Archive | July, 2018

V is for Victory (and Vegan) – Part I

16 Jul

After 3 months or 13 weeks or 91 days, I have finally completed my 14th Challenge on my #40Before40 list. I have spent the last 3 months eating a vegan diet which means I have completely abstained from eating anything that is produced from animal products. That means no meat, no dairy products and no honey.

Rather than feeling relieved that this challenge is over, I am actually a bit sad. Although the challenge hasn’t been always easy (mainly when eating in restaurants), I have really grown to like preparing a lot of my meals from scratch and learning new recipes.

So, for the last time, here is what I have been eating this week.

Mastering Lentils

I have always struggled to cook lentils properly, which sounds a little bit strange because you just put them in a pan and boil them. But mine have always turned to mush and, although they have been edible, they haven’t had a really nice texture and don’t look good either. Thanks to my friend, Melina, I have now completely mastered the art of cooking lentils. Her advice to me was not to put salt in the water and it has worked a treat. I also read online that you don’t need to aggressively boil the lentils in the water, which I was probably doing the whole time. With the combination of these two gems of advice, I ended up with these perfectly cooked lentils for a salad this week. Finally!

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Korean pancakes

Melina also gave me a packet of Korean pancake mix which is vegan (depending on what you add into it). I added some diced red pepper, spring onions, coriander and some garlic. The pancakes weren’t very round but I think perfection is overrated. They tasted good which was the main thing. I ate them with a spicy salsa dip that I made.

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Pomegranate Debacle 

I had a recipe for a chickpea and pomegranate salad which I wanted to make. It seemed like it would be a nice alternative, especially as the weather is so hot and the recipe didn’t need any cooking. I have had pomegranate before but I have never bought one and prepared it myself. Perhaps there is a specific way that you should prepare it because I found it a complete hassle. I also found that whenever I cut into it juice would squirt out and all over the kitchen. By the time I was finished, the kitchen looked like it had been the location for the filming of a slasher movie. Also I was wearing a white T-shirt so that went straight into the washing basket as soon as I had cleared up the “blood” splatters! I did enjoy the salad but I think that I will be buying the pre-prepared pomegranate from the supermarket next time, even if it is a bit more expensive.

Amazing Homemade Sandwich

I made an amazingly good sandwich this week. It was so full of flavour and only took a few minutes to make. It was tomatoes, cucumber and a thin layer of vegan cream cheese, with a smoked tofu that had been cooked in a mixture of maple syrup, soy sauce and a pinch of chili powder. I will be making this again in the future!

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And that is the challenge over. Tomorrow I will be reflecting on this challenge and what is means for the future so come back and find read Part II soon.

A Night at the Opera

12 Jul

My 12th challenge on my #40Before40 list is to go to the Opera. I admit that this is not the most difficult of challenges: find an opera that you want to see, book the tickets and go and see it. But, like so many things, unless it is on a list of things to do, it ends up getting forgotten about and never being done. That is one of the reasons that it was on my list. If it is on the list it HAS to get done.

The other reason it was on my list was that, when I was in Vienna last year, I went to see a Mozart concert in the famous Vienna State Opera. The concert was a mixture of classical symphony music plus opera. Although I had no idea what the opera singers were talking about, I found the performance completely amazing. So, I thought it might be a good idea to see a whole performance and experience that.

I booked the tickets to go and see Carmen at the very start of the year and didn’t really pay much attention to the details. The day before the performance I realised that it was sung in French (but the story is set in Spain) and the performance lasted for three and a half hours. If you have been following my blog for a while, you may have picked up on my hatred of films that are longer than two and a half hours because, and you can quote me on this “if you can’t tell me a story within two and a half hours, I’m not interested”. Before we had even made it to the Opera, I was worried about falling asleep half way through it.

I have only ever seen Zürich Opera House from the outside but the inside is even more impressive. It is ornately decorated and is really well-maintained. I had always had the misconception that Opera tickets were hugely expensive and weren’t worth the price. I did buy the cheapest tickets and the view was a little bit restricted but it was a good experience anyway. I was also a bit surprised by the audience: some had got dressed up like it was London Fashion Week, some were really young and looked like they were also there for the first time, and there were some who you could clearly see were regulars.

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In the end I didn’t really notice how long the performance was because I was so engrossed in the story line. The story is about a love triangle and at the heart of it is Carmen, a feisty gypsy woman. Of course, it ends up in tragedy.

I still can’t fully comprehend how they manage to sing like that for such a long period of time. I was also slightly surprised that I did know some of the songs. I think a few of them have been used for television theme tunes over the years and some how I never thought that it was a operatic song. The staging of the story was also really interesting. The set was very minimalist but they still managed to transform the stage into a bar and a smugglers’ den at night.

I picked up a brochure of the operas and events that are on at the Opera house this season and I am very tempted to go again at some point later in the year.

That is another challenge struck off the list. As I said, it wasn’t the hardest challenge on the list but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

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The final week

9 Jul

Today marks the start of the last seven days of my vegan challenge for my #40Before40 challenge. It is crazy to think that three months is almost finished. Although it has been, at times, tricky to stick to the challenge, I have managed it. Fingers crossed that the next seven days are equally successful.

Here is what I have been eating for the past few days:

Stir-frys

I recently found a stir in stir-fry sauce that is vegan-friendly. This has been a refreshing alternative to grilled vegetables on the BBQ and is really quick and easy to do. I have also tried to make them so that they are as colourful as possible. Here is a picture of one that I made at the weekend with carrots, yellow pepper, courgettes, onions, glass noddles and beansprouts. (It looks a bit blurry because the steam got in the way of the camera lens on my phone).

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Noodle soup

I don’t know why I decided to make a hot and spicy noodle soup in this weather but I did. It was packed full of vegetables and was really spicy. I ended up eating it with all of the windows open because it did bring on a hot sweat. Luckily I was able to have a gin and tonic afterwards to help me cool down!

Birthday celebrations

My friend, Stefan, had a belated birthday celebration this week. We went to Pilatus, a mountain in Luzern, for some outdoor activities and a picnic. I did bring some of my own food with me because I didn’t want to be a complete pain but Stefan was kind enough to make some vegan treats just for me. A huge mention has to be made for the blueberry muffins that he made. They were deliciously moist and I managed to eat more than 2 of them but the actual number remains a closely guarded secret.

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Vegan-izing recipes

This week I decided to make a recipe that I know vegan. It is a kind of fruit tart and I haven’t had it for more than three months. It is quick and easy to make so I thought that I would try to do it and see how it turns out. The pastry was shop-bought but was certified as being vegan. I then replaced the eggs and milk that are poured over the top with chickpea flour, water and a plant-based milk. I recently discovered that you can replace one egg in baking by using 4 tablespoons of chickpea flour and 4 tablespoons of water. I must say that I was a bit skeptical about the result but I shouldn’t have been. If I hadn’t have told my boyfriend that it was vegan then I am sure that he wouldn’t have released that it was. Of course, I did tell him that it was vegan, otherwise he would have told me that I couldn’t have a piece of it! I took a picture of it but only after we had had a slice or two to make sure the taste was just right.

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So, seven days to go. This week I will be trying to cook some more of the recipes from my vegan cookbook and enjoying the season fruits and vegetables as much as I can.

Hiking in Lausanne

4 Jul

As the weather has been hot, hot, hot recently, I have been trying to make the most of it. A couple of weekends ago (bit late with the write-up, I know) I went to spend the weekend with my friend, Melina. We used to work in the same company and met in the company-sponsored German lessons. When she moved to Lausanne, I was really sad to be losing regular contact with a close friend but it has meant being able to spend a few weekends in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Whenever I have been to visit Lausanne the weather has been nothing short of amazing. (Apart from the time when I took my mum there when she came to visit but I have noticed that whenever she comes to see me that the rain comes in bucketfuls.)

Melina was very keen to go hiking so I agreed because I haven’t been hiking this year and it is always good to get outside and into nature after being cooped up inside an office for the whole week. I was a bit skeptical when we started the hike because it looked like it was going to be more difficult than I had imagined and I was a bit wary about my knee, which I am currently receiving treatment on. After a few minutes, I had forgot about this and was more than happy to catch up with my friend and get some exercise.

It was hard work to get to the top but the views were stunning. The weather was beautiful and hot and we were the only people out on this part of the mountain. I tend to forget how beautiful Switzerland is and how incredible the scenery is.

We stop for lunch at the very top and enjoyed the views. The lake that you can see in the picture is Lac Leman, and somewhere a bit further in the distance is Geneva.

As we headed back down to the car, I was already dreaming of a nice cool Gin and Tonic, a refreshing shower and a few pre-dinner nibbles, when I lost my footing and started to fall off the footpath and roll down the side of the ravine. It all happened so quickly that all I could think of was: I have to stop myself from falling before I end up breaking some bones. It fell like I was in the opening scene of Cliffhanger where Sly Stallone is trying to save his friend from falling to her death but I am sure the reality wasn’t so dramatic. I know that Melina was dying to laugh but she is a good friend and only did so when she was sure that I was ok.

I ended up with a few cuts, a stinging sensation on my hands from where I had used so much force to stop myself from falling further and a huge purple bruise on my bad knee. Luckily it was only superficial injuries and a bruised ego that I suffered. I felt that I had, by now, earned my Gin and Tonic.

We had anticipated going out in the evening but after the fresh air, a few drinks and food, we decided to stay at Melina’s place and have a relaxed evening. I used to joke that we were like the cast of Sex and the City (you can decide yourself which one of the cast I am): going out on the town to trendy bars, enjoying getting ready and doing make-up and having a good time with girlfriends while forgetting about how complicated men make our lives. I think after this latest weekend we might be slowly transforming in the cast of the Golden Girls – getting older and grumpier. I don’t mind though – spending time with good friends in a beautiful part of the world is all that matters.

Nearly complete!

2 Jul

As of today, I only have two weeks left being an official vegan. I took on the challenge of being vegan as part of my #40Before40 challenge. I must say that I am sad that the challenge is almost over. I have really enjoyed the challenge, even though there have been some difficulties along the way, and I would like to keep going with eating this way because I feel so much healthier and better about myself.

Here is what I have been eating over the past few weeks:

Date Night

I have been trying to introduce a Date Night because my boyfriend and I always seem to be doing things without the other and I thought it would be nice for us to take time for us to enjoy dinner together. Obviously, I chose the restaurant because it has mainly vegan dishes. I had already heard good things from a few people about Bebek. It is a Middle Eastern place in the centre of Zürich.

Brunching Disappointments

When I went to Lausanne to stay with my friend, we wanted to have brunch. We managed to find somewhere that was described as a vegan café. I managed to book a table for us online. We drove there, parked up the car and then found that the place was closed for that particular Sunday. We then had to do a rethink and ended up in a nice place called Blackbird.

The menu only had one thing that was vegan but the beauty of having a friend with you who is a native French speaker in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is a God send. She managed to get the waiting and kitchen staff to make me something that was vegan-friendly. However, they didn’t have anything sweet to eat so we went to another place where I had a fruit bowl called “You’re Kiwing Me”. Delicious!

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream

I haven’t had any ice cream since starting the challenge, although I have had a few sorbets. I noticed in one of the supermarkets that they were selling vegan Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s in Switzerland costs an absolute arm and a leg but as soon as I saw it, I had to have it. I must say that the taste wasn’t the same as normal ice cream. It wasn’t very creamy as you might expect because it is made from plant-based milk. I still enjoyed it though!

Missing out on Team Lunch

Last week are team lunch was at an Italian restaurant and I decided not to go. Nothing on the menu was vegan-friendly and, although there were salads that I could have asked to be made meat or cheese-free, I would end up paying the same price that was on the menu and not getting anything extra in its place. Paying 20 Francs for a few lettuce leaves and a bit of tomato seemed like a dumb investment. So, I went alone to Stripped Pizza (where I have been a few times already) so that I could enjoy a vegan pizza.

I haven’t had time recently to do a lot of my own cooking and the recipes from my vegan cookbook but I will be making myself busy in the next two weeks with more delicious vegan food.