Tag Archives: challenge

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.

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.

Book Challenge by Erin

30 Jun

I have recently stumbled upon an international book challenge that runs twice every year and is organised single-handedly by an amazing lady in Australia called Erin on Facebook. Ten categories are set and each participant has to read one book, which has to be at least 200 pages long, from each category to complete the challenge. There is then a bonus round (if you have time) where you can read one more book from each of the categories to gain extra points but a number of the books have to be books that have been read by other participants. This challenge will run from 1st July until 31st October.

I actually discovered this challenge at the end of last year and I thought I was too late to join. It turns out that a few of the books that I had read would have qualified for the categories completely by chance. Nevermind! This time I will be really taking part and I hope to be able to complete the challenge.

I thought it would be a good challenge to do because I have quite a few books that I want to read or that I have at home and never get round to reading and I thought that this would be a good way to make myself sit down and read them. Ok, it not “quite a few”, it’s more like hundreds and hundreds. Also, I have been trying to read 52 books in one year (an average of 1 per week) for the past four years and have always failed. I am currently on a total of 29 books so I am hoping that the challenge will spur me on and give me the motivation to read my total of 52.

Here are the categories that we have been given and the choices that I have made for each of the categories. I will post when the challenge is finished to let you know how I got on and what the books were like.

Book Challenge by Erin 9.0

  1. Freebie (any book of your choice that is at least 200 pages long) – I chose Murder Games by James Patterson. This is the easiest read on my list by a long way. I have read a lot of James Patterson books and they are an easy read. As this is my first challenge I thought that having an easier read to begin with would be a good idea.
  2. Read a book that starts with the letter “N” – I chose Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have been a big fan of Ishiguro since we read Remains of the Day for my A-Level English Literature and I think I have read every one of his books, apart from this one. Another reason to choose this was because it is a collection of short stories and it will be a good book to take with me on the train.
  3. Read a book that has a (mostly) orange cover – I chose Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie. I was slightly annoyed with this category because when the book categories were published, I was already half way through a book with an orange cover (Happy Failure by Herman Melville). I have never read any Agatha Christie novels so I thought this might be a good place to start.
  4. Read a book that has an unlikeable character – I chose The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I think just about everyone read this during my teenage years at school – apart from me. I was somehow a bit put off reading anything by Plath because I know that she killed herself; I have always had it in my head that her writing would be really depressing. I will give it a go and see how it is.
  5. Read a book from the list of 100 books that PBS calls “The Great American Read” – I chose The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I have been meaning to read this for a while. There were a lot of books on the list that I thought would be interesting to read but I decided on this one.
  6. Read a book with something related to water in the title – I chose The Falls by Ian Rankin. I have read quite a few Rankin novels and I had this book anyway. It seemed like a good opportunity to stop this book from gathering dust on the book shelf.
  7. Read a book you’ve owned the longest but haven’t read – I chose Porno by Irvine Welsh. I am not 100% sure that this is the book I have had the longest as there are a lot of contenders for that but I have been meaning to read this for a long while. This is actually the sequel to Welsh’s Trainspotting novel that was the basis of the film of the same name. I read Trainspotting and enjoyed it immensely. Both of these books (and quite a few of Welsh’s other books) are written, at least partly, in Scottish dialect so it is a bit of challenging read, which is why it has been on the “To read” list for so long.
  8. Read a book with an emotion word in the title –  I chose The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I recently bought this book and luckily it fits nicely into this category.
  9. Read a book (must be at least 2 words in the title) where each word in the title of the book begins with the same letter –  I chose Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I have never read this, even though I can hear the theme tune of the TV series in my head the moment that I think of the title. I don’t know very much about the plot apart from there is a black horse in it. However, it is a classic so it must be a good read.
  10. Read a book featuring a character who shares your profession or a similar one – I chose Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. This is a bit of a tenuous link to my job. I work in a non-commercial bank, where commodities and hedge fund trading happens, in the Finance department. So the link is banking/finance. This is another book that has been gathering dust and, without this challenge, I don’t think that I would be attempting to read it.

There you have it. The ten books that I will be attempting to read. Wish me luck and come back soon to see if I managed to complete the challenge!

Photo an Hour – 16th June 2018

28 Jun

I completely forgot to blog about taking part in the June Photo an Hour. If you are not familiar with the concept, you take a picture every hour on a particular day and post it onto social media so that people can see what you’ve been up to.

It’s a fun thing to do and it means that I try to make sure I do something interesting on that day so I don’t take a picture of me every hour lying on the sofa and watching TV!

Here was what I got up to on Saturday 16th June:

7am: Rise and shine! It’s time to go running before it gets too hot and my body wakes up!

8am: Refuelling on the balcony

9am: Finishing one of the books I bought yesterday

10am: German homework time

11am: I’m beginning to think that German learning will never end

12pm: Booking flights

1pm: I’ve done the “big” shop for the week

2pm: My boyfriend has gone to his French exam so I am making a vegan cake because he’s not here to tell me I’m not allowed to

3pm: Watching a bit of the World Cup while my cake bakes and my sushi rice cools down

4pm: Vegan sushi making time

5pm: I’m on a roll – Chia Seed and Apricot Pudding for dessert!

6pm: Started reading this book that my boss gave to me

7pm: Asian inspired dinner on the balcony

8pm: Another project is afoot!

9pm: Writing my diary before I forget/fall asleep. This is my last photo for this #photoanhour. Goodnight all!

Cookbook challenge

16 Jun

Thanks to my vegan diet challenge, my Challenge #25 of cooking every recipe from one cookbook is going well because I chose a vegan cookbook!

Here are the latest recipes I have made:

Almond and Cinnamon Drink

This was basically a smoothie and easy to make. It wasn’t all that special and I didn’t include the star anise in the recipe because I don’t like the flavour of aniseed.

Little Potato Cakes with Yogurt Dip

This was so easy to make and so tasty. I somehow managed to make about 3 times as many as the recipe said it would make and I though that we might be able to freeze some for another day. But nope, we ate them all in one sitting!

Roasted Chickpeas

This was a spicy snack and only took 20 minutes to bake in the oven. It was my idea to take these into work as a alternative to snacking on fruit and nuts in the office. However, they were so moreish that I ate them all soon after they had cooled down in the oven.

Soba Noodle Summer Rolls with Tofu and Coriander

I have only made spring noodles once before and that was on a Vietnamese cooking course that I went on last year. These are called summer rolls and not spring rolls because they are not deep-fried so they are a bit healthier. They were easy to make but a bit fiddly to get all of the ingredients in the wraps and wrap them up neatly. The recipe also suggested making a peanut butter dip made with soya sauce and agave syrup and was a nice accompaniment to the summer rolls.

Asian Noodle Salad

Making good on my promise to make and bring more of my lunches into work with me to save money, I made this Asian Noodle Salad. I didn’t use the specific noodles that the recipe stated. I used the soba noddles that I used for the summer rolls above. Our cupboards are so full of ingredients that I have had to buy to make one dish from this book that I am running out of space to put things. The salad itself was a nice alternative to a salad with lettuce and tomato and didn’t take long at all to make. The peanut butter dressing was ok but it turned a bit solid by the time I was able to pour it over the salad. I would definitely make this again.

Mexican Pepper Salad

Another lunchtime option (and we also had a portion of it with dinner one evening as well) that was very easy to make. Because the weather has been recently good in the last few weeks I was able to eat this outside in the sunshine. I’m not sure why this was a Mexican salad because I always associate Mexican food with spicy, hot food.

Quick Ajvar

This a Serbian roasted red pepper and aubergine relish. It’s really nice and spicy and goes well with toast or just on the side with vegetables. It really was quick to make – the vegetables are roasted and then puréed with oil and seasoning.

Colourful Little Toast Spirals

The quick ajvar was a main component of these. The ajvar is spread onto wholemeal bread that has been squashed flat by a rolling pin. The bread is then rolled up and baked in the oven for 15 minutes. It was a quick and easy snack to make and delicious too.

Sandwich spread

I was slightly nervous about this recipe. The ingredients (vegetable stock, rice cakes, onions and tomato purée) seemed a bit unusual to put together to make anything that would taste nice. However, I made some sandwiches with this spread and grilled vegetables. The mixture also kept well in the fridge so I could have it a few days later on bread or with vegan crackers.

Little Quinoa Balls with Mint Sauce

Like many of the things that I have made from this book, my creation looks nothing like the pictures in the book. In this case, I used multi-coloured quinoa whereas the book used the normal variety. The next problem with this recipe was that it said that the quinoa needed to be made into balls the size of tennis balls – I’m not sure then were the “little” part comes from. When I tried to move the balls around in the pan while frying them, they are started to disintegrate. I decided to make small burger-like patties so that they would definitely be cooked in the middle. It meant that I ended up with about 20 of these quinoa “burgers” which didn’t last for very long!

That’s 34 recipes out of a total of 100 already finished!