Sober for October; the story so far

10 days in and it’s fair to say that my sober October has already come with its ups and downs. The support I’ve received from my friends and family is undeniably the thing that has kept me going and my motivation up. None of my friends have attempted to peer pressure me into drinking (not that I would budge) and my mum is singing my praises at home!

The combination of the local lockdown, closed nightclubs and an increased workload has also worked in my favour. My motivation has been so happy to see the back of binge drinking, getting home in the early hours of the morning and writing off whole days at a time! I’ve been able to get up early and straight to work on most days. The third-year workload, Quench magazine, my blog and new food Instagram account has demanded all my head space, so, the no drinking couldn’t have come at a better time. My life has been absolutely filled with reading and writing!

Another interesting turn of events which has added to my sober October is a round of antibiotics! For the first time in my life I have been forced into a 9-day dry spell due to medication and it couldn’t have coincided with a better month. It has only added to the motivation and reasons to stay sober, so I’m extremely grateful for my ailments!  

Bring on the next 20 days!

The Coconut tree

Originally written for Quench student mag

As someone who has grown up immersed in Sri Lankan food and culture due to my father’s heritage, the opening of The Coconut Tree in Cardiff was an exciting moment for me. When I walked into the restaurant for the first time, I remember being instantly hit with a cultural punch reminiscent of those lazy days spent in Sri Lanka. The menu offered everything I could have asked for in order to acknowledge a true Sri Lankan foodie experience; parippu, kotthu, slow cooked tuna in goraka spices, coconut sambol and of course… hoppers. I enjoy making my own egg hoppers at home but it is a laborious task and will often result in me spending the whole morning slaving over the hob for my family, so, ordering them from a restaurant is a nice change! At Quench we wanted to get in touch with The Coconut Tree, delve into the background of their restaurant and find out about the inspiration behind their Sri Lankan theme. We were also interested to learn how they had coped with lockdown and what effects COVID 19 could have on their future.

 I was put into contact with the brand director Anna Garrod who was able to shed some light on The Coconut Tree’s origin story and the five young Sri Lankans who wanted to ‘bring Sri Lankan streetfood to the masses.’ The beginning of their journey was accompanied by calls to Ceylon to attain secret recipes from their mums and handmade furniture from their dads. This authenticity is so prevalent in their restaurants and creates such a refreshing experience. They made sure that the menu offered variety with the abundance of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as affordability with the pricing starting at £2.50. This way they have been able to fulfil their mission of ‘true Sri Lankan hospitality that ‘Everyone is welcome to the Table.’ ’ Anna says that Sri Lankans were born making food for an occasion, and, if my family are anything to go by, this is definitely true!

The Coconut Tree own six different branches across the UK, but they don’t see themselves as a chain. They are a group of owners who work in the business every day and night, from cooking to finance, to operations. After their initial opening in Cheltenham, they were picked up by the Guardian as one of the best ‘cheap eats in the South West’ and their business exploded from there. Since then they’ve opened branches in Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and Bournemouth. Cardiff attracted them as the ‘lifestyle capital of Wales’ and the Welsh’s friendliness and love of eating out! Anna commented on the fact that both Lonely Planet and The Sunday Times listed Sri Lanka as the No1 ‘Best place to visit’ and the benefits it subsequently had on The Coconut Tree’s success and profile. The Coconut Tree are going to be a part of the Castle Eats project at Cardiff Castle, so Cardiffians will be able to sit outside the castle and enjoy a takeaway from TCT al fresco! TCT is located on Mill Lane, next to Côte Brasserie and opposite John Lewis. This is a perfect foodie location, as it is surrounded by some of Cardiff’s finest restaurants and TCT acts as a unique addition to this collection. It stands out with its bold, dark branding and its outdoor seating and bar creates a welcoming vibe, encouraging passers-by to pop in for a legendary cocotail!

An image provided by TCT of their delicious food

On the topic of lockdown and COVID19, the lack of business proved to be a struggle for all small to medium boutiques. TCT’s Cardiff location had only been open for six months, so for them to have come through the worst of lockdown and survived it is a big success for them! Social media acted as a positive method to keep in touch with their costumer base and give updates towards reopening. They started doing takeaways on Fridays and Saturdays throughout lockdown, but have now extended to every night thanks to the extreme popularity they received. They’ve recently opened their outdoor space with plans to start trading inside as well, so it’s onwards and upwards for TCT! They are participating in the August Eat Out to Help Out offer Monday – Wednesday, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get down there and try out their amazing food!

I asked TCT what they would recommend to a first time coconuter and they responded with two new hybrid dishes that they’ve recently added to their menu:

  • Devilled Pork & Pineapple: Mixing two famous Sri Lankan dishes, this spicy, sweet, tangy and sour dish is a vibrant mix of juicy belly pork, red chilli, onion and banana peppers with garlic, spring onion and seasoning. The pork is cooked in the spices, before the veg is finished on a hot plate with the pineapple ‘Achcharu Style’. 
  • Chicken Curried Kotthu: Two of The Coconut Tree’s best-loved and best-selling dishes come together for the first time; Vegetable Kotthu (finely chopped roti cooked with egg and vegetables, cooked on a searing hot plate), topped with juicy chicken off-the-bone in a rich curry sauce made with fennel, cardamom, cloves, cumin, house curry powder, onion and cinnamon. 

They sound delicious and I can’t wait to try them! Everyone should get down to The Coconut Tree to sample their amazing food and cocotails!

Post lockdown health kick

Written for Quench student mag

For me, lockdown will always signify an unprecedented amount of binge snacking and stress eating. Those early, uncertain days were passed with films and chocolate as I lost all motivation and any concept of the word ‘health’. Now that lockdown is lifting and uni is looming, I am all too aware of the consequences my mental and physical health has faced and I’m ready to kickstart a new and healthy beginning!

“Meat, carbs and snacking are my weaknesses”

One of the methods I find best for dieting is not to remove unhealthy food from my diet but to try and replace them with a healthy option. Going cold turkey from your favourite meals and snacks can be extremely challenging, so, I find closely substituting them a lot more realistic. Meat, carbs and snacking are my weaknesses so I have listed a few different methods I use to try and combat these addictions, starting with meat.

Fatty meat replacements

I absolutely love a juicy burger, but all that red meat can take its toll and I find a falafel burger a delicious and healthy compromise. You can buy them everywhere, but, if you have a blender, they are also ridiculously easy to make. 

Put in a blender; 400g can chickpeas – rinsed and drained, 1 small chopped, 1 chopped garlic clove, handful of flat-leaf parsley or curly parsley, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp harissa paste or chilli powder, 2 tbsp plain flour. Once well combined shape into four patties and simply fry in sunflower oil. To reduce the carbs, I like to serve with some homemade buckwheat flour and yogurt flat breads, but you can serve in a burger bun to channel a traditional burger! They go well with a tomato salsa or a beetroot tzatziki, which is a great way to pack in some more veg!

“Many people (including myself) are reluctant to give up meat completely”

Red meat is well known to negatively affect your diet and although meat free swaps can be successful, many people (including myself) are reluctant to give up meat completely. Swapping beef mince for healthier minces such as pork and turkey can make extremely successful bolognaises and burgers with a lot less calories and fat. This is a more simple and subtle swap than a meat free one and it’s extremely effective to help regain any loss you’ve made to your physical and mental health from a lockdown binge.

Carb reduction

My diet is extremely carb based and I’m forever looking for ways to reduce my pasta, rice and potato consumption. Replacing some of these with grains such as cuscous, bulgar or quinoa can help fill you up whilst also adding some variety to your diet. Adding a small amount of olive oil, salt, pepper and some herbs to these grains creates a simple but effective dressing, turning it into a tasty, healthy and substantial side dish. Equally, you could use the grains instead of rice with a curry to partially reduce your carb intake.

Similar to swapping a beef burger for a falafel burger, I’ve enjoyed swapping a regular pizza for a cauliflower pizza. This not only reduces carb intake massively, but it also increases the amount of veg you can sneakily slip into your diet. Although it sounds complicated to make, this recipe is not too difficult to follow, as long as you have a blender and a clean tea towel.

Heat your oven to 200C and remove the leaves from one 750g cauliflower and trim the stalk end, then cut into chunks. Blitz half the cauliflower in your blender until finely chopped, like rice. Chuck this into a bowl and repeat with the other half of the cauliflower. Tip the cauliflower in a bowl, cover with cling film and microwave for 5-6 mins until softened. Tip onto a clean tea towel, leave to cool a little then scrunch up the tea towel and squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the cauliflower. Transfer this to a clean bowl and stir in 100g of ground almonds, 2 beaten eggs, 1 tbsp of oregano and plenty of seasoning. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and grease with oil. Mound the cauliflower mix into the centre of the tray, then use a spoon and your hands to spread out into a 30cm round. Make it a little thicker at the edges to create a crust. Bake for 15-18 mins until golden brown and starting to crisp a little at the edges. You can then top the pizza base as you would a regular pizza with a tomato sauce, cheese and any topping you fancy (a great opportunity to bump up your veg intake even further). Once topped, turn the oven up to 240C and put the pizza back into the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes and the cheese has melted to your liking. Then enjoy your pizza guilt free!!

Saying no to snacking!

“If a kale chip is too much for you, going for an oven baked crisp option is still making a positive healthy change!”

Snacking is probably my biggest downfall – especially when it comes to crisps and chocolate. If I end up with a big bag of crisps or a packet of M&Ms next to me, I really struggle to stop myself devouring the entire thing. When it comes to food like this, it’s difficult to replace it with something healthy that is equally as moreish and enjoyable. There are certain fruits that I find are a decent replacement and can do the job such as purple grapes and pomegranate seeds. Their size makes it easy to slowly pick at them as you watch tv and their sweet sharp flavour is reminiscent of sweets. Kale chips are easy to make and are very healthy, but they are extreme and don’t necessarily have the same effect as a regular crisp. If a kale chip is too much for you, going for an oven baked crisp option is still making a positive healthy change!