Vegan Challenge: Spaghetti and Ice Cream?

I’m in two minds about vegan ‘interpretations’ of what I could insultingly call ‘normal food’. Here are my two conflicting thoughts:

Love: t’s a very clever and fun thing to do to reimagine a dish within strict vegan limitations. If you’re an adventurous cook with a good palate, picking out flavours and textures that define a dish and applying them to something new can be fantastic. I truly believe that you don’t need to overload your cooking with oil, butter, cheese etc for it to taste good, although I do very much enjoy all those things. If you can come up with a version of something that stands alone as a delicious meal, then that’s fantastic.

Hate: But on the other hand…you set yourself up for disappointment. Veganism should be about enjoying and appreciating what good food is, as opposed to measuring it against what it’s not. Anyone who has ever tried to make a vegan macaroni cheese knows what I’m talking about. No combination of soy ‘dairy’, nutritional yeast and whole wheat pasta is EVER going to taste like proper mac and cheese, so what’s the point in imitating old recipes when you could focus on new, amazing recipes?

Anyway, I decided to set myself ANOTHER challenge and try to make a meal that borrowed some elements of my favourite foods, but wasn’t a pale, soggy imitation of them. I settled on courgette spaghetti with pesto, followed by banana and raspberry ice cream for my supper. Because I’m being extremely strict with myself, I’ve banned pasta from my diet for these two weeks. You have no idea what this is doing to me. I’m an absolute pasta fiend. It must be my Mediterranean heritage or something, but I’d happily eat it twice, three times a day. But eating that much pasta, plus a load of cheese and butter, is not doing me any favours, and is zapping away my energy. Courgette spaghetti seemed like a good way of creating the effect of pasta, along with a similar texture. By lightly pan-frying it in a little oil and garlic, then combining with pesto, I got a lot of my favourite bits of the pasta experience with none of the unhealthy downsides.

Courgette Spaghetti

2 medium sized courgettes
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

I shaved the courgettes with a julienne grater, and set them aside on paper towels to absorb some of the water. I lightly salted them, because otherwise courgette can be a little flavourless. I then heated the garlic on a moderate heat with the oil – I used lots of garlic because I love it so much. I lightly pan fried them until they’d absorbed the flavours without going to soft. I seasoned to taste. If I’d been doing this dish without the pesto, I’d have used a little nutmeg, or some cayenne, or red chilli to add another flavour.

Lemon & Basil Pesto

1 cup fresh basil
1 big clove of garlic (more if you’re a garlic fiend like me)
3/4 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp cashew nuts
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp sea salt

Quite frankly, you can do whatever you like with the pesto. I’ve used cashews because I had cashews, but pine nuts would be a more ‘traditional’ pesto taste. You can omit the lemon, use sage instead of basil, use almonds, use Parmesan…anything you like. I’d say just judge this one by eye/taste. If it’s dry, use more oil, if it’s dull, use more lemon. Essentially, just plonk all your ingredients in the food processor and whiz them up until you’re happy. I then tossed my courgette spaghetti in the pesto, and served it with a side of tomato salad.

Banana & Raspberry Ice Cream

2 frozen bananas
1 cup frozen raspberries

This is insultingly easy. I peeled some bananas, put them in a freezer bag, and froze them at lunch. At dinner time, I simply blended them in my food processor with a cup of frozen raspberries, and BINGO – a creamy, pretty looking, perfectly textured ‘ice cream’. You could also use a little vanilla if you like. I feel like I’m really late to this whole frozen banana party, but they are SO GOOD. I mean, this? This blew my mind. It tasted exactly like proper ice cream. And I’ve been known to make ice cream featuring clotted cream and white chocolate. I will seriously keep on eating this even if I stop being vegan. The last time I made one was when I got inspired because of Arrested Development…

So that was my supper!

POP Pilates, the anti-bikini body, and a challenge…

Oh, Autumn/Winter. A good season for so many reasons, not least of all fantastic parties, open log fires, steaming cups of Earl Grey on drizzly days, tramping through woods, rubbish but totally brilliant black and white films in the afternoon, mulled wine…..

Weirdly, I seem to always get into some sort of heavy duty exercise/eating routine around this time of year. I naturally like salads and lighter food, so I get to a point in Winter where I don’t want to see a potato, or a hearty stew, or something with mushrooms in. I also feel like I’m getting one up on my New Year’s resolutions. Because, after all, who feels like changing anything on January 1st? I’m usually nursing a hangover and feeling violent unease at the prospect of the new year.

I’ve been trying to eat fairly healthily at the moment, but had a bit of a lapse this weekend, and I can already feel the results. I feel sluggish (the worst word known to man), unmotivated, and generally not a very happy bunny. I’ve been doing some Pilates videos I found on YouTube, hosted by a very smiley and cheerful girl called Cassey Ho. I used to think Pilates was pretty much like yoga – ok for flexibility, but generally still the home of mung bean eating, New Age music-listening, crystal waving types. Then along came Cassey, with her glam gym gear, her huge smile, her insanely tough workouts, and a soundtrack including Shakira, Gaga and Rihanna.

I barely managed 2 minutes of one workout, and I realised that this was something I really wanted to do, and get good at. I went and checked out Cassey’s site: http://www.blogilates.com. It’s amazing – bright colours, inspirational stories, motivational slogans all over the place. It’s very, very American, and I loved it. I spotted Cassey was running a 90 day challenge (sadly with only 60 days to go) comprising of 5 days of pilates/cardio workouts a week, combined with a good healthy diet. It seemed destined to be. So much of being able to motivate yourself and keep pushing through when you’re flagging is having someone energetic, encouraging and aspirational, and I think Cassey manages to achieve all of those things.

Right, waffle over. Go and check her out. Don’t blame me if you get sore thighs (ah…how many times have I said that in my life?!) Basically, I’m going to attempt to follow her challenge – not quite to the letter, because I’m not exactly going to be eating a stir fry for Christmas lunch, am I? But I’m going to try. Out go the cakes again, refined sugars and bad carbs, in come the fruit and veg and porridge. I’ll be attempting to track in on this blog – only every week though. Nobody needs to know what I’m eating every single day, for Chrissakes. Have a look yourself – maybe you’ll be joining me?!

http://blogilates.com/