Veganuary: done.

Almost exactly a month ago, I bet an 11-year-old boy (having stuffed myself with cheese fondue and chocolate fountain the night before), that I could be vegan for the entirety of January. He may have ended up with the cash, but I survived!

Veganism is, according to The Vegan Society website, defined as, ‘a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’

What constitutes ‘as far as is possible and practical’ naturally varies considerably between individuals and circumstances. It is here – in the ambiguity – where I claim victory. Throughout the month, my only consumption of non-vegan products been by accident (I pinkie promise): the time I knew that Pringles were vegan, but not that this excluded the sour cream and onion variety; the time(s) I forgot because I was in a different environment (dauphinoise potatoes and Costa cup of tea); that time I was at a friend’s house and turned a blind eye to the fact that they used butter when they cooked apple crumble. These lapses aside, I was vegan for January. I mean, I returned to London on 3rd January with a bag of Christmas chocolate that I have abstained from, but instead gradually donated to friends. (How f***ing virtuous is that??) I did my best – I went as far as possible and practical. In your face, Jo! You can’t make me part with my dollar!

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to baking chocolate brownies, drinking a glass of milk, and eating cheese until I feel ill (yesterday I bought a big block of cheddar – eeep). My resolve and willpower as the month ends is dwindling quicker than you can say hot chocolate.

For the rest of the time, however, I will undoubtedly be more conscious of the ingredients of the food I eat. I will (I will) be inclined to make vegan make the more vegan choices both in my cooking and when out an about. But first, pizza.

Here are some things I discovered from my stint as a (budget) vegan:

  1. I will survive

It is possible to survive without cheese on all your food! (I didn’t think this was a conceivable option). There are equivalents of most foods most of which just aren’t the same, although I think (eventually) one acclimatises to watery-flavoured stuff.

  1. It’s ok to make mistakes

And this doesn’t just include thinking that coconut and white wine would be a decent marriage of ingredients in a risotto. It’s not, btw. Mistakes also include accidently eating non-vegan foods – it’s hard to be super vigilant all of the time – and just needing chocolate sometimes.

  1. My bread consumption increased exponentially

Fact. This has been my chocolate/snack/everything replacement. When I’m tired or have had a long day of work – I gotta have me some choc.

  1. Sara Pasco is my new idol

Sara is a very cool. And a vegan. I listened to her book, Animal which is INCREDIBLE; it sheds a whole new light on the female body, and it is personal and emotional, and it is funny.

  1. Veganism is not popular

I did not enforce my Veganism on others – but did come into trouble when I went to visit the houses of friends. Although all involved were inconceivably kind and understanding, I nonetheless felt oh-so-guilty causing extra hassle.

  1. More Vegan puddings should exist

Admittedly, this was based on only one experience at the restaurant Bills. BUT THERE WERE NO VEGAN OPTIONS. I should not be confined to just fruit tea. #humanrights

  1. January feels like it goes on forever

Seriously, why is it not over yet?

  1. Cheese + Milk = my butter half

I now will really appreciate milk, butter and cheese sooo much more. I love you.

  1. I need a proper cup of tea

Anyone who knows me (at all), will know that my daily tea consumption can be considered impressive. The hardest thing about January has been not having a proper cuppa: hot water and a tea bag (yes – I have lowered myself to this) just isn’t the same. Nor is just hot water. In regards to tea, I feel like I am depriving myself, not making better options for myself and the environment. I need my tea, ok – I am British after all.

London: 8 places (slightly) off the beaten track

Here are some of the places that I have been to recently (or hope to go to) and would really recommend. They are neither expensive, nor difficult to get to: you have no excuse!

  1. Battersea Park: Described in hallowed terms as “the most underrated tourist attraction in London” by one friend, the park is home fun activities and events – from Google’s Christmas party to The Telegraph’s Ski and Snowboarding Exhibition. It’s child (both big and small) friendly – with a children’s playground, rowing on the lakes, a land train, cycling and a children’s zoo.
  1. Shoreditch – all of it! It’s so cool! I did not know this area of London existed until I moved here! I recommend Homeslice Pizza (they are too cool even for knives and forks!), the cool pop-ups and pubs in the Old Street Roundabout, and all the overpriced hipster shops.

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  1. Café in the Crypt: This café – complete with tombs and whipping post – is situated below St. Martin-in-the-fields church, just next to Trafalgar Square. It is incredibly good value, and aims to be as sustainable and local as possible in its food choices: win-win. They also put on a cracking Christmas meal.

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  1. Colombia Road Flower Market: This year-round market is open on Sunday mornings 8am-3ish and is a real London institution. It’s crammed with stalls, punters, and barrow boys – as well as an ‘oasis foliage and flowers.’ It also boasts some quirky and quaint shops, cafés, and restaurants which are well worth a visit.

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  1. The Word on the Water: This is the one I have not been to yet! The word on the water is a bookshop on a boat floating somewhere along the Thames – how cool is that? Find out more information here.
  1. Pergola on the RoofA pop up restaurant with a plethora of different eateries – all transformed into a beautiful Nordic forest with all the fairly-lights you could ever imagine. It’s closed now for winter, but keep an eye out on social media for updates – they will be back in the Spring.

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  1. Watch Nice Fish the play: Bizarre. Abstract. Rambling. It’s fun to go see something slightly different; it’s a play more thought-provoking than the standard Mamma Mia performance (mainly trying to figure out what the play is actually about). It’s free to watch if you dress up as a Fish or a fisherman.

  1. Wardour Street, Soho: This street has every kind of food you could ever want. (Yes, dreams can come true) Another amazing- you-have-to-visit restaurant is the pizzeria and Italian bakery, Princi. It’s mainly based in Milan, but has one branch on Wardour Street. It also does deliveries – just FYI.

Yes – most of my favourite things revolved around food. #sorrynotsorry. I am excited to know more of London/eat my way through it, and will keep you updated on my journey!

Next on my list include: Pimlico farmer’s market, Spitafields market, The Word on the Water, and Mildred’s vegetarian restaurant. I will keep you updated!

Where else should I be headed?

London Living: The beaten track

Living within the commuter belt all my life has had some benefits. I have been lucky enough that throughout the span of my school-days I have experienced (thanks very much Tesco Clubcard and Southern’s 2 for 1 discounts) the highlights of London’s cultural and historic monuments. Yes, this does include clinging to the railings – totally terrified – at the top of the Monument whilst my younger siblings laughed at me. Living out of London provided a greater incentive for my mother to drag us to all-things-educational in London, in comparison to my cooler, independent, urban-dwelling contemporaries.

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Grasping siblings on the Monument

As a result of school trips/birthday treats/summer visits, I consider myself experienced when surveying a list London’s principle tourist attractions. I have voyaged aboard HMS Belfast; been bedazzled by the crown jewels at The Tower of London; been inspired by the inner-workings of government at The Houses of Parliament and Supreme Court; been freaked out by the heights of the London Eye; watched someone faint from heat while standing at The Globe; fallen into a puddle ice-skating at Somerset House; and been exposed to ALL the history/literature/art at – I would wager – London’s most famous museums. I even boast wildly and widely that I have completed the ultimate London tourist activity – the London Duck Tours. Twice. (An experience I totally recommend, by the way).

At the time, perhaps, I relished the accompanying Pizza Express/Wagamamas (the two ultimate metropolis treats) more than the culture, I believe these experiences have served me well for later life. I went on to study history at university. All those trips to museums were therefore not a complete waste of time. On reflection, being a tourist in the city I was born in, has encouraged me to explore new places, learn new stories, and – most importantly – my love of Pizza Express has endured too.

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However, these experiences were tailored to my mother’s interests (shopping was verboten) and mainly occurred in South London. This has given me the slightly misguided impression that anything above the central line was ‘The North’: nice enough to visit occasionally (Hampstead Heath wasn’t so bad), but – like Yorkshire Tea or Pies – not something that my family were that familiar with.

So, having recently moved to London, I have been attempting to get out and about and navigate my way around the maze of London; this has only been some-what successful.

Any recommendations?

10 things: Why Eddie Redmayne is a fantastic beast of a human

I’ll admit it: Eddie Redmayne was my teenage crush. At my rural all-girls school, my friends and I prolifically adorned our pin-boards with pictures of this magnificent creature. We spent our school-nights debating for hours whether his hair was ginger or brown or golden. It didn’t matter, his hair was perfect. One friend in particular claimed him as her own; her (very persuasive) line of argument was that she and Mr Redmayne were soulmates because both had ginger hair, studied History of Art, and knew people who went to Eton.

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Our fervour peaked in 2012, to coincide with the release of the WWI TV Mini-Series, Birdsong. We gathered together to enjoy/oogle his performance/good looks. We were obsessed. We were meant to be (yes in a collective sense – I don’t think we figured out who had priority). We shared the same interests: Eddie performed as Angel Clare in the BBC TV Mini-Series Tess of the D’Urbervilles; one of our number played Angel Clare in the School Production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Yes, Angel was being performed by a girl; I said, it was an-all girls school. (Side note: the school once imported a boy for the role of Danny in Grease, and he pretty much had a nervous breakdown). Eddie excelled at donning-tights in various period dramas and so did we (they were part of our uniform). Eddie specialised in the Tudors (think The Other Boleyn Girl and Elizabeth I), and we were trying to; the Tudor period accounted for much of our history A Level syllabus.

Since then, Eddie has propelled himself into the mainstream, with fame-inducing roles including Maruis in Les Misérables, Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and Einar Wegner in The Danish Girl. He has won Oscars, for goodness sake. Meanwhile, my group of friends have also achieved: we have all passed our A Levels.

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The recent release of Fantastic Beasts of and Where to Find Them, however, has rekindled my love-affair. Here’s 10 (of many) reasons why he is so fantastic:

1. His face.

2. He is an incredible actor. All of Eddie’s performances are critically acclaimed. His work traverses time and gender – pretty impressive. He has won all the awards: Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA awards, etc.

3. Redmayne gushes over his wife #strongfamilyvalues. But not like Ryan Reynolds whose adoration of his wife, Blake Lively, makes my stomach churn. Although she is pretty hot, tbh.

4. He loves Hazza. He even stands up for Hufflepuffs.

5. Seriously. His beauty. Not many men can pull off Tudor garb.

6. He is super smart. He went to Cambridge.

7. He can sing. You’ve seen Les Misérables and his rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.

8. He doesn’t mind looking like an idiot. Whether acting out animals on Ellen or singing  and dancing Oliver! on The Graham Norton Show, he seems to enjoy mucking around and having a laugh.

9. He’s a wizard bloke. A gentleman one might say. An extremely affable fellow who is incredibly modest. And he gets pissed with journalists.

10. Did I mention how attractive he is?

New Year’s Resolution: Veganury

I am full of contradictions. I am both for and against hunting: I respect the traditions of the countryside, but also am against unnecessary cruelty to animals. For similar reasons, I am both for and against shooting. I am a country girl whose tardiness to school was dependent on whether the family made it across the road before the cows blocked it on their way to milking. I enjoy weekends plodding though fields of sheep with a mischievous Labrador in toe. I am also a vegetarian who doesn’t eat meat for environmental and moral reasons.

Effectively, I am a very flawed and confused individual.

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I have been vegetarian for around 10 years, and that was a natural process of gradually eating less and less meat over this period; the moment I gave up gravy, I felt I could claim that I was vegetarian. Vegetarianism was my act of teenage rebellion. (I’m so cool). And yet I constantly feel the need to apologise for it – although my favourite critics will attest that I can be a tad self-deprecating occasionally (read: all the time; I told you, I’m flawed).

This January, however, I want to take the next step. I want to try out veganism in conjunction with Veganurary, ‘a global charity that encourages people to try vegan for January.’ The website boasts that ‘veganism is one of the most effective choices a person can make to reduce the suffering of animals, help the planet and improve personal health.’ Sounds pretty good to me.

However, I confess: I love dairy products. I drink glasses and glasses of milk (which some people misguidedly think revolting). I don’t understand the purpose of mini cartons of milk, or people who consistently worry that the milk will go off. Who are you? I’m also planning to eat the ultimate dairy overload for my families traditional New Year’s Eve menu: my grandfather’s secret Swiss fondue recipe (the trick is to add lots of alcohol) followed by that most indulgent of puddings, a chocolate fountain. Not very vegan friendly, I admit.

I have tried to go vegan once before whilst studying at university; this lasted for about a weak before I my need for proper cow’s milk in my tea became overwhelming. I am British, for goodness sake. This brief but passionate stint was prompted by friends studying Theology; they were studying the fate and morality of male calves and chickens. I was aghast. I naively didn’t realise any of this suffering even existed. Google it for yourself.

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So, when the clock strikes midnight – having indulged too heavily in my weaknesses of chocolate and cheese – I will try to go Vegan. I am of the firm belief, however, that going Vegan isn’t about denying myself the food I love, nor about going on a diet, but making small changes in my diet for a healthier planet.

For a while now I have followed the recipes of the foodie entrepreneur Deliciously Ella – who writes far more eloquently about this kind of thing –so there shouldn’t be too much of a chasm in my cooking and eating.  Deliciously Ella Every Day is worth getting your hands on; I recommend her Chickpea, Quinoa and Tumeric Curry.

I am excited to use this opportunity to discover new chefs, restaurants, and recipes; this is my chance to finally attempt vegan baking. However, I understand it’s important to check I am getting the correct nutrients and vitamins and minerals and a balanced diet.

Here are some links that you might find helpful:

Any hints or tips you can recommend? I have literally never been to a vegetarian restaurant before.

And, it’s only for a month anyway.

Happy New Year & good luck with any resolutions!

Tate Modern: a Fishy business

The Tate Modern on the edge of the Thames is an essential visit for anyone passing through London. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • A chance to see THE BEST VIEW OF LONDON from the café on the top floor. No jokes.
  • It will satisfy the concrete architecture aficionado in your life (yes, they exist and will clogg your Instagram feed).
  • It’s FREE.
  • The Tate has some weird and wonderful artwork.
  • Did I mention there’s a café?
  • Your inner art historian/bull s*** skills can be exercised. What is abstracitsm? What does the blue orb with the yellow background represent? What is the meaning of art? I literally have no idea. Please explain.
  • Free Wifi. Always useful – especially when very important decisions such as what’s for lunch and where’s Wagamama’s comes up in conversation.

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I went to the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition with some friends – sadly it’s now over and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. However, some of what I learnt is this. 1. Georgia O’Keefe painted more than flowers. 2. She was good at bright colours. 3. She was good at adding ‘depth’ to landscapes. 4. O’Keefe worked a lot with her husband photographer Alfred Stiegliz. 5. She like to paint the same thing from different angles/at different days. 6. O’Keefe likes things that don’t move.

Portrait of O’Keefe by her photographer husband Alfred Stiegliz

However, the coolest thing was probably the floating fish in the Turbine Hall. We joined the rest of the children enjoying half term to wonder at this floating aquarium and fail to figure out how it works. Visitors can enjoy an immersive experience that includes lying on the floor and enjoying the sounds and sights and the rapid decent of the ceiling. Designed by Philippe Parreno, the work is entitled Anywhen and is open until April 2017. Click here for more information.

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We then went off to search for some lunch…

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… and enjoy the rest of the day pottering around central London.

Blackberry & Apple Jam

Blackberries are delicious. So are apples. These two flavours with the juxtaposing textures work well in combination. Also it’s lovely to use seasonal fruits – mainly because it keeps cost down! (especially if you can resource your fruit for free). Unfortunately, the blackberry season is basically over, but there might be a few on a hedgerow near you if you are lucky.

TOP TIP: Blackberries keep well in the freezer. Place on a baking tray until frozen and then toss into a freezer bag until you need them.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1kg Blackberries
  • 1kg Cooking apples
  • 2kg jam sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons

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WHAT YOU NEED

  • Jam jars
  • Kit for sealing jam
  • Baking tray
  • Large saucepan

METHOD

Spend an afternoon frolicking around collecting blackberries and apples.

Sterilise your Jam Jars. The easiest way to do this is to this is to simply put them through the dishwasher. Alternatively, place on a sheet of newspaper on a roasting tray and heat in the oven for 45 minutes on degree heat.

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Place a couple of saucers into the freezer.

Place the blackberries, cut up apples, lemon juice and 200 ml of water into your biggest saucepan on a medium heat. You can use two saucepans if necessary. Let the fruit soften and expand for about 15 minutes.

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Next add the sugar and stir until it dissolves.

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Bring the mixture to the boil and let bubble for at least 5 minutes – but it usually takes longer. To know when the jam is ready, retrieve your frozen saucers, and teaspoon a little onto the plate. If the jam wrinkles against the back of the spoon, then the jam is ready! If it doesn’t – continue to boil for a little longer.

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Once you are happy, take the saucepan of the heat and ladle mixture into sterilised jam jars. It’s then important to seal the jam; one method is to use wax discs and then cellophane lids to top the jam.

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Don’t forget to label with the month, year, and type of jam!

Spread on toast and serve with a cup of tea for a delicious afternoon snack.

#nomnomnom

10 things: Autumn

Let’s admit it: Autumn is a depressing season.

The wildness of summer is over: shoes, haircuts, and stationary are the order of the day. Orderliness. Structure. Timetables. I find the fading of the year a jaded reminder of failed resolutions, aspirations and dreams. We have to become accustomed to a vampire existence devoid of sunlight.

Yeah, I can be a little hysterical.

Plus it gets super cold. My hands start cracking, my lips chap, I get sores around my nose caused by colds, and I just generally transform into a haggard old witch. And not a cool one like Professor McGonagall.

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It’s important, therefore, to recall the highlights of the season and counter the impending gloom.

  1. Jam & chutney season

It’s harvest time. Enjoying chutney can, I think, be considered a hallmark of entering adulthood. Trees and hedgerows are bountiful with seasonal fruits – blackberries, apples, tomatoes, and plums. Blackberry and apple jam is, technically speaking, nom nom nom on toast.

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  1. Cosy Jumpers

Snuggling up in jumpers/slankets/duvets/sheep onesies has to be one of the plus points of autumn. Find a beautiful selection of knitwear here to see you through autumn and beyond.

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  1. Remember about Bonfire Night – 5th November

A seriously underrated celebration in British culture. Originally a festival for the survival of the monarchy (James I) against the attempted conspiracy by ‘evil’ Catholics such as Guido Fawkes, in the modern era it is all about FIRE. Sparklers. Bonfires. Fireworks. And a healthy dosage of mulled wine.

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  1. Not feeling guilty about watching TV

You never shouldn’t feel guilty about indulging in a couch potato lifestyle. However, with the quality of TV improving – finally the return of Have I Got News For You – and the cloaking of darkness, television binging is acceptable again. Anything by Aaron Sorkin is genius.

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  1. Fattening up for Winter

An essential part of the autumnal period. It’s important to build up a layer of fat to aid your body’s defences against the cold. Soups, stews, and – of course – chocolate. I think this theory is supported by some pretty scientific data.

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  1. Halloween – 31st October

An autumnal event designed, in many ways, to contribute to the fattening-up process previously described. Further – Halloween is the one opportunity you can literally party your pyjamas. Or perhaps that’s just me.

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  1. Thanksgiving & Canadian Thanksgiving

My university experience, for better or worse, introduced me to Americans. One perk is participating the celebration of Thanksgiving; it is very much food orientated. Thanksgiving is essentially the opportunity to eat as much as you like – à la Joey from Friends. Highlights include pumpkin pie, sour scones, turkey, and sweet potato dish adorned with marshmallows (not sure what it’s called). Hurry and make friends with homesick yanks before the 24th November.

  1. Winter Wardrobe

Aside from jumpers and blankets, bringing out your winter wardrobe is exciting. Who knows what you might find in your closet – the odd fiver, beautiful heeled boots, a dead animal?

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  1. Pumpkin-based stuff

This might be a hangover from exposure to Americans, but I now get excited about pumpkin based products. Pumpkin pies, pumpkin soup, and the oh-so-basic pumpkin spied latte. Also pumpkin-carving is an activity not just to be enjoyed by children.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

  1. Winter is Coming

And what that really means is: C H R I S T M A S. Be thankful we live in a world that isn’t always winter and never Christmas. And where James McAvoy exists.

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