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.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Figlets Abound

I might be edging towards 50 years old but that doesn't in the least bit minimise my childlike excitement at the wonder of growing plants from saved seeds or cuttings.  I find it actually hard to understand why anyone doesn't find it exciting too (you weirdos).  Sure I admit I do buy seeds now and then.  That's because we've got carried away eating too many of the growing plants and not allowed some to go to seed or I've been seduced by plant catalogues or unknown varieties on our travels.  However nothing is quite as satisfying as seeing the green shoots of that seed you saved last year poking up above the earth.

I've also grown plants from seeds from shop bought fruit and veg; apples, apricots, avocados and squashes being some examples.  Agave seeds have been collected from plants in Portugal and I have even successfully grown my own Moreton Bay Fig from seed collected from fallen fruits from the historically famous one in Santa Barbara, California.

Not quite as exotic but equally lovely is seeing signs of new growth from a cutting that you took from an existing plant from the garden. About twice a year I have to trim our ever growing fig (the Mediterranean one not the aforementioned Moreton Bay Fig).  I actually hate having to hack it back but saving our phone line from being 'figotaged' or ensuring the postman can deliver Phil's Surfers Journal are factors that contribute to this necessity.  The saving grace is that I will save as many of the cuttings as possible to try and encourage them into little fig trees; or figlets as I like to call them.  I kind of feel like a plant midwife!  I won't  go into the history of this fig as I have covered that in a previous post.  However, such has been the request from various people for a cutting of my fig that I've never managed to reach my target every year of 'growing to sell'.  I end up giving the cuttings I've grown away! Not this year though as I've ensured an ample supply for free gifts for friends and neighbours and also spares for potential sales (for charity I might add).

I have no regrets at all about where my final spare from last year's cuttings went though. We recently planted it in the middle of my dad's potato patch in his garden in Kent.  My dad, Robin, passed away in April and with mum unable herself to continue to grow the bare patch, we felt it was symbolic to plant something to green the area more long term.  For me a cutting from my much loved fig from home seemed perfect.  As we planted it a robin landed nearby to inspect our work.  I took that as approval of not only the positioning of the fig but also general approval from my plant loving dad of my plant producing ways.

If you are ever in doubt of the wonder of the cycle of life, save that apple seed from the apple you just ate, save those shiny wonders inside that overgrown bean pod from this summer's harvest, save those cuttings destined for the compost bin.  Stick them all in the good brown soil that Mother Earth provides.  It won't cost you or the Earth a penny and might just put a big smile on your face (and perhaps many others if you pass on the plant love).

Friday, 2 June 2017

Compassion At The Castle in Exeter

For various reasons, the Driftwood Vegans household has not been very busy on the blog front. However, the vegan world has been busy 'doing its thing' around us, particularly so recently with the Vegan Festival of Britain

We only reported last week about the wonderful Vegan Spring Fete in Plymouth; one such event that was organised in conjunction with the Animal Aid led three week long vegan festival.  Well, in a week's time the grand finale to the festival takes place, again in neighbouring Devon.

Compassion at the Castle is jointly organised with Exeter Friends for Animals and takes place on Saturday 10th June at Exeter Castle, in the heart of the city.  

Touted as being 'a vegan twist on a traditional English summer fete', with proceedings starting at 11am but then continuing into the evening with a barbecue, great music, and a bar featuring a special Vegan Festival of Britain real ale, it sounds more like a mini festival than a simple fete!

Day time offerings include a vegan market featuring over 40 stalls (there is even a vegan barber for anyone requiring a trim!).  Retail and personal care needs aside, for those seeking a more educational perspective, there are various talks and demonstrations available, including one about how to make your own soft cheese. 

A vegan event would not be complete (in fact it would be a complete failure!) if food wasn't involved and at this event, that seems to have been more than covered.  There is a vegan cafe (with a plentiful supply of cakes no doubt), catering from Indian food specialists from London, Shambhu's, and local favourites Fairfoods, alongside unusual Ethiopian offerings and the more usual burgers and hot dogs for the less adventurous.  For the damn right greedy among you (yep, I admit that would be me too), there are even vegan cream teas available.  Well, it is the West Country after all, (the cream better be on top though or it might upset the Cornish contingent!).  Do leave space for that evening barbecue though!

And if anyone is worried about the predictable British Summer weather playing a hand, never fear, as the whole event can be under cover if necessary, so no need to bring your festival wellies!

For up to the date details on this event please do visit the Facebook Event Page and you can check general details on the Vegan Festival of Britain website.