Thursday 28 March 2013

Connemara, Ireland.

After our whirlwind tour of Dublin we grabbed a rental car and headed west. We'd heard that County Galway was one of the best places to head towards if you wanted to see spectacular scenery so off we went. We rented a cottage (which was about twice the size of our house!) near Renvyle for a few days to do some relaxin' and explorin'. 

There were a few issues with the rental cottage all stemming from the fact that there was no information pack telling you how everything worked. If we'd known that the stove only lit with a match (and that only three out of eight burners worked) and that the water would come out a strange yellow colour due to the water in the area being coloured by local peat bogs we'd have saved ourselves a few hours of googling things, driving to the shops for matches and water and the first few hours would have been much more relaxing! 

All of these issues were thankfully made up for by the beautiful views and proximity to the beach.

We weren't sure if we'd be able to stock up on vegan treats and staples near where we were staying so we did a bit of shopping in Dublin just in case. We'd also packed some Vegusto cheese and sausages that we bought at Brighton Veg Fest.

We needn't have worried about not being able to find exciting vegan food though because a 15 minute drive away from the cottage was the Letterfrack Country Shop.

This place was chock full of awesome stuff from shelf stable sauces, pestos and polenta to Granovita sausage mix, Tartex spread and all manner of nuts, seeds and grains.

They also had an impressive range of refrigerated Alpro milks, yoghurts and desserts alongside hummus and juices.

I think I was most surprised and impressed by this stash of Fry's products in the freezer. In the UK a small store like this would pretty much exclusively carry Quorn, maaaaybe Linda McCartney, but this shop has chosen to make most of their vegetarian products vegan inclusive. Yay!

So, if you're headed over to Connemara I would strongly suggest that you skip shopping in Dublin, save yourself some cash and stock up here instead. The only thing I don't remember spotting was vegan margarine so maybe grab that from Down to Earth in Dublin.

Whilst we were driving around to buy the aforementioned matches and water we popped into Lidl and discovered these potato farls. A little googling told me that a potato farl is a type of bread made with potato flakes. The potato content varies from recipe to recipe and these were around 70% potato and 100% delicious! We served one with beans and the other toasted with just margarine. 

I preferred the straight up margarine one as it let the flavour of the farl shine through. I'm going to be keeping my eyes peeled for these in shops near me.

After all of our trips into various stores we'd amassed quite an impressive collection of biscuits. There were Bourbon's, Oreo's, Orange Creams and Fruit Shortcakes. I love biscuits! I hadn't had a Fruit Shortcake in years and I'd forgotten how much I liked them.

I also like stout and I was pleased to be able to pick up a few bottles of O'Hara's vegan stout in the Letterfrack Country Shop. Bottled stout isn't as good as on tap but it's infinitely better than no stout at all.

We spent our days walking up hills in the wind and rain...

...and our evenings curled up in front of the fire (do yourself a favour and buy a fire log from the store, making a fire from scratch is a pain), reading books, and watching movies. It was perfect.

After our sojourn in the countryside we headed to Galway which surprised us with its vegan friendliness, more about that next time!

Tuesday 26 March 2013

St Patrick's Day in Dublin.

If I could give you one piece of advice about Dublin it would be this "Do not arrive in the middle of the St Patrick's Day Parade". You might think that this is obvious and wonder why somebody would do such a thing but we did. Going on this trip on St Patrick's Day was a total coincidence, we had some time to go away in March and I wanted to cross Ireland off of my 30 before 30 list so we just took our available dates and ran with it. It should have become obvious when we tried to book a hotel and everywhere was either fully booked or extortionately priced but, nope, it didn't dawn on us until after we'd booked the surprisingly expensive hostel! It worked out well in the end and after a bus that stopped halfway to where we wanted to go, lunch at chain restaurant Wagamama, and an uncomfortable taxi ride with an incredibly homophobic man we were finally ready to take on Dublin.

We originally picked Generator Hostel as our city base because of the aforementioned silly hotel prices but it was awesome. I'm a big fan of hostels, especially as so many offer private rooms, because really what else do you need apart from somewhere to sleep when you only have a short period of time in a city? Nick, up until now, has been less of a fan but I think this stay went some way towards winning him around to my scuzzier travel ideals!

After some exploring in the rain to look at the green-lit buildings...

...and a lot of sidestepping incredibly drunk people in Temple Bar we headed to Cornucopia for dinner. I'd read a lot of good things about Cornucopia and they definitely didn't disappoint. We ordered one of the meals from the blackboard, the Irish Stew, which came with two salads, your choice of bread & a glass of wine or juice.

The stew was filled with hearty root veggies, seitan and barley and I chose an orange and carrot juice and some Irish soda bread to accompany it. There were about 8 or 9 salads to choose from and I went for their signature potato salad and a broccoli salad with slivered almonds, red onions and a tangy orange dressing. The potato salad was my favourite part of the meal, the garlic mayo dressing was perfect and it was plumped up with amazing roasted hazelnuts. This is definitely something I'll be trying to recreate at home. The meal cost €14.95 which is definitely reasonable for such an enormous meal. We had leftovers which we popped into a takeout box and ate for breakfast the next day.

As we were in Ireland and it was St Patrick's Day I was determined to hunt down a pint of vegan stout. I used to drink the occasional Guinness before I went vegetarian but given how grim drinking something thats been filtered through fish guts is I went on a googling mission to find a suitable beverage.

The stouts I found that are definitely suitable for vegans are D'Arcey's Stout made by Dublin Brewing Co and O'Hara's Carlow Stout made by Carlow Brewing Co. Luckily Generator Hostel had O'Hara's on tap as well as a great selection of beers by Brooklyn Brewing Co and Fentiman's soft drinks. Cheers!

The next day we went back to Cornucopia as everywhere else I'd bookmarked was closed due to the bank holiday. I decided on something a little lighter for lunch and picked the wrap.

The Cornucopia wrap is stuffed full of carrot & diakon slaw, smoked tofu, cashew & coriander pesto and spring onions. It was genuinely the best wrap I've ever eaten, I loved the combination of flavours and the perfect crunchiness of the salad. It was also only €4.95, Dublin's a pretty expensive city so a filling meal for this price was great news.

For dessert I tried a piece of the Lemon, Blueberry & Coconut Torte.

These aren't flavours that top my list of dessert fave's but I really wanted something sweet and the fancy style of this slice jumped out at me. Overall I enjoyed it, especially the blueberry topping, but I find that coconut can be quite an overpowering flavour and I was left wishing that the flavour of the lemons had shone through a little more.

After lunch we headed to the Leprechaun Museum which was as ridiculous as it sounds. We learnt a lot about Irish Folklore, got to pretend to be leprechauns by clambering about on giant furniture, and ran through a rainbow to find a pot of gold! We decided not to go to Cornucopia for our third meal in a row, partly because we were planning breakfast there the next day and partly because we didn't want to look too creepy. I kid. Kinda.

As it was still raining, a theme in Ireland, we decided to go to the indie cinema to see Robot & Frank (we both enjoyed it, I cried a lot!) and as Milano, the Irish version of UK pizza chain Pizza Express, was almost next door it seemed like the perfect choice. Pizza Express isn't somewhere I usually get that excited about because I love me a cheesy pizza but on a cold, wet evening something about a tonne of dough and fresh tomato sauce really appealed.

At Milano, like at Pizza Express, the bases and sauce are vegan so you just need to omit the cheese and throw on whatever veggies you fancy. I went for roma tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes, and, at Nick's suggestion, garlic oil, which I have to say elevated the pizza to a new level of awesomeness. We also got a side of dough balls to share. These usually come with garlic butter but they can switch that out for garlic oil which even my meat and dairy loving dad thinks is better!

The next morning we went to Cornucopia again to try their breakfast which is served until noon. The breakfast menu has some set breakfast options but we also decided to take advantage of the individual portions section to add some favourites to the meal.

From the set menu we chose the Scrambled Tofu with roasted peppers, onions & tamari which came with two slices of toast and a cup of tea or coffee.

We then added two veggie sausages, a portion of breakfast beans and another slice of toast.

This turned out to be just the right amount of food for two people. We enjoyed the mustard seed filled scramble and loved both the basil and granary toasts. The homemade veggie sausages were the standout from this meal though, upon seeing them I was a little unsure but as well as being super unusual they were super delicious and I loved the flavour and texture that the sesame seeds added. The only thing we were a little disappointed by was that the hash browns weren't vegan. This disappointment was eased pretty quickly when I spotted this Spring Onion Scone and I grabbed it to go for our road trip to the west coast. 

It came with a little tub of soy butter and a knife and it was damn good. I wish I was this good at baking scones! I can't wait to go back to Dublin to eat at Cornucopia again, everything we tried there was great, everyone we met working there was lovely and the atmosphere was really mellow. The place is also pretty big so even when it seemed ridiculously busy we were always able to find a seat.

Our final stop in Dublin was Blazing Salads, I'd been wanting to try this place for the whole trip but every time we walked past it was closed.

We grabbed a piece of the Tofu Pizza and a Spring Roll for the road.

I found the spring roll a little disappointing. Blazing Salads is quite a healthy place, with sugar free cakes and the like, and I think that I prefer my spring rolls deep fried. The tofu pizza on the other hand was delicious. Whilst it was a slightly challenging thing to eat in a car it was well worth getting slightly oily fingers for. The crust managed to stay crisp even after two and a half ours of the three and a half hour journey and the basil, tofu and veggie topping was great. Next time I'm in Dublin I'll definitely be re-visiting Blazing Salads.

As you can see eating out in Dublin was super easy, we also found plenty of vegan snacks and staples in the Spar stores dotted around the city. My next blog post takes us across the country to the west coast where we stayed in a cottage by the sea for a few days before heading on to Galway.

Friday 22 March 2013

Operation Success!

A week ago today I was surrounded by a cloud of icing sugar whilst baking for Brighton Veg Fest. Right now I'm in a hotel in Galway after spending the last six days travelling between Dublin and the west coast of Ireland. There'll be more about that when I get home but for now I wanted to tell you guys about the fest! 

I had my first ever Operation Icing stall there last Saturday and it went even better than I'd dared to imagine it would. I spent 17 hours (with one Pompoko break!) baking on the Friday after almost an entire week spent getting prepared and I still sold out of cupcakes in three and a half hours, crazy! Here's the stall...

Nick suggested I wore my Mad Caddies t-shirt because it went with the stall's colours, genius!

...after looking into the price of a real banner I ended up making my own using paper, my printer, string and two mic stands. The perfect banner for my little punk rock inspired vegan bakery! In case you don't know the name Operation Icing was inspired by one of my favourite bands, Operation Ivy. As you can see my table cloth didn't quite fit the table so I filled in the spaces with leaflets for all of the charities Operation Icing supports.

I made 14 cupcake flavours which included three gluten free options. The best sellers, were definitely the Raspberry Doughnut and Cookies & Cream flavours. I'll make loads more of those next year! 

Unsurprisingly the Speculoos Caramel Cookie flavour also sold super fast... did Peanut Butter Oreo. I actually only came up with this combo on the Thursday evening before Veg Fest after fellow Brighton blogger Christina from paperbagblog tweeted that she was spreading peanut butter on Oreo's. Genius! You've heard that Oreo's are now vegan in the UK right? I'm SO excited about it. Newman O's would be better but these corporate O's will have to do until their friendlier alternative makes it across the pond!

The cupcakes were not only toped with an Oreo cookie but there's a whole Oreo inside too.

I love the new Matcha Green Tea cupcakes, and I'll be adding them to the website soon. As you can see I borrowed the style of icing on them from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. I'm assuming that Isa & Terry wont mind as this is all not-for-profit?!

The matcha glaze instead of a buttercream frosting made these stand apart from the other cupcakes and they really appealed to people who said they hated the amount of frosting on most cupcakes. The Sweet & Salty Maple Bacon was the cupcake that really divided opinions, the feedback I got from people was either really positive or "it was interesting" which we all know means weird/gross! I loved the flavour though and I'll definitely continue to offer it for the more adventurous cupcake connoisseur.

As I said last time I blogged, Veg Fest just sneaked into the Raystede donation month and I ended up raising £280. Added together with the other Operation Icing profits for the month the total donation for Feb-March was £351, easily the biggest donation so far!

As well as being excited about selling out of cupcakes and raising money for charity I was also super excited to meet everyone who came by to say hi, to buy cupcakes or to tell me that they enjoyed reading my blog. Thank you! It was super awesome to have support from the blogging community and I'll definitely be seeing you all again next year if not before. 

The only sad thing about working on the Saturday and taking off to Dublin on the Sunday (aside from the fact that I was so tired when packing that I forgot a tonne of stuff) was that I didn't get much of a chance to enjoy the fair and check out everyone else's stalls. Next year I'll be planning that part better!

If the idea of eating cupcakes and donating money to charity appeals to you then you can get involved with this little baketivist project by buying some cupcakes! They'll be back in WaiKikaMooKau Cafe on Kensington Gardens next Friday, the 29th, and you can always order boxes of cupcakes in 6's, 12's, or more, via my website for collection or delivery in the North Laine area.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Brighton Veg Fest

It's almost Brighton Veg Fest time again! It's this weekend at Hove Town Hall. If you're a regular reader you'll know that I attend every year and then blog about it afterwards ( 2012, 2011) but this time around I'm blogging about it beforehand too. Why? Because this year's extra special! I have my first ever Operation Icing stall on Saturday.

It's not just the first ever Operation Icing stall at Veg Fest either, it's the first Operation Icing stall anywhere, ever! It's been a crazy week of crafting banners and signs, working out what I want my table to look like and finalising my to-bake list. All that's left to do now is, well, bake!

My Speculoos Caramel cupcakes will be making an appearance as will these Raspberry Doughnut cupcakes.

There will also be plenty of other flavours to choose from as well as brownies and gluten free options. Operation Icing are at stall 136 on Saturday only.

This weekend falls into the donation month for Raystede Animal Sanctuary so all profits from sales of Operation Icing's cupcakes at Veg Fest will be going straight to them. 

Incase you've never heard of Raystede they're located in Ringmer, about 30 miles outside Brighton and they rescue, rehome and provide sanctuary for more than 1500 animals each year. I really, really love it there. I always manage to visit at least twice a year either with Nick or with friends and on our last trip we got to do something extra special. We took part in an Animal Carer for a Day experience. 

We started out in the cattery helping to socialise the cats. I hadn't really thought about it properly before but cats can get sad and angry if they're not getting any human cuddle time and it really helps them to be receptive to possible adoptees if they can spend a little time socialising with humans each day.

This is Albi who is currently looking for a forever home.

The next stop was the Cavy house where we helped to muck out and stroke some guinea pigs and a couple of friendly rabbits who were lolloping about.

The next part of the day had to be the highlight for me. Weighing hedgehogs.

They can't let many people into this part of the centre because wildlife shouldn't get too accustomed to human contact but the hedgehogs need weighing every day so that the carers know when to release them and we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Next up was some pony grooming, unsurprisingly I picked this ridiculously adorable little one to groom! Holley was in charge of the fringe.

We also got to walk and play with some lovely dogs. Both mine and Nick's have since been re-homed, yay!

Our last caring duty was bathing the tortoises. I'd never held a tortoise before and it was pretty cute, you got to dry them by wrapping them in a fluffy towel!

It was such a wonderful day, this was the first time Raystede had ever done a day like this for adults and you certainly couldn't tell. They had the whole day planned out so that we could spend time caring for as many different animals as possible and it was a truly brilliant experience. Raystede currently have two more Adult Animal Carer For a Day experiences scheduled for this year and you can split the cost between three or four people if you wish.

If you love the look of what Raystede do and you'll be at Brighton Veg Fest this weekend swing by the Operation Icing stall to grab a cupcake (or four!) to help support their work.

One last exciting announcement is that this little blog has been nominated for a Best Blogger of the Year award in the Veg Fest UK awards. Wow! I would love it if you'd consider voting for me, I'm totally not expecting to win as I'm up against some pretty stiff competition but you should totally vote for me anyway so that I don't get zero votes and feel like a loser!!

Hopefully I'll see some of you over the weekend, please come & say hi at stall 136!

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Terre à Terre

It's been a long time since I posted about Terre à Terre, about a year and a half if we're counting. I've definitely eaten there since then but either we've been in the evening & my pictures were terrible or I've just been ordering the same thing over & over again. Not this time though, oh no, this time everything I ordered was new. Late last year Terre à Terre had a disastrous fire in the kitchen, nobody was hurt but the kitchen was ruined and they were only able to re-open this February. Nick & I decided that we had to go there for our wedding anniversary lunch feast.

The atmosphere there was lovely and relaxed as always, I hate the somewhat stuffy feeling that some upscale restaurants have but my scruffy punk self always feels right at home at Terre à Terre.

I decided to order from the Phoenix Bites menu as the main and dessert I'd decided I had to try were on there leaving me with only one more decision to make. I chose the Congee Shiso Yuzi and Tempura Shiitake to start the meal.

This kombu and miso risotto with black rice comes surrounded by a yuzu dressing and is topped with a shiitake and Chinese chive tempura, bean sprouts and shisho leaves. Obviously it was delicious, I've always loved risotto and this one had such an amazing Terre à Terre twist. I would never have considered adding any of these flavours to a risotto and I was super impressed with the crispy tempura. Also now that I know they can do a cracking batter I'm hoping that they'll add a vegan option to their beer battered fish & chip style dish. Currently it's made with halloumi for the vegetarians and I think a tofu version for vegans would be amazing.

Nick ordered his classic starter of garlic bread and sesame hoisin tofu. He orders this every time! I love both of these and of course he let me have a nibble.

The Come Pine with Me rosti was the obvious choice for a main. I almost always order the rosti and this twist meant that I could eat my favourite dish and try something new!

You can't really see them all in the picture but the potato, onion and garlic rosti was topped with loads of different types of mushrooms. I'd never buy this many types of mushroom to cook with at home so it was an exciting treat. I loved the flavour of the fir oil and the mushroom sauce and the crispy tofu atop the rosti was perfect.

I was surprised and excited that Terre à Terre have a new vegan option on the dessert menu. I felt like it hadn't changed in a while and I'm happy to see that they've stepped up their vegan dessert game.

The Churros have always come with one pot of rain vodka soaked cherries and one of melty dipping chocolate, this option still exists but now there's this sea salt caramel and chocolate double dipping sauce too.

Yeah, you heard that right, vegan sea salt caramel and chocolate dipping sauce to accompany your churros. It was epic! I'm still thinking about this dessert and I can't wait to go back to eat it all over again.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Need Sweets?

As I'm sure you know companies sometimes offer to send bloggers stuff to review. Usually I say no unless it's something I already love because I'd hate to feel like I was selling my readers something that I wasn't fully behind. So, when  vegetarian online sweetie company Need Sweets got in touch and offered to send me a package of vegan candy I paused for a second and then jumped at the chance. There was just no way I could refuse! 

Need Sweets sell both of my favourite brands of marshmallows, Sweet & Sara and Sweet Vegan, as well as fudge, gummies and hard candies like these fun candy tools.

I decided that having marshmallows in the house meant that it was the perfect time to break out out the chocolate fountain. This is the first time we've used it since Nick & I got married three years ago!

It was a perfect way to eat the marshmallows, whilst there's a special place in my heart for my teenage way of toasting them on the end of a fork over a candle, you really cannot beat something chocolate covered. It was a little much for the fudge though which is best enjoyed straight up or on top of a double chocolate cupcake.

Need Sweets currently have flying saucers on a buy one get one free offer so if you've been craving a sweet treat now's the time to pounce. Need Sweets are also open to ideas of what to carry in the online store so if you have any suggestions drop them an e-mail.