Sunday, 28 December 2008

Almost vegan Christmas in a nutshell

Its hard to encapsulate the last week or so except to say its very lovely and how you hope this time of year to be, so I am feeling lucky. We spent Christmas back in Seaford, with family, and also seeing some treasured old friends on Christmas Eve, day and boxing day. Then family on Mit's side this weekend. Now the boys are three, you could really see them entering into the spirit and understanding of Christmas. And accordingly I am getting into the rituals.... however I didn't get around to leaving any food or drink for Santa.. that will come next Christmas... when the aforesaid understanding and spirit is enhanced by yet another year!

Going to sum things up in terms of the vegan highlights:

I wish I'd taken a photo of it but my lovely sister-in-law gave us a basket of mostly vegan goodies. A feast for our eyes and taste buds! It had some gorgeous chocolate from montezumas and some very nice soy cheese- Vegerella (among other things). The contents have rapidy been consumed! I think she got the things mostly in the independent health shop in Seaford which is a brilliant one.

For Christmas day eating we had chestnut and red wine pate en croute (Vegan Feasts) with all the usual roasted vegetables.

My parents and brothers eat meat so their lunch was the traditional turkey.There was enough of the chestnut dish for everyone to have a taste. Near veganism is my own choice and it is so important to me; I can't deny that the presence of turkey makes me struggle. However, hopefully I don't get judged for my decision and I don't judge anyone else either, obviously there are so many reasons for different diet and lifestyle choices. On days like Christmas day, it felt so important to show that the vegan option is tasty and nutritious and not a poor second. Thanks Rose Elliot!

Vegan shopping

New running shoes. After a few trips out already trying to minimise damage of much chocolate munching. New Balance trainers are mentioned in the Animal Free Shopper. (From what I understand most trainers are made from synthetic materials but the glues often contain animal derived substances). Mit said these were a bargain from When a new design comes out, they sell off the previous style for half price, so these were around £40 instead of £80.

I love my new coat from Nomads! If I could sew I would try and make clothes like this. I wish! This company does lots of vegan-friendly clothing; gorgeous colours and designs and fair trade too. Mit needed a coat so my present to him was a gorgeous one I saw in M&S, vegan friendly; got it last month when they had a 10% off day, can't see it on the website now.


Truly fabulous trio

a spider catcher from my brother!

It has bristles which trap the spider before you release it outside. Happy to have this, however, NOT looking forward to having to use it!)

Now very much looking forward to New Year : )

Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas wishes

A belated very merry Christmas! Warmest wishes to anyone who stops by.Got plenty to drone on about, but got to get in some sleep before we have family over for lunch tomorrow. Just a quick note about the vegan lebkuchen... I left the dough for while for the flavours to mix (about a week) then got biscuit cutting, baking then dusting with icing sugar. The very best thing about making these was the heavenly smell of melting blackstrap molassess and sugar in the saucepan. That aroma should so be bottled and kept for special occasions and for when you want to impress someone or sell your house.

The dough didn't stay in one piece, so just rolled lots of biscuit sized pieces and did it that way. The end result its hard for me to comment on, except to say that they were lovely if you are into something light and not overly sweet as your sugar fix, and maybe something very slightly exotic. (You could taste the rosewater). Wrapped them up as gifts with ribbons on christmassy plates... so if the recipients aren't sure, they end up with a little plate!

Will post more pictures and stuff in the hopeful lull between Christmas and New Year.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A rare Saturday in imposed by the rain as well as retreating viruses. We had a present wrapping extravaganza- wrapped all the gifts up with the boys, which was fun and used up lots of sellotape! Thing is, the boys predictabley got attached to one or two gifts destined for others... well that was the risk! It seemed like a good idea to gift wrap altogether, the alternative is to do it all when they are in bed and we are bleary- eyed and it becomes more of a chore. The boys had fun making some gift tags.

Lunchtime snuck up on us and needed to whisk something up quickly and easily so made tomato spaghetti; a white (bechamel) sauce just with black pepper, basil and tomato puree added then mixed in with half a packet of wholewheat spaghetti, topped with 'cheezly'. Should have taken a picture of the boys devouring the spaghetti, that was quite a sight, always fun to eat. Boys had it with broccoli and peas, we had salad. I bought ingredients for the lebkuchen but on going to make a start just now, found the weighing scale batteries are completely flat! So that plan's on hold. A nice discovery today was ginger wine truffles, utterly delicious! They were being offered to taste in our local health store along with the others in the range. Very velvety chocolaty with a gingery boozy sort of after taste. In a good way. I have bought a little box for Mit's oncoming birthday.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

So much for cutting out the sweet stuff...!

When in Germany a couple of years ago, I bought a very cute set of cookie cutters in a supermarket and haven't used them.... as yet.... But on getting it out I've been tempted by all the gorgeous looking pictures of Christmas biscuits so have vowed to have a go and making some. All the recipes in the instruction booklet contain eggs and honey but happy to have found a vegan lebkuchen recipe. I'm also going to check for recipes from my sister-in-law who is german and does great baking. She might have a recipe I can veganise. Hopefully will report with lebkuchen progress in time for Christmas!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Christmas tree and the uncanny

Our first real Christmas tree! It's little but it's just right. We had fun putting some decorations on, though the boys needed some help as the needles were a bit sharp! On getting it home last Sunday in the dark, it was lopsided which took me straight back- our tree at home was also at an angle most years! Which somehow felt as if it typified our distance from perfectionism! This tree probably is still at an angle but isn't there always something more imminent to do than get get fraught about a less than vertical fir that's been whisked away from its naturally supportive foundations!

Rohan and Luca have coughs and colds so their appetite only seems to amount to breakfast at the moment. They hardly touched dinner apart from corn-on-the-cob, even with the promise of chocolate pudding to follow. The colds are clearing though, so won't be too long hopefully until they enjoy their food again.

Vegan Quiche: The base was readymade-have found 'Jusrol' do a ready made base. (Even though shortrcust pastry is not difficult to make, it's just when I do make it sods law usually operates and one of the boys needs help with the potty when I have flour and pastry sticking to my hands!) For the filling, I used 2 blocks of silken tofu, mashed with a fork and mixed with a little soya milk and turmeric. Separately sauted 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 3 large mushrooms. Then hand blended the mixtures together (boys wouldn't eat pieces of mushoom) adding some basil leaves. The mushroom flavour was nice and strong. Sweetcorn and cherry tomato works really well in this kind of quiche. (Vegan Quiche with onion gravy, cous cous, sweetcorn and salad.)

Mit and I had a really lovely few hours in London on Sunday. An amazing friend offered to have the boys for the afternoon to play with her twin boys and actively encouraged us to do something more exciting than go out for coffee! So we went to the National Portrait Gallery and had a good look around, and lunch at the crypt at St Martins in the Field church. A new entrance has been put in, and its very grand. There was a good vegan option on the food front- ratatouille and roasted spuds and sweet potatoes- with a nice glass of red! (We got the train). Standing in the queue I saw two women who looked really familiar and realised I had stayed at their gorgeous retreat in Wales four years ago! I love those uncanny incidences in life! We chatted and it really was uncanny because they are rarely in London and so are we. They are remarkable women and their retreat and location helped me get perspective back at a painfully difficult time. They are now looking at selling the houses due to ill health; some buyer is going to be in for something incredibly special.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

three steps back, one step forward...

I think I posted before about finding my take on the vegan diet not necessarily lean- well I am by no means a calorie counter, but the bathroom scales revealed I've gained about 4lbs in the last few weeks. Thing is, I am really enjoying food now its almost vegan! It can really be guilt-free food heaven. That, coupled with the fact, my appetite goes crazy in Autumn, don't know if I'm alone there but I can't see it's happened to anyone else..
Mit was working in town today and got to have lunch at the lovely Planet Organic, and very thoughtfully brought back some yummy food items... have had some plamil chocolate before, its really good. There is definitely masses of scope to be completely vegan out there. Just need to get rid of a childhood originating attachment to Cadburys. Looking forward to sharing this cheesecake (tofu mixed with agave and maple syrup with strawberry spread)...

So, some damage minimisation is in order- should be able to get going with this in the new year since have audaciously requested my christmas present from Mit as new trainers for running. I emailed 'vegan runners' who very helpfully replied, advising 'New Balance' to be a good brand. My current running shoes are in a very bad way and can't be put on in the rain!

Went to an 'Usbourne' childrens book party yesterday eve, this is a lovely book range, and much more extensive than I realised. Got a couple of christmas gifts, and a book for the boys- 'There's a dragon at my school'- its a sweet and funny little story, I'm certain its going to become a favourite.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Christmas fayre

Tomorrow is the day of animal aid's chistmas fayre in Kensington.
Have been to past years' fayres and this one will no doubt be very similar, a brilliant opportunity to get christmas shopping done, get some great gift ideas especially on the chocolates and toiletries front, not to mention the wonderful food to taste. Sadly, don't think we will get there this year, but this will do my purse no harm whatsoever as I would without a doubt get carried away, especially seeing that Bourgeois Boheme will be there! However, most of the companies and organisations are online...

A moment for Mumbai

Thoughts are with all the individual people caught up in the Mumbai atrocities. Thankfully all the family on Mit's side are ok. One family friend was in the Taj Mahal hotel but managed to get out, amongst one of the lucky people. Mit and I were in Mumbai in 2004 and I've just been leafing through some of the pictures. We had such happy experiences driving through the heart of the city with Mit's cousins savouring directly the buzz of the atmosphere and warmth and kindness of the people, which really was a heady mix. The main station was modelled on London Victoria, only more majestic and spectacular and the Taj hotel so symbolic and statuesque across from the Gateway to India; cannot believe this place has been targeted and tainted in this way. Hoping the healing and the restoration will be as swift as can be. God bless, jsk.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Eating healthily to allow for chocolate...

Coming to realise that my camera isn't really up to food photography. It's very good for outdoor pictures, but not so sharp for other things. Still, will do as no plans to replace for now.
Haven't done any wildly exciting cooking lately, been trying to have a healthy phase after the cake and chocolate fest of the boys' birthday, plus this wintery spell has called for lots of simple, hearty fare. We usually have cooked breakfast at least one day of the weekend, on Sunday it was scrambled tofu, toasted soda farls and baked beans. Some grilled tomatoes and redwood vegan sausagues would have made this a veritable feast!
We were sitting eating watching the snow settle in the garden. Sunday was a very sleepy day. In the evening had an unusual night out with some of the girls from Twins Club, which was nominated for 'best community organisation' in the town's 'Night of Honour' organised by a local, very community orientated church. It was a very spectacular night, black tie dress, red carpet, music and dance performances... was so great for the club to get an award, especially for the people on the commitee and who've kept it running at times when the numbers were dwindling. Its thriving now!

Starting to think about Christmas, its mostly thought though (can never really enter into the spirit of it until it turns December!) although I did order some presents of the chocolate variety online today here, almond butter chocolate cups and raspberry chocolates amongst other things. I once got Mit a Sjaak's dark chocolate heart filled with chocolates for Valentine's day. Of course I helped him eat it, and I think it was the nicest chocolate I have ever tasted. Therefore, this will be a very excting package in the post!

Made dahl and rice this evening, always a dead cert that the boys will love. Lovely comfort food:

cupful or two of lentils (usually use yellow lentils called 'toor dal', available in Tesco in the Asian section) or any lentils really, red work well too
juice of half to 3/4 of one lemon
tablespoon brown sugar
handful of chopped coriander
half teaspoon cumin seed
half teaspoon ground coriander
half-1 teaspoon turmeric
half teaspoon of black mustard seeds
ground cinnamon
half teaspoon cardomann
little chilli if you like

Cook the lentils separately according to packet instructions.

Gently heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and add all the spices and the fresh coriander. Heat for couple of mins, covered, until the mustard seeds start popping.

Add the cooked lentil mixture, should be quite thick and glupey. Heat and mix into the spices.

Add as much water as thickness you would like.

When the dal starts to boil, add the lemon juice and brown sugar, to taste. Let it boil for a few mins for flavours to blend.

Cool and serve.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Now the birthdays are over for now, and so is our appetite for cake I think! When I picked up the boys yesterday they they had chocolate coated faces and a little girl ran out holding hers, full of glee, which was a lovely lift... been feeling debilitated by this week's news stories, and trying to turn my mind to other things.
Vegan faux stress cupcakes from Vegan with a vengeance and chocolate ganachey icing. The icing, was vegetarian though, because I used milk chocolate blended with some dark. I'd thought that dark chocolate might be too bitter for little ones. I might be wrong, it just seemed safer and I haven't experimented much yet with milk-style vegan chocolate. Also the smarties were the milk chocolate ones, only because I didn't have whizzers in stock, which the boys love. (I can't keep chocolate supplies in the house unfortunately, because they get guzzled far too soon, and that's by me not the boys).

So, I'm photographing vegetables now... please don't think I am not busy enough or something : ) But this beauty of a red/green pepper turned up in the abel and cole box (kettle in hindground for scale!) and I'd just thought I'd snap it in all its glory before finding some suitably yummy way to cook with it.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Birthday baking

Rohan and Luca turned three today! Its been an extremely happy day, spent at a Kent Hop Farm with their twin friends.

Yesterday, we had a small tea party, and last month there was a joint party for all the tots in the post-natal group. All in all, this birthday has not gone unmarked!

For the boys first birthday we had ordered gorgeous vegan chocolate cakes from this company. They were SO good, really tasted as if made with dairy and we had them decorated with the boys names. Last year I made cupcakes from:
vegan cupcakes take over the world
which turned out dreamily sweet and fluffy.

This year, I thought I would have a go and made a 'Maisy mouse' cake, one of Rohan's favourite characters, and a seemingly straightforward image to sketch! Making the cake was a learning curve. It was totally vegan; the sponge I made was okay, though ever so slightly bitter tasting, although the icing did help balance this a little bit. So next time I'll try to find a more light, fluffy sweet recipe, as that's what toddlers really go for. In terms of the decoration, well, I was very unambitious. Just wanted the boys to recognise it as Maisy Mouse. And they DID, I was disproportionately pleased : )

The baking goes on because I now want to make some cupcakes for the boys' preschool, there's a cake tradition there whenever there's a birthday. I have turned the house upside down looking for my copy of 'Vegan Cupcakes', to no avail, much to my frustration. I was hoping to make basic vanilla ones, they would have been perfect. I've found another cupcake recipe now, so better go and get started soon with the first batch, tomorrow's quite busy and I've got to allow for cooling and icing time.

Monday, 10 November 2008

No such thing as bad weather...

I'm sure it was Billy Connolly who once remarked: 'There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes,' and I cling to that thought on bad weather days. I mean, the boys love splashing in puddles! However, today did push that a bit! I finally took steps to replace our hole-ridden buggy raincover this afternoon, which I'd been putting off! I was a bit late to collect the boys from preschool after work at lunchtime- the train platform digital display read 'delayed' which you get to know means ' may never come at all'! Got a black cab.. my oh my, that was an expensive journey! I've always thought that even thought they are pricey at least the drivers are knowledgeable. Well, the traffic was bad, but on top of that we had to keep stopping so the taxi driver could check his map! He mumbled something about not charging me for the time, even though he did at the end, when I was too keen to dash out and get my boys rather than stay and quibble! Grrr...

Still, we dried out soon enough. The boys got their Bookstart treasure chests today and have already started enjoying its contents, really lovely books and such a fantastic scheme.

Made some soup by roasting some jerusalem artichokes (from Dad's allotment) with some onion, and adding mushrooms, brown lentils, seasoning and other vegetables from the fridge. (The boys ended up eating some coating pasta!) Had ciabatta topped with 'cheezly' (melting mozzarrella style) and paprika with it. I hadn't heated cheezly before, and we thought it made a really good cheese substitute. I am now on the look out for the perfect vegan macaroni 'cheese' recipe. The boys love it (Barney the dinasour has a whole song about it on one of their dvds) and Luca asked for mac cheese almost every day when he was getting over chicken pox. His identified comfort food. I made it with organic dairy cheese but would like to see how they like a vegan version.

Tonight we made a sweet banana smoothie and they had ginger biscuits with it:

1 banana

half cup soya milk

2 scoops Swedish glace (vanilla)

2 walnuts

handful linseeds.

Was really nice- will make enough for all of us next time. The ginger biscuits are part of an attempt (when I remember) to give the boys some ingredients which I always perceived as ‘adult’ tastes as a child.

Looking back, when I was veggie, I remember seeing a vegan diet as possibly nudging towards the extreme but am quite embarrased I had that view now. Since following an almost vegan diet, my eyes have been opened to so many amazing ingredients and my tastebuds are loving it. Another misconception I held is that the vegan diet is on the lean side, whereas actually, , its just like any other diet, you can follow healthy options, or indulge in loads of unhealthy treats. Have defnitiely been having too many of the latter recently and its starting to show!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Great things come in threes

Can't believe Cara Dillon, Seth Lakeman and Ryan Adams (three of my very favourite musicians) are all playing in Brighton soon within a few days of each other!

I am not sure we will be able to get to any of the gigs though, we've only left the boys with a babysitter before when they're already tucked up in bed, and gig start times would mean leaving home well before. So probably not this time. But I don't know which one of the three I would book anyway, I love them all! So dilemma probably resolved before its properly unrolled.

Filled with relief, Luca has passed the worry window with his self-dosing calpol episode! He's had a horrible 24 hours with the pox, spots in very cruel places, but today he was more like his usual self. And my parents visited today, so we had plenty of company.

My mum brought pizza, which we ate with
these - talk about how to make cabbage look good and taste palatable. I had been unsure what to do with the savoy in the abel and cole box (yes, I know, my day can't have been too bad if this topped my list of troubles...) and here was the answer. I found the vegan family house website not long after the boys were born, when I started to explore veganism more. It's an amazing resource, and really got me going. Check out the kitchen section!

Off to watch 'La vie on rose'- hmm, just read a review. 'Exhausting' titles one. A good sleeping pill then- we'll see!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Persistent pox and staying in

Luca hadn't really had chicken pox properly- a small cluster of spots which never dried out. They've come with a vengeance now so we are couch potatoes as they are both staying home from preschool. Would have been too convenient to get it all wrapped up in half term! Luckily, Mit was able to juggle his work hours so he could be at home whilst I did my couple of hours work this morning.

I'm not so worried about the chicken pox as I am about the possible effects of calpol the boys helped themselves to yesterday. Stupidly I left the bottle on the window ledge in their room temporarily forgetting it whilst I went downstairs because one of them wanted the potty. When I came back up, almost half a bottle was gone, but there was loads of it over the windowsill and on their pyjamas. I think we were unlucky with who we got on the end of the phone at the Emergency doctors, but I couldn't be totally sure the boys drank any. All I know is that a certain amount of calpol is unaccounted for! Doing a google search on paracetamol overdose is the worst possible thing to do I can confirm. So, just hoping for the best. Big wake up call.
Didn't do much cooking today, doesn't it always take a reason to really sit down and do very little? And when you do you realise its not dull like you feared? We watched The Iron Giant
We've had this video for years but I've never watched it from start to finish. The boys loved it, and it was really moving- very topical theme to do with aggression and war. Made me cry!

Yesterday, we had 'chocolate cheesecake', a chocolate mousse (made with melted chocolate and silken tofu onto a biscuit base) based on a recipe in this brilliant guide and recipe booklet from here: with some delicious soya cream we got from the local health store, have also seen it in some of the supermarkets

We also had tofu scramble with jacket potato (see scrambley salad pic above). There are loads of versions of this, but this was basically half an onion sauted for 10 mins, two garlic cloves added, pinch of turmeric, then stirred in steamed, mashed cauliflower florets and a block of silken tofu. Its a great scrambled egg alternative. It resembles it too (thanks to the turmeric) yet the pan it's made in isn't such a nightmare to scrub as actual scrambled eggs always were!

Our Abel and Cole delivery arrived today. We've been having this delivery since just before the boys were born, and used to get the baby box, now its a small mixed veg box fortnightly. I love this because it a) means there's a bit less shopping, b) I often end up with some unusual items I hadn't used before and c) they do gorgeous soya deserts and yogurt by sojade. These yogurts are so delicious amd moreish all the order is usually gone within two days and I have to put some to the back of the fridge to make sure Mit gets any at all.

Now got to do a little work and start reading more in the evenings. I've a shelf full of novels to read for my next course. It doesn't start until next September (had a year off this year so could think about house move and preschool etc etc) but they are all doorstop size and I am a very slow reader.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

New nephew and taste of India

One of those weekends when the weather didn't matter! I met our week-old nephew yesterday, a gorgeous bundle of calm and cuteness, who slept blissfully whilst a room full of visitors chatted around him.

Today we headed to Wembley, Ealing road specifically. Possibly the nearest to the Gujurat state of India you can get to in the UK! We met family there for lunch and ate gorgeous food at Sakonis vegetarian restaurant.. eat as much as you like at the buffet for £8. A real assault on the taste buds that was too! I meant to take a photo but only remembered when the plates were empty....then quickly trailed the vegetable and grocery markets ( very bustling, couldn't browse too long with the boys, although they did enjoy the busy atmosphere, and colours). Great quality vegetables really cheap (50p for an aubergine) and great variety too, got one of two more unusual ingredients to experiment with....

Stopped off on the way home because the boys needed a loo stop. Was an unexpectedly nice break because Dulwich village (very nice too) was on the way home, and we popped into 'The Crown and Greyhound'. A lovely family friendly pub, where at five pm we sat alongside groups of couples with babies, and lots of guests from a nearby wedding. Got the boys some juice, came back from helping the boys out and there was a glass of pinot waiting for me on the table. My husband is fab.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Nuts and on a roll....

Got some mundane stuff to do in the morning tomorrow, but then the day will pick up as off down to Sussex to see my brother and new family and my parents. It'll also be a great chance to catch up with a friend en route. I'm going on my onesome, even though we should be in the clear with chicken pox now, can't risk us all going and passing it on to newborn nephew.

Been cooking for tomorrow. Its 'nutty lasagne', a dish the boys have (mostly) liked since they were babies, probably because it contains parsnips so has a sweet taste to it. I make this every so often as its got good stuff in especially ground walnuts on top, good source of omega oils. Big plus, its one easy lasagne recipe, because it doesn't require a bechamel sauce, so not fiddly at all.

Can't find the Sainsburys' vegetarian recipe book its in (still in an unpacked box) but I had the recipe on my computer, it's as below. Have veganised it by using toffuti garlic and herb 'cream cheese' instead of cottage cheese, and Marigold 'Engevita' flakes on the top. Though I did put some cheese on part of the top, as Mit and the boys are veggie, and eat some cheese.

Nutty Lasagne

750g parnips, diced

25g butter

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

6 sheets of no pre-cook lasagne

340g carton cottage cheese

500g chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained

¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

50g cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

25g walnuts, roughly chopped

1 large tomato, halved

Cook the parsnips in boiling water for 12-15 mins or until tender. Drain and mash in the dish with half the butter and the parsley.

Cover with half the lasagne, then the cottage cheese, then the remaining lasagne. Cover with the spinach and season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the cheese slices along 2 sides of the dish.

Cook in a preheated moderate oven, 180c fas mark 4, for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the walnuts down the centre and dot with the remaining butter. Arrange the tomato on either side of the walnuts.

Serves 4

Made some vegan sausage rolls (packet of puff pastry) with Granose meat free sausage mix, these are for a fireworks gathering we're possibly going to tomorrow eve.

Mit took most of the afternoon off work, it being half term. We strolled into town and had coffee and cake at M&S. Lovely cafe, they do lovely soya capuccinos. And they don't charge you for having soya milk unlike some of the coffee chains- I think its quite off that some charge 30 or 40p for soya milk, when so many people request it now instead of cow's milk and for a range of dietary reasons. It shouldn't be the case that they have to buy it in for a tiny minority any more.

Rohan had a 'gingerbread man' and Luca a 'gingerbread lady'- funny, they usually ask for exactly the same thing!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Against the grain and pizza feasting

We've definitely cottoned on to discovering more of our county so am feeling a Kent resident as much as an outer London one this week! With the train being so quiet, really felt like we were going against the grain by not going London way. (This is partially a post-chicken pox choice, but also not brave enough to be caught up in half term crowds).
Tonbridge was where we headed today; we walked a small part of the weald walk up to and around Tonbridge Castle. Its a small castle, I followed the boys as they meandered around, they being a bit young too appreciate the activities on offer there at the moment. We spent quite a while at a large playground, which they enjoyed, although it was definitely eclipsed by a cluster of tractors parked nearby. Luca informs me that he needs a tractor. At the playground, Rohan found that the slides were a bit muddy hence not very conducive to sliding, and he quickly became engaged in using up lots of baby wipes in cleaning them! I am in awe of his sense of tidiness and order, its not a trait that I recognise, and, as has been pointed out, we need someone like that in our family : )
It was so cold, after our packed lunch we had drinks at starbucks, and chocolate coins for the boys. We had comfy seats right in the front window. Luca spontaneously said ' I love this coffee shop, mummy! Hmm, think my hopes of cultivating two coffee partners are working out so far.....
We had a pizza fest this evening, having recently found a recipe for what's become one of our favourite vegan pizzas, 'Isa Pizza' from this book:
The toppings combine deliciously together, the author of this book must be a sort of food artist. The combination of flavours and ingredients always seem to create brilliant flavours. 'Vegan with a vengeance' includes a page on how to make basil tofu ricotta, which I personally find a brilliant cheese alternative. Tofu isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I think its well worth trying in different ways because what you do with it can alter it so much. I think this pizza would be fabulous for anyone wanting to cut down on cheese, but looking for a substitute.
I cut corners from the full recipe, the base was a packet of ciabatta flour, and I didn't make the pesto but used a jar of aubergine pesto. I forgot to buy kalamata olives which was a shame because they make this pizza! The boys enjoyed rolling out their own dough and spreading the tomato sauce on. Nice to have some recipes they can join in on. Eases the quandry of relying on dvds and videos whilst I cook, although they were quite tired out from today and probably the coldness out there added to the effect.
I haven't worked out yet how to display photos properly blogging. Also, maybe there is a quicker way rather than having to download them one at at time?!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Red dragons and the woodland walk

Red dragon pie was on our menu for tonight. For the last few months, I've been doing a menu plan, partly to help me budget but its really helped to see what we all eat over the course of a week, to check its balancing out ok vitamin wise.

In the last week or so there's been a turing point in Rohan and Luca's eating. Its as if they've really identified the meals that they like, and got used to them. I am so happy, they both ate really well, red dragon pie, and broccoli ('little trees' to them!). We had it with cherry tomatoes and the pie was with vegan gravy granules. The intro to the recipe in the book alludes to the Chinese name for aduki beans being ‘red dragon’ or ‘red wonder’ beans as they've been noted as so nutritionally beneficial.. . but its when Sarah Brown suggests 'Maybe you will have the power of the dragon after eating it!' that made me realise its potential pulling power for two toddler boys. They are now two little red dragons!

The pie is a from a Sarah Brown cookbook from 1984- 'Vegetarian Kitchen'. The copy is my mum's, she bought it when I must've been about ten around the time I became properly veggie. I saw this recipe, though, when flicking through the book for inspiration about a year ago. I was so happy on seeing this recipe! Mit and I ate this once in a lovely Glastonbury cafe called 'Spiral Gate'. It was Autumn, we'd just been for a long walk and ended up at the cafe at dusk and had this with an amazing salad and chips, with a mug of warm ginger cordial. It was about five years ago and we remember thinking, this is real vegetarian food, really wholesome and hearty and filled with flavour. Its topped with potato as in shepherds pie, but is much more gorgeous, texture wise and flavourwise...

We are not mixing much this week whilst chicken pox is on the way out, and took off on our own to Sevenoaks on the train, a little place very reachable where we had never been. The boys loved the train and digger spotting, whilst I felt my head clear as we approached the hills and the stops became smaller villages. Had to look at least twice at one village name- 'Bat and Ball'!

Coffee Republic here was large, in a great setting, we stopped for soya capuccino and fruit smoothies. I asked another mum at the next table about playgrounds and she told us about a nearby playground which the boys loved. We found it next to a really sweet woodland walk, where leaves were collected. Met some friendly families, a lovely town, very, very leafy so suits Autumn perfectly. Unfortunately my camera battery was 'exhausted' and I just managed the one picture before its exhaustion gave way. Its a very affluent town though. The houses were stunning, and very large, we saw as we walked up the hill. Took some apples from outside a house which were left with a sign 'Windfalls, please help yourself'. Brilliant! Apple crumble tomorrow. Funny though, how its hard to accept things for free. I felt a bit like I was stealing even though the sign gave permission, so put a little change below some of the remaining apples, just in case another sign with a suggested fee had been there but blown away!

On my mind a lot are lots of new little arrival of family and friends' babies : ) Because of the pox we can't visit in a hurry. I might have to pop down to sussex on my own for part of next saturday to meet my new little nephew : )

Monday, 27 October 2008

clearing and colcannon

Mit's been home from work today recovering from an intense couple of days of flu. He's on the mend, but I'm totally thrown. Its put me into weekend mode, I was so certain it was Sunday, I felt a bit bereft when I thought Tescos would be closed so I couldn't buy in some chocolate and other bits when I realised stocks were low. Chocolate, and bananas. I cannot stop eating bananas at the moment, and probably eat too many, they are such an easy and convenient fast food!

Spent most of the afternoon in the garden, clearing. Its half term, so no work or pre-school. Our new garden (a new and recent treasure) has two wide borders with lots of mature plantings. Now Autumn's set in, its easier to see where to cut back and clear. Rohan and Luca 'helped' by trundling their wheelbarrow around and making 'chocolate cake' with the compost, which did uncannily resemble a rich chocolate... to look at only! No one actually sampled it, I kept a very close eye : )

Made colcannon tonight, the famed Irish dish of sexed up mashed potatoes! Mashed spuds mixed with some soya cream and leek, with spinach and greens mixed in, topped off with some melted vegan butter. We had Frys schnitzels with it. The boys had some cubed tofu lightly sauted with olive oil and soy sauce (because they didn't want to try the schnitzels, quite normal for the first time I put something in front of them.) Colcannon seems to magically convert the less esteemed veg like cabbage into a luxurious dish. Cabbage- the word alone just doesn't exactly stir up excitement, it sounds so dour and laden... like baggage...

Well, the boys ate several forks of the colcannon. This amount is always a relative success. I did read somewhere, in one of those baby/toddler guide text books- that your toddler should be able to put away similar portion sizes to you. Well, we have a long way to go then! But to get some green vegetable into the boys (that isn't peas) feels good, and can't be bad for a Luca who sometimes says ' I don't like green food, mummy'. But therein lies a common toddler/child suspicion of green food!!

Took a colcannon pic. Probably not the best culinary subject for a first blog image! Mit summed it up well- 'I think food photography is an art'. Hmmm, where can I do a short course?!!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Chilli autumn fare!

I've always seen chilli-con-carne as synonymous with spag bol and wasn't interested in making it firstly because I saw it as a meaty recipe, and secondly because I thought dishes with chilli added gave them a kind of blanket, overpowering taste whereby you couldn't taste any of the ingredients or fellow flavours. However, my mother-in-law, (who is an amazing almost vegan cook!)got me into chilli over time.

I was checking into the VIVA website the other day and looked up recipes.. and I saw a one here: I've got one of Rose Elliot's books already so I was armed with the knowledge her recipes are always fab!

Another thing, we moved in the summer to our new gorgeous little home, and we have an elderly neighbour, J, who is brilliant. Anyway, he is a lifelong meat lover and the other day he was showing me his recipe book and it included chilli. (M had happened to mention to him that I am vegan but that's not true yet, as there are a couple of food items I've not yet been able to give up- milk chocolate being the main obstacle.) He remembered and jokingly said ' so what do you eat, carrots?' It was just a joke but I don't know where to start really in trying to convey how fantastically varied and tasty a vegan diet can be. I started to a bit.. then thought lets leave it... then I saw the chilli recipe. To cut a long story short, I made a big batch of it in two different pots.. more fresh chilli for M, mild for me, the boys and J. Then I delivered it to J, with some steamed rice. We joked about meals on wheels. But, whether he likes it, doesn't mind it, or throws it away, I suppose I would really like to show that a vegan (or near vegan diet in our case) can stand alone, and not be left lacking. Infact it can be massively improved!!

We've eaten it twice, and loved it. Nice one Rose! The boys ate some pureed up (well, R doesn't eat whole beans) and they like dahl so thought I would present it as that.

Both R and L are attached to different things at the moment. R can rarely be separated from a box of breakfast cereal. Usually 'flakes' (he loves 'nature's path's 'mesa sunrise') but today he has gone to bed with a full box of chocolate stars on his pillow. Ok, so maybe I should discourage this more actively, but it's a harmless thing really and toddlers are notoriously eccentric aren't they? Luca has gone to bed with a big red car on his pillow. Both items I will go and remove when they are properly asleep!!

Going to start snapping so can illustrate with pics. Too late for the chilli! Shame, because it was a great colour mix with green lentils, the burgundy of the beans and red pepper