Sunday, 26 April 2009

S1E8: UK 2009 - The road back to London Town.

After our big day of driving around Scotland, we said farewell to the beloved country and headed back over into England on our way back. Our destination for today - York. What a fabulous little city! People keep asking me what my favourite place was, and while it is hard to pick one I can definitely say that York is the place I wish I could have had more time in. The Minster there is beautiful, the Museum Gardens are lovely (squirrels and daffodils) and the streets are gorgeous and meandering and full of fun little shops. Including The Cat Gallery, which was rudely closed when I found it. Woe!

Dinner in york was at this fantastic place called El Piano. Jen and I chose a few dishes to share. They have cheap set meals, or they have a pretty decent menu of nummy treats you can get in either tapas (£3.95) or main (£5.95) size.

The Mixed Fried Boat - Falafels, Corn Fritters and Onion Bhajis. The fritters and bhajis were fabulous. Sadly Jen, being the lightweight the she is, could not finish her half of the boat. And while I can generally out eat most people I know, one thing I have low tolerance for is deep fried. So not all of this got eaten. It was sad. The falafels were pretty ordinary though, they were really chalky and just a bit blergh.

The Mixed Salad Boat - Salsa, Waldorf, Coleslaw, Potato and Tabbouleh. Oh yeah! Something fresh to balance out all that fried. Also so we don't get scurvy and die. They make a delightful range of salads!

Aztec Tofu Squares - organic tofu lightly seared in sunflower oil and Latin spices. This was my personal favourite. The tofu was so tasty and chewy and just darn perfect! Get it! Get it!

Thai Thai - delicate yet spicy coconut cream over red pepper, baby potatoes, & wild rice. Jen's favourite! This was really yummy and creamy. Not as good as that tofu though. ;)

Dessert Number 1: Cheesecake - baked with scheeze and seasonal fruits - virtually cholesterol free. So yummy. So fabulous. It was light and baked and lemony and limey and just delightful. Jen couldn't finish it, which was a shame. It meant I had to eat the rest of it all up. Woe!

Dessert Number 2: Sticky Toffee Pudding - exquisitely rich with treacle sauce. Oh hell yeah! This totally hit that toffee pudding spot that didn't quite get there in Bath. So yummy, so much sauce. Such heaven!

We rolled our full little bellies to our final hostel (hurrah! No more hostels for me ever), which we got to share with 90 school children. Oh joy. And then the next morning we set off for our last stop - Cambridge. My dad did his PhD at Cambridge, so it was quite exciting to go and visit the place he spent three years of his life. And it was lovely. And the boys there have the most adorable poshy accents. And we heard three of them having a very serious and academic debate about something. I don't remember. I just remember their lovely poshy voices. Hee.

For lunch we went to the Rainbow Cafe. A lovely place with a great atmosphere and stuffed animals on the benches. I don't know why. We had a giraffe and a lion. Cute!

My main was Libyan Cuscus Bil-Khodra (£8.95) - Couscous with seven vegetables, spinach, chick-peas, courgette, onion, garlic, green beans & carrot. Subtly spiced flavoured with North African herbs & spices. Served on couscous with Mediterranean parsley & salad garnish. Which was really nice, except that three quarters of the bowl was filled with the cous cous and I really wanted more vegetable mix! Too much cous cous.

I chose dessert off the specials board - Rhubarb and Strawberry Cheesecake. It was completely different in texture from the previous nights adventures, much creamier. And just delicious!

Then it was back to the car to make the final drive back to London. Amazingly, we made it on schedule and without getting lost! We bid farewell to the lovely Miss Fanny Price after driving nearly 3,000km with her and went back to Jen's place. So nice to be not at a hostel!

For dinner, Jen made me her famous pumpkin soup, which is completely vegan until she stirs sour cream into her own bowl. Why would you ruin such a beautiful soup? Because it is an awesome soup. Pumpkin and spicy and oh so warming. And I made some roasted garlic pitta bread to go with it. A lovely dinner!

So we are almost at the end of the journey, one last post to go!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

S1E7 - UK 2009: Where the boys talk pretty! That's right - Scotland.

Supernatural fan girl hysteria is starting to die down, and I am getting back into the swing of things. I believe we left off with plans to make our way to Scotland. And indeed we did! Though we drove through some more of The Lake District and up to Hadrian's Wall. We were planning on stopping in Hexham for lunch at a place mentioned in Happy Cow, but when we got there we couldn't find it anywhere! So we decided to continue snacking on our trusty hummus, pitta, chips and the like and push on to Edinburgh.

We stayed at Budget Backpackers, which was OK. The room was really big and had twin beds (no bunks - hurrah) and a shower (no toilet), but there was only one teeny little bar heater and the windows weren't 100% cold proof, so it was a bit chilly. That night we were hungry and so set off to go to The Baked Potato shop for dinner. Except they had had a HUGE tourist group through and were completely out of potatoes! On noes! Woe! We ended up going to Pizza Express - my lovely vegan friend Nicole had informed me of their vegan options.

So, I also got some olives for a starter because I had a craving, but I don't have a picture of them. Only of my main course. Which is a Leggera - a pizza with a hole cut in the middle and filled with salad. I got the Vitabella (£8.40), which had mixed chargrilled vegetables and asparagus. I asked for it without cheese and without dressing on the salad, and with mushrooms on the pizza because mushrooms are awesome. It was OK, not bad. I was in the mood for something a bit lighter as I was planning a big day of eating the next day! There were only three sad spears of asparagus on it though. And they charged me extra for the mushrooms, even though I was getting it without cheese or dressing. Evil! Hee.

The next day was our strolling around Edinburgh Day. We hadn't had much sleep as the hostel is very central and Scotland was playing in a soccer game the previous night, so I am sure you can imagine the noise that went on. Also, Budget Backpackers have the WORST PILLOWS EVER. I am not kidding, they are lumpy, uneven and just hysterically bad. I have no idea what they are thinking!

After visiting the castle in the morning, we decided to try out luck at The Baked Potato Shop for lunch. Hurrah! Potatoes were BACK.

When in Scotland, eat Haggis. This was a vegan haggis on not one but two baked potatoes (3.60). They are very commited to filling your belly. It was delicious! I also bought a slice of vegan mango and kiwi cake to take on the road the next day, which was only 1 pound for a very thick slice! (Sadly, the cake was a bit dry and the icing very sugar headache inducing, but it was OK). Anyway, if you love potato and are in Edinburgh, do go here! It's on Cockburn Street I think.

More Edinburgh strolling during the afternoon after a quick kindy nap, and then we headed to our fancy pants dinner at David Dann, which got a lovely write up on both Happy Cow and Lonely Planet. Umm... how was it, you ask? Well, it was not as good as the Brighton experience, but it wasn't too damn shabby either...

They give you a nice little roll when you take your seat.

Just to prove that you can never have too much potato in your life, here is our shared starter - Chunky chips (3.50) served with homemade apple and tomato ketchup and hummus (the vegan option, normally it has sour cream). It was a tough call in terms of what to choose for a starter. Their smoked tofu looked wonderful, and the thai fritters came highly recommended. But in the end we went for the potatoes because of reasons you'll see next! So the apple and tomato ketchup was just fabulous and tangy and amazing! I am not sold on the whole hummus on chips thing though, it doesn't really work for me. Just get an extra pot of the ketchup!

And here is the main event. Udon noodles with ginger red pepper sauce and home smoked tofu (10.50) - Tofu smoked with aromatic spices, fried and served on wheat noodles with pak choi, shiitake mushrooms and a sauce of roasted red pepper, fresh ginger, garlic, lime, chilli, soy, mirin and coriander. Topped with mooli and cucumber. Hence the reason I didn't get a smoked tofu based starter. But I am kind of sad I didn't because holy smokes (hee) this is the best smoked tofu ever in the wholest widest world. I can't quite explain how great it is, other than that it will blow your mind with its awesomeness. Hee!

And to finish it up, a scrumptious dessert. Warm plum and pineapple with coconut creamed rice (4.90) - Fresh plums and pineapple lightly cooked in caramel and served with coconut creamed rice and pineapple sauce. The fruit was just perfectly cooked - warm but not smooshy. And the coconut rice was so creamy and definitely the best part.

Belly full? Check!

The next day we headed for an insane drive around Scotland, which involved heading up to Inverness and then driving from Loch Ness to Loch Lamond, through the outskirts of Glasgow and back to Edinburgh. It took us a LONG time. But was amazing! Up near Inverness we stopped at Culloden Battlefield, and while in the canteen there not even bothering to look for anything I could eat, I stumbled across a tasty surprise! Lazy Day Foods are a company that make fabulous cookies and the like for people who are vegan and they are gluten free to boot! I have enjoyed their fruit shortbread, ginger snaps and millionaire shortbread (oh. so. good. caramel. yum.) and I have a tiffin still awaiting consumption. They mail order to anywhere in the UK and I am currently seeing if they can mail order here!

When we finally tumbled back to our hostel, our dinner was pretty uninspired and I have no photos I am sorry to say. We cooked in house and met a very drunk Irish boy who told us all about his dog Lizzie and asked us what we were doing at uni, which made us feel happy as we are in our mid-late twenties (eep). I had a tin of vegetable and rice soup with a pita bread, and we also heated up some hot potato chips (must have potato!). So really not exciting at all!

Tomorrow we start heading out way back down to London. But before we get there, York and Cambridge are to come!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A Supernatural break in the regular programing.

There has been a recent break in the regular programing with regards to the UK trip. I haven't being slack, I have in fact been a raving fan girl. This is what has taken me away from the blog:

Oh. So. Frakking. Hot! (Excuse the fact that I look slightly stunned and plastic. You try not being a little bit stunned in the face of suction beautiful perfection).

I spent the weekend in Sydney at the Hub Productions All Hell Breaks Loose Supernatural Convention. Oh yeah, I have basked in the glory of three of the prettiest boys on earth.

We had the most awesome seats for the Q&A, and were able to get many more beautiful photos of them. To see some of them, head on over to the lovely Zucker Baby's blog post. Her camera is better than mine so she got the best photos!

ZB also had offered to catered for the Platinum VIP afternoon tea - did I mention that we had Platinum VIP tickets? Because we did! So all day and night Friday and Saturday night after the cocktail party was a blur of baking. I assisted as her trusty kitchen wench. Cherry Chocolate Tarts, Chocolate Fudge Mousse Tarts, Passionfruit Melting Moments and Mini Banana Cheezecakes with Truffle were on the agenda.

Anyway, I shall resume normal programing and carry on to Scotland as soon as my feet come back to the ground. MASSIVE FAN GIRL SQUEEEEE!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

S1E6: UK 2009 - The word district has lost all meaning.

When you say a word enough, it starts to lose all meaning. That is what happened to the word District over the next couple of days, and whenever I'm talking about this part of the holiday! England loves a good District! After our night of luxury at the motorside inn (a mattress thicker than a pillow and a pillow thicker than a doona - such heaven!) we headed up whatever M road it was, got stuck in an M-road traffic jam in the junctions prior to Nottingham (very exciting, I took a photo) and then struck off towards the Peak District. Our first stop was the lovely Chatsworth House. Though not so lovely was the freezing cold and windy rain that the haves saw fit to unleash upon our poor Brisbane souls. Thankfully, after strolling through the house the sun was out and the wind was down for a delightful stroll through the gardens!

Lunch was an in the car while driving affair, a tasty combination of salt and vinegar chips (or crisps, for thouse of you who are confused), blue Sheese, pitta bread and Cauldron marinated tofu (YUM! I'll have some of that over here, thanks). We stopped off in the little town of Eyam, famous for being the plague village of 1665 and visited the church and the plague cottages. It was so sad reading about all of it. We then continued our drive through the Peak District. We drove through the pastoral southern area, the White Peak, as opposed to the more rugged Dark Peak. And it is called Peak after the Picts who used to live there, nothing to do with mountain peaks. Thanks Lonely Planet! We used this time to pull over lots and lots and take a gazillion photos of hilly paddocks with stone walls running through them, and lots of cute sheepies.

Our end desitnation for the night was the lovely little town of Chester. We were getting in a bit late for things to be open, so we headed straight for our YHA. This is the home of the Lovely Vegan Sue. Chester YHA has breakfast included, and I asked about soy milk and such at the time of booking. Lovely Vegan Sue responded that she too was vegan, and there was lots for vegans to be feasting upon for breakfast. Hurrah!

Upon arrival we retreated to our room for a spot of reading (I was making my way through books 2 and 3 of Twilight. Is there anyone more useless and annoying than Bella? Ugh!) before heading down to heat up our Waitrose dinners. Oh, how I LOVE Waitrose still!

What you see here is Waitrose Coriander Rice with Waitrose Cauliflower and Broccoli Masala. Though the amount of rice you get is twice the amount of vegetables! Too much rice! The third item you see there is some left over curry, supplied by the Lovely Vegan Sue. We went down a bit after they had finished serving dinner, because of course most YHAs don't do vegan. Apparently the Lovely Vegan Sue does though! And she gave us some free chickpea curry. It was yummy! So vegans, go and stay at Chester YHA with the Lovely Vegan Sue. It's actually a nice place, for a hostel. ;)

But wait, there was no potato at all in that dinner. What is going on? It's OK! The following day I more than made up for it...

Starting with my Chester YHA vegan breakfast! Mmmmm... cereal and fruit, baked beans, toast (not pictured here), tomatoes and lots of hash browns! The Lovely Vegan Sue even made sure to leave some of her own vegan margerine in a container in the kitchen for me to use. Awwwwwwww!

With a full stomach the next morning we strolled into the lovely and cute town of Chester itself and spent some time in the cathedral and also taking lots and lots of Tudor house photos. Hee. Then we hit the road again and headed for... The Lake District! Two Districts in two days. Hardcore!

We stopped for lunch at the little town of Kendall based on a place mentioned both by Happy Cow and Lonely Planet. Only we didn't have a map so it was sheer luck that we were able to find this place!

The place was Waterside Wholefoods. The lunch was cassoulet served in a baked potato (hee) with a choice of three salads (garden, carrot and tabbouleh) for 6.75. Mmmmmmmm... delicious and warming on what was another cold and drizzly day! Followed up by a soy hot chocolate (1.65) and some lovely conversation.

We drove to lake Windermere where we half froze to death (there was SNOW on the mountains. I do not do snow. It is evil) taking photos by the lake before heading to Grizdale Forest for a gentle (and thankfully not as cold) bush walk and photos of the sculptures. It was here that Jen announced our petrol light was flashing and I had visions of being stranded in the middle of the forest with no phone coverage and a serial killer, and no pretty Supernatural boys to save me. But thankfully we made it to Ambleside, where we filled up both Miss Fanny Price's bellies and our own!

We went to Zeffirellis, which seems to serve as a restaurant, cafe, jazz bar and cinema. It was mentioned in both Lonely Planet and Happy Cow, so seemed like a good bet. It was a bit early for dinner when we got there, but too late and too cold for walking around so we had some tea in the bar before heading downstairs for our dinner.

We of course shared a started of wedges (£3.45), served with salad and non-vegan garlic mayo for dipping. I skipped the mayo which we got because Jen isn't vegan. They were not bad but could have been crispier and better seasoned.

I felt like something nice and simple and pasta-ish for my main, so I got Pasta Puttanesca (£7.95), which was exactly what I wanted. They offer optional parmesan for the non-vegans out there, to which I say ewww, why would you spoil a perfectly good dish with cow gunk? But I did have a bit of a nooch craving when I was eating this!

And finally dessert - Eternal Summer Pudding (£4.95). Unfortunately it seemed to have more crappy white bread than berries in it, and was all just a bit blah. I longed for a glass of soy milk or a scoop of soy ice cream to go with it, the berry flavours were just a bit too intense.

We then drove the dark and windy way to our hostel at Arnside,a bit out of the Lake District. It was quite a nice little place. We had The Nurse's Room, with out own little ensuite. Also a cupboard that contained a boiler (oh, toasty warmth) and billions of spare pillows and doonas. So if the monsters escaped we could make a fort of pillows (oh please, tell me someone gets the reference). It was another cute little YHA, with lots of activities (including the mattress game - ask staff how to play - ummmmm... hee) and also a cute reception guy in the morning. Cute reception guys are ALWAYS a bonus.

The next episode shall take us to Scotland!

Monday, 13 April 2009

S1E5: Castling and the romantic South West.

Thank goodness for the gluttony and calorie storage of Brighton, for the following day we went castling at Leeds and Hever castle, where decent vegan lunch options are fairly non existant. Jen and Cath were a bit amazed, after watching me eat so much in recent days, to see a prime display of vegan conservation mode. You know the one, sometimes it is like we just have this super secret mode we can switch on in times of need that allows us to cruise on through a day on nothing but (in this case) a left over nutmeat sausage and some pita bread for breakfast and a vegan Wagon Wheel and some dried apricots for lunch! The castles were beautiful though. We got lost in the maze at Leeds for quite a while. If you want to know the secret, go and spend an hour wandering around being lost and then beg the answer from the staff member standing on top of the hill in the middle - hee.

Anyway, that night we said goodbye to Cath and headed off the second YHA at Holmbury St Mary. A disturbingly school campish like place about 20 minutes out of Dorking. We had stopped off at Somerfield on the way (crappy supermarket in the heirarchy) and picked up some of the ready meals the British seem so fond of to heat up when we got there.

The only vegan thing in the place was the Bombay Potato, which was OK as far as these things go. We also got some salad leaves, because greens are not regularly included in the meals we were having and, being a level 10 vegan and all, I was at serious risk of getting scurvy and dying after being without greens for three days. You know how it is. ;) The YHA was pretty grotty. But it had a super cute guy at reception. But the hot water was broken in the morning, and freezing cold showers make Susan a cranky girl!

The next morning we headed off to, according to the guide book, 'the romantic South West'' and went to Salisbury cathedral and Old Sarum. I think we just munched on more hummus and pita from our shopping trip the previous day. That evening we rolled into Bath and our three star YHA with not only a private room (which we had all the way though, no way was I sharing) but also a shiny ensuite. We met up with a friend of mine from vet school, the lovely Sophie, who lives in Bristol and headed out for dinner at Porter Cellar Bar, a vegetarian and vegan pub. We were super keen to try the wedges (of course) and the onion rings, but alas for some reason they had neither of these!

So to make up for it, the nice man at the bar gave us some free chips! Which were quite nice. We also got some garlic bread, which was fairly average and I don't have a photo of. Basically just bits of slightly thick bread grilled with some slightly garlicky stuff spread on it.

My main was the Sausage and Bean Cassoulet (6.25), with tomato and onion in rich red wine and herb sauce, served with mashed potato and seasonal vegetable. Which was quite nice. Didn't have that depth of flavour that one craves in a cassoulet and could have been a bit hotter, but pretty good pub food!

The following day we went all mythical, and started our day heading for Glastonbury. After trekking up to the top of the Tor (feel the burn, do it anyway) and exploring the Abbey and the Chalice Well and Gardens, we stopped in for lunch and Rainbow's End. I really wanted the sweet potato flan with potato and salad, but they had just sold the last piece. Woe.

So instead I had the red bean and capsicum stew with rice, pitta and spicy olives. I don't really like capsicum but it was stewed so well here I couldn't taste the icky. But unfortunately it reminded me that, aside from the reason they generally taste gross, is that they give me some indigestion. More Woe. Still, it was good while it lasted! They also had quite a few vegan sweets there. I got a (photoless) chocolate and coconut slice to take away, but it was more coffee flavoured and not as good as I had hoped. Should have gotten the date flapjack instead!

Following Glastonbury, we went stone circling at Stonehenge and Avesbury. Randomly, Avesbury has The Circle, a vegetarian National Trust restaurant that specialises in vegan and gluten free, according to the blurb. We weren't in the market for any more food at that time but I stopped by to see if I could at least see a menu, but it was closed and seems to have a changing menu, so I can't report on what it might offer.

Back to Bath, where we walked around and admired the Abbey, The Circus and Royal Crescent in the setting sun, before heading off to our dinner at Demuths, a bit of a fancy pants vegetarian and vegan restaurant. There we were met by... the same guy from the pub the day before. He obviously works the vegan beat in Bath!

We of course had some wedges for our starter, which were perfectly tasty but more like halved baby roasted potatoes than true wedges. Still, they filled out potato needs.

We also shared some greens with garlic sauce, which were delightful and really helped with that scurvy issue I was having.

For the main I felt like something a bit lighter as I was still suffering a little bit from the capsicums, so I had the middle eastern platter (£13.95) -
sweet potato, pumpkin & bean stew with kasha (buckwheat with roasted herby vegetables and pinenuts) beetroot roasted with sesame thyme and sumac, sweet tamari seed crackle, chargrilled potato and rosemary flatbread, tahini yoghurt dip, spicy harissa and pickled cucumber.
YUM! I was torn between this and the sri lankan curry (check the website), but the waitress told me to go the middle eastern. It was a delightful combination of a whole lot of flavours. Overall just right!

And, of course, dessert! Sticky toffee pudding (£6.95) - gooey sticky toffee pudding, caramel sauce and warm apple pear and quince compote, with vanilla soy icecream. Another YUM! Though needed more toffee sauce (a need that will be met later - stay tuned for York!).

The next day we said goodbye to Bath YHA (sadly also without hot water on our last morning. HMPH!) and headed off into the picturesque Cotswolds, then up to Warwick Castle. I had a munch on another hummus and salad sandwich (this time with coriander hummus and sundried tomato bread) and we fought through the minions of hell... oh, sorry, I meant groups of school children, and had a lovely castly time before heading off you our final stop for the day - Stratford Upon Avon for a dose of Shakespeare. And the beginning of our obsession with Tudor houses - yay! Also a visit to a health food shop to buy a block of Cheese for the journey.

At Stratford we went to pretty much the only non-vegan restaurant in the trip, The Vintner. It was mentioned in Lonely Planet as having inventive vegetarian options, so I hoped they might be able to invent me some vegan option. The person at front of house said 'no problem', the chef went 'eeeep'. I made it easy for them in the end, nice person that I am. But really, what can you do? They did try, which I appreciate. And the waitress was interested in hearing about my reasons and experience with veganism. Always good to get to do a bit of vegan edumacation!

So here it is. It is the mushroom burger. Minus the actual burger bun, which might have had eggs in it. Instead, they gave me free chips to make up for the carbs I craved. So my big mushroom had some grilled capsicum and caramelised onions on it. And they also gave me quite a big salad on the side - bigger than Jen got with her (meaty - ewww) burger. So they did their best to look after me. Hurrah!

So there is a whirlwind tour through three days worth of trip. That night we checked in to our only non-hostel, an in on the motorway. HEAVEN! You never know how wonderful a bathmat is until you have to go to stinky hostels and not have one. Plus a heated towel rack. Plus no bunk beds. I let Jen have the double bed seeing as I had made her have all the top bunks on the trip, a small price to pay for making me hostel it, methinks. ;)

Tomorrow - to the Peak District and Chester, and a meeting with the Lovely Vegan Sue!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

S1E4: UK 2009 - Brighton Vegan Fayre!

The day had arrived! Vegan Fayre day - hurrah! We headed in early and went for a walk along the seafront. I find it amusing what the English consider a beach and beach weather. Where are the golden sands, I ask? Where is the crashing surf? I guess you make do with what you have, and not everyone can have the awesome beaches that are Australian, so very well Brighton. Enjoy your seafront. ;)

We headed over the Fayre at opening time, to find a MASSIVE line of people waiting. We had pre-ordered out tickets, so once the line started moving we were told to go to a special ticket entrance. With no one there! And then there were people there who had no concept of what they were doing. But never fear, because it takes more than that to keep a hoard of hungry vegans away from this...

The hall! The hall of products and, most importantly... FREE SAMPLES! Hurrah! I made a beeline for...

The stall of the SHEESE! In theory, I loved Sheese. I loved it because although I had never tasted it (though I had a block of Blue in my fridge I was carefully hoarding away for future use), I just knew in my heart of hearts that it would be the saviour of all my vegan cheese needs. And oh, how I was not disappointed. I know this for a fact as I tasted all of the samples many, many times. Oh, beloved Sheese. And so cheap! There is only one place to my knowledge that you can get it in Australia, and they charge through the nose for it. They put up their prices even further when they realised that people were so keen on it. Evil consumerism! Or something like that.

OK, but there was more than Sheese there. Even though it was a bit of a highlight - even non-vegan-tendency Cath who was more than a little suspicious of vegan cheese at the outset has spoken of it in hushed and reverent tones since then. But there was also Redwood (oh Cheezly, you have forever been replaced in my heart by SHEESE), Fry's, Amy's, Plamil, Montezuma's Chocolates, Rice Cream... so many more too. I know I should be giving you links to all these places, bad Susan.

Our next stop was down to the cooking demonstrations, to meet up with my lovely vegan Browncoat formerly-from-Brisbane friend Nicole. Her and my other lovely vegan Browncoat currently-from-Sydney friend Leigh have just been lights in my vegan life. It's good to have fellow vegans! But Nicole ran away to England! Alas, the cooking demonstration was not going very well, as the very expensive twice paid for induction stove they had bought for it (because you can't have gas in the hall... evil fire) refused to work. But on the plus side there was a cute vegan chef who seemed to make some eyes at Cath!

Nicole filled us in on the existence of another magical room. And so we went up yet more stairs, for this was a Fayre of many levels. And there we found the second room! And while it is true there were many things in the second room, we barely had time for them because we were so busy feasting out eyes and our bellies on this beautiful site...

Pop My Cherry had the most incredible and beautiful display of mouthwatering treats. Check out the gorgeous Brighton Vegan Fayre cupcake stand there! I enjoyed an apple cider cupcake, while Jen tucked into Tiramisu - both inspired by that tome of tomes VCTOTW. Nic's heart marched to a different beat - the beat of jam tarts. It was incredible! Choosing was a struggle, let me tell you.

We headed back down to the main hall for more sampling - hello Sheese! Nic and I may have had our photo taken in front of the Sheese fridge. Just maybe. But not too much, there were still more delights to be had!

Such as vegan trifle, topped with Soyatoo Whipped Cream from a can and vegan sprinkles. I was a bit suspicious of the cream, because any sort of dairy cream or high fat dairy item has always made me ill from a young age. Turns out when you get rid of all that icky dairy stuff, cream is fantastic! We then took another turn around the hall for more samples and more spending, before I tucked into a strawberry rice cream (sorry, no photo). And oh, I just realised I forgot to mention this fabulous catering company was there. Sadly I can't remember their name, but they had fabulous mini flans and amazing chocolate orange truffles!

There were food outlets at the Fayre, but we decided that we were all stuffed to the brim from samples and various purchased sweets, and the thing to fix it would be a brisk stroll down to the pier. So we bid adieu to the Vegan Fayre. I wish we had something like that there! The only sad thing about the Fayre was that I had intended to have a meet up with Jenni from Heathen Vegan, but alas the telephone communications systems were against us and contact could not be made. Woe! And in case Jen is wondering, I never did receive any of your messages, even when I made it back to Australia! *glare at phone companies*

Here is a photo of my vegan haul. It was a bit of a sad haul, because I was restricted by customs. Anything vaguely liquid was more or less out because I couldn't have them in my carry on (international flights only let you carry on a maximum of 1L total and nothing may be more than 100mL) and I didn't want any glass to smash in my suitcase in the hold. Even cream Sheese would class as a liquid! Thankfully, that is encased in flexible plastic. So, let's see - Sheese (Smoked Cheddar, Strong Cheddar and Chive Cream Sheese), Montezuma's orange and cinnamon chocolate truffles, various little snacky things. And my Saving The Unicorns shirt from Secret Society of Vegans. Such a Susan shirt, though if only it were pink! I am still not entirely sure that Saving The Unicorns isn't some sort of vegan code I am not away of, and that I am not giving out secret messages unwittingly when I wear it. But whatever - pretty, sparkling pony!

Our stroll down the pier would not be complete without a ride. We selected the House of Horror on the basis that it looked lame and also did not involve twirling round in a fast circle - something that should never be attempted post Vegan Fayre indulging! The ride unfortunately far exceeded the lameness it promised. It was not the funny lame we had been hoping. It was just lame lame.

Next stop was an early vegan dinner, at The George vegetarian pub! Unfortunately by this stage I was suffering severely from my earlier sample craze. Too much swapping between sweet and savoury, and I was turning an odd shade of green. I had to lie down on the bench at the pub, then take a short walk outside in the cool air, and finally indulge in a big mug of mint and nettle tea. However, my salvation was at hand.

Wedges from The George. They are half eaten in this photo because Jen had already munched down on half the bowl while I was trying to resist the urge to be quite violently ill. But once the tea had settled it down I felt well enough to nibble some potato. And that potato soaked up all the ookey making things in my stomach, and then I felt strong and hungry again. See - potato is good!

So good that I decided to have it again for my main - Bangers and Mash with Red Wine Gravy. Nom! The sausages seemed to be some sort of slightly nutmeat concoction, which I am a huge fan of. This was one of the few days of the whole trip that I couldn't actually finish it all though. I wrapped up the last sausage in some napkins to put in my pocket and take home for breakfast (no pig grease soaking through into you clothes with these babies!), and can I say it was excellent the following morning, cold with a bit of ketchup. Nom! I left a bit of the mash too. But if I had had a snaplock back on me, I totally would have taken that too! Oh, you know I would. I dreamed about them a little the following morning at breakfast, thinking how nice the would have been with the sausage. *sigh*

And there ends the magical day of the Vegan Fayre. A magical place where Sheese is freely available, and you can choose between 27 varieties of cupcakes.

Tomorrow, we leave our scungy Alfriston hotel and head off for some castling!

And just so you know, the Sheese survived the 24 hour trip in my checked in baggage just perfectly, and is now safely in my fridge awaiting its tasty fate.

Friday, 10 April 2009

S1E3: UK 2009 - It's brighter in Brighton!

On with the journey. Oh yes! The next day we woke up bright and early and waited one hour for the tube to take us four stops thanks to a signal failure at Canary Wharf (all the way at the other end of the Jubilee Line). A real London train delay - woot! We picked up out car, a Holden/Vauxhall (depending on where you live) Astra. Much to my dismay - I was given one of these cars last time I picked up a rental in Sydney and I hate them! But Jen was to be the driver on our journey (I don't drive manual and autos are twice as much!). We promptly named her Miss Fanny Price (after Jen knocked back my suggestion of Mrs Bennet) and began the slow journey to get to the other side of London (avoiding the congestion zone) and on to our first stop of Canterbury.

I forgot to mention that the previous day Jen had continued my education in the UK supermarket hierarchy by taking me to Sainsbury to stock up on munchies for the trip. Our favoured food for driving and snacking was hummus and pita bread. So imagine our delight when I opened Fanny's glove box and found she had a special hummus holder! Don't believe me??

We arrived in Canterbury and oohed and aahed at the Cathedral. Then Jen told me that the last time she was here, there was a fudge shop that had vegan fudge. And indeed there was!

Jim Garrahy's Fudge Kitchen stocks a vegan toffee fudge. They also had a box of four vegan flavours for easter. Not being one for loads of sugar, I took the slice of toffee fudge - you can see it is pretty substantial! They also have shops in Bath, Edinburgh and Cambridge - and I stumbled across all of them! Though that one slice lasted me for the entire road trip. They also have mail order - including to overseas. Yay! And I will say, it was delicious! I still only ate small amounts at a time, but it was nothing like that horrid icing sugar laced fudge that gives me a headache as soon as I see it. It was rich and creamy and just melted in your mouth. If you haven't had some of this - get some at all costs!

After Canterbury we visited castles and cliffs in Dover, before driving along the coast into BRIGHTON! We picked up Cath, our third for the weekend, and then set about the business of finding some dinner. It was an epic struggle, as the place we had planned on going (Wai Kika Moo Cow) was closed. Woe! We walked for about an hour and a bit with no luck. Then we stumbled across Food For Friends, but woe they had no tables until 9.30pm. They pointed us down the street to Terre a Terre. It took us a while to finally find it, and they too told us no tables until 9.45pm! But, upon hearing my tale of vegan food woes, the lovely lady there found us a table. Hurrah! And I am so glad she did, because this is what I ate...

Smokey Scrunch Chips (£5.00) - Big fat hand cut chips seasoned with our bang bang spice dust served with poky guacamole. Best. Chips. Ever. Nothing before or after top these. Crunchy on the outside but juicy on the inside with the perfect amount of seasoning. And hot as hot can be. Oh... potato heaven!

Porcini Pudding and Cranberry Kraut (£14.60) - Little steamer crammed with port and porcini mushroom ragout served with mashed potato truffle cream, mulled red carmel cabbage and cranberry kraut, finished with chestnut milk and parsnip crisps. Holy smokes! Hello fancy pants. And hello yummy! The mushroomy mushroomness was intense and amazing. All the flavours just came together. It was divine. The best vegan restaurant meal I have ever had.

Rain Vodka Cherry Chocolate Churros (£7.70) - Sugar spice dusted doughnut straws served with sticky dipping chocolate and Rain Vodka sozzled cherries. Again, all I can say it... wowsers.

This place was seriously amazing. When I went to the bathroom I could see into the kitchen. There was a row of chefs in their aprons and hats putting on little garnishes - just like in TV shows. Oh, it made me giggly and happy. I wish there were places like this where I lived!

Then we went back to our hostel - my first ever. YHA at Alfriston. And no, not impressed. There was hair in the basin in our room. They didn't have a key for us to lock our room. And it was just generally grotty. The showers were hot at least, but water went everywhere. Avoid if you can.

So, I was going to post all of Brighton in one post, but the next day was the Vegan Fayre and I have lots of photos and so much to write about that I think I shall just finish it up here and resume tomorrow. I hope everyone is enjoying the public holidays!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

S1E2: UK 2009 - London calling.

I am at home today nursing the snuffles and a cough. Thankfully I have been allowed to not be on call tonight so I can take some delightful medication to knock me out and stop me spluttering everywhere the second I lie down. But thankfully I am still able to continue the story of food....

I left you when I had just landed in London. My lovely friend and travel buddy Jen picked me up and we caught the tube back to her place where I learnt that in the UK, Just Right does not have honey in it but Special K does have milk powder in it. Cereal and toast with Vegemite formed the majority of my breakfasts over there, especially seeing as Jen had forced me into staying in hostels.

I arrived at 6am, so once home and fed we took off to experience some trademark London tourist destinations. One of these was Tesco Express, where we went for early lunch.

Behold, the vegan prepackaged sandwich! Any vegan prepackaged sandwich in England is virtually guaranteed to be salad and hummus, but as I was to find out later in the journey you are not guaranteed to find a vegan prepackaged sandwich at many places. It was a bit dry, but hit the spot. We enjoyed our sandwiches while sitting on the grass at St James Park, surrounded by daffodils and a cute little squirrel!

More walking and site seeing. Jen took me to Oxford St where she showed me Primart, which I now know is hell on earth. Around about 3pm, the fact I had not really slept for the past 48 hours suddenly occurred to my brain. So we caught the tube for some emergency late lunch before heading home for me to rest my weary soul.

The place of emergency food was Red Veg, the one on Dean St for those who know it, because apparently there are more. Red Veg is like a vegetarian/vegan fast food haven. I had the Vegwurst with caramelised onions, mustard and ketchup. The bread is sweet and cardboardy, just like fast food should be. It was pretty OK, though nothing too special. We also got some fries, which were good but went cold so quickly, and some spicy potato wedges. These were fabulous, and from this point on potatoes started popping up fairly regularly in our dining needs!

Home to Jen's to doze, and then somehow I managed to make dinner.

It was a pretty simple concoction of spaghetti with garlic and chili (super hot chili, it was good), roasted zucchini and a sort of sauce made by sauteing cherry tomatoes in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper. Good stuff before I had to head off to bed for official sleeping.

The next day was more wandering and site seeing. We met us with Zara, a friend of mine from Sydney days, and had lunch at a place called Chi Vegetarian Buffet, which was somewhere near Leicester Square.

It was 8.50 for all you could eat, so I got two heaping plates. The food was OK, but not particularly hot. As you can see, there was a whole selection of different things - rice, noodles, spring rolls, prawn crackers, broccoli, seaweed, stir-fry vegetables, roast potato, red and green curries, sweet and sour, brown sauce, black bean sauce... The list goes on. There seem to be quite a few similar places around London, and to be honest some of the other places we walked past looked a bit better than this one.

For dinner we went out for Indian with Jen's housemates. We went to Tulsi Pure Vegetarian,
which is near Wembley. While described as vegan friendly by Happy Cow, most items do have dairy, but if you ask there are a few that don't they can point out to you. Though it was a little hard for this to be fully understood.

I had a Vegetable Moghlai, which was quite nice though a bit sweet. Had a good amount of heat in it, which I like. For non-vegans there is an extensive menu, though there are no descriptions so sometimes it is a magical mystery as to what your dinner will be like. Everyone else really enjoyed their dinners though!

Then home to sleep. And wake up in the morning to pick up the car and begin the first leg of our journey. A leg that would end in that magical place called Brighton.