Pre-Christmas eats, from pies to... er, more pies

Have you ever tried having that awkward conversation with your family before Christmas? You know, the one that goes 'I really appreciated the kind thought behind it, but would it be OK if we didn't buy each other Christmas presents this year?' How did it go for you?

Christmas is so entwined with gift giving, the idea of just stopping exchanging presents seems a bit unfestive. But, the older I get, the less inclined I feel to give or receive presents. If I'm swapping presents with someone, we're both spending time, money, and stress trying to find each other the perfect gift, and we may well miss the mark and give something that'll end up in the charity shop the next week. Rather than give physical pressies, I'd rather we just decided to give each other time -- a pint down the pub, a cup of tea and a catch up, a weekend visit.

Don't think I'm a Scrooge - I'm not, I love this time of year. But the endless buying, buying, buying makes me feel a bit weary. It's no good for our pockets, our enjoyment levels, or the environment.

I've broached the subject with a couple of mates, and they were pretty much of the same opinion, and seemed by and large relieved at being freed of the obligation of stepping out of the endless cycle of consumption.

One of my friends, R, was all over the idea. Instead of sending Christmas cards this year, she's ringing up all the people she'd normally sending them to, and having a chat instead. I love that idea. Getting a bit of cardboard through the post is nice, and a sign that someone's thought of you at Christmas, but getting to curl up and have a proper chat is a sign that they really want to spend time with you.

This Christmas, R got me the best present I could think of - three hours of her company, uninterrupted, against a background of great food.

She took me to a restaurant called Stem and Glory, just outside Cambridge. It's got a fairly unassuming frontage - a sign pointing to a set of stairs to the side of an office supplies shop. Get inside, though, and you'll not be disappointed.

As we caught up on all the things that had happened since we last met, we ate. A lot.

After having recently reminisced about how English pubs in the 90s all used to offer only vegetable lasagne and chips as their vegetarian meal, I couldn't resist ordering Stem and Glory's version of that Italian classic.

It was a far cry from the pub version of my nostalgic memories, but just as comforting. Instead of white sauce and joyless cheddar, there was rich cashew bechamel, the pasta sheets had been replaced by thinly-sliced celeriac, and the chips had turned into seeded crackers with a brilliant green pesto.

Stem and Glory's menu has both mains and desserts on the same sheet of paper, so we'd already made up our mind which desserts we were going to order before we'd chosen our mains: sticky toffee pudding, and black forest silk pie.

There was a slight dustiness to the middle layer of the silk pie, but other than that, both were throughly gorgeous. To be fair, the sheer delight in having R's company to myself for hours meant Stem and Glory could have served me a plate of sawdust and I would have enjoyed myself, but having top notch food made our time together even more enjoyable.

Me and Mr Flicking the Vs also got to spend a bit more time together

We went off for lunch at the Ivy House pub in Nunhead. The Ivy House has always had a good vegan Sunday lunch option, but they've added more vegan dishes to their normal menu, including a beetroot and black bean stew and a spinach and lentil burger. But, more importantly, there was vegan cake special on the menu on our visit. Pear and ginger cake, no less. I hope the Ivy House puts it on their Sunday menu too, because then they'd truly have Sunday nailed.

I've also been trying to give myself a bit of time too. I decided to take a day off working, studying, and doing the housework, and do something more fun instead. I went to the Wellcome Collection's Can Graphic Design Save Your Life exhibition, and then took a stroll along the canal to Camden market.

Apart from it's not a bad walk on a cold London morning, walking to Camden market will lead you somewhere where you can find a load of really good vegan food.

Though Camden market has no shortage of vegan options, there was only one place I was planning to eat: Young Vegans.

Young Vegans have been selling their pies around various markets for a while now, but earlier this year, they opened their first bricks-and-mortar pie shop. The shop has four pies on the menu, although the full English pie had sold out when I arrived. Which was disappointing, as a full English breakfast in a pie is pretty much the best food combination any human mind can create. It sounds like one of those great ideas that someone had at four in the morning after a few too many falling down waters. 'I love pies, and I love full English breakfasts -- why don't we just put them together in one beautiful food fusion?'

My chance to taste food nirvana sadly denied me, I had a curry pie instead. I didn't feel hard done by though. Look at this:

There's a whacking great pie, filled with lentils and chick peas. There's pillowy mash. There's gravy. And, because it's a curry pie, there's mango chutney and those crispy fried onions that always taste so good they could be angels' dandruff. Oh, and there was salad. Salad? With a pie? No, not really necessary, but I've got no complaints. This was such a good pie and mash, it was almost enough for me to forget I'd been denied a breakfast in a pie. Almost.

On the way back home, I noticed a cafe near my house had started advertising vegan mince pies. I bought two, and ate one as soon as I got home. Who doesn't need two eat two pies in one day?

I'd also picked up a bottle of what I thought was Marks and Spencer's vegan Baileys, only to get it home and find out it was more of a toffee vodka type affair. Quite why I thought the need to buy either I couldn't tell you - the consumerist madness of Christmas strikes once again. Next year, I'll know better. Fewer purchases, more time.

Couldn't fault the mince pies though. Happy Christmas.


  1. MErry Christmas Joey - sounds like you have had a fun time with festive food. That pie looks amazing though I would have loved to have some vicarious full english pie. I love your mince pies and toffee liquor. I am not quite into no presents but I like that my family still gives to the kids but the adults all do a kris kringle as we need a lot less. I get annoyed by the consumerism but I love buying presents. Hard to get the balance right and I don't think I do.

  2. Merry Christmas! Spending time with family and friends is really what the season should be about. Nothing better than doing it over good vegan food, everything looks fabulous especially those pies. :-)

  3. Merry Christmas Joey. We only gave my MIL a present, everyone else who I valued and got a jar of homemade jam from me :) Our Christmas was low key. We did get each other pressies, but nothing extortionately priced.
    I wish I could see more of your pie! I tried the vegan MS Baileys last year and agree that is more toffee like.
    Wishing you a Happy New Year 2018!

  4. What wonderful vegan food finds! WOWZA!

  5. Toffee Vodka still sounds pretty great! I don't buy liquor very often, but I was so curious to try the Almond Milk Baileys (it's pretty good!).

    Gifts are my least dominant love language, and quality time is my number one - so the two of you getting to spend more time together sounds pretty perfect to me!

    Happy New Year!

  6. Merry merry!I completely agree with you that holiday gift giving is out of hand. The gift of time is so much more magical than another sweater. the pies are killing me - so gorgeous - and stem and glory sounds great. I was especially interested in the celeriac bit. Someone recently described having ravioli made from thin celeriac slices, and a plump root now awaits in my fridge. I hope I v
    can do it justice.

  7. Merry Christmas! I also got that creme brulee booze from M&S - I can't resist a drink that contains gold glitter! I'll definitely check out that pie place next time I'm visiting London, it looks amazing. And what a beautiful sticky toffee pudding! I need more of them in my life.

  8. I think your non-gifting / company prioritising is a lovely philosophy. I read somewhere this year the idea of getting something you need, something you want, something to wear and something to read when it comes to children's presents - some variations also giving a fifth, a surprise - and will give some serious thought to how we raise Mini Bite in future years. This year was way more than that, but mostly from family!

    That pie looks epic, too :-) Happy Christmas x


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