Monday, 30 November 2015

Cruelty Free Products

Recently I started substituting all of our cosmetic and cleaning products to cruelty free versions. I don't know why some animal tested products had found their way back in but they had. Maybe I just got lazy over the years or to be honest I think I just stopped checking products after a while as I thought I knew who tested and who didn't.

Also AVON started testing on animals again. Which screwed up my whole system as ALL of my cosmetics were from them!! So I had to restart the whole process of finding cruelty free cosmetics, and I thought I might as well redo the cleaning products while I was at it. Seriously AVON wtf, like wt actual f. Anyway...

It is so much easier nowadays as you can check in store on your phone if a company tests on animals (when I went veggie in the olden days it was if in doubt don't buy it, go home and look it up or ring them on the landline and ask...then go back and buy it if it was ok). I also use facebook groups and this website or this one, and the BUAV leaping bunny logo is on approved products. 
The Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny
I tend to operate on the assumption that if something doesn't have it on the label that it doesn't test on animals then they probably do...some beauty brands I have found that are cruelty free:
  • Superdrug - All own brand products are cruelty free and most are vegan (If I'm giving up cheese I damn well won't ruin my efforts with non vegan shampoo!). This includes make up, sun creams, all dental products, ladies sanitary items etc. Superdrug is my first choice now to be honest, it's like a one stop cruelty free shop :) Their vitamin E Oatmeal range is really nice the face scrub leaves my skin really nice and soft and the day cream has spf in it and it's not too heavy or greasy. 
  • Body Shop -  All body shop products are cruelty free. However, their parent company L'oreal tests on animals. Depending on your opinion this may be an issue or not, in this day and age most companies on my list will have a parent company or partner that is not up to my ethical standards somehow I am just not aware of it, realistically as long as the actual product I'm using was not animal tested I'm reasonably happy to use it if there's not an alternative, but I do try to find alternatives to these if I can and don't buy at the Body Shop so much now.
  • Lush - Lots of vegan products too and the bath bombs are just awesome aren't they?! I've not tried much of their 'proper' beauty stuff just soaps and fizzy bath things but I hear good things about moisturisers and face masks.
  • Own brand Sainsbury's - Other big supermarkets own brands are also meant to be good (I hear Asda and Tesco and Morrisons have similar ranges) but I have only tried Sainbury's so far. The own brands beauty products are all BUAV approved, I use their own brand deodorant, soap and cleaning products.
  • Co-Op - Their cosmetics and toiletries are BUAV approved. I have used some of their range before but mainly it's little things like hand soap and washing up liquid that you might just pop to the local shop for. 
So far these few brands have been plenty, they are all easily available on the local high street and have everything I need. I'm not a great make up wearer, I don't wear it day to day only if I'm dressing up...but I had a skim over the BUAV approved list and recognised these brands from local shops ELF, Barefaced Beauty, Marks & Spencer, Liz Earle, Molton Brown, Pukka, Urban Decay. The list is massive I'm just make up challenged so don't recognise a lot!

Other Products
Cleaning products were actually more difficult, I've not found as much of a range of places but the few I have found and use are:
  • Astonish - I LOVE Astonish! It's UK produced, cruelty free and mostly Vegan, the washing liquid smells lush and most of all it is CHEAP! Most of the items in the range are £1 or thereabouts. They also do everything. I use their washing liquid, bathroom cleaner, mould spray, carpet shampoo, oven cleaner, hob cleaner, multi surface spray, pot & pan cleaner, liquid soap...I keep finding new things! I get it in The Range, Poundland or Savers.
  • Own brand - Again own brand Sainbury's or Co-Op I have used but I hear others have a range. Before I discovered the joys of the Astonish range (I am not even being sarcastic there I literally love them) I used mostly own brand stuff. I still use own brand washing up liquid as I've not seen Astonish locally, either Sainbury's or Co-op.
Brands I've not yet tried but am squirrelling away in case of Astonish shortage (I do find it not always readily available, Poundland can have it in one day and not the next so am always looking out for alternatives just in case) 

  • Ecover - Seems to be getting more available, it is certainly stocked in 2 of my local shops. This range appears more expensive but I hear good things about the washing up liquid. 
  • Method - Non toxic and natural products, I've heard people rave about them but so far not actually seen them in a local shop. 
  • Marks and Spencer, Wholefoods or Waitrose - These are the more up market supermarkets and their ranges are meant to be good, I just don't regularly shop there (I'm not very posh I'm afraid) so haven't had a look. I do go to whole foods occasionally to stock up on what Tom calls my 'weird foods' like smoked tofu, quinoa in bulk and when I just want to browse the new vegan offerings but I tend to just go there for food. and then run away before my bank account realises where I am and starts to cry. 
I also don't wear leather, suede or fur of course and have some tips for similar ethical clothes wearers. 

  • Vegetarian shoes that are stylish and affordable do exist! Do not be put off by what comes up when you google vegan shoes. New Look shoes are my best friends, the non leather ones of course, I hear they are approved by PETA. Also goes for wallets, bags, belts and other accessories. 
  • I got my wedding shoes from Mels Shoes, they are beautiful and smell like my little ponies. Enough said. I got the heart glittered but it was originally red.
  • Trainers can be an issue as a lot of them have leather in them somewhere, shop around for your preferred style. New Look again if non leather for casual trainers, for actual training trainers I have some Karrimor ones. 
  • Fake leather is pretty abundant nowadays, I have a jacket from Primark that I love but beware that fake leather does not breathe well.
That's my brain dump on my experience recently, feel free to comment and let me know any of your tips or brands!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Vegan and vegetarian food while eating out

A lot of questions people ask me generally, or if they are considering giving up meat and/or dairy, is about eating at restaurants. 

I had my first meal out as fully vegan last week (before I've noted vegan choices but not necessarily always picked them), I made a little extra effort than I had before and rang the restaurant we planned to go to in advance to check what they had available. We went to the Storyteller in Cheltenham.

They were very helpful on the phone advising that at least 2 of the vegetarian options could be made vegan easily if I just ask for no cheese or dressing. It’s south west American food, the fajitas and burrito could easily be made vegan I was informed. It was no hassle ordering, the waiter got what I wanted straight away and adjusted my order with no problems. It was also really nice and I got extra guacamole with my starter as I wasn't having the cheese dip, without me even asking. Great service, and the food is reliably tasty, fresh and interesting every time we go and the vegan option was no different. 
Over the years I have had a few sub-par meals but only been to one place where they had literally nothing for me, so I’ve put together a brief guide on what type of places I find best for providing decent options and what type of places to avoid. Most of these are UK based but some of the generic cuisine groups will apply in other countries. These are places I have just found to be good or not so good in my own experience, but it is always worth reading the menus as there will of course be exceptions to this – or maybe I’ve been to the exceptions!
Let’s start with where I have struggled as it’s a shorter list:
  1. French – I find not many French restaurants have a great choice, some will have vegetarian but it is usually very cheese laden. The only restaurant I have ever had to leave after sitting down and ordering drinks, as they had nothing and didn’t want to modify any menu items for me, was a French place in San Francisco. In Paris I also struggled and didn’t even sit down in a lot of places. I’m sure there are places in Paris but it was a surprise trip and I wasn’t prepared.
  2. BBQ or steak houses – Obvious really.
  3. Chain pub/restaurant places – Talking your reasonably price family eatery/pub, Beefeater etc. Most will have some vegetarian options, but not much vegan in my experience. Also the food is sometimes pre prepared so there can be little room for alterations, or the places I have been are just unwilling to alter. Harvester do have a salad bar that you can fill up on.
These kind of places will likely have something but you are often going to only have one option, or have to have an array of side dishes rather than a main course.

Places/cuisines that are better:

  • South American/Mexican – You can usually have the fajitas, quesadillas etc with meat or vegetable filling, ask for no cheese and no sour cream and a lot can be made vegan. Check about dairy in the refried beans and quesadilla filling though.
  • Indian – Again curry usually comes with option for meat or vegetable, and they use coconut cream not dairy cream in many recipes. Be careful of things being cooked in ghee for vegans, just ask what they cook in.
  • Chinese – A lot I’ve been to have a vegetarian section of the menu, and lots from that can be vegan.
  • Thai – Use of tofu in Thai food seem more common and it’s part of the main menu not a side option for vegetarians, after eating lots of carbs and wine in Napa I was so happy to find a Thai restaurant with vegan options and tofu, and cider!
  • Caribbean – We have a small Caribbean restaurant near us called Marinades with a vegan section of the menu, I hear this is quite usual for Caribbean places, Turtle Bay also have good vegetarian options although in our local one they are not marked with a v or anything you have to ask to be sure.
  • Local pubs – I am always surprised by the choices in small local places. We have a pub in town called The Swan who do quite a few vegan options, most pubs nearby also do plenty of vegetarian things. If it’s somewhere you go often and they know you will be a repeat customer if they enable you to eat there then independent places are usually quite receptive to feedback in my experience.
  • Carvery – Toby Carvery have multiple vegan options for main, and even dessert. We have a local carvery that also do great vegetarian options. It’s the last place I expected to find such choice!
  • Italian – LOADS of vegetarian options, vegan possibly without the cheese.
  • Pizza – Lots of vegetarian, and vegan if you find a place where the base is vegan and have it with no cheese. Most places will do pizza without cheese if you ask but the base may contain dairy so worth checking. Papa Johns, Pizza Hut (I hear not delivery only restaurant) and Pizza Express do vegan bases, sometimes you have to order the gluten free or light bases so check the menu or ask.
    Papa Johns Pizza with some Tesco soy cheese
  • Tapas/small plates – Usually a few options for vegans, and quite a lot for vegetarians, in the places I’ve been. Great for group meals as you just order all the vegetarian and vegan choices, and then some others if you have people who can’t live without meat.
  • Vegan and vegetarian cafes and restaurants are becoming more common – always worth looking up to see if there is one near you. We have 2 in Cheltenham. The hardest part is persuading people to come with you!
I started taking these cards to anywhere that I go that has good options, as I think giving positive feedback and praise, and highlighting that I have chosen to eat there for their vegan choices is as important as asking restaurants with poor vegan choice to improve. I saw similar online and thought it was a great idea. I’m always looking to give praise where due, and selfishly if it helps give more choices when I go back or ensures their vegan options stay on the menu then great!

General tips for eating out when starting as a vegetarian or vegan are:
  • Most places will do something vegetarian at least, vegan is a little harder and you might have to ask them to modify a meal. Most will be able to at least do you something even if it’s just a jacket potato with beans, or some chips and salad. It’s just about smart choices and picking where you eat.
  • Most places use the V symbol to mark vegetarian, but not all places mark vegan out of those options. Some put Vn or Vegan by them, but you will often have to ask. Not all places will mark vegetarian although it is becoming common, again just ask if you aren’t sure.
  • If in doubt ask to see the allergy booklet. This will include what has dairy in it.
  • Sometimes things look vegetarian but don’t have the V by them although they are in use on other dishes on the menu – they may use meat stock or something so always ask don’t assume.
  • Be polite, but remember this is not an unreasonable request, don’t take poor customer service just because you need to ask a question, sometimes people can think you are being fussy or just don’t get what you want. Maybe they don’t even know what vegan means. Be direct but polite, explain what you need simply and clearly, stick to your guns and if the waiter can’t answer your question ask them to go ask the chef or manager. If they can’t do anything then advise you will have to take your custom elsewhere, which usually gets them motivated.
  • Set menus. Bane of my life, say you are going to a big banquet or have to pre order for a Christmas meal at a restaurant. There will often be a vegetarian option, but usually only one and I’ve rarely seen that be suitable for vegans. Again the best thing is just to phone the venue in question and explain what you need, as early as possible too so that they can have time to sort something different or alter an existing dish. Starters and desserts are usually ok to work around. Main course is the trickiest as often there is only that restricted menu being served. I’ve had plain risotto with some sprouts on top for a Christmas do, and had the menu redone to include something for me so the results can really vary.
    yay rice and sprouts for main course.
  • If there is nothing on the menu outside the door but you have limited options or you really want to try the restaurant (or the people you are with do) then it is always worth asking if they have any specials or could alter a dish for you. Most places will, some won’t but it is always worth checking.
  • If you are going with a large group and they book somewhere that is totally unsuitable like a steak house or something don’t automatically assume you can’t go, it’s always worth phoning the place to see what they can do for you.
  • If going abroad learn the phrases ‘I do not eat meat/fish/dairy’ ‘Do you have any vegetarian/vegan food?’ ‘no meat/fish/cheese’. I also learn the words for please, thank you etc too just for being polite, and of course the most important ‘1 white wine and 1 beer please’. If you can’t learn them maybe print them off or write them down to take with you, when we went to Albania I struggled to master any phrases (man it is a hard language!) so took a little sheet of phrases to read off, and if you can’t say what you mean just point to the phrase you want!
Good luck if you're starting out, and if you have any tips to share please do in the comments. I'll write up any restaurants we go to that have good vegan/vegetarian options. Toby carvery are probably next but their vegan choices are so good I need to go a few times to try them all off the new menu :)

Monday, 16 November 2015

Book Review

I read a lot, and since it’s back to school time and the weather is getting cooler I thought it was a perfect time to start sharing some of the books I've read so you might read them too! 
Revival – Stephen King
I am biased as I could read Stephen King all month, but this was another really good book that draws you in and gets into your head. As usual it’s not a book for anyone who doesn't like violence, death or gory details in their reading, as he doesn't spare your imagination in a lot of the novel. The start was interesting, set in a rural American town and from the perspective of a child. I found the characters really easy to get behind and you get the sense of gathering danger, tension and something brewing. The relationship with the preacher and the effect it has on the characters throughout their lives is a constantly evolving story, at the start you think he might be the good guy but that soon comes into question. The middle was also interesting about how the main character had turned out as an adult, the topics of drugs and recovery were well told from the perspective of an addict. Also a different setting than many of his books, and I enjoyed the change. I liked the beginning and middle much more than the end. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it went a bit beyond what I thought it would and was a little unbelievable. It was also kind of depressing, I know they are not usually the brightest books but this one actually made me a bit sad! 
Overall – 9/10 A great read and I finished it in a few days, but not my new favourite Stephen King novel.

The Book of Fires – Jane Borodale
To be honest I picked this up at random from the library because they didn't have any of the books I was looking for and I just wanted something to read.
I found the story slow to get going, and the main character Agnes a bit hard to get to like as we know nothing about her at the start other than she is poor and pregnant, to me she was very passive to what is going on in her life and around her. Once she gets bit of motion and the story picks up a few chapters in I was a little more interested, and in the middle to end of the book I started to like her better. However main character aside the descriptions of England in the 1750’s are very detailed and paint a wonderful picture, as with the fireworks and the sights and smells of the workshop. I found the writing style a little different at the start, but got used to it. I found myself skipping over sentences that were overly descriptive, but then finding other areas jarring and the writing very curt. The ending was unexpected and you really don’t know what Agnes is going to do about this baby until right in the last few chapters, which alternately annoyed and intrigued me. I wanted her to just make a decision, she makes this big change in the first few chapters then cannot seem to put any plan into action after that. I also found it a little unbelievable that she fell into a job straight off the cart from the countryside, there was little to no struggle or hardship for her on arrival to the city which would be more realistic.
Overall – 6/10 Not my usual reading but was interesting in parts, if the main character had a little more about her it might have been better but that is probably written to show how women of the period behaved.

Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses - Catriona McPherson
Again a book I picked up off the quick choice section of the library because I didn't really have time to look around, must go to the library with more time!
The book is a good read, I figured out the big twist pretty early on (it came to me while doing the washing up) but it didn't ruin it for me. The story follows Dandy Gilver and her partner on a trip to a girls school to figure out why the mistresses are disappearing, and there are a few side stories also. I feel like this would be a good holiday read, a story good enough to keep you interested but not too demanding or depressing. It’s quite an entertaining book, with insight into the period and attitudes towards married women working. The characters are well developed and relate-able, and this is part of a series but also works fine as a standalone book. The motivation for some of the characters to do certain things was a little vague for me, but I think the story as a whole is credible enough to work. It did stick in my mind, as mentioned I found myself thinking about the story while not actually reading the book which is always a good sign. I would be interested in possibly reading some of the other books of the series (which maybe feature her partner a little more as he was a bit part at best in this one) if they cross my path but haven’t so far rushed out to get them.
Overall – 7/10, entertaining and decent read, but for me lacking something maybe a few less twists for the story and a little more time spent on the main plot and motives of the characters would have helped.

The Martian - Andy Weir
I actually read this a few months ago but loved it and the film is out so want to include it. I would never usually pick up a book on space, but my work does a 6 book challenge over the summer where they pick books for you, and it’s great for expanding your reading. I'm sure the film won’t be as good, the book is always better, get in and read it before the film ruins it :)
I was truly gripped by this story from the start, it starts on Mars when an astronaut is left behind after the rest of the crew leave. This is where the story stays, with only short interludes back to earth to see what is happening with his colleagues. The writing has to be good to keep this one character Mark and his day to day activities as basically the whole book without the reader becoming bored. I found his character to be realistic and I could identify with him although we have NOTHING in common. There was humour and failures as well as really technical information that would usually bore me to tears but I found it interesting when related to a practical issue, i.e. what he could do with it to survive. You also really do not know what is going to happen and whether he will be rescued, I was reading literally holding my breath at the end! The only downside I could think of was that the book does end right at the rescue attempt, I was kind of sad not to see a little of the aftermath and the perspectives of the other characters on what had happened after being so invested in the plan to rescue him.
Overall – The best book I have read this year, funny, interesting and oddly quite real although about a man stuck on Mars.
Have you read any good books recently? Always looking for recommendations! x 

Monday, 9 November 2015

Newbie Vegan

First few weeks vegan went well! Feeling good, lost weight/bloat not sure but I look slimmer around the middle, eating well, not hungry, actually liking the lack of fat and grease from cheese. All in all it's been an easy-ish transition this time and I think it's going to stick.

Here's my finds, lessons and gratuitous food pictures.
I can still have  macaroni and broccoli 'cheese'
I went to a vegan fair on the 31st of October, so I went vegan fully 2 weeks before. I figured I'd be able to find any gaps in what I wanted and fill them at the fair. I was a little disappointed in the food choices there, a lot of bakery stuff so I had some nice cakes but I was looking for some food staples and a lot of it was cosmetics, accessories, and animal charities. Don't get me wrong all really good just not what I was hoping for as a new vegan.
Rice, tofu, spinach and nutritional yeast
However I did speak to some people from Pulsin' and got some vegan protein powders on offer, and some vitamins on offer from the vegan society so I'm set on those fronts for a few months.
Nachos with Tofutti sour 'cream' from Goodness Direct
I also got a box from goodness direct at the end of the first week as I saw them on a facebook group, I must say some of it is available in supermarkets I just didn't check first, but some of it isn't. This was by far the best buy and will definitely be making a repeat appearance.
The best vegan mayo I've had, it seriously tastes the same if not better than regular garlic mayo!

Nutritional yeast is also worth a mention, I add it to things for a cheesy taste and it contains B vitamins.

I also got loads of cheeses and will keep you posted if you're interested on which is best. Tesco smoked and cream cheese spread are also definitely worth a mention, they are very good. I was pleasantly surprised at the smoked cheese, and it melts! I was a happy newbie vegan when I discovered this. Considering they are also the cheapest I've found and Tesco own brand I am actually already declaring this as my favourite before even trying the others, they'll have to be good to beat it.

The Sheeze edam was really not very nice, it tasted like chemicals, so not 100% confident in the others.
Ritz crackers are also vegan, so I can still have crackers and 'cheese' when I settle on my favourite cheese!

This cheese is good for pizza and has a mild flavour like mozzarella, but doesn't really actually melt that well. Also quite expensive, so I may stick to the Tesco stuff as it actually melts.

My first vegan pizza - Sainsburys own brand pizza bases, lots of veg, some Tesco cheese and some Veganic, garlic mayo for crust dipping.
I also found Biscoffi spread, great if you have a sweet tooth and might miss chocolate spread. My word it is good. Do not buy if you are trying to be healthy!

A filling snack to take to work I found was some Alpro vanilla yoghurt with chia seeds in it and some frozen fruit, there were some chia pods on sale in Tesco for 16p each.
Tesco have the best selection of UK supermarkets it seems, our local one has a whole section of vegan cheeses, milks, yogurts. Brand names like Alpro and Violife but also an own brand range which is cheaper, always good to know. The freezer vegetarian section is also large, with vegan options included. The mexican bean burgers, with the smoked cheese on top and some avocado were my first night of being vegan dinner.
Lazy Dinner
We usually shop at Sainsburys and get cash back there so I may just pop into Tesco once every few weeks to top up my freezer stock and check out their range. I hear there are churros and an indian selection in their Christmas range that are both good, I'll test them out and let you know. I may have to test a few churros boxes, you know just to be sure it's good quality.
Vegetable bake with peanut butter tofu
Other than that my main meals have been mostly the same, just with some substitutions for vegan ingredients or taking the cheese out. Looking forward to some more discoveries :)

Check out my instagram and twitter for food pics and vegan finds as I go!

Monday, 2 November 2015

10 less obvious benefits of getting fitter

Everyone knows the big benefits of getting fitter, like losing weight, living longer and reducing your risk of certain health problems. There are however smaller, more personal or less talked about benefits that are also amazing, these are the ones I've experienced:
  1. Life is just easier, I can take the stairs, I can run around at work all day and still have the energy to go to the gym, I don't have to ask Tom to open jars for me any more, I can carry things that are heavy for longer, I can reach the top shelves without asking for help, I can sprint for the bus, I don't get tired standing at gigs and I don't overheat so quickly...
  2. You will eventually love feeling exhausted and sore, and the hour killing yourself at the gym or track will be the best part of your day. I relish getting covered in sweat, and feeling out of breath and tired. That's how you know it's working! I absolutely must come home at least one day a week and flop into the sofa proclaiming that I might die, I love feeling that I've pushed myself and made progress.
  3. You will see changes in random places and learn to love new parts of your body that you never noticed before. When you lose weight and gain muscle it happens everywhere, including your neck, face, feet, hands, ankles, knees...
  4. You will have SO much more energy. I used to lie in both days of the weekend for hours, now I get up at least one day of the weekend early ish to go to the gym. I also go 3 times a week straight from work for up to 2 hours. This would be ridiculous to me 3 years ago, but the more you do the more you can and want to do. This transfers to energy and motivation at work, at home and in life.
  5. You will feel proud of the small achievements and the big ones, yeah you want to run that race and will feel like a badass afterwards but you will also be grinning like an idiot after adding just 1 more minute to your max time on the treadmill.
  6. After you've been getting fit for a while, parts of the rest of your life will naturally change too. I drink less alcohol, eat better, and sleep more without ever having really made a conscious effort to do so. It has been a gradual slow change to certain ways of eating to fuel my body better, and if I drink the night before I'm going to the gym I don't perform as well. Also if you have been to work then to the gym for 2 hours getting home late and tired, then an early night is often inevitable!
  7. Strength is amazing to have in day to day life as a girl. I can lift my nieces and carry them around and put them on my shoulders, that isn't reserved just for their dads and uncles any more. I can move furniture around whenever I like, I can carry my own suitcase thank you very much, I can lift deliveries at work and of course I can carry far more shopping bags home from town :)
  8. You will just feel better about life. I can't explain it but I feel more awake than when I was a smoker living a sedentary lifestyle. I'm more motivated, more energetic, more open to new things, I get ill less, I get less aches and pains, I get less headaches and days where I feel tired. I have met new people, made a new lifestyle, made positive changes in my body, mind and life. 
  9. On that note you will also look better generally if you are living a healthy lifestyle, my skin is clearer, my hair is in good condition, I lost weight/puffiness around my face and neck at the start and I get less breakouts and greasy hair now I am eating better. 
  10. Taking care of yourself physically makes you really value your body. I am amazed at what I have put myself through over the last 2 years and that it has made my body what it is today, and me who I am today. I take care of myself so much better in other ways now, I get regular hair cuts, use better skin products and take daily multivitamins and vegetarian omega 3 capsules. I take time for myself every so often to recharge, I reward myself regularly - NOT always with food - I treat myself to a relaxing bath, a new book or new clothes. Little things that keep you loving life. I invest in my health and myself more, because you only get one body and self, and this is it.
There are so many more benefits to list! Leave me any of your weird or personal fitness perks in the comments :)