Vegan birthday cake (and other stories)

I remember, years ago, having a conversation with one of my best friends about whether birthdays or Christmas were better. I preferred my birthday – a random day just for you, where you can do what you want – while she preferred Christmas, where there is less attention focussed on you and more general fuzzy happy times.

For the last few years, however, I have become less and less fond of birthdays. Not because I am worried about getting older (though no longer being able to tick the 18-24 bracket is a bit of a shock), but because more than ever I shun the pressure to have fun, making the decisions because it’s your birthday and you have to have the most fun.

Luckily, I have a wonderful boyfriend who knows all of the above, and knows what I want better than I do.

Celebrations started the evening before, when Ben’s mum called to say she had sent him some money to take me out to dinner. Ben suggested checking out Santa Maria in Ealing, which is down the road from the studio and which comes with enthusiastic recommendations from my client. Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry by the time I left work so we decided to wander home and order Village Pizza to the house. It’s so funny; because we normally order on a Friday night, I felt like it was the beginning of the weekend even though it was a Tuesday night! I ordered a Margherita Plus which comes with four toppings of your choice, and I picked mushrooms, artichoke, sundried tomatoes and olives. I love how generous they are with their toppings!

The next day I surprised myself by waking up earlier than I usually would on a day off – I guess someone was a bit excited about her birthday! It was great to feel like I had a whole day ahead of me to enjoy at my leisure. Ben made me tea and brought me the cards I had received as well as the present my parents had entrusted to him on their visit a few weeks ago, then mysteriously scooted out to town to pick something up, while I replied to birthday messages, thanked friends and family, and Instagrammed my birthday cards.

Birthday green smoothie

Ben returned with a giant green smoothie from Nature’s Goodness (banana, apple, pear, spinach, and kale) and banished me to our room while he “set things up”, hence the even worse than normal lighting in the photo. I was led out with my eyes shut minutes later, and opened them to find the prettiest vanilla birthday cake on the coffee table, glowing with candles! There were only 18 candles, which is totally fine by me.

Birthday cakeI photographed it until Ben pointed out that wax was starting to drip onto the cake, then blew out my candles – I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday cake with candles! Ben ordered it from Sweet Revenge in Kingston but they could only make their vanilla cake vegan (if you’re not local or don’t want vanilla cake, check out Vegan Cake Direct which is where I got Ben’s birthday cake from – they were able to make it on super short notice and deliver it to the house). It was delicious and kept really well, and I ate my fill of cake for the rest of the week despite giving a chunk of it to my friends when I met them on Saturday (after all, normally you would have cake at a party, and share it with everyone!).

We did, of course, have cake for breakfast and lazed around planning our day before scrubbing up clean and layering up sensibly for the wet but mild autumn day.

After toying with a lot of ideas (lunch? brunch? a museum? a gallery?) I noticed that I didn’t have any casual shoes apart from my Converse and I have wanted something a little more different and unquestionably vegan for a while. Basically, I wanted Macbeths and I quite fancied checking out the range at Third Estate in Kentish Town.

Third Estate shop frontYou know when you go to a shoe shop and the staff are all hovering over you while you try your shoes on and do the awkward “shoe shop walk” and sheepishly try to check yourself out from all angles in the mirror and imagine what the shoes would look like in different outfits? This was nothing like that.

For perhaps the first time, I felt comfortable taking my time, trying different things on, wandering around, and chatting to the member of staff. In the end, I bought myself a pair of luxuriously fur-lined high-top Macbeth Londons… which are listed as men’s shoes on Amazon but they fit, and they are comfortable, waterproof, and super warm and cosy.

I desperately wanted one of the Matt & Nat purses on sale, partly because they are beautiful and vegan, and partly because the zip on my wallet broke about a year ago (or maybe more) and there have been numerous incidents involving all of its contents ending up all over the floor of various public places. I fell in love with the Vera in a faded brick red, which ticked all of the boxes of what I was looking for in a wallet, but Ben bought it for me knowing I would never end up buying it for myself after having bought the shoes. I also love the Schlepp bag in Elephant, but I absolutely don’t love the idea of paying nearly £100 for a bag!

Matt & Nat VeraSuper happy with my new purchases, we wandered off through the strangely empty streets of Kentish Town on towards Camden, with the plan to get some sort of food from somewhere.

Now, places to eat are hardly scarce in Camden. But somewhere pleasant to sit, that isn’t a rip-off, serving hearty and honest food is actually surprisingly hard to find. We inspected Inspiral but didn’t feel overly inspired (pun not actually intended), so we wandered all the way through Camden, checked out the markets and some Mexican place, questioned what it was that we actually wanted, then ended back in Inspiral where, for once, there were actually tables and seats available.

I can’t remember the last time I ordered a burger, but I was totally in the mood for one and the member of staff I spoke to recommended it. Boy am I glad I went with it! The patty was surprisingly dense and moist thanks to the sunflower seeds if I remember correctly, just the right level of salt, with a good slathering of vegan mayo over a fluffy and tasty bun. Every mouthful excited me.

Inspiral burgerPoor Ben, who was actually the hungrier one out of the two of us, had ordered the Thai cakes which cost the same amount as my burger and were listed as a main dish, but turned out to be two tiny little falafel-sized patties which together were smaller than my burger patty, and sat miserably on a plate with no relish or garnish. It just about broke my heart.

In the background of my photo you can see the bowl of wedges he had also ordered, which looked incredible but were vaguely reminiscent of chunks of slightly moistened cardboard. So once again, a mixed Inspiral experience… I am running out of reasons to ever set foot in Camden again!

Not feeling particularly comfortable hanging out much longer in Inspiral, we wandered off towards Victoria to pick up our theatre tickets. Typically an area poor in interesting eateries, I was surprised to find a Pain Quotidien just opposite the theatre, so it was an obvious choice for a drink and a snack whilst waiting to take our seats. I was totally stuffed from my day’s eating already, but Ben talked me into a vegan blueberry muffin. That arm totally required oh so much twisting.

A pot of jasmine tea (and said muffin) later, we took our seats 5 rows from the stage of Wicked and I hurriedly finished off my phone communications to sit back and relax. After the first segments of the show, which were what I would imagine a Glee takeover of the Harry Potter movies would look like, I relaxed into it and thoroughly enjoyed the show. As always, I left proclaiming that I would go to the theatre more often.

And that was that! We got ourselves home – I must have had another piece of birthday cake and probably some tea – and flaked out in bed surprisingly tired but super super happy. I can’t thank Ben enough for such a wonderful day, and I am so grateful to everyone who remembered and sent me such thoughtful and sweet messages on the day. I am already looking forward to next year’s birthday!

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Monday thoughts: 20th October 2014

It has been a while since I was unable to make Sunday thoughts happen on a Sunday! I can’t say I have missed the feeling of playing catch-up, but there was no way I could actually have written these any sooner; being out and about for most of Saturday, after having had some time to consider drafting this post on Friday but using the time to optimistically start drafting two other posts (I now have three half-written posts in my drafts folder – which will be great for everyone when I actually just find a chunk of time to sit down and concentrate on one of them!), and yesterday coming home much later than planned after a client’s birthday celebrations.

Since I have taken the morning off, I do feel like I am wrapping last week up and starting the new week all at once. If you also feel like you’re still searching for a few hours (or days!) missing from last week, I hope you won’t mind joining me now in this weekly reflection.

Food for thought

  • Once again, Gena of Choosing Raw has summed up an issue that has been on my mind better than I could have done myself and with far less ranting and raving. Read her post on “Getting Real about Diet and Health“. I’ve been trying to articulate my own post on this topic but frankly, Gena has said it all.
  • Another reliable source that always manages to say what I’ve been trying to say for ages, Examine have put together a list of the most common nutrition myths that have been successfully debunked but that somehow keep getting quoted and followed. I can’t tell you how frustrated it makes me to see these crop up again and again!
  • One thing we do all know is that sleep is not only important, it is vital. But somehow, we always seem to forget. Here’s a nice little TED talk to remind us.
  • Did you know that October is Dwarfism Awareness Month? Don’t worry, nor did I. No matter how politically correct and compassionate and considerate we may be, there will always be some minorities that slip through the net of our attention. I don’t think that’s something we can berate ourselves for, as long as we use our acceptance of that fact to work towards catching more of them more of the time, and making sure we never assume that we haven’t forgotten anyone.

Thought for food

  •  I will write a proper full-on birthday post to do it justice. But in terms of standout eats this week… my birthday cake!Birthday cakeBen had secretly ordered it from Sweet Revenge, an independent bakery in Kingston advertising free-from cakes. This is their vanilla cake (apparently the guy Ben spoke to asserted that they couldn’t do a chocolate cake without milk… how odd!) – I love how generous they were with the frosting! It was very rich but I saw that as a bonus, making just a reasonable slice perfectly satisfying (I would say “a small slice” but I’m pretty sure my version of small is not everyone’s version of small). I loved it and was more than happy to eat it all week!
  • We also visited Inspiral on my birthday, which I had only eaten at once in the last four years I have been in London. I was in the mood for something pretty hearty so ordered the sunflower burger and was worried it would be a bit on the small-healthy-and-expensive side, but it was incredible and undoubtedly the best burger I have had in years. Inspiral burgerThe patty was super flavourful and moist and in perfect proportion to the fluffy roll, just the right amount of mayo too! I’d have definitely stuck a pickle in there if I’d had my way, but this was pretty close to perfect.
  • In other news, I believe I had a persimmon for the first time last night. I’m sure I must have had one before, but this is the first one I can remember. They seem to be pretty prominent in my Instagram feed, and I totally get why – I instantly fell in love with the subtly sweet, almost floral flavour, but it’s the super creamy texture that truly captivated me. If you haven’t had a persimmon yet, get your hands on one ASAP!

Happy thoughts

  • Clearly, my birthday was the absolute highlight of my week. I enjoyed every minute of it, and when I woke up the following day I felt like I had been on holiday, such was the break from the usual routine. There isn’t anything about the day that I would change.
  • It is no surprise that in second place is my Saturday pseudo-birthday celebrations with my friends. I say “pseudo” as it wasn’t really my intention to celebrate my birthday, but more to use it as an excuse to meet up with my friends and do something we wouldn’t normally do. I picked a visit to the Saatchi Gallery because I love contemporary art, have never been, and it’s free! I really enjoyed it; I liked about 90% of the exhibitions we saw, and I loved the gallery itself with its bright, airy, spacious rooms. Also, what is it about museum and gallery gift shops and how they are always amazing?! Afterwards, we went for some lunch (for some of us) and hot drinks (for the rest), followed by a wander through Belgravia before ending up in a pub. I’m not normally a fan of pubs but this one had a nice relaxed vibe going on, and we had a good laugh together for a couple of hours before we had to head our separate ways. I then got home to Ben and his amazing pasta-making skills, so it really was a wonderful day through and through!
  • I got the loveliest message from one of my best friends that I haven’t seen in a year, since she moved to the States, which I read upon waking up on my birthday. Little things like that totally perk up my day, though I haven’t had time to sit and write her a proper reply yet.
  • Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to train this week due to a number of niggles and a few lingering sniffles, but I have enjoyed using the time to sit and relax with a cup of tea, reading and reconnecting. Looking forward to going back to training this week though!

And with that, I think it is time I got on with this week, starting with another cup of tea.

I hope you are ready for the week ahead and have heaps to look forward to, whatever that may be. Have a good one! xoxo

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Sunday thoughts: 12th October 2014

I’m going to have to come out with a cliché again, but it really does seem like only a couple of days ago I was hurriedly putting together some thoughts on the preceding week, Sunday having once again snuck up on me.

It came as no surprise, then, when I accidentally booked some clients in for Wednesday, which is my birthday and a day I had planned to take off for, well, pretty much ever as I have yet to work on a birthday. Luckily my clients are all wonderful people who had no problem rescheduling when Ben, thankfully, double-checked with me that I had remembered to take the day off. Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 5th October 2014

Welcome to October!

If like me you follow a number of blogs, your inbox or reader will no doubt have been full of autumn (or fall)-loving bloggers lamenting the lack of sufficiently crisp weather, alongside a generous handful of those struggling to wave goodbye to summer.

And if like me you live in London, you’ll have been forced to accept the arrival of the new season with a brutal drop in temperature and a washout of a Saturday morning. I’m finding it hard to function swaddled in multiple layers, and trying to recall whether my feet always feel this cold through winter or whether I adapt throughout autumn? Continue reading

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Great Vegfest Expectations (part 2)

Sorry for the abrupt break in what was otherwise a pretty stream-of-consciousness recollection of the sugary highlights of VegfestUK – if you missed Part 1, start here and then come back to read on and see what treasured goodies I came home with!

After all the sweet sampling, I was pretty thirsty! I had a hankering for lemonade for the first time in ages, and as luck would have it The Electric Lemon [from the VegfestUK site: "Brand new and solar powered mobile drinks business, bringing freshly mixed home made cordials, chilled by power from the sun, straight to the heart of the UK's festival scene"] were selling lemonade out of their custom-built shiny yellow trailer, complete with automatic control panel and whooshy noises. Smiles were abundant and free, and the lemonade was refreshing and zingy! Continue reading

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Great Vegfest Expectations (part 1)

It is not too huge an overstatement to say I have been looking forward to VegfestUK since last year’s edition, and I’m pretty excited about sitting down to write a post right now, so here is Vegfest London 2014 as seen through my eyes.

As soon as we entered the vast Olympia hall, we made an executive decision to head to the toilet. This is not actually a bad strategy, as you get to eye up a few stalls as you walk past, without allowing yourself to get sucked into any of them too early. The first one to catch my eye – apart from the Yaoh and Fry’s stall in prime location – was the Vega stall with their sleek array of vegan protein powders, meal replacements, and snack bars which I have read about on a number of North American blogs. Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 28th September 2014

Would you believe that I almost didn’t write Sunday thoughts this week? I know, right?!

See, I spent yesterday at VegfestUK and came back all full of thoughts and tastes and photos, and thought – why don’t I just post my Vegfest round-up and leave a Sunday thoughts-style post for later in the week?

But then I remembered all the awesome things about this week and of course, I realised that Sunday thoughts are great because they are a chance to reflect on the week before gearing up for another. So, here are the last Sunday thoughts of September!

First, thank you to everyone who donated to the Alzheimer’s Society on behalf of Ben! He hit his target within 4 days of setting up his JustGiving page thanks to the generosity of friends, family, and clients. I feel so humbled and I know Ben does too, so again a big thank you! Unfortunately he finished behind his target time, due to an injury about two-thirds of the way in – a runner ahead threw his bottle cap onto the road rather than launching it wide, right under Ben’s shoe – but at least the box is ticked and he now has no desire to tackle distance running ever again.

Anyway, let’s get on with these thinkings! Don’t forget to scroll all the way to the end – whether you read this whole post or not – to find out who the winner of the Nakd bar giveaway is!

New things I have learnt this week

  • Plugging away with my recertification-oriented research, I tackled an article I had irrationally been dreading. It was entitled (well, it still is entitled), “Focus of Attention for Strength and Conditioning” and I assumed it would be full of ultra-technical terms and experiments on sports-specific drills and talk of winning matches. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I was hooked! In a nutshell, the article referred to a number of studies around different components of athletic performance – such as strength training, strength-endurance, speed, agility, and balance – all of which found that an external focus yielded greater results than an internal focus. For example, thinking of reaching the finishing line as quickly as possible is more effective than thinking of moving your legs as fast as possible. Interestingly, shifts as subtle as “think of clawing the ground with your shoe” vs. “think of clawing the ground with your foot” produced more successful results. Unfortunately, I use the exact opposite technique with my clients, trying to get them to feel their bodies and understand their movements… But then I guess I am more focussed on developing the sort of mindsets that will stay with them for life, in and out of the gym, than I am in achieving one outstanding result at a time. But maybe I shall try to implement the shift and see how that works!
  • Another surprisingly interesting article which I had been skirting around: “Are All Hip Extension Exercises Created Equal” – sounds thrilling, right? Well, actually, I was fascinated. Basically, the article reminds coaches to consider at what part of a particular movement the tension on the muscles is greatest. Even if we perform the same exercise, placing our bodies at different angles to begin with (think, seated hamstring curl vs. lying hamstring curl) uses gravity to create a greater pull on the muscles being used, at different points in the movement. So, if you are training for a sport that places significant demand on a muscle when it is extended, say, you are better off selecting an exercise that creates the greatest tension when your muscle is extended. Not immediately relevant to me or my clients, but all very necessary food for thought!
  • I also read this highly interesting and valid piece on Doctor Skeptic about the importance of replicating experiments, and why so few are. Revolution please.

New things I have eaten this week

  • Can you believe I had never had a mocha until this week? As a lover of all things chocolate and all things coffee (especially espresso chocolate…!), I am more than a little surprised at myself. It’s not something I would make a habit of having as it is obviously higher in calories than my usual oolong tea order, but it so completely hit the spot that it will undoubtedly be my go-to treat in the cooler weather!
  • With my parents visiting on Friday evening, we had dinner at Le Comptoir Libanais, which I expected to be very vegan-friendly as most Lebanese food tends to be. Oddly, I was told that none of the mains were vegan except the falafel wrap and the falafel salad (in the end, my dad ordered the aubergine tagine I had had my eye on, and it was about 85% couscous so I think I got the better deal). The wrap was generous and for an extra pound or so you can upgrade to a “platter” and get hummus and a salad with it. The wrap was pretty dry, but a smear of hummus solved that problem quite handily.
  • Last but not least, I tasted my way through no small amount of samples at VegfestUK, but those will have to wait until this week when I can tell you all about them! I was going to give you a sneak preview of the inside of a ConsiderIt Chocolate truffle bar, but I ate it all before I could get to my camera.

Other highlights this week

  • Training more! Ben is piloting a training programme on me which has involved some pretty taxing balance work and some cross-trainer sessions, and although that is all horrible at the time, it really does make me feel a lot more like myself. This is the best I have felt in months.
  • I got the bestestest parcel this week! A new hoodie and sweatpants from BAM‘s new autumn range, plus they chucked in a whole bunch of fun colourful socks, and some super comfy briefs. The hoodie is so perfect, just the right cut, nice and cosy for cooler mornings, and the funnel neck means I don’t have a hood bunching up all around my neck so it’s much more comfortable to work in. I will be writing up a more comprehensive post on their range, and attempting to take some decent photos of myself wearing their products, over the next few weeks!
  • Seeing my parents on Friday evening, after a bit of training and a bit of work. Everyone was in good spirits and we laughed a lot. And my parents brought us two beautiful slates from their travels, which are perfect for breakfasts!Welsh slate and croissants
  • VegfestUK was fun, but that goes without saying. I love the vest I bought from the TeenVGN stall, which I got to wear today as the weather was so surprisingly pleasant, and I’m super excited about my bold and bright Benecos nail polishes – “green way” (teal green), “sparkles” (royal blue), and “mighty orange” (that one is self-explanatory)! It was great this time to chat to stallholders and connect with the businesses a little bit more.

That’s about it for the big highlights, but really it’s been a good week; the right amount of busy days and lie-ins, tasty wholesome food and fun treats, research and mindless TV. But let’s not forget we have a winner to announce!

Nakd bars

Christine, comment number 1, you are the winner of the Nakd bar giveaway!

You told us your go-to snack is pre-portioned bags of fruit and nuts, so I hope you will enjoy the bars. Just drop me an email and let me know where I’m sending them to!

On that note, I’m off to sift through VegfestUK photos and memories. Have a lovely, relaxing and hopefully sunny Sunday! xoxo

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