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Nestled under dark wooden canopy and lush leafy plants, sits a hidden gem in Old town, Koh Lanta.
Shine Talay, with its unassuming coffee lounge area opening into the street, welcomes you to make your way just a few short steps to a smart, relaxing sea view deck.

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The Angchuan family, with its three generations, are originally from Pinang. With Chinese descent, they decided about a year ago to open a restaurant in Old town, as their mother has a passion for cooking and wanted to share this with others, which she does so elegantly with a clean, classy mixture of modern takes on traditional regional Thai dishes, with interpretations of European dishes too.

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What comes across at first, is a strong sense of calm, teamwork and an incredibly friendly welcome. In fact, although this is the case, it is not clear from the entrance, just how beautiful an area there is to eat and drink in behind.
Polished rosewood chairs and tables line the undercover section and just past those, lays a wide sun trap decking, with low tables and sprawling thai cushions.

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The family and their staff make such an exemplary effort to look after your needs. On visiting with Bear, my baby son, they always ensure he has access to shade, a fan and a banana!

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They are happy to talk through dishes with you and make suggestions of complementary dishes and new flavours. The presentation of bar drinks and coffees is beautifully complemented with a delicate flower.

The family were kind enough to invite me to come and take some photos and to chat about a few of their popular dishes. I jumped at the opportunity, because one of my goals in our time here was to investigate the flavours and ingredients used in Thai cooking. It’s certainly something I’d tried back in the UK in restaurants, however I think I was more accustomed to the Chinese style sweet, fried type of food. The food here is clean, fresh and any spiciness whether deft and subtle or raging and firey is gentle on the palate. The flavours are never numbed with burning, although others might disagree! Each dish is made from fresh, with a keen passion and sense of pride and love I do not see so often in the UK.

I was shown three beautiful dishes, each one unique from the other, each one beautifully presented. The fish is sourced locally, from the very sea you can sit beside whilst you eat. I choose not to eat meat, but they prepared a vegan dish especially for me and I have tried other dishes available there, like the curry soups, ‘ocean’ vegetables and various thai salads – all of them generous and delicious. My friend accompanied me to the visit and tried the fish dishes for me, so that I could share a description here.

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The first dish was tiger prawns wrapped in tempura noodles. ‘Rich and crunchy, with a sweet chilli dressing and dipping sauce.’ It’s a very popular dish, which showcases the artistic nature of thai cooking and demonstrates the kind of fish available to the local people.

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The second dish, Shine Talay’s most popular dish on the menu, white snapper, steamed with chopped garlic, chilli, ginger and lemon juice. ‘The fish was soft and moist. Melt in the mouth, the flavouring subtle and not overpowering at all.’

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The last dish, one they prepared specially for me, is Lab Tofu. It’s a mix of sweet and sour and spicy salad, with crispy tofu, with hints of lime and a sprinkling of firey chilli flakes. It’s fresh and light, with such a depth of flavour. The sauce is tangy and juicy and the crunch from the crispy tofu is moreish and deep.

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Above all, I feel that this restaurant is most certainly worth a visit. Families, friends and couples alike will find the service, surroundings and variety of dishes a treat to the senses. Nothing is too much trouble and you can relax in their care, knowing you are getting a premium selection of ingredients sourced locally for your ‘pleasure’.
Getting a close look at these dishes has given me real inspiration and over the next week or so, I am going to emulate them, but raw vegan versions. It is a challenge, being that they are all cooked and two of them are fish!
I think it isn’t that I want to reproduce or replace the meat aspect of the first two, but the essence of what I was shown.
Clean, fresh, spicy, subtle, light, tangy are the words I’m going to keep in mind when making my interpretation of Shine Talay’s food.

If you are ever on Koh Lanta and would like to delve into the taste of Thailand with an added friendly atmosphere, then this is the place to try.

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About 15 years ago, my friends and I used to attend music summer courses (yes band camp!) and I can honestly say those days were some of the best of my life. It was a way to have focus, in our rehearsing and performing music together, in a social circle of people that we had things in common with. I loved it. One day, on arriving in the clarinet practice room, I spied a boy across the room on his own and being my presumptuous, outgoing and overly friendly self at that age, I introduced myself.
Stephen started hanging out with us sometimes, in fact it was easy to make friends there and at the end of the course, like with so many other new friends, we said sad goodbyes and vowed to meet again the following year.
This friend was different though. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter, from Stephen. He’d managed to get my address and his letter was so endearing and honest, blatant and clear, that I couldn’t help but reply. We wrote for the whole of that year and for many years after that.
At the following years ‘camp’ we hung out all the time, and the next. We were great friends. Our letters gave us common ground and a connection, that I see now as more deeply rooted than I ever imagined.
We stopped writing eventually, occasionally caught up on the phone and years later reconnected on facebook. We both led different lives, made mistakes, had our fair share of heartbreak.

One day, after feeling particularly sorry for myself, I took a look at what was going on with me. I my stress levels were at a high, my confidence had been knocked, my life seemed monotonous and I was quite clearly going through the motions.
For a couple of years I had been vaguely monitoring my diet. I had a particular like for eggs and drank gallons of cow milk. One day whilst eating a quiche, I suddenly started feeling very dizzy and sick, with a pounding headache. I had to go home from work it was that bad. I realised it was egg, milk/cheese or the wheat in the flour. I’d suspected it for a while, but this was a minor turning point for me. I decided to eat less eggs at least.
I started to get the dizzy spells more often, especially after eating and by now, I was having problems with my stomach and menstrual issues too. My gums and teeth were sore and I wasn’t sleeping. I had heart palpitations after eating quite regularly and I was incredibly moody, lethargic and anxious.
Until this point, I hadn’t been to a doctor in years. I had childhood epilepsy from a bump on the head until I reached about the age of 22, but aside from that, I had no doctor worthy issue. I rarely took even painkillers except in an emergency. I hold very strong naturopathic views after taking the epilepsy medication for so long, but I eventually decided I had to go.
What made the visit to the doctor more difficult was that my regular doctor had retired and so I had to see a locum. I had blood tests done, they searched for anaemia, diabetes and other bits and pieces and tested for depression. They couldn’t find anything and so it was suggested that I had mild depression and stress and that a change in my lifestyle, diet, more exercise would help.
I was relieved that I didn’t have to think about medication. I started to change a little, but not nearly enough. I sat around a lot in the evenings, working, marking for school, watching crap TV. I ate food, plus food. I would feed others in order to provide myself with cakes and snacks. My other issue was drinking. I had been drinking alot since my teens. It had gotten better, I didn’t go out to do it as much, but I certainly managed to drink red wine most nights.
Basically, I was killing myself slowly. I was allowing myself to eat and drink things that were making my body react in a myriad of terrible ways. I was completely aware of it, but I was continuing and actually, I was miserable. My heart was pleading with me to work it out, but. Wasn’t listening. It would pass. I kept tell myself. Ignore the headaches, lethargy, difficult stomach, gum issues, anxiety, bloating, irregular, basically permanent incredibly painful periods, reclusiveness, hangovers, depression, irritability, insomnia…this had to stop.

I remembered years ago seeing an article on a morning show about detoxing by eating one fruit only for a weekend. This really interested me, so I started to research. I also found articles about eating less animal products and how they could affect menstrual patterns and how a raw vegan diet could alleviate the pain, give you more energy and help rejuvenate the body. Having been brought up believing that certain nutrients could only be found in animal products, I started to look at ways of finding these in plant food. It was not as difficult as I thought.

The realisation that this change in diet could be the way to escape all my physical problems, coincided with another appointment with the doctor, as he suspected that some of the symptoms could be signs of cervical cancer. It was a big fear. Also, in contrast to this, the light in my life appeared.

I saw a photo Stephen had posted online and commented on it, then, sent him a message. We chatted all night. He had also been trying to eat more raw food and had successfully done so. It was as if the one person on the planet to help me start this journey had been put back into my life at precisely the right time.
The next day, he came to pick me up and we drove to a raw food restaurant in London. It was wonderful. Seeing him again after all these years, catching up, sharing food that we were both very interested in welcoming into our lives. From then on, it was upwards. We ate so well. Smoothies, juices, super foods. I loved the challenge of meeting my nutrition needs this way. It gave me new passion for food and life seemed to lift out of the rut I had been so blindly comfortable in…I sold my television, stopped eating meat and dairy, cut all refined sugar out completely. I went swimming, went for walks. I stopped drinking so much, if at all, and I got the all clear from a gynaecologist.
I have no idea if that first burst of energy would still have happened if I hadn’t messaged Stephen that night, but I’d like to think that he has and still does play a huge part in my motivation to take control of my health.

I do slip up. During my pregnancy with Bear, I did eat more cooked food and dairy than I really wanted to. This also came with feelings of guilt, due to the information I had now discovered regarding farming and meat production, plus I was starting to get heart palpitations again and some of the lethargy and bloating. After Bear was born, I also lost a bit of my motivation to be in the kitchen. It was easier to cook a soup, get a takeaway, or bung processed vege food in the oven, but every time I did, a million thoughts crossed my mind.

I think now, that I truly know the real food culprits and the impact they have in my body.
Refined sugar is a no no. It makes me tired in all its forms and makes my teeth sensitive and my gums sore. It’s worse when with white flour, or in beans or other tinned or processed food. These combinations also give me stomach cramps and other stomach symptoms of old.
Another no for me is cow milk. It leaves an awful bitter taste in my mouth and my stomach feels nauseous and inflamed. It also smells awful to me and I feel sick just thinking about what awful things are in it and the cruel slavery its production entails.
Noodles (apart from rice noodles) result in all of the above, any processed food. The same goes for eggs. I do eat free range organic eggs when I fancy it, but it’s not so often anymore.

On the better side, I have so many other foods that invigorate me and give me the energy that those few above zap. The sheer volume of options left to me are why I really need not worry. I am at my best on a fully raw vegan diet, with occasional cooked vegan food, long walks in nature, sunshine, love and meditation.

I remember Stephen asking me on our date to the raw restaurant all that time ago. ‘What would you do if money were no object? Not the usual answer, like a nice house, pay off my debts etc…what would you do with your life?’
I remember my answer.

‘I would travel around, learning about cultures and food, so that I could teach people how to eat as well as possible, look after them, feed them, listen to them and show them different ways of life around the world.’

Well here I am, almost 2 years into this relationship, with a wonderful man who has made sure I am living my dream.
I feel that truly, honestly, you must ask yourself his question and strive to follow your dreams. In whichever way you can possible. I cannot imagine where I would be if I hadn’t chosen this path.
Take a look at your life often. Open your eyes to the possibilities and opportunities. See past the man made distractions that blot out the very nature of our human souls and let life carry you and teach you. Trust in that, because I believe it for everyone. It is never too late.

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This delicious pumpkin is in season here at the moment and is sold in chunks, by weight at stalls and markets.
It is so sweet and you can steam it in chunks, add it to stews, bake it or when you cook it right down, it melts so as to make a thick, bright yellow sauce.
I love to add it to curries and so today, for lunch, I made a sort of mix and match dish from the bits and pieces in the fridge and around.

400g chickpeas soaked overnight
1 potato chopped into chunks
400g Gabocha pumpkin (or any sweet squash) sliced
Spinach or spring greens
Chunks of Aubergine
6 large cloves of garlic unpeeled
2 sticks of lemongrass
2 green chillies whole
3 small red chillies whole
Teaspoon of peppercorns
Teaspoon of cumin
Chopped coriander
2cm galangal or ginger
Water to cover ingredients (2 coconuts’ water)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Using a slow cooker, or a large crock pot, place the chickpeas in the bottom and cover with water.
2. On top of those throw in the garlic, lemongrass, lime leaves, chillies, peppercorns, coriander and galangal.
3. Place a layer of spinach or spring greens
4. Place a layer of pumpkin/squash and sprinkle with the cumin
5. Add the aubergine and potato, then pour in more water just enough to cover everything. Do not stir. Just pop a lid on, bring to the boil and the turn down to a simmer.
6. After half an hour, stir three times only. Continue to simmer for up to an hour, or until the squash has broken down.
7. Serve as a warming stew.

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Be aware that this is a properly sweet dish. To add more sweetness, if that is something you like, add sultanas and even two bananas about 15 minutes before serving.

I just had to tell you about how much I love green veg. I always have! I adore spinach, broccoli, kale and more. I really feel them giving nutrition to my body and they give me a boost!

Now I don’t eat dairy, I’m sure a lot of people wonder where I get my calcium from.

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And this is where. I love that plants give us great quantities of our vitamins and minerals and that we don’t have to rely on using animals.

Today on our trip to the market, Bear picked out some wonderful Lemon Basil, so I thought I’d whip up a quick flavoursome salad for us to munch on.

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A Handful of Herbs Salad
Dressing
Galangal chopped into matchsticks (3cm)
Garlic sliced thinly (2)
Flaxseed oil (3tbs)
Lemon juice (1)
Young peppercorns (10)
Green chilli chopped thinly
Pink Himalayan salt (hefty pinch)
…Combine and leave to mix whilst preparing salad

Salad
Coriander (handful)
Lemon Basil (handful)
Assorted Asian greens (I used Pak Choy, Gai Lan and Choy sum)
Spring onion (handful)
Broccoli (one head)
Baby sweet corn (4)
Cherry tomatos chopped (handful)
…Combine and pour dressing over. Eat immediately or leave to absorb dressing in fridge!

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It’s a zingy salad, that you can adapt according to your own tastes. You could replace the herbs with your favourites, swap galangal for ginger, add more vegetables of your choice, maybe celery or cucumber and a sprinkling of seeds or sprouts would give you that added crunch!

A good 10 years or so ago, I lived in a small town in West Wales. I attempted a degree, but it didn’t work out and I ended up working and eventually managing a busy little cafe there. I loved the social side of it, my friends would come and hang out there, I met so many different people, i loved shopping for the kitchen ingredients, catering and developing new dishes. The people I worked with were like my second family and most of all, I learned so much about food, especially vegan, vegetarian and how to adapt dishes for various intolerances and tastes. It was most probably one of the most influential times in my culinary journey.

Since then, in all my jobs, i have worked with food. People and food. It is my passion. I love to discover new ways of making food, particularly now I prefer not to use animal ingredients. It has been interesting and a real challenge sometimes to try and produce the equivalent vegan dish. I like doing this, because it can demonstrate that some ingredients are just not necessary, if the equivalent can be made with plant based food.

Today I thought I’d share with you my kitchen here and about some of the food I always like to have stocked up and about the new ingredients I have discovered on my stay in Koh Lanta so far.

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I love my fridge to be packed out with fresh green vegetables and herbs. The smell as I open the door is divine and it helps me keep a good mindset when I open it to find foods that I feel are healthy and contributing towards my body being its best.
Amongst other things, today I stocked up on lemongrass, spring onions, holy basil, coriander, galangal, thai aubergines, sweet potatos – about four different kinds, squash and various Asian greens, like Pak Choy, Gai Lan and Choy sum. I’m going to make little Bear a salad later for his tea. He adores any greens, especially lettuce, so I’m going to put those together with some tomato. Another of his favourites.

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We love bananas, well I love bananas. They are my favourite fruit and I eat at least 3-6 a day. Today I think I’ve had about 12, including some of the little thai kind, which are much sweeter and intense in flavour. I have banana in my smoothie for breakfast and then as a snack whenever I fancy something sweet. I really enjoy them in a curry too. They add a rich sweetness that counterbalances the spice. I also love them as a dessert and use them to make dishes like my Raw chocolate pie and Strawberry macadamia ‘cheesecake’. Stephen has a pineapple and ginger smoothie in the morning, or we just cut it up and eat chunks of it as a snack. Best served chilled from the fridge I find.
Onions are an absolute must in my kitchen. I adore them cooked and raw. I also respect their medicinal properties. They’ve helped see colds off!
The other fruit you see in the picture here is Tamarind. When we visited the herb garden last week, we were given some to try. It’s a particularly poignant discovery as Stephen is investigating natural healing and Tamarinds have medicinal properties that are extremely relevant in his research. What makes it more exciting is that we found a Tamarind tree in our garden!

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On my little spice shelves, you can see jasmine green tea, mung beans and chick peas to sprout (I will show you how to do this and why in a future post) garlic, soy sauce, salt, ground cumin and coriander, ginger, dried chillies and the bits you can’t see are young peppercorns, which I am going to stock always now, Kefir lime leaves and these teeny tiny pea aubergines. All in all a wonderful mix of flavours and textures.
Also today, I found a Pomelo! The biggest citrus fruit there is!

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One of my all time favourite ingredients put on this earth is garlic.
It is used everywhere around the world for its strong, versatile flavour and its medicinal properties. It is an important part of many dishes of various countries across Asia, Africa and South America and Europe.
The flavour varies in intensity and aroma with different cooking methods and that is one of the things I love about it. I find that fascinating.

In the dish I made today, it is soft and sweet in flavour. It’s a typical side dish in many restaurants and households, based around the holy trinity – Garlic, Ginger and Spring onions. There is no need to add stock, these three and a little soy sauce add real depth, even in a quick stir fry like this.

Ingredients (serves 2-4 depending on portion size)
Sesame seed oil
2-4 large cloves of garlic thinly sliced
6 spring onions
2cm of Fresh ginger cut into matchsticks
Half a chilli sliced thinly
3 tablespoons of light soy sauce
Fresh green vegetables of your choice roughly chopped
( I used Pak choi and courgette, but tender stem broccoli and sweet red pepper would have been a delicious addition too)
3/4 pint of water/coconut water
Soft rice noodles if desired

Method
1. Heat oil in a frying pan or wok for a minute or so on a high heat. Add to it the garlic, spring onion and ginger and stir fry for a further few minutes, until garlic has browned (watch carefully, you should catch it before it burns) turn down the heat.
2. Add your vegetables and stir continuously for a minute or two, until they are very well covered by the garlic, ginger and spring onion oil.
3. Pour in the water and soy sauce, sprinkle in the chilli, then bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Turn down and cook for a further minute or two, then serve as an accompaniment to other dishes, on its own with steamed rice, or stir through some soft noodles.

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A little sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds would add a rich nutty taste to this dish πŸ™‚

I bought Bear a couple of pairs of little trousers whilst we’ve been here, because most of the things I packed him have been a bit hot and he is growing too.

I decided to have a go at making a pair, which are made of a pretty simple pattern and with correct measuring, I think with basic sewing skills, a sewing machine, material and an hour, you could knock up a pair of these easily. I’m using some really funky material, which is actually a scarf given to me for my birthday by my sister, Emma, but she knows I love it…now Bear and I match! πŸ™‚

I was lucky that my mum and her mum, my grandmother, taught Emma and I to sew at a young age. Mum used to make a lot of our clothes and toys, including fancy dress (our Dickens Festival dresses one year pictured below) rag dolls and she even made my sisters wedding dress and my bridesmaid dress. Emma is very creative too. She makes gorgeous little felt toys. What talent!

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Anyway, I’m not as disciplined as her and prefer much more free, sculptural sewing, but sometimes I like to make clothes. The problem is that usually I run out of patience. So making children’s clothes and simple designs is more my style.

I’ve ended up with a good practise pair of trousers for him. Here is my workings.

You will need two of each of these shapes. The longer length of the rectangle is the length of the trouser leg you would like. E.g. From waist to ankle. The middle piece should be about a quarter shorter than longer length of the rectangle. The top should be half the width of the bottom.

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Then line up the four pieces and sew them together as in figure 2. A to A, B to B and so on. The bottom of the two side panels is slightly longer than the middle panels to create the legs in the next stages.

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Once you have sewn these panels together, you need to hem around the waist line (3) leaving a channel wide enough for some elastic. Then along the edges 1&2 before sewing along 4, also sewing together the two overhanging sections to form the two legs.

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I hope that makes some sense! If not, here’s a cute photo of Bear showing them off. They are pretty rough, but I will try again a few times to neaten them up.

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