Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Blueberry & Lemon Loaf Cake - Vegan, Low Gluten & Oil Free

I was flicking through recipe books looking for inspiration and came across a blueberry & lemon combination that sounded amazing. It wasn't entirely suitable so I used the inspiration and came up with this cake. 

2 cups white spelt flour
3 TSP soya flour
1 cup raw brown sugar
2 TSP baking powder
1 cup non dairy milk (blended with 1 very ripe  banana)
1 TSP vanilla extract
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 cup frozen blueberries 

For the drizzle:
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 to 2 TSPS lemon juice

Preheat oven to 175C.

Combine all dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add lemon zest, lemon juice and non dairy milk/ banana mix.
Once all well combined stir in blueberries.

Oil a non stick loaf tin very lightly (with an oil spray) or use baking paper to line.

Bake for between 45-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Once cooled mix icing sugar with lemon juice and drizzle.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Plant based Lasagna - Vegan, Gluten Free, Toddler Friendly

I've been craving lasagna for ages, but had trouble finding some pasta sheets which were egg free. For some reason in the UK producers feel the need to add milk powder or egg to things that wouldn't normally have them if they're gluten free. Luckily Waitrose sell some which are really nice, and there are possibly others available too. If gluten is no issue for you then just use regular wheaty lasagna sheets.

These days I try to make meals which are suitable for everybody. For me that means plant based, gluten free and no added oil - for Small it means not to spicey, very low salt and calorific enough. To get around this I 'll make something oil free and add things like vegan cheese and coconut oil to her portion after dishing up. Mr B will eat anything as long as it 's vegan. This was a big hit with the toddler, and I thought it was pretty tasty too.


1 large white onion
1 peeled large carrot
2 cloves garlic
1 TBSP corn flour
2 x 400g tins lentils (I use one green and one puy)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 low salt mushroom stock cube
Dash of mushroom ketchup
Dash of vegan Worcestershire Sauce
1 TSP basil
1 TSP Oregano 

For ricotta:
1 package silken tofu
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 TBSP lemon juice
Dash of salt
1/2 TSP oregano
1/2 TSP garlic powder

Instead of oil I sauté with a little water, if you are not fussy about using oil then go ahead and use it. Sauté the chopped onion, carrot and garlic for about 5 minutes.
Add lentils, corn flour and tomatoes plus 3/4 tin of water and stir so their are no corn flour lumps.
Add the rest of the ingredients for the filling and simmer for 15 minutes.
Whilst it 's simmering make the ricotta and pre soak pasta sheets in boiling water if you need to (the Waitrose ones I use do).
To make the ricotta add the ingredients to a food processor and blend for about 3-4 minutes so the mixture is really smooth and shiny. 
Put it all together in an oven dish with a layer of filling, pasta then ricotta and repeat again on top.
Bake at 180C covered in foil for about 30 minutes. If pasta isn 't quite soft it can be cooked for a further 10 minutes. Enjoy :)

Scared Of Toddler Groups

It would be pretty fair to say that in the area I live I stand out a little. I have changed very much over the years, had pretty much every hair colour you can think of and I used to have quite a few facial piercings. I don't consider myself extreme. This morning I read this post over on Chubby Vegan Mom that really resonated with me.

You see I hate how judgmental people can be, and yes I know there is always the argument that if I didn't want the negative attention I shouldn't have changed my appearance to being with - but I'd like to live in a world where people are free to make their own informed choices in life.
The most recent comment I received was whilst at the park yesterday playing with my daughter. 'You look quite normal until you get close up'- in what world is that an acceptable thing to say to somebody? I suppose in some kind of distorted way this might be slightly true - these days my hair is closest to it's natural colour it has been in years and if I happen to have my tattoos covered up I don't have anything else that is instantly noticeable, but it's always the ears they see first. I'll be happily chatting to another parent and I might have my hair tucked behind one ear - they'll suddenly stop mid sentence and almost yell, "Oh my God, you've got massive holes in your ears - doesn't that hurt?".

Me Whilst Pregnant

You see I really don't mind if people ask serious questions because they genuinely don't know something, but yelling is just rude. What is even worse is when the parent I've been happily chatting to before now eyes me in a suspicious way and finds an excuse to move away from me, or stop talking to me. It happens everywhere - the park, soft play, in coffee shops - only people don't seem to be brave enough to do it when Mr B is with me, just when I'm with my daughter. 

Just as Chubby Vegan Mom said in her post, I've also been asked (by complete strangers) if I want to be a good example to my daughter. I think this is the most upsetting thing a stranger has ever said to me, I like to think anybody that knows me would never have to ask a question like that. I am always polite to people who are rude to me. I state that I am a good example to her, then get myself out of that situation. You see the thing is, despite what misguided opinions people may form about me from my appearance I AM A GOOD EXAMPLE. With the help of Mr B we've achieved a lot. I have a good education & degree, come from a loving family, we own our home, I'm a stay at home mom by choice (not because I can't find a job like some people imply - I actually gave up my job to be with my daughter), I play and read to her, I'm a caring & loving person, Mr B has a fantastic career, I make sure my daughter feels loved, I make vegan cake for friends, we have a normal family life and do things normal families do - holidays, days out and quality time together.

I grew up in a big city and as a result became pretty worldly at a young age. You had to watch out for other kids who might be trying to steal your bike, or be careful not to get mugged going to buy tip tops at the corner shop. Despite the downsides of city living - I still love that place, but I'm also really glad that we now live in a small and pretty market town. We are extremely lucky that there are good schools, pretty parks and generally nice neighbors.

So why am I scared of toddler groups? I'll be honest in that I haven't been to any since Small was around 11 months old. We tried free classes at our local children's centre, NCT run classes, Baby sensory and Baby signing. Some were more enjoyable than others, but all included some kind of disaster or encounter with somebody rude that I then had to see week after week. So we stopped going and I started making our own fun instead. We go to National Trust properties and explore the great outdoors and frequently go to soft play, museums, parks and Small goes to a creche for a couple of hours sometimes. In fact we'll go out and find something fun to do almost every day.

The downside of this is that I haven't made any 'mummy friends' - not a single one. I guess I just haven't hit it off with anybody I've happened to meet so far - but it does get a little lonely not knowing anybody else with kids who lives close by. My oldest friends don't have kids, so I try not to be the 'crazy mummy' friend who just talks about her child and nappies the whole time. 
You see there are downsides to living in a 'small & pretty market town' too. At 27 I wouldn't class myself as a 'young mother' - I think that's kind of average - yet that's what I've been classed as around here. Most other mum's I meet are at a different place in their lives to me - they're 35 - 40 and have had more time to work on careers. I'm not saying that age is any barrier to friendship - I have friends of all ages - but they seem to look down on me and I've even been asked by a few why I choose to have a family 'so young'! If you take my age, my slightly usual appearance and then throw veganism in the mix - it seems to be all too much for people. As I was 25 when I became pregnant it was even suggested to me that I should go to special classes and parenting courses for teenage and young mothers by children's center staff I'd never met before based purely on my age and appearance. I'm glad they exist for those who need them, but I'm not one of those people.

So why am I writing about this now? I've decided it's time to give toddler groups a go. I am pretty scared, but trying to keep on open mind. I've picked one out I think that Small might enjoy - I want her to socialise more with other children as she really loves it. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Changing My Lifestyle - The Challenges

I've talked about how I decided to change my lifestyle during the last few weeks of 2013 before. Now, I've been vegan for around 6 years (maybe longer) but being vegan doesn't necessarily translate to eating a good diet. There are plenty of cakes, biscuits and high fat faux meat and cheese products that are designed or just happen to be vegan. Prior to this I persuaded Mr B that we should join a gym in November, and I've been trying to go as much as being a mom to a toddler will allow.
I've been a longtime fan of vegan health 'advocates' such as Dr Mcdougall, Neal Barnard, Happy Herbivore books etc. I decided that I'd start out following the 'wholefood' and low fat meal plans from Happy Herbivore that provide 1200 calories per day and now I've found a combination of meals I like I'm sticking to them as well as trying a few new recipes with books that fit in with the principles. I'm also trying to make sure I drink enough water every day.
I've posted pictures of yummy looking food I've been eating and how much I'm loving it, but what I haven't talked about is how hard it has been at times. Whenever I look at other people's weight loss stories, I never feel like they are giving people a realistic view. It's always 'the weight loss' or 'health' plan I followed was wonderful, it's so easy etc. Now I'll also point out that there are other reasons I wanted to make changes apart from weight loss. Since having a cholecystectomy in 2006 I've suffered with Post Cholecystectomy Syndrome which for some people only lasts a few weeks or months, however I ended up being in the small percentage that seems to suffer with it for years. I've tried a list of dietary modifications suggested by my doctor as long as my arm, with varying degrees of success. Going vegan a year or so later helped somewhat, but not totally. Following the very low fat, wholefoods vegan diet and cutting out gluten has been the most successful yet!

As you can see from the picture of weight badges (I'm a massive Fitbit fan and have been using it combined with their scale for ages) I have lost weight. I'm really proud of what I've achieved so far. It hasn't been all easy though, and I'm writing this post now as it's been especially hard the last week or so. It's the first difficult patch I'm facing after doing this for over a month.
I think what I'm finding most difficult at the moment is that Mr B is still eating the vegan foods I'd gotten used to eating, that I've now cut out. We've been mostly cooking ourselves separate meals in the evening, and although what I'm eating is yummy it's quite a test of willpower to watch him eat pizza (or whatever it is that evening). He's been really supportive and tried to help me find suitable foods, but it's difficult still having those 'bad' foods in the cupboards! It's also a practicality issue - after a full on day of playing with a toddler I don't fancy standing in the kitchen and cooking for ages. In the past this would just mean Mr B would make dinner, but that's not really an option now. I need to find more quick and easy options!
Which things test your willpower when you are trying to eat healthy?

Monday, 20 January 2014

London Treats - Basilico, Mildred's, Inspiral Lounge and Cookies and Scream

We are so very lucky that we have a family base in London, but before the weekend we really hadn't used it enough. In fact we'd only been once and that was last year for Mr B's birthday, so we decided to head down there for the weekend - I think we all needed a change of scenery after being couped up in the house with colds for the past week or so.

We arrived kind of late on Friday night so decided to order pizza from somewhere that Mr B had heard of. I've been doing really well sticking to a no oil & plant based diet recently, but couldn't pass up the chance to try some. Getting a vegan pizza delivered does not happen often (actually never, it was Mr B's first delivered pizza ever), so it was a rare treat.

The pizza was from Basilico - a non vegetarian pizza company with branches across London. They have two vegan pizza options on their menu - 'Vegan Margarita' and 'Vegan Vegetarian'. We had a 18 inch woodfired pizza delivered from their Limehouse/ Canary Wharf location in 45 minutes.

I've tried two other pizza companies that do vegan pizza in the UK - Mr Singh's in Birmingham and Pizza Face in Brighton.  I've been to Mr Singh's several times and really like it, but I wasn't impressed by Pizza Face at all. Basilico was great, in fact pretty amazing. The base was lovely and the toppings and 'cheese' worked really well together (I believe they use Violife). If you are in the area I recommend you give them a go.

We also went to Mildred's in Soho on Saturday for late lunch. Mr B comes here all the time (in fact he often says it's his favorite in central London) and I've been once before.

I ate;
gyoza dumplings with mirin and soy dipping sauce
smoked tofu and bean sausages served with carrot parsnip potato mash, wilted kale and pear cider gravy
Booja Booja Vanilla Ice Cream

 We really like it here and will be sure to return on other occasions. Despite the tables being close together and there not being much room we've found them to be really accommodating to us with a pushchair and toddler in tow.

We also got chance to visit somewhere I'd wanted to go for ages - Inspiral Lounge in Camden. I adore their kale chips (which you can find in health food stores around the UK) and have tried their raw deserts before too (UK branches of Wholefoods). We made our way to Camden and being a Sunday we actually found somewhere free to park a short walk away. Sadly I didn't get many pictures as Small was quite upset and I was busy making sure she had plenty to eat.

I had some kind of green drink (they are already premade in a chiller, so not 100% sure what was in it) but after a few sips I abandoned it as being horrible. I also had a 'Vegan Lasagne - Gluten Free Pasta, Almond Milk Bechamel and Chunky Vegetables' and we had a side of some type of dhal with potatoes. I'd seen other people's reviews and pictures of the food here before, but I'm sad to say mine didn't look quite like this. In terms of looks (you can see for yourself) it looked a bit like a microwave meal, but I'm happy to say it was really tasty. Mr B had their 'hot special' of the day which was a mushroom, lentil and polenta stack.

It was really busy when we arrived, but after a few minutes we managed to find a table. It was absolute chaos in there and after fighting to see what was on offer in the cabinets none of the staff offered to explain to us how ordering works, so we ended up with two mains and having to pay more and line up again to buy a side dish. The food was nice, but the 'dining experience' was awful. It was just so packed full of people (not all of them polite). They had two payment points and wouldn't let us pay for kale chips from the same till as the food, so after having to line up yet again (3 times in all) we decided to skip pudding and instead head to Cookies and Scream.

Cookies and Scream is an all vegan and gluten free bakery based in the Dingwalls Gallery area of the market at Camden Lock. They sell a variety of goodies and well as some hot food and you can either take away or perch on a stool at their 'cookie bar' and eat your goodies there.

Since discovering that my years of tummy aches were down to a gluten intolerance I steer clear of it whenever I can, that's was I was so excited to learn everything they sell is gluten free! We tried their Chocolate Chip Cookies, Chicos, Chocola Dounts, Chillin Coconut Cabanas and Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches (not all in one go, we got takeaway!). Everything was amazing!

It was a pretty epic weekend and I really enjoyed spending some quality time with my two favorite people!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Gluten Free Seitan

So I've been a little absent from the blog recently, but all my regular posts will be back soon I promise. I started to eat in a new, clean, more plant based way a few weeks before Christmas and I've been busy making new recipes and trying new foods. 
A few days ago Mr B brought me some Orgran Gluten Substitute from Amazon as I'd read online it was possible to make seitan from it. I was a little skeptical, but really wanted to give it a go. It's difficult to find mock meats which are gluten free so was really hoping it would work! 

I tried a seitan recipe from Happy Herbivore which called for regular vital wheat gluten, but used the same amount of gluten subsitute instead. I followed all the other instructions exactly - and it worked! I steamed it for 40 minutes wrapped in foil and I let it cool down. It sliced cleanly and the texture was really good. Next time I'll experiment a little with the seasonings. It was THIS recipe I used as a base.

I didn't think the taste was quite right though, the texture was great but it tasted too herby. The recipe does use a lot of dried herbs, so I had a second go today making some modifications. 

These turned out - amazing! I really wish I'd known this was possible sooner, but I only found limited information online and no actual recipes that stated gluten replacer would work. I'm going to try next making mock 'chicken' type seitan - I'll let you know how it goes.


1/2 cup tinned cannelloni beans (white beans)
1 cup stock (I used 1 marigold low salt vegan stock cube)
2 Tbsps Tomato Purée
3 Tbsps Tamari (gluten free soya sauce)
1 1/2 cups Orgran Gluten Replacer
1/2 cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tsp Garlic Paste
1/2 Tsp ground fennel seeds
1/2 Tsp Chilli flakes
1 Tsp smoked paprika
2 Tsp mixed herbs
Dash of salt & pepper (optional)

I first mashed the beans so that no whole beans were left, then added the rest of the ingredients and mixed into a dough. This recipe will make 4 bigger 'slicing' sausages, or if you want smaller sausages for sandwiches etc it'll make 6. Make sure you have enough squares of foil and divide and shape your dough. Wrap in sausage shapes and twist to seal at each end. Steam for 40 minutes.