Smarter Fitter Supperclub -Nr Cirencester, Gloucestershire.

For a city dweller like me, it isn't everyday that you get to walk through a spring wild-flower meadow before eating dinner. Across a paddock, past rowan and hawthorn, we walked through clumps of cowslips, Queen Anne's Lace and the nodding purple bells of snake's head fritillaries, more abundant than lawn daisies. In the middle of a Cotswold farm, from a converted barn overlooking an old apple orchard, this is how we worked up our appetites for Monica Shaw's first supper club.


Monica has a blog called Smarter Fitter where she posts her recipes and adventures in food. Often vegan, often gluten free, her aim is to change people's views towards healthy eating with luxurious, vibrant recipes bursting with flavour that are neither abstemious nor lacking. After attending one of her workshops at Demuth's Cookery School in Bath earlier in the year, I was keen to try more of her food and excited to hear that she was going to throw a supper club.

Sipping fresh pineapple and chipotle margaritas, we started the evening with spelt sourdough and lavash, vegetable chips and dip. Thinly sliced, basted with sweet, chilli spiked tamari and prepared using a dehydrator; aubergine chips were incredible. Scooping up garlic rich white bean dip with dukka, we almost left nothing behind for the other guests. An advocate for smoothies and juices, the other great surprise was a beautifully spiced cracker, made from 'juice dregs' that went so well with the beetroot and walnut dip.

Butternut squash, lettuce and tempeh bites followed, with a pungent, creamy sunflower dip so smooth and silky, it was hard to believe there was no dairy. Punchy beetroot gazpacho shooters, topped with spring onion and dill then arrived -full of front of the mouth flavours. Then, to refresh the palate, a tot of pear sorbet. Made using the ripest fruit, it was naturally sweet and made me giddy with esters.

After a brief pause, nutty farinata with wild garlic and mushrooms. A beautiful combination that reignited my love for farinata and soca; something I have been making regularly at home ever since. We then helped ourselves to a smorgasbord of raw and cooked vegan dishes: raw cauliflower cous cous; raw kale salad; tomato and pomegranate salad; griddled leeks and asparagus; mushroom and aubergine cassoulet and my absolute favourite -sweet potato kofte with tahini sauce and pomegranate. Filling our plates generously with robust, gutsy flavours, there was no precious moralising necessary for this superb feast.

Finally, dessert, an absolute corker that I have wanted to try ever since reading Monica's post about developing the recipe. A raw raspberry 'cheesecake', it was inspired by a similar dessert made in Monica's favourite raw restaurant in her hometown of Chicago. A thin base crust of walnuts, coconut and date; the filling a thick paste made with cashew nuts and raspberries, sweetened with agave. Topped with a date sweetened raspberry coulis and served with thick coconut cream, it was suitably indulgent. For those not averse to late night caffeine, a sweetened coffee agar-agar jelly, chopped into almond milk rounded off the evening.

We gorged heartily on Monica's cooking; rolling home with full bellies, the nicest thing was not having that bloated, gouty feeling of overindulgence. For those looking for inspiration for a smarter way to cook and eat, I thoroughly recommend Monica's blog. If you're still not convinced, go try some of her food for yourself. Her next supper club will be in July - a celebration of summer with a vegetarian and vegan barbecue. If she's not on your doorstep, you can even pitch a tent overnight, underneath the stretching boughs of an old apple tree in her back garden. I hear she makes a cracking breakfast too.

Smarter, fitter, now if only I could convince Monica to move to Bristol and become my personal chef..... 

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