Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Cultural Experiments with Cheese

Over the course of the last 3 months I have been slowly trying recipes in the 'Artisan Vegan Cheese' book that Phil bought me for Christmas. 
So far I have made the rejuvelac, a fermented beverage made from whole grains (needed to make most of the cheeses in the book), Basic Cashew Cheese, Brie, Sun Dried Tomato and Basil Cheese, Oat American Cheese, Meltable Mozzarella, Smoked Provolone and Air Dried Cheddar.
Our favourite to date is the Oat American Cheese made with a combination of oats, nutritional yeast, rejuvelac, miso, red pepper, mustard, coconut oil, agar and carrageenan.  That said I only finished making the Smoked Provolone and Air Dried Cheddar today and both still have to air dry for a few more days yet so the jury is still out.  Meanwhile, I will continue to slowly work my way through this interesting and very unusual recipe book.

Air drying Provolone (bottom right) and Cheddar

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A Sense of Space

It's that time of year when we wait in anticipation of the explosion of buds and leaves from the trees and plants all around us.  It is the moment that Mother Nature decides it is safe to come out and play again.  This year it is late.  Usually we return from our travels with the trees bursting with the first signs of fresh green growth.  Mother Nature doesn't follow a strict timetable but instead just goes with the flow and yet everything happens at the right time. She can't be rushed.  After a few days of slightly warmer weather it is on the way though. 
In her infinite wisdom Mother Nature also has the sense to allow things to grow in their own way and yet maintain a sense of space between the individual plants and trees.  That is how nature cooperates and maintains order on the whole.  We strive to take our lead from nature and are acutely aware of the need for personal space.  That is why we prefer living in the countryside where there is enough space to think and breathe.
Humans on the whole seem to have lost this awareness, confused by the constant programming of our times to use, grow and consume more and more.   Physically, new housing developments seem to spring up on a yearly basis, people drive up your ass and mobile phone obsessed pedestrians stride into your path in a techno enhanced trance.  Mentally, we are bombarded on a daily basis with  mind numbing trivial information designed to switch off our inherent wisdom and turn us into mindless consumers.  Spiritually, our highest aspirations as a culture seems to be to wear the latest fashions, own the biggest house and drive the fastest car, whatever the cost.  We want it now, now, now. 
In extreme cases, just as in the natural world, a few parasitic specimens choose to invade the space of others and seek to profit from the hard work and growth of those around them.  They are out for themselves and themselves alone; tipping the balance in the wrong direction.  In the human body cancerous cells are those that become unbalanced and that continue to grow and grow, unchecked by signals that 'enough is enough'.  With a little awareness you can do your bit to maintain balance, to align yourself with the natural world, to stop and listen to the quiet signals from within.
The key to prosperity in the natural sense is to not allow the parasites to invade, to maintain your personal space, to think your own thoughts, to keep things balanced, to slow down.  Unawareness is the enemy and mindfulness is the solution.  Control your own growth.  Take your lead from the natural order and learn the lessons from the natural disorder.
Mother Nature knows best.
Here is a little song along a similar theme (the original Karine Polwart version is better but we couldn't find that to share) -

Surfing The Algarve

After returning from Portugal and surfing a few times at my local beach, this seems like a good time to do a quick comparison between the two places from a surfers perspective. 

We've got into the habit of escaping the cold and rain of the U.K. every year for 3 or 4 weeks, around Easter.  This gives us something to look forward to on those cold dark winter evenings, and also a chance to hopefully top up our depleted Vitamin D levels after a typical British winter.  That's the idea in theory anyway.  Portugal has been the place we've chosen to go back to for the last 4 years, after travelling to a variety of different places over the previous years (California, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, to name a few).  Sometimes we've had great weather in the Algarve and other times we've endured weeks of non-stop rain, but we've yet to abandon our favourite campsite and head indoors.  It's still far too cold for "the locals" to be camping out so everywhere is still quiet, which suits us.  This means that it is about as warm as an average "good day" of camping in the U.K. at the height of the summer!  Every year we come up with new ways to deal with the variable weather, with humour being the most important of these. As long as we can find somewhere sheltered to cook a nice meal at the end of the day, we're happy!

One of the reasons we choose Portugal as a destination is the quality of the waves for surfing.  In the U.K. this is pretty much the coldest time of the year for the water temperatures (7.5 Degrees Celsius/46 degrees Fahrenheit), and the air temperatures can be equally as low.  There is usually no shortage of waves though, if you can brave the cold.  It is such a joy to go somewhere warmer and be able to surf in just a light wetsuit instead of the heavy 5mm winter suit with gloves, boots, and hood that makes surfing in the U.K. at this time of year possible.  The 16 Degree Celsius, crystal clear water is a joy to be in after a Cornish winter.  This is still cold, but not "freezing" (Scooby still won't go in though!).  Just like Cornwall, the Western Algarve has two coasts with surf, with the west coast having the biggest waves, and the south coast offering some shelter from the persistent northerly winds.  Just like back home, the swells on the south coast are short lived affairs, and you have to be "on it" to catch all the variables working together to get good waves.  This year was different though with many more days of waves on the south, and the west coast too big to surf on most days.  Finding somewhere sheltered from strong winds was a constant chore, and every day we'd drive from beach to beach slowly learning how all the factors come together at each spot. 

Being nearer the equator, the Algarve has smaller tides than the U.K., and this means that there is less variation in the waves as the tide moves in and out.  This can mean that some spots "work" for longer, offering a bigger window of opportunity for good surfing.  At many beaches there are places where the waves start to break along the edges of rocky cliffs, or from submerged rocks/rock shelves that suck the water back out off the beach along the edges.  This can be dangerous for beginners, but a real help if you know how to use them to your advantage for getting back out to "the lineup" quickly after each ride (where the waves first start to break).  Out to sea, there is deeper water off the coast of Portugal than the U.K. and this means that the swells roll in with more power than in Cornwall.  This means that the waves also break with more power causing them to be hollower and therefore more interesting for surfers, with a better chance of riding inside the breaking wave or "getting barrelled" in surfer-speak.  Learning how all the different spots work on swells from different directions, combined with differing wind directions, stages of tide, etc., can take some time, and some years I have got to surf places that never break properly during other trips.  This is a constant learning process and would take many years of living locally to master all the variables.  This is also the case in the U.K., but back home I've got 30 years of experience to draw on so usually know where the best waves will be.  One upside of this is that every time we go back to the Algarve we discover new places to surf.
So every day we'd set off in search of waves, bumping along dusty tracks for miles in the search for good waves.  At many of these more secluded beaches you'll find small communities of travellers from all over Europe, many of them living in their vans all winter and returning home for the summer.  At a few spots the vans and waggons are a lot older and the owners a lot more "alternative".  Loud German Techno music blasts out at all hours and dread locked youth mix with trendy surf types and laid back traveller dogs wander freely. 

If you were unfamiliar to scenes like this it could be a bit intimidating but "the vibe" is friendly and we've never seen any trouble.  We have heard that the police sometimes have a crack down on these places and move everyone on.  This year one of these out of the way spots has had a bit of a makeover and the traveller waggons now stand on a brand new car park instead of the hard packed mud of recent years.  In typical Portuguese road fashion though, the new road to this spot is only half completed, just like most of the road works that we've been seeing every year since we first went to the area!  It's actually good to see this lifestyle still in existence, as in the U.K. this way of life is vilified in the mainstream media, along with anything else that is outside "the norm".  

There's a good wave at this spot, but this year the sand banks have also had a makeover, probably from all the rain and floods of recent months.  The beach now offers more variety, but the main wave isn't as good as usual. 
Just like in Cornwall, there is a lot of variety to the beaches, cliffs, and waves of the Algarve and many similarities between the two.  Some spots remind us of beaches at home and some spots we'd like to "take home" with us!  On a good summers day in Cornwall, with the sun shining and clean waves breaking in clear water, there's nowhere we'd rather be.  It's just that these days are few and far between compared to the Algarve, especially with the poor summers of recent years.  We've never been to the area at the height of the holiday season and never experienced the extreme heat of the high summer, so maybe we'd have a different view of it if we did, but for us it brings "a taste of things to come" for us back in Cornwall with summer on the way. 

So we're back home and I've ventured out into the chilly Atlantic waters again and we've even had a few sunny days to cheer us up.  Only another month or so and I'll be able to surf without a hood, boots or gloves here and the water has finally started to slowly warm up again.  In another 3 or 4 months the water will be as warm as it was in the Algarve at Easter! 

Still, Cornwall is a beautiful place to live, with a wide variety of waves on offer for surfers of all abilities.  Yesterday I surfed my home break for 2 hours totally alone which is a rare delight these days.  The summer crowds will come soon enough, but for now it's "all good"..... surfing with a few friends and waiting expectantly for the "proper" summer we haven't had for a good many years. 

One essential quality necessary to keep surfing in the U.K. is a sense of optimism and at this time of year every surfer here is looking forward to the promise of warm water and clean waves.


Monday, 8 April 2013

Lost in Translation?

Not sure if something got lost in the translation here or if calling your restaurant in Portugal L'Colesterol is a great idea!  In fairness, we didn't get a chance to sample the food here so maybe we shall be brave enough next time to see what veggie stuff they offer.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Eurasia Vegetarian Restaurant

There’s not much for us in Albufeira with its hordes of British package tour zombies and strips of loud jam-packed bars and restaurants offering Sunday roasts, British breakfasts and all the trappings of the world you thought you’d left at home.  However, we find ourselves making the two hour round trip to these parts at least twice during our stay in Portugal.  Yes, there are a few quiet, pretty parts to the coast here but the main reason is Eurasia, a predominantly vegetarian restaurant tucked away from ’The Strip’ down a quiet one way street.

The restaurant is in an enchanting pagoda style room housing 15 or so tables with a central table heaving with a colourful array of food.  Eurasia offers quality home cooked food with a Portuguese/Asian crossover and the best part is it is served up in an ‘all you can eat’ buffet style for just €6.50 per person.

Eurasia does admit to ‘a daily surprise of meat and fish dishes’ but these are limited to two and thankfully these are not a surprise in that they are clearly marked in Portuguese.  Vegans need to show some caution as about a third of the dishes contain cheese or egg.  Most of these are obvious but some are not and one of the ladies seems to not totally understand our request which has led to a couple of small mistakes in the past (obvious after one mouthful).  She also tends to point out the obvious dishes and say ‘these just cheese on top’.  If in doubt it is best to ask the female asian owner who has a better understanding of vegan and has actually said we should ask her in future instead.

The choices for vegans is plentiful and will have you going back for more with a hint of guilt at the quantity and quality on offer for such great value.  The soup is a good place to start and has been different on our various visits.  This time a tasty potato and greens soup was on offer.  Then it is on to the first of a few platefuls resisting the temptation to pile it high and miss out on the separate and varied flavours.  I’m a huge fan of the salads; simple but effective combinations which today included cucumber and dill, a cabbage, carrot, apple and flat leaf parsley salad, a lettuce, onion and peaches combo, a red cabbage and caramelised onion chutney and marinated red pepper salad; each delicately combined with a suitable dressing.  Phil has a particular preference for the hot dishes.  On offer today were thick strips of subtle curry flavoured tofu with courgette, onion and thinly sliced orange peppers, a lovely baked squash, potato and red pepper dish and brown rice and carrots .  In addition large servings of tempura (this time of onion and peppers) sat atop the buffet alongside a simple bean stew and lovely oregano flavoured pasta.

If you were only allowed one plate you would be hard pressed to know what to have or fit on it.  Luckily you don’t have to. Eurasia has all the bases covered with a wide range of raw, baked, boiled and fried foods, inclusive of all the major food groups necessary for complete vegan nutrition. 

Eurasia offers a wide selection of juices, teas and coffee to accompany your meal (at an additional cost) but at under €16 for both of us to have a large good quality ‘as much as you can eat’ meal (and with Phil that is quite a lot), it is easy to see why Eurasia lures us back again and again.

Out of season Eurasia is only open for lunch Monday-Saturday from 12-3pm.  In the main season (May onwards) they open in the evenings depending on custom but it is always best to ring first to check.  They will also open to cater for groups of 15 or more. 

Restaurant Eurasia
Rua Almeida Garrett
71-8200-272 Albufeira
Telephone – 967 238 055

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Saffron Samosas

As lovely as outdoor cooking is, everybody needs a night off now and then.  With the bad weather giving an additional excuse to seek out some tasty vegan food, we headed into Luz to a place where we knew we could get a good meal.  It is not always easy to find vegan food in restaurants in Portugal, but at Saffron Indian Restaurant we knew we would be well catered for and the owner understands the world vegan perfectly. 

Where ever you are in the world you are guaranteed to be able to find something vegan to eat at an Indian restaurant, as long as you like curry, and we love curry.  What we hadn't anticipated was the quality of the homemade samosas.  As the owner said, "unlike in England, we can't just buy them in so we have to make them from scratch; pastry, filling, everything".  We'd never even considered that Indian restaurants in the UK bought in things like samosas, but it could account for why they nearly all taste the same.  Not these ones though; these were big fat parcels of joy, with melt in the mouth pastry containing whole ajwain seeds, and filled to the brim with delicately spiced onion, potato and peas.  They came with tamarind chutney and another green chutney of mint, coriander and green chilli (to replace the yoghurt raita that they would normally come with).  The rest of the meal was delicious too, with the more standard dishes of rice, sag aloo, baingan bharta and dhal, all hitting the spot nicely. 

The stand out dish for us was the samosas though, so a few days later we headed back to pick up some more for picnic fodder before we headed inland to the Barragem da Bravura, a man-made lake in the foothills of the Serra de Espinhaco de Cao.  We ate the samosas overlooking the water and this fuelled us up for a walk across the dam and into the hills. 

As we write this we are once again in Luz and debating whether to go and order some more!