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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