New Year goals

So, now January is well and truly in full swing, it seems a good time to set some goals. I hate the idea of making resolutions as everyone just waits for you to fail because we all know that no-one sticks to a New Year’s resolution! Goals however, sound much more long-term and achievable!

After a good holiday and the Christmas period I need to lose some weight and head back to the gym! About 18 months ago we tried to really cut down on our sugar consumption but this came to an abrupt end after a last-minute, all-inclusive holiday to Morocco! Two things came out of this holiday; firstly, I will never go on an all-inclusive holiday again as it wasn’t really my thing and, secondly, we fell off the sugar-free wagon in spectacular fashion! So many little cakes at every meal and they were  so tiny that you had to have at least three! Anyway, I would really like to reduce my sugar intake again which will hopefully lead to weight loss when combined with exercise (it’s so hard to type with crossed fingers!)

My other goal, in complete contrast (and some might say opposition), is to master vegan baking! I know that sounds ridiculous as cake= calories, but at least I’ll know exactly how much sugar I’m eating and, in a bizarre way, it will allow me to control my sweet tooth. Last weekend, I made a lemon cake which went down very well. The recipe was so easy to follow but my only disappointment was that I’m itching to try using some form of vegan egg replacement but this recipe didn’t need one! There I was with my chia seeds at the ready and aquafaba chilling in the fridge, only to have to put them away again. My next attempt will have to be more ambitious! 

The measuring cup conundrum

Confession time! In the past, I’ve ignored recipes which had the measurements listed in cups as I found it too confusing. Living in the UK, we use grams or ounces but cups were just a mystery to me. On the rare occasion that I decided to take the plunge and try a recipe, I entered a world of confusion as it seems that measuring cups, like people, come in different sizes!

To add to this, I bought myself a set of measuring cups when I was in Canada. I don’t want to say that this was the purpose of my trip (because it wasn’t!) but it was definitely an added bonus. I returned home triumphant thinking of the world of culinary opportunity that was now open to me.

Fast forward a few weeks and, lo and behold, I was given a set of measuring cups as a Christmas present. It never rains but it pours! At first I was thinking of giving a set away but then I noticed that both sets are different sizes. My Canadian set has a cup at 275ml whilst the UK set has it at 250ml. I was cooking last night and the book I was using had a cup listed as 240ml! I decided to use the UK set as they were the nearest to the recipe as, whilst I realise it’s all about ratios, I didn’t want to supersize it!

All in all, it’s fair to say that I’m now more  confused than ever! How can it all be so different? Even so, I do love the convenience of having cups to use rather than having to use the scales every time I cook, but wouldn’t it just be easier if everything was the same? One size really should fit all! 

Tips for Veganuary and beyond

What a brilliant idea Veganuary is! This time last year, we became vegetarian and the idea of being vegan wasn’t even on the horizon. Had I known about Veganuary, I might have given it a try sooner but it’s definitely a case of better late than never!

If I had to give someone a few tips for making the transition to a plant- based diet then I would definitely advise them to start cooking (if they didn’t already). Whilst there are vegan options out there on menus, especially if you live in big cities (which I don’t!), life is going to be much more difficult if you aren’t prepared to cook from scratch. This also gives you the chance to experiment with ingredients, some of which you might never have used before (aquafaba anyone?), and recipes. Today, for example, I made a chickpea salad for the first time which is designed to be like tuna. The recipe is courtesy of Dana Shultz, from one of my favourite websites, Minimalist Baker, but appears on the Forks over Knives site (there is also a variation on her own site but I tried the other version first!) Whilst it didn’t taste like tuna, it is really tasty and definitely evokes memories of savoury tuna sandwiches I’ve enjoyed in the past and I’m looking forward to eating it again at work tomorrow!

My other tip would be not to obsess about finding replacements for dairy. Before we went vegetarian, we had already stopped drinking milk in tea. We tried various plant milks but nothing tasted quite right so we now drink both tea and coffee without milk. Cheese is the usual stumbling block as people always say how much they love it. I was one of those people, particularly around Christmas time when I would really go to town and buy far too many varieties! Even though I keep trying, I haven’t found a vegan cheese that comes close (although I do like a Violife cheddar slice on a burger if the mood takes me!) but I think that knowing why I’m going without has made it easy for me to give it up completely. I do miss eating old-style pizzas, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back to dairy now I’m fully aware of how the industry works. Besides which, cheese-free pizza is really tasty!

Another tip that springs to mind is not to become disheartened when trying to find somewhere to eat. Chips/ fries will always be your friend in an emergency so you won’t starve! Also, never be afraid to ask about vegan options as you might just be pleasantly surprised.

Finally (for now- other tips will no doubt spring to mind the minute I publish this post!) is to stay focused on your own reasons for doing what you’re doing. I don’t try to convert people but will tell them my reasons if they ask. No-one likes to be preached at, even fellow vegans and you only have to join one of the Facebook groups to see this. I like to think that people respect you more for just getting on with it rather than constantly poking their conscience with a very large stick! 

We became vegan in May 2016 so I’m by no means an authority on the subject. I’m just mentioning a few things that I’ve found out myself in the last few months. Having a vegan friend or mentor will help or just make the most of the many websites and Facebook groups out there- it’s good to have people to ask about anything from food to toiletries and cosmetics. It’s amazing how many areas of life being vegan will affect but the effort is definitely worth it! 

My new favourite thing!

Since when did imitation meat become so tasty? I remember sharing a flat with a couple of vegetarian friends about 20 years ago (feeling old just typing that!) and trying some fake ham. I remember it being a weirdly dull pink colour with sparkly bits in it and tasting slightly like chewing gum -my memory says it was like strawberry flavoured Hubba Bubba (can you even buy that these days??) but I may be wrong as it was a long time ago.

Anyway, my memory of ‘meats’ was not good, to the point that, since becoming vegetarian/ vegan, I didn’t want to try anything like that. How things have changed! 

I’ve never really had a problem with frozen ‘meat’ products. Current faves include Linda McCartney sausages and now Fry’s Chicken-Style Strips. I also recently discovered the cheap but oh so cheerful Morrisons meat-free burgers. My joyful disbelief is firmly directed at the deli-style meats I’ve recently found in Holland & Barrett and it has completely transformed my lunchtime sandwich options which were previously limited to hummus and salad or hummus with roasted vegetables.

When I was eating meat, I used to wonder why people would become vegetarian and then seek out meat replacements when this is the very thing they have turned their backs on. I now completely understand this behaviour as I’m able to continue eating the foods I ate before but without causing any suffering. This makes it easier to enjoy a more varied vegan diet without struggling for meal ideas. So far we’ve tried the Vbites sage and onion slices and also the beef slices and I’ve really enjoyed both. They also have ham style slices but, even though it’s been 20 years, I can’t quite bring myself to give them another try! 


The art of hunting (vegan-style)

One thing I’ve come to realise as a vegan is that shopping for food in a supermarket is rarely straightforward. Obviously, the fact that everything is under one roof is a massive leap forward from having to forage for one’s supper but, at times, it still feels like a struggle. Some, such as Sainsbury’s, seem to label food pretty well, but I still find myself wandering the aisles, smartphone in hand, ready to use Google or the brilliantly resourceful Vegan Womble site to tell me whether a product is vegan or not. Surely it should be easier than this?

Today, for example, we went to Morrisons and found ourselves in the small freezer section for meat-free products. As frequent visitors to this aisle (actually, to call it an aisle is generous as it’s two freezers at best!) we’ve come to know what’s in there and what we can and can’t have. Anyway, as we were leaving the section, I was glancing at the ice cream when I noticed our favourite Swedish Glace dairy-free vanilla ice cream. Usually we buy this from Sainsbury’s as I’ve never seen it in Morrisons before which makes me think either a) they’ve just started to stock it or b) they’ve been selling it in completely the wrong place. It was on the top shelf, about halfway down the aisle next to the diabetic ice cream and in with the Ben and Jerry’s. In their defence, I think that they’ve only just started to stock it, as we keep an eye out for the dairy-free Ben and Jerry’s (one day it will be there and I will get to enjoy Chunky Monkey once more!) but wouldn’t it make more sense to put it with the other dairy-free ice creams? 

Anyway, ignoring my little aside about ice cream (although Swedish Glace vanilla is unbelievably good and more people should try it!), it kind of illustrates my point. Products are scattered all over the place so, without proper labelling and designated sections, shopping is a nightmare. My go-to sections are the aforementioned freezers and the free-from aisle which is mostly gluten-free but does have a few vegan items tucked away in there but, other than that, it’s a case of scouring the shelves and checking online. There has to be an easier way!

Sadly I can’t provide a detailed comparison of time spent in shops pre and post veganism, but I’m willing to bet that it’s longer nowadays. Life’s far too short to waste in supermarkets trying to track down vegan options so something has to change. Come the revolution, I want to be able to find vegan items quickly and easily but, until that day arrives, at least my Fitbit is happy with all the extra steps I’m having to take in search of dinner! 

Cheap, cheerful but oh so tasty!

As someone who cooks pretty much everyday, I’ve had my fair share of disappointment in the kitchen. There’s nothing worse than making something which sounds really delicious, only to find that it doesn’t measure up to expectations. This last happened to me at the weekend when I made a spicy bean and courgette soup from my Good Housekeeping Vegetarian Cookbook which, to be honest, was anything but spicy and actually tasted quite bland. I was determined to salvage it however, so I added some vegan worcestershire sauce and chilli flakes to the point where it’s now pretty hot. Not sure that the flavour was enhanced by my additions, but it definitely has a kick which is a good thing as it’s been my lunch for the last couple of days and I’ll also be having it tomorrow!
Tonight was the complete opposite of my soup sorrow. I’ve been feeling like my cooking has become a bit repetitive so, in a bid to find something new, I took to my recipe books this morning. I bought a book called ‘Spice up your life’ a couple of years ago but have never actually used it until now. I found a recipe for a green bean and potato curry which was particularly handy as I had both green beans and potatoes to use up. I wasn’t expecting anything special but was very pleasantly surprised. The curry was delicious and quite thick which is how I like my curry to be. It’s such a simple recipe with relatively few ingredients but it really is tasty. So much so that I feel the need to share the recipe in the hope that someone out there will try it and enjoy it as much as we did this evening!

Green bean and potato curry
(serves 4 or 2 hungry people!)
30ml vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mixed mustard and onion seeds
4 dried red chillies
3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli powder
200g green beans trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
400g potatoes, peeled and diced
300ml water
Fresh coriander and sliced green chillies to garnish

Heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin, mustard and onion seeds along with the dried chillies. Fry for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes.
In the meantime, mix the garlic, ginger, salt and chilli powder in a bowl. Add to the pan and stir well to combine before adding the green beans and potatoes (I boiled them for a few minutes as I hate hard potatoes in recipes). Stir to combine and fry for 5 minutes before adding the water. Bring to the boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander and/or green chillies. I used the latter for even more of a kick!

It really was a tasty meal and is definitely one that I will make again and again. As an added bonus, it wasn’t particularly expensive either and made for a great, quick post-gym dinner!

Vegan weight watching!

People keep telling me about ‘someone’ they know who became vegan and ‘the weight just dropped off them’. While this hasn’t put me under any pressure, it has made me look closely at what I’m eating as I don’t want to assume that my new ‘diet’ will see me waking up as a size 8 anytime soon!
Obviously the gym membership will help but, whatever people say, I always think that diet is the key to losing weight rather than exercise. I base this on my own previous experience, as I’ve lost more weight through diet alone than when I’ve also been doing regular exercise. I think part of it is due to falling into the common trap and thinking that exercising more means that I can eat more which, as we all know, isn’t the case. Anyone who has spent time staring bleakly at the digital display on a piece of gym equipment, willing it to change, will know that burning off a significant number of calories requires a far greater effort than eating them did! How many people have you seen getting out of breath eating a chocolate bar??
Going vegan almost feels like it has been too easy so far. Even the usual stumbling block of giving up cheese has been relatively pain-free and I can’t imagine wanting to eat it now. I’m trying to limit my carb intake and am cooking pretty much everyday, making healthy lunches like soups and salads and trying to eat more fruit (but not too much as I’m aware of the sugar content!) so really I’m doing all I can. I’m even rationing myself to one (small!) Vego chocolate bar a week and even that is a shared treat!
I’ve also been reading up on vegan nutrition and stumbled upon the Vegan Coach website which contains links to all sorts of useful information. I realise that most people probably do their research before making the switch to veganism but, while that would make perfect sense, I’m just happy to have made the change and will fill in the gaps in my knowledge now. I’m not just trying to lose weight- I’m looking to become stronger and healthier. Knowing that no animals are suffering along the way is the icing on the (vegan) cake and I just wish I’d done this years ago!