Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Vegan Horticultural Inspiration

We've just returned home after four weeks away to discover a jungle.  It's that time of year when not only everything puts on a wonderful green surge but that you also realise you should have really put more thought into what you're going to grow this year, let alone have already got on with it.  We're not into 'trim and proper' gardening but even our grass had gone a bit too 'punk rock' upon our return.  We'd done a bit of thinking whilst away, inspired by the wonderful produce in Portugal and the well maintained plots that almost every household seems to have as standard.  We were also inspired by the wine we drunk whilst thinking and discussing garden plans, which is why perhaps upon returning, the reality of the 'jungle' we faced didn't quite match the hazy images of those sun soaked evenings.

Luckily our first weekend home was a sunny one and with shorts and t-shirts on we set to it. Our plan was 'organic', literally; meaning as we cleared we planned.  We still had some produce in the garden to use and work around; Kale de Nero, spring onions, chard, leeks, beetroot and rocket.  We still had seed (saved seed from last years crop, bought seed from last years stock and some newly acquired seed, some of which we got in Portugal).  Then there is crop rotation to think about, and also more cunning ways to outwit little hungry beasties from devouring our veggies, as well as deterring the neighbourhood cats from shitting in our beds.  Oh and not forgetting the wonderful complexities of sharing your garden with badgers. There really is a lot to think about and do.

As vegans and people who care about the environment and our health, growing our own produce and providing and protecting a naturally supportive environment is really a hugely positive step.  However, beyond not using chemical or animal derived fertilisers, composts or so called 'pest controls' and employing a bit of companion planting, I can't help but feel that I'm a bit in the dark, have a lot to learn, and even whether I'm doing everything to the best of my vegan ability.

For anyone with similar thoughts you'll be pleased to know that help is at hand.  Whether you live in Cornwall and Devon or fancy a trip to our beautiful 'neck of the vegan woods', The Naturally Vegan Plot is offering the opportunity to get involved and learn either by volunteering or joining one of their up and coming courses.  We wrote about them a little earlier in the year, but our sudden 'garden panic' has once more highlighted my worries about getting it right.  Sure, we will probably muddle through with successes, a few failures and the usual surrender to the slug, snail and cabbage white invasion, but given a bit more connection and time we could probably achieve so much more; even in our small space.  If you feel the same have a look at what The Naturally Vegan Plot are up to at the moment. For example on 17th May there is an organised field trip to Agroforestry Research Trust Forest Garden in Dartington, Devon.  The cost is £10 and includes entry and transport in a shared vehicle.  For further details check out the link above.

Then in June, for an experience that is bound to be far from 'bog standard', a two day Compost Toilet course is available for a very reasonable £80, especially as it includes vegan food and accommodation!  

The end of July sees Part 1 of an Introduction to Woodland/Forest Gardening.  This two day course covers the theoretical side of things and is led by Graham Burnett, world renowned vegan permaculture design teacher of Spiralseed and author of 'Permaculture - A Beginners Guide' and 'The Vegan Book of Permaculture'.  

The practical follow up and Part 2 of this course runs on 10th and 11th September, again led by Graham.  Both of these courses are £95 each, and also includes vegan food and accommodation. 

For food and accommodation alone for two days in the beautiful Cornish countryside that sounds like a bargain, even without the learning potential from this well respected expert in the field!  You can book both parts of the course for a discounted price of £175 if you book before 28th May.
Design Process Guide by Aranya
Also starting in September, The Naturally Vegan Plot is offering a Basic Level On-Site Permaculture Design Training opportunity in the form of a five day Introduction to Permaculture. This is led by Aranya, again a world renowned vegan permaculture design teacher and also author of 'Permaculture Design - A Step By Step Guide'. £300 is the price for this one, including vegan food and accommodation and a discount is available if booked before 28th June.

If courses aren't your thing, then there are plenty of volunteering and socialising opportunities at the Plot.  If you have the time and energy you would be made very welcome so get in touch with them via their website or Facebook page for updates on what is going on.  They also have a kickstarter campaign should you wish to donate to this great project.

Now please excuse me as I have loads more seeds to plant, watering to be done, digging, harvesting, checking on the cat protection, slugs and snails we've collected to take for a little ride down to the end of the headland, and the front garden to put back together again after the female badger decided to have a little rampage last night, bless her furry little socks.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Portuguese Driftwood

We apologise for the lack of posts recently.  It is the time of year for our annual month long trip to the sunnier climes of Portugal, where our wild camper van exploits tend to limit our access to wi-fi and therefore blogging opportunities.  Here however, for those with an interest in what Portugal offers for those of a vegan persuasion, is a rough guide and if you check out our previous few years posts around March or April you will find lots of further hints, tips and findings from our Southern Portuguese wanderings in camper van and tent.

Years ago and when we first planned a trip to Portugal, we were slightly concerned about what our food options would be.  We were at least self-catering, being back then in a tent, so with the expectation of being able to buy fruit and vegetables easily, and with a good stock of travelling grains and spices, we took off into the unknown.  Our trusty camp stove would save the day.

It is almost embarrassing now to remember how na├»ve we were back then.  Portugal was not the meat and fish engrossed nation we had anticipated.  If anything it has opened our eyes further to more and more delicious food options each year that we have returned.

Now don’t expect to walk into any restaurant and have your vegan needs met unerringly.  It’s possible but by no means common and let’s face it, it’s very rarely the case in the UK anyway unless it’s a veggie/vegan establishment.  Yes Portugal still is behind in many ways when it comes to veganism and there aren’t that many veggie restaurants around, let alone vegan (although we might add we believe it is a different story in places like Lisbon but we are not big city dwellers so can’t offer much of an insight into that).  However, you would no doubt be surprised by the options available in normal supermarkets.  In most cases the choice is better than in UK supermarkets.  Ever seen seitan in the chiller section of Sainsburys or Tescos?  No, us neither.  But from our experience, you go to any Intermarche or Continente and there it is alongside tofu choices, and at a much cheaper price than you would find in the UK too.  What’s more you will find a whole aisle dedicated to health food options; that’s both sides on an aisle not just a tucked away ‘Free From’ section on half of one side of an aisle.  There you will find a massive range of herbal teas, packets of very interesting loose herbs, gluten free, sugar free and dairy free options and a whole section of meat free burgers, sausages, meat balls, seitan and tofu.  These are generally jarred or in ‘ambient’ packaging so great for our non-refrigerated  camper van stock cupboard.

Even without these ‘health food’ sections, the supermarkets offer a wealth of options with simple ingredients.  The jars of beans alone have my mouth watering with my particular favourites being the feijao manteiga (butter bean).  They are chestnut brown over here and a world away from the pale UK versions.  We try to bring packets of dried butter beans home with us but unfortunately the last couple of years we’ve been unable to find them for some reason.  Instead we just have to stock up on a few jars or tins and ration them.

Then there are the vegetables and fruit.  We haven’t figured out yet whether it is just that we are on holiday or it’s the outdoor life style we are living or whether there is something very different about the fruit and vegetables over here.  They taste amazing, so much so that we have been addicted for the past three days to potatoes and cabbage alone.  And the oranges; well they are so amazing that my dad even demands we return with some for him and he doesn’t even eat that many oranges.  Perhaps the earth here isn’t as overworked, overburdened and de-mineralised as British soil?  Perhaps the reliance on chemical fertilisers is less or the sun ripened produce is just that much more naturally energised?  Let’s just say that if, all those years ago our assumptions had been correct and fruit and vegetables were the only viable options, well it would still have been as amazing.

Health food stores do indeed exist out here too and, although from our experience they are more the white-coated sales assistant sort rather than the darkened, wooden shelved, muddy organic veg, pulsing delights of the left over 60’s hippy revolution of the UK, they do still offer undiscovered delights.   The fridges are often stocked with seitan, soya, tofu and some surprisingly different options, such as the thick potato tortillas that we discovered last year in a health food store in Lagos.  Unfortunately, being chilled items, we are unable to transport such delights home by the van load.  Believe us, we would if we could.

Moving away from the health food side of things and more on to the naughty delights (although the resveratrol has its benefits it seems), we would also like to point out that Portuguese wine is amazing and there are plenty of vegan options out there too.  For lots of vegan options check out previous posts that appear around March and April each year on our blog!  As the actual filtering of wine, and the ingredients used to do it is the main problem in whether a wine is vegan or not, we look for wines that are labelled as not being filtered or those that say they ‘throw a deposit with time’, an indication of not being filtered.   

For the first time during our trips to Portugal, this year we also saw a wine that was actually labelled as being vegan.  That is indeed progress.  You would be surprised at how many options are out there.  Most of them taste a world away from UK brought options (food miles has a lot going for it) and at the fraction of the price.

To summarise, don’t be frightened as a vegan to explore Portuguese culinary delights.  Sometimes a step backwards in time reconnects oneself with the true basics of wholesome nutritional food and away from the reliance on the modern day less natural processed alternatives.  If you come only with the expectation that the fruit and vegetables on offer are amazing, Portugal has a lot to teach us and remind us of, as well as offering surprising alternatives should you find it too difficult to get back to the basics.