Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What's in my lunch box? Frozen inspiration

Book and lunch box

Once again I am rummaging in the freezer. Mainly for inspiration but also because I need to clear some space for Christmas food. Admittedly a small pot of coconut milk isn't going to clear that much space, but as that well known supermarket chain puts it – Every little helps.

Clockwise from bottom left

  • Asian marinated tofu – Marinade 'inspired' (as they say on film credits) by the recipe in Vwav.
  • Satsumas – I couldn't resist these – a little piece of Spanish sunshine
  • Brown basmati rice
  • Thai curry – onion, cabbage, spinach, mushroom, and carrots cooked with thai curry paste, coconut milk, and soy sauce. It tastes creamier than it looks.

To readNow you see me by S.J. Bolton

This was packed with false trails, dead ends, and unexpected revelations. I kept thinking that I had ti all worked out and then something would happen that would throw my theory. Everyone was a suspect so the only way to solve the mystery is too keep reading.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

What's in my lunch box? Double chestnut


Lunch box and book

Looking at the photo of my lunch I'm impressed with how autumnal it seems. I'm slightly disappointed in myself at including two types of chestnut dish but I'm sure I can live with it.

Clockwise from bottom right:

  • Roast chestnuts - so easy to do. Fun to shell. And surpringly filling.
  • A delicious ripe conference pear
  • Pasties filled with chestnut purée. I made Chestnut soup last week and has some left over so it seemed the idea filling for these cute mini pasties.
  • Roasted garlic Brussel sprouts from VWAV. I still prefer them steamed but as the oven on...also enabled to breathe anti vampire fumes!
  • To read - The first book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz. This reminded me of Room crossed with Lace crossed with The Amtrak Wars. The use of language is inventive and has a quirky charm. I enjoyed the cultural references, and the different ways things could be interpreted depending on context. The reader is torn between which characters to root for - knowing full well that they can't all get what they want.

Wishing you green ink and good food,



Saturday, 16 November 2013

What's in my lunch box? Peas and the past

Lunch box and book

Ever keen to expand my knowledge of pulses, I decided to give marrow fat peas a go. I vaguely recalled reading somewhere that they were grown and produced in the UK (although I haven't investigated this any further. I'd also read somewhere about the benefits of eating seaweed, something I do enjoy. So I purchased a nice packet of Hijiki harvested in Japan to keep my carbon footprint skyhigh!

Putting these together I planned to make something fish and chips inspired. Theoretically the marrow fat peas should have been made into mushy peas for dipping polenta fries into. Old habits die hard though and I ended up making something more akin to refried beans. Guess my love affair with chilli isn't anywhere near cooling off.

Clockwise from bottom left:

  • Refried marrow fat peas - soaked, boiled and fried up with oil, onion, lemon juice, salt and chilli.
  • Polenta fries - from The Vegan lunchbox cook book
  • Roasted Brussel sprouts with toasted garlic from Vegan with a vengance. These are favourite vegetable and I love them so much that I hate the thought of interfering with the flavour. However the oven was on so I gave them a go. Tasty and they keep better than steamed sprouts.
  • Hijiki seaweed - bought dried and soaked in hot water

To read: The boy who loved books by John Sutherland. I don't know where I picked this up but I put off reading it for ages.the appeal had been the thought of someone else who's childhood was definded by what they were reading but I thought it might get heavy or overtly sentimental. I was also worried he's waffle on about books that passed me by as a child (Roald Dahl for example). Instead it turned out to be a smashing read for the most part. Sutherland shares his largely neglected childhood in war time time Colchester. It was wonderful to get a glimpse of how the town used to be. He'd read different things to me but it didn't matter. He's fabulous at summing up a book, and offering what he thought then, and what he thinks as an adult. The last few chapters where he talked about his time at university and his alcohol problems were less engaging but that hardly surprising. He clearly found them gloomy too.


Wishing you all things green,



Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The sociable vegan

An arm injury (it involved a stool and momentarily forgetting where I was) curtailed my ability to get around at the end of October so I was happy to make up for it this week by attending two vegan events.

Vegan Pot Luck is something I've planned to attend for sometime. Alas as it's on a Wednesday evening it clashes with my Burlesque class. My injury is requiring me to take a little break, which has opened a window of opportunity.
Broccoli tarts

Deciding what food to take was a dilemma but in the end I made these Broccoli tarts. What an event it was! The selection of food was great, and varied. In fact there was some serious impressive food including a zombie graveyard. It was a real pleasure to experience so much home cooked vegan food. It was also good for chatting to people I hadn't met before.

I meant to take loads of photos of the food but only remembered as plates started to be filled - too late you've gotta get in quick in a room full of vegans feeding! And new dishes kept appearing as latecomers added their contribution to the tables.

Plate of food

Saturday was the Brecknock Road vegan festival organised once again by that ever enthusiastic organiser of excellent events, Fat Gay Vegan. Various shops in Brecknock Road were taking part, Will's Vegan shoes were being launched at The Third Estate, and I'd volunteered to staff the Vegan Society stand for a couple of hours.

Despite the rain it was an excellent occasion. I kicked off with a hot dog from The Mighty Fork. The beer sauce kept me warm.

Hot dog

Then I got down the business of chatting to people, giving out Vegan Society material, and handing out goody bags. I was also pleased to find out that although the Vegan Society logo is being changed, the vegan symbol that appears on approved products isn't. That'll make my choice of tattoo easier then (see Forty for 40 - no.26).

 I was delighted to met a brewer of vegan beer who is based in Essex.

Bottles of vegan beer
Andy, the head brewer, at Pitfield's was happy to tell us all about his beer. The Christmas brew involving cherries and dark chocolate sounds amazing, and with changes to CAMRA regulations his wares/brews are likely to be making an appearance at beer festivals.

I was reluctant to leave the stand after my stint (I do like to meet people and talk) but it was nice to go inside and defrost my feet while admiring the stock at The Third Estate, and the new shoe range.

Will's vegan shoes
Quite frankly The Third Estate is the best place to go in London for vegan shoes, and this addition just makes it even better.

I returned to Essex to rest my arm with a slice of chocolate cake and a feeling of optimism. When can I spend another day talking vegan, admiring shoes and buying cake?

Wishing you all things green,

Saturday, 9 November 2013

What's in my lunch box? 200 years later

Food and book

So 200 years after it was written I've finally gotten around to reading Pride and prejudice. My ignorance of it (beyond the opening line) was a growing embarrassing. I read and loved the graphic novel Pride and Prejudice and zombies, but there was a nagging fear that I might have enjoyed it even more if I was familiar with the original. Having applied myself to it (and ticked off a goal for this year), I'm delighted to say that I can see why it has endured. The plot is amusing, the use of language lively, and the characters are wonderful. I find myself very partial to Mr Bennet.

Also in my lunch box:

  • A delicious Cox apple grown in Essex
  • A version of Emira's speedy kale and tofu delight from La dolce vegan served with brown rice. I threw in some chilli flakes and a spoonful of peanut butter, and skipped the pine nuts.
Emira's speedy kale and tofu delight

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Whats in lunch box? Led by the veg

After feasting on this at lunchtime I think I can conclude that vegetables really my ideal lunch. This selection filled me up. Plus I was free of afternoon cravings for snacks. Not great when you have a 30 minute round trip from your desk to have any hope of fulfilling them.

Clockwise from top right:

Corn on the cob - soaked in water for 10 minutes and then baked. Highly portable and highly tasty.

Mixed vegetable Wat - from The Vegan Lunchbox. I'd expected this to be different. Richer? Creamier? More like a roux? However after my initial misgivings this did indeed prove to be a. Rey tasty way to consume vegetables. I'd definitely make again although I'd up the spice next time.

Bob the Book by David Pratt - I haven't been reading this short, sweet story about relationships between books for over a week. Well, I have but I got side tracked by The Watchers by Stephen Alford. It's about intelligence gathering and spies during the Elizabethan era. It shows a very dark side to a time that it usually looked at as bring golden and enlightened. Bit of a contrast to Bob.

Plums - served chilled, a wonderful combination of sweet, sour, and juicy.

Bread - I had a crack at my favourite bread recipe from long ago. It's just my style. You bung some yeast in hot water, leave it for a bit and then add flour until you have a dough of the right consistency. Then knead, prove and bake. Very pleased with the rather filling results.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Massively distracted by Vegfest London

I had every intention of returning from the opening day of Vegfest London 2013 and proceeding to write a comprehensive blog post documenting the wonders that were to see be seen, heard, and eaten. I started off well.
I shared a photographs of a Yasai dog from The Mighty Fork, some vegan ice cream from Razzle Dazzle, and the samples I was tasting following a cookery demonstration.

Then I got lost in the two floors of stalls, talks, and demonstrations. Just as well I'm not a journalist or my copy would have been a bit lacking.

Searching my memory I came up with the following highlights:


  • A cake stall with cream cakes. Yes that's right a stall with amazing cream cakes on offer from J.P. Turner foods.They tasted wonderful, and were huge. I failed to eat more than half of my cream slice (the other half made an excellent Sunday breakfast).
  • Vegusto is still my favourite vegan cheese.
  • Orzo Coffee made from Barley – a great taste with no caffeine.
  • Mirabilia tea made from olive leaves – tasted like green tea and is apparently amazingly good for you.
I chatted with Thomas from the London vegan and vegetarian societies about setting up a group in Chelmsford (watch this space!).

And finally after watching Fat Gay Vegan pick up his well- deserved award for best blog, I watched a band.
Goldblade were clearly more used to turning up the volume and crowd surfing. Instead they were faced with delivering an acoustic set to an audience who had been gorging on carbs and sugar. With a cardboard box standing in for a massive drum kit we had possibly the world's first seated mosh pit, although by the end of the set we'd thrown off out stupor for energetic dancing.

All in all a splendid way to spend a Saturday. Roll on next year where I shall endeavour not to get too distracted by delicious things and shoes.

Wishing you all things green, 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

What's in my lunchbox? Chew well

Lunchbox and book

This was a fabulous lunch. A great mix of flavours and texture. I should warn anyone thinking of cooking along similar lines that it's advisable to chew the polenta fries well before swallowing. Failure to to do could put you in the same situation that I found myself in on Friday lunchtime. I'd decided, as part of my learning new things, to start attending the Friday lunchtime concerts at the Cathedral. I'm not into religion but appreciate the community aspect.

I was surprised by the large audience, but found a seat and began tucking into my lunch as I listened. Alas as I closed my eyes and tipped my head back in appreciation of the piano I began to choke. I tried to suppress it which seemed to make the jalapeños in the polenta burn more fiercely.

So either chew well or don't consume with live music.

Clockwise from bottom left:
  • Plum cake - rather a lot of plums in this one resulting in a very soft texture
  • Polenta fries - the recipe from The Vegan Lunchbox with added jalapeños.
  • Bob the book by David Pratt
  • Home made guacamole
  • A fresh fig cut into quarters
  • Shredded sweetheart cabbage

Thursday, 3 October 2013

What's in my lunch box this week? Inspired by the season

Lunch box and food
This was one of those lunches I aspire to where I see what is in season, and then cook accordingly.
Clockwise from bottom right:
  • Plums - as they are because you can't have plum cake every week.
  • Pan bread - made with gram flour and somewhere between a bread and a pancake.
  • Dal - made with a super easy recipe from Rose Eliot's Vegan Feasts. I added spinach and rocket. The former worked better than the latter.
  • Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the making of the Information Age by Adrian Jones. After an exciting start this is proving to be a more academic work than I anticipated. However I'm learning all kinds of things about the set up of the BBC, and the goings on at rival broadcasters.
  • Roasted romanesco cauliflower - I'd forgotten how good this was roasted. It's a wonder it survived to go in my lunch box.

Monday, 30 September 2013



Lamp post

Yeah, right, I hear you mutter, as you look at a badly lit photo of something unidentifiable. Allow me to identify the object as a lamp post with a speaker attached. For a week or so it played different sounds everytime I passed. Turkish drums one morning. Crickets on another. The sounds of something burning. Breaking waves. And one lunchtime, just to confuse the shoppers, the voiceover for what sounded like a retro documentary on fire.

This was part of the Sensation festival organised by the cultural events team at Chelmsford City Council. They explain that the concept behind the festival was about multiple sensory experiences. Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.

Happily their leaflet fell into my hands just as I was feeling the need to learn and experience new things. As the activities were mainly free there was no excuse for not to attend at least one.


So on Friday night, Mimi and I paid a visit to Anglia Ruskin University to hear a talk by Caroline Hobkinson. Let me begin by saying the campus is amazing. I've often gone past but never actually visited. It goes without saying that I loved the green sofas on the man entrance. What I really liked though was the atmosphere. Tend way that giant bean bags, low stools and sofa were grouped in open areas. For me a vital part of learning is talking to other people, and these spaces with inspirational images and words on the walls really encourage this.

Caroline's talk was about how we experience and our expectations, often cultural around this. She shared some of her own work, which falls somewhere between performance art and chef. Diners eating from a table that has been lifted to a gallery ceiling. Eating with wooden stakes or oversized cutlery. Cameras hidden in food so that the dinner party can be projected on the walls of the room. Eating blindfolded, or bring fed.

By reminding the audience of birthdays cakes, and celebration meals she was able to put her work in context. We all have rituals around good which are absurd when viewed objectively. Eating with forks, lighting candles on a cake, and eating certain foods for certain times of day (why not noodles for breakfast?).

Do not eat!

We then got the interactive part where we ate the contents of the box we were given on arrival. So we'd explored expectations of taste from colour and texture. The impact noise can have on taste. How holding your nose can prevent you tasting something. And the tastes that are like a touch.

Caroline reminded us that food is central to our lives. We celebrate with food. We socialise with food. We mark travels with food. We might not talk to anyone in a strange location, but rely on the food to gve an experience of the locale. Then our memories of trip are all about food.

It was a fascinating way to spend a Friday night. It made me realise that food is very central to my life (and that's normal!). Mimi and I talked after about preparing a meal and the associated experiences as one might go to the theatre or an art gallery. We also recalled our own experiences of rituals tied to food; pumpkin carving parties, New Year's Eve, and Brunch club being key examples.

I'm now looking at the programme for the Chelmsford Ideas Festival with fresh eyes, keen to engage and learn.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Ready in the morning

Porridge with baked fruits
It took me a while to come round to the idea of overnights oats. I'd experimented with Bircher Museli at university, but grating apples before bed wasn't a high student priority. I'll leave you draw your own conclusions about pre-bed activities but let me say toasted sandwiches were high on the agenda.
So I stuck to hot strudel porridge in the morning until I was called away by other breakfast foods. The years passed in a whirl of rice cakes, kiwi fruit cottage cheese, and fried egg muffins.
But then I found my way back to porridge again. Now made with various plant milks and microwaved for speed. I'd have said that apart from varying the dried fruits I added I was set.
Still never say never, a friend gave me some chia seeds to try. An Internet search later I was giving overnight oats a try.
I'm taken with the creamy taste, but what I really like is that they're waiting for me in morning. It's so easy - put oats in a bowl, add fruit/nuts/spices, pour milk over the top, and stick in the fridge. Preparation in the evening has made me more adventurous as to what I add (like the baked autumn fruits in the photograph) and gives me something to get out of bed for.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

What's in my lunch box? Autumn abundance

I had so many lovely things to go in my lunch box this week I had to really stuff them in. The market and my allotment have been an abundance of seasonal produce.
Clockwise from bottom right:
  • Potatoes fried up with onions, roast peppers, and smoked tofu
  • Peach/nectarine - I'm sure the label at the market said peach but they seem more like nectarines. Anyway they're ripe, juicy and delicious. The small red tub contains salt, pepper and chilli flakes
  • An advocado (for mashing and adding contents of red tub) and various leaves (rossof lettuce, rocket, and spinach) from the allotment
  • Julie and Julia by Julie Powell I loved the passion for cooking in this. Not so much the meaty bits.
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mini pittas - torn up to fit in the box

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Learn something new for September


Piano with play me sign

September is a month all about fresh starts, scanning for signs of autumn, and rediscovering a desire to learn.

Essentially it's a month to challenge yourself. To find out more. To take a look at where you are (after the distractions of summer) and see what you can do with those cliched winter evenings.

If you're looking inspiration, I have the perfect thing. I got chatting to Duncan from Noonesreadingme at carnival yesterday (a rather wonderful evening of leaping around to various bands) and he told me about a friend who had recorded an album. It's her and a piano. The 'feel inspired' bit is that a year ago she couldn't play a piano.

Of course, you don't have to go to such lengths. I've signed up for some courses with Futurelearn. These are free online course from UK universities. All kinds of things with varying time requirements are on offer. I'm going to be learning more about Richard III in November, and discovering the basics of Forensic Science in January.

So here's to an inspiring autumn where I discover all kinds of new and exciting things.

Wishing you all things green,



Wednesday, 18 September 2013

What’s in my lunch box? Embrace autumn soup

Who would have guessed that pea pods had so much fibre in them? So much as it turns out that even the mighty Vitamix was able cope. So instead I strained my pea pod and roast pepper soup. I've never strained soup before. It feels like I'm throwing away goodness. This, however, was extremely hairy goodness. On tasting, it seemed a little lacking so I threw in cooked new potatoes, oven cooked sweetcorn, allotment peas form the freezer, and some dried chili. The result is like a rather chunky hot and sour soup. I'm calling it embrace autumn soup. It seems more optimistic than end of summer soup.
Clockwise from top left:
  • Embrace autumn soup – just the thing for a grey and damp day
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Beautifully written, with quiet, yet engaging characters. Reading it is like taking deep calming breathes
  • Plum clafoutis – I enjoyed last week's so much I had to make more
Wishing you all things green,

Monday, 16 September 2013

Saturday adventure

Gosh, I hear you say, that looks a bit bleak. Not surprised that you've been worrying about September blues.

It may look a tad desolate but it was an excellent place to spend an afternoon, even with a bit of rain. I was visiting some family and they suggested an afternoon at Thames Chase community forest.

It's a fantastic site. The paths are wide and gravelled making it highly suitable for users of mobility scooters and wheelchairs as well as small children on bikes and scooters.

There are plenty of things, in additional to nature, to look around the trail. Excellent for encouraging said small children to keep moving ("we're nearly at the fort"). Great for acting as landmarks and ensuring one doesn't get lost. Oh, and rather good fun for climbing and frolicking whatever age you are.

They'd thoughtful labelled lots of the trees.

And there were no end of blackberry bushes. Which did lead to some discussion about why we felt ok picking blackberries as we walked but were hesitant about doing the same for apples or any other fruit.

The teepees are both fun, and slightly Blair witch.

Building your own is good exercise, although my technique needs some work.

There's a visitors centre with a cafe, crafts for sale, and various activities. Parking seemed plentiful. And there was a wonderful juxtaposition of untamed nature park and manicured golf course.

Definitely an excellent afternoon by my standards. It put a glow in my cheeks and left me more than ready for a cup of tea, and some dinner.

Wishing you all things green,


Friday, 13 September 2013

September blues


Everyone talks about the January blues. That period after Christmas when it’s cold and dark and a long way from summer. When there seems to be no joy in the world. When everyone is broke, on a diet, and just in hibernation.

Just like January, September is a time that is earmarked for new beginnings. It’s the start of the new academic year. You tell yourself that you’ll buckle down after the madness of summer. Then after a few days you’ve stopped packing inspiring lunches, ironing your clothes in advance, and doing morning yoga.

Instead life feels joyless as the days get colder and darker. Anything exciting seems a long way off. You have a strong urge to stay in bed with the cover over your head until next spring.

I’ve been facing the September blues by:

· Getting out of bed when the alarm goes off – may as well face up to the day

· Thinking about all the things I really enjoy at this time of year – seasonal vegetables, preparing to do a wardrobe changeover, stomping through piles of leaves

· Planning things to look forward to. This has nothing to do with looking ahead to Christmas. Instead I’ve booked places on some free talks (the local university has an excellent programme), and noted some free events to attend (impressive work by the City council).

· Taking time to relax – I’ve marked out a weekend to stay home and read – all weekend long

· Letting things go – I want to look for things to celebrate, not invite misery by getting worked up because a car is parking in the wrong place

Wishing you all things green,



Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A tale of two restaurants

Dinning out should be pleasure. It’s an opportunity to enjoy food without having to think about what might go into it, labour over preparations, or worry about washing up. I intended to eat out twice last week and the experiences couldn’t have been more different.

Experience 1 – the Saracen’s Head Hotel, Dunmow
On Thursday I decided it would be nice to eat dinner out. The weather was warm. The forecast for the next day was rain. I thought it might be the last night of summer.

I choose the Saracen’s Head Hotel on Dunmow High Street. I‘ve eaten there on several occasions in the last year and always found them very accommodating. The chef made me a fantastic five mushroom risotto on Easter Sunday which I still recall with delight.

However on this occasion things did not go so well. Having ordered a drink I began to size up the menu for things that could by alteration or omission be made vegan. The mediterrrian platter with roast vegetables, hummus, olives, bread and halloumi seemed like an option (minus the halloumi). There was also a rather delivious sounding vegetable curry. When the waiter arrived I explained that I was a vegan and asked if he could find out if the curry contained any animal products.

A few minutes later another member of staff appeared . She told me that she had spoken to the chef and that everything contained eggs or dairy. The only thing they could offer me was a bowl of dry leaves. Or nothing.

I considered asking if they could manage an oil and vinegar dressing to go with the dry leaves. Or if the roast vegetables were cooked in oil. Or what animal products the hummus contained.

Instead I decided to take the ‘nothing’ option and eat at home. I began to finish drink. Before I could leave the staff member returned to reiterate that they had nothing I could eat, adding that I should notify them in advance in future.

Experience 2 – Giraffe, Chelmsford

Sunday evening I’d arranged to have dinner with some of my fellow burlesque enthusiasts, and those who taken part in the Change your life in 20 weeks project. We decided to eat at Giraffe simply because someone had some vouchers.

I was a little late arriving but my fellow dinners had already mentioned my vegan lifestyle to the waiter. He was extremely happy to go through the menu with me and suggest which dishes could be altered. He was also very helpful when other in our party wanted alterations to dishes.
I enjoyed a Falafel burger, followed by a sorbet sundae (yes - a vegan desert) and a soy cappuccino.

The staff were excellent. Cheerful, accommodating and good humoured.

The combination of good food, lovely staff, and delightful company made for a really good meal. Our party left Giraffe feeling relaxed, well feed and ready for the week ahead. I feel quite enthusiastic about returning to Giraffe in the near future.

Wishing you all things green,