Monday, 30 May 2016

Zen Cat and the Art of The Litter Tray

Zen comes in many shapes and forms and means different things for different beings.  If you are a human being, the sight of a Zen garden may create an inner peace, and a time for reflection.  If you are a cat however, it may create an inner paws and a time for defecation. It is after all a personal choice and all part of the Zen Circle of Life.

The cat in this beautiful Zen garden we recently visited demonstrated this perfectly.  As we entered the garden and saw the cat among the perfectly raked 'water lines', Phil commented, "I am Zen Cat.  I have no respect for the formal conventions of the Zen Garden".  

The cat did however seem perfectly at peace within the confines of the garden, knowing that us mere humans would not cross over the boundaries of the Zen Litter Tray.  It communicated to us with subdued meows and gently pawed the gravel, yet still remained at a distance.  A pile of recently mounded gravel signaled the aphorism 'as above, so below' and perhaps 'what goes in, must come out'.  This certainly felt like a Zen and Meow moment.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Coconut Bacon

It is a wonder that any of this homemade coconut 'bacon' made it into the jar.  Ever since we discovered the delights of the shop bought Smokin' Coconut Pecks (right) from Inspiral, I'd been meaning to experiment with making some at home.  

It's taken me a while to find coconut flakes that are big enough though, which I didn't anticipate but seriously it's true!  I got there in the end and then there was no holding me back. There are loads of recipes out there if you just put 'coconut bacon' into a search engine, but it is also easy to work out for yourself too.

For my version I used a 125g packet of coconut flakes.  I chucked them into a big old bowl. I then added about 2 tablespoons of Braggs Liquid Aminos along with a pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt.  Next up is something for that smokey flavour; a few drops of liquid smoke (unless you really like an intense smokiness, in which case add more and go for it).  I have a sweet tooth so this wouldn't be complete unless there was a slight sweet edge to it.  Therefore a tablespoon of the finest maple syrup went in.  Maple syrup goes really well with smokey stuff too.  Finally an edge of umami was needed along with something to stop everything from sticking together. I'm a Mediterranean 'chef' normally so olive oil is my staple but that just wasn't right for this. I therefore turned to Phil's supplies and raided his toasted sesame oil, popping in about a teaspoon.  Now give it a really good mix up until the coconut flakes are all really well coated. Have a taste and imagine that intensified a bit more once it has baked, then adjust to your liking. Spread on a baking tray.  I baked it at 200 degrees C (I remembered that as I pretty much bake everything at that temperature) but I cannot remember for how long exactly; maybe 30 minutes.  The important thing is to keep checking and stirring it and to make sure it isn't burning.

Allow to cool, before jarring up (what's left of what you don't snorkel straight away).  There's no point surmising how long they keep as, well there won't be any to keep beyond a few days!  Now obviously they don't match the raw-ness of the Inspiral ones (which are air-dried rather than baked) but I have to say I think they are just as tasty and you get a whole lot more to snack on in one go by making it yourself!  


Saturday, 21 May 2016

Beetroot Burger Bonanza

I am totally behind with reading my Vegan Life magazines and checking out the recipes. When we came back from Portugal I had two waiting for me and I had almost caught up when I discovered the June edition through the door this afternoon.  I'm by no means complaining as it is wonderful to have so much vegan infused wonders to read and try.

We've still been attempting to catch up in the garden recently too and one of the things still growing from last season is beetroots.  We really didn't know how good they would still be as they had kind of been doing their own thing all winter. Expecting a certain 'woodiness' to them I was pleasantly surprised to discover when I harvested them that they were still okay; small but okay.  With other things to plant out we decided they'd really had as much of a chance to grow as we could give them so out they came. Then I remembered a recipe for beetroot burgers I had seen in the March edition of Vegan Life. It was part of the signature dish of Peter Axworthy, chef at Offbeat in Hampshire.  

This would be a chance to use up our old beetroots, and gain some great nutritional benefits, as beets are a great source of antioxidants, with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

We weren't ready to commit to the full dish for the 'Totally Beet Naked Burger', which also involved making Smoked Caraway Beetroot Hummus, Pear and Cranberry Chutney, Orange and Thyme Steamed Golden Beetroot and Roasted Chickpeas.  As mouth watering as that all sounds (and as lovely as it looked in the magazine photo), we were just interested in trying out the burger recipe on its own.  This is a thyme and chilli beetroot burger incorporating quinoa and a few other stock cupboard ingredients that most people would have to hand.  The only exception may be some chickpea brine (aquafaba) but what vegan doesn't have a can of  chickpeas to hand?  It just so happens that Phil had made a chickpea dish the night before so we had planned and saved the brine for this very recipe.

I have to say it was lovely.  The wonderful earthy flavour of the roasted beetroot entwined perfectly with the thyme, chilli, onion and garlic, and the quinoa added a lovely wholesome texture.   A homemade burger like this far surpasses any shop bought version in both taste and healthiness and is even more satisfying if made predominantly from produce from your very own garden. We have a few more beetroots to use up and I think it is fairly predictable that we will therefore be repeating this recipe again soon.

Now unfortunately I cannot really share this recipe on here due to respect of copyright but if you do have the March 2016 edition of Vegan Life, turn to page 51 and you will find it in all its glory.  Failing that, I did find loads of beetroot burger recipes on-line just by searching for 'vegan beetroot burgers', an example of which is this one from Nava Atlas.  Now my world has been opened up to the idea of beetroot burgers, I'm sure I will be exploring lots of different recipes on this theme in the near future.

Better get some more beetroots growing in the garden then!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Mysterious Gate Gift

You know you live in a lovely place when you come home from work after a long Monday and find a little gift on the step of the gate. We have no idea, at the moment, who might have left these flowers. It could have been several of our neighbours or passing friends (although to be fair not many of our friends would just be passing by our village as it's practically a dead end to the beach!).  This isn't the first time this has happened. We've found home grown figs, apples and jars of jam/chutney just inside our gate or hanging from a bag on our backdoor before. We have eventually found out who left them and perhaps the flower mystery may be solved soon too.  In the meantime, or even if we never find out, how lovely!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Roses are Red, Chocolate is Lovely

We happened upon some Rococo chocolate recently up in Devon.  We fell under the spell of an Organic Dark Chocolate Jasmine bar and a Rococo Rose bar (pictured right).  They both had the official Vegan Society label on them too.  They were only 20g bars and left us wanting more.  

The rose one in particular had us under the influence of a Turkish delight vibe. We've never seen this around these parts though, so with a sudden addiction created for rose infused chocolate, I took it upon myself to try and create our own until such time as we could revisit the official experience.

So keep a look out for this rosy delight but in the meantime, if you want to fall under the spell of what a rose infused chocolate might taste like, give this a go (although we don't profess to have mastered this but still very much enjoyed the result - see top photo).  We randomly added hulled hemp seeds into our version...well just because!

Driftwood  Rosy Chocolate

100g cacao butter
30g hulled hemp seeds
3 tablespoons cacao powder
1 tablespoon yacon syrup
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons rose water
Pinch of Himalayan pink salt

Melt the cacao butter in a glass bowl over a saucepan of hot water.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well until incorporated.  Pour into the molds of your choice and leave to set in the fridge.

We made this recipe up with the ingredients we had to hand.  Perhaps rose oil would work a lot better to impart that rosy taste, but we had rose water so we tried that!  Have a jangle with the ingredients you have to hand.  Be brave, be bold, and have fun!  I bet it will still taste lovely whatever!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Wildebeest Up For Sale

We are very sad to hear that Wildebeest in Falmouth is now up for sale after providing Falmouth, Cornwall, and those many people who have visited from the UK and beyond with the most amazing vegan food over the last two years.  

To say that the Cornish vegan community is devastated by this news is probably an understatement.  After all, if you've eaten at Wildebeest you will know the culinary gap this will leave.  Beyond that there has also always been a distinct pride that one of the premiere vegan restaurants in the country is here in Cornwall, to the extent that I would very rarely let an opportunity pass when I could drop this point into a conversation.  

However, nobody would deny that Rose and Josh's reasons are extremely valid.  Again, if you've been to Wildebeest you will understand how very hard they work and the decision to give up such a successful business is testament to the kind of people they are and the strong and considerate values that hold a compassionate community together.

So we write this post to say thank you to Rose and Josh for bringing Wildebeest to Cornwall, to wish them all the best and also to spread the word.  The best happy ending for everyone would be for Wildebeest to sell quickly and to someone who can continue to fly the Cornish Vegan Flag over Falmouth.

Please see Rose and Josh's message below and do get in touch with them if you are interested.  Let's just say you would be taking on an extremely thriving business with a massively supportive customer base in a beautiful location. Check out their website and Facebook page.  Oh, and we should mention too that Wildebeest rates #6 out of 170 restaurants in Falmouth on TripAdvisor.

Wildebeest's profile photo
Hello everyone,

We’ve got some news to share… After a lot of thought, it’s time for us to announce that we’ve decided to put Wildebeest up for sale. We’ve had a truly fantastic couple of years starting up and running the restaurant, and the response from the local community and beyond has been incredible. It’s still unbelievable to us when the restaurant is jam-packed and we receive such wonderful reviews (we really do have the best customers), and we’ve met so many lovely people!

But as some of you may know, our daughter Luna was born at the start of the year, and we simply feel that our priorities have changed – running a restaurant requires our full time dedication and we feel we can’t then fully dedicate ourselves to raising Luna as we want to.

Thank you so much to everyone for all of your support, we’re super proud of what we’ve achieved and love the fact that Falmouth has so wholeheartedly embraced a completely vegan establishment. We’ll remain open as normal until some nice person decides to buy the business – we’ll keep you all updated, of course. And hey, if you fancy taking on a thriving vegan restaurant that’s good to go, in a prime Falmouth location, get in touch!

Thank you all!
Rose and Josh xxx

Summertime, Maybe.....Almost!

Well the weather recently has certainly warmed up enough to tease us into thinking that summer is on the way.  Okay so yes, it did rain most of the day yesterday; at least on the south coast where I work (the north coast escaped it until much later in the afternoon and Phil therefore enjoyed a lovely bike ride).  Oh and I was lured into wearing shorts this morning as it was again bright sunshine on the north coast when I left home, but unfortunately I hit mist and less shorts wearing weather about half way across to the south. But let's forget all that, as after all there will always be the north/south Cornish weather divide.  It is still warmer and that is what counts.  

It isn't just the weather that is showing signs of summer.  The trees are greening and filling out and it is so lovely to hear the loud joyous singing of the birds from the open car window,  even over the sound of the rush hour traffic as you drive past.  Our seeds are starting to push themselves out of the soil (and into the mouths of the slugs and snails!) and it is wonderful to be able to take some time ' to get ourselves back to the garden' in the evening after work.  

However the thing that has really put a big smile on my face over the last couple of days has been witnessing a blue tit going in and out of our new nesting box in our front garden.  It remains to be seen whether it is just still viewing the property or whether it's signed the contract to move in yet but what a delight to see it even considering it.

So here's to the summer ahead....and as we really haven't been speaking much recently about music, a little appropriate song that I love; especially this version by the formidable lady that is Janis.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Fortify Yourself in Kent

A long overdue visit to my parents, taking advantage of the longer bank holiday weekend, led us 300 miles east to Kent.  My childhood village of Pembury (and still the residence of my parents) is surrounded by woodland and hop and fruit farms.  It remains idylic and firmly reminiscent of my 1970's childhood days of riding chopper bikes over steaming tarmac in the hot summer sun, refreshed by ice cube chilled Ribena served in tupperware beakers.  Although my childhood home and garden remains much the same, even the street outside; around that things have changed.  The roads are much busier, a new bypass pushes its raw way through treasured woodland and the 1970's laid back sun-soaked attitude replaced by an in your face, metallic, mass produced consumer society.  Or maybe I'm just getting old. Despite this Kent remains beautiful in places and the drive from my parents village to the county town of Maidstone still reveals many such places along the way.  

We were heading specifically to Maidstone to investigate the lunch offerings of Fortify, a well established vegetarian cafe, now exclusively vegan.  I hadn't been to Maidstone for probably 30 years and the first thing that struck me was how busy it was.  We weren't used to this!  Even Cornwall's one 'city' Truro is less busy.  After a bit of a battle we finally found somewhere to park.  By now it was early lunchtime and we all decided to head straight to Fortify.  It was much smaller than I had anticipated but we were fortunate enough to still find a table large enough for the four of us and soon we were studying the menu and specials board.  Phil, mum, and myself decided to go for the rather lovely looking cauliflower based quiche that was on specials board.  It came with three generous portions of salad.  Mum is vegetarian and, despite being relatively set in her ways at home with food and in her mid 70's, she is always open to trying different things on outings.  Dad however, in his 80th year and very set in his omnivore ways, was a little more perplexed by our surroundings.  I'm sure we had explained to him we were visiting a vegan cafe beforehand but, upon reading the menu he seemed a little uncertain.  His face lit up however when I pointed out there were choices involving baked beans (all be it from the kids menu!).  Baked beans are my dad's desert island food and he would quite happily eat them every day, including for Christmas dinner.  So he ordered the Bloomer Toast and Beans from the kids menu and, upon my suggestion that it might not be quite enough for him, he also ordered the Simple Sausage Toastie.  I did wonder how he would react when his sacred cup of tea was served with plant milk!

By now the cafe was really busy with even the few seats outside on the pavement taken.  Orders are taken and paid for at the counter and so I dutifully queued up to place my order.  I have to say at this point I was torn between two worlds.  I was positively enthused by the fact that a vegan eatery was so buzzing and busy. As a vegan, who wouldn't be delighted by this?  It was indeed very much evident that this plant based approach to catering was not only very popular but positively 'bursting at the seams'.  That said my 10 minutes at the counter ordering the food and waiting for the drinks orders to be completed were a little torturous; as other customers on their way to the toilet and staff bringing out the completed orders squeezed past the narrow gangway.  I also really felt for the staff as the queue was building and the space they were working in small. After these few minutes of slight stress however, I returned to our table and I have to say the food appeared really very quickly.

The food had us very much making appreciative noises.  The portions were really generous, wholesome and tasty.  My mum even looked a little panicked about whether she would be able to eat all her food (bless her she is never one to waste food).  My dad meanwhile was really relieved and tucking into his 'beans on toast'.  He was however instantly suspicious of his cup of tea.  Damn it, I had ordered hemp milk with his tea in the hope of 'sneaking it under the radar' as I think (but who knows after 30 years of veganism) hemp milk is the closest to moo juice I can remember.  I was however busted.  Likewise with the sausage toastie.  However, he still admitted he had enjoyed it and indeed had taken joy in the fact that mum had enjoyed her lunch too.  Our only regret was at that point, we had no space for any of the delicious cake offerings available.  Anxious to make way for more hungry diners we therefore vacated our table.

After a quick walk around the town centre, with an emphasis on visiting the charity shops, we all decided that it was all a bit too busy and, with our limited parking now running out, thought it was time to quit whilst we were ahead.  We couldn't however resist a final visit to Fortify to pick up some treats for later.  Sausage rolls, rocky road, chocolate and peanut cake, a raw bounty cake, and some of their fabulous homemade cashew cheddar later (which had been on our quiche earlier), all packaged to take out, we were on our way back to the leafy quiet of Pembury.  What a lovely day of eating it proved to be, as later that evening we tucked into the additional Fortify treats.  The cheese managed to make it back to Cornwall but lasted a mere two days before that was completely consumed too.

It was a lovely weekend visit, and a lovely chance to take my parents out for lunch at the same time as experiencing tasty, fresh and nutritious food from Fortify.  I believe that during the evening opening Fortify does operate a waiting service and I have to say I think the lunchtime would have been a little less stressful for diners if that had applied (and possibly staff too?).  That really is the only criticism I could offer about Fortify.  However, I am no expert on running a cafe and I imagine there are reasons that this is not practical for them.  I would love to see this cafe grow and grow and given the current busy customer base they have coupled with the standard of food they offer, I believe this is inevitable.  I imagine the next time I visit they may well be in much bigger premises and that can only be a very positive thing on all counts.

Be sure to visit and Fortify yourself at 32 High Street, Maidstone, ME14 1JF.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Lessons in Portuguese

I love cook books, I love challenging myself and I love Portugal.  So I was delighted when, on our recent visit to Portugal, I found a cook book with all but one recipe in it being vegan (I think, unless my translations have gone a bit wrong!). So it is actually written in Portuguese, and that is the challenging bit; I'll have to practice my Portuguese to decipher it.

The recipes take macrobiotic principles to Portuguese cuisine, but also fused with other global influences. They are simple and healthy, and the ingredients lists are not very long either which helps a lot with translating too!  The author is Marta Horta Varatojo who, among other things, works at the Macrobiotic Institute of Portugal. You can find out more about the book, Marta, and even check out loads of her recipes from the links above.  Don't worry you can use the on-line translate tool if you want to cheat and read it in English!

I'm really looking forward to getting into the kitchen and trying some of the recipes out; armed of course with my Portuguese dictionary!  Expect more posts in the future about these recipes.  There are worse ways of learning a different language.