More beady stuff (picture heavy, variable quality!)

bead-set-pt-small bracelets-close1-small 3x earrings-small green ring-small lavender-ring1-small (2) necklace flower-necklace

A departure from food: beading bonanza!

My cousin got me some wire, combination pliers and some seed beads as a Christmas present when I was 12 years old, and I’ve been a beader ever since. My first job out of school was as a jeweller, during which time I got a qualification in design and manufacture of fine jewellery, but I’ve always preferred cheap and cheerful, there’s so much more scope for grand sparkle and it’s so much less catastrophic if anything goes wrong!

Like many of my hobbies, it waxes and wanes. A few years ago I started teaching some simple projects as Adult Learners’ Week courses. I picked a design, broke it down into stages, purchased a lot of wire and beads in bulk (so much cheaper, as always!) and most of the people who came to my classes left with something wearable, which was quite pleasing when a lot had arrived proclaiming their supposed lack of skill.

This year I was recovering from surgery during the Adult Learners’ week and unable to deliver any classes, however I still have many kilos of beads left from previous years. I decided to make some quick bits and pieces to get my hand back in (I’m always meaning to make decorations for winter fairs, and then never quite getting round to it) so I made some earrings, some rings, a couple of necklaces. Then I started making some simple friendship-type bracelets and once started I kept thinking of different colour combinations I wanted to try. These are just one series (in my favourite colours) and I’ve made a couple more since I took this picture yesterday!

forearm almost covered with a series of bead bracelets in purple, turquoise and silver colours

I’m thinking about organising a craft swap, so I’ll probably put up a couple more posts with some other bits I’ve made in a little while…

Hangover food: chickpea omelette sandwich

I haven’t been drinking much since recently, but went out to meet friends last night and had a couple of ciders. I thought I was being careful (my trick is to order a half pint of cider in a pint glass, topped up with soda water like a cheapskate even-lower-alcohol spritzer) but I still woke up feeling slightly rough this morning.

It seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that fried food and carbs are what’s wanted the morning after a night out. There wasn’t anything ready-made lying around but I had half a baguette in the freezer and while it was warming up in the oven I made a chickpea omelette using half a cup of dried chickpeas (could use chickpea flour/besan if you don’t have a blender that can tackle whole chickpeas), a cup of water, pinch of salt, pepper and smoked paprika and two cloves of garlic, plus a tiny dash of vinegar.

The trick to chickpea omelettes is to fry them low and slow, otherwise the innards stay gooey while the outsides scorch. This amount of batter made two, and the first one turned into scramble because I tried to turn it before it had set, but it still tasted great. I was more patient with the second one, so it’s a bit more photogenic!


Potato-onion-cakes fried in an onion ring (AKA the real delicious potatoes)

I hang out on the Post Punk Kitchen discussion forum and from time to time spammers chance their luck, as happens with all forums. The mods are great at deleting things pretty quickly, but I sometimes click through because they are occasionally hilarious.

This morning a spammer posted two “recipes” with some extremely weird ingredients, instructions that made no sense BUT one post (entitled “potato latkes”) was accompanied by a picture that made me want gussied-up fried potatoes – it was what looked like mashed potatoes and very finely diced spring-onions or green peppers bound by a ring of onion. The other post was entitled “delicious potatoes” and was clearly a picture of latkes, so I choose to think the picture illustrating latkes was actually the one that was supposed to go with the “delicious potatoes” recipe. I didn’t have spring onions or peppers, but here’s my interpretation anyway…

Delicious potatoes before baking

Delicious potatoes before baking

Delicious potatoes - baked vs. fried

Delicious potatoes – baked vs. fried

Delicious potatoes as part of a delicious brunch

Delicious potatoes as part of a delicious brunch

How I made the delicious potatoes:

250g potatoes, boiled, drained and mashed

A single 220g onion, sliced widthwise into 4

olive oil for frying and basting

1 tsp soya sauce

1tsp balsamic vinegar

1tsp Herbamare seasoning salt

1TBS nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp smoked paprika.

Method: Take the two middle (fat) slices of onion and separate the outer rings. I used 6 rings, but you might want to use 7 or 8 instead and underfill them a little bit, because the filling stays the same size and the onion rings shrink when they’re heated, as you can see from the second picture above.

Chop up the rest of the onion and fry it on a low-medium heat in a splash of olive oil with the soya sauce and balsamic vinegar until browned and caramelised, about 12-15 minutes.

Add the onion into the mashed potato, stir in the rest of the ingredients, pack the resulting mix firmly into the onion rings and either brush with oil and bake in a medium-hot oven around 200 degrees F for 12-15 minutes or fry for 5-6 minutes on each side in a pan. I tried both, and they both taste good, I think presentation-wise the fried ones look a bit more appetising but there’s not much in it.

I wasn’t just going to eat 6 delicious potato cakes on their own (although I probably could!) so I cooked up some fancy baked beans (by fancy I just mean I spooned some from a tin and added a few peas, tomatoes, slices of garlic and chopped fresh coriander), Fry’s frankfurter-style sausages and a few fried mushrooms. Very pleasant brunch indeed!

Home-made soya yoghurt the lazy way.

I do actually own a yoghurt maker, which was a gift from my parents. It’s a nice round contraption with cute little jars which make great individual serving sizes, and it keeps a constant temperature so a great guarantee of consistent results, and super-handy in winter time. The little jars are a bit of a faff to sterilise though, and at the moment I’m going through a lot of yoghurt because I like to use it as a salad dressing mixed with vinegar, smoked paprika, garlic and hot sauce, so I thought I’d try something new.


UHT soya milk is already sterile, so no need to scald it then wait for it to come down to temperature (110-115F), instead I got a large stock pot (also a gift from my folks!) and filled it 3/4 full of warm water. I got the temperature to around 120 degrees and then stood two sealed litre cartons of milk in the pot (one Value and one Organic one I had left over from when they were on offer for 59p!) and left them for 20 minutes to warm through. I then opened them up and tipped some of the milk into a glass for later (to make a bit of room in the cartons), and tipped a bit more into a measuring jug. I mixed about 6 heaped tablespoons of live plain soya yoghurt into the milk in the jug, and them poured half into each carton, sealed them well up and stood them up in the water bath, which came to just below the tops of the cartons.

The temperature had dropped to just below 110 degrees when I put them back in, but I just put the gas on a low heat underneath until they’d come up to 115, then draped a folded bath sheet over the top and sides. The volume of water kept a good heat (I think it being a warm day probably helped too), and after 7 hours I had yoghurt! It’s a bit lumpy, but I’m just going to be mixing it up with other stuff so I don’t care.

One concern I had (after I’d started making it) was that the cartons tell you to store them in a “cool, dry” place, which the stock pot most definitely was not! I started worrying that the plastic lining of the cartons wasn’t designed to be heated, and would leach harmful bits of itself into my yoghurt, and when I tried to find information on how safe Tetra Paks are to heat food in it was surprisingly difficult, however I did find something assuring consumers that they’re designed to withstand heat such as being left in a hot car, and a car’s interior can get well above yoghurt making temperature in the summer so it looks like it’ll be okay! :)

Hospital food’s not so bad, if you’re in the right hospital!

Things have been a bit quiet on here recently, as I had to plan a visit to the hospital a couple of weeks ago for some surgery. I’m feeling a lot better now, but one of the things I was worrying about prior to being admitted was that I wouldn’t be able to get any decent vegan food. I could not have been more wrong!

I was greatly heartened to see that they actually had an option listed as vegan on the printed menu!

tray holding plate of rice and curry and bowl containing an orange.

My first meal was chick pea and sweet potato curry, served with rice. For pudding the vegan-suitable options were either a piece of fruit (orange, banana or apple) or a little cup of tinned fruit salad in fruit juice. Not the most exciting desserts in the world, but the fibre and vitamin content are surely helpful (anyone who’s been confined to bed for a while at the same time as having to have an anaesthetic and pain meds will know you need all the fibre you can get)!

I think there might have been some coconut milk in the curry, as it was listed as a calorie-dense meal. It was very mild, but well-flavoured and I enjoyed it a lot.

When the next meal-time came, I wasn’t keen to have the same thing again, even though I’d enjoyed the first one. Although there was only one item specifically marked as vegan, there was also an Asian Vegetarian section on the menu. All the meals were basically a vegetable dish, a pulse-based dish, rice, chapati and yoghurt, and there was a choice of about 7 meals. I asked the lady who had given me the menu whether the meal was milk-free without the yoghurt and confirmed they were all egg-free. She didn’t know about the milk, but I asked her if she could find out, and with a little insistence on my part I got her to agree to bring me whichever of the meals did not have milk listed on the allergens box (all the meals were pre-prepared and bought in from an outside company). The chapatis were somewhat disappointing on these meals, but apart from those they were excellent and I think I enjoyed them a lot more than my neighbouring ward-mate liked her meal – she told me the shepherds pie was okay, but “not how you’d make it yourself”. Since she seemed a very polite lady I took that to mean it wasn’t actually that nice, but was edible!

I also enjoyed the many tea rounds that occurred throughout the day. There were biscuits I could eat (chocolate bourbons), crisps, and fruit juice on offer. I got through a lot of little tubs of pineapple juice. I also liked the cheery demeanour of most the staff members who pushed the trolley, especially one who kept trying to tempt me to a cake because “they’re from Marks and Spencer”! I’d prepared a box of snacks in advance in case there was nothing I could eat, but I ended up barely touching them.

So, in conclusion, I’d like to congratulate the catering team at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust on their menu choices for vegetarians and vegans, and I loved the blurb at the front encouraging people to enjoy their food as an integral part of the recovery process!

Creamy chocolate peanut-butter mousse

Having an obsession with something traditionally made with egg whites, double cream and/or gelatine is tricky as a vegan! When I was a child, my mother used to make an incredibly boozy chocolate mousse using dark chocolate, egg whites, cream and liberal splashes of brandy. I remember eyeing up the individual glass serving dishes chilling in the fridge in preparation for dinner parties. Perhaps I got to “help clean” the mixing bowl and I am sure I got my own dish at dinner, but I would happily have eaten the lot of them if I could have got away with it!

Since finally getting a long-wished-for Vitamix several years ago I’ve made a lot of moussey desserts, mainly based on nuts. They aren’t quite as smooth or light as the mousses of my childhood, but they have their own charms. Soon I hope to start experimenting with aquafaba but until then, I’m mighty pleased with the peanut-butter and chocolate creation I made a couple of days ago, especially as I think it will work as a recipe even without access to a high-speed blender if a few modifications are made.

The quantities I used made a huge amount, so I’ve frozen an ice-cream tub full in the hopes that it might work semi-frozen.

If you’re going to try this I suggest halving the quantities, which will still make several generous servings!

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter (I used Meridian organic because it’s palm-oil-free and I’m trying to be good about that, plus it was on special offer, £5 for a kilo from the Better Food Company in Bristol earlier this year)
  • 1 cup dark (72%) chocolate chips (I used Plamil)
  • 2 Tbs sugar (could be left out if using sweeter chocolate)
  • 4 cups non-dairy milk (I used value soya)
  • 1.5 Tbs flax seeds
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract

I put a cup of milk into the blender, followed by the peanut butter, flax seeds, then another couple of cups of milk and the extracts. That got blended up until the friction started heating the mixture, then I added the chocolate and sugar and it melted in and blended. It soon became evident that the mix was going to be too thick, so another cup of milk got added, then I poured it into a variety of containers and left it to chill in the fridge for a few hours. Once it sets it’s light and airy, creamy but with a slightly floury texture from the peanut butter. I daresay there would have been a smoother result from a more processed style of peanut butter, but this is fine, it’s kind of velvety!


I also added a few mix-ins to some of the pots, such as oats and raisins, and I blended an orange into the last cup or so of mixture to see if that would work (it was okay, but probably not worth repeating).

If I were going to make this without a blender, I would probably warm a couple of cups of milk, add the peanut butter and stir until it had thoroughly blended in, then add the chocolate and whip in another cup of milk, see what the texture was like and add more milk as necessary. I probably wouldn’t add flax if making a non-blender version as it’d make the texture grainy. If I try this version I will update this recipe, but if you happen to fancy trying it in the meantime please comment and let me know how you get on!

Rhubarb and ginger smoothie!

I’m not going to post a picture (you know what a smoothie looks like!) or make this a long drawn out post. I just had a smoothie containing a bit of fresh rhubarb from the garden and it was really delicious, so I thought I’d quickly jot down the ingredients.

Soya milk (maybe 2/3 pint?)

an apple

a banana

a small carrot (I like thick smoothies and carrots work really well to bulk them up and add extra vitamins – probably don’t work in a lower powered blender though)

a sliver of ginger (I’d frozen a box of these to add to smoothies, which works really well. They also grate into food more easily when frozen!)

about 3 frozen plums (I say “about” because they’d been sliced and were kind of lumped together)

1 Tbs flax seeds (optional, for omega 3 goodliness)

A section of rhubarb stick, about 5cm long? Not huge, but the stick was quite fat!

All that got blended up in my high-powered blender and made just over a pint. It was delicious, one of the nicest smoothies I’ve had for a while, not too sweet, not too sharp, a bit creamy from the soya milk and really fruity!

New Choc on the Block – iChoc white nougat crisp

I try very hard to keep it frugal on this blog, but I’d be a hypocrite not to admit to a weakness for new types of vegan chocolate, and if not constrained by a budget I will buy anything sufficiently novel which costs less than a fiver, and maybe spend more if it’s big enough!

I’d never heard of iChoc until I saw a review of the white rice-chocolate bar they make; part of a vegan chocolate round-up. The reviewer wasn’t overly enthusiastic, but I thought I’d like to try it anyway if I saw it, as I sometimes like things other people think are too sweet. When I was visiting Currant Affairs today with the virtuous goal of buying wholemeal flour, I saw they were displaying a new bar at the end of their shelf of goodies, not the white chocolate but, even better, a white bar containing crispy hazelnut nougat. Hazelnut and chocolate is an ideal combination as far as I’m concerned so I didn’t hesitate to buy this even though it was £2.19 for 80g. Call it a payday treat.

vegan rice-milk white chocolate bar next to its box

I very much enjoyed this. It is very sweet, yes, and also very rich. I will be interested to hear what non-vegans think of this, as it’s definitely got a richness there that I’ve not experienced with most other vegan chocolates. It reminded me of a cross between the chocolate green triangle (“Noisette Pate”) and the (I’m informed by Wikipedia that this is a discontinued flavour) hazelnut cracknell chocolates from Quality Street selection tins.

This doesn’t quite replace the Vivani dark chocolate hazelnut bar at the top of my list of great chocolate worth splurging on, but I’d say it’s definitely got a place on the list in the “now and then” category.

Vegan chocolate is much cheaper in bulk!

(Relatively speaking, that is.)

If you are a vegan/milk-avoider who enjoys chocolate you’ll know that it’s usually not cheap. It’s possible to buy 100g of plain Value/Basics chocolate for around 30p, but most of those contain milk (I’m told Morrisons sell a bar without milk listed in the ingredients) but when I tried a non-milky one several years ago I was not at all impressed with the taste. If you’re going to have a luxury food, it has to actually be a pleasure to eat, or what’s the point?

I’ve always been a fan of Plamil’s range of dark chocolate chips. If you buy a small pouch of their diary-free chocolate drops they’ll cost over £3 for 175g (you might think that’s reasonable if you only want a small amount, especially if you have allergies, as they’re made in a dedicated dairy and nut-free environment), but if you look at their bulk options the price gets a lot more attractive. They will sell you a kilo of organic, fairtrade baking chocolate drops for £8.63, so 86p per 100g. If you buy over £25 worth of goods, they don’t charge for postage. They also offer 10% off for first time orders, and once you’ve registered your email address with them (and this is what prompted this post – hey, direct mailings do sometimes work!) they also offer 10% off deals throughout the year, such as for this Bank Holiday weekend.

Where the savings really come in is when you start buying their catering packs of 7.5 kilos. At the moment they are selling  ‘Free From’ Baking chocolate drop Catering Packs of 7.5kg, 53% cocoa, for a reduced price of £45.89. Take 10% from that and it will cost £41.30, so 55p per 100g, for something that actually tastes nice eaten straight up. (NB – If you want 10% off you must either be a first-time customer or buy this weekend or the next time they run an offer!)

If you want fairtrade organic, the 7.5 kilo bulk boxes are £52.13 for the 53% stuff, which is £46.92 with 10% off, making 100g cost 62p.

It’s quite a bit of money to find in one go, but if you’ve got a cool dry place to store it chocolate will last for a long time. You can also split the cost of an order with one or more friends or neighbours.

I know I sound like a blaring advert for Plamil. I swear I am not affiliated with them in any way, I’ve just ordered from them several times and I’ve always been pleased with the service and pleased that I splashed out the money. That amount of chocolate will keep me going for more than a year and is brilliantly handy for making gifts for birthdays and festivals. When you consider how much a 100g bar of allergy-friendly chocolate normally costs, this seems a much better option in the long run.


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