My vegan, dairy & sugar free flapjacks | Simply Marcia


Shortcuts and top tips to a more healthy, mindful, positive and energised you!

My vegan, dairy & sugar free flapjacks

I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen! Our supply of delicious Deliciously Ella sweet potato brownies (for my sugar free February challenge) are no more, so I thought I’d have a go at making some sugar-free* flapjacks.

*Technically, these flapjacks aren’t completely sugar free as they contain 1) maple syrup and 2) squished banana and a few blueberries so I’m not sure how truly healthy-healthy they are? But, whilst sugar-free February is going well, I do need some kind of sweet hit once a day – so, ta dah! This is it:

VEGAN, DAIRY & (REFINED) SUGAR-FREE FLAPJACKS

INGREDIENTS

180g oats
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large mashed banana
1/4 punnet blueberries

METHOD

Thankfully, no special skills are required when it comes to the method – simply:

– mash the banana
– add the olive oil, maple syrup & vanilla extract & give it all a bit of a stir
– stir in the oats
– gently stir in the blueberries
– grease a small’ish cooking tin/tray with a little olive oil
– tumble the flapjack mix in to the tray and gently flatten
– chuck in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 180C

Allow to cool a bit before cutting in to little squares (I go as small as possible!) and enjoy with a cuppa!

Do you have a favourite, tried & tested sugar-free recipe? Please let me know – I’m in need of more inspiration! x


Dry January – how was it?

So Dry January is over. I did it! A big tick and gold star to me! I can officially have a swig sip of my favourite gin!

Why the Dry January challenge?

Well … it’s a well known fact amongst my family and friends that I enjoy a drop or two of Mother’s Ruin. I’m not a daily boozer though – usually just a weekend gin indulger – I can’t bear or function with a weekday groggy head. However, December just gone, I certainly kicked back and indulged (almost every day). But by day 29, even I was at the point of ‘NO MORE!’ and made the decision to partake in Dry January (however, I did actually go on to see December’s ginathon through, right up until the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, obviously).

Health
I was starting to worry that my poor liver was taking such a battering, and imagined it shrinking and recoiling back every time a gin was poured – it needed a little holiday from being permanently pickled. But also, a really good friend had just found out that she had breast cancer. Horrible. Breast Cancer Now is one of the charities being supported by Dry January this year so it felt like another super-important reason.

Finances
When my partner and I worked out how much money we spent on a) bottles of gin for a tipple or five, at home on the sofa, plus evenings at our local, it was a bit pretty shocking. Eek. Time to reign it in. The money we’ve not spent on boozing has gone towards our holidays pot (cue smug face).

Willpower
Not one of my strengths. The thing is, open-ended resolutions such as ‘I’m going to get fitter and be healthier in 2018’ just don’t work for me. I’m a deadlines kind of person. So giving myself a finite amount of time to quit, give up or try something seemed much more achievable. And actually, I really wanted to prove to (mainly) myself and others that I could do it.

How was Dry January?
Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I thought – really. I mean, it wasn’t always easy, but telling EVERYBODY I knew helped massively. I had so much support. Helped no end by the fact that my partner joined me in my Dry January efforts.

I knew that Friday evenings would be the toughest for me. They’d come to mark the end of the working week and the start of the weekend – woohoo! Usually the time for me to let my hair down, head to the pub and sink a couple … So the first Friday was quite hard. In fact, we avoided the pub all that weekend. Instead, we treated ourselves to box set binging (we managed to binge-watch all 4 series of Peaky Blinders in 2 weeks – quite an achievement ha!) and homemade sparkling juice drinks and smoothies.

Once we got through that first weekend, I really felt a sense of achievement. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that it was probably my first weekend of zero alcohol for maybe 10 years (hangs head in shame), so to wake up on the Monday morning (hangover free) having smashed it felt really, really good (it’s the little things init?).

Dry January Motivation
The high from having completed one week alcohol free really gave me the motivation to stick to it and see the challenge through for the whole month. We did venture to the pub on a few occasions after that to a) prove that we could go to the pub and not drink and b) because we still wanted to socialise and not hibernate for a month! We stuck to good ol’ soda water and lime or the occasional bottle of Becks Blue (which actually, tastes alright – I mean I felt a bit like a student all over again, swigging from the bottle and all that – but I totally recommend).

Benefits of Dry January
Ok, I won’t lie to you, I kind of expected to feel fantastic within a week. I was expecting to look bright eyed and bushy-tailed. Instead, for most of the month actually, I still felt pretty groggy with a heavy head and was really, really tired – so I kind of felt the same as usual to be honest! Springing out of bed I was not. However, I stuck with it as the thought of all the positive health benefits for my liver kept me motivated.

Initially I really wasn’t sleeping any better than usual – in fact I had real trouble trying to fall asleep. In the last week though, I’ve definitely experienced an improvement in my sleep. I can drop off quite easily, am sleeping through until the alarm goes off and don’t feel the need for a mid-afternoon power nap.

I think I might have lost a couple of pounds too! We don’t have scales in our house so I can’t be sure but I definitely feel less bloated and waistbands are looser (hurrah). Maybe, due to the fact that I haven’t been consuming any empty alcoholic calories but also because, going hand-in-hand with boozing it up, was my late night calorie-laden, case of the monstrous munchies. And that’s just not been happening either.

My skin has always been mostly ok’ish with just the odd flare-up, however, one massive benefit of Dry January has been that my skin has been noticeably so much clearer and my eyes and face much less puffy and ‘angry’ on a Monday morning. Which has made me very happy!

What I’ve learnt from my Dry January experience
Whilst it’s not been massively life changing or transformative, Dry January for me has been a really positive experience. Not only do I feel (and hopefully look) better, but my liver is probably very, very grateful and I’ve learnt I can socialise and not drink at all.

I think the bigger challenge for me going forward will be moderation. I’ve proved I can abstain (and equally I can go all out!) but controlled, non-excessive drinking will be a new learning curve for me; to take my time properly enjoying and sipping a favourite gin (rather than necking it back).

Would I do Dry January again?
I could be persuaded to take a month off the booze again but actually, I have plans instead for mini breaks from the booze. To take it easy on a regular basis. But never say never!

Final thought: I’ve discovered I do have willpower. And I feel that maybe as well as addressing my alcohol consumption, I’ve also addressed and reset my mindset when it comes to challenges. So, I’ve set myself a further 11 monthly challenges for this year. Sugar Free February is next – wish me luck!


Going sugar free this February?

WHY AM I DOING SUGAR FREE FEBRUARY?

As I bathe in the smug glow of having successfully achieved Dry January, and having found I do actually have some kind of restraint and willpower, I’ve decided to throw myself in to Sugar Free February. I don’t think I have a massive sweet tooth (I do love cheese however!) or consume a huge amount of sugar but I’m guessing the truth is that I probably do. It’s hidden in some of the unlikeliest foods …

So, to help boost my health, discover new recipes and hopefully help me make some longer-term sugar-free changes, I’m going to give it a go!

WHAT ARE MY SUGAR FREE RULES?

– no added sugar
– no ready-made or processed foods
– homemade meals and snacks only
– fruit, dried fruit, maple syrup, honey and cacao powder are allowed*

*I want to be realistic and find natural and healthier alternatives to refined sugar on a long-term basis. Plus these ingredients have many health benefits in themselves.

MY GOALS FOR SUGAR FREE FEB

– to experiment with and create some new family-friendly sweet treats – both The Body Coach and Deliciously Ella have some yummy-sounding and easy-to-make sugar free recipes (they will be my lifeline I suspect)
– to make healthy choices and food swaps – so nibbling on nuts and seeds rather than biscuits and the like
– to create sugar free versions of sauces that normally have loads of hidden sugar – things like sweet chilli sauce, tomato ketchup – and baked beans!

CHALLENGES I CAN FORSEE

– two birthdays in our family this month (eek, that will mean the temptations of birthday cake and meals out!)
– having 3 children means there will be sweet treats in our house as usual (I’d love to be able to say the whole family will be going sugar-free but it’s a definite no ha! I will however, be secretly trying to reduce their sugar intake via homemade cookies and fruit crumbles – shhhhh)
– February half term means the kids will be around (needing food – constantly!) and, combined with planned days out will mean lots of food related potential temptations
– Pancake Day and Valentines day also fall within half term
– alcohol – I don’t want to undo all the good work and health benefits from having completed Dry January, however, I do want to enjoy the odd drink – so it’ll be clear spirits – gin! (the alcohol containing the least amount of sugar) with soda water for me this month (I had no idea tonic water has so much sugar in it!)

Wish me luck! During Sugar Free February I’m planning on sharing a couple of sugar-free recipes that I enjoy and have helped me achieve my sugar-free goal!

Are you taking part in Sugar Free February? Let me know if you have any tips!


Environmentally friendly cleaning brands

Inspired by many recent campaigns and programmes highlighting environmental and ecological issues, it’s time for me to properly ditch all harmful cleaning products in our home. Instead, I’m now switching to natural and environmentally friendly ones. However (ashamedly), I’m a bit new to this world so I’ve done a little research to find brands that have no impact on aquatic life, are chemical free, cruelty free and are plant based (perfect for vegans). The good news, is that there are actually loads of brilliant, environmentally-friendly brands available (some of which are stocked in major supermarkets), but these are the ones I’ve personally come across and like:

Method offer a massive range of vegan and cruelty free cleaning products for cleaning your home, doing the laundry and washing up! Think antibacterial bathroom, floor and kitchen cleaners as well as gorgeous smelling hand washes. Basically, the entire range smells as though you should be bathing or showering in it! And the great thing, is that you can buy Method products in a huge range of places: all the major supermarkets as well as stores like B&Q, John Lewis and Boots.

Faith in Nature pretty much says it all really. Have faith in nature – this range of cleaning products covers everything from household cleaners, to laundry to washing up and their refills come in 5L sizes (and are brilliantly wallet-friendly!). They also offer environmentally friendly beauty, skincare, baby and pet product ranges.

Humblestuff is a range of environmentally friendly cleaning products I found on Twitter. This is a small business, based in Scotland, creating hand-made and amazingly-scented products (thanks to the addition of essential oils). At the moment they only offer 3 products in their range – but that’s all you need right?: a multi-surface spray, a toilet freshener and a soft-cleaning paste. All their products are vegan, paraben and cruelty free.

Holland and Barrett‘s ‘Earth Friendly’ washing and laundry cleaning products range is perfect to get hold of if you’re out and about as there’s a store in most high streets – think washing up liquid, laundry tablets and eco eggs.

If you like to mix and match your cleaning products, one of the best UK sites that stocks almost every environmentally friendly cleaning brand you can think of, is Ethical Superstore. They also sell groceries, vegan skincare and other ethically sourced and fair trade products for your home and family.

Finally, there’s also the option to do-it-yourself and have a go at making some of your own cleaning products. Ok, I haven’t actually done this myself (yet!) but maybe one day! In the meantime, The Green Parent and Vegan Food and Living offers some brilliant DIY tips as well as guidelines on what to look out for if you’re more interested in ethical cleaning products.

Is there an environmentally friendly cleaning brand you use and would recommend?

Happy, ethical cleaning!


2018: 12 months, 12 challenges

Having made it to mid-January without a drop of alcohol (the longest I’ve gone without a G&T for years – literally), and determined to see Dry January through until the bitter end (16 days and counting …), I’ve decided to create 11 further month-long challenges.

Why? Well a) because having an end in sight is motivation in itself, b) around 4 weeks for a challenge is doable as far as I’m concerned (and before the novelty value wears off) and c) past experience has shown me that grand sweeping, generic resolutions along the lines of ‘I’m going to get fit’ or ‘I’m going to lose weight’ just never, ever work for me.

But, short-term commitments or challenges are good for me. I’m not always very good at trying new things – it’s the scared-of-failure thing I think! So anyway, I’m hoping that one of the outcomes of my challenges is that I learn to enjoy new habits – so most of my monthly challenges are based around nutrition, health, fitness and good mental health practices.

So this is my plan of monthly challenges:

January
I’m already half-way through dry January and to be honest, it’s going ok actually. I’ve had the odd moment where I’ve really fancied a cheeky little G&T but I’m determined to get to 1st Feb without alcohol – I think I might be finally discovering the will power I never thought I had.

February
Sugar free February. Supported by Cancer Research UK, this is another higher-profile monthly challenge. Their site has loads of tips and advice. I’ve also found some great recipes on The Body Coach site as well as individuals on Twitter to follow including London Health Mum for sugar free tips.

March
30 minutes of blogilates every day. Ok, so 30 minutes a day might not sound like much of a commitment but, this will be on top of my 45 minute daily uphill dog walk (and work, children, etc) – so for me, this IS a commitment.

April
3 vegan days per week. I try to have around 3 completely meat free days per week and have vaguely dabbled with vegan meals but want to do it properly a few days a week. A great site for tracking down ready-made vegan meals, snacks etc is My Vegan Supermarket and for vegan recipes and a 30 day Vegan Pledge you can take, to go vegan for 30 days, The Vegan Society will be my go-to.

May
The Body Coach’s 2 week (x 2 workout plan to lose weight and tone up fast! I’m anticipating this one being tough – we’ll see how it goes!

June
No dairy. I’ve more time to research this monthly challenge but found Healthy Magazine is a useful starting point.

July
Meditation and month of calm! In preparation for the kids breaking up from school, I thought this might be apt – I’ve done a bit of research and loads of people swear by the Calm app so I’m going to be downloading this and

August
I’ve always fancied having a go at making some of my own skincare, so with that in mind, James Wong’s book ‘Grow your own drugs‘ in hand and Lucy Bee’s website on stand-by, that’s my plan (though if it doesn’t quite work out I will might treat myself to a VeganKind beauty box).

September
Like January, September is a month of new starts and good habits, so am planning on doing the squat & plank challenge (eeek, do I know what I’m letting myself in for?!)

October
Surf school. I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf properly – or at least have a go! I’ve chosen October as it’s out of season but the sea is still a good temperature. There are some brilliant surf schools here in Cornwall – the one I’m thinking about learning with is Surf’s Up in Polzeath.

November
Walking to running. I remember running as a child ha! But am keen to see if I can still run so will be downloading the 30 minute run plan from Women’s Running to get me motivated and started!

December
Green Christmas. I’m pretty sure that as per all previous years, December will be busy and pressured enough as it is, so no fitness or health challenge here except to have as green a Christmas as possible.

Have you ever set yourself a month long challenge? How did it work out for you? Or maybe you’re feeling inspired to try a challenge or two this year?

Wish me luck! x


Plastic free campaigns you need to know about

Sometimes it can actually be quite hard to know where to start when you want to begin something new; a new habit, a new journey, a new way of doing things, a new project … For me, this year, a new thing I want to start is to become much more proactive in supporting organisations who are doing great things to help our environment, the oceans, our planet – specifically plastic free campaigns.

My motivation has come from watching Blue Planet 2 and the environmental awareness the programme has raised. Here in Devon and Cornwall, there are so many passionate campaigners, who’ve started something new themselves, doing practical things and leading by example – showing us how we can all help in practical ways and by sharing awareness of the environmental damage being inflicted on our oceans and the precious creatures who live in and rely on them.

I thought it might be helpful to share the details of some of the individuals and organisations I follow and support on social media (and who offer brilliant advice and practical tips on environmental issues including going plastic free):

Surfers Against Sewage

If you love the ocean, going to the beach, surfing, swimming, walking the dog along the coastline … this group of like-minded individuals is determined to fight the plastic pollution that blights our beautiful beaches. You can offer support by signing their petition Message in a Bottle (calling for a deposit return system on plastic bottles and other single use drinks containers), or join an organised beach clean.

Less Plastic

If you feel inspired to reduce your plastic consumption, this site is a great starting point, offering advice for both individuals and businesses alike, as well as brilliant plastic free products and informative, educational postcards and posters.

A Plastic Planet

A Plastic Planet is behind the Plastic Free Aisle campaign – its aim is for a Plastic Free Aisle in supermarkets, offering consumers the choice to buy food not wrapped in plastic and ultimately a reduction in the amount of single-use plastics in our supermarkets. You can join their campaign here.

Change.org

This current petition is calling on Michael Gove to ban retailers from using plastic and other packaging which is not biodegradable or recyclable. The petition asks that the Top 10 UK retailers switch to biodegradable packaging materials, You can sign and share this petition here.

The Final Straw

This is a campaign to rid Cornwall of single use plastic straws and raise awareness of the damage single use plastics are causing to our environment. The site offers advice, plastic-free tips and ways you can help share the campaign with friends, family and colleagues.

2 minute beach clean

The #2minutebeachclean campaign is focused on doing practical things to help clear up plastics and rubbish washed up on our beaches, via 2 minute beach cleans. The campaign is growing in momentum and quite simply, involves individuals or families helping to rid the world’s beaches of marine litter and plastic pollution, by picking up plastics and litter at their local beach, 2 minutes at a time. There’s also a fab online shop where you can buy plastic free products (cups, straws, bags), as well as beach clean up equipment.

Let’s all do our bit: ditch the plastic as much as we can and pick it up when we find it littering our beaches, waterways and countryside.


5 easy ways to go plastic free today!

The screening of Blue Planet 2 has been such an eye opener in so many ways; not only have we been introduced to beautiful, amazing creatures and their habitats, but sadly, we’ve also become blatantly aware of the devastating impact plastics are having on our seas, oceans and the creatures who call it home. Watching the show left me feeling both in awe of the natural world but equally ashamed as a human being of the devastation we inflict on it. It’s absolutely time for action.

I’ve spent the weeks since the show finished:
– finding out as much as I can about the impact plastics have had and are still having every day, on our planet
– researching how we recycle, what we recycle and what the issues with recycling are
– discovering some amazing people and campaigns working incredibly hard to help create change
– understanding that if we all made some easy and little changes to our daily lives we can have a positive impact on our environment.

You have to start somewhere. So following all the advice about going plastic free, these 5 tips are easy ways you can go plastic free today:

1. Say a big, fat NO to plastic straws, cocktail stirrers and disposable cutlery. Instead, either sip your drinks (a novel idea ha!) and use proper cutlery. If you (or the kids) like to use a straw sometimes, consider buying environmental friendly straws from a company such as ecostrawz – they have a great array of stainless steel, glass, bamboo and titanium straws – perfect to reuse time and again. These range in price from £2.49 – £5.99.

2. Plastic water, fruit juice and fizzy drink bottles are another NO. Instead, get yourself and the family reusable water bottles. When my kids were at primary school they always took a reusable water bottle to school – we’ve got out of this habit – but no excuses now. I’ve had a look around and for me, one green bottle is the perfect solution. They offer a brilliant range of durable, stainless steel and environmentally friendly products – including water bottles, lunchboxes and reusable coffee cups (see tip 3 below!). Prices for water bottles start at £10.

3. As a non-coffee drinker, the whole take-out coffee thing has kind of passed me by however, I have been known to grab the odd take-out tea at the train station so in at number 3) it’s a NO to take out coffee cups (actually, this also applies to fizzy drink take outs you get in places like McDonalds – they may look like cardboard but they’re coated with plastic). Instead, it’s back to one green bottle again – they have a brilliant range of reusable coffee/tea takeout cups. Simply take with you and ask the barista to use your reusable take out cup instead of an own-brand.

4. We all know the drill by now when it comes to plastic bags so these being on the list can come as no surprise. I thought I’d include these though, as I have many times either a) rocked up at the supermarket without my reusable bags (and cursed myself) or b) underestimated how much shopping I’d buy and therefore not have enough reusable bags. This is more about getting in to a good habit when it comes to shopping and bags. I now keep a load of cotton reusable (and washable) bags in the boot of the car and for my handbag (I’m a bit of an impulse shopper) I’ve just ordered a couple of string bags from Green Fibres. These are cheap as you like (they start from £5.00) can carry a heavy load but are lightweight and squish up teeny, tiny to fit in to your bag. Most of the supermarkets also offer reusable jute or cotton-based bags too – and absolutely preferable over the plastic bags-for-life.

5. If you’re headed to the supermarket today or local green grocers, as much as is possible, try to say NO to buying your fruit and veg in pre-wrapped plastic. Try to buy it loose if you can – but don’t then add it to one of these little plastic bags the supermarkets have on stand by for our convenience! Small, local green grocers or farm shops tend to be better at stocking paper bags so are worth a try if it works for you. If not, when you’re at the supermarket either add your fruit and veg loose (this may not work for things like brussel sprouts!) to your basket or place it in one of your reusable bags for sorting at the checkout (they’ll love you ha!). The other alternative, of course, is to join a local, farm shop vegetable box delivery service such as Riverford Organic Farmers or here, in south-east Cornwall, Tamar Grow Local Food Hubs – that way, you’ll be supporting a local business, eating fresh fruit and veg delivered directly from the farm, cutting out the middleman and the plastic.

Go forth and start your plastic free journey … and let me know if you have any other easy tips to help us all go plastic free x


My 2017 round up – some of what I’ve learnt!

As 2017 draws to a close, I find myself making final Christmassy plans, catching up with family and friends, and pondering a little on what this last year as brought me. So I thought a little round up to remind myself of some of the positive things that have made 2017, for me:

Moving to Cornwall

The biggest decision made this year. My partner and I have five children between us: he has two older boys, I have three younger ones who live with us. Uprooting my three and moving us all 2 1/2 hours drive from Bath to south-east Cornwall might have seemed a little crazy but you know, sometimes, when the opportunity strikes, you have to grab it and just do it. There was a lot of soul-searching, head-scratching, umm-ing and ahh-ing of course – the biggest worry I had was how this move would affect my children. But kids are resilient; there have been tough times of course, but, they’ve started new schools and made new friends. They still see and stay with their dad once a fortnight in Bath so those ties are still strong – and thanks to social media, they now have the best of both worlds with friends both here in Cornwall and back in Bath.

What I’ve learnt: The move has highlighted the fact that I’m a hoarder- I had too much ‘stuff’. Thankfully, the move meant scaling back and giving back to charities. I’ve also learnt that I really, really like to be away from the crazy rat-race. And that this part of Cornwall is not that far from Bath (hooray!). The novelty of doing up a new (but very old) house wears off once the Cornish sun shines and the beach calls – it’s a tough call – beach or DIY? That kids are hard work no matter where you live. And that I really, really, really love living in Cornwall – but equally, being so close to Dartmoor (my spiritual home I think).

Freelancing

I wasn’t sure how the big move would affect my freelance marketing. All my strong, client links and networks were back in Bath and Bristol. This is where most of my freelance work came from until our move. Thankfully, proving true that location is (mostly!) irrelevant when it comes to working as a freelancer I’ve a) managed to keep hold of projects and clients I was working on back in Bath and b) I’ve built up some lovely, new contacts here in Cornwall and have new clients and exciting projects taking me in to 2018.

What I’ve learnt: Communication is key. Whether that’s keeping conversations running with existing clients or networking and meeting new potential ones. And that you can’t rush or force these things – I’m all for natural chemistry! Oh, and sometimes heading to the beach to clear the cobwebs away and work stuff out! Keeping my LinkedIn profile updated and fresh has helped too.

Health

I’m very lucky; I’m not someone who thankfully suffers from illness very often. However, this move has made me recognise that as I get older, I want to become stronger and do what I can to live a happy and healthy life for as long as possible – it must be the sea air! This year I’ve upped my exercise game. Not quite a runner, I would class myself as someone on the cusp of super-fast walking/jogging – is that a thing? Point is, come rain or shine, uphill and down dell, I’ve been out there – my heart rate has been seriously pumping and working hard this year, and as a result I’m more toned and without a shadow of a doubt, so much fitter. I’m also a fan of kayaking – it’s perfect for all the family, it brings you so much closer to nature, it’s great for your core muscles and it’s easy! It’s also been a year of ‘in with the veg’ and ‘out with the meat’. I’m not quite ready to go full vegetarian (pescatarian is more likely!) but we’ve certainly had far more meat-free days than carnivorous ones. If you fancy joining me, Meat Free Mondays have some brilliant advice and recipes.

What I’ve learnt:
I’m really, really not a naturally sporty kind of person and didn’t think I could move as fast as I can – but with support and encouragement (and gentle nagging from other half when all I really want to do is slouch on the sofa with a bar of galaxy and a good box set, rather than head out in the torrential rain and fast walk up that bloody hill again) – I’ve made massive progress . I’ve also discovered a genuine love of lentils and legumes – my meat free substitutes.

Environment

Coming from a family of small holders and grow-your-own’ers, nature and the environment is a massive part of my life. Living in this part of the world, close to both the glorious beaches and breathtaking moors has brought us even closer to nature. Being able to spend so much time this summer literally touring the Cornish coastline, swimming, rock pooling and kayaking has been wonderful. And which is why, watching the recent Blue Planet 2 series has had a massive impact on me. We’re a family of re-users and recycle’ers but had no idea the scale of the plastics pollution of our oceans. It’s such a huge and dreadful problem but there are loads of brilliant initiatives we can all be a part of such as Surfers Against Sewage and One Less Bottle. Also this year we acquired a new allotment which a) I love, b) don’t quite know where to start with, but c) am determined to fill with edible plants for us, a wildlife haven for insects and small creatures and a penned off space for our lovely rescue hens!

What I’ve learnt
Ok, this is blindingly obvious I know, but we really do only have one planet. One environment. If a species becomes extinct, that’s it – game over for that species. It’s surely our duty to look after all creatures and all environments on this amazing planet. More than anything, it’s left me feeling passionate about doing my bit. That means buying locally, massively reducing our plastic consumption in this family, joining petitions and lobby’s, joining in with local beach cleans. That also means looking after and nurturing our small patch of land to help preserve it and the insects and creatures that visit it for future generations.

Food (and more importantly, gin!)

I’ve always loved ‘growing my own’ and having grown up in the era of ‘The Good Life’ and with parents who ran a small holding, it can come as no surprise to learn that food is a genuine source of joy for me. From keeping bees and hens to growing window sill herbs or hours spent on my allotment, I’m still a massive fan of the GYO movement. Life though, has been pretty hectic since our move to Cornwall – so we’ve kid of cheated and our GYO produce has come in the guise of Tamar Valley Grow Local whose philosophy is ‘Grow, Share, Cook’- if you can’t grow your own then buy and support local businesses who do! We like think we’re also doing our bit for local gin distilleries here in Cornwall too! It’s my tipple of choice and thankfully we’re lucky that there are some brilliant independent distilleries here which we’re gradually working our way around …

What I’ve learnt
Beside the fact that gin is my thing (nothing new!), supporting local farmers, small holders and independent producers via local schemes such as Tamar Grow Local is the next best thing to growing your own. It’s also great for the local economy and the environment. My intention next year is to combine a bit of home growing with local produce purchasing … first things first though – I need to get my house (allotment!) in order …


Christmas is coming. And I’m trying not to … PANIC! My tips for a thrifty-ish Christmas!

I love the sparkly season. Christmas is the best. I love it. And so does my 10 year old daughter who’s inherited this love for the festive season and has already decorated her bedroom in a more-is-more fashion. Her stocking is already up, ready-and-waiting. Basically her bedroom has been transformed in to Santa’s Grotto (ho, ho, ho!).

Whilst my natural tendency is to nosedive head first in to all things Christmassy, glittery and mulled-winey, a spot of overspending in October and hence a slight budget issue means I’m having to resist going completely wild in the aisles this Christmas. Bah! humbug! But instead of panicking (and hitting the credit card) I’ve got creative and come up with some (untested and not-yet-tried) ideas for a thrify’ish Christmas:

Christmas Cards – this year, I’m thinking virtual Christmas Cards (Blue Mountain have some cute, free ones) and hand crafted ones (more specifically, hand made by the kids) for grandparents/family. It’s also time to dig out last year’s Christmas cards to transform them in to this year’s gift tags (et voila!).

Budget – not one of my strong points (see above) but a necessary task … Money Saving expert is a great site for tips and common sense advice to help avoid a potential financial nightmare-before-Christmas – this is where my Christmas budgeting plans will start their existence. And having spent some time trawling through the never-ending Christmas wishlists my kids have written, I think a good compromise is possible though when it comes to everyone else, some corners have to be cut this year… So one thing we’ve agreed as an extended family this year, is to run a secret santa! So this year, each family is ony buying for one adult and one child from another family et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (there are literally loads of us). Brilliant! Money and time saving.

Christmas Food – I love getting in the kitchen creating Christmassy goodies (usually just for us) but this year, I’m going a step further thanks to my well-thumbed Nigella’s Christmas book and have already made a start on some fab chutneys and freezer-friendly foody gifts. And when it comes to Christmas food-food, this year it’s an Aldi and Lidl Christmas for us – I think Kevin the Carrot would approve.

Christmas stockings – so in the past the kids’ Christmas stockings have been full of loads of little bits and pieces which, whilst cute, the kids have kind of overlooked and abandoned (especially my boys who are now teens) – time to rethink. I’ve decided to only buy stuff that’s actually useful (or edible!) in their stockings – so it’s in with shin pads and deodorants and out with novelty mini-football games and the like. Considered purchases are the way forward this year. Careful, online browsing and research using comparison websites is my plan. Which brings me on to …

Lists – I’m a bit of a list freak so this bit feels pretty natural. For me, if I’ve written something down in list format it won’t get forgotten. For Christmas, I have lists for food, recipes to try (and ingredients to buy), presents and events to take the kids to (think Santa’s Grotto, Christmas Markets and Lights switch ons (Candutu is a brilliant site for finding Chrsitmassy events near you!).

Recycleables – some of our Chrsitmassy items are perfectly good enough so it’s ‘in with the old’ for us – that means no new Christmas decorations, party dresses (whaaaat!) or jumpers … that kind of thing. The one thing we will be getting is a real tee – there can be no compromise as far as I’m concerned. We’ll be heading to Cedar Croft nurseries in Cornwall for ours!

Happy Christmassy plotting & planning!


Souk it up in Marrakesh

spices-2233670_640

Yes, the summer hols have just ended, yes, the children are all back at school and yes, autumn is almost upon us (with thoughts turning to Christmas soon arghh!), so plotting your next sunny holiday may not be top of your to-do list but just-in-case I have to fill you in on my recent holiday (with two teen boys and under 10 year old daughter) to beautiful Morocco.

Since the day I started reading Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, swiftly followed by the film version starring Kate Winslet, Morocco has been on my ‘go to’ list and, nearly 25 (!!) years later, I finally made it and quite frankly, loved it. It’s crazy, chaotic and colourful – why did I wait so blimmin long?!

So, my top tips if travelling to this beautiful land:

1. If you like to unwind at the end of a very busy day spent relaxing by the pool with an ice-cold cocktail you MUST check that the hotel is not a dry one and more importantly, that you’re not travelling during Ramadan. I speak from experience! On the plus side, this does mean there are no annoying pissed people anywhere – oh joy!

2. Alcohol can be hard to track down, though some restaurants in Marrakesh do serve it. You might be better off heading to the CarreFour supermarket in the centre of Marrakesh and buying your own (though check the hours within which you can buy alcohol as these will be different to the normal opening hours).

3. I love a cuppa (think PG Tips), though much as I wish I was, I’m not really a fan of herbal teas but this is what you can expect – lots of mint tea – if you fancy doing-it-yourself then it’s off to CarreFour for teabags!

4. It’s hot, hot, hot – a swimming pool is a must.

5. This is not the place for hot pants and crop tops (thankfully) so a more conservative approach to clothing is the dress code to aim for – think long maxi dresses and floaty wraps/shawls around your shoulders.

6. The mix of languages is so lovely – a real mix of English, French and Arabic – so if like me, you fancy trying to retrieve your GCSE standard French – give it a go 🙂

7. It’s a non-judgemental place – which is really liberating. No-one cares what size you are or what you look like (apart from not flashing the flesh) – there are no billboards bearing half naked bits and bobs. Lovely and refreshing. Image is not everything in Morocco.

8. Brush up on your haggling skills – go on – maybe try a bit of role play before you go! Haggling for everything from taxi fares to goods is kind of expected and the norm so do as the locals do and get assertive.

9. The continent of Africa is closer than you might think so if a bit of culture is what you’re hankering after, but you don’t want to spend hours on a long haul flight, Morocco is for you. It’s around a 3 hour flight from the UK and is in the same time zone!

10. This isn’t really a tip – more another potential reason for you to head to this wonderful place – no mosquitoes. None. At least not when we were there …

11. The food is uh-maz-ing. Delicious tagines, stews, cous-cous, fruits (the melons here are HUGE!) plus, due to the French influence, there are so many yummy pastries, croissants and cakes – I was in food heaven ha!

12. If you dare to check out the sights and smells of the souks (which you absolutely have to by the way), amongst the camels, fire-eaters, monkey trainers and snake charmers you’ll find stall after stall after stall selling a myriad of amazing and beautiful gifts for you, your family and your home. Think delicate tealight holders, woven bags, leathers, Moroccan slippers, pom pom baskets, oils (including the amazing Moroccan hair oil), spices and stunning fine silver and gold jewellery. You’ll be spoilt for choice!

We stayed at the Le Vzior Center & Resort on the outskirts of Marrakesh (20 minutes from the airport) and it was perfect for us – family friends, lots of pools, lots of food and lots of sunshine!