On Trying, part II

For the last few years I have made January a full-vegetarian month. This year is no different, and it’s usually about this time that I write something about it. Last year I wrote about how much I hate labelling myself as something based on the food that I choose to eat. And now I feel that enough time has been dedicated to wondering if I’m making good food choices (although, realistically, I will continue to think about it frequently) – I’m going to widen my view a little.

Not eating meat is one of the most straightforward ways of cutting your carbon footprint. But what about the other stuff? Waste is a huge problem, but much more challenging to tackle because it’s pervasive – most things are packaged in non-recyclable plastic, things are single-use, disposable, made for ultimate convenience. Whilst I think we’re pretty good at recycling and reducing waste in our house, I know there are ways we can do better. So this is what I’m going to be looking at this year. By no means am I going to end up with a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle – I know others advocate this, but for me, in the same way that I don’t think I’m capable of being vegan, I don’t think I’m capable of living zero waste. So instead, I am going to start where I am and look for the changes that can be made. Finding sustainable alternatives to the least sustainable products that I use, finding better companies to purchase from who align more happily with my values. I’m hoping that small steps like this will make for more lasting change. I’ll still be writing about baking, but I’ll be writing about this too.

On Trying

Last January I made a sort of vague commitment to reducing my meat consumption. I didn’t even dare use the word ‘vegetarian’, because, in my own words “I like bacon too much”. The last eighteen months or so have been a process of trying, and admittedly, occasionally failing, to cut meat out of my diet. It’s still a process. In the last month I have eaten chicken and burgers and sausages and bacon and even perhaps some beef. After a few weeks of eating meat a couple of times a week, I kind of start to forget why I wanted to do this in the first place. Then various reminders start popping up, like this excellent video, or writing my dissertation on why conserving the planet is impossible whilst we continue with vast and rapid economic development. Oh, and this highly comedic campaign to help California deal with its drought.

It’s not easy. Some people probably find it a relatively simple transition, perhaps they have stronger ethics than I do, or more of an abhorrence towards meat and the horrible industry it represents. I think there will always be days when I hate having to choose boring cheese ploughman’s sandwiches over chicken caesar salad, when I wake up and want a massive fried breakfast with bacon. But I suppose that is why I keep trying. At the end of the day, I feel relatively powerless to make any change that will positively impact the future of the planet. Giving up an environmentally damaging practice like consuming meat is one of the few choices I can make which will make a difference. It has other benefits too, like learning how to make delicious vegetarian food, and not gaining weight (even when spending significant amounts of time sitting at a desk doing research).

So here’s to a renewed commitment to trying. Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a real vegetarian. For now, I’m going to go eat my courgette fritters for dinner.

(full service will resume in about 5 weeks when I’ve finished my dissertation)

Resolutions

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So it’s 2015 now, and as usual I’ve made a handful of resolutions, which will no doubt be varying in their successes. One thing I’ve resolved to do that I’m fairly confident I will be successful in though is my resolution for this month, which is to be vegetarian. Last year I started thinking a lot more about the impact we humans have on the world, and what I could potentially do to reduce my carbon footprint. Eating less meat, for me personally, is the best way I can do that. The amount of resources needed to produce a kilo of beef could produce 7kg of grain. In a world that suffers from declining availability of resources, such as water, and where millions of people are still starving, the quantity of meat we are producing is insane. It’s not viable.

I’ve pretty much stopped buying meat to consume at home, however, when I eat out I find it far too easy to choose the meat option, just because vegetarian options look comparatively dull. So I’m pushing myself to make the more difficult but better choice. I’m also trying to be more adventurous with my vegetarian cooking. Having grown up being fed meals that were pretty much always meat-centric, trying to get out of the habit of thinking of vegetables as a side dish has been a challenge, and that mixed with a student budget has resulted in some of the stuff I’ve been cooking of late being a bit lacklustre. If anyone has any recipes for amazing but cheap vegetarian food, I am all ears!

This year I’m going to be trying to do some savoury recipes as well as all the cake, so this vegetarian thing might help with that. I don’t have any recipes to report this week, it’s been New Year and I’ve been spending time with friends and just relaxing and reading a lot, because I have nothing to do until next week when lectures start, which I predict will be driving me crazy by the end of tomorrow. But anyway, I wish you all a happy 2015!

Until next week, x

Rosemary, Apple and Yoghurt Cake

Week 2! 

So, in case you’re wondering – the crumpet recipe I posted did work, fantastically well! The only thing to know for next time is to add more salt, and to freeze the crumpets you’re not going to eat immediately, otherwise they kind of shrivel up. But otherwise, success! 

This week I’ve started teaching myself French (after it’s been almost a decade since I stopped learning it, forgot most of what I knew, and adopted a horrendous English-sounding French accent) with the app DuoLingo, which is amazing. This has very little to do with baking, but everything to do with being a more well-rounded human being, which leads me to my next point: a New Year’s Resolution I forgot to mention! The last food-related one. Waste less. I don’t waste too much food, certainly less than the average 3.2kg a person throws away per week in the UK, but there are always times when you forget to use stuff up and then it’s mouldy and you feel bad, mostly because you’re throwing money away. So, today’s recipe was a good choice, because I had both apples and yoghurt to use up! 

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But just before we get to recipes – if you’re a fan of epic cakes, or Game of Thrones – or both…my brother made a cake of the Wall and Castle Black which you can see here

The recipe this week comes from the Italian Cookery Course by Katie Caldesi. I’ve had this book for quite a while, and I bought it because I love Italian food, and it has such lovely photos. However, I’ve barely used it – so little so, that I took the price label off before I took this photo. Sigh.

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This is a really simple cake to make, and tastes fantastic. The rosemary infuses the cake, and leaves a beautiful but subtle taste. I sliced my apples extra thin, because I don’t really like big chunks of apple, and it always makes the cake more gooey (not desirable in this case). 

250g caster sugar

250g natural yoghurt (I used half vanilla and half plain)

2 eggs

90ml oil (vegetable, sunflower, olive, whatever)

300g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp chopped rosemary (it’s GOT to be fresh – I don’t think you’d ever get the same taste with dried)

2 large apples (or 3 small ones) peeled and sliced

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1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F and grease a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

2. Whisk the eggs, yoghurt, sugar and oil together until combined. Fold in the flour, baking powder and rosemary. Add the apples, and carefully fold in with a large metal spoon. 

3. Pour the mix into the tin, and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. 

 

Next week, maple syrup and bacon scones!

New Year’s Resolutions

So I disappeared for a while. But now it’s 2014, and new years mean new resolutions, and my food based ones are extensive. I’ve complained in the past about the quantity of cookery books I have, and the infrequency with which I actually bother to use them. This changes now. I’ve spent the afternoon sitting with a large pile of them, looking for 52 things I want to bake in the next year.

The rules:

1. One recipe a week

2. Nothing I’ve made before

SIMPLE.

Of course as soon as I started sifting through, I realised there were going to be far more than 52 things. But it’s good to have a shortlist (or a long list) from which to choose. And it will challenge me, and make me bake things like Brooklyn Blackout Cake which I’ve been looking at for…years now and thinking I should try it one day. Well, that day has now come.

I’ve also resolved to eat less meat. I’ve spent quite a lot of time recently reading about sustainability and climate change, and everything keeps telling me I should become vegan. I’m not going to lie though, I have no desire to be vegan, I like milk and bacon too much. But, as a compromise, I am buying all my meat locally, I’m thinking a lot more about where the food I buy comes from, and I’m going to try and eat vegetarian whenever I eat out. So, small steps.

Anyway, without further ado, the first recipe on my list is CRUMPETS!

My boyfriend decided it would be funny to buy me crumpet rings for Christmas. I’m still convinced he bought them because he knew he would get freshly baked crumpets, but he continues to deny it. Crumpets are one of those things that for the longest time I just assumed came out of a packet bought from the supermarket, and I had no idea how they were made, apart from probably by a machine in a factory somewhere. Then along came Peyton and Byrne’s British Baking, at which point I found out that you, yes you can make crumpets in your own home, with some crumpet rings and a frying pan! (and some ingredients of course…)

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Except, sometimes, things go wrong. And you’ve definitely followed the recipe, but it’s just not right….

My first few crumpets (cough…all) turned out more like under-done batter than crumpets. Wholeheartedly disappointed, I decided to dig out the recipe I had earlier discarded from the back of the packet the crumpet rings. Was it quite different? Yes. Yes it was. Not in ingredients perhaps, but definitely method. So I can tell you now, no, my batter was not left to rise enough, yes, it lacked bubbles and smoothness. Am I going to try again with this recipe? Yes. It’s official, Peyton and Byrne, you failed me. Spectacularly. But we shall try again, and who knows, maybe they will turn out right next time (watch this space). As a way of not wasting the remaining batter (once I realised the entire batch was going to be a total failure) I tried to use it to make pancakes. Even those didn’t work. Oh well.

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fail crumpet

So, if you want to make some crumpets, have a recipe that I think will work (although is yet to be properly tested):

250g strong white bread flour

1x 7g sachet dried fast action yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1tsp caster sugar

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

100ml water

275ml milk

butter for greasing and to serve

1. Heat the water and milk together until lukewarm. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the yeast, sugar, bicarb and salt.

2. With a large wooden spoon, mix the warm milk and water into the flour mixture, then whisk for a few minutes until a batter is formed. Place a damp tea towel over the bowl and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour, by which time the mixture should have risen and be full of bubbles.

3. Generously grease the inside of the crumpet rings and add a knob of butter into a pre-heated frying pan. Place the crumpet rings into the frying pan and add approx. 2 tbsp batter into each ring, so they’re about half full.

4. Cook on a medium to low heat for about 10 mins, until the surface has bubbled, formed holes and has dried out. Try to remove the rings (although I’m pretty sure it’s not the end of the world if you can’t) and then flip the crumpets over so the tops can brown.

5. Serve immediately with butter, or save for later for toasting.

Next week: Crumpets, vol. II and Rosemary Apple Yoghurt Cake