Sunday, 15 November 2015

This Weekend

This weekend ...

... I paid an early morning visit to Sanctum where I listened to an intriguing soundscape and a tap dancer, followed by breakfast at Harts Bakery

... I helped plant an orchard on a derelict plot in Bedminster

... I attended Quaker Meeting for Worship where a Friend reminded us that hope does not always have a happy ending.  It's tenuous and sometimes you have to hold on tight to stop it slipping from your grasp.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

30 Day Vegan Challenge: The Verdict

Post Challenge Breakfast
I had every intention of posting my reflections on my 30 Day Vegan Challenge weeks ago, while it was still fresh in my mind.  However best laid plans ...

Anyway, here goes:

To begin with, it wasn't nearly as difficult as I'd imagined (feared?).  Or at least not for most of the time.

It took me a week or so to find an acceptable substitute for milk in my tea.  I experimented with almond (which curdled!) and oat (which was too watery), before settling on soya, which didn't separate and gave a good colour.  It had a slightly chalky taste which I almost, but not quite, got used to.

I bought a tub of industrial looking vegan sunflower spread which was alright if I spread it thinly and and topped it generously with jam or avocado.  I reluctantly succumbed to a tub of sheeze(!) but had reason to be grateful for it on more than one occasion when I returned home hungry and needed something to keep me going until tea time.

Apart from that it was relatively plain sailing.  I did need to think ahead, but even on days when I failed to do so, I always came up with something perfectly edible.

It helped that I love soup, and virtually anything with rice, pasta, rice noodles or couscous.  As a base for lentils, vegetables or tofu in a tomato or coconut sauce, livened with herbs or spices, the possibilities were endless.

Entertaining at home wasn't a problem.  When my younger daughter arrived with a gaggle of her university friends (one of them a vegan) I was able to offer tasty alternatives to cottage pie, cake and a Sunday morning fry up.  Anna Jones' A Modern Way to Eat was a valuable resource.  Her mushroom biryani which I cooked for for a couple of our friends is bookmarked for future use.

Eating out was almost as easy, with one notable exception.  Bristol is well served with restaurants and cafes offering vegan alternatives which don't leave you feeling you've missed out.  A day trip to Salisbury was trickier.  We stumbled on a brasserie with a fixed price menu offering one vegan sounding dish per course.  I have to admit to not having asked any probing questions for fear of having to go hungry.  The notable exception was a local pub whose only vegan options were a soup and a sharing platter, neither of which constituted a proper meal.

There were a couple of shared meals during the course of the month, both of which offered enough choice to keep me happy.  A friend's kitchen warming party was not so successful, with plates laden with the most gorgeous dairy rich cakes I've seen in a long time.  If it hadn't been for a bowlful of pakoras I'd have wept with frustration.

I lost 2 kg.  Whether this was as a result of cutting out cheese and butter, or being unable to partake of the omnipresent selection of cakes and biscuits in the staffroom, I don't know, but I wasn't complaining.

Having decided to steer clear of meat substitutes and ready made meals (though I discovered a tasty felafel mix and Aldi do excellent burgers), the challenge forced me to cook from scratch, to eat more vegetables (though strangely not more fruit), to rediscover tofu, to introduce nuts and seeds into my diet and to play with colour and texture.

Breakfast on the day after my challenge ended was a bacon and egg fry up washed down with a cup of tea made with cow's milk.  Never did they taste so good.  But it's not been back to business as usual.  Having discovered that I can manage without any meat I'm going to try and live on less, restricting it to the weekend and special occasions and, ideally, as a flavouring rather than the centrepiece of the meal.  I'm back to using milk and butter, but will go easier on the cheese.  There will be more grains and nuts and seeds, and fish from our new fishmonger on Thursdays and Fridays.  And I've got to find space for more (any!) fruit.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

30 Day Vegan Challenge

I'm now 9 days into my 30 Day Vegan Challenge.  Time for a few initial reflections.

  • I've had to accept that my beloved cuppa will never taste as good as it does with cow's milk.  I have been experimenting with some of the impressive range of alternatives.  Soya milk tastes chalky and rice & almond milk curdles.  Oat milk has proved to be the most acceptable, but none of them produce a liquid of the right colour.
  • Porridge, however, is improved with being made with rice and almond milk.  I suspect this will hold true for rice pudding.
  • Avocado on toast makes a good breakfast, spiked with a few drops of Tabasco and a squirt of lemon juice.
  • Vegan margarine looks like it belongs in a garage.
  • You can't go wrong with olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, a tin of beans (any variety) and a shake of dried herbs (again, any variety).  Served with a grain, the job's a good 'un.
  • Vegan risotto is alright, but would be even better with the addition of crispy bacon and a sprinkling of parmesan.
  • Tofu fried until crisp on the edges is a thing of beauty.
  • Adding water to a carrot cake mixture is scary, but it works.
  • Wagamama's Yasai Katsu Curry is yummier than the chicken version (my younger daughter's verdict and, believe you me, she's an expert!).
  • It didn't take long before I relented and bought a tub of 'Sheeze'.
  • Watching The Hairy Bikers and The Great British Bake Off while undertaking this challenge is not helpful (which is when the 'Sheeze' came in handy!).

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

October Challenge: A Preview

Yes I know.  There's still more than a week of September to go, but I'm going to need a little help with my next challenge, so I'm making this appeal in plenty of time to learn from the experiences of others.

My challenge for October is to eat vegan.  For some time now I have been attempting (not always successfully) to be a semi vegetarian, ie restricting meat consumption to the weekends and special occasions.  I'm doing this mainly for ecological reasons, to limit my contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but also for health reasons, to limit my intake of saturated fat and to hit my 5-a-day target.

However, in October I'm going to try and go one step further and cut out animal products altogether.  At first I thought this would be a doddle, but the more I think about it the more problematic it grows.  My main concerns are around alternatives for milk (I can't do without my morning cuppa!), eggs (no cakes? no puddings?) and cheese (I'm not convinced by any of the alternatives).  What will I eat for breakfast?  What can I order when I eat out?  What can I put on the table when I've only half an hour between getting home from work and going out for the evening?  How can I tell at a glance whether something I pick off the shelf is vegan?  What are the ingredients to look out for?  How can I ensure that I maintain a balanced diet and don't run myself down?

I know there are people out there who have the answers to these questions.  If you're one of them please share your wisdom below.  I will be most grateful.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

September Challenge

During the month of September I have challenged myself to begin each day with 15 minutes silence.

My normal routine would be to begin the day in a mad rush to shower, dress, grab some breakfast, pack my lunch and hunt for my keys before slamming the front door and haring down the road to get to work on time.  It's not the ideal way to ensure a good day.

As a Quaker attender I have grown to appreciate the value of waiting quietly during Meeting for Worship on Sundays and have decided to introduce it into my daily routine.  I may even try to end the day with a few minutes of silence to prepare me for a good night's rest.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A Daughter's Secret: A Year in Books

When I popped in to the library last Monday morning to return an overdue book it was with no intention of borrowing another.  A cursory glance around our living room would assure anyone I had enough reading material to keep me entertained for a good few years.  But I can never resist checking out the display of new acquisitions and I had a yearning for a an easier read than any of the volumes in my 'to read' pile at home.

Eleanor Moran's 'a daughter's secret', a tale of two women hiding devastating secrets and needing each other to survive, was irresistible.  I just had to find out whether they learnt to trust each other before it was too late!

Next stop was the doctor's surgery,  I arrived early and decided to get stuck in straight away.  My first reaction was one of bitter disappointment.  I took an instant dislike to the author's vocabulary and use of imagery, so much so that I seriously contemplated returning to the library to swap it for another straight after my appointment.  But I was persuaded by Daisy Goodwin's 'gripping, emotional' review of an earlier novel to give Ms Moran a chance to live up to her reputation.

Having reached the end I'm glad I did.  For although I continued to struggle with her style I was emotionally engaged and gripped by the story.  Even better I found myself in that delicious state of being unwilling to put it down, something I haven't, for various reasons, experienced, but deeply missed for some time now.

So while I don't imagine I'll be scanning the shelves for any of her other novels I'm grateful that 'a daughter's secret' has got me reading again.

When choosing a book I usually read a paragraph selected at random to test whether I'm comfortable with an author's style, and immediately reject anything that jars.  I also admit to judging books by their covers.  How do you choose a new book?  How long do you allow yourself to persist with one which doesn't instantly please?  Is there a particular book you have been unable to finish, despite it being highly recommended?

I'm (rather unsuccessfully so far!) joining in The Year in Books with Laura over at Circle of Pine Trees.   

Sunday, 1 March 2015

March Challenge

During a recent long weekend visiting family in Scotland I was dismayed not only by the sight of so many people glued to their mobiles but, more importantly, by the realisation of how much time I spend checking for updates on my social media sites.  It has become an embarassing habit.

So the challenge for March is to spend less time on my mobile and more time living.  There will be no more peeking at Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at the beginning and end of each day, during breaks at work, on the bus or in cafes.  There's really no need for it.  Instead I will give my full attention to the people I'm with and the world around me, and confine my internet browsing to half an hour or so in the evening.

I'm hoping it will make me more mindful of my surroundings and reduce my stress levels.

Let's see.