Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Naturally Vegan Plot

Veganism grew from a grassroots ethos, and although these days it's roots have gloriously deepened and it's branches spread and beautifully flowered in a global and more mainstream way, it is important to look back at the 'roots' every now and then.  In this age of technology, worldwide access and ease of availability of food and other products, it is all too easy to forget the true and basic ethics of veganism and where exactly our food comes from.  That plastic wrapped vegan cheese may be yummy but it's fairly far removed from 'real food'.  As Joni Mitchell once sang in the 60's hippy anthem 'Woodstock', 'we've got to get ourselves back to the garden'.
Recently we heard of a relatively new project that most certainly could help us 'get back to the garden' and revisit the basics of food production and sustainability.  The Naturally Vegan Plot draws on the two decades of experience and learning of the two vegan founders, Elaine and Jim, with inspiration from their friend, mentor and founder of Plants For The Future, Ken Fern.

The Naturally Vegan Plot, which took root in September of last year, is set on 3.5 acres of land near the Cornwall/Devon border.  Although it's overarching theme is veganic horticulture, it's aims are varied, numerous and exciting.  First off the project strives to 'grow and show' how successful horticulture without the use of animals and animal derived products can be.  Demonstrations, courses, workshops, field trips, research and consultations will take this practical implementation a step further so that it can become a centre of information and education for all those interested in veganism, horticulture, sustainability, learning new skills or re-learning old and basic skills long since forgotten.

The long term plans for the land itself make it sound like a true vegan Eden.  They include a woodland garden, WET systems, a natural swimming pool, edible ponds and bog gardens, demonstration gardens, a market garden and a plant nursery.  Many years ago I used to spend a lot of time searching out and visiting interesting gardens and plant nurseries.  In latter years, with other priorities taking over, it is something that has fallen by the wayside and along with it much of my developing experience.  When reading the description of the Naturally Vegan Plot I felt that old excitement bubbling up again.  Perhaps it is exactly what I need to lead me 'back to the garden' on many levels.

It's early days yet, as the video shows, but the buds are most definitely showing.  There are already courses planned and advertised on their website, all at exceedingly good value I might add.  For instance you can attend a Compost Toilet Course this coming summer at £80 for two full days, and this includes vegan food and accommodation. 

For full details on the project you can visit The Naturally Vegan Plot website or catch up with the latest on their Facebook page.  We will be watching with interest and hopefully will have a chance to go and see how things are coming along later in the year.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Foch'ing Good

This post is about beer, but it is also about love and consideration and it's been sat in our 'blog post inbox' for far too long now.  

You see back in the autumn our nephew and all round good guy Paul came to visit with his lovely family for the annual 'messy' event that is the Crantock Bale Push. It's a pilgrimage that holds many an interesting tale and would qualify for a blog post of it's own were it not for the fact that's messy and probably best not shared.  Nuff said.  

Following on from the last comment, this year Paul brought with him some home brew.  Such is the way with Paul, he never does things by halves and this particular brew was impeccable to say the least.   It was not only a beautiful brew, not far from the likes of Atlantic Brewery who've been doing it for years, but the most important factor for us was that Paul had made the ale vegan.  He is not vegan, not even vegetarian, but the fact that he had considered this factor when making his ale was a beautiful thing in itself.  

Now Paul does have great 'beer genes' passed on to him from his dad, who has done some considerable research in this area, so this could be an added factor in the decision to make this ale as 'real ale' as possible.  This can mean leaving things out as much as adding things in, and so it's a win/win situation on both sides.  Paul leaves out the finings and extra work involved in 'clearing' his brew, getting a more traditional and authentic bottle conditioned beer in the process, and we vegans get to sample another quality ale, made all the better for being made by family.  It really was very good, probably down to Paul sourcing all his products as locally as possible, and wanting a pure and clean tasting beer. 

Paul knows how strongly we feel about our vegan lifestyle despite never really spending much time talking about it.   That's when family love can cross those boundaries.  It was a clear demonstration of love by beer on his behalf.  

The bad news for vegans is that Paul is just making this as a home brew for now. He is quite the entrepreneur though and does have friends in high places in the brewing industry so you never know what the future may hold for 'The Salford Brewing Co.'  

Let's just saying that would be Foch'ing good!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Green Star Natural Store

We had heard about the Green Star Natural Store from the Cornwall Vegans Facebook group.  We had no idea it existed beforehand and that is really no surprise as this little health food shop isn’t in the high street location you would imagine but relatively tucked away in the Cornish countryside near Four Lanes.  It was actually established in 2010 so it really was about time we checked out what they had to offer and recently we finally managed to do just that.  

The small store building at Forest Farm belies the 40,000 products inside, all of which are free from harsh chemicals and as organic as possible.  These include vitamins and supplements, sports nutrition, homoeopathic and flower remedies, herbal products, cosmetic and beauty products, organic foods and groceries, eco-friendly home and garden products and products for pets.  They also deliver organic and local produce boxes and since the beginning of January they have been offering a vegan (including gluten and sugar free) takeaway from Wednesday to Saturday.

The vegan takeaway is what recently put them on the Cornwall Vegans radar and as a result came to our attention and with some of the dishes on offer reading like those from a Michelin star menu, who could fail to be intrigued; Almond and Tomato Crust with Parsnip, Ginger and Cardamon and Kale Pesto and Sprouted beans anyone?  Or how about a Beetroot, Lemon and Lime Raw Cheesecake topped with Satsuma?  Take a look on the Green Star Natural Store Facebook page for an up to date list of the delicious takeaway options on offer each week.

In the interests of research we obviously had to sample a few dishes with the only thing preventing us from clearing them out being our guilt about ensuring there was some left for the couple behind us in the queue. 

Whilst the lovely Sarah packaged up our takeaway goodies we took a look around.  Given the size of the store you wouldn’t think it would take that long but you would be wrong.  It’s a veritable ‘Aladdin’s Cave’.  In the same room as the colourful array of organic fruit and vegetables sits a fridge glowing angelically in the corner, the entire contents of which are vegan.  Green Star does sell non vegan products but there is no doubt that for the most part healthy and vegan products dominate. It would be a gem of a shop anyway but the progression into providing vegan takeaway adds a whole different level and excuse to check it out.  Oh and by the way, they also sell Ann’s vegan pasties which rate in our top three vegan Cornish pasties! 

We left Green Star not only with a plentiful amount of takeaway goodies (very much enjoyed for our dinner that evening) but with an additional bag of vegan joy.  Therefore the only complaint we have is the way Green Star mesmerizes you into buying more than intended!

Go check the Green Star Natural Store out.  They are open Monday to Friday from 9am – 5.30pm and Saturdays from 9am – 5pm but remember the vegan takeaway is only available Wednesday to Saturday so time your visit well!

Forest Farm, Pencoys, Four Lanes, Cornwall 
01209 481194

Friday, 22 January 2016

What The Health

We have issues with the pharmaceutical industry.  This is not just from a vegan standpoint but from the point of view of the real definition of 'pharmaceutical' and 'industry'.  Let's look at those definitions shall we?  Pharmaceutical - "relating to medicinal drugs or their preparation, use or sale".  Industry - "the economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories" (Oxford Dictionaries definitions by the way). Economic and sale are the key words here.  There is no reference to healing or making people healthier but you'd think that would be the main aim of such companies if they had our best interests at heart.  However, wake up people; it's all about the profit. Industries are always driven by profit and there is no profit without sick people in this case. So they must be created, and what better way than mis-educating people into believing what is currently happening is normal.  Prevention is better than cure is 'so last year' when it comes to making a quick buck.

There has been evidence out there for years of such a conspiracy, and with vocal advocates for non pharmaceutic cures suffering at the hands of 'authority', it can only make us think that there is indeed something to be 'covered up' and suppressed here.  In terms of just cancer alone, you only have to dip into the realms of such books as 'Cancer - Step Outside the Box' and 'Cancer - Why We're Still Dying to Know the Truth' to think that we should really be asking more questions than are currently being asked.  Both my parents have been touched by cancer so I have done a fair amount of reading up about these issues.

After the educative success of 'Cowspiracy' we were delighted to hear that the makers are following on logically from the environmental impact of processed industrial animal foods, to the same impact from the pharmaceutical industries, and investigating how the two are connected.  What The Health is a ground breaking feature length documentary that follows the journey of intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the impact that highly processed industrial animal foods has on our personal health and greater community, and explores why leading health organisations continue to promote the industry despite countless medical studies and research.  

This film has been touted as a 'combination of Cowspiracy meets Forks Over Knives on steroids'.  The fact that they have managed to obtain 117% of their desired Crowd Funding contributions in just 22 hours demonstrates that they are very much on the right track, and following a rising tide of awareness from people who are opening their minds and are prepared to question the 'norm' in search of the real truth.

Just because they have 117% of their desired funding, it doesn't mean they shouldn't be funded more.  Let's make this bigger than Cowspiracy.  If you want to contribute towards their brave voice, just do it.  It's pay day on Monday so we will be making a contribution to add our voice and support to this important documentary.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Ital-Asian Gold

It's been a long time since we've taken the opportunity to experiment in the Driftwood Vegan kitchen so this weekend we decided to make some time.  My parents bought us a pasta roller for Christmas and I was keen to experience the joy of making pasta without the hard work created by the rolling pin method.  I was all set to make ravioli or lasagne and announced this to Phil who responded with less enthusiasm than I had anticipated.  You see my culinary preference and expertise is Italian, Phil's Asian.  He really wasn't feeling the Italian vibe; until that is, I jokingly said "how about making some Asian ravioli"?  He immediately perked up.

He was clearly excited by the idea and set about pouring out ideas that temporarily confused my conventional idea of ravioli. Finally he decided upon the idea of a filling that was a cross between scrambled tofu and the satay peanut filling that is inside the Thai speciality snack Tung Tong.  To accompany the ravioli Phil dreamt up a subtly flavoured creamy coconut sauce with turmeric and fresh curry leaves.  My mind was boggled so I left him to it and got on with the task of making the fresh pasta whilst enjoying the wafts of exotic aromas from his side of the kitchen.

As is the way when we get going in the kitchen we had the 'sounds' pounding. It turns out that a spot of dub is perfect for kneading pasta dough and this particular track added to the Ital(ian)-Asian vibe developing.  Before I knew it the dough was as smooth as the groove!

After the pasta had rested for a few minutes, it was all ready for some fusion.  A joint effort of rolling, cutting, filling and squeezing the edges together gave us 26 rustic looking ravioli. Now if it was all down to looks, we would never win Masterchef but they held together perfectly when cooked, and the taste, well let's just say it was 'Ital-Asian gold' and we are very happily repeating the experience tonight.  It all just goes to prove that a spot of cultural diversity and fusion should extend into all aspects of everyday life, especially the kitchen.

Here's how it all happened......

Ital-Asian Ravioli with Creamy Coconut Sauce

For the pasta
1 and 2/3 cups Doves Farm Organic Pasta Flour
1/2 cup gram flour
2/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the flours and the salt in a bowl and add the water.  Stir with a fork at first but then just 'get in there' with your hands and when you've got a reasonable 'ball' of dough, lob it onto a floured surface and knead it to some cool tunes for 10 minutes. It should feel noticeably smooth when you've finished.  Pop it into a plastic bag to rest for at least 10 minutes.  Then roll it either with a rolling pin or a pasta roller to about 2-3mm.  For the base of the ravioli choose a smaller cutter (I used round cookie cutters as seen in the photo) and then a larger one for the top so it takes into account covering the filling.

For the filling
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1/2 large leek quartered and finely sliced
3/4 teaspoon ground galangal
3/4 teaspoon mild curry powder
1/4 teaspoon Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese 7 spice)
4 large fresh shiitake mushrooms chopped finely
200g firm tofu crumbled finely
2 tablespoons shoyu soya sauce
3 tablespoons chopped coriander leaf
4 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter

Fry the leek in the oil until soft.  Add the ground spices and continue to cook for a minute.  Add the shiitake mushrooms and continue to stir fry for 2-3 minutes before adding the crumbled tofu.  Continue to cook for a further 2 minutes.  Add the soya sauce and coriander and mix in well then add the peanut butter in small blobs and mix well. Take off the heat and allow to cool. 

For the creamy coconut sauce
2/3 can of organic coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4" fresh ginger root chopped finely
1 tablespoon jaggery (palm sugar)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon shoyu soya sauce
10 fresh curry leaves
1 tablespoon kuzu/arrowroot dissolved in 3 tablespoons water

Empty the coconut milk into a small saucepan and heat until simmering gently.  Add all the other ingredients apart from the kuzu/arrowroot.  Mix well and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the kuzu water mixture and bring back to a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes.  Keep warm until ready to serve with the ravioli.

To assemble, cut the pasta to the desired size and fill with an appropriate amount of filling.  Use a little bit of water around the edge to seal the pasta together.  Add the ravioli (in batches so not to crowd them) to boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes. Serve with the warm creamy coconut sauce drizzled over the top.


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Behind and Within Vegan Laptop Lunchbox

My final instalment of posts about interesting people I met at the Cornwall Vegan Festival back in December involves Neil and his lunchbox; specifically his Vegan Laptop Lunchbox.

I had often seen this informative tumblr appearing  on The Vegfest Express Global Vegan News Network.  The now hallmark photo of the same colourful lunchbox filled to the brim with equally colourful lunch offerings is instantly recognisable among the many other vegan blogs and links.  Until the Cornwall Vegan Festival, and following an introduction from his wife Catherine, I had no idea that the creator and writer was from within our very own Cornish shores.  The festival was wonderfully busy and energetic so I really didn’t have much of a chance to interrogate Neil about his tumblr but, with Xmess (as he puts it) out of the way we finally got a chance to get together at ‘Driftwood Vegan Headquarters’ and have a natter over tea and treats.

The whole idea and exploration into the world of lunch exhibitionism started with a tiffin; not the chocolate type (although I imagine that type may have featured along the way!), but the Indian lunch box type.  It was Winter and Neil discovered the virtues of a homemade ‘pot noodle’ in a tiffin for warm lunchtime comfort.  He even explored using one of the tiffin compartments as a depository for a hot rock to keep other lunch options warm.  With Spring on the way though and the idea of pouring boiling water over dry noodles wearing a bit thin he decided to up his lunchbox game.  Along came the multi compartment colourful bento box and with it the inspiration to fill it with delicious, vegan lunches.  Neil tweeted or used pinterest every now and then to share and store his creations but after encouragement from his work colleagues, among others, to ‘just do it’, Vegan Laptop Lunchbox was finally born in April 2015.

For the four days of the week that Neil works we are treated to an intimate inspection of the contents of his lunchbox.  His focus is mostly on cheap healthy food including the use of leftovers (so his dinners must be equally as good!).  His only formula is that of normally including two savoury items, one raw and one dessert.  When he told me this I had to laugh as my mum’s mantra on preparing mine and my sister’s school packed lunch used to be ‘savoury, sweet, fruit and drink’.  I also like the way Neil sneaks in everyday products that non vegans and even some vegans, wouldn’t necessarily know were vegan.  It’s kind of like opening ‘The Accidental Vegan’ page from Veganlife magazine.

Vegan Laptop Lunchbox is such a simple idea but it is an inspired one too.  First off how many of us vegans have sat at lunchtimes with non-vegan colleagues with their sad little sandwiches whilst being forced between mouthfuls to explain the contents of your lunch.  People are genuinely interested and with lunches like Neil’s who can blame them?  

The rectangular form and compartments of his lunchbox remind me of picture frames enclosing paintings of food.  Okay so it is more Turnip than Turner and more Pistachio than Picasso (okay I’ll spare you anymore food art references) but the truth is I find the simple eye catching lunch visuals an inspiration. 

I admit I sometimes struggle with packed lunch ideas.  The night before I am often busy not thinking about work the next day.  Then morning hits me over the head and in a whirlwind of last minuteness the lunch often loses the excitement battle.  It’s exactly half way through the working day that a spot of vegan culinary excitement is just what is needed to get you through the rest.  Leftovers can sometimes save the day and they are often the lunches that get colleagues curious, but Vegan Laptop Lunchbox really puts me to shame at the same time as ‘stoking the lunch idea fire’.  I truly have lunchbox envy.

I’d love to be able to find a ready made Vegan Laptop Lunchbox in the fridge waiting for me to just grab and go in the morning.  Now there’s an idea Neil; the birth of the VLTLB delivery service?!  That would be just perfect, although you'd have to cover the whole of Cornwall of course!

Beyond the lunch ideas though, and more importantly, what Vegan Laptop Lunchbox does is show very simply how delicious, easy, varied, exciting, healthy, colourful, cheap and available vegan food can be…………..and all in one little lunchbox!

Neil is planning an expansion into a blog soon so we can look forward to full recipes and more vegan wisdom from him. In the meantime, for great lunch inspiration follow Vegan Laptop Lunchbox and keep up to date with all the latest Twitter news from Neil @veganneil

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Butter Me Up

With the madness of the Silly Season over with it is time to return to more everyday considerations and what could be more everyday than a slice of 'buttered' toast.  However, these days for vegans the palm oil contained in most purchased vegan margarines has become a complicated consideration for such a simple delight as a spot of toast and tea. Not so delightful when you consider the source and destruction caused in order to make the chosen shop bought spread.

Returning to the beginning of December, at the Cornwall Vegan Festival, I was 'shooting the vegan breeze' with a lovely fella called Charlie and the very subject of palm oil free alternatives came up.  I was telling him about the Tiana Spreadable Butter that we had been using and he mentioned about a vegan butter recipe that somebody had passed on to him. He promised to pass it on to me and, true to his word, the next day he had pinged it into my Facebook messages. Christmas and family visits then took over and I didn't get a chance to try out the recipe until now.  

I really wasn't sure what it would turn out like but let's just say the remains of the sourdough loaf we had were obliterated this morning over toast and tea as a result.  It really is rather good; so good in fact, I'm not entirely sure I need to continue my seemingly impossible search for more palm oil free alternatives in the shops or spend out on lovely but expensive Tiana anymore.  So thank you Charlie for passing on this recipe and thank you to the person who originally passed it on (it only mentioned Vegan Cherry on the recipe details).

In the tradition of vegan buttery love, here is the recipe to pass on again - 

Vegan Butter

1/2 cup organic refined coconut oil (I used organic raw virgin coconut oil)
1/2 cup sunflower oil (I used olive oil and it tastes wonderful)
1/4 cup plant milk (I used hemp milk)
1 squirt of lemon juice
Dash of salt

Blend well and chill.  I did try and just mash it up well instead of blending it to save on the washing up but resorted to blending in the end to get the best result.

Charlie also suggested adding 1-2 teaspoons of nutritional yeast so I will try this next time. The original recipe also suggests for extra taste you can add 1 clove garlic and 1 teaspoon of onion powder.  

Enjoy and be prepared to be 'buttered up'!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas Dinner Leftover Salad

Nothing gets wasted in our house.  The roast potatoes and brussel sprouts left over from Christmas dinner were no exception.  

The next day I was making up some salads to have with the left over Tofurky and decided to try something different.  I chopped up the cold roast potatoes and brussel sprouts and added a few cooked chestnuts I had and then finished with some mayo and mixed well. Admittedly it is a bit of a weird combination but I love all those ingredients so what could go wrong with them combined as a salad?  Well it turns out nothing as it was the most popular salad on the table!  It was so popular, I don't even had a photo to post here!!

I think I'll make too many roast spuds and sprouts next time then.....

Saturday, 26 December 2015

National Trust Vegan Treat

Despite the lack of rain, a Boxing Day family walk from home to the beach and coast path wasn't really a great idea today.  The strong winds that have plagued us for days were still very much present and it would have made for a bit of a challenging walk.  So we sought out the quieter sheltered inland reaches of Cornwall and headed for the National Trust property of Lanhydrock. With its wooded valleys and formal garden pathways we were assured of dodging wind and mud as well as taking my parents to an area they had not been to before.    

After a very pleasant walk, where we could hear the wind gusts above our head but thankfully were sheltered from their full force, we headed to the cafe. We knew they could provide a good cup of Earl Grey with soya milk and, in the past, a tasty vegan flapjack but we really did not expect to find the fully labelled vegan treat we did.  For there for all to see on the counter was a Vegan Banoffee Cake.  That'll be two slices then please with our tea!

Well done National Trust for providing such a wonderful treat in full view on the counter.  

For details on Lanhydrock (photo below courtesy of the Lanhydrock National Trust site - it wasn't snowing today I might add but it looks pretty huh?) - click on the photo or the link above.  Be sure to check out the cafe, and should you find a great vegan treat then express your appreciation to them for ensuring us vegans don't miss out. We certainly did!

Snow at Lanhydrock house

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Proper Cornish Brew

There is nothing like a lovely cup of tea in front of the roaring fire at this time of year.  For me it could be a nice spicy chai, a zesty earl grey or an oh so smokey lapsang (very rarely do I go for a normal cup of 'British Rail' tea these days).  I also enjoy a beer here and there so imagine my delight and curiosity when I discovered that Atlantic Brewery had recently created a range of tea inspired brews which include the aforementioned favourites.  It makes the decision a little easier when it comes to tea or ale in front of the fire!

We first met Stuart from Atlantic Brewery some years ago during the early days of his flourishing business.  We were fortunate enough to visit him at his amazing 18th century farmhouse near Newquay, where the brewery is based, to sample his ales and have a proper tour.  Since then we have watched Atlantic go from strength to strength with his ales populating the shelves of not only farm shops and independent local retailers but also major national supermarkets and even our local shop!  We hadn't seen Stuart for years though so it was lovely to catch up with him at the Cornwall Vegan Festival recently.

I first discovered the tea inspired range from Atlantic after my boss had very kindly brought in a real ale advent calendar for our whole team.  I noticed the list of bottles it contained included the Earl Grey one from Atlantic and hoped that I would pull that one out when it was my turn on the calendar.  Sadly I didn't but the colleague that did was happy to swap. Upon visiting Stuart's stall at the festival and discovering the others in the tea range, I immediately purchased some of those too. 

I must admit I am yet to sample any of the bottles as I am saving them for the festive period but I know they will be good.  All the Atlantic ales are lovingly crafted, bottle conditioned, organic and vegan.  Right from the beginning Stuart made a point of proudly displaying the vegan label on all his bottles.  I could be wrong but I believe he is the only Cornish brewery to do this.  As an additional bonus, Cornish spring water is used from a spring on site and as many of the ingredients as possible are grown there too including hops, ginger, chilli, blackcurrants and elderflowers.  So what is not to love about these ales, and that is before you have even tried them?! 

The tea inspired ales are yet to be included on the website but do check out all the other delicious brews at Atlantic Brewery.  It might be one of the originals but the Atlantic Blue still remains one of my firm favourites especially as it's darkness perfectly suits an evening in front of the fire with the wind and rain lashing against the window.  Perhaps however I am about to find a new favourite amongst the Earl Grey, Masala Chai or Smokey Green Tea ones currently awaiting the start of the Festive Silly Season?