Sunday, 26 October 2014

Going Gluten Free and Vegan

I met for lunch with a friend of mine recently and she asked me why I'd chosen to go vegan for a week. I explained that many of the things I eat are, or can be made vegan because I can't tolerate eggs or dairy so my normal diet is what I can 'Megan' (vegan with meat!) So I thought it'd be an easy thing to do and was curious about the affect it would have on my health and general wellbeing. She still looked slightly perplexed, so I said I'd gone off meat quite a lot in recent years and asked if she'd ever "just had a bad bacon sandwich?" I think it clicked then and we discussed how sometimes eating meat it just grim and how a bad bacon sandwich or gristly piece of meat in a stew can put you off meat for a while.

As for eggs and dairy, I am actually thankful that they cause me problems because I am now educated about the egg and dairy industry. Both industries have their issues, but the main issue for me is that the egg industry considers male chickens as 'waste'. Likewise, the dairy industry considers male cows as 'waste' (the 'organic' or 'free range' industry included.) Not many people want to know about what happens to the 'waste' but as a consumer, I believe that we can't ignore the facts and hope they go away. 

My vegan and gluten free week revealed many things to me, some expected and some very surprising.

Making choices in the supermarket - I realised that I instinctively went for the option with meat in, without paying much attention to the meat free version i.e. tinned soup. Why have winter veg when you can have pea and bacon? The bacon option sounds tastier, right? I had never thought about how both can be the same price....the origin of the meat in such products is never considered. We'd buy an organic chicken but also a 'pepperoni' pizza without a second thought.

Vegan choices are not necessarily healthy choices - like with GF, people assume it is a healthier lifestyle, but I found myself getting excited over vegan alternatives to things, which ended up containing a long list of unrecognisable ingredients. I also ate a lot of fried food (as frying seems to be the easiest way to give something flavour) and using flavour enhancers that I didn't feel should be consumed on a regular basis. On this note, vegans eat a lot of gluten and soy products. Seitan anyone? A diet high in refined wheat products and unfermented soy makes me feel pretty uncomfortable.

The vegan diet requires a lot of forethought and preparation - GFers think that they struggle to eat on the move, eat out or plan lunches - veganism is on a whole new level. GF and vegan felt almost like a prison sentence. No more eating out, no more dinners with family, no more lunch with colleagues. Nothing. It's a brave move. If you've done it out of choice, all hail to you! If you have no other option, you have all of my sympathy.

Like the GF diet, veganism can be expensive and requires visiting numerous shops and websites to get all the bits you need. A friend of mine recently went vegan and couldn't believe how expensive his weekly shop became. Before I tried this diet, I thought that sounded ridiculous - surely removing meat from the shop shaves loads of money off? But man cannot live on vegetables alone - one simply gets bored. After day 3 of vegetable bake, vegetable soup, vegetable pasta, vegetable stir fry, you long for some variation. Suddenly that vegan omelette recipe you saw doesn't seem so silly.
As I'd only removed meat (and cheese) from my diet, I hadn't expected to see any difference to my digestion. At the beginning, I was using the loo several times a day. I worried that I had taken things too far and might make myself ill. And then that stopped and I felt great, healthy, lighter and full of energy, On one of the days, I actually boinged around the house like Tigger, while my husband looked on bemused. How many 33 year olds can honestly say they 'boing'? My sleep was like a heavenly slumber. I lost 3 pounds and my IBS perma-pooch was almost flat.

So what did I actually eat?

Breakfasts - not much change here, fruit, porridge, cereal with almond milk, toast with Vitalite.

Lunch - Leftovers from dinner with salad and egg free mayo, Uncle Ben's rice pouches, vegetable soup. On the weekend, hash browns/waffles, mushrooms, tomatoes, smoked soya cheese, (the Tesco one is actually great), baked beans.

Dinner - Pizza (make your own base with polenta, sweet potato or spinach (Check out Mila's amazing recipes) with vegan cheese, sundried tomato puree base, jalapenos, mushrooms, sweetcorn.
Spicy noodles (check out the Vegan Black Metal Chef's Phad Thai!), tortilla wraps with refried beans, guacamole, vegan cheese, chillis and roasted peppers, chickpea and mushroom curry, veggie chilli, Mexican soup with black eyed peas instead of chicken and something I invented called 'Chick cakes' - slightly blend a tin of chickpeas and an equal amount of sweetcorn (during the week, I found frozen veg very useful) with a tablespoon of GF flour, fresh coriander and seasoning/spices of your choice. Form into patties and shallow fry until brown on both sides. Cook up a batch and eat them in a bun, with salad and 'slaw or have for breakfast with baked beans.


A further tip I learned; cook up batches of tortillas, hash browns, savoury rice, bean burger type things, refried beans, dhaal - anything that you can keep in the fridge and dip into when you're hungry. Hunger is definitely the enemy when you go vegan!

At the end of the week, although I felt great, I had a niggling feeling that the diet wasn't as healthy as my usual diet. I would recommend it if you have disturbed sleep, bad skin, mood swings - anything unexplained that has been niggling away - as I know loads of people who have found going completely herbivore helpful for all of these things. The diet affirmed to me that my hard won diet, the one that keeps me pain free after much trial and error is the one I want to stick with. However, it has helped me to look at meat in a different way, to go for the veggie option whenever I can and to try to add flavour to meals in other ways instead of relying on meat. If recent studies are to be believed, this won't be a choice for us for much longer so maybe I'm just getting a head start!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Gluten Free in Woolacombe, Devon

We camped at The Little Roadway Farm Campsite (great range of booze in the shop but couldn't see any animals!)

One of my favourite pints, Cornish Rattler - at Captain Jack's

Very rainy beach

Sea Breeze Ice Cream & Coffee Shop

GJ's Dutch Pancake Bar


AKA, a throughly British Bank Holiday on the coast!
My husband and I (always think of the Queen's speach when I write that) spent a very wet weekend in Woolacombe at the end of August.
The main draw was the surfing. I'd purchased surfing lessons for hubbie for his birthday as he really enjoyed it when he did it years ago. I booked my first ever horse riding lesson for the same morning.
Unfortunately surfing was postponed so we had to wait until the Monday for the lesson and after walking down to watch a bit of the surfing, I retreated back to the town for a hot drink and a hand dryer.
On the way I discovered a plethora of GF and DF goodies. Woolacombe is teeny tiny, a little model village but you'd eat out pretty well here. As it was our last day, we didn't get a chance to, but we will definitely be back. Bodacious waves, a filly called Bobby and a 'Dutch style' pancake awaits us!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Modern Feminism and Baking

Until recently, I didn't call myself a feminist, but that was only because I didn't understand it. Feminism has had a bad reputation for years. For example, we only seem to use the adjective 'strident' to precede feminist. Feminists are still associated with lesbianism, protest marching, hairy armpits and men hating.

Fortunately, social media sites like Twitter mean that you can customise your online experience so that we are only in touch with like minded individuals. Many of the people I follow on Twitter are creative and enjoy crafting and baking, eat clean/veggie/vegan, are tattooed, are against animal cruelty, are politically aware and engaged, tweet about issues they feel strongly about and have healthy relationships with people of all genders. A lot of the women I follow also happen to be feminists. It is thanks to Twitter that I found out that I am a feminist. And if you are reading this, and you are a female, I almost guarantee that you are too.
This new wave of feminists are still politically engaged but we recognise that bashing men and hating on other women does not further the main purpose of feminism - to promote equality of the sexes.

The post was prompted by a few things.
In the latest issue of 'Glamour' magazine, a journalist interviews food writer Mary Berry and asks her a peculiar question: "Do you think that wanting to cook for your husband makes you in any way subservient?"
It almost suggests that a love of baking and a penchant for spending hours in the kitchen makes women in some way less of a feminist, or at least more traditional in our roles. *Types in a Carrie Bradshaw stylee* Is it possible to bake and be a feminist....?

Type 'the new feminist' into Google and the first result is an article about Emma Watson's recent rousing speech on gender equality. The article mentions Beyonce et al who have recently 'come out' as feminist. To say this is a coming out is saying that once the coming out has happened, things will be very different for that person and that person will be viewed differently. Emma Watson will be described as 'strident' now instead of demure. Beyonce is credited with giving women a voice since 'coming out' despite (arguably) many other pop artists demonstrating gender equality in a more recognisable way.

As an 'out' feminist should people be surprised that I love baking and "cooking for my husband"?
Of course not, but I am no longer expected to have hairy armpits. We've come so far and still have a way to go, The point is, it is all about equality and I have a right to bake for myself, my husband, my colleagues, the neighbours cat as much as my male colleague has a right to too without being judged.
That's my little rant (with no food pics!) inspired by a ladies magazine and that will teach me to buy such things!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Graham's Bread, Ross-on-Wye

I don't mean to sound dramatic (for a change. OK I do) but life without bread is almost barbaric.

When people say "I could never live without bread!" one politely smiles and says "oh, it fine, really. Besides, the substitutes are really rather good these days..."

It's not fine really. I thought it was for a long time. but when I finally got good bread that I could eat (gluten free and egg free) I realised a few truths.

Life with bread is easier.
Life with bread is cheaper.
Life with bread is tastier.
Life with bread is more interesting.

Tesco used to sell a sliced bread that I could eat called 'Yes! You Can'. When they took it off the shelves I was very disappointed. I'd had a precious few months of taking normal looking sandwiches to work and toast that went in and out of my toaster with ease for breakfast. That was a couple of years ago. I've since tried to make my own bread. The result was a vile, weighty thing, resembling a mummified shoe more than a freshly baked loaf. Also, not many people mention the expense of these experiments. Buying £10 of speciality flours to see large amounts thrown in the bin adds to the melancholia.

I was house sitting for my mother-in-law last week and she lives near to Ross on Wye. Me and my husband went into town to pick up some supplies. We like to sit around her kitchen table and eat cheese, cured meats and homemade chutnies. Ross on Wye is a lovely place to shop for such things, which is a constant source of bemusement for my husband who recalls Ross in the drabness of the 80's. In the middle of the town, there is a lovely covered over area called The Market Place, used for markets since the 17th century. These days a few hardy stall holders still use the area and it is generally a good place to find old books, flowers and handmade items.

On the day we visited, we saw a bread stand advertising lardy cake, sourdough bread etc, then I noticed the 'Gluten Free' sign. I think I said something like 'well, let's just have a look at it, as we're here' to my husband! Pessimistic, much??

The man behind the table who I assumed to be Graham himself proudly talked me through the breads on offer. White and Brown sandwich bread, a more solid buckwheat bread and a very exciting looking flatbread/wrap. He also explained that a restaurant in Stroud uses his GF pizza base recipe (I think he was referring to Fat Toni's). The base is so popular that all the Trip Advisor reviews are about the GF pizza, much to the owners perturbation. (We sure know how to write shit about shit we like, huh?)

I picked up a buckwheat bread as I naturally go for the most unusual thing. Graham asked me to check out the sandwich loaf, saying that I would find it light with a great texture. I was shocked at how light it was. I checked both were egg free too and then bought both.

Back at the cottage, I thickly sliced the white and applied a generous slab of pate. There was no need at all to toast this bread first and the mouth feel was as similar to 'real' bread as I can remember. No powder feeling in the throat, no hard swallowing. I had the buckwheat with a chunky soup later on. This bread has a great flavour, almost malty with a firm texture, holding it's shape even when layered with cold butter. I had the white again for doorstop bacon sandwiches in the morning. I can't tell you how exciting it was to be able to use the term 'doorstop'!

Over the next few days, I worked my way through the bread, amazed at how easy it was to feed myself. Sandwiches were eaten as though they'd just been invented. On one of the days, I had a tongue and avocado open sandwich. It was stunning. Things that I missed out on - bruschetta, proper sized cheese on toast. Dessert? Bread and butter pudding! (OK, I didn't make any, but I will next time!)

I'm excited that I can get hold of this bread quite easily, it's only an hour away in the car. I'm planning more things to make with it and daydreaming of mayo (egg free of course) filled butties. At the same time, I'm kinda glad I don't have ready access to good bread. The bready week just highlighted how easy it is to just grab a bit of bread to make a meal and it really limits your diet and the nutrition that can be gained from a bread free meal.

It's about choices, and you don't realise how much you missed them until they are given back.

Graham's Bread is at the market in Ross-on-Wye every Saturday, 7.30 until 16.00.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Bloodstock Festival 2014 - Gluten Free Review

Embarrassingly, it has been 9 years since I last went to a festival. Download 2005 was a blur of Buffalo boots, bangs, sunburn, blagging free drinks, sharing fags and Slipknot. I don't remember eating. Saying that, 2005 was a year of not eating generally as I'd just moved to London and was living the life of a church mouse. I'm pretty sure that festival food back then was the ubiquitous burger van with a bit of 'Chinese' food for variety. I imagine that a lot of cheesy chips were eaten in disentranced silence.

Our friends go to Download, Sonisphere or both most years but they really found themselves at home at Bloodstock Open Air Festival and after saying "you guys HAVE to come" about 1,000 times, we booked some tickets. Bloodstock sounded like it would be more suited to our needs, we enjoy our home comforts these days and shy away from large crowds, queues and 18 year old head cases.

I didn't think about food until a month before (late in the day for a GFer). I kinda assumed that the festival organisers would have booked a veggie type food van that would have something free from for me to eat. I left Bloodstock a message on Facebook and Twitter to make sure but didn't get a reply on either. Less than 2 weeks to go and I was really panicking. I took to Twitter to ask for advice. I got a link to this blog post ('B's 8 Rules for Gluten Free Festival Goers') and most people advised me to pack as many snacks as possible. I told myself to prepare for the apocalypse (this is pretty standard for me for most things) and we went out and bought a stove, loads of gas, a pan and some Ilumi pouches.

When we got home we managed to scrounge together a brain cell and checked the festival website - no gas of any kind and BBQing only in the BBQ area. My visions of morning cups of tea and beans on toast were shattered. I do not like singling myself out any more than usual so the thought of sloping off to make my meals in a designated area away from our tents held no appeal whatsoever.
I then took the risky decision to go down the cheesy chips route, mainly because I thought we might be trapped at the arena all day and getting back to the tent for meals would be tricky.

* A while later, we went camping again and took our stove and Ilumi meals. We popped them into boiling water and 10 minutes later we had a steaming hot, flavoursome and filling dinner. I definitely recommend!

The one sensible decision I made was to make a batch of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Peanut Butter Booster Bars to have for breakfast. I make these often and I knew they'd be an excellent source of fibre and vitamins. I know how I get with being away from home and my normal diet and these made sure that I was regular as clockwork thus also avoiding the 'bunged up grumps' for the entire weekend.

As it turned out, the campsite is about 5 minutes walk from the arena and we were nipping back and forth between bands to drink our own booze so I could have eaten some pre-prepared food quite easily. The question is, what? If I ever find a gluten free, egg free snack that doesn't require refrigeration and isn't crisps then I will jump for joy. I toyed with the idea of making little pasties or pies with potato pastry, cheese, tomatoes etc but ran out of time to experiment.

What really struck me during all this is how much control festivals have over you, your body and your spending money. No fires, no food or drink in the arena etc. It really leaves you with little option than to spend, spend, spend in the arena. (On that note, a few people had BBQs next to their tents and i'm pretty sure snacks could have been smuggled in the bottom of bags into the arena. I guess it depends on whether you are willing to waste money if you are caught and have to dispose of things.)

In the arena itself, I found a bit of variety, much better than years gone by but I guess I've been spoiled by Bristol's almost weekly food events and it still seemed a little lacklustre. On day 2, I noticed a big queue coming from a van called 'DeliKate' advertising baguettes and paninis. I got in closer to see what the big fuss what about and saw people leaving clasping delicious freshly made goods brimming with interesting ingredients - and they did gluten free! I asked for a GF panini (as advertised on the board) with my choice of fillings (sundried tomatoes, Mexican cheese, smoked ham) and got back a very delicious sandwich made with GF sliced bread. I went and found a corner to eat it in so noone could snaffle any or see how much I was fitting into my mouth in one go.

What a brilliant find and Kate herself (I'm pretty sure it was her) was chatty and lovely and seemed genuinely happy to be serving good veggie and GF food. A while later I noticed that the little tea and coffee van next door was also run by Delikate and I had a very good coffee with soya milk from there!

Other GF finds of the festival included an enormous plate of nachos and all the trimmings from 'Vegetarian and Vegan' van and a very hearty melange of refried beans, spicy wedges and jalapenos from a Mexican food van. I didn't once resort to cheesy chips.

I had found enough to eat by being savvy and asking the right questions and being lucky enough for cross contamination etc not to be an issue. However, we found it very expensive to eat in the arena, with each portion of food ranging from £7-£9. Which for 2 meals a day for 4 days is £112-£144 per couple!

I'm really interested to know how many people like myself have wanted to go to a festival but have been put off by a) the lack of safe GF food in the arenas, b) the inability to bring your own food and drink into the arenas/cook your own food in the campsite and c) the toilet facilities...

Bloodstock is a little home from home for metal heads and we had a brilliant time. Memories of helicopter hair, fire and smoke, ciders in the sunshine, cute viking couples, sheltering from the rain in tents only to discover brilliant bands playing inside, collective steam and wonder during the closing acts and gentlemen in floral frocks - are sure to pull me back next year. Where else can you look around you at a doom metal gig and see a sea of grinning faces?

Bloodstock is a special place and I hope to see you there. Perhaps we could share a flapjack or two?

Monday, 7 July 2014

REVIEW Bakers & Co, Bristol


I bulldozed Bakers and Co to the top of my 'eating out in Bristol list' after I read this review by Avon Gorged.

Then I saw dishes containing avocado on their Twitter page. I have a bit of an avocado problem. And you hardly ever see it on menus - so it was decided.
I tweeted them beforehand to discuss my dietary requirements. The response was almost instantaneous and they were very lovely and helpful and suggested something I could have. I think it would have been a good touch to put a list together, rather than giving me one thing but the one thing was the dish with the avocado, so I let it slide.

We walked into a wall of noise and people at around 11.30am on a Saturday. I hadn’t realised brunch was so popular on the Gloucester road. We wondered if Bristol was always crying out for this sort of brunch and Bakers and Co had answered the call. Whichever it is, the small nooks of the restaurant were packed. People were sat expectantly around the open kitchen at the front, and on teeny tables in a corridor leading to the back of the building. The mish mash of patrons included ladies-what-brunch, couples our age also looking hungry and excited, a shoeless girl in a green snakeskin dress and the double buggy brigade who were eventually forced to reverse back out of the front door.

We checked out the simple menu (not online anywhere, very frustrating) and decided on a iced coffee, pork belly with potato hash and poached egg (him) and a tea with soya milk, huevos rancheros without the egg and tortilla, hash and avocado instead please (me) and attempted a conversation which relied heavily on lip reading.

My tea arrived in a cute blue teapot with a bright yellow mug. Mis-matched crockery is always gonna win my heart but unfortunately it was quickly lost again when the waitress told me there was no avocado left! She suggested that I have larger portions of the other items to make up for it. At this point we’d been inside the restaurant for about half an hour and my blood sugar was getting low. My husband, who likes noise and crowds as much as a child likes a dose of cod liver oil, was getting twitchy too. I'd been given a different tea to the English Breakfast tea I'd ordered and it was pretty unpleasant, but I couldn't flag down a waiter or waitress as they were so busy.

When we received our food, my husband launched straight into his pork belly before surveying my plate and giving me a pitying look. I think he said something like “well I guess that’s what happens when you order huevos rancheros without the egg”. Yeah, and this is what happens when you go for brunch when you can’t actually eat any brunch items…
Then he said “this is probably the best pork belly I’ve ever had. You should have ordered this”.

The main issue here is that the current menu relies heavily on lovely, runny poached eggs.  And I can’t eat eggs. I didn’t order the pork belly because it was just pork, eggs and hash. What I ended up with was salsa, refried beans and hash. All of which were OK. I wasn’t bowled over by them. 

In conclusion (after much waffling), I’d check this place out if you don’t mind eating amongst a throng of people, you like the sound of runny eggs and pork and you don’t have too many food intolerances!

Bakers & Co.
193 Gloucester road, Bristol, BS7 8BG

Monday, 23 June 2014

REVIEW Pizza Express


I found myself in a Pizza Express recently. Work booked a table there and had completely forgotten about my dietary requirements, so it was lucky that Pizza Express is so GF friendly.

I wouldn't normally choose to eat in a restaurant chain but I was grateful for the opportunity to try out the GF pizza and to order a beer with my meal.

I had a tomato and mozzarella salad to start - it was this olives or risotto - and it was pretty average. I was told I could choose any pizza from the Classic or Romana menu and I chose a Pollo Forza -
'A fiery pizza; chicken marinated in smoky chilli powder, garlic and dried chilli flakes with chargrilled red & yellow peppers, roquito peppers, mozzarella and tomato, finished with Gran Moravia cheese, parsley and chilli oil'.

The base was a great texture - thin and crispy, the way I like it. The tomato base had a strong, tomato puree type flavour. The toppings just seemed too salty and processed for my tastes. I ate it all but doubt I would order it again.

My Green's Pilsner was refreshing yet disappointingly didn't pair well with pizza. After all that I had no room left for a gluten free brownie which is probably a good thing as I'm meant to be staying away from egg.

Overall, a good attempt from Pizza Express, but did not live up to the hype.