Monday, 30 December 2019

Bio Sabor and Another Portuguese Feast

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When we are eastwards from our usual haunts around the South West Algarve, we always like to go to Bio Sabor, an organic produce shop that sits beside the N125 just east of Lagos.  

For anyone, let alone us fruit and veg loving vegans, it's surely like being a kid in a sweet shop.  Once you walk through the front yard, past the plethora of both practical and exotic looking plants (which are also for sale), and have stopped to stroke and then step over the chocolate Labrador that seems to be relatively in charge, you enter the main shop to a multicoloured palette.  Here are the main stars of this shop; the fruit and veg.  

It would be very easy to get overexcited in Bio Sabor, such is the variety and quality on offer.  Maybe that is just a vegan thing but faced sometimes with the limp, limited and mass produced offerings in UK supermarket aisles, it really is inspiring.  It is one of the many reasons we get a weekly veg box instead, but actually being able to go somewhere and choose exactly what you want, in the quantities you want is even better.  To give you an idea of what we are talking about, last time there were at least 12 different varieties of potatoes, and believe us, Portuguese potatoes are tasty as.  Phil had trouble which to choose for our Christmas dinner.  He chose well, but then again, it would have been hard for him to have got it wrong!  Then there were at least 5 different varieties of sweet potatoes too, and it was these that gave me an idea for the next Portuguese inspired feast I wanted to cook up whilst over here.

For this feast I wanted to rely on being inspired fully by the produce rather than cooking from existing recipes.  I also wanted to cook something in the oven, as when we are in Miles our camper van, we have to rely purely on stove top cooking.  Lastly, I didn't want to over complicate it or make it a time consuming mission (we are on holiday after all).  A mashed sweet potato topped pie kept popping into my head so I went with that, and decided on a creamy filling underneath.  Massive beautiful brown mushrooms sliced thickly, and a matching sized leek, would join the filling, with the only other addition being some thickly sliced seitan, which you can get in either the ambient or the chilled section of most supermarkets over here.  I did look for a packet of vegan shiitake mushroom cream sauce we had seen over here before but couldn't find it so used a packet of coconut milk sauce instead.  This quick, easy and basic recipe is below.

The pie, although promising to be tasty,  was a bit monochrome in colour so I wanted to add a splash of colour to the plate.  Sweet shop open in front of me I starting choosing vegetables with the intention of making a very simple side dish that let the veg speak for itself.  Bio Sabor also sells a selection of other organic produce, local specialities, olive oil, wines and so much more.  I found Phil hovering over the nut section (like he does especially since the election results!).  We've had some dishes recently that included nuts in them and so, with the almonds looking particularly good, I decided to include them in the veg dish too.  

With a fine bottle of Portuguese vegan organic wine finding its way into our basket,  a bunch of perky asparagus to also serve on the side, some lovely oranges and various other delights for the next few days, we thought it was best to check out and leave.  If you do find yourself 'in this neck of the Algarvian woods' and in need of fresh produce and cooking inspiration, we thoroughly recommend Bio Sabor.  They are even open into the evening it seems.  Do take enough cash though as they don't have a card machine.

Creamy Sweet Potato, Mushroom and Seitan Pie
As usual, I am not giving exact measurements as, well you can judge how much you want to make!  It's more the idea I am sharing.  Add some vegan cheese to the top if you like too.

Sweet Potatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lovely big flat mushrooms
Leek (okay I used one big one for my dish)
Creamy sauce (I would make this at home but you could use prepacked like I did, for instance in the UK some Oatly cream)

1. Thickly slice the mushrooms and place in a deep oven dish.  Drizzle with olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and bake on a medium temperature until they are softening and yielding juice.
2.  Peel the sweet potatoes (or you could leave the skins on if you prefer but it will be chunkier) and chop before boiling until soft.  Mash with a little margarine or olive oil and some salt and pepper.
3.  Meanwhile, slice the leeks and fry gently until softened and very slightly browning.
4.  Add the leeks to the mushrooms, and then thick slices of seitan.  Mix together with the creamy sauce and then top with the mashed sweet potato.
5.  Bake until browned and slightly crispy on top.

A Medley of Coloured Vegetables with Almonds
Again, just add in the quantities that suit.  I did think about adding some passata to this dish but decided to leave the veg 'naked'.  I might try this next time.

Olive oil
Unsalted whole almonds (I left skins on)
Peppers (different colours)
Salt and Pepper

1.  Lightly fry the almonds whole in olive oil until slightly browning and sizzling.  Then set aside (hmmm, don't nibble too many of them in the meantime).
2.  Use the same pan and fry off the sliced onion until softening and then add all the other veg, chopped to roughly the same sizes.  Continue until they are all softening and taking on a little bit of colour.
3.  Add all the veg and the almonds into an oven dish.  Sprinkle over chopped rosemary (to taste) and salt and pepper and mix up.
4.  Bake on a medium temperature until browning, sizzling and fragrant.

I served both dishes with a side of roasted asparagus (with olive oil and a simple sprinkle of salt and pepper).


Sunday, 29 December 2019

Popping Our Vegan Portuguese Cherry

A much loved Northern colleague of mine had mentioned a cherry liqueur that he had experienced in Portugal.  He raved about it. Whilst I judged his experience of pies to be exemplary, I had only taken a mild note of this.  I am writing this tongue in cheek of course as I know he will read this and enjoy the northern/southern banter.  

Realistically, I of course took total notice, and whilst his request to bring him back a bottle in our air plane hold luggage filled me with sticky smashing horror, I promised our next visit in our much safer ferry boarded camper van would hold true.   It turns out that, following his lead, our next stash wouldn't just hold one bottle for my mate Mark, but would also involve a stash for us too.

Upon arrival in Portugal, and whilst drifting from the vast and wonderful array of Portuguese wines, I found the very thing he had suggested. Why not investigate at least I thought?  After all, it was Christmas, the season of naughty, stickiness.  Well, thanks Mark, that's another addiction started.  

The liqueur in question is called Ginjinha, or for short ginja, and despite the name, doesn't contain any ginger at all!  Ginja berries are basically sour cherries, which are infused in alcohol (distilled from sugar cane), before sugar is added.  I suppose it is almost the same kind of process as making sloe gin?  Either way, at first sip we were smitten.  

It is usually enjoyed by the small glass with an added benefit of including one of the cherries from the bottle to suck on at the end.  We had however also read on the bottle when we purchased it that it can be decadently sipped from little chocolate pots too.  A swift search around the supermarket, with what we thought was not much chance of finding vegan chocolate pots, led to amazement as we found some dark chocolate cups of delight!  

Not partaking in Christmas pudding, mince pies or any of that seasonal malarkey this year, I had decided to order something different and found it in the form of some vegan baklava.  I packed this in my bag and only revealed this to Phil once we had arrived in Portugal.  It seemed that a piece here and there on the side was a perfect accompaniment to our chocolate pot full of ginja.  What an absolute treat!

So for a different sweet treat, we do indeed highly recommend both the baklava and the ginja, especially sipped from chocolate pots!  Thanks Mark for the original tip off.  

Saturday, 28 December 2019

A Portuguese Feast

Phil has continued to predominantly do most of the cooking these days and I am still yet to fully rediscover my enthusiasm for getting creative in the kitchen.  However, in Portugal with the luxury of time and such a beautiful palette of fresh produce to choose from,  I suddenly became totally excited about cooking up a Portuguese feast.  

Despite having spent quite a lot of time in Portugal over the last few years or so, we still don't have a huge amount of experience with Portuguese cuisine (although Phil does make a mean Caldo Verde).  Most of the places where we have eaten out in Portugal haven't tended to include that many traditional Portuguese dishes in a vegan form.  Weirdly the most experience we had was in our very own Cornwall with the now sadly closed down The Sound Pantry in Newlyn.  Run by a Portuguese family, they offered a vegan menu full of traditional dishes.  It was here that we first experienced an à Brás dish. This dish, named after its creator, heralded from an old quarter of Lisbon and traditionally was made from shredded bacalhau (salt cod), potatoes cut into matchsticks, onion, parsley and sometimes olives, all bound together with egg.  We've never had it in Portugal so it was one of the dishes I wanted to make.

I knew that these days, for ease, you can use little potato crisp matchsticks for this recipe. Phil hoovers these up whenever we are over here so I knew I would be on to a winner including them in this recipe, as well as saving all the extra effort of cutting potatoes into little matchsticks and frying them first. These little potato sticks are what The Sound Pantry had used for their version too.  I also knew that à Brás could be made with other 'meats ' too and so with plenty of vegan substitutes over here it wouldn't be difficult to include one in the dish. However, with my usual stock cupboard of flours, herbs and spices 1000 miles away back home, I was wondering what I would use for what I thought was a creamy white sauce (I later realised about the egg in the traditional dish).  I wanted to get the technique right too so thought it best to investigate online and it was then that I happened upon this wonderful vegan recipe from Viva!  As soon as I read the recipe I realised how obvious it was to use silken tofu, which I knew I could get over here easily. The recipe was far less complex and quick than I had imagined in my head too.  I'm glad I looked now instead of trying to busk it!

The Viva! recipe used Fry's Chicken Strips.  We think we had seen them over here possibly but weren't about to go traipsing around trying to find them when we could use what was more to hand.  In the ambient aisle of a local supermarket we found Black Olive Hamburgers, and with the olive theme, I thought this was ideal and it was indeed great.  I have cooked the dish again since and found some frozen Linda McCartney Pulled Chicken strips which worked just as well, if not a little better.

We had our little camping pots of herbs and spices we brought with us but these didn't included turmeric or cayenne pepper as called for in the recipe.  Not wanting to buy these over here, I substituted a little mild curry powder for the turmeric and some chilli flakes for the cayenne pepper and it worked fine.  The only other deviation from the recipe I made was to put the whole mixture in an oven dish and just bake it for about 10-15 minutes or so at the end.  This was mostly because we wanted to chill out and drink another glass of fine Portuguese wine before we ate but we both agreed we felt it added to the dish by slightly crisping off the top.  There is no doubt that this dish will become a firm favourite with us once back home too.  

To accompany the meal I wanted to make a traditional bean stew.  Again, I was going to make this up but after my success at finding the vegan à Brás recipe I thought I'd have a search around for an existing recipe for that too, and bingo, I found one on the Comidamor blog, written by Flor, a Portuguese vegan lady now living in London.  This Portuguese Bean and Cabbage Stew (Feijoada à Transmontana) is kind of like a Portuguese version of a chilli and heralds from Tras os Montes region in the north.  

What was wonderful about finding this recipe is that another very obvious thing hit me that I hadn't really considered.  Cabbage is used loads in Portugal (and by the way always seems to taste sooo much better over here!) and so why wouldn't it be included, (like it is in the traditional Caldo Verde soup), in a stew/chilli.  Again, due to stock cupboard restrictions I had to busk it a little and added some dried mixed herbs instead of the bay leaf and a pinch of mild curry powder instead of the cumin but we did have the paprika with us.  I went the whole hog (excuse the non vegan term) and included the vegan sausage too, which is readily available over here.   I actually downsized the recipe but we still had enough for two more meals.  It is again easy to make, and although takes a little longer than the à Brás recipe, most of it is on the stove top just cooking away doing it's own thing.  This just meant I had more time to drink another glass of wine and prepare a couple of side dishes!

I served the à Brás and stew with a side of lettuce and alfalfa and some beautiful tomatoes sliced and mixed just with a simple drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Both dishes will be made at home again and I will also be investigating more of Flor's Portuguese recipes on the Comidamor blog, as well as the other Portuguese recipes on the Viva! website.

Comer com gosto!

Thursday, 26 December 2019

The Meeting of Beautiful Minds at Veggie Momi

Wanting to escape the consumerist Christmas and seeking some much needed warmth, us Driftwood Vegans have drifted southwards to our wannabee second home of Southern Portugal.  As anyone who has read our blog before will know, food is never far from our thoughts and finding ourselves roaming eastwards near Albufeira and hungry, we referred to that bible of vegan travel, Happy CowVeggie Momi caught our attention and we headed in that direction hoping that it wasn't one of the many places that was closed 'for the season'.  It turns out that 'the season' doesn't really apply at Veggie Momi, with the only real chance of closure being if there are any animals in need or protests that need attending.  Any real vegans will understand and go with the flow with this.  

Inside Veggie Momi, we find Monica, the owner and creator.  The 'fire burns bright' in Monica and we instantly connected.  She is funny, intense, passionate, loving and ready to fill you with flavoursome vegan food and hence Veggie Momi isn't just a portal of vegan food, it's a meeting of minds too. Monica has been vegan for over 8 years and her life is now very much concentrated on everything vegan, hence Veggie Momi.  Sure if you want good vegan food, come to Veggie Momi.  You won't go away hungry or without fire in your belly.  If you want to 'get involved' with the Southern Portuguese vegan revolution, go have a chat with Monica.  It's where it's at.  

The vegan revolution in Portugal has been a slow burn, according to Monica.  If you go to Lisbon, or any other big conurbation in Portugal, sure there is progress, but not enough in wider Portugal. Monica organises and gets involved in any protest she can when it comes to respecting the animals and all the other benefits of a plant based diet.  We feel that her efforts in providing a base for demonstrating how tasty a vegan diet can be, whilst offering all the other environmental, health, and social benefits is vegan activism in action, but we also understand the frustration of slow progress.  Thirty years ago we felt the same but recent years show that things are changing and we totally and utterly respect the work of activists such as Monica in keeping up and progressing the fight.  We love her for it.  

Despite the name, Veggie Momi is actually fully vegan and there is no doubt about that as soon you as arrive in this small, cosy cafe.   The menu on every table indicates this along with the vibe from all the posters and wall hangings.  Monica's approach is direct and as soon as we arrive we are asked "and what brings you here?".  When we mention we are hungry vegans, the next question comes quickly; "How long have you been vegan?".  On replying over 30 years, Monica seems to rejoice in the knowledge that she is definitely amongst friends, and her line of questioning and conversation, all part of the Veggie Momi experience it seems, can take on a different level.  Monica never knows who might come through the door and has had some claiming to be vegan asking for egg dishes whilst others visitors have come in asking for a meat steak.  She knew where she was with us right from the beginning and so attention fell to the vegan offerings to choose from.  

Upon reading the menu you realise that you are not going to go away hungry.  We had to smile when glancing at the breakfast options and saw "Full English", a nod perhaps to the multitude of British tourists that descend on Albufeira during the main season.  It looked good, along with the scrambled tofu, but we were beyond breakfast and into the early afternoon by now.  Starters listed included Vegan Fried Chorizo with Onion and Vegan Cheese and also Algarvian Carrots.  The mains menu included burgers, a Beyond Meat option among them, sandwiches, salads and pizzas.  We were almost tempted by the Pizza National, an intriguing combination of olives, corn, mushrooms, onion, potato cheese and coconut cheese.  However, in Veggie Momi's there there is always a 'dish of the day' selection and it was these, spread out on the counter, that caught our attention.  We wanted to try them all, and Monica laughed, suggesting perhaps it would be better if we worked through them one by one as surely one of each would be too much, even if we were very hungry.  

We know that Portuguese soups are always very tasty, so decided to start off with a portion between us to share.  This was a 'minestrone' style soup, for which Monica listed all the ingredients.  There was confusion over one of the vegetables which Monica called 'chu chu'.  We really didn't know what she meant so she went to get one to show us.  We recognised it vaguely but didn't know the English name for it.  We later found out it is called chayote.  It is a basically a gourd and more likely found in the realms of ethnic London vegetable markets rather than the sleepy backwaters of Cornish grocer shops!  The soup was lovely and filled a little corner of our bellies but now it was time to move on to the next delight.

Next up was a scrambled tofu wrap which Monica prepared whilst chatting and making yet another refill of tea for us (a cup of tea is bottomless at Veggie Momi).  The wrap was chock full of tasty filling and came with a side of simple salad and an amazing homemade mayonnaise, which Phil cheekily asked the recipe for.  Monica was right we were filling up pretty quickly and so decided to make the choice between the burrito and the fake meat pie.  We decided to go with the pie, which was a beautifully seasoned veggie mince mix sandwiched between amazingly thin pastry.  Phil toyed with the idea of the burrito too, but Monica cautioned against this, and for us to let our food settle a little (which she was of course right about) and we had to save some room for dessert anyway.

Whilst the food settled and we had another refill on tea, we chatted more.  We had the impression that Portugal was moving along progressively with veganism, and certainly in the years we had been coming here we had seen a difference in terms of food options and availability in the supermarkets.  The government had even made it a legal requirement to provide vegan food in all schools, universities, and government institutions.  Monica put us right on this though and said that it all looked good on paper but in reality it wasn't the case.  Her own kids had never benefited from this ruling at their school, and despite Monica offering to guide the school with vegan options, they turned her down and still failed to provide suitable choices with the result that her kids return to her for lunch now.  On a wider basis too, there may appear to be more vegans in Portugal but in her experience some of them claiming to be so actually eat dairy, eggs and even fish sometimes.  Portugal still had a way to go it seemed.  

The same applied to activism. She partakes in the Cube of Truth but sometimes this Cube is just her. Activism against bullfighting is a major focus for her too.  To us it seems archaic, and obviously barbaric, that bullfighting continues but apparently it does predominantly to give tourists a so called authentic cultural experience as well as an opportunity to make some easy money at the bulls expense.  Tourists have a lot to answer for, as also experienced through the attendance of many at sea life based entertainment attractions too.  Even that very British barbarity of fox hunting exists in Portugal, with the pain on Monica's face showing as she tells us that it is still legal for anyone to stone a fox to death.  

More customers arrived and diverted all our attention from such thoughts as they ordered smoothies and juices and we contemplated what desserts we had space for.  Phil decided on the traditional chocolate salami option but including some chocolate cream, a rich mousse like dish topped with ground pistachio.  I went for the apple pie, which I found out after was sugar free.  I have a sweet tooth and yet I didn't feel that there was a lack of sweetness with this juicy cinnamon topped pie.  

As more customers arrived, the true atmosphere of Veggie Momi developed further, with conversation moving between everyone.  A tight lidded jar that failed to yield to Monica's strong grip was passed around amid friendly competitive laughter.  It is easy to understand that evening opening at Veggie Momi can also offer great social interaction, with good conversation, laughter and sometimes impromptu musical sessions, leading the evening into the small hours unnoticed.  Monica serves a large range of vegan alcoholic refreshments to match any surrounding bar, including we noticed, vegan Baileys, Guinness, wine and Ginja.

We eventually dragged ourselves away from Veggie Momi, with full bellies, warm hearts, and more money left in our wallets than expected given the amount of food we ate.  Monica even gave us her personal phone number in case we needed anything whilst in Portugal. For us being in Portugal isn't about the tourist attractions but is about the beautiful landscape and beautiful people, of which Monica is one.  If you want a true vegan Portuguese experience, go to Veggie Momi and meet her.  However, to be sure she isn't out progressing the vegan movement, do check she is open first by messaging via the Veggie Momi Facebook page or ringing ahead on 289 585 080. If she answers, she's open.  If she doesn't well you know she will be out doing something for the animals and the vegan cause.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Carma Get Your Tasty Cheese Alternatives

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We've had the pleasure of meeting Charlotte Bates, founder of Good Carma, on several occasions now whilst touring around various vegan fairs searching out new and different foodie treats.  She always remembers us and we always have time for a natter with this lovely lady.  Charlotte exudes passion for what she does and it shows in her simple, wholesome and very tasty products.  She is therefore our kind of person, producing the kind of products we love.

Charlotte started Good Carma Foods in 2013 in rather sad circumstances; her mum had cancer and she wanted to offer her a healthy and nutritious alternative to dairy cheese without sacrificing on flavour.  Out of darkness came light and Good Carma was born.  With its home in Carmarthenshire, where Charlotte lives with her partner and a host of rescued animals, the name Carma also held double meaning.  

Charlotte, a vegan for over 20 years, has a strong understanding and appreciation of wholesome and nutritious food.  Her cheese style dairy alternatives are blended wholefoods and contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.  Himalayan pink salt features, with it's purer, more trace mineral giving properties, alongside that vegan B12 staple of nutritional yeast, and almonds; little parcels of vitamins (especially E), minerals, protein and fibre.  It isn't just about nutrition though, taste is a major factor too in what makes Good Carma products so popular.  

The Flavour Fusion range is a dairy free Parmesan cheese alternative and comes in four different flavours; Original, Oregano, Chilli, and Garlic.  Also gluten and wheat free, the Fusion range is packaged in a handy 'shaker' tube to scatter the umami (ooo mammy!) sprinkles over anything that takes your fancy; pizza, pasta, stews, risotto and chilli are just a few examples.  We particularly love them as, with being an ambient product with a shelf life of at least 12 months, one of these tubes has become a constant companion on our trips away in Miles Davis, our camper van.

Spread Sensation is a spreadable cheese alternative made from cashews, miso, lemon juice and yeast flakes.  This palm oil free chilled product comes in Original, Chilli, and Garlic Chive flavours. The simple ingredients belie the strong tangy cheese flavour of Spread Sensation which isn't just for spreading on your favourite cracker or toast.  Once you have tasted it you will look for a multitude of food uses for it beyond a great topping for a jacket potato.  If you are a heat freak, the chilli one will particularly hit the spot for you.  There are recipe ideas available, both from Charlotte herself and some of her fans, on the Good Carma website.  We will take a look at some of these more ourselves at some point but at the moment we are just hooked on sprinkling it and spreading on just about anything we happen to be having for dinner!

If you don't happen to bump into Charlotte at one of the many vegan fairs she attends, you might be able to find Good Carma products at your local health food store (request it if not) or online shop.  Better still, buy direct from Good Carma.  Be quick though if you want a cheesy treat for Christmas as the last posting date from the website is Thursday 19th December.

You can catch up with the latest news about Carma Foods, including which vegan fairs Charlotte will pop up at, on the Facebook page or Twitter.  Our next chance to catch up with Charlotte and stock up is the Stroud Vegan Fair on 25th January.  

Friday, 6 December 2019

Feast and Festivities

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It's been a dull, wet time of it this autumn down in Cornwall, and now with winter officially here, we've encountered our first cold frosty snap too over the past few days.  What with the dark nights, bad weather, Brexit and the impending election, it's no wonder people are gagging for a bit of a festive spingly spangly blast.  For some the traditional Christmas looms near, whilst for others, many of the vegans I know in particular, the Winter Solstice (Yule) is the more recognised celebration.

Yule, which many believe was 'highjacked' by the later Christian concept of Christmas (which ironically seems to have since been 'highjacked' by the new god of consumerism and turkey abusing!), offers a more nature focused alternative.  It is a time when the sun 'stands still' and we await its turning and the journey back towards longer days.

If spending this year's Solstice Eve in the company of kind, like-minded vegans floats your festive boat, then look no further than Feast and Festivities, taking place at Millbrook Village Hall on Saturday 21st December from 7pm - 10.30pm.  The little village of Millbrook sits near the Cornwall/Devon border so is easily accessible to our Devon vegan friends too, or anybody heading down to our beautiful corner of the country for the holiday season.  All are welcome.  With its non-profit making registered charity status, and run by a committee of trustees and volunteers, the village hall also offers a warm and welcoming venue too for this feast filled gathering.

The bargain ticket price of £20 not only buys you 'a place around the kind table', but it's a table full of a five course feast lovingly created by Rebecca from Mooplehog in Okehampton. Anyone who has visited Mooplehog will already know what a treat they are in for as Rebecca has developed quite a reputation for tasty, original vegan food. Dishes on offer include, amongst many others, Bootleg Beef and Cranberry Jus, Caramelised Chestnut, Smoked Carrot and Cream Cheese Canapes, Winter Roasted Salad with a Clementine Dressing, Homemade Mince Tart with Brandy Cream and Spiced Orange Winter Sahleb. Gluten free options will be available and Rebecca is more than happy to discuss any other particular dietary requirements. Simply ask on the events page.

The festivities on offer are led by vegan guitar virtuoso Mark Barnwell, a regular and popular feature at various vegan gatherings. His evening's entertainment includes Spanish Guitar and an Electric Guitar Rendezvous, as well as demonstrating his multi-talented creativity further with a 'Love Nature' photographic slide show. For a small teaser of what you would be in for, check out the video below. It is one of my favourites for just watching his fingers alone (as well as a touch of magical Santana) but his version of Comfortably Numb is also a popular request.

This fundraising event also includes a raffle with a multitude of donated prizes to try your luck at winning, including a Rame View Massage Clinic voucher, a Little Acorn Bakery voucher and apparently an amazing and mysterious surprise prize!

Profits from this event go to The Naturally Vegan Plot.  To find out more about The Naturally Vegan Plot, the event and for details on how to buy your tickets (advanced bookings only and by 13th December), please visit the Feast and Festivities Facebook Events Page. or email

Happy Yuletide to you all!

Friday, 15 November 2019

Delicious Delicata

It's that time of year when squashes offer a splash of colour and a depth of flavour amongst the generic green seasonal brassicas.  They are wonderful enough in early autumn but as we move further away from the glut and towards deeper darker nights, it is almost as if they are early wrapped Christmas presents.

I must admit Delicata are a squash that I wasn't as familiar  with.  Crown Prince, with its bluey toned skin hiding a sunset of flesh beneath, was more like my king.  It still is, especially in one of Phil's coconut curries.  However, Delicata has become the new 'kid on the squash block' in our kitchen.  

They first appeared, their long yellow and green stripey forms announcing their bright presence, in our veg box a few weeks back.  We've been enjoying them ever since and have even been adding them as additional items if they aren't included in our normal box each week.  Delicata's fresh flavour, which is a cross between sweet potato with a hint of creamed corn, has certainly got us hooked.  Some people compare it to Butternut squash but we think it is much better than that.

Like most squashes, it isn't just the flavour that hits the right notes, especially at this time of year.  Squashes are high in beta carotene and vitamin C, so are great to sneak into your meals whenever you can.  There is no need to peel Delicata as the 'delicate' skin is fine to eat.  Simply roasted, with a drop of nice oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, it is delightful enough but everything we have used it in, including those lovely curries of Phil's has hit all the good spots.  My absolute favourite however so far is a simple soup that Phil cooks. Somehow it brings out the creaminess of the Delicata even more, and so, if asked, I will always request this soup from Phil.  There are so few ingredients, it makes you realise quite how much the Delicata sings its own flavour all by itself.  Be quick though, it really is near the end of the season for these wonderful squashes.  Make sure you save some seed too to grow your own next year.  We will be.

Phil's Delicious Delicata Soup

Slice a large leek thinly and saute in a little oil until soft.  Add a sprinkle of chilli powder (to taste).  Add the chunked delicata, salt and pepper and vegetable stock, or a teaspoon of vegetable stock powder and enough water  to cover by 1 inch.  Cook for 20 minutes, blend until smooth and serve with freshly baked sourdough bread.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Happy World Vegan Day

It's World Vegan Day today!  The fact that we have a World Vegan Day (and month) is one of the many things that prove how far things of a vegan kind have moved along. This year is special too as it marks the 75th anniversary of the foundation of The Vegan Society. Looking forward, with half of all vegans now (according to The Vegan Society) being aged between 15-34 years old, the vegan future looks very bright indeed.  As vegans, it is definitely worth celebrating.  

Some vegans focus on the fact that there is still so much abuse, damage and negative impact on the world and our fellow beings.  I agree, there is still so much that can change.  However, let's spend at least some time feeling positive that changes are happening and the world is waking up to a more sensitive and kind future.  World Vegan Day and month should be a time to reflect on the positivity as well as an opportunity to get that positivity 'out there'.  

Thinking back a few years, us vegans got nothing but abuse and silly questions.  Whilst some silly lines of questioning still exist, for the most part I get positive comments and curious questions, as well as being often asked for advice.  Being positive and leading by example have always been my approach.  I reserve the 'stinging' responses and comments for those that are still stuck in the denial stage and choose to attack with the old fashioned line of questioning!

Whilst our own long term experience of living as vegans can offer a really good example and reference point for those who are curious, it is also good to have a collection of resources and references at hand for them to explore for themselves.  Both The Vegan Society and Viva! provide oodles of information on their websites, so form the backbone of all that new and existing vegans might need to know.  For the tech savvy The Vegan Society have an app called VeGuide which provides a 30 day plan to guide anyone through the first stages of going and staying vegan.  I am a particular fan of Viva!'s Vegan Recipe Club and will often refer people to it for an amazing array of recipes to discover and try.  There is even a special World Vegan Day recipe and meal plan section on there at the moment.  Again, for the tech savvy, there's an app for the Vegan Recipe Club too.

Experience, leading by example, positivity, good resources and of course helping people discover the tasty wonders of vegan food; they are all big influencers.  The multitude of films that have hit our small, big and internet screens over the past few years have also had a massive effect and for that reason, they are always worth supporting, watching, and recommending.  There now seems to be a 'vegan' film for every angle whether that be environmental (Cowspiracy), animal abuse (Earthlings), health (What The Health) and more recently the benefits to physical performance (The Game Changers); all, amongst others, influencing people's attitudes towards plant based living on many levels. 

For those of you who are reading this blogpost and are vegan, I raise a glass to you in celebration of how far we have all come together on this fine World Vegan Day.  I mostly wrote this post to say that to you and to thank all you dedicated individuals and groups around the world who've made that happen. 

For vegans in need of resources to share with others, and for the vegan curious, I also wanted to share my main sources of positive influencing tools, as I have done above.  They are fairly obvious ones, and there are so many more out there, but I hope they are useful in some way to all of you.  Happy World Vegan Day!

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Sloe Sloe Quick Quick Sloe

At the rear end of summer I had noted the sloes were plentiful and fat, if not still firm and in their early green stage.  Patience was needed but a hopeful year of picking was anticipated.  Then something went wrong.  Not only did I forget every location where those promising sloes had previously surrounded me, but then subsequent foraging trips to possible locations were quite frankly fruitless.  A lunchtime recce with a colleague created a noticeable frisson of panic that our yearly sloe gin supply line was currently (g)in jeopardy.

Had the current gin fad created a panic pick in the Cornish countryside, had Brexit created a rush to create a hedgerow alcoholic stock pile, or had the weather somehow thwarted blackthorn and picker combined? Whilst the salty rain lashes against our windows and the south westerly gales play with our roof tiles, in the Cornish winter a glass of sloe gin in front of the fire is the Cornish pixie way of seeing you through to Ostara.  So this was serious.

Determined to avert disaster, Phil and I set off on the hunt this past weekend and ironically, not far from home and in a coastal river valley, we hit gold.  At first we weren't sure whether it was a single bush that gave us hope; even picking some haw berries as a back up for an alternative (and new to us) wild gin.  However as we progressed down the valley seawards we found more and more bushes loaded with grape like bunches of big fat sloes and soon gave up on collecting more of the harder to pick haws.  We were relieved; we were still in the sloe gin game, and even managed to pick extra for my previously crestfallen colleague.  With enough sloes bagged, we headed off to go foraging for gin using saved up supermarket points to acquire three bottles (always better when you haven't actually paid for the ingredients!).

The recipes for sloe gin are as many and varied as the Cornish weather on a summer's day.  Last year I went a bit wrong on this front (although the result was still very drinkable - just not the best I'd made).  I had not only busked it and failed to follow any of the plentiful recipes, with the result that I hadn't put in enough sugar, but I had also mixed up some previously frozen sloes with some of my homegrown blackcurrants!  This year I was playing it safe not only with avoiding the freezer for supplies but also by following a recipe my colleague had given me.  By the way, there is a theory that sloes should only be picked after the first frost.  Given that we would wait a fair while in Cornwall for that to happen, previously I had frozen sloes to simulate this.  It turns out that it is a bit of a myth anyway, as well as an opportunity to mix up sloes with blackcurrants!

Here is the recipe I followed this year - 
280g ripe sloes (washed), 140g sugar and about 600ml gin (okay, as there was 700ml in a bottle I did add more than 600ml in!).  Add it all into a jar or bottle and give it a good old shake.  Do this everyday until the sugar is completely dissolved.  After three months you can strain out the sloes and it can be drinkable.  However, you could leave the sloes in longer and you could also leave it longer after bottling too.  The longer the better but that requires perseverance!

As for the haw, well I had picked them so I wasn't going to waste them.  I had a recipe for haw gin from my aforementioned hedgeholic colleague so I thought why not?  I had to busk it a little as I didn't have as many haws as I somehow imagined in my head so in fact the sugar amount I put in mine went a little on the generous side but hey, it is meant to be quite 'sherry' like so I guess mine will be a sweet sherry.  The recipe however was to fill a 500ml jar with haws, add 2 tsp sugar and about 250ml gin.  Shake as per the sloe gin, strain and bottle after 3 months and leave a year or so before drinking (bit more patience required here!).  

The good news is that the daily shaking is adding a complimentary arm muscle toning session, the sloe gin is already turning pink and the haws are draining their red colour as they should.  

Now it is all just a waiting and resistance game!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Animal Rebellion


Everybody has their own way of doing something; their own angle if you like.  That was true over 30 years ago when I first became vegan and a hunt sab.  There were those that just disagreed with hunting, then there was the League Against Cruel Sports who actively campaigned against it, then there were us sabs, out there in the field getting dirty and bloody saving ginger dogs there and then.  All working towards the common cause in their own way.  

Most of the sabs I knew back then were vegans too and for predominantly animal rights reasons (it certainly wasn’t health reasons judging by the booze and smokes consumed by some at the time but then maybe that was a coping mechanism!).  That was their vegan niche.  Sabs, vegans, environmentalists; everybody has their own angle; their own niche and that is definitely true with the whole new generation of climate change identifiers.

I’m still vegan for all the reasons I was back along (not just animal rights) but it seems the environmental reasons can well and truly be brought out and dusted off as one of the more populous ones now and one that, unlike years ago, is actually being listened to more.  Despite this resurgence in interest in veganism as an environmentally positive solution there are still plenty of people unaware of this or unwilling to engage with this fact, including some climate change activists.  It comes back to niches and angles again.  All have their valued views and approaches.  Some are happy with a bit of recycling, some buy electric cars, some march the streets with placards full of engaging facts and quotes; but the lifestyle change to veganism remains the big ‘elephant in the room’ for many.  

Animal Rebellion was born out of the frustration of many activists that more immediate action could be taken by every individual by making the change to a plant based lifestyle.  Despite this frustration however and, much like the League Against Cruel Sports and the Hunt Saboteurs Association, the relationship between Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion is one of solidarity towards the common cause.  Indeed AR credit XR with sparking up the widespread public conversation about the climate crisis through peaceful protest.  Naturally niches formed within XR and spawned AR.

Animal Rebellion aren’t just there to spread the vegan argument to individuals however.  Despite the massive growth in veganism on an individual scale over recent years, it is deemed to still not be responsive enough to the climate crisis.  Animal Rebellion are therefore targeting a more systematic change by putting mass pressure on the government to recognise and act against the current destructive animal based and exploitative food system.  AR is also thinking beyond the environmental factors by highlighting anti-speciesism and exploitation as part of the same broken social and political system.

There have already been a number of smaller events held by Animal Rebellion around the country in recent weeks but this coming week, starting Monday 7th October, sees the biggest and most ambitious to date.  Potentially thousands of rebels are planning to meet and occupy key sites across London.  Meeting at 11am on Monday in Russell Square, Bloomsbury; training, guidance and details will be offered before the rebellion moves in the afternoon to Smithfield Market, London's largest and most historic meat market.  An overnight occupation will follow where the vision of a plant based food system will be shared.  The message will then be taken to Westminster with a further occupation at the Garden City, just across from the Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs.  

The clear and peaceful message from Animal Rebellion will be represented by the masses that attend and, with music, performances, dancing, vegan food and community building activities it looks like being far more than just standing around with placards.  Some rebels will partake in non violent civil disobedience, with some likely arrests.  In anticipation of this there will also be the opportunity to learn new skills to deal with these situations.  Again, this comes down to what your angle is and where your comfort zone sits within the rebellion but the most important thing for the success of the Animal Rebellion is the number of people who attend, in whatever capacity.

To find out more, sign up or prepare for the Animal Rebellion next week, check out Animal Rebellion.  For those who want to get involved but are unable to attend the rebellion in London, there are Animal Rebellion communities all over the country including our very own Cornish community and one just across the border in Devon, amongst others in the south west.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Autumn Dinner and Dance

The sun is still shining and shorts, t-shirts and flip flops are still de rigueur for now.  In fact September in Cornwall is normally a lovely time as the weather is still good, the tourist masses have predominantly gone home and there is a calm air about the place.  However, a little nip in the air is definitely sneaking in and, meteorologically speaking, apparently autumn is officially here.  That means that some of us do start turning our thoughts to darker, wilder evenings and ways to distract us from even colder thoughts of winter.  

One such opportunity of distraction features at the end of this month in the form of an Autumn Dinner and Dance organised by the lovely folks from The Naturally Vegan Plot and Cornwall Vegan Festival.  It's not only an autumnal distraction for you but a very fine fundraiser for Animal Aid, The Naturally Vegan Plot and Cornwall Vegan Festival.

As with most vegans I know, good food tends to be the main event every day let alone during a night out, and this special evening of entertainment promises three courses of delicious food.  Starters and mains are provided in the form of a dining buffet from local vegan caterers Sloth and Sparrow.  Hopefully there would still be some space left under your sparkly dress or suit clad tummies for deserts from The Little Green Vegan Bakery and Mint and Marjoram, both also Cornish based vegan caterers with reputations of providing wickedly delicious creations.  With a licensed bar, and teas and coffees available too, I think any vegan out there could be more than satisfied that the food part of this evening looks to have been well and truly covered.

The only worry would be that, with such a dinner on offer, how much dancing is going to be possible after?  Fear not it seems as the range of music on offer from these vegan musical talents seems to allow for gentle digestion whilst you sit and be mesmerised, as well as have a chance to strut your vegan stuff.  Details of the musicians playing are on the Autumn Dinner and Dance Facebook Event Page.

If you don't already feel lucky enough sat with a full tummy of delicious food whilst being serenaded by talented vegan musicians, there is also the chance of being a total winner in The Grand Prize Draw taking place on the night.  Each ticket holder for the Dinner and Dance receives a free prize draw ticket, with the option to buy more raffle tickets during the evening.  The lucky winner gets a hamper, worth over £100, full to the brim with wondrous vegan foodie gifts and vouchers from The Eco Collective.

So vegan food, vegan musicians and vegan prizes........where, when and how do you sign up if this is your thing?  Treverbyn Community Hall, over St Austell way, is where it's at.  Saturday 28th September is the date to put in your diary.  And tickets are available to purchase from Eventbrite, along with full up to date details on the evening on offer.

Grab a ticket whilst they are still available...

Monday, 2 September 2019

Puff Ball to Puff Pie

We really haven't had a huge amount of success so far this year with our mushroom foraging.  Some of that has been a lack of time due to more pressing issues, but on the occasions we have gone out on the 'mushy' hunt, apart from a few chanterelles and the odd bolete, we've come back predominantly empty handed.  Imagine my delight therefore when an ex-student turned up at work with a prize giant puffball that was going spare.  He was going away and, not having had the chance to use it before, hadn't wanted it to go to waste.  Being a fellow mushroom hound, it seemed my name was written all over it.

I hugged it like a baby and immediately had to ring Phil to tell him the good news.  I really was that excited!  My excitement may have seemed disproportionate but it had been years since we'd found a giant puffball, our very local source having been non-productive for a few years now despite us being very reserved with our harvesting.  A giant puffball represented a very tasty few meals ahead of us.  

First up was pie; creamy mushroom pies to be exact. Having a pack of puff pastry to hand, it was a quick and easy way to inhale and ingest some of the earthy white flesh of this giant wonder.  To counter the naughty pastry element I served the pies with a selection of salads. Only a third of the puffball had been used to produce four individual pies.  'Two Pies Chapman' ensured that only one of these remained to photograph, so he thought they were very tasty indeed.  It's pretty simple to make up a filling for a pie but my recipe is below in case anyone is interested in this quick (and lazy) recipe!  You can use any mushrooms you have to hand.  It involved another element of laziness in using the new Sacla Vegan Ch**se Sauce that has recently come on the market.  We'd never tried it before so this gave us the perfect opportunity and the bonus was, I only needed to use about half the jar so the rest was used on a lasagna the next day.

What's in store for the rest of the puffball? Well that is undecided as yet apart from the fact we will no doubt have mushroom 'steaks' at some point.  This is even more lazy and quick than the pie in that you just cut thick slices off the puffball, pop them on a baking tray, add a topping of your choice (sun dried tomato paste and slices of favourite vegan cheese are good) and just bake until soft and browned.

Puff Pie
Packet of vegan puff pastry, or shortcrust, or make some pastry if you like!
A slurp of olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
Mushrooms of your choice, chopped or sliced (just judge the amount!)
Salt and pepper
1/2 jar of Sacla Vegan Ch**se Sauce

Gently fry the onion in the olive oil until softening and starting to brown.  Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook until softening.  Add the salt and pepper.  Add the sauce ensuring a lovely good coating of the mushrooms.  

Lightly grease either one big pie dish or several small ones and line with pastry.  Pop in the filling, top with pastry, ensuring you seal well around the edges but put a little slit in the top to let the steam out.  Bake at about 200 degrees C until the pastry looks brown and crispy.