Mean eating

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A cheering chocolate cheesecake

 

Hands up if you’re glad that January is almost over. Unlike most people, I don’t mind this less than jolly month (personally, I find November a lot more depressing) and I’m cheered to see that the sun sets later every day. There is light at the end of the tunnel because in just eight weeks, the clocks go forward and British Summertime begins.

The thing about January is that, although it’s marketed as being the time for a brand new you, it’s essentially just a big hangover from Christmas. Most of us feel fat, financially fu**ed and fed up at work. Why do so many of us punish ourselves by going on strict diets that are impossible to maintain?

Some people will tell you that ‘clean’ eating is the answer and, in theory, it might seem like a sensible idea because eating fewer processed foods and more vegetables, wholegrains and healthy fats is no bad thing. But many who follow this diet (because, no matter how much it’s dressed up as ‘wellness’, that’s what it is) also cut out sugar, gluten and most carbohydrates. A balanced diet is all about moderation and certain food groups should never be considered to be ‘bad’ or ‘unclean’ – or as Nigella Lawson puts it:  “food is not dirty”.

It seems that ‘clean’ eating has spirall(is)ed out of control and last week, in an episode of the BBC’s Horizon called Clean Eating: The Dirty Truth, Dr Giles Yeo talked to some of the quacks associated with this cult. In the wrong hands, the clean eating phenomenon can be very dangerous and Ruby Tandoh writes a lot more eloquently about the reasons for this here.

The dieting industry is worth £2 billion and two thirds of women will go on a diet this year; pretty depressing, huh? With food assigned to the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ pile, we’ve forgotten how to enjoy eating. We must be kinder to ourselves: eat your greens by all means, but allow yourself the occasional slice of cake too. No food is a sin and to quote Nigella again, there are no guilty pleasures: “… you should only feel guilty if you don’t take pleasure”. Let’s stop this mean eating.

In the spirit of this, I suggest that you make this cheesecake immediately. It requires no cooking and is ready in no time at all. This recipe uses vegan ingredients but you can use regular cream cheese and butter if you like.

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My trusty assistant

Chocolate cheesecake

Ingredients

 Biscuit base

200g vegan digestive biscuits (a lot of the ‘value’ ones are vegan)

75g dairy free margarine

 

Topping

1 tub/225g plain vegan cream cheese

200g soya or coconut yogurt

1 tbsp vegetable oil

60g caster sugar

125g plain chocolate

1 tsp vanilla essence

 

Method

Grease a loose based cake tin. One that is about 6 1/2 or 7 inches will work best.

Crush the digestive biscuits with a rolling pin. Melt the margarine in a pan, and pour over the digestive biscuit crumbs. Mix thoroughly, and pour into the cake tin. Press down evenly with a spoon until the base is very firmly compacted.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.

Put the yogurt, cream cheese, vegetable oil, sugar and vanilla essence in a blender and blend until smooth. If you don’t have a blender, you’ll need to get it as smooth as you can with a whisk or a fork.

Stir in the melted chocolate.

Pour the topping over the biscuit base and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. You can decorate it with sliced strawberries or sprinkles if you like. Serve and enjoy.

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The Ten Commandments

Well done. You’ve made it through the first week of 2017, a time when many of us are making (and breaking) new year’s resolutions. I don’t believe in all this new year, new you business (why do we all have to be ‘better’?) but you won’t be surprised that I’m a fan of Veganuary, the challenge to try veganism throughout January. Anything that encourages people to try a plant-based diet in a friendly and accessible way is a good thing in my book. Mind you, I understand that ditching the meat, dairy and eggs can seem overwhelming to some and at first, it might not be easy.

Jay Rayner’s not the kind of man who’ll try veganism any time soon but I’ve been reading his book,  The Ten (Food) Commandments, and he speaks a lot of sense about eating and cooking. He’s even written a chapter called Thou Shalt Not Sneer at Meat-Free Cookery in which he denounces Quorn and other meat substitutes as ‘lousy PR for the cause of the vegetable’. He certainly has a point there.

I’m not as eloquent – or outspoken – as Mr Rayner but I’ve created my version of the Ten Commandments for anyone who’s trying a vegan diet, whether that’s just for a few days a week or on a more permanent basis. I hope you find them helpful.

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Spaghetti with purple pesto
1. Thou shalt be prepared

Turning vegan overnight is a bit of a shock to the system. If your body is used to eating certain things, it’ll notice when you give them up so expect to feel a bit hungrier and more tired than usual. Don’t be put off though; after a while, you’ll be bounding with energy – I promise.

2. Thou shalt get the right nutrients

Make sure that you get your protein (although you don’t need as much as everyone will tell you; yes, Mum, I’m looking at you), don’t cut the carbs and take a vitamin B12 supplement. It’s all about balance so try eating healthily most of the time but allow for the odd treat. Oh, and you probably need to eat more than omnivores and veggies. There are plenty of nutrition guides online and this one is pretty comprehensive.

3. Thou shalt keep it cheap and cheerful

Vegan cooking really shouldn’t be expensive. Seasonal fruit and vegetables are cheap and plentiful, and beans, pulses, rice and other grains cost pennies. Chilli, dhal and curry are tasty tummy fillers which, armed with a well-stocked cupboard, will cost you next nothing to make.

4. Thou shalt not be afraid to ‘cheat’

Being vegan doesn’t have to be hard work. When you’re short of time and energy, it makes sense to take shortcuts. Yes, freshly cooked can be a bit tastier but there’s no harm in using microwave rice, frozen vegetables, houmous and baked beans to make a quick and relatively nutritious dinner. If you know what to look for, you’ll find lots of quick tricks to help save you time.

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Microwave rice is nice…
5. Though shalt use thy imagination…

When I turned vegan, I remember one of my friends saying to me: ‘But Sar, you love food’. Yes, and I still do. Cutting out animal products doesn’t mean you automatically lose your taste buds (I think a few restaurants need to be told this… no, I don’t want a bland butternut squash risotto with zero seasoning, thank you very much) and if anything, it should challenge and inspire you to get more creative in the kitchen.

6. Thou shalt embrace comfort food season

January is a depressing month and definitely not a time for diets. Don’t deny yourself, I say and cwtch up with carbs until the clocks go forward. Winter warmers like ratatouille, tomato soup and cassoulet are hearty and healthy. Win win.

7. Thou shalt give thyself permission to be a basic bitch

Sometimes the simplest food is the best. If you want to lie on the sofa with tomato soup, spaghetti or a vegetable bake, that’s OK. Just don’t watch Celebrity Big Brother – you’re better than that.

8. Though shalt treat thyself

There’s a common misconception that veganism is all about ‘clean eating’, whatever that means. Wrong! This trend puts unnecessary pressure on people and reinforces the myth that vegans have Insta-bodies and only eat kale and avocado. Like I’ve said above, it’s all about balance. If you deny yourself treats, you’ll only crave them more. Diet schmiet; get your chops around these treats.

9. Thou shalt get some Insta-spiration

Despite, my aforementioned dislike of the #cleaneating hashtag, I live and breathe Instagram (yes, really) and I get a lot of my vegan inspiration from the foodies that I follow. Some of my favourites include @guacandroll @alittledishy @avantgardevegan @saretapuri @jenniams @stop_hannahtime @fayegan_eats and @ainecarlin are just some of my favourites. I really admire Jack Monroe (@mxjackmonroe) whose homecooking is healthy and cheap and I love reading anything by Nigella Lawson (@nigellalawson), Nigel Slater (@nigelslater), Anna Jones (@we_are_food) and Diana Henry (@dianahenryfood); they’re also wonderful writers. Don’t forget the guys @weareveganuary either!

10. Thou shalt eat at restaurants

Even in the past year, it’s become a lot easier for vegans to eat at restaurants with most of the chains offering a special menu and a few indie places in Cardiff like Milgi, Ana Loka, Vegetarian Food Studio, Kemi’s, Garlands, Grazing Shed (who do amazing vegan burgers and breakfast baps), Falafel Kitchen Chapter. And don’t be afraid to order off menu. Have a quick chat with your waiter or waitress (or if you can, call the restaurant in advance) and the kitchen should be able to make something for you – or perhaps veganise an existing veggie dish. Anywhere worth its salt will be willing to do this.

If you’re grabbing lunch on the go, most chain cafes and supermarkets offer something for vegans. My favourites at the moment are Pret and Marks and Spencer. Sainsbury’s also does a sweet potato laksa soup which is pretty tasty.

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Garlands do a brilliant brekkie…
So there we go. Leave your comments below if you have any questions or further hints and tips for eating vegan-stylee…