Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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This is Day 6 of Veganuary, a pledge to eat vegan during 30 days to save the planet. Today being Saturday, it’s mixed bag of cold water swimming, a flurry of baking experiments and actual good vegan food.
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Every Saturday starts with an 8am race at the Serpentine in Hyde Park, regardless of the temperature or weather. Today, the water temperature is 2.8C/38F and the air temperature around 4C. Not exactly tropical, but the distance is short, it’s only 50 yards. Needless to say, only hardy souls swim more than 200m this time of year.
Some people double dip (they swim twice), like Elina who’s raising funds for homeless youth, joined today by Eliza. Some swim long distances because they are preparing an ice mile, like Nick who swims 400m but is about to swim 1k on Sunday. Most of us are here for a quick dip, social chat and … breakfast. As I doubt that the Lido Cafe offers any vegan breakfast options, we head back home on our bicycles for breakfast.
Either I’m getting the hang of this or I’m seriously hungry.
Fine, I’m starving. Day 5‘s experiment on nut butter was begging for a retrial so I’m doing it again, this time with roasted almond butter.
Breakfast consists of three toasts with almond butter, two topped with my dad’s quince jam, one with our wild plum jam. That’s something that I would definitely do again. My two girls are even more vegan than me–they’re not coming down for breakfast at all. Betcha they’ll be starvin’ like Marvin at lunch time.
Before we can prepare lunch, we need to restock on veggies. It’s crazy how many vegetables we need for each recipe! It’s a never-ending cycle of buy-cook-eat on hyperdrive.
Check this out. This is the Saturday market on North End Road in West London. Each Saturday, a dozen vendors sell fruit and vegetable from 9am to 4.30pm. Most of it is seasonal, as in seasonal where it grows. Could be Thailand, could be Kent. This is not about local farmers selling their produce. None of this is organic, but at these prices it’s impossible. Produce is sold by the bowl, with prices ranging from £1 to 1.5. You can’t decide to buy less than one bowl, even if it means you get 10 onions when you only need one. Vendors buy their produce by crates or big bags, which makes this bowl-partitioning possible. In a way, it’s very green as you can just show up with your tote bag and when all is weighed and counted, dump your loot in the bag. No useless plastic packaging. Today, one of the vendors was selling the charms of “the Queen of Citrus”, namely kumquats.
Resistance is futile. We buy 5 bowls of kumquats for £5. It’s a steal.
For the record, the market takes place every day of the week except Sundays. If you’re in London, come and visit. It’s a true people’s market that needs to be supported.
Isn’t it pretty? If you’ve never heard of Ottolenghi, he’s an amazing vegetable chef. Most of his cuisine is Middle Eastern-inspired and often features fresh pomegranates, eggplants or fresh fruit mixed with vegetables. It’s never boring and as expected, this meal is excellent. This glass noodle dish is a riot, seasoned with a tamarind sauce.
Dessert is fresh pineapple. Simple and easy. I’m now craving something sweet.
I’m shocked. I’m shocked to realize that we eat lots of cake and I don’t mean this week, obviously, but in general. And I know this because something’s been missing since Day 1 of Veganuary.
CAKES. We’ve been having tea every day without cake. Now, I know this isn’t a big issue for lots of people, that you guys in the US don’t drink a whole lot of tea, certainly never tea with milk, and that you prefer cookies to cakes. However when you live in the UK, tea and cake is like a religion. Heck, it’s probably spread around in the air as a subliminal powder by the government. Who knows. Everybody has tea and cake. At least, all swimmers do and I’m a swimmer. So there. I miss cakes. Cookies too, for that matter.
That’s where you give me a stern look and go, ‘Look, love, no need to moan. Pick yourself up and make vegan cakes. Go on now. It can’t be that difficult.’
Cakes without eggs or butter. Right. Should I try with my hands tied behind my back too?
I wouldn’t even know where to start if it weren’t for creative websites or cookbooks. Thank God, some people have considered the issue. Here we go then. Welcome to the Flurry of Baking Science Fair.
Flurry of Baking #1 Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
That’s a photo before baking because now, they’re mostly gone and I forget to take a picture of them cooked. You’re never going to believe what holds these cookies together. Linseeds. Flax seeds, in other words. Not kidding. And vegetable oil, and apple/quince sauce. Where’s the chemistry in that? I’m baffled. They’re a bit crumbly but the taste is otherwise good. My 12-year-old grabs a few for her snack after synchronized swimming and comes back with an empty box. Note: 8/10.
Flurry of Baking #2 Olive Oil Chocolate Cake
I know. It looks horrible before frosting. This is Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Olive Oil Cake. It’s so dark, it looks like charcoal–crumbled charcoal more like. After frosting, it looks better. What holds it together? In case you haven’t noticed, it’s not exactly holding together but mostly, apple cider vinegar + baking soda act as leavening agents while flour, cocoa powder, sugars and olive oil make the batter. Tastewise, it’s not bad and I say that as a compliment. I expected much worse. In fact, it tastes like a box cake. There. I’ve said it. Smitten Kitchen came up with a vegan box cake recipe. The bitter aftertaste of baking soda is a bit too strong but the whole thing isn’t unpleasant and the frosting melts in the mouth.
Are there good vegan cakes out there? Saturday’s too short to find that out but I’m not giving up. As the Terminator says, I’ll be back on the Flurry of Baking Science Fair.
Dinner is less exciting than last night (hard to follow a Russian vegan dinner act) but it’s quite good. It’s a Keralan vegetable Istoo from Meera Sodha’s cookbook Fresh India: 130 Quick, Easy and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes for Every Day (you can get it here: US | UK).
Very cleverly, the cookbook labels recipes with little badges that indicate what sort of diet they’re suitable for: GF, DF, VE. Pretty nifty, eh? The vegetables come together quite well but we all agree that this could pack more punch when it comes to taste. That’s a shame, we’ve been quite successful with that book so far.
For dessert, I try a slice of the above-mentioned physically-challenged chocolate cake and so does my husband. We both agree that it’s surprisingly edible (but secretly wish it were laden with butter and eggs).
The secret life of vegan cakes is still a mystery to me. Will I crack the mystery?