There are two reasons why I was excited when Rollagranola got in touch to introduce me to its granola range: firstly, I love granola but I rarely buy it as most granola products (in the mainstream supermarkets near me) contain honey so they’re not vegan (and unlikely to be ethical) so I try to avoid them; and secondly, I’ve had my eye on making a granola-based stuffing recipe for Christmas, so it was perfect timing.
If you’re reading this post just before Christmas then it might offer some vegan cooking inspiration just in time, but otherwise, these dairy-free and egg-free vegan stuffing balls with granola would make a great addition to any roast (or any dinner!) at any time of year.
Now, here’s something I never cook with – pastry. Combined with cheese (vegan), it’s a double-wammy combo that I wouldn’t normally turn to, but Whole Foods Market kindly sent me This Is Not Cheese Sauce by Willicroft to try so I thought I’d give something new a go – it’s festive season, after all.
This is actually the first time I’ve ever made anything with puff pastry and I have to say, I’m so surprised at how easy it was. Could this be a new thing for me? The Willicroft cheese also made it extra easy.
This dish took minutes to assemble, less than 15 minutes to cook and looked great on the table. So for all you beginner pastry cooks out there, give this a go!
I’ve now had 32-ish vegetarian Christmases (since I was nine!) and 15-ish vegan Christmases (since I was 25) – and this year I’m pretty excited about the ever-growing choices popping up for vegan Christmas food. I’ve even noticed some online stores showing a separate sections dedicated to a vegetarian and vegan Christmas. Hoorah!
Today’s post is on Cole’s Gluten-Free Christmas Pudding from Whole Foods Market (£6.99) – where you can find massive ranges of vegan, natural and organic foods – that was kindly sent to me to try.
While I’m not that big on Christmas pudding itself, I was interested to write about it because it’s such as centrepiece traditional dessert that I’m sure there’ll be people looking for gluten-free and vegan Christmas pudding options. It’s also nut-free and alcohol-free, making it perfect for all of these dietary requirements.
Where will you be doing your Christmas shopping this year? Whether you’ll be in lockdown or not, I imagine there’ll be more festive shopping done online than ever before. So what a great opportunity to seek out gifts and products that are ethical, and brands and retailers that you may not have come across before – the perfect time to spread seasonal love!
I spoke to mother and daughter duo, Sharon and Annie, who set up MettaLife, a one-stop online shop for vegan, ethical and cruelty-free products. Launched in 2019, they now stock over 100 brands and 2,000 products.
Last minute shopping for the plant based, eco warrior in your life? Or maybe you just need some inspiration for good eco and ethical gifts. Look no further than a few of my favourite products that I use and highly rate.
These tick eco friendly, sustainable, stylish (and if not stylish, then useful!). Would love to hear your what eco presents you have given, received or recommend. After all, ethical and sustainable should be all year round, not just for Christmas.
Worried about excess waste at Christmas? Trying to have a festive season that treads a little lighter on the planet? Fear not, I assure you it’s possible! Yes, Christmas is probably one of the most un-eco times of year but if going green with wrapping is on your radar then check out Wrag Wrap – reusable, fabric gift wrap. A innovative new way to wrap and give.
I discovered Wrag Wrap on Twitter – a small company inventing a novel approach to wrapping. A lot of thought has gone into making Wrag Wraps as ethical and as sustainable as possible.
Did you know that the UK sends 5 million tons of paper waste to landfill every year? And it takes six mature trees to make one tonne of paper. That’s 50,000 trees for the 8,500 tonnes of paper used at Christmas.
The ‘paper’ is made from 45% plastic waste (from recycled plastic bottles) and 55% polyester (although they would like it to be 100% recycled materials in the future). The type of recycled polyester used has a 50% lower carbon footprint than organic cotton, and apparently keeps 900 million plastic bottles a year away from landfill. Read more hereabout why WragWrap choice recycled polyester over cotton or other sustainable fabrics.
Wrag Wrap founders know that people like the tradition of wrapping and unwrapping presents so they added crackle into one of the styles: A 30cm x 30cm square with vibrant, fabulous prints, a cord and button attached so you don’t have to use tape, plus a tag pouch so you can write a message – they’ve thought of everything!
If you’re wondering about the crackle (could it be some un-eco cellophane paper?), I can tell you even that’s been considered: made out of discarded music festival tents, collected before being scooped up and taken to landfill. Brilliant!
If you’re wondering how to make reusable wrapping work for you, WragWrap co-founder, Nick has this note of inspiration: “Some prefer to keep their Wrag Wraps in the family, starting a new tradition and passing them around from year to year. Others like to send them out on a journey – give one to a special friend, who then gets to pass it on.”
I love the ingenuity of Wrag Wrap and hope they go from strength to strength!
Christmas jumpers not your thing? Nothing in ASOS taking your fancy? Then why not style it up with a touch of old-school vintage glamour instead. I popped into Beyond Retro on Great Marlborough Street in Soho, London and struck gold. Well, black actually…
In amongst rails of garish party sequins (which I also love, but wasn’t in the mood for) I found this very elegant cropped cardi adorned with beautiful black beading. I’ll wear it proud this party season and will probably upgrade non-party outfits with it the rest of the year too.
A true classic that I expect will be worn for many more years and occasions. That’s why I love vintage shopping – because you never know when you’ll find a unique piece that will stand the test of time!
While everyone’s talking Christmas Eve Eve (a phrase which I’ve never heard before but is now strangely trending on Twitter right now), I’m talking insect sprays, because instead of packing presents I’m in battle against mosquitoes on holiday in Asia – a very un-Christmasy situation! (But trust me, I’m so not into Christmas I’d rather be waging war against mosquitos than fighting another kind of battle on Oxford Street).
Luckily I’d recently been sent some natural insect repellent to try. And luckily for me on this amazing winter sun holiday, it doesn’t just work but is genuinely gorgeous to use too. If you’re in a hotter climate that calls for mozzy spray but want to avoid the awful stench of deet (the most common ingredient used to ward off biting insects but so powerful it can send you dizzy too), then meet Mrs White’s Unstung Hero.
A cologne that cleverly doubles up as a bug repellent but smells like a fragrance you might actually like to wear. It’s uplifting and citrusy – like a summer breeze blowing through a lemon orchard – and leaves skin lightly refreshed.
I love the vintage-style, apothecary-inspired glass bottle but as it’s not made for travel, sadly I have gone away with a decanted version in a far less-glamorous 100ml spray.
I’ve been splashing Mrs White’s religiously onto my ankles, legs and arms this holiday and remained bite-free for 10 days in India but as I hit destination no.2, Indonesia, I relaxed for one night only and took my eyes off the ball, or should I say the fragrance off my skin. I paid the price as I instantly became prime mozzie target and now have the war wounds to show for it.
If you want to avoid deet or even looking for an alternative to citronella, the most common botanical ingredient used in anti-mosquito spray (after travelling through Thailand ten years ago, the smell of citronella for me, is forever locked in with drunken nights on SangSom whiskey buckets) then what a find Mrs White’s Unstung Hero is. A cool cologne that takes the bite out of mozzy sprays. Don’t go away without her.
If, thanks to a festive five-a-day diet of Celebrations, Cadbury’s Miniatures and Quality Street over Christmas, your skin has seen better days, then I recommend getting your mitts on ESPA Purifying Tea Tree Gel to tackle any peevy problems.
ESPA Purifying Tea Tree Gel is an all-round healing gel that helps to de-congest spots, reduce their inflammation and bring them to a state that’s definitely more manageable within 24 hours. That’s thanks to antibacterial tea tree oil and antiseptic thyme. Last night, I slathered it on a couple of spots that were raging to make their mark, and today, I can certainly say they’re on the mend. Calmer, smaller and quieter. The evening primrose oil which is hydrating, also makes it great for irritations and itches.
If you have a great spot-zapper to share, pray tell. We all need a little help to get through the new year with happier, clearer skin.
I can’t quite believe I’m in Iraq. Not your usual holiday destination but a fascinating experience being in a country I’ve heard so much about. I’m visiting family, some of whom haven’t seen me since I was born there, and spending a couple of weeks exploring northern Iraq – Erbil, in the region of Kurdistan – and Kirkuk. I won’t be going to Baghdad unfortunately as security in the capital is volatile again but Kurdistan is a very different and much safer environment so nothing like a war zone. It’s been an extraordinary experience so far and nothing like I expected!
This oil-rich country which now produces around two million barrels of oil a day, has been practically off limits for the past thirty years thanks to a few decades of Saddam-rule (1979-2003), an Iraq-Iran war that lasted a gruelling eight years, a conflict with Kuwait, 13 years of sanctions, a US-UK invasion in 2003 and then, if that wasn’t enough, a decade of insurgency and heavy sectarian violence. I’m so glad I’ve been able to visit and here’s a snap shot of what I’ve seen…
In the north of Iraq, in the semi-autonomous state of Kurdistan, Erbil has gone from a small town to a sprawling city in less than ten years. It’s a lot more developed than I thought it would be – malls, high rise apartments, land cruisers and buildings in construction everywhere! Life in Erbil seems relaxed and comfortable – I’ve heard it’s reminiscent of how Iraq used to be in the 70s: restaurants, parks, social life, shopping, work and travel. It’s very very different to the rest of Iraq so it’s more of a boom town than a bombed town.
Security is tight (tailbacks to enter the city by road are long as security guards check every car entering the city) so it hasn’t suffered from the level of insurgency attacks other parts of the country have. With so much investment it’s apparently a bit like Dubai was as it was just being built, 10-15 years ago.
There are many international oil companies here – nearby Kirkuk is abundant with oil as is the south of Iraq –encouraging a domino effect of investment; high rises and new villages filled with expats are dotted around, international hotels stand tall and there are countless, shiny new malls.
I hate mall-life, I find it so artificial and stifling, but I made it a mission to visit as many as I could (for research purposes!) and managed four: Majidi Mall, Royal Mall and Family Mall and Mega Mall. Christmas was in full swing with festive lights and Christmas trees pulling in crowds; these malls are full of young families hanging out, perusing the floors for hours on end.
Among the string of unbranded, foreign clothes stores, I spotted a few recognisable names: Clark’s, Mango, DKNY, Levi’s, Ecco, Bourjois, Rimmel London, Max Factor, Nivea, Dove and others.
There’s also a super-sized mega mall being built with a big sign on the scaffolding naming Aldo, Nine West, and others on their way.
There’s an old town too: Not all of Erbil is fresh out the wrapper – like Baghdad, Erbil is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world so there’s rich history to absorb too. By the citadel (old fortress) which dates back thousands of years (yes, this was my favourite part of town) there’s a traditional market, full of character. The citadel is currently being restored and has been listed as a Unesco historic site – Petra, eat your heart out.
Jeffrey Archer, after his visit to Iraq in 2010, noted back then, the region, particularly Kurdistan, was ‘a boom town’. He said:
‘If I were a young man, looking to make my fortune, I would be off to Iraq like a shot….I would say, go east young man, go to Kurdistan. You could make your first million, and what’s more, you won’t be taxed at 50 per cent.’ You can read the full article here.
Construction, investment, business opportunities and vibrant life is on every corner – will Erbil be tomorrow’s Dubai? Let’s see!
Where Erbil’s shiny good looks are attracting magpie eyes, Kirkuk is a lot older, dustier, more tired and more ravaged by effects of troubled Iraq than Erbil. Put simply, it’s seen better days.
But there’s a wonderful charm and an amazing history. Some parts of the town – like ‘Khal’ah’ (which means ‘castle’ or citadel in English) where my dad grew up – date back up to 6000 years. This used to be a little village on a hill overlooking the city but Saddam tried to bulldoze it down back in the 80s and what remained was left to crumble. We walked around, took many photos and saw my dad’s old school and bit of land his house to be on. Totally fascinating!
There are plans in the pipeline to restore some parts so watch this space, maybe it will be the next must-see historical tourist destination along with Erbil.
Down the hill in the surrounding market place I felt like I’d stepped back in time as we jostled, shoulder to shoulder, with hijab-clad women doing their shopping or looking for a bargain. Food, clothes, household goods, and even animals are found in this bustling, dusty and windy market.
It’s very difficult to take photos in public areas, and definitely not allowed if police, officials or army are around, so I had to be careful – frustrating as I would have loved to capture the scenes. It’s also sometimes frowned upon by locals, so I grabbed a few sneaky pics when there were gaps in the crowds.
Kirkuk doesn’t have the advantage of international investment and sadly security is still a problem so the knock on effect is that it’s less developed, rundown, tired and faces regular bombings – just a few weeks ago the hospital and shopping mall were attacked which really shook the city. People are surviving in a better environment than in Baghdad, where bombings and violence from militias are destroying neighbourhoods on a daily basis, as bad as it was in 2008, but in Kirkuk, locals still live in anxiety over when and where their next attack will be.
Food, glorious food! It’s the cornerstone of Iraqi culture (as it is in most of the Middle East and Mediterranean). Our days revolved around meal times, and for local women who are at home looking after the house and children, much of their day is spent preparing and cooking meals. Nearly everything is bought fresh from the market and cooked from scratch – a food lover’s paradise!
The concept of being a vegetarian is totally foreign and bewildering to everyone here but the choice and quality of vegetables is vast so it’s more than possible to get round the meat-heavy culture. My relatives and most locals, however, simply couldn’t understand it: how and why could I live without meat? So they offered me fish and chicken instead! Even though standard dishes all involve meat it’s possible to create veggie versions of almost anything.
My favourite traditional dishes that are just as great without meat are: Bamya (ladies fingers or okra) and rice; grilled or pan-fried aubergine/egg plant; aubergine and pepper bake; white beans in tomato sauce; pan-fried cauliflower with rice; green beans in tomato sauce; lentil soup, the list goes on. Pomengranates are locally grown and supersized. Lettuce, romaine style is sweeter than I’ve ever tasted, served as whole leaves, stacked high on a plate, as a snack.
Eating out was relatively easy too – the stream of mezzas (starter, sharing dishes) that arrive as soon as bums hit seats (no need to order) are all vegetarian, and delicious – usually hummus, aubergine dip (babaghanoush), salads and few other varieties of dips. There’s an amazing walnut and tomato dip that kept appearing which I need to find a recipe for. Falafel, which I love, is less than a dollar here served in local take away shops, served in Iraqi bread with salad and fried aubergine – delicious!
Life in general has obviously changed for millions of Iraqis over the last few decades. People thought toppling Saddam’s dictatorship would fix the country but far from it. Ten years on and there is still no political or day-to-day security.
Author of the renowned blog, Baghdad Burning, penned her thoughts for the anniversary of Iraq’s invasion, this year in her final post, Iraq, Ten Years On. If you’re interested in what the last ten years has been like, please read it!
The violence. The violence and friction that never used to exist has torn through everyone’s lives and killed more than a million people in less than ten years. Growing up, my parents lived side by side with all sects of Muslims and Christians but since the invasion, millions have left their homes and families to escape being terrorised and killed. This fighting is nothing to do with people on the ground hating each other – we’ve never known this friction between people before and have never once considered whether someone is Shia or Sinna – this is a new concoction, engineered by powerful political forces, manipulating the political vacuum and masquerading as religious fighting.
People have changed too. Religion is a dominant force now, as it is across most of the region, but it hasn’t always been that way. It’s generally assumed that as politics breaks down, religion rises in popularity and that’s certainly what’s happened in Iraq and the mid-east. My parents grew up in the sixties and seventies when religion was considered old fashioned; it was unpopular to wear the hijab (head scarf), let alone anything more covered – mini skirts were all the rage instead! It was deemed to be modern to be secular. Now you can’t walk through Baghdad without wearing a hijab, if not more.
Photos of Kirkuk in the 70s for example, show it to be a smart, glossy city with groomed gardens and parks, but years of war and neglect have left it tired and slightly ramshackled. Same with Baghdad, it was once one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the birth place of modern civilisation. Not any more. Waste management for example is a huge problem across Iraq, with some streets covered entirely with rubbish and debris. Recycling? Forget it! So much needs to change it seems an impossible task.
This, I hope, won’t be my last visit to Iraq. Despite having never lived here I felt totally at home and really comfortable, almost like I belonged. Who knows what the future might hold, but looking forward to more experiences to share!
Christmas, health, diet and wellbeing don’t usually go hand in hand, which is why I’ve taken away a dream team to help me through the festive period in a slightly better state – let’s call it damage control. Not only is it Christmas but I’m on holiday too so double trouble.
These health favourites are nothing fancy, and nothing complicated, just products that are natural, simple to use or take, easy to incorporate into a daily diet (however overindulgent it might be) and will hopefully mean the damage-remedy in January will be less of a mammoth task to manage.
From left to right:
Viridian Equinox Elixir – with nasty air con blasting, you’re lucky to get off a flight without sneezing or coughing so I take this herbal tincture with a bit of water when I’m in the air to ward off any bacteria or germs. Antioxidants are my number one in-flight essential and because Viridian Equinox is helpful for boosting the immune during a change of seasons, it’s perfect for travel too.
Viridian Digestive Elixir – I’ve made it a daily habit to take 20 drops of another great Viridian tincture, Digestive Elixir, after learning about the benefits of morning bitters from the experts at Grayshott Hall. This one supports the enzymes necessary for digestion and I’ve taken it every day without fail this holiday. I’m eating extraordinary amounts of food this holiday, some of which I’m not used to, so setting myself up on the right path first thing in the morning helps my tummy get through the day!
VeryWise EnergyWise – this is a new kid on the health block so I’ve taken it away to try. There are six oils in this new range of Omega 3 ‘shots’ by VeryWise, as Omega 3 is thought to be the cornerstone of heart, brain and joint health. Each variety is specially formulated for a different health focus and this one, EnergyWise, is the only one that’s vegan (the others contain fish oils). It’s got a lovely mixture of B vitamins, some caffeine (75mg) and the medium chain fatty acids (MCTs, as found in coconut oil) that support balanced blood sugar levels and metabolism. It tastes like a caramel espresso shot (yum!) and gave me a noticeable boost of energy. My only gripe is that the bottle and cap gets messy, reminding me of the way children’s medicine does, so don’t throw away its cardboard container.
Nosh Detox Raw Boosters – as I can’t take away my green veg and blender on holiday, these little sachets of health containing raw, organic, freeze-dried super powders are a portable substitute. A power-mix of alfalfa, kelp, chlorella and other greens for a quick way to balance any acidity from overindulgence; bread, wine, dairy or meat are the biggest culprits for an over-acid stomach and that means one thing: bad digestion, low absorption of nutrients, bad skin and weight gain. One of these green shots (pictured) can help rebalance the alkaline in the tummy, even with festive over-eating. Lemon water first thing in the morning also helps.
I thought mixing with water rather than juice would taste terrible but it wasn’t bad at all and I’m definitely going to buy some the next time I go away.
Pukka Organic Coconut Oil – I’m a huge fan of coconut oil and use it practically every day so I wouldn’t dream of going away without it. Most tubs are huge but this one from Pukka Herbs is the perfect size for holidays, trips and overnight stays. Delicious on bread or toast, on skin and generally for health, coconut oil is a powerhouse for health and diet: its slow-release energy keeps you fuller for longer, it’s used by the body as instant energy rather than stored as fat and has an amazing power to increase the metabolism – not far off detoxing while you eat!
The Organic Pharmacy Detox – after reading my Raw Food Diet Challenge, founder of The Organic Pharmacy, Margo Marrone, kindly sent me her Detox capsules to try, telling me they’ll keep my tummy flat without having to slave in the kitchen for a raw food diet. I’ve taken them meticulously as instructed (three capsules 30 minutes before food in the morning and three caps in the evening after food) and I have to say my tummy would not be as well behaved and un-bloated for the copious amounts I’ve eaten this holiday, and with all the baklawa I’ve eaten, there’s no way my skin would have remained so clear.
I’ve tried a lot of detox and cleanse supplements over the years and this one is also gentle, as it says it is, i.e. no sudden rushes to the bathroom. The blend in the vegan capsules contains burdock root, alfalfa, chorella, slippery elm, psyllium husks, barley grass and other fabulously detoxifying herbs. Highly recommended as a supplement to any festive food and drink blow out.
Buying fragrance is like buying a pair of jeans – an almost impossible quest for the perfect fit (which is why experts advise selecting scents for different moods or occasions rather than ‘the one’ to fit all). If you want to steer clear of big-name or over-powering perfumes, as a gift for another (or for yourself), Yardley Polaire fits the bill.
I’m very particular about the perfumes I have in my life and YP has been on my desk at work, in my handbag and generally used for relaxed, daytime spritzing since its launch earlier this year because it’s so easy to wear. Light enough to spray liberally but with a touch of soft spice to make it slightly interesting, it’s surprisingly unoffensive for a high street perfume.
The ad campaign (above) was impressive too – vintage inspired and a lot more directional and stylish than other Yardley comms I’ve seen; practically unrecognisable as the traditional Yardley we know.
I’ve also just spotted a bit of a sale at Yardley online so I think you can snap up Polaire for a very festive price.
I know I’m cutting it fine with Christmas present ideas so close to the festive wire but I’m sure I’m not the only one. Continuing the foodie theme for alternative Christmas giving, I’d say, with most people, you can’t go wrong with chocolate. Chocolate, like tea, has exploded with boutique, artisan and niche varieties enticing everyone to buy, try and eat more of this delicious food – like tea, chocolate is another foodie joy of mine.
Two new chocolate brands I’ve tried and loved recently, which you should check out if you can, are:
The Eden Project Chocolate with Baobab
Handmade in Cornwall, fairly traded cocoa and featuring that superfood buzz word, Baobab, I took one look at this chocolate and knew I’d love it. I’ve recently been sprinkling the super powder Baobab, produced from the formidable African baobab tree, on my porridge, in smoothies and juices as it’s super high in vitamin C and a great immune booster. This chocolate range is thick and chunky and the flavours strong and vivid. Cool combinations such as Baobab and Watermelon or Vanilla and Baobab along with colourful, illustrated packaging makes this a great gift. Plus Eden Project is an inspiration in environmental, ethical and socially responsible thinking so it’s a great place to shop and support. The chocolates are priced at a very reasonable £2.50 at edenproject.com.
IQ Superfood Chocolate
While the Baobab chocolate bar above is thick and chunky, this IQ bar is thin and snappy and equally full of flavour. Using natural, organic, ethically sourced and pure Criollo beans from Peru (I’m told this is a very sought after bean), there is no heat applied (no roasting or baking as most beans are) instead they are fermented at source then transported to Scotland. This makes it a great choice for raw foodies. It’s also blended with coconut blossom nectar (what a lovely sounding ingredient!) for natural sweetness as well as other ingredients to make interesting combinations such as Orange and Wild Raspberry, Plush Peppermint and Lusciously Lovely Lime; my favourite was the Espresso Kick Chocolate.
Organic fruit and veg. Another not-so-sexy-sounding gift idea you might be thinking (I’m good at these) but we all need to eat so why not give the gift of great food?
Many years ago when Abel & Cole, the organic fruit and veg delivery service, first launched I signed up and was sadly disappointed. High prices for a few unremarkable vegetables, I thought. Then a few months ago a young man knocked on my door and offered an Abel & Cole trial, with a free cookbook. Hmm.. I considered. The trial meant I could order one box without committing to more. Ok. I gave it a try…
Wowee. Abel & Cole have changed and upped their game!
I picked a small vegetable box (no fruit) priced at £13. (Not a press sample). Very reasonable price I thought for a great selection of quality vegetables which included pointy cabbage, squash, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Tick one.
Then I checked out the online selection service and it turns out they have all the groceries covered so you literally don’t need to go anywhere else – dairy, eggs, meat, fish, bakery, cupboard food, drinks, household stuff, the lot.
A really easy-to-use website too so I ended up ordering another box and ton of veg for juicing and some bread. My whole week’s shop, all organic, all for under £20. I was impressed. I then had to speak to customer services to tidy up an error on my account – super helpful and unbelievably lovely. Tick, tick, tick.
All the farmers, growers and produce are sourced for their quality and environmental integrity and their stories showcased throughout Abel & Cole material which brings alive the human story behind the food.
Since my trial box, I’ve ordered several more all without committing to a weekly delivery – I just order when I want. People think it’s an expensive way to shop but it’s not; if you buy organic from the supermarket anyway then it’s about the same, if not more economical as the quality and service is better. Also every order I’ve had has come with recipe cards and a little gift – such a mini pack of eggs or a mince pie. Very cute.
I also love the communication and branding which is very sweet but not in an annoying way. They’ve struck the right balance between friendly, a bit jokey and inviting, and this is carried through everything they do. Maybe I’ve forgotten but I don’t remember the branding being so strong before and I think it really works.
I love the recipe cards and cookbook, full of easy and inspiring dishes which makes a big difference when you’re trying to think of what to cook.
So, if you’re looking for an alternative Christmas gift idea for a foodie friend or family, I can definitely recommend Abel & Cole. For me, great food makes a great gift!
You may have noticed by my stocking filler posts that my Christmas gift ideas are not particularly festive but the reason for that is because I’m simply not that into Christmas. I hate the commercialism of Christmas and how it’s been hijacked by extreme consumerism and how everyone feels forced to buy, buy, buy. I think a lot of people feel the same, they just don’t say it or don’t feel like they can do anything about it so I’m airing my views in this Christmas rant.
My anti-Christmas mood starts bubbling as soon as the three-month build up begins and reaches a crescendo around Christmas eve when I’m utterly sick of painful songs in every shop and public space. Buying-on-demand is like forced fun and panic-buying pointless gifts that clog up our world is ugly, even though we all know that owning more things doesn’t make us happy.
Traditions can be endearing, if you like them (and a lot of people LOVE Christmas and that’s totally ok, as well as it being a cultural and religious event which I totally respect) but if you don’t like a tradition be free to break the norm; do something different, give something different, go somewhere different (if you want to) without fear of judgement.
It shouldn’t be a taboo to say you’re not into Christmas, and there’s no need for guilt trips from others. “You’re not getting a Christmas tree?!!!?!”, a friend shrieked at me last night. No, I’m not. It doesn’t make me weird, or a bad person; I’m just not that into it.
If you think a Christmas tree is tacky, why not celebrate by decorating your space with gorgeous winter blooms and berries instead? Don’t like the annual festive fuss? Go abroad and see what other cultures get up to or take a break away from it all. This year I’m going to the Middle East from mid-December and last year I went on a yoga retreat on Boxing Day until early Jan which gave me a welcome end of year recharge.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m no heartless Scrooge for not liking Christmas but I just hate having to conform and do things in a certain kind of way, at a certain time of year, especially when I have no religious or cultural attachments to the occasion. It can also be a sad time of year for so many who can’t celebrate with loved ones, family or enjoy it in the same way as others do.
I’ve still decided to do a Stocking Filler posts to offer alternative gift ideas for those celebrating; they are all great gifts in their own right and would make a fabulously ethical present any time of year, not just for show and not just for Christmas. Great if you’re stuck for ideas and fancy some alternative giving…
Plus, my favourite Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore has just written “My Tips for Surviving Christmas” which I absolutely loved as it sang a similar tune. Do check it out!
It’s definitely having a bit of a moment in the limelight and it’s my recommended choice for a perfect Christmas gift this year.
Boutique, loose leaf brews with the fancy combinations are catching my eyes everywhere and supermarket tea isles have suddenly expanded packing in new brands, more varieties and prettier boxes than ever before. Even traditional brands such as Twinnings seem to have upped their game.
As a gift, secret santa or just to try for yourself, I’ve picked a few new discoveries. Alternatively why not go for an experience and take a friend/lover/mum/dad/cousin/neighbour/mutual-Christmas-hater (see Christmas rant for more on that) to a tea house in town (sorry for the London-centric ideas):
Amanzi Tea has just opened in central London (just off Marylebone High Street) offering an impressively large variety of teas for all tastes. 40 blends to be precise. It’s like the Harrods for tea I guess. I’m due a visit soon so will be back with more info on that.
Also check out Camellia’s Tea House on Kingly Court in Soho, which I recently discovered (thank you Mark Smith), which serves traditional afternoon teas in a quaint setting.
If you’re enjoying a brew at home, time to put the kettle on…
1. Tick Tock Rooibos Honey, Lemon and Ginger – a new brew for winter with a warming combination. If you like a kick of ginger this doesn’t fall short and the honey and rooibos give it a mellow edge. It’s gone down a storm in the BeautyMART office and I just about caught the last tea bag today – the rapidly empty box said it all. £1.99 at ticktocktea.com.
Eco credentials? Tick Tock supports the British Bee Keeper’s Association for bee health research; no GM crops, no additives and no chlorine-bleached tea bags; they also trade fairly and work with South African Rooibos Council to protect region’s agriculture.
2. Neal’s Yard Remedies New Organic Teas – a new collection of organic teas coming in eight varieties. The Vitality is my favourite with Siberian Ginseng, thyme and liquorice for a unique and uplifting brew.
Just noticed NYR also has a glass mug with built-in diffuser which makes a great gift for loose tea lovers, like me. £2.99, nealsyardremedies.com
Eco credentials? 100% organic and Soil Association certified.
3. Camellia’s Handmade Herbal Infusion (not a press sample)
I discovered Camellia’s Beautiful Skin Tea on a visit to Nirvana Spa in Reading with Germaine de Cappucini and bought a box as I was instantly impressed by the interesting combination (dandelion and chickweed) and the way it was wrapped up in natural cloth and hand tied. Too cute.
Eco credentials: Can’t find any info on the website about where the tea is sourced etc but there is some mention of things being handmade in small batches.
4. Choi Time Teas
Last but certainly not least it’s Choi Time – a Chinese heritage tea brand, whose founder Melissa Choi is seriously passionate about the benefits of green tea and rose tea in particular. I discovered Choi Time several years ago and was luckily reintroduced to it recently. The jasmine flower teas which open up as they brew make a visually impressive brew and all the teas are packaged in gorgeous boxes so they make excellent gifts as they are.
Another thing to check out is the Tea Flask, which Choi Time kindly sent me recently and I absolutely love, it’s a staple in my day. This 750ml flask has a compartment for lose tea leaves at the top and a built-in diffuser so you just top it up with hot water throughout the day and tip it upside down to brew. It’s the most convenient way of drinking lots of green tea, great for keeping skin glowing.
Eco credentials: Sourced personally by Melissa and directly from growers in China, who are connected to her family there. No conglomerates, no unfair trading.
So there we have it – tea is my recommended choice for alternative Christmas giving this year. It has an every day use, it’s good for you, delicious and is not a gift that will clog up your loved one’s life with unnecessary stuff!
So what did the veggie-vegan eat for Christmas? The menu of the day was a mixture of tried and trusted classics (homemade hummus of course) and a few new creations I whipped up on Christmas morning. Being eternally late for everything, there was little pre-preparation but each dish was lovingly put together swiftly on the day…
My meat-free Christmas menu included:
– An Iraqi-style breakfast puff pastry with tahini paste and date syrup. Wow, wow, wow.
– Edamame, pea and mint dip
– Homemade hummus
The brilliantly green edamame and pea dip with delicately sweet flavours was definitely my favourite.
– Arabic tea (pictured above)
– Roasted butternut squash stuffed with rice, broadbeans, dill and christmasy spices.
If you’re anything like me, leaving EVERYTHING until the last minute then here’s a round up of the stylish, ethical and fabulous places to shop in time for Christmas (and all year round!)…I did a quick check and all can deliver in time for Christmas – if you buy now!
1. CONTENT – beauty and wellbeing boutique in London and onlne
Founder Imelda Burke, says it specialises in ’emerging, results-driven niche brands’ but you’ll also find trusted favourites like Lavera, Nvey Eco and Jo Wood Organics. It’s like a treasure trove of adorable beauty finds and walls adorned with vintage mirrors and cute illustrations. There are treatment rooms for beauty and complimentary therapies too so you can treat yourself or others. You can also pick Imelda’s brains on everything to do with natural and organic beauty as she’s a trusted beauty insider. beingcontent.com
2. MELVITA – natural beauty brand in Covent Garden, London
It’s a newly opened store in a cute new shopping courtyard in Covent Garden and inside there’s enough to keep you engaged until they chuck you out. I had no idea French brand, Melvita, had so many products until I visited the store last week. And, they have the most AMAZING planted wall that had me swooning over it (yes, I’m a little sad!) and wishing to have one installed in my house. The ranges are affordable and gentle on skin, perfect for winter. melvita.com
3. Lovely’s Vintage Emporium
Oh I love a good vintage hideout and this one is totally fabulous! It’s bright, uplifting and fun to browse. Founder, Lynnette Peck-Bateman, has obviously put a lot of work into the visual experience (which makes a change to the typically dreary vintage shopping sites around) and sourcing of designer and non-designer, unique pieces. It’s my kind of vintage style – statement pieces. A lot of bold and eye-catching finds from 60s, 70s and 80s (as well as other eras) with strong shapes and vibrant colours. These are the kind of pieces that get people asking you where your clothes are from. Check it out! lovelys-vintage-emporium.myshopify.com
Now I want to know your favourite ethical, stylish and fabulous places to shop!!
She then points out three major issues with paper:
1. the harvesting of trees, some of which are endangered
2. the process to turn wood fibre into pulp
3. and the disposal of the product – even recycling isn’t always a win-win situation
So what’s in your paper that’s so bad? Synthetic inks, plastics, chlorine, metal-based foils and of course glitters, all of which are not easy to dispose of or recycle.
So what’s the alternative? Be creative! Reuse and recycle pretty papers you receive (something I’ve been doing for years!) or branch out to more alternative papers – Lucy suggests the Observer magazine’s own paper.
Now, I hadn’t thought of that but maybe I’ll give it a go.