Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Den at 23

The saddest part of any road trip is when it has to come to an end but luckily I’d planned some exciting things for the final leg of the journey to drop the van off in Ipswich including a few days in Brighton, hanging with my Sister in Law and her family and a tattoo appointment in Peterborough with one of my favourite artists Harriet Heath. I was really excited when I realised that Jen from blog turned bakery PS It’s Vegan’s cafe The Den at 23 wasn’t even a ridiculous detour on the drive from London to Ipswich meaning that I could finally try some of her delicious eats. 

The Den is located right in the centre of Colchester and it’s the only cafe on Crouch street which means that they’re really well positioned for both visiting vegans and hungry locals for whom The Den might be their first introduction to vegan food. 

Nick started with a hot chocolate which I was so jealous of that I had to order one for myself. I’m usually a soya milk girl but Jen’s partner Robert, the man in charge of the coffee machine, recommended coconut milk and I was so glad I listened to him. This was without a doubt the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It was smooth, creamy and intensely chocolatey without any lingering coconut flavour and to kick it up another notch it was also topped with the wonderfully indulgent and fun combo of whipped cream and marshmallows. 

Now I’ve taken my own mallows along to coffee shops to pop in my hot choc before but I’ve never been anywhere that just had them on the menu and I’d never had whipped cream on a hot chocolate before. I know! I didn’t get into whipped cream until after I went vegan (yay for Schlagfix!) so I’d always missed out on this fun treat and hoo boy is it good. If I lived near The Den I would order this all the time!

The cafe’s menu is a mix of breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, salads and sweet treats which include waffles, a desert island burger and grilled cheese and ham sandwiches. Of course I ordered a grilled cheese, there were a few options but I eventually settled on cheese, ham and tomato after seeing that they were using Tofurky ham. The cheese is VioLife and it melts perfectly. 

Breakfast is served until they run out and thankfully they had just enough of their delicious tofu omelettes left to whip Nick up a breakfast bagel with an omelette, Linda McCartney sausages and plenty of ketchup.

Nick couldn’t resist a slice of their Apple Crumble Cheesecake which I was even tempted to try a forkful off despite my hatred for cheesecake. It was definitely the best cheesecake I’ve tried but as a cheesecake hater you can’t trust my opinion! Nick said it was epic which is a pretty excellent compliment.

I didn’t have enough space left for one of the cafe’s famous waffles but because Jen is the sweetest she gave me one to take away which I topped with bee free honee for dinner that evening. It was so delicious, I’ve never managed to make a waffle that good no matter how fancy the waffle maker, and if you’re visiting The Den I’d highly recommend ordering the toasted waffle with maple syrup and non dairy ice cream because how good does that sound?!

The Den also sell a small but well selected range of take away snacks including Vego bars, Ten Acre Crisps (the cheese and onion flavour is off the hook!), Spacebars and Freedom Mallows. 

Also in stock, as of last week, is my zine European Vegan which I’m super excited about! Sadly I’m having to put my Big Cartel stores on hiatus because the logistics of sending individual zines out to people from Thailand / Cambodia / South Korea / wherever else I end up in the next 10 months are just too complicated. It’s no biggie though you can now pick up copies of the zine from Infinity Foods, Herbivore, Rabbit Food Grocery, Dr Pogo, Active Distro, The Cowley Club, Black Cat Cafe and, of course, The Den.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Five Reasons to Visit Venice Now

Nick and I recently celebrated our 11 year getting-together-aversary which is not so much an anniversary of a first date but of the moment we realised that we just couldn’t deny how we felt about each other any longer. A month or so of absolute carnage ensued but it was oh so worth it looking back because we’re still very much together and happier than ever. Travelling together full time is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made and spending three months in what might just be the world’s smallest van has done nothing to change that! When we realised that our anniversary was fast approaching we decided to go somewhere neither of us had ever been, somewhere a little different to anywhere else we’d visited on the road trip so far and somewhere tote's romantic - Venice!

I’d heard many great things about Venice in the past but nothing that had pushed me to book a plane ticket. I visited both Rome and Pompeii when I was a teenager and adored both places so I’m not sure what’s been keeping Italy and I apart for so long other than the fact that there were so many countries that I’d never even set foot in within spitting distance of Italian shores and I always found myself drawn elsewhere, until now anyway.

The city took my breath away as soon as I took my first steps into it’s stunning maze of streets, it’s ridicuously beautiful and within seconds I was envisioning myself living there, spending the majority of my time writing sonnets and staring out of my window at one of the most stunning places I’ve ever laid eyes on (and that’s coming from someone who was in Dubrovnik only a week earlier.) I suspect that moving to Venice would not make me start writing sonnets in real life, perhaps staring out of the window eating gelato would be more realistic?!

Anyway, as you can tell, I'm a big fan of Venice and I think that you should visit sooner rather than later. So, without further ado, here are the top five things I think you absolutely have to do in Venice.

• Eat Pizza

As a vegan you sometimes have to skip whatever speciality food a country is famous for but that is definitely not the case in Italy. Pizza is queen and I for one was happy to partake every chance I got. I basically just ate pizza. It was awesome. You have two great options in Venice, marinara or Pizzeria L’Angelo. Marinara is ubiquitous (and cheap) as long as you’re away from the tourist hotspots around Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge. This is pizza at it’s simplest, dough, marinara sauce and garlic. It’s both delicious and traditional, I’m a fan. Pizzeria L’Angelo is the place to go when you want to experience cheesy Italian pizza vegan style. They have Italian made MozzaRisella as their cheese of choice and a what a fantastic choice it is too. It melts beautifully, almost too well if you’re impatient like me and can’t wait the two to three minutes it needs to cool down from molten lava to something more enjoyable. They also have two kinds of seitan if you’re in need of a protein hit or something more hearty. I went simple with a classic order of a Margherita with spinach on a couple of occasions, simple and delicious, but on my final visit I pushed out the boat and ordered the Patate vegan style. Yeah, that’s a pizza covered in chunky chips and melted cheese. Yeah, it was as amazing as it looks. I would definitely stick with the regular size in this case but otherwise plump for the family size if you have a dining companion - I swear you won’t regret it.

• Ride the Number 1 Bus

Now I don’t know about you but when I imagined visiting Venice I envisaged gliding down canals via Gondola staring into my lovers eyes… well, I did until I got researching and realised that a gondola ride costs €80 for 30 minutes. €80! If you were with a group of 6 (the max number of people allowed in a gondola) I’d say go for it. It looks super fun and you get to chat to your gondaleer about archetecture and life on the canals but if there are only two of you, your money comes from the same pool and you’re on a budget I’d recommend skipping it and taking the bus. The bus? That doesn’t sound the same at all! Well, in Venice, the busses are boats! The whole city centre is car free so Venetians take vaporetto busses when they aren’t feeling up for walking through busy city streets and the number 1 is totally the best line to ride to get a feel of the city. It costs €7.50 for a single trip on the bus and you definitely get the most bang for your buck on this line, running from Pizzale Roma all the way down to Lido but if you make it to Arsenale you’ll be whizzing down the grand canal past Piazza San Marco, The Rialto Bridge and about a thousand other stunning buildings. My second number 1 bus related tip is to make sure you hop on at Pizzale Roma before the majority of tourists board outside the central station stop just around the corner. Oh and grab a seat outside on the port side, that way you’ll get the most spectacular views of Piazza San Marco without 20 cameras in between you and it!

• Escape the Crowds

Venice is busy. We were there towards the end of September and whilst the weekend was more crowded the weekdays were hardly what you could call quiet. More than a handful of huge cruise ships arrive at the port every day meaning that there will be large groups of people jostling for the best positions in front of attractions almost all the time. I have two crowd busting tips. Arrive at night and check out Venice’s well lit streets and buildings in the dark first. The Piazza San Marco especially was much more pleasant at night and I really enjoyed getting my first glimpse of the city when there was space to breathe. Secondly, get out of the main tourist areas. Venice is an incredibly walkable city especially if you have either a good sense of direction or a map app to guide you to where you need to be once you're done getting lost. I would highly recommend getting away from the crowds by wandering around the city’s residential neighbourhoods. The streets are beautiful and in a lot of cases they’ll be yours and yours alone. Perfect. 

• Get Your Gelato On

My second foodie tip is to find and eat all of the sorbet and gelato the city has to offer. Vegan options are varied, plentiful and in almost every neighbourhood, it would actually be challenging not to stumble upon one of these options if you’re doing Venice right. My favourite spots in order because I’m ruthless and able to pick favourites are Gelatoteca Suso, Stickhouse, Alaska Gelateria (pictured above) and Vizio Virtu Cioccolateria. The veganised white with black cherry ice cream pictured below) from top ranked spot Gelatoteca Suso might just be the fluffiest most amazing ice cream I've ever eaten, vegan or not, and the mint sorbet fem Alaska Gelateria blew me away. Even the supermarkets have a range of vegan ice cream options which will be perfect for midnight snacks at your Air B&B.

Pear Popsicle with Chocolate and Hazelnuts from Stickhouse & the Vegano from Gelatoteca Suso.

• La Biennale di Venezia / Venice Biennale

If you’re into super contemporary modern art then The bi-annual Venice Biennale is for you. Taking place this year from 09.05.15 - 22.11.15 there’s still plenty of time for you to take a last minute trip. With work on display from 89 participating countries you get a varied sense of present day modern art. Rather than one overarching theme as I believe is usual for the Biennale this year's themes intersect under the banner All The World’s Futures which was perfect for me as I like my art to be as political, challenging and thought provoking as possible. My favourite works included Paperwork and The Will of Capital - An Account of Flora as Witness by Taryn Simon which cleverly tied together photographs of flower arrangements and pressed flowers with (dubious at best, criminal at worst) international treaties, contracts and agreements. I was also blown away by some stunning neons as well as three or four of the movie pieces I had time to engage with (I still need to find the movies made as part of the China Village Documentary Project online) and Barthélémy Togou's woodcut bust stamp sculptures, part of which is pictured above. I wish I'd had longer to explore The Biennale, a week would be ideal but a long weekend would be totally doable just make sure you go Thurs - Sun as the majority of exhibits are closed on a Monday. 

Make it cheaper: Venice is notoriously expensive and accommodation is no exception. There are definitely a couple of ways you can make your stay more affordable though, Air B&B or camping. Nick and I stayed just out of town at Camping Rialto which, as well as having space for camper vans and tents, also hosts guests in pop up tents or wood cabins with teepee style tents being available for larger groups. It wasn’t perfect by any means (what’s with campsites thinking it’s okay not to provide toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms? Stop being gross!) but it was affordable and the number 19 bus runs from just outside the gates to the central bus stop (as close as you can get to the city in any vehicle) four times an hour (twice on Sundays and holidays) and only costs €1.50 for a single ticket or €3 for a return. Given that boat busses within the city centre run at a hefty €7.50 for a one way ticket this is a definite bargain. Air B&B is another great way to save a few Euro’s on your stay especially if you’d like to be a little closer to the action. if you’ve never Air B&B’d before you can get $25 off of your first stay by clicking on this link

Somehow Venice manages not to feel stifling like so many heavily touristed cities do (I’m looking at you Prague!), the lack of cars and abundance of water create a sense of peace, calm and open space that I adored. It’s also incredibly easy to be vegan here especially if you’re an avid pizza and gelato fan, but supermarkets have you covered too with well labelled ranges of vegan meat products, soya yoghurts and chocolate, Gianduiotti anyone?! 

Rest assured I’ll be back Venice, I have my eye on you!