Curiosity: 5 days raw vegan

I had to admit to myself, as I made my way through a small mountain of crisps one Sunday night, that this had not been a healthy weekend. That, a bucket of salted caramel frozen yoghurt, and chocolate. It’s true the working week I had stuck to my resolution: no junk food, no alcohol. But in the end denying myself the food I wanted only made me more likely to binge when I did allow the indulgence. The healthiest way is everything in moderation.

This certainly does nothing to explain why the satisfaction I got from my my mostly-milk decaf latte would have to last me the following five days.

Until Saturday morning I would be raw vegan. That was the plan at least.

Day 1:

I had tried to make up for my junk-food-extravaganza by pre-prepping breakfast for the following morning. But as I tucked into my overnight oats with kiwi and balsamic vinegar, I realised I had already failed; balsamic is not raw…

In fact, after a little googling I discovered that some raw vegans claimed that vinegar contained toxins produced in the cooking process which built up in the body, supposedly causing cancer, and that this is common in most cooked foods. My strange breakfast combination had come about because I had read an article claiming vinegar is good for stabilizing blood sugar. I was at a loss but not yet defeated.

I tackled lunch with enthusiasm: sliced apple and carrot drizzled with tahini. It was simple but tasty. Dinner too was easy: fresh peas, lemon juice, black pepper and tahini blended into a “gazpacho soup”.

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Day 2:

Soaked oats attempt 2, this time topped only with fresh fruit. Lunch was a repeat of dinner the night before since it was easy to pack away and take to work. By dinner I was feeling bored and uninspired. I began to look up raw vegan recipes. I have meandered through these numerous times in the past and it struck me that the majority are cakes and biscuits rather than meals. These recipes also seem to be made up of the same ingredients every time…coconut, dates, maple syrup, oats, cashews… not only are these expensive, but surely the wonderful variety of recipes hides the fact they must all taste the same.

That night I was hosting a movie night, so alongside the normal snacks, I tried my hand at some raw vegan cookies:
oats
coconut cream
dates
cocoa
They were fine but they were not cookies. Blended together, my ingredients formed an unappealing brown dough. This was to be frozen to set, which worked, but half an hour after coming out of the freezer the sludge had returned.

This also has me wondering: is cocoa raw? I had initially planned to make a carrot-pasta sauce for dinner with some tomato puree, but this too is surely not raw. In fact, what in my kitchen was raw? I had only being trying this diet for two days and I didn’t even know whether I was succeeding. I had begun this challenge thinking that the main issue would be craving cooked food. Instead, it was boredom from the lack of variety and confusion as to what I was even allowed to eat.

I can’t fault recipes such as these wonderful Nori wraps from thekitchn (link here). But, though the recipe claims to be raw and vegan, most of the Nori I have come across is toasted and for hummus (also in these) chickpeas need to be cooked.

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Day 3: I made a tactical retreat.

I realised that this diet was a lot more than I had bargained for. I didn’t have a dehydrator: an apparently essential appliance in a raw vegan kitchen and so many recipes require significant pre-planning. I’m fine with dehydrating something for several hours or soaking overnight on the odd occasion but not for every meal.

Only two days on a raw vegan diet was not long enough to feel any effects but it didn’t feel healthy. My new loyalty to the gym (let’s see how long that lasts) means I am looking to up my protein intake and it seems that the main raw vegan protein sources are also high in fats. Nuts and seeds are great and full of good fats but “good” does not mean you can eat as much as you want without worrying.

It felt to me like this diet was about cutting out all “bad” foods so that you can gorge yourself on those few “good” things but that’s not what a healthy diet is about. My initial belief that most things in moderation is best still holds.

I fully intend to make a second attempt at raw veganism but this time with research and planning by my side. Yet what I know so far has not sold the diet to me in any way.

 

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Re-adjusting

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Nigel Farage claims Britain can – should – have an independence day; other countries have one. Why not us? The irony seems to have escaped him that many of those countries celebrate the day they won the long and bloody battle – literally or socially – for independence from colonial rule by Britain.

But I’m not here to rant. I’m not here to talk about Brexit at all. Those following the issue have likely had enough by now and those outside can certainly find a more eloquent and informed opinion than mine.

But it’s a readjustment. I never thought Brexit would happen but what I’ve seen in the last couple of years is politics being turned on its head. I’m just learning to live in this unreliable world. I went to one of those academic schools that tried its utmost to press everyone into going to university and for most of my child- and young adult- hood I assumed, as most do, that my way of life was as normal for everyone as it was for me. It was impressed into me that all of school was working towards going to university – a good university, to get a good degree – and then you’d get a good job. Life was that simple. But when school is your life: where you spend all your time, the source of all your friends and achievements, then university becomes the culmination of everything up to this point. Is it any wonder that levels of stress and anxiety are on the rise with that sort of pressure?

I’ve been to university. I went for three years and got a good degree. I made friends, got involved and had an amazing time. I learned a lot, though mostly not from studying. Now I’m done. Those three years passed in a flash and despite my degree I am not set for the future. I feel as much of an imposter applying for jobs as ever and I am far less sure about what I really want to be doing. So it’s time to take a moment to breath and readjust.

Brexit, among other things is a sign that the world I’m trying to plan my future in is shifting under my feet and all I can plan is what I’m doing with myself. If biology taight me anything it’s the value of resilience. I want to read and write, to keep fit and keep learning. I want to be able to take care of myself and to value the small things in life. These are my roots and with these I can grow.

Black sesame hummus

My mum is against eating anything not-food-coloured, which seems sensible until you find out it means she won’t eat Oreos. Fortunately, after some suspicious looks, she agreed to try my latest kitchen experiment. I don’t know that I’ve turned her around, but this at least has her seal of approval.

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Grey hummus might not be the most photogenic or appetising creation, but it tastes damn good. Black sesame seems to be found more commonly, though not exclusively, in sweet foods but after discovering an extortionately priced pot of black tahini online, I knew I wanted to try is. The recipe is unlike ordinary hummus. It’s rich, sweet and salty. Adjust the ingredients to your liking, try new things (maybe add something to make the colour a little less-sludge-like).

Ingredients

3 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tbsp olive oil/vegetable oil
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp icing sugar
1/4 tsp salt
200g chickpeas cooked until very soft
3tbsp water

Method

Grind the sesame into a fine powder (a coffee grinder is perfect!)
Tip the seeds into a bowl and add the oil, lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Mix into a thick paste.
Finally blend the chickpeas and water. Add the tahini and continue to blend until fully mixed.

Loveliness in the Gloom

We are well into the months of gloom. It is warmer here than is usual for this time of year, but that is not all good news. The deep grey clouds hang over us. The skips have disappeared from the streets but many shops are still empty; still in silent shock after the floods. Winds race the cars up the main streets while the hardiest of off-season tourists still trudge the streets. Nonetheless, there is some beauty in the gloom.

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I’m growing some of my own winter veg. The leaves and stems of beet are gorgeous

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Day 2 of my first go at sprouting mung beans

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I recently joined the student food co-op and ordering seasonal vegetable bags each week

 

 

Cook celery! Here’s how

Celery is totally underrated. I’ve learned this on a diet which precludes me from eating onion or garlic. Celery is too rarely sidelined – eaten raw, or included only in stock. So here is a gorgeous, healthy broth to make the most of that celery…

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Ingredients (serves 2)
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp tumeric
2 tsp dried coriander
2 tsp sumac
pinch salt
1 celery heart, chopped
100g puy lentils
500ml vegetable stock
4 large handfuls curly kale leaves
4 tbsp chopped dill

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Mix together the tumeric, coridaner, sumac and salt and add to the oil to begin to infuse. Add the celery and lightly sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir until covered in the oil and beginning to soften.
Add the lentils and stir to cover with the oil and spices.
Pour over the stock and pour in the vegetable stock.
Top with the kale.
Bring to the boil and then turn down to a low simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the lentils are al dente.
Take off the heat and stir in the dill.

For a little more spice, serve with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a dollop of greek yogurt to top!

A sunny winter salad

New Year’s resolutions anyone? Or is that all old hat by now? Well, call me cliché but I’m on the typical health kick and I thought I’d share a salad with you lovely folks.

Ingredients – serves 2
200g carrots (about 3 medium)
1 tsp melted coconut oil
pinch of salt (I use chili salt)
3 large celery sticks
2 medium beetroots
1 apple
1 pot salad cress
Half an orange
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp sumac
Ground black pepper

Chop the carrots into thumb sized pieces and toss in the oil and salt. Roast for 20 minutes at 250°. Set aside the carrots until cool.

Chop the celery, beetroot and apple into dice-size chunks and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss. Voila! Enjoy xx

Chocolate, walnut and halva tray-bake-cake

I’ve wanted to try Halva for so long and baking it in to brownies seemed like it could only be a good idea. I’ve been trying all sorts of ways to develop a good, crispy-on-the-outside low FODMAP brownie recipes but I haven’t got there yet, so if anyone can help me, please…advice!

Until then, I have what I am calling a tray bake instead. This is chocolate cake at it’s best – soft, rich and slightly crumbly without being in the least dry. You wouldn’t even know it was gluten and dairy free (honest).

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Ingredients
200g banana
150g dark chocolate (vegan if you want it dairy free)
25g dark brown sugar
25g cocoa
25g ground almonds
1/2 tbsp instant coffee
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 bicarbonate of soda
60g chopped walnuts
60g crumbled Halva (make sure to avoid any with honey in if low FODMAP)
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 180°C

Roughly break the banana into a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high for 50 seconds. Take a knife and thoroughly mash the banana. Break the chocolate into the bowl with the banana and heat again for 50 seconds.
Mix the chocolate and banana until you have a smooth, chocolate paste.

Add sugar, cocoa, almonds, coffee, salt and bicarb and mix well.
Stir in the walnuts and halva.

Separate the eggs, placing the whites into a clean bowl. Add the yolk to the other ingredients and combine.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks (about 1 minute with an electric beater). Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the egg white mixture into the batter to loosen it. Then slowly add the batter to the egg white, mixing together with a metal spoon so as to beat out as little air as possible.

Pour into a tray lined with grease-proof paper and bake for 15 minutes.

Edible gift tags

If you want to do something a bit different with your wrapping this year, why not make your presents just a wee bit more delicious? This year I decided to make edible gift tags.

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Loads of templates for boxes can be found online. I used silver spray paint to decorate mine. They’re just about an inch across – just ideal for a single truffle or chocolate, or – if you’re feeling a little more creative – I made tiny versions of these beautiful Swedish chocolate biscuits. Happy gifting!

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Salmon, feta and parsley salad

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This is another lovely low FODMAP recipe, though you may want to replace the fate if lactose is a problem for you.

I’m home for the holidays and this means I’ve returned to my comfort zone: Ottolenghi recipes. This is an adaptation of a parsley and barley salad.

Ingredients
20g Thai black rice
100g basmati rice
1 tsp za’atar
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1/4 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
150g feta
1 small salmon fillet
3 tbsp lemon juice
150g flat leaf parsley
1 large green bell pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
Salt and pepper

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Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the Thai rice. Bring back to the boil and allow to simmer for 10 minutes before adding the basmati rice. Allow this to cook for a further 15 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Mix the za’atar, coriander seeds, and cumin in a bowl. Add the olive oil then break the feta into roughly 1cm cubes. Mix this all together and set aside to marinate.

Form a parcel of tin foil and place the salmon fillet inside. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp of the lemon juice and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until cooked through (depending on the size of the fillet).
Use two forks to break the cooked salmon into flakes.

Finely chop the parsley and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss together the rice, feta, salmon flakes, parsley, and pepper. Mix in the allspice, remaining 2 tbsp lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Chocolate brownie tart (FODMAP friendly, gluten free, dairy free)

DSC_0006Truth be told, I got pretty fed-up with the low FODMAP diet. I spent a week on holiday with my family and we like our food. On holiday particularly, we treat ourselves. Pretty much every day for the week, they would treat themselves to tea and cake, Cornish pasties, ice-cream, or pastries. Each time my mum would say, sympathetically “I don’t suppose there’s anything you can eat?”. Each time I would shake my head and she would give me a sad-but-encouraging smile then quickly tuck into whatever she was eating with relish and seem to forget I had to sit and watch. Even eating out was near impossible so I would sit each lunchtime in a cafe with my sad-and-soggy gluten free sandwich with the same filling I’d been eating all week.

It’s the monotony of eating the same thing each day which I struggle with. It feels as though so few ingredients are safe for me that I lose all enthusiasm to cook at all and, when my gut gets bad all I want is to forget about eating all together.

So there I was, feeling like I might as well give up with the blog, if not all hope of good food, when I check and found that new people had followed. I hadn’t even posted recently and still, people are finding this place! It was the reminder I needed that I’m not going through this alone. Around 10-15% of our population have IBS yet there is so little knowledge about it! Maybe it’s embarrassment that keeps people quiet. Still, this was the spur I needed to get back on the horse. So, guys…I’m back! And this time I’m armed with more determination and a low FODMAP cookbook. And to celebrate, I baked you the yummiest chocolate brownie tart, based on a recipe from the book. Enjoy…

Ingredients
For the crust:
140g gluten-free oat cookies (I used Nairn’s oat and ginger cookies because ginger makes everything better)
60g plain cook’s chocolate (no milk)
75g lactose free/dairy free margarine
For the filling:
225g plain cook’s chocolate (no milk)
150g lactose free/dairy free margarine
165g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 eggs

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Line a 23cm tart tin
Crush the biscuits (that’s right, let out all the anger about not being able to buy a normal godamn pack of biscuits) and pour into a bowl.
Finely chop the chocolate for the crust and add this to the biscuits. Melt the margarine and add this too. Mix everything together and press into the bottom and sides of the tart tin.
Set this aside in the fridge to set solid.
Chop the chocolate for the filling and place in a heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and allow to melt, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool slightly.
Combine the margarine, sugar, vanilla and one egg with a handheld beater until pale and creamy. Add the chocolate and beat well.
Clean the beaters and, in a clean bowl, beat the remaining 4 eggs until light and fluffy (about doubled in size).
Pour the chocolate mixture into the eggs and beat on low until combined.
Pour the filling over the base.
Bake for 50-60 minutes (Less if you want the filling gooey).
Allow to cool and set properly.
Serve

I made a few adjustments from the original, and mine was more cake-like that tart-like but if you want the original, or any other low fodmap inspiration, you can find the Low FODMAP cookbook here.