Monday, 3 May 2021

Vegan cheese sauce

 I haven't written much about going vegan (in fact, I haven't been doing very well with the blog at all lately) and blogging about food with spur-of-the-moment, unstylized, mobile phone photos is probably a mistake; photos are everything when it comes to food blogging, even if some people manage to make their gorgeous photos look completely effortless.  

Nonetheless... I am going to post my terrible photos anyway!  

Tonight I had my first go at making a vegan cheese sauce.  What I would really like to do is to replicate the cauliflower cheese pies from Higgidy, that we used to eat (and occasionally still sneakily do), but one thing at a time - I wanted to try to get the cheese sauce down first.

I was loosely following the idea in this recipe (all inadequacies are of course my own) - i.e. making a bechamel as you would usually, but with non-dairy fat, and vegan milk, then adding mustard and seasoning and nutritional yeast.  I used almond milk, and olive oil-based vegan butter.

In many respect, it did exactly what it was supposed to.  The floury taste had to be cooked out of course, but it thickened quickly when it came to a simmer, and it had a lovely shine to it(!)  However, the colour was unappetizing, and the taste disappointingly mild.  I would have kept adding the nutritional yeast, but although I do actually like the flavour and could eat it by the spoonful on its own, I don't think it really does the trick when you're trying to make something that tastes like a cheese sauce.  Adding more wouldn't have helped.  Really, it needed something with a bit more sting to it.  I used to think that nutritional yeast tasted a bit like marmite, and actually a couple of spoons of marmite would have done wonders for the flavour.  But it still wouldn't have tasted like a cheese sauce.

Other recipes I've found online suggest using vegan cheese in place of nutritional yeast - this one, for example.  

I am slightly worried about this.  I'm not at all joking when I say that you have to handle vegan cheese with kid gloves.  It took me months to get used to the flavour - not the stuff that tastes mildly of coconut, but the mature cheddar substitute which is really like something scraped out of the back recesses of Satan's refrigerator.  Even once... acclimatised... to the smell, you have to get used to its textural peculiarities.  It is very difficult to crisp up.  When laid over the top of some dish and gratinated, it goes slightly brown on the surface, and then weirdly smooth and creamy underneath.  Somebody said to me that the bit underneath reminded them of those foil-wrapped cheese triangles, and that probably describes it as well as anything.  Only once did I manage to get it crispy: I was struggling to get used to a new, more powerful oven, and at the same time I had arranged to take delivery of my new sofa just before dinner.  It took longer than expected to make the sofa feel at home, and by the time I got back to the oven, the veg was soggy and the ratatouille was almost black.  But the cheese was good.

So, yes, the prospect of melting it in a sauce concerns me slightly.  It's worth a shot though, because I didn't think the nutritional yeast version worked very well.

Actually, in a pie, it might be fine.  I think, more than I realised, the taste of cauliflower cheese comes from the roasted cauliflower.  With a sauce that was there merely for lubrication, it might still be reminiscent of cauliflower cheese.

By the way, can I just say that that thing in the foreground of the photo is a Tesco nut burger and, dry and uninviting as it looks, they're actually very nice!

Tomorrow, for the birthday of my aunt (who's favourite dessert is lime meringue pie), I'm going to make... vegan(ish) madeleines!  Madeleines, because a madeleine tin is the only cake tin I possess at the moment.  Vegan(ish), because I'll be using duck eggs - albeit from ducks that I know are genuinely free range, since they live in my sister's garden.  I'm only vegan for animal welfare reasons.  I might, or might not, post a photo, depending on how well they turn out!

Tuesday, 27 April 2021



The new sofa went in surprisingly easily.  It turned out that the legs come off, and so it just slid straight in.  It made me wonder why we had such a palaver with the first one!

And here is the first one, crammed up under the window, with a beautiful view of the sky and the sunny terraces opposite.

 It does look a good deal darker with that beautiful pale floor covered up, but cosy hopefully!  The new sofa is perhaps not as smart as I'd like, but incredibly comfortable!  Which is good, because I find the first sofa beautiful to look at but not especially comfortable.

I'm having a bit of an issue with lighting.  Each sofa just fits in the space provided, both bordered by a bookshelf on one side and doorway on the other.  There is no room to put a table with a lamp on it (apart from right in the middle of the floor), and the bookshelves - being straight - don't allow any room for a lampshade, or the 'elbow' of a reading light. You can see in the first photo (above), I've squeezed in a yellow lamp, but it can only just turn round enough to cast a light on the nearest side of the sofa.  Anyone sitting on the other side had better find something else to do - no reading for them!  Perhaps some kind of wall sconce is required - in which case, it'll have to wait!

In the meantime, we've been digging the trench in the front garden for the new water pipes.  The incoming pipes are made of lead, which - although a lot of people seem to have them on my street - isn't recommended, so I'm having them replaced.  The water company will put a new connection in free of charge, so long as I take care of the pipes on my property.

Digging the trench might have been the hardest bit...

I have been worried about people falling down the hole, so I put a bin there.  This morning, the postman made a heroic effort and managed to get past the wheelie bin and shove a pile of junk mail through my letterbox!  Perhaps what I need is another wheelie bin directly in front of the door?

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Front room floor!

My new front room floor is in!

Today, the builders are coming in to finish off the skirting boards, and they've promised to put my venetian blind up for me.  Then on Friday, I am going to attempt to take delivery of a lovely, secondhand, Laura Ashley sofa from Facebook Marketplace.  I say 'attempt' because I'm not at all certain it will fit through the front door!  It is similar sized (plus just a few small inches) to the one I've got, so fingers crossed.  Otherwise the poor seller will have to take it away again(!)

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Builders in

Yesterday I moved into the house properly.  I say 'properly', but it's a bit like camping out at the moment.  I have both the builders and the plumber here, so everything's a bit disorderly!  I'm back to work tomorrow (fingers crossed) and and it might be a relief to get out the way; I feel like I'm right under everyone's feet.  The floor's all been taken up in the front room - some of the joists needed replacing, and the new gas and water pipes are going down - and the back room is full of the tools and pipes and stuff.  The front path has been [half] taken up - again for the pipe work.  It's all a bit hair raising.

This is the front room at the moment...

And this is the back...

On the plus side, when everyone leaves between four and five o'clock, the house is blissfully quiet and the sun streams in the dining room window; it's glorious.  (Note to self: clean that window.)

And, the new Ikea sink unit is in and it looks really lovely.  It's all plumbed in, but there's something weird about the old plumbing, so the pressure of the hot water in the kitchen is next to nothing.  This will be remedied when the gas is fitted, but that won't be till the end of June(!)  So I will be filling the washing-up bowl in the bathroom until then.

(Note to self: clean that window too.)

But despite everything, the place is beginning to feel a bit more like home.  The books and the sofa are in...

And the bed...

Before I completed on the house, I bought a pair of beautiful, floral Laura Ashley curtains on Ebay - second-hand - thinking it would be good to be prepared, and have them there ready to hang immediately on moving in.  We hung them a few days ago...

It did make me laugh!  I'll have to find them a new home.  In the meantime - when I can be bothered to fight my way into the front room at all - I've had to use a bit of tarpaulin to cover the window.  Not pretty; but temporary; it'll get there in the end.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Slow progress

It's really difficult to make any progress at the moment - I'm so short of money - but tins of paint have been forthcoming from family members, thankfully, so I have done some work.  

I have painted the living room white...

That thing on the right is the front door, and immediately beyond that is the right-hand wall, so you can see how small it is.

I thought before I started that I definitely wasn't going to paint everything white - I'm really not keen on minimalist, white interiors - but that's exactly what I'm doing.  It was just intended as a blank canvas, from which I can hopefully go on to other more exciting colours, but actually in the front room, the white looks really good.  It goes well with the pine; the whole thing looks bigger and airier.

Having said that, I'm re-considering whether to actually use it as a living room.  It seems very goldfish-bowl-like, even with the voile curtain.  I will try a blind, which is how a lot of people in my street seem to deal with the public aspect of their front rooms; otherwise it might just end up being a very large entrance hall, and I shall cram everything into the back room!

In the back room, I still haven't sorted my lime plaster wall out.  I was a bit confused for a while - someone suggested that it looked more like concrete than lime(!) - but the builders have just started and they reckon it's lime, so when I can afford to, I'm going to buy some kind of lime-based product and have a go at patching it up.  In the meantime, I have painted everything around it white...

I'm not so taken with the white in the back room.  It's a very strange house for light - very flush on the east-west axis - so in the morning, the front of the house is gorgeous and the back looks like hell; in the afternoon - if the sun is shining - it's the other way round.  At any rate, the back room seems to be darker more often, so the white paint generally looks a bit grey.

I've also stripped out the little cupboard under the stairs.  It did have little shelves in it - about 6 inches deep - that had been wallpapered over several times.  That seemed like a bit of a waste of space though; it's not big enough to be a walk-in cupboard; so I thought the best thing to do would be to take out the little shelves and put a more substantial shelving arrangement in there.  The walls, again, are lime, and rather crumbly so the shelves would have to be free-standing, but that would be fine - that would work.  

I am very attached to this cupboard!  Despite the 1960s-style slatted doors, it seems like one of the most authentically Victorian parts of the house.  There's a bit of me that thinks it would be a terrible shame to fill it up with shelves so you can't go in there any more.  (It is, in fact, a walk-in cupboard, despite its lack of grandiosity.)

As I said, the builders started this week.  They have chased all the electric cables in the kitchen, installed concrete blocks on the left-hand side of the steps, to match the right-hand side, and prepared all the walls for the plasterer today.  This is what it looked like when they left yesterday...

And this is what it looks like now...

Woo!  Isn't it beautiful?

Also, at the risk of one too many basic photographs, there was an engineer at the house the day before yesterday...

Excited as I am about the plastering, I cannot tell you what a difference a broadband connection and a new rug make to comfort levels.  Ooh, new rug...

It is second-hand, from Facebook Marketplace and I'm really chuffed with it.  When I turned up to collect, the gentleman had a whole bunch of other rugs he thought I might be interested in, and there I was with my tight budget, and my thrifty £55 in cash, thinking how wonderful they all looked.  Sadly I couldn't afford any of them.  Maybe another time.

Next week, the kitchen floor gets levelled and (fingers crossed) tiled, and the fridge arrives.  Oh yes, and right at the end of the week I'll actually be moving in!  Sometime in the middle of all that, I'm hoping to get the sink fitted and the kitchen plumbing reattached.  It will be a very exciting week.  Then the week after, fingers crossed, I go back to work.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Lime plaster walls!

 Good morning!  

When I first got the keys to my house, I thought 'one room at a time; first off: kitchen', but of course, there's always some waiting to be done between stages - waiting for stuff to arrive, or builders to arrive.  At some point, it was [gently] suggested to me that I might get on and paint something else while I'm engaged in said waiting(!)  So yesterday, I tackled the wallpaper in the dining room.  Naturally, it immediately turned into an enormous job!

This is what it looked like before.  I don't think it's terrible, but it wouldn't be my choice, so I thought I might as well get rid of it.  It turned out it was covering polystyrene-backed lining paper.  There was no way to separate the floral wallpaper from the lining paper (no layer of paint in between), but the polystyrene is supposed to be dangerous anyway, so I took it all off.

It also turned out that what initially looked like a slab of plaster board or particle board (is that a thing?) or something underneath, was actually lime plaster!  This substantially survived my wallpaper-stripping efforts, but there were areas where bits crumbled and fell out.

You can't really see the holes properly from here - but there are chunks of plaster missing.  I'm not sure whether to panic about this or not(!)

The other thing is, not only are there now holes in my lime plaster, but the surface itself isn't particularly smooth - like you'd get with gypsum plaster.  I'm not sure whether the lime is meant to be like this, or whether it needs some kind of finish.  I'm not going to put gypsum over the top, but is there an appropriate lime finish?  I don't think I've ever seen a finished lime plaster wall up close to inspect it.  (Next time I find myself in an old period building, I shall definitely be inspecting the walls closely!)

Weirdly, although it's a mess at the moment, I do think it's quite attractive in a rustic kind of way.  

Having lime plastering done professionally is apparently phenomenally expensive, so my options will be, either to leave it au natural (and I'll be honest, I haven't yet warmed to the mould marks), at least until I can afford to have it done properly - which might not be for a few years. B and 2, fill in the holes as best I can with some kind of cheap filler, and reapply lining paper, then paint the wall, and hope it'll be alright.  C and 3, grab the bull by the horns and try lime plastering myself!

Given that a lot of actual plasterers who contribute to online forums and discussions boards seem to think that lime plastering is messy and difficult, the idea of doing it myself is probably laughable.  On the other hand, given how long it would take me to save up to have it done properly, I don't think I have anything to lose by trying.  It's not a major job, after all, just a few repairs.  And if it goes wrong, the house isn't going to fall down (hopefully).

Anyway, also yesterday the plumber came to shut off the water pipes in the kitchen and remove the old sink unit, and this morning I have ordered the new one.  Just the sink, and sink unit, with a bit of worktop to go over the top.  The rest will have to come later.  

And I put up the bed I inherited.  First outing for my electric drill!  I am dead chuffed with it - and with the bed too(!)  The bed is rather larger than I expected.  It turns out that the little box room I wasn't sure what to do with will be needed for holding all other bedroom stuff apart from the bed.

Anyway, today I have plans to demolish the sink unit, and take it home to be scrapped, and remove the polystyrene coving from the front room.  I'm hoping (please, please, please) that the wall will be alright underneath and it won't be another candidate for my non-existent lime plastering skills!  It would be nice to have one room to actually sit in while the rest of the house looks like a building site.

If the coving removal goes well, I shall get rid of the wall hooks and fill in the holes, and sugar soap ready to paint - woo hoo!

Thursday, 18 March 2021

New project

 Just to show I do occasionally do something other than read books... I bought a house!

It is a very tiny, Victorian, mid-terraced property in an urban area, with not a few problems to its name (and guarded by a trio of rather sturdy, delinquent-looking dustbins), but I have plans to fix the problems (among other things, I am going to paint the front door yellow) and that rose is lovely when it's in flower.  Life is going to be stressful for some time to come, but of course I am very lucky to have it, so do let me give you the tour.

The front room.  I think I must have taken this photograph in the morning, because for most of the day, this room looks darker than this.  It is extra specially small, but has lovely built-in bookcases on both sides of the fireplace.

The dining room.  Again, this is quite deceptive: the room looks dark here, but it does get the sun - particularly in the afternoon.  It, too, has lovely built-in bookcases (or perhaps 'dressers'?).  The stairs run between the front and the back rooms, from left to right, parallel with the road.  They're a bit difficult to photograph, because they're narrow and dark, but they are very Victorian-looking stairs - definitely one of its best features.

Kitchen!  Which looks dreadful at the moment.  I had thought that I would keep the old cabinets and decor for a while while I settled in and saved up some money to change it, but it turned out that the concrete floor was damp and the cabinets mouldy(!)  I'm afraid I pulled everything out rather quickly, without thinking too hard about what would replace it, so now I am rushing round worrying about how to make it liveable before I move in, in April.  It will be fine, although I might strain the boundaries of everyone's hospitality for a while.

The house has a little garden, more than shown here, but it's difficult to photograph because it's narrow, and cluttered and rather overgrown.  I am leaving it to the gardeners in the family, while I worry about the kitchen, and the possibility of damp problems, and woodworm, not to mention paying bills and the prospect of living alone for the first time in twenty years.

Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and then a tiny room over the kitchen - barely big enough to fit a bed into.  I didn't photograph them because there's nothing in them at the moment.

I was not at the front of the queue when DIY skills were being handed out, and I don't think I'm taking particularly well to being dumped in at the deep end - I seem to spend most of my time wondering around with a tape measure in my hand, wondering if there's something I should be going to B&Q for, or whether it's time to make coffee again yet.  But I'm sure I shall get better.  Yesterday I spent several hours trying to scrape away the remains of that stuff the splash back tiles were fixed on with, before I gave up and sanded it to within an inch of it's life!  If nothing else, I have learned how to use a palm sander.  I then attempted to remove some shelves and a door, and failed on both counts because I couldn't get the screws out(!)  So I gave up and scrubbed the shower and the hallway instead.  There's certainly plenty of cleaning to do.

Today was a day off from the practical stuff, trying to arrange utilities and order tiles for the kitchen floor.  Tomorrow I am going to renew my assault on the shelves and the door and, with any luck, get round to painting the pink front room.