How to create a delicious buffet without cooking

Breakfast

Mixture of cereal (muesli and maple and pecan crisp), soya milk

I find it can work really well to add a very sweet type of cereal to another kind. I only had a little maple and pecan crisp left so this seemed like a good solution.

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Lunch

Couscous, mini falafels, salad, hummus, whole grain crackers

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You might not think that supermarkets stocked many ready-to-eat animal-free items, but actually even a trip to a tiny Sainsbury’s can provide you with a delicious vegan buffet that you won’t have to cook. This is ideal if you’re expecting both guests and time shortages.

The mini falafels were from Sainsbury’s but Tesco also do a frozen version and all supermarkets tend to stock the Cauldron brand. The couscous salad was also from Sainsbury’s and can be found next to the potato salads. The leafy salad was rocket based (nice and peppery) but I also had some olives (tinned) and cherry tomatoes. The wholegrain crackers were from Aldi and went well with some plain hummus from Sainsbury’s. Other instant and readily available buffet items include:

– Crisps

– Nuts

– Bombay mix

– Rice crackers

– Avocadoes (mash to make guacamole)

– Mini pitta breads

– Chopped veg e.g. peppers, cucumber and carrots

You might also like to check out some of the 5 minutes salads (links at the top of the page)

Dessert

Nectarine, flapjacks, iced soya latte from Costa Coffee

I still have a few flapjacks left over from the amazing batch that my Nan recently baked for me. Even though nectarines tend to take an incredibly long time to ripen, I generally find that it’s worth the effort.

Tea

Hummus and vegetable sandwich, crisps, salad

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This really was the ultimate vegan sandwich, as it had been made by my Mum and included just about everything you could ever want to put between bread. The basic filling was hummus, but this was combined with chopped peppers, grated carrot and olives, all in very small amounts so as not to overwhelm. I must admit, I was so enthused by its appearance that I initially forgot to photograph it, but the partially demolished sandwich is hopefully hidden by the slightly odd pile-up arrangement.

Dessert

Strawberries and soya cream, a few squares of vegan chocolate

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This was actually a bit of a research mission (if not a very arduous one), as I wanted to see how the long life version of the Alpro soya cream tasted on strawberries. Tesco is currently giving away a free carton of dairy cream when you buy a punnet of strawberries, and I’d like to ask that they extend the offer to soya cream, at least giving people the option of an animal-friendly alternative. Many stores only seem to stock the long life soya cream though, so I wanted to check whether this was a viable option for strawberries, or if chilled soya cream would need to be part of the request. The long life cream was pretty good, although I’d say that the chilled version possibly has the edge.

When to think before you bin

Breakfast

Maple and pecan crisp cereal, soya milk, tinned cherries

This is the usual sugary cereal that I indulge in at the weekend. We had some tinned cherries in the fridge which made a nice addition, even if the stones were a bit of a surprise.

Lunch

Banana baguette, crisps, watermelon, flapjacks

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I had a nice par-bake baguette to put in the oven, and thought I’d come up with a creative sandwich filling to go in it. I liked the idea of carrot and tahini, and thought that chopped carrot, 1 tbsp tahini and a good splash of water would be something that the blender could transform into a nice sandwich filling. Unfortunately though, I think it prefers slightly softer, cooked vegetables, and after repeated attempts I was left with small chunks of carrot floating in a tahini coloured solution. Not one of my best inventions. Luckily though, animal-free sandwich options are easy to come by, and I went for chopped banana instead. I think a banana baguette must be the ultimate energy sandwich.

There are still a few of my Nan’s delicious flapjacks left, and I thought that a couple of these might go well after lunch with some healthy watermelon just to vaguely balance things out.

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Dinner

Aubergine and lemon pasta, salad (with tortilla chips)

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This is another dinner that virtually cooks itself. It’s true that the aubergines take a while in the oven, but they can essentially be left to their own devices so this is a good recipe if you’re trying to get things done around the house, in the garden or at the computer. The three aubergines that I used were fairly small so I ended up with some extra pasta (I didn’t want to risk adding too much to the sauce and making it dry). To create a second helping, I just combined the extra pasta with the aubergine skins, some more soya cream and half a veggie stock cube crumbled in. It may seem surprising, but roasted aubergine skins are a really lovely ingredient in their own right and also taste delicious spread with hummus. Before binning them, it’s definitely worth considering their potential! The aubergine cooking method is the same as for aubergine roulade with lemon and tarragon sauce, and it’s roughly based on Ottolenghi’s method but simplified a bit.

Ingredients  for aubergine and lemon pasta (serves 3):

– 3 largeish aubergines

– 225 g pasta (I found that wholegrain worked well here)

– Olive oil

– 1-2 small cartons of soya cream

– Zest of 3-4 lemons

– 1 veggie stock cube (I like the Kallo ones)

– (Optional) A good handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 7 (220 C)

2. Top and tail the aubergines and place on a baking tray, whole.  Roast for about 45 mins-1 hour until the skins are really charred and the aubergines feel soft when a knife is inserted. You can turn  them once half way through cooking but this isn’t essential.

3. When the aubergines are ready, remove from the oven, cut open lengthways and scoop out the flesh. It may help to steady the aubergine with a fork and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. You may want to cut up some of the larger pieces (kitchen scissors are useful for this).

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4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the pasta, along with a splash of olive oil. Simmer for about 10 mins or until tender, stirring occasionally.

5. Meanwhile, place the cooked aubergine in a separate pan, along with the soya cream, lemon zest and basil. Crumble the stock cube over the top and stir in (this just helps to make the flavour even better). Simmer very gently until hot through, stirring  almost constantly to prevent sticking.

6. When the pasta is ready, drain and stir into the aubergine sauce. Serve in a dish with a lid to help it stay hot for longer.

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Dessert

Raspberry sorbet, strawberries, vegan chocolate

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This raspberry sorbet is from Tesco and, unlike many of their products, actually admits to being vegan on the packaging. It has a lovely sweet, refreshing taste, and went well with some strawberries (despite the colour clash).

Snacks

Apple, nuts

An energy filled snack that was relatively healthy too.

How to branch out at breakfast

Breakfast

Wholemeal pitta breads with jam, strawberries, pomegranate seeds

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This slightly unusual breakfast resulted from a lack of shopping yesterday evening. It was actually quite a discovery though, as toasted pitta breads with jam make a really nice start to the day, combining healthy wholemeal with a sweet filling. The pomegranate and strawberries needed eating and were a nice refreshing addition.

Lunch

Falafel and hummus wrap, crisps, banana, flapjacks

The lack of shopping also resulted in restricted packed lunch resources, so I opted for a shop sandwich. Tesco’s hummus and falafel wrap is one of my favourite animal-free sandwich options and always makes for a filling but not excessively heavy lunch.

The flapjacks had been made by my Nan, a legendary baker who finds it easy to turn her hand to animal-free goodies. The flapjacks were amazing, with a great treacly taste and moist texture. My only criticism would be how difficult it is to stop eating them, but fortunately they were cut into bite size pieces which makes it a little easier to stop before the whole box disappears!

Dinner

Red cabbage and almond noodles, salad (nuts and Bombay mix as toppings)

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These certainly aren’t the type of ingredients you’d expect to find with noodles, but they work really well  and the dish has a lovely savoury-sweet flavour. Tonight’s version was expertly prepared by my parents when I arrived back in Oxford for the weekend and tasted great.

Ingredients for red cabbage and almond noodles (serves 3):

– 1/2 packet flaked almonds

– 1/2  red cabbage

– A generous handful of figs

– 3 leeks

– Rapeseed/olive oil

– A jug of veggie stock (500 ml plus extra)

– 1 packet of spinach

– 1 tbsp brown sugar

– Nutmeg

– 2 packets of egg-free straight to wok noodles

Method:

1. Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast in the oven on gas 6 (200 C) for 5-10 minutes until golden.Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, chop the cabbage and figs. Slice the leeks lengthways.

3. Heat a good splash of oil in a pan and add the leeks. Sautee gently for about 5 mins, stirring constantly, until they begin to soften. Add the cabbage and sautee for a few more minutes.

4. Add about 500 ml stock, plus the figs, spinach, sugar and a good sprinkle of nutmeg. You may need to add the spinach in several batches, stirring one  in until it wilts then adding the next. Simmer for around 10 mins, stirring very regularly.

5. Add the noodles and simmer until hot through, stirring regularly. You may need to add a little more stock at this point.

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Dessert

Watermelon, flapjacks, a few squares of vegan chocolate

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I thought I should probably share the amazing flapjacks with the rest of my family, and everyone agreed on how delicious they were. The syrupy texture went really well with some watermelon.

Snacks

Nuts, vegan marshmallows

Freedom Mallows are a really irresistible brand of animal-free marshmallow. They’re not a filling snack, but definitely a very delicious one.

The perfect alternative to meringue?

Breakfast

Peach and apricot balance, soya milk, strawberries, banana

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I’d almost reached the end of the packet of cereal, so had to bulk it out with some fruit but it was just as filling and probably much healthier.

Lunch

Pitta bread stuffed with marinated tofu and tomato salad,  pretzels, apple, dried mango

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I’d say that this is definitely one of the best sandwiches around. This morning I just briefly posted a wholemeal pitta bread in the toaster to warm it and make it easier to cut, then spread it with some soya margarine and added rocket salad, sliced cherry tomatoes and some marinated tofu pieces. The whole process only took around 5 mins, so it’s not the type of packed lunch you have to get up early to make. The marinated tofu peices are one of my favourite tofu products, and they’re great added to sandwiches and salads. This was the Cauldron brand, and I generally find that they’re available in the larger supermarkets (although some sort of tofu can generally be purchased in any supermarket). The pretzels are just a very addictive crisp  alternative, and dried mango is good for a sweet, but maybe slightly healthier, end to a meal.

Dinner

Thyme, seed and cherry tomato pasta, marinated tofu and cucumber salad

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When I made a roasted pepper pasta salad for Sunday lunch, I cooked slightly too much pasta. To avoid swamping the Mediterranean veg with excessive amounts of plain pasta, I stowed some of the surplus pasta in the fridge. During the week, I’ve considered taking it for lunch, but the thought of preparing a pasta salad before 8 am never really appealed. Its days were numbered, but it came into its own tonight when I wanted to save time by avoiding a shopping trip. I still had plenty of the lovely herbs that my grandparents had brought over from their garden, so I thought that these would do a pretty good job of perking up the pasta.

This turns out to be a great way to use up excess cooked pasta (which often results from the wise decision to gradually add  pasta to sauce and avoid the risk of dryness).  Keeping the pasta for nearly a week was probably pushing it though, and I wouldn’t suggest that anyone else does the same! I have an incredibly zealous fridge which is great for stopping things from going off (if slightly annoying when it produces icy strawberries etc.).  As well as saving time on supermarket trips, the whole thing was definitely ready in under 15 mins.

Ingredients for thyme, seed and cherry tomato pasta (serves 2):

– 150g dried pasta, cooked

– 1 onion

– 2 large garlic cloves

– A good handful of thyme

– Olive oil

– A generous sprinkle of seeds (e.g. pumpkin, sunflower)

– A good handful of cherry tomatoes

Method:

1. Chop the onion, crush the garlic and take the thyme leaves off the stalks.

2. Heat a good splash of oil in a pan and add  the onion, garlic and thyme. Sautee for around 5 mins, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft and transparent. Add the seeds and continue to sautee for a few more minutes.

3. Add a good splash of water, plus the cherry tomatoes (whole). Simmer for another 5 mins, stirring almost constantly. Add more water if necessary. It’s not to create a sauce, but just  to stop the mixture from burning.

4. Finally, add the  pasta and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the pasta is hot through.

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I served this with some cucumber and marinated tofu pieces, as there wasn’t quite as much pasta as I would usually cook. If using more pasta though, a leafy salad would probably suffice.

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Dessert

Halva with strawberries and pomegranate seeds, a few pieces of dark chocolate (with ginger)

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The Cypressa brand of this traditional Greek dessert definitely seems to be animal-free. I’ve just been informed that some halva contains albumin though  (which comes from egg), so I guess it’s one of those cases where you have to do a quick scan of the ingredients to be sure.

I’d never tried it before, but thought it was really delicious. It’s made from crushed sesame seeds (and a lot of sugar), so it’s almost like a sweet version of tahini. The ‘serving suggestion’ shows it cut into neat cubes, but my block just crumbled when I tried to cut it. It still tasted great though, especially combined with fresh red fruit. It also strikes me as the perfect alternative to meringue, as it has the same sweet, fairly dry, crumbly texture. For this reason, I think it would have been even better with a moister topping (e.g. some tinned fruit or a fruit compote) and would also be a great ingredient for an animal-free Eton mess, combined with some whipped coconut cream.

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Snacks

Vegan chocolate

Not much explanation needed, but it’s not a snack you can go far wrong with!

What to do if your watercress wilts

Breakfast

French bread with jam

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This was the second of the Sainsbury’s Basics par-bake baguettes that I’d bought at the weekend. The picture is a little misleading as I actually left the banana and went for the rest of the baguette instead. My vague reasoning was that the banana would keep better than the bread. It made a nice breakfast time treat, although it probably wouldn’t be the healthiest way to start every day.

Lunch

Rye bread with banana, crisps, apple, dried mango

This was a repeat of my lunch the other day as I needed to finish up the lovely sunflower seed rye bread that my grandparents had brought when they came for Sunday lunch. The bread goes really well topped with  some sliced banana, and it’s a packed lunch you don’t even have to prepare- you can just bring along the bread, a banana and a knife.

Dinner

Apple and watercress dhal, salad

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Apple and raisin dhal is one of my favourite recipes, but tonight I did a slight variation and I’d say that this version is even nicer. This new version was prompted by the presence a packet of watercress  that didn’t quite look salad-grade. It hadn’t gone yellow, but it just didn’t look as fresh and perky as it should have done. I didn’t really want to throw it away though, as it’s such a nutritious and tasty variety of greenery. I couldn’t see any reason not to treat it like spinach and stir it into a savoury dish, and this ended up working really well. In fairness though, I don’t think that the lovely flavour of the dhal was really the result of any watercress related innovation. My grandparents had brought me a box of fresh herbs from their garden, and I think it was these that really made the dish. I used a little sage, rosemary and thyme, and they really made it into something special. If you don’t have access to garden grown herbs (my own attempts have been enjoyed by many snails but few humans), then I’d go for sage and/or rosemary in the supermarket as I think these were the key herbs to include.

Ingredients for apple and watercress dhal (serves 3):

– 250g red  lentils

– 1 litre veggie stock (2 stock cubes)

– 1 onion

– 2 large cloves of garlic

– A small handful of sage leaves and a little fresh rosemary

– 3 apples (Coxes are ideal)

– Olive oil

– 1 smallish packet of watercress

– A good splash of soya cream

– (Optional) a few seeds to sprinkle over the top

Method:

1.  Rinse the lentils, add to a pan along with the stock and simmer until tender (around 15 mins)?

2. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, apple and herbs. Crush the garlic cloves.

3. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Sautee on a low heat, stirring constantly until the onion softens and turns transparent. Then add the apple and herbs, and continue to saute for a few minutes. Next, add the  watercress and soya cream, and stir until the watercress has wilted fully.

4. When the lentils are ready, stir into the apple mixture. It’s best to leave the dhal to cool a little before serving, otherwise it’s just too hot to appreciate all the flavours. Sprinkle each serving with a few seeds if you’re using them.

I just served this with some salad, topped with a little Bombay mix, plus the last of the mini ryvita crackers. If you’re feeling in need of a more substantial meal  though, you could always serve it with pitta bread.

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Dessert

Chocolate and strawberry dessert, a few squares of chocolate

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I had a little Alpro soya dessert left over from the Sunday lunch effort and had managed to find some strawberries in the Co-op for 50p. I literally just chopped the strawberries, put them in  a plastic wine glass and topped with the remaining soya dessert, plus a few chopped hazlenuts sprinkled over the top. It certainly doesn’t taste like the low-budget dessert that it really is!

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Snacks

Mixed nuts

I think nuts are the ultimate energy snack as they’re really effective at keeping you going in between meals, and quite healthy too.

Turkish food: putting the herb into herbivorous

Breakfast

Peach and apricot balance, chopped kiwi fruit, soya milk

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A repeat of yesterday, but I had a final kiwi that needed eating and thought it went well with this type of cereal (lucky really, as that was the only kind I had in the cupboard).

Lunch

Cranberry and watercress salad, french bread, vegan chocolate

Sainsbury’s seem to sell a nice par-bake bread that’s labelled as vegan. It’s the Basics range, but the packet boasts that it uses real French flour. Last night I’d thrown together a quick salad, and this morning I gave the par-bake loaf 10 mins in the oven. I had to pack it into my bag while still warm, but I don’t think it did any harm (and made my bag smell really nice). The salad was just watercress, cucumber, dried raisins/cranberries and a few stray pine nuts that were left over from a batch that I’d previously roasted. It made a filling but quite refreshing lunch, although some olive oil would definitely have benefited both the salad and the bread. I tend to avoid adding oil to packed lunches though, knowing my track record for spillages.

Dinner

My parents were up in London for the day so very kindly offered to take me out to dinner. I opted for Tas (a London chain of Turkish restaurants) as I’d been impressed by the vegan-friendliness of the menu when I went there for a drink a few months ago. It definitely lived up to my expectations, and the great food starts before you even order your meal. The pre-order appetisers include some lovely marinated olives, and after informing me that the bread contained milk, the waitress came straight back with a lovely plant based alternative in the form of hummus and cucumber/carrot batons. They had a great selection of vegetarian dishes, and were happy to omit the side serving of yogurt, as well as checking that there was no dairy in the veg dish I’d set my sights on. It was really delicious and included so many lovely herbs, as well as being piping hot and looking amazingly colorful. I’ve included the melon juice in the pictures as it looked so pretty.

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Dessert

Cherries, (later) some dark chocolate

I’d expected the ‘preserved cherries’ to be more like the glace variety, but these had stones and were probably closer to (but much nicer than) the ones you can get in a tin. They tasted great and made a really lovely dessert that was light and refreshing. There was no need for any chocolate after such a great meal, but I tend to be drawn to it when I open the kitchen cupboard.

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Snacks

Vegan chocolate

This was the other half of the bar I had at lunch. It was the Sainsbury’s free from brand, which includes lovely vegan chocolate made with rice milk, available in both bar and button form.

A zero preparation lunch

Breakfast

Peach and apricot balance, soya milk, chopped kiwi fruit

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I think I’ve said before but this is basically just Sainsbury’s own version of Special K which is much cheaper (and just as nice in my opinion). The kiwi fruits are finally starting to ripen, and it was really nice to have one chopped up on cereal. I usually have the ‘light’ version of the Alpro soya milk, but this morning I had the ‘original’ and I noticed it was much ‘creamier’. For this reason, I’d say it’s a more advisable choice for people who are making the transition from dairy milk.

Lunch

Rye bread with banana, pretzels, dried mango

This is a great packed lunch that never really has to be prepared. Just bring a few slices of rye bread, a banana and a knife. When it comes to lunchtime, just chop the banana, put the banana slices on the rye bread and enjoy. The sweet banana and strong grainy rye taste go really well together. This worked especially well with the lovely sunflower seed rye bread that my grandparents bought  me, but I think any rye bread would be fine.

In amongst the crisps, you can usually find mini pretzels, which make a nice change and feel at least slightly healthier, even if they do have grains of rock salt  on them. In fact, the ones I had today weren’t that mini at all but were still light enough to enjoy with some bread. The dried mango was fair trade (another item in the amazing goody bag from my grandparents) and makes a really delicious dessert or snack.

Dinner

‘Creamy’ rice with marinated tofu, salad

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I have to admit that this is still a recipe under construction. It made a very tasty and satisfying meal, but I need to tweak the finer points. Whilst I love marinated tofu (it’s absolutely delicious with salad in a wrap or pitta bread), I think a plainer tofu would have worked better in this particular dish. I felt that the marinated tofu trampled over my carefully concocted blend of flavours, whereas a plainer variety would have been more respectful. Here’s the recipe so far, and I’d recommend giving it a go but sticking to a plainer tofu.

Ingredients for ‘creamy’ rice with marinated tofu (serves 2):

– 140 g rice

– 1 onion (or about 4 shallots)

– A small piece of lemon grass

– 2 garlic cloves

– A few coriander leaves

– Olive oil

– Some plain, firm tofu (maybe half a block)

– 1 small carton of soya cream

Method:

1. Rinse the rice, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and simmer until tender (I used wild rice so this took longer, but I’d imagine other rices would take around 15-20 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, chop the onion, peel and crush the garlic and finely chop the lemongrass. I’m not that familiar with lemongrass, but I treated it like a leek, going for the middle part and this seemed to work well. Chop the tofu and set aside.

3. Heat a good splash of oil in the saucepan and add the onion, garlic, lemongrass and coriander. Heat very, very gently (it will burn easily) until the onion is tender and transparent, but not brown.

4. Add the tofu and continue to stir fry for a minute or so. Add the cream, then drain the rice and add that in too. Simmer until the whole thing is hot through (about 5 mins) and serve.

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I just had a pea shoot salad on the side, topped with some Bombay mix as I thought something slightly spicy would go well. I also finished up a couple of ryvita mini crackers left over from yesterday.

Dessert:

Apple and cinnamon pot

A few days ago I recounted an unfortunate dessert ruined by ‘garlic mango’ resulting from the sloppy practice of using the same chopping board for everything. Whilst it’s something that vegans can do without danger of food poisoning, instances of unpleasantly savoury fruit become a very real possibility. My grandad (who happens to be a fantastic carpenter) read about the garlic mango and kindly made me a beautiful chopping board especially for fruit. It’s too nice to chop on really, but I will anyway!

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The apple I used was a little sharp (Sainsbury’s Basics range), but it made a refreshing dessert  when combined with some raisins, cinnamon, golden syrup and apple juice.  The outdoor background isn’t wholly truthful as I took a couple of pictures, sat down and then decided that I just couldn’t endure the cold. A typical summer evening in the UK.

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I don’t usually mention drinks (tea, coffee, diet coke, juice etc.) but I think the really lovely fair trade cocoa I had after dinner tonight should be an exception. This was yet another item from yesterday’s amazing goody  bag, and I had it with a few squares of dark chocolate (even if the necessity of eating chocolate with cocoa is slightly questionable). I didn’t have a saucepan for heating soya milk (I’m not yet very well equipped, as you’ve probably gathered), so just mixed 1-2 tsp of cocoa with a good splash of soya milk and 1tsp of sugar, then added hot water. The result was lovely- smooth and nice and strong.

Snacks

Spare piece of rye bread, pumpkin seeds

Just a piece of rye bread left over from lunch and some spare seeds. It sounds unbelievably healthy but it’s just what I happened to have in my bag.