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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

Never mind Christmas without a drink… how about also going without a turkey?

Not eating anything that once had a face seems to just about cover the Vegetarian Society's manifesto.

They kindly invited me to sample Xmas lunch veggie-style this week at their grand headquarters in a Victorian mansion in Cheshire.

There was a Carol playing and there were crackers on the table as we tucked into a mincemeat muffin. I had a plastic spinning top in my cracker, but immediately gave it to the young reporter from the local paper who kept eyeing me up as though I was about to produce a string of sausages from my trouser pocket. The scrumptious muffin contained self-raising flour, baking powder, caster sugar, sunflower oil, water, mincemeat, demerara sugar and cinnamon. Notice that. No dairy products. And they were light as air. I would have had another if I could.

In fact I could have happily settled down in their library, which has the most fantastic collection of old, faceless cookery books. One I espied was called "Of leprosy and fish".

Then we nibbled on bruschetta with artichokes and olives. It was just crunchy bread really and the artichokes still tasted of whatever they had been bottled in, but I did have another.

I tried the roast vegetables and smoked tofu plait, but I don't think I have the nimble fingers of the Cordon Vert Cookery School's charming principal, Lyn Weller. Anyway, you can get special scissors to cut pastry into a plait-like thing like that. Lyn said she didn't approve of them because the plaits then looked like they were bought in a shop. That doesn't bother me. Perhaps someone will buy me some for Christmas.

The stuffed mushroom parcels looked sort of Chinese, but they had a blob of cranberry sauce on top of the apple and herb stuffing and would have been OK with some sloppy sauce.

I liked the mincemeat, apple and apricot crumble tart, especially the apricots which had been soaked in a drop of brandy overnight.

And then there were Christmas Pudding Truffles, made with digestive biscuits all crumbled up, raisins and nuts. They were decorated with small pieces of white marzipan rolled into uneven shapes and pressed on top to resemble icing. Bits of glace cherry resembled berries and there was angelica to look like holly. Hot rum sauce would have been nice to go with these rum, gentlepeople.

Membership of the society has been rising rapidly with all the recent food scares and they get lots of calls from anxious mothers whose teenage daughters have decided to forsake the family diet. They tell them not worry and say it's not as though you'll have to use separate pans or anything.

They do a nice line in organic wine, of course. But I noticed there wasn't a pub anywhere nearby in the rolling Cheshire countryside, which I gather is a bit of a pain for the alcoholically-challenged guests who stay there to do a week's cookery course.

It reminded me of when I was young and a fervent campaigner for Real Ale. You know that entire obsession to the point of tedium about where everything comes from. Still, I went through that phase with beer and I still do with food except I don't mind whether it was brought home dead or alive.

Once in Ibiza I shared a lobster with a wife (the one like a lap dancer with a wet face) and it waved goodbye to us as the waiter fished it from a tank of seawater near our table and hauled it to the kitchen. I suppose lobsters do have faces, but I've never really looked one in the eye.

A neighbour once had a live lobster and decided to be humane and end its days by hammering a six-inch nail through the back of its neck, rather than boiling it alive.

I heard her screams, though not the lobster's, as the nail went right through and embedded itself in the wooden chopping board and the poor crustacean scurried around and around in a circle for about five minutes.

Now that could make even me want to be a veggie.

Factfile: The Vegetarian Society of the UK is the oldest organisation of its kind in the world and was formed in 1847. They promote the best of vegetarian cooking through their own Cordon Vert Cookery School, which is a very clever name and the home of vegetarian cooking. The school holds courses throughout the year for everyone and focuses on differing cuisine, including Turkish, Italian, Middle Eastern and Thai. The society HQ is at Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 4QG, telephone +44 161 925 2000. Website: www.vegsoc.org. Most of the ibizahistoryculture.com team are vegetarians, but Gary and I are not and have been known to eat sobrasada sausages for breakfast. Lyn Weller's new book, "Simply good food," costs £17.99 which is about the price of a lobster with a face.

Sinclair Newton