Under the weather

I don’t want to annoy anyone (or tempt fate) but I hardly ever get ill. No, I’m not a virtuous vegan; I’ve always had a pretty hearty constitution. So when I get a case of the sniffles, it always comes as a bit of a surprise. I’ve been known to have what I call a ’24 hour cold’, which is when, you’ve guessed it, my symptoms magically disappear after a day or so. This weekend, however, I was poorly for a good three days – well done, common cold. And while I definitely didn’t lose my appetite (that will never happen), I was definitely less hungry than usual. Yes, it’s true that I managed a trip to Wahaca on Saturday (spicy food is good for a cold, OK?) but generally I stuck to soups and salads as my body was clearly in need of a vitamin boost.

I thought I’d share some simple recipes that you can make when you’re feeling under the weather. They’re quick and easy to make and full of goodness – they should make you feel better, even if it’s only because they’re delicious.

 

Super sunshine salad

This takes ten minutes to put together and will make you feel full of the joys of spring (hopefully) – and doesn’t it look pretty? Purple foods like radicchio and beetroot are full of antioxidants which help the body produce nitric oxide, which improves blood flow and may have other cognitive benefits too, so this this salad is good for your mind as well as your body.

The picture and caption (can you spot the typo?) below tell you all you need to know. I used tinned green lentils and vacuum-packed beetroot but you could use the fresh stuff. Any salad leaves will do, although I do think that radicchio, watercress and romaine work pretty well. Oh, and I’d normally add capers but didn’t have any in the house. Don’t forget to squeeze some of the blood orange juice over the salad to give it extra zesty freshness.

 

 

Cheering carrot and sweet potato soup

Next up is this carrot and sweet potato soup. I was feeling pretty cranky when I made it and all the chopping, stirring and subsequent slurping really did soothe my spirits. The cumin, chilli and ginger work wonders for a cold, as do the carrots and sweet potato as they’re full of vitamin A which helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth – and mucus membranes. Tasty.

This will take about 45 minutes to make. It’s best to prep all the vegetables so that they’re ready to chuck into the pan when the time comes.

Heat a large pan and melt two teaspoons of coconut oil (or olive oil if you prefer). Add a mugful of red lentils and a teaspoon of cumin (powder or seeds), grated ginger and a finely sliced red chilli. Allow the lentils to absorb the flavours for 2-3 minutes, then add three shallots (or a large onion), finely sliced, a sweet potato and 5-6 carrots, both chopped into small cubes, to the pan. Now add 1.5 litres of stock (I like to use Bouillon) and season with salt and pepper. Squeeze in the juice of one orange for a hit of vitamin C. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring regularly. If you’re blending this, allow it to cool for 10 minutes or so and then use a hand-held blender until you have a fairly smooth and creamy consistency. Serve with bread or on its own.

 

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This is bound to brighten your spirits

 

Season’s eatings

Rhubarb and blood oranges are in season so I’m having a field day. Not really, but I am taking every opportunity to eat them. If you’re feeling full of vigour (i.e. not ill) you might like to try this tasty rhubarb and apple cake. Otherwise, just stew and slice – sounds like a torture method, right? Stewed rhubarb is such a simple pleasure. Because of its sharp flavour, you’ll need to add some sweetness with sugar or a spoonful of date syrup – or just stew some apples with the rhubarb. Ginger and cinnamon (root or powder) go very nicely with this. For pudding the other night I had stewed rhubarb with sliced blood orange and a dollop of soya yogurt – tip: the Tesco unsweetened version is the nicest I’ve tried.

 

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And the prize for the most seventies-esque crockery goes to…

 

Otherwise, just spoon onto porridge – ideal for the days when you just crawl back into bed…

 

 

Try these bowls of comfort food when you’re feeling less than tip top; they might just be what the doctor ordered.

Love your lunch

A recent survey has found that one in six Brits eat the same lunch every day. That’s a lot of ham sandwiches. I get it, working at an office doesn’t exactly inspire creativity, but surely a nice lunch (away from your desk if possible) is something to look forward to during a day that is normally punctuated by emails (and sometimes, even worse, actual meetings) about ‘projects’ and ‘objectives’. Even if you’re a freelancer or work from home, taking a break for a quick bite to eat is one of the healthiest things you can do.

Now, if you’re vegan, you might think that you’re destined to eat houmous on rice cakes for the rest of your working life (sometimes when I’m lazy I do this) but with a bit of forward planning, your lunchbox might become the envy of your colleagues – or your Instagram followers.

If I haven’t been organised enough (me, disorganised?) to make something the night before, I’ll pop to the supermarket on a Monday and stock up on enough food to make lunches for the week. Granted, I’m lucky that my office is within walking distance of three convenience stores but unless you’re in the middle of an industrial estate (and if you are, I’m sorry), you should have a Tesco nearby. A bag of spinach, a punnet of cherry tomatoes, a couple of tins of chickpeas or kidney beans, some avocados and a lemon are all you need. And maybe a tub of houmous and a few pouches of microwave rice, too. I know I keep banging on about these, but they’re amazing – my new fave is the Sainsbury’s one with lime and coriander).  If you keep olive oil, Tabasco sauce,salt and pepper in the office cupboard, you can add a bit more flavour, too.

lunch

In need of some vitamins? You can steam broccoli in the microwave and add it it to cooked quinoa, chopped carrot and cucumber, spinach and houmous. Dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice and voila, a super healthy lunch.

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Leftovers always work well, too.

You can’t go wrong with beans on toast. Or avo toast, for that matter.

And if you really can’t be bothered or are in a rush, don’t dismiss the usual suspects like M&S, Pret A Manger and Sainsbury’s. Shop carefully and you can pick up a tasty little vegan lunch.

Keyboard clacking driving you mad? This dreamy combo from Sainsbury’s will soothe you. I usually find a walk helps, too…

Sainsbury's

The new vegan options at Marks and Sparks are marvellous.

Pret’s pretty perfect, too, and offers a fair few vegan sandwiches, soups and salads.

And how’s this for a balanced meal? Thank you, Waitrose.

Car picnic. 'Balanced' meal 🙄 #basicbitch

A post shared by veggingit (@veggingit) on

Food for thought, whether you’re chained to the office desk or working at home in your PJs.

Getting in a flap

It’s something most of us are confronted with on a fairly regular basis: those overripe, brown bananas left in the fruit bowl. I only enjoy them when they’re just off-green but am loath to waste food so I’m always thinking of ways to use them up. There’s only so much banana bread a girl can bake – and eat – so this week, I’ve had a go at making these banana flapjacks. These are super sweet thanks to the bananas and dried fruit and if you’re cutting back on sugar, you can skip the maple syrup. Having said that, if you’re feeling decadent, you could add some dark chocolate chips to the mixture.

For this recipe I’ve used Fairtrade bananas, and I always buy these when I can, along with coffee, dark chocolate and sugar. Most of us know that lots of farmers in developing countries aren’t paid enough to support their families so buying Fairtrade helps them.  Fairtrade Fortnight ends on Sunday and you can find out more how you can take action here.

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Banana flapjacks

(Makes 12-14 flapjacks)

Ingredients

3 really ripe bananas squished

440g (2 cups) oats

100g (1/3 cup) seeds (flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)

170g (1/2 cup) dried fruit chopped (figs, dates, cranberries, apricots)

170g (1/2 cup) mixed nuts broken up (pecans, walnuts, cashews)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

80ml (1/3 cup) oil (coconut, olive, vegetable)

2 tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew)

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C (gas mark 5).

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and add the mashed bananas.

Heat the maple syrup, oil and peanut butter in a saucepan over a low heat until combined.

Add the wet mix to the mixture and stir well until everything is combined (this shouldn’t be too wet).

Line a baking tray with grease proof paper and spread the mix on top, around an inch thick.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and then divide into squares.

Chucking the chocolate

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Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I’ve given up chocolate. I’m taking part in DECHOX, British Heart Foundation’s challenge to ditch the cocoa-based products during March. Yes, vegans can be chocoholics too. I eat a couple of squares of dark chocolate every day, sometimes more, depending on how fed up and/or hormonal I am. Not a huge amount, I know, but I’d like to prove to myself that I can survive without it. Going cold turkey on coffee, bread or wine (my other weaknesses) seems impossible but this I just might be able to do.

Now, obviously I’m raising money for a good cause, but I’m hoping it’ll benefit me as well. I’ve been feeling a bit chunky recently and I know it’s because I’ve been eating a little too much of the sweet stuff and not exercising. In my head, I think I’m going to wake up on 1 April a few pounds lighter but my appetite has other ideas. Apple strudel, Hobnobs and rounds of white toast with Vitalite and maple syrup (I was hungover, OK?) have been a regular feature this week. Surely I can’t be the only Dechoxer who’s struggling.

In all fairness, there are plenty of other sweet treats you can enjoy instead of succumbing to sugary snacks. I’ve been trying to curb the cravings with fresh fruit, especially as pears, apples and rhubarb are now in season. Dried figs and dates also hit the spot too you can’t go wrong with banana – try it mashed on wholemeal toast with peanut butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon or ginger powder.

I guess I just need to practice the art of mindful eating (I’m not talking mindfulness here; I’d never have the patience for that) and do more baking. There’s something so soothing and restorative about sieving and sieving your way to a teatime treat. Much better than demolishing half a box of Cinnamon Grahams (if you’re reading this, you beautiful box: you had me at hello) on a Monday evening. Baking is good for the mind and soul, plus a slice of cake is guaranteed to put a smile on someone’s face.

This weekend I’m going to bake this seasonal spiced rhubarb cake, which I first made a couple of weeks ago and it was just lovely. Because it’s flourless (I’ve used ground almonds instead), it’s gluten free as well as vegan and is light and fluffy. It’s low in sugar and isn’t overly sweet although if you can add more maple syrup if you have a particularly sweet tooth.

So if you’re off the chocolate (or even if you’re not), make the most of pretty pink rhubarb while it lasts and give this cake a whirl. While you’re at it, chuck a few pounds towards a noble cause, would you? You can sponsor me here.

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Spiced rhubarb and apple cake

 

Ingredients

For the rhubarb

200g rhubarb

3 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ginger powder

For the rest of the cake

200g ground almonds

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

3 small apples, grated

150ml almond milk

1 banana, mashed

4 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ginger powder

Method

Cut the rhubarb into small pieces and stew over a low heat with a little water and the sugar, cinnamon and ginger for 5 minutes. Sieve the rhubarb and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170C (gas mark 3). Sieve the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and stir in the ground almonds.

In a separate bowl, grate the apple, then add the mashed banana, almond milk, rhubarb and the remaining spices.

In the bowl containing the dry ingredients, create a ‘well’ in the middle, the pour in the wet mixture and stir thoroughly. Grease an 8×8 baking tin with a little oil and pour in the mixture, making sure to spread it evenly.

Place on the top shelf of the oven a bake for 50-55 minutes. Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes then enjoy!

St David’s Day

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus! Yes, it’s St David’s Day, a national holiday (I wish) when we celebrate the patron saint of Wales, poets – and vegetarians. Yes, our Dave was a plant eater, would you believe. He also coined the phrase ‘gwnewch y pethau bychain’ or ‘do the little things’. in English.  His last words were:

“Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

Wise words indeed and something I’ve taken quite literally this St David’s Day as I’m just too darn busy to bake Welsh cakes this week. Instead, I’ll be enjoying some sweet treats from Fabulous Welshcakes in Cardiff Bay. I’m not waxing lyrical when I say that they’re the best I’ve tried – but I’ve eaten a lot over the years and these are just delicious. Excitingly for me, they sell a vegan version and gluten free and diabetic versions are also available and you can buy these little beauties online, too.

fabulous-welshcakes

If you have a bit more time on your hands, here’s a recipe for vegan Welsh cakes which I made last year.

 

Welsh cakes

Ingredients

440g (2 cups) self-raising flour

220g (1/2 cup) vegan margarine like Vitalite

130g (3/4 cup) caster sugar plus more sprinkling later

42g (1/4 cup) sultanas

42g 1/4 cup) raisins

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

A splash of plant milk

A mixing bowl

A rolling pin

A large non-stick frying pan (if you have a griddle that would be perfect)

A plate

Cookie cutters (a cup or glass would do fine)

 

Method

Measure all of your ingredients out and add them all to a large mixing bowl, except for the milk and fruit.

With your fingers, rub the mixture together until it becomes like breadcrumbs. It should be crumbly and even with no lumps of butter.

Add the dried fruit and mix it in.

Add a small dash of milk and mix it in with your hands. Add a tiny bit at a time until the crumble mix turns into a dry dough. It should be dry enough that it doesn’t stick to the bowl, but wet enough that it will stay in a ball.

Flour up your work surface and place the dough on it.

Flour up your rolling pin before rolling the dough until it is approx. 1cm thick. You don’t want them too thick or they won’t be cooked through.

Using your cookie cutter cut out your shapes. You should get about 18 good sized ones out of this dough.

Pre-heat your non-stick frying pan or griddle on a medium heat, don’t turn it up too high or the outside will cook too fast. If you don’t have a non-stick pan you can use a normal one, just remember to lightly grease it up first. You don’t want to fry them, we’re just heating them through.

Once they’re cooked they should be dry not greasy and firm not soft, and of course beautifully golden brown.

It will take 2-3 minutes either side for them to be golden brown and properly cooked. Once you’re done put them on a plate and sprinkle with caster sugar either side while they’re still hot so it sticks.

 

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