Monday, 23 January 2017

92% Vegan (and really good chocolate cake recipe)

Over the last few days, a few people have asked me about the things I've been cooking and posting on Instagram, so I thought I would do a blog post about it.

Lots of people I know are doing Veganuary. It's one of those monthly challenges I'm actually really interested in, but my birthday is in January and frankly, there's not a cat in hell's chance I'm going without an omnivorous celebratory meal, or a giant cake with cream cheese icing. So I made the decision that I would do vegan February instead, so, erm... Vegebruary? Having made the decision to do that, I've already started cutting down on meat and dairy products. It's useful to see what alternatives I do and don't like, so that I don't have any really depressing meals in Vegebruary when the stakes (not steaks! Ha!) will be a lot higher. 

It's also led me to consider carefully my parameters for Vegebruary, and for life from March 1st onwards. Ideally, I'd like a lot of the vegan principles to 'stick' and become long term habits rather than just fleeting ones. I have called this post '92% Vegan' because that's what I'm aiming to be, long term. The 92% is actually an arbitrary number; I'm not going to calibrate and calculate it! But the 92 represents the intention to make the vast majority of my diet plant-based. There are things that I will really struggle to give up, and frankly, I'm not sure I want to! But if I do find, after a month without, that I can do without them - brilliant! One of these is milk in my tea. Having tried lot and lots of vegan milk alternatives (most of which I can't stand) I have found two which I really, really like. I will happily drink them on their own, and I use them for overnight oats, and I like them made into lattes, but I just can't get used to them in tea. I am going to handle this by primarily drinking other hot drinks, but also by allowing myself one cup of tea with cow's milk in the morning if I really fancy it. This will usually be when I first get to work. So that puts me down to 99% vegan. I am told by vegan friends that I may well lose the taste for milk as the month progresses, and if so; great. 

Another thing I've thought a lot about is honey. I hadn't ever really thought about honey production. I sort of assumed it was like when people have pet bees, and they waft smoke at them and talk to them and take just enough honey to fill a jar or two. I have no idea why I thought commercial honey farming was like that; it's a ridiculous thing to think really! Then not so long ago, a video was shared on Facebook (I tried to find it and I can't) that showed the reality of honey farming. I will spare you the gruesome details but I will never, ever buy commercially produced honey again. In Bristol there are lots and lots of people who keep bees as a hobby, and I have decided that I am ok with buying honey from them. Simon and I went to the Bee Festival at the Botanic Gardens a while back, and it was clear that the keepers there treated their bees with care that borders on reverence. It's somewhat of a moot point, as I actually hardly ever consume honey, but I have decided where I stand on the ethics!

This train of thought then got me thinking about milk and meat. I'm conscious that I've fallen into the trap of convenience and we often end up getting our milk and meat from the local mini-supermarket. We only buy meat with the Tractor on, which is better than nothing, but it's hardly peak ethics. I know there are some vegans and vegetarians who don't think it makes any difference how the animal is raised if you are going to kill it in the end anyway. Each to their own, but that doesn't sit right with me. I'm going to get back in the habit of buying meat, eggs etc from places that care more about how the animals are raised. We're lucky that a branch of Better Food Company has opened about a ten minute walk from our house and joy of joys, it's open until 8! It's undoubtedly more expensive to shop there, but given that we'll be buying much less, I hope we'll be able to balance that cost. When I lived in Devon, we got a lot of our meat from a place called Higher Hacknell Farm. They still do meat boxes, so that may be another way to go. 

Something I'm also going to be flexible on throughout February is that I am sometimes lucky enough to review restaurants, and go to events and so on. If there's no vegan option available, I am going to have the vegetarian. Luckily, I have found somewhere that does a vegan roast every week, plus a vegan starter and a vegan pudding! Happy days!

And finally (as a thank you for reading all of this huge post!) I promised you a chocolate cake recipe! It's an adaptation of one I found by googling 'chocolate mug cake' . I tweaked it a bit anyway, and then I realised it could easily be made vegan, and if you can - why not? I made it in the microwave a couple of times and it's lovely. I recommend doing a third of the quantity if you just want a little elevenses snack, and two thirds for a pudding-sized portion. I couldn't finish a full portion. If you're doing it in the microwave, check it from 70 seconds onwards to see how runny you like it. As it's vegan, you could eat the mix raw if you wanted, so no need to worry about under-cooking it. 

After cooking it in the microwave, I wondered if it would work in the oven, and it does! I have only done it once, so please do consider this a work in progress! As the recipe is proportion based, it's very easy to tweak. If you wanted a more traditional open texture, you could try upping the baking powder slightly (but go gently; you'll be able to taste it if you put in too much) and upping the milk alternative, or using self-raising flour. My recipe makes a fairly dense, moist cake which is very intense and not too sweet. 

I use a specific 'cup' measuring cup but if you've not got one, a small mug is about right. 

Pre-heat oven to about 160 - 180 (it doesn't matter too much!)

In a bowl, mix;
1 cup of plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup cocoa
1 cup milk alternative 
1 cup oil 
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Simply mix together! 

Bake for around 12 - 20 minutes depending how squidgy you want them. 

This quantity makes 12 generous muffin sized cakes. They do rise, but not a huge amount. You can fill the cake case almost to the brim. You can easily make fewer; just use half a cup and half a tbsp instead. 

I made a few with a blob of peanut butter in the middle. They went down very well! 

If you'd like to see how I get on, I'm going to use the hashtags #vegebruary and #92percentvegan. 

If you have any amazing recipes I would love to hear about them!


Monday, 2 January 2017

Review, Renew and Reset

The shift from one year to another feels like a reset button. To me, it's a clean slate. The things that weren't so great about the outgoing year have an Official Full Stop. I think it's the same sort of feeling as getting a new notebook; the possibilities are endless. The combination of two weeks off work and a change in date mean that I start each year feeling particularly energised and hopeful. It's a wonderful feeling to be ready to make positive changes, and to shake off any negativity from the year before.

One thing that's been really significant for me in 2016 is reading the book Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. I'm by no means a devotee, and I found a lot of the book frankly silly, but the parts that resonated with me have been genuinely life-changing. Over the past few years, I've acquired a taste for minimal decor, but had no way of translating that into my home. It was far too cluttered and never tidy for more than a day or two. Reading Spark Joy and learning the KonMari method has helped me start the process of decluttering. I bought the house I live in right at the end of 2015, and it's the first place that's really been Home for a long time; somewhere rented just isn't the same. Owning it has made the process of decluttering more meaningful; I can make this house feel however I want, and I want it to be clean and simple and as minimal as practical. The KonMari (KM) method isn't necessarily about minimalism*, but for me they have parallels. This is definitely something I'll be continuing in 2017. If you're interested in KM etc, some friends and I started a Facebook group called A Joy Sparking Life. It's very new and there's not a lot on there yet, but we'll hopefully fill it up as we all continue with our KM process. You're very welcome to join. At some point in January, I'll write a blog post about my KM journey so far. Simon and I are restarting it now we've honed our skills, so it's an opportune moment to do so.

Something else that has been great in 2016 is that I joined a book group. I've met some amazing friends through it and we talk pretty much every day. It's also meant that I read more, and that I read things that I wouldn't usually read. It's a book group where we do actually read and talk about the books. I hear that's not always the case!

I've also started this blog! I started my first blog in something like 2008 and have started and abandoned quite a few more in the time in between. Through this blog, and through my writing at 365 Bristol I have got more involved in the Bristol blogging community, and through it I've met some amazing women who I'm now very lucky to call my friends. I have no intention of this blog being one I abandon!

When I look forwards to the rest of 2017,
I'd like to go on some nice holidays, to pay off some of my debts, and to think about maybe running some workshops from home. I'd also like to learn how to use some of the settings on my camera. I would be very pleased if I could find myself a source of income (however small) that's not related to my day job.

Something I do every January is the January Cure via Apartment Therapy. It's a series of small, easy tasks to declutter and refresh your home. I pick and choose from the daily assignments but I do probably 90% of them.

Also happening in January is Veganuary but I am not actually doing it until February. I didn't find out about it until 31st December-ish and we had no time to stock up on anything so I'd have failed by 10am on 1st Jan when I had my first cup of tea! Plus my birthday is in January and there's also the Bishopston Supper Club roast, both of which I wish to fully meatily partake in. I know that being vegan comes naturally to some people, but I am 100% not one of them, so I will find it really, really hard. I want to give it as good a go as I can, so I need to be prepared and do my research. Luckily, I live near two fab vegan cafes so I'll have easy access to great cake! So I'll be doing... Vegebuary? Veguary?? I'm also going to allow myself one cup of tea with cows milk, per day. I know it's cheating but it's the one thing that I can see myself failing on, and I suppose that if I acknowledge that from Day 1, then it's not so bad? Maybe as I work my way through the month, I'll find that I can give it up.

I know that what I'm about to say will sound annoyingly twee, and is possibly tempting fate, but I am at a point in my life where I feel very happy. And probably the first point in my life where I'm not actively seeking out big changes. In 2016 I left a job that was wringing me out, and I found a new one which I think I will love. I bought and started renovating a house that I love. I moved to a new area which I was initially wary of, but now I love. I got engaged and married, and in the best possible way, it changed nothing about my relationship. If nothing changes in 2017, and even if I don't achieve a single one of my goals, I will still think I'm incredibly fortunate.

*The key focus of KM is to keep things that bring you joy, so one person's house could be very brightly coloured and full to the brim of carefully considered objects but still be completely KM. Personally, empty space brings me more joy than Stuff, but everyone's KM vision is different and equally valid.
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