PHB Ethical Beauty – moisturiser and BB cream

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Yanno friends, the last few months have been a bit up-and-down. For a good ol’ fashioned bit of splendid news to come along was exactly what I needed early in the new year when Vegan Life magazine let me know I’d won a competition on their Facebook page. A £50 voucher for PHB Ethical Beauty was MINE. That’s a double squee right there.

I’ve had a couple of their products on my Pinterest vegan beauty wishlist board for a while now (aka the It’s Never Going To Happen Board but hey, that’s what Pinterest is for, right?) so I was super excited at the chance to check ’em out.

PHB (‘pure, handmade, british’) tick pretty much every ‘natural’ box going…

  • No Alcohol
  • No Animal Ingredients\No Animal Testing
  • No Parabens
  • No SLS / SLeS / ALS
  • No Palm Oil
  • No Synthetic Fragrance / Parfum
  • No Colourants /Dyes
  • No PEG / Petrochemicals
  • No Formaldehyde
  • No DEA / TEA / Phthalates
  • No Urea

They state all of their ingredients are organic and ethically sourced (using cooperatives where possible, including co-ops overseas) and a portion of their net profits go to charity. It would be great to see them included in this list of skincare brands rated on their ethics by Ethical Consumer magazine (eek, Superdrug skincare not strong here….)

All said, PHB products aren’t cheap, but I really like what they stand for and that their ethics go beyond the non-use of animal products.

But back to it, what did I splash out on?

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Well, as frequent readers of my blog will know (you lucky pups) my skin can be super oily, and in the past couple of years I’ve had more breakout-prone skin as I’ve forced my body through some weird hormonal stuff (contraception changes, etc). Until very recently, I used a mattifying ‘blemish control’ serum in the morning, and a ‘balancing’ (but richer) moisturiser at night. I love that you can filter by skin type on the PHB website, and that I could navigate right to the oily/blemish prone section. I went for the lavender and tamanu moisturiser. (Folks, tamanu oil is a non edible nut oil used in skincare products, and I didn’t know that either.)

I’m secretly an old lady, so I love lavender scented stuff. I love actual lavender, and the number of lavender plants I’ve killed over the years really breaks my heart. But thankfully I can still pick up products like this and get my lavender fix. The cream smells delightful; any whiff of ~botanics and this girl is highly impressed. I’ve actually been using it both morning and night for a few weeks now and my skin’s feeling pretty good. No breakouts (yet) but since I just got a new hormonal IUD fitted recently, it remains to be seen whether this cream can successfully battle the horrifying spectre of ‘female’ reproductive health options….

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You guys, at £17.95 it ain’t cheap, but if it manages to keep my skin in good condition until the pot is empty then I think I could certainly be persuaded to buy another.

As summer approaches (HA HA HA) I also wanted to try out another BB cream, as the couple I have (Tropic and Superdrug own brand) are not quite doing it for me. (The Tropic is lovely in so many ways but too dark for my pasty complexion.)

What I love about this guy is that the palest is actually pale….

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At £18.95, still not cheap, but if you’re looking for a light coverage through the summer (HA HA HA) months then this might be the one for you, particularly with the SPF 15. I’ve been using it as a mixer with other ‘pale’ foundations (that are actually too dark) and for that, it’s great. Definitely one for a natural look, it blends in super well and my skin feels lovely.

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The colour options are pretty limited, and it would be super to see PHB catering for much darker skin tones. Having said that, it’s rare to find a ‘porcelain’ that really is so pale, and I might check out the foundation ‘proper’ at some point if I’m feeling flush.

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Super light coverage as you can see….

And if you want to see both in action, here’s my face with only the moisturiser and BB cream, then a little powder on top….

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No filter! Also I am 35, so all in all, not bad.

Also on my face:

  • MUA Skin Define Hydro Powder
  • Revolution Vivid Baked Highlighter
  • Barry M Eye Define liquid eyeliner
  • Barry M Illuminating Strobe Cream
  • Soap & Glory Thick & Fast mascara
  • Barry M eyebrow pencil
  • An ancient Urban Decay eyeshadow palette (for brows)
  • An ancient pot of Barry M glitter
  • ELF lip stain stuff

(Remember you can check ingredients in the Skin Deep database, which links to PETA’s own database. I know, it’s PETA, but there it is.)

Have you tried anything from PHB? As far as high end vegan-friendly skincare goes, they seem like a very decent and ethically forward-thinking option to me!

I bought this gear myself because I wanted to and because I won a voucher, ain’t been sponsored.

#TimeToTalk Day 2017 – On Mental Ill Health and the Magic of Talking

Content warning for brief mention of self-harm and suicide.

“I love you wildly, and that is my solace.” – Harold Pinter

Ever since I learned of the existence of the UK’s national Time to Change campaign, headed by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, I’ve watched friends and acquaintances take a brave plunge and tell their own stories of mental illness through various mediums of social media each year on Time To Talk day.

I admit to feeling jealous of their boldness, heartened by the responses they receive, and curious about the relief I imagine accompanies the sharing of a burden.

I joke about being raised by the internet; in 1994 or thereabouts we were blessed with our first family PC, complete with dial-up internet connection. It was an altogether more innocent time back then, and my Mum encouraged me to go ahead and find a penpal online. I was in that Manic Street Preachers chatroom before you could say 4REAL, and while I’m convinced my mental health was always destined (whether by nature or nurture) to be wobbly, it’s probably fair to say that my teen years were a catalyst.

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What on earth went wrong?

I’m not prone to analysis of the first two or three decades of my life; a lot of it is quite a blur. At the time of my early teens the online community and the friends I made through it felt like a lifeline, and a precious escape from a very difficult environment. I’d not long since attempted to sever ties with an abusive Father, and struggled tremendously to connect to my remaining family, who I now feel were ill-equipped to manage the problems I was experiencing. What presented as a very obnoxious period of teendom was actually the beginning of long-term mental health struggles.

It was a boyfriend who eventually persuaded me to talk to a doctor when I was around 17 years old. The poor guy probably put up with a lot from teenage Jenny, and I should credit him for realising that something was quite wrong and marching me to my GP for help.

15/16yr old Jenny's bedroom. The mind boggles.
15/16yr old Jenny’s bedroom. The mind boggles.

I was prescribed fluoxetine and given a psychiatric referral. I spent the next nearly-20 years juggling medications, coping mechanisms and therapies. I went up, down, sideways, and every which way (but loose, as it happens).

The very darkest days for me were probably between ages 15-25, and that’s a lot of dark days, folks. I struggled primarily with a depression that I fail now to find a suitable adjective for. During desperately difficult times, I sooner resorted to self-harm than to talking about my feelings to anyone who might have actually been able to help me. When I was very young I learned that hiding, both physically and emotionally, kept me safe from bad people, bad words, bad treatment. When it came to talking, the shame and fear felt insurmountable.

When I finally chose to talk to someone who was immensely, profoundly important in my life, I was resolutely and unceremoniously rejected, and a Pavlovian lesson, deeply-violently-etched, was learned: do not be vulnerable, do not share, do not tell the truth, do not even write it down in a secret place, because you will be rejected and it will hurt so badly it will send ripples through the very fabric of your reality. It will haunt you when you least expect it. Your worst fears will be realised. It’s safer to be alone. And of course the loneliness was unbearable and my coping mechanisms were unacceptable.

When I met Elizabeth Wurtzel at a bookshop signing I was 16 and I lied to my Mother and told her I was visiting my friend Joanne.
When I met Elizabeth Wurtzel at a bookshop signing I was 16 and I lied to my Mother about where I was going, telling her I was visiting my friend Joanne….

I think both nature and nurture had their way with me in one way or another. I certainly never stopped to take stock or engage meaningfully in therapy, whether counselling or CBT, until I was much older. I had a period of relatively stable mental health in my late 20s which was, frankly, shit upon quite royally by a very toxic and unhealthy relationship that ended after almost 5 years, turning me loose into my early 30s like an injured, cornered wild animal.

For me, any feelings of suicidal ideation were uniquely ‘adult’. The pain never felt quite that bad, but the feeling that the people in my life would be better off without me practically was often strong. Any pondering on how-where-when was strangely abstract and void of emotion, and not borne out of suffering, but of a horribly poisoned sense of logic.

A video posted on the Time to Change Facebook page featured a conversation between two women about their struggles with mental health. One tells the other how she never shares her feelings completely, and always keeps something back…

“It sounds like I’m giving you everything, but the dark stuff, I don’t say.”

Ah, de profundis!

Looking back, and as I suppose many people can, I can identify some ‘lightbulb’ moments of my youth. When in my 20s, during a period of very low mood, I told a doctor how disappointed I was that this depression had re-occurred. The doctor looked at me curiously and explained that of course it had, and was statistically very likely to do so again. I think that’s when I realised that depression and me were in it together for life.

But here’s the thing: I’m not being fatalistic. I have an illness it’s taken me 30+ years to regard with any sense of clarity whatsoever. It’s been helpful in the past for me to use a metaphor of duality; there’s the ‘good Jenny’ and the ‘bad Jenny’.

Good Jenny is kind, compassionate, sensible, objective, functional, cheerful, funny, measured, adult.

Bad Jenny can still be kind and compassionate, but she is verbose, frenetic, subjective, dysfunctional, pessimistic, negative, terrified, jealous, needy, childish. Bad Jenny is a poisonous, lying, negative voice that whispers before it becomes loud.

Bad Jenny lies in wait until Good Jenny starts to do well, and then pops up like a disease formerly dormant, like the worst kind of sabotage.

All my life I’ve known that Good Jenny holds the reins the majority of the time, and I’ve distanced myself from the part of me that occasionally takes control. It’s only in the past few years that I started to consider seeing myself as one whole. I started to consider treating Bad Jenny with a little more kindness, acceptance and compassion. I’m beginning to wonder if acknowledging and airing our vulnerability -our ‘ugly’ side- can start to diminish its power. Maybe if we flip it, expose it, mock it, we can start to lessen its impact. Humour has always been a huge coping mechanism for me, and I don’t think I’m alone. See:

These days I wonder less how to vanquish my depression and anxiety once and for all, because I don’t think that’s how the story ends.

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And today is the day to hang our mental illness laundry out to dry. It’s time to talk.

I’ve accepted that mental illness is a part of me, and that there will be tough times ahead. It isn’t a case of winning, it’s more about understanding and accepting and learning to do ourselves the kindnesses necessary for survival. There will also be wonderful times.

If you struggle with mental illness, or you know someone who does, here is my advice to you: BE KIND.

Be kind to yourself and to others. Acknowledge and be aware of your feelings, positive or negative. Give them air and lessen their power. ASK FOR HELP.

ASK FOR HELP!

Talking is true magic.

Forgive yourself when you stumble, and forgive others when they stumble.

If I may return to the quote at the top of this post, and share a vulnerability of my own: I hide away when the wave of depression looms; I keep the dark stuff to myself and I adopt that ol’ faithful brace position so I can weather the storm. Too often I’ve shut people out during that time, unable to assess the storm damage until it’s done. When Antonia Fraser wrote in her journal of her despair that she could not ease husband Harold Pinter’s deep depression, he noted in the margin, “I love you wildly, and that is my solace”.

Dear All: Whether a person, an animal, a place or an activity, please love wildly, and take solace ❤


Other resources:

My IUS Experience + Top IUS/IUD fitting tips!

AHOY MY FRIENDS. I use this greeting with purpose, for today a tiny plastic anchor was deployed into my uterus, an event I was not anticipating with much zeal.

Y’all might know that I had the Nexplanon (implant) put in around this time last year, and I lasted around 7 months before that came out (I’m sad it didn’t work out since insertion was ~0% painful and my periods stopped completely, I would definitely recommend trying it).

I’ve been on the lookout for another LARC (long acting reversible contraceptive) since I had the implant removed, as I’m too old and fat to go back on the pill and would much rather use something I can forget about completely; I knew an IUS/IUD was next on the list.

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Folks, listen up, the best thing I can tell you is that:

  • everybody/every body is different
  • every uterus is different
  • every experience is different
  • I think that how you prepare for it counts for a lot

You can read all the stories/watch all the YouTube videos, but they range from the sublime to the ridiculous so really, what’s the point? (Lolz I watched a million.)

Sure, it’s helpful to know what you’re in for. In a nutshell it goes like this:

  • Insert speculum to get a nice clear view of your expectant/unsuspecting cervix (not painful in the slightest, kinda weird and embarrassing if you haven’t had a smear test before but ultimately no bother whatsoever).
  • Possible swabbing to do simultaneous smear/testing for STIs (didn’t feel it).
  • Tweezy-grabby device holds onto the opening of your cervix to make the insertion easier (grabby, but not painful).
  • ‘Sounding’ the uterus – this isn’t much fun, but it’s very quick. It’s a bit like using a dipstick to measure the oil level……big long stick into the cervix to find out how deep your uterus is (the OMG bit is when it hits the back of your womb, it feels weird and a bit like a cramp).
  • Once they’ve measured, they know how far to put the coil-deploying stick in, and in it goes, and CLICK and it’s out and The End.
  • Oh, aside from snipping the string. The End.

I was a bit unlucky in that the Mirena-deploying stick was a bit too big for my sad little narrow cervix. The doc tried three times to get it through, but my cervix was just like NOPE. She made an executive decision to go with the Jaydess (precisely the same function as the Mirena, but smaller and therefore lasts 3 instead of 5 years). Even those 3.8mm were a bit of a job and I did feel that final SHOVE as it went in.

Despite all of that, it really wasn’t the worst ever, and the good humour of my doctor and nurse helped enormously. It was absolutely nothing that isn’t worth 3 years of highly effective forget-about-it contraception.

And so….I say, sure, go ahead and read about others’ experiences and ask your friends about their own, but don’t get in a panic about it!

Instead, I suggest that you make a really great plan and go in with as much positivity and humour as you can muster. The first thing my doctor told me was “you are in control, if you say stop, we stop”. Even if your doctor doesn’t say that to you, remember that it’s true! If you’re unhappy or uncomfortable, just say. It’s not going to be particularly good fun, but you can make it a much better experience if you follow Jenny’s Top IUD Fitting Tips™️.

1. Find a good pal to escort you.

My lovely friend Emil once accompanied me to my sigmoidoscopy, a delightful shoving of a camera up the bumhole all the way to the beginning of the intestines. I was lucky enough to be given the most wonderful happy gas during that experience, but it was still a little grim. Emil brought along sticky buns, came with me for lunch afterwards and didn’t mind at all that my gut had been pumped with air that might parp out at any time (in Waterstones, much to my horror). Friends are good. Would recommend.

2. Get the best over-the-counter painkillers you can bargain for.

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I strode purposefully into a pharmacy the day before my appointment and laid it all out for them; HELLO I AM HAVING A COIL FITTED TOMORROW AND I NEED THE STRONGEST THING YOU’VE GOT. The pharmacist was tremendously sympathetic and sold me some ibuprofen with codeine and all was well.

3. Get yourself a bath bomb or three.

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I enjoy a soak in the tub at the best of times, so I knew that the impending Crampathon 2017 would benefit greatly from a hot bubble bath. I popped into Lush the day before and grabbed some bathtime treats and I suggest you do the same.

4. Get the treats in (cake and more cake also Chinese food).

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When I was shopping for Coil Day supplies I paid a visit to V Rev, Manchester’s own purveyors of fine vegan junk food, and stocked up on donuts and cake. I also promised myself a Chinese take-out delivery the same night. Treat yoself!

5. Heat HELPS – keep a hot water bottle handy.

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I once suffered the grimmest acute muscle spasm in my neck; it lasted 3 days and the only thing that helped it loosen up was a hot water bottle or a very hot shower. For me, the heat also helped the post-IUS crampy feelings a heck of a lot.

6. Take some time out.

I booked the day of my fitting off work, and the following day as well. I shipped the dog off to stay with her Dad so I could be entirely free to curl up in bed with cake, pharmaceuticals and a hot water bottle.

7. Get the Always Ultra in.

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I haven’t used pads since I was a ween, but believe me when I say that you ain’t gonna be in the mood to stick ANYTHING up there in the day or so after your fitting, and your angry cervix might have some protest-bleeding to do.

8. You don’t have to hide it!

See, look folks, there was a part of me that wanted to write about how the burden of long term contraception falls on those of us with wombs, or about how there’s still so much stigma around ‘women’s’ ~issues, or around anything that involves vaginas and unpleasantness, but I’m altogether a bit too crampy for that, so I’ll just say that you should be absolutely unapologetic about taking some time out for yourself to feel better after your poor uterus has been assaulted. You have my permission ❤

Monday Links and on Being an Ally / 23 January 2017

It’s been a wee while since I did a link round-up, but some super resources have found their way onto my radar in recent weeks and I wanted to share.

It’s no news that these are grim times. I feel that, in many ways, what’s really happened lately is that the utter, horrifying mess we are already in has simply become more visible to those who hadn’t quite noticed before. If you are privileged enough not to have experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or disability discrimination (for example) it may have taken the election of a climate-change denying, racist, misogynistic narcissist like Donald Trump to (arguably) the most powerful political role on planet earth for you to have fully taken stock.

While my heart cannot help but swell somewhat at the images of women’s marches around the globe this past weekend, there is another part that remains heavy with the knowledge that many vital marches and protests still go significantly poorly attended by many who would do well to take this opportunity (the moment of this ‘taking stock’) to listen to marginalised voices; these are the voices of those who have experienced the full horror of hateful discrimination and who have been fighting for justice for a long, long time.

Veganism is supposedly a compassionate movement with its fair share of insidious racism, sexism, ableism, fat-shaming, transphobia, etc. We can do so much better. So if you are new to veganism (or just want to broaden your perspective in the spirit of this post) here are some inspiring, inclusive voices that are well worth listening to:

(Also see my post about inclusive veganism.)

And honourable mentions for some folks who do great work:

As just-another-middle-class-cisgender-white-woman I pledge to continue to do my best to listen, learn, be graceful in owning my mistakes, offer my support, call out ignorance, and spread the word however I can.

On the awfulness of it all

Mental Health/Body Positivity

Miscellaneous

Sweet Potato Katsu Curry

One evening last week, my lovely friend Vicki treated me to dinner at Yo Sushi, where currently, loads of vegan dishes are on offer for £2.80 each during January. We had the most delicious tofu katsu curry and I had my own sad little bash at recreating it at home the next day.

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I used sweet potato, but you could absolutely use tofu/tempeh or chick’ny pieces in its place. It really helps to have a pan you can do a wee bit of shallow frying in (I use my trusty cast-iron skillet).

This recipe would serve 2 people as a main, or 4 as a wee side dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet potato, cut into large chunks and boiled until just soft
  • olive oil/vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 tbsp plain flour (for the curry)
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 600ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 slice bread, chopped to crumbs in a food processor
  • 2 tbsp gram flour (or plain flour) (for the coating)
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • Soy milk
  • Rice, to serve.

Begin the curry sauce by sautéing the garlic and onion in a little oil until softened. Add the chopped carrots, plain flour and curry powder and mix well.

Pour over the stock and add the maple syrup, soy sauce and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Mean while, blitz together the breadcrumbs, then mix with the flour and sesame seeds. Pre-heat oil in your skillet/frying pan ready to shallow fry the sweet potato.

Dip each cooked piece of sweet potato into the soy milk, and then coat in the breadcrumb mixture. Carefully drop into the oil and shallow fry each side.

When the sauce has simmered for 20 mins, blitz with a hand blender so only a few lumps remain and the sauce is thick and chunky.

Serve the sweet potato pieces and the sauce over sticky rice (or rice of your choice!)

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New Year, All Change

Dearest Lovely Blogfolk,

It’s all been a bit quiet lately, hasn’t it? I had plenty of grand blog plans for festive recipes, Christmas dinner, Veganuary post(s), etc. But life, as it so often does, rudely stepped in and brought with it changes that were sad and difficult, and very much unplanned.

Christmas houseguest.
Christmas houseguest.

Before Christmas my long-term relationship ended. I’m definitely not in a place to autopsy it right now, and the split happened during the tail end of a pretty grim period of depression/fatigue and the associated withdrawal-from-the-world that is my mental health brace position. So I guess I haven’t done much analysis, except to say that I do regret that things didn’t work out, and I feel very sorry for any failing(s) on my part to keep the relationship cultivated and healthy. But I feel resolutely that this was the right thing to do, if painful in the short term.

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I am trying to let the positive voice take centre stage wherever possible at the moment. I am acknowledging and parking the negative thoughts and feelings as much as I can. I’ve even got a flipping mindfulness app and a counsellor, who gives me very sage advice and challenges my negative thinking. I have to write affirmations. IT IS HARD.

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So, life is really very much in flux right now. I am hoping to stay put in my current flat and am recruiting for a new flatmate at the moment. In the meantime, there are emotional and logistical hurdles for us both and I do sincerely hope that we navigate them positively and successfully, and each go on to find peace and happiness.

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One of the concepts my counsellor introduced me to was the idea of what we ‘let go’ when the going gets tough, whether through fatigue or depression, or whatever (there’s a fancy diagram with circles but I can’t remember its name right now). She says that we often start to let go of the things that sustain us (seeing friends, hobbies, etc.) and that it’s important to hold on to at least some of those, before they seem like impossible luxuries that we can’t reclaim/regain. So I’ve illustrated this post with a few pictures that represent what, I guess, has been sustaining me in recent weeks (lots of walkies).

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I am also grateful for the kindness of friends, Tofurkey sausage deliveries, mystery senders-of-flowers, givers of fancy vegan chocolate, the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast, and a very understanding line manager. Here’s to focusing on the positive as much as possible ❤

Super Duper Amazing Vegan Feminist Festive Blog Giveaway Extravaganza OMG!

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Hello my blog friends! I tell u what, 2016 has been a funny old year. I don’t know what sort of celestial misalignments have overshadowed the globe these past 12 months, but it’s not always been the best of times.

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With that in mind, I’ve decided to run a little festive competition on my blog. I’ve never really done me a competition before, and I’m QUITE new to Rafflecopter, so please bear with me.

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Here’s what I’d like to give away to one (arguably) lucky person:

  • Feminist Killjoy cross-stitch in 6″ hoop (stitched by moi)
  • Vegan Pizza Gang badge from Chiaralascura
  • Meat is Murder badge (for making friends at parties)
  • Two wonderful cards made by Emily of Suitable for Vegans
  • A tub of homemade lemon vanilla sugar scrub (see previous post!)
  • Super silly stickers for your ~bullet journal or what-flipping-ever

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You can make multiple entries via the links below. The competition is UK only, closes at midnight Saturday 17 December, and I will try my best to get the prize posted out before Christmas Day!

You can either enter via my Facebook page or via Rafflecopter directly. Thank you for shares and entries you lovely, lovely lot!

  • This giveaway is hosted by and winners chosen via Rafflecopter.
  • It’s a bit of fun and in no way is meant to be a form of gambling or sweepstake.
  • It is open only to individuals in the UK.
  • It will end at midnight on Saturday 17 December 2016.
  • Each winner will have 48 hours to claim the prize after being notified via the email they used to enter the contest. After 48 hours, if there is no response, another winner will be chosen.
  • I will not use your email address for anything whatsoever, if I even get to see it!
  • I will post the prize within 10 working days (but will try to get it to the winner before Christmas Day).
  • The giveaway may be promoted on Facebook, Twitter, email or other social network sites. This is a means of promotion only, and any promotion on those sites is not to be interpreted as Facebook or Twitter partaking in, or being in any way responsible for this giveaway.
  • Winner(s) assumes all responsibility if further clarification is needed, prior to either entering a giveaway on this site or claiming a prize at the conclusion of a contest.

DIY Vegan Beauty (sugar scrubs, lotion bars, moisturiser!)

Last weekend my lovely pals and I had our annual festive crafternoon. We usually get together and have a stitch or a sew, but this year I decided to shake things up and organise the making of some homemade vegan-friendly ~beauty products.

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Most of my bits & bobs were bought pretty cheaply online. Cold pressed coconut oil I bought from a local shop; our area has both a big Caribbean and Pakistani population and that is excellent news for the availability of stuff like this, and super cheapo wonderful spices. I found almond oil online. Above you can see raw shea butter (left) and cocoa butter (right). I also bought some candelilla wax, which is a great alternative to using beeswax.

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These small plastic tubs were £1 for 4, again from a local shop. Not super stylish, but I have some scraps of fabric and some ribbon to dress them up a bit for Christmas.

I used nothing else except a couple of glass mason jars for melting everything down, and a big bag of (vegan friendly) unrefined sugar, some citrus fruits and vanilla.

The sugar scrubs were improvised and made up of various combos of:

  • 1 cup unrefined sugar
  • shea butter
  • cocoa butter
  • coconut oil
  • almond oil
  • grated citrus peel/vanilla

Combine just enough of the butters/oils to create a mixture that binds together but isn’t overly runny.

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The lotion bars were taken from a recipe on Vegan Beauty Review. Unfortunately the first attempt was a little disastrous as I melted the wax separately and tried to pour it into my festive moulds later on, rather than melting the whole lot down together. That doesn’t work, folks! The wax starts to solidify immediately so you end up with a curious mess of melted butters/oils with a big strip of solid wax running through. On second attempt I melted all together in one jar and that worked perfectly….

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To make the body lotion, I literally plopped a big chunk of shea butter into my food processor with a little almond oil and vanilla essence, and whipped it up into a lovely rich cream. I then added a little melted cocoa butter. The finished product looks a lot like cupcake frosting.

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I would have liked to have added some essential oils, but I didn’t have any handy. I’d recommend including them since, while the smell of raw shea butter isn’t unpleasant, it isn’t particularly exciting either. Cocoa butter has the advantage of smelling (not surprisingly) just like chocolate!

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Come the New Year I am definitely grabbing Vegan Beauty Review’s DIY ~beauty book because the whole activity was far too exciting and rewarding. I can’t wait to grab some essential oils and get back to it!

What about you folks? Do you do any household/beauty DIY?

Very Festive Vegan Almond Mince Pie Tart

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Hello lovely blog reading folk,

Yesterday I took me a little cheeky day off work for no reason other than decorating the Christmas tree and getting some festive baking done. I am happy to say the tree is festooned, I have four mini tea-loaves in the freezer, one Christmas cake soaking up its rum, and today put my leftover mince pie mincemeat to good use in this quite lovely Giant Mince Pie vs. Bakewell Tart.

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I quite like doing something a bit different with m’mincemeat during the festive season. For a couple of years I was bonkers about making mini mince pie croissants, and I always throw a little marzipan into my pies when I do make them.

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Yesterday I took a big block of Jus Rol shortcrust pastry out of the freezer to make room for the tea loaves I baked, so I decided to make a monster mince pie. I came over all nostalgic for bakewell tart, and so decided to add an almond sponge to the pastry and mincemeat, and created this delicious festive dessert alternative.

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The skillet was a happy accident, since I couldn’t find any of my pie tins anywhere. It created a lovely deep dish sponge and worked perfectly.

If your fam aren’t too keen on Christmas cake/pudding, or you’re hosting any festive dinners this year, this is a splendid dessert option. Soya cream, custard or ice cream would all work perfectly!

Ingredients

  • 1 jar vegan-friendly mincemeat (most are!)
  • 1 block shortcrust pastry
  • juice of half an orange (or, 2 tbsp brandy/rum/your hooch of choice)
  • 1 cup soya milk mixed with splash of apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp almond essence
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 and 1/2 cup self raising flour
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot flour (or cornflour)
  • pinch of salt
  • flaked almonds to sprinkle on top

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Grease your skillet or pie dish; I placed a circle of baking paper in the bottom as well.

Roll out the pastry and press into the skillet. Mix the orange juice/brandy with the mincemeat, and spread onto the pastry.

Mix the soya milk, sugar, oil and essences well. Sift together the flours and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, then pour over the mincemeat.

Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top, then bake for around 45-50 minutes, or until the almonds are toasted and a toothpick comes out of the centre of the sponge clean.

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Of course, Christmas cake and pudding will still be on the menu el Casa Caja de Especias this year, but it’s nice to get into the festive mood ain’t it?

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Tomorrow I have some friends coming over for a festive crafternoon, and we’re planning to try and knock together some sugar scrub/moisturising bars. I’ve never attempted homemade toiletries before, so this could be a disaster! We shall see….

Happy Christmas baking, everyone!

V Rev Vegan Diner – Manchester

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Dearest Blog Readers,

Sometimes good things can happen to good people.

As Morrissey once crooned, “there are brighter sides to life, and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often”. How right he was.

Once upon a time many years ago, my lovely friend Vicki and I wibbled along to a gathering of the Cake Liberation Front, a delightful coming together of vegans and baked goods and a nice brew, in Manchester city centre. Before we went along we popped in to check out new kid on the then-block, V Revolution, a record store/vegan grocery shoppe. Not long after that day, I rudely foisted a selection of my very-amateur vegan cakes onto owner Dom and persuaded him to buy my wares for quite a while, actually, before life got in the way and proper professionals took over. Remember vegan pizza day you guyz? I made cheezly calzones and some verrrrrry rubbish pizza biscuits…

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Over time Dom, joined by partner Faridah, morphed the space into a very impressive wee vegan diner along with booths, checkered floor, burgers in baskets and loads of lovely vegan products that were previously impossible to buy over the counter. It was perfect for that Twin Peaks themed potluck we had that time which was just a big pile of donuts loooooooool.

V Revolution became a victim of its own success before too long, outgrowing (and outdoing) the space it was housed in, and plans to move to bigger premises were very long in the making.

But, my blog chums, THE DAY CAME. That day was two days ago when I was at work which was a very sad affair. My good pal Emil was there to test run the new place on the day of its opening, but I had to wait until tonight. May I let these photos speak for themselves? Yes, I may.

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Oh yas there was also food AND BEER.

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I tell u what folks, LISTEN, I know that I have seen V Rev grow their itty record store into a classy vegan burger joint through probably more blood, sweat and tears than any of us could imagine. I know that owners Dom & Faridah have given everything and more for a long, long time. I know their staff has grown from Dom-and-a-pal through to a comparatively huge team of really able and lovely folks (our server was only on her first day today, and was an absolute 100% champ). I know V Rev’s ethics go far beyond plant-based eating. I disclose my bias upfront, but I still think they have created something proper magical, and I am so pleased for the whole team. I’ll kinda miss buying my Violife in the olde shoppe, but V Rev in its new incarnation is a special, special place and makes Manchester a destination really worth travelling to from far and wide for truly innovative and exciting vegan grub.

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V Rev is at 20-26 Edge St, Manchester: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

On a New Diagnosis and Trying Not To Go Entirely Mad

Hello, hai, this is how my brain feels most of the time. [pixabay]
Hello, hai, this is how my brain feels most of the time. [via pixabay]
Hello my blog friends, and any folks who may have landed here via other routes or sources *waving*

I want to have a little chat about something that’s plopped onto my radar recently in a most unwelcome fashion. It’s something I’ve been reluctant to have a blog about (which is rather unusual for me) because I’ve been having a cognitive grapple with it, deep in my cancerian shell; with what it means and what I should say, with how I should handle it and whether ‘it’ is even an ‘it’ at all.

I’ve moaned about various physical ailments on my blog (and IRL sorry folks lolz) since around August 2015. The story is a long, winding and rather dull one, but the crux of it being that after a veritable COMPENDIUM of blood tests and other pokings/proddings, my GP has finally run out of other tests to do and so has diagnosed me with chronic fatigue syndrome (aka myalgic encephalomyelitis if you want the fancy name, which lends the whole business a more serious and unpronounceably authentic air).

Here are a few of the super fun symptoms I have had (either long ago, for always, within the last 18 months, or just more recently) that fall into place a bit more now:

  • flipping endless viral infections as a kid HELLO TONSILLITIS MY OLD FRIEND;
  • a long-standing aversion to super bright light and a preference for lying down in a darkened room (see 2:02) as well as the darker seasons (this meshed rather well with my fondness for The Cure as a teen though was generally regarded as quite an undesirable trait by most, I fear);
  • the ability to sleep for ten hundred million and twenty five hours, have two large cups of delicious strong coffee, then go back to bed for a long nap;
  • a whole new 12 kinds of tired that I never even knew existed and won’t even try to explain because I could write 4,500 words on this alone;
  • a tendency towards a ‘boom and bust’ cycle of DOING LOADS OMG MUST DO ALL THE THINGS I WILL BE ON YOUR COMMITTEE I WILL MAKE A ZINE I WILL HAVE A CAKE BUSINESS PICK ME followed by extended periods lying in bed riddled with guilt and self-loathing all while trying not to lose friends or entirely alienate the people who for-some-reason seem to care about me;
  • a strong dislike for loud spaces with lots of chatting (buses, gigs between songs, that sort of thing) and a preference for sticking my earphones in and listening to rain sounds or other white noise;
  • a truly feeble inability to do 75% of the stuff I always used to do before;
  • various numbness and tingly fingers;
  • random gastro symptoms including bloating (yay);
  • a tendency to get jolly deep-down cold and to enjoy hot bubble baths perhaps more often than I should;
  • a tricky time with lots of reading, processing ‘hard’ things like in-depth analysis pieces or journal articles, preference for ‘easy’ stuff like silly fiction;
  • a realisation that I have become one of those goddamn people with GODDAMN SPOONS (the spoonie thing does make me go ‘uhhhhhh’ but at the same time I know it has a LOT of value see below don’t hate me I just wish we didn’t have to resort to such a silly metaphor to get people to understand and empathise with invisible illness/disability I have a cold black heart okay).

Ahhh there might be some other stuff my brain can’t summon right now. I guess you could more or less say that I have this array of symptoms that cause me to be an exceptionally flaky, unreliable and annoying adult human person. Yay? But this spoon business is actually quite handy for explaining how one can simultaneously appear a-ok to folks, and even do stuff like ride a bike or go out boozing sometimes, but also do stuff like take the dog for a walk instead of cooking a proper dinner, or having to forego stuff like taking the dog for a walk (and then feeling super guilty about it) because maybe I had to attend some horrendous 4-hour training session at work that day.

source: http://www.mollysfund.org/
source: http://www.mollysfund.org/

Energy becomes currency, but so does brain power, and it’s like the same currency, which is so weird. Anyhoo. I am freshly brand-new only-just early-stage diagnosed, so I’ve been doing lots of reading, watching YouTube videos, joining online groups, etc., and I’m keeping an activity and symptom diary so I can establish what my current baseline of activity and ‘doing stuff’ actually is. I know that I am very very lucky indeed to be pretty active compared to a lot of folks who have the same diagnosis and I try not to forget that.

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I started tracking various bits and pieces a while ago anyway because I knew I was barely managing to keep on top of essential priorities and I wanted to ensure that I did. The only thing assumed in the top table above is that I have woken up, cleaned myself, gone to work and come home, and once a week that I have done some washing and a bit of housework. Everything else is up for grabs. So I try to eat well, limit coffee, have plenty of water, take all my meds and supplements, walk the dog, cycle if I can manage it (15 mins, twice a day) and try to do something fun (make nice dinner, blog, embroider) or see a friend. All else is completely off the table. I’ve quit my Masters degree. No more hobbies. Barely any socialising. One disappointed dog.

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I wanted to write a little about how I came to this point, the diagnosis, how it made me feel, what the (huuuuuuuge) problems are with rhetoric (medical and social) surrounding the condition, and I dunno some other stuff I’ll know when I get there. Maybe this will help anyone else freshly diagnosed, or maybe others more experienced and knowledgeable than I will be able to offer some sage advice, because I know I have a whole lot to learn.

CFS/ME – diagnosis

I think the first concrete manifestation of ‘some symptoms’ began in August 2015. I’d been to watch Sufjan Stevens at the Apollo. Ahhhh, it was super. He was touring Carrie & Lowell and we had seats and it was a wonderful evening of beautiful sad songs. I had a sore tummy though and it was the start of loads of gastro symptoms that were gross and worrying and I had lots of undignified tests (including a sigmoidoscopy and that’s no fun folks, but I was praised highly by the doc for clearing out my bowels so beautifully in the days prior Ithankyou).

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Eventually, after quite a few months, initial tests all pronounced me healthy of bowel. I was tremendously relieved to know I didn’t have bowel cancer or even a stomach ulcer, but I was still a bit worried by the whole business; lack of a diagnosis isn’t necessarily all that reassuring. At the same time I’d started to feel very tired, run down, and ‘brain foggy’. In the end I had to take a formal interruption of my MA because I couldn’t process or retain information much at all. I was more or less focusing all my energy on work and not much else. Having suffered from 95% manageable mental health problems for nearly 20 years, I spoke to my then-doctor, presuming that I was having a bad flare-up of depression. My mood was actually fairly chipper, but my energy levels were so low and I couldn’t imagine what else it might be. He tweaked my medication and sent me on my way. My symptoms continued.

Eventually I moved to a different GP practice and a B12 deficiency was diagnosed. I was treated with a course of injections which ended around January-February 2016. I felt marginally better, but I wasn’t experiencing the boost in energy and concentration that I’d been told to expect and hoped for. I carried on regardless figuring that my body had fallen into some bad habits and I just needed to shake them off. In the spring of 2016 I had a mega awful bout of viral tonsillitis that just Would. Not. Quit. for around three months. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office bawling my eyes out because this horrible thing would not go away and my tonsils were threatening to turn my whole body inside out thereby transforming me into a giant, pulsating tonsila de la meurte. Eventually my tonsils returned to normal, but my energy levels were back to Very Low. Those symptoms continued and I pestered my GP for another blood test to see how my B12 was keeping up. She humoured me with more tests, but all came back clear. More yay. In January 2016 I’d had a contraceptive implant implanted, and so in desperation I went back to my GP to ask if it could be removed, just on the off-chance it was contributing to any of the symptoms of fatigue. I actually saw a different GP to have that conversation and she very astutely picked up on my desperation and insisted on talking through my symptoms. So I bawled again, and ran through all my various weird problems and symptoms and she ordered quite a suite of blood tests. I did have the implant taken out anyway, but nothing much changed in the way of energy levels, etc. (There were hormonal and other effects, positive and negative, but I dunno I think there is something refreshingly real about PMS and re-connecting to your body in that way, but that’s a tangent.)

[source: pixabay]
[source: pixabay]
The ongoing and repeated tests that came back ‘U R SO HEALTHY‘ (blood count, B12 and other vits/minerals, organ functions, diabetes, glandular fever, coeliac disease, thyroid, loads more I cannot remember) had me feeling pretty miserable by this point. I was trying so hard to convince myself I was FINE and that I just needed to buck up and get on with stuff. It took one more session of me bawling at my doctor to land at the point I’m at now, which is the CFS/ME diagnosis.

Despite this, the symptoms had all become so jumbled in my mind that it was hard to accept. The prior messages of ‘you’re fine, just do more exercise’ lingered, and were at odds with everything I was trying to do and wanted to do. It was all kind of gross and miserable, you guys. I wanted to be a better dog Mum, a better student, a better friend, a better employee, all that stuff. So of course I did the sensible thing and disappeared into my bed cave and yanno watched 3 seasons American Horror Story on Netflix and tried to ignore the world which was Not Quite Fun and I don’t recommend it. I was in a proper head-whirl of thinking could it be

  • (a) a strange new type of depression where my mood is actually pretty ok but I still want to stay in bed all the time anyway;
  • (b) or is my mood ok omg do I feel rubbish because I am so tired or tired because rubbish OMG WOT;
  • (c) a persistent B12 deficiency and blood tests that lie;
  • (d) some other as-yet unidentified ailment;
  • (e) a combination of all of the above; or
  • (f) JUST ME BEING RIDICULOUS.

I pretty much kept on coming back to (f), and I still do that quite often, throwing the CFS/ME diagnosis out of the window.

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This book is actually pretty rubbish and I don’t recommend it.

What a CFS/ME diagnosis means

As mentioned above, I still quite often have the very real actual thought that maybe I am just a lazy arse that needs to pull their socks up after some bad health, and get back to doing adult life properly. Every time I get a burst of energy, I FOR REAL will think “what the chuff, looks like I am actually totally ok, what a KERFUFFLE, I guess I was just being lazy that whole time and actually I’m perfectly healthy but I just hate Doing Stuff and prefer to be in my bedroom all the time ever, fancy THAT!”

I really do think that thought, for serious. And it’s perfectly ridiculous, of course. I know what I’d say to someone else in my position, and I know what advice I’d offer them. But I don’t usually give myself the same level of understanding as I would someone else, and that story’s an old one, ain’t it?

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CFS is a funny one though. One of the first things you learn is that apparently it’s not actually real (UM LOL) aka Yuppie Flu. And not only is it not actually real, doctors will often do a curious double bluff where they look you right in your eyes (in between the bawling) and assure you that it’s very very real, but that it’s sort of also all in your head (or is a series of learned behaviours) and therefore you can absolutely be ~cured~ through cognitive behavioural therapy and something called graded exercise therapy. So yeh that’s basically talking and exercising you riiiiiiight of it which gets a proper thumbs down from me folks, I gotta say, and it really adds a lot of extra confusion to an already rather confusing set of circumstances.

The Controversial Bit

Now I’m still a novice at the whole thing, and I sure can’t understand scientific papers very well, but I’ve boiled the whole sorry situation down to two causes:

      1. That no-one has yet discovered the cause of the syndrome, or even a way to diagnose it other than via ruling other stuff out, and very little $$$ is invested in biomedical research.
      2. That a scientific study (“PACE”) carried out in the late 2000s, and published in The Lancet in 2011, seemed to prove that CBT and graded exercise therapy (GET) would yield significant improvements, and consequently this advice was absorbed by the NHS (and other medical bodies).

While many folks insisted all along that these treatments actually did more harm than good, they faced an uphill struggle against their doctors and against Science™. After a few freedom of information act requests, hard fought and won, some have finally managed to start criticising the PACE study and its methodology with a little more oomph.

Looking Forward

It seems that I’ve rocked up to the party at a funny old time, but perhaps a fortuitous one, in terms of treatment and outlook. In reality, it seems that very few people truly recover from CFS/ME, but I know that I’m super lucky to be as active as I am. And whilst it’s reassuring in a way to finally have an ‘excuse’ (I’m still finding it a bit hard to just say ‘reason’) for being so feeble and lethargic so much of the time, there is still the nagging voice telling me I’m absolutely A-OK super fine, and I just need to pull myself together and stop being so useless.

The ‘treatment’ method more commonly employed by long-time sufferers of CFS/ME is (ironically) called pacing, and it’s about knowing your baseline and limits, and picking and choosing what you do so as to maximise the physical and cognitive energy that you have. Those GODDAMN SPOONS again.

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There’s a clever double meaning here. [via pixabay]
I still have lots to learn about a condition with a verrrrrry changeable reputation, and about which very little is actually known, but for now I am thankful that my friends and family and employer are all forgiving and that I can still do a reasonable amount of stuff. Unfortunately my GP has turned out to be….not so great. She’s very sympathetic that I’m suffering from this yuppie flu, but still thinks I can be talked/exercised out of it. So I’m taking a short GP raincheck while I figure out my approach, because refusing treatment would not do my reputation as a patient much good at all. It’s right back to gross and miserable, but hopefully I can find a way to keep my doctor happy, manage all these bonkers symptoms, and also not end up ten times worse….

If any of y’all suffer from CFS/ME I sure would be interested to hear about it, and if you have any advice or recommendations, please let me know 🙂

Quick disclaimer that if anyone is of a mind to tell me that smoothies/yoga/positive thinking can cure me then please don’t because I won’t know whether to laugh or cry for a week LULZ.

Vegan MOFO 2016: Rainbow Week (and some chilli/sesame tofu)

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It’s RAINBOW WEEK folks, and I’ve been holed up indoors the past few days with a lurgy and a half. I am quite feeble of health at the moment so it’s really hit me, and I’m just starting to regain some senses and feel a little more human. Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post; I am slowly battling through various health problems and my own laziness to return to (vague) normality!

While I couldn’t really taste anything I took advantage and piled on lots of hot chilli to pretty much all m’food just to help show this bad cold the door. I made this colourful chilli and sesame tofu with rice noodles yesterday and wanted to share with you guyz.

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I chopped and pressed the tofu, then put it into an ovenproof dish along with sesame oil, smoked paprika, chilli flakes, salt & pepper and sesame seeds. I baked the tofu for around an hour and served it up with rice noodles, broccoli and chopped spring onion.

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This was part of a little ‘What I Ate’ vlog that you can catch over on YouTube if you so desire.

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Vegan MOFO 2016: Rainbow Week (and some neighbourhood views)

Dearest Mofo friends and blog readers,

I haven’t been having the best of fun the last few weeks. My health has been a bit feeble, life has been overwhelming, I’ve not been feeling great about myself in general, and now I have a super snotty cold. I confess to spending most of my time in bed, which is very silly of me really as I should try to be more positive and Do Stuff. But as it is, I really haven’t done much cooking. I wanted to join in with rainbow week though, so here are some photos of the autumn colours in my neighbourhood. I hope y’all are doing ok ❤

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Vegan Christmas Gift Guide 2016

My vegan friends, Halloween is over and it’s now acceptable to begin discussing Christmas. I myself love the festive season like no other. I am fond of the dark, of wind and rain and of sleet and snow. I am fond of wet wintry walks followed by a hot bath and a bowl of soup. I am fond of old English ghost stories, read from under a blanket. I am especially fond of twinkly Christmas lights and sage & onion stuffing. I am a true Christmas romantic trapped in a very convincing steely, cynical exterior.

And who doesn’t love PRESENTS OMG. If you are a vegan, particularly if you are a fairly new one, navigating the receipt of gifts from family and friends can be hazardous. But fear not, all you need to do is send them a link to this post and your Christmas wishes can all come true. U R WELCOME.

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1. Christmas cards from Suitable for Vegans

Emily is a one-vegan-woman business, designing and drawing adorable greetings cards that are printed with eco-friendly materials, whilst also juggling Mum duties to two young children. In short she is a vegan superhero here to meet all your Christmas card needs! She is hoping to have her designs printed on other items soon, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. (I blogged about Emily’s cards before, here.)

2. Bathtime goodies from The Dirty Vegans

I’ve talked about The Dirty Vegans before as I’m a HUGE fan of their sugar scrubs. The satsuma scrub is just divine, and they’ve recently launched an adorable Christmas range. Cheaper than Lush but just as wonderful, this is another vegan-owned/run business with brilliant products.

3. Vegan propaganda materials from Chiaralascura

Italy-based Chiaralascura produce some of the most squee-worthy vegan gear around. Their products are amazing (eco-friendly and fair trade) and shipping rates reasonable. My mug + stickers order arrived in really good time. There is a vegan unicorn pooping out vegetables what more do you need to know?

4. Isa Chandra’s newest and oldest

Vegans of a certain ~vintage will remember the Post Punk Kitchen fondly. It was a wonderful, radical, online vegan space and was an excellent place for me to ‘meet’ lots of other super cool vegans whose politics were in all the right places when I was just a wee baby vegan myself. Isa Chandra and Terry Hope Romero have both moved on to other (greater?) things now and soon the PPK will be no more. So if you’ve never heard of the PPK, or our Vegan Foremothers, then put these books on your Christmas list for some classic and bang up to date post punk vegan yumminess.

5. Vegan embroidery, patches and pins from That’s Sew Bethany

That’s Sew Bethany is a Manchester (woohoo) based vegan embroiderer and maker of stuff, and her vegan and feminist themed goodies are uh-mazing. For handmade items they are super-reasonably priced and she even offers custom orders.

6. Patreon subs

Here are some Patreon subs that I subscribe to, and that are really worthy of your contribution. So for the vegan who has everything, how about setting up a Patreon subscription or two in their name? These folks are all vegans doing valuable work:

7. Manchester’s first and only vegan diner merch

Shout-out to Manchester’s first and only 100% vegan diner, very soon to reopen in bigger and better premises, having served the city’s vegans with filthy burgers and big fat slices of cake for the last few years. This is their first wee bit of merch and I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

8. Christmas specials from Hannah Banana Bakery

Hannah is a vegan baking QUEEN, and I’ll be very surprised if this Christmas range lasts long at all. I’ve tried Hannah’s amaaazing chocolate brownies before now and I highly recommend anything of hers you can get your hands on. She is tremendously talented and takes great care over all that she creates, and everything is 100% vegan.

9. Vegan friendly dog treats from The Greenhound Bakery

The Greenhound Bakery is based here in the UK North West and produces yummy homemade treats for your pooch without using any animal ingredients. Does your doggo need a personalised cake for Christmas Day? Sure s/he does, and here’s where you can get one! When you order let them know your chosen charity because 10% of all profits go to animal rescue.

10. More vegan propaganda from Compassion Co.

Andy Tabar of the Bearded Vegans podcast heads up this brilliant range of sassy, eco-friendly vegan goodies. Obvs I am a big fan of fat happy & vegan, woohoo!

11. Vegan and fat-positive propaganda from Rad Fat Vegan

Rad Fat Vegan aka Rachele Cateyes creates amazing feminist and body-positive illustrations which you can choose to have printed on a huuuuge number of items via her Redbubble store. She also has an Etsy store where she sells her colouring book zines and is just wonderful ❤

My vegan chums, what does your eco-friendly, cruelty-free heart desire this festive season? Let me know!

Vegan MOFO 2016: International Week (and a New Zealand boil-up)

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Google is a wonderful thing, my Mofo friends. Following today’s prompt, I found a tremendous little tool that uses Google Maps to show you the (precise) polar opposite of any point on the map. If I navigate to my very residence, it turns out that right below me is naught but the Tasman Sea (close-to-but-not-in the South Pacific Ocean). As I zoom slowly out from that salty wet spot, I expect to find myself in Australia, but the nearest dry land is actually New Zealand.

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All I know about New Zealand I learned from Crowded House and Flight of the Conchords**, but I wanted to go a little beyond chocolate cake. It turns out (unsurprisingly) that lamb and seafood feature heavily in a lot of traditional dishes, particularly traditional Māori dishes that are often cooked on a hāngi. Obviously there ain’t no lamb or seafood in this house, and all I have at my disposal is the very modern electric cooker and hob in my kitchen, so I’m going for a New Zealand boil-up with dumplings.

When I saw the first recipes for this dish it brought to mind a Dutch stamppot, made for me occasionally by my then-boyfriend’s Mum when we lived in the Netherlands. Ideally it should contain a special variety of sweet potato (kūmara) but I had to make do with what was on sale at the grocer’s down the road.

The dumplings are a little different from what we Brits are used to, with not a box of suet in sight. Nevertheless the spirit of a warm, soft and doughy ball of squishy delight sitting in a warm and hearty stew remains just the same.

Any boil-up recipe calls for lots of meat; usually fatty meats which I am guessing is because there is chuff all by way of seasoning in most recipes I found. Huh? I used some Quorn chick’n chunks and added salt, pepper and rosemary.

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Folks, even the dumplings couldn’t save a bowl of boiled veg and chick’n pieces. This was not the greatest, but I guess it was healthy at least? Thank dog I balanced that out with some M&S crisps and sweets I guess. Why didn’t I just go for the chocolate cake?

** Okay, also special mention for Lorde who is  ❤

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Vegan MOFO 2016: International Week (and Lancashire hotpot)

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Friends, I dearly wanted to attempt a Manchester Tart for today’s Mofo theme (‘Close to home’) and ordinarily I would’ve reached for the ol’ Vegan Egg. But ever since the unfortunate Spewathon of August 2016, which was preceded immediately by the consumption of one large Vegan Egg omelette, I haven’t been able to face it.

Not to worry. I googled for some inspiration and hit upon a Lancashire hotpot recipe. I have fond memories of my paternal Grandfather cooking up a hotpot for us whenever we paid a (rare) Sunday visit. We could hear him whistling cheerfully from the kitchen, clanging pots and pans, merrily throwing me an occasional wink whenever he walked past the living room door. My Nana was very strict and stern and wasn’t thought of very generously by anyone on the maternal side of my family; I often look back now and wonder how such a mismatched pair stuck together for so many decades, but stick they did, and in fact passed away within 36 hours of each other when well into their 90s.

I’m not too familiar with the paternal side of my family having been estranged from my Dad since I was about 13 or 14 years old. But I’ve done lots of research via Ancestry and I traced the line back, reliably, to the 1600s, and they were all still based right here in Lancashire (weaving, for the most part).

(You can read about my Ancestry adventures and the discovery of my long-lost American cousin here….)

In summary, I feel that this dish is doubly appropriate for today’s theme. My Grandad used lamb in his recipe, and the one I found online called for 100g lard, 900g lamb steak and 3 lamb kidneys. CHANGES WERE MADE, MY FRIENDS. Lamb kidneys? Good grief.

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I used a Granose chargrilled burger mix to fashion little ‘beef’ pieces, which I rolled and coated in flour and then browned in coconut oil and a few splashes of vegan worcester sauce. I added chopped onions, mushrooms, carrot and swede and some vegetable stock. I let the mix boil and then simmer with bay leaves added, before transferring to an oven dish and topping with thinly sliced potato and salt and pepper, then baking for 20 minutes or so.

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It’s getting chilly now, and a hotpot sure suits the weather. I still have my eye on that Manchester tart though….

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Vegan MOFO 2016: Treat yourself! (to dinner at Zizzi’s)

I’m slightly out of whack with these daily themes so far, my Mofo friends, but I wanted to include the recent trip to Zizzi that Emil and I took. We wanted to try their new menu and carb ourselves into heady, bready oblivion. We’d heard there was a dessert calzone in town and we both wanted to check it out.

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Of course we’ve long known now that Zizzi is a friend to the vegans with their allergen menu and super delicious Mozzarisella topped pizzas, but they’ve now taken their offerings up a notch with a restyled bruschetta and new pasta dishes, as well as the above-mentioned dessert excitement….

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I’ve always been a fan of a decent bruschetta, and I’m glad Zizzi have added garlic and onion to their tomato topping. It’s not a hot/cooked one, but the bread is warm and very tasty indeed, so it works on the overall. I enjoy the unashamed oiliness of it all, which isn’t quite approaching Jamie Oliver levels, but is indulgent enough to be Just Right.

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In the interest of science, I bravely declined to partake of a main course pizza, and instead tried out the lentil ragu. I opted for extra artichokes and mushrooms and it was a very tasty main indeed. Naught but a thumbs up from this pizza fan.

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But what of dessert? Both Emil and I opted (like any grown human person of right mind would) for the coconut/chocolate gelato topped dessert calzone, which did not disappoint. A soft doughy exterior, a molten banana centre with the occasional crunch of a caramelised pecan, and the intermittent bit of tart (blueberry). I could have snorted one up each nostril and been ready for more. Top marks, Zizzi.

Tonight Mr SB and I plan to treat ourselves to fajitas, with at least one exciting ingredient new to the vegan market (no, it’s not Gary) and so that might inform tomorrow’s blogging a bit.

I hope you’re all enjoying Mofo 16! I plan to try and visit as many blogs as I can this weekend. I’m obviously super bummed that Emil isn’t taking part (his themes are LEGENDARY) but I hope I might have persuaded him to do one or two blogs in honour of the season, if not a full 30.

Happy weekend, friends.

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Vegan MOFO 2016: Treat Yourself! (to some winter vegetable soup)

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Dearest Mofoing friends,

Here I am, Day 3 of our glorious month of Mofember, the VEGAN MONTH OF FOOD, and I arrive a little late but bearing a wondrous hearty soup with which to temper this flipping awful weather we’ve been having.

It was on a recent dreary day that I delved into the unknown depths of the vegetable basket and decided to make use of whatever was in there. I fried up some onion and ginger in a little olive oil, then added finely chopped squash, parsnip, carrot and swede. I threw in a cup of red lentils and plenty of vegetable stock.

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I left it all to bubble until the vegetables were good and soft, then blended it all into a thick and hearty soup. I stirred in a little soya cream when serving up.

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I might find MOFO a little bit of a struggle this year, but I won’t go into all that right now. Hopefully I have the time to make the most of the suggested daily themes, though, as well as the weekly. Currently I am mostly adjusting to some new medication with a very dry mouth and a very spaced-out brain, as well as watching loads of American Horror Story (maybe not good for the brain in combination?)

I’m determined to ride the MOFO train ALL THE WAY this month after a couple of failed attempts in recent years. I’ll also be doing my best to visit other blogs and report back on the splendid posts I find.

Happy MOFO everyone! I can’t wait to see what you all come up with 🙂

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Jenny’s Top Ten Halloween Films 2016

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Les Catacombes (2010)

So, ok folks, if there’s one thing Jenny knows a thing or two about, it’s horror. I’ve been into flipping weird stuff since I was about 10 years old.

When I was wee, I loved a good read. At 9 or 10 I started reading the Point Horror series. These were super tame ‘horror’ stories that essentially all had identical storylines, usually involving babysitters and stalkers. But with a Judy Blume sort of a vibe yanno? Nancy Drew was definitely some gateway fiction for me, without a doubt.

My Mum went to a school parents’ evening when I was at junior school (elementary school?) and the teacher told her my reading was at a fairly good level, so I could probably manage something a bit more advanced. My dear old Mum took one look at my Point Horror collection and went straight out to purchase The Shining and Carrie, and at 10 years old I read ’em both. (I subsequently had Carrie confiscated by the same teacher, but there we are.)

My Mum wasn’t to be deterred though, and when I was 13 she gifted me ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombies’ which was my first introduction to both Edgar Allan Poe and M.R. James (‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar‘ is still the creepiest zombie tale I ever read, hands down.) I ended up with a super collection of old ghost stories, Arthur C Clarke compendiums, World’s Weirdest/Strangest This and That, and other splendid oddities.

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Over on the other side of town, my Dad was super into a lot of British ‘uncanny’ and sci-fi, like the Quatermass films, Hammer House of Horror, and other similar weirdness. One scene from The Quatermass Xperiment stuck with me for YEARS, along with the Miss Havisham Burning To Death scene in the 1946 Great Expectations adaptation (which I sat and watched in quiet horror on a family visit to my Grandparents’ one Sunday, either before or after The Antiques Roadshow).

The BBC’s ghost story for Christmas series was always a firm favourite too, with Charles Dickens’ The Signalman and M.R. James’ Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad (1968!) particular highlights for me. I was happy to see Mark Gatiss picking up the baton a couple of years back, but I wish he’d get back to it instead of fannying about in Hollywood OMG MARK.

We all used to watch a lot of 60s/70s/80s horror in the late 80s and into the 90s. That’s because there weren’t a whole lot of re-makes being made back then I guess. I’m not against a contemporary update of an old classic in principle; I think they did a flipping fantastic job with Carrie. But check out the first-time-rounders first, because a lot of the new versions are effing awful.

But to the substance of the story, eh? I found it difficult to come up with 10 of my favourites, old and new. The first six or so were no-brainers, and then I struggled to come up with another few that I liked enough, or more than the others enough, to feature here. Some top horror films I’ve already covered when I did Vegan Mofo back in 2013. There is a really excellent list of films on this list if you want any more inspiration. In any case, I think all are top-notch late October fare, so I recommend you get the beers and pizzas in, get under a blanket and turn off the light.

(Links to FULL MOVIE on YouTube where available).

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Most folks get the wrong idea about this film. No doubt it spawned more than one generation of zombie flicks, but I’d call this more of a sci-fi offering than pure horror. A NASA experiment gone wrong gives us a backdrop that feeds off 1950s/1960s cultural fear of The Bomb, radiation and what mankind might find in space. Legend has it that the film distributer didn’t bother with any proper copyrighting back in 1968, since they thought this inexpensively produced b-movie wouldn’t go anywhere. For that reason (or maybe another, who knows) the film is now in the public domain and so can be bought very cheaply and/or watched online. The black male character lead was unusual at the time, and given some of the film’s later scenes, many thought George Romero made a strategic choice casting Duane Jones in the lead role; Romero insisted that he simply gave the best audition.

Night of the Living Dead was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, as a film deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Did you know that the word zombie isn’t mentioned once throughout the entire movie?

Favourite quote: “No you’re right it doesn’t give them time to make funeral arrangements. The bodies must be carried to the street and…..and burned, they must be burned immediately, soak them with gasoline and burn them. The bereaved will have to forego the dubious comforts that a funeral service will give.”

2. Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist was a HUGE favourite in my youth. My Mum was quite strict as Mums go, or so it seemed in a lot of ways, but I remember being allowed to read (see above) and watch whatever I wanted when it came to horror stuff. I recall being able to sit through the face-scraping-off scene in Poltergeist like a CHAMP while my older brother left the room. That’s probably not something to be proud of is it?

Anyhoo. I have a massive soft spot for early Spielberg, because once upon a time he did everything so flipping well. My Mum tells me this film particularly affected her after she had children, and I think that’s testament to how brilliantly JoBeth Williams plays Diane in this film. I’d like to say Spielberg was blazing a trail when he invited the researchers into the house with their scientific equipment (hello Insidious) but there are at least a couple of earlier examples below.

I was particularly upset at Sam Raimi for even thinking about re-making this film, never mind actually doing it and then starting it off with Broke Young Couple With Happy Family Buys Curiously Cheap But Extravagant House. Urgh. I really only allowed The Amityville Horror that. Speaking of….

3. The Amityville Horror (1979)

I’m talking about the 1979 ~classic~ here, featuring Margot Kidder as Not Lois Lane and based on the ‘true story’ of the aftermath of Ronald DeFeo, who murdered his family of 7 in the house in 1974. I have mixed feelings about this film these days; looking back, it’s clear that Ronnie DeFeo was a violent criminal who found fame (and some fortune) after killing his family, which doesn’t seem quite right. Further, the film actually focuses on the first family to move into the house after the killing, the Lutz Family. They claimed the house was haunted and fled ‘in terror’ after only a couple of weeks there. An interesting documentary charts what that experience was like for one of the Lutz children, whose life was massively impacted by those events. Nevertheless, I was sooooo fascinated by the whole Amityville franchise as a kid, I read the books, watched the films, the whole thing, so it really needed to have a place in this list.

Favourite moment: Father Delaney and the GETTT OUTTTTTTTTT incident.

4. Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser should really have been at the top of this list for having an influence on me at the earliest age. When I was a ween, my Dad would occasionally treat us to a trip to the local video shop, and I’d stare at the top two shelves of horror in awe. Pinhead’s face would stare back at l’il old me, and I’d wonder what unknown terrors one VHS tape could possibly contain. As soon as I could, I watched it, and obviously it didn’t give me a death frighten, but it was pretty grim.

Borne from Clive Barker’s very perverted imagination (Trent Reznor is a big fan NSFW!!1!) via a short novella, Hellraiser is a celebration of the pleasures of the flesh (erm, not really though, given the choice between sex and torture by fishing equipment I’d take the former and actually I think so would the majority) and of course, puzzles. It has a wonderfully disjointed combination of American actors/actresses and a very suburban English setting. I still very fondly remember the Halloween party where I smeared ‘I AM IN HELL HELP ME’ on the white bathroom tiles in fake blood, which is not good for the grouting, let me tell you. Ahhhh, youth. Not for the squeamish.

I literrrrally cannot pick a favourite Pinhead quote. Here is an excellent round-up of many on YouTube.

5. The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Based, sort of, on the absolutely fantastic Legend of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and one of Roddy McDowell’s finest hours, this is a classic 70s haunted house flick, an early foray into the ‘rational scientists try and use science to fight ghosts’ trope.

Another super seance scene or two tips this film into the list for me. The tension between all the house’s inhabitants was much more palpable in Shirley Jackson’s novel, but nevertheless a good 70s haunting romp.

6. The Changeling (1980)

Not to be confused with The One Where Angelina Jolie’s Kid Goes Missing, this classic Canadian haunted house film from 1980 supposedly influenced horror up-n-comer Ti West (see below) and I can see why.

This film has everything you need from a halloween movie: ghosts, seance, creepy hidden rooms, the vengeance of the unquiet dead, and completely uncluttered by fripperies like sex or romance. Top notch classic scary haunted house fun.

Favourite moment: is definitely the superb seance scene. Most extensive YouTube clips are blocked due to copyright claims, but I think this is one worth digging out.

7. The Innkeepers (2012)

This is the most ~modern~ film on my list. Another classic haunted house movie, this time from above-mentioned Ti West who has tried his hand at a few horror movie tropes now, and all with great success (see also The House of the Devil and The Sacrament).

At first glance this appears like a standard teen horror flick, but it’s actually a really well paced and lovingly crafted build up of tension built around a very standard premise. Again, uncluttered by sex and romance (aside from a couple of adorably awkward moments) this is completely dedicated to a couple of staff members and guests inside an old hotel for its last weekend in business.

8. Prince of Darkness (1980)

John Carpenter, the Spielberg of the horror world (maybe?), knocked out some serious classics in his day (see: The Fog, The Thing, They Live). Having already gushed about The Fog in a previous post (back when I did Vegan MoFo) I decided to go for another JC favourite this time.

Prince of Darkness has the soundtrack brilliance you’d expect from John Carpenter; it’s a thrilling homage to science-meets-religion-meets-evil. There’s a cameo by Alice Cooper and Donald Pleasance does his usual excellent job as the sort-of-good-sort-of-not-good guy. It also has philosophy in. And maths. And the little shopkeeper dude from Tremors.

9. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)

A homage to my hometown, fellow Manchester residents can see scenes of the city from around 00:02:30 in the above video. Aside from that, I guess it’s just another 70s horror flick set in the Peak District!

10. Santa Sangre (1989)

Not a horror film per se, anything that Alejandro Jodorowsky produces tends to be horrific in some way. This bizarro tale follows a man whose circus-master Father mutilates his Mother and then takes his own life, an act he witnesses as a young boy. Once grown, he escapes from a hospital where he rejoins his Mother, subordinated and controlled by her and forced to act as her arms (chopped off in aforementioned mutilation). Very weird and probably not one to watch with anyone you aren’t very close to because some of it is gross and awkward.

Because I am so great, I also made you guys a halloween playlist. What are you listening to?

So what’ll you be watching this Halloween weekend, folks? Any firm favourites?

A week in photos, and some recipe crushes

My blog friends, it hasn’t been the best week or two for my very feeble mental health. I’m not entirely sure of the source for this slump, but I haven’t been too successful at getting out and about, cooking splendid food or other standard adult human activities. I really ought to be hoovering and preparing lunch for my super friend Emil right now, but why commit to such sensible endeavours when there’s sitting at the computer listening to throwback music and doing pointless blogging? Why indeed!

Before I treat you to a week’s worth of photographic silliness, how about some recipe crushes? I am glad to start stockpiling lots of lovely autumnal ideas because I know that pretty soon the veg box is going to be stuffed full of root veg and apples……

I got a new tattoo and was brave as usual….. Thanks OF COURSE to the super lovely Hannah at Rain City who always indulges my silly requests perfectly.

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See how brave I am? *strong arm emoji*

I’ve been trying to keep on top of my studies but the past week has been a total bust. I had a great conversation or three with the wellbeing team at my Uni, and they’re lining up some support for me, but it won’t happen immediately so I’m just kind of hoping I won’t eff things up too badly for the time being LULZ.

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I toddled over to visit Emil earlier this week, and finally got to meet his super cheeky kitty cat Kobi. He also whipped up a DELICIEUSE pumpkin risotto and maple nutty Quorn chick’n fillet yes pls.

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On my way to Emil’s I came across this tremendous haunted house, which I’ve seen before in the past but it’s really looking SUPER creepy these days.

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Some nice walkies were had yesterday, though my pooch fell into fits of terror as we passed near to a chap playing the saxophone. A little dog-carrying did, therefore, take place *eye roll*.

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I think the saddest vegan-related news of late has been my cancellation of my trip to London to attend the ‘pro intersectional’ VegFest event at the end of this month. The line-up of speakers is a one-off, and is made up of a really special collection of folks. But the curse of being in The North strikes again and I really don’t have the funds to take a weekend trip to London right now. I am double disappointed to miss the chance to meet the amaaaaaazing Vegan Warrior Princesses themselves. You guyz, if you can get to London to take part in this stuff you should, I am pretty sure it will be fantastic.

For now, I will wish you all a bearable week ahead. Try not to take Monday too hard!