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Feeding London With Compassion

We are living in unprecedented times. I have heard and read those words so many times. My Mum said in early March that the Covid-19 pandemic will bring out the best in some, the worst in others.

One such positive story is Compassion London, a charity set up in March 2020 by Leon Aarts. Leon, a chef and motivational speaker with many years experience working in hospitality, recognised that many people would be impacted by the pandemic and lockdown. His vision was that no person should go to bed hungry, without a decent hot meal. Leon had previously set up Calais Kitchen supporting the refugees in France. He had the experience to know what would be needed to set something up to feed London’s vulnerable communities.

Within 3 days of coming up with the idea, Leon had formed the charity and posted on Facebook asking for donations of ingredients, produce and packaging, much of it excess that the Food Industry cannot utilise. He also sought monetary donations, and most importantly volunteers.

Cabbage Prep

A diverse range of people have come together to cook and pack meals in the kitchen, deliver to many places around London and behind the scenes dealing with logistics, procurement, supply chain, shifts, people – everything required to ensure that meals can be produced and delivered, in a seamless way. Chefs, foodies and many other volunteers with an array of different professions have worked to produce meals for the NHS & key workers, the elderly, the vulnerable, the homeless, and people shielding at home. The charity is supporting hospitals, care homes, charities, schools, food banks and many more recipients all over London.

Two friends, Alexis and Louise got involved at the start and mentioned to me the charity was looking for volunteers and thought I could help. I have a background in the Food Industry as a food scientist and product developer with some experience working as an assistant cook as a student. I was excited to get involved as soon as I spoke to Naomi and Leon.

Leon and Naomi organising stuff

I have been helping the team prepare ingredients and pack meals in the kitchen. It has been a wonderful experience meeting and working with chefs, caterers, front of house team managers with hotel, restaurant & cafe experience. Together with students, teachers, a security guard, an optician, a health & beauty therapist, psychologists, a probation officer, local counsellors, an airline steward, a tree surgeon, a professional gambler, a handwriting expert,  builders, procurement, HR, sales, and recruitment managers, charity workers and many more.

Maryam chopping ginger

Michelle frying falafel

Chef Danny & Lorna checking the falafel

Washing up with a smile

From the barrister washing up, and the student chopping veggies to the nanny packing meals. Bringing a team together with different skills all with a common goal of wanting to help.

One huge olive salad!

Veggie pasta ready for lids & labels

Collecting meals for delivery across London

Professionals and non professionals working in harmony to turn good food into simple, nutritious meals and deliver them to those in need as part of Compassion London.

We have cooked in some iconic London locations. Saracens Rugby Club, Wembley Stadium- the Football Association’s National Venue where England play their home matches, to Alexandra Palace, the home of the UK’s first televised broadcast. Ally Pally, as it is known locally, is a beautiful Victorian building. It has a lot of personal memories, as I could see Ally Pally from my family home growing up in North London. It also has an amazing view of the London skyline due to its hilltop location.

Allianz Park home of Saracens Rugby Club

Wembley Stadium

Alexandra Palace

During my work for the charity, I have met and worked with some characters with amazing stories. Professional chefs who have worked in fine dining hotels and restaurants such as the Dorchester, Harry Lomas MBE, Gerard, Stefan and the Chefs at Delaware North who are responsible for hospitality at Wembley Stadium, cooking up to 90,000 meals during match days.

Compassion London Cooking at Wembley Stadium

Harry has cooked for many famous people including the Queen, the Royal Household and the Military.

Chefs Gerard & Harry

Working with the Wembley Stadium team has been a great learning experience in how to work smartly and efficiently. Also the creativity required by all the chefs in every location, as there is not much notice as to what ingredients and produce are going to be available each day.

Ensuring the butternut squash curry is cooked to perfection

Compassion London is supported by a number of other charities such as City Harvest London, Edible London and The Felix Project. They collect surplus food ingredients and produce from food suppliers, manufacturers, supermarkets and elsewhere. So if couscous, marinaded olives, venison, white radishes, leeks, sweet potatoes and coconut oil arrive chefs definitely need to be creative to devise the meals to be cooked from the ingredients available. From 200 meals a day back in March to just over 6,000 meals a day, working at Wembley Stadium, Compassion London has produced around 250,000 meals which is a fantastic achievement.

Pasta Salad Packing

There have been some tough, heartwarming and funny stories along the journey. Leon told me about a mum, shielding after her cancer treatment, caring for her young child alone who had eaten nothing but ice cream for 3 days as she was unable to go out shopping. Danielle told me about the Saracens Rugby Club professional players who came to support in the kitchen. We all wear PPE and there had been a donation of homemade face masks. The sight of a 6 foot 3 player wearing one with frilly elastic straps that looked like it had been made from a pair of ladies knickers. Some banter from his team mates- all in good humour for a great cause. Leon talking ‘chopping’ which sounded a bit like ‘shopping’ with his Dutch twang and his passion, inspiring us all whilst we cook.

Many carrots to peel!

Josh and the admin team sorting out our food safety training and electronic shift booking system, with some initial challenges, always overcome with a positive attitude. Our WhatsApp group with people sharing photos, celebrating birthdays, volunteering for extra shifts, suggesting songs for our playlist.

The Packing Crew

Brad and Leon discussing what’s on the menu

It has been a welcome relief and therapy for us too, to get out of the house, sometimes challenging with lots of personalities, but amazing camaraderie.

Today I am mostly prepping green beans!

Looking forward there will be many vulnerable people to help, support and provide nutritious meals to ensure no one goes hungry whatever their circumstances. Many people to feed, the joy at being able to help, everyone doing it with compassion at Compassion London.

If you would like to find out more, get involved or donate please contact and check out the website link.

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Blueberry & Blackberry Birthday Cupcakes-Refined Sugar Free

March is a time of year that involves lots of birthday celebrations .  Simon’s Son, Mother, Niece, and my Father, some close friends and my own too.  We would usually have a few family and friends celebrations either  involving a meal out , and  usually involving  a birthday cake or two!

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Plant-Based Ramen Noodle Soup

New year,  new decade,  good intentions,  goals,  plans,  resolutions set. There’s a lot of focus on eating, drinking and exercise. The benefits of a healthier lifestyle on physical and mental well being is important all year round however there always seems to be more interest and pressure at the start of the year to make a positive change. People are becoming interested in a more flexitarian approach to their diet and more  are trying Veganuary and dry January than ever before. Whether the reasons are about positive health or reducing environmental impact on the planet or both, January always seems a good month to start!

The Christmas Holidays  are synonymous with eating and drinking. This inevitably involves the fridge/ freezer and larder stocked ready to oblige. There are usually leftovers and the question of what to make with them.
“What can I make that’s easy, tasty, that  everyone will eat?”
“I don’t really need to buy any more food, but what can I make with leftovers and still feel I’ve made an effort?”

During Twixtmas, the time between Christmas and New Year I made a ramen noodle soup with leftover roast turkey, turkey stock, ramen egg and veggies. Friends trying Veganuary for the first time asked me “can I come up with a recipe with ingredients easily available to make at home ?”

“Of course” I replied so here it goes…

Before sharing the recipe I need to talk about ramen noodles and soup. Tradition ramen noodles are made with wheat flour,  water, salt  and kansui ( a mineral based liquid/powder containing calcium & potassium carbonate). Getting a little ‘Food Techie’  the kansui is alkaline (pH higher than 7.) This is important to help with the noodle making.  It enables the dough to be pulled and stretched sufficiently without tearing and breaking, making the noodles nice and thin  and with the right texture, mouthfeel and ‘slurpability’  when eaten!
Traditional ramen soup broth is made using meat ( stock and pieces).  A lot of the instant ramen noodle pots are not vegan or vegetarian down to the dried sachets of seasoning that are added with boiling water to make the soup.

I used a homemade vegetable stock that I already had in the freezer.  You can easily use a vegetable or bouillon stock cube, powder but check that it’s vegan friendly! 
You can use a variety of vegetables but I recommend spring onions, garlic, ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, soya sauce, sesame oil  as the key flavour ingredients along with the stock. The quantities and ingredients are a guide but as with any soup this is a really flexible recipe. So any vegetables work just cut the more dense, firmer vegetables smaller and heat in the stock for longer versus thin greens/ leaf veggies which don’t need much cooking!  

If following a vegetarian diet you can also add  a ramen egg. To make  boil an egg for 6-9 minutes depending on size and how runny you like the yolk. Cool, peel and marinate the whole egg in a soy sauce & mirin mixture 2:1 ratio or ponzu for 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. Turn the egg over a couple of times to ensure an even brown colour on the outside before halving. Add to the bowl just before serving.

I’m making this recipe vegan so no egg used.

I’ve included links to some ingredients below.


Ingredients: Serves 2 for a main course

500 ml/ 1 3/4 cup of vegetable stock. 
I recommend Mari Gold Vegan Bouillon powder or Kallo Vegetable stock cubes as easy options instead of homemade veggie stock.

Dried Ramen noodles ( vegan).
If you prefer a gluten free option use rice noodles. I used Barenaked Foods konjac noodles as an alternative. 

2 tablespoons dried shiitake mushrooms , rehydrated in approx. 100 ml/ 3.5 fl. oz of boiling water for 20 minutes, drained, reserving the liquid.

Small piece fresh ginger ( 2cm/3/4 inch), peeled & cut into thin matchsticks 

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped

1 small carrot peeled, halved & thinly sliced

10  baby corn, washed & cut into  small pieces (approx. 1.5cm/1/2 inch)

2 spring onions/ green onions, washed and chopped,  approx 2 cm/ 1 inch pieces. Reserve 2 teaspoons of the green tops for decorating.

large handful of greens or baby spinach, washed 

Firm tofu, approx 140g/5oz,   drained and cut into 1.5 cm/ 1/2 inch cubes.
I used The Tofoo co. Naked organic tofu. You can marinate the cubes in soy sauce / mirin for 20 minutes or even fry in a little veg oil for 3-4 minutes for a crispy outside. 

2 teaspoons Soy sauce.  I used Clearspring organic Yaemon Tamari soya sauce which is vegan and gluten free. 

1/2 teaspoon Sesame oil. 
I used Clearspring organic

1/2 teaspoon White Miso Paste.
I used MisoTasty organic unpasteurised. 

1/4 teaspoon Mirin ( Japanese rice wine)  or Rice Wine Vinegar (optional)

Bamboo shoots & beansprouts  ( optional)

2  pieces of dried nori seaweed (approx. 4 x 4cm/ 1 1/2 x 11/2 )inch. I used Clearspring Japanese Sushi Nori. 


Heat the vegetable stock in a pan on hob / stove and add the garlic, ginger, miso paste, shiitake mushrooms and reserved mushroom liquid, carrot and soy sauce. 
Heat on  low/ medium for 5-10 minutes until hot. Add the spring onions (except  the 2  teaspoons of tops), baby corn, bamboo shoots and beansprouts (if using) and warm through in the hot soup for 3-5 minutes. I added the konjac noodles at the same time.

Konjac noodles an alternative to ramen

If using dried ramen noodles cook separately as per instructions & drain.  Add to the bowls ready for the soup.
Just before serving add the greens or baby spinach so they wilt in the hot liquid. 
Add the sesame oil, mirin ( if using ) and taste. Add a little more soy sauce if necessary. 

Tofu cubes

Ladle into bowls and add the tofu cubes and sprinkle on the spring onion tops and nori seaweed ( if using) before serving. 

Plant based ramen noodle soup.. slurp & enjoy!

Ready to slurp & enjoy!