Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I have some explaining to do...

So it has been quite a while since I last posted, but sadly this is not because I have been off sunning myself on a Caribbean island. I have in fact been back to the UK to get my visa renewed (luckily no awkward questions this time) and to discuss with a few people ideas for my PhD (on the DRC conflict). Then I was in Hong Kong for a weekend, partying with family. I definitely felt old when I had to admit I couldn't keep up with my 60 year old mother and retired home to bed at 1am! But Hong Kong was amazing - I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, despite being someone who generally likes wide open spaces.

But back to more important things. First, a report on the raw challenge. I didn't make 21 days - at day 13 I gave up! Partly this was due to an unexpected trip where I was separated from the blender that had become essential to me, but in large part it was due to a realization that I was indulging my less-than-healthy perfectionist tendencies in pushing myself so much. I definitely wanted to incorporate more raw food into my diet, and 13 days ended up being enough to really introduce me to the wonders and variety of raw food without getting fed up or bored. The challenge is definitely something I'd like to try again, but at this time it's been a great lesson for me in just enjoying new things, not feeling the need to be so madly hardcore about everything, and so hard on myself if I don't stick to it 100%. I recently read Eat, Pray, Love (despite the fact that my inherent obtuseness means my knee-jerk reaction to something a lot of people are raving about is usually outright hostility) and something Ms. Gilbert said really resonated with me: "Never forget that once, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend." I think many of us are far harsher with ourselves than with our friends - certainly I would never dream of reprimanding my friends the way I do myself internally - and I'm trying really hard at the moment to recognise that and not beat myself up so much over small failures.

In terms of cooking, I've been pretty obsessed with a few recipes by Angela Liddon at ohsheglows.com. This lady is seriously inspiring, I love her upbeat posts and cooky style, and I'd really recommend her blog for anyone unfamiliar with it. I've been pretty much living off her chili (made as part of her endurance lunch) and her chocolate brownie recipe for the past couple of weeks now that New York is getting cold...


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
3/4 tablespoon salt
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2.5 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn

Directions: Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and season with
bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in the celery,
green bell peppers, garlic. When vegetables are heated through, mix in the walnut burger
crumbles. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 5 minutes. Mix the tomatoes into the pot.
Season the chili with chili powder and pepper. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and
black beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 1-1.5 hour. Stir in the corn, and
continue cooking 5 minutes before serving.

I made a few changes - left out the corn, used one red and one green pepper instead of 2 green, and used canned tomatoes with chili peppers in them.


Angela's brownies were made as part of a brownie-pumpkin-pie recipe. I have been making them just on their own, as brownie cupcakes.

1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, softened
3/4 cup white kamut flour (or white)
1.5 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp cornstarch (or arrowroot/tapioca)
1/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

I substituted the pumpkin for apple sauce (when I ran out of pumpkin - these have been made many times), and vegetable oil for coconut oil (though for health reasons I'd recommend the coconut). I also used a mix of white flour and whole wheat pastry flour instead of kamut flour, and brown sugar rather than white. My one tip is do not forget the salt - it makes the world of difference.

Next up books. Or fashion. Or both. 

Saturday, 11 September 2010

21 day raw challenge

I am about to start a 21 day challenge involving eating purely raw foods. I will be planning meals and writing up my experiences here. Hopefully I will manage to stick to it. It's something I've been planning to do for a while now, but the weather has started cooling down (finally - New York has been baking!) and I've realised that if I don't do it soon I will be right in the middle of carb-loading, cashmere-swathed, hot soup slurping, warmed chocolate cake scoffing autumn/winter (yes, being British I still say 'autumn' rather than 'fall') and my chances of success will be slim to none.

As I started to look at easy recipes, I noticed that I had cleverly lost my immersion blender*, so I've ordered a new one to arrive on Wednesday. I'm convinced this will be key to my success, though I was planning on starting on Monday so I'll have to make do for a few days without it. I think the key will be to have lots of easy things on hand, including lots of sweet (raw) snacks so I don't go running for the Teddy Grahams! I will post a list of great links, and of course key recipes for the challenge. I may go on longer - I'm hoping I can also do Jillian Michaels' 30-day Shred along with it, but at the moment 21 days seems more manageable!

* I have a big preference for immersion blenders. I've not tried a vita-mix - waiting until I win the lottery - but have generally been disappointed with other blenders, none of which seemed good enough to justify the space they take up in my tiny kitchen (and I'm a messy cook - I need mucho counter space). Then I came across an immersion blender in my Grannie's flat that was about 10 years old and better than anything else. Yes, if held at the wrong angle my soup would end up splattered over me and the ceiling,  but nothing beats the versatility. So yey, I'm getting a new one!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Found over at India Knight's blog. Well worth a read - I have yet to read anything by her that I haven't enjoyed, and her book recommendations are spot on.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Despite not being a morning take-out coffee/tea fiend, I love this Tea Lover's Eco Cup - I've always liked the idea of re-usable cups, but they're normally so ugly. Now I just have to move back to London to get back to my Pret-a-Manger soy milk hot chocolate habit. After all, with something this pretty it'd be a shame not to put it to use...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Favourite photos...

I've been going through some old photos and thought I'd share - they remind me of travels, times come and gone, and both happy and sad memories. I love taking photographs and wish I was better. Another photography course is definitely on my to-do list!

"Hope is the thing with feathers, That perches in the soul"

As anyone who knows me can attest, I'm worrier, and tend to carry the woes of the world on my shoulders which is, to be frank, utterly exhausting and completely unhelpful (not to mention somewhat self-indulgent). Anyway, I love things that make me feel motivated, remind me of how I want to live my life, and what I want to contribute to the world. I'm a huge fan of doing something tangible on an individual level - some of the most amazing development projects I've seen have been small scale. One orphanage, one village, one hospital. But they make all the difference. So today I wanted to share a few videos that have made an impression on me. I can't claim to know much about the organisations behind them, nor their working practices, but the hopes expressed in these videos has re-motivated me at a time when I've started to feel overwhelmed.

First, FOUR YEARS. GO. I always find a sense of urgency to be a huge motivation for me. This definitely does the trick.

Next, I'm a HUGE believer in girl power (Spice Girls were my era after all!) and I really truly believe that a teenage girl is one of the most powerful drivers of change our world has.

And this last one. Not a video full of hope, but beautiful and hugely disturbing and one I'd recommend everyone watch. I looked around the bathroom this morning and all I could see was plastic. There are more videos which explain the work of Midway and include trailers for their upcoming film at their website.

Friday, 9 July 2010


First, apologies for being away for so so long. Well actually I don't feel too bad, since I have not given one single person ever the link to this blog, so I don't feel like I'm letting anyone down! Anyway, the main reason has been the fact I have been working like crazy, have adopted a dog (Sherman) from death row at animal care & control, and have been living in an apartment that had a kitchen composed of a fridge, stove and sink and NO SURFACE SPACE! So I've barely cooked, and I haven't been very judicious in my reading (thanks work...) so all in all felt I had very little to contribute.

But... I do have things to say. First I got a job in international conflict resolution - only for a year but still, yey for me! Second, how could I not share photos of my lovely Sherman? Third, I have started reading more, and I've started cooking. First I want to share 2 recipes that have become mainstays very quickly.

The first is from the Mayo Clinic cookbook, and is a fresh tomato sauce intended to be served with pasta (which is delicious) but which is a basic tomato salad. I use baby vine, bay plum, or just plain baby tomatoes for this - the texture is better, they're sweeter which contrasts more with the other flavours, and to be honest I'm a bit weird about big tomatoes! The best thing about this recipe is that it gets better over time, and stores (in the fridge) wonderfully. Make sure to get a good quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil otherwise it goes a bit clumpy in the fridge.

Just throw everything together -
4 tomatoes, about 2 pounds total weight, peeled and seeded, then cut into 1/2-inch dices
1/2 cup fresh basil cut into slender ribbons, plus whole leaves for garnish
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

The second recipe is from Kristen's Raw blog - I've been trying to incorporate more and more raw foods into my diet, and came across this recipe. Even though it's cooked (and is ratatouille which I always hates, AND it involves fake meat which I generally avoid like the plague) it still appealed to me. Made this for a dinner party where I was the only vegan, and had lots of approving comments and even requests for recipes. The 'chicken' scallopini don't taste like chicken, whatever anyone may tell you - they don't have much taste (all the better to absorb the taste of the ratatouille as far as I'm concerned) and have a texture somewhere between tofu and chicken. Incidentally, I find telling any meat-eater that a substitute "Tastes just like..." is a sure-fire way to have them dislike your dish. Acknowledge it's different and they might actually approach it with less prejudice. So here is the recipe:

1. Heat a pot to medium heat and drizzle a bit of olive oil in it.
2. After about 30-60 seconds, add 2 cloves of chopped organic garlic and saute for a minute.
3. Then, add 4-5 medium organic chopped tomatoes and get them cooking for about 5 minutes or so (I have not timed this all, so these are approximations).
4. Add salt, black pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, onion powder, couple dashes of cinnamon, and a dash of vanilla extract - no exact measurements, just do it to taste. Start small and build from there.
5. Add 1 chopped courgette/zuchini. Continue cooking a couple of minutes. If it starts to boil, reduce the heat to a lower setting.
6. Add about 1/3-1/2 bunch of kale (mostly destemmed and then chopped) - cook this for a couple of minutes.
7. Put a saute pan on medium heat - add a little oil and saute the
Gardein Chick'n Scallopini Breasts (available in the freezer aisle of Whole Foods Market - not sure if they're available in the UK yet) and saute them for 2 minutes on one side (at this point is when I add the kale to the sauce pot mentioned above).
8. Flip the breasts and continue cooking another 2 minutes (now the kale has had time to cook a bit).
9. Take an 8X8 glass baking dish and put the 4 faux chicken breasts in it - pour the sauce on top. Then, sprinkle Daiya or another vegan cheese on top and put it under the broiler to melt the cheese for a couple of minutes. All done! This makes 2-4 servings depending on whether you're hungry for 1 or 2 faux chicken breasts.

I'd really recommend heading over to Kristen's blog - she has amazing ideas, photos recipes and tips on how to get the most nutritional value from your food. http://kristensraw.blogspot.com/

Enough for today - I'm home from work sick and m off back to my bed. Books tomorrow, 'things I'm lusting after' sometime this weekend.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Books - The Cellist of Sarajevo

I just finished a wonderful book a few days ago - the Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. The book itself was very thought provoking - told from the perspective of three different protagonists, one of whom is a sniper for the defenders army. There is not much plot - instead the book focuses on the day to day lives of it's three characters, giving a real sense of what it must have been like to live in a city under siege. I first came across the story of the siege of Sarajevo when I was 11 or 12 and I read a book called Zlata's Diary. As the diary of the life of a girl my age living through the siege it made a huge impression on me, and later on I ended up specialising in modern Eastern European history for my degree.

However, what really caught my attention in the book, and what has often crept into my thoughts since, is the story of the man the book was based on. He is not a main character, rather he is a character each of the protagonists hear of - the cellist. what is so extraordinary is that his story is based on that of a real man, Vedran Smailović, a cellist who lived through the Sarajevo siege. At 10am on the 27th May 1992, 22 of his neighbours and fellow citizens, including women, children and the elderly, were killed when a shell hit a bread-line they were waiting in. In honour of their memories he risked his life by playing his cello in the crater left by the blast for 22 days, starting May 28th. Each day he played Albioni's 'Adagio in G minor' which had been found in pieces after the bombing of Dresden. This small act of defiance brought him fame, and has, I'm sure, inspired many who have hear about him.

Smailović himself is furious about the book, and what he sees as someone making money from his suffering. I'm torn - on the one hand I think he ought to have been consulted or warned about its publication by the author, as a matter of respect. On the other hand I'm thrilled to find someone showing the human aspect of warfare which so often gets overlooked, andam always happy when someone challenges our preconceptions as the author does. Overall I think this would be a wonderful novel for someone looking to learn more about the 1993 Bosnian war, or even just to gain an insight into human nature and survial.

P.S. For a brilliant look at human survival in wartime Janine di Giovanni's book "A Place at the End of the World" is really brilliant...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Banana Split Pudding Brownies...

A few days ago I finally got the chance to try out a recipe I've had my eye on for quite a while now - the banana split pudding brownies in Vegan with a Vengeance. I'm a huge fan of any baking which includes banana - I love the texture it gives all things cake-y - and I'm also a huge chocoholic. In fact it's the only thing I've worried about missing since I became vegan, and as a result many of the first vegan recipes I tried were chocolate-based in some way.

Anyway, these brownies turned out really well, especially as I've had disasters with brownies before... Not necessarily the prettiest of desserts (in the photos I've layered one on top of another, not just because I'm greedy when it comes to chocolate, but because I think it looks better if you are serving to guests), but they definitely soothed my chocolate cravings, and the hint of banana is strong enough without ever being overpowering. I didn't have any arrowroot powder so I substituted the 1 tablespoon called for in the recipe with 1 and a half tablespoons of cornflower. I also always use vanilla paste instead of extract as I find the flavour a bit more complex and at the same time softer. Having said that, I've never used very good quality vanilla extract so that may account for the difference.

And so to the recipe...

For the brownies:
4oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

For the topping layer:
1 cup mashed very ripe banana
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup soy milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan with nonstick coocking spray or lightly grease with oil.

To make the brownie batter:
Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool. Combine the banana, oil and sugar, beating together until the mixture is smooth. Add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and mix into the banana/chocolate mixture in batches until it is all smooth.

Prepare the banana topping:
Combine all the topping ingredients and mix thoroughly until smooth (a hand-mixer is really handy for all the mixing in this recipe!)

To assemble and bake the brownies:
Spread the brownie batter evenly into the baking pan. Pour the banana topping over it and spread evenly. Bake for 30 mins. Remove and let cool for 15 mins before transferring it to the fridge until it has fully cooled. Cut into slices (should make about 12) and serve.

Incidentally, I skipped the cooling part and served it hot with vegan icecream made by Booja Booja. It was loved by all the family alike, even though they are all carnivores.

Even my dog joined us at the table and put on his best "I'm so underfed and neglected" face in a bid to get a slice...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A bit of an explanation...

I thought it'd be worth explaining a little bit about the blog before launching into anything substantive. I'm doing what every blog-expert says not to do - writing about a variety of things under one blog heading. But for me the subjects of this blog are interconnected, and since no-one is one-dimensional, a one-themed blog seemed pointless when there's so much I want to write about.

I came to veganism in a rather round-about way. I was trying to live in a sustainable way, largely in terms of leaving enough food for the rest of the earth's population (when I support the right to development and the right to freedom from poverty and hunger it seemed a little hypocritical to be an avid consumer) and of course in terms of the environment. Working in human rights made me very aware of the effect one person's use of the earth can have on another's, and I became determined to tread as lightly as possible. Hence becoming vegan. I made the straight switch from bacon for breakfast, chicken for lunch and steak for dinner (all helped along by chocolate snacks and large cream-based deserts) to vegan. It has been far far easier than I ever expected, and though I still get the odd longings, they pass fast. As for the literate part - a lot of my outlook on life has been shaped by the books I read. I love Latin American and African fiction, and can lose many days in a row to a favorite book. I believe the insights my reading has given me into how other people live their lives, particularly in situations of poverty, led to a career in human rights and a wish to do my bit through becoming vegan. Where poverty and climate change can feel overwhelming, being vegan allows me to do something very tangible, and very manageable, every day.

And so this blog will be a record of the things I've cooked, books I've read, and anything of relating to human rights that might give be of interest to people who would usually not go out of their way to read about such things. I find some of the things that have made the greatest impression on me have been found in the most unexpected of places.