Whilst a student in the 80’s I became a vegetarian, a financial rather than ethically driven decision. I preferred to spend my cash on booze and fags, and so chose to live on dehydrated food. Bolognese flavoured packets of Beanfeast mixed with pasta spirals, now commonly known as fusilli, formed the bulk of a diet devoid of colour and nutrition.
Move on thirty years, my lifestyle choices are very different and plant-based cooking has come a long way. Nowadays, you’d struggle to find a packet of Beanfeast in your local corner shop. Instead, you’ll have more luck picking up a packet of tempeh and a carton of soya cream. Vegetarian cuisine is no longer limited, restricted or misunderstood. Thanks to a new generation of cooks and writers, being plant-based is diverse, tasty and anything but boring. Inspired by two great cookbooks, Farmacy by Camilla Fayed, and Anna Jone’s vegetarian tome, The Modern Cook’s Year, I spent the first couple of months of this year bumbling around my kitchen playing with vegetables, exploring a new way of eating.
I’ve knocked up numerous and delicious variations of tofu scramble, and successfully replaced eggs with chia seeds in baking. I’ve had some interesting ups and downs fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut and balancing flavours to make the perfect kimchi. A whole new world of plant-based ingredients and flavour combinations have opened up to me and in the excitement, I’ve fallen out of love with meat. I knew my love affair with animal protein was over whilst having Sunday lunch in a pub. For the first time ever, I ordered my roast with the vegetable wellington and not the pork belly. Flesh may be off the menu, but dairy very much isn’t, veganism is possibly a step too far.
My dairy-free banana bread is a triumph, especially when toasted and slathered in salted butter. I can happily glug oat and hemp milk, and nibble on non-dairy cheese, but soya and coconut based spreads are no substitute for my beloved butter. Yes, it’s highly calorific, yes, it’s pure fat, but it is delicious, and the taste and texture brings me much joy.
It’s no wonder eating makes us happy. The happy hormone serotonin may be transmitted by the brain but it is actually produced and stored in the gut. A healthy gut, full of good bacteria helps to produce and maintain serotonin levels, and that helps to regulate our mood. Scientifically the mind and gut link are based on a clean diet. This means not overloading our systems with processed foods and filling the gut with friendly bacteria so it can reproduce. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the mind/gut connection when the mind takes over. When we do something pleasurable, like eat foods we love, we release endorphins and those also make us feel good.
So I’m delighted to declare It’s a win-win. Eat well, produce serotonin, eat what you love and release endorphins. Fill your gut up with leafy greens and fermented foods, but if you’re having a downer, stick the kettle on, toast a hot cross bun and drown it in butter (mood lifting vegan options also available).
What I’m reading: Small Island by Andrea Levy. Who sadly passed away before her time.
What I’m watching: Russian Doll on Netflix. Makes me want to live in NYC
Who I’m following: Katie-Jane Hughes on Instagram. Makes me want to live in NYC