Monday, 2 April 2012

Last Blog

This is it, the final blog entry for this blog.

My 40 days as a pseudo-vegan ended yesterday when I was able to spread butter on my toast (admittedly cashew butter was rather yummy on the toast) for breakfast and I was able to eat roast pheasant with my parents. So time to look back at the time and consider the successes and failures.

I think the ultimate failure was that I was not a very strict vegan, partly because being a pure vegan anywhere is bloody difficult. It wasn't just that in the traditional meat-free European recipes cheese and butter were sometimes essential, but it's also that I love cakes, which always contain milk and eggs. And when I eat pancakes (which I should have cut off) whipped cream is always an accompaniment. And how can you enjoy being a vegan if you can't eat ice cream?

The other big failure was that this blog didn't exactly get tons of attention. The main problem, I believe, is that I don't really hang around the foodie crowd much, and this is the kind of thing they would be interested in more than anyone else.

BUT I did succeed in widening my own cooking palette and providing ideas for recipes to other people. My biggest success I can point to is my brother. He has to eat meat all the time (so he says) so meat is almost always featured in his cooking and pork pie is an essential feature in his lunches. Even he was intrigued by some of my recipes.

Also, did the diet make me feel any different? Not really. Although I did notice that with the absence of meat I started desiring more spicey foods, and more of my food was coloured red or brown. That was until my yearning for green food sprouted.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Knowing a vegan makes life inconvenient

The above title is inspired by something IGN's Podcast Beyond host Colin Moriarty said back in Autumn: he said that a vegan diet is very exclusive. He said this when recounting a story of meeting his best friend, who would soon be getting married and became a vegan for health reasons. While Colin acknowledged that the health benefits were obvious and was proud of his friend for his achievement, it was not easy finding a restaurant to eat out at.

Mind you, the USA's food industry appears to have not learned the lesson the UK has: have vegetarian/vegan options on your menu, or lose customers and face bankruptcy. I remember when I was in the US, how difficult it was for my vegetarian friends to find food in outlets, despite the masses of such people living in the US today. When I went out on Friday night with my best friend, we really didn't need to be so careful when picking our restaurant; we just walked in and I stared at the vegetarian options.

But this leads to the time I've experienced with my parents in these final few days. While my dad was supportive of my endeavour, my mum had no comment (as usual), but I didn't experience any negativity. No, the reason why these final few days were interesting for me was that my mum deals with the food provision in the household and she's not the most flexible when it comes to sudden or drastic changes. While we have had some non-meat-eating guests in the past, we...actually don't know very many vegans or vegetarians. And we always had fore-warning so their needs could be planned for.

In this instance, I had brought home my own supply of soy milk, all the way from Ostrava, making it easier for all involved as I'm assuming mum doesn't know where to look for such things. The other reason is that I had barely used the litre carton and didn't want it wasted. The day I arrived in London, dad was working at home so he picked me up and asked me to survey the food stocks, in case we needed to do a spontaneous shopping trip. Well, as I would be out of the house Friday evening, that was the perfect opportunity for mum to cook some meat pies. Wednesday evening I cooked some spaghetti, Thursday evening I cooked a stir-fry with Thai sweet chili sauce.

You can pretty much spot the resolution of this problem: in order to avoid cooking something I won't be able to eat, I just cook for everyone else. Except Saturday. Saturday is the one evening when we have chips with something, either fish, burgers or fried eggs. It's always some sort of animal product. I suggested I cook something else, to avoid this conundrum of what to have with my chips, but mum is fully aware of my love for Asian food. Her suggestion was to find some prepared vegetable spring rolls to cook up with my chips. That was genius and I agreed. But she couldn't find any. So sticking with the Asian snacks, I was overjoyed to discover she had bought a packet of Thai vegetable sacks. 10 of them, all for me! :D

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Addendum: The Taste of Soy Milk

Many apologies for not writing anything new for a week. This week was spent travelling to London to visit family for the Easter tide and then...I honestly had nothing else to talk about.

HOWEVER, I had brought my soy milk home and decided to eat my most favourite of cereals: Cheerios. For some reason, among the tiny range of cereals in the Czech Republic, Cheerios can never be found. NOW, with Cheerios, the taste of soy milk is blatantly obvious.

It tastes like...stale water cream. It's not horrible per say, but with the first spoonful of Cheerios it's a shock. The obviousness of the taste then ebbs away. So it seems I accidentally discovered the best way to enjoy/consume soy milk: use it with muesli, and nothing else.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Discussion: Milk Alternatives

1) Oat Milk

I'm getting this one out of the way quickly as I didn't actually try this one. The reason? My friend tried it and said it tasted like porridge. I really don't fancy porridge-flavoured milk and I highly doubt it would mix well with my strawberry muesli.

2) Soy Milk

This is the obvious alternative. So obvious I bought it without thinking when lent began. The biggest complaint against soy milk is that it doesn't taste like milk. And here is when I make a shocking statement: I can't taste the difference. I really can't. If I try hard then...I guess I can taste cream in the soy milk somewhere? I dunno, maybe I'm just not that partial to milk? The biggest drawback to this milk as I can see is its price. Soy milk isn't commonly sold in the Czech Republic, so almost the only brand available is Alpro Soya.

It is a quality product, of course, but being priced at 60 koruna (crowns) or the equivalent of £2, makes this a luxury product to many. For a third of that price (in either currency) you can buy the same amount of organic milk. In the UK, there are at least competing soy dairy manufacturers, so UK consumers don't lose out so much.

3) Rice Milk

Unfortunately, the carton doesn't specify which kind of rice, but whatever. I bought this for 33 koruna (just over £1) from DM, a German chain of chemists that also sells organic products. It's god-awful. There's barely any flavour and the fluid itself is so thin and watery. It was easily coloured by the strawberry bits in my muesli, which also meant their flavour was drained. I was so happy when I finally used this up.

4) Soy Rice Milk

I guess the main difference between this one and soy milk is that soy milk uses the beans. I bought this from DM at the same price as the rice milk. It wasn't as viscous/'creamy' as the soy milk, but it wasn't watery either. It gets brownie points for not interfering with the muesli flavour; as for the milk itself I swear I taste a whiff of vanilla.

Of the three I've tried, my personal favourite is soy milk. No surprise there.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Discussion: Our Dependence on Milk

A long long time ago, our ancient ancestors living in what would become Europe, discovered milk freely provided (by cows) and its versatility. Playing around with milk and its offshoot products like yoghurt and cheese meant our ancestors widened their sources of food, so they could hunt and forage less frequently. Notice I specified Europe; Europeans have a bizarrely low level of lactose intolerance; in fact, beyond a certain age, it is usually a bad idea for humans to consume so much milk. Or dairy. Yet we have it in our cereals every day.

So milk has ended up being an intrinsic part of our diets, our society. Is it on the same level as bread? Does a lack of milk in supermarkets signal an imminent collapse of society? Well, in most cases it doesn't, it normally means the usual freight carriers haven't arrived due to a natural disaster or something. But I would like to share with you a case from Australia.

When I was in Australia this time last year, one of the more important news stories was the supermarket rivalries forcing down the price of milk. It was possible to buy 1 litre of milk for AUS$1. That is actually ridiculously cheap. So you not only have rival supermarkets using milk - an everyday essential - as leverage to get shoppers, but the authorities had to step in since this was undercutting the actual value, meaning dairy farmers were being forced to lose money.

Most of us actually don't realise how cheap milk really is. I find this interesting, because you would think that milk made from plant material would be a lot cheaper. To get fresh cows' milk, you need land to grow animal feed, which is then transported to a shop/warehouse, transported to a farm, then the produced milk is transported to shops up and down the country and beyond. I suppose the real reason why fresh milk remains cheap is that, for the most part, milk comes straight out of the cow and is then bottled/packaged, after a pasteurising process. Also, milk is rarely exported beyond a country's borders. Plant milk, such as soy milk, is grown as a crop, put through a lengthy production process, packaged and then exported.

Of course, while cost is the main factor, unless they're lactose intolerant or health freaks, people stay away from 'fake' milk because...well, it's not 'real' milk. Tomorrow I'll be comparing different milk products and seeing how they measure up.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Recipe: Bean Chili

I cooked this up tonight just to see if I could make my own bean chili, considering I've already eaten ready-made ones over the years. I managed to make enough for 5 people by the looks of things and the best part is that it can be eaten with either rice or potato wedges. It went great with the salad I made yesterday :D.

Tinned beans of your choice (I had white, red kidney and butter beans)
Runner Beans
Chopped tomatoes
Cooking oil (of your choice)
Lots of different herbs and spices, chili is essential

Step 1: Chop up 3/4 cloves of garlic into small chunky 'cubes'. Start boiling or steaming the runner beans, depending on how crunchy you want them to be.

Step 2: Heat up the frying pan on moderate heat, glazed with oil, and pour in garlic.

Step 3: Open and drain the tins of beans. If they are not completely drained, don't worry. Add the beans to the pan once it is warmed and stir frequently.

Step 4: Between the stirring, add in the various spices. I used plenty of mixed ground pepper and enough chili. Add the runner beans to the frying pan (not with the boiled water they were in/on top of).

Step 5: Once everything has been mixed and heated, turn the heat up higher and pour in the chopped tomatoes (canned or fresh, doesn't matter). Stir the mixture then leave to sizzle. Add more chili if you wish, though personally I added oregano at this point.

Step 6: The smell test should be enough to tell you when to serve it; if not, taste. Can be served with either rice, potato wedges, chips, tortilla chips, with or without salad.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Recipe?: Salad

I don't think I'll file this one under recipes since, well, this one is rather lazy and uncomplicated. I had 4 key components: pre-packed salad mix (you know, the typical lettuce, spinach and carrot bits pack), radishes, an onion and Italian salad dressing. I mixed the salad mix with sliced-and-diced onion and 'quartered' radishes. The complicated bit was the salad dressing.

I went into the supermarket thinking I could find a small bottle of the stuff, you know, like in Britain. But no, this is Czech. Here you buy a powder sachet of 10g, then mix it with some olive oil and water. I have to say, it brought excellent results. The only trouble was that I had too little. I had a third of a bowl compared to a large tupperware container of salad. I managed to get most of the salad glazed but next time I think I'll buy 2 sachets, or 3 if I want the salad drenched. Or maybe I'll just buy balsamic vinegar and make up my own damn dressing.

Ah well, could be worse. At least I have enough salad to last a week.

As for why I wanted a salad? It was towards the end of last week that I got a hard reminder of how few greens I was eating. That is one of the traits/stereotypes of a non-meat eater: eating lots of salad. Although the main reason for that is simply due to many places not offering vegetarian main meals, so salad is the safe option/refuge food. But I'm digressing. I had lunch with a colleague, who had brought in the epitome of a European 'good meal': meat (chicken), boiled potatoes and a salad. And I don't mean a decorative garnish, which is usually a bland side of lettuce and tomato and is something no one ever eats. This salad had been properly prepared, with diced onion, mixed lettuce and properly covered in salad dressing. It made my mouth water and he let me try some. How yummy.