an interesting account of a very long walk, but a great little introduction to contemporary European politics and cultures.
8. You don't have to leave your armchair
There are loads of amazing books, articles, blogs, videos and websites dedicated to river journeys. And there’s Google Maps. Put it in satellite view, tilt it if you want, and take your own trip in a far-flung corner of the globe. I have a bit of an addiction to following Russian rivers - the Lena is one of my favourites and the Ob and its siblings also tickle my fancy - though I’m also partial to desert rivers (or riverbeds) like the capillaries of the Diamantina in Australia and the blue braided threads of rivers like the Rakaia in New Zealand’s South Island that run in almost straight lines from the mountains to the sea. Yeah, I can spend hours on Google Maps. I mean, if rivers aren’t enough for you, you can also check out the moon? Or Mars?
9. There's no beginning or end
Trace a river back to its tributaries; follow one tributary up a valley to a tarn; climb beside a tiny waterfall to to the top of the mountain, to the edge of the catchment, to the watershed; listen to the squelching of mud and moss underfoot; turn your face to the cool drizzle and the clouds. Who is to say where the river really starts? Then follow it downstream, to the fingers of a delta or a long lagoon, a wide-mouthed estuary; to the point where it stops tasting of snow or starts tasting of salt; to the last town, or the last jetty, or the first breaker. Wherever you decide to start or stop walking, paddling, driving or cycling, I think river journeys are sure to live on in your memory for a long time.
What are your favourite river journey memories? Which river would you most like to explore - in your local area or further afield? Do you have your eyes and heart set on a particular river this year?
On the weekend, I asked Twitter where I could find a map showing all the long distance paths in the UK. Lots of people got in touch with suggestions (thanks everyone!) so I thought I’d collate them here, along with a few other useful maps and resources for longer walks, cycle trips and microadventures.
How do you plan your microadventures, long walks or cycle trips? This is a UK-centric list and I'm interested to see what resources are available in other parts of the world, too.
A couple of months ago on Book Riot, Jeremy Anderberg published “7 Books (and One to Avoid) for the Avid Hiker”. They all sound interesting, and I've ordered some from the libary, but they’re USA-centric (6 of the 8 set in the USA), all by men (except the “one to avoid” - awkward) and mainly focused on specific journeys. So, here I am supplementing Anderberg’s list - which isn't meant to be definitive - with five more good books about walking.
1. Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Rebecca Solnit (2000)
What’s it about? It does what it says on the tin. It starts with the physiology of walking, an investigation of why humans started walking, then wanders through time over diverse fields including philosophy, shopping, poetry, religion and spirituality, landscaping and gardens, tourism, geography, politics, novels, pop culture, law, feminism, public space and urban design. It moves between continents, too, though there’s a definite bias towards the northern hemisphere.
Why is it so good? Solnit highlights that is a history, not the history: she tries to acknowledge the book's limitations, omissions and biases. Rather than being a straight-up chronological history, it's more a series of lyrical essays. Academic analysis is interspersed with personal accounts of walks (taken solo or with friends) and occasional flights of imagination are thrown in. I like it because, like a good walk, it takes you to new places, and asks you to look at familiar things in a different light.
Any cons? I would like to hear more non-Western perspectives, and some of the chapters are a little thinner on ideas and research than others. Even those chapters, though, seem to open up the potential of walking and thinking about walking, rather than shutting it down with a definitive “this is how it is, because I am an expert and I say it is so”. Another con, which you can take as read in almost any contemporary writing about walking, are the instances of casual fatphobia and hand-wringing about “the obesity epidemic” - boring.
2. Map Addict: A Tale of Obsession, Fudge and the Ordnance Survey
Mike Parker (2010)
What’s it about? Strictly speaking, as the title suggests, this is a book about maps rather than walking. But since this is my list, I have decided there is enough walking in there to qualify. This is a humorous non-fiction book - slightly in the vein of Bill Bryson, to give you an idea of tone. It is a bit of a whirlwind of subjects, but it pulls together to give a fun, biased and incomplete investigation of cartography, borders, land use and land access (including walking), politics and language. It’s set mainly, but not exclusively, in the British Isles - but it doesn’t claim to be anything other than very British.
Why is it so good? How can you not like someone who used to shoplift maps in their misspent youth? Parker is so obsessed with Ordnance Survey maps that I’m sure even the most map-phobic person couldn’t help but feel a spark of enthusiasm! He’s got a good eye for the off-beat (like visiting the most boring OS gridsquare), though many of the mainstays of mapping and walking are in there too (Wainwright, Phyllis Pearsall of the London A-Z fame, the Ramblers). Maps are a huge part of my experience of moving through and understanding the world, so it’s great to read something light-hearted while also learning a bit more about why the world of mapping (and, by extension, walking) is the way it is.
Any cons? Sometimes Parker’s exceptionally bouncy approach does make things pass in a bit of a whirl - you will find a more balanced, exceptionally researched but infinitely drier account of the OS in Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation. Also a con in a list of books about walking is that there isn’t more walking it - though to be fair, Parker has written a book about walking and footpaths (The Wild Rover), it’s just that this one’s more fun.
3. The Ways of the Bushwalker: On Foot in Australia
Dr Melissa Harper (2007)
What’s it about? A history of bushwalking, which Harper defines as walking in the bush for pleasure. This is an interesting companion book to Wanderlust, as it covers a few similar areas but with an Australian focus. There are discussions of politics, fashion, gender, four-wheel driving, ecology, aesthetics, literature and colonisation. Because it has a much narrower scope than Wanderlust, it is able to zoom in on more details and quirky bits of Australian history. It's something of a cultural history through the lens of walking.
Why is it so good? There are lots of histories and philosophical examinations of walking, but there’s hardly anything specific to Australia. This book opened my eyes to pieces of Australian history I’d known nothing about, and it prompted me to start thinking more deeply about the problematic concept of “wilderness” - specifically, how the kinds of ideas and ideals embedded in the National Park movement can be inherently, unconsciously racist and also used for explicitly anti-Indigenous Australian means (watch Noel Pearson’s speech for more on that). I also loved the chapter on people who aimed to experience the bush physically, almost erotically, especially through naked walking.
Any cons? While there are discussions of land rights, Harper argues her “walking in the bush for pleasure” definition means that bushwalking (a term coined in the 1920s) excludes the long history of Indigenous Australians walking in the bush. I think there could have been another chapter dedicated to Aboriginal history, e.g. walking Songlines (though research in that area has also been problematic).
4. Two Degrees West: A Walk Along England’s Meridian
Nicholas Crane (1997)
What’s it about? Nick Crane (of BBC’s Coast fame) walks a straight line through England from Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland to the south coast near Swanage in Dorset. Of course, it’s not completely straight, but his aim is to veer no more than 1km each side of the prime meridian - not even for food and shelter. His other aim is to do it all on foot. (Spoilers: he achieves the former, and from memory there are only two exceptions to the latter - he crosses a reservoir by boat and some MOD land in military transport).
Why is it so good? This book is sometimes subtitled “An English journey”. I prefer the subtitle I’ve cited, but I can see why this one exists: in walking a straight line, rather than following established paths, natural landmarks, roads and so on, Crane is able to observe an almost randomly selected cross-section of English culture, people, landscapes, towns, agriculture and industry. It’s a cultural examination masquerading as travel writing. I like the inclusion of urban landscape and the bit where he sleeps in a culvert under a motorway.
Any cons? Crane documents his nervousness about trespassing, practicing his super-fast “pitch” in case anyone stops him. Nobody does. I wonder how anyone who wasn’t a moderately respectable-looking middle aged white man would have fared? I wonder if it would still be possible to do this walk almost 20 years later? I love the idea of this kind of walk (there are shades of Richard Long's art), but I wish there were more done by people who haven’t traditionally been allowed such freedom of movement.
5. Enchanted Glass
Diana Wynne Jones (2010)
What’s it about? This is a children’s fantasy book, about magic and family and many of the things you might expect from Diana Wynne Jones (she wrote Howl’s Moving Castle, which is one of my favourites of hers alongside The Homeward Bounders and The Spellcoats (from the Dalemark Quartet)). Enchanted Glass is about a young, orphaned boy (Aidan) and a featherbrained male academic who wind up living together in Melston House, a fictional house near the fictional town of Melston in England. The house comes with a “field of care” - like a parish surrounding a church, only one which must be magically maintained by the inheritor of the house. Oh, and Aidan is being pursued by a mysterious, hostile force...
Why is it so good? The field of care is tied very strongly to physical boundaries, which must be physically seen to, with obstacles removed. The magic here draws on the tradition of beating the bounds. I love this concept because it ties into a way of seeing and being in the world that I want to explore through reading and writing - the dual ideas that the landscape is a living entity that has a kind of ownership on the people living there and the idea of magic being done through physical movement. Plus, it’s a fun tale!
Any cons? If you’re after books that are only about walking, this isn’t one. Also, in terms of fiction, it would have been nice to have some more female characters. Oh, and, here’s a spoiler: I was disappointed when the main characters ended up being related by blood - it wasn’t necessary and gave off a "chosen families aren’t real families" vibe.
If you can suggest some excellent books about walking - histories, fictions or travel accounts, especially by non-white people and/or set in Asia, Africa, South America or Eastern Europe - I’d be delighted to read them!
Richard Long’s land art makes me think new things, or think things in new ways. His walking pieces are exciting because they offer a space to reflect on the nature of both walking and art.
Rather than analysing his works (there are plenty of places you can find analyses, and Long is also articulate in his artist statements), I will simply link to some of his pieces, along with some of the questions they raise for me. I highly recommend you click the links and have a look!
Lines made by walking
Maps and stone lines
These questions are not abstract. To me, they are deeply connected to the physical, mental and emotional experiences of walking. They encourage me to think of different ways to map, record, approach landscapes and conceptualise my experiences.
I have no idea what Richard Long's opinion might be regarding the ‘penis runs’ recorded by Claire Wykoff in San Francisco, but I like to think of Wyckoff as the latest in a long line of people engaging with and interpreting the landscape in new ways!
My partner and I will be heading off on a walking holiday soon. I'm feeling inspired to record it in a different way to usual. One word per kilometre? A poem per day? The name of every dog we meet? What do you think? Share your ideas in the comments - I'll try to produce a record using my favourite of your suggestions!
I love sharing food with friends, many of whom are vegan or have allergies/intolerances, so I’m always on the lookout for tasty, friend-friendly things to cook.
One of my favourite muffin/cupcake/cake recipes is vegan, does not contain nuts and can easily be made gluten-free, soy-free and alcohol-free. This means it’s perfect for office parties, bake sales and picnics. Also, it’s easy (which is great for me because, unlike some of my amazing friends, I am not Bake Off material). Obligatory vegan recipe statement: this cake is so decadent and delicious that the most annoyingly anti-vegan person won’t feel the need to smear bacon fat on it in order to enjoy it.
This recipe comes via Where’s the Beef?, who call it “un-beet-able chocolate cake”. Go and check out their amazing foodie blog! I use the same quantities as them, which makes about 18 muffins (so make sure you have enough muffin cases).
For the muffins
For the icing (all quantities are approximate)
Preheat your oven to 180°C, pop large cupcake/muffin cases into a muffin tray.
Wash and peel the beetroot, then grate it into a large, deep bowl (the sides will help keep the juice from splashing out and staining everything). Give it a little squeeze to get some of the juice out for the icing. Pack a cup with grated beetroot and pour the juice into a glass/small bowl to reserve for the icing.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl (along with the chilli powder and ground cinnamon, if using). Add the oil, milk and vanilla and stir with a big wooden spoon until just combined. If you’re using gluten-free flour, the mixture will be much runnier, but this is normal. Fold the grated beetroot into the mixture, then spoon it into the muffin cases, leaving a centimetre or so at the top.
Bake the muffins for about 15 minutes. Use the skewer test to check, or simply poke the top with your finger to check that the muffins are firm. This recipe makes quite a dense cake (a mud muffin!), so don’t expect them to rise too much. Repeat this step with any left-over mixture.
When the muffins have cooled, you can ice them. I often leave a few un-iced, because they are extremely rich already and some people won’t be able to take the extra sweetness.
To make the icing, beat together the margarine and icing sugar in a small mixing bowl. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon or two of beetroot juice and stir vigorously, adding more beetroot juice as necessary to make the mixture a bit easier to spread/pipe. I like to pipe the icing on in a nice pattern. Well, I like to try. Some of my efforts are better than others.
Aww, yeah. Time to put these delicious muffins in your mouth.
Have you got a favourite vegan cake recipe? Please share it with us in the comments or on Twitter!
Like many kids, I had a thing about making nests. Blankets and cushions under the dining table, shelters built from fallen tree branches and quickly abandoned to Australian creepy-crawlies, beds at the top of a hay bale stack. . . Practical living spaces they were not, but they’re highly enjoyable to create!
Nowadays, I only get to curl up in a nest when we go camping - or glamping in a pod (e.g. Rhosgadw Farm), shepherd's hut (e.g. Lanefoot Farm) or yurt (e.g. The Sustainability Centre). But my fascination with living in tiny spaces has only grown. I enjoy watching short films and TV series about small spaces and I love seeing how people make tiny and unusual living spaces work for them.
The tiny house movement
The tiny house or micro home movement would offer lots of material for academic study. I often see tiny living marketed as a new idea, probably because these days a lot of relatively “normal”, middle class, white USAns are doing it (often post-global-financial-crisis), rather than poor people, indigenous people, people in countries other than the USA, nomadic people or culture-appropriating grungy hippies. I’d be interested to learn how participants imagine the movement and how a sense of community has developed through online and offline networks. I wonder how it is influenced by geography, laws, culture and climate? How do people negotiate the classist and racist elements I’ve just mentioned? How do people decide – and who gets to decide – who and what is/n’t included in the community? What counts as “tiny”, what counts as a “house”? If anyone’s doing a PhD on the topic, I’d love to read your dissertation!
Tiny House Blog
In the meantime, one of my favourite places to get a fix of small-space design and living is the Tiny House Blog. Their motto is “living simply in small spaces” and their blog goes beyond pretty images (for those I follow Tiny House Swoon). They often host personal stories, “how we built it” articles, reviews of space-saving gadgets and/or research into history and design influences. I am a bit sick of seeing the (USAn) standard wood, mezzanine, peaked roof, tiny verandah, trailer-bed house, so I’m glad Tiny House Blog offers variety. If you’re on Twitter, you can get regular updates from @tinyhouseblog (and another great feed, @ilovetinyhouses).
Well, that's it for today. Now I’m going back to dreaming about building my own, grown-up nest. . .
What do you think about small space living and the tiny house movement? Do you have a favourite design blog? Please share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter!
In which I
In which I do things and write about them
In which I tag
In which I archive