recipe gripes

vintage cooking illustrationIt is a truth universally acknowledged (well if it isn’t, it should be) that a chef in possession of a good recipe must be in want of a good proof reader (apologies to Austen fans).  I am the first to admit that I have been known to make occasional baking errors especially when converting cups to grams, but when I follow a recipe to the letter and it says suddenly that I shouldn’t overstir the batter and what I am actually stirring is something that could be put to good use filling the potholes in my street, then something other than user error is at play. Happily, I baked the lot anyway and ended up with a kind of crunchy chocolate biscuit that broke nicely into squares, but not the gooey chocolate brownies we had hoped for.

This latest experience arose in my efforts to identify a few classic recipes that I can commit to memory and that will replace old favourites I used to rattle out without thinking like sponges, scones, and shortbread. Previously, I almost came a cropper with the odd behaviour of a chef switching measurement methods mid-recipe. I was OK with grams for all the dry ingredients and half teaspoons for baking powder and spices but then was pulled up short with tablespoons for vegan margarine. Why? Why not grams? It’s sold in grams, all the other ingredients are in grams? And do you mean level tablespoons? Or heaped? One woman’s tablespoon I am certain is not as accurate as her grams.

My last gripe concerns alternatives.  If you say vegan margarine and I don’t have it (which is usually the case as it is a poor, poor substitute for butter) can I use an oil instead?  If so, which and how much? If you say soy milk, can I replace it with almond, oat or coconut? And, as I am not gluten intolerant, but you say rice flour or buckwheat flour, should I abandon your recipe or would something else suffice?

Moan over, I shall now go on a mission to compare recipes for brownies and figure out the ratio of dry to wet ingredients so that the next effort has less industrial potential than the last.



Image via Google clipart search


dining out

menu cover designI always enjoy the prospect of meeting up with friends and sharing a meal at a restaurant. I have a date to look forward to quite soon with friends who are ex-colleagues, who escaped a world I am still somewhat entangled in, so there will be a sharing of tales from life on the outside and inside.

Busy women, it usually takes a few emails to find a lunch date but here we are with a mark in the diary.  The only outstanding question is where? There are  plenty of restaurants and watering holes in town and finding something vegetarian has never been a problem, but mining the menus for something vegan could be problematical.

A call out on social media has come up with a couple of certain options and a couple to be confirmed. It seems it’s time for more vegans to eat out and create a bigger demand. It is not that difficult to cook something interesting without resorting to animals and their products.


Image source via

vegan to go

vegan energy barsEating on the move is problematical. At home, I am organised with a good supply of vegan ingredients to keep our diet nutritious, colourful and tasty, but having been caught up in an unstoppable parade of work and extra family responsibilities, I find that vegan snacks and lunches-to-go are as rare as hens at the dentist: sandwich choices are few and far between, salad pots are impossible to eat in the car, and you can have just so many muesli bars, energy balls and green juice before you realise it’s just another sugar hit.

While there is less ink on my diary pages in the next month or two I have time to dig into this problem and mine the recipe books and blogs for non-sweet snacks, sandwich fillings and portable food that if necessary I can bite into while driving (not good practice, I know). Then it will be a question of pre-planning which might be a good food strategy all round as the “it seems ages since breakfast, what shall I eat?” approach is no longer workable.

As I reflect on this, it strikes me that individuals with food intolerances and those making dietary choices based on conscience or funds are having to be more mindful about eating in general. Standing back, looking up from a path well trodden always offers perspective, and, in my book, to be free even for a moment from conditioning has to be a good thing.


Image for coconut and lime energy balls via bitofthegoodstuff blog


on being 5 again

0206 pea on forkI am not sure why but I don’t like peas. I think it’s a texture thing. I can just about do them if they are blitzed with other goodies like celery and mint for a soup, but when they gleam like gems in a risotto or a curry a part of my brain sets to work on how I am going to avoid them whilst not offending the cook. I think I learned this behaviour as a child.

Such was lunch today when chef prepared a tasty noodle salad with some crunchy vegetables and fresh herbs tossed in a citrusy dressing. As it came to my turn to help myself I felt a surge of childhood angst and impending embarrassment. I tried to save the situation by working out if there were fewer peas at the bottom of the bowl than the top but on discovering the salad had been tossed evenly, I took a modest portion and proceeded to eyeball the emerald offenders like a chess master as I joined my companions at table.

Eating became a skilful affair of untangling the noodles to isolate the peas and, mysteriously not wanting to reveal my irrational dislike, leaving enough of the noodles uneaten to camouflage the presence of the bright shiny interlopers.

I know this is not a vegan issue, but it’s at times like these I wonder about my own sanity, let alone maturity.


Image via


when only sweet chocolate will do

melted milk chocolateI am not sure if it was the early start, the four hour flight or just the pace of the last few days away from home but I found myself at Heathrow tired, with a headache and the prospect of a couple of hours driving (if I were lucky) to get home. I needed sustenance, something sweet, and I knew this was going to be tricky.

Looking round there were no surprises: a coffee bar chain with the usual brownies, muffins and oversized cookies, and a newsagents with an array of refined sugar fixes in bright foil wrappings. Zero chance of a vegan solution so I hit on the latter. They had the only thing that matched the physiological (and emotional?) need of the moment. It came in a purple wrapper, listed full cream milk as its prime ingredient and called itself chocolate, even though on investigation it has only 26% cocoa solids in it.

So there you have it, I chomped my way through a whole bar of sweet, fatty chocolate and enjoyed every bite for the way it soothed my depleted state. Question is how to prepare for this in a vegan way? Nutty, fruity kind of things just would not have done the job.


Image via An Edible Mosaic


dream v reality

gado gado saladWith a bit of extra time between appointments today I thought I’d sit down for lunch in a small veggie restaurant away from the usual cafe chains. I was imagining taking my time with a big colourful quinoa salad or a plate of steamed veggies sprinkled with crunchy seeds and serving of nutty rice, but it turns out veggie restaurant menus are not what I thought they would be. There’s a lot of cheese, and  a lot of beans and spices.

Having ruled out the specials as being too big for lunch, although they did include a tasty sounding Caribbean-inspired curry, and not being able to choose from the supper menu which did have an interesting sounding Indonesian dish, I turned to the light-bites. Now, a lot of people like chilli I know, and beans are an important nutritional component of a vegan diet, but I just do not like it. At all. So, with variations of chilli in three of the five options I was left with risotto or pasta and to be honest I cook those frequently at home. This left me with the soup menu and I finally settled for a satisfying root veggie concoction and a mixed salad that seemed to be suffering from SAD, but was rescued by the dressing.

Verdict, yes I will go again as the restaurant has a lovely atmosphere and friendly staff, but I will time it for the supper menu and try that Gado Gado.


Image via Indochine Kitchen

bees and honey

bees and honeycombMy social media world is probably as large as my daily dog-walking horizon and  information passes me by in short posts and tweets like snippets of conversation with fellow dog walkers. Some bits of information stick to the front of my mind, and some unstick like old post-it notes that have fallen behind my desk. I am remembering somewhere that honey is not a vegan product, and trying to understand how this will fit in for me.

It seems that the main issues around honey and veganism is the exploitation, breeding and selling of bees, and that some bees are harmed or killed in the harvesting of honey. But, the more bees around the better, right? Especially when big chemical companies are doing their utmost to overturn an EU ban on their pesticides known to kill bees. A short-sighted world view to say the least, when pollination is essential for all flowering crops.

We don’t eat a lot of honey. We use it as an ingredient for baking and things like salad dressings, for spreading on toast or dribbling over yoghurt. It seems such a simple product compared with the highly processed Mexican agave syrup which has been trendy of late. I think simple is best. This is why I always preferred butter over products that have to be processed to look and behave like butter. Honey can also be a local product, bees gathering pollen from the fields and meadows close by, and beekeepers producing on a domestic scale. For the time being, you can call me a “beegan” for I am going to stick with simple and local, who knows these beekeepers may be the guardians of an endangered species.


Image via Off the Grid News