Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Mid Week Munchies and thrifty vegan living

These days I have to live pretty thriftily. I work 3 days a week. I chose to go part time a couple of years ago and it suits me well. My health condition saps my energy and having time to rest between the days I work (I work Monday, Thursday and Friday) does help and has definitely increased my productivity and concentration levels on the days I do go to work. It leaves me with very little disposable income though. Most of my life I've worked in pretty low paid jobs, currently I do an admin role, so I'm used to watching my pennies and I'm pretty good at it. Ebay and charity shops are my friends. I make stuff for presents, I enter competitions and I am a big fan of discount food shops. I would even go as far as to say that I get a shoppers high from these places and can often be found entering our house shouting to Matt - 'Just wait til you see what I've got for 29p!'

We cook from scratch a lot and eat lots of healthy wholefoods dishes. Shopping at discount shops allows us to also enjoy some treats and convienience foods too. Normally I would not buy shop bought smoothies but when Heron Foods (the main discount food shop in my town) had these big Innocent Super Smoothies for 69p recently I had to give them a try. I've not had the one above yet but we had a mango based one that was lovely. The carton had two breakfast sized servings. Normally they retail at £3.39.

More drinks were to be had this week from Heron with these cartons of coconut water and organic ooling tea flavoured with peach puree. I love coconut water and like to add it to home made smoothies and I was impressed with the tea drink which wasn't overly sweet and let the tea flavours still come through. These retail at £1.75 and £1.69 respectively. They cost me 39p each.

Jus Rol is a friend for vegans looking for quick convienient pastry items with a lot of their range being SFV.  They often crop up in Heron and we've had the croissants and apple pastries in a tin before as well as the sheets of pastry. The shortcrust sweet pastry above has gone in the freezer so it's ready to whip up something like a quick pecan pie when we have friends over. It retails at £1.75 but I picked it up for 39p. Are you starting to see a pattern here! Also, pictured are some Foxes Golden Crunch biscuits. Quite a few packs in the Foxes biscuit range are accidentally vegan. These golden munch biscuits are one of my favourites and are buttery tasting and great for dunking. A total bargain at 29p a pack.

Also, picked up in Heron this week were these vegetable based quarter pounders and the new Linda McCartney vegan friendly soy based burgers. The EatWell burgers were £1.39 and the Linda's were £1. This is actually the first time I'd seen the Linda's anywhere. I've heard good things about them and am excited to try them. They look like they'd be a great burger to take to summer barbecues.

I did deliberate over buying the next item. I am not a fan of oven chips and felt that a £1.69 a bag it was cheaper to buy a bag of sweet potatoes and make my own wedges which is what I normally do. However, I can never get crispy sweet potato wedges and these have the words 'vibrant and crunchy fries' on the front. The crinkle cut reminds me of childhood and the excitement of my mum getting a crinkle cutter so we could have crinkle cuts chips from the chip pan at home. They also have a coating that includes paprika which I love on sweet potatoes and they are even gluten free so after they'd gone in and out of the basket several times they stayed in.

Take aways are a very, very rare thing for us but items like the ones below help make a home made curry or Chinese dinner feel more like a take away treat. Both the spring rolls and the samosas bake in the oven in around 10 minutes and are great value at £1 a pack. We've had standard vegetable samosas recently and also the dahl samosas pictured which I absolutely loved and which are very moreish.

Products in Heron change from week to week but there are nearly always crisp bargains to be found. We often get big bags of vegan friendly flavours of Walkers Sensations, Tyrells or Kettle Chips for 39p-59p which would usually retail at £2. They even had Ten Acre crisps on one occasion with 5 bags for £1 (usually 90p each). These Skips and Hula Hoops were 6 bags for 99p.

I do shop at other places too. We are lucky to have a great little independent health food shop run by our friends Steve and Ann. These sour cream and chive quinoa chips are a big favourite of ours and reminded me to ask Ann if she could order some of the Kale Straws from my last blog post. Ann knew of them and said they had been out of stock for a while and the one time she'd managed to get them a customer bought the lot! I told you they were amazing. Anyway, the good news is that they are back in stock and a consignment is on the way to Glossop.

We have a fantastic coffee shop in our train station called Twig. They offer a range of plant milk, serve excellent coffee and sell some vegan friendly snack bars and also the Ten Acre crisp range. I was so excited this week to see that they also now have some of the Ten Acre Popcorn.

I am a huge popcorn fan and I tried this new vegan friendly popcorn range when I used to write reviews for Can I Eat It App about a year ago but I hadn't seen it for sale anywhere since. The wasabi is my favourite but the whole range is great and definitely worth trying if you spot it anywhere.

As I mentioned earlier I also enter food competitions. Last month I won a gift box of Panna Chocolate, an amazing raw choc from Australia, the month before I won a selection of Laboko chocolate and excitingly earlier today I got an email saying I had won a window box garden from Rocket Gardens worth £25. The plants I'll get sent include various varieties of salad leaves, green beans, spinach, spring onions, beetroot and a selection of herbs. I've never grown things like this before so watch out for a future blog post letting you know how I get on.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Cooking for the Bank Holiday Weekend and a Music Alldayer

My partner Matt is a singer songwriter with the stage name Quiet Loner and our weekends are often taken up with him playing at gigs, going to gigs and sometimes hosting gigs. We put on a bi-monthly show in Glossop called Defiance Sessions with musicians from all over the UK coming to our little town and staying with us. The next one is May 28 and features Chris TT and fellow vegan Efa Supertramp. Here's Matt talking more about it.

Tomorrow Matt is playing at an all day festival in Barnsley. I've been cooking food today that will also double up as wrap fillings to keep us going tomorrow.

First up is this recipe from Isa Does It. The book just fell open at this page and as I'd never made it before and had all the ingredients it was a must try. Rather than fry the tofu I tossed it in sesame oil, salt and pepper and then oven baked it. It came out great with a lovely texture. Under the tofu is wasabi, edamame hummus and the green stuff is pea shoots. Lovely, flavourful and fresh tasting.

I didn't have any wasabi paste so I subbed with this wasabi seasoning that I found for 29p a Quality Save a way back. It's a blend of white and black sesame, peppers, horseradish, wasabi and ginger and worked well. It's also great as a seasoning on baked sweet potato wedges.

Here's the finished wrap for lunch today. In the background is a glass of my home brewed Kombucha. I've been brewing for around a month now after getting a scoby from Adrian who we met when he came to fix our computers! I love the process and have brewed with both black and green tea and have just made my first flavoured batch adding a bit of ginger and lemon soda.

The tortilla chips with the wrap are these amazing delights that we picked up in Praze, our local deli. These are seriously addictive and some of the nicest tortilla chips I've ever tried.

I've recently checked the new Deliciously Ella book out of the library so there'll be a blog post coming up soon about what I've been making from it. This dish is from the large batch cooking section and is Turmeric, Potato, Chickpea, Quinoa and Spinach curry. It's a total one pot meal and has made enough for tonight, a wrap tomorrow and extras to go in the freezer for later in the week.

As well as savoury stuff I like to take some drinks to an all dayer. Although I'll probably have some beer or wine in the evening I don't want to drink alchohol all day and I'm not a fan of fizzy drinks or fruit juices and if the venue isn't the warmest then drinking endless mineral waters can get a bit chilly. So I usually pack a flask of tea or coffee. Of course a hot drink needs something sweet to go with it. These are gluten free blondies from the first Babycakes book. They are meant to be mini canape size bites but I made them as muffin size. Half the recipe made 6. I'm always blown away by how good and non gluten free the recipes from there taste. There's used copies on Amazon for 1p, seriously if you haven't got it then pick one up.

Finally new cookery books! And neither of these are vegan especially the pan cooked chicken one. My local RSPCA charity shop is the best for books. They are currently doing 3 for £1 so I picked these up and a novel. Sophie Dahl did a BBC cookery show back in 2010. It only had 6 episodes and I loved it. Unfortunately the critics didn't and it got axed. To be fair I don't think it ever stood a chance. Before the first epiosde aired I remember reading articles saying it was just a copy of Nigella and one slagging her off because it wasn't filmed in her own kitchen??? Anyway I really enjoyed it and am sad I've never been able to watch it again although I have found one episode on You Tube. One of the things she makes is a meat based Shepherd's pie for her partner and a puy lentil based one for herself. I think the rest of the series is there too just split up into half episodes.

So why the chicken book? Don't worry I've not started eating chicken. I did used to have this book and when I lived with my sister in my twenties we used it a lot. There are recipes form around the world and I remember some really tasty dishes. When I saw this morning that Asda are now selling vegan Quorn fillets I said to Matt that I needed to get a copy of the book and that I always saw it in charity shops. Lo and behold there were actually two copies and at 33.3p I couldn't resist. So when I get hold of some quorn fillets I'll let you know how veganising the recipes goes.

EDIT - Just had the Deliciously Ella Chickpea, Quinoa and Turmeric curry for our tea and it was fantastic. The best of any of her recipes I've made so far and I really recommend trying it. Very easy to make and not much washing up which is always a bonus! The recipe is online here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Harlech Revisted

If you're a regular reader of the blog you may remember that we had a really lovely break in Harlech in Wales last October. We stayed in a wonderful apartment right next to Harlech Castle and we had such a fantastic time we took to selling our worldly goods on eBay in November and December to raise the funds to go back for New Year. Sadly when we got there at New Year there was water damage to the apartment and we were unable to stay. We were given some alternative accommodation and also 4 free nights at the Castle apartments to take this year. We used these two weeks ago.

We stopped at the Rhug Estate Farm shop and cafe on the way for a comfort break and had a look round the shop. There's not usually much for vegans so we were delighted when we spotted these indvidual nut roasts baked like muffins on the deli counter. With some mash, roasted sprouts, carrots, parsnips and gravy that was our first evening meal sorted and very good it was too.

When I go on holiday as we tend to do self catering I like to choose to focus on one of my cookery books to try some new things from. This time it was the turn of 'Oh She Glows'. I'd been eyeing up the Tex Mex Casserole recipe for a while and using a couple of sachets of ready cooked wholegrain rice it was a perfect quick and easy holiday meal.

Alongside the rice there's also spices, black beans, tomatoes, cheese etc and the topping is crushed tortilla chips mixed with cheese. I used Violife pizza cheese for it's meltiness.  It was a great bowl meal topped with avocado, salsa and Tofutti sour cream.

We ate the casserole for two nights and on our last night we went to the cinema and took some wraps with us. We didn't eat out on this break down to limited budget and also as we couldn't find much in the immediate area but we did find quite a few places with soya milk so we enjoyed daily lattes. My favourite place for coffee was the Seaview Bistro and Coffee Lounge in Borth-y-Gest, just a few minutes walk from Porthmadog. Not only did they make a great latte they also had a selection of different flavours of Angelic Cookies which are both vegan and gluten free.

 More than anything I love to plan some good breakfasts for a self catering holiday. Matt requested chocolate chip pancakes which have become a holiday staple. I make up the mix before we go from a recipe in Vegan Food Gifts. Then they just need some oil and milk adding to the dry mix.

I also made up a dry mix for tomato and spinach pudla from the recipe in The Abundance Diet. If you've not tried pudla then I highly recommend it. The chick pea flour gives it a wonderful omelette like texture and there are lots of pudla recipes on the internet.

This was another dish from Oh She Glows - Spa Day Bircher Museli. I'm really into breakfasts with grated apple in at the moment so we've been eating lots of Bircher Museli and baked oatmeals.

We get the Jus Roll croissants in a tin sometimes for a treat and they are pretty widely available but it was the first time I'd seen these filled croissants from Italy.

We bought all three flavours to try. Pictured below is the chocolate which I think was my favourite and which we ate on our last morning. We had the apricot and cherry ones yesterday and they were really good too. You don't get the buttery taste of a traditional croissant but if you like the Jus Rol ones I think you would like these too.

We found the croissants in what I think is one of my favourite healthfoods shops anywhere. Vegonia is a completely vegan shop in Portmadog. Whenever we visit we always find things we've never come across before and their prices are really reasonable. Seeing as we live near a vegan supermarket (Unicorn) and I work in the next street to V Revolution which are both brilliant for finding new vegan products I think that's really good going!

These Veggie and Kale straws are a total winner. I've never seen them before though I've tried lots of other wonderful things made by Eat Real. I'm regretting not buying more bags of these. If you live in the UK you may know what I mean when I say that the texture is a cross between a chipstick and a wheat crunchie. Whilst that makes for a great texture what impressed me most was that the flavours was like no other crisp flavours I've had before.

Vegonia also had these two new additions to the excellent Vivani range of vegan chocolate bars. We ate the crispy cornflakes bar in Harlech and it got the thumbs up and seeing this picture again has just reminded me that the waffle crunch is still lurking in a tray on our fridge door along with our stash of other chocolate bars!

I'd saved a couple of things at home to bring away with us. The hot chocolate I picked up on a recent trip to Holmfirth from my favourite shop there Fairtrader. It's lime and sea salt flavour and is absolutely delicious. It's made by a company called Choc Affair in York and I always pick up a bar in this flavour when I visit Fairtrader and when I saw that it now came in hot chocolate form too I just couldn't resist.

Do you remember my blog about our recent trip to Ramsbottom and how I mentioned that they have an annual chocolate festival there? We didn't make it to the festival but our friends Robert, Corrine and Tess did and very kindly got us these truffles from Manchester based company In Truffle We Trust. It was the first time I've come across this company and I was hugely impressed by both the look of the product (yes those are gold and copper coloured chocolates!) and the array of flavours which included rose, lemongrass, coffee and peanut butter.

We were really lucky to get sunshine for the three days we were there. There was a storm on the day we arrived and grey mists on the day we left but in between there were blue skies and we were able to get in some nice beach walks. Bit of a change from what we're currently experiencing in Derbyshire.

This was the scene that greeted me when I came out of the Co-Op yesterday after a food shop. It was snowing and has again today! Despite it being nearly May the summer feels a very long way off.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Dealing With Hyper Sensitive Cough Reflex Syndrome and How Not To Catch A Cold!

I struggle daily with a neurological condition called Hyper Sensitive Cough Reflex Syndrome. It's taken me around 10 years to get a diagnosis and an understanding of why I have random violent coughing fits throughout the day. Recent tests also showed a type of bronchitis in my lungs. I am now under the care of a specialist hospital team in Manchester who are world leaders in research into this condition. That's the good news. The bad news is that there isn't anything that can be taken to reverse the damage to the nerves in my throat (probably caused by a bad virus way back in time. I think it all stems from getting really sick on a trip to Mexico in 2004). I concentrate on trying to manage the condition and the things that can trigger it. That's not always easy when triggers include eating, drinking, a change in air temperature when going from indoors to outdoors (and vice versa), exercise, walking past open fridges in shops, acid reflux and post nasal drip. It's exhausting and I can cough so much I feel faint or vomit. Getting a cold on top of already having a persistent cough can be a total nightmare so over the last few years I've discovered a group of products which I really believe help prevent colds. There's hardly anything on the internet about this condition so I wanted to do a blog post in case it was of help to any other sufferers. I thought I'd also share my cold prevention tips here as they may be of interest to anyone else with chronic health issues or who suffers from regular colds.

Echinaforce is my go to medicine as soon as I feel a cold coming on. I work in a big open plan office and there are regularly colds flying around. I'm positive that there's been many occasions when it's actually prevented a cold and the times when one has taken hold then taking this has definitely lessened it's impact and shortened it to an average of four days. To take it you mix a teaspoon of the tincture into a mug of boiling water. It makes a nice tasting, fruity, comforting drink that you take up to five times a day. I've tried echinacea tablets and drops too in the past but this seems to be the way of taking echinacea that works best for me. As well as echinacea it also contains black elderberry. Although not listed as such on their website I have checked with A Vogel and it is suitable for vegans.

Back when I was a reviewer for Can I Eat It? I tried a selection of Olive Leaf Teas from Miribilia. Hailing from Italy, olive leaf tea has actually been around for centuries. The most tender leaves from organic olives are picked and slowly dried to produce leaves that you simply add boiled water to. The tea boasts many claims such as being extremely high in antioxidants, antibiotic, anti-viral and anti-fungal qualities, an aid to weight loss and as a way of lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s said to boost the immune system and all whilst remaining caffeine and tannin free. You can refresh the leaves and get two or three brews out of each portion of leaves. As well as using this to ward of incoming colds I also like to drink this throughout the morning on fast days (I am currently following the 5:2 regime).

Olive Leaf can also be purchased in extract form. I've got into the habit of picking up a bottle of this in December to see me through the festive season and for the last few years I've managed to spend Christmas and New Year cold free which is something which I never thought would happen!

As well as my cough condition I also have issues with my sinuses. When I have a coughing fit my eyes and nose stream almost like an allergy (I've been through allergy tests and nothing has showed up as positive). In the last couple of years I've also developed pretty bad post nasal drip which is a BIG cough trigger. I had been using a neti pot for a while which are a device used to flush out the sinuses originating in India when I discovered NeilMed Sinus Rinse which is much easier to use. To some warm (cooled boiled) water you add a sachet containing sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate and then squirt this up your nose to irrigate your sinuses. It definitely helps and I use it add least once a day. When I have had a cold I've used it up to four times in a day combined with using a steam inhaler with menthol crystals to good effect.
Getting a diagnosis has been great in some ways as at last I have a name and an explanation for what is going on. I was even able to attend a 'cough conference' last October and meet other people with the same condition as well as medical professionals who explained to us all the latest research and testing. Knowing that this is a chronic condition that I will have for life is harder to deal with. This throws up a whole load of emotions from anger to frustration to feeling sorry for myself. I've just been able to access a set of free counselling sessions so I'm hoping that these will help me get my head round this, find some acceptance of it all and make positive steps forward with how I deal with it.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Road Trip Number 2 - Preston, Morecambe and Ramsbottom

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about a little road trip Matt and I took to Oswestry and Chester. A week after we did a second one for Matt's birthday. Our overnight destination was Morecambe with a stop off in Preston for lunch.

We've visited the Whaletail Cafe a few times before and always enjoyed the food and this time was no exception. Matt went for the salad platter about that came with a serving of home made hummus and some lovely olives. It was a cold wintery day and I felt that I needed something hot to eat so I picked this mushroom and grilled tofu roll. This really hit the spot and is something I need to recreate at home. It would be a perfect Sunday morning breakfast roll.

Underneath the Whaletail is a lovely old school wholefoods co-operative called Single Step. I was excited to find some turmeric root there as I've been wanting to try making turmeric spiced milk for a while as a bedtime drink. Once in Morecambe we headed to a Toby Carvery for Matt's birthday tea. Unusually for a chain carvery this one has three vegan options. We tried the butternut squash crumble and the lentil cottage pie and piled on the veggies and gravy. We were impressed and it was great value for £6.29. We were so full we had no room for pudding even though they have a vegan dessert too. I'm afraid I forgot to take any pictures but would definitely eat a one again. I wish our carvery in Glossop did some vegan options but it's a Crown Carvery and they don't at the moment.

Matt came up with the great idea of driving back home via Ramsbottom. I've been hearing amazing things about Lolo's Vegan and Raw Restaurant and Store on social media ever since it opened at the end of last year. Guys, it did not disappoint and it is so worth making the trip out here. For starters I loved the decor. It's done in an Art Deco style and done really well. We were there at mid-day so chose from the lunch menu (there is a separate menu for evenings).

After years of hearing about this sandwich on Amercian blogs I was very excited to try this yummy Philly Cheese Steak Sub with mixed peppers. It's a rubbish  photo but it was a brilliant sandwich and it was so nice to be offered some different vegan sandwich ideas other than the usual ones. Matt opted for a Lolo's Club Sandwich which was loaded with bacon, turkey, cheese, avocado and salad on a whole wheat sub.

There were also lots of delicious sounding salad options and we split a portion of this Creole Potato Salad made up of creole mayo, spring onion, brazil nuts and sweet, purple and red potatoes. This was something else! I'd never have thought of putting brazil nuts in a potato salad but they were a fabulous addition.

Another thing that Lolo's do really well is cake. They had an amazing selections of cakes, cookies and scones including lots of raw options. And not only do they do cakes so well, they also have a home made icecream bar! We opted for a scoop of each flavour made into a sundae to share.

Ramsbottom has a bit of reputation as a foodie town. Just last weekend was their annual Chocolate Festival. After finishing our lunch we picked up a few things from the Lolo's store and they we nipped across the road to The Chocolate Cafe. The downstairs of the cafe is actually a chocolate shop and the space where they make the chocolate. All their vegan options are clearly marked and their chocolate reminded me of the kind of things Hotel Chocolat offer. I picked up a bar of dark chocolate studded with orange pieces for my mum for mother's day. Before heading home we popped into the newly opened The House of Beer which is owned by Clint, an old pal of Matt's They have an amazing selection of interesting beers and we treated ourselves to several bottles each. There's lots of craft beers and it's easy to check if they're vegan using the Barnivore App. It was my first visit to Ramsbottom and I can't wait to go back and visit Lolo's again. The evening menu sounds amazing and they also have a brunch menu at the weekends that serves such delights as American Pancakes and a Three Potato Hash. How good does that sound!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

One 17 Bakery - Glossop

I am lucky to live in a small town that caters really well for vegans. We have Pico Lounge which is part of the Loungers chain and offers a vegan menu, Ayubowan Sri Lankan restaurant that has clearly labelled tasty vegan dishes and fab coffee shops like Twig in the station that offers plant milks and sells Ten Acre crisps. We also have a great independent health food shop in Peak Of Health and of course not forgetting the Globe pub where all the food is vegan and they even make a range of icecream! And now there is a new addition to the vegan offer.

One 17 Bakery closed in January and we were all worried that they might have closed down. I'd always liked their bread and Frank and Jane the owners are lovely. Luckily for us they had decided to take a few weeks off and were plotting the introduction of lots of new lines to the bakery. What they have done is something unique. As well as the standard range you'd expect from a bakery they now have a focus on low calorie, gluten free and vegan treats!

Behold the beauty of this vegan meat pie. It have to say that it was the nicest one I've ever tried. The pastry was absolutely superb. Look at how gorgeously flaky that pastry is, definitely perfect comfort food.

They are trying new things all the time. The other week I picked up something I'd never come across before, a popcorn cake! This chocolate topped confection was made from popcorn in a toffee brittle. It was a really unusual and fun treat.

I've been hearing good things on social media about their vegan Victoria Sponge which I've yet to try but I have tried a lovely piece of lemon sponge and we've bought the coffee cake below several times. This photo does not do it justice. I've tried a LOT of vegan cake in the last ten years and you don't often find any with such a good crumb!

In fact we like the coffee cake so much that we ordered one for Matt's birthday when we had both our families over. It went down well with vegans and non vegans alike. I've never seen my five year old nephew wolf down a cake so quickly and he wanted seconds.

And finally how gorgeous are these gluten free and vegan linzer style cookies. I woke up to a box of these on Valentines Day and yep we did have them for breakfast!

The vegan treats at One 17 are an amazing addition to our High Street and I highly recommend them if you want to order a birthday cake. Frank is a fantastic, experienced baker and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!