Did I Mention How Much I Love Ratatouille?

This is a staple in our house. It makes excellent use of the sort of vegetables we get in our organic bag from Farmaround. My mother used to serve this as a side dish but it makes a great vegan main course, too. I am so fond of it that it would definitely be one of the foods I would opt for on an hypothetical “desert island”.

Here’s my take on the traditional french vegetable stew. This recipe makes enough for four substantial portions.

Ratatouille - cut the vegetables up chunky.


Olive Oil – 1 tablespoon

Onions – three small or two large

Courgette – one medium

Bell Peppers – two, red or green or one of each

Aubergine – one medium to large

Tomatoes – 3-4 fresh medium sized

Garlic – one clove

Worcestershire Sauce – 1 Tablespoon (vegan alternatives are available, I switched to using mushroom ketchup here.)

Dried Herbs: Sage, Oregano, Basil – one teaspoon of each

Pepper – freshly ground to taste

Vegetable stock – one cup from a stock cube


Use a wide bottomed saucepan with a lid or preferably a cast iron pot or casserole.

1. Put the pan or pot on the hob on a moderate heat and add the olive oil to start heating it.

2. Begin to chop up the vegetables, adding them in the following order and stirring after each addition: Onions (cut in half and then vertically into half rings), Courgette (in semi circles), Peppers (in strips), Aubergine (in quartered or halved circles), Tomatoes (cut into segments), and finally the Garlic (finely chopped).

If there is any left over for another day, this is my favourite way to eat it - cold, on a chunk of toast.

3. Stir in the Worcestershire Sauce/mushroom ketchup and the dried herbs thoroughly and add ground pepper to taste – just a few twists of the grinder will do. The vegetables should have started to soften.

4. Make up one cup of vegetable stock from a single cube and pour it over the vegetables.

5. Place the lid on the pot or pan and reduce the heat to a very low gentle simmer for about half an hour. Stir once or twice during the cooking period.

6. Serve with baked potatoes or chunks of crusty bread and butter.

Ratatouille improves considerably by being left to stand overnight when it can then be re-heated or eaten cold, which is absolutely delicious.

If you like this, there are more of my recipes here.

Personal Experiment: Going Soap Free (it’s the new “clean”)

Soap? N.I.M.B. (Not In My Bathroom).

I’m trying this as an experiment. I am on day 5 of using no soap or shampoo, just water, to wash and shave with. This may come as a surprise to anyone who knows how fond I am of natural plant-based and homemade soaps.

Why give up soap?

From the top of my head, I think people might want to give up soap for two reasons, which they might place in a different order of importance. For me, it is primarily the first reason and the second reason is like the icing on the cake.

Firstly, people give up soap because it might not be necessary and, therefore it is one less thing to consume. It is like another area of my life that I can take back from the powers of consumerism that want to convince me that “you have to buy this” otherwise you are going to stink and have no friends. It never occurred to me that soap might not be absolutely necessary, although I discarded shaving foam and shampoo a couple of years ago when I figured out that they are basically soap that is given a fancy name so you think you need to buy it to do a job that soap does very well. But does it really …

The second reason is that it is probably much better for your skin. The bare naked truth is that soap dries out your skin. We all know this. This gives the cosmetics companies the chance to sell us moisturisers to undo the damage that their soap did. Some soap bars and products now have moisturiser added in to counteract the effect. But what if our skin is never getting the chance to establish its own balance and all the time we are rushing to buy another product to try and replace the natural functions and qualities of our skin that took millions of years to evolve. Cosmetic products create a need for themselves when they interfere with the body’s normal way of providing for itself.

But don’t you stink and have no friends?

No … and nor do the numerous other people who have also gone soap-free, including:

Paleoblogger, Richard Nikoley of Free theAnimal, all-round-lifehacker, Sean Bonner from BoingBoing, and the two vegan tweeple who woke me up to this in the first place, Ronda Vanderzanden (@funerealwaif303030) and Kristiina Stromness (@MsKristiina282828).

How do you get clean?

With water, the most glorious element on the planet, also known by chemists as “The Universal Solvent”. I get clean using water and scrubbing.

Scrubbing brush and flannel have made a triumphant return to my cleansing arsenal. Finally, the annual flannel, that appears halfway down the Christmas stocking, is getting a regular outing.

One of the ways soap functions is by leaving a dirt-repellent layer on the skin that supposedly means you stay cleaner for longer. This may mean that being soap-free requires that washing/bathing is more frequent.  I can easily get away with missing a wash for a day or two when I have a layer of soap on my skin and I can use various other products to smell sweet – but being soap-free does give an excuse to indulge in getting wet more often (that being once a day).

Basically, to get clean, I have found I have developed a ritual that makes sure all of me is scrubbed in a certain order, starting with a flannel on the face.

Actually, I was shocked, when I took my first “soap-free” bath, how much gunk was left in the water. It was as if I had had a proper wash for the first time although this may have been more to do with the very thorough scrubbing that the lack of soap.

What about hair?

Yep, hair can do fine without keratin enhancing super shining shampoos with “advanced molecular science” (oh, may we be delivered from shampoos with “science” in them). I guess I can’t speak for people with long hair but I have it on good authority that it is a bit odd to start with until everything settles down.

Received wisdom from those who have gone before also advises that it may take a couple of weeks for the body to balance out generally. So a little perseverance is required.

Complimentary practices for soap-free hygiene.

I think that going soap-free is not just a case of giving up soap. There is a more conscious approach to hygiene that can be explored here as to give up soap is to give up one of the crutches that has helped us to “feel” clean for years.

Firstly, diet plays a massive part in what is secreted on the surface of our skin and how we smell. I am not a physiologist but anyone can wake up to how true this is with the help of their own nose. We all know garlic comes out in the sweat but since giving up dairy products I have become sensitised to the fact that everyone else smells of cheese – literally – because of the dairy they consume. However, raw vegans (people who only eat uncooked plant matter) consistently report that they can discard with deodorants because their sweat is virtually odourless. I am monitoring this at the moment, subsisting on a plant diet as I do, I have almost entirely discarded deodorant products although I do occasionally use essential oils (tea tree, sandalwood, lavender).

Drinking lots of water also becomes much more important, the idea being that a well-hydrated body will be better at eliminating toxins and sweat will be less concentrated.

Secondly … re-think clothing. Feet are not smelly; it’s socks and shoes that are the problem. Some of the clothing we wear, shoes being the best example, provide a close moist environment for bacteria to grow so it is little wonder that feet smell. Going barefoot as much as possible will actually lead to hygienically cleaner feet. Wearing looser clothing made from natural, breathable fabric also makes hygienic sense.

Other plus points to giving up soap

Apart from sticking up two fingers to The Man and making a bid for healthier skin and hair, there are a few other advantages to giving up soap:

  • No more “soap scum” on the side of the bath or shower
  • Saves a few quid a year
  • Contributes to a reduced demand for weird toxic chemicals and the industrial processes that make them
  • Burn more calories by washing/scrubbing
  • Declutter your bathroom from a whole lot of junk

Foraging Friday: Chicken … of the Woods!

Pic of Chicken of the Woods
You might have to climb for these!

One of the most exciting things to find and eat at this time of year is Laetiporus sulphureus, commonly and aptly named “Chicken of the Woods”. Appearing from April and sticking around into November, this bracket fungus grows mainly on dead and dying Oaks in the UK. It is nice and easy to recognise but may be inaccessibly high for foragers without crampons. Look for the distinctive clusters of overlapping fans that are bright yellow, turning more orangey as the specimen matures. It takes a good while to establish itself before the fruit actually appears, but once you have located one of these, you will generally be able to revisit it for several years.


This is a great eater and it really does behave and taste a little like chicken when you cook it. It is important, though, if it is your first time, to try a small quantity as it has been known to cause stomach upsets in some people – and it must ALWAYS be cooked. When gathering it, make sure you pick the younger yellow fans as older parts of the fruit are more bitter and tough.

A lot like chicken

When you get them home, clean them up and chop into slices. The mushroom will keep well in the freezer for later use. I generally blanch them before cooking them, to be sure that they are well cooked and to take any bitterness off. My favourite way to eat these is to make up a fairly heavy batter to dip them in and then fry up some “chicken nuggets” using oil that has been sitting for a week or so with some lemon rind in it to give it a citrussy edge. You can use it as you would use chicken in any recipe but make sure that it is always well cooked.


Please don’t use my Foraging Friday posts for identification purposes, get a couple of decent books to double check your identification. You are responsible for what you eat. Follow the guidance in my article on “Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms“. I won’t be held responsible for people falling out of trees, either (ahem).

"Chicken (of the woods) Nuggets"

Cake in a Mug … Vegan Stylee

In five minutes you could be tucking into a delicious warm, freshly baked, fluffy sponge. Here are a couple of takes on the ridiculously simple “Cake in a Mug” that don’t use eggs or dairy. Besides the ingredients, you will need a mug (preferably with straight sides) and a microwave.

Chocolate Cake

Put the following into a mug:

  • 4 tablespoons of flour (self raising or plain)
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa

Mix them thoroughly in the mug and add:

  • 3 tablespoons of soya milk
  • 3 tablespoons of cooking oil
zero to scrumptious in 5 minutes

Mix them thoroughly into a smooth paste using a fork.

Cook in the microwave for 3 minutes on full power (900W). The cake should rise rapidly in the cup and then slump down again before it is done.

Turn out onto a plate while still warm and enjoy!

Banana Sponge

Mix these together in a mug:

  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar

Chop half a banana into the mix and mash it in well with the other ingredients with a fork.

Then add:

  • 3 tablespoons of soya milk
  • 3 tablespoons of cooking oil
  • A drop of vanilla essence (if you have it)

Mix well into a paste and microwave for 3 minutes as above.


Once you have got a feel for the ingredients and proportions, why not try making up your own variations?

Think of the recipe as having 14 parts: 4 parts flour, 2 parts sugar, 2 parts ingredient of your choice, 3 parts oil, and 3 parts another liquid (water, fruit juice, soya milk). It is hard to go wrong with this simple formula.

Vegan Lemon Star Cake

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Vegan Sponge

It’s the weekend, let’s make a cake! This one is quick, cruelty free and delicious. I only call it a Lemon Star Cake because this time when I made it I arranged some lemon rind in a star on top. This is a straightforward vegan sponge that you can modify with your own fillings and icing as you will. I fill it with golden syrup while it is still warm, just to take it to the next level of gooeyness; but, hey, mess around – vegans are great improvisers, we have to be!


2 Cups of white self-raising flour
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 Cup of caster sugar

1 Cup of canola oil (I use canola, it’s a wonderful colour, but vegetable or sunflower oil is fine, too)
1/2 Cup of apple juice (I’ve used orange juice here, too, it comes out a little more citrussy)
1/2 Cup of water
1 Lemon (the juice thereof) or about 2 tablespoons of pure lemon juice
1 Tablespoon of grated lemon rind (from the aforementioned lemon)
1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract

You will need a seive and two mixing bowls, a whisk and a couple of cake tins greased with your animal-free grease of choice, or lined with greased greaseproof baking paper…

1. Grease up your tins and start to preheat the oven to 160c, which is 230f in old fashioned numbers.
2. Use the seive to seamlessly sift the flour, bicarb and caster sugar together into the larger bowl (if one is bigger than the other).
3. In the other bowl, mix all the other ingredients well together, including the lemon rind. If you want a “star” on top of your cake, spare a few strands of rind here.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the liquids in, combining smoothly with a whisk until you have a nice smooth gloop.
5. Pour equal amounts of the gloop into each of your tins and transfer to the oven.
6. Leave them to bake for 24 minutes and then check them. You are looking for risen in the middle and turning golden. If they are not turning evenly you might want to swap the position of the tins or something. If you are unsure about the middle being cooked, slip a skewer in and see if it comes out with any gloop on it. If the tins are particularly deep, they may need a little longer. You may need to bake for another 3-5 minutes or they could be ready – use your judgement. Probably better to err on the side of well done (as long as it’s not burned) than soggy in the middle.
7. Hoy the tins out and leave to cool for a few minutes until the tins are not too hot to handle but the sponge is still warm.
8. Tap the sponges out to cool and get going on your filling/icing.

Suggested fillings: golden syrup, jam, humous (just kidding).
Suggested toppings: Seive a light dusting of icing sugar on top of the cake, or make up a glace icing with icing sugar, warm water and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice (add the liquids to the sugar until you have a smooth paste that sticks to a spoon).

Any arty flourishes you want to finish with are up to you.

Right, no excuse for making cake from anything that comes from a chicken’s backside any more. Enjoy!