Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Vegan Mediterranean Buffet Vibe

We were missing the Mediterranean food vibe after only having been back in the UK a few days.  We were also missing the whole Eurasia buffet thing.  This coupled with the delight of having a whole kitchen to stand in and an oven to cook in (as opposed to the seated cooking position over Miles' two hob kitchen), meant I had a sudden desire to spend a leisurely couple of hours of culinary creativity.

First off I really fancied tofu steaks, a simple oven baked delight we hadn't had for a while.  I also hadn't had my favourite polenta for a while so a bake was in order to slice up and enjoy hot or cold.  Seeing as I was aiming at a 'MedVeg' vibe meal I added in the treat of sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, roasted artichoke hearts and a good sprinkle of oregano to the basic crust for polenta pizza.  Before you bake it just stir in all the extras before it starts setting too much and then top off with a few naughty slices of vegan cheese (I used Mozzarella Teese).  

Then it was on to sorting out a selection of salads and healthy accompaniments.  We still had carrots growing in a patch that we needed to reseed so this was a perfect excuse to pull a few up.  Our annual rocket patch was well and truly greening up too.  This meant we had at least two of the ingredients on hand for a superfood salad so that went on the menu along with some beetroot and some lovely olives brought back from Portugal, as well as the simple avocado and tomato salad we had made during our time in Portugal.

Now it was time to venture forth and create some new things instead of just revisiting old favourites so no more links to past recipes and here are the other four salads/dishes I made to complete my little MedVeg buffet.  All the recipes below made a good quantity (enough for the two of us for this meal and also a big lunch).

Warm Mediterranean Chickpea Salad 
Splash of lovely olive oil for frying
1 small red onion 
1 can (400g) of chickpeas
Approximately 1/2 smallish jar of roasted artichoke hearts
Approximately 12 pitted olives
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of lovely olive oil (for dressing)

Chop the onion to the size you prefer (depending on whether you like big or little chunks) and fry in the oil until slightly browning.
Add the chickpeas and stir until heated through and even slightly browning too if you like that vibe.
Roughly chop the artichoke hearts and stir in along with the olives (halved or not - it's up to you!).
As the dressing, finally add in the lemon juice and olive oil and stir.
Done.  Keep warm, or actually it tastes good cold too.

Mushrooms with Coriander and Mint
I didn't write the amounts for this dish down so I say, just make it up as you go along like I did but basically........

In olive oil fry up a small onion and some garlic then add in sliced mushrooms (perhaps about 10 or so big ones for a dish for two) and continue frying until slightly browning (not too much though).  Add in the juice of one lemon, a good handful of chopped fresh coriander and about half a handful of chopped fresh mint. Let it simmer away for about 5 minutes gently and there is only a small amount of juice left. Serve warm but as with the chickpea dish, it's good cold too.

Apple, Celery and Sesame Seed Salad
This is super quick and simple and I'm sure everybody has made this already but I'll mention it all the same.

Chop up an apple (skin on), about 3 stalks of celery and mix with olive oil and cider vinegar to taste.  Slightly roast up or dry fry some sesame seeds and then throw them in to the mix, and stir it up.  Either leave it at that or add in a sprinkle of dried flat leaf parsley and dried dill and give it a final stir.

Quinoa Nutty Raisin Salad
Again, a simple and probably much made variation on the theme but worth making a big batch up to keep for those 'healthy but snacky' moments.  As per the norm with me; amounts are random but you get the idea I'm sure.  Pretty much any other grain would work with this too.

Cook up some quinoa (if you were feeling super lazy you could buy one of those ready cooked packets).  
Soak some raisins in a bit of water to plump up.
Roast or dry fry some cashews till starting to brown.
Finely chop up a few spring onions (we had some of these in the garden growing too).
Finely chop up a red pepper.  I like to use roast pepper for this but you could just use raw too.
Add all of the above into a big old bowl.
Stir in soya sauce (or Braggs Liquid Aminos) and toasted sesame oil to taste and give it a massive mix up.  Sprinkle in some dried flat leaf parsley too if you fancy.

Phew, before I knew it that was two hours gone but in front of me on the table was an array of colourful dishes to tuck in to.  Even better was the lunch box it filled the next day too!


Sunday, 26 April 2015

Cococaravan Welcome Home Package


How wonderful it is to return from holiday to a big package of vegan raw chocolate courtesy of Coco Caravan. 

Before we went away we got involved in a Kickstarter project with Cococaravan and now we have received this chocolaty delight of a package with the added bonus of a box of unexpected Easter Eggs. 

How very lovely and thanks Jacques!!

So with the help of those who got involved Cococaravan have now bought a small tempering machine, allowing them to increase their output, (which is always good!), they are talking to the Vegan Society to get an official logo on their packaging and are now stocking more shops thanks to the attention from the project (so get it down here in Cornwall Jacques!).  

Read all about their progress here.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Views from Our Window Part 6 (Final)

By day

It is with sadness that our trip to Portugal finally draws to a close and we offer you the final 'Views From Our Window' of Miles the Camper Van.  Once more we found ourselves on top of the mountain and looking towards the south coast.  We sat sipping our wine, soaking up the sun, taking in this view.  As the light started to fade, the local cicada and frog population kicked in to their evening song and the human light display below sparked up.

Meanwhile we reflected on how lovely our time had been here in Portugal and how Miles had taken us to ever more wilder and quieter places.  We also reflected on however hard it is to come to the end of a much enjoyed holiday, returning to our life in our little village by the sea in Cornwall ain't all that bad either!

By night

Friday, 24 April 2015

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Oranges look and taste amazing in Portugal and as an added bonus, they are super cheap to buy too.  So as well as enjoying them during our trip regularly, we also bought a pile to take home with us.

The lemons are amazing too. They might not look as 'cutesy' as the ones we get over here but their big and gnarly appearance does well to hide the juicier and more fragrant properties of these citrus beasts. A couple will be coming home with us too.

I've enjoyed the odd lemon tea here and there in the past but have never been hoopla about it.  Whilst we have been in Portugal, Phil and I read a quirky little book called 'Portugal Unveiled'.  The author seemed very fond of his chá de limão; lemon tea basically.  However, it wasn't lemon tea as we know it; that is a wedge or slice of lemon topped off with boiling water. It seems we may have been doing it wrong all along as in Portugal lemon tea not only tastes better but is actually made with just a thick slice of the zest alone.  We ordered it at our favourite Portuguese veggie restaurant Eurasia and inquired as to whether they used just the zest. The 'of course' look we got confirmed that there was no other way as far as the Portuguese are concerned.  The result was just so much tastier and fresher than any lemon tea I had tried before. Who would have thought that such a small change could make such a difference?  

We are hoping that once our Portuguese lemon stock has gone we can continue to get similar results with the lemons available over here.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Views from Our Window Part 5

As our trip around Southern Portugal continues we search the many 'off the beaten track' places only found by being brave enough to turn off the surfaced roads and literally take to the 'beaten up tracks'. We hope Miles the camper forgives us for his resulting dusty appearance.  

The way isn't always obvious, even with a relatively detailed map, but then isn't that the challenge and the beauty of life sometimes? You can find yourself somewhere new and beautiful in time or space just by taking a completely different direction.  That is at least what I told Phil when I 'directed' him to a completely different beach to the one he was expecting.  Now, I am actually not bad at map reading but when it comes to deciphering the difference between Portuguese place names that both begin with 'M' and both have lots of 'R's and 'C's in them that are only 1" apart on this particular map and had been pointed to very quickly by Phil before he took off driving; well you get the picture.  Let's just say Phil was not amused, particularly after this 'wrong' track was especially bumpy and long and the resulting beach was down an inaccessibly high cliff and there was no surf in sight .   We got there in the end though and in the meantime, got to see somewhere different......didn't we Phil?  In retrospect, and having found the correct beach, Phil does now agree.

Some tracks were well worth the bumpy dusting and this one in particular was probably our favourite, resulting in a few nights stay.  The surf, the sunsets, the clear air, the view and the quietness; it all made the food and wine taste better and the sleep deep and contented.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

More Than a Hint of Cornwall in Portugal

There are aspects of Portugal that are very much like Cornwall; some of the coastline, the surf, the clear clean air, certainly the coastal wind and also the laid back attitude (apart from with their driving!).  What we didn't expect to see in Portugal is something so utterly Cornish that it appears on Cornwall's Coat of Arms; the chough.

We had taken a morning stroll over the cliffs and to the next beach along to check the surf (and to avoid driving the long, bumpy and dusty track to do the same).  As is often the case with Phil he suggested continuing past said beach (the surf was no good on this particular day) to 'see what was around the next corner'.  Some minutes later, and after a steep ascent of the clifftop on the other side, we were picking our way along the clifftop through the random tracks among the fragrant shrub when we heard a familiar shriek.  Two glossy black birds tumbled and swirled briefly overhead before plunging headlong and disappearing over the sudden and dramatic cliff edge.  We both looked at each other in disbelief.  Surely they couldn't have been choughs all the way down here in Portugal?  Neither of us were aware of them being this far south.  

In the brief overhead flight of the two black birds, we had not had time to spot any glint of orange on beak or leg.  We needed a closer look so our walk along the cliff turned into a patient and enjoyable sit on the sunny clifftop to listen and watch for any further evidence of the characterful chough. 

Perhaps we had imagined the sighting in a combination of Cornish homesickness and sunstroke? However, very soon the evidence was surrounding us in a demonstration of noisy and acrobatic flight with flashes of orange beak and legs clearly visible in the flutter and swoop of black feather. They were indeed choughs.  

We sat transfixed as along various parts of the cliff east and west we saw no less than six pairs. This indeed was a treat to the eye and camera lens (luckily I had a relatively long lens with me to capture the wonders in front of us). 

If it hadn't been for the need to return back to the van for water, which we had neglected to take with us for the originally short walk we had planned, I have no doubts I would have still been sat there now watching them!  

A search on the internet once back in wi-fi range did indeed confirm the existence of choughs in Portugal. They are locally extinct in many parts of the country but, although in decline, remain in this particular area of the Algarve.  It seems that Phil's constant desire to see what was around the next corner paid off big time in this case.  

I was more than choughed!  Now I know where you can search them out in Portugal I am sure to return to this spot next year with a bigger lens, sun cream and a big bottle of water.

For details on one of our Cornish viewings of choughs have a read of this previous post from last year. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Views from Our Window Part 4

Our ever changing views from the window continue with two more offerings from our trip to Portugal.

We stayed here for one night only on one of our trips up the coast.  You can't really tell from the photo, but we were parked up about 6ft away from a sheer 300ft drop down to the sea below.  I didn't realise it at the time, but Scooby was having dreams of collapsing cliffs and landslides that night. The only other disturbances were the local fishermen who came and went through the evening.  In a strange parallel to surfing, it was amusing to watch them turn up and see if there was anyone fishing from 'their spot' on the cliffs.  At one point a car roared up, checked the cliffs, and drove off again. The driver returned shortly after with a friend and lots of fishing gear.  In the meantime 'their spot' had been taken by some others who had arrived, and their disappointment was obvious.  Our Portuguese isn't good enough to pick up on exactly what they were saying, but we both thought it was peppered with expletives.  

The first night we arrived in Portugal it rained, and we both thought "here we go again", but the next day dawned bright and sunny and over the coming days the temperatures just continued to rise. When they reached 29 degrees we headed for the mountains to cool off a little.  This is the top of Foia near Monchique, the highest point in the Algarve, looking south towards Lagos and Portimao.  The clear air and cooler temps kept us up here for 2 nights, until the urge to find waves took hold once more.  

Scooby decided to go for a run 'off the mountain' and we decided on a quiet route, and I was going to meet her lower down.  As we only had one phone between us, I decided to leapfrog her in the van as she ran and it was a good job too, as our well planned route saw us stopping at various points to confirm the way from the maze of unmarked tracks, and at one point turning around in someones driveway a little too far up a narrow mud track for comfort.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Simple Vegan Camper Van Food

Our trip to Portugal hasn't all been about surfing and wine! Food also plays a big part and cooking within Miles the camper van means sticking to simple and relatively quickly prepared cuisine.  That doesn't have to mean it is any less tasty though.  So here is a 'taste' of some of the things we prepared during our trip; a couple repeated from previous years but still very much top choices whilst on the move.

cropped-triple-shot.jpgFirst up is breakfast.  We've made Overnight Chai Oats for a few years now but I'd never thought to make it whilst camping before so this year I packed a couple of kilner jars (with bagged up grains inside them for space saving) into Miles' 'kitchen'.  I also packed oats, chai spices, chia seeds, and raisins in our food stock before we left. In addition I included a bottle of Bee Free Honee that my sister had sent over from the US. We'd saved it for our trip as it doesn't require refrigeration so is an ideal camper van treat and alternative to the maple syrup that would need to be kept in the fridge.   Plant based milks are readily available both in heath food stores and supermarkets in Portugal so no problem there.  We changed the recipe slightly here and there, adding goji berries instead of raisins at times and also adding in pumpkin seeds, which we highly recommend to give it an extra crunch and nutritional kick. We do have a fridge in Miles but we generally don't use it, to cut down on the need to use lots of power.  However, the overnight temperatures in the van weren't such that the oats would suffer any consequences from lack of being sat in the fridge.  Indeed the oats were actually a cool temperature the next morning and perfectly ready to be devoured heartily.

The chia seeds came in useful too for a little simple and healthy drink I took to making as a variation to the water, lime juice, chia seed and maple syrup 'running tonic' featured in the ultramarathon book 'Born to Run' and also featured as a 'Chia Fresca' on Wildebeest's drinks menu. With an ample supply of cheap fresh limes around it was never a problem to squeeze some juice into a bottle, top up with coconut water and throw in some chia seeds. Let it sit for about 10 minutes or so and there you go, a refreshing and tasty drink to enjoy in the heat of the day.  I made a few of these just in time for Phil to come out from the surf and he very much appreciated the refreshment.

What could be simpler and more Portuguese for lunch than bread, olives and Padron peppers?  Much of the non-packaged bread in Portugal was simply made from flour, yeast, water and salt; what all good bread should only contain.  It was extremely tasty too so needless to say we enjoyed our daily bread fresh from the bakery.  Olives in Portugal; well that is a no-brainer and then Padron peppers....well, that is a match made in heaven.  We can actually get Padron peppers over here now at around this time of year but they are never as good as the ones in Portugal, so we generally take full advantage of our location and enjoy them a fair amount; simply fried whole in olive oil and sprinkled with a little salt.

Whilst we are on the subject of simple lunches, how about a simple salad of sliced juicy tomatoes and avocados with a splash of olive oil and cider vinegar?  The tomatoes in Portugal are ripe and plump as are the avocados which are also about twice the size of the ones we generally find over here.  We happened to have both on hand one day and I fancied some raw food so combined them and found it to be 'more than the sum of its simple parts'. It made me wonder whether we over complicate food sometimes!

On to a favourite from the last couple of years now; a filling creamy pasta dish.  Follow the link from last year for the full recipe but basically it is made with fava (broad) beans, mushrooms, leeks, pasta and a plant based cream.  In Portugal you can readily buy fava beans fresh and still in their pods.  You can also get cartons of oat or almond cream in supermarkets or health food stores.  We even found spelt cream this year.  A variation we made this year was on the one occasion we couldn't find fava beans but happened across a package of gnocchi that was vegan in the refrigerated section of a supermarket.  It might not have been quite as healthy as the fava bean version but it was very tasty!

Our final simple suppers offering is another creation from the kitchen of Phil - Sweet Potato and Feijao Manteiga (that is butter bean in English) Stew.  The butter beans in Portugal aren't the huge white jobs that you get over here. They are small, 'meaty' (probably the wrong word to use as a vegan but you get the idea!), earthy, brown beans. You get them in cans, jars and also dried. When camping we buy them in jars or cans ready cooked but we always return with a fair few packets of dried ones for use at home.  

This stew is a hearty, protein packed offering which we mostly enjoyed with a couple of slices of that lovely Portuguese bread on the side, maybe a few olives here and there and okay, yes, maybe a glass or two of vinho tinto!

Sweet Potato and Feijao Mantiega Stew
The recipe below obviously uses the butter beans we get in Portugal but you could use any beans that you so please.  By the way, we also always travel with a small stash of herbs and spices!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek (sliced)
1 red pepper (cut into chunks)
1 teaspoon hot paprika powder
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
Black pepper (a few grinds or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sun dried tomato paste
2 large sweet potatoes (peeled and cut into 1" cubes)
250g dried beans (or 2 cans cooked)
3 teaspoons oregano (fresh or dried)

1.  Soak the beans for 48 hours, rinse well and then cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes if using dried.
2.  Saute the leek and pepper in oil until soft.
3.  Add the two lots of paprika, black pepper and salt and saute for one minute.
4.  Add the tomato paste and stir in.
5. Add the sweet potato, beans and oregano and then enough water/bean cooking liquid to cover by 1/2" and simmer for 25 minutes.

Travel and enjoy!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Views from Our Window Part 3

Step over a few rocks and you are on the beach.  Park for free next to the sand all year round.  Portugal is a country where you feel a sense of freedom that has been missing in the U.K. since the 1980's.  This is possibly our favourite south coast spot in the Algarve, where the waves can be mellow as on this day, or top-to-bottom heavy and hollow when bigger.  On the best days the wave starts breaking on a rock shelf in 2-3 feet of water, and then peels left all the way across the beach.  Last year the huge winter storms had completely stripped the beach of sand, leaving only sharp rocks on view and underfoot. Thankfully this year the sand has returned and this means it can be surfed through longer stages of the tides.  10 surfers here is a crowd.  It's such a pleasure to turn up here before 'word has got out' that there is surf, and grab a few waves before the crowds descend.  

This is a spot off a dirt track on the west coast, parked up among the maquis with the roar of distant waves, and the smell of freshly walked on or driven over wild herbs providing a heady scent to enliven the senses.  For the sheer sense of isolation and quiet, this spot turned out to be a favourite of ours.  Our initial drive out here was a 20 minute bump up and down a track that we were never quite sure went anywhere, until we found this spot.  A close inspection of a walking map provided a much quicker route out here from the nearest village.  It is always worth going a little further to see what is around the next corner.  You never know what you might find.  The clear evenings and star-lit nights out here were truly magical.  

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Portuguese Vegan Wine Rack 2015

When you are living in a van for almost a month, especially with a 6’ 2” surfer, two surf boards, all the resulting surf paraphernalia and enough food for two food loving vegans, you learn to get creative with space.  I’m a naturally tidy person anyway, which helps, and hate to live with unnecessary clutter.  Everything, in my eyes, should have its place.

Wine certainly has its place in our time in Portugal.  It does not count as clutter either but does however require creative thinking when it comes to storage within the van.  It should be on hand, kept at the right temperature, on view to us for aesthetic and ease of choice reasons and most of all immune from the dusty, bumpy single tracks of back of beyond Portugal.  What better place therefore to locate our van ‘wine rack’ than nestled between our yoga mats just behind the front seats. 

We’ve had some new additions to our Portuguese wine rack this year, having discovered so far five new unfiltered tintos as well as enjoying a few discoveries from previous years.  The trick to searching out these wines is to look on the label for an indication that the wine has not been filtered (hence none of the nasty non vegan stuff they use to clear the sediment).  We don’t speak Portuguese (yet, but we are learning) but we find it pretty easy to read and decipher the labels.  Some even have English translations on them.  There is one example in the photo which translates as ‘Wine not filtered, subject to creating a deposit’.  We’ve actually been surprised at how many we have found just by taking a little time reading the labels.

So on to the vegan wines we have discovered this year; which are all red I’m afraid due to our preference for such.

Monte Alentejano 2010 - from the Alentejano region - around €3
The cheapest offering we found and one that was marked as 'natural wine that may develop some sediment'.  We were a bit dubious at first thinking that the price may have meant it was a bit rough around the edges (what snobbery!).  It was however surprisingly 'quaff-able'. See photo of bottle at bottom next to the Quinta Do Barridas.

Fuzeta 2012 - from the Algarve - around €5
At €5 it is a bargain but is a bargain always good?  Well yes; again this Algarvian red was very acceptable and smooth.......unless that is the wine talking.

Monte Do Alem 2010 - from the Algarve - around €9
Another Algarvian offering (well you have to keep it local don't you?).  Phil said "Yeah it was nice.  It had hints of toasted oak, 7 year old mulberries, blackberries, a hint of Madagascan vanilla" and other things he dreamt up whilst under the influence, or took from descriptions on the labels of various bottles.  I really enjoyed it but, like Phil, I'm no expert either.

Quinta Do Infantado - from the Douro region - around €9
We had actually seen this in the UK (in Wholefoods in Cheltenham) for considerably more (a 2008 Reserva was £28.99).  This was a lovely smooth wine that we enjoyed on more than one occasion.  There is also a port (pictured) from Quinta Do Infantado that is unfiltered and therefore vegan so quite obviously (although we are very recent port fans) we had to secure a couple of bottles of this for the purposes of research once home.

Quinta Do Barridas 2012 Selecao - from the Algarve - around €9.50
We only had this wine once as it must have been on a deal when we got it first time.  After that we only saw it on sale for at least €14.00 which is pushing the boundaries of vino snobbery for us!  Needless to say we must have expensive tastes as we really enjoyed this.

Our favourite however remains a discovery from last year and a wine found not only in supermarkets in the Algarve but also in a health food store!  It is Monte da Casteleja Classico and it was around the €10 mark.  Classico by name and classico by taste too!  

For details on other wines we have enjoyed in the past follow this link.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Views from Our Window Part 2

Looking north

Our journey in Portugal continues and, after a tip off from a friend, and the mandatory bumping Miles for miles down a dusty track, we found a cliff top to ourselves and perfect waves below.  We remained here in beautiful isolation until the swell dropped and the wind switched, and it was time once more to fill up with water and supplies.  Time also to switch the view from the window and move on to other waves and vistas.

Looking South