Vegan for Lent – I loved it!

Preparing crumble and plantain patties

Above: preparing plantain patties and crumbles.

Prior to this Lent, I had never given anything up assuming that I would shame myself by breaking the rules and giving into a magnetic piece of chocolate or whatever else I might have attempted to give up. Otherwise, I would tell my excuse making self “What’s the point, life is short, imagine if you were hit by a bus on Good Friday and you had just abstained from eating chocolate/cake/macarons for 40 days!” amidst other such internal dialogues and woolly rationales as to why not to make the attempt.

So, this year my boyfriend and I decided to give something up. I have a mainly vegetarian diet (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” by Michael Pollan was my natural motto even before I read his) but my boyfriend enjoys meat every now and then – being French, and having lived in Mexico City and Barcelona, meat featured in a lot of dishes. But why vegan? To backtrack a little, at the beginning of the year we had met up with some friends and their friends, an Italian couple, who had decided to go vegetarian and told us about all the benefits they felt health wise, energy wise, etc and they were sticking with it. This sparked a little curiosity in my Frenchie and he was keen to try vegetarianism. “Why not do it for Lent?” I asked. But as I am practically a veggie anyway that wouldn’t be forfeiting much for me. So, I took it one step further: “Let’s be vegan for Lent!”

We went for it. I realised that for someone who had always thought she wouldn’t be able to give anything up substantial to the pleasure of eating (see above, cakes, etc) I had now given up about four dozen things! Wow! This was a self back patting moment – if I got through it.

Lent is now over, the long Easter weekend already in the past (sigh) and we made it with “vegan Lent”! Not only did we make it, we loved it! When we told friends about our “vegan Lent” we heard some pretty hilarious comments such as “So, you’re just eating beans really?”, “Well, now you’ll know what punishment feels like”, “But you can eat dairy, right?” and simply “Why?”. Mother Nature provides a bountiful selection of fruit, vegetables and grains for us to enjoy in endless combinations so why the surprise and complaints? Are we still three year olds pounding our clenched fists on tables and turning puce at the sight of a carrot, wailing at the green and daunting broccoli? I hope not and with all the trade in exotic fruit and veg in and out of season we have an even wider range of ingredients to play with. I bet that the people who are flummoxed by veganism and vegetarianism actually eat a pretty limited diet themselves albeit with meat, always going for the steak option at a restaurant for example.

My boyfriend and I love cooking and experimenting with new dishes and limiting the choice of ingredients forced us to be more imaginative. Often for brunch at home we would eat toasted muffins with smoked salmon, a poached egg and spinach. Instead we had a brunch of green lentil dal, rice and plantain patties. It was absolutely delicious and I declared I could eat it every day for a month! We experimented wildly with recipes and by limiting our ingredients (only a bit of course, remember nature’s feast of vegetables!) we forced ourselves to deviate from our “go-to” recipes and vary our meals a lot. We started varying the oils we cooked with such as using coconut oil instead of the obvious olive oil. Just the smell of the coconut oil heating up was enough to make me go doolally! We tried restaurants with vegan options which we really enjoyed such as MildredsWild Food Cafe and Sagar. We ate a lot of Indian inspired food as there are so many scrumptious Indian vegetable dishes to try. I had made vegan meals before for my vegan friends, so was familiar with alternatives to dairy ingredients, and once made biscuits with olive oil spread instead of butter. An Italian friend remarked on how delicious the biscuits were and that he could really taste the butter! I was surprised and so was he to find out that there was no butter in the biscuits! I had thought that his Italian body would have a inbuilt mechanism to recognise which region the olive oil in the spread was from, but no, he was fooled!

Other than enjoying the food during our vegan 40 days, we noticed some great health benefits. My stomach used to gurgle a lot no matter what time of day. I had read that this was just one’s stomach digesting but really, did it need to digest so loudly?!! All my colleagues could hear it! Two weeks into vegan Lent I suddenly realised: the symphony orchestra in my stomach is on sabbatical! I shot up from my desk and declared to my colleagues “My stomach doesn’t rumble anymore!!!”. “You’re right!” they chimed in with joy (and relief). But why? I don’t know. Was the previous rumbling a combination of gluten and dairy, certain grains with certain types of vegetables and fish? I need to look into it and I smile to myself at this silent benefit. Another health improvement was no heartburn for my boyfriend. He used to get heartburn several times a week, and as anyone who has had it knows it is not nice, but during the vegan period the heartburn disappeared. Maybe it eloped with my orchestra! Another difference I noticed was how awake I felt in the morning when my alarm sounded. I used to feel sluggish and press the snooze button several times but the vegan me felt wide awake instantly. Occasionally I felt tired in the morning when my alarm went off and needed to sleep a little longer but I could always directly relate it to a busy extra long working day the day before. I also did not feel hungry between meals – was this because I was eating whole foods and nothing laced with quickly absorbed sugars? When vegan you automatically cannot eat a lot of the manufactured fake food products that are out there which are made with refined industrialised ingredients. As if these benefits weren’t enough, friends even commented that we look younger!

So, will I stay vegan? No, not because it is boring or limiting, as some claim, but because I love food. I love food as a whole. I love eggs in pastry, buttery pain au chocolats and macarons and quiches and so on and so on. I love cheese and a good coffee with whole creamy cow’s milk. I am curious about food and different cuisines and I want to try them. However, I will make most of my meals plant based and eat animal products minimally because I believe it is healthier. I have always had a very healthy diet but I noticed new benefits to my health during my vegan period and I would be silly to ignore them. I am also suspicious of the modern production of food. I can’t grow my own vegetables or milk my own cows but I can at least go to the local farmers’ market and buy organic when possible and only proper food (not food products). I really recommend Michael Pollan’s books if you are interested in eating in the modern world. Furthermore, if you are interested in having more energy, losing a bit of weight and perhaps looking younger, go vegan! At least for a stint.

Here is a selection of the meals we prepared. Recipes on their way!

Curly kale, date, walnut, mushroom salad

Curly kale, date, hazelnut and mushroom salad.

Spaghetti, tomato, quorn and more

Faux spaghetti bolognese with minced quorn and red cabbage.

Putting rhubarb and berry crumble together

Rhubarb, forest fruits and apple ready to be topped with crumble.

Indian dishes and plantain patties

Dal, plantain and apricot patties and a variation on Aloo Gobi.

Crumble

Forrest fruit and apple crumble with pumpkin seeds.

Soup with mushrooms, ginger, kale, spring onion

Mushroom, sweetcorn, spinach and spring onion soup with grated fresh ginger.

Barley risotto with asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli

Pearl barley risotto with purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds

Dry toasting pumpkin seeds.

Fusili with celeriac and apple sauce

It may look like fusilli with mashed potato but it’s fusilli with celeriac and apple sauce topped with parsley and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.

Delicious and wonderful rhubarb

Rhubarb season. Glorious rhubarb!

Purple chard salad

A purple chard salad with lightly fried mushrooms, radishes, walnuts, toasted seeds and basil.

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Elderflower Picking/ Elderflower Cordial Recipe

      

      

      

      

When I was in Edinburgh I went “foraging” for elderflowers with my friend and her wee bairns (I use inverted commas because it was hardly hacking through the wilderness but going to a tree on the path around the corner from their home!) . I had made my first attempt at elderflower cordial a week before but it looked as though I had made an algae drink as it was a touch too green. It also created scrunched up noses and an “ooooerr, better work on that one before it goes on the blog” from my two now fired tasters. Joking, of course I need an honest opinion. I actually liked the grassy taste!

So, with my friend and little helpers another recipe has been produced. A really nice touch is to put elderflowers in ice cubes. I used ice sticks which looked particularly pretty.

What you need:

400ml water

2 dessert spoons castor sugar

10 decent sized heads of elderflowers (with as many buds open as possible)

Half a lime and half a lemon (optional), cut into slices

What you need to do:

1. Heat the water in a pan with the sugar and bring to a boil. Boil until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Whilst the water is heating, wash the elderflowers well and pull them off the stalks. I think the small stalks are what gave my first attempt a grassy taste!

3. Allow the sugar water to cool a bit then pour it into a jug. Add the elderflowers (and lemon and lime if using) and leave to steep overnight.

4. Pour the cordial into a bottle or another jug using a sieve or muslin to keep back the flowers, lemon and lime.

 

 

     

Housebites. Knock knock, room service!

A friend told me about her friend who does Housebites – a new take away system in London that is adding huge variety to the classic Indian food, Chinese food and pizzas that dominate the take away scene. You go onto the website, put in your postcode and look at the profiles and menus of the chefs who live in your area. Then you see when they’re cooking, order the dishes that tickle your taste buds, book a delivery time slot and await the arrival of a chef or chef’s friend with scrumptious food on your doorstep! It turns out that that friend’s friend lives next door to one of my friends who told me that there are always the most delicious smells coming from their flat. Small world! So, another friend (still with me?) and I decided to give it a go. We placed an order at 6pm last night from Danny Jack (chef for hire!) and at 7.30pm he knocked on the door with a brown bag full of goodies. It felt like Christmas, opening a parcel with little boxes and tubs of food. Squealing with glee we ran to the table and tucked in and oh my, it was great!

We ordered:

Fresh potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms, parmesan cheese, curly kale and fresh herbs

Pearl barley risotto with peas, leeks and seasoned with lemon, parmesan cheese and fresh herbs

Mixed green veg with chilli, lemon & almonds

and Danny kindly added a sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and whipped vanilla cream.

It was all absolutely delicious and we will definitely be ordering again soon. There are lots of chefs with very diverse menus and many have interesting culinary and cultural backgrounds so if you don’t feel like leaving the warmth of your home to go to a restaurant where you may sit next to irritants or have sniffy staff serving you go on this website and eat amazing food in the comfort of your home.

Summer of Salads: Garden Supper

I went to a friend’s the other evening and had the most scrumptious supper plucked mainly from the garden. The menu was gazpacho, beetroot and carrot salad and radish pods with lettuce. Rabbit food to some, delicious to me!!

Gazpacho recipe

What you need:

1 cucumber

1 red pepper

3 big tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1 small red chilli

1/3 of a red onion sliced

red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt & pepper to taste

What you need to do:

Put all the ingredients in a blender until they reduce to a thick soup consistency. Transfer it to a bowl and add ice cubes.

Don’t blend it too much so that the ingredients are left a little bitty. I’ve always had the soup with a smooth consistency but it is really good with more texture.

Nectarine Cake

I love squishy, juicy nectarines and am so pleased to see them in my local fruit and vegery at the moment. This recipe involves making a nectarine compote to mash into the cake batter which makes it really moist. I took this cake to a friend’s supper and she had made strawberry and raspberry ice-cream which went perfectly with it.

What you need:

300g wholewheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

180g caster sugar

200ml vegetable oil

3 nectarines

What you need to do:

1. Heat the oven to 180C.

2. Cut one of the nectarines into small pieces and put them in a pan on the hob with a few splashes of water. Put the lid on, turn on the heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until the fruit softens and can be squished with a fork into a compote, then turn the heat off.

3. Sift the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together with the flour.

4. Mix the sugar and the oil together and then gradually stir the flour in.

5. Stir the cooled compote into the mixture.

6. Cut the other two nectarines into slices of about half a centimetre thick each.

7. Grease a cake tin with vegetable oil and pour half of the cake mixture into it.

8. Lay most of the nectarine slices on the cake mixture, pour the rest of the mixture on top and lay the last nectarine slices on the top.

9. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, then sprinkle some caster sugar on top, and bake for another 5-10 minutes until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

10. Devour!

Seriously Squishy Brownies

This is one of the best brownie recipes I’ve ever made. My vegan flatmate had a work lunch which a colleague made these for and they were scrumptious and gooey. The best bit is that as they are vegan you can make them with ingredients that are usually in the kitchen cupboard. There’s no need to get eggs so they are perfect for poor egg allergy sufferers. They miss out enough not being able to have scrambled eggs on buttery toast and most cakes! I’ve altered the recipe a little to have less sugar and more cocoa powder.

What you need:

250g plain flour

350g sugar (I do a mix of white sugar and brown sugar – mostly brown so 250g soft brown and 100g white)

70g cocoa powder

1 teaspoon of baking powder (if you don’t have it mix one part baking soda to two parts cream of tartar)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla essence

240ml water

240ml vegetable oil

What you need to do:

1: Preheat the oven to 180C.

2: Sift all the dry ingredients together: flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and stir in the sugar.

3: Measure the water and vegetable oil together, add the vanilla essence and pour into the dry mixture stirring well.

4: Pour the mixture into a greased baking tin and bake for 20 minutes if you want them squishy and 25 minutes if you don’t want them so squishy. About 10 minutes into baking I sprinkle some demerara sugar on top for a bit of sugary crunch. The top should looked cooked and crunchy but when you dip a knife in it should come out covered in chocolate goo!

Raw Vegan Dinner

I’m living with a vegan friend in a vegan flat. When I tell my meat and dairy eating friends it draws reactions from “That is food fascism!” to “Yuk!” and just boggle eyed slack jawed expressions, however it has revealed a new range of ways to treat, prepare and eat food. The general assumption is that as a vegan all you can eat is crudites (raw veg and olive oil is actually a typical Tuscan starter – yummy and a good work out for your jaw especially when tackling raw artichoke) but this definitely does not represent the range of what a vegan can eat. Vegan food can be very imaginative indeed. Apart from using ingredients in unusual ways there are even pieces of equipment that I hadn’t heard of that are used as I discovered when I went to a raw vegan pop-up restaurant in Denmark Hill, South London. We ate a five course dinner consisting of an elixir of beetroot, apple and ginger, Ceasar Salad, live pasta, lasagne and mocha cheesecake. Several of the names allude to well known meaty dishes but are recreated to be animal product free and raw. The raw part of the diet means that the food is not cooked above 48 degrees so the enzymes in the food are not altered in order to retain as many of the nutrients as possible. The “pasta” of zucchini was made by using a spiralizer which is a contraption that you clamp a vegetable in and turn a handle which rotates the vegetable creating strands of different widths so you can make “spaghetti” or “tagliatelle”. The “lasagne” was made with layers of aubergine slices with an al dente texture. The mocha “cheesecake” was a smooth slice of cashews soaked in water and blended on a cocoa and walnut crust. Sometimes ingredients are dehydrated such as kale which we had as kale “chips” on our Caesar Salad. It was all delicious and intriguing. If  I showed photos of the courses to friends without mentioning that the food was raw and vegan I bet some kale chips the reactions would be “Yum!” rather than “Yuk!”

when I tell