Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Cooking experiment: coconut bacon

Ever since I ate the coconut bacon BLT at Aux Vivres in Montreal, I've been thinking about how I could create something similar at home. This weekend I bought a few things in order to try it out.

The main ingredient is, of course, coconut flakes. The recipes I found online seemed to advocate stripping the inside of an actual coconut for this, but that wasn't really an option for me. Instead, I went to the baking section of the supermarket, and picked up a couple of tubes of Whitworths Coconut Chunks. These chunks are about half a centimetre across, but they're too hard for this recipe unless you chop them into little translucent slivers. This is quite tedious and fiddly work, so put on a CD or something while you're doing that. It took me about twenty minutes altogether to get the small amount I needed for this first experiment.

This is a teeny tiny Tupperware.

The next part was taking care of the flavour. The internet consensus was liquid smoke to get a smoky bacon flavour. Huh? Given that this was the first time in my life I'd ever even heard of liquid smoke, and it sounded a bit sketchy anyway, I turned to some dried chipotle peppers we had in the house. I chopped up a whole one into tiny little bits, but next time I'll use half.

I put the chipotle and the coconut into a frying pan, adding a couple of dashes of soya sauce (you don't want too much or it'll be left in a pool in the pan afterwards). I heated it on medium for a few minutes, making sure it mixed and soaked well.

Put it on a pitta which had the lettuce and tomato ready, along with a bit of my new vegan mayo!

I was really pleased with the taste and the texture, although as I said, I'll put less chipotle in next time. There are a few coconut bacon recipes floating around out there, but after looking at a few of them and despairing, I improvised with the ingredients that were available to me. I think it's more budget and less niche. However, I will be looking out for bigger coconut chunks - you know, like you can get bags of trail mix - because I don't want to lose hours of my life chopping coconut slivers.

P.S. It goes without saying that it's not about looks! This isn't meant to look like bacon, it's meant to be a replacement for taste and texture. That being said, my friend Alice has passed me a recipe for fake bacon (facon) that you make in a tin like flapjacks, so I look forward to trying that soon too.

Monday, 5 May 2014


Regarding my situation last time I wrote, Wash put it pretty succinctly:

I really had no idea where I was meant to go from here, what I should be doing, or whether I'd ever even get out of this horrible rut. And while I haven't found answers to every single one of those questions, things seem to be slowly falling into place.

Not gonna lie: I still mentally convert £ into $ and then finally get why visitors say the UK is expensive. I still have Rimouski on my phone's weather app, and I see people instagramming photos of clapboard-housed streets with no snow at all, which I can't get my head around. Above all, not a single one of my dreams since I got back has been set in Europe. When I wake up, I feel an unnerved longing, as if the places I experienced won't let go of me that easily.
On the other hand, I consider how lucky it was that I hadn't booked a spring break jaunt to Toronto (because that turned out to be the week I left my apartment) and that I hadn't bought tickets to Arcade Fire in Ottawa (because that turned out to be the day I flew back to the UK). Yes, these things would have been lovely, but I don't feel too sad about it like I did a month ago. It's taken time but I have faith once again that the future will hold great things, so it doesn't make sense to linger on all that.

Anyway, I think readers are bored of me going on about all that, so let's move on.

I'm finally finding jobs that I can apply for, which gives me a clearer idea of what the near future holds for me. I'll be staying in the UK for the time being, getting experience and making some money. The thing is, I've just spent a whole chunk of time immersing myself in French. I haven't been to Germany in well over a year and I'm out of practice. Admittedly - beware, wild humblebrag approaching - in the scant opportunities I did have to speak with Germans in Canada, they told me I spoke German really naturally and that my accent was sehr neutral.
But it's quite something else when you have to speak a foreign language in a formal setting - like an interview - after stating on your CV that you're fluent.

I applied for a job, and the recruitment agency called me that afternoon. When we spoke German, I kind of freaked out, stumbling over my words, even though I'd been expecting it. I forgot the German for primary school, almost saying "Elementarschule". I apologised that I was in French mode still, and I promised that the more often I would speak German, the easier I'd fall back into it. Luckily, the company itself has offered me an interview next week...!

Some people might be under the impression that you're much more fortunate to get a phone interview than an in-person interview, but those applying for foreign language positions would agree they're wrong. My Quebec interview (over a year ago now!) was in person, and whilst I was definitely still nervous when the interviewers suddenly switched to French, the fact that I could read their body language - and probably vice versa - was a huge advantage.

Basically, it's become very apparent to me that if you've decided to do a degree in languages, you've just signed your life away: you need to regularly and continously keep making sure you know your shit.

Enter Duolingo.

It's a programme where you learn a language step by step using little games, usually in the form of translating or transcribing phrases. I started using it a few months ago, as my friends in Rimouski were raving about it. It was fun, but I was using it once a week if that, because it was too simple and clearly designed for people who were just starting to learn French. I remembered I had the app when I heard I was going to have a German interview. I needed some basic practice to de-rust my German brain. Yes, it was very basic, and frustratingly nitpicky sometimes, but it felt like a useful way to waste some time. And yes, I even learnt some things; it was a surprisingly good memory-refresher.

The best part of Duolingo by far is the weird and wonderful phrases it throws at you.

Sit tight while I write a 5,000-word essay answering that.

I've also been told that Spain needs us, and been asked whether the bear is wearing a dress.

So, Duolingo is available as an actual website, or as an iOS app. The two have their pros and cons. On the website, you can play against your friends. You're also less susceptible to typing errors often made on a fiddly phone keyboard. But the iOS app is really convenient; you can use it to be productive while you're waiting for the bus. You can also play against whoever's online. I also just find the interface cuter on it.

At the moment, only French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are available for English speakers. I really want to tone up my Russian but it's still being developed (as well as Dutch, Irish, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian and Romanian). A solution to this that I've seen people using is the English for Russian Speakers course, but that would only get you so far.

For all those in the same boat - because I know now that you exist! - HAVE CONFIDENCE.