daily-greatness-journal

I’ve been lagging behind in blogging lately- I know, boo, hiss. I said I was going to keep it up during September and signed up to the #ggblogchallenge to prove my dedication. Like everything else- and as you’re about to find out- life just, uh, found a way. Other things happened and I didn’t plan properly. After a week of work training, I was ready to jump back in. When I saw what the prompt was for the day, it really got me thinking.

Tell us about your next big goal and why it exists.

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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.

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?

cakey

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.

cakeys

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’?

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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.

These aren't the vegan brownies- they were gone so fast I didn't manage to get a picture. Which can only be a good complaint, no?

These aren’t the vegan brownies- they were gone so fast I didn’t manage to get a picture. Which can only be a good complaint, no?

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: 

100g(ish) dates

150g cashews

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.

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.

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!