Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinner Time at Cafe Mango

Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
The main course at Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland. Taken August 2015.

For this week’s photo challenge, Dinnertime, I decided to share these pictures of the delightful Cafe Mango in Fort William.  If you’re climbing Ben Nevis, this Thai and Indian restaurant is well worth a visit.  It was the best restaurant we ate at on the West side of the Highlands, everything was simply delicious and the staff were friendly and made us feel very welcome even though it was 9pm, and we were the last customers (because we had just climbed Ben Nevis – everyone seems to eat early in the Highlands)!

Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
Some of the stunning decoration inside Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland. Taken August 2015.
Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
A shot of the rest of the restaurant (I used the bannister near the top as the horizon line) including the beautiful emboidered elephants backdrop, in Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
Fort William at night: The outside of Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.

Bunny pictures: Katie

My camera’s still not got a battery. Luckily, I took loads of rabbit pics this week. Today’s star is Katie. Someone dumped her in a box outside my vets. So we adopted her. Katie-boo is my biggest, squishiest rabbit.

Katie is poised to make a break when I come to let her out.  She always thinks she's escaping it's so funny.
Katie is poised to make a break when I come to let her out. She always thinks she’s escaping it’s so funny.
Katie is on the outside, looking into her run wistfully.  The open door is 3 feet away.
Katie is on the outside, looking into her run wistfully. The open door is 3 feet away.
Katie never stops eating.  Never.
Katie never stops eating. Never.  And she’s so cute when she eats.

Here is a vid that proves that she never stops eating:

Bring on the Bunnies!

Okay so I promised bunnies, and whilst I’m not the post office ladies and gentlemen I deliver!

Banacek jumped onto the sofa and stole my toast.  I stole it back, of course, but the audacity of it amuses me.
Banacek jumped onto the sofa and stole my toast. I stole it back, of course, but the audacity of it amuses me.
Banacek tries to make a burrow.  For some reason the idea of bunnies and duvets in the same geographical location makes me squee slightly.  I need to leave the quilt on the floor more often (it's waiting to be washed and doesn't fit in our tiny basket).  So precious.  Unfortunately, this was the only picture because the little bugger psychically knows when I'm reaching for the camera and instantly runs away.
Banacek tries to make a burrow. For some reason the idea of bunnies and duvets in the same geographical location makes me squee slightly. I need to leave the quilt on the floor more often (it’s waiting to be washed and doesn’t fit in our tiny basket). So precious. Unfortunately, this was the only picture because the little bugger psychically knows when I’m reaching for the camera and instantly runs away.
Banacek acting nonchalant and chewing a box immediately after burrowing into the duvet because he knows I'm wanting to take pics of him doing cute stuff.  The boxes are his "projects."
Banacek acting nonchalant and chewing a box immediately after burrowing into the duvet because he knows I’m wanting to take pics of him doing cute stuff. The boxes are his “projects.”
Cleo on the other hand doesn't mind the camera as much.  She has spent the last two years demolishing that cardboard folder, which I used to use for lesson planning.  Now it's almost down to the metal rings.  I think it's the only folder I've got in the house that wasn't coated in plastic, so I'm glad she picked that one.
Cleo on the other hand doesn’t mind the camera as much. She has spent the last two years demolishing that cardboard folder, which I used to use for lesson planning. Now it’s almost down to the metal rings. I think it’s the only folder I’ve got in the house that wasn’t coated in plastic, so I’m glad she picked that one.
Folderol! Cleo sees the camera and decides she's going to copy Banacek and get silly about it too.
Folderol! Cleo sees the camera and decides she’s going to copy Banacek and get silly about it too.
Katieboo!  I see you!  Katie runs excitedly through her flowerbed.  It's her daily version of walkies - I let her out of her run (which is half the garden) and she mows the other half for me.  She is my little lawnmower.
Katieboo! I see you! Katie runs excitedly through her flowerbed. It’s her daily version of walkies – I let her out of her run (which is half the garden) and she mows the other half for me. She is my little lawnmower.
Three, snuggly, bunnies.  Three, snuggly, bunnies.  See how they sit there and do nothing.  See how they sit there and do nothing...  Sebastian's in a separate run because he keeps attacking Fifer.  But they both love Katie.  But Fifer saw her first so she's housed in her primary relationship but I do let her and Sebastian have time together too when I can.
Three, snuggly, bunnies. Three, snuggly, bunnies. See, how they, sit there and do nothing. See, how they, sit there and do nothing…
Sebastian’s in a separate run because he keeps attacking Fifer. But they both love Katie. But Fifer saw her first so she’s housed in her primary relationship but I do let her and Sebastian have time together too when I can.
Fifer pretending to be a plant.  He's pretty convincing unless you're out there with him.  A few times I've gone to the window and been like, "where has Fifer gone?  Has he escaped?"  But he never does.  He's half wild so we have to keep an eye out for escapings.
Fifer pretending to be a plant. He’s pretty convincing unless you’re out there with him. A few times I’ve gone to the window and been like, “where has Fifer gone? Has he escaped?” But he never does. He’s half wild so we have to keep an eye out for escapings.

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.

Meat Free Monday: Lentil Moong Dal

The first time I had dal (or dhal, never sure how to spell it) I hated it!  I was at a fancy restaurant where they served up mushy, flavourless stuff that was like yellow mash potato!

The second time I had it, I was at a Nepalese restaurant (the Yak and Yeti Gurkha Restaurant, York, loads of vegan options and very good value for money) and it was wonderful.

Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.
Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.

I went home and did a few experiments before landing on my own lentil dhal recipe, something delicate but tasty:

1. Yellow mung dhal (moong daal) lentils.  I buy the ones that don’t need to be soaked.

2. Fresh (chopped) or dried coriander (aka cilantro) (2 tsp)

3. Bhuna or balti paste (a tablespoon is ample), or if you can’t find the paste, use a quarter of a jar of the sauce instead.  Patak’s do a nice one.

Get a fine meshed sieve and wash your mung dhal lentils until they are clumping together – this removes some of the starch.

Pop them into a saucepan and cover with boiling water.  Add a teaspoon of coriander (cilantro).  Simmer for about 30-50 minutes, depending on how mushy you want it.

When it has softened enough, drain and add the bhuna paste or sauce (or balti), and stir it into the dhal, stirring in the rest of the coriander (cilantro).  Leave on a very low heat for at least 10 minutes so the flavour penetrates the lentils.  Stir regularly so it doesn’t burn the bottom of the pan.

Serve in a bowl, either on its own or with rice.

Nutrition: Gluten free, dairy free, 80g of moong dal lentils are one of your five a day (and a separate one to regular lentils because they come from different species of plant), 30g of protein per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils and 45g of carbohydrate per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils.

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!