Sunday, 10 February 2019

Kombucha Krazy

If you've been to a vegan fair recently or perused the chilled drinks section in a health food store you would doubtless have seen kombucha.  Even some supermarkets are selling it now.  This healthy ancient beverage has really taken off, particularly in the last two years or so.

Kombucha is simply fermented sweet tea. To some that may not necessarily sound that appealing and even less so when you see the scoby; the jelly like pancake shaped culture that is responsible for the fermentation.  Without going into the science behind this (whole books have been written on this) the scoby, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, works its magic on the sweetened tea and the result is a surprisingly tasty and refreshing drink.  Less tea like and less sweet than the sweetened  tea ingredients would lead you to believe, kombucha is more apple/cider like, perhaps with a hint of champagne, in its base form. In addition, the multitude of different flavouring options possible can lead it into even more tasty and interesting directions.

It's not just taste that makes kombucha an increasingly popular drink in our modern world.  It promises health boosting qualities too, and is therefore a good alternative to the usual line up of shop bought sugary drinks (the sugar used to make kombucha is eaten up by the bacteria leaving only trace amounts).  Courtesy of the bacteria, kombucha is a rich source of probiotics so great for digestion and maintaining healthy intestinal flora.  This also goes a long way, coupled with the high levels of antioxidants and vitamin C, in boosting immunity.  Energy can also be enhanced by all of the above and the presence of a good amount of vitamins; predominantly a range of B vitamins.  In fact vitamin B12, supposedly elusive to vegans, makes an appearance in kombucha.  B12 isn't just purely available in animal sources, contrary to the 'propaganda'.  It is produced by bacteria and as fermented foods like kombucha are all about bacteria, it follows B12 and kombucha are good bed fellows.  

I could go on about the reported health benefits; including its aid to natural sleep and weight loss, and helping ease the symptoms of high blood pressure, but I'm not one for science so it's best to do the proper research yourself.  What I do know is that during Dry January kombucha was very much a welcome and enjoyed alternative.  It had been suggested by a member of our family, also on Dry January, that we were cheating as, being as it is a fermented drink it does indeed have an alcoholic content.  This however is at such low levels (less than 0.5% generally in shop bought varieties but it can be a little more in home brewed creations), that a good chow down on rum enhanced Booja Booja truffles would probably give you more of a hit.

It might not have totally reached the masses yet but shop bought kombuchas are definitely on the increase.  On a recent trip to Somerset we saw two more brands we hadn't before.  I need at least two hands to count the different companies now providing for the UK market.  That wasn't the case even a few years ago.  This 2000 year old ancient beverage, with its roots in China, Korea, Japan and Russia (there are varying accounts of its definitive age and origin), was difficult to purchase.  We remember only one brand, Gavin's Kombucha, from the Totnes area, over 15 years ago.  That is one of the reasons we started making it ourselves, with the encouragement and a scoby kindly provided by Gavin himself.  We kept our brew going for some time but periods abroad and then my move to join Phil in Cornwall kind of broke the routine.  Now we are back to it.  Kombucha is really easy to make but routine (in our case weekly) is the key.  Sometimes Phil's sourdough starter routine and my kombucha routine coincide but it's no biggy.  Each process is just as simple as the other and take very little time.

In the case of kombucha you just brew up some sweetened tea (any black or green), let it cool and then let it get acquainted with the scoby. After about a week of the scoby floating around on the top, it is generally ready for drinking and bottling up.  You just repeat the process each time (using the same scoby) and you are assured of a constant stream of delicious kombucha.  The shop bought varieties are definitely very welcome and tasty and we encourage you to try them, but we have very much acquired a taste for making our own.  It's a lot easier on the pocket and resources too.  

If you fancy having a go at making it yourself, apart from water, sugar and tea, the only other thing you need to get your hands on is a good scoby.  You can buy these from the Internet but do make sure it is from a reputable source to ensure the best quality.  The tradition however, as with sourdough starters, is that you pass on scobys to other people.  All you need initially is one scoby and it grows and grows, generally in layers which you eventually separate.  It is these layers that you can pass on.  Our newest scoby came from a friend and ex-colleague from the Lake District.  She sent several scobys to a group of us at work and now we have a little Kombucha Klub going where we all bring in our latest brews for each other to sample and compare.  The difference in tastes and styles goes to show the diversity kombucha has.

If you live locally I would be more than happy to pass on any available scobys if you want to start making it yourself; along with basic instructions.  For anyone else out there that can get hold of a scoby, my basic recipe is below.  I started off making this is in a bucket and indeed you can make it in lots of different vessels.  Glass is best but metal can react so it is best avoided.  Now I use my special kombucha jar which was a very welcome Christmas present from Phil.

Scooby's Scoby Basic Bucket Kombucha Recipe
You don't definitely need the 1 cup of kombucha but it will take longer before it is ready if you don't.  You can buy small bottles of kombucha in most health food stores and Waitrose supermarkets.

1 cup kombucha
9 cups filtered boiled water
3/4 of a cup of white sugar
3 black teabags (or equivalent loose tea of any type you like - even green tea)

Ensure everything is all kept clean and that way you won't get any unwanted moulds.

Simply brew up the tea (either directly in the bucket if using bags or using some of the cups of water in a cafetiere if using loose).  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Let completely cool down (otherwise you could kill the scoby).  It can be brewed strong but again, it is all about experimentation too.  

Remove tea bags and then gently float the scoby on the surface.  The scoby has a smoother side and I always thought this was best to put upwards but having read more these days, it appears it isn't totally necessary. Don't worry if the scoby sinks, that is natural.  Cover it with a clean cloth like a tea towel. This allows air to get to it, essential for the fermentation, but keeps out unwanted dust or flies. 

Leave it for a week then give it a taste (using a straw gently pushed past the scoby is a good way of doing this if you are not using a vessel with a tap).  It should have a hint of sharpness to it but still maintain a little sweetness.  Basically, if you like the taste, all is good!

Most of the fun of making kombucha is in the experimentation.  I am still learning so much each time I make up a new batch.  I am also learning how some flavourings work great (adding strawberries or blackcurrants to the bottles after the first fermentation is a winner!) and others not so good (redbush tea really didn't work that well).  

I've also been slowly dipping into the wealth of knowledge that is The Big Book of Kombucha along the way and have been discovering where else I could take my experimentations, along with discovering what I had been doing wrong.  I'd recommend getting a copy (I was fortunate to get mine for £2 in a charity shop!).  

Whether you decide to try a shop bought kombucha for the first time or you decide you want to give making it yourself a go; enjoy!

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Cornish Vegan For The Win

If we've had a great vegan experience we like to write about it.  If we've had a bad one, we don't. That's generally our Driftwood Vegans rule. There's an exception to this rule however.  For a couple of years now we've been keeping quiet about something really close to home; The Cornish Vegan.  

In the early excitement of The Cornish Vegan opening in September 2016, we did write about it, but the fact of the matter is we felt we needed to then keep quiet about it; much in the same way that Phil refuses to write about his favourite Cornish surf spots for fear of overcrowding.  The Cornish Vegan doesn't really need more people extolling its wonders; it needs crowd control! (or let's say in a less dramatic fashion; it's best to ring ahead and book a table if you don't want to run the chance of missing out"!).  

We are extremely fortunate that Paul and Dawn decided to set up such an amazing vegan eating experience in Cornwall. The food they offer is addictively tasty, generously portioned, value for money and creative.  The menu sensitively balances the palates for those wanting a naughty treat to those seeking a more healthy indulgence.  For Dawn and Paul it isn't just about selling food that fills vegan bellies.  They put a lot of thought into creating dishes that go beyond the standard vegan fayre or what you would create for yourself at home; so much thought in fact that not even a holiday or the much anticipated glass of wine at the end of a long working day can switch their minds off from inventing new culinary creations.  

It's not all about the food though at The Cornish Vegan.  The service is second to none. Whether you are regulars or not, the welcome is immensely warm (Dawn gives great hugs too!) and attentive.  Details will not be missed here.  Then there is the speed of service.  The ambiance may be homely and cosy but the service is fast and slick.  It just goes to demonstrate further the hard work and thought that has gone into The Cornish Vegan.  It represents what Dawn and Paul would want as customers themselves; and likewise what we always look for.  That's why we love it so much and why we now use it as a benchmark for anywhere else we eat.  Let's just say it's pretty unbeatable.

So why have we broken our Cornish Vegan silence and not just kept this one to ourselves?  After all they certainly don't need any recommendations from us or anyone else for that matter; they've done it all themselves and their customer base is already huge.  Well we are proud of them; that's why.
No photo description available.
In November The Cornish Vegan stormed the Cornwall Tourism Awards 2018/2019 bringing home the Gold Award for Best Cafe/Tearoom of the Year.  Let's be clear here, this is the best of the whole of Cornwall not just in the vegan sense of the word.  This needs to be shouted from the rooftops.  Cornwall is rammed full of cafes and tearooms and I'm sure many of these would have been left saying "wasson?" about this.  

Image may contain: text that says "Featured by lonely planet 2019/2020 Great Britain"This achievement was then very quickly followed by news that The Cornish Vegan had landed an entry into the next edition of the globe trotting bible that is the Lonely Planet for Great Britain.  

Next up are the South West England Tourism Excellence Awards 2018/2019 which takes place this coming Thursday in Bristol.  The Cornish Vegan is a finalist for Best Cafe/Tearoom and is guaranteed bronze, silver or gold.  Again, let's be clear, the competition includes all cafes and tearooms across the whole of the South West of England, not just veggie or vegan establishments.  In our vegan world of course that is natural but for the rest of society to recognise this; well that is so amazing for Paul and Dawn to have achieved both for them and for veganism.  Vegans and Cornwall as a whole should be so proud.  

We wish them luck for Thursday and most of all we hope they have a lovely evening and break from all their hard work. What they express through their food and the service they provide does so much for the whole vegan ethos.  For this we love you and thank you so much.  They say an army marches on its stomach.  If The Cornish Vegan is feeding that army, we feel that their vegan campaign will continue to march way beyond the South West.  

Please note that The Cornish Vegan is closed on Thursday and Friday this week for Paul and Dawn to attend the awards ceremony.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Trending Vending and Depending

Our Christmas was a quiet, subdued affair. We really are not big on it anyway but the absence of both my parents in our lives certainly made it a thoughtful time of year for me.  I was in no mood to put pen to paper; hence the lack of blogging recently.  Instead I've been sitting back and taking in all the vegan news and offerings available from the ever increasing and widening sources.  

The World of Vegan has grown immensely over the last few years for sure but the run up to Christmas and Veganuary has seen a veritable volcano in such a few short weeks; more so I think than at any other time in the 30 odd years we have been vegan.  To us it is just unbelievable and way beyond what our earlier vegan selves would have ever hoped or imagined. Veganism is certainly 'trending' big style and there is a warm, cosy feeling in being trendsetters and now extremely trendy in our middle age!  That doesn't happen much these days.  Now we are no longer the aliens society once perceived us to be (remember people accusing you of just going through a fad?), we will have to find something else to be controversial about.

In one week alone we watched three programmes on mainstream television with a vegan theme.  Although Channel 4's Dispatches - The Truth About Vegans, wasn't exactly, in my humble opinion, a very well researched piece (since when do vegans "need more iron than meat eaters"? And insinuating Viva! and founder Juliet Gellatley fall into the extremist category wasn't the brightest move), it did put veganism in the spotlight in the mainstream media, especially as the presenter led us to believe that he was convinced enough to give veganism a go.

Dispatches was closely followed by a vegan edition of Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast.  Another Channel 4 offering, this was a more positive view of good, tasty vegan food delivered in an entertaining fashion.  The recipes were amazing and have made it into our 'food file' to cook up at some point soon.  If only Jamie had responded to our letter a few years ago, he would have been ahead of the game (as would the Food Network if they had listened to the viewers comments we offered back in 2013).  I guess everything has its time and veganism can hardly be ignored now.

A man that has definitely taken the 'rescued bull by the horns' is a certain Mathew Pritchard with his very entertaining Dirty Vegan series currently viewing on BBC Wales.  For such a tearaway nutter during his Dirty Sanchez years, Mathew offers a remarkably gentle approach to veganism with a hint of bubbling enthusiasm and mischief.  If you aren't in reach of BBC Wales you can catch up on BBC iplayer.  It's a fun and informative watch for newbies and oldies alike, with a wonderfully subtle way of busting myths about veganism without being preachy in any way.

It isn't just in the media that veganism has breached the mainstream walls of society.  The supermarkets, who had already started to 'walk the walk', have suddenly gone to running full steam ahead in the vegan million dollar race to grab their piece of the action.  The chiller sections are filling up, with whole sections marked vegan or currently Veganuary. There is also a noticeable increase in the frozen sections, recently vacated by Christmas turkeys.  There have been times when it has been difficult to squeeze in for a look and it is quite an interesting place to hang out for a little while to listen to conversations between clearly new vegans or vegan curious customers.  I've even found myself offering advice and sparking up conversations.  Yes, it certainly is a different vegan world when it comes to shopping now.

However, as much as all this is wonderfully encouraging, and indeed I wouldn't want to change this march towards a more vegan world, there is a danger of losing sight of other important considerations.  Shiny new vegan products available at all the supermarkets do I'm sure make the transition to veganism possibly easier and more 'the norm', but we really wouldn't want to hold these up as the mainstay of a good quality vegan diet.  I enjoy trying these products for sure, and yes buying them as an occasional quick dinner, but as an 'oldie' vegan thrown into the earlier less convenient days of vegan shopping, I damn well learnt how to cook from scratch very quickly; as did most vegans of earlier generations, out of necessity.  It would be a real shame if this generation of vegans grew up lacking basic cooking skills (an issue that already exists with some omnivores in our modern society I feel).  Plus, at a time when we are trying to reduce plastics, packaging and food miles, it would be a shame for those vegans concerned with the environment to fully depend on such products.  As I was having this exact thought when exploring ideas for this blogpost, this very subject came up for discussion on the  Cornwall Vegans Facebook group.  We have so many good Cornish vegan producers and providers, we should be looking to support them and reduce our food miles and fancy supermarket packaging as much as we can.

Of course, we embrace the trending of veganism, as long as the trend continues in an upwards direction and ultimately leads to a more positive outcome for animals, people and the environment.  We also embrace the vending, and all the new and exciting vegan products that seem to appear more and more frequently.  However, what we wouldn't embrace is depending on such products and their multinational corporate clutches.  In your heart and in your home is where your journey to veganism should have its main base. Veganism is also about more freedom for yourself and less reliance on others.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Sourdough Everything

Not that we take much notice of such things, but according to some guy in an old book, "man shall not live by bread alone".  To that I would add, "but if you had to live on bread alone, you would live a lot longer if that bread was sourdough bread".  Indeed most long lived ancient cultures developed some form of naturally fermented bread or pancake, of which some of our own personal favourites are Ethiopian injera, Indian dosas, traditional Mexican corn tortillas, and of course the whole gamut of traditional French breads.  Most people associate sourdough with the gold mining speculators of Alaska and North America, but it was the French immigrant bakers who took that idea over to the States in the first place. Way back when it was first discovered, you can imagine the sense of magic that would surround the process of turning simple bread and water into 'the staff of life'.  

My own personal sourdough journey started approximately 25 years ago, when an increasing interest in Macrobiotics and natural foods led me to try creating a starter of my own, and attempting to make naturally leavened (risen) bread.  I (Phil) can't remember where I got the recipe from, but I remember it being a bit complex, and trying to understand it correctly.  I don't think I did at the time.  Looking back I now see that my own starter was too small an amount, I did not 'feed' it enough, or regularly enough, and it soon died or appeared to.  I now know that it could have been revived with the addition of enough flour and water.  The bread that I baked with it was okay on the first try, disappointing on the second, and an inedible brick on the third.  That's where my experiments ended, I threw the lot in the bin, and didn't really think about it much until the more recent revival of 'Artisan Bakers' in the last 10 years or so.  Since then I have tried a fair few.  The depth of taste keeps me buying it over other bread.  I'd quite happily eat it just on its own when fresh, and that rich, slightly sour, nutty flavour increases the longer you chew.  It really is something to savour.

Now that it has become more popular again, the prices have risen much faster than the dough, and in an attempt to cash in on the trend every supermarket now sells at least one so called 'sourdough' loaf, or more accurately 'sourdough style' loaf.  The thing is they are not really true sourdoughs, but more often made quickly with sourdough flavourings added to fool you into thinking you are eating the real thing.  A true sourdough needs a bit of care and time, two things the supermarkets aren't that bothered about.  A true sourdough has only 3 ingredients; flour, water, and salt.  Any 'flour improving' is done by the action of time and fermentation on the dough.  With prices now around the £3-4 mark for a true sourdough loaf, and given the fact that nearly all shop-bought bread was starting to taste the same to me (bland), I started to think about having another go at baking my own sourdough bread.

Then (as with so many things that seem as though they were meant to be) one day around 6 months ago I was chatting to a friend at work, and he mentioned that he baked his own sourdough bread every week.  He kindly offered me some 'starter', and an instruction sheet that he got when he received his first batch of starter/ferment.  He has been keeping his ferment going for 7 years, and the people he got his off had been keeping theirs going for 25 years before that.  He 'feeds' and bakes his sourdough religiously, every week following the same basic recipe, and occasionally branching out into pizza bases.  I started off following his recipe with good results, so soon got the urge to 'sourdough-ize' other doughy delights.  Pizza bases quickly followed, then pitta breads, rolls, baguettes, rye bread, spelt, sesame and sunflower seed loaves, zatar flatbreads, and all manner of flour mixes in the search for the 'perfect loaf'.  Pretty much sourdough everything.  It's a search that may well be never ending as there are so many recipes and styles to try, and I have not bought bread from a shop since.

I am not going to include a definitive sourdough recipe in this blog as I am still experimenting myself, and there are so many factors involved that I don't want to get the blame if your bread does not turn out well!  Feel free to look up recipes online, source or make a good starter, and experiment.  There are also many classes that teach the process if you don't want to experiment on your own.  Baking sourdough can certainly seem daunting at first.  The type of flour you use, the consistency of your ferment, the temperature and amount of water you add, the temperature of the room you prove your dough in, the temperature of the oven, the time baking, whether you bake in a loaf tin or on a tray etc., can all influence the final product.  This can make the process seem more complicated than it actually is, but do not let this put you off. Simply put, you 'feed' your starter once a week with flour and water and put it back in the fridge.  For the loaf you add more flour, water, and salt to some ferment, you leave it to prove/rise for 12 to 24 hours, and you bake it.  Everything else is fine tuning.  You don't need any special tools or equipment.  If the old 'sourdoughs' could do it in a tent in the middle of an Alaskan winter, then it shouldn't be too much trouble for us with our modern conveniences.    

Then there are the many health benefits of sourdough bread.  In the fudge of popular thinking around health and diet some people have come to believe they are intolerant to gluten, a protein in wheat, even if they do not have a genuine health condition like Celiac disease or Crohns disease.  We have even been asked if we can eat wheat when we have told some people we are vegan, and served gluten-free pork sausages at one particularly clueless establishment (don't worry our expertise on vegan sausages enabled us to sniff them out as soon as they were put in front of us!).  Yet another plus about sourdough is that people who do have a sensitivity to wheat and have a problem eating regular bread may find they have no issues when eating a properly fermented sourdough bread.  

There may be other factors involved too, like sensitivity to chemical residues in non-organic flour, or sensitivity to the other chemicals added to bread like emulsifiers and preservatives, 'processing aids' (some of which are not vegan, or can be GMO), unspecified 'flavourings', and the eaters state of digestive health generally.  Ideally, sourdough should be made from organic flour, filtered or other pure water, and natural salt.  The reason for using organic flour is that the residues from fungicides in non-organic flours can also harm the bacteria in your ferment, and may even kill it off.  Plus, who would knowingly want to eat chemical residues?  

As the rise in popularity of natural and vegan food increases, and people become more aware of the impact their food choices have, there seems to be a parallel rising interest in the authenticity and origins of foods and other products. Perhaps people are finally starting to realise that cultures who have been quite happily living in harmony with the environment for hundreds if not thousands of years, may well 'know a thing or two' after all.  Technology has now brought us to a point of realising that some things in life are better without technological interference, or so called improvement. You may well be able to buy a fast food burger and be eating it 1 minute later, but what's the point if it is full of chemicals and is going to slowly kill you?  I'll take the time honoured approach thanks.  More people than ever are now making their own fermented pickles, drinks, and breads, and seeking to embrace a more natural balanced approach to life, and that can only be a good thing for us all.  Lets keep these traditions alive!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Forage, Home, Light Fire, Bake, Wine, Eat

An unexpected break in wind and rain had us heading out on a late season mushroom forage, via an irresistible vegan cafe forage at our favourite Cornish Vegan first.  Along for the ride was BigBroVegan, aka he of the VeganLaptopLunchbox fame.  We'd promised ages ago to take him as an additional 'shroom hound, but a series of events had conspired to delay our joint foray so we were delighted that he could join us in our last minute decision to head out.  

On our desired list of ingredients were either Parasols or Agaricus Macrosporus, both chunky 'meaty' mushrooms suitable for our plans to include in tacos for our dinner later.  Suitably secured in our rattly but treasured wreck called Pug (our 256,000 mile Peugeot 306 who actually should have a whole blog to himself such has been his infamous life story!), BigBro was transported to our secret 'shrooming location.  We would have blindfolded him but here is a man of trust and substance proven over years of service to the cause (animals not mushrooms!).  We admit we were busking it this late in the mushroom season but the recent warmer and wetter weather had given us hope for our normally reliable patch.  Luck was on our side.  An initial find of a solitary Agaricus was followed by a plethora of mature Parasol groups.  We were pleased we hadn't led BigBro on a wild mushroom hunt of the goosey kind.

With bags full of 'shroomy goodness, a mizzly darkness starting to descend, and our need to retrieve Miles our camper van from our wonderfully eccentric mechanic on the north coast, we headed back, dropping off BigBro on the way.  With both our old automobilic treasures returned home, the fire was lit just as the Cornish mizzle set in good and 'propur'.  Dinner needed to be simple, easy, hearty, and obviously include our mushroom swag.  That is when the oven can become your best friend that quietly works whilst you sit in front of the roaring fire drinking a glass of vino tinto.  With a bit of oven shuffling and minimal prep, this is what we came up with.  You can put the sweet potato from the taco dish in at the same time as the first baking of the aubergines from the second dish, and then the two dishes can just be cooked along together.

Simples Wild Mushroom Tacos
This made 6 tacos.  You don't have to use wild mushrooms and Portabello mushrooms would be a good substitute (use the equivalent of about 10 as an idea of quantity as all mushrooms shrink when baked).

Halve a large sweet potato and bung it in the oven at about 200 degrees C.  Cook this until soft (other stuff from the second recipe can cook at the same time).  Once soft, scrape out the flesh, leaving the skin on the baking tray, and mash it in a bowl with some chipotle or mole paste to your level of desired spiciness.  Put the mixture back into the skins and let it cook a bit longer but don't let it dry out.

Meanwhile chunk up or thickly slice your mushrooms and put in a baking dish.  Dribble over some soya sauce to taste (we found a chipotle soya sauce which is good and went with the Mexican theme), some vegan Worcester sauce, some olive oil and a grind or two of black pepper.  Bake these in the oven (they won't take as long as the sweet potato though) stirring part way through.

When you are almost ready to eat, warm up the taco shells.  Slice up the potato halves to even out between the six tacos and squish gently into the bottom of each.  Top with mushrooms and a sprinkle of coriander.

Simples Aubergine Bake
We're greedy so this serves 2 very nicely thank you!

Slice 2 large aubergines into half inch thick rounds.  Oil up a bit and bake them at 200 degrees C until nicely soft and browned (about 20 minutes in our ancient oven).  You can bake these the same time as the sweet potato above.

Meanwhile, fry one large sliced onion until soft and then chuck in some minced garlic.  I used one clove but if Phil hadn't been watching, two would have been snuck in.  Once starting to brown, add a 400g can of chopped tomatoes, one tablespoon of tomato puree and a handful of torn fresh basil leaves (to taste), along with salt and pepper to season.  Let this sauce bubble away gently for 10 or 15 minutes.

Lightly oil a baking dish and put a layer of the baked aubergines in.  Top with a layer of the sauce.  Add a layer of your favourite vegan grated cheese.  Keep layering and finish with some cheese so you get a bubbly loveliness on top at the end once baked.  Pop the dish in the oven, again still 200 degrees C, for about 15-20 minutes but basically until it is all bubbly and lovely.

So there you go; serve the tacos and the aubergine bake with some fresh green salad, maybe a bit of avocado, some mayo and whatever else takes your fancy.



Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Scooby Snacks and Savoury Sprinkles

It's getting cold now huh?  For various reasons over the last few months I have been ducking out of cooking and Phil has predominantly been 'master chef'.  However, the recent turn in the weather has me wandering back into the kitchen and planning cosy cooking sessions.  The weekend saw the revival of one of my favourites from a while back; Seitan with Mushroom and Red Wine Sauce.  However I wanted to also kick start the dehydrator again and make some snacks and staples, and a newly acquired copy of Crazy Sexy Kitchen from a charity shop had just the right recipes I was looking for.

I was feeling the nutty vibe and so started with the Curried Cashews and then moved on to some sweet chili infused maple candied pecans.  Both are great for those 'in front of the fire TV snack' winter evenings, but are equally at home as a topping for savoury dishes (I had some of the cashews sprinkled over my lunch today and Phil has just rushed to check on how many are left as I write this!).  Although we made these in our dehydrator, Crazy Sexy Kitchen suggests baking as an alternative way to prepare them if you don't have a dehydrator.

The third recipe for the dehydrator (which doesn't have a baked alternative) was also from Crazy Sexy Kitchen and was the Truffled Parmesan.  Wowzers, this stuff is good!  It is a wonder that it actually made it to the crumbling and jarring stage as Phil and I kept sneaking little sections of it here and there as we broke it up.  Thankfully we do have some left to sprinkle over various foodie wonders but I might put a line on the outside of the jar to watch for spoonfuls being snorkeled straight from the jar à la Phil style!  Hilariously after looking up an online version of the recipe to link to for this post, I noticed it should have been made with pine nuts.  For some reason our version used pistachio nuts.  Maybe I peaked too early on the 'spare' red wine from the seitan recipe I was making at the same time!  Whatever, it tastes delicious.

We needed some dukkah for another recipe (Roasted Butternut and Cauliflower Pilaf) I was making so Phil got in the sprinkly mood and decided to make some.  Dukkah is a traditional Egyptian condiment typically served with bread and oil, or with fresh vegetables.  We only needed two teaspoons but now have a bountiful two jar supply of this fragrant nutty delight of a condiment.  The recipes for dukkah are many and varied but here's how he made it.

100g Hazelnuts
20g Sunflower seeds
60g Sesame seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt

Dry fry or roast the hazelnuts and sunflower seeds for 8-10 minutes.  Dry fry or roast the sesame, cumin and coriander seeds for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Coarsely grind the hazelnuts and sunflower seeds.   Finely grind the other seeds with the salt and pepper and mix everything together.  Once it has cooled store in a jar in the fridge.

With the kitchen now infused with exotic culinary aromas, Phil was now enthused to infuse even more and decided to add to our sprinkle stocks by making some gomasio, otherwise known as sesame salt.  This is a traditional Japanese condiment that tastes and smells of more than the sum of its parts.  It is actually unbelievable to think it is only two ingredients, but it's all in the preparation.  Toast the sesame seeds too long and they become bitter.  You want them lightly toasted to keep their sweetness which is nicely balanced by the salt.  It's all about the Yin and Yang baby!  We've just had a lovely miso soup with some sprinkled on top.

16 parts Sesame seeds (can use white or black)
1 part Sea salt

Dry fry the seeds for 2-3 minutes until just starting to brown and pop.  Add the salt and then grind in a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar. If you use a grinder, don't do it for too long as you only want about half of the seeds ground.  Store in a jar in the fridge.

Even though the weather has turned we are now feeling like cosy squirrels as we gradually stock up on these tasty staples.  So check your nuts, get grinding, get your seeds nice and toasty, and we can guarantee a hot start to the winter before the first proper sprinkling of snow appears.  

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Old Milky Way

I've become a bit old fashioned recently.  It must be age and the onset of autumn perhaps.  Whether it is the musty smell of red, gold and brown fallen leaves, or the damp and cold creeping darkness of the after work evenings, I've taken to a night time routine of enjoying a hot milky drink. I'm not quite sure what happened as I've never previously been aware of the need for such a beverage in my life.  Perhaps I've reached that age that listening to classical music whilst wearing comfortable slippers sat in front of a roaring fire is all the rage?  Ah.....well yes, that is what I am currently doing as I write this very post.  Let's just skip past that shall we and get into the milky drink detail instead?

Plant Based Artisan - Vegan Honea (Various) (190ml) - TheVeganKindI'm obviously not talking about the likes of Horlicks or Ovaltine here; with their less than comfortable whey, milk and palm oil ingredients.  I'm talking about the simplicity of heating up your favourite plant milk with whatever floats your vegan milky drink boat.  My favourite combo at the moment on this new voyage of discovery is oat milk (the whole milk Oatly version available in the chiller), with a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (apparently just 1/2 teaspoon a day is enough of this powerful metabolism raiser to burn an extra kilo per month), a good old grating of whole nutmeg (just looked it up out of interest and found that it has some great benefits too), a sprinkle of vanilla powder and a splash of maple or brown rice syrup.  Divine it is.  I've just acquired a jar of Vegan Honea too, so my milky way adventure will continue. In addition, with my month long alcohol free Stoptober now over with, who knows what else will find its way into the mix?  I don't intend to grow old-fashioned gracefully that's for sure.

Am I really being old-fashioned though?  Are there other secret vegan hot milky drink lovers out there or has this 'pensioner' of a beverage been gazumped, discarded and forgotten in the wake of the youthful coffee and speciality tea revolution?  I'd love to know.  And if you are reading this and haven't had a hot milky one for a while, go on, give it a go.  I anticipate anyone over the age of 40 might just go 'ahhhhhh' as a result.  And for listening recommendations whilst you drink; try The Flower Duet from the opera Lakme by Delibes.  With the right level of cinnamon it hits quite the spot.  

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Salt Path

As the strap line to our blog suggests, we don't just write about vegan food, although yes we admit it does seem to dominate!  Given the fact that Phil and I read so many books, it is surprising that books don't feature more.  My mum used to tease us about how many books we have and always ask "so how many books did you buy today?", if she knew we'd been out for the day.  

The majority of our reads come from charity shops, but every now and then you come across books that you just have to splash the full cash on (and indeed support book shops and talented writers at the same time).  The Salt Path was one such book and one that will remain on our bookshelf indefinitely instead of circulating back to the charity shops.  It warranted a blogpost too.

If there was ever a book to put perspective back in your life, this is it.  I've had a couple of shitty years and The Salt Path almost became a self help book for me.  Crucially this is a real life story where life has been thrown into a storm force wind.  Facing into that storm was the author Raynor Winn and her husband of 32 years, Moth.  

Learning that Moth is terminally ill is unbelievably just the beginning of their journey along The Salt Path.  Days later they lost their home and livelihood; basically everything their lives were.  At this point most people wouldn't then take off on the 630 mile walk along the South West Coast Path.  Raynor and Moth did; redefining their life together with every step they take.  It is a gripping read and one that has you walking alongside them all the way.

Despite the fact that their situation is so desperate and one that most of us, thankfully, have not endured, I found their story really relatable.  Having lived in both Devon and now Cornwall, Phil and I are familiar with the coast path.  We have walked the entire section in Cornwall and most of it in South Devon over the years, not with the shadow of terminal illness or being homeless though.  Relating to it however is less about the familiarity of the scenery that Raynor and Moth walked through and lived within.  

The natural world has a rawness and honesty to it that somehow comes to the rescue when all other things in the world have abandoned you.  It's like it holds you on the edge when all those other things behind you are trying to push you over.  When my mum was in her last few days, the hospice staff were kind enough to move her to a room with a better view of the outside.  Here she was transfixed with watching the wind gently moving the nearby trees and both of us watched together.  We took solace from that, as I do now from watching clouds drift overhead, hearing waves roll in, sensing the glide of the seagull, smelling the scent of seaweed on the air.  It's almost as if when life strips you back to the basics, you rediscover what life and home really mean.  It is not an unknown thing that the natural world can heal, but it is often a forgotten one.

There is another aspect to The Salt Path that I found relatable.  Most of us as kids I'm sure had times when we dreamt of running away; that teenage urge to strip away all that is imposed on you and go find yourself.  I've even felt that as an adult, and each time I have dreamt of it, it is always the wilds that have lured me.  It is a romantic concept, and far from the reality that Raynor and Moth were forced, rather than lured, into.  Homelessness is not a teenage dream.  It is a hungry, cold, desperate nightmare.  However, what remains from that concept in Raynor and Moth's journey is that stubborn determination, fierce independence and openness to just see what was around the next corner, despite the lack of choice.  It holds a strange kind of freedom.

The Salt Path is Raynor's first book, and an example of what indeed was around the next corner for her.  She now lives in Cornwall with Moth and their dog Monty, and has become a regular long distance walker.  She also writes about and campaigns against homelessness.  It would be a delight to run into these inspiring people along the salty pilgrimage of the South West Coast Path.  

If you are feeling like you want to run or hide away at the moment, or life is just getting to that 'really, what else could possibly be piled on top of me' moment, I would implore you to do two things.  Go and get yourself a copy of The Salt Path and sit in your warm, cosy home and read it.  The second is to then go out into nature and let it seep into you, physically and mentally.  Perspective and choice is a privilege that not everyone has access to.

To catch up with the latest from Raynor check out @raynor_winn

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A Rio Nuevo Runs Through Cornwall

This past weekend was our first weekend home for a few weeks.  We thought about making up for missed trips away during the summer in Miles our campervan, before the weather and darker nights totally caught up with us, but the rain first thing Saturday put us off a bit.  Then there was the fact that The Market was on too and, having missed the last few, we were eager to make sure we got to this fabulous monthly farmers market that is right on our doorstep.  It was decided.  As much as we loved being away in Miles, this weekend we would stay on home turf.

The Market has been running now for just over a year and seems to be growing in popularity each time we go.  It runs on the first Saturday of the month in Crantock Village Hall and aims to bring together the best in Cornish producers, growers, and makers, along with an ever changing rotation of food catering choices.  This is very much a community market with an environmental slant. Although not completely vegan, even in the few times we have managed to go in the last few months, we've noticed an increase in stalls advertising at least some of their wares as vegan; from cupcakes, pizzas and pasties to shampoo and cleaning products.  Each time we have discovered a new stall with new vegan options.  This time was no exception.

As we walked into the smaller of the two halls, Phil made a beeline for a stall selling chocolate.  He can't help it; he is a chocolate terrier and becomes deaf to all else around him when chocolate presents itself.  Meanwhile I was distracted by the smiling greeting of the lady behind the stall and even more so when she said, "You don't recognise me do you?".  I was embarrassed to admit I didn't.  I was in that whirlwind of brain trying to connect the disconnect, and in the unfortunate happenings in my life over the last couple of years, it seems these days my memory is even more fond of letting me down; that and the general effects of age.  Sara graciously reintroduced herself to me as a student where I work.  In fairness Sara graduated some eight years ago and since then I have worked with over 6000 more students!  Once we got talking however, I did remember Sara and was now curious about how she had gone on the journey from a Marine and Natural History Photography graduate to running her own chocolate company.

Her interest in Natural History photography had led naturally on to conservation and Sara went on to study further in this field.  Although now settled in the UK, Sara, originally from Columbia and her husband, Andres from Ecuador, were both interested in working sustainably with communities back home.  It was at their wedding in the rain forest in Ecuador that the pieces of their dream fell together when the locals showed them how to make chocolate.  They dug deeper and were confronted with the struggles that cacao farmers face to make a living whilst trying to keep the non-hybridised varieties financially viable and therefore Ecuador's rich cacao heritage alive.  Direct and fair trade was the way forward and Rio Nuevo handcrafted chocolate was born.

Whilst I had been chatting with Sara, Phil had been working his way through the samples available on the stall and talking chocolate with Andres.  The noises coming out of Phil whilst he listened and tasted were good and when he then bought two bars, I knew it was quality stuff.  You see Phil has become somewhat of a chocolate sommelier and does not suffer chocolate fools gladly.  Chocolate could be as fair trade and right on as you like but if it hasn't got the flavour, texture, mouth feel and general 'je ne sais quoi', you won't make the Official Certifiable Phil Chocolate Grade of Excellence (or 'addiction' as I call it).  

All of Rio Nuevo's chocolate bars are vegan friendly and clearly marked as such.  Single estate Arriba Nacional cacao beans are used in all their bars and are bought and imported directly from their farmers in Vinces, Ecuador, thus ensuring that all the money goes towards supporting the livelihoods, communities and environment concerned, along with the viability of this non hybridised cacao bean.  It's a win-win-win situation.  The supplier wins, the producer wins and the customer gets great tasting chocolate!  

The six bars Rio Nuevo currently produce include three plain bars (ranging from 60% to 80%) and three flavoured bars (peanut, cinnamon and brandy).  The two plain bars that Phil bought quickly disappeared whilst I am still savouring the cinnamon one that Sara kindly gave me (the fact that it still exists is due to my hiding skills as any quality chocolate left in full view of the sommelier is quickly 'sampled' by him!).  

200x46Whilst the Rio Nuevo is springing forth from their base in Falmouth, I think we will be seeing more of them in the future.  They have ambitious plans and, with their passion and enthusiasm for quality, sustainability and community support, I am sure that their new river will swell to Amazonian proportions in the not too distant future.  If you don't catch them at a local market in Cornwall, you can buy direct from their website as well as find out more about their story.  

Sara didn't know we were going to write a blogpost about Rio Nuevo.  I hope she now forgives me for not remembering her from all those years ago!

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Mooplehog Creates New A30 Diversion

A trip west and over the border to Devon this past weekend took us up onto Dartmoor in Miles our Camper Van.  We were 'truffle hounding' for chanterelles and the peace of a night under the moorland stars, but we were also in Devon to meet one of my oldest friends (not in age I might add!) who was staying in Devon for a few weeks.  For various reasons we had been unable to meet up for far too many years so I demanded I treat her to lunch on Sunday and a long overdue catch up.  As we were both moorland bound, a mutual friend (thank you Erica!) had suggested Mooplehog in Okehampton, which we were told was not only open on Sundays but was also vegan friendly.  

We arrived at the small and cosy Mooplehog to be greeted by the beaming faces of Rebecca and Shane.  The delight was mutual I felt when we asked what vegan options they had on offer to be told proudly that they only offered vegan food!  You know it is that whole thing when vegans have sought out vegans and the meeting of minds and hungry mouths is a wonderful thing!

One of the counters was heaving under a colourful display of fruit and vegetables; all of which we were told were locally sourced, and as Rebecca guided us through the menu, it is clear that the priority at Mooplehog is the use of fresh ingredients; locally sourced and magically transformed into healthy creative dishes, without the reliance on prepackaged vegan alternatives or anything with palm oil.  

The fresh produce on offer is 'Ready, Steady, Cooked' into whatever imaginative foodie creations they can dream up.  Figs from a friends tree had formed the base for a couple of the dishes on offer on Sunday for example.  The dishes were therefore distinctly different from other places we have eaten and all were very tasty.  The freshness and imaginative use of herbs, spices and other wonderful flavourings shone through, even in the simplest of accompanying salads.  Mooplehog also offer a fine selection of loose teas and unavoidably tempting sweet treats to round off a very fine meal.

Mooplehog has only been open since 8th September and got off the ground with a small Kickstarter.  It was however against the advice of their financial advisor.  It is true that Okehampton isn't the most obvious place for a vegan establishment.  It is a smallish market town in West Devon on the northern edge of the wonderfully misty wildness of Dartmoor National Park.  The main A30 (Devon and Cornwall's only 'motorway' basically) bypassed Okehampton in 1988 and the heavy jams in the town (of which Phil and I experienced when we were kids travelling to Cornwall in the 70's) are a mere memory, along with the passing trade.  It has a couple of health food stores hidden away but otherwise a sleepy destination for vegan activity, until now that is. 

Mooplehog sits proudly on the main street through town, far from hidden away, and seems to be drawing customers not only locally (curious non vegan locals included) but from much further afield.  It seems that their financial advisor didn't fully appreciate the power of the vegan pound!  I salute Rebecca and Shane for sticking to their vegan guns (that sounds a bit wrong but you know what I mean!).  They are proud to be a fully vegan establishment, yet at the same time they are not shouting it from the rooftops, which has that wonderful effect of bringing in customers who might not otherwise experience vegan food.  Their passion for good food and veganism, and their hard work has powered them forward and is now bringing in appreciative customers from far and wide.  It has certainly put Okehampton on our vegan map, with a new A30 diversion now a given for us!  

Check out Mooplehog's very busy Facebook page for events, including their Saturday Night Munchies buffets (next one coming up on 27th October so get booking!), Brunches (including one for Boxing Day!), daily specials and mouthwatering photos.  They are currently open every day except Wednesday with Sunday opening being 10am - 2pm.  

In conclusion, Mooplehog is well worth a visit and if you are passing by up or down the A30 you'd be an absolute fool not to bypass the bypass and support this new vegan venture!

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