Imperfectly vegan

I’ve been unwell for the last few weeks and so am behind with basically everything, including the ‘It’s new year, how was last year, what will this year bring?’ type of post I had been thinking about for a few days.

So, belatedly, here we go. This time last year my boyfriend and I decided to give Veganuary a try. We had done Dry January the year before and got on well with that, and thought it would be good to combine it with something a bit more challenging. I say more challenging because up until the end of 2016 we were ferocious carnivores. If there was meat in it, we would try it. We loved buying it and talking about cooking it, and cooking it and inviting other people to share it with us. So we expected Veganuary to be a challenge.

So how did we get on? Well, one year on, we are still vegan. Imperfectly vegan, but we have made a significant change in our lifestyles. In fact we have really enjoyed learning a whole new way of cooking and thinking about food, and we no longer buy meat, eggs, fish or dairy products at all for out home cooking. We try to eat the vegan options when we eat out, and seek out vegan restaurants when we go away.  I am not, however, very good at checking labels, and have had a few vegan fails this way. We also don’t make a fuss about insisting other people cook vegan when we visit them at home (the majority of people we visit have been amazing in doing so anyway, and I am grateful to them for that). I think we have a few new tweaks on the vegan diet this year to explore new tasty options, but I think that counts as a success.

I’m  not really a fan of new year resolutions, but there are a few things I would like to do this year which at least give me something at aim at.

  1. I have signed up to the great north swim, which happens in June, and have begun training with my sister. We trained for a swim together last year and really valued spending that time together. This year I’m aiming for a longer distance, 5km, so I have lots of training to do – and should be fitter at the end of that.
  2. Finish a rough cut of the documentary. I have been working on this for several years now and I have other projects I want to move onto. I’m beginning to get the hang of animating the sections I want to animate so really just need to put the time in now.  It’s time to try to put this to bed.
  3. Revise my play and send it out to someone who may want to make it. Or turn it into a novel. It started life as a novel so this feels like a nice option to me.
  4. Spend more time walking in the woods, less time in front of the telly.
  5. Art, art, and more art. To keep me sane.

Do you have exciting plans for the new year?

Tomato trauma – help appreciated!

Blogger hive mind (the bits that know something about growing veg anyway), I need some help.

This has happened to quite a lot of my tomatoes. I am pretty new to growing things and I don’t know what this is.

Does anyone know what it is? Have I been inappropriately watering or is this a bug of some kind?

Does anyone know how i can stop it happening?

Thank you!

Courgette update: time and benign negligence 

The courgette keeps on growing with very little attention for me. We have had rain and sun this week and all I’ve needed to do is top up the moisture levels with a few watering cans of water now and again. We actually have six of these ladies busily gaining size and volume. If we are lucky and all of these plants go on to fruit we’ll be facing a bit of a glut later in the summer. This suits me well as my boyfriend is particularly skilled in making courgette chutney, this is something to look forwards too.

We’ve also got lucky with a few little tomato plants, which have self seeded themselves from plants we had last year. Luckily I am too lazy to do any serious weeding and so we now have four little tomato plants with very little investment in effort from my end. I have watched these little guys, day by day, sprout up first with curiosity and then with admiration as these tiny plants continue to grow and establish themselves. 

For various reasons I have been thinking a lot about patience, and about how sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing. A little careful watching and waiting can sometimes be more effective than knee jerk active responses in taking you to where you want to be, or even to somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to be, but are very pleased to arrive. In the last few weeks patience, or benign negligence, has filled my little garden with an abundance of natures blessings. 

Like any of the art work featured on this blog? You can now buy my stuff at Threadless, or at Redbubble.

Sunday Doodle

We’ve just got back from spending the weekend in Brighton (UK). It’s one of my favourite places. I like that the city has a visible artistic community. I like the Victorian heritage visible in the architecture of the beautiful train station and the many of the features on the beachfront. This time we also took advantage of a number of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants and ate some really yummy food.

This week we’ve not been doing very well with the vegan food. I’m actually glad that we’ve slipped up as much as we have because I’ve been able to track how different I feel when I’m eating more meat and drinking more. I’ve certainly felt a lot worse this week, and have also felt a lot more anxiety this week too. Some of that was work related, but it’s a good reminder of how the mind and the body are not separate, isolated entities. After a number of delicious vegan meals out in Brighton this weekend, I feel like we’re getting back on track for healthier eating this week.

Works in progress

I’ve hit the ‘too many things, not enough time’ issue again this week so haven’t got a huge amount of thoughtful things to write about. We had a lunch out today and there basically wants anything vegan, or vegetarian on the menu that wasn’t full of gluten or cheese heavy. We ended up eating meat. And we didn’t really really enjoy it. This time last year we were total carnivores so that’s quite a change. I think when Veganury ends we’ll be staying mostly vegan, which is a decision I feel pretty happy with. So that news I guess.

I’ve been picking up some of my bigger projects and trying to push them a bit more. I’ve been working on some images for a documentary film I have been working on for a while. Some sections of the doc will take the form of animated sequences set to audio narration. I’ve been working with my papercut work in these animations. It sucks up time as each thing has to be drawn and cut multiple times, but I like effect and I think in the long (very long!) run it will be worth it.

Spending my time twice 

I’ve not really had much time this weekend to blog. In my mind I’ve managed to spend my time twice. I don’t know how many people have the same problem but this is a frequent problem of mine. This weekend I planned to go for a walk, go to the cinema, see some friends, work on my documentary, and see some friends for lunch. And blog. And work on some other creative projects. And cook some elaborate dinners. We actually managed to tick quite a few of these off the list, but was never going to get all of these done. So, short blog today.
A few years ago I found that milk didn’t agree with me and so I started cutting it out. I don’t eat a huge amount of sugary or sweet things, but one of the things I did quite miss was rice pudding. Turns out that Vegans already had this covered. Coconut milk rice pudding for supper this eve. 

Veganuary: the story so far


Regular readers (hello!) will know that we’ve been giving veganuary a try over here at the Magpie Nest. I don’t have any plans to become a food blogger, my main interest here is exploring creativity and wellbeing, and other things related to that. I did, however, want to offer up a few thoughts about the things I’ve learned so far about eating vegan.

There are a whole range of different approaches out there to vegan diets – we’ve been eating a wide range of things, both raw and cooked, including lots of different beans, grains, fruits, vegetables. Pretty much the least restrictive version of ‘vegan’ you can get. We have, however, avoided eating processed or ready made vegan meals, and have been trying to keep the ‘refined sugar’ down to a minimum. This is mostly because we wanted to use the time to experiment with different forms of cooking, not because we feel strongly about ‘ready meals’. We are also on dry January at the moment, so no booze. We’ve been doing research on nutrition to make sure we get enough of the things (there are lots of things). I particularly like this book by Jack Norris and Virgina Messina, who use scientific evidence to back up their advice (its American so UK readers will need to do a bit of research to translate the serving size suggestions). So, by following the above type of diet I have found:

I can eat all day. Seriously, I’m steadily loosing weight and I can pretty much chomp down on what I want at the moment, including lots of nuts and avocados. This suits me really well as I’m a bit of a grazer, but I can see that for some people this would not be ideal situation. It’s also likely to be related, in part, to not drinking this month, so I’ll see how that changes in February.

My sense of taste has changed. I’ve been cutting out refined sugar for a while now as I have quite bad sugar crashes. Now I find a whole range of foods, from red peppers to dark chocolate, taste much sweeter to me now. In fact I used to find dark (70% + cocoa) quite bitter, but now I can’t get enough of it. Which is good for my brain (well that’s my story anyway).

Vegan cooking is pretty yummy. We’ve been trying out all sorts of things in our efforts to make sure we get enough protein. So far this has been really enjoyable, and it has pushed us to be more creative and experimental. This in itself is a mental health plus for me. I particularly like sprinkling toasted nuts and seeds on soups, stews, curries and pasta which adds an extra crunch to the texture of what ever it is we’ve been eating.

My wallet is a little heavier. We’ve definitely spent less on food. I should add that we’ve not been eating out at all because of the dry January thing, which helps, but we are still spending less. We’ve stocked up on dried beans (which are cheap) and fresh veggies, and aren’t spending what we normally would on meat products (which is significantly less cheap).

There is a strange satisfaction in soaking dried beans over night. A while ago I blogged about how some aspects of my arts practice forced me to slow down, and this can be a helpful mental health thing. Shifting our cooking from things that can be thrown in a hot pan and served 30 minutes later to things that need to be soaked over night, washed, cooked and cooked some more has made us think more carefully about what we put in our bodies. This point resonates for me with this really nice post by Rumpy Dog on food and self care. Go read that.

I feel better. Physically and mentally I do feel better. Not perfect, unlimited energy better, but noticeably better. This could be due to the novelty of it all. We are supplementing things like B12, and eating lots of dark chocolate, which is high in tryptophan. Both of these things are important things for a healthy nervous system. So it could be due to that too. I’ve definitely been feeling less nervous, which is good.

Vegan doodles are fun. Expect more.

Feeding ourselves: Vegan food, art, and all the treats


It’s been quite an up and down week. I’ve been feeling quite tired and grumpy, and like I’m not really ready to go back to work tomorrow. I’m feeling better now, but was feeling pretty grim at the beginning of the week, and have been thinking about what has happened between now and then to improve things. It’s has led me to reflect a bit on the things we can do (or not do) to look after our selves when things begin to feel a bit stressful.

The main things that have been helpful have been focused around feeding the creative bits of me. To start with we went to see exhibitions of work by both Robert Rauschenberg and the William Kentridge. I found both exhibitions interesting and though provoking, but the exhibition by William Kentridge was particularly inspiring for me. This is because he used lots of film, narratives and animation in his work, which are also things that I like to play with. He has talked about using a ‘stone age’ approach to film making, and many of the pieces in the exhibition used these techniques, with beautiful effect. From a technical point of view there was little in his work that I probably couldn’t have a go at myself with enough time and effort. Seeing that kind of work on a large scale has been a trigger for me to think more widely about my own practice and where that could go.

We’ve also been out for several good length walks, one through the centre of London and one through some local woods. I tend to find my thinking is most productive when walking about, there is something about the rhythm of walking that works for me. A walk in the woods can really help me work through the kinks in an old idea, or snatch hold of and develop a new one, so this was a helpful thing to do.

Finally we’ve both been paying a lot more attention to what we put in our bodies, as we are a week into Veganuary at the magpie nest. We have had one vegan fail, but as this is time of learning for us I think it’s ok. One of the brands of gluten free bread we’ve used for some time uses egg as a binding agent and we didn’t think to check the label until we were half way through the loaf. What we have found is that we are having to think more creatively about what we cook, as a number of our ‘go-to’ meals are animal-product heavy. In putting limits on what we can cook, we are exercising our creativity in this way too, which is fun and an unexpected benefit.

Finally, we’ve also been indulging in some vegan treats. My boyfriend bought me a box of these chocolates from Booja Booja for Christmas, which are dairy free and particularly yummy. They have quite an intense chocolate flavour and I find one or two are satisfying enough so while they are on the pricy side, you can eek them out a bit. They come in a really beautiful hand painted box (see the picture above) which is particularly appealing to my arty/crafty creative side. I have been enjoying them anyway.