Vegan

Day 9: Stormy weather

Hello, weather gods – it is still summer, right?? We have just got home from a post-dinner stroll and we are decidedly soggy – the rain came out of nowhere, and it came on so heavily that it was like standing under a power shower. Not cool!

Apparently we’re in for more rain overnight, and very strong winds on Saturday – when we got back, our poor blackcurrant bush had been battered flat by the rain (hopefully it will perk up once it dries out), and worse, the vegan market we had been planning to visit tomorrow has been cancelled. Howl! Apparently they are hoping to open on Sunday though, so we will see if we can go then.

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Lunch – leftover biryani in a crispy potato skin

As for why we were out in the elements, we’d gone for a post-dinner drink, getting our step-count up and getting out of the flat (I’ve been working from home all week). Of course, ‘going for a drink’ means ‘going for a tonic water and a non-alcoholic beer’ these days…. though we were thwarted at our first pub, where they had actually sold out of the latter! In East Ham??

The Denmark Arms is one of our favourite pubs – it’s not exactly our local, being a 25-ish minute stomp away, but the atmosphere is really nice and it even has a vegan burger on the menu. It wasn’t always like this, though – when we first went to the pub about a year or so ago, it was positively murderous – dark and dingy with loud music and lots of very drunk/stoned people falling over each other… my abiding memory is of Si pleading with me not to make eye contact with anyone ‘in case I end up in a fight and lose my front teeth and I’ll never play the trombone again!’ (that escalated quickly) After that first visit we steered well clear – until, one day, we walked past and found that it was under new management. Talk about a transformation – it had a coffee machine! And a new gastro-pub menu with nice veggie/vegan options – and it was light, bright, and lovely inside. How times change.

Though the Denmark wasn’t able to furnish Si with a non-alcoholic beer, they did have some very fancy mixers from the London Essence Company. I had a grapefruit and rosemary tonic, and Si had a rhubarb and cardamom soda water. Funnily enough, we were both very pleased with our choices but neither of us liked each other’s – I loved the subtle grapefruit flavour, which was very clean and bright against the quinine of the tonic, but Si declared it to be ‘like urinal block’. Goodness knows how he knows what that tastes like! That said, he thought his soda tasted like rhubarb and custard sweets, but I found it far too sweet. Can’t complain with a £3 round, though – we’ll miss those once we’re back off the wagon!

20190809_193322.jpgSpeaking of which – while we were in the pub I signed up to the Craft Gin Club, which will send me a lovely bottle of gin, mixers, and snacks every other month – I’m so excited to see what I get once I’m allowed to drink again! And look at that – an impulse buy in the pub and I wasn’t even tipsy 😉

Si was craving ‘lagery tang’, so our next drink needed to be in another pub – we popped round the corner to our local Wetherspoons, where I had another tonic water and Si had two Becks Blues in a pint glass (‘for plausible deniability’…!). That came to a fiver, but still much cheaper than a pint and a large glass of wine.

Fortunately the rain held off till the walk home, though we did get caught in it, and quite dramatically too! We were hoping to pop into the shops to buy some Jus-Roll pastry so that I can make vegan sausage rolls for Sunday’s picnic (assuming the weather isn’t too ferocious), but Sainsburys was closed and Lidl didn’t have any (we did buy Si some Tabasco minis, though, and a can of artichoke hearts for a couple of recipes that we’ve got pencilled in for next week). Tesco did come to our rescue, though – and we managed to pick up a 25p sourdough loaf in the ‘yellow sticker’ reduced section too, which is super tasty. One thing that I’ve not been able to find recently, though, is Tesco’s own band grapefruit juice – the last few times I’ve been, the usual shelf has been full of tropical juice instead. This had better not be a permanent change – I’ve only got about enough juice left to make one more of my beloved lemonade and grapefruits!

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And what about dinner? Tonight we had the cabbage parcels and mash that we’d meant to have yesterday. You can find our recipe for stuffed cabbage leaves here (they’re a real favourite, we make them most vegan months and were delighted to have an excuse to make them again, as we had a tonne of cabbage left over from our vegan ramen) – this time round Si had filled them with crumbled seitan, mixed grains, peas, sweetcorn, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, onions and garlic, all chopped up small and mixed with tomato puree and some of Si’s beloved Gochujang (fermented chili and soybean) paste. These parcels were so savoury and plumply satisfying, especially when piled on top of garlicky mash with some garlic-laced sriracha on the side!

 

Today I ate/drank:

  • Tea with soy milk
  • Leftover biryani in a crispy potato skin
  • Lots of fizzy squash
  • Stuffed cabbage leaves and mash
  • Grapefruit and rosemary tonic water
  • Normal tonic water
  • Bread and spread
  • Fake gin and tonic
  • Sourdough and spread
  • A few potato far far

Today’s cravings:

  • Cheese
  • All the delicious gins I saw while browsing the Craft Gin Club website
Vegan

Day 8: In a potato far-far away…

Today has been a bit of a nibbly day, with leftover vegetable biryani for lunch and no dinner as such to report (gasp!), but we have had such a win in terms of the shop we found while exploring the streets to the other side of our nearest tube station (amazing that we have not been this way before!).

While going for an evening stroll, we came across a biggish Indian supermarket and dived in for a nosy. Goodness, I wish we’d found this place months ago, it’s amazing! All the pulses and nuts and seeds and spices that you could ever want, in such big quantities and so cheap! And they also stock a brilliant range of chilli sauces – we’ve got Si a new Sriracha made with green chillis, and they also stock the super-hot (Carly-proof) ‘Mr Naga’ paste that previously he’d only seen online. Result!

The best find, though, was a packet of mini-poppadoms, and one of intriguing potato ovals called ‘far far’. You’re supposed to deep fry them, but we’ve tried putting them in the microwave and they puff up so beautifully. They have a lovely, pure potato flavour, and are nicely thick but airy in texture – they kind of remind me of French Fries crisps. Drizzled with sriracha, Si has declared them his favourite snack ever, and the best thing about VegAugust so far. High praise!

We were supposed to be making stuffed cabbage leaves for dinner, and had got as far as making the parcels and cooking two big potatoes in the oven for mash, but to be honest we had snacked so much that we’d spoiled our appetite rather. Oops! Never mind, though – our dinner plans could wait till tomorrow, and we just bumped everything on the meal plan along by one night – so it’s cabbage parcels tomorrow, and black bean chilli on Saturday. Sunday will be a picnic dinner, weather permitting!

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Instead of a proper meal, we ended up nibbling a few more far far discs, and ate the crispy potato skins that we had scraped out for tomorrow’s mash (I fancied mine up with vegan spread and a finely chopped raw mushroom, to get a bit more fibre/vitamins into my meal. Followed by a luscious vanilla Alpro dessert and a glass of fake G&T and it felt surprisingly decadent!

For all this fun, though, allow me to end on a vegan whinge… I use a pre-paid card called Revolut in place of a normal debit card, to help with budgetting, and every 10 payments you sometimes get a time-limited perk (a free coffee, cash back on food at certain places, etc). I got a new one today, and it’s for 5% cashback on McDonalds. Ordinarily I’d be delighted by this – but did you know that McDonalds don’t have any vegan items on their menu?

I mean, some bits and bobs like their fries are incidentally vegan, but you can’t put that perk towards an interesting meal. Boo and hiss! I was very surprised that such a big name hasn’t yet embraced the vegan movement, especially when it’s gaining so much momentum on the high street – given that so many of their rivals (Burger King has recently launched a vegan burger, though apparently they cook them in the same broiler as meat products, and I hear KFC has launched some kind of quorn burger) have seen the green light, though, I’m sure they’re follow suite soon!

 

Today I ate/drank:

  • Tea with almond milk
  • Leftover biryani
  • Handful of peanuts
  • Spoonful of peanut butter
  • Bread and spread
  • Loads of fizzy squash
  • Piece of dark chocolate
  • Potato far-far with sriracha
  • 1.5 potato skins with a chopped up raw mushroom
  • Fake gin and tonic
  • Vanilla Alpro

Today’s cravings:

  • Cheese
Vegan

Day 7: A moral dilemma

How are we a week in already?? The time really is flying by this VegAugust, and I’m really enjoying our plant-based experiments – everything we’ve made at home has been so tasty, even if eating out has been a bit hit and miss (soggy tofu curry and boring jacket potato, I’m looking at you!).

We’re definitely feeling very well, and are sleeping SO deeply… however, we’ve not yet hit the ‘full of vim and energy’ feeling that we loved last time round. I think it’s because we’re sleeping so well – the alarm clock comes as a real shock, leaving us feeling very groggy in the morning (Si is also missing his coffee!) – but hopefully the energy will kick in soon.

Today we had our first real moral dilemma. I was leading on dinner tonight – back to Indian cuisine, more on that in a mo! – and to go with lovely curry flavours of course we needed (alcohol-free) beer. Our normal go- to is Becks Blue, but Si asked me to surprise him with something different so I picked up a 4-pack of Bavaria 0%. There was nothing in the ingredients list to suggest that we couldn’t have them, but Si is a bit more diligent that I am about checking ingredients, and insisted on googling them. It turns out that they are classed as ‘vegetarian but not vegan’ because isinglass is used in the brewing process, but no fish products end up in the finished product.

Boo and hiss! We had a bit of a problem here, and back and forth we went on what to do. In the end, though, we decided that we would drink them – largely because we are doing VegAugust for health/creative reasons rather than moral ones, and we have still been sleeping on a feather mattress topper/Si is wearing a leather belt to work/I’m wearing wool. I know not all vegans would agree, but we have decided that so long as there are no animal products in what we eat, that is good enough for us, for what we’re doing. That’s the interesting thing about our vegan months, though – it has made us think about and discuss things that would never have occurred to us before.

And what about dinner? Tonight I made vegetable biryani, sort of based on this recipe but cooking the veg and rice separately, and with a few tweaks to the ingredients. I first tried this dish in Brighton, when we were trying to be vegan but our host wanted to go for an Indian.

I started by cutting all the veg – a carrot, two tomatoes, mushrooms, a green pepper, a white onion, two small potatoes, a stick of celery, a couple of handfuls of cauliflower, a fistful of green beans, and a red chilli – into small pieces. I also blitzed up a finger-length of ginger and five fat garlic cloves in the food processor to make my base paste.

Into a pan went a little splash of oil and the diced onion, which I cooked till the onions were softening and a little glossy. Then add the garlic and ginger paste and give everything a good stir. Once that was nice and fragrant, you add the spices – garam masala, turmeric, ground coriander, cumin, chilli powder, and some green curry powder that my parents had brought back from holiday – and the chopped tomatoes.

We now had a thick paste that smelt amazing – and to this I added the ‘harder’ veg – the celery, potato, pepper, carrot, cauliflower, and green beans (basically everything except the mushroom and the chilli), gave everything a big stir, poured in a big glug of vegetable stock, and chucked in a couple of handfuls of sultanas.

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While this was simmering, I put the basmati rice on. But while that’s cooking, an aside… I mentioned veg stock just above. One of the more surprising things I learned during previous vegan months is that not all veggie stock cubes are vegan – some of them contain milk. I know, right?? This time round I’d been careful and had bought the Knorr ones, which are fine – but they are so expensive! I’ve ranted written before about how unfairly expensive vegan-ing can be, and once again I was hit by the ‘vegan tax’ – if I’d been able to buy Tesco own-brand stock cubes, they’d have cost me 50p. But the privilege of having cubes without milk in them? Three times as much!

Ahem – back to the cooking. Once the broth had cooked down, and the potatoes were nice and tender, I added the chopped chilli, mushrooms, and a big handful of frozen peas. By now the rice was pretty much there too, so I turned up the heat on the curry, stirring until the peas had cooked and the sauce had reduced right down, and then I drained the rice and mixed it all together.

Heaped in a bowl and topped with chopped fresh coriander and flaked almonds, it smelled amazing (if I do say so myself). I served it with a wedge of lemon on the side, plus poppadoms (shop-bought and cooked in the microwave, no shame!), and I mixed up a quick raita-inspired dip using Alpro soya yoghurt (important to use the plain one, the one with coconut is too sweet!), finely-chopped cucumber, and a tzatziki mix (essentially dill and garlic) from Tiger.

It was fragrant, it was a lovely mix of textures (the sultanas had gone so soft and fat!), it was super-tasty. I really don’t think it would have been improved by adding lamb or chicken – hooray for vegan deliciousness!

 

Today I ate/drank

  • Tea with almond milk
  • Peanut butter on toast with raw mushroom
  • Handful of peanuts, spoonful of peanut butter
  • Fizzy squash
  • Fake gin and tonic
  • Tonic water
  • Veggie biryani with poppadoms and ‘raita’
  • An oat bìscuit

Today’s cravings:

  • Chicken nuggets
Vegan

Day 6: Return of the ramen

Today, a new challenge: I was out of town for work again, and the people I was meeting had arranged for us all to go to the pub for lunch before our site visit. I was very much looking forward to it, but also a little apprehensive that there might not be much for vegans on the menu – it would be awkward if I opted out of eating altogether, and I didn’t want to be ‘that person’ pulling the menu apart – so, to calm my worries, I resolved that I’d be vegetarian for the day if necessary, but wouldn’t take the mick by ordering anything with cheese etc on it.

As it happened, I was half right and half wrong – there really wasn’t anything specifically vegan on offer, even though the menu itself was pretty extensive – were I in omnivorous mode, there were so many things I would have loved! Fortunately the other people were in light bite mode, so I didn’t have to interrogate the only possibly vegan option (a cauli tikka masala) and instead had a nosy at the sandwiches. Not one vegan option there either! Cheese, coleslaw, brie and bacon (how I lingered longingly over that latter option)… but nothing vegan friendly. At last I had a skim of the jacket potatoes, and thank goodness there was the option to have one with baked beans. Assuming that, with beans, they wouldn’t also lace the spud with butter, I decided that this was my safest option and ordered – though goodness, it felt like a real wrench not to ask for grated cheese on top too.

It’s funny – almost a week in, and I’m really not struggling with missing meat at all, but I am still working on my cheese cravings – whenever I’m hungry, the first thing I think is ‘ooh, I’ll get myself a finger of cheese’, fancing a nice salty bit of feta or a sharp cheddar – but no, not for another few weeks!

The potato arrived with butter on the side, which I didn’t use, and a small bit of salad (leaves, sliced peppers). It was fine, filling and warm, though did feel a bit plain and anticlimatic – how I drooled over the luscious smell of the brie and bacon sandwich that the person next to me had ordered. Vegan food can be so much better than this – come on, pub, get with the future!

As I travelled home, it did strike me that not all baked beans are vegan friendly, so it’s possible that my lunch hadn’t actually been a sensible choice after all – but shush, conscience, there’s no way to know and I did my best.

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Vegan ramen, with a magnificent mushroom ‘egg’!

Back in the flat, I did find myself fancying a nice cold glass of white wine – it’s been a busy day of travelling and walking, and it would definitely have hit the spot! – but fizzy squash helped knock the edge off that. I was starving again too – turns out a spud isn’t enough food! – so had a slice of bread with spread and a thinly sliced raw mushroom while I waited for Jones to come home. I was super-excited for dinner, as we were returning to our beloved Japanese repertoire and making vegan ramen!

We had already bought the noodles and broth flavouring at the Japan Centre last weekend, so all that was left to do was sort the toppings. I was in charge of chopping up all the veg, finely shredding cabbage and cauliflower leaves, and breaking florets of cauliflower and broccoli into little pieces. We also added spinach, sweetcorn, and onion – delicious!

Meanwhile, Si was busy making us a substitute for the softboiled egg that normally tops a bowl of ramen. Last night he had chopped a big mushroom in half, taken out the stalk, and left both pieces to marinade in a mixture of soy sauce, chilli, and five spice. He then cooked down the stalks with some more chopped mushrooms and blitzed them in the food processor to make a soft ‘yolk’ – this tasted of such concentrated mushroom, it was absolutely heavenly. I would eat it spread on toast – heck, I would eat it with a spoon!

Time to assemble the ramen, heaping in the veg, carefully placing the marinaded mushroom (filled with a generous dollop of ‘yolk’) on top of the noodles, and sprinkling everything with ‘seven spice chilli powder, seaweed flakes, toasted black sesame seeds, and finely-sliced spring onion. It was so good! The broth was rich and savoury and how I love the mix of textures you get from all the vegetables. Good job slurping your noodles is considered good manners in Japan, cos I was wolfing that down! Pudding was another Alpro dessert, and some more corn and oat biscuits whipped up by Le Jones – I could get used to this… 😉

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Tonight also marked the first taste of our ‘fake gin’ (a juniper syrup made on the hob), which had settled into an intriguing yellow liquid – we mixed a shot of this with tonic water (and ice and lemon, of course!) – and you know what, it really did taste like a bitter-sweet gin. You may not get the lovely fuzzy feeling that comes with two or three G&Ts, but taste-wise it is spot on – that should keep the cravings at bay for the rest of the month! And it’s nice too to have a ‘grown-up’ drink to enjoy with dinner, rather than endless glasses of fizzy squash…

Today I ate/drank

  • Tea with almond milk
  • Hula hoops and Coke zero (standard train breakfast!)
  • Lemonade
  • Jacket potato with beans
  • Bread and spread with a raw mushroom
  • Fizzy squash
  • Vegan ramen with cauliflower, broccoli, sweetcorn, onion, spinach, shredded cabbage and cauliflower leaves, seven spice, sesame seeds, seaweed spring onion, thinly sliced garlic, and a mushroom ‘egg’
  • Fake gin and tonic
  • Alpro pudding
  • Corn and oat biscuits

Today’s cravings

  • Brie and bacon
  • Nice sharp cheddar
  • Cold white wine
Vegan

Day 5: Fake it till you make G&T

Today has been a bit of a leftovers day – for breakfast I heaped some of the leftover onion gravy, which had turned overnight into a beautiful jellylike thick sauce, onto toast and sliced a raw mushroom thinly over the top. It felt so decadent!

Lunch was also yesterday’s cooking – the last of the curry, and the remaining two bits of naan bread. Nommers that we are, though, we hadn’t left very much for me to eat, and by late afternoon I was hungry again, so I made myself a little bowl of miso soup as a snack.

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Use-up rice with allllll the seaweed flakes…

The real excitement came when Si got home, though. For dinner he whipped up a bowl of stir fried rice, using up lots of our odds and ends of veg (aubergine, courgette, mushroom, sweetcorn, leek, and onion) and mixing them through with a miso and tahini sauce. Some chilli flakes, seaweed flakes, and toasted sesame seeds and we were good to go… but that’s not the excitement I meant!

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Juniper syrup… fake gin!

I’ve been missing my G&Ts… tonic water is lovely and refreshing and perfectly good, but it’s lacking a slightly bitter-sweet tang. Practical Simon had a solution! To the homebrew cupboard he went, and fetched some of the juniper berries that we use for infusing gin. He added these to a fair whack of sugar in a small saucepan, and heated it on the hob to create a kind of juniper syrup. This is currently cooling in a glass jar on top of the fridge, but should be ready to add to tonic tomorrow. It certainly smells like gin… I can’t wait!

Today I ate/drank:

  • Tea with almond milk
  • Mushrooms on toast with onion gravy and garlic sriracha
  • Leftover curry, two bits of naan bread
  • Two squares of dark chocolate
  • Cup of miso soup with spring onions
  • Lots of fizzy squash
  • Stir fried rice with aubergine, courgette, mushroom, sweetcorn, leek, onion, tahini and miso, seaweed flakes, chilli flakes, and sesame seeds
  • Tonic water, with dinner and at the theatre after seeing a friend’s show

Today’s cravings:

  • Cheese – cheddar, and feta
  • Gin
Vegan

Day 4: Sunday seitan roast

Woooo, today we have definitely met our movement goals – we have walked 7 miles and cycled another 6. My legs definitely feel like they’ve done some work. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Today started with an experiment with aquafaber: could we make waffles in our trusty waffle maker without using eggs? Instead, we followed the recipe as usual but swapped out eggs for the water from a tin of chickpeas. And you know what? It worked!

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We actually had 4 bits each, but they were so delicious that I accidentally ate half before I remembered to photograph them for the blog…

The waffles were different in texture – softer, less chewy – but they held together really well and were super tasty. Si made a tarragon ‘cream’ using soy milk to go on top – beautiful.

Breakfast demolished, we set out – caught the tube to Mile End and walked to Victoria Park where we picked up Boris Bikes (or, Santander Cycles, are they now?) and went for a spin. I do love these bikes, it’s such fun to zip about and only 2 quid per half hour!

Two laps of the park later, and we were nosing around for a drink – I was gasping for a Coke Zero, but turns out all the cafes in the park are super virtuous, all smoothies and ‘karma cola’. The closest we could find was San Pelligrino, which Si calls ‘Tory Fanta’, but it hit the spot…

The lovely thing about Victoria Park is the little market that runs every Sunday. We visited during my first Veganuary, and there’s usually a decent number of vegan stalls there among the other artisan goodies. We went for a stroll through the stalls, to drool over the things that we’re not allowed to eat (ALL the cheese!), and to try the things that we are.

As it happens, there weren’t all that many things that we went over – cheese, yes, but we were encouragingly unmoved by the smoky smells of grilled meat. Moreover, there was an amazing array of vegan stands… We were particularly impressed by some ‘Philly cheese steaks’ made with seitan, and a bunch of different doughnuts (Si was seriously tempted by a peanut butter and blackcurrant one), and there was a bakery stall piled high with different vegan brownies. I did pause to taste some mushroom and truffle ‘paté’ on another stall (very rich and savoury, tasted strongly – unsurprisingly! – of concentrated flavours of both) – but where I stopped and got my purse out was the icecream stand.

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Icecream sandwich – beautiful but so small!

They were advertising icecream sandwiches, including a vegan option that sounded amazing. It was corn and cashew ‘icecream’, with smokey salted caramel, all sandwiched between two corn and miso cookies. How could I say no?

When I was given the icecream, I was a bit disappointed – given that it cost 4.75, it was surprisingly small, about 2 inches square – but goodness it was delicious. The salty caramel and miso was beautifully savoury combined with the sweet icecream, and the warm flavour of corn was fantastic – it always makes me think of our travels in Mexico. I could gladly have eaten another one… though maybe not at 4.75 a pop!

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No stars…

Snacking done, we set off on an epic walk to Kings Cross… We had hoped to visit a vegan shop that we had gone to last year, to buy some particular burger mix that Si had in mind, but alas it had turned into a coffee shop, with very few groceries on sale. Never mind, we consoled ourselves with a couple of tonic waters in the station Wetherspoons. It’s actually very refreshing, and a decent substitute for a G&T, at least until I’m back on the bottle. Si also took the opportunity to try a non-alcoholic Budweiser… he gave it no stars, describing it as ‘both sugary and vinegary’. Sounds like our cue to go home!

With all that exercise, we had certainly earned our dinner! It being Sunday, we were all set for a roast dinner. A vegan roast, that is! We crisped up the seitan that Si had made yesterday, which we served with broccoli, green beans, sugar snaps, roasted cauliflower, garlic roast potatoes, and burnt onion gravy.

I was in charge of the cauliflower, and tried roasting it with a ground black sesame rub. The rub rated delicious raw, but sadly lost most of its flavour in the oven… next time I will add it afterwards instead! But that was the only disappointment – the rest of the dinner was pretty fab.

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20190804_205349.jpgAfterwards, we were still feeling a bit nibbly, so I headed out to Tesco to find us an Alpro pudding. Our nearest store was shut, and I actually had to walk to two others before I found a pudding (adding another mile to my step count!), but it was worth the effort – when I got back, Si made us a little batch of oat-topped shortbread biscuits to go with them. Heaven on a plate.

And just to end on an exciting note: we didn’t eat all the seitan. Instead, we have left some slices in the fridge for Tuesday’s dinner… we’re having vegan ramen!

Today I ate/drank:

  • Tea with soya milk
  • Waffles with tarragon mushrooms
  • Coke zero
  • San Pellegrino
  • Mushroom and truffle paté
  • Vegan icecream sandwich
  • Tonic water
  • Fizzy squash
  • Fake wine with fizzy water
  • Seitan roast with broccoli, French beans, sugar snaps, sesame cauliflower, garlic roast potatoes, burnt onion gravy
  • Alpro dark chocolate pudding with corn/oat shortbread biscuits

Today’s cravings

  • Fish finger sandwich
  • Cheese
Vegan

Day 3: Alcohol-free wine is not so fine…

Hello, blog! For entirely coincidental reasons, this is the third day in a row that we’ve eaten Japanese food… clearly, even leaving aside some of our favourites like yakitori and takoyaki, it’s a very vegan-friendly cuisine!

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Saw this while walking… we have to go!!

We’re a bit obsessed with all things Japanese at the moment, as we’re planning a big trip out there next year, and so for a bit of a treat we took ourselves off to the big Japan Centre on Panton Street, to drool over all the things we can’t currently eat, and to stock up on those that we can. Top of the shopping list: white miso, as I’ve got some ideas brewing for cocoa/miso brownies and/or cake, dried yuzu peel for our next batch of gin infusing, and vegan ramen mix.

Rather than getting the tube all the way to Covent Garden – as we have decided that we’re going to try to up our movement this month too – we hopped off at Liverpool Street and walked the rest of the way, picking up a delicious pot of lightly salted edamame beans from a Wasabi on the way. Honestly, I would gladly live on these – podding them as you walk along is so satisfying, and the subtle saltiness with the sweetness of the beans is fab.

At the Japanese Centre we were blown away by the selection of goodies spread before us – everything you could want, you could find on those shelves (except for dried yuzu peel, the hunt for that continues!). We quickly found a lovely big tub of white miso, and some ‘Samurai’-brand vegan ramen mix… success! And what better way to celebrate than with sushi?

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20190803_161757.jpgWe love sushi. Normally, this involves big, buttery-soft pieces of tuna, but obviously today that was off the menu – not a problem, though, as we found a fab vegan selection that contained all kinds of tasty things to eat, from little rolls of beancurd stuffed with seaweed, to avocado nigiri. It was all delicious – the label calling it ‘monk’s sushi’ really didn’t do it justice, there was nothing austere about this meal. Washed down with a yuzu-flavoured soda, it was a real treat.

There were further tests of our willpower to come, though… while we were getting ready to leave, the Japan Centre staff were setting up a sake tasting, and giving out free gyoza. We love both of these things, so it was a bit of a wrench to hurry away without sampling either! But our spirits did not remain low for long… we found gooey, decadent consolation in the most beautiful vegan doughnut in the world.

20190803_121250.jpgWe’d clocked ‘Doughnut Time’ earlier during our epic walk, when I’d flown across the road to press my nose, Little Matchgirl-like, against the window to gaze at the beautiful things filling its display. Imagine our joy, then, when we realised half of the offerings were labelled as vegan friendly! It was so hard choosing between them, but in the end I picked ‘Ice Ice Bae Bae’, which had vanilla ‘cream’ in the middle, and was topped with bits of cookie dough and brownie. It was AMAZING! Soft and sweet, and so big that I had to save half for later – really, if you hadn’t told me I would never have guessed it was vegan.

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Much walking later, we made our way home. You might be surprised to hear that our thoughts turned to food once more… what to have for dinner? Our decision was made for us by the fact that we had some veg that needed using up. Cue a chickpea and lentil curry, packed with aubergine, green peppers, and spinach. We mixed this up with some green curry powder that my parents had brought us back from Indonesia – and with some long grained rice, it was so good! Lovely and warming and savoury – just what we needed after a long day of stomping the streets.

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20190804_172036.jpgTo go with this, we’d treated ourselves to a bottle of alcohol-free wine. I was so looking forward to a nice crisp, cold glass… unfortunately, it was horrible! Way too sweet, it tasted nothing like wine. So disappointing! I tried mixing it with grapefruit juice, but added too much and just made it worse… but after a lot of experimenting we found that adding fizzy water made it taste ok. Hey, spritzers are summery, right?

The evening has ended on an exciting note, though: Si has made some seitan using gluten flour, which we’ve steamed and is resting in the fridge overnight…we’re going to have a beautiful vegan roast tomorrow! I’ll let you know what it’s like later…

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Today’s purchases… vegan donut and vegan ramen!

Today I ate/drank:

  • Tea with soy milk
  • Edamame beans
  • Coke zero
  • vegan sushi
  • Yuzu soda
  • No gyoza…
  • No sake…
  • Beautiful doughnut
  • Lentil and chickpea curry with spinach, aubergine, and green pepper
  • Rubbish fake wine, mixed with grapefruit juice and fizzy water

 

Today’s cravings:

  • Corn tortilla laden with Oaxacan cheese, flor de calabaza, smashed black beans and green chilli (we were watching a Mexican food slot on ‘Saturday Kitchen’)
  • All the Mexican food – seasoned pork, chicken mole… mmmmmm….
  • Pork gyoza
Vegan

Day 2: Mea culpa…

Forgive me, vegans, for I have sinned! Just two days into our latest challenge (is that a new record?), I’ve managed to eat something non-vegan. Well done me…

The trouble started when I missed lunch. I was working from home and before I noticed it was 3pm (I’d had some avocado on toast at 11, so wasn’t hungry till then)… we were going out for dinner later, so I didn’t want to cook anything big and spoil my appetite, so what could I nibble to take the edge off it? Eloquently showing that my brain hasn’t yet switched onto the instinctively vegan frequency, its first two suggestions were ‘a piece of cheese’ and ‘one of those pre-prepared chicken breasts that Tesco sells’. Very helpful!

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Nooooooooooo!!!

In the end, I settled on some fizzy squash to fill me up – but without thinking, I also grabbed one of my favourite yuzu gummy sweets and popped it in my mouth for a little sugar boost. Too late, it suddenly struck me that they probably contained gelatine – as a quick glance at the packet immediately confirmed. Rats. It’s not my first slip – during our September challenge we accidentally ate butter during a hubristic Wetherspoons breakfast – but at least then we’d managed 20 vegan days in a row, so to mess up on day 2, and to do it so carelessly too is a bit annoying. But onwards and upwards!

This evening we were out at the theatre again, and Jones had been sufficiently envious of yesterday’s Wasabi delights that he asked if I wouldn’t mind having a second meal at the same restaurant. Where Japanese food is concerned, I’m always happy to oblige!

I was in the mood for a more substantial meal this time round, so eschewed the soup in favour of tofu yakisoba – or I would have done, except they were all out. Sweet chilli tofu? All gone too. Boo and hiss… as a last resort (too hangry and stubborn to think of switching back to my beloved noodle soup) I opted for the only vegan option still available: tofu curry.

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Readers, it was not nice! The noodles had clearly been sitting about all day, and were very stodgy and soft. The curry itself was ok – nice flavour, at least – but it was SO salty, and made for a heavier meal than I had wanted. Hey ho, live and learn! Simon’s meal was so much nicer and lighter – a teriyaki tofu rainbow salad. It was a beautiful colourful array of raw veg – red cabbage, avocado, edamame beans, cucumber, spring onions and mixed leaves – with roasted butternut squash and brown sushi rice. I had a little nibble and the tofu was so light and fluffy, it was almost like eating fresh brown bread soaked in teriyaki. Gorgeous – I am definitely having that next time.

There was one success, though: we also shared an onigiri, or seaweed-wrapped rice parcel packed with butternut squash and edamame beans, which was lovely. The papery crunch of the seaweed perfectly complemented the dense filing – really really good.

So, you win some, you lose some. Faced with my disappointing soggy curry, I found myself longing for my usual omnivorous order, the chicken katsu salad (I know they do katsu pumpkin, but it’s just not the same – too sweet and soft)… funny how yesterday, with my lovely noodle soup, I didn’t miss it at all. And above all, it felt very odd to finish a Wasabi meal without my favourite Japanese thing of all: a doriyaki! I suppose, with its honey pancakes and egg custardy filling, you couldn’t think of a less vegan treat, unless you slapped a rasher of bacon on the top – but they’re nommy and I wanted one!

snapshotimagehandler_1183311235But let’s end on a positive note: on the way home from the theatre we nipped into Tesco to buy Si some alcohol-free beer, and on impulse also picked up a packet of chilli and lime sweet potato sticks – they were so good! Tangy and just the right combination of soft and crunchy – a definite win, we will be having them again.

 

Today I ate/drink

  • Tea with soy milk
  • Avocado on toast with lemon pepper, chilli flakes, salt and pepper, and a thinly sliced raw mushroom on top
  • A forbidden yuzu gummy!!!
  • Fizzy squash
  • Coke zero
  • Edamame and butternut squash onigiri
  • Tofu curry and noodles
  • No doriyaki…
  • Sweet potato crisps

 

Today’s cravings

  • Chicken breast fillet
  • Cheese stick
  • Katsu chicken
  • Doriyaki

 

Vegan

Day 1: VegAugust begins!

Hello, internet, we’re back! Simon and Carly reporting for duty, and ready and raring to go for another month of delicious vegan-ing.

We traditionally complement our Veganuary adventures with another challenge in September (which, agreed, doesn’t split the year evenly, but we usually have show tours and my birthday in July)… but this year we’ve pushed things forward a month to fit in with travel plans.

So here we are on day 1! As usual, we’re going teetotal for the month too, though Si has decided to up the monk-like ante even further by giving up caffeine too – I’m not going quite that far, though I’m going to make an extra healthy sacrifice by giving up the sugar in my tea.

We’re looking forward to another month of creative cookery and healthy living, trying out new recipes and revisiting old favourites. We never got round to making lime marmalade or trying to do a vegan lemon curd, so with a bit of luck this will be the month… I’ve also got a veggie biriyani recipe that I’m particularly keen to try.

So how has day 1 gone? To be honest, given that I particularly enjoy the creative aspect of our veganing, I haven’t covered myself in glory – but I didn’t slip up either, so I will just vow to do better tomorrow.

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Fun fact: the nail varnish I’m wearing in this photo (Eden, by Seren) is also vegan!

Today I’ve been travelling for work, so started the day with a hideously early train – what better to combat the bleariness with than a nice cuppa? The station had plenty of places that would furnish me with soy or almond milk – however, I was a bit miffed to find that I’d be paying 55p extra (almost a third of the cost of the tea extra) for the privilege – Vegan tax, I call it! It’s funny – high street chains do seem to be getting better at catering for vegans but, just as when we found that none of Tesco’s new plant-based range was included in the lunch meal deal, you still have to pay extra for the privilege.

In my haste to get tea and catch the train, a confession: I forgot that I wasn’t meant to have sugar. D’oh! But the almond milk was very tasty – a welcome reminder of how nice vegan tea can be.

Upon reaching my destination, I faced a real test of my resolve: the meeting was accompanied by not one, not two, but THREE kinds of cake as well as tea and coffee (with no plant-based milks). But did I crumble? (mmmm, the cake did look lovely and crumbly) I did not! Virtue was triumphant, and I was sadly cakeless.

Karma did not pay me back. On my way back to London -by that point, two hours past lunchtime and starving – I tried to find something that I could eat on the train, but was frsutrated by the village I was in being too remote to have much in the way of shops. There was a chippy, and a butcher’s offering mouthwatering pies and sausage rolls, but plant-based options were conspicuous in their absence. At last, with about 10 minutes till my train was due, I found a McColls – bamboozled by the unfamiliar shelf layout, and without time to look at the packaging of every sandwich, I am afraid to say that I resorted to grabbing two bags of ready salted crisps. Creative they were not!

This does highlight how limited vegan options still are in some places – or, at least, how much more effort you have to make. If it was any other month I’d have just grabbed a random sandwich and gone – in August, thoughtful eating is very much flavour of the month.

I was out at the theatre in the evening (avec my staunchly self-declared ‘carnivore’ sister, who I have so far failed to convince either of the merits of a meat-free meal, or that soy milk in tea is not something to be suspicious of) so dinner was a quick bite at Wasabi – chosen because I love their vegan options but there was plenty of ‘normal’ (her words) food for sis. Though of course I couldn’t have my very favourite thing, which is a lovely soft and sweet doriyaki…

20190801_184035Counteracting the salty unhealthiness of my ‘lunch’, I delved deep into a gorgeous pot of vegetable tanmen – thick rice noodles in a beautiful broth, packed with tofu, cauliflower, broccoli, bean sprouts, Chinese leaf, carrot, pak choi, mangetout, wakame seaweed, and chilli powder, garnished with fried shallot and spring onion, and heaped (on my request) with extra sliced chilli, crispy onions, and coriander. It was hearty, it was warming, and it was absolutely delicious – what a relief to get some veg in me! Just the ticket – and even if sis wasn’t convinced to try it, that just means all the more for me!

 

Today I ate/drank:

  • Tea with almond milk
  • No cake…
  • Coke zero
  • Two bags of ready salted crisps
  • Spoonful of peanut butter and a raw mushroom
  • Veggie tanmen
  • No doriyaki…
  • Fizzy squash

Today’s cravings

  • Doriyaki
Vegan

Day 31b: Final thoughts

This month has absolutely flown by, but (or, because!) it has been so much fun. More than that, it feels really comfy – every time we do a vegan month, whether that’s Veganuary or ‘Septofu‘ (it’ll catch on, trust us…!), it feels more ‘normal’, and it’s easier to keep ourselves fed in a healthy, but just as importantly, an interesting way.

I asked Si for his final thoughts, and he says that this Veganuary has been the most robust that we’ve done – in terms of sticking to the dry January theme too – but also the most creative. We’ve tried more things than ever before, with less reliance on pre-made or processed food, and most importantly it felt completely normal. The more you do it,  the easier it becomes – it doesn’t feel like such a dramatic switch, and the more you know you can create things from scratch, the more confidence you have to experiment. This is Si’s third Veganuary, and his fourth month of veganing, and he says it’s been his favourite so far.

We’ve had a few misses along the way (cold cauli Alfredo was not one of my finest efforts, and we’ve had mixed success with aquafaba) but they’ve mostly been hearty, healthy hits. I asked Si for his highlights of the month, and he picked out the cauliflower hot wings, squash wellington, Venezuelan arepas, mix and match salad, ‘chickn’ and mushroom pie, potato and beetroot risotto, and jewelled aubergine.

My favourites were the cauli tikka masala, vegan sausage rolls, garden gyozas, tacos, broccoli stir-fry, and of course Simon’s beautiful carrot cake… but I also adored the pizza and ‘cheeseboard’ that we had in Brighton – my mouth is watering just thinking about it now!

It’s been a lot of fun, and we have tried out a lot of useful cooking skills, as well as learning how to make the most of our local market. I’m also really pleased by how good we are becoming about meal planning and, crucially, not letting anything go to waste. Got a leftover cauliflower stalk? Into soup it goes! Some cherry tomatoes going soft? Hello pasta sauce! These are habits we’re keen to build on throughout the year. And we will be putting some of these skills into practice tomorrow when my parents come to visit – we’ll be creating a super-interesting dinner for my vegetarian mum!

But before we sound too virtuous, I should admit: with less than an hour of Dry January to go, we’ve just ceremonially installed a bottle of our homebrew white wine in the fridge, to share with my folks tomorrow night. Bring it on!