Rebecca Winnard describes how she managed to overcome her issues as a vegan commuter, reliant on shop-bought snacks. Here are her tips on how to beat the rat race with a well-prepared kitchen.
Once upon a time - far far away from the land of inspirational vegan gastronomy - was a coffee-addled commuter taking the 7.38am train into London Waterloo, then onto Canary Wharf. Along with the huddled mass of silent people hiding behind laptops and newspapers, I sipped a black Americano from the station café: after all, food is so difficult to stomach early in the day. Arriving at Canary Wharf, thankful not to have spilled anything on the person whose elbow is sharing my personal space, the working day begins in earnest. A busy morning sat behind a laptop and importantly pushing paper around a desk demands lunch in the staff restaurant or, more likely, packaged sandwiches and crisps at the desk. Returning in the evening, the nine-thirty pm train is brimming with the hungry hum of people chowing down on take-out burgers. That is, if you've managed to escape the delays that follow the melodic and patient announcement of the station tannoy begging your forgiveness for the “inconvenience this may cause you.”
Cook after that journey? No way! During this period I ate out constantly, and initially enjoyed revelling in the mantra 'no cooking no cleaning'. Surely, cooking at home is pointless because the sole measurable output is the capacity to create washing up? And no one has time to follow the serving suggestions of recipe books that propose you “reach into the cupboard for naturally sweetened homemade jam”. Secretly, however, I suspected that I was letting the vegan side down when the response to the ubiquitous, “what do you eat?” was a mumbled, “health food shop” and “stuff in packets”. Far too many omnivores were feeling smug – that's when I decided that something had to be done.
The first sojourn into the kitchen was Christmas Day. Very soon the neighbours came round, not for my irresistible vegan roast but to turn off the smoke alarm. Undeterred, I knew there was a better way: and so my cooking odyssey began. All hail, the vegan cookbook authors who have made vegan food delicious, fun and tailored the recipes so that they are accessible to the busy person. My favourite for weeknight meals is “Isa Does It” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
The biggest stumbling block to eating well is returning hungry and not having any particular idea at the front of your mind what to eat. Hence why my new vegan mantra is:
Organise, organise, organise
The vegan kitchen can be your friend but it has to be organised and correctly stocked. Trust me, organisation is the backbone of masterpiece cooking. The rest is merely creative play! First, split the kitchen cupboards into wholefoods, cooking and baking. Vegan recipes call for certain staples such as: beans, lentils, rice and split peas in the wholefoods cupboard. Your cooking cupboard may look a bit like this: herbs and spices, mirin (rice wine), soy sauce, red/white wine vinegar and miso. The baking cupboard may have, but is not limited to: shredded coconut, baking powder, cocoa powder and various flours.
Embrace veg boxes
For the magical ease of having a regular delivery to your door, try a weekly or fortnightly organic vegetable box, which can be more economical than it sounds. Include loads of greens like broccoli, kale, leeks etc. that can be stir-fried or baked for quick convenience.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
Get into the habit of soaking beans, rice and cashew nuts overnight so they are ready to cook the next day. Weeknight cashew cream recipes and side orders of bean based meals will then be right at your fingertips. Black beans are burritos waiting to happen, cashews form a cream for tofu-mushroom stroganoff and chickpeas are easily added to curries or form the basis of a pilaf. For more ideas on what to do with cashews and chickpeas, check out The Vegan Society's Recipes.
Prepare the marinade for the following day’s tofu, seitan or tempeh after dining in the evening – you can complete it if necessary before running out of the door in the morning. Return and add it to a side order of vegetables and grains.
Mise en place
To create a Zen-like experience, do as trained chefs recommend: read the recipe twice and have all ingredients with accompanying tools ready before beginning. Chop everything before you start and then proceed. That way you won’t be running around the kitchen looking for the thyme whilst the pot boils over.
Cooking regularly makes you feel happier. The subtlety of the layers of taste and the enjoyment of the creative process all work towards elevating your mood. Add to that compliments from people about how you look radiant and there you have it: the perfect advertisement for healthy vegan living.
Not only that, but my journey into cooking made me feel more connected to nature’s seasons, food cycles and the surrounding environmental issues that reinforce the reasons for being vegan. Yes, I am now one of those people who can “reach into the cupboard for naturally sweetened homemade jam” and with a bit of time, so can you.
By Rebecca Winnard. Originally published at Rebecca's Vegan Kitchen.
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