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.

The best thing about sick days as a child was comfort food. Not junk food, but stodgy nutrition to get me through the worst of whatever ailment was afflicting me that month (I got colds alot, as well as several nasty bouts of tonsilitis). Even as recently as last year, when I went through seemingly endless rounds of dental trauma, I wanted nothing more than Heinz tomato soup and sugary tea.

My favourite sick day comfort food though, was scrambled eggs. There was just something about it that made me instantly feel better. As much as I tried to avoid being an emotional eater, there was something about ill health that dragged me back into the habit. I hadn’t been feeling well recently- a combination of busy work times, being wiped out with a flu bug, a blocked ear, sinus problems and a late night trip to A&E. I’d also put my back out by over-exerting myself in exercise class and was generally feeling a bit bleurgh.

Sick days aren’t a luxury I can afford to take though: my current job contract is full time but temporary, and there are alot of big projects coming up that I’m taking part in. I needed something comforting, healthy and easy to make. I’d managed to make a decent attempt at roasted sweet potatoes and with mashed lentils and chickpeas- a combination which only took me about half an hour- but I wanted my sick day comfort food.

I made this in half an hour and had even less time to eat it, hence the shoddy picture. Trust me, it was pretty sweet.

I’d read countless recipes for scrambled tofu, but admittedly I was a little sceptical. Cutting it into chunks and chucking it in a pan was easy enough. But I’d made scrambled eggs so often that I wasn’t sure how adapting the technique to something else would fare. As it turns out, it wasn’t any more difficult than using eggs and was all the more delicious for it. I also swapped buttery white toast for something a little more nutritious and tossed a load of vegetables in for good measure.

Alot of recipes were pretty fancy, but I wanted to stick to the basics. I figure if I get good at making vegan versions of current favourite recipes, I can afford to start experimenting further down the line. But for now I’m keeping it simple. I was also pretty hungry when I made it so I didn’t want much fuss- I just wanted it in my face.

Image

Scrambled Tofu with Veggies and Mashed Avocado

  • 1 block of Cauldron Original Tofu
  • 1 wholegrain rye bagel
  • Houmous (hummus?)- any kind will do but I used plain with sun dried tomatoes because, umm, it was £1.
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 a red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • A handful of chestnut mushrooms, sliced up
  • A generous glug of oil
  • A decent shoogle of spices: I used turmeric and paprika

Drain and press the tofu according to packet instructions. While it’s drying out, mash the avocado in a bowl with some salt, pepper and paprika.

Heat the oil in a pan and sautee the mushrooms, onion and pepper for a couple of minutes until they’re soft.

Once the tofu is pressed, crumble it into the pan along with the veggies and give it a right good stir, whisking it like you would scrambled eggs. Add in the turmeric and a little salt and pepper and leave it for about 8-10 minutes until it’s cooked through. Stir it every now and then to stir the oil and spices through it.

Toast the bagel and smear it with the houmous. Tip the tofu out and top it with the mashed avocado. BOOM- a mere 15-20 minutes and you’ve got a nutritious, vegetable and protein packed version of an old dairy favourite. Eat it right away because cold scrambled anything is gross.

I was really happy with the results- the tofu was nice and firm, and even when scrambled it held its texture better than regular ol’ eggs. You’d never even notice the difference.

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.