I could(n’t) eat a horse

‘What did you do on Christmas Day?’ they might ask.
‘I sat and wrote about it!’
Sad? Not really. Well, perhaps, if that’s your standpoint.

Another deep, dark December has nearly passed and here I am, several days after the solstice, at home in Lochinver (not necessarily by choice, but not too unhappy about it) and on my own (through considered choice) on a day when most people are celebrating something to which I don’t subscribe. Or maybe, like me, they’re celebrating Saturnalia, a few days late.

I declined offers to spend the day with others, although they were tempting indeed. A big family Christmas with good friends, though joined by relatives I don’t know which seemed a little foolhardy under the current circumstances, or a bah-humbug curry (Craig’s words) which would involve an 18 mile drive and an overnight stay, due to the obligatory wine. I can – and will – do that another time, but on this day, when so many are bound by tradition and expectation, there is liberation in realising the day is your own and you can do whatever you like.

What, then, am I doing? I woke late, in the cosy pyjamas I bought myself last year. No wrappable presents today; memories of my November sun-burst are a gift that keeps on giving. A quick yoga session followed by a beautiful stroll through the Culag Woods with bright winter sunshine bathing the trees in a golden light under a perfect blue sky. After weeks upon weeks of heavy rain, these last few days have been everything we could have wished for.

Back home for morning coffee as I set about preparing the special meal. I could have chosen to eat all manner of things, of course, but I decided to go down the traditional route because I rarely do it. I’m usually in too much of a hurry, too lazy and it involves way too many pans! Once it was all in the oven the only things I needed to do were to decide: Red or white? (Answer: both) and to begin the writing.

‘What DO vegans eat?’ I’m often asked and, specifically, ‘what do they eat at Christmas?’
The answer to the second question is, as we’ve discussed, pretty much anything they fancy. The same to the first, actually, come to that. In seriousness, though, as people seem to be genuinely curious, this is my take on it.

There are those whose desire for meat leads them to seek out life-like substitutes and, these days, they are readily available. But as a vegetarian of 38 years who never cared too much for the stuff in the first place, I fall into the second category: Those who eat everything that does not come from an animal, or look as though it does. Initially, I confess, this led me to a diet which was fairly laden with dairy products until, around twenty years ago, I discovered I was quite seriously intolerant to actual cow’s milk. A good proportion of adults are (cow’s milk is designed for calves, after all), but not everyone discovers that this is the cause of their symptoms. I immediately gave up all dairy, but with certain cheats – I had little reaction to sheep’s and goat’s cheese – until four or five years ago when I joined ‘Veganuary’, a movement which encourages the vegan-curious to try it for the month of January. By then I had already made the connection between the meat and dairy industries and the resulting cruelty, health and environmental considerations, and this was the kick I needed to go the whole hog (or lentil?)

It has not always been a smooth path. I do, very occasionally, lapse. When travelling, especially, one sometimes needs to turn a blind eye to certain ingredients which can sneak into dishes and in a few places it would be easy to starve if one was too strict. In addition, I have cravings once in a while for fish and chips. As long as I’m aware of the damage done by commercial fishing and that the fish itself is likely to be full of plastic, I can live with myself if it’s only once or twice a year, although it’s a habit I plan to kick. I’m not perfect, but I do care. For the most part, though, I’m more than content with the delicious and nutritious food I make for myself. Vegan cheeses have improved enormously, too, and for some reason I am not as turned off by them as I am by mock-meat. In moderation though, I must add, as I’d honestly prefer to eat chick pea masala.

So, what’s on the menu for today? Nut roast flavoured with Mediterranean herbs; crispy olive oil roasted potatoes, parsnips and carrots; brussels sprouts with chestnuts; bread sauce made with creamy oat milk and gravy made with onion, red wine and Bisto (yes, it’s vegan). Afterward, if I leave room, there are vegan cheeses including a very fine Camembert I’m trying for the first time, mince pies and chocolate ‘lebkuchen’. If all that doesn’t turn me into a giant football there are Tesco’s after dinner mints, much like After Eight. So many treats such as these are ‘accidentally’ vegan, I really don’t miss out.

There are lots nut roast recipes which are easy to make and the results are filling, tasty and so healthy! Nuts can be pricey, but are still better value than meat when you consider the amount and quality of protein they provide; a little goes a long way. This is one of my favourites:

Ingredients: (Serves up to 8)

December gold, Culag Woods

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
3 1/2 – 4 cups (250-260 g.) mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup (15 g.) chopped coriander
1 3/4 cups (200 g.) cashews
1 1/2 cups (200 g.) Brazil nuts
2 slices (about 100 g.) dense wholegrain bread, torn
1/4 cup (30 g.) ground flaxseeds
1/2 cup (50 g.) rolled (porridge) oats
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 – 1/2 cup red wine or vegetable stock
1 tsp. dried oregano and 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease a loaf tin.
In a nonstick frying pan, heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, carrot and mushrooms; sauté until onions are soft and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the coriander and stir to mix; turn off heat.
Meanwhile, place the nuts, bread, flax seeds and oats in a food processor and process until ground and uniform. Add the herbs and pulse to combine.
Measure 1 1/2 cups of the veggie mixture as well as 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture and place in a large bowl. Set aside.
Add the remainder of the mixture in the frying pan to the crumbs left in the food processor, along with the soy sauce and red wine. Process until smooth. Scrape this mixture into the bowl with the vegetables and other crumbs.
Combine the ingredients in the bowl until you have a sticky, thick ‘dough’. Scrape this mixture into the loaf tin and smooth the top. Bake in preheated oven for about one hour, turning once about midway through, until the top is dry and the edges are well browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Or you could be just like me, and buy one from Lidl.

Naturally, it all tastes better off Highland Stoneware. Cheers, everyone!