Sunday, 17 September 2017

Flu Away

We are just picking the very last of the blackcurrants in our garden; well at least the ones that either the recent wind or the birds haven't already claimed.  Those that we don't use immediately, I freeze and use handful by handful in smoothies throughout the winter months.  The bright, bold flavour of blackcurrants not only cheers up the gloomiest and darkest of winter mornings but also packs a punch nutritionally.  

I work in a university and this coming week is Freshers Week.  Avoiding the usual bout of Freshers Flu has been a recent and indeed an annual conversation amongst my colleagues (although I am thankfully usually spared of it myself), along with the usual stresses brought on by the beginning of the new academic year .  Blackcurrants are antiviral, protecting against flu, as well as their leaves having properties for alleviating inflammatory sore throats and lowering blood pressure (handy for the stress!).  Perhaps I should be making blackcurrant based smoothies and blackcurrant leaf tea for my colleagues over the coming weeks?

Blackcurrants have many more health benefits though beyond just the vitamin C packed, antioxidant, and antiviral properties.  It really is the UK's original superfood, and because it seems blackcurrants don't pop up for sale in shops that much, an overlooked one at that. The nutritional properties of blackcurrants can it seems help guard against such things as age related vision issues, urinary tract infections, age and brain function diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons and Dementia, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and even have some anti-tumour properties against some cancers. The Blackcurrant Foundation has a great resource page detailing some of these health benefits.

I've written about blackcurrants a fair amount over the years and you can find blackcurrant recipe ideas on our blog including blackcurrant muffins, my own 'homemade ribena' and a sauce for a raw cheesecake.  There is nothing simpler though than bunging a handful in a smoothie (direct from the freezer in the winter).  If however, you cannot find them in the shops or your bush in the garden is now devoid of fruit, you could always try making a cup of tea from the leaves (which should be on the bushes for a little longer) to ward off or ease that autumnal sore throat.

Blackcurrant Leaf Tea Infusion

Place washed and chopped leaves in a cafetiere or glass bowl and pour over freshly boiled water (about 30g leaves to 500ml of water).  Cover and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes.  The water should darken as it is infused with the leaves.  Strain and drink.

Enjoy and stay healthy!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Best Mylk for Cauliflower Cheese

Oooohhh, yes we love cauliflower cheese....or broccoli cheese, or if you want to sound posh, romanesco cheese, or whatever brassica cheese. It's madness if you don't quite frankly. What's wrong with you, weirdo? Brassicas are tasty, and cheese (always read 'vegan cheese' here naturally as any other is just incomprehensible) is too.  It's a match made in vegan heaven. Anyway, enough of this appreciative rant, you get the idea....we love it!

However, as if things couldn't get any better on the brassica cheese dish front, along came Rebel Kitchen Mylk.  We were a fan of their Matcha Green Tea and Chai coconut drinks already but hadn't reckoned on the impact of their big cartons of Mylk alternatives, which we stumbled upon in a supermarket recently.  These are available in skimmed, semi-skimmed and whole versions. Wanting to have the 'full' experience, I plumped for the whole one.  The ingredients for all of these options are spring water, coconut cream, Himalayan salt, brown rice, cashew, and nutritional yeast, with the only difference being the ratio of coconut cream.

I've made the cheese sauce for cauliflower cheese, macaroni cheese or lasagna/cannelloni from many plant milks in the past.  The Rebel Whole Mylk just happened to be the one in the fridge when I made the sauce for the lovely romanesco we received in our veg box this week.  As I was cooking the sauce it seemed creamier and glossier than usual and I snuck a taste.  This instantly led to me demanding that Phil too have a taster to confirm the fact that this indeed was going to be a corker of a cheese sauce!  I often add in a little grated cheese to the sauce to 'cheese it up' even more but the flavour of this was so lovely, it really didn't need it.  Once cooked with the romanesco, it delighted further and we could have eaten just a plate of this on its own!

I like the philosophy of Rebel Kitchen.  Their products are made without additives, preservatives or refined sugar and are always organic as well as responsibly sourced and produced.  It is always a good sign when the list of ingredients is small and recognisable. Rebel Kitchen philosophy reaches beyond just the the manufacture of their products.  They chose to become a Certified B Corp which measures the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.  They are also part of 1% For The Planet, a global network of businesses, nonprofits, and individuals working together for a healthy planet, and donate at least 1% of their sales towards this worthy initiative.

Rebel Kitchen's range at the moment includes coconut milks, yoghurts, and raw coconut waters but I have a feeling that it won't be long before we see more wonderful products from this great company.  We found their Mylk in the fridge section of a Waitrose but it doesn't have to be kept in the fridge until it is open, so you may find it amongst the main plant milk aisle too.

Rebel Mylk Brassica Cheese
This is a basic guide to how I make this because I never measure any of the ingredients!  If you have ever made a roux sauce, that is the basis of it.  Just go with the flow and it'll be fine!

Heat up the oil of your choice (rapeseed is nuttier, olive suits lasagna) in a saucepan. I normally cover the bottom of the pan with the oil.  When it is moving fluidly around the bottom of the pan sprinkle in some plain flour and mix swiftly into the oil with a wooden spoon.  This should form into a soft ball so if it doesn't add in some more flour.  Cook this soft ball, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes.  

Add in a generous sprinkle of nutritional yeast (the more you put in the cheesier it will be) and mix briefly to incorporate into the ball.  Now add in a  small pour of mylk and instantly incorporate this into the soft ball.  This will disintegrate the ball before it cooks and firms up the mixture again.  Keep adding in small pours of milk, stirring vigorously and frequently until the mixture turns into a thick sauce.  

Add a splash of balsamic vinegar at this point and stir in.  If you wanted to add in some grated cheese, do so at this point and allow to melt in to the sauce.

Let the sauce bubble away, checking it is not burning on the bottom, for a few minutes.  It will thicken as it cooks so you may wish to add some more mylk to thin it out if it is too thick.  

Floret up your brassica (slightly steamed first if you prefer it mushier in the end dish) and put in to a baking dish. Pour over the sauce and mix in. Add some grated cheese on top if you wish before baking until slightly browned on top.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Coming Up Trumps

Don't worry, this post is not about Donald Trump, he's not worthy of any thought or time. No, this is about something far more intelligent than the likes of him.  It's a post about our most recent wild mushroom find.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of meeting up with old friends (and one new arrival) for lunch at The Cornish Vegan, which was lovely, as always.  One of these friends, Paul, had just returned from a liveaboard diving trip to the Maldives and was keen to regale us with his watery tales.  However after the final slice of cake had been sunk, and the final cup of tea had been drunk, we set him firmly back onto solid ground by dragging him around some Cornish woodland searching for wild mushrooms.

Actually, we didn't need to drag him at all.  As a confirmed dog lover, and lover of wild places, he was only too keen to get out there and sniff out the fungi, with Scooby sharing all her 'mushroom hound' tricks with him.  They made a great team, and were soon sniffing out or spotting mushrooms left, right, and centre.  Unfortunately none of them were of the edible variety, until that is, after some thirty or so minutes of searching, Paul called us over to a few small fungi lurking under a fallen pine branch.  I couldn't believe my eyes, or his luck. 

On his first outing with us, Paul had quite literally 'come up trumps' by finding a patch of Trumpet Chanterelles.  I was 95% sure that is what they were anyway, and the guidebooks soon confirmed this.  Full credit to Paul, Fungi Forays by Daniel Butler states that "finding a patch is a red-letter day and a tribute to a hunter's eyesight and fieldcraft".  In the past I had only ever found two dried up specimens, not worth harvesting, so Paul more than proved his worth as a mushroom hound.  We made a mental note of the location so we'd be able to find them again, and then we widened our gaze and looked around.  What we didn't realise was that this small patch was just the outer edge of a much larger area that was carpeted with thousands of Trumpet Chanterelles!  Result!  

One of the names for this mushroom is 'Golden Legs', and there before of us was a sea of gold, as far as the eye could see in every direction.  There was no need to look any further, so we set about collecting these little golden brown wonders, and soon had a bag full.  We stopped at one bag, not wanting to be too greedy, and also wanting to leave some for other foragers, both human and otherwise.  There were certainly plenty to go around, and we will be heading back to harvest more at some point.  

We did find some other wild mushrooms also, namely some Yellow Russulas, and some Hedgehogs (past their best), but the stars of this show were the Trumpets.  Now all that remains is to come up with some recipes to make the most of this bounty.  First on the list to try is a simple tomato based curry, subtly spiced with a mild curry blend and finished with garam masala.  On our recent trip to the Forest of Dean/Wales, we found some regular Chanterelles, and they were delicious prepared this way, especially parked half way up a mountain on the edge of the Brecon Beacons with views for thirty miles in all directions.

Simple Wild Mushroom Curry

Fry a sliced onion in 1 tablespoon of oil until starting to brown.  Add 1 teaspoon of mild curry powder and continue to cook for 30 seconds.  Add a few curry leaves if you have them.  Add in your cleaned and roughly chopped wild mushrooms and sweat them down for a couple of minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of tomato puree, 1 diced carrot, a couple of diced potatoes, 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable bouillion, and enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Add 1 teaspoon of garam masala and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Serve with basmati rice.


*Please do not pick and consume wild mushrooms if you are in any way unsure about their identity.  The consumption of some wild mushrooms can be fatal.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Sounding Out The Wild at Heart

The word 'wild' is used in such a negative way these days; 'he went wild', 'she is just a wild child', and many others. Surrounded by 24 hour everything, neon flashing 'buy me' messages and the insulated bubbles called cars, it is very easy to see the disconnect between modern life and anything resembling 'wild'.  I would go so far as to say we are even discouraged from understanding and enjoying 'wildness'.  Wildness doesn't make money. Wildness is free.  Wildness doesn't belong to anyone except itself.  Therefore, wildness needs to be contained, tamed, paved over, or killed off in our modern world.  

It isn't possible for everyone to have access to wilderness.  Indeed if we did I guess it wouldn't be wilderness for very long.  However everybody has access to 'wild' if they want to; even on a small scale.  Most of our 'wild' in Cornwall is focused on the sea, but I'm delighted to have badgers visit our garden nightly and I enjoy taking the time to watch the birds that visit our garden too.  Likewise we enjoy foraging for wild food and every walk along hedgerows, through woodland, moorland or coastline is an education in wild.  It's all there if you want to appreciate it.  

Rewilding is a step further, or in a positive way perhaps it should be called a step back. Rewilding looks towards bringing back wild animals that were driven to extinction within certain places by humans.  The last wolf in Britain was killed in the 17th Century (15th Century in England), and the last bear reputedly over a 1000 years ago.  As far as humans are concerned, humans reign supreme in the UK food chain.  In my eyes that is a real shame.  A reality check could be just the thing that is needed for us humans.  To have something around you (apart from other stupid humans) that could kill you beyond the likes of excess, cancer and heart disease is actually a real thrill I think.

Take the experience that Phil and I had last year in Portugal.  We were parked up in the middle of nowhere in Miles the Camper van.  An after dinner, and after dark, brush of our teeth took us for a little stroll along a dusty track, like you do. The track was narrow with dense, spiky and sweet smelling herbs on either side (beats the usual indoor bathroom for such activities as brushing your teeth!).  As we brushed away we listened to the only sound, which was the distant sound of waves.  That was until we were stopped abruptly in our tracks by a sudden burst of loud noise from the bushes.  We had disturbed something big and it ran a short distance away and into the undergrowth.  We had no idea what it was and in shock remained frozen to the spot, toothbrushes in mouths.  Then a deep guttural grunt/growl filled the air followed by the sound of the, as yet undetermined, large creature now advancing back towards us.  The sound was enough to have us backing off and the fact that it was now coming towards us, even more so.  We jogged back to Miles as fast as our flip flops would allow; our teeth brushing completed safely inside the van.  Our conclusion had been it had to have been a wild boar; and a big one at that.

It had never occurred to me there were wild boar there and that is my point.  We are just so unused to such encounters that we forget they could even exist.  You might get your flipper nipped in the sea by a seal, you might get dive bombed by a seagull once in a while and once it looked like the badger was making for me at our front door (but once its smell got the better of its poor eyesight it realised I was there!) but that's it really these days.  I do remember being caught up a big oak tree as a kid for a couple of hours when a big White Hart decided to sit at the bottom of it, and Phil and I had interesting experiences with wild elephants whilst being driven through a national forest in Sri Lanka by a stoned tuk-tuk driver, but that was either years ago, not in this country, or a completely different story!  To recently encounter an actual wild creature like the boar in Portugal that could harm you was an absolute thrill.  I loved it because it put us in our place and let's face it humans have become way too big for our boots. 

This past week we had a few days off and so headed off in Miles.  We had no definite plan but I was relatively keen to explore the Forest of Dean.  I wanted to see the wild boar there that had returned in recent years after an absence of over 700 years.  Although strictly feral escapees they are the closest and probably the most fearsome wild creatures here in the UK now.  Having 'audibly' experienced the boar in that dark night in Portugal, I wanted to see one for myself.  

Our first night in the forest showed promise.  A couple, who had been walking in the forest near to where we had parked up for the night, had come running back to the car park.  They had seen a boar and retreated fast. They left soon after and Phil and I ventured gingerly on the edge of the forest to see what we could see. It was dark by now.  Suddenly Portugal repeated itself (although this time without the teeth brushing) as a grunt emanated from the dark bushes.  We retreated as before; put in our place once more and utterly thrilled by that.  With that I told Phil that I wasn't leaving the Forest of Dean until I had actually seen, not just heard, one of these magnificent creatures.

The next day I got my wish.  Parked up in a car park just after a wonderful forest foraging walk, a very obviously male boar regally trotted up and started foraging behind our van.  I was transfixed.  It looked up once to let us know it was perfectly aware we were in awe, before trotting off at a speed that seemed relaxed but made us realise that, flip flops or not, running away that night in Portugal wouldn't have been an option had it decided to have been more grumpy than it was.  It might have been in a car park and by no means 'wilderness' but it was wild and magic regardless.  I upped my ante and told Phil I now wasn't leaving until I'd seen a sounder (the word apparently I learnt afterwards for a group) of boars.  

The next day unbelievably I again got my wish as we encountered two adults and at least five youngsters.  The look one of the adults gave us again was, in Phil's words 'not messing around'.  This might not be the bears or moose that my sister encounters on her running routes at home in Alaska but this was my 'wild' and I loved every minute of it. This experience will not belittle in anyway my everyday experiences at home in Cornwall.  I will still be thrilled to see our bungling badger, the whirling squabble of birds in our garden, the majestic white glide of the seagulls, the bobbing heads of seals and the 'cheow' of the choughs on the headland, but I won't forget that glare of the boar and the thrill of being well and truly put in our place by 'the wild'.  

Weirdly enough, Phil mentioned when I started writing this post that he was currently reading a book entitled Wild by Jay Griffiths, and was enjoying it greatly. Apparently it has a lot of parallels with what I have touched on in this post, so I am eager to read this book for myself now.  On another coincidental note, we saw the road sign in the photograph at the top on our recent trip to the Forest of Dean!  It seems our trip was destined to be 'wild'!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Berry Good Dog

The blackberries are darkening and swelling on the brambles and the apples are bowing down the branches of their mother trees. My mind always turns at this time of year to one of my best buddies; Kizzy, our family dog.  Sadly Kizzy died a few years ago now and not a day goes by when I don't think about her warm furry snout and deep searching eyes. We even named a dune on the beach after her as she would launch herself down it on her frequent trips to the beach with such a frenzy of salty dog excitement .  However, at this time of year in particular I cannot look at a blackberry or an apple without thinking of her. She was addicted to both.

Kizzy going equipped for blackberry picking!
Every night before bed she would ask for an apple. We might forget but she wouldn't and she would sit down in front of you with 'that look' to make you go and get her one. Trips through apple orchards were sheer joy for her as she grazed either from the windfalls or from lower slung branches.  Meanwhile, woodland or hedgerow walks would entail frequent stops by blackberry bushes and any we picked would be naturally shared on a 50/50 basis.  Many a time blackberry foragers, unaware of Kizzy's enforcement of a 'blackberry tax' on her 'patch', would be perplexed at the purple snout stained dog sidling up and sitting down next to them as they picked. Her tactics usually worked after our explaination of her blackberry love.  Getting her to move on was the only issue.

She loved other vegetables and fruit, and would often wander out to the kitchen at the sound of knife on chopping board to see what she could obtain. She also used to sneak off up dad's garden in order to steal a strawberry or two from his patch.  However, blackberries and apples were her definite favourites. Perhaps she was aware of their healthy qualities, particularly of the anti-cancer vitamin B17 present in the seeds of apples, blackberries (particularly wild grown), and other non citrus fruits, but more about that in another post. More likely she just absolutely loved the taste!

One year I even made a wine in her honour.  I called it Kizzy's Tipple.  It was drinkable and got you merry but beyond that it was more fun creating it than drinking it.  I'm sure Kizzy would have preferred to have eaten the apples and blackberries I used for it herself.

So, as I scramble through the brambles this year I am sure to still feel that hopeful gaze of my furry buddy as I pick away. I admit, I even throw her the odd one here and there and I'm sure I hear the satisfied snapping of that velvety snout upon interception.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Milking the Saffron Mushrooms

The surf was flat and it was a rainy grey day. In spite of this we decided to pack our boots and waterproofs in the car, and brave the post Boardmasters Festival and tourist traffic.  We were searching out the darkest and dampest reaches of pine woodland with the aim of finding some fungi treats.

We knew we'd find at least some wild mushrooms in this area as we had visited it many times before.  What we hadn't counted on was finding a profusion of Saffron Milk Caps.  We may have seen these before and passed them by, but in the dark gloom of the woods today, as the pines sheltered us from the worst of the rain, the orange glow of saffron drew us closer. The sheer brightness of them initially made us cautious, but after scrutinising both of our guide books for various distinguishing features, we knew the identification was right and that they were not only edible but quite sought after. Although they may not look that pretty or appetising in the photo above, this was after we had poked and prodded them, they had sat in a plastic bag for the journey home, and a natural discolouration had taken place.  In fact this green bruising is one of the distinguishing features for identification, along with the gills exuding an orange 'sap' when broken.

We also found 3 other types of edible fungi on this foray, but decided to stick to cooking our evening meal using just the milk caps, curious as to what they would taste like.  The recipe we chose to add these to was a recent 'quick meal' creation, discovered when we were out and about in Miles the camper van and using up what was to hand.  It is simple, quick, filling, and tasty, with today's choice of mushroom adding a 'meaty' texture. Just what you need after a long walk, surf, or fungi foray. 

Although we had not consciously sought out these fungi today, after we had returned home, cooked and eaten our meal, and were thinking of how to start this blog post, Phil suddenly had the thought that he'd seen these fungi somewhere recently.  He shot off into the lounge, and came back smiling, and holding a copy of Roger Phillips' book 'Wild Food'. There on page 114 was a full page photo of Saffron Milk Caps, and for reasons that are now a mystery to me, I had left the book open at this page about 4 weeks ago!  

Phil's Creamy Olive Wild Mushroom Pasta

250g dried pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium leek, sliced thinly
8-10 large mushrooms, sliced
1 100g jar green olive tapenade (we used Sainsburys)
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen broad beans
1 carton Oatly oat cream
1/2 tsp vegan stock powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Get the pasta cooking according to the packet instructions.  Meanwhile, in a large saucepan saute the leek in the olive oil until soft.  Add the sliced mushrooms and saute for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the olive tapenade followed by the broad beans, oat cream and the stock powder, and stir to mix well.  Bring back to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 6-8 minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.  Drain the pasta, mix into the sauce and serve.


*Please do not pick and consume wild mushrooms if you are in any way unsure about their identity.  The consumption of some wild mushrooms can be fatal.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

New Wave Seaweed Revolution

We love seaweed and use it a fair amount.  We use it to mulch our garden and feed our plants (using excess piles that have washed up on the beach we might add), we wash our hair with seaweed shampoo, and we eat seaweed, whether that be responsibly foraged from our local beaches or ethically sourced purchased products.  

It's tasty stuff and in fact, as vegans, pretty important nutritionally too.  However many vegans don't seem to include seaweed in their diets; some even choosing to avoid it.  A couple of years back Phil wrote a blogpost called 'Seaweed is not Evil' in response to a Youtube video that was circulating in regards to veganism and seaweed.  The video seems to have long been taken down (hence the broken video link on the post now) but his article still makes some good points in terms of some misconceptions in regards to seaweed.  

Seaweed isn't something you run into frequently on the supermarket shelves and this could account for it still being a relatively unexplored product, but we've noticed over the last couple of years or so that the tide seems to be starting to change on that front.  Celtic nations have always had a huge tradition of collecting and using seaweed; the proximity to wild Atlantic shores being an obvious reason.  Indeed our travels in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany over the years have led us to discover certain seaweed products that we have not found elsewhere.  In our own Celtic nation of Cornwall also, seaweed is very much more noticeable than elsewhere in the country.  However, seaweed has definitely gained popularity in more recent years on a wider scale.

We are fortunate enough to have an ethical seaweed supplier right here in Cornwall who've been at the forefront of the new wave seaweed revolution.  The Cornish Seaweed Company started sustainably hand harvesting local edible seaweeds in 2012.  Their website is a great source of information about seaweed and even includes a page of information specifically for vegans.  Check out their lovely video below too.

With over 1500 species of seaweed in Cornwall, if foraging is your thing, you're in the right place for sure.  The majority are edible but not all.  Many are tasty and contain lots of nutrition but again, not all.  If you want to hit the beach or go diving for your supper, you'll need to do at least a little bit of research.  A great resource specific to our local shores is wrapped up in Rachel Lambert's book Seaweed Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.  It's straightforward format  includes not only the crucial identification notes, along with clear colour photos, but also nutritional guidelines, seasonal notes and recipes.  Not all the recipes are vegan or even vegetarian but the majority are, or indeed can be easily adapted.  Do read the guidelines on responsible foraging first though before venturing out to collect your supplies.

If this post has peaked your appetite for seaweed, we encourage you to explore for yourselves this super food that nature has freely provided on our beautiful coastline as well as keep an eye on the ever increasing seaweed products that are appearing in our shops.  The Cornish Seaweed Company online shop has a range of seaweed and seaweed products available and their range is popping up in shops all over the county, and even further afield.  On the Cornish market too (and available online) is this organic and palm oil free Cornish Seaweed Soap
LogoOur taste buds were particularly excited by products that we found on a recent visit to our Celtic cousins in Brittany. They were all made by Bretagne based company Marinoe and all were marked with the official Vegan Society mark.  Their website seems understated in a typically Breton way, and doesn't truly demonstrate the wonders of their products but wow, we really have to visit this company when we are there next. First off we found  their range of seaweed tartares. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  Brav, brav, brav (respecting the Breton language). Then we bumped into Taramalg, a take on taramasalata, traditionally made from fish roe but more sensitively made from seaweed in the Marinoe version. To be honest neither of us had ever had taramasalata but this product really peaked our interest.  It was so good that it lead to us tracking down a Bretagne health food store that stocked it so we could check that the first taste of it hadn't been a one off magical experience!  It was wonderful and we very much look forward to seeing this kind of product being available Kernow Side.  

In terms of our own cooking with seaweed, Phil adds it into Japanese style stews and miso soups a fair amount.  He also adds it into his own home made hummus which is absolutely delicious, as well as making sushi rolls from sheets of nori.  I have experimented with using it in a seitan recipe which I called Seitan of the Sea but one of my favourite recipes is the Sea Fruit Strudel from "Vegan", a great little recipe book from Tony Weston and Yvonne Bishop.  The recipe is also available on the Foods For Life Website.

I end this blogpost in a nod to tradition; both to seaweed and song.  Dulaman is Irish for seaweed and this traditional folk song, below in the Clannad version of the 70's, talks of seaweed gathering and courting.  

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Vegan Iced Coffee Thang

Unlike my team at work, who seem to function solely on the stuff, I'm not a coffee fiend. However I do like a tipple every now and then and recently my attention has been peaked by discovering a carton of vegan iced coffee in the chiller section of Morrisons.  I don't venture into Morrisons that much (especially the Newquay one which is said to be busiest one in the country during the summer holiday season) and wasn't even looking for this sort of thing but it caught my attention.  It was called Cafe Soy and was in the chilled 'Free From' section.  My mum was due for a visit and, as well as wanting to try it myself, I thought it would be a nice treat for her so I grabbed a carton.  Needless to say, we both loved it and have run the gauntlet of Morrisons Newquay since to get more.  I apologise to any local vegans as I actually cleared them out of the last remaining 4 cartons yesterday so I had enough to take to my mum on an upcoming visit!

Then I was looking in the Free From chiller section at Sainsburys (grabbing some Gary along the way) when I noticed two more vegan iced coffee offerings.  The first one was Jimmy's Iced Coffee Dairy Free and the other next to it was Califia Farms Black and White Cold Brewed Coffee.  Being that the former Jimmy's one was a family owned made in Britain product rather than imported all the way from California, I chose Jimmy's.  It was also made wih oats and that was another environmental plus.  Lovely it was too.   I may try the other Californian one at some point but would rather stick closer to home with things, especially if they taste as good as they do.  Thing is, I now seem to be a bit of an iced coffee fiend!  It might be a seasonal thing but, yep, I love the stuff.

Being that, at least to me, iced coffee is a relatively new thing, I had a bit of an investigate on this subject and confirm that yes, I was definitely behind the times.  There are many many alternatives out there but many of these are still just in the USA.  Of course, let's state the obvious here too, you could make your own.  It's pretty easy after all; make coffee and chill it!  However, there were some pretty obvious things that I hadn't thought of before in the whole iced coffee making thing.  For instance, how about freezing in ice cubes any left over coffee and then using that to add to plant milk to make iced coffee?  A no brainer right?  I hadn't thought about that and there are plenty of times when the coffee maker at work has a little bit left in the bottom that has gone cold.  The idea of sneaking in an ice tube tray was suddenly a very good one.

However, my point of this blog post isn't just to bring these products to the attention of those that may not know about them (at this point I imagine any up country vegan folks are saying "wow you guys are so behind the times"!).  I think it is amazing that a product that hasn't really been around that long in non vegan terms, is actually out there very readily on the shelfs for us vegans already. How things have changed eh?

Friday, 28 July 2017

Random Rhubarb Ramifications...and Roger

It all started when my boss walked into the office saying "Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb".  As he used to work as a sound editor for the BBC, I just thought he was making some random reference to what film extras say to each other repeatedly to look like they are having a conversation in the background.  Random references and comments are far from uncommon among my colleagues, so the actual realisation that he had a large bag of home grown rhubarb for me was the less obvious but very welcome thing he was referring to.

That evening, wanting to take an offering back to work as a way of sharing the generous rhubarb donation (that is how much we love each other), I searched for recipes beyond the usual and 'not so easy to slice up like a cake' rhubarb crumble.  I found some likely candidates and settled on one for rhubarb cake slices (handy that), with the plan to make them the following evening.  The ingredients were regular stock cupboard supplies so I was all set and didn't think anymore about it.  

The following evening I spoke to my mum on the phone and she asked me what I was up to. When I told her about my rhubarb cooking plans, she requested I make her a crumble to take up to her on our next visit.  There was more than enough rhubarb so I happily added it to the list.   Phil then piped up and said what about a crumble for him, and another small one was added to the list for pudding.  The 'rhubarb dessert train' was starting to gain more passengers.  So after a pleasant catch up with a colleague who had dropped around to pick up a spare car key attached to a brick that my boss wanted me to pass on (I'm not joking by the way.  This is exhibit B in the randomness of my work colleagues), I got going with juggling dinner and getting the rhubarb dessert/cake train on track.

Dinner progressed in a whirlwind of smoky aubergine dip, falafels, roasted baby potato salad, cashew celery and apple salad, tahini beetroot salad and various green salad offerings on the side.  I got the rhubarb stewing in preparation for the crumbles and all was going well in an adrenaline (okay alright, and beer) fuelled cooking frenzy; until the rhubarb train got derailed as I started to get the ingredients together for the cake slices and crumble toppings.  It seemed those regular stock cupboard supplies that are always regularly in supply in our regular stock cupboard were no longer in our regular stock cupboard supplies. That never happens and any of my work colleagues reading this right now will confirm my organisational (bordering on the anal/autistic at times) ability to have everything I need when I need it.  The 'Stock Cupboard Supply' pixie (aka me, Scooby) normally has a total handle on such things.  Nope, not this time.  If there had been a crowd witnessing this they would have been saying 'rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb' in whispered shock in the background.  The cake slices were off the menu for my work colleagues.  I could hear my colleague Roger laughing in the background.   When I had originally mentioned about my rhubarb cooking plans, he had said he would prefer doughnuts.

The rhubarb that was stewing on the stove top spluttered and spitted away reminding me that the cake slices were half the issue right now.  Crumble needed other ingredients beside just the rhubarb.  The 'Stock Cupboard Supply' pixie had left me a pittance of plain flour to work with, along with some homemade vegan margarine; but it wasn't enough for the promised maternal crumble let alone the one that Phil had conned me out of in the latter stages of planning.  Before anyone else says, "just bloody go down the shops", let me remind you that a) we live in Cornwall and the shops are not open 24 hours; b) It is summer season and it is quite frankly an ordeal to perform such a simple errand if you have to run the gauntlet of tourist traffic (particularly those who don't want to get within 5 metres of the hedges that line our road out of the village) and c) I really couldn't be arsed.

The bloody pixie hadn't left many porridge oats to save the day either.  However by now the pixie was quite tipsy so seeds, nuts, and the rest of our supply of muesli went into the mix.  I was quite pleased about the latter actually as, to be fair, muesli is pretty boring stuff anyway and it had been hanging around for a while.  Somehow the crumbles made it through and got made.  

The next morning the rhubarb hangover hit as I did my early morning swimming spin before work.  The crumbles may have survived but I simply couldn't turn up empty handed after my rhubarb cake slice promise to my colleagues.  I cut my swim slightly short and headed to the nearest Co-op with a view to their vegan doughnuts being my saviour.  Truro Co-op is an interesting place at 7.30am; far busier than you would expect.  Interesting characters too. One elderly male customer commented to me that he would like to "do his hair like you next time".  I have long hair down to my waist. He was bald.  I laughed and he said "what's so funny?" (with a pure Cornish glint in his eye) before moving on to his next victim.  To most this might appear random.  In Cornwall, this is a lovely wholesome verbal breakfast.

In the end Roger got his doughnuts and everybody else said they had actually forgotten about my rhubarb cake promise anyway.  

Monday, 24 July 2017

My Bestest Vegan Mate

Apologises for this soppy post.  It's not like me but hey, whatever, I don't care!

You see, I am so very lucky.  Today, 18 years ago, I met Phil on a beach in Newquay, after answering his advert in the personal column of The Vegan Society's magazine.  He was 6ft 2 of lush vegan surfyness and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I first saw him. I was so nervous I couldn't stop talking and, well, as he is a man of few words most of the time anyway, he couldn't get a word in edge ways!  Luckily that didn't put him off, and despite living at the time 50 miles apart, our relationship blossomed, grew and developed.  I truly believe vegan love runs deep.  That understanding of being vegan adds that unspoken 'knowing' and love.

I can't imagine life without my vegan soul mate.  I love him as much today, if not more, than ever.  He puts up with my madness, I so with him, but most of all we stand side by side in love and belief.  Despite growing old(er) together, we remain kids at heart.

We are not big on anniversaries or anything soppy like that, and he doesn't know I am writing this blogpost.  Normally we just verbally acknowledge the fact that it is our anniversary and that's it. However, it has been such a crazy horrible year for multiple reasons, I just wanted to say to him how much I loved him and how much I have appreciated him being there totally all the way.  I love you Phil.

So, as music is such a big part of our lives, and having not long ago discovered the lovely Ouroboros album from Ray LaMontagne, I include the song below.  We've been singing some of the lyrics to each other recently when it comes on - 

When I am with you
When I am with you
I'm right where I belong
And I'm
Right where I belong....

and so this evening (Cornish weather permitting) we will be;

Sat in the grass 'neath the evening sky doubt toasting the sunset over the beach with a lovely glass of vegan vino (not a Ray LaMontagne lyric I might add)!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Shall I Or Chanterelle I?

We've been rummaging around in woodlands again recently; like you do.  The reason is that Phil is a keen mushroom hound.  The Chanterelle mushroom is however one that has evaded him for a while, but that is more my fault than his. You see he has in the past had a glimmer of doubt about identifying them, and this has made me encourage him to err on the side of caution.  Many years ago I had a bad experience with mushrooms (let's not talk about that though eh, as I was young and that was a whole other story), and I am a little nervous of any type of intoxication resulting from the consumption of any type of mushroom, whether that be for culinary or recreational purposes.  Phil however would still quite happily pick all sorts of mushrooms, as long as he was sure of their identity, and they were in the correct set and setting.

Credit to Phil though, he has been doing his research and, credit to me, I very much trust Phil's judgement.  It took him 3 seasons of doubting whether the patch of mushrooms that appeared every year in the same place were Chanterelles, but this was put to bed with just a few good Youtube clips, and looking again at the guidebooks with this enhanced knowledge.  Now there is no doubt in his mind about identifying them, and he wonders what he was thinking for even doubting that they were Chanterelles. I guess you don't know until you 'know'.  I still don't know, but am more than happy for Phil to take charge of all things mushroomy!

As we were out and about in Miles the camper van when we found these, we wanted to put these to use immediately with the few supplies we had on board.  We had some lovely fresh wild garlic and herb bread from the market in Totnes, we had some onions, herbs and spices, and some Oatly creamy oat cream.  This would be the basis of our Chanterelles in cream sauce recipe, served with the garlic and herb bread.  The idea was to let the flavour of the Chanterelles take centre stage, and so to limit adding in too many other seasonings. It was simple and quick to make, and made perfect use of our woodland harvest.  It also packed an intense mushroom flavour, but one that was subtly different from any that we had sampled before.

Chanterelles in Cream Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
1/4 tsp each salt, black pepper, vegan bouillon powder
A good harvest or punnet of mushrooms sliced
1/4 tsp dried Herbs de Provence
1 carton Oatly Cream

Dice the onion and saute in the oil until soft, and then add in the salt and pepper.  Let cook for a few seconds and then add in the mushrooms.  Saute for 4-5 mins.  Add in the stock powder, the herbs, and the oat cream and simmer for 2-3 mins.  Serve with some nice 'artisan' type bread of your choice.

Enjoy if you dare! *

* Please do not pick and consume wild mushrooms if you are in any way unsure about their identity.  The consumption of some wild mushrooms can be fatal.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Caring Colleagues and Cakey Contributions

It's been a challenging few months and my colleagues have been massively supportive on many many levels.  Sure we don't hang around with each other much outside of work but when you know you can go to work and laugh, cry, rant, hug, talk to and generally be yourself, you know that you are on the right side of lucky and that the term 'colleagues' really means 'mates'.  

Being vegan in a predominantly non vegan work environment can, on occasions, be challenging, more than some people realise.  I'm lucky on this front too as, although I am very much outnumbered as a vegan, my colleagues are understanding, non confrontational and even vegan curious on occasions.  It went a step further however this week when they presented me with a plethora of amazing vegan cakes that they had researched, sought out and bought for me as a birthday gift.  Now I would say at this point that the normal tradition is that we do make sure that each member of our team gets a birthday card from the rest of us and a gift on special birthdays, but mine wasn't a special birthday and a card would have been more than lovely.  They ignored that and decided to treat me regardless.  I was blown away more and more with each box of cake that I pulled out of the bag.  How many people can boast such loveliness from their non vegan colleagues?

The other surprise for me is that they had sourced these vegan wonders from somewhere that had slipped off our vegan radar; The Organic Coffee House in Redruth.  They had therefore by default, presented me with a blogging opportunity too. So as soon as I got these cakey delights home, before the devourer of cakes (aka Phil) returned from work, and with a watchful gaze skywards for our ever present gulls, I took the opportunity of unboxing them and getting a sunlit shot in the garden. This was the last time these cakes were going to be together and, shortly after I cut up and shared three of them out between Phil, mum, and I.  Lots of oohs and aahs filled the room as we each compared notes.  

The aim of The Organic Coffee House is to offer organic, fair trade, rainforest alliance coffee and organic wholesome vegetarian food at a reasonable and competitive price.  They offer vegan, gluten and dairy free options daily and source as many of their ingredients as locally as possible.  We were aware of The Organic Coffee House, being that it is next door to Country Store Health Foods in Redruth.  However, we had never managed to be around when it was open, nor is it in an area that we visit frequently.  We were however totally unaware of the amount of homemade vegan cakes they offered.  Well worth more frequent visits it seems.  

And more about the cakes.......well we have so far devoured the Truffle Cake, Millionaire's Shortbread, Chocolate Pot, Jaffa Cake, and Salted Caramel Cake.  Still to scoff is the Orange Polenta Cake, Lemon Curd Cake, and the Raspberry and Coconut Cake.  I imagine they won't be around by the end of the day!

If unlike me, you don't have such lovely work mates, get along to The Organic Coffee House to check out the delights for yourself.

Organic Coffee House, Redruth, Cornwall

Friday, 30 June 2017

Gifts From Alaska

Verena, my sister, set me off on my vegan pathway 30 years ago.  Basically, I went to California to visit her and came back a vegan. She now lives in Alaska and keeps her ear to the ground about all things vegan as she knows we love our food so much. With great effort to keep the refrigerated goods cool, she brought us some wonderful vegan offerings on a recent visit.  Wow, what a treat it was too.

You might have the image of Alaska as being frigid, the back of beyond, a wild expanse of wilderness, a vegan nightmare of hunting and fishing.  That is what the TV series'  frequently repeated over here would have us believe.  This is certainly not the case in Anchorage where Verena lives.  Vegan wonders abound.  Cornwall may be a little bit warmer in the winter (surprisingly not always in the summer!) but it's a wilderness when it comes to experiencing the vegan wonders my sister brought us.

The first of these lovely products we sampled was the Kite Hill Cream Cheese Style Chive Spread.  The ingredients list for this almond milk based cultured cheese spread is reassuringly short.  The creamy delight of tangy cheese balanced beautifully against the oniony bite of chive.  Spread deliciously and decadently on freshly toasted bread, the generous 8oz package stood no chance of making it to even halfway towards the 'use within 7 days of opening' date.  

Next up was the Field Roast Italian Sausages; seitan and vegetable based chunky sausages with a firm, filling texture from the Seattle based Field Roast Grain Wheat Company.  With such few ready made seitan options on the market in the UK, it was nice to give these a go.  The full rich flavour of these Italian style sausages, which incorporates aubergine, fennel, red wine, garlic and sweet peppers, is more than satisfying served on their own as part of a meal, or they would hold their own in a hearty stew.

Miyoko's Creamery European Style Vegan Butter now came under our scrutiny.  It is so good to see a palm oil free vegan butter on the market; this one being a coconut oil and cashew based cultured butter.  The firm texture, which was more slice-able than spreadable, was quite unlike the usual selection available over here.  It has a pleasant enough mild buttery taste, and melted delightfully on hot toast, but I actually preferred the taste of my homemade options.  That said, if readily available in this country, no doubt I would buy it if I was feeling lazy enough to forego the effort of making my own. In fairness, we didn't end up cooking or baking with it either and, as it states that it 'melts, cooks, bakes and spreads like butter', I feel that this one would have the edge on mine as the virgin olive oil in mine could be overbearing in some sweet bakes.

Two more Miyoko's Creamery Products were saved until last.  We had a feeling about these cheesy spreads, and this was mostly based on the fact that Miyoko is also the author of Artisan Vegan Cheese; a book I have owned and 'cooked' from for a few years now.  I've had some great successes with some of the recipes, but I was more than interested to taste 'the real deal'.  It didn't disappoint.  These rich and creamy cashew based cultured spreads delivered a tangy sharp flavour punch that led to both of our packets; Classic Double Cream Chive and Double Cream Sun Dried Tomato Garlic, disappearing pretty swiftly once opened. We just couldn't help ourselves!  These two spreads, particularly the Sun Dried Tomato one were definitely top of the list from my sister's gifts.  They certainly had me reaching for the Artisan Vegan Cheese book again and, after finding the Sun Dried Tomato and Garlic recipe in there, no doubt a cheese spread making session is imminent.

Thank you Sis for sending me on the vegan pathway and also for the lovely gifts. XX

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Vegan Roasted Sesame Seed Chocolate

We recently hopped across to Brittany for a much needed break in Miles The Camper Van. As ever our travels led us not only to beautiful landscapes and surfing opportunities but also naturally to search out food wonders. 

The reputation for France is that of not being terribly vegan friendly, but not so from our experience.  The story may be slightly different if we were eating out (although vegetarian and vegan eating establishments do seem to be on the rise over there) but with a kitchen on board, we tend to park our own 'restaurant' wherever the best views are.  

One of our sweeter discoveries on this trip was this wonderful chocolate from a company called Grain De Sail. This Bretagne company produces chocolate and coffee products, with an emphasis on organic and sustainability. 

The aim of the company is to reduce their carbon footprint by transporting their raw ingredients by transatlantic sailing boat.  Not all their products are vegan but, apart from the usual factory manufacturing warning, the dark (noir) chocolate ones we found are.  The roasted hazelnut and sesame seed flavours were a massive hit with us; the latter being our favourite.  Remember Sesame Snaps?  The chocolate covered sesame snacks are pretty nice but always leave you wanting for more chocolate.  Well the Noir Sesame Grain de Sail chocolate reverses that chocolate/sesame balance in just the most perfect way. Unfortunately, the bars we brought back with us are long eaten (those are empty packets pictured above) but it got me thinking.  Why not make our own?  At least we could sustain ourselves until we return again to Brittany!

I worked on a recipe based on raw chocolate but of course, with roasted sesame seeds involved, it couldn't be completely raw.  Roasting the seeds seems to really bring out their flavour, and this chocolate just wouldn't be as tasty with raw seeds.  I surprised myself with the results as, first time I pretty much nailed a decent sesame chocolate!  I think next time the only thing I would do differently is reduce the sweetener a touch which is actually even more of a healthy bonus. Let us not forget that sesame seeds are packed full of calcium too. This is therefore a chocolate you don't have to feel naughty about snorkelling.  

Vegan Roasted Sesame Seed Chocolate

This makes four 4" x 3" chocolate bars (two of which are pictured above)

3oz cocoa butter
1oz brazil nuts
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used raw)
3oz agave syrup (I will try 1oz less next time I think)
Pink of Himilayan pink salt
6 tablespoons sesame seeds

1.  Melt the cocoa butter in a bowl over warm water.
2.  Meanwhile grind up the brazil nuts until fine (I use a coffee/spice grinder).
3.  Add the brazil nuts, cocoa powder, agave syrup and salt to the cocoa butter.
4.  Stir well until well incorporated.
5.  Roast/toast the sesame seeds until fragrant and slightly browned.
6.  Allow to cool slightly before adding to the main mix and incorporating well.
7.  Pour into silicon molds of your liking and allow to fully set in the fridge.
8.  Unmold, try not to eat in one go, and store in the fridge.