VegaNation supports Hillside!

VegaNation supports Hillside!

Monday, 6 February 2012

What's Your Number?

  Well, very sadly, Spotty, our little song thrush died. She was doing very well and then suddenly, late on the second afternoon, the sparkle in her eyes seemed a little less bold and then a short while later I found her dead. We were all very upset and it's at moments like this that I think a lot about the responsibility I bear as a vegan who has cats that hunt wildlife.
  We feed the garden birds, although we make sure to do this in the front garden to which our seven rescued cats don't have access, and whenever we see one of the cats with a creature that they have caught, we do everything we can to rescue it. We almost always manage to rescue the vole or mouse, or whatever it is, and we give them Reiki, homeopathic remedies and a safe place to recuperate. And a lot of them do survive- the year before last we released 26 little creatures, including three moles, into a safe release site and most of these (although not all- there were a couple of road casualties as well) were animals that we had rescued from the cats. But not all of them make it and it makes me feel very sad and also responsible, because it was we have put the creatures in harm's way by letting our cats roam freely in the garden.
This year's successfully released vole.
   Two years ago, we decided to count the releases that we did because I was interested to know the number. I'd read that a vegan lifestyle saves 95 animals per year; I'd never read this as a number before so I became curious about the number of other lives we saved.      I guess not all the animals survive the upheaval of being released away from their burrows etc but, on the other hand, we didn't count any of the animals that we managed to get away from the cat which then escaped immediately without our having a chance to assess them or choose a safe release point etc and a lot of them probably WERE ok and so I should think that 26 is a fairly conservative estimate.
  This year we have, so far, saved and successfully released one vole; just one small creature whose life may not make a great deal of difference to anyone else, and yet whose life is every bit as precious to him or her as ours are to us, and as rabbinic teaching says 'To save one life is to save the whole world'.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

''Vegan Day In!''

  Last year I coined the phrase 'Vegan Day Out'; I'm not saying that no-one has ever used the expression before, but I was referring to a phenomenon probably very familiar to most ethical vegans... When you are out somewhere for the day/ on the way to an important appointment/ away from home (usually a LONG way) and all things familiar..and you come across an animal that needs are experiencing a Vegan Day Out!!

  The most read piece on my blog is the one I wrote about the day my sister was in London (60 miles from home, in an area of London she didn't know at all) at a homeopathy conference, when she came upon a grievously sick pigeon, ignored by all other passers by. She did the best she could throughout the day for the bird and then at the end of the day had no choice but to come home with the pigeon, on the train and then in the car, where the bird died late that night. We were all sad and also upset to think how many people may have walked past the distressed bird and not stopped to help. We are not perfect, we don't set ourselves up to be better than everybody else, but it's obviously the case that if we all adhered a little more closely to the idea of doing as we would be done by, then the world would be a much nicer, kinder place..
   We are a family of ethical vegans, and maybe it's because we don't have those artificial, cultural, 'normal' barriers between (non-human) animals and us, and so if we see an animal that needs help, we always feel obligated to stop and do something, in the same way that we would if it were a human that needed help.
   So, anyway, yesterday, we weren't going fact we weren't going anywhere because we were celebrating Mouse's 5th birthday. Mouse was still asleep when I went downstairs to feed the cats, but I hadn't even done that yet when Fin and Pony came and told me that there was a dead bird in the living room. I went and turned on the light and was absolutely horrified to find the living room completely awash with drifts of feathers- the room was covered with them, and there was a dead thrush on the floor in front of the couch. I retreated to feed the cats and then came back a few minutes later with some paper towels to scoop it up with, in case it was really damaged and messy. As I scooped it into a paper towel the bird moved its head, almost imperceptibly, and suddenly we were in the middle of a completely different situation..not just a sad,messy, clearing up job, but an emergency with a very very sick bird which appeared to be dying.
  We made up some homeopathic remedies in warm water; treatments for shock, trauma and terror and applied to the bird's beak with a cotton bud and within a few minutes the bird started briefly opening her eyes and raising her head. We did this at five minute intervals, and to make sure that we didn't get sidetracked we set the kitchen timer again, for another five minutes, each time. Wildlife casualties are often stressed by captivity so they generally need as much peace and quiet as possible. We were keeping the bird in the dark,  on a wrapped up hot water bottle, in a cardboard box with a towel over the top; but although we knew the bird needed to be kept quiet it was obvious that it desperately needed the remedies, so it was a balance between trying to keep the bird peaceful and giving her remedies which in an emergency situation often need to be given more frequently. The remedies were easy and quick to give to her as we had dissolved them in water so all we had to do was put a moistened cotton bud to her beak every few minutes.
   We did this for the next 6 hours before the bird seemed to have stabilised and we extended the time between remedies to 6, 7, and then to 10 minutes, and by bedtime we were at 15 minutes. By then we had started introducing some liquidised food, also on the end of a cotton bud. We'd also bathed the bird's injuries several times with Calendula tincture and warm water and added in remedies for lacerations and bite wounds.
   Mouse had a great birthday- he got a red sparkly guitar, some pipe cleaners and a crocodile costume- and he was really heroic about stopping at 5 minute intervals while opening his presents and waiting while we tended to Spotty (I know, sorry!) before resuming, for the next 5 minute burst of present opening. he was very understanding, and so were the other children, but I must say that it wasn't easy to be making birthday cake and organising a birthday meal (Mouse chose Tofu Tart, Roast Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli for his meal), while tending to the bird every 5 minutes!
  We are not professional wildlife rehabilitators, but we have been looking after animals all our lives, and helping them with homeopathy for over 20 years now. Homeopathy is such a powerful medicine but so gentle and safe that it is ideal to use in situations like that of Spotty yesterday who was unconscious and unresponsive, and so deeply shocked and traumatised.
  Birds like Spotty, who is a song thrush, wouldn't normally eat at night, so we eased off on the food but continued with the remedies, less frequent now, into the night. We made a fresh hot water bottle last thing at night and propped it, wrapped up, at one side of the box, so Spotty could choose whether to be near it or not, and then left her for the night.
  This morning, Spotty seems to be doing well. Her wounds have dried well, and she seems bright and alert, and to be co-operating well with taking the water and food she is being given.We have transferred her into a big cage because we are hoping that she will start taking food herself. At St Tiggywinkles thrushes are fed live food, maggots, I believe, but although this might be ideal for Spotty we cannot do that. Of course we are feeding her meat, and, I guess that morally it is no different from giving live food, but I couldn't feed live creatures to another animal; when I worked at an animal shelter I could not feed live insects to the family of swifts that we were rearing.
  So, our de-railed birthday turned out fine after all, in spite of having to tend to our unexpected guest every 5 minutes for most of it! We have had many many days that have suddenly dramatically changed shape because we found an animal in distress- there was a road we used to take on which we found a woodpigeon three Fridays in a row; we picked up a beautiful cock pheasant on the way to a tea party miles from home and had to bring him with us; I found a skylark on the way to catch a coach to London for an important clinic day during my homeopathic training and had to phone my then boyfriend, and ask him to drive 20 miles each way and come and collect it from my car which I had to leave unlocked. Miranda picked up a pheasant when she was on the way to the hospital to come and collect our oldest son and me from the transitional care ward at the hospital a week after he was born- she had to turn round and take the pheasant home and give him remedies, and then set out again, so she was very late to pick us up.
   There is never an ideal day to suddenly find yourself having to do that all that, especially if you are a long way from home, so,  I suppose, on balance, a Vegan Day In is still easier to manage than a Vegan Day Out!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Enough MoFo Already!!!

Well, it's National Cinder Toffee Day, so we were, of course, obligated to make that delicious sticky treat with Fin, Pony and Mouse. It is a particularly satisfying recipe to make as it takes all of about five minutes to make and then you have a treat like a Crunchie. You can even cover the pieces with chocolate to make vegan Crunchies. Oh for Goodness Sake- this is insane- I'M SOO BORED OF WRITING ABOUT COOKING!!!  IT'S DRIVING ME CRAZY!!
  My blog has always contained some stuff about food- of course it has, this is a blog about being vegan, so it would be weird if it didn't mention food from time to time!! But to be absolutely honest, veganism is not even about food for me- it's not about whether or not you can replicate non-vegan foods- fun sometimes, but absolutely not central to our vegan diet. It's not about whether or not veganism is a healthy diet- it's potentially the healthiest diet there is, but clearly wouldn't be if you subsisted solely on, say, Cinder Toffee! It's not about whether veganism is better for our poor beleaguered planet than a meat-based or vegetarian diet, which it undoubtedly is.
  It's actually got nothing at all to do with cooking for me, even tho' I love cooking; or the planet, although I love our planet; and, this may surprise some readers, it's actually got nothing at all to do with the appalling conditions and terrible suffering endured by factory farmed animals, before their short miserable lives are ended in the unimaginable terror of  ''humane slaughter''.
   I am vegan because I am an abolitionist and veganism is the moral baseline of the animal rights position; it's the fact that animals are exploited that troubles me, not merely the conditions in which this takes place. All the arguments and evidence in support of veganism are very compelling: it's healthier, better for the planet and it's very easy to do, especially these days, but most important by far, it's the morally correct thing to do.
    I have really enjoyed lots of the brilliant MoFo posts I've read, and thanks for all the lovely comments I received from those who visited this blog during MoFo. I think MoFo is a great idea and in the long run it may well convert a lot more people to veganism than I ever do; but through this process which has been by turns interesting, stimulating, amusing, and stressful, I've come to realise more and more that, for me, it's not about the food.
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Sunday, 30 October 2011

MoFo Day Thirty: Pancakes- Then and Now!

  Well, it's Sunday morning, so that means that it's Absolute 80's on the radio (looks like ASBO on the digital display!) and pancakes for breakfast!! We only have two meals on Sunday it's Sunday??  Having a filling late breakfast and then an early supper gives you the whole middle of the day free to do things..or nothing at all! That sometimes feels really necessary as I'm sure that all vegans will attest, vegan cooking can be quite time consuming, and we cook almost everything from scratch, so sometimes it seems that we've not long washed up after breakfast, and it's time to start preparing lunch.Actually, I've just had a horrible thought! I don't want any non-vegans reading this and being put off the whole idea of veganism. Hey, non-vegan people out there! You need to go vegan! Vegan cooking is really fun! There are no yucky bits in our food!! People will think you are really cool! And the cooking is really, really easy- and SO FAST!!  There! That should do it- where was I?
  Stupid camera batteries!! After I thought everyone was finished breakfast, I used the last of the batter to make three pancakes to be immortalised in MoFo. I arranged them on a plate, adjusted the lighting, applied colourless nail polish to make them glisten alluringly (joking about the nail polish!) and ..took one photo before the camera batteries went (thanks, useless ebay seller for my rubbish batteries..). Normally, you can get a bit more juice in the batteries by re-charging them for only a few minutes. I went off to recharge the batteries and when I got back, the children had eaten the pancakes!! So, I'm really hoping that, when I put the batteries back in the camera, the ONE picture that I managed to take before my models were eaten, has turned out ok!! 
   When I worked as a waitress in a vegetarian restaurant years ago (schlepping about plates of stinky cheese lasagne- bleugh!)  the chef made pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. The restaurant always had loads of vegan options (for my lunch!!) and we had lots of vegan customers, so I thought it was wrong that no-one was making any pancakes for the vegans- including me!!. I prevailed on Gilles, the lovely French chef, and: Voila! He obligingly rustled up a batch of vegan pancake batter and started production- I had the first one! 
   I still remember how lovely it felt that he did that, and how special he he made me feel. I had not yet managed to make vegan pancakes successfully at home and hadn't had pancakes for years, so it was really a very rare treat.
  Now, many many years later, I have developed my own recipe for vegan pancakes and my children are absolutely used to having them for breakfast every Sunday. They have never had the experience of NOT being able to eat pancakes, or cake, or ice cream for that matter, so although they love pancakes they are a not a particularly unusual treat, they have them every few days,and to some degree, probably take them for granted.. Their experience of eating them is really the opposite of mine in the veggie restaurant all those years ago- and that makes me feel very proud!!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

MoFo Day Twentynine: Cake Magic!

  Well, after Miranda's Great Lemon Drizzle Disaster, I decided to take the matter in hand myself!!  I wanted to make the exact opposite of Miranda's cake, really, because hers turned out too thin, so I wanted a cake that was much bigger and more..delightfully voluptuous than that. I decided to use a chocolate layer cake recipe and convert it because it's such a big sumptuous cake, and because Miranda warned me not to!
  The flour quantity of the ex-chocolate layer cake was about double the original lemon drizzle recipe so I doubled the amount of lemon zest that I put into the cake batter, and also the lemon and sugar for the drizzle.
  The cake came out of the oven looking absolutely amazing- it was about two inches thick; and after 45 minutes was beautifully cooked all the way through. I pierced the top of the cake all over, while it was still hot, and still in its Springform tin (is that what they are called? Or is that a kind of bra?) The word came into my head when I was typing, but it doesn't seem to mean anything now it's out on the page..?? Those tins are called that have a clip so you can undo them and get the cake out that way? Anyone?
  Anyway, I poured the drizzle over the top; I had to keep spreading it as it was tending to pool slightly in the middle which was weighing down the sponge. In the end, I took off the Springform? (Maidenform?) so that the drizzle could..drizzle down the sides and the whole cake was covered.
   We have been working hard on our magic tricks today and yesterday; because the children wanted to do a magic show for our visitors. Fin did a brilliant Sword in the Stone trick, Pony did a sneaky card trick which my grandfather taught me when I was eight and which I have now taught to my eight year old (proud mother moment!) and Mouse invented one which amazed and astounded our friends by SOMEHOW turning two of those gold plastic trays from the inside of a chocolate box into ONE- and then when they reappeared from behind his back they were TWO again!! Amazing!  And me? I performed cake magic! That, my friends is how, with nothing up my sleeves,  I turned a double chocolate layer cake into a single layer, double thickness, lemon drizzle birthday cake! I am now going to saw it in half!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

MoFo Day Twentyseven: Eleventh Hour Cupcakes!

  Oh it was all looking so good yesterday: Miranda had baked the lemon drizzle cake for the next stage of Pony's birthday 'season'; we were SO ahead! Then doubts started creeping in..Miranda had baked the cake in a bigger tin than usual because we were sharing it with our friends Paula, Karl and their daughter Kitty; but hadn't had enough lemon to double the recipe so the cake wasn't very deep and Miranda began to be concerned that the cake was slightly overcooked because of being so shallow. She turned it on its side (perhaps in hindsight not a very sensible thing to do!) to show me the base of the cake, and promptly snapped the cake in half! It wasn't broken all the way through but the crunchy layer of drizzle, which had set by this time, was cracked too, so it really didn't look very good!
The Batter Had Seemed Strange From the Start..
   Miranda was really upset, especially as we had no more lemons so couldn't just repeat the recipe but we decided to change the cakes round so that the lemon drizzle cake would now be at the weekend, by which time we'd have more lemons (please remind us to get some more tomorrow, ok?) and we would have cupcakes today instead. Cupcakes don't take that long so we thought there'd be plenty of time to make them this morning before we went to our friends' house.
   We were running a bit late this morning (it's a long story- you'd be bored!) so Miranda made the cupcakes a bit later than we'd planned, perhaps an hour before we were supposed to be going. She used a tried and tested recipe, which used to be Nigella Lawson's, but is now, we think, probably our friend Paula's as it has been veganised and changed so much that, according to Paula, who knits (you should see the tiny Christmas stockings she knits!), if it were a knitting pattern, it would now be hers, so we assume that the same probably applies to recipes..
   Even as she was mixing the batter Miranda was concerned that it looked a bit weird- I don't know what she'd done wrong, but weird is how they came out. They were bubbling strangely when they came out of the oven and as they cooled they sank in the middle, the surface seemed rather pitted and they became rather hard! I actually hate to admit that such a thing as a vegan baking failure exists! Vegan baking is very easy and usually very very reliable, but this definitely was a failure- there was a lot going on here this morning, and maybe Miranda was distracted and weighed out and put in the sugar twice- that seems the likeliest explanation to me, given what the cakes looked like- too ghastly to even photograph!!
   Miranda was really REALLY upset by now; it was time to leave for our friends and we had no birthday cakes! So, I calmed her down, told her to start loading the children into the car, getting coats, etc etc while I reached for my trusty and very battered copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World and flipped to her basic cupcake recipe. This is an unbelievably simple, quick and TRULY BRILLIANT recipe which is absolutely foolproof. It always works EVERY TIME. And the cupcakes it makes are light and fluffy and bouncy and spongey- and they really came through for us today! I was mixing them as toys were being loaded into the car, baking them while coats and cardigans were being collected, mixing icing while they cooled, and in fact blobbing on icing while they were still slightly warm. I stuck jelly hearts on them and we left.
   Unfortunately, on the way to Paula, Karl and Kitty's house, a partridge made a dash across the road in front of us, and we had to brake very sharply and a couple of them fell into the foot well of the car, but luckily, they were fine because they were so light and airy that they bounced- straight back up onto the plate again! Now that's truly great vegan baking!
  By the way, was there something I was supposed to buy tomorrow..?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

MoFo Day Twentysix: Another Inexplicable Food Flop

Everybody move to their left and see if they like THAT food..
  Today I thought I was going to be creating a lovely dish which was to be a combination, perhaps even a fusion, of General Tao's Tofu which we tried the other day and (some of us!) loved, and my tried and tested Sweet'n'Sour recipe which I think may have started life as a Patrick Holford recipe, but I'm not sure. The alternative dish for Pony, absolutely assuming that she would need one, was to be Sausage Mix Sausage Rolls.
  Well. you know what they say about the Road to Hell, don't you? Well, there may be some surplus boxes of Sausage Mix being used as paving slabs alongside the Good Intentions that prompted their fondly misguided purchase...
  As I think mentioned before, when we had our Inaugural Vegan Bring'n'Share last week, Pony didn't like the Brownies I made, the Palmiers I made, or the Coffee Biscuits that M made, the Apple Strudel, the Bread Pudding or the Clavering Pasties (think vegan Cornish Pasties), that our friends made. She ate, as she always does, vanilla cupcakes, but, rather unexpectedly, fell in love with Sosmix sausage rolls that our friend Jan brought.
  She was so delighted with them that she asked us to get some Sausage Mix the next day and said that she'd like them as alternative meals in case she didn't like what we were eating this week. We were very excited about Pony, for the first time in about two years, discovering something new that she liked to eat- and something so EASY, quick to make, portable for days out and car journeys, and freezable, so could be produced in the event of a meal 'failure', at a few minutes' notice. Amazing! It seemed too good to be true...
  When M went to town she went to the supermarket and found only one box in stock, so she bought that.  Anyway, before we'd even made any of it, M and Pony were in town together and Pony prevailed on M to buy THREE more boxes of Sausage Mix. As she did so, M said to Pony: I've got a horrible feeling about this, that you aren't going to like it any more but Pony insisted that she absolutely loved it, so the deed was done. I expect you can guess the rest..
  We made up the sausages yesterday, wrapped them in puff pastry and..Pony didn't like them..she said they tasted different from the ones that Jan made..
   Today, I was supposed to be making the sweet'n'sour General Tao dish but because we no longer had the sausage rolls to fall back on for Pony, that was then changed to Mediterranean Pasta Salad which everyone likes, but I felt a bit fed up at the thought of making it; I'm a bit bored of it as we had it quite recently. Then someone suggested noodles for the children, which they eat with olive oil and seasoning, with some broccoli. Then M suggested that I make something with the smoked tofu; we were excited to get from our new wholesaler the other day- we hadn't been able to get it for ages, and had missed its lovely smokey flavour.
She hates my cooking..
  Anyway, after discussing it all in a positive and constructive manner for a few more minutes (Pasta salad! No! Noodles! No! Pasta Salad! No! Noodles!) we decided to make sausage roll-esque things by wrapping some of the smoked tofu up in puff pastry, and eating with broccoli and potatoes.
  Pony was to have some puff pastry to do as she did the other day, when she made a pleasing concoction of puff pastry topped with ketchup, sprinkled with a few vegan bacon bits. She was very pleased with them last week, so we knew at least she'd have a few little pastry bits to nibble on while we were eating smoked tofu rolls; she'd tried the tofu and didn't like it.
  Well, to cut a long story short, the smoked tofu rolls were really lovely; Taifun smoked tofu is especially nice, better than the Cauldron smoked tofu that we used to get as the texture is firmer and the taste is stronger. But the cunning little layered fancies of puff pastry and ketchup that Pony invented last week? Sadly, she didn't like them today because they tasted 'different'... It was actually quite upsetting for everybody, as, after the disappointment of the Sosmix, and all the various ideas thrown around today and then discarded because someone didn't like them or want them, we finally thought that everyone's meal was sorted out.
  There are so, so many lovely dishes that we want to share with our family: M and I definitely never ate such delicious and varied food before we became vegan.To me cooking for someone (oops! I just wrote 'cooking someone'..!) is a way that I show love for them and so sometimes it can be a bit discouraging trying to feed someone who I love so much but who constantly refuses almost everything that I cook.
   Fin has become much more adventurous about food in the last year and now seems to love most of the meals we ate, so we have to try and stay positive about the situation and hope that the same thing happens with Pony. If there should exist out there a universally adored recipe that NO-ONE has EVER disliked then we are anxious to here about it!  Sosmix, puff pastry, chocolate, asparagus, curry, chilli, black salt, seitan sausage, noodles, couscous, rice, smoked tofu, tempeh, aubergines, bell pepper, marrow, courgettes, squashes, cauliflower, pinenuts, onions, beans of any sort except green beans, chickpeas, and tomato sauce recipes of any sort need not apply...