Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Vegan Horticultural Inspiration

We've just returned home after four weeks away to discover a jungle.  It's that time of year when not only everything puts on a wonderful green surge but that you also realise you should have really put more thought into what you're going to grow this year, let alone have already got on with it.  We're not into 'trim and proper' gardening but even our grass had gone a bit too 'punk rock' upon our return.  We'd done a bit of thinking whilst away, inspired by the wonderful produce in Portugal and the well maintained plots that almost every household seems to have as standard.  We were also inspired by the wine we drunk whilst thinking and discussing garden plans, which is why perhaps upon returning, the reality of the 'jungle' we faced didn't quite match the hazy images of those sun soaked evenings.

Luckily our first weekend home was a sunny one and with shorts and t-shirts on we set to it. Our plan was 'organic', literally; meaning as we cleared we planned.  We still had some produce in the garden to use and work around; Kale de Nero, spring onions, chard, leeks, beetroot and rocket.  We still had seed (saved seed from last years crop, bought seed from last years stock and some newly acquired seed, some of which we got in Portugal).  Then there is crop rotation to think about, and also more cunning ways to outwit little hungry beasties from devouring our veggies, as well as deterring the neighbourhood cats from shitting in our beds.  Oh and not forgetting the wonderful complexities of sharing your garden with badgers. There really is a lot to think about and do.

As vegans and people who care about the environment and our health, growing our own produce and providing and protecting a naturally supportive environment is really a hugely positive step.  However, beyond not using chemical or animal derived fertilisers, composts or so called 'pest controls' and employing a bit of companion planting, I can't help but feel that I'm a bit in the dark, have a lot to learn, and even whether I'm doing everything to the best of my vegan ability.

For anyone with similar thoughts you'll be pleased to know that help is at hand.  Whether you live in Cornwall and Devon or fancy a trip to our beautiful 'neck of the vegan woods', The Naturally Vegan Plot is offering the opportunity to get involved and learn either by volunteering or joining one of their up and coming courses.  We wrote about them a little earlier in the year, but our sudden 'garden panic' has once more highlighted my worries about getting it right.  Sure, we will probably muddle through with successes, a few failures and the usual surrender to the slug, snail and cabbage white invasion, but given a bit more connection and time we could probably achieve so much more; even in our small space.  If you feel the same have a look at what The Naturally Vegan Plot are up to at the moment. For example on 17th May there is an organised field trip to Agroforestry Research Trust Forest Garden in Dartington, Devon.  The cost is £10 and includes entry and transport in a shared vehicle.  For further details check out the link above.

Then in June, for an experience that is bound to be far from 'bog standard', a two day Compost Toilet course is available for a very reasonable £80, especially as it includes vegan food and accommodation!  

The end of July sees Part 1 of an Introduction to Woodland/Forest Gardening.  This two day course covers the theoretical side of things and is led by Graham Burnett, world renowned vegan permaculture design teacher of Spiralseed and author of 'Permaculture - A Beginners Guide' and 'The Vegan Book of Permaculture'.  

The practical follow up and Part 2 of this course runs on 10th and 11th September, again led by Graham.  Both of these courses are £95 each, and also includes vegan food and accommodation. 

For food and accommodation alone for two days in the beautiful Cornish countryside that sounds like a bargain, even without the learning potential from this well respected expert in the field!  You can book both parts of the course for a discounted price of £175 if you book before 28th May.
Design Process Guide by Aranya
Also starting in September, The Naturally Vegan Plot is offering a Basic Level On-Site Permaculture Design Training opportunity in the form of a five day Introduction to Permaculture. This is led by Aranya, again a world renowned vegan permaculture design teacher and also author of 'Permaculture Design - A Step By Step Guide'. £300 is the price for this one, including vegan food and accommodation and a discount is available if booked before 28th June.

If courses aren't your thing, then there are plenty of volunteering and socialising opportunities at the Plot.  If you have the time and energy you would be made very welcome so get in touch with them via their website or Facebook page for updates on what is going on.  They also have a kickstarter campaign should you wish to donate to this great project.

Now please excuse me as I have loads more seeds to plant, watering to be done, digging, harvesting, checking on the cat protection, slugs and snails we've collected to take for a little ride down to the end of the headland, and the front garden to put back together again after the female badger decided to have a little rampage last night, bless her furry little socks.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Portuguese Driftwood

We apologise for the lack of posts recently.  It is the time of year for our annual month long trip to the sunnier climes of Portugal, where our wild camper van exploits tend to limit our access to wi-fi and therefore blogging opportunities.  Here however, for those with an interest in what Portugal offers for those of a vegan persuasion, is a rough guide and if you check out our previous few years posts around March or April you will find lots of further hints, tips and findings from our Southern Portuguese wanderings in camper van and tent.

Years ago and when we first planned a trip to Portugal, we were slightly concerned about what our food options would be.  We were at least self-catering, being back then in a tent, so with the expectation of being able to buy fruit and vegetables easily, and with a good stock of travelling grains and spices, we took off into the unknown.  Our trusty camp stove would save the day.

It is almost embarrassing now to remember how na├»ve we were back then.  Portugal was not the meat and fish engrossed nation we had anticipated.  If anything it has opened our eyes further to more and more delicious food options each year that we have returned.

Now don’t expect to walk into any restaurant and have your vegan needs met unerringly.  It’s possible but by no means common and let’s face it, it’s very rarely the case in the UK anyway unless it’s a veggie/vegan establishment.  Yes Portugal still is behind in many ways when it comes to veganism and there aren’t that many veggie restaurants around, let alone vegan (although we might add we believe it is a different story in places like Lisbon but we are not big city dwellers so can’t offer much of an insight into that).  However, you would no doubt be surprised by the options available in normal supermarkets.  In most cases the choice is better than in UK supermarkets.  Ever seen seitan in the chiller section of Sainsburys or Tescos?  No, us neither.  But from our experience, you go to any Intermarche or Continente and there it is alongside tofu choices, and at a much cheaper price than you would find in the UK too.  What’s more you will find a whole aisle dedicated to health food options; that’s both sides on an aisle not just a tucked away ‘Free From’ section on half of one side of an aisle.  There you will find a massive range of herbal teas, packets of very interesting loose herbs, gluten free, sugar free and dairy free options and a whole section of meat free burgers, sausages, meat balls, seitan and tofu.  These are generally jarred or in ‘ambient’ packaging so great for our non-refrigerated  camper van stock cupboard.

Even without these ‘health food’ sections, the supermarkets offer a wealth of options with simple ingredients.  The jars of beans alone have my mouth watering with my particular favourites being the feijao manteiga (butter bean).  They are chestnut brown over here and a world away from the pale UK versions.  We try to bring packets of dried butter beans home with us but unfortunately the last couple of years we’ve been unable to find them for some reason.  Instead we just have to stock up on a few jars or tins and ration them.

Then there are the vegetables and fruit.  We haven’t figured out yet whether it is just that we are on holiday or it’s the outdoor life style we are living or whether there is something very different about the fruit and vegetables over here.  They taste amazing, so much so that we have been addicted for the past three days to potatoes and cabbage alone.  And the oranges; well they are so amazing that my dad even demands we return with some for him and he doesn’t even eat that many oranges.  Perhaps the earth here isn’t as overworked, overburdened and de-mineralised as British soil?  Perhaps the reliance on chemical fertilisers is less or the sun ripened produce is just that much more naturally energised?  Let’s just say that if, all those years ago our assumptions had been correct and fruit and vegetables were the only viable options, well it would still have been as amazing.

Health food stores do indeed exist out here too and, although from our experience they are more the white-coated sales assistant sort rather than the darkened, wooden shelved, muddy organic veg, pulsing delights of the left over 60’s hippy revolution of the UK, they do still offer undiscovered delights.   The fridges are often stocked with seitan, soya, tofu and some surprisingly different options, such as the thick potato tortillas that we discovered last year in a health food store in Lagos.  Unfortunately, being chilled items, we are unable to transport such delights home by the van load.  Believe us, we would if we could.

Moving away from the health food side of things and more on to the naughty delights (although the resveratrol has its benefits it seems), we would also like to point out that Portuguese wine is amazing and there are plenty of vegan options out there too.  For lots of vegan options check out previous posts that appear around March and April each year on our blog!  As the actual filtering of wine, and the ingredients used to do it is the main problem in whether a wine is vegan or not, we look for wines that are labelled as not being filtered or those that say they ‘throw a deposit with time’, an indication of not being filtered.   

For the first time during our trips to Portugal, this year we also saw a wine that was actually labelled as being vegan.  That is indeed progress.  You would be surprised at how many options are out there.  Most of them taste a world away from UK brought options (food miles has a lot going for it) and at the fraction of the price.

To summarise, don’t be frightened as a vegan to explore Portuguese culinary delights.  Sometimes a step backwards in time reconnects oneself with the true basics of wholesome nutritional food and away from the reliance on the modern day less natural processed alternatives.  If you come only with the expectation that the fruit and vegetables on offer are amazing, Portugal has a lot to teach us and remind us of, as well as offering surprising alternatives should you find it too difficult to get back to the basics.

Saturday, 26 March 2016


A few weekends back we had our annual visit to Bristol/Glastonbury for Phil's birthday.  It is normally a weekend of food enjoyment, health food store visits, and swoops of favourite charity shops and other areas for interesting books.  The weekend didn't disappoint.  We enjoyed lovely food treats and managed to land a few good books to add to our groaning shelves.  

I found the 'Easy As Vegan Pie' in the Speaking Tree in Glastonbury for £5.  We found the 'Fermenting Food' book also in Glastonbury.  We did pay full price for it but it is an area of food preparation that we have become more and more interested in, and I pretended that it was an additional birthday present for Phil!  Expect more blog posts from both of these books in the future as we delve into them.  

However my absolute star buy of the weekend was Brendan Brazier's Thrive Energy Cookbook for £2 from the Amnesty bookshop down Gloucester Road in Bristol.  Phil bought me Brendan's training book Thrive Fitness a couple of years ago so this find was a great compliment to that.  It has more than paid for itself already, and that's with only managing so far to make a few of the recipes.  These have included Roasted Fennel, Squash and Red Potato Stew with Red Cabbage; Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Sweet Corn Chilli; Caesar Sprout Salad and Avocado, Black Bean and Chipotle Burgers. All of these were really tasty but the latter recipe was our favourite.  This used a base recipe from another section in the book; Black Bean Veggie Burger Patties.  For copyright reasons I didn't want to just copy the recipe straight out of the book but, just so I'm not just teasing you, I did find the recipe online from the link above along with a few more samples from the book.  

There are a lot of recipes that give the base for other recipes in this book.  I sometimes find that annoying as you might go to make one recipe and then find you've had to make another one first.  However, if you have pre-prepared one of the base recipes then there are several options within the book to then choose from so it's not so bad.  The Lacuma Caramel Sauce recipe was another example of this.  It's a lovely combination of cashew butter (although we used almond instead), maple or agave syrup, lacuma powder, vanilla paste, a pinch of salt and water.  As the title of it suggests, it is meant to be a sauce and it is used in several of the smoothie recipes in the book, including the Heavenly Pistachio Bliss Smoothie that we sucked up.  However, we couldn't help just eating it straight out of the pot and before we knew it, it turned in to a dessert of it's own!  Very naughty!

There are so many more recipes to sink our teeth in to.  Yes, we were lucky enough to have found this book in a charity shop but we would still very much recommend it as a new buy too.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Vegan Organic Cornish Cask Beer at the Bowgie Inn

The Bowgie Inn

We've just heard that our favourite local pub, with our favourite view, is offering our favourite Cornish beer on cask.  When does that ever happen? 

The Bowgie Inn sits magnificently on West Pentire Headland, overlooking Crantock Beach. Many a sunny summer evening, along with gathering crowds of view admiring tourists, we will walk or ride our bikes to the Bowgie to take in the atmosphere.  And come the winter we will take refuge next to the roaring fire for a pint, a game of pool and a chat with the friendly staff.   However up till now we have been unable to enjoy a Cornish pint on cask as none of them have been vegan.

That is about to change as now they are offering Azores, one of the many offerings from Atlantic Brewery.  It's vegan, it's organic, and it couldn't get more local as the brewery is just a few miles down the road near Newquay.  

According to the Bowgie's Facebook page, Azores is one of the guest beers this month.  It would be lovely if it remained, so with the Easter Bank Holiday weekend looming why not plan a trip to Crantock and enjoy a beautiful walk along the beach (dogs welcome all year round on the beach) and the surrounding coastline (we've spotted the choughs recently just around the corner)?  Then plonk yourself down at one of the many tables outside the Bowgie to enjoy the view and a pint of local Cornish, organic vegan cask ale.

We are only around the first half of the weekend before we disappear for almost a month so you may well see us down there trying to sink more than a few pints to make sure that this lovely beer stays on cask beyond the month!  

Images from The Bowgie Inn FB page

Sunday, 20 March 2016

MozzaRisella Cheese and Zizzi Vegan Menu

We covered the news that MozzaRisella Cheese was going to be available at a well known restaurant chain back in November and an email in the last few days has now confirmed that the restaurant involved is Zizzi.  

If that wasn't exciting enough, Zizzi have also just introduced a whole vegan menu and you can ask for any pizza topped with MozzaRisella.  Also included in the vegan menu is the fact that most of the wines that Zizzi offer are also vegan (with the exception of about 3) and there is even vegan gelato and dessert on offer.  

Be warned the vegan menu is a little hidden away on the website under the 'Allergen Menu' (also includes a gluten free menu) so you may have to ask for the vegan menu in the restaurants too.  We are just saying this as, not being allergic to dairy products, we wouldn't have necessarily thought to have looked at this part of the menu but I guess it makes total sense for those that are.

So no more taking your own shop bought cheese to get a pizza and hopefully this move will inspire other restaurants to follow suit.  And before you Cornish vegans start scrabbling around to find the nearest Zizzi, there is one in Cornwall and that is in Falmouth.  We however have a late night ferry to catch next week from Portsmouth and it just so happens that there are two branches very close to the ferry port.  A leisurely evening meal beforehand has suddenly been planned!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Badger Protest At Newquay Airport

A wonderful tale came to light recently.  It has all the elements of random Cornishness, humour, and a happy ending.  It involved Newquay airport and a badger.  Perhaps there were some pro badger cull politicians on the plane and the badger wanted to make a point? 

Read the full story on the BBC Website here.  My favourite line from the report was a quote from a passenger; "there was a tense five-minute gap between the aircraft climbing sharply away from the runway and the pilot announcing the badger's presence".  Oh and also; "A spokesman for Cornwall Airport Newquay said there was a suspected badger sighted on the runway by the bird control unit".  The badgers round here do tend to wear bandit masks so perhaps that explains why they couldn't completely confirm the identity of the said badger?

I've experience delays at Newquay airport on a few occasions but this is one of the few excuses from Flybe that I would find acceptable.  A 15 minute delay and a 'big dipper' experience is a small price to pay to avoid harming Britain's largest remaining wild mammal.


Sunday, 13 March 2016

More National Trust Vegan Offerings

Photo courtesy of our mate Paul Duffy

An afternoon spent skidding, riding and performing feats of amazing but unintentional gymnastic skills on the cycle trails of Lanhydrock, whilst covering ourselves in mud and big smiley faces could only be rounded off with a visit to the National Trust cafe. 

We had promised our mate Paul a cup of tea and a slice of vegan cake as way of a lure to cross the border (from Devon) and come down and get muddy with us.  In fairness he was up for anything we threw at him (including the ground) but the cake helped a little.  As we walked to the cafe I hoped that they did indeed have the vegan cake that we had experienced here before.  We weren't disappointed.  Not only did they have the Vegan Banoffee Cake they had back in December on offer, they now also had chocolate cupcakes. 

We settled into the comfy sofas inside the cafe with a round of warming drinks and a veritable buffet of vegan naughty sweet treats; Banoffee cake, the remainder of the chocolate cupcakes on offer (apologies to any vegans that followed after us!) and some flapjack.  Well we'd earned it so what the heck?

I have to say the cycle trails are lure enough for the likes of us but the idea of being able to drop into the cafe after for a soya milk tea or a coffee (multiple variations of which are available) with accompanying cakey delight is, well, the icing on the cake!  We learnt that the chef there is vegan so that might also explain the veg chilli and curry that we noted on the menu too (although we didn't inquire in detail about these I might add).  Next time perhaps?

So get yourselves along to Lanhydrock for either some cycling, cake or both.  I recommend the latter only because it gives you all the more excuse to tuck away more cake!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Back to Elementary School

Cornwall wouldn't be Cornwall without having the elements thrown at it frequently and, despite escaping much of the cold winter weather the rest of the country generally suffers, there is never any escaping the wind and rain.  This winter has been pretty bad for that and, with particularly high tides often coinciding with storms, our beach has taken quite a battering.  

The Water element has shown the nature of its power this winter.  This is the first time in our 12 years of living here that the dunes have lost so much sand to the sea.  Being backed by National Trust owned land, the beach here will continue to be at the mercy of the elements, as the N.T. have a 'managed retreat' policy regarding coastal erosion. What this means in practice is that it's going to be left to its own devices.  

This last year has also seen a change in the course of the river that empties out into the sea.  For many years it has flowed out next to the rocks, but last year it changed course and now meanders out somewhere around the middle of the beach.  This has caused chaos at times in the summer, as the Lifeguards try to keep the beach safe, and people from being swept out to sea on the outgoing tide.  There has actually been a line of rocks in place to try and keep the river flowing out by the rocks for many years, but this is no longer working as intended.  Consulting older maps, it seems that the river changes course like this from time to time, so maybe it's best left to natural cycles.  

There is an ancient tale that our village was once a seat of great learning, that there were many saints around these parts, but they lost sight of the true path and fell into sinful ways. Gods wrath is said to have buried them with sand in a great wind storm, just to the rear of the dunes you see above. That must have been the Air element!  Of course both of these elements are acting on the Earth element, both building up and taking away in natures perpetual balancing act. Perhaps if this continues some ancient secrets will be discovered in the dunes?  Let's just hope that the element of Fire shows it's benevolent hand this summer, in the form of lots of lovely rays of sunshine to bask in.  

Part of our vegan ethos is obviously our concern for the environment.  Hopefully the choices we make go some way in balancing the environmental scales in Mother Nature's favour. Regardless, we appreciate that Mother Nature makes her own choices and the biggest mistake anyone can make is thinking they can control her.  Treating her as respectfully and gently as possible however is sure to make a little bit of difference.  We were certainly taking notice when we went to 'elementary school' but of course you could go a degree further and start investigating beyond the four physical elements, into the realms of the fifth element; Ether/Akasha.  After all isn't everything connected?

Anyway, bringing us back to earth now........I have shared Martha Tilston's song Rockpools before in our blog but it is such a beautiful song.  It also really reminds us of Cornwall when we are away from home and its lyrics are really quite poignant to this post.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Vegan Power Bars

Sometimes it takes me a while to catch up with making recipes and this one has taken me a year, but I got there in the end!  You see when I've read Vegan Life Magazine from beginning to end, I then write down on a list every single recipe that takes my fancy, with the edition it appeared in and the page it was on.  Yes it is slightly obsessive, but it does mean that when I have time I can consult my list, and those lovely recipes that appear in each edition that I never had time to make don't then go to waste!

I was looking for a healthy snack to make for pre or post workout and this one, which appeared in the March/April 2015 edition, fitted the bill.  It was really quick to make and the other thing I like about it is that it is really adaptable to your store cupboard supplies.  We always have dried fruit and seeds, but often different ones at different times, and this recipe allows for that.  We also didn't have any puffed quinoa, but we did have some puffed rice so all good there too.  The only thing that I actually bought to make them was the yogurt and it was pretty unusual we didn't already have any in the fridge.

The recipe is actually originally from Provamel and I managed to track it down online so you can see it in all its full glory on their website here - Vegan Power Bars.  There seems to be loads of other lovely recipe offerings on their website too so I shall be investigating some of these over the coming days.

Power up and enjoy!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

When Odd Becomes GOdd

As long term vegans we know what it is like to be looked upon as a bit odd.  We therefore have a great affinity for anyone who is labelled as odd.  To us that just means that they have possibly discovered something that everyone else has just been stupid enough to miss or understand.  

In the case of Odd Todd, this certainly seems the case.  He has gone beyond odd.  From this film it seems there is a general understanding that he is indeed odd, but there is also a respect, a mysticism, even an envy of him.  It is like people don't fully understand what he is about but are desperately trying to find out.

Good on you Todd for keeping your secrets.  If they don't get it, keep them guessing and keep the legend alive.