After a bad week and a good week I was a little worried how this one was going to go. I thought they might alternate and I’d have to ride this one out and wait for next Monday. As it turns out, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. Like the preamble to bigger and more exciting things: necessary, full of potential but not quite there yet.
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.
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…
While I was never one for cooking, I used to bake all the time. Whether it was a birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thursday… there was something about the progress I enjoyed, and always went down a treat. It helped when I couldn’t think of what to get someone, and everyone appreciates home made cake, right?
I’d tried my hand at gluten free baking before, and it turned out pretty well- my mum was having some friends round at Christmas time and I had various intolerances to work with. There wasn’t a crumb left, but thankfully I’d used some of my excess batter to make cupcakes.
I made my dad cookies and a birthday cake, with two different kinds of frosting. For my boyfriend’s birthday I’d sprung for two tickets to see The Cure in London, so in order to save pennies I made Valentine’s Day muffins. If there was an occasion, I would bake for it, I guess is my point.
Vegan baking should’ve been a relatively easy transition, but there was a reason why baking was always a cheap alternative: I pretty much had all of the staples at home anyway. I just had to add embellishments. Vegan baking meant buying in a whole load of new ingredients, and from the offset it seemed like it could be pretty costly. Alot of cake recipes seemed pretty oil-heavy too, which I wasn’t keen on.
When my best gal Claire asked folks to bring along food-shaped treats for Sheri‘s surprise birthday, I was a little stumped. Surely most folk’s instincts would be to bring sweet thangs? Should I just bring hummus? Does anyone like ‘that guy’?
After agonising over some recipes I’d printed off, it hit me. I’d pretty much perfected my ol’ brownie recipe. I’d always managed to nail the crust on top/chewy on the inside ratio. Adapting it to a raw, vegan recipe was just crazy enough to work. I’d also found a three-layer cake recipe which I, umm, borrowed my idea for a base from. Not only that but it tasted exactly like a Nakd Cashew Cookie bar, meaning I’ve stumbled upon a way of saving myself a fortune. A little late and unsurprising, really- the Nakd bars have all of two ingredients. Why I never thought that before, I dunno.
I wasn’t sure about flavour combos: when making brownies before, I’d tossed in some cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. But I’d also tossed in eggs and milk. Without this, or actually baking the recipe, the dark chocolate taste was pretty strong. Then I remembered I had some peanut butter to use up and raspberries are in season, so PB&J it was. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
PB&J Raw Vegan Brownies
For the base:
Desiccated coconut (optional, but damn tasty)
1 tbsp peanut butter
For the Brownies:
150g coconut oil
150g cocoa powder
1 punnet of raspberries
2 tbsps peanut butter (or however much you want, really)
100g(ish) dates (I could’ve used more than I did, but I’d only bought one packet so…)
- Soak the dates and cashews in some warm water for at least 20 minutes to soften them a wee bit (in separate bowls, that is).
- Chop the dates to make it easier to blitz, and mix them with the cashews and coconut. Give it a good seeing to with a hand blender- any blender is fine, but I only have a hand blender, and it’s easier to gauge consistency.
- Stir in the peanut butter to retain its crunchiness, mix well and spread the whole lot in a tray. Put it in the fridge or freezer until it sets. Mine didn’t set properly because I added the chocolate mix too quickly, so don’t rush it.
- Put some hot water in a bowl, and put your coconut oil in a jug. Put the jug in the bowl until the oil has completely melted, or it’ll be weird and lumpy.
- Put the cocoa powder in a bowl with the dates, and add the coconut oil. Give them a quick blend until they’re all nicely mixed.
- Toss in the raspberries and peanut butter and blend until they’re as smooth as you like.
- I tossed the raspberries in some sugar before adding a couple of teaspoons in. If it’s a wee bit on the bitter side, vanilla extract or liquid sweetener will sort that right oot.
- Spread on top of the (hopefully now set) cashew base and leave in the fridge until firm. Sprinkle some icing sugar over the top, cut it into squares and try not to eat the whole goddamn tray.
As I said before, I didn’t leave my base to set for long enough. It wasn’t a total disaster as I flipped the brownies and claimed it was frosting, but I’ll definitely leave it longer next time- I just didn’t leave myself enough time to do so.
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.
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.
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.
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.