Monday, 17 November 2014

Beer and Boards


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On Saturday I was on the trail of a new surf board from a like minded surfer friend. "How many boards is that now Phil?", I hear Scooby say; but the trick of frequently moving similar looking boards around the house means that I never have to reveal this classified information to her! For the new acquisition in question we crossed over the border heading north east across Devon, almost to Somerset. Scooby came along for the ride (or as she puts it "to be shown pretty things"), which is always a pleasure in Miles our camper van.  The sky was filled with dark foreboding clouds, bursts of golden sunshine and rainbows galore.  With the surfboard deal completed, and the days surfing analysed and suitably dissected with the surfboard seller, we headed for a place where we knew we could peruse a good range of foodie treats.  

We usually buy a few bottles of ale from this place, as they have an excellent selection of vegan brews on offer.  Today we happened to turn up while the lovely people from Gyle 59 were doing a tasting.  They were busy with happy samplers when we first spotted them, and so we walked past and had a crafty look at some of their bottles on the shelves, just in case they were labelled up as being suitable for us.  Indeed they were, and when we returned to sample their wares it was a very pleasant surprise to find out that ALL of their products are unfined and therefore suitable for vegans, including their cask ales!  As Jon (the founder) said, "Well, if we make them vegan then everyone can have them".  We thanked them profusely for their clear labelling and brewing ethos, and were soon sampling everything they had to offer, along with a fascinating commentary about how each brew is made.

Such are the vegan friendly credentials of the company, that their next promotional opportunity was doing a vegan food/beer matching event in Kent.  We've got to admit, the idea of expertly matching beers to foods is not our area of expertise.  We like what we like, and tend not to think about it much further than that. However, after talking to co-owners Jon and Amanda it is certainly something we are going to be paying a lot more attention to in future. Their knowledge and passion was contagious, without a hint of any 'hard sell'.  For us this was the best sales tactic they could possibly employ.

Taste is a very personal thing, and trying to gauge which beers were 'the best tasting' was further complicated for us by the fact that they had such varied and interesting styles on offer.  Our efforts to choose a few favourites was made even harder by the fact that they were all really good!  In fact, the only way we could narrow it down was to try and discern which ones we liked slightly less than the others.  This also proved quite difficult, especially after sampling the 7 or 8 beers they had to try.  Indeed, if we didn't have to drive for nearly 2 hours to get home, an awful lot more 'sampling' could have been done!  The conclusion we finally came to is that they make some of the best beer we've ever tasted.  Obviously we left with a good selection, to investigate and 'taste test' at our leisure on our return home.

Maybe it is the pure spring water, or the quality and variety of ingredients, or the masterful alchemy that takes place under their careful hands, but whatever it is, these are fantastic beers.  We encourage you to have a look at their website (where they also do on-line sales) or get in touch by email to find your nearest stockist.  Here's hoping if we all spread the word enough we might one day be able to buy Gyle 59 ales in our local pubs, shops or wherever quality beer is sold! 




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Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Challenge of Caring

This week has been particularly challenging.

My parents rang us with the news that Kenai, our little family dog, had died suddenly in the night.  We had our own distress to deal with in regards to this news as well as totally feeling the distress of my parents.  Kenai was after all their little baby of 14 years and nothing you can say, absolutely nothing, can make the situation feel any better. They rang us in the early hours because they needed to tell us and they knew we would understand.  Phil and I had known her pretty much all her life and had on many occasions looked after her as my parents would never had gone abroad to visit my sister without us personally caring for her.

The thing is that not everybody would understand this loss;  and I mean really understand; not just a 'I'm really sorry to hear that' but an almost unspoken look that truly says 'I cannot express it but I feel your pain'.  For these little creatures that we share our homes with are truly members of the family that leave a jaw clenching, head dulling, lung emptying, limb weakening, sore eyed effect when they leave us.  You can tell yourself as much as you like that they had an amazing life with our family, that they were rescued from the streets and were pampered and loved beyond what most people might have done but it still leaves the essentially selfish feeling of grief that they are no longer there to share our lives.

So at work I sought solace from the few that I felt would truly understand, told a few others to counteract my resulting behaviour throughout the day and hid and kept silent from the rest for fear of being misunderstood.   The day ticked along.

However another event was hanging over my grief this week.  The work's Christmas 'party' event was being planned.   The list of names had been put on the noticeboard to assess attendance and, in fairness to my boss, he had included any dietary requirements that needed to be considered within the planning for our meal.   I was warmed by the fact that out of a team of twenty five, four of us had written down 'vegan'.  That was the positive bit. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it did not necessitate it, someone had decided to write 'carnivore' and then shortly after another member of our team decided to write 'murder'. Like 'sheep to the slaughter' other members of the team randomly decided to write 'meat'. Perhaps the fact that if they didn't write down anything related to meat, they might end up with some form of lettuce leaf, led them to such a weird reactive measure.  Perhaps they felt they had to belong to some random non vegan club.  

I'd had enough.  I think the majority of my team had underestimated the strength of my beliefs and how upsetting it was to me to join in with 'team events' at times like this.  Maybe I should just not join in but then what message does that send out?  After the day I'd already had I decided to 'take a step back' and tackle it the following day when I was feeling a bit more level headed.  

It seems however that the person who had put 'murder' on the list had been tipped off about how pissed off I was about the situation.  In his defence he then came to speak to me and in private I explained in no uncertain terms how it had made me feel.  After all this was bordering on abuse and discrimination.  He apologised and I accepted it as such but only hope that he left with a broader understanding and sensitivity.  He said he did.  The fact of the matter though is I am not convinced people do generally understand.  I get it quite a lot where people will eat meat in front of me, apologise but with a bit of a laugh thrown in for good measure.  Whether that is nerves, defence or a weird form of understanding is unclear.  Maybe they just don't really think about it and maybe I over think it.

All I do know is that it has indeed been a challenging week where having a sense of caring and compassion felt like an alien concept on an uncaring planet.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Salad Days of Autumn

Well, that's our lunches sorted out for tomorrow then!  

I got home from work as the rain and wind lashed the window from a darkened outside. With more of the same forecast for tomorrow I had the urge to make a massive, colourful, healthy salad style creation that will brighten up my lunch break and my day generally.  Phil heard of my plans and jumped on board (even though he doesn't have to go to work tomorrow!).  Two lunches it was then.

It doesn't look that attractive;  but come on how do you expect me to plate that amount of food into a lunch box and win Masterchef for the effort?  And okay, I didn't make everything from scratch but give me a break, I've been organised enough to prepare it the night before!  So we have salad leaves, raw carrot, celery and beetroot in there along with aubergine imam, a spelt and sun dried tomato mix, some beany salad, a good dollop of caramelised houmous, a sprinkling of hemp seeds and a mere dash of mayo (roasted garlic for me and chipotle for Phil).  Oh and olives; nearly forgot them.

For afters, if there is any room, there is a pot each of vanilla cashew yoghurt which has the addition of an apricot puree in the bottom and yes, this is homemade so there!  My yoghurt may end up as my breakfast rather than lunch but I think when it comes to food for the day, I might indeed have it covered!

I nearly ate it all there and then but luckily Phil had tonight's food offerings sorted; miso soup followed by vegetable satay with buckwheat noodles and spring rolls with a ginger soy dip. That more than did the trick in distracting me away from the salad and the lunch boxes made it safely in to the fridge ready for tomorrow.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Smells and Light of Autumn

Let's face it, Autumn does have an air of sadness about it.  After all we've had to let go of the much loved Summer. However, if you set your mind to it you can truly embrace Autumn; especially if you appreciate the magic of smells and light. 

For me the smell of wood smoke around the village adds a tinge of excitement to the air; a chance to 'cozy down' and catch up on all those indoor tasks that the Summer sunshine distracted you from doing. 

Between the Autumnal rain showers there is however still a chance to enjoy all that the outdoors offers, especially as it is an unusually warm season so far.  

The smell of damp leaves and mushroomy promise is fantastic. What could sum up a British Autumn more fantastically than newly emerged mushrooms against a backdrop of an English Oak?  These mushrooms looked so beautiful we didn't have the heart to nab them for supper.

The light in the Autumn is just beautiful.  Dark heavy clouds allowing just a sneak of teasing sunshine through  is just one of the things I love about  the 'interesting weather' you often get at this time of year. One of the results of such an occurrence is the painting of rainbows across the sky. 

Here in our own 'backyard' today the rainbow we saw very definitely reminded us that the 'pot of gold' that sits at the end of it is our fortune in living in such a beautiful place.

In the darker stormier days and nights of the coming months we should never forget to embrace all that Autumn and Winter offers us.  Let's face it, it's not all bad sat in front of an open fire with a glass of vino tinto in your hand either!



Saturday, 1 November 2014

Go Back!





























Thanks to Bruce Hocking for this one.  This is totally classic and so true!  

Nuff said.

Wildebeest Food - Now You See It Now You Don't


Well we couldn't exactly say go to Wildebeest to everyone in our last post without following our own advice!  So when Phil came home from his morning surf, off we went. We don't really need an excuse but the fact that they were having the 'support Viva! day' today meant we couldn't really resist.

I had the Homemade Squash Ravioli with Sauteed Mushrooms, Kale and a Pickled Apple and Hazelnut Salad. Phil had the Thai Green Curry Broth with Rice Noodles, Broccoli, Char-grilled Courgettes and Pea Tendrils.  We of course managed to fit in some desserts.  After all we'd driven 25 miles to get there so you've got to make the most of it!  I had the Wholemeal Mixed Berry and Coconut Cake with the addition of a scoop of Roasted Banana and Blueberry Ice Cream on the side.  Phil went for the Raw Lime Coconut Cheesecake.  Phwoah!  Lovely!

Let's just say neither the photos above, nor the descriptions of the dishes do justice to the food at Wildebeest. Whatever your imagination dreams it up to be like, I can tell you it will be even better than that.

It was totally packed out today and we were very fortunate to even get seated.  This is not only heartening from a vegan point of view; to see so many people enjoying purely vegan fare, but also a clear indication of the standard of food that they serve.  They work so hard and we can honestly say we don't know how they keep up the pace six days a week.  It is no wonder they are ranked #4 out of 165 Falmouth restaurants on TripAdvisor.

Whether you are vegan or not, it's a sin if you come to Cornwall without visiting Wildebeest!

Fact.

World Vegan Day at Wildebeest



How lovely of Wildebeest!  If you get the chance go and eat, drink and be merry in the fact that not only are you getting scrumptious lovely food but that, thanks to Wildebeests generosity, all proceeds are going to Viva!

Wildebeest is in Falmouth.  http://www.wildebeestcafe.com/

Badgers Use Remote Controls and Watches

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Although it appears, from the lack of blog posts about them recently, that our badgers have not been visiting this is far from the case.  Our Banditos (as I affectionately call them now) appear every night pretty much without fail.  In fact for the past month I had been trying to catch on camera how they manage to get into our fenced off vegetable patch but without success.  It was almost as if they had a remote control for the camera which would switch off just at the moment of discovery only to then switch on again once they were inside the boundaries.  Some nights the camera would fail to work at all for no technical reason only for us to discover definite evidence of badger ingress in the form of a big hole with badger poo in it.  This is why I now call them Black and White Banditos; that and all the other wonderful forms of mischief they have revealed to us over the last couple of years (for more examples of this you only have to search for badger posts on our blog).

With the failed attempts at discovering the weak spot in the fence and the time for planting an overwintering crop in our veg patch passed, I gave up on filming them and decided to instead open up a section of the fence and let them into our veg patch.  After all, if they wanted to be there, I might as well make it easier for them.  I was also rather hoping they would at least dig over the ground for us as well as bring them closer to our front window and allow us a closer look at them.  They are after all far more entertaining to watch than TV on these dark nights.

So without fail, the female Bandito arrived, found the gap in the fence and sniffed out the handful of peanuts I had left her.  She happily chomped away for a while and then got spooked when she heard voices along the road.  She made a break for it, not through the already opened gap, but under a pile of jasmine cuttings where we thought she was momentarily hiding until she popped up on the other side of the fence having effortlessly squeezed her furry frame underneath it.  And there was me thinking my homemade beach scavenged fishing net fence was thoroughly fixed down.  It might have been designed for catching fish but clearly not my Banditos.  The wonderful irony was that we had to let them into the 'out of bounds' area in order to discover how they had been getting in in the first place!  Technology had failed to reveal the answer but removing the boundaries had!  That could be a really good lesson in life.

So for the last few nights we have been watching the wonders of our Banditos close up and personal right under the window.  Their timing has been impeccable.  After the clocks changed I expected them to turn up an hour earlier than usual; I mean after all they don't wear watches.....do they?  You see that's the thing, they didn't show up early.  They showed up at the usual clock time and have continued to do so ever since.  So you tell me, how do they tell the time?

Those clever Banditos!


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Tofu Steaks


Right so, third time lucky, finally I've managed to take a photo of these tofu steaks before we consumed them. Apologies for the really slapdash 'snap' of them but we were ready to eat and I had been sampling a rather nice French vino tinto (La Patrie Cotes de Bordeaux 2012 Merlot for the record - currently available in 'Sinsburys'). That's my excuse anyway.

The speed of taking the photo does however rather match the speed of preparation for these satisfying savouries. They are just so quick and easy and take just five ingredients; hence we have sampled them about three times in as many weeks.  

I was originally inspired to make these because we had a block of tofu and very little else in the fridge but I didn't want to go shopping.  Besides, I thought, surely tofu deserves to be made the 'main star' of a meal sometimes rather than cut up and hidden in the likes of a stir fry? The challenge was to make the rather subdued taste of tofu into something with a flavoursome punch quickly and with very little other ingredients.  My usual kitchen tactic of a good old rummage in the cupboards and fridge bore dividends.  Some caramelized onion humous and a jar of sun dried tomato paste got the ball rolling.  

After a bit of a gentle pressing to extract some of the water, I sliced the block of tofu carefully into four thin slabs. Placing two of these on a greased baking tray, I generously spread the humous on top of both.  Subconsciously I then reached for some dried oregano and gave both slices a good old sprinkle on top of the humous before sandwiching them with the top slice of tofu. Out came the jar of sun dried tomato paste and I wasn't shy in slathering it on top, right to the edges.  Then I faltered.  It needed something else.  I did think breadcrumbs but that wasn't exciting enough.  Then I thought nuts.  Like the vegan squirrels we are, we always keep a good stock of nuts and among said stock we had pistachios.  Perfect.  Taking a couple of small handfuls I blitzed them in our spice grinder before spooning the resulting powder on top of the tomato paste.  The steaks were baked at 200 degrees C for about 30 minutes until nicely browned and slightly crispy on top. Last night we had ours with baked sweet potatoes and salad leaves, avocado and lentil sprouts on the side.

Tofu, humous, oregano, sun-dried tomato paste and pistachios; it really is that simple.  I also think there are many more variations on this to try too.  How about using vegan cream cheese or miso instead of the humous, chili sauce or tahini and other nuts or sesame seeds on top. Experimentation is called for and I'd love to hear from anyone with a good combo. 

By the way, tofu that has been frozen first, then thawed and pressed also works a treat with this recipe. 

Enjoy!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Vegan Lounging Around

Work took me away from home for two days at the beginning of this week.  My first day was spent visiting Bournemouth University but before I started my meeting I wanted to grab a spot of lunch.  

Research is everything when you are vegan and before I left I checked out Happy Cow to see what was near the campus.  It paid off as I happened upon a small but ever growing chain of restaurant bars called Loungers.  How had we missed out on this chain in the past? Even more shocking is that a few moments ago, when checking out their website before writing this post, I happened to discover there is actually one of them in Truro, a mere 20 minutes drive from us!

So what attracted me to the Loungers chain?  Well let's just say how many non-veggie/vegan restaurants or chains offer a whole vegan menu? Now we aren't talking about a few items hidden away with a little V+ written next to them; we are talking about a whole menu that is very happily presented to you upon asking.....a whole separate menu just for you! Wowzers, how special does that make you feel?!  Get this; they even do vegan wine.  See, there it is in the photo and if you don't believe me, here's a link from their website  - Loungers Vegan Menu.

I had the Panini which was delicious and a rather lovely cup of Lapsang Souchong tea, obviously with soya milk.  I think another visit may be in order, but this time to Truro so I can report on the rest of their menu!  Phil would very much like the chance to sample their wares too next time!

So check them out.  The Truro branch is at 12 Princes Street, Truro, TR1 2ES.