Tag Archives: Vegan

The Last Post

  

Today is my thirty-seventh birthday and the first anniversary of my residency in England; it’s also my final post for this blog.

Right from the start, I’d always intended for Bean Love to be a year long project, so I’m really happy to have gone the distance with it, even if I did go a little off topic a lot of the time.   

Back in the summer of 2014, when I decided to chronicle my house move from Renfrew’s concrete jungle to Sudbury’s soporific pastures, I knew that I would also be embarking on an intense psychological journey that would not only catapult me, as a disabled person, into a greater state of independence, but it would push me to diversify my writing even further as well as making or breaking my relationship with Antonia. I wanted to record my journey in a way that I could share it with people back home who I was unlikely to see for a while, which is why I chose to make the blog public. I’d also just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Complete Dykes To Watch Out For’, and it reminded me of some of my friends and what I call the ‘Bean Scene’, and I was tickled by the idea of writing about queer culture and the way we gay ladies often perpetuate lesbian stereotypes ourselves.

Antonia, the wee delicate flower that she is (or was) said that moving to Glasgow was a ‘culture shock’ for her: she’d never before been exposed to the grittiness of West Coast living, nor had she encountered off-licenses with electronically-tagged Buckfast bottles; she’d also never heard anyone refer to their friend as a ‘cunt’ by way of friendly greeting and, as a result, she gained a whole new vocabulary in the three and a half years she spent there.

But was it a culture shock for me? Well, yes and no.

Sudbury is different from both Renfrew and Glasgow in lots of subtle ways: for instance, a garden here is not a garden unless it is at least half an acre, and most people talk ‘proper’ English and can’t understand half of what I say; there aren’t many buses in Sudbury either, because not many people need to use the bus – Antonia says most folk in this town wouldn’t even consider having less than two cars per household and that her family (of six) once had half a dozen cars in the driveway, and that was when two of them couldn’t even drive. Then there’s the ladies at the tennis club, who were terribly offended by the whole Scottish independence thing because they couldn’t understand why ‘but why?!’ Scottish people wouldn’t want to be in the United Kingdom. Of course, everyone is Sudbury is perfectly polite and nice to me – at least to my face – and on one of the two occasions I’ve heard someone shouting in the street here, one of the culprits sounded like they were from Govan.

Much like Renfrew, there’s not a big bean scene in Sudbury, nor is there a vegan one. But I know we’re not the only queers or meat avoiders in the village because I’ve seen a few lady-couples tramping around town in their wellies and Barbour jackets; and after recently joining the Suffolk Vegan group on Facebook, I’ve discovered there are a few fellow herbivores hiding in plain sight in Gainsborough Street’s ‘Niche Café’ behind their super salads. There’s also not much going on in terms of literary events and networks; and after my own attempt to start up the ‘Breakfast Writers’ Club’ failed, I joined the over fifty-five’s group at the library (and so far no-one has complained that I’m nearly two decades too young).

If my recent trip back to Scotland has taught me one thing it’s this: I am incredibly lucky to have lived in a place that allowed me easy access to the various diverse communities that helped shape the person I am today; and this, in turn, has prompted me to think about going back more often, as well as making me want to put more effort into venturing out into London and some of the other East Anglian towns in search of my tribe.

Overall, I’m stepping up my game in the coming year: I’ve been invited to an interview in East Acton with prison arts organisation the Koestler Trust, and I’ve posted my application for an eleven-week course aimed advanced writers in Covent Garden; I’ve also just signed the lease on my apartment for another year. And whilst, this may be my last post on this blog, I’m not saying I’ll never blog again, nor am I saying this is the last you’ll hear of Bean Love… a wise friend recently suggested that I should consider rewriting it as a work of fiction… and, you know what, I just might do that…

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Summer In Scotland

  
Last week, Antonia and I were back in Scotland; back visiting friends and family and old haunts.

We set off early Saturday morning with the intention of stopping for lunch at Hebden Bridge (the lesbian capital of the UK) but, due to traffic constraints and Antonia accidentally driving in the wrong direction, we fell four hours behind schedule and ended up in a motorway Marks n Spencer’s instead of a quaint wee vegetarian village café.  

The weather in England was practically tropical, but as soon as we hit Gretna Green there was a downpour – I was completely oblivious to this as I was busy reading aloud to Antonia, so I got some very strange looks when I stepped out of the car during our penultimate pee-n-tea stop wearing shorts and bright orange sunspecs. When we eventually arrived at Fiona’s house in Glasgow, she also commented on my attire; and when I told her I’d packed three pairs of shorts she replied: ‘You’re optimistic’.

The next day, I decided to wear jeans; and Antonia, Fiona, Sophie and I went to Ayr for a coastal drive via the nearest Tesco, where we picked up a box of vegan Cornettos to eat en route. Antonia’s plan was to do some ‘wombling’ on the beach but we stopped first at a local pub and she and Fiona became engrossed in watching Wimbledon. Sophie and I eventually got bored of making ‘Wombles of Wimbledon statements’, and watching them watching, so we went for a walk along the seafront. Later, we discovered that the vegetarian café we’d planned to visit was shut on Sundays, but we had a really great meal in the Chestnut hotel instead.

My dad’s birthday was on the Monday. Antonia and I went for another coastal drive around Wemyss Bay in the morning, and then at 2.30pm we took my dad to see the new Terminator film – I got very excited when Antonia pointed out Emilia Clarke from Game Of Thrones playing the new Sarah Connor; and although we thought she was very good, we both still prefer Lena Headey (Sarah Connor Chronicles, 2008-2009).

On Tuesday, Antonia dropped me off in the city centre and I went to Caffe Nero for a slushy drink (some habits die hard) and sat outside in Buchanan Street watching pigeons and street performers, whilst she went off to catch up with her old college cohorts. Afterwards, I met my friend Tracy in Paisley for lunch and we chatted and charity-shopped and I bought several second hand paperbacks to add to my ever-increasing must-read pile. Antonia drove out to get me later, and we joined my family for dinner at the Toby Carvery (which is surprisingly vegan-friendly). We ended the night by going to Ikea to look for another bookcase for me before stopping off at Tesco again on the way back to Fiona’s to get yet more vegan cornettos.

On Wednesday, I met my crime-writer friend Elaine for coffee and we moaned about books and our writing and our mad families. It was great to see her, after a year of missing our Waterstones meet-ups, and I was so engrossed in conversation that I had to sprint down Buchanan Street to make it in time for lunch with my poet-friend Nicola. It turned out that Nicola was running late too, but I ran into Michael, another writer-friend, and it was nice to see him and be able to chat about books and his writing while I waited. Nicola and I both ordered seitan burgers when she arrived, and we also talked about books and our writing and our mad families. Afterwards, I went to my parents’ and my mum told me all the same stories she’d told me the night before, and as I was leaving asked if I’d heard about her neighbour – the one with the two sticks who can hardly walk – absconding from the hospital while she was in to get an operation. Somehow, my mum had managed to miss out this crucial bit of gossip which involved a door-to-door police search in the early hours of the morning and a sixty-something woman in a medical gown!

On our last day in Glasgow, I went shopping and was accosted on Buchanan Street by a middle-aged man who asked if I could give him fifty pence. I told him that I had no money, to which he replied: ‘Welcome to my life, I wake up with no money.’ I then told him I was on benefits, thinking this would get rid of him. It didn’t. He proceeded to follow me around town asking various questions about which benefits I was a recipient of and at what rate, as well as giving me a detailed financial breakdown of what he received. It took me almost an hour to detach myself from him and not before he insisted that I shake his hand.

 I then went to meet my friend, Jane, another writer who recently had her debut novel published. Over lunch, we talked about books and our writing and she convinced me to think again about rewriting my novel King Street – the problem novel I first drafted about eight years ago – with a crime fiction slant, but to perhaps to start it again without looking back at my previous material.

Later, I went out to dinner with Sophie, Fiona and Antonia in Saramago and I retold them what had happened to me with the beggar in Buchanan Street. As they sat sniggering, I wondered if there was any scope for turning him, and my mum’s hospital absconding neighbour, into fictional characters.

On Friday, during the drive home I got an email to say that an extract of King Street was to be published in issue nine of Glitterwolf magazine. Obviously, I am very pleased about this: knowing that my work has found an audience makes toiling over the manuscript worthwhile; however, I am still trying to decide whether to call it quits with King Street (after all I have had three published short stories out of the idea) or whether to take a long and winding road to writing draft five from scratch.

Orange Is The New Specs

  

Yesterday, during a quick trip to Colchester, my hay fever got so bad that I had to invest in a pair of protective goggles. I did look a bit silly, mostly because they were florescent orange – and I definitely was not rocking the librarian-chic-look inspired by prison drama star Laura Prepon – but it was necessary because I was on the verge of committing murder as Antonia dragged me snuffling and wheezing around a DIY store; because the last thing a person wants to hear when they are contemplating gouging their own eyeballs out, is their stanley-knife-wielding other half telling them in a high-pitched wee know-it-all voice: ‘Don’t rub them, henny, or you’ll just make it worse!’

Over the last decade, I’ve tried a multitude of different medicines and countermeasures to curb my itching and sniffing and sneezing, including over-the-counter anti-histamines (liquid-form but not tablets because the pills always have lactose in them), flower remedies and edible flowers, eye washes and nasal washes, homeopathic treatments, herbals teas and even a good old-fashioned salt pipe. However, nothing seems to work. Or if it does, there’s usually a nasty side effect which is just as bad, if not worse, than the actual hay fever.    

For instance, almost all the pharmacy-bought medicines make me drowsy – even the children’s and the non-drowsy ones – I know I’m a bit of a unique case because these side effects are aggravated by the petit mal seizures and associated neurological problems I’ve experienced ever since my brain injury twenty-two years ago (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/about-me/)and I have been known to start drifting off to sleep at the dinner table shortly after taking them and on a couple of times I’ve actually slipped off my chair altogether. On one occasion, I also ended up at A+E with a swollen eyeball because I had an allergic reaction to a cucumber slice I placed on my eyelid for a few seconds – oddly enough, I have no problems eating cucumber. The salt pipe did slightly alleviate the problems I had with my sinuses, and I might well have persevered with it had it not been for Antonia pointing out that I had started to produce a very unpleasant salty aroma every-time I sneezed. And then there’s nettle tea: a recent article in  http://www.veganlifemag.com cited this as a good natural remedy, and they were absolutely spot on: it cleared up my hay fever symptoms completely within twenty-four hours. However, it also made me pee non-stop (it’s a strong diuretic), kept me awake and agitated and fidgety for nearly forty-eight hours; and caused me to have such a bad allergic reaction that a health professional described me as ‘looking like I was on ecstasy’.   

I later discovered that nettle isn’t suitable for everyone: pregnant and lactating women should avoid it, as should young children, anyone who suffers from epilepsy or has neurological problems (although I’ve also read contradictory information which says nettle can aid certain neurological conditions); and if you’re diabetic it’s best to consult your GP first because it can affect blood sugar levels.

My GP sent me to the hospital for allergy testing a couple of years ago because my hay fever symptoms were so severe (and persisted from February through to November) that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t suffering from some other ailment. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that I was allergic to grass pollen, four different types of tree pollen (I now wish I’d asked which ones) and dust mites. The consultant gave me a sheet of paper with instructions on how to manage my condition. It said something along the lines of: ‘Don’t go out in the morning. Don’t go out in the evening. Don’t hang your laundry outdoors. And take coastal holidays.’ As I was leaving, she added: ‘Obviously, if that advice doesn’t suit then just ignore it.’

  
Currently, I am taking a cocktail of Vogel’s flower remedies: Luffa Complex (drops), Pollinosan (nasal spray) and Eye Bright (drops). I had some itch-relief between two pm and three thirty today and almost felt normal, but now my symptoms appear to be coming back with a vengeance. If this continues I might have to take more than a coastal holiday – I might have to move to a seaside town. I suppose there is always Brighton: it’s very vegan and very gay and Ruby Rose (Stella from ‘Orange Is The New Black’) is appearing at this year’s Brighton Pride, which conveniently takes place on my birthday.

Funnily enough, last year, when I was working in the jail, one of the prisoners told me that there had been an inside clamp down on anti-histamines because they were being sold illegally. I was completely confused by this as I couldn’t work out why anyone would want to take them if they didn’t have an allergy. The answer: they give you a good night’s sleep.

I am now starting to think that a few weeks in the hoosegow away from all the evil pollen wouldn’t be such a bad option for me: I could stay indoors and yet still toddle along to the dinner hall and the library and the gym… and I’m sure it would inspire some interesting pieces of writing…

Orange Is The New Addiction

  

‘Orange Is The New Black’ is back today for a third season, and Antonia has got her geek specs and her tributary satsumas at the ready. I did suggest dying our hair ginger and buying tangerine coloured t-shirts but she thought that idea was too last season. Funnily enough, I’ve been avoiding eating oranges because they contain histamine and I’ve been locked up indoors for the best part of the week with a bad bout of hay fever. I am also trying for my orange belt in wado ryu karate this weekend, which will come in handy if I ever end up sharing a cell with a pyschopath.

The Netflix prison drama, based on Piper Kerman’s best selling autobiography ‘Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison’ (2010, Random House), first burst onto our screens with its blend of comedy and controversy in July 2013, and has fast become one of the streaming channel’s mostly frequently watched shows; it follows the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a thirty-something, white, middle-class career woman who is sentenced to fifteen months in an American correctional facility for transporting a suitcase of drug money through customs – an offence she committed ten years before for her ex-girlfriend. On leaving her charmed life with man-childish fiancee, Larry (Jason Biggs), and her newly established business, Piper vows to make prison a meaningful experience and possibly learn carpentry; however, once she’s inside the walls of the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary, she struggles to fit in with the other women (most of whom haven’t shared her privileged upbringing) and their rules: in episode one, she is served a bread roll with a bloody tampon in it after she offends kitchen matriarch, Red Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew); and she is shocked to discover that old flame and ex-drug-smuggler, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), is also an inmate.

I sometimes wonder how I’d fare food-wise if I were ever incarcerated: on one hand I’d want to stay true to my beliefs and steer clear of eating and wearing animal products, but on the other I’d be worried about rocking the boat and making enemies of the prison wardens or kitchen staff; I would also want to avoid going without meals or important food groups because I’d like to have my wits about me in case of any altercations, but having worked as a writer-in-residence in a prison for two years I’ve heard my fair share of grumbles relating to the dinners inside and I understand that providing fruit and veg for cons is not high on the rehabilitation agenda. Obviously, this is a very good incentive not to break the law, but the idea of any fellow vegan – no matter who they are or what they’ve done – having their human rights breached bothered me, especially since I knew there must be plenty of political prisoners serving custodial sentences in the UK who are devoted to living a cruelty-free lifestyle.

 So I googled ‘Vegan’, ‘Uk’ and ‘prison’ which came up with a blog post by PETA (‘People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals’) called ‘The Top Five Vegan-Friendly Prisons In The UK’, followed by a link to the ‘Vegan Prisoners Support Organisation’ and an article from the Guardian dated 2009 which stated that after a fifteen year campaign imprisoned vegans would be permitted to buy animal-free food and basic hygiene products such as soap and tooth paste; the ‘fight’ to allow vegan prisoners to wear non-leather shoes was allegedly still continuing at that time. I can’t help thinking it’s great that this information exists, but that it’s completely useless to people who can’t access it or don’t know about it. Plus, how would you ascertain someone’s vegan status? Would someone who followed a plant-based diet for health reasons but wore leather be excluded in the eyes of prison authority? And who would get to decide how far vegan ethics would be allowed to stretch?

Most of the storylines in OITNB are about women who are in some way marginalised; and for that reason I’d love to see them include a vegan character. It would be even better if a potential vegan storyline was a bit more imaginative than the stereotypical crazy-animal-rights-activist-blows-up-science-lab-to-save-two-rabbits-and-kills-loads-of-people-in-the-process. Maybe there could be a new sexy cucumber-wielding vegan lesbian love interest for either (or both) on/off girlfriends Piper and Alex? Or a tofu-eating, kick-ass, hipster warden could take over and force Red to take meat off the menu altogether?

One thing’s for sure: Antonia and I will be under house arrest till we’ve watched all fourteen new episodes.

I’m Gonna Dance Forever

Yesterday I visited Leatherhead, a tiny wee medieval market town in Surrey, which is situated on the right bank of the River Mole. I’d never been to Leatherhead before, and I didn’t have particularly high expectations in terms of plant-based eating out options ever since I’d googled vegan and vegetarians cafes in the area and was signposted to an Italian restaurant that had a menu with a heavy bias towards tiger prawns; I only went because my sister (Nikki) combined her visit to Sudbury with the dance rehearsals she was doing at the Premier Production Studios, in the Mole Business Park, in preparation for her next tour; and I thought she might like the company during the two-and-a-half-hour drive.

When I tell people that my sister is a ‘cookie monster’, I don’t mean that she eats a lot of biscuits, nor am I referring to that fact that she worked part-time in ‘Millie’s Cookies’ during the time she was training at musical theatre school. No, I mean that her current job involves dancing around in a giant blue furry costume to a backdrop of songs like ‘The Cookie Crumba Rumba’. But, this is not the oddest-sounding occupation that she’s ever had: she’s spent time as an elf in lapland, a chipmunk on a Disney cruise, and a pink-haired tutu-wearing monkey called ‘Panzee’ in the Zingzillas high-energy road show. In the past, Nikki has toured around the UK and to the Middle East with the cast of ‘Sesame Street’ – and could potentially travel the world – and by the time this email goes viral she will be on a plane to Indonesia.

 Personally, I couldn’t do what she does: I would hate the long and unpredictable hours, and having to traipse to random destinations or live in accommodation that I’ve not picked out myself; I’d also hate having to rely on other performers turning up or getting things right and I’d probably find it soul destroying every time I saw someone younger and prettier than me bust a better move – but then that wouldn’t be hard because I’ve got two left feet and can’t even cartwheel.

 I had absolutely no intention of watching my sister rehearse – in fact, I’d decided without knowing anything about the show that it would be preferable to gouge my own eyeballs out. My plan had simply been to walk around the shops and stake out the local cafes before settling down in a coffee shop to do some writing whilst she was prancing around. And, fortunately, after turning down the cheese and nachos that bar staff in one establishment tried to palm me off with, I was lucky enough to discover a vegetarian stall at the outdoor French market which had two vegan options – ratatouille (which I love) and another dish that was made up of potatoes, aubergine and tomato that I can’t remember the name of; I chose the potato dish and was not disappointed.

  We had planned to meet up during her lunch break but, typically, my sister’s timetable didn’t run to plan. So she suggested that I come along to the studio instead. And I, reluctantly, agreed.

 And I’m glad I did. Because I was proved wrong for the second time that day.

And if ever I had doubts or concerns about Nikki’s career choice, watching her yesterday annihilated them. Not only was the dancing top-notch but the lyrics were clever (I can’t stop singing the Count’s mathematical parody of the song ‘Fame’ and now Antonia’s picked it up) and it was generally very very funny. My sister was also the most enthusiastic-looking person on the stage and I have never seen her shine so much or look as happy in her entire life; and I genuinely felt very privileged to have been given a sneaky peek into her world.

     

 

 

Cookies And Dreams

  

Last night, I dreamt that I was in New York standing outside the vegan equivalent of a ‘Millie’s Cookies’ store. It was baking hot, and I was second from the front in a mile long queue looking up at an array of neon lights advertising things like ‘dark and chunky double choc’ and ‘dairy-free ice-cream dream’; and I was so excited by the prospect of claiming my chewy, soft-baked treat, that when I got to the kiosk my mind went blank and I couldn’t think what to order.

 This, of course, is exactly the sort of thing that would happen to me in real life. If Antonia was with me, we’d go to Caffe Nero beforehand and spend an hour enthusiastically writing a list of our top favourite cookie flavours – and then we’d write a reserve list just in case they ran out of our first choices; and then we’d get to the front of the queue and end up spending an absolute fortune by buying one of everything, and probably make ourselves sick.

 I got my dream cookie in the end – a double chilli chocolate one with pieces of sour cherries and brazil nuts, and its circumference matched my handspan – and as I walked along in the sunshine I bit into it… and Antonia nudged me awake.

 After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about cookies and ice-cream all morning. And two hours later, I found this recipe: [cookieshttp://www.veganbaking.net/recipes/cookies/chocolate-chip-cookies] And, despite my previous multiple kitchen disasters, I was inspired to give biscuit-making another chance. Because, with the exception of the three egg-free cookies I bought in Edinburgh’s ‘Forest Café’ back in 2005, I have personally never managed to find a shop-bought vegan cookie that has lived up to my expectations in terms of chewiness.

That’s not to say that I think other commercially-made cookies are rubbish – I don’t – although the one I bought in the American Sweet shop in Glasgow a couple of years ago tasted like I was eating sawdust out of an armpit. I love the ‘Lazy Days’ shortbread rounds (which of course aren’t meant to be chewy) and I think it’s a amazing that a tiny wee company from a little-known Scottish village has earned shelf-space in mainstream supermarkets with a product that has been aimed at a minority palate. My gripes with other vegan cookie brands are that their products are far too sweet or too crumbly – and that’s entirely down to personal preference; when Antonia and I discovered ‘Going Against The Grain’ (another dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free company), she mowed through her fun-size sachet and saved my uneaten ones for later.

 I followed my recipe to the letter. And blamed the oven when after fifteen minutes my cookies remained squishy. After twenty-five minutes, I gave up trying to get them to ‘cook’. I later realised they’d come out exactly as they were supposed to; just like they did all those other times when I chucked my soggy hot-mess ‘failures’ in the bin. I didn’t know, and the recipe didn’t say, that you are supposed to leave them for half an hour to set.

 Antonia loved my chewy chocolate chip cookies. And so did her gran. And so did I.

 I think I’ll make chilli-chocolate ones next…

Recipe For Disaster

photo-2

Today I tried to make strawberry rocky road bars. ‘Tried’ being the operative word. Because I am rather well-known for my culinary catastrophes: brick-like biscuits, disintegrating scones and short bread fingers that’ve emerged from the oven as dough balls; not forgetting the rice milk I once spent six hours preparing as a romantic gesture for Antonia, which she later told me tasted like sewage. Despite this, and that fact that I prefer savoury foods to sweet ones, I would much rather spend the afternoon stirring cake mixture than watching lentils browning  in a pan.

The rocky road bar recipe which appeared in the May issue of ‘Vegan Life’ magazine (http://veganlifemag.co.uk/) should have been easy enough: there were eight ingredients (plain chocolate, golden syrup, margarine, strawberries, an apple, almonds, dried cherries and icing sugar to sprinkle on the top) and four simple instructions none of which involved timing or an oven; and I imagine most people (vegans and non-vegans alike) would have managed to go to their nearest supermarket, collect the aforementioned ingredients, and then gone on home to complete the task within … oh, half an hour.

Not me though.

To be fair, the rocky roads were not the first thing to catch my eye in the magazine. I’ d originally fancied making the double chocolate pie on the opposite page (59) – and that would probably have been a better bet seeing as I have an uncanny knack for making anything and everything that contains pastry turn out pretty much perfect – however,

despite the thrill of a pie crust made of Oreos which contained a rather yummy sounding strawberry filling, I was put off by the fact that the recipe was a tad more complicated,  and more importantly, involved a food processor; and aside from the fact that I’m slightly scared of food processors (I like all of my fingers attached to my hands), it had been so long since I used mine that I couldn’t  remember how all the parts fitted together.

However, having decided that I was definitely going to bake something today, I spent another full  hour deliberating over all the different dessert recipes I could try out, before narrowing my options down to blue-berry choux pastry or rocky road.  (I had been threatening to make choux pastry for months,  ever since my friend, Sophie, gifted me the Welsh vegan cook book ‘The Voluptuous Vole’).  And in the end, I decided that I’d go to the shops and make the choice whilst I was there, depending on whatever ingredients I saw first.

Stupid plan.

Stupid, stupid plan.

I understand that sometimes it is difficult to get a hold of certain vegan ingredients – things like silken tofu and egg replacing powder aren’t exactly thick on the ground.  But chocolate?  Blueberries, for god’s sake!?

I was lucky to get the last two punnets of strawberries in the second supermarket I went to (that was after the detour to two health food shops).  And by the time I returned home, another two hours had past. I didn’t manage to get the dried cherries so I decided to add some kirsch instead (I had a quarter of a bottle left over from the black forest gateaux I made last xmas).  And I didn’t see the harm in melting together the various different dairy-free chocolate bars I had at home (they were all dark chocolate even if one was espresso-flavoured  and another had orange and geranium through it).  I added some freeze dried raspberry pieces and cranberries too just for the hell of it, and when I licked the spoon I thought the melty chocolate mixture tasted damn good.

In all honesty, I don’t know what want wrong.  I had a little trouble chopping the almonds and when I finally added them to the mixture the chocolate had gone a bit clumpy.   When Antonia saw my creation the first thing she said was: ‘Oh dear, hen, it doesn’t really look like the picture in the magazine, does it?’

I harrumphed.

Earlier, I ‘d given my friend, Fiona, a running commentary on my shopping and baking experience; and I did say the rocky road bars were ‘either going to be marvellous or dreadful’.

I can confirm, they were anything but marvellous.  In fact, in my opinion, my rocky road bars more closely resembled a muddy road, and they tasted like one too.  Antonia, on sampling them, very kindly said they were ‘not that bad’, but added that the biggest mistake I made was baking enough for about sixty people when there are just two of us.

Antonia takes a bite
Antonia takes a bite

Loyalty

When Antonia first suggested ‘loyalty’ as the theme for this week’s blog, my mind turned immediately to thoughts of longstanding friendships, and to partnerships and marriages and family ties, before pendulum-ing in the direction of disloyalty, misplaced loyalty, infidelity and betrayal.  Next, I thought of patriotism, of leaving Scotland, and of nationalism and the thinly-veiled anti-Scottish statements I’ve heard since arriving in Sudbury; and from there my ideas spiralled till they covered everything from naziism and neo-naziism to  secondary virtues such as duty, benevolence, sacrifice and servitude.  Finally, I considered my own loyalty, not specifically to my country or even towards other people, but to the extended beliefs and principles and humanitarian causes that have mattered to me over the years, as well as the commitments I’ve made towards maintaining my personal fitness and crafting out a career as a writer.

I have been vegan for nearly half my life now, and I’ve regarded myself a writer for an even longer period: I decided when I was seventeen that I would write a book about myself, my experiences and my views on the world, and I did (although at the time, there were many skeptics); and two years later, I pledged to follow a plant-based diet and to avoid wearing and using the by-products of animals, and I have stuck to that resolve despite the harsh criticisms from others. 

There have been other instances in my life, however, where I have not been quite so purposeful: I’ve started many short pieces of prose that have languished uncompleted in notebooks that are now gathering dust, and I once abandoned an arts council funded novel eight chapters in because on completion of my research (which involved travelling round several Scottish islands and trying to embrace their customs) I became disheartened with the subject matter; in January 2014, I made two New Year’s resolutions a) I would include more raw food in my diet in a bid to be healthier, and b) I would beat an old sports record of mine by running five kilometres in under twenty-five minutes.  I ate a lot of ‘Nakd’ bars that year, and possibly bought kale twice; I also grew bored of sprinting and took up both swimming and long distance running (which I always favoured over short distances) once again.   

 It used to be that when I set a challenge for myself, I’d be hell-bent on following it through to the finish, no matter how ill or unhappy it made me, or what the consequences were; and this was doubly to my detriment as I included kamikaze relationships and friendships into this equation, and the result was often a negative one albeit a frequent learning curve. I used to think that calling time on a goal or a friendship that was making me miserable was equivalent to throwing in the towel, to having no staying power, to being a failure; and during those times, I often found it hard to stay true to my own core values. 

Over time, it has become easier to align my beliefs and my interpersonal connections with others: I have made friends with other people who are vegan (or who want to be), and being in a relationship with someone who is as dedicated to her artwork as I am to my writing helps me to feel grounded; I also consider myself very lucky to have a partner who cares as much about ecology and ethical veganism as I do.

Confection Perfection

photo-17

‘If a confection company produced the perfect candy bar, what would it contain?’

I posed this question to Antonia and her friend, Sarah, when we were sitting outside ‘The Cabin’ (http://cabininthepark.com/today whilst drinking our soya coffees. Sarah said she wished there was a vegan banoffee bar, whilst Antonia misunderstood what I’d said and began listing all the various chocolate bars she’d previously eaten before giving up dairy, right before we descended into a debate about whether or not there had ever existed such a thing as a ‘Peanut Boost’ and what exactly was in a ‘Star Bar’.

Personally, I’ve always preferred savoury to sweet things and crisps and nuts to chocolate and candy (although I did once make the mistake of trying chocolate-flavoured crisps during the early nineties, and in my opinion they were truly, truly vile); but back when I still consumed animal products, I was partial to the occasional ‘Cadbury’s Fruit ‘N’ Nut Bar’ – although to be honest, it was cartoon advert with the wee jingle that I liked best about it: it went something along the lines of ‘everyone’s a fruit and nut case’ and has been stuck in my head ever since; the other thing I remember trying around the same time period (summer of 1993) was a dairy milk block of chocolate that I’m sure had strawberry yoghurt in it and may have been called something like ‘Silk’ or ‘Satin’. Nowadays, I wouldn’t thank you for a rice milk alternative to either of these things; and with the exception of the legendary ‘Vego’ bar and ‘Go Max Go’s vegan version of a ‘Snicker’ aka ‘Jokerz’, I generally avoid sweeties that arent high in cocoa and low on sugar, whilst my super sweet-toothed girlfriend can mow through ‘Moo-Free’ snacks and ‘Mini Moos’ like they are going out of fashion.

I like Booja Booja’s products, for instance their ‘Hunky Punky’ chocolate icecream which contains simply water, agave syrup, cashew nuts and cocoa; and today I finished my second box of Booja Booja luxury truffles since Easter. I think it’s fair to say that if Booja Booja brought out a fist-sized cherry cognac truffle-bar then there’s a chance I’d be a little bit fat. However, being the fitness freak I am, my favourite candy bar would have to be something that contained some combination of superfoods and several different seeds as well as having a fruity middle and a rich dark-chocolatey topping to pique my taste buds. I’ve pretty much described the box of ‘9 Bar Indulges’ that I won a couple of months ago from ‘Vegan Life’ magazine, the same luxury cereal bars I devoured within days of opening and then couldn’t find anywhere in the shops.

I asked Antonia again what her perfect candy bar would be and the conversation went something like this:

Me: Ok, so you can have any kind of candy bar you like.

Antonia: Emmm… I don’t know… A vegan Lion Bar…

Me: Seriously… you could have anything in the world, any ingredient, and that’s what you choose?

Antonia: Uhh, well, I don’t know, a Toffee crisp then…

Me: (sighing) Use your imagination, hen, if you could invent your own sweetie what would it have in it?

Antonia: Oh, well, (she grins and I can almost see a wee lightbulb switching on above her head) I would have rice milk chocolate on a waifter (pause) no, wait, a caramel waifer… plus a layer of that squidgy chocolate stuff that’s in the Boost …obviously it would have to be vegan… and those wee chewy bits you get on the outside of a Toblerone… I think they might be nougat… I would like those on the top … and I want lots of them…

Me: So you don’t want much then.

Later, I googled ‘Peanut Boost’ and ‘Star Bar’ and discovered they were the same thing. Apparently, the Star Bar preceded the Peanut Boost but it was taken off the market and then rebranded, only to later be taken off the market and renamed Starbar once again. I can’t even remember what either of them look or taste like so they couldn’t have been that good.

London Vegan Adventurers

Today, Antonia and I went off on a vegan adventure in London. I suppose you could argue that all our adventures are vegan ones because we are vegans and have been for years, but in this instance we did specifically go in search of previously untried plant-based products and unconquered veggie establishments.

We ended up in Bethnal Green, a part of London I’d never visited. In a cheery wee charity-run coffee-shop called ‘The Gallery Café’ (http://www.stmargaretshouse.org.uk/thegallerycafe/). I was excited to find this place because it had been recommended to me by a chap I’d met last January in ‘Inspiral’ (a vegan café in Camden which overlooks the canal) who told me that it was his favourite food venue in London. And, after sampling the food and the atmosphere, it wasn’t hard to understand why. Between us we ordered a full English breakfast (which was comprised of veggie sausages, beans, mushrooms, toasted sourdough bread and a generous helping of scrambled tofu) and a cheesy, garlicky potato bake with salad. We did our usual eat-half-then-swap-plates, although I ate about three quarters of the food because it was so tasty, and because Antonia has been ill recently and it’s stunted her appetite.

Afterwards, Antonia went to an art exhibition in Whitechapel, and I waddled a few metres along the road to the Museum Of Childhood. I had a really good time looking at all the vintage kids’ games and toys, especially the He-Man figures and the Carebears and the old-fashioned super hero comics. However, I was mildly disturbed by the 1960s stuffed koala bear toy which was a dead-ringer for the koala my mum has had since childhood. According to the placard in the MOC, it was made from kangaroo skin – and I don’t know why this should offend me more than the leather seat of an 80s chopper bike or the many happy plastic farm animals on display, but for some reason it did; and I know I’ll never be able to run my fingers across the fur of mum’s koala toy ever again.

Later, we reconvened and went to Kensington on an egg hunt. I like Hotel Chocolat (because they’ve always catered well for vegans) and I’d heard they had some original Easter goodies. However, the only seasonal dairy-free delicacy I could find was a dark chocolate ‘egg sandwich’, and I couldn’t separate that in my mind from real egg-salad sandwiches. So we sampled a couple of their hot chocolates instead and went along the road to Wholefoods. And despite there being a much wider variety of cruelty-free eggs in this shop, I emerged from the chocolate aisle with a box of Rhubarb and vanilla Booja Booja truffles (and a packet of chicken soup flavoured ‘Ten Acre’ crisps) and Antonia picked a giant Vego bar, some jelly sweets and a bag of marshmallows for her Easter treat.

(We did get some normal foodstuff as well… fat green olives, dairy free almond-cheese spread, veggie haggis… thinking about it is making me salivate so I’ll say no more…)

On the car ride home, I began compiling a list of all the vegetarian and vegan places we’ve ever been to for my new up-and-coming blog page ‘Bean There’ (it was Antonia’s idea), along with a mental plan of where I’m going for my next London Vegan Adventure.