Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Sourdough Everything

Not that we take much notice of such things, but according to some guy in an old book, "man shall not live by bread alone".  To that I would add, "but if you had to live on bread alone, you would live a lot longer if that bread was sourdough bread".  Indeed most long lived ancient cultures developed some form of naturally fermented bread or pancake, of which some of our own personal favourites are Ethiopian injera, Indian dosas, traditional Mexican corn tortillas, and of course the whole gamut of traditional French breads.  Most people associate sourdough with the gold mining speculators of Alaska and North America, but it was the French immigrant bakers who took that idea over to the States in the first place. Way back when it was first discovered, you can imagine the sense of magic that would surround the process of turning simple bread and water into 'the staff of life'.  

My own personal sourdough journey started approximately 25 years ago, when an increasing interest in Macrobiotics and natural foods led me to try creating a starter of my own, and attempting to make naturally leavened (risen) bread.  I (Phil) can't remember where I got the recipe from, but I remember it being a bit complex, and trying to understand it correctly.  I don't think I did at the time.  Looking back I now see that my own starter was too small an amount, I did not 'feed' it enough, or regularly enough, and it soon died or appeared to.  I now know that it could have been revived with the addition of enough flour and water.  The bread that I baked with it was okay on the first try, disappointing on the second, and an inedible brick on the third.  That's where my experiments ended, I threw the lot in the bin, and didn't really think about it much until the more recent revival of 'Artisan Bakers' in the last 10 years or so.  Since then I have tried a fair few.  The depth of taste keeps me buying it over other bread.  I'd quite happily eat it just on its own when fresh, and that rich, slightly sour, nutty flavour increases the longer you chew.  It really is something to savour.

Now that it has become more popular again, the prices have risen much faster than the dough, and in an attempt to cash in on the trend every supermarket now sells at least one so called 'sourdough' loaf, or more accurately 'sourdough style' loaf.  The thing is they are not really true sourdoughs, but more often made quickly with sourdough flavourings added to fool you into thinking you are eating the real thing.  A true sourdough needs a bit of care and time, two things the supermarkets aren't that bothered about.  A true sourdough has only 3 ingredients; flour, water, and salt.  Any 'flour improving' is done by the action of time and fermentation on the dough.  With prices now around the £3-4 mark for a true sourdough loaf, and given the fact that nearly all shop-bought bread was starting to taste the same to me (bland), I started to think about having another go at baking my own sourdough bread.

Then (as with so many things that seem as though they were meant to be) one day around 6 months ago I was chatting to a friend at work, and he mentioned that he baked his own sourdough bread every week.  He kindly offered me some 'starter', and an instruction sheet that he got when he received his first batch of starter/ferment.  He has been keeping his ferment going for 7 years, and the people he got his off had been keeping theirs going for 25 years before that.  He 'feeds' and bakes his sourdough religiously, every week following the same basic recipe, and occasionally branching out into pizza bases.  I started off following his recipe with good results, so soon got the urge to 'sourdough-ize' other doughy delights.  Pizza bases quickly followed, then pitta breads, rolls, baguettes, rye bread, spelt, sesame and sunflower seed loaves, zatar flatbreads, and all manner of flour mixes in the search for the 'perfect loaf'.  Pretty much sourdough everything.  It's a search that may well be never ending as there are so many recipes and styles to try, and I have not bought bread from a shop since.

I am not going to include a definitive sourdough recipe in this blog as I am still experimenting myself, and there are so many factors involved that I don't want to get the blame if your bread does not turn out well!  Feel free to look up recipes online, source or make a good starter, and experiment.  There are also many classes that teach the process if you don't want to experiment on your own.  Baking sourdough can certainly seem daunting at first.  The type of flour you use, the consistency of your ferment, the temperature and amount of water you add, the temperature of the room you prove your dough in, the temperature of the oven, the time baking, whether you bake in a loaf tin or on a tray etc., can all influence the final product.  This can make the process seem more complicated than it actually is, but do not let this put you off. Simply put, you 'feed' your starter once a week with flour and water and put it back in the fridge.  For the loaf you add more flour, water, and salt to some ferment, you leave it to prove/rise for 12 to 24 hours, and you bake it.  Everything else is fine tuning.  You don't need any special tools or equipment.  If the old 'sourdoughs' could do it in a tent in the middle of an Alaskan winter, then it shouldn't be too much trouble for us with our modern conveniences.    

Then there are the many health benefits of sourdough bread.  In the fudge of popular thinking around health and diet some people have come to believe they are intolerant to gluten, a protein in wheat, even if they do not have a genuine health condition like Celiac disease or Crohns disease.  We have even been asked if we can eat wheat when we have told some people we are vegan, and served gluten-free pork sausages at one particularly clueless establishment (don't worry our expertise on vegan sausages enabled us to sniff them out as soon as they were put in front of us!).  Yet another plus about sourdough is that people who do have a sensitivity to wheat and have a problem eating regular bread may find they have no issues when eating a properly fermented sourdough bread.  

There may be other factors involved too, like sensitivity to chemical residues in non-organic flour, or sensitivity to the other chemicals added to bread like emulsifiers and preservatives, 'processing aids' (some of which are not vegan, or can be GMO), unspecified 'flavourings', and the eaters state of digestive health generally.  Ideally, sourdough should be made from organic flour, filtered or other pure water, and natural salt.  The reason for using organic flour is that the residues from fungicides in non-organic flours can also harm the bacteria in your ferment, and may even kill it off.  Plus, who would knowingly want to eat chemical residues?  

As the rise in popularity of natural and vegan food increases, and people become more aware of the impact their food choices have, there seems to be a parallel rising interest in the authenticity and origins of foods and other products. Perhaps people are finally starting to realise that cultures who have been quite happily living in harmony with the environment for hundreds if not thousands of years, may well 'know a thing or two' after all.  Technology has now brought us to a point of realising that some things in life are better without technological interference, or so called improvement. You may well be able to buy a fast food burger and be eating it 1 minute later, but what's the point if it is full of chemicals and is going to slowly kill you?  I'll take the time honoured approach thanks.  More people than ever are now making their own fermented pickles, drinks, and breads, and seeking to embrace a more natural balanced approach to life, and that can only be a good thing for us all.  Lets keep these traditions alive!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Forage, Home, Light Fire, Bake, Wine, Eat

An unexpected break in wind and rain had us heading out on a late season mushroom forage, via an irresistible vegan cafe forage at our favourite Cornish Vegan first.  Along for the ride was BigBroVegan, aka he of the VeganLaptopLunchbox fame.  We'd promised ages ago to take him as an additional 'shroom hound, but a series of events had conspired to delay our joint foray so we were delighted that he could join us in our last minute decision to head out.  

On our desired list of ingredients were either Parasols or Agaricus Macrosporus, both chunky 'meaty' mushrooms suitable for our plans to include in tacos for our dinner later.  Suitably secured in our rattly but treasured wreck called Pug (our 256,000 mile Peugeot 306 who actually should have a whole blog to himself such has been his infamous life story!), BigBro was transported to our secret 'shrooming location.  We would have blindfolded him but here is a man of trust and substance proven over years of service to the cause (animals not mushrooms!).  We admit we were busking it this late in the mushroom season but the recent warmer and wetter weather had given us hope for our normally reliable patch.  Luck was on our side.  An initial find of a solitary Agaricus was followed by a plethora of mature Parasol groups.  We were pleased we hadn't led BigBro on a wild mushroom hunt of the goosey kind.

With bags full of 'shroomy goodness, a mizzly darkness starting to descend, and our need to retrieve Miles our camper van from our wonderfully eccentric mechanic on the north coast, we headed back, dropping off BigBro on the way.  With both our old automobilic treasures returned home, the fire was lit just as the Cornish mizzle set in good and 'propur'.  Dinner needed to be simple, easy, hearty, and obviously include our mushroom swag.  That is when the oven can become your best friend that quietly works whilst you sit in front of the roaring fire drinking a glass of vino tinto.  With a bit of oven shuffling and minimal prep, this is what we came up with.  You can put the sweet potato from the taco dish in at the same time as the first baking of the aubergines from the second dish, and then the two dishes can just be cooked along together.

Simples Wild Mushroom Tacos
This made 6 tacos.  You don't have to use wild mushrooms and Portabello mushrooms would be a good substitute (use the equivalent of about 10 as an idea of quantity as all mushrooms shrink when baked).

Halve a large sweet potato and bung it in the oven at about 200 degrees C.  Cook this until soft (other stuff from the second recipe can cook at the same time).  Once soft, scrape out the flesh, leaving the skin on the baking tray, and mash it in a bowl with some chipotle or mole paste to your level of desired spiciness.  Put the mixture back into the skins and let it cook a bit longer but don't let it dry out.

Meanwhile chunk up or thickly slice your mushrooms and put in a baking dish.  Dribble over some soya sauce to taste (we found a chipotle soya sauce which is good and went with the Mexican theme), some vegan Worcester sauce, some olive oil and a grind or two of black pepper.  Bake these in the oven (they won't take as long as the sweet potato though) stirring part way through.

When you are almost ready to eat, warm up the taco shells.  Slice up the potato halves to even out between the six tacos and squish gently into the bottom of each.  Top with mushrooms and a sprinkle of coriander.

Simples Aubergine Bake
We're greedy so this serves 2 very nicely thank you!

Slice 2 large aubergines into half inch thick rounds.  Oil up a bit and bake them at 200 degrees C until nicely soft and browned (about 20 minutes in our ancient oven).  You can bake these the same time as the sweet potato above.

Meanwhile, fry one large sliced onion until soft and then chuck in some minced garlic.  I used one clove but if Phil hadn't been watching, two would have been snuck in.  Once starting to brown, add a 400g can of chopped tomatoes, one tablespoon of tomato puree and a handful of torn fresh basil leaves (to taste), along with salt and pepper to season.  Let this sauce bubble away gently for 10 or 15 minutes.

Lightly oil a baking dish and put a layer of the baked aubergines in.  Top with a layer of the sauce.  Add a layer of your favourite vegan grated cheese.  Keep layering and finish with some cheese so you get a bubbly loveliness on top at the end once baked.  Pop the dish in the oven, again still 200 degrees C, for about 15-20 minutes but basically until it is all bubbly and lovely.

So there you go; serve the tacos and the aubergine bake with some fresh green salad, maybe a bit of avocado, some mayo and whatever else takes your fancy.



Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Scooby Snacks and Savoury Sprinkles

It's getting cold now huh?  For various reasons over the last few months I have been ducking out of cooking and Phil has predominantly been 'master chef'.  However, the recent turn in the weather has me wandering back into the kitchen and planning cosy cooking sessions.  The weekend saw the revival of one of my favourites from a while back; Seitan with Mushroom and Red Wine Sauce.  However I wanted to also kick start the dehydrator again and make some snacks and staples, and a newly acquired copy of Crazy Sexy Kitchen from a charity shop had just the right recipes I was looking for.

I was feeling the nutty vibe and so started with the Curried Cashews and then moved on to some sweet chili infused maple candied pecans.  Both are great for those 'in front of the fire TV snack' winter evenings, but are equally at home as a topping for savoury dishes (I had some of the cashews sprinkled over my lunch today and Phil has just rushed to check on how many are left as I write this!).  Although we made these in our dehydrator, Crazy Sexy Kitchen suggests baking as an alternative way to prepare them if you don't have a dehydrator.

The third recipe for the dehydrator (which doesn't have a baked alternative) was also from Crazy Sexy Kitchen and was the Truffled Parmesan.  Wowzers, this stuff is good!  It is a wonder that it actually made it to the crumbling and jarring stage as Phil and I kept sneaking little sections of it here and there as we broke it up.  Thankfully we do have some left to sprinkle over various foodie wonders but I might put a line on the outside of the jar to watch for spoonfuls being snorkeled straight from the jar à la Phil style!  Hilariously after looking up an online version of the recipe to link to for this post, I noticed it should have been made with pine nuts.  For some reason our version used pistachio nuts.  Maybe I peaked too early on the 'spare' red wine from the seitan recipe I was making at the same time!  Whatever, it tastes delicious.

We needed some dukkah for another recipe (Roasted Butternut and Cauliflower Pilaf) I was making so Phil got in the sprinkly mood and decided to make some.  Dukkah is a traditional Egyptian condiment typically served with bread and oil, or with fresh vegetables.  We only needed two teaspoons but now have a bountiful two jar supply of this fragrant nutty delight of a condiment.  The recipes for dukkah are many and varied but here's how he made it.

100g Hazelnuts
20g Sunflower seeds
60g Sesame seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt

Dry fry or roast the hazelnuts and sunflower seeds for 8-10 minutes.  Dry fry or roast the sesame, cumin and coriander seeds for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Coarsely grind the hazelnuts and sunflower seeds.   Finely grind the other seeds with the salt and pepper and mix everything together.  Once it has cooled store in a jar in the fridge.

With the kitchen now infused with exotic culinary aromas, Phil was now enthused to infuse even more and decided to add to our sprinkle stocks by making some gomasio, otherwise known as sesame salt.  This is a traditional Japanese condiment that tastes and smells of more than the sum of its parts.  It is actually unbelievable to think it is only two ingredients, but it's all in the preparation.  Toast the sesame seeds too long and they become bitter.  You want them lightly toasted to keep their sweetness which is nicely balanced by the salt.  It's all about the Yin and Yang baby!  We've just had a lovely miso soup with some sprinkled on top.

16 parts Sesame seeds (can use white or black)
1 part Sea salt

Dry fry the seeds for 2-3 minutes until just starting to brown and pop.  Add the salt and then grind in a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar. If you use a grinder, don't do it for too long as you only want about half of the seeds ground.  Store in a jar in the fridge.

Even though the weather has turned we are now feeling like cosy squirrels as we gradually stock up on these tasty staples.  So check your nuts, get grinding, get your seeds nice and toasty, and we can guarantee a hot start to the winter before the first proper sprinkling of snow appears.  

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Old Milky Way

I've become a bit old fashioned recently.  It must be age and the onset of autumn perhaps.  Whether it is the musty smell of red, gold and brown fallen leaves, or the damp and cold creeping darkness of the after work evenings, I've taken to a night time routine of enjoying a hot milky drink. I'm not quite sure what happened as I've never previously been aware of the need for such a beverage in my life.  Perhaps I've reached that age that listening to classical music whilst wearing comfortable slippers sat in front of a roaring fire is all the rage?  Ah.....well yes, that is what I am currently doing as I write this very post.  Let's just skip past that shall we and get into the milky drink detail instead?

Plant Based Artisan - Vegan Honea (Various) (190ml) - TheVeganKindI'm obviously not talking about the likes of Horlicks or Ovaltine here; with their less than comfortable whey, milk and palm oil ingredients.  I'm talking about the simplicity of heating up your favourite plant milk with whatever floats your vegan milky drink boat.  My favourite combo at the moment on this new voyage of discovery is oat milk (the whole milk Oatly version available in the chiller), with a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (apparently just 1/2 teaspoon a day is enough of this powerful metabolism raiser to burn an extra kilo per month), a good old grating of whole nutmeg (just looked it up out of interest and found that it has some great benefits too), a sprinkle of vanilla powder and a splash of maple or brown rice syrup.  Divine it is.  I've just acquired a jar of Vegan Honea too, so my milky way adventure will continue. In addition, with my month long alcohol free Stoptober now over with, who knows what else will find its way into the mix?  I don't intend to grow old-fashioned gracefully that's for sure.

Am I really being old-fashioned though?  Are there other secret vegan hot milky drink lovers out there or has this 'pensioner' of a beverage been gazumped, discarded and forgotten in the wake of the youthful coffee and speciality tea revolution?  I'd love to know.  And if you are reading this and haven't had a hot milky one for a while, go on, give it a go.  I anticipate anyone over the age of 40 might just go 'ahhhhhh' as a result.  And for listening recommendations whilst you drink; try The Flower Duet from the opera Lakme by Delibes.  With the right level of cinnamon it hits quite the spot.  

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Salt Path

As the strap line to our blog suggests, we don't just write about vegan food, although yes we admit it does seem to dominate!  Given the fact that Phil and I read so many books, it is surprising that books don't feature more.  My mum used to tease us about how many books we have and always ask "so how many books did you buy today?", if she knew we'd been out for the day.  

The majority of our reads come from charity shops, but every now and then you come across books that you just have to splash the full cash on (and indeed support book shops and talented writers at the same time).  The Salt Path was one such book and one that will remain on our bookshelf indefinitely instead of circulating back to the charity shops.  It warranted a blogpost too.

If there was ever a book to put perspective back in your life, this is it.  I've had a couple of shitty years and The Salt Path almost became a self help book for me.  Crucially this is a real life story where life has been thrown into a storm force wind.  Facing into that storm was the author Raynor Winn and her husband of 32 years, Moth.  

Learning that Moth is terminally ill is unbelievably just the beginning of their journey along The Salt Path.  Days later they lost their home and livelihood; basically everything their lives were.  At this point most people wouldn't then take off on the 630 mile walk along the South West Coast Path.  Raynor and Moth did; redefining their life together with every step they take.  It is a gripping read and one that has you walking alongside them all the way.

Despite the fact that their situation is so desperate and one that most of us, thankfully, have not endured, I found their story really relatable.  Having lived in both Devon and now Cornwall, Phil and I are familiar with the coast path.  We have walked the entire section in Cornwall and most of it in South Devon over the years, not with the shadow of terminal illness or being homeless though.  Relating to it however is less about the familiarity of the scenery that Raynor and Moth walked through and lived within.  

The natural world has a rawness and honesty to it that somehow comes to the rescue when all other things in the world have abandoned you.  It's like it holds you on the edge when all those other things behind you are trying to push you over.  When my mum was in her last few days, the hospice staff were kind enough to move her to a room with a better view of the outside.  Here she was transfixed with watching the wind gently moving the nearby trees and both of us watched together.  We took solace from that, as I do now from watching clouds drift overhead, hearing waves roll in, sensing the glide of the seagull, smelling the scent of seaweed on the air.  It's almost as if when life strips you back to the basics, you rediscover what life and home really mean.  It is not an unknown thing that the natural world can heal, but it is often a forgotten one.

There is another aspect to The Salt Path that I found relatable.  Most of us as kids I'm sure had times when we dreamt of running away; that teenage urge to strip away all that is imposed on you and go find yourself.  I've even felt that as an adult, and each time I have dreamt of it, it is always the wilds that have lured me.  It is a romantic concept, and far from the reality that Raynor and Moth were forced, rather than lured, into.  Homelessness is not a teenage dream.  It is a hungry, cold, desperate nightmare.  However, what remains from that concept in Raynor and Moth's journey is that stubborn determination, fierce independence and openness to just see what was around the next corner, despite the lack of choice.  It holds a strange kind of freedom.

The Salt Path is Raynor's first book, and an example of what indeed was around the next corner for her.  She now lives in Cornwall with Moth and their dog Monty, and has become a regular long distance walker.  She also writes about and campaigns against homelessness.  It would be a delight to run into these inspiring people along the salty pilgrimage of the South West Coast Path.  

If you are feeling like you want to run or hide away at the moment, or life is just getting to that 'really, what else could possibly be piled on top of me' moment, I would implore you to do two things.  Go and get yourself a copy of The Salt Path and sit in your warm, cosy home and read it.  The second is to then go out into nature and let it seep into you, physically and mentally.  Perspective and choice is a privilege that not everyone has access to.

To catch up with the latest from Raynor check out @raynor_winn

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A Rio Nuevo Runs Through Cornwall

This past weekend was our first weekend home for a few weeks.  We thought about making up for missed trips away during the summer in Miles our campervan, before the weather and darker nights totally caught up with us, but the rain first thing Saturday put us off a bit.  Then there was the fact that The Market was on too and, having missed the last few, we were eager to make sure we got to this fabulous monthly farmers market that is right on our doorstep.  It was decided.  As much as we loved being away in Miles, this weekend we would stay on home turf.

The Market has been running now for just over a year and seems to be growing in popularity each time we go.  It runs on the first Saturday of the month in Crantock Village Hall and aims to bring together the best in Cornish producers, growers, and makers, along with an ever changing rotation of food catering choices.  This is very much a community market with an environmental slant. Although not completely vegan, even in the few times we have managed to go in the last few months, we've noticed an increase in stalls advertising at least some of their wares as vegan; from cupcakes, pizzas and pasties to shampoo and cleaning products.  Each time we have discovered a new stall with new vegan options.  This time was no exception.

As we walked into the smaller of the two halls, Phil made a beeline for a stall selling chocolate.  He can't help it; he is a chocolate terrier and becomes deaf to all else around him when chocolate presents itself.  Meanwhile I was distracted by the smiling greeting of the lady behind the stall and even more so when she said, "You don't recognise me do you?".  I was embarrassed to admit I didn't.  I was in that whirlwind of brain trying to connect the disconnect, and in the unfortunate happenings in my life over the last couple of years, it seems these days my memory is even more fond of letting me down; that and the general effects of age.  Sara graciously reintroduced herself to me as a student where I work.  In fairness Sara graduated some eight years ago and since then I have worked with over 6000 more students!  Once we got talking however, I did remember Sara and was now curious about how she had gone on the journey from a Marine and Natural History Photography graduate to running her own chocolate company.

Her interest in Natural History photography had led naturally on to conservation and Sara went on to study further in this field.  Although now settled in the UK, Sara, originally from Columbia and her husband, Andres from Ecuador, were both interested in working sustainably with communities back home.  It was at their wedding in the rain forest in Ecuador that the pieces of their dream fell together when the locals showed them how to make chocolate.  They dug deeper and were confronted with the struggles that cacao farmers face to make a living whilst trying to keep the non-hybridised varieties financially viable and therefore Ecuador's rich cacao heritage alive.  Direct and fair trade was the way forward and Rio Nuevo handcrafted chocolate was born.

Whilst I had been chatting with Sara, Phil had been working his way through the samples available on the stall and talking chocolate with Andres.  The noises coming out of Phil whilst he listened and tasted were good and when he then bought two bars, I knew it was quality stuff.  You see Phil has become somewhat of a chocolate sommelier and does not suffer chocolate fools gladly.  Chocolate could be as fair trade and right on as you like but if it hasn't got the flavour, texture, mouth feel and general 'je ne sais quoi', you won't make the Official Certifiable Phil Chocolate Grade of Excellence (or 'addiction' as I call it).  

All of Rio Nuevo's chocolate bars are vegan friendly and clearly marked as such.  Single estate Arriba Nacional cacao beans are used in all their bars and are bought and imported directly from their farmers in Vinces, Ecuador, thus ensuring that all the money goes towards supporting the livelihoods, communities and environment concerned, along with the viability of this non hybridised cacao bean.  It's a win-win-win situation.  The supplier wins, the producer wins and the customer gets great tasting chocolate!  

The six bars Rio Nuevo currently produce include three plain bars (ranging from 60% to 80%) and three flavoured bars (peanut, cinnamon and brandy).  The two plain bars that Phil bought quickly disappeared whilst I am still savouring the cinnamon one that Sara kindly gave me (the fact that it still exists is due to my hiding skills as any quality chocolate left in full view of the sommelier is quickly 'sampled' by him!).  

200x46Whilst the Rio Nuevo is springing forth from their base in Falmouth, I think we will be seeing more of them in the future.  They have ambitious plans and, with their passion and enthusiasm for quality, sustainability and community support, I am sure that their new river will swell to Amazonian proportions in the not too distant future.  If you don't catch them at a local market in Cornwall, you can buy direct from their website as well as find out more about their story.  

Sara didn't know we were going to write a blogpost about Rio Nuevo.  I hope she now forgives me for not remembering her from all those years ago!

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Mooplehog Creates New A30 Diversion

A trip west and over the border to Devon this past weekend took us up onto Dartmoor in Miles our Camper Van.  We were 'truffle hounding' for chanterelles and the peace of a night under the moorland stars, but we were also in Devon to meet one of my oldest friends (not in age I might add!) who was staying in Devon for a few weeks.  For various reasons we had been unable to meet up for far too many years so I demanded I treat her to lunch on Sunday and a long overdue catch up.  As we were both moorland bound, a mutual friend (thank you Erica!) had suggested Mooplehog in Okehampton, which we were told was not only open on Sundays but was also vegan friendly.  

We arrived at the small and cosy Mooplehog to be greeted by the beaming faces of Rebecca and Shane.  The delight was mutual I felt when we asked what vegan options they had on offer to be told proudly that they only offered vegan food!  You know it is that whole thing when vegans have sought out vegans and the meeting of minds and hungry mouths is a wonderful thing!

One of the counters was heaving under a colourful display of fruit and vegetables; all of which we were told were locally sourced, and as Rebecca guided us through the menu, it is clear that the priority at Mooplehog is the use of fresh ingredients; locally sourced and magically transformed into healthy creative dishes, without the reliance on prepackaged vegan alternatives or anything with palm oil.  

The fresh produce on offer is 'Ready, Steady, Cooked' into whatever imaginative foodie creations they can dream up.  Figs from a friends tree had formed the base for a couple of the dishes on offer on Sunday for example.  The dishes were therefore distinctly different from other places we have eaten and all were very tasty.  The freshness and imaginative use of herbs, spices and other wonderful flavourings shone through, even in the simplest of accompanying salads.  Mooplehog also offer a fine selection of loose teas and unavoidably tempting sweet treats to round off a very fine meal.

Mooplehog has only been open since 8th September and got off the ground with a small Kickstarter.  It was however against the advice of their financial advisor.  It is true that Okehampton isn't the most obvious place for a vegan establishment.  It is a smallish market town in West Devon on the northern edge of the wonderfully misty wildness of Dartmoor National Park.  The main A30 (Devon and Cornwall's only 'motorway' basically) bypassed Okehampton in 1988 and the heavy jams in the town (of which Phil and I experienced when we were kids travelling to Cornwall in the 70's) are a mere memory, along with the passing trade.  It has a couple of health food stores hidden away but otherwise a sleepy destination for vegan activity, until now that is. 

Mooplehog sits proudly on the main street through town, far from hidden away, and seems to be drawing customers not only locally (curious non vegan locals included) but from much further afield.  It seems that their financial advisor didn't fully appreciate the power of the vegan pound!  I salute Rebecca and Shane for sticking to their vegan guns (that sounds a bit wrong but you know what I mean!).  They are proud to be a fully vegan establishment, yet at the same time they are not shouting it from the rooftops, which has that wonderful effect of bringing in customers who might not otherwise experience vegan food.  Their passion for good food and veganism, and their hard work has powered them forward and is now bringing in appreciative customers from far and wide.  It has certainly put Okehampton on our vegan map, with a new A30 diversion now a given for us!  

Check out Mooplehog's very busy Facebook page for events, including their Saturday Night Munchies buffets (next one coming up on 27th October so get booking!), Brunches (including one for Boxing Day!), daily specials and mouthwatering photos.  They are currently open every day except Wednesday with Sunday opening being 10am - 2pm.  

In conclusion, Mooplehog is well worth a visit and if you are passing by up or down the A30 you'd be an absolute fool not to bypass the bypass and support this new vegan venture!

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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Plant Based Business Opportunity in Cornwall

If you already live in Cornwall or dream of living in Cornwall, and have aspirations to run your own plant based business then La Cantina Cafe at Mount Pleasant Eco Park, in Porthtowan could be just the opportunity you are looking for.

As a multi-purpose events space, Mount Pleasant Eco Park is a vibrant and popular destination for veggies, vegans, and those with a passion for the environment, community, great food and cracking music.  The year round events at the Eco Park reflect this diverse audience and include everything from gigs, conferences, retreats, markets, and weddings to its annual Tropical Pressure Festival, frequent Roots Reggae Roasts and supper evenings.  The park also includes busy workshop units, community gardens, an organic allotment (run by the Down to Earth Foundation), a wild camping field, and at the heart of it La Catina Cafe; all of which are perched magnificently overlooking the beautiful north Cornish coast.

If you are a chef with a passion for plant based, fresh, organic cooking and you like the sound of working in such a happening and beautiful place, then you could be just the person the Eco Park is looking for to take over La Cantina Cafe and make it your own.  Experience (at least 5 years catering experience) and drive is a given but armed with both of these they are looking for someone who can grow the business to its full potential and even possibly expand.  

For full details on this exciting opportunity and for details on how to apply, check out the Mount Pleasant Eco Park Job Vacancies page. You can also drop Sophia at the Eco Park an email to discuss this opportunity in full.  The Facebook page also gives loads of information, up to date happenings and a great general feel of what the Eco Park is all about.

Friday, 14 September 2018

A Land Base for The Naturally Vegan Plot!

A couple of years ago we wrote about The Naturally Vegan Plot, a veganic gardening project set up by two Cornish vegans, Elaine and Jim.  Since then they have tirelessly worked towards growing this project but have had various set backs centred around the land they had rented.  As a result, and to ensure the future of the project, Elaine and Jim have decided the only way forward is to buy land as a permanent and secure base. To this end they have set up a Crowdfunder campaign to raise enough money for at least one acre of land.  With their plants and resources currently in storage, this campaign represents the make or break of the whole Naturally Vegan Plot project.  

As vegans we tend to be more switched on than most as to where our food comes from, the importance of growing our own, the protection of the soil, land and wildlife.  Basically on the most simple level, being in touch with and protecting the land is a crucial ingredient in securing our future food needs, let alone all the other factors associated with the less sustainable and non vegan food production options.  

So please, if you can afford to do so on whatever level, support this project by contributing to this Crowdfunder Campaign.

To read more about the project and to find out about their other events and fund raising activities visit The Naturally Vegan Plot's Facebook Page.  There is also loads of information on the Crowdfunder Campaign page.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Eau De Badger

In the depths of the hot summer we had installed a Belfast sink in the front garden to serve as a watering hole for the increasing amounts of wildlife that hone in on our tiny green patch.  The small bird bath and dog bowl offerings that we had previously provided had seemed insufficient and required daily (sometimes twice daily) top ups to keep up with demands in the heat of the moment.  

However, the water in our expanded 'pond' has been disappearing quickly too, to the extent that I was thinking there might be a leak.  Daily sips from next doors cats, the flock of 40 odd sparrows, and the clumsy bathing antics of the collared doves still didn't seem to account for the daily loss.  There had however been no puddle under the sink to indicate a leak.  I knew that the badgers had utilised the previous dog bowl facility I had provided (evidenced by the gathering of jowly grit the next morning after a fresh filling the night before).  However despite this, I don't think I had fully accounted for the slurpability of the black and white bandits when it comes to a good water supply.  

After another watering can of water was emptied into the depleted sink, I made a mental note to borrow one of the trail cameras from work again and duly brought it home the next evening.  The results indicated that indeed I had very much underestimated the value of the new bar we had recently opened in our front garden for our black and white clientele.  At least 30 seconds (that is as much as I had set each clip to record) of slurping was sucking up the pondy cocktail on occasions throughout the night.  The water obviously tastes a whole lot better with green garnishes from the pond than straight from a clean dog bowl.

Humorous slurping noises aside (turn up the volume on the top clip), this all very much highlighted something I am quite passionate about.  Many people choose to feed birds (I do and it is possibly one of the reasons for the increased sparrow population in our garden over the years - along with the tall safe vegetation we offer) but many forget that more importantly wildlife needs a good clean source of water.  It may have been highlighted more this summer but the truth is, wildlife needs this all year round, including during icy winter periods too.  So dog bowl, pond, sink, washing up bowl, or old re purposed/reused plastic container; fill it up and stick it out there and you'd be amazed what might come along and set up its bar stool in your garden.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Case of the Disappearing Seitan Jerky and Other Mysteries

In the past two days a couple of very mysterious incidents have occurred.  

The first, like it does, concerns some seitan jerky I was in the process of making.  I love Primal Strips and have been wanting to try and make my own jerky for a while.  After all, I love them but hate the plastic involved.  I set about fiddling around with a seitan recipe I use quite often now, slicing and then coating it in some homemade BBQ sauce (combine tomato puree, cider vinegar, crushed garlic, maple syrup, soya sauce, a few drops of chilli sauce and a few drops of hickory smoke) before baking it.   Thirty minutes later I went to check it.  Hmmm, it seems that our oven is so smoking hot that one whole slice of jerky had completely evaporated.  Mystery number one.  

Okay, so it really wasn't that much of a mystery when you live with a food loving Phil.  I went to tell him about it, with a wry smile, to find him still chewing......innocently.  The mystery was more how he had astrally projected himself past me at some point in the preceding minutes to nick some.  

Well the jerky was ready anyway so I thought it was my turn to try it.  Phil obviously requested another bit.  Before we knew it.........well it was history.  I told myself that the cooler it got, the crunchier it seemed to become anyway so best to eat it whilst it was fresh and experiment again with making some more soon.  Taste wise, it was damn good.  Texture wise, it needs more work if we weren't going to scoff the lot straight out of the oven.

Mystery number two occurred today.  Again, like it does, it involves bats.  Have you ever seen bats during the day?  I'm not talking about dusk time but a clear, sunny day around 4pm.  There were about 4 or 5 of them flying around quite happily for about 5 minutes or so in a quiet Cornish wooded valley in the back of beyond we happened to be tiptoeing around.  Weird huh?  I looked it up when I got home and it seems that it isn't unheard of.  Mystery again solved but it was pretty amazing to see.

Oh I do like a good but trivial mystery to solve.  I guess that is the Scooby Doo coming out in me?!

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Fig Leaves and Thieves

Any of our regular blog readers may remember our relatively frequent musings on our beloved fig tree in our front garden (well beloved to me more than Phil!).  Despite its relative age it still only produced its first single edible fig for us to enjoy in 2016, then zero last year.  The wonderfully warm summer weather this year however seemed to have worked its wonder on swelling the fruits and, with no usual violent Cornish summer gales to knock them off, we looked like we were in for the best harvest yet.  

Every time I left my nightly badger "leave our squashes alone please" offerings or topped up the bird feeders in the front garden, I would have a glance up into the luscious green fig branches noting where each swelling fruit was or, on the lower branches, having a quick squeeze to check for ripeness.  Then I started to struggle to find the figs in the places I was sure I had seen them before.  The ones on the lower branches still seemed to be there though thankfully.  Then after a few days away I checked the aforementioned lower figs to discover that something had beaten us to it.  Two out of the three were visibly pecked to smithereens, despite the fact that they weren't quite ripe enough yet!  Determined that I at least deserved a little look in on our figgy offerings, I literally 'bagged' the remaining one.  Wrapped in a plastic bag protection I imagined this would not only protect it from suspected beaky raiders but help enhance its ripeness.  It worked from the former point of view but sadly the bag enhanced the ripeness just a little too much and it was way too ripe when I returned to it.  Not that it stopped the figgy raider from enjoying the fruits of my labour.  As soon as I had unbagged it, the masked attacker was caught red beaked and the fig finally succumbed in dramatic abandon.

Well that was that for another year, unless the new figs forming were going to suddenly get a growth spurt on before winter set in.  Another plan was needed for next year; one where the fruits were equally shared out.  In the meantime, I suddenly remembered something I had read about making fig leaf tea.  It had been in the depths of winter when the fig tree was devoid of leaves but a quiet determination to at least make use of some parts of the tree had unearthed the thought in my head.  I returned inside for a quick search and found very quickly that not only could you use fig leaves to make a tea but it seems it is really good for you too!  

A quick nip back outside, leaves picked, kettle boiled and I was brewing up a sample whilst I continued to read about the benefits.  It seems that for health reasons, particularly to benefit the treatment of diabetes, people take fig leaf extract.  Perhaps this is because they don't readily have a fig tree to hand, as a tea of boiled fresh leaves was also stated as beneficial.  In addition fig leaves have a positive effect on blood pressure, along with various other ailments including cancer.  Apparently they are a good source of fibre and calcium too.  The more I read, the more I felt a little better about old figgy outside and its inability to produce us big juicy fruits.

After what seemed like a sufficient brew, I poured myself a cup.  The smell itself was enough to indicate this was going to be good, and it was.  It is slightly reminiscent of a sun warmed bank of Cornish gorse or to put it in less Cornish terms; it smelt and tasted mildly coconutty.  It was delicious.

I merely took two leaves, cut them up and poured boiling water over them.  I have since read that generally people boil the leaves in water for about 15 minutes so I'll probably try that next time too.  For winter use it seems that the best approach is to dry some of the leaves before grinding them to a powder and then using this to make tea.  As we now have a dehydrator, that immediately went on my 'to do' list.  I even read that people use the leaves as edible wraps.  Hmmm, I wasn't so convinced by that but maybe I need to investigate the recipes first and give it a go before I dismiss it.

I felt pretty good after a couple of cups of fig leaf tea.  I even nearly forgot all about the fig thieves outside.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Reflections on Death

Fifteen months ago I lost my dad.  Four weeks ago my mum followed; hence the recent blog silence.  I was beside both of them for minutes, hours, days, weeks; holding their hands before, during, and after.  It is where I wanted to be, despite the fact it digs a hole right through you.  As you can imagine, I have spent much time reflecting on death recently.  The mind can be a muddled place as a result but I wanted to honestly and openly share some of these thoughts in the hope that others will find them interesting.

As vegans we have a respect for all life but what about death?  My first honest thought to share is that by the time death came to my parents, I welcomed it for them; willed it even. For the last four days of mum's life she was taking twelve laboured breaths followed by thirty seconds of not breathing, before gasping back into the cycle; that's four days non stop until the last thirty minutes or so when she thankfully calmed more.  My dad was less laboured but had more pain but ultimately for both it just seemed like such hard work for them.  When the time came I was flooded with numbness and huge relief.  I welcomed death, as I am fairly sure they did.  But a vegan welcoming death to another living being?  Under the circumstances I imagine most would agree this is totally natural but as a vegan, I also found it conflicting in my muddled mind.

My second honest admission is that such was the suffering, and for both thankfully they were blessed with less so than many, I did have thoughts of how I could 'help'.  This thought was both natural and shocking to me at the same time.  Mum even said about five days before she died "please help me".  I asked her in response, "have you had enough mum?" and she said "yes".  It tore me apart.  You can see why people do 'help'; that love drives people to do it.  That whole saying 'cruel to be kind' seems to have some substance here.  Ultimately though I couldn't have done it.  Some of it comes down to cowardice; whichever way that coin is flipped, but also I know really my dad and mum would have hated me facing consequences.  So instead I resorted to being there, monitoring, feeding back to the caring and loving staff my translation of pain and discomfort levels so medication could be tailored.  It had been a startling thought though; a vegan with fleeting thoughts of basically murder?

This is when I then got to thinking about our animal companions.  As hard as it is, us humans are given that 'power' to decide when our non human family members can no longer endure suffering and end it for them; peacefully, quickly, gently.  How easy the world perceives we can make that decision for animals and yet not for our human loved ones.  Does that make life cheaper for animals or humans?  If you love that living being, that dying being, you should be trusted to help both.  My parents both signed 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders a few years ago.  Maybe there should be a witnessed order available for 'please euthanise' too?  I'm potentially on very dodgy ground here but as a non speciesist being I am perplexed as to why the euthanasia debate still rumbles on for humans.

Another reflection for me centred around medication.  The pharma industry is the epitome of the devil to me on the most part but here I was discussing, requesting and willingly accepting the increased medical needs of my parents.  It was surreal how desperate and reliant I was, even thankful that an extra dose could offer some reprieve from any suffering as things progressed.  I spent some time talking to a lovely lady whose dad was in the room opposite my mum.  Her dad too was struggling.  Our despair was reflected in each others faces as we talked in one of our many 'take five' moments in the sitting room of the hospice.  She surmised that she would rather go into the middle of nowhere and take a load of hallucinogens if she were in the same position as our parents.  I had to agree.  This was by no means a reflection on the loving, caring and beyond amazing staff at the hospice.  It was more a reaction to the chemical cocktail constantly administered to enable the long drawn out process to be more comfortable.  As a vegan I think it comes down to choice.  For my mum and dad I facilitated what they chose.  When my time comes, and if I can make a choice, well I will.

I have already mentioned the nursing/hospice teams involved in my parents care.  How these amazing people can, in the face of what they experience day in, day out, maintain such unconditional and compassionate love and care is just mind blowing.  It brings tears to Phil's and my eyes just thinking about it.  Nothing was too much trouble.  Humans certainly know how to look after their own (although I truly recognise that this isn't necessarily the case the world over and horrible atrocities do indeed occur).  Dying humans are on the whole lavished with care; even in death and the ensuing ceremonies, service or rituals.  The death of some animals are indeed ritualised (cruelly so) but generally animals are led unceremoniously to their deaths and then ceremoniously served up on a plate.  This was just another random thought that a very muddled vegan had at the time.  

Here is another thought surrounding humans.  Many vegans associate kindness purely with other vegans.  Well I must say I have met some pretty uncaring vegans at times.  I have also met an awful lot of non-vegans who have shown me unconditional love; particularly so in the last two years.  To draw a distinction here is just insane and short sighted.  Kindness is kindness; whatever form or level it takes.  It shouldn't be dismissed purely because it doesn't go far enough.  

I could go on describing other thoughts and emotions during this dark time including anger, flatness, frustration and multiple stages of exhaustion and confusion but I imagine these are more natural reactions experienced by many.  Indeed I am kind of hoping that all of the things I have shared would be recognised by at least some others too.  Possibly they are a lot more natural than I thought?

Life does go on though and as I have now returned to Cornwall after my mum's funeral and sorting out some of my parents house, this outpouring I guess is also only natural.  I hope now to be able to move on to reflect on the wonderfully unusual, caring, funny and treasured moments of life with my parents instead.  They were both extraordinary in their own unique ways.

So to finish on a lighter note, here are two poems I wrote for my dad and mum, and which formed part of their commemorative services.

Robin Gill (The Robin) - 1936 - 2017
Yvonne Gill (The Chough) - 1942 - 2018

The Robin

Mum and Dad Summer 2015
I saw a robin perched on a tree
His tune was full and strong
I love the song he sung for me
Although the words were wrong

I saw a robin sat on my spade
He watched me as I planted
“You plan, you sow, you water” he said
“But you should never take life for granted”

I saw a robin upon the fence
As I walked along the way
Each time I passed he followed me
To ensure I was okay

I cannot see my bird no more
But in my heart he sings
And every bird I see now
Is my Robin on the wing

Upon the tree, upon the fence
And on the spade as well
My Dad will ever guide me
And in my life will dwell.

The Chough

The chough arrived when the sea below was turbulent and stormy.
The wind was strong to fly against with her battered wings still forming.
The cliffs seemed high but on she flew towards the solid ground.
Despite the violent heave of wave reaching up to pull her down.

She reached the shore, the sun came out and shone upon her black feathers.
She preened them now with golden beak to remove the salt strewn weather.
The gold of legs now stood her strong as she surveyed the world around her.
It was time to leave the past behind and search for her own future.

She launched herself high in the sky with a joyous burst of shrieks.
Twisting, turning, tumbling with acrobatic feats.
Her bold display soon caught the eye of a handsome little robin.
Whose breast of red and cheeky song the lucky chough was soon winning.

Their nest was built on solid rock and in it soon two youngsters.
And as the years went on this little family had much adventures.
Like her, the little chough had taught her girls to live and dare.
So they fledged the nest and went in search of lands full of choughs and bears.

Not long ago the robin flew towards the setting sun.
Distraught, the little chough took flight to follow his voyage on.
I see them now in bluest sky and above the azure sea.
Or amongst the bluebell woods upon their planted trees.

Whenever I saw a robin my mum I always told.
And a phone call made immediately upon spotting black and gold.
Whether Barranco bound, in Bretagne or on my Cornish bluffs.
I’ll still always call you mum to tell you of our choughs.