Archive | July, 2018

Things I have learnt in July

31 Jul

I didn’t write a list of things that I learnt in June but here is what I have learnt in July.

1. I have no idea how much food I need to cook for 9 people. I think I catered for about 30 at my Vegan BBQ. But if I ended up in the situation where people went home with hungry bellies I would never forgive myself. It turned out that it fed 9 people on the Saturday, 6 adults and 2 children on the Sunday and then us for the next 4 days. Luckily nothing was wasted and I have convinced myself that some of the dishes improved by having a few more days for the flavours to infuse.

2. Writing a CV is an art form. I have recently been on a course to help me improve my CV and to be able to present myself better when applying for jobs. I thought that it might not be the best use of time but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot. I didn’t think that there were so many way of presenting yourself on two sides of A4 paper but there are. Of course, the hardest part of writing a CV is trying to show your good points without sounds like a show-off.

3. Rondini and Dodi are both types of courgette. I found this out at my Vegan BBQ when I asked guests to bring along an exotic vegetable with them. There was me thinking that there were only green and yellow courgettes.

4. It is obligatory in Europe to drive with your lights on, irrespective of whether it is during daylight hours or not. I have been using the car for the past year and only just found out last week. Luckily, I didn’t find out because the police stopped me but because my boyfriend shouted at me. Actually… it might have been better to get stopped by the police because they might have been a bit more understanding (!)

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5. I miss rain. I really do. The grass is looking yellow and scorched and I feel hot and bothered the whole time. I am hoping for some cooler weather soon.

I hope that you have learnt some interesting things in July as well.

No Fun in the Sun

28 Jul

The weather is unbelievably hot at the moment and, apart from an almighty downpour this morning, there really doesn’t seem to be any let up. Even though the rain has come down finally, it is still very humid and I have the rotating fan on as I write this.

I have just check the weather forecast today and from tomorrow it looks like the hot weather will return and we will be back to more 30-plus degree days.

I don’t mind the heat so much when I’m sat under an umbrella with a cocktail but at the moment we are in the process of moving and moving furniture is not ideal in this weather. However, it is better that the weather is hot rather than rain while we move. Soggy cardboard moving boxes would be a lot worse.

For a bit of fun, I decided to make a couple of lists about things I don’t want to do and can’t do in this weather.

Things I don’t want to do when the weather is this hot:

  1. Use a hair dryer
  2. Use public transport (especially at rush hour)
  3. Wear make-up
  4. Exercise
  5. Move flat
  6. Get into the car (it’s about 100 degrees inside)
  7. Eat a lot – this is perhaps a positive!
  8. Wear formal clothes
  9. Exist

Things I can’t do in when the weather is this hot:

  1. Sleep
  2. Keep insects out of the flat because the windows are constantly open
  3. Think properly
  4. Eat ice-cream because it melts down my arm
  5. Go outside for more than 10 minutes without burning
  6. Keep my hair straight because of the humidity
  7. Enjoy a nice bath
  8. Find my sunglasses – I will probably find them once the weather turns!

What are the things that you don’t want to do or can’t do in this weather? Let me know.

I’m off to enjoy a nice cold beer because it’s important to stay hydrated and cool in this weather.

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Vegan BBQ

27 Jul

Last weekend to celebrate the end of my vegan challenge, I invited some friends round for a vegan BBQ. I say vegan but there was steak and chicken on offer for those who wanted it. However, all of the other dishes that I prepared were vegan (and that included not one but two desserts).

I was glad that everyone was keen to come round and see what food would be on offer and no-one backed out because they thought that the food would be so bad that they would go home hungry.

There is no way anyone was walking away from the party hungry because I grossly over-estimated how much food that I needed to prepare for 10 people. Here is a list of the food that I prepared:

  • Vegan Bratwurst
  • Green Lentil Salad
  • Tuscan Bean Salad
  • Guacamole
  • Hummus
  • Courgette Spaghetti
  • Greek Green Beans
  • Spicy Salsa
  • Smokey Tofu Pate
  • Homemade flatbreads
  • Orange and Chia Seed cupcakes
  • Raspberry and Custard Whirl
  • as well as a range of vegetables for on the BBQ.
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Everyone was complimentary about the food. However, I was really disappointed about how the Raspberry and Custard Whirl turned out. I think that the custard wasn’t thick enough and I was happy to admit that it was a failure (which I guess you shouldn’t technically say to your guests but it was true).

To make things a bit more fun, I asked everyone to bring an exotic vegetable to go on the grill. I was so surprised about how everyone was happy to get involved. People turned up with vegetables that I have never even heard of before. Have you ever heard of a dodi, for example, or a zebra tomato?

There was a unconventional prize for the winner. I am not sure how to describe it so I will just show you this picture here.

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Hanna was the lucky winner of Mister Melonman. She was literally lost for words!

Thank you to everyone who came to the BBQ and to Stefan who took the photos because I forgot to take any!

It just goes to show that you don’t always have to put meat on the grill. I have found that there are lots of alternatives that you can find which are just as good if not better!

 

Cookbook challenge

20 Jul

My vegan challenge has ended but my quest to cook every recipe from a cookbook continues. Over the past few weeks, these are the recipes that I have cooked.

Carrot heart Sushi

I have made sushi before but never before with a heart made out of carrot running down the middle. It was a bit fiddly to “carve” the heart into the carrot and at one end it looked more like a heart than the other end. It was quite a nice idea and something a little bit different to do.

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Smoked Tofu and Crunchy Veg Sushi

This was a straight forward recipe to do. I could see me making this again in the future as an alternative to using salmon in the sushi. All in all, both of the sushi recipes were good and easy to make. But is it only me who ends up making misshapen sushi?

Squash Soup with Caramelized Ginger

I’m not sure how I managed to find a squash in July because I always thought that squashes were in season during autumn. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to buy it so that I could tick this one off the list. It wasn’t very hard to make but the squash that I bought was about five times the amount that the recipe required so I ended up making some soup to freeze as well as roasting some of the squash to have as a side dish for a evening meal.

Indian Chickpea and Pomegranate Salad

The hardest part of this recipe was getting the seed out of the pomegranate. I have never bought a pomegranate before and there must be a simpler way to cut into it than the way that I did because it ended with the red juice of the pomegranate being sprayed all over the kitchen counters and all over me. Nevertheless, it was a tasty and filling lunch. If I made it again, I would make sure that I bought the pomegranate pre-prepared.

Courgette Cake

I have never made a cake without eggs before but this recipe, obviously, didn’t contain any eggs. I had to proof the mixture and I am not sure if I left it for long enough because it didn’t look like it had risen as much as it should have. This cake was described in the book as being “perfect for a snack during the day” and I thought it would be a nice alternative to eating fruit during the working day. Unfortunately, my boyfriend tried a piece and the cake was gone before the end of Sunday evening.

Baked Sweet Potato with Lentil and Avocado Salad and a Grapefruit Dip

This was the recipe that helped me perfect my lentil cooking skills (finally!). The salad was really easy to make once the lentils were cooked and cools. I am not sure I have had a baked sweet potato before (I definitely haven’t done it myself before). This was a nice change from salads for lunch. I didn’t add the grapefruit to the dip because I couldn’t find any grapefruits in our local supermarket when I went, so I added some chives to the dip inside which complimented the lentils.

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Grilled Mini Peppers with Rainbow Bulgur

This was another new option that I tried out for lunch. Before changing to a vegan diet, I haven’t eaten bulgur wheat before but I am definitely a convert! The thing that took the most amount of time was cooking the bulgur and waiting for the mini peppers to cook in the oven.

Chia and Cashew Pudding with Apricot Purée

I haven’t ventured into cooking many of the dessert options in the book. But it just so happened that I had all of the ingredients in the cupboard so I thought that I would do it. It was a bit messy because most of the ingredients need to be put into a blender and it was a bit of a pain to get it out. Waiting for the chia seeds to swell up took the longest amount of time for the whole recipe. Because the pots that I had were small, I ended up making four so that we could have it for dessert for two nights in a row.

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Peanut Butter and Puffed Rice Crispies

I wanted to take these on a hike that I went on but I made the mixture slightly too wet and they hadn’t set overnight so I couldn’t take them with me. They weren’t hard to make but I am not sure that I would make them again – they tasted okay but they weren’t so special.

That makes 47 out of a possible 100. Almost half-way there!

V is for Victory (and Vegan) – Part II

17 Jul

As I mentioned yesterday in this blog post, I have now completed Challenge #14 on my #40Before40 list. Although the challenge is over, I will be continuing to eat vegan (at least part-time) for a while into the future. And these are the reasons why:1.If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that I have been simultaneously this challenge along side my challenge to cook every recipe from a cookbook which is the 25th challenge on my list of #40Before40 challenges. I am about half-way through this challenge so there are still plenty more dinners, desserts and salads that I need to eat in order to complete this challenge as well. Come back soon to hear how I have been getting on with the latest recipes I have cooked.2. In order to celebrate my achievement, I will be having a vegan BBQ for some of my friends to enjoy some of the new recipes that I have learnt over the past few months. I really do think that this is an achievement. Before I started the challenge, I was a meat-eater and I went cold turkey for this challenge. (Possibly not the best turn of phase in the instance – perhaps cold tofu is more apt?) There will be some meat options at this BBQ party but more than 90% of the food will be vegan.3. I recently read an article on BBC about the growing rise of flexitarianism, which is people who eat vegan or vegetarian part-time. As my other half is keen to get back to eating meat (even though he has not gone hungry during this time), it seems like this would be a reasonable solution: I can chose to eat vegan but when we eat together we can eat meat and dairy products.4. I have lost quite a lot of weight during the past three months. I am a little worried that if I switch back to my diet from before that I will put all of the weight on again. However, I haven’t felt like I have been starving myself in the same way as I have felt when I have been on other diets. Being at least a part-time vegan would mean that I would be able to continue to control my weight.5. It may sound arrogant to say it but I know that this challenge has had a positive impact on the environment. I have been eating a lot more locally grown products. I won’t bore you with details about how much water, carbon dioxide and grain I have saved during this time. But there are lots of details about this on the internet if you are interest. This alone is motivation for keeping to a vegan diet for at least some of the time.6. I haven’t found it too difficult to refrain from eating meat. My Achilles heal is cheese. Living in Switzerland with the thought of not eating cheese during the winter fondue season would feel like Hell on earth for me. This is the reason why I chose to do this challenge in the summer months. So never having cheese again is not something that I could contemplate. If you hear news from Switzerland by the end of the week that there is a cheese shortage then you know that I have been making up for lost time!7. Being a vegan isn’t that bad. It can be tricky to eat out sometimes but more and more restaurants are catering for people with different dietary requirements. As I have said, I have never been hungry (apart from the very first week) and there are definitely lots of options, if you can plan ahead and are creative!Those are the reasons why I will be sticking with veganism for the moment. Come back soon to see if I do manage to complete my 25th challenge of cooking every recipe from a (vegan) cookbook!salad-2756467__340.jpg

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.