Monday, 31 March 2014

Portuguese Seitanism

This is surely an act of seitan?  Today we found a big block of marinated seitan in a Lagos health food store for 1.30 Euros.  What a bargain!

It amazes us how much quality tofu and seitan products you can find in Portugal, even in the supermarkets.

Why can't British supermarkets stock such items? Apart from the standard block of tofu or the odd packet of marinated tofu, you can find nothing in our supermarkets.  Even in our health food stores you can only get seitan in jars here and there and you pay a much higher price for such products.

Trust Portugal, a nation known for its meat and fish consumption, to lead the way with non-meat protein alternatives and to not rip you off in the process.

Come on Britain, catch up with our Portuguese friends!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Portuguese Car Cozinha

After five trips down to Portugal camping, we have perfected the art of the kitchen in the back of the car.  We even have a kitchen sink!  This way we can set up wherever we want, avoid the relentless Portuguese wind, plan for sudden downpours, and as an additional bonus our kitchen has an ever changing view.  We can pull up to our spot and have the kitchen set up in a couple of minutes.

In the tradition of most Portuguese food we tend to keep our open air meals simple.  On this particular evening we cooked up a squash, bean and tomato stew with bread on the side and a bottle of Sagres to wash it all down.  We enjoyed this meal whilst watching the sun drop behind the hills and the waves crashing against the shore at Ingrina. Good food always tastes better in the open air.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wish You Were Here

So we are on our annual camping trip to Portugal.  Bags and car packed with tent, stove and various assortments of probably unnecessary comforts, we had done the 19 hour ferry journey from Plymouth to Santander, Northern Spain.   Cutting short our normal 11-12 hour drive down to the Algarve, we found ourselves 8 hours down the road in Portugal, somewhere down the dusty back roads of Nazaré.  It was dark and we were tired and above all else lost.  We were looking for North Canyon Bungalow, a tent free 2 night luxury stop off we had on impulse booked a few days previously.  It had sounded different, slightly  ‘off centre’ from the usual dreary, homogeneous ideal of accommodation that the tourist drones go for.  It sounded right up our street, if only we could find that street.

A phone call to owner Marco brought him out personally searching for us and swiftly escorted down the truly unobvious dusty track to salvation for us from the long road.  We were instantly introduced to Jim Morrison, who uncurled his chunk of chocolate brown head from beneath his tail to raise his deep brown eyes and thud his heavy tail in greeting.  Marco told us that Jim was tired from chasing the chickens and pigs all day but Jim didn’t look like the kind of dog who would waste his intellect on such matters.   He had other matters to dwell on, such as the night time perimeter security and the next day’s tourist guide duties to plan; a truly rough and tumble Portuguese outdoors trail hound.

We followed Marco to our accommodation, past a rendition of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ album cover, taking up the whole side of his house.  Clearly it was emerging Marco was a man of taste when it came to music.  A quick unpack of our essentials from the car and just before we were about to reluctantly contemplate cooking our evening meal, Marco reappears with a steaming bowl of homemade soup and bread.  He didn’t know we were vegan, so a few seconds of slightly embarrassed questioning on our behalf of the ingredients of said soup revealed with relief that this amazing and warming offering from Marco was indeed vegan.  We were so grateful and even more so once we had tucked into it as clearly Marco’s good taste extended even further beyond just music.  It was exceptionally good soup and this simple kind gesture of a meal at the end of our long journey was more than perfect.  Whilst we sat eating our meal and drinking wine on the still warm steps outside our bungalow, staring at the stars, we couldn’t help but feel we had fallen on our feet. 

Our bungalow overlooked the now world famous ‘big wave’ spot and certainly overnight, despite the strong wind, we could still hear the waves crashing against the shore.  The next day we explored the local area on foot.  We weren’t sure which path to take at first but Marco told Jim to show us the way.  He referred to Jim as the ‘tour guide’ and he did a great a job in showing us the right tracks to reach the fort on the headland through the pine scrub land.  This was not without incident however as he was very nearly ‘dog-napped’ by a passing black BMW luring him to the car with shouts of ‘Bob’.  As Jim was clearly with us we questioned the driver who said he thought he was his lost black Labrador but just a bit dusty!  Jim wasn’t going anywhere near the car anyway as he is a free doggy spirit.  This was demonstrated further by the fact that his service was clearly one way only.  He had showed us how to get there; it was up to us to take it from there.  He had socialising to be done in the nearest part of town.  After a leisurely 6 mile walk taking in the sights of Nazaré, we returned to the bungalow.  Of course Jim was there to greet us.  

After another peaceful night, where the waves had been the only soundtrack, we awoke to much bigger swell and a large gathering of spectators and competitors on the beach. This explained the scaffold tower they were erecting on the beach the previous day. This was the Sumol Nazaré Special Edition 2014 Bodyboarding competition.  After a good breakfast and a quick pack up we decided to investigate.  Marco was already clued up to this happening and once more offered the services of Jim to guide us to the beach.  This was truly a big wave competition with competitors needing to be towed out there with jet skis.  Not a lot of waves were ridden but those that were, were quite spectacular with spectators oohing and aahing in all the right places.  

We would have stayed longer watching but we were due to ‘check out’ by midday so were keen to head back to the bungalows and say our goodbyes.  Despite our attempts to lure him back, Jim was keen to remain on the beach and socialise with the thrill seekers.   

After packing up we went to say goodbye to Marco.  It seemed he was in no hurry for us to go and invited us inside his home for a coffee or a glass of wine, whichever took our fancy at midday.  It didn’t seem like we were there long but we covered a whole host of subjects of conversation (embarrassingly in English rather than Portuguese).  After establishing that our musical tastes were similar and putting the rest of the world to rights, we felt we had found a lot of common ground.  There was something about Marco that spoke of a different time, when the priorities of life were experiencing life itself rather than accumulating wealth.  Like us, perhaps he would have been more comfortable living in a perpetual 1960’s/1970’s ideal, when life was a lot simpler.  It is possible he recognised this same thing in us as his parting comments were around friendship and recognising ‘a shine in the eyes’.  Reluctantly it was time to go but we are sure we will return in the not too distant future.  In the meantime, shine on you crazy diamond.

To experience Marcos’ warmth and hospitality (and Jim’s tour guide services) please contact him on +351 910666509.   You can also view his accommodation via but we suggest you speak to the man himself.

Ferry Fodder

Brittany Ferries offer an excellent service from Plymouth to Santander and it is our quickest and easiest route to Europe, Plymouth only being one hours drive from home.  What they don't do well on Brittany Ferries is vegan food, but then the French, although renowned for their food in general are not so familiar with the concept of not eating meat, let alone veganism.

You might be lucky to be able to have some form of breakfast on board, such as hash browns (which are generally okay but worth a check), baked beans, tomatoes and toast as well as a selection of fresh fruit, but beyond this we have never been that lucky with the food that was offered.  You also have to put up with the stunned surprise of the French chef when you say that you really don't want the meat or the eggs, and you tend to get charged the full price despite this.  So it is with this in mind that we always carry a good stash of our own food on board.  

The biggest tip we can offer is to take a thermos on board.  They used to have a separate area where you could get hot water from but in recent years they seem to have got rid of this. However, you can still go to the bar and ask for your thermos to be filled or you can do it yourself by going into the less posh cafeteria area and using the hot water option on the tea/coffee machine.  It takes a while to do this cup by cup but nobody has ever complained!  

So with a thermos full of hot water you can take on various instant soups or pot meals such as Food Doctor pots or even cous cous sachets, miso soups, as well as your own tea.  Just remember to take mugs and spoons too.  We have also noticed that Brittany Ferries have microwaves for general use.  If you don't mind using microwaves (we are not too keen), then that opens up many more culinary options for the journey ahead.

Mezze style food is always welcome too.  Things like jars of aubergine imam or giant beans in tomato sauce go down well scooped up with tortilla chips or bread.  We also make vegan sausage rolls or pizza because if we don't polish them off on the ferry journey they go down well on our drive south once we get across.

Either way, trust us, it's worth preparing ahead for the journey if you don't want to be a hungry vegan!!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Cornish North South Divide

We live on the north coast of Cornwall but I work on the south coast.  It is only a 20 mile drive but the difference in the weather during my morning or afternoon commute can be startling at times.  Take this week; for three days running I have left home in thick sea mist but only half way across the peninsula I have driven into glorious sunshine.  In the afternoon I have left work anticipating a glorious evening tinkering in the garden or enjoying a pint overlooking the beach to be sorely reminded that the coast hugging mist was still in residence back home.  It does work the other way at times too; leaving a rainy day at work to discover that it has been dry as a bone all day at home.

This north south divide works in other ways too.  An example is that of surf conditions.  It's obvious really but if it is blowing on-shore on the north it is probably going to be the favoured off-shore direction on the south.  It's not often that reasonable surf cannot be hunted down by Phil somewhere after a drive from north to south.

The diversity of weather and surf spots are just two examples of what makes living in Cornwall special.  People who visit Cornwall often lump it into one 'experience' but having lived here for a few years you know that it isn't just a north south divide but also it seems every 10 square miles you get a different 'sense of place'; whether that be a small fishing village, a bustling surf resort, an empty windswept beach, a damp misty moorland tor or a mystical stone circle.

....but remember, if it's raining when you visit just drive a little further, or as Mark Twain once said of the similiar coastal climate of New England, 'If you don't like the weather just wait a minute'.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Ecotricity - Power to the People

We received the latest e-newsletter from Ecotricity today.  What I like about Ecotricity is that, unlike most energy companies, they don't talk bullshit (perhaps due to their founder Dale Vince being vegan!).  They just say it how it is and aren't afraid to speak out about things they think are wrong and are trying, as a company, to change.  

It is all pretty straight forward with Ecotricity and that is perhaps why so many people are now turning to them for their energy needs.  In fact this week they reached 100,000 customers.  It is very much power to the people.  
What is even more amazing is that Ecotricity are continuing their freeze on price increases, extending this now further until October.  We joined Ecotricity for ethical reasons expecting that we might have to pay a little more to make our stance against the Big Six. We never expected to then pay a price that knocks the socks off of the main guys.  There is simply no excuse not to back these guys and become a customer.

...and returning to my opening statement about the morals of Ecotricity, let me remind you that they are also very vocal opponents of fracking.  Thankfully in Cornwall we won't see the horrors of fracking but many British households are inadvertently supporting shale gas through their energy bills.  It has to be challenged on all levels; on the ground and in your choice of supplier.

Check out Ecotricity's latest short film about fracking which they have put together to lend support to local communities opposed to shale gas fracking.

Frack free gas now and always

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The World's First Vegan Mountain Race

V3K: Carnedd Llewelyn
The V3K Ultra in Wales covers a 55km route crossing all of the country's peaks over 3,000ft and it's backed by a plant-based rationale. 

The plant-based rationale bit sounds very viable to me but the running 55km distinctly way out of my range at the moment!  

If you are not exhausted with just the thought of it, read the Guardian article here.

Check out Veganism for Runners  and if you are mental............ I mean fit enough, why not check out what the V3K is all about?

I like the idea of what they are offering at the aid stations but I think I might need an awful lot more training before I'll be able to run between them!

Be Vegan Make Peace

We came across this great little flyer recently 'Be Vegan Make Peace'.  As long term vegans it is not that we don't know the benefits of a vegan diet but this flyer really appealed.  It's simple message just makes even more sense of the vegan diet and would be the perfect little paper message to pass over to the vegan curious.

After taking the flyer home I investigated the website.  It's packed full of inspiration, facts, down loadable flyers, posters, links and nutritional advice. Basically the flyer offers the simple facts and the website is there to back it all up.  Vegan or not, check it out.   It's a neat little package. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

My Name is Phil and I am a Chocoholic

Phil loves chocolate.  If chocolate was a woman he would have dumped me years ago and run off into the sunset with her.  Thankfully I put up with his 'other woman'.

Being a chocolate connoisseur he prefers the fresher, fruitier, raw varieties over the older, over-cooked ,chemically enhanced types that most people know and love (thankfully for me this also applies to his women!).  Each type has its own attractions, but the naturally sweet, minimally processed raw types are ultimately more satisfying and nourishing.

I have been known to make raw chocolates myself, following recipes from 'Jessica's Raw Chocolate Recipes' and a few impromptu variations, but we are always on the look out for new varieties of raw chocolate in health food stores.  

Just when we think we have sampled all the brands available, a new one pops up for us to savour.  This was just the case on our recent trip to Bristol, where we found ourselves in 'Harvest'  on the 'Gloccy' (Gloucester Road) where Jacques Cop, Head Chocolatier from Coco Caravan, was there to tempt us with his range of lovely tasty raw chocolates.  He was kind enough not to object when Phil went back for seconds of his free samples, and even offered a taste of the chai variety which wasn't included in the free samples. 

What made his chocolate different from the others we have tried was the inclusion of caramel, to tasty effect.  This ultimately worked in his favour as we purchased a large bar of Hazelnut and Currant Caramel to take home with us.  Looking back now we wish we had bought more. 

Luckily it is available to buy on-line along with many other saliva inducing chocolaty treats (the Indian Chai and Tamari Roasted Almond ones are next on our hit list).  We also hope it won't be too long before we see Coco Caravan products arriving on the shelves of our local health food store.

Check out their luscious range of vegan chocolate delights  -

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Flan of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

Food MenuA little birthday trip for Phil saw us heading east towards the currently watery world of Somerset and what trip would be complete without a visit to one of our favourite cafes? Through the rain storms and random displays of that rarely seen thing called sunshine we travelled to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Rainbows End Cafe is conveniently nestled among the book stores and otherworldly alternative shopping outlets that make the high street of Glastonbury the special experience it is.  It's a testament to its great quality, good value, healthy food that this family business continues to serve the community 25 years on from being Glastonbury's first and original vegetarian cafe.

It never disappoints and this time one particular dish hit the spot so much so that we were driven to try and recreate it upon our return.  The Mezze had caught my attention on this particular day.  With this option you can choose one of several savoury delights plus four salads and a bread.  The mushroom flan was my choice of savoury and it was a sublime choice with its creamy mushroom filling perfectly improved by the addition of crunchy cashews.  The only disadvantage was that Phil, who had chosen another tasty choice off the menu, was also starstruck by the flan and so kept helping himself. 

Upon returning home we just had to try and recreate it. We might not have done quite as good a job as Rainbows End but regardless it was pretty tasty.  As ever, I'm afraid our culinary creativity got in the way of precise measurements but don't be afraid; be bold, be creative and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will be there if you just make it up as you go along!!  But as a guide we offer this - 

Mushroom and Cashew Flan

Shortcrust pasty (homemade if being good but shop brought if being lazy like us!)
Our effort!
Black pepper
Dried Oregano
Veggie Worcester Sauce
Soya Sauce
Ground almonds
Cashew nuts
Plain flour
Nutritional yeast flakes
Soya milk
Balsamic vinegar

Fry up an onion with a bit of garlic until softened and then add a pile of mushrooms and a few grinds of black pepper.  Add some veggie Worcester sauce, and a dash of soya sauce.  Cook until nicely softened and browned.  Add ground almonds, dried oregano and cashews and mix.  

Meanwhile (or after if you are no good at multi-tasking!) in a separate pan  make a vegan cheesy roux sauce.  If you are not familiar with the process here are the basics - heat oil in a pan and when hot add a bit of flour and the nutritional yeast until it comes together in a dough like fashion.  Cook this for about a minute and then add soya milk a bit at a time and keep mixing until the desired thickness of sauce is achieved.  Add a dash of balsamic to just give it 'an edge'.  

Add the mushroom mix to the sauce mix (or vice versa if you are feeling like being alternative!).  Have a taste.  Not bad huh?  Well just wait until you pop it into the pastry and cook it up!  If you disagree at this point in the recipe, well good for you - just add that little extra that only you know it needs.  

Roll out the pastry (feeling very pleased if you made it yourself) to fit a flan dish and then fill it with the luscious mushroom mixture.  Cook at about 200 degrees C for approx 30 minutes until nicely brown on top.

Enjoy!......and thank you Rainbows End Cafe for the culinary creative inspiration!

Rainbows End Cafe, 17b High Street, Glastonbury, Somerset, UK.  01458 833896

Cry of the Innocent

About a couple of weeks ago a friend sent me the details of this film.  I must admit that I started watching the trailer and then after only a few seconds I stopped.  At that time, I just couldn't bear to continue.  I am ashamed of that to be honest.

However, life isn't always pretty and to be part of a change you have to know and face the hard cruel facts; after all that is why I was a hunt saboteur for over 20 years and why I have been vegan for over 25 years.  So today I watched the whole trailer and yes, it does leave a hole in your heart, an empty pain in your core, but it should also do two more things; remind you as a vegan that you are on the right side of morality and stir you to look at what further action you can take to support those who are shouting from the top of their voices about the inequality and abuse dealt to those who cannot speak for themselves. 

As I write this Dillon, our next door neighbours cat, wraps himself around my legs and vibrates the room with full throated purring.  If only all animals could be as happy and lucky as Dillon.

Please visit the website and, if you are able, send them a donation towards this production, however small.  It will add your voice to the many and help the film makers shout loud and clear on our behalf and, most importantly, on behalf of the innocent.