Gerry Farrell: Vegging out is the way to do it

Get creative in the kitchen with great vegetables. Picture: Sean Bell
Get creative in the kitchen with great vegetables. Picture: Sean Bell
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Until recently, my five-a-day was two pies and three sausages. I was no stranger to a bacon roll. And the words Stornoway black pudding on a menu would set my gastric juices bubbling.

Then I married a vegetarian and things began to change. Plant-based milk appeared in my coffee. I wolfed down a Quorn chilli without realising there was no mince in it. I even learned to pronounce “quinoa” 
(keen-wa, dahling).

Old habits die hard, though. The Piemaker in Great Junction Street does a sensational haggis, neeps and tatties pie. My favourite pizza is a meaty American hot and turning my head to the aroma of frying bacon as I walk past a cafe can still give me whiplash injuries.

On paper, I’m not the ideal candidate to be doing a 21-Day Vegan Challenge but my other half threw down the gauntlet in a way that questioned my masculinity.

“What the hell,” I said. “How hard can it be?”

Harder than I thought, as it turned out. I work from home but my wife works in an office so I do the shopping and the cooking. Time was I could write a shopping list on auto-pilot. Now I have to plan a week’s worth of vegan recipes and instead of just nipping down to the corner shop, I need to figure out which supermarket’s going to stock all the things I need.

If you are like I used to be, you probably think cooking and eating vegetables is dull. But if you’ve ever been to one of those huge European indoor markets in Spain, France or my wife’s home city, Budapest, the first thing that strikes you is how exciting the fruit and veg displays look compared with the meat counters.

They are a riot of colours; shiny purple aubergines, glossy red beef tomatoes, knobbly green and cream cauliflowers, yellow and orange bell peppers. Meat on the slab is just listless, pink flesh.

There’s a nice surprise waiting at the checkout, too. Fresh vegetables – hell, even tinned and frozen veg – are much cheaper than meat and ready meals. You can buy a whole week’s shopping for less than £80.

The real fun starts in the kitchen. I used to buy ready-made curry sauces and pour them over fried chicken. Now I use all the spices in the rack as well as freshly-grated ginger, fresh coriander, real lime juice and creamy coconut milk. Vegetable curries taste better than meat curries. Never for a minute did I think I’d fall in love with lentils or make my own humus with 
chickpeas and tahini. And, oh joy, I can still eat pies! Desperate Dan-size pies with thick, golden crusts over slices of sweet potato, leek and carrot in a creamy, mustard sauce.

There have been other changes. I used to get acid reflux in the middle of the night. The only way to get rid of it was baking soda in water. Then I noticed if I didn’t eat meat or dairy foods, I slept soundly. No acid indigestion.

It’s the end of the first week now. Yesterday morning my wife made me a smoothie with kale and celery and I drank it all without boaking.

Wish me luck.

Now I can like parents’ status

We used to ask my folks: “What’s going to happen when you and Dad are too old to look after each other?”

Mum would say: “You don’t have to worry, we’re booked into the convent. The nuns will look after us.”

Fast forward ten years and things were starting to get difficult. Mum, who is bipolar, would have mood swings. She would get out her bed at four in the morning to make porridge and forget to turn the gas off. Or sit down on the sofa with a cup of hot tea and immediately nod off, scalding her lap.

Once, she fell in the dark hallway and couldn’t get up again. Hearing the noise, Dad got up to help, tripped over her and cut his head open.

The next crisis was Dad’s driving. He hit the central reservation on the M8 and the pair of them escaped unhurt, but it was he wasn’t safe on the roads any more. His doctor broke the news to him.

Soon they had personal alarms but they don’t stop falls. There were other distressing little accidents.

We did as much caring as we could, all four of us with full-time jobs and children. We organised a care package (thank God Scotland has free homecare for the elderly). But at night, Dad was Mum’s sole carer and the stress was making him ill.

At one point they were in the same psychiatric unit.

“I’m not going into any home,” shouted Mum.

“What about the nuns?” I asked her.

“That was a joke.”

Last year was the worst. Both of them came dangerously close to dying. They were saved by the doctors and nurses in the new geriatric unit at the Western General.

Now 88 and 84, Mum and Dad are settled in a nursing home with staff who hug, tease and talk to them and look after their every need. Dad looks ten years younger. They both laugh a lot and go on outings. Mum even bought Dad a laptop for Christmas. I’m looking forward to Facebooking him.

CLOTHES CALL

I went to buy some camouflage trousers last week but I couldn’t find any. Oh, and I just couldn’t get out of bed this morning. Bloody Velcro pyjamas!

Giving top sitcom the hard cell

Keep an armchair warm for episode three of Crims on BBC3 tomorrow night at 10pm. It’s a sitcom set in a young offenders’ institution where a bad lad manages to get his innocent mate banged up in the same cell.

It’s fast, funny and rude. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.