Archive | May, 2018

Things I learnt in May

31 May

Here are some surprising things that I have learnt over the last month.

1. It is possible to have too many bank holidays in one month. This May we had 3 bank holidays: May Day, Ascension Day and late May Bank Holiday. I have nothing against bank holidays but I also realised that after May we have one bank holiday (1st August for the Switzerland National Day) and then none until Christmas. Can they be spread out a bit more please? The other thing is that two of them were in the middle of the week so you have to work the day before and the day after. I have said it before and I will say it again: it would be better to move the day to the beginning or the end of the week so that people could enjoy a long weekend.

2. I have missed being at home. This month was the first time that I had been back in the UK in 2018 and the first time I have personally seen family and friends. What was unusual and a welcomed surprise was that the weather was nothing short of glorious.

3. Did you know that there is a difference between a shrimp and a prawn. I thought that the words could be used interchangeably but apparently that is not correct. While both have five pairs of legs, a prawn has claws on three of the five pairs of legs and a shrimp only has two. Who knew?

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4. I have a higher than average reading speed. Just by chance I came across a speed reading test on the internet. It turns out that I have a reading speed of 430 words per minute with a reading comprehension of 100%. Ironically in May I have lost a bit of my reading momentum because of other projects getting in the way but I am hoping that I will be able to get back on track in June and be able to sit with my head in a book more often.

5. Be kind to your knees. I have been struggling with a knee problem for sometime and I have now been referred to a knee specialist. Luckily it looks like rest and physiotherapy is helping and nothing as drastic as surgery is needed. But still look after your knees because if they weren’t there, you would miss them. A lot.

6. I am a librocubicularist. It sounds like a really strange star sign but it actually means a person who reads in bed. I love reading and I love reading in bed. Even though sometime I do fall asleep with a book in bed. I guess there really is be a name for everything.

I’m not sure how it is the end of May. Time seems to be racing away with itself at the moment, which has to be a sure sign that I am getting old. Whatever you have been up to this May, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Cookbook challenge

27 May

I have been busying myself with cooking in recent weeks in order to get nearer to my goal of cooking every recipe from one cookbook. There have been some interesting and surprising results. Here are the latest dishes to be ticked off my list.

Museli bars

These were surprisingly easy to make but I had to find some vegan butter to add to the recipe which wasn’t hard to find at all. I would definitely make these again and the boyfriend also approved! Next time I will make them a bit fatter because they ended up being really crumbly because they were a bit too thin.

Pesto and “Ricotta” Balls

When it come to eating, beware of anything in quotation marks. It normally means that the substitute that you are making is a poor substitute for the thing you are trying to replicate. The recipe was easy enough to make and the consistency was similar to ricotta cheese in fairness. But it just wasn’t *quite* the same.

Spicy Oven-Roasted Cauliflower

This was another super easy recipe. I added some vegan Thai curry paste as well to the spicy mixture to give it a bit more of a kick. And kick it did!

Aubergine Rollmops

For this recipe I needed to find juniper berries. I thought that in Switzerland that this would be a mission impossible but, as ever, an expensive department came to my rescue. I should have sliced the rollmops a bit thicker because during boiling they did become quite flimsy and it was difficult to put the onions, gherkins and mustard inside and roll them up before they disintegrated. It looked a bit like a (vegan) dog’s dinner but it tasted great.

Greek Farmer’s Salad

The idea of this recipe is that the feta cheese is replaced with marinated tofu. It was absolutely delicious and we ate it with some grilled vegetables from the grill. I also made extra so I could take a portion into work for my lunch. I would happy eat this again and again.

Andalucian Asparagus Salad

At the moment in German-speaking countries, it is Sparagelzeit (Asparagus time) everywhere. You can’t move in the supermarkets without bumping into asparagus and there are lots of stalls on the side of the road selling them, so this recipe is perfectly seasonal. It needed white and green asparagus and also some dates. I was skeptical about the using the dates but it worked well with the other flavours.

Courgette “Spaghetti” with Wild Garlic Pesto

There is also a lot of wild garlic around at the moment as well. This was another easy-to-make recipe and another one that I took into work for lunch. The main problem was that the garlic is so strong that my breath smelt for the rest of the day. Plus, as I said before, courgette made out of spaghetti isn’t like the real thing.

Cauliflower and Potato Salad

This is one of my favourite dishes that I have made so far. It was delicious and served warm. It had a spicy flavour and was filling.

Spicy Tomato Tartare on Ciabatta 

I am not sure why it was called spicy as there was no chilli in it but I have no complains on the taste side. It is very similar to a dish that we normally make anyway but with olives and onion added. When I toasted the bread I also rubbed garlic onto it to keep the vampires away.

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Spi

cy red lentil spread

The final product, after cooking the lentils and adding the spices, was too wet so I tried to reduce it in the pan to thicken it up. I was able to keep in the fridge for a few days and then use it as a substitute for butter with bread and also on crackers. I need to make this again and again because we bulk-bought a huge 5 kilo bag of lentils and they need to be eaten.

Aubergine Schnitzel with Garlic Cream

Although I can’t deny that this was delicious, I made a horrendous mess in the kitchen. What didn’t help was that I think I bought the “wrong” vegan cream. The recipe said you needed to “draw the aubergine through the cream” but the cream was too thick and I ended up having to paste the cream on with a pastry brush.

The result was tasty but if I was to do it again I would make sure I bought the right cream and do it in a bigger kitchen because ours was too small for all the different “stations” that you need to construct this – flouring station, breadcrumb-ing station etc.

And that is 24 of the recipes completed! I’m off to get started on my next batch of cooking now!

Another week full of veggies

23 May

I’m now so into this challenge that it almost feels like I have been a vegan forever. It’s been a busy week and I haven’t had a lot of time to try new recipes so I’ve been reusing old recipes and eating soups, salads and grilled vegetables. Of course, I haven’t really been missing meat and dairy products, until I went home at the weekend…

Cheese cravings

When I went to South Asia last year, I was craving cheese on an hourly basis. I thought that I would be craving cheese a lot more by now and that I would have tried to make my own “cheese” from cashew nuts. But I’ve so far refrained. I also learnt that the local supermarkets stock a vegan mozzarella. It’s on the shopping list for next week already.

Who ever said that eating cheese made you have strange dream was totally off the mark. All cheese products must be out of my system by now and I’m still having dreams so weird that Sigmund Freud would be scratching his head at what my subconscious was trying to tell me.

Eating Out

I only ate out once this week – for our work team lunch. The menu wasn’t vegan-friendly so I had to ask for the roasted aubergine with tomato and potatoes without Feta cheese. It was a shame because a sprinkling of salty Feta would have made the dish sensational. However, my vegan-ised version was pretty good without it.

Going Home

I haven’t been home nor seen my family in the flesh this year so this long weekend we planned to go back for a visit. I was a bit nervous about telling my mum that I wouldn’t be able to eat animal products. But actually she has been scouring the supermarket aisles for vegan options. She now knows what tofu is but I can’t imagine this making its way onto her weekly shopping list.

I’m relatively sure that my mum had managed to buy one of every type of vegetable in the world for our 3 day stay. We could have had a vegetable festival and I was glad. Everything was delicious!

As I have mentioned before, I have been surprised by how supportive people have been about my challenge. This challenge has been so far made so much easier by the words of encouragement and understanding that have been thrown my way. So thank you so far!

However, I was severely tempted by English food. This sounds like an impossibility but when you grow up eating certain foods, you end up being very attached to them even if you know that some of them aren’t all that healthy or even all that tasty. Here is a list of things that almost tempted me to the dark side: sausage rolls, pork pies, roast chicken, bacon sandwich, everything in Pound Bakery, rice pudding… The list goes on. But I stayed strong and I am glad I did.

 

Compliments

As well as losing some weight, a few people have told me how well I look. I had read about people getting a “vegan glow”. I guess I must have it because people don’t necessarily say that I have lost weight but more that I look well. This does mean I have to learn to take a compliment better but that is a small price to pay for people to say that I look good!

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Challenge #25

16 May

Challenge #25 is currently under way. This challenge was to cook every recipe from one cookbook. The inspiration for this came from a film called Julie and Julia, that I saw and is based on a true story. A bored New Yorker (Julie) decides to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a year.

My challenge is not so daring. There was no way that I was going to choose such a long and complex book to cook but I thought it was an interesting challenge because: don’t we all have at least one cookbook at home that we have tried only a handful of recipes from?

Because I was new to being a vegan, I decided (with the persuasion of my friend, Stefan) that a vegan cookbook would be a book to chose. Then I could use recipes from book during my three months of being vegan. The book I chose is called Vegan on the Go. I don’t consider this cheating – I still have to cook all of the 100 plus dishes.

If you make a quick calculation, 100 dishes into 90-ish days means that I should be able to complete this easily in the time that my other challenge is running.

In practice, this hasn’t really happened. If I make a salad for lunch, I will make it to have for a couple of days. To cook 100 dishes while I am working full-time is also difficult because some of the recipes take a while to prepare. 14 of the dishes are desserts so these can’t be eaten for breakfast or lunch, even if I want to.

So, I will be cooking as many of the recipes in the coming months and then finishing off with the rest later.

Here is my progress so far:

Spinach and Banana Smoothie – I have had a lot of smoothies and this one was very similar to what I normally make. I did substitute the orange for grapefruit as we had this ingredient at home and needed to use it.

Guacamole – this is one of my favourites and the recipe was very similar to the one that I normally use.

Hummus – again I have made this a lot in the past and the recipe was almost the same as what I normally use.

Brocolli cakes with Mango and Avocado Salsa – I made these and put them on the grill and they were really easy to make. I was a bit worried that they would disintegrate during cooking but they didn’t. The salsa was delicious and I have made that again to have with grilled vegetables.

Gazpacho –  this took ages to make. I had to peel fresh tomatoes, deseed and core them. It took a long time and the kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off after I had finished. The result was good. It was the first time that I had even eaten Gazpacho. I enjoyed it, especially as we ate it on the balony in the sunshine.

Brocolli Cream Soup – in case you are wondering the cream in the soup was coconut milk, which does not come from a cow. Brocolli and Stilton is one of my favourite soups but this was a nice alternative. I would happily make this again and again.

Creamed Carrot Soup – again this was made with coconut milk. The recipe also had ginger in it which gave the soup a refreshing kick to it. Delicious!

Spicy Quinoa Chilli – I made this back in November last year. The recipe is basically the same as a chilli with meat but the meat is substituted with Quinoa. I made far too much of it and was eating it for about four days. It was a good job that it was nice or it would have ended up in the bin!

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad) – I’ve made this a couple of times to take into work with me. It is so easy to make and so tasty as well. The receipe says to take the dressing in a bottle and then add it to the salad. I had to take an unused travel shampoo bottle with me because we didn’t have any small bottles to transport the dressing. Putting the bottle in the dishwasher was a mistake because it was too hot and the bottle melted a bit.

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Sweet Potato Burgers with BBQ sauce – as I am yet to find a vegan BBQ sauce in Switzerland and I am not a huge fan of it anyway, I missed this bit of the recipe out. The burger was easy to make. The main ingredients were sweet potato, courgette and breadcrumbs. It really didn’t take too long to make. I now have to convinced my boyfriend that these are worthy of a regular place on our BBQ.

Sweetcorn frittatas with Mango Chutney

This was a bit messy to make. You have to salt and then squeeze water out of the courgettes which takes time. The actual making of the mixture was pretty straight forward and they were cooked quickly. I made a jar of the chutney because we had two large mangoes to use and I thought it would be nice to have with other dishes like a curry or on the side of a salad. I think I was heavy-handed with the curry powder but apart from that it was delicious. I served it with salad as well.

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Asparagus Quiche – rather than make a one large quiche, I made four smaller ones so that I could take them into work. I cheated slightly because I didn’t make the pasty myself but used shop-bought vegan pastry instead. I should have added chillis to the filling but there weren’t any in the shop, so I used chilli flakes instead. I think the fresh chilli would have enhanced the flavour but it still tasted good.

Fruity Macadamia Cream – I made this back in November as well. I didn’t like the texture of it. Maybe I hadn’t blitzed the macadamica nuts enough but the others said that they liked it. I wouldn’t make this again, unless I had to.

12 recipes from just over 100 done!

One month down…

13 May

It has already been one month since I started my vegan challenge. The past four weeks have flown by (while I have mainly been in the kitchen preparing things to eat) As I predicted last week, I have now hit a plateau with my enthusiasm of trying new recipes. So, this week I haven’t many any new or exciting things to eat. Here is what my week was like…

Eating Out

I didn’t eat out at all this week because our day to go for a team lunch fell on a bank holiday. I was quite glad of this because we have already exhausted a hefty chunk of the restaurants that are within walking distance of the office.

Supermarket-bought sandwiches

I found myself getting really annoyed this week when the choice of sandwiches in the local supermarket was virtually zero at 12.10pm. I am pretty convinced that the meat-eating population are taking a few vegan sandwiches on the sly and leaving very little choice for vegans. Luckily, I spotted right at the back of the chiller a falafel burger, which I took with me to the park to eat. I like falafel. I like burgers. But I wasn’t convinced it was relatively dry, despite the huge serving of beetroot on the top of it, and took quite a bit of chewing. The weather outside in a little garden that I discovered last week made it palatable.

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BBQ

Our BBQ game is still going strong and I think it will stay that way until the weather decides to change. Along with the usual suspects this week we have also grilled sweet potato. My boyfriend surprised me on Friday when I came home to homemade vegan spring rolls. He did confess that he hadn’t made these but that they were gifted to us by a friend of the family who owns and runs a Thai food stand. We didn’t cook the spring rolls on the grill but ate them outside with grilled vegetables and salad as the sun was setting.

Family celebration

My boyfriend’s dad had a birthday this weekend so the whole family went round for a dinner on Saturday afternoon. I was worried about how I was going to manage with the food aspect and offered to bring my own food with me. Apart from missing out on having a slice of birthday cake, I didn’t feel I was missing out at all. I actually felt really full by the end of the evening.

Weight loss

I had the feeling that I have lost a bit of weight. My boyfriend bought some scales because we didn’t have any. It turns out that I have lost more than a bit of weight – more than 5 kilos or 11 pounds (if you are imperially inclined). It was a bit of a shock, especially as I haven’t feel hungry or as though I have been denying myself for the last four week. And I have been out of action in a sporty sense because of a knee injury. So all of that weight loss has purely come from eating better. I have been trying for at least the last couple of years to lose some weight and it looks like I have managed it without even realising.

Just two more months to go!

Plastic? Not fantastic

9 May

I read an article last week on the BBC website about a woman who tried to live for a month without using plastic. I thought this was a little bit crazy (which is rich coming from someone who voluntarily is attempting to switch to a vegan diet for three months).

Every week when we come back from the supermarket, we spend at least five minutes unwrapping things that have been unnecessarily been wrapped in plastic that can’t be recycled. I don’t understand why fruits like strawberries come in plastic tubs with lids when years ago they were packaged in punnets made out of wood or cardboard. Surely it be better for sellers to used cardboard that consumers can recycle.

The most ridiculous example I have ever seen was in Tesco. Two large baking potatoes were wrapped in cellophane. Surely, it is more convenient to have a sign that says: “Take two potatoes for 50p”? Perhaps the management think that their customers will not be able to understand the sign.

I never now put carrots, apples or bananas in a bag before weighing them. I just weigh them and put the stick on one of the carrots, for example. The people at the check-out know that you have weighed all of the items and if they don’t believe you they can always check that the weight is the same as what is printed out on the label. [A short note: in Switzerland, you have to weigh the fresh produce on a scale and take them to the check-out. It isn’t like the UK, where this is done by the check-out operator on a set of scales that they have built into the till]

The woman in the article managed to only use 43 items of plastic over the course of the month which, when you considered that she had a family, is unbelievably impressive. I am not sure that we would be able to do that.

We did recently discover a couple of farm shops near us where it is possible to take all of your own containers. You take what you want and then leave the money in a jar. One of the shops is even open on Sunday which is a rarity in Switzerland but very handy for us to know in case we need anything when the rest of the shops are closed.

I do have a bad conscious about how much we buy that we can’t recycle. I have even started to compost our food waste, which means that the bin doesn’t smell and we have less rubbish. But, in reality, it is large supermarkets who need to think about making their package more environmentally-friendly. I personally think that the governments should put pressure on supermarkets but until that time comes (and it could be a very long time) I will be trying to reduce my use of plastic to as little as possible.

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3 weeks in

6 May

Three weeks in and my challenge is still going well. This week I ate out a total of four times (yes, four) and managed not to starve as well as go to a BBQ on a bank holiday. Here is my week in food…

Aubergine

If we are what we eat, I am dangerously close to waking up next week as a n aubergine. I have made Moroccan aubergine dip called Zaalouk, Aubergine Schnitzel, grilled aubergine, Aubergine Rollmops and a Turkish dish called Imam Bayildi- I’ve never been a huge fan of aubergine; partly because I have never known what to do with it apart from put it in a curry. But there are so many things you can do it. I might lay off in for a few weeks though before I create an aubergine shortage in Central Europe.

Recommendations

My friend Araz recommended the Turkish dish. My dear God it was so tasty and so simple to make. I will definitely be making it again and long after my challenge is over. Although I am definitely not going hungry on this diet, I’m always very open to recommendations so if you know of any vegan recipes please feel free to let me know!

Eating out

I had brunch with a writing friend. I was so jealous of her delicious bread topped with egg and cottage cheese. Thank god she didn’t order anything with bacon! I might have done or said something that I regretted. I had a delicious and healthy açai bowl full of fruity goodness, which was the only vegan option on the menu.

I had lunch during the week with the recruiter who placed me at my new job. He wanted to catch up and see how the first few weeks in the new place were going. Going to a very good Italian restaurant where they serve incredible but non-vegan pizzas and pastas for you to ask if you can have the goats cheese salad without the goats cheese was incredible difficult! I got a very strange look from the waiter but hey-ho, that’s life!

I also met a friend, who initially wanted to go to an all-you-can-eat pizza place. She was good about finding somewhere else to go instead. We went to a place called The Artisan which grows a lot of its own ingredients in the garden outside the restaurant and has a lot of vegan options. I had the vegan burger which came with homemade vegan cheese and a vegan ice cream. I was very happy when I left.

For team lunch, I suggested a Morrocan place where I had a nice salad and vegetable couscous. I am not sure if many of the other liked it but I definitely did. To be honest I was just happy to be able to have something off the menu.

May Day BBQ

The first of May was a bank holiday in Switzerland and I was invited to a BBQ. I was nervous about going because I would have to tell yet more people that I was being vegan “for fun” for a while. I was surprised that we had a interesting and funny discussion about my challenge (and the other challenges that I will be doing). I took along a sweet potato burger, sweetcorn frittas and mango chutney that I had made at home. Mark was very sweet and offered to cook my burger before the others so that I didn’t get the fat from the sausages, chicken and steak that other people had brought along. This was a crying shame because I was hoping that some of the flavours from the other food would make its way to my burger! Only joking! My food was delicious and for once I didn’t have food envy. I also go my very own vegan cupcakes to finish the meal that Stefan had made just for me!

Tied to the kitchen

I seem to be spending most of my weekend in the kitchen preparing and making things. I am enjoying trying new things but I’m not sure if I can carry on with such passion for the next 9 weeks. It would be nice just to grab something from the supermarket and warm it up. I also feel like I am taking a step back for woman-kind by spending so much time in the room that they have been trying to get out of. I have a line from Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin’s Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves (“They’re coming out of the kitchen and they’ve got something to say to you!”) on a constant loop in my head. But actually I’m really enjoying it so I will be staying there for the time being!