Tag Archives: food

Vegan dinner

7 Feb

I seem to be obsessed at the moment about doing research into finding vegan-friendly alternatives for when I start my #40Before40: Challenge #14, when I will attempt to eat vegan for three months. This challenge is enough to make even the most determined person weak at the knees – hopefully not literally though. However, the more research I do, the more confident I am that this is more achievable than I thought it was and the more inclined I am to think that I could actually remain eating a vegan diet long after my little experiment is done and dusted.

There are plenty of websites and information about there about eating a vegan diet. Obviously some of the claims that are made are probably coming from a biased angle, so it is not always easy to sort fact from fiction. But, if even half of the claims are true, the health benefits alone are a reason to cut dairy and meat  products from your diet. I was also surprised that lots of athletes are switching to vegan eating and are actually performing much better than previously, which goes against the stereotype that all vegans are puny things that lack nutrients.

As part of my planning and research before I jump head first into the world of veganism, I decided to cook a three course meal for three of my friends at the weekend. My definition of friendship is that if I am suffering then you should feel my pain too. After assuring them that the beer and wine I had was also vegan and, therefore, we would not be drinking tap water for the whole evening, they accepted my invitation.

Here is what I made for them.

First course was a roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup with a hint of chilli, which I was assured was the “right amount of spice”. I served this with bread and some homemade houmous.

The main course was a vegan moussaka. I love moussaka and, although I don’t eat it all that often, I was keen to try it out to see if it was any good or not. It took a while to make it and I managed to make enough for about 8 people. I was worried that we wouldn’t be full from a dish made from aubergine, tomatoes, mushrooms and walnuts. It was so tasty that I was more than happy to finish off the leftovers for dinner the following night.

The dessert was a bit of a disaster. I decided to make a macadamia nut cream from a vegan cookbook and an egg free meringue recipe that I found online. The macadamia nut cream went down well but I wasn’t so convinced about the texture as I thought it would have been better if it was smoother. But everyone ate it. The meringues just didn’t work and I’m not sure why. I make a lot of meringues and pavlovas and the mixture itself was identifical to the mixture that I have made with eggs. I think that the temperature for the oven in the recipe was wrong because the meringues came out flat and it came out a bit more like honeycombe than anything else. As I had vegan sorbet in the freezer, I served the sorbet with some of the meringues/honeycombe stuff sprinkled on the top. I will try the egg free meringue mixture once again though and see if the oven temperature was the problem.

All in all, I think we all enjoyed the meal. So a BIG thank you to Stefan, Mark and Araz, who suffered in the name of friendship and who, I am sure, will have to endure some more vegan meals in the near future!

One question that still remains about the diet is about the use of ingredients that technically are vegan (i.e. contain no direct animal products) but come with the warning may contain milk, because they were produced in a factory where milk products are made. On the one hand, you could argue that because the products will possibly only contain traces of animal products that I should be able to eat them. But, if you had a nut allergy, there is no way you would eat something which said it may contain nuts. I have also found a product which has an official vegan label on it but the small print for the ingredients says it may contain milk. So how can that be vegan?

Do you see my dilemma? I have asked several people what they think and I still haven’t found a general consensus. Do any of you have the answer? Please let me know your thoughts?

40 Before 40: Challenge #14

15 Nov

Challenge 14 on my #40Before40 list is to eat vegan for 3 months. I haven’t started the challenge yet but I have started some research into it. I think that this challenge is certainly doable but I will have to plan in advance.

I have already had a look in supermarkets to see what alternatives they offer. One of the supermarkets here has a coconut oil spread alternative to butter. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I haven’t tried it yet because I don’t know if I am just not going to eat butter at all. I don’t eat a great deal of it anyway.

I have stopped drinking milk and have tried almold, oat and rice milk as potential alternatives. I am not particularly taken by any of them and almond milk is by far the worst. They seem to be a lot thinner than milk and a bit sweeter to the taste. I have also noticed that no matter how much I put in my cuppa, it doesn’t make it go the right colour. You will know what I mean if you are British and reading this. We have colour charts like most countries have for paint for our tea.

I have also swapped my normal breakfast of museli and youghurt for chia seed pudding made with my milk substitute, which hasn’t been so bad. Of course, when I do get going with it and I can’t have eggs and bacon for breakfast, I will definitely be complaining.

There is a good range of meat free products available in Coop. It’s mainly bean burgers, falafel and so on. All of this I can make myself, if I do manage to get myself organised. They also sell dairy free cheese. It will possibly taste like plastic but it is good to know it is there.

I have also spent quite a bit of time online researching some receipes. I googled best vegan breakfasts and I got a list of receipes that say “drizzle over a bit of honey…” If it has honey on it then it isn’t vegan. I was hoping that I would be able to find a list of lunch ideas which says “to the horseradish add roast beef”. That would make the challenge easier but I don’t think that I will find that.

I plan to start this challenge in earnest next spring/summer. As more fruits and vegetables are available in spring and summer, I think it will be easier to do it at this time of year. It will be tough not to have sausage on the BBQ but I can have grilled vegetables which I like just as much.

In the meantime, I will be continuing my search to find alternatives and ways to make sure that I get all the vitamins and minerals that I need. This is defintiely going to be a challenge! If any of you have any vegan receipes or tips that you would like to share with me, please feel free to get in touch!vegetables-2898523__340

A long weekend in Bordeaux

3 Nov

Although it seems like a long time ago now, I spent a long weekend last weekend in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is where my boyfriend is currently living to improve his French. I suspect, however, that a reason that is just as important is that he likes to drink wine. For the past few weeks, all I have heard about is wine tasting and Cognac. As Easyjet fly from Basel to Bordeaux, I decided it was a good opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

After the shock of arriving back to a cold Switzerland from Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised that the weather in France was warm. I don’t mean warm as in Barbados warm but certainly noticeably warmer than in Switzerland. We walked around the city and my personal tour guide showed me all of the major points of interest.

When in France it is a legal requirement to have a lunch of bread and cheese sat by the river. There was an artisan farmers’ market by the waterfront so we bought some bread, with olives and onions baked in it, and some lovely sheeps’ milk cheese. We watched the world go by for a bit and it was lovely to be able to sit out in October still.

Docked on the quai was a large Russian sailing ship, the Mir. Apparently the ship has been visiting Bordeaux for the past 30 years. It was an impressive ship and not something that I would have expected to see there. It also accounted for why there were so many Russian sailors milling about the place. We did say that we would go back to go on board, because there were a lot of people on it at lunchtime, but we ended up running out of time.

After some retail therapy (I wanted to get some new running shoes from Decathalon), we had some time to sit and have a drink before going to dinner. We stumbled on a local bar that was next to the Basicilica of St Michael. It was quite interesting to observe some of the locals coming and going. The best part was actually watching someone trying to park in front of the bar. That someone was a male of the species before you come to any other conclusions. He tried about eight times to squeeze into a spot that was far too small. Every time he reversed backwards, he nudged a BMW that was parked behind. The BMW physically moved every time. It was an achievement that he didn’t cause any damage to the other much more expensive car.

We ate at La Crabe Marteau, a famous seafood restaurant. There were about 3 things on the menu: crab, lobster or langustinens. We had the crab. It was pretty exciting. You get give allsorts of equipment to get into the crab. Luckily, I didn’t have to de-shell my crab by myself; the waiter took pity on me and did it for me. Markus wasn’t so lucky! The crab itself was huge and I was surprised by how much meat there was in it. I thought that it would be mainly shell but I was so wrong that I couldn’t even finish my meal, which almost never happens.

The next day it was time to head to Libourne for a Chateaux Open Day. A lot of chateaux open up to the public for free wine tastings as a way to market their wines. The first chateau was very small. It was clearly a farm that was diversifying to generate more money. We saw the cellar and how the wine was produced. They even had two shire horses to help harvest the wine. The wine itself was really good. We bought a bottle to have for later.

The next chateaux was more of a wine merchants. We weren’t able to see the cellar or see how the wine was produced but we could try some, which was the most important point. There were almost too many to try here. At the first chateau there were only three wines to try and we tried them in increasing strength. Here it was a bit of a mixture and I wasn’t always sure that I could taste the difference.

We moved on to Chateau de la Dauphine. This was a huge chateau which produces about 200,000 bottles of wine per year. The contrast between this chateau and the one that we had first visited was huge. We had a half hour tour of the whole grounds and the vineyards. Of course, my French is not very good, so I had my personal translator with me. After a late lunch and a bottle of wine at the chateau we headed back to Bordeaux.

In case you are wondering, we didn’t drive. We got the train and then walked to the chateaux. The 25km I walked that day was only just offset all of the wine that I drunk!

Later we went back to the city. I wanted to take a picture of the Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror) in the city centre at night. There is a thin layer of water directly opposite some government buildings which reflects the light perfectly at night. It is breathtaking.

The next day we did a bit more wandering around and some shopping. We bought some Canelé de Bordeaux back with us. I fell in love with this little, delicious treats, which are available everywhere and are normally served with a coffee. A sweet reminder of a lovely weekend in Bordeaux.

Singapore: the last 48 hours

25 Oct

On Monday morning, I shouldn’t have bothered to set my alarm. A huge thunderstorm woke me up at 7am. I am convinced that the building physically shook, or maybe that was just tiredness.

I had planned to go to Sentosa Island for the day. It’s home to 3 beautiful beaches and resorts like Madam Tussaud’s. Despite the weather not being great, I decided to go anyway. By the time I left the hotel, the weather was looking better and it had finally stopped raining.

Sentosa is easy to reach. I took the MRT and then the Sentosa Express. The train was packed with people going to the resorts. If I wasn’t on my own I definitely would have gone to at least one of them. But it’s not much fun queuing on your own. Furthermore I know from experience that if the weather is bad the outside rides are closed down and with the forecast being mixed, it could have been a waste of money. (Incidentally this happened to me in Florida last year and in Hong Kong when a typhoon warning 4 was given part way through the day).

I found out by chance that Sentosa Island is the Southernmost point of intercontinental Asia. So, I had to visit the sign to say I had been there!

The weather was holding out but it still wasn’t great; definitely not lying on a beach weather. So I had a wander round and then decided to go on the Skyline Luge, which is basically a cross between a go kart and a toboggan. Undoubtedly this would have been more fun with other people to race against but it was still fun to do it.

You go up on a ski lift type thing and then collect the cart at the top. You don’t end up coming down all that fast and it is easy to brake. The marketing strap line was “Once is never enough”. The reason for this being is because it takes you longer to get up to the start than it does for you to ride back down if you go at any pace at all.

For lunch I headed to Chinatown for the illusive Michelin starred Hawker Stall which I had tried to find the previous day. I found it this time. Incredibly cheap and incredibly delicious!

To carry on with the theme of enjoying internationally renowned culinary experiences, I went in search of the original Singapore Sling that was invented at Raffles Hotel over 100 years ago.

This was a tough challenge as the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar were both shut for renovations and these are the only places where the drink is served. I had found out that the service of the drink had been moved to the Bar and Billiards Room (part of the Raffles Hotel) while work was continuing.

The surroundings were impressive and the place was full of people drinking the famous pink cocktail. This is by far the most expensive drink I have ever had. One glass costs 36.50 Singapore dollars (or 27 SFr. or 20 GBP). I licked that glass clean as if my life depended on it and enjoyed every last drop!

I headed back to the hotel for a swim to cool off and to have a relax before heading out again. I also had a pedicure which cost more than I expected due to a “misunderstanding” but as I very really indulge in that sort of thing, I decided not to be too annoyed and take it as a sign that I needed a treat.

In the evening I went to Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens are full of many different species of plants but the crowning glory is the huge tree-like structures that support and sustain yet more plant varieties. At night these structures are lit up and twice nightly you can see a fantastic light and music display, as the trees change colour to the music. The performance I saw was called Moon Symphonies. All of the songs had a Moon theme: Moon River, Fly Me to The Moon and Blue Moon. You can’t beat a bit of Sinatra, Mercer and Bublé on a Monday night with a choreographed light display.

The following day, after going to the gym, doing some shopping, getting myself ready to check out and having a nice healthy lunch, I headed back to the Gardens by the Bay to see them in the day. You could spend hours walking around the gardens. They are so well maintained and well thought out. I paid to see the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. I thought it was a bit pricey (locals get a reduced rate) but, on balance, it was worth it.

The Flower Dome had species from all over the world and there was a special exhibition of pumpkins because of autumn. This was one of the display items. It was unbelievable!

The Cloud Forest was a replica of a Cloud Forest, a specific type of rainforest which approximately 1.1% is destroyed every year. As you enter the doors, you are faced with a huge, cascading waterfall and a forest of flowers. You can go to the top of the waterfall and then do the Tree Top Walk back to the bottom.

I also wanted to do the Skywalk which is a walkway which links some of the trees that I saw the night before. You get more of a bird’s eye view of the park and the surrounding city. Unfortunately because of the unpredictability of the weather, it was closed for safety reasons. It is completely exposed and they probably don’t have the public liability insurance in case anything did go wrong.

I headed to the Arab Quarter, which I had visited on the Bike Tour. A really quirky cafe called Juice Clinic had caught my eye because of the amazing artwork outside. It had been closed on Sunday but I wanted to visit it before I left. I was so glad I did. It had jazz music playing, freshly squeezed juices and… drum roll please… Rainbow Cheesecake! After all the walking, I feel like I deserved it.

The cafe was on a crossroads and it was a great place to people watch. I could have sat there all day. Unfortunately, it was time to collect my bag, catch the bus and head to the airport.

96 hours in Singapore already over. After a dodgy start, I have enjoy myself thoroughly. Singapore is definitely not how I expected it to be and I hope to come back again to experience more of what it has to offer. I need to get saving for another Singapore Sling!

Training done!

17 Sep

Today marked the end of my long training runs for the Cardiff Half Marathon in two weeks. I could not be happier if I tried. When the alarm went off early this morning, I tried hard to think of an excuse not to go. If I chose not to go this morning, then it would be much harder to compete the 13.1 miles in two weeks.

The prospect of a 19 km (roughly 11.5 miles) run is not something than most sane people would relish but I was glad that the morning was cool, but not raining, and overcast. Last weekend, I had measured out the distance that I wanted to do on my bike. Today I didn’t have to think, just run the pre-planned distance. That didn’t stop me from looking at my app to check how far I had gone about every 200 meters. It’s funny how when you know in which direction you are running that you brain tricks you into thinking that you have run a further distance that you actually have. At one point, I thought to myself that I just need to go round this corner and I am at this specific point. I turned the corner and then I realised I was nowhere need to where I thought I was. Demotivating does not even cover it.

I ran slower than I hope to do on the day but the main thing was that I completed. On the days, with a combination of nerves, adrenaline and people lining the streets to watch, I should go faster. I have a time in mind that I would like to achieve. Unfortunately, it won’t be a personal best time. I still have some weight to lose, which will help a lot, and, although I have managed to put in a shift and get the long runs ticked off, I can still improve my speed (by quite a bit) and core strength. These things needs months before you can see improvements. It was just impossible to incorporate these as well into my training schedule. My basic fitness and endurance was the priority for this half marathon.

I have been given the advice: Train hard, win easy. I agree with this motto. I am not sure that I have trained so hard for this race, so I am anticipating that the win will not be so easy. But I am ready to surprise myself.

One of the things that slowed me down today which won’t on the actual day is dogs and dog owners. The stretch that I do is popular with dog walkers and I am always a bit nervous when a dog is not on the lead. Most of the time, I slow down, just in case the dog is spooked by my running. A month ago, a dog wasn’t under control and came for me. I almost fell into a ditch while trying to get out of its way. Generally though, people here are very responsible with their dogs and make sure that they are on the lead when they see you or, at least, take hold of them.

Almost every person that I ran past today said “Good Morning” to me. It takes some effort for me to say it back because I am concentrating on breathing in and out, not on speaking. I definitely won’t have this problem during the race in Cardiff. Although, when I ran the Liverpool 10 Mile race in 2016, there was a runner in the race who was running with her dog attached by its lead to a belt around her waist. I have no idea if she stopped to scoop the poop for the benefit of other runners behind her.

I have completed my long run a week early because I have a hockey match next weekend. There is no way that I could play our Swiss cup game on Saturday and then run 19 km on the Sunday. For the next two weeks, I will be just keep going steadily with some short distances and resting well. The two words any long distance runner loves to hear: resting well. I will be making sure that my knee is okay and doing all the stretches that I need to make sure that I have no pain on the day, getting plenty of sleep and keeping my diet in check.

My diet is the main thing that lets me down. I love eating and cooking. I have been having salad for lunch for the past 6 weeks or so and trying not to snack on unhealthy things. I have by and large succeeded. My worry is that I land in Bristol on the Wednesday before the race. I have been promised fish and chips and burgers from the other half, who is also running and will be waiting for quite a while for me to crawl over the finish line. How can a girl possibly resist? I can’t remember the last time I had fish and chips. My will power will have to be strong. I am definitely looking forward to that first pint after crossing the finishing line because then the need for will power will definitely be over.

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Perfect running weather for a Brit!

Summer regrets

12 Sep

It hasn’t escaped my notice that the nights have been slowly drawing in, the sun is half asleep when my alarm goes off and there is a slight chill in the air. My fans are now back in the basement as I have resigned myself to the fact that the nights of it being too warm to sleep are over for another year.

Autumn is on its way. I like autumn. I am more accustomed to the milder weather and it means that I don’t have to make up a bad excuse to stay inside and curl up with a good book and shut out the world.

I never appreciated the summer as much as I should. Every year I promise myself that I will enjoy the summer months: late night drinks, swimming in the lake and watching the sun going down. Every summer I fail. This summer I don’t think I have been up late enough to see a sunset and I have been swimming once in the lake (and that wasn’t even in Zurich).

The thing that I will miss most about this year’s summer is my vegetable garden. It sounds daft but I have enjoyed tending to the garden this year and I have had so many vegetables from it that I have hardly had to buy any from the shops. The weather was perfect for vegetable growing. Hot, dry weather followed by rain and downpours meant that the plants grew, at times, far quicker than I could eat them. And that is saying something.

I have had tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, basil, radishes, onions and kohlrabi. I don’t know what a kohlrabi is in English – online translation tools translate it as kohlrabi. Very helpful. It’s not like a turnip or swede but similar. You can eat it cooked or raw.

The overwhelming success was the cucumbers. At one point I was eating a whole cucumber, which was on average about 25cm, a day for lunch and I still couldn’t eat all of them. When my mum visited, she took back some for relatives, otherwise they would have gone to waste.

I daren’t take my eyes off the cucumber plant because every time I did, it seemed that two more had suddenly grown. I was beginning to be anxious about wasting them or about them growing too big so that I wouldn’t be able to get them through the patio doors to the kitchen.

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When all is said and done, cucumbers are not so versatile. Your options are basically salad or salad. I once saw a recipe for cucumber soup. I saw sense and decided not to attempt that.

It felt good to be living at least a portion of my life in a sustainable manner. I think that generally people waste a lot more food than they need to. I was lucky that I could go out to the balcony and sometimes make a salad from the ingredients there. I picked things as and when I needed them. No wastage at all.

I have also dried some basil or, at least, tried to so that I can use it in the winter in soups and stews. So part of the summer will remain with me a little longer.

I am also hoping that in the next few weeks that I will get a few more gifts from the garden. I have planted carrots and leeks. Let’s see my sustainable life continues into the autumnal months.

 

Another year older

5 Sep

Yesterday I celebrated by 35th birthday. I’m not really a big birthday celebratory but I was persuaded in the evening to have Raclette and a birthday cake. A choice I could never regret.

It got me thinking about the cultural differences between UK and Switzerland on the subject of celebrating aging.

In the UK a work colleague would normally arrange a cake for your day because it’s your birthday and why should you go to the effort of baking/buying a cake and hauling it into the office? In Switzerland it is very much expected that you bring something in for everyone.

I have a bit of luck on this front because 5 people from my department had birthdays over the weekend or yesterday. I know from prior years that this normally results in far too many croissants, cakes, pastries and other sweet things. I didn’t bring anything in, not because I am tight, but because I will bake something over the weekend to bring in next week when everyone’s sugar levels have reverted back to normal.

The cake thing I can deal with but not so much the hand-shaking, kissing and congratulating that comes along with it. All of these things are ok between close friends and family but I find it a bit unsettling between work colleagues.

So many people have congratulated me. But what are they actually congratulating me for? I have achieved nothing, apart from not dying and getting a day older. And I am fairly sure that they can’t possibly be congratulating me for evading death for the 35th consecutive year.

At home people just wish you a nice day and tell you not to get too drunk (because that’s the only pastime of the British). I find both of these sentiments to be much more preferable than wondering if my work colleague will shake my hand, kiss me three times or hug me.

I do sound like I’m complaining but I’m. It really. It’s these small cultural differences than I found so interesting and, sometimes, funny. Will I ever get used to these small things? Will I always find it awkward and a touch embarrassing? Only time will tell. But I will say one thing: it’s far better to be congratulated and feeling awkward than for your birthday to be forgotten.