Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Creative Ways of Cooking the Books

Gone are the days of Eva Batt's 'Vegan Cookery' being the only vegan cookbook on the market and, whilst I still treasure the encouragement that her simplistic photo less recipes gave me in the early years, my over indulgence in collecting the 'new kids on the chopping block' is now bordering on the obsessive.  These days you can go to pretty much any book shop and find the cookery section bulging with vegan cookbooks oozing sumptuously lit photographs, delectably worded recipe descriptions and exotically combined foods that have your tummy rumbling and your taste buds tingling.  I get sucked in.  Flicking through I attempt remembering recipes and ingredients without parting with my hard earned cash but, after oohing and aahing over the third successive recipe I'd tried to memorise, I give in.  I've recently had to expand my collection onto another book shelf much in the same way that Phil has with his shoe collection on the shoe rack in the hallway or his surfboards around other rooms in the house (but that is a completely different blog post and story). 

But here's the thing.....I'm not very good at following recipes.  Sure, cakes and bread to avoid technical disaster but with lunches or dinners it's mostly a free for all.  I draw inspiration from cookbooks or magazines but very rarely do I follow a recipe 'to the T'.  That is what happens with creative sorts perhaps. Photographers, painters, musicians, actors; they're all influenced by others but they add and apply their own interpretations.  So this got me thinking; do creative people have the edge when it comes to cooking? Maybe I'm just thinking too deeply.  Either way, next time you reach for a cookbook and start writing that list of ingredients that you will have to go out and buy and then possibly never use again, how about riffling through your cupboards and your fridge and trying your very own version of 'Ready, Steady, Cook'.  Be abstract, be experimental, be adventurous because, unless you completely burn it, it's still going to be edible.  Save the recipe books for when you are feeling really lazy or completely uninspired.

.......and if you are feeling lazy tonight and have the following things hanging around in your kitchen you could always try this one that I made up a while back.  Every time I make it is different according to what we have around so fill in the gaps/delete as appropriate.  Be creative with this creation!

Aubergine Roll Up Thingies

Some aubergines (surprisingly)
Garlic (don't tell Phil)
Chili (tell him you put in twice as much as you really did but they must have been mild chilis)
Some mushrooms
Fresh rosemary (we have this in the garden all year round)
Olive tapenade (have used miso instead on previous occasions which we always have)
Balsamic vinegar (always have some of this) 
Tomato puree (and this)
One or two of those squeezy Mediterranean soup sachets or more tomato puree

Slice the aubergines length ways into no more than 1/4" slices and bake until soft.
Meanwhile, fry up the finely chopped garlic, chili and rosemary for a bit and chuck in the sliced mushrooms until soft.  Add in the tapenade, vinegar, puree and stir together.  Add in enough water to make it into a nice consistency for spooning onto the aubergine slices and roll them up whilst skillfully avoiding burning your fingers.  Don't worry as stuff will fall out of the rolls a bit.  I then put the roll ups into a shallow baking dish into which I have put the slightly watered down soup or tomato puree mixture and then bake for a further 15 minutes or so until the roll ups look fully cooked and just a touch crispy.  We've had this as a side dish or used as a main to top a big bowl of pasta.

Now, I've just heard there is a great new vegan cookbook on the market........so I'm off to look at it and then no doubt add it to my collection!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Eco Vegan Shoes

Yesterday we went to Animal Aids South West Cruelty Free Christmas Fayre in Exeter.  The stormy weather warnings had kept a few people away but as usual it was a great event full of committed groups of campaigners, interesting products, tasty food and all round good vegan vibe.  If you weren't there you missed out!

One stall in particular caught our eye.  We weren't the only ones as Eco Vegan Shoes seemed to have a constant gathering of curious people around them.  They are a relatively new company but already creating a buzz around their products.  I was particularly taken by their walking boots; a no messing around but stylish design, lightweight, waterproof and breathable to boot! 


Unfortunately I couldn't try any on as they didn't have my size left but I shall definitely be checking them out in the not too distant future, particularly so as they offer free delivery and free returns.  Phil and I have done a far amount of long distance walking both here and abroad and I've always struggled finding good vegan walking boots that stand up to the rigours of various terrains so if I buy a pair, they will definitely be tested to the extreme! 

In the meantime, check out all the great styles and offers from Eco Vegan Shoes at

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Chai Soaked Oats

I'm not much of a morning person really and despite knowing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I'm not that good at breakfast either.  There are not many foods that I take pleasure in preparing and eating first thing in the morning during the usual and predictable last minute rush to leave for work.  So how about a 'here's something I prepared earlier' tasty and healthy breakfast solution plucked out of the fridge ready to leave with you to work in a handy reusable jar.  After all, homemade lunches made in jars are 'trending' at the moment (whatever 'trending' means exactly) so why not breakfast?  Chai soaked oats don't even require cooking, just 5 spare minutes the evening before.  You could even make a couple or more for subsequent mornings at the same time.

Chai Soaked Oats
1 cup of oats
1 cup of milk of choice (soya, rice, hemp or nut)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Bit of grated nutmeg (to taste)
Bit less black pepper
1/2 tsp of nice vanilla paste or extract
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or any other kind of syrupy stuff you like)
Anything else you fancy like for instance I like to put in a handful of sultanas and sometimes fresh fruit for the top.

Mix it all together in the jar and leave in the fridge overnight or until use (will keep for a few days).

These cool oats might not be warming in the heat sense but their chai spicy sweetness is more than enough to kick start your day and provide the fuel your body needs.  It also packs a punch nutritionally.  Oats are a great source of dietary fibre but they have also been proven to lower cholesterol, boost the immune system and stabilise blood sugar levels. 

You may not have heard of chia seeds (seen in photo in the top right).  They are a relatively new superfood on the market.  Chia (Salvia Hispanica) is a species of flowering plant in one of the mint families and is a native to Central America.  The seeds are one of nature's highest plant-based sources of protein.  Chia has eight times more omega 3 than salmon, five times more calcium than milk, seven times more vitamin C than oranges and 3 times more iron than spinach.  Endurance runners have been known to make a home brewed 'red bull' style drink by dissolving chia seeds in water with a little sugar and a squirt of lime (see Born to Run by Christopher McDougall; page 44). 

The spices in these oats do more than just pump up the taste.  Cardamom offers up potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese whilst cinnamon joins the oats with lowering cholesterol and managing blood sugar levels.  Ginger is well known for it's anti inflammatory properties and it also aids digestion.  Nutmeg too aids digestion and has been reported as having anti-bacterial properties and aiding memory. 

All good stuff basically and certainly something easy and a little bit different than the usual breakfast fare to tantalise your taste buds.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Cat and Badger Hang Out Again!

Last night saw cat and badger meet once more and, as before, they pretty much ignored each other.  Cat was more interested in mousing and badger with peanuts.

It's a Nut Roast Kind of Day

Today was the first day I have unearthed my hat and gloves from the depths of the wardrobe.  Not bad I guess for nearing the end of November and certainly the sunshine made the acceptance that winter was on its way a little easier.  We took off along the coast in search of sunshine glinted  waves, earthy edible mushrooms and our north coast choughs.  We found none of the latter two but plenty of the former.  We sat for a while in silence watching the lines of surge advance, climb and collaspe against the off shore breeze in sparkling arrays of white water and spray.   The Cornish tinged songs of Martha Tilston ran through my head as I searched the sky for the whirling playful dance of the choughs.  Seagulls instead swept across the lyrics and gentle melodies that brought the scene infront of me into filmic storylines until the shadows stretched and weakened with the fading light.  We reluctantly headed back along the coast.

We had discussed before we left what we were going to have for dinner this evening.  Curry had been the result, an unusual choice for a sunday as, despite being far from traditionalists, we often succumbed to a warming roast on autumn and winter sundays.  It was proving hard to resist especially when Phil suggested that it was 'a nut roast kind of day'.  That sealed the deal and with that our pace quickened.  I was only briefly distracted from the pace when I spotted the scene below me from the edge of the cliff.  An azure blue rockpool was outlined by sandy footprints of the equally curious, like animals to a watering hole.  The fascination of rockpools to people is undeniable but not always explainable and it brought back into mind one particular song by Martha about rockpools in Cornwall.

On returning home, the oven was set to heat up and on went Martha to bring those filmic Cornish scenes flooding into our kitchen whilst potatoes and carrots got peeled and todays incarnation of nut roast devised.  No two nut roasts are the same in our house.  I never write the recipe down, it just somehow happens.  A crust of bread slung in the blender, a few handfuls of whatever nuts are in the store, some herbs, a bit of mustard (don't tell Phil!), a bit of tomato puree, a bit of balsamic vinegar, bit of olive oil, water and anything else that I suddenly think deserve to be part of the mix on that particular day.  Then it is scooped into oiled baking implements (sometimes a loaf tin or sometimes just individual small ramekins) and slung in the oven for 20 minutes or so.  It certainly fills those gaps carved out of my appetite by windy wintery lungfuls of sea air during sunday afternoon walks.

Martha Tilston - Rockpools by moondingo

Saturday, 17 November 2012

South West Christmas Without Cruelty Festival 2012

I like dogs a lot so when I say that this event is 'the dogs' I really mean it.  I don't like Christmas that much but when I say that this event does actually make me like it a bit, I really mean it.  I really like Animal Aid a lot and many many years ago, when I lived in the south east, I used to be part of their youth group so I know what great work they did and still do.  I don't know what else I can say about this event that would make you go but if you want further convincing here are some words from the one and only Benjamin Zephaniah who was there last year -

"Animal Aid's South West Christmas Without Cruelty Festival is very special.  The food is great, the goodies are great, and the place is full of loving, compassionate people.  It's the best event of its kind.  I should know, I've been there and I never wanted to leave!"

So, basically you need to go don't you?  It's this coming Saturday 24th November from 10am - 4.30pm at Exeter Corn Exchange, Market Street, Exeter, Devon, EX1 1BW.

No excuses as it's free entry. 


So I feel really bad about not mentioning Vegusto in my previous post about vegan cheese and the shop bought varieties available.  The thing is we hadn't had the opportunity to taste it until today when there were samples available at the Truro Vegan Fayre.  Let's just say that we will be ordering in some for Christmas.  Yes, they are quite costly (that is the Swiss for you) but hey, contrary to popular non-vegan belief, vegans can be totally decadent too you know!  Watch out for Vegusto cheese recipes around the festive season (unless we snorkel the whole lot before Christmas and before we've had a chance to put them into recipes!).

Apparently there are deals on line at the moment if you want to indulge yourself.

Oh and by the way if you are reading this Vegusto Cheese makers, feel free to send us some samples and we will willingly investigate and experiment fully!


Plymouth Vegans

It was so good to see old friends today at the Truro Vegan Fayre from Plymouth Vegans.  We don't see each other nearly enough which is my fault really for moving to the deepest depths of the Cornish countryside.  I really must make more of an effort to catch up more regularly.  For those of you Devon side wanting support and guidance, these guys are amazing.


What Do You Call a Gathering of Vegans?

The answer is 'an inspiration'.  Today we went to the Truro Vegan Fayre (see previous post) and were delighted to see that this year it was even busier than previous years.  There was a great buzz about the place and it was wonderful to meet friends old and new from near and far.  The tables were heaving with wonderful samples and plenty of resources and campaign materials both for the curious and the well informed.  If even one person chooses to follow a vegan diet as a result (hopefully there will be more), the efforts of Cornwall Animal Action in organising this fabulous event will have been worth it and I'm sure there are many vegans that attended (ourselves included) that appreciated the opportunity of being reminded that there are plenty of us out there already!  Thank you Cornwall Animal Action.


This is a postcard that we picked up at the fayre that says it all really!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Night Time Activity in our Garden

We had been wondering why the bird feeders were regularly vandalised over night and why we had big holes full of poo in our onion patch every now and then.  Well after setting up one of the cameras from work, we had our answer.  Every night Mr Badger comes to visit and every morning viewing what has been happening whilst we had been happily sleeping is like opening a little present.  Here are just two of the many exploits I have recorded.  The second one was only from a couple of nights ago and I had been wondering what would happen if one of the regular cat visitors happened to be there at the same time as Brock.  Clearly neither are particularly worried by the other one and the cat is more interested in continuing its nightly prowl for mice.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Last of the Tomatoes in November

A good, although delayed, year for tomatoes.  Just proves you don't need a greenhouse just perseverance and a sunny windowsill.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Wild World in a Teacup

A nice cup of dandelion 'coffee' anyone?

How many times a day do you mindlessly reach for a PG tips style bog standard teabag?  Pretty regularly I reckon.  Don't get me wrong, I do like a 'normal' cuppa every now and then (Fairtrade of course!) but there are so many more different kinds of hot beverages out there to explore and enjoy.  Particular favourites of mine are Redbush (Rooibos) for a non caffeine alternative, Chai for a spicy black tea kick and there is nothing like a Lapsang Souchong (or bonfire tea as Phil sometimes calls it) on a stormy winters day.  I do also enjoy a green tea or a herbal tea here and there as the mood takes me.  I even believe that my particular desire for any given tea at any given time could be led by my body's need for a particular nutritional or emotional support.  A bit hippy you might think but why else would I fancy a valerian tea every now and then?  It smells bloody awful (although the taste is much better) so this powerful herb (also known commonly as 'All Heal') must have something going for it if I fancy it every now and then.  But I digress.....

A vast array of teas and coffees are out there
All I am saying is that I think it is a shame that many people don't explore what fabulous alternatives there are out there to drink.  Many different varieties are available in  supermarkets but to really get experimental there are specialists shops out there.  A particular favourite of ours is Dishotay in Penzance (www.dishotay.co.uk).  Here they have a large array of teas and coffees beautifully and seductively displayed like sweets in a jar.  What is good about buying from places like this is that you can buy as much or as little as you fancy so it is cheaper to experiment with things you've never tried before.  Dishotay is also a sit down tea shop so you can even work your way through the options whilst someone else makes the brews.

Dandelion Root
Thinking even more experimental, here is another alternative which is free; go pick your own tea or coffee ingredients.  When up in the wilds of Scotland we like travelling with a thermos of hot water in which to drop in a small bunch of pine needles.  It's absolutely delicious.  Or whilst up on the moors, how about picking gorse flowers for some herbal tea?  However, you really don't have to go that far to get ingredients. Whilst digging over our onion patch the other day I pulled up a beauty of a dandelion root.  Sometimes you have to look at weeds in a different way and here, instead of thinking of it as an annoying weed I thought 'hey how about some dandelion coffee?'.  We were cooking a roast that night anyway so after stripping off the leaves and cleaning the root up I finely chopped this 9" root and simply dry roasted it on a tray in the oven at the same time.  It took about 20 minutes before it was dark brown and quite hard roasted.  Then I roughly ground it up in a pestle and mortar and put it in a small jar to store.  Simply put about a teaspoon of the grinds per cup in a cafetiere (or use a sieve or teaball) and pour on boiling water and infuse for about 4 minutes (or to taste), add milk and sweeten if desired.  It is kind of like an earthy roasted coffee taste.  We only made about 4 cups out of this root but it was worth the small effort for the different unique taste of a free cup of dandelion 'coffee'.  Enjoy!

Just one final thing - please do make sure if you do get experimental that you only pick ingredients that you know are edible and if you are any doubt about what effect anything that you have foraged for will have on you, just don't do it!  Sorry just had to say that, although it is all pretty much common sense to be honest!