Thursday, 30 June 2011

Holy Ship! Vegan Foods!

I had an amazing vegan meal Croydon...CROYDON! I was so pleased and impressed by this that I felt I had to blog about it immediately...but I somehow got distracted by loads of delicious cake in Brixton and then I fell asleep and had to go do this 'work' business I've got myself into recently.

So, not quite an immediate review, but here it is anyway.

The Ship

I'd heard that a pub in Croydon did a vegan roast on a Sunday and always said I would go try it sometime but never got round to it. Yesterday a friend and I were in Croydon for the day flat hunting and we thought we'd pop along to see what vegan food was on offer during the week.

My usual experience of vegan friendly pubs is the option of jacket potato with beans or some kind of bland, tasteless chilli, so I really wasn't expecting much. You can imagine my surprise when we read the menu and discovered an entire section dedicated to vegetarian main courses, most of which were vegan friendly. Here were the choices for mains that were available to us:

  • Sausage and bean hotpot
  • Home made chilli and rice
  • Singapore noodles
  • Fruity chickpea curry
  • Sausage and mash
  • Rustic vegetable ratatouille
  • Jacket potatoes topped with beans, ratatouille, chilli, hummus etc
There was also the choice of a few starters, although I only remember mushrooms on toast, and a few sides, such as hummus, chips etc. As well as serving all this, you can also get tea with soya milk and jam on toast with soya spread. There is a vegetarian breakfast on the menu that isn't labelled vegan friendly, but I assume the sausages are the same and if you asked nicely they'd do a vegan version for you, it's definitely something worth suggesting to them because that really would make it the perfect place.

I decided to go for the Fruity Chickpea Curry and my friend went for the Sausage and Bean Hotpot. We had a pot of tea and soya milk while we waited.

The food arrived pretty quickly and I was amazed with how well it was presented. If I'm being honest, I don't expect great presentation when I eat at a pub, but this was great:

Fruity Chickpea Curry

The food was delicious, the chef really does know her stuff. The curry was bursting with flavours and it was the nice touches like the toasted pitta bread on the side and having lemon flavoured rice that really brought it all together for me and made it that bit special. I managed to grab a cheeky taste of the Hotpot too, which was gorgeous and which I'll have to order next time I'm there.

Sausage and Bean Hotpot

The food is very reasonably priced. I paid £4.75 for my meal and was very happy with that. It was a decent portion, well presented and so yummy. There are cheaper options too, which makes it very tempting to go back before my next pay day.

The atmosphere in the pub was great, it wasn't too busy as it was early afternoon and the staff were very friendly and attentive. We even got a free pot of tea before we left, probably due to all the praise we gave the food, but it was nice to be able to chat about all the options on the menu and give them some positive feedback.

Another positive...great tunes while we ate! They're screening a live Foo Fighters gig on the big screen on July 5th. Considering I'll be seeing them live at Milton Keynes on the 3rd I think I may have to return to The Ship, have a good meal, a few drinks and roll around in my post gig buzz.

I will also have to go back on a Sunday to check out the roast. But yeah, definitely worth a trip to Croydon for. Go check it out!

The Ship
47 High Street

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Plantain Cakes and Aubergine, Chickpea Stew

My friends Jo and George had me over for dinner on Friday night and cooked me plantain and aubergine. It was so delicious that I've been thinking about them ever since.

A trip to Brixton market got me 3 plantains for a quid and Sainsbury's provided the rest. I've never cooked with it before and was a little nervous so I tweeted for some recipe ideas. @Cornwallcats sent me the most simple and amazing recipe I've ever seen! I changed it a bit (I just can't help myself) to give it a bit of spice but it's still really, really easy to make.

I did an aubergine and chickpea stew to go with it, I'll post the recipe for that too as they both worked really well together.

Plantain Cakes

  • 3 plantain
  • 1 tbsp sweetener/sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tbsp soy butter/oil for frying
  • A few drops of Tabasco sauce
  1. Chop the ends off the plantain and boil in a large pan of water for around 20 minutes, until soft. Drain.
  2. When the plantain is cooled, peel, chop into smaller pieces and mash.
  3. Mash in the sweetener/sugar and baking powder and shape the mixture into 8 small balls.
  4. Heat the soy butter/oil in a frying pan and fry for a few minutes on each side until golden. Add a few drops of Tabasco, fry for a wee bit longer and then serve.
Aubergine and Chickpea Stew

  • 1 large aubergine, chopped into bitesize pieces
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 5 small cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • Oil, for frying
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  1. Fry the aubergine in about 1 tbsp of oil for 7-10 minutes, until soft and slightly brown. Put in a container to one side
  2. Fry the onion and garlic in a little more oil (I used a few tsp), stirring constantly for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent and soft.
  3. Add the chickpeas and continue to stir for another 5 minutes
  4. Add the aubergine, tomatoes, water and spices.
  5. Simmer for 45 minutes - 1 hour

Friday, 17 June 2011

So I finally got a pretty good excuse for not being

After a fairly long absence I've decided to come back and write a post that might not be particularly popular, but I think it is a post that needs to be written. I was recently diagnosed with a severe B12 deficiency and I want to talk about it...what happened, what my symptoms were, how I felt about it at the time, how I'm feeling now...all of it. Oh, and don't worry, I have not returned to animal products and I have no intention of doing so.

I'm not entirely sure what the purpose of this is supposed to be. I think part of me just wants to talk about how difficult I've found the last few weeks because they've been some of the scariest moments I've ever experienced and writing has always been a healthy way of coping for me. And perhaps this is also partly a warning to others because I regret not taking my health as seriously as I should and wish I'd listened to what my friends were telling me sooner.

I do know a big part of this is me wanting to encourage a healthy discussion on the subject of B12 and a vegan diet for once. From my experience discussions are either over exaggerated, frightening stories about B12 deficiencies or super defensive rants about how we shouldn't have to justify our diets along with the myth that B12 doesn't need to be thought anyway so lets all just shut the hell up about it...which is tempting when you've read all the bullshit I just mentioned above.

The reason I want to do this is because the first emotion I felt when my doctor revealed how dangerously low my B12 levels were was shame. I was so embarrassed and ashamed because I love being vegan, it's the best choice I've ever made, and I am always telling people about how positive and healthy a well planned vegan diet can be. I felt like such a crappy vegan and I felt like I had failed somehow, which really shouldn't be the first thought that pops into your head when you're as sick as I was.

So here is my 'story', I guess, on what happened and I'll probably wrap it up with something worth thinking about after...but I've not thought that far ahead yet so we'll see.

A month or so ago I managed to get myself a full time job. I'm now a sales assistant at a small supermarket a fair distance away. I expected jumping into 39 hours of work a week to be difficult but I never would have imagined how tiring it would be. Because the job is so far away and the earliest shift to work is 6am I also had to battle with extremely early mornings (I wake up at around 4-4.15am for the early shift) as well as the strain I was putting on my body from all of the heavy lifting.

I can barely remember what happened during my first week of work, I was so exhausted that I spent every free moment at home asleep. One thing I do remember is a cage of yogurts banging into my leg on the first day. It took me a week to realise the damage this had done when I had my first day off and was awake long enough to really see the state I was in. Half of my leg was covered in an angry, purple bruise. I took a moment to inspect the rest of myself and realised that I was covered in cuts, scrapes and bruises. I had no idea how I had got any of them. I was a little concerned but put it down to the fact that I was fairly clumsy with the new job and that I would get used to it.

Alarm bells must have been ringing somewhere deep inside my brain because I started to notice a few other things. My gums were bleeding each night, I was losing feeling in my toes, my skin was painfully dry, my lips were dry, cracked and nothing was making them better and I was also an overemotional wreck. I felt like I was losing my mind a lot of the time. Oh, and I just looked like shit, not just a little tired, but I was yellow, had huge circles under my eyes and was most likely terrifying to look at on my morning commute to work. I put it all down to stresses in my personal life and the stress of starting a new job and didn't think much else of it, I just decided to push through. It wasn't until a particular friend of mine showed some real concern over my injuries that I decided to pop to the doctor and ask for a blood test. I cannot thank her enough for this, without wanting too sound dramatic, she probably saved me from ending up in a hospital bed.

I got a little nervous after the first visit to my doctor, he looked very concerned and sent me off for a blood test. I was told to go back in a week, so you can imagine the fear when 2 days later I found 4 missed calls and 2 voicemail messages from the surgery, urging me to contact them immediately. Unfortunately I didn't receive the messages until late on a Friday night and there was nothing I could do until the following morning. When I got back to the doctors on Saturday morning I was told it was very important I go to the doctor first thing on Monday, so I booked a follow up appointment. The doctor revealed that I had the lowest B12 level he had ever seen in a patient and informed me that he was surprised I wasn't in a coma.

He explained that the problem is either dietary or a result of something else wrong with me that is preventing me from absorbing B12 from supplements and fortified foods. I was prescribed B12 injections every few days for the next two weeks and then sent off for more blood tests. Annoyingly the results of these have still not been sent through, so I have no idea if the problem is dietary or not. I'm hoping that it is. If I have an absorption problem then it is likely I will end up on B12 injections every 3-6 months for the rest of my life...not good.

So then that feeling of shame came over me for a good few hours before the fear of the situation really hit me. I'd had no idea just how ill I had been. My mental health problems have become increasingly difficult to deal with over the last year and I've been struggling to focus or concentrate on anything properly for months. I'd assumed it was my unemployment making me a bit slow and depressed but both of these are symptoms of a B12 deficiency and along with everything else I suffered from the pieces started to come together. I've been sick for years now and the last year in particular I've physically and mentally been falling apart. Part of this was a relief because I knew now that it could be fixed but I feel so angry and stupid for not realising sooner.

I have nearly finished my first course of injections now. They are incredibly painful and I've felt awful after every single one of them. The B12 is injected directly into the muscle, which hurts like a bitch and leaves a horrible burning sensation afterwards. It is only the last few days that I've noticed a small change in my energy levels (although it has been brief short bursts) and I also have a little more feeling back in my toes, which is a very positive sign, I was told the damage to them could be permanent. I know that it will be months before I'm better and I still have to find out what has caused this and what the next course of action will be.

I would just like to urge people to get health checks regularly. I always said I was planning to get checked out and I never did. The last few weeks have been terrifying and exhausting, I wouldn't wish this on anyone. I am so frustrated with my body for not working properly, I hate feeling like I can't cope or do things on my own. I am fed up of the injections and fed up of bursting into tears because I'm just so tired and confused all of the time. I know things will improve but I'm impatient and I just want it to be over. This all could have been avoided if I took the time to get my blood tested, it all seems so silly now. Oh, and coma is a horrible horrible word. Try getting to sleep when you've been told you're lucky you're not in one. Jeez...

If the problem turns out to be dietary I have a lot I need to learn to keep myself healthy on a vegan diet. Eating fortified mock meats, drinking fortified soy milk, going to town on the marmite and rarely supplementing was obviously not enough for me. If anyone has any tips then this would greatly be appreciated, I'm hoping my doctor can refer me to a dietician so I can come up with a plan to get this all back on track.

I guess I just want to urge people to think about this issue more in a sensible, non biased way. I am not blaming this deficiency on a vegan diet and I'm not accusing everyone of having a deficiency themselves. I just don't want anyone to have to go through what I've been going through for the last few years, especially when it's so easy to avoid it. It doesn't make you a bad vegan if you have a problem with B12, nor is it 'stupid' or 'bad' to have to take a B12 supplement. If that is what gets you what you need then it's the best direction to take. The most important thing is to recognise that B12 is difficult to get in any diet and we need to be sensible about it. This deficiency hasn't been a harmless thing that is easy to fix.

Anyway, I feel like I have written a LOT and I'm going to leave it there for now. I will update when I find out more on what is going on with me and when my health improves. It will be interesting to read this back when I start to feel healthy again.

Thanks for reading.

Win a free Innocent veg pot

Innocent got in touch with me today to tell me they are running a short survey about the eating habits of vegans, vegetarians and dieters.

50 people that take part in the survey will win a free veg pot and I was wondering if anyone is interested? I've just completed it myself and it didn't take any longer than 5 minutes. You can find the survey here if you would like to take part.

I definitely think it's worth doing, their dal veg pot in particular is delicious and definitely worth trying.

Good luck to anyone who gives it a go!

Also, watch this space for more updates soon. I'm working on something to explain why I've been away from here for the last few months and I hope to get it posted over the weekend.