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Make your own muesli by mixing together whatever you can find from – nuts and seeds to grains such as rolled oats or rice flakes. Lightly pan toast them if you like a roasted flavour. Dried fruit such as figs, cranberries, apricots or raisins add extra punch and sweetness as do spices such as cloves, nutmeg or cardamom. We keep a batch of it going in a jar. Place a portion in a bowl, pour over a plant milk and pile on fresh fruit.
You can also make overnight oats by soaking oats in a plant milk – overnight. In the morning we add grated or finely chopped fruit such as apple or pear, nuts such as flaked almonds plus a sprinkle of spice such as cinnamon or ginger. That’s a healthy breakfast if ever there was one.
Puy Lentils are so versatile. You often find them in mesh bags in the produce aisle. They cook in no time and I use them as a base to make all sorts of things. For quick rissoles or burgers, season cooked Puy Lentils with ground stock cubes or soy sauce, a generous portion of tomato paste and seasonings such as smoked paprika, black pepper and chili. Then mix in finely milled flax seeds. (Approximately 1 Cup lentils to 3 Tablespoons flaxseeds.) I use our coffee grinder to mill seeds and grains. Allow to stand for at least 20 minutes. Adding finely milled oats will help firm them up if they need more dry ingredients. Shape and fry in oil until brown on both sides. Serve with a fresh green salad.
Mushroom steak, pumpkin and savoury tempeh
For a yummy faux gras, instead of cruel foie gras, sauté finely chopped mushrooms, onions and garlic in oil with soy sauce and a bit of sugar until golden. Add seasonings such as thyme, salt and black pepper, a splash of cognac (brandy or sherry), some pan toasted and crushed nuts or seeds – mash into cooked Puy Lentils. You can use a stick blender for a creamy texture, but I like it a bit chunky. Delicious on French Bread.
I also make Savoury Lentils. It’s the vegan alternative to mince. Finely slice a good few onions and sauté in oil until transparent. Add Puy Lentils and enough water to cook the lentils. Also add soy sauce or miso or stock cubes for flavour. Allow to cook until soft. Keep simmering if there is too much liquid. Or thicken with a sprinkle of GMO-free corn starch. These go well with flat-breads or pancakes (crêpes) as a savoury dish.
Lyonnaise Lentil Salad is fabulous cold dish. Make a vinaigrette with vinegar, oil, salt and pepper and any other seasonings you fancy. Finely chop some onions, finely dice or grate a carrot or two and you can also finely dice or grate a potato or two. Sauté your onions first, then add potatoes, then carrots, in a little oil until cooked. Add drained cooked lentils while still warm to the vinaigrette so they soak up the flavours as they cool. Add the sauteed veg soon after and mix well. Serve cold in lettuce leaves.
Spinach flatbread, hummus, vegan cold meat and fresh veggies
Flat-breads are stupid easy to make. Mix whole-wheat flour with water to make a dough. Add more or less water or flour to get a dough. The more you knead your dough, the softer your flat-breads will be. Allow to rest for 20 minutes. Roll out your dough on a floured surface until thin. No rolling pin? Use a wine bottle to roll. Dry fry your flat breads in a semi-hot pan until cooked on both sides. They might fill with air. Just push them flat with a spatula or spoon. Keep them warm in a kitchen cloth until you’re ready to serve them.
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Nut cheezes on the other hand are dead simple to make. You want a benign flavoured nut. Cashews are perfect for a fresh soft Chèvre or Goat Cheeze. Skinless almonds make a lovely Ricotta style cheeze and Macadamias are good for a firmer, mature cheeze. Most other nuts have too much of an individual nut taste to use as a base for a cheeze. There are two things you want to get right. You need your nuts as soft as possible to blend them to a creamy mix. And you want as little liquid as possible, so they can hold a shape. I find if I pour boiling water over my nuts, allow that to cool, and let them soak overnight in the fridge, I get them as soft as is possible. When I’m ready, I pour away all the water and blend adding as little water as I can get away with to get the soaked nuts to a creamy mixture.
To make a French Chèvre use blended cashew nuts, add lemon juice and salt to taste. Shape into little logs in wax paper and set in the refrigerator. Roll in chopped fresh herbs or cracked black pepper before serving.
To make a Sweet Almond Ricotta use blended peeled almonds, add vanilla, a dash of salt and a sweetener to taste. Serve in a small round bowl and use for desserts.
To make a Mature Cheeze use blended macadamia nuts blend and add 2 – 3 probiotic capsules. Wrap in a cloth and allow to drain in a sieve on top of a bowl at room temperature for 24 – 48 hours. It will cultivate. The colour will darken and the flavour will change. Remove from cloth and mash with a fork. You can add acids such as vinegar or lemon juice and salt at this stage. Do not add them before as they will kill the bacteria. I only add miso, nutritional yeast and a bit of salt to my mature cheeze. Shape into rounds and then flatten slightly. This goes well with French bread and fresh grapes or figs.
Green salad with pea and rice rissoles
Every village, town or city will have a food market. Some are small, while others take up a whole section of the city. Market Day may only be one day a week, or a bigger place may have Market Day – every day. You can ask at the Tourism Office or check with locals. Fresh produce is the main attraction, but they sell quite a bit of animal foods. And sometimes – sadly – even live animals! Complimentary products like baskets, herbs, plants and even clothes also feature. Much as we love the markets, they are not always good value. Supermarkets have as good produce, at better prices. But the hype, energy, tastings and vendors vying for your custom are a treat. You sometimes meet the farmers face to face and they throw in a bit extra for free. And you find items you would never see at the supermarkets. Mixed colour carrots, white asparagus and black radishes for example. We never miss a Market Day, even if all we buy is one or two items.
Vegan milk, yogurt and ice cream
Most supermarkets have an organic (bio) section in the produce area where they put organic fruit and veg together. We still like to check out the normal produce, and local food in season is always cheapest. Favourite French fruits are melons, peaches, nectarines, apples, grapes, pears and apricots. Typical French veggies include courgettes, aubergines, garlic, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, lettuces and potatoes. Most names are similar to the English name i.e. apricots – abricots; tomato – tomate. And then some are nothing like their English counterparts i.e. apple – pomme; mushroom – champignon. You’re usually expected to weigh and label your produce before you pay at the till. If the item is listed as vrac, it means it’s loose. If it says pièce it means the whole item or the price per pack.
We’ve also noticed a regional produce section in many supermarkets. They have an aisle or section where they showcase only local foods. Usually long-life items like wines, olives, honey, mustards as well as things like mugs, kitchen towels and other items with either the local crest or some image reminiscent of that particular region. We’ve found excellent wines at bargain prices in the regional produce area.
Strawberry protein smoothie
My husband and I have a plant protein smoothie every single morning of our lives. You should find plant protein powders and Superfoods at local health shops. Google Happycow.net to find health shops in your area or ask at the Tourism Information Office. We always travel with our own protein powders sealed in Ziploc bags. Only need a powder to mess in your luggage once to learn that lesson. Soak oats overnight with vanilla extract to taste. In the morning, place in a tall jug and add a plant milk. Then add a fruit such as pear, banana, berries or melon. Next add a spoon of any nut butter, avocado or coconut oil. Add in protein powders and Superfood powders. Finish off with flavours or spices. Blend with a stick blender until smooth and serve. If that doesn’t set you up for the day, nothing will.
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Since we’ve travelled in the rural areas of France, mostly in Burgundy, our experience is not many people speak English. It goes without saying food packaging is in French. We’ve had to learn how to identify food names in French. Supermarkets like Carrefour have food labels in French and Dutch for the Belgian market. If the labels have Dutch we can figure out what the ingredients are, as we speak a bit of Afrikaans. Food in health shops is often better labelled including English and German. A mini English/French dictionary is handy. Or if you have data – use the Google Translate app.
French veggie recipe magazines
When it comes to paying, I have absolutely no idea how much money they’re asking for. They speak so fast, and it takes me so long to translate what they are saying back into English, that it’s easier to read the value that has been rung up on the till. Our favourite supermarkets are Monoprix and Carrefour. There are a few different supermarkets – E.LeClerc, Auchan, Atac, 8 a Huit, etc, but those two are the best ones to find vegan friendly foods.
There are some amazing health food shops in France. Happycow.net will list them. We top up when we find a health shop, and buy items such as flax seeds, agave nectar, gluten flour, chickpea flour, fake vegan sausages, fake vegan meats, nut cheezes, miso, etc. They are more expensive. It’s how it is. I buy unroasted and unsalted nuts at health shops to make vegan cheezes.
Our haul from a health food shop
I’m going to put a couple of my favourite recipes in here. I don’t like following recipes and only one or two of the recipes here need measuring. It’s about getting the texture right. Too dry? Add more wet ingredients or water. Too wet? Add more dry ingredients. You also want to get the taste right. Include spices or seasonings you love, leave out flavours that don’t appeal to you. Taste your food and add seasonings a little at a time. Adding more until you’re happy. You can always add more but can’t take out. For extra sweetness I usually use stevia liquid or powder. I try to use as little processed food as possible. And do my best to limit what’s known as the three white devils in our food – white salt, white sugar and white flour.
I also try to use as little fat as I can get away with. That said, sometimes you need fat for flavour. Opt for the healthiest versions possible. When frying, I use a tiny amount of oil and add water so I’m more sweating food rather than drowning it in fat and burning it. A few years back my other half and I did a couple of raw food courses and that completely changed how we prepare food. Before, I would cook the life out of my food. Now I will either place veggies like beans or cauliflower in a bowl and cover with boiling water for a few minutes rather than boiling it continuously. When making a soup, I’ll bring it to the boil and take my pot off the flame immediately leaving the soup to cook in retained heat. I pre-soak lentils and grains to reduce cooking time. And remove saponins, which makes them more digestible.
Fresh food market
Ah cheese! That one hurdle many vegans struggle with. They say you eventually get over cheese, but I never believed it. However, over the years people who have stayed on the boat with us have left a bit of cheese behind. I used to eat it, but no more. Now, I throw it away. My taste buds really have changed. Making your own vegan cheeze is not that difficult. Even with a stick blender. None of them have the creamy mouth feel and meltability of animal cheese so give up on that expectation from the outset.
Green pea soup, pasta and creme brulee
Block cheezes usually use blended nuts or a plant milk – and an oil – usually neutral-taste oil or deodorised coconut oil. Then you need one or more setting agents such as agar agar, tapioca flour, kappa carrageenan or corn flour. Plus, flavourings to get a cheese like flavour. Flavourings to think of are one or more of the following – nutritional yeast, salt, lemon juice, cider vinegar, mustard, liquid smoke, garlic and onion powders, white wine or miso. I’m not going to give recipes for block cheezes. You can find Facebook groups dedicated to vegan cheeze making and heaps of recipes and videos on-line. I will share what I have learned. The trick is to simmer them on a medium heat – not high heat – in a sauce pan. Cook them long enough that the setting agents are activated – around 5 – 8 minutes. Agar agar can be compromised by acids like lemon juice and vinegar. If you’re using them – add them last. These cheezes set fast, so have a steralised mould ready. I use a heat-proof plastic container.
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One of the best bits about traveling in France is enjoying French foods. Words like chef, gastronomy, cuisine, Michelin stars and café spring to mind. They take food seriously in France. Very seriously. Lunchtime, anywhere from 12.00pm to 14.30pm, is sacred. Lock-keepers on the waterways go off for déjeuner (lunch). In smaller towns – the shops close. We like that. My other half and I are often asked what we eat. I thought I would share what vegans eat while barging in France. We eat similar food back home.
Soy yogurt and berry confit parfait
French food varies considerably from region to region. In the south it’s all olives, garlic and tomatoes whereas near the German border they love sauerkraut and sausages. Where we had been traveling, in Burgundy, they’re famous for Boeuf Bourguignon, Bresse Chickens and good quality wines – amongst other things. Don’t underestimate the influence North Africa and the Middle East has had on French food. Couscous is a favourite meal. In Paris we hunt down one of the many Lebanese restaurants. They serve the most delicious made-on-the-spot falafel and salad plates.
As a vegan couple I won’t lie, it is trickier to eat out. But it’s tricky no matter where we go. However, each year it gets easier. People don’t realise how fast the plant-based food movement is growing in France. In the world actually. We check out Happycow.net before we get to a place. If we can’t find anywhere to eat, then we improvise, taking inspiration from what we find in the French supermarkets and see on the menus at cafes and brasseries. You don’t have to be in France to enjoy French food. Plenty dishes, particularly what is known as peasant cuisine such as Ratatouille, are already vegan. Swap out eggs for corn starch and dairy cream for soy cream to make a crème brûlée. Skip the beef and use mushrooms to make a Mushroom Bourguignon. Maybe some of the ideas that follow might add a Gallic touch to your vegan home cooking?
Marinated tofu steak with veggie risotto
I was prompted to write this section as one of the books I took with me to read on the boat was – The Happy Vegan – by Russel Simmons. I thought he did a great job explaining why he went vegan. It made perfect sense. He backed up all his arguments with supporting information. One thing he speaks about – is how he finds and makes food when he goes away. I thought this information might help someone who follows a plant-based diet on the French Waterways or even visiting France – to plan and make meals. Or maybe help someone who wants to increase the pant-based quotient in their diet?
One of the things Russel says, and it’s so true, is that vegans eat the same as everyone else. They just make their food differently. Burgers, cheeses, omelettes, meringues and yoghurt for example, are not off the menu. It just requires using different ingredients, techniques and flavourings to make them. The easiest way to find recipes for your favourite food in a vegan version is to go on-line and search for food you would like to make – with the word vegan next to it. Try vegan meringues or vegan omelettes. You will not believe how many recipes come up.
Most boats have a gas hob and oven. Ours has a ceramic electric hob – but no oven. So, baking and grilling are out of the question. Since we like to eat as much fresh and raw food as possible, it’s not been a problem. We have a small kettle BBQ that we sometimes fire up and make food like kebabs, stuffed foods or fire roasted veggies. We have a small fridge/freezer which means we must shop fairly regularly. A stick blender is an absolute must. If you don’t have one available, then pack one. They aren’t particularly heavy and are extremely useful. The more powerful the better. You can make delicious smoothies, soups, juices, pâtes, nut cheeses, nut milks, salad dressings, pistous and sauces with a stick blender. I also cannot live without a coffee grinder. They are small, and not only do they make fresh coffee, I use ours to make flours from grains and nuts and also to mill flax seeds.
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