Parcels really brighten my day, which is why in addition to Foodie Penpals, myself and Bitsandbobsbecs set up a vegetarian/vegan recipe swap this month. As a result, it’s been a pretty busy month for our postie and a busy month for blog posts. With this in mind, I’ve decided to do a double whammy penpals post this month. Las month, my parcel  arrived a little late month so I didn’t have time to blog about it. The contents of my parcel from my partner  were so lovely I thought I’d share them this month along with my set of surprises from my partner this month Kathryn.

 

February's foodie penpal parcel

Tasty teas, mustard and szechuan spice

I’d told Rose that I’ve been getting into herbal teas to try and avoid caffeine and she sent me a lovely mix of really special teas along with a defuser to pop in my tea mug – such a thoughtful gift. I’ve really enjoyed the Thai style chai in particular. Alongside the teas she sent me some German mustard and a szechuan spice, though I haven’t yet tried these as they seem like natural partners for meat. I was paired up with Eeefke from the Netherlands who eats a vegan and gluten-free diet and blogs about it here and the pairing gave me some good insight ahead of Meat-free March. I sent Eefke some ras el hanout, chipotle chilli, dark chocolate drops, mojo sauce and crystallised pineapple for snacking

This month I was again matched with an overseas partner – this time based in Austria, Anette. I’m still waiting to hear if she liked the parcel I put together for her, which I’m hoping will add a little spice to her life. Annette unfortunately doesn’t have a blog or Twitter, but I put  together a parcel of currry spices, a latska kit, crumble fudge and popping candy as she said spices weren’t so easy to get hold of where she lives.

Foodie penpals Uk parcel march

My mass of parcel goodies for March

My March came courtesy of Kat who blogs about pretty and prestine lunches over at Sushisushibento , if you find yourself in a bit of a packed lunch rut you should definitely take a look at her blog, it made me up my lunch game! I nearly burst with glee when her parcel arrived. Not only did it contain a homemade condiment and a conserve, WHOOP! But it was really packed out. There were so many things packed into my parcel and all vegetarian – so I’ve been able to enjoy them throughout the month. I unfortunately started enjoying them a little too soon though, as what isn’t pictured among my amazing haul below is some toffee chocolate biscuit that Kathryn had made herself from TUC biscuits. I tried one piece and couldn’t put the tub down, so they missed out on being snapped. Kat really had everything covered in her parcel – my love of condiments (she sent homemade tomato chutney and damson jam), my love of snacking – crisps AND nut bars, and my new sweet tooth – the biscuits. She also included some mini eggs for Easter, which was a lovely thought.

If you fancy  getting your own selection of goodies through the post every month, click on the foodie penpals button at the bottom of the site.

I’ve been following a vegetarian diet for almost a full month now, but thanks to a bout of food poisoning at the start of my quest followed by a non-commital cold, which I presume snuck in when my immune system was low and now won’t fully depart – I’m sad to report I’ve really not been feeling any benefits so far. The illness has bred laziness and though I’ve prepared lots of exciting lunches, I’ve been a little lazy on the tenacious tea front. Even worse, on the occasions where I’d ventured out to eat with friends, I found a lot of places interpret vegetarian as ‘dairy plus carbs’. I love dairy, dairy does not love me. I love carbs, I love them so much I can feel myself expanding right now as I write, bloated by their comforting starch molecules, which I have consumed far too wantonly in the past month. I’d started to feel a little cheesed off with myself for ever setting the Meatfree March challenge and decided to pick myself up with a trip to the Sky Apple Cafe with some blogger friends Hannah (myfirsthome) and Katherine (itsaboobyfullife).

Review time

Sky Apple has been on the top of my to-do list since mid-January and I’ve actually tried to go once before but was scuppered by the fact the place isn’t open on Monday and Tuesday evenings – take note. This bright and cozy cafe was a little cold when the three of us entered on a weary Wednesday evening but the lights, decor and waitress were very welcoming. We’d come straight from work, I’d got lost en route and two of us had germs threatening to turn into full blown colds. This meant we were hungry, cold and perhaps harder to please than the average customer. However, we were soon put at ease when the waitress heard us debating over herbal tea choices and came over to help us choose. Yes, I know it’s traditional to have alcohol when you eat out and Sky Apple allows you to BYO and has it’s own licence, but in case you didn’t know, it’s snowing up here and has been for about three months. I chose some calming chamomile.

Under the guidance of owner Andy, Sky Apple opens as a cafe during the day and restaurant evenings wed-sat menu is very much a fusion of different cultures and shows a lot of imagination. The evening menu also changes every six weeks to keep things fresh and give you plenty of reasons to go back. There were cheesy and carby options as choices but these were as part of an actual meal and the range of flavours in just a small menu compared to choices I’d been facing in other establishments had me a little overwhelemd. It was great to have so much choice and I felt all special, which is not how I have been feeling dining out recently. The three of us had decided to eat a main couse and dessert as I’ve developed a terrible sweet tooth since quitting meat (no meat=love of sweet) but we couldn’t resist trying the mini fish and chips starter (£4.70) and I’m glad we did. The halloumi sandwiched between aubergine in a crisp, light batter was a texture and taste delight and really did resemble fish and chips. I tend to eat fish a lot when I go out so this was a nice comforting choice and it came with three whole condiments – homemade ketchup, mint puree and homemade tartare, which is out of shot. I double dipped all my chips to up my condiment quota.

Mini 'fish' and chips and dips

On to the main courses, which arrived in a reasonable time after the starters, Hungry Hannah chose a rather phallic-looking strombolli (£8.70). It looked a bit like a calzone or massive pasty but with the addition of reassuringly healthy looking seeds and was oozing with mozzarella intertwined with lots of tasty seasonal veg.

Rolled thin pizza from Sky Apple Cafe

Stromboli and salad

Full-time vegetarian Katherine made the culinary coup of the evening by choosing the Cambodian Curry £8.90, which came with banana fritters. I’ve never eaten Cambodian food before but was impressed by the layers of flavour in the thick sauce, which had the balance of coconut just right.

Vegetarian Cambodian curry, rice and banana fritters

Cambodian curry, banana fritters and rice

My main was Moussake filo (£8.90) which featured layers of sweet potato, aubergine and bechamel sauce inside some crisp filo pastry, alongside a very generous Greek salad. what I found most pleasing about the dish was the fact the layers had been retained – I was afraid I’d be eating moussaka veg mush – but I was very wrong, it was tiered and tasty.

Sweet potato aubergine and bechamel in filo with Greek salad

Moussaka filo and Greek salad

After the generous main course portions, Katherine was flagging and said she couldn’t fit in a dessert but Hannah and I were keen to get the full Sky Apple experience and I was super keen to try out the vegan ice cream, which wouldn’t hurt my stupidly sensitive stomach. The ice cream was made with lots of cinnamon and ginger and I’m pretty sure it had medicinal benefit – it was very strongly scented and soothed my sore throat. The plum crumble £4.80) that accompanied it was lovely, you could tell it wasn’t packed with butter – but this is not a criticism and it in no way lacked taste or crunch, it just felt a little healthier than usual.

vegan ice cream and plum crumble

Plum crumble with throat soothing cinnamon and ginger ice cream

Hannah chose lemon possett and this came with some dippable shortbread biscuits.

Lemon posset from Sky Apple Cafe, Heaton

Lemon posset and shortbread legs

I really enjoyed my meal at Sky Apple Cafe and came away reassured that there are people out there catering for vegetarians and doing it well. Refreshed and nourished I threw myself back into my final week and a half of Meatfree March and I’ll certainly be swinging by Sky Apple again once the month is over – the meal was affordable, delicious and I cant stop thinking about the ice cream. Whether you are vegetarian or not, it’s a great place to meet and eat with friends.

When I lived in Leeds Ma Berg used to pop down for a visit on Mother’s Day and I’d take her out for dinner. There’d be no need for flowers, cards or other frivolities, oh no. In true Berg family style, each year I show my mother I love her by presenting her with food. I should probably also mention that on these occasions – more often than not –  mum opts to eat steak (we went to Blackhouse last year, it was divine). As I’m not eating meat this month, heading to a steakhouse or even for a Sunday Roast seemed like a step too far, but I didn’t want the not-that-old dear to go without, particularly as she’s been feeding me and ironing all of my clothes lately (clothes that have never seen an iron before).

Thus concludes the background to Ma Berg and me settling down to tapas in Morpeth on a cold Sunday afternoon in March. When I moved back up here I started to carry a list of places I want to eat; I keep it folded up in my diary in case I get hungry and want to find somewhere nearby that’s on the list. Yes that is geeky and anal; I’m comfortable with that.  There are about 30 places on the list (which I will blog at some point) and La Bodega was one of them. The restaurant is inside an old pub building but feels rather trendy, which Ma and me hoped would mean there would not be too many screaming children knocking about. God forbid any children should be taking out their mother on this special day of the year and disturb us, that would never do. Anyway, my hunch was right – when we arrived at about 1pm few screaming children were in attendance, unfortunately however the central heating was also absent.

I didn’t get a snap of the inside of the restaurant/bar, which is a shame as it’s really quite nice in there – all wood and ambient lighting and boards with enticing (and well-priced) cocktails scribbled on them. We chose to sit in the far back corner under some fairly lights because it looked cosy and I’m a sucker for the twinkle, twinkle. This was a bad move – we’d plopped ourselves right next to a door that leads out to the courtyard, which I imagine is very lovely in summer. We probably should have been alerted to the chill factor when we noticed there was a colourful array of blankets in a box near our table – you don’t often see blankets in tapas bars. That said, if I had my way you’d get a personal blanket handed to you every time you enter a restaurant: it stops the slops, you can concentrate on eating when you are all cosy and there’s not many social situations that can’t be improved by the comforting addition of a blanket.

I’m not quite sure how to report on the service at La Bodega – the staff were very friendly but I strongly suspect our very young waitress was new to the game; she took our drinks orders, brought our drinks and then waited a little while before giving us the food menu. We Bergs were ravenous and the cute cup of popcorn we were given with our drinks did not touch the sides. When someone did arrive to take our order we made the classic mistake of ordering masses of food because of intense hunger pangs. We ordered some potatas bravas, a Bodega platter and nachos to share, to which I added an order of garlic and thyme mushrooms and then Ma looked sympathetically at me before ordering chorizo and scallops and belly pork with crackling, ginger and cider. Aaargh, smoked, spicy pig and crunchy pig are my two favourite types of pig. I ordered my second pineapple juice and reassured myself I would not be one of those vegetarians that is broken by the smell of cooked pig. I was right, of course – I stayed strong.

 

Nachos

The nachos arrived first and though the dips weren’t out of this world (the refried beans in particular had nothing on Neon Cactus), the portions were generous.

 

La Bodega Platter

The platter came next – chunks of bread, thick slices of manchego, marinated olives, alioli, quince jelly and tomato topping. Again, the portions were plentiful and the olives in particular were good so we merrily munched on.

 

Garlic and thyme mushrooms

I noticed fairly soon that my carb-heavy choices were filling me quite quickly, which is when the potatoes and mushrooms arrived. I’ve made a conscious effort not to fill my diet full of carbs during my meat-free month, but have to admit that dining out  has posed a bit of a problem in this respect as often are were few choices that aren’t either 1)straight vegetables or 2)just carbs of somekind. I’ve also consumed well more dairy than I should have, which has made my stomach angry and negated any benefits of eating vegetarian. Again, this is something I feel has been inflicted by narrow menu and supermarket choices at times.

Out of the food that I ate the platter and potatoes shone through, with the mushrooms performing well on flavour but being a little unimaginative in terms of texture. It would have been nice to see a few diferent types of mushroom in there.Ma was feeling a tad guilty for munching through all my goodies but then her food came out and it looked fantastic.

 

Scallops and chorizo

Ma’s scallops were big and juicy, her chorizo came in big, dark, chunks and her crackling made all the right noises when she nibbled on it complete with some of the little apple compete it came with.

Belly pork and crackling,

 

In the end the feast defeated us and we politely asked if we could take our leftovers home for Pa Berg (who was a little grumpy at being left at home even though he was asked to join). I can sometimes be a little nervous about asking to take a doggie bag but the waiter was more than happy to pack it up for us and delivered our leftovers back to us very promptly in neat little plastic containers.

Dessert was offered – but we weren’t so fussed about the British puds on the menu  – some kind of crumble and chocolate brownies. Instead, still feeling the chill we opted for some hot drinks – a Tia Maria coffee for mum and a Brandy Hot Chocolate for me (after all, I’d just eaten a whole heap of cheese and was still recovering from food poisoning, why wouldn’t a dairy drink be my first choice?). In the haste to warm my mitts I forgot to photograph these but they looked very pretty and tasted even better. My hot chocolate had a perfect ‘frol to froth ratio, which leads me to believe the enticing cocktails on the boards might be rather good at La Bodega too.

The bill came to just over £45, which was good considering the meal essentially served three and came with a few rounds of soft drinks. As I paid, a lady who I assumed was the owner came in and declared she’d turned the heating on when she came in as it felt cold. We felt a little robbed by this news but reassured that there was actually central heating onsite.

When the weather warms up a little I think we’ll head over to sample cocktails in the courtyard. Meanwhile, I’ll be conducting a temperature check at all establishments before ordering from now on.

 

It’s day 12 of my first ever meat-free month and in the Nyberg household things are looking a little green. Green because I’m currently proper scared of not getting enough iron in my diet so I’ve been adding spinach or kale to pretty much everything. For those who haven’t been following my sausage-free escapades so far, myself and Becs Edwards of Bitsandbobsbecs have pledged to be remain meat and fish free for an entire month. I’ve been doing my best not to cave in and eat a diet of pasta and sauce but have to admit there have been a few days where I’ve eaten little else. This is partially because I’ve been knocked out with a tummy bug (which has stopped me from feeling any benefit of a healthier veg-packed lifestlye), but also because eating veggie is a little out of my comfort zone. With this in mind, Becs and I have decided to reach out to our fellow bloggers and organise a recipe swap to promote culinary creativity and keep me out of post-lunch carb comas.

How will the Meat Free March recipe swap work?

The idea is to gather together a group of people who love food, love writing about food and are either already eating meat free or are looking to expand their repertoire of veggie or vegan food.

We’ll team interested parties up with a fellow blogger by popping you over a quick survey to help identify food don’ts and food loves.

After that, you’ll have a few weeks to play in the kitchen, scour recipe books, blogs and other foodie bibles, looking for the perfect recipe to send to your veggie pal.  We really love brown paper packages tied up with string, so we thought it’d be nice if we sent each other vegan/veggie recipes by post. This way, you can include one or two low-cost ingredients for the recipe if you so choose.

As per the food bloggers code, we’d encourage you to cite recipes taken from cookbooks and link to them on the writer’s website if you are using someone else’s recipe without alterations. After all, food writers have to earn their bread and soya spread too!

We’d love nothing more than to see everyone’s culinary attempts at their swap pal’s recipe, so we’d really enjoy it if people wrote up their escapades in a blog post, and took lots of pictures too!

We’re also currently in talks with a few nice bods to be able to offer the best post a little something – watch this space for more info…

In addition to writing about your recipes it would be great to share experiences of going meat-free or hints and tips for the kitchen  and you can do this using the #MFMuk hashtag on Twitter.

Some key dates for your diary

  •  Participation confirmation to be received by this Friday March 15th
  •  Recipes to be arrive with partner by Monday March 25th
  •  Blog posts to go up Sunday March 31st
  •  Matches sent out Sunday March 17th

How do I sign up?

Signing up is easy – just leave me a comment below with your email address or tweet @becs_edwardsor @foodfablesuk or drop us an email at foodfablesuk@gmail.com

We look forward to meat-free munching with you!

Since I moved back Northwards I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with how much is going on for food loving folk like me. I’m not sure whether I ought to put the seven pounds I’ve gained down to the fact my mother seems to think everything should come with a man-size serving of carbs or explain it away by saying that I’ve barely stopped to breathe while exploring all the new exciting things on offer what I can shove in my mouth. One thing I’d been particularly looking forward to was the Street Spice Festival that took place at the Centre for Life this weekend. The event combined two things we Geordies love: a bit of a party and lots of spicy food and it was held in aid of the good cause Brain Tumour UK. I was so excited about the event and all of the other stuff I’ve discovered going on up here that I wrote a little piece for the Guardian about all the fabulous food happenings and festivals going on in the North East at the mo, which you can read here, if you want to stay one step ahead before things book up.

As the Street Spice Festival drew close I began to think giving up meat for a whole month along with Bitsandbobsbecs was one of my whackier ideas, particularly when I found out the The Rib Man was in town for the three day bonanza. The day before I headed along with Mummy Berg,  people began tweeting me tempting pictures of meaty goodness barbecused by local meat enthusiasts The Pit Club (wekeeponburning) and I knew my meatfree mettle was truly up for a test. That said, if there’s one food that’s the new veggie’s friend it is spicy food that’s full of flavour, as I learnt during a trip to Leed’s Hansas, so I was confident I would find something to salivate over that was dead-animal free and I was right.

Here are a few of my snaps of meat-free and meat-filled spicy delights that were packed into a music-filled marquee parked outside the Centre for Life.

Vendors at street spice festival, newcastle

A vendor serves up something nice and spicy at the Centre for Life

I’m definitely going to be looking out for other events where the burning boys below are in attendance, their stall smelled particularly delicious.

local rib enthusiasts wekeeponburning

Local barbecue specialists wekeeponburning get the ribs ready

Tempting foods at Newcastle Street Spice Festival

More temptation

All kinds of curry and rice

Pots of colourful curries

As  an experienced food festivaller I knew not to commit to purchase anything until I’d done a full circuit of the joint – too oft have I hurried food into my mouth at stall numero uno only to regret the fullness of my belly two stalls down the line.  I waited until my mum purchased and started to wolf down a rib sandwich from the Rib Man before I made my first selection. No, of course I’m not including a photograph of her sandwich here, do you people not think this day was not already hard enough for me – lover of barbecue? I did buy some Holy Fuck sauce from Mr Rib Man though, which was a comical thing to ask to buy in front of the mothership and was made more funny when my dad told me at tea tonight that he had enjoyed a bit of Holy Fuck on his gammon. OH, SO WRONG!

Anyway, I digress, this is the beautiful veggie treat I picked up at David Kennedy’s stall for a mere few pounds; artichokes toasted in some kind of delicious batter, cous cous mixed with nuts, seeds and a bit of spice, tamarind sauce and coriander and (if I’m right) just a touch of mint. It confirmed the need for the River Cafe and Food Social to be firmly in the top 20 of places I need to eat this year (which i must remember to post on here, actually).

A meal of artichokes, delicately spiced couscous and mint and coriander leaves

My tasty lunch from David Kennedy's stall

As I’d just had a little bite I thought it would be OK to sample a little something else in the form of a uttapam with a little chilli and coriander and coconut chutney from the organisers Sachins stall. Neither of my choices were particularly hot but I did enjoy the range of flavours in each dish and felt particularly inspired to do a bit more with my cous cous than throw some stock, lemon juice or harissa in it. Watch this space for cous cous creativity!

Uttapam on the stove

My uttapam being prepared

I was sad to spot on the news today that a number of people who attended the festival had fallen ill and I must confess I was actually off work at the start of the week with what I presumed was a nasty tummy bug. It’s not yet known if this was connected to a particular stall or even any of the food at the event and I do hope it doesn’t impact negatively on this or similar events happening in the future. There was a real buzz inside the marquee with some belting music being played and cocktails (courtesy of Popolos) cooling chilli-heated mouths and though I really wasn’t a fan of spending Monday and Tuesday incapacitated I was a real fan of the festival and the community concept behind it and I really hope it returns next year.