Tag Archives: Challenges

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!

 

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!

Staying strong

28 Apr

Two weeks into my vegan challenge and I am still going strong. This week has been a bit more difficult because we had a team dinner on Thursday but I managed to enjoy the evening and some food without too much hassle.

I have to say that I generally am feeling pretty good. I am sleeping better but I am not sure if this is because of the diet or just because I am more tired this week and I have slept better. But I have heard that sleeping better is one of the positive side effects of a vegan diet. I don’t think that I have lost weight (which is another health benefit, if you need to lose a few pounds) but we don’t have a pair of scales at home so I can’t be sure.

Anyway, here are some of the highs and lows from this week.

Soups

Soups are one of my favourite things to eat and it is easy to make a homemade vegan soup at home. Last Sunday it felt like I spent most of the day making soup. I made a Gazpacho soup, a Spanish soup that is served cold. Apparently this is one of my boyfriend’s favourites –  who knew? Luckily it got the seal of approval from him but it was fairly time consuming to make. I’m not sure that I would make it again unless I found a simpler recipe. I also made a carrot, ginger and coriander soup using carrots from our garden, which I put in the freeze for a week in the future, and a broccoli soup to eat during the week after work so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time preparing something. I must say that the broccoli soup was delicious. An absolute favourite of mine is Stilton and Broccoli soup which is off-limits but I didn’t miss the cheese at all.

Packed lunches

Taking packed lunches into work has been a life saver because there isn’t a huge variety of vegan-friendly sandwiches and salad available in supermarkets. So long as you plan in advance, a homemade pack lunch is perfect. I made an Italian bread salad to have twice this week at work. It was really easy to make and I even made the croutons for the “bread” art of the salad. It didn’t take any time at all to make and, because the weather has been so warm, I sat outside in the park and enjoyed my lunch there.

Although the choice for sandwiches isn’t huge, I have discovered that there is a vegan range in Coop (one of the supermarkets in Switzerland) which has some really nice vegan wraps. As I ran out of time to make all my packed lunches this week, I tried the hummus wrap and was really impressed by it.

Recipes

The soups and the Italian bread salad have all come from my vegan cookbook which has not only given me some great recipes but also ideas about how I can make substitutions in my own cooking. Some of the recipes are a bit complicated and they require quite a few ingredients but I am slowly building up a good range of ingredients to draw upon in our cupboards. Again with the recipes, as with everything else, you need the time to plan and to make the dishes. I have already realised that I need to find a lot more alternatives or I will find that the diet becomes very boring very quickly.

The first BBQ

Although we can’t grill meat on the grill, we can grill vegetables! We had our first BBQ of 2018 last weekend and we didn’t go hungry. I made a spicy salsa, a guacemole, salad and a huge variety of vegetables. It was delicious! I was keen to try making a lentil burger to go on the grill but Markus wasn’t so keen. It remains on my to-do list and we will definitely be trying it one day soon.

Team event

On Thursday we had a team event at a very nice restaurant in Zürich. Not many of the team know that I have taken up a vegan diet and I’m not sure what they will think when I say that I am doing in voluntarily. There are lots of vegan restaurants in Zürich but this wasn’t one of them. It turned out the only thing I could have was a salad which grilled vegetables. I checked that the house dressing wasn’t made with milk, cream or honey. It was cruel to watch everyone else tucking into a medium rare steak or fish but I genuinely enjoyed what I ordered. I cringed when someone mentioned having a dessert but then I saw that they had a mango sorbet on the menu and it made me smile. The choice available to me was limited but I still enjoyed the evening.

Disappointments and small victories

11 Mar

I was so excited on Thursday because I was ready to tick off one more item off my #40Before40 list. Unfortunately, the paragliding we had scheduled to do in Iquique was cancelled because the wind was too strong.

I was disappointed but obviously in the interest of health and safety it was the best thing to do. The guy whose company it was actually explained to us the reasons why and said he really wanted to take us up there.

As a Brit, I find it a little bit strange that sports get cancelled because of weather, particularly “a bit of wind”. I’m pretty sure as a teenager that I took part in athletics competitions in hail and I definitely played hockey in 2 inches of snow.

We will try again at the next available paragliding place on our trip.

The bitter taste of disappointment was sweetened a little when we went sandboarding in the evening instead. If you know my #40Before40 list as well as I do, you will know that one item on the list is to try snowboarding.

Although they are not quite the same, it’s given me a bit of an idea about what I am up against.

I wasn’t 100% happy with the lack of instruction that we were given. Everyone else in the group had snowboarded before and I think that it would have been good to be able to have some tips of what to do.

It was quite exhausting because you had to walk up the sand dunes after every run and re-wax the bottom of the board with a candle before going down again. Obviously you don’t have to do this with a snowboard.

Also there was no aprés-ski available – no small bar at the bottom of the hill where you can get a beer or two. I will never not admit that I am more of a social winter sports person than any sort of winter sport athlete!

Still it gives me a bit of hope that I should be able to enjoy snowboarding to a small degree when I finally take the plunge and try it. That will have to be next season now as the snow will have gone by the time we get back. Only around 8 months to wait…

40 Before 40: Challenge #29

3 Mar

Challenge #29 on my list was to read all the books on the 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. This is a list of 40 books by female authors, the majority of whom, to my shame, I am not familiar with or even heard of.

At the start of the challenge, I had already read 4 of the books on the list, mainly because we were forced to read them at school and not necessarily because I was particularly interested in reading them.

As I have got older, I tend to read only contemporary books. There are quite a few older books on the list, like Little Women and Jane Eyre. To be blunt, I wasn’t looking forward to reading these at all. It was always hard work reading them as a young adult.

For this update, I have read two of these “older” books and I have to say that I have really enjoyed them. Below are some of my comments about the books that I have read from the list.

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

This is one of the authors from the list that I haven’t heard of. She is actually Brazilian and the book was originally written in Portuguese. Before I started to read the book, I found out that her writing style has been compared to that of James Joyce, who made famous the stream of consciousness narrative style. In fact, the title of the book is actually a quote from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I enjoyed reading Joyce for my English Literature A-Level exam so I was hopeful that I would also find this book enjoyable.

The main character is Joana and the story provides flashbacks between her childhood, her adolescence and present day. It tells the story of her relationship with her husband and their divorce (which must have been scandalous to read in the 1940s) and the woman, who her husband gets pregnant. In one part of the book, Joana meets with this woman, Lidia, who she knows is having an affair with her husband. Her reaction was a bit strange as she is not particularly bothered by this.

I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes the book was hard to follow because it flipped between different times but some of the descriptions and the writing was incredible.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

I had this book as a child but I only managed to ever read a couple of chapters of it. It is perhaps one of the most famous books on the whole list. The story is of a group of four sisters, who are growing up during the time of the American Civil War. Their father is away working as a pastor and the four girls and their mother are left at home waiting for news about his return.

The four young women have very different characters and personalities: one is a tomboy; another very quiet and interested in art; another the mother figure of the group, when their mother is absent; one is very shy and musical.

The story tells what becomes of the sisters as they grow up, which includes marriages, deaths, births, work and extensive trips to Europe.

The BBC showed an adaptation of the book between Christmas and New Year. As it was after I had read the book, I thought it might be a good idea to watch it. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps the characters didn’t look as I thought they would have done. I also found the American accents a bit uncomfortable. As I was reading the book, I did have the tendency to forget that the story was set in America and not in England and so it sounded a bit funny to my ears. I only got about 20 minutes into the programme and I decided to stop. I guess, in this case, the book was better than the screenplay.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

I always find this book confusing. Is it Jane Eyre written by Charlotte Bronte or Charlotte Bronte written by Jane Eyre? Again I think that this was a book I had when I was younger that stayed on my book shelf unread. In the end I really enjoyed this book, so it was a shame that I had left it so long to read this book.

As many books from this era begin, Jane Eyre is an orphan, who is unwanted by her uncle’s family, who she is put into the care of. Eventually, she is sent away to a boarding school, where she is educated and thrives, but not before she watches her best friend in the world die of consumption. She goes on to be a teacher at the boarding school but, after getting a job as a governess of a child in a private house.

Jane falls in love with the Master of the house and is due to marry him until the wedding is stopped because Mr Rochester is already married. His wife is actually a lunatic who lives in the attic (all very bizarre). Jane leaves in the middle of the night because she does not want to become his mistress. Exhausted and hungry, she comes across a house where the people take pity on her and nurse her back to health. The new Master of the house gives her the job of a new governess of a school for poor children. He wants to marry her but she is still thinking about what happened to her Mr Rochester, who she still loves and always will. She goes off in search of him to see what has happened to him and… I won’t spoil the whole thing. You can read it yourself.

I liked the book because, although it was a romance, it wasn’t too over the top. I think a lot of books talk about love as it is some magical spell that transforms people suddenly, when in most cases love is a lot more dignified and isn’t necessarily know to the beholder immediately.

Also I learnt the word “lugubrious” which means looking or sounding sad or dismal. This is my new favourite word. If I was still at school, I would be desperate to get this into one of my exam scripts. I might try to get it into one of my short stories.

I have now read 7 out of the 40 books that I need to complete this challenge. I am so glad that I decided to have this one my list. I’m really enjoying it.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #17

2 Feb

I am officially 8.5% of the way through the seventeenth challenge on my 40 Before 40 list. My 17th challenge is to write a diary every day for a year. 31 days of the year have already been and gone so I can be very accurate with how much of this challenge I have completed.

The reason I decided to add this challenge to my list was because I have tried several times to write a diary for a whole year and I have always failed after a few weeks. I’m not sure why I have managed to fail so often but this time I am determined to complete the challenge. Of course, if I fail to complete the challenge again in 2018, I still have a few more years to try to complete it.

Recently I have been wondering why people write diaries at all. Famous diarists, like Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys, would never had known that their daily musings on every day life would be still being read today and the insights that they would be able to give to us into historic events.

I have no doubt that what I sit down and write each time before I go to bed will possibly never be read by a wider audience and probably not even by myself. Personally, it had more to do with the act of sitting down at the end of the day to reflect on what I have achieved and what I have found difficult about the day. I have found, even at this early stage, that it offers time to sit quietly after a day which might have been very busy or stressful. This is something that modern life doesn’t often allow us to have.

I was hoping that it would also help to clean out my thoughts before I go to bed and, therefore, help me in my New Year’s Resolution to get more and better quality sleep. Unfortunately, I haven’t found this helps all that much. People often advise that writing something down that you are struggling with during the day is a good way for you to get these thoughts out of your head. I find the opposite is true. After writing things down, I find that I want to think more about these things and try to solve them if possible.

I will persevere though. It takes 66 days to form a new habit. So I still have a number of days to go until this has become a habit. It does help that I have set a recurring alarm on my phone so that I remember to do it every day and the diary lives on the bedside table. There is no way that I have been able to forget to make my diary entry for the day. Every habit needs a bit of encouraging and I hope that my sneaky tricks to make sure that I write every day will get me closer to ticking off another challenge from my list.

My very colourful diary

My very colourful diary