Wednesday 6th June 2018 Roanne Fuelled by my fear of having too much I did a drastic detox of what was on the boat and even of some things I brought with me. My other half felt my panic and did the same. Although he had a fraction of what I had to discard. English books and magazines are hard to come by in France and we had a South African friend in the port who was happy to take them, even though they were well thumbed.
My husband was doing mini fix-it jobs like touching up paint or sanding and treating small rust spots. He tried to replace the impellor in the toilet but gave up, as it was well and truly wedged in a casing. He feared he might cause harm to it. Shangri La had held up pretty well the year we were away. She is a beautiful boat.
It’s a lovely time of year to be in the middle of France. The weather is warm but not hot. Can get a bit humid but not unbearably so. They have cool mornings warming up nicely by lunch time. The afternoons were punctuated with showers. I ventured out and did a bit of shopping at the local Auchan. Gosh the world is fast becoming a fabulous place for vegans like us. Of course, the food in France has always been exceptional. I can happily wander around and do nothing more than gaze at food.
Gorgeous juicy peaches, thick fat asparagus, myriad coloured tomatoes, crusty breads, apple sorbet, cassis sorbet, delicious mustards, Champagne vinegar, herbes de Provence, I could go on and on. The French, being French, make vegan food like Provencal galettes and Lyonnaise Lentil salad. My daily staple is their carottes rappee (grated carrot salad). It’s dead cheap and it is without doubt the best salad I have ever eaten! I love that the French love food so much.
We found a fabulous organic wine for €4.20 so bought the last three bottles of that. Didn’t take long and our wheeler was full, we walked back to our boat to have a nice hot shower and sit on the back deck watching the world go by.
Thursday 7th June 2018
I had allowed myself two laid back days in a row of late starts and not too much action. By now I had to get my wiggle on and actually do something. The first thing we had to do was a decent shop-up at the local health shop or bio shop as they call them in France. That’s where we find tofu, cashew nuts, nutritional yeast, tapioca flour and other vegan staples. It wasn’t hard to spend €140.00.
My other half had a last few paint jobs he wanted to do but you need good weather. This was another typical day of cool morning, warm midday and intermittent showers in the afternoon. Not the best weather for paint to dry. So he decided to join me shopping.
We went looking for a fresh produce store we had seen the previous year. It was a fair way away but still walking distance. No way could we find it. Gave up on that idea and headed to the town centre (centre ville). We really tried hard to find somewhere nice to eat. By nice, I mean a bit healthy with veggie options. There is a creperie place that was closed the previous year. We put that down to being in Roanne in the holiday season. But even in shoulder season a year later – it was closed. Have to hand it to them, they defo take life easy.
Back at the boat we unpacked and tried to get on top of comms. Internet at the Port de Plaisance in Roanne is a lot better than many places. The Internet drops and you struggle to get in a fair amount of the time but (with persistence) a person can actually get WiFi. Then we headed to the local meet-up group organised 18 years ago by an English couple at the local bar. Brilliant idea. We met people from Roanne as well as boaters from all over. Was so impressed by how well many expats speak French. I do think that it’s only right to try and speak a bit of French in France. I mean, it is France after all. No matter how many French lessons and CDs we’ve done, we’re no match for the ordinary French people who may well understand us, but parlay at break-neck speed. We have no idea what they are saying. Eish! We still have a long way to go.
Monday 4th June 2018
London to Roanne
The journey to our boat is always long. We’re not from Europe. And we don’t have a car we can use. Hence, we rely on public transport. Which is fine if all goes well. Unfortunately, the French rail services were on a protracted strike. Three working days followed by two strike days. My husband had to spend two nights in Lyon to be able to catch a train back to our boat in Roanne. Not a huge hardship as both he and I LOVE Lyon. We think it’s nicer than Paris. Lucky for me I arrived a week later on a non-striking day. I left London at 09.00am and took a series of trains and flights before I arrived in Roanne at 19.45pm. Absolutely exhausted.
It never ceases to amaze me how culture transcends borders. If one looks at the demographic profile of people on a bus in the UK. And the demographic profile of people on a bus in France. There are huge similarities. Yet behaviourally, they are worlds apart. The French culture inhabits all who live in France. People from other cultures in France may eat different food and dress differently. What makes people in France different from those in the UK is subtle. It’s how loud they are in public. It’s mannerisms. It’s choices in clothing. Even body shape comes into it.
My better half had made a big fat ratatouille and salad. And had the wine ready. He’s a keeper. It was damp on the back deck, but not too cold. So good to be back on our beloved boat – Shangri La. I crashed soon after that and slept well. I always sleep well on the boat. It is a happy place for both of us.
Tuesday 5th June 2018
I never unpacked my suitcase the night before so that had to be done. I usually take photos of what gets left behind on the boat but despite that, I ALWAYS overpack. My brain seems to remember using every hat I had and then I pack extra hats or not having enough comfy shoes and pack far too many of those. I had three loose dresses on the boat and had brought over four more. Let alone shorts, skirts and pants. My hat count was eight. Not even going to say how many shoes. Comfy shoes are heavy. I was already dreading taking this stuff back home. Especially since we were hoping to sell Shangri La the upcoming summer. Something we were both very sad to do.
The plan was to leave Roanne and head toward Digoin, and on to Decize. Apparently very nice and we’d never been there. Then back to Digoin and branch off toward Chalon-sur-Saone, along the River Saone to St-Jean-de-Losne where we would leave the boat for 6 weeks. If we’ve learned anything about the waterways of France, it’s this. July and August months – are full on. Full on summer and hot as hell. Lots and lots of holiday makers. Many French places close to escape the hoards. I can’t begin to name places we had hoped to visit that were not open during that time.
So late July and early August, we would take a 6-week break and explore a bit of the south of France. Go back to the UK for a month to work on an organic farm in Cornwall. And do a hands-on cooking course at an academy in Bath. Hopefully by then things would have eased up and then we would go back to boating. The second stint we would go from St-Jean-de-Losne along the Saone toward Gray and see how far we wanted to go for one last month. Then back to St-Jean-de-Losne and that would be our boating for the year.
Another French classic is Crème Brûlée. You can swerve eggs and cream to make a really nice vegan version. You need 200g to 400g of silken tofu, 1/2 to 1 whole can coconut cream, 1 – 2 Tablespoons GMO-free corn-flour, a pinch of turmeric (the depth of colour deepens as it heats so be shy with it), plus sweetener and vanilla to taste. Put all this in a pot. Add a plant milk to get it to a thick batter. Blend well with a stick blender. Get your pot up to medium heat and cook, stirring well, until it thickens. I stir with one of those heat-proof spatulas. Quickly pour into ramekins and allow to cool. When cool, move into fridge until ready to eat. Serve cold. Just before presenting, top with a generous layer of sugar and grill. Or use one of those French blow torch gadgets that do the job. If you can’t grill, like us on the boat, then two hours before, sprinkle with a caramely golden sugar like demarera sugar or coconut blossom sugar and allow to melt in the fridge.
Vegan creme brulee
You can turn this into a chocolate dessert by adding, cacao powder – might have to add extra liquid – and use chocolate shavings on top instead of sugar. Or – you can add a distinctive spice – such as ground cardamom or star anise (this is when your coffee grinder proves it’s worth), then garnish your dessert with sliced fruit like nectarines or melons – doused in agave nectar – and arranged in a circular decoration on top of the ramekins.
Stone fruit abound in France. I’ve encountered assorted peaches, nectarines and plums back in South Africa. But fresh prunes and mirabelles are new to me. They’re a great choice for parfaits and vegan cheeze platters – see earlier post for recipes – as they don’t oxidise (turn brown). Stone fruit also make pretty tarts. Who knew?
Raw stone fruit tart
Raw tarts are all the same – only different. Your base is going to be a ratio of approximately 2/3 mix of – neutral flavoured nuts, seeds or dessicated coconut (think ground almonds, desicated coconut, hazelnuts, seame seeds or chai seeds) to a 1/3 pre-soaked dates and coconut oil mix. Crush your 2/3 nuts, seeds and coconut mix either on a chopping board, a pestle and mortar or if you’re lucky enough to have one handy – a food processor. Finely ground is good, but chunky-ish is also OK. Now you want to add the 1/3 pre-soaked dates and coconut oil which will have been blended together. These last ingredients bind the base and help it set. If you can’t find dates, soaked dried figs or bananas are also good. Press into a tart base or mini tart bases and allow to set in the fridge.
Poached pears in red wine with soy creme anglaise
For a creamy fruit filling you’re wanting 1/3 soaked cashew nuts, 1/3 coconut oil and 1/3 fruit such as pineapple, mango or fresh berries. Plus sweeteners and maybe spices or vanilla for taste. If you add a touch of lemon juice it give more of a cheese cake flavour. Blend well and check the flavours before pouring into your base and allowing to set in the fridge. Garnish with fresh fruit.
I made a raw stone fruit tart using ground almonds, desicated coconut, dates and coconut oil for the base. Since we don’t have tart tins on the boat I pressed the base into a ring mould. For the filling I chopped stone fruit, tossed it in lemon juice and then drained it well. Next I added a small amount (too much and it’s gritty) of finely milled flaxseeds and placed the fruit over my bases. I used a knife to loosen the base from the mould and served it straight from the fridge.
I’m not able to say exactly which beers are safe. Most places in France have a large variety of Belgian beers. And we think that’s a good thing. Just like the French get wine. The Belgians, without doubt, make the best beer in the world. I know from drinking wine back home in South Africa that most red wines are vegan. As a rule I choose reds bit I also happen to prefer red wine. Even on a sweltering hot day. We love trying different wines and there are so many to choose from. We usually buy a few supermarket Own-Brand wines which are well priced. But we also look out for organic wines. You can find a nice organic wine for as little as €5 to €6. When eating out we ask for Vin Ordinaire which is usually a regional wine and have yet to be disappointed.
Beer and wine
The techniques mentioned here are simple. We aim to eat 50% raw food. Our experience, and that of those we’ve been on raw food courses with, is 100% raw includes far too many nuts which are heavy on the liver – and fattening. Legumes and soy products are excellent low calorie protein sources. I don’t believe you should avoid them, although they do need to be cooked well. If you’re cooking legumes from scratch – ignore the Old Wives Tale – DON’T add acids while cooking. No vinegar, lemon juuce or tomato puree. It inhibits the cooking of legumes causing them to be less digestible. Add those after cooking. And throw away the soaking water. The indigestibles go with that water making them much easier on the gut.
Hopefully you will be able to take what I have learned to make your own yummy food. At the very least, I hope I’ve helped you see how easy it is to make a vast range of vegan meals.
I always keep tins or jars of artichokes, pickles, sundried tomato and olives and various beans on hand to use in spreads or on top of salads. As well as a bag of brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. For a quick fresh pistou to go with soups, place the following into a tall jug and blend with a stick blender – spinach or any leafy greens, some basil or any fresh green herbs, garlic, salt and a splash of olive oil. For a more pesto like flavour add either raw or pan toasted nuts or seeds. Taste and add more of whatever you feel is missing. I add nutritional yeast for a parmesan like flavour. Great stirred through warm pasta.
Brown rice risotto
One other thing we really enjoy is a Brown Rice Risotto. Especially if I can lay my hands on asparagus. I always start the same method – sauté onions and garlic – then add veg such as green peas, mushrooms, asparagus, courgette and gently cook. Next mix a veggie stock cube or two with 1 Cup of water and soy cream (soy cuisine) and pour a little over the vegetables. Add the brown rice and a glug of white wine. Keep adding the rest of the liquid and more water if needed until the rice has swelled up and cooked.
We love, love love pan fried greens in olive oil and garlic. Whatever we find on Market Day goes in. Think green cabbage (choux vert), kale (choux kale) and spinach (epinard). Chop your greens and drizzle with fresh lemon juice, salt, cracked black pepper and nutmeg if you have it. The leaves will reduce a bit. Cook in a pan with a little olive oil until wilted. You may have to add your greens a little at a time but they reduce in volume fast. Heaven on a plate and leafy greens are so good for you.
Sauteed greens, ratatouille and grated carrot salad
To finish a meal you can serve a vegan cheezes platter. Artfully arrange vegan cheezes, preserves, fresh fruit such as figs, grapes or apple slices with cracker biscuits and French Bread.
Freshly brewed coffee and a few squares of chocolate make a great finale after a heavy meal. Vegans can eat dark (noir) chocolate. Côte d’Or is French and they usually list the ingredients people want to avoid in bold at the back of the pack. Look for the word LAIT to avoid milk chocolate and BEURRE to avoid butter in caramel varieties.
Stewed apricots, soy yogurt and crushed biscuit parfait
A really simple, attractive French style dessert is a parfait. You control how virtuous or decadent you want it to be. You’re going to create layers in pretty glasses. You want – something creamy, something tart and something crunchy. For something creamy, use either soy yogurt, a vegan custard, chocolate ganache (blend avocado, cacao and agave nectar with a stick blender); whipped coconut cream (the secret getting coconut cream to whip, is to keep a tin of coconut cream in the coldest part of your fridge, and whip when it’s cold) or a raw cream (blend soaked cashews with vanilla and a sweetener).
Champagne and peanuts on the back deck
Then you want something tart. I usually use chopped fresh fruit or a fruit puree. To make a puree add chopped fruit and very little liquid to a pot on low heat and allow it to soften. Then blitz with a stick blender until smooth. You can also add a sweetener and spices to taste. If you’ve added too much liquid, allow it to keep simmering to reduce. If it still won’t thicken, add a bit of GMO free corn-flour. I sometimes soak dried fruit like mango, banana or pineapple. Then blend.
For crunch consider chopped nuts, crushed biscuits, grated dark chocolate, nut brittle or a pan toasted oat crumble (mix coconut oil, sugar and oats in a pan and allow to carmelise – pour onto a board to cool and break into pieces). To assemble use a teaspoon add one layer creamy alternating with one layer fruit until you’ve used up your mixes. Then top with your crunch.
Some ideas for parfaits are:-
* vanilla custard, pear and dark chocolate
* chocolate ganache, red berries and toasted crushed almonds
* coconut cream, rhubarb and crumbed vegan ginger biscuits
* soy yogurt, mango and crunchy bits of peanut brittle.
The French love potatoes. In the north, they make a potato mash or purée which is easy to prepare. Boil potatoes in water. In another small pot add soy milk, garlic, a bay leaf and thyme. You can add lemon zest, black pepper or chili to vary the flavour. Simmer until flavours have infused. Once potatoes are cooked, drain most of the water but retain some. Pour warm milk over potatoes and mash for a rustic effect or purée with a stick blender to get a creamy mash. Add left-over boiled water if your mash is too thick. French potatoes behave differently to other potatoes. They can become thick and gloopy and need more liquid. Increase the protein yield of your mash by adding a can of warmed white beans to your mash.
Puy lentil rissoles
In Lyon they make a French classic – Lyonnaise Potatoes. Boil potatoes, drain and cool. Sauté onions in oil. Slice potatoes into rounds and mix in. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with chopped parsley.
Top your salads with pan toasted or raw nuts for a bit of crunch and good fats. Maybe some beans or lentils for protein. Sometimes I add diced French Pickles (cornichons). Pickles are another ridiculously easy food to make yourself. Dice or slice veggies such as onions, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower. They need to be vegetables with crunch so not tomatoes or avocados. Pack them into a sterilised jar. I sterilise my jars (not the lids) by filling the jars with water and bringing it to the boil in a microwave, then using a cloth to avoid burning your hands, pour the boiling water from the jars over the lids. Allow jars and lids to drain and cool.
Place enough vinegar to fill your jars into a pot, add seasonings such as salt, peppercorns, maybe a bit of sugar or stevia and bay leaves or mustard seeds. Bring to the boil and then pour over your pickles. Allow to cool and close lids. Store pickles in the fridge and never touch them with your fingers as that can cause them to spoil. Use a fork to get them out.
French pickles and pate
Herbes de Provence is a versatile local seasoning and another inexpensive gift for food lovers back home. I sauté onions and garlic in oil with Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper. Then I add whatever veggies I happen to find – aubergine, courgette, green pepper for example. Chop them up and add to the sautéed mix, plus a tin of tomatoes or tomato paste. This makes a quick Ratatouille which goes well with crusty bread. Or whole-wheat pasta. When I can’t be bothered to cook, I keep a few tins of Ratatouille in the cupboard. To increase the protein in this meal, add a can of beans or lentils.
Vegan omelette with red cabbage salad
If you can find soft tofu, a great protein rich main course to make is a thick vegetable Omelette. You’re wanting to mix together a block of tofu, 2 – 3 Tablespoons of soy milk, 1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard, plus salt and pepper to taste. Blend with your stick blender. In another bowl mix 2 Tablespoons corn flour, 2 Tablespoons chickpea flour (farine pois chiches) and about 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together until you get a thick batter. Add more of one or the other if need be. Lastly blend in 2 Tablespoons finely milled flaxseeds. Set aside for 20 minutes. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil. Add seasonings, salt, pepper plus whatever veggies you have at hand, red peppers, spinach, squashes for example. The more vegetables – the better. When the veggies are cooked, stir the omelette batter into the pan, turn down the heat and allow to cook for at least 20 minutes. It will look dry when cooked. Place a plate over your pan and flip over to remove the omelette. Turn it over and return to pan to brown the other side. Around 20 minutes more. Cut into slices and serve with a fresh green salad. You can also use this mix to make a quiche. Line a pie dish with ready-made pastry. Fill with the omelette mix and bake at 180’C for about 40 minutes or until cooked.
Another quick satisfying meal is a veggie soup. You can skip the whole browning of onions bit and simply pop whatever veggies you have at hand into a pot with a stock cube or two. Or a Bouquet Garni. Adding a couple of potatoes helps thicken a soup and creates a faux creamy texture without having to use cream. I always add an onion or two for flavour. Bring to the boil and then simmer until veggies are soft. Don’t overcook them. Blitz with your stick blender. Top with a dollop of soy yoghurt and serve with a lemon wedge and French Bread.
Two soups that you can make in advance and serve cold are Vichyssoise and Petit Pois Soup. Make the Vichyssoise from leeks and the Petit Pois Soup from little green peas. Use day or two old French bread as croutons for your soups. Lightly rub the sides of your bread with an olive oil and garlic mix. You can fry the bread to make it crispier.