Pro tips for plant-based probationers

by Sarah ▪ 08 Jan, 2021

Why do Veganuary?

You’d need to have been living a hermit’s existence not to have heard of Veganuary (Veganuary | Home | The Go Vegan 31 Day Challenge) by now – a worldwide non-profit campaign that encourages people to give up all animal products for the month of January. And it’s working: since starting in 2014, more than a million people have tried a plant-based diet for 31 days. But for those of us who love steak frites, or think the best part of any meal is the cheeseboard, how would we even start – and what’s in it for us?

For your health
A plant-based diet offers a host of health benefits. For a start, studies show that a vegan lifestyle lowers your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes – two of the most common chronic conditions, both of which are entirely manmade and avoidable. Vegans also experience lower rates of other conditions and diseases, ranging from cancer and strokes to Alzheimer’s. The WHO has designated processed meat as a carcinogen, and the evidence that red meat is too is compelling.
If that wasn’t enough, a plant-based diet has been found to have a positive impact on your mood, your digestion and your skin. Finally, vegans are the only group who average a normal, healthy BMI – it’s easier to overeat animal products and their calories are quickly converted into body fat.
For the animals
How many of us would see lambs leaping in a field on a sunny spring walk and coo at their adorable antics and frantically wagging tails? And how many would also order a lamb shank at the pub that evening? (If you’re looking, I’m raising a hypocritical hand over here.) This isn’t a place of judgement – it’s easy to be an animal lover and turn away from the grim reality of animal-based food industries. But even if we decide, on balance, to continue eating any or all of dairy, eggs, fish or meat, it’s good to know and weigh the facts.
As humans, most of us are able (in modern society at least) to fulfil our nutritional needs without animal products. And, while we tend to group farm animals in a separate category to our pets, in whom we see definite personalities, the truth is they are sentient beings capable of suffering.
The meat, fishing, egg and dairy industries are brutal in various ways – many animals are kept in appalling conditions for their whole lives and even those which don’t end their lives in fear at the abbatoir. For many people, making this connection is enough, because otherwise they are unable to balance their morals and their actions. For others, it may mean making other choices such as becoming pescatarian, meat-free Mondays, or only buying organic meat from local farm shops.
For the planet
The meat industry is not good for our planet. In fact, it actively contributes to pressing global issues such as hunger and climate change. It contributes more than the transport industries to global warming. Knock-on effects include the mass extinction of species the planet is experiencing – some from the changing climate, others from habitat loss caused by deforestation to grow enough grain to feed the animals we consume – and the starvation of impoverished peoples whose land is no longer used to feed their populations. A plant-based diet is a sustainable diet.
For fantastic food
Maybe you’ve got a vision of plant-based eating as a miserable affair, of endless plates of cucumber sticks and fruit salad. If so, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Not only are there some amazing alternatives to animal products available, but these are actually the least exciting of plant-based meals. Vegan food does not have to be boring. From butternut biryanis and black bean burgers to buddha bowls, there is a plethora of options before you. This is an opportunity to discover new cuisines and spice up your cooking routine.
Even when it comes to cakes and biscuits, you’ll find wonderful alternatives to the classic butter and egg based goodies.
For friends
Veganuary is the ideal time to try plant-based eating for the first time – there are lots of forums and online communities because so many people are trying something new together. That feeling of solidarity and community can be a huge boost.
So, there are many compelling reasons to give plant-based eating a whirl. But we get that it can be daunting, especially if you’re used to cooking meals with a meat or dairy element as the star of the show. So we’ve pulled together some tips to make your Veganuary challenge a smooth one.

How to survive Veganuary

This is a top search term for Veganuary, but we don’t believe this is an experience to be endured, but enjoyed. How? Read on.
Get inspired

One way to rev up for a challenge is to hear the success stories of others who have taken a similar leap. EAT.PLNT has many inspiring plant journeys to encourage you. Take Hannah who impulsively decided to sign up to Veganuary on New Year’s Eve 2016. Despite being unprepared she said it was ‘way easier’ than she had imagined and that her ‘only regret is not going vegan sooner’. Her advice is to use the power of the internet! ‘Just google your favourite dishes but with the word “vegan” (such as “vegan spag bol”) and I guarantee someone will have made a recipe for it.’ Meanwhile, Rhys became vegan upon watching a documentary. He recommends this to maintain motivation, saying: ‘Educate yourself so you have the impetus behind you to want to keep making that change. When you’re driven by your convictions, it makes it a lot easier to keep on track!’

There are also hundreds of creative plant-based cooks online – fill your feed with their ideas and recipes. The photos alone will have you reaching for your chef’s hat. Some of our favourites are @nora_cooks_vegan_ (easy and accessible) @thelittleblogofvegan (you’ll want to recreate the pictures!) and @earthlinged (inspiring activism).

Get back on the (vegan) horse
One thing nearly everyone featured in EAT.PLNT’s Plant Journeys says is not to worry if you slip up. As Hannah says, ‘everyone’s done it!’ Just try again – you’re still making a difference to your health and the planet with every plant-based choice you make. Don’t beat yourself up – congratulate yourself on what you’ve achieved so far.

Alternatively, you may feel you don’t want to leap straight into veganism, but you would like to eat more plant-based meals, or cut out more animal products. That’s great! I’m certainly the same. Sammy suggests taking it slowly. ‘Try replacing one animal product such a milk. Try lots of different plant-based mills until you find one you love and stick with that and then continue with other animal products.’

Go cold turkey-alternative
If you really love the flavour and texture of a particular food, it may be best not to reach straight for an alternative as you may well feel disappointed. Let your tastebuds adjust and experiment with some new recipes instead, or meals that easily lend themselves to plant-based eating, like stir fries, soups or pasta in a veggie-based sauce.

Even some long-term plant-based eaters advise avoiding cheese for a while. But if (like me!) you can’t see a future without fromage, don’t despair. The 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational was won by a non-dairy cheese, and there are some great options (Emma suggests Applewood’s Smoked Vegan cheese).

Slices of raw tofu
Eat your way

You may, however, discover that the opposite tack works better – that finding a substitute for your go-to meals is what keeps you going at the start. You wouldn’t be alone. Jess advises people to ‘recreate your fave meals because it’ll really help make you feel like you’ve not really changed anything’.

You’re in luck, as there are now fabulous meat-free alternatives for almost any food you can think of. The much-publicised Gregg’s vegan sausage roll is the tip of a very large iceberg.
Slow cook, batch cook

One of the faffs of plant-based cooking can be the prep. There’s no denying it. But slow cookers and batch cooking are your friends. A slow cooker is fab for stews and casseroles – and a surprising amount more besides – the beauty being that you pop in all your ingredients in the morning and come home to the aroma of a hearty plant-based dinner. Batch cooking may involve more slog at the start with all the slicing and dicing, but you’ll have food to go for weeks to come. Check out our blog for advice on how to get started.

Treat yourself

Take the pressure off and give yourself a break from the recipe book by stocking your freezer with some delicious plant-based ready meals. With the code PLANTPOWER20 you will receive 20% off and free delivery when you spend £50 or more on our vegan range. This offer even includes our fantastic EAT.PLNT hamper, and is valid until 31 January.

Go for it!

Whether you go the whole hog for 31 days or just try going plant-based once a week, you’re sure to discover some wonderful new flavours, and be doing some good for yourself and the world at the same time. And whether or not you decide to make the change permanent, there’s always room for the odd vegan meal in your life. I’ll be starting with Moroccan Style Chickpea Pie. Good luck!


Whichever tier you’re in, Bextwixtmas days can still be rewarding

by Sarah ▪ 23 Dec, 2020

What is Christmas limbo?

Christmas limbo is that time between Christmas and New Year when everyone is too full of turkey, mince pies and Quality Street to be all that proactive or productive. Even at the best of times these days can become a listless no-man’s-land. And let’s face it – this isn’t the best of times!

Here at Gourmade, we know the value of food, family and fun – and that’s what Christmas limbo should be all about. When life gives us lemons, we don’t just make lemonade – we make a Sicilian lemon tart! It’s fair we know how to get the best from a situation, so we’ve put together a few ideas for getting the most from your Betwixtmas.

Get blown away

There’s nothing like a winter breeze for whipping some colour into your cheeks and some zest into your heart. A brisk walk by the sea, in the local park or wood – or simply around the block to check out other people’s Christmas décor – is a great way to start your Boxing Day. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take an OS map and go somewhere new? If you’re on your own, you’re bound to meet some fellow ramblers to exchange cheery greetings (or shared grimaces about the weather!), while if you have kids it’s the perfect way to stop them squabbling over their toys and burn off some energy. You’ll also work off any lingering lassitude from overeating, making yourself ready for the next few days – and all the leftovers! It may be winter, but the sunshine still gives you vital vitamin D and helps keep low mood at bay. And even in Tier 4, this is a way to catch up with friends or family in person. There’s just no downside to outdoor time – so long as it’s not pouring with rain …

If you really don’t like walking, why not take up a new hobby like roller-blading or stand-up paddle boarding? Or find a scavenger hunt online – great entertainment for kids and adults alike. You could compete with distant friends and family and send photos of your finds! For the less active (and if you’re in a lower tier), it may be worth plugging in the outdoor heater or lighting a fire pit, and wrapping up in your thermals, so you can enjoy a natter and a cup of hot chocolate outdoors.

Bake away the blues

However inventive you are finding outdoor diversions, there’s no escaping the fact we’ll all be in our homes for much of the time. Baking is a balm to the soul, and creates a fabulous hands-on activity for children too. Why not try this easy flapjack recipe? There are only has four ingredients, it takes just half an hour from start to finish, and is suitable for young children to help with. The flapjacks keep well in an airtight container for a few weeks so, even if you have lots of Christmas goodies to work through, they won’t go to waste. What’s more, all the oats make them feel almost healthy!
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Butter: 5oz/125g
  • Brown sugar: 3oz/75g
  • Golden syrup: 3oz/75g
  • Oats: 8oz/200g
  • Optional: Chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruit
Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/180°C/160°C fan. Grease a square (approx. 23cm x 23cm) or rectangular baking tin (approx. 32cm by 21cm). You can also line with baking parchment if you wish, or if the pan isn’t non-stick. You can also vary the dimensions – it will simply result in a different thickness of flapjack and you may need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large saucepan over a low heat until a dark gooey liquid is formed. Then add the oats and any extras such as raisins, nuts or chocolate chips, stirring until well combined. Pour the mixture into your baking tin and bake for 12-15min until bubbling and crisping at the edges. If you leave the mixture for longer, your flapjacks will be firmer and less sticky; a shorter baking time results in gooier treats. It depends on your preference! Leave to cool for five minutes, then score the mixture with a knife or spatula to create your portions. When the flapjacks are fully cooled, this will make it easier to separate them.

Get crafty

This is the perfect time to recycle and reuse. If you want to have some fun while being environmentally friendly, we’ve found some uses for old Christmas cards. There are lots of lovely ideas elsewhere online for using wrapping paper, too.
Gift tags
One of the simplest ways to upcycle your cards is to cut out sections of the design to make stylish gift tags for next year. Simply punch a hole and thread through some ribbon or shiny string. You can even jazz them up by using corrugated scissors for a zigzag edge, or adding glitter or sequins.

Using larger cards to create bookmarks is a fabulous idea – cheer up a bookworm friend in gloomy January with a homemade gift. The simplest option is to cut out, punch a hole and add decorative wool, but if you’re a dab hand with scissors you may want to try these lovely folded ones.

Christmas bunting
Get started on next year’s decorations and make some Christmas bunting. Simply use a triangle stencil to draw and cut out triangles from your cards. Then put a thin line of glue along the top edge, so the triangles are pointing down, and attach a long ribbon. Once the glue has dried, you can hang and admire – or pack away for next year!If crafting isn’t your bag, devote some time to another hobby – or take up something you’ve been meaning to for years. You may gain much-needed peace from focusing on something alone, but if you thrive on company, there are lots of online apps and groups to keep you motivated. Start (or finish) a novel, learn a language, play an instrument, arrange flowers, build and paint models … the choice is endless!

Games night

Here’s where family and friends really come in (even if it is via Zoom). Quizzes are maybe the simplest way to go – but even these can be given a twist or theme to keep things interesting. Why not have a dressing up, karaoke or dancing round? Or make a music round with a twist by playing them backwards?

There are also plenty of online tools available for playing team games like Charades, Pictionary, Articulate or Who Am I? We’d probably open a bottle, too, but even without the bubbly, these games are always a riot!

Creative leftovers

You may well have found yourself with more turkey and trimmings on your hands than anticipated. The silver lining is a freezer full of delicious grub. Here are some ideas for what to do with different ingredients (you’ll find recipes online). But first, for an all-rounder, why not try this recipe for potato, turkey, sausage and stuffing pie!
Turkey and ham
Roasties, veggies, pigs, stuffing and extras
Christmas puddings

If you were due to go somewhere else for a turkey dinner, it may be time to crack out the Gourmade stash from the freezer! A warming Beef Bourguignon or Butternut Squash Lasagne will go down a treat.

Make plans

On occasion this year it’s felt as though making plans was an exercise in futility, but that’s not so. Spending some quality moments taking stock and thinking about goals and possibilities is a great way to rekindle a sense of purpose and control. It’s also fun to imagine how you’ll reinvent yourself next year whilst unashamedly still having chocolate for breakfast and staying in your PJs all day. If you’re anything like me, you usually make more plans than you can realistically complete in just one year, so use that tendency but designate different goals depending on different eventualities.

You might decide to save a holiday fund, but invest it in a high-end tent if a hoped-for foreign trip falls through. If you want to take dance classes, consider a back-up option – virtual classes at home, yoga – or something totally different (start your own podcast or scrapbook all your photos, perhaps). Maybe you want to apply to university. Pick your favourites, but maybe consider choosing some online courses as well, and explore ways to pick up skills if you choose to defer. If you want to change career but don’t feel it’s the time, look at your CV and see how you can jazz it up in the extra time.

Kick back

Most of us don’t get a lot of time to ourselves, and maybe you don’t want to spend your precious holiday time improving yourself! Even if you do, still try to set aside some of your Christmas limbo just for you. Take a warm bath, meditate, re-read your favourite book, or binge on festive feel-good films. Are you a sucker for romances like Love, Actually and The Holiday but your partner turns up their nose? Do you maintain that Die Hard is a Christmas flick? Or do you need a fix of a classic like The Snowman, Home Alone or Miracle on 34th Street to feel you’ve had a proper Christmas? Whether you like a tear-jerker (It’s a Wonderful Life, anyone?) or a madcap comedy (everyone likes Elf … right?) these days are the time to really spoil yourself. And we can recommend a Gourmade pud to max out the indulgence factor. For wintry nights, you can’t go wrong with Sticky Toffee Pudding or a Rhubarb & Strawberry Crumble.

Pat yourself on the back …

Finally, now is the time to congratulate yourself on all your achievements of the year – and don’t say there aren’t any. Whether you’ve had to juggle working from home with home-schooling children, master new technology, brave a public workspace or simply learn how to stay indoors, it’s been a tough year and you’ve made it through. Here are a few more things for which you can award yourself a gold star.
Helping out a friend, family member, neighbour or stranger.
From picking up shopping to sharing a socially distanced film night via WhatsApp, you’re likely to have helped someone else this year just by being there. If you’re a parent, remember all those activities you devised to keep the little ones amused and let yourself feel proud, bypassing the screen-time guilt.
Learning a new skill
Perhaps you began baking over lockdown and mastered sourdough. Or maybe you got your hands dirty in the garden. You might have experimented with your cooking, taken up crochet or embraced wild swimming. Whatever you’ve tried – even if you haven’t kept it up – it’s done you good.
Planning ahead

Finally, thank your former self for stocking your freezer with Gourmade’s Macaroni Cheese & Bacon (or whichever your favourite is). If you haven’t already, it’s not too late: make an order now . Sometimes, filling the time is surprisingly tiring and you deserve a break!

The Gourmade team wishes you a relaxing and pleasurable festive season, and look forward to building our community and blog in 2021. Merry Christmas!


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