Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Hectic Vegan Vibes

Ironically life has been so hectic over the last few months that I have only really just caught up with fully checking out The Hectic Vegan, one of the newest 'kids on the block' in the ever growing vegan magazine market.  My delay in investigating was also partly due to the fact that The Hectic Vegan, currently on issue 3, was originally only available on download. Already spending most of my working day in front of a computer, I prefer my reading materials to be of the old traditional paper variety.  Yep, I'm an old fashion girl.  Our bookshelves are testament to that. So when The Hectic Vegan became available as an actual printed magazine I thought it was about time I took a proper look and purchased one.  

Led by editor Rich Underwood, a team of only three are responsible for putting the magazine together.  You have to wonder how hectic this small team's lives must be in achieving this, but with numerous contributions from varied writers the content manages to explore all aspects of vegan life; both everyday and niche.

The paper edition I got my hands on was Issue 3.  Whether it was because it was a summer edition or not, what I really liked about it was the light, airy feel it had.  It actually was very summery!  Far from feeling hectic, the colourful full page spreads made it a very uncluttered and easy read.

The Hectic Vegan Magazine Issue 3 Promo

The Hectic Vegan is available by free download from the website.  How wonderful is that?!  However, like me, if a printed copy is more your thing, you can also order these from the website at a cost of £3 plus postage.  Mine arrived super quick.  They are also available from the Dr Hadwen Trust (now called Animal Free Research UK) shop in Hertfordshire, with plans for other stockists to be available soon.

If you get a gander at The Hectic Vegan and like it, I'm sure they would really appreciate your votes in this year's Vegfest UK awards.  They've been nominated for Best Vegan Magazine.  You will find the magazines on the second from last category on the page (you don't have to vote for every category to enter).  Voting closes Sunday 1st October so be quick.  We wish them the best of luck.

Although my hectic life seems to prevent me from subscribing regularly to any of the wonderful vegan magazine offerings now available (my piles of as yet unread books would grow even taller), I do like to indulge every now and then.  The Hectic Vegan is definitely one offering I will continue to check in with.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Easy, Quick, and Very Naughty

Ever in the mood for something easy, quick, and very naughty?  You know the type of thing; you've had a lovely meal, maybe a few glasses of wine, the music is gently playing in the background and you're curled up on the sofa together, lights dimmed and suddenly you're in the mood for something very naughty.  The urge is very hard to fight so you give in.....

Suddenly you are in the kitchen as the cupboard and fridge doors are flung open with passion and you start the search. You need something chocolate or something sweet, anything,  and you need it right now!  Luckily the other day whilst in the throes of hunting sweet passion I hit upon an extremely naughty idea.

We had biscuits.  Yes, we could have been all very civilised and had a very British cup of tea with a couple of biscuits balanced very appropriately on the side of our saucers; our little pinkies stuck out to the side (for anyone not familiar with this term, 'pinkies' are a term used for your little fingers - not what some of you might have had in your heads).  Where is the fun in that though?

Nope, somehow the civilised solo biscuit was led astray by peanut butter and chocolate, and before we knew it, we had a threesome on our hands.  With great abandon the biscuits were sandwiched together with a generous dollop of peanut butter.  Meanwhile it was getting hot in the the chocolate was melted.  Then the final delectable dipping of the biscuits was applied and the chocolate coating left to set in the freezer. Now we had to wait a little while, so we had a little cuddle.

Aristotle once said "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet".  Well that's all very wholesome and healthy Ari (and okay a pretty good quote really in terms of life in general) but the word 'fruit' would have been replaced with 'Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscuit Sandwiches' if you'd opened that freezer door to experience these bad boys 15 minutes later.

Be naughty and enjoy!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Pennywort for Your Thoughts

As you can tell from some of our recent posts, we are in full foraging mode at the moment. Autumn is squirrelling season; so we've been collecting fungi, blackberries, sloes, cobnuts and anything else that comes into our sights.  Aside from the fact that this food is free, any shop brought version would have to go a long way to beat the wild stuff on taste, freshness, variety, and nutritional content. 

We've been enjoying Pennywort recently too, although this is one plant to look out for all year round.  Pennywort leaves are fleshy and succulent and are difficult to confuse with any other plant. You will often find them growing in stone walls, rock crevices, banks, hedgerows, and also sometimes on tree trunks (where we found these ones), and their mainstay environment is particularly in the West Country.  They have a delicate taste that I think is somewhere between pea shoots and a crisp lettuce.  We've simply been adding a few into a green salad but you can also add them into a stir-fry. I often graze on them when we are out walking.

Pennywort comes in many guises.  The one we pick is actually called Wall Pennywort but is also sometimes referred to as Navelwort (due to it's belly button indentation in the middle of the leaf), or Penny Pies.  There are other more aquatic Pennyworts too, one of which is actually quite invasive in the UK it seems.  You may have already heard of the Asiatic Pennywort as it is more commonly referred to as Gotu Kola.  It is used widely in Ayurvedic medicine, as well as being used as a culinary leaf in places like Sri Lanka.  We remember our friend Kasanjith, who owned an Ayurvedic hotel in Sri Lanka, using it to make a delicious and nutritious green porridge, called Kola Kenda, for us many years ago. 

The use of gotu kola in Ayurvedic medicine has spanned centuries and its health claims, still around in our modern medical world, are many and varied including improving memory, brain function, circulation, skin conditions, and wound healing.  Any search on the Internet brings up a huge amount of results, some evidence based, some not, and the web is awash with supplement after supplement containing gotu kola.  There surely must be something in it?  Personally, however, I would rather stick to Kasanjith's homemade green porridge or grazing on our own UK wild pennyworts as we stroll through the Cornish countryside.*

*Although pennyworts are difficult to confuse with any other plant, as is the case with any wild foods, please do not pick and eat them if you are in any way unsure. Please also show consideration when harvesting them.  Only take what you can eat and only take a very few leaves of any one plant, ensuring there are plenty to continue to grow. 

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'!