Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A New Lion, A Vegan Pagan, and a Sprig of Heather

We like a beer or two, it has to be said.  We like the old vino tinto too, but a cold beer is definitely the 'weapon of choice' when it comes to summer time.  We've found some corking vegan choices over the last few months.  Not only does our favourite local brew continue to be delivered on cask to our local pub with a view, but we have discovered three lovely new additions to our 'bottled beer quiver'.

First off is one from over the border in Devon.  We actually ran into the guys from the Totnes based New Lion Brewery at the Dartington Food Fair back at the end of May, but our summer then took on such a spin we didn't get a chance to write about their lovely beery offerings.  

New Lion Brewery was launched in November 2013 by a passionate group of locals.  They wanted to revive the once hugely successful Lion Brewery, which led the brewing trade in Totnes for over 70 years before it ceased trading in the 1920's. The project wasn't just about boosting the local economy again though.  They are serious about making beers that stand out as celebrated and different; beer that indeed enhances and runs alongside the existing reputation that Totnes already has as an alternative and progressive town. If you know Totnes you will know that sustainability is therefore naturally very much part of their ethos too, with links within their team to Transition Network and Transition Town Totnes. Seasonality and collaboration with a wide range of local food producers follows on from this, along with the brewing of limited edition beers in support of various emergent enterprises and projects.  If this wasn't enough already, their brews are pretty wonderful too.  All of their bottled ales are vegan and marked as such but due to the fact that most pubs require fined cask ale, not all of their cask is. We enjoyed the Earl Grey Tea brew on offer, and the Scorpion IPA (created in collaboration with South Devon Chili Farm). In line with the reason why we love Totnes (the vegan capital of Devon), we would very much welcome even more vegan brews appearing on cask in pubs from the New Lion Brewery.

Our next discoveries take us further up country.  We discovered the Kelpaul Brewing Companys' Vegan Pagan Pale Ale in a little shop in Hay-on-Wye.  First off, this was an amazing moment.  Please tell me when you have EVER seen a beer that actually used the word 'Vegan' in its title? For this reason alone it becomes an automatic favourite. 'Vegan blinkers' and all forms of partiality off, it was bloody good and in a taste test would be right up there with the best.  Light, summery and refreshing and we very much regretted not buying more at the time. They seem pretty elusive, with no details on the bottle, but sneak up on them via their slightly off the wall Facebook page to find out more.  We'd love to know more about you guys!

A little further up in North Wales, and more recently, we were after a 'post Snowdon Watkin Path in 25 degrees heat' refreshment. In answer to our quest for a quencher, we found the bottle conditioned Minerva Mountain Heather Ale from Conwy Brewery. All their beers are bottled at source in small batches and undergo the minimum of processing, so are unfiltered, unpasteurised and naturally carbonated (hence our confidence in this one being vegan).  It produces a stunning beer, which in this case, had a delightfully distinct heather taste to it. They say on their 'suitable for vegetarians' marked bottles that they do this 'because we believe this produces better tasting beer.  We hope you agree'.  We certainly do.

Onwards into the summer, rest assured the hunt for vegan beer will continue near and far and we will keep you posted with our discoveries.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Berry Good

We are enjoying regular strawberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant based smoothies courtesy of our garden at the moment. Whether foraging in our garden, or in the wild, it's always great to find food for free.  On a recent trip up to North Wales we went for a walk in the woods, and found such a profusion of these wild bilberries that we took much longer on the walk than we thought we would.  As we went on it seemed that they just got sweeter and tastier, and we couldn't restrain ourselves from stopping every few hundred metres to 'just have a few more'.  There were so many of these berries that we had purple stained fingers and tongues for most of the walk.  It seemed rude not to sample a few as we walked.

More locally, we've previously gorged on these bilberries on Bodmin moor and Dartmoor during walking and cycling trips.  They are just the sort of free 'energy snack' that is needed during such activities, and are currently out there ripe and waiting for those who are willing to take a little walk on the wild side to track them down.  Unlike most wild berries that seem to ripen in Autumn, bilberries are the first of the wild berries to ripen and reach their peak at the end of July, so be quick if you want to go out and about searching for them.  

They go by many different names, depending on where you are in the country; bilberries, blaeberries, fraughans, whortleberries, whimberries, hurtleberries, wild blueberries, etc., and each region has it's own stories about this wild food. In Ireland they are celebrated with Fraughan Sunday, the last one in July, which is linked to the pre-Christian Celtic Festival of Lughnasa.  They were previously picked commercially in many regions.  For their size they also pack a rich nutritional punch.  Interestingly, it seems the nutritional effects are increased by not consuming bilberries with dairy products.

If you find yourself out and about in the right environment, be sure to have a look for these tasty seasonal treats.  They are well worth the effort of searching them out.  We offer no ideas for recipes here because, quite frankly, they would never make it home.  We prefer the wild eating experience.  However, the Fraughan Sunday link above does offer some ideas if you do manage to resist eating them on the spot.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Newlina Eco-Gardens Crowdfunder

A cat called TC who has his own interesting 'tail to tell', his own Facebook page, and Buddhist tendencies, led me to meet new friends recently.  That in itself is a whole new story for another time.  However, it was my new friends who alerted me to an interesting project, in turn created by friends of theirs, a mere 5 miles from where we live.

Paul and Laura Salmon from Newlina Eco-Gardens have quietly been providing sustainable local food to the community and restaurant business in Cornwall from their base at St Newlyn East for over 11 years now.  More recently however they have decided to open their 'green out-doors' and offer community education with their new Wild Garden Project.  It was at a recent open day and event that we went to see what was planned for this project.

Paul and Laura have a quiet and determined energy about them.  There is nothing outspoken or showy about them. Instead their hard work and passion is reflected in the flourishing land, rows of tasty produce and natural habitat that make up Newlina.  Their skills are also perfectly balanced for the new project.  Paul has years of horticultural experience, including permaculture, and his obvious natural skills and abilities make you want to follow him around for hours firing questions at him in an effort to understand fully why all the things he grows seem so perfect.  His delight at showing us the footprints of the resident pest controller (a hedgehog) was infectious too. Meanwhile Laura's skills as a playworker and story teller mean that she could be explaining the merest blade of grass and you would be transfixed by the interwoven details and creative energy that surround it.  Indeed Laura has her own 'Wild Stories' Project that seeks to explore the human relationship with nature through storytelling.

Although some areas of the Community Wild Garden Project have been started, such as a free monthly Wild Garden Group, some of the planting, and the set up of communal areas, there is still a little way to go.  To help with this they have launched a Crowdfunder appeal. The momentum is definitely building though, with interest and support from the local community and schools.  

It is a sad fact that much of modern living has led to a disconnect and lack of understanding of the importance of where and how our food is delivered to our plates, let alone the ecological implications of getting this wrong.  Paul and Laura have been producing food ecologically for years from their poly tunnels and outdoor areas, but to help the wider community reconnect and re-understand, the new Wild Garden Project has become their next mission. After all, the ability to grow and produce your own food might have been lost to individuals in more recent generations, but is really one of the most important and empowering skills to have.  It really sits alongside, if not above reading and writing in some ways. 

Thankfully some parts of the community are recognising this, including schools, and as such local schools are therefore embracing such projects like the one at Newlina. Children can learn how to grow and forage for food, outdoor cooking skills, how to work with and around nature, and how to be creative in the natural environment, among other things; all this in a fun and engaging environment.  It is a simple but effective concept that quite frankly all kids should have the opportunity to learn and experience.  If we had kids I would more actively encourage and support them to attend the 'School of Laura and Paul' (along with a spot of good old fashioned travel experience) over sending them packing off to study some over-charging/overrated university degree (and that's coming from someone who works in higher education!). But that's just my simple opinion; supported by an ever growing number of environmentalists who foresee the way 'modern society' is 'progressing'.

With my slight rant over and an ever growing garden of our own homegrown produce to attend to (and a mountain of unwritten blog posts to catch up on), I'd best stop there.  You get the idea though I hope; projects such as the one at Newlina are increasingly important in the wider scale.  If you feel the same and live locally, or are even just visiting Cornwall, pop over, take a look at their website and Facebook pages and, if you can afford it, they'd be delighted if you supported their Crowdfunder appeal (details below) or volunteered your time to help progress the project.


Newlina Eco-Gardens
 Neeham Road
St Newlyn East

Friday, 15 July 2016

Another Birthday, Another Cake

July is a busy time, particularly for birthdays.  This week was my lovely colleague Charlie's birthday.  Charlie likes cake and he loves coffee so it was obvious that coffee cup cakes were the order of the day.  He jokes with me that I am his Cornish mother and as such I joke that he should therefore listen to his mother and become vegan.  He sees sense in it but feels that it will be something that he will realise in about 10 years time.  All I can do in the meantime is to wait, continue to be his Cornish mother and ply him with vegan cake.  

I didn't have a specific coffee cupcake recipe so I adapted my usual cake recipe (here is another adaptation but leave the carob, almond essence, cherries and raisins out of it for the basic cake recipe).  I took some of the milk out at the first stage and heated it before dissolving some instant coffee into it.  After it cooled I added it back to the milk and carried on with the rest of the recipe as normal.

The cakes simply had to have icing on them too and again I didn't have a coffee icing recipe so busked it with what I had to hand.  I have no specific measurements to give you but you'll get the idea - just make it gooey, that's all you need to aim for!  I dissolved some more coffee granules in hot water and then added icing sugar, stirring until dissolved.  A touch of creaminess was required so I chucked a couple of tablespoons of almond butter in and also about a tablespoon of coconut oil.  The latter was to help it set well.  The coconut oil and almond butter dissolved in nicely whilst the mixture was still warmish but I knew once chilled the coconut oil would harden.  It took a bit of mixing and a bit more icing sugar before I got it to a soft gooey mixture that could easily be swirled on top of the cooled cakes but didn't just ooze down the sides.  A flurry of vegan marshmallows finished off the tops before I popped them in the fridge to set.  

The next morning they were perfect and ready to take to work for Charlie and the crew. Nine out of five was the score given for them, whilst another member of the team hinted that a bigger version cut up and finished with a dollop of custard would be very much appreciated next time.

And Charlie.....I know you are reading the right thing by your mum and you could be living the vegan cake dream everyday.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Mysterious Vegan Town Treats Arrive

I came home this evening to discover this package waiting to be opened.  It is a Vegan Town box of goodies.  I really don't know for sure who it is from as there was no note inside, although I do have suspicions.
What an amazing and mysterious box of vegan chocolate loveliness!  There are loads of things in there I haven't tried yet either and plenty of things I love. 
The challenge will be hiding them all from the chocolate nicking monkey that is Phil as I have run out of undiscovered hiding places and have resorted to carrying my chocolate stashes to work with me as a result!   No doubt though I will end up sharing with him anyway because, well I do love him, and know how much he loves chocolate too.  He is also very good at putting a 'puppy face' on when it comes to chocolate begging.  It is hard to resist.
So a massive thank you to the mysterious vegan chocolate hamper pixie out there for sending me such a lovely surprise.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Birthday Treats for Work

It is traditional at work that if it is your birthday you take in treats for everyone to share, and today it was my birthday.  It was also my vegan friend and colleague's birthday yesterday but she wasn't at work until today, so today I went to town and took in lots of home made vegan treats on behalf of both of us.

I chose two recipes (both of which actually by chance required no baking) which were in the new Vegan Food and Living magazine and the accompanying supplement. I chose the Raw Snickers Slices and Best Ever Brownies.  

The Best Ever Brownies were originally from Beanie's Vegan Kitchen website. I must admit I went 'off piste' a little by adding an almond butter icing on top (something like a couple of tablespoons of almond butter, a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar, a drop or two of almond essence and a bit of water - don't quote me on this though as I wasn't really measuring!).  It added a little dimension that was very much noted by my colleagues.  The Raw Snickers Slices were originally from The Artful Foodie and were a hit with all.  

Here is a quote from a distinctly non vegan colleague  - "I really didn't want to like them, but damn your vegan cakes Scooby".  I call that a 1 - 0 victory for veganism.  "Result", and thanks to the recipes from both Beanie's and The Artful Foodie. 

Dr Hadwen Trust Guide to Animal Use in Research

Whenever I am asked to sponsor somebody for a charity I don't support (due to animal testing etc), I always take the opportunity of saying my donation will go instead to the Dr Hadwen Trust.  It not only shows that I am not a meanie and am prepared to sponsor them, but also opens up the conversation around medical research on animals. This guide from the Dr Hadwen Trust is circulating on Facebook at the moment, and is a great thing to share to all those people who very easy support charities like Cancer Research UK, but are totally unaware there are alternatives out there.