Classic Crepes (gluten-free option)

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Fall, friends! It’s here, and I don’t know about you but I’m ready. Hello, excessive amounts of anything with pumpkin and apple pies. Hello, my favourite season.

The term has once again started, and with it comes a sense of both excitement and dread. To be intellectually stimulated is one thing, but it’s important to not let the intimidation of new, bright faces obfuscate any goal, be it professional or personal.

Enough with my obsession with pancakes. I let crepes take over this time. Sometimes a change of breakfast routine is all you need to feel excited about a new season, a new beginning, a new.. anything. These crepes can be made with any flour you wish, however buckwheat or spelt does result in a fluffier crepe with a more interesting flavour dimension. I never was a buckwheat gal, but decided to experiment with the rather wholesome-looking grain after a friend of mine whipped up a delicious buckwheat veggie dish for me last year, and since it’s free of gluten, it’s worth a try for my increasing number of gluten-free peeps. What’s more, more buckwheat, barley, brown rice and basically anything not scarily white is a good way of reducing intake of refined sugar and carbohydrate, for as much as I (and most of us) love the stuff, it does nothing for the brain or body, and can possibly trigger terrible eating habits.  Furthermore, it’s exciting just knowing that buckwheat:

  • is full of the bioflavonoid rutin, which contains quercetin (also abundant in apples), and is thus of higher nutritional value than many other grains. Rutin helps with blood circulation and lowers cholesterol, to name just a few things.
  • is full of magnesium (supports respiratory health and helps restore normal sleep patterns), copper (helps the body absorb iron), and manganese (can improve bone health and reduce inflammation)

Makes it all a bit more exciting to put together. So you just whisk a few ingredients together, smack a quarter-cup of batter each time onto a hot pan, spread it out a little, flip to cook the other side for a short while, and there you have it– incredibly soft, tender crepes. The uniqueness of this dangerously delicious breakfast lies in its versatility– there’s a lightly toasted nutty flavour that can be combined with almost any flavour topping, although my personal favourite is coconut yoghurt and plenty of frozen but thawing summer berries on top.

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Crepes (makes 4-6, enough for one hungry person, scale up as necessary)

Ingredients

65g buckwheat flour (sub: plain or spelt flour)

pinch of salt

200ml plant milk of choice (I used oat)

1/2 tbsp ground flaxseed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp vegetable oil/melted vegan butter (sub: normal butter)

Directions

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients well. The batter should be pourable but not too wet, so if it seems too thick, add a tablespoon of milk, and if it seems too thin, add a little more flour. Heat your pan (add a little oil if it’s not a nonstick pan) on medium heat. Flick a splash of water on it to see if it sizzles, to check if the pan is hot enough to use. Once it is hot enough, add a quarter-cup of batter to the pan and use the back of the cup measurement to spread the batter out into a thin circle. Be careful here– you don’t want the batter to be too thin, as this will lead to easy breakage afterwards when you try and flip the crepe.  Cook the first side until you see the edges of the crepe firm up, then slide your spatula carefully underneath and flip the crepe. Cook the second side for a little shorter, about a minute or so. Place the cooked crepe on a paper towel and roll it up before placing on a serving plate. Continue to do this for the remaining amount of batter. Serve with thick coconut yoghurt, tahini, berries and maple syrup!

 

Apple Strudel

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Things to be grateful for the past week:

  • Billie Holiday. Happy belated, you star.
  • Extended periods of concentration
  • My mum’s lipstick (oops).
  • Discovering new, creative inspiration all around me, in the air, sights, people (Instagram aside, of course).
  • Daily yoga practice. Still trying to get better at certain inversions and balances. Nothing else truly grounds and invigorates me.
  • Love. Everywhere. Phone calls or video calls. Precious and genuine.
  • Making mistakes, and distinct feelings of unease. And then letting the right balance of stoicism and determination kick in. Feel, embrace, face obstacles, before trying to untangle and change them.
  • Coming across the cutest café (named Moreish) near the Wellcome Collection full of delicious vegan options, including vegan gelato!!
  • Coming up with more easy, AMAZING new recipes which I am so excited to release week after week! And just refining some sweet (literally) cult classics whenever I can. Snickerdoodles, red velvet cake, carrot cake, fudgy brownies galore. These things just can’t go wrong.My most recent experiment was particularly exciting and got me squealing on my knees at 10pm last night. Seriously.

Over the Easter weekend I was privileged enough to be hosted by my boyfriend’s family in Austria. On the plane ride back, my hands were itching to start playing with the Austrian cult classic– yes, the one and only apple strudel. I remember my first encounter with the traditional Austrian pastry before I went vegan so distinctly, The first bite was an explosion of thick-cut chunks of tender, stewed, cinnamony apple, enveloped in light-as-air, flaky pastry. Drenched in vanilla sauce (you usually douse your pastry in either this or vanilla ice cream if you have it), each vanilla speckle visible in pure, vivid ivory, if ivory could be so vivid. It’s the perfectly flaky pastry encasing soft apple, firm yet two steps away from being mush upon the pressure of your spoon, that I wished to replicate the past weekend.

And that I did.

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This easy vegan apple strudel is about an hour away from you if you feel like buying some filo tonight. Seriously, it’s so darn easy and delicious I can’t possibly think of what is stopping you. Since I was only making this for me and my uncle last weekend, the strudel I ended up with was a rather small thing of a sausage, but nevertheless satisfying in portion. Double the ingredients if you wish to make this for a larger party or, say, 5 or more friends who are more cautious than carefree when it comes to dessert after a hefty dinner of pot stickers and the likes on a Saturday night. I personally enjoy any dessert a la mode, as opposed to drenching it in custard or vanilla sauce. Ice cream any day for me, who’s with me?? I also drizzled over some of my homemade salted caramel sauce of extra pizzaz, though any sauce is of course optional, if you’re the sort who also hates stuff like sweet chilli sauce. Is that even possible?

Filo pastry actually comes in so handy for these types of dessert– I like to chuck mine in the freezer and let it thaw for at least 3 hours or overnight in the fridge to be used the next day.

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Apple Strudel (makes one 4×8-inch strudel. enough for 2-3 people)

Ingredients

2 large apples, diced

juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

2 and a half sheets of filo pastry, with the 2 larger ones cut in the middle along the longer edge, so you end up with 5 halves. If you’re using frozen filo pastry

A handful, or about 30g of chopped nuts (or buckwheat groats, as I used in my case since I didn’t have many nuts lying around– sacrilege!), and some extra for sprinkling later on

4 tbsp vegan butter, melted in the microwave

4 tbsp brown or coconut sugar

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350C). In a bowl, mix together the chopped apple, cinnamon, lemon and nuts. If you don’t have any nuts or buckwheat groats, granola or any trailer mix sort of thing works well too. Set the bowl aside.

Place a piece of parchment paper that fits a standard baking tray, and place the paper on the tray. Flour the parchment and lay down one sheet of filo pastry. Carefully (filo pastry is quite delicate) brush on some vegan butter, then sprinkle on a tablespoon of brown or coconut sugar, then some of your finely chopped nuts/granola/something crunchy basically! Then lay down your second piece of pastry and repeat. Repeat until all five sheets are used up. Place the filling in the middle of the pastry, leaving a border of an inch from the shorter edge (breadth) and 2 inches from the longer edge (length). Refer to the pictures above for a clearer idea of what I’m saying. Using a sharp knife, roughly cut lines going from the edge of your filling to the length of the pastry, spaced 2 cm away from each other and parallel to each other. The lines should match up to each other on both sides of the filling.

Carefully fold the strips of pastry towards the middle, using the extra melted butter to stick any overlapping bits together. Continue doing this along the length of the strudel until you reach the bottom. Brush the top of the pastry with more melted butter, sprinkle on some brown sugar, and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. The pastry should not be dark, but crispy all the same. Serve with a healthy dollop of vegan vanilla ice cream, and more nuts for crunch. This can be kept in the fridge for a few days

 

Banana Bread Oatmeal and Little Lessons

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Having just finished Buddha Brain by Rick Hanson, it’s come to my attention how disengaged and out of focus we tend to be in our stimulated environments, especially in fast-paced cities such as London. Somehow we are always trying to do more in less and less time, and this has potentially devastating lifelong consequences. It’s blind attention. Some days we go through the motions and feel rewarded or successful upon ticking off multiple checkboxes. But life isn’t a checklist, and isn’t supposed to be. How crazy are we to think we can be both productive and happy going about life in this robotic, stress-fuelled way?

This audiobook sort of links to the one I’m reading now– Whole, by one of my idols T. Colin Campbell. All this stress increases risk of certain diseases and accelerates ageing. Food of all things is so underrated in its effects on our mental and physical health, as well as the way we behave towards and learn from others. How could we use food to help us live better lives?

There are a few strategies about both food and lifestyle that I have included in the past few years, each starting at different points in my life, but all practiced towards the same degree. For example, I have done yoga and meditation for 2 years now, but only started mindful eating a few months ago. Naturally I am a rather indecisive person (4-5 delicious Gail’s vegan muffins or a manicure kit? Help??), but these techniques put the minute decisions into the broader context of life better, helping me achieve a better, more logical state of mind.

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The most incredible vegan sorbets and ice cream (coconut, deep and rich dark chocolate, raspberry and lemon basil) at Ballabeni in Munich!

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  • Make eating a meditation. Eat slowly, and savour every mealtime. Put your fork down between each bite, don’t have blazing screens on for at least 2 out of 3 of your meals, talk to a friend or loved one. Think about where each ingredient on your plate came from. This process clears your head, refreshes the mind. You know you are putting good things into your body. The pictures above are from my recent trip to Munich to see my boyfriend and his family. Every morning welcomed me with fresh bread and jam. Each bite was more alluring than the last, a chunk of fresh hope and energy for the day’s next few steps. Even if it’s a slice of cake, remember where that cake came from, each sweet mouthful airing your body with life and energy. It may not be the slow sustained energy you get from your daily bowl of oatmeal, but it’s food to savour and enjoy all the same, and by practicing mindfulness, you’ll get used to treating your body better, and crave cake a few times a week, not twice a day. And on that note…
  • Include some source of protein and fat at at least 2 of your meals. This way, you are satiated and don’t mindlessly snack on sugary foods throughout the day (I have had enough experience with this, ugh). I bake once a week and indulge in whatever experiment that day holds, but my diet is primarily a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) one, and I testify to moderation as salvation  Having had a turbulent relationship with food in the past, particularly my early and mid-teens, WFPB has healed me from the inside-out. Nothing else is more satisfying, refreshing and nurturing. Best part? You can be incredibly creative with any WFPB food! Flax in your baking, carrots in your cake, rich cocoa in your hot chocolate… go mad.
  • Immerse yourself in nature once in a while, and move your body. This is especially important if you live in an urban area like London. In Munich, the forest and her sharp air was particularly surreal despite the stroll’s brevity.  Sometimes, there is nothing more beautiful or necessary. Exercise is equally as important to keep the mind fresh and strong.

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So here is a little breakfast bowl that I made last week. It’s not your traditional bowl of oatmeal, but it’s just as wholesome and only a tad more fancy. It’s the perfect way to start a mindful day. This was further jazzed up with a matcha bar bite I bought at a café, but that;s optional. The focus here is the natural sweetness of the banana and the thick, almost rich flavour it lends to the oatmeal. Watery business begone. Back to basics, the best way.

Banana bread oatmeal (serves 1)

Ingredients

45-50g (about a half cup) oats (I use a mix of porridge and whole rolled oats for texture)

1 banana, half of it mashed, the other half chopped into coins

120ml (half a cup) each of plant milk of choice (I use almond and oat), and water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

some crumbled banana bread

2 tsp each of almond butter and maple syrup

Directions

In a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, mix the oats, salt, mashed banana, milk, water and cinnamon together. If you’re using a saucepan, bring the mix to a boil, then lower the heat a little and stir until you get a thick and only slightly gloopy consistency. If you’re using a microwave, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Take it out in between (after 1.5 minutes) just to stir it and make sure nothing bubbles over, because that may happen if your microwave is especially strong.

In a pan heated on medium heat, lightly oil the base and place your banana coins in the pan. after 30 seconds on medium heat, flip over to check if they’re nice and brown. Heat them a little longer if they’re not. Flip and caramelise the other sides. Place the banana coins on your hot bowl of oatmeal, top with the crumbled banana bread, almond butter, maple syrup, and if you want, a splash more plant milk. The cold milk seeping into the thick and gooey, hot oatmeal is divine.

Matcha Coconut Adzuki Bean Tart

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The week in a nutshell?

Well.

Perhaps an abundance of small happenings and details that cumulated to form the realisation that the smallest changes can indeed lead to drastic changes. Things like goal setting and reading affirmations out loud (even if just in a whisper) have a tremendous impact on how you start and go through your day. Meditation. Another thing I’ve gotten into again, more recently. So many things which, just 2 years ago, I may have scoffed at, brushed aside as heeby-jeeby, loco, substance-less stuff. An amazing Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library, and finally becoming a member of the Wellcome Library. Delicate, lasting pleasures.

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I here conclude that centre of mind should be centre of gravity. Slip-ups happen, a day isn’t always that great, and that’s ok. Walk off the woes. Write. It’s about returning to those small, good things, and staying confident in their life-giving properties which may only be discovered upon closer inspection. Like pouring tea into your teacup, or savouring your first bite of dinner, or reading without your phone buzzing. There is a secret bonhomie even in the most inane things, or inanimate objects.

So I made this tart on Monday, and there is one last slice in the fridge. Waiting there for me, as I sit here typing in Waterstones. Stiffened just to the right degree, with a thin blanket of coconut cream gently melted before the drizzle, and lovingly homemade sweet red adzuki beans. Can you tell Japan is still on my mind?

With matcha, coconut, black sesame and adzuki bean, there’s a lot going on, but there’s a lot going on well. Ecstasy possessed me upon my finding these beans in a health shop near where I stay. They take quite a while to cook but the result is so worth it. These rigid, dark beans are harder, darker and smaller than your normal red kidney beans, and add a nice firm texture to any soft, sweet dessert. Dense and more earthy in flavour. In fact, you could throw these guys into your lunchtime salad or pasta and it probably wouldn’t be half bad (here’s to a new idea for tonight). The filling is not too rich, achieved by mixing coconut cream, coconut yoghurt and plant milk in the right ratio. You could do it all just with coconut cream, but that would totally overwhelm the addition of matcha. The light blend ensures all the flavours come through at the same time. As I wrote in my journal that day, it is ‘so sweet, matcha-y and creamy…!!’ Clearly I was too excited to English properly. Also, no baking needed! Just a little fridge hibernation, so make this the night before to enjoy the next day, or in the morning if you’re the sort who has time at home, and enjoy later on.

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A creamy matcha coconut tart with a black sesame crust and sweet adzuki beans (Japanese red bean)

Matcha Adzuki Bean Coconut Tart (makes one 7/8-inch tart)

Ingredients

For the crust:

35g roasted black sesame seeds

2 tbsp (50g) tahini

8 large medjool dates (120g)

100g raw cashews

 

For the filling:

2 tbsp matcha powder

150g coconut cream, from a package or scoop out the solid bits from a tin of coconut milk, and save some extra to drizzle on top

150g coconut yoghurt or any other plant-based yoghurt of choice, e.g. soy/almond etc

120ml almond milk (or any other plant milk)

50ml (45g or 3-4 tbsp) maple or agave syrup

4.5g (about 1 tbsp) agar powder or vegan gelatin

half a teaspoon of fine salt

 

For the bean topping:

100g adzuki beans (pre-soaked for 2-3 hours, or you can soak them while your tart is setting in the fridge)

5 tbsp granulated/coconut sugar

water

Directions

Using sesame oil or any other oil/margarine (sesame works well here because it matches the flavour of the crust but you don’t have to, really), liberally brush the base and all corners and crevices of your tart tin. Your tin should have a removable bottom. The liberal oiling is important because it’s easy for the sticky crust to stick to the sides! Now in a food processor, blend together all the ingredients for the crust. Wet your hands to stop so much of the batter sticking to them, and press the mixture evenly into your tart tin. Use the bottom of a glass to help, if you want. Set aside for now.

In a saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Place on high heat and bring to boil. Once it is boiling, immediately reduce heat to low, let the mixture simmer for 30 seconds, then take off the heat. Pour this on top of the prepared black sesame crust and spread evenly. Place the tart into the fridge to set nicely.

Meanwhile, make the adzuki beans. Wash your saucepan. Take your pre-soaked beans and place them in the saucepan. Fill with water until the beans are just covered, then cook on medium-high heat for an hour. Now go read something, chat with your mum or watch an episode of Friends. When you come back, the beans should be relatively soft. If not, cook for another 10 minutes. There should still be a little resistance when you use a wooden spoon to break a few beans. Now add the sugar and stir until everything is dissolved. Take off the heat and set aside.

Finally, drizzle some extra coconut cream on the tart, then top with the cooked beans. Et voila! Serve cold from the fridge and enjoy with some green tea or coffee.

And to end on an inspirational quote…

‘Consistency is the playground of dull minds’

Black Sesame Waffles and Lemon Curd

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Do you feel the same emotional high as I after creating a meaningful breakfast? Such that it ceases to be a shallow acquaintance in the morning, disappearing as fast as it appeared– head to table, then head to door. It’s so much more than that. It’s a tuning into the senses, savouring a myriad of plant-based foods that nourish and lighten the soul, the abundance of classic and sometimes unexpected flavours colouring the rest of your day with creativity and comfort.

Just as how some people have shaped and supplied your existence over x number of years, food too mirrors this truth. In clashing flavours, harmony is found.

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There’s no ‘right’ time to treat yourself. Lately I’ve been re-focussing once more on the importance of routine, which really does free up a lot of creative head space during the day. Suffice to say that, upon the first moments of rising, after a cleansing elixir of which recipe I modified from various parts of the Internet  (1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, juice of half a lemon, top up the rest of my 750ml glass with filtered water, mix mix mix), meditation, a short workout and mini journalling session, a generous, flavourful, exotic breakfast is always welcome.

Black sesame, matcha, red bean. These are the flavours which still call to be delivered on an almost-daily basis. The magical trip to Japan was bookmarked with earthy flavour, soil and icy freedom etched in the wintery grey skies. These waffles are a throwback to some charcoal waffles I used to travel far for back in Singapore, though are richer in traditional goma flavour instead of being just, well, black. The use of activated charcoal here helps the colour, though that is optional. What makes it special is a black sesame paste made of finely ground black sesame, maple syrup and sesame oil. The ratio of the paste is much more coarse than that for the actual waffles, but as long as you get a relatively coarse, all-black paste then you’re set and ready to go.

And this lemon curd! Ah lemon curd, something I have unconsciously craved for so long and have failed to substitute with various tangy yoghurts and the morning lemon wash, has finally made a sturdy comeback. All vegan, all delicious, creamy and silky. I used agar powder since I did not have vegan gelatin on hand, but use the latter if you do have it. The agar promotes a more jelly-like flavour so use much less of it. Another great thing is that you can make both waffles and curd at the same time, and not waste time making one thing after the other. If lemon curd isn’t really your thing, these waffles would pair well with most anything else– this morning I coupled a toasted one with tahini, frozen fruit and maple syrup, the white pasty sesame-y tahini (yeah, to think I speak and type English) amping the roasted, toasted flavour of the black sesame paste in the waffles. The lemony curd cuts through this pastiness, a sunny break.

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Crispy, chewy black sesame waffles with lemon curd (makes 6 medium, or 5×6-inch waffles)

Ingredients

90g all-purpose flour

90g oat flour (store-bought or process 90g oats in a food processor; alternatively substitute with another flour of choice, be it plain, spelt, or perhaps a gluten-free option)

35g cornstarch

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar of choice– I used coconut, you can use plain/brown/maple/golden caster

Optional: 1 tbsp activated charcoal powder (you can get this in powder form, or cut open the capsules to release the powder inside)

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the black sesame paste: 65g roasted black sesame seeds+ 2 tbsp each of maple syrup and sesame or vegetable oil

2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice

1 tbsp melted vegan butter

350ml plant milk of choice (I used almond; you could use soy/cashew/oat)

For the lemon curd:

The juice of 1 lemon

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp agar powder, or 2 tbsp gelatin powder

a light pinch of turmeric, for colour (literally just the tiniest smidgen)

a pinch of salt

3 tbsp maple syrup (or agave nectar)

3-4 tbsp plant-based yoghurt (I used soy)

240ml plant milk of choice (I used almond)

 

Directions

First, make the black sesame paste. In a food processor, process the black sesame seeds until fine. This will take quite a while, perhaps at least a couple of minutes (well it took a while for me, at least). Once they look quite fine, add the maple syrup and oil and pulse again until everything is well combined. The paste should be dark and sticky.

In a separate bowl, weigh out all your dry ingredients and mix together well. Add the charcoal powder, then all the wet ingredients. Mix everything together until just combined. The mixture should be moderately thick, dark, and have speckles of the black sesame paste. Heat up your waffle iron according to its instructions and ladle in your glossy, dark batter. Do not put too much or the batter could seep over the sides once you close the lid. Wait for at least 3-4 minutes before opening the lid and checking. Mine does not need flipping over so I only had to close the lid for a couple more minutes again.

While the waffles are cooking, you can combine the ingredients for the lemon curd except for the yoghurt in a small saucepan. Mix everything together well then bring the contents to a boil. Once boiling, take the pan off the heat. This part is important! It may look as though the mixture is still very liquidy, but that’s how it should be. Leave it to cool while you deal with the waffles. After half an hour, take a spoon and mix the curd. It should be a little jelly-like, or at least thick. Add the yoghurt and mix to lighten the colour and smooth the flavour (otherwise its a little too intense).

The waffles and curd will keep for up to a week in your fridge, or you can freeze both and heat up either whenever you want. Serve with each other, with maple syrup and fresh fruit. Bliss, at its true finest.