Starting at the very beginning. When I first became vegan, despite my resolve, I can’t deny that occasionally, a sense of rising panic used to creep up on me without the usual standby snack options – (cheese sandwich, fried egg on toast, cheese on toast, omelette…the list goes on…and on).
The feeling was compounded by people asking me: ‘What do you eat?’ or, ‘What can you eat?’
But after just a few weeks, and a rethink of standard ingredients to have in my store cupboard I panic no more.
I just want to say to anyone who is thinking about becoming vegan: don’t panic. Becoming vegan is a fabulous thing to do, for everyone and everything. Vegan is the way of compassion. It’s also a wonderful exploration of tastes, flavours, recipes and cooking.
At the beginning of the autumn, on a beautiful sunshiny day, we went for a long walk in the woods. Beautiful ancient woods at the top of a valley. The autumn colours were just beginning to turn. It was just lovely.
Where we stopped for our picnic there was a hazelnut grove. We collected as many nuts as we could.
From the hedgerows we also collected blackberries and rosehips, but that’s for another blog.
The hazelnuts were a pale shade of beige, so we left them in a bowl for a few weeks to dry out.
Then the chief nutcracker set about cracking them. It took him a while.
The difference between a bland tomato and great one is immense, much like the difference between a standard, sliced white bread and a crusty, aromatic sourdough.
I have something of an intolerance to certain forms of yeasted gluten breads. My insides get tied in knots. I noticed this (all over again) a few weeks ago when my brother came off his motorbike and I had to make a mad dash to the hospital he’d been taken to, without time to throw something together to eat to take with me. After a two hour drive, and several hours with him, I was so hungry I had to search something out at the hospital cafe. I ended up with a humus and salad sandwich (the only vegan option I could find – even the vegetable soup had milk in it) which, I regretted for days. It was the soggy wheat bread. There’s something about most wheat flours, and the type of baker’s yeast they use that just doesn’t agree with me. However, a sourdough spelt loaf suits me fine, so I thought I would share what I do.
I started investigating sourdough bread months ago, partly because I’m a – ‘if I can make it myself I will’ – sort of girl – and partly because I haven’t found a shop-bought bread that suits me.
To begin with, I came across a charming and amusing American blog about making a sourdough starter, which involved pineapples, hot-water bottles and quite a bit of fuss. It made me smile, but sadly, it didn’t work for me. After several days ado, it smelt sour and unappetising and looked thin and watery. I also read a lot of obscure articles about the mysteries and subtleties of making sourdough, which almost took me to the point of giving up the sourdough project altogether, and then I came across an article which went something like this:
‘In a large jar (that has a lid), mix together a few tbs. of 100% rye or spelt wholemeal flour, (I used spelt), with enough bottled water, (tap water can kill the natural yeasts), until it looks like a medium thick batter, and then put the un-lidded jar on top of the fridge at the back, where the heat produced by the fridge escapes. Leave it for about a week, checking it every now and then, adding a bit more flour and water when you need to, and then you’ll have a bubbling yeasty sweet-smelling sourdough starter. At this point, keep it fed with flour, and watered, pouring off any thin liquid that might form at the top. If the jar gets too full, throw away a bit of the starter and replenish with flour and water. Once it’s good and active you can put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.’
Now that, I thought to myself, is the kind of advice I can work with!
I did it, and it worked. That was in September 2014, and fourteen months later I still have a functioning sourdough. I gather that there are sourdough starters in San Francisco which are over a hundred years old. I guess a good sourdough starter becomes a family heirloom!
So. That, it turns out, was the difficult bit. And in the end, it wasn’t that difficult. I’m glad I didn’t give up, as I now turn out about six large spelt flour loaves a month, none of which are ever quite the same, but I usually manage a moist substantial loaf, which toasts well, isn’t crumbly and has a nice nutty flavour.
BTW. A sourdough starter will remain dormant, lidded, in the refrigerator for several weeks, although I haven’t tested quite how long it might remain viable.
A Christmasy Pie, with mushrooms, chestnuts and pinto beans, in a lemon, cashew cream and coconut milk sauce, served with cranberry sauce.
I will shortly be celebrating my second truly vegan christmas, and there’s no looking back. I’m liking it too much. Last year I managed a passable nut roast, so this year I thought I’d get ahead with my planning and pull out a few stops. I’m noticing that, on high days and holidays when family and friends gather, and I bring a vegan dish to the table, my meat-eating relatives all make a bee-line for it, so much so I have to ward them off to make sure me and my partner get enough! Still, I’m not complaining, because it’s a nice way to open people’s minds to plant-based cooking that’s based on cruelty-free, healthy and nutritious ingredients. I just have to remind myself to make more than enough to go round.
Apart from the cashew nuts process*** (which needs to be done 3 hours in advance) – 90 minutes is ample time to prepare and bake this pie.
It was Sunday morning after a night out on the razzle. The sun streamed through the bedroom window. Matt shielded his eyes and rubbed his forehead. He had an almighty hangover. He peered at the alarm clock, it was nearly eleven. Alice must be downstairs already.
He stood for a long time under the shower, to see if he could wash it all away. He put on a clean tee-shirt and a pair of knee-length shorts. He smothered himself in aftershave, which was startlingly invigorating on his freshly shaved skin, and wandered downstairs.
‘Morning,’ she said breezily, looking up from her bowl of muesli scattered with slices of fresh fruit.
‘Morning,’ he said back.
‘Coffee’s made, ‘she said.
‘Great,’ he replied, pouring himself a cup. Black and strong, just how he liked it.
Meanwhile, he really fancied a proper, no holds barred fry-up. Hit the hangover where it hurts.
This was no longer possible. She had decided to turn vegan three months ago. Consequently there were moments, like now, when he felt really hard done by. He had never been any good at making changes. It was too much effort, something in him simply revolted. But, in the name of love, for her that is, he had agreed to give up just about everything, except fish and eggs.
She had promised him he was under no pressure. He could go on eating whatever he liked. She said. Secretly he was quite enjoying it. Greasy foods had started making him feel a bit sick occasionally. And cheese. That’s the sign of an overloaded liver, she had said. How did she know all this stuff? he wondered.
‘Think I’ll have a boiled egg this morning,’ he said.
‘Yeah, sure,’ she said, speaking, for some unknown reason in a mock American accent, whilst continuing to pore over the newspaper laid out on the table before her, ‘just bear in mind they grind up male chicks live in great big grinders in the egg factories.’
His heart sank. He made a snap decision to say nothing for the moment. This was unusually easy, maybe his aching head was distracting him. He stood at the fridge with the door open, enjoying the cool air wafting from it. He was feeling disturbed. He took out the incriminating egg box. Maybe he would have two.
He pondered the fate of male chicks.
‘Why do they do that?’ he said, dejectedly.
‘They don’t lay eggs so they’re useless,’ she replied.
‘But couldn’t they kill them later and make them chicken?’