Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy Allantide (Nos Calan Gwaf)

Well it's Halloween and tonight no doubt the door will be knocking to the tune of kids on a sweet hunting rampage. These days I have taken to hiding away with the curtains pulled, much in the same way that I hide from most over commercialised excuses of celebration. 
A few years ago I did offer apples to kids who came knocking, to the visible disappointment of said kids that I was not filling their baskets with chemically loaded sugary offerings instead. I think this says a lot about how the true meaning of seasonal celebrations has been pretty much forgotten. An apple, although no longer a tempting and appreciated gift to the modern day kid, could not be more appropriate on Halloween.

Allantide (or Nos Calan Gwaf  in Cornish) is a Cornish festival that was traditionally celebrated on 31st October, in other words the present day Halloween. It has pre-Christian/Pagan roots linked to the Celtic harvest festival and possibly also to St Allen (Arlan), a little-known mysterious Cornish Saint (I can't see to find much out about him though).  The festival basically drew a line between the autumn and winter.
Like many Celtic traditions, this part of the year was seen as hugely important. On the eve of the first day of Winter, Allantide celebrated the good harvest that would see them through to the Spring. As part of the celebrations, large highly polished apples (known as Allan Apples) were given as gifts to each member of the family as a token of good luck and hopefully to keep the bad winter spirits away. Young maidens would take their apples and put them under their pillows, much in the same way that kids do so with their lost teeth, and make a wish about who they would like to marry one day. 
Traditional Cornish 'Jack-o'-Lanterns' were made from turnips, with the now well know pumpkins or squashes being more of an American addition to the modern day Halloween celebrations.

Although Halloween has certainly been hijacked by the scary movie and trick or treating gang,  I on the other hand prefer to keep it a bit more traditional. 

Tonight I celebrate our good harvest in the garden by making use of our stocks of squash and chard and cooking a lasagne, topped with the last of our tomatoes.  Luckily our harvest continues and the proper Cornish winter doesn't normally tend to kick off till January so on the Allantide, I am indeed hoping that the bad winter spirits will stay away until at least then!

I shall be keeping our apples to ourselves though.....seeing as the kids no longer appreciate them!

 Nos Calan Gwaf!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Petite Polenta Peppers

We love polenta, corn maize, masa harina.......whatever.  We use it in various guises.  It's all good.  Last weekend I made these little masa harina and corn maize stuffed peppers and they were very much appreciated from the 'Phil Culinary Corner'. 
The time before I used a mixture of polenta and corn maize but this time it was corn maize and masa harina - it depends on what I have left in the cupboard at the time but I find they all basically give similar results.  I have also stuffed large peppers or mushrooms with this basic mixture before and any left over mixture I just put in greased ramekins and pop in the oven with a slice of vegan cheese on top to bake at the same time as the stuffed vegetables.
Petite Polenta Peppers
2 pints of water
8 sun dried tomatoes
20 little sweet peppers
1 onion
Bit of garlic to taste
Herbs, spices and flavours to taste (see recipe for what I used this time)
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil (or your preferred oil)
1 1/2 tsp salt
200g polenta/corn maize/masa harina
Cheese for topping if you wish
1.  Roughly chop the sun dried tomatoes then pop into a heatproof bowl with one pint of the water (boiled).  Let them sit soaking whilst you continue to measure out and prepare everything else.
2.  Cut the top of each pepper off and remove the seeds as carefully as you can whilst leaving the pepper intact.  Set aside.
3.  Finely chop the onion and fry with the garlic in a little oil.  Add in any flavourings at this stage you wish.  I used oregano, parsley, mint, fenugreek and a touch of chilli sauce this time.  Set aside once softened.
4.  Drain the sun dried tomatoes and set aside, reserving the soaking liquid.  Put this liquid in a pan with the remaining pint of water, rapeseed oil and salt and bring this to a boil.
5.  Once the liquid is boiling gradually whisk in the polenta/corn maize/masa harina vigorously over a low to medium heat for approximately 5 minutes.  Do not allow it to stick to the bottom of the pan so you may have to employ some muscle action here.   It will stiffen up and start coming away from the sides of the pan when it is ready. 
6.  Stir in the sun dried tomatoes and onion mixture until incorporated well.
7.  Fill the peppers and then place on an oiled tray.  Brush with a little oil then roast for about 30 minutes or until the peppers are soft and slightly browned. 
8.  If you have any polenta mixture left over fill greased ramekins and pop in the oven at the same time with a slice of cheese on top.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

My Natural Heroes

Sometimes, just sometimes, all the worlds align at the perfect time.  Yesterday was a wonderful example. 
Picture this; it is Monday evening and I was wondering how I had managed to survive the day at work, my calf muscles were being particularly difficult after my Monday lunchtime 5K run and all I had to look forward to was mine and Phil's random question answering competition during this week's edition of 'University Challenge' (what the hell are some of those questions about anyway?). 
I was getting changed into my comfy evening ware, contemplating all this, when there was a knock on the door.  Phil answered the door to find Lynne, our neighbour from across the way.  She had taken a parcel for us from the postie today (part of the delight of living in a small village is that the postman will pretty much leave a parcel with anyone and everyone to deliver later!).  It was a mysterious parcel for me.  I wasn't expecting anything.  I stopped short of massaging my magnesium spray onto my tired old calf muscles to go and investigate.  Imagine my wonder and delight to discover a parcel of goodies from Natural Hero which I had won from entering a Viva! competition. 
So there I was stood with throbbing muscles with a pack of wonderful vegan products with words like 'recharge tired muscles'  and 'super powered recovery'.  What is not to like about this situation?  Without further ado this required immediate and further investigation and the 'Hot Ginger Muscle Rub' was employed post haste and forthwith to said naughty muscles.  Whether it was the vigorous rubbing, the product itself or a combination I simply didn't care; it bloody worked.  I had tried vigorous rubbing and other products on various other occasions to no avail so things were looking up for my new best friend and Natural Hero!
It is a lunchtime spinning class tomorrow and another 5K on Friday lunchtime so further investigation into the enclosed 'Cool Peppermint Muscle Spray' and the 'Hot Ginger Muscle Soak' were sure to follow later in the week!
running woman
Thank you Natural Hero and Viva!.  What a surprise and delight.....and what timing!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Zorba's Reef - A Rare Sight

The Goose is the rock that sits a quarter of a mile out to sea from the beach (at high tide).  The waves normally start breaking well after they pass The Goose, even at low tide.  Not today though.  The winds are building and the swell is increasing and as a result we are seeing the rare sight of waves breaking before the island of rock that is The Goose.  This is a 'mysto' (mythical) big wave surfing spot called Zorba's Reef and the few nutters who are willing to ride it are waiting for that rare day when all the conditions align.  Today, although it showed its hand,  the wind was far too strong and from the wrong direction to even contemplate trying to ride it.  It might not look like it but the wave you see in the distance is higher than a three storey house.
It is not a day to be out surfing on the main beaches but that didn't stop Phil from trying to find somewhere with enough shelter and size to make it worthwhile.  A trip to the south coast found waves that were either too small or too messy in Phil's normal 'go to' places in these stormy conditions.  In this age of information technology sometimes you still have to travel to the 'off-line' out of the way places to try and find the treasures you seek and to know for sure.  On this occasion he was not successful but it's only the start of the Autumn and Winter swells and many more trips will be made.

Having a Blast!

Cornwall is pretty windy at the best of times.  It is no surprise really given the fact that our pointy little neck of a peninsula reaches out into the Atlantic.  It's part of what makes the Cornish autumn and winter nights cosy, sat inside in front of the open fire, whilst outside all hell breaks loose.  It's also the reason we very rarely clean our windows as the regular blasting of salt and sand heavy wind and rain make it pretty much a useless exercise (or that's our excuse anyway).

However, it does seem that there is a high possibility that the usual strong winds might be out classed this evening and overnight as the already weather obsessed British media work themselves into a frenzy over news of a 'super storm' approaching; possibly the worst in decades.  There is concern about possible heavy rain, falling trees, building damage and gusts of up to 80 mph, or possibly higher on exposed coasts.  We of course live on top of a hill on an exposed coast so potentially our Sunday night could be interesting.

About four years ago we had a practice run with this kind of weather which claimed part of the flat roof on our house.  I must admit, despite the fact that I am relatively used to and unfazed by strong winds (I slept through both the Fastnet Gales whilst in a caravan in the 1979 and the 'Great Storm' of 1987), losing the roof has made me a little more respectfully concerned in the more powerful onsets of windy weather.

So, it's 'batten down the hatches' and 'fingers crossed' this evening that the predictions are far from true and we are just in for the usual Cornish wind blasting instead.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Queen of Hot Sauce

The chilli phase still continues in the Driftwood Vegan household and the latest episode involved Phil and I having a chilli sauce 'cook off'.  To be honest I didn't think I was in with a chance. When it comes to anything hot and spicy, Phil is King.  However, to be fair, and for that reason, I rarely even try to cook anything that way inclined.  So I thought I'd give it a go and I even startled myself with the result. 
It was to be a chilli sauce war of two sides; taste versus heat.  That isn't to say that I was going to shy away from heat; I just wanted to make sure that the taste wasn't drowned out by the sound of swearing.  I wanted a sauce that I was brave enough to dollop on the side of my plate and get stuck into. 
My weapons of choice from our collection of Dom's chillies were the Hot Scotch chillies; 2 of them.  Phil commented that this might still produce quite a hot sauce but then chose the Orange Habanero chillies as his preferred weapon.  As Hot Scotch measure 55,000 on the Scoville index and Orange Habanero are significantly more at 250,000 I failed to see the relevance of Phil's comments.  It turns out neither did Phil as he had actually misread the details Dom had sent us and thought he was dealing with 100,000 heat instead.  He only discovered this after tasting his resulting sauce and wondering why it seemed warmer than expected.  'All is fair in love and sauce', were my thoughts as I watched a little sweat break out on his brow. 
Of course I was bound by the terms of agreement to taste his creation as well, otherwise we wouldn't be able to make a fair decision on who reigned 'supremo chilliano' in the sauce department on this particular day.  A slight profanity expelled from me as I tasted and then searched for the 'taste of orange heat' he was describing to me.  We were looking at a Stage 8 situation on the Scoobville Scale here so I was struggling with this just a little.  It wasn't my favourite he had made; that remained his test sauce, but through the heat I could still detect and appreciate the complexities of this particular creation.
Then it was on to tasting my first chilli sauce effort.  I let Phil at it first and watched in wonder as a surprised sound and expression emanated from him.  He liked it, he liked it a lot but would it feature high on the Scoobville Scale and disappoint my taste buds?  I apprehensively went in for a tasting.  There was heat but there was also a whole load of taste.  It was about Stage 4 on the Scoobville.  I was happy with that, especially as Phil had to concede that today, I surprisingly reigned as the Queen of Hot Sauce.

Scooby's Scotch Sauce
(Makes about a ketchup bottle's worth)

1 cooking apple (peeled, cored and diced)
1 small onion (diced)
2 Scotch Bonnet chillis (de-seeded and diced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard (mine had Herbs De Provence in it)
75ml apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato puree
150ml water

Put all the ingredients in a small pan and bring to the boil.  Simmer until soft and mushy then blend and bottle.

Phil's Orange Habanero Sauce
(Makes about a ketchup bottle's worth)

2 medium sized Orange Habanero chillis
2 medium carrots diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
150ml apple cider vinegar
150ml water

Roast the chillis in the oven for 15 minutes at 200 degrees C then remove the pith, stalk and seeds.  Boil the diced carrots in the 150ml of water with the salt and garlic for about 15 minutes or until soft and the water is well reduced.  Blend the chilli, carrot and vinegar together and bottle.

Judge for yourselves and enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Love for the Hoopoe

We love Hoopoe; that is the bird and the wine. 
The bird is a wonderfully colourful character that we see on the campsite we frequent in Southern Portugal.  He makes a game out of avoiding my camera lens but this year I did finally manage to capture him (see photo below). 
The wine (the red ones anyway) are tasty and full bodied and I could be terribly pretentious and carry on giving various wine related adjectives for them, but basically they taste bloody good.  Not so set on the whites but then we are full bodied red wine loving vegans so just that way inclined.
We don't find it that often (Bristol and Totnes) but when we do we splash out a little.  It is apparently an own-label range by Vintage Roots (according to various press releases) but we failed to find it on the Vintage Roots website which was a little confusing.
I do have an air of mischief about me though
Basically what we are trying to say is it is worth looking out for.  It's organic (obviously), it's vegan (again obviously otherwise we wouldn't be recommending it), it's tasty (obviously but then again, you are entitled to your own opinion) and it has an air of mischief about it just like the real bird (but that obviously could be just the wine speaking!).

Monday, 14 October 2013

Banksy's 'Sirens of the Lambs'

Whatever Banksy's exact message is here (I've seen some on-line debate about it being everything from a loss of childhood innocence to the more obvious statement about the meat industry), it is far from fluffy. 

It is extremely clever, hard hitting, ironic and is bound to enrage the meat eaters amongst our population into a froth of defensive ludicrous comment.  Better still, perhaps it will knock the Disney loving sentimentalists among our population into the real world and get them to question where that plastic wrapped stuff they call meat in the supermarket actually materialises from. 

The message is in the art and the art is in the message. 

Ecotricity - The Frack Free Promise

100 percent Green Electricity for all our customers
Ecotricity is a pretty cool company and one that I am proud to be part of. It's a rare thing to say that about a company that you have to pay utility bills to but really, if you have to pay bills, at least make sure the money is going back into something sound. For a start the founder, Dale Vince, is vegan. Nothing wrong and everything right about that. Secondly Dale and his team have built up Ecotricity into a company that is going from strength to strength in supplying green energy.

We get emailed newsletters from them from time to time and the most recent one really made me sit up and take note more than usual. They are now offering just one simple tariff for electricity but importantly this is now 100% green. Even better, the price of this tariff undercuts the standard tariffs of the Big Six energy companies in the UK. Put simply, they are supplying green electricity for less than the price of brown!

We don't have gas in our village but if we did we would also source this from Ecotricity. They have one simple tariff for this too and this is price matched to British Gas' standard tariff. Even at two per cent green it's still the greenest gas in the country and I was delighted to hear that their Green Gas tariff is
frack-free and always will be.
We'll only supply Frack Free Gas

Ecotricity are the 'leading light' for green energy in the UK and I can't imagine it will be long before the other Big Six are running to keep up. The difference is the Big Six will be worried about their profits whilst Ecotricity are more worried about giving the consumers the ability to tick all the right ethical boxes at a fair price.

This is beginning to sound like an advertisement but I know who we will be paying our bills to over the coming years.  Veganism isn't just about the things you eat, it's also about the choices you make in life.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Quintessentially Quince

Let's have a break from the hot chilli stuff for a moment and turn our attention to something more subtle, fragrant and less well known; the quince.
I am very familiar with this strange, mysterious fruit as my parents had a quince tree in the garden when I was growing up.  We would have the annual ritual of harvesting the quince in autumn followed by the annual ritual of my grandmother making jars and jars of quince jam which would last into the winter and beyond.  I loved it and have missed it in latter years.  The tree sadly got diseased and died and quince just simply isn't one of those fruits that you come across in shops very often.  It had become nothing more than a childhood memory.
So imagine my delight when my parents mentioned that their local fruit farm were growing them and offered to pick and bring some down on their recent visit.   Their offer was of course mutually beneficial as they knew that they would then leave with a few jars of jam in return.  I had inherited my grandmothers skills and motivation to ensure a good stock of preserved goodies for the long winter ahead; something that only lived on in me within our family it seemed.
On receipt of the aforementioned harvest of quince I set about a traditional quince jam session and within the hour had produced half a dozen jars.  With an ample supply of fruits still left I continued over the next few days with various recipes including baked quince, quince marmalade and currently cooking away on the stove; quince chutney.   I could sit back now, smug in the knowledge that nothing had gone to waste and childhood had indeed been captured in various jars to enjoy and share over the coming months.
It definitely brought out the squirrel and the child in me.
Quince Jam
Makes about 6 jars
4 large quinces (about 1kg)
Juice of 1 lemon
Sugar (see details below of how much)
1.  Peel and core the quinces CAREFULLY as they are pretty hard!  I managed to slice a fair amount of the skin of one of my thumbs doing this (but then I am pretty clumsy).  Chop into small bits (the quince not your thumb).
2.  Put the chopped quince into a pan and cover with water.  Simmer until nice and soft.
3.  Once cooked, measure how much quince you have.  For every cup of quince pulp measure out 250g sugar.
4.  Put the pulp, sugar and lemon juice back in the pan and heat slowly, stirring to help the sugar dissolve.  Mysteriously it starts to go red at this stage.
5.  Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up a bit and let the mixture boil (watch out for it spitting as it hurts when it lands on your skin).
6.  Whilst the above is going on, do two things - firstly pop a saucer in the freezer (I've not gone mad - I'll explain in a moment).  Secondly, sterilise your jars.  To do this I normally just fill the jars with boiling water, leave for a few minutes and then empty and air dry.
7.  Now it's time to test the jam to see if it is ready.  Get that random frozen saucer out of the freezer and put a small blob of the jam mixture on it.  Leave it for a couple of minutes and then push it with your finger across the saucer.  If it wrinkles up then the jam is ready.  If it just fluidly pushes away from your finger, give it some more cooking.
8.  Once it is ready, simply jar it up, label and enjoy.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Devil's Rib Chilli Pepper Firewater

Please excuse the unfocused photo but I really had problems even thinking after sampling this firewater
Take note - these are Devil's Rib chilli peppers.  Look at the water they have sat in for about 2 minutes.  Evil I tell you;  pink watery soup of evil.  I stuck my little pinkie in for brief second and licked it and it practically blew my head off.  Phil didn't believe me, much to the amusing dismay that followed after he attempted the same.  Good job we had wine at hand to help us recover.
These Devil's rib chillies had been prepared to put in Phil's next reincarnation of chilli sauce along with some Orange Habanero chillies.  After this episode however he quite wisely decided against their inclusion on this particular occasion. 
Well, what to do with them?  Despite their fiery nature some of our stock of these had started to go off so we have to come up with a plan soon in how to use them.  That is yet to be decided but I do have an idea for the resulting soaking water - insecticide?  Not very vegan though eh?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Stuffed Poblano Chilli Peppers

After a week of busy days at work and with family, we had been avoiding shopping for a few days and were low on vegetables. We wanted something exciting to eat, but that didn't involve dragging ourselves to the shops or standing over a cooker for ages. Then I remembered with delight the two remaining Poblano peppers from our chilli stock that our friend Dominic had given us. However low our food cupboard is, we very rarely run out of nuts and seeds so after a quick rummage around I had enough ingredients to make a stuffing for these tasty, mild peppers.

As ever my recipe isn't precise with quantities of ingredients and open to interpretation. This stuffing would be equally happy and tasty in normal bell peppers, mushrooms, aubergines, courgettes or anything else at hand that is good for stuffing.

Stuffed Poblano Chilli Peppers
2 large Poblanos
Oil for frying leeks and oiling baking sheet
½ leek

Garlic puree or 1 clove of garlic to taste

1 slice of wholemeal bread
2 handfuls of cashew nuts
1 handful of pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon of vegan cream cheese
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
½ tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Bit of water
Vegan hard cheese for topping off

1. Wash the poblanos and then halve horizontally. Remove the seeds. Place on an oiled baking sheet.
2. Slice the leek and fry in oil until softened.
3. Add the garlic to taste (you either like it or not!) and oregano to taste and mix well whilst continuing to fry for a couple more minutes.
4. Meanwhile, place the bread, cashews and pumpkin seeds in a blender and blend until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
5. Add the bread mixture to the leek mixture and stir.
6. Add the vegan cream cheese, tomato puree and balsamic and stir again to incorporate whilst still heating briefly on low just to melt in the cream cheese.
7. At this stage add a touch of water to loosen the mixture slightly and enable it to be easily spooned and smoothed into the poblano halves.
8. Stuff the poblanos with the mixture and top off with as much vegan hard cheese as you like (we used Vegusto Walnut).
9. Bake at about 200 degrees C for about 20 minutes until the desired softness to the poblanos and crispiness to the top has been reached (I must admit mine in the photo were on the crispy side but still very tasty!).


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Why Vegan?

On the eve of our first year of the Driftwood Vegans blog I felt it appropriate to explore and explain the reasons why Phil and I are both vegan.  It is after all a question that over the past 26 years we have both been asked on numerous occasions and a reason that we found and love each other as soul mates.
The simple and truthful answer after all these years is that it just feels right; it is what is natural to us, we just are.  Some people find that hard to accept at times so then I play the closest thing I know of to fend off their confusion which is to tell them it is my religion.  That normally stops them in their tracks.  It isn't a lie as after all, it is our belief.
It's a curious thing though because there are so many totally solid ' real world' arguments which led us into veganism and kept us there yet the only one that seems to stop the defensive arguments of non-vegans is to hold up the 'religion' card.  Religion on the most part is based on mythical belief and unproven faith so I find this concept intriguing, whereas veganism is based on hard science and personal experience. 
Go figure!
For some real world reasons for going vegan we found this recently (and being that it was 11 reasons for going vegan instead of just 10 that appealed to us due to a recent post we did).
Really though, you either get it or you don't.  That's the most simple and honest answer.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Tomatillo Salsa


This is the first year we have tried growing tomatillos and we've had a fair crop from our two plants.  Today we made the second batch of this salsa and used up our stock from the garden before the Cornish autumn totally claimed these Mexican treats.  If you are not familiar with tomatillos, you will need to remove the papery outer husk and rinse 2 or 3 times in warm water to remove the sticky coating.
This authentic Mexican Salsa Verde is one of those recipes that tastes like more than the sum of its parts.  Deceptively simple, it can be used to add additional zing on top of tacos, with leftover beans or rice, and even just dribbled over a simple fresh tomato salad.
It only scores a 2 or 3 on the Scoobville Scale for heat but it's 11 out of 11 for flavour! 

Tomatillo Salsa

1lb tomatillos, well washed and chopped into quarters
1/2 cup of finely chopped onions
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Serrano chilli pepper minced
2 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped oregano
1/2 tsp of ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water

Place all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes and then allow to cool before blending and then bottling.  It's that simple!

Buen provecho!