November is a pretty significant one for me this year. Permit me, for a second, to discount the horrific shit-abyss into which this year has descended and focus on some positives. Firstly it was my mum’s 60th birthday. Secondly, my girl Bee celebrated her one year anniversary and a year since I got to stand up with her while she became a Mrs. It’s my last full month at work until halfway into next year and the last full month before I become a mum.

It’s also *gulp* the last month of my twenties.

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Which started, like so many eras, with too much make up and too much cheap alcohol.

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When I first started this blog, I threw myself into it much in the same way as I did veganism: headfirst and with aplomb. I was super smug with myself when I posted more than one article per week. Even though I was working full time, I still found time to write. Armed with determination, I was convinced I wouldn’t abandon this blog like I had so many others.

Cut to a few months later and… yeah. Not so frequent with the blogging. To be fair, alot’s changed in that time. I had planned on writing a big catch up post, but sitting thinking about how much has happened is giving me crampy fingers already.

I’ve started a new job, which is pretty sweet. I spent alot of last year ‘in between jobs’, and when I did work it was in sound production. I really didn’t enjoy it, and dreamed of doing something more… well, I hate to lazily toss in ‘creative’, but yeah. I was lucky that my current job started a mere week after my last one, so I had a cheeky week of downtime then it was back to it again. Since my work is in the back of beyond, in deepest Ayrshire. I’m now a car owner- it only took me six months after passing my test…!

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My other big change was getting accepted into uni. My last course didn’t qualify me for much apart from working in technical film production, so after months of endless failed applications I figured I would give education another bash. As of next week I’ll be studying for the MA Creative and Cultural Business at Glasgow Caledonian uni and, even better, I can still work around it.

Since losing our old dog Eddie last year, the house has been a bit empty. Without the sound of tippy tappy feet creeping about looking for cuddles and treats it just felt like there was a huge void. Not anymore! We adopted another lhasa apso in the form of Lemmy, and he’s settled in like he’s always been here. There’s something about having a pet that brings so much happiness and energy to a house. Plus, they’re pretty much the best little confidantes.

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Blogging has been great for getting into writing again, and so have my posts for Scotcampus. However, my dreams of being an actual, publish writer were actualised with the creation of IN BLOOM- a creative snapshot of youth culture in Glasgow and beyond. It’s quite surreal seeing my name in real, physical print. I’ve been showing off my copy to anyone who’ll listen- I’ve never spellchecked anything so thoroughly in my life and I’m actually pretty proud of it. You can support local culture and read more about it here!

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May or may not have signed a copy at the SWG3 launch party and left it lying. Clue: may have.

Last month the boy and I also went to see a pretty awesome/heartbreaking piece of film at favourite vegan haunt, Stereo. The Ghosts in Our Machine documents photographer Jo-Ann McArthur and her gut-wrenching journey as she exposes the animal face behind the food and entertainment industries. It was a pretty difficult watch, but not as in-your-face traumatic as alot of animal rights films. There are plenty of beautiful scenes as Joanne visits a friend who runs a farm sanctuary, rescuing animals deemed unfit for ‘purpose’ and giving them a chance at a life. If you’ve never seen an animal rights film, this is a really great, accessible start.

 Stereo also put on a free buffet, which was pretty amazing. I’ve never seen people dive upon a table of food so fast- well seeing we’re never really given that much of an option!

There was also a really engaging Q&A afterwards with director Liz Marshall, which made the film's impact more hard hitting and tangible.

There was also a really engaging Q&A afterwards with director Liz Marshall, which made the film’s impact more hard hitting and tangible.

Sooo… I think that’s me pretty much caught up (on everything that I can remember for now, anyway!). In between everything else I’ve also been cooking ALOT. The beauty of my work being pretty far out from anything convenient means that I’m making more of an effort to make proper dinners and take leftovers for lunch. I’ve also been working hard to perfect the recipe for vegan macaroni cheese. It’s been a hard slog  delicious mission so far and I reckon I’ve just about cracked it. Now I’m all about tarting it up- after all, the best part of mastering a basic recipe is breaking the rules and chucking in whatever takes your fancy. Especially now we’re fast approaching autumn- my FAVOURITE season. Perfect time for stodgy comfort food to keep out the chill!

I’ve got into full on rambling mode now, so I’ll wrap it up here. Here’s some foodie type pictures, because they’ve been clogging up my phone and I need to delete them so I can refill it with doggy photo spam. If I can remember the recipes, I’ll post them soon. And definitely not leave it so long in between blogs again!

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SO THESE ARE THE GREATEST THINGS EVER, EVEEERRR.

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Chipotle and chickpea falafel bean and bean stew- my post-car buying celebratory dinner. Daaaaayum.

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Got in from work one random weekday evening and there was nothing to put on my toast, so I made some houmous. Because why not.

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!