Wonky Veg for the Win

I was in Morrison’s for my grocery shop last week. I had heard before they were doing boxes of wonky veg (the less pretty but perfect good veg that stores usually refuse to sell) but had not come across them before that day. I don’t usually shop at Morrison’s but they started selling vegan pasties so we started going there more often. Anyway, back to the veg. The whole box was only £3 and it was a good size box.

The parsnips were looking a bit worse for wear after a couple of days so I had to get to the cooking. For the first meal I made roasted veggies with mashed swede (rutabaga for the Americans). I did add in a few carrots I already had (also wonky and less than a £ a bag) and used some vegan butter, seasonings and gravy I already had. So not entirely within that £3 box but on the other hand I didn’t use nearly everything in the box so the meal was no more than £3 for 5 people and leftovers. I think that is a pretty good deal.

For the roast vegetables you just need to chop you chosen vegetables into thinner chunks. I used the parsnips, onions, and potatoes from the box and a few small carrots I already had. I used a big roasting pan and filled it rather full for all of us. Normally I would say to keep to one layer but when cooking for a crew that sometimes has to go out the window and extra stirring come in to make it work. Mix the veg up with some oil (or vegetable stock if avoiding oil) and add your seasoning….I usd paprika, garlic powder, and vegetable bouillon powder. Once mixed well cover with a lid or tin foil and put in a pre-heated oven at about 220C / 430F. Stir every 30 – 40 minutes and place the cover. When the carrots are soft it should be ready. It took a couple hours in my questionable oven.

Along with the roasted vegetables we had a side of mashed swede. That was just like making mashed potatoes. Peel the swede and chop into cubes. Boil until the swede is soft enough to mash with a fork. Once it is soft drain any water that is left. Add a tablespoon or so or butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. It really is that simple.

We added some gravy and everyone was so full after that dinner. Lots of veg to nourish and taste to soothe. Best of all I still had leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

Lunch was the same roasted vegetables only with leftover cheezy sauce and a bit of plant schwarma. It was one of those lunches that felt very naughty but was in fact rather healthy.

What else will I do with the rest of that £3 box of veg? There is a cabbage which I plan to shred up and fry with onion as a side to country potatoes. That will be the next dinner. That will leave courgette (zucchini) which I will use in a vegetable soup along with some leftover carrot I still have and various frozen vegetables and beans. That is three full meals from the one £3 box with only minimal extras and store cupboard ingredients. The extras I would guesstimate cost about another £2-3.

Being the run up to Christmas and all the chaos going on this year I figured a few cheaper ideas might be helpful for many people. I know it helps me pull those few extra pounds out of my food budget to prepare for the holidays. For us that might just mean extra treats but for many it would mean having a Christmas tree or even having Christmas dinner. I hope this is helpful to others.

What’s happening right now

Sorry I have been quiet. Feeling a bit overwhelmed lately. So much change going on for me and not enough of me to spread around. Something had to give and to be honest I think just about everything gave in the end.

My exercise stopped. My studies I am just about maintaining but I have no interest in anything at the moment. My diet has managed to stay plant based but it has been more veggie burgers and chips than lentils and potatoes. So for course I gained back the weight I had lost….no surprise there.

What do I do? That is the big question. The plan for me is to focus on one thing at a time. Right now that focus is on my university class.

I am doing an Open University module called Introduction to computing: part 2. After many weeks of waiting for my grade in the part one, I received a grade of distinction (that is an A in normal countries). I think the wait for the grade (about two months) was one of the biggest demotivaters for everything that left me feeling rather depressed. The U.K. really does have the most ridiculous and mentally breaking education systems in the world.

So far my focus on my module has been iffy but upon getting my grade from the previous one I do feel much more focused. I am almost done with my first assignment and thinking about what will be my next step to sanity. I am trying to improve my diet again. It seems like the right next step.

I planned a bit healthier meals for the next week. Due to other chaos I was only able to get food for the next couple days but what I chose was much better than what we have been having for weeks. So what did I chose for the weekend? Saturday is fajita ‘meat’ with salad in wraps. On Sunday the plan is spaghetti with homemade Pasta Sauce. For snacking I decided to replace the crisps I had been having with fruit and cereal. Is it the healthiest I could choose? Probably not but it is better than takeaways, ice cream and crisps.

So, what is the point in this post? Probably that we are all human and have our ups and downs. It is ok to have your downs and to take care of yourself. I hope to get myself back up and running soon. I just need to give myself some time. If you are feeling overwhelmed and down take the time to heal.

Abingdon on Thames

I had a birthday recently and my wonderful husband took to on a two night trip to Abingdon in Oxfordshire. We had two night on a narrowboat in the marina. We had been thinking about maybe living on a boat one day in the future. Neither of us had been on a narrowboat before so it was an adventure for the both of us. Our days consisted of walking along the Thames and exploring the lovely town and the evenings were for experiencing a narrowboat and seeing if it might be something we could do long term.

As we arrived early and couldn’t check in we found somewhere to park and set out for lunch and our first walk. It was a very warm day and we really had no plan or any idea what Abingdon had for us. Our first stop was lunch at the Palo Lounge (think that was the name) just next to the market square. They had a whole vegan menu which made it easy to find options to try. I had tapas which were meh to be honest. The potato braves were just dry baked potato drizzled with a garlic sauce and with a side of tomato sauce (not ketchup…not that much flavour). The vegan taco was nice though and my sweet potato chips were spot on. Alan had a burger and was perfectly happy with it. I think that was. Beyond burger which I had tried and disliked before but this time found it acceptable. I guess tastes change.

After lunch we went on a walk across the bridge and down along the Thames on our right. We walked down a good ways watching the boats and the people. Chatting away about everything and nothing. We came across another bridge and a gate and went through. By this time it was starting to get a bit closer to check in time and we were thirsty so we turned back and visited the Nag’s Head for a drink before going to check in to the boat. The Nag’s Head also had a few vegan options and I saved the menu to visit the next day.

That evening we went to the house of the boat owners and checked in. We had to walk through the garage to get to the private mooring at the bottom of their garden. The first thing I noticed n the boat other than how awkward it was to get through the narrow doors was how VERY warm it was in the boat. Not a surprise at all since it is a narrow tube of metal sitting out in the hot sun but still so very apparent.

Though the living space is narrow it is not claustrophobic at all. I had feared I might feel that way in person. The living/ dining area was perfect sufficient for two people to be comfortable. The angle of the tv to the sofa was not great but I suspect we could work that problem out if we had our own. The kitchen area was very good. More space then I have had in many UK houses over the years. Weird needing to turn on a water pump and hot water before doing dishes but not truly inconvenient either. Alan didnt realise there was separate filtered water to drink until after having some from the tap but all was ok.

please note: this picture is after our stay with the items used laid out for sanitising by the owner. They provided the boat clean, tidy and counters clear.

After that we had the bedroom area. The wardrobe and drawer space was perfect. I saw no shortage for clothing space. The bed was a 4 ft bed. That is smaller than a double but wider than a twin. It is a perfect size bed for ONE person. We struggled here. I know many people do extensions to make it a 5 ft bed or whatever but this boat did not have this. This was by far the biggest problem for me. I was crammed up against a wall and ended up with a terrible crick in my neck that left me headachey for several days. A wider bed would have to be an unshakeable requirement for a boat to be an option. I can not give in on that. I would also like the bed to be facing the opposite way or span the width of the back of the boat as I really don’t like crawling over Alan to go to the toilet.

That brings me to the bathroom in the boat. The shower was not big and the pressure was mild but it washed my hair well so I give it the thumbs up. The vanity sink unit was fine. Seeing s a vanity unit in the bathroom is unusual in UK homes I find it funny that they seem to be normal in boats. The toilet was a chemical portapotty. That would not be my first choice but it probably was a good starter toilet for us. I didn’t like having to open the hole in it nor convince the contents down when they were unwilling but I lived through it and can talk about it so not too traumatised.

This boat was quite long so there was a back cabin as well with a single bed/ seating area which would make a nice home office. Yes, we really talked about how we would use the space and what we would need in the space. The reality is that we have another 20+ years of Alan needing to either go into an office daily or work from home. That would mean a full time mooring or a home office. A home office would pretty much mean a 70 ft boat if we want dining space and a good size kitchen (I need the kitchen).

On the second day we lallygagged in the morning just having our breakfast and reading a bit. I had no mobile signal being in a metal tube and my phone / iPad refused to connect to the wifi coming from the house. Luckily there was reading material on board. We then went into town and visited the museum at market square. The museum has artefacts from pre-history to the 20th century. Sadly, they walked us from the modern to the ancient in a thirty minute slot which meant by the time we got to the more ancients times of interest to me we were starting to feel a hurry and I couldn’t focus on what I was seeing. Maybe one day when all is less crazy I can try again.

After the museum was lunch. I had intended to have lunch at the Nag’s Head but Alan wanted the King’s Head and something behind the museum. In the end we went with Alan’s choice. I wanted a burger but all they had was a veggie patty. The were out of plant cheeze so not only none on my burger but that nixed the nachos as well. We had the vegan scampi (just severely oily batter) for our starter. I had the veggie burger and Alan had the Viish and chips. That was “fish” made out of banana flowers and battered. Also very oily but it did at least have something inside the batter that time. one thing w learned is that we are so unused to greasy food that a one off here and there is much less enjoyable. There were no vegan dessert option. Overall the lunch was disappointing but at least the music playing was good.

We then headed out to walk down through the gardens and toward the next lock. We didnt get past the gardens though as there was construction happening that detoured things. We explored the gardens a bit and then decided to walk to Tesco on the opposite end of town (outside town really) to get food for dinner to see about cooking on a boat. We found a nice little path allow Ock Valley Park. I am writing this more than a week after so my memory isn’t great but I think that was the name. Crossed one main road and then was into another park and again walking along another wild area until we popped out by the Tesco.

For our walk back to the boat we had our vegan magnums (ice creams) and headed back mostly through estates. We had our dinner of Plant Chef hunter’s seitan and sweet potato wedges in our bag and headed back. I the end we walked about 6 miles or so that day. It is a nice town to walk around though so overall the walking was good.

Since the cooking was just the heating of two foil packs and it was my birthday, Alan did the cooking after we together worked out the lighting of the over. Please note that I have always had electric overs since we were married and when I did cook with a gas oven as a teen it was in the US and there was a pilot light that did things for me. We got it lit. Figured out the gas mark situation and how long we guessed for each since the packs were for different gas marks. I have never cooked with gas marks before and can not explain that at all. Alan was in charge of getting it in and out (I was only a couple feet away). The food was nice and we settled in for a couple of movies and a quiet night.

The last night went the same as the first with the narrow bed. That narrowed is a deal breaker for me. The lack of signal was annoying but I know from various YouTubers that this can be overcome enough that some can even stream movies so not a big worry. The toilet was a learning experience but as a person not freaked out by an outhouse the potty was not an issue. The shower I was pleasantly surprised by and happy. So my verdict is that a narrowboat is a viable option with certain modifications on the bed and proper internet. I had no issue with the boat movement this time or previously on moving boats so not worried about that.

My birthday went well enough. Our trip was enjoyable. I learned a bit more about a town and narrowboats and had a couple really nice walks. Productive. I hope you have enjoyed the pictures and consider visiting Abingdon yourself either on a narrowboat or in more typical accommodation. That said, I really enjoyed the boat and the owners were wonderful people and perfect Airbnb hosts so do consider them for your nice break.

Snacking Ideas

I love to snack. I like crunchy things. Sweet things are great too but I have found that I crave crunchy, savoury snacks more. This shall be a quick post without photos as I don’t have any.

Savoury

  • Popcorn
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Pretzels
  • Roasted Chickpeas
  • Air fried tofu bites
  • Veggie sticks with hummus
  • Baked tortilla chips (or air fried…I just got one so still learning) with guacamole
  • Graze style crunchy snacks (usually has flavoured beans / nuts plus other crunchy bits)
  • Savoury trail mix (nuts, seeds, cereal, etc)
  • Cheerios

Sweet

  • Oatmeal Raisin Cookie bites (smaller than usual cookies)
  • Sweet popcorn
  • Fruit (I know….how predictable)
  • Dark chocolate, raisin trail mix
  • Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Nice Cream
  • fruit and nut mix

A friend asked me for snack ideas several weeks ago and I gave her a few thoughts off the top of my head at the time: however, there are so many options and I can’t think of them all. What do you like as a snack while watching a movie or maybe in the car? It is amazing how the moment you need those snacking ideas they just fly out of your brain never to be seen again.

Breakfast and lunch wraps

I spent all morning yesterday making wraps for my breakfasts and lunches because I like have my food quick to hand in the day. This inclination tends to shove me toward the fast food and ready meal sector. This is not a helpful situation so I decided to take the problem to hand.

I am not a massive fan of oats in a none cookie form to be honest and I have gone off of smoothies lately (probably because it is less hot outside) so plan C. In the US, I know you can get breakfast burritos frozen in stores and fresh at fast food places and restaurants but in the U.K. they are not a thing at all. I missed them! I also needed to find a way to make them without oil or animal products. I have only ever had ones with sausage and eggs as the starting point so required a rethink.

American breakfast sausage is completely different from UK sausage. The flavouring is different so even before going plant based I hadn’t found a sausage that filled that breakfast sausage place. My in laws made sausages that I loved but they were still not breakfast ones for me. So this is problem one and something I have NOT overcome though I am continuously testing options.

Problem two was the eggs. I have yet to confidently make scrambled tofu. I made it for my first lot of burritos last week but it didn’t go well and though the product tasted fine the texture was wrong. This week I used a more solid tofu and got a better texture but I still am not sure it is right. I do not feel my scramble is good enough to share a recipe at this time but it did the job ok.

The last problem was actually the first one I solved. My favourite burrito back home had potato in it. That potato is my country potatoes recipe I posted a few weeks ago. It is perfect in the burrito. It is so much my favourite part that half of my lunch ones also have the potato in it despite buying rice for it.

What is the best part of breakfast burritos? For me it is being able to put whatever strikes my fancy inside of it. Some things I might preplan while other bits I scavenged from around my kitchen. Waste not want not and all that.

Proteins

  • Scrambled tofu
  • Vivera plant bacon
  • Baked beans
  • Beans (not of the baked variety)
  • Lentils
  • Tofu

Carbs

  • Country potatoes
  • Rice
  • Sweet Potatoes

Vegetables

  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Carrot (shredded)
  • Anything you like really

Extras

  • Applewood vegan Mexicana cheese
  • Cheezy Sauce
  • Salsa
  • Sauces (bbq, sriracha, sweet chili, etc)
  • Guacamole
  • Hummus

Obviously, each burrito is wrapped up in a tortilla. Now the tortilla was not as straightforward as I would like either. The U.K. does not make the highest quality tortillas. None are oil free. Few are truly wholewheat and when they are they tend to be so dry they fall apart. I tried the wheat and white ones and still had them crack and bits fall off. In the end I decided the white ones were my only real option and even those stick together so badly in the packaging that I spend ages carefully prying them apart in hopes of them all remaining whole. You might point out that I have my own recipe but I also only have a small griddle to use so I can’t make the big tortillas I need at home. So now you know why I used white tortillas but you can use whatever works for you.

You might note that I used faux cheese which is processed fat mostly. The cheesy flavour and texture is an important part of the burrito for me. I used what I had to hand last week. This week I had fresh cheezy sauce made up so used that instead. The cheezy sauce also adds a hint of vegetables to the burrito so as to be a little more healthy.

The latest had the cooked veggies in it too which I think works for breakfast ok. I had to use it in my lunch ones as well since I didn’t have any salad around. I wish for the lunch ones that I had been more prepared with salad as I think that is a missing element though as I also frozen those burritos the salad wouldn’t have worked for reheating. In future I think my lunch ones should have spinach in it as it is good cooked or cold.

I think the key though is to use an element of each category (protein, carb, vegetable, and extra) in each wrap. Be careful to not overfill while also managing to have a hearty wrap. The tortilla will split if you have too much filling and wrap too tightly.

I froze all of my wraps for both breakfasts and lunches. Things to watch out about with freezing. Wrap in parchment, paper towel or maybe wax wraps. the key is to keep them separated from their neighbouring wraps in you freezer container or they will get stuck. I did my first batch with plastic wrap as my daughter had brought it into the house (I don’t buy it) and it worked but it was single use plastic and I am not happy with that. I tried into zipper bags without individual wraps but they stuck a bit. I tried in a glass storage box and they stuck to the box and each other. My daughter wrapped hers in paper towel and with the exception of minor paper sticking it worked a treat but you have to cook in the wrapping and peel off carefully at the end.

Reheating

I used a microwave for 2.5 minutes then flip it over and heat another 2.5 minutes. This worked well for me. Then carefully peel off the paper. I then cut it in half to check it is hot through and if not the cut wrap is heated another minute. At that point it is all scalding hot and has to cool because Sod’s Law. I think I would be inclined to heat it up before heading off is I was going out with the food even if you have access to a microwave to reheat there just because invariably the wrap will be too hot, need to cool, and your break is over while you look at your lovely lunch with no time to eat. Perhaps that is just my luck though.

I bet all you lovely people will come up with some over the moon combinations to keep breakfasts and lunches interesting and easy.

Menu plan 17/9 – 23/9/2020

I guess I kid of went quiet for a little while there. Have not been feeling the motivation as of late. My readership seems to have taken a nose dive lately so I have been feeling a bit bad about my writing.

Anyway, I am working on my grocery list so will share my plan for the week. Last week’s plan was ok but my activities changed enough that the plan changed a bit. Yesterday I took my daughter to visit her new university and get her ID which I wasn’t expecting to do so that made for a day of eating out especially after dealing with train cancellations and chaos getting home. None of that was in the plan but I still stuck to plant based even if whole foods went completely out the window.

This week I know things will be weird. We have another birthday and a few days away for me and Alan. This is the last birthday of the year at least. Alan and I are going to be spending a few days on a narrowboat to see what we think of it. It won’t be moving at all so that give us a chance to see how living on a boat feels. I should be cooking while away but I am fairly certain Alan is aiming at a vegan pizza boat he has heard about as well as a nearby Indian restaurant so my cooking will be limited and I don’t mind that really. For those days I will get pizza and burgers for the kids to work through while we are away.

So what is the plan? Simple, already in the house, a bit of taste testing and a spicy night. Really a good all around family meal plan.

1. Risotto: I am thinking this one will feature brussel sprouts as someone bought many large bags of them . I thought the bags were small so told her to grab several as I had two meals planned. We have been working through some bags and others went in the freezer. I have never made brussel sprout risotto before so should be interesting. I will pretty much do the same as my asparagus risotto but sub in the sprouts.

2. Pasta with plantballs: I know that sounds a bit weird. Plantballs are just plant based meatballs and I managed to buy a couple of packs of the new Ikea ones the other day. I am going to use them in a typical spaghetti and meatballs sort of way with my pasta sauce and probably fusilli as I prefer that shape over spaghetti. I will see about taking a few pictures and writing a review for next week on the Ikea Plantballs.

3. Cheezy Chips: it is good. I will likely do some sort of faux meat or crispy tofu in there. The Vivera plant bacon was excellent last time so likely either that or maybe the taco flavoured beans from Aldi. I also added some Applewood Mexicana vegan cheese last time and that will happen again. I had intended to sprinkle some Chipotle salad topper over it last time and forgot so maybe this time. The main things are the nacho cheezy sauce and the oil free chips which are both 100% healthy.

4. Veggie Soup over barley: quick and easy to make. I will likely use frozen veggies and the instant pot for the soup and just cook up the barley on the stove. I like the nutty, chewiness of the whole barley contrasted with a pureed vegetable soup. I first saw this way of making and serving soup on one of the Starch Solution YouTube videos and gave it a try. Will likely always eat my soups like this in the future.

5. Miso Soup: I need a bit of spice in my life and that miso soup recipe of mine just popped into my head. I have most everything I need for it so just a clementine and courgette to add to my shopping list. I am very much looking forward to this one and it will likely be my Thursday meal because I am so keen for that soup.

6. Frozen pizza: my children might be 17 – 20 years old and perfectly capable of fending for themselves but I will leave frozen pizza for them to heat up so otherwise one would just forget, one would eat tens of pounds of cereal, and the third would just eat a baked potato (at least I have one that would make proper food).

7. Burgers: again for while I am away. They will all likely get something plant based for a burger as I am not buying three different options. One is a vegetarian, one likes beef burgers, and one prefers chicken burgers so what they will get is probably Aldi no beef burgers. I haven’t had one of those myself so experimenting with the kids first. If they likely those I might try them in the future.

Breakfasts will still be oats for Alan but I think I might make up more breakfast wraps for myself. Back in the US I really fell for breakfast burritos but they are completely NOT plant based so I had to get creative. I did that last week and have been enjoying the product of my efforts even though not perfect. I will see about adding that recipe later.

Lunches will continue to be leftovers for me most days. I always seem to cook too much so leftovers solve that problem. I actually fear one day cooking for only two people regularly. I am not sure how to cook for less then my small army. I guess maybe it will mean only cooking twice a week and eating leftovers most of the time. That is still well in the future though.

Grand Union at Fenny Stratford

Fenny Stratford is now part of Bletchley which is part of Milton Keynes. Watling Street which was the old Roman road going north from London goes right through it. There is even buried remains of a Roman villa just as one drives into Fenny Stratford. Another interesting and useless bit of trivia: the village was so badly hit by the plague that Watling Street was diverted around the village at one time to avoid the Black Death. OK, I got some of that from Wikipedia I think but it is still fun and probably true.

The route today shall start from the carpark shared by the Rugby Club and the Irish Centre. There is also a park at the end of the carpark called Waterhall Park which is part of The Parks Trust here in Milton Keynes. As we want to get out to the canal we need to make our way between the allotments and the community orchard just to the right of the brick bridge. Follow the little path on the side of the paved footpath and turn left onto the towpath. This is bridge 97.

Path to canal is the dirt path on the right. The allotment is on your left and the community orchard on your right.
Bridge 97

Turn left and go under the bridge. We are just following the canal down to bridge 102 and then coming back via Waterhall Park. This isn’t a complicated walk at all. Nice straight line of canal on the way down. This post is mostly a vehicle for pretty pictures. I actually live nearby to this walk so for me it was about 7.5 km (bit more than 4 miles) but from the carpark it was probably about 6.5 km (just under 4 miles) so an easy enough walk which was mostly flat.

I think the Willowbridge Marina was around bridge 99. This is also the last turn off for the park if you don’t want to follow along with me to the next bridge. Alan wanted to show me a campsite he came across that is near bridge 102. See we are thinking about ways to reduce expenses and simplify our lives and one of the many ideas (unlikely dreams probably) is living in a travel trailer or a narrowboat. We tried the idea of living in family property to which we got non-commutable maybes that felt like a definitive no to us. Have to find another option.

Why are we looking at a rather drastic change? The fact is that if we have any hope of one day in the very distant future being able to retire we have to learn to live on nothing and save everything in site. Every penny for decades now has gone to housing and raising our family. There was never been anything left over. We are now in our mid-forties and the reality of that is setting in. No one is giving us a house. We have always had to be responsible and do it ourselves which has meant we get by and nothing more. We have to find a way to make something more.

As more income does not look to be the solution as that just means more taxes and more expectation. The solution needs to be less expectation and living on less. So, this is why we are randomly talking walks to look at campgrounds. This is also why we love the canal so much. This interest has not come out of nowhere either, we have been dreaming of an off grade life for probably a decade. About 5 years ago we met people living that life but our kids were not interested. Our last child will be an adult by next summer so we are now getting serious.

At bridge 102 turn around (or peek at the campground off the left side of the other side of the bridge). Walk back the the bridge just after the marina (bridge 99) and follow the cycle route 6 sign up to the right. You will find yourself in a carpark for an allotment (British way of people have vegetable gardens without digging up their lawns organised by the local government). Go right into the carpark, past the allotment on your left and into the park.

Follow the park path around keeping right at any turns. This is called the Riverside walk and the river is the River Ousel which runs just about parallel to the canal for a good ways in this area. This is a lovely relaxing park with ell maintained paths. Lots of lovely trees, a pond that has nesting swans in the spring and a river along the side. Can’t really beat that.

In that last picture you can see a crossroads to which you go straight over. I forgot that was there. Just head for the big house at the end of the path. I think it was once a mill and why the road there is Mill Lane but it really is just a guess. I like the house quite a bit so maybe I am imagining interesting histories for it.

At the house turn left toward the bridge and just walk up the road until you get to the carpark for the park. It is before the bridge and only about a 50 m walk. In the park again we have some choices. As we were hungry we walked back up toward the canal and joined cycle route 6 through the park. It is lovely a tree lined which you will see in the pictures below. You could turn right and follow the path keeping the river to your right and you will end up in the same place we did but with a little longer walk. Up to you. I had planned that way but Alan’s stomach was so loudly rumbling it sounded like a freight train was upon us.

In the second to last picture above you can see where a stream goes under the canal. The canal is going over the bridge and the stream under. I know to many Brits that might not see that interesting but this is not something seen often in the US where I was raised.

One of the things I love about walking on the canal is that it is almost impossible to get lost. It is all just a ‘straight’ line. If you kept walking in our outbound direction you would eventually end up in London and if you walked in the opposite direction Birmingham would be your landing point. If you want a longer walk that doesn’t end up 50+ miles away than walking down to Leighton Buzzard about 11 miles down the road might be a good bet. I have enjoyed a longer walk about half way to Leighton where we stopped for drinks at the Three Locks pub and then headed home (that was about 10 miles round trip).

The other great thing about canal walks is that they tend to be quiet. If you come to a road it is likely a momentary blip as you walk under it and you are back to silence, water, and trees. If I can’t have sitting on the rocks as the Atlantic Ocean crashes then this will have to do for a happy place. Walk on my friends!

Weekly menu 10/09 – 16/09/2020

This week is going to be mostly shopping from my freezer and pantry. My plan last week went out the window a bit. I cooked for the family but did other stuff with what I had. I have found myself with lots of food leftover so we need to work through that.

1. Steamed vegetables with mash and gravy: have lots of frozen vegetables so it is a good use of them. I also have a 25kg sack of potatoes. I will need to get some more gravy though as I think my vegan one is running low. I guess it is time to explore my options. Yes, I do know how to make gravy from scratch but I don’t enjoy doing it. Buying stuff means I can have my husband make the gravy.

2. Cheezy Chips. I know it will have homemade chips and my nacho cheezy sauce but still working through the rest. Refried beans could be a good addition or maybe some Vivera Schwarma. I am thinking sriracha will be involved. Other ideas would be baked beans or maybe some poutine like with a cheeze and gravy. So many options. The great part is that it feels like junk food but it is not actually junky.

3. Vegetable Soup with Barley. I had this in the rota last week and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t do your usual chunky soup with barley in it but made a pureed soup and served it over cooked barley. I love the nutty chewiness of barley and it made for a good texture contrast.

4. Baked Potato and baked beans. I am planning a day out on Saturday and don’t want to worry about food. I have this down as the plan but the teens will likely order pizza / eat at work so it is likely a moot point. I would have the baked potato happily but I expect I will not be home until late in the evening so we will likely get something out as well. We will see. If our plans get cancelled than baked potato it is.

5. Chickpea and butternut squash curry with rice. This will likely be Sunday dinner as it is the one with the most effort involved but that isn’t saying much. This will just be chickpeas, butternut squash, onions, maybe a pepper, curry spices, coconut milk, and maybe some Garam masala. It early is an easy make. I am not claiming the curry making skills of an Indian mother but my simple option hits the spot.

6. Country potatoes and cabbage. Because….potato! I can make this on the cooktop or in the oven which is likely the plan. I will need to get a big cabbage to cook up as a side (a really big side) but I have everything else.

7. Sandwiches. Actually this is probably leftover night as I have a few tubs of leftovers in the fridge and Emily is making more practice recipes for more lunch ideas….watch this space. At very least it will be soup and sandwiches and probably on my shopping day of Thursday. This will really help clear out the fridge.

For all of this I should only need to buy some fresh vegetables and a few staple items like tinned beans, coconut milk and more sriracha. Other than that I will need to get more cereal as my kids are cereal fanatics lately and some more oats for Alan. This should help have a lower budget week s last week was a bit high for me.

The other great thing with doing weeks like this shopping from my freezer and pantry is that it helps combat food waste. I know I tend to build up stocks of stuff that I will allow to be pushed to the back of the freezer or shelves. For instance, I found that I have many tins of chickpeas as ell as dried ones so the obvious solution to me was to throw them in a curry and maybe roast some up as well. In the freezer I found bread so sandwiches are a quick and easy option. Bags of frozen vegetables? Steamed veg and mash as well as vegetable soup. I also have frozen meat left so I will likely be feeding the meat eaters some of that this week as well as I really don’t want to keep it and throwing it away would be a double insult to the animals it came from. I don’t have to eat it.

When was the last time you shopped from your cupboards and freezer? Did you come up with any nice meals from it? Share in comments so we can all learn. Healthy food and healthy wallets….don’t get that combo often enough.

Back to University Lunch Ideas

Emily is headed back to her last year of university and this time is commuting over an hour to classes. This means she needs fast food that is lunchbox ready and above all cheap. Let’s be honest, whether you are off to school/ work, working from home or a stay-at-home mother / house person you need something easy to eat at lunchtime when we are almost all trying to juggle too much in not enough time.

If I am working on something or gotten into a studying zone the idea of taking a break to prepare an enjoyable and hopefully healthy meal is a nightmare. I will not get back to that focus I had before. Sure, what you need is often to take off that focus and relax our minds but spending your whole break preparing a meal is not that rest time we need either.

What to do? Maybe a salad sandwich (going limp in the soggy bread) with some carrot sticks and a bottle of water? I don’t think so….nope! How about instead having a sushi bowl or a premade Mac and cheeze with broccoli? Those would be easy to make up ahead of time and toss in your bag in the morning. What else could we do? Here are a few ideas from my daughter, Emily. She is an omni eater so our recipes will be her recipe with my plant-based adjustments. You can see yummy ideas and how easy it is to make them a bit healthier.

You might notice that she has a thing for Chinese style food. I know it jumped out at me but I bet you can think of a few fusion ideas that could mix things up nicely like putting them in wraps or serving with boiled potatoes instead of rice. Our choice lunch ideas are:

  • Orange Chicken and Rice
  • Teriyaki Chicken and Rice
  • Sweet Chilli Prawns with Noodles
  • Honey Sriracha Chicken with broccoli and Rice
  • Pasta in tomato sauce

If you clicked the links you will see only one of these is my recipes but all needed veganising. This is how we did each and a review of the recipes.

Orange Chicken from Tasty : previously we had a go at this using This isn’t Chicken. The battering did not work. This time we baked the This isn’t Chicken at about 200C / 400F for about 5 minutes to get it hot through and crisp on the edges. After that we followed the sauce recipe but doubled it for each pack of This isn’t Chicken. The first time we did this the sauce was pretty much cooked up and our rice was sad. This time we doubled the sauce for each of the packs so in the end quadrupled it to make enough for a week of lunches. Do be careful to not let it over thicken. Yummy recipe with happy saucy rice on the side.

Teriyaki Chicken from SeonkYoung Longest: the only change we had to make was to get rid of the real chicken. Emily has chicken but I used Tofu to make Teriyaki Tofu. The sauce was perfectly acceptable without any adjustments unless you are oil free to which you couple probably just use water in place of the oil. This one tasted nice but there was NOT enough sauce by far. I would at least double if not triple the sauce recipe so you can have it nice and sticky with sauce in your rice. Personal preference but I am right.

Sweet Chilli Prawns from Chef Ricardo Cooking on YouTube: this one was a bit challenging as Emily didn’t find any measurements in the video. She did her best and this is our recreation. Ours is Sweet Chilli Cauliflower. Our first step was chopping our cauliflower into bite size pieces and steaming it. After that we just followed along as best we could. Cauliflower, 1tsp oil, 1/2 a large onion, 1 spring onion, 1 tsp garlic purée. Sauté a couple of minutes. Add in 1 Tbsp oil, 1 tsp mixed herbs, pinch of black pepper, and 1 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add in 4 Tbsp pasta sauce and 6 Tbsp sweet chilli sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes. Serve with rice noodles.

You can replace the oil with water as it appears to just be to keep seasoning from burning. This was easy enough to make and tastes nice. It isn’t too spicy but it does have a nice kick.

Honey Sriracha Chicken from Thegirlonbloor.com : This was a very easy recipe and straightforward to veganise. My version is Maple Sriracha Tofu. I just cut up my pressed tofu into smaller slices….shape doesn’t matter that much. Baked that in the oven at about 200 C /400F with a little drizzle of sriracha on top. While it was cooking I mixed up my sauce ingredients of 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/2 cup maple syrup, and 1/3 cup sriracha and microwaved for 6 minutes. Once the tofu was hot and a bit crispy on the edges I combined the tofu and sauce and served with broccoli.

We attempted to eat these as wraps because making rice was a faff but God giggled and gave us dry tortillas which broke to pieces immediately. The rice would have been better I think. What I would do differently in future is not use the microwave and just heat the sauce in a pot on the stove adding the baked tofu to the sauce for the last couple minutes. This would probably thicken up the sauce a bit more which it needed. That said, I now have so much leftover sauce that I have plans for using it at a salad dressing, marinading chickpeas before roasting, and possibly as a popcorn topping.

Pasta with tomato sauce: The last recipe we had a go with was just pasta with pasta sauce from my own recipe. As you can imagine, I am already a fan of this sauce. I do variations with chunky veggies in it, red lentils, or soya mince. I know some like a combo of mushroom and walnut minced as a meat sub in sauces and this would work as well. It is just a basic all around recipe.

There are thousands of possibilities out there. I love pastas and wraps or even a bagel sandwich. I can be happy as a clam with a peanut butter and jam sandwich but if you need something more special here are a few options for you.

First time back to running

Last year I ran the Swindon Half Marathon. I had intended to run the MK winter half as well but my ankle was injured so running 13.1 miles wasn’t an option in December. Then I was working a physical job and I was only running for parkrun on Saturdays.

By the time lockdown started in March I was down to walk / running parkrun as I had already lost so much fitness. For the first couple months of lockdown we did nothing physical. I did run, barely walked at all and only did one cycle ride. We knew we had to get back to exercise and that is while I got back into walking. At that point running just was out of reach again. We had one go at running a bit several weeks ago but with Alan having a bad hip and me just not feeling enough motivation it was just a one off.

This time we went back to Millennium Country Park to finish the circuit and get back to running. You will remember that last week we got rained out of our five mile walk and cut it short at a bit less then half way. My jeans were so wet from the downpour we had that day that my legs felt like I was walking through cement. This week was lovely and dry if a bit chilly but that is a good situation for running.

My first time back to running was probably only about 1/3 or so of the 4.8k of the circuit. We walked for a while to warm up and then ran for probably no more than about 200-300 metres before walking again. Just repeated that over and over again. By the end of the circle the running was probably only about 100 metres at a time but I tried to keep the walking to a similar amount as each running shift.

I am actually really pleased with this as it has been about 11 months since I was last seriously running and 6 months since I had regularly run at all. If I judged myself on my previous ability I would feel terrible but life is a fluid thing. I have to judge myself against my current situation which in honesty is rather poor. I feel like I can do better as well and plan to get my running into a bit more of a habit again.

I can’t leave you without pictures of this lovely park. If you can find the time visit the park and do a full circuit it is worth it. Wonderful trees, beautiful views , and a gorgeous little lake.

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