Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm Back from the Valleys!

I had a lovely 5 days in Wales and ate so much good food. Dublin airport is pretty vegan-friendly, as a lot of bloggers (such as Vegan Backpacker) have already commented on. The cheapest vegan deal we came across, which was excellent value for money, was the Boots lunch time deal of a drink, snack and sandwich for €3.99. We opted for Fresh's carrot & hummous sandwich, with a vitamin water drink and some pineapple. Other vegan possibilities for food in the airport range from a custom made bagels to snacks from the Nutz stall.

One of the best places I ate in Wales was the Mulberry Bush in Lampeter. This little vegetarian café is at the back of a big wholefood store and has many vegan options at really decent prices. I was always very satisfied after eating here, not just with the taste, but with the quantity of food they piled on the plates! It has a deli type arrangement, like in Dublin's Cornucopia, so you can only really choose from what is on display at the time. We arrived quite late in the day and it's a popular spot to eat, so there wasn't much left. My father and I had a delicious vegan Lasagne, which came with cous cous salad, red cabbage salad and a tofu, olive & cucumber salad. My boyfriend had their butternut squash, tofu and sweet potato Thai Curry, which was very aromatic and tasty (yes I stole some while he wasn't looking!). I decided to take out some vegan Chocolate Torte because I was too full to eat it right away. This had a crunchy biscuit base and the chocolate topping was presumably made with a blend of tofu and was nice and creamy. However, it was a little more bitter than I was expecting, which was rather a disappointment, as I really fancied something sweet.

As you can see, the store itself is huge! I was very impressed by the array of products they stocked and preferred it to any health food shop in Dublin. Their refrigerated and frozen cabinets had a great range of fake meat products that I'd loved to have tried if I was staying longer. I did however pick up two new products - the Provamel Vanilla Soya Yoghurt, and a bar of vegan White Chocolate by Organica. I will definitely be buying these again. The yoghurt had a thick consistency, quite like the Irish made Glenisk gourmet vanilla yoghurts. It was a nice change to come across a soya yoghurt that wasn't too runny or lumpy. My father and the boyfriend both loved it. They also loved the white chocolate, which was pretty spot on! It had the sweetness and texture of dairy white chocolate, and the little black specks of vanilla pod added even more flavour. It was quite expensive though, at £2.99 for a 100g bar, but I just had to try it!

My father catered well for me when I was home. He'd bought lots of food from Marks and Spencers, including falafels, stuffed vine leaves, mixed bean salads, cous cous salads & hummous, and we ate produce from his garden such as cucumbers, sweet orange cherry tomatoes, french beans & baby potatoes. We didn't actually eat very much at home as we went out for quite a few meals. Here are some photos of one of the meals I ate at home: a salad filled onion bagel with caramelized onion relish, giant cous cous & wheatberry salad and a grape & melon fruit salad drizzled with elderflower cordial. It totally slipped my mind to take photos of the other things we ate at his house.

I saw a lot of friends while visiting. One of my friends gave me some green chillies from her greenhouse to take home. I intend to use these in a Thai curry soon. Her little girl showed me their greenhouse and the vegetables they were growing there - she's such a cutie! Their cat was also skulking around looking for some attention.

Another friend we visited went to a great effort to cook a vegetarian meal for us all, which was delicious. I managed to skip on the cheese/dairy in most of the courses, and the Butternut Squash and Carrot Cobbler she cooked for the main course was very fine indeed. I'm going to have to write to her for the recipe and post it on my blog for you all to see. Her dog Tasmin is a real sweetie and likes to carry around a teddy she's had for about 6 years now!

We visited the Mulberry Bush for lunch again the day before we left. This time I had the Butternut Squash & Mango Soup with a brown bread roll and a salad bowl. The salads were lovely - a chinese style one, a homemade vegan coleslaw, a carrot salad, a tofu and olive salad and a bright red vinegary beetroot salad. This was meant to be a small salad, but it was huge... I was so full afterwards that I couldn't possibly even think about buying a take-out dessert!  The soup was one of the nicest I've ever tasted, probably because mango is one of my favourite fruits and squash is one of my favourite vegetables. They are both quite sweet and creamy so they really worked together. My boyfriend had salad with potato wedges, and my dad had the Cashew Nut Risotto with salad. I tasted some and it was indeed very nutty, with a wholesome, earthy flavour.

That evening we went to a restaurant in Aberaeron called The Hive on the Quay. I've been coming to this place since I was tiny, as it is famous for its honey ice cream. Recently though, a friend has taken over the premises and has completely revamped the interior and the menu, and it's now quite a popular place to dine. My father rang ahead of our visit and the staff assured him that there would be vegan options for every course. We met some of my father's friends there and had a very enjoyable evening. I was very well catered for, as promised. I had a salad of chicory, mixed leaves, walnuts and pear for my starter. This was light and fresh, which was ideal seeing as I don't really like feeling too full before the main course has even arrived. It originally would have come with a blue cheese sauce and would have been served as a main, but they adapted this for me for my starter. I think I'd have preferred it if it had come with a different kind of dressing though, to add a bit more flavour. I opted for the (already vegan) vegetable Thai curry with sticky rice for my main dish, which was absolutely gorgeous. I think I drew the long straw with this course, as many of the others were saying that their food seemed far too salty. However, I really couldn't fault the curry. For dessert there was a plethora of sorbets and soya ice creams to choose from. I chose a scoop of strawberry sorbet and a scoop of raspberry soya ice cream. These were heavenly! I have no idea if they were made on site, as their honey ice cream is, so I may email them to find out... I assume they were though, because I imagine getting hold of so many varieties of sorbet and soya ice cream must be quite difficult as I haven't seen so many commercially available in health food shops before. So all in all, it was a very positive experience and I was impressed that a non-vegan specific restaurant could cater so well to my requirements.

While I was visiting, I also tried to cook my father some muffins. I don't know what went wrong - it may have been the baking powder, the muffin tin, the different oven, or the fact that we didn't have digital kitchen scales - but they didn't quite go to plan! After going on to him about how good I was at making muffins my father is never going to let me forget this and they will probably remain engraved on his brain for all eternity now, along with the ketchuppy-pasta concoction I once served him as a student!!

I was really sad to be returning home today. I won't be going home again until Christmas, which will make an interesting blog entry seeing as my father is a wonderful cook and always makes the most amazing Christmas dinners! If I still lived in mid Wales I'd definitely go to the Mulberry Bush on a very regular basis, and am very keen to return, to try out a few well-known vegetarian restaurants in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth.

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