Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Mid Week Munchies and Winter Spiced Tea Recipe

I'm really enjoying doing these mid week munchies posts and checking out what other bloggers taking part around the world are eating and buying too. Check out this link to find out more. Last week my purchases were all from my local super cheap discount store, Heron Foods. This week I've gone to the other end of the scale for my town of Glossop and am going to feature three purchases from our Marks and Spencers Food store. I'm also going to count this as my Halloween link up post.

Check out this link to see Halloween related posts from other bloggers.

I initially went in because I wanted to buy something Halloween related. We had been planning a Halloween get together this year but then Matt got a gig. So, instead we're doing something the week after with Bonfire night themed food. I couldn't resist this big bag of Vampire's Fangs though which are a salt and vinegar flavour maize based crisp. At £2 they are pricey but they are also part of a big 3 for 2 offer in the store at the moment which covers loads of products. I would imagine that come Monday they'll probably be reduced to 50p!

There's a tenuous link to Halloween/ scary stuff here with the next item which is some roasted salt and vinegar flavour fava beans. I have to say that I have never actually seen Silence of the Lambs although I know fava beans feature in the film. I have however eaten lots of Hodmedod's beans and they have teamed up here to supply the fava beans for this Dilly and Wolf snack. Here's a link to a review I did of the Hodmedod's range of products. This is a new product to Marks and Spencer's and they also carry an accompanying snack of wasabi peas which is also vegan friendly. The snacks are £1.50 per pot.

My final product is a not terribly exciting box of loose leaf English Breakfast tea. It will be much more exciting when I have used it to make my tried and tested Winter Spiced Tea blend. I'll be drinking this myself as well as bagging  some up for festive gifts.

Winter Spiced Tea

The ideal tea to refresh your spirits on a cold winter afternoon and it smells amazing. Can be drunk with or without milk.

75g (2.5oz) of loose black tea leaves
3 star anise crushed
2 sticks of cinnamon, crushed
Peel of half a lemon that's been dried and chopped (prepare this a couple of days beforehand to allow the peel to dry out. Remove the peel from the lemon removing as much of the white pith as you can and let it dry out on a plate)
3 cloves crushed
6 peppercorns crushed

Mix all the ingredients together and place in an airtight tin or box. Add a label.

Holiday in Harlech

A couple of weeks ago we had one of the best holidays I have ever had. I'm torn between recommending this place to everybody and keeping it to myself it was that good! We spent a week in Harlech in North Wales. I had never been to Harlech but Matt had spent many childhood holidays in the area and was keen to go back. When I saw the amazing beaches I could see why! We were there in October and the sun didn't stop shinning, we didn't have a drop of rain all week.

When we decided on the area I set out searching the internet for somewhere to stay. We were on a strict budget of £300 tops for accommodation and we thought we'd be unable to find an apartment at that price and would be looking more at caravans although October is low season and cheaper than other times in the year. I'd not been searching long when I came across some new apartments in the grounds of Harlech castle. They were so new that there weren't any photos of them online but they fitted our budget and sounded ok so we took a risk and made a booking. A few weeks later we got an email saying that there were now photos online and boy oh boy were we delighted!

There are five apartments and they are in an old refurbished hotel right next to the castle. We stayed in apartment 2. You can see from the above picture just how close to it we were. There were also lovely views of the sea to the left and the mountains to the right. The ground floor of the building is the visitor centre, cafe and shop and some serious money has been spent on this redevelopment. The cafe has an indoor and outdoor area and amazing views. Sadly they didn't have soya milk or we would have gone in every day. It turned out that when we got there that the apartments had only been renting out for a couple of weeks and that we were some of the first people to stay there. We also got included in the booking a free pass for the pair of us to visit Harlech castle as well as other castles in Wales!

Everything in the apartment was beautiful quality and lots of it was locally made or sourced. As well as a very comfortable huge sofa there was this lovely armchair for sitting and reading.

I loved these organically shaped coat hooks and the fun wall display of mirrors.

This cabinet had different handles for each drawer and had the television, Dvd player and iPod docking system on top of it.

The bathroom had an amazing walk in shower and complementary toiletries that I was pleased to see were paraben free and cruelty free and supplied by a local social enterprise company.

We were so impressed by the design and accessibility of the apartments. Everything was wheelchair friendly without looking at all medical but just like good design. Here's Matt in the kitchen. The tea towel is hanging from a handle that you could turn to raise and lower the work surface, hob and sink. The bedroom also had sensors that you could put under your pillow if you were deaf which would vibrate if the fire alarm went off.

We made good use of the kitchen as there wasn't a great deal of choice for vegans in the area and we both enjoy cooking too. Here's an evening meal Matt rustled up of pan fried courgette, broccoli, carrots, potatoes roasted with rosemary + garlic and pan fried veggie black pudding served on a bed of spring greens drizzled with a sauce made from Vegg.

The hob was a halogen one and once we'd worked out how to use it (it even had a remote control!) I really enjoyed cooking on it. I took along a chocolate chip pancake mix I'd prepared at home that just needed almond milk and oil adding to it. The spray is low cal coconut oil which is my favourite oil to use for pancakes.

I also took along my travel measuring cups. These are made out of plastic and are like stackable Russian dolls.

Here's the finished pancakes served with apple, Sweet Freedom and some blackberries that we foraged down near the beach.

I really wanted to try some local Welsh food but it was all pretty meat and dairy orientated. We saw lots of ice cream shops with delicious sounding flavours and although I don't usually eat it often I started to crave ice cream. Luckily when we visited nearby Porthmadog we found the most amazing vegan Wholefoods shop on the high street called Vegonia that had a brilliant range of foods including this CoYo Sticky Date and Tamarind Coconut ice cream which was out of this world.

One thing that we did manage to find that was Welsh and vegan friendly was laverbread. This is a type of seaweed and we loved these laverbread oatcakes that we enjoyed with Violife cream cheese and a cocktail hour gin and tonic. We also bought a tin of laverbread to bring home to enjoy spread on toast.

The last day of our holiday was what would have been my dad's 80th birthday. My dad died 12 years ago but every year my sister and I make a point of having nice tea and cake as he was a big cake lover. We'd not spotted any vegan cake all week so I was resigned to having some biscuits I'd brought with us but when I got up Matt had already been up for an hour trawling the internet and had come up with a cake plan!

We jumped in the car and set off confidently to the Black Cat Cafe which is a charming little cafe situated just inside Glynliffon Country Park. We'd read that they always have vegan cake so our hopes were high. Unfortunately they had sold out the evening before and new supplies hadn't arrived. To be honest I'm not surprised they had sold out if the other non vegan cakes they had on display were anything to go by. They were all homemade and looked excellent. We settled for a pot of tea and a soya latte instead in the sunshine. If you are near Caernarfon I would definitely recommend a visit here and to also check out the lovely artist run shop a few metres from the cafe who also sell online.

Our next stop was Bangor. Being a much bigger University town we hoped that we would definitely find vegan cake here. By now it was lunchtime and we were nearly an hours drive from Harlech and we needed food. We stopped in at the Blue Sky Cafe. Whilst not a veggie cafe they have some great vegan lunch options. Matt had a thai style tofu burger which was almond and sesame tofu, caramelised pineapple and a ginger, chilli and peanut sauce served with some great chips and bean and green salads on the side. I went for the salad option which was grilled smoked tofu with roasted veg and micro salad served with a choice of local artisan bread or rice cakes. It's a really busy and popular place and as it was a cooler day I enjoyed sitting near a roaring fire. The interior reminded me a bit of the Whale Tail cafe in Lancaster. We were hugely impressed by the food and would definitely go back but were disappointed that despite having home made cakes and biscuits there were no vegan dessert options.

We had a wander round the town to walk our lunch off and it was about 3.30 in the afternoon before we entered Kyffin. And Kyffin did not let us down! Kyffin serve home made vegetarian food and they have several vegan cakes each day. The cakes we choose looked rather plain with just one layer and no frosting but you know how the saying goes - less is more. Well it was certainly true in this case as they were packed with flavour and had great texture. I would love the recipe for both of these cakes. On the left is a slice of beetroot and chocolate and on the left is sticky mango. Whilst both great the mango cake in particular was amazing! It tasted like there was a good wack of golden syrup in there. I've been searching the internet to try to find a vegan cake recipe that might be similar to how this tasted but haven't found anything yet. If you know of a sticky, syrupy vegan mango cake recipe let me know! It was so good we bought extra to take away. It was just the sort of cake my dad would have loved too.

As well as savoury food and cake the cafe also sell a wide range of sweets and chocolate including plenty of vegan friendly bars. I was pleased to find a bar of my favourite Seed and Bean Cornish Sea Salt chocolate so a bar of that came home with us too. Here's a review of it I did last year for Can I Eat It?

It was such an amazing holiday that guess what? A few days ago after much umming and ahhing and checking of finances and promising to get selling on eBay to raise funds we came to a decision and have booked to go back to the castle apartment for New Year. I always used to go away for New Year but haven't for many years now and I can't wait!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Mid Week Munchies

Jennifer at My Blissful Journey blog has set up an off season Vegan Mofo bloggers community and one of the regular blogging challenges is called Mid Week Munchies. We did our weekly shop at the weekend and it didn't really contain anything out of the ordinary but yesterday I popped into Heron Foods which is a local discount store. They mainly sell frozen and tinned stuff. It's really cheap and occasionally some interesting vegan friendly items pop up! I made a couple of purchases that I reckon are suitable for a mid-week munchies post.

I picked up some of these Lemon, Lime and Ginger Firefly drinks which were 3 bottles for £1. They are usually around £1.55 each! I have a sinus condition and had been reading the other day about how citrus fruits could help so I thought I'd give these a try. There's no added sugar and they also contain ginger, nettle, dandelion and rosemary. They have a nice refreshing taste, are not overly sweet and you do feel as though you are drinking something that is doing you good! I tried one over ice but I imagine they would also be nice warmed up so I might try that next.

Not quite so healthy and more of a treat are these croissants in a tin. These were just 59p (usual RRP is £1.50) and I think will be our breakfast at the weekend with some coffee and good jam. If you've not come across them before, you just pop open the tin, unroll the pastry, cut along the serated lines and roll each piece up into a croissant and then bake them in the oven.

I also like to add pieces of chocolate to make pain au chocolat or marzipan to make almond croissants. Word of warning though if you purchase these, make sure you put them in the fridge until you use them. A friend of mine put them in a cupboard and they exploded!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Great British Brownie Bake-Off - Star Baker!

Back during Vegan Mofo last month we had a massive bake sale where I work. Vegans were pretty well represented as there are a few of us and my sister also made some vegan stuff. It was part of a series of annual Macmillan fundraising coffee mornings that were happening up and down the county. For any non UK readers, Macmillan is a charity who provide nurses to give help and support to people living with cancer and their families. Unlike a lot of the other cancer charities they aren't involved with research and animal testing and I've recently signed up to make a monthly donation and take part in their regular lottery. As part of the coffee morning we also had a baking challenge based on the Great British Bake-Off tv show to bake the best brownies. I only decided to enter on the last minute and to my surprise following a blind tasting my brownies were picked the winner! Here I am receiving my prize from Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood aka my work colleagues and judges Julian and Jo.

I must admit that I did some research on the internet to find the winning brownie recipe. Brownies are not something I eat very often and I find vegan brownies whilst tasting good can have more of a cakey texture that the traditional sqidgy brownie texture and I wanted to bake something as close as possible to what people associate with brownies. I used this recipe for Ultimate Vegan Brownies from Veganbaking.net and they captured the texture of regular brownies perfectly. I went with the suggestion of adding walnuts and I also added the zest of an orange. Instead of margarine I used coconut oil. I exercised strong willpower and let them cool overnight before cutting in the morning which I think is always a good tip with brownies. Did anyone else take part in a Macmillan coffee morning?

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Vegan Mofo Off Season Community - Pick 3

I had a fantastic time taking part in Vegan Mofo 15 and came across lots of great blogs. One of those blogs was Jennifer's blog My Blissful Journey. Jennifer had the idea to keep things going throughout the year between Mofo's by a series of blog prompts that people could sign up to. If you'd like to sign up to the Vegan Mofo Off Season Community then sign up here!
Our first prompt is called Pick 3. For my Pick 3 I've gone for sharing 3 vegan products which I am in love with at the moment.

Inspiral who are famous for their raw treats have just made some new additions to their range. They have come out with a lighter version of kale crisps and these coconut pecks. The pecks come in raspberry flavour too which are good but my hands down favourite are the Smokin' Pecks. Made from dehyrated coconut and flavoured with nooch, smoked paprika and lime these are quite simply a taste sensation. at around 80p - £1 these are a good price point too for a raw snack. I got mine from V Revolution in Manchester but they are pretty widely available in health food shops and online. Seriously get your hands on some, you will not regret it!

Also from V Revolution is the ichoc Choco Cookie bar. It's made by Vivani, a German company who make a large range of vegan friendly bars. V Revolution stock the range and I've been working my way through and this is definitely my favourite bar. Imagine bits of crumbled Oreo in a rice milk coating, so good!

Lastly these are not a new product but I don't see them very often, usually just at vegan fayres. I just did a shop at Vegan Store though for our holiday mainly to pick up some Vegg and an Anand's Round Up sneaked it's way into the online basket. It's like a superior version of a Wagon Wheel with 2 chocolate biscuits sandwiches with marshmallow and jam and then the whole thing is coated in thick dark chocolate. It's amazing and one will share well between two people. I'm imagining us having this next week with a cup of tea after returning from a walk on a wind blown beach!

We Shall Overcome Weekend 2015

Wow, what a week!!! I've had no time to mourn the end of Vegan Mofo. As soon as we finished work on Thursday it was straight into action with We Shall Overcome weekend. Matt played at 7 different events over 4 days and it was an amazing experience seeing the whole idea come together with events all around the country happening at the same time and for the same reasons. My friends who happen to be vegans too put on fantastic events. Here's Lynnmarie who runs Manchester Vegan Society and her partner Martin the Mod who runs Mod's Veggie Vegan Cafe. They put on a brilliant day in Manchester City Centre at the Thirsty Scholar Pub with bands, poets and speakers and off course Lynnmarie's wonderful vegan cakes for sale.

This was a picture just outside the Thirsty Scholar and too good an opportunity to miss. The woman with pink hair is our friend Morag Rose who runs psychogeographic group, the Loiterers Resistance Movement. Morag curated and led a fascinating walk around central Manchester on the Sunday morning sharing stories of public/private space, radical history, community resistance and more. Along the walk Matt and Steve on accordian gave a musical accompaniment. If you're near Manchester check out the group, they run walks every first Sunday of the month.

The banner in this picture was the idea of my work colleague and fellow vegan Helen of Helenmakes blog. It's made up of knitted and crocheted squares. I'm proud to say I knitted 18 of them. The weekend coincided with the Tory's arriving in Manchester for their annual conference so here's the banner welcoming them to Manchester. When we were at the Thirsty Scholar on the Sunday afternoon the massive demo passed by outside and we went out to watch. It was amazing to see the banner going past in the march, I think it took about 7 people to carry it!

My contribution was a baking one. I made an anti-austerity cake march for our event that we put on in Glossop on the Saturday night. All the slogans are from real banners from marches that have taken place in Bristol and London. I aimed to raise £30 by selling the cakes for donations and was delighted to get over £50! The money along with the other money we raised on the night and the tons of food donations has gone to our local food bank. As much as the events were about raising funds and goods they were also about bringing together communities and empowering people and getting them to feel that they do have a voice. I even got up on a stage and addressed a room full of people with a microphone, twice, which just shows the power of these events!

Here's the final picture of the weekend which I think sums up the spirit of the weekend. We ended up for our last gig at Bagthorpe near Nottingham. Matt was joined on stage by all the other musicans who had played at the event to sing 'We Shall Overcome'. What you can't see in the shot is that rest of the pub on their feet singing along. I'll leave you with this piece written by one of the organisers. Hope some of you will be involved in WSO 16!