Vegan MoFo 2015 and a VegfestUK giveaway

My memory works in funny ways. As interesting as I find them, I cannot for the life of me remember interesting or useful figures or statistics. I’m awkwardly bad with faces but surprisingly OK with names. I remember things better when I write them down – even if it’s just copying a text written by someone else – but I remember best of all the words of another person.

One sentence I remember as clearly as though I were hearing it right now is from my friend and all-round beautiful person Necla; “I’m a big believer in moments,” she told me, shutting off a barrage of half-hearted excuses that were pouring out of my mouth for not doing things I knew I should be doing.

Since then, I have been a big believer in moments too – and so, after two VeganMoFos spent watching from the virtual sidelines, I am finally taking part!

Vegan MoFo 2015

If you’re not familiar with VeganMoFo, it is a food-blogging event and stands for Vegan Month of Food: the aim is to post 30 times in the month about vegan food. Simple! I haven’t had the confidence to take part before because I’m not a food blogger, and I’m a perfectionist; how could I compete with those expertly staged and photographed food shots, those eloquently described stories, those thoroughly-tested recipes?

However, one night – in a spur of creative urge – I set Ben and I a five-minute challenge to think of our favourite food memory and describe it. The more I jotted down, the more I remembered, until I was still furiously scribbling my list well over five minutes later, and recounting each of those memories took close to a half hour. Dammit, I thought – this is why I love writing! And, in the end, it’s what food writing is about; it’s not about having the most innovative recipe or the most appropriate props – though I always appreciate those too – it’s about conjuring up that sense of shared memory, of belonging, of community. In fact, I remembered how last year, Amey of one of my favourite blog Vegan Eats & Treats served us up a month of “Noshtalgia” (what a great name!) and amidst all the stunning food photography and enticingly inventive recipes that flooded the internet, it was her honest and heartfelt posts that I looked forward to the most.

This year, VeganMoFo has changed a little – I was initially disappointed, as barely hours after deciding on a theme that had motivated me to participate, I was finding out that we were being encouraged to move away from a theme and to respond to daily prompts. I considered abandoning my impulse to take part in the challenge, but I figured the whole point of a challenge is to challenge yourself. So I will do my best – some posts will be long, some will be short, some will be illustrated, many will not – and undoubtedly many posts will be missed (I start my Masters halfway through the challenge, so all bets are off!) – but I am excited to be taking part. I hope you will enjoy reading my posts, and reminiscing along with me!

Giveaway time!

So… who remembers their first all-vegan (food) festival? Who has never been? I remember my first and second times at Vegfest in London, and I’m eagerly looking forward to my third visit on October 10th and 11th (conveniently right before my birthday, in case you don’t know who to buy excess vegan cake for…). I think whether you are a new or experienced vegan, vegetarian, or simply interested in plant-based foods and eco-friendly, cruelty-free products, it’s an event everyone should experience.

Luckily, I have two sets of weekend tickets (worth up to £22 each) up for grabs! So clear your schedule, grab a friend, and get ready for a weekend of sampling, tasting, devouring, sharing, learning, trying, and buying! All without a jot of label-reading or question-asking!

To enter:

Simply leave me a comment on this post – tell me anything! A good place to start would be an email address I can contact you at, and maybe what you are most looking forward to trying or buying or hearing or seeing at Vegfest London 2015 this October! Feel free to share the love with friends and followers, but this isn’t compulsory.

This giveaway ends at 23:59 on Monday 31st August so get on it!

I’ll announce and contact the winners on Tuesday 1st September. Good luck!

Viva la Vivani!

I see it as my job to check the chocolate shelves of my local health food stores daily, at least, to scope out any new and exciting chocolate brands or products. My job for you, to keep you informed, my job for the company in question, to keep vegan products turning over a healthy profit, and my job for my own wellbeing.

Vivani iChoc Choco Cookie

If my observation skills serve me right (bearing in mind that I didn’t notice the giant church opposite our house until a full day after we had moved in), there are two brands with similar packaging: partly black and partly colourful designs, stylish and screaming “organic”, both six-letter words ending in an “i”. Both are at the higher end of the price range, and neither are fully vegan. One of those is Vivani.

Unfortunately, because those two brands exist side-by-side in my local health food store, and much of their range is not vegan, I had totally ignored them both – for months and months. I’d love to tell you what first made me buy a bar of Vivani chocolate, because it would make for a much more entertaining blog post, but I have no clue. Maybe because it was Easter and it seemed like the right thing to do?

The important thing is that I remember the world slowing down a little as that first bite of White Nougat Crisp melted in my mouth. You guys, it was so good.

Although dark chocolate is my drug of choice, white chocolate and I go way back: every Christmas, when I was young enough to be pawned off on my grandparents for the holidays, it was my job to dress up as “Mother Christmas” after (or before?) Christmas lunch, and go round the table to hand every family member their individual treat. These were usually a box of fancy chocolates, or marrons glacés (candied chestnuts), both of which were considered too refined or rich for a child. I remember my special treat being a bauble of latticed white chocolate, beautiful and delicate. Meanwhile, at Easter, family members would arrive for lunch each carrying a huge and generously-filled box of some chocolate animal shape (bunnies, of course, but also hens or fish) filled with bags of chocolates and sweets – more often than not, these were also white chocolate.

Vivani iChoc White Vanilla

So when I first tasted that Vivani white chocolate, all those memories came pouring back so vividly, the way that only a truly excellent food can make happen. I told you it was good!

Vivani iChoc selection

Anyway. With a vegan product that show-stoppingly excellent, I couldn’t imagine why on earth Vivani would feel the need to continue selling cow’s milk-based chocolate treats.

I still can’t, really, but when I contacted them to ask, I received a very friendly and reasonable (albeit disappointing) response that they were a long-standing company dedicated to producing high quality, organic chocolates, and had only added the vegan range in response to the growing popularity of plant-based diets.

Vivani iChoc organic certified

As such, they didn’t feel that converting their existing products to vegan alternatives would sit well with their loyal customers. Fair enough.

Despite me being a pesky vegan, Vivani very kindly offered to send me a pack of their new dedicated range of vegan rice drink-based chocolates. I eagerly accepted (oh, the things I do for this blog!), and after a big kerfuffle with the courrier, I finally got my hands on their sleek-yet-fun range of iChoc bars.

Vivani iChoc selection

A couple of these were already part of the existing range: the aforementioned White Nougat Crisp, and a juicy-smooth Almond Orange. The other two were just as promising: crunchy-fun Choco Cookie and velvety White Vanilla.

Vivani iChoc Almond Orange

So let’s start with the Almond Orange. You might think that vegan “milk” chocolate is nothing new, but once you have tried this you will realise it’s unlike anything else on the market. I thought I preferred dark chocolate for its own sake; turns out, I preferred it because vegan milk chocolate alternatives tend to be cloying, leave a sticky paste at the back of your palate, and in some of the worst cases are even slightly grainy. This Almond Orange chocolate has all the refined qualities of a dark orange chocolate – a tried and true combination – with the creaminess of a good milk chocolate.

Vivani iChoc Almond Orange

The odd chunk of almond adds a satisfying texture without deterring from the smoothness of the chocolate. I’m trying to fault it for the purpose of a balanced review, but I can’t.

Now, take that top-quality rice “milk” chocolate, and instead of sunny warm orange and grown-up almond, stud it with soft chunks of Oreo-style cookie.

Vivani iChoc Choco Cookie

The flavour isn’t distinctly different from a simple milk chocolate, which is fine by me; the result is just subtly comforting, the sort of thing I’d have curled up in a beanbag with to read a magazine on a rainy day. This would also be great pulsed into home-made ice cream or a milkshake.

Vivani iChoc Choco Cookie

Well, you already know what I’m going to say about the white chocolates. And I don’t even like white chocolate! The “plain” White Vanilla chocolate is super creamy, but melts perfectly in your mouth, with no pasty residue. Being anything but plain, the high-quality vanilla adds a luxurious warmth and velvety quality to what I had previously dismissed as a sugary chocolate impostor.

Vivani iChoc White Vanilla

As for the White Nougat Crisp… So, you take that soothingly velvety white chocolate, and you combine it with decadently buttery hazelnut praline – my mouth is watering again – stud it with chewy nutty nougat chunks… and you’ve got perfection. Non-vegans will enjoy it too, but don’t let on… chocolate this good isn’t for sharing (OK, at a push, buy them a bar and scoff your own!).

Vivani iChoc White Nougat Crisp

I love that Vivani, in addition to committing to be organic and dedicating a range to their vegan customers, they commit to using environmentally-friendly packaging, and to buying from organic cocoa-farming cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, who pay their workers a fair wage (in contrast, child labour has been raised as a concern on West African cocoa farms). All that, without compromising on quality! They may be a touch more expensive than your basic chocolate bar, but I am more than happy to pay the price for a product of this standard.

Although I was sent products to sample, I was free to choose not to review them and I was certainly free to voice my honest opinion. And frankly, even I was surprised by how much I fell in love not only with the products, but with Vivani as a company – as far as I can see, they are doing everything right. The good news, is that supporting them means eating chocolate! Get yours direct from them, from Vegan Town, from Ethical Superstore who currently only stock the original range (some of those are reviewed here) or, if you’re lucky, your local health food store.

I would so love to know that you have treated yourself to a bar or four, please let me know what you think of them!

The truth about being vegan

A few weeks ago, when I was having a rant on the bus into work – as many vegans and animal rights activists did, judging by my Instagram feed – about the hypocrisy that was the outcry over the Yulin dog slaughter from many of the same people who accept and support the routine slaughter of millions of animals every month without batting an eyelid, Ben asked me if something had gone out on social media asking vegans to become more vocal about their ethical choices.

Yulin dogs

Photo from Telegraph.co.uk

Continue reading

Omnipresent, omnipotent, OmniSuperfood

One of the things that irritated me the most about being a teenager was how adults wrote everything off as “just a phase”. Of course, that turned out to be mostly true, and I have left many of those behind – thank goodness – but I have definitely taken with me the tendency itself to have phases.

There isn’t really a period that goes by that I am not obsessed with some food or flavour. Recently, I have been craving vanilla-everything, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you where that came from. I remember when any avocado within reach would be promptly devoured; now, three or four can sit in our fridge begging to be folded into a salad. Tahini on everything often still occurs, but whereas a few months ago I couldn’t have conceived of a meal without a drizzle of sesame, many of my meals are now tahini-free. I would love to know what causes certain flavours or textures to stick in our minds and on our palates, but that might be a topic for another day. Continue reading

Don’t sweat it

Wow, London… this is how you do summer!

One of the cool kids now ❄️ #coffee #artisan #simplepleasures

A photo posted by Claire De R (@greatveganexp) on

Luckily for me, with an empty schedule I am free to enjoy today at my leisure and in my underwear, if I so wish. No sweaty backpack back (try saying that three times fast), no empty water bottle, no train delays from people fainting.

Apparently my brain isn’t working today… I went out to pick up some bits and pieces, but what I did was forget to measure the pictures that needed frames, walk around the market three times, buy carrots from the supermarket, peruse bed linen sets in a discount store for way too long, and prowl around the market again to eventually buy two bags of spinach which turned out to be completely wilted* (that would be why the stall-holder shoved those in the bag so quickly, then). Continue reading

Lessons I am learning from yoga

It’s funny how the world works sometimes… With a few free hours between appointments last week, I took myself to a coffee shop eager to put this post together. After a couple of hours of typing and deleting, I was slowly coming to the conclusion that there were no words to describe what was in my head. It must be a Claire thing. Nobody will get it. It’s not even relevant to your post, I told myself; you’re meant to be writing about how yoga has helped you implement everything you believe about fitness and training, how it has given you renewed faith in yourself and respect for your body. I was about ready to trash the personal stuff and just present a list of the benefits of yoga.

Then, just two days later at my friend Viv’s – who I hadn’t seen in three months – we got talking about yoga and fitness, and to my great surprise and excitement, out of her mouth came my thoughts in her words. Continue reading

Bring it on down to Vegan Town!

Sorry, today’s blog post has nothing to do with Justin Timberlake. But it is about chocolate, so I’m hoping maybe you can forgive me.

When I was in university, I was lucky enough to be the friend and housemate of a guy – let’s call him James, because that’s his name – who despite not being much of a vegetable lover himself completely understood and supported and encouraged my plant-based lifestyle. In fact, he confided that he caught himself reading the ingredients on a packet of beef mince to check it was vegan (spoiler alert: it wasn’t), out of habit after having become inquisitive as to all things “accidentally vegan”!

It is true that I, along with all vegans I’m sure, read a lot of labels. It has turned into a subconscious habit, picking up packets of foodstuffs that could potentially be accidentally vegan whether I want to eat them or not – and it is something I have come to enjoy. In the interests of hurrying a shopping trip along, I sometimes have to not read the ingredients of every product that I have no interest in buying… but there is always time to dissect the contents of any new-to-me bar of chocolate.

VeganTown banner Continue reading