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.

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.


New Year Plans


It’s the beginning of a New Year, I hope everyone is feeling positive about making this year kinder and more inclusive than the last. I don’t tend to make New Year Resolutions as I don’t feel like they work particularly well for me. I tend to see my self as a work in progress, and in need of far more regular check-ins and course corrections. However it is a good time to take stock of what was achieved in the previous year and make some loose (and less loose) plans for what to do in the one to come. On Christmas day I wrote this post about actively practicing kindness and holding onto liberal, pro-diversity principles in the face of what feel like grim times. I feel like this is a pretty important perspective to go into the new year with.

Here in the Magpie nest we have a few other immediate plans:

Dry January – we did this last year (and did dry October too) and found that we felt much better for giving our bodies a bit of a rest from the sauce, so we are going to be doing that again this year. On both occasions we found that our wallets emerged in a better state too, so that’s a bonus.

Money – we are going to try to save up a bit of a financial cushion this year as we feel that we may want to start thinking about making some lifestyle changes of the ‘work less, live leaner’ variety pretty soon – it will be good to go into those with a bit of cash behind us as we work things out. I’ve been inspired by reading some of the posts at Frugal Health for Life in approaching this endeavour and look forwards to reading more of these.

Veganuary – We’ll be trying to go vegan for January. This morning we had our first vegan breakfast of home made baked beans and avocado on toast. It was yummy. I have to be a bit careful about eating well as I have a health condition that could lead to diabetes (I don’t want that), and my partner is gluten intolerant, so there will be some nutritional kinks to work out as we go along. I’m not sure how well we’ll manage this one, and imagine that after January we may well settle into something that looks a lot more like vegetarianism, but my partner and I are doing this together so it feels like a fun project to work on.

We’ve been watching quite a few documentaries on a range of things ranging from global warming, to animal cruelty, to many health issues, to the nutrient poor foods that have become dominant in the market, to antibiotic resistance. When you look at major contributors to all of these problems, the road seems inevitably to lead back to industrialised, factory style farming of animals. We’ve hit the point where we have a stack of reasons to give veganism a try, and only our own laziness as a reason not too. We generally cook lots of vegetarian meals from scratch anyway, so I feel we’ll get on ok with that side of things. We used to eat lots of bacon, and couldn’t imagine not having a bacon breakfast on a Saturday, but we’ve not really eaten that way for a while, and haven’t really missed it. We have been phasing out other types of meat and lots of forms of dairy for some time, but I think I may struggle with not having eggs. I really like eggs. Eggs could be a problem.

Building a creative business – I’m still exploring ideas for this. I’ve not even begun to think about starting trading yet, but I think I have some good ideas now for a set of art pieces, and may be in a position launch something later this year. Until then I’ll continue to highlight any useful resources that I stumble across on my route there.

Other creative stuff – I have a play and a film to finish, and ideas for another play, and another film (that relate to each other) to get going with. And a little animated series. Plus some art. Lots and lots of art. Oh gosh, what a list.

Mental health – I’m going to reduce my hours in the day job in April, I’m really looking forwards to having a whole day a week to myself to work on creative stuff. Let’s see how that works out.

That’s about it for a round up, but who knows what other opportunities may crop up as we go along. What New Year Plans do you have?