Sunday, 24 July 2016

Berry Good

We are enjoying regular strawberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant based smoothies courtesy of our garden at the moment. Whether foraging in our garden, or in the wild, it's always great to find food for free.  On a recent trip up to North Wales we went for a walk in the woods, and found such a profusion of these wild bilberries that we took much longer on the walk than we thought we would.  As we went on it seemed that they just got sweeter and tastier, and we couldn't restrain ourselves from stopping every few hundred metres to 'just have a few more'.  There were so many of these berries that we had purple stained fingers and tongues for most of the walk.  It seemed rude not to sample a few as we walked.

More locally, we've previously gorged on these bilberries on Bodmin moor and Dartmoor during walking and cycling trips.  They are just the sort of free 'energy snack' that is needed during such activities, and are currently out there ripe and waiting for those who are willing to take a little walk on the wild side to track them down.  Unlike most wild berries that seem to ripen in Autumn, bilberries are the first of the wild berries to ripen and reach their peak at the end of July, so be quick if you want to go out and about searching for them.  

They go by many different names, depending on where you are in the country; bilberries, blaeberries, fraughans, whortleberries, whimberries, hurtleberries, wild blueberries, etc., and each region has it's own stories about this wild food. In Ireland they are celebrated with Fraughan Sunday, the last one in July, which is linked to the pre-Christian Celtic Festival of Lughnasa.  They were previously picked commercially in many regions.  For their size they also pack a rich nutritional punch.  Interestingly, it seems the nutritional effects are increased by not consuming bilberries with dairy products.

If you find yourself out and about in the right environment, be sure to have a look for these tasty seasonal treats.  They are well worth the effort of searching them out.  We offer no ideas for recipes here because, quite frankly, they would never make it home.  We prefer the wild eating experience.  However, the Fraughan Sunday link above does offer some ideas if you do manage to resist eating them on the spot.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Newlina Eco-Gardens Crowdfunder

A cat called TC who has his own interesting 'tail to tell', his own Facebook page, and Buddhist tendencies, led me to meet new friends recently.  That in itself is a whole new story for another time.  However, it was my new friends who alerted me to an interesting project, in turn created by friends of theirs, a mere 5 miles from where we live.

Paul and Laura Salmon from Newlina Eco-Gardens have quietly been providing sustainable local food to the community and restaurant business in Cornwall from their base at St Newlyn East for over 11 years now.  More recently however they have decided to open their 'green out-doors' and offer community education with their new Wild Garden Project.  It was at a recent open day and event that we went to see what was planned for this project.

Paul and Laura have a quiet and determined energy about them.  There is nothing outspoken or showy about them. Instead their hard work and passion is reflected in the flourishing land, rows of tasty produce and natural habitat that make up Newlina.  Their skills are also perfectly balanced for the new project.  Paul has years of horticultural experience, including permaculture, and his obvious natural skills and abilities make you want to follow him around for hours firing questions at him in an effort to understand fully why all the things he grows seem so perfect.  His delight at showing us the footprints of the resident pest controller (a hedgehog) was infectious too. Meanwhile Laura's skills as a playworker and story teller mean that she could be explaining the merest blade of grass and you would be transfixed by the interwoven details and creative energy that surround it.  Indeed Laura has her own 'Wild Stories' Project that seeks to explore the human relationship with nature through storytelling.

Although some areas of the Community Wild Garden Project have been started, such as a free monthly Wild Garden Group, some of the planting, and the set up of communal areas, there is still a little way to go.  To help with this they have launched a Crowdfunder appeal. The momentum is definitely building though, with interest and support from the local community and schools.  

It is a sad fact that much of modern living has led to a disconnect and lack of understanding of the importance of where and how our food is delivered to our plates, let alone the ecological implications of getting this wrong.  Paul and Laura have been producing food ecologically for years from their poly tunnels and outdoor areas, but to help the wider community reconnect and re-understand, the new Wild Garden Project has become their next mission. After all, the ability to grow and produce your own food might have been lost to individuals in more recent generations, but is really one of the most important and empowering skills to have.  It really sits alongside, if not above reading and writing in some ways. 

Thankfully some parts of the community are recognising this, including schools, and as such local schools are therefore embracing such projects like the one at Newlina. Children can learn how to grow and forage for food, outdoor cooking skills, how to work with and around nature, and how to be creative in the natural environment, among other things; all this in a fun and engaging environment.  It is a simple but effective concept that quite frankly all kids should have the opportunity to learn and experience.  If we had kids I would more actively encourage and support them to attend the 'School of Laura and Paul' (along with a spot of good old fashioned travel experience) over sending them packing off to study some over-charging/overrated university degree (and that's coming from someone who works in higher education!). But that's just my simple opinion; supported by an ever growing number of environmentalists who foresee the way 'modern society' is 'progressing'.

With my slight rant over and an ever growing garden of our own homegrown produce to attend to (and a mountain of unwritten blog posts to catch up on), I'd best stop there.  You get the idea though I hope; projects such as the one at Newlina are increasingly important in the wider scale.  If you feel the same and live locally, or are even just visiting Cornwall, pop over, take a look at their website and Facebook pages and, if you can afford it, they'd be delighted if you supported their Crowdfunder appeal (details below) or volunteered your time to help progress the project.


Newlina Eco-Gardens
 Neeham Road
St Newlyn East

Friday, 15 July 2016

Another Birthday, Another Cake

July is a busy time, particularly for birthdays.  This week was my lovely colleague Charlie's birthday.  Charlie likes cake and he loves coffee so it was obvious that coffee cup cakes were the order of the day.  He jokes with me that I am his Cornish mother and as such I joke that he should therefore listen to his mother and become vegan.  He sees sense in it but feels that it will be something that he will realise in about 10 years time.  All I can do in the meantime is to wait, continue to be his Cornish mother and ply him with vegan cake.  

I didn't have a specific coffee cupcake recipe so I adapted my usual cake recipe (here is another adaptation but leave the carob, almond essence, cherries and raisins out of it for the basic cake recipe).  I took some of the milk out at the first stage and heated it before dissolving some instant coffee into it.  After it cooled I added it back to the milk and carried on with the rest of the recipe as normal.

The cakes simply had to have icing on them too and again I didn't have a coffee icing recipe so busked it with what I had to hand.  I have no specific measurements to give you but you'll get the idea - just make it gooey, that's all you need to aim for!  I dissolved some more coffee granules in hot water and then added icing sugar, stirring until dissolved.  A touch of creaminess was required so I chucked a couple of tablespoons of almond butter in and also about a tablespoon of coconut oil.  The latter was to help it set well.  The coconut oil and almond butter dissolved in nicely whilst the mixture was still warmish but I knew once chilled the coconut oil would harden.  It took a bit of mixing and a bit more icing sugar before I got it to a soft gooey mixture that could easily be swirled on top of the cooled cakes but didn't just ooze down the sides.  A flurry of vegan marshmallows finished off the tops before I popped them in the fridge to set.  

The next morning they were perfect and ready to take to work for Charlie and the crew. Nine out of five was the score given for them, whilst another member of the team hinted that a bigger version cut up and finished with a dollop of custard would be very much appreciated next time.

And Charlie.....I know you are reading the right thing by your mum and you could be living the vegan cake dream everyday.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Mysterious Vegan Town Treats Arrive

I came home this evening to discover this package waiting to be opened.  It is a Vegan Town box of goodies.  I really don't know for sure who it is from as there was no note inside, although I do have suspicions.
What an amazing and mysterious box of vegan chocolate loveliness!  There are loads of things in there I haven't tried yet either and plenty of things I love. 
The challenge will be hiding them all from the chocolate nicking monkey that is Phil as I have run out of undiscovered hiding places and have resorted to carrying my chocolate stashes to work with me as a result!   No doubt though I will end up sharing with him anyway because, well I do love him, and know how much he loves chocolate too.  He is also very good at putting a 'puppy face' on when it comes to chocolate begging.  It is hard to resist.
So a massive thank you to the mysterious vegan chocolate hamper pixie out there for sending me such a lovely surprise.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Birthday Treats for Work

It is traditional at work that if it is your birthday you take in treats for everyone to share, and today it was my birthday.  It was also my vegan friend and colleague's birthday yesterday but she wasn't at work until today, so today I went to town and took in lots of home made vegan treats on behalf of both of us.

I chose two recipes (both of which actually by chance required no baking) which were in the new Vegan Food and Living magazine and the accompanying supplement. I chose the Raw Snickers Slices and Best Ever Brownies.  

The Best Ever Brownies were originally from Beanie's Vegan Kitchen website. I must admit I went 'off piste' a little by adding an almond butter icing on top (something like a couple of tablespoons of almond butter, a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar, a drop or two of almond essence and a bit of water - don't quote me on this though as I wasn't really measuring!).  It added a little dimension that was very much noted by my colleagues.  The Raw Snickers Slices were originally from The Artful Foodie and were a hit with all.  

Here is a quote from a distinctly non vegan colleague  - "I really didn't want to like them, but damn your vegan cakes Scooby".  I call that a 1 - 0 victory for veganism.  "Result", and thanks to the recipes from both Beanie's and The Artful Foodie. 

Dr Hadwen Trust Guide to Animal Use in Research

Whenever I am asked to sponsor somebody for a charity I don't support (due to animal testing etc), I always take the opportunity of saying my donation will go instead to the Dr Hadwen Trust.  It not only shows that I am not a meanie and am prepared to sponsor them, but also opens up the conversation around medical research on animals. This guide from the Dr Hadwen Trust is circulating on Facebook at the moment, and is a great thing to share to all those people who very easy support charities like Cancer Research UK, but are totally unaware there are alternatives out there.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A Short Break in Gloucestershire

With the holiday season fast approaching we've been taking advantage of trips away in our camper van before we get trapped by the flow of tourists into Cornwall (hence the lack of posts recently).  Our most recent trip saw us heading 'up country' to Stroud and the surrounding area, in Gloucestershire; an area we've never taken the time, until now, to investigate.  

You know you've arrived in the right town when one of the first things you bump into is a vegan Indian street food stall.  The irony of this is that it was Bill, owner of Veggie Perrins (Indian vegetarian restaurant) in Plymouth, who first told us about Stroud, the town we now found ourselves drawn to.  He told us he'd heard Stroud likened to Totnes, an alternative, vegan mecca in South Devon.  It sounded like our kind of town.  It turns out his recommendation was right. 

We'd parked by the railway station (refreshingly cheap parking charges too at £1.80 for all day) and immediately we were reminded that Stroud is the home of Ecotricity as we walked past a wall painted with their green union jack logo.  It was a good omen. We headed to the Farmers Market, passed Falafel Mama restaurant which sadly we ended up not sampling but we could clearly see it offered vegan options.  We continued up the road and bumped into a lady handing out flyers for an anti NHS privatisation campaign.  There was a fascinating and shocking exhibition of photographs highlighting specific examples of the underhand privatisation deals occurring out of sight and mind to most of us tax payers.  Even Phil, who works for the NHS, was shocked.  The film Sicko was playing that evening in the town hall as part of this community driven campaign.  We chatted to the lady and through her we sensed that 'Totnes style' passion for justice was strong in Stroud.  

After this short and educational diversion we reached the market, and that is where we encountered our first vegan taste; Girish Patel's vegan Indian street food stall.  We were salivating and confused as to what we could fit in from the selection on offer.  A sample of lassi was delicious but the warming vegan chai won us over, along with the bhaji wrap, dhal, rice and samosas.  We sat gorging ourselves whilst sat on the little seats provided just opposite the stall.  We watched as frequent customers ordered food and chatted away, whilst hypnotic tunes resonating from the didgeridoo musician next to us played away.  We had to move on though as there seemed so much more to see.

Olive stalls, pure apple juice stalls, another falafel option (with a big vegan sign), countless organic fruit and vegetable stalls, a salad and snack stall (again with vegan options displayed), an organic t-shirt stall, an organic beer stall, another stall with vegan Indian snacks and a vegan/gluten free cake stall (pretty much sold out by the time we got there); all frequented this wonderful farmers market in the middle of town.  

Sure there were also meaty/cheesy stalls but, as the lady in the cake stall told me, the organisers of the market wanted to ensure 'a good ethical balance'.  I'm sure most of us would agree a good ethical balance is an all vegan market but in this world the amount of vegan options within the market was an amazing start to that dream.  

We continued to hunt the rest of the town for more 'alternatives'.  We found a great labyrinthine old style health food store called Sunshine down one of the enticing alleyways, another organic vegetable stall tucked away in a courtyard, an eco store, countless charity shops (including a timely one for refugees), a fairy shop, an organic hairdressers, a coffee shop that loans books (if you just write down your name and address), Woodruffs (one of the original organic cafes in the country), a fermented foods museum (sadly not open), a yoga studio and a vegetarian arts cafe called Star Anise.  

It was in the latter we met John Lyndon. John was a 76 year old retired taxi driver down from Cheltenham for the day.  He came to this cafe quite a lot and it was clear, when he asked to join us at our table for cake and tea, he was just searching for someone to 'shoot the breeze' with. He was a lovely fella and actually epitomised most of the people we met in this area; happy, talkative and friendly.

Stroud had been a hit with us and the Saturday Farmers Market (it closes at 2pm so get there early!) was a definite bonus.

With the evening approaching we decided to search for a suitable overnight wild camping option and after a successful recce with guaranteed good views, our thoughts turned to dinner options. We could have cooked but hey we were on holiday!  

At this point Phil enthusiastically announced he had noted a place on Happy Cow nearby in Gloucester that would be rather wonderful to sample.  With that we headed off the 10 miles or so north to investigate Tangtastic, a veggie/vegan Chinese takeaway.

Yeah okay, it isn't the healthiest cuisine in the world as some things were deep fried, but by god it was tasty.  We hadn't had food like this since Tooleys in Plymouth closed down about 10 years ago.  If all Chinese food was as tasty (yet MSG free) as this then we'd eat it a lot more often.  We'd read the 5 star reviews on Happy Cow, and were pleased to find that the food was as good as expected, with the staff happy to advise on any substitutions needed to make everything vegan. We started with satay skewers, and quickly moved on to red bean dumplings, then the rest of the main courses we had ordered:  a selection of rice, noodle, and 'fake meat/fish' dishes that were all really good.  We got a bit carried away with the amount we ordered, but Phil was more than happy to eat the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.  If only there was a Tangtastic in Cornwall.

As a new dawn greeted us high up on a sunny Gloucestershire hill overlooking the Bristol Channel, our minds turned northwards to the wonders of Wholefood Market in Cheltenham. We'd been here before en route up north so knew it was worth a visit.  Think health food store pumped up to supermarket size.  It is well worth a visit if you are up this way.  

Also worth a 'pit stop' is the Gloucestershire Services on the M5.  I only wanted a wee but a whole new motorway services experience greeted us with sustainable building designs, local produce and home cooked style food.  No sign of a Muckdonalds or Starbucks here. If you are having to stop at a services on the motorway, this would definitely be one to cross your legs and wait for!

Our journey from here then took us into the Forest of Dean and just over the border to Wales.  However, we could really have spent a lot more time in Gloucestershire and know for a fact that we have only just touched on a few of the vegan wonders of this area.  We will no doubt be returning at some point to investigate these.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sprout - A Health Food Store for Newquay

We couldn't be more excited to hear that finally Newquay is getting a health food store.  It has been well over ten years since there's been one.  Us vegans generally get over excited about health food stores anyway, but the fact that we will have one now within cycling distance genuinely feels like Christmas has come in Summer!  

Sprout Health Foods is the reason for this excitement.  It will be opening on Friday 1st July and if the photos of the space and the preparation on their Facebook page are anything to go by,  it not only looks like a beautiful space but a large one too.  That can only mean one thing; more space means more goodies.  

Sprout will be at The Old Printhouse just off Bank Street in Newquay town centre.  The doors open at 9am on 1st July and I imagine there might be a queue!  Sadly, I am away working so will have to kerb my excitement until I return home and can visit.  Damn.

To keep up to date with the latest news check out their Facebook page or progress on their blog.

Mutual Rescue

Here is a heart warming story of love and hope that is circulating on Facebook at the moment.  It drew both tears and inspiration out of me.  The foresight of the nutritionist was amazing.  I just had to share.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

I See You Baby, Shaking That...Coconut Milk Shake

Hmmmmmmm....yum.  Nuff said.

Oh I suppose we'd better expand on that a little. Well, we seem to be finding new vegan stuff quite often at the moment and this is just another example.  Creamy, decadent, thick, smooth and very tasty.  There you go, is that enough?  No? Okay, the Strawberries and Cream is reminiscent of a Wimbledon inspired Summer sunshine childhood moment.  That about sums it up for me but see what you think.  The Chocolate Fudge; well you smell the naughty loveliness before you taste it.  It really is fudgy nom nom.  Apparently there is a Banana Split one too.

Anyway, basically if you see any of these you'd be a bit daft not to try them.

Check out their Facebook page with links to where to buy if you can't get them locally and get desperate to try them (we must admit we sneaked off to Glastonbury and found them up there!).