Sunday, 25 August 2013

Alien Visitor to the Garden

Phil was pottering around in the garden yesterday and found this strange creature on the path outside our shed door.  He immediately called me over to take a look and we proceeded to be a little freaked out by what it was.  It was clearly some kind of caterpillar but the head looked a bit snake like and it had a spike at the rear end.  We don't ever remember seeing anything quite as alien looking before.  We took a photo and carefully placed it into the undergrowth at the back of the garden.
An Internet search today revealed that this is far from an alien species and indeed a very common garden visitor.  It is the caterpillar of an Elephant Hawk Moth; one of the UK's largest caterpillars which can grow up to 8cms.  This one was pretty much that size.
This weird character will hopefully find somewhere to bury itself under the soil and wait out the winter before eventually turning into a beautiful pink and green moth from May onwards.  The Hawk Moth species are apparently the only type of moth that hover in front of flowers to feed like hummingbirds.  We shall certainly be looking out for this moth next summer now (although presumably they feed at night so that might be tricky!).
For further reading, I found the Natural History Museum one of the most informative.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Rocket Pesto

Our rocket patch in our back garden is pretty much the most dependable crop we have. It even sees us though a fair amount of the winter, leaves us for a short while, then pops up again come the next spring. Perhaps because it is almost always there we sometimes forget about it and then discover it could do with a bit of a cut back. Of course we never waste what we cut. After enjoying a few salads and sharing with friends without an abundance of their own, the next best thing is to somehow 'bottle' it. To this end we recently made a batch of rocket pesto and then enjoyed the results simply stirred through pasta. It was pretty nice and the one jar will continue to provide a few more hearty meals yet.

Pesto, like hummus, is one of those things that however much I start following a recipe I often feel the need to tweak it to my own personal taste, not just with quantities but also with the actual ingredients. So, as with most of my recipes, I encourage you to experiment and adjust. For instance, if I was making the following recipe purely for myself I would have ramped up the garlic but it would have led to complaints from Phil. You could also try swapping the pine nuts for another nut. Basically I made this recipe up as I blended and tasted and so could you!

Make It Up As You Go Along Rocket Pesto

50g pine nuts
2 large handfuls of rocket
2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 teaspoon of garlic paste
Pinch of salt (if garlic paste isn't salted)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of vegan Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (optional)

1. Blend the pine nuts to a rough powder.
2. Gradually add the rocket bit by bit until well incorporated.
3. Add in the nutritional yeast, salt (if using) and garlic paste.
4. Drizzle the oil in whilst the blender is still running.
5. Add in the lemon juice and then at this point have a taste as you might like it enough to leave it there.
6. If you think "yep, it's okay but I'm feeling it needs something else", then try adding the Worcestershire sauce and the balsamic vinegar.
7. Taste and adjust, taste and adjust. It's the way to go!


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Chocolate That Beats Going to Mars Bars and Back

Why buy chocolate when you can make it? The ingredients list on some shop bought chocolate bars make chocolate far more complicated, less vegan and far less healthy than it needs to be and if you want pure, honest to goodness chocolate treats then making it yourself is the best and cheapest option. After all, those raw chocolate bars are so expensive too. 
You can make your chocolate as raw as you like depending on what ingredients you add.  The version below isn't strictly raw as I added a touch of maple syrup, ground almonds and agave (unless you can get the raw agave version) but hey, just adapt it if that worries you.  You can get cacao butter and powder in good health food stores or on-line.  They are quite expensive but then the amount of good quality chocolate you can make with it more than makes it cost effective in the long run.
The steps below look wordy and involved but that's because I am!  Really it is just a case of melting your cacao butter, stirring in the rest of the ingredients and pouring into a mould.  It really is that easy and once you get a feel and taste for it, just experiment!
It's Easy Just Do It Chocolate

150g cacao butter
100g ground almonds
6 tbsp cacao powder
100g agave nectar (substitute 20g of this for maple syrup if you like too)
Slight pinch of nice salt
Mixture of nuts and fruits to taste and texture of your liking

1. Melt the cacao butter in a bowl over another bowl or saucepan of hot water. This is better done gently so don't do it on the stove top or anything. It may take 30 minutes, so go have a cuppa whilst you wait or bash up some nuts in preparation for adding them in later.
2. Once completely melted, thoroughly stir in the ground almonds, cacao powder, agave/maple syrup and salt.
3. Now add in your chosen selection of fruits and/or nuts. I haven't put a quantity down for this because I just stir them in until I feel it is enough for my liking on that particular day. Some days I feel a little more nutty and other days, well, it's the fruity option I prefer!! Last time I made it I added some raisins and a few slightly bashed up hazelnuts. It also depends on what is currently in our fruit and nut store and whether I have remembered where I have buried them.
4. Select an appropriate vessel to mould your creation. Less chunky versions work well in bar moulds and made into delightful little bars wrapped up in greaseproof paper like the photo at the top. The last time I made it I was in the mood for a big old slab so simply grabbed the nearest shallow cake tray and tipped it into that. Whatever you choose, give it a wiggle and/or a bash on the counter to seal it around the edges and get rid of any air bubbles. Then simply pop it into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour. If you are like me you may forget about it for longer but that doesn't matter. When you do remember, simply un-mould by peeling off the silicone moulds or tapping the tin on a work surface. Out pops your chocolaty creation ready for chopping up into whatever size chunks you wish to devour it in.


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Punky Wooden Badger Feeder

We dug up this old root stump in our front garden a few months back and, because I found it quite an interesting shape, we had kept it laying around ever since.   It kind of reminds me of an emu with a Mohican sticking its tongue out.  Quite punk rock for a mere tree root.
Today I decided I was going to put it into operation as a badger/bird feeding station.  The plan is to deposit various goodies about its person for the badgers and birds to discover and enjoy.  As you can see, I've started it off with the waste pulp from another batch of blackcurrant cordial I made today.  I will also at some point try peanut butter and when our neighbour's apple tree starts being overabundant with its offerings I will spear them onto the Mohican too.  Whether it will withstand the onslaught of badgers remains to be seen but I'm sure tonight, when they arrive to take up their usual table reservation, there will be much curiosity over this new addition to the menu.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

It's Raining, It's Pouring, The Old Man is.........Sneezing!

We woke up to discover that the Cornish winter had arrived in the middle of August.  It was pouring with rain and the wind was howling and clawing at every south facing window it could get it's paws on.  I felt sorry for the holiday makers in the nearby campsites.  At least we had a warm, dry house to hide in.

After about half an hour of hiding beneath the duvet reading I decided I needed to retire to the kitchen and take the opportunity to 'cook up and stock up'. 
Phil was already in the office 'surfing the net' to see whether surfing for real was a feasible and less wet option than just stepping outside the door today.  I requested he found some sunny music at least to confine the gloomy weather to outside the window and he duly found some dub to induce some bounce into the morning with bass lines to drown out the rain and wind. 
Culinary inspiration was not far behind; encouraged by the desire for a winterised menu of delights.
First off was seitan sausage. I had the idea of having a sausage casserole later,  delicately thrown over a delightfully crisped outside, yet fluffy inside, baked spud with a pile of freshly picked home grown French beans on the side.   With that in mind for dinner later, it wouldn't matter if it rained all day.  That's what you call planning for a rainy day!
Today I decided to not only cook seitan with the traditional method of boiling (see previous post for ideas re this) but also to try rolling it up in foil and baking it for 60 minutes.   The methods gave totally different results so I recommend experimenting with this.  The baked results were going to go in the casserole later and the boiled version stowed away in the fridge for Ron (later on). 
Phil surfaced from the office at the moment that I was starting to think about formulating a shopping list.  I informed him we were out of chilli powder, which is  indeed a minor misdemeanour in our household.  He was suddenly caught up in my rainy day 'stocking up' moment and informed me that we did however have quite a few dried chilli's hanging around.  So our newly acquired spice grinder was duly put into action to delay the purchasing of said food essential.  I nearly had to 'citate his ass' as for the next 30 minutes or so the kitchen was infused with a cloud of sneeze inducing chilli powder as a result.  Ah-choo!
I gallantly soldiered on under the cloud of chemical warfare that was filling our kitchen.  Whilst the oven had been on for the baked seitan sausage, I had decided another batch of kale chips was in order (after equally gallantly diving into the watery garden to harvest the required kale) and, in addition, a big old loaf of banana, almond and carob chip loaf had to be produced. 
Let's just say that the morning of culinary production made it easier to laugh in the face of a rainy day.
Banana, Almond and Carob Chip Loaf
250g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
120g sugar
250ml soya milk
100ml veg or rapeseed oil
3 ripe bananas (mash 'em up)
2 tsp vanilla extract
60g carob chips
90g almonds (bash 'em up a bit)
1.  Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease up a big old loaf tin.
2.  Stir the flour, baking powder, bicarb and sugar together.
3.  In a separate bowl mash up the bananas and then add in the soya milk, oil and vanilla extract.
4.  Stir the carob and almonds into this mixture good and proper and then add this juicy mixture to the dry stuff. 
5.  Stir it up.....little darling!
6.  Pop it into the greased loaf tin and bung it in that nice old hot oven for 50 minutes.
7.  Give it a poke with a knife to see if it comes out clean.  If it doesn't give it some more.  If it does, take it out and leave it for 10 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack.
Enjoy!  Rain or shine.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Resonance: Beings of Frequency

We watched this film a while back and thought it was worth sharing for others to contemplate, educate or dismiss as you see fit. 
Luckily we don't feel the need to use or have our mobile phones switched on that much and the wireless in our house gets switched off immediately if it isn't being used.  Despite these measures though, we are still surrounded by an uncontrollable ocean of man made wireless frequencies and that is potentially scary stuff.
Below is the trailer just to give you a taste, followed by the full length film.

Musical Journey

We haven't really written much about music, which is surprising given the importance it has in our lives.  Our office sits right next to our kitchen; both of which are really the heart of our house.  From our kitchen we discover, explore and create food and from our office we discover and explore new and old music via the wonders of the Internet.  Food is music and music is food.  That is how we roll; cooking and listening.  It knocks the socks off of TV.

Perhaps, because music is such a personal thing, we have so far shied away from sharing many of our discoveries and loves; after all there is nothing worse than somebody insisting that this track or that track is the most amazing thing since 'sliced bread' when you just don't get it.  However, we are not insisting or 'ramming it down your throat'.  If you are anything like us you will constantly be searching for those yet undiscovered special auditory delights and if any subtle pointers lead us in that direction then they are more than welcome.  After all, music hunting is a lifetime mission; an infinite one but then that is part of the delight of it.
We like all sorts too.  Take right now.  Phil has recently been rediscovering his love of Suns of Arqa.  Pull out your meditation stool, get down and dubby and have a listen.  It might not be your thing but you never know.

Then there is Laura Marling.  She is only 23 at the moment!  How about that?  What a talent.  Some tracks from a previous album 'A Creature I Don't Know' were enough to bring tears to my eyes (especially 'Sophia') and I really didn't think she could top it but then I bought her new album 'Once I Was An Eagle'.  It was slow burn at first but then I realised quite how exquisite and ballsy it was.   I can't get enough of it and so much so I had problems choosing which track to feature here.  I chose 'Master Hunter' in the end for the sheer 'in your face' passion.

Changing again to a completely different way of listening; how about The Heliocentrics?  Wow, what a journey that has been.  Where to begin?  Well, we watched the film 'Broken Flowers' and loved the music of Mulatu Astatke that featured.  That's a whole different journey; but Mulatu did an album with The Heliocentrics and we would like to thank him sincerely for the introduction.  I bought the new album, '13 Degrees of Reality', recently.  A slow burn for me for some of the more 'industrial' tracks on there but I would have bought it purely on the basis of just two of the tracks alone.  The deeper than deep grunge of 'Wrecking Ball' currently echoes around my head on a daily basis, and the 70's Californian wide sweeping thriller vistas of driving along Highway One, whilst pursuing the latest dangerous deal, whirl around my over imaginative mind whilst listening to 'Collateral Damage' .  To me it's pure cinematic glory filmed in Agfa Orange...but hey, that's just me.

On to gentler stuff, but back to the real 1970's.  Our musically encyclopedic friend Steve suggested the mysterious Linda Perhacs to Phil over a year ago in response to a request for artists similar to early Joni Mitchell .  He forgot to tell me.  Over a year later, and with my wanderings into the world of Vashti Bunyan, he finally remembered.  Sitting amongst a virtual 1976 sun-drenched field of daisies whilst gently nibbling at a vegan Cadbury's Flake, I defy you not to be taken in by the sounds of this American songstress.  Just beautiful; and a potential life saver, with eyes closed and headphones on, against the stormy and cold Cornish winter.  She is rather a Nick Drake of American folk too; being truly discovered years beyond the release of her original 1970's album 'Parallelograms'.  Again it was difficult to choose a track but this evening 'Dolphin' won the day with it's water filled cascading melodies and harmonies.

Whilst we're on the subject of 1970's gems, I've already mentioned Vashti Bunyan.  For those of you that remember the British children's TV series 'Play School', just look through the round window right now and you'll get it.  Her wispy, nursery school voice whispered into the ear of the 1970's child and then promptly vanished to the Outer Hebrides after her first album, 'Just Another Diamond Day' failed.  That was until 2000 when she was rediscovered,  much in the same way as her American equivalent Linda Perhacs, when her first album received cult status. 

Well, let's just say that once you get us going on music, we are hard to stop.  However, and perhaps thankfully, the homemade samosas, dhal and rice that Phil has composed in the kitchen next door are calling me.  So without further ado, I will leave you with hopefully some musical titillation to contemplate.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Thing About Dogs

One day we hope we will be able to learn their language.

Silver in Them There Kales

You've no doubt heard the expression; "There's gold in them there hills" but today I didn't have to go to the hills to find something equally as precious (in my eyes anyway).  I merely went to the garden, picked some kale and then put it in the kitchen sink to wash.  On the underside, where the water sat in pockets, were little pools of silver.  I am an old hippy who is easily distracted by such wonders of nature but reality kicked in when Phil gently reminded me he needed the kale to put in the dhal he was cooking.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Badgers Badgering Each Other

The most badgers I'd seen in our front garden was two at a time.  Sometimes the interaction has been peaceful and other times there has been a little 'argy bargy'.  Recently though it had been the former, with both peacefully feeding next to each other with only minor bottom shoving occurring; that is until last night. 

Let's just say three's a crowd when it comes to badgers.  I'd had my suspicions there were more than two visitors but I didn't expect these suspicions to be confirmed by a badger brawl.  Who needs to watch 'Eastenders' or 'Coronation Street' when you have your very own soap opera developing in your front garden (and it is far more entertaining and real life anyway!)?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Ribena Smiles of the 70s

At the weekend, between showers of rain, I spent about 30 minutes picking the well ripened blackcurrants from our large bush in the back garden.  It was a well overdue harvesting session as the sheer number of currants on the bush had led to a certain level of procrastination in 'getting around to doing it'.

Blackcurrants are one of those fruits that are a little less easy to use than the sun kissed sweetness of berries such as strawberries.  Apart from jam and the odd uses in various cheesecakes and on top of chai oats in the winter (from the few that I freeze), I had struggled to be creative with them as their powerful fruity punch is an acquired taste.  Phil is even less of a fan than I am.

This year however, I was determined to make the most of these nutrient packed treats in a different way.  I decided to make cordial for the first time with memories of the red stained smiles of my 70s youth, born of Ribena glugged greedily from faded Tupperware beakers.
It was a good move and the resulting cordial, although now consumed from slightly more sophisticated vessels than Tupperware, is being glugged in much the same unsophisticated fashion as the six year old me. There's no shame in that; although I refuse to show you a photo of the resulting red stained smile. 

Ribena Smile Cordial

Stew your blackcurrants in enough water to cover until soft and mushy. It helps to crush the currants as they cook from time to time too.
Strain the juice well, pushing as much juice out of the pulp as possible.
Feed the resulting pulp to your neighbourhood birds or badgers.  It won't go to waste.
Measure out the juice and weigh out a similar amount of sugar or a bit less if, like me, you want to reduce your sugar intake.
Heat the juice and the sugar together until it is completely dissolved and syrupy but not so long that you make it really thick.
Bottle in a sterilised bottle and pop in the fridge and dilute to taste. It should keep easily for two to three weeks but you probably would have consumed it well before then!


Potatoes, Broad Beans, Onions, Courgettes, Herbs

It is almost getting to the point in our garden when we can start having whole meals comprising predominantly of produce we have grown ourselves.  Last night Phil raided our potato bags, our broad bean plants, more of the courgettes and onions and it goes without saying, our herb bed. We are still a few acres and quite a few hot summers short of being able to grow our own wheat for the pasta and almond groves for the nuts we would have needed for this meal but you never know; maybe one day!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Who Ate All The Kale Chips?

A friend at work had reminded me about the wonders of kale chips just at the moment when the battle between us and the cabbage white butterflies was unfolding.  If we were to make the most of our Kale De Nero crop we had to get in there before the army of caterpillars did.  What better way of doing it than with kale chips, especially as the afternoon of rain had me securely stationed in the kitchen having an oven baking session. 
So with the courgette flan for tea already cooking away in the oven along with the rocky road base, there was room for a shelf of kale chips.  They came out of the oven beautifully crisp and flavourful just at the moment that Phil arrived back from surfing.  It was very bad timing.  Like a swarm of cabbage white caterpillars the whole Tupperware container of kale chips was consumed by Phil within 5 minutes flat with 'Oliver Twist' cries of 'more, please'.   He ran out to the garden and arrived back with a whole new bunch of freshly harvested kale for three more trays of chips.  I sensed an addiction starting but there are worst addictions to have I guess.  Thankfully the latest batch of newly baked chips are lasting a little longer this time.
Kale Chips
Take a bunch of kale.  Wash, dry and cut up into bite size bits.  Add a touch of oil (we use good quality olive oil), salt, pepper and any other flavourings you like and massage into the kale.  Bake for about 15 minutes at about 180 degrees C until crisp.
For our latest batch we used chili oil and chili flakes, salt and pepper and then in another batch we used a touch of olive oil, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, ajwain seeds and a touch of vegan Worcester sauce.
Enjoy! (before the cabbage white do!).

Courgettes Bite Back

This was going to be the final year I was going to bother growing courgettes as the past few years had failed to produce anything that didn't rot before it had reached a half decent size.  The wet, cool summers of the past few years had put pay to that.  I was right to try it one last time and what a year to pick.  To make sure, this year I had planted a couple of courgette plants in one of my beach combed fisherman crates inside a small plastic grow house.  The results have been fantastic and finally my faith in courgette growing has been restored.
The downside to growing in this small grow house is accessing the green gems that have decided to hide themselves in the jungle of scratchy leaves right at the back.  It was time to go in and attempt to retrieve them.  I should have put long sleeves on but it was also damn hot in there.  The results were a very scratched up pair of arms which resembled something you would get from an arm wrestling match with a small kitten rather than a home grown courgette harvesting session.
With the bigger courgettes finally harvested and delivered to the kitchen, my thoughts turned to going back in again to now tackle the jungle.  I had to make it easier to harvest and also to cut back the growth which was bursting out the door.  More air and light would lead to less rotting (a couple of small courgettes showed signs of this) and better ripening.  A few more scratches later and the jungle was tamed.
They might have put up a fight but in the end, despite the scratches, I won the battle.  This was hunting and gathering vegan style.  The potato and courgette Lasan Kari they ended up in that evening, courtesy of the Phil's curry kitchen, was delicious too.