Saturday, 31 January 2015

Gifts from the East

We recently met up with some foodie friends for a meal at Wildebeest, some of whom are from the eastern exotic lands of Plymouth.  Now that might not sound very exotic if you know Plymouth, but these friends came bearing gifts from even further east; namely Thailand.  This was a really lovely surprise, and over the course of the next week we experimented with quite a few dishes based around these ingredients; Thai red chillies, galangal, lemongrass, pea aubergines, and krachai.  Of these, we had never used the pea aubergines or the krachai before, so were quite excited to see what we could come up with. 

A quick internet search gave us some ideas for the kind of dishes that would suit.  For example, krachai is commonly used in stir fries and fish dishes, so searching our stores we found a suitable replacement for the fish in a tin of 'mock abalone' from a Chinese supermarket.  The rest of the ingredients would go perfectly in a coconut curry, so that's what we made.  There were enough chillies to make a few bottles of Thai red chilli sauce as well. On the plate below we have mock abalone and krachai stir fry with noodles, green thai coconut curry with pea aubergines, and brown basmati rice.

In the making of these dishes we managed to learn a few new things, which is always good. Some of these things I (Phil) really should know already; like I learnt again that if you are de-seeding and chopping 25 hot red chillies it is a good idea to wear gloves!  I didn't, and for the next three days I had a weird 'heat sensitivity' in the fingers of my left hand.  So much so that even lukewarm water felt hot and painful to my 'chilli injured' fingers, and I couldn't even hold a mug of tea by the handle, as it felt like the heat from it was burning my hand!  Lesson learnt, again.  We both learnt that pea aubergines have a very bitter taste when you first bite into them, which quickly mellows into a nicer more perfumed taste (not sure we'd be rushing out to buy them though).  We learnt that we really like krachai, which is kind of like ginger, but not.  It went really well with the mock abalone in the stir fry.  Gorgeous!

Krachai and 'Abalone' Stir Fry

For this I fried an onion in some peanut oil until starting to brown.  While this was frying I washed and chopped 3 'fingers' of the krachai finely.  I then broke it down further with a small amount of water in a pestle and mortar.  I chopped one red chilli and a few mushrooms and added them to the onion, stir fried for a minute or so and then added the krachai and 'juice'.  Then came the sliced red pepper and broccoli, and the contents of the tin of mock abalone, plus a dash of good quality (Clearspring) shoyu soya sauce.  I let this simmer down for a few minutes while I cooked some quality quick noodles, and then added them in to the dish, and mixed them in well to pick up all the flavours.

Green Thai Coconut Curry with Pea Aubergines

I started by frying a small onion in coconut oil, and then adding slices of galangal (I used a whole root), 2 finely chopped red chillies, and one stalk of finely sliced lemongrass.  Stir and let cook for a few minutes.  I then added a tablespoon of Nam Jai vegetarian tom yum paste.  This is the best one we have found, containing no MSG or other dodgy ingredients.  After frying this for a minute or so I added some sliced red pepper and a chopped sweet potato.  I can't remember where but I heard once that if you add potato, sweet potato or squash to dishes with coconut milk, the starch from these prevents the coconut milk from curdling.  It seems to work.  This was stirred for a minute, and then I added a tin of coconut milk and a dash of shoyu soya sauce and simmered it for 10 minutes. I then added some chopped broccoli and simmered for a further 5 minutes. This was finished with some coriander leaf.

Brown basmati rice

Really, do you need to know how to cook it?  Okay, it seems that some people struggle with rice (Scooby included for some reason!).  Here's what I do with all the different varieties I cook.  I start by washing/rinsing well in the pan with plenty of water.  At least three rinses. Then it's a simple equation of 1 cup rice to 2 cups water (1 cup of dry rice should be enough for 2 people).  After you have drained the last of the rinse water, add 2 cups of boiling water and a pinch of salt, and bring it up to a rolling boil.  Once it's boiling turn it right down, nearly as low as your cooker will go, and still be 'on'. Cover with a lid.  For white basmati it takes 10-12 mins, 30 mins for brown basmati, and 45 mins for short grain brown rice.  After this cooking time, just have a peek at the bottom of the pan.  It should be dry, with no liquid left. Leave it alone for another 5 minutes with the lid on, and then serve.  If it's not right after that, it's your fault... you did something wrong!


Friday, 30 January 2015

Nature and Art in Balance

Life is about balance.  Nature is about balance.  Most modern art is about random shit, and that is the beauty of it when done well. It is often the expression of life or nature when it has become imbalanced. So what happens when art is about balance, nature and life?  How beautiful does that make it?  Here is an example.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Things To Make You Warm

The best things for a warm soul are (combined) - 

1.  A tasty bowl of wholesome vegan soup eaten with a good dunking of sourdough bread.
2.  A sudden blast of warm sunshine escaping through the dark clouds, directly through the kitchen window and onto your back whilst eating said soup.
3.  A good deep and earthy tune to listen to whilst you dunk the next bit of bread in the warm depths of the soup.

Phil's Winter Warmer Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion (diced)
3/4 tsp salt
Grind black pepper
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 medium potato (peeled and diced)
3 cups of tasty squash (e.g. Crown Prince) (peeled and diced into 1" chunks)
Hey - save the seeds from the squash to eat or sow to grow!
3/4 tsp dried oregano
Water - see below
1 tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos (or soya sauce)
100g Cavolo Nero kale (stalks removed and leaves sliced as thinly as possible)

Fry the onion in the olive oil until translucent.
Add the salt, pepper and garlic and fry for a couple more minutes.
Add the potatoes, squash and oregano and mix well.
Cover the veg by 1" with boiling water and bring back to the boil.
Simmer gently for 20 minutes.  The potato and squash should be soft.
Top up the pan with a little cold water to cool.  
Blend thoroughly, adding more water if you think it needs it.
Add the Braggs and the kale and bring back to the boil, stirring to prevent sticking.
Simmer for five minutes.
Wait for the sunshine to burst through the kitchen window.
Press play on the track above and serve.


Saturday, 17 January 2015

Seaweed is Not Evil

This video was recently posted on Cornwall Vegans Facebook page, and I felt I had to redress the imbalances in the arguments presented.  To do so fully would mean writing a long essay, but I'll try and address the main points raised, and hopefully bring some balance to the issue.  I'd like to do this because seaweed is the main vegan source of iodine, an essential element for thyroid health, and one that is often lacking in vegan diets.  In fact both Scooby and myself have vegan friends who have had thyroid problems, some of which have been quite serious. Seaweed has long been used as a food in coastal cultures the world over for thousands of years.  If you choose to include it in your diet (and I hope you do), then it would be wise to eat it regularly and in moderation, as many 'long lived' people do.  It is particularly delicious in some of the vegan macrobiotic recipes like miso soup.

These are the 3 main points as I see it:

1).  The Title - 'Sushi is not healthy or vegan'.

This poses the question; is all seaweed in sushi the same?  No, of course not!  This obviously refers to the seaweed in vegan sushi which like anything we eat, can come from many varied sources and various producers, some of whom will be more 'kosher' than others.  I'm sure there are companies who harvest seaweed intensively from polluted areas, and there are companies who harvest seaweed ethically from unpolluted areas.  Some seaweed will not be strictly vegan as it will contain small crustaceans as part of the manufacturing process. Personally I have found these in some seaweeds from certain companies, but in 20 years of using their products I have never found any in the Clearspring range of seaweeds.  All of their products are certified 'vegan' by the Vegan Society.  This is not to say that they aren't there though. There may be traces of shellfish there, just as if you eat an organic green salad there may be insect eggs and caterpillar larvae there, as well as many microscopic creatures that you don't notice, and therefore don't even think about.  Are you never going to eat any vegetables ever again because of this?  It's the same with anything that is harvested, like grains, nuts, legumes, etc.  The question is, "are you intentionally harming these creatures?"  I think not.  

2).  "If you eat 10 sushi rolls then that equals 10 sheets of nori", and "1 sheet of nori raises your mercury levels by 400%".

I think she may have got confused here.  Either that or she is a really big eater!  Now I'm a big eater, and 10 sushi rolls would be plenty!  You can normally get 10 sushi rolls from 1 sheet of nori, so the dramatic emphasis on levels of mercury are overstated.  It is possible that you will get some mercury from seaweed from polluted sources, but if you choose those sources wisely, then this shouldn't be an issue.  In fact, one of the positive reasons for eating seaweeds is that they are known to bind toxic heavy metals, and so are actually used to remove these from the body.  This function of seaweeds has been used to treat victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and also those of the Fukushima meltdown in Japan. This can be verified with a quick internet search.  If you eat organic seaweeds from safe sources, you will actually be detoxing your body of heavy metals!  If you do choose to eat at sushi restaurants, then you may want to ask them the source of their seaweeds, or more pertinently, ask yourself why you are willing to give your money to a business that directly causes the death of hundreds of thousands of fish every year.

3).  The scenes of environmental destruction.

These are presented in a very 'emotional' context, and this is fair enough for intensively harvested products, but the scenes shown are hardly 'intensive' by modern farming standards.  Harvesting washed up seaweed from the tide line, and 'trawling' from small craft is nothing compared to the widespread intensive farming practices of everyday life, including that of our fruit, grains and vegetables.  If you can honestly say that you only buy fruit, grains, nuts, vegetables and beans from vegan organic growers, then feel free to take the moral high ground,  Realistically, how many people do that?  Yes, in intensive harvesting of seaweed, fish and other creatures will be 'sucked up' and may become part of the end product, but that is no different from a combine harvester processing whole grains, or any other form of harvest. Some small life forms will inevitably be harmed.  Again, the question arises, is this intentional?  If you spend every waking moment inspecting every item that you harvest yourself, then you may avoid harming more little creatures, but how many people are going to do that?  Let's be realistic.  Are you going to stop eating all grains/fruits/nuts/seeds/beans because some creatures are inevitably harmed during harvest?   

While I applaud the video makers concern for the environment, and well being of her fellow vegans, she would be wise to look at the bigger picture, and not see the issue in such 'black and white' terms.

Some seaweeds intensively harvested from polluted sources are undoubtedly harmful, but by choosing seaweed from ethical sources, we can ensure we get an adequate supply of iodine for our thyroid health, detox our bodies of harmful heavy metals, and ensure the health of our digestive systems.  Seaweed is not evil!  Do some research on the subject, and see for yourself.  If you are really adventurous, go out and harvest some!  Living in Cornwall it is really very easy to source from rock pools at low tide.  Kelp, Dulse,  and 'Nori' (Laver) are plentiful in Cornwall, as well as many other edible species.  As long as you take only what you need, and leave the roots intact you will be causing minimal harm.  Be sure to wash well, and leave as many tiny crustaceans behind as you can.  It's no different from picking wild blackberries.

I love the sea.  I love the coast.  Nature provides us with everything that we need for our health and well being,  It's up to us whether we utilise what nature provides and look after as much of the natural world as we can.  We can do this by the choices we make. Choose wisely.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Coast

There must be some fundamental reason why people are drawn to the coast.  They say that human blood has the same salinity as sea water.  Maybe we're trying to stay connected with our roots in aquatic life, and feel pulled towards the sea?  Maybe also in times gone by that reason has been easier access to food and shelter?  In our modern times we are still drawn to the coast, perhaps for what it represents; time away from work and other commitments, time to relax and just be.  For some the thought of living away from the coast is unthinkable, and yes, that includes us.  From early childhood holidays onwards the pull of the sea has been strong in us both, and when we had opportunities to leave our landlocked homes we took them.  

For me as a regular surfer there has been a gradual process of learning, and acclimatisation to being by the coast, and in the sea particularly.  At first being in the sea with small waves was challenging. Then I got used to it, and found a new comfort zone in slightly larger waves.  And so on.  This process still continues to this day, and along the way I have had a few moments where I thought, "I really shouldn't be out here".  Without exception I have learned something from those moments, either about myself or about how the sea works. To use another metaphor, there's something about standing on top of a cliff that sharpens the senses, that makes you feel alive.  You are able to draw on hidden resources that you wouldn't otherwise know you had.

Thankfully (and probably due to a vegan diet) there have been relatively few health challenges to deal with while living by the coast, and most of those have been self inflicted; cycling and surfing injuries mainly.  There has however been one life threatening health problem that I've had to cope with, and is something that may come back fully at any time for the rest of my life.  The onset of this was the single most challenging thing I have ever lived through, and I am in no hurry to repeat, ever. Thankfully I go weeks now and don't even think about it.  During the time I was in the grip of this condition, there was one thing that kept me (relatively!) sane, and that was the coast, the sea, and surfing.  Thankfully I could still surf!  Someone once said that they 'had never had a single conscious thought during the act of riding waves'.  I have found this to be true for me also, and that break in thinking patterns can be enough to put some perspective on difficult situations, and provide a rest from thinking about yourself continuously.  This is why the film below speaks to me so loudly.  The coast can be a healing place for many people.

The Coast from NRS Films on Vimeo.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Polenta Pizza and Other Nice Stuff

It's been a while since we posted about any food we have cooked.  Family commitments and lack of time at Christmas had us just sticking to more standard meals to meet the needs of less 'foody' family members, at the expense of time spent in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes. 

This was our first weekend to ourselves for a while and the weather wasn't doing much to coax us out so it left the way clear to try out a few recipes.

Over the Christmas period I visited the Oxfam bookshop in Truro (great little bookshop by the way).  Not only were they doing a half price sale but I found a copy of the book that accompanies the film Forks Over Knives.  It's a great resource for vegan facts and dietary advice and it has a fair amount of really good recipes in it.  I didn't even know there was a book so am delighted to have found it, let alone in Oxfam.  If you see it anywhere, I would recommend it along with visiting the website for loads more great recipes.

So on to what I cooked - Plant-Powered Polenta Pizza from the Forks Over Knives book was my choice; my shortened quick fire version of which I include below. With this we had BBQ Cauliflower Salad from the latest edition of Vegan Life magazine (although I think you will agree that our version pictured looked nothing like the photo of the recipe on the front cover - still tasted good though!).  All in all it was great to get back in to the kitchen, trying out new recipes and filling our plates with not only dinner for that evening but for lunch the next day.

Polenta Pizza

For the crust the recipe said use 4 cups of water or broth to 2 cups of polenta and 1 teaspoon of salt and to cook it for 40 minutes but... I used 2 cups of quick cook polenta, 6 cups broth (made with water and Marigold vegan bouillon powder) and because the bouillon is quite salty I did not add any salt.  Make sure the broth is boiling and then slowly stir in the polenta.  This took about 5 minutes to become thick in the saucepan (keep stirring or it will stick) and then I scraped the mixture into a pizza pan and spread to the edges with a slight lip to make sure the sauce would stay in place.  I then cooked this at 200 degrees C for 30 minutes.  It got nicely crispy at the edges but not too brown.

For the tomato sauce, again the recipe said 1 pound of tomatoes (best to use lovely deep red organic ones for this), salt, 6 - 8 garlic cloves and fresh herbs of your choice.  I used about 8 medium sized tomatoes, a sprinkle of salt and only one garlic clove (Phil would have killed me if I'd used anymore as it was garlicky enough!).  Quarter the tomatoes and place on a baking tray with the sprinkle of salt and the garlic clove and pop into the oven with the crust for 30 minutes too.  Once  nicely caramelised, pop the mixture into a blender with the herbs of your choice (I used a handful of coriander) and blend to a sauce.

For the cashew cheese, I did stick to the quantities suggested which were - 1 cup cashews, 1/2 lemon juiced, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon of herbs (I used oregano which was lovely) and 1/4 cup water.  I did finely grind the cashews in a spice grinder first (which I think really helped) before then adding all the ingredients into a blender to bring to a consistency which you can roll into little 'balls'.  I might have added a little too much water but I was still able to dollop it on to the pizza in satisfyingly thick spoonfuls!

Other toppings of your choice - for this I wanted to just keep it simple.  I noticed a suggestion to make maple shiitake mushrooms by slicing them and tossing in a frying pan with a splash of both tamari and maple syrup until the liquid is absorbed.  I liked that idea so that's what I went with along with the tomato sauce and cashew cheese.

Assemble pizza by pouring the sauce onto the crust followed by dollops/balls of the cheese and the mushrooms (or topping of your choice).  Bake for a further 10 mins just to cook the toppings.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Cornish Biofuel Research

Wheal Jane contamination
A pioneering research project to clean up a flooded Cornish tin mine is using algae to harvest the precious heavy metals in its toxic water, while simultaneously producing biofuel. 

If the project, which is at a very early stage, is proven to work, it could have huge environmental benefits around the world.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Indian Dub Sunshine

It's a wet, windy and wild Saturday here on the North Cornish coast.  

Time for some sunshine in the form of some Indian Dub whilst I bake some cakes and Phil's shoulders twitch in a Bollywood styley!  All of the above makes me smile; but most of all the 'dancing' from Phil.

Enjoy and let the bass be with you!