Hi there

I have some stuff to write, so this is where I’m gonna put it.

Also, quite a while ago I kept a log when I was on board of a tall ship and some of that got posted here, so that’s what all the earlier posts are about.

Foraging in Holders Wood: a lockdown story

It’s story time! Yesterday I decided to go out for a walk and some foraging in Holders Wood in Birmingham. I’ve been watching a lot of Atomic Shrimp videos in which Mr. Shrimp goes out for walk to admire nature and find the occasional edible plant of fungus. It made me realize I am really missing being out in nature. I’m quite jealous of folks who have lovely parks or countryside on their doorstep, whereas I have the urban (and often, ugly) streets of central Birmingham. So during the corona-lockdown, I’ve been staying indoors a lot. But, I was being a wee bit silly, because by bicycle it’s only about 15 minutes to get to Canon Hill Park and Holders Wood. I also deem the corona-related risk to be quite low (it’s pretty easy to keep a distance from people).

Going for a walk is nice, but it usually helps me to stay motivated if I have a destination or some other goal as well. So I figured, I could forage stinging nettles and perhaps find some wild garlic as well. It’s a bit late in the season for both, but, it turns out the area is so full of nettles it’s not hard to find enough leaves that are still looking fresh and untouched by bugs. Walking out into a patch of nettles with a bag and gloves on, picking leaves, I felt like some passers-by could have easily been thinking “Oh that must be one of those vegans I keep hearing about”. But anyway, I managed to make a tasty soup today. I recommend doing it yourself as well (however, never eat something you picked unless you’re absolutely certain you’ve got the right plant).

All the nettle leaves I picked yesterday. You can read about the soup I made here

My friend Elinore managed to find me off a location pin, which can’t have been easy because the area is quite a maze. We had a really lovely afternoon of walking, looking at plants and trying to guess what they were (obviously not picking any of those), and luckily not getting rained on but for one random cloud which passed over in about 10 seconds. There were so many blackberry brambles! But no ripe berries yet so we’ll have to come back for those later this year. We also found some raspberry plants which did have a few ripe berries on them; delicious! Elinore spotted a tree that was growing nuts and we wondered what it might be. I took a branch for identification at home and I’m pretty sure it’s a hazel! So perhaps we can return to confirm the ID and find hazelnuts later in the season.

Maybe a branch of a hazel, with an unripe hazelnut

I’m not used to walking lots and I wasn’t wearing particularly good shoes for it, so by the time we headed back my feet were really quite sore. That’s okay though, we were not in a hurry and at least we could walk on grass. When we got back to were I parked my bike, I found the front wheel to be strangely wobbly. Turned out, someone had removed the quick-release mechanism that was keeping the wheel attached to the axle! What the shit?! My guess is that they tried to steal my front wheel (a despicable move anyway), but only realized half-way through it was locked to the frame and a fence with a cable AND a D-lock. That idiotic stunt meant I had to walk home with extremely painful feet. On top of that, I will now have to take it to a shop and pay for it to get fixed (hoping that will not bee too complicated). What a shitty, shitty way to end the trip.

A sad sight of the bicycle that had to be walked home

Anyway, I refuse to consider the day ruined , but it certainly does make me angry at the thief. Stealing bikes is a nasty business because it almost always leaves someone stranded without transportation. And it this case, for no gain! I don’t imagine those quick-release clips are worth much on their own. Anyway, I do think I doubly-deserved these nachos for dinner (with vegan cheese and crème fraîche, of course).

Well-deserved nachos with vegan cheese, bean chili, salsa, guacamole and Oatley crème fraîche.

Forrest soup

Instantly gain +1 level in “vegan” by making your own nettle soup! This recipe requires foraging stinging nettle leaves; you can read about my foraging adventure here. I feel obliged to warn you that foraging comes with risks: Picking the wrong thing and eating it can get you sick of even kill you. So, never eat something unless you’re absolutely sure of the species of plant (or fungus, even riskier!). That said, nettles are easy to identify, so I absolutely do encourage you to look up some tips on ID’ing and picking, and having a go. Both foraging and the recipe below were inspired by AtomicShrimp’s video (and a second one, or look up the info yourself). By the way, the soup turned out fine but not amazing, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you can find a better recipe. This was just my first time cooking with nettles after all!

Nettle Soup

Ingredients

(Enough for two big bowl or three small)

Nettle leaves (a good colander full, see picture below)
olive oil
1 onion
1-2 garlic cloves
2-3 potatoes
500 mL vegetable stock
splash of oat or other plant-based milk or cream (optional)
salt, pepper, nutmeg (optional)

Topping ideas: Oatley crème fraîche, chopped nuts, peanuts, croutons, extra pepper

Method

Take nettle leaves from the stalks (wear gloves!) and remove any bits nibbled on by bugs etc (actually, just don’t pick those leaves in the first place)[1]. Rinse well.
Dice up the onion and mince the garlic. In a splash of olive oil, saute the onion on low heat such that it cooks and becomes translucent, but not too brown. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so.
Meanwhile, remove any bad parts from the potatoes and wash them (you can also peel them completely if you prefer), cut in chunks. Add potatoes and stock to the pot and bring to the boil. Cook for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are fairly soft.
Add in the nettle leaves and let them reduce in about 2 minutes. Stir through the soup and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Blend it all together, and optionally add a splash of oat milk (or something similar). Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.
Serve with toppings of your choice.

Notes

[1] Actually, removing the stems isn’t necessary. However, I picked my nettles quite late in the season so many of them had flowers as well, and perhaps a bit more fibrous stems. Still edible but (imo) less desirable, so I took the leaves off.

Cutting nettle leaves from the stems is a bit of a tedious job[1]. Wear gloves when you’re handling uncooked nettles! These were picked the day before btw, so some had gone a bit wilted but still good.
Rinse, rinse, rinse! Still wearing gloves.
Finished soup! You may notice that there isn’t that much left in the pan. I totally forgot to take a picture before eating… This is a bout a third of the total batch.

All Hail Seitan

A classic joke about a classic meat-replacement product. I’ve known seitan since my childhood where we used to get it from the local eco-hippy-esque store, as the vegetarian option alongside “boerenkool” or “hutspot” (traditional Dutch dishes of mashed potatoes+vegetables; kale for the first and carrot+onions for the second). We used to coat a thin slice of seitan in flour and fry it to create a crunchy layer on the outside, yum! Shortly after moving to the UK, I found myself in a pub looking for vegan options on the menu. They had a “Hail Seitan” burger, exciting and a pretty funny joke the first time! Imagine my disappointment in the tasteless thick slab of cold seitan I received…

Seitan really is a very versatile product so naturally the quality of your meal highly depends on how it is prepared. In essence, the only two ingredients needed for seitan are gluten flour (aka “vital wheat gluten”) and water. This creates a very sticky dough, which can then be boiled or steamed to cook. After that it’s edible, but usually this is the basic ingredient which can be cut and prepared in different ways (I guess this is something the “Hail Seitan” cook didn’t know about). The basic recipe of gluten flour + water is pretty tasteless, but flavours can be added in different ways: spices in the flour, soy sauce and the like to replace some of the water, and broth for boiling. After experimenting a bit I created an improvised seitan kebab which I was very pleased with, so I’ll share the recipe here.

Seitan kebab

Ingredients

(Enough for four pitas)

For the seitan dough:
150 g of gluten flour (aka vital wheat gluten)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2-3 tsp paprika/smoked paprika (you can use a mix and adjust depending on how much smokey flavour you want)
pinch of salt
~tbsp soy sauce
~250 mL water

For the broth:
1-2 garlic cloves, minced (Optional, broth without garlic will work fine as well)
vegetable cube
enough water to cover you seitan

For the sauce:
140 g tomato puree
1 tsp sambal oelek (or other spice paste. Adjust based on your desired 🌶️🌶️🌶️ level, 1 tsp sambal gives it a bit of a kick but nothing crazy)
juice of one lemon
1-2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp maple syrup

Any oil for frying

Method

Making the seitan. Mix the gluten flour with spices and salt, then stir in the soy sauce and some of the water. Add water and stir or kneed with your hands until all the flour is hydrated and you have a cohesive, lumpy dough (as in the first picture below).
In a pan that can easily contain your lump of seitan (it will expand while cooking), fry the garlic in some oil, then add the vegetable cube and some water to dissolve it. Place your lump in the pan, then add water to cover it [1].
Boil for a total of about half an hour, until the seitan is cooked (you should be able to see a colour change). To make this easier, cut into a few thick slabs about halfway through the cooking time. [2][3]

Making the kebab. Slice the cooked seitan into thin pieces. They don’t have to be regularly shaped. I like to cut the thick slabs as an angle (see the second picture below). Place the pieces between a few paper towels to drain any liquid.
Prepare your sauce by mixing all the ingredients. Taste and adjust the flavour: more lemon juice for sour, more soy sauce for salt, and more maple syrup for sweet [4].
Fry the kebab slices in some oil for a few minutes. This step is not necessary as the seitan is already cooked, but it’s nice to get a bit of browning on the outside. Then add the sauce and a splash of water. Cook the sauce down to reduce it, but also to cook the tomato puree, stirring frequently.

Serve. Serve however you like, for example in a toasted pita. The bread is mainly carbs and the seitan in mainly protein (gluten flour is 75% protein by weight), so I like to serve vegetables on the side. Bonus recipe for the salad from the picture at the bottom!

Notes

  • [1] Obviously you can make broth any way you want and cook the seitan in it, for example with herbs and salt, or bouillon powder rather than a vegetable cube.
  • [2] You can store the cooked seitan with its cooking broth in a closed container in the fridge. Not exactly sure how long it will keep, but this will allow you to split the work onto different days. You could also make more seitan to use in different recipes!
  • [3] Even if you don’t need it to store the seitan, you can use the broth as a basis for soup or stew. If you store it for too long, the seitan bits in the broth might get a bit funky, but a few days stored in the fridge is definitely not a problem.
  • [4] A smart person would not add all their available lemon juice in one go, but save some for the adjustments. The quantities given in the recipe are really just a guess so tasting is strongly recommended!
Your lump of seitan should look something like this
Cutting the cooked seitan slabs into thin pieces
Sauce cooked down for a nice and sticky coating
Seitan kebab done!

My favourite green salad (thanks mum!)

Ingredients

green beans, cooked
cucumber
avocado
olives (green or black)
good quality olive oil (we are adding this for flavour, so it had better taste good)
salt

Method

Halve the green beans and the olives. Peel the avocado (not the cucumber, do you really want to remove most of the flavour?!) and cut it and the cucumber into chunks. Mix the veg with some olive oil and salt (less salt if you’re using black olives, because they are saltier by themselves).

Great pasta sauce powered by statistics

Pasta with tomato sauce is a classic. I’ve made it plenty of times, with a variety of vegetables, herbs and other flavours, and it’s never bad. But last week, I really hit the good side of variance and the pseudo-random combination of ingredients I choose turned out to make a sauce that was really above the curve. I won’t say it’s the best tomato sauce ever – the tomato sauce parameter space is vast – but it was good enough to make me want to write down the recipe for future sauce making.

Ingredients

for 4-5 servings
coconut or other oil
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
3 bay leafs
dried oregano
salt & pepper
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp caper brine
splash of red wine vinegar
stock cube of bouillon powder
~100 mL water
400 g passata di pomodori (tomato sauce base)
470g green lentils (drained weight, this is 2 cans)

Method

Chop the onion and finely chop the garlic. Heat up a saucepan and add your oil, turn the heat to medium once the pan is hot. Fry the onion for a few minutes, then add garlic, bay leafs and some dried oregano. Fry for another minute or so and add a generous amount of salt and pepper.
Finely chop your capers, add them and the sugar to the pan and stir. Add caper brine, red wine vinegar, stock cube or bouillon powder, and some water. Cook this for a few minutes to make sure sugar and stock/bouillon powder are dissolved. Then take the pan of the heat and whiz everything with a hand blender into a smooth base for your sauce. (Alternatively, you can transfer the mixture to a blender and blend it like that).
Put back on the heat and add passata and drained lentils. Let this simmer for a while and season with more salt/pepper/sugar to taste[1], if needed. Serve over cooked pasta, optionally with some nutritional yeast and a side[2] of vegetables!

Notes

[1] To tase means: taste it and use your judgment to decide what, if anything, needs to be added. It can also mean “according to your taste” but that goes for everything!
[2] I made fried aubergine slices. Slice an aubergine into approximately 1cm thick, round slices. Cover both sides of each slice in a thin layer of flour. Then fry them in oil turning frequently. I works well if you also cover the frying pan with a large lid in between turnings, to make sure the aubergine is thoroughly cooked by the time the outside is fried brown.
[2+] Alternatively, you could add some vegetables to the sauce. I actually made this pasta because we had some leftover leafy greens, but them forgot to actually add them… So for my last portion of leftover when there was no aubergine left, I added fried greens to the pasta instead.

Nobody expects the Spanish stuffed peppers!

I recently ran a Dungeons&Dragons game for my friends, and I wanted to cook them something nice for dinner as well. I made Spanish-inspired stuffed peppers with vegan mince on the evening before the game, and put them in the oven on the day. My omni friends were really impressed – if I may say so myself – and the harshest judge (me) approved as well. Give it a go!

Ingredients

Stuffing
oil (I used coconut)
1 onion
3 garlic cloves
3-4 bay leaves
pack of meatless mince (I used the Meatless Farm Co.)
1.5 heaped tbsp of tomato puree
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/3 of 500 g passata di pomodori
70g sultanas
salt, pepper
[optional] Maggi liquid seasoning*

Tomato Sauce
2/3 of 500 g passata di pomodori
1.5 heaped tsp brown sugar (or other sugar)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt

Obviously
Potted grilled or pickled peppers**

Method

Prepare the stuffing
Finely chop onion and garlic. Put your favourite frying pan on a medium heat and add some oil. Fry the onions and bay leaves for a minute or so, then add the garlic. Fry the meatless mince separately in a non-stick pan^ (instructions on packaging).
Mix the onoins, garlic and bay leaves back in, along with the tomato puree and maple syrup. Add 1/3 of your total passata di pomodori, stir, and add salt and pepper (and maggi) to taste. Mix in the sultanas and the stuffing is done!

Meatless mince stuffing. The tomato sauce provides a nice colouring, besides keeping it from being too dry.

Make the tomato sauce^^
Heat up the rest of your passata di pomodori in a pan, then mix in the rest of the ingredients. Add salt to taste.

Stuff and grill the peppers
Pre-heat the oven to 175 °C fan oven).
Grease a roasting dish with olive oil. Take your peppers out of the pot and rinse of any brine, seeds and skin (if it peels off). Stuff the peppers one at a time with a spoon and lay them in the roasting dish. If you have leftover stuffing and room left in your dish, you can make separate heaps of stuffing that will just have to do without pepper.
Cover the peppers and any loose stuffing with the tomato sauce. Covering it well makes sure the peppers and stuffing don’t dry out in the oven.
Put in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160 °C for another 15 minutes°°.

Traditionally served with rice (I think).

Stuffed peppers. It’s okay if it’s a bit of a mess, just cover it up with tomato sauce! This is about 1.5 times the recipe, with another 1/2 recipe in a different dish, and some stuffing leftover.

Notes

*Traditional Dutch cuisine is well-known for it’s complete lack of any interesting flavourings, which is why Dutch people like to add a few drops of Maggi to basically anything. It deepends the flavour, so I reckon it could be replaced by vegan Worcester sauce or some soy sauce (add less salt if using soy). If you do find Maggi, only use a few drops! It’s a really strong flavour and unlike garlic, too much really is too much.

**Grilled peppers have a bit more flavour than pickled ones and are de-skinned, but tend to be more expensive. The main thing is that you want them to be soft; with raw peppers there is a risk of them not being cooked enough when they come out of the oven. You can probably make your own grilled peppers but I haven’t tried.

^I found the meatless mince is a bit trickier to fry than actual meat, from what I remember. Frying it separately form the onions makes it easier. When they say a non-stick pan on the packaging they really mean it. I used more oil than the packaging recommended though.

^^The original recipe used “tomato frito”, a tomato sauce from grilled tomatoes that had added sugar. I couldn’t find it here so I decided to make my own sweetened tomato sauce.

°° These very specific oven instructions are courtesy of my mum.

Dungeons&Dragons&Dinner

I’ve played a fair bit on Dungeons&Dragons (all 5th edition), but I’d never taken on the role of DM before. (The DM is the Dungeon Master, i.e. the person running the game.) An opportunity presented itself for me to run a one-off game for a group of friends. I had already worked out a possible basis for a story a while back, so we decided to plan a date which forced me to work towards that deadline. Of course, I then postponed it, but only once :p
I managed to finish all important preparations on time – plus drawing some cardboard monster mini’s such as a giant octopus. Friends arrived, we played the game, nothing went horribly wrong and we all had a fun time. But I don’t think I’m going to do this again anytime soon. My main take-away: it was a huge amount of work to prepare.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t bother DM’ing a D&D game. It’s a very personal statement. First of all, many people would probably tell me at this point that I should have just taken a pre-made adventure to run. True, that would have been a lot less work, but I really wanted to make something of my own. I think I was less interested in running a game as I was in making one. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I obviously tried my very best to make something good. It’s not necessarily a problem, but it is a commitment.
Secondly, I’m a preparer, not an improviser. I spent a lot of time going through parts of the story in my head, and making sure that events had a plausible cause, and people had plausible reasons to do things. I went through possibilities of what the players could do, and figured out ways to respond to those things in advance. Maybe I’m not actually a bad improviser and I’m just worried about it. But I think it’s just not my strong suit: I enjoy a good puzzel or a challenge most of the time, but not under time pressure.
By the way, consider that this was a one-off game, a linear adventure. There were different possibilities depending on the player’s choices (and die rolls) on a small scale, but overall main events were fixed. It’s pretty impressive for DMs to manage an open-ended, long-term D&D campaing. If you want to work on your lateral and quick thinking skills, maybe that’s a good way to do it.

Other take-aways

  • It’s quite fun to be on the side of the monsters and watch your players fear for their in-game lives.
  • I tried out using hex-maps instead of the traditional squares. I’ve never liked the clunkyness of the movement on a grid (even with a rule like alternating 1 and 2 steps for diagonal movement) and hexes solve that very elegantly. Large monsters took up three hexes instead of four squares, and a cone was drawn at an angle somewhat smaller than 90 degrees. I didn’t come across any problems so I recommend giving it a try.
  • Fighting a group of undead pirates that outnumber the players was much easier for them than finding a set of keys. That would probably be different with newer players who haven’t done many D&D fights yet.

Some resources I used

  • Kobold fight club for finding monsters and balancing encounters, this was great!
  • Google translate. Part of the game was set in an Arabic-like culture and I used a lot of horribly butchered google translated Arabic to name countries, cities, ships, characters etc. Sounded convincing, and it was fun knowing that there were secret meanings behind some names. Also a shout-out to fantasynamegenerators for other names.
  • D&D wiki’s like Roll 20, both for preparing and quickly looking things up during the game (I used my laptop).
  • The actual player’s handbook, DM Guide or Monster Manual surprisingly little or not at all. I just searched for everything online, which was easy enough. Maybe there’s something in the DMG or Monster Manual that I should have known, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be an event hosted by me if there wasn’t any food provided. I do really enjoy cooking for people. To be honest, it’s also because I want to dissuade people form bringing in food with animal products, which makes me want to provide them with an easy alternative. I’m very glad I made dinner in advane though! The Spanish-inspired stuffed peppers were incredibly well received. From lunch we can also conclude that omnivores like tofurky slices as much as vegans do (which – to be clear – is a lot).

Next time, I’m just going to invite people over for board games or an MTG draft, make dinner, and in all likelihood have a comparable amount of fun for a fraction of the prep work!

Cheese is for the weak

Knowing what vegetables you’re using is also for the weak. Apparently. Because I just made a really nice pasta with some leafy greens of unknown identity – no idea what they were when I picked them up in the store, fried them in olive oil and garlic, or when I just took a bite – tasty though! So if you decide to make this recipe, I wholeheartedly recommend to go to the (super)market and choose something from the edible plants section that is made of leafs and is green (maybe not lettuce though…)

For those of you wandering what utensils I was using the eat my pasta: it’s a spoon.

Pasta with leafy greens and chickpeas

Ingredients for three people [1]
punnet of cherry tomatoes
pasta for three, ~225 g (I used a mix of wholewheat and plain fusili)
50-100g pine nuts (depends how nutty you want to be, harhar)
chili flakes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
leafy greens ~200 g
can of chickpeas
100 mL soy cream
2 tbsp nutritional yeast (= nooch)
olive oil, pepper, sail

Preheat the oven to 200*C (fan oven). Put cherry tomatoes in a roasting tray and drizzle over a good amount of olive oil, and sprinkle with pepper and salt. Once your oven is hot, bake the tomatoes for about 20 minutes. [2]

Boil your pasta for as long as it needs and add some salt and olive oil to the boiling water if you fancy feeling like you know what you’re doing. Drain when done and put the boiled pasta back into the pan. (You can do most of the rest of the recipe while the pasta boils.)

Put a large frying pan on medium heat and roast your pine nuts. Be careful to move them around in the pan almost constantly as they burn quickly. When they’re browned take them out and put aside for now. Heat up olive oil in the pan and fry some chili flakes and the minced garlic. Add the leafy greens and stir fry for five minutes on low to medium heat. Add the chickpeas (without the liquid [3]), salt and pepper and stir for a minute or so. Poor in the soy cream, stir in the yeast flakes, and leave on the heat for a bit longer so that the cream is warm as well. Then add the mixture and the roasted tomatoes (with roasting oil) to the pasta. [4] Done!

Notes

[1] You guessed it, me today, me at lunch time and another me in the near future! Unless you make me an offer now I suppose.
[2] If you like garlic, add a whole clove of garlic or two to the roasting tomatoes. I don’t think it matters much for the tomatoes but the roasted garlic is super nice to eat straight out of the skin.
[3] You can save the liquid from the can of chickpeas – it’s called aquafaba – and use it as an egg white replacement. I like to make chocolate mousse with it (melt some chocolate with a pinch of salt, whip up the aquafaba, then add some powdered sugar and whip some more until stiff, stir in the chocolate, divide over glasses or something and let set in the fridge overnight).
[4] It took me 20 minutes to cook this dish, which seems to imply that it took me zero minutes to prepare the tomatoes and mix everything together. I actually cut the oven time for the tomatoes a bit short because I was pretty hungry. If you want to time everything perfectly and not have your pasta get cold while you’re waiting for the tomatoes, I’d recommend waiting for five minutes after they’ve gone in the over before boiling the pasta and doing everything else.

Happy New Lasagna!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a great New Year’s Eve, and if you didn’t, don’t worry about it, it was just a Monday night except with a lot of expectations 😉

Speaking of expectations, what do you think of when somebody says the word “lasagna”? I once learned that to most people, this means layered pasta with tomato-meat sauce and cheese, whereas I had always known it with a vegetable filling (and bechamel with parmesan). Since I went vegan I’ve had to reinvent it. I still like it, so it’s a happy new lasagna.
It’s also a pretty good meal for serving a lot of people (or just for myself, me tomorrow, maybe a bit for someone else, and the rest for me again) , so I decided to make some for the party last night. I’ve heard some good things about it and I’ve been asked for the recipe (succes!), so here you go. It’s not the quickest or easiest recipe (the bechamel being the main cause of both these things), but trust me it’s worth it.

Lasagna

ingredients for one over dish, feeds 4-6 people
lasagna (the pasta)
olive oil
—- filling —- 1
onion
3 garlic cloves
courgette
500g passata di pomodoro
red wine (optional)
can of (green) lentils (or cook your own)
200g spinach (I used fresh but frozen should be fine too)
salt, pepper, mixed herbs (dried oregano, basil, that sort of thing)
—-bechamel —- 2
30g vegan butter/margerine
~3 heaped tbsp plain flour
400mL almond milk (or soy or oat…)
200g grated vegan cheeze (I used violife block)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (engivita)

Filling Chop the onion and finely mince the garlic. Cut the courgette in small-ish pieces. Put a large pan (preferably cast-iron or other thick pan) on medium high heat and add some olive oil once it’s hot, then fry the onion for a few minutes. Add the garlic, stir, then add the courgette.
After frying for about five minutes, add the wine – if using – and the passata di pomodoro. Also stir in salt, pepper and mixed herbs. Add in the spinach, rince the lentils and add them as well. Have a taste of the filling to see if it needs more salt/pepper/herbs.

Bechamel Put a saucepan on medium heat and melt in the butter. Then turn the heat low and stir the flour through the melted butter, the clumpy stuff you get it called a roux. Add a little bit of nut milk and stir, it gets absorbed into the roux. Add a bit of milk again and so on, switch to a whisk once the clump becomes more liquid4. Add in the rest of the milk and keep whisking while the sauce thickens. Switch to a large spoon to stir in the grated cheeze and yeast flakes.

Build your lasagna. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees celsius (fan oven). Take a low and wide over dish, and start with a very thin layer of your tomato filling5, then a layer of lasagna (it’s okay to break the sheets to fill the shape of the dish). Spread half your filling on top of the pasta, then poor half your bechamel on top of that. Repeat with another layer of pasta, filling, bechamel. Try to cover the top of the lasagna with the bechamel to keep the filling from spilling out too much, spread using a spoon if needed. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes (check the top doesn’t become blackened or dark brown, you may need to turn down the heat a little). Done!

1] This is one of those recipes where I might as well write “veg” in the ingredients list, since you can swap in basically anything you like for the filling. For example, peas or olives work really nicely as well.
2] The quantities for the bechamel sauce are a horrible guesstimate, sorry. If you find your sauce is too thick, just add some more milk. If you find it’s too thin and it really doesn’t thicken after cooking it for a while, that’s a bit tricky since just adding lour makes it clumpy. You can either live with it and hope melting in the cheese makes it thick enough (it just needs to not seep through your vegetable layer), or make a new roux of butter and flour in a separate pan, then bit by bit add the bechamel you already have in.
3] The spinanch may not all fit at once, but it reduces a lot once it’s heated. So just add in handful after handful and stir through the sauce until the next batch fits. If using frozen spinach, also add it at this stage but it’ll take longer since it needs to thaw.
4] You can use a whisk for all of this, but I find using a spoon for the first bit easier since the clumpy roux tends to get stuck inside the whisk. You can also add more milk at a time once the first clumpiness is overcome.
5] The purose of the layer is to make it easier for the bottom layer of pasta to cook; since it’s the liquid in the filling that cooks it.

Party food for party people

I live in a quiet neighbourhood with paper thin walls between the houses. But, once a year it’s okay to ask for your neighbours’ forgiveness, and throw a party. So we did, yesterday. And if you know me you’d know that I’d absolutely take the opportunity to go all out on making party food. I get to build up my excitement doing something I like (got to get the cleaning out of the way first), it makes the party so much better if there’s plenty of snacks, and I get to show off to people how tasty vegan food can be; I just love it!

I believe everyone had a great time and I’m sure the food helped. Also thanks to my friends who brought bread* and hummus. I’ve had a few people ask about two of the snacks I made in particular (success!), so here are the recipes. Besides those we had nachos with home-made salsa and guacamole, and plenty of store-bought snacks because I’m not the kind of maniac who is also going to make their own crisps and biscuits.

Tapenade

This is a Mediterranean dip that goes really well on bread or crackers as an appetizer (or a 5 pm snack because you had some leftover from the party and kind of forgot to eat lunch).

Ingredients
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one tin/jar black olives (although you could use green as well)
sun-dried tomatoes (about a third or half as much as olives)
olive oil (use some from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes with all the tastiness in it)
2 cloves of garlic
fresh parsley (I guess this is optional because I forgot to get some and it was still great without)
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Blend everything together with a hand mixer or food processor or the like. Add a little bit of oil and blend until you like the consistency. It should be a thick, spreadable dip.

Pizza swirls

I don’t have much to say about these, since it’s not my recipe at all. Check it out at Bosh!. I used olives, sun-dried tomatoes and a few cherry tomatoes as fillings, because that’s what I had at hand. 

* If you live or have lived in the UK you would know: the supermarket bread here is really miserable. Even the fancy looking, more expensive “seeded batch”, it’s just not that tasty and has no texture. Since I don’t have a bakery near me, I’m pretty lucky I got some freshly baked sourdough from my friend.

Existential Dread

I wish I was a nihilist. I also wish I had invested in a pair of noise cancelling headphones because frankly, I’m more often distracted from chatter in the office then from existential dread. But not today.

So here’s the thing: The world has a lot of issues. For example, the world’s population is at risk from the catastrophic consequences of global warming within the next decades (“Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C”[1]).  We know the cause of the problem (an increase in greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity), and we have the tools to solve it (green energy tech, nutritional plant-based food). Yet, we are not implementing these solutions quickly enough, and on a large enough scale, to avoid disaster.

On a personal level, it makes me 1) fear the future and 2) hate people. Putting aside for a second the discussion on whether my information is correct and my logic is sound, but I’m pretty confident that *things* are going to be *really bad*. That doesn’t put me in a good mood to start with.
It also leads to the second point: Why are so many people around me still pretending that preferring public transport over cars, thinking seriously about not taking trips by plane, and not eating meat are for altruistic hippies who want bonus points on their karma cards? You’re metaphorically maintaining a heroin addiction except you are affecting everyone else’s body just as much as your own, it’s legal and socially acceptable, and you actually have control of changing your behaviour.
I know we are all just faulty computers made of meat.  I also know that a lot of what we do is determined by our environment and that it would be nice if the government took responsibility for this. But I’m not friends with the government so it doesn’t hurt as much in the feels.

Oh sure there are plenty of people who are working on solving this (and other) problems. There’s also good stuff in the world like the advancement of humanity since the middle ages and peanut butter. But that doesn’t negate this issue, nor stop me from caring about it and thus making me feel a little bit down today.

Referencing is not about referencing, referencing is about signalling:
[1] From the UN report http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf