I’m jumping straight back into the #ggblogchallenge after doing my usual and taking on more than I can actually do. I’ve been helping to edit a video for my volunteering job, which I sold on the basis of an undergraduate degree in film and a job editing films for an arts charity.

Which was two years ago and used a way more basic system than Final Cut Pro.

Which I haven’t used since my first year of uni in 2010.

HAAAAAAALLLPPP.

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So, with uni deadlines looming, a busted, virus-ridden laptop, a distinct lack of employment, it’s not been the hottest start to 2015 so far. I was humming, hawing and rebooting my laptop while watching Nick Broomfield’s new film (I know how to procrastinate well), thinking that since it’s March, surely the year is worth some quarterly review.

Obviously that was way more work that I was willing to put in when it’s howling with sleet and rain and there’s imaginary holidays to plan. Poking about with blog settings and figuring out how to work Bloglovin’ seemed like a much better idea.

Then I found an old post from a previous attempt at a blog, that I’m not sure why I actually gave up. Apparently not blogging, and making up excuses for not doing so, has been an ongoing habit. This post first featured in January 2014 and it’s still more relevant than I’d like it to be…

New Year, New Start. Or New Calendar, At Least.

It’s the end of the week but I’m all about the new. New year, new post, new attempt at telling myself I’m ‘totally going to keep up with blogging this year’. I said the same thing last year with scattered and infrequent results, and I’m in no way promising myself that I’ll follow up on it this year. But still, if you can’t kid yersel’ on in January, when can you…?

I always make New Year’s Resolutions and rarely actually make any progress with them. Or they’re so broad (‘totally get fit’) that any attempt at completing them is a vague win for progress (‘sign up for one class a week. In September’). In any case, I’m most definitely not alone, as less than 10% of us actually make good on our promises. So, what’s the problem?

Mine was always that my resolutions were vague and impersonal. The same ones everyone makes. Lose weight. Get fit. Learn to drive. Luv lyf. 2013 was… lackluster at best. I sorted out my love life, but the rest has a way to go. Still, I made some headway. I done some exercise. I got trainers for Christmas to support this. I passed my theory test. I got Instagram like all the other cool kids who eat food and wear clothes. Totally onwards and upwards, right?

I decided to actually put in some research this time. 2014 was going to be a good yin, and the internet was going to help me, because as everyone knows, nothing is official ’til it’s on the internet (scientists also support this theory, as does NASA, and most journalists). I had a look at the most popular resolutions, and had a wee think about how I could adapt them for myself. Make them more personalised. That way, I couldn’t fail, no…?

1. Appreciate others and, in turn, appreciate yourself.

That’s a song we can all dance to.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the internet, it’s that if I dislike or disagree with someone or something, it’s because I’m rotten with jealousy at this snarling, empty hole in my life which this person or opinion is fulfilling in their own. To try and generate empathy I’ve started wearing those celebrity masks you get out the Newsbox and walking around with a giant hashtag of my own name following me wherever I go. So far some One Direction fans have built a shanty town outside my house and my mum’s super pissed because she can’t get her car out the driveway for work in the morning. I tried to explain that I’m just putting myself in other people’s shoes.
2. Let go of your phobias and fears.
My biggest phobia isn’t dying alone, or failure, or never spawning potential bone marrow donors. I don’t like cows. When I was a child I playfully clambered onto a country fence and mooed at some cows residing in a field. The cow mooed back right in my face and I fell off said fence, seriously winding myself and embarking on a lifelong fear of the bovine. It was also my first day of school, so the whole experience made me hate school too. It’s also a tiny reason why I became vegetarian.* I’m hardly going to start eating meat again, so I’ll have to focus on eliminating my fear of looking foolish in public instead. I could overcome this by mooing at some cows and nail two birds with one stone, but I don’t want to progress too much, too fast.
*This isn’t even any word of a lie. It’s a true story. Ask my parents.
3. Dance like no one is watching.
 
Whenever I hear someone say “I dance like no one is watching”, I don’t imagine them swooshing their hair in rhythm to that song from Hair, holding hands with a commune of other happy, dancing, free spirits. I imagine them furtively drawing all their curtains, pumping up the Q Lazarus and jerking around awkwardly wearing their next door neighbour’s scalp. This is perhaps one to take under advisement, because the thought of touching other people’s hair gives me the boak.
In saying that, people have worn less on nights out and gotten away with it. Hmm.
 
4. Ditch the car and fit in more exercise!
This one seems to be pretty popular in that it’s often cited as the easiest way to squeeze exercise into your busy, busy, busy lifestyle. Everyone seems to have one these days, amiright? I for one just don’t know how I’m supposed to find the time for exercise in between The Real Housewives of New York and their counterparts in Beverly Hills.
This one also angered me because it felt like it was actively trying to mock me. I walk pretty much everywhere that doesn’t require transport. Also, I was so successful on my first attempt at a driving test that they want me to go and do it again. I then realised it was myanger that was holding me back. This is the year of letting go, I thought to myself. Instead, I would face the elements with a smile, rain lashing my face and ruining any attempts I’d made at taming my hair or hiding hormonal face breakouts, and grin like a sweet natured simpleton at all the fools with cars then can afford to run because they have jobs, as they roll their way to an early grave. And a double wide coffin. Joke’s on you!
5. Go after your dream job and stop living to work.
I don’t live to work. I would very much like to. I like to think of myself as a professional interview attendee. I’ve gotten quite good at it. I’d like to go after that big promotion, which in this case means actually getting past interview stage. There’s apparently an economic upturn, from here on it’s going to be like the old glory days, when recent graduates walked into CEO positions and blew their noses with £50 notes and tramps and aristocrats discussed their favourite caviar because everyone was equal and better off.
That being said, maybe I shouldn’t wait for the opportunity to come to me. Maybe I should just make it happen myself, become a self employed business type. I watch alot of films and frequently binge on TV shows, mostly once their popularity has waned (I’m only just feeling the horrific loss of the Firefly crew). I could become a professional lamenter, telling people how much better things were back in the day. Or I could take a tip from Breaking Bad and start punting drugs. I live near several schools and underpasses, so it’d be easy money. By this time next year I might even have my own caravan!*
I also own a hat like this and it makes me look both super professional AND #ootd cute.
*I may be missing the point of Breaking Bad, I’ve only ever seen half an episode, and it was the second one.
I felt like 5 was a decent number to round up on. Making ten resolutions seems a little far-reaching at this moment in time. Baby steps. Don’t run before you can walk. Make small changes and the big changes will happen themselves. You get the jist. By next Hogmanay, I’ll be such a new and improved specimen that resolutions will be a daily occurrence, I’ll be a walking good deed and a powerhouse of physical and mental strength. I will be actualised ambition in human form. And I’ll have done it all without once resolving to quit smoking. SUCCESS!

In the (nearly) four weeks since taking on the vegan challenge, I’ve went out for food once. Last Thursday, as a stop-gap between Wicked and Courtney Love, the boy and I dropped by Rufus T’s for a quick somethin’ to keep us going. More vital fuel than anything else. I hadn’t actually went out somewhere for a proper meal. It’s not something I tend to do alot- mostly for financial reasons, really. However, it’s a different story when a) I’ve had enough rosé the night before to make me starving hungry but not hungover, and b) I’m out with my mum.

We’d ventured over to Braehead for a trawl around the shops, and I hadn’t given much thought to foodstuff. After an hour in M&S while my mum decided what to spend loyalty vouchers on, I’d definitely worked up an appetite. My experience of eating in Braehead was pretty limited: usually we’d head up to Fat Jackets, which is usually a good option but was rammed. On our last visit we went to The Filling Station, which despite my reservations was surprisingly OK, but I wasn’t sure they’d have many vegan options.

The layout of the three restaurants on the ground floor is pretty smooshed together, so we ended up wandering towards The Handmade Burger Co by default. A quick glance at their menu told me all I needed to know: they had not one, but SEVEN vegetarian and vegan options. When your choices are usually split between ‘bean burger’ and ‘spicy bean burger’, this is akin to a religious awakening.

What’s more, the menu informed me that all of their burgers were made freshly to order every day. My mum said she’d had a veggie option at their Silverburn restaurant and had no complaints. All good points, then! I opted for the sweet potato burger with mango salsa- be warned, it comes with mayonnaise, so just ask them to haud it for a dairy free alternative.

I have a bit of a gripe with places that offer burgers for over a a fiver without the addition of chips. However, Handmade Burger Co offer a smaller portions menu (which my mum opted for) and we put aside our grumbles to get cajun spiced chips on the side. Any misgivings were forgiven when the food came- these were proper chips, fat chips with the skins on. I’m not the biggest fan of French fries, despite a penchant for the crispy end bits of a bag of chippy chips. These were no such thing. Properly spiced, even I found them a bit nippy- good job, HBC, good job.

I tried getting a shot of my mum's to, just to be fair, but mine pretty much dominated.

I tried getting a shot of my mum’s too, just to be fair, but mine pretty much dominated.

As for the main attraction, it was quite a beast. Many a time I’ve ordered what’s described as a ‘burger’ only to be handed a roll and Portobello mushroom *cough, cough* Lebowskis *cough, cough*. No such problems here. The sourdough bun was pretty massive, as were its contents. There wasn’t much of a garnish- the usual lettuce, onion and tomato- but I think anything else might have infringed on the flavours.

Crispy on the outside, and full of smooshy sweet potato-y goodness on the inside, this was pretty damn close to perfect. The mango salsa was delicious too, although I’d have preferred a little more. I’m a sauce fiend though so I won’t hold it against them- it’s rare that anywhere seasons food enough for my liking without me having to personalise it further (although I do try and taste it first in case I’m being unfair). When I put tomato sauce on my chips, it looks like a crime scene. Like tomato soup with chip croutons. You get the idea.

The only change I would’ve made was that it needed a wee kick. Mango and sweet potato equals alot of gooey sweetness. Thankfully, in place of the usual ketchup and mayonnaise, they had Tabasco and green jalapeno sauces on the table. I opted for the latter, which did the trick.

A cross examination revealed it to be full of gooey deliciousness.

A cross examination revealed it to be full of gooey deliciousness.

The real winner was that it didn’t fall to pieces when I attempted to eat it. I can never eat a burger whole- I’ve taken many a hit for having to cut them in half- and usually after one bite you’re left with a handful of sauce and veg that’s shot out of the roll upon impact. This stood up to even my oddly specific method of burger eating (cut in half, bottom of the roll, burger, top half, chips, repeat for other half) and the size was enough that I felt full without bursting.

Despite my non-meaty leanings, I was also impressed that my mum’s chicken burger was an actual chicken breast and not some mushed up, battered fillet padded out with God knows what. Good show all round! I was really impressed by the range and quality of veggie burgers, and I’ve got my eye on a return visit to road test their quinoa effort.

I’ve had my fair share of restaurant veggie burgers and can honestly say this was up there with the tastiest and most filling- pretty much as far removed from a roll ‘n mushroom as I could’ve hoped for. As we were sitting waiting to be served, the restaurant got busier and there was actually a queue of hungry shoppers waiting to be seating- always encouraging to see when you’re trying somewhere for the first time!

My only gripe? I really don’t know when I’ll next have an excuse to go to Braehead. In saying that, there’s a branch of Buddy’s opening in Cumbernauld soon so who knows- we could be coming up in the world. Maybe we’ll get a Handmade Burger Co of our own. Hint, hint…

It might be drawing closer to summer time, but Scotland operates on its own weather system. We can be basking in glorious sunshine of a lunchtime, and by home time be marching at an angle against a torrent of rain.

When it is actually nice outside, eating habits change too. Apart from a year-round soup obsession, I don’t like eating anything hot ‘n heavy when it’s warm. Chocolate is out the window too- seriously, is there anything worse than warm, slightly melty chocolate? Blarg.

I figured that since I’ve been getting into the spirit of trying new things that I should update seasonally. If it’s not macaroni weather I need to adapt to survive. After a recent shopping trip, the boy and I returned with a bag full of mango, melon, raspberries and strawberries, all in season and entirely delicious.

(If we sound like a pair of smug dicks, let me assure you: this is only a very recent occurrence). There really is a marked difference in buying fresh produce seasonally: there’s something weird and perverse about buying strawberries at any other time of year. I’d also picked up vegan onion and black pepper cream cheese, and I was determined to use it in EVERYTHING.

I came up with a really quick and easy comfort food, because as usual I couldn’t be bothered cooking. I spread the cream cheese on rye toast and topped it with some mashed avocado and cherry tomatoes, which I seasoned with cayenne pepper and paprika. I couldn’t get it in my face fast enough, and alas, it was gone too soon.

After this I wondered what else I could work cream cheese into. I had a notion for something pasta-y, and the most popular seasonal recipe I found was pasta primavera (I remembered enough of my Standard Grade Italian to know why this was suddenly popular. And who says you forget everything after school?).

Some recipes just involved pasta and green vegetables. As per, I didn’t have all of the ingredients to hand so just adapted it and swapped out some things for others. There were other recipes for a creamy version involving cheese, which I opted for in lieu of having asparagus or soya beans handy.

I’ve been trying hard to try new things but when taking on a big change, some degree of familiarity is nice. The recipe itself is a change for me: macaroni aside, I’ve never been a fan of creamy sauces. To me you can’t go wrong with a tomato-based sauce. Cheese and white sauces always seemed like more work. But since I’m out of my comfort zone as it is, I thought I’d give it a try…

It's pretty hard to take a decent picture of food this colour...

It’s pretty hard to take a decent picture of food this colour…

  • 150g pasta (I used gluten free conchiglie, because it was the only gluten free one I could find in Tesco’s )
  • 1 or 2 ripe avocado, mashed
  • A few scoops of vegan cream cheese (mine was onion and black pepper to give it some much needed flavouring)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ red pepper deseeded and chopped
  • Meat free chicken (about 70g is enough, I have no idea how much I used since I dumped in what was left of the bag)
  • 2 tsps Very Lazy Smoked Garlic
  • A wee glug of olive oil
  • Some grated smoked vegan cheese
  • 1 spring onion, chopped

Boil the pasta as per the packet instructions. Gluten free takes a little longer so you have some time to play with.

In the meantime, chop the onion and pepper. Heat the oil, add the ‘chicken’ and one tsp of garlic. After about 2-3 minutes, add the onion, pepper and remaining garlic. Most recipes call for garlic gloves, but I like the smoked taste of this one. And also don’t have a garlic crusher. Ever tried doing it by hand? They smell rank afterwards and you never get it chopped up small enough.

Fry up the veg and chicken until soft. Mash the cream cheese in with the avocado and season well. I also added some cayenne pepper, to add some edge to the creaminess. When the veg and chicken are nearly done, scatter in the smoked cheese and stir until melted.

Once your pasta’s ready, chuck it all together and mix it over a low heat. I also sprinkled some raw spring onion through it once it was cooked, just to make it a wee bit crunchy.

The results? This was a pretty easy recipe, although in hindsight I would’ve made some changes. I used two avocadoes as they were both on the turn and I had to cut bits out. I reckon one might have been enough. I’d have added some more fresh chillies too, or at the very least more pepper.

There are more traditional recipes for pasta primavera that don’t involve cream cheese, and I’d be inclined to just ditch it altogether to make the final result a little lighter. However, it was a nice wee filler and a change from my usual. I also think I’m starting to find uses for the vegan smoked cheese!

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.