A Year Later

It’s been a year since I shared my last post here. No, I have no excuses. Sometimes things happen in life which need immediate attention, you rush to fix those things and get sidetracked. But again, that’s no excuse.

So the question now is, what has changed in the vegan world over the past 12 months? The question is unavoidable because I’ve been away from this platform for so long, I wonder if my approach needs any readjustment.

There has definitely been a great improvement in the popularity of the vegan, plant-based diet. Thanks to increasing numbers of celebrities adopting this lifestyle – or even just the diet – there has been a boom in new restaurants, foods and content. New food ranges make it even cooler to be vegan as we can now show off our delicious junk food to the omnis. Sainsbury’s sale of vegan products exceeded sales expectations by 300%. London has never been such a great place to be a vegan.

However, my friends, it’s only too easy to feel deceived and start thinking that the worst is over and we can sit down and relax on a bed of roses. Just a couple of weeks ago I was sitting on a bus on my way home from work and the girl sitting next to me was on the phone discussing food with a fellow foodie. And the words came, “All the vegans will die”. I wish she had known there was one right next to her.

I never heard a vegan wishing the death of omnivores. Vegans can be quite vocal and yes, they will shove content and facts right in front of you but they never, in my experience, make such dark and grim wishes.

In conclusion, there’s no rest for the wicked. We have it easier but there is so much more to do, not just to make our lives easier and avoid someone wishing our death, but also to keep decreasing the number of victims created every day by the omni system, i.e. the same reason why we went vegan to begin with, to save the animals and all the beautiful creatures of the world. Keep it up guys!

Do Vegans Care More About Animals Than Humans?

I often write short -or not so short!- captions under my Instagram photos but I never get a chance to expand the topic. One of the topics that has stuck with me the longest is the argument that vegans care more about animals than humans.

If vegans are so aware of animal welfare, environmental issues, human health, how is it that they still purchase Nike items? Don’t they know where all the small bits and bobs that form their gadgets come from?

These – omnivores argue – are contradictions. First of all, let me ask omnivores: are all your clothes, household items and gadgets ethical? When is the last time you read a label? Most of the time, if they are honest, they will admit they are not so thorough in their purchases. Fine, neither am I. I confess to owning a pair of synthetic material Nike that I bought a while ago and no, I am not binning them until they are useless; only then I will buy new ethical shoes. Yes, I do own a smartphone. Yes, I can certainly do more for humans. I could watch my purchases to start with, I could do charity, cook meals for the homeless, adopt disadvantaged children. Why am I not doing all these things then?

I believe that humans evolve and evolution takes time. Eight years ago I wasn’t even vegetarian, right? Then I was veggie, then vegan, then an even more aware vegan. I am already reading all the ingredients/materials of all my food, cosmetics and clothing; I buy fair trade and responsibly sourced when possible. I feel like I’m doing a lot in terms of making a statement and carrying a belief, boycotting what I disagree with. However, avoiding all other major brands and going all the way requires superior skills that can only be achieved with a learning process. Ultimately, if I wanted to be 100% ethical and avoid all items that have more or less openly been produced by children or collected by underpaid workers who live in terrible conditions, I would become a hermit. And so would you. I doubt this is the ultimate solution. Somebody has to keep living in society and speaking up after all.

I have always thought that each one of us should do what they are best at, focus on the aspect of themselves that would benefit the community the most. I think I am quite good at spreading the word and creating awareness. I am a gentle advocate for veganism and plant-based diet in general, I don’t post violent pictures of slaughterhouses, I try to catch people’s attention by showing a healthy and happy lifestyle. If I started uploading pictures of blood, that wouldn’t reflect my personality. I’m not a preachy vegan either. In the same way, if somebody’s best talent is rescuing kids from the street, they should focus on that and I won’t question why they haven’t gone veggie yet.

Now, my biggest argument is coming. Veganism is empathy.

Don’t you think, if I managed to make someone more empathetic towards lambs and piggies, calves, horses, fish, whales, wouldn’t they by consequence become more empathetic towards humans as well? If you loved the speechless, the ones you always assumed were a commodity, wouldn’t you also be more empathetic towards the weakest in human society?

Feeling empathy means that you can feel all the sorrow in the world and all the happiness too. Sometimes it can be a bit too much as even reading the news can really affect me. However, this is a tool, an amazing weapon of peace.

Although I don’t call myself religious, I am quite fond of Hinduism and Buddhism. The following quote is from chapter 13, 27-28 of the Bhagavad Gita, which I read for the first time several years ago:

They alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Thus they attain the supreme goal.

I think the key words here are “the same” and “every creature”. It means that we should see the Lord / spirit of the world / energy / whatever-you-want-to-call-it in everything. And most importantly there are no more or less precious expressions of life, because the same precious thing is inside all.

So, going back to the original question, do vegans care more about animals than humans? I don’t think so. I can’t vouch for every single vegan on the planet, however, being one and feeling like a vegan feels, I say no. We just speak for those who can’t speak, nor write; for those who can’t fight, who don’t possess weapons. For those that can’t go to the police when their mum or baby gets killed, those who don’t get an article on the press when they are killed by the millions every day. Because this is what we do best and because loving every creature means every creature.

Banana, Cacao and Vanilla Vegan Loaf

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It doesn’t matter how much I say that from a moment in time onwards I’ll post more frequently, life has its own ways and things cannot be predicted. I still post daily on my Instagram feed, as that only requires a photo and a caption and I cook most days. For me personally, taking the time to write down the complete recipe and making it accurate takes that little extra time that I’m not sure I always have.

Things that have been happening to me recently include: a dodgy roof, inclusive of rain inside the house with bowls and buckets all over the floor; studying for an accounting qualification (don’t ask me how that even happened); working full time in an understaffed office; and, this isn’t actually bad, I got into yoga, which I added to my weekly routine. I go to the studio about once or twice a week and still do bodyweight and dumbbell training at home to strengthen my upper back and arms.

I surrendered to the roof problem because I realised it’s a first world issue. There’s running water (got the pun?) , electricity, a safe bed and food on the table. Like, what am I even complaining about? It does take energy away from other tasks but I have been through worse situations in my life and I’m just going with it now until it is sorted properly.

As I’m also getting towards the end of the level 2 qualification (might do level 3 afterwards) I decided to just take it easy this weekend and catch up with the blog.

I realised that although I don’t have a sweet tooth and usually I bake because I like baking more than I like eating cake, my “sweet” posts are the most popular. Is this because vegan baking is the last thing you actually master after switching diet? I think so. If I had been a vegan baker I would have been 100% vegan way earlier, the last barrier being birthday cakes and celebration foods.

So, this morning I realised that I never made banana bread before and decided to try. I googled several recipes and then decided to just make a mix to build my own recipe so that I could actually use only ingredients that were available in my kitchen and pantry without having to go out. This is what happened:

Ingredients:

Dry:

  • 140 gr self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 heaped tbs cacao powder
  • 50 gr coconut sugar (alternatively, brown sugar)
  • vanilla, freshly ground, to taste
  • a very small pinch of salt

Wet:

  • 1 medium banana, very ripe
  • 120 ml soy milk (use other vegetable alternatives if you are soy-free)
  • 1 ½ tbs sunflower oil or other neutral tasting oil

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. If you’re not using a grease-proof tin then you can oil it and coat it with flour or line it with grease-proof paper.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until they turn into an even powder.

In a separate bowl, mash the banana with a fork until almost pureed. add the soy milk and turn into a uniform “sauce” then add the oil and whisk well. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients straight away and mix until the batter just about comes together. It needs to be sort of lumpy, as if you were baking muffins.

Transfer the batter to the tin and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

The result is a soft, moist loaf with a gentle mixture of well-combined flavours. It is ideal in the morning for breakfast or in the afternoon with a cuppa.

I hope to write again soon to update you about a project and a bean stew recipe!

Cacao, Vanilla and Cointreau Cake

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I really need to apologise for the lack of posts. The reason for my inactivity is that now apart from working full time I’m also studying. My boss is paying for me to learn accounting and this is great to get out of my comfort zone. I mean, I speak three languages fluently and I read literature since I can remember BUT me and numbers are like fire and water. Challenge accepted. I try to make everything work together.

So yesterday I made a cake to bring to an omnivore dinner. I waited to see the response to post the recipe. Everyone finished their slices and even had more, so I assume the cake is safe to eat and omnivore approved.

This is not something I would make for myself as it does have quite a bit of sugar but this is functional to creating a texture and taste that is closer to a traditional non vegan cake.

Ingredients:

For a 25 cm cake tin or smaller

• 180 gr all purpose flour
• 140 gr light brown muscovado sugar
• 50 gr raw cacao powder
• 25 gr baking powder
• 30 ml vegetable oil
• 300 ml oat milk
• 5 ml Cointreau
• vanilla, ground

Method:

This is a very simple cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a bowl, add and mix well all the dry ingredients and a lot of ground vanilla. Measure the liquid ingredients, shake them well and add to the dry mix straight away. Whisk briefly until you have a smooth chocolatey batter.

Prepare the tin by covering it with some oil or spread and then flour.

Pour the batter. Put in the oven for approx. 40 minutes, depending on your oven. The toothpick experiment will tell you when it’s ready. You can serve the cake with vanilla ice cream or just on its own with a little icing sugar.

How I Defeated Pitiriasis Rosea

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When I was 16, I was in high school and  not the healthiest version of myself. One day I noticed a red scaly patch on my arm and thought nothing of it. Then more, smaller patches appeared, until both my arms and torso were affected.
I went to see the family doctor who said I had psoriasis. After two weeks of treatment, nothing changed, although it was probably worse and I was referred to a dermatologist, who diagnosed me with Pitiriasis Rosea.

The bad thing about this skin condition is that we don’t know the causes and therefore cannot cure the roots or even the symptoms. I was told to keep hydrated and mosturize my skin. Needless to say, I used to drink very little water, my skin was dehydrated and I hated applying cream on my body. The first rash lasted for months. When the rash was over, I had lots of discoloured patches on my arms and was not impressed.

Most people experience only one episode during their lifetime but about 1 in 50 people suffer repetitive episodes. I was one of those 1 in 50 and suffered one or two episodes each year for the next 9 years, usually during season changes.

Going vegetarian at the age of 19 meant that I was a bit healthier and health conscious and the rashes were smaller and lasted for less time. The problem was still there though. I kept researching about my condition because if doctors couldn’t give me answers at least I wanted to try to find my own ones.

If you have ever had Pitiriasis you know how frustating it is, and anybody who suffers from a skin codition can certainly relate. I read on several pages that it is thought the condition -although not contagious- might be caused by a viral infection. I had nothing else to help me, so I asked myself: if this was to be the case, what would you do to fight a viral infection?

My first instinct was to make a DIY cream with coconut oil, peppemint and lemon essential oils, which are known for their antiseptic properties. I applied this on my scaly patches and in a week they were almost gone. To achieve lasting effects I had to do something more radical though. I had to detox and consume more alkaline foods. I don’t like to use labels and I like to be flexible and reasonable in my diet, so I won’t be promoting specific diets or movements apart from a general whole foods, plant based diet.

In late spring 2014 I became officially vegan. I had been mainly vegan for quite a while but I was still consuming the odd social dose of dairy -on pizza, for example. I decided to make the jump and never go back. At that time I was drinking about four cups of coffee a day, and I realised they also had to go. I was consuming processed foods, they needed to go as well. I decided to eat as clean as possible for a month. So, for the first two weeks I was 100% vegan, then I cut my coffee intake, I drank almost no alcohol and supplemented with some chlorella. Then at the beginning of this year I started exercising too.

It was hard and full on, but it was good. My energy levels increased, my mood improved dramatically.  These changes were enough to justify the hard work, but what I didn’t know straight away was that I was getting rid of Pitiriasis. My “companion” of nine years was dying.

That autumn I didn’t get the usual rash. And all the following seasons, no Pitiriasis. I have been clear for over a year now and am so glad!

My diet is not so strict anymore but it is much helthier than before. I allow myself a coffee every now and then, I eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, preferring raw to cooked and I take some spirulina when I’m stressed or I do a serious workout.

At some point I wondered whether I would ever be clear of the rash, while now I can safely say that changing lifestyle has certainly kept the nuisance away!

I hope you will find the information useful one way or another. Let me know if you too suffer or have suffered from Pitiriasis, I’d like to hear your story!

Short considerations after my 7th Veggieversary

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With the new month come new tasks and responsibilities; I’m trying to be organised and make it all work out so that I can still work full time, cook, spend time with real life people, my cat, study, clean… Can time be stretched? 24 hours are not enough. I guess this is one of the issues with living a modern lifestyle in a large city like London. There’s always something to do and not enough time for it.

Anyway, I’ve officially been veggie for 7 years. What I would like to say is that I regret not being 100% vegan sooner. I had a really hard time, first with my family in Italy and then when studying in Spain, I was fighting every day to be accepted as a veggie. Taking it to the next level would have been a big task for me.

The question was: am I still going to be loved? Some people thought I was weird and relations were threatened. But the other big issue was, am I really going to be ill? People tried to scare me with B12, iron and protein issues. Some took my side but I had enough work by just keeping it together.

How I wish I had more materials back then to read independently and refute those arguments! If there is one thing I’d recommend to anyone transitioning is: read, read, read. Supplement if you have to but be prepared with valid arguments. A healthy well-informed vegan is a good advert for the vegan cause, whereas ill-informed choices will not do any good to the individual nor to society.

My favourite book is definitely The China Study because it opened my eyes and made me wonder “why didn’t I know this before?”. With Whole, Dr Campbell proposed a new strategy for spreading a whole foods, plant based diet. Not from the top down, but from the bottom up.

We are the people and well-informed choices and how we spend our money have the power to influence the industry and its behaviour. What we buy every day at the supermarket can change the world. What we read and how we choose the sources of our information is very important and cannot be neglected. Don’t allow other people to choose for you.

Stuffed Courgettes en Fleurs Tempura

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I am beyond excited! For the first time in the 4.5 years that I’ve been in London I’m cooking with courgette flowers 😱
They are usually very expensive because they are available only during a brief period in summer, and for some reason they seem to be something quite rare or unusual here. Anyway, yesterday I went to the farmer’s market and I found a bag of six which was the cheapest deal I’ve seen in London. So courgette flowers it is!
I made three stuffed flowers but with one potato you can easily stuff four flowers. I would recommend these as a starter (one each) or as a snack, they are quite filling because of the potato and because they’re fried.

Ingredients:
For 4 stuffed flowers

• 4 courgette flowers
• 1 small potato
• 1 dollop vegan butter
• about 50gr flour
• ice water
• 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1 handful fresh basil, chopped
• salt
• black pepper, ground
• 1 squeeze of lemon
• vegetable oil, for frying

Method:

Start by washing the potato. I always use the skin in cooking but it’s up to you if you want to peel it. Once you’ve done this, peeling or not, chop it in cubes and boil it in salty water until very soft.

Drain and add about a tbs of vegan butter or spread to make the filling nice and fluffy. Add some black pepper, a squeeze of lemon and the basil. Add salt if needed. Make sure the mash is even and leave on the side.

In a pan, add about an inch of vegetable oil and set the heat to medium. While the oil heats, open the courgette flowers delicately and use a teaspoon to stuff them with a little mash.
Try to make the petals stick to the mash so that the flower is neatly “sealed”.

When the flowers are stuffed, melt a couple of ice cubes in a little water; add the baking powder and the flour little by little until the batter is reasonably thick but not heavy enough to destroy the delicate flowers.

By this time the oil should be hot. Quickly dip the stuffed flowers in the batter until completely covered and place in the pan leaving enough space between them.

Let cook for about 3 minutes on each side until the batter is crispy and golden.

Remove from the pan and let rest on kitchen towel for a couple of minutes to drain the excess oil.

Serve them straight away when they’re crispy outside and melty in the middle.