Thursday, 27 June 2013

Dealings With Seitan

Seitan Fix Mix 250g
We don't have loads of soya products but even so, sometimes we still think it is too much.  Seitan (wheat gluten) is a soya free alternative but it's not too easy to find in these parts.  Ironically you can get it really easily in supermarkets in 'meat loving' Portugal; pre-packaged and ready to go. 

I have made seitan from 'scratch' before but it is quite time consuming.  Recently however, we found this great Seitan Fix Mix from Vegan Store.  We initially bought a small 250g package (£1.59) to have an experiment with and having had some tasty results we then went all out and bought two 1kg packages (£4.89 each) for our store cupboard.  It really is a very cost effective and interesting product to use and we thoroughly recommend it.  Check it out on Vegan Store here.

Recently we made some 'chicken' seitan which we then incorporated into a creamy nut korma.  It was pretty yumski.   We had plenty of 'chicken' left so are having more of it tonight in another culinary creation.  One thing that is missing from the Seitan Fix Mix package are instructions of how to use it but here is what we did to make 'chicken'. 
Seitanic Chicken (makes loads!)
2 cups of Seitan Fix Mix
1 cup of nutritional yeast flakes
4 tsp onion powder
4 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried thyme
3 tsp celery salt
8 tbsp tamari
2 cups water
Add all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix up good and proper.  Then mix in the tamari
Add the water bit by bit until it forms into a 'dough' (see photo).
Divide into whatever forms you fancy (we did little 1" chunks) but bear in mind it expands once cooked.
Boil in enough water to cover for about 45 minutes.
Use straight away or store in the fridge (preferably in the resulting broth from the boiling).
So give it a try!  Let us know if you come up with any interesting creations yourself!  I'm sure there are plenty more for us to try out.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Only in Totnes

Following on from our trip to Plymouth, we moved 25 miles further east to get a 'Totnes fix'.  With a good mixture of health food stores, book stores, veg friendly cafes, charity and independent shops, thrown in with a colourful mix of unusual and alternative thinking characters, Totnes can be just the right tonic for bringing you out of your every day bubble. 
It had been a little while since we had been here and things had changed a little.  For a start, some of the traffic was coming the opposite way down the one way High Street!  Not sure what that was all about.  There was also a noticeable mix up of shops.  Some had sadly closed down, alternatives had opened and some shops had moved.  Arcturus book store had moved across the road and their previous premises replaced by a cafe. We thankfully discovered that Drift Record Shop hadn't just closed down as we had believed on our last visit but had instead moved up to bigger premises at the top of the High Street.

Hallelujah for independent record stores like Drift where you can have that old fashioned but totally enlightening experience of educating yourself about new releases and exciting non-mainstream music.  Take a look at their website to get the idea and if you are in Totnes, make sure you make the trip right to the top of the High Street.  It'll be worth it.  Lovely people too.
The Drift Record Shop

A couple of purchases on (new albums from Laura Marling and Boards of Canada) and after tearing ourselves away from Drift we continued down the High Street.  About two thirds of the way down we discovered a new venture called the Totnes Cats Cafe.  I had heard about these kinds of places in Japan where the resident cats act as a therapeutic distraction to the customers.  Despite my recent cat centric posts, I am actually more of a dog person but having two cats sharing my work and home life (even though I don't 'own' them) has made me appreciate the benefits of having these fur covered independent spirits around.

Having looked into the cafe a little more, it turns out that this is Britain's first cat cafe and it has come under some criticism by Cats Protection - see here for more details.  Both sides of the debate have valid points but I guess the only way you would know for sure is to go and see for yourself.  We only peered through the window and the two cats that we could see were fast asleep on chairs and nobody was fussing around them.  I know TC at work enjoys just hanging out with us and getting the occasional stroke and we like him hanging out with us.  It works for both of us.  As long as that is the case at the cafe, I can see no harm.  Profits also go to animal charities which is all good.  Read more about the cafe here.

Too soon it was time to head out of Totnes and back to Cornwall with a bag full of Greenlife goodies .  It is a shame we have to travel so far to get that 'only in Totnes' fix but then again I guess that is what makes it special and unique. Where we live is also special and unique; just in a different way.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Samphire Brasserie Plymouth

With the prospect of a rainy Saturday ahead of us we decided that a treat was in order to bring a little bit of sunshine to our weekend.  We left a drizzly Cornwall and headed the 50 miles east to cross the border into Devon.  We purposely skipped breakfast with the full intention of sampling the fares at one of the newest kids on the veggie catering block - Samphire Brasserie in Plymouth. 

Opened in March this year by local vegetarians Becca Speare & Joe Wadge, I had only managed one quick visit previously so we were both looking forward to the opportunity to fully explore the food and atmosphere of this city based restaurant.  As soon as we stepped off the wet and grey streets of Plymouth and into Samphire we were instantly greeted by the vivacious, sunny waitress who clearly had both the knowledge and energy to represent all that Samphire inspired to offer.  This made us feel, along with the light, clean but nicely quirky interior of the restaurant, like the sun had started to come out on this otherwise damp June weekend.  All this before we had even studied the menu.

All of Samphire's menu is vegetarian and at least half is marked as vegan but they 'don't shout in your face' about their virtuous veggie ways and, with items like 'chicken', 'black pudding' and 'fish and chips' appearing on the menu,  the uninitiated could be forgiven for assuming it wasn't a vegetarian establishment.  This is stealth vegetarian and vegan cuisine; the kind of place you could take carnivorous friends before they even had a chance to complain about the lack of meat.  Some veggies and vegans may have issues with this and I do remember reading banter about this on Samphire's own Facebook page in the early days but as long as the food that is offered is vegan and tasty, I personally have no issues (see our previous blog post about this very issue - Really Alternative). I applaud their efforts to make all dietary choices comfortable with the food they offer, especially if it encourages people to give up animal products.

After several long moments of indecision and dithering, Phil and I finally decided on what we were going to have.  Phil opted for the vegan all day breakfast; a tasty plateful of smokey tempeh bacon, tofu scramble, lentil cake, beans, king trumpet mushrooms, tomatoes and toast at a reasonable £5.50.  This breakfast was certainly a break from the normal vegan breakfast offerings of hash browns, toast, beans and maybe some kind of sausage.

My choice was that of 'Fish and Chips'; vegan fish steak coated in cider batter, served with chefs ‘mushy peas’ & home made tartar sauce (£8.95).  Even after 25 years of being vegan I admit the thing I have missed the most is fish and chips.  I'm not sure after all these years I could accurately compare the taste to the real thing but regardless I was very much looking forward to sampling this vegan version.  I wasn't disappointed.  The big hunk of 'fish' in front of me was like a 'Veggie World' Salmon Steak but coated in a delicious crispy batter that I am fairly sure would have fooled Rick Stein himself!  Presented beside this stealth battered fish was a small 'frying basket' of home cooked chips which were exquisitely soft on the inside but tantalisingly crispy on the outside.  The tartar sauce was thick and creamy and a perfect accompaniment to both the fish and the chips.  I wasn't so sure about the chefs 'mushy peas' though.  As a dish on their own these harissa laced broad beans were tasty and very much appreciated by the chilli obsessed Phil, but as an accompaniment to the fish and chips, I would have preferred a more subtle and traditional version.

The proof is in the eating and both our plates were happily cleared with any evidence now sitting in our full bellies.  The only disappointment was that we had no room for any dessert but Phil did still manage to order a chocolate and cashew butter cookie for Ron (later' on). 

There aren't many reasons to draw us to the 'big smoke' of Plymouth but it is clear that Samphire Brasserie is sure to become one of the main ones.  Plymouth doesn't really require a restaurant to have a niche market when it comes to vegetarian restaurants as, apart from the nearby Veggie Perrins, there is a lack of such establishments anyway.  However, with it's freshly cooked, creatively presented take on vegetarian British food, Samphire has managed not only to fill a vegetarian gap in Plymouth but has also created a niche market in vegetarian food in the south west in general.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

The New Trend of Desk Cats

Dillon is always available at home to decorate the office desk whilst blogging (see Blog Writing Gets Sabotaged by Dillon) and while I am at work, there is TC to fill the gap.  Basically a desk is not a desk unless there is a cat sat on it.

TC (or Technical Cat) is the cat who lives on the campus I work on.  He has done for years and he belongs to no one and everyone so leads a happy and healthy life hanging out where and when he choses.  He spends a fair amount of time slouching around in our department and this afternoon he decided that my desk was the place to be, despite the fact that he has his own chair right next to my desk. Perhaps we all need a cat mat now on our desks as well as a mouse mat?!

Basically TC is part of the team and very much loved by all the students and staff alike.  He wants for nothing and is an independent, free spirited cat that knows how to get us humans to work for him.  In return, he keeps the work environment mentally happy and healthy!  I swear he is also responsible for recruiting many a student too as he now seems to be included as part of the tour for prospective students who think it is pretty cool and relaxed of the university to have a cat on its payroll!

A Whole Vegan Avenue

I have been to Germany and it is actually a beautiful country but that was in my youth and to be honest, I haven't had a huge passion to go back since.  However, I might have just found a great excuse. 

Berlin (which I haven't visited) has 16 vegan restaurants and now it is home to the world's first vegan avenue!  Read more about it on the Happy Cow Blog including a very teasing video tour of the world’s largest vegan grocery store chain (Veganz). 

Monday, 17 June 2013

What a Clever Little Kid

If only adults had the same level of awareness as this little one.  I'm hoping his comments went on to influence his mum too.  By the very fact that she was moved to tears, I imagine they did. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Blog Writing Gets Sabotaged by Dillon

Dillon, the cat from next door, decided that he needed some attention and that this was far more important than any blog post writing.  I couldn't really argue due to the fur covered obstacle in front of the keyboard.  Needless to say I wasn't able to finish the post I was writing until it was time to pop next door and feed him (his dad was away on holiday).

Sunday, 9 June 2013

It's "Gone Off"

There's a saying around these parts, that when the surf is really good it is "going off".  For example, "it's going off in Aggie", or "Fistral is going off", etc.  I've never worked out what it is going off of..... the scale maybe?  This phrase has sometimes been the source of much amusement when used sarcastically, especially when the waves are not in fact "going off". 
Anyway, after a few good days of favourable wind and swell conditions mid week, the waves have now drifted away to nothing.  The sea resembles a mill pond.  It's a case of going, going, gone.  It doesn't ever get any flatter than this.  It's still beautiful though.
At first glance these waves below look quite nice, but on closer inspection you realise that they are only 6 inches high.  They're still fun to "mind surf" though, and hopefully there will be some grown up waves breaking here again soon.  Watch this space.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

It's Not Hard to Use Chard

Last Autumn I planted what I remembered to be 'a bit' of chard.  It didn't do huge amounts over Winter but has now proceeded to explode in a rainbow of excess leaving us with the nice 'problem' of finding '101 Ways to Use Chard'.  So far, it's not been that hard; after all chard is tasty stuff. 
In the last week we have had two chard culinary creations. 

Firstly we tried 'Chag Aloo'.  If you are a connoisseur of Indian cuisine you would no doubt be aware of the spinach and potato dish of 'Sag Aloo'.  Well we decided to use chard instead of the spinach (Sag) and thus Phil created a 'Chag Aloo'.  The earthy robustness of chard stood up well in this mildly aromatic non-traditional version and it was well worth a repeat for future chard use. 

The second creation was more in my remit of cooking, being the oven baking, Mediterranean cook in our household.  I wanted to create a lasagna using the earthy intensiveness of the chard as one of the layers.  I thought the sweetness of roasted squash, parsnips and carrots, with rosemary chucked in for good measure, would be an interesting complimenting layer.  These layers together, with a 'cheesy' herby sauce on top, combined to make another tasty use of our rainbow chard.

Chard and Roast Veg Lasagna - Serves 4
1 parsnip
2 carrots
1 small squash
Few sprigs of rosemary
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional other flavourings (see below)

Big pile of Swiss chard

Bit more oil
Couple big tablespoons of plain flour
Couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes
A few grates of nutmeg
Soya milk (at least a cup)
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Splash of Braggs Liquid Aminos (or soya sauce is okay)

Lasagna sheets
Some more nutritional yeast flakes

Chop the veg up into smallish even bits and chuck in a roasting tin with the rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil.  Roast until soft and slightly browning having stirred a couple of times during cooking.  This usually takes about 30 minutes in our oven at 200 degrees C.  Once cooked, take the bigger sprigs of rosemary out but if any leaves are left in that's all good.  Mash up roughly.  Now at this stage you could add any other flavours in you like.  I added a bit of sun dried tomato paste, a bit of smoked paprika and a wee bit of garlic paste (don't tell Phil!).  Have a rummage in your cupboards and fridge and see if anything you have may add to this mashed concoction.  Be inventive basically.

Meanwhile roughly chop the big pile of chard and pop it into a big pan with a splash of water in the bottom.  Cook on a medium heat, stirring to make sure it isn't sticking, until it has shrunk down and tenderised.  This will only take a few minutes.

Make a cheesy sauce at any point whilst everything else is cooking!  Heat some oil up in a small pan and before it gets too hot, stir in the flour, nutritional yeast and nutmeg until it forms a ball. Cook for a minute stirring constantly then carefully (as it may spit) little by little add in the soya milk.  Keep stirring to incorporate the soya milk each time until the desired thickness is obtained (I'd say the consistency of a pourable custard is about right).  I like to add in a splash of balsamic vinegar and Braggs at this stage.

Now build your creation.  I use a loaf tin but you can build it up or across in a shallower, wider dish if you prefer.  Oil the dish and then put down your first layer of lasagna.  Then add a layer of roast veg, then another lasagna sheet, a layer of chard, and another lasagna sheet.  At this stage I add in a small layer of sauce and then continue with the layers.  Then slather the rest of the sauce on top.  I then stirred in some oregano and additional yeast flakes into this top sauce layer.

Cook for about 30-40 minutes (200 degrees C) until slightly brown on top and bubbly.


PS.  Whilst the oven is on make the most of it and cook up other delights such as cakes and biscuits.  It's more environmental that way!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Spare a Thought for the Badgers

If you have enjoyed watching the antics of the badgers in our garden, please spare a thought for those not so fortunate badgers who are now facing the badger cull, due to kick off in Somerset and Gloucester soon.

An Opposition Day debate on badger culling as a means of preventing bovine TB will take place in the House of Commons today.

In no shape or form do I agree with the cull.  Science aside, for me culling is immoral.  Would applying the same principal to humans be acceptable to those who agree with the cull and if so then surely humans deserve culling for spreading disease too? 

For more information please visit the link below and watch the video.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Wave of Disapproval

The weather has been fantastic recently.  Now all we need is good surf.  When I say 'we' I really mean Phil as he is the surfer in the family.  However, as anyone who lives with a surfer will know, no waves means no smiles. 

Northerly onshore winds have seemingly hit our north coast 'forever' (as Phil put it last night) and, with a lack of any sizeable swell, both have conspired to keep Phil from his proper wave fix for a while now.  Let's just say there is currently a distinct wave of disapproval from our household about recent conditions.

I have also noticed a scientific correlation between lack of waves and the sudden urge from Phil to buy a new addition to his quiver of boards.  This is another interesting part of living with a surfer.  Apparently you need a different type of board for all the different types of waves.  Now I understand this to a certain degree.  Longboard equals smaller waves and shortboard equals bigger surf but no, there is much more to it than that I'm told.  This is the reason that anybody contemplating shacking up with a surf dude should prepare themselves for the fact that you will have an assortment of said varieties of boards sprinkled around at least 5 rooms of your house.  The mystery is with why the urge to buy a new board coincides with a period of no waves.  What type of board do you need for that type of wave?  Or is it more a case of lack of surf 'boardom' leading to a sudden rise in surfboard browsing?

The good news is that there is a possible improvement in conditions predicted for tomorrow or Wednesday.  Smiles all round then.  And in the meantime, our bathroom will currently be safe from an expansion of the surfboard collection....for now.

Sunshine good, surf bad

Slugs, Snails and Kitty Cat Tails

So the cabbage seedlings are transplanted into one of our beds now but will they survive?  The weather is currently very favourable and with ample sunshine, water and the occasional seaweed or comfrey feeding there is no reason to doubt this.  However, we have two other particular threats to the survival of these seedlings in the back garden.  One is the slug/snail population that home in on our tasty produce.  The other is next doors cat Dillon.  Don't get us wrong, we love Dillon.  He is a lovely old boy and we even look after him when our neighbour is away.  We just wish he wouldn't then come and repay us by pooing in our vegetable beds.  So the solution? 

Well we use Nematodes for biological control of the slugs and snails.  This is coupled with going out by torchlight to collect the blighters up at night.  We collect them in a bucket, with a tasty assortment of surplus vegetation and then the next day we take them for a drive.  There is some scientific evidence which suggests you have to take them at least a mile away to ensure they do not return so we take them along the end of the headland before releasing them in a slimy but happy pile to explore the wonders of the open land. 

As for Dillon, well we have to just erect temporary fences to keep him off of freshly dug beds and just remind him that, although he is welcome to visit for cuddles and reminders of overdue feedings, we would prefer him to find alternative toileting arrangements.  He doesn't seem to mind too much.  Now if only we could purrsuade him to eat the slugs and snails instead of his other carnivorous diet, it might just solve a few issues!

More Badger Antics

Woke up this morning to discover the bird table leaning against the fence.  Luckily I had the camera set up last night so I could review how this might have come about.  My money was on one of the badgers.  Of course it was!


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Memories of Portugal in our Garden

There is nothing like the sight of fresh green fig leaves bursting out, with the back drop of clear blue sky to remind you of the Mediterranean vibe.  Luckily for us this is in our own front garden and luckily for us, the weekend is proving warm and sunny so far. 
I took this cutting from my fig tree in my previous house and 8 years on it has grown from a mere twig and now it is taller than Phil.  We are really hoping that this year we will get to taste the figs as each year something normally ends up preventing us from savouring the fruity delights.  Several times it has been the wind stripping the tree.  Other years it has just been the cool wet conditions.  In previous years I had been advised to knock off the immature figs that were left on the tree in the autumn but this year I decided to go against that advice which means we are starting off in spring with relatively large fruits as somehow they survived the winter.
Fingers crossed for a Mediterranean summer this year to help ripen them to their full tasty potential.  In the meantime, the tree looks amazing both against a deep blue sky and also at night when our outside light is on as we watch the badger antics.