My barefoot-running brother-in-law

At well over 6ft, often running barefoot with a Rhodesian ridgeback and child or two in tow, my brother-in-law, Georg, is hard to miss. This axe-wielding, Thai boxing, trail running father of three has always inspired me, not only with his ability to push through a marathon no matter what, but also in how he takes new sporting challenges in his (incredibly long) stride, while juggling a hectic family life and a successful career in dentistry.

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He and my big sister have been together since they were 16, so he has been pretty much a permanent fixture of my adult life. We both fell in love with running at around the same time and still remember proudly completing our first sub-30 minute 5km together. He has dragged me to many a Park Run and, although he subsequently admitted to wanting to kill me at the time, I was so proud to help get him to the end of the killer Potters Marathon a couple of years back. I love when we have a chance to run and chat together and I wanted to share a little bit about him here. If you ever thought that you were too busy to run, read on!

When did you first start running?

Probably when I was about 15 months old, I’ll check with my mom, ha ha! But seriously, I use to run to make weight for Thai boxing fights. To begin with I hated every second of it, but slowly the miles crept up until one day I decided to sign up for the Potters ‘Alf marathon. After running that I felt an awesome sense of achievement and I continued on from there.

Was running something that came naturally or did you have to work at it?

It was a bit of both really. Once I reached a certain level of fitness (which, because of Thai boxing didn’t take too long) I felt like I was unstoppable and could keep running (albeit slowly) forever.

What do you enjoy about getting out for a run?

Running is a good time to just switch off. I tend to overthink things and to keep my emotions hidden. When I run I find I can turn off the overactive part of my brain and also the part that suppresses my emotions. That means that I often find myself running late at night laughing, crying and blankly staring into space.

When and why did you start running barefoot?

When I was a kid in South Africa, we ran barefoot everywhere. In primary school in SA you don’t wear shoes in summer and all sports, including rugby, are played barefoot. But then I became a fat, angry teenager in the UK and when I eventually tried to run I was told I needed all kinds of special shoes to do so. The problem was that  they just made my feet hurt. I remember very well one day in North Yorkshire taking my trainers off and hiking up Carlton bank barefoot and loving every second. Soon after that I bought my first pair of five finger shoes for particularly rough terrain.

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What is your proudest running achievement?

This tends to change every time I do another stupid run somewhere! To date it is probably trying to do the Born to Run Ultra Marathon in Wales few years back. Even though I was pulled out at 35 miles into the 40 mile run, I still ran a lot further than I ever imagined. I’ve found from running and fighting that you tend to learn a lot more about yourself when you losing rather than winning.

What was going through your mind during those 35 miles and how did you keep yourself going?

For the first half of the race I was mostly thinking about my family. For the second it was a mixture of thinking about how worried wife would be if I didn’t make it to next water station and paranoia of being followed buy a strange man (who actually turned out to be a St Johns ambulance guy who was following me as I was talking to myself and covered in my own sick!)

Would you do another ultra?

100 per cent yes! As soon as I stop having more children and get time to do the proper training!

Do you do any form of cross training?

I spend some time doing circuits in gym, I still go Thai boxing when I get time and I love swimming and cycling outdoors in the summer (but I hate both in the winter!)

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How do you fit in your runs around having three energetic children and two dogs?

I try to combine parental duties with running, but it’s not always easy. I recently had dog attached to a running buggy with baby in it, a 6 -year-old running next to me, and a 4-year-old on my neck. I only managed 2km before I almost died! In seriousness, I try to do some runs with the kids; most of my training runs are done with dog and or baby in running buggy. It also helps that I have an awesome understanding wife who doesn’t mind me going out running.

How do you find running with a buggy and a dog?

I love it. It only gets tricky when there are lots of people in our way. The dog loves it and the baby loves it.

What running buggy do you use?

I have an Out n About fixed wheel running buggy. It’s very well used now; it probably done a few hundred miles!

 

IMG_7872Any tips for parents running with buggies?

Make sure your baby is old enough to sit while supporting their own head; make sure they are comfortable; take lots of snacks (for the baby) just in case; and be prepared to sing to keep the child amused!

What races have you got coming up?

The only thing booked so far for this year is the Potters ‘Alf marathon, but I’m hoping to do a few triathlons and open water races in the summer. It’s all a bit last minute with having young kids!

 

I’m looking forward to running together again on holiday in May (although I may only be waddling by then!) and to learning more from him about managing to run once our little lady arrives in August. Until my next, happy running.

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Marathon mums

(image from netmums.com)

With marathon training season in full swing, I’ve been enviously looking on as my friends on Strava and Instagram crank up their weekly mileage. While on the one hand the talk of their long runs makes me want to sign up for a marathon immediately, on the other, the reality of my running form at the moment makes such a challenge seem further away than ever. Although it’s pretty tricky running through pregnancy, both my husband and I are very aware of the additional challenge that will come (we hope!) from trying to train with a baby. While we have heard horror stories of babies who have screamed for the entirety of a run from the comfort of an incredibly expensive running buggy (which was never used again), we also have lots of inspiring fit friends who seem to manage to combine being model parents with having model bodies.

One such friend, Jess, recently became a mum herself, and less than a year since giving birth she is now in the midst of training for the Paris marathon (a race we ran together back in 2015). Seeing her posts on Instagram and reading her blog really inspired me and made me want to absorb some of her knowledge and motivation in the hope that it might see me running marathons again in the future.

I wanted to write a post about a female powerhouse for International Women’s Day and this interview with Jess – doctor, runner, blogger and mum – seemed the perfect fit. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions on training during pregnancy, being a running mum and Paris marathon prep. I hope you find her as inspiring as I do. 2019 marathon anyone?!

What did your weekly exercise routine look like pre-pregnancy?

Before pregnancy I was training for the Santa Rosa Marathon (I found out I was pregnant the day after I ran it) so I was running 4 times a week, including speed/hill sessions and long runs of up to 20 miles. I‘d also started barre classes and was going about twice a week.

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How did you adapt your workouts during pregnancy?

I made sure I listened to my body and did what felt right. I hardly moved in the first trimester as I was so exhausted and just needed to rest. The idea of going for a run was horrific! Fortunately, the exhaustion settled and I started running again at 11 weeks. The runs were short and slow – 4 miles was my limit, I think.  I eventually stopped running at 26 weeks as it was uncomfortable (I always felt a lot of pressure on my pelvic floor and constantly needed to wee!) and stopped me from enjoying my runs. From then on I did lots of walking and pregnancy barre DVDs.

How did you feel about the changes to your body and fitness during pregnancy?

I was surprisingly OK with all the changes. Pre-pregnancy I thought I’d find it hard, but I just tried to focus on what I could do, rather than dwelling on what I couldn’t.

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At what stage and how did you start to rebuild your fitness after giving birth?

I had an emergency C-section so knew I had to give my body time to heal before starting to run and workout again. I started by walking daily. I felt very weak initially and walking a few miles was a real challenge. I gradually got stronger and went for my first run at 7 weeks. It felt great, however, after a few runs I noticed a pulling sensation around my scar. It wasn’t painful but also didn’t feel normal. I booked in with a women’s health physio for an assessment. She told me I was running too soon and needed to hold off for longer. I was really disappointed but deep down knew she was right. I started running regularly again at about 4 months post-partum. About the same time I started going to a CrossFit class called ‘Strong as a Mother’, which has been amazing. It focuses on core stability, mobility and strength for mothers and has definitely helped me get stronger.

When did you decide to set yourself the challenge of running another marathon after pregnancy?

All through pregnancy I knew I wanted to run a marathon in the first year postpartum. Pregnancy and motherhood is life changing and it can be easy to lose your sense of self amongst it all. Marathon running has been a passion of mine for almost a decade and I knew that training for a marathon would keep the ‘old Jess’ alive. I think I was scared that motherhood would mean no more marathons (at least for a long time) so setting myself the challenge of doing one in the first year was a good way to keep me running!

Why did this challenge appeal?

I love running marathons and I wanted to prove to myself motherhood didn’t need to stop me running them!

How do find fitting in your training around childcare?

I’m lucky because my husband works from home a lot so I run early in the morning or during nap times. I have to be ready to go as soon as the time is right, there’s no time to faff around! It can be tricky when my husband is travelling for work (sometimes for up to 4 nights at a time) but I just try to re-jig my schedule, call in some favours, or run with my heavy, non-running pram! I recently joined the local gym which has a crèche for babies over 6 months. I’m hoping that this will be a game changer when my husband travels as I can use the treadmill while Leo’s in the crèche.

So you haven’t been tempted by a running buggy?

So far I haven’t needed one as I’ve managed to schedule my runs without taking Leo. It would offer more flexibility so I’m tempted to get one, but they also take up loads of space in house which is probably why I’m holding off. It’s also nice to run on my own and have a break.

How does running feel now compared to pre-pregnancy?

It feels exactly the same, although I’m sure it helps that I had a C-section. The main difference is that I’m still slower than I used to be. I had to start from scratch and it’s only in the last few weeks that I feel like everything is coming together and I’m hitting the paces that I used to. I’ve got my endurance back, now I need to focus on speed!

How do you motivate yourself to get out for a run after a bad night’s sleep or a busy day of looking after Leo?

I’m not going to lie, if I’ve been up all night it’s tempting to press snooze and forget about running, but I try my best not to! I love the mantra ‘I get to run’, as it flips my mind set and reminds me that running is something I love, that I chose to do. I remind myself of how much I missed running when I was pregnant and how good I’ll feel after I’ve been. I also know that if I miss my run slot I probably won’t get another one that day which is usually enough to get me out of bed…

What does your current training plan look like?

I’m marathon training and run 4 times a week, including a long run at the weekend. I’ve just started to add in some speed work but I’m mainly focusing on getting my endurance back. I’m aware that a marathon is a big challenge this soon after having a baby so my focus is on enjoying the experience; speed can come later!

 

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What will be your next challenge after Paris?

Now I’ve got my endurance back, I want to improve my speed. I’m hoping to do an Autumn marathon (maybe Richmond) where I’ll be aiming for a PB!

Who are your fitspirations?

Charlie from The Runner Beans. She is so dedicated to her training and somehow manages to fit it around a crazy schedule. It’s really inspiring to see her smash her goals and it helps me believe I could do the same.

What would your top tips be for me as a pregnant runner and mum-to-be?

Enjoy a fit pregnancy but listen to your body and change your goals and expectations accordingly.

Remember that every pregnancy is different so there’s no point comparing yourself to other pregnant women, especially pregnant runners. Some can run up to their due date, while others have to stop much earlier. Everyone is different!

When the baby comes, get outside for some fresh air and movement every day. Even if it’s just a walk around the park, it will make you feel much better.

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Well, where to start…

Clay at the top of a tree during our trip to Font
Clay at the top of a tree during our trip to Font

Regular readers of this blog might remember a post in which I mentioned a friend of mine who is currently in hospital after a rather dramatic fall from a tree at work.

After much pestering on my part he has very kindly written a post for me about his experience and his first (metaphorical) steps on the road to recovery.

I hope this inspires you as much as he inspires me. 

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Well, where to start…

I don’t know if there’s a particular technique to staying positive that I personally follow, in fact I’m not yet convinced I’m a person who stays positive all of the time anyway. I suppose I get told I smile a lot, and many of the photos taken of me feature my smile or some ridiculous face or other, but who doesn’t want to smile for a camera for crying out loud.

I’m lying in my hospital bed, the same one I’ve been laying in for the past four and a half weeks now, never leaving the confines of this bed. I’ve two broken heels, one smashed so badly there’s little left of the bone itself, they have replaced bone with live muscle tissue from my thigh. The idea is that the body recognises the muscle, realises is should be bone and grows bone to replace the muscle, this is a surgical procedure I never knew existed.

On top of that I’ve broken my fibula and tibia in two places and my femur in two places. They have put one long rod through my femur, making a grand total of 5 metal pins in my right leg! I have screws in my pelvis to hold it together and a broken vertebrae – that’s no big deal only a small break – and lastly I had surgery on my shoulder to put it back in place and replace the floating piece of bone that broke-off.

I realise this sounds all rather dramatic but at the end of the day I will walk again, maybe not at 100%, although I don’t believe the doctors when they say that. So although things are a tad grim for now, the future looks bright and there is the challenge of a long road to recovery.

So I suppose for me staying positive is more my reaction to a challenge; so long as I can see a way to complete the problem I chase the success of completion. I absolutely love a challenge especially a physical one, so for me sure having this accident was a bad thing, but the future brings constant challenges and difficulties that I must overcome.

I’ve always liked change in my life, usually I prefer moving towns, countries or jobs. However this is what life has given me so I will embrace the change to my life; it’s a new pace, a new sporting challenge, a new way of living. This is what makes living enjoyable, challenge, change, success and failure, experiencing new and different things, anything less is the mundane and I’m not a person comfortable in the mundane.

I must now ask myself what goals to set, what do I want to achieve on this journey of mine? What do I need to achieve to be a normal person contributing in society? What about sporting achievements, am I able to return to the sports I love the most? This is the hard part, how does one stay positive when faced with the potential loss of a sport you’ve grown to obsess over? My foot may never even fit into a climbing shoe again, my ankle may never roll again, making footwork impossible. What about running, once upon a time I would run over 100 kilometres a week, now my poor old ankles may not handle any form of running, not to mention the multiple pins in my leg.

These situations and set backs are riddled with ifs, buts and maybes, on the flip-side the surgeons are some of the best in the country and are most likely going to be able to clean the huge lump on my foot. If I work hard and stretch I’m confident I will get full movement back in my ankle… I already have some side to side movement, even with the huge amounts of swelling.

Again more challenges. Me versus my body. Me versus what the doctors say is possible.

It’s about being determined it’s about being stubborn it’s about pushing your limits no matter what life throws at you.

What will I learn from this? I’ve no idea, hopefully patience, hopefully training techniques, most importantly I want to learn to relax in my work environment, no more pushing my limits 55 feet up a tree with a chainsaw. Life is too short to be taking shortcuts with safety in my line of work, especially with chainsaws in hand, there’s a time and place to push limits, I have decided work is not the best place for that.

It’s taken me a couple of days to write this entry and already I’ve made some baby steps on the road to recovery. My mood is getting ever better because of it, so I will continue making short and long term goals to keep me dedicated and keep my mood positive…. Perhaps this is the key?

My First Veganniversary

birthday-cupcakeA guest post from my good friend and fellow blogger Georgina, to celebrate her first year as a vegan. 

I feel, today, rather like I have graduated from a training school. One year ago precisely I resolved to go vegan, and reaching this milestone feels akin to passing from the ranks of raw recruits to those of proven commitment – or at least those whose commitment is more seriously taken.

For one full year now I have forsaken meat and all foods with any trace of dairy, egg or other animal derived product. In other words: for one year I have shopped, cooked and eaten according to different priorities from those that directed my diet previously in life. For one year, I have negotiated sparsely-optioned restaurant menus and waiters helpful and hopeless. I have gone hungry at numerous (inadequately) catered events, and been touched by the consideration of friends and family members, who must now regard my appearing on their doorstep expecting food as something of a bewildering imposition.

For one year, I have forced my relatives to eat vegan chocolate cake on every birthday (my vegan chocolate cake being, mind you, disgustingly delicious), and have survived my first Christmas without turkey and my first Easter without a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. In between, I have travelled to Portugal, Germany, the US and Ethiopia (countries all with very meat-heavy traditions), and succeeded in sampling the local cuisine of each country while navigating my way around the potential pitfalls laid by each culture in the path of the plant-based dieters and discovering some unexpected delights along the way.

LENTILAbove all, it has been a year of tolerating responses to my dietary choice ranging from aggressive incomprehension to genuine curiosity, and answering questions from the sincere (“What is the reason for giving up milk?”) to the absurd (“Can’t you just eat a bit of steak occasionally?”) to the frankly exhausting (if anyone dares ask me where I get my protein from again, they may feel the force of my lentil-powered muscles).

I am a little amazed, as I reflect on these experiences, that I have been vegan for a full year. But that is amazement at the speed with which this past year has passed, not that my resolve has held firm. On the contrary, to return to my earlier metaphor; if I have today graduated, it was from a course I never for one moment contemplated dropping out of. Because for me, veganism is not a sacrifice. If it were, I would not be writing this: I simply do not have the will-power for the senseless deprivation of deliciousness. Hence I have often repeated the truism that I could not be a vegan for a day were I not still allowed to eat hummus and peanut-butter.

So, to repeat the most oft-repeated question I think all vegans face: why am I doing it? Well, in my case, the realisation that I wanted to go vegan came upon me quite unexpectedly.

PBLast summer, I was mid-way through a challenge to do one new thing every week of the year, which I chronicled in weekly blog posts. Most ‘new things’ took the form of one-off activities, such as speed-dating, pole-dancing or wakeboarding. I wanted, however, to balance these against longer-term experiences that would challenge me not for an hour or a day, but a whole week or more. An obvious candidate for such an extended experience was to undertake a dietary challenge, such as giving up caffeine or going gluten-free. In the end, I went vegan for one week. All I remember of my reasoning was that I had rejected vegetarianism as inadequate because I only ate meat occasionally anyway; veganism therefore seemed far better fodder for an interesting blog. In other words, my decision was effectively mercantile and motivated by my own doubt in my ability to survive seven full days as a vegan, thus providing me with an opportunity to recount in amusing detail my struggle with self-control, and the inevitable victory of my sweet-tooth – and the biscuit shelf at work.

However, far from succumbing to the temptations of a chocolate digestive before the week was out, the most surprising thing happened. I enjoyed my week of veganism.

After a mere seven days I felt healthier – not in any way I could pinpoint, rather in being conscious of an indefinable betterness. I had loved all the recipes I’d tried, and was already beginning to think more about what I was putting into my body, and to appreciate the extraordinary variety of possible foods I could still eat. And then, as the week rolled on, I began to do some research into animal welfare, the conditions of factory farming and the impact of the meat and dairy industry on the environment, the world’s ecosystems and global warning, not to mention our global food supply. As I read up on these subjects, veganism, which had already proved itself as a perfectly pleasant way to feed myself, became more than a dietary quirk or an obsessive behavioural tick. It revealed itself as a responsible approach to my body, to our planet, to the other living creatures we share our planet with, and to helping ensure the sustainability of our way of life.

HummusPut simply: I had realised a more logical way to live. To revert now would defy reason, and undermine any claim I could have to interpret and live life rationally. Hence veganism, this past year, has never been a hardship. Hence my gut reaction, if only I dared ever say it, to the question “Why are you a vegan?” is “Why on earth are you not?”

Of course to ask that question would be insufferably hypocritical of me – I was after all not a vegan for the first 26 years of my life. My excuse for why it took me so long is simply that I don’t think it ever occurred to me before to question what I was eating – to really think about what we accept in our culture as a “normal” human diet. Because I’d been subconsciously ingrained by habit since childhood to believe that the heart of a meal is the meat portion and that milk is an unquestionably vital part of our diet. So convinced are we of this that we rarely stop to wonder whether it is not odd that humans are the only species to drink milk beyond infancy and, what is more perverse, to drink the milk of a different species.

On the flipside, I had never previously given veganism any thought either. In which I do not think I am unique: many non-vegans I have spoken to lack a simple understanding of what veganism is, and, crucially, assume it is highly restrictive, and therefore difficult and dull. Some people I speak to seem to think I must subsist on nothing but nuts and celery. It’s not uncommon to be asked if I can still eat bread. I’ve even been asked if I eat vegetables, and been asked whether supermarkets sell my “kind of food”, as though vegans eat some kind of special food that the uninitiated are not privy to.

Why I find all these responses so amusing is simply this: far from feeling that my eating options have been restricted or dulled, I have been more experimental and adventurous in my cooking this past year than ever before. I probably have a greater range of ‘standard’ recipes that I knock-out of an evening – from English cuisine to Indian, Moroccan, Italian and Chinese – and love nothing more than ferretting around in wholefood stores to find tasty new lunch and snacking options. Essentially, by forcing me to think more about what I’m eating, I have come to re-appreciate food, and truly enjoy it more than ever before. In other words, veganism, for me, has been something of a food liberation.

Exercising, eating…and chemotherapy

ruthAn inspirational Monday morning post from my foodie, fitness friend and fellow blogger Ruth Chesworth on diet, exercise and chemotherapy:

So in 2011 I was diagnosed with a rare type of tumour in my abdominal wall, by that time it’d taken over the left side of my not-so-6-pack. Having had it, and the muscle it was in, removed in 2011 it recurred and in March 2013 I started IV chemotherapy. The tumour and the chemo have had a huge impact on my life but here’s a little bit about the effects it’s had on my diet and exercise.

In terms of nutrition there are two things that made the biggest difference, the most obvious being the side effects. Although I was lucky enough not to have too much nausea, my appetite disappeared and I had awful mucositis; meaning the lining of my mouth and gut were super sore all the time. I needed a way to get calories in via soft food or liquid, and to do it in small quantities. Secondly, and a little more unexpectedly, was a shift in my view of food. Prior to the chemo I’d tried to get my ‘5 a day’in but also enjoyed a good old take away and a decent amount of processed food. There is something about consciously allowing poison to be pumped through your veins that will make you think a lot more about what you put in your mouth.

ImageSo I started having smoothies in the morning, first just cucumber, kale, coconut water, banana and lemon juice, and then experimenting with spirulina, chia seeds and all sort of other goodies. It gave me energy through the morning, wasn’t too sore on my mouth and made me feel positive about what I wash putting into my body. I became totally lactose intolerant so used a lot of almond and coconut milk, something I’ve stuck with since finishing the chemo. Soups became my new best friend and, thanks to my mum, I was kept well stocked with a fresh, homemade selection. Although there were loads days when I felt lousy and missed the time before chemo, I’m incredibly grateful for the shift in my thinking it’s led to.

Six months after my last dose of chemotherapy and, although I can now chew a little better, I’ve tried to keep up with a diet that’s much healthier than before. That’s been made easier by the comparison I can now make if I do have a week where I just can’t face the food prep and end up eating badly – I immediately feel tired, sluggish and down. The final thing I find tough (and I realise some people find it hard to accept that not being able to eat enough is a problem) is the getting enough in. The tumour is currently about the size of a grapefruit and I’m pretty little. Imagine that feeling after christmas dinner; everything stretched to the uncomfortable limit. Well that’s how I feel with much more than a drink in my stomach. So working out the most nutritious and good-calorie dense food has been important.

It’s been interesting, and difficult at times, to develop a new relationship with food but it’s opened my eyes to the difference it can make.

ImageI had a real mental battle exercise-wise. Just as the poison made me reassess my diet, I felt I wanted to make my body stronger with exercise; slight problem being that I was totally and utterly knackered most of the time. There was no way I could go for a run or a swim a) I was too tired and b) some of the nasty side effects on my skin meant that tight clothing and warm water were a no go. After a couple of months I’d got into a pretty good routine thoug. I did a fair amount of searching online and found some really good resources for exercising on youtube. I’d focus on arms one day and legs the next, trying to do physio for my abdomen every day. I’ve also got a dog so there was plenty of walking to do. I think my biggest tip for anyone starting chemo would be to give yourself time, see how you feel through one cycle and then plan for the next one. By the end of my six month course I had muscle definition I’d never had before, all from 15 minutes each morning and evening with nothing but a yoga mat and some 2kg weights.

I’m still struggling with the exercise thing. I’m a real all-or-nothinger and because I know I will never be particularly good at running, cycling, yoga etc etc because of whats going on in my core I do find myself feeling pretty negatively about exercise. So I’m working on avoiding the comparison and reminding myself of the benefits for me; it’s a work in progress.

ImageSome of the changes I had to make, some of them came about because of the time I had and the situation I was in. Whether you’re gearing up for a course of chemo, you’ve just signed up for a marathon or you fancy trying to get a bit healthier, it all comes down to the same thing: Find a balance, work out what will fit in with your life and remember that if you try to change everything at once you’ll end up setting yourself up to fail and that’s no good for the psyche.

Follow my journey at rooth121.blogspot.co.uk

Let them eat cake

cakeA guest post from my running partner and cake baker lovely Louise Cooling.

For those tempted to abstain from animal produce for Lent, or those just looking to cut down on dairy products more generally, here is proof that you don’t need to give up cake!

One of the things I love most about baking – apart from the all the cake, is how happy it makes the people around me. As a passionate home baker, I regularly knock up an assortment of baked goods and I like nothing better than sharing the things I bake with my family, friends and colleagues. Unfortunately that can get a little tricky if someone in your circle has embraced a dairy-free lifestyle and nothing kills a baking-buzz like apologising to your new vegan friend for the none-vegan cookies you made – trust me, I’ve been there! So, despite being a life-long, milk guzzling carnivore, in the name of inclusivity I’ve decided to become a more equal opportunities baker. This means routinely using as many vegan-friendly alternatives to traditional baking ingredients as possible.

Since embarking on my quest to become a more enlightened baker, I’ve discovered that vegan-friendly baking requires imagination and creativity. Dairy, in the form of eggs and butter are at the corner stone of baking. Not to get too scientific, it’s the proteins and fats in dairy products that help baked goods to rise and define their texture. Whatever you’re none-dairy replacement, it has to react in a similar way to its diary counterpart if you’re to get a similar result. Luckily, there is a whole world of vegan-friendly substitutes out there that I hope with a little experimentation and practice will help me make sweet-treats that everyone can enjoy!

Below are just a few of my favourite vegan-friendly subs to date:

Eggs

  • Fruit or veggie purees (I love homemade applesauce or super ripe bananas as they allow you to cut back on sugar too)
  • Vinegar and Bicarbonate of Soda
  • Flaxseed meal and water

Butter

  • Coconut oil (the non-dairy fat du jour, as both a solid and a liquid its amazingly versatile, although the jury is still out on the supposed health benefits)
  • Cold-pressed Rapeseed oil
  • Applesauce

Milk

  • Unsweetened soya or nut milks
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk

Cream

  • Full-fat coconut milk
  • Homemade cashew nut puree (cashews are insanely versatile and delicious to boot)

Nothing says Happy Birthday like cake and in the spirit of experimentation I tried out the following recipe for Vegan Chocolate Cake with Ganache using some of the ingredients above for my chocaholic cousin’s birthday last month. The resulting cake was as decadent and delicious as a chocolate cake should be and a huge hit with my definitely none-vegan family!

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Ganache and Fresh Raspberries

410g Plain Flour

60g Cocoa Powder

2 tsp Baking Soda

½ tsp Salt

170g Soft light-brown sugar

160ml Rapeseed oil

420ml Unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used almond)

60ml Water

2 tbsp White wine or cider vinegar

For the ganache

250ml Full-fat coconut milk

250g Dark vegan-friendly chocolate

Preheat oven to 175 º C. Grease a 20cm (8 inch) round spring-form tin.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a separate jug or bowl combine oil, milk and water. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well until it’s thoroughly combined. Lastly add the vinegar and stir quickly.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin before transferring to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely decorating.

To make the ganache, in a bowl, break up the chocolate into even size pieces. Bring the coconut milk to the boil and pour over chocolate. Allow to stand without stirring for five minutes. Stir to fully combine and allow to cool before sandwiching and icing the cake. Decorate with fresh fruit or toasted hazelnuts.

For a guide through the slightly weird but definitely wonderful world vegan and dairy-free baking subs check out the brilliant Fork and Beans blog at http://www.forkandbeans.com/