The Reluctant Vegetarian 2



Think bush walk, ants, snakes then think safe clean beach, think young dog, small children, great expanses of white sand only accessed through stairs…lots and lots of steep winding stairs up a cliff.

Who wants to tote a bloody huge wicker basket a la Wind in the Willows? Old Ratty and Moley tottering down a cliff clutching a basketful of mean cucumber sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer?

NO. I said NO!

When I was a kid this same beach, The Step Beach at Airey’s Inlet was ours and exclusively ours. No-one else came there much back in nineteen hundred and frozen to death. It was our joy our territory our freedom and if someone did venture down those terrifyingly treacherous steps unfit for 5 y.o. legs or 60 y.o. legs they’d be met by a bunch of rowdy tousled kids clutching smelly sardine sandwiches gone crisp at the crust with oil and the day’s heat. They stank but attracted cats and other assorted wildlife or there might be Peck’s Anchovy Paste or Camp Pie or best, Steak and Onion from the tin sitting dark and fat between slices of Tip Top white bread.

On a good holiday mum might make egg and lettuce and she’d mash the egg with lots of salty butter and pepper. So yum.

The wildlife to be terrified of were bull ants. HUGE red and black bastards they’d drag you away in your sleeping bag Gulliver like and certainly chomp into your sandwich with whatever filling it had without hesitation. They were everywhere back then but I didn’t notice a single one last Sunday when we all trooped off in a convoy to The Step Beach for a picnic and a swim. I also didn’t notice the sand dune we’d whoop holler and somersault down, all eroded to rock now and likewise the flowing creek had dried up, the rock pools were virtually devoid of life but somehow it didn’t matter. We were there on a glorious day laughing and having a swim in that cold effervescent water. Then there were our sandwiches, lots of them.

The best one is the unparalleled Super Salad Sandwich; the SSS.

Here it is:

FRESH white bread or wholemeal if you must but nothing grainy or fancy pants artis-anal.

Last Tango in Paris style, spread liberally spread with butter. If you do margarine then best to eat a pie and sauce or watch another film, even Iron Chef.

So I digress.

One buttered side also gets Masterfoods Hot English Mustard and the other piece a blob of homemade harissa Mayonnaise (recipe later). The quality of the mayo is critical for if it is a cheapie it will ruin your sandwich so go for Best Foods or Thomy or make your own, lazy bugger, it is EASY.

Now pay attention class as we go on, otherwise it won’t work and will go soggy or fall to bits.

On the mustard side put ham, a nice smokey one. On top of that put the thinly sliced tomato pepper and salt, surprisingly more than you would normally.

Then place very thinly sliced cucumber, grated carrot here and if you like raw onion which is terribly bossy it should go here too, then Edgell tinned beetroot which I prefer since it is not too sweet and not too vinegary.

Then comes the cheese and here is an important point, don’t go fancy here, if you do anything like camembert, washed rind or God forbid, d’Affinois it will totally ruin the sandwich and certainly don’t use a sharp cheddar, it should be cheapo sliced cheese in plastic wrap. This is because of its tendency to soften and acts as a meshing of flavours and as a kind of glue.

You end with a crisp iceberg lettuce which is lying against the mayo like a crisp green blanket tucking all the children into bed.

You will also have to be firm with it compressing it down with your whole hand as you cut with a sharp bread knife.

Wrap it in plastic wrap really tightly and enjoy it wherever you are but best avoid the wildlife…to be continued

‘Wherein Chris causes a domino effect fall off the cliff after putting his hand on a bull ants nest’.




The Reluctant Vegetarian


Incrementally, I have become vegetarian not by any particular virtuous route but because of a selfish one, I’d like to live longer and eating a plant based  diet means this is more likely and incidentally I feel better for it. All my old digestive issues have disappeared, no more the gross gaseous cloud emanating from between my buttocks stuttering out an SOS to the kitchen gods, no more my belly like some acid magma chamber venting up into my throat. I’m done with that now.

After my diagnosis last May I got radical with everything and became a superfood junkie. That got rather expensive and inconvenient as I lived out of a suitcase for the year I was on treatment going from house to house like an exhausted bald bag lady. I got slack because I was exhausted. It became just too hard to resist the river of easier meat based foods and gradually I returned to my old diet although not nearly so heavy nor did it include alcohol except  in the few weeks before my conversion.

It was on the Ian Gawler Retreat that I was converted. No angels no cherubim or seraphim no levitating nuns no statues weeping blood, just science, just good old empirical thinking and evidence based studies.

For the five days I was there with 29 other people directly or indirectly affected by cancer we ate vegan food. It wasn’t great vegan I have to say although their staff were the loveliest of people probably on a tight budget. I’d have done it differently but so would all of us. It is extremely difficult to cater to palates used to salt and sugar, fats and oils and I am undoubtedly a gannet albeit a gourmet gannet. I love cooking and see it is intimately linked with art and religious sentiment; one can paint a plate with colour flavour and texture so exquisite it causes such an elevation of the senses it is a religious experience. However that has to stop.

Seeing food through this new lens has caused me to do more of what my father used to say as he scooped out his un-smashed avo topped with lemon a little salt and pepper for breakfast after his massive heart attack in 1969 when my sister found dad in the surgery unconscious in his chair.

“Eat to live don’t live to eat.”

My mum was a trail blazer nutritionally back then. She put dad on Vitamin E to Z, minerals, muesli and avocados instead of eggs and bacon, she  discovered Brewers Yeast and wheatgerm and she changed everything about her approach to feeding us in order to keep the love of her life (our old dad) alive. She also, and this was my later downfall, discovered Cordon Bleu cookery.

I so clearly remember that first numinous moment of watching her bringing a baked strawberry cheesecake to the dinner table so pleased with herself as we watched agog. It was extraordinarily delicious, the perfect cheesecake and later we tasted other creations mum made from the monthly editions of Cordon Bleu cookbooks by Muriel Downes and Rosemary Hume…decidedly unfroggy names. Apricot stuffed rack of lamb with an orange crust, sauce soubise, ginger souffle, BBQd leg of lamb, Austrian Coffee Cake, Chilli Con Carne, Beef Wellington, Syllabub,Cucumber Mousse, so so many others but the one that has stuck in my family’s tradition for special occasions, Hazelnut and Raspberry Torte. This simple but utterly moreish dessert improves on the second day if it lasts that long.

  • 6-8 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • ¼ cup plain flour (although I often leave it out if I want a crispier torte)
  • 1 cup hazelnut meal
  • a pinch of salt
  • whipped cream
  • raspberries….lots and frozen is ok but fresh is best

Toast the hazelnut meal carefully as it will suddenly and quickly burn around the edges so you have to keep mixing it up with a fork, pushing the edges in. Cool them.

Whip the eggwhites till stiff then gradually incorporate the sugar beating until really thick and glossy. Fold in the sifted flours and the cool hazelnuts and pour into two baking paper lined tins and cook in a slow oven for about 35 mins but until it shrinks away from the tin and looks dry and crisp.

When they are cold sandwich them with raspberries and cream also topping them with the same and finish with a dusting of icing sugar.

NOW for the vegan version…

(to be continued…)

But as I have begun growing my own herbs and salads veggies and so on, I have discovered a new world of flavours healthier and tastier. Also the need for butter on my toast has been replaced by good quality golden flaxseed oil when I can get it and although it is really expensive I don’t slather it on like more is better as with butter.

Most things that I used to eat a lot of can still be enjoyed, I always loved veggies and fruit and nothing changed there, and most of the old ways can be substituted by new and healthier ones but the main thing is, I don’t sweat it, so if one day I feel like a bit of butter on my spelt and whole grain toast and a little homemade raspberry jam, I will. But life is sweet too and guilt and stress only make miserable dining companions.

I noticed the effects of different foods on my belly as I eliminated swathes of food groups. My body hates dairy, it doesn’t like most wheat products and alcohol makes me feel ill now so I rarely have it. Once I had a half glass of pinot noir in a pub and the hideous reaction, flushing and burning of my face lasted hours and hours along with a headache-not worth it!

I can’t abandon salt though. Some food needs it and my tongue does but I have cut it down to probably a quarter of what it was and I don’t add sugar to anything anymore although I am aware that there are sugars in various fruits and veg but I reckon that’s okay so long as I don’t overdo it.

Today I made a great discovery. I have been a purist with coffee. IF I drank it and for a long time I didn’t, I had a little craving now and then but could only have it with cows milk and one sugar but it always made me squeamy in the guts. Today I sallied forth with the hot Bonsoy and a tspn of maple syrup. IT WAS DELICIOUS! I preferred it to the old way. Huzz-bloody-zahhh!raspberry-hazelnut-meringue-torte-76862-1

To be continued…