I seem to get ill at annoying times of year. I can go all winter without as much as a sniffle, while everyone around me drops like flies. Sure, I might get stuck at Phase One: The Blocked Sinus for weeks at a time, but it never develops any further. I’m either in the very early stages or none at all. I drag myself through freezing cold, ice and rain to work and other places (I’m always extra pious when I walk to the gym in winter time).

But by the time summer rolls around, it hits me. The bugs everyone else has shed along with winter coats somehow find me. It sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the sun- we get so little of it here that I feel guilty for admitting that- but I like to at least go a lunchtime stroll. Or start running, like I keep threatening to. Instead, I’m currently writing to you surrounded by discarded hankies and Lemsip capsules.

After my recent bout of ill health, I admit I fell off the vegan wagon a little. I’d sworn off all things non-planty after Easter, but before eating my eggs. Whoops. I was feeling pretty crappy when disaster struck. My Hello Kitty shaped egg toppled from a high shelf in my cupboard and got decapitated. I couldn’t leave her like that. Plus I was feeling pretty crappy. Not to say that it’s an excuse: it’s like with any transition, though. You trip up, make mistakes. Show me someone on a diet who’s never guiltily nibbled a biscuit. All that happens is that you pick yourself back up again.

In any case, I was determined to get back on track, but with ill health came a delay in exercise. I know, boo, hiss. I’m racking up the black marks all over the joint here. So I skipped a week of classes to let antibiotics work their magic, and over the weekend picked up a nasty cold. Missing classes is something I don’t want to make a habit of- despite my hesitation in the beginning, I now enjoy them. I find any form of exercise a great way to clear my head, and classes give me structure. I need them as opposed to the gym: if someone isn’t telling me what to do, I will sit on a spin cycle and read (and believe me, I’m speaking from experience).

My week of indulgence last week culminated in a trip to the pre-opening of Usha’s, a new vegan and vegetarian Indian restaurant on Byres Road. The place was packed, and the banter was flowing… as was the free champagne. It was a great evening, and my first experience of meeting up with other bloggers- but that’s a post unto itself. My thumping head the next day ruined my good intentions of double class Sundays and instead eased in the dawn of the cold.

This quickly went from a delicious bubbly treat to the personification of Pure Evil.

So here I am feeling lethargic, snuffly, low on energy and on a bit of a downer about my general health and fitness. What’s a girl to do in such a situation? Make a pick me up, of course. And what better way to do so than with something not only healthy, but a wee bit on the naughty side too. I’d read countless peanut butter recipes, and felt like a big ol’ glass of smoothie would be a good idea. I also wanted to incorporate some fruit and a teeny bit of sweetness. The results weren’t too shabby- for a first attempt, anyway!

Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Smoothie

  • 2 tablespoons of smooth, no added sugar peanut butter (remember and check its got palm oil from a reputable source too- Whole Earth are a good brand and their peanut butter is pretty damn guid)
  • One ripe banana (I like ’em ripe because they’re sweeter. I hate the taste of green)
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 250 mls of non dairy milk (I used sweetened almond milk, because it was all I had)
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon

Slice up the banana into smallish chunks and put it in a pan. Add the peanut butter, cocoa powder, cinnamon and give it a mash with a fork.

Add the milk and blend it all together until smooth. That’s it. It’s THAT easy.

I think I’d like to make this again but play around with the consistency. For a start, I added a pinch of salt to bring out the chocolate flavour but with the peanut butter, this wasn’t necessary. I also think I added a wee bit too much peanut butter- I know, I never thought I’d say so too.

The sweetened almond milk worked well; unsweetened might have been a bit too blarg. I’d also make a point of picking up some agave syrup, for some added sweetness to counteract the peanut butter and bitterness from dark chocolate cocoa powder.

Still, it was a decent stab at a first attempt and it lifted my mood and energy… until about an hour ago. I’m now back in bed, alternating between napping and watching Batman: The Animated Series. Because I’m ill, and I can do what I want.

She's a gal after my own heart.

She’s a gal after my own heart.

I first started this blog as a way of keeping myself on the right track. Mostly because I know myself too well: if something isn’t written down, or organised in list form, I will fall apart like a bad sandwich.

Back in February, I left my diary on the train and had absolutely no idea where I was supposed to be and when. Thankfully balance was restored when some kind soul handed it in to Stirling train station- whoever it was has no idea how much they actually saved my brain for meltdown.

So, as you can imagine, taking on an entire lifestyle change was going to need some kind of documentation- for no other reason than to remember why I was doing it (and that I was actually doing it in the first place). I posted my blog on Twitter, as is the done thing these days- but given that I didn’t use it quite as much as other platforms, I didn’t have any aspirations for it.

Since then, the response has been pretty amazing. I’ve connected with loads of similarly minded people, not just online but locally too. Local bloggers are always great because they have insider tips, know about places you haven’t discovered and it’s a really great wee support network to have.

Still, I could never have expected that my wee blog would end up on a local news site! A Twitter alert from the Glasvegans profile informed me that my review of the Handmade Burger Co. had got a mention on the STV Glasgow page. The page offers a daily, live rundown of everything happening in Glasgow from restaurant openings, events, pubs, clubs and everything in between, and even just being a tiny part of that was pretty cool- thanks for the mention, guys! Put me in a right good mood in time for Nine Inch Nails at the Hydro.

The whole two pictures I took came out blurry and terrible, but if you’re at a NIN gig and concerned with taking pictures, you don’t deserve to be there.

When you’re adjusting to a big lifestyle change, it can seem really daunting. It’s not as simple as just cutting something out: when I first went vegetarian at 16, I didn’t eat vegetables, I just… didn’t eat meat. Pasta, chips, rolls and potato scone- I convinced myself that because it wasn’t meaty, it was fine. Then got confused over why I had actually put on weight…

Taking on a vegan diet has been a huge adaptation- even for someone like me who didn’t eat much dairy in the first place. Most of your evenings seem to be taken up either buying fresh food or cooking it (often both). Take it from me: it does get easier. If you’ve got a good support network around you it’s relatively painless.After a while it just seems like a natural part of the routine.

However, it’s hard being pious all the time, and I would’ve found the transition much harder if I couldn’t still have the odd treat. Here are my top five accidentally vegan junk foods that have got me through a none-too-easy month…

  1. Oreos

Finding out that Oreos are safe is like Vegan 101. It’s the one thing everyone knows, and they can’t wait to tell you.

“You’re vegan? Did you know Oreos are vegan?”

Well, if I didn’t, I certainly do now. And if that’s the case, double stuff Oreos must be doubly vegan. I’ve tested this theory under contained scientific conditions (i.e. not sharing) and can confirm the results are delicious.

It even made up for the non-vegan white fudge coated efforts that we picked up in an American candy store, for an exorbitant fee. I usually avoid American candy- no ingredients list should be that long- but after my first motorway drive, I felt they were earned. Ah, well. More double stuffs for me!

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For the full effect, I can only ever have it in my Hello Kitty water bottle. Because adult.

  1. Hello Kitty Chocolate Milkshake

I actually picked this up a while ago, before embarking upon the road of all things vegan. It was my boyfriend’s 30th and I picked it up as a post-party hangover treat. It worked wonders. I was never a fan of the super-artificial tasting Nesquik, so I’m always a bit sceptical of milkshake powders. Basically my logic was no Frijj, no dice.

The Hello Kitty powder is suitable for coeliacs, therefore dairy free, and it lasts for aaaages… unless you have one as a night time treat, every night, like I did. I’ve seen a lot of legitimately nutritious recipes involving cocoa powder and for Kitty’s sake I’m determined to try at least one in the near future.

  1. Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is usually on the Safe List as long as it’s got a high percentage of cocoa. There’s still always an opportunity for error- as I found out after eating a bar of their Blueberry Intense– but the regular, no fancy additions chocolate is safe.

The higher the percentage, the more bitter it is too, which makes it harder to eat a huge amount. Always good when the bars are relatively small but still packed full of calories… I managed to make mine last a couple of days, and that was including work and gym visits. Which totally justified eating another wee amount afterwards, and another wee amount after that.

  1. Tyrell’s Vegetable Crisps

My former crisp of choice was Walkers’ Sensations, particularly the Thai Sweet Chilli variety. I always erred on the side of caution with them, though: their poppadoms contain pork powder and the thyme roasted chicken ones have chicken powder in ‘em. The Thai Sweet Chilli ones don’t have any nasty meaty bits, but they do contain milk.

In earnest, I began searching for a new crisp, and found vegetable ones. They’re slightly salted, which usually equals boring, right? Nuh uh. They contain a mix of beetroot, parsnip and sweet potato crisps meaning they’re naturally full of flavour. A word of warning, though- eat them alone. Any attempts to lick the bottom of the bag may result in an unsightly purple face. Damned beetroots.

  1. Starburst

For years, I assumed that all chewy sweets were the enemy. Haribo were out, as were the occasional treat of M&S Percy Pigs (in a cruel and ironic twist, they contain pork gelatine). M&S upped their game with Veggie Percy Pigs which, for my money, were every bit as tasty as their meaty counterparts. However they contain beeswax which sadly isn’t vegan friendly- you can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

After an uninspiring trip to the chocolate aisle, I couldn’t find anything I wanted and in a fit of frustration, picked up Starburst. I fully expected them to contain some form of by-product, but my keen eye for ingredients couldn’t pick one up. Then I saw the three golden words- ‘suitable for vegetarians’. After mining through a wealth of internet forums I found that they’re not only suitable for vegetarians, but vegans too. Starburst, you and I have A LOT of catching up to do.

I hate saying that I’ve ‘been too busy’ to do anything. It always comes across as self-important. However, I’ve been kept steadily busy this past week with various gigs and things, that I’ve had little turnaround time in between.

May has been utterly ridiculous with the amount of events that are going on around Glasgow: I’ve already been to see The Libertine at the Citizen’s Theatre, Clutch at the ABC and yesterday had a double bill: the matinee of Wicked at the King’s Theatre, followed by Courtney Love at night time. Not including full time work and other life ‘hings in between.

 

 

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I feel like I’ve been a bit of a fraud this week as I haven’t given much thought to cooking anything- aside from my avocado cheese pasta concoction, that is. I’ve been mostly running off of soup, toast and other easy-to-throw-together things. We did pretty well with our fruit haul at the weekend, which obviously meant I could have something chocolatey. Unfortunately, vegan chocolate is… well, it doesn’t really taste like chocolate at all. Unless you mean the cooking variety. Lindt 70% has been an utter hero in such times of confectionary crisis and womanly woe.

The plan yesterday was to go and get a nice dinner somewhere, and explore Glasgow’s many veggie-friendly options but we didn’t have much turnaround time in between shows. We decided a beer ‘n burger deal was our safest, and quickest, bet and stopped by Rufus T’s. After getting shafted over £7 for theatre wine, I was in the mood for something cheap and cheerful, and wasn’t disappointed. Making my veggie melt sandwich vegan was as easy as saying “hold the cheese”. Almost feels like a cheat, really…

I feel like I need a total kitchen restock in order to start getting into cooking properly again. Sadly mid-month, especially one which is so event heavy, is never an easy time for that. Handily I got an Amazon bargain in the form of the The Daily Vegan Planner. It’s a 12-week, day by day journal, which allows you to keep track of what you made and ate, and also how you felt about it. It seems like a really good way of staying on track, and marking any changes in health or whatnot. It’s also got a tonne of recipes and a list of about 250 vegan friendly foodstuffs… seems fairly foolproof to me!

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It’s a good thing to invest in, as well as the other books and downloaded recipes I’ve collected so far: one thing I’ve learned quickly is the importance of variety. I never thought I would say this, but I think I’m actually getting bored of soup…! Or if not bored of it, then definitely looking to out it on hiatus for a while. I always thought the third week would be pretty hard going, and I wasn’t wrong: the first week’s shiny new-ness is over, week two of casually finding my stride is done with. Unfortunately for me I’ve got half a pot of the spicy sweet potato soup taking up space in my already tiny freezer… guess I’ll be putting that hiatus on hold for a while first.

Still, the best thing to do is keep going, and not allow myself to get lazy. If I do, I’m worried that soup and I may just part ways for good.

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!

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.