Sunday, 3 November 2013

Lentils are the new beans

I love beans. Beans occupy the opposite end of my particular food spectrum to aubergines which, as we know, are Satan's vegetables. Beans are good; borlotti beans are best. But too much of anything can dull its splendour (except for Lusos, obviously), so it's important to branch out.

And so I've been experimenting with lentil recipes. I love lentils. Lentils occupy a spot right next to beans on my personal food spectrum. Lentils are good; beluga lentils are best and make for some extremely good vegan recipes. The basic recipe below can be wrapped in blanched cabbage leaves and baked (nom), wrapped in tortillas or tacos, or topped with boulangere potatoes and slapped in the oven.

The basic recipe:

Fry an elegant sufficiency of garlic in olive oil, add finely chopped onion and celery; season with salt, black pepper and oregano and cook slowly until softened. Add chopped peppers and mushrooms, stir for a few minutes then add a small amount of water and a vegan stock cube (Kallo for preference) and bring to the boil, letting the stock reduce to almost nothing. Add chopped fresh tomatoes, a pack of ready cooked Beluga lentils (or cook separately if you have more time than I do) and let it simmer. I like to add a bit of Vecon and a splash of tomato puree for depth of flavour.

To make it quicker I have taken to peeling and chopping the tomatoes then getting them cooking while making the sauce.

For the boulangere potatoes, put five or six good sized whole unpeeled potatoes in plenty of water, bring to the boil and cook slowly until quite tender (but not thoroughly cooked). Either leave to cool or embrace the Great Hot Potato Peeling Dance, as I do. Slice about 1/4 inch or 2cm thick. Meanwhile fry up a couple of sliced onions in olive oil until soft.

Put the lentil mix in the bottom of an oven proof dish and layer the potatoes and onions on top, brushing the top layer with a little olive oil. Lush!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

My day

Every now and then you have one of those days when you're glad to be alive and all is well with the world. Since there exists balance in all things in nature, it is only to be expected that you will also experience Other Days, days where the only reasonable course of action seems to be winding down the window of life and yelling "you fuckers!" out of it with great gusto. If my day today was a vegetable, it would have definitely been an aubergine, and you may know by now how I feel about aubergines. Yes. Satan's vegetable.

So. Up very shortly after five to do the horses and set off for work at around 6:50am. Bit of traffic on the M20; accident. No biggie. Outskirts of Lewisham however: very gnarly. In a fit of thoroughly undeserved optimism, particularly in view of a complete lack of (a) satnav or (b) even the most vestigial sense of direction, I decided to seek out a back route.

It started off pretty well actually, good little route through the surprisingly genteel Lewisham Park until I realised I was heading back towards the main Lewisham roundabout (always gnarly), and opted to carry on a beating my path of discovery a bit further. Big mistake. Crofton Park, Forest Hill, even Catford FFS and finally, finally, some while later, back on the main sodding drag exactly where I had already been, heading down to Lewisham roundabout. Much gnarly traffic, an increasingly turgid bladder, a rumbling stomach and a petrol tank best described as "terminally flaccid". Eventually made it to work some two and a half hours after I set off.

There's only one thing to do after such a journey, which is to go and seek out the biggest soya cappuccino known to man and repair to the office, rocking quietly back and forth while consoling oneself with caffeine, a cheese and tomato panini and the prospect of a meeting about how to clear a building containing anything up to 1000 students in the event of a fire.

So all is well, I'm in the meeting and I'm two thirds of the way down my cup of coffee when suddenly, out of nowhere, an unprovoked Attack of the Anarchic Epiglottis. Paralysed just long enough to send a quantity of coffee lungwards, it provoked an explosion of fluid over the immediate surfaces, including but not restricted to table, colleagues and building maps. As a result of this experience I can say with some authority that the reach of one mouthful of coffee can be quite surprising when expelled at great velocity.

Often after a day like that I like to self-medicate on the way home with the liberal application of some heavy duty dance music on my favourite radio station, Project FM Live.I am also by now quite adept at letting some often rampant WTFery on the part of other drivers wash over me while I make my painful crawl back through the Lewisham badlands. After twenty years of driving I've pretty much seen it all. Broken down all over, had my Beemer totalled by a French lorry (Lewisham roundabout), thoroughly murdered one Volvo and one MG ZR (head gaskets), been pranged, done prangs, been cut up, etc etc.

But today two things happened which I have never seen before and which raised the bar on car-based fuckery to a whole new level. Episode 1: in a two lane road waiting to turn left onto the A2, behind a bus which quite reasonably in view of its width and turning circle of a small oil tanker straddles both lanes. I pull up next to a guy in a van. My peripheral vision clocks that he is becoming quite exercised by this and he inches forward aggressively, cuts me up and starts ranting and raving at me while I sit quite legitimately in the outside lane. WTF. He's still ranting as he sails through the lights. Perhaps he's had a bad day.

Let it wash off as he roars in front of me and takes up the one car-length spot outside the junction box that I might otherwise have taken had I not been so rudely undercut. No matter. Wait for the lights again, but there's nowhere to go that won't cost me money. Last time I inadvertently ended up stranded on that junction box it cost me 60 quid, so I wasn't about to do that again. Quite reasonably, as far as most people are concerned. However. I couldn't help but notice that the sausage eaters in the car behind were becoming rather irritated by this rampant adherence to the rules of the road, gesticulating wildly and swearing with sufficient vigour to presumably cover the inside of their windscreen with a fine film of spittle. The lights going red were the final straw and, unable to wait a moment longer, they swung round and flew past me at at least 3000mph, still gesticulating with sufficient vigour to allow the fact that the lights were red to escape them, only to come to a screaming halt right in the middle of the junction box. I do not ordinarily like to indulge in karmic incorrectness by wishing misfortune and pestilence upon my fellow man, but on reflection it wouldn't hurt at all for Karma to sprinkle her fairy dust on them, perhaps in the form of a 60 quid fine.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Eyeballs, mainly

So a few weeks back Noodal and I were doing lates during a power cut and, in a bizarre and truly random twist of fate, I leaned down to pick up a hay net and wallop! stabbed in the right eye by an errant blade. The event took out a whole weekend in a fog of pain but, being quite blokeish about these things, I resisted all entreaties from my nearest and dearest to go to the doctor, relying instead upon a giant bottle of Optrex and a shed load of Nurofen.

A few days later I was able to see and drive etc so all returned to normal. Except that I have a tendency to rub my eyes when tired and soon learned that there was a residual sensitivity in the eye which forbore me to continue this habit. So I worked with it and stopped rubbing my eye, until last Sunday night when I must have rubbed or knocked it in my sleep. It woke me up at the time and in the morning it was quite sore. Still, must carry on, I thought, up at 5:30am for the 50 mile drive to work, record breaking 6.5km at the gym (proud) and on to a series of meetings and a number of hours spent interacting with a computer before driving the 50 miles back home, by which point the eye was rather painful. Really rather painful.

By Tuesday morning it became apparent that I was in no fit state to drive or look at computer screens and the day was spent in degrees of agony, even the act of blinking an ill-advised activity. Nevertheless I hoped that some miracle would restore it to some semblance of normality by Wednesday morning, but it was not to be. I relented and called the surgery for an appointment.

I recounted events to the doctor, who frowned disapprovingly, and only brightened when he said a corneal abrasion might lead to an ulcer if left untreated. "Ahhh", I said, "uveitis?" "Ooh", he replied with a gleam in both perfectly functioning eyeballs, "are you medical?" "No", I said, "but I once had a horse prone to uveitis". The gleam faded, and he sent me off with a prescription and a note to take to A&E.

Parting rejoinder to the doctor was a quip about having to wait six hours in A&E with a throbbing eyeball. "I shouldn't think it will be that long", he said, not unkindly, "just take a book or a newspaper". I resisted the urge to scowl at him and say " a BOOK? Are you mad? Do I look like I am in a fit state to read a BOOK, you highly educated cretin, you?" For the ultimate irony is that the one time I am confined to barracks on enforced rest, I am utterly unable to read or fritter away endless hours on my laptop, in the way that I might otherwise wish to do. Arrggh.

Sid drove me up to the hospital and for a miracle we were seen straight away.The eye was examined by a nurse wielding a slit lamp (which hurt, but I was stoic) and pronounced full of dust and in need of a rinse, after the precautionary application of some anaesthetic drops. A rinse, you say? A rinse being a litre of saline being passed over the eye while I leaned over a sink. A second nurse did this and she was a very interesting character; head hunter in the city, body guard and animal nut, which was all very nice but it did not distract my body in any way from wanting to employ all necessary defensive tactics at the sight of someone coming at me with a plastic tube and trying to get at my injured orb. Bodyguard or not, she really struggled with my eyelids and eventually proclaimed them the strongest she had ever come across - what an accolade!

Back to the slit lamp and the eye was pronounced cleaner. Ah good. I really didn't want to go through all that again. Nurse said she wanted to try and curl my upper eyelid up and over a cotton bud, or some such, in the search for other abrasions or foreign bodies. What she didn't realise until after several failed attempts (ow!) was that she was dealing with the world's most powerful eyelids, and had to give it up as a bad job. She did a fluorescein stain to show the extent of the abrasion (verdict: "significant") and gave me some ointment, which as we all know is much better than drops. Chloramphenicol, my saviour. It seems there is no conclusive research as to whether or not an injured eye is better covered. In my case better not until at least the act of painless blinking could be restored, but I took to wearing Sid's wraparound shades at all times, which did help a bit.

During Thursday and Friday the eye was supersensitive to light, really bad. I had to close all the curtains and approach the rooms with no curtains with great caution.  Days best descried as boring and painful, but I was at last able to tolerate an eye patch, which really did seem to help with the resting process.

And today - oh glory, with praise to all available deities - much much better! I still have to wear the shades outside but what a mercy. I celebrated by riding Q and then going into the village to do a spot of shopping and exchange eyeball-related horror stories with various shopkeepers. The girl in the deli - her uncle was hit directly in the eye by a squash ball and they had to *take the eye out* in order to treat it. Mark in the veggie shop - as a kid, a mate of his flicked a rubber band at a kid, which hit him in the corner of his eye and actually lodged between the eyeball and the socket. They had to take his eye out too to retrieve the band. Arggh. The moral of the story is that no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse. Just imagine for a moment how that would be. And then quickly do something else.

Anyway. So the eye was holding up well so having been stuck indoors doing very little for days on end, I took the dogs out for a run in the forest as a further celebration of return to normalcy. Never to be taken for granted, the ability to look around and blink and go about one's business without staccato bursts of pain issuing like a tsunami around the eyeball.

The other moral of the story of course is never to do lates during a power cut.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Some thoughts about the sharing of principles

"Studies show more people are able to stay active in animal advocacy with a lower level shock value on these pictures. So many good animal advocates are lost when they could have helped so much. But if you misuse your power and throw pictures in our laps of gory, horrifying, shocking slaughter photos without one petition, or one cause, or one movement or action, well then you're just risking losing the people who could have helped you, by being repulsive for no reason except to share someone else's report. Where is this exactly or who is responsible, no one knows. Don't risk burnout of those who really care by abusing your issuing powers." - D.M.

This is a very interesting point to consider. On the one hand, for me it has been life-changing because it sent me back to vegetarianism and giving up milk and as much dairy as possible, and I am very happy for that. On the other, sometimes I really can't handle it. In my view it is a social responsibility to be aware of the repercussions that one's actions have and to make an informed choice instead of one dictated by social standards, and act accordingly. But I kind of have a foot in each camp. I don't believe myself to be a "lemon sucker" as a result because I've taken the trouble to find out and make my choices by confronting things I find deeply disturbing and unpalatable. But sometimes I still can't handle it. For the most part though I would rather put myself through it for the awareness than not.

I've also been thinking about that continuum of hypocrisy on which we as animal lovers all exist. There are those who define themselves as animal lovers yet eat meat at one end and committed vegans who seek to eschew all forms of cruelty from their lives at the other, and all manner of variations in between. At the moment I can only truthfully define myself as being somewhere in between. Finding that dairy is really no better than meat, I have given up milk and dairy products - with the notable exception of cheese. I don't eat meat and I am actively choosing cruelty free beauty and household products, but I still wear leather. I see no reason not to eat eggs from my own happy hens but I confess to a weakness for cake which is not made from our eggs.

My point is that I know I have quite some way to go in terms of living a life that supports my principles. That said I believe passionately in being supportive of people making more ethical choices as a more positive and productive way forward than castigating them for the things they are not doing. Although I understand the passion that drives it, because I feel it myself, there is nothing more off-putting to the on-the-fencer than a militant vegan or vegetarian who persists in shoving their views down others' throats. Within that though there is still a vitally important place for raising awareness. My own choice is increasingly to share articles which are informative which might get people thinking and talking but not to share anything truly horrifying.

Consider. This time last year our household began our journey by giving up milk, after a particularly heavy discussion about the vagaries of the dairy industry and the hypocrisy involved in a position which eschews the eating of veal while drinking milk. Shortly after this I stopped eating meat because it reawakened me to the things I knew but had chosen to not think about. Hitherto we'd been getting our meat from local farm shops, the sort where you can see the animals living more natural and happy lives. But the turning point happened when it dawned on me that no matter how good the husbandry, the bottom line was that there was no avoiding that horrifying journey to the slaughterhouse, and all that entails.

When I announced that I was going vegetarian, Sid's reaction was "oh Christ"; imagining no doubt confrontations, inconvenience and a certain amount of haranguery. Don't worry, I said, I'm not going to make an issue of it if you don't. And I haven't. Neither has he.

Since then there have been some very interesting discussions that I don't believe would ever have been possible had I chosen to adopt a combative stance. The net result is a household that is roughly 90% vegetarian and a great deal more consideration on the part of the meat eaters concerning the provenance of their food. Sid, hitherto a confirmed meat eater, has been talking about giving up meat for a month. I can't tell you how awesome that is.

Something to consider, no, about the benefit of awareness and education over castigation?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The dress saga

So House of Fraser had a January sale and I found a couple of treasures while perusing their pages, the highlight of which was an L K Bennett dress knocked down from an unreasonable sum to a really quite tempting and attainable one. Congratulating myself on the imminent acquisition of one excellent bargain, I ordered the dress and a small selection of other items without hesitation.

A few days later and a box arrived bearing my spoils. Splendid, I thought, tearing into it with some considerable enthusiasm, for I loff L K Bennett - albeit usually only from afar in view of aforementioned weighty price tags.

All other items were exactly as anticipated - except for the dress which, no matter which way one held it up to the light or from which angle one viewed it, bore all the hallmarks of... a jacket. An L K Bennett jacket, true enough, and the right colour, but a jacket nonetheless.

Awash with emotions which could reasonably be gathered up under the heading "disappointed", I lost no time in getting on to their Customer Services department to politely enquire after the obvious error. Not to worry, their standard auto responder seemed to imply, simply reorder on our web site and return the item that was sent in error. Mmph, I thought, slightly disgruntled, but went ahead as directed.

But wait! Said dress was no longer available! Arghhhhhh. I duly fed back this information to the good people at HoF, wailing about being on the point of missing out on this great and much coveted bargain through no fault of my own and enquiring as to what they intended to do by way of recompense.  No, they replied, it is definitely still available. A quick search showed that in fact two sets of the same dress were listed, at different prices. One indeed was sold out but wait! the other one showed one dress remaining in stock, in my size and everything. It must be meant to be. So I placed another order and gaily awaited my parcel.

A few days later saw the arrival of another box.Splendid, I thought, tearing into it with even more enthusiasm than I had the first time. See if you can guess what was inside.

Yes, another jacket.

Working as I do in a front facing, customer service-oriented environment, I appreciate more than most the great importance of not taking out one's impotent rage on the poor sap whose misfortune it is to answer the phone when some sort of fuckery has taken place, as above. So I left it a few hours until my vital signs had returned to normal, and called them up once I was in a position to conduct myself in a friendly and amenable manner. The nice customer services lady (Jane) and I even bonded over the incredulity of being caught up in this improbable web of crapness not once, but twice. We left it with Jane placing the order herself directly with the warehouse to offset the possibility of any further malpractice and parted on splendid terms; I to await my third parcel, and she to do whatever the hell it was that she needed to do next. She even put it on free express delivery for me and gave me a tenner off.

The third parcel arrived yesterday. It looked a bit small to me but nevertheless I pressed ahead with the ceremonial opening, pushing down that little voice which was attempting to set off all those little alarms I have set up around the boundaries of my psyche to guard against attacks on my sanity and general wellbeing.

See if you can guess what was inside.

A skirt.

An L K Bennett skirt, true enough, and the right colour, but a skirt nonetheless.

There is only one thing to do in such a situation, which to give oneself over utterly to the undeniable humour of it all. Indeed, we speculated as to what might arrive next, were we to continue along this path which we knew by now to be strewn with veritable boulders of ineptitude and chasms of crapness. Some pantaloons, perhaps, or a playsuit. Maybe a coat of arms. By this point the mind was boggling freely while galloping off cackling into the middle distance.

On the plus side I now have a nice bargain L K Bennett suit. Less positively, it's clear that it was just not meant to be with the dress.

Jane and I thoroughly enjoyed this new development on the phone today, concluding with irrefutable logic that clearly, clearly there was some sort of issue lingering between what was listed on the web site and what was stored in the warehouse, all cunningly bearing the same product code.

So I ordered a Hobbs dress instead.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

More vegan recipes

I spent some time over the weekend making a feast of Indian food, as follows:

Two of the recipes are Madhur Jaffrey's; spicy chick peas and green beans and peas with ginger and coriander, with rice, bombay potatoes and a red lentil curry that I was inspired to recreate after having a very good one at the Natura cafe at Goldies last week.

The green beans and peas were delicious! I cooked them with a little oil and stock in a frying pan, covered for five mins then reduced the stock until there was just 2-3 tbs of water left, then add 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbs chopped ginger and 3tbs of chopped fresh coriander.

The chick peas are a real favourite; vegetable oil, garlic and onions, softened, then added ground cumin and coriander, the chick peas, 6tbs of chopped tomatoes plus a little stock, cook for 5-10 mins then and paprika, cayenne pepper, garam masala, lemon juice and fresh coriander. All the better to be simmered for a while.

The lentil curry was based on my preferred tomato base (see prior blog) then added red lentils and spices.


Monday, 14 January 2013

Some favourite vegan recipes - curry

As promised here are a small selection of vegan recipes. Apologies for the delay; this was caused by being accidentally brutally stabbed in the eye by a blade of hay which rendered me utterly unable to do anything significant with a computer screen or make any real progress with the book which arrived on Friday and which I have been awaiting with great anticipation for some 12 months. Anyway.

Vegan Curry
This is quite time-consuming but worthwhile.

Tomato base
8-12 plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped,
2 sticks celery, finely chopped

Curry base
1 tsp each of black mustard seeds, black onion seeds and cumin seeds
1 clove garlic
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, chopped
1-2 tbsp madras curry paste and/or home made curry powder
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 medium potatoes, preferably parboiled in skin, left to cool and chopped
1 sweet potato
1/2 cauliflower/broccoli
selection of green beans, courgette, whatever to hand
small cup of red lentils
handful of cardamom pods
1 large tin of chick peas
fresh coriander

Tomato base
This is not essential but it's a really good base for a curry as well as a pasta base ragu. I find with vegan food you have to work a bit harder to get that depth of flavour and that it is well worth doing so.

1. Skin the tomatoes by scoring the skins and placing them in a bowl of water for 30s.
2. Chop the tomatoes and season with salt, black pepper and a good glug of olive oil.
3. Saute the garlic in olive oil then fry the onions very slowly until translucent.
4. Add the celery and cook for a further 5mins or so until soft.
5. Add some water, enough to cover the onions and celery, a vegan stock cube and raise the heat to reduce the volume by at least half. Add seasoning. This will intensify the flavour. You can use white or red wine if you have some handy.
6. When the stock is reduced, add the chopped tomatoes and another lug of olive, then cook for ages over a low heat. Ideally a good hour - the longer the better. If the tomatoes are not good quality you could add a bit of brown sugar to round the flavour.

Meanwhile, get started on curry base.

1. Heat some vegetable oil to a high heat, then add the seeds and cook until they start to pop.
2. Take off the heat and let it cool.
3. Add the garlic and ginger, cook for 30s.
4. Add the onions and cook for a minute or two.
5. Add the curry paste or powder and stir to mix thoroughly.
6. Add the veg in the order of which takes longest to cook, stir.
7. Add enough water to cover, the lentils and the cardamom pods, and simmer for ages.

When the tomatoes are nicely reduced, sweet and tasty, add to the curry base. Cook the whole on a low heat - long and slow is best. Finally, add the chopped coriander chick peas and serve with boiled rice, quinoa or cous cous.

Remember to taste at every stage and adjust seasoning.

NB make sure your stock is vegan. I love the Swiss Vegetable Bouillon but this is not vegan - they doa vegan version but it is not as good. Kallo do a great vegan stock cube.