Eat beautiful: food ideas and review

Okay, so I got this book called Eat Beautiful by legendary makeup artist Wendy Rowe and it was packed full of tips on which foods are good for you and will nourish your skin from the inside. Spoiler alert: It’s totally awesome, BUT they’re mostly expensive and some of them are obscure and hard to find.

However, such things don’t normally bother me. I totally loved this book and will use the info in it when I am in a country where I can acquire the foods it talks about. But for now? In China? I am not. Most of the food here is weird.

So instead, here’s my own list of things I have found that really make a difference, all of which I’ve been able to buy in one form or another in China (except Miso soup… WTF China?!):

  1. Tomatoes. Tomato juice is my favorite, but also passata, any kind of tomato-based pasta sauce or soup, fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes… they all contain antioxidants and lycopenes, which help protect your skin against cancer by helping the cells stay healthy. Healthy cells are pretty cells.
  2. Blueberries. These also contain antioxidants. Now, current research shows that you don’t want to overload on antioxidants because after a certain point they’re not so useful. However, most of us don’t get enough dark blue and purple fruits and vegetables, so I’m still reaching for the blueberries in the store.
  3. Avocado. Vitamin E is SO good for your skin, especially as you age. It gives you a healthy glow. And avocados, along with nuts and olives, are full of vitamin E.
  4. Coconut oil. I’ve talked before about coconut oil. It’s good for you on the outside and the inside. Enough said.
  5. Miso soup. Expensive, but really healthy. Fermented soy beans are the ones that are effective in the fight against cancer. We’re talking PREVENTION here; if you HAVE cancer, go to a real doctor.
  6. Black grapes. As well as making the BEST wine/champagne, black grapes are healthy AF, and like blueberries and tomatoes, they help reverse skin cell damage to ensure your outer layers are in tip-top shape.
  7. Orange juice. Some people buy vitamin C serum to put on their faces. Others just drink more orange juice. I prefer to drink it because I put enough other stuff on my face, lol. It’s not a buzzy fad food, but sometimes the oldies are the best. Also, OJ is WAY cheaper than vitamin C serum, by several orders of magnitude, and if you only put it on your face you’re losing out on all the other health benefits of orange juice.
  8. Shiitake Mushrooms. Got a vitamin D deficiency? These will help. And we’re all more beautiful when we have the inner tranquility of not having nutritional deficiencies.
  9. Spinach, kale and broccoli. If you’re low on vitamin K, leafy dark green vegetables are the way forward. A vitamin K deficiency makes your skin look pallid and washed out, and it also makes you bruise more easily, making blue under-eye circles and veins worse. Consult your doctor if you’re on warfarin.
  10. Carrots. Beta carotene gives you a healthy glow (some people even take tanning tablets with a high amount of beta carotene to make them look tanned, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s also the reason that flamingoes are pink– they eat shrimp packed with beta carotene. That’s why they sometimes turn white in the zoo; lack of beta carotene), and pro-retinol of course has boatloads of research to support its effectiveness as a beauty product.
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Southern Fried Catfish and Hush Puppies

Has anyone tried this dish? I really want to make it, but I don’t know where to get catfish in the UK! It sounds very delicious.

And I could listen to this lady’s voice all day:

Grandma’s Blackberry Jam Recipe

So I made blackberry jam, and I canned it, which I’ll talk more about at the bottom of this post.

Blackberry jam.
Blackberry jam.

Here’s the recipe I used (it was very simple). This is a standard jam recipe but it’s vegan and gluten free:
1. Go pick some blackberries. I got 300g. Blackberries grow wild on brambles.
2. Weigh them (and wash them thoroughly, throw out any bad ones).
If you didn’t get many (you need at least 200g really – that does an 8oz jar of jam, when you subtract the stuff that will burn to the bottom, but for lots, preferably 500g-900g), freeze them and wait for more to ripen, then pick/wash more.
3. When you’re ready to make jam, weigh all your blackberries together.
4. Measure out the same amount of golden granulated sugar (it’s a 1:1 ratio blackberries to sugar). Maybe other sugar types also work, I used golden granulated.
5. Put the berries in a pan with a big tablespoon of lemon juice (this will help preserve the fruit) and about 1/4 cup of water, and bring to the boil.
6. Simmer straight away for 15 minutes.
7. Add the sugar. It will take a lot of stirring and a lot of waiting to get it all to dissolve.
8. Once it’s dissolved, turn the heat up as high as you can and boil for 10-12 minutes, until the blackberry gloop reaches 105 degrees C (220F) which is the setting point. Don’t stir, but if you smell burning, it’s done.

Blackberry jam.
This is what it looks like when its set after the white froth was scraped off.

9. Take off the heat, skim off any white froth from the top, and let it settle for a few minutes (you can put it straight in jars at this point but I wanted to check it had worked.
10. Put in (sterilized with HOT water) jars, seal them if you want to.

About canning, storage times and such:
I used these quattro stagioni jars in 8.5 ounce size, which I found for a good price on the shelf at Homesense (they’re one of those places that has different stuff each week), I liked them because they’re made to take the high temperature and they’re vacuum sealable for food safety (although one of mine didn’t seal) and they sell replacement lids (70mm or 2 3/4 inch is the size for the 8.5 oz jars, although that is NOT cheap for 2 jar lids, so I hope somewhere starts doing them cheaper). You can use any old jar for jam, but you should use a fresh lid each time because you can’t fully clean the lids, which is why I bought jars to use.
If you want to read about home canning in more depth to ensure you’re doing it safely, this free guide from the USDA is phenomenal (I’d start with this section). I highly recommend it for people thinking of canning (which means putting in jars – that confused me for a while) other garden produce, although I’m still undecided on what to do with my carrots when they’re fully grown.

If you vacuum seal the jar with the blackberry jam in it, and don’t open it again, it’s good for 1 year (the jars I linked to have specific instructions to seal them in hot water, I managed to follow them using a bucket as I didn’t have a big enough pot). If it doesn’t vacuum seal (the popper in the lid still pops up) it’s good for 1 month. When you open it, it’s good for 1 month.

Anyone else done any canning or jam making? Got a different recipe/method? Let me know in the comments!

blackberry jam
Sterilized jars.

I’m not vegan anymore (but I still eat vegan food).

I haven’t talked about food for a good long while, and there’s a reason for that:

I’m not vegan any more.  And I haven’t been for a while.

You may remember my New Year’s resolution was to get back to veganism again.

It didn’t really work out.  Between the 9 month mixed state I’ve been in until August and the fact that I had to avoid all sugar (not just “added” but fruit sugar and some sweeteners too, as I had no mood stabilizers and was in a mixed state), I’ve had to put whatever I can into my face.  And I’ve been gravitating towards specific things.

Most vegans gain a sort of sense of what their body needs.  Mine’s been taking me away from veganism.

The truth is, the more I learn about food, the more I believe that a paleo type diet is actually more helpful.  I’ve been eating solid pieces of meat (such as chicken, lamb and beef), along with two to three servings of vegetable, and a small amount of carbohydrate.  I don’t know what type of diet that is but it’s been my best configuration.

I still avoid milk but I have now found out where I stand on the allergy/intolerance spectrum (I outlined the types of allergy/intolerance here and updated it today to add A1 casein intolerance): I have an A1 casein protein intolerance as well as lactose intolerance.  This means I can tolerate something called A2 milk (available in supermarkets) without getting milk allergy symptoms, which means I can try small amounts of milk without the fear of dying or going blind (which happens if you have galactosemia and you keep having milk).  When the symptoms were similar, I was not going to take the risk.

I call my current way of eating a “real food” diet – if someone from a thousand years ago (date picked at random) looked at my plate, would they recognize everything on it as actual food?  Independent of food inventions and discoveries, but just going with what they know about things that can be eaten, what would their opinion be?

For example:  chips are not real food.  Baked potatoes are.  Pasta isn’t real food.  Whole boiled or steamed or raw vegetables are.  Meat is (but not processed meat such as bacon).

I didn’t get this from a recipe book or diet guru, I just started eating like this.  It was what my body was crying out for.  And I’ve felt a lot better since I’ve been doing it.  I do still eat meals that are completely vegan, but I feel that I’ve found a different way of eating that is more beneficial to myself.  I have nothing bad to say about veganism and the vegan community in general, and I do believe the underlying philosophy to be more valid and worthy than that of people who have never questioned.  I have simply found a different nutritional path.

I’m not sure right now where it’s taking me, but I will keep you posted.  And possibly share any recipes if I have any.

Meat Free Monday: Sneaky Ingredients

I just wanted to talk today briefly about the ingredients in food.  I know most vegans check their food religiously, but recipes change and vegetarians often don’t actually check ingredients (I’ve only ever met one who did, and he doesn’t bother any more).  That’s not a criticism it’s an observation.  We tend to rely on Good Faith, you know, you like to think, “how could fizzy orange juice POSSIBLY contain dead fish?” And they lull you into a false sense of security because you are a reasonable person and don’t want to be paranoid about whether there’s cow in your cake or what not.

So here’s some foods you need to be aware of as a VEGETARIAN (vegans, some of these foods are not for you):

1. Cheese:  A lot of cheese (especially in the US) these days is made using vegetarian rennet.  Some cheese (most traditional stuff) is still made using parts of sheep stomachs.  If it doesn’t say “vegetarian rennet” or “suitable for vegetarians” it almost certainly is not.

2. Marshmallows:  Made with gelatine.  Vegi mallows exist, but they tend to be super-expensive and all the recipes I’ve seen don’t yield the right results (although I’ve had to stop questing for this one in the past couple of months – I’ve cut sugar out to improve my mood stability).

3. Beer and lager:  When I was on a tour of Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire, I asked the tour guide, “is it vegetarian?” She said “the fish guts aren’t still in the beer when you drink it, so yes, we would say it is vegetarian.”  Obviously this is a crock of crap, and the fact of the matter is, fish died to make their beer whether they care to accept that this is the case or not.  Many other brands do the same.  Fanta did, too, for a while, but I’m not sure if they still do, as, last time I checked (2011), there were specific types of Fanta that definitely did (post mix syrup) and specific types that probably didn’t (cans).

4. Jelly sweets: Again it’s the gelatine.  Quelle surprise.

5. Anything fortified with “omega 3 and 6”: For example food marketed at children.  Heinz spaghetti shapes used to do it but they have stopped now and it’s 100% vegan again.  omega 3 and 6 can come from veg*an sources but the companies do generally get it from fish, this will always be stated in the ingredients.

6. Thai green curry, Thai red curry, ready made sauces:  Every single brand of Thai curry sauce that’s available in the supermarket in the UK makes it with either shrimp or anchovy paste which means they’re not vegetarian or vegan.  Some of them also contain milk.  They didn’t all used to have fish in them, but standards have clearly gone downhill in the past few years.  If you love Thai curry, get some coconut cream and the Thai curry paste, and make your own, it’s dead easy (I’ll go through it very soon).

7. “Freefrom” rocky road: This contains gelatine in the marshmallows, even though (annoyingly) it’s usually otherwise vegan and always gluten free.  Watch out for this one if someone buys it for you.

8. Refined sugar:  In the United States this is often refined with bone meal.  In the UK I have never come across this.  Tate and Lyle and Silver Spoon both don’t use bone meal, it’s just sugar, so theirs is vegetarian and vegan.  As far as I am aware, all other sugar in the UK is also fine.  I wanted to bring it up though in case you go to the US (or, if you come over here, feel free to stock up on British grown, animal free sugar, I don’t think customs limits export on it so bring a suitcase).

9. Walkers “meaty” crisps (potato chips):  In the past two years, walkers have made a move backwards towards the dark ages (I guess it upset them that they finally made their cheese and onion crisps vegetarian a few years ago).  Obviously they’re not happy if they’re not killing animals for seasonings, so their Smokey Bacon contains pork, their Roast Chicken contains chicken, and the Prawn Cocktail is still completely vegan, as are the Worcester Sauce, Salt and Vinegar (yes they stopped filling them with lactose a couple of years ago) and of course Ready Salted.  I’m not sure about their less “standard” flavours but do check before putting them in your mouth.

Those are the sneakiest ones I’ve found and which I feel don’t really need animals in them to make them tasty or edible or even chemically stable.  It’s just gratuitous.  But now you know.  And the more you know… (add your own to the comments, as long as it’s the most recent ingredients as they change unexpectedly)…

Note: This is prescheduled, I’ll reply to comments when I get back.

Oregano Pesto?? Vegan Pesto??? You better believe it!

I did an experiment yesterday; I wanted to know whether I could make vegan oregano pesto, and whether coriander pesto would be remotely tasty.

Ingredients for Oregano Pesto:

1. A tablespoon of dried oregano (can use fresh, in which case you don’t need the boiling water).

dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).
dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).

2. A teaspoon of boiling water.

3. Half a tablespoon of olive oil.

4. A tablespoon of hazelnuts.

hazelnuts ready for making pesto

5. Half a tablespoon of walnuts.

walnuts
Walnuts.

You will need a (hand) blender for the nuts.

Method:

1. Put the oregano in a cup.

2. Add hot water to the oregano to rehydrate it (if using fresh oregano, skip this).

3. Crush the hazelnuts and walnuts with the blender.

4. Add the nuts to the oregano and mix in with the olive oil.

Before I added the garlic and walnuts.
Before I added the garlic and walnuts.

5. Add a sprinkle of garlic to bring out the flavour.

6. Leave to stand until the oregano has softened.

7. Mix about a tablespoon into a bowl of pasta.  Mmmmm….

This was very delicious.
Oregano pesto over spaghetti with peanuts sprinkled on top.  Very delicious.

This oregano one was very, very tasty with my pasta yesterday!  You could substitute basil for the oregano if you wanted a more traditional pesto and I think that would be just as tasty, maybe fresh herbs would add a less strong flavor – a little of this went a long way!

I made some cilantro/coriander (they’re the same herb) pesto (same method, no garlic, use cilantro instead of oregano) and I had a little taste of that and I’m not sure it’s as nice as the oregano one, but I wondered if it was the cilantro I’d bought because it seemed to have taken on the odor from the packaging it was in.  It was my first time not buying a glass jar of dried herb so it didn’t occur to me that this may happen, but the whole lot tasted a little plasticky.  I will try again with fresh cilantro/coriander when I next get any because I know it has a very delicate flavor.  There was supposed to be some growing in the garden but it came up as parsley even though the packet said coriander!!!!

I didn’t use pine nuts (which is traditionally used in pesto) as I think they’re hideously expensive and the quality available has gone right downhill in the past few years, but hazelnuts and walnuts seemed to add a really nice taste to the oregano one.  I also sprinkled my pasta with a handful of peanuts for extra protein.

Do you have a good vegan pesto recipe to share?  Link to it in the comments!

The Vegan Lasagne (Lasagna) Challenge

So I wanted to know if there was a quicker way to do lasagne than this.  That’s how, on Saturday, I set myself the Vegan Lasagne (Lasagna) Challenge.

Using just the ingredients I had in the kitchen, I had to make a vegan lasagna in 20 minutes or less (prep time).  I had no dairy free cheese and no tomatoes, passata, puree or even pasta sauce, so I was winging it to the highest level.  To time me, my husband put on an episode of American Dad, and I had to be back in the living room before the end credits were rolling.

Here’s how it turned out:

20 minutes to prepare, 100% vegan 100% tasty lasagne.
20 minutes to prepare, 100% vegan 100% tasty lasagna (lasagne).

And here’s what I did:

1. Pre soaked 2 lasagna sheets in the bottom of the Pyrex lasagna dish.

lasagne 93

2. Taking a big bowl of spinach, I tore it up into tiny pieces, pulling out any obvious stems but not going overboard.  I covered the bottom sheet with the spinach.

This is how much spinach I used and how much I tore it up.
This is how much spinach I used and how much I tore it up.
This is what it looked like once it was all in the dish
This is what it looked like once it was all in the dish

3. I had no tomatoes, so covered the spinach in 1/2 a jar of Spanish Chicken sauce!!  Turns out, it’s basically tomato sauce (and it’s vegan if you don’t pour it over any chicken, obv, otherwise it would not be in my kitchen).

4. Next, I soaked 2 more lasagna / lasagne sheets in boiling water from the kettle, holding them carefully over the sink and rotating them to get the bit I was holding, until they started to flex.  These went over the spinach/spanish sauce.

If you want this to be even quicker, go straight to step 8 after this and just pour on top of this sheet.

lasagne vegan

5. Next, I poured a whole tin of sweetcorn (drained) over the middle layer of lasagna.  That’s right, this is going to be a three layer lasagna.

vegan lasagne sweetcorn lasagna

6. I covered the sweetcorn in the rest of the Spanish sauce.

vegan lasagne lasagna sweetcorn

7. I soaked 2 more lasagna sheets using the same method as step 4, then put them over the sweetcorn/sauce combo.

8. I made some vegan white sauce (bechamel sauce), as follows: 1 dollop of vegan butter, sieve in some flower and mix until it goes golden yellow. Then add the soya milk very gradually, keep stirring!  Once the white sauce has thickened, it’s done.

vegan white sauce bechamel sauce

I poured it over the top of the most recent lasagna sheets

lasagne lasagna vegan uncooked fresh

I put my whole lasagna in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.

Before...
Before…
And after!
And after!

The bottom most lasagna sheets were not quite as soaked as they could have been, but otherwise it was a great result.

This proves that you neither need vegan cheese nor vegan cheese sauce to make a tasty lasagna.  Serves 3 meals or 6 as an accompaniment with some other stuff on the side.  If you’re super hungry, it would probably only do 2 meals.

Nutrition: There is no protein in this.  Have some peanuts with it or something.  It’s worth 2 of your 5 a day per 1/3 of the whole thing.  I used gluteny lasagna sheets because I’m broke but you can buy gluten free ones and make the white sauce with gluten free flour (Dove Farm do a nice one) to make this totally gluten free.

What do you think?  Would you take up the Vegan Lasagne (Lasagna) Challenge?  Let me know in the comments or link to your article if  you’ve got a faster lasagna recipe!