I think if you ask many vegetarians what is one of the most difficult foods to give up in the move towards being vegan... it would be cheese. Yes, there are those who find it difficult to give up chocolate, or a dense and luscious double cream, or the fragrant, tooth-biting, brain-freezing heavenliness of traditional ice-cream, or the ubiquitous smell and taste of bacon. However, I’m sure at the top of the list, or certainly very near the top of the list, the most difficult food to give up for many is cheese; in all its beguiling creamy, grated, melting, crunchy cheesy yummy goodness. And so it is for Richard and myself.
Firstly, where do we sit on the vegetarian and vegan scale? Well, we are certainly not vegan as there are many things that we do eat currently that are just not vegan. At the moment we eat small amounts of fish (mainly fish fingers), so pescatarian; and we eat eggs and we also eat cheese... Oh, we like our cheese!
We don’t have any animal milks in our household any more; we have opted for a soya milk alternative instead and use this for all our beverages and cooking requirements. If we run out, we make our own oat milk - an easy recipe that we recently shared with Brady Sissy on our Facebook group Planet Vegetaria. We have not given up cream, though I can’t really remember the last time we had cream as we generally substitute this for yoghurt, which in every way is a cop-out as it is still a produce from a cow (in our case) though the next step for us here is to move to non-dairy yoghurt.
What is our favourite cheese? Well, I suppose it would have to be hard cheeses like Cheddar, and Parmesan. We are also particularly enjoying a Red Leicester at the moment from Lidl, and could not do without cottage cheese; either eaten as it is with crackers and salad or made into a delicious smoked mackerel pate.
This summer has been about lunches of homemade bread toasted, then our own allotment-grown grilled tomatoes sliced and laid on top, warmed under a grill, then slices of cheddar added and all then grilled to a melting glory. With a little bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper I’m not sure we had anything more divine over the summer months; in fact I think our second favourite lunch has been exactly the same but just as a sandwich, and with no addition of heat other than the 30° outside.
Anyway, back to cheese...
Even if one is not vegetarian or moving towards being a vegan, I think we all know that it is best to cut down on our saturated fat intake, and that obviously includes all of the hard cheeses, and many of the creamy, French-style ones that we buy in shops. Obviously, there are low fat and fat-free alternatives, though I think it’s better to have a little bit of something fabulous than a larger bit of something average. When it comes to being vegetarian and vegan, there are now many cheese alternatives; ones that can be made in a domestic kitchen at home as well as a decent number of branded versions in the shops. However, I think I’m yet to find a vegan alternative to cheese that will make us give up a good Cheddar or Red Leicester, or in fact a decent Parmesan. Who does not like a lovely grating of salty, crystal dense parmesan on their Bolognese, chillies, soups, or in fact virtually anything veggie and savoury?
Well, if this is your thing then maybe it’s time to try some alternatives…
One of the substitutes for parmesan that you can make at home is actually called Poor Man's Parmesan. Admittedly, it is not at all cheesy but it does add a texture to a dish akin to the traditional style parmesan that many Italians know and love. Poor Man’s Parmesan is basically breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil with parsley and salt and pepper. It sounds simple, and it is, though it is absolutely divine. Sometimes, with our friend Mireille, we will have spaghetti with Poor Man's Parmesan with additional sliced or minced garlic added. Sublime! You could either buy the breadcrumbs or make your own by blitzing stale bread in a blender. This should be made to use immediately.
Taking the difficulty level up a little, though still very simple, is cheesy breadcrumbs. Take a few slices of good bread, preferably stale, tear into chunks then bake in a moderate oven for 10 to 15 minutes until all the moisture has evaporated from the bread. Once cooled, blitz the baked bread chunks with nutritional yeast flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. This will keep in a sealed jam jar or glass jar for a few days.
If you like that hint of cheese and want to add another flavour level and some protein, then have a go at a vegan parmesan made with cashews, nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, onion powder and some salt and pepper (if you like pepper). You just add all ingredients to a blender and blitz until the texture of fine breadcrumbs. A scattering on top of your favourite pasta dish will surprise you, and added to a fine chili will lift it to a divine chili. This will keep in a sealed jam jar or glass jar for up to a week.
So the above are three simple ways you can cut down a little on cheese, and more importantly your saturated fat intake. Like many of the recipes we try and we share, feel free to add your own twist; herbs, seasonings, different types of nuts and even seeds can be added or substituted. Maybe roast the nuts for Vegan Parmesan for ten minutes in a hot oven for an added flavour dimension.
Below are the recipes for use with the above directions:
Poor Man’s Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp bread crumbs
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 thick slices of stale bread (white, wholegrain or whatever you have)
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
6 tbsp raw cashews or cashews/almonds
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
It's amazing how jobs that sometimes seem daunting, are often just a matter of getting stuck in.
Today I sowed Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia in the edged bed Richard and I made yesterday in our video. Yesterday afternoon I emptied three barrow loads of our pallet bin compost into it and levelled it off. This morning was the sowing of seeds and watering them in. I've left the bamboo canes on the bed and added the upturned cordial bottles as a deterrent to our on-site foxes.
If you want to see our plot update and the building of this edged bed visit our channel at YouTube.com/c/richardandpaul
Within the last 10 hours, we have had a Pine Nut Hummus from Marietta and also a Beetroot Hummus from Jude posted to Planet Vegetaria - both obviously look delish!
Do you make your own, or do you buy from the shop? And if you buy from a shop, which is your favourite? And if you make your own, what is your favourite recipe?
Of course, it's not just about chickpeas; fresh butter beans, cooked tinned beans, lentils and more are used in different countries to make this ever popular favourite... of most.
Don't throw away your home-grown pumpkin seeds. Wash, removing all pumpkin flesh, dab dry with a clean tea towel, then let dry for 24 hours. Add a little oil, salt and spices, and roast in a hot oven for fifteen/twenty minutes. Delish!
Sharon Hull shared this Squash, Carrot and Onion Bhaji recipe with us on our new group Planet Vegetaria, so Paul immediately got to work and made them for dinner. They were very nice indeed, served with a salad from the allotment, mango chutney and Greek yogurt. We've posted the recipe on our Planet Vegetaria, so have a visit and apply to join if you're interested.
I noticed an article the other day in The Independent about the cancellation of a fireworks display over the Thames because of the beluga whale that is currently swimming there. The protection of animals during the fireworks season is something that has been on my mind for many years. Obviously, the animal lovers amongst us are well aware of the need to protect our companion animals around this time of year from the blitz-like noises that ensue once the celebrations are in full swing. But what about the wildlife???
I feel that British society needs to take a more mature view of the firework season now. Rather than succumbing to our childish whims and rushing out to buy shed loads of very expensive fireworks, many of them far too big and noisy for our tiny gardens (I speak from experience here, having been a firework junkie in the past), should we be making a concerted effort to consider the environment first rather than our petty need to see lights, colours and sparkles just to go “ooh-ahh” for an hour or so?
Do the bangs, whistles and crackles physically built into fireworks really need to be there? I understand sound is part of the thrill, but large displays could provide synthesised effects surely, if they are such a necessity – toned down a little for sensitive ears? Are we not an evolved society that understands the full impact of smoky displays for days on end – surely they serve no good for the environment or our lungs? Not to mention scaring the hell out of all manner of wild animals. The other consideration are those people who are actually very afraid or super sensitive to the noise and flashes – this must be two to three weeks of hell for them, with the awful promise of a repeat around new year’s eve.
For all of these reasons, I would ask the question- should residential firework displays be completely banned? In terms of loud noise, it’s not too bad if you know when an organised display is going to take place in your local area as you can prepare, keep the animals in, buy earplugs, plan your own counter attack etc. But the random “bombing” of local neighbourhoods by overzealous homeowners anxious to please themselves and the kids, takes you by surprise, especially when these impromptu displays happen weeks away from the actual celebration dates. I noticed that Paul has recently held a vote on the type of Bonfire night celebrations that are going to be held at the local allotments and one of the options was to have noiseless fireworks. Is this the way forward?
Maybe there should be some kind of compulsory national online register for both residential and organised displays? Everyone would be able to plan adequate care well in advance for their animals and family.
Diwali is another celebration where the evening transforms into a virtual recreation of a war zone. I can safely say that in our area, Diwali eclipses Guy Fawkes night by a long shot, due to the proximity of the town of Southall. As well as the environmental impact. I think about the fortunes spent on the fireworks. The questions I want to ask of the firework industry are – can they be made noiseless? Can they be made smokeless? The questions I want to ask the government are – can we ban the public from setting up their own displays in tiny back gardens? Can we restrict displays to organised events only and ensure the fireworks used are noiseless with minimal smoke output? You’re already doing this with open fires in London – ensuring homeowners only use smokeless fuel and seasoned logs.
I don’t want to appear too critical of this immensely fun time of year – believe me, I have contributed to the pollution and spent many a pretty penny on fireworks – as a child we always enjoyed wonderful fireworks and bonfires at my grandparent house and I truly have golden memories of the first time I was allowed to set off a firework (this was the seventies – we even had handheld fireworks as well as sparklers) but this was sometime ago now – we lived in a different time. We are now aware of our impact on this precious planet aren’t we? . We are evolved aren’t we? Filling our local atmosphere with smoke, unexpected noise until the unsociable hours over a two to three week period is surely a thing of the past? What do you think?
Fed up with Green Tomato Chutney? This refreshing and mild curry may be just the right thing for you!
Urban Greening is something that we don't really notice in our daily lives, though if it wasn't (or isn't!) there, then we see our city environment with a rather grimmer view. Whilst leaving our local Lidl the other day, I was struck by the beauty of these trees, and how they layer over each other to give depth and a moving perspective of changing hues as I walk. Yes, a car park and a road; though with the beauty of the trees the space is transformed to something more tranquil. And, importantly, trees help reduce air pollution by removing a variety of air pollutants, including both ozone and nitrogen oxides.
A wistful look back at my childhood, remembering Hallowe'en, Mischief Night & Guy Fawkes Night - the trinity of Autumn fun...
The dark evenings are upon us – looking back to my childhood, this was, without a doubt, my favourite time of the year, mainly because it involved playing out in the dark with the promise of frost, ice and snow waiting in the wings. As well as plenty of sweets, fireworks, and stodgy food, which as a roundish greedy kid, I relished.
I’m originally from Cheshire in the North West of England where cold weather is a regular fixture every winter. Snow usually appears at some point, as do hard frosts that transform the landscape into a sparkling wonderland. None of these weather conditions stopped us playing outside in the dark evenings for hours and hours and we would use any excuse to get up to mischief. On freezing evenings we would pour water along the pavements in order to make an ice slide. The adults didn't like this and we simply couldn't understand why. Now i'm 51, the prospect of breaking a hip doesn't appeal and the penny has now dropped, but back then it was just great fun. There were so many different games we'd play but our absolute top pick was knock and run – simply knocking on a door, running and hiding; then observing the victim looking out into the dark wondering which evil child from the neighbourhood was subjecting them to this naughty little torture by tearing them away from Coronation Street. They might've even uttered a swear word which made it all the more fun. We'd laugh.
Naturally there were nicknames for the neighbours which usually involved strange little back stories – completely made up you understand and with no malice intended – shared only amongst ourselves, which is a good job, because if social services had ever got wind that there was a vampire living on the corner with a werewolf wife, who knows what might have happened.
The seventies was still a time of innocence for many of us kids. Also, a time of relative safety; not as many cars on the roads in those days. Besides, road safety was drummed into our heads from an early age in the form of horrific public information films complete with gore and spooky music. "Stop, look and listen before crossing" became a mantra. Nevertheless, we played out in the streets, unsupervised for many hours and we were always disappointed when we were called in to go to bed. We would sometimes hide when the call came - that would make us laugh too, until we were dragged in and clipped round the earhole.
Putting the clocks back started a chain of celebratory events that would give us that winter vibe and pure excitement. The clocks in the UK are turned back by one hour, always on the last Sunday of October, plunging us into darkness by 5.30pm. The light levels decrease as we move towards the winter solstice when the dimming is noticeable around 3.30pm. During inclement days it seems to stay gloomy all day long. But to the excited child, the clocks going back can mean only one thing - Hallowe'en!
I remember reading about the myths and legends surrounding Hallowe'en and I'd convince myself that if I stared long enough at the sky I would surely see a witch fly by, on a broomstick. I longed to see something spooky - I wanted to be scared. Even as a ten year old, I had a sense of being slightly addicted to the fluttery, excitable, butterfly feeling around this dark season. As I am writing this I'm looking out into the dim, blue gloom of the garden through the patio doors, and I would so freak out if a shadowy figure caught my attention- but the thought of it gives me the same delightful shiver. I'm comforted to know there's a massive poker in the other room which I would be arming myself with if a prowler came anywhere near the back door.
By the late seventies trick or treat was only just starting to be a reality in the UK and wasn’t something that we did. We were much more likely to go from door to door singing some kind of made up song – we would usually adapt a Christmas song, change the words and say that we were “Halloween singing” or "Bonfire night singing". Ridiculous I know! It was a form of begging I suppose. Doors would get slammed in our faces but occasionally we'd be given pennies or sweets or, god forbid, fruit!!! Really? We must've been well known on the estate as we were always trying to come up with ways to make a few pennies for pocket money and we probably drove the neighbours crazy with our hoots and japes.
We'd scare ourselves silly by making up ghost stories. The scariest ones were those supposed true stories that someone’s big brother had told them, usually involving hitchhikers and decapitations. We'd take turns at pretending to go into a trance and chase each other around in a zombie-like state until we caught someone and they would become "it". Good times! We really knew how to entertain ourselves without the aid of electronic devices.
By the 4th of November we were usually primed to get really naughty. In the northwest of England this night is known as Mischief night. This date does tend to change depending on the area that you live in but for us it was always the night before Bonfire Night.
I can't quite remember what we used to get up to, but Mischief night probably involved lots of knock and run. I can vaguely remember throwing little stones at windows. You must understand, we weren’t bad kids and never caused criminal damage – but I think we were quite rowdy in the streets. I do remember people complaining and fists being shaken in the air - the kind of thing I tend to do if kids are being too noisy in our street. Yes, I am finally at the old fart stage.
The 5th November was king in those days. This was the night. Also known as Guy Fawkes night in the UK, celebrating the downfall of Guy Fawkes' gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Parliament in London. Fireworks were everything. We'd to go to my Grandparents house in Wilmslow. They had a huge garden and Granddad would build an enormous bonfire which would be lit with the help of some petrol. It went up very easily and you were lucky if you still had your eyebrows by the end of the night. Goodness knows what he used to burn but there was always a huge pile of stuff. Potatoes were wrapped in foil and tossed into the base of the fire to bake. Meat and potato pie was cooked by Granny along with the sweet treats that Northern folk enjoy such as Parkin, treacle toffee and toffee apples. Surprisingly, we all still have teeth. The adults would be drinking and smoking as did most people back then. It was a big family party with games such as "bob apple" which involved a bucket of water and some apples that you have to try and retrieve with your mouth only. The apples were usually huge and impossible to bite and you nearly drowned several times during the evening but that just added to the fun. Plus, the water washed off the soot from your face after the rocket-like ignition of the bonfire earlier on.
Hundreds of fireworks were let off and sometimes we were allowed to set them off ourselves observing all the rules and being very careful. Names were written in sparkler trails. Handheld fireworks were also a treat and rather frightening. They were basically a roman candle with a plastic handle. You held it at arms length, and a responsible adult lit it and then ran away. I can remember feeling abandoned. You hold on for dear life, failing to enjoy the beauty of the sparkles for fear of losing an arm. Those ones seemed to go on forever.
It certainly was a magical time and I will always treasure the memories. However, as a 51 year old living in an entirely changed world I feel differently about this festival of fire; probably due to the sheer amount of fireworks that are let off nowadays. It no longer seems a cosy affair through my jaded adult eyes- I see the wasted money, the noise, the pollution, and the unfortunate injuries sustained by those people who didn't heed the warnings and didn't play by the rules.
I feel both Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night have become a little too big - there are gains for the money makers and undoubtedly the involved industries employ a lot of people too. I'm not sure how these celebrations will change in the future but in terms of the environment I feel there needs to be an evolutionary process in terms of understanding what is acceptable when releasing whimsical and smokey forms of entertainment into the atmosphere. We all know the big companies are cashing in on the need for children of all ages to look into the sky and gaze at the sparkles and glitter in wonder, perhaps still hoping that a real witch might fly by. Today, it's much more likely to be a communication satellite crashing back to earth wildly out of control.
Am I being very cynical and a total party pooper? Perhaps, but I like to think I'm being a forward thinking citizen of the Earth with a smaller carbon footprint than before.
...long term partners.