So I’m now two weeks into my 30 day vegan challenge, and I have to say it’s been far easier than I thought. Aside from the extra preparation and cooking time, it hasn’t got in the way of daily life at all. In fact, I actually enjoy the cooking process now… I always liked baking for other people’s birthdays or for friends and family coming round.

Ally and I would make an occasion of concocting epic feasts: putting on huge spreads of Mexican food or making marinades from scratch because we drunkenly picked up reduced sea bass (definitely one of our better post-pints food purchases). However, when it came to cooking for myself… well, I just didn’t really. More often than not, the limit of my creativity involved mixing three different kinds of cereal together. One time I even ate a raw Pop Tart. I just never saw the point when it was just for me.

I suppose my one culinary saving grace was that I was never into convenience foods. My mum drilled the evils of microwave cooking and ready meals into me from a young age, and even when I did try them I didn’t like them. There’s also not much in the way of convenience or junk food readily available for vegans: I’m sure such things exist, but perhaps not in your standard supermarket frozen aisle.

Nowadays I’ve noticed that I can actually think up recipes with relative ease. If I pick up a block of tofu or some pasta, the possibilities are endless. Mostly because tofu tastes like absolutely nothing and as such is the best starting block for ANYTHING. As I said in my last post, everything I make consists of throwing things together and adding some spices.

*sniff* it’s so pretty…

I was racking my brain on my last shopping trip, following the boy around like a bored child when I picked up some Nando’s BBQ Chicken Rub out of curiosity and discovered- ta daaa!- that it’s accidentally vegan. A couple of shelves along, I found gluten free pasta sauce. One of my favourite ‘throw together’ dinners involved Cajun spiced Quorn chicken, so I thought I’d see how I got on with being more experimental with it. The results? Pretty damn good. Here’s what I chucked in…

Cajun BBQ Marinated Tofu Pasta

150g of wholewheat pasta

120g block of Cauldron Tofu

1 packet of Nando’s BBQ Chicken Rub

1 210g carton of Heinz Gluten Free Tomato & Basil Sauce

2 tbsps of Cajun marinade (I used Asda’s own brand)

1 avocado, de-stoned and diced

½ red pepper, diced

½ orange pepper, diced

½ green pepper, diced

½ red onion, chopped

A handful of chestnut mushrooms (however many that may be), sliced

5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered (I used on the vine ones, for no reason other than they were cheaper)

A variety of spices (such as cayenne pepper, chili flakes, Cajun spices, Jamaican Jerk spices etc)

  • Drain and press the tofu according to packet instructions, then cut it into chunks. Give it a right good rub with the Nando’s powder, and add some Cajun marinade as well. Leave it for a while to soak in- however long depends how much you want it to taste like anything!
  • Put the pasta on the boil. While you’re waiting for the tofu to marinade, add a teeny drop of oil to the mushrooms and rub some of the spices into the mushrooms and avocado.
  • Fry the tofu in some oil for about 6 minutes. Add all the vegetables and whatever spices you choose, give them a good stir and fry them until the vegetables are soft.
  • Stir in the sauce and leave it to simmer while you’re draining out the pasta.
  • When it’s done, stir it all together and resist trying to eat the whole damn lot in one sitting. If it’s any incentive, it tastes even better after a day in the fridge- and better still after a day in the fridge after two hours in the gym.

Again, this was just a potluck attempt at making a substantial dinner, and I didn’t actually have a recipe in mind to follow. I wanted further practice at making tofu as well, as I’d only made it once. Thankfully it was an improvement on my last attempt and I wasn’t even jealous of the boy’s amazing-smelling paella. Well. Maybe a little.

We might have got better at cooking, but we still suck at portion control.

On a final note: I bought vegan cheese a week ago which smelled so awful I couldn’t bring myself to use it. I got home late last-ish last night after a long day at work and a trip to The Fort, I wasn’t in the mood for cooking and was faced with a near-bare fridge… apart from the dreaded vegan cheese.

I can now confirm that it’s not the worst thing if you stir it in with some beans and have it on toast. Voila! Easy vegan comfort food, without having to microwave anything. Or waste money throwing away gross, sick-smelling vegan cheese.

OK, I confess, I had a three day weekend (thanks May for the endless Bank Holidays) and remembering to blog sort of fell by the wayside, to be replaced by catching up with my boyfriend, our extensive list of programmes and films, sleep and even a cheeky visit to the theatre.

(Incidentally if you’re in Glasgow with an evening to spare and a hankering for some culture, I can’t recommend The Libertine at the Citizens Theatre highly enough… but maybe don’t take your nan).

However, after Saturday, one side note is that I’ve noticed that my tolerance for alcohol has gone way down. Not saying I could hold it especially well before, but I feel like it’s taking me even less to hit harder. Which, coupled with my new found distaste for smoking, can only be a good thing. I suppose. Begrudgingly.

One thing I didn’t let slip was actual cooking. I’ve been looking up loads of recipes and bought a couple of beginner’s guides and cookery books to help me get started. I discovered that, with a few alterations, many of them weren’t too different to what I’d made before.

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Picture source: amazon.com

My biggest problem with recipes is that I tend not to follow them. I’ll stick to them for the most part- particularly with baking which is so much easier to go wrong. When it comes to soups, stews, pasta dishes and giant pots of things, I tend to just chuck everything in and add enough spice that I can’t feel my own face.

I found this great wee article about vegan lunches, and decided to start with the most basic of basics: soup. I eat alot of soup. I’m fairly sure if I gave blood, I’d just be donating a pint of lentils. What’s not to love? As long as you choose wisely it’s an easy way to be super healthy and not feel too full. I used to make it all the time when I lived on my own and was short on cash. I’d bulk-buy veggies, make a pot and freeze it in individual batches. That was a while ago, and I decided it was time to try again. The boy and I made some pretty spectacular pumpkin soup last Halloween. In lieu of pumpkin, I went for the next best thing and adapted this recipe for butternut squash soup.

This is a slow cooker recipe, which is fine if you’re making it before you go out of a morning. I wasn’t: I was hungry and I was hungry NOW. However, I wasn’t hungry for celery (yuck) or nutmeg (which we didn’t have to hand). I’d also bought some sweet potato for a different recipe, that we didn’t have time to make. Waste not, want not: in place of celery I bunged in some sweet potato to balance out the spices too.

As well as posting the original recipe, here’s my adaptation… and remember, I like things spicy and I tend not to follow conventional cooking methods. Like measuring. Any spices listed below weren’t measured using a teaspoon, I just gave the pot a liberal shaking.

Spicy Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

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Picture source: fitsugar.com

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped

3-4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 large red onion, peeled and chopped

3 spring onions, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 sweet peppers, chopped and deseeded

2 cups of red lentils

1.5 litres of vegetable stock or boullion 

2 tsps Very Lazy Smoked Garlic

A healthy glug of oil (I used chili rapeseed oil)

Spices including turmeric, onion salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and coriander

  • Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, sautee until soft and stir in the garlic. Sautee for a couple extra minutes.
  • Add the butternut squash, carrots and sweet potato, give them a good stir along with the onions and garlic and add a wee bit more oil if need be.
  • Add the peppers, shake in your spices and add your stock.
  • Pour in the lentils, give the whole thing a stir.
  • Stick a lid on it and leave it to simmer until the vegetables are soft, checking and adding more stock or water if you need it.

I accidentally added a little too much water, but there are ways of compensating for this: I quickly microwaved some frozen diced turnip and stirred this in with the blended final product. I also added some crumbled up Ryvita crackers (I tried it to replace bread with soup a while ago and never looked back).

Initially I was a bit hesitant about posting a recipe, especially as I have such a lax attitude towards following. In the end I figured it was a good way of tracking my progress- in terms of how much more preparation and thought I put into cooking. I also thought it’d be a good way of showing how you can take a recipe, adapt it and still get tasty results. As long as you don’t include celery.

I’m also always on the lookout for more adaptations and recipes, so if there are any other suggestions I’d love to hear them!

Today marks the one week-aversary of taking on the 30 Day Vegan Pledge. It was a bit of a shaky start, considering I went into it completely unprepared. However, in the past week, I’ve found myself enjoying cooking- which, when it’s just for me, is usually a chore I avoid. My fruit and veg consumption has increased by an embarrassing amount (embarrassing considering how little I ate before), and I’ve even noticed a difference in my skin and energy levels.

After a couple of days withdrawal, I even found I didn’t miss chocolate and snacks that much. There are plenty of readily available, vegan-friendly snacks, and I never felt the urge to reach for anything naughty. (Were it not for Alpro Soya chocolate desserts, I feel this might be a totally different story). I was surprised at how many foods both were and weren’t vegan friendly: a lot of convenience soups, my usual lunchtime staple, contain milk and cream, but there are so many other options that I haven’t missed them.

Thank you, vegan gods.

I used to either skip out on breakfast, or eat something pseudo-healthy like a Go Ahead bar and sugar-laden bottled smoothies. Honestly, I had no idea how bad for you they really are. I thought they were doing me good, but they were also probably contributing the dreaded 4pm slump. Instead, I’ve seriously upped my water game and even managed to cut down on coffee. I’ve also cut down on smoking too- my one real remaining vice.

Of course, there was no way I could do this without any support and a tonne of research. I haven’t been quite as adventurous with cooking as I could’ve been, but I’ve been thinking about what I’m using more. A part of me thinks my body might go into serious meltdown from upping my fruit and vegetable intake, and that maybe I should’ve eased myself in more gently. I figured there was no sense in doing anything by halves- I’d have been as well staying vegetarian!

I ordered the PETA starter guide and, after looking into a load of different books, got Becoming Vegan. The PETA guide is really good for helpful ideas to get started, and offers a wealth of information on further reading. It also details the horrific treatment suffered by farm animals- even those used for dairy products and not meat.

It confirmed for me why it’s important to stick to the challenge, even when I feel like I’m hitting a wall. Becoming Vegan has been a worthwhile purchase as well, and it’s easy enough to dip into. It reads a bit like a textbook, and can be a bit matter of fact. It gives a good overview of vegan and vegetarian diets, from their earliest forms to today’s more widely accepted, mainstream diets.

So overall, not a bad start to the challenge… I feel like I could be more adventurous with cooking, and I actually feel like I’ve been eating more than when I started. At least it’s all good things though- it pacifies the guilt a wee bit! I’ve noticed a decrease in tiredness during the day, and a definite improvement in my skin and energy levels. My system is still getting used to the change I reckon, but in the long run I’m hoping it’ll pay off… and if it sees me cut down in smoking even more then all the better!

I’ll be honest, as much as I hadn’t found the vegan challenge too hard so far, I was dreading this weekend. I usually eat fairly healthily during the week (…ish), but would usually allow myself the weekend off if I wanted. Cooked breakfasts, takeaways, hangover comfort foods- usually involving copious amounts of chocolate and carbs- were all order of the day. It’s easy enough to impose restraint with a working schedule in place, but I was a little apprehensive about coping without it.

I was feeling a little guilty for ditching exercise on Thursday to go hang out with the boy, but after nodding off on the bus home and feeling like I’d never catch up on my sleep deficit, I felt it was justified. After work (and a couple of post-work drinks) I couldn’t really be bothered actually cooking, but thankfully managed to knock together something reasonably healthy from ready meals (I know, right?). They’re not something I tend to eat a lot of, but I figured a vegan option was better than most.

I mixed falafel with butternut squash and bulgar wheat, even chucking in some extra peppers and vegetables to ease myself of nasty ready meal guilt. All in all, not too bad an effort, considering my lack of effort. The boy’s made a garlic baguette which was eyeing me seductively, but I managed to banish it by concentrating really hard on an episode of Fringe.

If there’s one thing I’ve found so far, it’s that I’m definitely eating way more fruit and vegetables now. I always made some effort before, but always felt slightly embarrassed when people assumed I was a healthy eater.

“So you must eat really well being a vegetarian, right? Do you eat like salads and pulses and seeds and things?”

“Umm, my favourite kind of salad is potato”

Determination to keep on track strengthened my decision to get the last bus home on Saturday night and bypass all manner of delicious fast food outlets- well, determination and the all-too-recent memories of last week’s Bank Holiday spent in a realm of pain and nausea.

I woke up bright and early on Sunday, eager to make up for my Thursday night laziness. I’ll say one thing though- two classes back to back would’ve been killer for me before, but even worse with a mere nakd bar as my morning’s fuel. Cue a surge of adrenaline followed by extreme pain and severe overestimation of my abilities.

I’m still not one for ‘gym selfies’ and ‘progress pics’, but I wanted proof that I’d actually made it there on a Sunday. No one who knows me would probably believe it.

I did manage the impossible task though- I made it through a visit to my nan’s, diet unscathed. To put it into context, it’s nearly impossible to leave my nan’s house without being fed. I’m pretty sure it was easier to leave East Germany to smuggle information to the west. If you’re offered a ‘wee biscuit’, you will be presented with a tin full of Kit Kat Chunkies. Tempting, yes, but I’d also spent the extra pennies and effort to pick up rye bread (mmm, chewy) and monkey-friendly peanut butter, and I was determined it was getting used.

Due to my complete lack of awareness for portion control, I’d also made too much of my tofu and bean salad from Thursday, which when smooshed in with some mixed grains was a pretty filling dinner. All the different ingredients made it really nice and colourful, and leaving it in the fridge for two days meant all the flavours had marinated into the tofu: disguised the really weird smoked taste really well, plus it looked super pretty (not that you could tell from my picture).

I’m also hoping my food photography will improve, as this was really lovely and colourful, but I just wanted to eat it, hence the slightly crap picture.

All in all it’s been a relatively pain-free transition so far: my biggest complaint has been the initial outlay of money. Eating fresh means things go off quickly, so I feel like I’m constantly buying extra wee bits. I also felt really bloated and uncomfortable from the sudden onslaught of fruit, vegetables and grains. Keeping up with exercise helped, and I’m sure it’s just my body realising that it’s not as accustomed to healthy foods as I originally thought…  at the very least it’s made me more conscious of checking ingredients for signs of crap, and that can only be a good thing! My boyfriend also thoughtfully bought me a vegetarian cookbook (there weren’t any vegan ones to be found), so at least I’ve got some more ideas should I get sick of grains ‘n curds.

One final note: vegan smoked cheese has the consistency of a plastic block and tastes like sick. I’m now on the lookout for a suitable replacement as no amount of determination and lying to myself can hide the fact that it is utterly rank.

After a very encouraging start yesterday, I spent yesterday doing my research, downloading recipes and mentally planning where I could buy everything. Working full time, it seems like a lot to fit in cooking and preparing lunches for the week, although I know in the long run it’s going to cost me less- both financially and time-wise.

I got a two week vegan menu plan from PETA.org, but it was from the American site so a lot of it’s gonna be either hard or impossible to find- or I wouldn’t want to use it anyway (canola oil, anyone?). Most of it looks like a case for clever substitution though, so I’m hoping it won’t be too difficult. In any case, who ever said a challenge was easy?

Armed with a plastic folder full of recipes, I headed to Asda and was pleasantly surprised at how cheaply I managed to pick up what I needed. I’d found this tex mex bean recipe on Domestic Sluttery but, as it was dinner time, wanted something a bit more substantial. I also wanted to practise my tofu making skills and add a kick, so I got a block of Cauldron smoked, firm tofu and substituted black beans and olive oil for kidney beans in chilli sauce. I usually douse most dinners in a healthy glug of chipotle sauce, so any alternative is entirely welcome.

I’d been dismayed to find out that two of my favourite cheeky weekend treats- Kopparberg cider and Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer- aren’t vegan, and Kopparberg isn’t even vegetarian. Apparently they use gelatine in the filtration process, which made me hit the absolute boak. Thankfully Rekorderlig cider is fully vegan, and I found a plentiful supply. It can never be said that I don’t know how to prioritise!

It was with a heavy heart that I had to walk by a lonely Camembert in the reduced to clear section (weep) and the smell of the boy’s meat feast pizza in the oven was almost too much. And I didn’t even eat meat in the first place! The preparation process took my mind off such things though. I think if I were doing it every night, with stock piled ingredients, it’d be fine. After all, this was just a practise run. I actually think it turned out pretty well, and my pizza cravings were banished when I saw our dinners side by side!

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It was far more filling than I thought and there was still more than half left over. It might even taste a bit better now that the tofu has had time to sook up all the added spices. I’ve had it before, but I always expect it to taste like Quorn chicken and I’m always a little disappointed when it doesn’t.

Major food shopping is going to have to wait until the weekend when I have access to the car, so today I decided to give my system a wee break and ease up on the full-on fibre and protein assault. I found Alpro Soya yogurts for the same price as regular yogurts, and picked up some Nakd bars for a sweet treat. I was already a fan of them, and as long as I drop any pretence that they resemble chocolate in any way, I think we’ll get along fine.

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