Marcyanna’s smart grey kitchen, in leafy Hampstead Garden Suburb, is surrounded by colourful gardens heavy with floral scent.
We sit down to a quintessentially English tea, complete with willow pattern tea cups, linen napkins and bird song from the open window; but there’s a twist - the scones are vegan and sugar free, as is the jam. “Ever since my husband was diagnosed with type one diabetes two years ago we’ve completely changed how we eat. It’s an evolving process but we’ve gradually cut out meat, fat and sugar,” she says. “I now read the list of ingredients on everything I buy and we’re eating much more healthily.”
After several years as an account manager for a large IT company, Marcyanna had a career change and now works from home setting up a vintage bag business. This, coupled with her husband’s diagnosis, means her lifestyle and kitchen habits have changed significantly: “I used to eat whatever I fancied which included a lot of chips, crisps, cakes, processed foods and cheese. But I found I was expanding, sideways,” she chuckles. “It’s harder to control blood sugar when you’re overweight, so cutting down on fat is really important to us. I also found that it’s harder to eat healthily when you eat out, so we do more cooking from home.”
Marcyanna has embraced the change in diet as a new challenge. “We couldn’t find any sugar free yogurts so I just bought some plain soya yogurt and added fresh strawberries – delicious.” And her sugar-free vegan scones are such a hit with her friends she’s even started catering for events and birthdays. “I love British cuisine: pies, roasts, scones, Victoria sponge, hot cross buns, so I’ve adapted the recipes to make them more healthy. For example, I use soya mince instead of beef in shepherds pie and soya fat instead of animal fat.” I’ve also started baking which I really enjoy - I was shocked to read recently what goes into industrial bread.”
Having grown up in Poland, where the link between growers and consumers is much stronger, Marcyanna was also surprised to find that organic food in the UK is often more expensive, she says. “In Poland there are Saturday markets in every city and town; the produce doesn’t have an official organic certificate, you just know that chap in the blue hat grows organically, so you buy from him,” she explains. “Organic food is generally cheap and much more widely accessible than in the UK.” Arriving in England, Marcyanna worked as a waitress in a hotel and was equally surprised by the quality of the food served: “The lamb shank would arrive in a pre-made sauce, wrapped in plastic. The chef just opened up the package and warmed it up.”
Marcyanna says she trys to support local independent shops and markets, such as Broadway market in Hackney, as much as possible. “But like most people I do have to buy some organic produce from supermarkets,” she admits. “I always buy Fairtrade tea, coffee and dried fruit, 95 per cent of the vegetables we eat are seasonal, and we only eat meat, usually chicken or turkey, once a month.” But, even though her kitchen habits have been transformed, she’s not adverse to the odd guilty pleasure, she adds: “We do love cheese. Tofu is fine but sometimes you just fancy some really smelly cheese, so we do indulge on occasion.”
Marcyanna gets a free goody bag from the splendid ladies at Happy Kitchen as a thank you for letting us through her door.