When we knew my mother was going to be able to come to England for the wedding, I put in an order with her for five jars of Smucker’s Natural creamy peanut butter. Americans, though they probably wouldn’t put it this way unless they’ve lived out of country, are obsessed with peanut butter. It’s definitely a staple food, or maybe a food group of its own. PBJs, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter and banana sandwiches (especially as The King loved, with the banana mashed and the whole thing fried smeared in either butter or bacon fat, as various sources claim), peanut butter milk shakes, Reese’s Pieces and peanut butter cups (I actually remember this one) and Nutter Butters. And when we were down to the last jar within only two months, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands, UK brand Sun Pat being a disgusting claimant to the name peanut butter and not wanting to pay exorbitant sums for American brands chock full of hydrogenated oils. So I looked for a recipe online and discovered that peanut butter, the way I like it, is super easy to make. 1 kilo roasted peanuts, tiny bit of salt and 3T oil. Food processor. Done.

It has now been months since we ran out of store-bought peanut butter, and I’ve been working hard to perfect my homemade peanut butter. I can’t seem to be consistent with it – sometimes it’s perfect, perfectly salted, just the right amount of sugar (barely any), the perfect mixture of oil to peanuts. Others it’s horrible, a flavorless paste or too salty or gloppy from too much oil. Meh. I don’t know what to do to get it right because when I buy salted peanuts I can’t guarantee the saltiness of the peanuts, either within or across brands. I also can’t figure out how much salt to put in, and at what stage, to avoid over-processing when using unsalted.

I haven’t made peanut butter for a while as I was a bit demoralized by the process. I have two bags of unsalted from Holland and Barrett and should get on that today as we’re out of peanut butter again and the jar just came out of the dish washer. We’re still using one of the Smucker’s jars. ; )

Oh, My Lord!

I know it’s been ages since I posted but this has drawn me out: the BEST butterscotch pudding recipe I have come across to date. Below was adapted from Ripe For Dessert (HarperCollins), by David LeBovitz. I have tried other butterscotch recipes but they didn’t turn out anywhere near as nicely as this one did. Maybe it’s the three teaspoons of cornstarch (corn flour to those from the UK), maybe it’s that I now know what “just to boiling” means for milk. Either way, I was super-satisfied with the result, though I will experiment with using less cornstarch. I’ve seen many other recipes use only two teaspoons. I may also experiment with arrowroot powder. Sorry, no photos. It was devoured quickly. I actually spent many minutes getting as much out of the pot as I could after I’d poured it into glasses.

Butterscotch Pudding
4-6 servings

4 tablespoons (60g) butter, salted or unsalted
1 cup (180g) packed dark brown or cassonade sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt (if using salted butter, start with 1/4 tsp or omit salt from recipe)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2½ (625ml) cups whole milk
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons whiskey (I used Jack Daniels)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the dark brown sugar and salt, then stir until the sugar is well-moistened. Remove from heat.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with about 1/4 cup (60ml) of the milk until smooth (there should be no visible pills of cornstarch), then whisk in the eggs.

3. Gradually pour the remaining milk into the melted brown sugar, whisking constantly, then whisk in the cornstarch mixture as well.

4. Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Once it begins to bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer and continue to cook for one minute, whisking non-stop (furiously, and I do mean furiously – your arm should be about to drop off by the end of that minute; it negated the need for a strainer, at least in my case), until the pudding thickens to the consistency of hot fudge sauce.

5. Remove from heat and stir in the whiskey and vanilla. If slightly-curdled looking, blend as indicated above.

6. Pour into 4-6 serving glasses or custard cups and chill thoroughly, at least four hours, before serving.

See Me, Save Me

I ride a bike almost every day, somewhere in London. Sometimes it’s half a mile to the grocery store, sometimes it’s 8 or 9 miles up to East London, sometimes it’s 12 miles across to West London. Every time I ride I see people taking dangerous risks around HGVs (transport trucks). We need to educate as many riders as possible on the risk of death from actions such as undertaking at roundabouts or going down the inside at a light. Unfortunately, there are instances where the cyclist is exactly where they are supposed to be, and should be fully visible to the driver, but they are somehow not seen, hit, and killed. Please read the below message and forward to your local government officials (Europe only).

Thank you.

A message from Kate Cairns:

Two years ago on Thursday 5th February 2009 my sister Eilidh, was run down by a tipper lorry in Notting Hill Gate whilst cycling to work. She died 2 hours later. She was 30. She was a strong experienced cyclist, commuting a 20mile round trip daily.

The coroner concluded that it was more likely than not Eilidh was ahead of the lorry, that she was available to be seen by the driver, and that the front offside bumper of the lorry made contact with the rear wheel of the cycle, causing it to fall and Eilidh to be caught up in the wheels.

Last year the driver pleaded guilty to driving with uncorrected defective vision and was given 3 points and a £3200 fine. He said he did not see her. He is still driving his truck.

Heavy Goods Vehicles count for 45% of all London cyclist deaths but make up only 5% of road traffic. Across Europe 4000 people, mostly unprotected road
users such as cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians are killed each because of HGV blind spots.

Our local Member of European Parliament is proposing a change to EU legislation to have HGVs fitted with sensors and cameras to remove their blind spots with Written Declaration 81.

We have a ready-made letter, which is translated, along with the actual WD, into all 23 languages across the EU. (Contact me if you cant find the link to your language)

1. PLEASE email the letter to ALL of your MEPs ASAP. It will take less than 2 minutes. We have a link to the letter, and to your MEPs.*

In order to be effective this declaration needs to be signed by half of the 736 MEPs. There are only 72 MEPs in the UK.

2. PLEASE forward this email to as many contacts as possible far and wide across Europe.
*Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania,
Slovenia, Finland, Sweden.

The WD lapses in less than 2 weeks on Wed 16th Feb. Please act swiftly.

If you want to do more:

3. PLEASE come to Strasbourg for 15th and/or 16th Feb to lobby MEPs as they go into the session.

We are taking Eurostar on Monday 14th Feb, returning Wednesday 16th Feb.

4. PLEASE come to Hyde Park Corner 11.30-12.30 on Monday 14th Feb, for a media event, before we leave for Strasbourg

All the links are here http://www.eilidhcairns.com/campaign

We really appreciate 3 minutes of your time to do 1 and 2. It can help save lives. Lives that are cherished and sorely lost.

Apologies for any cross-posting.

Kate Cairns


In this post I told you about Spotify (this is the UK link), and I now have better news. Many of you may be frustrated with Spotify’s system of forcing you to listen to a 20 second commercial every 2-3 songs unless you pay for premium. I know I am! So much so that I’ve given up on Spotify and revile its very name.

To the rescue, until further notice, is GrooveShark! Anything that’s on Spotify, and often more, no commercials, just ad banners. You can sign up, you can not sign up; you can pay, you can not pay. What more could a girl ask? It even has Fennesz and Deathprod!

Then there are these amazing peeptoe wedges. I know, many of you don’t care about shoes, but these aren’t just shoes, they are works of art – literally.

The seller calling him or herself hippyofdoom has hand painted these shoes with two different scenes from paintings by one of my top three painters, Edouard Manet. Gorgeous. Too big. Good thing!

The garden has been going well but is almost at its end. We made bolognese from tomatoes from the garden, that was fantastic! I should have taken more photos, I should have updated more, pero eso es la vida…

Hopefully I’ll start writing again. Full-time social worker job and a full social life have arrested much of my desire to post. As always, “we’ll see…”

Maybe you always had tendencies but no space or money before. Now, you’re growing a garden!

There are vegetables galore, everything your ignorant mind could throw at a 4×10′ plot! 6 pea plants, all put in at the same time. 6 sprouting broccoli plants. Three corn plants (one died), a row of onions, a row of beets, three courgette plants, 7 pepper plants (none thrived, four eventually moved to pots, one of which has flowered), 4 tomato plants in two varieties, lettuce.

Who knew courgettes grew 3′ wide? Surely it would have said that on the back of the packet! (Wait, men don’t read the backs of packets)

And to top it all off, your old “poor food” meal, rice & veggies (no meat) has gone from taking about 20 minutes to make, to 45 minutes, has red camargue rice and brown rice, courgettes, carrots and peas from your garden, and duck breasts (because they were on sale).

But damn, is it good to eat yummy food that you’ve grown yourself!

When you move to a new country and try to set up a life there, you encounter a broad range of differences in the way people do things in this new country. For instance, in Britain, everything is harder. Ha! No, it just feels that way sometimes, especially when it comes to banking. Without five years of checkable addresses in the country (I wonder if it counts if you’ve lived some of them in Ireland, Wales or Scotland?), you only qualify for a type known as a Cashminder Account. All this means is that, like in the United States, you have a debit card, can bank online, and can deposit and withdraw money. OK, good, that’s all I wanted to do. Here, customers are charged a monthly fee for different levels of banking because the bank will offer you things like free worldwide travel insurance, home insurance, financial advice, and an overdraft. Overdraft is basically a line of credit. We have something called overdraft in the States, too, but I’ve never had it as anything other than a link to my savings account in case a check bounces, so I won’t be charged.

All things considered, I suppose the British overdraft and the American overdraft are similar, it’s just that its like having a credit card attached to your checking account instead of not having anything and being charged a fee if you go into the red.

My problem with British banking is that it’s ridiculously hard to get anything done. To change your address you have to go into a branch. Not just any branch, either, but the branch at which you started the account. You have to put in various parts of two codes to get into your account online. And because my proof of address, which came from Ealing Council, for a bill for our old address, and thus says C/O [my new address], they’re having problems accepting it as proof. They also won’t issue me a bank account right away because I’m not a UK passport holder, even though I’m not asking for any credit. What is that all about?

They say it’s so you’re more protected against fraud, and I wonder how much there is compared to in the States, but I do know someone who had her identity stolen and fraudulent charges made against her bank account.

Oh! And I forgot! Apparently you can’t do online purchasing through your bank card unless you have a card reader sent to you? Maybe that’s only with Royal Bank of Scotland. But Brits, please tell me your experiences with online purchasing. I’m really interested to know now that I’m about to be able to start doing that.

Now that I’ve finally got a job, I’m really looking forward to being paid. But wouldn’t ya know it, I can’t be for at least another week. Which means I still can’t get a cell phone. I’ll just stare wistfully at the HTC Desire for another week and debate endlessly over which phone provider to go with.

A week and a half ago, I interviewed for a social worker position within the Referral and Assessment team in the Child Protection unit of the south London borough that I had been volunteering with over the past two months. If any of you reading don’t remember, because everyone who hears that I was volunteering my social work services says, “Whoa. Well, you’re a better person than I am,” I was volunteering to get some recent, UK experience to make my CV look better, mine being so far back and none of it in the UK. I was only mildly nervous about the interview, pretty much knowing that I had it in the bag because nearly every manager has come up to me and told me specifically what a good job I’m doing and how hard a worker I am. Then all the girls started asking me if I remembered this, or that, or the other, and then “revising” with me (“studying” is called “revising” in the UK), and I began to get nervous. The Children Acts 1989 and 2004, sections specifically pertaining to CP work (7, 17, 20, 23, 47 and definitely others, there was a huge list, ACK!), Stay Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy and Achieve, Achieve Economic Wellbeing, Make a Positive Contribution (five markers they use to gauge the wellbeing of children and families in the UK), and operations questions like, “What happens when you get a referral from a member of the public?”

I don’t think I’ll be revealing any trade secrets here, but my manager didn’t ask me any questions like that. I think it’s because I wasn’t educated here, making him less interested in whether or not I already knew statutory information, which is something I can learn on the job, as he was in finding out my general social work knowledge and attitudes, and how I would deal with certain situations I might find myself in while out in the field. The only one I didn’t pass with flying colors was when dealing with underage mothers, where I forgot that the mother herself is still considered a child, and must be treated accordingly, with us watching out for her needs and wants as much as those of her child. With my skills checked and my character already vouched for through the past two months, I was offered a start date of 1st June, pending final approval!

For about a week, I sweated over the phrase “pending final approval”. I was pretty sure I would be OK but feared some dark horse UK QSW would come out of the woodwork wanting a permanent position to sweep my spot out from under me. I need not have worried because late this past week I received confirmation that I did indeed have a job to go to on Tuesday, and that I would be taking the title of Senior Social Worker. It’s a little nerve wracking; apparently senior social workers may be assigned higher caseloads than social workers, but my deputy head manager already told me they would only be assigning me Initial Assessments at first. And since I don’t have a car, and will be riding my bike as well as taking public transportation, I’ve negotiated the probability of not being assigned far-flung cases, or those in the hillier region of the council. Phew! I’ve also been given the use of a tablet, ostensibly so I can learn the handwriting system and write notes instead of the more distracting-to-clients typing notes down, but also so that I may try to keep up with paperwork while using public transportation. Apparently every hour with the families generates about 6 hours of paperwork, a daunting figure when you take timescales into account.

I will still need to buy a new computer for working from home as my old Mac won’t allow me to access the internet program to write case notes, but overall I’m feeling pretty prepared for this job. But I am shitting myself just a little bit. I’ll be working again, after a 16-month absence from the work force. Time to get on it! One bank holiday weekend to recover from a 5 time zone change.