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…

When I first started the 30 Day Vegan Challenge, I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I’d given it a try years ago, and it was doomed to failure from the start. I was a poor student, in college by day and working most nights in a bar. I didn’t have time to cook- and if I did, I was more interested in being 20 and living in the city centre.

The pledge seemed like the ideal way to get back on the bandwagon. I’m now working full time, and I recently signed up for the Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5K. Although I’d cut out meat, my diet was still pretty unhealthy. I ate well enough during the week- albeit with a lot of buttery toast involved- but at weekends, anything went. My skin was breaking out and, as my job was pretty sedentary, I didn’t feel I was getting enough exercise to justify my eating habits.

I decided a full overhaul was the answer: one exercise class a week wasn’t going to cut it. I also smoked too much- I could have three before even getting to work at 9am. It seemed a bit daunting at first but it was either whole hog or not at all. Go big or go home. It was for my health, after all. I did my research, and the more I read, the more my resolve was strengthened. My first couple of attempts at cooking went well enough but the first two weeks were admittedly difficult.

It got easier when I realised there are vegan alternatives to pretty much EVERYTHING.

Then something happened- I started to enjoy cooking. After feeling pretty sluggish, my body eventually got used to the onslaught of fruit, veg and protein I was piling into it. The more thought I put into what I was eating, the more inventive I got. In the (relatively) brief time I’ve been doing this, I’ve tried a lot of new things and never gone hungry. I’ve overhauled the way I ate and thought about food, but still found time to treat myself. Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve learned…

  1. Speculate to Accumulate

The initial outlay of ingredients seemed like a lot especially the week before payday. However, if you’re clever, you won’t need to top up too much. You can buy most things in bulk from supermarkets if you’re pushed for time, although independent stalls are usually cheaper. The boy and I scored a bursting bag full of soup ingredients for a mere £6- and the fresher vegetables made our giant pot o’ soup taste even better.

  1. …But You Probably Have A lot Already

Even if you don’t follow a vegan diet, you’ll probably have most of the staples at home: grains, oils, pasta, rice, seasoning, spices and vegetables. A lot of supermarket bread is vegan too, as are a lot of pre-packaged soups and ready-made Indian and Chinese foods. The big supermarkets publish online lists of all their own-brand products which are suitable for vegans, so have a wee read- you’ve probably got a lot already.

Dairy-free alternatives to your usual staples are cheaper and more widely available than ever... it's a big pot btw, I just have giant hands.

Dairy-free alternatives to your usual staples are cheaper and more widely available than ever… it’s a big pot btw, I just have giant hands.

  1. Search and Research

Even if you know a lot of recipes already there’s still a treasure trove out there. A quick internet search yields thousands of results and there are plenty of resources out there. I signed up for the PETA Vegetarian and Vegan Starter kit, which has some great wee articles, recipes and tips for beginners.

Becoming Vegan is a good handbook to have as it’s really in depth, but it’s a bit like a school textbook: good to dip into but perhaps not cover to cover. I also like The Post Punk Kitchen, One Green Planet and Domestic Sluttery. Look for local bloggers too: they’ve often got inside tips for good places around your hometown.

  1. Choose Your Own Adventure

I don’t usually have much of a middle ground. If I take on something new, I’m all in or not at all. The faster I throw myself into something, the more I see results and acclimatise myself to a new way of thinking. However, this approach isn’t for everyone: it might be that you start by cutting out dairy, or only eating vegan during the week.

Whatever the approach, once you get used to something, cast your net a little wider. I started increasing the amount and variety of exercising that I did. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts- I’m currently sitting here in pain after a double assault yesterday- but I feel like I’ve got far more energy to get through it in the first place.

  1. Smile Like You Mean It

Most of all, whatever your approach, just enjoy it. Do some reading, stockpile enough ingredients and before long cooking actually becomes less of a chore. From eating raw Pop Tarts and anything cheese laden, I now love spending a full afternoon chopping up vegetables (I know, right? I’d hate me too). Exercise has become an enhancement to my routine, not a burden.

I’ve cut down on smoking because I’ve realised how gross they actually taste. Above all my general health and well-being has improved too. I’ve even managed to semi-convert the family: after having the “what will you actually eat?” conversation, my mum took some of my spicy butternut squash soup to work and it went down a treat. I’ll take that as a victory.

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.

I’ve always had an on/off relationship with eating meat. I was never a huge fan even as a wee yin, hiding mince in my juice cup to be disposed of after dinner. I swore off pork for a while as a teenager, after I read about the horrors of pig farming processes. Somewhere in my late teens I picked it up again because I was too poor/lazy/unimaginative to bother with anything else, but a bad experience with pulled pork hoisted me back onto the vegetarian wagon again.

OK, I confess- I was more of a pescetarian type. Mostly for the variety of pre-packed sandwiches: I hadn’t got over my food laziness, and when the scent of egg and cress makes you physically gag, your only easy veggie options involve all the cheese. Which, as much as I love it, isn’t the best for an everyday choice.

I hit a stumbling block on my first day... apparently Quorn steak strips contain eggs. Although this was after halfway through a day which involved milky coffee and a cheese roll, so...

I hit a stumbling block on my first day… apparently Quorn steak strips contain eggs. Although this was after halfway through a day which involved milky coffee and a cheese roll, so…

I’d been toying with the idea of veganism for a while. It seemed like an awful lot of work and preparation- and a great big fat expense, too. Plus… no cheese. I wasn’t sure how I’d fare in a world without pizza or brie (occasionally both at the same time). Still, I’d made good on my new year’s resolution to work out more and start getting into shape, but felt my diet wasn’t really helping.

A lot of my job involves sitting down, and my worst fear was of getting into the habit of staying sedentary but eating convenience junk. I’d also been reading up on farming practices and how harmful they were for both animals and the environment: not just for meat production, but dairy too.

So today's desk lunch wasn't so inspired, but yet again I left myself without time...

So today’s desk lunch wasn’t so inspired, but yet again I left myself without time…

While scrolling the internet on a quiet work day- umm, I mean my own time- I found out about Meat Free May and the 30 Day Pledge. As I was already mostly meat-free, this felt like the kick start I needed to give veganism the old college try. I should’ve maybe waited until payday and after my Easter eggs were but a distant memory, but what’s a challenge without a little temptation and hardship to make it interesting?

This was utterly disgusting. I can’t even describe how rank it was. Thankfully smooshing it in with a whole mango and some bananas disguised its awfulness.

I signed up, like everything else, headfirst and without thorough planning. Which may have been a mistake, but still. I’m waiting to be sent all the information on how to ease myself into it- or not, as the case may be, but a little advice wouldn’t go amiss. In this day and age there’s a blog for everything, so I figured that by documenting my experiences, I could track my progress and see in black and white how I’d got on. I will very probably regret this at some point, but who knows- after a month, I might not even miss cheese.

Oh God, I miss cheese.