It’s been unnaturally warm recently in bonnie Scotland- we’ve actually had something resembling a summer and rain has, thankfully, been pretty minimal. I’ve missed out on alot of it so far thanks to working full time- not only have I been working in an office, but an editing room within an office. The only window I had looked onto the inside of the building. Hardly the frolicking and soft focus laughs that cider adverts would have us believe make up a Scottish summer.

On Friday, I finished up in my full time job and decided it was time to take advantage. My mum and dad are away touring the Highlands and islands for their 30th anniversary, leaving me with a car to myself. The thing I love most about Scotland is how little time it takes to get anywhere, and the boy and I thought we’d take advantage. Sunday was our 18 month-aversary and since we’ve both got some holiday time to use, we figured a road trip was in order.

We trawled Abandoned Scotland looking for spooky castles to go exploring, and discovered the relatively nearby Buchanan Castle in Stirlingshire. I only passed my test in January, and thanks to limited car access don’t have a huge amount of long-distance experience. A few wrong turns later, we ditched the castle idea and found ourselves in the tiny village of Luss, upon the beautiful shores of Loch Lomond– not a bad trade off, I’d say!

The glorious weather held up for the whole day, and I decided it merited a treat. In hot weather nothing beats a cold ice-cream, but for obvious reasons it’s not vegan friendly. Or, indeed, waistline friendly. There was only one thing for it- I had to go DIY. I’d stocked up on a tonne of silken tofu from ASDA’s reduced section, with packs going for a mere 30p each. I’d wasted one with an utterly boggin’ raspberry/coconut concoction that was fit only for the bin, and had to make this one count. Having used firm tofu in savoury foods, I was a teensy bit apprehensive about using it to make something sweet.

It didn’t take much of a search to find some easy silken tofu recipes- and almost all of them were for dessert shaped dishes. Alot of them were really simple, and the same ingredients kept cropping up in the most basic recipes. The best part? All of them were within reach.

After making my peanut butter/chocolate/banana milkshake to boost my flagging energy when I had the flu, I figured it couldn’t be that hard to adapt this to a frozen treat. The result was pretty goddamn delicious- the only difference I’d make would be to make it earlier in the day so I could stir it more continuously, rather than leave it to freeze overnight.

Silken Tofu Vegan ‘Ice Cream’

  • 2 ripe bananas, cut into chunks
  • 1 block of silken tofu
  • Cocoa or chocolate powder 
  • 1 tbsp of hazelnut butter (optional but super tasty… the hazelnut gives it a kinda Nutella-like taste)

Put the chopped bananas, silken tofu, chocolate powder and hazelnut butter in a bowl and give it a quick stir to combine it all.

Blend it with a hand blender until all ingredients are properly combined and you’ve got a nice smooth texture.

Pour into a container and pop it in the freezer. Check it every couple of hours and give it a stir so that it doesn’t freeze into one massive block.

When it’s ready to serve, leave it out for a couple of minutes to thaw slightly and serve up with fresh raspberries, strawberries or just on its own.

So it’s been quiet on the blogging front for me lately, although with good cause: I’m finishing up in work this week and there’s a chaotic push to get everything done. I’ve been working with a visual arts charity, making short films, writing blogs, helping to manage social media and, apparently, not bothering to organise the mountains of material I have into date order. Blarg.

I’m only on a four month contract so I’ve also been frantically applying for jobs in my spare time- I know, the fun never ends, right? I’ve written various drafts of cover letters so frequently that I’m worried I’ll start sleepwalking and reciting them aloud like a modern day postgraduate somnambulist.

In between all of that I’ve also been doing some guest writing (keep your ears to the ground for the launch of IN BLOOM– it’s gonna be pretty special, and I’m not just saying that through bias) and taking a week off work unexpectedly to do nothing but paint my garden fence and attempt jogging. I know that taking a week off seems counteractive to all of the everything that needs doing, but I had the days to use up and I was pretty much told to take it. Fair ‘nuff.

So, what to do for fun in between times? Well, catch up with pals and get a good scran and chat in over a cider or two. While many of Glasgow’s new restaurants are including more and more non-meaty options, the choice of all-vegan or vegetarian joints is still pretty thin on the ground. Presumably because everyone’s losing their shit over burgers and pulled pork. Hey, I’m not judging, after our trip to Stereo I even offered to accompany the boy to one of yon burger places. As long as their chips and side salad are OK, that is.

In any case, finding somewhere I can peruse an entire menu without fear is always a relief. In fact, it’s downright overwhelming. I’m so terrible at making decisions that even when I go somewhere like this, I will inevitably end up ordering a burger of sorts. On the many occasions I’ve visited The 13th Note before, I’ve went straight for sweet falafel-y goodness because I know I like it.

But on this particular occasion, I was feeling bold. I’d had a good day in work, successfully bagged a funding application and was having a decent hair day. You could hear the 70’s funk soundtrack playing behind me as I strutted… well, around the corner from my work in the Trongate round to the Note. I figured that if I was going to stray from my usual dinner choices, this would be the place to do it- at least they would do it well.

This image has nothing to do with the rest of the post, except that I'd taken it on a stroll around Glasgow Green and kinda liked it.

This image has nothing to do with the rest of the post, except that I’d taken it on a stroll around Glasgow Green and kinda liked it.

After being presented with a shiny new menu, I was faced with an important decision- almost too many. Our poor waitress didn’t get an order out of me until her third trip over to our table. My self-imposed burger ban had me scanning frantically for anything else that I knew I liked. I like trying new things and all, but baby steps- I like a little something familiar. In lieu of falafel, I went for a twist on that other standard veggie staple- risotto.

However, this wasn’t just risotto, it was lemongrass and ginger risotto cakes with a Thai green curry sauce. I’m never sure if I like Thai green curry- it’s a bit too fragrant and watery for me, and not nearly punchy enough. I needn’t have worried- this was properly creamy, without being heavy, and it worked really well with the delicate flavours of the risotto cakes. The cakes were pretty big too and- Hallelujah chorus- there was more than enough sauce to cover them. I didn’t even have to add any from the table, or ask for any extra.

In fact, it also came with an enormous flatbread- which at first I didn’t eat because I thought it was a napkin, oops- which I used to mop up the saucy remains. Classy, right. The good thing about the Note is that there’s no sort of pretence, it’s authentically grungey without being made to look like it was styled that way (i.e. it doesn’t look like a G1 attempt at a grunge bar)- therefore it’s perfectly OK to use a flatbread as both a tortilla and sauce scooper. Judgeth me not.

The portion size was enough that I felt full without being overloaded, as is often the case with a burger- usually in part due to the roll, coupled with chips, combined with deep carb-laden regret. Probably helped that it was a gluten-free option, too. I still didn’t have room for a pudding, but I didn’t feel so full that I should be asking bus passengers to give up their seats for me.

For the wary, put your minds at ease- the menu clearly states that all items are vegan, except those marked ‘vegetarian’, and all vegan and non-vegan items are stored and prepared separately. While I’m not overly fussed about that kind of cross-contamination, a lot of people are, and I dug that they made a point of saying so.

The whole experience reinforced again to me that changing lifestyle is all about trying new things, and opening up to new tastes and experiences. For me, I like new things as long as there’s a little bit of assurance. A safety net, if you will. But baby steps are better than no steps at all. Vegan or vegetarian diets shouldn’t just be about “eating the same but replacing the meat”- although don’t get me wrong, I still do that if I’m feeling lazy. It’s about seeing what you like outwith the usual. Otherwise, what’s the point?

For the size of it, this was a pretty bargainous find too- my dinner clocked in at a wallet friendly £7.75, which was very welcome mid-month. I’m already looking forward to trying out the rest- maybe on a Saturday so I can partake in a soya milk White Russian too. At time of writing it’s the only place I’ve found one so far, but I’d be more than willing to be proved wrong…

We had a pretty expensive time of it during April and May: a whole host of gigs came up within weeks of one another, and we ended up averaging about two a week.

I kept meaning to go and do a proper food shop during the month, but funds just kept getting diverted elsewhere. When June rolled around, it was a relief. Some time off from social engagements. But what to do with the time?

It’s good for the soul, every now and then, to do a little exploring further afield. To step out of your comfort zone and take in some culture. Saturday was mostly spent in a post-wine haze (although after braving a Tesco trip, I rustled up a damn fine vegan hangover breakfast). It was teeming down with rain and we had dog-sitting to do, so we decided Sunday would be our day for action.

This wee face demanded full attention, rain be damned. Except when he wanted to go walkies. In the rain.

This wee face demanded full attention, rain be damned. Except when he wanted to go walkies. In the rain.

Rather than stick to the city centre, we ventured west for the West End Festival parade. It rained on and off, but it certainly didn’t deter the swarms. It hit us as soon as we stepped off of the underground, and a romantic stroll down sunny Byres Road was a fool’s errand. Weans with balloons and street performers stretched as far as the eye could see. The smell of food from street stalls hung in the air, but sadly nothing vegan-shaped crossed my path.

Took some selfless, bought some comics and blu-rays, probably missed the point of the festival.

Took some selfies, decided we hated crowds, bought some comics and blu-rays and probably missed the point of the festival.

After ducking into Fopp and City Centre Comics to escape the crowd, we headed to Brew Dog. It wasn’t, as we thought, far enough from the main drag to be quiet. A quick glance at the menu revealed a hefty vegan haul (all of their side dishes, plus at least one main), which will definitely be due further investigation once festival madness has dwindled.

Et tu, Brew Dog. We'll see you on payday.

Et tu, Brew Dog. We’ll see you on payday.

We made our way back to the city centre relatively unscathed, and conveniently found ourselves feeling hungry within strolling distance of Stereo. It always comes up whenever ‘vegan scran’ is mentioned, unsurprising given that it’s still not that big of a market. However, I’d only been in once for food (their Monday Sharing Platter tapas deal is pretty epic), and Ally is decidedly un-vegan.

I had my work cut out for me. We’d went to Tchai Ovna a few months before, and as much as I love it, the falafel-to-salad ratio left us still feeling hungry. And quite a bit poorer.  I sold Stereo on it being cheap, cheerful, plentiful (again, my opinion was based on hunners of tapas so it was a risk) and, more importantly, close by.

Stereo was probably the quietest I’ve ever seen it- usually it’s a struggle to get a table- and we got seated right away. I was intrigued by the special of vegan black pudding, but not enough to try it. What would vegan black pudding be? Burnt vegetable bits from the bottom of the oven? Answers on a postcard please… we both settled for the safe option of falafel. It’s the one vegan option that most carnivores can happily settle for, and one you can’t really get too badly wrong.

The falafel sandwich, with added chips, works out to a mere £6.50– not too shabby. It also comes with a healthy smear of houmous and a side salad that was actually tasty, rather than just a limp sprinkle of leaves. The real test of any place, however, is the chips. Nothing lets down a decent scran like tasteless, frozen chips- and these did not let me down. They were proper home-made efforts, a little bit burnt in some bits and perfectly fluffy inside. Just like my nan makes. Well done, Stereo.

There was a slight mix up with our order- when our waiter brought it over, he was chased by a barmaid who needed some convincing that they weren’t for another table. I’ve had the same problem when working in hospitality, but mostly during busy shifts. I’ll chalk it up to being Sunday. Sunday shifts are the utter worst. We also only got one teeny pot of ketchup between two of us- for a sauce fiend like me, this involved some serious rationing. What’s wrong with a full bottle- or at least, a bigger ramekin?

Lack of sauce aside, it was pretty damn tasty and filled us up without feeling overly stuffed.  I finished mine off in no time, and was amazed to see that the boy had left all but the crispy, skelfy end chips too (which, conveniently, are my favourites. Success all round).

Both full, we headed homewards to dive into our comic book and blu-ray haul. After all it had been a pretty long day, and we’d managed to achieve what we set out to do. It’s good to get out of the comfort zone, but sometimes it’s just as good to dive back in.

I seem to get ill at annoying times of year. I can go all winter without as much as a sniffle, while everyone around me drops like flies. Sure, I might get stuck at Phase One: The Blocked Sinus for weeks at a time, but it never develops any further. I’m either in the very early stages or none at all. I drag myself through freezing cold, ice and rain to work and other places (I’m always extra pious when I walk to the gym in winter time).

But by the time summer rolls around, it hits me. The bugs everyone else has shed along with winter coats somehow find me. It sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the sun- we get so little of it here that I feel guilty for admitting that- but I like to at least go a lunchtime stroll. Or start running, like I keep threatening to. Instead, I’m currently writing to you surrounded by discarded hankies and Lemsip capsules.

After my recent bout of ill health, I admit I fell off the vegan wagon a little. I’d sworn off all things non-planty after Easter, but before eating my eggs. Whoops. I was feeling pretty crappy when disaster struck. My Hello Kitty shaped egg toppled from a high shelf in my cupboard and got decapitated. I couldn’t leave her like that. Plus I was feeling pretty crappy. Not to say that it’s an excuse: it’s like with any transition, though. You trip up, make mistakes. Show me someone on a diet who’s never guiltily nibbled a biscuit. All that happens is that you pick yourself back up again.

In any case, I was determined to get back on track, but with ill health came a delay in exercise. I know, boo, hiss. I’m racking up the black marks all over the joint here. So I skipped a week of classes to let antibiotics work their magic, and over the weekend picked up a nasty cold. Missing classes is something I don’t want to make a habit of- despite my hesitation in the beginning, I now enjoy them. I find any form of exercise a great way to clear my head, and classes give me structure. I need them as opposed to the gym: if someone isn’t telling me what to do, I will sit on a spin cycle and read (and believe me, I’m speaking from experience).

My week of indulgence last week culminated in a trip to the pre-opening of Usha’s, a new vegan and vegetarian Indian restaurant on Byres Road. The place was packed, and the banter was flowing… as was the free champagne. It was a great evening, and my first experience of meeting up with other bloggers- but that’s a post unto itself. My thumping head the next day ruined my good intentions of double class Sundays and instead eased in the dawn of the cold.

This quickly went from a delicious bubbly treat to the personification of Pure Evil.

So here I am feeling lethargic, snuffly, low on energy and on a bit of a downer about my general health and fitness. What’s a girl to do in such a situation? Make a pick me up, of course. And what better way to do so than with something not only healthy, but a wee bit on the naughty side too. I’d read countless peanut butter recipes, and felt like a big ol’ glass of smoothie would be a good idea. I also wanted to incorporate some fruit and a teeny bit of sweetness. The results weren’t too shabby- for a first attempt, anyway!

Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Smoothie

  • 2 tablespoons of smooth, no added sugar peanut butter (remember and check its got palm oil from a reputable source too- Whole Earth are a good brand and their peanut butter is pretty damn guid)
  • One ripe banana (I like ’em ripe because they’re sweeter. I hate the taste of green)
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 250 mls of non dairy milk (I used sweetened almond milk, because it was all I had)
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon

Slice up the banana into smallish chunks and put it in a pan. Add the peanut butter, cocoa powder, cinnamon and give it a mash with a fork.

Add the milk and blend it all together until smooth. That’s it. It’s THAT easy.

I think I’d like to make this again but play around with the consistency. For a start, I added a pinch of salt to bring out the chocolate flavour but with the peanut butter, this wasn’t necessary. I also think I added a wee bit too much peanut butter- I know, I never thought I’d say so too.

The sweetened almond milk worked well; unsweetened might have been a bit too blarg. I’d also make a point of picking up some agave syrup, for some added sweetness to counteract the peanut butter and bitterness from dark chocolate cocoa powder.

Still, it was a decent stab at a first attempt and it lifted my mood and energy… until about an hour ago. I’m now back in bed, alternating between napping and watching Batman: The Animated Series. Because I’m ill, and I can do what I want.

She's a gal after my own heart.

She’s a gal after my own heart.

I first started this blog as a way of keeping myself on the right track. Mostly because I know myself too well: if something isn’t written down, or organised in list form, I will fall apart like a bad sandwich.

Back in February, I left my diary on the train and had absolutely no idea where I was supposed to be and when. Thankfully balance was restored when some kind soul handed it in to Stirling train station- whoever it was has no idea how much they actually saved my brain for meltdown.

So, as you can imagine, taking on an entire lifestyle change was going to need some kind of documentation- for no other reason than to remember why I was doing it (and that I was actually doing it in the first place). I posted my blog on Twitter, as is the done thing these days- but given that I didn’t use it quite as much as other platforms, I didn’t have any aspirations for it.

Since then, the response has been pretty amazing. I’ve connected with loads of similarly minded people, not just online but locally too. Local bloggers are always great because they have insider tips, know about places you haven’t discovered and it’s a really great wee support network to have.

Still, I could never have expected that my wee blog would end up on a local news site! A Twitter alert from the Glasvegans profile informed me that my review of the Handmade Burger Co. had got a mention on the STV Glasgow page. The page offers a daily, live rundown of everything happening in Glasgow from restaurant openings, events, pubs, clubs and everything in between, and even just being a tiny part of that was pretty cool- thanks for the mention, guys! Put me in a right good mood in time for Nine Inch Nails at the Hydro.

The whole two pictures I took came out blurry and terrible, but if you’re at a NIN gig and concerned with taking pictures, you don’t deserve to be there.

When you’re adjusting to a big lifestyle change, it can seem really daunting. It’s not as simple as just cutting something out: when I first went vegetarian at 16, I didn’t eat vegetables, I just… didn’t eat meat. Pasta, chips, rolls and potato scone- I convinced myself that because it wasn’t meaty, it was fine. Then got confused over why I had actually put on weight…

Taking on a vegan diet has been a huge adaptation- even for someone like me who didn’t eat much dairy in the first place. Most of your evenings seem to be taken up either buying fresh food or cooking it (often both). Take it from me: it does get easier. If you’ve got a good support network around you it’s relatively painless.After a while it just seems like a natural part of the routine.

However, it’s hard being pious all the time, and I would’ve found the transition much harder if I couldn’t still have the odd treat. Here are my top five accidentally vegan junk foods that have got me through a none-too-easy month…

  1. Oreos

Finding out that Oreos are safe is like Vegan 101. It’s the one thing everyone knows, and they can’t wait to tell you.

“You’re vegan? Did you know Oreos are vegan?”

Well, if I didn’t, I certainly do now. And if that’s the case, double stuff Oreos must be doubly vegan. I’ve tested this theory under contained scientific conditions (i.e. not sharing) and can confirm the results are delicious.

It even made up for the non-vegan white fudge coated efforts that we picked up in an American candy store, for an exorbitant fee. I usually avoid American candy- no ingredients list should be that long- but after my first motorway drive, I felt they were earned. Ah, well. More double stuffs for me!

Image

For the full effect, I can only ever have it in my Hello Kitty water bottle. Because adult.

  1. Hello Kitty Chocolate Milkshake

I actually picked this up a while ago, before embarking upon the road of all things vegan. It was my boyfriend’s 30th and I picked it up as a post-party hangover treat. It worked wonders. I was never a fan of the super-artificial tasting Nesquik, so I’m always a bit sceptical of milkshake powders. Basically my logic was no Frijj, no dice.

The Hello Kitty powder is suitable for coeliacs, therefore dairy free, and it lasts for aaaages… unless you have one as a night time treat, every night, like I did. I’ve seen a lot of legitimately nutritious recipes involving cocoa powder and for Kitty’s sake I’m determined to try at least one in the near future.

  1. Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is usually on the Safe List as long as it’s got a high percentage of cocoa. There’s still always an opportunity for error- as I found out after eating a bar of their Blueberry Intense– but the regular, no fancy additions chocolate is safe.

The higher the percentage, the more bitter it is too, which makes it harder to eat a huge amount. Always good when the bars are relatively small but still packed full of calories… I managed to make mine last a couple of days, and that was including work and gym visits. Which totally justified eating another wee amount afterwards, and another wee amount after that.

  1. Tyrell’s Vegetable Crisps

My former crisp of choice was Walkers’ Sensations, particularly the Thai Sweet Chilli variety. I always erred on the side of caution with them, though: their poppadoms contain pork powder and the thyme roasted chicken ones have chicken powder in ‘em. The Thai Sweet Chilli ones don’t have any nasty meaty bits, but they do contain milk.

In earnest, I began searching for a new crisp, and found vegetable ones. They’re slightly salted, which usually equals boring, right? Nuh uh. They contain a mix of beetroot, parsnip and sweet potato crisps meaning they’re naturally full of flavour. A word of warning, though- eat them alone. Any attempts to lick the bottom of the bag may result in an unsightly purple face. Damned beetroots.

  1. Starburst

For years, I assumed that all chewy sweets were the enemy. Haribo were out, as were the occasional treat of M&S Percy Pigs (in a cruel and ironic twist, they contain pork gelatine). M&S upped their game with Veggie Percy Pigs which, for my money, were every bit as tasty as their meaty counterparts. However they contain beeswax which sadly isn’t vegan friendly- you can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

After an uninspiring trip to the chocolate aisle, I couldn’t find anything I wanted and in a fit of frustration, picked up Starburst. I fully expected them to contain some form of by-product, but my keen eye for ingredients couldn’t pick one up. Then I saw the three golden words- ‘suitable for vegetarians’. After mining through a wealth of internet forums I found that they’re not only suitable for vegetarians, but vegans too. Starburst, you and I have A LOT of catching up to do.